Part of BYU’s Devotional this past week struck me (not the beard bit, as my less than totally clean shaven and thus eternally wounded soul of a face attests). Pres. Kevin J. Worthen presented on building character and included a discussion of murmuring. The idea of murmuring is one frequently referenced in Church, but I think less frequently thought about. Particularly in how it applies to us, specifically for today, how it applies (or doesn’t *fingers crossed*) to me.
It’s pretty clear that I grumble a bit (or a lot), complain about various aspects of the Church (culture, teachings, maybe even doctrine depending on how you define that delightfully/frustratingly nebulous idea), and survive GenConf and my weekly three-hour Sabbath services with heavy doses of snark. Do all of these add up to murmuring? Any single instance of them? Only when it’s authority figures above a certain ‘pay-grade’ (figuratively speaking…mostly) that are the focus of my commentary?
What actually constitutes a “murmurer”? Is it a certain number of murmurings? A frequency? The object being murmured against? Are there degrees? Like a telestial murmurer? Terrestrial? Perhaps even celestial murmurers? Recovered murmurers? Snarky murmurers? Angry? Bitter? Happy?
Murmuring seems to be a form of complaining, specifically about religious responsibilities or other religiously tinged issues, motivated by distrust of God. At least that seems to me to be a decent way of phrasing it, since most of the definitions I looked up simply said something about complaining in a low, almost indecipherable voice, which I think lacks a substantial piece of the idea behind murmuring. The motivation, I think, is key since complaining in and of itself may be bad, but I don’t think leads to the negative consequences associated with murmuring.
So, where do I fall? I grumble about Church and Church activities on a frequent basis, but I think Church activities fall outside the realm of “murmuring.” I could be wrong and if I am, I’m in trouble, but I’m pretty confident that most activities are like bows and ribbons—nice touches for some, but absolutely unnecessary. My grumblings about Church are definitely more of a grey area, bordering on definite-murmuring. I have occupied that space before, but I try to stay out of the simply critical, argumentative zone, which is one of the reasons I have embraced snarky commentary. It saves me from being incredibly judgmental and upset every week and gives new life to my Church experience, or at least laughter, which we all know is the best medicine.
My snark can be critical and a bit biting, but I firmly believe that criticism is not incompatible with sustaining and supporting my leaders, so that in and of itself shouldn’t regulate me to murmurer status. Yet, it could be easy to assume that I am simply poking fun and not thoughtfully and deeply engaging with Mormonism, which is not the case and I hope comes through in my writing, life, and even in my snark. I think my humor can be a bit unsettling or perhaps, better put, confusing for some members. Whenever I bear my testimony (which I try and do close to every month because I get something out of it and feel like I can perhaps make the congregation seem a bit friendlier to those that may feel outside the norm, something I appreciate every time I hear a more progressive comment or something that comes from a different angle), I usually include some sort of self-deprecating or snarky comments that garner a few laughs (typically from my roommates, but occasionally from those in the ward that know me a bit better) and lots of awkward glances around the room, with the sort of pregnant pause indicative of not knowing how to react. This may be in part due to my blunt, very honest conversational tone that differs from the usual “spiritual voice” used to share a testimony. Whatever the reason, it seems like I can be seen as irreverent at best and heretical at worst.
Is snark in and of itself akin to murmuring? I hope not. I mean, I poke fun at Mormonism because I love it and I show love by verbal jousting, as I was raised to do. Also, if I can’t laugh at myself then life is going to get pretty dull. Yet, I think there is room for some concern. I think there is a possibility of snark being a form of murmuring. If the humor is used maliciously to destroy faith and crush hope that seems to be different than what I try to do (I just want to bring some smiles to people’s faces during an otherwise lengthy and dull meeting).
Jesus is super snarky and I’m pretty sure, not a murmurer (if I’ve got that wrong, let me know and I’ll gladly forget all I’ve written and embrace murmuring). Other prophets and leaders have scriptural snark (Nephi on the tower when the people gather and he turns to tell them how wicked they are for another example), so I think I’m pretty safe.
That being said, they usually ridiculed the wicked or those outside the hierarchical structure (largely because they were that structure), which puts me in a slightly different place. Yet, hopefully still a place outside the murmurer camp. From my reading of Laman and Lemuel (the kings of the Murmurers), they murmur due to laziness, lack of belief, or lack of commitment to God. I snark for sanity, but also because of my belief and love for God. Sometimes stuff attributed to the Divine seems preposterous or people are just silly (read: ignorant and stupid) and so I respond with snark, generally kept to myself or a close few around me (or shared on twitter with who knows how many…).
I don’t know, I guess some of my snark could be seen as pretty close to the murmuring of Laman and Lemuel, which is probably not great for me. Perhaps there is a higher law that I need to live, one free from snark, where I listen and accept all that is said, but I just can’t do that. Not right now. So, for the time being, I’ll snark my grumblings and pray that snarky murmurers are celestial murmurers…