Pastor Darian's Musings

Pastor Darian's Musings

10.23.2014

Why Not To Go To Church: Is This Pew Taken?

Disclaimer for Members of St. Luke UMC and Shipman Chapel: This musing arose from a comment I heard outside of the church earlier this week. This comment was not about a specific congregation or a particular pew. It was a general observation. I will not ask you to change seats this Sunday. I will not institute assigned seating. This is the first in a series of posts intended simply to make all of us, in local churches and beyond, think about why so many people choose not to attend church.

“I know how churches can be. I wouldn’t want to take anyone’s pew.”

I hear a lot of reasons why people don’t go to church: everything from theological differences to work schedules to football games to a desire to sleep late. What I did not expect to hear was this statement: a fear of entering a new place with new faces and sitting somewhere that someone else regularly sits. Many of us churchgoers probably have stories of being on one or both sides of the pew: as the person uncomfortably sitting where someone else is staring or the person uncomfortably staring at the person who is sitting.

Why do we in the church care so much about where we sit and stand?

Some of our answers to that question are practical. Those with hearing difficulties want to sit closer to the speakers. The person who has to leave during the final hymn to help direct traffic in the parking lot wants to sit towards the back for a less disruptive exit. The parent with a young baby in the nursery wants to be close to the aisle in case the nursery worker comes looking for him or her.

There are also sentimental explanations. The grieving widow wants to sit in the place where she sat for 50 years with her late husband. The great-granddaughter of a charter member sits on the pew given in memory of her relative. We want to sit with our longtime friends, some of whom we only see on Sunday morning.

We also love “our” pews because they are as familiar to us as the Apostle’s Creed or the Doxology. To sit in the same spot with the same people and sing the same songs can be spiritual comfort food. The world may be rapidly changing, but on Sunday morning we discover familiarity in our traditions—which come to include our seating.

All of this to say: I understand why we love our pews. The explanations are as complex as we are because human beings are complicated. But….

Do we love our pews more than we love the people who sit on them?

Are we more concerned with familiarity than we are with hospitality?

I am immensely grateful for the honesty of the non-churchgoer who told me why she didn’t go to church. We laughed about the way we can be about “our” pews. We confessed to the ways that both of us have been territorial about “our spots” in classrooms and churches. But there was a deeper truth in her observation.

She was afraid of causing a disruption.

She halfway expected rejection.

She saw herself as an outsider.

We in the Church have an awesome and difficult responsibility to counter these preconceptions of fear, rejection, and exclusion.

Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. (Mark 4:36, New International Version)

Just as he was: A weary Jesus gets in the boat with no fa├žade.

Just as he was: The disciples welcomed him and organized their journey.

All Jesus needed to be was “just as he was.”

The church needs to be a place where we can be just as we are—and welcome each other just as we are. Through worship, God transforms us to be more than we could be on our own. Worship is not about our power but rather God’s power imparted to us as his hands and feet in the world.

There were no pews on the disciples’ boat, but I do wonder if they had their favorite spots. I wonder if they argued as much about who got to sit where as they did about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand.

A storm arose. Jesus told it to be still. The wind ceased. The water obeyed him. A powerful stillness settled around the boat. The exhausted man who had been sleeping next to the disciples was now the same voice that spoke the water into being at Creation.

When they reached the shore, I doubt that they discussed who had been sitting where.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

10.16.2014

The Gospel According to Monica: Dipping Our Toes Into the Past

In season 4 of Friends, one of Monica’s dreams comes true: Chip Matthews asks her out on a date.

Chip and Monica went to the same high school where Chip was the “it” guy. Good-looking and football-playing, Chip was the guy the girls wanted to date—including Monica, who ran in a different circle from Chip. More than a decade after graduating, Monica and Chip run into each other in New York City. He asks for her number. He calls her. He asks her out. She giggles and claps her hands. And we’re less than five minutes into the episode! How different would our lives be if we moved at a sitcom pace?

The night of the date arrives. Monica gushes about Chip’s motorcycle and giggles at everything he says—until they sit down for dinner. The more Chip talks, the more Monica begins to wonder how old he actually is. He talks about pranks he and his friends recently pulled. Monica grows weary and tries to change the conversation.

Monica: Enough about high school Tell me about you. I don’t even know where you work.
Chip: You know where I work. The movie theater.
Monica: You still work at the movie theater? (cue audience chuckle)
Chip: Yeah, why would I quit such a good job? Free popcorn and candy! (cue audience laughter)
Monica: (pause) You don’t still live with your parents, do you? (cue audience chuckle)
Chip: Yes, but I can stay out as late as I want! (cue audience laughter)*

Ten minutes later, Monica shares with her friends that she dumped “the most popular guy” after dinner. In the course of trying to go back to a high school dream, she realizes how good her current life is.

During the month of October, the Old Testament lectionary on Sunday mornings has focused on Moses. Physically, Moses had to lead and organize a throng of people on a trip across seas and deserts. Spiritually, he had to serve as a mediator of God and the people. Emotionally, he had to listen to the regrets and “what ifs” of people who wondered what it would be like to go back to Egypt. When temptation would arise to turn around and go back, he had to help the people see how much better the present was than the past.

Monica had to dip her toes into the past to see how blessed she was in the present. She discovered that what had once seemed so glamorous was actually a turn-off. Sometimes we have to do the same in order to learn. God is merciful to us just as he was to the Israelites in all of their hindsight wonderings and wanderings.

When we find ourselves dwelling on a world that used to be or might have been, let us take a moment to look around at the beauty of today. For what are we grateful that’s right in front of us? If would could bring a Chip Matthews of our past into the present, would we really want for him to stay? Let us look back in gratitude and look forward with anticipation—especially when we have an eternal “Friend” sharing the present with us.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

* YouTube clip of Chip's and Monica's date: http://youtu.be/O2L4Z8WGi1c