I found the blog on “Is the church Fragile and Anti-Fragile” quite interesting. Only a few hours after reading this I happen to listen to a podcast from MormonDiscussionPodcast with Bill Reel and “Radio Free Mormon” where they discussed thoughts from the April 2017 General Conference (part 1 and part 2).
They did take a bit of a critical stance on several talks and themes and even received a few comments saying they were too disparaging, but I will leave it up to each person to make up their own mind on that issue. They did look into Elder Mark A. Bragg’s depiction of a fire in a stake center in California that seems a bit embellished when looking into the details.
But the one other story told in conference that they dug even a bit deeper on was on in Elder Gary E. Stevenson’s talk. This “miracle” story was about a mission president in Japan being inspired before the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in 2011 to invite more than the normal set of missionaries inland for a conference, thus saving them from dealing with the tsunami. I can say that I was inspired by the story and to me it was clear that all his missionaries were saved from the tsunami due to his heading this prompting. Elder Stevenson’s said:
President and Sister Tateoka and all missionaries were safely assembled. They were out of harm’s way and miles from the devastation of the tsunami and the nuclear fallout.” (emphasis added)
In the podcast they dig in a bit and show how it looks like this rendition of the story paints an image that goes beyond what actually happened. I am not going into all the details they bring up, (if you are interested you can listen to it in part 2 @ 1:06:30) but they find a detailed letter from the mission president posted on the mission page. What this letter describes is 2 Elders a bit more north are trapped in an evacuation shelter and they even had to move to the second floor due to the bottom floor being flooded by the tsunami. There were then 2 sister missionaries initially called in as safe, but it was 4 more days before any more contact could be made with them. Other missionaries were trapped for 20 hours in a chapel by the tsunami. Just 24 hours of the earthquake the mission president was able to locate 30 of the 72 missionaries and sounds like it wasn’t until about 4 days later that everyone was fully accounted for – which is understandable given the devastation and disruption of communications. Oh how I feel for the parents AND this mission president having to deal with that and so glad that all the missionaries in the end were not seriously hurt in any way.
On the podcast they do mention that in the talk some words at the start of the story talks about how not ALL the mission was invited, but the story from that point on seems to use words that paint a picture that all the mission was saved from having to deal with the tsunami. That depiction does not seem to line up with reality.
Which would bring one to ask why this story is depicted as it is? One explanation could be that Elder Stevenson received this 3rd or 4th hand, but he was the Area President at the time and you would assume he knew what was going on the first days of the disaster. Another explanation is that telling it just like it is does not make it as miraculous as leaving the impression that the entire mission is spared.
I am not the first person to mention that some people are leaving the church when they encounter less than perfect issues with church history and leaders. In my opinion this is because the church, both leaders and much of the membership, paint a picture that everything is faith promoting and near perfect. It has even been described as “whitewashing” of church history and some leaders have been on record saying such. The miraculous history of the church is put so high on a pedestal that when that gets much of a bump, things can come tumbling down rather quickly. The higher the pedestal the more at risk it is for a tumble.
Even if I give Elder Stevenson a pass and assume this is made up, I feel I am seeing modern day white-washing occurring right before my eyes. Even if it was 100% innocent, the story has been given from the pulpit in General Conference and short of a correction/ clarification being made (which is very rare) the story will live on.
So why is it that there is such pressure to paint a perfect picture of the church? For some I think is due to insecurity and people attempting to get rid of that insecurity. We all would rather feel like we are doing what is right and being sure of it. So I would certainly chalk up some of the whitewashing as being motivated by this insecurity. This is in no way limited to just those in the church and can be found most everywhere. Also we all occasionally exaggerate things to bring attention to ourselves and make ourselves look better (see Paul H. Dunn) I am sure I have done it often. Also, our memories can change as we recount them over and over. We have all heard the saying about how the fish that got away grows bigger each time the story is told.
Whatever the motivations, the fallout can still be the same as people find out they have been told less than the truth. In fact many people that have left the church indicate that they feel very betrayed once they found out what they now consider the “truth” about past events.
So I have already admitted in previous blogs that I am both a podcast junkie and a science nerd. So I have already mentioned a podcast and that leaves me with needing to make an obligatory science analogy. That is where the Fragility post from earlier this week comes in – mixed in with some interesting physics phenomenon. I really am fascinated by Prince Rupert’s Drops. Wikipedia describes these as:
Prince Rupert’s drops are produced by dripping molten glass into cold water. The water rapidly cools and solidifies the glass on the outside of the drop, while the inner core remains molten. When the glass on the inside eventually cools it contracts inwards, producing significant compressive stresses on the surface of the drop while the core solidifies in a state of tensile stress. The quasi-spherical shape of the bulbous head gives it great strength, such that it can be hit with a hammer or struck with a bullet without breaking while the quasi-cylindrical shape of the tail makes it fragile and easily fractured. When any portion of the tail is damaged, the large amount of potential energy stored in the internal structure is released, causing fractures to propagate through the glass toward the head at very high speeds which breaks the entire structure into flakes and powder.
Now the technical description above is interesting to a nerd like me, but to see one of these pieces of glass taking almost 20 tons of pressure before it cracks is amazing. I would say that qualifies as “anti-fragile.” But then on the other hand if a little kid were to “crack” the thin tail with their hand, the entire structure EXPLODES almost into dust. The rate of the fracture traveling through the glass is approximately 3,700 miles per hour (5,950 kilometers per hour)! I don’t see how that could be defined as anything but “fragile.” So in these glass drops we have something simultaneously very fragile and at the same time very anti-fragile.
To me these amazing Prince Rubert’s drops are a analogous to some people’s testimony of the truthfulness of the church. They can often take a REAL pounding and not give and inch. They are unphased by trials like an untimely the death of a close loved one, significant health issues, others trying to dissuade people from their faith, persecution, financial losses, etc. But also many of us have one thing that shatters the whole once pressure is applied. This is different for different people. And Maybe we all have this “one thing”, but for some it just isn’t pricked.
I do give credit that the church is trying to rectify some of the whitewashing of the past with the essays and efforts such as the Joseph Smith Papers project, but it really takes the wind out of my sails to see what appears to be to be more than one instance of whitewashing of a story in a single general conference. I am just disappointed and even discouraged if a real openness and honesty (and ability admit issues) is going to happen within the church. I must admit, I feel at this moment it is a, “not in my lifetime” situation.
So is Happy being too grumpy – making a mountain out of a mole hill?
Am I missing the bigger picture that is more positive?