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18 November 2004 — The Golden Plates (12)

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 me
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.

I remember the lilting melody of:
The golden plates lay hidden deep in the mountain side,
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 love that "whom" there; it's always nice to see good grammar in a children's hymn.)

I remember being utterly confused by this song:

I looked out he window and what did I see?
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.
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?

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 Ether

Chapter Two

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?

Chapter Three

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.

What is that has me thinking of The Book of Mormon?

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

2003Author'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.

On 18 November 2004 (08:53 AM), Tiffany said:

Did you enjoy going to church as a child? I only ask because, overall I did not. I remember looking forward to seeing some friends that did not go not my school. But even as a child I found the bible stories too hard to believe.

I could not believe that that rain fell for 40 days and two of each animal was saved on a big boat. First of all what would have happened if a lion ate one of the two rabbits? The world would be without rabbits forever. Is that what God wanted? I remember one Sunday-school teacher telling me that there were no more dinosaurs because they did not fit in the ark. I was pissed! The ark should have been made bigger. I was pissed again later when I found that the dinosaurs were gone long before people were ever here.

On 18 November 2004 (09:15 AM), J.D. said:

Tiffany: Did you enjoy going to church as a child?

Absolutely. Church was great fun when I was a kid.

(And I loved school, even high school, which is also contrary to most of my friends' experiences. I didn't care for parts of junior high, though.)

I'm not sure why I liked going to church so much. In part, I loved the stories. In part, I loved the singing. In part, I loved the community. In part, it was a chance for social contact. As a child (and as an adult, actually), I craved social contact with my friends.

We lived out in the country, remember, and so I didn't have daily contact with kids my age until I was in first grade. Before then, church was my only source of friends. And even once I was in school, most of my friends were church friends.

Also: our church had a strong scouting program. Cub Scouts provided another way for me to have contact with kids my age, and created stronger ties to the congregation. I should write about my scouting experiences sometime. (I was never much of a Boy Scout — certainly no Eagle Scout like Joel — but I was an enthusiastic Cub Scout and Webelo.)

It was only when I reached adolescence that I began to dislike church. The Mormon youth in Canby — with the notable exception of Scott — were often a bunch of jerks.

Re: Bible stories — I did not question these as a child. I accepted them at face value. I had great child-like faith.

On 18 November 2004 (11:53 AM), Lynn said:

I was also raised in the Mormon Church. That is until I announced to my mom at about age 12 that I wasn't going any longer. Her response was, "I'll remember this."

I remember going to Primary after school and hating it. I often skipped with my best friend, Tracy, and hid in the woods until it was over.

I hated the songs - do you remember the "Primary Colors/Numbers" song? The primary colors are... The primary numbers are...

It wouldn't have mattered whether I was raised Mormon, Catholic, whatever, I didn't like being told what to do, where to go, and what to believe. I'm stubborn that way.

On 18 November 2004 (11:55 AM), Lynn said:

Oh! There was also the CTR ring...choose the right...I refused to wear it and was grounded...

On 18 November 2004 (01:21 PM), Scott Smith said:

The Mormon youth in Canby with the notable exception of Scott were often a bunch of jerks.

That is too bad.

I think I was just not cool enough to be around JD in his adolescence, and that's why he didn't realize what a jerk I am (I did become a lawyer, after all). Except when forced to share a hotel room in Houston for week, JD was rarely subjected to me.

By the way, they still are teaching kids the Popcorn Popping song in the LDS Church. And it still makes little sense (but is popular none the less).

On 18 November 2004 (01:48 PM), J.D. said:

Surprisingly, those books I loved as a child were easier to find on eBay than I had believed possible: first auction, second auction. They're called Illustrated Stories From the Book of Mormon.

On 18 November 2004 (01:50 PM), Jeff said:

My memories of growing up Mormon are very similar to JD's.

I enjoyed going to church as a young child, but as I neared adolescence; I began to hate it -- actually right about the time our church "ward" split and I no longer attended church with my old friends. I liked the Cub Scout and Boy Scout side of things, but I did not care for the guilt trips and strong-arm tactics used by leaders to try and get us to attend Boy Scout functions.

I also did not enjoy being a part of a group that was constantly bickering and ridiculing each other. Like JD, I felt that many of the youth were a bunch of jerks -- usually the sons of high-ranking ward members, who were in turn put in high-ranking positions within our class (or quorum).

It was about that same age that we started doing temple trips to do baptisms for the dead -- something I never really understood. Getting dunked underwater 15 time in rapid succession while wearing a heavy, water-logged white canvas robe was rather strange indeed.

And then there was the hot chocolate that was served when we would stop at a rest area -- so hot it would scald your tongue for sure (the nearest temple at the time was in Seattle -- and it was brand new). Never did figure out how that wasn't outlawed in the whole "hot drinks" decree.

On 18 November 2004 (01:59 PM), J.D. said:

And this auction shows some fine examples of the paintings inside each volume. They're lavish. I wonder if a local library has a set I could borrow?

Re: friends at the Mormon church.

My best friends growing up were the Mormon kids, as I've said. I have fond memories of all them. It was only once we entered junior high, and then high school, that my experience soured. The girls were absolute bitches, and about half the boys were equally mean. Some of the boys — Scott, D.J., and Tom Hall — retained their sterling qualities, but I felt marginalized at the time, consumed by my teenage angst, and was quite relieved when we migrated to Zion Mennonite.

On 18 November 2004 (02:04 PM), Tiffany said:

Why are Mormons not support to drink hot stuff? I thought it was a caffeine thing.

On 18 November 2004 (09:32 PM), Mom (Sue) said:

It's interesting that you boys liked church growing up. I was thinking of my own memories of church as a child, and I remember the Mormon Sacrament Meetings (the equivalent of other churches' worship services) as being quite prominent in my mind, as my parents made us three oldest kids sit very still on the hard benches -- certainly not the way young children are made. I did enjoy Primary and the popping popcorn song was one of my favorites. It didn't have to make sense -- it was just fun. Lord knows there was little enough of that in my life.

By the time we had you three boys, Cheerios were considered great tools for keeping young kids happy and occupied during church services. We never expected you to sit absolutely still and in fact your father was a great one to use the church bulletin as a means for writing notes and drawing silly pictures. I have one that a former fellow churchgoer found that Jeff had drawn on, which she sent me just a number of months ago.

To answer the question about not drinking hot drinks, that's what it says in the Mormon Word of Wisdom. Somewhere along the way, the hot drinks part got translated to mean hot drinks with caffeine in them, and in recent years, to injunctions against cola drinks containing caffeine. (My devout Mormon mother continues to drink those last.) Decaffeinated herbal teas, although hot drinks, are considered okay. IMO, it's all quite contradictory, but then I'm not a Mormon any more so am not surprised when there are things about Mormonism that don't make sense to me.

On 27 November 2004 (04:10 PM), Allan White said:

A story that I'm curious about: why did your family leave the Mormon church when you were in high school? Were the forces involved internal (say, a spiritual crisis) or external (e.g. leadership problems or people just being jerks)?

On 16 January 2005 (01:01 PM), Kris said:

My family became inactive when I was 11 or 12. My Mom was offended by something someone had said. The comment was not bad or mean. It was just something that rubbed her the wrong way. My parents then decided to quit going to church in order to avoid seeing this individual whom they could not forgive. Thus I rarely attended church until I was 18 and could go to a singles ward. I have now been active for over 12 years. I have served in two Relief Society Presidencies, the Young Women's Program, Scouting, and a Primary Presidency. Primary is where I am currently. I am grateful for the blessings the Lord has given to me and for the opportunities I have to serve Him and my fellow men. Through ther years I have come to realize that Church is a hospital for sinners. We are all trying to overcome our faults and we cannot expect each other to be perfect or even close to it. All we can do is try our hardest to be a better person than we were the day before.

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