International Series: The Trumpet Shall Sound

We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

Today’s post comes from Rahel.

How it eluded me for 35 years of active church membership, I do not know. In a recent conversation in my current ward in Pittsburgh, USA, I discovered that brass instruments are deemed “not appropriate for sacrament meeting” churchwide (Handbook 2, p. 115). Possibly, this personal discovery was avoided for so long through a succession of rogue bishops in my old ward—Basel, Switzerland—who allowed members to enhance the meetings on a variety of instruments with “less worshipful sound” (ibid.). I left the conversation with a tongue in cheek comment: “How else are you supposed to instill in people the fear of God if not by the piercing sound of trumpets?” (It might help with staying awake too.)

I am somewhat perplexed by how much this discovery affected me. Even though I like jazz and other music that involves brass instruments, I would be just fine with never hearing brass instruments during sacrament meeting again. Maybe I would have never even noticed the lack of trumpets and trombones in my new ward if it were not pointed out to me specifically. Why, then, do I feel the need to dwell on this seemingly minor point? I wonder if my discomfort might not stem from the content of the rule itself but rather from its apparent arbitrariness.

There is no universal principle stating that certain instruments are not worshipful. Arguably, certain sounds are more calming and soothing, while others are more stimulating. However, reverence does not equal calmness. It is possible to worship God in many differing states of agitation. I’m reminded of the case of Saul, who was given the following promise by Samuel:

After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, at the place where the Philistine garrison is; there, as you come to the town, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy. Then the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person. (10:5-6, NRSV)

If Saul could be at his most worshipful in a “prophetic frenzy” accompanied by tambourines, there must be a range of moods appropriate to the worship of God. Besides, we already have many songs in the hymnbook that elicit exuberance appropriate for those “other” instruments. Should we get rid of those songs as well? Somebody might get too exited! If calmness truly were a measure of worshipfulness then being asleep might be the most worshipful state of all.

Generally, Mormonism seems to have adopted a certain idea of worship that is not only expressed in its use of specific instruments. It is also conveyed in the style of its music, in the particular way the melodies flow and the tones merge into one indistinguishable sauce. Or you might recall instances of talks given in very aspirated voices, the “spiritual voice,” as my husband calls it. Aren’t you glad that they are not mandated by the Handbook?

I have come to refer to this particular style as the Walt Disney brand of worship, a brand where no dissonances, abrupt sounds, or unhappy endings are allowed. This is not to say that there is no merit to this kind of worship. Personally, I have found myself manipulated to tears by meetings in this vein. But, as someone who leans towards a more Lars Trier-oriented style, I also want a turn.

I find arbitrary rules harmful, and not just out of a belated teenage angst. They cause the power imbalance between those creating the rules and those having no part in making them to be more tangible. Of course, rules will only seem arbitrary to a person who was not part of creating them. In terms of the Church, I believe that the arbitrariness of certain rules is more blatant and therefore also more bothersome to people from cultures other than that of the rule-setters.

If the leaders of the Church ever come to me for advice about the handbook—and I’m sure they will—I will counsel them to allow more flexibility to the rules by being less specific. These rules are not about the Truth, so there is flexibility to be had. And if I was already at it, I would suggest less micromanaging and more self-determination. If the Church is big enough to accommodate the Swiss as well as the American, it is big enough to accommodate the horn as well as the organ.

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Neckties: Priesthood Attire or Lucifer’s Lust Pointer?

mens-fashion-ties-002 Neckties are arrows that point to the male genitalia. Why are they considered “priesthood attire” in the LDS community? In some congregations otherwise worthy men are not allowed to participate in priesthood ordinances unless wearing a white shirt and necktie. The male missionary uniform is a white shirt and conservative necktie, symbols of orthodoxy in the LDS Church. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby recently noted,

Neckties are so important to Mormons that it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing them airbrushed onto young men in church publications.

Oh, the horror! Before such a perilous day dawns, I must sound a warning. Neckties are leading women far from the iron rod of righteousness into the shadowy mists of lust. The influence of the necktie is subtle and pernicious and has infiltrated every level of Church leadership. legends-of-the-summer-justin-timberlake-jay-z-1.492.325.c The white shirt and necktie are ubiquitous symbols for male professional conformity and power, but some Christians contend that a man in a suit is too much temptation for the modern Christian sister.

Justin Timberlake and Jay Z acknowledge the power of the well dressed man in the song Suit and Tie. Brother Timberlake croons in the chorus,

And as long as I got my suit and tie, Ima leave it all on the floor tonight.

You are mistaken in hoping Brother Timberlake took off his suit and tie to put on his pajamas,

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Total Game Control

Guest Post by Emily Holsinger Butler

the playahs

A Catholic friend of mine once offered the idea that world religions exist for one single purpose: to control women. “A bit reductive, no?” was my response. But this guy was wicked smart—never flippant, never glib. And his assertion has stayed with me like a compass point. I refer to it whenever “things happen” in our Mormon universe. Who is trying to control whom, I ask.

I’ve been controlled, sure. In fact, I’ve often given courtesy control to people out of sheer politeness—like all those times on my mission when I submitted to a young district leader’s efforts to foist a personal priesthood interview on me. That was how the game was played. If there was a priesthood leader present, a sister would hop out of the driver’s seat and let him commandeer the wheel. “Take ‘er for a spin, Elder! Don’t scratch the paint!”* Results varied. It was usually fine, and sometimes funny.

Controlling women—have I been complicit? Heck yeah. I’ve collaborated. I’m not proud of myself. Holy cow, I’ve been Vichy France with a temple recommend.** Like that Saturday in 1994, at some church basketball tournament. As a very lovely break from law school exertions, I played on our ward’s women’s basketball team, coached to great effect by our Stake President. It was super fun. We made it to some sort of regional event, and drove down to a building in southern Virginia on the appointed day. Men were playing in a separate but equal tournament on the full-sized court. We were playing on a smaller one, and I wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, believe you me. As the female players gathered together, we were addressed by a priesthood leader who may or may not have also been the referee (I don’t recall). He outlined a few basics of the tourney, and then, in all seriousness, admonished us to dress modestly on court.

Incredulous, I looked at my teammates. We were for the most part women of a certain age, some of a more certain age than others. Our power forward was a professional nurse of repute. Our best shooter, the only one who could almost dunk, was the Stake President’s wife (and mother of many). Then there was me—I was a terrible player, but was equipped with two sports bras (worn simultaneously) and shorts that covered my thighs very adequately. I honestly don’t remember the other women’s names, but do remember their tolerant, almost vacant expressions as the brother went on about the necessity of sleeves and such. Nobody batted an eye. We regarded him with distant benevolence. We permitted him to tell us how to dress.

And so it was that we were unprepared for the vision that was unleashed upon us a few moments after the good brother concluded his remarks. It was then that the men’s teams emerged from their changing area. Unlike us, they had actual uniforms with actual numbers. On the other hand, it was clear that said uniforms had been handed down through generations of Mormon men, languishing in a Stake Center closet between basketball tournaments that began sometime in 1972. Sleeves they had none. Manufactured from some sort of skin-tight polyester fabric, the shorts stopped mere centimeters south of the groin area, which (how to put this) was exceptionally pronounced, if not practically articulated—so clingy they might have been codpieces for all intents and purposes. The men’s teams were composed primarily of middle-aged priesthood holders who (like us) were in it for a good time, and who (like us) could stand to lose a good twenty or thirty or forty pounds. It would have been a tender mercy for me to offer my second sports bra to any number of those players. Yeah. Their costumes left very little to the imagination.

Again I looked at my teammates. Bless them, their faces were frozen in alarm, not at what they were seeing, but at what was about to happen. We removed ourselves at once to a secluded area behind the bleachers, and fell to the floor where we rolled around unleashing howls of laughter. Personally, I laughed so hard I pulled a muscle in my abdomen, which didn’t help my game at all. We laughed until the tears ran. Someone almost choked. It wasn’t pretty.

What did I learn that day? Can’t say, really. But it does occur to me that we have a ways to go in our church before we can say that we love each other more than we love controlling each other.

Play on, sisters.

*It was, in fact, literally the case that sisters did not drive cars in my mission. That privilege was reserved for the missionaries who worked in the mission office. Who, incidentally, were all elders.

**I’m paraphrasing the wonderful Caitlin Moran, here. Email me if you want the original quote, which is pretty salty.

Emily Holsinger Butler is a hausfrau living in Utah with delusions of grandeur & survival, a writer of books, a hoper of all things and a believer in several of them.

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Church Games

800px-ChildrenI’m glad I ceded my usual spot to our guest post this morning because what she had to say about mediation was I think very valuable.  I am not part of the Ordain Women movement and did not attend the walk to the priesthood session.  I do believe that the ordination of women would be a good thing for many reasons.  I hope that it happens in my lifetime.  This week it has been very hard to witness the open conflict between church members online.  It seems that every time I log in I see something that upsets me and my response has been to withdraw and refuse to engage.

When I am unhappy, stressed or depressed often my response is to defuse the tension with humor, often inappropriately timed and unappreciated by others.  Maybe that will be the case today as well. However, I’ve decided to go for it anyway and make a post about the silly games my mother and I used to play in church meetings when we got bored or antsy.  After a week like this, we could all use a good laugh.  Lest you think I don’t have a speck of reverence in my body I will say that in general I pay attention and get things out of my meetings, but we all have our days.  Next time you’re at the back of stake conference sitting on the hard chairs for what feels like eternity, why not play one of the following little gems?

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An open letter to a Well-Behaved Woman: What “Frozen” is really teaching your kids

Sorry, Kathryn Skaggs.

My kids finally talked me into seeing “Frozen” (it’s school vacation week here, and we’re catching up on a lot of things that we haven’t found time for in the last few months). I had read your post about the homosexual agenda you saw so clearly in the movie, and I have to say that I looked and looked for that agenda. And I just couldn’t find it.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen the movie three times. I admit that I’ve only seen it once.

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Valentine’s Day

Today I went to ShopKo to buy Valentines. Once I got there I thought “why should I pay four dollars for a card I barely even like?” I love Valentine’s Day but I resent the gouging that goes on as we’re pressured to celebrate in a specific way.  I decided to help out my Exponent sisters by providing you with some Exponent-y Valentines.  I’d had this idea for about two weeks but realized that I have neither the programs nor the ability to do some fancy-shmancy photoshop.  So this is the product of me, Paintbrush and an evening in my jammies watching the Olympics.

Eliza R. Snow:

Eliza R. Snow valentine

 

 

 

 

 

You, single? The thought makes reason stare!

 

Emma Hale Smith:

emma valentine

 

 

 

 

 

I elect me to be your lady!

 

Lucy Mack Smith:

lucy mack val

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting next to you is always heaven to me!

 

From the Exponent II:

Exponent valentine

 

 

 

 

 

My love for you grows Exponent-ially!

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my sisters!

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