An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Joseph Smith’

Black and White Thinking

The problem with black/white thinking is that people I love to hate occasionally disappoint me by uttering reasonable thoughts and committing rational acts. George W. Bush is a case in point. People like me who see war as the opposite of pro-life and who don’t believe Big Oil is the solution to our energy problems loved picking on poor W. But then he proposed a valid solution to the Social Security shortfall problem—means testing for recipients, and he told Africa that further foreign aid from the US depended on their cleaning up government corruption and working on their own solutions. Can I paint one little corner of the Bush with a white brush?

On the flip side, I’m disappointed that President Obama has increased troop levels in Afghanistan and that he put Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, two of the crowd who caused the current economic crisis, in charge of the treasury. Black marks for my white knight.

Life would be so much easier if people were either all good or all bad. Or if God always blessed the righteous. Can I tell you what a shock it was to read the DHC and discover how often Joseph Smith was sick with la grippe or colds? While I knew the prophet was mortal, sniffling and flu-like symptoms just don’t fit my picture of a prophet. 

Mormon culture facilitates b/w thinking with its heavy emphasis on obedience to church leaders. How can we unquestioningly obey leaders if we believe they sometimes make human mistakes? Or sometimes misinterpret God’s will—as in the belief that plural marriage was necessary for exaltation or that members of African descent could not hold the priesthood.

The only reasonable solution to my dilemma is to start seeing shades of gray. I think I can handle that in religion and politics. But no way can I see anything but darkness and evil in fashion designers who have decreed that women dress in clinging fabrics which reveal every ounce of cellulite and make any woman over 100 pounds resemble a python digesting a goat.

Closet Buddhist

My sister-in-law, a Zen-Buddhist, is the most spiritual person I know. Loving, kind, and generous, Passiko  radiates peace and love. She moved forward after the death of her only son, establishing a scholarship at his university to benefit other students. Her personal goodness stirred my interest in her philosophy at a time when my LDS faith was not meeting my spiritual needs.

The repetition of the same lessons, the same answers to every question started bothering me about 15 years ago. During the three-hour block each Sunday, I nearly wore my left wrist out checking my watch. General Conference lulled me to sleep within the first twenty minutes. Trying to be the best wife, mother, daughter, and teacher possible, to magnify my Church callings and to be a good friend and neighbor wound me up like a tether ball on a post. Frustrated instead of fulfilled, I felt as out of place at church as a closet gay at a Utah Republican family values meeting.

I tried yoga and while the stretches relaxed my body, the Oriental philosophy teased my Occidental mind. “The present moment is really the only one we have.” Wasn’t earth life only a tiny fraction of eternity? “You are not your thoughts.” Well, what else was I? “Clear your mind.” Wasn’t my mind supposed to be actively engaged all the time?

 Passiko recommended Sharon Salzburg’s Loving-Kindness when I quizzed her about Buddhism. A truly pivotal book. I read slowly, trying out the suggested exercises. I found the divine spark within myself. It didn’t withdraw when I wasn’t worthy. Stopping and looking within through meditation helped me clear away delusions like fear and attachment that sometimes hide my true nature.

Todd, a three-time cancer survivor, led a meditation group I joined. Buddhism helped him learn to live in the present and to accept what he can’t change. “It just is,” was a favorite saying. Todd said he left Mormonism because, “I could never be good enough.”

Guilt often drives Mormons who have a list of hundreds of commandments and admonitions to keep. Buddhism is non-judgmental. Behavior is defined as skilled and unskilled actions rather than good and bad. Unskilled actions bring natural consequences rather than divine disapproval. In Buddhism, the practice is what is important, not the expectation of achieving enlightenment or other reward. I find this more selfless than doing good to gain a higher spot in the celestial kingdom.

A fundamental precept of Buddhism is transience—everything changes. Mormonism emphasizes permanence—our intelligence has always existed, our reunited spirits and physical bodies will last for eternity, family relationships will last forever. While I like the idea of permanence, experience shows me that all things change, even family relationships. Children grow up and move on, parents age, roles reverse.

The Buddha taught his followers to avoid blind faith. He recommended testing each teaching by applying it to one’s own life. If it brings peace and happiness, it is a true principle for you. If it fails to do that, it is not true for you at this time no matter who said it or where it is written.

I maintain my LDS affiliation, accepting the best of both religions. More traditional Mormons can incorporate Buddhist principles they like within the framework of LDS faith. Many Buddhist teachings actually complement LDS doctrine.   As Joseph Smith said, “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’”

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