Friday, December 17, 2010

Of the World

Thanks to everyone who has visited and checked up on me despite how quiet my blog has been the past few weeks. I can't believe it's been two months since I've published a blog post. This isn't exactly a holiday-themed post, but the holidays have gotten the thinking about my place in the world as families and friends gather this time of year.

Growing up in the church, I was always told how the "last days" are full of horrible things in society (known by Mormons as "the world"). I was taught to be "in the world, but not of the world." I confess that in my youth I was always the dutiful, good Mormon boy, but I never completely understood the obsession with the wall between "in" and "of" when it came to the world around me. I knew so many good people of all stripes and saw so many good things in the world that had nothing at all to do with the church. I still do. The difference is that now I don't see them through a glass darkly. I see them with my own eyes, vivid and unfiltered. I am now “of the world.”

There was a time when I believed that the church was the epitome of truth on earth. But I never bought into the notion that by being the "royal-priesthood-holy-nation-peculiar-people," mostly sequestered from the larger society (the “of the world” folk), the LDS church was the best of the goodness on this little blue planet. Perhaps we should call it the "bestness" on earth since goodness in the church is so refined, or rarefied to be more accurate. The air is so thin at that altitude of hubris that it's no wonder that a dogmatic view of what is good prevails over good defined by universal virtues such as thoughtfulness and compassion.

As I've broadened my perspective and realm of experience outside “the kingdom,” it has become clear that, despite the very real challenges and meanness in our society, we live in a genuinely wonderful world, not as full of the destruction and evil as we're so often told. Seeing the vast goodness in the world comes from deciding what to focus on and how to interact with the people around us. I've found I really like being "of the world" because that means I'm part of it. Being "of the world" allows me to live a full life rather than merely disdainfully tolerate what surrounds me. Being "of the world" gives me a chance to know people in all their complexity and contradiction. Being "of the world" gives me a window into things and places and ideas that are rich with meaning and wisdom and love. Being "of the world" deepens my connection to my fellow human beings. I enjoy the fact that my life is no longer dictated by a preposition.

Our life on earth is not like living in Cold War era Berlin, unless we make it that way. While it's part of human nature to be a bit tribal and seek out refuges in which we can find comfort and support with those who believe and think as we do, too much isolation leads to some scary stuff. We can all think back on the things we've done and the things that have been done to us in the name of tribalism. It's one thing to have a "good fences make good neighbors" approach to dealing with people. A bit of caution and a little distance aren't inherently bad. But it's something altogether different, and insidious, to live life in an enclave and rely on a gate akin to Checkpoint Charlie as the only point of interaction and experience with "the world." In Mormondom, Checkpoint Charlie is the body of prophets and apostles, with local priesthood leadership and cadre of the dogmatic staffing the checkpoint.

Here's what I mean by that. The brethren tell us what is "of the world" and dictate the terms of how the worthy and elect of the kingdom should interact with the people and things "in the world." Their surrogates ensure that these decrees are enforced. If our interactions occur outside that narrow range of what is defined as acceptable (often in confusing and contradictory ways), then we are deemed to be "of" the world rather than simply "in" it. This "of" vs. "in" approach makes many people simultaneously respect and distrust Mormons. Being the "chosen people" comes at a high cost. To continue using the troublesome economic metaphors that are so much a part of Mormon culture and the larger culture of evangelical Christendom, the "return on the investment" isn't very good. The result is often in the "loss" column. We lose some of our humanity by being too tribal, even (perhaps especially) if it is in the name of being royal, holy and peculiar.

As the parts of the world influenced by Christianity celebrate Christmas in various ways, my hope is that we can tear down a few walls, break through the checkpoint, and embrace each other as equals. We can still live in our own houses, have our own opinions and beliefs, and live according to our own conscience. But let’s enjoy our common humanity a little more often. Maybe we can rejoice as a new and glorious morning casts light on a broader notion of what is good. And maybe that light will help everyone see that we can make more room at the table in the inn where there is fellowship, goodwill and peace.


  1. Mormonism, ironically, is part of the world as every other entity. When the church functions as a corporation (Source: ), encourages its members to contribute to political campaigns, and engages in expensive and extensive PR's of the world.

  2. Another great post. And I agree with BLB too, it's ironic that this organization which purports to be the authorized vehicle for NOT being "in the world" nevertheless started with stated intentions of becoming as much a political as a religious entity, is so obsessed with its own PR that its Strengthening The Membership Committee maintains public watch and dossiers on all perceived critics (including its own membership), and relies on outside PR firms to design its logo, create its marketing campaigns, lobby governments on its behalf, and advise it on political involvement. Sounds pretty worldly to me.