Really Elder McConkie? You think Education is Worship!

December 8, 2009
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From an outsiders perspective, Mormon worship services may be perceived as lacking actual worship.  We spend two and a half  of our three hours in classes or listening to sermons.  We have (maybe) half an hour of singing (most of it – in my ward at least – resembles a death march) and ordinances.  Even our public prayers center around the teacher and the student receiving the Spirit.  Where is our Worship?  In a BYU devotional entitled ‘Lord, Increase our Faith’ Bruce R. McConkie taught that he believed that the highest form of worship is when someone spoke by the spirit and another person received by the spirit so that both were edified.  This idea is clearly rooted in D&C section 50, but is this really a form of worship? If it is a uniquely LDS form of worship then what does that tell us about the ideals we value most in the Mormon Church?

In a series of previous posts, David Stout has suggested that there is an underlying rationalism that drives our worship services.  I suspect that this true to an extent but he misses, or perhaps neglects to mention another key factor.  Terryl Givens explores a paradox in Mormon thought between certainty and searching [1].  He explains that the discourse of our religious history is rooted in certainty and that conversion occurs when we know the truth, rather than in a conversion to Christ through forgiveness.  Therefore, perhaps, it is not strange to conclude that the highest form of worship is when such certainty is conveyed or shared between searching individuals.

Yet, this is not the only type of worship discussed in the LDS tradition.  In fact there are two other strains that I think are prominent: emulation and adoration.  Emulation as a form of worship continues the pragmatic theme which seems fixed in education as a form of worship (another of the paradoxes Givens discusses: The Sacred and the Banal).  Adoration is part of the Church but it seems diminished compared to other religious cultures like the Church of England, for example.  I can understand this, however, because Emulation and Adoration suggest different conceptions of sacred distance.  Emulation seeks to narrow that distance whereas Adoration wants to emphasise the differences between God and Human beings.

It occurs to me that the view of God that is generally held among Mormons (the Anthropomorphic God who becomes divine through a progressive process) results in a sense of dissatisfaction with the traditional forms of Adoration-type Worship held in other Churches, but neither Education nor Emulation have adequately replaced them, in my view.   So where is worship in LDS services?

One suggestion I have is that we should include both types of worship in our services.  I sense that including forms of worship which both accentuates and also diminishes the sacred distance between ourselves and God would be a spiritually productive paradox.  Accentuating this distance would emphasise our dependence upon God while seeking to receive his divine nature would ensure we do not stop striving to open ourselves to God’s love and the possibility of loving others and being loved by them.  Moreover, I am one of those people who sees that these (unresolvable) tensions prove fertile ground for our communion with God.

Questions:

How do you feel about Mormon Worship services?

What do you consider Worship and is it present in your wards and stakes?

What types of Worship could be included in our meetings?

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  • James

    It would be nice if we invited choirs from other church’s to come and sing during our sacrament meetings.

    Not only would it give the members something to look forward to it would help with the community of inner faith as a missionary tool.

  • Rico

    You have mentioned this to me in the past and i like the idea. I just think there is some problems with it. First we often worship at the same time, would they want to miss their service to come to ours. Second most members in our church would not reciprocate, and we do not have anything worth taking to them, on a ward level. Plus I would feel embarrassed asking a choir to come to our church for the few people we have. it would seem like a waste of time.

  • http://mrqanda.wordpress.com/ MrQandA

    This post has caused me to want to see how others worship, I guess I’m in a little bit of a bubble and just thought everyone’s form of worship was similar.

    The Emulation vs Adoration is really inciteful, I have grown up with more of a Adoration mindset but I’m not sure which is better perhaps Emulation (at least your bettering yourself) but a good mix of both is possibly best.

    I would love to see a Choir from another faith in church, however I feel there is an innate reluctance to have those of others faiths participate in our services because of the whole “Apostasy” teachings.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack Meyers

    Adoration-type worship is a sacred experience for me (I have a membership application underway with the Evangelical Covenant Church). The fact that there’s so little of it in Mormonism is part of the reason I think I would have a very miserable time being LDS even if I believed every doctrinal principle taught by the church is true.

    I think adding more adoration worship to LDS services is a fantastic idea.

  • http://mrqanda.wordpress.com/ MrQandA

    “Adoration-type worship is a sacred experience”

    We are encouraged to participate in Adoration-type Worship on our own, conducting it within groups raises issues

  • Jsmith

    I don’t agree that having two or three talks in Sacrament meeting isn’t worship. Our church is, in many respects, an outgrowth of Calvinism. It manifests itself in our unadorned buildings (no statues of saints or stained glass windows) and in the practical aspects of our talks, which focus on practical issues from a spirit-based perspective.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack Meyers

    #5 MrQandA ~ We are encouraged to participate in Adoration-type Worship on our own, conducting it within groups raises issues

    How so?

  • Bobbie

    The times of year this lack of traditional worship bother me are at Easter and Christmas (making your post an extremely timely one). My mother-in-law (a non-member who has a LOT of issues w/her son now being a member of the LDS church) was shocked this past Easter when she asked what kind of services we would hold and I had to tell her it was Stake Conference. Over and over she asked, “No services? Nothing? Really?” She visited us briefly recently and asked whether we would have Christmas Eve services. Again, I told her no. It seems to me that all too often in our effort to understand and become like Christ, we forget the blessing that the sense of awe that *worship* can bring us. Worship is not solely about praising God and returning Him and Christ their dues. It’s about the peace it can bring into our hearts. Abraham Heschel said that prayer isn’t about going to God and asking for blessings; it’s about communing with him and, if we’re lucky, receiving blessings. Prayer and worship are the same in that respect.

    While I agree with MrQandA that we are encouraged to participate in our own adoration-type worship, I believe giving us more opportunities in a congregational setting to do the same–even if just twice a year–would help us better commune with God on a daily basis. Testimony meeting, I believe, is meant to serve this purpose, but it’s been a while since I’ve heard a true “testimony” and not just an account of someone’s week.

    A church in my neighborhood is having Christmas Eve services, and I plan to take my family there–not b/c I’m ready to defect but b/c I want us to experience communal worship this holiday.

  • Rico

    #3 – I think there are some religions where the distinction is more clear than others. The Catholic services I have been too are more adoration (in a definitely distant sort of way), while the CofE services are trying to collapse that distance but still maintain a theological distance. My experience of evangelical Christianity is limited but I sense it is similar to the CofE. although it is more restrained in the CofE.

    #5 – I think we would struggle with adoration in groups as Mormons, i think we would feel uncomfortable with it. Plus we criticise people for being grateful (thankimonies) but I believe this is the closest we get to adoration-worship.

    #6 – I am not saying it is not worship. I am saying that for other religions, they may not get it. However, I do believe that there can be v. little that inspires worship in a talk about food storage or self-esteem. My point is that our pragmatic approach to spirituality has a particular emphasis which seeks the spiritual in the everyday, but I am not sure it is always there to be found and therefore our worship services can often feel not very worshipful.

    #8 – i am going to midnight mass and then we have a special christmas day service were we sing carols and read the nativity together. I like this.

  • MoHoHawaii

    Check out Harold Bloom’s The American Religion. In it he makes the argument that Mormonism is uniquely American in character because it incorporates elements of gnosticism. The basic gnostic idea is that knowledge gives you power over the natural environment and that salvation comes through the acquisition of (possibly esoteric) knowledge. Bloom’s argument effectively explains why LDS services contain more sermons, testimony and ordinances than worship per se.

    Also, I’ve noticed that any effort at adoration is usually reserved for Church leaders, present and past. I find this a bit out of balance.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  • Hawkgrrrl

    Rico – I think you have hit the nail on the head. It’s funny because I think most LDS who have not experienced other churches don’t realize that the form of worship does really have theological significance. It can feel boring and customary to us, and going to another form of service can shake things up, but it doesn’t resonate for me in the same way that our rational, pragmatic, self-focused services do. I find adoration worship beautiful, like looking at a painting or something ornate and curious, but it doesn’t strike me as relevant to my own spirituality. I find it stirring but less meaningful, oddly enough.

    “I would love to see a Choir from another faith in church” You should definitely go. Most other churches have choirs that are truly amazing (with a few exceptions). However, when they sing the liturgy, I always feel like they are just making up the words as they go along – it doesn’t quite seem to fit with music.

  • Michael

    I love this post! I was raised as an Irish Catholic and had strong spiritual longings as a child and young adult. After reading the Book of Mormon I joined the Church at age 19. At 23 I served a mission to Italy and subsequently graduated from BYU. Coming from the northeast US, I had a hard time with the blandness, lack of reverence, and “non-celebratory” traditions of the LDS service.

    My saving grace was the Temple endowment which re-connected me with the adoration and celebratory nature of my upbringing. I still have a very hard time at Christmas and Easter and have taken upon myself (with the Bishop’s approval) to make our services more Christ-focused and celebratory.

    I don’t think that we would struggle as a group if we adopted more adoration into our weekly services. In fact, I think we have adopted an adoration mentality but we only apply it to the Church leadership (see http://www.followtheprophet.net for an extreme example). It is this lack of adoration which turns off many of the converts who come from more liturgical religious traditions. It should be remembered that most of our converts outside the US are coming from Catholicism (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and the Phillipines). There is a major cultural disconnect occurring between the mountain west approach to worship and what is longed-for outside that geographical area. As the convert base exceeds 50% of current church membership, I see the opportunity to learn from the awe, splendor, adoration, celebration and reverence exhibited by other Christian faiths. The Calvinistic model is not set in scripture.

    As concerning our tradition of salvation through confirmatory knowledge, we fail miserably on that account due to our refusal to offer meat at our meetings instead of milk. We only give lip service to seeking further light and knowledge in our Sunday meetings.

    It can be difficult for Latter-day Saints that were not raised in the mountain west mormon culture to find deep and satisfying meaning in our current meetings. Those that are successful in obtaining mature testimonies do so primarily through personal worship, personal prayer, personal scripture study, personal adoration and personal revelation. Many do not get to that point because the communal “worship” is more like a glorified social club and this depresses them.

    I know I am generalizing somewhat but I think there is much truth to be found and much “deep-soul joy” to be experienced in true communal worship that incorporates both emulation (in the day-to-day) as well as adoration.

  • J.Ro

    Also, I’ve noticed that any effort at adoration is usually reserved for Church leaders, present and past. I find this a bit out of balance.

    I agree. I don’t have any feeling that righteous leaders, who seek inspiration from the Lord to fulfill their duties, somehow do not deserve respect. But there have been times when I’ve felt like we take the “Jesus” out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hear friends of other faiths proclaim their faith in Christ and feel that we sometimes lack that in our services.

  • Rico

    #10 – I have read it. But I am not convinced by his argument in many ways. I think there is some merit to it, but i think that he sees in Joseph Smith a gnostic element that reflects his own religious persuasion rather than something that Joseph Smith was conscience of. However, I think the worship-culture we have now is more a product of the assimilationist period that followed Polygamy and the Reed Smoot hearings.

    #11 – i find it stirring, but I certainly do want to go the other way. So i agree a blend is important. Or something else, other ways of worhsiping, or other types of adoration worship.

    On the music issue. I personally feel that (ironically) as it turns out that packer’s talk on the Arts and the Spirit of the Lord which discussed standards of Music in our worship services (which later got incorporated into the CHI) has actually stifled our musical worship. I think there is a great deal people would do if they could be allowed to express their preferences more. If we had that freedom of expression bringing in other choirs would not be needed.

  • AndrewJDavis

    Thanks for this post. I found it timely because of my attempt, and upon further reflection, possible failure of incorporating more adoration into my stake’s Christmas Concert last weekend. I’m the stake music director, and we had a 90 person choir for the concert plus special numbers. As the choir director, I chose the theme of ‘Glory to God’, in an attempt to encourage our stake to do a bit more adoration worship. However, as I wrote the narration, I kept coming back to the ‘how do we give glory to God?’ question — a practical approach that I feel now perhaps missed the point. Good thing there’s always next Christmas.

    It would be great if the Bishops actually read the CHI music section rather than impose what they think it says. The CHI leaves a ton of room for different musical styles. The hard part will be convincing your local Bishop to actually read it. A good way to introduce extra music into worship I think is a fireside/concert with other congregations. It builds the relationships that can be developed. But for that to work, on the LDS side, a consistent contact person is required over the course of a few years (i.e. no calling changes for the person in charge of the LDS choir). Also, the leadership (stake or ward level) must be ready to accept other styles of music/texts that they may not fully agree with. After all, do we all agree with everything said over the pulpit on Fast and Testimony Sunday?

    Finally, music problems (i.e. bad music) are not relegated only to LDS congregations. Most churches have bad music, but there are some with exceptionally good choirs. The same can be said of LDS wards/stakes. Most are pretty bad, but there are some exceptions. Mine at the moment is leaning to wards pretty good, if I can only corral the bishops in my stake to actually pass on announcements I give them now. And to call ward music directors and let me know who they are so I can train them. /rant

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    Timely post.

    I have a bit of a rant. Our stake produced a musical event the first Saturday in December and has Stake Conference scheduled the second Saturday/Sunday in December. This leaves the wards trying to “cram” in their ward Christmas party around events the stake has already scheduled. It was our ward’s decision to make the First Presidency Christmas Devotional our “ward party” rather than overscheduling events and taking families away from their homes too many times. A primary activity day with a Christmas theme was held for the children.

    Our Sunday-before-Christmas Sacrament Meeting will feature a high council speaker.

    I’m planning a quiet protest of the timing of Stake Conference by boycotting it, including the leadership meeting, the adult session, and the Sunday session. I’ve asked my wife to find something (anything) for Saturday so that I can say we have a family conflict. On Sunday, I’m not sure if we will drive an hour to go to Sac Mtg in another stake, have our own family Christmas activity, or go to the CoC meeting–which I’ve been wanting to do anyway. Wish me luck.

    Now that the rant is over, I wanted to comment about adoration worship. I agree it seems a little difficult as a group to create it without someone feeling uncomfortable. My mother once filled in for the Methodist organist in our home town for the Christmas Eve mass and was impressed with how respectful they were with communion. An accident happened and one of the crackers was dropped onto the carpet. From that point onward, each person came forward and knelt at the spot on the carpet where the Lord’s Supper had rested before proceeding onward to receive their communion. I understand that the theology is different, but she always used that as a teaching pearl to prompt us to appreciate, prepare for, and reverence the sacrament. Sacrament meeting reverence seems to me to be our most regular opportunity for adoration worship.

    I do remember one talk from a divorced mother, thinking of applying adoration worship, about building a close relationship to Christ and she shared a personal story that sometimes when she is kneeling by her bed praying, she likes to place her pillow on the bed and rest her head on it and imagine she is resting her head on the Savior’s lap. The joy she felt from this was evident, but I don’t think everyone related to it at the same level and what was adoration for her was weird to others.

    Just a story about an invited choir, which I’ve mentioned before. A local college choir that included a member of our congregation came and performed during a sac mtg when I was in a singles ward. They were beautiful and I enjoyed them very much. After the closing prayer, interestingly, they performed another number which turned out to be a new setting of Ave Maria. I found that to also be beautiful and knowing of its controversy with regard to LDS services, found it to be almost a guilty pleasure. The Bishop, however, took offense to it and we had to hear about his displeasure about its being “snuck in” to the program for a few weeks.

  • Thomas

    If I may be permitted a second-degree threadjack with mitigating circumstances –

    Has there really been a directive issued from the general Primary Presidency banning Primary children’s Nativity costumes from Christmas programs in Sacrament meeting? That’s the word in our word — the idea being that the use of these “props” in Sacrament diminishes from the reverence of the service.

    What are we, Catholic? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, apart from the harlots and the silks and the scarlets and the fine-twined linen.) Are we honestly taking the position that the three decades our ward has spent watching adorable toddler sheep get into fights with their Wise Men older brothers were an exercise in sacrilege? A sacrilege that doth exceed, yea verily, even the time Sister Johnson gave us a full play-by-play of her gastric bypass surgery in her “testimony”?

    What we have here (assuming this isn’t something merely local) is an effort by the otherwise-powerless auxiliary leaders to throw some weight around, and show that they’re plus royalistes que le roi.

  • hawkgrrrl

    From a talk by E. Oaks in 2008 Oct GC: “All sacrament meeting music requires careful planning, always remembering that this music is for worship, not for performance.” I think it’s this squeamishness about performance and the conflation of the concept of worship with stoic and subdued behavior that sets the tone for Mormon music. Other faiths consider worship to be celebratory and “adoration” – but we don’t like that because it’s “performing” rather than “worshiping.” I don’t necessarily agree with E. Oaks’ restricted definition of “worship” as used here. It’s clearly not the same kind of worship as in other faiths. I’m not sure “worship” is the right word for our version.

  • mormoninvestigator

    As an investigator with a low-church (no smells and bells or emphasis on the “adoration” type of worship) Evangelical Christian background, I found that the 2 or 3 sacrament meetings I have attended were quite similiar to what I am used to with the exceptions being that in my background we received the sacrament once a month and only one person delivered the sermon (i.e. paid professional). There is a focus on the preaching of the Word in Evangelical churches, in fact it is usually the center of the service lasting 30minute to an hour depending upon where you attend church and there are usually 3 or 4 Hymns or contemporary worship songs at the beginning and a time to take up a collection towards the end.

    CoE, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church services being very liturgical are based on an interpretation of OT Temple worship, hence the repititious prayers, the incense, the sacrifice (or eucharist, sacrament) the altar, the vestments (robes) and the chanting etc….It seems to me that at least from what I have read the LDS church was born during a time of “evangelical” fervor in an area of mostly evangelical protestants whose focus was on the preaching of the word so it makes sense to me that the Mormon church service is very “low-church” and is also focused on the sermons.

    The other aspect to look at is that receiving the sacrament on a weekly basis can also be seen as an act of worship, renewing your covenants with God, symbolically feeding upon Christ in faith.

    The current Ward service also seems to be in line with what is revealed about the Church in scripture – Moroni 6:6 & 9 – I see receiving the sacrament, preaching, exhorting, praying, supplicating, singin etc…as led by the Spirit. The simplicity of the service works for me, as the services of my childhood elsewhere were also simple and as this format allows me to contemplate the scriptures which according to Psalm 119 is an act of worship itself…so although I suppose there should be some room for movement on the order of the service or maybe even adding new elements I hope that the basic simple nature of the sacrament meeint isn’t changed.

  • http://velska.wordpress.com Velska

    I like the rationality, pragmatism. I came from a non-worshiping tradition, practically without a religion, just knowledge about Christian tradition.

    The Pentecostal and Southern Baptist meetings I attended were too rah for me. Too much clapping of hands and stomping of feet. I thought the Spirit could work better in a quieter environment. The gifts of the Spirit were never intended to be Circus tricks, IMO.

    For me, there is the paradox, a tension between Emulation — the ideal of striving towards Christ-like characteristics — but also Adoration in the stark realization, that I have no way of achieving the ideal of being Christ-like in this life. Perhaps I can get closer, but never there.

    That gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of the Divine, too. I’m happy, but I could see how someone could yearn for something flashier.

  • http://www.ldsaliveinchrist.com Jared

    Rico wrote: Terryl Givens explores a paradox in Mormon thought between certainty and searching [1]. He explains that the discourse of our religious history is rooted in certainty and that conversion occurs when we know the truth, rather than in a conversion to Christ through forgiveness.

    Where can I find out more about this observation?

  • Latter-day Guy

    We are encouraged to participate in Adoration-type Worship on our own… [C]onducting it within groups raises issues.

    Ditto to Ms Jack’s #7: What “issues,” and why? Also, how are we encouraged to engage in solitary Adoration? What do we Mormons do in private worship that we don’t also do in public worship? Pray, sing hymns, study scriptures––standard fare on both the individual/family/domestic and ward levels.

    I don’t agree that having two or three talks in Sacrament meeting isn’t worship.

    Hmm. I could get behind that statement if you were to edit it slightly––thus: “[H]aving two or three talks in Sacrament meeting isn’t worship.”

    I have a lot of “holy envy” (© Krister Stendahl) for the Catholic/Anglican “High Church” traditions, which, I suppose, is why on major religious holidays I go to Mass, and why I use the Liturgy of the Hours in my own prayer life. I hope that as the Church grows, our worship can take on a little more liturgical flavor, but I’m not holding my breath. It seems that when we step into our Chapels we become puritanical iconoclasts, which (just like MPs who don’t allow their missionaries any music whatsoever––and there are a few) makes us miss out on some of the aspects of worship that touch me the most.

  • Wyoming

    #19 Thanks MormonInvestigator. I have always appreciated Moroni’s description of Church services – to fast and to pray and speak one with another regarding the welfare of our souls as well as renew our baptismal covenants. The Church is such a part of our lives, perhaps it is difficult to shift gears during meetings and become more ‘worshipful’. My focus may be upon the lesson I need to teach or the families in the ward who are struggling rather than reflecting upon the great Sacrifice and Grace extended to me and those I love.

  • Rico

    #15 – We actually ahve something exciting coming up in our ward musically. Primarily because the Bishop has read that section of the Handbook, but it is still more limited than it needs to be in my opinion.

    #16 – Thanks. I think it is sad that leaders can be thoughtless in this way regarding how important certain worship services are to us as members. I guess there is some hope that we can have choirs participate in our services. I don’t think the Bishop would mind about that happening in our ward.

    #17 – I am pretty sure it is a re-issuing. I think CHI and a recent statement by 1st Pres have gone against that sort of thing.

    #18 – It was the Packer talk that originally came up with that distinction. I agree that this create some fears. primarily because anything that deviates from crisp presentation (and by that I mean some feeling or expression) is linked with a performance.

    #19 – I have to agree that there is much that I love about our services. I also feel that there are other dimensions we have not explored.

    #21 – Givens book ‘A People of Paradox’. It is genuinely brilliant. But the opening essays are the ones that explore the paradoxes. The other essays are histories of Mormon Culture. Sorry, I have forgotten to put my footnotes in, I will try and rectify that now.

    #22 – i think the type of prayer I engage in at home is different from th type at Church. In fact I am pretty sure that my private prayers in made public might make people uncomfortable.

  • Sali

    Having lurked around here for a while, I finally have gotten around to posting. This topic interests me greatly and it is something that I have pondered for a great while.

    I was a convert to the church having being raised Methodist/Baptist/CofE. When I first became converted I still worshipped God in the way that was familiar to me. One of my first observations of the Church was the lack of kneeling. I missed that greatly as I felt it helped me to be humble and to show respect and worship to Heavenly Father. I still miss it today (24 years later). My relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ was much more intense when I still had those habits. I do feel our meetings could use a bit more oomph to help us establish our personal relationships with Jesus Christ. I often speak with my husband about this and he, as a lifetime member, still struggles with knowing who Jesus Christ really is and how to know him personally. More of a celebration of his life in our meetings would be helpful I feel.

    We as a family recently changed wards and I miss our old ward so much. Our old ward was working on becoming more Christ centred and focussed and the ward members were able to have a say and were listened to. In the ward I am in now it is so conservative that if this discussion was mentioned there would be gasps of shock/horror. I now choose to worship how I wish in my own privacy and sometimes struggle with sitting through the dry, repetitive talks that sometimes cause me to feel downtrodden and not uplifted. Not all is bad though, there are talks that can be very meaty and I enjoy those very much.

  • Rico

    #25 – Thank you for your comments and welcome to MM. I think your frustrations are similar to ones I have at times. I also believe things like kneeling collectively might add something to our meetings, especially if they are done infrequently, or on special occasions.

  • Michael

    Sali,

    I feel the same way you do about the kneeling. For a while I found solace in the standing we had during the endowment ceremony which gave me the same sort of feeling but in the way of respect rather than humility. Unfortunately, they took the standing away from us in the Temple and the ceremony does not feel as respectful or sacred to me as it once did.

  • Douglas Hunter

    Rico,

    Thanks for an excellent post. I think that Givens point is really important, as are your other points. Its another situation in which we need definitions prior to discussion but such definitions continue to be difficult to establish. If the idea that “. . . perhaps, it is not strange to conclude that the highest form of worship is when such certainty is conveyed or shared between searching individuals.” is right, then I think it necessarily limits the role of worship, since continually repeating certainty is tiresome and by definition does not lead to exploration or a sense of wonder. The things we are certain about are the things we end up taking for granted; but more than that, such constructed certainty glosses over or obscures important differences in individual experience and belief, the stock phrase “I know the church is true.” being an example of such a function. I think worship needs to express our appreciation of, dependency on and commitment to God and Jesus. So I tend to agree with your final idea that worship could focus on our closeness to and distance from God, although I don’t quite see this as a paradox. I like the idea of being reminded of our distance from God so that we break out of the habit of seeing God as simply a “bigger better version of ourselves” as Karen Armstrong has put it. The divine is by definition radically different from the human, our worship could be a pronouncement of our understanding of that difference in its fullness, while at the same time articulating our commitment to keep striving to reconcile ourselves to that difference while also having faith that we can, through eternal progression transgress it.

  • Erik

    #16 –
    ” Our stake … has Stake Conference scheduled the second Saturday/Sunday in December.

    I’m planning a quiet protest of the timing of Stake Conference by boycotting it, including the leadership meeting, the adult session, and the Sunday session.”

    Don’t blame your stake for the scheduling of stake conference. The Stake President gets a letter from SLC informing him of when the conference will be held.

    Now the high council speaker ….

  • mormoninvestigator

    #25 – can you help me understand this statement “I often speak with my husband about this and he, as a lifetime member, still struggles with knowing who Jesus Christ really is and how to know him personally” – as someone who is truly investigating this church and also having a somewhat similiar background as you (with a lot of focus on knowing Jesus personally) it startles me a bit that a church that includes His name in it and that ends almost everything I have heard in the Ward services I have attended with “in the name of Jesus Christ” that someone who has been a lifer in the church would be struggling with who Jesus is and how to know him personally – I don’t mean this in any negative sense I am really curious what your (or his) take is on that…

    Thanks

  • Rico

    #28 – I remember a comment by Joseph F. Smith that is along the lines of, we should love hearing the truth more and more over time. The implication is that if we keep hearing the same truth and get bored then there is something wrong with our spirituality. I guess my point here is that maybe for us repeating certainty is endless, but it does not seem to be that way for everyone. But i think you acknowledge this when you recognise there are differences between us. I like your defintion of worship: ‘I think worship needs to express our appreciation of, dependency on and commitment to God and Jesus’. This gives us an uncomfortably large amount of scope to express that. Therefore if communal worship needs to allow the community to access it then it might be a safe bet to focus on areas where the majority feel comfortable. Perhaps this is another reason the Church seeks the middle-ground which could then seem banal. It also creates a problem of resisatnce to change in our worship culture. Perhaps your right, it might not be a paradox, but I have a hard time reconciling the ideas of worship-worthiness and eternal progression. However, I think this struggle to reconcile has been a productive force in my life, hence my above suggestions.

  • Sali

    #30 – I took the opportunity to discuss this with my husband last night to clarify exactly what he meant. I retract a little on what I said. He said it’s not that he doesn’t know who Jesus Christ is, he just finds it difficult to focus on a relationship with him as he allows his life to overtake to the point that he becomes too ‘busy’ to concentrate on Jesus Christ. So it would seem that my husband is the one who needs to work on this but chooses at this time to not make it a priority. I also feel that it has a lot to do with his upbringing, the family values that existed in his childhood. He was brought up in a family where obedience to the Gospel is the key to happiness. I think this is due to the conservative ward that he was raised in, which is also the ward we attend now. A lot of focus is given to the letter of the law in classes and Sacrament meetings, instead of what is discussed above, the worship of Jesus Christ. It’s a shame because I believe that individuals are missing out.

  • Douglas Hunter

    Rico- I have some difficulty with how the idea expressed by Joseph F. Smith and others play out in the church culture. The basic idea seems to encourage, or to be an excuse for tautology on a grand scale. I have never understood this. There really is much to learn and express about even the most basic gospel concepts but our religious culture does not encourage exploration, or learning, so why keep talking? In saying that I do need to acknowledge that there is no doubt that it is understood that there are ritualistic and mystical elements / beliefs at work as well that go beyond the content of what is being said. The idea being that in listening to GA talks, for example, we invite the spirit in and that is how learning occurs. Its the interaction with the spirit not the words of the speaker that matter.

    Indeed you are right that there are differences and that some people may be more comfortable with, or even desire the repeating of certainty. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of conservative Christianity be it Mormon or otherwise. I think there is a type of mind that is drawn to the notion of certainty, that sees this as the ultimate point of religion, to know the truth about the world and our place in it. I’m uncomfortable with that, it leads to a willful confusion of theology and ideology, or actually, it turns theology into an ideology.

    You write “Therefore if communal worship needs to allow the community to access it then it might be a safe bet to focus on areas where the majority feel comfortable. Perhaps this is another reason the Church seeks the middle-ground which could then seem banal.”

    I have a friend who is a pastor. Often times when I’ve been with he and other pastors they have bemoaned the fact that their jobs seems to be to make white, middle class, suburbanites feel comfortable. I do wonder if there is a need for comfort in worship, if that’s even the right way to think about it. I can’t tell, I only know that as an individual my significant spiritual experiences come from a variety of challenges and from being uncomfortable in productive ways. I would think it a good thing if our worship created in us cognitive and spiritual dissonance so that we left the services needs to resolve that dissonance by being more faithful and better Christians in our actions and interactions.

    “It also creates a problem of resistance to change in our worship culture. Perhaps your right, it might not be a paradox, but I have a hard time reconciling the ideas of worship-worthiness and eternal progression. However, I think this struggle to reconcile has been a productive force in my life, hence my above suggestions.”

    Regardless if it a paradox or not I think I get the need for reconciliation. Is the idea that its difficult to worship someone or something that you believe you have the ability to become? That on some level its like worshiping one’s self or one’s own potential?

  • Rico

    Douglas, I think it is interesting that other pastors you know have similar issues. The idea of intentionally creating dissonance is interesting. Actually, as I think to some o the times I have taught at Church i think I have intentionally sought out such dissonance by raising difficult questions. I will have to give this some real thought as I also feel that there is a limit to which I would feel comfortable pushing this at Church, for the sake of others and my own membership.

    I think your right that is why I might struggle with it. The reason I concede it is probably not a paradox is that I believe and relish the idea that I can become like God, in the sense of entering a divine relationship with him. The reason I suspect it might be is that depending on which theology you accept, if we are forever dependent on God in order to become like him (and he is not dependent on anyone for his divinity) – as Ostler argues – then this maintains a sense of radical difference which still persists even once we have entered into that relationship. There is still this push/pull in our worship.

    On another note I ave nearly finished entre nous by Levinas. I think there is a few posts I am gonna try get from it. I need to read your dialogue article first though.

  • Douglas Hunter

    “Actually, as I think to some of the times I have taught at Church i think I have intentionally sought out such dissonance by raising difficult questions. I will have to give this some real thought as I also feel that there is a limit to which I would feel comfortable pushing this at Church, for the sake of others and my own membership.”

    This makes sense, especially in the context of a discussion of worship. On the one hand comfort may be expected but not all that meaningful spiritually, but if there is a challenge, or dissonance in worship /teaching then there are a number of potential difficulties. I tend to see challenges / dissonances in worship / teaching as a way of making commonly accepts concepts new again, as a way of pushing past the stock answers and received wisdom.

    “The reason I suspect it might be is that depending on which theology you accept, if we are forever dependent on God in order to become like him (and he is not dependent on anyone for his divinity) – as Ostler argues – then this maintains a sense of radical difference which still persists even once we have entered into that relationship. There is still this push/pull in our worship.”

    I like this, I guess this is a theological perspective that achieves what I think we need to achieve, I hope to live in that push / pull as you describe it.

    I hope that Entre Nous has been fun for you, I look forward to your posts on it; but you certainly do not need to read my article first. All my article does is provide one example of how one might use suffering as a way out of theodicy and into the inter-human. But its an example from my life, and dose not refer directly to Levinas, even though I do think the connection is there for those who are aware of Levinas.

  • Rigel Hawthorne

    Re #29

    Erik,

    Is that the case even for the conferences where there is no GA visiting? If so, I will cut the SP some slack. There is a silver lining of no “extra meetings/interviews/counting of donations” for that Sunday. I would think, however, a Ward Christmas party would be more appropriate for the season than an Adult session of Stake Conference.

  • mormoninvestigator

    #32 Sali

    Thanks for that clarification – it’s the all too familiar Galatians problem of focussing on the external parts of the law and not the internal relationship with the lawgiver – As Jesus said…we leave off the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy…I hope that as I progress to what seems will lead ultimately to baptism and membership in the Church that I don’t surrender that relationship experience that I sense many times in my walk on this path. Ultimately I look at my entrance into this church as being a covenant I am making with one I already know fairly well….peace

  • Sali

    #37 I wish you well with your journey.