4/12/14

The Roots Get Religion

I’m guessing most of you have never heard of The Roots. They’re one of the best bands ever to make music, formed originally in 1987 by two high school students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Today they’re the Grammy-winning house band—ranked #7 of the best 25 hip-hop groups of all time by about.com—for Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, their follow-up to six years as his house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and one of the main reasons that Fallon kept The Tonight Show in New York. If you have no interest in the intersection of popular music and popular culture, i.e., a late night talk show with Jimmy Fallon, ignore the following clip. If, however, you’d like to see what all the fuss is about, the completely G-rated clip is 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Why on earth am I writing about The Roots on a Mormon blog? I see the gospel everywhere, and yes, even in The Roots. One of my all-time favorite songs is their The Seed 2.0, and when they say “seed,” they mean exactly the same thing we do when we talk about Abraham’s seed. That’s the first hint that there’s something bigger here than a cultural divide of language, fashion, and worldview.

In brief, the song is about a man who wants a child, a legacy, a continuation of his seed, that “the world gonna know [his] name.” His partner is on birth control so he goes behind her back to make a baby with another woman and sings surprisingly touchingly about his “baby girl” that’s about “to drop.”

I’m not going to link to the song because even though I give it a PG-13 rating, it’s so far outside the wheelhouse of most of the people I know who read this blog. The point isn’t to shock or upset anyone. Anyone reading this is smart enough to find the video on YouTube if they want. I will say that it has only one unmistakable curse word, and not even the worst one at that, and some phraseology that the powers that be find coarse enough to bleep. I personally don’t see why. It’s coarse, yes, but it isn’t profane, and from the culture within which it’s expressed, it’s actually kind of poetic.

I’ve listened to my share of rap and hip-hop back in the day, and the attitudes and lyrics about women leave a lot to be desired. This song is almost respectful by those standards but is still hardly in the vein of a virtuous woman whose price is far above rubies (Proverbs 31:10) or Joseph running from Potiphar’s wife to maintain his loyalty to his employer (Genesis 39:7-8). But if that’s all you’re looking for, you’ll miss the fascinating reverberation of the biblical commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. We can all agree on that one, can’t we?

Truth is truth is truth, no matter where you find it. One of my greatest pleasures in life is searching and finding truths that resonate from wildly different corners of the world. The Lord’s commandments track our divine design: we’re commanded to be fruitful and multiply and built into us is the overwhelming drive to do so. Some of us, let’s say Mormons, believe we are following the Lord’s prescribed way of doing it, and some of us, let’s say The Roots, go about it in about the most opposite way from us possible. What I love about this song—besides the beat, the vibe, and the incredible musical talent—is it’s honoring of the universal drive to procreate, in this case expressed in very Black (African-American if you prefer) urban language and ethos.

It might be going out on a limb to say so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lord worked in such mysterious ways that he finds specific messengers to deliver custom-crafted messages about universal commandments to all of his beloved children. The commandments are what they are. We are all divinely designed to fulfill those commandments. The Lord is creative if nothing else. And I think we would all agree he has a sense of humor. Maybe he is skillful enough to leverage phenomenal, eclectic musical talent as well.

P.S. What the heck. Here’s a clean version of the song.

4/6/14

Christian Dirty Laundry

Answer me this: why is it so heinous to say the LDS Church “is the one true church?” I’m not even saying it’s true. I mean of course it’s true that we say it, but we can’t prove it, so for the sake of argument, I’m not even saying it’s true. I can see why those words, that idea, bothers some people, heck it bothers me just because it really leaves no wiggle room for other churches to be just as true. I don’t like being right if it makes other people wrong but that’s a whole other blog. Let’s just say I get that those words, that idea bothers some people.

What I don’t get is why other people, also Christians, don’t get a bad rap for taking dramatic action to insist that we aren’t the true church. Who cares what we think and say if all we do is think and say it? It’s not like we’re out there trying to disrupt anyone else’s religious ceremony or conference.

Every Christian worth his salt stands behind the scripture in John 14:6:

Jesus saith . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

In other words, all Christians think we Christians “are the one true and only religion.” Why then are we as a church wrong for thinking we’re the only way to go, but we as Christianity are not wrong for thinking we’re the only way to go? I guess my logic just can’t make sense of it. I’m more of a “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander” kind of girl.

I saw protesters on Temple Square yesterday in preparation for General Conference today. They had placards with New Testament scripture (which, by the way, is where John 14:6 comes from), and they were chanting the scriptures out loud. Why? Giving them the benefit of the doubt, they really do think we’re going to hell, and they’re trying to save us. I’m willing to believe that most people of that mindset mean well. I question their tactics, however, because it’s hard to believe that loud, public, quasi-embarrassing, and decidedly disruptive demonstrations don’t have other agendas as well, but again that’s another blog.

Back to us thinking “we’re the one true church” – let’s give us the same benefit of the doubt. We really think others aren’t going to the highest level of heaven, and we’re trying to show them the opportunity that’s there for them if they want it. We do ask our young men, and young women if they wish, to sacrifice two years of their lives to bring that message to those seeking it. A lot of slammed doors, and, as we heard today, food in the face and mashed potatoes in the back, hardly equates to public demonstrations against a religious body of believers. So I ask again, why are we the ones that take the heat?

Whether we’re just so dang happy and/or self-righteous and/or prosperous and/or judgmental that other Christians love to bring us down a peg or two, or whether Satan is awfully effective in getting a divided Christian house to fall, or whether some people just need a hobby, it seems to me a bit farcical: They’re galvanized against us because we think we’re right when they know they’re right so they have to prove to us that we’re wrong in front of everybody else. And you wonder why the world is going more secular all the time.

3/30/14

How Do I Know if I’m Doing it Right? AKA Mormon Guilt

A friend of mine commented recently that there are a lot of “rights” in the gospel, at least as it is understood by Mormons, and I agree. The problem for me is deciding exactly what those rights are.

The big black-and-white rights are easy: no adultery, no alcohol, etc. The little black-and-white rights are also easy: go to all your Church block meetings, do your home and visiting teaching, etc. It’s that blasted gray area that kills me.

We talked about repentance tonight as a family, and my daughter said it involved “never doing it again,” whatever “it” was. That works great for the big or even the little black-and-whites, but what about repenting for being lazy or unkind. How can you promise never to be lazy or unkind again? And what about prayer? It drives me absolutely crazy not knowing whether my prayers are what they’re supposed to be. Are they long enough, sincere enough, early enough in the day? Do they cover the right people? Do they count if I’m standing or sitting or is it disrespectful not to kneel when it’s possible? I honestly pray less because I’m not sure, and it’s easier not to do it at all—at least that’s clear.

What about the dreaded ebb and flow of enthusiasm? If I were still in my Berkeley days, I would say it’s because I’m a Scorpio, the astrological water sign represented by a geyser. I gush forth passion for the gospel regularly but just as regularly need a period of quiet almost withdrawal to balance it. What if I withdraw from reading my scriptures daily? Do I need to repent every day I don’t read? I don’t know about anyone else, but for me it’s a little like going off a diet. If it’s that hard to get back on track (i.e., if I have to feel wrong about not reading my scriptures), I might as well take a little longer enjoying the freedom from obedience.

Overall these don’t seem to be big things since I’m magnifying my calling and serving in my community and setting a good gospel example for my children, but am I just fooling myself? Is that pridefulness talking? Is this just par for the course for being Mormon? We run a race that’s never finished and never know if our time is a qualifying one? Do I try harder because I want to make sure I get in? Or is trying harder going to make me crankier than I already am, which is one of the reasons I ease up on scriptures sometimes so that I don’t feel so much is on my plate. And don’t tell me to take other things off my plate. Moms don’t have a lot of options for what they take off their plates and some things are simply more unwinding than others. I don’t care how beneficial and peace-producing reading scriptures is, if it’s something you have to repent of for not doing, it doesn’t feel the same as a non-obligatory activity. At least not to me. Maybe I’m not doing it right. Ha! See my problem?

Then I found a gospel mentor of sorts, and she asked me one question that clarified it all. She said, “How do you feel joy?” She told me if I’m not feeling joy when I pray, that’s how I know I’m not doing it “right.” If I’m not feeling joy when I read my scriptures, that’s how I know I’m doing it “right.” She said I have to find a way that works for me. Some people pray when they first wake up in the morning, some people pray in the hot tub, some people pray driving on the way to work. I realized is that most days I talk to the Lord all day long, just not always with my eyes closed or down on my knees.

What I learned talking to her is yes, the Lord understands every day I don’t pray or read my scriptures, and yes, I need to repent every day I don’t. I told her I go to bed telling the Lord I’m sorry I didn’t read my scriptures or pray today and she said, “That’s a prayer!”

So it’s a lot simpler than I thought it was. Heavenly Father wants us to feel joy. That’s what’s behind all the commandments. I can’t claim I’ve figured it all out now, but I know that I’ve been looking at it in a counterproductive way. Obedience is still a method and a motivation but I’m going to look at it as the lesser law of motivation. The higher law is joy. Obedience might get me started but only joy can keep me going. That’s a whole new way to look at things. He really does know what he’s doing.