An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for March, 2012

Into the 21st Century

Not surprisingly to anyone but ourselves, matrimony was more expensive than either George or I anticipated.  Paychecks that look huge to those living with their parents dwindle when they must cover rent, utilities, and food. And when we started looking for houses, I realized why friends and family settled for standard development-dwellings rather than the homes I’d admired on the pages of House Beautiful.

Eventually, we saved enough for a house down payment, crib, and washing machine. We were ready to start a family. I finished the school year before Wort was born and planned to be a stay-at-home-mom. We could watch TV and entertain guests on kitchen chairs for a while longer. We knew our charming, 70-year-old house needed renovation. With the innocence of youth, we figured it wouldn’t cost much since George could do the work himself. As expenses mounted, we postponed a second child and I returned to teaching when Wort neared his first birthday.

I found a baby sitter who gave Wort far wiser care than my inexperience allowed. But with a baby to pick up at 4:00, I could no longer spend long hours at school. I resorted to more worksheets and fewer hands-on learning experiences, and felt I was cheating my students. I quit teaching with a sigh of relief after two years. The house was livable and living room furniture could wait.

 Life moved on. We added four more kids to the family. I gardened, canned, and shopped thrift stores to stretch our tight budget. George is very good as his work, but it’s not a high-paying field. By the time our youngest hit school, we knew I needed a job to provide health insurance and retirement benefits as well as to keep shoes on five pairs of fast-growing feet.

Throughout my teaching years, my senses were assaulted by General Conference addresses and Relief Society lessons criticizing mothers who love luxuries more than their children and take jobs outside the home. The pervasive rhetoric even encouraged one ward member with an unemployed husband to ask for Church welfare rather than get a job herself—although her three children were in their teens.

But, I think the times are a-changing. At a funeral last week, a white-haired bishop in a rural ward began his remarks by praising the deceased woman for improving her skills and taking a job to help support the family. Hallelujah! I could have hugged the man. And I hope he conveyed this message to my elderly relative before her death. Her family, as well the Church, criticized her efforts to keep her kids fed, in school, and on missions.

Bishop Rural was a breath of fresh air. I hope he’s frontrunner for a new Church-wide attitude toward women. Mormons have long praised fathers who take an active role in child-rearing. Now, it’s time to honor mothers who help provide financial security for the family.

Finding Our Own Depth

Today’s post is from guest, Dorothy Guinn. Dorothy comes from a long line of word junkies and appreciates anyone’s willingness to listen to the ramblings of her heart and soul. Considering herself a convert who was born in the covenant, she is a self-proclaimed Zen-Baptist-Mormon.  After a brief stint on the dark-side during her teen/early adult years, she discovered that she and her mom could go to the same church and have completely different religions.  Married for 25 years to the man who saw through the lies of the dark-side, she is now a home-schooling mom, a successful energy healer, public speaker and writer who occasionally has to use sticky notes to remember to GO outside instead of just look at it through the windows.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that those of us striking out to find more than Church meetings offer often feel we are somehow backsliding because we no longer match what is commonly accepted by mainstream Mormons. Yet, we find the Spirit showing up in stronger and more powerful ways than ever before, which contradicts the idea that we are apostatizing.

She then gave the analogy of a father teaching a child to ride a bike. In time, the father lets go of the bike but is still standing right there, ready. That is what is happening. God is trusting us to experiment and try our agency at another level. He already told us it would happen when He told us it was inappropriate to be “commanded in all things.”

 When we leave the slothful, welfare-state lifestyle of being spiritually fed and turn instead to feasting and feeding ourselves, we progress more and more and need less and less commanding. God doesn’t abandon us, but does give us more room to grow and practice eternal progression.

After watching Sheri Dew years ago and then reading her book “No Doubt About It” based largely on the talk she gave at Women’s Conference I came up with my theory which I call the “Celestial S.E.O.P.”

In my neck of Utah the school system has a yearly planning session with students called the Student Educational Occupational Plan (SEOP) where teachers attempt to inspire kids to figure out who/what they want to be when they grow up and match their educational goals accordingly. It occurred to me that if God took the time to remind Moses, Abraham, Nephi, Joseph Smith and others about the Big Picture and their parts in it, probably each of us got a turn to hang out with our Heavenly Parents and discuss, Who do I want to be when I grow up?”

I believe we had a tremendous amount of input regarding our earthly circumstances and the preparations we made prior to our arrival. I think we were rather naive in some of our expectations and ideas as to how well we would pull all of this off–rather like high school graduates getting ready to go out on their own or off to college.

Why do I feel so confident about this? Because the main point is for us to inherit the Family Business—to be able to create spirit beings and worlds without number. It seems crazy to me that God would create a plan for us to be like Him and not put together some sort of apprenticeship program to train us, so we don’t run the family business into the ground. Those of us who are here, managed our first big project rather well— we kept our first estate.

So the life mission we are struggling so hard to figure out, is something we already chose—for the most part. Our Father/CEO still knows what we asked for and gives us bits and pieces of remembering, validation and spiritual nudging to encourage us to continue.

I also believe that “God” is more like a last name; Father God, Mother God, The Son, Jesus Christ God and our Cousin, Holy Ghost God. Incidentally, it is our last name as well, but we are still in short pants, as it were, and do not use it yet–it would be like forging checks with your dad’s name on them.

To sum up: We need to step up. We need to be “agents unto ourselves” and find our own depth because it simply is not available in a global church that has to be the foundation from which ALL people spring-board into their own eternal destiny. Truth may be narrow, but it is crazy-deep! 



The Truth Shall Set You Free

On this week’s PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly  program, Professor Amy-Jill Levine, an observant Jew, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach discussed their new books about Jesus. Levine, who teaches at Vandebilt Divinity School has co-authored the Jewish Annotated New Testament. Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus  has been labeled heresy by some Orthodox Jewish groups.

Both authors believe that Christians and Jews alike benefit from understanding the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived as well as the parables and messages from the New Testament. Levine claims her study of the New Testament has made her a better Jew. Boteach feels Jews have much to teach Christians about the Jewish Jesus and dismisses claims that learning about Jesus will lead Jews to convert.

I loved the discussion of both religions on this segment. I think the fear that some Jewish people have about learning about Jesus might apply to Mormons.

A few years ago, our Sandy, Utah ward had the unusual experience of having a Hindu, a Moslem, and a Jewish family living within our ward boundaries. I suggested to the Relief Society president that inviting each of these women to tell us about her faith and religious practice would make for stimulating enrichment meetings.

Of course, that did not happen. I was disappointed at first, but then realized it was for the best. Our RS pres could not have seen interaction with a person of another faith as anything but a missionary opportunity. Instead of providing a learning experience for Mormon women, the meeting would have focused on telling the guest speakers why our faith is so much better.

Learning about other faiths does not have to diminish one’s own. Mormon converts prove that many people prefer the doctrines and practice of Mormonism to other faiths in which they have participated. If “the truth shall make you free”,” shouldn’t we follow Joseph Smith’s counsel and “receive truth, let it come from whence it may,”? (TPJS 313)

Out of Sync

George and I became RINOs this year. We registered as Republicans so we could have some voice in the government of our one-party state. But I can’t tell you how uncomfortable we were at the caucus. A few ward members we knew were in attendance. One neighbor asked what we were doing there, “I thought you were dyed-in-the-wool-Democrats?” We are not traditional Democrats although I have carried petitions for clean air, ethics reform, and fair voting-district boundaries—not issues I consider partisan. I smiled at Sister Neighbor and said, “We’ve come to Jesus.”

Actually, George and I were so uncomfortable during the meeting that I think we would give up Jesus rather than endure another caucus. After prayer and pledge, the county platform was read. Every nutty bill brought up in this year’s state legislature was enshrined as policy of Davis County Republicans: Taking federal lands from the federal government (lots of luck winning that one). No sex education in the public schools (ignorance is bliss). Volunteerism to meet air quality standards (does anyone see British-owned Kennecott as a willing volunteer?).

The budget deficit was a major consideration by attendees as was their resolve to prevent the closure of Hill AFB. Closing unnecessary military installations within their own state is never popular with deficit hawks.  

Well, we shouldn’t have expected to meet like-minded folks at a Republican caucus in Utah. But last night our new home teachers showed up, and we found ourselves in the same uncomfortable situation.

When Brother Faithful pulled out his Ensign  to give us the lesson, I asked him to please discuss it rather than read it. Bless his heart, he did. He told us that prophets are as important now as in the days of the Old Testament and bore testimony to the blessing of having them to give us direction in these troubled times. I stared at my fingernails, hoping he wouldn’t ask for my agreement. Both he and his 14-year-old companion are devout believers, and I have no desire to challenge their beliefs with my own opinions.

After they left, George said he felt like, not only are we RINOs, we are also MINOs—Mormons in Name Only. Here’s the dilemma. From the ward’s point of view, we should have our names taken from the church rolls if we don’t care to participate. But we like our neighbors and enjoy contact with them—but in our neighborhood that contact centers around church. George and I don’t need to be taught the gospel. We were active, believing members for most of our lives. An intellectual discussion of religion is not an option. Devout members must defend their beliefs. I understand that. Their faith may be essential to their emotional health.

We just don’t know how to handle the situation without being offensive.

Be Still and Know That I Am God

Not being Catholic, I never aspired to be a nun. But, watching a segment on Religion and Ethics Newsweekly  about St. Mary’s Abbey in Ireland made me long to spend a few days there. In the words of the abbess, Mother Marie Fahy, the abbey is:  

a place where God is loved and worshiped, and it’s a place where we pray for humanity. We’re conscious of interceding before God for people, and it’s a place of conversion, where we constantly try to become who we are meant to be as fully human persons and overcome the demons and the less positive aspects of our life.

Mormon temples offer moments of silent contemplation, as do Buddhist temples. But, wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy two days of silence at the “monastic experience weekend” offered at St. Mary’s several times a year?

Pride or Principle?

Dan feels his family is falling apart. His 22-year-old daughter, Daphne, has married a guy the family doesn’t approve of. Dan, who has served in his ward bishopric, argued, pleaded and threatened–trying to convince Daphne to give up the boy, repent and return to the fold. Not surprisingly, Daphne chose boyfriend over family and moved in with her lover several months before the wedding.

Dan refused to attend his daughter’s wedding. His wife, Hope, who is Stake Relief Society President, bought the wedding dress Daphne chose—a strapless gown with detachable shawl collar. To her mother’s dismay, Daphne removed the collar and was married with bare shoulders showing. Hope cried so hard she had to leave before the reception.

It’s not easy watching our children grow up and exercising their agency to make decisions we find unwise. Dan and Hope’s behavior, however, reminds me of orthodox Jews and Muslims who hold funeral services for children who marry outside the faith.

Mormons do not go that far. In fact, I doubt any General Authorities encourage members to boycott a child’s non-temple marriage. Still, status in Mormon circles is closely linked to raising children who serve missions and marry in the temple.

Would Dan and Hope have lost less prestige in their ward and stake by supporting Daphne on her wedding day—and should that have mattered to them? Daphne is too old to be forced. What was the point of getting into a contest of wills that severely damaged the relationship? Predictably, the newlyweds chose to spend Christmas with his family instead of hers.

Yes, Dan’s family is falling apart, but it didn’t have to be that way. Pride, not principle, is the culprit.

Eternity Is Now

Our local PBS station reran the Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell last week. Watching it in 2012 was an entirely different experience from viewing it for the first time 25 years ago. The interview is the same, but I’m not.

Twenty-five years ago, I did not grasp the meaning of Campbell’s statement: “Eternity has nothing to do with time.” I had been taught that eternity is forever—and in my mind, eternity was mostly in the future—after this life. Eternity and eternal happiness are the rewards for receiving the ordinances and keeping the commandments in this life.

Too often, I sacrificed the present for the future—wishing the present moment away for a perfect future moment—the time I would be caught up, no problems, no tasks to complete, no discomfort. Somehow, I thought that if I just worked hard enough that moment would come.

I was almost as crazy as my cousin Maddi who has spent her life battling everyone she knows—family, neighbors, employers. She never misses an excuse for combat. Not surprisingly, she never married.  Being part of her parents’ eternal family is crucially important to Maddi, a devout Mormon. Currently, she does battle with her sisters over the care of their elderly mother. Once she asked me if there was any chance the hatred and contention between her sisters and herself will disappear in the Celestial Kingdom. How do you tactfully answer, “Not a chance” to a question like that?

One thing I’ve learned from reading utopian novels is that perfection is boring. No one wants to stay in Shangri-La or El Dorado. Dealing with problems, pain, and sorrow creates some of the joy of life. Eternity is now and life is beautiful—warts and all.

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