I saw the claim a day or two ago — though by no means for the first time — that Latter-day Saint worship services are irretrievably dull, shallow, and vacuous. And, truth be told, I myself have occasionally found them somewhat unexciting.
So, midway through the three-hour block of meetings today — which is to say, midway through Sunday school — I decided to try something. It occurred to me that it would enhance my own focus and alertness, and that it might help to document my dissent from the claim of vacuous shallowness, if I were to make notes to myself of some of the ideas and thoughts that struck me during the meetings. And then the thought struck me of posting a “report” on my blog. After all, I have no editor to answer to. I can do whatever I want. (Some will say, “Yup. That’s exactly your problem.”)
I wasn’t taking notes during the sacrament service, but it was a pretty good one. (I was probably more preoccupied than I should have been with making faces at a six-month-old girl in the row right ahead of me; I think I created some problems for her parents, but she was remarkably cute and quite easily amused.) The youth speaker was a young man named Micah Ngatuvai, who reflected on a service project — the theme of the meeting was service — in which he had lately engaged through his high school football team. Then a recently returned missionary named Berge (I think) addressed the same topic, mingling in at least one story from his time as a Spanish-speaking missionary in the San Antonio area. He made humorous use of bulldogs as an image in order to make a point about tenacity, And I liked the lesson he drew from the New Testament incident of Peter’s walking on the water: “When you’re walking toward the Savior, miracles happen.” (To which I might add that, even if you fall on your face, at least you’re headed in the right direction.) The last speaker was my next door neighbor, who spoke very eloquently indeed.
The Sunday school lesson, which I didn’t teach today, was based on Joseph Smith’s horrendous experience of incarceration in Missouri’s Liberty Jail. I liked some of the quotations that the teacher was using, so I began to copy them down, and that’s what rather belatedly gave me the idea of making overall notes and of posting this blog entry. Here are three of them:
“In one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, every one of us is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail — spiritually speaking.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)
“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in his own way. The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin)
“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” (Joseph Smith, in a 20 March 1839 epistle to the Church from Liberty Jail, now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 123:17.)
The lesson in our high priest group today was based on a conference talk by Elder L. Tom Perry, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, entitled “Obedience to Law is Liberty.” The discussion was led by a member of the group who once served as mayor of one of Utah’s larger towns, and it was interesting. I really enjoy this small society of good and dedicated men, which — I summarize off the top of my head — includes at least two dentists, a highly successful entrepreneur, building contractors, a physician, an economist, several engineers, a retired nuclear chemist, a computer scientist, businessmen, a farmer, some BYU administrators, two professors of accounting, a law professor, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, an optician, an environmental water specialist, and a professor of statistics.
I sometimes read claims from alienated members and apostates that the Church is oppressive, etc. This is so utterly foreign to my experience that I scarcely know how to respond.
I love the people I associate with in the Church. I find, if I’m alert and attentive, that I virtually always leave our services inspired and strengthened.