An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for May, 2012

Celebration or Sedation?

Last week I attended a large anniversary celebration for some Catholic friends. I couldn’t help contrasting their party with affairs hosted by Mormons.

First of all, it was held at a hotel rather than a church social hall, so there was no awkwardness for friends of a different faith—and of course, no dress code. No eyebrows were raised for women wearing pants or sleeveless tops. Men breathed comfortably sans neckties.

Even more importantly—no formal reception line. Guests did not have to queue up to pay their respects. Our hosts circulated and socialized throughout the evening.  

Of course, there was a bar which may have lubricated the sociability—but no one got drunk or even loud. I had a great time without alcohol. At this season of my life, I abstain for other than religious reasons. Observation has convinced me that most people who start drinking after their teen years make fools of themselves. Nobody will think that’s cute or even forgivable at my age.

But, back to entertaining. Most Mormons I know are not uptight people, but no one would guess that if they saw them only at wedding or anniversary receptions. Mormons could improve their image by lightening up and throwing parties to celebrate special occasions rather than hosting formal affairs where the guests stand in line and wish they were home.

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The Bible Tells Me So

A phrase from C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves discusses the need for friendship with other believers to help us come to a full understanding of God: “For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. . . . The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.”

When I read those words, I thought of the scripture, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Eccl 11:1) I’ve always interpreted this passage as referring to blessings received from generosity. Lewis’s use of the term, “the Heavenly Bread between us;” however, refers not to actual bread but to  spiritual insights.

From there, my mind skipped to the feeding of the 4,000. I’ve sat through many Gospel Doctrine lessons where members speculated about how seven loaves and a few little fishes could miraculously feed 4,000 hungry people. I think we were missing the real point. Possibly the author of Matthew was using bread metaphorically to show how the spiritual experience of Jesus’s teachings was magnified through the participation of a large group of believers.

I wonder—Are we missing the spiritual lessons in some of our Bible stories by concentrating on a too literal interpretation? What’s the point in asking: Did the flood cover the entire earth? Did Balaam’s ass really speak to him? How did Jonah survive three days in the belly of a whale?

We read the parables of Jesus as allegories. We don’t get hung up trying to decide in which country the Prodigal Son sowed his wild oats. Nor do we seek the exact identity of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps the best way to read Bible stories is as parables—fictional stories told to express truth.

You’re Not the Person I Married

Check the exponent blog at http://www.the-exponent.com/youre-not-the-person-i-married/#respond for my blog about marriage.

Every Young Man a Missionary–Not

We have two sons and three daughters. When we tell people two of our children served missions, we look like successful Mormon parents. If we reveal that two daughters and zero sons served missions, we are perceived as failures.

In our defense, we did follow the rules. We talked up missions while our kids were little and invited the missionaries for dinner frequently. We attended relatives’ missionary farewells whenever possible. Still, by the time our sons reached age 19, they were free thinkers who could not honestly urge others to join a church about which they had serious doubts.

“You should make Wort go on a mission,” one friend counseled. I doubt there is any righteous way to force a 19-year-old to act against his personal beliefs. And it’s best for the Church that we didn’t try unrighteous means—“You’ll break my heart if you don’t serve.”

I could imagine Wort engaging contacts in philosophical discussions that discounted reliance on warm, fuzzy feelings as a guide to making decisions. Techie would have turned the discussions into stand-up routines: “The Apostasy. That’s when God gave up on the human race and said, ‘To hell with you. I’m taking a break for the next 1600 years.’”

No, it was best for themselves and the Church that our sons did not serve missions.

There were downsides. Wort found few Mormon girls were willing to date a non-RM. Techie didn’t want to date Mormon girls, so he didn’t care.

A big advantage to our sons not serving missions was that it took them from the established Mormon pattern of completing a mission then marriage, family, education, and career—in that order. Both married after age 30 when they were established in their careers. Their children are a joy to them and not a financial burden.

Church of One

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article described the North America Old Catholic Church (OCC), which has broken from mainstream Catholicism. This group follows Catholic liturgy without guidance from Rome. It emphasizes the traditional Catholic value of social justice. The church opposes abortion but does not lobby for legislation enforcing their religious beliefs. The OCC ordains women and allows priests to marry and divorced persons to take communion. Is it Catholic-lite or is it Catholicism refocusing on Jesus’s core teachings?

Reading this article made me wonder what I would drop and keep were I to form a breakaway group from Mormonism. Deciding what to throw out is easy. I would start with the organs which few members can play with lively enough tempo to keep the congregational singing from sounding like a herd of water buffalo lost in the desert.

On a more serious note, I would de-emphasize obedience to church leaders. Unquestioning obedience stifles individual thinking and growth.

My starter list would also downgrade Word of Wisdom emphasis. It’s increasingly hard to defend the 89th section as a health law when medical research demonstrates benefits from green tea, coffee, and moderate consumption of red wine. Substituting Diet Coke for coffee and tea strikes non-Mormons as bizarre.

Those are my priorities to drop. What would I keep? I would focus on Jesus’s teachings, especially the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . .Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39) And while we’re quoting the Bible, I would definitely open Bible study to include all translations. Understanding scripture is tough enough without dealing with archaic language.

Emphasizing the two great commandments might even alleviate the need for home and visiting teaching. I think the original purpose of both programs was to serve as training wheels—helping us learn to love and care for our neighbors. Like other programs, they have become crutches—excuses to ignore our neighbors unless assigned. I do enjoy the camaraderie found within wards in which I’ve lived. Could we could retain that by stressing principles rather than programs?

I wonder if emphasizing the first and second commandments might improve missionary work. Service missionaries already focus on helping others instead of prosyletyzing. Would the church make, perhaps fewer, but more permanent conversions if all missionaries focused on service?

Of course, I would keep the concept of James 22:17, which we have shortened to “Faith without works is dead.” However, I would expand James’ wisdom to include grace—the love of God for saints and sinners alike. The kind, loving Heavenly Father we teach about in Primary doesn’t withhold his love on the many occasions we mortals fail to live up to our understanding of the gospel.

I like the contemplative time while the sacrament is being blessed and served. A few minutes of quiet during a busy week is restorative, a time for self-reflection—except for parents of small children. Possibly Primary could be held during Sacrament Meeting and everyone—except Primary workers—would return home refreshed for family togetherness.

Naturally, I would keep—possibly restore is the better word—the Mormon emphasis on learning: “Study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” (D&C 90:15) Keeping commandments I enjoy is painless.

 “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” is a slogan I’ve heard so often in church that for a long time, I thought it was from the Bible. Work, honesty, and wise stewardship are principles I learned at church and would definitely retain.

That’s what I would keep in my break-away group: Love of God who loves all His children unconditionally. Love and service to others. Contemplation. Family. Learning. Work and provident living.

My list ignores hot-button issues like gay marriage and priesthood for women. Maybe those issues could be addressed in open discussions of how to apply the first and second commandments.

The Old Catholic Church break-off group has a North American membership of about 10,000. I suspect my group would be a Church of One. That’s no big deal. I’m an introvert.

Spiritual Experience

George and I had an unexpected spiritual experience this week. We attended the viewing for a ward member. We didn’t know either the deceased or her husband very well. We did know he is elderly and, like most widowers, will have a hard time living alone. Family was seated quietly in the Relief Society room as this good man stood by his wife’s casket to greet those who came to honor her.

I’m not exactly sure what touched both George and me so deeply: the quiet dignity of this man in mourning, the beauty of his wife now at peace, the reverence of the family watching their father fulfill his role, or just the thought of him closing the door when the family leaves and turning to face his empty home alone.

As we left, George said, “Gentle people are beautiful.”

Sometimes, less is more. We’ve attended funerals with lavish displays trumpeting the accomplishments of the deceased. Family funerals become noisy reunions when far-flung relatives catch up on each other’s lives.

Not for a long time has a simple viewing struck us with such a spiritual impact. I’m glad we didn’t stay for the service. Nothing the speakers said could have added to our experience.

Cold or Considerate?

Sisters Faith and Hope came visiting teaching this week. Since a ward member died recently, the conversation turned to end-of-life. Sister Hope told of her family placing her grandfather’s hospital bed in the living room where he could be with the family. When her grandmother was dying, Hope’s  aunt washed her body and dressed her in clean garments and nightgown so she could die peacefully.

I should know better than to offer my opinion on these visits, but I spoke up—minus the prompting of the Holy Spirit. “I couldn’t stand to have my bed in the living room while I was dying. I need privacy. And I don’t want my kids to have to care for me at the end. Let me die with nice, paid strangers.”

Sister Faith frowned and shook her head. “Caring for loved ones can be a blessing. My good friend had such a tender experience caring for her mother. She was so grateful for that time.”

Sorry, Sister Faith. I’m not sentimental. I know many people find satisfaction in caring for the ill and dying. These people usually go into nursing—and I’m thankful for their skills. There are no nurses in our family. For me and, I suspect for my children, caring for a dying parent is a duty we can perform, but not enjoy.

Sister Faith obviously thinks I’m cold-hearted. I think I’m considerate.

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