pioneer children

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July 25, 2012 by jooshanoosh

Yesterday was Pioneer Day in Utah, which is a local holiday where we shoot off fireworks and think about dysentery and sagebrush. In my neighborhood, the primary children dressed up like pioneers and paraded around on bikes and scooters. As a counselor in the bishopric, I marched alongside my fellow counselor Rob Duncan on some fake styrofoam horses we borrowed from UVU. It was fun and we got otter pops! I realized, somewhere along the “parade route” that this was the first 24th I’ve celebrated in Utah since 2004. In 2005 I was at a Steppenwolf intensive and every year after that I’ve been in England or France. So it was good to be back!

Maybe being home on the 24th this year made me a little more introspective, or maybe I’ve just got a bad case of ancestral voices, but I felt very proud to be the son of pioneers this year. My people came to the States from England, Scotland, and Norway, and they marched their little families across the plains in covered wagons. I don’t know how they did it. I get grouchy when my kids ask me to drive them to Seven Peaks. I can’t imagine rolling across thousands of miles of dangerous terrain with a few bags of wheat and a rocking chair. As Mormons, we do “pioneer treks” where we try to recreate the experience, but I still don’t think we get the full picture of what it was like. Even shooting my freezing, miserable scene in 17 Miracles (I was the bearded Scotsman. My daughter dies, then revives) was probably only an indication of what these people went through. We’ll probably never know. But I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of who I am because of them.

When I was six or seven we lived in Northern California and my mom started me on the sacrament meeting circuit singing “A Mormon Boy.” This is a little song where a boy, preferably Mormon, sings about what it’s like to be him. I had a nice soprano voice and I wasn’t afraid to sing in the microphone. It wasn’t that I needed attention. I don’t remember loving it up there, but I did what I was asked, and I wasn’t really nervous about it. I sang it for my ward, and then for a few wards after that. I enjoyed a brief stake celebrity after that; I was the Mormon boy! I can still sing it, though no longer as a soprano.

But I’m still a Mormon boy. I’m still in this church. I have many friends who have left the church. I understand their reasons why and I would never judge them or stop being friends with them over faith. I love them too much. And as long as they respect my decision to stay, we remain close, great friends. I also have many friends who are not, and have never been, members of the church. I would never push my faith on them. It’s not my style. Because of this my mission was a challenge for me, though I gave it my best shot. I guess I just believe in this quote from Madeleine L’Engle (a great writer, and not a Mormon)

“We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”

I don’t have plans to leave the church. Ever. I’ve been told that I’m “too smart” for the church, or that I “don’t fit” the culture of it. Maybe I don’t. I am not the perfect Mormon by any stretch. And I’m not that smart. But I love what this organization teaches me about Christlike love and service, and I appreciate how it teaches my kids that there is a world of need out there that they can fill. My kids are learning to live beyond themselves, and I love that. I have a great life; not flawless, and not immune from problems. But I would be a liar if I didn’t confess that so much of this happiness is derived from my membership in the Church of Jesus of Latter Days, from my pioneer heritage, and from being, against all odds, a Mormon boy.

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