Tuesday, February 9, 2010


There was only one thing on the wall in the priesthood room of our suburban California chapel. A large poster proclaimed "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood" in bold black letters, with a bullet point for each Purpose to succinctly impress the minds of our young men.

I was still a visitor during my first opening exercises in the new ward when the priesthood brethren arose in unison to recite the Purposes. There we were, young men, new men (who still lived in apartments), and real men alike, all of us pretending not to read off the poster as we recited each way station in the ideal young Mormon man's life. Education, mission, marriage, fatherhood ... an admonition to treat women and children with respect tacked on at the end, rather oddly.

Our bland priesthood room witnessed this little ritual every week, high priests and elders pulling and hoisting up the young men with invisible ropes to the sheltered ledges of BYU, leadership in the mission field, and temple marriage, lest they stray and fall into the abyss. One could imagine that each of the men who had passed at least some of these milestones could, by standing with the young men and giving voice to their Purposes, assure them that these abstract ideals would someday harden into reality and, when they did, difficult decisions would need to be made. A preparatory priesthood, indeed.

The priesthood room hosted gospel doctrine class during the second hour. Once a bedrock sister raised her hand with a comment. "We emphasize education too much to our youth; there's such a thing as too much education with all of these eternal students wasting their time." Surely she couldn't have known that from my seat her outstretched fingertips were silhouetted on the poster just under the sixth Purpose - "OBTAIN as much education as possible."

Our combined priesthood always recited one extra word in addition to what was written on the poster. "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood include:" - include. A hint of ambiguity or perhaps uncertainty. Were these bullet points just a transient power point slide from the church office building, or were they really the living essence of the Aaronic priesthood?

I went out of town for a week and when I came back the little ritual was already gone. At first I thought maybe it was an oversight, but no deacon since then has stood up to lead us in reciting the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. I asked another quorum member what had happened. It seems a member of the Stake Presidency had come through and, apparently, that's just not the way we do things in the church. The poster remains, but the Purposes are silent now.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Temple Apartments

I know that within church any sort of ascetics should generally remain firmly grounded within the normal routines of work and family life - but there is a case to made that we do allow for a voluntarily cloistered lifestyle.

The Los Angeles temple patrons' apartments seems to be converted from a 50s era cinderblock motel - but with new carpet, a piano in every room and gospel art kit pictures on the walls, there is something of a monastic quality about place. It is part of a larger compound with the temple, visitor's center and mission offices, so that food, accomodations, activities, instruction, and religous services can be had entirely on-site. Although theoretically members traveling to the temple can reserve apartments by the night, they are mostly filled with retirees who live there permanently while working in shifts at the temple. It is a place where everyday members can go to renew their dedication to the work by living simpler lives on higher planes.

There is also something sort of lonely about the temple apartments. I recently found myself in one of the unoccupied units, where twilight filtering through yellowed curtains revealed a single bed, a small bookshelf, bare kitchenette with a table for one, and precious little space for clothes or other wordly possessions. An old family friend, "Grandpa" Lewis, has lived in one of these apartments for the past 6 or 7 years, primarily because he simply has no other place to go. He's in his late 80s now and has long been missing most of his teeth, but every morning he wakes at 4:00 to make the short walk past the LA mission office to the temple to prepare for the first sessions of the day. There are a few other activities available to him - he can spend some of his off time volunteering in the family history center ("training every Tuesday night, no experience necessary") and sometimes there are theme nights and socials in the common room, but his early schedule mandates an 8:00 bedtime. During my last visit with him the sound of someone else's grandkids running through the courtyard only heightened the loneliness - Grandpa Lewis doesn't have any of his own.

Once, when the temple closed for extended renovations I almost heard panic in his voice as he pleaded, "What am I going to do?"

They come from all over, though - many of them are more recently retired couples with grandkids who visit, and there is even a luxury motorhome parked in one of the alleyways with a satellite dish perched on top. Still, I wonder how many are just like Grandpa Lewis - giving themselves completely to God because there is noone left on earth to give themselves to.

I'm not sure how this life differs in any meaningful way from other monastic traditions - a regimented schedule, simple meals, careful attention to the divine liturgy.