Monday, July 7, 2014


The other day, the day after I arrived back at my home after a mont-long journey, I went to work out at the (amazing, fantastic, unbelivable) gym where I'm a member.

I walked in to the gym, into a large group of people, into a surprising welcome. I felt like the mere fact that I had returned and was going to work out again was celebrated - I felt like I had arrived at a place where I belong.

(At this point in the story, I'm compelled to recall the theme song from that 80s sitcom ~ a song completely and fully about welcome.)

Now, granted, I'm a regular at the gym, and have been for a couple of years. I'm not new, I'm there pretty frequently, and I show up a different class times, so I get to know more people than just one subset of the gym membership.

Of course some of the people there the other day didn't welcome me back, simply because they don't know me. But the ones who I'd spent tiem with seemed genuinely glad that I had returned.


I'm thinking about three specific families who I've known in my capacity as a pastor. Each of these families had been members of the congregation for at least four years (or as long as 15). For each of these families, life circumstance had taken them away from the congregation for between 6 months and two years.

When life circumstance brought them back, I observed them slip quietly into a pew with hardly any notice from anyone in the congregation.


What's the difference between my gym and many congregation?

  • Is it that I spend 2-5 days per week at the gym, while most people spend 2-4 days per month at church. I show up at they gym at least four times more often than most people show up at church?
  • Is it that we suffer together at the gym, while most people show up to church acting as if they don't experience suffering at all, and therefore don't need to share suffering?
  • Is it that the simple act of showing up at the gym is an implicit (or explicit) admission that we fall short and need improvement, while at church we do our best to hide our faults?
  • Is it something else?

These are real questions, and I'm genuinely interested to hear what my eight readers think.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014



* Royalty: an internationally-connected, and often wealthy, group of people who stewards a nation and provides for the large-scale needs of all of the people.

* Peasantry: a locally-connected, and often not wealthy, group of people who steawards the local land and landscape, and who provide for the small-scale needs of all of the people.

* Definitions you see above: idealistic visions of royalty and peasantry, which probably have never been and will never be realized in the actual world.


It doesn't usually work like this. And so royalty is baffling to me, a person who's never lived in a society with any collective experience of royalty. I don't understand the English fascination with royalty.

The other day, we visited a palace. The beauty and impressive grandeur of the place were inescapable. I was impressed.

But just below the surface and equally inescapable to our perception, was a very uncomfortable class system that made itself evident in our experience of the palace - that gave me the feeling of being used by the aristocracy for their own gain at my expense.

What I expected was a tour of the palace and an opportunity to see how a palace might have functioned in the past. That's what we got at the other historical places we've visited on this trip - why wouldn't we expect the same?

I would have loved some kind of compare-and-contrast presentation - maybe a look at the staterooms and the kitchen as they functioned in 1800; maybe an articuilation of the differences between the bedrooms used by a dutchess and her maid's chambers; maybe an explanation of the differences between the life of a 10-year-old son of the duke and the 10-year-old son of the footman.

What we got, though, was a walk thorugh a few staterooms and an un-engaging history of the palace, while most of the palace was private residence and therefore off-limits to the public. Of course, I also got the feeling that my money is being used to prop us a system that benefits very few and has virtually no place in today's world.

Of course, I'm willing to stipulate that there may still be a place in the world for royalty. For that to be the case, though, the whole system would necessarily have to be restructured - everything would have to start from scratch in order to get anywhere close to the ideal.

Of course, one could make similar criticisms of the church.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Public Houses

I've had the pleasure of enjoying some extended time in Scotland and England over the past couple of weeks. While most of the trip has been fantiastic, I'm interested right this minute in public houses (pubs). Sure, I enjoy having a beer - but my interest is deeper than that.

Dictionaries don't seem to distinguish, but common parlance here in the UK seems to note a difference between the following: pub, ale house, tavern, bar. (Because this is posted on the internet, I have no doubt that if I get this wrong, someone will correct me ... in fact, I expect someone may correct me even if I get it right.) To wit, I heard the following: "He went into a pub ... no, it was more of an ale house."

The bars I've been in, most of which have been in the US, seem to exist so that people can drink. Sure, there are often other things to do in bars (pool, darts, conversation, etc.), but drinking is primary.

On the other hand, my experience of Scottish and English pubs is that they exist as gathering places. Sure, ales and lagers and whiskies are consumed, but the conversation that happens as community gathers together seems to be central.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a pub. Around me there are three groups of 2-5 people sitting and sharing conversation. I'm the only person sitting alone, and that's only because I'm writing.

At another pub, there were at least 35 people in a 12'x12' space. In addition to the musician singing from behind his guitar in one corner, there were no fewer than five conversations, at least one of which was between strangers. I know this, because the person next to me started a conversation with me even while I was writing. Then, when the musician took a smoke break, another patron stopped his own conversation in order to sing his own song.

Another time I was interrupted in the midst of writing was when I was surrounded by at least 60 people gathered almost shoulder to shoulder filling a pub that was also filled with friendly conversation and impromptu live music.

It may well be simply because I'm in a foreign place that I see with idealistic vision - or maybe the pubs I've been in have just been really great. Still, the culture seems to be that whoever shows up at a public house has a place to belong, and everyone who shows up belongs there simply because they've walked in the door.

I appreciate the idea and practice of a local establishment being a regular gathering place where everyone is welcome, where ideas can be exchanged, and where life can be lamented and celebrated.