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Gospel Truth Versus Cultural Perception

A recent discussion in Sunday School has turned my thoughts lately to puzzling about cultural differences and how those differences relate to (how each of us perceives) the gospel plan.

Every day we become more and more a worldwide church. I don’t have all the statistics but I would venture to say that if there are not more members outside the U.S. right now, then it will happen soon. And it is probably safe to say that, in the U.S., there are more members outside of Utah and without a pioneer heritage than there are church members living in Utah or with a pioneer heritage.

I don’t think that the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes in it’s essential parts. But I do think that the understanding of the gospel and of its basic principles and how they are applied in our lives is bound to change as large influxes of different cultures are added to the fold.

Do you think this is so? Or, not so much? Do you think that there are things in Utah LDS society that are regarded almost like gospel principles, yet are not required for exaltation at all and are only cultural in nature? 

Here is a small example. I hope I can convey it aright. When I was a young mother there were ‘family home evening craft groups,’ essentially clubs, that got together to make crafty things for use in FHE. I did not take part in those groups. Mostly because they worked beyond my financial budget at the time.

Still, I remember feeling a bit like I wasn’t quite ‘part of the fold,’ or I wasn’t completely, all the way, Mormon. All because I didn’t have those crafty things for my family home evenings. Ridiculous, I know. Yet, shops marketing LDS products certainly seem to present the ‘LDS family’ in a certain way and I wasn’t sure if I fit that mold.

Some shops that sell products especially for the LDS family, often promote a lot of things that are more culterally a Utah LDS lifestyle, and not neccessarily so much a gospel oriented lifestyle.

I propose that one can live the gospel quite fully without all the extra Utah Fluff. Even as I write that, I’m not sure exactly what I mean by, all the Utah Fluff. Maybe I’m hoping each of you can help me identify exactly what it is. I’m not even suggesting that fluff is all bad, or even bad at all, but maybe I just need help in identifying what is real, true gospel principle and what is just ‘extra,’ and possibly even counter-productive.

But I do think problems arise, or rather problems may arise when the bigger message of what Christ wants each of us to know, i.e., the atonement, love God, love your neighbor, gets lost in all the fluff.

I think this is esspecially true if I were Asian, Russian, Brazilia,n or Dutch and was trying to make myself fit into a Utah Mormon mold in order to feel like I was part of Christ’s gospel. Even more so if I were from a country of more limited means than most people enjoy in the states. The way we spend our money to prove our ‘mormon-ness’ must seem outright outlandish and frivolous to some of our brothers and sisters from other countries.

Any thoughts?

{ 53 comments… add one }

  • Alison Moore Smith August 7, 2011, 10:25 pm

    Before having a meaningful discussion about this (without simply engaging in Utah bashing), you need to identify some things that fit the description.

    I understand where you’re coming from on the craft thing — my husband calls me the anti-craft — but the presentation has some problems.

    1. Women and crafts aren’t remotely isolated to Utahns nor to LDS women
    2. In spite of the fact that LDS women’s programs/activites tend to follow many of the interests women follow in general, doesn’t make it a Utah thing
    3. The fact that LDS women’s programs follow general women’s interests doesn’t mean anyone has conflated those general interest with gospel principles (most churches have gyms and the Young Men still shoot hoops, but I’ve never heard anyone seriously entertain the idea that basketball is a requirement for exaltation)
    4. My mom was never into crafts — even living in Utah almost all of her life (born in 1925) — but she was never a church outcast.
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  • Darcee Yates August 8, 2011, 9:21 am

    Alison your right, some of the things identified with our Utah Mormon culture could also be true of the cultural tags of Saints in Boise or Los Angeles or probably anywhere in the U.S. with some slight variations. Because a lot of the things that we do as LDS people is influenced by the American Culture. But I think if you step outside the U.S. that line of distiction might fade. And the cultural/historical setting of Japan might color the living of the gospel diferently, giving it a Japanese flavor- and I think that is as it should be. One shouldn’t lose their own family history tradition and background to conform to a Utah/American flavor of the gospel.

    I’m reminded of comments of how some of the members recieved the priesthood revelation back in the late 70’s( and I don’t want this discussion to go their at all, it’s been hammered to death)- But, I think the reason some people had a hard time with it was because they had a mind set of ‘this is the way things have always been done, so this is the way things are- period- end of story’ . We do things ‘certain’ ways in the church- traditions that emanate from the peope of Utah/pioneer heritage and spread outward to all the branches. I’m not knocking those ways- a great deal of them have great value- I’m just suggesting that they aren’t the only way.

    Alison your mind is so logical, which is in part why I started this thread. Note:

    “Even as I write that, I’m not sure exactly what I mean by, all the Utah Fluff. Maybe I’m hoping each of you can help me identify exactly what it is.”

    And I am hoping to get myself as well as others thinking about just exactly what the gospel is, right down to the most important parts. If this is truely to be a Global Church for all God’s children, it has to make allowances for all culteral backgrounds. The badge of our Mormonness shouldn’t be whether or not we quilt or bottle fruit (which I do occasionally, but only because I enjoy it.) It’s not the ‘styles’ we choose as an extention of our personality, ( as long as they are modest- and keep in mind modesty in one cultural setting is not so modest in another). Or the cadence and rhythm of the music that captures our hearts or the settings of the stories that teach righteous princeples.

    I certainly don’t want to invite Utah bashing(get that? NO UTAH bashing in subsequent comments!) but I just want to get some thoughtful exchange going on as to what is ‘gospel’ and what is extra stuff. I know that sounds poorly put- but it’s the best I can come up with right now. Yet I think this is important. Because maybe, what puts people off of the gospel, isn’t the gospel- but the extra ‘stuff’ we as a group add as if it were the gospel itself. Capiche?
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  • Melissa August 8, 2011, 9:46 am

    I don’t know that I’m qualified to discuss “Utah fluff” since I’ve never really lived in Utah. (I don’t think 2 years at BYU counts.) I did, however, serve a mission in Europe and I think that the ‘culture’ of the Gospel is the same, no matter where you are. I think that’s the beauty of it. Sure, there are some differences in favorite hymns, or how the ward Christmas party should be done, or object lessons used in talks (I live in rural Montana so there are lots of comparisons made to farming and ranching) but when you get right down to it, all faithful Latter-Day Saints are just doing their best to live the gospel according to their understanding, at least that’s my take on things. I am interested to hear if others have a different experience to share. Maybe there really is more ‘fluff’ than what I’ve experienced.

  • jennycherie August 8, 2011, 12:20 pm

    I feel like the “cultural perception,” especially when dealing with fluff of any variety, becomes most important in situations where one’s testimony is young, weak or struggling. So often the perceptions have more to do with the perceive-er than the reality. I cannot count the number of times in the last week that I have had someone tell me they felt “judged” by their VT, HT or some other good person who had come to their rescue. I don’t really think anyone was judging harshly, but the person who felt judged was feeling badly about the situation and perceiving all sorts of harshness that simply was not present.

    By the same token, isn’t is possible that those who are really worried about “fluff” or about being a “proper” Mormon Woman (of any location) are really focusing more on the wrong things? Or maybe their testimony is still needing some nurturing to get to the point where they don’t need outward, visible activities (canning, crafting, whatever) to feel like they belong?

    When I think of fluff, I think of things are actually good, worthy activities that simply don’t interest everyone. I mean, if you love crafts, great. Many women love crafts and most (in my experience) just consider it a hobby. If you run into a woman who thinks that crafting is in any way related to testimony or doctrine, that says more about her testimony than about anyone else’s or even about the culture of our church. Same things goes if you hate crafts. If you think that makes you not fit in at church, I think the solution is (definitely not to take up crafts!!) to work on your testimony, sit next to someone you haven’t talked to before, and seek ways to serve.

    I do think many times women can be competitive with one another and elevate the importance of homemaking skills that are not essential or required. Usually, when we do that, we are just (maybe subconsciously) looking to boost our own esteem more than anything.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 8, 2011, 3:42 pm

    I really love what Melissa and jennycherie said. I agree.

    … some of the things identified with our Utah Mormon culture could also be true of the cultural tags of Saints in Boise or Los Angeles or probably anywhere in the U.S. with some slight variations.

    What I meant wasn’t that Utah Mormons are a lot like Mormons in other places, but that Utah Mormons are a lot like other PEOPLE in general. It’s probably accurate to say that LDS women’s programs engage in many of the activities that non-LDS women’s programs do. (Women simply have been into homemaking, child rearing, crafts, etc., for…ever.) In other words, I’m simply contending the hard connection between those activities and the label “Utah Mormon activities” as opposed to “popular activities.”

    Because a lot of the things that we do as LDS people is influenced by the American Culture. But I think if you step outside the U.S. that line of distiction might fade.

    Certainly true. The church is headquartered in the US, so there will be great influence from that culture. I do think the leaders have made some strides in the past few years (homemaking/HFPE/Enrichment/etc. is one example) in making the church programs less US-centric.

    I’m praying for scouts to never again be part of the church! ;)

    I did see your disclaimer, but it’s almost like you’re saying that you’re bothered by Utah influence, even though you can’t identify it, but you want to identify it so…???…so you can be bothered by it?

    I’m reminded of comments of how some of the members recieved the priesthood revelation back in the late 70′s- But, I think the reason some people had a hard time with it was because they had a mind set of ‘this is the way things have always been done, so this is the way things are- period- end of story’ .

    I agree, but to be fair we have to understand that multiple general authorities explicitly made such declarations again and again. When you are told be leaders something is eternal principle and then are suddenly told it’s not, you are left to deal with a quandary.

    We do things ‘certain’ ways in the church- traditions that emanate from the peope of Utah/pioneer heritage and spread outward to all the branches. I’m not knocking those ways- a great deal of them have great value- I’m just suggesting that they aren’t the only way.

    So, which things are you suggesting are not “the only way”? I would probably agree on some and disagree on some, but it’s hard to respond to a generalization. Here’s one:

    White shirts. Yuck. Boring. Blah. Suggesting that a white shirt must be worn to pass the sacrament is, IMO, silly. However, I wouldn’t say that was a direct result of some pioneer thing, more one of western culture formality.

    The badge of our Mormonness shouldn’t be whether or not we quilt or bottle fruit

    I agree, but I’d point out that I simply don’t think those are badges of Mormonness. I don’t do either of them (never have) and would say that even here in my 100% “white shirt ward” in the middle of “Happy Valley,” a minority of women do even one or the other of those. And it’s never been an issue with anyone.

    When I was first married there was a still a heavy craft emphasis at homemaking and I still hated crafts. So, I went and talked to the other people doing crafts and laughed at how utterly lacking in such skills I was. Not only did I find other fellow craft-haters, but I made lots of friends and had fun. And I was never ousted. In fact, I was made RS president. (Probably a DIRECT result of hating crafts! ;) )
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  • Tracy Keeney August 8, 2011, 4:17 pm

    I think alot of what you’re talking about, the “Utah Fluff”, is merely an accessibility thing. Although, I think over time, and especially with the internet, that’s changed. It used to be that alot of the “fluff” could only be found if you had a Deseret Book, Missionary Emporium or Provo Craft nearby– which for a long time were only accessible out west. But now with online shopping, it’s accessible to pretty much everyone. So it’s becoming less and less of a Utah thing.
    I do know what you’re saying though. For along time, if you were outside of the areas highly populated by Mormons and stores that sold products targeting the LDS population, you were completely unaware of the fancy food storage systems, the Primary resource books that had all the pictures to go with all the songs in the Primary presentation ALL READY for you– you didn’t have to spend hours and hours trying to come up with your own– or that there were whole books filled with lesson helps and handouts for EVERY LESSON in the EVERY MANUAL for Young Women. And you were like “Where in the world did you get THAT?” They became super hot commodities and people were passing them around like crazy. It was like we were still only getting around by foot and the Utah transplants had brought the wheel. When I was Primary President, one of my counselors was a military transplant from Utah. When she went home to visit, me and the YW president put in our “orders”. We both wanted all the books with the lesson helps, I wanted the song helps for my chorister, I also wanted all the JKP songbooks.
    I’m not aware of anyone conflating any of that with doctrine per se, but I do know that people who were converts did sometimes feel like their lesson presentations, or their food storage or gardens or craftiness or __________( fill in whatever you wish) were “inferior” or “less Mormon-y” somehow because they didn’t have all the “fluff”.
    Although, I have to say, some of the BEST lessons I’ve ever sat through, were the ones that didn’t have all the fluff. The CONTENT was so well delivered, and the teacher led the discussions so well, that no fluff was needed anyway.

  • Jenni August 8, 2011, 5:18 pm

    I think there is still a perception of “Utah Culture” being “Mormon Culture”. Nothing used to bother my mother more than hearing, “well, you folks out there in the Mission Field”… I do think Utah gets a bad rap undeservedly sometimes as being narrow and shallow.

    I loved Tracy’s comments about Utah Fluff. I still have people pick up things for me when they head to Utah. I work hard not to use too much fluff and not enough content in my lesons. I think “kitchsy” Mormon materialistic items that come in and out of vogue contribute to the idea that Utah Mormon culture is shallow. I think they have their place as cute reminders or simple decor but cannot replace the depth of true devotion, worship and testimony.

    I wonder sometimes if we put a picture of a temple, Christ and the family proclamation on the wall and do a mental “check” forgetting the real purpose for having those reminders up front and personal for us in the first place.

  • Amber Mae August 8, 2011, 11:17 pm

    I’m reminded of the Tongans in my parents ward who all wear skirts to church – both men and women. They have adapted their culture to fit their religion (wearing shirts on top, not getting traditional tattoosc) but they have also remembered their culture and integrated it into church. I believe there are probably a lot of examples similar to this among various mormons.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 8, 2011, 11:34 pm

    Tracy, Missionary Emporium? What things from Missionary Emporium could have ever been declared doctrinal? :0

    For along time, if you were outside of the areas highly populated by Mormons and stores that sold products targeting the LDS population

    Back in the pre-internet days I ran a homeschool resource business. Almost none of my customers were from Florida. It’s this old fashioned thing called “mail order.” :) I bought stuff from Deseret Book all the time in Florida using this odd little thing they referred to as “a catalog.” Hard to remember the complicated details. ;)

    Jenni, welcome! :)

    Nothing used to bother my mother more than hearing, “well, you folks out there in the Mission Field”…

    This just came up with a good friend of mine last week who lives in Las Vegas. She was visiting Utah and heard someone in church make that reference and got her knickers in a bit of a twist about it…as if it was a necessary derogatory term (even though the context did not lend itself to that interpretation).

    The very, exact same day I got an email from one of the perms on another LDS blog I write for who is NOT from Utah and does NOT live in Utah, and he referred to his location as “the mission field.” When I lived in Florida, the term “the mission field” was used by non-Utahns to describe Florida ALL THE TIME. And very often it was used as a way to PUT DOWN “Utah Mormons.”

    “Well, here in the mission field we don’t take things for granted.”

    “In the mission field we don’t have a temple so close by.”

    “It’s harder to keep your standards in the mission field.”

    While I’m sure it’s been done, I have never heard “the mission field” used in Utah as a negative term. I’ve only heard it used as an easy way to describe areas that don’t have high Mormon populations.

    Amber Mae, I was thinking the same thing. My husband served a mission in Samoa (and lived there for three years as a kid, as well). He still has his dress lava-lavas.

    But you bring up an interesting point. Maybe tattoos are a perfect example. In the US, tattoos have been signature of kind of the rough, tough, hoodlum biker or the rebellious class. But in Polynesian cultures, they aren’t at all. They are part of the rite of manhood. Should that be eliminated for the sake of Polynesians not being confused for American Hell’s Angels?
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  • Darcee yates August 9, 2011, 8:46 am

    I appreciate all your comments everyone and helping me grope toward what I’m trying to get at. Several of your remarks rang a bell with my thoughts.
    1. White shirts- a way of showing respect- but mainly in western culture- although most of the global business world has adopted this as well, it’s not the traditional way to show respect in at ones apparel in all cultures.
    2. I really didn’t mean to bring up crafts as an example it was just the only one I could come up with late at night. The proclamation on the wall would serve just as well. Or expensive statues and mormon themed jewelry and art or whatever else we are being sold including books with perky helps for every age group on the church as if by owning such the gospel is taught better. I once had a friend tell me she had her children choose at an wary age which temple they wanted to marry in and then bought an expensive framed temple of their choice to hang on their bedroom wall.
    3. Tattoos. Are a good example as well of one of the thoughts rolling around the spacious interior of my head. I went to A Hawainn show with friends where one of the performed was my age-ish. He had the traditional ratios on both legs. My friends explained they had seen and met the same performer 30 years ago on their honeymoon and they spoke with him again with us. He had been a good will ambassador and faithful member throughout his life.
    Their was another point one of your remarks triggered for me but it eludes me now maybe it will come to me again.

    Oh ! The mission field comment. I too grew up on Florida and am very familiar with the ‘here in the mission field’ comment and understood it as a pat on the kind of statement reminding us that we are not materialistic sabbath breaking backsliders like the Utah Mormons. Only now lived in Utah for 33 years and at times I resemble that comment, at least to my friend that still lives in Florida. But in reality I think there are terrific members in both places and i’m not the best judge w of who is righteous and who isn’t. God is. I don’t know The intent of their hearts or their particular background which wether they grew up across the globe or across the street could be vastly different from my own.
    I flew with a flight attendant a month ago who grew up in south Africa and whose parents immigrated from brazil but she had a lovely British accent blond hair and blue eyes and in my mind she was from England. In other words her customs and upbringing was far more exotic than I was assuming which made for some interesting conversation on how she perceived the world as our trip together progressed.

    Different is good. For me it brings a greater awareness and understanding of ” we are all God’s children”. Thanks for listening to my ramblings.
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  • Darcee yates August 9, 2011, 8:51 am

    Please forgive the misplaced words. I’m working from a smart phone that has auto replaced a few of my words.
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  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 8:57 am

    “Back in the pre-internet days I ran a homeschool resource business. Almost none of my customers were from Florida. It’s this old fashioned thing called “mail order.” I bought stuff from Deseret Book all the time in Florida using this odd little thing they referred to as “a catalog.”

    But Alison, you were FROM Utah– you knew they existed. YOU were the person that everyone in my ward would have been asking “Where did you get THAT from?” And once we find out– where do we get the “mail order form” from? You’d have to hope there was a phone number or address somewhere on an item. If not, you have to call
    Utah information and find a phone number for the company. Not that any of that is difficult, but it demonstrates that accessibility is an issue. When you live in Utah and there’s a distribution center,Deseret Book, Seagull, etc, etc somewhere nearby where you can pop in just before you head to Albertson’s for some milk– that certainly makes it easier.
    Just shortly before I moved from South Carolina– and this would have been 90-92, one of the sisters in my mother’s ward started a little “bookstore” in her house. I can’t remember who she had it through– Covenant or Deseret I suppose. She had ONE bookshelf in her home where she had some books and materials. She also had a catalog you could look through and order things. But we’re talking about an area where your ward boundaries might cover 200 square miles. It was probably a good 20-25 miles of winding backwoods roads from my mother’s house in Columbia, to Sis. Session’s house in Blythewood.
    My mention of Missionary Emporium is because I remember sending my brother letters and packages while he was on his mission. Then I went to Utah myself and saw that there was a WHOLE STORE dedicated to “fluff” to send to missionaries and it was all DESIGNED to send
    SPECIFICALLY to missionaries. So they had these cutesy “missionary quips” on them–sayings from moms, sisters, brothers, girlfriends,e tc. There were pillow cases, envelope stickers, greeting cards, framed posters, pictures, jewelry, T-shirts, mugs, ties, sweatshirts–all with clever and funny little missionary-related sayings, jigsaw puzzles that spelled out a clever “missing you” message once you put it together. They even had all sorts of candies packaged to look like prescription medications, complete with instructions for how and when to take them. “I’m Getting Trunky” pills. “Miss Mom’s Cooking” pills. “Stay away from girls” pills or whatever. I don’t remember what all they were– but it was that kind of thing. And I was like– oh my gosh– THIS is what people send to missionaries?? And I was just sending a regular ‘ol letter, some socks and bags of gummy bears…. bags that weren’t packaged FOR missionaries and didn’t have a clever saying on the front like “I Miss My Missionary BEARY Much”.

  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 9:23 am

    But again– that was the late 80’s and early 90’s– with the internet, accessibility isn’t as much of an issue.
    Darcee– in reference to the cultural aspects of different countries– that’s sometimes a totally different animal.
    For a long time, it seemed that Polynesians felt like it was “okay” for them to get the cultural tattoos. They felt that it was a way of preserving their heritage– and in a way it really WAS since the tattoos were often genealogical in nature. Even BEFORE the “no tattoos” “no multiple piercings” came from the conference pulpit, it was clear to many members– and I would even say most members, felt that those things were no-no’s. They seemed to sort of come along with the “your body is a temple” territory, you know?
    With the influx of African membership (and I mean African, not black American), dancing became an issue too. Some of the dancing was very sexual in nature (and it bleed into American pop dancing) . This subject actually came up during a RS lesson–we were talking about the negative influence of some music, dance, etc , and an African sister from the Ivory Coast immediately started defending the nature of some of the dances from her country, with the notion that it was “cultural” and a part of her heritage. She said that we couldn’t judge another cultures practices by American standards. For some things that’s true, but in this specific discussion I thoroughly disagreed — as did some other sisters who tried to gently suggest an opposing opinion and why. If suggestive dancing is wrong– it’s wrong, whether you’re American or African. If mutilating someone’s genitalia is wrong, it’s wrong whether you’re a sicko pervert in America or a Zulu priest in Africa.
    It was only a year or so after that discussion that the subject came up in General Conference. I’ll have to see if I can find the transcript– but one of the GA’s said something about leaving behind cultural practices of our heritage that are in conflict with the teachings of the gospel and adopting the ways of the Lord. He brought up how the cultural practices of the Lamanites came to be. They were originally Jews who were living just like the Nephites. Then they seperated themselves and purposely developed their OWN cultural differences and practices to seperate themselves from the people of Christ. They shaved their heads, wore war paint, were almost naked in their dress, and they DYED their skin. What does that sound like?

  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 9:35 am

    I think this is the talk I was thinking of– I’ll just post some of the main points, but if you want to read the whole talk it’s from Dallin H. Oaks’ talk in the October 2003 conference.

    “……The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change. “Repent” is its most frequent message, and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change.

    John the Baptist preached repentance. His listeners came from different groups, and he declared the changes each must make to “bring forth … fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). Publicans, soldiers, and ordinary people—each had traditions that had to yield to the process of repentance.

    The teachings of Jesus also challenged the traditions of different groups. When the scribes and Pharisees complained that His disciples “transgress[ed] the tradition of the elders” by omitting the ritual washings, Jesus replied that the scribes and Pharisees “transgress[ed] the commandment of God by [their] tradition” (Matt. 15:2–3). He described how they had “made the commandment of God of none effect by [their] tradition” (Matt. 15:6). “Hypocrites” is what He called those whose adherence to their traditions kept them from keeping the commandments of God (Matt. 15:7).

    Again, in modern revelation the Lord declares that the “wicked one” takes the innocent children of God away from light and truth “through disobedience … and because of the tradition of their fathers” (D&C 93:39).

    The traditions or culture or way of life of a people inevitably include some practices that must be changed by those who wish to qualify for God’s choicest blessings…..

    ….the present-day servants of the Lord do not attempt to make Filipinos or Asians or Africans into Americans. The Savior invites all to come unto Him (see 2 Ne. 26:33; D&C 43:20), and His servants seek to persuade all—including Americans—to become Latter-day Saints. We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God. If we cease to walk in darkness, the Apostle John taught, “we walk in the light, … we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7)……..

    ……Jesus commanded us to love one another, and we show that love by the way we serve one another. We are also commanded to love God, and we show that love by continually repenting and by keeping His commandments (see John 14:15). And repentance means more than giving up our sins. In its broadest meaning it requires change, giving up all of our traditions that are contrary to the commandments of God. As we become full participants in the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we become “fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 12:38 pm

    Darcee #10, thanks for the comment. I think my point would be that none of the things I’ve seen mentioned are some kind of “Utah” thing, they are US things or women things, but not Utahn. Even jello is said by many to be evangelical, not Mormon. :) How can they steal jello??? ;)

    I heard the same things about Sabbath slacking and stuff in Florida. Until finally, after YEARS, I countered it. My Boca ward had over 50% inactivity. Not the PC “less active.” INACTIVE. I generally was assigned to visit 8-10 women and my husband home taught about 10 families.

    In my experience the lack of religious dedication is about the same EVERYWHERE.

    In Utah, the “slackers” often go to church — in spite of less than overflowing spiritual interest/dedication — because it’s the cultural thing to do. All your neighbors go, all your friends go, and if you mow your lawn on Sunday instead of going to church you get funny looks. There is CULTURAL pressure to attend church in parts of Utah.

    In Florida, most of those less dedicated simply had nothing to do with the church at all except the coerced visiting teaching visit or monthly letter.

    Is one worse than the other? I’ve seen pros and cons to both behaviors and think it’s pretty much a wash. Mostly, I strongly object to the divisiveness derived from the us vs. them mentality this brings about. But to get upset about the term “mission field” itself, as I’ve heard it used, is nonsensical.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 12:54 pm

    But Alison, you were FROM Utah– you knew they existed. YOU were the person that everyone in my ward would have been asking “Where did you get THAT from?”

    My point exactly. I did know they existed. But obviously the only people who were BOTHERED by them ALSO knew they existed. If people didn’t know someone, somewhere had a cool visual aid or swirly girl bracelet, then no one would be bothered, right? So “only some people know” isn’t an issue.

    And, no, people didn’t ask me where I got stuff, because I NEVER ordered anything that I used as a visual or lesson aid for church. Ever. I ordered books to read and a couple of FHE manuals. Everything else I ordered was from Church Distribution — through mail order: pictures, manuals, scriptures, etc. Before I came back from Florida, I had NEVER been to a physical Church Distribution site.

    And once we find out– where do we get the “mail order form” from?

    Um, the same place the OTHER person got it? “You’d have to hope there was a phone number”? Sure the internet is easier (for everyone, even Utahns!), but people have managed to get stuff from other places forever. Of course brick and mortar stores sell where they have an actual customer base, but even before the internet, even in Florida, I wasn’t deprived of Mormon kitsch if I really needed it.

    And still that doesn’t translate into the OP’s complaint, that someone those without the kitsch are outsiders in Mormonville.

    Then I went to Utah myself and saw that there was a WHOLE STORE dedicated to “fluff” to send to missionaries and it was all DESIGNED to send SPECIFICALLY to missionaries.

    So? An inordinate number of Utahns write to missionaries, so there is a market for something like that. (The store went out of business years ago, btw.)

    And I was like– oh my gosh– THIS is what people send to missionaries??

    So THERE is the real problem. YOU saw some cute marketing materials and got insecure about it. The idea that there is some reasonable notion that you were SUPPOSED to send those things to missionaries or that it would make you a BETTER Mormon wasn’t from some inappropriate directive about what to send missionaries, was just imagined.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Argumentum Ad Populum – Logical FallacyMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 1:04 pm

    For a long time, it seemed that Polynesians felt like it was “okay” for them to get the cultural tattoos.

    My opinion is that the no tattoos/no piercings is 100% US cultural directive. Just as is the short hair for men. I think it comes utterly from the perception that tattoos, piercings, and long hair bring (particularly to OLDER Americans) are how druggies, thugs, hippies, and other ne’er-do-wells dress. And Mormons shouldn’t look like druggies, thugs, hippies, and/or ne’er-do-wells.

    Understand, I believe in following counsel — and took out all my extra earrings when this was declared — but I don’t think there is any other reason for it and do think other cultures should be accommodated.

    If mutilating someone’s genitalia is wrong, it’s wrong whether you’re a sicko pervert in America or a Zulu priest in Africa.

    And I hope no one here has a circumsised son!

    I absolutely agree, Tracy, that every culture has to leave behind the immoral aspects of it to follow Christ. But in doing so, we need to identify those things that are truly immoral in themselves, and those that are just perceived so based on circumstance.

    Christ had long hair and wore dresses.

    A couple more items for consideration: men must wear ties; women must wear pantyhose. Augh!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Logical Fallacy ExamplesMy Profile

  • jennycherie August 9, 2011, 1:53 pm

    “In my experience the lack of religious dedication is about the same EVERYWHERE.”
    AMEN, to that!

    Re: the tattoos – it hadn’t really occurred to me that it might be just our cultural perception. I can definitely see where that is possible, but I also think that it is possible that that is just some we are not supposed to do anywhere. I mean, on the one hand, if one ear piercing is acceptable, and circumcision is acceptable, and having reconstructive surgery is acceptable, then clearly it is okay for us to change our bodies. But I can also see where tattoos could be seen as marking the body in a way that would not be pleasing to God. Maybe it is heavily based in our cultural perceptions, but I feel like it might be more. I have a friend at work who has many, many tattoos and plans for many more. She has “dedicated” various parts of her body to a particular type of expression. For instance, one arm has tattoos representing her children, one leg is for her extended family, etc. As I listened to her describing this one night, I was impressed by her thoughtfulness, but also bothered by her intense focus on decorating her body. I guess it is that intense focus on body decoration that I think might be displeasing to Heavenly Father.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 2:35 pm

    jennycherie, it might be. I just have no doctrinal information that leads me to believe that inking is inherently immoral.

    For the record, I don’t have any tattoos. I hate them and think they are stupid. And I rewrote Jordin Sparks song “Tattoo” thusly:

    You’re still a part of everything I do
    You’re on my heart just like a tattoo
    Saggy and blue
    I’ll always have you

    Another note, I think it is REASONABLE to design policy around culture, since we live IN culture.

    The general conference attire of our general female leaders would be absolutely scandalously immodest in Brigham Young’s day. Today’s modest swimsuit would have been offensive at the turn of the last century.

    The modesty requirements are fluid and seem mostly related to being “conservative” within the current US culture — whatever that is. That doesn’t make them unimportant or illogical, but we should recognize the truth about them.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…House Full of Children – Elizabeth BarkleyMy Profile

  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 3:26 pm

    “My point exactly. I did know they existed. But obviously the only people who were BOTHERED by them ALSO knew they existed.”
    Well, I think we’re talking about two different things then. I’m not aware of anyone being “bothered” by it– we were ENVIOUS! We WANTED all that cool stuff that would make our callings easier and help us present our lessons in a fun, different or “frilly” way– and there wasn’t anywhere to go and get it. And when Sis. Sessions opened her bookstore, she had very little in it and they didn’t have everything in the catalog. They didn’t have the JKP songbooks– the only thing she had in the catalog was Song of the Heart– a purple spiral book of YW songs by various composers. The catalog also didn’t have the cutesy Primary stuff– I think the books were called Bright Ideas? Or something like that. The only primary stuff it had was those cut outs to make flannelboard presentations. So I ordered those and the YW songbook– it took almost 2 months to get it. And I had to wait for a friend to go to Utah to get the JKP and lesson helps stuff.
    I think– if I’m understanding Darcee correctly– the point was that when people from other cultures who don’t have the “fluff” see those who do (and this applied to members in areas without stores that sold the fluff) it sometimes made the others feel like their presentations weren’t as “Mormon-y” and they wanted all that stuff to feel “as good as”. It IS a silly thing– because it really doesn’t have anything to do with Mormonism. But all the “fluff” added a pizazz and made you feel like your lessons were kind of drab and you wanted all the fluff, too, so your lesson could be as good as Sis. Smith’s. Then you find out they got all their fancy handouts and stuff at some store in Utah and you didn’t really have access to that. But like Jennifer said– the people who had all the fluff weren’t doing anything wrong. They simply had easy accessibility to entrepeneurs and stores that were targeting a market that was immediately surrounding them. It’s the insecurity of converts comparing themselves to lifelong members from Utah who DID have easy access to those kinds of things– for whom and where it was the NORM to have fancily framed pictures of Christ– the ones that we only saw in the Ensign or in church manuals.

    “Um, the same place the OTHER person got it? “

    Honestly Alison, the “other” person got them in Utah, they didn’t “order” them through the mail. They were from Utah and either already had them when the moved in the ward, or bought them when they went home for visits. Even the sisters who had all that stuff never said anything about a mail order form– they said they could pick stuff up for us when they went home, so that’s what they did.

    “So THERE is the real problem. YOU saw some cute marketing materials and got insecure about it. The idea that there is some reasonable notion that you were SUPPOSED to send those things to missionaries or that it would make you a BETTER Mormon wasn’t from some inappropriate directive about what to send missionaries, was just imagined.”

    Of course! I think that’s exactly what Darcee was talking about though– and what Jennifer was saying as well. It’s what I said, too. But when the only people who have all the “Kitsch” are the people from Utah and you sort of associate Utah with “real mormonism”– which IS what often happens with converts who constantly feel like they’re having to play catch up in all the other realms as well– spiritually, in dress, in WOW issues, in scripture and church history knowledge, etc– then unfortunately, the “fluff” sort of gets conflated with the religion, because it seemed like it was the Utah mormons that had the “whole package”– even down to the fluff they put in their packages to missionaries.
    It isn’t logical at all, but it’s just what happens alot. When nearly everyone in the ward is either a convert or only a second generation member who has never been in a community that’s mostly LDS, and only a few members are lifelong members from Utah, believe me, the Utahans stand out. It USED to be that you could walk into a ward in Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia or New York– or even any of the military branches I attended in Germany, and pick out the people who were from Utah. And I promise, I’m not talking about accents. You could tell by the way they dressed, the way the women did their hair, the way they gave talks, the way they gave lessons, the verbiage they used, even the tone and timbre of voice when they spoke.
    As to the mutilation of genitalia– there’s a difference between God directing circumsion at one time, and man cutting off girls’ for his own perverted or selfish/power hungry purposes.
    ” I absolutely agree, Tracy, that every culture has to leave behind the immoral aspects of it to follow Christ. But in doing so, we need to identify those things that are truly immoral in themselves, and those that are just perceived so based on circumstance.”
    Understood– but I think the point Elder Oaks was making in his talk is that alot of “those things” aren’t immoral in themselves– but because they were born out of rebellion and now are carried on and excused as “the tradition of their fathers”.
    The wearing of ties and/or pantyhose or the length of ones hair is a different thing to me– those are clearly cultural differences that have no morality tied to them. I think that’s why, for example, Church leaders have never said anything negative about Polynesian men continuing to wear their Lava-lavas as part of their church dress. Interesting though that they DO ask them to wear shirts and ties— so I think that’s a part of what Elder Oaks was talking about as well. They want the priesthood to stand out as the priesthood– especially in the adminstering of ordinances–and manner of dress is one of those ways. So they wear their Lava-lavas on the bottom, still reflecting their culture and not doing anything connected to rebellion, but wearing a shirt and tie on top, thus “fellow citizens with the Saints and the household of God.” And outward expression maybe, of unity as the priesthood.
    On the other hand doing something drastic, like wearing a mohawk, even nowadays is a sign of rebellion and a demand for negative attention. But even in the Book of Mormon– long before druggies, hippies and the whole 60’s rebellion– the shaving of their heads, staining their foreheads with blood, and dyeing their skin was because of rebellion and a departure from the ways of truth. And obviously– that carried through century after century after century among various cultures. Alot of these things are religious rites– religions that worship false Gods or worship God, but with the “false traditions of their fathers”.

  • Darcee Yates August 9, 2011, 5:25 pm

    This discussion has gone in several different directions, not all of which I can claim as part of my original intent. Which is absolutely terrific- I’ve loved reading your different perspectives.

    I like what you said here, Alison- it’s succinct and makes a piont I heartily agree with.

    “every culture has to leave behind the immoral aspects of it to follow Christ. But in doing so, we need to identify those things that are truly immoral in themselves, and those that are just perceived so based on circumstance.”

    But my intent is more than that. The above statement suggests to me, that we are looking through someone’s box of treasures and telling them, “O.K., I guess this and that one are alright, – that is, they won’t hurt, -but the rest have to go.”

    However, I think that my original thought was broader and stemmed from an idea that there may be some non-western ways of doing things that would/could be brought into the gospel fold that would not only ‘not denegrate’ the enjoyment or understanding of the Gospel plan but that would ADD to it(note-add to the “enjoyment or understnad of” -NOT add to the gospel). And not just in comparing western/to eastern thought. We have a Latin American sister in our ward that constantly adds definition and insight to our discussions by way of her seeing things in a way that is unique.

    Don’t misunderstand- the gospel of Jesus Christ remains the same. The way it is perceived, internalized, appreciated, shown reverence to, may take on a more definition.

    The whole thing about the Utah Fluff? Hopefully we’ve come to realize that fluff isn’t necessary for feeling, teaching or spreading the gospel. Maybe that’s why the missionary emporium went out of business.
    Darcee Yates recently posted…No WhiningMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 6:18 pm

    Well, I think we’re talking about two different things then. I’m not aware of anyone being “bothered” by it– we were ENVIOUS!

    I’d classify “envious” under the umbrella of being bothered, but whatever. :)

    The OP was about some level of perceived Mormonness that was somehow troubling (or unfair, or problematic) because it was presented as core gospel or unattainable by people outside of Utah. I asked for examples of fluff being presented as essential, and got examples that don’t fit. I point out that when I lived in Florida I still had access to the things heretofore mentioned, but it doesn’t count because I KNEW about them. I point out that no one feels bad about not having access to resources unless they ALSO know about them, and it doesn’t count because in order to get the things they know about, they’d have to (horrors!) make a phone call or obtain an order form (just like I did). And I pointed out that even though I never bought any of those lesson add-ons — even though I knew about them and was willing to make a phone call to get them — I haven’t been ousted from Mormonism (even in Utah where, apparently, everyone else is MORE Mormon than I am) and it’s ignored.

    (1) I’m still just trying to find out what “Mormon fluff” is. (I assume it’s nonessentials, but just about everything in the CHURCH structure is nonessential.)(SCOUTS!)

    (2) And what part of this “fluff” from Utah is being preached as gospel doctrine and essential to salvation? (And what part is actually from Utah anyway?)

    We WANTED all that cool stuff that would make our callings easier and help us present our lessons in a fun, different or “frilly” way– and there wasn’t anywhere to go and get it.

    Except the same place *I* would have gotten in, had I been inclined to ever get anything frilly to present class material. By making a phone call or mailing in an order. Once you knew enough to be ENVIOUS of the stuff someone else had, you pretty much had all the info you needed to GET it. Unless you had some weirdees in your ward who had stuff but wouldn’t tell you where they got it. (People in Utah have to DRIVE SOMEWHERE if they don’t want to use the phone. It doesn’t just appear in their laps.)

    They didn’t have the JKP songbooks…

    This, my dear, is one of the greatest blessings of being in “the mission field”!!! >:->

    It seems like your greatest contention is that it took effort to get stuff when you lived in a place that didn’t have the population to support it being sold locally. I get that that might be inconvenient — in Boca I could get anything kosher I wanted, but there wasn’t any Postum in sight (not that I’d drink it, but…), but it isn’t some great injustice or mean that Utahns think they do it “right” or that Utahns think they are better — or that it makes sense for people to conflate bookmarks with ordinances. It just means that businesses could more easily sell to the people who lived close by, but those who didn’t could still get it if they MADE THE EFFORT.

    … when people from other cultures who don’t have the “fluff” see those who do it sometimes made the others feel like their presentations weren’t as “Mormon-y”

    One of my major parenting points has been to tell my kids that no one “makes” them do anything. But outside of that, I don’t see the point unless someone is actually presenting the extras as being essential. I haven’t seen that shown. If someone feels inferior to the gal who has all the purchased cutouts, I’d say she’s confused or covetous or unwilling to do some work or something else along those lines.

    Extras can be nice, pure and simple. (Even though I almost never have anything like that. When I teach RS, I don’t so much as put on a lace tablecloth.) My mom was the quintessential Primary chorister. She had BOATLOADS of “fluff.” But all of it helped kids remember stuff, helped kids be excited to sing, AND…she made it all by hand with construction paper and discarded mimeographed test papers.

    I dare say that anyone in “the mission field” could gather up some scratch paper (from the church library) and fold a paper airplane or bring a wedding photo or tell a fun story using their hands as props (that’s what I do). It’s pretty hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that someone could see a purchased bulletin board story and not reasonably be expected to understand that there are alternatives accessible to anyone (even those who can’t afford a book or won’t make a phone call).

    What Darcee actually said was:

    But I do think problems arise, or rather problems may arise when the bigger message of what Christ wants each of us to know, i.e., the atonement, love God, love your neighbor, gets lost in all the fluff.

    So, my question is, when has the atonement been lost because someone bought a flannel board story or had a bracelet with the value colors on it? And what does that have to do with Utah culture?

    They simply had easy accessibility to entrepeneurs and stores that were targeting a market that was immediately surrounding them

    Or they just took the trouble to get it. Or to make it themselves. Like I said, I really don’t get this idea that before internet, people in the US outside of the MORMON ZONE couldn’t get LDS stuff. I did. I knew lots of people who did.

    Honestly Alison, the “other” person got them in Utah, they didn’t “order” them through the mail.

    Tracy, I got them in the mail all the time! You call the 800 number, you ask for an item (by description or name, not even by number) and they look up some stuff and describe it, you give a credit card, they ship. Yes, it’s true. It really happened. Over and over.

    I don’t think you need to have first hand experience with a mail ordering Church Distribution or Deseret Book customer to be aware that companies actually ship product. And you could certainly CALL them and ASK them.

    When I started Bright Spark Press in the early 90s, I had NO IDEA how to order wholesale books. I had no experience and no friends in the book business. So I looked on the back of my kids’ math text, found the publisher, went to the library and looked up an address, and wrote them a letter asking how to order wholesale. And they sent me a letter back explaining their terms.

    And then I sold my stuff using a CATALOG and MAILING to customers around the country. (BTW, Deseret Book would only allow wholesaling to those who ordered $3,000 or more stock, so I didn’t sell any of their stuff.)

    But when the only people who have all the “Kitsch” are the people from Utah and you sort of associate Utah with “real mormonism”…

    Then people need to stop making indefensible leaps in logic. Let’s hold people accountable for being dumb! (Yes, I said dumb.)

    You’re talking about “the mission field” and converts there and yet somehow it’s the Utah Mormons that have moved to “the mission field” that somehow become the standard with regard to appropriate kitsch? Why don’t the converts notice the Mormons in their wards who did NOT come from Utah — and who apparently have NO ACCESS to phones or mail — and who don’t have all the amazing cutouts? Why don’t those become the standard? Or at least, why doesn’t the fact that SOME have the fluff and some do NOT make some kind of impression — such as, “I guess the fluff is optional since not everyone has it, even some pretty good people.”? Or why don’t they ASK someone, “Are fancy pictures of Jesus important?”

    Unless of course, it’s the Utah Mormons who not ONLY have the kitsch, but ALSO are the MOST spiritual, kind, helpful, service-oriented, and have a glowing light around them making them obviously superior to those without the kitsch. In other words, the converts are CONFUSED by the coincidental fact that ALL the “really good Mormons” they know also happen to be from Utah and so have Utah kitsch.

    Which couldn’t be true, because what I always here is that Utah Mormons are the slackers…

    Given that, I can’t figure out how kitsch gets confused with being good. I REALLY CAN’T!

    You could tell by the way they dressed, the way the women did their hair, the way they gave talks, the way they gave lessons, the verbiage they used, even the tone and timbre of voice when they spoke.

    Of course you can to some extent, although I promise you would not be able to identify me by the way I give talks, lessons, or my timbre. Hair, probably. Dress, probably. But not tone. I’m NASTY! (But you already know that.)

    As to the mutilation of genitalia– there’s a difference between God directing circumsion at one time, and man cutting off girls’ for his own perverted or selfish/power hungry purposes.

    Sure there’s a difference. There’s always a difference between different things. But circumcision is still mutilation of genitalia.

    I think the point Elder Oaks was making in his talk is that alot of “those things” aren’t immoral in themselves– but because they were born out of rebellion and now are carried on and excused as “the tradition of their fathers”.

    That’s a very hard position to defend. Short skirts (as in the kind our general leaders wear now) and swimsuits that expose arms, back, and thighs (as in the “modest” suits of today) would probably classify as having been originally “born out of rebellion.” I think the better question is whether they represent rebellion NOW.

    Gotta run…
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 9, 2011, 6:27 pm

    I think that my original thought was broader and stemmed from an idea that there may be some non-western ways of doing things that would/could be brought into the gospel fold that would not only ‘not denegrate’ the enjoyment or understanding of the Gospel plan but that would ADD to it

    I agree. Do you have particulars in mind? I think that kind of thing is dependent upon those WITHIN that culture to bring it into the church, appropriate. (With the understanding that the gospel isn’t cultural at it’s core.)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…House Full of Children – Elizabeth BarkleyMy Profile

  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 6:34 pm

    “However, I think that my original thought was broader and stemmed from an idea that there may be some non-western ways of doing things that would/could be brought into the gospel fold that would not only ‘not denegrate’ the enjoyment or understanding of the Gospel plan but that would ADD to it”

    I agree 100%. I love for example, other cultures’ traditions in how they care for and honor their elderly–something that seems to have nearly disappeared in American culture. Frankly, I think the lack of this even within the church is pretty darn pathetic.
    I would especially love to see the influence of other cultures’ music in our arrangments of hymns and original hymns themselves.

  • Tracy Keeney August 9, 2011, 9:43 pm

    “I asked for examples of fluff being presented as essential,”

    Well, I never thought it was presented as essential– and I didn’t realize that’s what you were asking for. It wasn’t that THEY presented anything as essential– but rather that since it was only common among the members from Utah it appeared that it must be the “norm” out there, which was different than the “norm” elsewhere and people feel the need to fit the mold that THEY perceived as “the right” mold or “the better” mold. Do you see what I’m saying? I think your example of clothing fits well here. Is there a GA’s wife that DOESN’T always wear a business suit everytime she speaks in conference? Usually one in pastel? I remember well when one of our ward member’s husband’s was called to be the Stake President. All of a sudden her wardrobe changed. She wasn’t wearing dresses anymore. She was wearing the pastel business suits. Is that “essential”? I doubt it. But she clearly felt the need to change her wardrobe. I assume, though I could be wrong, that she did so to “fit the mold”. If the GA’s wives are always wearing business suits, it’s likely that she felt that maybe she should too, since her husband was put in a position of higher authority.

    “Once you knew enough to be ENVIOUS of the stuff someone else had, you pretty much had all the info you needed to GET it. ”

    And I DID get it, like I said, I just had to wait almost two months to get it– which was fine, I was just excited to get it. And the other stuff– there was no “order form” I was aware of, and I assume the sisters who had the stuff already weren’t aware of one either, because they never said “here’s an order form” or “I’ll get an order form for you” or “there’s a the number you can call”– they simply offered to pick things up for us the next time they went out to Utah. Was the an order form? According to you there was– and I’m not doubting you– but no one ever said anything about one. They just said they’d get stuff for us–so we took them up on it. In the meantime, we just passed the books around between primary, RS and YW and got as many ideas and copied as many pages as we thought we could use.
    I’ll give my attempt to answer your specific questions:
    1)What is “Mormon fluff?”
    Yes, it’s non-essentials. And I think the reason it’s tied to the religion, (as opposed to just women-though it’s clearly a “woman” thing since no one thinks of Mormon Fluff in relation to Young Men or Elder’s quorum) is because, at least from my experience, it was a uniquely “Mormon” women phenomenon. And maybe other people, having come from other religions can say whether or not they saw “fluff” as a regular part of their classes in their previous churches. (Jenn?) But in my own experience, having gone to church services with several of my friends of other faiths, family members of other faiths, having spent half my teenage years attending Catholic services, and attended youth group with my Catholic and Baptist friends, having been to Baptist, Catholic and Methodist Sunday school classes, having worked in a privately owned daycare that spent two weeks taking the kids to Vacation Bible School each summer and sitting through that with my class, and having occasionally gone to a non-denominational Christian women’s bible study class with a friend, I’ve never seen all the “fluff” that you see in LDS meetings at any of meetings of other faiths I attended–at least not nearly to the extent. There’s no lace tablecloth and arrangments of flowers up on a table at the front of the classroom with a beautifully framed painting of Christ resting on an easel draped in red velour cloth and different little statues of Christ surrounding it– one kneeling in Gethsemane and one of him surrounded by children with one on his knee. In fact, there usually wasn’t a table at all — the class members were usually sitting in a circle of metal chairs. There weren’t fancy handouts with ribbon tied to them, no candy bars with photocopied wrappers saying “SWEET is the peace the gospel brings” or packs of gum with a photocopied “CHEWS the right” wrapper. The children’s songs at Vacation Bible School were not only horribly written and virtually useless in teaching doctrine or anything really meaningful, but the teachers had no props or prompts at ALL for teaching the songs, other than putting the words up on an overhead projector, which did no good whatsoever for the young ones who couldn’t read. (That VBS experience made me appreciate our Primary program at a much higher level than ever before.)
    When I was working at the Catholic school and had a 14 year old going there, I helped to chaperone the dances. It was very similar to going to a youth dance. They had dress standards, standards for the music, rules about hanging around outside, etc, etc. The difference was the “fluff” was missing. And I know about the fluff— I was in the
    Stake YW presidency. There wasn’t ONE DANCE that didn’t have a theme and decorations all over the place. And we didn’t just put out bowls of chips and cans of pop like they did at the CAtholic youth dances. We had chocolate fountains for dipping marshmellows, strawberries, oreos, and bananas, we had cheese and crackers on three-tiered silver servers, beautifully decorated cupcakes on upside-down plastic cups glued into a “tree” of sorts, I could go on and on. (One dance wasn’t nearly as fancy– but that was to fit the theme of Saturday morning cartoons. Everyone came in T-shirts and long flannel pants or sweatpants and slippers, there were cartoon character cut outs on the walls and hanging from the ceiling and the food table was covered with boxes and boxes of breakfast cereal and gallons and gallons of milk. )
    I hope you understand, I’m not CRITICIZING the use of “fluff” at all. I like the fluff– I think it’s often very helpful in creating a warm and inviting environment. I think it’s helpful in capturing attention and giving people visual cues to help them internalize an idea or principle. In the case of youth activities it just makes it fun and encourages participation. It certainly isn’t necessary or essential, or a matter of doctrine. And like I said earlier, some of the best lessons I’ve sat it on were completely without any “fluff”– but that was a matter of having very good teachers who really knew how to lead fruitful, effective discussions. They knew how to ask the right questions to get people thinking more in depth and not just giving surface answers.

    ” 2)And what part of this “fluff” from Utah is being preached as gospel doctrine and essential to salvation?”

    None of it. But as I said before, it’s not a matter of how it’s being presented or preached– but how it’s perceived. And I wouldn’t even say that it was PERCEIVED as “doctrine” or “essential to salvation”– but just as what’s better since it seemed to be the “norm” from those out West.

    “but it isn’t some great injustice” — I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it was.

    “..or mean that Utahns think they do it “right” or that Utahns think they are better ”

    AHHHH— here’s the problem in our conversation. I’m not aware of anyone thinking that UTAHANS thought that they did it “right” or that UTAHANS thought they do it better. I thought I was pretty clear about this– but I guess I wasn’t. It wasn’t that the people from Utah thought they did it better or more right, but that it was common for converts to look at lifelong members and Utah mormons as doing it better or “more right”. It wasn’t about what converts or members outside of Utah thought that UTAHANS felt about themselves, it’s what many CONVERTS thought about THEMSELVES compared to what they perceived the “norm” or the “mold” was, by what they SAW in in the members from Utah. Is that more clear?
    Like I said earlier– it isn’t logical. I’m not even really sure I can explain why, but it’s just very common for converts and those who weren’t brought up in “mormon culture” to look up to those who were as examples of “true mormonhood”. I think that goes away after awhile. Once they feel confidant, once they feel like they’ve more fully integrated into the cultural part of it. I know for me, once I felt like I really “knew” the gospel because of sincere personal study and prayer,had fully integrated the gospel into my everyday life, had repeated temple attendence etc, I no longer felt a distinction between myself and a “Utah mormon.” But it took me a few years into my marriage for all that to happen.

  • Amber Mae August 9, 2011, 10:23 pm

    Every time I read these forums my eyes are opened to how differently we all percieve the gospel.

    “My opinion is that the no tattoos/no piercings is 100% US cultural directive”

    Alison – As far as I am concerned general conference is not aimed only at the U.S. if that were so then why welcome everyone watching around the world, and why distribute the messages in so many languages and in so many places. This is why I interpret the directive to not have tattoos as a world wide directive, it has been mentioned multiple times in coference. As far as whether or not this is doctrinally based or not I always assumed it had something to do with our bodies being a temple.
    I do understand what you’re saying about things being OK or not in certain contexts. My mother’s generation interprets slightly longer hair on men as being a sign of rebellion. I’ll never forget when my young women’s leader chastened me for complimenting a young man’s almost shaggy hair. I thought it was ridiculous. I had never heard anything other than be clean cut, and to me clean cut didn’t mean a buzz cut. It meant well-groomed. Cultural differences can be generational as well as locational.

  • Amber Mae August 9, 2011, 11:00 pm

    “So, as we enter the final climactic stages of the war against Satan, be sober, my young friends. Understand that you cannot partake of drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. You cannot participate in pornography or other immoral activity. You cannot lie, cheat, or steal. You cannot use false, demeaning, or dirty language. You cannot deface your body with tattoos and other piercings. You cannot do these things and be victorious in the battle for your own soul, let alone be a valiant warrior in the great struggle for the souls of all the rest of our Father’s children”

    – Elder James J Hamula (first quorum of the seventy)

    “Do not decorate your body with tattoos or by piercing it to add jewels. Stay away from that.”

    – Boyd K Packer (President of the Quorum of the twelve apostles)

    “Respect your bodies. The Lord has described them as temples. So many these days disfigure their bodies with tattoos. How shortsighted. These markings last for life. Once in place, they cannot be removed except through a difficult and costly process. I cannot understand why any girl would subject herself to such a thing. I plead with you to avoid disfigurement of this kind.”

    -Gordon B Hinckly (Prophet)

    All of these were delivered during conference, and there are eleven more that come up when you search tattoos in general conference on http://www.lds.org. They all seem very clear to me, it’s a world wide directive to avoid tattoos.
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  • Melissa August 10, 2011, 2:11 pm

    “There wasn’t ONE DANCE that didn’t have a theme and decorations all over the place. And we didn’t just put out bowls of chips and cans of pop like they did at the CAtholic youth dances. We had chocolate fountains for dipping marshmellows, strawberries, oreos, and bananas, we had cheese and crackers on three-tiered silver servers, beautifully decorated cupcakes on upside-down plastic cups glued into a “tree” of sorts, I could go on and on. ”

    WOW. This kind of fluff only happens here on very special occasions. I’m sure that the youth enjoy all of that but it seems like a massive amount of time, energy, and funds. Why make every dance prom? Do more kids show up then? Do they have more fun? Do they dance more? Or is it the status quo: “We do it because that’s how it’s always been done!” Just curious.

    In response to the conversation about the lesson help books or sharing time help books available, they are (or should be) cautioned against according to the church handbook ( 21.1.13). I am not anti-help books but if the handbook says to use the scriptures, manuals, and other church approved materials, there’s a reason. I think it is often very easy to rely too heavily on them and forget to seek out the Spirit in regard to what those we are teaching need to hear.

    Maybe that’s more what Darcee was getting at when she started this thread, that it’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘fluff’ and forget to stick to basic gospel principles, like working so hard on your handouts that you neglect the time needed to ponder your lesson. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but handouts are incredibly stressful for me. Trying to find the “perfect” quote, scriptures, etc. to encapsulate your lesson is totally overwheming for me, when really all I need to do is teach by the Spirit and they will go home with their own little mental “handout” of what the Spirit taught them while they were listening.) It is certainly very easy to get our priorities out of whack when we’re worried about ‘fluff.’

    This topic has been a great starting board for my own internal discourse on how much ‘fluff’ is really going on in my life. :)

  • Alison Moore Smith August 10, 2011, 4:14 pm

    Well, I never thought it was presented as essential– and I didn’t realize that’s what you were asking for.

    If everyone understands that extras stuff is just extra non-essential stuff, then there is no point to the post.

    In the OP Darcee said:

    I propose that one can live the gospel quite fully without all the extra Utah Fluff.

    The proposition in context implies that people think otherwise and that there is CONFUSION (thus requiring clarification) on what is extra about what is done in Utah and what is essential. I can’t identify any reason people would find flannel board figures central doctrine.

    …but rather that since it was only common among the members from Utah it appeared that it must be the “norm” out there, which was different than the “norm” elsewhere and people feel the need to fit the mold that THEY perceived as “the right” mold or “the better” mold. Do you see what I’m saying?

    I understand the story, it just doesn’t make sense. Why would the members feel that the Utah norm (assuming that is the Utah norm, a notion I don’t agree with anyway), would be RIGHT or BETTER instead of feeling the NOT UTAH norm that they lived in was at least as good, if not right or better?

    But she clearly felt the need to change her wardrobe.

    Again, is this UTAH thing or a LEADERSHIP thing? The fact that most GA’s wives (do GA’s wives usually speak in GC?) live in Utah is peripheral to the fact that they are GA’s wives. Which was my initial point about these things NOT being Utah things, but being cultural things. First ladies tend to wear more businesslike attire in official situations, too.

    Was the an order form? According to you there was– and I’m not doubting you– but no one ever said anything about one.

    Tracy, really? You never heard of mail order before All Gore invented the internet? :) I first made a mail order purchase when I was about 9 (diet pills that my parents didn’t know about – don’t ask – and a book about training dogs from Hartz). All on my own. Whether someone offered me an order form or not, I would ASSUME that companies would sell and ship to people. Most do.

    Perhaps that’s just a unique perspective. I’ve always assumed that if I wanted to buy something from a company, I could do it.

    But in my own experience…I’ve never seen all the “fluff” that you see in LDS meetings at any of meetings of other faiths I attended

    It was funny you mentioned it, because the first thing I thought of was VBS. I couldn’t believe all the stuff my kids brought home. (Oriental Trading sells a ton of VBS stuff.) The last time any of my kids brought home something “peripheral” from a church class was Alana with a binder with balloon people for Achievement Day — in Boca. (This was about 11 years ago.) And in Eagle Mountain one of the AD leaders gave pins for each level completed.

    I don’t see it in my Utah wards. Maybe it’s more a non-Utahn phenomenon?

    There’s no lace tablecloth and arrangments of flowers up on a table at the front of the classroom with a beautifully framed painting of Christ resting on an easel draped in red velour cloth and different little statues of Christ surrounding it– one kneeling in Gethsemane and one of him surrounded by children with one on his knee.

    Tracy, that sounds just nasty. :) Red velour???

    I told you I don’t do visuals, but in the RS meetings I attend there is a table (standard issue for ward buildings — just like the one we had in Boca) and a lace table cloth (standard issue — just like the one we had in Boca). Sometimes the teacher brings flowers (from their own garden) or pictures from the library or from their house. I’ve never seen “different little statues of Christ” in a meeting. I have seen temple pictures — often library pictures on library easels or family photographs (like of a couple in front of the temple) or a hymn book or journal or something.

    I have received handouts sometimes. Although I don’t think ever in this ward. ??? I’ve never gotten a candy bar in RS SINCE BOCA. hah hah

    One teacher in Eagle Mountain brought chocolate covered strawberries. Then she proceeded to EAT them in front of us, declaring how good they were and that she would LOVE to share them, but she was afraid we’d think she was pushy. (Get the object lesson?)

    The children’s songs at Vacation Bible School were not only horribly written and virtually useless in teaching doctrine or anything really meaningful

    I was asked to help an evangelical friend to sing a song at her kids’s (private) school. I agree and nearly died — here were the words:

    Like an old hound dog, lying in the sun
    I want to lie in the arms of my Lord…
    Ruff ruff ruff hallelujah!
    Ruff ruff ruff hallelujah!

    Seriously? :-0

    but the teachers had no props or prompts at ALL for teaching the songs

    I think you just went to the wrong VBS! Ours had puppets and craft kits and things for all the kids to hold. All sorts of stuff. Move to Boca! :)

    There wasn’t ONE DANCE that didn’t have a theme and decorations all over the place.

    Tracy, the more I read this, the more I think it’s not about what Utahns do — therefore putting pressure on non-Utahns — at all.

    I’m sure it happens, but being a mom for 24 years and a youth leader umpteen times, I have NEVER seen a church dance that had fancy decorations, EVER.

    I just stopped to ask my girls about all the stake dance experiences. They said they NEVER had elaborate decorations or food or anything. They remembered a couple of “themes,” but they consisted of asking the KIDS to dress up. She said there was a 60s theme once and the “water table had peace signs on it.” Refreshments consisted of water and cookies.

    Alana said she *heard* about a New Year’s dance in the past couple of years that had lights and a chocolate fountain. “But you had to pay to get in, so I didn’t go.”

    I don’t have a problem if people want to go all out, but it’s not the norm in the wards I’ve been in. It’s not even the non-norm in my experience. :)
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 10, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Alison:

    My opinion is that the no tattoos/no piercings is 100% US cultural directive”

    Amber Mae:

    As far as I am concerned general conference is not aimed only at the U.S. if that were so then why welcome everyone watching around the world, and why distribute the messages in so many languages and in so many places.

    Sorry to be unclear. I did not mean that the counsel was only FOR members in the US. I meant that I believe it CAME from a US cultural perspective. I believe it is BECAUSE of the historical connotations that tattoos and piercings carry IN THE US that the directives derive.

    As has been discussed, tattoos don’t mean the same thing in the US that they do in Polynesia. Our “modest” dress standards are modest by current US cultural standards, NOT by past US standards and NOT by, for example, Middle Eastern standards.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 10, 2011, 4:43 pm

    This topic has been a great starting board for my own internal discourse on how much ‘fluff’ is really going on in my life.

    Great insight! :)
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  • Tracy Keeney August 10, 2011, 8:02 pm

    “I’m sure that the youth enjoy all of that but it seems like a massive amount of time, energy, and funds. Why make every dance prom? Do more kids show up then? Do they have more fun? Do they dance more? Or is it the status quo: “We do it because that’s how it’s always been done!” Just curious.”

    Believe me Melissa, I didn’t like it. Like I said, I like the fluff because I think it does serve a purpose, but it went way overboard in my opinion. I mentioned several times my desire to “tone things down”– I even had a meeting with the Stake Presidency member that was over the youth about it (which I’m pretty sure I actually wrote about here before.) In my opinion we were squandering people’s hard earned and faithfully paid tithing. It seemed that nothing could be done without making it a big to-do.

    ” If everyone understands that extras stuff is just extra non-essential stuff, then there is no point to the post.”

    But I think you know as well as I do, that people sometimes feel the need to do what they perceive as being better or more right, even if it isn’t “essential” or somehow mandated. And I think that’s what Darcee’s post was getting at– in addition to the fact that as the church goes more global, people from other cultures who are brand new to the gospel might confuse mormon culture and/or fluff with the essentials.

    “Why would the members feel that the Utah norm (assuming that is the Utah norm, a notion I don’t agree with anyway), would be RIGHT or BETTER instead of feeling the NOT UTAH norm that they lived in was at least as good, if not right or better?”

    I’m not sure I can explain that other than to say that when you’re new to something, you tend to look at those who are more experienced and who’ve “been there, done that” as what you should aim for as well.
    There are quite a few things that aren’t necessarily “doctrine” or “essential” but that are taught– sometimes by word, but sometimes just by DOING them. Like the whole “women should wear dresses to church” thing. We ARE instructed to wear dresses– so that’s by word– but it seems, especially lately, that the “word” is only in print. Women take discussions and come to church but no one has the nerve to tell them that we’re asked to wear dresses or skirts– everyone is afraid to offend. And they actually SAY in the background– “well, she’ll catch on. After awhile she’ll realize we’re all wearing dresses and she’ll start doing it too.” And much of the time, they’re right. But the truth is, wearing a dress isn’t REQUIRED. It isn’t “essential for salvation”. (Although, there’s always the issue that when you KNOW it’s what’s taught and what’s expected and you don’t follow that counsel, then you’re being rebellious. And the rebellion becomes the issue, not the lack of wearing a dress in and of itself.)
    Same thing with prayer language. We’re taught to use more formal language. But we all know that it isn’t “essential for salvation” to say thee and thou. It’s not like Heavenly Father turns a “deaf ear” to prayers if people aren’t using formal language in a sincere prayer. But newer members notice the different verbiage and often begin using it even BEFORE they happen to sit through that one lesson a year that mentions prayer language.
    So observation alone influences people. And if you’re trying to fit in, I think it has an even bigger impact.
    Now of course, things that we AREN’T instructed in=– the “fluff” stuff– (no one has said, “When teaching a lesson, you should always bring a beautifully framed Greg Olsen painting of Christ from home and display it in a fancy way like you’re Martha Stewart”) but again, by observation that can have an impact. Especially when those things really do add a nice touch, create a warm environment– and let’s face it– ladies usually like fluff. So other teachers will often want to add those nice touches, too.

    — Gotta run–
    I ‘ll answer the rest later!

  • Amber Mae August 10, 2011, 10:19 pm

    Alison – thanks for the clarification. I don’t necessarily agree, but I’m glad to better understand what you’re saying.

    I’m a Utah native and I see what you mean by fluff. I’ve been to several stake dances where a DJ was hired, rather than a member with a lot of music, and it does seem that the tithing that paid the DJ could have gone to a better source.

  • Katie August 12, 2011, 6:53 am

    Just wanted to chime in. We had a recent convert state in his testimony that when he was considering the church, the people he knew (who were not members) referred to us as “Children of the Corn.” Pretty extreme example and VERY inaccurate, but I think that the perception out there is that we are very conservative group leaning toward cult like behavior that dress very similarly. I have also heard references to Little House on the Prairie. Fortunately, we have REAL examples of what members are and what they look like. I so love the new “I am a Mormon” campaign. I know someone specifically that found great comfort in the add that featured the motor cycle sculptor. His kids looked a lot like what we see today and not so buttoned up.

    I do not like and have never liked the “In the mission field” comment as a reference to people who live outside of UT. I grew up in the church in CA and never heard that term until I was married and living in SLC. Members would use it as a reference of almost being “better then” and it would bother me. Such as, “We are moving out into the mission field and we will miss everyone here in our ward so much….” When I first heard this I tuned to my husband and said, “They are going on a mission?” I think that is where some of the Utah Mormons v. Mormons from other areas came to be. Right now I “live in the mission field” of Michigan and I mostly hear that from ex-pat Utah Mormons, such as “Here in the mission field, it can be so hard to find good LDS literature.” :) Still bugs me.

    Here is the problem with the crafty/running/blogging/singing time/whatever groups in wards. If you do not participate in them, you get iced out. My sister and I have talked about this. She does not work outside of the home and I work part time. Both of us are pretty busy with life and family duties. I know that if I didn’t attend “insert group here,” that my child would not get a call for a play date. I know quite a few women that hang out with people they don’t particularly like because they know they won’t be invited to other activities (barbecues, beach parties, playdates, etc.) if they don’t go. I can see how it makes sense. Group gets together, group talks, group makes plans for next activity, etc. If you don’t go to the group, you don’t know, they don’t know you and there you go. This is why you find yourself gluing stupid FHE packets or scrap booking your kids soccer game, or dragging yourself to a book club, or running (heaven forbid!) in a 5K. For me, I try the book club when I can. They meet at 8 PM and there is just a lot that goes on at 8 for me to get it together to get out of the house. I tried a craft group, but it was too hard to watch kids and make the stuff. In CA, there was a singing group. I was friends with two of the people, but the rest I didn’t know. I would take my lunch break, pick up my kid, go to the church for the music thing, drop off my kid and then go back to work. I was able to stay in the loop and as a family we were invited to other things. If I didn’t go, I am not sure we would have made the same friendships. I have even thought of starting something like that here whene I live now as a way to connect with other moms with 3 year olds, but I have no idea how I can fit it into our already busy schedule. I can barely get a park play group together. Makes me long for the days when I was young where I would just go outside my front door and play. My mom didn’t have to schedule my playtime.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 12, 2011, 2:17 pm

    Tracy:

    But I think you know as well as I do, that people sometimes feel the need to do what they perceive as being better or more right, even if it isn’t “essential” or somehow mandated.

    Yes, I do. But the post specifically identified the non-essentials as being from a “Utah LDS lifestyle” repeatedly. My issue, from the beginning, was to correctly identify the source of those non-essentials. Some may well be from Utah, but they may also be from general culture, from women’s culture, or (as it seems from comments here) from non-Utahns competing with imagined Utah culture or non-Utahns doing women-ish things they think will be nice or appropriate (like the SP’s wife in a suit) and someone misidentifying it with Utah LDS culture.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 12, 2011, 2:42 pm

    Katie, thanks for commenting. :)

    “We are moving out into the mission field and we will miss everyone here in our ward so much….”

    Like I said, I heard this term far more in Florida (from Floridians, proudly) than I do here. But I’m not sure why the term by itself bothers anyone. Seriously, it simply means places where there are not lots of members.

    The quote above, for example. What’s the big deal? Just two days ago a friend moving from a state in the…ahem…mission field, to Utah, said almost this EXACTLY. In reverse.

    “We are moving to Utah and we will miss everyone in our ward so much.”

    Is this some kind of slam to Utahns? If not, then understanding the use of the phrase AS INTENDED, isn’t problematic at all.

    “Here in the mission field, it can be so hard to find good LDS literature.”

    According to Tracy, that’s simply TRUE. You can’t drop by a distribution center, Deseret Book, Seagull, etc, “before you head to Albertson’s for some milk,” right? So it’s a lot harder to find Mormony things, right?

    The rest of my comment will address the “iced out” paragraph.

    If you do not participate in them, you get iced out.

    OK, I’m going to sound like an old mom, but if I had to participate in any particular group in order to be accepted, I would intentionally not participate in any group. Seriously. No joke. No hyperbole.

    I know that if I didn’t attend “insert group here,” that my child would not get a call for a play date.

    So who’s running the show here? In my experience, such a situation consists of a handful or problematic parts, mostly (1) one or two bullies and (2) a bunch of chickens who won’t stand up to them.

    If your kids don’t get play date calls (why do we even NEED “play dates”?), why don’t YOU or THEY call someone to play?

    We homeschool and therefore we aren’t really “in” on the school circuit. So, when my kids want to play they go the extra mile. Wednesday, for example, Samson (11) wrote down his name, address, and phone number on a piece of paper and put it in a sheet protector (100% his idea). Then he took it to his swimming class and asked if any of the other boys wanted to take it so they could play. Hunter (his new friend) will be here in 28 minutes.

    I know quite a few women that hang out with people they don’t particularly like because they know they won’t be invited to other activities (barbecues, beach parties, playdates, etc.) if they don’t go.

    Katie, my mouth is seriously hanging open. It’s sad that there are “quite a few women” who are such…what is the word…wannabees? hangers-on? followers? users?

    (1) If they don’t like the people they hang out with, WHY would they WANT to go to barbecues and beach parties with them?

    (2) Isn’t there a huge problem with those who hang out with people, PRETEND to like them, tell people (behind their backs) that they don’t really like them, just so they can go to cool parties with them the people they are using? (Are we still in junior high?)

    (3) If they don’t get invited to events (from people they don’t like anyway), why don’t they plan barbecues and parties and invite people they DO like.

    (4) If there are so many people who don’t really like the people who are actually planning the events, why don’t they band together and be friends?

    There is just so much wrong with the presented scenario. Augh!

    My mom didn’t have to schedule my playtime.

    You still don’t — unless your kids are too young to do it themselves, in which case they rarely actually NEED a “play date.” There can be exceptions, but for the most parts, parents are IMO way too hyper about all this stuff.
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  • Katie August 13, 2011, 7:28 am

    I think the “mission field” comment bothers me because it is used (at least in my perception) to make the world outside of Utah seem less then. Last I remember, Utah has a mission. For instance, living here in MI, it would be odd to say, “I am moving into the mission field and going back to Bountiful, Ut.” You just don’t hear that. I think it perpetuates that notion that Utah has something special about it that you aren’t going to find elsewhere. This can probably be said for any area with a highly concentrated population of one or another sort, but for our discussion, we were talking about Utah.

    I’ll address the other stuff later when I can get back on.

  • Angie August 14, 2011, 2:32 pm

    I have not read through the whole thread, as I am in a moving vehicle making my way from the Promised Land back to the Mission Field (ha) and getting car sick.

    Just a couple of things. I’m not really sure I agree there is much Utah fluff. At least nothing I can think of that has become doctrinal anywhere I’ve ever lived.

    Darcee, you mentioned you hadn’t heard statistics about church membership. Just to confirm your point, they did announce in conference a few years ago that there are more church members outside of the United States then in the United States. As for more members outside of Utah in other states in the US – I am not sure on that one. Number-wise, probably. However, most of the active LDS people in my non-Utah wards in Oregon, Louisiana and Michigan had Utah roots. Many, if not most, were first-generation out-of-Utah Mormons. I would say in my current ward, 80% of the leadership in my ward was either raised in Utah or their parents were.

    Regarding some of the “fluff” that is Deseret Book-related (or Seagull or whatever…) I never bought any of that when I lived in Utah and I don’t now. When I was Primary president, I can’t tell you how many times we heard from our general and stake Primary leaders NOT to use such materials in sharing time, and I didn’t. Having said that, I know that many do despite the repeated statements against it. This isn’t really a discussion about that but I just wanted to point out that those types of things are not recommended by the church. Those who use them may not feel as creative or artistic or whatever and choose to use them (at least that’s the reasons I’ve always heard). I don’t consider myself to be creative or artistic either, but in almost 10 years of Primary chorister and presidencies I can honestly say I never felt that I couldn’t find what I needed somewhere out there in the resources the church provides. And if I couldn’t find a picture in the church resources or draw one myself, I would have the kids draw them for me, which we all loved. :-)

    Regarding the “iced out” thing. I really haven’t found that to be the case for me and feel bad that it has been for others. I am about the least crafty person in the world, not a real play-group person, absolutely 100% not a scrapbooker or a scouter…actually in general you could say I don’t do much “fluff” in any aspect of my life. I do book club with my ward and that’s about it. But I do attend church-sponsored stuff (i.e. enrichment that we don’t call enrichment anymore) even if it doesn’t particulary interest me, and almost always learn something (granted, I have not lived in a craft-heavy ward in a very long time. Even in Utah. We did have one ward that would have a Super-Saturday craft day twice a year but I only went once and didn’t feel iced out for not going the other times.) Other than that, the last crafty thing I really remember doing on a regular basis was at Rick’s College 20 years ago. I guess I just feel that wherever I have been, I get involved in what interests me, contribute where I can, graciously say “no thanks” if it’s an out-of-church activity that I’m not interested in, and I’ve never felt shunned for it. I have friends and feel welcome and involved in my ward and always have.

    Anyway, I’m still thinking on it Darcee, to see if there is anything I can come up with that is generally-accepted Utah fluff. So far, I’ve got nothing.

  • Amy August 14, 2011, 5:39 pm

    One of the culture versus doctrine things that I have encountered (and not talking about Utah culture just Mormon culture in general) has been the white clothing thing. We were quite the talk of our ward because none of our children were blessed in all white clothing I cannot believe how many people came up to me and said “I didn’t know you could do that!” (my hubby didn’t say “name which you will be known by on the records of the church” either- he looked it up not requires- we are such rebels, lol!) And when our oldest was baptized she wore a *gasp* all black dress (nice new one) to her baptism. It was her favorite at the store and on clearance to boot. She of course wore the provided white jumper to be baptized in but “how could I let her be so disrespectful and not wear an all white dress?” Well lets see, the only all white dresses I could find were 60 bucks, my husband had just started a new job, I had 4 kids with the youngest only a few months old and I didn’t have the time or energy to sew one. And she LOVED the dress. There is no requirement that a dress a girl wears before or after her baptism be white, only while she is being baptized. Boys wear black suits to their baptisms all the time. I get the symbolism and if you want to do that great. But I am not doing anything wrong, my children’s blessings and baptisms are all perfectly valid in the sight of the Lord- and yes they and us took them very seriously.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 15, 2011, 12:47 am

    I think the “mission field” comment bothers me because it is used (at least in my perception) to make the world outside of Utah seem less then.

    Katie, unless the term is used in a sentence that actually includes something derogatory, I think it safe (and fair) to assume it just means “places that don’t have as many Mormons.” As I said, I’ve heard it more by non-Utahns than Utahns. And they weren’t putting themselves down. :)

    I think it perpetuates that notion that Utah has something special about it that you aren’t going to find elsewhere.

    Well, it DOES. It has more members per capita than anyplace else in the world. Why can’t Utah have something “special” without it being a problem?

    If I say I’m leaving Utah to go to Disney, I don’t think it’s an affront to Utahns, it’s just noting that I DO have to leave Utah to go to “something special” in California or Florida (or Japan or France…). There are pros and cons to living with lots of members, but it’s a phenomenon that does impact the culture and lifestyle.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 15, 2011, 12:50 am

    Angie, I must say I loved that you implied scouting was fluff. At least I like to read it that way. :) heh heh
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  • Angie August 15, 2011, 7:11 am

    Alison, you KNOW how much I love scouts, haha. Scouting is definitely fluff in my eyes.

  • Angie August 15, 2011, 7:11 am

    Expensive fluff. :-)

  • Katie August 15, 2011, 11:15 pm

    White clothes: When I was blessed back in the 70’s, I wore a lavender dress. I hadn’t even thought about the color of the dress to bless my daughter in. My MIL made the dress and it was white gauze over a pink underslip. However, we were living in UT at the time and she is a born and raised Bountiful-ite. So, maybe some of the tradition seeped in there. Both my boys were blessed in white and that was in other states. Hmmm. However, I used the same outfit (for the boys), so I am sure it was a budget thing. Well, I do know some friends who have baptised their babies (other churches) in white. Other churches do it. Maybe ours adopted it because that is all you find when you google “Blessing/ Baptism Outfit.” Come to think of it, my 1980’s baptism dress was a pink Gunnesac dress.

    I am a little foggy on the white shirt for sacrament. Maybe because I am a girl, I had never heard of it until I was married and in our first ward. One of our friends was sitting with the men to pass (it was a ward with very few youth) and was asked right before the meeting started to go back to his seat because he was not wearing a white shirt. It was yellow. My husband was careful to wear a white one on sundays when he was asked to pass. Anyway, if I were Bishop, which I would never be for MANY reasons, I just wouldn’t turn someone away just because of the color of thier shirt.

    Same thing goes with right hand and sacrament. Never heard of that until later in my marriage (after years of institute and temple attendance). Is that a real thing? Just wondering. It seems a little Old Testament to me, like counting the steps you take on Sunday.

  • Angie August 16, 2011, 6:54 am

    Elder Packer gave this talk at at BYU devotional: http://www.zionsbest.com/unwritten.html
    It does address several of those cultural things that aren’t really written down but have been passed on.

    You would think, however, that if the church leadership felt that this was important enough to pass on and keep going, they would give this to the general church membership in a conference and not just at BYU.

  • jennycherie August 16, 2011, 8:14 am

    Katie – I know what you mean! I had been a member for nearly ten years when a well-meaning sister leaned up towards my children and corrected them for using their left hand to take the sacrament. I had *never* heard of this before and I was highly irritated. I can see the symbolism of using your right hand, since that is the hand we raise to sustain, and the hand that is raised when saying the baptismal prayer BUT I also think that if this were truly doctrinal and required, it would be a part of the new member lessons.

    There are many things that I think are hard for new members to pick up. I found out a lot just by watching people in my singles ward, but honestly, that is not always reliable. I do like that talk by Elder Packer, but I also think we need to consider, as Angie pointed out, that this was given at BYU and not General Conference.
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  • Darcee Yates August 16, 2011, 1:13 pm

    I had been a member since I was five(raised in Florida) and was married several years before my husband(born and raised in Lehi, Utah) mentioned to me that it was ‘customary’ to take the sacrement with you right hand. If I think about it, I do. It’s just symbolism. In fact the whole sacrement is. The purpose- to get us to think about the covenants we have made and rededicate ourselves to them.

    Heehee! I just had to laugh at the above. Don’t get the idea that I was baptized at five years old. – But my family was taught the gospel and we began attending church when I was five.
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  • Alison Moore Smith August 18, 2011, 9:48 am

    Katie, the right hand issue is an interesting phenomenon. It did used to be taught explicitly. From the research I did on this a few years ago, it hasn’t been official policy for at least 15 years. It’s been passed on *only* by those who were once taught it officially. I do not believe the directive exists in ANY current church manual of any kind.

    If someone tells you this is appropriate, ask them for a source.

    As for white shirts, I did find ONE authoritative statement (I think it was Joseph Fielding Smith) that mentions wearing a white shirt while performing ordinances. ONE. That has extended not only to disallowing colored shirts for ordinances but, in many places, to the idea that colored shirts are inappropriate for church at all. Ack.

    Angie, WHY did you have to link to that talk! Wah! I seriously hate that talk because it has been used ever since to basically justify any kind of garbage that anyone decides they want to impose on members. (Like the “women don’t give opening prayers” stupidity. And people telling other people’s kids to use their right hands for taking the sacrament.

    You would think, however, that if the church leadership felt that this was important enough to pass on and keep going, they would give this to the general church membership in a conference and not just at BYU.

    Amen. Amen. Amen. :)
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  • Angie August 18, 2011, 11:29 am

    You know I am only here to please. :-)

  • Katie August 18, 2011, 9:21 pm

    Thank you Alison. I did a mini, non-scientific, non-scriptural search myself (i.e., google) and saw a few references from almost 100 years ago. There were quotes about the Left being a sinister hand, etc. Not a GC address and nothing in D & C. I don’t mind the whole symbolism part, but I think it should be personal choice, like shirt colors! Or blessing/baptism outfits!

  • Michelle August 24, 2011, 9:45 am

    Just for the record. We recently visited with family in Utah. I attended a primary class with my 5yo son. There were 13 kids in the class, ages 5-7. (it was combined) the brother teaching (my cousin) stood there with nothing but the lesson manual. Which he hardly evev looked at. Absolutely zero fluff. But, he had those kids engaged and interested.

    I also saw no fluff in RS either…

  • Alison Moore Smith August 24, 2011, 10:07 am

    Katie, I’m with ya, sister! I think the change in cultural symbolism is also the reason for the endowment changes 20+ years ago.

    Michelle, welcome! Thanks for adding your experience.
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  • Erica September 15, 2011, 1:29 am

    Having been raised in California, lived in Utah, then moved back to California, I can say there is a definite difference. In California, especially with Prop 8, mormons were fighting hard to follow council, be firm without appearing hateful, and trying to stick together to lessen the chance of being ripped to pieces by our liberal media and progressive neighborhoods. I don’t recall challenges like this in Utah. I remember an entrenched mormon culture that was always precipitating because that was all there was. Nearly everybody around me in Utah was trying to live my same basic standards. With that out of the way, more petty issues became a focus point. In California, it’s like a battlefield, over truly significant things. Temple grounds being spray-painted, chapel doors being shattered, people losing their jobs because of their religion, all while our kids are being taught gay history and sex perversion at school. I recall in high school a Book of Mormon being shredded around the campus. My teachers called Joseph Smith a crazy magnetic healer. Since so much effort is being put forth just to hold the line out here, it seems like we don’t have the mindset to put energy into ‘the gospel according to Utah’. When my kids are grown, they will have known what it was like to be mocked for their religion, have their faith tried, and endure in the gospel despite great opposition. These things are real out here and they change our perspective and where we focus our efforts.

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