Once upon a time, I asked all of our faithful readers to write my talk for me. Many of you dutifully obliged, but I regret to inform you that all your efforts were in vain. That’s right — a few days before my wife and I were to speak, the first counselor in the Bishopric called and informed us of a scheduling error. Our talks were thus postponed until July 24th, and our topics were changed. Care to guess what we’re speaking on now? (Hint: We’re speaking on July 24th…)
You guessed it: We’ve been asked to speak on the "Pioneers." Yikes! What the heck are we going to say? I know this would be easy for some of you. After all, you could drone on and on and on about how your great, great, great-grandfather was Brother Brigham’s shoeshine boy, and how you come from a long line of Allreds and Cannons, and how your great, great, great-aunt Eliza’s journal talks about crossing the plains with all that coffee and booze. But my wife and I don’t have that luxury. You see, both of my parents are converts. My mother gave an oral report in her Palo Alto highschool on Joseph Smith when she was 16, invited the Mormon missionaries over, and got baptized when she was 18. My father was baptized at age 10 by traveling missionaries in rural South Carolina. Neither side of my family comes from pioneer stock. Same is true for my wife. So there’s a real sense in which the pioneer experience is much more removed from our identities than it is for many Church members. And I’m thus left wondering how to do this topic justice.
So far, I’ve played around with a couple of ideas. I was thinking I’d speak on "Why I’m So Thankful I Don’t Have Polygamous Ancestors," while the wife could tackle "Thank Goodness I’m Not From Pioneer Stock, Or I’d Likely Have Been Born in Utah." :) But somehow these titles don’t strike me as Sacrament meeting-appropriate. So I’m back to the drawing board. What to do?
Perhaps this all sounds silly. After all, I’m just as much a Mormon as those of you with more established Mormon pedigrees. Surely any and all Church members — even new converts — can be moved by the pioneer experience, impressed by the sacrifices and devotion of the early Saints, and grateful for the accomplishments and faithfulness of our religious forebearers. Being a member of the LDS Church means identifying with a community that has been shaped by the unique history of the 19th Century pioneer experience, with its many persecutions, sacrifices, theological novelties and all. Yet, truth be told, I’ve always felt there’s a sense in which the story of the pioneers somehow "belongs" to those who descendended from actual pioneers, rather than those of us who just signed up later on. Maybe it shouldn’t seem this way. In fact, maybe the problem is simply that I’m just a heartless bastard (but that’s the subject of another post).
Am I making any sense, or am I just proving that my interminable snarkiness has, over time, done damage to my Mormon identity? For those of you, like me, who don’t come from pioneer stock, do you ever feel that the story of the pioneers isn’t as much your story to tell, as it is your friend Joseph Ezra Fielding McConkie Allred’s? For those of you that do come from pioneer stock, do you think my talking about the pioneers constitutes treading on sacred ground that would be better and more authentically presented by someone like you? Or am I just being stupid?
Anyway, regardless of your ancestry, you are all invited (ordered) to provide me with good ideas on how to approach my talk.