Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Traditions

I've been thinking a lot about the various traditions I encounter in the Church, especially the last few days. Anyone who's followed this blog knows I have written about this before, particularly understanding the difference between doctrine and tradition (and between doctrine and policy and between policy and tradition). The following are the ones that have been on my mind recently, though by no means is this the first time I have thought about them. Take my opinions of them at face value. In no way does my opinion affect my testimony and feelings about the doctrine itself.

Standing when an apostle enters a room
This was most obvious this past Friday when I was at a special meeting in Kirtland to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Historic Kirtland village. Elder M. Russell Ballard was in attendance, as he was also in town for the Kirtland Ohio Stake Conference the following two days. I was at this meeting as part of a choir made up of cast members from all different years of This is Kirtland! as we performed two of the songs from the show. I even had a solo in one of them!

The meeting started at 7:30 but I was in the building an hour early. Just before the meeting was about to begin, Elder Ballard entered the chapel and everyone stood up and the room went silent. I knew this would likely happen as this was hardly the first time I've been at meetings when an Apostle was present. Previously I'd been at sessions of General Conference in Salt Lake City, plus I attended two meetings where Apostle Richard G. Scott was present: one on my mission and then another about 2 years later here in Ohio when he attended our Stake Conference for the Akron Ohio Stake.

I personally don't understand the purpose behind the silent standing. From what I have heard it is somehow viewed as a sign of respect, but I don't personally see how that signifies respect. Yes, I believe Apostles are called of God and stand as special witnesses of Jesus Christ, but I still recognize that they are human beings. There is certainly no doctrinal basis for standing up as it's clearly a tradition. While I don't think it's bad, per se, I can easily see how it could be misinterpreted, especially in a meeting like I was at. And yes, I know that standing for many other things is for respect, like for the flag or the National Anthem, or even in a courtroom.

The meeting I attended was definitely an LDS meeting, complete with prayers and hymns, but it had several non-LDS dignitaries in attendance as it was just as much a community event as it was a church event. Seeing everyone stand and go silent until Elder Ballard got to his seat and sat just looked very bizarre, especially from a non-LDS perspective. If I were an apostle, I'd definitely ask people to NOT do that.

I saw it happen at a non-church event that was hosted in the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City. When I was a student at BYU-Idaho, I attended the regional American Choral Directors Association convention in Salt Lake. Part of the program was a concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in the Conference Center that all the delegates were invited to and got to go on stage to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic with the choir. Right before the concert started, President Thomas S. Monson entered the room (he was first counselor at the time) and many people started to stand in silence as he walked to his seat. I remember some people behind me asking each other what was going on and then realizing it was one of the Mormon leaders. They didn't say anything rude or disrespectful (not surprising considering quite a few people around them were standing!), but they clearly thought it was bizarre. Is that what we want? To make people just think we're weird or mindless?

Clapping in the chapel
Anyone who's been to an LDS meeting knows we don't clap in our worship services, whether it be for a great talk or a musical number, we are pretty subdued. The church's official Handbook of Instructions specifies that "Applause is not always appropriate in the chapel." While that is clearly not doctrinal itself, it's based on the idea of reverence and keeping the chapel a reverent, peaceful place. What has happened, though, is that MANY in the church interpret "not always appropriate" to mean "never."

This only becomes an issue when the chapel (which many other churches would refer to as a sanctuary...the main meeting room) is used for events that are not sacrament meetings or other religious services. For instance, chapels can and are often used for recitals and concerts or for presentations. All events in the chapel have to meet certain standards (so no political rallies, rock concerts, etc.), but that does not mean applause is never allowed or even appropriate.

This was actually somewhat of an issue in that same meeting this past Friday. Near the beginning, one of the Lake County Commissioners presented the local church leaders with a proclamation commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Historic Kirtland village and highlighting the church's role in the county's history, present, and future. At the conclusion, it was met with the typical silence that pretty much every event in a Mormon meeting ends with. Thankfully, some of those around me and then I started clapping and others joined in. Because I was sitting on the stand, I could see the audience and I could clearly see people looking uncomfortable clapping in the chapel, like somehow they were sinning or something. It was just a simply applause to acknowledge the proclamation, not irreverent or loud. Applause was most certainly appropriate there, especially in light of the fact that not only were lots of people present who aren't LDS, but the commissioner isn't LDS either, so instead of seeing it as an expression of LDS culture, it instead just looks, again, bizarre.

The same was true when we did a multi-stake performance of Handel's Messiah. At one of the performances, audience members were specifically asked not to clap at all, even at the end of the performance. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus, everyone is standing, it ends, and just silence. Tons of non-LDS people in the audience, a natural reaction to want to clap, and nothing. It was so awkward. The leadership thought they were respecting the reverence of the chapel, but instead they were just making Mormons look weird, and for no reason at all since applause is not forbidden in the chapel, doctrinally or procedurally. Again, tradition trumped actual procedure because it was viewed as doctrinal, even though it clearly wasn't.

The Sabbath and money
Latter-day Saints, for the most part, take the Sabbath Day seriously as a day to attend church and rest. We are counseled to avoid working where possible and to avoid doing things like going shopping, going out to eat, entertainment, sports, etc. It is supposed to be a day of rest not only for you, but for everyone. Of course most people in the world don't adhere to that, so many of us do the best we can.

Like any counsel, there are Latter-day Saints who take the Sabbath to the extreme, like wearing their church clothes all day (I'm not talking about doing so just because they don't feel like changing, but doing so because they think it's more righteous), or completely avoiding television and/or the radio.

Now, I will say that overall, keeping the Sabbath is a very personal thing. Obviously there are some pretty clear cases of what to do or not to do, but for the most part, it's a personal matter. So, if someone feels like they need to stay in church clothes all day or completely avoid TV, that is certainly their right, though you certainly won't see me doing that! Where they cross the line is if/when they present their choice or preference as more righteous, like not doing that is somehow "breaking" the Sabbath.

This often comes up with the idea of spending money. Like I said, we are counseled to avoid going shopping, out to eat, etc. on the Sabbath (which is Sunday for LDS in most of the world), but I have noticed many people have interpreted that to mean we should avoid spending money on the Sabbath. We realize that many businesses are open on Sunday and stay open because they get a lot of traffic, so our abstinence from shopping on Sunday is simply a matter of principle. But with the arrival of machines and the Internet to do shopping, is spending money actually making people work? In my opinion it isn't, at least in most cases.

For instance, if I go to a website and order something, while there is a possibility the order may be taken right there, chances are it won't be. Sunday is not considered a "business day", so most times, any order made during the weekend is simply taken care of Monday morning (websites will often state something to that effect on the ordering page). Websites do not need to have constant supervision or someone manning the resgister. Obviously the same is true for anything bought from a machine, like pop (soda), snacks, or even a newspaper. No one has to work if you choose to buy something and there is certainly no doctrinal basis that spending money on the Sabbath is somehow sinful. Heck, even some gas stations can operate without anyone inside since many have card readers right at the pump that can function without anyone in the store (though, in all honesty, I avoid getting gas on Sunday unless I absolutely have to).

Now, like I said earlier, the Sabbath and "honoring it" or "keeping it holy" is mostly a personal matter. If people are uncomfortable buying things via a machine or online because somewhat might have to work as a result of their purchase, hey, no shame in waiting until Monday or doing it on Saturday. But don't tell me I'm "breaking" the Sabbath because I bought something online on Sunday or put a dollar bill into a vending machine.

In closing, I can understand being "peculiar" for things I know are doctrine, but for traditions? Um, let's examine them and make sure they have a rational purpose behind them and that in the process of standing for what we believe in, we aren't totally "weirding out" the world around us. That doesn't mean we get rid of traditions all together, but it does mean we don't mindlessly do them. I'm all for traditions and following procedure, but let's please make sure they have clear purposes and aren't confused with doctrine. Following doctrine is a must, following procedure is highly recommended (though "spirit of the law" vs. "letter of the law"), and just following tradition should be done with caution and understanding, as well as differentiating between the three.

1 comment:

Julie Rohal said...

You can order items on lds.org on Sunday. I am sure they could block that if it was doctrine.