Friday, December 31, 2010

Q & A on exclusiveness, the Holy Spirit and boundary issues

These are my responses to questions posed to me on the Facebook page.

If you claim that your upbringing in your faith is what prompts you to seek out friends from all walks of life, Why then do you think it is that most others raised in the same faith do not? Aren't you taught the same things?

Yes, all members throughout the world are taught the same things. One thing that I give the Church a lot of credit for is consistency in the message. Few if any deviations from the doctrine are to be found regardless of whether your attending Church in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Moscow or Nairobi. This is a testament to the guidance of the Holy Spirt when called upon by leaders and teachers throughout the Church as well as the excellent teaching materials prepared by the Church and the guide books that are made available to the leadership.

The reason that some Mormons tends to only associate with "their own kind" has nothing to do with the Church, it's doctrine or counsel from the General Authorities, this attitude is in fact in direct opposition to what we are taught and counseled to do. The only reason that I can think of for this dichotomy between what is taught and the actions of certain members is the focus of this blog: it's a cultural aberration. I think that this particular attitude of Mormon exclusivity and exclusion is based on a gross misinterpretation of counsel that reads "Choose friends who share your high standards." Unfortunately, many people in the Church interpret this to mean that they should only choose friends who share their personal beliefs. High standards are held by many people who are not members of the Church--or even members of any organized religion. My high standards include being accepting of others regardless of their personal philosophies and beliefs and, unfortunately, there are some Mormons who's definition of "high standards" is much more narrow and enables an attitude that is very off-putting to non-members.

Do you assume that people of other faiths don't have the companionship of the spirit ? "Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I AM in the midst of them." Matt. 18:20

LDS doctrine teaches that there is a distinction between the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Power of the Holy Spirit. The Gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the saving ordinances of the Gospel, given to someone following their commitment to faith, repentance and baptism by immersion and is conferred on one through a blessing by a worthy priesthood holder. The Gift of the Holy Spirit is the right to have His constant companionship--so long as the individual is worthy and does nothing to drive away the spirt.

The Power of the Holy Spirit is the means by which God testifies of truth to all individuals, regardless of its source. So, to answer your question, I do believe that people of other faiths feel the Power of the Holy Spirit when presented with truth. I have been a member of Al-Anon for a number of years and when I was living in a rural community where there were very few Al-Anon meetings but several AA meetings, I was allowed to participate in AA since both use the same 12 steps. I can testify to you that I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as strongly in an AA meeting as I have sitting in the Celestial Room of the temple so, yes, wherever two or three are gathered, God is with them. Whether you are worshipping in a church, synagogue or mosque, experiencing the ordinances of the Temple or spending time with people who gather together just to try and help each other to stay sober. There is a lot of spiritual truth to be found in recovery.

The reader followed these questions with some remarks that I won't quote in their entirety here that seem to be rooted in some painful experiences.

The reader questions whether the LDS Church truly is about love as it is described within the Gospel citing as evidence to the contrary the experience of being turned away from a congregation because she did not reside within it's geographical boundaries and felt that this was antithetical to one of the main missions of the Church, bringing people to Christ, saying, "Most churches don't care where you live, they are happy to have you..."


Let me assure you that the Church is about love and bringing people to Christ. Unfortunately, in an environment like Utah where the community is so saturated by members, ward boundaries are an administrative necessity but they should not be perceived as having any bearing on a person's worthiness or their need for salvation or the blessings of the Gospel. It can be frustrating at times--it is not unusual to be in a ward where one does not feel welcome or accepted despite living in the boundaries; or to live in a ward where one finds it difficult to sustain the leadership--but it should not be taken personally or be the cause of resentment on the part of anyone. The Church is just a tool of the Gospel--and a temporary one at that, there will come a time in the future where the organization that we know today as "the Church" will no longer be needed because the membership will have a more full understanding of the true nature of the Gospel--it exists to benefit the members not the other way around.

As for "most churches" not caring where you live, you can count the LDS Church outside of Utah among them. I joined the Church in California in an area where people often drove as much as 50 miles to attend our ward. Today I attend a ward that actually has so many members there are two Relief Societies and, until 2011, there were two Elders Quorums. The organizational structure of the Church in regard to the appropriate number of members for a quorum is in no way arbitrary, it's specifically defined in the scriptures. Membership numbers in individual wards are more flexible (ranging anywhere from 200-500 people). It is perhaps the idea of God defining the organization of the Priesthood so specifically that causes some Mormons to read too much into the drawing of ward boundaries, as if God himself drew a line on a map when, in reality, it's ruled by statistics, geography and even local culture--in determining just what a "reasonable" distance to drive to Church is; many Utah Mormons would balk at the idea of driving 50 miles to attend a Sacrament meeting. The drawing of ward boundaries can even be subject to manipulation. Case in point, the boundaries of my dad's ward when he was in central Utah had to be redrawn when the stake he was in split up. His ward leadership literally moved the boundaries one block north to keep him in their ward. The boundary started at State Street then moved East along 300 South until it reached 400 East--where my dad's house was--and then the boundary shifted to 200 South, all so my dad's ward didn't lose him to another congregation. My parents didn't even understand why this happened. My step-mom speculated that it had something to do with Dad's High Priest group but in the end, it didn't even matter because my parents decided to attend a Spanish-language branch.

The reader also expressed the opinion that Salvation in the Church is tied directly to "tithing receipts" and that "they have to have their attendance up in sacrament to get more church funds for the ward... Tithing and church attendance does NOT equal brotherly love!"

I agree that tithing and church attendance doesn't equal brotherly love but attendance numbers in sacrament doesn't have a direct correlation to tithing receipts. Mormons do not pass around a basket--as they do in other churches--to pressure people into giving. Tithing, like every other ordinance, is voluntary and private. The only people a person is even supposed to discuss their tithing with are in the Bishopric and even that's more a matter of house-keeping related to local tax law than it is about keeping tabs on anyone's contributions to the Church. Even questions regarding tithing in the Temple Recommend interview are a matter of policy that have no basis in scripture and could be subject to change at any time.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Mormon definition of success?

I'm a filmmaker. I don't care if anyone decides to put any sort of adjective in front of "filmmaker" when referring to me, be it "independent," "Utah," "Mormon," "LDS," etc. As long they don't say that I'm a "bad filmmaker" or a hack, I'll accept whatever definition people want to throw out in reference to my work.

As a filmmaker, I do my best to be in the know when it comes to the local and independent film scenes. I keep tabs on the Utah Film Commission, the Motion Picture Association of Utah and a number of Utah-based filmmaking web sites, facebook groups and pages and e-mail lists including the LDS Film mailing list from which I received a link to a Mormon Times article by Lee Benson titled, "Utah writer/director finds his niche with PG family films" about a "Utah movie-maker" named Eric Hendershot--who I had never heard of despite his career spanning "over three decades;" and there's a reason I've never heard of him or his movies: from the research I've done, they're not really worth mentioning or recommending.

I'm glad that Benson referred to him as a "movie-maker" and not a "filmmaker" because I personally make a distinction between "films" and "movies"--basically, a film is a work of art that is to be appreciated, a movie is just a product to be sold--and from what I've learned of Hendershot's work, he is definitely NOT a filmmaker. He may write, direct and produce movies but so do a lot of people who contribute nothing to the art form and make a lot money doing it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I did not watch any of Hendershot's movies in preparation for writing this essay and while I doubt that I would pay to see them, or even go out of my way to see them for free, I'd be more than happy to give them a look-see and a proper review so if he gets wind of this essay, he's more than welcome to send me copies of his movies and I'll watch them and review them based on their merits. Some people might think that it isn't fair of me to critique Hendershot without having seen any of his work but this essay really isn't about his work, it's about how he approaches his work--his movie-making philosophy if you will--which is documented in the Benson article and how that approach is judged and praised--also without having considered any of Hendershot's actual work.

It should also be understood though that I'm not in Hendershot's target demographic so even if I had not read Benson's article I would not be foud among the typical audience for Hendershot's movies. Not just because I don't have kids but because when I do become a parent, I want my children to grow up watching films that are high quality works of art, not products that are designed to sell within a superficially-defined niche market. In other words, I want my kids to have a sense of taste when it comes to deciding what kinds of films and television programs are worth watching which is a lesson that is simply not being taught by most Mormons and Benson's article is a pretty clear indicator of why that is: a lot of Mormons are so obsessed with content--or the absence of certain kinds of content--that they disregard every other consideration when it comes to choosing the media that they consume, up to and including its overall quality and that's just sad.

Some of the more interesting reviews of Hendershot's movies that I found were submitted by viewers on the Internet Move Database and, frankly, I think some of them were planted there either by Hendershot's people or the companies that distribute his direct-to-video movies--yes, I said direct-to-video; a market that Benson called "ancient history," which isn't really accurate; the direct-to-video market is quite popular though with the advent of online services like Netflix, Hulu and Apple TV, film distribution is certainly evolving more quickly than ever before. The other "positive" reviews kept harping on what great "family movies" they were. As if that can make up for any flaws pointed out by other reviewers that probably ring a little more true to the overall quality--or lack thereof--of Hendershot's work. Some examples:

"Well, let's see. [based on the characters in one of Hendershot's movies] Men are stupid, living vicariously thru their sons and would rather pursue their hobby than enrich their marriage and family life; all married women have large breasts and shallow minds... yup, these are ideas that we want in the heads of America's boys and young men...It's appropriate that I write this review on Thanksgiving...what a turkey this movie is! It was and should be an embarrassment to the American Film industry... As far as the 'satire' and 'parody' comments, those remind me of the tired old line 'I don't know what you're talking about' when the murderer is uncovered (It's obvious he does). In other words, they call it a satire because deep down they know how BAD their work is."

"okay i'm 12 years old and i thogut [sic] this movie was pretty damn stupid, and the kid [sic] were f*cking crappy actors ..."

"...the movie becomes irritating rather than cute..."

"... boring, pointless..."

"...the moment's where your heart should go out to the kids, it doesn't. It just seems like there was no intention to really grab us at any moment in the film. The director seemed happy with just letting us grin and wait for the happy ending, which of course, was inevitable. The villains were typical goofballs, which definetly didn't help...this is simple kids entertainment, but not the best of simple kids entertainment that I've come across."

"The scenery is nice but that's about all the movie has going for it. Avoid, unless you like horses or pine for the scenery west of the Mississippi."

"Blech. Just how much of this stuff can the studios put out? Promark Entertainment struck out yet again with this flop. This is a kids' movie so the following rules apply: 1. All of the kids are quite smart. 2. All of the parents and police are totally clueless. 3. Poop figures prominently in a running gag. Seen it all before? So have I. The only positive thing I can say about this film is that the child acting is at least tolerable... Feel free to seek out better family fare than this."
Based on these reviews, I can totally understand why, as the Mormon Times article says, "...he's stayed alive and thrived all these years with nothing above PG ratings."

There's an old saying that you'll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator. In the "Movie-making" business, the two lowest common denominators are pornography and family films. If you have a solid business plan, you can make a decent return on your investment by producing porn or direct-to-video-movies that are marketed as "family friendly."

That's because porn and family films actually have two key aspects in common vis-à-vis the business end of distributing movies:

1) Neither porn nor family films are artistic in more than the most superficial of descriptions and where movies are concerned, art just doesn't sell.

2) Each has a built in market of people who will buy them without so much as reading a review or looking beyond the rating. Some people buy movies exclusively for the G, PG or XXX that they see on the packaging.

The markets for pornography and family films consist of people who, for the most part, have no taste or even a sense of what a "good" movie actually is. All they're looking for is something with which to kill time, whether it's lazy parents who rely on their televisions as the sole entertainer and educator of their children or... people who are addicted to porn and have time and money to throw away on it. Either way, the products are designed to distract people who have no taste... or in the case of the family films, destroy any sense of taste that an otherwise intelligent kid might potentially have had to begin with, thus creating a future consumer of poorly made, direct-to-video family films.

The point I'm trying to make is that, as a rule, family films are not worth watching.

Nowhere in Benson's article was anything said about the quality of Hendershot's movies. I don't trust the reviews on the IMDb--even the positive ones that appear to have been written by actual viewers--because the audience for family films, as I said, has no sense of taste and wouldn't know a good movie from a bad one to begin with. There is a brief reference in the article to Herndershot's latest film but the article is not a review and even when it mentions similar films in Hendershot's resume, little more is said about them than the fact that "His plots revolve mainly around kids. Kids getting into predicaments, kids getting out of predicaments, kids having adventures, kids teaching life's lessons to everyone." You'll recall from the user reviews above that the kids have to teach the lessons because the adults are usually written as idiots.

Nothing is said about whether or not Hendershot's movies are any good. In fact, the only time the word "good" appears in the article is to describe the family film market as a "good niche" for Hendershot and that's only in reference to how lucrative the market is which probably says more about Hendershot's skills as a producer than as a "movie-maker." We've already established that art is not a factor in what he does.

To quote Benson's article: "Throughout his career, Hendershot has specialized in making movies emphasizing the F word, as in Family. He is yet to make a movie you couldn't sit down and watch in a convent." That's actually pretty descriptive but, again, it says nothing about the movies themselves, certainly nothing to suggest why I should even bother to watch them. I'm pretty sure I could watch a two hour DVD of paint drying in a convent without worrying about offending anyone but that doesn't mean that I should actually waste my time watching it. I watch a lot of independent films, I've seen shorts that amounted pretty much to watching paint dry and while they weren't offensive in any way, they were not worth watching for five minutes, let alone the 90-minutes to two-hours one usually has to commit to watching a mediocre family film.

Benson also says of Hendershot, "He's been just as strict about never creating content that goes against his own personal standards."

What standards are those again? Oh, yes, the standards that are arbitrarily set and just as arbitrarily defined by the Ratings Board of the Motion Picture Association of America. Hendershot has apparently turned down offers to direct projects that could "qualify" for an R rating and bases his decisions on the fact that "I've got too many grandkids I have to look in the eye."

Just because the movies a person makes aren't rated R doesn't automatically mean that it's work they can be proud of. Some of the most awful movies I have ever seen in my life, in terms of writing, acting, themes, morality and overall quality have been rated G and PG and have all been marketed as "family films." Were I involved in any way with such productions, I wouldn't want to look anyone in the eye and admit to it. I wouldn't even include them on my resume. It should also be understood that just because a movie is rated PG-13 or R doesn't mean that it can't be something one can take pride in and want to share with family and friends as long as one feels they are mature enough to appreciate it.

Alas, this attitude is typical among Mormons. For various reasons based primarily on remarks made by General Authorities and repeated time and time again and taken completely out of context, a lot of Mormons have come to believe that any movie that is rated R is "bad." The problem with that logic is that these same people use it to justify an equally false belief that any movie that isn't rated R is automatically okay to watch by anyone, or at least somehow morally benign. And that couldn't be further from the truth.

So, why is Eric Hendershot being held aloft as a successful "movie-maker" who has "thrived"--other than my personal belief that Lee Benson may only have rewritten a press release and added his by-line to it? Probably because a lot of people--not just Mormons--equate financial success with moral validation for what they do. I'm sure that Hendershot feels that way. I'm also pretty sure that pornographers like Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt feel that way too. But when it comes to art, real art--and that includes filmmaking--validation for the work of the artists does not always come in the form of financial success. In all fairness, it doesn't always come in the form of a positive review either--there are a number of films that were initially panned by critics that eventually found their way into the hearts of those same critics upon subsequent viewings months and even years after their initial release. For some, validation comes with the completion of a film project. For others with the way their films are received by audiences who know and appreciate the genuine art of filmmaking.

Eric Hendershot may be a financially successful "movie-maker" but he's not an artist. He's not a filmmaker. He hasn't made a single movie that has had broad enough appeal to escape his "very good niche" market which doesn't pride itself on appealing to distinguishing consumers of cinematic art. He has created nothing that is in any way challenging or thought provoking. He is a one-man factory of products directed at family consumption, not even appreciation. How can one genuinely appreciate a product that is purchased solely to placate unruly children without having to worry about what they're watching being "inappropriate"--again, the lack of quality in the product hardly playing into the purchasing decision to begin with.

When I think of a successful and thriving "Utah writer/director" I'm more apt to consider my friends like Richard Dutcher who is an artist, who creates challenging and thought-provoking films. His resume isn't as long as Hendershots, but he's accomplished more artistically in a dozen years than Hendershot could ever hope to accomplish in his entire "thriving" career of churning out family-friendly, pedantic, direct-to-video fodder for whatever the latest craze is in electronic baby-sitting.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is technology miraculous?



Arthur C. Clarke said that "Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." For the last 180 years, people have made light of Joseph Smith's claims to have translated the Book of Mormon with the help of the Urim and Thummim--and/or a "seer stone"--sometimes described as spectacles through which he was able to read the ancient text as English. After seeing this video, this no longer seems so miraculous.

I do not believe in the supernatural, only in laws of nature that are not yet fully understood. What was miraculous for mankind from ancient times on up through the 19th century is easily achieved through technology in the 21st.

The Liahona, described as an instrument with spindles on which periodic written instructions would appear and point the way for Lehi and his family to follow toward the promised land, sounds an awful lot like a GPS navigation device today.

The miraculous translating powers of the Urim and Thummim and "seer stone" have now been replicated with software that can be downloaded onto a smartphone. Does this reduce the Urim and Thummim to some sort of celestial iPhone? I say, why not? :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Backhanded complement

I recently submitted a short film to a festival organized by a friend of mine. This friend is quite a character and a "former Mormon"--that is he stopped going to Church and never went back.

After I gave him the DVD with my film, he said to me, "Joe, we need to talk. I've been meaning to ask you something and we simply must have this conversation."

"Okay," I said and took a seat.

"Joe, I'm blown away that you're a Mormon. You're so open-minded."

It was an interesting thing to hear. I was both complemented and insulted at the same time--I took no offense, mind you--complemented for being open-minded and insulted at the idea that being a Mormon means one can't have an open mind.

I understand the perception based on the predominant culture in the region--and perhaps to a degree throughout the Church--the image of the prim and proper Mormon who doesn't consort with non-members, refuses to even socialize with anyone who consumes substances frowned upon in the Word of Wisdom and restricts their media consumption to books, television programming, magazines and movies to a limited catalogue of titles that can be described as "wholesome," "family friendly" and "bland."

I do not fit into that mold and my friend recognized this. Many of my closest friends are not LDS, they drink beer and wine socially while I imbibe soda while enjoying their company, some of them smoke--something I got used to being around during my years in the military--and we often discuss our favorite books, television programs and movies that we mutually appreciate for their artistic merit regardless of their MPAA rating or target demographic.

I was glad to hear my friend complement me for being open-minded but I want him and others to understand that I try to have an open mind because of my faith, not in spite of it.

It is through the gospel of Christ that I learned to be friends with others outside of my faith. It's through the teachings of the Church that I learned to seek out truth and knowledge through reading books written by a wide variety of authors from equally disparate backgrounds. It's through the counsel of the prophets that I learned to enjoy the arts in their many forms, especially film and theater.

To quote Brigham Young:
...it is our privilege and our duty to scan all the works of man from the days of Adam until now, and thereby learn what man was made for, what he is capable of performing, and how far his wisdom can reach into the heavens, and to know the evil and the good.

It is written in the Scriptures, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Is there an evil thing upon the earth that he does not fully understand? There is not…. The Lord understands the evil and the good; why should we not likewise understand them? We should. Why? To know how to choose the good and refuse the evil; which we cannot do, unless we understand the evil as well as the good. I do not wish to convey the idea that it is necessary to commit evil in order to obtain this knowledge.

Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it.

The Lord knows all things; man should know all things pertaining to this life, and to obtain this knowledge it is right that he should use every feasible means; and I do not hesitate to say that the stage can, in a great degree, be made to subserve this end. It is written, “Prove all things, hold fast that which is good.” Refuse evil, choose good, hate iniquity, love truth...(emphasis added)--Journal of Discourses 9:242-243
I'm often disappointed when I hear former members of the Church tell stories about losing their faith because they felt that they couldn't reconcile being intellectuals or artists with Church membership without compromising their intellectual and artistic integrity. They often felt pressured to limit their expression and filter it through a cultural paradigm that in the end has little if anything to do with the Gospel.

I've felt this pressure to conform to this imaginary ideal as well and I've discovered that I need not compromise myself intellectually or artistically to enjoy full fellowship in the Church and, most importantly, the comfort and companionship of the Holy Spirit. Are there some members that get their collective panties in a wad over opinions that I might express, art that I might like or stories that I choose to tell? Yes, and the problem is theirs and theirs alone.

God is the source of all inspiration, inside and outside of the Church. Be it the revelations he gives to our Church leaders in their stewardship to the special witness he gives to an investigator. He also inspires scientists and artists in every field from every faith--even those who might deny that He exists, God works through and inspires them as well. As such, God is the source of my talents. God is who inspires me to do what I do. To paraphrase Anne Lamott, creativity is God's gift to us; using our creativity is our gift back to God.

If there is anything I can say to those artists and intellectuals who may have left the Church over such disappointing circumstances, it's this: Come back. God appreciates who you are and you need not concern yourselves with those who choose to live lives bereft of intellectual and artistic expression. Such talents and gifts from our Heavenly Father help us to serve and to teach others. If others choose to bury their heads in the sand for cultural reasons, they are only depriving themselves. We need not deprive ourselves of the blessings of the Gospel over someone else's failure to embrace the counsel of open-mindedness that is necessary for our eternal progression. Indeed, they are only putting themselves at a gross disadvantage.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sacrament considerations

My elders quorum spent a few minutes discussing whether or not it was appropriate to grab a bread tray while administering the water if someone comes in late to Sacrament meeting.

It seemed that the person who brought it up objected to the practice. I argued that one can't always know what might cause a person to be late to church. One of our quorum leaders said that if we were doing it in error than we were erring on the side of consideration and not wanting anyone to feel left out. He's going to ask the Bishop for his advice on this "issue."

Yes, I put "issue" in quotations. Because I personally don't think that it is an issue. I wasn't entirely sure why something like this was even being discussed. I thought to myself, We're actually spending time discussing this? Why would someone even express concern over something so trivial? Is it really so distracting to see a priesthood holder walk back up to the Sacrament table to get a bread tray when the water is being administered? And why would they be distracted if they were not judging whoever it is that required the bread simply because they were late to church?

It's possible I'm reading too much into this but here's how I see it: the Sacrament meeting program usually reads: "Administration of the Sacrament" not "Administration of the bread" followed by "Administration of the water" so as long as the Sacrament is being administered, we might as well accommodate latecomers with all the emblems of the ordinance and not deny them over a matter of punctuality--or the lack thereof.

Which begs the question, why would anyone obsess over something so trivial? The answer is a theme that I imagine will be revisited several times in this blog: the need for certain people to embrace conformity, often to a fault. There are certain personalities that need to know without a shadow of a doubt that what they are doing is favorable in the eyes of God. Every spiritual "t" must be crossed, every "i" dotted, every bean counted.

Embracing a check-list approach to our faith can limit our ability to commune with God because stressing out over all the little things we fail to do is a surefire way to drive away the Spirit--making a fuss over the failures of others can drive away the Spirit as well. By focussing too much on outward ordinances and carnal commandments, we can lose sight of the true purpose behind them: not an expectation by God that we successfully keep all those ritualistic ducks in a row but the fact that our failure to do so is supposed to humble us and give God what he really wants from us which is a broken heart and a contrite spirit. A simple acknowledgment that we can't do it without him and to ask for his help.

Suffice it to say that God doesn't just take note of our actions--the way we treat others, the administrations of priesthood ordinances, etc.--he also notes the intent that is within our hearts. Is the administration of the sacrament, the wording of a blessing or confirmation, even the delivery of a talk or lesson going to go smoothly every time? No, of course not. But we needn't fret about our human fallibility or feel guilt over something in church or even the temple not going as smoothly as it could--anyone who has been to a live temple session in Manti or Salt Lake City knows that lines are flubbed from time to time--because, ultimately, it's what is in our hearts that matters most to our Heavenly Father because he knows better than anyone that we are not going to get things right all of the time.

UPDATE: A commenter on the Facebook page mentioned his ward in his youth actually closing the doors to the chapel and not allowing the sacrament to be passed outside, not even in the foyer. I remember my ward in California doing this as well. Again, I don't think that this is in keeping with the spirit of the ordinance. There are some people who choose not to sit in the chapel during sacrament meetings for valid reasons--various health issues, social anxiety, etc.--and they should not be penalized for it. If Priesthood holders are encouraged to take the sacrament out into the community to administer it to those individuals who are unable to come to Church at all, then why shouldn't they administer the sacrament to those who sit in the foyer?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Real Life Singles Ward

I am so looking forward to seeing this examination of Mormon culture... and not just because I was interviewed for the film (1:34). ;-)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some observations

I've decided to start this blog in order to offer some observations on Utah-Mormon culture "from the inside." By that I mean, observations from a perspective that is within the Church--I am an active member--but outside of the local culture (I am NOT originally from Utah).

There are numerous blogs written by "former" Mormons, "Jack" Mormons and "Graduated" Mormons that claim to offer "insight" into the culture because the writers claim to have "been there"--once active, even "devout" members of "the Church"--but are now "free" to express themselves because they no longer affiliate themselves with "the Church." However, the more I speak with people who claim to have this insight, the more I realize that many of these people can't seem to make a distinction between Utah-Mormon culture and the Mormon religion. They have bought into the myth--the same myth embraced by many active Mormons--that the culture and the Church and one and the same.

They are NOT.

Another realization that I came to is that I have experienced much of the same treatment, ridicule and emotional ostracism that many of my "former" Mormon friends have so I can completely empathize with their experiences and yet, I remain an active member of the Church with a testimony of the Gospel that remains very important to me; which begs the question: Why do I remain active in the Church despite having experienced much of the same treatment that many "former" Mormons have experienced and used to justify leaving the faith? This is the question that I intend to explore with this blog. The question is--by its very nature--complex and multifaceted, as are the many answers it brings up which is why I think a blog is probably the best medium in which to explore it.

One particular answer to the question that I've touched on already is the understanding that I have come to, that the culture and the Church are not the same thing. When I see or hear Mormons passing judgment against others for their lack of conformity to the "teachings" of the Church and/or "The General Authorities," they are not in fact referring to any specific teachings or doctrine, but are more likely making inferences based on often vague statements or pieces of counsel that are taken grossly outside of the context in which they were presented.

I hope that the reader will come to appreciate my observations and the place from which they are made. It is not my intention to offend anyone but I will say now that I can be blunt--even crass in the opinions of some--but anyone who knows me personally would not be surprised by my bluntness or even the occasional azure utterance from time to time. ;-)

I would also like to invite the reader to comment and share with me their own observations and experiences within and outside of Utah-Mormon culture.