Zelophehad’s Daughters

In defense of boring meetings

Posted by Mike C

Today’s guest post comes to us from Mike C. In case you haven’t already seen it, don’t miss his recent guest post at fMh.

Main entry: bored for the Lord

Definition: the practice of sitting through LDS Sunday meetings in a dull stupor as a demonstration of true devotion and faith

Etymology: variant of lying for the Lord, early Mormonism (ca. 1848)

Synonyms: PEC attendance, reading handbook #2, sitting still during hometeaching visits if you are younger than 18

Antonyms: teaching Sunbeams (see also, frazzled for the Father)

From the time I was 15 until I was 31, I wrote in my journal almost every day. Spencer W. Kimball’s counsel had sunk in and I was obedient. I’ve a multi-colored stack of journals sitting in a box to prove it.

So what does that have to do with boring meetings? Well, I will get to that, but first I must clarify my defense of boring meetings so that you don’t stop reading right now. (By the way, since I began thinking about this post, twice I went to meetings so boring that I almost abandoned the idea completely.)

Before proceeding with my clarification, I must digress even further by saying that anyone who thinks that LDS church meetings are boring has never been to church in the South. In the South you get to hear the Gospel being compared to barb-e-cue (you gotta get fully immersed in the sauce of the scriptures). You get to hear the wrinkly old high priest, worried about his fish finder floating away, testify of saying a prayer before stripping down naked to dive in after it (that image forever ruined testimony meeting for me). You get to see the newly baptized teenaged priest finally succeed at the sacrament prayer after three tries, stand up, tilt his head back at the ceiling, take a deep breath, and cross himself. And of course, in the South, you get to see the bishop’s counselor come to the podium, put on a suit coat completely wrapped with Christmas lights, and plug them in to make a point (don’t ask me what the point was; it totally escaped me). So, y’all come down and visit us, y’hear?

Anyway, back to my clarification. I don’t think LDS meetings need to be boring. In fact, I believe the whole Church is under condemnation for the sin of boring meetings (that’s me channeling Ezra Taft Benson). Here are my simple rules for non-boring meetings:

1.    Have more and better music.
2.    Speakers and teachers should tell stories. About themselves or people they care about.
3.    Teachers should ask questions that require thought and elicit feelings.

That is all (though I was tempted to present only two rules, where the 2nd would simply say, “See rule 1”).

But LDS meetings are often boring. This can be especially tough when we are already wrangling kids and bracing ourselves for the inevitable misogynistic statement or narrow-minded testimony. Boring meetings only add insult to injury.

And so “boring” is frequently trotted out as Exhibit A for what is wrong with the Church and why people don’t like to go to church. Some people use this reason to explain why they are happier staying home on Sunday, reading blogs (ZD, anyone?), having brunch, etc. I don’t doubt that they are happier and if they are, then I am glad for them. However, I don’t believe that boring meetings are a compelling criticism of the Church. Here’s why.

First, most churches are boring. As much as we like to think our religion is unique, we are boring, just like everyone else. In my limited experiences visiting Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran services, they were all somewhat boring. The evangelical churches I’ve visited were sometimes exciting, but not always in a good way. As far as Christian churches go, being boring doesn’t make us stand out from the crowd.

Second, people are boring. Any church that has people in it, talking, participating, teaching, is bound to be boring. Especially untrained people. But even many of my well-trained university professors gave boring lectures. Some of my friends can be boring. On most days my teenagers remind me that I am boring.

What is exciting, on the other hand? Playing soccer, cheering for the animated cars racing around the Jumbotron at Braves’ games, sitting in the passenger seat as my children learn to drive (exciting in the heart-attack inducing kinda way), following Downton Abbey (I’m serious, we love DA—no one else can make dusting chandeliers seem so dramatic), watching Dark Knight Rises, seeing my wife in lingerie (oops, I forgot for a moment that this is a family blog). Why can’t church be more like that (please don’t try to pin me down as to which of these examples I’m referring to)?

There are lots of things in life that are exciting. I’m glad that life has plenty of exciting things. Boring, however, can sometimes offer what exciting can’t. Which brings me back to my journals.

Most of the days that I wrote in my journal during those 15+ years, I only wrote a few sentences. My kids would sometimes tease me that I wrote about brushing my teeth—boring, right? But when something really magical or heart-breaking or life-changing happened, I was there to record it. I was showing up at my journal every night and this habit made it so that I never missed the good stuff.

In this way I believe that attending church meetings is similar to writing in a journal every day. LDS meetings are designed to give basically everyone an opportunity to contribute. They place respect on the sharing of deep feelings and prepare for such sharing with prayer and the ritual of the sacrament. They introduce sacred music that can open up our souls and break down the barriers in our hearts. And they take place with the same 150 people, week in and week out, who have visited our homes, taught our children, brought us meals, moved us in, and mourned with our losses. When everything is working right, these are people we have come to trust. And as a result, during church meetings we occasionally experience an epiphany—spiritual lightning strikes.

However, the same characteristics that invite the profound experiences, of necessity put us at risk for having dull experiences. We let everyone participate and we all abuse that privilege by being boring. But if we don’t allow for those quiet, reflective, democratic possibilities of sharing the divine—characteristics that are typically absent in the “exciting” moments of life—we can easily miss the heavenly moments that bind our hearts to each other and to God.

So, yes, church is usually boring, just as rain is usually dreary. But lightning only strikes when it is raining.

12 Responses to “In defense of boring meetings”

  1. 1.

    Great post. I love it.

  2. 2.

    Wonderful post! You’ve given me a new way to think about those boring meetings. Love the journal writing analogy. And I agree with your comments about how we share these meetings with our ward family (people we hopefully love and trust). Thanks for giving me much to think about.

  3. 3.

    This is fantastic. I also love the journal analogy because it validates my last 18 years of daily entries. You’re absolutely right – many, if not the majority, of the entries are boring, but the habit really did enable me to capture all the great stuff as well. After suffering through long stretches of boring meetings, I do get to a point where I just want a break. But oftentimes, it’s the day that I force myself to go when I have those incredible lightening bolts of inspiration or other spiritual experiences that remind my why I go to church.

  4. 4.

    While my ward hasn’t been as exciting as yours, I will say that Mississippi is more interesting than Utah. :)

  5. 5.

    Fantastic post! Thank you! Aside from the third Sunday high councilman visits when his talk is just reading from the Conference ensign, I don’t usually find church to be boring. It’s full of people, and they are endlessly fascinating (and with a high percentage of people who are good at public speaking or sharing personal stories AND musical items, I think my home ward is pretty blessed). (Like, seriously, everyone should come and visit my home ward, it’s pretty much Zion).

  6. 6.

    I too like the journal analogy. It seems to be the nature of any spiritual practice that you commit to just showing up and doing it, whether you feel like it or not. A lot of times it’s a drag, but sometimes it isn’t, and you never know in advance which times will be which.

  7. 7.

    Thanks for the kind comments!

    So, I feel like I have so much more to say about boring meetings. You’d think I’d have been able to fit it all in a post. Maybe I need to do another post, “A close reading of ‘In defense of boring meetings’”.

    One question I have is, is it possible to educate and also move an audience? My reasons for going to church are to be edified first and educated second. That is why I think stories are the way to go. But so many of our lesson manuals give the impression that we have to transmit a certain amount of information. I sometimes think that this information actually gets in the way of edifying people.

    As humans I believe we are wired to be moved by stories, to learn by stories, to remember stories. Quick: what is the last thing you remember from a church meeting? I bet it was a story. But I sometimes wonder, do stories have limitations when we need to transmit basic information? I don’t know. My inclination would be to tell all teachers and speakers not to do anything but tell stories, unless they are asking questions. But would that be too un-educational?

    My fallback is that Jesus seemed to teach almost exclusively with stories. I kinda think he was onto something (I’m sure he’s glad I approve).

    I understand that we are not necessarily going to church to be entertained. I suppose that was one of the points of my post. But I am much more likely to be edified when the teachings are entertaining. My mission president was one of the most powerful speakers I’ve ever heard. He would get you laughing so hard that you were always paying attention when he’d hit you with the spiritual nuggets.

    And that brings me to my last thought. Am I the only one who struggles to get something out of Conference? 10 hours is a long time to listen in a darkened room to monotone, doctrinally dense sermons, sometimes spiced up with stories. I think this is hard for anyone, not just people like me with mild ADD. I wonder if there is a way to improve Conference, or for me to improve what I get out of it.

    Finally, Olea, tell us where you live so we can go to your ward. And HokieKate, I would confess that all those interesting occurrences happened over many years. I cherry-picked the highlights. But I agree that Church in the South is more fun than in Utah. Gladys Knight tours Utah, but she used to attend our ward (we even shared a hymnbook once–swoon!).

  8. 8.

    It’s a (no longer so little) ward down south of Melbourne – for serious, if you’re in Melbourne, shoot me an email, you’ve gotta visit.

    I have moved around a lot – I think I’ve been part of … seven? wards/branches, and I’m travelling these days, so I have seen a lot of different ward cultures, and I for sure know what a boring meeting looks like. And the talks themselves in my home ward aren’t always “informative”, but because there’s such a strong feeling of love, they’re pretty much always edifying. (I like your point about those being different – I think informative via the spirit is edifying, I think “informative” isn’t generally). I don’t always have a new insight, but I always have a renewed desire to improve. Man, I could talk about my home ward forever. (But I won’t. Not here, anyway, promise.)

  9. 9.

    Olea, I meant to also add that I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek when I wrote in the post that people are boring. We are sometimes, but I agree with you that in general people are endlessly fascinating.

    Maybe it’s just that at church and other places we don’t make ourselves vulnerable enough to allow our true selves to be seen, and so others can’t actually know how fascinating we all are.

  10. 10.

    I always bring a good book. I hardly notice a boring meeting.

  11. 11.

    [...] This guest post comes to us courtesy of Mike C. You can read his previous guest post here. [...]

  12. 12.

    [...] guest post comes to us from Mike C. See his previous guest posts here and here, and definitely don’t miss his most recent fMh post, “Why I Am Wrong & Why I Need [...]

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