My Rebellious Heart

Several lifetimes ago in Southern California, I found myself listening to a lecture on abstract expressionism. My professor was a painter from west Africa. He wore colorful dashikis with large bone necklaces, spoke with a musical cadence that combined with the droning summer fans and aromatic paints made his class enchanting.  He pushed us- he could tell if we were playing it safe. Most of us students were accustomed to praise, and the first time he threw one of my works in the trash and told me to leave if I wasn’t serious, I was stung, umbraged, offended- and deep down, under the pride, I knew he was right. He didn’t want art from privileged kids who had been petted for their talent all their lives- everyone at that school was talented- he wanted to teach us to be fearless. How to examine our motives, to tear away our safety nets, and build our own wings as we were falling.

Which brings me to Jackson Pollock. If a person knows nothing about modern art, they know Jackson Pollock. And almost everyone has heard someone exclaim, as they look at a Pollock: “My [small child of various bladder control ability] could paint that.” One day a student in Mr. West Africa’s class made the mistake of making just such a statement. Fury sparked, and he turned on the student. Paraphrasing, because this was nearly 20 years ago, he said:

If YOU painted that, it would be like a child. If YOU painted it, you would be a liar. But Pollock earned the right to throw his paint at the canvas, because he walked the path to get there- he honed his talent, and when that could get him no further, he went ahead anyway, and the emotions he felt are what you see on that canvas. This ART that you disparage so lightly is not about product, it is pure process. And if you think you can lie and take shortcuts to get there, you can get out of my class and welcome to a life of mediocrity.”

I can still hear the stunned silence, punctuated only by the whir of the fans as every single person held their breath.

Which brings me to the Church and the Gospel- and I do differentiate the two. We belong to a church with a lot of rules. We could argue till the cows come home about those rules- but no matter what you perspective, love it or hate it, the fact is there are a lot of rules for being a Mormon. There is a structure, correlated cadence, if you will, to Mormon life- and rules are a large part of why.

When you first come into the church, in my case as an adult with no other related members, the rules are part of how you bring this new Gospel to your practical daily life. The rules are how you delineate your Old self from your New baptized self- they are spiritual and cultural markers of aligning yourself with your community.

Rules are a necessary part of life. Rules provide the parameters in which the framework of a good life can be constructed. Rules can instruct, inform or improve their intended audiences, and we’ve all heard the platitude about fences being for our own safety. Our children start with the simplest rules- don’t hit, be nice, say sorry- and then we move on to more complex, nuanced rules as our understanding increases.

So many of our rules have moved from doctrinal to cultural, and in creating cultural rules, we eliminate the complexity of personality and individual nuance and try spelling out all issues. Yet, one of the greatest messages we have as a church are the words of Joseph Smith himself: I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” and it’s one of the things it seems we lose sight of most often.

As I sit in Relief Society or Sunday School yet again, and find my bosom burning and my arm creeping up because I am positively aghast as something a teacher has said, I wonder how I can speak up- because honestly, I have to- without breaking the rules. We must. Like Mr West Africa rejecting inauthentic art, if a teacher submits a fallacy, we are not loving him/her if we accept their work. It is not polite- it is perpetrating an errant cycle. We shortchange and demand less of ourselves and our brothers and sisters than is required for our growth.

Is it possible to cull through the culture, and discard what doesn’t serve the individual (or the community), and yet still remain faithful to God and His church? Yes. Yes, it is. It might be messy- but not only is it possible, it’s required. We must have these dynamic discussions, we must not sit on our hands because we are polite, or are fearful or for any other reason.

It’s a process. It’s a refining. Like the art student who thinks he can let his three-year old paint a Pollock, a spiritual novice or initiate cannot walk in and claim the rules are stupid, or they don’t apply. An initiate must walk the path, experience the fullness of time, place, culture and faith, and only then can s/he sift through their experiences with anything akin to moral authority and figure out their place in the plan.

Comments

  1. The dichotomy of striving for truth and excellence vs. come as you are, work hard, and Jesus will do the rest has haunted me for years. While I strongly gravitate towards the “embrace-the-truth-even-though-it-often-hurts” ilk, in the context of Sunday School (sorry I can’t comment on Relief Society . . . but I’ve heard about such things) I struggle to raise my hand and shatter the false comforts and illusions of others. It seems that falsities are often the vehicles of genuinely spiritual experiences, or at the very least, insights that are induced by or guided by the spirit.

    At the very least, I try to assume that my own testimony is likewise based on any number of incorrect ideas/principles due to my own ignorance and/or pride.

    Some errant notions are due to ignorance and arrogance, while some are due to childlike innocence. The loss of innocence is always to be mourned, regardless of the long term advantages. Responding to each is a case-by-case challenge, but I’ve found that “teaching, guiding, and walking beside[ing]” is almost always the best way. Unfortunately, doing that in the context of a class in church is extraordinarily difficult.

  2. “At the very least, I try to assume that my own testimony is likewise based on any number of incorrect ideas/principles due to my own ignorance and/or pride.”

    Absolutely. I make no claim of authority for anyone else- but I do think a rigorous personal inventory and a willingness to examine one’s beliefs is incredibly important.

    And you do bring up some important parts of this discussion- responsibility to the community and individual, pride, the possibility of arrogance or harming others with callous words- all of that needs to be part of the inventory. And it is difficult.

    But I still think it’s part of what makes this a vital, living church and not a relic.

  3. Marjorie Conder says:

    I agree that you have to earn the right. I have. We have lived in this ward for over 48 years, and have consistently been “work horses” in the Kingdom. For the record my ward is middle-middle economically and educationally. It is also pretty much “Utah conservative.” Nevertheless I am an acknowledged scriptorian/theologian/historian (of the Church and women generally.) I am also the resident “faithful, believing Mormon feminist–and yes, I use “that” word. I have been much bolder as the years have rolled on about speaking my mind. I do try to be kind, but still the older I get the lower my tolerance of guff. Over, especially the last 20 years I have periodically taken on some real “doozies” At the present time I am the Education Counselor in RS, which also means I am the “orthodoxy police.” Just last week in the infamous lesson on Priesthood, an inaccuracy of monumental proportions hung in the air. I took it on, but also brought it back around to a place where I could honestly say, “I think this is what (our teacher) was really trying to say.” (And since she had dug herself into a hole I sensed that she was as relieved as anyone with my comments.) I don’t just drop bombs and run. I stand my ground and am willing to be accountable, to my bishop or whomever. I sense that people trust and like me and do look to me to solve problems. I only have one possible enemy in the ward that I can think of, and that is the local “drama queen” who keeps trying to appropriate and monopolize our RS as a forum for her drama. I have pretty successfully corralled her, and I sense a collective sigh of relief from the rest of the sisters. Anyway, we do whatever we can and wherever our gifts lead to help “establish Zion.”

  4. I don’t presume to have “earned” anything in this Gospel, and hope I never do.

  5. “A willingness to examine one’s beliefs” is extraordinarily challenging considering we are told that we possess and teach the “truth”, belong to the “true” church, and believe in the “true” and living God.

    While humility is a virtue very frequently extolled in our church, using that humility in conjunction with examining/questioning one’s own beliefs is rarely taught . . . if ever. Indeed, if one were to question their own beliefs then that would mean that they didn’t “know” the church was “true”, and then they wouldn’t have a testimony, and then . . .

    I’m only following this to its philosophical end because, while I, like you, think that examining one’s beliefs is absolutely necessary, we are most certainly taught to not examine our own beliefs. Why would we? We have the truth, . . . right? (I hope my sarcasm is gleaming from the page)

  6. Syphax, I don’t presume to suggest I have earned anything in the Gospel- my salvation is from the Savior and I cannot claim being worthy of it or earning it.

    But I can claim my faith and my testimony. I can also stand up for myself and my position if someone were to try and pass judgement or make a declarative statement about the church that is simply not doctrine or fact. I own my testimony, and no one with misguided cultural ideas, can take that from me. The Gospel belongs as much to me and my rebellious heart as it does to the most obedient and pliant soul.

  7. Natalie B. says:

    I don’t have any constructive suggestions to offer that are directly on point–I tend to oscillate between teeth-biting, indifference, and saying things I regret.

    But, I am wondering to what extent we could have better conversations if they were centered around new topics or variations of old ones. When the lessons have been the same for so long, everyone has an opinion. If they were taught with a new angle, with a perspective that no one had thought much about, I wonder if we would see more constructive conversation and true engagement.

  8. Without knowing the specific example to debate its merits, we can really only talk about generalities. As a general principle, when do any of us reach the point where, like your professor’s evaluation of Jackson Pollock, we can righteously say we have pushed on to the end and can legitimately break the rules?

  9. Sam, it does, and we are in agreement. This Truth is part of a living church- and that means things change.

  10. I don’t know that we can, Ardis. But it’s a legitimate question. I’m a faithful member of the church, but I know folks who would have me leave because I’m more comfortable with my rebellious heart than they are. The Gospel belongs to all of us- and that open discussion of what that means is paramount. My professor’s example was extreme- and I’m not suggesting anyone do that precisely. But it’s okay to examine, curry and cull ones beliefs- whether it’s about Nauvoo-era polygamy or about pantyhose at church.

  11. Tracy,
    You’ve said a couple of times now that the gospel belongs to you/each of us. Could you explain what you mean a little bit more? I don’t know if I disagree with you or if I am just not sure what you mean, since on the face of it I tend to feel exactly the opposite–that the gospel belongs to none of us, and attempting to make it so is, well, bad.

  12. Scott, good question… well, let’s see if I can.

    This post was spurred by several experiences, one of which is a good friend of mine who happens to have pink hair and visible tattoos- she also hold a temple recommend. I’ve seen the way she is treated- and it shames me that some of our people put such a premium on appearances. She has been found worthy by a judge of Israel (is that the term?) to be in the Temple of the Lord. And yet people act as though she is a contagion. Her “flaws” are on the outside, yet the folks who treat her bad are no less spotted, only more hidden. Of course those are broad generalities, but I think it conveys the picture…

    Also, my own background as an adult convert- and the fire I’ve walked through with my family because of that conversion- has galvanized me somewhat. Early in my testimony I had to avail myself to our history and some of the more complex parts of the restored gospel and church. Because of that, I am very comfortable with things some folks might be squeamish about- and while I don’t go around telling the sunbeams about Joseph’s hat, my own testimony is stronger because of my knowledge.

    The church is for everyone. Yes, we have rules, and many of them are important and valuable, and if those rules are from God, and not the construct of man, they should be adhered to with unfailing faith- I’m just not always sure which are which. Pantyhose to the temple? I can toss that one. Care for the needy and poor? I can get behind that one. One earring? I do it, but I don’t fault my friend for not…

    And the church and Gospel belong as much to the sister in RS who sneaks a cigarette between blocks and my friend with pink hair as it does the proper, never said a swear-word, won’t touch a Coke in-her-whole-life Sister. It’s so inclusive…. It’s us who are fallible. Myself included.

  13. Tracy,
    I guess what you just wrote is the exact opposite of what you said earlier, which is what I was asking about. Your most recent comment conveys the idea that we all belong to Christ–we all fit in the gospel (or should, anyway). My question was about your saying above that the gospel belongs to us–reversing the ownership. While you may mean the same thing (I don’t know), I think the statement of ownership is one of significant importance, because our role in shaping or submitting follows directly from that conclusion.

  14. I don’t know that I understand what you are asking, Scott. I suppose these are fluid ideas in my own mind, and this post was an attempt to give those ideas some concrete form for my own sake. I don’t see my statements being contradictory, but I’m open to being completely wrong here.

  15. I don’t get Pollock, and I think people who do “get” him are the ones who are really lying (to themselves). I’m more of a Salvadore Dali type when it comes to modern art.

  16. Tracy,
    I am not trying to be difficult–I am just trying to understand what you mean. To reset:

    You have said twice in the comments here that the “gospel belongs” to you/each of us (Since you made the distinction in the OP between church and gospel, I assume you’re keeping this up in the comments.).

    I think that the gospel does not belong to me, to you, or anyone else, but rather that we belong to it. This may seem like silly semantics, but I think the direction of ownership we see in our eyes is very important.

  17. I don’t correct bad teaching at church, but I do try and tactfully insert other ideas. Like today, I brought up how people could go to the celestial kingdom without being married, but didn’t bother correcting that their may not be three degrees in the celestial kingdom.

  18. Good point Scott. I was lax in my semantics- but I think we can both be right. Certainly the Atonement and the keystones of our religion own us in a way, but I do see the gospel as personal, and individual, and mine, as well. I think I can see it both ways.

    Matt W, I disagree wrt Pollock. You can call me a liar if you want. Regarding tactfully inserting more information- I agree. I don’t think having a conversation and discussing ideas needs to be contentious- nor that a person with other ideas has license to be rude (in either direction)- but injecting ideas and having a dialog is good for all of us.

  19. Fair enough Tracy. I guess I will count myself lucky that I don’t teach Sunday school in your ward! :)

  20. Cynthia L. says:

    Sorry this is random, but this is a great, great flick.

  21. We had a lesson on the Gift of the Holy Ghost today, and I had a thought along the lines of the OP. In the early days of our membership I reckon the gift points us to rules (“Get baptized, get to church, don’t go party anymore”, etc.). The longer we stay worthy of the Holy Ghost’s companionship (by keeping rules?), He can start to show us which rules are merely cultural. As with any element of testimony, people who haven’t experienced our insights might misunderstand our efforts to explain them, and that’s OK too.

  22. Tracy, you are a wise guide (and I loved the depth and expression in this post). I’d given up commenting, but I think yours is the wiser approach and you are making rethink how to approach this sort of thing in class. I’m thinking of trying to make a difference again. It will have to wait though. I’m in nursery now. The doctrinal understanding there is far greater than my High Priest’s quorum, so I have little to quibble with in what they say.

  23. Steve Evans says:

    Ownership models just don’t work very well with the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Christ’s atonement – as such it is an event and an opportunity, not really a possession. We don’t own it, or belong to it. I suspect we are using Gospel as shorthand for something else a lot, and depending on what that other something is we can end up sounding strange. If gospel = church, then we’re into different territory than if gospel = doctrinal concepts or gospel = LDS culture.

    BTW, gospel =/= any of those things I listed.

  24. Tracy, I think Matt W. was joking, he’s not calling you a liar. Well, I mean I hope he was joking. Admitting you don’t get Pollack and calling those who claim to get him liars doesn’t mean you’re a liar, it just means he doesn’t get Pollack. And that he’s an ignoramus who is probably known to put quotes (and finger quotes) around the word art.

  25. I think this is a beautiful post, Tracy – and it’s really, really hard for someone to understand who hasn’t been marginalized and judged by a large number of people in the Church.

    Fwiw, people listen to me in church largely because I’ve built up social capital over the decades. I’ve served beside everyone else; I’ve baptized my children and attend regularly with my family; I’ve served in various callings, many of which are publicly visible. I’m not any better than the woman who has served in Primary for the past 25 years – or the person in Scouts forever – or the still Seventy who has been an asst ward clerk for nearly 40 years – but I’m more vocal and visible, and everyone knows I care about them and would never say anything mean-spirited or just to argue. When I express a heterodox viewpoint or one that disagrees with what someone else has said, I almost do it in a rather quiet, gently voice. Therefore, when I do raise my voice a bit and speak forcefully, people are surprised – and they tend to pay attention. Iow, I’ve earned their listening ears when I question a rule because I’ve “obeyed the rules” for so long.

    As to your friend with pink hair and tattoos, the reactions you describe are painful to me – largely because Michelle and I have personal experiences that are similar in the way that people have talked about our “surrogate children”. Just to reinforce your point about her temple recommend, recently I was in the temple, and the husband in the witness couple had a full beard and braided hair that hung halfway down his back. Too many members would have looked at him outside the temple setting and automatically assumed he was either a non-member or rebellious in some way. That simply is sad.

  26. Aaron R. says:

    Thank you Tracy for this post.

    When these issues come up, I think it is valuable to remember that ideas (in Church) are rare held in abstract form. They usually represent an item of faith or emotional commitment. They are often ideas that people have lived their lives with, taught to their children and based decisions upon. Consequently, I think the ability to work through the culture must be done with care and respect for the other people in our communities.

    The other thing I would add is that I am not sure that it is always possible to dis-embed the gospel from culture, or the Church from the Gospel; primarily because the gospel, I think, is intended as a response to the culture and institutions that we live in. It redeems us from the questions and problems that our contexts create.

  27. Tracy, I’m totally with Scott B on the question of ownership. Neither the gospel nor the church derives its power (metaphorically or literally) from its membership, but rather from the Lord. Indeed as we make the covenant of baptism, we become His.

    I also appreciate Ardis’ view and share it — I find it hard to imagine that I will ever have done enough to break the rules.

    That said, I also feel sorry for the treatment of your pink-haired friend. I remember when I was a bishop and my blue-haired son prepared sacrament. (He was of an age that he did not either bless or pass that year.) At least one member commented that she thought he shouldn’t be doing that. Fortunately his bishop thought differently at the time. (He chose to bleach his hair to a more respectable color when he was a priest, just before he stopped attending church altogether.)

  28. Mark Brown says:

    I think we need to recognize that speaking in terms of owner ship of the church is usually in response to some kind of unrighteous dominion and it has a long history among us.

    Edwin Wooley was bishop of one of the original ward in SLC and his ward wanted to build a social hall. But his ward’s social hall was competition for the city social hall that Brigham Young had built, so BY asked/order bishop Wooley to cease and desist. He refused and the exchanges between the two men got more and more heated until BY threatened to release him from his calling as bishop and call him on a long overseas mission. At that point br. Wooley said that even though he (BY) was president of the church, it didn’t belong to him any more than it did to all the members. I think that is a good perspective — we are all responsible for what happens in our meetings and among our membership.

    b

  29. This is a great post. It’s funny, I find that I am less quick to correct the more I know and see. I also believe that we’re in this for the long haul, so I find that not every single major inaccuracy needs to be corrected at the moment. I also recognize that there are topics where I would have corrected in one way 5 years ago and now correct in a very different way if at all because I have read or seen something that persuades me that I was incorrect 5 years ago. I also try to be open to corrections from other people on similar matters. And I try to smile and laugh a lot during exchanges over controversial issues.

    (I still remember with fondness a young video-salesman almost raising his arm to the square to rebuke me when I taught an EQ lesson about the Word of Wisdom in which I emphasized the ways it builds us as a people rather than the scientifically suspect medical miracle narrative–this can cut both ways.)

    For perspective, most of what people say through their lives is wrong, in every area of their lives. What matters is how others respond to the errors rather than the number or content of errors to a significant degree.

    PS I love your aging convention for children and suspect it would work reasonably well for adults as well.

  30. John Mansfield says:

    Ruben Boling’s (Tom the Dancing Bug) “How to Draw Doug” captures that feeling of exotica too, that sense that people in tribal attire or with hair styled in a deliberately unignoreable question-generating fashion have a right to push us that boring, safe people don’t. Some old man in a suit, say, telling boys to not dress sloppy.

  31. I love this post, Tracy. Thank you.

    I think that part of knowing when to break the rules comes after the rules have become a part of you. We shouldn’t work for the rules as an end, but to make them ours, to make our own hearts be the scriptures, like Paul wrote. Once we ARE the rules in art, we know when to break them. Once the Spirit has set up permanent residence in our heart, we can know when to cut through the cultural misconceptions and when to let them lie. Until then, it is often best to let go.

    I think when we do that, we follow Christ more perfectly.

  32. And it’s not DOING enough to EARN the right to break the rules, it is by changing ourselves enough that the “rules” are a part of who we are, that we no longer have to agonize over them.

  33. Aaron R. says:

    Silverrain, the difficulty with that position is that sometimes the rules are wrong. This might be so obvious that it is not being said, but I think it needs to be stated. In those cases, despite some statements to the contrary, I think there is nothing redemptive about believing or doing something that is wrong or immoral.

    The ministry of Jesus is a wonderful example of the type of refusal and struggle that Tracy is discussing.

  34. true disciple says:

    Yep. Absolutely right.

    I just go so tired of teachers who never really challenged me, who cared about THEIR rules but not THE rules. That’s why I had to leave the church: to find a teacher who really understood the rules of spiritual development, who would throw lazy work into the trash.

    An institution that teaches to the lowest common denominator and uses correlated lessons that discourage questioning is NOT a demanding spiritual task master. Its goal is to make life easy for bureaucrats. It produces mediocre teaching materials and mediocre teachers, it rewards mediocrity, and it produces mediocre spiritual lives.

    Just look at the art in the BYU bookstore and the frequency with which Mormons buy and display it if you want a sense of lying mediocrity. Taste and discernment? Authenticity and joy? No way. Just banal safety and trite repackaging. That sort of art sells and is celebrated because it truly reflects the spiritual lives of the people it is marketed to.

  35. Nice post Tracy. I think this is actually further complicated by our doctrinal teachings. For example note this statement from the new mormon.org website:

    Even when we feel our way of thinking may be for someone else’s “own good,” it’s important to remember that everyone has the right to an opinion, the right to act according to their own consciences. Our attempts to control others almost always fail and have negative consequences for both parties: misery, resentment, anger, depression, and retaliation are just a few. In our relationships we want to duplicate the perfect love Christ modeled for us that essentially says, I may not agree with your choices, but I defend your right to make them and love you regardless.

    Now contrast that with this statement a little ways down the page:

    Mormons are encouraged to stand up for what they believe, regardless of prevailing opinion. It may not be easy or fun. Sometimes taking a stand means subjecting yourself to ridicule, slander or even physical abuse. In this kind of situation, a person can rely on the Lord to help them maintain their beliefs. He expects us to do what we believe is right in any situation, and He will help us have the moral courage to do it. It isn’t enough to look away or to keep quiet. Looking away can sometimes be a sin in itself. We are acting as Jesus acted when we stand up for what we believe and take action.

    I think the point of these messages is mostly trying to relate to morality outside the church. But surely this should apply within as well! We are trained to tolerate (to a certain extent) those outside the church, but we often ridicule those within who we perceive as traitors if they contradict the cultural norm.

    Yesterday in RS, the teacher said something to the effect of the service rendered by those outside the church is not as well placed as service by church members since they do not have the priesthood. My wife immediately raised her hand and directly contradicted the teacher (despite agreement from many in the class). The teacher of course then did some back-pedaling.

    I think it’s good to call out the nonsense, but as Ray has said, it must be done in love, and others must know that we are on the “same team” as it were.

  36. Pres. Uchtdorf recently said that it’s easy for rules and customs to grow and increase to the extent that they start to obscure the Gospel. It’s called hedging about the law – building so many restrictions around God’s actual law that the law itself becomes invisible and forgotten in the man-made culture. That came from an apostle and a counselor in the First Presidency, and I think he was saying much of what Tracy is saying in this post.

    Let me be clear: I am not an advocate of breaking rules indiscriminantly or reflexively or regularly. I strive hard to be an obedient person in nature. I do LOTS of things and accept LOTS of statements without challenge with which I personally don’t agree – strictly because I strive to be charitable and think as much of the welfare of others as of myself. I don’t always succeed in this, but I try.

    However, as Aaron said, sometimes rules are wrong – both in general and in specific, indivudal cases. Sometimes, they are man-made and even harmful to some or all. In those times, it’s important to have open, honest, civil discussions about them – and it’s important for some of that disucssion to come from members who have spent years showing their loyalty and obedience. If you don’t like the word “earned”, fine; substitute something else that simply means those who have walked the walk have the right to talk the talk and be given consideration by the community they’ve served – no matter their heirarchical position.

    Finally, Satan’s plan, when boiled down to the most fundamental level, was that we would be totally obedient and never make any mistakes – but that also would have meant that we never would grow as spiritual beings. I’m not sure there is even a very fine line between that construct and the idea that we must do whatever a church leader says no matter how we feel about it – that we must follow the rules no matter who makes them or what they request of us – that we must obey everything that we are told. I just don’t accept that, even as I strive to be a faithful, obedient servent/disciple.

    I believe “pure Mormonism” values prayerful, thoughtful input – but I also understand the principle of obedience, even to some things with which I don’t agree. It’s one of the central paradoxes of the combination of Gospel and Church we have, and we simply have to be able to discuss that paradox in order to be BOTH obedient AND intelligent agents and not slothful servants.

  37. Matt W. says:

    Tracy: To be fair, I don’t get modern art in general. I’m one of those heathens who skips the modern wing and just spends more time with the impressionists and classical sculpture. The hypocritical part is that I’ve painted and sculpted quite a bit of modern art as I enjoy the process, but typically throw it away as I have no interest in the finished product. But then, I gave up art for an MBA and financial stability, so I’m not cool at all when it comes to art.

    Rusty: I only put quote marks around the word “art” when referring to the “blog” nine moons.

  38. Michelle says:

    Too many members would have looked at him outside the temple setting and automatically assumed he was either a non-member or rebellious in some way. That simply is sad.

    But if the principles of the post are really true, then isn’t there room for people to still be figuring out all of this, too, albeit imperfectly? I think it’s easier sometimes to defend or feel sad about the obvious and inappropriate unkindness to people who are ‘different’ but not to those who are just run-of-the-mill rule keepers who may get a little zealous and yet be doing *their* best.

    Pres. Uchtdorf recently said that it’s easy for rules and customs to grow and increase to the extent that they start to obscure the Gospel.

    I think something important he said clarifies this point that I always am concerned about when rule-breaking is brought up. I think Tracy is right that *personal* inventory is essential. I’d say all of that is part of the process of exercising agency. But it’s not ok to elevate *personal* decisions about rules (“This is the only way to keep the Sabbath day holy”) or rule-breaking (“That rule seems wrong to me”) to the level of “the Church is wrong about that rule” or “I’m better than others because I do/don’t keep that rule.”

    Just making a general comment about this notion of “when’s it ok to break the rules?” Personally, I think I’d trust someone “breaking the rules” if they weren’t trying to insist that they were better for doing so, or that the Church was wrong in not supporting such behavior. (Here I refer to rules that clearly come from Church leaders and are not artificially created by who-knows-what.)

    I also understand the principle of obedience, even to some things with which I don’t agree. It’s one of the central paradoxes of the combination of Gospel and Church we have, and we simply have to be able to discuss that paradox in order to be BOTH obedient AND intelligent agents and not slothful servants.

    Great point. I think humility is also essential. And a whole heckuva lot of patience with each other. Again, I think sometimes it’s easier to criticize rule-keepers in such efforts toward discussion. But there is room in the arms of the Atonement for *anyone* earnestly striving to live the gospel to the best of their ability, messy though that always is, for all of us.

  39. Amen, Michelle.

  40. When a teacher says something that makes me wonder (or cringe), I do usually not take it upon myself to “correct the error” or “set the record straight” — I might sometimes offer my own opinion in a supportive way — but rather I hope I might learn something from the teacher’s offering.

    I try to see the teacher as a fellow disciple and fellow pilgrim, not as an employee or agent of the institutional church. It is not my responsibility to protect the other class members from the teacher’s viewpoint — rather, it is my duty to sustain and help the teacher.

    Some here will say that correlation produces bad teaching, but I tend to think that a teacher’s fear of the “police” in the class, either on the right or the left, can produce bad teaching. How much better if the class is a safe and comfortable place for the volunteer teacher who is trying to magnify his or her calling.

  41. An institution that teaches to the lowest common denominator and uses correlated lessons that discourage questioning is NOT a demanding spiritual task master. Its goal is to make life easy for bureaucrats. It produces mediocre teaching materials and mediocre teachers, it rewards mediocrity, and it produces mediocre spiritual lives.

    Just look at the art in the BYU bookstore and the frequency with which Mormons buy and display it if you want a sense of lying mediocrity. Taste and discernment? Authenticity and joy? No way. Just banal safety and trite repackaging. That sort of art sells and is celebrated because it truly reflects the spiritual lives of the people it is marketed to.

    Did your spiritual teacher that you found instruct you to look upon a group of God’s children with contempt?

  42. Adam Greenwood says:

    What had your teacher done to earn the right to posture this way?

    What have you done to earn the right to be the judge and arbiter of the spiritual mediocrity of the folks in your gospel doctrine class.

  43. I want to clarify that most of my comment 41 was a block-quote of comment 34 by true disciple. I assume you understood that AG, and your questions were follow up to my one question, but I wanted to make sure in case you had misread those words to be mine.

  44. Interesting. I’ve been off all morning doing things with my kids, so I haven’t been able to engage. A few thoughts: I think/hope I kind of mirror Ray’s experience- I’ve been around the blogs for a long time, and have a reputation for faith and (I hope) being honest- thus my putting forth something ever-so-slightly controversial would hopefully be met with charity in it’s reading. So far, for the most part, so good.

    In no way did I mean in the OP or my comments to follow that I was some sort of authority or that I was a judge of anyone else’s spirituality. I want a dialog, an exchange of ideas to be part of my religious education. I’m still relatively new in this church, and most of my learning and growth has happened against the backdrop of a family that wants nothing more than for me to leave. It changes ones perspective.

    Regarding ownership- I think my personal definitions of this are fluid and not quite as empirical as perhaps the word “ownership” can be interpreted. The Gospel is apart from the world, yet we are because of… it is outside of us, yet within us all- we are made up of the same matter as God. So I, in my artsy right-brained way, do not see a dichotomy there, and am perfectly comfortable saying it can be and IS all of those things: inside, outside, owned, owns us. Welcome to my brain.

    Rusty/Matt W- I should have put a smiley emoticon after I said you could call me a liar. I meant it lightly. :) It’s all good.

    Aaron/Silverrain/Ray- thank you for understanding and for your comments. I really appreciate your voices.

    Michelle- absolutely. The latitude should cut both ways, and we should always be kind and civil and charitable whenever we can.

  45. Matt,
    Ha! Yes, Nine Moons is certainly a “blog,” though I’d never claim it to be art. Or “art.” (I actually wrote this post about this exact practice of quoting art). I sincerely thought you were joking calling Tracey and others liars because they claimed to understand Pollack, thus my snarky response. What’s funny is that you’ve actually pointed out one of the ongoing discussions within the art world, whether or not the “process” should be considered art. Ultimately the definition of art is a moving target, but that’s kind of the point, I guess, and that’s what keeps it interesting.

    One of the most interesting ideas I’ve read about art and Mormonism was something Lane Twitchell said (and for the life of me I can’t find the reference), which is that Joseph Smith was Mormonism’s great artist and that no Mormon will ever surpass him because all Mormon art is derivative of him. Thinking of JS as an artist is an interesting perspective and recognizing any other Mormon art as derivative of him is likewise compelling.

    Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled programming…sorry for the threadjack…

  46. I like Tracy. I like Pollack. I ain’t no artist. So, there is that.

    I also called our regular mode of teaching in the church mediocre a couple of months back. Of course, I also said that most people are unsatisfied by it.

    In any case, my favorite memory of my wife is of her practically shouting “No!” after another congregant suggested that children who don’t get Eagles should not be allowed to go on missions. Of course, he came over to our house afterwards to explain that she was a bad wife and member for thinking that Scouting wasn’t the end all and be all. So there are real risks for speaking up in church.

  47. Mark Brown says:

    I heart Mrs. John C.

  48. I was being overly dramatic/stupid on the liar part. Tracy M is a super star, not a liar. And Rusty, if any Mormon blog can claim the art status, it’d be “yours”.

    Interesting idea regarding Twitchell. I don’t know whether to argue that all Christian Art is therefore derivative and can never be surpassed, or to argue that the work can be enhanced and thus surpassed, or to wonder if there is some branch of Mormonism that does not tie back to Smith. (Maybe Food Storage?)

    Anyway, I should stop sullying Tracy’s post with this idle chatter.

  49. Rusty, that Lane Twitchell idea is very interesting, and bears more thought- initially I can’t argue with him- but I do want to think about it.

    John, I love your wife. :)

  50. I did this yesterday in my HP group, as we talked about PH organization from the Gospel Princples manual. Now, I really LIKE the GP manual; I teach GP in my ward every other month. And I don’t totally hate it in priesthood most of the time.

    But yesterday I took exception to the Joseph F. Smith quotation that seemed to run counter to the point made later in the lesson about who holds keys.

    And then a moment later I took exception to the way our instructor referred to the “sharing of keys”.

    Fortunately, the instructor and I are good friends. We respect and love each other. And a good natured discussion of the details is ok. He does the same to me when I teach. And when he teaches, I often learn new things.

    I think it’s ok for us to comment, to correct, to question, but to do it with love, with the best intentions, and with the assumption that those around us are also in this for the learning, the mutual support and the edification of gospel study.

    John C, really sorry about your wife’s experience. Yikes! I remember discussing the notion of not letting my boys drive before they earned their eagle award, and a friend who has no boys of his own, but has been a volunteer scouter for many years practically whacked me on the back of the head and told me that was a dumb idea. His view was that boys should earn the eagle because they want to earn the eagle. He didn’t take long to convince me.

  51. John Mansfield says:

    Could someone take a Mormon artist—Arnold Friberg, John Hafen, David Lynn, whoever—and give a concrete example of what Lane Twitchell meant about that artist’s work being derivative of Joseph Smith?

  52. John Mansfield,
    I think the idea is that any theme that is uniquely Mormon (making it “Mormon” art) stems from Joseph Smith. So, on a granular level, the painting of Nephi striking down his brothers is merely a visual representation of an idea that Joseph Smith already processed. Even if Friberg made that story more compelling/inspiring/important than Joseph’s original work, it couldn’t/wouldn’t exist without the original. It’s derivative. But on a broad level, the theological and social concepts that Joseph introduces are larger and wider and greater than anything any of his followers could hope to replicate (or surpass), nor would they (by nature of those very concepts that Joseph introduces).

    Again, I think it’s an interesting idea. I’m not saying I fully agree with it, but it’s worth considering. Perhaps in a separate post…(sorry Tracy!)

  53. It’s okay Rusty. That’s pretty much my thought process on the idea as well, and I think I agree with Twitchell- insofar as Mormon art goes. I do think an artist that happens to be Mormon is different, and even someone like Friberg who painted within the Mormon context has a substantial body of work that falls outside the framework, and is thus not part of that equation.

  54. Kristine says:

    Hrmmm, I think there’s something more in Twitchell’s idea–the notion that “spirit is matter”, the really profound appreciation and love for this-worldly beauty, the sense of human beings not as creatures but as creators-in-training–any art that is really Mormon surely partakes of those ideas, which I think is far more important than Joseph having revealed the subject matter.

  55. Latter-day Guy says:

    Just look at the art in the BYU bookstore … Just banal safety and trite repackaging.

    I dunno TD… I’m not a fan of most of the stuff in there (and I firmly believe that every time someone looks at a Simon Dewey painting with any reaction other than revulsion, an angel is infected with gonorrhea) but the other day I was in there and I saw a 12″ bronze of Orrin Porter Rockwell holding a shotgun (I think) and rocking one helluva skullet. It was teh awesome.

  56. By The Rules says:

    Interesting posts and some great comments. A facet that hasn’t been explored to much is the rules or cultural componants of Zion. I think that my thoughts are most easily expressed as a series of questions.

    Extraneous to gospel principles, what culture and rules are we actually striving to build up for Zion? Was there room in Enoch’s Zion, and will there be room in future Zion, for non-comformity to rules? Are we all supposed to be unified (now?), not only in basic beliefs, but one in cultural/rules conformity as well? If I am a polynesian with some aspects of my culture that I want to hold onto, that are NOT in conformity with current or future rules, what is the proper thing for me to do? What if I am Scotch and want to wear a kilt; would people treat me differently as I go to the temple here, or in Independance in the future?

  57. Antonio Parr says:

    In response to the OP:

    ~Speaking up~ works if we do it (a) with love unfeigned; (b) with deep humility; (c) with graciousness; (d) with an eye single to the glory of God; and, of equal importance (e) in the language of the audience.

    I can usually anticipate what I will find troubling, and if I care enough to make a point, I can look in advance for appropriate General Conference quotes to help make my point. (Let’s face it, for some a truth is only a truth if it comes from a General Authority. I could say ~lift where you stand~ (insert here any wise story/utterance/phrase/etc.) and I may be met with glazed eyes. If I say, ~as President Uchtdorf says ‘lift where you stand’~ (insert here any wise story/utterance/phrase,etc.), I will scarcely be able to get the words out without being drowned out by the wave of silent-but-nevertheless-discernable “amens”. So, with the above-mentioned love, humility, graciousness, etc., coupled with appropriate references to recognized authority, you not only will make your point, but you might actually succeed in transmitting that point to its intended audience.

  58. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Was there room in Enoch’s Zion, and will there be room in future Zion, for non-comformity to rules? ”

    Enoch’s Zion was taken into heaven because they were able to live the laws that govern a Celestial society. We are not now living that level of rules. For the most part, we don’t even know what Celestial laws might be. (Though there are hints throughout, especially see the Sermon on the Mount. There Christ suggests that a person’s righteousness must exceed the precise rule keeping of the Pharisees in order to ‘enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He also gives a very counter intuitive example of how God treats the just and the injust, and suggests that one must do the same in order to be perfect..)

    As to ‘breaking the rules.’ In general, we don’t. I think a lot about the scruipture where we are told that at a certain point a group of Nephites continued to live the Mosaic Law even though it was “dead” to them. There is a great deal of difficulty in that, I’m sure. It had simply not been repealed. I think we might often find ourself in that place. But I’d also note that the excruciating details that members subject themselves to, in place of the freedom one has in Christ, often have little or nothing to do with the rules and principles we are required to lean and live.

    That said, I personally beleive that we are to be tested in all things, and the time will come when God will require us to break a rule (see Nephi and Abraham) in order to demonstrate to ourselves that we are capable of hearing His voice and will follow Him at all hazards. Maybe most of us never reach that point in this life – but some of us certainly will. ~

  59. Latter-day Guy says:

    If I say, ~as President Uchtdorf says ‘lift where you stand’~ (insert here any wise story/utterance/phrase,etc.), I will scarcely be able to get the words out without being drowned out by the wave of silent-but-nevertheless-discernible “amens”.

    Exactly! Thus my current practice of attaching a GA name to anything I want to say in church. 98% won’t actually bother to look it up, and the other 2% can be put off with a casual, “Yeah, I’ll email the reference to you.” (Plus, if you can be bothered to spend a few hours winnowing the JoD, you can probably find an actual quote that says––or can be made to say––whatever you’re looking for.)

  60. Latter-day Guy says:

    and the other 2% can be put off with a casual, “Yeah, I’ll email the reference to you.”

    Unless, that is, that 2% includes, say, Ardis or J. Stapley. In that case, you’re screwed.

  61. And what is your source for that statement, Latter-day Guy?

  62. I don’t get Pollock, and I think people who do “get” him are the ones who are really lying (to themselves). I’m more of a Salvadore Dali type when it comes to modern art.

    I’ve seen statements like that with about every artist switched in, including the guy with the “cottages of light” who used to have a gallery in every mall.

    As to ‘breaking the rules.’ In general, we don’t. I think a lot about the scruipture where we are told that at a certain point a group of Nephites continued to live the Mosaic Law even though it was “dead” to them. There is a great deal of difficulty in that, I’m sure. It had simply not been repealed. I think we might often find ourself in that place.

    Now that is faith, undefiled.

    What witness do we bear by our actions and by our appearance and why?

  63. Latter-day Guy says:

    Well, based on your helping me to chase down a reference several months ago, and your generally very good historical posts/articles, I suspect that sneaking a fabricated reference past you would be rather more difficult. ;-)

  64. Trying to sneak anything by Ardis, Stapley, Kevin, Sam MB, etc…? A fools mission.

  65. Antonio Parr says:

    59. Latter-Day Guy, my post #58 may have come across as more cynical than intended.

    My search for GA quotes to support some of my more deeply held (yet not always emphasized) beliefs is a reflection of my trust that the Church exists as a vehicle to embrace and to impart all truth. I acknowledge that it seems silly to have to find an authoritative quote in order to support a truth that should otherwise stand on its own. However, when it comes to things of the Spirit, it makes sense to avoid any pride in authorship, and I am working to learn how to be just as happy relying upon the quote of Elder-so-and-so to make a point than to make it myself. If the truth comes out, then the end justifies the means.

    I believe this is what Paul was talking about when writing to the Corinthians:

    16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
    17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
    18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
    19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
    20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
    21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
    22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
    23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.

    (Sorry to quote scripture, but it seems applicable to the discussion.)

  66. Latter-day Guy says:

    Antonio, the cynicism is entirely my own. I hope you didn’t read my snarkiness as impugning your use of GA quotes, or your motive for doing so. I’m just an incorrigible smart-ass.

  67. I think there are times that we need to speak up, not so much to correct an error but to clarify a principle. I believe most of those who teach us in church are trying very hard to do it correctly. Sometimes they wander off the path a little and need to be brought back. I have done that myself and been grateful that someone had the sense to see where I was headed and re-direct me.

  68. I think you’ve only earned the right to criticize Pollockesque abstract expressionism if you yourself have produced it while flying through the air in a harness like Maude Lebowski.

  69. Antonio Parr says:

    66. Latter-Day Guy:

    Acknowledging oneself to be an incorrigible smart-ass makes one seem, well, ~corrigible~.

    Be careful, or you may lose your mojo . . .

  70. On the OP, I think “correcting” people teaching things that offend sounds good in theory, but in practice when someone does it, they usually come across as a little obnoxious. It’s just hard to do. I think if it comes from a place of true humility and is skillfully and tactfully done, that works. But really, it doesn’t usually come from a truly humble heart. And most people aren’t that skillfull and tactful.

    I also have a tendency to think “Why are you embarrassing the poor teacher who is doing her best and is entitled to her own opinion?” In the wards I’ve been in, the membership tends to be very knowlegable about the gospel. They don’t need someone to point out flaws in the teacher’s lesson in order to save them from “bad” information. The correcter just looks like a jerk, even though I may be technically in complete agreement with him or her.

  71. E, there is an important difference in attitude between correcting someone and correcting something that someone says. Many times they aren’t separated in practice, but the difference still is important.

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