Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mormonism: A Sausage Makers Religion

A friend of mine, Christian Harrison--whom some bloggers may know as "Silus Grok"--first introduced me to the metaphor of the sausage maker in relation to Mormonism. Chew on this:
Do we prescribe bed rest and further enfeeble the weak minded? Or do we prescribe exercise and enjoin our siblings in faith to embrace a dynamic faith? Mormonism isn't an easy faith. It's the sausage maker's religion...Mormonism requires us to be active in making our own faith: an open canon, personal revelation, messy recent history, hard truths, prolific talks from leaders only a small number of which qualify as prophetic…you name it. We've signed up for a faith that is CONSTANTLY — RELIGIOUSLY, even — reinventing itself. And, like sausage making, it's not always a pretty picture. You have to get your hands dirty. And sometimes someone looses a finger. Mormonism, then, is a sausage makers' faith.
I was reminded of those astute words last week while reading Bryndis Robert's guest post at Flunking Sainthood. She's an attorney, an adult convert to the LDS Church from the Black Baptist faith, and she currently serves as a Relief Society President in Atlanta, Georgia. I find her voice perceptive and insightful. Below I only quote a portion of her words, but I endorse the entire post: 
I love sausage. However, I don’t like the sausage-making process. Through hands-on experience, I know that it’s ugly and messy. My family had a small farm where we raised chickens and hogs. Each fall, our rural community would get together for hog-killing day. Each person had a job. My job was to make the sausage. First, I had to choose which parts of the hog to use. Then, I had to wash the meat several times, chop it into chunks, and grind it (making sure not to lose any fingers in the process). Next, I had to mix and season the meat. I then had to stuff it into casings and form links or shape it into patties. So, what did I learn from that experience?
  • Making sausage requires time and manual dexterity. 
  • Not paying attention could cause me to injure myself. 
  • I had lots of choices of ingredients when making sausage. 
  • My choices determined the quality and taste of the sausage I made. 
The intersection of politics, social justice, and religion reminds me of making sausage. It’s an ugly and scary place to be. There’s the possibility of injury to the heart, mind, and soul. We have choices to make.  
As a member of the LDS Church, it has been difficult to watch the Church I love deal with this intersection—particularly on the issue of marriage equality and other rights for the LGBTQIA community. When the missionaries were teaching me, I was honest about my political and social views and the fact that I fall squarely in the Liberal or Progressive box. I was concerned about conflict between my political and social views and those of the Church. My missionaries pointed to the 12th Article of Faith and assured me that:
  • members of the Church covered the entire political spectrum; 
  • the Church encouraged members, as individuals, to be involved in the political process; and 
  • the Church, as an organization, did not interfere in the political process.
Bryndis goes on to say:
I don’t know all of the answers, but there are a few things I do know:
  • Navigating the intersection of politics, social justice, and religion requires a balance of courage, conviction, compassion, and compromise. 
  • I cannot rely on anyone, including any Church leader, to choose my beliefs. I must choose. 
  • I have to use my divinely given gifts of reasoning and intelligence to discern the correct course for me. 
  • My choices will determine the kind of person that I am.
I share these convictions and I confess that being a Mormon like this can indeed feel like a "meat grinder" at times. It's not always pleasant, but I still love meat. Despite the "eat meat sparingly" rhetoric of the Word of Wisdom, I'm admittedly a Mormon meat lover--both literally and metaphorically.

Sometimes when I start talking about or craving the metaphorical meat people respond as though I should be content with milk. I understand milk for an infant, but children of God are meant to grow up into adults of God. Therefore, I find it a little insulting (and thus resent) when I'm treated like an infant and also by how often it feels like I'm being force-fed milk after having become an adult.

I hope to always retain the best of the Christ-endorsed child-like qualities, but this doesn't mean I continue to have a child-like relationship with the Church. Like Paul, I've grown up and "put away childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11.) I've matured in my faith and as I've done so I've also come to have a more mature understanding of scripture. As Terryl Givens put it, "Scripture is a human manifestation of an impulse toward and from the divine. One can't expect textual flawlessness."

It can be a bit frightening to realize that all of God's most objective truths are always evaluated subjectively. It's initially jarring to realize that there is no such thing as unmediated revelation--that it always comes through a human filter. So while I continue to choose faith and to trust God, I no longer equate "LDS priesthood authorities" with God. I trust mortal leaders to do their best to seek inspiration, but I'm not trusting them to give us unfiltered or unmediated revelation. Everything that comes to us comes through our human experience, our human language, and human culture. And we "see through a glass darkly".

Once upon a time I took comfort in believing there was an infallible standard I could rely on. Similar to how Armand Mauss shifted his faith paradigms as he came to understand the social construct of reality, my paradigm now places emphasis on choice--choosing to believe--relying on my own conscience as the final authority for how to live my life. Terryl Givens has explained it this way:

“We want a standard that is infallible because it relieves us of the burden of continually exerting ourselves to use discernment. The way that Dostoyevsky put it so beautifully is that 'We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience'. The hard lesson is that there is never a moment when you can delegate your own volition to another individual.”

Unfortunately I continue to meet many self-proclaimed "orthodox" Saints who take issue with this approach because in their paradigm it lowers the importance of apostles and prophets. By pointing out the need to use individual discernment and rely on our own conscience (our individual best effort to understand the will of God) some have even implied that I'm "attacking" the apostles and prophets, regardless of whether or not they're even "acting as such."

When I refuse to put church leaders up on a pedestal, no one needs to pin evil motives on me or assume I think the apostles are "evil" or "sinister"(words I've seen used.) That would just be crazy talk. I've never in my life even implied such a thing as this. My theory is that this crazy talk is born out of a misunderstanding of what it really means to "sustain" our leaders--but thankfully Christian Harrison has more insight to share on that important topic as well.  In reality the only really crazy thing I can see is how many Mormons want to be "relieved of the burden of individual discernment."

I can understand why people could be initially uncomfortable with individual discernment--the process can involve doubt and uncertainty, and doubt and uncertainty make a lot of people nervous. There are some folks who get nervous when they realize they have to think for themselves and follow their conscience rather than just "follow the leader." I think these folks have yet to learn the "the hard lesson", as Terryl Givens said, that there is never a moment when you can delegate your own volition to another individual leader. This is why Bryndis' words resonate as though they were my personal manifesto:
  • I cannot rely on anyone, including any Church leader, to choose my beliefs. I must choose. 
  • I have to use my divinely given gifts of reasoning and intelligence to discern the correct course for me. 
  • My choices will determine the kind of person that I am.
The sausage making process can make people uncomfortable. It can be messy. But we must embrace the messiness if we're to be faithful to reality. We belong to a sausage makers religion. Can we please stop pretending that things are always clean and tidy as though we're still infants who can't handle the meat? Let's just get comfortable with the idea that we're not always going to be comfortable in a world of ambiguity and uncertainty and get on with the good news of embracing faith and grace.

14 comments:

Andrew S said...

Although I like the idea that we continually make and remake Mormonism and I also like the sausage analogy, I think that the analogy highlights some difficulties.

1) Not everyone likes sausage. Does that mean this religion is really only for people who like sausage? Is sausage for everyone?

2) I think that one of the best parts of this analogy is that idiomatically, 'seeing how the sausage is made' means to uncover unpleasant truths about the process that makes the end product less desireable. So, to say "Mormonism is a sausage-makers' religion" opens the door for a lot of people deciding they can't stand sausage after they've seen how it's made or have made it themselves.

In fact...

3) If sausagemaking is so messy (e.g., "sometimes someone loses a finger"), then maybe some people will be inspired to fight against sausagemaking after finding out about the messiness, or to call for reforms to sausagemaking. See: Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle".

All of these points, btw, will be resisted by orthodox folks -- that is, folks who have no problem with sausage and no problem with the status quo processes for making sausage.

P.s., in response to Christian:

"We've signed up for a faith"

Uh, no. I didn't sign up for anything. I was just born.

layne steadman said...

This comes as a light in the darkness for me. Thank you.

Clean Cut said...

Lanye, I'm glad you found it to be helpful.

Andrew S, thanks for the additional thoughts!

"1) Not everyone likes sausage. Does that mean this religion is really only for people who like sausage? Is sausage for everyone?"

Exactly. Mormonism isn't for everyone. I sympathize and empathize.

"2) 'seeing how the sausage is made' means to uncover unpleasant truths about the process that makes the end product less desireable. So, to say "Mormonism is a sausage-makers' religion" opens the door for a lot of people deciding they can't stand sausage after they've seen how it's made or have made it themselves."

Exactly. Hence my sympathy and empathy.

"3) If sausagemaking is so messy (e.g., "sometimes someone loses a finger"), then maybe some people will be inspired to fight against sausagemaking after finding out about the messiness, or to call for reforms to sausagemaking. See: Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"."

It's no secret that I hope for improvements and changes in the future. The trick for me is learning to be patient without being passive. There are tensions to navigate here and I find inspiration in folks like Eugene England, Lowell Bennion, Richard Poll, Joanna Brooks, Jana Riess, and Bob Reese.

I never want to be perceived as "fighting", but I hope I can be a helpful progressive asset when reforms are called for.

"All of these points, btw, will be resisted by orthodox folks -- that is, folks who have no problem with sausage and no problem with the status quo processes for making sausage."

Yep--and I need to respect them too. Just as I have no desire to be "force-fed" milk I need to resist the urge to "force-feed" meat on anyone.

I've made this mistake before. The candid feedback I've received is that if somebody doesn't struggle with the messiness of the process and just wants to enjoy it in peace, why would I find it valuable to be a pain in the ass? I don't want to be "that annoying family/ward member" so it would probably be best to focus on love and respect and common ground.

Clean Cut said...

Brent Beal wrote up a good analogy when he was writing his "Mormon in the cheap seats" series:

"Imagine a guy at a ballpark. It’s a beautiful day, and he’s enjoying a hot dog and a coke. Now imagine that there’s a guy next to him that wants to talk about how his hotdog was made. He wants to discuss the steps involved in processing the meat and debate whether plant workers are paid enough. He’s concerned about product quality, overtime pay, worker safety issues, and environmental impact, among other things. Although his concerns may be valid, the first guy may not be interested. His hot dog tastes good. Not only are these other issues unnecessary, but being aware of them may make his hot dog less enjoyable. And besides, he just wants to be left alone to watch the game.

"For those of us in the cheap seats, the next time we feel the urge to bring up Fanny Alger, different versions of the First Vision, polyandry, the Kinderhook plates, the Book of Abraham, blacks and priesthood, women’s issues, DNA and the American Indians, logical errors, epistemological concerns, City Creek Mall, or other similar issues, we should think about the guy in the ballpark. Do we really want to be that annoying guy next to him that won’t let him eat his hot dog and enjoy the game in peace?

http://www.dovesandserpents.org/wp/2013/03/48-mcs-whats-real-deconstructing-john-dehlin-my-thoughts-on-religion-part-i/

I don't want to be "that [annoying] guy" when it comes to the church. I really try to let people enjoy the figurative hot dog in peace. But every once in awhile when I'm given an "in" I take it and dissect the hot dog a bit, with candor, because I appreciate it when people are candid in return. Sometimes I do like to discuss more details than other people are comfortable with and I suppose I need to remember to just let people enjoy the hotdog. And then of course there are times where I want to enjoy a nice polish sausage dog myself--so I've personally found it to be a helpful analogy/reminder.

As for "signing up" for Mormonism--Christian is a convert. Bryndis is a convert. You and I were born into it so it's always going to be part of our identity, regardless of whether we consciously sign up this or that particularity.

Clean Cut said...

Andrew S., I just notice that you already had read Brent Beal's posts! I think he nailed it with his summary:

“For me it comes down to whether or not I believe God wants us to paint by the numbers or to paint our own pictures? As parents, what do we value more from our four-year-olds? A paint-by-the-numbers portrait identical to what’s on the box, or a free-spirited “Look, Mom, this is you and Dad in a rocket ship with a cow!” masterpiece?

"How we answer that question will largely determine how much control over our beliefs and behaviors we’re be willing to surrender to a religious institution, and that, in turn, will largely determine the degree to which we’ll be able to find fellowship and communion within it. Like everything else in life, it’s a balancing act. After fifty posts, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there aren’t any simple answers."

I also really liked your comment there about his four quadrants, describing people for whom the church it is either "true" AND "real" or not "true" but "real", or those for whom it's no longer "real" (or at least a good healthy place to be anymore):

"Andrew S: if someone has a gluten insensitivity/celiac condition, then this is a case where the truth of what’s in the hot dog bun impacts the realness. A community that is great for members who “fit in” (but where “fitting in” is dependent on having a particular personality style, politics, social perspectives, sexual orientation, gender, race, etc.,) is going to have plenty of people for whom it won’t be “real”."

http://www.dovesandserpents.org/wp/2013/03/50-mcs-my-thoughts-on-religion-part-iii/

Great thoughts.



Andrew S said...

Going back to the Mormon in the Cheap Seats posts is like walking down memory lane...thanks for relinking.

The candid feedback I've received is that if somebody doesn't struggle with the messiness of the process and just wants to enjoy it in peace, why would I find it valuable to be a pain in the ass? I don't want to be "that annoying family/ward member" so it would probably be best to focus on love and respect and common ground.

I think the usual answer is that no one actively tries to be "that annoying family/ward member." Rather, it's an unintended consequence of people being driven by what is important to them. A lot of people interact with Mormonism under presumptions that it is true, literal, historical, or whatever else. They go on missions to teach this. They pay tithing under this assumption. They marry, follow LDS moral codes, etc., under this assumption. So, finding out something else is a big deal. Many feel that they were complicit in deceiving others (e.g., if they converted others), and that honesty requires speaking out. I agree that this isn't always very tactful, but if you think about it, the very concept of evangelism isn't very tactful or respectful...

The hot dog analogy really brings this out. If you REALLY care about worker safety, appropriate treatment of animals, and other concerns, then you're going to be driven to make people uncomfortable to encourage change. The comfortable people are *privileged* to have their comfort, but privilege is not enough of an excuse -- we can't say, "Well, if this person is comfortable, then why should I do anything about that". No, just being comfortable is not an excuse to avoid discomforting the comfortable.

I mean, I am not so much of an evangelist, so I can see what you're saying by not rocking the boat, not being annoying, etc., but I also recognize that activists and evangelists would probably criticize me for not having the "strength of my convictions" or whatever. *shrug*

Clean Cut said...

Again, GREAT POINTS. Thanks Andrew. Really appreciate your thoughts. I completely agree and therefore think you're exactly right.

It's not that I'm "trying" to be disrespectful to their peace, but because I care so much about what I've learned and am passionate about these things--both about truth and "Truth"--plus I've been programmed all my life to SHARE my beliefs!

I do feel like I can speak up when I need to. I've never been shy about my beliefs, whether in certainty or uncertainty. (Except for a brief time at the beginning of my faith transition when I wondered if there was something wrong with ME before deciding there were actually things wrong with how things had been presented (or not presented) to me.

I also totally agree about "privilege" and that sometimes people SHOULD be made to feel uncomfortable. (Ignorance really is bliss for so many.) But at all times I want to sensitive to presentation because I've learned for myself what a difference it makes. At the end of the day it's a hard balancing act to avoid saying things either in the wrong way or in the wrong time or setting and thus avoid unsettling the very people you care about most.

I rub up against that time and again because I stubbornly insist on being true to myself--authentic--in all settings. But even I recognize that there are some things I will or won't say depending on the situation and at the risk of being counterproductive. I guess we all pick our battles.

While I feel confident I can justify anything I say, sometimes the ego just needs to take a back seat to other peoples feelings. Some relationships matter more than others.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut and Andrew S.

Thanks for a thoughtful post and a solid discussion. I appreciate both of your perspectives, and I feel like I've learned a little bit as a result. Generally, I've historically enjoyed both of your perspectives on various issues over the years.

May I make one simple observation? My experience in the church is that most members do not fall into the category of "let him eat his hot dog and enjoy the game in peace", the implication being members would rather not discuss the messy process for fear liking the hot dog less. To the contrary, my experience is that most members are well aware of the issues that trouble you, study them, yet decide (for various reasons) that those same issues aren't troublesome for them.

That's my sole point, I guess. It seems in this discussion (and so many other that proliferate these posts) that one must either be terribly concerned about the messy sausage process or willfully choose to ignore it. In reality, experience teaches me that both of those options are in the minority to the scores of curious, intelligent, and dutiful members who have considered the issues and moved on.

I hope that doesn't come off judgy; that's not my intent. Nor do I mean to imply one is only capable of being intelligent and faithful if they fall into the experiences I've seen. I appreciate both of your perspectives, I just happen to see things differently among the general church membership than what's commonly described in these discussions.

Clean Cut said...

"my experience is that most members are well aware of the issues that trouble you"

I'm sincerely surprised that has been your experience. (Where do you live?) My experience has been very different.

It's helpful for me to separate the church and the gospel because then I can choose faith and have hope in Christ and express that testimony without feeling burdened by the sausage making "religion" aspect. My relationship with the divine is not controlled by a church, which I see largely as a support network more than anything, some of which resonates more to me than other aspects.

As Phil Barlow put it, the church is a human organization seeking the divine (in faith) rather than a solely divine organization marred by a few human frailties.

http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-church-is-made-up-entirely-of-human.html

Andrew S said...

Anonymous,

I think that if the church were full of the members you describe -- who are aware with the issues, but aren't bothered by them -- then discourse and discussion in the church would be much more vibrant and there would be fewer faith crises in general.

I mean, part of a faith crisis is in the sense that one feels excluded or marginalized for having questions, because other people don't want to hear that. But if most other people have heard of the issues and are OK with it (meaning they have processed it and have developed reasons why they are OK with it...not just put it on a shelf), then that means people having questions for the first time should be able to discuss these issues candidly with these people without fear. That would allay the sense of being alone or being marginalized.

I'm not discounting that that's how you actually perceive it, but I'm just saying many other people don't perceive it that way. Their stories and testimonies for their faith crises speak to people who pushed them away for asking questions and having doubts.

So, as with Clean Cut, I have to say that I'm surprised with your description and wonder if it's a function of where you live.

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen

For the record, I’ve lived in Seattle for the past ten years, though I wandered around Idaho and Utah before that for a few years as a single, then married student.

Above all, I should make clear my agreement with Andrew S’ comment regarding people being pushed away. To the extent members of the church act in a way that belittles or minimizes others’ questions or outright doubts, the behavior should be addressed. I believe our church leadership is kindly attempting to help us look introspectively and address the behavior, yet many individuals are still made to feel ostracized for attempting to exercise faith by asking questions or expressing concerns.

Part of my observation, however, is that I don’t think members are having these experiences at the rate some bloggers imply. I certainly don’t deny it happens, and again, when it happens it’s wrong. I believe the leadership of the church has made clear and emphatic statements in the past few General Conference regarding our responsibilities one to another; here’s to doing our part to make that vision a reality.

Clean Cut: I’ve read many of your posts in the past, and I can appreciate your comments regarding separating the gospel of Jesus Christ from the institutional church. Your thoughts have been helpful to me over the years. I agree in principle with what you describe; primarily the concept that my covenants exist between me and the Savior. However, I tend to feel a strong doctrinal commitment to the organization that enables the use of the priesthood authority by which I make those covenants. The social elements of the organizational church is probably a discussion held another time 

Andrew S: I agree with you entirely that many members of the church would benefit from/should have/need a forum to openly and honestly discuss questions and concerns. When respectfully engaged in, we all benefit from those discussions. I don’t know what that perfect space looks like, but I tend to opine that our regular block meetings aren’t the best forum. Some teachers and classes would be great at handling such discussions, others not so much. More importantly, my belief is that our mutual time together is more “vibrant” and more uplifting (to the entire group) when we focus on elements central to the Savior rather than wandering discussions regarding controversial church history topics, OW, etc. I say “wandering” because it’s super difficult to keep those discussions on point and in the right tone with different personalities in 45 minutes. It would be great, however, if each ward enjoyed some form of regular, informal meeting where church members could gather and discuss at a much deeper level topics important to them. Hopefully church members use their personal time to engage in sincere study from all available resources, but I totally agree that people feel more accepted and supported, doubts and all, when they feel they can openly discuss their feelings.

Andrew S said...

Anonymous,

When you say:

Some teachers and classes would be great at handling such discussions, others not so much.

I feel that this cuts against your earlier message (that "most members are well aware of the issues that trouble you, study them, yet decide (for various reasons) that those same issues aren't troublesome for them."). I mean, I think that the reason "others not so much" is because those others have not really grappled with the issues, much less come with really good ways to resolve those issues. I think the reason the regular block meetings are not a good place for the discussion, (but say, By Common Consent, is)...is because BCC self-selects for people who have really thought about the issues and come with answers that satisfy them...whereas our regular block meetings are not full of people who have done that.

In other words, I agree with your statement that members are probably not having these experiences at the rate bloggers imply...but that's because I think that people who are driven to blog are different than most members. This applies in many ways -- I don't think the "average disaffected member" looks like your "average disaffected blogger," because I don't think that most people who leave the church write blogs. But I also don't think that your "average member" reflects your "average thoughtful informed blogger." And that discrepancy is why blogs exist -- because there is something people are experiencing in church (or not experiencing in church) that they then want to talk about outside of church.

More importantly, my belief is that our mutual time together is more “vibrant” and more uplifting (to the entire group) when we focus on elements central to the Savior rather than wandering discussions regarding controversial church history topics, OW, etc.

I think for people who are grappling with these issues, those "wandering discussions" are not topics that "wander" from the Savior. To the contrary, they are things that call the Savior into question, or call into the question the church's role w/r/t the savior.

So inadvertently, dividing the two is still stifling. It is still rejecting. It's doing it a little more nicely, but it's still doing it.

Anonymous said...

Andrew S

I think you may be reading more into my “not so much” comment than I intended to convey, but your point is nonetheless a good one.

Similarly, I like your observation regarding potentially not addressing difficult questions during the block time. For some folks, it could be viewed as simply another effort to sweep to the side important issues, or people for that matter. For me, that thought encroaches the territory of someone’s sensitivity to being offended rather than an individual (or the organizational church) intending to inflict harm. The difference may be subtle, but I think meaningful. Regardless, it’s a variable that leadership would do well to consider. A little while back, one commenter on a blog noted how the bishop of the ward assigned topics from the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org for 4th Sunday lessons. That seems like a very thoughtful way of moving to the center.

Thanks for a great discussion guys; your perspectives are helping people with all viewpoints on these issues.

Clean Cut said...

I'm also grateful for a great discussion. Such good, solid thoughts Andrew S. And "Anonymous" (I wish you'd pick a name to go by so I could differentiate you from all the other anonymous's) I'm sincerely thankful for your thoughts as well. I think I"m going to suggest to my bishopric that we start assigning the essays for some big group lessons as well--great idea.

I'm really pleased to hear these various perspectives are doing some good for others. If any of it helps make our church a more Christ-centered church rather than such a church-centered church, I'll be even more pleased.