A Summer of Ponderings

Since I quit my column, Something About Nothing, I have been more silent on my blog. This summer I needed a step back to see where I have been and where I am going. I am not sure I am there yet, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. I have never been good at keeping things inside and yet I found there were so many feelings I was stifling because I wanted to keep friends, not cause a ruckus, and that is what I was trained to do most of my life. Don’t get angry, don’t yell, be strong.

I remember a be strong moment when I was pregnant with my first child and my dad died. I was an only child and everyone told me I had to be strong for my mom and I was until…   I remember walking down the aisle following the casket after the funeral. I heard someone sobbing loudly and realized it was me. Strong took its toll at the worst moment. This summer I found I had never properly taken the time to grieve for missing my dad, and it was 48 years ago that he died, but I held those feelings inside of me because I needed to be strong.

I like to think of myself as an authentic person but I realize I am not. I have said things are ok and fine when they really aren’t. When I felt my voice and feelings didn’t matter or they wouldn’t be heard so to avoid conflict, I would stay silent, but hurts don’t disappear that way, they may diminish, but until they are acknowledged they never go away or get resolved.

This summer seems to have awakened a journey in my heart. We have been dealing with the illness of a loved one, that is invisible to others and there is a level in which you don’t talk about it because when you don’t know how to cope, it is hard to explain it to others so you retreat or… you put on a smile and hide the heartbreak.

I also have been examining my faith journey and what I was taught to believe and what I have experienced throughout my life. I could say I have been putting together the pieces. I wouldn’t call it a faith crisis, although some would because I haven’t been to church much this summer, but it isn’t a crisis as much a faith growth. I started my life in the Catholic Church and after my marriage joined the Lutheran Church. At the time it was more about the leadership of the Priest in my church community when through conversation during our pre-nuptial counseling, he revealed himself to be racist. My husband recognized it, I didn’t, and my soon to be husband felt he could not belong to a church led by a man that felt that way about another race. Looking back I brushed it off and thought my decision with leaving the Catholic Church was more to do with going to church as a family because as my dad was of another religion, the Catholic Church at the time didn’t allow that. Examining my heart I now know that Priest’s comments were also a part of my decision, even though at the time I tried to make light of it to excuse the behavior. So right now, after 48 years I will say, “The Priests behavior was not ok.”

This summer in my faith journey that is still going on, I was fed by friends of different religions and different backgrounds. I was fed by book studies with strangers and discussions with different beliefs. I was fed because though there were basic differences we disagreed upon, we listened to one another, not always understanding and expressing that in a graceful way, but coming through it with love and kindness and a feeling of relief that we could come together with differences and leave with differences, but we were allowed to speak and be ourselves and not be judged. I learned church family doesn’t always mean those from a brick and mortar church. I learned a Pastor or a Priest make a difference depending on their leadership. I remember when I joined the Lutheran Church one of the reasons is what I saw in the leadership of Pastor John MIkkelson, a wise, kind, strong leader. He showed us who he was. He let us know where he stood. He could lead and delegate and make all feel welcome. The rest was up to us. I have heard the words “I don’t go to church because of a Pastor.” But I will say this, we need to respect the person who leads so that we can respect the message that is being taught to us. That respect does not mean they are perfect but they show us their flaws, can admit when they are wrong, and they know how to feed a flock that inspires us to go out into the world and treat each person we meet that are searching for their church family to feel accepted and welcomed. Have I done that? I don’t think so.

I used to be very involved in the church when I was younger. It wasn’t something I planned but at the time our Pastors, after Pastor Mikkelson visited each and every home in their congregation. The visits only lasted five minutes but they felt it was important so they could meet their congregants where they lived. Some complained the majority of the congregation actually liked the visits. It was because of those visits and Pastors I got more involved in the Sunday School and was in church more often. They knew who we were and it was easier to go to them with problems because they took the time to get to know us.

Last Sunday in my home church it hit me what I was looking for and what I think many are looking for in a church and that is to be accepted. To be able to show others the good, the bad and the ugly. For someone to say I don’t understand, but I care about you and I will tell you if I feel you are harming yourself or others and do it with love and acceptance of the person, not the actions. I am looking for a church that follows the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28. I think the Message Bible speaks to me the best. Matthew 11: 28-30. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” That is the feeling I want when I enter my church. As many of us are, I am tired. I am weary. I judge myself so much I don’t need to be judged by others. I can do it far worse than anyone else can and I need a place to go and people to be with that is a safe haven no matter how I dress, no matter what I look like. How about you?

So what have I decided about my faith crisis or faith growth? The journey will continue. The climate we are living in today pits us against each other in religion but history shows it always has. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who worships the correct way? Who believes the correct way? Whose sin is greater than the other? We point fingers. We judge. And we are weary. And I have felt myself doing the same thing because of the climate of our country today and I don’t like myself for it.  I need to stop.  I wonder how God’s love or a higher powers love can shine through any of it, but it does if we look for it.

Next week…. more of my summer musings about writing and painting and family.

 

 

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.