Reading Marilynne Robinson’s latest book, Home, I find myself skimming through the poetic parts—not that I dislike poetry—it’s just that I’m an impatient reader—more appreciative of sparse journalistic style than literary meanders. But I am finding Robinson’s characters intriguing, if not likeable—particularly the black sheep son.
The father Rev.Boughton—a retired Presbyterian minister enfeebled by age reminds me of my dad. The son and daughter who return home to care for their father purchase a TV for the home—the time period is early ‘60s. The evening news shows scenes of police violence against peaceful demonstrators for civil rights—fire hoses, dogs, beatings.
Having spent his entire lifetime in a small Midwestern town, the father cannot comprehend the enormity of the situation. Clearly the demonstrators are in the wrong or the police would not have to use force against them. He quotes the Bible about the need to do things “decently and in order” and believes “colored people” have hurt their cause by demonstrations which cause violence. In the good reverend’s mind, prayer is the solution to all problems and evils of the world.
In his later years, my dad also closed his mind to everything outside his Provo, Utah neighborhood and the Church. Reading the Book of Mormon, praying, attending church meetings and the temple, paying tithing and long suffering were his answers to all problems Low-paying job? Be content with what you have. Poverty and lack of education opportunities? Work hard, pay tithing—God provides for the deserving. Poor health? A blessing to teach patience and perseverance. War? Necessary to defend our country against jealous potential invaders.
My dad scorned social programs. As far as he was concerned, the Church took care of all needs. Dad showed compassion to people he knew and donated fast offerings and welfare farm time to help the poor, but was leery of charitable programs not directed by the Mormon Church. As far as he was concerned, equal rights movements for minorities, women, and gays were led by agitators with anti-American agendas. If a problem actually existed, of course the Church would address it.
“Limit Your Perspective” has never been an official Mormon motto, but the message is implicit in many over-the-pulpit statements and class discussions I’ve heard. And life is certainly easier if we delegate our personal responsibility to an agency outside ourselves.