An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Relief Society book groups’

Being in the World, but Not (Aware) of the World

When our neighborhood book group discussed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn recently, one woman expressed amazement to learn of the poverty that existed in American slums in the early 20th century. How could she have lived for over 70 years without learning of the world beyond Utah? Unfortunately, this neighbor is not unusual. Mormons often isolate themselves from outside influences. Our son-in-law, Doc, a very bright guy, said he’d had no idea until he read Alex Haley’s Roots that African-Americans had suffered the kind of persecution Mormons had in the 19th century. Was his teen reading limited to Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites?

Utah Mormons are often criticized as insular by those living outside the state, but in my experience, Mormons everywhere tend to limit friendships to Church members—possibly because Church activity leaves no time for other people or organizations. Reading material is also often restricted to Deseret Book sources.

Devoid of outside contact, our vision of the world becomes skewed. A visiting teacher told me her domino group had invited a nonmember to join them. “She has high standards,” Sister Small told me, “and we set the example for her.” This kind of hubris—the notion that we are the only righteous people—may have been the failing President Ezra Taft Benson warned against in his 1989 address, “Beware of Pride.”

My sister’s loss of testimony began on her mission when she encountered, for the first time, good people with strong testimonies of their own faiths. Would Pelly have left the Church had she been prepared for the reality that good people, devout in their own faith, exist outside of Mormonism?

Joseph Smith counseled us that, “One of the grand, fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” Contemporary Mormons frequently dismiss anything outside our church as unworthy of our time if not downright suspect. Case in point: Our neighborhood book group was formed from our disbanded ward Relief Society book group after the RS president tried to restrict the reading to Church titles. Locking ourselves into cultural insularity does not prepare us to live in the real world. Neither does it further the growth of the Church as a worldwide organization.

Julie and Julia

At our last League of Utah Writers meeting, we played a used-book exchange game. I ended up with Julie & Julia, not what I considered a prize—I mean, I’d seen the movie, why would I want to read the book? I left it on a stack of magazines and a few days later, searching for something light to read, I picked it up for a quick skim. I was instantly hooked. The movie is only slightly based on the book.

 How can I explain my relating to a hip 29-year-old looking for fulfillment but not ready to have a baby? Well, now that I think about it—who isn’t looking for fulfillment? And at 69, not just my biological clock is running out. And I do like to cook, although I would never attempt Julia Child’s complicated—not to mention butter-laden recipes. Still, it was great fun to read Julie Powell’s culinary adventures—and misadventures—as she braised and sautéed her way through Julia’s behemoth cookbook—blogging about each day’s efforts. Something about being involved in a challenging project appeals to the human soul. And reading about someone else’s project is much less stressful than starting one’s own.

Powell’s breezy, self-deprecating blog-style prose is kind of like listening to my daughters—well, their language (at least around me) is not quite as rough as Powell’s. I think my ward book group would enjoy meeting Julie Powell, her long-suffering husband (they have since divorced), her wacky family, and weird friends—not to mention experiencing vicariously the joy of accomplishing her physically/financially/emotionally draining goal. Unfortunately, Powell’s use of the real word instead of “flipping” would freak these good sisters. Maybe I’ll just offer it to one at a time—to read in secret.

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