An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for September, 2010

Mormon Snapshots

Still changing diapers and doing laundry. This post originally appeared Dec. 14, 2009

Snapshot 1:  I entered Mutual the summer after 6th grade. We moved through the auxiliaries as a group then, rather than by birthdays. Seventh and 8th graders were Beehives. Mia Maids were 9th and 10th graders. The beautiful people, girls at the junior and senior levels of high school, were Jr. Gleaners. The few who remained single following high school graduation were Gleaners. Being with the sophisticated older girls who attended junior high and wore lipstick and bras was a heady experience. But lipstick and bras do not guarantee maturity. Three Mia Maids decided to haze the Primary brats after Mutual one night and my friend Linda and I were chased home with the threat of being “pantsed.” They caught Linda.  I didn’t stick around to see if they’d make good on their threat. They didn’t. Scared the heck out of us, but the Mia Maids had noticed us.

Mutual was on Tuesday nights for every unmarried person in the ward over the age of 12. Opening exercises included singing time with Jr. Gleaners providing the harmony. When I made it to Mia Maid status, Judy, a Gleaner with a car, sometimes took a few of us dragging Center Street after class. Once she even took us to a drive in movie—letting us out to walk inside for a dime before she drove to the ticket booth. Bonding with my Mutual group developed my Mormon identity.

Snapshot 2:  Except for my freshman year of college, I lived at home for my first 22 years. Marrying and moving to the wilderness of Wyoming made me feel as isolated as showing up at our ward meetinghouse on stake conference Sunday. The only person I knew within 400 miles was my husband—and once you marry, you find you don’t know your spouse as well as you thought. The first Sunday in Casper, we attended church and I entered familiar territory. Everything—the chapel, prayers, songs, sacrament service—nearly indistinguishable from my home ward. Much as I now complain about identical buildings and correlated curriculum, that sameness was a lifeline as I treaded unknown waters.

Snapshot 3:  The only miracles parents really desire involve our children. When Aroo was just over a year, she contracted a serious case of viral croup. Her pediatrician gave her an inhalation treatment which helped, but he cautioned us that the medication was only effective the first 2 or 3 times. He sent us home. She spent the day in a makeshift steam tent, but we had to rush her to the emergency room during the night. We brought her home again, but by nightfall she struggled for breath. At this point, we doubted the efficacy of another inhalation treatment. We called our home teacher who came and gave Aroo a blessing. Before his prayer concluded, her rasping breath eased. She slept peacefully through the night.

Snapshot 4:  Temple sealings are the epitome of Mormon worship. George and I had a civil marriage before being sealed to each other and our children in the Provo Temple. I suspect those who marry in the temple for the first time miss a lot. The temple ceremony is quietly beautiful, but first time brides and grooms are too caught up with the excitement of the wedding and anticipation for the reception and, of course, the wedding night to pay much attention. Making an eternal commitment to be together as a family after 16 years of marriage has a significance missing from couples who don’t yet know what they’re signing up for. Kneeling at the altar, the love we felt for each other, our children, and friends and family who attended was palpable—to everyone except 11-year-old Wort who resisted taking his sister’s hand at the altar.

My album of Mormon memories contains scores of memorable snapshots. Could I have received similar benefits had I grown up in a different religion? I believe so. Friends of other faiths have shared significant spiritual experiences with me—pastors who unexpectedly arrived at a moment of need, “messages” from loved ones who have passed on, healings in answer to prayer. The details and terminology of their church ordinances and customs differ, but the spirituality is the same. Possibly other kinds of organizations provide the same kind of sustenance to non-religious people. Non-believers  seldom share experiences of personal enlightenment, so I don’t really know. I do know that love, compassion and spiritual light are not limited to organized religion. Still, I believe churches are uniquely suited to offer spiritual and emotional support. Caring for others is what religion is all about.

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Evolving Mormon Thought on Evolution

Evolution was not a big deal in my Utah education of the 1950s. We studied the ancient geology of Utah in elementary school and learned about rocks and fossils millions of years old. The subject might have come up in seminary, but I spent class time passing notes to friends and pretty much ignored Brother DeVout. Somewhere I heard the line, “Science tells you how, religion tells you who” about the creation of the earth—which satisfied me.

When I transferred to BYU from a state college, I noticed that on Day 1 of each science class, the prof gave a prepared spiel about evolution being a useful theory for the study of chemistry, bacteriology, or whatever—but that using the term in class did not mean the instructor lacked faith in God or accepted the theory of evolution as an absolute truth.

I began reading the Improvement Era in the ‘60s and noticed strong anti-evolutionary views. The Era ran articles “proving” the earth was created in 6000 years. It suggested the deluge at approximately 1800 BC and earthquakes and volcanoes at the time of the crucifixion accounted for the changes that scientists attributed to eons of time. I bought a copy of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny. My faith in an apostle of my church and my lack of sophistication at evaluating an author’s relevant credentials caused me to accept everything Smith wrote as truth from God.  I finished the book convinced that all skeletons of prehistoric man were potential Piltdown hoaxes.

Several years later, a recent BYU graduate was giving the obligatory “new move-in” speech in our ward in Renton, Washington and chose to speak on evolution—this was in the day before topics and resources were assigned to speakers. Brother Newcomer outlined the history of the LDS position on evolution—B.H. Roberts vs. Joseph Fielding Smith with David O. McKay in the middle. I was surprised to learn that the only official First Presidency statement on evolution was from Joseph F. Smith’s presidency,  affirming Adam as the “primal parent of our race,” but leaving  the question of geological and non-human biological evolution open.

LDS official discourse has been mostly silent on evolution for many years although that has not prevented members from expounding their own beliefs.  A high school student in my Sunday School class once gave an unprompted testimony that even the thought of evolution—of humans descending from apes—made him sick to his stomach. I suspect the kid was quoting a seminary teacher since neither parent exhibited much interest in either Church doctrine or science. I left class glad our own kids had skipped seminary frequently. At least their science grades didn’t suffer.

I believe Church teachings on evolution in most wards have swung to the right in the past decade. The Ensign even reprinted the 1909 First Presidency Statement in 2002.  In science as well as on many social issues, Latter-day Saints seem hell bent on following the evangelical model. A couple of years ago, a visiting teacher informed me that carbon-dating was unreliable science.

The Roman Catholic Church survived Galileo’s discoveries. Latter-day Saints could take a lesson—focus on positives of LDS philosophy without denigrating modern science research that creates paradox. The leadership for this focus, of course, must come from the top. Hopefully, we’ll evolve in that direction.

Gender Stereotypes

Compassionate service until Oct. 13. A longer version of this blog appeared originally on Oct. 30, 2009.

Stereotypes exist, of course, because they are based on general truths.  The problem comes when we apply them to everybody. My visiting teachers gave a lesson recently on the importance of nurturing children and repeated the statement oft repeated in RS lessons: “Women are more nurturing than men.” What century is that notion from? Both my sons and my son-in-law are nurturing fathers. When I visit my grandchildren, I call either their father or mother when a dirty diaper needs attention. My nurturing instincts now halt at the first whiff of baby poop.

Yes, I did change my own babies’ diapers and I loved and nurtured my children in every way but one. I never made baby quilts for them or sewed their clothes. God chose not to bless me with the spatial ability necessary to cut up a two-dimensional piece of fabric and stitch it into a three-dimensional garment. I tried saving money by shopping at thrift stores and botching do-it-yourself decorating projects. Eventually, I found our family benefited more by my using the talents I have been blessed with to help earn the living rather than by trying to develop non-existent abilities.

Since my mother was the super-homemaker type, I must have received more of my aunt’s genes. George realized my family’s less than conventional bend the day he met Aunt Loosy. She drove up in a dump truck from which she alighted wearing a dress and heels. Her car wasn’t running, so she had driven the truck to a Relief Society meeting. I don’t remember why she had a dump truck as a spare vehicle—maybe to keep her tractor company.

While I’m attacking stereotypes, what about the idea that women are romantics while men are only interested in sex? I taught junior high long enough to be disabused of that notion. A note a 13-year-old girl writes about the thrill of having a guy’s hands next to her butt is sexual, not romantic. And 14-year-old boys discussing the hope that when they’re 16, maybe they’ll be driving down the freeway and see their student teacher and wave to her is romantic. Dumb, but romantic.

George froths at priesthood lessons that instruct the brethren to tell their wives they love them every day. He knows his wife’s attitude is, “Why do you need to tell me unless you change your mind?” But maybe most women do enjoy hearing, “I love you” every day. And maybe I should quit complaining and just be grateful that Relief Society lessons don’t admonish the sisters to reassure their husbands of their manhood in bed every night.

Proselytizing Perils

I will be helping daughters-in-law who are recovering from C-sections until Oct. 15. This post originally appeared Sept. 30, 2009.

Fifteen years ago our daughter, Jaycee, had the opportunity to serve in the France Marseilles Mission—a way cooler missionary field than Boise, Idaho. Unfortunately, Jaycee didn’t convert or even meet any millionaires. Even along the Riviera, it’s mostly the young and the poor who take time to listen to Mormon missionaries. P-days were a lot of fun for the missionaries though—bicycling along the Mediterranean once a week compensated for six days of rejection.

A curious thing about Jaycee’s mission was the number of devoutly religious people who nodded as she and her companion explained about praying to receive a confirmation of the truths they were teaching. Then these contacts bore enthusiastic testimony of the spiritual witness they had already received in answer to fervent prayer—affirmation that the church they had previously joined was true.

Nothing at the MTC had prepared Jaycee to refute heartfelt testimonies that a non-LDS church was God’s plan for a sincerely religious person. These people had studied, thought, prayed and received a witness. Was she supposed to tell them their feelings of peace and happiness came from a source other than God?

Faith: Inward or Outward Directed?

From the point of view of Western religion, faith refers to belief in a divine being. Worship is directed outward to that being, and inspiration comes from that being. Charity is important because it pleases the divine being to have all his creations loved and respected. Lack of faith in a divine being, or the right divine being, is condemned, sometimes harshly as in Romans 14:23, “ . . . whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

By contrast, Eastern religions seek the divine spark within the human soul. Faith, from an Eastern perspective, is belief in oneself—that one can deal with what cannot be changed in the world. Faith includes belief in and respect for others—that we are all part of a universal whole. Compassion arises because what affects one affects us all.

Personally, the idea of inspiration from the Inner Light has more appeal than inspiration from the Holy Ghost. “Worthiness” (which is usually construed as an arbitrary list of appropriate behavior) is not a criterion for contact with the Inner Light—although a person must free herself of delusions that prevent the light from shining through.

Mirror Image

Yesterday I tipped my hairstylist lavishly after seeing how my new hair style took ten years from my face. My euphoria lasted until I got home and checked out my hairstyle in the mirror. Those ten years had smashed back with a vengeance. How could I have looked so wonderful in the beauty shop and so dismal at home? Since I couldn’t possibly age that fast, the difference must be in the mirror—and possibly the lighting. It does make sense for beauty shops to have mirrors and lighting to make their clients look good. I just wish I knew where they bought them.

Although my bathroom mirror doesn’t flatter me, at least it doesn’t reveal what the mirror at the local gym does—displaying my saggy butt, baggy boobs, and bulgy belly for all to see. But in the Silver Sneakers class, all do not see. They’re too busy scanning and despising their own pitiful physiques to notice mine.

The Last Days

Yesterday I accompanied George to a check up by his vascular surgeon. “You’re doing great!” the doctor said. When we got home, George looked at the printout of his CT scan and asked if I wanted to read the details of his body’s losing battle against the effects of age.

“No way!” I told him. Not that I don’t care. It’s just that I grew up believing I was living in the last days. If I avoided enough major transgressions to survive the Apocalypse, I was guaranteed a lifespan of 100 years after which I would be taken up to the Lord in the twinkling of an eye.

I no longer believe that the Rapture (Mormons never call it that) is an alternative to a painful death by stroke, heart failure or cancer. And I really don’t care to keep informed of the progress of death edging its way into my mortal body.

But George likes to know where he stands. According to his CT scan, he has calcification of arteries and degeneration of bones. I guess what his surgeon meant by his cheerful interpretation was, “You’re doing great considering your age and general condition.”

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