Last week’s gospel was: render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, render unto God what is God’s. I was definitely having rendering problems. Render, in case you weren’t sure, means “to give what is due or owed.” I possessed, each week, seven days and do the math, you know, a lot of hours, and I somehow felt like I spent most of my week doing things I didn’t want to do. Why was I giving my time to areas where it was not “due or owed”?
It’s a practical problem—I want to be a writer but lack the domestic freedom of the writers of yore. I have dishes to do, and then a demanding full-time job. It’s frequently a difficult decision to balance the need for an organized space and a the need for a chunk of time for Art.
Sundays are my usual cleaning days, and when my cleaning is done, I get to have a cup of coffee and writing time. Every week, I fight a little civil war over the hours between three and four.
I’d like to get to coffee and have a solid hour and a half to settle in and write before church. I’d also like to start my dizzying work week with a clean kitchen and bathroom and the trash taken out, my clothes hung up or thrown in the laundry, the catbox ready for a new week of shit—that’s an absolute minimum. I don’t like to begin Monday feeling already deficient.
This last Sunday, I had left for coffee unshowered. Showering was what would wait. I know. It’s ridiculous. I either shortchange my cleaning and come home later deflated by lingering squalor, or I shortchange my writing time and have to zoom off to church annoyed, my head still in my notebook. For the record, I did bathe when I got home. If any of you compulsively clean Americans are keeping score.
I also couldn’t render things yes or no according to any reasonable system. When my dad said, I want you to come over and look at furniture on Sunday, I just should have said, no, hell to the no. I’m not talking to anyone on Sunday. I have spent the last two Sundays trying to act like a good girlfriend (which is a stretch for me, I assure you), and this Sunday, with boyfriend out of town, all I’m going to do is read and putter and stare and read and fall back asleep until I have to clean up. I can’t be a good daughter or a good girlfriend or any other kind of good this Sunday.
So the message is you’re supposed to look at the thing in your hand, and say, Hey, it’s Caesar’s, and Hey, this is clearly God’s. Except that deep down, everything is God’s, and also, if you took a minute to focus and clearly look for a face in any situation, you would probably know what to do. Even worse, although I’m not sure I even want to go into this, the meaning of “render” that the translator may have had in mind—the one that jumped out at me– suggests that there are requirements, not merely hippie feel-good options, for how one should spend one’s time. That it is owed to someone(s) and something(s). And what happens if you don’t pay up what is owed?
I was not focusing and looking clearly at my situation. I was fretting, and whining, but I was not looking. I was spending my energy and money without even looking at what I was giving out. Was it a fifty? Was it a five? And the uglier, more practical, and more scandalous truth was that I had been doing exactly the same thing with my literal money. Since I moved last month, I have blindly thrown purchases on my debit card (verboten!), not filled out my monthly budget, left unpaid at least one bill, and cleverly avoided calling my bank. I was also greedily avoiding making my usual donations because I worked so hard for poor kids, which only serves to make me feel like a dried-up monster. I spent some time a few years ago getting sober with money, and here I was acting drunk again. It was good that I was reading Eric Clapton’s autobiography. I wish there was a Hazeldon Center for money. Well, I guess there is… federal prison.
But this wasn’t my point. My point was that I guess I hadn’t even learned much of a spiritual lesson, it was just that Jesus and his notetakers had pointed out to me that if you aren’t carefully considering what you are doing, you are likely to do a lot of things you don’t want to do. That a little time up front making a reasonable plan could really pay off. A reasonable plan could ensure that you won’t end up with a lot of Caesar receipts mixed in with your God receipts, and that you won’t end up in federal prison.