Trust the Gene Genie

Friday, July 22, 2005

It all comes back to Utah. If you're Mormon, you're going to be connected in someway to the state, whether it's through a relative you have, by a pilgrimage you took or in photos from the temples-of-the-world calendar you have hanging in your kitchen. But when it comes down to it, there are really only two kinds of Mormon -- those born and raised in the Beehive state and those born and raised outside the state.

The distinction comes up here because Becky and I have some friends who have recently decided to move back to Utah. Both were born and raised there and the year they've spent here in Redding is the first time either -- with the obvious exception of Dave's mission -- have lived outside of their hometown. And a year here was all it took to convince them Zion was where they wanted to be.

It highlights the classic tet-a-tet in the Mormon culture. Those who are from Utah seldom leave and if they do, leave to find a way to return to remain in the state permenantly. Those who are Mormon and grew up outside the state -- with the exception of those from Idaho (more on that later) -- at first don't understand the Utah draw and then once they get an inkling of it, resent it and disparage it.

I grew up in Colorado and moved to Utah when I was 16. By that time, I knew the state pretty well. We visited Salt Lake and Provo at least once a year. It's a great place to visit. But it was wierd. Whole cottage industries based on theological tenets of the church existed in the real world there -- like stores specifically designed to outfit missionaries and clothing boutiques which sold all-white suits and dresses. And it all existed in a world that assumed everyone watching TV, walking down the street or reading the newspaper was Mormon.

Obviously, you grow up anywhere else and you know you're different because you're Mormon. In Utah, you grow up knowing you're the same as everyone else. You're high school chemistry teacher makes Relief Society jokes during class. The local news has a Conference watch. As an outsider, you begin to see and think of Utah Mormons as insulated and closed-minded, taking for granted their religion and making it completely commonplace. It was surreal then and it still is today.

So obviously a huge disconnect exists between Utah Mormons and mission field Mormons. As our friends prepare to move, Becky and I argue that they can do more good for the church outside of Utah than in, which I think is the central argument between those who live in and those who live out of the state.

Recently my Skutch ( friends talkedabout who was living in Utah, who was living out of Utah and who was planning to stay and/or return. Of course, everyone but me is either there now or has plans to return in the next five years. The desire to return to Utah, the desire to stay is, second only to the strange commonplace religion-infused culture, the one thing Utah Mormons are attacked for more than anything else.

In a religion that esteems missionary work as one of its three reasons for being, why do so many chose to live in a state that is three-quarters Mormon? In a religion that instructs you to stand out from the crowd, to be a beacon on a hill, why would you want to stay where you're the same as and almost indistinguishable from everyone else? Well, obviously, I have a few ideas.

With our friends who are moving back, as with, I would argue, the vast majority of the state, I believe it's the comfort zone. It's comfortable to live in a place you know, around people with whom you're familiar. It seems everyone wants to live within 15 minutes of their parents. Dave has openly stated that he wants to move back so that he can be mothered by his mom.

For those who never leave, I believe its still the comfort zone issue but mixed with a little ignorance. There's the undeniable sensation when you visit Utah that most people believe nothing exists beyond the borders of thier state.

Now, these are broad generalities, mind you. I knew while I lived there in high school and I know now Utah Mormons who clearly don't fit that mold. But I would argue these people are in the minority. But the point I'm trying to make is simply this: Utah Mormons are abnormal and unhealthy. Hahaha. I jest. No, seriously, more Mormons should spread their influence, prompt some personal growth and live outside the state of Utah. That's all I'm trying to say.


Sherod said...

I must agree with Rob’s assessment of Mormons and Utah. I can still remember the first time I saw a LDS Bookstore when I was a little kid on a family pilgrimage to Provo. I thought to myself that there was no way a bookstore could survive only off of the patronage of Mormons. Then I was taught the fact that most everyone in Utah is LDS. For a young kid, this can be a hard fact to digest and accept. The countless questions of why Mormons all still live in a state that their forefathers pushed handcarts to decades ago. And why people who are not Mormon would want to live with all these non-caffeine drinking weirdoes. I still ask myself these questions each time I visit the beehive state. The little time I lived there when I was a young newlywed was reminiscent of living in a incessant ward party or road show. I couldn't help feeling Closter phobic or just plain out of place.

Raised Mormon in California, I find life with the gentile extremely liberating and fulfilling. I will always love to visit Utah but know that I would never enjoy living there. I receive too much joy talking to people who know nothing about LDS culture or beliefs. The few Utah Mormons I know that continue to live outside their home state are the coolest people I know.

Urpy said...

Hey Sherod, I'm Becky, Rob's wife. It's nice to have another member of the Rob Rogers Blog fan club.

One of my biggest beefs with our friends moving is that Dave is completely leaving his career in accounting to go back to Novell, his college job, because it was the only job he could get. But mostly I'm just mad at them for going because they are really cool and Gennie and I get along really well. I will miss her a lot.

Emily said...

Well, well, if it isn't Rob Rogers. Though I only had a few brief encounters with you I still feel like i know you well through Sherod. This is Sherod's wife, Emily, of course. I was giving a few "right on"'s while reading your post. I really think you guys should come down to visit us sometime and we could have tons of fun. Think about it.

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