Mormon Stereotyping: How Necessary Is It?

I’m tired of the LDS Church stereotyping members and non-members alike?

  • If you are female, you are a nurturer and a homemaker.  You cannot have a major decision-making position in the Church.  If you are a male, you are the breadwinner and the priesthood holder.  (But the divisions go much deeper than that.)
  • If you are a boy, there is Boy Scouts.  If you are a girl, there is something less.
  • If you are black, you could not historically hold the priesthood or go to the temple.  The Mormon leadership knows why (Brigham Young’s and his era’s prejudices), but refuses to clear the slate and apologize.  Thus, needlessly keeping this black/white division in the news.
  • If you are Native American, you live in the twilight zone:  are you a Lamanite or aren’t you?  Will you become “white and delightsome?”  With DNA and the “limited geography” theory, it seems likely that most Native Americans are just that:  Native Americans.
  • If you are LGBT, you shouldn’t have sex and shouldn’t get married.  Your status in the hereafter is in question.  Will you or won’t you be “cured.”  But the bigger issues is:  “Why should you need to be cured?”
  • If you are an adult and single, what is wrong with you?  If you are a single parent, you may not feel totally comfortable in your “family-friendly” (one man, one woman) Ward.  Male/female, black/white/NA, LGBT/straight, single/married, I’m tired of people being put in categories.  The Church is the poorer for all this stereotyping.  It’s killing proselytizing efforts in the developed world.  When it limits its leadership to white straight older males, it disenfranchises and loses the wisdom of over half of its membership.  Celibacy should be a choice not a requirement.  Being single is not like having the plague.  As much as possible, we need equality and the removal of walls.  The stereotyping and judging needs to end.

According to conservative Chief Justice John Roberts:  “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”  It’s also a “sordid business” when we divvy up by sex and sexual orientation.

Posted in feminism, mormonism, Personal Essays, Religion, Social Justice | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Has the LDS Church Lost Its Sense of Humor?

At a recent local Sacrament Meeting, our Ward Bishop gave an unusual talk.  He encouraged us to be better members.  And how do we become better members?  I can only remember 3 of his 7 suggestions.

The first was to come to Church 5 or 10 minutes early.  Really?  Time spent in church has now been expanded from 3 hours to 3 hour and 10 minutes.  Not an entirely pleasant thought for a “backslider” like me.

The second was for the Sacrament handlers to wear white shirts and ties.  Got to have that conformity.

The third suggestion was to exclude humor from Sacrament Meeting talks.  Oh brother, am I in trouble.  Its hard enough to stay awake with what little humor we used to have; what will it be like without any humor at all?  A snooze-inducing marathon?

Something similar happened in Mormon humorist Robert Kirby’s Ward:

I’ve learned to cope [with too much conformity] by finding my own place.  When last week’s high council  speaker said, “There is no place for light-mindedness in Sacrament meeting,” I said, “Cool, that’s me out,” and I left.

I didn’t leave my Sacrament Meeting, I like my bishop, even though his suggestions seemed inane.  Besides, the meeting was almost over.

In a recent tongue-in-cheek Q&A session at bycommonconsent.com, the posters speculated on what Joseph Smith Jr. would say if he came to a modern-day Sacrament Meeting?  The number 1 answer:  “You guys are taking things WAY too seriously.”  Amen, brothers.

I know God has a sense of humor.  I know He does.  If He exists, He must have of a sense of humor.  After all, He must routinely survey His creations.  That ought to be good for a few laughs.  Maybe He even occasionally listens to some unintentionally funny Sacrament Meeting talks.  I sure He snickers.  And how about all those crazy Fast and Testimony Meeting stories?  Those must induce some real godly belly laughs.  And can you imagine spending eternity without levity?

This emphasis on solemnity must be a subset of the Church’s current obsession with:  “Keeping the Sabbath Day holy.”  Whatever the hell that means.  I’m lost in a miasmal mist of over regulation, something that political conservatives ought to understand.

Michael Austin in his book Re-reading Job (the biblical book not the man Apple/Pixar man) concludes “[We] do not have the foggiest idea what God is thinking – so [we need] stop pretending.”

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Mormonism: Are Our Roots in Ancient Christianity or Treasure Seeking?

With the recent release of photographs of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, the issue of Mormonism’s “magical” past is again at the forefront of scholarly discussions.  I don’t have a problem with seer stones per se.  After all, LDS Church history has always involved visions and the Urim and Thummim.  Nor do I have a problem with evolving versions of the First Vision, even though the version I frequently repeated on my mission (in the 1960s) may not have been accurate.

The whole issue of treasure hunting, seer stones, magic, and superstition is brought into the focus when the two are combined in a way I hadn’t previous considered.  For example according to several prominent historians, when Joseph went to the Sacred Grove, he was not vacillating between various Protestant denominations, but between organized religion and folk magic.  For Mormon historian Richard Bushman, the First Vision drove Joseph Smith away from his mother’s Protestantism towards the treasure-seeking culture of his father.  So for me, despite past official Church denials, Mormonism was born on the wrong side of the tracks.

In the pendulum’s arc between superstition and reason, Mormonism at its onset was in the superstition camp.  But as the Church “matured,” this part of its history was largely glossed over or ignored, even during Joseph Smith’s time.  This sanitizing of history left LDS Church leaders open to “blackmail” by the likes of Mark Hoffman.

Over the last few decades, there has been incredible progress towards de-sanitizing Mormon history.  This is something that needed to happen.  For me, it’s just unfortunate that it has taken so long.

During my formative years, I received the sanitized version of LDS Church history with much of the “folk-magic” past ignored.  I suppose you can blame some of this on me, for not being more inquisitive.  But some of this is the responsibility of the leadership for not being forthcoming with “inconvenient” historical facts, by encouraging faith-promoting rumors over actual history.

For me, on the arc between reason and superstition, I come down strongly on the side of reason.  Its in my genetics, my upbringing, and my overall background.  It’s who I am.  I’m a fifth-generation Mormon and I want to live in the 21st century and not the 18th or 19th.

Posted in mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Religion | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Inventive Ways Global Cities Are Conserving Water

by Justin Worland (Time, 31 Aug 2015)

Below are four inventive ways that cities around the globe are working to conserve water:

Floating Shade Balls:  Los Angeles’s is using shade balls, which blocks the sun over reservoirs to prevent evaporation loss.

Reviving Ancient Aqueducts:  Over the past several years, a Peruvian utility company has revived pre-Inca aqueducts to route water from Andes Mountains into cities.

Rationing Consumption:  Earlier this year, Puerto Rican authorities placed more than 150,000 residents on a 24-hrs-on, 48-hrs-off water schedule.  The savings helped slightly.

Wiring Billboards:  Officials in Australia encourage conservation by showing water reservoir levels to would-be consumers in real-time.  Research shows the campaign helped cut consumption in half.

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More Playground Equipment Installed in Northern Navajo Country

Last week, a friend and I installed playground equipment at 3 separate locations on the northeastern edge of the Navajo Nation.  The first was at a preschool in Montezuma Creek, Utah.  There we installed a domed-shaped, monkey-bar set that we had salvaged from a West Jordan family.

Monkey Bars installed at Preschool in Montezuma Creek, UT

Monkey Bars installed at Preschool in Montezuma Creek, UT

In Shiprock, New Mexico, we installed a double-wide, 4-seat swing set at an arid community park on the San Juan River.  We also provided the parts to replace a missing chain and swing seat.  We were aided in our efforts by a college intern and several other Navajos.  It was a hot day and it was great to have help.  The Navajo group is working enthusiastically to improve the community’s parks.  We promised to return with more outdoor playground equipment.

Double-wide Swing Set Installed in a Community Park in Shiprock, New Mexico

Double-wide Swing Set Installed in a Community Park in Shiprock, New Mexico

Lastly, we installed a ladder-styled, monkey-bar set at St. Christopher’s Mission located near Bluff, Utah.  It was made of chain-link-fence pipe and pressure-treated wood. However, the installed design needs some simplification; it is too complicated and takes too much time and effort to install.  The monkey-bar set joins 3 previous installed features:  a swing set, teeter totter, and slide.

Monkey Bars Installed at St. Christopher's Mission, Utah

Monkey Bars Installed at St. Christopher’s Mission, Utah

Most of the parts for the Navajo playground installations were provided by a Salt Lake City NGO–Navajo Santa.

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Why I’m Struggling with My Mormonism

These last few months have been a real struggle for me.  For the last 50 years, I haven’t been a strong member.  But things have gotten decidedly worse lately.

So what has happened recently?

  • Seer Stone:  The recent pictures of Joseph Smith’s seer stone were not in themselves a problem.  The problem is that the stone forces me to once again confront Mormonism magic past.  Frankly seer stones, Urim and Thummim, treasure hunting, talking in tongues, animal sacrifice, sticking your head in a hat, etc. make me very uncomfortable.
  • Black Priesthood/Temple Ban:  The failure of the LDS Church leadership to admit that the ban was wrong causes me a great deal of personal grief, as does the failure to make a formal apology for the pain it caused black members and non-members alike.  And I wonder how many potential converts were lost because of the unfortunate ban?
  • LGBT Discrimination:  The leadership’s treatment of this issues has been abysmal. It could have just separated civil marriage from temple sealing.  This is already being done in countries outside the USA.  It would also allow for better participation by non-Mormons and members like me in wedding ceremonies.  Continued LGBT discrimination will also make future convert baptisms in the USA, Canada, and western Europe even more difficult.
  • Boy Scouts:  If the LDS Church wants to separate from BSA, there are much better reasons than LGBT issues.  To handle this issue the way the PR department did just makes the Church look truculent.  It also reminds the world that the LDS Church discriminates against its girl members.
  • Female Discrimination:  The LDS Church’s inability to find responsible, high leadership and decision-making positions for women is very frustrating.  So far, all the leadership has been willing to do is take a few token steps.
  • Anti-science Statements:  When the Church leaders make statements that encourage Old Testament literalism, they encourage members to distrust science.  This can lead to anti-evolution, anti-vaccination, anti-global warming, anti-environmentalism and anti-LGBT sentiments.

The biggest problem, however, is the Church leadership’s inability to identify really important issues.  Instead it is obsessing over issues that are making it look irrelevant to both younger members and potential converts.  Anybody in Mormondom concerned about poverty, global warming, gun violence, the environment, etc.?

Posted in feminism, mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Religion, Science, Social Justice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Newly Discovered Ernest Untermann Sr. Oil Painting

I recently purchased an Ernest G. Untermann Sr. oil painting.  In the last few years of life, Untermann joined his son and daughter-in-law at the Natural History Museum in Vernal, Utah.  At the time, Ernest was in his 90’s.  During his time in Vernal, he was a prolific artist, painting beautiful landscapes and dramatic scenes of dinosaurs.  I recently purchased an Untermann belonging to a family from the Denver area.

Green River Near Vernal, Utah, by Ernest G. Untermann Sr. (1952)

Green River Near Vernal, Utah, by Ernest G. Untermann Sr. (1952)

The landscape, dated 1952, is of an unknown section of the Green River.  According to the vendor (Jeff Bean):

Ernest was a friend of my great grandfather, Harry Ratcliff, who homesteaded on the Green River near Vernal.  Harry was an engineer and explorer, responsible for running rivers looking for suitable dam sites.  He was also a geologist and mineralogist.  This is how his path crossed with Ernest.  The story was told that Untermann gave two paintings to my great grandparents as a gift, or payment of some sort.  My aunt is still living and has the other painting.  I will see if she knows more about how they came into our possession.

Ernest lived an interesting life as seaman, geologist, translator, socialist, and finally dinosaur illustrator.  His paintings are prominently displayed at the new Natural History Museum in Vernal.

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