During the recent Holy Week celebration, my wife and I walked into church one evening and were somewhat struck by the fact that everyone was seated on the left hand side of the sanctuary. The pews on the right side were completely empty.
So, we entered, and took our seat along with the group, on the left hand side.
I imagine that the fly on the wall may have observed our action and thought to himself, “Those conformists! They’re afraid to stick out, so they just copied what everybody else was doing. They’re afraid to be individuals!”
Granted, we didn’t know whether or not there was a specific reason why everyone was seated on the left, but there is another motivation for going along with the crowd.
Despite its bad reputation, conformity is not always a bad thing. Our military creates conformity amongst our soldiers–stipulating standards for haircuts, eyeglasses, dress, and even height and weight. And there is great purpose in them doing so, as it builds unity and corporate identity.
I’ve mentioned before that I was in a fraternity in college, and it struck me when some new guys would join and instantly want to change everything about the way we did things. They didn’t like what they were signing up for, they didn’t want to conform. They really had no business joining in the first place, then. Whenever we associate ourselves with a particular group, it only makes sense that we adopt and display some of its values, behaviors, and even language.
But conformity isn’t the only reason we might choose sit with the group. The other is community.
My wife and I attended church that night in order to worship with a group of people; we had nothing to gain by trying to assert our individuality and sitting off by ourselves. Rather, it was kind of neat that nearly everyone was packed together in just a few pews, all near to one another, able to hear each other as we recited the liturgy and sang the hymns…together.
Of course, our modern society so values individualism that both the ideas of conformity and community are often portrayed as cop-outs, as safety nets for those who are too afraid to “be who they really are.”
Well, I really am a member of a community and I want to show that by sitting with my brothers and sisters, having an experience together, relating to God together.
So, if the fly on the wall of the church disapproves of the way I display my identity, so be it. I’ll take conformity or community any day.