Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cultural Bilingualism

One of the advantages I have heard of being bilingual is that each language has its own peculiar way of defining the world and so learning a new language helps you think more flexibly.  I think the same thing can be said of learning to think in more than one cultural language.  I think the first time I discovered this was when I took a tour through the beauty of Le Guin's books, particularly the Hainish Cycle, and started to understand the beauty and possibility of looking at the world from a secular humanist viewpoint.  It didn't mean that I chose not to be religious, but instead of viewing the ideas of humanism with angry suspicion, humanism became another layer of potential and alternate meanings.  I could start to look at many given situations and understand them from both a conservative religious outlook and also from a liberal humanist outlook.  This was by no means a comfortable transition, but it increased the richness of how I saw the world.

Later, I found that I was studying myself right out of the radical conservative extremism I had been brought up in.  Things that had seemed impossible to question about the Mormon brand of Dominion theology politics I had grown up with (the theocratic idea that Jesus did not fulfill the political structures and commands in the Law of Moses and therefore to favored by God government should be changed to reflect the Old Testament) simply failed to work anymore.  I can still understand the value of much of conservative politics and appreciate many of the noble goals involved, but I became more of a centrist liberal.  Maybe if I had gone to a higher quality conservative school I would have been perfectly happy being a more moderate conservative and it is the radicalism that really broke the system for me.  Perhaps knowing this is what keeps me a centrist, I can understand political problems from conservative and liberal mind sets without assuming either one to be completely invalid.

Later, as Mormonism no longer held its meaning for me and I have become an Episcopalian, there is a whole new religious language that I am learning.  There is a whole new vocabulary involved, even when the words are the same the definitions change.  When I discuss Mormonism these days it can feel distinctly odd, I either have to intentionally switch back to speaking in Mormon speak or I end up discussing Mormonism from a religious vocabulary that simply doesn't match.  Even though it hurts to change, I believe I have become a fuller human being from the experience.

Fundamentally changing your sense of self hurts.  Finding that entire aspects of your culture or sub culture no longer accept you and you no longer accept them hurts.  It isn't something you could really wish on anyone.  However, I believe there is a value in that sort of pain.  It can force you to learn the language of a new cultural outlook.  Even if you don't accept that outlook as your own, being able to understand the richness of possibility in the world brings its own humility and sensitivity to the wonder of all that might be.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Growing up LDS I heard a lot of stereotypes about funerals.  About how LDS funerals were very happy because supposedly LDS people felt so secure in their knowledge of the Resurrection.  By contrast all the other religions had super sad funerals because their belief in the Resurrection was defective in some way.  I even once heard it suggested that it was common in other religions that people were in such despair that they became overly dramatic and upset because of this failing.

Growing up it was hard for me to accept these stereotypes as real, because the first funeral I ever attended was a Salvation Army Church funeral where the tragic despair and sadness I had been taught to expect simply wasn't there.  As a little kid I was confused.  I had been told that funerals were sad and that non LDS funerals were sadder.  The people I was seeing were smiling, happy to see each other.  It felt like a family reunion.  As the years have passed it seems the happiest funeral I can remember.

By contrast the first two LDS funerals I ever attended were for people who died young in tragic circumstances.  While I have no doubt as to the faith and belief of the people in these situations, I also observed that they were intensely sad.  Who wouldn't be?  I have attended funerals conducted in at least four, maybe as many as five different religious traditions.  Specifically coming to mind I have been to Salvation Army funeral's with traditional hymns sung along to a brass band, an informal Catholic funeral held with the eulogy structured around the rosary meditations of the mysteries of light, LDS services, a non religious service focused around people coming together and sharing memories of the deceased, and an Episcopalian funeral mass.  Each funeral service is unique, and how happy or sad people are in response is very individual.  Generally each has its own mix of steadfast faith and hope mixed with the very real tragic sense of loss.  Generally I have seen much to honor and little to criticize about most of the funerals I have attended.  It is unfortunate that a lack of interfaith contact allows myths about non LDS funerals to be perpetuated.  If Jesus can weep at the tomb of Lazarus then it is perfectly acceptable for family to be sad at a funeral.  People who are sad are in need of comfort, not judgements about how much their believe in the Resurrection or not.  No matter what someone believes about the after life, their loved one for now is gone.  While of course there is nothing wrong with being attached to your own cultural traditions surrounding funerals, if you find yourself making assumptions about other people, maybe try attending a funeral from another tradition.  From what I have experienced, I expect that if you do it with your eyes open and an open heart, you will come away touched by what you see and feeling more charitable towards people who are different than you.