An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for October, 2012

Feed My Soul

See today’s post here.

Separate and Unequal

When my grandchildren showed up Friday, 5-year-old Goody carried a jack-o-lantern made from a roll of toilet paper which I thought she had made in kindergarten. She told me her 9-year-old sister, Gymmi, had made it at Primary activity day. I looked at the roll of toilet paper covered with orange tissue paper, black triangles pasted on for a face.  I thought about what Gymmi’s brother did during Cub Scout meetings. Cub Scouts experiment with building electric circuit boards. They build bird feeders, twist twine into ropes, tie knots, make stoves from tin cans, cook food over their stove creations, and take nature hikes to identify plants. They do not do kindergarten-level craft projects.

That is why, when the ward Scoutmaster showed up at my door collecting for Friends of Scouting, I declined to donate. “I have two problems with the BSA. First, too much of the money goes for high salaries to BSA officers and executives. Very little of the money the ward raises on this drive will go to our local troop. Second, the Church does not have an equivalent program for the girls.”

I wish my granddaughters could participate in Girl Scouts. Their mother would like them to, but the family is so highly scheduled with Church activities, little time is left for outside enrichment. My recommendation, were I asked, would be to replace activity days with a more purposeful interest or program. Devout Mormons, of course, feel a need to “support the program,” whether it benefits them or not.

The problem with supporting an inferior program is that it promotes mediocrity. Why improve something that is obviously successful because people show up for it? But I digress. The real issue is that programs for Mormon girls are supported with a fraction of the money and effort expended on the Boy Scout program.

More about 7 Habits

In his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us, “Whatever is at the center our lives will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.” He lists some of the choices upon which people focus their lives, such as spouse, family, work, church, and he describes the problems with each.

In his observation, focusing on a spouse or other person too often leads to disappointment since no human being can ever meet all our needs. It also puts a relationship under stress. Being the center of another person’s universe is too demanding and too limiting for most people. Likewise, gaining our feelings of self-worth from our family may cause us to pressure them to live up to our expectations and make us look good.

Getting most of our self-worth from our job may cause us to neglect personal relationships or to use cutthroat competition in order to get ahead. Getting our self-esteem from church activity may lead to focusing on appearance. As Covey points out, church activity is not necessarily the same as spirituality.

Mormons tend to center their lives on marriage, family, and church. I think it’s safe to say that Mormons are highly attached to these concepts—even desiring relationships to extend beyond the grave. While Covey obviously supports Mormon values, he suggests centering our lives on principles rather than on people, organizations, possessions or pleasures. A person whose sense of worth is based on principles such as integrity and human dignity, as Covey suggests, or on the inherent worth of every sentient being, as Buddhism teaches, has a stable foundation not dependent on the behavior of other people.

While families will always need to deal with problems, I suspect our homes would be more peaceful if our ego wasn’t threatened by a family member asserting independence. I also think the Church would be more rewarding if we participated in order to enjoy a spiritual experience rather than to build our own self-esteem.


Real Reason for The Change

Brent at Doves and Serpents has posted a thoughtful interpretation ofthe recently announced change in missionary age. Brent believes stagnant Church growth motivated the change which will provide an influx of missionaries in the near future. He backs his opinion with links to reliable statistics. Find his post here.

Principles and Practices

My neighborhood book group is reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this month in honor of Stephen Covey who died earlier this year. It has been many years since I’ve read The 7 Habits, but I remember most of it. I’ve tried to live up to the win/win ideal, although I still find empathetic listening tough to practice. When I read his section on being proactive rather than reactive, I was surprised. Over the years, I’d forgotten about Covey and sort of thought these were my own ideas.

The part of the book that really caught my attention this time around was Covey’s distinction between principles and practices. In our current age of political and religious polarity, many people call refusal to compromise “standing up for my principles.” Covey distinguishes between principles and practices or policies. He defines principles as unchanging natural laws with universal application. His list of principles includes: fairness, integrity and honesty, human dignity, and service—making a contribution. He tells us, “Principles are not values. A gang of thieves can share values [like loyalty to leaders], but they are in violation of fundamental principles” [fairness, honesty].

The problem with contemporary political discourse is that principles (which should not be compromised) are often confused with policies—which can be compromised. Policies like lower taxes, deficit reduction, and entitlement reform are too often seen as principles. What we need to do is define national principles. Principles we could all agree on might be: a fair society—“with liberty and justice for all,” a healthy economy, and national security. Once we define principles, we can discuss various policies to achieve them—and compromise when necessary.

Unfortunately, religious discussion is often as divisive as political discourse. Identifying principles could also help the religious community. Covey claims that principles are not the same as religious ideas and are not unique to specific religions. In my book, the two principles of religion are love of God and love of our fellow humans—what Jesus called the first and second commandments. Many ways to show love for God and others exist. Some people seek God in meditative contemplation in nature or at home, others seek him in church services. God’s children can be loved and served beyond the church community. Criticizing approaches to keeping the first and second commandments which are different from our own choices violates the principle of love.

Wouldn’t The 7 Habits make a great lesson manual for Sunday School or Relief Society/Priesthood lessons?

Faith Promoting Stories–Not

Mormons are admonished to record their life stories and those of relatives—the objective being to create a series of faith-promoting episodes to inspire ensuing generations. The problem with recording life stories in my family is that none of them is very faith-promoting. Take my Uncle Duemore. Even in my work-oriented family, Uncle Duemore was unusual. At the time he was running a grocery store, 15 hours a day, six days a week, Uncle Duemore bought a cement mixer and decided to build a cabin in his spare time (Sunday).

Eleven p.m. on Saturday nights found him heading up Provo Canyon in a pickup truck loaded with the cement mixer, bacon, eggs, and beans—and my dad, my brother, and 10-year-old cousin. Uncle D and Dad spent all day Sunday pouring cement for the cabin foundation or mixing mortar for the cinder block walls. Their BB gun-toting sons spent the Sabbath shooting porcupines.

The cabin was finished in two summers, but Uncle D continued to spend Sundays pouring concrete around the cabin from early spring until winter’s first snow. He built a concrete woodshed to store logs felled from the hill where he cemented a staircase to the top and poured a concrete slab for a porch swing with a great view.

When he ran out of room on his property, my uncle bought the adjoining lot and created solid concrete picnic tables and benches beneath the trees. “Nobody will run off with my tables and benches,” he boasted. Oddly enough, the only part of the lot he didn’t pave was the basketball court which consisted of packed earth and was unusable during spring thaw and summer rainstorms.

Aunt Prudence supported her husband’s cabin projects. They kept him away from home where, after retirement, he used cement in creative landscaping projects. Most people use bark or colored gravel to keep weeds down in perennial borders. The iris and peonies in Uncle D’s front yard sprouted and bloomed from within small circles of concrete groundcover.

The Church was probably better off with Uncle Duemore spending Sundays on the mountain. No telling what he and his cement mixer might have done to the ward grounds had he become active.

Exploiting Religious Conservatives

The PBS program, Religion and Newsweekly has an interesting segment on judicial decisions this week. An organization called The Family Leader founded and headed by Bob Vanden Plaats, a political activist who has run (and lost) for several offices in his home state of Iowa. Plaats’ organization succeeded in getting three members of the Iowa State  Supreme Court defeated in the 2010 election. The 9-member court ruled unanimously in 2009 that Iowa’s law banning same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.

The Family Leader and other groups targeting judges nationwide are attacking judges ruling on gay marriage and other social issues. The results, according to the non-partisan Center for American Progress, are that between 2000 and 2010, judges who received the most campaign funding from such groups ruled in favor of big business 71% of the time.

I may be a cynic, but it looks to me like corporate interests are using gay marriage (as they have abortion) to exploit socially conservative religious groups in order to get their own people in office. And that raises a question: What is their about religious conservatives which allows them to be exploited so easily? Does unquestioning obedience to church leaders play a part?

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