Tag Archives: culture

Mormons, Hipsters, and how we forgot about Jesus

My friend David and I have a sort of dueling blogs kind of relationship. He writes over at Catchy Title Goes Here, and we tend to have pretty divergent views on Mormon culture and how it should interact with the world around us. I guess we can get away with this sort of thing because we avoid name-calling and we’ve known each other since forever.

Recently, our circle of friends is talking about the New York Times article To Be Young, Hip, and Mormon. My friend David talked about how he felt this was an affront to what the Church stood for, that it’s just an article about how to compromise with the world and avoid following certain commandments:

And the most offensive part of the article was at the end where the New York Times writes about What the Church Says and How to Get Around It. The very idea that you want to “get around” the commandments and doctrines of the church, just so that you can fit in with the cool kids, is just unthinkable to me. Either you are a Mormon, you want to be a part of the faith, you want to believe and accept the tenets of this faith, or you do not. And if you do not, then don’t. No big deal. There’s no one forcing you to be Mormon, there’s nothing, other than social pressure, which is, ironically, the only thing encouraging people to be hipster.

The offending portion is in the end of the article, where they write a tl;dr version:

Rebelling, If Only Just a Little

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS

Many adult Mormons follow the practice of wearing the temple garment, which for men, means long boxer briefs and a scoop-neck T-shirt and, for women, knee-length shorts and a top with cap sleeves.

HOW TO GET AROUND IT

For men, tank tops are out, but you can stay on-trend in a button-down plaid shirt, rolled selvedge jeans and boat shoes. For women, one popular option is the “Zooey Deschanel look” — ruffled blouse, bow collar and a high-waisted pencil skirt.

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS

Mormons are told not to “disfigure” themselves “with tattoos or body piercing.”

HOW TO GET AROUND IT

Cover up the tattoos or at least try a compromise, like getting a tattoo of a beehive, a Mormon symbol of working together for the common good.

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS

No beards on missionaries or Brigham Young University students.

HOW TO GET AROUND IT

An allergic reaction to shaving, demonstrated by razor bumps, can score you a “beard card” at B.Y.U.

WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS

No consumption of alcohol, even at social functions.

HOW TO GET AROUND IT

Drink Pellegrino and don’t bother to correct other party guests who assume you are in recovery.

What I found so interesting about all of this is that outside of the tattoo advice (which blatantly defies the “no tattoos” rule our Church has), none of this actually advocates breaking any of the commandments. A beard card is a legitimate tool at BYU for wearing beards. No one said anything about altering or forgoing garments; they suggested clothing options that were still “hipster” yet modest. And nobody advocates drinking at parties; the author advocates drinking fancy bubbly water. In fact, if you simply changed the setting (say, for some bizarre reason, this appeared in the Ensign), this is all legitimate advice in being a faithful member but participating in this subculture (which, for some reason, you wanted to).

I actually found this to be a fun, if not somewhat banal, fluff piece. Why the New York Times is interested in Mormon hipsters (outside of the incongruity with our public image and the hipster fashion movement) is beyond me. Why do they care so much about us? I suppose we really are experiencing some kind of Mormon Moment.

However, a lot of people were really offended by this (or at least upset). David wasn’t the only one; my “Mormon Folks” Google Plus circle was all a-Buzz (see what I did there?) with commentary on this article, mostly negative. They view this as compromising our Church’s core values with the desires of the world. And this is the part I get upset about, for two primary reasons.

First of all, let’s not pretend that the Church has never compromised our core values with the world (see also: Polygamy). Speaking of the document that is now known as the Manifesto (and is actually, very curiously, canon), then-current Church President Woodruff wrote about the Lord’s justification on why we stopped practicing polygamy — the opposition was too much. We’d lose control of our temples; all of our leaders would be jailed; the entire religious movement would collapse under the strain. The impetus was revelation, that God said it was okay, but the explicit justification given (by God, if you are inclined to believe so) is to compromise to the pressure of the world.

Or let’s even talk about tattoos. In certain cultures (such as in Polynesia), tattoos are a vitally important part of their society. It marks rank, age, social prestige, etc. So what did the Church do when large numbers of Polynesians joined the Church? They compromised. Polynesian men can still get tattoos which are important to their culture and standing in society, but with Church permission on a case-by-case basis. This is hardly a strong, black-and-white stance that we often advocate here in the United States.

Now, yes. The key point to every Mormon here is that all of these “exceptions,” if you want to call them that, are regulated by the Church ecclesia proper. Yes. But there are other compromises that were not exactly brought about by revelation. In the beginning, the early Church Fathers taught vehemently against the idea of rampant capitalism; they taught that the nuclear family (a product of the Industrial Revolution) destroyed traditional kinship relationships and was a product of selfishness. They taught that communitarianism was more important than making money. Well, we’ve mostly forgotten those lessons. Sure, you see shades of it here and there, but we’ve actually gone and sacralized the nuclear family structure (See also: Proclamation to the World: The Family) and a good part of States Mormons embrace capitalism wholeheartedly.

Or take women and working. Twenty years ago, President Ezra Taft Benson said by no circumstance should women ever work outside the home. Ever. Then, in the 2000s, we had prophets saying it’s okay when necessary, but should be avoided. Now, in the 2010s, we have an I’m A Mormon ad celebrating a Mormon who is…you guessed it, a working mom who loves her job and doesn’t intend on quitting any time soon.

But this is not what really irks me and really more of a side point than anything else. Here’s my real beef and my second point. The New York Times article is banal and trivial; don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a fluff piece and nothing more. I think the whole hipster movement is kind of ridiculous. But that’s the thing. Our negative responses by and large have done the same thing — we’ve reduced our vibrant, beautiful faith into a banal list of outward appearances.

The advice in the article is really, really shallow. Mormonism isn’t about beards and blouses and skinny jeans and glasses and drinking sparkling water at loft parties and tattoos. Not really. Mormonism is about a beautiful cosmology, about a God who is our Father and who loves us, who sent His Son to die for us in an attempt to save us all from our wretched natures and exalt us to his level. We believe in a religion that not only saves us, but extends the salvic power of Jesus through the chains of our ancestors and our descendants, in infinite web of humanity all embraced and linked together through the power of God so that we can all become kin, and all re-enter into our inheritance as the offspring of deity.

Nowhere in the article (or in the complaints) is this idea. The article is not advocating denouncing Jesus, or abandoning baptism or membership. They’re talking about wearing modest clothing and still looking hipster, for Pete’s sake. And here in lies the Big Problem, both for our perception to the outside world, and our own perceptions of ourselves.

What makes a Mormon Mormon? Is it the way he dresses? What she drinks and where and why? Is it whether or not she has a tattoo or whether or not he has a beard? God forbid this is what we think of ourselves. But this small slip reveals a lot — we don’t require that you just believe in Mormonism, you need to look the part, too. Which I think is sad. How sad is it that we see a guy with a beehive tattoo and we think, “He must not believe in the core doctrines of this Church.” How sad is it when we see a girl drinking sparkling water at a loft party and dodging questions about why she doesn’t drink to avoid social scorn and then looks dejected when everyone else around her is drunk and she’s not having any fun, we think “She has no moral values. I bet she doesn’t even believe in Jesus.” Because that’s what we’re saying. We’re drawing the line in the sand on what makes you a “good” Mormon, and it’s not what you believe, but it’s apparently how you dress and your attitudes towards loft parties.

Sure, people will extrapolate motivations from actions. If you want to get a tattoo but the prophet told you not to, then you obviously believe in the prophet. But then again, I’ve yet to meet a Mormon who is perfect in everything the prophets tell you to do (in fact, every General Conference, my feeds are flooded with Mormons publicly confessing that they could always do better). Whence did all this judgment come from? And why do we keep doing it?

We’re all sinners here. To pull an old card from classic evangelic street preaching, have you ever lied? Have you ever thought an inappropriate thought? Have you ever called your brother a fool? Then you have sinned, and we all stand in need of the atonement of Christ. I love the I’m A Mormon ad campaign precisely because it broadens the idea of what it means to be a Mormon. Sure, they hook you in with the fact that this guy is an edgy photographer, or this guy makes handmade books, or this lady raises bees or this guy skateboards professionally. But when you get to the center, what makes them Mormon? Is it the leisure activities they do? No. It’s what they believe. It’s how they structure their worldview, and what they hope for in this life and the life to come. That’s what makes you a Mormon.

But we’ve yet to absorb the message. We ignore the message entirely, in fact, and often descend into a destructive, futile attempt at brand control. When a newspaper writes a fluff piece about Mormons trying to look hipster while trying to keep the faith and working around commandments that clash with their cultural surroundings in the least conflicting way possible, suddenly we descend, upset and angry, that they have somehow misrepresented us, as if Mormons struggling to blend in with the crowd while maintaining their faith makes you imperfect, a sinner, less than us, and unworthy to carry the Mormon name. The fact that an article which never mentions their faith in Jesus but mentions maybe getting a tattoo or complaining that loft parties aren’t fun (don’t our “strong” youth always complain about how worldly parties aren’t fun in the New Era anyway? When did this suddenly become a sin?) gets us so riled up is sort of telling, and what it’s telling is not pretty. In fact, to me, it’s really ugly.

We’re all trying. And every day, we have to make little compromises here and there, in hopes that our neighbors don’t burn down our houses and drive us out of the country to, oh, I dunno, Nunavut or something. Our compromises just aren’t visible ones; we’re the lucky Mormons. Let’s have a little bit of faith and a little bit of charity. Even for hipsters.

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The revelatory power of Gentiles

Imagine this scenario, if you will:

Somewhere, on the East Coast of the United States, a young, prominent feminist, well respected by her peers and community and considered a good, honorable person, is sitting in the breakfast nook of her Boston home, meditating. She is meditating on how she could heal the bridge between the patriarchal (in a bad way) influences in Western religion and women who seek spirituality within the Christian context but cannot feel like they are full participants in certain denominations. As she is meditating, the Holy Ghost descends upon her and she sees a vision. A man clothed in a white robe appears before her and says, “Your meditations have been heard by God and you will receive your answer. Send word to a man named Thomas S. Monson, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He will tell you what to do.”

At the exact same time, President Monson is sitting in the celestial room of the Salt Lake City temple. He has been fasting for several days now, and in the middle of his prayers, he falls into a type of trance. He sees the heavens open up above him and a strange vision appears before him wherein God commands him to do something He explicitly told the Prophet not to do. President Monson refuses, wanting to stay strictly adherent to the rules. This vision appears three times, each time God commanding President Monson to disobey a previous commandment. After the third time, President Monson puzzles over this when President Uchtdorf, one of his counselors, comes in and tells him someone wants to see him.

President Monson meets with the messenger, who tells him of our stalwart and good feminist, and of her strange request to receive word on what to do. President Monson decides to return with the messenger to Boston and meet this faithful sister who was not of our faith, and when he meets her and finds out what she seeks, President Monson is moved upon by the Holy Ghost and decides that now is the time for women to receive the priesthood. He baptizes the feminist and ordains her to the office of a priest.

This story sounds kind of crazy, huh? And yet, it basically happened 2000 years ago, according to Acts chapter 10. Of course, then, it was the centurion Cornelius, and the prophet at the time was the apostle Peter. Still, this chapter in The Acts of the Apostles presents an interesting conundrum, and that is, a Gentile (someone outside of the faith, even marginalized at that point) not only receives visions and is visited by heavenly messengers, but helps to interpret a vision the head of the Church had received, which results in the historical reversal of what was once considered God-ordained procedure.

Could this happen in our Church today? Theoretically, yes. But is it feasible? That’s for you to decide.

When Peter decided to reverse the current long-standing tradition that Jews and Gentiles not mingle, and instead declared the famous stance that God supposedly takes, specifically that He is no respecter of persons, it was not only a seismic cultural shift wherein this strange Nazarene cult would eventually break away from its parent Judaism and become a world religion and a force to be reckoned with on its own, but it also led to explosive growth in the Church, the charge spearheaded by Paul.

However, it also did not take long for Paul to issue this warning in Romans to those very Gentiles who helped the Church’s ranks swell with larger numbers. Comparing the Gentiles to wild branches grafted into a host tree, Paul warned, “Boast not against the branches…. Thou wilt say then, the branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well: because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Romans 11:18-21).

Paul’s warning and Peter’s experience with Gentiles brings about a good lesson that we as Church members could learn for ourselves. We sometimes as a culture take a combative stance towards anything not Mormon. We forget, like some white Americans do today, that we are all immigrants, and essentially, our religion is a religion of converts. Cornelius is a good example that the world is full of people who, Gentile as they are, can be good people. In fact, they can be good people that have the potential to receive the Holy Ghost as well as we (Acts 10:47) and even spur massive cultural shifts in the Church for our own good.

Be not highminded, but fear — for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he spare not thee.

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The Cohab Standards Week

General Conference has come and gone, and all that goodness got me thinking – what exactly do we mean when we talk about “standards?”

Mormons who grew up in the Church know what I mean; every once in a while, the bishopric or some other form of ward leadership will gather the youth together in a fun-filled fireside romp often titled “Standards Night.” Usually, the firesides came in the form of a good old-fashioned pulpit thumpin’ sermon about the length of our skirts, the age of our dating, and the beverages we drink. We talk about all the no-noes in our religion – alcohol, smoking, drugs, immodesty, heavy petting and necking (whatever that means), exclusive dating, the works.

Well, we’re not gonna pound the war drums against texting in church or flip-flops (thank goodness), but for the next week the Cohab will discuss some of the more particular ideas of what standards mean in our Church, inspired by some recent personal experiences and some excellent talks in last General Conference. So without further ado, the schedule:

Where Do Standards Come From? – We’ll open up the interesting question raised by Elder Oaks’ talk about priesthood lines of communication and personal lines of communication. Should we derive standards from personal lines or priesthood lines? Are standards derived as a form of Church administration, or personal worthiness? Is it a mix of both? How can we tell which is which?

The Best Standards Night Ever – My bishop as a youth gave a standards night one month that left everyone rolling in the aisles with tears of laughter. The next month, my bishop announces another standards night which every youth attended, hoping for a repeat performance. Instead, I was bored out of my skull. He never cracked a single joke about drugs and didn’t bring up sex even once. When I mentioned this to my dad, he rebuked my sharply, saying it was the best standards night he’s ever attended. As I grew older, I began to understand why.

Boys will Be Boys – In the same talk, President Gordon B. Hinckley urged young women to only wear one pair of earrings, and for the young men to please, please, pleease pull up our pants and stop wearing them five sizes too big. The next General Conference, speakers talk about boyfriends who break-up with girlfriends who didn’t pull out their extra pair of earrings, but how come we never heard about girlfriends who dumped their boy-toys who refused to stop wearing baggy pants? Is there an unfair advantage for one gender over the other?

Sleep-overs and Video Games Some General Authorities spoke disagreeably about video games and sleep-overs, talking about the general malfeasance inherent in them. But for me, sleep-overs and video games kept me clear out of trouble and squarely in the Gospel. Dare I say, they even helped my testimony from burning completely out. How flexible can standards be before we start our mental gymnastics into apostasy?

Standards, Culture, and Commandments – The Church continues to work eagerly in sending missionaries to China (as does every other proselyting religion). Friends confide in me that because of the presence of our humanitarian missionaries, we already have a large, underground base of support in China, and when the bamboo curtain finally rises, entire swathes of China will baptize overnight. However, even if such rumors are true, we overlook one incredibly important part of Chinese (and most of Asia’s) culture – tea. Where does the Word of Wisdom lie – culture, standards, or commandment? Is there even a difference?

Keep the Flock Safe, Starve out the SinnersWhile I understand the scriptural basis of the practice, denying the Sacrament to those who aren’t “worthy” of it never sat right with me. The Sacrament is a powerful symbol of God’s redemptive and cleansing power. It’s one of the few physical symbols we indulge in as Mormons on a regular basis. What does it say about us when we deny God’s redemptive and cleansing power only after we’ve already become clean? Don’t those who are sick need that power more than the healthy? Do standards prevent us from ministering to the spiritually needy, or do they keep the plague out of the already healthy flock?

As you can see, we’ve got quite the lineup. I hope you stick around for standards week, and bring your copies of the Book of Mormon to place between your partner for the youth dance afterwards!

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Pick Your Battles: Blue Hair, White Shirts, Right Hands, Patriarchy, Corporate Culture, and God

Blue hair - tool of Satan? You decide.

Blue hair - tool of Satan? You decide.

Someone remarked to a mother in church one day that it might not be appropriate for her son to have blue hair and bless the sacrament. This wise mother arched her eyebrow and fired back, “I pick my battles in parenting – he can keep the blue hair as long as he’s worthy. So far, he’s been worthy so I’m not too concerned with the blue hair.” That lesson has stuck with me since.

Recently on Mormon Matters, a post about white shirts by Jeff Spector created a lot of controversy. Have someone pose the question of whether the white shirt is a symbol of oppressive conformity or an appropriate symbol of priesthood. If you foam at the mouth and start ranting for either side, you might be a Mormon. The post mentioned that he saw the symbolism of wearing a white shirt with the priesthood and cleanliness for ordinances as a nice way where wearing a white shirt to Sunday can act as a gentle reminder. Others roared about how the white shirt had become a “psuedo-doctrine” and how “ethnocentric” and “obsessive” the Church had become towards outward appearance. Eventually, people begin talking about other small things, such as earrings, tattoos, and using the right hand for taking the Sacrament.

Ah, white shirts. I used to hate them so much. Now, it's more of a resignation than anything else.

Ah, white shirts. I used to hate them so much. Now, it's more of a resignation than anything else.

I used to simmer with resentment at the white shirt. I look better in blue shirts. Ironically, this was during my teenage to early college rebellion years. My faith has radically evolved since then, and such small matters don’t matter to me. In fact, like Jeff Spector, I can appreciate the small tokens of symbolism within the white shirt. Was it intentional? No, I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean you can’t extrapolate good from it. Same with taking the Sacrament with my right hand. I am left-handed, but this never bothered me much. Rather, it’s a nice symbolic way of renewing covenants with God.

However, I’m not going to dismiss the other side. White shirts can become an outward symbol of righteousness all too easily for some members. It can lead to pharisee-esque behavior and so forth. But that can be applied to almost every commandment. Refraining from judgment, demonstrating charity to your fellow man – these are the hard things to do. Nobody said otherwise. Should we throw out all the rules because they can be abused? I think most rational people would say such an argument is preposterous. Most often, white shirt hatred (or hatred towards the non-canonical practice of taking the Sacrament with the right hand) is symptomatic of a larger issue with the Church, and I can understand that. To those people, I offer this advice: Pick your battles.

White shirts don’t make me froth at the mouth anymore. But mention “patriarchy” around me and I’ll roll my eyes, sigh, and probably start brewing a strong batch of yerba mate. If we start talking about corporate culture in the Church, you’ll probably get the same reaction. These, in my opinion, are real issues the Church is dealing with. And when we focus too much on the small appearances, we ignore bigger picture problems.

The idea that whiteness = good is "ethnocentric" doesn't hold a lot of water. Gandhi recommended wearing white clothes as - what else? - a way to fight against Western influences. He saw white clothes as simple and pure.

The idea that whiteness = good is "ethnocentric" doesn't hold a lot of water. Gandhi recommended wearing white clothes as - what else? - a way to fight against Western influences. He saw white clothes as simple and pure.

When we start frothing at the mouth about little things, like white shirts, we make it a big deal. I’m not aware of many people who actually believe deep within their hearts that white shirts are a requirement for priesthood ordinances. If we run into those people, we gently remind them why such a thinking process is problematic and move on. There is no need to conflate the white shirt issue so vastly. The common argument for anti-white shirts is that your relationship with God trumps the color of your shirt when it comes to salvation. I heartily agree (I think most people would). So live your life, and go to church in a colored shirt, if you believe that is what you must do. Don’t be surprised if people raise an eyebrow at your cultural defiance, and certainly don’t throw a childish fit if people don’t immediately herald you as some kind of iconoclastic genius. That would be very pharisee-esque behavior.

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Sociological vs. Anthropological

I seriously want this guy's beard

I seriously want this guy's beard.

One thing I’ve discovered during my sociology classes: I am intrinsically Marxist.

This isn’t Bellevue College’s fault. It’s really just my own fault, I suppose. My teacher is schooled in and promoted the symbolic/interaction perspective (viewing microcosms and small, close relationships), and also promoted the feminist perspective. Some students resonated with the structural perspective (viewing society as parts of a machine). But me? I’m Marxist, to the core. Almost every society can be defined by conflict.

Whenever I view the Church in a sociological lens, therefore, I cannot help but view the Church rife with conflict – Utah culture vs. Non-Utah culture, the US church vs. the global church, women vs. the priesthood. And it’s all there; we just choose to ignore it or simply remain unconscious to it because the implications can disturb us.

And it disturbs me, I’ll admit. I’m to the point where I can view this without any implication to the Church’s truthfulness, which is a potential sign of (yay!)  maturity. But it still doesn’t solve the problem that comes with Marxism (and the core of my personality) – sociological research does nothing if it doesn’t try to fix the problems it discovers. But what can one person do in a Church with such a hierarchical, patriarchal structure? Out wait everything? Watch for slow, gradual change? The Church does evolve over time (and when looking back, the changes are drastic – Brigham Young would be horrified for sure). But it can still embitter me to certain elements and I just don’t like feeling bitter. It’s not a great feeling. It’s not very healthy.

I’ve been shifting my focus on the church towards a more anthropological approach. The Church is made up of people – imperfect people who try their best (or don’t try their best) to do what’s right and to protect what they have while trying to improve upon it. Suddenly, the Church culture isn’t something I have to incessantly fix. I can collect stories and folklore, examine some of our myths and I don’t have to pass judgment. I don’t have to fix anything. I just record. I love it.

When you've got stuff like this happening in your folktales, you're never bored.

When you've got stuff like this happening in your folktales, you're never bored.

I’ve been reading a lot of folklore lately – I spend some of my birthday money, and three out of the four books (The Bhagavad  Gita; Folklore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish; and Irish Lore and Legends) are collections of folklore. I reluctantly left behind another tome of Jewish tales as well as books on Indian and Chinese folklore, simply because I didn’t want to spend all of my birthday money in one place.

I love folklore. For one, it’s been supporting the change in my attention span; the studies are probably right – the Internet is shortening my attention span. I don’t have patience for huge books on one subject and I prefer things to be short and dense. Folktales are like tweets – they’re usually pretty short, and the good ones have a lot of things to think about. Whenever I read regular books now (non-fiction) by the halfway mark I stop because I’ve learned all that the author usually has to say and the rest is just fluff. And because they’re short, I can devour pages upon pages of them. It’s seriously very addicting.

And my goodness, Church history. It’s awesome. Really. It’s like a religious soap opera and I love every part of it. And our folklores are just as good as any. We just need to start recording them and stop treating them like doctrine but as just that – tales with ambiguous sources. Ask any Jew if he or she really believes that you can use the Word of God to breathe life into a golem and they’ll laugh (unless they are seriously orthodox). But the stories of golems are not worthless – they’re a deep insight into the Jewish psyche and their desperate need for a physical protector in times of horrible distress and calamity for their culture. And sometimes folktales poking fun at religious authorities are necessary – not to disrespect them, but to remind ourselves that even the prophet is not akin to God, and as humans, we’re all subject to foibles and mistakes. We can develop a healthy, positive outlook towards the more negative aspects about who we are, and that, I can assure you from past experience, can bring about a very sweet peace of mind.

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The etymology of “Atonement”

I used to induce myself into a simmering wrath whenever I heard “Atonement” picked apart as “At-one-ment.” No way a word’s meaning could be deduced so simply in such a sophomoric fashion. It’s like saying the word “microphone” really means “micro” + “phone,” and micro means “small” and phone means telephone, so a microphone is a really small telephone. I felt it poor scholarship, and as a fan of etymology, I was offended, I’ll admit. Drove me crazy whenever anyone would define “Atonement” in that fashion.

Well, egg on my face because according to the Oxford English Dictionary:

[In use a verbal n. from atone, but apparently of prior formation, due to the earlier n. onement and the phrase ‘to be atone’ or ‘at onement.’ Cf. the following:
1533 Q. Cath. Parr Erasm. Comm. Crede 162 To reconcile hymselfe and make an onement with god.1599 Bp. Hall Sat. iii. vii. 69 Which never can be set at onement more.1555 Fardle Facions ii. xii. 298 The redempcion, reconciliacion, and at onement of mankinde with God the father.]

Well darn. Other sources mention that the term could have been coined by William Tyndale (oh, that rascally Tyndale!) , recognizing that he understood no direct translated from Hebrew or Greek into English had yet existed. How a scholar of languages invented a word with such a boring origin is beyond me, but because of its spiritual meaning, the word has transcended beyond its dull roots to take on a beautiful, uplifting, redeeming connotation.

So it turns out that those guys in Sunday School just might be right. Fine. I’ll accept it. However, to the missionary who took it further than usual and said that “-ment” in “atonement” means “with” in Greek or Latin, I may never forgive you in this life.

Edit: For an interesting short history lesson as far as this explanation’s existence in Mormon culture, look no further than this blog post “When did Atonement become At-onement?” Fascinating!

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Ash Wednesday and Lent

Thanks to a timely reminder from By Common Consent, I will be celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, tomorrow. I’ve always meant to celebrate it but always forgot when it was time to do so until half-way through Lent.

Like some Mormons, I’m jealous of other religions who have a liturgical calendar. I consider myself a very spiritual person but I’ve never been good at adhering to strict religious practices within the Mormon church. It may seem strange that a person like me wants a liturgical calendar, but there’s something about a religious structure that reminds you of various religious topics at the same time year after year that become a tradition bigger than itself, and there’s something incredible about a prolonged, shared communal experience (and I’m not talking about those horrible marathon testimony meetings). I do my best to read my scriptures and pray every day, but there’s something said about a portion of the year set aside for the same thing every time which you as a global Church consciously experience.

Maybe I’m a Law of Moses kind of guy. I like daily reminders of the gospel scattered throughout my life. And call me an elitist, but I like cultural markers that help demarcate us from the rest of the world. However, our culture is, when compared to other religions, quite silly. Disaffected Catholics still generally go to church on Easter and Christmas. Disaffected Jews may still gather together for their various feasts and fasts. What do disaffected Mormons do? As Scott B. wonders, “Wouldn’t that just be the nerdiest thing ever if a huge crowd of disaffected Mormons gathered together once a year to celebrate their cultural Mormonism by partying without coffee, tea, and alcohol while consuming ridiculous quantities of Jello and funeral potatoes. They could call it a Linger-Less-Longer.”

So I’ll be borrowing heavily from others’ liturgical calendars this year. The wife and I will probably try and celebrate Passover to the best of our ability, as well as other Jewish holidays. We might even take a stab at Ramadan this year, though we’re both technically not allowed to fast for long periods of time for medical reasons. General Conference is nice, but when it only comes twice a year, with large gaps in between lacking of any regular, yearly important dates of purely Mormon celebration (with the exception of Pioneer Day, which I don’t celebrate as it’s not really a part of my actual heritage and the wife’s hatred for anything folksy pioneer-y), sometimes you feel disconnected from the greater communal experience.

And for those who are wondering, I’m giving up eating out for Lent this year.

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