If you’ve ever played Monopoly, then you might remember the corner space between Kentucky and New York Avenues. This particular square features a little red car draped with the words “Free Parking.” The official rules state the following: “A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind. This is just a ‘free’ resting place.” I don’t know about you, but this seems like a waste!
Growing up, I played Monopoly according to “unofficial” rules. Whenever a player would pay a fine from a Community Chest or Chance card, or whenever Income Tax or the Electric bill was paid, we would throw the money into the center of the board. Whoever landed on “Free Parking” would then collect the pile of cash to continue building their miniature empires. The space became much more than a simple respite, but one of the most envied spots on the board. While others took their turns, I would calculate how many spaces separated my little boot and the coveted corner square with the red car.
In some ways, I get that same feeling of thrilling anticipation whenever I’m in a real-life parking lot. There’s no feeling like getting the closest spot possible. It’s like a contest that everyone plays but no one admits. As soon as we pull in, we become instant surveyors, scanning the lot full of vehicles, judging everyone else’s parking habits, carefully scheming how we can beat the car in front of us to that cherished spot next to the handicap parking. In fact, a relative of mine freely admits “praying regularly” for a close spot, making me cringe. When a close spot is found, a shout of praise is given – “thank you Jesus!”
Joking aside, our parking lot behavior reveals something beneath the surface – a gangrenous “me-first” mentality that eats away at our souls. Our culture is built upon principles of individualism and independence. The blessing of these principles is freedom and opportunity, but the curse is a dangerous “looking out for number one” mantra that destroys relationships of all kinds. Rather than building an authentic community of people who love, care, nurture and mutually support one another, we settle into our homes, put up our fences, and choose lives of solitary confinement. As a result, most nations look upon our culture and consider us the loneliest people on earth.
This smacked me in the face the other day. I was running to and fro, picking up one child so I could be prompt in transporting my next child to our next scheduled activity. I parked the car on the street, where it remained for no more than five minutes. During that five minute period, the resident who lived across the street arrived in his vehicle and proceeded to park illegally, directly in front of our church entrance. As we walked across the street, I greeted him. He did not greet me back, but sternly said, “If you people don’t park at the church, then I will.”
I said, “Excuse me?” He repeated his statement and walked into his residence. I was shocked and mostly angry for the remainder of the night. I thought about how I could better handle the situation. Should I write a letter? Pay him a visit? Call the authorities? I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, reminding him that on-street parking is public and that I couldn’t legally park adjacent to the church since I was facing the opposite direction. However, I don’t think that would do any good. I am still pondering what Jesus would have me do in this situation; a situation that seems rather silly in retrospect.
Which brings me to a WWJP question: “where would Jesus park?” On Sunday mornings I park several blocks away from our inner-city church due to the limited amount of available on-site parking spots. I want our visitors and seniors to have the best parking options. But what about Monday – Saturday? Does a “me-first” mentality rule, or do I carry the same concern for others that I possess on Sundays, tangibly placing their needs ahead of my own?
What if followers of Christ began filling parking spots the same way we fill our churches: from the back to the front? Wouldn’t that be refreshing? After all, WWJP?
Rev. Kenneth A. Stewart, Greene Street United Methodist Church