if mormonism was a house
Late night ramblings from Hannah Wheelwright
If Mormonism was a house, it would be huge. I like to imagine it as an enormous building on a pleasant, quiet suburban street, with flowerbeds and young trees growing out front, and perhaps a sprinkler sputtering around in circles.
I imagine that everyone who identifies as Mormon lives in this Mormon house. Most of them were raised in the house, but many have walked through the front door, or climbed through an open window, and most of them love living there.
It is a creaky old house, and yet it also contains new additions. Some parts of it smell like the early 1800s (there is debate over whether this is a good or bad thing), while others have been either remodeled or newly added, and they add to the character of the house as a whole. Some people do not agree with the additions, while others clamor for more to be added.
Some people enter or are raised in the house and discover a beautiful back bedroom, with a mesmerizing stained glass window or spectacular artwork on the wall. The beauty and intrinsic knowledge conveyed in those pieces entrances them and entices them to sit and always stay in that one room. Other people wander around the house, chatting and finding beauty in all the people and rooms they encounter. Still others wander and find beauty, but also yearn for more. They are confused by some questions raised by the order and contents of the house, but don’t know where to go for answers. Some are content to stay despite or because of their questions- others are not.
The walls are lined with bookshelves where they are not covered with paintings and children’s drawings. Some rooms have high ceilings that inspire reflection and solitude, while other rooms have chalkboards for walls and are strewn with children’s toys, with knitted covers on the doorknobs to stop children from escaping into the hallway unattended.
Some people are very happy with the jobs they take on in this house- some love doing all the cooking, some all the cleaning, and others enjoy directing the traffic. Just like in a big family, others are not so pleased with the division of labor, but they believe in the community and are content to participate as directed for now. An industrious nature pervades the house.
The kitchen is constantly exploding with activity, churning out casseroles and pot roasts, jello and mashed potatoes, cakes and brownies, canned peas and assorted meals made from the wheat in the house’s basement food storage. A tv in a corner rotates between playing Feature Films for Families movies, Family Home Evening short films, and Saturday’s Warrior.
Some parts of the house seem to operate very differently than others. The leader of the house and his many counselors attempt to lead all the parts as best they can, but with such a big house and so many different jobs going on, they sometimes fall short. They, as well as all the inhabitants of the house, rely on a common faith in Heavenly Parents (though many inhabitants do not remember or recognize their Heavenly Mother).
When the people gather to worship and learn from one another, there is often rejoicing as well as misunderstandings. Some find it easy to laugh off and forgive harsh judgments and conflicts, while others become hurt and struggle to feel included. For every book or painting that one person can refer to in order to prove their point, another person can find another book or painting to prove the opposite. Such a rich and diverse history and culture in the house helps some people feel more at home, while others feel uneasy.
Some people stand in the living room, face pressed to the glass, as they gaze out the window at the world outside the Mormon house. They wonder, they seek, and they ache to know what answers exist to their questions. Some are tired of searching in all the cracks and crevices of the house for answers, and some have found such ugly and heart-wrenching things in the corners, attic, and basement that they struggle to remain in the Mormon house. Often their loved ones sit in comfortable armchairs right beside them, holding their hand, softly singing the stirring hymns and crooning for them to stay.
Not everyone is happy in the Mormon house. Many people hide their unhappiness by serving more, or by hiding themselves away in a corner, hoping no one will notice their pain. The many staircases and winding hallways in the house allow for people to explore and seek refuge, but they also provide little protection from the sometimes rude or dismissive yet often unintended attitudes of other inhabitants, as well as the history and unwelcome truths lingering in the shadows.
More often than many people in the house realize, someone cannot take it anymore, and they run out the front door of the Mormon house. Sometimes they are in tears, sometimes they are angry, and sometimes they walk calmly and collectedly as they depart. Many people who leave the Mormon house settle down happily and comfortably in houses next door or across the street- sometimes in the Community of Christ house, sometimes in the Methodist or Baptist houses or in other Christian houses, and sometimes in houses not dedicated to a deity-believing community. Some people in the house wander in and out, sometimes in the same day and sometimes over many years, appreciating the opportunity to learn from outside but always returning to the big, Mormon house.
Other people who leave stand outside, face pressed to the glass of those same living room windows, yearning to be on the inside but unable to bring themselves to fully enter, oftentimes haunted or warned away by the dark shadows of history and underlying problems that exist in the house. Still others have set up residences elsewhere, but can’t stop themselves from sometimes strolling past the Mormon house to peer in the window and check on their dear ones inside.
There is certain lingo that most people in the house use: when they pray, they ask God to “nourish and strengthen” their bodies. They speak of eight-cow wives, declare things “with every fiber of my being;” they speak of enduring to the end, strong pioneer stock, and they say things such as “tight like unto a dish.” When someone enters the house who uses different jargon, it is clear that they are different.
Some people who have left do not feel that they left on their own; they feel that others in the house pushed them or forced them out. They look at the Mormon house when they pass it with longing and anger and regret. There are some who stand in the doorway and at the windows calling out to them to return; some call out to remind the others of the beauties and truths contained in the house, while others call out “We need you! We need you!” For those who return, being back in the Mormon house is never the same.
Sometimes in the Mormon house, someone disagrees with the leader and his many counselors. Many in the house clamor for that person to leave and find another house rather than speak up about her or his disagreement. But oftentimes that person clings to the beauties and truths they have discovered in that house, not only on its walls and in its inhabitants, but in its very foundation, and they struggle to know what to do.
In that struggle, many people reach out to others in the house, asking for other perspectives and thoughtful dialogue about their concerns. In some parts of the house, such dialogue carries on happily and respectfully. In other parts of the house, such inquiries are met with disdain and revulsion.
There is room for everyone in the Mormon house- the nature of the building, its people, and its make-up encourage all who enter to stay and find a place. But there are also many reasons to leave.
In some parts of the house, most people focus their discussions on modesty, tithing, and keeping the Sabbath day holy. In other parts of the house, most people spend their time teaching each other about and reflecting on the doctrine of Christ and conversion. Still other parts spend all available time serving those in their midst who need help, and do not spend very much time talking.
But despite the internal politics and ongoing changing and morphing of culture within the house, it remains fundamentally the same. The inhabitants still look up to and worship God. There are always hymns trickling throughout the house, always people singing as they work. There are always small children running from place to place, giggling and smiling and being tossed in the air by their loved ones. There is almost always an awareness of needs, as well as compassion and love extended to those who are suffering. There is always reverence for loving Heavenly Parents.
And the door is always open.
15 Responses to “if mormonism was a house”
Sounds like the basis for a great short story.
Hannah, I definitely enjoyed this post. It’s well written and does a lot to portray Mormonism as an inclusive community. In order to complete the analogy, we should recognize that the reason the dust in the corners blows minds is because the leader of the house led everyone to believe that this was the only house in the world without dirt. In fact, it’s about as dirty as any other house, even if it’s got some other cool features. Many of these people leave because they are looking not for a house without dirt but for a house that doesn’t lie about its dirt.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ryan. I would point out that for some people, it’s not just that the dirt has been swept under the rug- it’s that there are mountains of feces and garbage sitting in some rooms or lining some of the floors that are being covered up. (It’s not just that it’s being covered up- for some people, it’s that it exists at all.) There are people who don’t care that the church has sort of whitewashed its history in many respects- the fact that the things happened that the church would want to whitewash are enough to leave over. Hopefully that makes sense. I’m trying to say that not everyone would have been okay with the dirt had they known about it. But I hadn’t thought of this dirt analogy and I really like it, so thanks for pointing it out 🙂 I love that there are so many different ways to extend and develop this allegory.
Haha! Very true. I admit: finding out that there was filth in the house was a shock for me at first. I had always thought that is was a perfectly clean palace. Now that I’m sure that there’s a lot of dirt and I suspect that every house has its own dirt, I’m trying to figure out not only how much dirt I can tolerate, but how much honesty I need from the dirt sweepers.
And I do have to admit that while I have reservations about allegory, this one is very entertaining and does an extraordinary job of capturing the realities of Mormonism. Thanks a lot!
You should submit this to Sunstone.
Beautiful post. The only thing I find truly out of place is the “with every fiber of my being” comment. Perhaps you’ll find it as humorous as I do.
When I was in the MTC, one of the things we were taught was “what not to say.” I specifically remember our manual stating that we shouldn’t use phrases like “with every fiber of my being” because people outside the Church might not understand them. I pondered this heavily. In the first 16 years of my life, the only thing I knew about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was that it made dorky commercials that my friends and I loved to mock. Yet, the phrase “with every fiber of my being” was one commonly used in almost every facet of my life. There was only one exception: at church.
Try as I might, I couldn’t think of a single time I’d heard a Latter-day Saint use that phrase, even though it was quite common among everyone else I knew. From that day to this, I have listened for it. Though I’ve moved several times, attended many congregations in several different states, still I listen. And in 18 years, I have only heard it once—except for outside the Church.
Guess that missionary manual was a bit too effective, huh?
Thanks for your thoughts, Jeff. I’m sure there are aspects of this that don’t resonate with some people- I never saw Saturday’s Warrior till I got to college, so that part doesn’t resonate with me personally, but I know it does with many other people, so I still included it. Similarly, I’m sure many people aren’t familiar with or don’t hear regularly the phrases I mentioned in that paragraph, but enough people can identify with each one (I think) that I found them worth including. I’d never heard of people being told not to say “with every fiber of my being” – that’s interesting. Thanks for sharing!
Hannah, this is beautiful. I also think that you could get this published.
Totally! Love this. “The house I live in” is always how I explain Mormonism…. just like the Paul Robeson song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5n6mGt8dE0 The House I Live In (covered here by John Legend).
Kate- this post was inspired by you saying that Mormonism is the house you live in 🙂
Esssspecially the people… that’s Mormonism to meeeee.
Those were the most honest words I’ve ever heard about mormonism. I didn’t think anything could make me feel nostalgic for my momon childhood. Well done. Really, very beautiful.
[…] I wrote a post called “If Mormonism Was a House.” I had been thinking about this allegory and found it to be helpful as I navigate my own faith […]
The nourish and strengthen comment gave me a chuckle.