A while back, I posted this as a guest post at Stuff Christians Like. Today, the unedited version here at ATB. See if you can spot the differences!
At my grandfather’s funeral, the preacher stood up and shared all about what a sweet, gentle man my grandpa was. He went on for several minutes, and then called me up (one of the perks of missionary life–and this is not sarcastic at all–is to get the opportunity to speak at funerals.) I approached the microphone, and not knowing where to start, said “Well, I’m gonna share a little bit about my Grandpa from the perspective of someone who was around when the preacher wasn’t.”
The reason that joke worked (or landed as they say in the biz–people actually laughed!) is that cleaning up your act for the preacher is a near-universal thing, especially here in the South.
I went on to share that my grandpa was a great man, one of the greatest I’ve ever met, but sweet and gentle were not the first words I thought of. He was flawed, harsh at times, and unswervingly honest, like most of the men from his generation. He was not afraid to yell at you when you were messing around, and he’d shake a finger (or an entire hand) at you in an instant. But that’s not a side of him the preacher got to see. And it made me smile, because it’s something we all do, but speaking from the missionary side of things, it’s always weird to see people try and clean up their act for you.
What we need is a handy guide for whether or not you should clean up your act, and how much. OK then.
How to know how much of your act to clean up: a Handy Guide.
The Spelling Bee Level
To start with, we set the bar really low. When on the phone with a missionary planning to visit, just get them to spell a difficult word of your choice. Keep it within their field. For example, for a college minister, you might have them spell “sophomore” or “fraternity.” Incidentally, if that missionary is named Ben Meredith, and reporting to Murfreesboro, TN after he raises his initial support, just have him spell “Murfreesboro,” because that second “r” threw him for a loop for months. Other go-to words are “transcendental” or “sacramentalism.” If they pass this level (and only this level) then all you are required to clean up is the overtly offensive. Put away the Maxim/Cosmo/Oprah magazine and stash the Kodiak can behind the bookshelf, and you are good to go. If they don’t pass this level, leave it all out, they have no more of a connection to the transcendent than you do.
The “Half Your Age Plus 7” (HYAPS) Level.
Normally used to determine whether or not someone is too young to date, we are using it to determine the next level of act-cleanuppage. If, for example, a person is 26 years old, half of their age (13) plus seven means that 20 is the youngest a person can be for them to be dateable. If a missionary is coming to your house, and falls above the HYAPS mark, follow these simple steps: Deep six the Sports Illustrated magazine (due to their affiliation with a certain swimsuit issue), drink–but not immediately before–or hide the cheap beer (Coors Light and below), and find one or more Christian book for the living room bookshelf.
Passport Check Level
Before you have a missionary come in the house, ask for three forms of ID. If they are worth their salt, the first form of ID will be a driver’s license, the second will be a passport, and the third will be a Social Security card. In case they reverse numbers two and three, always ask for three, so that you can inspect that passport, to see how many times that bad-boy has been stamped. If there are more than three non-Canadian countries stamped in the back, or if any stamp is in a non-Roman alphabet, they get the green light for the next level of act-cleansing. For this level, you have to ensure that at least a third of the bookshelf in the primary meeting room is devoted to Christian literature or JRR Tolkien/Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A bonus “we just got done reading this” book on the coffee table is recommended but not required. At this level, consider hiding any beer less expensive than Fat Tire, and all more-than-half-empty liquor bottles.
Doctorate in Theology
In college, there was a stated (but I never saw it written) rule that related to how long you had to wait for a professor to show up who was late to a class. I think that if they had a PhD, you had to wait up to 15 minutes, or something like that. And this rule directly translates into the top level of the act-cleanup guide. If the person visiting has spent long enough in college and post-college college to learn three dead languages and part of a fourth, it’s time to go full scale. Your house should look like the rooms at a Christian retreat center. You’ll need to get rid of your TV, burn all of your non-Christian literature (it is also acceptable to put it in a section of the bookshelf clearly marked “Reference” or “In but not Of”) and have all devotional literature cleaned, dusted, and appropriately highlighted. Alcohol is expressly prohibited at this level, as is non-Christian music paraphernalia. This includes Derek Webb, as he uses non-Christian words in his music. Note that folks at the Doctorate Level have free reign of your entire house, and can legally request access to any room, so simply moving the Lady Gaga life-size cutout to a different room is not going to cut it.
That should help, in the event you aren’t sure what to hide next time you have a missionary over.