I recently came across a journal entry I wrote 25 years ago. At that time, George and I had five teenaged kids, two jobs, and never enough money. George was at the peak of his earning. I was working on a master’s degree to up my teacher pay. Our time, money, and energy were stretched beyond endurance. Perpetual stress created conflict between us and health problems for George. I wrote in my journal: “The only solution to our problems would be a $500/month pay raise—or to quit paying our Church obligations.”
Twenty-five years later, I shake my head to think I had identified a solution to our problem but refused to act upon it. At that time I, not George, insisted upon paying full tithing on gross, not net, income—not because of expectation of blessings. Life experience had relieved me of that illusion. Nor did I fear punishment from God for not paying. Rather, I believed God needed that money. I believed the Church was fulfilling God’s purpose of preparing the world for the 2nd coming of Jesus when peace would reign. No sacrifice was too great to rid the world of war, turmoil, famine, and every kind of human suffering.
It never occurred to me that my thought of forgoing Church obligations might have been personal revelation from God. I had been taught that personal revelation which contradicts the counsel of Church leaders comes from the wrong source, so I never acted upon my inspiration.
Yes, George and I and our kids survived those difficult years—but with a few scars. Did our financial sacrifice bring relief to the suffering peoples of the world? I haven’t noticed an increase of world peace and prosperity since that time. I suspect most of our donation—which was a minuscule part of the Church budget—helped a trifle in building and maintaining temples and meetinghouses, in supporting seminaries, and in missionary work. Some people’s lives were no doubt benefitted through these Church programs. But, was it worth the cost to our family?
I think God sent me a message which my blind obedience failed to recognize and act upon.
My Mormon granddaughters wear T-shirts under their sleeveless dresses. Five-year-old Goody criticized my backless swim suit at the pool—not being aware that her own swim suit—like most swimwear—revealed a bare back. Recently, we watched George’s favorite movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy, together. Goody squealed, “They’re immodest!” when the loin-cloth wearing Kalahari Desert natives appeared on screen.
I don’t know why the Church has gotten onto the current modesty kick of insisting that everyone at all times should be wearing clothing that covers shoulders, backs, bellies and thighs. But I would like to present what I think is a better option .
Last Sunday, I attended Mars Hill Church in Seattle with our son Wort and his family. Pastor Mark Driscoll’s sermon was based on 1 Cor. 12—Paul’s extended analogy of spiritual gifts with body parts. When Driscoll, a gifted storyteller, got to verse 23 about the less honorable, uncomely members of the body, he related the experience of seeing a young man in Starbucks take off his shoes and clean between his toes. Driscoll made the point that while toes provide a useful function for the body, it is uncomely to clean them in public.
It struck me that the more rational approach to modesty is not that some body parts are bad or “sexy” and should always be covered, but that attire should be appropriate to the occasion. Uncovered butts and breasts are appropriate to tribal peoples of the Kalahari, but not in many places in modern America. Devout, endowed Mormons should wear garments which cover their shoulders, but children and young people should not be expected to dress the same way. And non-members should certainly not be labeled “immodest” for not wearing clothing that would conceal garments.
Check out my recent post at the exponent here.
The Buddha told a story of a man who comes to a river on a journey. There is no bridge, so he builds a raft on which to cross. When he reaches the other shore, he does not pick the raft up and carry it the rest of the way. It has served his purpose and he no longer needs it to continue. “In the same way, all truths should be used to cross over; they should not be held on to once you have arrived. Let go of even the most profound insight.” (The Enlightened Mind, ed. Stephen Mitchell)
I love this simple story. It explains my relationship to the church of my birth. I thank my Mormon upbringing for teaching me to love God and his creations, for teaching me the value of work, kindness, generosity, and learning. I especially valued the fellowship of Mormonism when we moved from Utah as young newlyweds. But, somewhere along the bumpy road of of life, I met problems that couldn’t be resolved by faith, prayer, and trying harder. Some things, and most people, cannot be changed no matter how long I fast or how many temple sessions I attend.
Carrying my raft of Mormonism became burdensome and frustrating. Discovering Buddhist philosophy of acceptance helped me to accept things I can’t change and spend my energies where I can make a difference.
Now, I’m not saying Buddhism is the answer for everyone. I know Buddhists who have messed up their lives–and I know people whose lives have been improved by converting to Mormonism. What I am saying is that we all have different rivers to cross and any philosophy or belief system that helps us get across is good. Still, we don’t have to marry our ideas or beliefs. It is no more inconsistent to adopt new thoughts that meet our current needs than it is to trade in our raft for hiking boots once we reach dry land.
Religious beliefs are tied to values, but they are not values themselves. I have kept my basic Mormon values of family, work, learning, and caring for others while finding a philosophy that currently helps me apply these values in my life.
One of my 9th grade students, writing about moving to Utah, wrote: “The trouble with Mormons is they always want to change you.”
Jana Riess has a wonderful post about the problem of Mormons who “seek to transform the world. . . not by listening deeply to the needs of those around us but by seeking to make them over in our own image.
Find her her post here.
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have produced fewer fatalities than previous wars–but a great many more debilitating injuries. Nicholas Kristof has an illuminating piece on how we treat our injured service men and women. Food for thought while dealing with Syria, Iran, and other countries.
The Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea has grown from five members in 1958 to over 800,000 members today. One tenth of the current 10 million Christians in South Korea were baptized at that church.
The Reverend David Yonggi Cho founded the church in 1958. He was suffering from tuberculosis when Jesus appeared and told him the way to be healed from tuberculosis was to preach the Christian gospel. Cho quickly converted from Buddhism and has spent his life preaching Jesus Christ. His church emphasizes tithing, prosperity through living the gospel, community service–and women in the ministry. For a link to a PBS segment on this church, click here.