Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Why Stay? --
We attended a great service at our current church on Sunday. I'd like to describe it by way of proving my point, but I know some roll their eyes at listening to others talk about how great their church is. Totally understandable, but please indulge me. If you want, just skip to the end, where I make my point.

The pastor delivered a thoughtful message about defining ourselves. Do we define ourselves by our relationship to those around us? By our relationship to material things? By our relationship to institutions? Or do we define ourselves the way God sees us, by our relationship to Christ? Defining ourselves the way God does allows us to weather a lot of storms at work and in life. Suddenly worldly success doesn't mean that much, so we don't need to stress when job and position and health and wealth are taken away, as they ultimately will be. He tied his sermon to the Bible rather than his own authority, and based his comments on several verses rather than things scattered all over the place quilted together to make a debating point. If you don't believe him, read the words for yourself and see if you see something different.

The music afterwards was phenomenal. Not just the quality, but the response. There was energy in the room, people singing loudly, clapping, raising their hands, and responding with joy at the chance to worship. Not charismatic or anything, but just very enthusiastic and emotional. People were involved in the service.

I just had to contrast this to the times I've attended LDS services lately.

Now, I'm not one who claims that sacrament meetings have to be hugely entertaining. I enjoy listening to talks and generally comparing them to the same talk I have heard dozens of times before on the same subject, considering what I might have said in their place, and singing the hymns. But I fear I'm in the minority. Looking out at the congregation from the stand is usually not much different from sitting in a doctors waiting room. People are not smiling, they look vacant, and they clearly want to be elsewhere most of the time, especially these days when most sacrament talks are just rehashed general conference talks. When the speaker puts themselves into the talk they are hugely enjoyable, but that seems to happen less and less. More and more people just quote large sections of the general conference talk and then bear a short testimony without adding much of their own thoughts.

Regardless of the quality of the content, most people are just not that engaged. They want it to be over. Likewise the singing. I'm embarrassed sometimes to sing in LDS congregations because I sound so loud compared to the few people around me who are singing, especially in the back. In our current church people often sing so loud you have no hope of hearing yourself, no matter how loud you are.

So, here's the point.

I really had to ask myself on Sunday. Sound scriptural teaching and not just somebody's opinion glittered with proof texts from the scriptures or general authorities quoting general authorities quoting general authorities. Energetic emotional worship that engaged the congregation. I was free to be myself and not worry about what other people thought of what I dressed or did during the service. I could just open my heart and respond.

Why would I trade this for an LDS service? Why would I give up this kind of true worship for leaden LDS sacrament meetings where people are just going through the motions? Why would I trade this passionate experience for the equivalent lifeless one?

I really couldn't think of a good reason.


Paul said...

“I went up to one of the staff members I had met with before. For the last two years I have been told I can't join this church because of my continuing LDS connection and because my wife and I had to join together or not at all. As a result of the last meeting we had, suddenly the door to membership was being flung open, should I choose to walk through it.”

I thought about you throughout the day, and something popped into my mind. It was in regards to the above statement, which seems to conflict with the notion about “I realized that basically every organization or system I had been a part of before served to focus me on healing my relationship with the organization” instead of “True peace is being reconciled to God, which can only be accomplished through Christ. It's a healed relationship with God, rather than healed relationships with the people around us...”

I queried, “Why does this non-LDS church require that Bob sever all connections with his LDS church? Isn’t this tantamount to something like this organization “serv(ing) to focus me on healing my relationship with the organization”? Both churches preach Christ, although in different ways from each other. And even in the LDS church, what you experience has so much to do with the local leadership and how they structure their meetings, etc, i.e., two LDS wards can be so, so different in so many ways just like any other Christian denominational churches, Protestant or otherwise are (believe me, I have experienced this in the LDS church at large).

I have sometimes referred to myself (with tongue-in-cheek) as being a “Neo-gnostic, Buddhistic, Mormon, Zen Christian” or something like that! What has finally mattered to me after studying and somewhat practicing a variety of both Christian and non-Christian belief systems is in fact The Christ -- my inner most, heart-felt, mind-enlightening, Savior of my soul. I thank my Mormon up-bringing for a lot of this; I thank the authors of so many WONDERFUL books, written by a lot of non-LDS people for this: I even thank my Zen Buddhist instruction by wonderful masters like Thich Nhat Hanh, to reference one of them. (con’t)

Paul said...


If one of the officers of the Mormon church where to announce to me that because I am not active in the church I can no longer be a member, that would sadden me -- maybe even distress me (although I’ve thought about this hypothetical scenario and have conjectured at times that I would respond with a, “Fine with me. Good riddance TO YOU.”) But really, what would that accomplish, except some sort of angst or even animosity, heaven forbid. I think that to be a *member* of a church that claims to be a church of our Lord Jesus Christ, then sufficient that you just be there in the moment that you are there worshipping as “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.“

I am a citizenship of two countries. I couldn’t for the life of me give up either one of them, because I love both of them dearly. I would give my life to defend either one of them, although one of them, in effect, made me take an oath that I renounce the other. But really, how can you do that in your heart if you were actually born in the other country? I solved this dilemma in my *mind* (because it really only boils down to an accademic/political/ideological issue) in this way: When I am physically in *that* country, I am a 100 percent citizen of *that* country. When I am physically in the other country, I am a 100 percent citizen of *that* country while I am there. Hence, this is the analogue for: If I am physically sitting in an LDS church, then while I am sitting there, I am an LDS Christian. If or when I where to be sitting in another non-LDS Christian church that I am fond of, or identify with, then I would be a (name of denomination) Christian. I would say to the officials of both denominations in a cheeky, New York Italianesque tone of voice, “You gotta problem with that?! I don’t think my Lord Jesus Christ does.“

“Embrace nothing (isms, political policies and ideologies of the day with regard to organizations): 
If you meet the Buddha (YOUR EGO), kill the Buddha (your ego and the one confronting yours). 
If you meet your father (your inordinate and unbending attachment to traditions), kill your father. 
Only live your life as it is (in this moment of your spiritual journey and development), 
Not bound to anything (that demands exclusivity in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ).”
-- my comments in brackets

Just my thoughts for you. I hope I am not out of line or have offended you.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I understand. I have been where you are. I can't think of going back to the LDS Church after having experienced other churches that have a more rich worship. People wanting to be there, wanting to contribute, and wanting to sing. Your comment on the faces was right on the mark. Look at the faces in the LDS congregation. Aloof...far away...not wanting to be there. Look at the faces of the people at a Protestant church, or even Catholic. They want to be there. The difference in the faces are striking. True worship vs the law.

Bob Dixon said...

No offense taken, Paul. The reason for this rule is quite practical. It's a 20-something church, and many people in this age group are church-hoppers, or they are very focused on their own spiritual development and try to piece together the "ideal" church from various pieces of other churches.

The problem with that is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is largely about getting along with other people and learning to commit to them, warts and all. People who are members of multiple churches are like polygamists. Their loyalties are divided, and their attention is divided.

This is not a rule only applied against the LDS church. They don't allow you to belong to *any* other church.

Where the rule changed in my favor is that membership on paper is irrelevant. They don't want you *functioning* as a member, for the reasons I outlined. They want your full attention. Also they previously required both my wife and I to join to prevent conflict in the home and husband and wife pulling in different directions. They relaxed this one also, because my wife serves in the church. She just doesn't want to join at this point.