Sunday, March 15, 2009
Joseph Smith Enters The Twilight Zone
Walt Disney’s "The Absent-Minded Professor" left quite an impression on ten-year-old me. Fred MacMurray’s invention of a rubbery anti-gravity substance that could power a car and be ironed onto the soles of shoes inspired me to want to become a scientist and inventor myself. When I grew up, the first thing I was going to do was get my own lab and invent Flubber. (Hasn’t happened yet -I’ll let you know.)
My love for all things Disney continued into my twenties, along with a fascination with the early history of the LDS church, particularly the Nauvoo period. One historian of that period whose books I read was Samuel W. Taylor, the grandson of third church president John Taylor. By happy coincidence, I learned one day that this very Samuel Taylor was the author of the stories upon which the flubber movies were based. The real Son of Flubber was a member of my church!
In 1992 this same Samuel Taylor wrote a short fantasy in which Joseph Smith shows up and accompanies Taylor to Sacrament meeting incognito. Surprisingly, rather than feel at home in the church he had founded, The Prophet expresses bewilderment at how differently we do things than in his day. He recognizes very little that goes on, and is baffled by the changes. It was as if he had entered into "another dimension... a land between shadow and substance". As if he’d "just crossed over into..... the Twilight Zone"!
CLICK HERE to read that story... submitted for your approval.
Taylor’s fanciful tale got me thinking about some other changes in the modern church, many of which are rooted more in whim and tradition than divine revelation. For a people who claim every dogma we practice comes directly from heaven, we sure keep to a lot of customs that God never expressed an opinion on one way or the other. Some of them are benign; others...not so much. Just off the top of my head, here’s a short list of unwritten traditions we hold onto as religiously as if they were formal tenets:
1. All deacons must wear a white shirt and tie in order to pass the sacrament.
In my former ward there were always the requisite number of deacons present, but often somebody would show up without a tie, or, heaven forbid, wearing a pastel, striped, or checkered shirt. Out he went, replaced by an older priest or teacher with matching habiliments. If there weren’t enough white shirts among the Aaronic priesthood, an Elder might be asked to fill in. As a Melchizedek priesthood holder in my forties, I was recruited many times to help pass the sacrament when there were plenty of deacons around who could have done it, but their shirts didn’t match.
2. We don’t applaud in the chapel for fear it will “break the spirit”.
I’d really like to know who thought this one up. I can find no warning in scripture to imply that the sound of unexpected applause in church will send the Holy Ghost running from the building.
The more likely reason for this tradition is that the early church drew many of it’s members from staid New England congregations such as the Methodists whose manner of worship was more pious and "proper" than that of the raucous Baptists further south. Add to that the large influx of reserved Swedish converts with the genetic proclivities of the residents of Lake Wobegon, and you have a congregation more comfortable sitting on their hands than embarrassing themselves by clapping for joy.
3. The only musical instruments allowed in church are the piano or organ, and occasionally a violin.
Never mind that the bible directs us to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord", listing such instruments as horns, trumpets, tambourines, flutes, lutes, zithers, and gongs as appropriate for worship. The real reason for this rule, which was promulgated in the 1960's, is to keep out guitars and drums, instruments associated with the dreaded hippies. I don’t know who came up with this rule, but ten bucks says it was an old guy.
4. We don’t shout out “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” in church.
I don’t know why not. We should. Our church may have additional scripture, but we don’t feel as much joy in our weekly meetings as I've felt in those of other faiths. While those at some other churches stand blissfully basking in the spirit with their faces skyward and their arms outstretched, we teach our children to keep their eyes squeezed shut, scrunch their heads down, and fold their arms so tightly across their chests that the Holy Ghost would have to pry them open to get inside their hearts.
Wouldn’t it cause a wonderful stir if somebody stood up in sacrament meeting and shouted hallelujah like they used to do in old Nauvoo? Maybe you can be the first.
Don’t look at me. You do it.