My brother, Pallas Athena, wrote an interesting post this week. He doesn't post often, but when he does he's always provocative and worth reading.
This post wended its way from a fire-based metaphor he doesn't like to a completely unrelated fire-based metaphor he does like. It has a number of points I want to reply to and they're all religiousy and it'll end up being rather long for his comments section and I don't want to be accused of trying to take things over on his properties.
That said, I am going to quote large tracts of his post, so if your reply is more to him than me, you might go to the original to comment.
- A couple weeks ago, my family attended church with a co-worker of mine. I am familiar with the church, and admire the pastor. I have heard him preach on the radio and listened to some of his sermons online. I see him as a man of God and have a lot of respect for him. When we went, it was a refreshing experience. Everyone seemed excited to be there, I mean really excited. It was an hour and a half long service of which the first twenty minutes and last twenty minutes were spent standing and singing along with the rock band on stage. In between the music was an interesting sermon though it seemed somewhat shallow (unfortunately not from the normal Pastor - he had swine flu :( ). There were people sitting beside me, in back of me and in front of me with their Bibles out and note pads, taking notes. Not counting my wife, I can not remember the last time I saw anyone take notes in a Sacrament Meeting.
My kids enjoyed the standing and singing to the electric guitar, drums and keyboard. I did too, I must confess. The feeling of inclusion was very apparent. The place was packed. The converted school bus was out front after it had made its rounds picking up people from all over town. No one I saw was dressed up, everyone looked and felt comfortable. After the service everyone was hanging around talking enjoying each others company. We had to rush out to make it to our own service.
Upon arriving at our church there was a noticeable difference. Looking around, no one seemed excited to be there. Everyone was dressed up and there was a bit of stuffiness in the air. Sacrament Meeting was a bit of a different experience. The closing hymn was “The Spirit of God” – one of my favorites, but I wasn’t singing, it is hard for me to sing that slow.
I spent a lot of time that day, and since, thinking of the two churches. Comparing them. I have attended many different churches but this presented an interesting contrast rushing out of one to make it to the other. I decide to try and come up with three words to explain each of the two churches and here is what I came up with.
Other Church: Excitement, Enthusiasm, Sugar Rush
My Church: Dull, Duty, Depth
First my explanation of why I chose those words for the other church. There was no one there that I could find that did not seem excited to be there. From the youngest kids to the ushers to the old ladies, there was an air of excitement that permeated the entire space. Not just excitement but also enthusiasm. The people attending seemed genuinely enthused about the Lord Jesus and what he had done for them. But it also seemed a bit like a sugar rush, an inrush of current if you will, but not a lot of substance to hold onto that rush.
Now, the words for the mormon church. I can not remember the last time I have been to a church meeting that was not dull. Not to say the messages were not good, but they were dull. There is a sense of duty in the church, duty to show up, duty to sit quietly, duty to do what you’re told, and you just do it, all of it. But there is depth, the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by Joseph Smith has no end. One can take it as far as they wish, which I might add, is a large part of the problem.
The Church of Jesus Christ has all the restored keys and proper authority to accomplish the purpose of life on this earth. Because of this they do not need enthusiasm or excitement. The other churches do not have all the answers. They have Jesus and they have the Bible. Arguably, that is enough, but there will always be questions and gaps. They fill these with their excitement and enthusiasm. The mormon church does not need excitement or enthusiasm, they have “the truth”.
Lotta things to say here. The first is the issue of visiting other faiths (which the Sistas also recently posted on) which I for one am certainly in favor of even if I never actually do it. I think it's good to introduce our kids to other's worship. And for several reasons: they'll be more open to others, others will be more open to them, all the good things that may proceed from both those.
As a missionary, incidentally, nothing seemed to build good will like nonflamboyantly visiting other churches. Good stuff.
Another point: I enjoy Catholic radio. Even if I may not align perfectly with their doctrine, I find worth there.
But now to the real point: the dullness of Mormon meetings. Which leads us to our second quote.
- So to go back to the lame analogy and expand it to this example; the other church is like a dry tumbleweed. When lit it creates a large fierce flame which has no substance. The mormon church is like a nice hardwood log. Once it is lit, it is not going out, it will put out lots of heat, and will burn a long, long time, but will never give you the excited, enthusiastic flame of a dry tumbleweed.
This analogy has its charm. Probably offensive to tumbleweeds, but there you go. And it's apt in many ways.
But let's get to the main thrust of this analogy.
- I have had many discussions with my wife since this experience and I have not been able to figure out, how could excitement be brought back into the church? The church is not growing near as well as claimed. Even though we frequently sing "All is Well, All is Well", I think there is a strong argument to the contrary. I cringe everytime I read 2 Nephi 28, is that not what I hear from the pulpit of the church? The church does not need to compromise any of its core beliefs or underpinnings to do this, but it needs excited members, enthusiastic members. I can not get it out of my head...if the members of my church had the excitement and enthusiasm the members of the other church had, oh, imagine...
This is a really great thought experiment for us to engage in. Not just what would happen, but how can we get there?
This discussion of mine's been a little anemic because I'm holding the baby and I can't think and type at the same time without two hands. So let's just look at my post here as an advertisement for my brothers. You should read his anyway because I skipped the paragraph about Emma. And she sound hot.