Our Sacrament Meeting was especially, egregiously, exuberantly noisy today. I was on the stand to lead the singing, and it was so noisy that I started looking around to see if the grownups or teenagers were being excessively chatty. They weren’t. It was all good, wholesome, inevitable baby and toddler noise, punctuated by the barely controlled pandemonium of the Primary children’s musical offering for Father’s Day. I had a squirmy moment of worrying about visitors being shocked by our irreverence, and then just settled in to enjoy it.
In lots of ways, I think it’s dumb to have little kids in Sacrament Meeting. It’s setting kids and parents up for frustration and failure, which we compound by nagging them about reverence instead of thinking seriously about the needs of children, their parents, and other worshipers, and implementing any of a number of humane strategies that could be deployed to meet more of those needs. I tend to side with Brigham Young:
One thing which strikes me here this morning, and which is a source of considerable annoyance to the congregation, appears to me might be avoided, and that is bringing children here who are not capable of understanding the preaching. If we were to set them on the stand, where they could hear every word, it would convey to them no knowledge or instruction, and would not be the least benefit to them. I will ask my sisters: Cannot we avoid this? Have you not daughters, sisters, or friends, or some one who can take care of these children while you attend meeting? When meetings are over, the mothers can go home and bestow all the care and attention upon their children which may be necessary. I cannot understand the utility of bringing children into such a congregation as we shall have here through the Conference…when the noise made by them disturbs all around them. I therefore request that the sisters will leave their babies at home in the care of good nurses. (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 13, p. 343)
“Reverence,” in its current usage and application to children, is a relatively recent innovation in the Church, and I think its persistence and centrality in our teaching of children is, in part, a historical accident having to do with anxiety about respect for authority that arose in the 1960s, and, in part, also a sheer practical necessity imposed by the 3-hour block format of meetings for adults. But as “foolish traditions of our fathers” go, it seems relatively benign. In fact, I think one could make a pretty strong case for LaVern Parmley’s invention of reverence being prophetic–our kids, with their information-overloaded, graphics-saturated, multi-tasking, attention-defective screen zombie lives need an hour of quiet in their week more than she could possibly have anticipated a half-century ago. So I guess I’m really only lukewarmly on Brigham Young’s side.
I am thankful for the gracious haze of amnesia that allows me to dimly remember the years of pew-wrestling with my children without reliving the emotional trauma of that time. And today, I was thankful for the squalling. It seemed like a good test of our community–can the parents balance compassion for their children’s heroic efforts to achieve the impossible and unnatural against their own embarrassment at not being in perfect control? Can the parents of relatively docile or slow-moving or quiet children avoid judging the parenting skills of parents with, um, the other kind of kids? Can the non-parents balance their annoyance and need for quiet worship with patient (!) appreciation of a church that values children and tries to teach them respect by letting them practice (and fail)? Can those of us whose children have achieved the remarkable teenage capacity to check out and/or sleep whenever the opportunity arises find ways to help and encourage our comrades in the struggle? Can we just be together for an hour and those last $#@!! ten minutes?
I felt the wobbly effort toward that precarious balance today, all of us in the same little leaky boatful of sinners who would be Saints, trying to figure out if we should row, bail, steer, or start handing out lifejackets. I thought about the Jaredites in their dish-tight barges, Lehi’s family with all those Freibergian biceps and triceps competing for space on a small ship, and Noah, with every kind of braying, squealing, buzzing, crowing, screeching, trumpeting, howling creature on earth. All of us always looking for Zion, learning to build it as we go.
I’ve always been a little incredulous about the repetitive certainty of the proclamation in Genesis that “God saw that it was good.” Really? Wasn’t there one day–like maybe the day with the mosquitoes and the cockroaches–when God just thought it was adequate? I mean, c’mon–giraffes?? But maybe the scriptures say over and over again that ALL of it was good because that would be the hardest thing for us to believe. We need our longing for improvement, for perfection–it’s the wind that pushes us towards “an heavenly city.” We’re supposed to keep trying to do impossibly lovely things. But we are supposed to also learn to see imperfection, oddity, failure and messiness as part of His work and His glory.
Sometimes I think I might be starting to understand.