Saturday, July 25, 2015

Independence Trip, Part 1

Visiting Independence, Missouri was one of my top priorities when planning what to do during my time in Nauvoo. With time running out, I requested to have two consecutive days off in a row this week so that Melanie and I could take the kids on an overnight trip. We left on Tuesday morning with the following itinerary in mind: drive to the site of the Hawn’s Mill Massacre in Caldwell County, Missouri; proceed to Far West, Missouri; make our way to Liberty, Missouri and visit the Liberty Jail; and finally check into a hotel in Independence. That’s what we did, but not everything went exactly as planned. I’m not 100% sure we arrived at the official site of the Hawn’s Mill Massacre, in which an estimated 17 Mormons (including children) were killed by an unsympathetic Missouri mob. According to Google Maps we did, but we never saw the sign that supposedly marks the location of what was once Hawn’s Mill. (For the record, “Hawn’s” is much more commonly spelled “Haun’s,” but recent research has determined that the former is the correct spelling.) I kind of wish we hadn’t even tried, because I had no idea that it was such an unfinished road we’d have to take to get there. After driving several miles on loose rock, the road started to get muddy. At that point, it didn’t seem safe to continue, and I didn’t even have room to turn around. I literally had to back up quite a ways to get turned around and get out of there. While stopped, a brave Melanie hopped out and snapped some photos, much to Eddie’s dismay, as there were numerous large bugs flying all around our car. Even more brave, Creegan and Peter got out of the car to urinate on what might have been the historic site—a purely biological and not political act on their part.

The site of the Hawn's Mill Massacre ... probably, maybe.

Our muddy tire after we decided we better not venture any further.

Our next stop was Far West, Missouri, which is relatively close to Hawn’s Mill. Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Far West other than that it’s a famous Latter Day Saint church history site. Visiting Far West didn’t help to shed much light on the matter, as there isn’t much there. There isn’t a visitor’s center. There is a Community of Christ church, and the LDS Church owns some property that is set up as if it is the spot that a temple was planned to be built. I know the early Saints did plan to build a temple in Far West, but I don’t know if the spot that is now made to appear like the planned temple location actually is the planned temple location. Nothing explicitly says that, and I think something would say it if it were the exact location.

The Community of Christ Church at Far West.  Way to represent, CofC!

If you can't read it, the plaque says that the encased cornerstone was laid (note that it doesn't specify a date) "in representation of the lesser priesthood."  I made a Mormon Patriarchy joke by saying to Melanie, "And as a woman, you're even less than the lesser priesthood!"

I found the inclusion of a verse about tithing quite curious.  What does it have to do with Far West?  I'm not sure, but I suppose it's always a good time to remind people to keep the money coming.

Liberty Jail was a more substantial stop. The LDS Church has a visitor’s center at Liberty. Enclosed in their visitor’s center is a partially-standing fragment of the original Liberty Jail. It’s sort of a strange set up, but I had been there approximately 20 years ago and wasn’t taken by surprise. What did surprise me is just how hostile an environment it ended up being. I was truly disappointed by our visit. During our time there, at least two non-LDS religious traditions that trace themselves back to Joseph Smith were denigrated, by the sister missionary giving us the tour and the tourists alike. Knowing Mormon rhetoric as I do, I also became highly suspicious of some of the stories we were being told, which were a little too black-and-white and good vs. evil for my tastes. On top of that, there were things said that are just wildly, obviously false, or at least inconsistent with Mormonism’s own history. There were so many gems, I’m not sure where to begin. One thing the sister missionary said (and repeated in various ways numerous times during the tour) is that being in Liberty Jail was the greatest experience of Joseph Smith’s life. Why? Because of the revelations he received there. Now, I personally can think of myriad events in Joseph’s life that I think would outrank being in Liberty Jail, revelations notwithstanding. But no, according to this missionary, Liberty Jail was just the best! In fact, Joseph had a positive attitude about the whole thing. And it was easy for him to be positive about it, because he had faith in God! I will admit, there was something poignant about the experience for me. I had been listening to a podcast about people being excommunicated from the LDS Church just before we arrived at Liberty Jail, so it struck me as highly ironic (or whatever) when the sister missionary started talking about how Joseph exemplified Jesus by forgiving his jailers and not holding any animosity toward them. The virtues being extolled may be what the LDS Church preaches, but it isn’t what they practice in many cases, and that was striking to me. Meanwhile, there are quotes on the wall at Liberty Jail talking about the difference between righteous and unrighteous dominion, and how the priesthood should never be used to wield power over another individual but that all persons should be appealed to in ways that are gentle, meek, and loving and that can thereby persuade. So, with the contrast between excommunicating those who ask church leaders to pray over certain issues and the messages being shared at Liberty Jail about forgiveness, love, patience, and lack of judging fresh on my mind, imagine how I felt when just a moment later Melanie was all but scolded by the sister missionary because Melanie made a comment about not judging Sidney Rigdon too harshly. You see, the sister missionary talked about how Rigdon got out of Liberty Jail by denying Christ when the judge overseeing their case demanded such. Melanie correctly informed our tour group that Rigdon had mental health issues and suggested that we not judge him too harshly since we didn’t know his state of mind at the time. The sister missionary sounded irate when she responded to Melanie’s comment. She told us she knows what Sidney Rigdon said and she knows what Sidney Rigdon did. But apparently she does not. I felt very leery of her story, and Melanie researched it after our return to Nauvoo. The true story is quite unlike what the sister missionary reported. As it turns out, Rigdon was the only one arrested who felt prepared to defend himself rather than relying on a lawyer. When Rigdon addressed the court, he moved everyone to tears when he explained what he had been through. They released Rigdon, but Rigdon was so fearful for his own life because of the mobs that he remained at Liberty Jail 10 days longer than he needed to. Now, it’s true that Rigdon, in one of his bipolar low moments, said something about how even Jesus hadn’t suffered as much as he was suffering. But the sister missionary’s story is a grave abuse of history. As the sister missionary put it, and I’m not kidding, Rigdon wasn’t spiritually worthy of remaining in the jail with the Prophet Joseph. That’s why he wasn’t there. Can you say, “Egad”?

The fun doesn’t stop there. Some other comments from this sister missionary were quite telling. She said at one point that if even one person in your home doesn’t have a positive attitude, the Spirit literally cannot be there. It cannot, folks. How this squares with church history, where there was plenty of squabbling and fighting at times when Joseph would then receive revelation, I don’t know. How it squares with the Liberty Jail story itself, I don’t know. This will sound harsh, but I’ve had a recurring thought during my time here in Nauvoo (and its surrounding areas), and it’s that the LDS Church is the Disneyland of religions. Or maybe the Disney Channel. Something like that, anyway. It’s all so fabricated, superficial, and clich├ęd. It’s a fantasy world much of the time, with a shiny, happy veneer so long as everyone is playing the part they’re supposed to play. As long as you’re going along with it, it’s fine and dandy, and you’re treated like a prince or princess. But it’s skin deep, and once you start asking questions, you’ve broken the magic and you’re not welcomed or wanted. I don’t think all Mormons are this way, but as a whole, that’s the culture I see. Have you watched Disney Channel TV shows? They are all identical, with the same contrived scenarios, with everyone dressing so hip and cool and everyone being so funny and popular, etc. Once you expand your horizons, such things can make you gag and you realize how full of crap it all is. That’s LDS culture in my experience. Anyway, by the time we left Liberty Jail, Melanie was in tears after being berated by the sister missionary because, God forbid, Melanie issued a plea for compassion for someone known to suffer from mental illness who was going through an incredibly difficult circumstance. Melanie’s comment didn’t fit the Disney—er, I mean, LDS—narrative, and that was enough to turn Sister Whatever-Her-Name-Was into Cruella de Vil. Melanie had been apprehensive about going into Liberty Jail. I encouraged her to go. I felt like crap afterwards.

Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin, having the time of their lives according to the sister missionary.  I can just imagine Katrina & the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" playing in the background.  Sidney Rigdon wasn't invited to the party because he was a dirty, rotten, evil sonofabitch (who also happened to be bipolar).

The day ended on a much better note. We arrived in Independence, found our hotel, got checked in, and decided we deserved a nice steak dinner. We took to Outback Steakhouse, had a good meal, then stopped for dessert (Diet Mountain Dew, that is) at QuikTrip, and then retired to the hotel. True, the ribeye steak I ordered, which I requested to be cooked medium, was well done and might not have been a ribeye. True, I didn’t send it back, which is my own fault. True, our exhausted kids tried my patience while we were at dinner. True, the QT Diet Dew wasn’t as good as I had hoped. True, when we went for a night swim at the hotel, it was the coldest pool water I can remember ever encountering, and the hot tub had a ring around the edge and a general filminess to it that made me question how sanitary it was. But despite these complaints, it was nice to be at our official destination and to be settling down for the night.

The next day would prove much better, but I will save that for a future post. For now, I’ll conclude with some photos from dinner and our post-dinner outing to QT, our favorite convenience store of all time.

A medium ribeye that is well done and quite possibly not a ribeye.

To be continued!

1 comment:

  1. So sad about Melanie' s ordeal. I hope you are all feeling better by now.
    I'm really enjoying readung your adventures. You are learning and experiencing a lot. Love and miss you all!!!