Embodying the Mormon Cultural Turn: A personal reflection

I’ve only been blogging since the beginning of the year but in that time I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of comments from readers.  On a regular basis I get messages from well meaning folk who have questions about my level of observance,  some gently call me to repent, some have  even urged me to leave and become a Unitarian (not that we have Unitarians in New Zealand).  I can often feel the head shaking, the disappointment and the confusion of some readers who have concerns about the state of my testimony.  So, for the record, and  as I pointed out in our ward testimony meeting yesterday, I love my church, but  I love other forms of worship.   I’m a religious junkie, I’m a post-modern incarnation of a new cultural Mormonism.  And here’s what I mean.

Earlier this morning while I waited for the final session of General Conference, I listened to Christian rock musician, Matt Redman’s Endless Halleluja and my spirit soared as I was reminded of Revelation 21, my scriptural talisman – the passage that I go back to as my reason for being.  With tears streaming down my face I felt renewed, full of worship. I was bought back from a place heavy with dogmas, and in a song I had a moment of clarity, anticipating a day where I will see the Lord face to face.

I have the privilege of being the adult gospel doctrine teacher and yesterday we spent 40 minutes on 10 verses in 3Nephi 17, turning every utterance of the Lord over with care and reverence.  It was a sacred time where heart felt testimonies were shared spontaneously as we pondered deeply upon the wonder of Christ and the miracle of the Book of Mormon.

Next week I’ll attend an Anglican service with the  Christchurch Cathedral community  to watch my son sing in the choir.  I expect the sermon will be thoughtful and well crafted, and the music will be flawless.  I anticipate it will provide me with a moment of deep introspection and quietness – as it characteristically does.

I’ve lately been taken with the idea of writing my prayers as practiced by emergent Christian, Phyllis Tickle.  I was so inspired by this idea after I heard it on a recent Mormon Matters podcast that I began immediately-  and it has changed my prayer life.

For some Mormons this may seem like a heresy – that something is  most assuredly amiss in my interfaith preferences.  But let me be clear  – I am not on the  verge of leaving, nor am I in a state of apostasy.  I’m a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I’ve not joined any other church, nor do I have any intention to.  I am a card carrying, serving member of our ward and have a strong commitment to my faith community.  But as a Mormon, in the cultural sense, I choose to language and story my religious experience with new words that adequately captures the breadth of my feeling.  I’ve chosen a Kandinsky instead of a Constable as the backdrop to my spiritual life.   I prefer hermeneutics and exegesis to logocentric reasoning – I just do.  I’m an inbetweener, racially, culturally, socially – a fragmented subject  who has always felt splintered in so many ways  that that garb of the unified, objective, cognitive subject has never been a good fit.

So when people ask me to front up with a language that makes sense in a Mormon orthodoxy in order to assure themselves that I belong – or not, when people question my ‘testimony’  of conventional truths, I have to be honest, I do feel a bit stuck   (try being in my TR interview).  I’m not inclined to talk in modernist terms or to use  an ‘objectivist’ language to   express some knowing , or to make specific claims of universal truth.  To those who need to get a barometer reading of my ‘testimony’ and ask me for clarification, my response is –  ‘Why do you ask?   To those who rail at me for being a Mormon and ask me ‘Why?’ – my unapologetic answer is, ‘Because I choose to’.

The beauty of this place is that it is expansive, it’s freeing and its not bowed down by a myopic discourse that makes sense only within a cultural Mormon orthodoxy.  It makes sense to me in multiple spaces and brings me into numerous conversations with extraordinary people of all faith traditions that lift and  explode through me like a thousand spiritual ecstasies.

Thus, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I choose this faith tradition as a place (notwithstanding its tensions) to practice my faith in Christ for a hundred reasons that involves a hundred miracles,  a hundred painful joys, a hundred instances of transcendence, and a hundred moments of brilliant goodness.   But I embrace  other faith traditions as another  source of wonder, from the incantations of Benedictine monks during their 4am vespers in an empty Chicago church, to  the soul wrenching wonder of thousands of charismatic Christians  who with hands held up  to touch the fingers of God, call down his spirit upon them in song. And for 10,000 reasons – I choose Christ and His gospel, above any cinderblock building, above prophets, presidents, churches, dogmas, regimes, handbooks, programmes – as my home – wherever I find Him.



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  • William Christopher Scott

    Wow. Nicely done. I think you now have another new reader for your blogs.

    • Gina Colvin

      Thank you William Christopher Scott!

  • John

    I am hopeful that this way of thinking about the church and belonging to it will become more accepted. However as I reflect on the dominant discourses of the current church, I always feel a sense of dread in revealing to others my unorthodoxy. I am glad that there are good people that choose every day to embrace the best parts of Mormonism whether they are orthodox believers or not; I have found good people in both camps. It is perhaps the goodness that Mormon faith in action produces that compels me to stay for now. Plus knowing that there are others who feel and think in similar ways as I do. Time will tell if the church will be able to embrace a diversity of belief among its members. In the mean time thanks for getting your voice out there, every little bit helps.

  • Jules

    You rock! Awesome post.

    • Gina Colvin

      And so does Julia Gillard mate! What a gal. She’d make me proud to be Australian today.

  • MormonMama

    This was beautiful. I understand where those who criticize folks like you and I come from. We are liminal, constantly roaming the spaces in between absolutes. That feels dangerous and non-committal to our dear bros and sis who feel charged with defending the kingdom. As they admirally hold down the fort, we just roam around on the battlefield as if there is no war. And perhaps that is exactly the issue–most of us exploring the middle ground, on some level believe there is no war, that the distinctions about who is right about who God is are lines drawn in the sand by humans’ fear of validating difference and that other side has beaitiful truth to teach us as well, truth and beauty we couldnt see as clearly looking nervously to ward off attack or recruit for our team. That is the spiritual backdrop to our ways of viewing our religious landscape that confounds our friends defending the fort. I’d like for there to be a place for all of us.

    • Gina Colvin

      Beautifully said. I foresee that this is the great dilemma facing Mormonism moving forward. How do we share the pew with each other. I so agree with you – but how do we get the orthodox to accept presence of the progressive? How have other faith traditions managed this?

  • Blackie

    ‘I’ve chosen a Kandinsky instead of a Constable as the backdrop to my spiritual life. I prefer hermeneutics and exegesis to logocentric reasoning – I just do’. Of course I have no idea what you are talking about with the big words, but I get the rest of it!! Thanks for speaking so eloquently for those of us who are not so erudite.

    • Gina Colvin

      Haha! You are most welcome. And just a wee tutorial here -logocentric reasoning is mostly interested in finding the truth of a proposition. Hermeneutics and exegesis is about the interpretation of texts. So one approach says -there is a universal truth that can be apprehended and here is the scripture to prove it, the other says – there are multiple readings of this text – what are we to understand from this. Its kind of like the difference between modernity and post-modernity. Modernity proposes that there are fixed universal truths, we just need to listen to the right people or find the right texts and we’ll also know the truth. The post-modern position is that there are a range of interpretations, multiple world-views and conflict, tensions in a world of hybridity. Thus, its near impossible to screw down a single idea as THE only idea which opens us up to all kinds of permutations, colours, and notions which we freely come to, not because we are convinced of its exclusive truth, but because for whatever reason it works for us.

  • http://www.sarainterrupted.blogspot.com Sara Russell

    Gina, the Christchurch Interfaith Society meet on the last Tuesday of the month at the Institute Building on Kirkwood Ave and there are Unitarians there, as well as Baha’i, Brahma Kumaris, Catholics, Jews, Buddists and Mormons. We have been meeting there for the last three years. October we have the Prayer for Peace on Oct 14th at the Peace Bell in the Botanical Gardens so no meeting on the last Tuesday. November is Faith and Modesty in Modern Times. Ive asked the Merivale Young Women to come and talk about how they deal with fashion and faith, join us – 7pm in the large meeting room at Institute Tuesday November 27th.

    • Gina Colvin

      I’ll be there with bells on! Thanks for the invite Sara. I didn’t know we had Unitarian in Christchurch? Well, well – I won’t have a good excuse not go now!

  • William Christopher Scott

    Dear MormonMama:

    I loved your comment! Here’s to those of us who enter….(cue the music from the Rod Serling classic)…


    • Gina Colvin

      Crack up William Christopher Scott! I love liminality – its a drug free buzz.

  • Darren

    “And for 10,000 reasons – I choose Christ and His gospel, above any cinderblock building, above prophets, presidents, churches, dogmas, regimes, handbooks, programmes – as my home – wherever I find Him.”

    That’s a pretty loose use of terms there though I think I have a clear idea of your overall message from reading your post. To me it doesn’t matter much how you come to Christ so long you do. I’ve no doubt as to the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ He being the chief cornerstone of His Church and it being built upon living revelation as well as the priesthood. In the end if you need to come unto the Father through Christ and be lead by tyhe Holy Spirit. If you find that in Christian rock music, the Anglican Church or whatever other venue than so be it. God speed on your journey. May it lead you to absolute truth and unique insights into the everlasting gospel.