Pew Angst

I have love-hate feelings toward church pews.
The love comes of the scent of lemon wax, of snoozing peacefully as a toddler between laps of khaki and calico, of forming shadow puppets on wood sun-dappled with stained glass colors, or fishing out a nub of a pencil from a pinky-sized hole in the pew ahead with which to write my name in cursive and blacken in all O’s in the bulletin, of joining the cacophony of tiny glass cups plunged into cracked rubber rings after my first communion, of holding my breath as the muscled arm of my first boyfriend glided down the back of the pew onto my shoulder, of delighting in my toddlers vaulting over the pew arm to sprint forward for the children’s sermon, of tracing a heart with my finger in the maroon velvet nap of the pew cushion for my sister at our mother’s funeral.
The hate comes of fantasies of myself as Carrie Nation complete with hatchet chopping pews to smithereens, Don Quixote sallying forth on a mission, brandishing the lance of righteous indignation, of Paul Bunyan yanking up pews from their bolted roots and hurling them into the street like so many splinters. In short, pews lack a sense of humor and the church cries out for spontaneity. How does one dance and celebrate around such walls of cumbersome, linear barriers?
Onto what shall we sit instead? Futons, porch gliders, quilts, beanbag chairs, gym bleachers, floor pillows?
Having completed this exercise in the ridiculous, I realize that this reverie is less about pews and more about long overdue spiritual transformation. But, imagine Jesus’ picnickers listening to His sermon on the mount. Judaism, their rock-bed of faith and hope, so saturated with rich stories, had become so rule-bound, it likely pinched like outgrown shoes. Before them, a kind stranger shared a startling love message. What synthesis awaited them on the horizon of how to meld their rich spiritual legacy with Jesus’ simple gospel glee? Both then and now, I believe hope lies in the blending the energy of historical wisdom with a more contemporary and mature image, a “reframe”. Without the former, we risk becoming rootless. Without the latter, we stagnate. The restlessness demonstrated by my pew passion is a symptom common to our age. What shall the church become?