I recently read a piece by Jana Riess on Beliefnet.com “Why Are Mormon Church Meetings So Dull?”. I intended to write an extensive rebuttal on her piece because, frankly, I don’t agree with it.
It’s not that I disagree with everything she wrote, it is the implications of some of her points I have a problem with. And, in a point I think is extremely critical to discuss: Is the meeting itself dull or the people who attend it making it dull for themselves?
So, rather than a point by point rebuttal, I offer up a few of my own observations.
We now live in an over-stimulated society. First, there were those of us who grew up with Television. We could sit and watch the box for long periods of time. But TV didn’t take the place of reading books and newspapers, playing outside and doing other activities. Second, came the MTV generation. Music became visual and news went 24 hours a day. This began the gradual decline of other sedentary activities such as reading, playing board games, puzzles and just sitting. Parents heard more and more from their children, “I’m bored.” Outside activities were also beginning to wane and obese children and adults are now more common.
Then, we ushered in the Internet, cell phones, video games, and VCRs. This just compounded the problems I noted above. Unsuspecting parents were turning their children and themselves into couch potatoes and anything less than flashing lights and extreme movement was just plain dull. And, finally, we are now at the Text/Twitter generation, where anything less than instantaneous everything is slow. Where folks, especially young people cannot be away from their mobile device for a second less they miss an important “k” or some other cryptic message. In fact, most sleep with their devices and the thought of turning it off for any period of time, like a 70 minute church meeting is unheard of.
We expect to be entertained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In fact, many Church Services have become more like a show than a worship service. Even the Catholic Church has modified its mass to try to accommodate this trend. And many so-called mega-churches, loud bands, modern music, loud preachers and a loud congregation have been the norm for the folks who even bother to go. And they dress as though they are going to see Miley Cyrus rather than worship God and Jesus. The idea is we’d rather have them here at Church, such as it is, then sitting at home just drinking beer and watching football on Sundays.
The LDS Church has not succumbed to these trends and its worship service, the Sacrament Meeting has largely remained unchanged for many years. In Ms. Riess’ assertion that “we no longer expect spiritual manifestations,” she confuses a massive outpouring of the Spirit like that experienced at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple with the manner in which the Prophet Joseph always taught about how we generally commune and hear from God, by and through the still small voice. She seems to assert that Latter-day Saints outside the US are having dramatic manifestations of the spirit while American Saints do not. Yet, I have attended a number of Sacrament meetings outside the US and it always seemed like a normal Sacrament Meeting to me. No angels appeared, one writhed on the floor, spoke in a strange language or danced with snakes while I was there.
Yet, I have heard members say and I have often felt the presence of the Spirit at countless Sacrament Meetings, so I am not sure what she is talking about when she says, “we don’t truly expect God to show up” at our meetings. It is one of those things that people often pray for at the beginning and end of our meetings.
It is incredibly important to know why we are there at those meetings. We are at Sacrament Meeting to worship our Heavenly Father and His Son and partake of the Sacrament. That’s it. That is why we are there. The talks and business conducted are secondary to that purpose. So, I probably agree with Ms. Riess that that purpose needs to be reinforced with members, as do the purpose and manner of talks as well.
For the most part, I love the music of Zion. Ms. Riess thinks it is “funereal.” And, it can be. But I also notice that many people in the congregation cannot be bothered to sing the hymns. They chat, stare off into space or have to deal with fussy children (a legitimate excuse, in my book). With more people singing, the music would be better.
The final point I’d like to address are the talks. She says, “Our talks suck.” Again, it is a matter of perspective. We know that most of our folks are NOT professional public speakers. They are moms and dads, many of whom have other full time jobs and responsibilities. So, they sometimes struggle to find the time to properly prepare talks for Sunday. That is no excuse. For the once in a while opportunity to teach the congregation, more time and effort could be made, for sure. But, we need to cut these folks some slack. Even so-called professional clergy can be just as bad and dull as any LDS member giving a talk. These are our Brother and Sisters. I think we can forgive them their speaking inadequacies and learn to hear the message rather than the delivery of the messenger.
In conclusion, any meeting or activity that is not well understood can be perceived as dull and boring. If I took many of you to a Jewish Sabbath day service, with its three-hour rote liturgy, all spoken in Hebrew, you might think that is dull, not having a clue what is going on, what is being said and the purposes behind it. Most Jewish services have little music, no screaming or yelling and the entertainment value is low. But, the devotion, respect and worship are there.
And that is the same way I feel about Our LDS Sacrament Service.