Cookie Love

Mormons love cookies. Not only do we love eating them, but they also function as a tool for us. If we want to encourage someone into start coming to church regularly, we bring the person cookies. If you know someone is going through a hard time, you make them cookies. We also have cookies available at activities that no one wants to go to as an incentive for people to show up.

I grew up equating giving cookies with an act of service. If I had a lesson on charity at church I would have deep reflection about who in my life might need cookies. We were taught that not only would bringing goodies to someone give them joy but that act would intrinsically benefit us as well. My mom once told me that when she was little and she was having a bad day, her and her mother would make cookies for someone else. Finally, without cookies and other related snacks, I would have no place to retreat to and look busy when slow dances started playing during church dances.

My Young Single Adult (YSA) activity a few weeks was to bring cookies to people who do not come to church regularly and invite them to our YSA activities. We sorted cookie plates and assigned groups addresses. As my group got into the car our jubilant bishop yelled after us, “I bet I can get more people to come back church than you guys!”

cookie plate

“Challenge accepted!” the keeners in my group yelled back but our first two addresses were failures. As we pulled up to the last address, I saw that to my surprise, we were at my house. We could see my aunt mowing the lawn in the back. However the cookies and invitation were not meant for my aunt or me but instead a girl named Caroline. I assured them that I would be happy to take the cookies on Caroline’s behalf and in return I would come to the next activity. I even told them I that I would share. My suggestions were met with silence from the rest of the car as they sat pondering what to do.

My hopes of eating the cookies were ignored and we started patrolling the neighborhood, trying to spot a house with someone single within our age group (18-30) who we could give the cookies to. After an extended period of house scanning we stopped at a house where according to one of the girls in the car, a group of single men had recently moved in. The other girls in the car became a little giddy and started fussing over so-called imperfections in their hair and make-up. When no one answered the door, the girls contented themselves by leaving a note inviting them to a YSA activity, included their numbers and left the cookies at the doorstep. I saw then where the cookie priorities lay.

Why I love diversity on the pulpit

D. Todd Christofferson began his talk in General Conference* with an anecdote of how in colonial times there was a need for workers and therefore a recruitment program for labour workers in Europe to immigrate to the US. He did not mention that during this time there were also many future slaves from Africa being forcibly removed to also become part of this workforce. During this talk I realized that the stories and images used in General Conference by the general authorities construct notions of how we as members understand the gospel through metaphors and daily experiences.

This is why, I thought during Christofferson’s talk, we as a church need more talks from people outside of the Utah/Idaho or generally US; the daily experiences of white upper class men from the US are over represented in General Conference. I always smile to myself when I see a women talking (or praying) in General Conference, or when the person that is speaking has a different accent. Although I do not doubt the authenticity of each of these people’s calling, I believe diversity is important. I was talking to someone at my work about this and she agreed, saying that her husband helps translate General Conference into Russian and stories about football for example are both really difficult to translate and also are hold no metaphorical value to the people of Russia. I noticed that a few times in General Conference, different church authorities talked about visiting churches in Africa. How would those stories of the LDS church in Africa be different if the person telling the story was African?

One place that the church has succeeded at showcasing diversity of religious experiences is the “I am a Mormon” videos on Mormon.org. I had a sick day from work today and I took advantage of my spare time to watch a great deal of these videos. On the down side, I am sure there is an over-representation Olympic gold medalists sports players, as well as a deficit of fat people as well as people of lower classes. However, I really like the videos’ inherent approval of the different ways that Mormons across the world live out their faith. I especially liked hearing about when the people have less than perfect lives and how they emerge from those challenges. Despite the numerous attention grabbing videos of famous Mormon, I appreciated looking at the videos of normal people and how their lives were being legitimated by these videos.

The last thing that I have to say is that between the Young Women’s Conference and the Priesthood Conference, President Uchtdorf talks definitely impressed me. Speaking of diversity, he is the only non-American among the apostles. I will end this blog with a quotation from his talk during the Priesthood session, “As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences.” I love that General Authorities are talking about this! Now it is time for the church to increasingly put that into action.

What did everyone else think of General Conference?

*General Conference is an event that happens twice a year in the LDS church where the members of the church listen to a variety of talks on different topics given by Church leaders.

Culture Shock. Or, Singles Ward in Salt Lake City.

My time in Central America is over and now I am onto the next adventure in Salt Lake City (SLC), the land of the Mormons. During lunch with my aunt Laura who I am staying with I told her that I wanted to go to a Singles Ward while I was here. A note for all non-Mormons who may be reading this, this particular blog is filled with Mormon jargon but I will try to clarify. A ward is a congregation of about 200 people that meets together in a church on Sundays. Who is in the ward is determined by the geography of where you live. Just to give everyone an idea of how many Mormons there are in SLC I will draw some quick comparisons between here and Victoria where I grew up. In Victoria I always thought of the ward boundaries like this: 1st ward was for the people who lived in Victoria, 2nd ward was for the people who lived in the suburbs, and 3rd ward was for the people who lived in the boonies. In SLC you can find 34th wards, or 367th wards. While driving, especially in the suburbs, it is common to pass at least one Mormon church every five minutes.

Now that I am an adult and am not married, I have a special group that I go to church with called YSA (or young single adults). In both Victoria and Montreal, there are not enough people (roughly 200) to make a YSA ward, so we have what we call “branches” which are basically tiny wards. Usually around 35-45 showed up on Sundays to my YSA branches. In my neck of the woods in Canada, the YSA never really tire of complaining about the lack of people (and by that they mean other Mormons) to be friends with and date. However now I am in Mormon land, the state where places are named Brigham City, Zarahemla, Bountiful. It is a place where Victoria Secret banners make the news because the advertisements show too much skin.

So I asked my Laura how many people she thought would be in my YSA ward (it was even crazy for me to use the words ward and YSA together).  After some consideration she said, “not sure, maybe 600?”

Woah. Is that even possible? One thing that everyone should know about Mormon churches is that usually if you regularly attend you have what is called a “calling” which simply means a job of some sort to do to help the ward or branch function. I asked Laura how there could possibly be enough callings for people and she replied telling me that there were lots of committees. Lots.

With all this in mind, I walked into what is soon to become my first YSA ward. I saw people my age everywhere. I mustered up my courage and asked what room the meeting was going on in.

“Which ward are you going to?” asked the guys.

“The singles ward”

“Ho ho,” they knowingly laughed and then informed me that three YSA wards met in that building. So in other words, while there wasn’t 600 people in my ward, there were over 600 young single Mormons in that building at that moment. They told me to go upstairs and that one I was going to had already started. When I cracked open the door to the chapel, I had a horrifying moment where in the midst of everyone singing in this big room I didn’t see any empty spots on the cue. Feeling eyes on me I quickly made room for myself at the back. While I listened to the talks, I counted over 170 people in the room.

At the end of the first hour, the bishop (or leader) of the ward announced that he wanted to meet all the new people today, and that, indeed, there would be a special meeting where all of us new people would introduce ourselves. There were just under 30 people in this meeting although not all of us were newcomers. I initially wanted to sit at the back but we sat in a giant circle instead. The bishop, his two counselors and secretary plus their three wives made up the first eight people. Then there were people from the Relief Society (the women’s group in the church), the Elders Quorum (the men’s group), plus representatives who various committees who in their mutual introductions told us about the many activities to seduce us into being happy about being there. There were people from the service committee, activities committee, welcoming committee, and family home evening committee.

Family home evening is supposed to be a special time on Monday night that church leaders have asked us to spend with our family. Since many young 20 somethings live away from home, YSA wards and branches hold family home evening for it’s members and it usually consists of a gospel lesson, an activity, and a snack. The bishop informed us that several YSA wards would be gathering tomorrow to have family home evening (or FHE) together. Several wards? The idea of several wards, or in other words over a thousand YSA gathering to have what is meant to be “family time” sounded a bit odd to me. Besides, the logistics of a gathering like that are crazy; how would they provide a snack to so many people? And what activity would they play, a giant game of human knot?

My final hour of church was spent in Relief Society, the meeting where the men and women split up. The girl next to me informed me that they had a “big” Relief Society in their ward. I wondered what that meant to people here. By this point nothing could surprise me. When everyone finally filtered in she was a little disappointed at the 60 or so people that turned up, telling me there is usually over 90. As I sat listening to a lesson on perfection, I recognized that apart from my terror at being in an entirely new social situation with no one I know, I was also completely and utterly culture shocked.

Everybody look at my pants!

Before I came to Salt Lake City, my Dad told me that I might be required to wear skirts and dresses at my new job researching for the Mormon Church. I immediately dismissed this idea because of its ridiculousness; we live in the 21st century after all, how could any workplace not let women wear pants? I even got angry with my Dad for even suggesting such a thing and I made a little scene. When my Dad and I recounted it to my Mom later, my Mom immediately said that of course I could wear pants to my new job. Feeling validated, I let the topic slip.

Once in Salt Lake City, at Sunday family dinner, the topic of pants in the workplace came up again. My relatives toyingly watched me strongly react to the idea of not being allowed to wear pants. However, even among my relatives there was no consensus of whether or not I could wear pants to work. They told me that I might be told to wear my “Sunday best,” which of course for women means no pants. I started to get worried.

I had a plan. I was going to wear pants and a white business-esque shirt. If someone told me that I had to wear my “Sunday best” I would simply tell them that I wear my pants to church (see giant internet battle over the “wear pants to church” campaign in Utah). That would shut them up. Plus, I thought, I would definitely be able to wear pants. In the car ride over to my first day of work, I asked my aunt Laura, “do you really think that I won’t be able to wear pants?” She assured me I could.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked into my first (out of four) orientations that day is that not one of the women was wearing pants. Even all the other new female hires were in dresses and skirts. That’s when it started to sink in that truly, my workplace does not allow women to wear pants. Politics aside I was honestly looking forward to wearing the business look . I thought maybe if I looked formal in my dress pants people wouldn’t immediately think I was an 18 year old like people normally think when they see me. I found it strange that the dresses and skirts that women were wearing were not in the least bit businessy; I realized the objective for women in this workplace was not to emulate a business atmosphere but instead a church one. I can’t say that I have ever started any other of my work orientations off with a prayer, the woman who said the prayer even cried during it.

So a new game begun – when would someone tell me that I wasn’t allowed to be wearing the pants I was wearing? I waited and counted the minutes. Surprisingly, I managed to get through two orientations, which by definition are formal sit downs where the HR teaches the new employees about the workplace. I even began to think that the people around me might be too embarrassed to point out my pants and I might get away with it. At 1:34 exactly, my supervisor, the woman in charge of women’s history told me that I could not wear pants. The irony was not lost on me.
I pretended I was surprised. “Really?”
She told me she tried to complain about it but to no avail.
“Wow.” I tried to let her know through my facial expressions and carefully chosen words how crazy I found this. I said, “I guess I can just throw away all those pants I just bought before coming here.”
Silence.

I went to my new desk blood boiling and fuming. Just to get something straight, I don’t hate skirts or dresses and I don’t mind wearing them to work. But the notion of women wearing pants is symbolic. In the late 19th Century women fought for the right to wear pants right along with the right to vote (we are talking about the 1800’s here guys!). Sometimes I complain about my church being stuck in the 60’s with how it deals with women’s issues. But in the 60’s both conservative women and feminists wore pants. I want to write a letter to the leaders of the church and tell this how humiliating this rule is, and that as a member of this church I feel embarrassed both for myself and my church. I want to write a letter to the Prophet about how crazy I think this rule is but I can’t quite seem to form an argument in my head that doesn’t sound totally ridiculous. “Dear Church, Why don’t you let women wear pants to work?” just doesn’t seem quite right to me.

Now before anyone starts to try defending the church’s position, let me just say that church dress or not I think that this rule is ridiculous. Women wear pants to church and that is fine. My granny was the firmest believer I ever met and she always wore pants to church. Not to mention that the notion that women must wear dresses and skirts is a North American culturally constructed concept. In South India men wear what look like skirts all the time and no one thinks twice about it. Telling women they can’t wear pants is totally unacceptable, no excuses.

Unfortunately I am not really in the position where I can say or do much about this so I have to bite my tongue and also try to refrain from being rebellious. Nevertheless I have come up with some ideas with how to subvert of this rule. If you haven’t already abandoned this blog post because of my feminist rants please read on and vote for you favourite!
Any other ideas? I want to hear them!