The Church of Dances of Latter-Day Basketball
Recently my sister Kjersti shared with my family an article written by LDS author Orson Scott Card titled “Holding on to the ‘others'” that I found quite insightful. The article is definitely worth a read, but for those who want a summary, it basically states that in Mormon culture those who excel at sports are traditionally celebrated, while those who are bookish or artistic are usually put off to the side and ostracized, and that’s a real problem. I had a few choice comments about it, many of which I want to share with you here.
What the article really makes me think of was back to the time when I was Elder’s Quorum President in one of my BYU wards. We were trying to reach out to the less-active members of the quorum, and I noted that a lot of them liked playing video games. So I proposed having an EQ activity where we’d have a Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart tournament in the courtyard of our apartment complex, projected up on a big screen. Since it was right next to people’s apartments it would take little effort for those who live in seclusion to join the party, and it would be a nice change from the sports and/or date nights that formed the basis of every other activity we ever had.
When I brought it up in a ward council meeting, however, I received vehement opposition to the idea. Not from the bishopric, who gave me their full support, but from other girls in the meeting (I don’t even remember what auxiliaries they belonged to) who literally stood up and started yelling (well, speaking loudly anyway) about how that was a terrible idea! Video games are evil! Anyone who plays video games is forcing themselves to be alienated from society! They just need to start coming to those sporting events and date nights if they ever want to learn how to function in the church! If the ward holds a function with video games we might as well be telling those sinners that we fully embrace their corruption!
I was totally flabbergasted. They were so passionate that this was a bad idea that it was like I had suggested that we reach out to inactives by holding an orgy. How could such blatant, short-sighted bigotry exist in the Church? True, an obsession with playing video games can be a detriment to a person, but so can an obsession with almost anything (Church Ball, anyone?). But for a person to suggest that the Church would be better off not reaching out to less-actives in a way that they’d respond, rather than plan an activity that wasn’t a common one in the LDS culture? Yet this sentiment, while not always so loudly and obviously expressed, is very alive and well within the Church.
This is one reason why I’m finding it tough to remain active these days, at least on days other than Sunday. I know the gospel is true, and I’ll defend it to the end of my days, but I’ll be darned if I can find someone in any of my recent wards to whom I can relate. Life isn’t carving pumpkins, playing volleyball, baking bread and going to awkward church dances! I love the gospel too much to go totally inactive, but the social aspect is making it harder and harder these days. Maybe it’s the ward? But I haven’t felt comfortable in a ward since at least 2008, both including times I’ve moved and times where the semester change-over cleared out large chunks of wards, in effect making them different animals. It’s saying something that the most interaction I’ve had with people in my current ward has been with the bishop’s wife. It’s also saying something that the only time I’ve felt entirely at ease with a group of other people this year has been when I was on a cruise and hanging out with my cousin Katrina’s wacky friends who were progressively getting more drunk as the night went on. (I don’t quite know what it’s saying, but it’s saying something.) True, I don’t really want to live the lifestyle they live, but it was really nice to be able to be myself without having to worry about social rules that I’ve never quite grasped yet am expected to follow at church activities.
Speaking of which, Kjersti also recently shared an article detailing how the Church can reach out to singles better. While many points I would make about that particular article I’ve already made before, I think that really, these two problems are related. It falls under one umbrella: people don’t know how to treat people that are different. And often it has to do more with who’s in authority than with any particular side. There have been times where I felt like an outcast because I knew about football in social situations where everyone else was making fun of it. It’s just that right now, more often than not, those in charge in the Church, at least on a local level, are more likely to be sports fans than academics or artistic folks. And it’s definitely true that most of the people in charge in the Church are married (since it’s a requirement for a lot of positions, such as bishop). It’s simple human tendency to listen to those they agree with and discount the other side as ignorant.
I had that point driven home for me recently when I responded to a review by an semi-famous Internet reviewer. In high school he played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering, but by doing so was ostracized by the public at large and often had to play these “devil games” (which are actually quite harmless) in secret. The reason I felt I had to respond personally to this was that he grew up in Mesa, AZ, and a large group of the people either shunning him or trying to convert him from his evil D&D playing ways, were members of the LDS faith. I posted a comment trying to explain and apologize for the situation, but had it pointed out to me that it wasn’t anything uniquely Mormon, but more human nature for people to ignore or preach at anybody they didn’t understand.
It all boils down to pride. One person or group is in charge, so their preferences are right and they have to make everyone else see that. Or one person or group isn’t in charge, so they feel resentful at the group that is, and especially at whatever that group likes or represents, however benign that thing may be. Heaven knows I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’d care to admit. Would I be happier if every week the Church had activities based on video games, or theater, or intellectual discussions, or even tabletop RPGs? Probably, but then the sports fans would be grumbling about all the accolades heaped upon the “drama freaks.” It’s finding that elusive equilibrium that has proved to be difficult: where we all can come together, united in purpose. I don’t know if that will ever happen. Even the Lord lost a third of the host of heaven because they disagreed. What hope do we have of being all-inclusive?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t try. While we can’t include everybody, we certainly can try to include as many as we can. That was my purpose behind the video game activity in Elders’ Quorum those years ago. I didn’t force those people who were opposed to the activity to come. I do think that leaders both in and out of the Church need to be more cognizant of different groups and their interests & accomplishments. I do think that the current emphasis on sports is waay out of proportion. Even in sports there’s an imbalance toward basketball and football (did you hear about the amazing performance of the local lacrosse team? Me neither). And I do think that, as a body, the Church needs to provide as many different opportunities for different groups to do what they love, even if it’s not the norm.
In short, I hate dances and playing basketball! Give me somewhere else to meet people, please, singles’ wards!
And, as a coda, the Mario Kart activity succeeded quite well. A lot of guys came that I’d never even seen before, and while many of them just as quickly sunk back into the shadows, a few started coming to other activities as well. Even some of the girls that otherwise would have been making bread or something at a Relief Society activity snuck out early to join in. (That actually became a running gag in the ward: on nights where the Relief Society had an activity the elders would plan one as well, and there were quite a few girls who would prefer our activity to theirs. Like when the girls were all going on a campout somewhere and so the guys planned to watch the manliest movie that we could get away with and still call it a Church activity, which ended up being Rocky, for some reason. Some of the girls ditched the campout because they wanted to watch Rocky instead of being in a canyon somewhere with a bunch of other girls.)