Saturday, September 5, 2009

He Said: Situational Religion in Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy

Today I was talking to a relative who was visiting some friends for the Labor Day weekend. She told me that her LDS friends were planning a big Barbecue for her tomorrow on Sunday where many people she knew from an LDS support group were coming with their families. I didn't say anything to her because she would have taken it as unapproving but in my mind flashed the thought your friends aren't honoring the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy. It is always a knee jerk reaction that I have since joining the LDS Church. I have a sense of guilt whenever a questionable activity is engaged in from partying to watching sports to going to concerts etc.

I got to thinking about the practice and find that the concept of keeping the Sabbath Day holy is not as so cut and dry as leaders and speakers in church claim. In fact I believe it is a situational practice that has to be guided by a person's sense of right or wrong. If we were to examine the situation of my relative we would see that her friends are trying to do a kind deed to help her feel better about her life. She is in a marriage that she considers difficult with a husband she considers to be extreme and takes vacations apart from him to get some type of emotional and intellectual fulfilment with people of like minds. The only reason for doing it on Sunday that I could come up with is that since many of them are professional people they couldn't do it on Saturday since they have their yard work to do and since she is traveling home on Monday evening they didn't want to have it and be rushed. In their minds they probably feel that visiting with family and friends is an acceptable Sunday activity.

LDS general authorities in the name of religion stay in hotels, fly on airplanes, eat at restaurants, and travel in rent a cars. Frankly I don't have a problem since even Christ picked an ear of corn on the Sabbath to demonstrate you need to use your good sense on the matter. LDS leaders justify their practice on the basis of their minimizing their time away from family and to be to work on Monday at the Church Office Building. No matter how justified it sends a mixed signal to me as a member. When I travel on Sunday which I try to avoid I feel justified that my ox is in the mire and it is just necessary. Some people find a church in a strange town but I suspect more don't than do.

Although I understand their logic there is a part of me that feels a sense of guilt in having picnics or parties on the Sabbath. When I was a non-Mormon I lived a non-Sabbath worshipping type of life. I have always had difficulty reconciling whether having parties on Sunday was really breaking the Sabbath. Even the Jews socialize on their Sabbath. My wife and I started on Monday taking a free Biblical Hebrew reading class and the head of the College of Charleston's Jewish Studies Center invited us all Saturday for a free mid-morning brunch where a large repast would be shared after Synagogue.

Being a convert to the Church my family never honored the Sabbath Day nor did my wife's family in the manner of what we are taught in the LDS Church. My family had a dual lifestyle in that for the first half of my childhood I went to church at least once a week. For the first twelve years my parents who went to church about six times a year would make sure all of us children went every week. My mom would get out of bed long enough to make sure we were up getting ready and told us to hit the road. We went to the ten o'clock mass in the Catholic Church. After church our father and mother would take us on occasion out to a local restaurant or we would go get some Italian bread and have a lunch of home-made ravioli or pasta followed by watching baseball or football or an old movie. In the evening we would go to a friend's bar every other week where my father would sit at the bar talking to his friend and my mother and us would go in the back and socialize with his wife and have pizzaburgers. We would play in the back yard with ourselves or his grandchildren until it was dark. Every now and then we could go up front and play the pinball machine that would pay out dimes if we win and have a bag of potato chips, a Peter Paul Mounds or Almond Joy and a glass of Squirt. Around eight o'clock there would be a friendly game for the adults of illegal poker where they played for dimes and we children would watch television. Somewhere between ten and midnight we would go home with our parents carrying us to the car.

On the alternating week we would go twenty miles away to our grandparents home. Our father was not welcome since he was an alcoholic and had gotten in to a few physical fights with our mother. Her parents didn't welcome him since they insisted he change and encouraged my mother to leave him. She loved him and put up with his behavior. We also had large family gatherings like my wife's friends. We would have horseshoe pitching, croquet, board games, sack races to name a few things for kids. The adults stood around or sat at picnic tables and talked for hours about religion but mostly their lives. With eleven children and progeny there were as many as sixty people. My grandmother made her fried chicken with potatoes and other vegetables. Some weeks we only went in the evening when my father would go to visit some friends that ran a restaurant and he always bought us hot fresh piping donuts. I felt sorry for him that he was unwelcome and never understood how he would have to spend five or six hours waiting to take us home in a different town than his home. Our grandmother didn't usually go to an organized church but watched Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and Kathryn Kuhlman on television. We would listen to the scriptures on her phonograph. After the religion programs we would watch wrestling and Bonanza or the Texaco Theatre with Bob Hope.

My wife's father a Protestant minister would spend the morning in to the early afternoon in church activities. Occasionally the family would go to brunch or out to a restaurant. Once their religious services were over that was the end of the Sabbath Day.

When I joined the church as a missionary and later at BYU I was encouraged to more strictly adhere to keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Some of the activities that I engaged in were scripture reading, attending church and firesides, writing in my journal, reading LDS religious books, home teaching, and taking an occasional nap. When I married my wife she was even more strict having joined the church shortly before graduating from a religious university. She was a Baptist that didn't believe in card playing nor frivolous activities. She considered a few of my activities like watching tv unacceptable Sabbath Day activities. Most of my married life I have had ups and downs when it comes to reading books or watching television on Sunday.

In Faith Precedes the Miracle Spencer W. Kimball says on one hand:

To hunt and fish on the Lord's day is not keeping it holy. To plant or cultivate or harvest crops on the Sabbath is not keeping holy the Lord's day. To go into the canyons for picnics, to attend games or rodeos or races or shows or other amusements on that day is not to keep it in holy remembrance.

Strange as it may seem, some Latter-day Saints, faithful in all other respects, justify themselves in missing their church meetings on occasion for recreational purposes, feeling that the best fishing will be missed if one is not on the stream on opening day or that the vacation will not be long enough if one does not set off on Sunday or that one will miss a movie he wanted to see if he does not go on the Sabbath. And in their breach of the Sabbath they often take their families with them.

And on the other hand:

The Sabbath is not a day for indolent lounging about the house or puttering around in the garden, but is a day for consistent attendance at meetings for the worship of the Lord, drinking at the fountain of knowledge and instruction, enjoying the family, and finding uplift in music and song.

It is a day for reading the scriptures, visiting the sick, visiting relatives and friends, doing home teaching, working on genealogy records, taking a nap, writing letters to missionaries and servicemen or relatives, preparation for the following week's church lessons, games with the small children, fasting for a purpose, writing devotional poetry, and other worthwhile activities of great variety.

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

The Lord wrote concerning the sanctity of the Sabbath when His finger touched the tablets of stone on Sinai: Keep the Sabbath day holy. And that commandment has been reiterated in modern times as set forth in the fifty-ninth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Let us be a Sabbath-keeping people. Now I do not want to be prudish. I do not want you to lock your children in the house and read the Bible all afternoon to them. Be wise. Be careful. But make that day a day when you can sit down with your families and talk about sacred and good things. "Keep the Sabbath holy," saith the Lord to all people and particularly to this people. (Smithfield/Logan Utah Regional Conference, priesthood leadership session, April 20, 1996.)

Ezra Taft Benson gave a few suggestion on what to do on the Sabbath:

a. Activities that contribute to greater spirituality.

b. Essential Church meetings in the house of prayer.

c. Acquisition of spiritual knowledge-reading the scriptures, Church history and biographies, and the inspired words of the Brethren.

d. Resting physically, getting acquainted with family, relating scriptural stories to children, bearing testimony, building family unity.

e. Visiting the sick and aged shut-ins.

f. Singing the songs of Zion and listening to inspiring music.

g. Paying devotions to the Most High-prayer, personal and family; fasting, administrations, father's blessings.

h. Preparing food with singleness of heart-simple meals prepared largely on Saturday.
I think there is plenty of leeway in keeping the Sabbath day holy. Visiting with friends seems to be one that is situational. I am not sure just what really constitutes keeping the sabbath day holy once church is over. Many Latter-day Saints like to knock off home and visiting teaching as an acceptable practice. I think since there are conflicting things that makes keeping the Sabbath Day holy it is rather confusing and a situational matter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Endlessly: She Said