Pastor Darian's Musings

Pastor Darian's Musings

10.30.2014

Why Not To Go To Church: Life’s Better On a “Bicycle”

In the days of yore, I rode a bicycle, and I took it very personally when people chose long bike rides over church on Sunday mornings.

A local cycling group had a Facebook page where the administrators would post information about upcoming group rides: where to meet, what kind of pace, and how long the journey would be. Since I was a fan of Facebook way back when, I kept up with the pedaling opportunities but never attended. I preferred cruising with a friend around the neighborhood to the “moderate pace” of a 20-mile journey across the county.

One Saturday afternoon, a post appeared about a ride that would begin at 10 a.m. on Sunday morning.

What?! I said to the computer screen. That’s when you should be in church!

I typed a long, Scripture-filled response. I re-read it and realized how un-cool it was. I deleted the response. Then I typed a snarky, short sentence about how everyone should just ride on over to my church since worship began at 10 a.m. I re-read it and realized how angry it sounded. I deleted the response. Responding in religiosity and condemnation would only make people pedal further away at a faster speed.

I called a friend and vented about people choosing to ride bikes over worshipping God, and his response was only silence –until he confessed that he, too, planned to go on the bike ride.

When I hung up the phone, I realized that frustration had become hurt. Why was I taking it so personally that people, many whom I didn’t even know, were going on a bike ride instead of going to church? I didn’t know their stories. Perhaps they were Roman Catholic and attended mass on Saturday evening. Perhaps they were going to attend an early worship service.

I didn’t care where or when they worshipped. I just wanted them to choose worship.

Years have passed. I’m no longer on Facebook. The only part of the bicycle I still own is the helmet (Who would seriously want a used helmet?). I no longer yell at the computer screen when I read about activities scheduled at the same time as worship services.

While a lot has changed, the desire I had for all of those cyclists to be in church has not. I still long for people to worship in community.

I also understand why we choose bike rides over worship. Many cyclists declare, as I once did, that life is better on a bicycle. The mind and body have to work sharply with each other to stay safely balanced on two wheels. The wind on one’s face awakens our breath. Movement through Creation testifies to a magnificent Creator. The riders are comfortable with a fellowship of silence. There is indeed a “high” we experience after physical exercise that makes everything feel right in the world.

So often church services leave us with the opposite feeling. We feel closed in rather than free. We are uncomfortable with each other. We leave feeling no different than when we arrived. The Holy Spirit has the power to leave us with a feeling that far surpasses a “runner’s high.” Our congregations have an awesome yet difficult responsibility each week: to take a ride through the greatest story ever told.

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus….
Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith…
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering…
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…
Let us not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some….
*

Neglecting to meet together with the body of Christ can easily become a habit. It is so important for us to have our different communities of friends and family, our “bicycle groups” with whom we enjoy life and participate in activities. Let us be careful not to let any other group replace the fellowship centered in worship of God.

How can we truly enjoy creation if we don’t praise the Creator?

How can we find balance in a chaotic world if we don’t depend on our Savior?

How can we appreciate the air we breathe if we don’t listen for the Breath of Life?

Life may be better on a bicycle, but life is best on the wings of the Holy Spirit. May we be open in our worship services to be changed, and to be better, than we were before we gathered. May our congregations be places of such life, love, and joy, that the choice of where to be is an easy one come Sunday morning.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian

*(excerpts from Hebrews 10:19-25, New Revised Standard version)

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