An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

I consider myself a good Mormon. My neighbors consider me inactive. Who is right depends, of course, on whose definition is used. A few years ago our stake presidency made a “Back to the Basics” list of gospel principles:

  • Personal and family prayer
  • Scripture study
  •  Family Home Evening
  • Attending church meetings
  • Temple attendance. 

Their example caused me to create my own list of gospel basics—based on principles emphasized while I was growing up in the church:

  • Love
  • Service
  • Generosity
  • Knowledge
  • Work

The difference in the two lists probably explains why I’m more impressed with my Mormon credentials than are my ward members. How do I measure up to the first list—the list that probably represents how contemporary Mormons evaluate church activity?

  • Personal and family prayer:  Not publicly visible.  When the home teachers make a formal visit and ask to leave us with a word of prayer, we always agree.
  • Scripture study:  I declined my visiting teachers’ invitation to join the Relief Society in reading the Book of Mormon in a month. I assured them that I have a daily study routine and showed them my collection of Bible translations. They were not impressed with my substitution.
  • Family Home Evening:  Again, not publicly visible unless my neighbors notice me driving off alone to a meditation group on Monday evenings.
  • Attending church meetings:  Now this one is visible. I refuse to spend Sundays listening to lessons and talks I’ve already heard 400 times. I do attend Fast and Testimony meeting each month to say hello to neighbors and ward members because they are good people and I like them.
  • Temple attendance:  I attended the temple regularly for 15 years or more because it gave me a spiritual lift. When the temple ceremonies ceased to lift my spirits, I opted to spend my time on other spiritual pursuits.

Well, I definitely come up short on my stake presidency’s list, but what really counts is whether or not I live up to my own standards.

  • Love:  Loving my friends and family is easy, of course. I try to see people who tick me off as children of our Heavenly Father, but that’s not easy. Is it possible some of them may only be very distant cousins?
  • Service:  I spent most of my life doing for others, can’t I rest on my laurels? My conscience does nag me to try to improve the community by carrying petitions for ethics reform in the state government and volunteering at an ESL Center. I try to leave a small carbon footprint although in cold weather I drive to pick up a carton of milk when I really could walk. But—I achieve 100% visiting teaching every month.
  • Generosity:  A couple of times a year I turn in a tithing envelope with my “user fee,” a small amount to help with the utilities and food for the meetings and social events I attend. I do donate above and beyond Mormon requirements to charities and organizations which relieve suffering, promote education and economic independence for people both at home and abroad. I don’t quite live up to the advice of C.S. Lewis, “The only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
  • Knowledge:  Always my favorite gospel principle. No problem taking classes and burying my nose in a book.
  • Work:  Hey, I’m retired. Does gardening and doing my own cooking and cleaning count?
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Comments on: "A Good Mormon–Now and Then" (6)

  1. When the temple ceremonies ceased to lift my spirits, I opted to spend my time on other spiritual pursuits.

    This makes sense to me. Attending my church, for about a year now, and it could be this particular church, fails to lift my spirits. The church and congregation and ministry matter.

  2. Dear Sister,

    I don’t mean these remarks to be critical of your choices. Perhaps I see something in your remarks you don’t intend. I would like to present to you a different perspective. You asked, “I spent most of my life doing for others, can’t I rest on my laurels?” You also mentioned that your service is now directed at politically trendy (albeit socially praiseworthy) things like lowering a carbon footprint or teaching ESL.

    I am the branch president of a small branch in a rural area in the South. I have several “retired” sisters who are still possessed of sufficient health and vigor in my branch, but who decline opportunities to serve. The result is that, instead of blessing the Church with their experience, wisdom, and service, they choose to direct that elsewhere. As a result, the branch suffers and they suffer. The branch loses out from their expertise. Younger members don’t benefit from what they can teach. Others must shoulder additional burdens that they could help to bear. The work goes forth, but it does so without them.

    Like you, some of them pay tithing out of obligation, from a position of relative affluence. They have lost the spirit of consecration and sacrifice. Tithing and offerings are not user fees. They are great blessings! An excommunicated person cannot pay tithing. It is a privilege of membership in the Lord’s kingdom to pay tithing. The spirit of sacrifice stokes the fire of faith. Without it, the flames diminish, smoulder, and go out.

    The personal devotions of some of these sisters have become less fervent. Scripture study is an intellectual exercise instead of feasting upon the words of Christ. They are allowing their spiritual “pilot lights” to dim and they also “rest on their laurels” so to speak. They consider that they’ve “paid their dues” when they were younger. They no longer attend the temple. It’s too far away, too long of a drive, etc.

    This is the product of believing one is “saved by their works” instead of relying solely upon Christ’s grace, which alone has power to save. A person who feels that grace active in their life cannot “rest upon their laurels.” It impels one to serve and places their focus on advancing Christ’s kingdom.

    We can never do enough to save ourselves. Until the day we die, building up Zion is our mission. If we put our efforts and energies into some other projects at the expense of the kingdom, we deny ourselves the power that comes from making Christ’s agenda our agenda.

    Please read John 14:23 and D&C 130:3. I would encourage you to seek the Second Comforter instead of resting on your laurels. Only God has authority to “retire” us when our mortal lives are concluded. If we take an “early retirement,” we’re not following his plan–we’re following someone else’s.

    I hope you will take my remarks in a spirit of kindness. Don’t go through the motions. Build Zion. Testify to people that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is true. Go out and save a wandering youth and bring them back to Church. Go out and help small children learn of Christ and his love by teaching a Primary class. Call your bishop and ask for a calling to serve. Go on a mission if you have the health and income to do so. There is something deep in the gospel that you have overlooked or perhaps avoided. Commitment to building Zion according to the Lord’s direction will bless your life more than you can imagine.

    Sincere regards,

    G. West

    • gw:
      I respect your testimony and sympathize with the problem you have of staffing a small branch. Certainly faithful, older members bless their ward when they choose to serve. My piece was flippant, but was not meant to offend TBM.

  3. I love your list, Course Correction, because it requires much introspection. But, I’m afraid I’m actually doing better according to the stake president’s list. Darn!

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