Monday, February 27, 2006

Forbid them not

In America we enjoy freedom of worship. We can worship whomever or whatever we want, and no one is supposed to infringe on that right. People of every religion, and those of every denomination within the Christian sector have different philosophies of worship. You'll find charismatic, liturgical, evangelism-focused, humanistic, liberal, conservative and whatever other flavors you could ever wish to find in churches all over the country. I have been a part of many different denominations over my lifetime: PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), PCUSA (the other Presbyterian), Baptist, Nondenominational, even a Messianic Jewish Congregation (Jews who believe Christ to be the Messiah). As I have grown older I have come to agree and disagree with certain policies or styles of various church denominations. One such policy that I strongly disagree with concerns a certain church on the Gulf Coast. This church has begun to enforce a policy that denies the youngest in the congregation the right to worship in the main service.
This week I heard firsthand from a member of this church (I will not mention the name of the church, or it's denomination) that they are forcing families with children to place their children in the nursery, and if the parents refuse, they are not allowed to enter the sanctuary. It applies to children six and younger. To accommodate those who don't want their children in the nursery, they have created a “family room” where the whole family can sit and watch the worship service on a television screen. The pastor has made it clear that he does not want children in the service because they are distracting to everyone else.

When I heard this, my first reaction was disgust, anger and disbelief. To say that children are not free to worship with their families, that they are an inconvenient distraction is horrible and heartless. To deny the parents the right to have their children worship with them and teach them how to behave in a service, how to sing the great hymns, recite the creeds, receive communion, and eventually digest and discuss the sermon is a travesty and, dare I say it, dictatorial.

I believe the pastor assumes several things about children that are incorrect and disturbing. I also think he is misunderstanding, or (I hope) forgetting one of the main theological thrusts of the whole Bible.

First, I think he assumes that they are going to misbehave and distract other worshippers. I have been in churches where a baby was crying uncontrollably, and I thought to myself, “why don't they take their child to the lobby?” The church in question does have a cry room where parents can take unruly children and still listen to the sermon. The bulletin at this church states that children should be taken out of the service if they are causing a disturbance. So yes, parents should be considerate enough to take their crying babies to the cry room or the lobby, which most of them are careful to do.

To assume that young children cannot sit through a sermon is wrong. To be super sensitive to every coo or babble is something the individual needs to get over. I have personally been more distracted by adults continually hacking and blowing their noses in a sermon than a baby making a noise, or a child asking his mom for a piece of gum.

The second assumption this church/pastor is making is that young children will receive no benefits from the worship service, but that they are better served in a Sunday school class or a nursery. I think this is a misconception. Children are smarter than we sometimes think. Babies are constantly processing and learning. They love music, lights, new faces, new sounds and new words. In the American church I believe we compartmentalize age groups and try to say that only a curriculum based on the person's level of comprehension and learning will impact them. That is why we see Baby Bibles with pictures, Teen Study Bibles, Women's Study Bibles (pink ones of course), and Young Adult Groups, Singles Groups, Senior Adults, etc. I understand the concept behind them, but I think teens are capable of studying from a plain old Bible with cross-references and a concordance, just as an elderly person can be taught in a class with a single adult and even a teenager. Young children can participate and glean from an “adult” service. They have the ability to worship with their families and sit quietly through a sermon. The content can impact them in ways we may not realize at the time, but that will become obvious as the child grows and can outwardly show how much he or she has absorbed from the worship service.

The compartmentalization I mentioned previously is one reason why I was never “challenged” in a youth group or Sunday school class. I had grown up in church and had a lot of knowledge that I was eager to add to and go further and deeper. It is ironic to me as I write this because I remember sitting in a “college” Sunday school class when I was a junior in high school. (This happens to be the same church I have been speaking about.) It was a great study that I was enjoying, learning from, and contributing to, but I was asked to go to the high school class because I was not in college. Generations are no longer learning from one another, they are being taught from age-appropriate curriculum with fun activities in “children's church,” or “ youth group.” I'm not saying there is not a benefit to this type of instruction, I just think it is not more effective or beneficial than the actual worship service.

The pastor at this Gulf Coast church, by his exclusion of children, has already alienated many of his congregation. He is robbing his congregation of the richness of a multi-generational service. He is denying the very children that Jesus spoke to so lovingly in Mark 10 verses 13-16. I am going to quote this entire section because it is precious and because it speaks of the priority children were to Jesus during his ministry.

“And they were bringing children* to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” ESV

*In Matthew chapter 18, a parallel passage, verse 15 says “Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them...

This incident speaks volumes and speaks it powerfully. Jesus was indignant that the disciples were trying to keep the children from him. I really don't think they had nurseries when Jesus was teaching the massive crowds in the hillsides of Galilee and the surrounding areas. I'm sure babies were crying, and children were tugging on their mom's skirts to ask them questions. The early church speaks of entire families coming to faith together, and we can safely assume that young children were included in these families. I am not saying that I am anti-nursery, in fact I think nurseries are important and useful in a church setting. I am against forcing parents to place their children in the nursery. This policy has some disturbing issues behind it, and that is what I am trying to address.

This brings me to one last thing; something I think the pastor is missing- a covenantal view of the family. Acts 2:39 says “For the promise is for you and for your children..” To believe the promise leads to a deeper integration in a congregation. I am not a scholar, or a theologian (which I restate in order to clarify that I am not trying to claim superior Bible knowledge over anyone), but I believe in God and his promises, that the covenant includes children, and that they can and should worship in a congregation of believers. The best example of the application of this is a church I visited in St. Louis with one of my friends. The service included children of all ages, and my friend told me that hardly anyone uses the nursery. I sat with my 6 month old daughter in my lap, she sat with her 2 ½ year old, and we worshipped together. There were baby noises all around, but it was a beautiful sound and a wonderful example of the worshipping church.
I also want to say that it was not easy to sit with my child in my lap the whole time, and to sing out of a hymnal while holding her (I think it would become easier and easier -it's all about what you are used to/committed to). It is easier to take her to the nursery. But this is the problem. I am used to taking the easy way out. Americans are always looking for the easy solution, the easy 30-minute meal, the easy way to lose weight or get in shape. And the easy way is not always the best, most effective, most beneficial way. In fact, it is usually not the best. I want to do what is absolutely best for my daughter in every area of her life. This means sacrifice on my part, and enduring things that are not comfortable or easy (i.e. breastfeeding, but that is a totally different discussion).

I am not trying to say that the pastor and church I am questioning is denying children the right to learn about Jesus, or be taught the Scriptures. I am saying that they are devaluing their children, and denying them the opportunity of corporate worship and all the richness and learning that is available in a worship service.

*Today as I was finishing up this article, I spoke to my “source” and was informed that the policy was changed- it is no longer mandatory. This is good news. I think the pastor was getting a lot of flak from his disgruntled congregation. I can only hope he sees the errors in his view of children, and attempts to welcome babies and little children in the worship service consistently and effectively.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Squirrels gone wild

Hi. I haven't been a big blogger lately, I must confess. I 've been thinking about things, though, so it will all come out here in the next few days. Here are some things that are going on:

1. T-ball is back in the park right slap across from my house. It is fun to see the little guys out there swinging away and tumbling around in the grass. Or running with their big gloves straight out in front of them and tripping and falling.

2. Today it is summer in the city. The temperature is above 70. Like they say on McDonald's commercials, DA DA DA DA DA I'm loving it.

3. Yesterday I scraped up dead vomited mole entrails off of the driveway. Thanks Wally.

4. The other day at the gas pump (our price here is $2.13 a gallon) I set the pump on automatic and was talking to my baby in her car seat. The pump shut-off at exactly $29.29. Weird.

5. My baby girl is now a walker. She loves walking around and around the house, usually carrying a toy in each hand. I never thought about it before, but when you only crawl you can't carry things, except in your mouth. So think how novel it would be to be able to carry things around the house and also give them to your parents.

6. Squirrels gone wild- i.e. the squirrels are everywhere I look and they're crazy. They chase each other in spirals around the trees in my yard and they're consuming all the birdseed in my feeder. I see them doing mating dances too. There is one squirrel who eats his body weight in my birdseed every morning. I call him Notch because he has a notch in his left ear. It's the exact size of a BB. Hmmmm... I wonder how that happened?

7. Yesterday I played a big part in making my daughter a beautiful dress for the upcoming wedding of my friend Jen. It was challenging, as I'm not a perfectionist, and I think perfectionists make the best seamstresses. But it is so much cheaper to make dresses than to buy them! I hope this is a step in the direction of me honing my sewing skills. (I've got skills.)

8. Last night Jay and I were watching the Olympics and we saw a hilarious commercial. It was a man going up on the roof to "clean out the gutters." He actually had a cooler, a chair, and some Bud Light. He looks over and sees his neighbor " repositioning the satellite" with his cooler and chair. Another neighbor pops up, but he is actually trying to repair a leak. He falls through the ceiling, behind where his wife is sitting on the couch. He stands up and says, "I'm ok" when his toolbox falls through and knocks him out. We laughed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure
-Twelfth Night

(I made Jay do this. It was completely staged. Three cheers for romance! This was clearly a "kissing spot" so what else was there to be done?)

Happy Late Valentines Day which is a day I reject because it is sort of ridiculous in it's greeting card and floral and stuffed animal mania. I do love love though, and I will celebrate it any day. Like today. The 15th. Posted by Picasa

True plain hearts

I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we lov'd? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers' den?
'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir'd, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
What ever dies, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die.

The Good Morrow
-John Donne

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rummage is a fun word to say, Part Deux

What you see before you is my latest acquisition. I am so excited about these rusty old chairs that I found in a trash pile around the corner the other day. One is stationary and the other is a rocker. They would probably cost around 50 dollars a piece in an antique store. I'm going to sand them, treat them with anti-rust stuff, and paint them. You might scoff, turn up your nose, exclaim with derision- nice pieces of junk! But I stand firm in my conviction that these chairs are full of potential and they are just sitting there waiting to be sat upon on a sultry summer evening- waiting for the tiki torches to be lit and the lemonade to be poured. So I raise my spring! to the struggling azalea seen on the right! to the scrawny neighborhood cat seen in the distant background! to new life for old chairs! Here Here! Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 03, 2006

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M I crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback humpback I

Last weekend my family- (me, Jay, Ruthie; my mom Dion, my dad Al; my brother Alan, his wife, Cheryl and their baby Annabelle) went to visit my mom's brother, Duffee, his wife Alatha, and all my cousins-Hayley, Shelley and Lang, all of whom are married, the former two having children, in Meridian, Mississippi. (That was a major run-on sentence. For you, Mr. Jones.) Meridian is where my mom grew up, met my dad, who was stationed at the Navy base there, and where my grandmother, Nanny, lived and died. Meridian is a place of fond memories for me. It was the place that never changed as I moved from town to town, growing up in a Navy family. It was "the South" to me for so many years- a steamy hot mosquito buzzing place with red dirt and people who spoke "Southern."

It was Nanny's house on the lot by the creek, the room across the porch, the green rocker, the dogwood in bloom. It was Nanny running out to greet us, waving her arms and laughing with excitement. I wrote my name in crayon in the wash house, beside my mom's name where she wrote in in 1960-something. I learned to love corn bread baked in a skillet, and sleeping in the back bedroom listening to the drone of the window-unit air conditioner. I learned to hate poison-ivy, the bane of the creekside ramblers.

My brother and I would bring our bicycles and tour the city with our cousin Lang. We'd ride around the corner to Shumate's service station and get IBC root beers and drink them on the curb. We'd pedal over to the Monkey Tree- which was actually two or three massive trees with the biggest wisteria vine I've ever seen growing up the middle and entertwining them in a million serpentine arms. It was the best climbing, and a wonder to look upon.

Meridian was walks up the Canyon Road after dinner in the steamy dusk with the lightning bugs coming out to shine. It was stories of my mother's childhood and my parent's first date. It was sitting on the cement couch and laughing our heads off, or dancing to Lawrence Welk with my crazy Nanny. It was 39th Avenue, Sno-Cones, Highland Park-the one with the carousel. My brother unearthing an old quarter beneath the towering oak that my uncle had planted when he was a boy. Meridian was the plaintive cry of the train coming down the tracks , it was sitting outside in lawn chairs until the bugs drove us inside.

It was good to be back there again. My aunt's hospitality and cooking are unmatched. My cousins' children are precious, and my uncle plays Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. They live in a charming green house with a purple door. It sits up on a lush, ivy-covered hill studded with tall pines and one budding Japanese magnolia. The fire was lit and we sat and talked, and laughed and recalled things from the not so distant past. I didn't go by to see Nanny's house. My cousin said it was sad to see. I think I want to always see it as it was, so I guess I won't ever drive down 39th Avenue again. But I promise you it is in my mind's eye, clearer than most of the things I can remember. And Nanny and her love are always there waiting, with a pot of homemade vegetable soup warm on the stove.


One place we did go visit was Booker's Antiques in Whynot, Mississippi (for real, Whynot, Mississippi). It's a short drive from Meridian and we used to go with Nanny to seek out treasures of all sorts. The last time I was there was probably 8 or 10 years ago, and I remember buying a teacup from Czechoslovakia and an old volume of Shakespeare. Booker's has changed greatly. The place is so full of stuff that you have to turn sideways to get through at several points. You can find anything and everything in there- beautiful pieces of furniture, not so beautiful pieces of furniture, china platters, pitchers, teacups, an iron eagle, stained glass, hurricane lamp chimneys, records, newspapers, dolls, shutters, a stuffed toucan, radios, bottles, paintings, rusted iron embellishments and on and on. It is frightening in its outrageous quantity. But also interesting. I will put some pictures that I took inside to show the beauty that I found despite the scariness. (I suffer through dial-up and can't post pictures together, I have to do them one at a time, until some hero in a black mask rescues me and shows me how to function better with my limitations. So bear with me.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Harbingers of Spring

It doesn't matter what the groundhog says, what do we see popping up in our city-tiny paperwhites pushing up through the soil. I take joy in these little signs of the coming season. I took this while driving, pardon the quality. Posted by Picasa
I spotted this lovely Redbud (Cercis Canadensis) last week. It is one of my favorite flowering trees. Today the temperature is in the 70s and I'm loving it. We had a wonderful thunderstorm early this morning. I love sleeping to the sound of rain. Do January showers bring February flowers? Posted by Picasa