Ruminations from the back pews; yes, ‘pews’.

Ruminations from the back pew

I have a confession to make. If you’ve read previous editions of ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ (and if you haven’t, good God man, save yourself), you’ll remember (perhaps unwillingly) that I’d staunchly refused to give in to any and all variations of ‘clappiness’ during worship (the Dutch Reformed Church, my religious alma mater, does not acknowledge any emotion that might make your mustache move). You will be thrilled (or horrified) to learn that I’ve thrown all caution to the wind and my hands up in the air like I just don’t care. Yes: I fear that I am now one of those worshippers.

It was Jack Hayward’s excellent book, Manifest Presence, that brought the change around. I finally figured out that worship isn’t about me. (Papa Rick will be ecstatic, I’m sure.) And you know, in realising that it isn’t about what I want out of worship, but what God wants out of worship, I’ve ended up getting more out of worship. Neat, huh?

Anyhow, yesterday we had a fantastic healing workshop at Trinity Methodist in Linden, Johannesburg, which is enviously beautiful and has floods (floods) of natural light in the chapel. We HMC folk are plotting a takeover even as I type this; I have already earmarked ‘my spot’ (my once and future spot!)

Sheldon

Dr Sheldon Cooper is my spirit animal.

The workshop was led by Rev Ray Goddess and managed to be informative and practical without being too ‘how to’ and formulaic. Hearing the testimony and seeing the healing that took place afterwards during the healing service itself just reminded me that essentially we Christians are called to do no more and no less than bear witness to the greatness of God. Fantastic news considering that his awesomeness never stops.

It’s actually ironic that I’m posting a ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ on one of the few Sundays lately I haven’t been to church. This morning I worshipped in the grocery store by covertly singing along to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Natural Woman’ in the toiletry aisle (in my defense, I caught at least two other people doing the same thing), and then naturally proceeded to run into three people from my congregation.

Methodists! They’re everywhere.

Pentecost.

Pentecost.

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Ruminations from the back pew | Sunday November 3, 2013

Ruminations from the back pew

There is a curse—they say may you live in interesting times.

I’m reporting back to you from a very dramatic Sunday service this week.

Our society rests on a very fragile bedrock of unspoken agreements: killing is bad; let’s all try not to do that. It is good that people have access to food, water, and shelter. Do not make eye contact with someone you’ve run into at a public venue after you’ve already exchanged hellos. Know when your pew has been purloined; under no circumstances try to negotiate its return.

What will the world come to when we just start chopping and changing these time-honoured traditions, Handsome and Polite Asian Family? You mongers of seat displacement? Just where do we draw the line when someone’s pew hogging is challenged, even rebutted?

The times we live in, I tell you.

Anyway, after my unforeseen departure from the back pew, I ended up next to the tannie who fell asleep during a service a few weeks back. I think my presence spurred her on to new levels of awakeness, so there’s that. And it was nice not sitting through a church service alone for once. If introversion isn’t Hell, it’s pretty close to it.

Someone collapsed during the service. I looked around just in time to see his head bounce off the pew in front of him, and there was a second of horrified humour before it was just horror and that helplessness particular to bystanders. Leon the Swaziland Missions Trip guy, you and your wife, family, and friends are in my prayers, all the more so because I feel like a massive jerk.

The whole episode, plus the recent death in our family and the funeral of one of my mother’s co-workers we attended yesterday, has settled heavily on my heart. Fittingly, the minister at yesterday’s funeral spoke about how we need to look beyond the grave. But graves are pretty deep, though, aren’t they?

Oh, awkward turtle moment of the week: the funeral was held in a Reformed Church (they’re also known as the Doppers). It was my first time at one of their services so, after the first hymn, when some folks remained standing for the prayer, I did, too. I only noticed during the closing prayer that this is apparently a men-only thing.

Rights

So I literally, if accidentally, stood up for feminism. Ahem.

What was your Sunday service like?

Ruminations from the back pew: sleeper cell edition

Technically this week’s edition of ‘Ruminations from the back pew’ should be titled ‘Ruminations from the middle section of the church because I arrived late and someone had taken my usual spot’. This, of course, is the dark side of the new-congregants-seat-shuffle I spoke of so lovingly before: it’s survival of the earliest out here.

As the Body of Christ, we always try to be accepting of the new folks we are so often blessed with, but you’ve got to admit that there are just some kinds of people you will never understand or sympathise with. For my last church it was black people. For my mother it’s vegetarians. For me it’s people who willingly sit in the front of church. And on their first visit? You better believe I’m listening for the telling jangle of their testes of steel.

Balls of steel.

Balls of steel.

Anyway, the service was pretty typical:

  • My new spot gave me an unimpeded view of the only two biceps in the 9:30 congregation, one of which had a tattoo on it. I’m not sure which was more distracting: the muscle or the unfortunate choice of font.
  • I spent most of the opening prayer praying that my stomach wouldn’t rumble too loudly—a prayer that went unanswered. Thanks, God!
  • My dotty-looking neighbour nodded off halfway through the sermon. I would have left her to it if she hadn’t started to snore, so I did the Christian thing and coughed loudly and pretended not to see her startle awake. I’m pretty sure I’m a good person.

Optimus Fine

The sermon was enlightening, don’t let Dotty Lady’s slumber fool you. Another oldie but goodie about how we are saved by grace and not our works. It’s such a simple thing, faith, in the end. Maybe that’s why we always forget about it.

Soundbites:

  • God can only create order when he’s the one in control. We have to relinquish control of our lives and actions to him.
  • Our works cannot replace God or God’s grace, and we cannot ‘repay’ him for salvation with works. If works could get us into Heaven, it would hardly be Heaven.
  • When we struggle with having faith, we need to remember that living itself is a constant act of faith. Jesus said only a mustard seed amount was required. That’s not a whole lot compared to the faith it takes the get up each morning.
  • Grace is a mystery, but what we should do with it isn’t.
  • God sees the glory of Jesus Christ when he looks at us. We too see that glory when we look at ourselves and each other through the goggles of faith.
  • In being saved, we (Christians) are the hope to the lost.
  • If we do everything for God’s glory, our priorities will automatically sort themselves out. (Something we’ve been discussing in our home cell group.)
  • God has faith in us—the least we can do is to return the favour.

What did you learn this Sunday?

Ruminations from the back pew: happy clappin’

Worshippin'

I’m not what you’d call an effusive worshipper. I’m not a hand raiser or a head throw back-er. I don’t tear up or mimic actions described in songs. If I’m clutching my heart meaningfully, I’m probably having a heart attack; please alert someone.

The farthest I go is sort of undulating on the spot. Not rocking or swaying, really, just…undulating. What I’ll do is I’ll scan the pews ahead of me, identify someone with an excellent sense of rhythm (we’re so lucky we have an ethnically diverse congregation) and copy theirs because God gave me none of my own. This is biblical. I believe it’s called the body of Christ and as we all know, one hand washes the other.

Last week at Bible study someone was talking about how they wish our worship sessions were more open to such Spirit-led displays. More?! I thought, rather cynically, left eye ticking. I was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church. Generally speaking, just twitching along to the beat of the music was considered daring, even (God forbid) progressive. Instantly dark thoughts of pentacostalism loomed.

I’m split two ways about overt displays of praise. My initial reaction is suspicion. Because I’m not very emotive myself, I immediately distrust this in other people. But then I sort of goggle admiringly for the exact same reason. And, frankly, people with a voice as thin as mine are forever indebted to the bubbly singers throwing their arms in the air like they just don’t care and cancelling out our sound waves.

This gives us enough space to undulate, spiritually :).

Ruminations from the back pew

I attend a local Methodist church. It has three services every Sunday: 7:30, 9:30 and 18:00. I usually go to either of the last two because if I went to the first one I might run into morning people (shudder).

On my way into church I got caught behind a family gaggle*. I don’t know what it is about me that sends small children tugging nervously at their grandmother’s skirt, but that’s what happened. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried smiling at them.

Patrick Bateman smile

Lately we’ve been trying to lure in welcome new congregants. I love it when new people come to our church because it upsets the established seating order and then it’s anyone’s game. I had a whole pew to myself near the heater, until someone slid in late smelling strongly of shoe polish. Unfortunately this pew is right in front of the mother’s room (which ironically contained only a father), which has not been properly soundproofed. So when a toddler tipped something over, my first thought was that the pew was going**. If you love me, I told God, you won’t let the pew break. I call this The Fat Sinner’s Prayer.

The leader of our evangelism team reported back on their efforts. Apparently the two biggest obstacles at this point are 1) that white people mistake them for Jehovah’s Witnesses and 2) that black people mistake them for white people.

Jehovah Witness level: expert.

Jehovah Witness level: expert.

There have been some changes to the worship team: Luciano Pavarotti has joined. He has a lovely voice, but it booms like the depths of Moria under siege. It took the congregation two songs to recover some of their wits and marshal a watery response to the giant’s thunder. I haven’t had that much fun singing in years because there was absolutely no chance of my reedy wiffle being overheard.

He probably isn't a stranger to The Fat Sinner's Prayer, either.

He probably isn’t a stranger to The Fat Sinner’s Prayer, either.

The sermon was about being saved by God’s grace (an old one, but a good one). How our redemption through Christ is unconditional and eternal. How we are accepted, and ought to accept in turn. How we need a relationship with God, church, fellowship, friends, to sustain the knowledge of our salvation and buffer us against worldliness. And you know what? In that back pew I felt sufficed with grace. A while ago I posted a reblog about how we tend to look for perfect churches (now there’s a misnomer). But really I think it’s just about finding an imperfect place that drowns out your own imperfections with love.

Yes? Yes. :)

– – – – – – – – – –

*Two grandparents, their children and their children’s children. If you ever wonder why the Israelites spent forty years trekking across a relatively small patch of desert, just look to family gaggles. It’s a time-consuming affair, making sure small children or confused geriatrics don’t wander off into traffic, and that’s not even counting the time fathers spend fussing over secure parking or mothers root through purses, bundles of children attached to their legs like so many ducklings. All of this occurring on the stretch of sidewalk between you and holy ground, of course. For a second, just one second, you sympathise deeply with Jehovah.

And it’s at a church so you can hardly lose your temper. The trick is to spot family gaggles ahead of time and slow down your pace so that your incandescent, unmarried-no-children rage remains a steady two steps behind any stragglers.

**They’re these old, creaky wooden things, stand alone and arranged along the flanks of the room.