An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for September, 2011

Part of the Puzzle

In her book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippets relates the following old Jewish legend: Sometime early in the life of the world, something happened to shatter the light of the universe into countless pieces. They lodged as sparks inside every part of the creation. The highest human calling is to look for this original light from where we sit, to point to it and gather it up and in so doing to repair the world.

The Hindu greeting “Namaste”—said with a bow and loosely translated as “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you” offers the same message. I love the notion that each of us is part of the puzzle—an essential part.

Gathering light and truth from every source—recognizing that we’re inter-connected with each other and all creation—rather than finding one truth and converting everyone else to it, may be the key to ushering in a millennial peace to the world.

And What Has the Church Meant in Your Life?

The junior companion frowned over his deep dish apple pie. The gospel discussion was off-script. George and I had been asked to invite the missionaries for dinner, probably as an activation ploy. Before their arrival, we vowed not to share our religious views with the elders. Serving a mission is tough enough without members casting doubts. As Elder Jr. Comp shared his testimony, we made polite comments but couldn’t mirror his enthusiasm. From the missionaries’ point-of-view, our dinner table dialogue was a dud.

Elder Sr. Comp moved the conversation to a personal level. “What has the Church meant in your lives?”

George spoke of his spiritual experiences while serving in callings and as a temple ordinance worker. When asked why he no longer attends meetings, George recited some of the more inane table-pounding comments heard on his two visits to the High Priests’ Group in our ward: “Women will never hold the priesthood” and “They are trying to take ‘In God we trust’ off our money.”

Thinking I was home free—home teachers and other male church visitors to our home generally assume George speaks for us both—I was caught off guard when the elder turned to me: “And what has the Church meant in your life?”

“Well, the Church has given me my basic values—honesty, hard work, helping others, a thirst for knowledge.”

“Is that it?”

 With a few more minutes of thought, I could have added growth opportunities such as speaking in public, teaching, and leadership roles. Instead I answered, “That’s basically it. My values.”

Clearly disappointed that I hadn’t included my hopes for salvation and reunion with family in the next life, Elder Senior turned his attention to his dessert. They left, probably disappointed that the possibility of finding a less-active couple to shepherd back into the fold hadn’t materialized.

But I’m still pondering that final question: What has the Church meant in my life? Although I no longer believe much of the history and doctrine learned at church, the values still hold. My only regret is insisting that the Church was the only way for our two younger children—the non-conformists.

Limited Perspective

Reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest book, Home, I find myself skimming through the poetic parts—not that I dislike poetry—it’s just that I’m an impatient reader—more appreciative of sparse journalistic style than literary meanders. But I am finding Robinson’s characters intriguing, if not likeable—particularly the black sheep son.

The father Rev.Boughton—a retired Presbyterian minister enfeebled by age reminds me of my dad. The son and daughter who return home to care for their father purchase a TV for the home—the time period is early ‘60s. The evening news shows scenes of police violence against peaceful demonstrators for civil rights—fire hoses, dogs, beatings.

Having spent his entire lifetime in a small Midwestern town, the father cannot comprehend the enormity of the situation. Clearly the demonstrators are in the wrong or the police would not have to use force against them. He quotes the Bible about the need to do things “decently and in order” and believes “colored people” have hurt their cause by demonstrations which cause violence. In the good reverend’s mind, prayer is the solution to all problems and evils of the world.

In his later years, my dad also closed his mind to everything outside his Provo, Utah neighborhood and the Church. Reading the Book of Mormon, praying, attending church meetings and the temple, paying tithing and long suffering were his answers to all problems Low-paying job? Be content with what you have. Poverty and lack of education opportunities? Work hard, pay tithing—God provides for the deserving. Poor health? A blessing to teach patience and perseverance. War? Necessary to defend our country against jealous potential invaders.

My dad scorned social programs. As far as he was concerned, the Church took care of all needs. Dad showed compassion to people he knew and donated fast offerings and welfare farm time to help the poor, but was leery of charitable programs not directed by the Mormon Church. As far as he was concerned, equal rights movements for minorities, women, and gays were led by agitators with anti-American agendas. If a problem actually existed, of course the Church would address it.

“Limit Your Perspective” has never been an official Mormon motto, but the message is implicit in many over-the-pulpit statements and class discussions I’ve heard. And life is certainly easier if we delegate our personal responsibility to an agency outside ourselves.

 

 

Fast Track to Calling Release

 

Yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune  carried a story about Kenny Thomas, a YM president in Herriman, Utah, who was released from his calling after criticizing high pay for BSA executives in an email to ward members who had been asked to donate to the Friends of Scouting fund.

 

Thomas felt it was important for ward members to know that their contributions to this fund would not go to the boys in their ward nor to maintain what he called “awful” scout camps with “literally unusable” latrines. Much of the donations would fund executive salaries—$228,000 for the Great Salt Lake Council exec and over one million for the national scout chief.

 

Not surprisingly, the stake president objected to Thomas’s effort of conscience. From past bishopric experience, my husband George knows that wards are given a specific amount to raise which must be met—no excuses. No doubt, stakes receive the same kind of pressure from Church headquarters.

 

While I agree that bishops and stake presidents have the right to release people from their callings for any or no reason, the rationale Thomas’s stake pres gave for his action troubles me. His statement in an email to Thomas following his release contains the following paragraph:

 

Scouting is endorsed by the prophet. He knows more than you and I about the efficacy and worth of scouting. I trust he has received revelation regarding this. For me, it is an easy and straightforward concept. I follow the prophet.

 

Does this good stake president really believe that God reveals the details of the BSA use of funds to President Monson? Or is his statement just a cop out for refusing to personally examine the situation? As far as I know, Mormon doctrine does not presume infallibility for Church leaders, and it supports the notion of honest inquiry and speaking up for wrong practices. A slogan I’ve heard repeated from the pulpit many times is, “All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.”

 

Kenny Thomas followed his conscience in alerting ward members to where their donations might go. For that he was accused of “unwillingness to support scouting in general.” The upside to all this, of course, is that Thomas now has more time to spend with family and friends.

 

Naturalization

Friday morning my phone rang at 8:20. Rosa, the immigrant whom I’ve been tutoring, called to tell me she had just passed her naturalization test with 100%. I was so pleased. The application fee for citizenship is nearly $700. Applicants get two attempts to pass within a three-month period, but do not receive a refund if they fail the second time.

I felt responsibility for Rosa’s success because I pushed her to apply. Although she’s been a legal resident for 26 years, she thought her English wasn’t good enough. I assured her that the rule for applicants is the ability to speak, read, and write some English. Total proficiency is not required. Heck, many native-born Americans—including some who run for office—never accomplish that.

The civics and history part of the naturalization test would stymie many native-born Americans, also. I mean, how many of us know the number of voting members in the House of Representatives? Or the date the Constitution was written—or who wrote the Federalist Papers?

Cheers to the English Skills Language Center and Catholic Charities who provide programs to help immigrants and refugees learn English and prepare for citizenship.

Fence-straddling Hazards

At 8 a.m. I answered our old phone with no caller ID. A male voice said, “Is this the birthday girl?” Not that many men call to wish me a happy birthday—or for any other reason— so I assumed it was my brother.

“I thought you were going to be at Breitenbush,” I answered. It was early—I hadn’t even opened my gift from Dooby.

“Breitenbush?” the voice asked.  Then a pause, “This is President Terry.”

I forgot that our stake president calls everyone in the stake on their birthday. Not recognizing the stake president’s voice is only mildly embarrassing. But I never recognize the poor man by sight even though we’ve lived in this stake for over three years. Not remembering the stake president is understandable considering that I never attend stake conference and only rarely show up at sacrament meeting. It would not be a problem if George and I didn’t attend the annual high priest socials.

The stake president and his wife always attend and he makes it a point to circle the room, shaking everyone’s hand. You’d think after three years I would realize that the stranger thrusting his hand into mine is my spiritual leader, but my memory for faces—always dim—is fading fast. I never figure out who I’m talking to until the good president shakes the hand of the next person and I hear him called, “President.”

Hand shaking and personal birthday greetings probably work well for active members who actually know who their stake president is. For me, it’s only embarrassing. I can hardly expect the stake pres to wear a name tag when he visits our ward—and I draw the line at attending stake conference. Probably the best solution is to give up high priest socials. The wedgies from being a fence-straddling Mormon can be mighty uncomfortable.

Getting Took

I hate buying cars. People, especially men, are always telling me what great deals they got when they bought their car. I think they mean what great deals the salesmen told them they were getting. Car salesmen always assure me that they’re giving us a great deal—not making a penny on the price we’re paying when we finally purchase. Still—glancing in the rear view mirror of our new car, we can’t help noticing the sales staff slapping each other on the back and throwing fistfuls of money in the air as we drive off the lot.

Tired of feeling ripped off, this time we did our homework—researched models online, test drove Fords, Hondas and Toyotas. We fielded phone calls and e-mails from hungry salesmen for over a month.

Finally, we paid $15 for Consumer Reports to price the make and model we chose. The report gave us the base line price we should pay, told us a documentation fee of close to $300 would be charged, but that we should not pay a delivery/destination charge of about $750.

Consumer Reports sent our request to three dealers in our area and we were inundated with calls and e-mails. Every sales person had the perfect car for us—and yes—every dealer insisted on our paying a delivery fee.

When we didn’t buy immediately, salesmen sent notices about cars on which they could make a deal—always cars with luxury packages we didn’t want.

Last week we looked at a Corolla priced about $1500 below the sticker price. Soupy Salesman said he could talk the manager out of the delivery fee. He couldn’t. We left.

Soupy called a few days later to tell us about their new clunker trade-in offer—$3,000 for our 12-year-old Taurus. “At the same price you quoted us on Tuesday?” “Yes. I’ll fight for that. I want you to have the best deal possible.”

We looked. The sales manager agreed to honor Tuesday’s price. We sat down to negotiate. When the manager wrote up the total, he was willing to honor the previous price, but would only give a $200 trade-in.

Now, I know trade-ins are a gimmick and I know nobody wants our old Taurus. If it wasn’t making expensive sounding noises, we wouldn’t be looking for a replacement. We should have walked away, decided on a different make of car, and started over. But we were exhausted—and concerned that our Taurus might leave us stranded in an inconvenient spot. So we bought.

Soupy, to make us feel better at paying top dollar, threw in a free key chain and invited us to the buffet dinner for new car owners the following week. We declined. It will be at least 12 more years before we can bring ourselves to step onto a car lot again.

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