Chairs

We have some artists and craftspeople in our church who meet regularly. There is a stained glass group that has a weekly meeting and makes beautiful creations. A watercolor group meets to pain together. There is a general crafts group that includes quilters, card makers and those who do a host of different crafts who meet at the church. There are boxes and bins and cabinets full of craft supplies in several different locations around the church. On room is now commonly referred to as the “craft room.” Those artists are generous not only with their time, but they also sell some of the things they make and make donations to the church. This week I placed an order for new chairs for our church fellowship hall. The current chairs are metal folding chairs that have been around for a long time. Some folks report that those chairs, or at least some of them, were moved from a previous church building in 1959, making them 60 or more years old.

The new chairs will be upholstered stack chairs. We have a few and they are quite comfortable. Some of the new chairs will have arms that will make it easier for some folks to stand after they have been seated. It will be a nice addition to our church and the purchase was made without using any of the funds from the operating budget of the church.

One thing that our church has in short supply is storage space, so there has been considerable conversation about what is to be done with the old chairs. We already have more chairs than we use. Most of the time we have two racks of chairs that sit unused in a storage room. I tis nice to have a few extra chairs for occasions when we have extra guests for an especially large dinner or event, but the addition of the new chairs will mean that we should probably figure out how to get rid of at least as many chairs as we are acquiring. We have sold a few of the metal folding chairs on rummage sales, but they don’t sell very quickly. The number sold is small. We are hoping to find another church or institution that could use the chairs. We’d be glad to give them away.

For the record, there are no reports of chairs in the Bible. Nor are there any chairs in Homer or the play Hamlet. Chairs do start to turn up in literature, but only in the middle of the 19th century. The novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens mentions chairs 187 times. The author Vybarr Cregan-Reid has written a book about how the world is changing quality of human life. It reports a surprising fact that chairs used to be very rare. Public buildings such as churches didn’t have chairs. People came to the buildings and stood for worship, for meetings and for events. The book estimates that today, however, there are 60 billion chairs on the planet, which would be 8 to 10 per person. There are just two of us in our house and it has at last 15 chairs and that is not counting the ones that we have in our storage unit. My office has five chairs in it and most of the time I work in that space alone.

napoleon at versailles
A famous painting of Napoleon in the Chatequx of Versailles in 1809 shows the emperor seated while all around remain standing. For much of human history the throne of kings and emperors were exclusive pieces of furniture. People in power sat while others stood. In academia the highest attainment is called a “chair.” The one who runs a meeting is called the chairperson. The head of a company is a chairman or chairwoman. And in most modern buildings, the best chair in the building is in the boss’ office.

According to Cregan-Reid, the use of chairs changed dramatically after the French Revolution and the 1832 Great Reform Acts in the United Kingdom. By the end of the 19th century, with the technological revolution that brought the typewriter, telegraphy and expanding uses of electricity, a new category of labor began to emerge in which workers were seated. Office clerks became common and administrative work became a profession where people sat to do their work. Sometimes when I make a visit in a hospital or another location someone will offer me a chair and I’ll decline, saying, “I sit for a living. It feels good to stand for a while.” Unlike the generation of my grandfather, most workers have jobs where they sit to perform their work these days.

It isn’t just working where we sit. Theaters often have very comfortable chairs. Home theaters are becoming more common and comfortable seating is a must. We sit for media streaming and searching for information on our computers. I’m sitting in a comfortable office chair as I write this journal entry. I’ll sit for breakfast and the seats in my car are quite comfortable. I have good friends who consider the comfort or lack thereof of seats in a vehicle to be a very important factor when making a purchase decision.

All of this sitting, of course, has health consequences. The health of our tissues is, in part, a matter of “use it or lose it.” Muscle and bone respond to increased load and to inactivity. If we don’t get enough exercise bones become thinner and muscles grow weaker. I recently read that back pain is the number one cause of disability in the world. The muscles in our backs are not being used as we recline in chairs, and we spend a lot of time with our backs supported by furniture.

I’m pretty sure that it wouldn’t go over well to simply remove the chairs from the fellowship hall at the church. People wouldn’t stand around for very long after worship. It is a good idea to have comfortable chairs in the room and I am grateful for the generosity of the crafts and arts people. However, I think I need to make a plan to sit less and stand more as I continue to age. My phone now reports to me how much time each day I’ve been watching the screens of my computer, tablet and phone. Maybe I need to keep track of my sitting time as well. Better yet, maybe I just need to go for a walk.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!