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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Hallmark Day! Today's Sacrament Meeting Menu: Eulogies for the Living

Happy Hallmark Day, everyone! In some wards, there is an unwritten rule that instead of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ on this momentous day, speakers instead must spend their time telling endearing stories about their mothers, including recollections of childhood events, maternal quirks, and an abundance of trivia. In other words, the talks should sound something like funeral eulogies, with many of the subjects still living. (This is not true of many wards, fortunately, which manage to keep Mother's Day talks Gospel-centered.) I hope your ward is on the cutting edge and does not feel an obligation to let the topic of the sermons be dominated by Hallmark Day. OK, that's not fair. I should also call it Florists Day.

Many people think that Mother's Day is a modern innovation created by greeting card conglomerates. But the history of this holiday is much deeper, with roots going all the back to Egypt, where there was an annual festival to honor the goddess Isis, the mythical Mother of the pharaohs and the goddess of gift shops. The ancient Egyptians depicted her carrying a bouquet of flowers in one hand (though sometimes a single rose or lotus blossom is shown), the keys to her gift shop in the other hand (the "ankh" symbol, the symbol of endless economic life and business vitality), and a pop-up greeting card on her head. So yes, the core values of this holiday are ancient indeed.

Mother's Day in the US also has roots in Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870. The woman who wrote the The Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1858 had become disgusted with the carnage of war and wanted mothers to join together in preventing the unnecessary slaughter of their sons. In her proclamation of 1870, she wrote:
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts,
Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears
Say firmly:

"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of
charity, mercy and patience.

"We women of one country
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
Not the sort of thing we see on Mother's Day cards today, but I can respect her feelings on the matter.

Sadly, this post has anything to do with the Gospel. So feel free to quote from it if you're giving a talk in Church today. But starting next week, please, let's get back to business! Or rather, let's get back to the Gospel. Isis, Inc. (the secret owner of Hallmark, Flowers.com, and Hershey Chocolate) has the business part covered already.

For the record, I think mothers deserve a lot more respect and appreciation than they get. Oh, in case you're reading, Hi Mom! Hope you liked my card.

Update: The Neenah, Wisconsin Ward did pretty well today. While the speakers did discuss mothers and motherhood, there was scriptural content and uplifting insights, and not everyone recited the same "sons of Helaman" passage that mentions the impact of mothers teaching their children. And the music was pretty good, too.

My point here is not complaining about honoring mothers, but my discomfort with the trivial, non-Gospel oriented content that I've often encountered in Mother's Day talks (ditto for it's paternal twin), plus some discomfort with letting the existence of a highly-commercialized secular holiday seem to dictate when and what we preach. But I guess it's what we all expect. That's OK - as long as we remember that sacrament meeting is a time for worship of the Lord, covenant renewal, and spiritual edification, regardless of which secular holiday we might be acknowledging (e.g., Mother's Day, Father's Day, or Superbowl Sunday).

29 comments:

Proud Daughter of Eve said...

For the record, I think mothers deserve a lot more respect and appreciation than they get.

I'm seeing a logical disconnect here, Jeff. "Mothers deserve more respect and appreciation than they get," you say after several paragraphs of bitterness and sarcasm about the one day of official recognition that they do get.

Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's not doing good for someone else who needs to hear it.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that mother's should be appreciated all the time. The one hour of the week where we partake of the bread and water in remberance of our baptismal covenants is also a time that should be devoted to drawing closer to Jesus Christ. Mother's Day in Sacrament meeting becomes imbalanced with these 'living eulogies' and very little/ no talk of Christ.

Happy Mother's Day :-)

jayleenb said...

I prefer Ghirardelli white chocolate myself!

Funny post. I always wondered what that thing on her head was.

Zera Pulsipher said...

Some of us lowly mortals are so dependent on our wives and Mothers that we only have time to truly appreciate them one day out of the year, the rest of the time we're to busy relying on them.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mormanity said...

Proud Daughter, I agree that recognizing mothers is helpful and valuable, and I don't object to that. It's trivial or non-Gospel content that I object to, especially when it seems to be dictated by a highly commercial secular holiday. Many talks on mothers do a great job of keeping the Gospel perspective. It's the ones that don't that I object to.

And having just been slapped by Obama himself for my bitterness (I'm a small town guy still clinging to religion), I am pained to be slapped once again for the same reason - "bitterness." I guess I don't understand the word "bitter." I enjoy Mother's Day and really don't feel any sense of the b-word. I'm not angry at all. But perhaps you sensed my distaste for the sense of obligation that our nation feels in purchasing trite but expensive cards to let someone else express gratitude for us (my wife got a card, but it was homemade using Serif DrawPlus 8 coupled digital family photos and printed on glossy photographic paper for a lot less than the $4 that Hallmark wanted when I looked at cards this week). Or my sense of discomfort with non-Gospel-centered talks that get into personal trivia.

A Mississippi Saint said...

Here in Columbus, Mississippi we departed from the cliche Jeff described and actually had a very nice Sacrament meeting with 3 talks focused on a few women in the Savior's ancestry. First, Rachel & Leah, followed by Ruth & Naomi, and concluded with Mary. The comments were focused on how these women's lives point us toward the Savior and help us become more like Him and worship our Father in Heaven.

The Spirit testified of truth and I felt uplifted and edified. The Bishop concluded the meeting very nicely by reviewing how mothers (and all of us) can and do fulfill the words of Nephi in 2 Nephi 25:26. One of the best Mother's Day Sacrament services I have attended.

and then the Young Men presented every adult woman with a special gift.

Happy Mother's Day! despite the lack of references to the mothers of the Sons of Helaman.

Walter said...

As the concluding speaker in the Neenah ward Sacrament meeting today, I can assure the Mormanity readership that the was nary a hint of bitterness discernable on Jeff's face during the meeting today.

At least until I started my talk. :-)

Scott and Jillian said...

There's a Neenah ward now?! Man, am I out of the loop, or what? Next thing you're going to tell me is that Pluto is not a planet...

jayleenb said...

I do know how you feel Jeff. There are two wards here and for a brief time I moved into the other one. I found that their version of Fast and Testimony meeting was really Missionary Updates from moms with sons/daughters on a mission day.

Seriously, they'd talk for 10-20 minutes about anything and everything their missionaries were doing and most was what kind of food they were eating, what they were doing on P-day... what traveling was like where they are... it was AWFUL.

I was greatly relieved to get back to my original ward where at least a few folks share their actual testimonies.

Bored in Vernal said...

I'm intrigued by this post and quite willing to agree with you, but perhaps you could give some suggestions on how to make Mother's Day more gospel-centered. It is due to the dearth of scriptural material that we have an overabundance of stripling warriors quotes. The only other directions possible might be women in the scriptures (and we don't have many examples of their mothering, even when we do encounter feminine biblical personalities; or we sometimes hear of the mothers of the prophets.

How would you go about making the meeting more gospel-centered on Mother's Day???

Anonymous said...

Considering the state of motherhood in the United States I think any thing positive is good. If the spirit is present when mothers are telling about their sons and daughters on missions then this could be why the bishops allow this to go on. I have felt the spirit many time when many felt that the meeting was a mess. We never know when someone is open to the message that God wants someone in the ward need to have the spirit confirm the truth to. It may not be the message just the spirit. Each bishop needs to make that call.

Anonymous said...

"I was greatly relieved to get back to my original ward where at least a few folks share their actual testimonies."

Sounds like the attitude that I got from many members before I left the church. Only their ward or members are doing it right. Boy I love this church.

Alex Valencic said...

Members of the church have been repeatedly instructed on what constitutes a testimony and what does not.

A testimony is not a travelogue, a health-logue, a sermon, a lecture, an exhortation, a mission report, or even a faith-promoting story. Occasionally, one may choose to share a brief faith-promoting story to illustrate a particular point of one's testimony. For example, I have a testimony of the power of prayer. I may choose to share a particular instance of when a prayer was answered to emphasise this.

Unfortunately, many members of the church choose to disregard what our Prophets and Apostles have repeatedly stated, and continue to fill our limited time with self-promoting stories of how righteous someone is. I much prefer testimony meetings where I hear brief, heart-felt testimonies of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. If I want to hear about someone's missionary, I will ask them after church.

This is the same deal with sacrament meetings dominated by non-Gospel-centred talks on Mothers' Day and Fathers' Day. If you want to talk about your mother, talk about the Gospel truths she taught you, and how she magnified her calling as the primary nurturer in the home, not how well she came make cheesy potato casseroles.

RWW said...

Sounds like the attitude that I got from many members before I left the church. Only their ward or members are doing it right. Boy I love this church.

Yes, your attitude is much more constructive.

Zera Pulsipher said...

@Alex

In regard to testimonies what I loved was in the mission field, not even minutes after the president had given those exhortations. We'd then be inevitably treated to a long "testimony" on how much they loved their companion, and no it wasn't just the sisters.

@Jeff
Just so you know my previous comment was meant to be as tongue in cheek as your post, which I still thoroughly enjoyed.

Walter said...

@"Scott and Jillian"

Here's a picture of the Neenah Ward:

http://flickr.com/photos/inversion/2487195783/

Walter Reade (from Wisconsin)

Anonymous said...

"Members of the church have been repeatedly instructed on what constitutes a testimony and what does not." and all that followed.

Boy such a reminder of why I left the church. Always crying over something.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous person/persons who left the church over all of the whining and crying - you should have stayed and shown us how to do it right.

Richard G.

RWW said...

But it seems that he/she/they never really left the Church at all, as they are still obsessing over it.

Darion Alexander said...

In the mission field, we used to sit in the back and just sit in awestruck wonder, that some testimonies were never testimonies in themselves. After two years and some time later, my friends and I categorized, and I am sure we aren't the only ones to do so, each testimony into the following groups:

1. Storymony-usually begins with, "The other day I was at the supermarket and..." or "I was visiting my mother last weekend and..."

2. Moan-a-mony-usually begins with "I am a terrible person..." or "I just repented of my horrible sins..." not to be confused with the next category, Confession -a-mony, because this one, is where they only explain that they are a bad person without the details.

3. Confession-a-mony- generally begins like the Moan-a-mony, except the person feels the need to extrapilate or explain in the utmost of detail their sins and trespasses, not regarding the fact that there are virgin ears in the chapel.

4. Cryamony- generally, well, it never begins. The person or testifier cannot get one word out of their mouths before tears stream down their faces. The rest is a hodge-podge of words, sniffs, grunts and other various sounds, with an Amen at the end. This can lead to the NEXT category, the I-can-out-cry-you- amony.

5. I-can-out-cry-you-amony -generally, not to be sexist or offensive, is generally done by the Sisters in Relief Society. It's an all out battle about who sinned the worst or feels the worst, or has the strongest testimony, etc etc, ad nauseum only to see who can produce THE most tears.

6. Preachamony or Talk-amony-not to be confused with the Y'all goin' to hell-amony. The testifier will open their Scriptures and proceed to give a talk based on said Scripture. These generally last longer than most talks and leave little time for others to testify.

6. Y'all goin' to hell-amony or the Repentamony- generally the testifier claims a vision or heard a voice or some kind of manifestation where the whole ward is in condemnation unless they repent of their pride and sins. This is generally followed by half-awakened snores, groans, wide-eyed bewildered children looking at their parents, and the Bishop getting up to assure the members that indeed all need to repent, but this is neither the time nor place or means to call people to repentance. This generally results in a shortened Sacrament meeting, which is kind of cool.

Last but not least there is the all to famous Children Testimonies, which fall under 2 categories:

1. Popcorn-popping-on-the-apricot- tree testimony-where the child in question, arises, smiles, and basically says, "I know the Church is true, I love my mommy and daddy, inthenameofJesusChristAmen."

2. The-parent-standing-next-to- the-wide-eyed-scared-child-amony- in general this it he most recognized of all -amonies in all categories, because a parent is following the child to the podium. Beware, this can actually hinder a child's ability to understand what bearing a testimony is, because it scares the be-jesus out of them!

If I missed some other categories, just let me know.

Anonymous said...

"To the anonymous person/persons who left the church over all of the whining and crying - you should have stayed and shown us how to do it right."

NO, I think you mormons have taught me all I need to know about laying cheating, stealing, and not to forget the couple of times they tryed to kill me. So Richard G. if you would like to take a shot I am sure I will make it back into the church some day.

Anonymous said...

"But it seems that he/she/they never really left the Church at all, as they are still obsessing over it."

I never really left the Church, I love the Church and have nothing against the Church. I converted over 30 years ago and it was the greatest event of my life. After I have been blessed by thousands of spiritual experiences and look forward to going on a full time life time mission. You might drive me out of the Only true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth but you can not keep me from doing good to my fellow humans.

Anonymous said...

"In the mission field, we used to sit in the back and just sit in awestruck wonder, that some testimonies were never testimonies in themselves. After two years and some time later, my friends and I categorized, and I am sure we aren't the only ones to do so, each testimony into the following groups:"

After I joined the Church this sounds like the attitude I got from many members and missionaries in Salt Lake City. I know you are just having some fun but I watched many converts come in the front door just to go out the back door because of such attitudes. One of the best parts I love about the church is that the it is a lay church and all the unpolished people that the Holy Spirit converts. And how the do their best in trying to fumbel through to live up to your expecations. I don't look down your humor any more that I would some unpolished child of God that needs Christs true restored gospel even if they are a bumbeling idiot when it comes to testimony meetings.

Anonymous said...

"If I missed some other categories, just let me know."

Only your own?!

Darion Alexander said...

Most of the recent converts are the ones with the real strong testimonies half the time. They are the ones that get up and give a good old fashioned testimony without any of the wordiness or stories that long time members sometimes give. Though Anon, you may say that my attitude puts members out the door, I am glad that you have at least seen what I am talking about. I wish more members would fumble, because at least the Spirit would touch them better through their humility. I make no claims on being perfect, but I did state what is generally seen in the stakes I have visited. A testimony should be blunt, straight to the point, serious and without the fancy words, at least that's my opinion. But if you feel my "attitude" is off base, well, thanks for having the umpf to tell me.

Anonymous said...

"Though Anon, you may say that my attitude puts members out the door,"

I was not trying to say you but the attitude if serious. I like your humor and love religious humor mostly about Mormons. I have had members give me a hard time about my testimony and over the years heard others say things about members testimony. Not cool and then I would take it but not any longer. And that is why I no longer attend. I think the world of the church and it's members but we need to becareful about what we say and do to members that are giving the only thing they have, as weak as it is. I did not mean this directed at you.

Darion Alexander said...

Hakuna matata Anon, I didn't take offense at all, I only wanted to be sure that those who read my reply knew that it was intended to be slightly humorious but at the same time an eye opener. Our testimonies are most precious and when I go to a testimony meeting, that's what I want to hear, a testimony, not any of the above.

Anonymous said...

"not any of the above."

And unlike you, I don't care if they come out with all of the above, I have never had a bad experience in a testimony meeting. I am pleased a punch that they have enough of a testiomony that they are there. I have never gotten men crying but I guess it is a Mormon thing. I love the preprogramed kids testimony. Some think "brain wash", but most kids are forced to get up infront of the school and say all kinds of things they don't believe or understand. Better this than they coming from single parents and become car jackers. Some of the funnist times is the dummmm thngs that people say. It just slays me.