The Sacredness of Informality

Went to the sacrament meeting service at my mother-in-law's nursing home. Our services in general already exist at a weird intersection between the formal and the informal. The service at the nursing home is homemade and fully embraces the informal in a way typical church services do not, but perhaps they should.

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I was thinking about this as I was watching a father who was trying to run the meeting with his young daughter in tow. She, having been through one set of meetings today, was unprepared to be still any longer and was hanging on his leg. The pianist was out of town, so they were using the pre-recorded hymns. The tempo is faster on those than most people sing, and the effect is compounded when people are elderly. 

Some people might say it was cudgeled together. A mess. Not fitting for the sacred nature of the ordinance. And on and on.

I personally like it better this way. No ornamentation. No pretenses. No illusion that the meeting is anything other than what it is.

As I took the sacrament today, I thought about which I thought was more important to God: the attempt to do something good, or actually accomplishing it.

There are times when getting things exactly right is worth the continued effort. Things like figuring out how to lift people out of poverty, conquering prejudice, and making amends for deep wrongs. They're worth sticking with until we get them right.

But for most other things, especially the things in religion that are purely stylistic, these things can easily distract from worship and become the Church experience. 

What clothes someone wears, the way they pray, the mechanics of how someone traverses their presence in the shared space of Church. All of that is fundamentally inessential. It may be a reflection of worship, but it is not in and of itself worship.

There is value in honoring the attempt, rather than what is accomplished. People may never fully accomplish what they intended to do. But the effort has value. 

I'm realizing that's what I liked about Mormonism. It wasn't accomplishment. It was the aspiration of becoming holy.

The Nature of Change

Here's an unpopular opinion I'm attempting to address. 

When you're at an impasse in your relationship with the Church, you have two choices: stay and fix their problems or leave and fix your own

Both choices are valid. Both choices are necessary. But we really need to keep it straight that choosing the second doesn't have any of the same impact of the first. People who leave don't "change anything" at church. Only people who stay can do that.

When I left, nothing changed. I didn't expect it to. That wasn't the point of why I left. I left to completely separate my problems from the Church's problems because their problems were all consuming and crushing me. 

To say people who leave have this ability also implies they have some obligation to be making the Church better. If pushing some Sisyphean rock up the hill for eternity is how you cope with your life, go for it. But don't expect anyone else to join you.

 * * *

Upon further reflection and discussion, I would like to amend this position. Whether you stay and try to fix the Church from within, or leave and move on from it, both are so full of unintended, unforeseeable consequences that there's truly no way of knowing what your impact will be.

So whether you say "I left because my efforts to change things made no difference" or "I stay because I'm making a positive difference," both are unknowable because we're all part of a story that has no ending, no final resolution.

We are all unfinished beings, dealing with the intended and unintended consequences of what we've chosen. We are all trying to find the combination of consequences we can live with.

Maybe all we can do is assume people are doing their best with their impact, whether they stay or go. We all have different reasons we've lost or kept hope. Honoring each other in the struggle either way may be the only choice that actually heals and brings peace to anyone.

Church Finances: Then, Now, and in the Future

This week, people are responding to the leak regarding the Church's finances. I also see some people who are deeply upset, so I thought I would provide a jumping off point for processing those feelings. If this is something you care about, you need to check out the work of D. Michael Quinn has done on the subject of the Church's finances.

He wrote the book on this subject, exploring the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its finances. In this three-volume collection, Quinn details the history of the Church, including how the organization went from nearly going bankrupt to becoming one of the richest corporations in the world. To my knowledge, there is no other resource as well-researched and comprehensive as his.

Mormon Stories and the Salt Lake Tribune have done interviews with him discussing what he found. They should be required listening for every person who has ever felt some type of way about paying tithing.

Here's the big takeaway I learned from Quinn:

The Church is not financially solvent in any country outside of North America. The tithing/monies members pay in their own countries would not be enough to support their basic operations in almost every country where the Church has a presence. By investing the money they receive in North America, the Church is able to multiply it before distributing it to other nations throughout the world.

With the unprecedented access that Quinn received into the Church's financial records, past and present, he makes the case that without these investments, the global church wouldn't exist the way we know it today.

The Cost of Temple Operations

I've seen a lot of criticism on Twitter from people about what the Church spends on its facilities, and particularly its temples. I want to provide some insight into this for others who have never had any personal experiences with this aspect the Church's facility management.

My last calling in the Church was as an ordinance worker. I saw parts of the temple most other people never see. I saw the work that went into cleaning and maintaining the building. I participated in it on multiple occasions. The Church uses quality materials in its temple construction because the wear and active use on those facilities is very high. Even with spending that kind of money, the wear on the furniture, the fixtures, the molding, the carpets, etc is tremendous. Sure, you can use cheaper materials. That means they would wear out and break faster and need to be replaced more often. Using cheaper materials would ultimately be a waste of money.

Now, you may think temples themselves are a waste of money because the services that take place in them are unimportant or irrelevant to you. That you feel that way is totally valid. But you need to understand it's not going to change the lived experience of anyone else. There will always be people who go to the temple and find value in that experience. They will do it at a high cost to themselves, if that's what it takes.

The Church's efforts to alleviate that burden? That's not a bad thing.

Now, here's the rock and the hard place regarding facility management in other countries. How do you balance using quality materials that don't constantly have to be replaced vs. building an extravagant facility that is out of place in the local community? 

What are the implications of building cheaper, lower quality buildings in other countries, just because the members in those countries don't have as many resources to support their operations? Are people in Ghana undeserving of a temple as nice as the people in Draper, Utah? 

How does racism play into the narrative of what we believe is "too nice for some people"? 

If the Church clearly has enough money to feed people and build temples... why get mad at them when they choose to do both?

As the Church continues to build more temples, the distribution of the costs of operating them will continue to shift, pulling from smaller and smaller groups of people who likely can't support the costs on their own.

So, why not stick with the Hinckley mini-temple? Surely those provide the best of both worlds? Nope! And I can tell you from personal experience why that doesn't work. Each temple, no matter its size, has a minimum number of people required to staff it every day. That's five days with (typically) three shifts each day. When you have smaller temples, you have to provide the same number of workers to serve fewer patrons. It's ideal only in some circumstances.

Mini temples created situations in many rural areas where all the people who might've attended the temple as a patron have to staff it, and there aren't enough people who actively go to sustain attendance to justify the building and its operation costs. I watched that process play out when the Meridian temple was built, the Boise temple district was broken up, and the impact that had on our staff and patrons.


Carving from the outside of the Meridian Idaho Temple during construction.

All of this is actively monitored and calculated into the decision to build a temple. No temple is ever built without financial allotments for how the building will be constructed, but also how it will be maintained deep into the future.

How could the Church improve its financial transparency?

Let's speak to the heart of the concern people have: $100 billion seems like a bananapants number when you look at it completely divorced from any context. A reasonable person would say, "Okay, so let's be informed and not ignore the context for it." Money is a necessary part of running any organization, especially a global one. We all understand that. My criticism, based on what I know, has nothing to do with the $100 billion number. It's the fact that contextualizing it is impossible because transparency from the Church about its own finances is nonexistent.
I've seen people recalling toxic moments they have had in paying tithing, largely due to the insensitivity of local leadership. Let me be clear: those experiences are also part of the context for this number. We should be honoring and learning from that pain, not ignoring or minimizing it.

There will always be calls for the Church to be fully public with all of its financial operations. I'm not going to hold my breath for that to happen. For as long as those decision remain private and privileged, we will likely continue to gain access to the bulk of that information only through leaks, lawsuits, and legislation.
So what does a more realistic, achievable form of change look like on this front?
The thing that immediately comes to mind is to open up ward and stake financial clerk positions to women. Make is so any person within the Church, regardless of their gender, can see, be familiar with, and control the execution of financial policy and procedure on the local level.
Did you know the ward clerk has greater authority over how local funds are distributed than the bishop does? I didn't know that until my husband served in that position. I never would've known it if he hadn't because I'm a woman. It's also because I'm a woman in the US. If lived in Hong Kong, there are many leadership and administrative positions in the Church that would be open to me. So let's not pretend there's any necessary relationship between priesthood ordination and financial capability if the Church is already training women to serve effectively in these roles.

Moral of the story: People who criticize and exonerate without information are usually both wrong. Also, it's like a week before Christmas. If you don't have the energy for this outrage, feel free to let this one go.

No More Church Ladies Hugging Me Without My Consent 2020

"I'm just going to hug you."

That's literally what she said, y'all. Then did it before I even knew who it was or why someone was touching me. 

If my husband wasn't with me, I probably would've screamed in the middle of the Walmart. This is the second person from my ward who has hugged me from behind without my consent. The last time it happened, I was at church for the first time in months and I actually did scream. Right in the middle of the prelude music.

Let's talk about personal space.

You need permission to enter someone else's personal space. Especially if you don't know them that well. Knowing someone from church is NOT implied consent to be able to touch them.

If you want to hug someone, ask first. Be okay with hearing "No thanks" as an answer without taking it personally. It doesn't mean someone doesn't like you. It just means they don't want to be touched.

I struggle with this with the people in my ward. They are big on hugging, handshakes, and not asking before they touch me. They do it at church. They do it in public. I realize it's well-intended. But that doesn't make it okay.

My PTSD makes it very hard for me to be in public. I'm always on edge in large rooms with lots of people, especially when I can't see behind me. I get deeply stressed just by being at church or at the grocery store. If people gave me the choice, I would almost always say no to a hug in those settings.

If you don't know someone well enough to be sure if they have these kinds of issues or not, you don't know them well enough to be touching them without permission. 

So, just don't do it.

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