Revolutions in Mormon Culture

December 10, 2006 | 81 comments
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“Revolutions” is probably not the right word: what I’m getting at is turning points, watershed events, or paradigm shifts. What got me thinking about this was the “Mormon Culture Tournament” over at By Common Consent. It’s basically just a fun exercise (go ahead: vote!) but there’s an interesting project lurking within it: the attempt to identify which, out of many historical habits, references, and signifiers, really are the most telling, the most unique, the goofiest markers of the truly, authentically “Mormon.” And if you look at the answers and comments, a pattern is made clear….

Specifically, the cultural markers which BCC has assembled seem internally divided: many of them have a real, living presence in the lives of many Mormons, while others are…well, dated. It’s hard to say exactly how, but clearly, the idea of “wedding receptions with basketball hoops” is something that Mormons today continue to deal with, while references to J. Golden Kimball are not. Not to dismiss those for whom J. Golden stories reign supreme in their Mormon identity, but seriously, the average Mormon today is about as likely to buck themselves up by recollecting a few mildly risque J. Golden Kimball anecdotes as they are to engage in speculation about the Three Nephites. (There’s another one that’s pretty much dead and buried.)

This fact makes me wonder…when did we lose J. Golden–that is, when did he become an odd cultural curio as opposed to a source of (humorous) self-understanding? Saturday’s Warriors was huge when I was a child in the 70s, yet today, I strongly suspect I could wander through dozens of Deseret Bookstores in Salt Lake Valley and find nary a trace of it. (Certainly, at the very least, “food storage” is a far more identifiable part of our way of life than the musical which gave us the song “Zero Population.”) Is it just all the passage of time, or are specific phenomena–changes in the missionary program, new ward budget procedures, enrollment caps at BYU–accidently kill off (for most members, anyway) huge swaths of Mormon experience? I have my own ideas, but here I want to give this hypothesis a spin. Are there moments of revolution in Mormon culture, events or decisions that shift the way we talk and believe, that change our patterns of reference and memory, in profound ways? If so, what are those moments?

I’m sure if we went way back in time–to the ending of polygamy and the State of Deseret–we’d find many examples…but 19th-century Mormon culture is pretty unfamiliar to me, so let’s stick with the last half-century or so. My nomination: the removal of stages from church buildings. Now maybe this change was the effect of another, but either way, once the decision was made to save some money by taking buildings out of our churches, the roadshow died, dance festivals died, the whole Mormon cultural tradition of dramatic reticals and plays pretty went kaput. And with it no doubt went scads of terms and jokes and references that my Mom and Dad–and probably most life-long Mormons in their 40s and 50s–knew like that the back of their hand.

Other nominations? What else has Mormon culture lost, and when did we lose it? And what, if anything, has taken its place?

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81 Responses to Revolutions in Mormon Culture

  1. Ardis Parshall on December 10, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    I nominate the moment(s) when everything started to be handed to us pre-fabricated, rather than us working together to create our community life. This includes replacing stages with built-in projection screens; the loss of working kitchens in church buildings; replacing local fundraisers with checks mailed from Salt Lake; conferences broadcast to our living rooms; building chapels with all-pro labor; and anything else that replaced actively working and playing together with passively watching or enjoying the labors of others.

    Along with the loss of creative entertainment (today’s 24-hour-from-concept-to-production roadshows are too pale to merit mention), we no longer find women actually cooking a meal together (we might have complained, but there was comeraderie, plus the smell of bread baking just before a ward dinner, that is gone now). Who younger than 40 recognizes the term “dime a dip dinner”? What about the ward festival that was the Relief Society bazaar, not just the days of the bazaar itself but the months of cooperative preparation for it? Watching conference at home is wonderful — but we’ve lost the community of the over-the-phone-line sound-only broadcasts that some of us remember traveling to the chapel to enjoy together. My dad documented by photograph the building of our Sandy, Utah, chapel from bare ground to dedication — I wonder if those of us who clean our chapels once every month or two have anything like the sense of ownership of the last generation who knew where all the bent nails had been pulled out for the novice hammerer to try again?

    Some of that, I realize, is false nostalgia for work that was hard and dangerous and dirty. On the other hand, if we still had RS bazaars, many of us would be munching right now on an assortment of the best homemade Christmas candy this side of eternity.

  2. Ardis Parshall on December 10, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    PS – Listening to conference last October while simultaneously reading the live comments of fellow watchers here on T&S was the closest to a sense of community I’ve felt at conference in many, many years. Maybe that kind of comeraderie can replace the old kind, to some extent.

  3. Jared on December 10, 2006 at 9:25 pm

    Some of the loss of culture was bound to happen as soon as the saints left Utah. Once they got there they migrated north to Idaho and south to Arizona. So one of the most glaring examples is that of pioneer day. Sure it might still get mentioned every year but nobody outside of Utah cares. That goes with the handcart reenactments.

    I had a supervisor at one place that I worked who had worked in Utah for a while. He identifed Mormons with jello. He said something to the effect of \”Mormons would put anything in jello including ground beef\”. Not sure that we would go that far but we do seem to like jello.

  4. Ardis Parshall on December 10, 2006 at 9:36 pm

    Okay, so the ward choir just came caroling to my house in a drippy rain. We DO still play together!

  5. Melanie on December 10, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    I would have to agree that the building program played a huge part in developing community identity. Where I live, the members built three buildings in ten years, and I do believe that it left a real mark on the members that experienced that in our area. I wrote my senior thesis in college on it after the building constructions were mentioned over and over at the reorganization of some of our local stakes… and as a result, feel a special appreciation for the buildings and the labor involved that connects me to my community… though I did not convert until 40 years later.

    I think the emergence of multi-stake activities are really helping to build community. We have been having fabulous, well done musical programs put together by a multi-stake group and are in the process of implementing the new multi-stake YSA activities program (I am chairing a committee of 40 people, which no doubt will become a community unto itself!). Something about these large scale collaborative efforts helps me to feel restored to a community that at one time was all one stake.

  6. John Mansfield on December 10, 2006 at 10:27 pm

    I nominate the routinization of temple worship. We are too close to President Hinckley’s changes to have seen the cultural results, but the proliferation of small temples has made “going to the temple” almost as commonplace as going to the stake center for a training meeting. Only ten years ago, stakes from Maine to North Carolina gathered to the Washington D.C. Temple. For a time, endowment sessions ran continuously through Friday night into Saturday morning, like Spencer Kimball said they would. Now sessions with a dozen or fewer saints run every half hour (instead of every twenty minutes as before), none earlier than 8 AM. Last month the cafeteria was closed; not just closed, but dismantled and carried away. This removal of temples as special focal points will have some impact on the saints.

  7. Dianna H. on December 11, 2006 at 1:33 am

    I have to respond to number 6. I see your point but since I am currently serving in St.Petersburg, Russia and seeing first hand the difference it makes for the saints here to be able to visit a temple with only one visa required and to go and come back in two or three days rather than requiring a week, I can’t mourn. Also, I live in Anchorage, Alaska where one of the first small temples was built and the joy with which we welcomed “our” temple was great. No longer did we have to travel 3 1/2 hours on an airplane to visit the nearest temple. Maybe we lost something by no longer planning a temple visit in to every trip outside of Alaska but we certainly gained a lot by be able to attend the temple regularly and frequently. I agree that the proliferation of temples will have an impact on the saints but I believe it will be mostly for the good. I see the impact allowing more of the saints to experience the joys of temple attendance and temple service and that has to be an impact for good.

  8. Bill on December 11, 2006 at 1:37 am

    Most of the church’s new keyboard instruments have the hymns pre-installed. Within not too many years, it won’t be necessary for anyone to learn to play the piano, let alone the organ.

  9. m&m on December 11, 2006 at 1:58 am

    8
    That will undermine the arguments for trained teachers in the RIP post. :)

  10. Dave on December 11, 2006 at 2:00 am

    When they did away with missionary farewells. That was an “enter the bureaucrats” moment.

  11. Christopher Johnson on December 11, 2006 at 3:28 am

    Goofy mormon musicals have been replaced by goofy mormon comedy films.

  12. tyler on December 11, 2006 at 8:38 am

    Christopher–

    That might be true, but I suspect the road shows (musicals) boasted higher production values.

  13. TMD on December 11, 2006 at 10:03 am

    I also want to respond to #6. I would say that the small temples are a tremendous boon in terms of community building, at least if you are in a unit near enough to get maintenance assignments (etc.). Certainly these kinds of services and service projects have been our most meaningful and in some respects, most intensive. There’s also something wonderful and special about knowing at least two or three people every time you come to the temple–be it a member of the presidency who was a fixture in bishoprics and stake presidencies for a generation, a friend from the singles ward working at the temple, the elderly man who does a session pretty much every day, or just a fellow ward member hitting a session after work, just like you. It’s a whole different spirit…

    Also, about those enamored with the ‘old’ building program: it may have worked out fine in Utah, but I know that it was a tremendous hardship for many members back in the 1970′s in rural TN, when a single, fairly isolated ward, whose members were as a rule not terribly well off, replaced their small, 60 year old wooden frame building with a modern chapel. I’m sure the same was true for many wards in similar situations.

  14. Alan Avans on December 11, 2006 at 10:40 am

    “My nomination: the removal of stages from church buildings. Now maybe this change was the effect of another, but either way, once the decision was made to save some money by taking buildings out of our churches, the roadshow died, dance festivals died, the whole Mormon cultural tradition of dramatic reticals and plays pretty went kaput. “—Russell Fox

    I’ve had similar thoughts myself.

    I guess K-Talk radio can fill the void….LOL!

    I haven’t lived in Utah for nearly 10 years. My fear is that at this point I wouldn’t want to. I’m RLDS these days, but I still value what I see as my socially conservative and communitarian ethos. I consider myself a Cultural Mormon, no matter what my theology is (not much theological distance between me and the Eastern Orthodox) , but I fear that Mormonism may not have much of a culture left in 15 or 20 years.

    I still know a few J. Golden Kimball stories. Maybe Russell and I can get together over a cup of coffee (for me) and a cup of cocoa (for you Russell!) and recount them. ;)

  15. Mark B. on December 11, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Three things, all in a two-year period between June 1978 and March 1980:

    Three-hour meeting block
    Two-piece garments
    Revelation on the priesthood

    The first was a great boon for members living outside tight-knit Mormon communities in the west–no more schlepping the family back to the church for Sacrament meeting on Sunday evening. But look at what else it changed: no more relief society on weekday mornings, no more primary on weekday afternoons, no more fathers leaving for priesthood meeting early Sunday, and then returning to bring the rest of the family to church for Sunday school. No longer would a woman have to weigh her employment choices against her callings/potential calling in the relief society or primary. Mutual suffered, because the YW leaders now had two meetings per week–one on Sunday and the other on a weeknight–and with the steam out of the YW activity program, the YM activity nights followed downhill. (Actually, with the prop of the women-led YWMIA gone or weakened, the slippage in the YM was more or less inevitable.)

    The latter two changes brought other, perhaps more subtle changes in Mormonism. The other-ness of being a Mormon lessened as we no longer had those two things that set us so far apart from the rest of contemporary society. No more uncomfortable looks from doctors or guys in the locker room. And short pants showed up in the adult Mormon wardrobe. (True, long shorts didn’t exist until the Michigan basketball team appeared one day looking like so many Amelia Bloomers set free from a long stretch in the big house, but they still don’t work with one piece garments, which tend to stretch.) We could go to the temple, keep our covenants, and still not be too different from Joe and Mary Protestant down the street.

    The revelation on priesthood was something most of the church longed for–but, frankly, didn’t expect. The church wasn’t solely a western American organization made up almost entirely of people of northern European stock in 1977, but the overwhelming majority of its members fit that description. The revelation on the priesthood was a vital step in making the church a world church. That change to being a world church inevitably makes the community of the church different.

    Of course, there are other explanations: since that day I fell out of a tree, landed on my head and was knocked cold, things have never been quite the same. Perhaps I did really come to in a different world.

    Or, maybe it was moving to New York City in 1980. How could anyone expect the church in New York to seem anything like the church in Provo, Utah?

  16. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Interesting comments, everyone!

    John, Dianna, TMD–I agree that it’s still too soon to see what the cultural fallout of the creation of small, relatively cheap, localized-yet-centrally-planned temples will be, but I think my sympathies are with Dianna and TMD. That is, I think some real, positive cultural goods are emerging from these new patterns of temple attendance. I too miss what a friend of mine once called the church’s willingness to encourage the saints to build (or to directly finance themselves) “soaring edifices to God”….but in their place, I have seen local congregations become engaged in the prospect of having “their own” temple in really impressive ways. (You should have seen how ecstatic my in-laws were when the Detroit temple was announced.) TMD’s comments about how one can really know the people at local temples fits my own experience as well.

    Tyler, Christopher–I don’t live in Utah, so I don’t know the local impact of Mormon films. Has “LDS cinema” really become, in the Mormon homeland, a major source of comedy, diversion, cultural references, youth activites, etc., along the way roadshows once were? (If so, from what I’ve seen on video, I mourn for our people.)

    Bill, M&M–Please tell me you’re kidding. Pre-programmed hymns?! The end times must be coming soon…

    Dave–The end of missionary farewells: now that’s an interesting nominee. But I’m interested by you “enter the bureaucrats” comment–do you mean the end of missionary farewells was emblematic of some larger transition? And if so, what was affected by that transition?

    Ardis, you packed a lot into your first comment, but I agree with Melanie in that changes in the building program may have been the most significant. The movement away from sacrificing for and even laboring on one’s own building captures so many other changes in the church’s overall demography and approach towards growth. I’ve lived in a few communities–in Virginia, Illinois and now Kansas–where the buildings in use were constructed over a long period of time, as the local saints were able to raise the money and do the work. It definitely created a deep and tight connection between the members, a sense of mutual ownership and thus a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of other major projects.

    TMD is correct, of course, that community-building in this sense always carries with it costs that are not equally experienced by all, and thus often results in those who have a hard time dealing with the costs feeling second-rate or bitter. (Though is that what you are saying about the members you have in mind, TMD? Perhaps I’m reading you wrong.) Anyway, this is why I’m not a total opponent of centralization and homogenization: if we give a darn about inviting all to participate equally, then costs must be smoothed out, and that’s just the reality of things. Still, there is such a thing as going overboard, and I think, when it comes to church building practices these days, we may have seen a lot of that.

  17. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Alan, how interesting to see your name here! Welcome, and please stick around. As for the J. Golden Kimball story-swap, you’re on.

    Mark, the three-hour block meeting is an important example of the sort of watersheds I’m talking about here. I can’t speak too much for priesthood or Relief Society activities, but I’ve spent enough time in Primary–and can remember Wednesday Primary days well enough–to attest to the dramatic impact it has had there, in terms of activities and its basic practices. Of course, counterfactuals are easy to spin, less easy to demonstrate: could middle-of-the-week Primary, without being built into the three-hour block, really have continued to flourish? Maybe suburanization and other changes were already dramatically lowering Wednesday Primary attendance, and moving it into the Sunday block saved the program? I don’t have the data to know one way or another. Still, as I said above, even if the three-hour block solved some major problems, there is such a thing as going overboard.

    I’m less convinced of your other two examples; garments and the priesthood ban were mostly felt on the level of doctrine, and so while I’m sure changes there had a large indirect impact on Mormon culture, I’m not sure the cause-and-effect were as clear as you make it out to be. (For my part, I can attest that two-piece garments seem to continue to attract plenty of stares in locker rooms all on their own.)

  18. Hayes on December 11, 2006 at 11:22 am

    \” I fear that Mormonism may not have much of a culture left in 15 or 20 years\”

    Are you worried that Mormon culture (whatever ambiguous definition one may want to ascribe to that term) will be gone in a decade, or are you worried that YOUR Mormon Culture will be gone?

    I mean, there still is Mormon culture, it just has evolved from our experience and is being coopted by the next generation. We had our road shows, they have RM, Single\’s Ward, and other banal entries. We had J Golden Kimball to joke about, they now have Paul H. Dunn.

    The list could go on.

    Just because we wistfully remember how it used to be does not mean that there is not something uniquely cultural about belonging to our church.

    It\’s just changing.

  19. Matt W. on December 11, 2006 at 11:26 am

    We didn’t get our first “no stage” building until recently. As far as I know, the “roadshow” had died long before the stage did.

    Being a recent convert (8 years) I haven’t been around long enough to care much about any of that stuff. It seems to me that Institute and Singles programs do add a lot of that back in.

    I’m a big fan of the Fast Sunday potluck, and would love to bring that tradition back.

  20. Jeremy on December 11, 2006 at 11:31 am

    I have to take issue with a couple of comments.

    #3): Jared, I’m afraid Jell-O with ground beef in it is a reallity. A rarity, but a reality.

    #10): Dave, I’m EXTREMELY glad they did away with missionary farewells. Nothing can ruin the sacrament you just took more than a bunch of hokey embarassing stories by the younger brother, “In the Hollow of Thy Hand” sung by the sister and the girlfriend, and a “hero off to battle” speech by a 19-year old. I don’t know about you, but I attended many a farewell that was decidedly unspiritual, and focused entirely too much on the missionary rather than the mission. And in my own missionary experience I found that far too many young men arrived in the field with far less humility and far more ego than they needed — and the traditional missionary send-off served to foster that kind of I-can-do-no-wrong attitude. I’m glad we’ve gotten rid of that particular type of missionary-worship.

    #6 et al): I’ve enjoyed firsthand the blessings of small temples. On the other hand, I do wish temples retained their ealier role as distinctive cultural embelms through architecture. There was a push in out stake to have everybody get a picture of “our” temple to display in our homes. It seemed a little silly to me, though — partly because, aside from a few minor landscaping features and some finishing details too small to be discerned in a photo, the pictures of the temple where we now live look EXACTLY like the pictures of the temple where we lived before. The distinctiveness of older temples, I think, adds to their meaningfulness as emblems – we feel stronger emotional connections to the buildings themselves and the experiences we have in them. It’s harder to feel that way about a “cookie cutter” building. And I certainly feel less inclined to display a picture of a smaller temple in my home.

  21. Starfoxy on December 11, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Another result of the three hour block is the ensuing ‘competition’ (for want of a better word) between organizations. There is less opportunity for cooperation between groups because ‘helping out’ in another group means missing the meetings of your own. For example we could use some extra primary workers in our ward and the older young women are off-limits to us because it is most important for them to attend their own meetings. In days past this would have been a good way to help the young women have an opportunity to provide real service that meets real needs.

  22. Mark B. on December 11, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Yes, Russell, Kawai is building an organ/piano for the church which contains a number of programmed hymns and primary songs.

    They are a great help in congregations where there is nobody that can play any keyboard instrument–and likely nobody who can read music.

    They do allow you to change tempo and transpose, and there’s even an option where you can tap out the rhythm and the music will play at that rhythm.

    They have substantial limitations. Many of the best hymns are not included, and most of the old clunkers are.

  23. John Mansfield on December 11, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    The responses to my nomination of routinized temple worship are interesting illustrations to our response to change. I don’t think I wrote that the changes in temple use are better or worse, only that things sure are different from what they had been, and my bias shows through that I miss the way things were. Others responded with explanations of how good the changes are for them. In turn, I feel defensive, as though they are saying there was something wrong in the past, as though building structures like the Cardston or Los Angeles temples revealed an immature ignorance in the Church of the true nature of temple worship.

    At any rate, once the novelty of local temples has passed, and the stories praising the new state of matters have all been told, I expect preaching to begin in an attempt to counteract lessened esteem for the temples.

  24. Seth R. on December 11, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Um, stages are still a part of modern Mormon building plans. Unless it changed in the last three years…

  25. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Really, Seth? Where? Our Kansas meetinghouse has a stage, and it’s an old building. Prior to moving here, I hadn’t seen a stage in a church building in years.

  26. j.a.t. on December 11, 2006 at 12:32 pm

    My #1 vote is for the removal of stages, as art is too big of a cultural pillar to rip out. We were on the cusp of learning to define ourselves artistically, and got the rug yanked out from under us. There were and sometimes still are occasions where it is clear that concerted efforts to develop and support uniquely ‘Mormon’ art forms emerge, but we are so quick to acknowledge outside influences as being far superior (a la French Provincial design, Bostonian recipes, MoTab styles flailing in the wind, Scandinavian storytelling paintings, etc.) We all know what Shaker baskets and plainsongs, Quaker barns, Amish quilts and Mennonite furniture are like, but we haven’t collaboratively attempted to be as distinct in our own art forms. When we DO go out on a limb and create something uniquely LDS, such as the architecture of the Ogden and Provo temples*, or the traditional sound of the MoTab, the complaints NEVER cease.

    Art set aside, I’d like to toss in another option- a landmark in the ‘centralization’/ homogenization/ bureaucracy movement: the construction of the new Church Office Building. There was, at the time, worry that that step would cloister the G.A.’s from the flock. I don’t know if it was the chicken or the egg, but certainly something important along our history’s path. When did letters sent to that building start to be sent back to stake presidents in the corresponding zip codes? It is all part and parcel of the corporatization and homogenization necessary to lead such a large group.

  27. J. Stapley on December 11, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    I think Ardis has the right idea, but it could be at once simplified and expanded by giving credit to the great revolutionizer: correlation. Correlation removed the auxiliary boards and all their focus on inculturation (the MIA boards used to write plays and musicals, etc.). The centralization of budgets removed a great burden of sacrifice. The corporatization of welfare farms. 3 hour block meeting (no more meetings during the week). The sum of the correlation and the modern economy is to make a building of any community, let alone one of the saints, very challenging.

  28. Sam B on December 11, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Jeremy (20),
    While I agree that sometimes missionary farewells are too much, I don’t love the blanket proscription against them. Maybe a Utah (or, several years ago, my parents’ California) ward that has fifteen or twenty missionaries out at a time doesn’t need to hear from another outgoing missionary every week; my brother-in-law, however, was not even invited to bear his testimony, and he was maybe the third missionary from his ward (my wife being the second) in the previous 10 years. Not only would it not have been a problem, it potentially could have encouraged others in the sparsely-Mormon-populated ward in which he lives.

  29. Nate Oman on December 11, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    re 25: RAF is your building a stake center? Both our Stake Center (Newport News) and our chapel (Williamsburg) are fairly recent creations. The stake center has a stage. The chapel does not.

  30. bbell on December 11, 2006 at 1:27 pm

    Recent local Stake center built in 2003 has a stage. I think they are still putting them in Stake centers. All the stake centers that I have been in here in Dallas area have stages.

    My ward must have missed the memo on the farewells. We had one a few months ago and even had a huge party that night for a older sister who was leaving on a medical mission. I think it depends on your Bishop. Ours apparently is still OK with some form of Farewell.

    We have lost the huge temple trips of my youth. A chartered bus, hotels, the hotel pool. The YM and YW would really enjoy these trips in my view.

  31. Mark IV on December 11, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    bbell,

    You might be right about the YM and YW missing the overnight temple trips with busses, hotels, etc. But I can assure you that the YM and YW leaders DO NOT miss them! The last one I chaperoned was eight years ago (we have since built a local temple), and I still have nightmares about it. :-)

  32. Mark B. on December 11, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    Sam B

    That was an error in the local leaders’ reading of the instructions, not in the instructions themselves.

    Tha statement by Pres. Hinckley, in the October 2002 Conference, was as follows:

    The First Presidency and the Twelve, after most prayerful and careful consideration, have reached the decision that the present program of missionary farewells should be modified.

    The departing missionary will be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. But parents and siblings will not be invited to do so. There might be two or more departing missionaries who speak in the same service. The meeting will be entirely in the hands of the bishop and will not be arranged by the family. There will not be special music or anything of that kind.

    Especially in places where departing missionaries are few, the bishop/branch president can follow these instructions and have a good meeting, centered on missionary work, where the departing missionary speaks, other ward/branch members speak, the choir or others sing (I think it’s the little sisters breathily singing some pop number that needed to end)–all under the direction of the bishop/branch president–and that could be the encouragement to others that you hope for.

  33. Nehringk on December 11, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    One thing that I have not seen mentioned is the Church’s attempt a few years ago to stamp out use of the word “Mormon.” We used to revel in being called Mormons, now we are LDS. Perhaps Mormon culture is being superseded by LDS culture in our society as “LDS culture” supersedes “Mormon culture” in our language.

  34. rbc on December 11, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    The 3 hour block of meetings may have done away with some weekly meetings, but not all. Anyone serving in YM or YW can attest there are plenty of midweek meetings to go with the Friday campouts, Saturday training sessions, Saturday night dances etc… If the 3 hour block made some meetings no longer necessary then, in true Mormon fashion, several other meetings rushed in to fill the vacuum.

    I agree that Pioneer Day is, or already has become, a cultural artificat. And that is probably how it should be. The Utah pioneer stories are interesting and, at times, inspiring, but not relevant to what most of the Saints’ experience today, especially when there are new, exciting pioneer stories from around the world happening weekly. That is probably a cultural break between intermountain Saints and those from everywhere else.

  35. Sam B on December 11, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Mark B,
    That’s helpful; I had only heard (or paid attention to) the no-farewells language. Thanks.

  36. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    So, stake centers still have the stages, but not local chapels. Interesting. I’d still say the loss of readily accessible stages for every unit that meets in a regular building had real consequences, but it’s good the know the general opportunity is still there.

    I really like some other “revolutionary moments” that have been thrown out; some of them I’d never thought of before, and they make a lot of sense. The competition for time and space between different organizations once all meetings were packed together into the same three-hour block. The building of the Church Office Building. (Where did GAs have their offices beforehand? Spread out all over downtown Salt Lake? In the Salt Lake Temple?) The corporatization of welfare farms. (There’s a lot that could be said about that one, I think…I remember heading off early in the morning to pick asparagus and raspberries regularly as a child; now, no more.) The big youth temple trips. Keep ‘em coming.

  37. Blain on December 11, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    I think we’re losing some stories from our culture. I don’t recall the last time I heard someone tell the story about the guy who ran the railroad switch who had to hold the lever while his little son was run over by the train. I also don’t remember the last time I heard about the kid that donated blood for his sister, and then asked when he would die. And the explosive growth of temples means I don’t think we’re going to hear any more about the families that would quit their jobs and sell everything they owned to make one trip to the temple — I don’t recall the last time I heard one of those stories either. I have heard about the Willey-Martin Handcart companies a lot more than I used to, though.

    But I think we’re gaining new stories, and that’s okay. As we get more new members from parts of the world that nobody thought would have the Church when I was born, they are bringing new pioneering stories — Elder Uchdorf’s stories about his childhood, and in going from East to West Germany and what that meant to him at a young age is fascinating to me.

    At some point, we might no longer have popcorn popping on apricot trees, and the wintry day descending to its close, but we gain things in those losses that have value as well. Mormon culture is about us being comfortable, and I don’t think we need to be all that comfortable. I think we need to be living the Gospel and becoming a Zion people in a world-wide Church, and we’re not going to get there with our comfort-zones intact.

  38. manaen on December 11, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    * All-Church annual softball and basketball tournaments. They really weren’t all-Church, but some good softball teams from Chula Vista, CA and the midwest seemed to appear in Salt Lake every year.

    * Gold & Green Ball

    * “Mutual” seems to have survived it’s declared demise in the ’70′s – but does the current generation know it’s short for “Mutual Improvement Association”?

    * Allocation of ward budgets from central funds instead of local assessments. I saw in greater Detroit large inequities evened-out by this one.

    As mentioned above, the change from local building and building funding was a huge move. As a 5 yo, I “helped” build the chapel my dad’s ward still uses. It was our stake center, then we built one in the adjoining town, split the stake and our building was stake’s center again, built one in another adjoining town, split the stake and our building was stake’s center again, and finally built a stake center in our town. All mostly funded from local building funds. Likewise, Detroit went in few years from DC temple to Toronto to Chicago, all with local temple funds. The move to centralized funding made for a much fairer sharing of temporal expense among the Saints.

    15. that set us so far apart When in Young Adults, several of us were to be set apart in new callings. The person who was to set us apart told one of the women that he would do her last. I joked that they always save the longest for last. She immediately rejoined, “Why, so I’ll be set farther apart?” 30 years, later I still have no comeback.

  39. Veritas on December 11, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    I think most of whats being presented here is a very utah-centric viewpoint. All these changes have come for the benefit of those outside not just Utah, but the US. And they are tremendous blessings – not just the Temples, but, pre-programmed hymns (how weird is it to have so many people who can play the piano – outside the west, finding a piano player is very difficult!), buildings , and block schedules…I see these as huge blessings.

    I also have to say, as someone born in the eighties, who has never lived in Utah, and spent most of my youth in Europe and rural middle america and South India, I think most of the things being cited are also non issues or positve changes. The culture you speak of really has never existed in my life, or I guess most of the people in the church. Ive never heard of roadshows, or alot of the stuff in the poll you reference. Growing up, we never watched General Conference (it wasnt broadcast where I lived, not even to our church building), that was something we could read in the Liahona/Ensign or buy on tape.

    I guess Im just saying alot of what many of you are nostalgic for, dont mean anything to the majority of members of the church. And I see most of the chages that have come as positive ‘gospel over kooky cultural’ successes. I hope we continue down that path. I personally want a church that is more about the gospel and doctrine than cultural traditions. I think as we become that church, our growth will increase.

  40. j.a.t. on December 11, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    Yester-year. I carry personal stories of the tangible and human traits of our Prophets close to my heart. Afterall, isn’t that one of the greatest blessings of having a Prophet in mortality, that he is part of our current mortality? Who isn’t touched by stories like SWK standing in a long airport line and helping a frazzled mother traveling alone with a crying toddler? Or perhaps JS wrestling with the neighborhood kids? One of the sad things about our corporitization is that human moments like these are no longer ‘necessary’.

    More disturbingly, LDS rank and file emulates the upper echelon impeccably. As we do this, even more of the life and culture on the local level is eradicated as we try to be GA wanna-be’s. Ironically, the responsibility for those human and personal interactions have been delegated to the local units. Can we be successful in our wards and stakes w/o the example? Where should the buck end and where is it ending?

    For example, my parents just received an ‘end of your son’s mission’ exit letter from my younger brother’s mission president. I was horrified to see that it was a form letter, in which none of the adjectives describing my younger brother had even been tweaked. Interestingly, the first paragraph was cookie-cutter, as was the third. The second paragraph was written at a high-school level, with grammatical errors to boot. We highly suspect an office elder was delegated the responsibility, as it is unimaginable that the president (a doctor) could have penned something so miserable. There were about four missionaries going home this month (which is average) and so composing a few sincere letters wouldn’t have been a hardship for the president, but the canonized pattern of efficiency and formality trumped the personal touch. If this is the model for daily business and mind set, how can creativity for art and culture flourish? W/o the human touch, art doesn’t have a chance.

  41. bbell on December 11, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Question:

    Are there still stakes and areas where there are still Softball and Basketball Tourneys?

    Both YM YW and Men?

    They were going really strong into the early 1990′s and then seemed to die off in my experience.

  42. Ardis Parshall on December 11, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Veritas, I agree with you. I miss some of the old Utah-centric cultural details in the same way I am nostalgic for familiar recipes at the holidays. Those details are all tied up with pleasant childhood and youthful memories. I’ve “lost” them in the same way I’ve lost other childhood rituals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the church has lost anything, or that any church member elsewhere missed out on not having identical memories.

    It’s a GOOD thing that local small temples have done away with extended youth temple trips. Why should youth out in The Mission Field have wonderful experiences that are denied to the youth right here in Zion? Huh? Justify that! (Just kidding, for the literalists out there, and pointing out another way that the experiences we’ve been talking about are tied up in the warm memories we have of however church life used to be for each of us individually.)

    I think the example of Elder Uchtdorf’s stories is a good one for spotting the new cultural details that will replace the older ones. Culture is shared experience, so culture has to keep changing as we grow so fast that large numbers of us can share only the newest experiences. Hearing good new stories that speak to universal gospel themes, exposure to forceful new personalities like Elder Bednar, even something as general as our shared experience of reading the Book of Mormon together in 2005, are new common experiences that create the culture. So say I.

  43. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    Update: Mormon Culture Tournament, Round 1 Part 2, is up at By Common Consent! Go vote! Uno vs. Steve Young, trunk or treat vs. vanity license plates, and more.

  44. Last Lemming on December 11, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    So, stake centers still have the stages, but not local chapels.

    We just opened a new (non-stake center) chapel in November. Rumor has it that we were given the choice between a stage and a baptismal font. We chose the latter–lot’s of 7-year-olds, you know. At any rate, I agree with Matt W that roadshows died long before stages did.

    As for missionary farewells, I heartily endorse the First Presidency’s instructions. They conform closely to my own non-farewell in 1976 (actually, I only spoke for 10 minutes). The bishop seemed truly disappointed that I was unwilling to do his job and organize a sacrament meeting for one Sunday.

  45. Jonathan Green on December 11, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Our local ward had the same choice when it expanded their building a decade or more ago–either a font or a stage. They picked the stage. Probably a good choice for them, as they’ve gotten a lot of use out of, and they can travel to the stake center for baptisms.

  46. Kevin Barney on December 11, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    A couple of months ago they installed a preprogrammed organ in our building. I was sitting in church one day, and the prelude music was playing, but our organiast was just sitting at the organ; her hands weren’t touching it. That freaked me out at first, until I found out it was a brand new organ with the programming feature. But it only plays one verse at a time, so if you want it to play the whole song, someone still has to sit there and press a button after every verse.

  47. ola senor on December 11, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    j.a.t. – You must not know a lot of doctors. While they are highly educated, it is a specialized education, which does not automatically require culture or literacy.

  48. Mike Parker on December 11, 2006 at 5:28 pm

    Blain #37: At some point, we might no longer have popcorn popping on apricot trees, and the wintry day descending to its close….”

    I was born and raised and still reside in Southern California. We did, and still do, sing “Popcorn Popping,” even though not one child has ever seen an apricot tree in bloom. We sing the song simply because it’s part of Mormon culture.

    And don’t get me started on Primary songs about the seasons. “Oh, what do you do in the summertime / When all the world is green?” — in SoCal, it’s brown in the summer and green in the winter.

  49. john f. on December 11, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    RAF, this is a bit of a frustrating post, I must say. Piggy-backing a little on what Veritas said in # 39, most of the things mentioned so far actually seem like the type of items of progress that folks around the Bloggernacle are usually pushing for. In other words, I am sensing a bit of tension between the sentiments of this post — longing for anachronisms that are uniquely “Mormon” — and some of the usual grist of the Bloggernacle, i.e. to push for progress and change. I am thinking particularly of routine Bloggernacle screeds against anything that hints of uniquely “Utah Mormon” culture or “Corridor Mormon” culture and the often-heard criticism that the Church is too Utah-centric and needs to realize that most of its members are outside of Utah and change accordingly. What many of the items in this post show is that the Church has been changing to accommodate a broader membership — and now the things it has given up in that effort are being regretted.

  50. john f. on December 11, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    It’s like this is a bizarre counter-cultural post (within Bloggernacle culture). Regular bloggernacle culture is to criticize the Utah church and Utah-Mormon sub-culture, if such could really be said to exist at all. Then along comes this post, wistfully hailing old Utah-culture icons and artifacts and lamenting their loss. It cerainly feels against the grain.

  51. Mike Parker on December 11, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    Another cultural watershed: The switch from un-correlated classroom lesson manuals that made the Saints reach to correlated manuals that play to the lowest common denominator. Consider the difference between today’s lesson materials and the 1957 Melchizedek priesthood lesson manual (Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon).

  52. Gilgamesh on December 11, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    “I agree that Pioneer Day is, or already has become, a cultural artificat. And that is probably how it should be. The Utah pioneer stories are interesting and, at times, inspiring, but not relevant to what most of the Saints’ experience today, especially when there are new, exciting pioneer stories from around the world happening weekly. That is probably a cultural break between intermountain Saints and those from everywhere else.”

    I have to disagree – the church PR department has put a lot opf energy to make Pioneer day the “LDS” holiday. Stake PR committees are encouraged to have activities on the 24th, take photos and submit them to be published in local papers. I would say that Pioneer day is becoming less provincial and more international. Just think of the saints in the Ukraine a few years back celebrating by creating their own handcart pioneer trek.

    To add, I would say the correlation of youth programs is what I would nominate. I look at other churches, largely the Evangelical churches, and see them doing what we used to do – rawodshows, dance festivals, sports leagues, etc… For YM, it is now scouts. I am not as involved with YW, but I would assume from the lack of interaction of the two groups, there is something lacking as well.

    I think culture is defined best by what we pass on to our youth, and what I grew up with, and feel gave me strength in difficult years, is no longer around to pass on to my kids.

  53. Gilgamesh on December 11, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    Sorry for the poor grammer. Based on the comments, maybe I should be a doctor.

  54. Thomas Parkin on December 11, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    I think that the proliferation of temples in wonderful – but do wish they had made them a bit grander. I love the grandeur of the big old castle/temples.

    What I miss about the pre-3hourblocks: the late Sacrament Meeting often ended with beautiful, funereal, evening hymns like ‘Now the Day is Over’, ‘Abide with Me, Tis Eventide’, or even “God Be With You.’ There isn’t enough opporunity to sing dirges in Sacrament Meeting anymore.

    As for the new: bring on Zion. There was a discussion in Elder’s Quorum the other Sunday, around the Bednar talk on being offended, that was quite remarkable. Especially for backwoods folks like us. I thought, later: we men who are beginning to get it. Another generation of drawing closer to Christ, and emphasizing the kind of principles and ideas we discussed, and Zion could be in sight. The rest is trappings.

    ~

  55. Naismith on December 11, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    “At some point, we might no longer have popcorn popping on apricot trees,”

    Sorry, that’s already gone. For more than 15 years, our Primary has been singing it, “Popcorn popping on the dogwood trees.” I assume folks in other areas are also localizing it.

    In last conference, Elder Pieper gave a talk on “The First Generation” and said that right now, first-generation members constitute more than half of the membership of the Church.

    So really, all this cultural stuff only applies to a minority of the church, anyway.

  56. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 9:15 pm

    John F. (#49 and #50): I find your comments a little frustrating too. First, there is your claim that “Bloggernacle culture” is somehow defined by its willingness to criticize Utah, Utah Mormons, and the cultural products of Mormondom generally. Is that really true? If that’s been your experience, I won’t dispute with you, as you probably spend a lot more time around the Bloggernacle than I do. But my impression from the past three years is that most Mormon bloggers are fairly quick to distinguish between the tacky, commercial, and kitschy on the one hand, and the meaningful, historical, and popular (in the sense of truly being “of the [Mormon] people”) on the other; and moreover, to fulsomely condemn the former and praise the latter.

    Second, and more importantly, there is your implied assumption that people in favor of progress, change, development, etc., can’t also be “conservative”: that is, they can’t value culture, and want to preserve (within reasonable limits) those structures and practices and ways of life which make it possible for valued bits of our culture to continue to be produced and passed on to the next generation. I think this is simply false. I can complain about gender inequality in the church one minute, and fondly remember Green and Gold Balls the next. There may be a “tension” between those positions, depending on how one articulates them, but there isn’t necessarily one.

  57. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Also, to more broadly reply to John F., Veritas, Naismith, and others….of course almost everything that has been brought up in this post (and in the “Mormon Cultural Tournament” which inspired it) was initially a creation of the American–and more specifically Utah-based–church; for most of the church’s existence, that has been the only milieu where there were enough Mormons living in one place for a long enough period of time for works of art, habits of travel, media references, costumes and holidays, favorite bits of doggeral and music, and all the rest to really emerge. There are more localized Mormon subcultures across the globe (just ask Wilfried!), and even some within the U.S….or for that matter, within southern Utah. But they, generally speaking, have not had the sort of size or duration that would make them endure anything less than a “revolutionary” change in some aspect of Mormon life. I’m not trying to establish some definitive list of cultural “failures” or “mistakes” the church has made as it has grown; I don’t even agree they are mistakes. I was just genuinely curious to get some input–and yes, most of the input has come from long-time, American Mormons; that’s just the nature of the question–about what major changes in church policy or practice have resulted is the disappearance of once-common elements of Mormon culture. The fact that I, or anybody, might mourn for their disappearance simply means that we’re human….and that we need to busy ourselves with trying to revive them in a new form or create new cultural practices in their place (unless, that is, you’re one of those people who believe the church can survive off of doctrine alone!).

  58. John Mansfield on December 11, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    There’s an old post of mine that may interest readers of this post: Forget About the Swiss Guard, Think of What?

  59. Naismith on December 11, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    “….and that we need to busy ourselves with trying to revive them in a new form or create new cultural practices in their place.”

    Why? I can’t really think of any good the old ones have done. They mostly serve to make converts feel like outsiders, as life-long members share their smug little in-jokes.

    Of course, the joke is on them since converts make up 64% of church membership.

    Seriously, I can’t even count how many bloggernacle conversations I’ve had where I basically ask “why worry about something so trivial?” and someone explains, “But it’s our culture.”

    It ain’t my culture. I’ve been a member for going-on 30 years but I never bought into a lot of the ideas that are apparently integral to Mormon culture, such as women not speaking their minds, mothers not being employed (even when their children are in school!), guys wearing white shirts to the temple, etc.

    Of course, I live in a ward where we’ve had several inter-racial couples, some women wear pants to sacrament meeting, and we sometimes have stringed instruments perform at sacrament meeting (violin & cello).

    The gospel of Jesus Christ matters. The rest of the stuff surrounding Mormonism is just chaff, sometimes silly and possibly harmful.

    “(unless, that is, you’re one of those people who believe the church can survive off of doctrine alone!).”

    Surely there are more than two possible choices?

  60. Russell Arben Fox on December 11, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    Naismith,

    “I can’t really think of any good the old [cultural forms] have done.”

    Nonsense; unless you’ve never heard an apostle at general conference tell fond stories about collecting fast offerings door to door, or never heard a long-time member talking about how enjoyable ward dinners are, or never yourself ever enjoyed a quirky but fun stake activity, then of course you can think of goods that elements of Mormon culture, whether old or new, have provided. For some reason, you’re thinking of the aspects of Mormon culture listed here as necessary exclusionary and divisive: why? Because they are or were limited in the availability and/or appreciation? Well, sure they were. And celebrating the 4th of July with fireworks is limited to Americans. That doesn’t mean “nothing good” can possibly come through the ritual of fireworks, nor does it mean an expression of longing for fireworks on the 4th of July by, say, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan is somehow setting himself up as superior to the Afghans he works alongside.

    “Surely there are more than two possible choices?”

    I agree. But where did I ever allege that the opposite of the “doctrine-alone” choice was a “culture-alone” choice…or moreover, that such was the choice I was advocating? Pure cultural Mormonism is empty, a mere formality; I agree. I’d never advocate that. But a Mormonism robbed of any context within which beloved or even sometimes-annoying-but-still-enjoyed cultural quirks can evolve would be a Mormonism robbed of any possibility of community, which would mean any possibility fo Zion. Perhaps Mormon doctrine is the necessary vehicle and the fuel, but building a Mormon world–within, inevitably, a Mormon culture to support and attend it–is the destination, the whole point of the enterprise.

  61. Ardis Parshall on December 11, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    We’re going to create new cultural practices to replace the old ones, Naismith, because we can’t help it. We’re not going to read nothing, we’re not going to worship nowhere, we’re not going to ignore life’s milestones, and to whatever extent our peculiar beliefs are different from the surrounding culture(s), those peculiar beliefs are going to be reflected in our behavior (our cultural practices). Green jello and CTR rings don’t define the totality of our culture.

  62. ECS on December 11, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    I _loved_ the roadshows. Of course, I was very young at the time (which is why I probably liked them so much), but I do remember going to quite a few of them in northern England in the early 80′s. Interesting post, Russell.

    Naismith #59, enough already with the stories about how your Mormon church is so much better than the church everyone else around here is talking about. We get it.

  63. M on December 12, 2006 at 12:33 am

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I think many of these cultural shifts seems to relate largely to the disappearence of some of the more social elements of the Church. I’m not sure if this is the intention, but it seems as though the church is no longer institutionalizing the idea of religion as a social epicenter.

  64. jaysedai6 on December 12, 2006 at 12:39 am

    No more Johnny Lingo, yeah. No more comments like my husband thinks I am worth much more than 10 cows.
    And since Im a convert of 42 years, no more crafts for me. Older means dont waste time on cute t.paper covers, bead bracelets and other strange things I dont want and will not make.

  65. Naismith on December 12, 2006 at 12:48 am

    “For some reason, you’re thinking of the aspects of Mormon culture listed here as necessary exclusionary and divisive: why? Because they are or were limited in the availability and/or appreciation?”

    And because I was always made to feel stupid for not knowing about them and not playing the game right.

    For example, my wedding day, which is supposed to be the most wonderful day in a woman’s life, was marred by temple workers who were shocked when I showed up at the temple alone.

    “But who is going to dress you?” they asked. I informed them that I was 20-some years old, and if I hadn’t figured out how to dress myself, I probably shouldn’t be getting married. Sheesh. They wrung their hands and were very upset and sympathetic, and feeling sorry for me.

    I wanted everyone to be happy because I was marrying my best friend, but no, they were upset, which took the edge off my joy.

    Apparently it is a Mormon tradition for female relatives/friends to come and dress the bride, only nobody told me that. When my husband’s mother and some of my friends all showed up in the sealing room, they looked at each other and realized that they had each thought someone else was helping me. And then they all raced into the bride’s room but of course I was dressed by then. So another round of apologies, for an offense that I hadn’t perceived at all. (And I guess each of them had been upset that I hadn’t asked them, which I had no clue that I was supposed to do, so I had inadvertently offended them–whoops.)

    So all of the negativity of that incident was an artifact of a cultural practice, and had nothing to do with my needs or wishes.

    Do we really need to do that to each other?

    (Sorry, ECS, I will try to be *quietly* grateful that I live where I do.)

    I think the point about community being a prerequisite for Zion is well worth pondering; I’ll have to think about that some more.

  66. Veritas on December 12, 2006 at 2:31 am

    I understand what you are saying Russell. I just wanted to put it out there…that alot, if not most, of these cultural traditions were not shared nor enjoyed by the majority of the members of the church. Some of this is because of conversion, some because of location, some because of age. I really do want the church to be ALL about doctrine and not silly little cultural traditions that seem to be an echo of Utah life. But, I understand what you and Ardis are saying about how we really can’t help there being cultural traditions. My outlook is, that the doctrine is what attracts and retains converts. I feel like we tend to have an unhealthy focus on culture and traditions, and in our church it has a tendancy to overshadow our remarkable theology.

    I do think the church is doing a pretty good job of trying to mold the ‘new’ church culture into something a little more universal and positive, I hope we members are helping that along, not hindering.

  67. Carol F. on December 12, 2006 at 3:01 am

    A couple more that have gone by the wayside:

    * coin drives for the Primary Children’s Hospital (including watching the old b/w movie about the Hospital)
    * Bake sales to earn money for the Primary
    * singing songs that don’t match the Primary theme for the year: that means any song that is short and unique and easy to learn like “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”, pioneer songs, “The Primary Colors”, Saturday is a Special Day” and yes, “Oh, What Do You Do in the Summertime” (which I taught the children this fall in Arizona when things were starting to green up).

  68. Carol F. on December 12, 2006 at 3:13 am

    Don’t get me wrong–I do like the new songs and they for sure are appropriately chosen for the themes, it is just that the lyrics are often extremely complicated and so much time is spent preparing for the program (especially in 2 1/2 hr church settings like mine) that the children leave Primary at age 12 with hardly any Primary songs under their belts. For instance, I struggle to find Reverence songs that the children of my ward know. I am teaching them “The Chapel Doors” and “Reverence is More Than…” and other songs. They don’t know any of the nature songs (trying to figure out what is wrong with the nature songs based on previous commenter), not even “Give Said the Little Stream”. And (sniff!) they don’t know “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” very well. Working on all of the above, BTW.

  69. rbc on December 12, 2006 at 8:39 am

    Re: 52 At the risk of a threadjack, I’ll limit my response that only a Utah centric church bureaucrat would think to emphasize/publize Ukrainian youth participating in a handcart trek reminiscent of American Mormon pioneers. With all due respect to LDS pioneers who sacrificed much to walk to Utah, more recent Ukranian suffering and sacrifice (WWII and Soviet Union) makes the LDS pioneers look like a walk in the park. It’s probably a better bet that Ukranian Saints could teach the rest of us a lot about sacrifice and the heroic virtues of faith and sacrifice in the face of danger. I’m more interested in hearing more of their stories in GC and in lesson manuals than the prevalent Utah/Idaho farmer’s son, 19th century pioneer stories/experiences we currently enjoy.

    As far as LDS holidays go, Christmas and Easter suit me just fine along with the semiannual holiday weekends off from “church work” during GC.

    As far as the cultural experiences enjoyed by the youth of yesterday, the changes in how tithing money is allocated and what can be spent on youth activities has, in my opinion, had a direct impact. Wards are no longer as free to plan and execute creative youth activities that might draw in a lot of people to pull off. Doing away with youth conferences at college campuses in favor of local youth conferences where the kids stay in members homes was another big change, whose effects are probably now being seen, at least on a cultural scale. Multi-day temple trips are no longer an annual ritual complete with testimony meeting on the bus and hijinx in the hotel rooms, at least in the US. I guess in theory we’re all supposed to spend the same amount of money on youth activities and as far as Mormon culture goes, we’re all poorer for it.

    In the Atlanta area Roadshows were still being held as recently as two years ago. Of course, the format had changed from a live skit with props to a short film format. (Switching to films made the evening go a lot smoother and quicker. It was very revealing to learn that making a short film took as much, if not more, work as a “live” roadshow skit and drew in almost as many people from the ward.)

    Sorry for the threadjack above.

  70. John Mansfield on December 12, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Carol F., it does seem that the children sing one set of songs this year, another next year, and three years down the road, none are more than vaguely remembered.

  71. Naismith on December 12, 2006 at 11:29 am

    “But a Mormonism robbed of any context within which beloved or even sometimes-annoying-but-still-enjoyed cultural quirks can evolve would be a Mormonism robbed of any possibility of community, which would mean any possibility fo Zion. Perhaps Mormon doctrine is the necessary vehicle and the fuel, but building a Mormon world–within, inevitably, a Mormon culture to support and attend it–is the destination, the whole point of the enterprise.”

    Okay, I thought about this some more, and I think it is not a coincidence that the City of Enoch was, you know, a city.

    I don’t think we ever again will see a “Mormon culture.” I think that we will see Mormon cultures emerge in various places. Probably the various cultures will have more in common with their non-LDS neighbors in their locale than with LDS in other places on the globe, which makes it not so strange for converts. Only the doctrine and the spirit will be the unifying force, which is plenty.

    Trying to maintain a churchwide culture will feel forced to most of the church.

    About 10 years ago I was in South America, and we were trying to have a homemaking meeting, and the dear sisters struggled to understand the lesson, which had been translated verbatim without regard to local custom. It talked about being a thrifty homemaker, and making good use of what we had. But one of the key stories was about a woman who was running around at 5:30 p.m. trying to figure out what to serve for dinner that night.

    Well, in that country, the evening meal is served at 8 p.m. and it is always rice and beans. If there is a church activity, it is at 6 p.m., and people come directly from work and go home to supper afterward.

    So they couldn’t understand this woman’s problem and couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to learn from it.

    I think each area has its own traditions and own culture, but it is not churchwide and I am not sure it should be. If we become Zion a city at a time, that’s not a problem.

  72. CS Eric on December 12, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    I believe that a oeople (like the city of Enoch) can only really become a “people” through shared experiences, which is what the cultural things are all about. If the only thing that you and I have in common is Doctrine (whatever that means), we really can’t be “one.” Part of the genius of Islam is the requirement that everyone go to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. That way, each and every member has at least one singular, shared experience, shared with hundreds of thousands at the same time. Traveling hundreds of miles to go to the temple used to do that for many members of the Church as a people, and something was lost with the addition of newer, smaller temples. I agree that having a temple close means that more members can attend more often, and that is a good thing. But it comes with a cost.

    And what is wrong with the old pioneer stories? There isn’t a Jew alive who survived the Exodus, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still celebrate the Passover. It is those stories that help keep us together as a people. The days when the Church was only in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, are gone, but it is still part of who and what the Church was. I agree that there are new stories to tell, but I think it is foolish to throw out the old ones simply because there are new ones. That is just another form of revisionism that does no more good to who we are as a Church than does correlating polygamy out of its early history.

    Every change comes with its consequences, good and bad. One thing the three-hour block does (which I otherwise dislike immensely) is let me have the calling I enjoy most in the Church–playing the piano for Primary. I could not do that if Primary were still on a weekday afternoon because of my work schedule.

  73. j.a.t. on December 12, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    “and there were no divisions among them” (1 Cor 1:10)

    Check out the kw search for “divisions” in the scriptures. It is used as an important marker for the saints.
    http://scriptures.lds.org/en/search?search=divisions

    I wonder what the difference is spiritually between intentionally using culture as a divisive entity, and non-intentionally arriving at the same end? Also, I concur that we’re throwing out the unifying aspects of culture out with the bath water. How to use this tremendous tool positively though . . . that’s a different question.

    Just in watching the comments here, I’m stunned to see the strong opinions that literally divide us on this issue. I shudder at the thought of being asked to speak on Pioneer Day Sunday. Half the audience would be rolling their eyes if I spoke on LDS pioneers, the other half annoyed if they were left out. When one boils down everything to be so copasetic that it offends noone and addresses everyone, then suddenly you’re talking to noone. 4th of July Sunday is just as bad, and our ward sisters all have battle scars from Mother’s Day. *Yipe*. It’s all tragically divisive.

  74. Russell Arben Fox on December 12, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    CS Eric,

    “Part of the genius of Islam is the requirement that everyone go to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. That way, each and every member has at least one singular, shared experience, shared with hundreds of thousands at the same time. Traveling hundreds of miles to go to the temple used to do that for many members of the Church as a people, and something was lost with the addition of newer, smaller temples. I agree that having a temple close means that more members can attend more often, and that is a good thing. But it comes with a cost….Every change comes with its consequences, good and bad. One thing the three-hour block does (which I otherwise dislike immensely) is let me have the calling I enjoy most in the Church–playing the piano for Primary. I could not do that if Primary were still on a weekday afternoon because of my work schedule.”

    A couple of great examples, connected with a very important point about “culture” is really, more than anything else, the shared context which we work out and make room for as time goes by, the context within which we can recognize one another and “enjoy” our experiences together. We lost a lot of cultural sources of Mormon attachment and affection, over the years; we’ve also found new ones. My personal opinion is that, thusfar, the net trade-off has not been positive….but then, the fully international and correllated church is less than two generations old yet, and still growing fast. By the time my children are grown and have children of their own, they may find my complaint nonsensical, as they–I assume, I hope–may see themselves as having been raised in the midst of high-tech, global Mormon culture, one which is nearly imperceptible to me.

    J.A.T.,

    “Just in watching the comments here, I’m stunned to see the strong opinions that literally divide us on this issue. I shudder at the thought of being asked to speak on Pioneer Day Sunday. Half the audience would be rolling their eyes if I spoke on LDS pioneers, the other half annoyed if they were left out. When one boils down everything to be so copasetic that it offends noone and addresses everyone, then suddenly you’re talking to no one….*Yipe*. It’s all tragically divisive.”

    True–but it’s not culture that’s tragically divisive. It’s human nature. We’re fallen creatures, and we tend to turn anything we can–culture included–into weapons to judge or attack one another. There are, to be sure, bad and corrupt and oppressive and stupid cultural customs in the world, but for the most part–certainly within Mormonism, at least–the culture is only at fault when we make it so.

  75. Bro. Jones on December 12, 2006 at 4:10 pm

    #63: “I’m not sure if this is the intention, but it seems as though the church is no longer institutionalizing the idea of religion as a social epicenter.”

    Please, please say that’s true! I’m all for shared experiences now and then, but I’ve always resented the implication that my social life revolve around the ward. While that implication was stronger in some places than others, as someone who is the only member in his family and who tended to have a lot more non-member friends, I welcome the idea that we might actually have fun things to do that don’t involve the Church.

  76. Eve on December 12, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Naismith, I’m genuinely confused here. On the one hand, you say that you’re constantly asking people on the Bloggernacle why they’re so worried about something so “trivial” as cultural practices; on the other, you talk about how hurt and excluded you’ve felt by cultural practices. As I understand you, you’re suggesting to other people that some of these cultural things are insignificant–particularly those you’ve never personally encountered–but at the same time others of them obviously have the power to wound you (your description of the confusion on your wedding day and your references to “smug little in-jokes”–both of which are very unfortunate, I would agree) and understandably, you want to eradicate them.

    I wonder, though, it the cultural practices you dismiss as so “trivial” that other people shouldn’t even worry about them could be just as significant and just as wounding to others as those that have hurt you are to you.

  77. Wilfried on December 12, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    Russell, just to let you know I’ve been following this thread with great interest. Thanks to all for fascinating comments. From the international perspective, I feel inadequate to say anything new. Over a period of more than 40 years I’ve also seen Mormon culture in Europe evolve but I’m still not sure which direction we’re heading. As has been said several times in this thread, every change has good but also some less succesful sides. No doubt the Brethern want the members to be happy, and I think that most changes we see are meant to serve this search for happiness, by eliminating obstacles and helping members come closer to the core of the Gospel.

    Overall I feel changes of the past decades tend to put more responsibility on the individual’s commitment to the Gospel, rather than on the social environment. But in the international Church, or generally among converts, I think we have not yet fully assessed what it means to transfer someone from his pre-Mormon social context to a new one in the Church, or to find the balance between both spheres. Some converts may need more “Mormon culture” than we think in order to keep them in the Church. Others could still be great members if we give them more chance to remain close to their original social sphere.

  78. Porter on December 12, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    What ever happened to all the plastic grapes that were made by every relief society in the church? Those were so cool.

    I fondly remember the huge fundraisers we used to have for youth activities. As a youth leader now I’m glad we dont need to deal with it, but those were fun — and profitable.

    I miss the days where ward budgets were based on member contributions. Our ward was in a wealthy area, so we always went on some extravagant youth trips. Ahh, the good old days.

    BTW, when did the kids in primary start jumping out of their seats every time they sing (yell) “beam” in the song Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam? I dont recall that from my youth. It certainly livens up the song.

    Things sure have changed. I’m feeling kind of old now…

  79. Naismith on December 12, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    “Naismith, I’m genuinely confused here. On the one hand, you say that you’re constantly asking people on the Bloggernacle why they’re so worried about something so “trivial” as cultural practices; on the other, you talk about how hurt and excluded you’ve felt by cultural practices.”

    Gee, that was confusing! I was hurt and felt excluded during the 2.5 years I lived in Utah while attending BYU. That’s when the temple thing happened, and was the only time I personally ran into that kind of thing. (Occasionally we get newcomers from Utah who try to inflict their cultural expectations, but like a coal that has rolled away from the barbecue pit, their fervor generally dies out with time.)

    The other 20+ years I’ve been in the church, I’ve lived in areas that are mostly converts and mostly free of the cultural stuff that people talk about.

    So I know such things are not an inherent part of the gospel per se.

  80. CS Eric on December 12, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    Porter (#78),

    I remember standing up on \”beam\”, and it has been more than 35 years since I was a primary kid. It was discouraged, then, which made it even more fun.

  81. Fregramis on December 14, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    I don’t know if this has been mentioned but I remember the emphasis on scripture “chasing” and seminary bowls. I remember one of my teachers telling us to put talcum powder on the specific pages so they would fall open more easily to the correct passage. I never was one for the fun and games in Seminary, since we already got that on activity nights.

    Are there still wards where the microphone is carried through the congregation by a teacher on Fast Sunday? Or has that been discontinued as well? I think being able to stand and bear your testimony anywhere in the chapel made the experience more intimate and allowed mothers/ fathers to be in arms reach of unruly or needy children.