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.