Monday, February 14, 2011

Work, responsibility, disability and idleness.

The Melchizedek priesthood and Relief Society use the same manual for their class lessons. However, having the same manual doesn't mean that the same lesson is taught. The most recent lesson I sat in on was about work and personal responsibility. I delivered a talk on this very topic in 2006 and drew upon it in my comments in class.

I attend a singles ward and lessons--even Sacrament talks--are inevitably (though often inappropriately) steered to how one squares doctrine and the teachings of General Authorities to address the needs of the Church's single members, completely ignoring the fact that the Gospel is NOT just for married people and that correct principles are universal and needn't be tailored to a particular demographic that is only defined by its marital status.

Of course, for a lesson about "work and personal responsibility," the question--which probably didn't appear in the lesson manual--was asked, "Who here can support a family?" Which is a lousy question to ask a bunch of single guys in the middle of a recession. This brought up questions about supporting spouses and who pays for dates and a whole lot of other superficial and petty comments that have less to do with one's eternal salvation than trying to just get laid--even if it's "within the covenant"; Mormon's troll for tail and cock-block like everybody else, they just want to put a ring on a girl's finger before getting her into the sack. The degree of adolescent-like behavior within the LDS singles community can be suffocating.

Unfortunately, there were some other comments made that I found to be somewhat insensitive. In particular one remark that strongly implied that a person's testimony of the gospel is meaningless if that person "didn't work."

Such a statement begs the question, "What is work?"

I don't recall Jesus Christ drawing a salary. He was doing His Father's work and I don't think any sort of benefit package was associated with it--nothing temporal anyway. Missionaries in the primitive church weren't expected to carry money with them, they were supposed to rely on the charity of others for food and housing--a bunch of couch-surfing freeloaders by today's economic standards.

I've come to understand that work, according to the teachings of the Gospel, includes being of service to others. It certainly takes a great deal of effort and we aren't even supposed to expect anything in return for it--at least not in this life. We just need to understand that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17)

Unfortunately, the attitude that I find with a lot of Mormons--especially Mormon men--is that work is only defined by a paycheck and not just by a paycheck but by where that paycheck comes from. Within our priesthood class, this inevitably lead to criticism of people who accept unemployment compensation--ignoring the fact that it's basically wage insurance that people pay for when they have work to help them if they lose their jobs; one wouldn't criticize a person for making a claim on their car insurance if they got into an accident or their home owners insurance if their house burned down, but if you file for unemployment--that you paid into--when you get laid off, you're obviously a loser and someone who's morals, ethics and worthiness should be seriously questioned, not to mention your suitability as a potential spouse. This attitude has more to do with Mormon-Politics than doctrine or culture but that's a topic I'm covering in a different writing project.

This line of discussion really struck a nerve with me because I do not have a regular job. I've been on disability since 2006. Like people filing for unemployment, I paid into the system with the understanding that should I ever be unable to maintain regular employment, I wouldn't be left homeless and starving; and through a long, drawn-out, stressful and humiliating process, it was determined that I qualified for a tiny stipend that ensured that I wouldn't go cold or hungry and that's it. It's not a comfortably living but it keeps a roof over my head and food on the table while enabling me to engage in part-time work that will accommodate my disability and gives me time to volunteer my skills and services elsewhere so that I can still be a contributing member of society.

I knew that when I no longer had to worry about being homeless that I had an opportunity--even an obligation--to find ways to be of service to others. Indeed, that's what I wanted more than anything else--the last thing that I want is to be accused of being lazy or idle--and when all is said and done, when I consider the value of the volunteer service that I provide compared to the puny stipend I receive every month from the government, I'd say the American people (including nearly half the membership of the LDS Church) is getting more than it's money's worth out of me. But Mormons who embrace a largely secular culture at the expense of the Celestial principles of the Gospel choose to pay no attention to what's in my heart or what service I provide to others and instead choose to focus on where the money I spend on housing and utilities comes from and make superficial and petty judgments against me and others like me for it. Add to that the pressure placed on single Mormon men to be sole-breadwinners in an economy that makes such goals nearly impossible for most people and I'm pretty much screwed in their eyes. I'm not a man, not worthy of being a husband and certainly not eligible for Celestial glory.

Thankfully, my relationship with my Heavenly Father assures me that I am indeed no less of a man than anyone else, that I am worthy of being a husband and that as long as I stay on the correct path, I can enjoy Celestial glory with my partner, whoever and wherever she may be.

It is experiences like this that help me to understand why otherwise worthy and wonderful members of the Church become inactive. Because they have to put up with jerks who look at the world--and the Gospel!--with a culture bias that ultimately works against them and compromises their ability to make true eternal progress. The most frustrating thing about these people is the fact that the only time I have to deal with them is at church, on Sunday. And I'm just the type of guy who's going to keep showing up because I know that I annoy them probably more than they annoy me. The challenge that I face is to not to allow their short-sightedness, arrogance, pettiness and cultural myopia to affect my testimony. Frankly, creating this blog has seriously helped. :)