The recent patriotic month here in Utah turned my thoughts to the subject of parades and patriotism.
As a resident of Davis County (just north of Salt Lake City) for a number of years, my former wife and I took our children to the Centerville 4th of July parade every year and to the Bountiful Handcart Days parade, which was always a day, or two or three or four, preceding Pioneer Day.
I didnt grow up in Utah, nor did I grow up in the LDS Church. I am from the Midwestern United States, I have a long (non-Mormon) pioneer heritage that extends back hundreds of years in virtually all the original 13 colonies, and prior to converting to Mormonism, I considered myself just as patriotic if not more so as the next person.
Then, I was exposed to a different sort of patriotism during the 10 years I lived in Canada. During those 10 years, I observed that Canadians are, as a general rule, much more reserved than their American cousins. They dont wear their love of country on their sleeve; this is considered by most as a private thing that becomes tawdry when shared with others. And their love of country is, if I may be so bold to assert, a love of a set of values and the society that embraces and shares those values.
Fifteen years ago, we moved to the United States, to Utah. My first experience with a Utah parade was the Centerville Fourth of July parade. This is when I was first introduced to the Utah custom of staking out a position on the parade route with lawn chairs, blankets, ropes, etc., well before the start of the parade. I later witnessed the same thing in Bountiful, which got to be such a competition that people started staking out positions at least two days before the parade. The City finally had to adopt an ordinance that prohibited this practice prior to the morning of the day of the parade.
Then there was the candy that was thrown from floats, causing kids to rush out into the street, scrambling to collect as much as they could. At first, I thought this was fun, but it got to the point where I found the practice demeaning of my children.
Then there were the huge squirt guns fired into the crowd, which Centerville City finally had to ban.
Then there was the overly-showy displays of “patriotism.” It seemed to me that people were in a competition to see who could stand up first when the color guard was at least a block away. This and other practices were very foreign to me. As time passed, I became increasingly disturbed by what I came to view as the “Nazi patriotism” that is evidenced here in Utah by many people.
People made a show of their patriotism, not – so it seemed to me – out of genuine love for their country, but out of an ingrained sense that they not only had to demonstrate their patriotism for others to see, but consciously or unconsciously entered into a competition to be more patriotic than then next person. It got to the point where I was just disgusted by it all and refused, for example, to put my hand over my heart when color guards passed at Cub Scout and Boy Scout events (held at our LDS ward building) or in parades. (Canadians dont do that. When their national anthem is played, they stand with their hands at their sides.)
All of this was very much in evidence at the recent Bountiful Handcart Days parade. I didnt go last year, but I was going to have my kids that day, so I decided to take them, not only because I thought it might be fun for them (not me), but also because I had potentially two sons marching with the Sons of Helaman in the parade (a topic for another post).
Well, the first irritation I faced was trying to find a place for us to sit. It seemed that every square inch of Main Street had been saved, through the spreading of blankets, the setting of chairs or, in a number of cases, cordoning off large sections of grass (particularly the spots that would be shady). But we finally found a place to sit.
Then, more and more people arrived. Even after the parade started, more and more people. We were sitting on a narrow neck of land, and I for one was starting to feel extremely claustrophobic. Then some Boy Scouts came by and handed out American flags to all the children. Then the parade started. I kept waiting to see the Sons of Helaman, but they failed to make an appearance. (It was later that I learned that they were the last entry in the parade.)
Finally, I got to a point where I simply couldnt take it anymore, i.e., that increasingly oppressive atmosphere, and the kids were also ready to go. So we left.
Now, I dont mean to rag on the Handcart Days Parade. But that parade is what stimulated some thought.
For years, I struggled with being a member of the Mormon Church. There were a lot of things I didnt like about it, but I told myself it was the culture I didnt like (particularly that found here in the heart of Zion”), not the doctrine.
A few days ago, the light went on. I was doing some reading about, among other things, the so-called White Horse Prophecy, in which Joseph Smith prophesied that the day would come when the Constitution would be hanging by a thread and the Mormon elders would rush in and save it (and other variations to the same effect). Suddenly, and with great clarity, I realized that many Mormons do consider themselves more patriotic than the next person because they have been taught since infancy that they have a special role to play in the future of America not so much religious America, though there is that, but civic America.
This realization was closely followed by another one: Mormons believe that America has a special role to play in the world, particularly in the future of the world. Mind, there has always been an element of this in the American psyche ever since the Puritans arrived, and it is this element which is perceived as arrogance by the vast majority of the rest of the world among others, that makes so many people in other nations refer to the ugly American.
But the point I want to get to is that it is the doctrines of the Church that have directly contributed to the culture of the Church. I chose for many years to believe that the culture of the Church was what alienated me, all the while tenaciously clinging to the doctrine. Now, I know better.
And, by the way, I dont intend to attend any more parades (Pride parades excepted).
*NOTE: This is my maiden post after a long period of not blogging. For any readers (which would be most) not familiar with me and my story, I was an orthodox Mormon, married with children, until Boyd K. Packer’s October 2010 Conference address, which blasted me out of the closet. I am no longer an orthodox Mormon or married, though I still have children – and a partner with whom I am finding fulfillment as a gay man.