Submitted by David Klements, Abilene, Texas
A new year has arrived. Even though we celebrate its arrival it is still the good old days that touch my heart and kindle my memories.
One of my favorite pastors, Chuck Swindoll, writes:
Old furniture with the patina of the ages, dripping with history, is far more intriguing to me than the uncomfortable, modern stuff. When you sit in it or eat on it or listen to music out of it, your mind pictures those in previous centuries who did the same. You try to imagine their world of oil lamps, buggies, outhouses, and potbelly stoves. Each scrape or dent hides a story you wish you knew.
Old hardback books are far more fascinating than those slick-cover paperbacks that flood today’s market. The classic works, leather-bound with colorful end pages and gold-gilded edges, have a feel and a smell that defy duplication. As I handle them, pore over their contents, enjoy the tiny print, and drink in the late author’s thoughts, which are both profound and quaintly stated, my mind rushes back to simpler times. I find it therapeutic to hold in my hands pages that have endured the ages, volumes that have crossed oceans in wooden crates, containing lines that other eyes have pondered and other fingers have marked. Even reading the same words in updated reprints is not the same. Something about the authenticity of antiquity thrills me within.
Old cars that have been restored capture my fancy much more quickly than the latest models. Caught in a time warp, as I watch one of those old beauties pass in review, I can’t help but smile and let the wonder in. Every year there is an Interstate Batteries Great American Race from coast to coast, where more than eighty pre-World War II autos make their way through cities and villages, driven by men and women who look like they’ve just stepped out of a Norman Rockwell canvas. What fun . . . what classic vehicles! Among them I’ve seen a spotless 1928 Auburn Boattail Speedster, a velvet black 1934 Ford Phaeton, a handsome 1932 Hupmobile Cabriolet, a vintage 1930 Pierce Arrow with gangster whitewalls and that handsome hood ornament. I’ve also seen a 1931 seven-passenger Buick convertible with the old trunk mounted over the rear bumper, the show-stopping maroon and black 1932 Packard Model 902, and even a bright red 1910 Knox Raceabout chugging along the blue highways. Big, bold running boards, solid slabs of metal forming giant fenders and domed hoods, chromed hubcaps, and flat windshields transport driver and admirer alike to another place in another time when men were courteous gentlemen, women were feminine ladies, children were innocent, teachers were respected, movies were clean, songs were romantic, and life was uncluttered and often just plain fun.
Old churches have a charm and elegance about them that cannot be matched today. When you step into them — as I have done in the countryside of old England, on the windswept coastlines of France, in the backwoods of Virginia and Vermont, and on the soft rolling hills of Tennessee and Texas — there lingers a smell of old stained-glass, hardwood floors, and oak pews that time cannot erase. As you settle into one of the creaking pews, your imagination runs free as a robed choir is harmonizing on the final refrain of “Love Lifted Me,” or the pipe organist, at full volume, is filling the sanctuary with one of Bach’s masterworks. The thunderous voice of the preacher is in the woodwork, and the altar beckons you to be still and know that God is God. The graveyard adjacent to the church, with its gray slate stones and eloquent etchings, leaves mute reminders of another era when the sting of death broke other hearts. Strangely, such sights and songs and smells equip us to face our own battles with renewed vigor.
It’s the old things — things that have outlived the fashions and the fads, that have endured wars and recessions, presidents and plagues — that remind us to pause and encourage us to strengthen our roots. Old bridges, old walls, old houses, old boats, old bikes, old hymns, old pictures, old memories . . . these things do more than prompt nostalgic feelings, suggesting to us that we are not alone in this long and sometimes lonely journey from earth to heaven. They link us to days gone by, to eras when colorful history was being shaped and harder times were being endured. By touching something old, something new is stirred within us . . . something we need so that we might carry on. By standing on the shoulders of yesterday, the view into tomorrow is not nearly so frightening.
There is nothing quite as funny as the “holy” mishappenings in church when you are not supposed to laugh.
One of my all-time favorite stories is “The Great Pew Invasion.” Those of us that have our “own” pew at church can appreciate what happened to Martha Bolton:
“I noticed it the minute I walked into the sanctuary that Sunday, but by then it was too late. There wasn’t a thing I could do about it. My heart began to pound, my knees wobbled, and I broke into a cold sweat and started hyperventilating.
Someone was sitting in my pew.
Okay, so it wasn’t really my pew. I didn’t pay for it or anything like that. It didn’t have my nameplate on it. (It used to, but the ushers made me take it down.)
Still, it was my pew. Everyone knew it was my pew. It was where I always sat – third row from the back on the left-hand side.
The Phillips family sat in the third row from the back on the right-hand side. I’d never dream of sitting in their pew. Not again, anyway, I tried that once but as soon as the pastor said the prayer, the Phillipses slid in behind me and forced me to relocate. (Unfortunately, this sort of pew-jacking is quite common in many churches.)
The Randolph family had homesteaded the front row, center section, and they didn’t take any chances. Each and every Sunday they arrived at church an hour early just to rope off their pew. That in itself may sound reasonable, but I still say those security guards they posted at each end were a bit much.
Mr. Carter claimed the fourth row from the front, right-hand section, aisle seat. Once an usher tried to persuade him to scoot down in order to leave room for latecomers but he merely took out his wallet and produced pictures of his father sitting in that seat, his grandfather sitting in that seat, and his great-grandfather sitting in that seat. The way he figured it, that seat was a family heirloom and he wasn’t about to give it up.
The above cases may sound extreme, but if you’ve studied Pew Theory as I have (I did my thesis on it), you’ll find pew possessiveness is not unusual. Thousands of regular church attendees have their chosen pews – pews which took weeks, months, perhaps even years to stake out.
Selecting the family pew is no simple undertaking. The perfect pew must have the perfect location. If you happen to select a pew that’s under a heating duct, you could find yourself breaking out into a sweat even when the pastor isn’t preaching on tithing. But you don’t want it under an air conditioning vent either, or icicles could start forming on your hymnal and the membership might think you’re a little strange for keeping your choir robe on throughout the entire service.
Another consideration in pew selection is the cushion. It needs to have just the right “give.” Surveys have shown that the ideal pew cushion is one which would allow you to sit tall when the pastor is praising the congregation on their faithfulness but to sink down three or four inches when he begins the building-fund pledge drive.
However, a pew cushion that’s too soft and comfortable may not be a good idea. Halfway through the service, you could become drowsy, lose your mental alertness, and end up volunteering to be the church newsletter editor, serve as youth camp counselor and teach the three-year-olds’ Sunday school class – all with on yawn and the inadvertent stretching of your arm upward.
I had considered all these points when I made my pew selection. My pew of choice wasn’t too soft or too hard. It wasn’t too hot or too cold. It was perfect. But now, all I could do was stand by helplessly while someone was shamelessly trespassing – invading my territory, jumping my claim.
Seeing the disbelief on my face and fearing I might faint from the shock, an usher quickly led me to the tenth-row center section.
“It’ll be all right,” he smiled, patting my hand reassuringly. “Maybe you’ll get your favorite pew back next week.”
Wait a minute, I thought to myself. Next week? My pew wasn’t on a time-share program. It had been my pew every Sunday as long as I could remember. There wasn’t any room for compromise here.
“Come on, cheer up,” he continued, handing me a Sunday bulletin. “Who knows? You may end up liking this pew even better.”
Obviously, he didn’t understand. I couldn’t forget my old pew that easily. That pew and I had been through a lot together. It had been there for me through the ups and downs of the song services. It had endured all my fidgeting during those annual stewardship sermons. It had heard every prayer I had prayed and had absorbed every tear I had cried. It knew me and I knew it. I knew the exact location of each loose thread in the upholster. I had memorized the pattern of the nicks in the wood trim. There was no way I could turn my back on it now.
I pouted during the announcements and gritted my teeth while the congregation sang “I Surrender All.” I tried singing along, but I couldn’t. I was afraid my “all” might include my pew and I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a sacrifice.
Somehow, though, by the close of the service that sacrifice didn’t seem so great. To my amazement, I discovered that my new pew was every bit as comfortable as my old one and even had something my former pew didn’t have – a brand new family who had been wanting to become more involved in the church. I had the opportunity to meet them and encourage them to attend some upcoming events.
The following Sunday the ushers once again filled my old pew, forcing me to sit in the eighth row, left-hand section. There I met a lady who was going through a difficult situation similar to one I had faced a few years earlier. I was able to get to know her as well and tell her about the reality of God’s faithfulness and love.
After a few more Sundays away from my pew, it no longer mattered where I sat – in the front, in the back, on the right side or left side. I enjoyed every pew. They were all a part of God’s house, and one wasn’t any better than the next.
Now granted, you won’t see The Great Pew Invasion mentioned in the history books, and the subject doesn’t come up much at the Pentagon, but it was an important event in my life.
Now, when the ushers ask me to scoot down a few seats, instead of digging in my heels and singing “I Shall Not Be Moved,” I look them right in the eye and sing “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.”