Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Stay, Part 3 --
I was reflecting on this a lot in church on Sunday.

From the LDS perspective I am damaged goods. I cannot pass a temple recommend interview because there's no way I could sustain the current general authorities as "prophets seers and revelators". I think they're entitled to the same inspiration as anyone else who prays to God with real intent, but I don't see them as the Lord's special witnesses, any different from any other preacher, pastor, or evangelist seeking to humbly spread the truth about Christ.

As such I am really not able to be a full part of the LDS community. Most serious callings are off-limits to me, not that I would really want them anyway. I'm forever in a support role, like the Christmas cookie delivery from December, the second banana carrying the plate supporting someone with more credibility. In the LDS church what matters is serving within the church, either presiding or teaching, and I can do neither. The most I could aspire to would be generally made up jobs serving within the LDS community performed under the watchful eye of someone with more credibility.

I contrast this with the opportunities for service in front of me as a member of the church we attend now.

Before the service on Sunday they showed a video about a Boys Club ministry in downtown Raleigh. There are possibilities in front of me for making up packages of food and supplies for less fortunate students at a downtown elementary school. I may go to a meeting tonight for people putting on a chapel service in a local homeless shelter. I can help teach and encourage fellowship in my community group. As a member I could become a deacon and help lead and organize ministries in the church, for example the parking ministry I'm part of now. I can actually make a difference to the less fortunate outside the church and minister in some way to those in it, even if just a greeter helping people find parking spaces and carrying their babies into the building when their hands are full.

I can do something meaningful and not just take notes at someone else's meeting, accompany someone else to a home teaching appointment that nobody wants to be involved in anyway, or haul furniture for people who already have lots of helpers and could realistically afford to pay movers if they chose to.

I can never make a difference in the LDS context. I can make a huge difference in the church I attend now.

Why would I trade meaningful ministry for marginalized irrelevance?

3 comments:

Paul said...

I’m just talking. Take it all with a grain of salt.

When I was a member of the Roman Catholic church, although at a very young age, nobody that I knew participated in the governance or other procedures of the church. My family and most other Catholics just went to mass on Sunday and that was it. Some of the men were members of the Knights of Columbus, but that really didn’t have anything to do with the ‘churchy’ stuff. But of course every Christian denomination is different. The Mormons do it one way, the Baptists another, and the whomever, whatever do it their way concerning member involvement.

You refer to “meaningful ministry” and “marginalized irrelevance.” I can understand how someone can feel irrelevant in the Mormon church -- I did some times. But what is relevant when it comes to just basic worship? Do you even need a church to worship God? Let’s say you were a TBM and did everything you are supposed to and you went to the bishop of your ward and said, “Hey, bishop, I want feel like a somebody! I don’t want to be irrelevant.“ What would he say? Maybe another TBM would go to his bishop as say, “Hey, bishop, I want to feel like a nobody! I don’t want to be relevant in either my eyes nor anyone else’s including God’s. I want to be lower than the dust of the earth, because basically that’s all that I am compared to the goodness and mercy of my Lord Jesus Christ.” What do you think he would say to that fellow? Of the two, who is ministering to whom, how and why?

There are so many relevant and valid ways of serving God by serving others. There are so many relevant and valid ways to worship God (acknowledge His goodness). My theory is that all churches are not too dissimilar from a lot of different types of clubs. Hence, it’s all about which one you like the best for whatever reason. Water eventually finds its own level and people are no different. Many, many Mormons, just like many, many members of other denominations are completely happy and fulfilled in their respective religions/parishes/wards/etc. You just need to find the one that is the right fit for you. God isn’t going to condemn you for doing that. Some Mormons might, but I cannot for the life of me ever conceive of God saying, “Bob Dixon, you’re going to spend the whole of eternity in hell. I don’t care how many soup kitchens you volunteered to help out in, or how many sick and lonely people you visited and comforted. I don’t care how many non-LDS worthy charities you gave your money to. I don’t even care how many times you prayed to me, or read about me. You didn’t do it the Mormon way!”

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Dixon said...

I am trying to make a complex point, and I might not make it very well. Much of this, to be honest, is the context of the reader. I hang around on a lot of forums for people who are marginally LDS, and many people just cannot understand where I'm coming from because our viewpoints on the LDS church are so different.

I think you come from a viewpoint where all that matters is what God thinks and you don't sweat what other people think. I think that's an admirable approach, but I submit that you are rare. The LDS church is a meritocracy and a pecking order. We're constantly being judged by other people based on our performance and worthiness. We are picked for callings based on our perceived righteousness and ability and lifted up to everybody else on that basis.

Everybody knows the bishop is better than everybody else and that the men in the Sunday School presidency are good men who probably can't be trusted as Elders Quorum president or scoutmaster, with rare exceptions.

When I talk about meaningful service I don't really mean just in leadership callings. I am sort of mixing concepts in a confusing way. I mean being able to do things that really impact the lives of people who are hurting, as opposed to made up jobs visiting people who are basically doing fine or doing administrative jobs as part of presidencies.

Few LDS callings really serve people who are in serious trouble. Mostly you are just ministering to the faithful, teaching in Sunday School or organizing presidencies. On top of that, if you don't have a temple recommend you will always likely serve in jobs where people know you are not totally trusted. You are conspicuously absent from temple trips. The entire ward staff knows you are not a full tithe payer. Etc. Everybody knows you are not fully on the team. They know you are not celestial material. When the train leaves the station for celestial glory, you will not be on it.

It sounds like this doesn't matter to you, but I believe that cloud of continual judgment matters to most people, even if you disagree with the metrics they use.

To address your other point, I agree that worship is important, but I think pure worship without being involved in a church family and in other people's lives is not really authentic Christianity. It's richly appealing, but it's a form of faith I don't really see in the scriptures. Faith and works are inseparably tied together in Christian faith, and the Christian life has to be lived out in community.