One of my posts about voluntarily participating in Lent and my wish for a Mormon liturgical calendar brought about some very interesting reasons why we don’t need one. This caused further reflection since, as someone who reflexively resists people telling him what to do, I want a calendar that tells me what to do. What is it about Lent (and other non-Mormon religious events and holidays) that intrigue me so? These are the reasons I came up with why I like Lent and why I think more Mormon holidays would be spiritually beneficial to us as a Church culture:
1. Lent is a universal religious holiday
The idea of Lent is pretty clear. It’s a 45 day preparation period for Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Doctrinally, our entire religion hinges upon this idea that Jesus could conquer death. Without it, we’re nothing. As a whole church, Catholics all over the world participate in this long period of fasting, spiritual contemplation, and preparation.
We have Mormon holidays, JustJill pointed out. We have Pioneer Day and you don’t even like it so why do we need more? A valid point. My problem with Pioneer Day is it’s not a universal Mormon holiday. First off, the entire Church doesn’t celebrate it. Many Utahns I talked to when I went to BYU were shocked that practically no Mormon (not even Utah ex-pats) celebrate Pioneer Day outside of Utah. Sometimes The Ensign gives a passing reference, but it’s not a huge deal outside of Utah, which brings me to my next problem with Pioneer Day.
Not everyone has a pioneer heritage. My parents, for example, were the first in my line to join the Church. And so people tell me that in a spiritual sense, I am a pioneer and Pioneer Day is applicable. But let’s be honest: Do Utahns when they celebrate Pioneer Day celebrate these “latter-day pioneers”? Not really.
And that’s my last problem with Pioneer Day. There is no real set religious way to celebrate it. We have a day off if you’re lucky, and maybe you might have a picnic or visit a handcart museum or something. Some towns in Utah, rumor has it, have parades. But there is no real spirituality behind that holiday. It’s not a religious holiday in practice by any sense.
Remember when President Hinckley challenged the Church to read the Book of Mormon by the next General Conference? The Church went nuts over it. Suddenly, everyone in the Church was moving as a Church body toward a common goal. The Ensign was flooded with how church wards and branches and stakes all over the world achieved that goal and the celebrations which came with it. It was not just reading the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time. We were reading the Book of Mormon together as a Church and a lot of people loved it. There’s a real need, I think, for Church-wide celebration of who we are, and I think the palpable frenzy surrounding President Hinckley’s challenge demonstrated it. Which brings me to my next point:
2. Religious holidays are a celebration
Korean culture is a big shock to my wife, and one of them is the fact that we throw lots of parties. Like, all the time. I’m serious. One cannot understand it until one lives with Koreans for an extended period of time. We throw parties for baptisms, we throw parties after a choir performance, heck, we break the fast together as a branch every first Sunday. And really, sometimes we all just get together one Saturday, cook a ton of food and then sing really bad Karaoke. My wife mentioned once that Koreans will celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. I told her that’s my philosophy as well, something she sometimes frets over.
We should, as Mormons, celebrate life. Our gospel is one of happiness and joy, but you wouldn’t believe it the way we sing our hymns sometimes. Now, Lent is a somber celebration, but it is a celebration nonetheless that culminates in the joyous memory of Christ’s triumph over death. It’s good for our souls and our minds and our hearts, in my opinion, to take the time and set aside a day or a period of time every year to celebrate things in our Church. JustJill mentioned it would be interesting to go through Mormon history and pick days to celebrate, but it’s not just celebrating history; we should celebrate gospel concepts. Lent doesn’t denote any special period of Catholic history, but it’s about a religious concept. Same with the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s not a special date in Jewish history per se, just a day to celebrate a very Jewish concept.
3. Liturgical calendars give our culture balance and reminds us of who we are
Jamie’s correct in saying we have a very powerful culture that ties us in universal buildings and ways of worship. I, too, loved walking into the church buildings in Seattle because it feels like home. In places like Oklahoma where Mormons were as rare as a jackalope, seeing one of our buildings helped reinforce sagging spirits. Our culture is a powerful cohesive element that is a huge part of our lives.
But sometimes it feels our culture lacks balance. A liturgical calendar would give our religious culture focus. At the moment, our religious culture resembles much of what JustJill wrote – a list of everything we can’t do. There’s a fairly famous Facebook group called “I Can’t – I’m Mormon,” which pretty much signifies our entire culture’s attitude towards having fun, it seems. I’m not saying wickedness is fun, but sometimes our wariness of doing something that breaks one of our many commandments bleeds into areas that shouldn’t even be affected. And I certainly don’t mean that we should celebrate in excess as Sidney very aptly pointed out in reference to Brazil’s Carneval (also, Sidney used the term “jaundiced eye,” which is +100 awesome imagery points).
Our culture is very one-sided. We have three basic elements to our Church culture right now. The first one would be commandments. We have a lot of commandments, from the trivial (no coffee or tea) to the important (no sex before marriage). The second one would be responsibilities. Mormons on Sunday always seem to walk around in a sort of daze. We have callings (sometimes two or three) and home or visit teaching. If you have kids, you have YM/YW activities through Mutual, Scouting, Primary activities, the works. And, of course, if you have kids, well, I mean, you have kids. Those aren’t easy to manage sometimes. The third and final element of our culture is guilt – guilt in a failure to live up to all points of Mormon law and responsibility.
This guilt is manifest when I suggest we have a liturgical calendar. “By Einstein’s Hoary Theory of Relativity! You want to give me MOAR STUFF TO DO?!” We already have commandments and fast Sunday and responsibility and whydoyouwanttogivememore?! As paradoxical as it sounds, it seems to me that a liturgical calendar could not only provide order in some of that responsibility but a more well rounded culture, too.
We need a celebratory aspect to our religious lives. When Mormon funerals are more bouncy and happy than Mormon linger-longers or munch-and-mingles or meet-and-greets or whatever the heck you want to call them, you know there’s a problem. Yeah, it’s sad Grandma Smith died, but now she doesn’t have to go visit teaching EVAR AGAIN. Now that’s something to celebrate! One of our hallmark stereotypical Mormon cultural food items is called funeral potatoes, for heaven’s sake.
A celebratory aspect of our religious culture gives us a reminder every now and then why we’re Mormon. The rush of experiencing a communal holiday with the rest of the Church, the re-invigoration of support when we all work toward a common idea or goal, all of this reminds us why we chose to join ourselves with such a demanding community. And I’m not saying that celebration doesn’t add more stress; it definitely can. I remember my mom tiredly chopping massive portions of green onions, my wife bent over a skillet flipping tons of pancakes, the men rapidly setting up tables and setting out literally a hundred chairs. But when we all work together and then enjoy the fruits of our labors every now and then as we did that lunar new year celebration, when Brother Lee is calling out for more volunteers as Koreans in traditional garb twirl the jump rope and grown men and women are trying to skip around in the whirling rope (and falling down and laughing while doing it) while the whole room chants a traditional children’s song in between mouthfuls of food everyone brought, it reminded me that day why I love being Korean.
Sometimes, I feel our religion needs more events like these to remind ourselves why being Mormon is just so awesome. Because it is awesome to be Mormon. We just forget that sometimes, and maybe a celebration or two of our Mormon aspects could help us remember that.
Scheduled for tomorrow: Why I Love Lent