Friday, January 7, 2011

White Shirts and the Sacrament

I honestly was surprised at how I felt about Elder Oaks' talk about the sacrament a few years ago. It actually shocked me. I always had argued against a "white shirt to administer the sacrament" mentality, especially since I had served in a small Asian branch where the best the kids had was clean jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I had been fairly vocal about it, so I was stunned by how his talk resonated for me.

First, I heard him say "where possible" -
which is an extremely important exception to me.

Second, I have never heard the sacrament positioned that clearly and directly as a sacred ordinance linking baptism to the temple in the way Elder Oaks did. I understand and appreciate the link from baptism to the sacrament, but I had never envisioned the deacons and teachers and priests as they administer and pass the sacrament as similar to the person who stands in the font during a baptism dressed in white to symbolize purity and cleanliness and the initiation of a new, covenant life. I don't know why I had never made that connection, but I hadn't.

When Elder Oaks said we are living in an age where more and more people are losing a sense of the sacredness of saving ordinances, it really hit me that he wasn't just talking about others -
that, in this instance, he was talking about me. It's been a long time since I felt that type of insight - that I had allowed something deeply sacred to become a bit mundane. It shook me, and it made me look at the symbolism of a white shirt to administer and pass the sacrament in a different light than I had previously. As I said in a comment at an LDS group blog, it hit me that I really do believe it is more important to embed the sacredness of the ordinance more deeply into the hearts and eyes of our young men (and other members) than to take a more "lenient" approach to it. While he was speaking, I realized that my new vision of the ordinance itself was changing my perspective on the issue itself. Finally, it hit me that wearing a white shirt is not a "problem" at all, in and of itself. It struck me that wearing white to baptize and perform temple ordinances isn't a "problem", so why would it be a problem to have it applied to the sacrament - especially since Elder Oaks added the disclaimer "where possible"? It's not a problem unless I make it one, and I no longer want to make it one.

I truly was surprised by my reaction. I mean that. It had been a long, long time since a talk literally changed my perspective almost completely while it was being given. There have been a few that had a major impact, immediately and over time, but I can't remember the last time it happened like this.


jen said...

My problem with the white shirt mentality, is the judgment that comes when men don't wear the white shirt.

I have a good friend who's bishop gave him a really hard time about not wearing a white shirt to church. He wasn't participating in the sacrament, other than to take it, but the bishop told him he NEEDED to be dressed the "right" way. To be an example. To show obedience.

I am actually a firm believer that dressing up for church is counter to the way Jesus taught. I much prefer the "come as you are" mentality. Don't try to cover up with nice shirts or dresses. That's just my thought.

(I just realized I am discounting your personal revelation. I don't mean to do that. If this is something that YOU need to do for you, please do it...)

ji said...

Thanks, PapaD. I need to wear a white shirt for myself, and not to judge others who don't. But to whatever degree I can help influence my brother for his good, in kindness and charity, I should.

Those who purposefully avoid white shirts for the sole purpose of making a statement of defiance usually are not acting in kindness and charity.

jen said...

ji, I feel frustrated with what you wrote. First, if wearing a white shirt helps YOU, by all means do it! But, what if wearing a white shirt doesn't help some one else?

Christ fought against the pharisees. He did things to "make a statement" because the thinking (and doing) weren't right. He knew a better way.

In my mind, charity is the love and compassion of God put into action. I don't know WHY other people do what they do. And I don't need to know why. I trust that everyone is doing the best they can... following revelation and inspiration the way that fits them and their path.

For me, church was a miserable experience. It would be different if I could stop trying to look a certain way and just be me. For me, going to church in jeans and a t-shirt would fit me better. Dressing up works as a mask, a facade for me to hide behind. If I could be brave enough to let my imperfections show, church wouldn't be so bad.

I don't want to offend, nor do I even want to convince you that you should do what I want. I do want you to understand that what is best for you isn't what is best for everyone.

Jeff said...

jen, I agree totally that there is a HUGE problem with judging people who don't wear what others expect in many congregations - and that, as your example shows, the foundation of it being a problem or not is set by the leadership. Let me make this crystal clear:

NOTHING "The Church" has said mandates wearing a white shirt and tie. NOTHING even says men should do so. It is an extrapolation of a specific standard for an ordinance (administering the sacrament) beyond its actual, counseled bounds (looking beyond the mark) to require or demand it even for those who administer the sacrament - much less for those who do not. Period. Full stop. End of discussion.

I personally like the "dress to show respect" standard, but defining that is not my job - and there is no required definition for that standard in practical terms.

ji, I agree that not wearing a white shirt and tie "for the sole purpose of making a statement of defiance" is wrong - BUT I don't think very many people do that. More importantly, in cases like jen described, those who refuse to dress how someone else demands they dress are NOT doing so in defiance of God or the Gospel; rather, they are "defying" (if I were to choose to use that word) unrighteous dominion - since the person making the demand is NOT acting in accordance with EITHER the spirit OR letter of the counsel. They are making up a requirement that is stricter than the Church itself does - and that is almost never a good thing, particularly when it is not the result of actual revelation but an assumption of meaning not in the actual counsel.

jen, I really hope you can attend wearing whatever makes you most open to the Spirit - as long as it's not something like a swimsuit. *grin* I know I (almost) NEVER would upbraid someone for how they dress to come to church - since it is MUCH more important to me that they be there. Again, Period. Full stop.

Papa D said...

That last comment was mine. *sigh* I forgot to log off of my son's account.