Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mormons and their neckties

I've always found the necktie to be a peculiar article of clothing, who decided a piece of fabric dangling from the neck was refined and sophisticated? Neckties were on the mind after listening to a piece on NPR about the demise of the necktie in the American office. It remains a staple in certain lines of work, high finance, government, and law, but it has faded from American culture as a whole. The most stable market for neckties?--the Mormons. (They didn't say that in the article but it's probably not far off the mark).

If you asked a person off the street to describe the dress of Mormons you would probably get “white shirt and tie” somewhere in the response due to the missionary visibility in the community. Is this a good or bad association to have? Potentially good if it leads people to view the individual as respectable, as valuing education, and cleanliness. Potentially bad if wearing a necktie is associated with businessmen, lawyers, and government officials---groups not known for having the greatest track record in honesty, caring for the poor, and other virtues that form the backbone of Christianity.  (In passing I'll point out that those three groups in particular are the great villains of the scriptures.)   Getting tied up with these negative connotations is already rather common, every missionary can recall a case in which someone thought they were from the CIA or FBI. 

I think as the general population stops wearing neckties these cases of 'mistaken image association' will only increase. The question is what sort of brand or image does the Church want to portray and is it accomplishing that with it's current norm of dress?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Know anybody who could enter the LDS Art Competition?

If you've gone by the website recently you'll notice they have been promoting the 8th International Art Competition.  I think it's great that the church is encouraging art from the international body of the church.  (I would love to see them do the same thing with music but I'll save that conversation for another post).  

I have enjoyed watching the expanding gallery of LDS art and commend the church for promoting it.  My generation grew up with such a limited spectrum of depictions of  the Book of Mormon peoples or images of Christ, it is nice to see the church commissioning works from a wider range of artists including international artists such as Jorge Cocco.  I would also say that FARMS has played a significant role in expanding the artist representations of the Book of Mormon by their publishing decisions, particularly the use of art by Minerva Teirchert as their cover art.

When I came home from Ghana I did a little investigating on behalf of some artists I met there and ended up talking to a person at the Church History Museum associated with these
 competitions.  Over the last couple competitions they have received an increasing number 
of submissions by international artists but overall it still remains low, especially compared to the relative percentage of members by country.  Most international or ethnic entries in the past have actually been from artists who live in the United States. participants are responsible for their own shipping which excludes many, if not most, of member artists outside of the United States, certainly my friends in Ghana and it is a relatively well-off country for Sub-Saharan Africa.  Perhaps the church could encourage regional competitions and sponsor the winners to be showcased in Salt Lake. 

Many of you are well traveled, have you come across members of the Church who are artists and are creating LDS themed art, particularly mixing their cultural or ethnic art traditions with their newfound faith?  I would even consider sponsoring a piece or two if they were of a very high quality.  

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I would prefer Naan for Sacrament

I brought the bread for the sacrament (communion) today and it inspired some curious looks. I had to make a special trip to the grocery store Saturday night as my cupboards were bare and when perusing the bread aisle I noticed some nontraditional choices, a reflection of the multicultural city I reside in I couldn't resist, I bought the Middle Eastern packaged pita bread.

The priests pulled back the covering cloth (what do we call that, it's not a table cloth) and looked at each other with a puzzled look. I saw that it took a little extra effort to tear the bread, luckily it was a long sacrament hymn. One friend quickly identified me as behind the unusual choice in sacramental representation. I saw a few more interesting looks but didn't hear any vocal reactions.

I think it's good to mix things up every once and a while to point out the differences in cultural practice and doctrine. Is there any reason the LDS sacrament bread should be sliced wheat bread? No. Should LDS missionaries insist that congregations use sliced wheat bread even if it means having to buy expensive bread from the one store that caters to Americans? (I've seen it) No. What about countries where bread is not a staple food? What should they use for the sacrament?

The doctrine or principal-- Doctrine & Covenants 27, "it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory."

A few other tidbits about the LDS sacrament--

"Individual water cups, instead of drinking from a common cup, were introduced in 1911. This followed a growing trend among American churches which began with the Congregational church in 1893." Wikipedia

"Passing the sacrament first to the presiding church authority was emphasized in 1946." Wikipedia

Being a public health graduate I can understand the practice of the first but nobody should get ruffled feathers if circumstances were such that you had to share the cup. In fact I think there is some added beauty in symbolic terms of sharing the cup. There is also less waste with one cup. I wonder which is more environmentally friendly, the current plastic cups or the old paper cups. I would love to see the church move to something like biodegradable corn starch cups or something along those lines.

The passing of the sacrament to the presiding church authority is pure culture, done, I believe, out of respect and honor for the office but I don't know of any doctrinal precedence. I think the practice can lead to some false understandings and false honoring of status or position. I personally would love to see the practice changed to portray greater egalitarianism. I think it would be great to see the bishop occasionally pass the sacrament. Growing up, whenever there was a fifth Sunday in a month, the Elders and High Priests in my ward would pass the sacrament and I liked seeing that humility.

Last point-- in 3rd Nephi chapter 18 when Christ introduces the sacrament to the Nephites it appears that they ate until they were full and I believe quite literally in this case that they ate until their appetites were full and satisfied. I would love to do that one Sunday, especially if the sacrament item was my grandmother's famous rolls.

First post

I really do not have the time to do justice to this topic but it is a favorite conversation topic of mine so perhaps I will be more diligent in posting here than my other blogs.

I love culture and the way it explains and predicts behavior. I love the arts and the beauty of music, dance, and art. Being a student and sampler of many different cultures I have come to appreciate my own cultural inheritance and also have felt empowered to shape the culture around me.

These posts will unabashedly be my opinion on the good and bad of LDS culture and my vision of the ideal.