Monday, July 31, 2006

The Five Hour Block –
I have had many good Sundays in church lately. Today wasn’t one of them. It started off with the youth speaker in Sacrament and went downhill. His first sentence somehow related to having to perfect ourselves in order to feel the spirit, and I was glad Wife of Bath was not there, because I believe she would have headed for the door. The next speaker presented an eight point program for achieving something. I couldn’t figure out what, other than it was a lot of work to get there, involving scripture study, prayer, and the usual “do”s, other than actual contemplation. The concluding speaker talked about how the family was the foundation for our nation. I basically consider the extreme emphasis on the family in many conservative Christian churches today to be a modern idolatry, merely because we seem to place our focus on the family ahead of our focus on God. We try to lure new people in by talking about families instead of God and put them up on the pedestal that properly belongs to Christ. Our families are not the ultimate source of happiness or salvation. That would be our relationship with Christ. But I digress.

Sunday School was on Elijah and Elisha and covered the healing of Namaan the Syrian from leprosy. Through the lens of correlation this became a lesson on “follow the prophet”, no matter what small thing he says. Somebody in the class protested against blind obedience, and the class agreed that blind obedience is bad, and we should do everything the prophet says with our eyes open. Okay . . . and this differs from blind obedience how?

Priesthood was a pioneer day lesson from the Wilford Woodruff manual on the pioneers, including familiar stories of Joseph Smith raising people from the near-dead.

After the three hour block I had to wonder if we had talked about God at all, let alone Christ.

Later on I attended stake priesthood meeting, where we talked about the importance of performing our duties and obligations, returning and reporting, and the evils of pornography (which was quite appropriate, FWIW). The lone substantial reference to Christ was from a 16 year-old who talked about how serving in the church brought him closer to Christ and helped him feel the savior’s love. The rest of it was duty, obligation, and the importance of worthiness.

By and large it was a draining day. I found myself wondering if there was a morning worship service during the week at any local church, just so I could feel a spirit of group worship rather than being instructed on more things to do, while being reminded of the importance of doing them in order to remain “worthy” of the spirit, my eternal reward, etc..

I found myself wondering just how much more of this I can take. My main reason for staying in the LDS church is that most churches just don’t teach morality and commitment anymore, and I think that’s important. Even Baptists teach about sin and morality without the guilt load the LDS church imposes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is quite simply not one long to-do list, however well intentioned this might be. Even if we load ourselves down with this to-do list for fully altruistic reasons, I don’t think this is what Christ really intends.

My impression from the scriptures is that Christ did not over-program himself. We don’t see Jesus racing from place to place trying to heal everyone, trying to convert everyone, trying to pack just one more thing into a crowded day like we do. Christ focused on relationships, both with his Father and with his people, and relationships take time. True relationships and being excessively schedule-driven and task-driven are at odds with each other. I knew a stake president once who bragged about planning his family home evenings a year in advance. In what way does this allow for the still small voice to suggest a particular message needed right now? Likewise our packed schedules. A day full of work commitments, family commitments, and church commitments does not lend itself to being interrupted by someone who either needs our help or needs us to listen. Jesus paced himself and focused on the people in front of him, and maybe we can learn something from this. He balanced rest, service, prayer, and worship. So should we.

I’m coming to believe our concept of worthiness in the LDS church is very destructive. It’s like a cartoon where the dog has a stick tied to his head with a bone on the end, just out of reach. As he moves towards the bone it moves away, because it’s attached to the stick which is attached to his head. No matter how hard he tries the dog will never reach the bone.

Likewise worthiness. It’s always “lengthen your stride”, “stand a little taller”, “do a little more”, “be a little better”. Based on what we hear from the pulpit we will never be good enough. We will never be “done”. We will never be able to satisfy all the obligations laid on us from the pulpit, thus we will never feel “worthy” of the companionship of the Holy Spirit.


Anonymous said...

Interesting ruminations. I agree with you on the treadmill aspect of worthiness (perfectionism?) as it seems to be taught or understood in lds culture. I feel the emphasis on family we see in many churches is a response to perceived threats to a traditional perception of family. Personally I believe there should be a balance between emphasis on family and emphasis on Christ. I do not see the ideas as competing but complementing eachother.

How is taking 5 hours from one's family on the sabbath supporting either family or relationship with Jesus Christ? I feel your frustration over that.

Anonymous said...

You obviously understand the LDS culture of obedience and perfection. Too me it became a glaring inconsistency with my Protestant concept of grace and nullified Christ. What's the point of having a Savior if you must work your butt off trying to avoid relying on his mercy. This is an area of LDS culture I consider to be destructive to its adherents. There's nothing like Nelson's talk on the conditional love of God to really warp your mind.