MicroMormon vs. MacroMormon

I am an economist, both by educational background and by profession. However, when people ask about my work or education, I have found that referring to myself simply as “an economist” results in almost universal confusion. This confusion manifests itself in the typical responses, most of which are variations on “So, you look at the economy and stuff?” At this juncture, I generally explain that I am not “that kind of economist”—I am not a macroeconomist. Rather, I am a microeconomist. A common misconception is that most economists care about GDP, unemployment rates, and monetary inflation–topics studied by macroeconomists. The truth is, most of us economists not only don’t care about those sorts of things, we actually dislike them and actively seek to forget everything we learned about them in grad school.[1]

For the uninitiated, macroeconomics deals primarily with the economy as a whole–most frequently a national economy. Microeconomics, on the other hand, focuses on economic phenomena at the level of an individual firm or consumer. Although it’s an opinion based on my own observation and not a theorem, I find that most microeconomists tend to view macroeconomics as kind of like “the art” of economics–it’s pretty and elegant and rich in theory, but it’s ultimately kind of pointless and stupid, because the predictive power of macroeconomic models leaves much to be desired.[2] However, even if such a hurdle was overcome, most of the power to implement policy rests in the hands of political agents pursuing goals which are, in my cynical view, rarely related to ensuring a well-functioning economy with a stable long-run growth rate. In short, why bother with something that is awesome for charts and graphs and textbook covers, but not for much practical utility?

So, yeah. I am a microeconomist. I am keenly interested in economics as it relates to decisions and policies made by individual firms and individual consumers, acting either independently or strategically in response to other firms and consumers. My passion for microeconomics goes far beyond my work, however. For better or for worse, most of my existence–whether it be my style of reasoning, my political attitudes, or even (especially?) my approach to living the gospel–is shaped by my inner microeconomist. It’s who I am, I think, at my core. I was born this way, and am not likely to change. Unfortunately, just as my inner microeconomist causes me to loathe topics in macroeconomics, that same inner microeconomist generally causes me to loathe Mormon blogging.

Perhaps an analogy can help me explain this. Consider replacing “national economy” with “the Church” in a discussion of policy. At the highest level, we have governmental and monetary officials (prophets/apostles/general authorities) who implement policies designed to generate a robust economy (move the work of the Church forward). These policies are wrought upon the individual firms (wards/stakes/missions) and consumers (members, missionaries, women, men, youth, children) in the economy (church). These policies affect all firms (wards) and consumers (members), but not always directly or in identical fashion. This is because, even if all firms (wards) exist for the same general reason—grow/make more money (to bring souls unto Christ)—each individual firm (ward) and consumer (member) faces a broad range of challenges, strengths, weaknesses, and growth patterns. Taken collectively and viewed from 35,000 feet, all of these firm-(ward-) and consumer-(member-) specific concerns mesh together to form “the concerns of the economy (Church).”

True to form, I consider myself a “microMormon” because my religious interests and concerns are almost entirely focused on issues in my own little world: my ward, my home, and my personal life. Consequently, I don’t really get excited or interested in the sort of conversations a “macroMormon” might be passionate about. To illustrate, I care about about how to improve my lessons in Sunday school, but I don’t really care about improving “Sunday school in the Church.” I care about my own efforts as a missionary, and I care about the missionaries in my ward, but I don’t get too excited about Church-wide rules governing missionaries’ behavior. I stress greatly over what I see as social, racial, cultural, and financial barriers in my ward, but I can rarely muster any interest for trends in race-related statements in General Conference or total humanitarian aid contributions in recent years. I am concerned about leadership opportunities for women and how women are treated in my ward, but I find conversations about institutional reform to be generally off-putting.

In short, just as I find most macroeconomist conversations (GDP and trade balances) to be largely dull, boring, and fruitless, I find most macroMormon conversations (Church-wide policies) to be largely dull, boring, and fruitless. In fact, it often seems that the reasons I mentioned earlier for my disdain for macroeconomics are the same reasons I yawn during debates about Church policies: the predictive power of macroMormon debates leaves much to be desired because we have such a paucity of data, and macroMormons virtually never even agree on the interpretation of what data we do have, or what should be done about it anyway.[3] More importantly, even assuming that macroMormons could properly gather and analyze church-wide data on every issue under the sun, the power to implement policy rests in the hands of…not you or me.

I need to state here that I’m not saying that macroMormon topics aren’t important, because they are. Just as it is (admittedly) important for the health of a national economy that someone pays attention to interest rates and yield curves and inflation, there is a real need for attention on, and discussion of, church policies on homosexuality, immigration, missionary work, gender roles, and myriad other issues. We absolutely need to spend time wringing our collective hands over policies—past, current, and future—to ensure that past mistakes aren’t repeated and future successes are possible. I also realize that this line of thinking, taken to its extremes, can be twisted into a defense of “out of sight, out of mind” thinking, and consequently, implicit endorsement of abusive policies through willful ignorance or apathy. Such is not my intent.

Nevertheless, I find that where my thoughts and heart are most of the time, there also are my actions, most of the time. As a microeconomist, I talk frequently about trade-offs and opportunity costs. As a microMormon, I find that frequently, the cost of time spent wringing my hands over church-wide policies—past, current, and future—is time not spent wringing my hands over the problems my home teaching families are dealing with, over the challenges my elders quorum is facing, and over my personal and family discipleship. More devastatingly, I find that it often leaves me sitting in a pew on Sunday, feeling empty, entirely disconnected from the hearts and minds of the mourning, comfortless, and grieving Saints who surround me.

——————————
[1] The confusion among non-economists over this is rooted in the fact that, even though a vast majority (based on my anecdotal observations) of economists are microeconomists (who don’t give a rat’s patootie about GDP), a vast majority of economists seen on television are macroeconomists who are on TV specifically so they can yak about GDP. Yawn.

[2] This attitude is demonstrated in the oft-told joke that “macroeconomists have successfully predicted 8 ½ of the last 4 recessions.

[3] This is demonstrated by the fact that virtually every post in the bloggernacle can be reduced to someone saying “This is how we should do things!” followed by comments saying, effectively, “Oh huh!”

Comments

  1. Steve Evans says:

    Some wise thoughts here, Scott, especially about predictive power and lack of data. And if the various online debates are disconnecting you from what the Spirit is telling you is important, then well, whaddaya gonna do? Jesus preaches a gospel of actively loving and saving those around us, not necessarily a gospel of empty hand-wringing.

    And yet — talking about big ideas, policies, trends and doctrines is important. It’s clearly not the same type of “important,” but it is still important. Perhaps it is a question of letting that micro-level care for those around us better inform our views on those macro-level issues? What do you think?

  2. Interesting. I think I generally share the loathing of systemic hand-wringing. I think blogging is at its worst when things get all angsty-confessional. I wish that I was a better person and was more engaged locally (in church and out of it), but I tend to think and talk about things that typically only contextualize my locality.

  3. To illustrate, I don’t care about about how to improve my lessons in Sunday school, but I don’t really care about improving “Sunday school in the Church.”

    you mean that you DO care about improving your lessons, right? thought so. [yes–thanks, I fixed it. -sb]

    this is an interesting concept, and i’m quite in line with you. in this micro view, both church and government intersect as government is involved in creating efficient plans to help citizens, but it seems most efficient to me to implement those plans at the local level where the details are better known.

  4. I think my comment might have gone to spam because it was short. Here is what I said:

    Insightful post.

  5. Nice post. At first I thought this was headed for another macro discussion. One reason those fail is, as you said, “the power to implement policy rests in the hands of…not you or me.”

    Your final sentence hits the nail on the head. Thanks.

  6. Scott–I agree with you that lived Mormonism is more important than theorized Mormonism, but it’s not clear to me that micro- and macro- issues can be neatly sundered in an organization that exerts as much top-down control as our church does. For instance, if I hate the upholstery on the couch in the foyer of my church (this is a hypothetical–I promise I don’t care), that turns out to be a macro issue because all of the couches for the entire church are mass-produced in some factory somewhere and then squeezed out like cheez-wiz into every new chapel. Sometimes, thinking about macro issues really is the best (or the only) way to work on the micro ones.

    Still, I agree that spending excessive time handwringing about issues at the general church level at the expense of, say, visiting teaching, would be a mistake.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    the oft-told joke that “macroeconomists have successfully predicted 8 ½ of the last 4 recessions.”

    Actually, the macroeconomists at OMB and CBO have predicted exactly zero of the last four recessions. Not a joke.

    There’s a lesson in there somewhere. I’ll try to figure out what it is on my way home.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Scott, it is interesting that you have framed the macro/micro question as an either/or, in terms of tradeoffs. In a religion where there is such a premium on non-dissent, anyone who wants to say anything on a macro level has to be especially mindful of doing all the little things right. I think it is possible, and maybe even likely, that some people who are macroMormons are especially attentive to the micro aspects of discipleship as well. I’ve heard Hugh Nibley say something to the effect that he considered his private religious devotions and service in his local ward to be a pre-requisite to opening his mouth about anything else. It wouldn’t surprise me if this were true of many others as well.

  9. That’s because the macro people at OMB and CBO are not responsible for forecasting the economy. They are responsible for modeling potential changes in policy and how that will affect certain sectors of the economy. In other words, they take the state of the economy as given. Ironically enough, the models that OMB and CBO run are already programed on a false premise of Keynesian economics. Therefore, when the government proposes a stimulus, it will automatically show a stimulating effect because that is what the model is programed to. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Otherwise, Scott, this was an interesting post. This reminds me of the catch phrase “Think global, act local”. Think about the church-wide maximization problem, but solve the maximization for your local constraint, even if you can’t get to the global peak (or trough).

  10. No one has ever made economics so interesting and accessible to me until this post.

    Really good ideas here, Scott. Does the analogy carry over into who effects real change in the world economically? Does it trickle down from the macros, or does it grow upwards from the micros? Very interesting things to think about…

  11. I think it is possible, and maybe even likely, that some people who are macroMormons are especially attentive to the micro aspects of discipleship as well.

    I’m very happy for those who are successful in both; I’m just not one of them.

  12. I was born this way, and am not likely to change.

    Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?

  13. Tracy M,
    There is a fairly large school of thought that argues that macro-level behavior has micro-level underpinnings. There are also many conflicting schools of thought, though. I tend to think that the relationship between macro and micro phenomena is strained, but I’m open to rebuttal.

  14. Perhaps it is a question of letting that micro-level care for those around us better inform our views on those macro-level issues? What do you think?

    Yeah, I think that’s about right. Maybe the idea I’m getting at is the concern that I would let frustration with macro-level issues, even if they are informed by prior, proper, micro-level care, distract me from future micro-level care. A sub-conscious, or maybe even conscious, boycott, so to speak.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Scott, totally. I know it’s not very scientific to say, but fundamentally I think that’s one of the core things that having the Spirit is meant to do — keep our eyes on whatever ball god wants us to focus on.

  16. I keep thinking about Sheldon on Big Bang Theory giving backhanded compliments to Wolowitz being “just” an engineer while he is a theoretical physicist.

    The world (church) needs both. If there are no complainers about the macro (even complainers that have no official status) then progress is usually slow and clumsy. But if everyone is just complaining about the macro – the concrete problems on the ground can easily be overlooked.

    You of course alluded to this, I believe. So I’m not saying anything you don’t know.

  17. StillConfused says:

    I would classify myself as micro as well

  18. I am SUCH a macroMormon. I think it drives my roommates crazy.

  19. As much as at any other time when economics gets discussed, I think I said at least once, “I get this”, then got to the end, pronounced it “profound”, then tried to remember what I’d read. I have this vision of micro-economists as the people you are likely to meet in the outer office, while macro-economists are in a dark back room, sequestered from the public where they wear hooded cloaks, work by candlelight, and dissect goats to examine the entrails before predicting 8 1/2 of the last 4 recessions.

    That being said, Scott, this was a really nice post about why our discipleship and willingness to serve really counts.

    To go one step further, then, with the macro vs micro analogy, Stapley would be a macro-historian, while my research on my family and ancestors qualifies me as a micro-historian.

  20. Scott, many thx for this. Inisghtful and illuminating in that it resonated with me in ways of which I wasn’t aware it would. In your model, I see myself as a microMormon in helping who’s in front of me.

    As a missionary in Argentina, local people sometimes would tell us our efforts were futile in their 95+% Catholic country. I heard and used the story of Chicken Little, who was found lying on his back in the middle of the road with his feet lifted towards the sky.
    “What are you doing?”
    “The sky’s going to fall; I have to hold it up.”
    “Silly chicken, the sky is so big and you are so small — you can’t hold up the whole sky.”
    “Maybe not, but one does what one can.”

    FYI, as a psych undergrad, this took me back to the sociologist vs. psychologist clashes back then. Macro vs. micro.

    As an MBA (Finance) with 30 years experience, I’ve noticed that every company in which I worked was full of people and that I was most effective dealing with the person across the desk/table from me. However, marketing was about groups. Macro in contrast with micro.

    Coming back to the Church, the ultimate goal was, aside from coming to the fulness of the measure of the stature of Christ, to realize the fulfilment of Christ’s plea in Gethsemane for his believers to become one. The macro becoming the micro.

  21. I’ve heard Hugh Nibley say something to the effect that he considered his private religious devotions and service in his local ward to be a pre-requisite to opening his mouth about anything else.

    I was thinking about this statement earlier this evening, and I decided that I don’t really think Hugh Nibley is a good example, because his private devotion–whatever it may or may not have been–can’t be viewed in the same way as his public pronouncements, since making such public pronouncements was…his job.

    In other words, I certainly would feel differently about time spent debating the dustier corners of the kingdom if my employer required me to.

  22. Scott,
    I think your post is important for a few reasons, and it is true that Mormon blogging does mostly, exactly what you say it does–makes everything about policy and what we (meaning the Church where the decisions are made) should do.
    However it seems to me that each post that has a Mormon macrocosm angle, stems from the writer’s personal experience on a very micro level. I think bloggers fail to communicate that effectively, or often purposefully for whatever reason. Most bloggers in the world of Mormon blogging don’t want comments on their real lives, and would much rather talk in abstractions and hypotheticals than the relate what prompted the post in the first place, and there is always something that prompted it.

  23. B.Russ #12: awesome.

  24. To clarify myself in #14, one of several impetuses for this post was a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is serving as a Bishop between Saturday sessions of the recent General Conference. I asked him what challenges his ward is facing–what are the most common concerns he feels as a Bishop. I honestly expected him to say that pr0n or materialism or somesuch, but he didn’t. He said that the most frustrating thing he frequently has to deal with is a lack of service/activity stemming from a focus on difficult theologies/doctrines/policies (he listed patriarchal leadership, the priesthood ban, and homosexuality as some of the common culprits).

    While I certainly don’t think that any of those issues are small or silly or easily brushed aside, it saddened me a bit to think that people would refuse a calling or neglect current callings over them.

  25. MCQ (23),
    You can’t give someone props for simply slamming home a ball that was lofted up perfectly above the rim. I knew what I was doing when I wrote that sentence.

  26. So what you’re saying is, it’s your fault the economy stinks?

  27. Wonderful thoughts, Scott.

    As I thought about this, I realized that I am a pretty even balance of micro- and macro-Mormon – and it really bothers some people who are solidly one or the other, since, to them, I seem to hold contradictory views.

    I don’t expect ever to have influence at the macro level, but whatever influence I have at any level is due to participation and effort at the micro level. We tend to be willing to overlook even fairly radical, private/quiet macro-heterodoxy as long as a person is fairly solidly micro-orthoprax.

  28. Micro = real science; Macro = ….

    Kevinf in 19 really caught it.

    Of course it has been a while since I studied econ undergrad.

    But now I’m wondering if macro mormon complainers fit the model.

    I’ll have to think about that.

  29. 25 – Oh, so Scotty feels he’s the superstar, no love for Michael bringing the ball home. Pshah.

    22 – Another reason bloggers probably like to stay in the macro – if a conversation starts there its easier to stay in the abstract and progress the dialectic. Whereas if they start in the micro – its very easy to get distracted into giving specific advice – Example A Example B

  30. Re: the OP – I can understand what you are saying, especially in light of your conversation with your friend – but I imagine it has a lot to do with personality type. I could see becoming jaded by looking at the big picture, and “looking past the mark” and losing interest in the details.

    I think for other people – like myself – the problem isn’t becoming jaded, but bored. When Gospel Principles – which are so pragmatic in nature – are the basis for lessons every week the bigger picture/deeper doctrine/conspiracy theories/coverups are the things that can at least pique interest and encourage endurance.

    I wonder how all this might fit into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator . . . If you happen to know your type Scott – might you perhaps be an “S” on the Sensing/Intuition spectrum?

  31. The problem is when the Macro micromanages the Micro – about things as trivial as what color shirt to wear or how many earrings to have or what side of someone another person should sit on the stand or how far you can “stray” from the correlated macro-manual or any of a thousand other thing. The rules set up by the Macro have a very real impact on the lives of the Micro.

    If the Macro truly focused on “Macro” issues and let everyone determine for themselves what things should be on a Micro, I don’t know that people would complain as much.

  32. Scott, perhaps your friend might consider “patriarchal leadership, the priesthood ban, and homosexuality” more microMormon if he were a black lesbian?

  33. Cynthia L. says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day, and now come back to comment and see that Dan has made my point for me. Not thinking about macro issues like those you list is to some extent a luxury, more so for some than for others.

    I agree as far as ideally where the bulk of our individual focus should be. But sometimes you’re putting in all the effort you can at micro, and what is really needed is for the macro to step in or step up.

    To twist a phrase, “It is by the macro problems are solved, after all the micro we can do.”

  34. B.Russ,
    I don’t think that is quite what I am getting at–I am not suggesting that we should spend more time talking about basic gospel principles. I am saying (as awkward and hypocritical as it to say this as a blogger) that we should spend less time talking in the first place, and more time doing. “Talked-about” religion is boring to me, almost no matter the topic. Lived religion–serving, visiting, and comforting–is much less boring.

    I am not saying that macroMormonism is the Gospel of Inaction; however, i am saying that finding application in the pews for the lessoms learned during debates over maceoMormonism is more difficult.

  35. Dan,
    I think that your comment reflects an interpretation of what he said that is not what he meant. As I stated in the OP, it is important to discuss and find solutions to those big-picture problems. However, those problems cannot be solved in 15 minutes, and we can’t simply shut down the congregation until everyone is satisfied with everything.

    That is the frustration conveyed: not that someone is deeply troubled by a given issue, but that someone would withhold their services until the problem is solved–which no bishop has the authority to do.

  36. Cynthia L. says:

    #36: I think to me the real issue with macro is the tendency for macro=problems. We know what we need to do in micro, it is just a matter of doing it. And it is easy to find joy in micro. Macro is largely invisible unless there is something wrong. So macro discussion is de facto a discussion of problems.

    That can be draining on the soul and taxing of energy after a point, no doubt.

  37. A perfect example of what I think is the greatest form of Mormon blogging is found here: http://bycommonconsent.com/2006/10/04/a-modest-proposal/

    In that post, Kristine writes about women’s issues (macro idea), but approaches it entirely from a perspective which allows for easy implementation in every reader’s ward, immediately, without any need for sweeping institutional changes.

    Notably, if enough people actually _did_ implement it, it might actually result in institutional changes.

  38. Gospel principles are macro
    Their application, micro

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think certain problems just cannot be solved at a macro level. (I think Dan is on to something.)

    Here’s the thing: Problem Q exists. The powers that be address the issue and come up with a solution. Problem Q is ameliorated, but as a consequence, intentional or no, my occupation or identity as a whizzle-twirler becomes irrelevant. I cry out “what about whizzle-twirlers??!!” And rightly so!! It’s easy to see in economics, but I think it applies to the way the church is governed, too. (I’ve always been a whizzle-twirler, and so a lot of what happens at church has always been alienating to me. But, I recognize that the church can’t be made to fit me without aggravating Problem Q.)

    This doesn’t mean that the church should try to take care of both Q and me – and I think it does – but it does mean that there are ‘opportunity costs.’ (To humanize it some: consider the young man who no longer rises to the level of the bar. Yet, perhaps, he is one who would benefit greatly by serving a mission in spite of himself. He is an opportunity cost, sacrificed to the improvements in missionary work hoped to be attained by the new structures. (This is a problem that CAN’T be solved at the macro level; it must be solved at the micro level or go on unsolved.)

    I think this is real, and so I think that while it is right that as an organization the church should try to ‘maximize spiritual returns’, and consider both Q and me, I don’t think that the church can be “perfected” by working at a macro level. I think that things are _generally_ getting better, but some things are clearly lost in their de-emphasis, and much of trying to get things right emphasizing government at a macro level seems to lead to government by policy which ‘quenches the Spirit’ almost as if by law. While things can be made more ‘technically efficient’ at the macro level, there is always going to be one of us whizzle-twirlers who has not been best served.

    I think manean gets it right when he says _principles_ (and I would oppose this to policies) are what function best at a macro level. ‘I teach people correct principles (at the macro level) and _they govern themselves_ (at the micro level)! In the world as it is, policies are likely necessary just in order to function without being drowned in lawsuits. But, as far as teaching goes, I wish we could be taught the principles (the gospel) and let the application truly fall to us. Because at a micro level, we can see that certain principles find best application at certain times, while at other times a different principle might need to be applied. (Forgiveness is always a correct principle, but there may be time when something else needs to be emphasized and forgiveness shelved!)

    Finally, as far as the church being ‘perfected’, that lies in nothing more than the collective wellness of those of us who are loyal to it. It can’t be mandated or forced to happen by authoritative decree. The church improves no faster than we do, and they can’t make that process a policy.

    Groovy. ~

  40. Good thoughts, Thomas.

    We really do belong to two distinct churches – the global and the local, and, ideally, those two churches would address the macro and the micro separately. The tension comes often when one tries to do the other’s job, if you will. (Global leadership micromanaging or local leadership going beyond the global leadership in macromanaging)

    I try to separate the two levels by attending and being involved in the local institutional church for the micro (the loving and being loved) and studying the Gospel and the macro individually both inside and outside “The Church”. Iow, I try to use everything I can to craft a macro view that works for me – following the scriptural counsel to seek learning out of the best books (and sources). I think a problem exists when someone tries to insist that “The (global) Church” provide both the micro and the macro *fully*, but that’s the mindset of a lot of members (and some global leaders) at any point in time. It’s just the nature of humanity.

    I also think the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is fascinating with regard to this topic.

  41. But Scott–here’s the thing: I can’t do a single damn micro thing to implement that proposal, because of the macro problem that I am a woman in a patriarchal church. That macro fact means that all I can do is suggest, propose, ask, plead, and I had better do it in an acceptable Mormon-girl voice. Again, the macro issues stymie micro action. If you happen to be a woman, absolutely every single micro action you take is subject to priesthood review and reversal. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be anxiously engaged, but it certainly tends to introduce macro angst.

    I’m glad you described that conversation with your friend. It must be frustrating as a bishop to have people upset with things they can’t change, while things that are within their “sphere of influence” remain undone. Still, in lots of organizations, a problem with morale and commitment at lower levels would be taken as an opportunity for introspection at higher levels–effective organizations try to address structural problems rather than just condemning folks who can’t get with the program. It’s trickier in the church, with our belief in inspired leadership, but I still think that not all problems should be lain at the feet of members in the pews not being diligent enough.

  42. Scott, I think most bloggers who consider macro issues would like to write something which captures the blend you observed in Kristine’s post. Perhaps my failure to do so is more a function of my lack of certain talents than a desire to ignore the local.

    However that is not to say that I did not enjoy your post, I thought it was thought-provoking and has certainly prompted me to reconsider some of my priorities.

    btw, that post by Kristine is excellent thank you for sharing.

  43. I don’t think that is quite what I am getting at–I am not suggesting that we should spend more time talking about basic gospel principles. I am saying (as awkward and hypocritical as it to say this as a blogger) that we should spend less time talking in the first place, and more time doing. “Talked-about” religion is boring to me, almost no matter the topic. Lived religion–serving, visiting, and comforting–is much less boring.

    I think that I stated my point poorly, so let me try again. I think the exact same discussion can have two different effects on the same person. On person A – it jades them and encourages inaction. On person B – it invigorates them and gives them the desire to keep working.

    The difference is the two people – person A is obviously a person whos devotion is based on activity. Person B is a person whos devotion is based on ideas.

    Where blogging (or for those who don’t blog – talking) might discourage some people from action because they become discouraged by the humanity in the overall church. For others blogging/talking is the catalyst that keeps their interest. They are able to serve better because they are able to see how their work is part of a larger, though flawed, tapestry.

  44. I am not saying that macroMormonism is the Gospel of Inaction; however, i am saying that finding application in the pews for the lessoms learned during debates over maceoMormonism is more difficult.

    And this is precisely what I’m talking about. I think, in my case, talking about overall patriarchal order v. women’s rights shapes my beliefs so that I treat women differently when I encounter them in church. Talking about treatment of gays in church doesn’t really affect how I treat gays in church (since I don’t know any in my ward, or any ward I’ve been in) but it shapes how I treat people who might otherwise be seen as different or outcast.

    In other words, for some people like me, talking about the larger problems the church is facing is a catalyst for me to change my day to day behavior and shape my actions.

    Very specific example: Last year a close friend of mine that I’ve known for over twenty years now was thinking of joining the National Guard. The choice of him joining is what I would call a microMormonism decision. The merits of the war in Iraq and Mormon involvment in our nations wars would be macroMormonism (am I correct?). Due to a blog I’d been reading, and some very valid (although admittedly “over the top”) opinions, I was able to share my opinion with my friend, and ask him some questions that he had not pondered. In the end he made his decision, saying his reasoning was largely due to the ideas that I had expressed to him.
    So in this case, the discussion of the macro helped inform me, and encourage me to act when I saw a friend facing a life decision.

    I think where you’re coming from, California where many Mormons are disaffected from the involvement in prop 8, its easy to be tired of all the talk, and there are certainly casualties in the forms of service rendered and attendance in the pews.
    But I might add, that in many cases here in the heartland – the good ol’ Wasatch Front, there isn’t enough talk about these hard issues. Many are very complacent doing their quilting, baking their funeral potatoes, meeting with the Elders Quorum to help Family Smith move, and building the deseret. And they never think to question the larger issues of the church, because they live in a protected area where they aren’t having to face the consequences of church decisions.
    Having outside perspectives, in geographies that aren’t so homogenous, from people who have advanced education in these areas, and discussing these perspectives ad nauseum can be helpful.
    Again, I don’t think you’re making a case in opposition to conversation, I just wanted to reiterate many of the benefits.

  45. Kristine,
    I totally disagree. All that it takes is for the YW president to make a phone call to the RS president. The Bishop, or any other male, need not ever even enter into the question.

    “Hi RS president. I have three 17 year old girls who will be entering RS soon. Do you have any VT assignments that don’t get done very frequently because of slacker companions? I think my older YW could pitch in here.”

    “Yep, sure do, Sister YM Pres. That sounds lovely! Send them my way on Sunday.”

  46. Scott–you are lucky if you have never lived in a place where such innovation would be immediately slapped down by a bishop, and the RS and YW presidents dismissed or strongly chastised for not asking permission. Even the comments on that thread presumed that bishops/stake presidents would need to approve.

  47. Scott,
    Sadly Kristine is right.

    And ditto 43 and 44.

  48. That said, I think that there’s no _good_ reason RS and YW presidents shouldn’t try it. Yes, they might initially get slapped down, but eventually, people would get used to women actually fulfilling their stewardships and we’d all be better off for it.

  49. Ron Madson says:

    “A single dream is more powerful than an thousand realities”–Tolkien.
    It is the dream/vision that for me at least inspires the thousand realities. Ideas have consequences. My macro framework gives vitality to my everyday relationships. I have a good friend that often asks, “well what does the study of cosmology, deep doctrine, church history, etc. etc. have to do with home teaching and one’s personal life/church service?” I say everything.
    But I really appreciated this OP and the discussion. I have learned from it….thanks

  50. Ron Madson says:

    #48 Kristine,
    I say we each should follow our conscience/spirit and just do it. As Malcolm Gladwell illustrated so well in “Tipping Point” there are “connectors, mavens and salesman” and we each have a role/voice and that really, really good ideas I believe rarely come form the top down but from the voices/acts of those operating on the micro level. And it does not take a majority but only takes a “tipping point” of speaking and doing. So if you are a “connector” and “saleswomen” just do it and see what happens? Even being shut down communicates something of value IMO.

  51. Kristine, here’s a real life situation that this post has prompted me to take micro action on a macro problem (ie, patriarchal leadership, and perceived gender roles).

    There is a convert baptism taking place tomorrow afternoon in our ward. The bishop asked my wife, the RS president, for some cookies or whatever for after the baptism. My wife wondered afterward to me, “why is it always the Relief Society’s responsibility to do these things?”

    My solution is to contact the brothers in my HP group and ask them to provide the cookies, and not just get their wives to do it. We’ll see how it works.

  52. I think I must live where Scott lives because his scenario strikes me as eminently plausible.

  53. the power to implement policy rests in the hands of…not you or me.

    I completely disagree…society (meaning church members) do shape and influence the direction of the Church, and encourage new revelation and new ways of doing things. And church-wide change doesn’t happen from switching up things in your little corner of the world. It happens by speaking out.

    But I’m not one who thinks God withholds information because He wants to, but because we haven’t gotten ourselves to a place where we can accept it.

    For example, I don’t think Blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood because, for some higher reason that we can’t understand, Heavenly Father decided they just couldn’t. I think it was because we were still prejudiced and didn’t think it was important enough to ask Him about it, or to want it to change. It wasn’t until the public made their voices heard, and applied pressure to the powers that be, that they decided it was something that needed to be addressed. And when they did finally ask Him, and all members of the quorum of the twelve were ready to assent, the priesthood was extended to black men.

    The same thing is happening now with the issue of gay members. The church is rapidly softening its position on the issue. And the same thing happened with the issue of “acceptable bedroom activities between husband and wife”…the outcry from the members was enough to recall that rule pretty darn fast.

    The Presidency is most definitely influenced by the concerns of the membership, but ONLY when the cry is loud enough and strong enough. Which means we have to work together and not just be concerned about the way our own ward is doing things.

    I do think its selfish to only care if its affecting you personally. There are still plenty of wards operating with the mindset of the past, and its hurting members and their families, and future generations. Its our responsibility to speak out and extend support to all of our brothers and sisters.

  54. But Scott–here’s the thing: I can’t do a single damn micro thing to implement that proposal, because of the macro problem that I am a woman in a patriarchal church. That macro fact means that all I can do is suggest, propose, ask, plead, and I had better do it in an acceptable Mormon-girl voice. Again, the macro issues stymie micro action. If you happen to be a woman, absolutely every single micro action you take is subject to priesthood review and reversal.

    Kristine,
    The first time I heard that comment, probably 18 months or so ago, I didn’t believe it. I probably, in my own special male way, even denied its accuracy.

    The second time I heard that comment, I thought about it a little bit more, and I couldn’t help but realize that it was true, and it started to bother me a bit.

    The third time I heard that comment, I was genuinely angry about its truthfulness.
    .
    .
    .
    The 9,000th time I heard it, it lost all of its effect, and now just strikes me as sad that, despite all of the brilliance and creativity and innovative thinking that is found in the bloggernacle, every conversation about women’s roles ends with that comment.

    Scott–you are lucky if you have never lived in a place where such innovation would be immediately slapped down by a bishop, and the RS and YW presidents dismissed or strongly chastised for not asking permission. Even the comments on that thread presumed that bishops/stake presidents would need to approve.

    I’m really tempted to say, “See my response to the first quote in this comment,” but that would be just too much for a Saturday afternoon. The point I was trying to make by referring to your old post from 2006 was not that it was fool-proof, or that a jerk with a need to exercise authority he doesn’t have will never rear his ugly head, or even that all RS/YW leaders would care if approached about it. Rather, the point I was trying to make is that your post was what I, personally, like: an attempt to find solutions. In contrast, your other two comments I quoted here don’t even bother with solutions. They just say, effectively, “Sorry. It’s a lost cause. Can’t be done.”

    That’s why this is so frustrating–and particularly frustrating from you, because you’re so frequently the shining example of “doing it right” in my book. Your suggestions, like the 2006 one, as well as the music idea (announcing them in advance?) are awesome. Neither requires any male anatomy at all. (In fact, in my ward, the latter could be accomplished by simply emailing one of your cousins, who is in charge of the printed program, and asking her to include next week’s songs.) Again, a male might invoke some kind of unwritten order of whatever, and quash the whole thing, but there is no defined structural barrier to taking the first steps.

    I still think that not all problems should be lain at the feet of members in the pews not being diligent enough.

    I certainly never said that. I don’t think anyone else ever said that. Who said that?

  55. B.Russ,

    In other words, for some people like me, talking about the larger problems the church is facing is a catalyst for me to change my day to day behavior and shape my actions.

    See my #11.

  56. Olive (53),
    I don’t think I said much of what you seem to think I said.

    Re

    the power to implement policy rests in the hands of…not you or me.

    I completely disagree…society (meaning church members) do shape and influence the direction of the Church, and encourage new revelation and new ways of doing things. And church-wide change doesn’t happen from switching up things in your little corner of the world. It happens by speaking out.

    The thing is, you disagree with me because you’re wrong. Don’t feel bad, though–it happens to most people. :)

    The power to implement the policies on a church-wide basis rests in the hands of the FP and Q12, and anyone else they authorize. Everything you wrote about speaking out, etc…has nothing to do with the authority to change the rules. It has plenty to do with _influencing_ policy, of course, but that is a different question, since we don’t worship in a democracy and policies aren’t generally adopted simply because signed petitions are delivered to the COB.

    Where you’ve got me wrong, I think, is that “speaking out” is exactly what I am calling “microMormon” here–I’m just saying that the speaking should be done in ways that it actually penetrates our wards and culture. I’m not convinced that saying it online does either of those things. In fact, I kind of think it often quarantines us and can even mislead us into thinking that we’re winning a battle that the opponent isn’t even participating in.

    So yes, Olive, I find statements like “I do think its selfish to only care if its affecting you personally” to be kind of annoying, since I’ve not said anything like that. Quite the opposite: these issues all affect me personally, but in a way which has caused me, at times, to ignore the problems and concerns of everyone else around me. That is the very height of selfishness, and I am speaking against it.

  57. Scott: I wouldn’t presume to speak for Kristine, but some seasons I feel filled with energy to effect change locally, I speak up, I take chances, I steer conversations in Relief Society, I blog, I feel pumped by the formation of LDSWave, I circle wagons ’round the (another) woman slipping away for xyz, I get excited about baby steps.

    And some seasons I feel tired. Tired by months of lessons that do not highlight a single female voice. Tired by a thousand cultural nuances and comments and doctrinal conundrums and examples of patriarchy gone wrong.

    And then my energy returns, because I am a Mormon Woman and I really want to make my micro-Ward(s) safe for all stripes of Mormon Women. And I have an important role in that. I have confidence, I have ideas, I have a great love for my sisters.

    And then I get tired. And then I have hope. So no, it’s not a lost cause, but it can be an exhausting one.

  58. Deborah,
    Thanks for your comment. I loved every syllable.

  59. It’s a bit late to make this kind of comment, but I want to point out that I went to a lot of effort in the OP to make it about my own self–my thoughts, my reactions, my experiences, my weaknesses, my preferences. It’s a post about how I see myself, and why that self clashes with the bloggernacle frequently.

    The post is not an advice column; it’s not a prophecy that the church will shrivel and die unless everyone agrees with me. It’s simply an explanation of why I am consistently bored or put-off by certain conversations that, evidently, many others find enthralling.

  60. 59 – I think we all realize that, and probably already understood that about you.
    It did seem like there might be an undertone of – “hey maybe you guys should go out and do some work instead of blogging” I don’t think you meant it to be there, but I for one read a little bit of that in there.

    As far as the advice column issue – see my 29.

    And as far as your 55, I know, I was just trying to tell the other side of the story. You told your microeconomist side. I thought I’d tell my macroeconomist side. Hope it didn’t come off as advice. It wasn’t.

  61. Jesus preaches a gospel of actively loving and saving those around us, not necessarily a gospel of empty hand-wringing.

    some seasons I feel filled with energy to effect change locally, I speak up, I take chances, I steer conversations

    The real question is whether or not we are willing to embrace the cost.

    I wrote:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2010/05/27/on-becoming-a-prophet-small-p/

    on that very topic, though there are some typos in the article (that I can’t fix now).

    But ….

  62. It did seem like there might be an undertone of – “hey maybe you guys should go out and do some work instead of blogging” I don’t think you meant it to be there, but I for one read a little bit of that in there.

    I think it actually was there intentionally–but it was directed at myself, not at you or others.

    And as far as your 55, I know, I was just trying to tell the other side of the story. You told your microeconomist side. I thought I’d tell my macroeconomist side. Hope it didn’t come off as advice. It wasn’t.

    No, it didn’t–and I meant what I said in #11; I’m genuinely happy (and envious, I think) of people who are able to find balance more easily or effectively than I am.

  63. Latter-day Guy says:

    Fascinating post, Scott.

    …“speaking out” is exactly what I am calling “microMormon” here — I’m just saying that the speaking should be done in ways that it actually penetrates our wards and culture. I’m not convinced that saying it online does either of those things.

    Yes, if we want to make changes — to ourselves, to the Church — things have got to happen on the ground, in the trenches. In a lot of ways, this is tricky. I certainly don’t express myself in the same way in Sunday school as I do online. I’m sure that my comments in church taken as a whole, and my comments online taken as a whole present fairly different pictures of my beliefs — not because I lie, but because in person I soften things, or simply make no comment at all. It’s easy to foment revolution online, but it’s a little more daunting to lob Molotov cocktail’s over the pulpit. Silence and inaction are social lubricants; they make it much easier to squeeze through the three-hour-long birth canal of the Sunday Block.

    At the same time, I’m reminded of one of my favorite lines from The History Boys:

    The best moments in reading are when you come across something — a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things — that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

    For me, the bloggernacle is to Church meetings as Church meetings are to daily life: a place to commiserate, to feel less alone in our beliefs, to lick our wounds, to show our scars, and to share successful tactics (however minor those successes may be), to bolster our courage. After all, “It is not good … to be alone.”

  64. Scott–I think I’m going to hire Deborah to speak for me from now on!

    It’s not that it’s a lost cause; it’s that it’s an incredibly frustrating and slow one. Some days I’m more patient and optimistic than others.

    Caught me on bad day, I guess.

  65. Kristine,
    I don’t mean (at all) to suggest that what you wrote wasn’t 100% completely entirely true (in your first comment I quoted), or that your sentiment in the second quote isn’t 100% completely entirely understandable and valid. Both problems–structural barriers for women, as well as cultural barriers for women–need attention, and need it desperately.

    It just seems like, if we insist on starting and ending every conversation about these issues with global non-starters like “It’s impossible” (and I have done this myself), then it makes me wonder what the point of having the conversation is in the first place? Doesn’t it feel like we’re willfully beating ourselves over the head with a club, for no other reason than that we’ve been left alone in a room containing a club?

  66. Latter-day Guy,
    What about Part 3?

  67. Yeah, Scott–Mormon feminism has an element of masochism, for sure. It’s not clear to me what the alternative is. You say these issues “need attention,” at the same time as you seem to be saying I should pay less attention to them. (Or just less vocal attention?)

  68. And I’m not disagreeing with you, either–just noting the real difficulty of the problem.

  69. You say these issues “need attention,” at the same time as you seem to be saying I should pay less attention to them. (Or just less vocal attention?)

    Yes, my goal is to silence you and anyone else who gets in my way! :)

    The first thing I would say to that is that this post was not supposed to turn into a conversation solely about feminism. My thoughts in writing the post were more general than that. The best I can do is describe what ideas I was considering when I wrote the post:

    1. I feel alone in my ward, and I hear others in the bloggernacle say that all the time.
    2. I want desperately to believe that my loneliness is a function of my religious and political quirks, which are grounded in greater enlightenment and general brilliance.
    3. Deep down in my heart, (2.) is false, and I know it. Although some of the elements listed in (2.) may exacerbate things, the truth is that I just don’t put enough effort into building friendships or serving. I want others to love me, but I don’t love them first.
    4. Even if there was, at one point in time, no one “I really connect with” in my ward, is that _still_ true now? I have no way of knowing because I stopped looking.
    5. One of the big reasons I often struggle to care about what is being said around me on Sundays is because I’m too busy thinking about what’s wrong with everything else.

  70. To twist another well-known phrase: No macro success can compensate for micro failure

    We had Laurel companions for RS VTeachers in our branch when I was YW Pres. Seemed to work well and no one complained.

  71. What? You mean there’s something else to talk about?!

    Thanks for laying this out. One of the good things about being old is that I’ve known for a long time that 2 is false. And I find that having vented my spleen about the stuff we talk about in the ‘nacle actually makes it easier for me to connect with people in my ward. If I’m not dying to talk about the latest kerfuffle in SLC, it’s easier for me to pay attention to the conversations that are happening around me, and either find my way into them, or smile and nod with genuine affection for the people having those conversations, because I know there’s someplace else for me to have the esoteric/pretentious conversation I want to have later.

  72. I enjoyed reading this post.

    I never thought of it before, but I’m a microMormon too.

  73. I should also note that the irony that studying the decision making, policy creation, and general behavior of the macroChurch is an example of microeconomic inquiry, is not lost on me.

  74. So, what happens when the governing rules created by Macroeconomics/MacroMormonism limit your ability to improve (or somehow negatively interfere with) your situation in Microeconomics/Micromormonism?

    Do you start getting interested about the Macro part of the issues and do you get involved in the debate or do you simply look for a way to get around the limitation and do the best with what’s provided?

  75. Scott, I have a question about what you wrote in #24:

    To clarify myself in #14, one of several impetuses for this post was a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is serving as a Bishop between Saturday sessions of the recent General Conference. I asked him what challenges his ward is facing–what are the most common concerns he feels as a Bishop. I honestly expected him to say that pr0n or materialism or somesuch, but he didn’t. He said that the most frustrating thing he frequently has to deal with is a lack of service/activity stemming from a focus on difficult theologies/doctrines/policies (he listed patriarchal leadership, the priesthood ban, and homosexuality as some of the common culprits).

    Did the bishop really answer your question? Perhaps those challenges are the most frustrating ones he has to deal with, but are they the most common ones he deals with?

    I’m not trying to diss your comments, or the significance of those issues. I think it’s great that your friend shared with you some of his frustrations. But I just wonder whether he also has to deal with an equal or greater number of ward members with other kinds of overwhelming, enervating, problems — for example, marriages falling into divorce, or unemployment, or severe health issues?

  76. Zefram,

    Did the bishop really answer your question? Perhaps those challenges are the most frustrating ones he has to deal with, but are they the most common ones he deals with?

    Yes, I think he answered my question, because (as my comment states), I didn’t ask him, “What is the most frequent thing you have to deal with?” I asked him about his most commonly felt concerns–i.e., what he is most concerned about in his ward on an ongoing basis: “the most frustrating thing he frequently has to deal with.” This is different than “most frequent thing” he has to deal with.

  77. To clarify even further, I would imagine that there are many things which are either more frequent - or – more frustrating for him, but perhaps not both simultaneously.

  78. Had the thought that, at least from what is visible to the public eye, the current Prophet tends towards the “micro”, while others, like Elder Oaks, tend toward the “macro”.

    It’s kind of a fun game…Eyring=micro, Packer=macro…

  79. Thanks, Scott. I was reading “most common concerns” = “most common problems”.

  80. Scott, if you feel alone and attribute this to your political/religious quirks, might these not be the same feelings the people in your ward (the ones the bishop is worried about) are experiencing? Even if we cannot change patriarchal leadership/ the priesthood ban/ homosexuality issues, might thinking about those macro concerns help us minister at the micro level to the people in your ward and mine who are feeling pretty frustrated/sad/alienated?

    If blogging conversations make you feel tired when confronted with a person in your ward who has those concerns cuz you’ve heard them 9000 times already, then you are probably right–delving into the macro issues will not help efforts to mourn with them. It sounds to me like your bishop feels tired out by those issues. Maybe he can’t relate to them. Maybe he feels powerless too. I don’t know. But it doesn’t sound to me like he really gets the potential pain behind those concerns–your account was brief, but it sound to me like he feels a little resentful that those members are so–hmm–focused on those issues.

    But–for me–being able to acknowledge someone else’s concerns as valid is a healing act–an act of mourning with them. There are several inactive women who let me visit because when they told me about something that frustrated them (perhaps expecting to shock me) and I told them I totally got that concern–well, an awareness of the bigger issues helped in my own micro relationship there.

    Not that they go to church, but I’m not sure that is my objective.

  81. cms,

    Scott, if you feel alone and attribute this to your political/religious quirks, might these not be the same feelings the people in your ward (the ones the bishop is worried about) are experiencing?

    Read my comment again–I said that I want to attribute my disconnect to those things. And then I said that, deep down inside, I know that those things are not the problem.

  82. And I imagine that is similar with the people in your ward, yes?

  83. cms,

    If blogging conversations make you feel tired when confronted with a person in your ward who has those concerns cuz you’ve heard them 9000 times already

    Seriously, read my comments (and post) again. That’s the opposite of what I said–I said that talking about these things ONLINE is what I’m tired of. The whole point has been meant to encourage myself, and others as they see fit, to talk about those things in their wards.

  84. cms (82),
    Holy cow. Seriously (again), I just wrote a great big long post, and 50 comments in an effort to point out how I don’t know what the concerns and challenges of my co-parishioners are, because I haven’t put in the effort to find out.

    Ignoring the fact that my #24 suggests strongly that politically- or doctrinally-related concerns do exist…, the bottom line is that their concerns could be about purple cows and I wouldn’t know it.

  85. Wow. Sorry–my tone here must be off. I didn’t notice the online bit in your post–most a set up where the macro and micro are opposed–concern with the one is a time/energy tradeoff with the other.

    My only point is that the macro and micro divide may not be so stark.

    As a microMormon, I find that frequently, the cost of time spent wringing my hands over church-wide policies—past, current, and future—is time not spent wringing my hands over the problems my home teaching families are dealing with, over the challenges my elders quorum is facing, and over my personal and family discipleship.

    And I’m not disagreeing or saying that what is true for me is true for you. I just thought that if (1) you are worried about dealing with the real challenges and (2) you cared enough to ask your friend about them (at least as he sees it) and (3) he listed a number of macro issues as distressing to his ward members that therefore the divide between macro and the micro might not be as stark.
    True, you have not “put in the effort to find out” yourself–I guess I took your conversation with your friend to be an attempt to find out.

    And I was just trying to say that I’ve found that the macro/micro divide to be more porous in my experience. Your mileage will vary.

    Sorry if it came off like I was misreading you.

  86. cms,

    And I’m not disagreeing or saying that what is true for me is true for you. I just thought that if (1) you are worried about dealing with the real challenges and (2) you cared enough to ask your friend about them (at least as he sees it) and (3) he listed a number of macro issues as distressing to his ward members that therefore the divide between macro and the micro might not be as stark.</blockquote

    I think I see where we’re not connecting now. You have (I think) interpreted my micro/macro analogy in a different way than I meant it.

    To clarify: “Homosexuality” is neither macro nor micro in my analogy. “Feminism” is neither macro nor micro in my analogy. “Politics” is neither macro nor micro in my analogy. *No topic, by itself, is either macro or micro in my analogy.*

    What I am talking about is the level on which we talk about these things–not simply what we talk about. I tried to make this clear in my OP (5th paragraph), but may have not been clear enough.

  87. To summarize:

    A “macro” approach to those topics is, “What are people in the Church Office Building saying about race?”

    A “micro” approach to those topics is, “How are race-related issues affecting people in my ward?”

    I am generally bored by the former, and generally interested in the latter.

  88. cms,
    Also, I apologize for being short with you. You didn’t deserve that reaction.

  89. Would “What is going on in the world of Mormon blogging?” be a macro or a micro topic for a blog post?

  90. Scott, I have to admit that I haven’t read through all the comments, mostly because I am bored by and not interested in these sorts of conversations. That said, I think from an historical perspective the macrocosm contextualizes the microcosm and vice-versa. You really can’t understand one without the other. So while your analogy may be helpful in elucidating some dynamics within blogging or other conversations, it is hard for me to see how this applies to “real life.”

    Of course I should be interested in how to live the best possible Christian life and to do so as expressed through the body of Christ and the Church. But that seems outside the bounds of the micro/macro dipoles. Why does half of your ward not come to church on Sunday? There are both micro and macro causal factors, I would guess. And if you are interested in changing the situation, it would best if you understood both, I would think.

  91. MikeInWeHo says:

    I’m a NanoMormon.

  92. 91 – Worst. Superhero-name. Ever.

  93. J. (90),
    We talked about this off-line a little bit already, but to respond to your second paragraph, I would suggest reading my 86 & 87.

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