Saturday, April 11, 2015

Easter Season Disconnect

Easter season produces a very large sense of disconnect between my past and present.  For an idea of the magnitude of the dissonance, take a look this article from the Deseret News.  To sum it up, in the population of Mormon's studied by this BYU professor, Easter observances in the LDS faith around the Utah area where he surveyed are completely dominated by the observance of General Conference.  In terms of how much planning an preparation go into their holidays, the respondents put Easter as 3rd, with Christmas at the top, Thanksgiving second, and then Easter only slightly ahead of the 4th of July.  A minority of the respondents knew what day Easter was on that year, had a thorough familiarity with the events of the New Testament leading up to Easter, and a minority followed specific worship remembrances of the Easter season.  Even when General Conference does not fall on top of Easter, ward level celebrations of Easter only consistently rose to the level of being the subject of talks and hymns during Sacrament meeting.  Specific areas had more local traditions, but it was fairly universal that the lesson materials for the day on Easter were not on the subject of Easter during Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society meetings.  As a church, the celebration gets a few hymns and talks on one day.  Other observances are family or locally based.

In the Episcopal tradition, which preserves much of the traditional structure of Catholicism and is mirrored in many elements by other protestant religions, devotes 44 days (including Sundays which are traditionally not counted) to Lent which prepares for Easter, 7 days to Holy Week which re enacts and focuses Worship on the specific New Testament events leading up to Easter, and 50 days to celebrating Easter afterwards.  Or in other words, 101 days focused on Easter either in preparation for it or in remembrance afterwards.  That is 27% of the entire year, focused on one holiday.  The seasons are marked by many specific celebrations, in particular during Holy Week.

Of course, the LDS belief that all of Christendom is in a state of apostasy doesn't produce much cultural borrowing from other worship traditions- especially anything that looks vaguely Catholic.  Also, the LDS holiday traditions are arguably descended from Puritan dominated New England where the celebration of holidays including Easter and Christmas was discouraged.  Even knowing all of that, transitioning from Easter being something that growing up we occasionally honored with a little bit of candy and deviled dyed eggs to having Easter dominate almost one third of the year is startling.  The rapid swing from the sedate worship during Lent to the intense outbreak of joy on Easter makes a profound effect.

Now that I can start to view my past celebrations of Easter from an outsider perspective, there is a stark contrast.  I can respect that Mormonism wishes to be viewed as part of Christianity and I think it deserves to be considered so- just a branch of it that isn't descended directly from the historical flow of events or historical doctrinal progression.  But now it feels distinctly odd for a Christian religion to share so little in the outbreak of joy that makes up the Easter season.  It feels distinctly odd that crosses are typically considered to be taboo or even sometimes offensive symbols in Mormonism.  It feels odd that the statements of recent religious leaders eclipse the words of Christ in the New Testament in theological significance.  Its hard to say that any of that is right or wrong- its simply a different pattern to express faith that I no longer find meaningful for myself.  But the contrast between my present and my past is especially deep in Easter Season.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Easter

I've never experienced Easter with so much anticipation in my life before.  Though I wouldn't say I managed to fully dive into the participation of the Lent and Holy Week traditions, I was aware they were there and they've driven the themes of worship and devotion at church and somewhat at home for months now.  It will dominate worship for some time yet- Easter is a season in the Episcopal Church, not only a day.

Last night I got home from work to find my wife carried through on my suggestion that we participate in the potluck refreshments for after the services.  She's got an entire walnut bread braid in advanced stages of preparation.  She goes to bed and I finish cooking it.  It's a beautiful creation.  Chatting with my wife I find out a little of gossip of what has been going on at general conference, and I find more when browse the web.  I'm worried.  What negative messages about people like me will be delivered over the pulpit?  Why does someone feel a need to stir the pot by casting dissenting votes to not sustain church leaders?  Sure it probably felt good to them and showed more prominently the weirdness of a vote where a no vote  is not only meaningless to outcomes but also is considered socially inappropriate and probably a violation of covenant obligations.  But, in real terms, other than making people mad it accomplished pretty much nothing.  Will my family think I'm just another "crazy angry person" instead of realizing I'm just me?  Will they even care who or what I am if simple answers are provided to those questions over the pulpit?

Easter Morning arrives.  The church is packed, and the service is practically a burst of joy.  Shouts of Alleluja, energetic singing, a professional organist, and high church liturgy all combine for an experience the like I've experienced no where else in my life.  The contrast of Easter being routinely almost eclipsed by General Conference in Mormonism is strong.  Different faiths, different traditions.  Just being able to remember the disrespectful things I learned to think about other faith tradition's ways of interacting with Christ compared to this massive eruption of Christ centered joy in Easter make it hard to forget the difference.  Looking back, other than the Easter candy I'm not sure my family had much in terms of Easter traditions.  Of course, we weren't big on tradition as a family anyways and, well, General Conference often falls on top of Easter so why would there be?  Easter candy is a tradition that will continue in any case.  Our kids gather Easter eggs outside of the church and we enjoy refreshments.  There is practically a feast going on.  The two loaves of bread we made are completely consumed and the kids stuff themselves on candy.  Friendly church members who don't want to take any of the candy home help out, making sure our kids don't lack for chocolate.

Afterwards at home, we relax some.  I'd forgotten how big of a deal Easter is in our new tradition, so I had forgotten to ask off work in time.  I don't want to go to work.  I don't want to deal with my hyper Mormon coworkers who will be more hyper Mormon than usual because its General Conference time.  Because its tasty, soothing, and helps me feel like I'm putting emotional distance between myself and my hyper mormon judgmental coworkers- I brew up some tea to take to work with me.  Nothing shouts non mormon like a travel coffee mug with yummy tea in it.  Too bad I was in such a hurry to get out the door, I can never get the tea just right when I'm in a hurry and I'm still experimenting with how best to make it.

When I get to work, I push the distance between my hyper mormon co workers and myself even farther apart by going to the back of the room where a little group of mostly non Mormon's hang out.  They won't judge the tea- why would they?  As far as food goes, in this crowd I'm just weird because I only cook with alcohol instead of drinking it.  When I go to the break room, I find someone has turned on General Conference on the large screen TV.  I don't want to listen to General Conference, so I go outside instead.  I'm still worried, what are my parents and family and friends hearing about "people like me" that they'll assume is gospel truth just because someone whose never met me before claims to be able to speak for all the ex mormon's in the world and explain their spiritual characteristics.  How do I stop caring?  I probably never will.  At least not fully.

I wish I were home.  It may be a slow day at work, but working holidays is lame when I'd rather be with my family.  I read some in a devotional book, a lot in a fun book, help customers fix their telecommunications, and get yelled at a few times by customers.  "Hail thee Festival Day" is still ringing in my ears, but Easter at work just doesn't cut it.