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Monday, June 13, 2011

Not funny, new post about Mormons and Broadway. Again, not funny, not even a chuckle...

There is something about “The Book of Mormon” musical that bugs me. (Again, this ain't funny.  It's just important to me and I don't have a place to put it yet.)

In the first place, let me make it clear that I haven’t seen the latest heart-stopping submission currently the toast of Broadway. I am a poor Idaho boy living in Utah. If I were in New York City with a ticket and a pocket defibrillator, my patronage would be anyone’s guess.

I have researched the music and have read the reviews. As a former BYU musical theater major, this is something I would have done regardless of the subject matter — Mormons. I have interviewed friends who have visited Broadway, and those who are performing on Broadway and are living to tell the tale.

Truth be told, I giggled at some of the musicals gags. I laughed even as my wife grimaced, shaking her head and leaving the room. I suppose I have been around the Broadway musical/comedy channel block long enough that I am not offended easily by people poking fun at me and my religion. I am a blue-blooded, scripture toting, wear-a-white-shirt-to-meeting kind of a guy. One does not make it through two BYUs — Idaho and Provo — without some sense of humor.

As a former full-time missionary for the LDS Church — the very subject of the musical — I found that a little humor was a useful tool to weed out the inquisitive from those simply seeking entertainment. I used humor as a tool to broach serious subjects. I wanted to spend my time teaching those who were interested in more than a laugh. Self-deprecation is another tool from my arsenal. Let me reiterate that I am a poor Idaho boy in Utah. I have been fodder for many a joke — self-inflicted or otherwise.

I have always been able to laugh my way through a silly stereotype where I am the one being made fun of. I think I am world wise enough to look at a racial, cultural pigeon hole and understand it for what it is. I am also aware that people usually rely on stereotypes when relevant information of a more personal nature is not available. And Mormons in the United States, though 6 million strong, are still a relatively silent minority. Because they are the center of my world does not mean that they are at the heart of everyone’s.

What bugs me is not that this stereotype is poorly researched or shallow or incomplete. On the contrary. Nor is the problem that others will look at the stereotype and go no further in their pursuit to understand Mormons and Mormon beliefs. I know that, having been trivialized, there will be many who won’t be able to get past the caricature of rose-colored-glasses-wearing, naive and unsophisticated Latter-day Saint trying to save the world. That kind-a describes me.

Mormons are not the first group of people to be lampooned. But Mormons are the ones who won’t fight viciously in retaliation. There will be no picket lines. And other than folks like me commenting, the response will be decent and faith affirming. (http://newsroom.lds.org/)Mormons will weather that storm with a smile — not unlike the stereotype.

For me, the greater issue is the nature of the national media frenzy that came when I heard a song toward the end of the musical's soundtrack. A disheartened missionary was listing the things he believed in to self-motivate — much like Maria Von Trapp listing off her favorite things in “The Sound of Music,” only in a much weirder world. The elder rattles off his list, inventorying thing after ridiculous and funny thing. Each gag was punched up and burlesqued to great comedic effect.

And I found that, like the singing elder, and excepting the palpable silliness, I believed in what he said he believed as well.

My dilemma is not that these skilled comedians are making stuff up to laugh at. It is that they have hit my beliefs spot on. Aside from obvious exaggeration and comic devices, aside from truckloads of shock value vulgarities, mixed with charming songs and well-crafted storytelling, the heart of the matter is that they have taken what I believe in and then added a sitcom laugh track.

Many people are laughing — laughing themselves silly, in fact, at the lunacy, the double and triple entendres, the outrageous references and the irreverence of it all. I still catch myself mid-laugh thinking, “wait, that is not funny.” Not many — my wife being an obvious exception — will understand the true nature of the satire: They will laugh until I grin sheepishly and join them. After all, how could I really believe in something so…funny?

I suppose I am, in person, not naïve as the stereo type. I know that there are a lot of blanks to be filled in concerning my Mormon beliefs. I also know that as a people we have filled some of them in on our own. I know that there are cultural traits and behaviors that have kept the media distracted at the church's fringe elements.

I also know that I believe the whole Mormon thing.

Part of me smiles and winks at the smart lyrics and the sight gags, or the magazine covers
so clever and sharp. I see the television programs that garnish big ratings, and the news on the front pages of the papers or the Web. Part of me says, “Isn’t that witty and marvelous that we can have fun by poking fun!” Part of me doesn’t.

While they are collecting their awards and deservedly so, I will be at home with my family. I will probably be doing the same thing that other Mormon dads are doing with their Mormon families, only with out all that correct parenting stuff. Later, I’ll read about the acceptance speeches made and will check off the stereotypes that hit the side of the reality barn square on. I will remind myself that no publicity is bad publicity.

And I will be proud to be a Mormon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Scientia potentia est: He who rules the six year olds...

I am “Tithe Payer”. That is my broadcast name. My wife’s moniker is “The Mother of Jared”. We teach primary. If this was a military operation, we would be known as “The Popcorn Poppers” – out to rule the world!

May I see your hall pass?
I can’t say that I am out for world dominance, but if I was, I would definitely be on the fast track as ward director of the CTR’s. Identifying myself as director may be a bit over the top, but it looks better politically to those checking out my resume as a world player.

Glory is in intelligence, and information is power. The famous phrase scientia potentia est, which I always thought meant “science and math are really stupid”, is actually a Latin maxim meaning "knowledge is power", and those who control information are the “most powerful people on the planet”.

Abraham desired great knowledge. So did Mussolini. The difference is that Mussolini may have, like me, been assigned to the primary.

I have learned more about members of my ward as a CTR teacher than I have ever known or wanted to know in any other ward position I have ever served in. These adorable little cherubs of candor are actually mini microphones that are plugged into the ward sound system. If parents knew that the leak in undisclosed information was coming from little Daniel or Darnel, they would be more careful in family home evening when describing the neighbor’s mediocre attempt at landscaping, or the first councilor’s dyed hair.

As teachers of the six to seven year olds, my wife and I inadvertently have a finger on the pulse of the ward and neighborhood as well - just my finger, really. My wife does not understand how the significant muscle of the primary can be a power wielded for the betterment of all.

Often I get information that curls my ears. The answer to a simple question, like “What do we do on Sunday?” more often than not turns out to be, “My brother eats fish from our aquarium”.

Or “My mom doesn’t like to wear hose to church unless grandma is around”.
Here’s one. “I have A.D.D. and psoriases - just like my grandpa (the stake president)”.

CTR’s have not developed a sense of decorum or social correctness, which is part of their charm. Their not knowing the meaning of “less is more” works for me if I am out to conquer the world.

I have used this unawareness in reverse to my advantage. I once deliberately primed my child with the information I needed to present, knowing it would then be on the front page of the ward bulletin by noon tomorrow.

“Okay honey” I said, coaching my child lovingly. “Who is it that needs the youth to come and weed his garden because he has a bad back?”

“You, daddy, you” she repeated from rote but without the air of sadness we had worked on. There was no need to panic. I had a whole hour for us to practice before the first strains of “Little Purple Pansy’s began.

Of course, our cute little microphones are multidirectional. I learned the hard way to watch what I say. Now I have the class repeat the moral of the lesson several times as we walk from the classroom to the big primary room. I do this because I once made a comment off the cuff and the Relief Society Presidents daughter told her family during Sunday dinner that I thought that Dr Seuss was better than Isaiah. This went over as well as the time I let out that the key to a happy primary class was sugar.

Complete world dominance via command of the CTR’s can be fortuitous in very real ways. One little girl told me that her mom didn’t wash the clothes with soap anymore because there was no money since daddy was gone. Silliness quickly gave way to serious, and a quick note to the bishop was all it took. So now I treat the information with less levity, and a little more wisdom. It has taken my all these ears to finely understand what my Gramma Ruby meant when she said “Keep it to yourself, please”.

If, as believed by poet Robin Morgan “The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility”, then I will gleefully trot my way to totalitarianism; I will restrain my way to rule. I can keep a secret, even if my CTR class can’t.

After all, some knowledge was meant to keep to one’s self. There are things I do and say that I would rather not be broadcast through any channel – primary included. And hopefully I will be able to someday forget that the kid across the street who shots hoops and mows the lawn like a normal person also eats goldfish.

For the time being, I will have to find out some other way to achieve world domination. I am busy sorting out the chaff from the wheat and the meaningful from the silly. I handle the information with care. I will be content to wield my social political influence by using the very same source I have been teaching my primary class about. Scripture power!

Except if Britney and Madelyn tell me again that my wife has bad breath today. With that juicy tidbit I will offer my wife a stick of gum, and chew one myself.