My boyfriend is not LDS and has limited experience with our ilk (basically just me). He asked me to educate him about Mormon culture. And what better crash course is there than Mormon Cinema? We’ve just started, but so far we have hit Once I Was a Beehive and Sons of Provo. The plan is to finish with the classic comedies (Single’s Ward and The R.M.) before taking on more serious fare (The Best Two Years, Charlie, and God’s Army). Eventually, we might hit the more historic flicks (The Work and the Glory, Legacy, and 17 Miracles).
As a life long member myself, it has been very enlightening to watch these movies through fresh eyes. We frequently paused both movies so I could answer the BFs questions. He was especially fascinated and horrified by the concept of girl’s camp testimony meetings; having been raised a good Episcopalian that much emotion in religion makes him hilariously uncomfortable. While he laughed a lot at Sons of Provo, some of the jokes required explanation (what does ‘make it manifest’ mean, and why do they keep ‘turning the time over’ to people? Also, are Mormon Buddhists a real thing?). Some things that I took for granted he finds strange; the fact that being a Mormon takes up so much of one’s time and identity is a foreign idea, as evidenced by Sister Carrington’s over-the-top scrap book of girl’s camp plans. Or the fact that the number one requirement for Everclean’s new member was that he be ‘spiritual’. For me, that is the only way I have ever experienced my religion. Other things that I was concerned would really freak him out didn’t; all the magical thinking (CTR rings saving homeless men from choking at the soup kitchen, praying bringing lost dogs back from the dead…you know, the usual) apparently is not unique to Mormondom.
My boyfriend also made the point that on average Mormons are over self reflective in some ways. We know we are weird, and we know other people think we are weird. In fact, other people do think we are weird, just not in the ways we might expect. It was interesting to him to see what jokes Mormons made about themselves to themselves.
For me, though, the best thing to come out of my new role as cultural guide has been the opportunity to revisit my own origins with a fresh perspective. My boyfriend does not have all the baggage I do with Mormonism. He can see the good and the bad without prejudice. It has helped me gain perspective. I got a lot of good things from growing up Mormon: I always had adult role models besides my parents I could go to for help. I always had a sense of community. I had practical experience leading my peers and planning activities, as well as speaking in public. I was instilled with a crazy work ethic, a sense that my worth was great in the sight of God, and a deep belief in the importance of being kind. Of course, each of these has unintended negative side effects, but the net experience was definitely positive.
On the flip side, I’ve been able to identify why some things bother me in ways that I haven’t been able to articulate before. The song ‘Sweet Spirit’ from Sons of Provo is a good example. (Link) In case satirical LDS pop is not your thing, the song is about a young lady who, in spite of her homeliness, is beautiful on the inside. On the surface, this is a good message. In reality it is offering condescending pity to a woman who will never get married and therefore has no worth. It is basically every marriage lesson I ever had in Young Women’s boiled down in to a three minute song.
This whole experience has driven home to me the usefulness of occasionally approaching one’s own culture with the attitude of an outside observer. The lack of emotional investment can allow for greater clarity in remembering the good and articulating the bad.