By Tom Caylor
This morning I went jogging around the neighborhood during the Sunday morning service hour. (Before you write me off as a heathen, let me just say that my family had our special Sunday time later in the day. More of that later…)
During my grueling jaunt in the Arizona sun I passed by three small churches. Being an engineer who has an eccentric knack for noticing peculiar details about things, I made some passing observations of the parking lots of these churches. This is my report.
I must first give a huge caveat. The following observations and commentary should in no way be taken as a definitive scientific implication about actual reality, statistically speaking. Here, I must leave my scientific tendencies behind. For this is a matter of the heart.
As I noticed certain things about the parking patterns at these churches, I realized that it serves as a metaphor for what could be happening inside our hearts. Above all, God used this to speak to me about my own heart. And to my chagrin but delight that seems to me to be what God speaks about the most.
OK, to make a parking pattern you need some cars but not too many; a full lot is not an interesting pattern. These three churches had spaces for maybe 20 to 50 cars, but only 5 to 10 cars in attendance. Perfect. (The reason for low attendance was not part of my running analysis.)
The most obvious aspect of the parking art is proximity to the building. In Arizona in the summer this is at the top of the priority list. In fact, on particularly hot days this can make a person flatly forget about all of the other factors that I will mention. It’s a good thing that we are forced by the government to save some close spaces for the handicapped. (You will notice my sarcastic tone, but I assure you that this is self-targeted.)
However, this morning it was still only in the 90’s, and as we say, “It’s a dry heat.” So another factor came into play, parking in every other parking spot. Why is this? Well from my own experience that’s obvious. More room to get in and out, less risk of getting your doors dinged. That’s the common sense thing to do. I do it all the time when parking at the store. Well, less often nowadays as the city gets more crowded. Dang those Californians moving over here!
So, what’s the problem if we want to do a little defensive parking at church too? It’s very pragmatic: keep everyone at arm’s length so nobody gets hurt. If some visitor comes after I’ve already parked, well then that’s their fault for coming late. They may end up having to park right next to somebody, but that’s fine as long as it’s not me. Actually that’s an advantage of parking a little away from the building, just in case a visitor comes they will park next to someone else. And I end up looking spiritual at the same time. But in general, the way I see it, parking in every other spot also makes sense for another reason. There probably won’t be any visitors anyway.
What’s particularly advantageous about thinking through things like this beforehand is that many of the same lines of thinking can be beneficial in multiple settings. For instance, these parking insights come in handy when choosing a seat in church. The parallels are surprising. There is a delicate balance between keeping a sufficient distance to respect people’s boundaries but at the same time keeping the larger accessible vacant areas, which are more likely to be taken by inexperienced visitors, away from you. Sitting on the aisle helps with this, as people have to step over you to get the vacant seats. Actually, if you want to keep your wit sharp at keeping the upper hand in these important territorial matters, I recommend playing strategy board games. The game Blokus is particularly helpful here. As they say: “Location, location, location.”
Sorry, I said God revealed some things in my heart. Maybe other people have their spiritual battles in different arenas, but for me things like parking can rank right up there with the Normandies of the spiritual world. And maybe that’s part of the reason why I am no longer attending church as we usually think of it. You have to pick your battles wisely. For me, with the way God has equipped me, and after a journey of many years in “normal” church, I have decided God has called me elsewhere, to reach out to those people who only drive or jog by those parking lots.
That’s why this afternoon, after several months of discovering new things about God and worship with just my family, we had our first Sunday get-together with another family at our house. The parking was superb!
Tom is an adult missionary kid who answers “Where are you from?” with “the dust of the earth and the heart of God”. He lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife and three kids.