The other day I posted some thoughts about what Mormons believe. (My initial thoughts, and my rationale for posting them are here.)
When I was young, there was a particular Broadway star I idolized. I had pictures of this star. I had every recording of every performance I could get my hands on (no small thing living in Farmington, UT in pre-iTunes, pre-cd days). I tried to sound like this star when I sang. Everything I did was based on my admiration for and desire to be like this star.
Had someone told me that I wasn't a true fan, I would have laughed. Imagine that the official fan club had called me and told me I wasn't a fan because I did my own thing and wasn't in their organization. It would have been ridiculous to me, and to anyone who knew me. Given the fact that much of my life at the time was informed by my admiration for and my desire to emulate this star, it would have been ludicrous to say I wasn't a true fan.
Several years ago, I was at a social function for work. Being in the South, the committee in charge of the event decided they'd like to begin with a prayer. Knowing I was leader of my congregation (Mormons have a lay leadership--another post, perhaps), they asked me. Keep in mind this was a brief blessing on the food--short and non-denominational.
A colleague heard this and literally hyperventilated. She had to be helped to take slow, deep breaths. "He's...he's...he's...a Mormon!" she finally managed to spit out. "They're not Christian." She insisted on standing next to me to "help" me pray. I'm not sure what she thought my prayer might do to the food or her soul, but I said something like, "Dear God, thank you for this food and for a wonderful place to work. Help us to have fun together and let the food do our bodies good. Amen."
She literally stood next to me the whole time and I could feel her tension. I guess she was ready to jump in if I sacrificed a goat or something. Anyway, at the end she told me I did a great job. The level of relief and surprise she obviously felt surprised me.
This was someone I worked fairly closely with, someone I knew well, and thought she knew me. Yet, she didn't consider me a Christian. Mormons hear this a lot and it's true we are different in our practices and beliefs than other Christian churches--evangelical, mainline Protestant, or Catholic. So, in that sense, I understand the point and perhaps I'll address this in another post.
On a more recent occasion, I happened to be in a church service with a large number of colleagues from work. As part of the service, the pastor administered the Lord's Supper and invited those present to come and partake. I chose not to, simply because I hadn't prepared for it and didn't feel spiritually ready to do so. Mormons take the Lord's Supper very seriously and consider it the most sacred moment of our week when we take it at our services, so it's not something I wanted to do lightly. But I found out later that some people assumed it was because I was a Mormon. I've regretted that ever since because it played into the stereotype that we're not Christians.
One of the most fundamental, integral, and essential aspects of Mormon belief is in Jesus Christ. In terms of what informs my day-to-day life, my thoughts and feelings, my comings and goings, a belief in the living reality of Jesus Christ is paramount.
Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that he lived on the earth as recorded in the New Testament. We believe that he suffered for the sins of humanity, died, and was resurrected. We believe he lives today, a glorified being of flesh and bone and that he has infinite love for and intimate, personal interest in each member of the human family.
Belief and faith in Jesus Christ is the foundation of everything Mormons do. Everything. My interactions with others--my family, my employer, my neighbors, the people I run into on the street, even the person who cuts me off in traffic--are governed by my desire to act according to how Jesus taught--to love, forgive, to be patient, kind, and caring. Yes, I fall short all the time, more often than not, but I'm always evaluating and assessing my actions based on my understanding of his example and expectations.
Mormons do not simply believe that Jesus is a real personage somewhere. Our belief in him compels us to try to be like him, to follow and emulate him. For a Mormon, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ--in word, in thought, and in action--is the main task of life.
Jesus is a living reality in my life. He is the source of inspiration and motivation. He is my refuge and comfort in times of illness, despair, or difficulty. He is my anchor and rock in times of joy and success. He is the unchanging North Star by which I try to navigate and he is a real and personal presence in my life. I know he lives as I know what the sun's warmth feels like, what a bird's song sounds like, and the way I know the scent of a rose.
So telling me I'm not a Christian because the Council of Nicea said x and I believe y will always amuse, intrigue, baffle and occasionally annoy me. I may not be a traditional Christian, and I may not be certain type of Christian. And, goodness knows, there are times when I haven't been very good at practicing what Christ taught, moments where I fall far short of his standard. So, I will own to not always being a good Christian.
But I continue to try. I believe in Christ. I've built my life on the foundation of his teaching and living reality. I've hitched my wagon to his star and staked my life and soul on the belief that what he said was true. I continue to try to shape my actions and character into compatibility with his.
If that doesn't count, then I suppose I'm not allowed in the official club. But that doesn't negate the fact that I'm a big fan.
Tomorrow is one of two days I dread most each year. Call-backs for the next play. We've had auditions and now I'm having each student come back to read for specific roles from the play.
I really dislike this part of my job. In a way, it's exciting to see the final cast list emerge. It's very obvious who should play each role--only on very rare occasions is there any doubt.
The difficulty is not in discerning who should be in which roles, but knowing how disappointed and hurt some of the kids will be. Yes, it's part of life. Yes, it's the way theatre goes. Yes to all the disclaimers and provisos one can add. But I still hate it.
I imagine that a nurse who gives a baby a shot understands that the shot is beneficial--but I assume (I hope) that the nurse still flinches a bit at the thought of inflicting a bit of pain on a baby--even when it's well-intentioned and healthy in the long run.
That's how I feel. It is difficult for me to express how much I love my students and how deeply I care for them. Being the agent of disappointment--especially when I know the sting of that disappointment from my own time as a performer--is hard.
There will be parents who grumble, complain, and shun me. Meh. That's not exactly pleasant, but my emotional skin is pretty well calloused to that sort of thing and I don't lose sleep over it.
But the thought of my students being hurt or disappointed--that I do lose sleep over.
Painful though it is, this process reminds me of something each time I go through it. I have learned that I cannot make a student into a leading role, no matter how badly I want them to have it. No matter how much I love them and am rooting for them, there is no way I can make someone into Dorothy or Annie or Tevye if they aren't qualified. They either are or they aren't. I'm the judge and have the final say, but really, all I do is validate and make de facto what is de jure. The student is either ready and able or not and all I do is recognize the level of their ability. I have a feeling that this is fairly close to the final judgment. God will not judge us, as much as recognize, and help us see, who we are and who we have become by the choices we've made and the things we've done.
I add to that one further observation. There are a very few students who are brilliantly talented and simply get leading roles based on their brilliance. But that is exceedingly rare. Usually, kids who get the big roles are kids who have worked hard for years. They've taken lessons and gone to camps. They've been in other plays and they've honed their talents through time, experience, and instruction. This combination is hard to beat. Another important lesson, I think.
Well, with Mitt Romney running for president, and Jon Hunstman (former governor of Utah) probably running, there is growing chatter in the media about Mormons and what they believe.
I'll tell you a secret: as an active, believing Mormon, I really don't relish this. What it means, in my mind, is that political opponents and the press will kick around some of my most cherished beliefs and then, by focusing on marginal, obscure and unusual elements, make Mormons seem crazy. There will be some who make us seem like lovable, quirky eccentrics, while others will portray us as dangerous lunatics. But either way, it's not something I look forward to.
Here's the thing. Every religion, and I do mean every religion, can be made to look foolish if you want to try. What religion doesn't have doctrinal or historical elements that look strange to those outside the faith? I would add, that you don't even need to be religious. I have heard secular humanists made fun of in the same way. Any belief system or sub-culture can be mocked and made to seem crazy.
My experience, incidentally, is that the kind of stories I am referring to usually pick something that is fairly small in terms of significance, some marginal idea or doctrine, and then frame it in a way that makes it sound like a bigger deal than it is.
At any rate, since I don't like the way Mormons and our beliefs are often portrayed, and since I am the only Mormon many of my friends and associates know, I thought maybe I'd take the chance to explain some of the basic things we believe. I note that I'm focusing on the pillars of belief that inform the daily life of your average, practicing Mormon, not on the more exotic and arcane theological points or historical events that might interest scholars and historians.
Let me start with what we don't believe in and what we are not. First of all, since this is precipitated by two presidential campaigns, let me note that not all Mormons are Republicans. Many are, but I have a great many Mormon friends who identify as moderate to raging liberal, believing fully the doctrines of the Church and participating in full fellowship. It is interesting to note that Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate is an active, believing Mormon. For some reason, that never gets much play.
Another thing. We do not believe in having more than one wife. That ended in 1893. For a relatively short time, some Mormons did have more than one wife. I don't understand why. I've heard a lot of theories over the years, some make sense, some don't, but the point is no one really knows and everyone who was involved has been dead for a very, very long time.
This is a great example of what I was talking about. The day-to-day impact of polygamy on contemporary Mormons is about nil. But it's exotic, mysterious and therefore, it's something people tend to latch on to and it gets a lot of play. To be honest, I don't really like that they did practice polygamy. But it's so far out of anything that is relevant to my life today as to be basically meaningless in practical terms and so I don't spend much time thinking about it. But, others do. I was surprised recently when someone who knows our family well and has been to our house numerous times, asked if we did polygamy.
I note that you canNOT be in the Church and practice polygamy. It is the quickest way to get excommunicated. One hears from time to time about splinter groups in the West, and there have been some TV shows that highlight this practice. Mormons are embarrassed and offended by this stuff. Polygamists are not Mormons and vice versa. Period.
So, what do we believe? Since this post is already longish, I'll make this brief: the main, day-to-day fundamental of my faith is that God lives, that he is real and personal. We believe he is the father of our spirits and that he loves us more perfectly than the most loving earthly father. We believe he is interested in our lives and that he has a plan for us, a plan that encompasses the proximate circumstances of life, but also a plan so expansive it reaches in to eternity. We believe--I believe--that God sent us to earth as a parent on earth sends children to school: to learn and grow, and then return.
One of the most beloved songs in the church today is a very simple children's song called "I Am A Child of God" and I think it says it all:
I am a child of God, and he has sent me here
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do to live with him some day.
I put a clip of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the song below.
P.S. I'm happy to answer questions people have. I sense sometimes that people I know often want to ask me things but are worried about being offensive. You needn't be worried.
I saw this post on Mormon Mommy Blogs and really enjoyed it. It's one of the best tributes to and recognitions of what being a husband/father/provider means that I've ever seen. It's quite short, but worth a look, I think. I realize that we're in a different era when being a husband doesn't always mean being the breadwinner, especially in this economy, but I still think it's something that most men with families can relate to.
I got some sad news recently. Roscoe, the happy Golden Retriever in the picture died.
Roscoe's skillful portrayal of Sandy in last year's production of Annie won the hearts of everyone who saw the play. As the director, I had the opportunity to work closely with Roscoe and I became particularly fond of him. He was a friendly, happy dog--the quintessence of all the good things we think of in dogs generally and retrievers specifically. They say all dogs go to heaven, and in Roscoe's case, I'm quite sure it's true. I learned several lessons from Roscoe, lessons I think most of us could stand to learn.
First of all, Roscoe was obedient. He followed directions that the trainer gave him, doing quickly and well what he was asked. He didn't argue or balk or sulk--he just did it.
Roscoe was also content with his lot, magnifying his role. He didn't try to be Annie and he wasn't mad that he didn't get the role of Daddy Warbucks. He simply played his role to the best of his ability. He gave everything he had to his role, using his unique qualities and talents (yes, he was talented) to do good work. His role, though small in terms of on-stage time, made a big difference in the play. There's a lesson in that, I think--it's great to have some ambition, but I wonder how much better off we might be if we did more embracing of the roles we've been given in life, focusing our strengths and unique talents on those roles instead of looking around us, wanting more or different things.
Roscoe had another marvelous attribute. He was warm and affectionate to everyone he met. Roscoe was happy to spend time with anyone at all--and in a cast of 130 kids, he was a bit of a rock star, so he always had lots of people giving him attention. Roscoe didn't care--or notice--if someone was in the chorus or the lead or the director. He liked everyone.
On this note, Roscoe was patient with everyone. He got patted and petted and poked an awful lot--but he never snapped or snarled. He endured it patiently--perhaps even with some joy. Roscoe was so loving that it wouldn't surprise me.Most of all, Roscoe was just a happy dog. He made few demands of people, loved everyone, and lived a simple life. He did the work he was given to do and did it well. RIP Roscoe. I hope to be as good as you someday.
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