I was born and raised in the Mormon church. I don't mention this often, not because I'm ashamed — I'm not — but because it rarely crosses my mind. I don't have contact with anyone from that period of my life (save for Scott, who reads this weblog).
Because my family left the Mormon church when I was a freshman in high school, my perspective on the religion is that of a child's. Mostly I remember the songs and lessons of Sunday school.
I remember singing the following in a bouncing, "Indians beating on tom-toms" rhythm:
Book of Mormon stories that my teacher tells to meI remember the lilting melody of:
Are about the Lamanites in ancient history.
Long ago their fathers came from far across the sea,
Giv'n the land if they lived righteously.
Lamanites met others who were seeking liberty,
And the land soon welcomed all who wanted to be free.
Book of Mormon stories say that we must brothers be,
Giv'n the land if we live righteously.
The golden plates lay hidden deep in the mountain side,(I love that "whom" there; it's always nice to see good grammar in a children's hymn.)
Until God found one faithful, in whom he could confide.
A record made by Nephi, a godly man of old,
Now, in the Book of Mormon, the story is retold.
I remember being utterly confused by this song:
I looked out he window and what did I see?Popcorn popping on the apricot tree? That particular metaphor was lost on my five-year-old mind. (And on my twelve-year-old mind, too.) Looking back: why was this song even taught in church?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree!
Spring had brought me such a nice surprise —
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn’t really so, But it seemed to be
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.
When I was in fifth or sixth grade, my parents spent a small fortune on a gorgeous set of books that told the story of the Book of Mormon. (My memory says these books were accompanied by tapes, but I could be wrong.) These books, printed on heavy glossy paper (which smelled great), were large — at least 8-1/2 x 11 — and lavishly illustrated. Full-page paintings accompanied the text, which was probably a condensed version of the scriptures.
As a child, The Book of Mormon (complete text) fascinated me. This is probably difficult to understand for non-Mormons, but The Book of Mormon is fun. It's exciting. It's filled with adventure in a way that the Bible is not.
Here is a taste of the adventure I loved:
from The Book of EtherWhat is that has me thinking of The Book of Mormon?
13 And now I proceed with my record; for behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years.
14 And it came to pass at the end of four years that the Lord came again unto the brother of Jared, and stood in a cloud and talked with him. And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the brother of Jared, and chastened him because he remembered not to call upon the name of the Lord.
15 And the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord for his brethren who were with him. And the Lord said unto him: I will forgive thee and thy brethren of their sins; but thou shalt not sin any more, for ye shall remember that my Spirit will not always strive with man; wherefore, if ye will sin until ye are fully ripe ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And these are my thoughts upon the land which I shall give you for your inheritance; for it shall be a land choice above all other lands.
16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.
17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.
18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
19 And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.
22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. $ Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?
1 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:
2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
3 Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.
4 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
5 Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.
6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
Mike Allred, a Portland-based artist, is producing a comic book adaptation. This probably seems a bit silly at first, but there's no question in my mind: I'm going to buy this series when it's collected into a single volume.
Note: Contrary to popular belief, The Book of Mormon is not the "Mormon Bible". The Bible is the Mormon Bible. (Though the church relies solely upon the King James Version rather than any modern translation. I think this is, in part, an attempt to disguise the fact that Joseph Smith's "translation" of the Book of Mormon is written in King James English (and bad King James English at that), as if the text he was translating was full of thees and thous and thinkeths and returneths. A silly, silly thing.) The Book of Mormon is, however, a very prominent book of scriptures within the church, not equal to the Bible but close to it. There are a couple of lesser books of scripture, too: The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. It's in a chapter of the D&C that the Mormon proscripton against hot drinks — including coffee — is found.
Some argue that Mormonism is not Christianity, that it is a cult. I don't think this is true. The Mormon church is no more a cult than the Catholic church. (And besides: "cult" is a perjorative used the same way "terrorist" is used — it applies to somebody who doesn't believe in the same things you do.) I don't subscribe to any religion, but I retain a spot in my heart for the religious stories I learned as a child.
On this day at foldedspace.org
2003 — Author's Intent In which I use Langston Hughes' Senate testimony to argue that reading literature can be enhanced through and understanding of the author's intent.