An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for June, 2013

We Are of the Nature to Change and to Die

In his book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh lists the Five Remembrances which the Buddha recommends reciting everyday:

1)    I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

2)    I am of the nature to have ill-health. There is no way to escape having ill-health.

3)    I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

4)    All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

5)    My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Facing the reality of mortality is not easy. We all want to be young, healthy, and alive forever. We want to believe people who assure us that, if we are good enough, God will bless us with life, health and vitality for ourselves and our loved ones.

When I was a younger and more devout Mormon, I interpreted the Last Days rhetoric of the Church and D&C 43:32 and 63:51 to conclude that the Second Coming would be in my lifetime. I would be changed from mortality to immortality in the twinkling of an eye. What a comfort to believe I would not have to undergo impaired old age and painful death. I was not alone in this belief.

I no longer cling to this idea. Experience has taught me that God seldom intervenes when even very good people who receive priesthood blessings and ward fasts and prayers become ill and die.

George and I have been married for many years, and we’ve both changed a great deal. Our children have grown and changed their religious views. I could make myself miserable if I believed my eternal reward was based on all of us maintaining the faith of our childhood.

A measure of Buddhist philosophy might help aging Mormons and those with loved ones who no longer accept the family faith to cope with reality.

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Inter-Connectedness

I live in a Utah suburban community that provides irrigation water at a flat rate charge to residents. We recently received a notice from our water board that, because of the drought, we must either conserve water or risk running out. The notice particularly addressed residents who drench their lawns daily for fear they are not getting their fair share of the water if they don’t. We’ve been told since spring about the water shortage, but I still see neighbors unwilling to curb their own usage for the good of the community.

I thought about them last night, when I attended a town hall meeting in a nearby city. Residents there are trying to force a medical waste incinerator to curb emissions of toxins including dioxin which is linked to autism in children, other birth defects, cancers—and which concentrates in breast milk.

The spokesperson for the incinerator company protected her job with a glib presentation. She obviously  failed to connect with the young families in attendance. Few people outside this city attended to support their neighbors or to protect their own health. Apparently, residents of other communities are unaware that air pollution does not respect municipal boundaries.

Air pollution is a good example of the Buddhist teaching that all living and non-living things are interconnected. What affects one affects us all.

Mormons have a history of community-mindedness—including the Law of Consecration and the United Order. We still have institutional programs to help the unfortunate—fast offerings, the welfare program, and humanitarian aid. But we seem to have lost the spirit of cooperation—even sacrifice of personal interest—in order to benefit others. What we have, in too many cases, is the attitude that people outside our own group don’t count.

I hear older Mormons complain about being taxed to pay for schools when they have no children who will benefit. Others think it’s unfair to pay for public transportation and recreation facilities they don’t use. Some Mormons advocate abolishing all government social programs. In their view, the poor—including children and the incapacitated—should care for themselves. Granted, all social welfare programs—including those of the LDS Church—could use improvement, but abolishing them to let the needy fend for themselves lacks compassion.

Decades of conference addresses and lesson manuals warning us of the wickedness of the world may be creating Mormon insensitivity to suffering and needs outside our own small group. Maybe it’s time for General Conference addresses to focus less on chastity, sharing the gospel, and the danger of slipping into Satan’s power, and to preach the gospel of love instead. Maybe it’s time to extend Mormon family values to include all of God’s children—even those we may not admire and those who will likely never accept our faith.

Surprise Convert

My brother Dooby developed contempt for Mormonism from his childhood experience with active Mormons including our stepmother, who indulged a grudge against him, and our dad, who was blind to the pain his son suffered. Dooby extended his feelings about Mormonism to all religions and enjoyed making atheist statements which shocked our relatives. His first marriage to a devout Mormon ended in divorce, and Doob vowed to do everything possible to undermine the Mormon beliefs of his children.

Dooby’s influence with his daughters’ belief system was minimal. Eventually, he married Kato, a practicing Buddhist, began practicing meditation and yoga, and spoke against religion less frequently.  Despite his mellowing, I never expected Dooby to become a believing Christian.

Maybe, I should have seen it coming. A few years ago Dooby decided he needed a Bible since literature is so full of biblical illusions. Then he began advocating for Intelligent Design to be taught in public school science classes. I believed his interest in the issue was mostly political and found it odd to be arguing against Intelligent Design with a confirmed agnostic. Still, Doob surprised me when he said he was taking instruction in Catholicism.

“I’ve been looking for a church for awhile. I knew I couldn’t attend one that had cars with Obama stickers in the parking lot, so the Unitarians were out. I checked out the parking lot at St. Olaf’s, saw no bumper stickers, and went in.”

After a year of instruction, Dooby was baptized. “They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. When they said I would be forgiven for all my sins, for every bad thing I’ve ever done, and go to Heaven when I died, I was in. I did think about getting a load of Viagra and committing a bunch more sins first, but Kato said with a load of Viagra I might not live long enough to get baptized.”

Dooby didn’t rush into his baptism decision. After a year of instruction, he understands the doctrine and traditions to which he has committed. Catholicism seems to be working for Dooby. He likes and respects his priest and the parishioners he has met. He is currently dealing with his recent cancer diagnosis and treatment with reasonable serenity.

I suspect the early teaching in religion Dooby received from our mother and from Jr. Sunday School and Primary kicked in. I rather think God is pleased that Doob is receiving peace from the Catholic fold. Surely, an all-knowing God knows that not all people respond to the same faith tradition.

Please Raise My Kids If I Die

My brother Dooby and I found our dad’s will while snooping through his closet a couple of years after our mother died. We learned that Dad had willed us to Uncle Duemore and Aunt Prudence. Uncle Duemore was Dad’s responsible older brother and business partner—and even less fun-loving than our dad. Their family never went on vacations. Our cousins spent Saturday mornings and all summer vacation doing household chores. Not a life we cared to share.

 As an adult I understand Dad’s logic. His parents were too old and ill to raise grandkids in the event of his demise. On our mother’s side of the family, Grandma Gryper lived with Aunt Loosey and crippled Aunt Arta. Aunt Loosey was a single mom with no job who eked out a living by milking cows on what was left of the family farm. She and Grandma lacked even the most rudimentary housekeeping skills and had no money sense. We would have had love, but lacked such necessities as clean clothes and regular meals. It would have been fun while it lasted, but they would have blown through Dad’s financial assets within a year.

Dooby and I thought Dad should have left us to Aunt Charity and Uncle Happy. They took their kids on vacations to California or Yellowstone every year and went camping every weekend. Living with them would be a vast improvement over life with our workaholic dad. As kids, we didn’t realize that Aunt Charity’s health was too poor to take on a larger family—and that their camp trailer didn’t have room for three extra kids.

Fortunately, Dad did not die and leave us orphaned. Throughout my kids’ childhood I fear what might happen to them should we die. George’s parents were deceased. My stepmother disliked me and my children. None of our siblings was in a position to take care of our kids.

I’m sure I never spoke to my kids about this fear, but our daughter Lolly inherited it. She and Doc decided to appoint guardians for their four kids in the event of accidental death. Doc’s parents were in poor health, so he wanted his brother and sister-in-law, who had four kids of their own, to take on the job. Being a man, Doc has no idea that few women would be delighted to double the size of her family with kids not her own. Lolly was more realistic and asked my opinion.

Neither George nor I are spring chickens, but I said that in the event of a tragedy, we could move close to one of her sisters and care for the kids jointly. A mother’s sister with no children is more likely to give kids the love they need than a sister-in-law with her own family. Lolly hesitated. She knew the kids would be taken to church every Sunday with her in-laws. Our daughters and we are freethinkers, but would not undermine their parents’ wishes.

In my book, love is more essential to a child’s well-being than regular church attendance. I’ve never dared ask about Lolly and Doc’s final decision. I just pray for their health and well-being.

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