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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 17-A: "Smitwitifs"

Think hard. Where have you seen those letters before? SMTWTFS.

Maybe it's because I was a very visual learner, but when I was a kid I pronounced those seven letters as if it were some strange German name in need of a vowel: Smitwitifs. I thought it must be the name of the world’s largest calendar company—and they certainly had a corner on the market. Seemed like their name was plastered on nearly every calendar I’d ever seen, and though this company never advertised beyond their own product, I could imagine slogans like, “Smitwitifs: Makers of fine calendars since 1892.” Or “Smitwitifs, the most trusted name in calendars.”

Then one day in Miss White's third grade classroom, I was looking at a huge calendar on the wall and it hit me that SMTWTFS stood for Sunday-Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday. It was one of those “light bulb moments” that teachers live to witness, though Miss White was doing something else at the time.

“Oh, I get it: Smitwitifs isn’t the company name; it’s the first letter of each day of the week.” Face beaming, Smile wide. And for about one second I felt brilliant—like the cartoon light bulb over my head—brilliant until the other kids turned and stared at me like I was the last kid off the short bus.

“What? You didn’t know that before now?" laughed voices around me, "Why else would those letters be there, Tom?”

What do you say in such a moment? What do you do besides smile and shrug—of course...of course I knew that all along....I mean...everybody knows that, right?

But now decades later, safe in the world of adulthood where all things are known (ha ha), I will ask you, when were you taught what SMTWTFS stood for? No teacher that I recall ever covered it in class. If that was also true for you, it means you simply figured it out one day and it was so obvious that you don’t even remember learning it.

In that sense, our heads are full of unregistered “learning.” In fact, most of what we ”know” we can't say when we learned, so remembering the moment when a random fact first made a "thud" in the bottom of your brain is a wonderful thing. Such things are all the more memorable when you learn them a few years after your peers—especially something so obvious that “everybody knows it”--and if you were naive enough to announce the moment as if you had just grasped Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, you might just look back on it with a smile.

Of course, I knew what SMTWTFS was… everybody knows that… from birth.

As a teacher writing to teachers (and you’re all teachers of one sort or another), there is lots more we could say about the significance of “light bulb” moments, but I shared that brief SMTWTFS confession as a segue to this "Unsettled" chapter, which illustrates that the world’s view of the week has changed.

While it is true that calendars and man’s concept of the priority of days were arranged in the SMTWTFS order for centuries, they are not anymore. Oh, the numbered calendar boxes from left to right may still be in that format, but in mindset and value and practice ...a more accurate order of days might be MTWTFSS.

Let's face it, to most people, the week now begins on Monday and ends on Friday (as in TGIF) followed by S and S, which is code for “weekend,” which is now typically translated as “my time and don’t tell me what to do with it.” Followed by: “And for Heaven’s sake—and ,yes, I do mean even for the sake of Heaven—don’t tell me what to do with Sunday.” (Or for the more profane: “For the sake of Christ, don’t tell me how to spend “The Lord’s Day” because it’s my day not His. I gave Him all the hat tip He needs when I said TGIF, so hand me the remote or my boat keys and get out of my way.”)

The thought that Sunday is a day "set aside" from the hubbub, a day of rest, a day to refocus on the things that give meaning to the rest of the week... that thought is shared by fewer and fewer people these days. I'm not judging; I'm pointing out a cultural shift.

There are many ways to "worship" besides singing or giving or listening in a church. Thank Heavens there are all sorts of ways to honor God and keep Him equally important on all seven days of the week. I'm not saying that the act of "going to church" in and of itself impresses God, but in Christ's explanation of what he says are the "key" commandments, we are told to love in both vertical and horizontal relationships (i.e. with God and with people). I have found active participation in a local body of believers a good way to learn how to do that. (Beginning with the first Easter, the early house-churches modeled weekly gatherings throughout the New Testament and they typically happened on "first day," Sunday, rather than on Sabbath, though obviously fellowship, teaching, and worship can take place on any day of the week.)

But my point in including these thoughts about Sunday in this story is to help readers understand the patterns of my family's life as we were "settling" the land. There was an upbeat in the rhythm that came without fail after the heavy downbeat of our hard-working Saturdays. It was called Sunday, the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, a day on which we never did "work," including Dad's countless goals out at the property.

I could tell you what church was like the next day, but that is for another chapter or perhaps another book. Suffice to say, that we went bright and early to both the “Sunday School” hour and the church hour (more like an hour and a half) that followed.

I will say this much here: they used to call it “Sunday School” for people of all ages for nearly a century until late 20th Century research indicated that people preferred terms like “Adult Bible Fellowship” (ABF’s for short) or some of the many other catchy labels other than “Sunday School.”

I'll also say that in the service that followed Sunday School, we’d begin by singing a half dozen great old hymns that underscored and taught the treasured teachings of the church. We typically did not sing songs like “Fill My Cup, Lord.” Newer songs like that were sung in the Sunday evening service, and yes, we went to that service, too, which was preceded by an hour of Teen choir practice and something called “Young Peoples.” Like the term “Sunday School,” the catchy name “Young Peoples” was used for decades for the teen gathering time at 6:00PM Sundays, the hour before Sunday night service. Again, I'm not saying this is the way it should be; I'm merely saying this is the way it was.

You may be thinking, “My goodness, that sounds like over four hours of church on Sunday!”

Actually, it was more like five or six hours if you included all the stand around and “fellowship” time. But it was a good-sized church with about 70-80 kids in our youth group from basically all the schools in Macomb County. These were not our only friends, but they were life-long friends in the making. And all of us had been brought up thinking Sunday was meant for such things.

There were exceptions through our childhood and teen years. In the summer, we'd go up for a swim at Port Huron's Light House Park. Around 5:00PM, Dad would look at his watch say, “Well, we’d better pack it in and head back if we’re going to make it to church.” (On such days, we typically missed choir practice and “Young Peoples.”) I confess feeling torn at such times--who am I kidding, I hated it! I dreaded leaving the beach and driving an hour back to Roseville, changing clothes in a hurry, and feeling the sand I'd missed on my legs as we sat through the evening service.

But we always went from the beach to Grandma and Grandpa Spencer’s house to say good bye. (They lived just up the street from Light House Park). And on rare occasions, Mom's long good-byes paid off. Time would get away from them, and we know there was no way to make it to the service. I have written about those rare and magical Sunday nights before.

The next week my parents would apologize to our church friends for missing the evening service, but looking back on it, those Sunday evenings at Grandma's were a good choice for many reasons. I genuinely thank God for them. My life is richer because of that time in that house on Riverview and Forest St. One of the highlights of those nights was watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on Grandma Spencer’s black and white TV. To this day, when I hear the opening theme of that old show, a thrill of anticipation sweeps over me. I can still hear the grown-ups talking 'round the table in the dining room (just beyond the furnace grate in the floor and the arch in the wall). Their voices faded in the distance once Walt Disney himself began introducing the show. Imagine... all us kids on the floor, basking in the glow of the television. Even now, I can feel the matted knap of Grandma’s old carpet under my rump.

We dreaded when the show was a continued the next week because odds were we would never get to see it. That was the downside to Sunday night church, but other than that, attending both morning and evening services was just a normal pattern of our lives for decades.

Chapter 17-B will return after a word from our sponsor:

This post has been brought to you by Smitwitifs, makers of fine calendars since 1892. Remember... 'With a name like Smitwitifs, it has to be good.'” Happy first day of March!

Note: In the comments below, a friend and I talk about some of this culture shift and some of the unfortunate attitudes and "teachings" that may have led to it. I refer to a "light bulb" moment far more important than my Smitwitifs story, a "light bulb moment" of a very different nature--the one that happens at that point in the story of the Prodigal Son when he realizes he is lost, squandering his life, and wants to restore a relationship with the Father. Christ's ministry was all about those moments and the new life that follows them. It is such moments that the writers were trying to depict in songs or poems like "Fill My Cup, Lord" and "The Touch of the Master's Hand."


Blogger the walking man said...

There is a big difference between missing church to be with Grandma and Grandpa and skipping church.

If you take your rest from the toils of the world in recreation and are grateful to God to be able to have that family time; say...swimming at Lighthouse Point instead of being in church, where maybe the gratitude is a bit more forced I think swimming is the better fellowship.

BUT...That was in the days when Church meant, community (hence the six hours) and commonality.

I think though that church today has come to be a form of greed, especially in the mega-churches. I wonder how well the beggar is treated in today's gatherings where it appears the main reason is to profile a new hat or ruminate over someones tacky choice of clothes.

For me personally anything, anything done out of a sense of obligation is not done from a thankful heart. I will fill my obligations certainly, just not in front of a crowd.

I am not referring to you here Tom, you have an honest heart and i am fairly certain you go to church as you always have, to worship God and be one with a community.

2/3/09 4:59 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for understanding the cultural shift and for giving me, and people like me, the benefit of the doubt.

And at the heart of the recreation is, of course, CREATION. We are re-creating so to speak, and if the creator is at the heart of the recreating, I'm all for it. And I know this can be true. But sadly, a larger and larger percentage of understands less and less of what we're talking about. Sunday, like every other day, revolves around them. I don't say these things to condemn man. He's only doing what comes naturally (i.e. what is his nature) before the "light bulb" comes on so to speak.

Read the story of the Prodigal Son, and you'll see that "light bulb" moment, when he literally is in a pig stye and suddenly "gets it" and understands his need for the Father. It's a parable, but it does paint a picture of some of the problems you point out. I would agree that for too long, some churches did not care for "prodigals." When Jesus was seen eating at a tax collector's house with "sinners," which he did on occasion even while laying the foundation for the concept of Sunday fellowship and communion with believers and teaching his disciples to live lives set aside for service, the Pharisees judged him for "being with sinners," to which he said something like "The doctor is here for the sick not the well." He was saying that to a group (Pharisees) who considered themselves to be "especially well," the un-sick, but we know from the rest of scripture that NO ONE fits in the un-sick, the un-lost category--not even the Pharisees who judged him. While it is sad to say that there are places ringing the bell on Sunday who may not know how to welcome prodigals or even people who "don't look right," as you said. They need to re-read that parable, too.

The key is balance. The challenge is maintaining a church environment that models Christ's "love for the lost" while remaining a distinct alternative to the "pig stye" so to speak. Just as some churches are or were too snooty, too exclusive, too inwardly focussed with the gospel (as you mention) it's also possible to completely abandon the model of following Christ and fellowshipping with other believers and say, "Well, at least I'm hanging out with sinners like Christ did."

Balance is the key, and that is found, I believe, in looking at the "video" of Christ's life rather than just snapshots. There may be snapshots of him in the company of "sinners," and thank heavens for that good example, but most of the "video" seems to be of him investing in those sinners who chose to follow him. Even at age 12 he was teaching at the temple. There's lots of "video" or of him caring for those with needs who reached out to him, teaching his disciples, preaching to multitudes, breaking bread with his followers, and encouraging them to do likewise as the attracted others to become Christ followers. But I am so thankful for the way he modeled a willingness to reach out to sinners, like the woman at the well or the other woman who was about to be stoned to whom he said, "Neither do I condemn thee, Go and sin no more." He was letting her know that her life did not have to follow the same patterns. It was a "touch of the master's hand" moment. It's all about change, but people have to have that "light bulb" moment, like the prodigal in the pig stye, who then wanted to be in the presence of the Father. Like you said, it was not forced. It's a natural desire of the new nature.

You've shared parts of your background here, and I agree that so much of formalized religion is about ritual and "forced" acts. Go through the motions. Do this. Say this a hundred times. No where did Christ teach doing such things "to impress" the Father. In fact, he kept it very simple. All he said to that tax collector (Matthew) before he went with him to meet his sinner friends was "Follow me."

Sorry to ramble on like this. I want you to know I enjoy thinking things through with you. Again, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.

2/3/09 7:25 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

Great story as usual.
I still go to church four hours every Sunday. Part of it is learning, part in worship, and part in fellowship after the service. St. Mark's is like a family.

2/3/09 4:21 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
I know exactly what you mean. That was true of the church of my childhood and remains true today. I enjoy eves dropping on the dialogue between you and your parishioners (new friends and old) at Dr. John's Fortress.

2/3/09 6:21 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Ah yes, the light bulb moments. I've had many of them, some of them seemingly of no great import when the light flashed on but as time went by the illumination of those moments grew increasingly more fertile.

While I choose to decline to describe these moments, the ones that are of an intimate spiritual nature, I will say that when they happen on the journey with God being the one to throw the switch there is always purpose in the illumination.

I do wish to correct you in one area though Tom. I am not giving you the benefit of the doubt, I have no question towards your integrity as a Christian and your loving heart towards God and man. That you temper your love of humanity with a circumspect eye is a good thing in my opinion, a sign of life long growth and maturity.

I continue to come to understanding what I never understood before and in that understanding which God has patiently built line by line and brick by brick, it becomes apparent that I will never appear as one of the congregants, even though there are assurances that I, as far as Christ's body goes am a cell within it. And that my friend is all the guarantee I ever needed.

Be well Tom.

3/3/09 4:35 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

We still call the hour before worship, Sunday School! Maybe it's because I live in the Bible belt and I didn't realize the trend had changed in other parts of the US. I love to learn new stuff!

My church experience over the years and even now are very much like yours, Tom. I attend because I love; being with my church family, worshiping God, and growing my relationship with God... not out of obligation or out of guilt. I accept, as well as welcome, all that come to worship with us; regardless of their dress, color, occupation, etc... I love them, as Jesus showed us how to love one another, while He showed us the way, here on earth. I even worship with the homeless on the first Friday of each month, helping with the evening meal and openly inviting them to worship at my church on Sundays. I do not say these things for my Glory but to embrace and agree with all that you have said Tom. I hope to glorify God in all that I do. I hope my "Light Bulb" moments continue until the day that I am welcomed at heavens door. You are a blessing to me not only in your posts but also in the comments section.

3/3/09 8:09 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for the great dialogue. These things have been on my mind ever since we started talking about them. The older I get the simpler I like things. I can assure you that if you ever stepped into our church, you'd feel welcome. During the summer, for instance, a lot of people "drop in" from the local camp grounds (lots of vacationers over here), and they just come in their shorts, etc. I had never seen that before I came here, but we have a very diverse gathering and no discenable "standard" of what people are supposed to look like. (The church I grew up in was not this casual by the way. West Michigan is pretty relaxed.)
I re-read my comment to you and did not like my use of the word "sinner," I do not think in terms of sinners and non-sinners (I've yet to meet anyone in that latter category). I was using the term as it was used by the Pharasees who accused Christ of "being with sinners." Hope that makes sense.

I think ou have a very good idea of my journey beginning with that year my sister went to college and the four years afterwards when one by one we joined her. (She graduated from college the same year I graduated from high school.) I've come to appreciate a broad range of "expectations" but through all those years I've tried to make a distinction between "man's imposed guidelines or rules" and what Christ actually expected of his followers. To be honest, man's superficial list of dos and don'ts is easier to follow, but Christ always had a way of boiling things down to matters of "the heart" (not the show, the heart) That's a tougher assignment, but far more meaningful when it comes to relationships that matter now and for eternity.

This does not mean we abandon "dos and don'ts" anymore than we abandon the assembling of ourselves, but it does mean that if the heart is not in it... we've missed the point entirely.

4/3/09 5:36 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Ah yes that was a light bulb moment when I realized the definition of sin as being "whatever separates one from God"

I take no offense at being lumped in with sinners, for no one walks the road (except the Christ) without getting muddy at times. The key is recognizing that there is a well (;-}) available to wash the mud off so the walk isn't so troubling.

I am joyous at people, like DR. John,Nancy and your self Tom, who have found a strong vibrant community, in which your needs are filled and you are able to help fill the needs of others. Be the physical or spiritual, an ecclesia, is a vital component to health.

I take a somewhat broader view of the ecclesia I participate in. One not restricted to the words of Christianity, but rather the principles of it as I understand them.

I go to "church" where I find it and not where it is located.

Does that make sense?

5/3/09 4:51 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It makes sense. Especially when we remember that "the church" is not the various buildings we call "the church" but the believers who gather there. I have told Dr. John that he has sort of a cyber-congregation thing going on.

It's not about the walls but the call. Not about the steeple but the people.

5/3/09 7:16 PM  

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