An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for February, 2012

Dinner, Dementia, & Divorce

Our home teacher threw a dinner party Saturday night for the families he home teaches. George and I enjoyed getting together with ward members with whom we are not well-acquainted—thanks to our sporadic church attendance.  It was an especially good night for Gerald and Joanne who live several blocks away. He suffers dementia, but enjoyed being with people willing to overlook his confusion and talk to him about events he can remember. Joanne seemed to enjoy this rare evening out. As Gerald’s caregiver, her life is totally restricted. She cannot leave him alone and has given up her book group and Daughters of Utah Pioneers meetings.

Gerald and Joanne’s situation is hardly unusual in this age of life-prolonging medication. Gerald really needs to be in a care center, but nursing home costs are prohibitive for families who failed to purchase long-term care insurance when they were young and healthy. Medicare pays for only 90 days of nursing home care. Medicaid eligibility occurs only after a couple has exhausted their own resources—leaving the healthy spouse with only the house, Social Security, and possibly pension income.

It looks like Joanne’s only options are: a) to continue care giving at home until she exhausts herself and possibly dies first, b) to impoverish herself by paying for Gerald’s residence in a care center until their savings are exhausted, or c) to divorce him and let him go on Medicaid.

These are scary old-age prospects for couples. Since dementia runs on my side of the family and not George’s, I have told George and the kids (quite nobly, I think) that it’s all right for him to divorce me when I need nursing home care. “No problem,” our daughter Lolly said. “You won’t know it anyway.”

More Everything Give Me

A popular Mormon hymn, More Holiness Give Me, begins each of 30 phrases with the word, “more.” Granted, most of the requests are for spiritual gifts such as more faith, patience, gratitude, and purity. Each desire correlates with Joseph Smith’s definition of the word “mormon” as meaning “more good.”*

The Doctrine of More is very much part of current LDS teaching: More life—an eternity. More family—for all eternity. More sex—eternal procreation. More work—creating worlds. More power—becoming as God.

These “mores,” directed towards the next life, give Mormons greater purpose in this life. None of these is a bad thing to want more of. In fact, all of these Desires-for-More correspond to human nature. Of course, contemporary American Mormons, like their gentile counterparts, extend “more” to coveting more material goodies in this life. That too is human nature.

With a philosophy nearly opposite that of 21st century American values, it seems odd that Buddhist practice is growing in the US. Buddhism emphasizes “less”—less attachment to material goods, less attachment to past and future, less attachment to body, to ego. The Buddhist philosophy of acceptance may be more realistic than the Mormon tradition of striving for perfection. It is certainly more peaceful. Still, I suspect it has less appeal to our human nature which is bent on acquiring and keeping.

Which belief system will flourish in a century that, so far, promises constant turmoil? Maybe neither.

*(See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 300 for this unusual etymology).

Guardians of the Hearth

My visiting teacher, Sis. Beyonda Shadda, asked if she could share the message this month. “I know you don’t like to hear the lesson,” she began.

“I don’t mind discussing the message. I just find it boring to hear it read aloud,” I assured her.

“The lesson this month is on ‘Guardians of the Hearth’ which is such a lovely thought,” Sister Beyonda said. “I just want to read you what Pres. Hinckley said at a Women’s Conference.” She unfolded her copy and read:

You are the guardians of the hearth. You are the bearers of the children. You are they who nurture them and establish within them the habits of their lives. No other work reaches so close to divinity as does the nurturing of the sons and daughters of God.

I was polite. I didn’t ask her why Pres. Hinckley thought it important to tell Mormon women that they are the ones who bear and primarily care for their children— or that nurturing children is important. Don’t women already know that? Probably he was just repeating the Mormon myth that we are the only good people—the only people who love and value our children—and that we must preach this message to “the world.”

I assured Sister Beyonda that raising my five children was the greatest joy and achievement of my life. She frowned in disbelief. How could I be a loving mother without hearing weekly sermons and Relief Society lessons telling me motherhood is a sacred obligation?

The Decline and Fall of the LDS Church?

Emeritus General Authority, Marlin Jensen’s candid remarks about the significant loss of active membership in the Mormon Church have been picked up by the media and are creating a maelstrom among Mormons and their critics. I hope Elder Jensen will not be chastised by the brethren for letting the cat out of the bag. General Conference addresses last October hinted broadly at the problem. The too prevalent attitude that “not all things that are true are useful” fails to serve the Church well in the age of Internet.  

George and I stopped attending church regularly a few years ago. The reaction from ward members was to ask us what was wrong, to fellowship us. When we moved into a new ward, the hand of fellowship was extended. We were cordial, but didn’t commit to attending. Visiting teachers peered around our house as if looking for cigarettes butts or beer bottles—evidence that my sins kept me from church. How do you politely tell Mormons that the boring, repetitious talks and lessons drove you out rather than sin or lack of friends?

I doubt any action the Church takes will bring back former members who have found other sources of guidance and inspiration in their lives. But, perhaps dealing honestly with Church history and not promoting an either/or dichotomy of belief will prevent other questioning members from leaving.

The Roman Catholic Church has also experienced loss of members in recent decades. Of course, they have many more to spare than the Mormons—and no one is predicting the demise of Catholicism any time soon. One advantage the Catholic Church has in dealing with corruption and problems of the past and present is that the Catholic Church is seen as the body of Christ. No person or group can corrupt the Body of Christ, no matter how flawed their behavior.

Like the Mormon Church, the Catholic body is governed by elderly men with rigid interpretations of Church policy. Apparently, Catholics who follow their own conscience on personal decisions and beliefs can still fully participate in Church life. Modern American Catholics may no longer have the unwavering belief that their priest or even the Pope is always right, but many remain active members.

Can Mormon Church leaders lighten up on the black and white beliefs required of active Mormons  or will Church membership continue to decline? Time will tell.

Enriching Enrichment

This week I attended our ward enrichment meeting because the theme was “Be good to yourself” and Corena, our neighborhood yoga teacher, taught yoga and relaxation techniques. Corena led us through some gentle stretches and a guided meditation. At the conclusion, she asked how we felt. “Terrific!” was the unanimous answer. “Nothing in this room has changed,” she said. “The change in how you feel has come from within yourself.”

What a great message. I took my “changed within” self home to tackle a project without waiting for the second part of the meeting, “Lifelong Learning.” The sister presenting that part of the meeting had arranged a table display featuring an Ensign, a Book of Mormon Quest game, a copy of Mormon Doctrine (Yes, I know Deseret Book has stopped publishing it), a book about Jesus by an LDS author, and a cookbook of Mormon recipes. Looked more like Lifelong Limitation than Lifelong Learning.

When will Mormons rediscover what Joseph Smith taught 170 years ago? God loves and inspires all his children. We can learn much from sources outside our own faith.*

On the bright side—my ward did invite a yoga teacher to teach an enrichment class—and KBYU airs a yoga class weekday mornings. Maybe we’re on our way to seeking beyond our own borders—at least in caring for our physical bodies.

*“One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1976. p313.

Worth Checking Out

Recent offerings from the Bloggernacle:

From Wheat and Tares Hawkgirl lists and reflects upon Church policies (not doctrine) that Mormon women question. An interesting piece about Austrialian Simon Southerton and his struggle to reconcile belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon with DNA research.

“Report from Camelot.”  A summary of historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s presentation of the new RS manual, Daughters in My Kingdom in a joint PH/RS meeting in her home ward.

A brief synopsis of ten popular books of Mormon History.


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