Thursday, October 23, 2008

Grading My Mormonism

Someone on another blog made a list of 10 things that LDS Church leaders have asked members to do. While I didn't really thoroughly absorb the blogger's overall point or feel like responding to it, the list itself caught my attention, and I wanted to do a little self-inventory, with grades:

1. Get out of debt and live frugally.

My personal grade: B

As I've written recently, I feel pretty good about our debt situation. We do have one $14,000 debt that I'd love to get paid off, but at least the interest is only 2.9%. And we live pretty frugally in terms of not spending big on housing, cars, clothes, and appliances. We're pretty content to live with older, outdated stuff. However, we do spend fairly freely on vacations, eating out, books, and entertainment. And we do occasionally pay people to clean our house, do our yard, and perform some maintenance and repairs that most other middle-class men would do themselves.

2. Be a 100% home teacher, making several visits per month if necessary.

My personal grade: C-

The only reason I gave myself such a high grade on this one is that I've been assigned to a companion for about five years now who always dogs me to go out with him, and I usually go because I feel guilty when I'm rude to him or try to avoid him. But I am really very irritated by it, and I wish he would leave me alone. I am also very irritated by the guy who hounds us every month to come visit us. Seriously, home teaching is very irritating and intrusive. But I can see where it does provide a social function in the ward, so I can't write it off completely.

3. Hold well-planned, well-organized family home evenings every Monday night.

My personal grade: D+

As I've written recently, we usually play the good things and bad things game at dinnertime on Monday night, and sometimes we have an activity and/or a dessert, but we don't do much if any gospel teaching. I feel quite a bit of guilt and inadequacy as a parent, and family home evening is one of those areas. I'm a little surprised my wife doesn't do more with FHE, but maybe she's just following my lead (or lack of it).

4. Read the scriptures every day privately, and hold family gospel study daily.

My personal grade: F

I do not make any attempt at all to do this. My wife sometimes reads scriptures with the kids in the morning, but she doesn't make me participate. I have the scriptures on my iPhone, so maybe I will try to remember to start reading a random chapter here and there. At one point recently I was going to try to read a scripture at least on Sundays, but I didn't stick with it.

5. Maintain at least a year's supply of food.

My personal grade: B-

Rattled by deteriorating world conditions, we've made a lot of progress on this during 2008. I don't really know how many months we could survive based only upon what we've stored in our home, but I don't think we'd last a whole year. I would estimate that we could do pretty well for about six months? Hard to say. The important thing is that we do have some buckets of wheat and a well-stocked storage room in our basement.

6. Work actively in family history, and see to it that my ancestors' temple work is done.

My personal grade: F

I do not do anything in this area. I have written and edited some family history narrative in the past, but I interpret this question as relating specifically to genealogical research, and I have never done anything in that area and don't intend to ever do so.

7. Attend the temple often, monthly if a temple is within easy driving distance.

My personal grade: D

I go only twice a year and dread even that. I just find it rather tedious and boring, and I'm busy enough that killing a whole evening like that is a little painful.

8. Select a friend to be taught by the missionaries. Facilitate this teaching by introducing my friend to the missionaries and having the discussions taught at my house. I should be doing this at least once per year.

My personal grade: F

I do nothing with this. I have some nonmember and inactive friends and coworkers, but I would never, ever presume to invite them to do anything churchy. They know I'm a practicing Mormon, and they can come to me if they ever have any questions or want any advice on spiritual/religious matters. I look to my nonmember and inactive friends to provide me with relief from the rigid Mormon culture, not as people upon whom I want to start imposing that culture, even though I do believe in Mormonism's eternal principles.

Here's something I'm a little embarrassed about: When a nonmember friend at work asked me for a blessing for an illness, I felt weird and immature and silly about it, so another coworker did it. I'm a big believer in blessings—I've received miraculous healing blessings, and I wouldn't hesitate to give them to a member of my own family, but it just felt so weird to me to mix church and work like that, and I couldn't handle it. The social niche I've carved out for myself at my current job is more of a joker than a religious example.

9. Greatly increase the amount of money I contribute to the fast offering, tenfold if at all possible.

My personal grade: D

I give $20 a month, period. I figure that I already pay so much in tithing, relatively speaking, that I don't need to give more in other categories. If I ever have any excess funds, they go toward my own debts or into savings, and we usually spend our short-term savings on vacations (we also have long-term accounts for our retirement and our kids). But I work as the donations clerk in my ward, and I'm often amazed by the big donations that come in above and beyond tithing, even from families my own age who seem to live a rather frugal life.

10. Keep a journal.

My personal grade: A

I don't maintain a separate document that I write in as a journal, but I consider this blog my journal, and plus I keep copies of any e-mails, blog comments, or other writings that function as personal expression and are worth preserving as a record of my life. I have a friend who often says to me, "Such and such a blog post was too long and boring," and I retort, "I write my blog for personal expression, not necessarily to entertain you." Of course, I enjoy it when my blog does entertain people, and at some level I get a kick out of airing my personal laundry in public. Knowing that I consistently get 300-400 unique visitors here a week motivates me more than just writing in some private document.

Overall I would probably grade my performance as a Mormon at a C+. This takes into account not only the above 10 items but also things like church attendance and keeping the basic standards required to maintain a temple recommend. I wish I could say I felt some great desire to become an A-level Mormon, but I guess I'm not fully convinced that being an A-level Mormon and being a person who is acceptable and pleasing to God always have to match up 100 percent. I think the Mormon religion is layered with group-think cultural standards and tunnel-visioned social pressures that don't necessarily reflect 100 percent divine enlightenment.

In other words, while I acknowledge that Mormonism is the best earthly pathway back to God—otherwise I would have dropped it long ago, because personally I don't like it—I don't think God is actually a Mormon in personality or culture or mindset or lifestyle. Or maybe I'm just a spiritually lazy, self-rationalizing, lukewarm, light-minded person who's headed to the terrestrial kingdom...

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