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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is Starting Over the Great Equalizer?

My husband and I visited Micro Center on Monday to get some advice about a friend's computer. Micro Center is an astonishing place. The variety and extent of their offerings is impressive, only matched by their knowledgeable staff.


We got some startling advice. I'll phrase it the way the associate did. He told us we need to "nuke our computers every year." In effect, he told us to start over. He said to simply back up our files we want to save and return the computer to factory condition by zapping everything it has on it.


I've meticulously kept our computer clean over the years using every utility available to me. But, I know there is simply no way I can remove all the crud or compensate for all the updates and patches that make a computer unwieldy over time. But, start over?


It occurred to me that the early Mormons started over a lot, voluntarily as well as involuntarily. They left their homes to "gather" together. They shifted to Kirtland, Independence, Far West, Nauvoo, Salt Lake and various other places. The history can, and has, filled books.


We tend to look at all this as hardship but it may have had some crucial positive effects.


It obliterated most socio-economic disparities between people and knit them together as a community. I've heard people wonder at how a religion became a culture. I've also puzzled over how Utahans especially lost any cultural and ethnic identities when they came to the western United States. My grandfather was born in Sweden. My mother has no Swedish accent or identifiable Swedish cultural influences. We are wholly Americans and westerners. But, we are overwhelmingly Mormon.


I've lived all over the United States and the old, entrenched families and power structures seem to survive for generations. Tradition has such a hold on people. The only way to overcome their influence is to start over. It seems to be the most effective way that false traditions can be countered.


Elder Richard G. Scott in a moving address in 1998 counseled:

Increasingly the world is being divided into groups of individuals who seek earnestly to preserve their ethnic, cultural, or national heritages. These efforts are generally motivated by sincere appreciation for what forebears have done, often under the most extenuating circumstances. Appreciation for ethnic, cultural, or national heritage can be very wholesome and beneficial, but it can also perpetuate patterns of life that should be set aside by a devoted Latter-day Saint.

He gives some advice on how to implement this. He urges abandonment of any tradition that is "based on forcing others to comply by the power of station often determined by heredity," "encourages the establishment of caste systems," or that "breeds conflict with other cultures."


Material items often serve as a bulwark for all this. Land and heirlooms often take on importance solely because of their age. But isn't valuing any physical item at odds with the gospel of Christ? This holds true whether the item is old or new. We value new items for different reasons than old ones but the reasons are no better.


If we lost all of this and had to start over what would we value? What would we spend our time at? What if we chose to divest ourselves of all this rather than losing it or having it forcefully taken from us? Aren't these moral questions we should constantly ask ourselves before we choose to acquire something or when we choose to retain it?


The hardships the early members of the Church endured allowed them to start over, to value what they should value, to establish correct decisions, to value others using righteous criteria.


Could the Church have been built if people had retained all or most of their material items, tradition, cultures, social standing, etc.? I think the answer is No.


If we start inserting new material items, traditions, cultures, social standing and other things into our lives can the Church continue to grow? I think the answer is also No.

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