Ruining It for Everyone

We noticed last weekend in Williamsburg, that pineapples figure prominently in decorating.  We saw pineapples on fountains, door knockers, statuary, and paintings.  Pineapples are, of course, symbols of hospitality, but we did some research to figure out if Colonial Williamsburg “invented” the pineapple as a hospitality symbol.


According to Wiki – Answers (which is not like researching it in Swem Library, but time was limited), Christopher Columbus was presented with a pineapple by the locals on the island of Guadelupe in 1493 as a Welcome to Our Island gift.  And then Columbus killed them.

Actually, the story is more complicated than that, but what is indeed true is that Columbus named the island Santa María de Guadalupe de Extremadura even though the island was already called “Karukera” (The island of beautiful waters) by the Arawak people who had lived there for almost 1200 years.  And never mind that Columbus is credited by some historians  as “inventing the pineapple.”

And so, now the truth has somewhat spoiled pineapples for me – at least as symbols of welcome.  They remain delicious but I can’t forget that there is a dark back story.

This is one of my problems as someone trying to shift the Institutional Church into the 21st Century.

As I visit congregations with all the accoutrements  of The Traditional Church, hearing from them how important it is for their pastors to wear robes, stoles, and collars, for their children to attend Sunday School, and for their sanctuary to have pews, I find myself being – if not an ecclesiastical Debbie Downer, then at least an ecclesiastical Howard Zinn.

The origins of clergy attire can be traced to the late Roman Empire. The first Christian leaders dressed like everybody else.

Sunday School was “invented”  – if you will – in the late 18th Century.  This means, of course, that there was no Sunday School as we know it for the first 1800 years of Christianity, and so if someone says, “We can’t be a church unless we have traditional Sunday School,” please remind them that Sunday School is a fairly new thing.

Pews were introduced into church sanctuaries in the 14th Century.  Check out this post by Dan Kimball on the subject.  When I visited cave churches in Goreme, Turkey a few years ago, it was clear that people sat in a circle around the room/cave.  Imagine a house church at the Flintstones’ house and you get the picture.

The beautiful part of being the church is that it is fluid and free and all about becoming/being a community of faith.  Even if our priests are bedecked in perfect clergy tabs, and our Sunday School program is stellar, and our pews are carved by artisans, we aren’t the church unless we are a community of faith seeking to make disciples of all nations and loving God and each other.  My heaviest burdens come from meeting with wonderful people who don’t yet realize that being the church has nothing to do with stained glass windows, especially if they don’t love their neighbors.

So, I really don’t mean to ruin it for everyone, but I long for all of us to know the truth and let the truth set us free.


3 responses to “Ruining It for Everyone

  1. Well done Sister!!

  2. The reason I still wear an alb (and not a Geneva robe) is because its usage goes back to the first centuries of the church as the common wear of the people. I also learned that its original purpose was to cover any distinctions of social class that could mark your status, including the clothes you wear. The simple alb covered all distinctions and when worn by church leaders it signified that they were fulfilling their vocation without regard to class status. In those early days people were baptized in the nude. When they arose from the baptismal waters, they were covered with a simple alb. While it’s anachronistic now, I still think the alb serves the same purpose of covering all class distinctions and setting about the leaders for a specific vocation in the community. The Geneva robe on the other hand is an academic robe whose purpose is to distinguish one from the common crowd by virtue of ones academic status. That’s why I don’t wear it except at academic events like graduation or convocation.

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