Monday, November 14, 2011

Something Lost And Other Thoughts About Sundays And Church

Warning: This post meanders a lot, and I'm not even sure what points I'm really trying to make. You have been advised.

I typically try not to shop on Sundays. Old habits die hard, and growing up in the LDS Church taught me that Sundays were not for shopping. Since I have been excommunicated, I don't necessarily have an obligation to "keep the sabbath day holy," but I still try to. Otherwise, Sunday just becomes like any other day, and I like Sunday to be special.

I do not always succeed in making Sunday very special. For one thing, it is my day off of work, which already makes it special, I suppose, but it also means that a lot of the stuff I'm unable to do because of work gets deferred to that day (i.e. shopping, laundry, errands, etc.). My last theatre gig involved my doing two shows on Sunday, so I would go to church, then do two shows, and then, essentially, my day was over. It didn't feel very special as far as worship goes.

Sunday also happens to be Jonah's day off, so when I am home, we do a lot of our shopping on Sundays or we have date nights. Jonah also doesn't have the same upbringing I had, so Sunday shopping and excursions are not a big deal to him, nor do I expect them to be a big deal to him.

So I admit I have gotten out of practice when it comes to using Sunday as a day of rest and worship. But I do try. I attend my meetings (well, except Priesthood), and I do try to use the day as a day of rest, meditation, and thoughtfulness.

On the other hand, I also try to live my life like that in general, anyway. I believe how you are supposedly supposed to act on Sunday is how you should be acting every day of the week. I think about and pray to God all the time. I often use the time I'm taking public transportation to work on the weekdays as a time to meditate or think about spiritual things. No need to confine that just to Sunday. Just yesterday I was reading the Conference edition of the Ensign. I'm not even four talks in yet (I missed Conference when it was on - that happened to be the weekend Jonah and I were at Disneyland)), but I've enjoyed what I've read. I actually read one of the talks in the back of the Ensign first because I had heard part of it when Elder Uchtdorf spoke at Women's Conference, and I had enjoyed what I heard. (I like Elder Uchtdorf!)

In any case, today was one of those days where I made a conscious, concerted exception to my "try not to shop on Sunday" efforts. A new H&M store barely opened near my mom's house (where I stay when I'm in Utah) at Fashion Place Mall, and I was eager to check it out because I like their clothing and prices, and I was also curious to see if they had any good opening day sale-type stuff going on.

Jonah, who likes to shop much more than I do (and certainly likes clothes-shopping more than I do), first introduced me to H&M. There is one near our home, but I had never been there until he took me. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed shopping there. I liked the clothing styles, I liked the prices, and for once, clothes-shopping actually felt like fun rather than the chore I usually feel it is. I even bought some stuff (this coming from the guy who doesn't buy clothes until they've either shrunk or have tears, rips, or frays, or are so threadbare that wearing them is impossible (and even then, sometimes I don't!)).

Anyway, I drove to the mall, which I don't frequent very much anymore. When I was a boy growing up in my mom and dad's house, Fashion Place Mall was the place to go if I wanted to shop for miscellaneous items. Also, it was (and still is) close enough to walk or ride my bike to, and I remember feeling very grown-up and independent when I was allowed to ride my bike to the mall by myself.

The mall has changed a ton since I was a kid.

Here is a map of the mall in 1973 (two years after I was born, but looking pretty much how I remember it as a kid growing up), and here is how it looks today. These maps don't really give a great visual, but trust me, today's mall is very different from the one I went to as a kid.

Only a handful of stores remain from the ones I knew as a kid. There's still a Sears, which was the main department store I went to for clothes, Spencer Gifts, Schubach Jewelers, See's Candies, Hot Dog On a Stick, and Chuck-a-Rama are the ones I'm aware are still there, although there may be others I've missed.

Some of the stores long since gone include Kinney Shoes, which is wear Mom took me to get shoes; Swiss Colony, where you could often get free samples of various cheeses (which I liked) and deli meats (which I didn't care for as much, usually because it was something gross like salami or pastrami), and if I recall correctly, my brother worked there very briefly (perhaps it was a holiday season job); Waldenbooks, which is one of the stores I frequented most because I loved (and still do love) to read, and if I had spare money, it often went toward the purchase of a book; or a record from Musicland, which I also frequented, saving up my money for all of the Monkees albums or Weird Al Yankovic or Broadway albums; Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor, where the family might go for a special occasion such as a birthday; Smith's Food King, where we sometimes got groceries (although Mom preferred Harmon's) and was nothing like the mega-grocery store it has turned into today (and is, ironically, where my mom now does the majority of her grocery shopping); Skaggs Drugs, where we would get prescriptions filled, hardware, necessities, and if we were lucky, I remember sometimes my dad would stop there on his way home from work and bring each of us kids a candy bar; UA Cinemas, where I would often go see movies (for only $2.00), Hammonds Toys (later K-B Toys took over that spot), where I would hunt for Star Wars action figures; Winchell's Donuts; and Tilt, the local arcade, whose video games would seem archaic by today's standards of technology, but was an enjoyable place to lose a few quarters, although I didn't frequent it too much because I wasn't very good at video games and would rather not waste my money on them when there were records, books, and movies to be purchased.

Typically, we only got See's chocolates around Christmas time. They're still as good as they were when I was a kid. I remember Chuck-a-Rama (a popular buffet in Utah) actually being inside the mall whereas now it's housed in a separate building on the mall grounds. Orange Julius was where we might go to get a hot dog or hamburger after a long day of shopping, and it was housed in its own shop whereas now it's just part of a much larger food court and shares its space with Dairy Queen. I also remember its mascot was a little devil and the backs of the swivel chairs had devil pitchforks on them. Doesn't seem very PC now, but I liked it. Spencer Gifts always had a lot of adult novelty stuff (pretty tame by today's standards), but I sometimes felt dirty or guilty browsing in there, especially since that was where I could often get a peek at scantily-clad men on calendars and posters and such, and this was during the time when my guilt over my homosexuality was at its worst. I always thought the uniforms at Hot Dog on a Stick (which really hasn't changed much) were tacky. Still do.

Back then the parking lot was pretty easy to maneuver and the mall wasn't too crowded (except at Christmas time). There were a lot of shops, but it wasn't overwhelming. Nowadays, the mall seems clogged with cars and shops and restaurants and establishments, all in a space that wasn't originally designed for such growth. The acreage of the original property remains the same, as far as I can tell; it's just that there are more stores and restaurants in that space than there were when I was a kid. There are also vendors lining the centers of all the walkways of the mall, which I don't remember being the case when I was a lad.

According to this Salt Lake Tribune article, Fashion Place Mall is "one of the most successful regional malls in the West — if not in the country." Now there are a Cheesecake Factory, a Crate and Barrel, an H&M (all of which are the only ones in Utah), an Olive Garden, Applebee's, an Apple store, Banana Republic, Macy's, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works (where I happened to work once and happen to know that at the time I worked there, it was one of the best selling branches in the western region), among others.

It's very close to the freeway and easily accessible. It's centrally located in the Salt Lake Valley and is accessible by State Street, a main thoroughfare. Needless to say, it's much more crowded than it was when I was a kid, and it was a pretty popular mall then.

That was a rather long diversion to get to a point, but here we are: since I hadn't really been to the mall in a while, and certainly not on a Sunday in quite some time, I was kind of taken aback by just how crowded the mall was on Sunday. I mean, it was packed, both the parking lot and the mall itself. I guess it was particularly surprising to me because I remember as a kid, the mall was not a busy place on Sunday. In fact, if memory serves correctly (and it may not), there was a time when the mall wasn't even open on Sunday (at least that is my recollection). In fact, it was hard to find too many businesses open on Sunday when I was a youth (at least around my mom's neighborhood).

When I was growing up, there were a lot of active Mormons in my area, and I suppose this is why a lot of businesses were closed on Sundays. People didn't shop on Sunday (at least the Mormons I knew didn't). It just didn't happen frequently.

As I got older, in my early and late teens, more and more businesses seemed to be open on Sundays, and, in fact, there was a time when my family went to Pizza Hut (when you could actually dine in) on Sundays pretty regularly until we decided it probably wasn't a good sabbath activity (although I still maintain it was - they were great family-bonding times for us).

Nowadays, it isn't rare for a good majority of businesses to be open on Sundays, and I feel like we've lost something. I'm not judging Sunday shoppers. I'm really not (heck, I just outed myself as a Sunday shopper), but I do feel the day has become less special, less set apart, as a result of our treating like any other day (and I think there are a lot of Mormon Sunday-shoppers out there). Maybe I'm just nostalgic for the times I had as a kid when Sunday seemed like a special day where we did activities we didn't do any other day of the week and where activities we did on other days simply weren't appropriate for Sundays.

In any case, I was surprised by the crowds I never would have seen at the mall when I was a kid. H&M was quite crowded due to the fact that it just opened. In fact, we had to stand in line, and a security guard let us in a few at a time so as not to clog the store with too many people. I felt like I was standing in line for a ride at Disneyland.

The store was quite crowded, but there was some nice clothing options, and I bought three tops and some nice fashion underwear. I couldn't try the shirts on at the store because the lines for the fitting rooms were too long, and I had a dinner appointment to get to. I asked what their return policy was (30 day return) and said I was going to try the tops on at home. The salesgirl said she didn't blame me. One of the shirts is a keeper (as is the underwear), one is going back, and one I'm still undecided about (I like it, but am not sure I really have the physique to pull it off; plus, it looks better on its own rather than with a tee shirt or undershirt under it, and I sweat a lot in the armpit area, so I would prefer to wear another shirt under it. I'm still mulling it over.) I do hope to go back to H&M when it is less crowded after the opening day excitement has died down somewhat.

Anyway, it was fun to get some new clothes.

I went to church before I went to H&M (kind of ironic, huh?). I still wonder if I'm getting as much out of attending my Mormon ward as I would like, but there are still aspects of it I enjoy. I like Sunday School. I like the instructor. He's always very prepared and gives good lessons. Some of the people in the class annoy me at times, but I like the class itself. The instructor made a comment recently that I really liked: he said, "I can't be running and look over at a swimmer and say, 'Oh, they've got it so much easier than I do' or 'they should be doing what I'm doing.' I can't judge them nor can I say if their efforts are less valid than mine or if their journeys are easier or harder than mine. We're in two completely different places, and I don't know what it's like for them." I just liked the analogy.

Sunday in class we were reading a scripture in James 1:27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." The instructor asked why this would be considered the definition of pure religion, and a brother said something pretty simple, yet struck me in a profound way. He said, "Well, isn't that just a reiteration of the two great commandments, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind' and 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'? If we are keeping ourselves 'unspotted from the world,' aren't we showing our love for our Heavenly Father by keeping his commandments, and aren't we loving our neighbors as ourselves by doing such things as visiting and helping the fatherless, the widows, and afflicted?" It just seemed so simple and obvious, but I'd never thought about the particular scripture in those terms before.

It then got me to thinking about how gay people are sometimes unsupported or aided in their afflictions (and I'm not talking about their attractions being an affliction, but how they are sometimes treated, knowingly and unknowingly, by their brothers and sisters, both in the church and out. It made me think of a quote I read on Neal's Pensieve yesterday, which I hope he doesn't mind my sharing:

What struck me this time around is the way the Lord defined those who were righteous and those who were wicked - the sheep and the goats. Righteousness was not defined by Church attendance, keeping the Word of Wisdom, putting on a great Road Show, wearing a white shirt to Church, or serving in a particular calling. The only criteria for righteousness seemed to be how we served our fellow man. How we loved and cared for those around us. That was it. Likewise, wickedness was defined as a selfish absence of service, caring, or love. The other commandments truly pale in importance compared to this crowning principle of love and service. This was one of those profound moments of realization for me.

And then my thoughts turned to the way many of us MoHos are treated. So many of us hunger and thirst for acceptance..., love, dignity, caring, and equality. So many of us are sick of being persecuted and being imprisoned in closets of anonymity. So many of us are naked and exposed to hate, ridicule, insults and the injustice of our society. How sad it will be - how truly sad - when the parent who casts out his own child simply because he is gay finds out he is actually a goat, and not a sheep after all. How sad, indeed, to discover that you have altogether missed the very essence of Christianity.

I think love is the very essence of Christianity. I think when all is said and done, we will be judged most by how we loved and showed love to our fellow man.

There was a good talk in Sacrament Meeting, too. They were mostly stories, but they were entertaining and interesting.

I've been thinking a lot about something Carol Lynn Pearson said in the Circling the Wagons conference. She said one thing we can do proactively is simply to share our experiences with the Brethren without necessarily being condemning or trying to get them to change doctrine. I've really thought about doing this. I just want to write a nice, but frank letter about things members and leaders in the LDS Church could do to improve relations with their gay brothers and sisters. No doctrinal changes; I get that the Brethren are in a tough position as well with this issue; just suggestions on ways things could be improved. I have to really ponder what I want to say, but I feel it is something I may act on.

One last thought. My old bishop, who's now in charge of facilitating Sunday School proceedings, always asks me after the Sunday School lesson has finished to roll the dry erase board into the room in which it is kept. It is a very small thing. I do not know if he asks me to move it simply because he needs assistance moving it or because he knows I desire to feel more needed in the ward, but I appreciate it. I suspect it is the latter. He has such a heart full of love, and I'm sure he must know that it is hard for me to not participate fully. It's gotten to the point where I now move it without being asked, like it's my job. I like that. It may seem insignificant, but it makes me feel like I have a duty of some kind, and it makes me feel like I have a place in the ward. I'm grateful for it as I am grateful for my fellow ward members who go out of their way to make me feel welcome and loved. And that love and thoughtfulness is precisely why I still go.


Sean said...

Well technically, Sunday is not the sabbath day. And besides, worship, if we are being good christians, doesn't begin or end on Sunday, but can happy anytime, anywhere.

Neal said...


I'm flattered that you would quote me. Anytime...

Gay LDS Actor said...

Totally agree, Sean. I even made that point in the post. And, yes, I know the sabbath is not technically on Sunday, but I was talking about how I viewed the "Sabbath" from a Mormon perspective when I was growing up.

Thanks, Neal

Crisco said...

Now I'm curious exactly where you grew up. I too went to Fashion Place a lot growing up. I lived just south of the 215 and went to high school at Hillcrest. I had a couple of family members who worked at Nordstrom's so I remember the Christmas activities there. I even vaguely remember the movie theaters that were there years ago.
Now I live somewhat near a Fashion Valley mall, and it also has an H&M, Nordstrom's and Cheesecake Factory, but it's much too upscale to have a Sears there. Instead, we have a Neiman Marcus. That mall is always busy any day of the year.

Gay LDS Actor said...

We were probably not too far apart, Crisco. I, too, grew up just south of I-215, and I, too, went to Hillcrest High. I have a sister who worked at Nordstrom's. Funny, huh?

Sara said...

Nice speech, thanks for the link.

Sara said...

...and also, now in the US I really miss the quiet of the sabbath. Things closed, and the race just stopped.