You can learn a lot about life on the farm. Hard work. Frugality. Cooperation. Appreciation for God’s Creation.

Another important thing I learned on the farm is that some animals don’t much like change.

My paternal grandfather milked a herd of Holstein cows on his farm in Kossuth County. When a cow walked into the barn to be relieved of her production, she went directly to the same stanchion. All of her bovine girlfriends did the same. Twice a day, every day.

For those of you unfamiliar with dairy barns, a stanchion assists the milking process by holding the head of the cow  ̶  and, to a lesser degree, the rest of the cow  ̶  in place.

Over the years I have often considered how we humans are like my grandfather’s cows. We don’t much like change, either. One of the best examples is where people sit in movie theaters, at athletic events and in church.

A number of years ago my wife was out of town for the weekend and I went to church by myself. My wife and I usually sat toward the southwest corner of the sanctuary. For reasons I cannot recall, I chose to sit in the northwest corner of the sanctuary.

After the service, our pastor told me I messed him up. “I looked up and saw you sitting in another spot,” he kidded, “and it derailed my train of thought.”  

I try to sit toward the back of a church or other type of auditorium. I am tall and heavy and realize I can block the view of a normal person sitting behind me. And, like my grandfather’s cows, I tend to sit in the same pew or, at least, nearby.

One Sunday morning my wife and I decided to sit in a pew second from the back and closer to the center of the sanctuary. Several minutes later I heard from the pew behind me a feminine voice quietly ask, “Can you see?” Another female voice answered, “No, I can’t see a thing.”

I turned around and saw, seated directly behind me, two petite older women for whom I was blocking their view. I wanted to say, “Ladies, you sat there after I was seated. Don’t you realize you can’t see through a mountain?” I thought a great deal of these sweet ladies so I bit my tongue and from then on we sat farther toward the outside of the room.

As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I am particular where I sit in a crowd. The location is as important as the space available. To that end, I prefer the end of a pew or row of seats.

While residing in one community I served as a church usher. The well-meaning associate pastor decided we ushers needed some training and scheduled usher training for several consecutive Sundays.

In the second session he told us that when the church was filling up we should ask worshipers to move toward the center of the pew to make late-comers feel welcome.

As a claustrophobe I prefer the end of a pew. I try to arrive early to get a preferred seat. Why should I give that up for someone who comes late? Why can’t they sit in the middle of the pew? Yes, that’s childish and selfish thinking. I kept these thoughts to myself but silently bristled.

Then my buddy Jake (not his real name) spoke up. Like me, Jake was a man of significant girth. “Pastor,” Jake said firmly but respectfully, “as you can see, I am a large guy. And I am claustrophobic. As you know I always sit at the far end of a back row pew. If someone tells me to move to the middle of the pew, I will simply stand up and walk out.”

The associate pastor began to defend his plan, explaining our need to be open and welcoming.

Jake interrupted him. “I’ll be open and friendly but I want to sit where I want to sit and if that ain’t okay with you then I’ll just stay home.”

Jake’s boldness encouraged me. After a few seconds I spoke up and declared, “I’m with Jake.”

Thus ended the usher training session.

These days at church, at plays or concerts and in a movie theater I still seek an end position of a back row and when I do I often think of Jake. And I think of my grandfather’s Holstein cows.