Church Pews Be Gone

My column this week. I had a few thoughts on church pews. What are your thoughts? Comfort or beauty?

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of July 10, 2017

I love the look of old church pews. I wouldn’t mind having an old church pew in my home for looks but not for sitting. As I lifted my creaky back up off a hard church pew one Sunday morning I wondered why we hold on to the old-fashioned church pews in many of our churches. Let’s face it, they are uncomfortable, and they are hard on the back.

Yes, we have some cushioned church pews in my church, but since I am short when I sit on the cushion my feet do not touch the ground and I am uncomfortable. But cushions do not fix the slanted back. And while I am short many tall people have a hard time with small pews, which are in many old churches. Am I complaining? Probably and there is no fix, but I wondered how those uncomfortable church pews got started.

Before the construction of church buildings, people met in houses. Long bed-like cushions were provided on which people would recline to eat their meals. I could handle reclining while eating. When the Eucharist was served they would stand.

When the first church buildings were resurrected people would stand or kneel at the service. The Protestant revolution introduced the sermon as the central part of worship and the pew appeared. Since churches could not afford them, people would purchase what was called pew boxes because they could be locked up and no one else could use them.

During the mid-19th century, pew rents were offered for those who could not afford to buy their pew. These pews were a cheaper version and called the “cheap seats.” Those unable to afford pew rents were given unassigned seats at the church.

There are different designs of pews. Some were fancy and others were rough with slivers to remind people of Christ’s death. Some pew designs are ornate and lavish. Backs of pews may be straight or angled. Some pews are small in size. In older churches most pews face the front of the church and the pulpit, not allowing for conversation or interaction with the others sitting in church.

That makes me wonder why we keep the pews. Early church services were held in the home, and people could look each other in eye and interact with one another. Then when buildings came into place people stood to pray and again could move around and have a conversation with other congregants. Why are we not doing that now? Why are we holding on to those church pews — besides the fact that most of them are pretty?

Some congregations are moving into a new generation of worship when they build new facilities replacing the pews with comfortable chairs which are easy on people’s backs. I would imagine people with arthritis, back problems and disabilities appreciate the change.

Chairs aren’t always set up in a straight line. They can be moved, and they may be moved in a circular pattern so people can change directions and look at one another, being able to have a conversation when the time arises. One of my favorite parts of the service at my church is the sharing of the peace where we can move around and meet and greet people and look someone in the eye so they know we care.

There are traditions we need to hold onto in our churches which affect the theology of the church. In my opinion, church pews are not one of them. Instead of worrying about the aesthetics of a church, and yes we need to keep up our buildings so they don’t fall down, I would rather have a well-used and worn church where people feel comfortable and at home.

When we invite people to our houses we offer them comfortable chairs, something to refresh their thirst and good conversation. We want them to feel at home in our home. Shouldn’t we want the same thing in our churches? Don’t we want our churches to be a place of peace, rest, and refreshment in a world full of strife and stress where they can feel accepted and hear God’s word? We are not perfect people. There is not one of us who doesn’t sin, so wouldn’t we want to welcome all to our comfortable church home?

I must admit there are days we don’t attend church when our backs make it difficult for us to sit in the hard pews. We watch the service live streaming at home, but by doing that we miss conversations with others that might revive us for the week and make a difference in our life.

This is an opinion column. My opinion: Pews be gone.

Snap, Sizzle, Pop…It’s the Fourth of July

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf

Published in the Albert Lea Tribune the week of July 3, 2017

14687804116_c553cd4dc4_zI don’t love fireworks, but I don’t hate them either. I think they are fun and pretty, and I have many memories of my childhood of Fourth of July with my dad and his love of Black Cat firecrackers.

I think there are a time and place for fireworks — celebrations, and of course the Fourth of July, but I would differ with people on the time or place.

One of my dad’s favorite activities with the Black Cat firecrackers was making a hole in a tin can, setting a firecracker in the hole, setting it in a pan of water and seeing how high in the air the firecracker would blow the can. When I was a kid, fireworks of almost any kind were illegal except for sparklers, and if I remember right,  small firecrackers and snakes might also have been legal. Penalties were different in those days. If the police caught you with firecrackers you were given a warning not a fine — at least that is what happened to my family and friends.

On the Fourth of July, we would travel to my dad’s farm, have a bonfire and shoot our fireworks. Probably many of them were illegal fireworks. I suppose it could be said that we were being told one time a year it was fine to break the law. We never talked about it but if I think about it now, it goes into that gray area where we choose what we want our kids to believe about honesty and following the law.  However, most of my family and friends found a countryside to shoot fireworks. Half of that was because of the law and half was because of respect for our neighbors.

I still remember visiting my son in Omaha one July Fourth. They had a watering ban because it was so dry and people would be fined for watering lawns. It was also illegal to shoot fireworks in the city of Omaha. But that was a law everyone ignored, so on the morning of the Fourth, the paper’s headlines were: If you are going to shoot fireworks please water your lawns. The fireworks started in the neighborhood around 8 a.m. and continued until about 2 a.m. the next morning. It wasn’t little fireworks, but many were the kind you see at events. The next morning the street sweeper cleaned the streets as it looked like it had snowed fireworks, and the street and lawns were covered with debris. It was a fun day because it was expected, and people knew what was going to happen.

The past few weeks around 11 or 11:30 p.m. loud booms could be heard in our neighborhood and other neighborhoods in our community. Facebook comments lit up in protest of the noise so late at night. Dogs and cats got scared and caused problems for their owners. Small children woke from their sleep scared, and those who suffer from PTSD almost took cover. Many veterans, no matter how long it has been, dive for shelter when they hear the noise because it brings back memories from their time in the war. It was an inappropriate time for fireworks because it was unexpected.

People felt there was a lack of respect for their neighbors. It is easier on veterans, children, and pets if you can prepare for the event that might shake their world. I know we can’t always prepare for the unexpected but in this case, trauma can be avoided by warning your neighbors, waiting until the actual day, or taking your fireworks into the country and an open area where others will not hear.

It is Independence Day and we should be celebrating. Fireworks are fun but remember to be careful is also a part of shooting off fireworks. Kids love fireworks. My grandkids are excited about this holiday. My husband and I will be staying home because he is one of those veterans who wants to take a dive when they hear the sound. We do not go to firework events. I remember the first time I was with him when we were dating, and fireworks started at an event. He almost pulled me straight to the ground on the pavement. Years later, the sound still sometimes triggers that feeling.

Enjoy your day. Have fun, be respectful and show your pride in being an American. We do live in a great land.

 Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com

Take A Risk: Look for the Gorilla In The Room

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf
by Julie Seedorf published in The Albert Lea Tribune week of June 12, 2017

I saw the gorilla. I did! I did! Because I saw the gorilla it means I am a highly creative person. That is — according to one source.

I read an article this week that said highly creative people see the world differently. I didn’t necessarily think that the highly creative adjective described me, but I have been known to think out of the box and create something weird.

A video accompanied the article. In the video, people were passing a ball back and forth. In watching the video you were supposed to count the number of times the white shirts passed the ball. They did not tell you in the instructions that a gorilla was going to walk through the group as they were passing the ball. I not only counted the correct number of passes, but I saw the gorilla. According to the test, if you saw the gorilla you are a highly creative person.

I tried the test on someone else. They counted but did not see the gorilla. I was astounded. How could anyone not see the gorilla?

The results and the article made me feel better about myself. I have stated before in this column that I do not always feel comfortable or feel I belong when interacting in some situations. I just do not fit in. I realized I do see the world differently. I look at a wall and see what it can be or I look at a building and always see its creative possibilities. I get more than my fair share of skeptical looks when I put forth an idea. I must admit I am always disappointed when others do not see the possibilities, or when I see a change is needed, others don’t agree with me. I can’t believe they don’t see what I see. And they roll their eyes at my crazy ideas.

While waiting for a friend to get through eye surgery this week, I had one of those visual moments.

I was impressed with everything surrounding the surgery. The doctor, the nursing staff, and the care were excellent and so was the coffee. It was a quiet relaxing atmosphere and the staff did everything above and beyond to make my friend, the patient, comfortable. The surgery went well and was successful.

I was offered coffee and sat back in the outpatient’s surgery room to relax and wait. That is when this problem I have with visual creativity kicked in. The room was dark browns and tan and plain. It made the room feel smaller and was kind of depressing to a person that likes color. It was not cheery; it was drab. I felt someone waiting for minor surgery and was nervous, needed light, calming, cheery colors. I could visualize a positive, calming statement scrolled on the wall. I wanted to feel the ambiance of sunshine in the darkened windowless room.

Granted we weren’t there very long, but it was refreshing to leave the room to open skylight with sunshine pouring down upon us.

That is exactly the reason I get scowling looks at times. I see the visual possibilities when constructing something, which lifts our moods and makes us smile.

I loved the article and the test. It made me feel I was not alone in what I have felt all these years. It gave me permission to be different.

Many of us spend valuable time trying to be like everyone else so we will be accepted. There are those brave individuals who have invented outrageous things we have in our world today who were probably told their creative idea would never work or become a reality. In fact, sitting in the medical facility, our conversation centered around the technology for a vision that is so advanced, eye sight is being improved and saved –procedures that were dreamed of years ago but thought to never be possible in reality.

I like color. Others like tan and gray and others live with what they don’t like because it is more accepted to be tan and gray rather than risk seeing the gorilla in the middle of the room and being branded as different. Accepting those differences in each other would cause all of us less stress.

I have a friend visiting Ireland and Wales. She has been posting pictures of the rows of colorful houses in these countries. The pictures contain pink houses, green houses, yellow houses, purple houses and orange houses situated right next to each other. I envied those people. The last people who tried a purple house in my community were scrutinized and criticized because their purple Victorian house ruined the neighborhood. When they moved, the next owners painted it a neutral color. I was one of the few that was disappointed.

We are surrounded by color right now with the leaves and the trees. I got creative and painted some old dead bushes in my yard a soft green. I like my works of art. They let my light shine.

If you see the quiz, take it. Will you see the gorilla? If you don’t, will you let your neighbor who sees the gorilla, see the world differently and accept them for it?