An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Respect’

Reverence–More Than Folded Arms and Bowed Heads

I learned about Paul Woodruff’s wonderful book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue,
a few years ago when Bill Moyers interviewed Woodruff, a professor of
humanities at the University of Texas. Reverence
is the wisest book I’ve read—way ahead of scriptures from any religion.

Woodruff quotes poets more frequently than prophets and defines
reverence as, “the capacity to feel respect in the right way toward the right
people, and to feel awe towards an object that transcends particular human
interests.” His models for reverent and non-reverent behavior are from ancient
Chinese and Greek as well as contemporary American culture.

Being considered irreverent by some of my devoutly Mormon
friends and family, I am gratified that Woodruff considers mockery—at the right
target—a form of reverence. The trick, I suspect, is aiming at the right
target. And that’s a fine line. George believes I should wear a skirt on the
occasions I attend church out of respect for the other members. I, on the other
hand, think the dress rule is a senseless tradition that should be changed—and will
only be changed by women showing up in contemporary attire. Obviously, we must avoid
sacrament meeting in order to reduce family conflict.

Woodruff says it’s easiest to show respect to equals, but
true reverence requires us to feel respect for those of lesser power. He urges
teachers, parents, and other leaders to listen to children, students, and
others who know less than ourselves. Now, I don’t mind listening to children.
Their earnestness and innocence charms me. But I do have a problem extending
the same courtesy to relatives who get their historical “facts” and political
insights from Glen Beck and his ilk.

I suspect our home and visiting teachers feel that way about
George and me. Because our active Mormon lives were lived in a different ward,
our current ward members assume we do not understand the gospel and expend great
effort to instruct us. They read messages from Church leaders and bear
testimony of their truthfulness but have no interest in our philosophical
views. I understand that. Bible bashing is not a game worth playing. Still, I
occasionally succumb.

I thought I was being reverent when I listened to my
visiting teacher, Sister Prim, relate the spiritual experience of her sister which
resulted in the baptism of her non-member husband. I followed with the
spiritual experience that my sister, who is fighting cancer, received at the
Zen Center.   Sister Prim listened politely, but I could
tell she was uncomfortable.

In retrospect neither of us was treating the other with
reverence. Sister P considers me a project rather than a person. That’s her
problem. My problem was insisting on sharing a spiritual experience knowing it
wouldn’t fit her paradigm.  That’s the
kind of payback our oldest son gives me—force-feeding me passages from Romans
to prove Calvinism is the true path—the way I inflicted my Mormon beliefs on

Learning to feel respect the right way to the right
people is tough—even humbling.

Reverence: Awe, Respect, Shame

One of the wisest books I’ve read is Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by Paul Woodruff, professor of humanities at the University of Texas. Woodruff defines reverence as:

  • Being in awe of something or someone greater than oneself.
  • Respect for other people.
  • Shame at not living up to common standards of virtue.

  In his words, “Reverence is the virtue that keeps leaders from trying to take tight control of other people’s lives . . . that keeps human beings from trying to act like gods.”

 In looking for personal examples of reverence beyond keeping quiet in church, I admit to feeling awe for busy young mothers balancing diapers, dinners, dishes, discipline and diminutive income with love, teaching, full or part time jobs, and church callings. I know I did it at one time, but I can’t even imagine tackling it again as I watch my daughter and young mothers in my neighborhood.

 I respect parents who faithfully endure three hours of church meetings each Sunday because they believe it benefits their family. I also respect those who have left the LDS fold to find spiritual sustenance in other pastures.

 I feel shame when a news program shows me Ethiopian women scooping water from puddles for cooking and drinking, then washing the family laundry in the same muddy pools. Nobody should have to live that way. What can I do to change their situation? What should I be doing?

 By Woodruff’s definition, recognizing ridiculousness is not irreverent. I suspect he would not find Jon Stewart’s and Steve Colbert’s attacks on Glenn Beck irreverent.  Beck’s most outrageous assertions certainly merit criticism. Not criticizing wrong-doing is cowardice rather than reverence.

 And this brings me to the question: Are Mormons overly sensitive about questioning, criticizing or even joking about church history, doctrine, or cultural practices? Zoe Murdock, a Mormon novelist commented in an interview that she’d grown up feeling it was wrong to even ask questions about the church.      I suspect the J. Golden Kimball stories are about as close as most Latter-day Saints dare come to attacking official pomposity.  One of my favorite J. Golden stories has him replying to a General Authority who criticized Kimball’s family: “According to your idea of an exemplary family, the Lord God Almighty hasn’t made such a hell of a success.”

 Sure we want to be a reverent people—to feel awe for a power higher than our own, to respect the humanity of all people, to respect all of God’s creations, and to feel shame when we do not meet standards of human decency. But am I out-of-line to profess doubt that God twitters President Monson throughout each day, directing his every decision and inspiring his every utterance?

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