Out of the Bubble

My family moved to Provo, Utah, seven years ago. It was a huge change for us, and one that we were rather reluctant to make. My husband and I met at BYU, and when we left for grad school, we were happy to brush the dust from our feet and assume that we would never be back. Neither of us had been raised in Utah, and we were not entirely comfortable in a Mormon-dominant culture. But to our pleasant surprise, we loved our neighborhood in downtown Provo. It is a mix of working class people, married student couples, artists and entrepreneurs, with a few college professors thrown in for good measure. It is as diverse as Provo gets, and I’m grateful for that.

But as much as we have come to love Provo and the people around us, it is nice to take a break from the bubble that is Utah Valley. Last month we moved to Belgium for a year-long sabbatical, and I hoping that this time will be restorative.

Over the last few years, I had all but stopped reading blogs, and anything that I wrote which would have been a blog post, I kept to myself. Part of that had to do with personal choices: I was in a master’s program, and all of my time and energy were poured into that work. I simply did not have the mental and emotional resources to devote to an online conversation. But the other major factors were the conversations that were happening online, and to a lesser extent, in real life, along the Wasatch Front. Ordain Women, gay marriage, excommunications and boundary control, gun and grazing rights, the policy regarding the baptism of children of couples in a same-sex marriage. Many of these conversations were polarizing, pitting narratives of personal pain against institutional authority. A very few attempted to bridge the gap, sorrowing with those who hurt while giving the benefit of the doubt to both sides, but more often than not, those who tried to hold space for both points of view were excoriated by everyone. Charitable imagination seemed to have failed, along with rigorous argumentation, which seeks the grapple with the other side’s best case rather than an offensive straw man.

In such a climate, what could I say? Especially given that possibility that a faithful, but unorthodox, opinion could potentially jeopardize my ecclesiastical endorsement, risking my education and job?

But now I am out of the bubble, at least for a time. Rather than get all het up about issues of church and state that are directly related to the politics of the American west (seriously, I do not want to hear about how terrible a presidential candidate is at church, nor am I interested in a diatribe about “freedom”), I can go to church and worship with a small community of saints. They don’t know or care about the latest gossip from the COB, or the leadership of the Public Affairs department. And given that Sunday worship is now a safe space distinct from these kinds of conversations, I’m feeling more confident about wading back into the blogosphere. Perhaps optimistically, I am less worried about the overlap between my online conversations here and my interactions with other members of the church in real life.

All of this is to say, even though I’m a little nervous about it, I’m ready to reenter the conversation. It’s good to be back.

47 comments for “Out of the Bubble

  1. Tina
    September 14, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Thank you, Rachel! You just gave words to the reason I haven’t missed living in Utah for the last thirty years.

  2. queuno
    September 14, 2016 at 9:46 am

    I just got an invitation from a big employer in Provo to apply for a position there, and because I do NOT want my Church experience to be as you described, there’s no way I’d consider it at this time. Plus – my kids would be impacted; released time seminary taught by a professional ministry sucks.

  3. Dave
    September 14, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Both local and senior LDS leaders seem blissfully unaware of how deeply the conservative culture wars (which leadership is still fighting) have politicized LDS Sunday services in most places in the US. It sucks all the fun out of going to church.

  4. Ardis
    September 14, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I am happy for all of us whenever someone who doesn’t like us here in Utah finds someplace else to be happy.

  5. Tim
    September 14, 2016 at 10:03 am

    I’d love to be able to attend church in downtown Provo. The best ward I ever lived in was in Provo–a BYU singles ward, a little older than average, and certainly much more liberal. A hometeaching companion referred to it as “the hippie ward.” He wasn’t a fan. Ward boundaries crossed Center Street, so it was very close to downtown.

    Contrast this with my current ward in Eastern Idaho, where the Bishop thinks it’s acceptable to play a Glenn Beck video in 5th Sunday combined PH/RS, homosexuals are scapegoated in EQ on at least a monthly basis, and everyone just assumes everyone else is a conservative Republican. I’d move to Provo in a heartbeat if I was able to find a decent job there.

    Belgium, though…Belgium is lovely. Probably the most underrated country in Western Europe. And my experience with the European saints is that they’re wonderful people. You’ll enjoy your time there.

  6. Clark Goble
    September 14, 2016 at 10:17 am

    I swore when I graduated from college I’d never come back to Provo. I missed the ethnic diversity of other locals. I still remember my first week in Provo being amazed at how everyone was white. I disliked what I then perceived as a superficiality and lack of concern of developing hobbies and the like. Yet within a year I was back, finding much to my surprise that most of the things I liked to do I could do here probably better than anywhere else. Not perfectly mind you, but it was just an hour or two drive to be in the desert wilderness of the San Raphael Swell or Moab for biking, hiking or climbing. Excellent rock climbing was 10 minutes away. There were world class bike trails within an hour and good ones even closer. I could leave work for the day and be on world class ski hills for night skiing. I even picked up kayaking although here isn’t quite as ideal for that. Plus I found that my criticisms of Provo often had the “grass is always greener syndrome.” Yeah other places were more diverse but people are often superficial in ways immature idealistic young twenty somethings miss. A little humility on my part went a long ways. Then I got married and discovered much to my surprise why it was so hard for people to do all the things I thought they should be doing. LOL.

    I’m not sure I like Provo. There are definitely things I just don’t click with compared to when I lived in other places. There’s a constant certain discomfort. Yet in many other ways I’ve discovered it clicked in ways I didn’t see at first. But everyone should go where they feel happiest. A big part of me still thinks I should be out in the “mission field” where I grew up rather than in a heavy Mormon area.

    Good luck in Europe. Enjoy the things you didn’t like in Provo but found there. And perhaps, like me, you might find to your surprise things about Provo you did like.

  7. stephenchardy
    September 14, 2016 at 10:36 am

    I feel like a number of bloggers from the past aren’t posting very much any longer. What has happened? Julie? Kent? Nate? Ben? Kaimi? Others? Where are you all?

  8. stephenchardy
    September 14, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I will look forward to hearing from you, Rachel, more often again. My family lived in Paris for two years (2010 to 2012) It was wonderful, for the reasons that you gave. Socialist Mormons. Boys in black shirts passing the sacrament. Much less interest in leadership structure. Some of this may be related to the fact that I am not highly fluent in French and wasn’t part of the “inner circle” there. But I did got to Ward Council, and was very involved with the ward there. I loved it. It seemed “truer” in some ways. The political overlays were not as noticeable.

  9. stephenchardy
    September 14, 2016 at 11:04 am

    I don’t know why I am suddenly responding to this particular post. I grew up in SLC and my wife (grew up in upstate NY) and I used to visit frequently. Not quite so often now. We live in suburban Boston.

    My wife and I are convinced that almost every aspect of life is easier in Utah, particularly in SLC or Provo area. Going to the Utah symphony is way easier and cheaper than the BSO. The theater scene isn’t quite as big, but getting in is easier. I mean driving, parking, paying for parking, finding tickets, etc. Music lessons, swimming lessons, are way easier to find and accommodate in SLC vs Boston. I’m not say that they aren’t available in Boston. Of course they are. And they may be actually better. But SLC is just so much easier. Good ethnic restaurants. Hiking, camping. OK, ocean going can’t be done in SLC. But waterskiing: way easier in SLC than Boston. By easier I mean finding a lake, finding a boat, finding a friend with a boat, etc.

    Let’s not even talk about shopping. Way way way easier in SLC area.

    Then there is church. Walking to meetings? Not in my area. We have been in five different wards even though we haven’t moved once since being here. Our drive to church has varied from 15 minutes for one building, to 30 minutes for another, and then 45 minutes for one building our town was assigned to for about three years. Think of this in terms of primary activities, extra ward meetings, seminary, etc. All of these are so much harder outside of those postage stamp sized wards in SLC area. Most of my family members in SLC can, with a good arm, hurl a stone from some corner of their property onto some corner of the ward that they attend. Really. And the assignments? Most of my brother/sisters haven’t had the heavy lifting assignments that my wife and I have had and I think that is partially due to our living in very needy congregations. This has resulted in some very significant growth. But easy? Let’s be clear: being a Mormon in SLC is easy… or at least convenient.

    However, when my wife and I talk about moving the SLC, and we have talked about it many times, we usually agree that (for us) SLC/Provo has such a strong infusion of “crazy” that we think that we couldn’t do it. By crazy, I just mean a place where Ted Cruz easily wins primaries; where video stores (I know, they don’t exist any more) don’t carry R rated movies (I saw that in a Highland/Alpine store.); where flags wave from every property. (this may seem cool to some people, but the uniformity feels … creepy… to me.) I don’t know. Maybe we should move. But the ease and inexpensive of SLC (compared to Boston) comes at the cost of significant cultural baggage that I would prefer to separate from my very significant and core Mormon identity.

    So enjoy Belgium. I know that I would.

  10. September 14, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Scandinavians hang flags all the time for any reason, including on Christmas trees. I think it’s nice. Belgians probably don’t, but who knows.

    I’ve never lived in Utah. When I visit, it’s really really nice. The libraries! The tons of easily accessible, affordable family activities! The libraries! Everything is much more posh than it is here in my town, though, so I always feel kind of grubby and outclassed. I’d like to try living there to see what it’s like.0

  11. Naismith
    September 14, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I had no idea that people felt so constrained by their environment. It explains a lot.

  12. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Can I post here?

  13. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    I find it troubling that truly we (as a church body) are not one in Christ in all things. One would think that with the advent of modern technology and information at everyones fingertips that we would be drawn closer and more together as saints. Instead, we are more polarized now than any other time in church history. We, as a body, have lost faith in our leaders, our doctrine, our communities, etc. I hardly think we can still all call ourselves “saints”. We should be ashamed of our petty little selves so willing to fit in place in secular society! I dont care where we as saints live, we must stand together in solidarity to doctrine, principle, and to prophets especially. If this means supporting a doctrine that condemns homosexuality and SSM then so be it. We need to stop embracing immorality and secular humanistic ideals. We must stop being worldly and petty and selfish. Lets stand together and be steadfast in support of all of our doctrines. Just because the devil has made his encampment in SLC doesnt mean we have to obliged to all his immoral teachings and ideals.

  14. Chadwick
    September 14, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    I don’t currently live in UT, but was raised in UT. I used to think “Utah Mormon” was a thing. Time and distance have taught me that it’s really a concentration issue more than anything else. For my tastes, there are too many Mormons in the same place in Utah. But they are good people, just like the Mormons in my neck of the woods in Southern California. I can really understand the phrase “too much of a good thing” when I visit SLC. Because to me Mormons are a good thing, but too many in the same place just doesn’t work for some.

    Belgium! I’m insanely jealous! I hope you have a grand time.

  15. Owen
    September 14, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Rob, I think it’s petty and selfish when members foist their personal political opinions on other people as if they were doctrine. What you and those like you don’t seem to hear is that many members of the church aren’t comfortable attending meetings in which not only is homosexuality condemned but also the people who practice it, who in reality are our brothers and sisters regardless of their need for repentance. The church leadership is direct yet nuanced in their approach to all of these divisive issues, but the old white men in Utah wards tend to leave their charity at the door as they come to worship the graven images of the GOP rather than following the examples of living oracles in an honest attempt to follow Christ’s example of compassion for the sinner. If I were to record my High Priest Group meetings and replay them for the First Presidency, they would be shocked and appalled by the influences that are constantly allowed to supersede the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would welcome your call for solidarity if it were not peppered with so many politically-charged shibboleths. At least I can take comfort that you won’t be voting this year, since you must reject such secular humanist ideals as democracy.

  16. Clark Goble
    September 14, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Stephen (7) I think people get busy with life. Blogging really isn’t that important an activity. I went several years rarely blogging for instance and only recently got back into it. I do miss their comments though – in particular I’d love to hear from Nate.

    Owen (15) Love the sinner hate the sin is something frequently said but rarely implemented. (Although I’d add it’s hardly just white men in Utah who do this – being judgmental but not loving is unfortunately a failing without borders of gender or race)

    Jean (10) I must say that after growing up always being the only Mormon around, it was pretty liberating to feel like I could actually be myself here. In some ways the pressures some feel here (constrained in what they can say) are actually how I felt outside of Utah. While I’m frequently critical of many aspects of Utah culture, I also think it’s easy to overlook the good and have undue myopia towards the bad.

    As with any local there’s good and bad to be had. One problem of Provo is that really the strip of Wasatch Front south of Salt Lake all the way down to Nephi is a large section of suburbia. If you don’t like suburbia then that’s a bit of a problem. If you want the big city experience then even SLC will be disappointing. However I confess I think suburbia gets a bit of a bad rap at times. However every one likes different things. Viva la differánce.

  17. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Politically charged? I said nothing of politics. Perhaps you believe that church doctrine is politically charged. Thats okay to think that way, whatever makes you happy. Speaking of politics, the left agenda is all about secular humanism, so far from godly things. Its kind of a paradox that someone can claim to be a Christian yet be against almost every moral principle under the sun.

  18. September 14, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    Being Mormon in SLC is NOT easy. Not even a little bit. Everything you do is scrutinized and attributed to either being Mormon or not. If you have a bad day, it’s because you’re hypocritical. If you don’t match the ideal, it’s because you’re not faithful.

    Everyone is wary until they figure out where you fit into the polarization. You have to constantly answer for the bad choices of other Mormons, and try desperately to prove yourself different against entrenched skepticism. You aren’t allowed or expected to have a hard time. Every family is on their own. Chin up, positive outcomes only. You don’t want to be a poster child.

    Fighting against a rainbow of stereotypes (no pun intended) is a constant, daily battle. Everyone looks down on you because you live where it should be “easy.” And you’re just a “Utah Mormon,” so who cares what you think anyways? It’s not like you have a valuable perspective.

    Recently, SLC stakes had a multistake conference. I haven’t blogged about it yet, because I’m still absorbing. I may not ever blog about it. It was raw. It was a firm and unequivocal rebuke. I can’t describe what it was like to sit there and get the clear impression that it was falling on mostly deaf ears. We ARE blessed, here in SLC, in many ways. But where much is given, much is also required. Everything is concentrated. The broad way is broader, and the strait way is more fraught.

    Anyone who thinks it’s easy being Mormon in SLC has no idea what they are talking about. It is hard to be a Mormon outside of Utah. It’s also hard inside of Utah, just in different ways.

    I live in this area because I was called to be here. I can only imagine it’s because I’ve never done well at fitting in, and I, like the Lamanites, are a “scourge” to the chosen people. At best, I hope to be a bridge. But whatever I am, “having an easy time of it” does not describe my experiences here in the least.

    Take that for what it’s worth from a military brat who has lived in dozens of places.

  19. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    In my opinion, SLC has been on the downward slope into hell for a long time. I lived there 20 years ago when it was starting to have a lot of issues. I frequent the valley every so often to visit friends and family. I used to be able to walk to the 7-11 to get nachos. Now, you get in your car, drive the block, arrive, lock the car, dont look at anyone, get your nachos, get back in your car, lock it and drive the block back home. Not sure what exactly happened but I dont care for it there at all anymore. I get the feeling when I am down there that it has become a godless society for the most part.

  20. Brad L
    September 14, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    OK, bye, Rob. You can pack up your bags and move to Afghanistan, now. Please leave.

  21. Clark Goble
    September 14, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Not sure where you are going Rob but that’s sure note been my experience. Also in objective terms the crime rate has been decreasing. There was a big drop starting in the late 90’s that continued until around 2001. Then it started upticking until around 2008 almost reaching rates of the 90’s but then has in recent years dropped significantly until it’s been back down at the rate of the naughts. http://bit.ly/2cJd1hb It’s still significantly less than most cities.

    Regarding the left, while I tend to self-identify as a conservative there really is a lot of variety on the left. Secular humanism is just one small group of the left. I do worry that the left has tended to reject a lot of religious aspects of culture – something that just wasn’t as true of the left when I was young. But it’s not at all hard to find very religious movements on the left such as the social justice movement among Catholics. For those on the left advocating greater spending for the poor it’s not hard to find scriptures to support concern for the poor.

    But I think that’s getting a bit afield from Rachel’s post which was experiences of Utah and moving elsewhere.

    Silver Rain, that definitely can be true and tends to be parts I’ve criticized in the past. An undue focus on the appearance of always being nice as opposed to resolving disagreements. It can incentivize a kind of superficial way of not engaging with each other. Also sometimes there’s a kind of naive perfectionism and “keeping up with the Joneses” (or at least how the present their public face, not their actual lives) While I think these types of superficialities are still among us, I’ve come to think they were always a bit exaggerated even when I was young. Perhaps that’s just having to live and deal with people. Sometimes a superficial nicety is just better than the alternatives which you may not have enough energy for given all your other commitments. I’ve also decided that deep relations are just harder to come by than I thought in my naive idealistic youth. Given that I’m more open to perhaps superficial relations given the alternative of just being anti-social. As they say, the perfect is sometimes the enemy of the good. And that might apply both ways.

    That said there’s still people who judge in terms of unrealistic standards, who don’t acknowledge the struggles people face we might not be aware of. Again, maybe I’ve just been lucky in terms of where I live, but I just haven’t found that as much. My wife may disagree somewhat, but then that probably just reflects the different social interactions men and women encounter – my impression is women are far more apt to hold unrealistic standards for each other. Which could get us into a question of sexism inherent to culture and expectations. But that’s probably going way afield of Rachel’s post. I’ll just say that I do think women are held to unfair standards in the state. How that varies regionally though I just couldn’t say. My impression, perhaps mistaken, is that this is true elsewhere and it’s just what is expected that changes. So in suburban Utah a woman’s career isn’t as big a deal as it might be in San Francisco but their presentations in church activities might be.

    Ideally all Saints should just be more understanding and forgiving of each other. We should be building each other up rather than making expectations that tear one an other down. At the same time though, lengthen ones stride and so forth really do apply. Overall we all could be doing better. It’s a hard balance to reach. I like people to expect a little bit more out of me that gets me out of my comfort zone.

  22. September 14, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    You misunderstand me, Clark. It’s not the appearance of being nice. It’s the appearance of being okay. The “nice” part only comes into play because it doesn’t matter how nice you are, you are condemned by association. Whichever side of the imaginary divide someone happens to fall on.

    But I wholeheartedly agree that we should all be on each other’s side.

  23. el oso
    September 14, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    Stephen C Hardy??,
    In your article you have IDed many of the good things about Provo/SLC versus some of the other places I have lived. In my wife’s way of thinking we have finally settled in an area that is close to the Wasatch front on most of these positives. You then complain about the three other good things as negatives. Fortunately, I live in a locale that is guilty as charged in 2 of your 3 negatives. Give me no R rated movie stores and we would have the trifecta. There are plenty of American flags and Cruz did win the primary here (not Texas). I think that most voters wish that Cruz, (or Pence or Kain) were at the top of the ballot instead of the choices we currently have. UT is not so crazy after all in most people’s view.

  24. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I do think a lot of our problems in the church stem in large part from fringe Mormons who live in and immediately around SLC. Ordain women movement is SLC based. Most of the pro gay mormon groups are also based in SLC. A lot of rogue mormon podcasters are also based in or around SLC. All these negative voices work together against the church on their own doorstep. As you get further away from SLC the fringe Mormons disappear and you do not have such dissent in the ranks.

  25. Nathan Whilk
    September 14, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    You know where you can see thousands of American flags *and* thousands of Belgian flags? The Ardennes American Cemetery:


    Creepy, huh?

  26. Tim
    September 14, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    I think the biggest danger to the church isn’t in podcasters etc. near SLC; it’s people like Ammon Bundy in communities with large numbers of Mormons outside of the Wasatch Front. At least church leadership can keep a close eye on what’s going on in SLC. What’s going on in communities in Idaho, Nevada, or Arizona, however, may escape their attention until it turns into armed insurrection and Mormons taking over federal buildings and calling themselves “Captain Moroni.” At the very least, you have significant minorities of Mormons in some of these communities who see nothing wrong about waving confederate flags. Meanwhile, as you get further away from SLC–and specifically, further away from the Mountain West–the Mormons aren’t any less likely to be fringe or dissent, but they’re less likely to confuse their politics for the gospel.

  27. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Since when is gospel teachings politics?

  28. Jack of Hearts
    September 14, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Rob, I don’t see anyone arguing that gospel teachings are politics but rather there are many members who mistake their politics for gospel teachings. Especially in an election year, it can be an all-too-common occurrence.

  29. Lois
    September 14, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Grew up in UT, have now lived 30+ yrs outside of UT in varous places where there weren’t a lot of Mormons. What I will say is there are things I loved and things I didn’t like everywhere I lived. I am so glad I’ve had the opportunities to live outside UT.
    Growing up LDS in UT I got the distinct message that LDS=good, non-LDS=be wary. I hated when people asked me where I was from. Always the next question would be “are you Mormon?” Why did I hate that question? It was because I instantly felt categorized and judged–just as I had learned to do with non-Mormons. What I know now is that some of the most Christ-like people I know are not LDS and some of the most un-Christ-like are LDS. I think LDS members are not unlike society in general–it varies. (Actually some of the biggest partiers in my highschool were (suprisingly) LDS who, I guess, straightened up and served missions). I cherish the friends I’ve had both in and outside the church.

    I get back to UT at least annually to visit family. I don’t know if I will ever (or want to) move back (really depends where my kids are living). But, when I do visit, sometimes there are moments where I look around and feel I’m in Stepford.

    We are commanded to love one another–and treat others as we would want to be treated. I try to remember and practice that.

  30. Clark Goble
    September 14, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    Rob I think many gospel teachings are political. However I think a problem for people of all political persuasions is both in confusing their strongly held political beliefs for the gospel as well as not being charitable at Church allowing people to have a variety of political views. I have political views I hold quite strongly, but I recognize my fallibility so as to not conceive of shooting someone down in Church over them. That’s just offensive as well as being against Church teaching which tends to be much more politically neutral except for the occasional item. That said, as Pres. Benson noted there’s never anything keeping a prophet from speaking politically. I’d note that ultimately Lehi’s prophecies in Jerusalem were about foreign policy. I’m sure Pres. Monson could usher a prophetic warning about a trade deal or foreign policy decision as well. As I recall Pres. Benson did just that with the result that Pres. Reagan’s MX Missile program was largely killed by it.

    The problem I think we have is people assuming everyone thinks like them in church. For those who have views that don’t fit, it can feel alienating socially. This in turn disrupts the unity a ward should have. While politics gets the main focus it could be anything ranging from interest in football teams (pertinent given the rivalry game last Saturday) to views on science. On the other hand I think people who feel uncomfortable are sometimes wanting the same kind of conformity they dislike. That is wanting to be in a place where everyone agrees with them so they feel comfortable socially. It’s ultimately the same phenomena.

  31. Rob Osborn
    September 14, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    So what about unity as a church body? It seems we are getting further apart. I really do not like what I call “fringe mormons” because they are like wolves in sheeps clothing. You know me pretty well. I have been a part of these blogs for years and years. I once had my own blog on the archipelego. I have been silenced over the years on many occasion for my honesty in speaking my mind. I used to just blame Utah Mormons for my intentional snubbings. Now I just realize that Utah isnt what it used to be. And forgive me for saying this, Im not homophobic, but it shows just how fringe Utah has become when they have voted in an openly gay mayor and lay claim to Salt Lake as being one of the top ten gay friendly cities in the USA. This tells me that you have great righteousness on one side of the street but also great wickedness on the other. As such, when LDS start to question their beliefs, the amount of great wickedness on their doorstep is so great its easy for them to sway to the immoral. You see this all the time in the mormon blogs. I have been censored and kicked out of a myriad of forums, debates, blogs, etc, for my views because this mormon bubble of the greater SLC area is wrought with a myriad of fringe mormons who dont like being called wolves.

  32. Owen
    September 15, 2016 at 12:21 am

    Clark, in my ward it’s just the old white men and the young white men who aspire to be old white men. The views expressed by the High Priest Group and the Relief Society are like night and day. They have spiritually uplifting discussions while we have angry rants. Mistaking one’s political beliefs for the gospel is certainly an equal-opportunity sin, though. Even President Benson had a hard time with it, leading to a tumultuous relationship with other of the brethren.

    Rob, a person’s politics tend to shape what parts of the gospel they emphasize and color the way they interpret the gospel. It is the elevation of that sort of selective hearing to the status of the One True Way that tends to alienate so many people. If you buy into the fantasy worldview that Fox News spews and then come to Gospel Doctrine class and use that as your basis for interpreting the Book of Mormon, you’re going to come up with a very different picture of what that book is communicating than someone who brings a different set of facts, which also may or may not have any grounding in reality. One of the difficulties we tend to have in the church is that we are poorly equipped to challenge the nonsensical pronouncements often made in places like Gospel Doctrine class that mingle scripture with the philosophies of men, whether those philosophies are derived from the left or the right, although in our church they are more often derived from the right because we have been lulled into a false sense of equivalence between the politics of our geographic area/ethnic makeup and the tenets of the gospel.

  33. Rob Osborn
    September 15, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Im rather disgusted with both Republicans and Democrats and dont really claim either at this point. I think both parties are straying from true conservative Christian values. I think most politicians are wolves. I look to the prophets and scripture and recognize that our doctrine isnt a political stage of old white Mormon mens ideals like some wrongly think. it is true most real mormons are conservatives. But, most true Christians are conservatives. The ideals of Christ stongly correlate to conservatives. But, that doesnt make religion itself political.

  34. September 15, 2016 at 12:52 am

    The eight hour time difference between Utah and Belgium will affect how quickly I respond to your comments.

    Queno (2) Raising the kids in Provo has been interesting. In many ways, it is an idyllic small town. There are tree-lined streets with sidewalks, kids set up lemonade stands and ride their bikes in quiet streets. In the downtown area, we have a low concentration of families with school aged children, especially teens, so 3-4 wards combine their midweek youth activities to get a critical mass. On Sundays, there are often as many YW leaders as there are YW, so they get a lot of one-on-one attention and mentoring.

    I wasn’t so pleased with seminary. Early morning did not work well for my oldest (the year before it seemed it would have been fine, but something switched in his teenaged body that year and it was awful). We didn’t want him to lose a class from his schedule for release time, and they refused to let us do online or homestudy.

  35. September 15, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Dave (3). I agree that the conservative bias is unrecognized by many members. It is alienating for those who do not share it. As such, politically conservative comments are unremarked upon, but even mildly progressive or liberal ones are seen as politically charged or divisive, and deserving of reprimand. I’m not sure of the best way to address this. We want our religious life to be relevant to our political and social life, so it makes sense that as we draw these connections in our minds in the course of a Sunday School lesson, we would want to share this insight. But as the membership of the church shifts political allegiance (or simply becomes less staunchly Republican, because I somehow doubt that we are becoming more strongly Democrat. See http://www.sltrib.com/news/4349216-155/study-in-sharp-decline-since-12) we need to figure out how to navigate this concern.

  36. September 15, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Ardis (4), what amazed me the most about moving to Provo was how much we do love it. We love our home and our neighbors, our wards (Provo 1st and Provo Peak 11th), and the community. I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering at the local elementary school and in the city and neighborhood. Provo is great in part because it is easy to get involved, serve, and have a voice in local civic issues. (It’s also easier if you are an active Mormon, but that’s a different discussion). It was hard to leave our people there, but made easier knowing that we would be back in a year’s time. I don’t want to move again (even if I do want to go on a few adventures).

  37. September 15, 2016 at 1:30 am

    Tim and Clark (5&6). I think there is a huge difference between downtown Provo and more suburban and rural areas. We lucked out. And we love hiking and snowshoeing, gardening and bicycling, so Provo is a perfect location for us. The cost of living (relative to Long Island and La Jolla, the two places we lived before moving to Provo) is very reasonable. And while it’s not NYC, we couldn’t afford to do much while we lived there on a post-doc salary. In Provo, even on a modest BYU professor’s wages, we can afford to do pretty much all of the cool stuff we want.
    But I do think it’s good to have a change every once in a while. I’m hoping this break will help me appreciate my home all the more when we return, even if we do sorely miss the bread and chocolate that we’re eating here.

    Stephenchardy (7-9). I can only speak to my absence, as I did in the OP. I will say that this forum is a more thoughtful community than, say, Facebook, but as such, it requires more time and care. It’s easy to let the fast and easy (and horribly polarizing) forms of social media suck up the time and energy I have for online conversation. And I was anxious about starting this up again. Already this conversation has allayed my fears, and I am happy to be back.
    I am struggling to learn Dutch, but they offer translation into English. Many of our converts here are from different countries, and English is the common denominator language. But the language barrier offers me more time for reflection during the church services, for which I am intensely grateful. When I lose the thread of the comments, I can still meditate on the text of the lesson. I am keeping a Sunday journal in which I write my thoughts and reflections sparked by the talks or lessons. It’s a practice I’ve done off and on for years, but it is even more valuable to me now that I feel hampered in making comments in class. But that is the stuff blog posts are made of, so I think it will work out well.
    We are fortunate to be a half hour’s walk away from the branch meeting location, which is ideal. The two block distance in Provo meant I could run home for something forgotten inbetween meetings, but I was also (rather uncharitably) annoyed at how many able-bodied people drove to church.
    And surprisingly enough, our Provo home is in one of those more “needy” areas. We had mistakenly thought in the moving to Provo that we would be extraneous, but it turns out that stable, long-term families are few and far between. We were just as needed and used in the Provo 1st ward as we were in the Huntington Branch on Long Island. And that sense of being needed and the opportunity to render meaningful service strengthens bonds to the ward and its members as well as to the institutional church. I don’t know how we will serve in this Belgian branch: so far it’s just been having the missionaries over for dinner and playing the piano in sacrament meeting. But we haven’t been here long, so we’ll see.

  38. September 15, 2016 at 1:59 am

    Rob Osborn (13) There is a lot in your comment, some of which others have already responded to. While I do agree that the members of the church are being pulled by competing standards (you mention “secular humanistic ideals”), I don’t know that retrenchment is a viable long term strategy for the church. After all, there are many doctrines and teachings of the church, and they are often in tension with each other, such as the pull between deference to authority and obligation to seek and follow personal revelation. To choose only one way of being Mormon feels like a brittle kind of strength, and I am leery of it. This topic is one that I mull over often, and it will certainly arise again.
    (19) And please don’t drive one block for nachos. That adds to our poor air quality.

    SilverRain (18). The problem with being a bridge is that everybody walks all over you. Sometimes you just have to withdraw and take a break. And then you get back to it, because a calling, even thankless and painful, is undeniable.

  39. Cameron N.
    September 15, 2016 at 3:10 am

    SilverRain, Rachel, and Clark:

    We too have been called back to Utah, that which I never would have supposed.

    Having lived 10 miles from La Jolla in a nice but cozy two bedroom apartment for the past 5 years, where our now 4 kids currently share the master bedroom, I really want to live close to downtown Provo, but we yearn for the typical suburban perks we have missed here in San Diego – a yard kids can be banished to, etc. –so I don’t know if downtown will work out.

    It is a really difficult psychological sacrifice even though we love many things about Utah, if not inversions and other cultural quirks. But like others have said, the grass is always greener. Like Alma, we need to reel in our own desires sometimes and be content with what the Lord has allotted to us. I perceive Utah as a necessary challenge and blessing simultaneously, similar to the city of Zarahemla. Zarahemla had its own quirks and unexpected problems, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a necessary part of the Lord’s kingdom.

    What can you say, when you pray in the temple and then read this:

  40. September 15, 2016 at 3:55 am

    Cameron, there are many cool old houses in downtown Provo (the pioneer neighborhoods of Joaquin, Maeser, Dixon, and Franklin) that have yards. Most lots range from .1 to .25 of an acre, but some can be about half of an acre. We love that we’re in walking distance of everything: library, downtown with its shops and restaurants, parks and concerts, BYU, and the Frontrunner (train) station. It’s a very nice, small urban environment.

  41. September 15, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Rachel, you are not kidding about being a bridge. But I’m getting to the point of being okay with being walked on, if people are moving the right direction.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t often need breaks.

  42. Clark Goble
    September 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Wow surprised so many had lived in La Jolla. I was actually born there when it was much more a poor college town while my dad was doing a post-doc at UCSD. However I was only there six months before we moved to Nova Scotia. It’s always funny how small a world it is.

    Rachel, I confess with my kids who’ve already been struggling in school that I fear seminary. I just don’t like how the church does early morning seminary even though I love the idea of seminary. The other danger I worry about but which has thankfully hasn’t been an issue yet is my kids being around Mormons who aren’t living the gospel. Where I grew up people who weren’t seriously Mormon just left. (Not saying that’s a good thing – just noting that in the less dense areas there’s little incentive to stay unless you really believe strongly) When I lived in Utah for a year as a kid (my dad was on Sabbatical) the kids swearing and drinking when only 14 or 15 were also in the teachers quorum leadership. There was that divide between church allegiance and actual belief/practice that was jarring. I still really worry about that when my kids will encounter it. In a certain way being the outsider made one need to figure out ones testimony in a fashion I’m just not sure occurs as much here. In a lot of ways what it means to be a Mormon simply is watered down when everyone is a Mormon. (Which is of course exaggerated – lots of people live around me who are non-Mormon)

    Owen, I suspect that really varies from ward to ward. It seems like every ward has its own character – often determined by just two or three families within it. A single person can go a long way to making things great or bad. (And in saying that I’m implicitly calling myself to repentance to be more involved I suspect) Even the liberal/conservative thing varies a lot. I had a friend who moved to a ward while not downtown fairly close. In his ward the majority were liberal and most of the complaints I hear from liberals about unthinking conservative comments he brought up about liberal comments. And that was in Provo. So I both think Prove has a bit more political diversity than many think (unsurprising considering there’s colleges in the area) and I think liberals tend to behave the same way conservatives do when given the chance. i.e. this is a basic human failing.

    Silver Rain, sorry I was using your comment to address two points. I muddled things up in my comment. I think two big problems are putting on appearances of everything being OK even when you are struggling. That’s pretty common and it’s definitely a problem I struggle with. (I come from a background of doing everything oneself and not asking for help – my wife is constantly dragging me out of those tendencies) I also think putting on a superficial niceness is a potential problem. (I bring that up as that seemed to be the popular topic when I was at BYU)

    But I also have experienced what you note where people judge you in terms of the groups you belong to. Not just non-Mormons judging you as a Mormon based upon kind of unfair expectations. (Charges of hypocrisy or only wanting to associate with Mormons – lots of leaps of judgment when the actual details are almost always more complex) Being in Provo I just don’t encounter that much anymore, but back in my single days I noticed my non-Mormon friends making Mormonism into this toxic batter that never made much sense to me. I think both sides play that up too much when usually people are just people. i.e. never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity (or more often exhaustion and a busy schedule) People wanting to fit you into nice preconceived polarized places is pretty annoying. Again though I think it’s a common human failing. It just manifests differently elsewhere.

  43. September 15, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Rachel, it’s great to know you’ll be back to blogging regularly again! I always enjoy your work.

  44. stephenchardy
    September 15, 2016 at 11:49 am

    What Lois said. She said it better than I did

  45. True Blue
    September 15, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    It is my understanding that Belgians see themselves as supporting each other, as a country. That there will be less othering, less us and them.

    Because of this they are reported to be a happy lot.

    It will be interesting to see if you find this to be true.

  46. GSO
    September 16, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Was at church in a European country talking to three Americans. One lived abroad and one was on vacation. The one on vacation said they were vacationing from Virginia to Europe for the summer. The US expat said, it’s so good to get your kids out if Utah and have them experience life away from there. They’ll be so much better for it.

    I find it wonderfully ironic that the open minded Utah loathing expat was so presumptuous he automatically assumed they were from Utah, but he didn’t even listen to a word said and just judgmentally overwrote the statement in his mind to continue to imagine Utah was just so much better to escape From. Pot meet black kettle.

    And this from a brother in the gospel. It’s pretty shameful. I used to tell people where I was from by including a list of places, which also included Utah and lied to myself that I rattled off the list to accurately reflect my background. Eventually, I was able to admit the truth to myself and started simply just claiming I’m from Utah because there’s frankly no place better to learn the gospel surrounded by good women and men who seek to follow the Lord’s will. Despite its imperfections, Utah laid a foundation for me that when I travel the world and lived in different countries my faith experiences are built in so much more of a profound way.

    I had a first generation convert with 30 years of activity tell me when he’s visited Utah and sits in high priest meetings where rendering service to brothers and sisters in the hospital or in their homes is discussed, he’s filled with longing for that in his country.

    “For all its faults…” is something often said about Utah, but even that is a junk qualifier to appease judgemental, close minded people.

    Talking about leaving Utah in anyway other than to appreciate what you’ve left behind or to bring the light of godly service you’ve learned from the salt is the earth is nothing but words better left unspoken.

    Take pride standing on the shoulders of those who made the desert bloom and reached outward to bless the world while they had nothing. Anyone who lives in Utah and lets the spirit of the gospel distill on their soul is all the better for it.

  47. Chris
    September 17, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I feel you. I’ve spent years in and out of Utah. I love much that Utah has to offer: proximity to mountains, great friends, safe neighborhoods, and an abundance kid-friendly activities. Yet, I inevitably chaffe for some of the perks of urban living, greater diversity, and easy coastal access. I guess that explains why I spent ~8 years in the LA area, then returned to SLC for a time, and now live in NYC. I think we will stay here for a time, though i assume we will make our way back to UT eventually.

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