Today for breakfast I had a hard boiled egg, a remnant of Easter. As I was peeling said egg I became extremely impressed with myself, and the egg, for we accomplished something I’d never seen before. I peeled it with the entire shell intact!
I’d done it with oranges and even apples… but an egg?
I was thrilled!
I now can’t figure out if it’s pathetic that this was my one pleasurable moment for the day, or if I’m just a optimist who can’t help himself seeing the good in life’s minutiae.
You see, the past week has really sucked for me. I lost my job last week. It happened as I was finishing up posting my Search, Ponder and Pray series (see the tab above titled “Why I left Mormonism”).
I’m shell-shocked, scared, anxious and desperate. I don’t have much of a cushion for survival and unemployment payments will barely cover a month’s rent OR my child support payment but not both. That’s not even taking into account a car payment, health insurance, gas, food, utilities, etc.
So, trying to see the good in tiny stuff like an intact empty eggshell is the only thing keeping me from crawling in the corner and having a nervous breakdown today. I need to smile.
Getting back on-topic, someone recently asked me in the comments section if I had any good things to say about Mormonism. I do actually. So, I’ve decided to jump on the looking-for-the-good bandwagon today and detail some of the positive aspects of Mormonism as I see it.
In keeping with the optimistic theme, I’ve done my best to not make this list full of back-handed compliments or a litany of “yeah, but” statements where I start with something positive and then tear it down with the rest of the story.
I could, but for this post I won’t.
Some of the good elements of Mormonism
Non Blood Related Tribal Identification
There’s a powerful sense of community that Mormons enjoy and they can partake of it whether they find themselves in their home ward or in another country. I’ve lived in several unique locations as a Mormon and had the privilege of attending some pretty cool and pretty diverse wards (congregations). In addition to living in the Mormon strongholds of Utah and California
I’ve attended wards in New York City, Japan, Brazil, and Washington, D.C.
You may not speak the language or recognize a soul but you can walk into any such church building and immediately feel welcome. The services will feel familiar and it easily feels like a small slice of home. I experienced these “at home” feelings at crucial times in my life when I could have easily found myself lonely and lost. In the Japanese ward I made a group of “gaijin” friends almost immediately. I suddenly had friends with whom I could spend my free time exploring our surroundings.
In New York City I found the Manhattan ward incredibly welcoming and diverse. Artists and opera singers worshiped alongside construction workers and students. A black High Counselor set me apart as the Elder’s Quorum Secretary (this was in the early 80’s and he may well have been the first black priesthood holder I was ever acquainted with). A gay man wearing purple leather pants occasionally bore his testimony. The thought hasn’t escaped me that had I stayed there in that ward I might still be a Mormon today.
Ceremoniously Marking Life Events
If I’m being honest, I think rituals are the most important aspects of any religion. I still recognize ritual as an important part of life and I actually lament not having many as a non believer.
In Mormonism you have a baby’s blessing, baptism, young men priesthood ordinations at 12, 14, 16 and 19. Going through the temple for the first time marks your emergence into adulthood. A Mormon mission. And then there’s the pinnacle of Temple marriage after which you will participate in all the same ceremonies again as a parent. Callings and “setting apart” further mark religious commitment in a unique way as adults.
Last but not least, there are Mormon funerals done in their own style. And because of the tribal identification everyone knows what to expect and how each ceremony will be performed.
Genealogy is cool. There’s a wonderful show on TV right now called “Who Do You Think You Are?” It follows a different public figure each week as he or she consults with genealogy researchers who assist in uncovering an unknown part of the family’s past.
Just the other night I watched the episode of Rita Wilson uncovering her late father’s past. It was more than sentimental. It was moving and inspirational. Her father’s character revealed itself, and that provides strength to the family I believe.
In another episode, adoptive mother Edie Falco came to an understanding confirming that a family can truly be those who love and nurture, not necessarily blood related. What a wonderful life lesson to learn!
Genealogy is fascinating and valuable, I believe. I don’t know to what extent the Mormon church is involved in this TV program, if at all. But it’s no secret the the Mormon interest in genealogical research has impacted that field immensely. Mormons are big players in genealogical research and that’s a major positive contribution.
Because run of the mill members of the church are the ones who deliver sermons and lessons each Sunday, the ability to get up in front of a crowd and deliver a message is one which most Mormons have nurtured and mastered. Since public speaking regularly ranks as a top fear among people this is significant.
Youth groups, dances, road shows, sports
I LOVED stakes dances when I was a teenager. I went to one almost every weekend in the region where we lived. I understand that they are different now because they are less frequent, but in my day we had live bands, the same over the top dress codes, overzealous chaperones, etc. Afterwards we’d go to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and act like obnoxious teenagers, I’m sure.
Road shows, dance festivals and sport events were frequent and brought a community of young people together to enjoy some good, clean fun. I still say there are some things not too bad being a Mormon teenager. There are a handful of leaders sincerely interested in helping Mormon teenagers make it through this part of life. Of course it all depends on the specific individuals in each ward but there are many successful youth programs in Mormonism with caring, understanding leaders who sacrifice a lot of time to make it a rewarding program.
As the quintessential Mormon woman my mother is regularly remembered for being cheerful. I know life wasn’t always puppies and roses for her, but I do think the Mormon church’s teachings on cheerfulness helped my Mom to a degree. I think people would describe me similarly – being cheerful is my default…sometimes to a fault. The Book of Mormon Musical lampoons this group characteristic hilariously, but let it be said that it can often be a good trait in many of life’s circumstances.
Heartiness – Group Efforts
There’s something to be said about attending a group function and having everyone grab their chair and put it away at the end. Attendees at Mormon functions regularly pitch in to set up, clean up, and take down tables, chairs and such. Most Mormons can’t imagine actually paying someone to help them move as male congregants will be expected to help out their neighbor. Whether it be potlucks, progressive dinners or even youth activities the entire weight of the task rarely falls onto one person.
After cheerfulness, Mormon insiders probably recognize and benefit from their group’s organization skills the most. A well functioning ward is usually fully staffed to the point where a phone tree where everyone can be contacted within a few hours is built into the system. There are plenty of unnecessary meetings and planning sessions that go way too long, but there are also many that I’ve been a part of that are well organized and streamlined. When Mormons make a point of it they can do this very well.
Mormons definitely have their own niche of the music world. It may not be for everyone, but what they do they do well. I’ve already detailed my pleasure at listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on occasion. Most stake and wards (not all) also have several extremely musically talented individuals as well, and when those talents are tapped it can lead to some magical musical numbers. If you even just consider the number of Mormons who can play the piano if called on at the last minute, or who can sing (decently enough) a solo in Sacrament Meeting it is pretty unusual when compared to the general population.
I once was the ward music chairperson and I had a waiting list of eager performers wanting to contribute to Sunday meetings.
Businessmen and Lawyer Prep
I earlier railed on Mormonism for not nurturing artists and other creative types (See: Be Exceptional and Be Exceptional pt 2). Let it be said that Mormonism does seem to nurture traditional business, political and lawyer types. We need those sorts of people in the world too.
Fast Sunday – Fast Offerings
The idea is that Mormons fast for two meals, no food or water. Then, the money that they have saved by doing so is donated to the Fast Offering Fund. That fund is then used to help local members in need with food and sometimes other expenses. I think it’s a cool concept when properly applied. I did it when I was a Mormon from the age of 8 on up. I’ve also seen the money go to good use for the needy members in wards where I held leadership positions.
Fasting can also be an experience that teaches self-control and gratitude when practiced wisely and in moderation. It’s a interesting and compassionate ritual for Mormons who do it religiously.