An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

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Canine Crisis

Pita, our dog with the color and disposition of a golden lab
and the pointed ears of a collie, elicits admiring comments wherever she goes.

“What  kind of dog is she?” we’re often asked—but we don’t know. She was a stray when
we adopted her 5 years ago. She was my idea and George immediately named her
Pain-in-the Ass which I sanitized to the initials. This week, Pita lived up to
her name.

Pita, like many dogs, goes into flight mode at the first
crack of thunder or burst of fireworks. Explosive noises have motivated her to
squeeze her 60 pound body through the slats of our vinyl fence. George
stabilized the fence slats with wire; she worked them loose. He fastened
lattice in front of the fence slats; Pita climbed the lattice and vaulted the
fence. George put chicken wire in front of the lattice; she tore it off with
her teeth.

Sunday morning Pita was missing and the lattice was chewed
off the fence making a passage large enough for her to slip through. Aided by
our daughter and son-in-law, we searched the neighborhood and drove along nearby
highways looking for our pet—or her body. We posted flyers with her picture and
sent out a neighborhood alert about Pita through Relief Society email. We
anguished at the thought of Pita being injured with no one to help her. Would
we ever know what happened to her?

Monday morning George and Aroo visited the animal shelter.
While they were gone, a woman called to say she had our dog. I drove over and
found Pita sitting happily on the lawn with three adoring children. She allowed
me to pet her, but showed no enthusiasm for my presence and had to be dragged
to the car. She exhibited no interest in being home, but was willing to eat
the ground beef I warmed for her. She kept eyeballing the road leading up to the
cool place where she’d found kids to play with. Some gratitude!

I wasn’t consoled that Pita treated George with the same
disdain she’d shown to me. Clearly, she means more to us than we do to her. Or
maybe not. Maybe she’s just having a midlife crisis. In dog years, she is
middle-aged—probably realizing that life is passing her by and there’s a whole
world beyond our backyard and neighborhood walks which she has yet to
experience.

Probably, I should be more concerned with my reaction than with
hers. Is my relationship with Pita one of love or ego?

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Teach Me How to Pray

A friend who teaches the four-year-olds in Primary told me a
recent lesson included the story of a boy whose father was very ill. The boy
prayed to Heavenly Father to make his dad well, and the next day his father was
much better. My friend did not use that story with her class because it is not honest.

George was taught in Primary that Heavenly Father would
answer his prayers if he asked in faith. Eight-year-old George borrowed his
cousin’s new bike without asking. He crashed the bike into a ditch and broke
two spokes. Knowing his cousin would never forgive him for ruining her bike,
little George needed help—so he knelt beside the bike and prayed with all his might
for Heavenly Father to fix it. Unfortunately, his Primary lesson failed to
mention that not all prayers are answered affirmatively. George suffered a loss
of faith when he opened his eyes, beheld the still-broken spokes, and knew he must
take the consequences of his action.

Maybe the best approach for teaching children about prayer
is simply to teach prayers of gratitude—to offer thanks for the wonders and
beauties of the natural world, for the senses to enjoy these blessings, for the
necessities of life, and for the goodness and love of people in their lives.

Most adults overdo prayers of request—effectively turning
God into Santa. Maybe we should teach ourselves as well as our children to
limit asking to requests for the wisdom to recognize and take advantage of
opportunities and the strength to deal constructively with the challenges of life.

Mormons vs. Theology

Our son, who is married to a Baptist minister’s daughter,
asked me to define Mormon theology for our daughter-in-law. “Mormons aren’t
very interested in theology,” I replied.

“But theology is the study of the attributes of God. Why
aren’t Mormons interested in that?”

Good question—and my answer is that Mormons focus on
pleasing God by keeping His commandments rather than trying to define Him
beyond the basic attributes of love and justice. This has not always been the
case. I think Spencer W. Kimball moved Mormons from the notion of study for the
sake of study when he suggested changing the word “know” in the Primary song, “I
Am a Child of God” to “do.” The current line reads: “Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday.”

Early Mormon leaders took theology seriously. Joseph Smith
had a lot to say about the attributes of God. The prophet’s concept of God
expanded through the nearly two decades of his ministry—from a traditional Trinitarian
view of God as found in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 15) and Lectures on Faith—to the God of Eternal Progression revealed in D&C
132 and the King Follett Discourse.

Brigham Young developed some radical theology—which he
insisted he’d learned from Joseph Smith. Brother Brigham’s unorthodox Adam/God
theory has been relegated to the dustbin by modern leaders—as has Lectures on Faith which was removed from
the D&C in 1921.

Joseph F. Smith, a 20th century prophet with an
interest in defining Mormon theology, provided space in the SL temple for scholarly
apostle, James Talmage to write two doctrinal books, The Articles of Faith and Jesus
the Christ
. The only books besides scripture officially endorsed by the church,
both were quoted extensively in church lessons and conference addresses until
the church published the 1979 edition of the King James Bible with quotations
from the Joseph Smith Translation included in footnotes. Some of Joseph Smith’s
emendations contradicted Talmage’s Bible exegesis and references to Talmage’s
books have disappeared from lessons and conference addresses.

As an apostle, Joseph Fielding Smith put forth his
interpretation of Mormon theology in a long-running Improvement Era column titled “Answers to Gospel Questions.” His
son-in-law, Bruce R. McConkie, became unofficial church theologian when he
published his book Mormon Doctrine in
the ‘60s. Both Smith’s and McConkie’s books have now been dropped from official
church discourse.

Unlike Protestants and Catholics, Mormons quietly replace
rather than build upon the learning of past church scholars. Since an unchanging
God who reveals gospel truths perfectly is a core Mormon belief, this is not
surprising.

Theology attempts to define God.  I think what theology really does is provide insights about people who write about God .

Expanding My Scriptural Canon

Six years ago, I finished reading the Book of Mormon for
maybe the twentieth time. Even though the BoM was the Gospel Doctrine course of
study for the coming year, I had no desire to start another reread. I wanted to
spend my scripture-study time reading the Jewish Study Bible. Yes, I could have
read the JSB at some other time of day, but there is never enough time—there will
never be enough time—to do everything I need and want to do.  Spending time on one activity means not doing
another.

By this time in my life, I felt I had pretty much mined the
wisdom of the Book of Mormon, but had a lot to learn about the Bible—particularly
the Old Testament. I finished the JSB, and moved on to the Catholic Study Bible
edition of the New Testament. Bible insights from scholars outside my own
religion opened my eyes to the many plausible ways to interpret these ancient
writings—as well as to the importance of understanding the historical context
in which various parts of the Bible were written.

I decided to include religious
thought from outside the Judeo/Christian tradition in my scripture study and
read the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita and Chinese
Tao te Ching. The wisdom from these
books seemed every bit as inspired as anything in the Bible and Mormon
scriptures. True, the Bhagavad-Gita
glorifies battle in one section, but much less so than the Bible and Book of
Mormon. Sharon Salzberg’s introduction to Buddhism, Loving –Kindness, introduced me to the peaceful acceptance of the
Buddhist tradition.

The messages of connectedness, right action, non-attachment,
and mindfulness from these volumes have given me insights into God, myself, and
others that I was not finding in the Book of Mormon. I’m truly grateful for the
Mormon teaching to spend time each day on scripture study—and I’m  also grateful to live at a time when the
wisdom and inspiration from people of various cultures and time periods is
available for my study.

 

Ecumenical Family

When our immediate family gathers, at least three religious viewpoints
are represented: Devout Mormon, devout Calvinist/Evangelical, and devout
agnostic. George and I raised our children in the Mormon faith, but in our
waning years—possibly as self-defense—we’ve mellowed into the notion that no
single religion has a monopoly on truth. If God really intended salvation to be
limited to the members of one particular denomination, he should have made it
more clear which one.

The dilemma comes with the grandchildren. I have no desire
to undermine the faith their parents teach them. We attend their churches when
visiting. We applaud the Evangelical grandchild’s lisping version of “Yes,
Jesus Loves Me,” as heartily as our Mormon grandchildren’s rendition of “Follow
the Prophet.”

We don’t serve alcohol in our home out of deference to the
Mormon segment of the family, but stock the garage with beer, wine, and spirits
to keep the others happy.

Still, I’m uncomfortable when questions about my own
religious practices occur. Recently our Mormon grandson asked if the tea I was
drinking was herbal. My negative response brought an answer of six-year-old
smugness: “We don’t drink real tea.” I assured little Jared that I’m glad he
chooses to obey his parents. I dread the time when we’re attending church with
one of the families and a grandchild asks why we don’t take the sacrament or
Eucharist.

I do hope that when they are older, our grandchildren will
value the religious traditions they’ve been taught while recognizing that
people of other faiths or of no faith are also good people, worthy of respect.
And if they choose a different spiritual path—I hope their parents can handle
their decisions with reverence.

Bashing or Balance

Last night I asked a few members of our Relief Society book
group to read the first chapter of a novel I’m writing. It’s not the Deseret
Book “faith promoting” kind of Mormon novel, and I wanted to see if it
resonated with devout Mormons.

I handed out my manuscript and admitted I’d tried it on
several non-Mormon friends and found they have no interest in a Mormon book
that doesn’t bash the church. Lynn frowned and asked, “You don’t bash the
church, do you?”

I’m a nice person. Why would Lynn think I bashed the church?
The light clicked on later. I no longer attend church on a regular basis—and most
Mormons who cease regular activity do engage in some church-bashing. I must admit,
I’ve been given to a bit of snarky remarking on occasion, myself.

It occurs to me that the attitude of ridicule towards the
culture (which is a fair target) and the sacred (which is not), is pretty prevalent
among the disaffected. The fact that Mormon services no longer meet my needs
does not justify lack of respect for those who do find spiritual solace there.

So far, I struggle to find the balance between expressing my
own views and showing respect for those of others. Do I remain silent when
neighbors tell me they boycott the neighborhood grocery store because it now opens
on Sundays? Is it offensive to state my own preference for shopping on
less-crowded Sundays? My neighbors are willing to drive miles out of their way
to patronize a store which does not violate tenets of their faith. Surely, I
can reverence their honest commitment to beliefs I no longer share.

Solution for Bad Parenting

I don’t suppose many people can view The King’s Speech http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1504320/
without feeling distress at the bad
parenting attributed to King George V and Queen Mary. According to the film,
the young princes were brought to their parents for a “viewing” only once a day—and
the queen pinched her children to make them cry so she could return them to the
nanny. Royal offspring frequently prove that neither money nor nannies
substitutes for caring parents.

Parenting is a tough job. Nobody, not even royalty, should
feel obligated to produce children. Providing grandkids for our parents to
dandle on their knees is not part of the contract we signed at birth.

After careful consideration, I believe the best solution for
an overpopulated earth full of social problems is to put birth control meds in
the drinking water. Only people who pass a minimal competency test evaluating
both their sanity and their willingness to learn will be given the antidote.

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