Shelter-In-Place and the Sacrament

Just over a week ago, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve announced that the church was (temporarily) suspending meetings throughout the world as a response to the novel coronavirus. In the announcement, we’re asked to continue to care and watch out for each other. The letter also tells bishops and stake presidents to figure out how to allow members to take the sacrament at least once a month.

I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but the idea of taking the sacrament at least monthly, while nice in theory, could be a significant problem in reality. A couple days ago, a well-meaning member of my mother-in-law’s ward came to visit her. The visitor was, apparently, unaware of the risks of coronavirus, but my mother-in-law is in a high-risk demographic (older than 65 with some underlying health issues). [Read more…]

Coronavirus and the Sacrament

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were out of state at a climbing competition, and an old high school friend was kind enough to let us stay with her and her family. My friend is a Presbyterian pastor, so that Sunday we went to her church. She wasn’t preaching that particular day, but she still participated in the service.

Part of the services involved standing and greeting the people around you. My friend introduced this part and said that, in light of coronavirus[fn1] and flu season[2], instead of shaking hands, we could fist bump, tap elbows, or give the peace sign. Everybody laughed, then stood and gave fist bumps or the peace sign.

As the coronavirus shows signs of become a pandemic, it seems like we should start thinking about changes we need to make in our worship service. And it seems to me that the sacrament is a big place where we should seriously consider change. And I’m not talking just those who break the bread. The new handbook explicitly tells “[t]hose who prepare, bless, or pass the sacrament first wash their hands with soap or other cleanser.”

Even assuming they do it, the people preparing, administering, and passing the sacrament aren’t the only (and probably aren’t the primary) germ vector we deal with. I mean, while my kids are getting older, they were little once. Even if you’re fully awake and fully aware, there’s almost no way to prevent little fingers from touching several chunks of bread before choosing the one they take. The most careful adult fingers can still brush other chunks of bread. And there’s no concomitant requirement that those of us in the congregation wash our hands before participating in the Sacrament. [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

Risky Religion, or, The Terrors of Love

Keep the commandments; in this there is safety and peace.
—Barbara A. McConochie, Hymn 303

The world’s a tumultuous place, no doubt about it: roiling with uncertainty. No wonder, then, that we seek safety. Mormonism has a strong discursive bent toward treating the gospel as the means to safety in a perilous world. Get on board the Old Ship Zion, we say, and you’ll weather the storm. The watchmen on the tower will warn of impending danger, and, if we heed their precautions, we can sleep soundly at night.

On the cosmic level, I believe that this is right, and in some more proximate ways as well: trying to steer clear of sin is probably a good idea. Even so, I think that the safety the gospel affords turns out to be more painfully paradoxical than we usually like to let on.

[Read more…]

Elder Costa’s Ignatian Spirituality #ldsconf

According to Wikipedia, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa grew up in a Catholic family in Brazil. [1] Although his family met LDS missionaries when he was 12, another 15 years passed before he joined the Church. His talk in the Sunday Morning session shows how Elder Costa was able to bring spiritual riches from the faith of his earlier life and use them to enrich Mormon spirituality. Specifically, his talk borrows two practices from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and brings them together in a powerful synthesis of Mormon sacramentalism. [Read more…]

Eucharistic Worship (Sis. Marriott, Elder Lawrence) #ldsconf

Both Sister Marriott and Elder Lawrence used their talks to emphasize the sacrament as an occasion to receive personalized spiritual guidance. Sister Marriott, who calls the sacrament “the heart of the Sabbath,” invites listeners to follow sincere repentance of their sins during the sacrament with the sincere question, “Is there more?” She testifies that the Spirit responds to such sincere questions with clear direction. Similarly, Elder Lawrence, in a talk focused on the personalized counsel the Spirit can give, points to the sacrament as “a perfect time to ask, ‘What lack I yet?'” These talks thus invite Latter-day Saints to make Eucharistic worship the heart of our Sabbath observance. [Read more…]

No electronics, no food at sacrament meeting

I’m still waiting to see what happens now that we’re (allegedly) raising the Sabbath bar. –Rebecca J in her latest post

When I first started covering the blogs I would get questions every now and again about whether or not the church would ever come down against electronic-device usage at church. Would there be special scramblers so phones/tablets could not access the internet in church buildings. I’d pooh-pooh these questions, the church is smart enough to realize that forcing the members to not access electronics would be unneeded censorship and we believe the importance of teaching good principles but ultimately let the members govern themselves.

And the church has been on the forefront of providing amazing options/media for learning and growth to be accessed at church. Just last week, I loved showing the 5-year-olds who huddled around my phone two different versions of Jesus Christ talking about the importance of the sacrament.

Well I think that might change. Maybe. I just heard of a stake in Oregon who read a letter to their congregations that now forbids food and electronic device usage in sacrament meeting as an outgrowth of the sabbath day worship instruction coming down from the general leaders. And then I heard of another in Utah County. Ok, well this a local interpretation, you might say. Well to that I say, watch the next few minutes of the sabbath day worship instruction video here: [Read more…]

The Sacrament of Attention

We are pleased to feature another guest post from Michael Austin.

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once.
​​​​​—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.
​​​​—Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of
​​​​ School Studies with a View to the Love of God”

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in the Denver Airport because I missed my flight. I was sitting at the gate when the boarding calls were issued, but I didn’t hear them, nor did I even notice when the plane left the runway. That’s because I was completely engrossed in a marvelous book called Thinking Fast and Slow by the Nobel prizewinning psychologist/economist Daniel Kahneman. This book’s description of attention as a limited resource, optimized by two separate mental systems, fascinated me so much that I proved Kahneman’s thesis empirically—by failing to notice the large jet airliner fifty feet away taking off without me.
[Read more…]

The Sacrament of Friendship

It seems to me that one of the major challenges of the 21st century involves figuring out how to be present to other people. Technology has given us so many ways of connecting with others, but with these opportunities come some obstacles as well. Part of the value of social media is the way that it can help us keep connected regularly with distant friends, but these connections can often be fairly shallow. For that person who sat across the room from you in middle school math class, this might be okay, but with closer friendships it can feel like a hollowed-out version of something once solid. And in rare cases, social media can foster real friendships with people we’ve never met in real life. Conversely, social media and other forms of technological connection can distance us from the people with whom we are (or ought to be) present all the time, especially our families. Given Joseph Smith’s teachings about friendship as “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism” and about the eternal potential of family relationships, I believe that figuring out how to be present to other people is a pretty powerful theological imperative. In a recent post I thought about these questions in terms of heaven; for this post, I turn to the here and now. [Read more…]

Blessed are the Divorced

Many of us have recently participated in the “Eternal Marriage” lesson from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. The lesson’s final section carries the heading “As a husband and wife faithfully observe all the ordinances and principles of the gospel, their joy in marriage grows sweeter.” The paragraphs in the section, however, lean toward defining this joy negatively, in terms of avoiding divorce. This tendency can have the effect of making our divorced sisters and brothers seem “less than” those whose marriages are currently working.

[Read more…]

Good News for vegans

In his latest column, Robert Kirby lists numerous parties who have (or should have) grievances with the church. He’s looking for someone to replace gays who, despite email rumors to the contrary, won’t be protesting outside General Conference next weekend. Among the aggrieved parties are vegans [emphasis mine]:

Vegans should have a real bone to pick — oh, sorry — with the LDS church. Mormons are serious carnivores. The church owns huge welfare farms including some with cows. The bread we use in our Sacrament is made with real dairy products.

[Read more…]