The Principle of Non-Distraction

March 6, 2006 | 115 comments
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A short while ago a recently reactivated member of our ward sang a solo for the musical number in Sacrament Meeting. You must understand that the man is a professional vocalist who has sung with Michael Jackson among others. The song he sang was absolutely gorgeous… but it wasn’t something you often (or ever) hear in a Sacrament Meeting. Rather it was a Spiritual. Now, I don’t know enough about music to fully appreciate this genre but I do know that I was genuinely touched by his performance.

(But it also gave me a twinge of discomfort-by-proxy. I immediately wondered what the westerners (i.e. not-african heritage) in the congregation thought.)

After the meeting I spoke with our Stake President (who was present in the meeting) and asked him what he thought. I was interested in his thoughts because this was clearly not what we are used to hearing in Sacrament Meeting. It would be one thing to hear this in an African Christian congregation but it is an entirely different thing in a American Mormon congregation. The SP’s response was that he liked it but he would urge us in the future to have hymns or derivatives of hymns sung for our musical numbers rather than something like this. In other words, keep playing music that we’re used to.

So I asked him why, what was so wrong with the performance that we should avoid something like it in the future? It turns out that he didn’t have a problem with the performance itself, in fact he enjoyed it as a piece of music, but he told me of a conference he had to attend with a general authority in which they were taught the “principle of non-distraction.” This principle is based on the idea that the purpose of our Sunday meetings is to worship (to which I agreed, though I felt bad thinking of all the parents out there who haven’t been able to “worship” in years). As those who organize and conduct these meetings we are responsible for creating an atmosphere that allows the greatest amount of people the greatest capacity for worship. Therefore, we are responsible for eliminating as many distractions (from worship) as we can. He applied this principle to music selection to talk topics to the color of our shirts to the appropriateness of our testimonies to the way Gospel Doctrine is taught.

I both wholly embrace this principle and vehemently reject it. I embrace it because he’s right, we don’t want to hinder the potential for spiritual experiences. The Church has been doing a pretty good job bringing the Spirit into people’s lives, the formula is working pretty well, don’t mess with it. I reject it because who’s to say what is the appropriate way to worship and what will bring the Spirit into the members’ lives? Shouldn’t we be challenged? Shouldn’t we be a bit uncomfortable?

Since this discussion I’ve often thought back on the Principle of Non-Distraction and can’t decide what I think, I just don’t know. So I ask you, fair readers of Times and Seasons, what should I think?

Please note that I would prefer the conversation to be about this principle and not necessarily about Sacrament music (unless it strengthens your point). Thank you.

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115 Responses to The Principle of Non-Distraction

  1. Ryan on March 6, 2006 at 11:46 am

    I think this is another situation where the problem is the membership, not so much the leadership.

    It’s unfortunate but I can name about 15 people who would be shaking their heads in disbelief at anything but the most anglican of music. As a result, leadership has to respond to the weaknesses of the membership by providing the most inclusive programs possible.

    I would imagine the closer you get to the top of church hierarchy, the more frustrating this becomes as the more senior GA’s have had opportunity to be engaged by so many different cultures and peoples. They probably lament the lack of diversity found throughout the church.

  2. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2006 at 11:47 am

    ” reject it because who’s to say what is the appropriate way to worship and what will bring the Spirit into the members’ lives? Shouldn’t we be challenged? Shouldn’t we be a bit uncomfortable?”

    I don’t see why. Being challenged and uncomfortable might be useful if it led to some good (i.e., if we had some certainty that singing spirituals would bring more African-Americans into the church), but I see no point in discomfort qua discomfort.

  3. cje on March 6, 2006 at 11:58 am

    Yesterday in testimony meeting we had the most colorful member of the ward get up and share her testimony finishing up with an accapella rendidtion of “How Great Thou Art” — no big deal except she sang at full volume straight into the mic and no one on the stand thought it would be a good idea to turn the mic off–not to shut her up–but to allow us to hear the song without blowing our eardrums into next week.

    So who created the distraction the lady who wanted to sing praises to god – or – the bishopric memebers who weren’t smart enough to turn down the mic’s volume?

    cje

  4. s p bailey on March 6, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    My initial respsonse: the principle of non-distraction is not a gospel principle. Why should we make a fetish of the presumed comfort zone of the average member?

    1. Who decides what is a distraction and on what basis? Could the non-distraction principle be used to filter out exciting and inspiring things? The post mentioned that it applied to the presentation of gospel doctrine. I fear that most members are very comfortable with a model that is heavy on emotion and repitition at a very simple level. If so, a well-prepared and challenging lesson heavy on scriptural or church history or church doctrine scholarship might be considered a distraction from the worship of the members.

    2. Is the non-distraction principle conducive to converting and retaining people? Is it consistent with President Hinckley’s invitation to others to bring the good they already possess and let us add to it? It seems to me that If we are serious about the internationalization of the church, we should expand our comfort zones. Sacred music is a perfect example of what people from other cultures/religions could contribute to the church.

    3. Finally, it is not clear to me that people in their fallen state require comfort to worship God. Old Testament prophets and certain prophets of this dispensation (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young) and especially the Savior in his mortal ministry had great power to make people uncomfortable, to stir them up, to demand repentance, and so on. Music, talks, and lessons in church could both make people uncomfortable and help them more fully worship God.

  5. JA Benson on March 6, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    At Stake Conference a couple of years ago a woman sang a blues/gospel rendition of _If You Could Hie to Kolob_. It was so unusual and beautifully done that every person in the chapel was riveted to the singer’s performance. A wonderful spirit was present at that conference and the music did not distract from that spirit. I personally would like to see a variety of musical styles as it embraces cultural diversity of which I am all for. I do not believe that Angelo-Saxon culture is the only right culture.
    As for other distractions in Church I struggle with this as you do Rusty. I like to see clean crisp shirts on Priesthood holders and sisters in modest attractive dresses. However I cringe when I hear of judgmental behavior towards those who do not fit the norm. All should be embraced when they come unto Christ. I think that it is a matter of personally setting an example and then minding your own business.

  6. Rusty on March 6, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    I see no point to discomfort qua discomfort

    I agree, but I don’t think discomfort exists in a vacuum (so your point seems meaningless). Jesus and Joseph Smith were good at bringing discomfort as well as a bishop can be (by challenging the members in any number of ways he deems appropriate). Being uncomfortable isn’t the worst thing, it’s just… uncomfortable.

    And why should we have to know the end (netting more African-American converts) rather than just wanting to bring in a different, potentially beautiful way of singing?

  7. Rusty on March 6, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    sp bailey,
    You have succinctly explained my exact feelings for why I’m opposed to the principle.

    JA Benson,
    I like the idea of “setting an example and then minding your own business.”

  8. Jonathan Green on March 6, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    I think non-distraction is a pretty good rule of thumb. Sacrament meeting is the wrong time to intentionally make people uncomfortable (unless you are the bishop and decide otherwise). Save the Verfremdungseffekt for other occasions.

    But–does the cumulative distractedness of the congregation outweigh the potential individual distraction of the reactivated brother, if someone were to tell him that his music is not welcome? Nope. Let him sing, a lot of people will enjoy it, the ones who won’t are good at smiling appreciatively.

    But–since non-distraction is a rule that depends on the audience’s horizon of experience and expectation, doesn’t this mean that non-distraction woud have different consequences in different congregations or countries? What about a congregation where spirituals are non-distracting, while “If you could hie to Kolob” is distracting? (Not only would that be kinda cool, but I hope that congregations like that exist somewhere; plus, while “If you could hie” is an interesting hymn, you’ve got to admit that the text is a bit challenging, even distracting at times.)

  9. Mark B. on March 6, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Elder Oaks is the first I remember speaking about what he called the “principle of non-distraction.” In his extraordinary talk from the October 1998 Priesthood Session of conference entitled The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament (I don’t know how to link to it–you can look it up) contains the following:

    “The principle I suggest to govern those officiating in the sacrament—whether preparing, administering, or passing—is that they should not do anything that would distract any member from his or her worship and renewal of covenants.”

    It seems that this is a “Law of Moses” approach to the issue–perhaps especially appropriate in the context of the Aaronic Priesthood.

    A better place for Rusty’s bishopric to start, I think, would be Moroni 6:9.

    And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

    Difficult? Certainly, since it’s so much easier to follow habits and routine (and, believe me, I have plenty of experience in doing that). But if we succeed, then we don’t have to focus on the narrower issue of whether someone will be “distracted.”

  10. Eric on March 6, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    I think this is why we have an individual who presides at meetings. In most cases that is the bishop. It is his responsibility to approve of what happens in a sacrament meeting, be that the topics of talks, dress standards for the priesthood officiating ordinances, and music sung. He needs to follow the spirit, and the counsel of his leaders, in making these difficult decisions.

  11. JrL on March 6, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    The “principle of non-distraction” was developed in a talk by Elder Dallin Oaks in the Oct. 1998 conference, though not in discussing music:

    ” I will now suggest how teachers and priests and deacons should carry out their sacred responsibilities to act in behalf of the Lord in preparing, administering, and passing the sacrament. I will not suggest detailed rules, since the circumstances in various wards and branches in our worldwide Church are so different that a specific rule that seems required in one setting may be inappropriate in another. Rather, I will suggest a principle based on the doctrines. If all understand this principle and act in harmony with it, there should be little need for rules. If rules or counseling are needed in individual cases, local leaders can provide them, consistent with the doctrines and their related principles.

    “The principle I suggest to govern those officiating in the sacrament—whether preparing, administering, or passing—is that they should not do anything that would distract any member from his or her worship and renewal of covenants.”

    He went on to discuss items ranging from dress to vocal inflection.

    I’ve taught — I think consistent with Elder Oaks’ message — that the principle is context-specific: i.e., in my stake, where white shirts have long been norm for those administering the sacrament, even a colored shirt is distracting, while in Samoa, a lavalava might not merit a second glance while our deacons’ wrinked kahaki pants might distract.

    I suspect the congregation’s composition is key to what music is distracting, just it is key to what is distracting in dress and behavior.

    Does the principle of non-distraction mean we must always do everything “plain vanilla”? I don’t think so — quite. Africans in some of my wards have introduced dress and even music that stretches those wards. Sometimes the stretch has been too far, and the ward pulls back. But having been pulled out of shape, it never quite returns to where is once was — a bit like a balloon that deflates, becoming small, but not so small as it once was.

  12. John Mansfield on March 6, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    I think pondering on this concept requires considering music or such that not only distracts others but also us. Using as an example something that you found beautiful and a little different, not discomforting, doesn’t really concede that some element of a worship service could be distracting, so it’s hard to take up from there whether distraction can be appropriate.

  13. DavidH on March 6, 2006 at 12:31 pm

    The principle of nondistraction is a true principle, particularly for high priests. How else can we sleep through Sacrament Meeting if something thought-provoking is said or sung?

    It is also in keeping with the well known principle that religion is intended to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

  14. ed on March 6, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    I think that the goal of “creating an atmosphere that allows the greatest amount of people the greatest capacity for worship” is pretty non-controversial. But it’s a tricky goal to achieve, and I think there are a lot of factors and trade-offs beyond just trying to minimize “distraction.” That’s why I would be reluctant to raise “non-distraction” to the level of a “principle.” It sounds like the SP probably realized this, too, and he wasn’t really criticizing the local leadership or the recent convert very harshly, if at all.

  15. Boris Max on March 6, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    What y’all are overlooking is that it’s impossible to gage congregation-wide discomfort when something nonstandard happens. Sure, the ward/branch loudmouth might corner the the bishop/branch president and complain, but does this really mean everyone is uncomfortabe? Or, do we rely on racial stereotypes (whitey don’t have no grove, whitey don’t like gospel)? And how do we know how uncomfortable people are? Is whitey moderately annoyed when their African-American brothers and sisters sing gospel? Or is whitey ready to leave the Church? This is less of a principle and more of an assumption: a retreat to an ill-defined and inconsistent hodgepodge of Wasatch Front culture, selectively remembered conference talks, and personal preferences. It is people saying “we don’t do that” when they themselves don’t actually know what we do. It will always be applied unfairly and unevenly because different priesthood leaders will operate under different “principles.”

  16. WillF on March 6, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    For us, taking care of four small children during sacrament meeting is highly distracting, and probably even to those around us. It is a dilemma whether we should take out a noisy child out of the room before the sacrament (it takes an internal distract-o-meter I guess). You see, in our ward it is a rule that if you are outside the chapel you get NO sacrament service (NO sacrament for you!) Once the doors close, you can count renewing your covenants goodbye.
    Everywhere else I have lived a couple of the Deacons are sent as envoys to the lobbies. I used to love that assignment by the way: a secret mission to the latecomers — bringing them mercy.
    So if we are to “eliminate as many distractions as possible” maybe we should hire babysitters (oops, not possible, no babysitters policy in effect), invest in gag tape, or spank our two year old for turning around and smiling at the people behind us.
    Or maybe they could hold a children’s sacrament meeting, like something out on the Ender’s Game series.

  17. Drex Davis on March 6, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    “You see, in our ward it is a rule that if you are outside the chapel you get NO sacrament service (NO sacrament for you!)”

    WillF,
    Your ward policy is asinine.

  18. Drex Davis on March 6, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    maybe that’s too harsh. But at first blush the policy seems to be incredibly insensitive.

    i was in a ward where the policy was to not open the overflow . . .ever . . . so latecomers would have to trek up to the seats in front and even sit on the stand when the front rows filled up.

    it was the most discracting thing ever, but the leadership wanted to “teach people a lesson” about coming to church late. i can’t remember, but i think, finally, a visiting member of the stake presidency said “knock it off.”

    seems like this sacrament policy may be one of the same sort of things.

  19. Mark IV on March 6, 2006 at 1:14 pm

    Distraction from what? I understand the idea of non-distraction to be: that which prevents us from drawing undue attention to self.

    The talk by elder Oaks (comment # 9) recalls an incident from when he was a priest and used his radio announcer voice to bless the sacrament, and his subsequent shame. I think the question isn’t whether or not we are challenged, after all, the book of Mormon invites is to “awake, and arouse our faculties”, but whether we are doing something that draws attention to ourselves, and hence away from our Savior.

    I have heard some wonderful singing in church, but when it was over, I had the feeling that the soloist was singing “How Great Thou Art” to himself, rather than to God.

  20. Kurt on March 6, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    I reject it because who’s to say what is the appropriate way to worship and what will bring the Spirit into the members’ lives? Shouldn’t we be challenged? Shouldn’t we be a bit uncomfortable?

    We should be challenged about our own personal shortcomings and a bit uncomfortable with our own carnal and sinful nature. Challenging the status quo for the sake of nothing more than being controversial is a waste of time and an irritant. If this guy’s singing invited the Spirit and helped people be more spiritual, then its a good thing. If someone decides that Sacrament Meeting is a great time to introduce American White Mormons to World Music, then thats just plain wrong. The purpose of Sacrament Meeting is get people to remember what Christ has done for us and what we have committed to do for Him in following His example and teachined. Anything that doesn’t do that is a distraction, and non-productive.

  21. Rusty on March 6, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    …a secret mission to the latecomers — bringing them mercy.

    Perfectly worded WillF, hilarious.

    I also agree with Drex Davis, that’s a really dumb policy. They should be taught a lesson about teaching lessons (maybe with a guy who’s missing an arm…)

    Mark B,
    You’re absolutely right.

    Eric,
    You’re right. The funny thing is that I don’t think the SP would have even said anything if I hadn’t pressed him. I would have gone on believing that the performance was great (especially after talking to a bunch of people in the ward who all enjoyed it) and probably had scheduled another like it. Now, because the SP mentioned this to me I don’t know exactly what to do if someone wants to do a similar performance in the future.

    ed,
    You’re right that the SP wasn’t criticizing at all. He only mentioned it because I asked him.

    Kurt,
    Your right. When I said “Shouldn’t we be challenged? Shouldn’t we be a bit uncomfortable?” I was speaking generally in the sense that we often only see Christ and His love in a certain way and continually see it the same way (at least I’m guilty of that). I’ve grown in the Gospel and my understanding of my Savior because I’ve been exposed to things I’m not used to, things I didn’t think fell within “the norm” or my culture and so forth.

  22. WillF on March 6, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Maybe it would be better to rephrase the idea of “practicing non-distraction” to something like, “we should not intentionally draw more attention to ourselves than is appropriate.” (where appropriate is left up to what the spirit dictates). To illustrate: my grandfather told me that there used to be a tradition of having organ music play during the passing of the sacrament. One organist, known for her arpeggiated hymns, played ornate arrangements that drew attention to her skill. People from around Utah County began missing their own sacrament meetings to attend her performances during the sacrament. Since then they have discontinued having music during the passing of the sacrament and I think were someone to try this today, people would wonder what was going on (much like the patrons of the library in this prank.)
    So, as far as music goes, if people come away from the performance saying, “wow, what a great musician so and so is” instead of “wow, didn’t that music add to the spirit of the meeting” I think there is a problem. I think the principle makes sense if you define “distraction” as “an act that has a perceived intention of drawing attention to the actor”.

  23. Kevin Barney on March 6, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    It sounds to me as though the bishop (or the leaders who trained him) in the original post took the Elder Oaks “nondistraction” principle and just ran wild with it. He originally was talking about the preparation and passing of the sacrament itself, not every jot and tittle of church worship practice.

    I seem to recall that the Handbook has some language in it to the effect that only hymns from the Church hymnal may be performed in sacrament meeting, a rule that virtually every unit in the Church ignores. So by establishing a completely unreasonable and ridiculous rule, the Church has failed to give any useful guidance on the issue of appropriate music in our worship services. (I’m reminded of the Grondahl cartoon where a guy is standing in front of the congregation holding his violin, and he says “I will now play something that was wildly radical in the 17th century but is conservative and spiritual today.”)

    For my money, *of course* a spiritual is appropriate for sacrament meeting; there shouldn’t even be any question about it, unless maybe it contains questionable doctrinal content. (which would be a rarity for spirituals, I imagine). I used to listen to a Christian radio program called The Sounds of Majesty, in which they played spirituals right alongside the most Anglican of hymns.

    Remember when Gladys Knight basically told GBH that Church music sucks, er, leaves a lot to be desired, and his response to her was, in typical Mormon fashion, well, why don’t you do something about it? And she did. Bravo for both of them.

    I have never, ever heard of a no sacrament to the foyers policy. Sounds like the beginnings of a second great apostasy to me. (g) I bet the membership clerk still counts them as present for purposes of the ward’s budget allocation, though.

  24. Kevin Barney on March 6, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    I think Eric in #10 is on to something about the role of a presiding officer. I’ll give you a story where, in my judgment, this worked as it should.

    25 years ago or so I was attending sacrament meeting in my BYU student ward. This guy gets up to speak, and starts talking about how in the early church they prayed with hands uplifted to heaven. So he wants us all to kneel down, lift our hands up to the sky, and he is going to lead us in a prayer. I did *not* want to do that. I see the high councilor nudge the bishop, who steps up to this guy and whispers in his ear, I imagine telling him to knock it off. And I was glad for the intervention of the presiding officer.

    On the other hand, to argue that wearing a colored or striped shirt is distracting to me seems just plain silly.

  25. WillF on March 6, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    Kevin (in #23),
    You are right that there are established guidelines for music selection in the Church Handbook. In fact, the music guidelines are available online. (I know them because I am a brass player and refer to them sporadically looking for loopholes).

  26. Ken on March 6, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    They should be taught a lesson about teaching lessons (maybe with a guy who’s missing an arm…)

    “And that’s why you don’t refuse the sacrament to parents in the foyer!”

  27. Ariel on March 6, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    My family ward has the policy that the sacrament is not supposed to leave the chapel. It does cause problems with latecomers and with families with small children. More often than not, there are several children screaming their lungs out during the sacrament. I appreciate that the parents want to be able to renew their covenants, but it seems that a better option would be to send a deacon to the foyer.

    I mentioned this to a friend and he said that his ward does the same thing, and that bishops were told in a letter from the first presidency that the doors to the chapel should be closed during the sacrament and the trays should remain inside the room, to help preserve the sacredness of the ordinance. He said that this letter was read from the pulpit in his ward a few years ago. I have a hard time believing this. Can anyone confirm or deny it?

    I like the principle of non-distraction because it seems that it would help people who are trying to learn how to worship. It’s hard for a beginner to maintain a worshipful attitude when someone is doing something that grabs their attention. This is why crying babies need to be taken out of the chapel.

    At the same time, I think the “principle” is a stupid idea. Most members of the church need to have a much higher tolerance for potentially distracting activities. There is no reason why a “spiritual” musical number should bother any adult who isn’t a recent convert. (Even most of them should be okay.) I think it would be healthy to toss things up a bit more, actually. It might help people stop confusing Mormon culture with the Gospel. (“The Lord doesn’t like it when we play drums!” —my 10th grade seminary teacher. “It’s showing disrespect for God if you don’t wear nylons to church.” —my friend’s mom. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus cares much about either drums or bare legs, when used appropriately.) Allowing more “different” activities would also help us have more respect for other religions who worship in a different way, and it might help missionary work if sacrament meeting occasionally had a multi-cultural feel.

  28. Mike B on March 6, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Sorry, I haven’t the time to read through the previous responses. I would add to what this person’s stake president said. It is not only the spirit of worship that is important, but the focus on the Savior. I, too, was witness once to a wonderful performance in sac. mtg. When I mentioned it to the stake president during a high council meeting, he said he has heard this person perform and thinks she’s wonderful. Problem: it was a “performance.” It drew attention to her, and not to the Savior. He said, “Anytime I see someone in sac mtg sit at the piano and pull a microphone stand to them, I get nervous.”

    Once my attention was drawn to this principle of “non-distraction,” I began to notice many things in sac mtg: primary singing “Popcorn popping . . .”, etc. Many wonderful things can occur in this meeting, but it should be about the Savior. I think the concern is that many in the Church have forgotten the distinction that should exist between that meeting and the others.

    [BTW, the last time I was lurking on this site, I was interrupted by my wife yelling that our house was on fire. We got out safely and should be back in in six months. For the life of my I can't remember what discussion I was reading.]

  29. ed on March 6, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    “Anytime I see someone in sac mtg sit at the piano and pull a microphone stand to them, I get nervous.�

    Wow, I’ve never seen this. I think it would make me nervous, too.

    On the other hand, I try to remember that what seems most spiritually uplifting to my tastes (traditional high-church style sacred music) might not seem so to everyone.

  30. Veritas on March 6, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    Well…specifically on musical-number choice, the official policy of the church is to stick to hymns so you don’t get some crazy false doctrine being sung. My husband is kinda anal on this one (not that they can’t be unusual arrangements – and it bugs the heck out of us that you ‘cant’ play arrangements on the classical guitar but you can have every other string instrument…) because he has many instances of having investigators to church where some crazy not-doctrine saturday’s warrior song was sung that totally turned off the investigator or gave raise to some major doubts/issues. Maybe the ward chorister could be a review committee of sorts so as to allow more variety in the musical numbers without anything that would distract from the spirit or deter investigators?

    The question is, how should the Bishopric handle it when the speakers get a little carried away with speculation or false doctrine in their talks (at least once a month we find ourselves looking around nervously going “I hope there are no investigators here…”)

  31. s p bailey on March 6, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    “bare legs, when used appropriately”

    Finally we have identified something with real potential to distract!

  32. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    I see no point to discomfort qua discomfort

    “I agree, but I don’t think discomfort exists in a vacuum (so your point seems meaningless). Jesus and Joseph Smith were good at bringing discomfort as well as a bishop can be (by challenging the members in any number of ways he deems appropriate). Being uncomfortable isn’t the worst thing, it’s just… uncomfortable.

    And why should we have to know the end (netting more African-American converts) rather than just wanting to bring in a different, potentially beautiful way of singing?”

    Joseph Smith and Jesus always made people uncomfortable for a reason. You didn’t suggest any reasons, just that it would be good for people to be uncomfortable. Why? So far you’ve only offered one suggestion–that it would be good for people to be able to enjoy different styles of beautiful singing. That is a worthy goal, but a much less important one than communing with the Spirit. So its reasonable for church leaders to put aside the paternalistic goal of making members broaden their musical horizons for the goal of creating an environment where they can be open to God.

  33. Carolyn on March 6, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    In my ward the doors close at the first note of the sacrament hymn. If you don’t make it into the chapel by then you are stuck out in the foyer and “NO sacrament for you!!” I think this is a bit much. Every other ward I have been in makes allowances for latecomers and sends someone out to the foyer. By the way, there are usually quite a few of us out there.

    As for “distractions” I am reminded of a sacrament meeting I attended where a sister, who also happened to be a professional singer, sang an exquisite rendition of “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” that made me weep. Exquisite because it was focused on the Saviour and not distracting in the least.

    What do we mean by distraction? If we mean something that takes away from focus on the Saviour I would agree that has no place in sacrament meeting. But if we’re just talking about stuff that’s not from the dominant culture but still reveres our Lord then I say get over it.

  34. Porter on March 6, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I think the non-distraction principle can be very damaging. It refuses to accomodate other religious traditions that I think could be very beneficial to our boring sacrament meetings. I am not advocating drums and an electric guitar in the chapel, but I think we could open things up a bit more without losing the spirit. I have attended several southern baptist services and honestly I’ve never felt the spirit as strong as I did during those fervent meetings. Those congregations really know how to worship! Who says that you cannot feel the spirit if a non-hymn is sung in sacrament? I just don’t think that is the case, and I think it is close minded to say otherwise. Certainly there need to be some limits, but is it too loose of a definition to permit music that is “worshipful”?

    I have also seen the “white shirt while passing the sacrament requirement” (which is strictly enforced in many wards) be very harmful. It keeps people away who don’t have and/or cannot afford a white shirt, but would otherwise benefit from participating in the ordinance. I once saw a bishop tell a marginally-active young man that he could not bless the sacrament because of the color of his shirt. He walked out the back door and never came back.

    In short, I think that by tightly proscribing the content and decorum of our meetings we deprive ourselves of potentially wonderful spiritual experiences.

  35. Rusty on March 6, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Adam,
    They’re not mutually exclusive. Many songs can be both other-cultural AND worshipful of Christ (filling us with the Spirit). The discomfort would come in because it’s from a non-familiar culture. It’s not a bad thing to be uncomfortable in these situations, especially if the medium and the message are spirit-filled and worshipful.

  36. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    “Many songs can be both other-cultural AND worshipful of Christ (filling us with the Spirit). The discomfort would come in because it’s from a non-familiar culture. It’s not a bad thing to be uncomfortable in these situations, especially if the medium and the message are spirit-filled and worshipful.”

    In other words, I take it that you think the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable is no barrier to feeling the Spirit? Certainly its not a complete barrier, but I don’t see that you can dismiss it entirely either. Sometimes the unexpected and the strange can shatter our complacencies and make us more open to the Spirit, but this is least likely to happen when (1) we are otherwise surrounded by what is familiar and (2) we are actually familiar with the unexpected thing, but in different context. Context, as you were pointing out in your temple post, matters. Styles of music that one associates with things other than God and the gospel are hard to wrench away from those associations.

  37. Jonathan Green on March 6, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    For long-time and experienced members of the church, non-distraction is at its heart about charity. It’s important to keep two persepctives separate, however:

    1. When speaking, performing music, administering the sacrament, or caring for small children, charity requires that we not distract fellow ward members from their worship unnecessarily. Others’ Sunday worship is more important than their exposure to good music, daring fashion, or cutting-edge doctrine.
    2. When listening to a talk, a musical number, the sacrament prayers, or a crying baby, charity requires us to not let unimportant externals–odd bits of false doctrine, odd taste in music, oddly dressed priests, or crying babies–distract us from the essential message (of the speaker or of the Spirit) that it is our responsibility to receive.

  38. Mike on March 6, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    Let’s take this principle of non-distraction to its obvious limits. The least distracting thing we can all do is STAY HOME!!! Yes, cancel church, then there will be no distractions at all. And no more tithing either; we wouldn’t want any further distractions along those lines.

    Blinking of eyes and breathing and the soft rumble of a fasting gut; all of these ned to be limited because they too can be so distracting. The least distracting person I can think of is a… corpse; that is until it starts to stink.

    Y’all know what I find distracting? Boring oatmeal music played too slowly week after week that sounds like a funeral dirge. Crappy lessons by ill-prepared and dull instructors who present material we have been over hundreds of times. Mentally lazy leaders who dish out irrational platitudes and gullible spineless sheep who lap it up. Sappy sweet smiles of insincerity with scarcely a thought in the head because we checked our brains in at the door. Cultivated simple-mindedness. The one who thinks inside of the smallest box wins. Everybody pretending to be so perfect and happy! Mediocrity.

    I am trying to think if the Jesus described by the authors of the New Testament was ever “distrtacting?” Hmm. Like if he didn’t cause any distractions (such as change the entire course of history) then why the heck did they bother to write anything down about him?

    Anybody else find repentance distracting? Better not attempt it.

  39. greenfrog on March 6, 2006 at 6:45 pm

    Perhaps an analogous situation: in teaching a yoga student one of the things a teacher has to keep an eye on is not just the student’s particular range of motion for a limb, but what the limb’s natural range of motion can be.

    For example, if a student spends his life hunched over a computer keyboard, his upper spine is likely curved forward, so that its comfortable range of motion is highly skewed forward, putting extra strain on neck and shoulder muscles. Students don’t always associate the periodic neck pains they have with the peculiar and restricted “comfortable” range of motion of their necks and thoracic spines. The way to “reset” the student’s perception of what a structurally “normal” range of motion can be is to help the student stretch up and back.

    But the first time you do this with a student — even when you do it safely and carefully — you take him outside his comfort zone. Many students in that situation experience a kind of fear that they’ll describe as pain or discomfort. The best yoga teachers I’ve worked with create an environment in which students safely explore the reaches of their range of motion. Over time, playing at the edge of comfort/discomfort almost always increases the student’s range of motion.

    Most students think this is a good thing.

  40. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 6, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    Veritas, “hymns only” is NOT official church policy, though it may be the preference of many local leaders. Check the handbook.

  41. S. on March 6, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    UTTERLY BORING: Dull. Lifeless. Monotone. Mind-numbingly familiar. Insufficiently diverting to cause more than a quarter of the sleeping/gazing-listlessly-into-space/thinking-about-upcoming-wallpaper-decision members to even become conciously aware that someone is singing or talking.

    UTTERLY STIMULATING: Spectacular. Powerful. Looks like showing off. Causes people to dance in their seats, gasp in amazement, become positively giddy over and/or shocked by the novelty.

    Taking utterly boring as a 0 and utterly stimulating as a 10, my impression is that most sacrament meetings hover around 0.3, occasionally a 0.5, but seldom as high as 0.8.

    On those Sundays when a sense of humor, a bit of preparation, an original thought, a mildly unusual musical number brings the excitement level up to 1 or 2, it is a welcome breath of fresh air.

    A non-member friend who use to attend sacrament meeting once expressed to me how surprising it seemed that Mormons—who do so many things so well (especially organizing themselves, taking care of each other, forming communities)—seem to put so little energy into their sacrament meetings. I think that part of the problem is that people are afraid to do anything out of the ordinary for fear of receiving complaints from that tiny minority for whom sacrament meeting is already a little on the stimulating side. People are more likely to complain when they are offended than when they are bored.

    Perhaps the following advice would be helpful to people who crave more interesting meetings: If you hear something a little unusual, and you appreciate it, and it moves you, speak up. Let the bishop know. Let the ward music leader know. Let everyone know.

    And if you’re worried that you’re encouraging your congration down the slippery slope towards wild ward choirs dressed in glittery costumes and break dancing to Christian rock…. relax. You can’t even see that slope from where we currently are.

  42. jinnmabe on March 6, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Is it my job as the singer or even the ward chorister to “challenge” the congregation? Does that particular duty lie within my stewardship? As Jonathan said “non-distraction is at its heart about charity.” As Paul said, ” But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.” I don’t get why so many people are offended at the non-distraction idea. You don’t think charity is at the heart of it? Basically, “yes, others in your ward may not be as “enlightened” as you, but please try to be charitable and do your best to not get in the Spirit’s way.” Obviously, as has been pointed out, that principle will have differing applications (none of which would ever be as ridiculous as telling people to stay home. good grief).

    S., I’m sorry your sacrament experience has been so poor. I wish there was something I could do.

  43. Nathan on March 6, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    It was once said by an apostle that the more spiritually mature you become, the hymns mean more to you (paraphrased, for sure). No doubt this is true.

    I am thankful to the people who use the distraction principle.

    We were in a middle of a baptism in downtown Toronto, when all of a sudden coming from the Sacrament room (if you could call it that, it was a converted used car showroom, the baptismal font was back where the service center probably once was) a set of drums and an electric guitar. All I could do was whisper, “come back spirit, we miss you, come back!” But alas, it didn’t. It seemed that everybody in the room was knocked off the spiritual high with the loud thumps of the drum.
    Come to find out another ward invited a homeless band to come play in their sacrament meeting.

    The baptism happened, the ordinance was performed, the refreshments were enjoyed, but the lackluster day was turned to quite a memorable one.

    I just wish I could remember who was baptized that day.

  44. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 6, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    OK–I’ve gotta say it: if non-distraction were a true principle, WE’D HAVE CHILDCARE DURING SACRAMENT MEETING!!!

  45. Chris on March 6, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    One problem with the non-distraction concept is when is it too much? In my ward, an inactive sister recently returned to activity. Because of an abusive childhood, she has a phobia/aversion of gum and gum-chewing. She knows it’s irrational but it still bothers her. The ward has been trying to get every man, woman, and child in the church building to refrain from chewing gum during the entire 3 hour block – without much success. We’re bombarded with regular pleas, reminders, and exhortations to the point that some are getting really annoyed. At some point you have to wonder, how much accomodation is too much? I know from the comments from ward members about how my 2-year old son “keeps me busy during sacrament meeting” that his presence is a distraction to many. At what point do I need to keep him out of the chapel to avoid distracting others? While “non-distraction” is a good guideline, it makes a pretty crumby hard-and-fast rule.

  46. Hans Hansen on March 6, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    I have been a church musician for the past 45 years. I have generally been the Ward Organist but have also served for nearly 35 years as the Ward Choir Director. About three years ago the Stake Presidency came down with a Hymns-only or hymn arrangements only policy for Sacrament Meeting. It seems they were visiting another ward’s Sacrament Meeting that featured a vocal soloist singing an LDS “Wasatch-pop” ballad. They were so turned off that they sent out a letter setting a policy for our stake.

    When I got the letter I was so mad I couldn’t see staight. I could have cared less about throwing out the pop trash, but the pendulum had swung too far; at one stroke they had banned 80% of my ward’s choir library of anthems, spirituals, and some great “classical”-style choral works that were not hymns. Not only that, the SP now required the Bishops to screen all music to make sure it fit the hymns guidelines and was doctrinally correct!

    A series of meetings followed with the full Stake Music Committee and all of the musicians in the stake that got quite heated at times. A number of the choir directors asked for releases, including me, which were granted. SInce then we have been bored out of our minds listening to hymns only plus some JKP crap that passes for spiritual music these days.

    I sometimes find myself dropping by the Lutheran and United Methodist churches down the street from the Stake Center so that I can get my “music fix” listening to their choirs.

  47. Veritas on March 6, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    My husband on his mission spent a week with Richard G. Scott while he was visiting the mission and Elder Scott instructed them that you should stick to the hymns during sacrament meeting, and cited it as general church policy. This was about 6 years ago. So thats where Im getting that from. Like I said before, and as was illustrated by Nathans hilarious (yet disturbing) story in #43…if you have ever brought investigators to church you are grateful for such policies to keep the spirit and doctrine true. This in no way means meetings need be boring though. And like I said, I wish classical guitar would be permitted…though if this is going to lead to amplifiers and drums, I guess I will do without :)

    So, I think really its less about distraction and more about avoiding false doctrine (or even just the classic ‘mormon culture’ being presented as doctrine) which is more about retaining converts and keeping investigators interested. My husband always jokes that there is no point to being at church if you don’t have an investigator anyways :)

  48. Kaimi Wenger on March 7, 2006 at 12:13 am

    Veritas,

    A general authority told a friend of mine recently that members shouldn’t pass along stories of “a general authority told so-and-so this-and-that” as if they were official church policy of any sort.

    So clearly, the policy of no-sub-silentio-policies must be the real sub silentio policy.

    :P

  49. Ariel on March 7, 2006 at 1:14 am

    Re #37: If we try to avoid all distractions that we can, in the name of charity, people will get used to meetings that aren’t distracting. When something that is unavoidably distracting comes along, everyone will be distracted. It would be better to have people’s tolerance increased than to make the meeting accomodate everyone. Besides, there will always be people who are distracted by things that ought to be perfectly acceptable- do we keep constricting the rules of acceptability to accomodate? Where do we draw the line? I think most wards have already gone too far.

  50. Nathan on March 7, 2006 at 1:48 am

    I was at an adult session of stake conference one evening with an GA. A beautiful rendition of a classical piece was sung. I don’t think it was even a “performance” as some might say. It was tastefully done. The GA got up and corrected the Stake President (for having approved the piece) in front of the congregation and had us sing a hymn.

    The most awesome thing was that nobody felt that the GA was trying to push his own agenda and indeed showed an “increase of love”. The SP in a training later in the year reflected upon the lesson learned and the greatfulness to learn it.

    Humility, a great characteristic of a leader.

    Charity, too, is a great gift that I think many don’t truly seek for.
    Thanks #37

  51. Nathan on March 7, 2006 at 1:49 am

    I was at an adult session of stake conference one evening with an GA. A beautiful rendition of a classical piece was sung. I don’t think it was even a “performance” as some might say. It was tastefully done. The GA got up and corrected the Stake President (for having approved the piece) in front of the congregation and had us sing a hymn.

    The most awesome thing was that nobody felt that the GA was trying to push his own agenda and indeed showed an “increase of love”. The SP in a training later in the year reflected upon the lesson learned and the greatfulness to learn it.

    Humility, a great characteristic of a leader.

    Charity, too, is a great gift that I think many don’t truly seek for.
    Thanks #37

  52. AlexG on March 7, 2006 at 3:58 am

    It distracts me when particular lengthy hymns are sung at a lower speed. Some choristers believe that because the hymn states Reverently you should play it with the quarter note being equal to 50. Why do we have to drag the hymns? That really distract me from worshipping. In my ward, the accepted practice is that we sing all the verses of the hymns, which is good. Yet, when you sing ‘If you could hie to Kolob’ in slower tempo, by the end of the 5th verse, you are singing ‘There is no end to this song!!’ While I conform to the practice of just hymns, one of my ‘holy envies’ is the music sung by gospel choirs. I think that in heaven, we would be part of a major choir singing praises, probably some real nice cheerful music. Yet there are worse things than music to distract our attention from the Saviour. Just think in the high councillor talk, or worse, the stories of foe that we heard in testimony meetings. The mind drifts…

  53. Hans Hansen on March 7, 2006 at 4:48 am

    #52: “It distracts me when particular lengthy hymns are sung at a lower speed. Some choristers believe that because the hymn states Reverently you should play it with the quarter note being equal to 50. Why do we have to drag the hymns? That really distract me from worshipping.”

    Too bad you are not in my ward! I play the hymns at the meter indicated or faster. No funeral dirges allowed! I am also fortunate to have a ward chorister who believes in making hymns singable.

  54. greenman on March 7, 2006 at 6:42 am

    Around 4 or 5 years ago I had the opportunity to attend church in a town called Ostrava in the Czech Republic. Instead of an organ or piano, the accompaniment was provided by clarinet. Furthermore, the members in the country had taken it upon themselves to add a number of traditional Czech songs to the standard selection of church hymns that had been translated from English. They did this on their own initiative and it ended up being approved by Church leaders in the country. I thought that this was a great idea and in no way offended the Spirit of the meeting. I see absolutely no problem in allowing a little local flavoring into the “pure vanilla” of mainstream religious practice. Not only that, but if it’s ok for our English hymnal to contain songs such as “America, the Beautiful” and even “God Save the King,” then why not allow spirituals in places where that is the type of music the congregation can easily relate to? Not all members identify themselves with the Anglo-Saxon heritage of the Church. If we are true Latter-Day Saints, then we should be able to relate to the sacred beauty found in virtually every culture worldwide. We should not allow the “Zion Curtain” to curtail all outside influences. Instead, we should recognize the spiritual riches that other cultures have to offer and welcome them with open arms.

  55. S. on March 7, 2006 at 8:03 am

    My sacrament meeting experience has not been universally poor. But the meetings are generally on the dull and slow side, and I think most people I know would agree with this. Sacrament meeting should not be utterly stimulating, but it should be a little more stimulating than it usually is…

    Making the meetings more boring out of “charity” (as Jonathan Green suggests) is only charitable towards one subset of the population. There are others who would prefer a freer, slightly more inclusive approach to spiritual music–do they not also deserve our charity?

    S.

  56. WillF on March 7, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Hans (#46) I wish your SP (and everyone else in church leadership) would just read http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,4987-1,00.html#3

    It clearly allows for, gasp, non-hymns.

  57. WillF on March 7, 2006 at 9:53 am

    Kristine (#40), when I was growing up, I remember visiting a friend’s ward in SLC that had a sound-proof family quarantine room at the back of the chapel. It seperated highly dynamic family units using a large glass window. Sound was piped in and I imagine the volume was gradually turned up throughout the meeting. I pine for it sometimes now that I have four small children, though I’m guessing this chapel design was eliminated because of progressive concerns about segregating young families from the rest of the ward family.

  58. WillF on March 7, 2006 at 10:07 am

    Back in 1975 former BYU Choir legend Ralph Woodward gave some excellent advice on the subject of music selection that is relevant to this topic in a Dialogue article titled Choral Music in the Church and at the end of the article, for those who are trying to find one, recommended an Easter Cantata he though was appropriate.

  59. Jonathan Green on March 7, 2006 at 10:31 am

    S.: Boo, hiss. “Distracting” and “boring” do not form a dichotomy. Unprepared sacrament meeting talks and listless music are not charitable.

    Really, we need Frank McIntyre to explain this all in terms of resource distribution: if you’re giving a talk in church or directing the choir, try to provide the greatest spiritual benefit for the greatest number of people so that the congregation’s mean spiritual welfare is raised the greatest amount, or something like that. If your ward would be helped by singing spirituals, then let the choir sing spirituals; if most of the ward would hate spirituals, but one inactive family would return to regular activity by singing one spiritual per year, then pencil it onto the calendar and let the rest of the ward smile appreciatively for five minutes once a year. Devote your resources–musical selection and sacrament talk time–to the subsets of your congregation in proportion to how much those choices will affect the target audience. Compare: once a month, the choir sings a dirgelike rendition of “How great thou art” that delights half the congregation, puts 49% to sleep, and outrages the 1% of hipsters VS. once a month, the choir sings avant-garde music that confuses half the congregation, puts 49% to sleep, and outrages the 1% of hipsters for turning art into banal hierarchy-reaffirming performance (but they’re secretly happy to feel included again). For such a congregation, one avant-garde choral piece per decade seems about right; besides, that’s enough time for a new stake presidency to be called who will relax the restrictions put into place after the last avant-garde choir performance.

  60. JrL on March 7, 2006 at 10:32 am

    Re 45 (Chris) “The ward has been trying to get every man, woman, and child in the church building to refrain from chewing gum during the entire 3 hour block – without much success. We’re bombarded with regular pleas, reminders, and exhortations to the point that some are getting really annoyed.â€?

    Funny, from my point of view in front of the congregation, you could almost conclude that our ward must require that everyone chew gum in sacrament meeting…. But I suppose only those of us in front are distracted – mostly by how truly unbecoming gum-chewing is.

    Re 48 (Kaimi) “A general authority told a friend of mine recently that members shouldn’t pass along stories of “a general authority told so-and-so this-and-that� as if they were official church policy of any sort.�

    Wasn’t there a letter read in sacrament meetings 3 or 4 years ago to that same effect? And studiously ignored throughout the bloggernacle.

    Re 54 (greenman) “Furthermore, the members in the country had taken it upon themselves to add a number of traditional Czech songs to the standard selection of church hymns that had been translated from English. They did this on their own initiative and it ended up being approved by Church leaders in the country. I thought that this was a great idea and in no way offended the Spirit of the meeting. I see absolutely no problem in allowing a little local flavoring into the ‘pure vanilla’ of mainstream religious practice.�

    I’d been thinking about this even before this thread opened. I wonder whether the next round of hymnals will diversify bit. I hope so! I love the hymns, and appreciate when they are played as prelude and special musical numbers – I can quietly hum, letting the words, with all their significance, pass through my mind. But I’m sure that other cultures have produced hymns that are doctrinally correct, though perhaps from different musical traditions, that can produce the same result for those familiar with them. Have any such hymns appeared in non-English hymnals?

  61. KLC on March 7, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Our stake’s experience with a visiting, very senior apostle last year reinforces the notion that hymns only in sacrament meeting is being stressed as a de facto church policy.

    Before his visit the stake president was instructed to make sure that only church hymns were used for all music played, sung and performed during the conference. Because his visit was announced only 10 days before the conference, the stake choir, that had been rehearsing several non hymns, was forced to change its music selections.

    At the end of the conference session, while members were crowding around him and the postlude music was playing he suddenly stopped and whispered into the SP’s ear. The organist was playing a non-hymn and he asked him to go up and instruct her to play only hymns.

  62. Kevin Barney on March 7, 2006 at 11:11 am

    The day when GAs are publicly upbraiding SPs in front of the entire congregation for allowing the playing of Bach or Handel in a Stake Conference is a sad day indeed. I’m with Hans on this latest verbal “policy.” Yuuch.

  63. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 11:12 am

    The saddest part of having a “hymns only” policy in church meetings is that “hymns” are defined as what falls within the pages of the green book. Too many of those things aren’t hymns unless you use a circular definition such as “it’s the hymn book so what’s in it must be a hymn.”

    I didn’t think that the green book (calliope tunes and syrup and John Bull and all) had been canonized.

    Now this whole thing is beginning to distract me!

  64. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 7, 2006 at 11:13 am

    KLC, others who have cited preferences of particular GAs as authoritative: if they all agreed, “hymns only” would be the official policy of the church, and outlined in the handbook. Until then, I think we can conclude that even GAs who ask for hymns only are expressing a personal preference. Such personal preferences can be charitably accomodated, but ought also to be expressed charitably–asking an organist to change the prelude in the middle of it is not just uncharitable but astonishingly rude.

  65. John Mansfield on March 7, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Here’s a hand waving go at a theory behind the hymnbook-only General Authorities. The presiding priesthood leader has responsibility for everything in the meeting he presides. My wife as choir director and ward music director has frequent communication with the bishop to run music for sacrament meeting past him and get his approval. It is an active process with a lot of back and forth between them. Our old bishop liked music and was willing and interested in spending the time on this. After one month with a new bishop, things continue the same so far.

    A general authority coming to one stake this week and another one next week may lack the luxury of considering each musical selection individually, and he doesn’t have a working relationship established with the stake music director. So he prescribes simple parameters that can’t go wrong: stick to the green book. Such a choice would have no implications beyond what needs to happen when the visiting general authority presides stake conference.

  66. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Except, John, that the process of planning stake conference is interactive: the stake president and the visiting authority discuss the meetings–the speakers, the music, etc.–well in advance, and the visitor (who presides) thus has the chance to approve the music in advance.

    If the stake president does his job right, there’s no need to default to the green book for choir numbers or prelude/postlude.

    On a related note, I remember having the female half of a senior missionary couple go ballistic when I suggested that “Silver Bells” all gussied up might not be the best music for a sacrament meeting prelude. “Silver Bells” bare wouldn’t have fit either, IMHO.

  67. Veritas on March 7, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    My understanding of the hymns-only policy, obviously, is not that we can only sing/play arrangements from the Green hymn book. And, I think Handel, Bach etc are generally deemed appropriate for choral music. Im pretty sure the idea is to avoid weird songs from My Turn on Earth and Saturdays Warrior….the instruction to my husbands mission leadership from Elder Scott was to this effect… And of course we can alter according to the area, I mean…In hawaii Aloha Oi is actually in the Hymn book…and you cannot expect members in Mexico will be singing OUR national anthem…really this is all just commen sense and I don’t understand why it is such a big deal.

  68. KLC on March 7, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    Kristine, I did not mention the apostle’s name because I didn’t want to make it appear that I was using the GA trump card. I merely offer it as another supporting piece of evidence that this practice is real and being encouraged by those in authority.

    And I included the incident of the postlude music not as an illustration of his rudeness or of my personal distaste, but as another indication that this leader takes this seriously enough to interrupt his happy interaction with members to discreetely instruct the stake president. In my mind that elevates this above mere personal preference.

  69. JrL on March 7, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    re 67 (veritas) “In hawaii Aloha Oi is actually in the Hymn book…”

    So there’s more than one English hymnal? News to me! Jusdt the Hawaiin and the regular versions? or are there others? How do you get them? They are in the Distribution Center on-line catalog.

  70. Hans Hansen on March 7, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    I am reminded of the story (part of which appeared in the Ensign) concerning an encounter that Elder Boyd K. Packer had with an organist at at a stake conference.

    Elder Packer was presiding at a stake conference where the organist was playing Bach as prelude music before services started. He sent a note to the sister playing the organ informing her that playing a hymn of the restoration would perhaps be more appropriate. The organist began to play ‘We Thank Thee O God For A Prophet” in a minor key, slowly, with the tempo of a funeral dirge. Needless to say, Elder Packer was less than thrilled. He and the organist engaged in a mutually loving glare down until the meeting began.

    **********************************************************

    I remember when I was asked to play for stake conference and got the order from on high that I should only play hymns for prelude and postlude. Since I had previously been an organist for the Catholics, Lutherans, and Seventh Day Adventists, I said “Sure. Hymns only! You got it!”

    Boy, did they ever. I played the top 15 Protestant hymns. Later, several converts came up to me and thanked me for playing “their hymns” that they had grown up with that are never heard in an LDS church!

  71. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    There’s a major premise implied in the final paragraph of #68. It seems to be: “A general authority would interrupt chatting with members after meetings only to enforce matters of church policy, not personal preference.”

    Beats me where that came from. It seems if the personal preference is high enough (which, to drag this thread back to Rusty’s starting place, means “if he is sufficiently distracted”), the presiding authority may well give the instruction to the organist for that reason.

    If I were the organist, I’d play Called to the Calliope at full blast, and then Scatter Sunshine with an extra load of schmaltz and and knuckle on the keys glissando at the end of the verse. (What do you keyboard folks call that, anyway?)

  72. KLC on March 7, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Mark Beats me where that major premise came from too, certainly wasn’t in anything I wrote… no where did I mention church policy, no where did I mention that this would be the only reason for his actions.

    I think reasonable deductions can be made from public actions, don’t you? It seems reasonable to deduce that going out of one’s way after a meeting has concluded to instruct someone on what kind of music is being played may indicate that the issue is higher on their personal importance scale than just a fondness for hymns, which was all my comment was meant to convey.

  73. DavidH on March 7, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    I am amazed that anyone paid attention to the prelude postlude music.

    A friend of ours, a University of Utah graduate who lived in a BYU married student ward, occasionally played the U fight song (slowed down, of course) for prelude music, and no one noticed or said a word.

    There may be preferences of some in higher leadership for green hymns only. But that isn’t even followed at general conference–e.g., Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (inexplicably no longer in our hymnal) has been presented more than one. And as more than one poster has pointed out, a restriction to hymns from the green book only is not official church policy. (In fact, guitars are not prohibited–in fact the primary hymnal includes instruction on guitar accompaniment)

    Of course, the presiding authority does preside, and if that is his presiding preference in music selection, it ought to be followed.

    I suppose another question is “distracting to whom?” The prohibition on drums or other percussion in church in Africa seems to me more to avoid distraction to visitors from the Wasatch Front than distraction for local members.

  74. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    I guess I thought that the next step above a “fondness for hymns” was “church policy as I understand it requires hymns.” I just haven’t been able to figure out what the intermediate steps between those two are.

  75. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Ah, come on, DavidH. How can you say the removal of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is inexplicable. It’s as “explicable” as the old ranking of the Politburo as they stood atop Lenin’s tomb on May Day!

    “Oh to grace how great a debtor
    Daily I’m constrained to be . . . ”

    Can’t have that, can we?

  76. Kaimi Wenger on March 7, 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Various implied-theory folks,

    Um, church leaders know perfectly well how to write an express rule. They know where the Handbook of Instructions is, and they know how to put rules into it. The lack of an express rule — given that leaders are fully aware of the existing posture, and fully capable of putting an express rule into place — implies itself that there is no implied rule, no?

  77. Kaimi Wenger on March 7, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Mark,

    I thought everyone knew that Come Thou Fount was pulled because of its inappropriate references to Charles Dickens characters. Come on, man – don’t you know anything?

  78. Dan S. on March 7, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Is is possible to compare the restrictions of music in Sacrament to the restrictions of music in the mission field? Every Mission President has a strict rule about what missionaries should listen to. What is purpose behind that? I think it is to set the two years apart as being a very ‘different’ time and experience than the norm. If a missionary is allowed to continue listening to music of their own tastes (even if it invites the Spirt into that missionary’s heart), then the missionary may have a hard time staying focused on the missionary experience. Music has a very strong hold on our minds, and can bring back lots of memories, whether good or bad, that may be distracting from the purpose of the present.

    In a similar fashion, I kind of see that limiting music to hymns during sacrament meeting are carving out of our normal lifes an experience that is distinctly different (note, I haven’t said better or worse, but only different). After all, there is no commandment that we shouldn’t listen to non-hymns during the rest of our week, and those other types of music can be very nurishing to our spirits. But, in trying to create an “different” experience, our church leaders have chosen to normalize the type of music played during 1-3 hours of the week, (which, if you consider the percentage of that time to the rest of our waking hours in the week, comes to about 3.5% of our waking hours). As a result, by sticking to the “same old, same-old”, I think we actually create a unique experience from our normal lives, which does help me to focus on the uniqueness of the Sacrament experience.

  79. DavidH on March 7, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    It sort of reminds me of the unwritten rule that nothing but scriptures or male general authorities (preferably apostles) shoud be quoted or referred to in sacrament meetings or lessons. It is unfortunate that people like David O. McKay, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, Jeffrey R. Holland (who quoted Halle Berry, no less, last conference) and others never got the memo.

  80. Bill on March 7, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Check this thread:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=589

    where Ivan Wolfe reports that Darwin Wolford suggested that Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing was left out of the new book completely by accident. I have heard similar reports.

    In any case, Kaimi, the Ebenezer verse was not included in the 1948 hymnbook

  81. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    I asked our choir director about the “Ebenezer” verse (which Bill correctly notes was not in the 1948 hymnbook), and she had no clue, so I had to look it up.

    I’d suggest that you never let a bunch of deacons or teachers get ahold of that verse–no telling what they’d make of it.

    And, Kaimi, you’re sounding like a lousy lawyer again. What, are we to use customary rules of statutory construction when reading the Handbook of Instructions?

  82. ed on March 7, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Kaimi: “They know where the Handbook of Instructions is, and they know how to put rules into it.”

    Huh? You write as if a single church leader can simply add something to the handbook unilaterally. In reality I suspect that the various church leaders each have their own ideas and agendas, and what finally makes it into the handbook is a matter of comprimise, and of who happens to be assigned to that committee.

  83. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 3:45 pm

    Cool Hand Luke: What we have here is a failure to communicate.

  84. jinnmabe on March 7, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    I’m a little confused at the “stick it to the man” attitude I’ve seen in a couple of posts. The priesthood leader presiding over your meeting asks you to do something and your response is “I’ll show YOU!”? And that will bring the Spirit, how, exactly?

    As for the express rule folks, do we really need more express written rules? And express rules are the only rules?

  85. JA Benson on March 7, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    The area that we live in is rather lossey-goosey on the rules. Most of the time I don’t mind, but in other instances I can see why there should be some hard and fast rules.
    Not long ago my thirteen year old who is a master at jazz/blues piano was asked for the first time to play prelude in Priesthood. He asked what he should play and was told anything you want. So innocently he played the blues. His older brother went up and told him to stop, but he told his brother, “they said play what you want and this is what I want�. No one else said a word to him (my husband was in Primary). The Counselor in the Bishopric commended him for bringing soul to the meeting. We of course told him otherwise.

  86. Hans Hansen on March 7, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    “So innocently he played the blues. ”

    Wow, I’ll have to keep that in mind for my next prelude. Do you think a few choruses of “Soul Man” might liven up the meeting?

  87. cj douglass on March 7, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    “In reality I suspect that the various church leaders each have their own ideas and agendas, and what finally makes it into the handbook is a matter of comprimise, and of who happens to be assigned to that committee.”

    Where does God come in?

  88. Mark B. on March 7, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    Are you suggesting, CJ Douglass, that the council system by which the Church operates (where men and women with differing opinions deliberate (and, perhaps, change their minds because of recommendations from others)) is not inspired? Or that revelation cannot come in the context of the give and take of a council?

    I think that the scriptures and the history of the church indicate otherwise.

  89. Kaimi Wenger on March 7, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Ed writes:

    “I suspect that the various church leaders each have their own ideas and agendas, and what finally makes it into the handbook is a matter of comprimise, and of who happens to be assigned to that committee.”

    Yes. And the other quirks and preferences of individual leaders are just those — individual quirks and preferences, not anything binding on the general membership of the church.

    Jimnabe,

    I have no problems with following a presiding leader in a particular meeting. Some of the commenters here, though, seem to want to extrapolate general church-wide rules out of their experiences, though, and start telling others here about those hidden rules.

    How’s this idea: Church-wide rules come through approved, established channels.

    What is so controversial about that?

  90. cj douglass on March 7, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    I was not suggesting that the council system is uninspired. Though decisions are made by a committee or council I think its safe to conclude that the end result is the will of God. Am I off base on this one?

  91. Bill on March 7, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    The problem with the idea of having only hymns in sacrament meeting is that then there is very little point of having a ward choir, since singing hymns is what the congregation already does. It’s a prescription for not developing talents and hiding lights under the buschel.

  92. queuno on March 7, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    I’m not singling anyone out with this, but if the choir directors and organists of the Church would be a little more understanding of the needs and interests of the average bishop and stake president, then the bishops and stake presidents wouldn’t interpret the CHI in a “only hymns” manner.

    My experience is that a bishop will suggest that a particular number is not appropriate, the choir director and organist decides to go to the mattresses, and then the leader will say, “ok, fine — nothing but hymns”.

    Sorry, but I’m a little appalled at some of the attitudes in these posts that suggest that the organist/choir director has the last say and the presiding authority doesn’t get to pick. This is just like the Scouters who insist on wearing full Scout uniform at the sacrament table — and won’t take “no” for an answer.

    This is one of my general peeves with the membership at large in the Church — the presiding authority must be allowed to preside, right or wrong. I can’t remember the source, but someone surmised that the most frequently called-and-released callings in the Church due to disagreements with the bishop are the Scoutmaster, the music director, and the seminary teacher.

    To quote the quidelines – “This music should not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration. Some religiously oriented music in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.” That is obviously open to local presiding officer interpretation.

    The recommendation given above about maintaining a dialoge with the presiding authority are spot on.

  93. MullingandMusing (M&M) on March 8, 2006 at 2:07 am

    Something else to remember with all of this is that there ARE opportunities to sing and present music other than the hymns — outside of Sacrament Meeting. There are stake choirsides (one stake I know of has one every month!), other auxiliary meetings (RS and SS have often had music that isn’t in the hymnal), ward activities, talent shows, etc. Perhaps those who are disgruntled in their music callings (or even individuals with talent that they want to share) can talk to leaders about having other activities that allow for different music.

    Along that thought, I liked the comment about setting Sacrament Meeting apart and making it different. The same standard obviously goes for the temple. I have never heard anything but hymns and Primary music in the temple chapel, either.

  94. ukann on March 8, 2006 at 4:21 am

    I find it very sad that being an LDS member and living and worshipping in England we are not allowed more leeway to choose hymns not in the ‘green’ book. We have a marvellous tradition of the most glorious hymns (Ancient and Modern ), many of which are my favourites. I sang them as a child at school and love them. Whilst it seems some of them have found their way into the ‘green’ book, many of them haven’t, of course due to lack of space. Whilst I can agree that ‘immortal, invisible God only wise’ couldn’t make it doctrinally, I can’t see why we can’t sing those that are doctrinally correct. It seems prevalant in England we stick to only the ‘green hymns’ on every occasion. Don’t even remember any postlude or prelude music containing anything but green or Children’s Song Book hymns. I feel bereft. Perhaps I’ll be able to sing them in heaven.

  95. WillF on March 8, 2006 at 8:11 am

    Queno, how can they fairly “interpret the CHI in a ‘only hymns’ manner” when the same guidelines (which you skipped in your quotation) expressly states you can use other music as long as it in the same spirit as a hymn?

  96. Kaimi Wenger on March 8, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Also, the “nothing but hymns” rule ignores the fact that there are official church publications for choir that go far beyond hymns. For example, there is the Choirbook, a book of music that was originally published by the church in 1980. (Not by Deseret Book or any particular author — by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). ( See http://deseretbook.com/store/product?sku=0196903 ).

    When your choir sings “He Is Not Here” for Easter, they’re singing from an official church publication, straight from church distribution.

    If there were an implied rule against anything but hymns, it would certainly be odd for the church itself to be distributing official materials that violated that rule, no?

  97. Mark IV on March 8, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    Anybody who really, really wants to know what the official church policy really is can go look here:

    http://lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,4769-1,00.html

    Exerpts fron the handbook have been posted on the official church website.

    Short summary: strong preference for the hymnbook, other music may sometimes be appropriate.

    Especially relevant to this discussion:

    “…If other musical selections are used, they should be in keeping with the spirit of the hymns of the Church. Texts should be doctrinally correct. (See “Hymns for Congregations,” Hymns, pages 380–81.)

    Music in Church meetings should help members worship, feel the sacred spirit of the Sabbath, and feel the spirit of revelation. This music should not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration. Some religiously oriented music in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.”

  98. KLC on March 8, 2006 at 3:16 pm

    Kaimi, you seem to be trying very hard to continue an argument that doesn’t exist. I don’t dispute anything you’ve said about the CHI and other church publications. You are absolutely right, but like the lawyer you are, you’re arguing the law.

    Several people here, including me, have offered anecdotal evidence that suggests a different standard is being required in actual practice by some high level authorities.

    It may be that this requirement is only personal preference, mere rudeness or even abuse of authority, but the details of my situation suggest something more fundamental than a quirk and charity encourages me to dismiss arguments that assume the worst on the part of the presiding authority.

    In the case of our visiting apostle he explained his reasons were based on a philosphical argument. He felt music should invite the spirit and that the hymns were the best vehicle to accomplish that goal, even though he agreed that there was much beautiful and uplifting music outside the hymn book.

    Either way, as one who can barely sing and cannot play, I have no dog in this fight.

  99. WillF on March 8, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    In any case it has been interesting to review the guidelines more closely – I didn’t realize that they also say the pianos are supposed to be tuned as needed. Our pianos in the YW and RS room are in need of some serious repentance.
    The part about using discretion when using the piano and organ simultaneously time makes me wonder if there was a rash of double accompaniment going on somewhere (especially disastrous if they aren’t in tune with each other).

  100. Ariel on March 8, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    I had an Education Week class from a man who helped compile the latest hymnbook. I don’t remember his name; I’ll look it up later if anyone is interested. Someone asked about “Come Thou Fount” and he said that it was removed from the hymnbook because nobody sang it- they removed all of the less popular songs to make way for new ones. Soon after the book was finalized, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang a new arrangement of that hymn, and its popularity shot through the roof. They regret not including it, but hindsight is 20/20 and they had no way to forsee the change. It might be included in the next hymnbook.

    WillF, my ward had tandem playing once for prelude music. The organist’s daughter was visiting and she was a gifted pianist, so they decided (without asking permission ) to play together. When the meeting started, the bishop thanked them and said it was nice to have that once in a while. It certainly distracted people, but it distracted them away from what they were doing, and brought them into the right frame of mind to start the meeting- exactly what preludes are supposed to do.

  101. Hans Hansen on March 8, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    A number of years ago a little old lady came up to me at the organ console to complain. She said I was playing the prelude, a hymn no less, too loud for her tastes and that people couldn’t hear themselves talk in the chapel. I just rolled my eyes!

  102. Nathaniel Givens on March 9, 2006 at 8:17 am

    The problem, in my opinion, is that to intelligent and observant members the principle of non-distraction has become exceedingly distracting. This isn’t a joke or a play on words. The principle of non-distraction is kind of like the rule “moderation in all things”. Even being moderate in everything can become a form of extremism. Trying to be non-distracting in all things eventually leads to a state where it’s difficult not to be distracted by the extreme superficial conformity and “lowest common denominator” flavor in Mormon worship (and I say this as an active, faithful member). That is to say the “non-destractive” nature of Mormon worship.

    I know at least one faithful member who’s simply stopped singing the hymns. While many Mormon hymns are actually quite nice the fact is that we’ve got a rather pitiful musical fare to choose from given the international nature of our faith.

    Another problem is that the principle of non-distraction is practically a preparation course in becoming a pharisee. It’s just a short hop from “don’t distract” to “always do things a certain way”. For example some would say it would be distracting to use wheat bread for the sacrament. I used to work in a bakery and we would always bring in non-white bread. The owner (also a member) always joked that he was trying to work the members up to his chedder-cheese garlic bread (I was in favor of the cinamon twist myself) but for the most part we stuck to wheat and the occaisional nine grain. Contrast this with the weird belief many members have that the sacrament bread MUST be white. Or that the sacrament tray MUST be carried in the right hand. I’m sure you could add more.

    Where do these weird beliefs come from? I believe the simply evolve from the fact that Mormons always do things a certain way and seem unable to break from traditions no matter how absurd they are. It’s not uncommon for people to not only bless the Dunkin Dongoughts “that they may nourish and strengthen us” but also to joke about it afterwards.

    In short – we need to worry less about the principle of non-distraction if we wnat to follow it.

    -nathaniel

  103. KLC on March 9, 2006 at 10:13 am

    Hans, I think the little old lady had a point that you might reconsider. People want to talk before the meeting begins; some of it is social but much of it is the last minute business of the church, arranging interviews, checking on substitutes, verifying lesson plans.

    I have been in many wards and have seen countless programs designed to eliminate talking during the prelude, but none have been successful. The most common approach is to play the prelude louder, to overcome the chatter with more music. But the louder the music, the louder people talk and the less reverent it becomes.

    It seems counterintuitive but quiet prelude music actually creates a quiet chapel. People always seem to adjust the volume of their conversations to match the music being played.

  104. Mark B. on March 9, 2006 at 10:41 am

    Actually, the best way to eliminate talking during the prelude is to make it part of the meeting. When my dad was a bishop of a BYU student ward, from 1965 to 1970, a member of the bishopric would begin sacrament meeting with any announcements and then announce that the organist would play the prelude. After that, we’d have the opening hymn and prayer and etc. At the beginning of each school year, the bishopric would make it clear that the prelude was not a time for talking, running around doing last minute errands, etc., but a time for meditation and personal worship.

    It helped that we met in the old Joseph Smith Auditorium, which had the old tabernacle organ in it, and that J.J. Keeler, the organ tsar, only allowed his students to touch it, so we always had organ performance majors assigned to the ward for our organists.

  105. Kristine Haglund Harris on March 9, 2006 at 10:44 am

    People should have their conversations somewhere besides the chapel. I think the principle of non-distraction may actually serve to make our chapels LESS reverent, because there is no focal point, no specialness about the room that says it is anything other than a carpeted gym with pews. In chapels with stained glass windows, murals, even crucifixes or altars, there is something about the space itself that suggests reverence. Our chapels have nothing that would distract us from our own thoughts during the sacrament, but also nothing that would help us learn something new (my dad once wrote a beautiful talk about Christ and the prodigal son, based on a little detail he noticed in a stained glass window in a church in France) or bring us back when our mind wanders. And we have nothing that would help us make Sacrament Meeting set apart from the rest of the three hour block. Playing familiar hymns for prelude makes it easy for people to completely ignore them and continue conducting their business. ” Arranging interviews, checking on substitutes, verifying lesson plans” REALLY distract from worship–we should eliminate that rather than carping about the organist who actually wants to offer people something that might lift them from the routine of churchgoing into actual worship!!

  106. Nate Oman on March 9, 2006 at 1:56 pm

    Kristine: How do we know whether those around us are actually worshipping?

  107. grego on March 9, 2006 at 8:25 pm

    The first changes that came, evidently came innocently because some enterprising bishop or other officer endeavored to introduce into his meetings, or among his congregation something new—just a little different, in advancement of that which was practiced elsewhere. This tendency is very apparent in the wards and stakes of the Church today.

    For example, let us consider the ordinance of the Sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform, such as we see done in some sectarian and other churches. Then again as they passed the Sacrament they had to stand with their left hand plastered on their backs in a most awkward manner. The priests or elders who administered these holy emblems had to stand in a certain way as the one officiating in the prayer knelt at the table. In some instances the Bishop stood in the pulpit with raised hands in an attitude of benediction. Other customs among the quorums and in the services of the wards were introduced. Members of the Church were instructed that they must not touch the trays containing the bread and the water with their left hand, but must take it in their right hand after partaking as their neighbor held the tray in his or her right hand. In the Priesthood in the wards, we now have “supervisors” directing the activities of the deacons and the priests. How long will it take before these supervisors are considered as a regular part of the Priesthood and it will be necessary to set them apart or ordain them to this office? So we see that we, if we are not careful, will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy.
    – Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, Vol 1, p.103

  108. grego on March 9, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    sorry, i forgot there’s no “edit” function here. all of the above is from jfs, not just the second part. the current policy seems like a break from the past. ironically, for the same reason that jfs spoke against it for. times change, i guess.

    we say don’t say “someone said”, but then most of the talks, esp. by the Leaders, usually throw in a story about what “someone said”. imo, anyone who believes that the Spirit is telling everyone everything, esp. over and above the CHI, is naive. however, i realize and understand, and try (usually) to follow “personal preferences”–it’s hard enough for many old men to travel all over the world and take in all kinds of new things, esp. if they grew up in strong LDS neighborhoods in utah. however, i don’t necessarily take it as doctrine. yes, there are “unwritten rules”, etc. however, i don’t think it’s agreeable to use that as your “weapon”.

    one sunday, the branch presidency and i were discussing the high councilor speaking last (he had usually been speaking first). the SP had told them, “don’t worry”. i said, ok, BUT…when the visiting 70 yells at you for “not worrying”, don’t say i didn’t tell you. the next week, what do you know…the HC did speak last, and the closing hymn and prayer were announced before he spoke.

    let’s see…
    last week, we had a great discussion in priesthood about esau and jacob, and also reuben.
    in SS, we had some great discussion on abraham and isaac.
    at the potluck, a brother talked about how being away from his wife helped him appreciate her and sex more, and overcome his “need”.
    afterwards, a sister sang some beautiful non-Church hymns.
    in sacrament, we started inside, and quickly left to the foyer. we could see through the glass windows in the doors, so knew when to open up and nod “we didn’t get the sacrament” to the BP, which was then brought back to us.
    our children were brought up from primary, after the teacher passed them to the primary president who passed them to the counselor who brought them; after 2 minutes, they were ready to go back to class and “be good”. (it’s true, my children aren’t easy, though i daresay better than the mission presidents son–just that he’s slowly learning when to hold his peace–or perhaps i don’t demonstrate enough power.) either i’m a genius, or i’m sorry for the child skills of those three…women.
    i don’t remember what we sang in sacrament meeting, but i imagine it was at least -10 to what it should have been (pianists sometimes have a rough time, so it helps to go slower), and usually dull, which means it truly was nondistracting, but more like from “my rest” than from “true worship”. it was nice in sunday school to talk about “singing with the spirit”, both “Spirit” and “spirit”.
    a foreign sister bore her testimony in english, which distracted. perhaps that will be the next to go? (“NO ONE may bear testimony unless they use a Utah accent”…)

    i visited a utah ward once, and they knelt at the pews and one led the congregation in a fast prayer. absolutely wonderful idea and Spirit, but also, absolutely surprising. utah! of all places.

    i know of a young grandfather who was very upset that his son had not baptized the grandson. well, it was a worthiness issue, but the bishop couldn’t really say that. boy, talk about “nondistracting”!

    i know a woman who asked to be released from stake RS president, and when it didn’t happen, didn’t really fear about “nondistracting”. the SP, who was an extreme stickler on “not on the calendar on jan. 1, won’t happen this year” had taken a very sudden (announced less than one week in advance) stake ym/yw overnight activity to washington, d.c.–coincidentally, on the exact same night as her daughter’s wedding reception, where the daughter, groom, groom’s family, etc. had traveled over a thousand miles to attend. (not to mention that she had personally dedicated over a hundred hours and a few dollars helping other sisters with their daughters’ wedding receptions.) “oh, we’re sorry, but wow, we really had a good time”. “i’d like to be released”. “no”. so, skip a short time. after finding some very interesting research on church history, regarding how RS funds had kept the church afloat when everything else was in debt, etc., she shared with the sisters the idea that the sisters had a lot to offer, in some ways perhaps..(gasp!) more than the brothers… well, the SP called her over after the meeting, where a bishop, presenting a brilliant hue of red on his face, tried to give a lecture on the power of the priesthood. (luckily the husband wasn’t there, or he might have gotten disciplined for the opposite of sustaining a church leader–but in a physical sense.) but, happily for her, the straw DID break the camel’s back. so, it’s not just music–it’s also truth, or sometimes, maybe even uplifting comments running very much along the lines of recent RS general conference meeting talks. it just depends on whose toes you step on.

    sorry, i guess the point of all this is, i think there should be a switch on principle and emphasis from “non-DISTRACTING” to “non-DETRACTING”.

  109. Erika Haglund on March 14, 2006 at 7:57 am

    My response to things like the “principle of non-distraction”: About a year ago I distracted myself right out of the Church. The problem for me was that music has never been just a pleasant diversion, or an adjunct to worship. Music *is* worship to me. It has always been where I find my faith. Playing it and singing it is my way of praying. And so, living in congregations where a bunch of pop-Mormon schlock with at best wishy-washy and at worst outright false doctrine was just fine and dandy for sacrament meeting, but Bruckner’s “Os Justi” is banned because it’s (gasp) in Latin, or any number of “Ave Marias” are looked down upon despite the fact that, to me, the face of God literally shines through some of them, or a Bach organ prelude is just too complicated and noisy…this, for me, was a moral problem, not just cultural. I always wanted, terribly, to be a good Mormon, and I tried hard to find what little spiritual nourishment I could in a Mormon sacrament meeting, but with things like the “principle of non-distraction,” giving bishops and high counselors a shiny new excuse to wear their ignorance and narrow-mindedness as a badge of righteousness, I found myself cut off from every way I know how to worship *and* how to share the spirit with others. The main message to me in things like this “principle” is that *I* am a distraction, my way of believing is a distraction, every beautiful thing that I love and that shows me God is a distraction, and Mormonism doesn’t want people like me.

  110. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 14, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Erika,
    That must be an awful feeling. I’m sorry you feel unwanted. My thought on this is that, as hard as it may be, we all have our faith tested in different ways — often in ways that are fundamental to our core and stretch our very heart-strings. One of the things I have thought about is just how the Church also often tests our patience and charity. Even though things sometimes aren’t the way we want (or even need them to be) we have this crazy opportunity to accept them and go on. I dunno. Sound like trite answers, but I hate to hear of someone leaving the Church over one element, because there is so much there that can feed our souls if we will let it. And I really think we will *all* have things that will test our faith to the core. I have seen this happen with different issues, and they are always very, very difficult.

    I can understand your love of Ave Marias, etc. Sang one or two myself in college (at BYU, no less!). Absolutely stunning.

  111. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 14, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    “In short – we need to worry less about the principle of non-distraction if we wnat to follow it.”

    I think the key is to follow what the Brethren have said, not what evolves from people’s opinions and oral legend-like stuff that mysteriously passes around. If there’s a question about something, find out what the Brethren have said. That’s a pretty safe place to stay, and can help protect us against unnecessary and distracting non-distractions.

  112. mullingandmusing (m&m) on March 14, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    “Sometimes the unexpected and the strange can shatter our complacencies and make us more open to the Spirit….”

    I sing in choirs that sing unusual stuff that has become extremely spiritual to me. Part of the reason that is true is because the music has become part of who I am, and because I have had weeks and weeks to discover its beauty. Those who are familiar with the beautiful outside of traditional LDS sacrament meeting fare are astonished that we don’t regularly explore and accept more than that. But I think it’s important to remember that, for the majority of people, this would be a shock and would be hard to relate to because, unless you are “into” music and all its options, such an approach might be too much. Like I said before, there are ways to explore this outside of sacrament meeting in the Church. Talk to your bishop about a ward or stake music fireside. We have them at Christmas and around Easter at a stake level. Cantatas and a wide variety of other music (all non-hymn) are included. I sang in a stake fireside last year…and this stake has one such fireside every month! Let’s not forget that the key purpose of Sacrament Meeting is the sacrament. There are other ways we can expand our horizons.

  113. Hans Hansen on March 14, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    #109. “Bruckner’s “Os Justiâ€? is banned because it’s (gasp) in Latin, ”

    Tell me about it! One Christmas when I was the Ward Choir Director, I wanted to do Morten Lauridsen’s “O nata lux” from his cantata “Lux Aeterna”, perhaps one of the greatest new Christmas pieces of the past 20 years . “Oh no”, I was told, “You can’t do that, it’s in Latin!”

  114. annegb on March 14, 2006 at 2:29 pm

    #13, yeah, how could Bill get his Sunday nap? I’m all for being entertained. I don’t want to be uncomfortable, just not bored.

  115. annegb on March 14, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    #70 that makes me laugh, quick organist. This is almost as good as the humiliation thread. I also liked Adam’s advice to just stay home, limiting distraction. This is good for me, because I find church so distracting from the things I would rather be doing.

    I love Come Thou Font of Every Blessing. I can’t remember where I found it, but we sang it a lot when I led the music in Relief Society.

    I like the forgiveness over permission rule. I’m going to ask one of my best friends, the organist, to play “My Girl” for me to see if anybody notices. I may have to beg, but it will be worth it.