We had a children's musical at our church this afternoon. The kids combined talent and cuteness to put on a good show. And my daughter Mindy, applying expertise gained from her own career in theater, added numerous special touches in producing and directing them. There was only one hitch.
The play called for the narrator to sit in a swanky chair, hold a pipe, and wear a purple smoking jacket. Elliot, the narrator, is in the sixth grade. I raised my eyebrow a tiny bit at the pipe...we have a 'no smoking' policy inside the church building...but the play came from a conservative Christian publisher...and I've got real battles to fight...and the show must go on...and I didn't think the pipe would stir any ruckus.
Mindy remembered that I used to have a pipe from my college days and wondered if she could use it as a prop.
My motives (the college-aged me) for getting the pipe back then were first, I liked the smell of pipe smoke and second, I thought it would make me look smart. After all, Walter Cronkite (that august newsman) used to smoke a pipe while broadcasting the evening news...and one of my respected college professors used to bring his pipe to class and brandish it about while he lectured.
Fortunately, the "smoking phase" of my life didn't last very long. First, I found the taste of a pipe obnoxious: not even close to the pleasant aroma wafting out of the pipe bowl. And second, I never figured out how to keep the tobacco lit. Whenever I tried to light the pipe...the fire would fizzle out. I'd go through several books of matches trying to get the dang thing ignited. In the end, instead of being my means into the world of the intelligentsia, my pipe only made me feel stupid. And I intensely dislike feeling stupid. So I gave up the pipe.
I have no idea where that pipe is right now...or whether I even still have it. Mindy also would have borrowed my purple smoking jacket, but I never possessed one of those. I never smoked the pipe long enough to make it worth accessorizing with any sort of wardrobe.
Mindy ended up finding a pipe on Amazon...along with a purple smoking jacket. But when the purple smoking jacket arrived, it was emblazoned on the back with a huge "Playboy" logo. I repeat: Elliot is in the sixth grade. The jacket might have been a hit among Elliot's male classmates, but Mindy sent the package back without even telling me about it...until later.
How do we decide what things are appropriate at church...and what things aren't: why a pipe, maybe...but not a Playboy logo?
My own list of "don't bring that inside the church" is probably different from your list. For example, I have a personal bias against bringing germs, guns, and groundhogs into the church.
If your spewing out cold or flu bugs, much as I want to increase church attendance, please don't bring yourself and those germs into the building.
As for guns, since I'm the pastor, it's likely I'll be the first one hit when the shooting starts. So, no guns please.
As for groundhogs, I never really thought of that being a problem until about 25 years ago, when a woman brought her pet groundhog to church and asked if I would offer a prayer for him. She complained that "Bob" had been depressed lately. I did pray for "Bob," but I sure as heck didn't try to lay hands on him. Those suckers will bite you. Ever since I've had a rule: no groundhogs in the church.
There are other things I'd like to banish from the church, but I don't have time to go through the whole alphabet today...just the "g" words.
I should end with this, however: the only thing I'm adamant about NOT banishing is people. I side with Jesus on that one. He argued all the time with the Pharisees over
who to let in and
to keep out. The Pharisees only wanted to let people in who looked and thought like themselves. Jesus, on the other hand, felt that you just can't start the party until you round up some people quite different from yourself. And around and around Jesus and the Pharisees went...arguing about
to let in.
So, whoever you are...know this: if you ever show up where I am the pastor...you will be welcome. But you'll have to leave your groundhogs outside.