Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Mormon Rhythms: Part I of II... Our Daily Walk

Author's Note: This is the first in a three-part series. Please be sure to read all three!

________

Christian, over at See Life Differently, messaged me the other day... he wanted to know what mormon piety looked like — how does a good mormon's faith make itself apparent in their daily affairs? He thought it might make a good post, and I agree with him.

Hopefully I won't fumble the ball.

This is mostly my view of things, so folks should feel free to chime-in if they have comments. Anyway, here goes:

Kyle is a young, single, Mormon man... He wakes early in the morning and kneels down at his bedside and says his morning prayers... they're not matins, really, as only a handful of prayers in the Mormon lexicon are rote... they're more like father-son chats. They may be out-loud, or be just an internal dialog. He works hard at getting the prayers "past his ceiling", by being earnest, and by leaving plenty of time to just listen. He may use "thee, thy, thou" or he may use a patois of "you" and "your", and the archaic stuff... but the "thee, thy, thou" is pretty in-grained, and not easily dismissed.

He tries to get in 30 minutes or so each day with the scriptures — the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price — but mostly he just reads from the Book of Mormon. He tries to do this in the morning, because he gets more out of it. But barring reading in the morning, he may listen to it on CD or MP3 during his commute to work. If all else fails (and this is a lot more frequent than he'd care to admit), he gets it in just before bed.

During his commute, he may turn off the radio, and just think over his day and seek inspiration for some big decisions that lay ahead. He's heard it since he was young: always keep a prayer in your heart, and this is how he does it. It's an important part of his personal relationship with his Heavenly Father, and a source of great strength for him.

He lives in a town with a temple (there are only some 120 in the world), so a couple of times a month, he takes a couple hours and attends a service. It's a wonderful place for him... a place of work, of worship, of fellowship, and of communing with his Heavenly Father. It's also a great strength for him. Most of the time he goes alone... but every few months he'll go with a group from his ward or a friend. He doesn't talk about the temple, really, outside of the temple... so these group temple sessions can be a wonderful time to "compare notes". If he didn't live in a town with a temple, he'd probably go a couple times a year... and probably with a large group from his ward. In fact, when he was a teenager, and lived several hours from the nearest temple, the biggest event of the summer was when all the ward's youth did an overnight trip to go to the temple.

Some time during the week he'll do his reading for Sunday School and Priesthood meeting lessons. He has a calling in his ward (translation for non-Mormons: he has a responsibility in his congregation), so he spends two or three hours each week doing that. And on Wednesday nights, he gets together with the singles in his ward for a little socializing or service project.

Worship services on Sunday start at 10 am... there are three wards that share the church building (8am, his at 10am, and one at noon). Because there is no payed clergy, the church is run by volunteers... so wards are geographical units that comprise some 300 members — enough people to do all the work that it takes for a congregation to run smoothly. Each ward then meets at a specific time in a specific building.

Anyway, worship services start at 10 am. They start with an hour-long meeting called "Sacrament Meeting", which is when sacrament (translated: communion or Eucharist or the Lord's supper) is celebrated, followed by a couple speakers chosen from the congregation. A couple weeks back, the bishop (read: pastor) asked him to speak this Sunday, so he has spent a couple hours preparing a 15 minute talk. After the sacrament is done, there's a youth speaker (a twelve year old boy speaking for 3 minutes on how he wants to get married in the temple) and then it's his turn to speak. He's talking on the Beatitudes. There's one more speaker after him, and then he heads to the second meeting of the three-hour service. This second meeting is adult Sunday School. An hour later he attends the last meeting, Priesthood, which is a lot like Sunday School... but it's gender-specific.

After church, he gives a ride home to one of the widows in his ward, and then heads home. Growing up, his family was pretty strict, so he kept his church clothes on all of Sunday... but now that he's on his own, he's loosened up a little, and changes into casual clothes when he gets home. He fixes lunch, says a short prayer — which he does over each of his meals... and often over desert — to bless his meal, then eats.

Like most of the active men in his congregation, he and a partner are asked to watch over a couple families in the ward... and to visit them once a month, and make sure that their needs are being met. It's called "Home Teaching", and it's a central part of the church's understanding of its own purpose. He calls one of the families he home teaches, and sets up an appointment for the following week to visit their home. The mother of the family has been ill, and he asks how she's been doing... and whether she'd like a priesthood blessing (most active men in the Church have the priesthood... it's a lay priesthood, but it's essential to the working of the church... as a holder of that priesthood, Kyle will sometimes be called upon to administer to the sick). He calls around to the other three families that he watches over, and then calls his home teacher, Jeff, to schedule a time when he and his partner can come visit. Jeff is struggling with church activity, so Kyle does his best to take what can be a pretty weighty responsibility as light as possible for Jeff.

After making a few more calls, he takes an hour nap (it's practically a commandment! :) ). He's having dinner with some married friends of his in the ward a little later, and then that evening he'll attend a fireside (I have no idea how to translate that... it's basically a spiritually themed talk given in a casual setting, followed by refreshments and socializing) with a girl he's been dating from his stake (similar to a diocese... 10 or so wards are grouped together into a stake... stakes are grouped into regions... we're very fond of order in the church). After the fireside, they go for a drive... they've been dating a while and have started talking about marriage. He then drives her home, kisses her goodnight, and heads back to his place.

He winds down by reading his scriptures — which he didn't get to in the morning — then writes in his journal. Soon, he changes into his PJ bottoms, kneels for prayer... then rolls into bed.

Next up: Mormon Rhythms: Part II of II... Our Liturgical Year.

18 comments:

rs said...

Silus,

I post with Christian over at SLD, sorry to bombard you from stuff from us, but this is a great post. You are an excellent story teller and this paints a vivid picture for me.

One question...you mentioned that Kyle gives a short talk on the Beatitudes at the temple. Is there a system for making sure that Kyle teaches orthodoxy? Does the Bishop provide feedback or correction if Kyle says something that is not in line with Mormon teaching?

When Kyle prays...is it strictly to God the Father? Are there prayers to Jesus? What role does Jesus play in the everyday life of a mormon like Kyle?

Thanks so much for answering these questions. If you have any questions about evangelical protestant lifestyle/religious practice, feel free to ask.

Silus Grok said...

Great questions, RS.

First, Kyle's talk is at his local chapel (ward house/meeting house/church building/whathaveyou). Temple worship is markedly different than sabbath worship... and doesn't include talks.

Second, the bishop (and his two councelors) are responsible for addressing issues of orthodoxy... should a problem arise, the bishop may address it as he sees fit. The one or two times that I've actually seen it happen, it was with a short clarification at the end of the meeting, when the bishop often has a minute or two for closing remarks before the hymn is sung.

Third, mormons pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. A classical "recipe" for a mormon prayer is:

"Dear Heavenly Father"
"Talk about what you're grateful for."
"Ask for help/strength/blessings/guidance."
"In the name of Jesus Christ"
"Amen"

Finally, Christ plays an integral part of our daily walk... both as an examplar (WWJD) and as our intermediary with the Father (which is most-evidenced in our prayers). We turn to his teachings and to his bright example in making decisions throughout the day. Of course, Christ's walk was principles-based, so as we learn the principles we may tend to think of Christ less directly... which is natural. In the end, the Father is the focus of our worship, and Christ is foundation upon which we stand to better access the Father. Without Christ, nothing would be possible, and our faith would be in vain.

rs said...

Thanks for answering my questions so thoroughly and I want to make sure I get what you are saying to my last question, so I hope you'll permit me to press you a little further.

So, are you saying that Jesus is mostly just a door through which you access God and through whom God hears your prayers? Is there any other role that Jesus plays on a day to day basis?

Silus Grok said...

I fear that such a simplification grossly understates the role Jesus plays in our lives... Jesus's roles are numerous, essential, pervasive, and subtle.

He is the Christ... through Him the worlds were made, he is the God of the Old Testament, he is our Savior, and at the last day he will be our Judge. But we do not worship him. To paraphrase Jesus himself: "All Glory be to the Father".

His example is perfect, and it is his example that informs our daily walk. His ministry — among the Children of Israel, then among the Jews of Palestine, then on the Americas... and finally his ministry in the lives of me and my contemporaries is the bedrock of my hope in Salvation and my understanding of the great plan of happiness and the path back home.

His atonement not only made possible my own resurrection and salvation, but fuels the healing power of a priesthood blessing that I might give to someone who asked it of me. It's his atonement that gives me the energy to rise each morning and to face my most bewildering trials.

Yet, in the end, it is my relationship with the Father that matters most. It's not ironic, it's not a paradox... it's subtle — and it's his will that all glory go to the Father.

I'm not articulate enough to phrase it any better... but hopefully that will do.

Christian said...

Silas, thanks so much for taking the time to post - your comments are extremely helpful for those of us on the outside looking in...

I have a couple of followup questions, if I may:

1. why couldn't a Mormon read just the Bible? is there something in the the Book of Mormon that's not in the Bible? if so, does that mean that the message of the Bible is partial/deficient/incomplete?

2. if Mormons see themselves as Christians, why couldn't a Mormon go to any Christian church of his choosing?

3. does God love you any more when you do all this stuff, or any less when you fail?

4. why does God love you in the first place? what would make him stop loving you?

5. what happens when Kyle isn't so faithful with his prayers, attendance, tithing, etc?

6. what happens when Kyle and Sally go on a date and Kyle imagines having sex with her. Is that a big deal?

7. what happens when he actually DOES have sex with her, in the heat of the moment?

8. what happens when Sally gets pregnant (something I suspect isn't supposed to happen to good Mormon girls)?

9. what happens if Kyle is addicted to pornography? or drugs? if he was your friend, what would you do? what is it going to take for him to no longer desire these things?

10. how sure are you that God will accept you after you die? on what do you base that confidence (or lack thereof)? do you think God will accept non-Mormons?

Looking forward to hearing your response on these (and I'll to put together the answers I would give to the same type of questions, so we can compare).

Thanks again...

Silus Grok said...

You're very kind, Christian... but these are, really, just the thoughts of a guy who fancies himself an expert (on just about everything, sadly). I wouldn't bet that my opinions would be shared by every mormon you met.

And for the record, it's "Silus" with a "u". Yeah, I know: leave it to the know-it-all to misspell his own handle.

Anyway, I'm answering these out of order (and a few will be answered when I get a little more time):


2. if Mormons see themselves as Christians, why couldn't a Mormon go to any Christian church of his choosing?

I've attended services of other denominations. I enjoy the chance to experience the faith of others... but core to my belief system is a belief in the preeminence of authority: I believe that the ordinances of the gospel must be carried out by duly appointed ministers. I also believe that that authority rests solely upon the officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Beyond that, as most any trinitarian would attest, our core beliefs differ from each other. I recently commented that "...we have a larger corpus of beliefs than most of Christianity...", and it's true: Mormons have beliefs about things that don't even register for trinitarians... so why would I regularly attend services at a church that couldn't really address my questions (besides to tell me that the underlying beliefs are false)?

3. does God love you any more when you do all this stuff, or any less when you fail?

God's love is infinite. It is not diminished by my actions any more than a good mother would stop loving her wayward child. But don't confuse love with indulgence. His expectations for us are not capricious, and when we fall short, we're don't just disappoint our Heavenly Father, we fall short of our own potential.

4. why does God love you in the first place? what would make him stop loving you?

I am his son. Nothing I could do would keep him from loving me. I could certainly estrange myself from his love — become hardened to it, immune to it... but that's a problem on the receiving end, not on the sending end.

5. what happens when Kyle isn't so faithful with his prayers, attendance, tithing, etc?

Our walk is hard, and without proper nurishment, we're likely to tire — and fall. One's personal piety is part of a healthy diet of All Things Good.

6. what happens when Kyle and Sally go on a date and Kyle imagines having sex with her. Is that a big deal?

What we think is important. My own belief on the matter of fantasizing is that it's misappropriation of another's likeness. We soil others when we use them for our own gratification — whether they know it or not. We sin when we do this because it takes us away from God... God would not have us treat each other as objects of desire. We're not objects... we're children.

7. what happens when he actually DOES have sex with her, in the heat of the moment?

Um. The snarky response is to say that there are plenty of sites online that could spell that out for you if you have any questions.

: )

But you want enlightenment, not levity... fornication is a sin, and there are ecclesiastical consequences. There's a good chance that Kyle and Sally would be reprimanded/counseled. Depending on a number of variables, they may even be excommunicated. But for me, there is a larger issue... I don't believe that God's commandments are capricious. I believe that there is a reason that he asks what he does of us... and so, I would hazard that there are deeper consequences to Kyle's and Sally's dalience than our contemporaries are willing to accept; I believe that fornication kankers the soul... or is evidence of a kankered soul made manifest.

8. what happens when Sally gets pregnant (something I suspect isn't supposed to happen to good Mormon girls)?

We don't mind pregnancy... it's the fornication that is a problem. That, and raising a child outside of the protective bonds of marriage. I don't have much experience with this one, but I imagine that if Kyle and Sally were heading for marriage, they'd be encouraged to marry before the child was born. If they weren't then Sally would be encouraged to give the child up for adoption — and the Church's social services agency could facilitate that process.

Healed in Christ said...

Christian asks: 9. what happens if Kyle is addicted to pornography? or drugs? if he was your friend, what would you do? what is it going to take for him to no longer desire these things?

Can I take this one, Silus and Christian? (I'm a Mormon and a recovering pornography addict.)

I don't know about the drugs, but I know that two factors played a role in me "no longer desiring" pornography.

One was caring and loving support and counsel from the bishop of my congregation, coupled with counseling from a licensed professional therapist. Add to this the support of my forgiving (though not permissive) wife, who has stuck by me and provided an example and incentive for me to cling to in my darkest hours (and they have been dark).

All these people--my worldly support system--were and are important in my recovery. But I think they would ultimately have been to no avail without Christ's grace in my life.

This grace, brought about by Christ's expiating sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary, is most definitely what has rescued me from my baser desires. The counseling and support from clergy, professionals, and my wife went a long way toward getting me to a point where I could accept Christ's offering of grace, but it was He who cleansed my soul of my desire for pornography.

It was (and may yet be) a very difficult battle. One of the hardest I've ever faced, and included severe depression and anger. But from the depths of my despair, Christ's light saved me. My mind and heart were changed; I was no longer cripplingly depressed. I believed in myself, because I knew Christ believed in me, and that his grace was sufficient for me.

So when rs asks whether Christ plays a daily role in my life, my answer is a resounding YES! Not a day goes by that I do not thank the Father for sending his Son. Not a day goes by that I do not reflect on and feel reassured by the love of the Father and the Son for me.

Silus Grok said...

Wonderful, wonderful comment — thank you. And best wishes for continued success in your battle with addiction, brother.

Ben S. said...

I agree with Silus. These are great descriptions of "LDS piety" though I don't know that any of us would think to call it that.

Ben S. said...

Ok, let me attempt #1.

"is there something in the the Book of Mormon that's not in the Bible?"
Yes, kind of. See my parallel below.

"if so, does that mean that the message of the Bible is partial/deficient/incomplete?"
Yes, but see below.

"why couldn't a Mormon read just the Bible? "

A Mormon could just read the Bible, but if I could draw a parallel, it would be like focusing on Luke to the exclusion of Hebrews. Hebrews and Luke both teach and contain different things, but they're both important because they're both inspired. From the LDS point of view, these other books of scripture are equally inspired and therefore just as worthy of being read. Many find the Book of Mormon easier to read, as it tends towards narrative.

I personally am as likely to pick up my NIV Study Bible or my BHS and read the OT as I am the Book of Mormon, but I think that's due to my schooling and personal interests. My wife has also taken to scripture reading that is about split between OT and BoM (she particularly likes Isaiah.) Some of what we read depends on what book we're studying for the year in Church.

On the one hand, Mormons don't think ANY book of scripture is complete (how could it be?), in the sense that God still has more to teach us and reveal. Thus, we have the NT added to the OT, and the BoM, D&C and PGP added formally as books, as well as the prophetic message that comes to us from General Conference.

On the other hand, if by "sufficient" you mean "the Bible is sufficient for salvation," than the New Testament itself is superfluous according to 2Ti 3:15. Mormons believe that God has spoken in these other books of scripture and God will continue to speak. If, for sake of discussion, one grants that God may still be speaking, should one ignore that message?

Silus Grok said...

Well said, Ben.

rs said...

I guess my question to your answer, Ben, is where and how do we draw the line for what is the inspired word of God and what is not. What about the Qaran? What about the Hindu holy books? We wouldn't call them Christian books?

The NT, on the other hand, claims to be inspired and claims to be the final word of God...exhorting those who read it to accept no further claims of revelation.

As to your question, "if we assume God is still speaking..." I'd say that we should ignore what we think he is saying if it is not in line with the Bible.

Silus Grok said...

I guess my question to your answer, Ben, is where and how do we draw the line for what is the inspired word of God and what is not. What about the Qaran? What about the Hindu holy books? We wouldn't call them Christian books?

Ben can answer for himself... but I have two cents to offer on this one. How do we draw the line? We use the tools that God gave us. You know that Jesus is the Christ because God gave you to know that he is, by the Holy Spirit... certainly a relationship could be cultivated with that same Holy Spirit to learn the truth of other things. That's a little simplistic, of course, but this is a blog comment. As for the books that you mention... well, evaluate them on their face: the Q'uran claims that Jesus was merely an amazing and holy teacher. But you know that's false. So you can't take the Q'uran on its word. The truths it undoubtedly contains (truth is everywhere) will have to be carefully sussed out. Similarly the Hindu holy books.

The NT, on the other hand, claims to be inspired and claims to be the final word of God...exhorting those who read it to accept no further claims of revelation.

It does, indeed, claim to be inspired... but it most certainly does not claim to be the final word of God — and not just because "it" doesn't exist. There is no New Testament, only a library of books that represent the sad remnants of a necessarily larger (and more amazing) collection of inspired works centered on Christ's ministry in Palestine, and its wake. I would suggest that your reading of any such claims into the text lacks a firm footing.

As to your question, "if we assume God is still speaking..." I'd say that we should ignore what we think he is saying if it is not in line with the Bible.

I think that that is good advice... always refer to the foundation when looking to build upon it. Of course, "in line" is a very broad standard, which is evidenced by the schisms even among trinitarian denominations.

Ben S. said...

"where and how do we draw the line for what is the inspired word of God and what is not."

Practically speaking, anyone raised in or having spent considerable time in any religion naturally finds his religious tradition's canon to be the only allowable canon.

In order to avoid logical circles, we need to say that the statement "x is inspired because x says so" (where x is a canonical book of a religious tradition) is not a pragmaticly valid means of determining whether a book is inspired. In other words, I don't think you'd accept the argument that the Quran is inspired because the Quran says so, because, well, it's the Quran! Yet many hold this to be valid for the Bible. (Or at least the NT, as you say. Thought question: Is the OT a "Christian book" ?)

So, when you say you through independant spiritual means, have received a witness of the validity of the Bible's message, and thus accord weight to it. However, this brings me to my main point. The only way to verify a books claim that it is inspired of God is to ask Him to would have inspired the writers. Otherwise, one is blindly following whatever tradition one belongs to, believing what is taught because it comes from the "right" source. Again, the I believe the Bible, not because "it's the Bible!" but because I have received a spiritual confirmation of it. If you just believe the Bible because "it's the Bible!" how is that any different from the Muslims who believe the Quran because "it's the Quran!" ?


"The NT, on the other hand, claims to be inspired and claims to be the final word of God...exhorting those who read it to accept no further claims of revelation."

One book claiming inspiration does not logically preclude another book from being inspired. As to your second statement ("claims to be the final word of God"), I find this untenable in light of what the NT actually says as well as the history of how the NT was written and canonized.

Was Jesus the final message? If so, why are prophets prophetically receiving revelation and leading Christians to Pella in Acts 13? If so, why are Paul's letters or Revelation canonized? The NT itself seems to say that the OT is sufficient for salvation, and early Christian writers didn't accord the NT writings the same scriptural canonical authority as the OT for nearly 200 years after they were written.

These and other much more extensive canonical arguments have been made before and certainly will be again between Catholics (who accept a larger canon), Protestants (who sometimes verge on bibliolatry, IMO), and Mormons who have a canon larger than both.

It seems to me that to assert that the NT claims to be the final revelation of God is an argument made in a vaccuum, that does not take account of the NT's canonical or production history, nor the message which it contains.

Where and how do we draw the line? Spiritual witness.

(I hope I've been sufficiently clear here. I'm in somewhat of a hurry to pack :)

Ben S. said...

Sorry, part of my comment disappeared in my editorial haste...


"So, when you say you you belive the Bible, I assume that means that through independant spiritual means, have received a witness of the validity of the Bible's message, and thus accord weight to it."

rs said...

Ben and Silus,

I agree with a lot of what you are saying about the witness of the Spirit testifying to us about what is Scripture. The problem is that you never answered my question about how we know to draw the line. What you are advocating is that truth is subjective. That each person ultimately can decide for himself what is or isn't Scripture.

Obviously, it takes a certain amount of faith to believe that any book is God's word. But the NT claims are valid based on the fact that it was written by men who actually walked with Jesus. It is based on historical events whereas the BoM, for example, was written some 1800 years after the historical Jesus, when there was no longer direct testimony. So, the NT's internal claims have to be taken seriously.

All I am trying to ask is where we draw the line on what we allow to be our authority. I agree that Protestant's have become divided, but that is more a matter of interpretation. Mormons too divided from Protestantism over a matter of interpretation and new revelation.

Accepting additions to the Bible (as it was canonized in the 4th century) is a very new phenomenon in the history of the church. What we have as our modern canon has never been in question...it is the extra books that have always been questioned, including the Apocrypha. Where do we draw the line?

Ben S. said...

RS, I think I did answer your question. To me, you seem to be dodging :)

I don't believe any independant basis for establishing inspiration exists.

"But the NT claims are valid based on the fact that it was written by men who actually walked with Jesus."

This assertion of yours is highly contested by textual critics. Not that I agree with them fully, but even if they agreed fully on the ancientness of one particular text, that would not establish that the events portrayed in teh established text were historically accurate, in terms of what it claimed.

In other words, if we have 5 ancient texts that all state that Alexander was inspired by God in

There is absolutely no historical kind of artifact or text that could establish, for example, that Moses actually saw God on Sinai.

Again, if we're going to appeal to textual certainty as establish validity or factuality, the Quran has us over a barrel.

"What you are advocating is that truth is subjective."
NOt at all. Truth is objective, but until Jesus returns, we have no objective, outside, independant way of testing it. Or do you disagree?


"That each person ultimately can decide for himself what is or isn't Scripture."

Practically, this is the effect. Until God's line of communication becomes much clearer (ie. Jesus returns), each one must base his beliefs on his experiences with the texts, his intelligence, and the holy spirit.

In other words, I know exactly where I draw the line, and I have littel doubt about it. However, there is no outside source that can either confirm or invalidate my belief in the inspiration of the scriptures, because historically-based methodoligies simply aren't capable of doing that any more than a geiger counter can tell you what temperature it is.

"It is based on historical events whereas the BoM, for example, was written some 1800 years after the historical Jesus, when there was no longer direct testimony."

I suspect from this comment that you haven't read the Book of Mormon. Jesus did in fact visit the Nephites. However, I infer from this argument that you think it can't be valid scripture unless its direct testimony, which I would question.THe Book of Mormon does not discuss JEsus life among the ISraelites. It, like the OT, discusses God's actions vis-a-vis a people and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I don't see it as a valid question because it's based on a misunderstanding.

If you're looking for group standards of canonization, that's different from determining what is inspired. I have to go catch my plane, so let me suggest some good mormon authors on the question.

Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford PRess.)

Stephen Robinson and Craig Blomberg, How Wide the Divide, the canon chapter, and the follow up articles in FARMS REview of Books and BYU STudies 38:3.

http://farms.byu.edu/publications/reviewvolume.php?volume=11&number=2
(some you can download for free if you search for the individual articles)
https://byustudies.byu.edu/productitem.asp?id=2&type=6

Silus Grok said...

RS: Truth isn't subjective. What I'm saying is that one can turn to the Spirit for enlightenment... of course, dialoging with the Spirit is not science, it's so nuanced. But you learn as you go.

And, of course, there's reason (to a point), and that "by their fruits" test...

Anyway, back to your question: we don't draw the line. We let God draw the line.

I know that Jesus is the Christ... so my field of inquiry is constrained by that. I believe that the NT is true inasmuch as its translated correctly... so that further constrains my field of inquiry. I believe that the BoM is truly a second witness of Jesus Christ... so that further constrains my field of inquiry. And so on.