happy people

The hubby and I have lived a lot of places during our marriage. Before that, we were both raised in nomadic, wandering families who chased jobs, endlessly trying to pull themselves into middle class life. Some years were up, and some were down.

That same theme has continued into our married life. We have moved for very specific reasons that weren’t always directly about money but were constant attempts at chasing educational and life opportunities for ourselves and our children.

Thank goodness we live in America and have the freedom to “move on up, to the de-luxe apartment in the sky” (reference nod to “The Jeffersons” a 1970′s tv classic about class distinctions. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dr_Wxse8Z0)

As a result of our life wanderings, we have had the opportunity to live in all kinds of wards and stakes. We have lived in urban wards, suburban wards, rural wards, student wards, and everything in-between. We’ve gotten around.

I’ve noticed an interesting thing about how our church is organized. Since we attend meetings within geographic boundaries, wards and stakes are very much groups of ‘like’ people. Rich parts of town create wards of wealth. Poor neighborhoods create wards of poverty. It used to be a big deal. The wards with money had nice buildings to meet in and fat activity budgets. The poorer wards limped along, making due with what they had.

Since the church has reorganized how money is handled, the dividing lines between poor wards and rich wards has softened. There is more parity in monies spent in each area and ward. That is a good thing.

What I have also noticed is that class (meaning financial) distinctions between wards effects more than how much money is allocated for girls camp. It creates differences in life experiences, attitudes toward others and worship styles.

In upper-class wards made up of typically 100% white, professional families, there was an emphasis on following the rules. Most talks were about modesty, the words of wisdom, gaining the most education possible, pornography, the standards of youth, the appearance of our houses, and the importance of self-discipline.

In poor wards, we didn’t hear about the rules so much. Most people (including church leadership) talked about leaning on Christ during hard times, the importance of paying tithing to ‘open the windows of heaven’ and the value of the widow’s mite. The messages were decidedly soft on hard and fast rules. There were a lot talks about turning your troubles over to Jesus.

When the ward is made up of single parents, poor elderly people and minimum wage workers, there isn’t much need for discussion about the impropriety of wearing flip flops to church or the importance of not over scheduling children’s life’s with non-church related activities.

There was a need for sharing miracles that came from desperate prayers reaching out to Heavenly Father in times of real crisis. Some of the most inspirational testimonies I have ever heard in my life came from families living in little more than run-down shacks. They were living close to the Spirit because they recognized they needed it to survive. Very different motivation than the people in wealthier wards who had never known the worry of unpaid bills.

Boys in upper class wards would never be allowed to pass the sacrament unless they had a white shirt and tie. In poorer wards, they were grateful to have young men in any colored shirt with a tie. Unimportant cultural rules were often ignored in poorer wards.

The women in poorer wards spoke their minds in meetings, directly disagreeing with men on points of doctrine. It probably helped that there were always twice as many women in meetings than men. They also spoke openly about their troubles and truly leaned on each other in during trials. During Fast and Testimony meetings they asked the ward to pray for them and their loved ones.

That was in direct contrast to the temperament of one upper class ward we lived in. I overheard the Relief Society Presidency discussing what to do about a sister who was going through a traumatic divorce. She kept talking about her pain and weeping through the Relief Society lessons. It was making them uncomfortable and they felt she was bringing down the spirit. They decided the solution to the weeping sister problem was to give her the name of one of their therapist and suggest she seek private help. Shortly after, I noticed the weeping sister never talked in RS again.

The public school district we currently live in is struggling with class diversity. Like most schools in America, there are a handful of very high achieving schools with very low poverty rates, and a handful of very low achieving schools with high poverty rates. There is a recognition that the problem is bigger than just money. It is class attitudes about education and life struggles that are blocking the way of children getting their needs met. The school board is struggling how to solve the problem of cultural isolation. It is a difficult, emotional topic for adults to wrestle with.

I see the same struggles in how we preach, teach and live the gospel. What seems critical in a ward of financial privilege isn’t even on the radar screen in poor wards. If the disparity is evident in America, imagine how big the gap is between being a Mormon in the shelter of the Utah mountains vs. being a Mormon in a village in Guatemala.

I now understand why my husband loved his church mission in the poorest sections of Central Mexico. He found a purity of heart and honest searching for the comfort of God that doesn’t exist in lands of plenty. He had a hard time transitioning back to life in America after his mission. We are all overfed, whiny people who have no clue what real suffering is.

I have the same feelings every time we move from the poor side back to the rich side of town. The life saving, important principles of the gospel come into clear focus when you have no other option.