Thursday, February 27, 2014

All Rise (Part II): You may be seated

So yesterday I spent far too much time learning and then writing about why we stand when scripture is read in church, a topic that is near and dear to the hearts of about seven people on the planet. If you're one of those seven, you're in luck because you're getting a Part II in which we continue to look at this topic that only I would devote two blog entries to because hey, it's not like there's anything else going on in the world that you could be paying attention to.

Shortly after I'd finished writing Part I, a coworker of mine who happens to be a retired Presbyterian (maybe Episcopalian, I can't remember) minister had some free time and I asked him about the whole standing for scripture reading thing. He said when he was a minister, he never asked his congregation to stand because, as he put it, they could hear it just as well sitting as they could standing.

He went on to explain that, in his view, each church had their own different traditions when it came to things like standing for the scripture reading or even standing for songs. He observed that often the bible reading would come after a song that everyone was already standing for, so they just remained standing for the reading. Other churches he's attended would only stand for the first song and then sit for any other songs and since the congregation* was already seated, there was no reason to make them stand up.

*If anyone with any power in church terminology reads this, can you start a movement to start calling it the crowd instead of the congregation?

My coworker said that whenever he would go to a new church, he would ask what their customs and traditions were as to standing or sitting for songs or readings or whatever and simply adopt those customs while he was there. There wasn't any grand theological reason for standing or not, it was whatever people were comfortable doing and he was good with that.

And where does that leave me? Pretty much in the same place I was before I started looking in to this. Some churches stand because they always have and they have attached a meaning to that. Other churches sit because they've always sat and those crowds** seem perfectly content with that. Perhaps, like religion as a whole, it's up to each person to find what, if any, meaning there is from standing or sitting while a few words are read.

**See what I did there? 

Or, and this may just be me, a God that created the vast and expanding universe with billions upon billions of stars isn't overly concerned with whether we stand or sit at church and each person should work it out on his or her own to find what brings the most meaning and value to his or her life during a scripture reading.

Join me next time when I look at what it means if there is organ music or piano music playing before the service starts. (Note: I will not be doing this.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

All rise

My pastor tweeted a photo of his preparations for Sunday's service the other day that featured a 17 verse scripture lesson. I have nothing against scripture and 17 verses isn't all that many when you consider there are 31,240 verses in the bible, give or take a few that are unnumbered for various reasons. So 0.0005 percent isn't all that much.

But growing up in church, I knew that we may have to stand for the reading and, truth be told, I'd rather not stand. Mostly because I don't always wear the most comfortable shoes to church, but also because I don't understand why we have to stand. The sound waves are still going to reach my ear the 18 inches or so lower than if I'm standing. But I stand because everyone stands. And everyone stands because everyone before them stood. Just like the people before them. And the people before them.

So I asked my pastor why we stand. He gave a very official sounding answer that, I assume, came from his time in seminary. He said " the Gospels demand that we act, and standing up and facing the reader is a way to indicate that we realize that." That's all well and good if that's what I was actually doing. But it wasn't. That idea had never even crossed my mind. In fact, if you'd made me guess why we stand in church for scripture readings, I'm not sure I'd ever get to something resembling that reason.

I was standing for a couple reasons.

First, he asks us to before the reading and as much as I'm not a fan of it, it's not that much of an imposition on me to stand up for a few minutes. He's a nice guy and I don't think he'd ask us to do something for no reason, so why not stand? Second, and perhaps a little more subtle, I do it because humans tend to defer to authority figures and even though my pastor and I went to college together and are friends, inside the church building I still view him as an authority figure. If he asked me to stand up while we're at a baseball game together, I'd tell him to shut up* while I'm watching the game.

*Only if my kid and/or his kids weren't around. 

I'm not a big symbolism guy. I get that it's important to a lot of people, but to me, ritualized symbolism doesn't really do anything. Granted, I may be totally underestimating the impact it has on me and my perceptions of things and not have any real understanding of how ritualized symbolism has impacted me, but as a general rule, I find symbols and symbolism tend to eventually  take on equal, if not more, importance than what they represent. I'll still stand when my pastor asks us to, and I now know the rationale as for why  we're doing it, but I'm just as good sitting comfortably to listen to scripture.