By David Metcalfe
April 7, 2019
Could They Design It To Be More Boring?
There are quite a few popular culture things in America that don’t make sense to me; two of them are greeting cards and horoscopes.
With greeting cards, some of them are funny enough to secure a brief smile before finding a permanent home in the garbage, but most of them will be read once, completely forgotten instantly, and never thought about again. I’ve received probably a hundred greeting cards in my life; I don’t remember any of them. And yet, we buy millions of them at $5 a piece, thinking they will somehow enhance our social relationships. There’s no depth or specificity to them; just a generic, slightly positive message to convey a common relational feeling.
With horoscopes, I wonder how a society with smart phones and rocket ships could still have people who believe that a random 40-year-old lady in Memphis can read stars and predict their future. I suppose it reminds me that no matter how advanced a society gets, people will still tend to find ways of rejecting logic and appealing to superstitions. Horoscopes like, “you will find a new opportunity where you least expect it” or “put extra effort into your work this week and you will be rewarded”, are obviously not for you. They were written for literally any person. If you believe in the superstition, you can derive some kind of contrived, generic meaning from it.
Now, imagine if you went to a random seniors home for 8 hours and listened to old men read greeting cards and horoscopes to you. Sounds like the most boring, useless thing in the world, right? Well, if you can picture that, you have a pretty good idea of “General Conference”, a bi-annual tradition in which Mormon church leaders deliver speeches broadcast to all church members. I’m convinced that the speeches are written by “Hallmark” and a random, supposedly psychic, 40-year-old lady in Memphis. They are vague, repetitive, and incredibly scripted.
But wait, there’s more! In addition to a series of greeting cards and horoscopes, you get to hear “radical” and “progressive” new changes. You know when old men will say something they think is progressive, like, “I don’t mind the negroes; some of them are good cooks” or “Ben Carson is a good black, not like that Muhammad Ali.”? Well, in 1978, way after the accomplishments of the civil rights movement in the secular world, the Mormon church decided that black people were also allowed to take part in church practices and go to heaven when they die. Skip ahead to this weekend’s “General Conference”, and the Mormon church finally allowed an African American person to be in church leadership. When will the Mormon church have a black president? Well, the secular world did by 2008, so likely the Mormon church will be at least 30 years later (if not way more).
Other “radical” things people in a seniors home might tell you is that the menu on Tuesdays changed from peas to carrots for the side dish, or that they’re moving into a new room two doors down. The Mormon church leaders will describe small, mundane changes in extreme detail, like that church is going to be two hours instead of three, or that you’re not allowed to call the church “Mormon” anymore. How it receives thunderous applause and cheers from the crowd is something quite strange to me.
Jesus Was A Lot Of Things, But He Sure Wasn’t Boring
I don’t have to put quotes around radical when I describe Jesus. Now, there are some people who say that Jesus’ ideas were not radical, but merely copying those of the Ancient Greek philosophers. This idea shows a very limited and superficial understanding of Greek philosophy. Jesus may have had many similar ideas, but seemed to only choose the best ones (leaving out the despotic, ultranationalist, militarism hidden in the mysticism of Plato’s “The Republic”, or the overt misogyny and racism implicit throughout Socrates’ ideas of humanity, etc.).
In addition, Jesus added things that had not been heard in that area before, especially in the way he talked about them. He reconceptualized the “golden rule”, what it meant to pursue virtue and why it matters, and a myriad of social, moral, and philosophical teachings that were drastically different than what had been heard before, and ushered in the philosophical basis for what was to become universal human rights. He also said things that were completely counter intuitive, like, “if someone hits you on one cheek, let them hit you again on the other cheek”, or “if a soldier makes you carry his stuff for a mile, offer to take it two miles”.
The guy was so radical they literally killed him for it!
Now, instead of the Jesus we read about in the New Testament, imagine Jesus bought a nice suit, got a hair cut, earned a 120k per year salary, and said very subtle, culturally accepted things. That’s a far cry from Jesus, but describes the Mormon church leaders quite well. The Mormon church leaders are excessively diplomatic and vague in their teaching; not exactly “Jesus’ style”. Can you imagine a Mormon church leader telling Mitt Romney to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor? Can you imagine a Mormon church leader going to the store by the temple and destroying everything? Or, really, can we imagine them doing any of the things Jesus did? Or, at least, something at all interesting?
I see the difference between Jesus and old men at a seniors home reading “Hallmark” cards and horoscopes. Jesus was new, interesting, radical, ahead of his time, passionate, and showed an example of virtue that the world had never seen before. The Mormon church leaders…eh, not so much.
Maybe The Shoe Fits?
But I’ve found Mormons to be a boring group of people in general. Sacrament talks and comments in Sunday school are either direct regurgitation of doctrines hammered into them, or attempts to go “off script” that are so poorly thought out, I end up wishing they had stuck with regurgitation. Out of church, it is not any better. The kinds of things people talk about…oh god…I can’t do it. I wish I could, and people invite me to things from time to time, but the activities are just so boring and the people so mindless that I just can’t handle it for any length of time. So, perhaps a boring conference is fitting for a boring group of people.
I really shouldn’t be a social pariah, especially among a group of people with such similar values as me. But in over a year since joining the church, I have made basically no friends with my peers. I was thinking about what to do for my birthday this year, and I remembered, “I have like two friends in Edmonton, and they would only show up to my birthday if it happened to work for their schedule.” I find that sort of realization to be quite a depressing one.
Dating is much worse, because the Mormon girls are so opposed to even trying out a date with me that it’s impossible to sufficiently find a means to repair the severity of damage it does to my self-esteem. And the odd time that one does go on a date with me, and it goes well, I just wait for the inevitable “I appreciate our friendship” at the end of the date.
Like, what the fuck? How am I so horrible that girls would instantly friendzone me, even when we get along well and are both single?
Wait, Should I Even Be A Member Of This Church?
K so it would seem as though I find “General Conference” and church to be quite boring and uninspiring, and I have no social ties and have been passively or actively rejected in both friendships and potential dating prospects. The church doesn’t contribute anything positive to my life, and does more to facilitate low self-esteem and loneliness than anything else. Would it be better for me to just leave and find a social community more conducive to my personal success?
I don’t know, maybe. But I’m too idealistic to quit yet. I’ve seen certain glimpses of what life in the church can be like, and they’re too good to give up on. I wasn’t inspired at this “General Conference”, but then I read things like this:
And I’m reminded that there are millions of people who really do get profound meaning from a song sang at “General Conference”, that to me just seemed like a bunch of random choir people singing a boring hymn. And I’m reminded of the first “General Conference” I saw a year ago, where we ate pizza and candy and played games, and I felt a sense of community with the YSA there. Or the October “General Conference”, where I went to Temple Square to see it in person and felt the spirit at work in my life and was inspired to live out the commandments more faithfully.
I reflect on the way my study of scripture has taught me incredible and universal truths, times I’ve taken the sacrament with a sincere heart and felt empathy for Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and conference talks that actually were very interesting, and that I still think about to this day, such as Elder Uchtdorf’s “What is Truth?” or “Believe, Love, Do”.
With dating outside the church, girls will still reject or accept me, and either way, I will have to deal with that and not be some pathetic loser who cries when he doesn’t get his way. What the church does provide me with is a way to date that promotes good virtue and positive relationships with the people around me. With every girl I meet, I can seek to uphold a good standard of masculinity as I look to respect her agency and be understanding and compassionate to whatever she decides about our relationship (or lack thereof). And especially, I can learn not to put my self-esteem in what girls, or anyone, thinks of me, and find it in a place much more meaningful, more grounded, and more eternal. People will, and have, come about in the church who have kind of understood me and been able to develop real relationships with me.
I think there’s somewhere that I see a 30-year-old David who enjoys his career, goes to church every Sunday, has a wife and children, and has good, long-term friendships. If I just leave the church, that vision dies (or has to be manifest somewhere else, which is something I don’t see at all). I see glimpses of that, like when I got published in “Maclean’s” a couple weeks ago, when I hung out with Elena and saw an example of what it’s like to hang out with a cool and fun Mormon girl, when I visited my friends in Colorado and was reminded that I’m not as much of a social pariah as the people in Edmonton would have me think, or when I talk with John or Lloyd and see what a man who truly cares about the gospel acts and thinks like.
To me, the church is a series of glimpses toward a promise that is being gradually realized. Hopefully, the most important realization is in a sincere relationship with Jesus Christ; an ideal that seems worth attaining toward, both for the internal betterment within me as a person, as well as the good I can do in the world as a result of the inspiration and guidance it gives me.