The first stop on our road trip was the great city of Salt Lake City. Despite trekking through Utah on a family vacation years and years ago, I had never been to SLC. John had been several times before, as he is a diehard Utah Jazz fan. (Side note: John thought it was weird that I suggested the Portland Trailblazers should be called the Oregon Trailblazers, because when you say “Oregon” the mascot makes more sense. He said that teams are named after cities, not states. I won when I pointed out that the Jazz were in fact not the Salt Lake City Jazz, but the Utah Jazz. On sports trivia: John – 10000, Me – 1).
We arrived late Thursday night, but just in time to met up with John’s dad, who was in town on business, to eat at a tapas restaurant. The menu wasn’t overly IC friendly, but there were a few delicious things I could eat. The best thing that we ordered (and I snuck a bite of) was this lemon butter scallops and pasta. Oh man, even just eating one scallop was heaven. We had some fancy flan type thing (of which the name is escaping me) for dessert, drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with bacon. Amazing.
The next day, we got up, bright eyed and bushy tailed on our first day of break and did homework. We headed over to a Starbucks, and I pounded out a couple more hours on my online public health class. Then to really cement our nerdom, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the Latter-day Saint history museum and temple grounds.
The whole experience was really quite enlightening, and I’m really glad we did it. John was a history major and I was a religious studies major, so I was excited to learn more. The temple grounds were more than just the temple. There is actually several buildings in the complex – a convention center, administrative buildings, an assembly hall, a place for concerts, plus a few museums.
We spent most of our time at the church history museum. I knew the cliff-notes version of Mormonism’s origins (P.S. I know it’s PC to say LDS and not Mormon, but is there a LDS-ism?) but it was nice to have a more full understanding of what happened. For one, I had never really put it together that Joseph Smith’s revelation occurred during the Great Awakening. It always struck me as odd that a religion could take off that fast, but putting it in that historical context made much more sense. Additionally, I had thought that the Smith received the Book of Mormon right off the bat. It was actually about 10 years later. Again, that makes more sense. I can’t picture someone coming out of the woods and saying “I have a new book, let’s found a new religion!” and people going with it. Forming the religion, and then receiving additional scripture makes it more plausible that people would have followed him.
Another interesting piece of the church’s history that we hadn’t realized before is that the LDS started mission work abroad very early in their church’s history. People abroad were recruited to resettle in the Utah area. Again, from a historical perspective, this helps explain how Mormonism became so well established in a predominately Protestant country. At a time when people all over the world were looking to resettle in the US, this would have been a good opportunity. Also, from an anthropological perspective, conversion to the country’s (perceived) dominant religion would aid an immigrants resettlement and acculturation. I’m not questioning the validity of people’s conversions, just recognizing that when you see mass change like this, there is usually social and cultural factors at play in addition to personal ones.
Another thing that fascinated John and I was the abundance of the beehive symbolism.
This was not explained in the museum, as apparently everyone already knew but us. Apparently it refers to a verse in the Book of Mormon, “And they did carry with them deseret, which by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees” (Ether 2:3). The nice sister missionary we spoke to informed us that it was a symbol of hard work and the need for community while venturing into the unknown.
We were told that the Christus statue was a must see, but, being Catholic, I think we were already used to seeing statues of Jesus.
Another thing that we found interesting was that there was no mention of polygamy in the church museum. I realize that this is not a current part of LDS practice, but I thought that since it was a history museum, it would have been addressed. I had been interested in the LDS church’s perspective on the practice during its early history.
The last interesting tidbit was that the early LDS church was very communistic, sharing wealth equally. The same can be said of the early Christian church. At some point, however, the LDS church must have adopted the Protestant work ethic (a theory proposed by Max Weber suggesting that Protestants believed their earthly success was indicative of their heavenly success, and thus Protestants worked hard to gain material wealth. It is a concept that has greatly shaped American mentality and economy). It would be interesting to study when and how the transition took place, but alas, I am out of the religious studies game.
So it was really quite a neat experience and very informative!