Monday, June 29, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide, Part 5

I didn’t have to work today, so I made my first foray into the LDS side of Nauvoo. Melanie’s done this a few times already and has always come back with some comical and/or annoying tales about how the missionaries treat her. But with sleeves intact and a husband on her arm, Melanie passed as a legitimate LDS woman today, and we as a good Mormon family. It was fairly clear from the comments made by every missionary we encountered that they presumed we were LDS until we gave them a reason not to. (To be fair, I assume the same thing of the tourists that visit the Community of Christ sites.) It’s interesting to note the difference in style between the LDS sites and the Community of Christ sites. History is secondary—perhaps even tertiary—at the LDS sites. From the get-go, they are talking about the faithfulness of whatever historical figures they are discussing. Sacrifice and suffering are revered because they are done with the goal of “following the prophet.” These things are explicitly said at times. It’s quite an interesting mentality that is much more conspicuous to me now that I’m Community of Christ. The underlying message seems to be, “Don’t stray. Follow the prophet, no matter what. If you love the Lord, you will do whatever the prophet asks. Suffering and sacrifice are part of the plan. That’s what faithfulness is—long-suffering.” The emphasis on suffering in order to build up the church cannot be understated. It really is central to the LDS story. And I guess it makes sense that it would be. When you have the prophet telling you that you must give your time, talent, and resources in order to build the prophet a house because that’s what God wants, or the prophet is telling you God wants you to give him your wife for his own, or God has already given him your daughter as a wife (unbeknownst to her) so it’s time to give her over, or telling you as a young woman that you must marry him in order to avoid eternal damnation—all things that are part of the Nauvoo story—I guess you better hope that all of this suffering and turmoil is God-sanctioned and will be rewarded in the end. That was the promise, and often the threat. I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that such a way of thinking doesn’t carry through to the branch of believers that disavowed polygamy from the start.

The first destination on our list today was the Heber C. Kimball house. I haven’t visited other historic homes yet, but this one has a lot more personality than most. I quite liked it. Next, we stopped in at the Scovil Bakery. There isn’t much to do there other than get a free gingerbread cookie, so our visit was incredibly brief. Our third stop was the log cabin—or probably a reconstruction of the log cabin—that my great-great-great (I don’t know how many times) grandma, Patty Bartlett Sessions, lived in. There are no missionaries at the cabin, and it’s literally a one-room thing, so again there wasn’t much in particular to do. We then went next door to the Lyon Drug & Variety Store, the proprietor of which would’ve been Patty’s son-in-law, Windsor Lyon (who is not my ancestor). I liked the drug store quite a bit. The missionary there told us more interesting stuff than we had heard anywhere else, and the general setup of the store was cool. I liked all the bottles. I wanted to ask out of genuine curiosity if liquor and tobacco would’ve been available at the store, but I didn’t want to seem like a menace.

At this point, we decided to head to lunch. We tried Grandpa John’s CafĂ© in downtown (if there is such a thing) Nauvoo. Although nothing special, the food was better than I thought it might be. After leaving the restaurant, we passed by a gift shop that had one of the most amusing pieces of LDS memorabilia I think I’ve ever encountered: a set of nesting dolls depicting all of the prophets of this dispensation. I’ve included an image of the nesting dolls among the photos below. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide, Part 4

Today’s entry isn’t much about giving tours. We started our day by going to church, our first taste of normal Community of Christ church services outside of Utah. I say “normal,” but I should explain what I mean by that. Last Sunday, we attended a church service here in Nauvoo, but it was at Reunion and so was a special meeting with people from all over the region. Also, stylistically, there is no “normal” when it comes to Community of Christ church services. Some commonalities are likely to exist, but each congregation is rather independent and can vary quite drastically from another. Today’s church services were dissimilar to the church services in Salt Lake City in several ways. Sunday School was preceded by something similar to what in LDS terminology would be called opening exercises. We don’t do such a thing in SLC. Sunday School itself involved a lot of stories from Community of Christ / RLDS history, and discussions touched a decent amount on issues related to tourism here in Nauvoo. Of course, the person teaching the class is essentially my boss, the director of Nauvoo’s historic sites. That probably explains the direction of conversation quite a bit. When it came to the worship service, I liked that they started with “joys,” where those in attendance are given an opportunity to share news that is worth celebrating. I think we did something like that in SLC once upon a time, but I suspect it’s a weekly tradition here. Another difference is that the worship service was incredibly short. In Utah, we go about an hour, and it’s not uncommon to run a little longer than that. Here, the services lasted just over 30 minutes.

After services, my boss invited my family to lunch with him and his wife. We drove 20 minutes to the town of Keokuk and had the lunch buffet at Pizza Hut. (Aside from breakfast this morning, this was my third meal in a row that was pizza. But that’s okay, I enjoyed it each and every time.) I really enjoyed being able to talk with them. This guy knows a ton, and I frequently pick his brain. Although he is lifelong RLDS / Community of Christ, his job here in Nauvoo keeps him in constant communication and interaction with LDS folks. He is very knowledgeable of LDS culture and practices and is quite sympathetic to people like Melanie and me who come out of LDS Mormonism with some issues that sometimes make us grumpier than we might otherwise be. This man is a descendent of Joseph Smith … and Joseph Smith III … and Fred M. Smith, son of Joseph III and another of the RLDS church presidents. Despite this and his great love for his heritage, he can completely understand when Melanie says she had no interest in attending last night’s candlelight vigil commemorating Joseph Smith’s life because there is much she now despises about Joseph Smith’s character. Explaining his own feelings on Joseph Smith, this man compared Joseph to Bill Clinton—a great but undeniably flawed leader. I’ve never thought of that comparison before, but it’s absolutely spot-on, right down to the vehement public denials of what he was in reality doing behind closed doors. I think it’s probably one of the most precise comparisons I’ve ever heard.

One cool thing about going to lunch with your boss is that he can excuse your being late to work. I was scheduled to work from 1 to 5 PM today. When he invited me to lunch, he knew it might make me late. As it turns out, I was almost an hour late to work. No complaints from me.

I did give one tour today, a 4 PM tour with nine tourists. One of the tourists asked me if I was on a mission. People frequently ask me how I ended up in Nauvoo doing what I’m doing. I’ve never been asked about being a missionary before, but I suppose it makes perfect sense to assume that’s what I am. Any historic site you visit owned by the LDS Church is run by missionaries. Then again, the LDS Church doesn’t have the money to pay people to work at their historic sites like Community of Christ does. Er, wait … never mind, I got that backwards. (Kidding, kidding! The punch line is true, but still, I’m kidding!) I usually explain that people do what I’m doing for college credit but that I’m just doing it for fun. And it’s true. And I am having fun. During my first few days, I had moments where I wondered what I’d gotten myself into, but at this point I’m already thinking it could be kind of cool to have this be a regular summer plan. I think they are usually hoping to get more people out here, so it would probably work. The only catch is that I’d want to bring Melanie and the boys every year, and I don’t know if the housing situation here would always make that feasible. Still, I’m now fantasizing about being a writer during the non-summer months and then coming here to do something fun and interesting during the summer. We’ll see how I feel after going through the super hectic, torturously hot and humid month of July.

Fun fact of the day: members of Community of Christ rarely, if ever, refer to Joseph Smith and his death as a martyr and martyrdom, respectively. I assume this is because, strictly speaking, those who killed Joseph really weren’t killing him for his religious beliefs. The primary motive is likely that Joseph was continually putting himself above the law, abusing the notion of habeas corpus to repeatedly get himself out of jail. This, coupled with the Saints’ erratic political behavior, made Joseph Smith something of a public menace in the eyes of those outside the faith.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide, Part 3

Today, I gave approximately 1.17 tours. I gave the final tour of the day to 16 tourists, but the final tour of the day cuts out one of the destinations (the Red Brick Store) because the destination is closed by that hour. My only other tour of the day was a “split.” This was my first time doing a split, which is something we do for larger groups. Only a certain amount of people can fit very easily into the Mansion House, and the upstairs is original, so having a limited number of people (and weight) on the second floor at any given time is also a matter of preservation and safety. When you do a split, someone is the main tour guide. The person who is not the main tour guide basically tags along on the tour, and at one particular point, the tour group is split into two. One guide takes half of the group to the Smith Family Cemetary while the other guide takes the other half of the group to the Mansion House. You then swap groups and repeat your spiel, this time to the other half of the original oversized group. This is what I did today, and because it was something new for me, I had the tiniest bit of anxiety about it. Only a very tiny amount, but still. As it turns out, everything went fine and dandy.

It’s fairly common to have tourists chitchat with you as you walk from one destination to the next. This happened to me again today on the split. Somehow, it was revealed that I live in Sandy, Utah. The majority of tourists we get are also from Utah. Later, after the tour, some of these tourists had returned to our visitor’s center and one of the women whom I had talked to started asking me more questions. It was obvious to me that she was trying to figure out my religion. At first she wouldn’t come right out and ask, but she asked about where I grew up and where I did my undergrad degree. I could tell she was looking for clues. She finally asked if I was a member of Community of Christ. I said I was, but noted that I became a member officially only two months ago. She then asked what I was previously. I told her I had been LDS. The look on her face can only be described as incredulous. I think it really baffles LDS folk to learn that someone could convert from the LDS Church to Community of Christ. She didn’t really say much after that, but I have to wonder what was going through her head.

The main reason I did so little tour-guiding today is because there was a special commemorative service held at 12:15 in honor of Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith. Joseph and Hyrum were killed 171 years ago today, and Samuel died not long thereafter. It was an ecumenical Latter Day Saint service, with members from both the LDS Church and Community of Christ presenting. There were musical numbers by some of the LDS Young Performing Missionaries, there was a reading from the Community of Christ version of the Doctrine and Covenants, etc. As an intern here in Nauvoo, I was able to participate in the program. I read what was basically part of a prayer. I went to the podium immediately after Stephen R. Covey finished speaking, which seems worth noting. Melanie and the boys came out to the service, but Beegy was complaining about heat and making a ruckus and Melanie quickly abandoned ship. They didn’t see me read, but that’s okay. Melanie did snap some photos before she left the service, so I’ll share a couple of those now.

I, standing next to a basket of service programs, which I was handing out prior to the beginning of the service.  Behind me is the Homestead, Joseph and Emma's first home in Nauvoo, although the white portion of the home was added by Joseph Smith III fourteen years after his father was martyred.

Fun fact of the day: Joseph Smith purposely waited until June 24, 1844 to head toward Carthage. Evidence suggests that Smith expected to be killed en route to the jail, and June 24th is a traditional day of martyrdom with special significance to Freemasons. It is believed that Joseph was setting himself up to become a Masonic martyr.  When this didn't pan out, it appears that Joseph began to turn his thoughts toward the possibility of rescue or escape, neither of which would come.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide, Part 2

I gave another three tours today. My first two tours were incredibly easy, with both of them consisting of only one tourist and myself. Things changed dramatically for my final tour of the day, which consisted of 27 tourists, my largest group yet. There are pros and cons to each extreme, whether small or large tours. Small tours feel more personable, large tours feel more like entertaining. The first guy to whom I gave a tour today seemed very thoughtful and reflective. I sensed that he was thinking about more than he was saying, and that there was something very personal about his decision to tour the sites. He told me he had quit his job and was working his way back across the country to his home state of Utah. I had a desire to minister to him, as if he were in need. Maybe he wasn’t, and maybe I was making it all up. But it’s like on TV, when a person goes back to visit a childhood home, and that person looks around and is not saying much, but you can tell they are deep in thought in a meaningful way. That’s how the guy came across to me. I abandoned most of the tour script that I follow because, even though this guy didn’t go into great detail with anything he said, he seemed interested in talking about whatever was on his mind rather than hearing some scripted tour. He was obviously well-informed, as he mentioned things that 99% of Mormons don’t know about. For example, he mentioned Joseph Smith’s Jupiter Talisman, an amulet Joseph Smith was supposedly wearing when he was killed at Carthage. The talisman would’ve been regarded as having, for the lack of a better term, magical powers. The man also mentioned the Danites, a secret group of Mormon vigilantes who are often thought to have enforced orthodoxy by way of threats and intimidation (if not worse). Perhaps the man mentioned these things because they are often regarded as controversial. Perhaps it was a cry for help in some way. I told him he could ask anything he wanted, hoping he would feel safe to go into greater detail about things if he felt so inclined. Nothing came of it, but I hope he finds whatever peace of mind he may be searching for.

My third tour of the day is noteworthy, only because it’s the first time I’ve taken a group of that size. Prior to today, my largest group was 12—less than half of today’s last group. Having such a large group did intimidate me. Logistics require you to handle larger groups differently than you do smaller groups. You can’t really take a huge group into a little room and explain things easily, so we’re encouraged to share a lot of the stories outside of the homes we enter and then go inside. Because I haven’t had much practice with this, I didn’t know if I’d fumble a bit. But it went perfectly fine. The group seemed very receptive.

I’ll end with a fun fact from church history, which perhaps should conclude all of my posts while I’m in Nauvoo. (We’ll see.) Did you know that a proxy ordinance was once performed for someone who was still living? Jane Manning James was a black woman in the 1800s who lived as a servant with Joseph Smith and his family. According to Jane, Joseph’s wife Emma had invited Jane to be sealed as Joseph and Emma’s daughter. Jane apparently didn’t understand the ordinance and declined, only to ask to be sealed to the Smiths by proxy several years later when she understood the ordinance better. Her request was denied, but they sealed Jane as Joseph Smith’s eternal servant in the only temple ordinance of such a kind ever performed (of which we are aware). Because Jane was black, they wouldn’t allow her to enter the temple (except, apparently, to do baptisms for the dead), and so she was sealed by proxy as Joseph Smith’s “servitor,” despite being alive and being near a temple.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide

Yesterday, I gave three guided tours, more than doubling the amount of guided tours I’ve now given. Today was a day off, and Melanie, the boys, and I spent a good chunk of our time in Hannibal, MO. I really don’t have much time to write this, so I’ll be quite brief.

My second day of touring went quite well, except for the fact that it was quite rainy in the morning. Rain doesn’t stop the tourists from coming, however. Not completely. It made things slightly awkward whenever we’d get to a locked building and I had to lower my umbrella and mess with the keys. People standing inside historic homes with wet umbrellas is also a bit messy. Maybe I’m supposed to tell them to leave them outside, but nobody ever told me that. Which means my group left some wet puddles on the floors. As I write this, I’m thinking that seems like a bad move on my part. Why didn’t it occur to me to leave them outside? I have no idea.

Yesterday already feels like a very long time ago, so I’m not remembering a lot about the particular tours I gave. My final tour of the day included a man who asked if the FLDS Church owns all of the properties we were visiting. It’s quite easy for people to get the RLDS Church (which is now called Community of Christ) confused with the FLDS Church, which in turn leads many people to suppose that the RLDS Church is a polygamist group. That’s funny, really, because the RLDS Church owes its existence in large part to the fact that they were strongly opposed to polygamy. In that respect, they are polar opposites of the FLDS Church. The FLDS Church recognizes Brigham Young as a prophet and exists precisely because they insisted on continuing polygamy, whereas the RLDS Church never accepted Brigham Young as a prophet and exists because they insisted on not practicing polygamy.

Speaking of polygamy, my studies are proving quite fascinating while in Nauvoo. The class I’m taking just had a section on polygamy, and although most of the information is stuff I’ve known for years, it’s difficult to read about it without shaking your head in disbelief. Don’t study polygamy if you have and want to maintain a warm and fuzzy view of LDS Church history. Such a cheery outlook absolutely cannot and will not survive such a study. But polygamy isn’t the only thing that fascinates me about my studies. The history in general is highly intriguing, and then there are the cultural differences that now stand out to me like comically sore thumbs. Some of the readings we do for class are published by LDS publishers (such as Deseret Book), and if you know enough about church history, it’s laughable how information is omitted or spun or otherwise inaccurate. As a case in point, a semi-scholarly paper on the formation of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo mentions that 11 of the original members were married. It seems a glaring omission not to mention the fact that many of those women were in fact Joseph Smith’s plural wives! Another example is a reference to an early claim by Joseph Smith that God the Father is a “personage of spirit,” which is explained in an LDS text as meaning that God has a glorified, resurrected body of flesh and bones rather than a mortal body. Are you kidding me?!?!?! That is blatantly just throwing the latter LDS understanding of God back onto a phrase whose words mean nothing remotely close to it! I’ll give a final example from my visit to Carthage Jail. My class visited Carthage Jail last night, and Melanie the boys were able to go with me. At one point, the sister missionary who served as our tour guide told us that while in jail, Joseph sent a couple of men to “run some errands.” What she doesn’t mention, and what I’m 99.9% sure she doesn’t even realize, is that those men were being sent to get wine (and I believe tobacco) so that Joseph and his friends could lift their spirits. It’s not that such details need to or necessarily should be shared to a general audience, but once you learn some stuff, it’s amazing just how many things are being glossed over. It’s so persistent. On top of all this, there is simply the cultural differences between Mormons and others, which even in my brief time away from the LDS Church is now strikingly evident to me. The way LDS folk speak, dress, etc. It really does stand out. Big time. As an LDS person, I don’t think I ever realized we were quite the oddity that Mormons are. Or at least I didn’t realize it was as dramatic and noticeable a difference as I’m now realizing it is.

Some good news: we did get our card reader that allows us to upload photos from our camera to our laptop. Melanie has shared some of those photos on Facebook, and I want to include them on my blog, but I don’t feel like I have time to mess with that right now. And so I postpone. Hopefully, I will very soon do some sort of photo essay post or something like that. But until then, it’s back to business. Bye bye!