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That's My Seat - The Back Bench

That's My Seat
By Aaron Johnston May 25, 2004

The animal kingdom is full of aggressively territorial creatures: wolves, lions, mountain goats, bulls. When these guys mark their territory, they mean it. If you step in their space, they'll knock you down.

Then they'll eat you. Bones and all.

But they're Care Bears compared to the Thisismy pewsir, the scientific name given to a recently discovered and incredibly territorial species.

Perhaps you've seen this creature before. The male typically wears a conservative suit and tie, while the female adorns herself in either a dress or a long skirt and blouse.

Their natural habitat is a well-lit, man-made structure known as a chapel. Its walls and decor are rather plain, but its long padded seats -- commonly called pews -- are highly sought-after nesting places.

That's because the Thisismy pewsir is very particular about his choice of pew. Only one will do, the one he flocks to every Sunday. It is his pew. He owns it. Anyone sitting in his pew is invading his property and therefore subject to his wrath.

That wrath is manifest by a light tap on the shoulder, an insincere smile, and the words, "You're sitting in my seat."

The victim of this assault (i.e. prey) is usually the innocent and harmless creature known as Ward visitoris. Perhaps he's here on business. Or perhaps his family is considering moving to the area.

Either way, the Ward visitoris has made a grave mistake. He sat in an owned pew. He wrongfully assumed that the seats in the chapel were available on a first-come-first-serve basis.

How silly of him.

He must come from an imaginary land, a place where people welcome strangers at the door and invite them to sit wherever they chose.

He deserves public humiliation. He must stand and move to an unoccupied -- and unowned -- pew. In fact, maybe it's best for him to go and graze in free-range territory, a little place we call the lobby.

Not all members of the species are this cruel, of course. Many won't actually ask the person to get up and move. Instead, they'll find another seat close by and shoot the Ward visitoris dirty looks throughout the meeting. Others hold only mild resentment.

But regardless of his course of action, the Thisismy pewsir will always believe the pew rightfully belongs to him.

Fortunately, this species only accounts for a small percentage of the church population. Most wards have only one or two. Some wards don't have any.

Too bad the same can't be said for Imsavin theseseats, another territorial, yet far more prevalent, species.

The Imsavin theseseats is notorious for staking claim to empty pews by placing books, bags, and scripture cases along the seat of the pew. These figurative flags of conquest are intended to ward off anyone who may be tempted to sit there.

"My wife and kids are coming, " they'll say.

"I'm saving these for my friends," they'll say.

The appropriate response is, "Your wife and kids aren't here. I am. I came early precisely so that I could get a good seat. Your wife and kids will arrive after me and therefore do not deserve better seats than me. Saving seats is both selfish and inconsiderate. If this weren't a place of worship, I'd grab that hymnbook and sock you with it."

But the person inquiring about the seats doesn't say that. No, if she's a woman, she merely smiles sweetly and moves on to the next empty pew.

When she gets there, however, she realizes that it too is lined with hymnbooks and scriptures.

This process continues until she finally ends up sitting in the back, or in the overflow, or in the mother's lounge, basically any place where she could have sat had she come late for the meeting.

She then decides that coming early is a waste and frustrating use of her time.

The Imsavin theseseats is completely oblivious to all of this, of course. From his point of view, there are plenty of empty seats available -- many of which are better seats than the ones he's saving.

I'm doing you a favor by sending you away, he thinks. You'll find much better seats elsewhere.

How fortunate we are that heaven doesn't work the same way.

"I'm sorry," says the angel. "These mansions of glory are being saved for someone who hasn't died yet, a friend of mine. He should be along shortly. You best keep moving."

"But I earned this," you say.

"I know. Sad, isn't it? If I were you, I'd check out the terrestrial kingdom. I hear they have some lovely spare townhouses."

"Really?" you ask. "How interesting. Can I borrow your harp?"

"Sure," the angel says.

And since this isn't a place of worship, you promptly sock him with it.

No, heaven is fair. If we do good, we get good. If we obey, we're rewarded.

Why should our interactions with each other be any different? Shouldn't we be just as fair?

If a seat is unoccupied, it should be available to anyone who desires to sit there. No family owns it. No person has prior claim. It's a seat, not a licensed property.

And if you come early to a meeting and you want to sit with someone who has not yet arrived, you wait for that person to arrive then find available seats together. You don't go in beforehand and save a seat, or a pew, or a section.

Now, is there ever a time when seat-saving is appropriate? Sure. Say, for example, you have to get up and go to the restroom. Or perhaps a noisy child needs to be taken out.

But in these instances, you're saving your own seat. And it's yours because you found it first. Once the meeting is over, it no longer belongs to you.

I love ushers. They're rare these days, but they solve all of these problems and make you feel welcome to boot. And I'm talking about real ushers, not the guys who greet you at the door and hand you a program.

Real ushers walk you to an empty pew and kindly invite you to sit. They smile. They gesture politely. And they make you feel important.

In short, they understand what territorial species do not: This is Christ's church, not ours. He owns it, not us.

And what would Christ do? He'd give up his seat.

No, he'd do more than that.

He'd give up his seat AND polish the wood AND vacuum the carpet AND fluff the seat cushion. He'd do anything and everything to make it the most pleasant, edifying experience possible.

Because Christ isn't territorial at all. He's the opposite. He invites all to come unto him. Everyone is welcome. And everyone gets a seat.

If we can do that, if we can emulate that same sense of acceptance, people will feel welcome. And there won't be a bad seat in the house.

Copyright © 2004 by Aaron Johnston

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