Pondering Ponderizing

Pondering Ponderizing October 12, 2015

It has been just over one week since the fateful day that a new word was coined for Mormons everywhere. I’ve been pondering ponderizing. I like the idea. Many of my students have been ponderizing since Devin Durrant introduced the curious, yet very memorable term to the Church. I applaud the intentions of ponderizing and her simple and effective application. I am most interested in the opportunity this provides to explore Mormon culture. I want to briefly consider aspects of that culture and provide four recommendations in this post.

In case you’ve been in a pondercave, here is a brief overview. Devin Durrant, of the General Sunday School Presidency, gave the memorable ponderize talk last week in general conference. The day the talk was given a family member fired up a website to sell merchandise online (and elsewhere) such as ponderize tee-shirts, wrist bands, and so forth. Criticisms immediately flew that the Durrant family was shamelessly looking to profit directly off a general conference talk. These observers were shocked by this attempt to commercialize the spiritual. It smacked of Mormon insider training and priestcraft. Twitter and Facebook went crazy and President Durrant quickly apologized and the website was shut down. Good for him. Collective pardon granted. We’ve all been there in one way or another. Let’s move on taking only the positive and letting everything else just flow under the proverbial bridge of time and experience.
End of story right? Not quite.
Within a few short hours—seemingly before the word ponderize had stopped echoing in the auditorium of the Conference Center–ponderize tee-shirts were available for sale at the BYU Bookstore. This is unfortunate. A General Church officer apologizes for the potential gain he and his family could have garnered and drops the venture only to have BYU pick up the idea and run with it. Bad form.
This is the general back story of ponderize. Ultimately, not that big of a deal, a veritable #firstworldmormonproblems thing. However, what may we learn about Mormon culture from this particular brew-ha-ha? Here are a few things that I want to discuss with my children, and possibly my students if they ask. Consider the following:
1) I’ve heard many exclaim in the last week, “What’s the big deal? Deseret Book does this all the time.” Point noted. But generally speaking, no matter who sells it, you’re dealing with a business and not a religion. Trust accordingly. And no business is beyond the reach of certain misguided components of Mormon culture.
2) Mormons that live in the jello-belt (Rexburg to San Diego) are consistently faced with opportunities to purchase religiously oriented products. Be discriminating. You need not embrace a business culture that sells the sacred salaciously. Is a “ponderize” tee-shirt that problematic? I doubt it. But I hope that my children and students understand that market forces may incentivize business owners or upstarts to cross certain lines of propriety. If that is the case, save your money, walk away and see the writings of Hugh Nibley for additional commentary. Especially Approaching Zion.
3) This is not a problem in Mexico City, Trinidad, or Ivory Coast. So, whatever else may happen with this cultural phenomenon on the Wasatch Front, one need not assume that this is a Church-wide movement to peddle tees. Indeed, it is very possible that the only thing going on with ponderizing in the global church is . . . well, ponderizing! And that is a good thing.
4) Mormon culture does include collusion between the mundane and the sacred. But when you sense that some practice advanced by a Mormon that has crossed a line, don’t judge harshly. Simply vote with your feet and your wallet. Market forces will correct the excessively offensive business enterprises placed before Mormon buyers. More importantly, being judgmental is a far bigger sin than selling a tee-shirt.
These are my general ponderings about ponderizing. Not a big deal but a good opportunity to discuss with family members and friends the power and influence embedded in aspects of Mormon culture. That can be a very valuable conversation regardless of what is silkscreened on the front of the tee-shirt you may be wearing.

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