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.