Friday, January 18, 2013

The Book of Mormon

Is nothing sacred? I'm asking.

I wonder how many people are, like me, walking out of Seattle's sold-out thirteen-day run of The Book of Mormon wishing they were headed for a discussion group. True, there was Scott, a total stranger on the bus home, but he hadn't seen it yet. Nice, but not enough.

As the evening began and we ushers stuffed inserts into programs, someone said a man at an earlier show had fumed out of the theater, saying it was the filthiest thing he had ever seen. Ushers snickered. Didn't he know what he was getting into? they asked.

I didn't. I wasn't sure if the Mormon church approved of the play, or even if they had sponsored it, creative as they are with publicity. Why, right there in the program I was stuffing were three full-page, full-color ads urging folks to "read the book." Clever.

Even now, on the morning after, I'm Googling around my computer to see what I should have investigated earlier, and this is what I find as an informational blurb:

[A] hilariously groundbreaking and audacious musical that follows the journey of two Mormon boys sent to Uganda for an evangelical mission. Comedy and chaos ensue when different cultures, traditions and beliefs collide, not to mention, the dim-wittedness of these boys creates more problems when their knowledge of the Book of Mormon is proven to be less than minute and not enough to carry them through their charge halfway around the globe.
Read more:

Okay, sounds edgy, but would it cause you to expect blasphemous and profane? (Do we use those terms in Seattle?)

The music is catchy, the choreography delightful. I smiled, I laughed, I cringed. When the Mormon boys arrive in Uganda, they discover the locals singing a happy African song that seems straight out of The Lion King. Turns out it translates to "F-You, God." They all sing it in jolly defiance against their troubles. Big troubles. High AIDS rate. Murderous warlords. Impending clitoridectomies. Maggots in the scrotum.

Imagine an actor, day after day, singing and dancing "F-You, God!" (Incidentally, in the Paramount Theater lobby you can buy a tee-shirt with this phrase in its original African language. Even in Seattle they're not selling it in English.)

There's a campily-over-the-top-gay-parody Jesus, and scenes of Mormon history played up for their improbability. Which isn't hard, quite honestly, as with the stories in my own Christian faith, I guess. But it brought to my mind friends I met on a trip, a BYU prof of Medieval French philosophy and his smart wife who sang in the Tabernacle Choir; wonderful, smart people. How can they believe that stuff? I don't know, but I don't want to laugh at them because they do. I think it's safer to stay with humor at my own expense.

I think too about reading Jonathan Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind, where he talks about moral receptors, akin to taste receptors. He posits six of them, and says liberals are light on a couple, including sanctity and loyalty. You'd have to be light on sanctity and loyalty to come away in thoughtless hilarity from The Book of Mormon.

That wouldn't be me.

In the end, it's not just Mormonism that takes the hit at The Book of Mormon. The "happy ending" is this: Religious stories are metaphors, and if they work, it doesn't matter if they're true. What matters is helping each other.

A faith for our time, in Seattle.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting Along with Others

You know I tutor kindergartners three hours a day, four days a week, right, at my neighborhood school? I did this last year at a different school. I love the kids, the work, and the chance for adult casual, collegial interactions. I like to eat lunch in the staff lunchroom.

At my last school, I learned a lot from teachers during lunch. Usually there would just be one at a time, and I was the main person for them to talk with, and they kindly answered my queries about how to handle this, how to respond to that.

This year, the lunch room table is full of teachers talking to each other. Mostly I listen. But it can get awfully dark. School is -- really hard. Not for me, but for the real teachers. Last year and this, there were kindergartners who hurt teachers, kids who intentionally punch teachers in the face, throw stones at them, and kick. In my school, there are aides who work full-time with one disruptive boy; it's hard not to worry about him getting his hands on a gun in few years.

So early this week, I said, I would love to hear one good thing from somebody!

So one of the aides told a quick anecdote about a success. I said, I love that.

Then one of the other teachers said, This is our time to vent. We're endlessly upbeat in our classrooms. We have to have some time to let down.

I readily agreed, and decided to be quiet.

So yesterday, I get to school, I'm walking down the hall, and I cross paths with the aide with the good story. I said "Hi ____," and she just kept walking.

Ouch! Honestly, I could have teared up.

Then I thought, You don't know what's on her mind. Are you looking for pain and sorrow? Cut it out! You can give this story the "She cut me" title, or you can call it, "She sure is absorbed in her work."

I decided on the latter. But I had to make myself go to the lunchroom at lunch time. I thought, I'll just heat up my food, and if everybody hates me, I can go back downstairs to eat.

But there was a new aide there, who seems to like me, and the lunch went fine, and I decided my problem was thinking the whole world revolves around me, as if teachers have any time and attention left at all for worrying about what Mary Davies thinks or feels.

Will I ever get old enough to stop learning this?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I was dancing last night with a man who impressed me, once again, with his listening. I'm thinking, do I mean "his listening skills"? Yes, that, and also his intention to listen, his commitment to it. I told him once that I prefer dancers who focus less on the "moves" -- the twirls and fancy footwork -- than on being in the music with your partner. Every time I dance with him, I can tell he remembers.

I mentioned that I like this about him, and, I suppose not surprisingly, he said he considered that high praise. It's kind of delightful when somebody praises us for something we ourselves value and work at. Sometimes you're not sure anybody else notices.

He took the question of listening further, by sharing a thought from a friend who, several years ago, said something like, 'If you want to change somebody's mind, it's easier to do it by listening to them than by talking.'

I'm carrying that thought.


All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies