This Mormon life- Act 3: Keep Mormonism Weird

Coming off of act 2 you might be asking “How does Mormonism embrace it’s tumultuous past without every meeting becoming a dry, vaguely apologetic history lesson?”  We’ve arrived at our final act of This Mormon Life, “Keep Mormonism Weird”

America is full of mainline protestant denominations and other congregations derived from that tradition.  For reasons, totally beyond me, the LDS church wants to join that club. Actually, the reasons aren’t totally beyond me.  There’s an obvious rationale on why the Church wants to come off as Protestant.  It’s the biggest club in town.  All the cool kids are doing it. It comes with good social capital.

So the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does some cosmetic changes, like when that weird girl with the funny nose gets a nose job.

Jennifer Grey

It changes its logo from this:

old LDS logo

To the in-your-face Jesusiness of this:

new LDS logo

It really plays up the family:

lds-family-kneeling-in-prayer

The leaders slowly stop looking like this:

lorenzo snow
This is not how men were wearing their facial hair in 1900, but that didn’t stop Lorenzo Snow.

And start looking like this:

David O Mckay

Worship looks safely Southern Baptist:

sacrament meeting

Sermons from contemporary head honchos have titles likes:

All pretty generically Christian titles.  "The Plan of Happiness" would get into some more specifically Mormon ideas, but shallowly.
All pretty generically Christian titles. “The Plan of Happiness” would get into some more specifically Mormon ideas, but shallowly.

However, when the weird girl with weird nose gets her nose fixed, she’s still weird, but now she doesn’t have that signature quirky face.  In the same way, as much as they try and pile on this mainstream Christian face, Mormonism is weird.    It’s one part camp revival, one part free masonry, and one part Euro-American folk magick.  It will never be Protestant.  Stories of lightning strikes aside, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Richard Allen, none of these people used seer stones to produce their writings.  Joseph Smith did.  And it’s weird.  It’s peculiar.  He was peculiar person.  Mormonism is peculiar.  It needs to own its peculiarity.  Wear the weirdness on the sleeve of your ill-fitting suit from the missionary mall.

Don’t relegate the specifics of what it means to be an eternal family to “deep doctrine” speculation at odd hours, build it in to the Sunday School Curriculum.

Polygamy? How transgressive and progressive! That’s great, bring it back (preferably in a non-exploitive way).

Adam-Ondi-aman is in Jackson County, Missouri?  That should be on the forefront of every Mormon’s mind when they’re at church. You have a hymn about it, sing it!

You guys used to speak in tongues and have spontaneous revelations during meetings, now people can barely stay awake.  What happened?

Speaking of church, less church, more temple.  Everyone worships by singing hymns on Sunday morning, ya’ll get a secret temple.  Why would ever even leave?

Your God has a body of flesh and blood.  And you know what, before he was God, his dad was God, and so on and so forth.  That’s so cool.  Own that.  Sermonize on it.  It should be the first thing out of your mouth when you’re tracting for new members.

These seer stones are definitely part of this weird history.  The church has long wanted its members to imagine translation looked like this:

joseph-smith-translating-gold-plates_1510665_inl

which is very normal compared to this picture of Joseph Smith using the Urim and Thummim to translate:

joseph-reading-gold-plates-barrett_1510664_inl

Or the most true account of the translation, with the seer stones in the top hat:

The Urim and Tummim story, while still pretty weird, is at least biblical, keeping Mormonism in the Christian club.  Seer stones, that’s borrowed from folk magick.  It’s even weirder.  And yes, it does force you onto the periphery of Christendom, but why would you want to be at the center?

So what would a Mormonism look like that has truly rallied around these new seer stones?  It would be a magickal Mormonism.  Something of a magikcal world-view is already at work in Mormonism.  Are you feeling sick? There’s the priesthood.  Differently from Mormonsim, “the priesthood” doesn’t only denote an office, but denotes a power bestowed on you to act on God’s behalf.  You are not a member of the priesthood, you have the priesthood. A Seer Stone’d Mormonism can only take this in new and fantastic directions. I hope in 70 years to hear a twelve year old Mormon deacon say “this special stone was my grandfather’s priesthood stone, it helped him direct his priesthood power.  This mineral is known in Mormonism to be especially useful in healing.  It’s pretty Boss”[1]

This could be a Mormonism totally accepting of spiritual mediums who operate outside the confines of the church.  Another pretend dialogue: “Yeah, after seminary today, I’m going to going to my weekly tarot reading.  The prophet is great for receiving revelation for the entire church, but like I really need to know what’s happening in my near future but I don’t need something as heavy as a patriarchal blessing.  My medium has a great talent for reading the future, she has really tapped in to that tradition the same way Joseph Smith did.”

I love that it’s specifically a stone that is peculiarizing Mormonism.  Mormon leaders don’t talk much about the environment nor is this a religion that emphasizes nature walks as a mystical practice.  But now there’s a conversation about Joseph Smith’s seer stone, likely just a stone he picked up while he was walking around a forest.  Holding onto a stone is a very universal opportunity.  Just 10 years from now, Mormon youth better be going on camp outs to preserve the US’s natural rock formations and mineral deposits, and then coming back and bearing their testimonies on the transcendent nature of our world’s stone.  This will be a Mormonism that can understand anew that the earth is not something we live on incidentally, but an integral part to their spirituality as it was to Joseph.

White bread religion cannot be the dynamic force for personal or social change that a peculiar religion could be.  Mormonism has never been a white bread religion[2], but sometimes it tries so hard to be.  Be your funky, weird, peculiar self, Mormonism.  It’s more useful, and it’s more genuine to what you are, and what you were always meant to be.  Do you really want to live in a world where God’s one true church fits in? Mormonism has a peculiar past, it should have a peculiar future.

pgsvb

[1] 70 years from now the kids will be saying “boss,” I’m calling it.

[2] It’s use of white bread for communion aside.

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