Pet Peeve #146

“Reverent” and “quiet” are not synonyms.

But you would never know this from attending Primary. How many times have you heard, “Thank you for being such reverent children!” Guess what? You have no idea if they are being reverent. All you can tell is whether they are quiet. For all you know, they could be thinking about torturing bunnies. Reverence is more than just quietly sitting.

I don’t think this is a semantic quibble. A kid who is quiet but not particularly reverent who is thanked for their so-called ‘reverence’ will develop a very strange idea as to what it means to be reverent.

Please: just thank the kids for being quiet or ask them to be quiet.

47 comments for “Pet Peeve #146

  1. Amen, Julie. I just finished (and highly recommend) _Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue_, by Paul Woodruff (a professor at UT Austin, no less). I’ll be posting a review . . . . sometime . . .

  2. Comments such as this seem a bit misplaced. I think there is such a thing as collective reverence which can be observed in groups of children, Aaronic Priesthood holders, young women, and adults. Deeming collective worship as reverence, even in children, is much more than “being quiet.”

    Such observations are, in my opinion, warranted.

    In short, I agree that reverence and quiet are not synonyms.

  3. Reverance and quiet are not synonyms, of course, but quiet is an appropriate start for small children. If we can teach them to be quiet, it increases the likelihood that an understanding of reverence will begin to grow.

    We don’t learn concepts such as reverence all at once. We don’t just ask kids to be quiet. We then also say prayers, give little talks and sing songs. It’s okay.

  4. Julie, these are kids…in primary…and instructors…in primary…who probably have full plates at home and at church. You are right that you have no idea what is in their head, but I can tell you what I am thinking right now about what is in your head. If you have 146 pet peeves, you need more fibre in your diet.

  5. The title is written incorrectly. It should read petty peeve #146

    Give the primary leaders a little bit of a break. They have their hands full.

  6. “Quiet” in the context of Primary isn’t just an absence of noise. It’s a minimum of wiggling and playing with plastic dinosaurs; it’s folded arms and readiness for singing or prayer or whatever. You can have quiet without reverence in an objective sense, but can you really divorce reverence from quiet in a Primary setting?

    Now if you were distinguishing between adult reverence during the passing of the Sacrament versus dozing with head down and eyes closed once the tray has passed, I’m with you!

  7. #4- Except that Julie is one of those Primary leaders.

    I appreciate it when Primary attempts to teach my children that there is a difference between being reverent and quiet. I don’t necessarily expect the leaders or teachers to successfully make my boys be reverent, but I want my boys to know they’re not the same things. I recall far too many times in teenaged Sunday School classes when we knew that quiet was all that was required, and certainly not reverence. There is a big difference, and Primary children can start learning it.

  8. As a person who spends a lot of time in primary, I sympathize with comments 2,3,4, and 5. I especially like Ardis’ point about it being more than just quiet even in primary. In my experience, the children are praised for being “reverent” when they are attentive, not just quiet. I laugh whenever we sing that song though, because the kids have no idea what it means (junior at least) even though it was written by a well-intentioned person like yourself.

  9. Geez…cut her some slack. Personally, I would demand the cone of silence if I had to be stuck in a room with a dozen noisy yard apes. But it is very appropriate to teach kids when they can make noise and when they have to be quiet.

  10. I think the confusion of ‘reverence’ and ‘quiet’ in Primary has spilled over onto this thread.

    I regularly do things like have all the children pretend that they are on the ship with Nephi. We all stand up and sway back and forth. We make noise. We move around. This is reverent–it is experiencing a scripture story in a way that is appropriate to the age and circumstances of the audience.

    By the same token, I think the predominant characteristic of reverence is attitudinal–it has more to do with what your mind is focused on than with what your hands and feet are doing. You will have a hard time convincing me that God would withhold an experience of the Spirit from a Sunbeam because her legs were swinging back and forth. It is more important for her to focus her mind than to still her feet. In fact, most ECE people would say that her mind is more likely to be focused if her feet are in motion.

    I think some sensitivity to how we use these terms would help the kids develop a better understanding of what reverence is really about. Our emphasis should be on what they are attending to, but our current use of the term does precisely the opposite.

  11. By the way, the Nephi example was meant to be a ‘yes’ answer to Ardis’ question whether we can divorce reverence from quiet in Primary.

  12. You’ev got a point, Julie. Reverent is not the same as quiet; the priesthood is not the same as the men; and so on. Precision does matter.

    On the other hand, it’s a relatively minor problem. Maybe worth a blog post; but I really hope you’re not complaining to the bishop about it. (I doubt you are.)

    Also, you should note that most jurisdictions in Austin are zoned for ten pet peeves per household, maximum. All extras should be taken to the zoo or left at the pound. You don’t want to be like one of those cat ladies with 132 cats in the house.

  13. Our emphasis should be on what they are attending to, but our current use of the term does precisely the opposite.

    The generalization “our current use of the term” presupposes that everyone is misusing the term and I think that’s perhaps a bit overstated. Besides, I think that there are times when reverent can at least in part be equated with quiet. If eyes are focused and children seem to be engaged, leaders can see that even as they praise what seems to just be “quietness.”

    Incidentally, I think reinforcing this principle is best done at home or at a personal level. It’s harder to determine and identify and praise a time when an entire group of young children with a wide range of ages is “reverent.” (That’s not to say that the more meaningful elements of reverence can’t be addressed and taught in Primary as well.) And I think parents can’t ignore the quiet part because so much of what happens in Church involves not only being reverent for one’s self, but also being quiet and still so those sitting near can have reverent and worshipful experiences. It can be a start. Sometimes the best we can get from children is quiet. (We all know what it’s like to have children focus for an entire Sacrament Meeting. Sometimes we gotta take what we can get.)

    Incidentally, Julie, I can tell that I would love having you involved with my children in Primary. It’s clear you have a vision and passion for it, and I think that’s great.

  14. Doesn’t this song teach the right idea?:

    Reverently, quietly, lovingly we think of thee;
    Reverently, quietly, softly sing our melody.
    Reverently, quietly, humbly now we pray,
    Let thy Holy Spirit dwell in our hearts today.
    (Clara W. McMaster, Children’s Songbook, pg 26.)

    I can’t recall any reason to be confused about the concept of reverence when I was in Primary. It seems that our teachers and leaders did a very good job. Back then everyone dressed up a little on Primary day. Girls wore dresses to school so they would be properly attired to enter the chapel, which was explicitly explained to be a sacred place. Boys not so much unfortunately. Nonetheless the chapel was treated almost akin to the temple in those days (~1978).

  15. Hey, she’s not hating the sinners, just the sin. :-) No need to call on Julie to give these Primary workers a break; she’s just objecting to making a word work overtime. I loved the torturing bunnies comment!

    Many past Friend articles and Primary lessons have emphasized that reverence is more than being quiet, but the reality of our weekly teaching is that the words are interchangeable. If we asked ten Primary kids what reverence means, aren’t they sure to provide the expected answer of quiet?

    I could come up with a few of words I’d rather not use or hear in certain situations. I don’t like my departing VTs to tell me they “have” to get the rest of their visiting teaching “done.” It makes me feel like a pile of laundry. Of course I smile and wave at the door, and silently determine that time I spend with others out of love won’t be on a list of things I have to get done.

    The “missionary tool” and “non-members” objections from past general conference talks (Nov 2001 by Dallin Oaks and M. Russel Ballard, respectively), haven’t make much of a dent in our Mormonspeak. I thought the talks were powerful, but we’re still looking at others as non-members though we don’t look at ourselves, as Ballard suggested, as non-Catholics or non-Jews. We continue to repel our neighbors when we talk of tools, as Oaks described, leaving the impression that we want to manipulate them as we would an inanimate object.

  16. Excommunicate me and slap a big, huge, red R (for “reverance violator”) on my forehead. I may have accidentally used the word “reverent” instead of “quiet” just the other day when I was in church alone with all of my children (wife was sick) to praise them for not raising a ruckus (and in the process, hopefully, feeling some of the spirit that was in church- they even listened quietly when I went up to assist with a musical number! But, to an observer like Julie who might have only seen them being quiet and not noticed the rest, my use of the term reverant probably would have been highly offensive).

    Indeed, my emphasis was aimed towards quietness in that setting (and I think they were soaking up something…), and I thoughtlessly threw in the term “reverent”, I should probably be banned from attending Church meetings. Clearly I should not be left alone at church with my children in church or teaching them about the gospel since I seem to be doiung it wrong, when I casually toss a “reverent” at them. Plus, I am offending the other members who are surely stacking up a list of pet peeves against me which now numbers in the hundreds.

    We have taught the children at home that reverence is more than just quietly sitting, but in some settings how does reverence even begin without some semblance of still? It may be appropriate to allow children to pretend to sail with Nephi in primary (or even in Sacrament meeting, if that is what the speaker wants), but generally in Sacrament meeting quietness DOES bring forth reverance. But, alas, here I am again adding to the aggregate number of pet peeves in the Church.

    This is why I never want to teach in primary again, give talks in church, haven’t shared my testimony in many, many months- too many people watching and nit-picking my every move, instead of lovingly sustaining to the best extent possible. Thanks, once again, for contributing to my feeling of peace and well-being in Church. Now I have yet something else to dart my eyes around and be paranoid that people are judging me about- my use of the term “reverent.”

    I never even thought, prior to being in the “bloggernacle”, that people in the church were so anxiously engaged in searching for every little thing that annoys them about their fellow saints in church. The fact that Julie is up to pet peeve number 146 is quite telling- I wonder how many more hundreds are stored up in her head, and when we can look forward to reading about those too.

    And Silver- when Elder Oaks says something like that in his calling as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (and not framed as “Pet Peeve #146”), it comes across as loving criticism and an exhortation to do better. For example, I stood lovingly corrected by Elder Ballard’s loving, apostolic exhortation to be more open as a Church to “our neighbors” in both our language AND our deeds. But a post like this, framed as a pet peeve in the seventh score range already (!!!) tends to be the opposite of a loving exhortation from someone concerned both about my welfare as a son of God and the welfare of the church. It does have the effect, though, of making me dread Sunday because of who might be sitting there waiting to jump on me for who-knows-what-it-will-be next time.

  17. I’m afraid that all of you who have taken offense at Julie’s post fit Brother Brigham’s description of “damned fools”–those who take offense when none is intended.

    Julie makes an excellent point–the conflation of “reverence” with “quietness” blurs the meaning of the former. I don’t read in her words condemnation of those who contribute to that blurring, but an encouragement to pay attention to the meaning of the words that we use.

    Otherwise, we may assume that high priests dozing during priesthood meeting have achieved the ideal.

    (One other unfortunate result of the confusion of quietness with reverence is that too many organists play like milquetoasts and too many congregations sing like mice.)

  18. Yeah- the “pet peeve” language really gave me the impression of loving correction- as does the “damed fools” follow-up from Brother B.

  19. I think that ‘Nacle bloggers should write more posts like this just to drive Jordan crazy. He takes them very personally and I can just see him losing it and spontaneously combusting in church one day as he mentally pores over his checklist of ‘Nacle do’s and don’ts.


  20. Too true, Danithew. Too true.

    Luckily (or unluckily as the case may be), the bloggernacle provides a place to metaphysically “spontaneously combust”.

  21. I’m a firm believer that “reverence” and “quiet” are not the same thing, and I said so in a Sacrament Meeting talk just yesterday. In our Primary, we try hard not to slip into the habit of using the words interchangeably. We are trying to teach “reverence” from the inside out. After we sing a beautiful song or hear a testimony that touches our hearts, we will point out to the children, “I really felt the Spirit when we sang that song about Jesus! It gives me such a wonderful feeling and helps me remember the love that Jesus has for me. I feel so reverent inside when we sing like that.”

    As Primary President, I have made it clear to teachers, parents, and children that “reverence” is displayed by being appropriately involved in whatever we’re doing at the moment (which as often as possible involves getting out of our chairs) and that true reverence is what we feel inside. Like Julie, I think too many children are praised for being “reverent” when all they’re doing is folding their arms and sitting quietly while thinking about how soon they get to go home.

  22. In an effort to teach reverence – many wards (but not all) prohibit activities and classes in the chapel that are not part of sunday worship.

    Such as opening exercises for Tuesday Night mutual must be held in some other location – because the people are not dressed nor acting in a reverent manner. The chapel is a reverence spot.

  23. I wonder if we realize that many sins are due to a lack of reverence. King David’s adultery with Bathsheba probably would not have occurred if David had had reverence for her marriage, reverence for his own marriage, reverence for the sacredness of her body and his body. Laman & Lemuel’s rebellion probably would not have occurred if they had had reverence for prophets and the scriptures.

  24. Just a crazy story about reverence:

    I know of a guy who took his stepchildren to a cemetery for Family Home Evening to teach them about reverence. He sat them down around a gravestone and took a pick-axe out of his trunk and started swinging it around — within inches of the children — declaring “When you aren’t reverent in church it is like doing THIS to Christ’s name, and THIS to Christ’s name”, swinging the axe with every emphatic “THIS.” Seriously. He really did this. There’s no telling why the woman married this man, but readers will be relieved to know that she left him forthwith.

    To this day the guy claims to be something of an expert on reverence (and pretty much every other church matter). The woman pressed charges against him and there was a trial over the whole incident. The guy even got Mike Esplin to defend him–the same guy who defended the Lafferty’s and Gary Gilmore. He got convicted anyway. Even after being convicted in court the guy still insisted that it was a valid object lesson about reverence–the fact that he walked away with his church membership intact seemed to be proof of this to him. The mind boggles.

    Anyway, needless to say, I think that one can take reverence too seriously. Julie, I realize that your post is not aiming to condone this kind of psychotic behavior, but I thought it was a funny story anyway.

  25. I think if a child is sitting quietly and you go up to them and start getting after them about are they truly reverent, you’ll just confuse them. Quiet works for me.

    That story gives me chills, David. Pretty much one step away from infanticide.

  26. I’ve apparently touched a nerve here. Let me clarify that the tone I intended for this post was light-hearted–I stand by my original point (‘reverence’ and ‘quiet’ are two different bunnies and should not be confused in Primary), but think it is roughly as important in the grand scheme of things as, well, something rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

  27. I think the key words here are ‘Pet Peeve.’ In other words- something that bugs you that doesn’t bug anyone else. They are, by definition, little things that don’t matter that much. She even trivialized it more by assigning it a number, and a high one at that.

  28. I discovered the difference between reverence and quietude when I attended the Hyde Pk. Chicago Ward and found very reverent members of the congregation exclaiming “Hallelujah!” and “Amen” in the middle of talks and testimonies that resonated with them.

    I like the idea that we have the capacity to teach children that attunement to God is available to them in a variety of circumstances, not just the ones that most closely match sleep.

  29. greenfrog,

    We have a woman in our ward who offers the most beautiful prayers, they don’t sound very Mormon, but I love to listen to them. I think I would love to hear some “Hallelujah”‘s and “Amen”‘s as well. There is just something about that kind of worship that stirs the soul.

  30. There’s nothing in Julie’s post to indicate the date that she became peeved about this issue–why the assumption that this is a new development and that she only has 146 ? This could be a post with a number that’s nowhere near her current total of pet peeves ;)

  31. Julie should, of course, have called it number 490. How much closer to infinite could she have come? :-)

  32. I’m neither reverent nor quite, but I think peeves of all kinds are just great (why else woudl I try so hard to make people peevish?) Personally, I’d like to see Julie start a weekly pet peeve series, with a new pet peeve every week. Kind of like Jim F’s sunday school lessons. I, for one, am just dying to know what pet peeves #1-145 are.

    As far as my own pet peeves, most of them are things that I do to myself. Like when I put the toilet paper on the dispenser the wrong way (I hate that!) or when I put my garment bottoms on backwards and don’t realize it until I get to a urinal (what a pain!)

    To paraphrase Bertrad Russell: Pet peeves as a factor in human behavior receive, to my mind, far less attention than they deserve.

  33. Precision in how we speak, even with children, is important in general. Why not do the best we can to precisely teach gospel principles, including reverence?
    On the other hand many individual cases, like this one, are not a big deal. I guess it\’s a peeve, in fact. Anyone who is paranoid that whatever they do at church (or anyone else) will be judged and nitpicked is more at risk peeving others with their paranoia than with anything else they do.

    Pet peeves #1-#145 I suppose might include when people say \”page number\” when they mean \”hymn number\” and when a member of the bishopric mixes up \”invocation\” and \”benediction\”. Though technically wrong, it is generally not even worth mentioning to the offenders because it\’s so insignificant. The best we can reasonably do is be precise in our own communication, and maybe discuss it on a blog where we can be reasonably sure that people won\’t be offended by honest discussion.

  34. Jonny:

    What bothers me the most is the fact that we don’t know what the intent of the person was who used the word “reverent” when “quiet” might have seemed like the precise word. Perhaps the offender truly did see some reverent behavior in some of the children, who were being quiet at the same time. Perhaps the speaker detected some fervency of heart, some heart tuned to the Spirit. And rather than looking for that when the person says “reverent,” we are chastising that person in our mind for not using the proper term- “quiet”- when for all we know there really was some “reverent” (i.e. more than just quietly sitting) behavior which we just did not perceive. Does that make sense?

  35. Well said, Jordan.
    We should definitely give people the benefit of the doubt. Fairness goes hand in hand with precision. However, I don’t think Julie is the only one to notice people systematically use the words as synonyms.

  36. I think you’re right Jonny.

    Try this experiment: ask a group of church members what the root word for “reverence” is. Primary children (except maybe the oldest) are too young, but try the young men/young women or elders or a bunch of missionaries.

    See if any of them realize that the root is “revere”. Or if they’ve only now figured it out.

    The lower the number who realize the connection between the two words, the greater our problem with imprecision in our language.

  37. Yes, this is why literacy is a necessary part of the gospel. If we cannot understand our own language, how are we to understand the manner of speaking of our predecessors?

  38. To me, for many people in many situations, quiet is part of reverence. When we walk in the chapel on Sunday and see our neighbors across the street we talk to all the time, and have a good 10-minute conversation about trivial things in a loud voice, that’s not quiet, and certainly not reverent. When we see a depressed stranger and offer a short happy introduction and welcome, that is.

    We had a primary president who was wonderful at mixing reverence with keeping the children “on task”. Quiet was, at times, part of reverence, but it certainly wasn’t synonymous with it. I wonder if worship should be active, something that uplifts the soul, that involves more than just sitting in quietness. Julie in #11 is on–for best learning, action is necessary. The trick is to correlate learning and attention and action.

    Perhaps we should tell the GA’s to cut out those “irreverent” jokes during GC talks? Especially that old one, what’s his name… he really likes to tell a lot…

    (Comforting to see I’m not the only one with (at least) 146 pet peeves.) For those who don’t find comfort that there are more than two people with (at least) 146 pet peeves, at least for me, they’re there, but I don’t worry too much about others–they’re MY pet peeves. As I sat in Primary one day listening to the teacher teach and bear testimony of one incorrectness after another, I was still very thankful because I knew that she loved my children and she was trying hard (and succeeding, I believe) to help them feel reverence and the Spirit.

  39. I don’t know, Julie, I think something ranked as high as #146 should have gone to the use of “Young Women’s” instead. I’d right more, but I have to prepare for Relief Society’s now.

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