Road trips, especially those made solo, require three staples: abundant snacks, limitless caffeine, and killer tunes. On my recent eleven hour trip back to Utah for summer classes, I was all set in the first two departments, but without a CD player or Ipod hookup, I was music-deprived for a three hour stretch in the lonely California desert.
Scanning through the static, mutant Joshua trees and shiny power lines whizzing by, my distance from civilization left me two deplorable listening choices: silence and Christian talk radio. Seeing as it was the Sabbath, I figured I’d give the preacher a shot, so I settled back in my seat with a cheek full of sunflower seeds to listen to the reasons why evolution comes from the devil.
This was my favorite part. Preacher gets a big “F” for rationality and a million high-fives for alliteration:
[In a charming Southern accent, with flair:]
“The scientists of the world would have you believe we came from mud to man, from protoplasm to personality, from amoeba to animation. But I reject this false teaching, and you should do the same.”
I realize that a Mormon ought to be the last person to call another religion crazy. I mean, Joseph Smith translated the gold plates by looking at glowing rocks inside a hat. But at least we’re not running a museum teaching that Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden with dinosaurs, even though dinosaurs were dead 65 million years before humans existed. And did you know that BYU even runs an archaeology program? (See? See? We’re just like all of you guys! *Nervously sips caffeine-free Diet Coke*).
Seriously though, glowing rocks in a hat. Look it up.]
Zany though this sermon was, the long road got me thinking: so many religions place a relentless emphasis on everything beyond the boundaries of this life. But every day of every life that’s ever been lived took place here, so why do so many religions continually insist that humanity came from and belongs somewhere else?
Mormons are definitely not as hyped about the evolution debate as other Christians, but I think we are guilty of diminishing the here and now in our own way. Rare is the Sacrament talk, Sunday School lesson, or conference address that does not remind us of the Plan of Salvation. It’s an elementary teaching of Mormonism that our lives did not begin and do not end on this earth. Even if I went inactive for the next fifty years, I could draw the Plan of Salvation diagram with my eyes shut.
Easily repeated though it may be, this teaching amounts to much more than some cultural redundancy. We soothe the pain of loss by reminding one another that we and our loved ones will live again. We believe that those deprived of justice in this life will receive it in the next, that the lost will be found, and that the abandoned will be rescued. On this principle hinges the hope and comfort of many sad and forgotten souls. It is a salve for countless grieving hearts.
So now I’ve partially answered my own question: I think the reason so many religions emphasize things before and after this reality is because life as we know it today is very, very difficult.
Yet in our insistence that this life and its pains are “but a small moment” (D&C 121:7), I sometimes wonder if we are diminishing the real, dirty, alive, breathe-in-and-out stuff that we all face every day, everything that happens once we drag our creaky bones out of bed each morning. Do we, in our quest for eternal life, lose sight of life itself?
We are taught that eternal families are the purpose and joy of both this life and the next, but we rarely acknowledge that eternal families are a mortal impossibility for many people. So many are hindered or stopped altogether from forming an eternal family by death, disease, addiction, infertility, divorce, or abandonment. These and other unpredictable events tear many people from the life they have been promised will make them happiest.
Think about all the women who have suffered from infertility, the loss of a child, or tumultuous relationships with their children that sat through benevolently sexist Mother’s Day talks a few weeks ago, all about the wonderful divinity reserved only for mothers. Think about the single folks who hear endless messages on the one-way-ticket to the highest level of eternal glory which they can’t seem to secure for themselves. (Though, in truth, it seems like a lot of those people have decided they don’t want to hear those talks anymore.) Think about the LGBTQ people who are impeded, both by legal systems and their own faith community, from forming a family according to the dictates of their own consciences.
Too much of our faith dialogue neglects and minimizes these common experiences.
Possibly my favorite scripture story is found in John 8. In this chapter, those darn Pharisees are at it again, trying to trick Jesus into stumbling on his own words. They bring him an adulterous woman and ask if he agrees with the Mosaic law that says she should be stoned.
Jesus, ever cool, scratches his pet velociraptor behind the ears** and kneels down, drawing in the dirt “as though he heard them not.”
After what I’m sure was an awkward silence, the Pharisees persist, and Jesus delivers this famous line: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” And then he goes back to writing on the ground.
Christ possessed the extraordinary ability to rise above worldly practices without distancing Himself from his brothers and sisters on the Earth. He transcended all that was wrong with this life, yet He trudged through the same dirt you and I get on our shoes. When righteousness demanded he overcome an unfair law, he did not raise His hands and cry to the heavens. He didn’t scare his naysayers by levitating or calling down lightning and thunder. He knelt down and touched the dirt.
Too many of us find ourselves in a lonely desert with nothing to guide us but detached, insensitive words from people who haven’t a clue what’s in our hearts. As we wander in search of better versions of this world and ourselves, let’s be more mindful of the people next to us. As we reach for heaven, let’s be better at keeping our feet on the ground.
**Details of this scripture story generously provided by the Creation Museum of Petersburg, Kentucky.
Erin is originally from Simi Valley, California and studies international affairs and Arabic at the University of Utah. She loves any combination of writing, movies, politics, friends, and food.