Part I is here. Second question for Tarik, Jana, Tracy and Steve: What are we missing in our temple prep courses? If you haven’t looked at the Endowed From On High manual, I encourage you to do so – it is the current course. What’s your opinion? What more should we be doing?
Tracy: I keep circling back to “nuts and bolts”. The temple prep class is basically a re-warmed version of the discussion and new member lessons. I’ve glanced at the lessons and they don’t seem very different than they did 8 years ago, but I’ll give it a closer reading later.
I would like them to actually go over a What to Expect… type lesson.
Once you revive your living-endowment recommend (it’s different than the one you use forever after) you will to get your ceremonial clothing (and then explain what it is, why you cannot put it on at home, and how and why you can’t open the garments until the locker room, etc) You will walk and at the desk will be greeted by a man who will check your recommend. and so on and so on.
I was lucky enough to have two friends (Steve, one of them is you) go over specific details with me prior to going through. It helped me immensely. Matter of fact, I’m willing to write that piece.
More thoughts later.
Tarik: What’s missing is our understanding that only certain things are not to be revealed to others (they are explicitly stated several times if you get my drift) the rest should be fine to discuss. No manual will ever correctly inform candidates if we are overly sensitive to information that can be talked about openly with those seriously investigating.
Steve: I’m not sure if the missing piece is more ceremony content. I’m not ruling that out as a possibility or anything, I just don’t think that the content is the only missing element. You could completely spell out the entire ceremony and still people wouldn’t be prepared. No, I feel like the missing piece for me was around expectations and attitudes. Maybe more discussion about what makes the temple different, how to situate it as part of regular worship, something like that. I’m probably not making a lot of sense – I just think that more information is not a sufficient improvement to temple prep.
Tracy: “I feel like the missing piece for me was around expectations and attitudes.” Yes. This.
So many people, still, talk about the temple in breathless whispers, in awe at how wonderful and spiritual and amazing it is. You’re told it’s the holiest place on earth, and are set up to have it be the pinnacle of your religious experience. And you hear this from not just one or two people, but everywhere you turn. So when you go, and don’t experience it that way, there is tremendous emotional risk and potential alienation. I remember being bombarded with well-meaning people asking me, with bright, excited eyes, how it was. The expectation was that my spiritual mind was blown and that nothing could ever be better.
It was anything but. The high ceremony and symbolism is something we don’t even remotely prepare people for. We drop them in and say “This is the best thing ever!!1!” and then refuse to talk about it afterwards. It’s particularly alienating when you don’t have any family to talk about it with- no mom or dad to turn to, no sisters or brothers who have done the same thing and even have a frame of reference for it.
I thank God for the online communities of faithful saints willing to talk respectfully. I didn’t and don’t want people who are against the church to be where I turn- and their voices are loud. We have to do a better job of speaking out about things- respectfully, but still speaking. I probably would have ended up leaving, confused and alienated, had I not found the support of places like BCC, T&S, ZD, fMh, etc…
Jana: I had a difficult experience with the endowment when I went through the temple the first time, particularly because it seemed to me that Christ, whose picture was prominently displayed throughout the temple and whose example and sacrifice are the cornerstone of the LDS faith, was nowhere to be found in the ritual itself. I felt crushed by that. How could such a Christocentric religion have as its centerpiece a mystery rite that did not revolve in any obvious way around Christ?
In the aftermath of this experience a couple of things were really helpful. The first was that when I saw my devout friend JL shortly after and he asked me how it went, I told him honestly with tears in my eyes that it had been confusing and not at all what I had expected. His comment was, “Would it help you at all to know that it used to be worse?” When JL had first gone through the temple, it was before the 1990 changes. I had read about that and knew what had changed, but him asking me that question was crucial in that moment because it made me realize the temple ceremony has evolved before and it can evolve again.
So while the question “Would it help you at all to know that it used to be worse?” may not seem on the surface like a very pastoral thing to say to someone who is hurting, it absolutely was the right thing for him to say to me in that moment—what I needed to hear and think about. It led to a long discussion that evening with him and several other friends who helped me put things in perspective. To balance all of the facile magical thinking that surrounds the temple ceremony, I needed to be reminded that it is a product not only of God’s inspiration but of human vision. And that the temple, for all its importance, is just one more step in the journey I am taking to grow closer to God, not the most important spiritual experience of my life.
The second thing that was helpful occurred many weeks later, when I happened to run into an LDS scholar at a conference and we began to discuss my recent first experience in the temple. This person, who was far more reflective about the temple and experienced in its teachings than I was, was able to essentially walk me through key elements of the endowment ritual and help me to understand what we were meant to do and say. It was mind-blowing and life-changing to have this conversation. This scholar was careful not to violate sacred covenants, but within that parameter there was still a great deal we were able to talk about. I was given a larger suggested narrative through which I could understand the overall significance of the stages of the endowment. It transformed the way I viewed the temple ritual and my role in it.
One thing this person pointed out to me over and over was what a blessing it is that the Church doesn’t tell us how to interpret the temple ritual, meaning that we have total freedom to interpret it however we want. I had not seen this as a blessing before, I confess. But I’ve had cause to reconsider. As frustrating as it is that we don’t have strong spiritual guidance about the temple ritual, that’s no doubt better than an inflexible or literalist interpretation being foisted upon us.
Steve: Jana and Tracy, it sounds like you lucked out, to a certain extent, in having a great network as you went through the temple. It makes me wonder what happens if there isn’t that network. Tarik, what was your experience on that front? Were you on your own through all this?
Tarik: I was not alone, I had friends every step of the way. The mission president was a great help, nearly walked me through the ceremony. Was my escort through the temple. So I had good people around, my entire ward was there.