An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Religious conformity’

Feeling the Spirit Differently

I left my ward Relief Society Christmas party last night thinking, “If Relief Society lessons were this spiritual, I would show up every week.” I always attend RS dinners and parties because I like my ward members, but I don’t always stay for the program. Sometimes the president feels we need a message and arranges essentially a lesson with sisters sharing their most “spiritual” Christmas memories or sisters presenting ways to keep the “true meaning of Christmas” in our holidays. Last night our entertainment was eating, talking, and impromptu acting out of Christmas songs. Lots of chatting and laughing. I left feeling full of love for my RS sisters.

Didactic lessons and lectures may be spiritual for some people, but not for me. I usually end up feeling less spiritual when somebody tells me how I should feel the spirit. I’ve tried all the suggestions: I gave up swearing, wore dresses to all my meetings, accepted callings I hated, obeyed the Word of Wisdom, read my scriptures daily, prayed, attended the temple, encouraged my children to serve missions, and restricted myself to one earring piercing. I did all that and more. It worked for several years, and I felt spiritual in meetings. Gradually that changed. I think I mastered the basics which the Church had to teach me and needed to move on.

In his popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey emphasized the human need for daily spiritual renewal. Unlike Church lessons and sermons, Covey did not prescribe the activities which bring spiritual renewal. He stated that spirituality is “a very private area of life. . . . And people do it very, very differently.”

One place I go for spiritual renewal is the PBS program, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.  In an interview on that program last week, Anton Armstrong, director of St. Olaf’s Choir said,  “ . . . still small voices and burning bushes don’t seem to work with me. You know? But in the minute when that chord locks and we’ve been struggling with it and it finally works, it’s as if, yea, God is there.”

If Armstrong were Mormon, he would be expected to devote a minimum of three hours a week to Church meetings, do home teaching, attend the temple, research his genealogy, and probably teach Primary or serve as scoutmaster. Would any of these elements of Mormon culture be as spiritual for him as his musical experiences with St. Olaf’s Choir?

 We are all different. I wish Mormons would take Covey’s wisdom to heart and give ourselves and others permission to find God in our own way.

The God Who Loves Rules

The 15-year-old son of our daughter’s high school friend committed suicide recently. Jaycee phoned Cel Frighteous, another high school friend, to inform her of the tragedy. Cel responded as if she were instructing a church class. “I’m so glad Denise and her husband were sealed in the temple before this happened. I’m teaching my Young Women’s class that the blessings of a temple marriage will protect them from heartache.” No expression of sympathy or shock, no intimation that losing one of her own children would be a devastating blow.

What happened to the Cel who embraced her friends’ sorrows and joys as though they were her own? Somewhere in her religious practice, she’s picked up the notion that a lesson must be drawn from every experience—that proclaiming the efficacy of gospel principles trumps compassion and empathy. Cel’s current interpretation of religion makes her less caring, less human, less like God. 

I am sad for Cel because she has narrowed her vision of life to the point where she apparently believes that being a rule-abiding Mormon is an end in itself. Just as she showed no feeling for this friend’s tragedy, Cel showed no empathy for Jaycee’s painful divorce, greeting the news with, “Well, have you been going to church?”  I am sad for Cel because at some point in her life, she will find that keeping the rules won’t protect her from all suffering.

Jesus ministered to pain and suffering without judging the recipients or making them examples for his teaching. Putting the message ahead of the person creates a god who loves the rules more than the children for whom the rules are given.

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