Following the rules or Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

I’m not someone who is particularly good at following the rules, at least some rules. And believe it or not, depending on who you talk to, Mormonism had a lot of rules. What type of soda/pop to drink, what kind of music to listen to, etc.

What always astounded me was the insistence on following the rules instead of following their intention. Going out to eat on Sunday is a great example of that.

I certainly understand a busy family taking some time to go out to eat. I think it can be good for family togetherness. No one in the family is responsible for the meal or for the cleanup.

I can respect that some families choose not to go out to eat on Sundays. The theory is that the employees of those restaurants would like to spend time with their families on the sabbath, and because people patronize those restaurants, the employees are not able to spend time with their families.

My own parents agreed with this while I was growing up, the only time we would go out on Sunday was to buy medicine. In other words, my parents took the guidance quite literally. I think it was in the eighties that places began to be open on Sundays. Before that time, throughout the midwest (especially smaller towns), most places were not open. Not restaurants necessarily, but grocery and hardware stores. (I might be mistaken about this). I think there has been a gradual move towards convenience and being open seven days a week.

To my mind, there are some assumptions being made here. First, that the employees of the restaurants and stores would spend their free time with their families. And who can say that time wouldn’t have been spent during the week? Why not spend Wednesday evening as a family, instead of Sunday afternoon?

Ah, but there’s the second assumption, that everyone agrees that there is one right way to spend the sabbath, as a family in church. And some churches (like the LDS church) don’t have flexible schedules and evening services. So, if someone works at a brunch place on a Sunday morning, and their LDS ward is scheduled for morning church (at 8:00 a.m.), they’re out of luck.

There’s also the biblical guidance about keeping the Sabbath day holy. But there is plenty of conflicting guidance about that – especially now in the twenty first century.

Does keeping the Sabbath day holy mean not watching tv? Or reading? Or doing homework? Or going to a park as a family? Again, I’ve heard many families (LDS and not) that have interpreted this guidance as all three.

So some people (see these comments on Jana’s post at Exponent II) might believe this. That the only way to spend time with one’s family on Sunday is to be in church, and to not patronize businesses on Sundays so that the employees can spend time with their families in church.

I simply don’t agree with the assumptions that by going out to eat after church on Sunday, that a person is forcing someone else to work and forcing that person to stay away from their families (and church). It may be true in some select cases, but I believe it’s more nuanced than that.

As a waitress, I worked my share of Sundays and holidays. If my memory serves me, I usually got the best tips on holidays.

I know many people might disagree, but I see the celebration of holidays when my family is able to get together. If it’s not on Christmas morning, or Father’s day exactly, what’s important is that we’re together.

I want to be able to have the freedom to choose where I work and when, and I give others the same freedom.

And it’s one thing to try to fix family meals at home when there aren’t little ones at home. But it’s quite another when there are little ones running around – I can definitely see why Sunday could be the most stressful day of the week for many LDS mothers of toddlers. Why it would not be considered a day of rest and reflection.

This is also why sometimes I felt like mormonism missed the forest for the trees. Following the letter of the law (not drinking coffee, for example) was seen as more important than following the spirit (trying to be healthy).

7 thoughts on “Following the rules or Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

  1. My family tried to make compromises in some areas but not others. There are many LDS who think spending money on Sundays is wrong, period. As ward clerk, my dad met with people who had issues giving payments for scout camp to the ward on Sunday, and they had to start paying for it on tithing slips to make people more comfortable. Dad thought this was silly, and had no problems with us spending money if it didn’t require someone working on Sunday (so vending machines were a go). There are other things that made no sense at all though- we weren’t allowed to play sports on Sundays (even family frisbee or soccer games) but we played board games together all evening. And time spent in church is not family togetherness- sacrament meetings are silent and then everyone’s separated into age segregated classes.

  2. Growing up, my family was pretty strict about not buying things on Sunday. I’m not sure the justification was to avoid making someone work (I don’t recall the question of buying stuff from vending machines ever coming up) — I think it was just that “don’t buy things on Sunday” was a commandment.

    Now that I think about it, I certainly did work (for money) on Sunday as a kid: I had a weekend paper route, and it was my (devout Mormon) mom who helped me and my siblings get our paper routes.

    These things vary a lot from one family to the next, though. I remember once (when we were little) my parents had a young LDS couple babysit us kids while Mom and Dad went on a short vacation together. The babysitters took us out to get fast food on Sunday, right after church! Let me tell you, I was shocked! But I thought it was cool.

    For a long time we also had a family rule about not swimming or boating on Sunday (perhaps because of that whole “devil has control of the waters” thing).

  3. p.s. I just saw the comments you’re responding to on that post you linked. Too funny! Did you see how the one lady responded to the other’s point about giving other people their Sunday off as a sabbath day of rest? 😉

  4. chanson – I have to say, the one chapter in your book where the family goes sledding on Sunday – well, it resonated with me (I can’t imagine that ever happening in my family growing up :) ).

    And as far as the original post went, didn’t realize this would track back to that. Yes – that’s the comment I was responding to here….I understand that lots of things don’t make sense. But this rule in particular never really made a lot of sense to me – depending on what your priorities are.

  5. I have to say, the one chapter in your book where the family goes sledding on Sunday – well, it resonated with me (I can’t imagine that ever happening in my family growing up :) ).

    That was the sort of thing that could happen at my house, growing up. My parents were pretty dutiful about keeping (and enforcing) the rules, but if we had to make an occasional exception, they wouldn’t fret over it.

    Of course, there were always the standard exceptions: if we were on vacation over a Sunday (and not specifically visiting a Mormon family) then we wouldn’t usually go to church (yay!). I’ve also heard some funny stories about Grandma drinking Pepsi on road trips: in those days, Mormons didn’t drink caffienated beverages — except when driving on long road trips! And when you have no choice but to break the rules, there’s no rule against enjoying it. 😉

  6. In general my family went to church then straight home. We did not do much unless we went to a relatives house.

    I always wondered though, why should we reserve reverence to just Sundays? Maybe my thinking is too simplistic, but we were taught that we are children of god…so why not show “reverence” everyday? hmmmmm…

  7. If you believe in the Sabbath, it is surely wrong to plaster the entire day with Church meetings.

    God created heaven and earth in six days. On the seventh day, God rested.

    He didn’t prune the hedges in the garden of Eden and He didn’t have a meeting with Adam.

    Mormons, especially American Mormons, don’t know how to keep the Sabbath. When they talk about a day of rest, they really mean church work day.

    I don’t care what they believe about the sabbath. The problem is that church leaders legitimize hypocrisy in the eyes of my children with their Orwellian uses of language.

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