I went down a pretty unsettling rabbit hole yesterday (which you can check out my twitter feed for more details on), and that combined with the short story I’ve been working on, some Facebook posts from friends, and some blogs I was reading caused me to think about the many faces of Mormonism and how each face is equally convinced that it is right/good/true/holy/etc. Some I relate to more than others and can see how you would arrive at the conclusions and thoughts that are being reached, but others I do not understand.
As I was stewing over some of this this morning, I was reminded of the premise of Adam Miller’s book Future Mormon and some of the thoughts in the introduction (which I’ll paraphrase because I lent my copy to a friend and don’t have it handy). Miller essentially argues that each generation is required to remake Mormonism and that we can see that take place throughout Church history (Miller would probably extend this idea to all groups and organizations and not limit it to Mormonism). The phrase that came to me this morning was that we “make Mormonism in our own image.” This sounds pretty damning and in some senses, it is. However, I think this is our only option and that there are ways of this taking place that are not idolatrous, but actually bring us closer to God.
But first, the concerns.
If we take this phrase to mean that I will create my own Mormonism to suit my needs and you’ll make yours and Rachel will create hers, while Jeff makes his, that strikes me as problematic. How can we worship together if we are all creating our own religion? How can we co-exist doing this? (To some extent this always will happen, even with what I think should take place, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) But I think the biggest problem here is that this approach is all centered on the individual. Each individual person does what is best for them, with no thought to what is best for the community. Mormonism has a strong individualist streak that appeals to my introverted, self-motivated, individualized, ‘I am unique’ mentality (and to many aspects of American culture more broadly). Yet, Mormonism also contains a strong communitarian streak, where we are saved collectively. We can’t be saved without our dead, nor they without us. The body of Christ, Church choir, Zion aspects of the Church. These appeal to my communitarian/socialist/communist/radical beliefs. The idea that all humans have value and that we have an obligation to help those around us.
So what does that mean for this idea of making Mormonism in our image. Well, that we collectively need to make Mormonism in our collective image. Not that each of us makes it in our individual image, but that we are all enlisted, putting our shoulders to the wheel in this pioneering of each generation’s new Mormonism, created in the image of that generation.
This renewal of Mormonism is then less about me getting what I want and more about me trying to help others get what they need. It is an outward focus. It recognizes that there are other human souls, my brothers and sisters, that are invested too and that they need things and that I might be able to give them to them or maybe I can’t personally, but I can help create an environment that allows them to receive what they need. I can reach outward and strive to help them.
Again, to a certain extent I think this reshaping of Mormonism in our image is inevitable. I think we all see the world through our own set of lenses and perspectives and that therefore what I see in the Church and what I love will never be precisely the same as what you see or perceive or love or believe. Acknowledging then, that no matter what I do, I am presenting a skewed, slanted, limited view of Mormonism allows me to try and combat that. To present the largest, most expansive interpretation that I can. The one that is best for those around me.
How do we do this? It probably looks similar to some of the ideas that I’ve expressed recently in other posts and again, will probably vary from person to person. My blog is one way I try to be involved in this process—I talk through ideas, present my own perspective, share it, hope that that at least sparks thought and causes some small ripple effect (and every once in awhile will receive some acknowledgement that that is the case, which is always great to hear). Currently, I also am on the Ward Council and every week I go and do what I can to share my perspective and try and maybe allow a different interpretation or understanding of what we should do to help individuals in the ward come through. I typically see things differently than most members of the council and that’s fine. I think we need all of our perspectives and that I can learn from them and that there are people that are blessed and served and benefited from the approach that is often proposed. However, I deeply believe that not everyone is and that making space for others to be and do a little differently will more fully utilize those in our ward and allow the spirit to flourish more strongly.
I think this reshaping starts small and local and eventual grows to a more global scale. I don’t know precisely what that looks like or if there are limits to the remaking of Mormonism in our image to reach a point where it is no longer Mormonism (some would say we’ve already passed that point and I don’t know where those lines are). But I believe as we strive to make a Mormonism that is better for others it will be better for us too. As our image grows in beauty and diversity and wonder, why wouldn’t we want our Mormonism to become more beautiful, diverse, and wonderful along with it?