An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for January, 2012

Resenting Religious Rule

I’m beginning to understand the frustration non-Mormons in Utah feel with the political influence exerted by the dominant religion. The Republican presidential nominations for the past several cycles have been dominated by evangelicals Now, I have nothing against evangelicals—some of my nearest and dearest adhere to that faith—I’m just reluctant to have them choose a major presidential candidate. I mean, how can I trust a group that thought George W. Bush was God’s gift to America?

The upside is that, nationwide, evangelicals are a minority. No matter how they influence the Republican Party, the other party offers another choice.

Not so in Utah. Utah has not elected a non-Mormon governor since 1928. No non-Mormon senators and congressmen have been elected in Utah in my memory. Approximately 60% of Utahns consider themselves Mormons, but close to 90% of state office holders hold to the faith. Gerrymandered voting districts keep mostly Mormon Republicans in office in all but two counties.

Non-Mormons chafe at Utah’s liquor laws which are directly influenced by Church leadership. Many believe Thomas Monson is the most influential person in Utah politics. Legislators, however, don’t always bow to requests from 50 N Temple. The concealed weapons law did not respect Church wishes to exclude churches from places gun toting is allowed. With the current exception of a humane stance on immigration laws and a firm policy against gay marriage, Church headquarters keeps silent about most political issues.

For some reason—possibly because of long-harbored resentment against lack of government protection during the Missouri and Illinois persecutions, the invasion of Johnson’s Army, and subsequent persecution of polygamy—most Mormons are right-wing Republicans with a distrust of government. Mormons also have a strong aversion to taxes—possibly feeling their heavy Church donations are all they can afford—or that volunteerism can provide for all a community’s needs.

Church leaders may not be responsible for all political views of their followers, but the Church is judged by its members. And non-Mormon Utahns blame the Church for a state government which excludes them.

Real Men and Real Women

“I think I’m losing my masculinity,” George said yesterday after attending a League of Women Voters meeting with me. “I’ve been doing the Susan Komen Race for the Cure—even wearing the T-shirt with pink logo. Now, I’m thinking of joining the League of Women Voters.” (The LWV has included male members for several years). George even gave up deer hunting several years ago when he saw the deer’s eyelashes through his rifle scope.

George’s lament made me think of my brother’s comments at our dad’s funeral. Dooby talked about our dad functioning as both mom and dad after our mother died leaving him to raise a 10-year-old, 8-year-old and 2-year-old alone. Dooby talked about Dad working long hours in his grocery store while juggling meals, child care, parent-teacher conferences, doctor and dentist appointments. “He showed me what it is to be a man,” Dooby said.

Dooby’s right. Being a man isn’t about killing animals, building biceps, or forcing others to submit to his will. It’s about doing what needs to be done—whether he wants to or not.

Likewise, being a real women isn’t about bra cup size, reproduction, or cupcake decorating. A good friend undergoing chemotherapy last summer wrote me about three women in her ward who showed up to do her yard work. These women didn’t ask the bishop to send over the priesthood to help their friend. They saw a need and took care of it.

I really did have a neighbor once whose husband worked out of town—sometimes for weeks at a time. Her family spent the whole winter slipping and sliding on snow-packed sidewalks and driveway—apparently because neither she nor her three teenage daughters could figure out how to operate a snow shovel.

Thank heaven our culture has moved beyond the stereotype of rigid gender roles. And more power to NFL football teams who wear pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Socio-economic Shake-up

A teacher friend told me the junior high in an older neighborhood of our suburban town has slipped from top spot in the district. When enrollment declined due to an aging population, students from a newer, less expensive housing development were bussed in. Many homes in the new development have been foreclosed and are being bought by families from Salt Lake City’s lower income neighborhoods. The junior high in the privileged neighborhood must now contend with a substantial increase in fights, thefts, drugs, and gang issues.

My immediate response, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. What if “these people” move into my neighborhood and lower the value of my house? It’s easy to believe that minorities and other lower income people should have the opportunity to move into better neighborhoods where their children can attend good schools—until it’s our neighborhood they move into.

For six decades, middle-class whites have responded to this situation by moving to ever more distant suburbs. This option has closed for many young families. Laden with huge student loans, and faced with the reality of an economy not providing jobs with adequate salary and affordable health care insurance, many young couples cannot afford the segregated, middle-class neighborhoods of their parents.

This may not be entirely a negative. In the past Americans did not isolate themselves by economic status as religiously as we do now. Schools in small towns today have more diverse populations than those in suburbs—and kids benefit from mixing with people outside their family’s small circle.  Part of the problem with failing schools in lower income neighborhoods is that resources are seldom divided equally. Administrators tend to allocate more funds to schools with actively involved parents—and to shuffle low-performing teachers into schools where parents don’t complain.

Regardless of who wins the next election, it’s unlikely the economy will bounce back to the boom of the ‘90s anytime soon. The middle-class lifestyle of their parents will continue to elude many young couples. A possible social benefit may be the improvement of lower-income schools and neighborhoods as these families insist on good schools, parks, community recreation, and law enforcement for the communities in which they can afford to live.

Minority and low income parents also want good schools and a healthy environment for their children, but most lack the skills to deal with local government. Educated residents of lower-income neighborhoods could make a positive difference.

The Gospel According to Man

Reading the epistles of Paul sometimes makes me wish the New Testament ended with the Gospel of John—although I wouldn’t mind having the Gospel of Thomas included in the canon.

Paul has never been my favorite NT writer even though he composed some beautiful verses such as his 1 Corinthians 13 essay on charity (“love” in newer translations). His extended analogy in 1 Cor.12 equating the various spiritual gifts to the parts of the body and their different, yet equally important functions is brilliant. Much of his advice is common sense and compassionate—such as his acknowledging that eating meat sacrificed to idols (as was most meat sold in the Roman Empire) can’t hurt a Christian. Yet, Paul says he will forego eating sacrificed meat himself in order not to cause converts from idolatry to lapse back into sin.

Christians often have difficulty separating Paul’s wisdom from the cultural baggage of his era. He esteems celibacy over marriage, admonishes slaves to be satisfied with their situation, restricts women from speaking in church, and insists on the need for women to cover their hair when praying, to refrain from cutting their hair, and to submit to their husbands

Mormons have an advantage over many Christians in reading the Bible. The 8th Article of Faith, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” gives us wiggle room to deal with advice that makes no sense in our day and age. Unfortunately, we lack the same wiggle room for dealing with our own “modern” scriptures, written more than a century and a half ago.

Except for the Ten Commandments and the words, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” written on Belshazzar’s wall (Dan 5:25), no scriptures claim to have been written by the hand of God. All others have been filtered through human mind and memory and recorded with the limitations of human understanding and language.

Adopting someone else’s version of truth that doesn’t jibe with one’s innate conscience causes good people to do bad things in the name of religion. Anything, including scriptures and teachings of religious leaders, should pass the test of common sense and good conscience before being acted upon by believers.

A Tweet in Time . . . .

At our League of Utah Writers meeting this week, we discussed using Facebook, Twitter, and making online comments on newspaper and other websites to get our names and faces before the public and create an audience for our writing. Of course, writers and bloggers do this—although sometimes with a sense of shame. We’ve all been taught since childhood not to boast—not to draw attention to ourselves.

Ted, a member of our group, gave me a new perspective: “Anything you feel passionately enough to write about is something that will interest others—something that may help them in understanding a similar situation. If you don’t promote it yourself, your insights will be confined within the walls of your own home. No one else will benefit from what you have to share.”

Ted is right. The days when Emily Dickinson hid her masterpieces for someone else to find and publish to the world are gone. Thoreau didn’t have to do book tours, book signings, and talk shows to build an audience for Walden. But an author who waits to be discovered nowadays won’t be—and the world may be the poorer for it.

Besides promoting our writing, sometimes we need to speak up verbally. How many times have I sat biting my tongue through a Church lesson with which I disagreed? Now, I’m not advocating rudeness or emotional outbursts which make everyone uncomfortable and usually harden people in their opinions rather than moving them to agree with us. But a respectful, alternative point-of-view—a tweet rather than a treatise—may be just what others are hoping to hear.

Jesus was humble. He did not argue, insult or belittle—but he was not silent.

Giving So It Doesn’t Hurt

Last Sunday at the Big Heart Zen CenterMinverva, the discussion leader, used Big Mind  techniques to facilitate a look at the “Giver” aspect of our personalities. Several of us were confused when she asked us to identify as the voice of the Giver disowned by the Self.

In Big Mind workshops, we usually identify a negative aspect our Self has disowned. Why would the Self disown the Giver? Everybody knows it’s more blessed to give than to receive.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, someone volunteered, “My Self disowns the Giver because it finds the Giver exhausting.”

Bingo. We could all relate to the fatigue of giving more than our strength allows. To the guilt from never feeling we’ve given enough. To the resentment of thinking our giving is unappreciated. To the neediness of giving with the expectation of receiving something in return—praise, gratitude, or just that warm, cozy feeling.

Then Minverva asked us to speak as the voice of the Giver fully owned and accepted by the Self. “How can the Giver, fully owned, help the Self?”

Another light switched on for me: When fully accepted by the Self, the Giver can give to others without being attached to the outcome. The Giver can give contentment to the Self—allowing the Self to give without the need of recognition or to feel she has solved every problem.

What  wonderful insight I received from Big Mind and the hour spent at the Big Heart Zen Center Sunday morning. My thanks to those who made it possible.

The Lesson I Didn’t Teach

The other day, George picked up my copy of Spencer Johnson’s 1998 best seller, Who Moved My Cheese?. “Looks like a good book,” he said as he turned the pages.

“Yes, and I still regret not sharing it with the Relief Society in our Sandy ward.”

I read the book several years ago as part of a faculty discussion group. It’s a fun story of fictitious mice looking for cheese in a maze. The mice represent people seeking fulfillment in life. One mouse constantly sniffs out change, another scurries into action when change occurs, a third resists change—fearing the worst. When this mouse no longer finds cheese at the usual place, it returns to the same spot over and over until it starves. The fourth mouse follows others—changing its behavior when evidence shows the change works.

The point of the story is that somebody is always moving the cheese—situations in our lives change, leaving us empty. We can, like the third mouse, keep going back to the routine that used to work for us. We can be angry or hurt at the change. We can yell, blame or wait for someone to fix it. Or we can search for fulfillment in new places.

I loved this book. I’ve always been a sniffer and a scurrier after change—optimistically believing change always leads to improvement. Fortunately, George and my work colleagues provided balance for me. Looking before leaping is wise.

Shortly after reading this book, I was asked to substitute in a Relief Society lesson on the Second Coming. I thought of basing the lesson on Who Moved My Cheese. I could loosely tie it into the topic. Obviously, Jesus’s return would be the biggest change of all time.

Most of the women in our ward were dealing with changing situations as their children grew older and needed education and missions. Husbands lost jobs. Children moved from home. Many of these women kept trying to change things back—praying for husbands to find jobs or to get better jobs. Begging children who left the state for better job opportunities to come home.

Probably none of the women in my ward had read this book. The coping strategies it contained could help them deal with present and future changes in their lives.

But, I knew the rules: Teachers should not use unauthorized material in Church lessons. There was nothing objectionable in Who Moved My Cheese. Still, it was neither scripture, nor an article from the Ensign, nor a personal experience—the only approved resources outside the lesson manual.

Well schooled in Church obedience, I taught the lesson as outlined. The sisters in the room dozed or yawned through it. They had heard the same lesson, the same scriptures, the same quotes from General Authorities dozens of times. The 40 minutes of lesson time was a total waste for us all.

I will always regret not teaching these women something new—something that might have helped them deal with situations in their lives. Rules exist for reasons, but rules too rigidly followed ignore individual needs.

 

 

The other day, George picked up my copy of Spencer Johnson’s 1998 best seller, Who Moved My Cheese?. “Looks like a good book,” he said as he turned the pages.

“Yes, and I still regret not sharing it with the Relief Society in our Sandy ward.”

I read the book several years ago as part of a faculty discussion group. It’s a fun story of fictitious mice looking for cheese in a maze. The mice represent people seeking fulfillment in life. One mouse constantly sniffs out change, another scurries into action when change occurs, a third resists change—fearing the worst. When this mouse no longer finds cheese at the usual place, it returns to the same spot over and over until it starves. The fourth mouse follows others—changing its behavior when evidence shows the change works.

The point of the story is that somebody is always moving the cheese—situations in our lives change, leaving us empty. We can, like the third mouse, keep going back to the routine that used to work for us. We can be angry or hurt at the change. We can yell, blame or wait for someone to fix it. Or we can search for fulfillment in new places.

I loved this book. I’ve always been a sniffer and a scurrier after change—optimistically believing change always leads to improvement. Fortunately, George and my work colleagues provided balance for me. Looking before leaping is wise.

Shortly after reading this book, I was asked to substitute in a Relief Society lesson on the Second Coming. I thought of basing the lesson on Who Moved My Cheese. I could loosely tie it into the topic. Obviously, Jesus’s return would be the biggest change of all time.

Most of the women in our ward were dealing with changing situations as their children grew older and needed education and missions. Husbands lost jobs. Children moved from home. Many of these women kept trying to change things back—praying for husbands to find jobs or to get better jobs. Begging children who left the state for better job opportunities to come home.

Probably none of the women in my ward had read this book. The coping strategies it contained could help them deal with present and future changes in their lives.

But, I knew the rules: Teachers should not use unauthorized material in Church lessons. There was nothing objectionable in Who Moved My Cheese. Still, it was neither scripture, nor an article from the Ensign, nor a personal experience—the only approved resources outside the lesson manual.

Well schooled in Church obedience, I taught the lesson as outlined. The sisters in the room dozed or yawned through it. They had heard the same lesson, the same scriptures, the same quotes from General Authorities dozens of times. The 40 minutes of lesson time was a total waste for us all.

I will always regret not teaching these women something new—something that might have helped them deal with situations in their lives. Rules exist for reasons, but rules too rigidly followed ignore individual needs.

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