An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

City Creek–11 Months Later

I don’t agree with critics who say the Mormon Church should have used the one or two billion dollars spent on the City Creek Mall to aid the poor. While I do think the Church should use more of its resources to aid the needy, I think the Church’s tax-paying business entities have a right to make investments where they will get a good return. Unfortunately, City Creek Mall may not do that for them.

I dislike shopping for anything except food, books, and plants, so I’ve only made one trip to the mall. On a summer day, I found many people in the mall, but none were carrying bags from any of the stores. Apparently, my friends and I were not the only people looking instead of buying. While the food court was filled at lunch time with workers from the downtown office buildings, fast food places cannot sustain City Creek.

Recently, my friend, Ruth, took an out-of-state visitor, who is in property management, to City Creek for dinner at Kneaders. The mall was virtually empty. “Whoever built this mall did not do their homework,” the visitor said. “There is nothing here to bring people downtown. Nobody comes home from work nowadays and decides to go downtown and shop. People shop online and have items delivered to their doorstep. People will go downtown for entertainment—for theaters, nice restaurants, clubs—but there is none of that here.”

Essentially, City Creek was designed to appeal to upper-middle-income-Mormons (UMIMs) who appreciate family-friendly restaurants without liquor licenses and can afford high-end shopping. I’m not sure the city has enough UMIMs to keep City Center afloat.

 I do hope the management can find a way to make City Creek profitable. A mall of closed stores will do nothing for the city’s image or tax base.

Church Activism

In his book, Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh gives the following principle for social harmony:

Do not use the religious community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community should, however, take a clear stand against oppression and injustice, and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.

Hanh’s first point, not using the religious community for personal gain is a no-brainer. The second, not transforming the community into a political party, has become common in the past two decades. I disagree with the old saying: “Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn’t hurt the manure, but it sure makes a mess of the ice cream.” Religious involvement in politics has made such a mess it’s hard to distinguish between the manure and ice cream.

Hanh’s recommendation for religious communities to take stands against oppression and injustice requires some thought. Churches need to distinguish between policies of oppression and injustice and policies which simply fail to align with their doctrine. The question is whether a law or policy causes actual harm.

 In my youth, Sunday closing laws were a big issue in Utah. The Mormon Church was on the side of Sunday closing. Obviously, good Mormons should be in church rather than shopping on Sundays. I’m not opposed to church attendance or to resting on Sunday, but I don’t see that allowing businesses to operate on Sunday causes harm to others. To me this is clearly an issue where churches can admonish members to obey their interpretation of the Bible, but should not lobby for laws which force others to conform to their beliefs.

Abortion is a tougher issue. Clearly, a fetus is harmed by the procedure, yet desperate women can die from unsafe, illegal procedures. I doubt anyone really favors abortion—it’s generally a question of which is the greater harm. This is certainly an area where churches differ. Most denominations permit abortion in order to save a mother’s life or health, in cases of rape or incest, or for a severely deformed fetus, but some oppose abortion for any reason. Churches certainly have the right to make rules for their own members, but should they promote laws to force people of different beliefs to obey their rules?

Gay marriage is opposed by many churches, yet none, to my knowledge, has provided evidence that gay marriage weakens traditional marriage or creates other harm. The fact that gay marriage is not something a church condones doesn’t seem like a valid reason to oppose it. Mormons don’t drink tea and coffee, but they don’t try to pass laws outlawing the sale of these beverages. Seventh-day Adventists and some Eastern religions don’t eat meat, but they don’t lobby for laws prohibiting butcher shops.

What should churches actively oppose? Oppression and injustice, according to Hanh. The Jim Crow laws in many states were clearly unjust and oppressive to African Americans. Many churches (unfortunately, not my own) rightfully joined the Civil Rights Movement to oppose those laws.

Besides opposing oppression and injustice, I believe religious groups have a responsibility to promote safe, healthy communities. Differences of opinion exist on how to achieve this. Perhaps the best role for churches to take in these areas is to simply encourage members to work within community organizations rather than to organize what may become divisive, partisan efforts.  

Obama’s Religion

For an insightful blog on the religious implications of the President’s Newtown speech, check out this post on Doves and Serpents.

Christmas Shopping Lite

“I spent an hour buying Christmas presents for my five nephews and had a great time,” Wort, our oldest son said. Finding five gifts for boys of different ages in an hour sounded unbelievable to me until I realized that Wort had done his shopping online—probably all at Amazon. He simply had to click on a page for boys of each age, make his selection, choose gift wrapping and free shipping—and he was done. Joys of the 21st century!

Buying toys for kids is pretty fun. Almost anything makes them happy. Adults are a different matter. Unless recipients are on the brink of financial disaster, giving adults a gift they really want is nigh impossible. For a person who hates shopping as much as I do, it’s a misery. I finally decided that if I can’t give gifts which delight my offspring, at least I should give them something I enjoy buying.

I hate shopping for anything except groceries (love to eat), books, and nursery plants. Groceries as Christmas gifts only work for starving college students. December is way too cold to plant tomatoes, so my only choice is books. Although I try, I don’t always succeed in choosing titles the kids are anxious to read, but at least I’m supporting a depressed industry.

Even better than buying books is gifting the person who has everything with a charitable donation in their name. This year Aroo and Biker are getting a goat from us which will go to a family in the developing world. Techie and Techie II are also giving us an animal through Heifer.

For several years my brother Dooby and I have donated to the Seattle Rescue Mission for our gift-giving. I might have chosen the Nature Conservancy for my gift, but Dooby is a rabid anti-environmentalist. “Let’s give some homeless bums a good meal,” were his words. I wouldn’t phrase it quite that way, but I do feel good about our choice—and it sure beats shopping!  

Christmas Warfare

For those of you who are tired of the annual War on Christmas rhetoric, check out a delightful post by Jana Riess, “Have Yourself a Very Pagan Christmas.” 

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?

How Many Steps?

My niece, Daffny, posted the following on Facebook recently:

Not seeing things politically the way others do does not make me ignorant, uneducated, ill-read, anti-religion, or lacking in common sense. It means I have a different opinion than you. It means I am looking at things through a different lens than you are (or possibly just watching different news channels). That is all it means.

I think Daffny’s comment was a reaction to her sister, Rudi. Rudi takes politics so seriously, I’ll bet she no longer drives a blue car and has discarded her old BYU blue sweatshirts for right-wing red. During the primaries, Daffny posted a picture on Facebook of a sign with a humorous comment about Rick Perry. Rudi responded with a harsh tirade. Recently I received an email requesting my donation to Romney’s campaign. I commented on Facebook that I thought it odd for a multimillionaire to ask middle income people for money. Rudi posted a personal attack on my page. It was like I’d insulted the prophet.

I’m not sure why people feel it’s all right to say things online that they would not say in person. My cousin Krafti feels it’s appropriate to send me emails with racist statements about the President although she knows we have an African-American daughter-in-law and a biracial grandchild.

Of course, rudeness isn’t limited to the Internet. I dodge political discussions with my brother Dooby who doesn’t mind telling me I’m an unenlightened moron because I  think Intelligent Design has no place in a public school science curriculum. Dooby, of course, may only be evening the score for the times I dressed him in my clothes and called him Sally because I wanted a little sister instead of a brother.

Why are 21st century Americans so politically intolerant that we can’t listen to an opposing opinion without anger? Democracy is based on a free exchange of ideas, but many of us shut down differing ideas with insults and name calling. How many steps are there between hate rhetoric and the murderous mayhem we currently see in the Middle East over an offensive film?

Cost of War

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.

Hatred and Violence

Check out this thoughtful post by Jana Riess on violence and domestic terrorism in our American society: 

Not “Us” and “Them”

After our last family get-together, our Mormon daughter suggested that at our next gathering, we have a group discussion on prayer. Her kids have noticed, of course, a difference in how our evangelical son and his family say grace before meals. Wart and his family clasp hands while Wart addresses “Dear God” without Mormon prayer language—“thee,” “thou,” and “thy.”

I rather like the practice of holding hands and addressing God as a personal friend while giving thanks for daily sustenance; however, I understand that Lolly’s children are puzzled at what, to them, is unorthodox prayer ritual.

I told Lolly that her dad and I have no problem with non-Mormon prayers and suggested she might invite Wart to share his thoughts about prayer with her kids they next time they meet. Researching forms of prayer found in other religions sounds like a worthwhile Family Home Evening topic, and I think Lolly will address the issue there instead of at a family reunion.

I’m glad our grandchildren from both families are being exposed to prayer from different faiths within our family circle. Learning that people they love and respect belong to churches different from their own prepares children to live in a world of many religions—and no religion.

Our grandchildren also have the benefit of interracial family members. Loving a brown-skinned aunt and Afro-coifed cousins will keep those of strictly European heritage from culture shock when they encounter children of other races at school. Our biracial grandchildren will grow up feeling comfortable in two cultures.

I hope our family diversity will prepare our grandchildren to live in the world Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, and that they will grow up to be the kind of people who judge others “by the content of their character” rather than by their religion or skin color.

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