Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Green church paint and a time that is gone, finale

The previous two posts were a nostalgic look at the church of my childhood.  I didn't even touch on summer bible school, with its massive annual soap collecting project.  Soap and VBS are forever connected in my mind.  Instead, I wanted to end on a slightly more introspective note.

When I was growing up, the church was in the last stages of trying to cling to rules and disciplines from earlier in the century.  At its best, this stemmed from a  high view of church as a voluntary community of the redeemed, who now should strive to live a life visibly different from the world.  At its worst, this devolved into endless wrangling over musical styles, changes in church formats, and above all, dress, particularly the covering. (Someone needs to write a doctoral dissertation about the approximately 100 years of renewed emphasis on plain dress in the Mennonite Church, including how many people it kept in the church and how many people it drove away).

What happens to a church when it puts so much emphasis over so long into certain rules and customs which are then discarded?  I can't forget a random remark from one of the oldest members of our church a few years ago.  We were standing in the pews after church had dismissed, and I don't remember anything specific about the conversation, but it must have dealt in some way with the many changes our church has gone through over the years.  "Yes," he said, with barely suppressed anger "we worked so hard to live by all the rules when we were young, and now they tell us it didn't matter." 

So much pain, conflict and heartache resulted even from the covering question.  I know people left the Mennonite church over it.  I'm just old enough to have experience wearing one, a lace "doily" that I put on only for church.  I stopped wearing it sometime during high school.  Today, it's not even an issue in our church, and I suspect it isn't much of one in the broader conference.  It was so important for so long, and now ... it's not. 

What are the issues that we focus on today that will cause our descendants to look back at us with bemused wonder?  Ordination of women?  (It's just a matter of time before that is accepted by the Conference)  Acceptance of non-celibate homosexuals?   How will the boundary lines be redrawn?

I suspect/hope that most boundary lines evolve out of a genuine attempt to apply the Bible to life.  The application may change, but ideally the principal remains.  If we spend too much time focusing on things that are not genuinely scriptural, might this lead to the theological equivalent of Peter and the Wolf?  After spending so much time on what are later deemed to be nonessentials, will we be able to recognize a genuine threat to the flock?  (Goodness, that sounded preachy).   I don't know, but green paint makes me think about such things occasionally.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Green church paint and a time that is gone, part 2

As I was saying, I've attended the same church for most of my life, but many things have changed.   The paint is white now.  The foyer is carpeted, there's a small nursery, children's church, and no one ever stands behind the pulpit to preach a sermon.

Mennonites are not a liturgical people, but the church of my early childhood was so structured as to be the next thing to liturgy.  We arrived a few minutes before 9, and filed into the sanctuary.  Men sat on the right side, women sat on the left.  There were a number of plain coats on the older men, and coverings on most women over 15.  (Most families with young children did sit together, although my parents found it beneficial to sit separately with us - sort of a divide and conquer strategy). 

At 9, the song leader would stand up and lead a hymn, accappella.  The Sunday School superintendant would have a short devotional, and we'd be dismissed to Sunday School.  As we filed out, we'd sing another song, often "Follow the Path of Jesus."  It was always fun to guess when the singing would stop as we entered our respective classrooms.

After Sunday School we all came back upstairs.  We would have a brief time of announcements, several more hymns, and the offering.  The sermon started at 10:30, and was nearly always over by 11, or 11:15 if the preacher really had a lot to say.  To help keep us aware of time,there was a clock thoughtfully placed above the pulpit, so the congregation could fix their eyes upon it, as well as a clock on the rear wall above the door, so the preacher could be aware of his time limit. 

Most preachers would end with a benediction, such as "Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the throne with exceeding joy, the only wise God our Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion and power both now and forevermore."  I haven't heard that in years, but it's still there in memory.  He would walk down the aisle while we sang the final hymn (often the doxology), and shake hands as people left the sanctuary.

More next time!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Green church paint and a time that is gone

The back stairwell of our church suffers from a water problem.  A light layer of mildew fights to gain the upper hand over the paint, which is itself peeling in patches.  This is a problem for the trustees.  As I left the library a few weeks ago and skipped lightly down the stairs, I noticed that the original green paint now showed through in certain areas. 

Ah, the green paint.  Put on when the church was renovated in the 1950s, it is the church color of my childhood.  Nor was our church the only one to use it.  At times, it seemed as if half the conference had decided to embrace that pale, yet strangely vivid, shade of green.

 This was the 50's, after all, the decade of pastels.  There are still pink and blue tiled bathrooms dotting the landscape.  (At the time, it must have seemed a delightful change after years of WWII army drab). 

I go to the same church I attended as a child, and though the outside is still brick, almost everything else has changed.  The entrances were even flipped around in the 1994 renovation.   

My 20 minutes is up - next post will continue the green theme.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

About tattoos, but not entirely

Shocking revelation here:  I'm not really a tattoo person.  (I have a theory that tattoos and tea are, on a some fundamental level, deeply incompatible).  I don't have a tattoo, don't plan to get one, and have asked Nate to please be tattoo free when he leaves the Army.  Other people get them; fine.  I don't have much use for them.

So, when the tattooed couple entered the pool for family swim last week, I proceeded to compose their story in my head.  They probably met in a bar, were a little wild, and have only settled down now that they have a child, the cute 3 year old who immediately joined my children in the shallow end.  Both the man and woman had several tattoos on legs, arms, and back.  Because there were hardly any other people there, and because I'm nosy, I covertly glanced over at the tattoos.  Yep, indecipherable Japanese or Chinese characters, some butterfly thing, etc.  Pretty typical.  He also had a face tattooed on the upper chest, and I tried to make out who it was.  His favorite singer?  A movie star?  The man turned, and I could see the tattoo clearly.  It was a picture of Christ, with "King of Kings" written underneath it. 

I glanced quickly at his wife, and now saw that her arm sported a tatoo:  a cross with sunrise behind it, and underneath, the word "Hope." 

Christians get tattoos.  I know this.  Some family members have them.  But I was unprepared for how moved I felt by seeing such a tattoo in this context.  Right away, my picture of them changed.  Maybe they did meet in a bar, maybe they were wild.  Perhaps they also enjoy body art, and play guitar or drums in a house church. 

I found myself watching them more carefully.  Would their behavior mirror the inked message?  They were gentle with their son.  They shared their pool toys with my children.  They talked to each other with quiet enthusiasm and humor.  They were not ashamed to show their spiritual allegiance in word and deed. 

The whole experience was a little grace note, right there in the pool.  My quick and easy stereotypes took a knock.  As our family splashed and played, my eyes kept straying to those images again and again:  "King of Kings.  "Hope."   I left feeling more uplifted, and all because of a tatto.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Twenty Minute Increments

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote many entries in her diaries about the difficulties of balancing writing and motherhood. She had a nanny and a cook, and a separate trailer or tent in which to write. The physical detachment was possible; it was the mental detachment that was difficult.

I'm guessing this is true for most mothers of small children. We know that the buck stops with us. At any moment, we may hear footsteps pounding up the steps, fists banging on the locked door, and a "Mom? Mommy? Are you in there?" Once again, our train of thought is derailed.

I don't want to be mentally detached from my family. They give shape and substance to my life, and they are the best thing that's ever happened to me. Still, someday I want to write in more than 20 minute increments with no editing.

That's what you're getting here folks: anything I can type up in 20 minutes or less. Right now I'm trying to shape future posts about tattoos, Mennonite cookbooks, green church paint, and life as an army wife. Maybe that'll happen when I can write for a giddy 30 minutes at a time!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I (Don't) Want My HGTV

When we moved to our house 8 years ago, we decided not to get cable. I grieved the loss of a few TV shows for awhile, then moved on. Now it feels normal to read or watch DVD's in the evening, and I find myself looking at commercials and current shows with a bemused wonder, as if I've just wandered out of the backwoods.

The only place I get access to cable, therefore, is at the Y, and since I'm still too cheap to buy earbuds, I look for channels that have subtitles, like a news station. Last week, however, someone had left the TV on the HGTV channel, so I settled down to watch the program. It was about kitchen renovation. A very nice young couple completely remodeled their (already attractive) kitchen. When I turned on the TV, the wife was in a warehouse watching the program host display pieces of granite countertop. The camera then showed the maple cabinets, new hardwood floor, stainless steel appliances, and the black granite countertop the couple eventually selected. They built a custom windowseat (I liked that a lot), and finished it off with all kinds of "staging" accessories so it would look good in the final camera shot. The final price? A mere $49,000.

I'm not trying to judge this couple or the program. Heaven knows I'd like to be able to spend $49,000 on a kitchen or any home improvement at all. What bothered me was what happened in my mind after I turned off the TV. Yep, you guessed it, I started mentally tearing my perfectly adequate kitchen apart. "Let's see ... if we could just take out the wall between the kitchen and dining room ... then maybe install a bump-out bay window, with a window seat underneath ... possibly a center island ... new appliances ... more countertop ... and you know, I'd love a 4th bedroom and master bath, a family room, a rear deck, and isn't it time the front of our house actually had some landscaping ..."

At this point I had to mentally shake myself and realize that madness and marital discord lie down that road. Truly, there is no end to the home improvement projects once you get started.

My interest in houses has grown over the years. I should have majored in architecture or construction. The house I live in is, shall we say, not perfect. It's still more "fixer" than "upper." This is not easy, especially when you live in a relatively wealthy area, full of house-proud people. The bar around here is set rather high. And, unfortunately, that gives me lots of opportunity for house-envy. It's easy to forget that most of the world does not have access to a 12 room perfectly landscaped house. Many people would be thankful for a roof over their heads, literally.

Since this is already an area I struggle with, HGTV simply feeds my discontent. I focus on the 20% of things I don't have, instead of being thankful for the 80% I get to enjoy. So, for now, HGTV will remain an occasional guilty pleasure, and I'll keep working on being content.