How to Make LDS Church Meetings Less Boring

Robert Kirby in his latest column in alleges that LDS church services are boring:

[I need to find] ways to entertain myself in church when it gets boring. Which happens a lot.

Please don’t try to tell me that you’ve never been bored sitting in church. You’re either a liar or some freak of nature.

Some people endure boredom well. I’m not one of them. In fact, I don’t endure it at all. So it’s on me to find ways to keep my spirits up while at the same time not ruining the worship experience for everyone around me.

Sometimes I read. Currently, I’m in the middle of “The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot,” by Bart D. Ehrman, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s good. Look it up.

I agree with Kirby, church meetings are frequently boring.  In fact, I’ve quit going.

How many times do I a need a lecture on baptism by immersion?  (Retorical.)  In classes, I’m tired of one-answer questions.  And there is a desperate need for better class manuals.

One way to reduce the boredom is to move from a 3-hour church meeting block to a 2-hour block.  But that just reduces the time you have to suffer, it doesn’t help eliminate the boredom.

The Church needs new ideas for meetings.  How about:

  • occasionally having a 1-hr social period with upbeat chamber music?  Or folk songs?  Or inspirational broadway tunes?  or a sing-along?  With live entertainment, drinks, and light refreshments.
  • a get-together that involves doing humanitarian work?
  • occasionally having small meeting in members’s homes?
  • training in how to better serve the wider community?
  • language training?  If you speak Spanish and need to improve your English skills (ESL)?  Or if you speak English and want to learn Spanish?
  • personal improvement lessons?  Anger management?  Financial?  Leadership?  Teacher?
  • classes in biblical scholarship?
  • a book club (with both Mormon and non-Mormon reads)?
  • instructions on how to sing hymns?  We used to do that in Sunday School.

Note:  Kirby, excellent choice of books; I’m impressed.

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Thoughts about the New LDS Presidency

Expectedly, Russell M. Nelson was just named President of the LDS Church.  He had two basic themes in his short inaugural address:

  • He made an overly defensive justification for the seniority selection process.
  • He encouraged those who had left the Church or were thinking of leaving to reconsider.  Unfortunately, he gave them no compelling reason to return.  Just a plea.

Perhaps, expectedly, he named Dallin H. Oaks as his first counselor and Henry B. Eyring as his second counselor.  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf was moved back to Q12.  Oaks is next in line to be President of the Church.  So I guess you could view this elevation as training.

New First Presidency, Wearing Different Color Ties.

There are several problems with this shuffling of responsibilities:

  • The P3 just got a little bit older.  Nelson is 93, Oaks is 85, and Eyring is 84.  Uchtdorf is “just” 77.
  • The P3 is still a geriatric oligarchy made up of Utah white guys.  (And they are also all “folicly challenged.”)
  • Nelson and Oaks, for all intense and purposes, are twins in their beliefs concerning discrimination again the LGBTQ community.  Is this really the issue where the leadership wants to draw a line in the sand?
  • Oaks is a lawyer and his talks frequently seem more like legal briefs than inspirational sermons.
  • Uchtdorf was widely popular for his warm “inclusive” conference talks and is the darling of progressive Mormons.  He is also very charismatic (perhaps that was part of his problem).  The P3 is likely to get a whole lot more rigid and conservative with their doctrinal message.
  • Eyring will probably continue to be a non-player in the P3.
  • The Church’s obsessive and expensive hiring of lawyers and lobbyists is likely to continue.
  • The current Presidency is unlikely to fix the Church’s continuing PR nightmare.

President Abraham Lincoln chose a cabinet that had wide diversity.  Maybe this is a model that the LDS Church should consider.

Robert Kirby summarizes many member’s disappointment:

I’ll confess to a certain amount of disappointment in the reorganization of the Mormon First Presidency last week. It was not what I was hoping for.

I was hoping for some invigorating youthful faces (including some of color) in President Russell M. Nelson’s choice of counselors. Instead, he dropped the only alternative we had from Utah-based Mormonism — Elder Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf.

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Book of Ecclesiastes Misinterpreted (by Me)

For years, one of the guiding principle in my life has been the Book of Ecclesiastes 11:1 (King James Version or KJV):

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

I took the passage to be an encouragement to travel, to enjoy the world, to broaden my horizons.  It was a justification for my obsessive interest in exploring the globe.  By traveling, I hoped to find myself.

Utah Lake at Sunset

Boy, was my interpretation ever wrong.  According to Adam S. Miller, in his book Nothing New Under the Sun:  A Blunt Paraphrase of Ecclesiastes the above passage should be interpreted:

Make smart investments and cross your fingers for a good return.

If I had open-mindedly read the verses that follow 11:1, I would have come to a more accurate understanding.

So my first mistake was to take the verse out of context.  My second was to rely solely on the KJV translation.  According to Grant Hardy:

The King James Version is no longer a good translation, which is why almost no one uses it anymore.  It is inaccurate to the extent that it relies on late, corrupted Greek manuscripts, and it is inadequate in that it does not communicate the authors’ meaning in an intelligible way.

Another translation (New English Bible or NEB) of 11:1 reads:

Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return.

This translation sounds more like Miller’s interpretation.

But to hell with everybody.  I like my original interpretation best.  Do I really have to justify my obsession with scripture?

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I Reject the Idea of Skills-based Immigration

Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) on Face the Nation said he is in favor of a skills-based immigration system, which he said the president supports:

If you’re a doctor, or a scientist, or a computer programmer, it shouldn’t matter whether you come from Nigeria, or Norway, or any other country on this earth.

This concept definitely runs counter to inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

But this noble idea is now lost in Washington DC, or at least on many Republicans including Trump.  But it shouldn’t be.

  • America has throughout history been a destination for people desiring to improve their lot in life.
  • Developing countries need their doctors, scientists, and computer programmers; these and other professionals need to stay home, not be lured to America.

Some parts of the globe are currently overrun with refugees.  People fleeing oppression and seeking opportunities to live in peace and security with their families.  America should continue to assist those seeking a better more secure life.  It should present them with opportunities, not exclusion.

My ancestors were part of the tired, poor, and huddled masses.  They came to America to find opportunities.  Once here they because productive members of society, mostly farmers.  Their progeny have become doctors, scientists, and computer programmers.  America gave my ancestors the opportunities they needed.

Mormon theologian Robert Kirby recently commented on the value that the tired, poor, and huddled (think unskilled) masses have brought to America:

The one attribute they’ll bring with them is the same one that our own immigrant ancestors brought. And it made America great.

We shouldn’t be a country of elitists, but a country dedicated to giving immigrants a new start.

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Mormon Support for Trump Remains Strong, I Don’t Understand

According to an article in

An aggregation of the Gallup Daily Tracking poll last year shows that 61 percent of Mormons surveyed approve of Trump’s job as president, just above the 60 percent of white, non-Hispanic Protestants — mainline and evangelical — who back the president.

As someone who finds Trump despicable, I find these numbers exceedingly depressing.

Given Trumps:

  • disdain for people of color;
  • white supremacist leaning;
  • history of sexual harassment;
  • erratic and careless foreign policy;
  • proclivity for pandering and lying;
  • serious megalomania;
  • tax relief for the rich, etc.

it is hard to believe that he could be supported by any religious group.  While the LDS leadership is uncomfortable with Trump, clearly the membership is not.  And ironically, it is a Mormon senator who is one of his most avid supporters, recently claiming Trump may become the greatest president ever.

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The Sh!tshow in Washington DC

According to the New York Times:

President Trump on Thursday balked at an immigration deal that would include protections for people from Haiti and some nations in Africa, demanding to know at a White House meeting why he should accept immigrants from “shithole countries” rather than from places like Norway, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Trump has sort of alleged that the paper’s report is inaccurate.  However, two Senators (one Democrat and one Republican) who were at the meeting say that it is accurate.

Representative Mia Love (R-Utah), whose parents were born in Haiti, issued a strong rebuke.  Calling for an apology:

The president’s comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values.  This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.

The president must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), currently the leading Trump apologist in Washington DC, inexplicably stated that he would like a “more detailed explanation” of Trump’s comments. (Luckily, Utah won’t have to deal with the senator much longer, he is retiring from the Senate.)  Why didn’t he just support Love?

For those of us who understand what Trump was saying and don’t need a “more detailed explanation,” the president’s “shithole countries” statement is deeply offensive.  I spend 2 months each year in Africa, mostly in Uganda.  And the vast majority of Ugandan are wonderful people and gracious hosts.  I look forward to my time there.

I also travel to Peru frequently.  While there, my family and I stay with a Quechua (Native American) family.  The 2 families work together constructing playgrounds for pre- and elementary schools located in the high elevations above Cuzco.  Peruvians are wonderful people and their country is very beautiful.

Our Friends in Peru, the Cardenas-Torres family

But more than that, Trump’s comments are profoundly racist.  He’s okay with white immigrants (from Norway), but not with brown and black immigrants from Africa, El Salvador, and Haiti.  Trump term in office can’t end too soon.  Luckily Hatch is on the way out.  Hurrah, for Love.  And I’m a liberal Democrat.

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Can “Big Tent” Mormonism Really Work?

It’s been suggested that “Big Tent” Mormonism is a good thing.  That the Church is stronger if its members have a diversity of doctrinal and political opinions.  However, recent events have brought this idea into serious question.

The Church today is heavily bifurcated.  On the extreme right, are the Bundyites, Snufferites, and alt-right.  On the intellectual left, are people like the Givens and Bushmans.  For all intents and purposes, these two extreme are NOT compatible.  They both belong to different churches.

On the right, Denver Snuffer has been excommunicated.  But many of his followers are still members of the Church.  Some believe the Church is in apostasy, and they back this up with personal revelation.

As far as I know, Cliven Bundy is still a member of the Mormon Church, even though he has lead an armed insurrection against the Federal government.  He defends his fight using Mormon scriptures and his justification is outlined in “The Book of Nay.”

Even more problematic is Ayla Stewart, who attempts to fuse Mormon beliefs and scriptures with an alt-right, racist agenda.

Many conservative Mormons are biblical literalists which frequently leads to anti-science beliefs:  anti-evolution, anti-vaxxing, anti-global warming, etc.  And they backup their conservative religious and political views by pointing out that most of the P3 and Q12 are Republicans, and by quoting Joseph Fielding Smith and Ezra Taft Benson.  They are also buttressed by past teachings of CES  and BYU religion staff.

The BYU religion department has made overtures to the the Christian right.  This initiative concerns many liberal members; they are uncomfortable with many aspects of Evangelicalism.

On the left, feminist Kate Kelly has been excommunicated.  While most of her followers are still in the Church, many sympathizers feel uncomfortable with the Church’s all male leadership.

And many have accused Terryl and Fiona Givens, of defining their own liberal version of Mormonism, a brand some accuse of deviating from the official message.  In their new book The Christ Who Heals, the Givens argue  that if Mormons want to find a religious strand with a familiar spirit, they shouldn’t look to Catholics or Evangelicals but rather to Eastern Christianity.

Progressive Mormons tend to be centrist Republicans or Democrats.  They believe that science and religion are compatible.  And that the LBGTQ community needs to have equal rights.

They do not believe in a literal Old Testament (certainly not a literal Book of Genesis).  And some are starting to question the veracity of The Book of Mormon.  Wondering if it is inspired fiction.

It is obvious that the Bundys and the Givens are clearly in different churches.  Yet both fly the same banner.  I would like to see Mormon Church leaders start to move all members toward a greater acceptance of science.  This will bring both conservative and liberal Mormons closer together, and into a more compatible tent.  For most educated young Mormons, biblical literalism does not work.  And for this reason, many have and will continue to leave the Church.

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