Why I Love My Ward

May 5, 2005 | 50 comments
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Sitting in Fast and Testimony meeting last Sunday, I started thinking about why I enjoy my ward so much, and it came down to the people in it.

There’s Brother K who, though mentally handicapped, bears a sincere, simple, short testimony every Fast Sunday and loves to read verses for Gospel Doctrine class in a sing-song voice. And there’s Brother B, also mentally handicapped, who sits on the front row of Sunday School class, often adding his comments. Whenever Sister R shares her thoughts about the Gospel, she does so in a voice on the edge of weeping. Brother J comes to Gospel Doctrine class actually having read the lesson and anxious to talk about his insights, as does Sister E, who will read the verses we are discussing when no one else will volunteer. Brother L doesn’t say much, but he listens carefully and stops the conversation when it heads in a direction he doesn’t think good by reminding us of what is important. Sister M gets so excited about the things we talk about that she can hardly control herself from commenting, and Brother M often brings us back to reality by making connections between the topic of discussion and our real lives. Brother and Sister A, like Brother L, don’t often comment, but when they do, they let us know that they have been listening and have strong opinions (and that my opinions are nonsense). Brother Q tells friendly, happy stories that seldom have anything to do with the lesson. Brother H looks like the Marlboro man and is equally as quiet as I imagine that cowboy to be, and Sister H often puts people off with what they mistakenly take to be her anger or criticism. But either of them would give you an arm or a leg if you needed one, and each is as committed to the gospel and the Church as you could hope for, though few who haven’t known them a long time know about that commitment because the Hs don’t meet standard criteria. Brother Z left the ward for a long time, looking for a wife after his divorce. But he’s back and incredibly self-aware, stopping any discussion to ask questions and often recognizing his failures, but without self-pity. And Brother T comes but rarely speaks. When he does, he seems not yet to have figured out the difference between what one says in church and what one says at AA: we know more about his struggles than I would like to know. Young Brother E is there because his parents make him come, but he passes out hymn books with a smile and seems to enjoy talking with his friends at church. He’s even willing to talk to me. Sister S sings with an amazing voice but rarely speaks above a whisper in church. She picks up the marker and the eraser after Sunday School class, saying “Thank you for the lesson” as she does and returning them to the library.

In addition to the ordinances we perform, those people and several dozen others make our meetings: Our Sacrament and Testimony meetings are led by a bishop who obviously loves what he is doing and wants to do it well, at the same time that he is aware of his limitations. Lots of people show up for Gospel Doctrine class, and it is rarely difficult to get them to participate, responding to questions, asking questions, and making jokes at the teacher’s expense. And the joking doesn’t end with Sunday School. The High Priests spend a good part of each meeting ribbing each other, and I’ve heard the Elders do the same.

If I put aside my selfish desire that the ward meet my presumed need for intellectual stimulation, I begin to see it as what it is, a perspective on the Celestial Kingdom: filled with loving, good people, each with her or his idiosyncracies and differences, joined loosely and happily together in divine work. The ward isn’t very intellectual. It is not yet a place of refinement, beauty, and genuine art–and it will be a long time until it is. Since it isn’t yet the Celestial Kingdom, it is often a bit messy and disorganized. And we often fail to do what we should or we fail to do things as we should. But in spite of some shortcomings, I suspect that my ward is as good a glimpse as I’m going to get on this earth of the Celestial World.

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50 Responses to Why I Love My Ward

  1. Geoff Matthews on May 5, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Reminds me, somewhat, of the ward I grew up in. There seemed to be a greater variance (not racial variance, but actual personality) of people there (Medicine Hat, Alberta) then the wards I’ve attened in Utah.
    Granted, that’s probably, in part, because of the smaller geographical area of the ward.

  2. Ana on May 5, 2005 at 5:12 pm

    Jim, it sounds like the reason you love your ward is because of your own attitude. Other people I can think of would be really uncomfortable in your ward for the same reasons you list that help you enjoy it. I think that speaks really highly of you.

  3. costanza on May 5, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    Who says that the Celestial Kingdom isn’t a bit messy and disorganized? It is filled with families after all! Seriously though, great post.

  4. RoAnn on May 5, 2005 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Jim. It’s a gentle reminder for us that, as Ana pointed out, attitude is often the factor that determines our enjoyment of a given situation.
    Abraham Lincoln remarked: “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I find that idea quite liberating,
    For me, your statement, “If I put aside my selfish desire that the ward meet my presumed need for intellectual stimulation, I begin to see it as what it is, a perspective on the Celestial Kingdom. . .” hit the nail on the head. After all, if you got all the intellectual stimulation you needed from your ward, we might not get to read your thought-provoking posts and comments here on T&S!

  5. drex davis on May 5, 2005 at 7:47 pm

    When I returned home from my mission someone (probably a priesthood leader in an interview) asked me what was the greatest thing I learned on my mission.

    I said something that surprised me, and which I learned from. I said, “I learned to wholeheartedly love people to whom I’d never want to introduce myself.”

    That was my key to growing as a person and as a missionary.

    Whenever I hear people complain about their wards, how the people are insensitive, boorish, boring, self-righteous I think, “You’d seek to do away with the very conditions that will help you become a Saint – learning to wholeheartedly love those people you’d rather avoid?”

    I believe church interaction is a vital part of the gospel, not only because we’re “uplifted” by those members who interact with us, but because we learn to serve and love those who have precisely the opposite effect on us – we learn to look past all that.

    I often wonder what Christ would think about me if he had to spend an hour listening to me give a lesson on a topic I clearly didn’t know well. He’d probably be a lot more charitable than I have been when I’ve been the audience to such spectacle.

    Of course, I am prideful and impatient and forget too easily the blessings that could be mine if I’d remember that I attend church to be a Christian, not just learn to be one.

    I don’t want to threadjack, but Jim’s comments made me recall a set of essays I once read by Eugene England, “Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel.” Those essays got me to think about church as a place I go to forget about myself and serve others, rather than as a place to go and reflect on my virtues/vices, or the virtues/vices of others. I sometimes find that the best thing I can do when a fellow member is struggling through a lesson is to offer silent prayers on that members behalf, that she will find the words she’s searching for and be able to communicate what is in her heart. At least, that’s what I do when I’m in tune with the spirit of the Sabbath and church worship which, regrettably, is not as frequent as it ought to be.

  6. Silus Grok on May 5, 2005 at 7:51 pm

    ( Drex Davis of 259? )

  7. Henry Drummond on May 5, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    I’m sorry, Jim Faulconer. I’m going to disagree. I’m glad you enjoy your ward. But I think your post is a cop-out.

    I’ve been putting aside my “selfish desire that the ward meet my presumed need for intellectual stimulation,” for, oh, a good thirty-five or forty years now.

    Lately I’ve been wondering why.

    The ward is for me, too. It has begun to occur to me that occasionally, just occasionally, it could be that the ward could meet some of my needs.

    It never has. But after a very long time of being as unselfish about this as I know how, I have to started to wonder just a bit why it doesn’t.

    And I don’t think I’m the only member of the Church who, just every once in a while, would be uplifted and enlightened by a Sunday School lesson or Sacrament meeting that was intellectually challenging.

    Why, exactly, is it always the assumption in this church is always that those of us who ask some tough questions, those of us who aren’t as happy as clams — and about as intelligent — just aren’t spiritual enough, just don’t have the right attitude.

    Do we really think that Father got where he is by not using his mind, by not asking any hard questions? Do we really think that is what the Celestial Kingdom is about? An eternal lobotomy?

    And if we think the answer to that question is yes, then maybe we should ask some hard questions about the attitudes and priorities of the members of this church?

  8. Kingsley on May 5, 2005 at 8:36 pm

    “It has begun to occur to me that occasionally, just occasionally, it could be that the ward could meet some of my needs,” whined Henry.

    Jim F. paints a small portrait of his ward, complex, rich, & moving, while Henry D. presents a caricature of his, complete with the usual sweeping complaints & accusations. Forty years in the wilderness! Forty years without an “intellectually challenging” Sunday School or Sacrament Meeting! Forty years without a need, any need, being met! (The latter is less shocking if the former constitutes all his needs.) Then comes the old maidenly (& rather vulgar) Do you think your father got where he is by loafing around all day? etc. If Jim F.’s post is a cop-out, Henry D.’s is a cliché, from start to finish.

  9. annegb on May 5, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    Jim, I love this topic. I’ve griped a lot about my ward, I call it the Seinfield ward, which is true, but that is one of the things I love about it.

    There are a lot of people in my ward who have great senses of humor and we love each other and make each other laugh. There are also those who have no clue when I make a joke. That’s okay, it takes all kinds.

    But, you know, I’ve been here for 26 years, and have really grown up here, in so many ways. We’ve fought and cried together. They have loved me despite my many flaws, and become my family–with all the ups and downs. Sometimes they get really mad at me, but when I’ve sorrowed, when I’ve needed them, they pitch right and I do the same for them. We have an intimacy that cannot be explained.

    So–I might get mad if their dog barks, I might get annoyed because the bishop speaks too long, or I might resent that I feel I can’t speak up freely in Sunday School–we yell at each others’ kids, oh, I could go on, but they are family, I am family, and like family (think home), it’s the place where I go and they take me in, even if they grumble.

    We accept and adjust and struggle with each other, no matter what.

    Thanks, again, I needed to be reminded about what’s right with my ward.

  10. drex davis on May 5, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    Yes, Silus Grok, that’s me (for better or worse . . . better, I hope).

  11. Shawn Bailey on May 5, 2005 at 9:42 pm

    Jim’s post brings to mind the ward of my childhood. I have many vivid memories, many pictures of authentic characters. For example, the woman who every month presented a thoughtful, articulate testimony (better than the average talk in our ward) that she always started with the words “My dear brothers and sisters …”

    It was a little heart-breaking when the ward was divided. I was long gone, but I feel the loss of not being able to visit home and enjoy another one of those testimony meetings. Even worse, most of the people with whom my mom now attends church have no idea who she is, they have not heard her testimony in those meetings or served with through the years, their children did not grow up with hers, etc., etc.

  12. Rosalynde Welch on May 5, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    (continue threadjack)

    Drex, Greg Adams and I sang a little together on our missions in Portugal. Say hi to him from Sister Frandsen. He also gave me a pirated 259 tape while we were there, which, in my music-deprived state, I greatly enjoyed. (And I’m sure I would greatly enjoy it now, too!)

  13. Jim F on May 5, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    Henry Drummond (#7): Unlike you, I’ve not been putting aside my selfish desire that the ward fulfill me intellectually for thirty-five or forty years. I would say it has only been about twenty-five or thirty for me. It took me a while to get that figured out. You’re right, the ward is for you, too. Surely, however, you have more needs than intellectual ones and you have other ways of fulfilling your intellectual needs. I can meet those by blogging, by reading, by talking with friends. I don’t need the church for that. But I do need it for the ordinances, for worship, for learning to live with others very unlike me, for learning to serve people whom I find it difficult even to talk with, and it has been meeting those needs pretty well.

    You ask: Do we really think that Father got where he is by not using his mind, by not asking any hard questions? Do we really think that is what the Celestial Kingdom is about? An eternal lobotomy? I assume you know that the answer is “of course not” (either that or you haven’t read other things I’ve written). But just as I don’t think the church has to fulfill other of my desires, desires I assume I also share with the Father, I don’t think it is a particularly good place to fulfill my intellectual ones. One reason is that if it becomes such a place, then it also becomes a place at which the majority of humankind will feel uncomfortable and out of place, if not also looked down on and stupid. The hard questions that Jesus asked were moral and spiritual questions, not intellectual ones.

  14. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 8:27 am

    “But just as I don’t think the church has to fulfill other of my desires, desires I assume I also share with the Father, I don’t think it is a particularly good place to fulfill my intellectual ones. One reason is that if it becomes such a place, then it also becomes a place at which the majority of humankind will feel uncomfortable and out of place, if not also looked down on and stupid.”

    Here your argument rests on the assumption that it is possible for church meetings to address subsections of a congregation more effectively or less effectively based on the types of needs which are addressed. In other words, if you were happy in an intellectually stimulating ward, but other people weren’t, the most ethical response on your part would be to ask how church meetings could be tailored to help those members, rather than to idly reflect on how much you get out of the meetings.

    Self-satisfied reflection on how well oneself has thrived in a system makes for very nice advocacy of personal piety, but it’s not useful to other people. Since you’re not selfish anymore (when it comes to thinking about church meetings), it’s not worth your time. What is worth your time is to ask why some people hate church, and how the church as a body can benefit from their insights (just as it may currently benefit from the insight that if church were some kind of intellectual peeing party, some people would hate it…. and rightly so).

  15. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 8:41 am

    Assuming for the sake of argument that selflessness is a good idea, we should care about if church is boring for the same reason we should care if the meal we sit down to with our family has food poisoning. It doesn’t just affect us! You smart people out there are not the only smart people in your wards! What do you think you are, geniuses? Where’s your proof? Perhaps you are only reasonably intelligent just like many other people around you. Even if only smart people wanted things to be interesting (which isn’t the case), they are simply not that few and far between. I contend the vast majority of humanity is reasonably intelligent and likes to be challenged somewhat. For their sakes, oh ye selfless intellectuals, cast off your cloak of stoic resignation….

  16. annegb on May 6, 2005 at 9:35 am

    Good point, Andrea. I find myself a little, no a lot, smug, when I look at others in my ward and I know they’ve never even heard of CS Lewis, let alone read him. I’ve never even thought of abandoning my conceit.

    …well, until I came to Times and Seasons. and realized I wasn’t the smartest person in the church.

    Your posts were well done, although they may ruffle some feathers. You go, girl.

  17. Kevin Barney on May 6, 2005 at 10:52 am

    Good post, Jim. I’ve always loved the people in the wards I’ve been in, and quite honestly, they are a major reason why I continue to remain engaged and active.

  18. drex davis on May 6, 2005 at 10:52 am

    “Assuming for the sake of argument that selflessness is a good idea, we should care about if church is boring for the same reason we should care if the meal we sit down to with our family has food poisoning”

    Boredom is a choice. It is not something which “happens” to someone in the same way food poisoning does. Moreover, boredom is an irritation, not life-threatening, and eaisily overcome by being willing to exert some effort and change one’s focus. Food poisoning at dinner cannot be changed by an act of will. It’s not a good analogy.

    “I contend the vast majority of humanity is reasonably intelligent and likes to be challenged somewhat”

    ????

    7000 years of recorded history differ with you . . . .

  19. Seth Rogers on May 6, 2005 at 11:21 am

    I think people have a wrongheaded idea of what constitutes “intellectual stimulation.”

    If you’re bored with the discourse in your Sunday School class imagine how bored God must be with the discourse of human history!

    If you’re ready to knaw through your hymbook after listening to Sister Y say the same tired old platitudes for the 8th week running, think of how God must feel having to know YOUR thoughts day-in and day-out ever since you were born!

    Of course, this assumes that God shares the same desires as those of us who “just aren’t getting enough out of church.” This assumption is severely challenged by the statement:

    “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of men.”

    If God shared my selfish view of classes in Elders Quorum, I’m sure there are many things He could be doing that are more self-fulfilling than watching the wretched stupidity, endless triteness, and petty bickering of His children.

    But the truth is, God isn’t off doing those things. Instead, he appears to be “stuck here parenting.” And apparently, He wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Just something to think about.

    Everything else I’d say here has been said by others, but I’d like to second Andrea’s post #15. We often give the people around us a lot less credit than they deserve.

  20. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    “Boredom is a choice. It is not something which ‘happens’ to someone in the same way food poisoning does. Moreover, boredom is an irritation, not life-threatening, and eaisily overcome by being willing to exert some effort and change one’s focus. Food poisoning at dinner cannot be changed by an act of will. It’s not a good analogy.”

    Drex Davis,

    Are you arguing that boringness is entirely in the mind of the experiencer? This isn’t a very useful position for practical purposes. Having safely placed the blame for other people’s boredom on their own heads, you can wash your hands of culpability and be satisfied. But the fact of the matter is, there really *are* things you can do to increase or decrease the likelihood of someone’s being bored in church. And all your statement is good for is shutting the door on potentially finding those things by pointing out that other people’s boredom is not your problem. Well, good for you.

    “7000 years of recorded history differ with you . . . . ”

    :-P

  21. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    Seth Rogers,
    So God doesn’t jump ship. That doesn’t mean he can’t think church meetings are more boring than they ought to be. I mean, does it?

  22. Jim F on May 6, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Andrea Edwards: Your argument rests on the assumption that it is possible for church meetings to address subsections of a congregation more effectively or less effectively based on the types of needs which are addressed

    No, that isn’t the assumption that my argument rests on. I don’t think that church is really about satisfying needs, though it may satisfy some. I should have made myself more clear. My assumption is merely that there are lots of things that church is not about. As I said, it is about worship and ordinances; it is also, I think, about helping us learn to live together and to serve one another. I don’t think it is about providing opportunities for intellectual growth.

    Why do you think I or others on this thread think we are the only smart people in the ward? I don’t think I think that. What did I say that suggested I do? To say that the ward isn’t the best place for me to look for intellectual stimulation is not to say that no one there is smart. A basketball game isn’t a good place to look for intellectual stimulation, but I assume that a lot of smart people go to them.

    And why do you suppose that “intellectually stimulating” and “interesting” mean the same? I find a lot of things interesting–not boring–that are not necessarily intellectually stimulating, and I certainly don’t believe that professors and their equivalents have a corner on either being interesting or wanting things to be interesting. Church can be interesting without being intellectually stimulating.

    Should we be concerned that people are bored in church? Surely. But what form should that concern take? My part ought to be to try to teach better and to give talks that aren’t the same old thing. I ought also to help my children see through their boredom at so-and-so’s talk to the struggle he went through to give it, to the person who stands before them. After all, I was never bored by my children’s talks because I love them. That suggests that I would find far fewer talks boring if I loved those giving the talks more. It seems to me that the cures for boredom are primarily individual rather than institutional. I ought to work against boredom by teaching and speaking better; I ought to work against being bored by learning to love more.

  23. drex davis on May 6, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    Andrea,
    Based on the tone of your comments, I’m trying to read them in a way that doesn’t look like egg-throwing, and will try and respond to them in that light.

    I’m not arguing that there are not things that can be done to change the position of where some event may lie on the “tendency to induce boredom/excitement” continuum. My argument is that the central function of church attendance is so far from the issue of boredom/interest, that to look at church services through that lens is to miss the point.

    Am I often bored at church? Yes. Is the experience which leads to my feelings of boredom entirely in my mind? No. But is the experience of feeling bored occurring entirely in me? Yes. Are there things I can do, which I have power over, to change this? Yes.

    States of affairs, judgments about of states of affairs, and the feelings induced by states of affairs take place in different realms of experience.

    I understand your point – that you believe there are things that could be done to make church less boring for you and others. I’d be interested in hearing your ideas. My point was not that these ideas don’t matter, only that in the schme of things they just aren’t that relevent.

    Church services are an event which may or may not induce boredom in me. The issue is, why am I at church? To be entertained? To be a consumer? Or do I bring something? If I am bored, do I not bear some responsibility to bring something to the services that make them less boring?

    There are dozens of ways to overcome boredom – participate in the class and help make it less boring for oneself. Lend some insight to the lesson. Share scriptures. If active participation isn’t an option (either because it’s sacrament meeting or because the teacher has grown tired of your remarks and just won’t call on you), then read scriptures, or ponder or pray about problems or gospel concept, seek answers to prayers, look around the room at the people there and identify some needs that you may be able to meet. If one finds that reading the scriptures, pondering on the gospel, planning service for others is boring, then maybe the problem of boredom at church is not addressable.

    Again, I’d be interested in hearing not just in criticism of boring services, but of things that could be done to make services less boring.

  24. Seth Rogers on May 6, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    Andrea, I suppose He could. I’m not going to contest that some church meetings are more boring than they need to be.

    My purpose was simply to point out a possibility that what we personally, and as a society consider to be “intellectual stimulation” might be a little misguided. God seems to get a great deal of fulfillment out of His personal and daily interactions with even the “most boring” of us. I am suggesting that perhaps God values different things in a Sunday School class than I do.

  25. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    Well, thanks for all of your responses. The point of working against being bored by learning to love more seems to be a good one. I could work on that. Overall, I feel strongly about boredom. I believe it’s a bad thing, a genuine problem, a warning sign. Religion should make us think. I said this a few days ago here the last time someone brought up the boringness of church issue, but I believe church is boring because people are not really engaging themselves fully *as themselves*. I think the solution is to discourage overreliance on quotes and more reliance on personal experience, personal thoughts, etc. I don’t feel like I am easily bored when someone is expressing their own experiences and perceptions (which is why I really prefer testimony meeting over regular sacrament meetings, although I don’t really relate to what people are saying in testimony meetings more). But I become extremely bored very easily when the discussion centers on various people repeating what *someone else* thinks about a topic.

    It’s 5:00 and I’m leaving. I’m sorry to drop out of the discussion early. I genuinely appreciate your answers.

  26. Jim F on May 6, 2005 at 4:19 pm

    Andrea (#25): I agree that it would be better if we relied more on personal experience and less on stringing quotes together when we teach or speak. I think people rely on quotes, however, because they are afraid they can’t speak, so they are looking for a way for someone else, or a book, to speak for them.

    What do you mean when you say “Religion should make us think”? (That is, by the way, a real question, not a challenge.) When you get back, I’m interested in hearing what you mean by that.

  27. alamojag on May 6, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    I am going to agree with Jim that the people are a very important reason we attend. I have served in branch and quorum presidencies with men I would probably never have even spoken to, let alone learned to love them.

    I have also found, however, that a focus on the people there can lead to other problems. My wife was molested by her bishop when she was growing up, and so church has not always been a safe place for her. Luckily, we had a branch president who saw behind the mental illness that resulted (PTSD), and loved and encouraged her every way he could. He even left the door to his office open during the regular meetings so she could go there as a “safe place” when the flashbacks came on too strong.

    When he was released, the new branch president, who had been a counselor to the previous one, had determined she would not take as much of his time as she had with his predecessor. The sudden loss of support, replaced with a near hostility, led to another breakdown. This led to her taking some actions that offended some of the other members, who complained to him. He accused her of lying about the abuse to gain attention, and cut off all contact with us from any members but the branch presidency.

    We were able to have our records moved to another branch, but the damage has been done–I sit alone every week, wondering why I am there. I know it is because my relationship with my Heavenly Father should not be altered because a large percentage of the church membership refuses to even say hello. But because of her history of abuse, the place that was only beginning to feel safe is now very dangerous again. And every week as I leave, part of her feels betrayed because I am going someplace where I am not completely welcome, and a place where she cannot feel safe again.

    Sorry for the slight threadjack, but I wish that the lack of intellectual stimulation were the only reason I don’t feel the joy in attending church that I used to.

  28. Rachel on May 6, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    It seems like some people are making a false dichotomy here: on the one hand, we have the people who are dissatisfied with the state of the ward, and dissatisfied with the people in the ward. On the other hand, there are the people who love their ward and see no reason to change it. But it seems possible that maybe, just maybe, we can love the people in the ward, genuinely, and also want to change it. Love is NEVER simply the acceptance of the status quo (I don’t think that’s what you were saying in your post, Jim, but I think some people have assumed that), in fact, I think love is the greatest impetus for change that we have. So, my question is, how can we love and feel loved while encouraging change and accepting change? This question, in its various permutations, has really really troubled me, so I would love answers.

  29. annegb on May 6, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    I agree with everybody, even when you give differing view of this situation. I’ve felt all these ways.

    But Rachel, you really make sense. Let me know if you ever find out the answer.

  30. Jim F on May 6, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    Rachel (#28), you’re right. I wasn’t writing about whether we should accept the status quo. I was writing about the people in my ward and why I see the world differently through them. Somehow one clause in the last paragraph has been misunderstood and started something with a life of its own.

    Your question: How can we love and feel loved while encouraging change and accepting change? My wife and I love each other, but that doesn’t mean that either of us “accepts the status quo” in our relation or in our lives. Neither does it mean that one of us demands that the other change. Change is something that happens in our living together. When I change, at least part of the reason is that she loves me, and I assume that reverse is true. If I don’t love the members of my ward while I am trying to figure out how we can change for the better, then I don’t see how it is possible to expect change.

  31. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 11:23 pm

    Jim F,
    I think you’re right people rely on quotes because they’re insecure in their own voice. This is understandable, and it’s hard to say what to do about this because it’s so closely connected in my mind with a culture of authority and rank. A general authority is free to speak from his own voice because people are conditioned to accept new challenges from such a person as likely originating by the spirit. But someone without ranking who talks too much about his or her own thoughts and feelings as though those are relevant to anyone else is open to criticism of arrogance, speculation, and so on. Still, a strong case can be made for egalitarianism and openness to unconventional sources of inspiration based on LDS doctrine and case examples of God’s involvement with humanity according to scripture (Todd Compton’s article on Nonhierarchical Revelation is a good start for this). Take the Book of Mormon’s story of the apostate who saves the day and facilitates the conversion of multitudes. I think we should be skeptical of the idea that the existence of some authority on earth implies God has made things easy enough for us that all we have to do is look at the ranking of the person who makes a statement in order to figure out whether or not they have something to say that’s worth listening to. Culturally, authority is accepted on a very simplistic level, as the negation of egalitarian or grassroots revelation rather than as its paradoxical other half. I won’t complain if we neglect the authoritarian side of the pair, but we shouldn’t neglect the antiauthoritarian side, when it enjoys such authoritative support!

    I’m sorry for rambling on. I am trying to be constructive now that I have thrown my stones for the day. It is considerably more laborious I am afraid.

    You asked what I mean by saying religion should make us think. What I mean by that is that religion should be something which engages our whole being. If our body is engaged, but not our mind or our heart, then we’re not fully engaged. Ditto if everything else is engaged but our mind. Overall I do not think that spiritual things are separate from other aspects of life in a way that allows “spirituality” to be isolated and dealt with separate from thoughts, emotions, and actions. Either *life* itself is spiritual, and the spiritual life is worth pursuing with all human faculties, or …..something else. In any case, the former is what I hope. So I think that the central function of church attendance is very closely tied to the boredom/interest issue because interest is a manifestation or symptom of multifaceted engagement, which is important to me. If our engagement is to unidimensional, this can impair our ability to be fully engaged even in that dimension alone. For example, if we are emotionally engaged, but not intellectually processing and thinking about our emotions, I think our emotions will lack a certain depth that comes from the introduction of thought itself into the picture.

    Emotions alone are not enough. Thought is not enough. Communal worship needs to include both and more, within the ambit of religious worship. That is my opinion. What is yours?

  32. Andrea Edwards on May 6, 2005 at 11:26 pm

    In the second to last paragraph I meant to say “too unidimensional”. Sorry.

  33. Jim F on May 7, 2005 at 12:15 am

    Andrea Edwards: I’ve been pretty outspoken about believing that thoughts cannot be separated from practices, and I would say the same thing about emotions. The unified, embodied character of human life is central to Mormon understanding. So I agree when you say, “religion should be something which engages our whole being.” I don’t think my original post argued that emotions are enough, and neither did my response to Henry Drummond (#7). But perhaps that’s because I am blind to where I didn’t make my point clearly. When you said “religion should make us think” I thought perhaps you were separating thinking from our being and giving it more than its due. I’m glad I asked because it turns out that you were saying exactly the opposite of what I thought. In other words, I think we are on approximately the same page.

    Having said that, though it seems to me that my religion does engage my mind as well as other aspects of my being, I’m still not convinced that there is much of a place in our regular meetings for what you earlier called “some kind of intellectual peeing party.” There are a lot of smart people in my ward, as there are in others. Few of them are intellectuals. What I was trying to say in my response to Henry was that if the our meetings become a place for challenging intellectuals–the “peeing party”–then a lot of people will feel excluded, not because they aren’t smart, but because they aren’t intellectuals. Knowing they aren’t intellectuals, some of them may think they are also not smart, at least that has been my experience.

    I am an intellectual, and I’m not embarrassed to say so. But that describes my interests rather than my character or my intelligence. To say that my neighbor is not an intellectual is, in my eyes, no more a slur than it would be to say that he is not a golfer. If my other neighbor, who is a golfer, were to complain that Sacrament meeting didn’t give him enough athletic stimulation, we would laugh out loud, assuming that he was joking. Perhaps we would respond properly if, when intellectuals demand more intellectual stimulation, we joined with them in the joke. Not derision, a common response of those who are wary (or worse) of intellectuals, but genuine, shared humor.

    Let me come back to something you said and expand on it: The vast majority of humanity is reasonably intelligent and likes to be challenged somewhat. I agree. That was part of what I was trying to show by pointing to some of the people in my ward who are clearly intelligent and enjoy being challenged. But many of these people are also those who have difficulty speaking authentically. Perhaps part of that is the result of the cult of authority that we can see in the Church, but these intelligent people are also not easily duped or cowed, so it isn’t only the authoritarian character of the Church and the cultural consequences of that character that are to blame. I think those people don’t speak authentically and they take part in the cult of authority because they do not have confidence in their ability to speak, and vice-versa. The three things are entangled. More authority, whether from above or from members who are frustrated with the situation, won’t untangle that knot or dissolve any of its threads. Neither will making room for intellectual stimulation. Either would only make things worse. The only solution I can see is that recommended by the Doctrine and Covenants, “love unfeigned” and the direction of the Holy Ghost.

  34. Andrea Edwards on May 7, 2005 at 11:20 am

    Ah, shoot. I didn’t really mean to advocate members claiming wanton authority to change situations by force. I just meant somehow it’d be nice if the cult of authority (you said it, not me) could be counteracted somewhat by a complementary focus on personal risk-taking in spiritual experimentation, in terms of how we think and act religiously, and how we discuss our religious lives with other people. But maybe sometime we will get better manuals. I know you take an interest in how people read the scriptures. In the meantime, I’ve misjudged you. I apologize.

    I can see some sense in the idea that changing the focus to intellectual stimulation might worsen things (mostly because, while I can manage somewhat to be a religious pragmatist, pretty much any other intellectual angle on religion makes zero sense to me, and I get irritated when church discussion gets too far from this-world grounding….such as when people read arguments in church to prove the Book of Mormon is true, where I really think their arguments are weak and the focus wrong….).

    To say that the solution for all of this is “love unfeigned” and the direction of the Holy Ghost….. well, this sounds a little like a cop-out answer. Maybe you are saying that this is a universal solution to something that is inherently personal and contextual.

    I actually agree with your theoretical golfer neighbor’s idea that there is real value to physical stimulation in communal worship (don’t you think Sufis and Pentacostals experience something we miss out on in a way?), but this isn’t something I’m choosing to attack the church on. Though I guess we would not have to involve a physical aspect in sunday services in order to have physical exertion be a communal form of worship. We used to have this more with Brigham Young’s united orders and their vestiges in 20th century wards. But that’s more of a societal problem (if it is a problem to begin with) of alienation from physical work.

    Anyway, I completely agree with what you have said about entanglement, and I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.

  35. Andrea Edwards on May 7, 2005 at 11:26 am

    I meant to say that pointing to “love unfeigned” sounds like a cop-out answer, because it isn’t very concrete, and it is a very obvious abstraction to point to….. but that on the other hand, maybe this is as specific an answer as can be made given the very personal nature of the question at hand, which I guess we have come to think of as people’s fear to speak authentically and consequent reliance on non-risky repetition. (?) So I think you have a real point that extends beyond the hackneyed *appearance* of the statement.

  36. Andrea Edwards on May 7, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Although I still think we ought to look more at specifics and avoid complacency wherever possible.

  37. Jim F on May 7, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    Just to make sure that I’m not misunderstood: I don’t think that the Church is itself a cult of authority nor do I think the GAs encourage one. However, in spite of that, I think there is, for some of us, something that we could call a “cult of authority” on analogy to the “cult of personality” in the Stalinist Soviet Union, 1960s China, and perhaps also contemporary Cuba.

  38. Seth Rogers on May 7, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    Cult of authority? I don’t know …

    On the one hand, your choice of phrasing makes it sound so unattractive.

    But on the other hand, I’ve at least heard a few accounts of how the more democratic forms in our neighboring Protestant congregations work, and a lot of that seems pretty messed up too.

  39. Blake on May 7, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    Andrea and Jim: I have found that being intellectually stimulated has more to do with how I engage a speaker or ordinance than with the speaker (I suppose). I have given the example of my experience of listening to a mentally challenged young man who gave a talk on prayer in my ward. It was tedious and hard to listen to. It was not intellectually high falutin’. Yet it stimulated my entire being. It not only set my heart on fire, it set my mind aflame. I wasn’t the only one. Because of the tediousness of the presentation and the effort that I chose to give to this talk in listening, the experience was transformed.

    Yet I wonder if a certain frame of mind or perspective couldn’t be better entertained by more challenging talks. The room in D.C. and at almost all scholarly conferences on Mormonism are always full (in my experience). Members are hungry for stimulation. Yet I have repented of hoping for such sacrament meetings. I have just finished listening to the conference on Joseph Smith in the great D.C. With few exceptions it bored me to no end. I would hate to attend a sacrament meeting addressed in this way. Yeah, I heard a few new takes that I hadn’t heard for at least two months — but that just couldn’t overcome the stifling scholarly heaviness. I admit that I walked away from the e-cast several times (it just didn’t hold my interest).

    However, when it comes to books I can hardly stomach the tripe that gets cooked at Deseret Book by Sherry Dew. If I read, I pick up Aquinas or Kierkegaard or revel in the scriptures. I avoid the latest books from LDS presses (i.e., Deseret Book). The advertisements from Deseret Book seem to me to be designed as a platform to transform the the store-front into something acceptable to females (is that sexist? So be it. Deseret Book has clearly aimed its marketing at the female market). The tripe that we turn out in print through Deseret Book ought to be relinquished to the trash heap where at least it can decompose and give back life. Excuse me while I go empty the contents of my stomach after having ingested the most recent Deseret Book catalogue.

  40. Jim F on May 7, 2005 at 2:57 pm

    Seth Rogers: I intended “cult of authority” to describe something very unattractive. But the point of my note (#37) was that I don’t think the Church is a cult of authority. Having an authoritarian structure doesn’t automatically make an institution a cult of authority. However, I do think that sometimes we engage in the cult of authority, treating the General Authorities as if they were semi-divine. I revere the Presidency and the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. I think I ought to give them and the things they say deference. But recognizing them as called of God and giving them deference can take an unhealthy, excessive form that we sometimes see in the Church. That is what I’m calling “the cult of authority.”

  41. Rosalynde on May 7, 2005 at 3:32 pm

    Blake, perhaps it would help to make it clear that you do not hold the female in as much contempt as you apparently hold the feminine. (By the way, I don’t disagree with your analysis of the DB catalog.)

  42. Blake on May 7, 2005 at 4:43 pm

    Jim: I hold neither the female nor the feminine in contempt. What I hold in contempt in slavish pandering in marketing.

  43. Andrea Edwards on May 7, 2005 at 5:30 pm

    I have got another solution. Hire Studs Terkel and Wendell Berry as consultants to improve LDS meeting structure so as to optimize the dialectical expressive quality fostered in church.

  44. Blake on May 7, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Andrea: Good idea, but I would like Bryan Singer (the director of the X-Men and X-II movies) to be involved. We have all of this technology and it is going to waste. Where are the special effects? No candles, no processions, no robes or mitres. The last we could do is to put the tithing money to some good special effects use. We all dress like we’re going to a business meeting in 1955. You want bland? I’ll show you bland!

  45. Seth Rogers on May 7, 2005 at 6:12 pm

    I have always thought the white collar on Catholic priests’ outfits was really stylish.

  46. Jim F on May 7, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Blake, I think you misrecognized who suggested you might hold the female and the feminine in contempt. Take a closer look at the signature line of post #41. Not me (though I am in many ways flattered to be confused with Rosalynde).

  47. Ben S. on May 7, 2005 at 8:25 pm

    Geoff Matthews: You’re from Medicine Hat? Can you help me track down Ryan Thompson from Medicine Hat? If so, drop me a line.

  48. Lorin on May 7, 2005 at 9:51 pm

    Blake, re #39, I am surprised by your reaction to the JS conference coming from the Library of Congress. I was very interested and fascinated by the whole proceedings. I am wondering if living in the SL Valley and near BYU and being such an avid devourer of Mormon related intellectual materials, you have become supersaturated on some things. You called it intellectual heaviness, but yet you prefer to read Kierkegaard or Aquinas. Those two evaluations don’t seem to fit.
    Interestingly, I thought while listening to the conference how I would enjoy listening to some of these talks in a Church classroom setting. The same thoughts that were expressed, however, could be expressed in much simpler language. I do not equate “intellectually stimulating” to the use of big words and esoteric references and quotes. I think the story of the good Samaratan, for example, when told the first time was “intellectually stimulating.” And people are still trying to exhaust the full impact of it. Everything at the JS conference, I believe, could have been presented in simple language and would have been uplifting and interesting in a Church classroom. For example, a few years ago Rodney Stark gave an exagerated prediction of what Church growth in the future might become. The last session of the conference discussed whether his prediction was reasonable and to what extent Mormonism was becoming a new world religion. Would it have to change to become so? And in what way? And would we betray our mission to have those changes? I think this topic and the material presented would be an excellent topic for a priesthood or RS lesson.
    I could give several other examples. Let me give just one more. I believe it was John E.Clark or John W. Welch that pointed out that JS had the BofM “delivered” to him, but at first and perhaps through his whole lifetime probably didn’t fully appreciate some of the interesting aspects and implications of the BofM. Thus there was the intial speculation that the BofM lands covered the whole of the Americas and the whole of the America’s population. The first assumption had to be relinquished first and now it seems the latter will also. I think most of the members are not following the LDS scholarly literature and therefore are not aware of these two necessary corrections. Shouldn’t that be made clear in a formal church classroom situation?
    I think “boring,” as much as anything has to do with making things overly simplistic and repeating them the same way endlessly over the years. And I do not agree that making things intellectually stimulating means necessarily making them overly intellectualized. My training is in physics. There are some things in physics that are extremely complicated and difficult to understand. However, there is little in physics that can’t be stated qualitatively in a simple, easy to understood way.

  49. Blake on May 7, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    Jim: Good point. I can see why you may prefer to be confused with Rosalynde. However, it is not a mistake that I make easily.

    Sorry Rosalynde — on a good day I can usually tell the difference between you and Jim.

    Lorin: It’s hard to know why I found the JS conference to be pedantic overkill — though the last presentation by Davies was especially dull in my view. But I assume that such judgments are rather subjective and like a movie critic we could just disagree. I don’t find either Aquinas or Kierkegaard dull in the same way — they are exciting, thought provoking and addressing issues that I find engaging (though I recognize that may seem an oddity).

    I think that the view of a limited Book of Mormon geography is important and that we ought to begin incorporating it into lessons. I want to avoid the feeling of betrayal by Navajos and others when they discovery that just maybe the Book of Mormon doesn’t speak of their ancestors. We ought to begin to educate members so that they are not easy targets for arguments from DNA (like my niece at a University where she had a Baptist roommate who felt that she belonged to a cult and she a religion that DNA demonstrated was false).

    AS for being able to put things in physics in simple terms — ha! The GTR, STR and quantum theories are not properly understood if we think we understand them.

  50. Lorin on May 7, 2005 at 11:34 pm

    Blake, to test how much variation in interest there was or is in the JS conference, it would be interesting to have someone initiate a thread on each of the five sessions. They will be available on lds.org after Thursday. So all could listen to them and give their reactions if they wanted to.
    One of things I enjoyed is seeing and hearing the speakers. I have heard of many of the speakers by name and a few of the ideas or publications associated with them, but this was my first chance to both see and hear them speak. For example, I had never seen or heard Terryl Givens, Grant Underwood, Margaret Barker, or David Paulson before. So I enjoyed sampling their spirit and their thoughts. I also enjoyed hearing some of the “outsiders,” like Richard Mouw, try to make inciteful, objective statements about JS and Mormonism. Some of them do surprisingly well, considering.

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