Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sunday School was an interesting sit-in.

The lesson was taken from the Old Testament, the book of Deuteromony which discusses how God commanded the Israelites to remember their covenants by posting scripture between their eyes, their hands, their door posts and their gates. A quote from Ezra Taft Benson was also read where in he says that people who are “captained by Christ will be consumed in Christ. … Enter their homes, and the pictures on their walls, the books on their shelves, the music in the air, their words and acts reveal them as Christians” Many agreed that one can always tell upon entering a home whether Christ is the center of the lives of the occupants of the home by the picture of the temple or of Christ hanging prominently on their walls. This made me cringe. I have none of those pictures. I had no idea that I can be judged by what I hang on my walls. God forbid that my Sunday School teacher or anyone who believes these words, be my judge for I will surely be sent to the depths of hell. And I thought it was ME who was being judged---not my house or my lack of appropriate pictures that hang on my wall...if we need to be judged by others at all. There is something intrinsically wrong with this kind of thinking. My true friends know me. ME. Not the contents of my home.

A few years ago, my friend began to collect signed reproductions of limited edition Kinkaid paintings. She gushed excitedly about them and encouraged me to invest in collecting these 'works of art'. I studied each painting carefully and pronounced them "pretty" and went my merry way. Though I wanted to run to the nearest Kinkade gallery to make an initial investment, something inside me told me to take my money elsewhere. I heeded that inner voice. I am glad I did. Though the paintings were pretty, they did not speak to me. But many Kinkades grace many LDS homes and I found myself outside that circle. And because I don't have one, I'm just not LDS chic. And this is how I got booted out of the inner circle of the LDS women's lunch club. I just didn't own a Kinkade. Pity. Now you can find Kinkades in flea markets. Frankly, I'd rather have a Boticelli nude. Of course, I jest. . . but only in part since I do admire Boticelli's work and yes, that includes the famous "Birth of Venus". And I also admire Rodin including the famous statue, "The Kiss" and wouldn't mind a version of it displayed in my living room. But the point is, just because hordes of LDS love Kinkade art doesn't render it great art or celestial art. Oh, but must we all be homogenized?

LDS kitsch and bric-a-bracs have found their way into many LDS homes. There are cheap porcelain copies of the Christus, the ubiquitous temple posters, limited edition Olsens and Swindles, plates, statues and badly produced LDS pop music. There is money to be made and fame to be claimed by anyone who can find a way to mass produce trinkets and kitsch to pose as LDS "art" that will fill the growing need of Latter-day Saints all over the world to have a tangible reminder of what they feel is important. Therein lies my dilemma. What exactly am I bringing into my home to "remind" me of what's important to me? I had no idea that what's important to me can be objectified and captured into a three-dimensional token that can be mass produced and can render an enterprising kitsch-mogul wealthy or famous in the process. Who really profits from these objects? And if my allegiance and faith can be measured by what I hang on my wall or what kind of music I listen to, I am in big trouble because I have no idea who and how these measurements are calibrated, quantified and qualified. Judging my character and testimony by what I deem is beautiful, enlightening, inspiring and empowering is unfair and foul. My taste is my own. It is made up of who I am and the experiences that wrap around my core. And no human can dictate what I deem to be beautiful and inspiring but my own muse. I can eat dog if I want. And I can retch at the thought of buttered rice if that's what my guts tell me.

How close are we to lighting candles (preferably Salt City candles) to remember our dead, eating green jello only on Sundays, banning hapless uninformed people who wear pants to church or wearing a "uniform" to bless the sacrament? How close are we to adding aspects to our ordinances and activities? Church leaders have warned against phylacteries and additional aspects to ordinances. Quoting President Joseph Fielding Smith, he states: ...let us consider the ordinance of the sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform, such as we see done in some sectarian and other churches. Then again as they passed the Sacrament, they had to stand with their left hand plastered on their backs in a most awkward manner...Members of the Church were instructed that they must not touch the trays containing the bread and water with their left hand. . . So we see that we, if we are not careful, will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy. (Church History and Modern Revelation, Vol 1, p. 103)

President David O. MacKay said: I am not going to say much about the dress. We are not a people who look to formality, certainly we do not believe in phylacteries, in uniforms, on sacred occasions, but I do think that the Lord will be pleased with a bishopric if they will instruct the young men who are invited to administer the sacrament to dress properly... (Conference Report, October 1956, p.89)

So here's what I think. I get to listen to my rock and roll music. I get to enjoy any exhibit of my choice at the New York Metropolitan Museum or any museum for that matter, without guilt. And when I find a really great rendering of the temple of my choice by an artist of high caliber that touches my spirit, I will hang that work of art. Until then, I get to hang whatever work of art that inspires me. The appreciation of art is an individual experience. It is subject to one's knowledge, experience and yes, culture and upbringing. Art can be an expression of a feeling that is singular only to the person expressing it. And if by some cosmic miracle, that piece of artwork touches me in the same way, I can own it and embrace it even if it speaks to me and me alone. And no one is allowed to judge me because of it.

Telling me what work of art to hang on my walls is the height of snobbery and self-indulgence. Anyone who comes to my home to judge me by what hangs on my wall or what music I listen to will not be invited to eat my barbecued meat surprise the next time I have a hankering for Filipino food.

It would indeed be a sad time if LDS culture reaches the point where we become obsessive zealots who need objects or phylacteries to 'ward off' evil or to give us some measure of security against an encroaching, scary world. I thought that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of hope and light-- not a gospel based on fear and dread. The gospel should be written in our hearts, not on parchment to be placed on our heads. And I have been gifted with a power more potent than any object on earth and I am privy to that by the nature of my birthright, the ordinance of baptism and the laying on of hands as well as my obedience. I need no object to remind me of my covenants for I rely on the Spirit to whisper to me, to be my constant companion. It is a power that I trust. And though I may fail to listen or to heed, patiently, the Holy Ghost has not given up on me. And He has never failed me. Never. Ever.

When Jehovah asked the Israelites to place scriptures between their eyes, their hands, the doorposts and their gates to remember their covenants, it served a purpose on their level. It has now been at least two thousand years since the birth of the Saviour and His resurrection. The gospel has been restored in its fullness. We no longer have to wear phylacteries on our heads, arms or doors; nor do we need any more objects to hang on our walls. Our lives must become the objects by which we glorify His name. We must exemplify how the gospel works by the lives we lead. But now that we understand how the plan of salvation works and how the atonement can bless our lives, we need only the tokens in His hands and his feet and his side.
I am a convert. There were only about 600 members, half of them inactive, when I was baptized in the country of my birth. I was nine when I joined the church. I grew up without LDS friends, without the benefit or rather, the limitations of a Mormon culture. We simply lived our lives the best way we could with the little that we knew.

When I say, we knew only a "little", I am being facetious. The only thing "little" that I knew was this: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true church on earth. That the priesthood, the authority to act in the name of Jesus Christ, was restored on earth through a new prophet, called of God, whose name was Joseph Smith. It was also obvious to me, at nine years old, that I could never abandon this church and that the gospel is what fuels the organization that we call the 'church'.

What I intend to write about are my growing experiences while being carried into the land of the restoration: America. I am an immigrant to the nation where this restored church was organized. It has been quite a life. My experiences have been varied. Some are bitter. Most are enlightening. Most of what I am about to write about may be hard to read. But these are my experiences. I claim them. I own them. And this is my story.