An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for April, 2011


Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake has extended the sold-out run of Eric Samuelson’s play, Borderlands until April 17. For those interested in exploring religion, honesty, and tolerance, this play is well worth your time and money.

The inhabitants of Borderlands are four Mormons of varying degrees of faith and activity expressing hidden doubts and fears within the security of an “honesty car” on a used car lot. In the powerful concluding scene, the gay teen gives a blessing to a distraught, dying woman who has grievously injured him.  Assisted by a woman and an excommunicated Mormon, the boy voices a heartfelt and painfully honest prayer. By this act of faith and love, the characters redeem themselves.

Maybe the reason I found this scene so moving is that I have a hard time believing anyone else can redeem us. I think everyone must atone for his or her own sins—most likely by learning not to be attached to the self that is so willing to sacrifice others in order to achieve its own ends.

Since I saw this play Sunday afternoon during the final General Conference session, the audience presumably was not made up of devout Mormons. At the QA session with director, playwright and cast, no anti-Mormon rhetoric was expressed. Several people thought the topics of doubt, hypocrisy, and intolerance applied to any religion.

This play offers a window through which audience members can examine the depths of their own religious and moral commitment. I hope Eric Samuelson takes care of his health and continues to write plays that look beneath the surface of Mormonism. I’m glad Plan B Theatre exists to produce these kinds of plays.

We Need More Worlds Than This

Turning on the news this past winter and early spring has required a stiff drink or prescription tranquilizer as Mother Nature rampaged: First with blizzards that limited travel to snowmobile or dog sled through the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. for days on end—then Australia suffered devastating floods; mud slides tore out hill side housing in Rio de Janeiro; earthquakes struck New Zealand. Finally, an 8.9 earthquake in Japan sent a tsunami soaring over sea walls, destroying entire cities, and wiping out power for the cooling system in four nuclear plants causing (so far) a partial meltdown and radiating deadly contamination to earth, air, and water.

With Nature battering us, we humans hardly needed to stir up trouble on our own. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop us. Human caused disasters this past season include: Ongoing war in Afghanistan, suicide bombers in Iraq, Pakistan and Israel, Middle-Eastern dictatorships from Libya to Yemen to  Syria firing upon their own people who had the audacity to demonstrate peacefully for democratic reforms. In our own country, state workers in Wisconsin staged a prolonged demonstration against their governor. Throw in personal problems like job loss, illness, and sour family relationships and there isn’t enough Xanax in the world to help us cope. We need someone to be in charge, someone to care. John Updike sums up our needs in the following poem:

              Religious Consolation 

One size fits all. The shape or coloration                                                                                                                                 

Of the god or high heaven matters less                                                                                                                      

than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing                                                                                                                                                                         

the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite                                                                                                                                                                                                  

the widow brings to the temple, A child                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

alone with horrid verities cries out                                                                                                                                                                              

for there to be a limit, a warm wall                                                                                                                                                                                         

whose stones give back an answer, however faint.                                          

Strange, the extravagance of it—who needs

those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints

whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste,

those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books

Moroni etched in tedious detail?

We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail.

Updike, like the author of Ecclesiastes, knew, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happeneth to them all.”  When this world fails us—as it too often does, we need something to clutch, something to offer comfort, explanations. Even if they do nothing else, religions—including those we find exotic or strange—provide hope for their believers.

Have we the right to tell others their belief system is wrong and ours is right? Sharing our faith with those who are happy with their own is an unwelcome gift—worse than the hand-painted ceramics I feel obliged to display whenever Aunt Handi visits. At least Aunt Handi’s white elephant gifts do not come with the built-in criticism intrinsic to the uninvited sharing of religious beliefs—“My faith is better than yours. You’d be a better person if you adopted my religious practice.”

Comfort and hope are in short supply in this world that fails so many of its inhabitants. Let us not attack faith traditions which sustain their believers.

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