Sunday I happened upon a “sacrament meeting” in some quarter of Zion-Utah, and upon entering, was a bit confused. Was this a smart phone and tablet instructional seminar, designed to teach the fundamentals of using these new gadgets? No! It was a missionary homecoming? At least, at the podium was a recently returned missionary talking as they typically do, but, I’m not lying, one man in a folding chair in the basketball section of the chapel (near the three point line) was openly playing Solitaire on his tablet, and everyone from teens to moms and dads were flagrantly playing games, texting, or looking at people’s faces on their phones. The kiddies, of course, were all coloring and markering pre-printed drawings, and generally making a racket that nearly drowned out the speaker. This is a Mormon church in 2015? You’ve got to be kidding. Their batteries will need a re-charge, that is certain. Their lips are one place, and their hearts in quite another. The heads, of some, anyway, are generally indistinguishable from what they’ve put on their folding chairs.
Why do we build churches with chapels that will only seat half the congregation, and stretch it into a basketball court, where the others sit on folding chairs? This expansion across the foul line isn’t an accident, they are built this way. Someone at the COB actually decides, on a daily basis, to have his fellow Mormons violate the 3 seconds-in-the-key rule, while partaking of the Lord’s Supper! My batteries are re-charged, and I’ve worked out a new Triangle Defense for the Elder’s Quorum!
I can see an archaeologist in the future with a rather puzzled look, as she uncovers what appears to be a sports court leading into a classic Protestant chapel. What sort of cult was this? And what do these tiny cups mean? Were they especially small people, who worshipped basketball players for being tall? Is that painting of a bearded man in the flowing robes supposed to represent The Great Jimmer?
Can you imagine walking into the Temple at Real Zion, and forty feet from the throne of God is a bowling alley, because they just couldn’t be so prodigal as to design separate facilities or rooms for these two generally distinct activities? Pick up the spare, Jehovah, on that 7-10 split! Now that’s salvation! What if we didn’t have all these distractions, and had to actually sit in a room, and listen to what was said from the pulpit?
Imagine I set up a buffet restaurant, and nearly every patron who showed up and paid for dinner refused to eat what I provided, and instead pulled out cold cereal from their pockets for a snack. How long should I continue this enterprise? As long as it remains profitable, right? What hope do I have that my buffet will remain profitable? Not much. So, why not simply serve them rubbish? Why bother with the good stuff? And maybe I tell diners that by showing up and paying some fee (in time, labor, or cash) they are guaranteed a better dinner next week, or the week after, or after they die? At some point, my food is too poor and unnourishing even to keep diners believing in that hopeful lie. Probably the only folks who continue to show up will instead bring their own food. And that’s fine, as long as they pay up I can stay in business. The logic of the market place has taken over, at this point. And when my diners’ bodies are disassociated from their environments, that logic becomes all the more compelling.
So, a challenge to all Mormons: Avoid all distractions, and actually listen to what is said in chapels (or basketball courts) on Sunday. I did. How long can you continue, under those restrictions?
Maybe, you reply, it isn’t about what is said, it’s about how I feel. OK. Does that feeling have anything to do with what is said? If not, is it the building’s design, the hollow steeples, the pre-fab pews, the carpeted hallways, or the drinking fountains? It is built to appear like one thing, and to be from a cost perspective, something else. Chapels tell us about the image versus the reality, and a hollow steeple high above a satellite dish is all you need to know about our religion. I admit, church water is a pretty good reason to attend church, but if there isn’t light in the voices of those speaking, there is darkness. What you report as a feeling can be found anywhere you turn your mind to God, and away from Candy Crush, for a second or two.
Speaking of darkness…Following the missionary was an older man who read to the congregation from a children’s book, apparently following his boss’s insistence that he “keep it simple,” for we are stupid. Saturday, he explained, is the day before Sunday, making it a special day, a day to get ready for Sunday. Sunday is special because, well, it is called The Sabbath, and we don’t use strange words for things that aren’t special, right? And we are to keep the Sabbath Day Holy, meaning, well, special. You see? In any case, you will get blessings if you do keep the Sabbath Day Holy, and blessings are whatever you’d like to call blessings. The most blessed people are the most flexible in their usage of that term.
Again, being unable to explain anything about his own traditions, this man — specially assigned to preach, and not merely a passerby pulled up to wing it — turned to a children’s book designed wholly to instruct toddlers on the merits of Sunday. Those merits being, because Saturday is pretty awesome, and Sunday is sort of like Saturday, in coming immediately after it. When this vein no longer brought in the spiritual gold, he offered us the simple equation: Obedience => Blessings. The marketplace provides the substance of his speculations. How many parents have had good results by blatantly bribing their children to do unpleasant things, which they are asked to do only in order to get the reward? Stand on your head, and let that man pour apple sauce over you, and remain still while the flies crawl over your face, and I shall pay you many GoobledyGooks. What is that, you ask? It’s invisible, intangible, and comes in forms that we call Everyday Experience of Ordinary Things. Who does this?
We are leaving blessings on the table if we aren’t Sabbath Keeping the Holy Day, or whatever! You don’t want to waste blessings do you, young man? Look at all those blessings Jehovah has cranked out, and you want to sit there and not get all of them? There are kids in Hell who would kill for a few blessings, and you, shaaaaaame, would rather not show up and sit on folding chairs, playing solitaire near the three-point line, in a suit?! I must say, Inconceivable!!! Oh, Noah saw no such wickedness in his day!
But wait… if you show up within the next six days, we’ll double the offer!!! Imagine double the blessings!!! Double the, um, blessings, whatever you think that is. No more turning on your spiritual iPhone, and finding it out of charge. No more running out of spiritual battery when you’ve almost made your little pixel man jump over the final obstacle! Just pay additional shipping and fast offering.
What I think the entire meeting boils down to is: We Are Right. We Must Be Right. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, or that no one is listening because I’m not saying anything but what they can read in their toddler’s book, ironically designed to distract the child so I can listen to the informed man in the suit, who nonetheless is reading from that same toddler’s book. But I don’t care, because I just got a Jack of Spades, and that allows me to knock out another line in Solitaire, and when I go to show my spouse, I interrupt her texting to a friend about a new toxin designed to reduce evidence of having aged on planet earth, and it’s all good, because me and my family will serve the Lord as we scurry to our separate pens, being hand fed pellets of recycled Chinese newspapers, but in the end, we are Right, because we are Right. How else do you explain all my blessings?
God sends the rain on the just and the unjust, and blesses those that curse Him.