Pinball Wizards and the Church, But Mostly about Hospitality

Mother Kay and I watched an old episode of the reality show “Ace of Cakes” last night. (We are cake voyeurs.) Duff, the owner and head chef at Charm City Cakes, brought a pinball machine to the bakery to inspire a commissioned cake.  (Which was really a set display piece and not a cake, which must have been very disappointing to people who saw Duff deliver the cake at the pinball convention.)  Then the Stanley Cup came for a visit. The bakers play with light swords and helmets when they make Stars Wars cakes. They really get into their work.

I’m not a culture junkie, but let’s face the facts – we all want to have some fun at work. We all want to laugh a bit. We all like some games and a modicum of silliness. The great saints weren’t dead serious all the the time. They had a glass of wine with the monks, told jokes and ridiculous stories, and even Mother Teresa laughed and joked and hugged and partied a bit, in the midst of the tragedies that surrounded her in Calcutta. Fun and laughter engender creativity, which is part of our holy image.

I encourage churches to plant gardens. There’s a great deal of God-partnering creativity there, and who doesn’t laugh and smile when they see a garden growing and blooming? I used to have my confirmation students take on craft and art projects – big paper banners to hang in the church on special occasions. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t anything to last forever, but they got to contribute to the liturgy and the church environment. They had fun doing it.

I think the church hall could use a pinball machine. The hall could use a glass of wine and some music, too. Our hospitality to others and to ourselves is so weak. Don’t just serve lemonade on the lawn, serve it on the sidewalk! Have a meal after church service, a good meal, not a cheap meal, and put up signs all over the town “Join us at NOON Sunday for a celebration of joy!” If people know we are joyous and a fun bunch of people, who are that way because we love God and each other, they may join us at 11 am on Sunday. And if they don’t, well, they got to see a group of Christians who care.

All those meetings we have in the church – oh, lots of them, too many to count – they need to involve some fun components. Serve good coffee and snacks, creative snacks, not just the box of Tim’s doughnuts or the fruit tray. Bowls of yummy home-made granola. Fresh-baked bread and good cheese. Chocolate dipped strawberries.  (As an aside, seminarians learn to find the free food, usually laid on for the higher-ups like board members. And the skill persists. Nicholas and I were at someone else’s seminary a couple of years ago, working in their library. This wasn’t even our denomination; I was cataloguing a unique collection and he was reading John Howard Yoder. Their local clergy had sponsored a seminar and they left an unattended coffee buffet outside the auditorium. A quick glance up and down the corridor, and several muffins and a couple of cups of coffee walked away. At university, we theology students found that the business department that bordered our wing sponsored occasional buffet brunches.  They had chandeliers and couches in their lounge. We had plastic chairs out in the hall. We paid as much in tuition, so we felt no qualms about walking through the adjoining door and helping ourselves to the Friday fruit salad and danish.)

I’m not sure why we make people sit through church before we reward them with coffee and stale mini-donuts. Shouldn’t we set up a coffee and tea service in the narthex so people can refresh themselves through the sermon and the choir anthem?

I could say something here about food charity. Okay, I will. When buying for the food bank, don’t be stingy. There are just pennies difference between the cheap soup and the good soup, between oatie-o’s and the Gen’ral Mills brand that rhymes with Tear-ios. Poor people are always having to buy the cheaper brand. Buy them the good one! (And please stop donating the cans of black olives. You don’t like them, either.)

As for distant hospitality – why aren’t we fighting harder for food and water aid in places that have neither? Are we keeping it for ourselves, as if we needed all of it? We don’t. There are surpluses. Maybe I’ve said this before. If the U.S. Army can move entire military bases thousands of miles and set them up in hostile territory, why can’t they set up aid bases where they are needed? The “local corruption and war lords” argument is not working for me. There’s no money in it for oil companies, armament suppliers and the Pentagon overlords, so it doesn’t get done. Fight for it, out there! Write letters, email your bishop, throw some good demonstrations when and where they count. Forget the G8/G20 conferences. They never see the protesters, who now are known as thugs and troublemakers. (Fair or not, that’s how they are viewed.) How about a big sit-down protest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC? Or in front of Westminster Abbey, or Notre Dame? Lots of signs saying “Feed the world now,” some speeches by celebrities, and don’t move for three or four days.

Hospitality is more than coffee after church; it is everything from a cup of cold water given in love to massive movements of rice and medicine in the name of the Lord. Are we stingy? Are we cheap?

If it were Jesus asking for bread, would you give Him a stale crust, or reach for the freshly baked whole wheat loaf?


5 thoughts on “Pinball Wizards and the Church, But Mostly about Hospitality

  1. Well – you are really on a roll today 🙂

    Agree with all that you say.

    It is very important that as Christians we are JOYFUL – stinginess, small mindedness, spitefulness have no place in the christian life. Not to mention it is a very poor witness for the Lord.

    I like your comments on food donations – our rule of thumb – if it is something we wouldn’t buy for ourselves why would we buy it for someone else. Although I must confess I have donated things that I decided I didn’t want to eat, I had purchased canned lima beans with the intention of adding them to soup and making myself eat them, but I never got around to eating them so ended up donating them.

    A Generous Spirit is priceless 🙂

    • That was a post written over about three days and finally finished! So it did ramble a bit. Lima beans are food; I don’t care for them, but I’d eat them if that is what I had. At least, someone got them before they went bad in the cupboard. I like black olives myself, but they don’t make a meal. Lima beans, with tomatoes and a grain, are a meal in themselves.

  2. magdalena,

    This is a powerful post; most powerful indeed!! The churches (my Diocese is no exception) need to remember Matt 25: 34-40, and James 5: 1-6 as the two sides of the same coin. When we are stingy, small minded or without generosity; when we withold giving God our best in terms of hospitality both great and small, we are stealing from God; yes, we are thieving. We are, by our lack of genuine hospitality (denominationally – church hierarchy – Christians within trans-national govt. institutions) taking the Lord’s name in vain, stealing, and all but taking life by holding a spirit of ‘it is far too great for me to make any tangible difference’.

    yes!! if the millitary can establish and maintain facilities deep within all but inaccessible hostile teritory for the better part of a decade, there is nothing preventing it from declaring war on hunger and disease… but as you so rightly stated, arms manufacturers and their ilk make no $$$ from extensive humanitarian missions. Imagine what the Red Cross, Medecein sans Frontier, the Salvation Army (Booth had the right idea – profoundly so), the St. Vincent de paul Society, the Knights of Malta (dedicated to rendering assistance to those with a disability) or Anglicare could do if it had the human capital and resources of the millitary as a part of its composition!! Imagine!! The possibilities are breathtaking!! Imagine if it were to be paired with the international slow food movement, the international community garden movement the elimination of destructive forms of global trade… what we would have!! if done in sober prayerfulness and trust in our Lord and Saviour jesus Christ… Imagine if all manufacturers and producers, from mining and forrestry (both industries reformed to be as environmentally sustainable as possible – there are already worlds best practice examples of these industries in operation) down to clothing manufacturers, appliance and furniature manufacturers etc ‘tithed’ one tenth of their production and one tenth of their after expenses profit to supporting local (and where pheasable larger scale relief), if local crafts and artisan traditions were supported rather than cheap plastic or particle board immitations imported from half way around the world where everything about them from sourcing of raw materials to work practices, labour conditions etc are a disgrace and horror to human dignity… This type of reform calls for a complete reorientation of the ecconomic world we have created for ourselves (most noteably since WWII).

    Keep on writing, keep on alerting, keep up the vijule!!

    As disgraceful as post modern ecconomics have become more often than not, is the conservative church’s view of this type of reform; they automatically label anything that calls to mind genuine outliving of Matt 25:34-40, James 5: 1-6, Acts 2: 42-47 etc as socialism, marxism or wealth re-distribution. It is nothing of the sort. The world and the larger church could learn a thing or two from the numerous traditional intentional faith communities out there…

    so come on, fellow Christians, whatever your denomionation, start acting!! if everybody took a simple step or two toward realizing this, our mission would be re-invigorated and true hope re-ignited.



    • It was off the top of my head; we had just said, “Why isn’t it fun to work for the church?” because when we get together the “fun” is something engineered and “meaningful” and never seems to involve pinball. (Hello, church gathering planners – you don’t do fun well!)

      So that led naturally to hospitality – and that may be the heart of the problem. Why don’t people come to church? Because our hospitality stinks on ice. And when hospitality stinks, there’s no sense of community.

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