|purloined image from the internet|
I try to get to church early enough each week to enhance my spiritual experience. I attend church by myself and because of that, I get the opportunity to exercise the spirit of Sister Bednar who asks, “Who needs me to sit next to them today?” Like many church goers, I begin the day in the spirit of warm acceptance but sometimes I end the day in a bit of a chill.
A little back story, I have a disorder that causes discomfort from cold temperatures. My budget is successful during the summer months because I avoid air-conditioned superstores and all restaurants without patio seating. When I spend an hour in the cold, I spend an equal amount of time heating back up and getting the hips, knees and fingers moving again. Waiting for the thaw can be awkward at closing time.
Most weeks, I sit for an hour at church and solidify, then I spend the first part of second hour standing outside basking in the regenerating heat of Oklahoma. It’s a pleasant time spent people watching—an activity that could be augmented by the addition of a bench, but a chair might encourage exactly what we as a church are trying to avoid; people being more comfortable outside than in.
Clothing myself in church chic is a particular challenge as I wear thermal long underwear in an updated fashion, but I’ve made it work for ten years. It’s not that hard to add a sweater, stockings and a fleece throw.
The church cold-challenge is nondenominational; I’ve discussed this conundrum with my favorite survey group in the supermarket checkout lines and most women are in agreement. Many churches are frigid—some more metaphorically than literally. I’ve learned that shedding my layers— of shame, recrimination and remorse—helps me to become more transparent. And that allows God to shine through me to others more readily. And that’s what I’m aiming for.
This particular Sunday is Mother’s Day and I’ve chosen fashion over wisdom so I’ve donned a pencil skirt. Me, myself and I had spent the morning in the jacket-or-sweater debate, but I still came to church woefully under-dressed. Ours is the second meeting in the building so the chapel has been pre-chilled and the thermometer is set at its coolest.
I’ve always found it interesting that a temperature of a church is managed by those wearing the most clothing. I choose not to think too simplistically and call it a gender thing, but I muse on the generalization that men are typically more warm-blooded than women and I wonder if it stems from the epigenetics evolving from that the time period when women wore sixty petticoats and stifled in air-condition-less-ness. Men learned to withstand the chill, mostly by donning their long underwear for all season and leaving them on until they rotted off in the spring. But that’s another muse—for another time.
Today, I pick up my church bag and I make the trek from my front right corner pew to the left back bench, right below the thermostat. I tweek it up two notches—not yet to normal, just up toward normal and then I sit down right in front of it. Not many minutes later, the “suit” approaches. He walks up and shakes my hand and says, “So I noticed you switched up the temperature?” I grin and rehearse the entire argument I’ve related above, ad nauseum. He smiles and moves on to greet more people and I sit warming with the peaceful organ music.
I watch the congregation and note that most of the men have given up the suit coats and are in shirtsleeves, but still I ponder on the meta-physical temperature in the church being managed by the suits. I’ve spent years in stake callings and I know that the days spent in the suit are definitely warmer when the pressure of leadership makes you sweat it out. But on a typical day, I suspect that most of us leaders could benefit from a little training in the leadership model of Jenn Shirkani and Emotion IQ—which focuses on the well-being of others first. Perhaps all of us in the “suits,” could benefit from making our actions more deliberate. We could extend a little more compassion and understanding by sacrificing ourselves and learning to put other’s thoughts, feelings and comfort at church before our own. Like another great leader in spiritual philosophy… Christ.
I come to the conclusion that it must start with me, so I give up my comfort and my moment of selfishness and move to sit next to a person who is also sitting alone. We may as well share our solitude together in the overflow section. So there I am in the back row, watching as another suit walks over and tweeks down the thermostat.
And I get it, I do. I understand. Maybe they are considering others first and reacting to the furious-fan-frenzy going on in the menopause section. (How have I missed out on that pleasure?) They may be more intuitive to the feelings and comfort others than I imagine.
So it’s a matter of two things, my attitude and other’s motivations. And the question for both of us may be, “Am I being deliberately thoughtful of others?”
It’s easy to pile on the layers and put up a shield against the chill, but at church sometimes it’s about having the courage to dare to be more naked.