Thursday, July 09, 2015

Tales of a Tour Guide, Part 9

Pageant season is upon us here in Nauvoo. Every night between now and August 1st, the LDS Church will be putting on an outdoor play that celebrates some aspect of Nauvoo church history. What that means for Community of Christ Nauvoo tour guides is that we will be giving tours pretty much non-stop until pageant season ends. I’m already feeling the effects of it this week, though I think the worst is yet to come. Today, I felt like I had hardly any time between tours, and it was exhausting. But that’s okay. Most of the time, I enjoy what I’m doing.

I continue to be amused by some of the interactions I have with LDS tourists. I know they’re sincere, God bless ‘em, but they can be obnoxious. Yesterday, at the visitor’s center, a guy came up to the counter and started asking me and the woman I was working with about Community of Christ beliefs. “What do you believe about the afterlife?” he asked. The woman I was with did most of the talking because she’s been Community of Christ much longer than I have. Next the man asked, “Do you believe families can be together forever?” What LDS folk don’t realize is that many non-LDS people find this question somewhat absurd. For many non-LDS people, it’s just a given that families will be reunited in the afterlife. The LDS person might then ask, “But will you still be a family?” And again, this will just seem weird to many non-LDS folk. In the context of the afterlife, what does that even mean? Will we still live together under the same roof? Well, that doesn’t happen even in this world with your family. Will you still use the terms “brother” and “sister” and “father” and “mother”? Is that all that the LDS person means? Can we still use family-like labels? Many non-LDS people just find it a weird question to begin with, one that is based on a weird concern. Or at least that’s what I gather. Anyway, the LDS guy eventually asked, “So, have you ever talked with the LDS missionaries?” The woman I was working with said, “Oh yes, they are in here all the time. I have given lots of tours to LDS missionaries.” The LDS man then said, “But have you ever just sat down with the missionaries and had a conversation?” It was now starting to feel very awkward because it was obvious this guy was intent on doing his good deed for the day. My co-worker told the guy she hadn’t, to which he replied, “Oh, you should! They know so much about the gospel!” At this point, I’m thinking two things. One, this guy just implied that we don’t know nearly as much about the gospel—which is kind of rude and also rather silly, given our backgrounds. Two, in what sense do missionaries “know so much about the gospel”? I know missionaries are trained with a very specific set of skills and on a rather specific set of topics, but it’s really quite silly to pretend an 18-year-old boy fresh out of high school “knows so much about the gospel.” They barely know what it means to shave.

Today, someone asked me at the end of one of my tours, “Why didn’t Emma go to Utah with the other Saints? Do we have any historical documents that tell us why?” I then tried to answer in a very mature, honest, and respectful way. I said, “Emma and Brigham Young had quite the falling out after Joseph died. There were squabbles over property and various documents. Were they Joseph’s and thus belonged to the family, or were they the Church’s and thus should stay with the Church? Emma and Brigham didn’t agree on this. But a really big issue, quite frankly, was polygamy. Emma was not fond of polygamy whatsoever and didn’t want to go with Brigham largely because of that.” At this point, a gentleman in the tour group chimed in, “Well, and she was tired.” It felt to me like he was trying to give the more definitive answer. Part of me wanted to toss my hands in the air and say, “If you only want to hear what you already think, don’t ask questions!” Of course, the man who made the “too tired” argument was not the man who had asked the question, so I’m not being entirely fair. But it’s a tiny bit grating when people can’t handle hearing anything but what they already believe, especially when I know it’s just a fairy tale someone made up at some point. It really drills it in just how powerful a religious system can be, that the religion could tell its adherents literally anything and many of them would believe it forever more, never trusting anyone or anything that said something to the contrary. I’m not claiming that something nefarious is going on, but that’s how powerful religion is, and I’m seeing that on a daily basis. It truly is fascinating.

In other news, today was my first “split.” With particularly large tour groups (30+ or so), we cannot fit all of the tourists at once into the Mansion House. (It’s also bad for the second floor of the Mansion House to have so many people on it at once, due to its age.) In order to accommodate such large groups, there is a point on the tour at which the tour group is divided in two. Half of them go with one tour guide into the Mansion House while the other half goes with another tour guide to the Smith Family Cemetery. The two guides then switch their half-groups, repeat their spiel, and the two half-groups then come together and continue on the tour as a unified group once again. On this split, I was not the main tour guide, so my job was merely to tell the Mansion House story twice in a row to two separate half-groups. I wasn’t that concerned about it, but I got more frazzled than expected. For one thing, when I was trading off my first half-group for my second half-group, I was supposed to walk the first half-group partway back to cemetery, where I would meet up with my second half-group. On the way over, however, a guy started asking me about Community of Christ’s stance on same-sex marriage, and this distracted me such that I ended up bypassing my second half-group and taking the first half-group further than needed. I snapped out of it only because the lead tour guide was my boss and he loudly alerted me to take care of my second batch of tourists. Whoops. Because of that, I felt slightly discombobulated as I began my spiel with the second half-group in the Mansion House. I stammered a bit more as a result, but quickly recovered. All in all, I don’t think anything was too terrible or noticeable for the tourists themselves, but I wish it had gone better. Oh well.

The big news this week is the arrival of Seth and Jenn, our very good friends from Utah. Seth is the associate pastor at our Salt Lake City congregation of Community of Christ, and he and his family are out here so Jenn can do a horticultural internship in Nauvoo. During their time here, both Jenn and Seth will be giving some tours, and Melanie will be spending some time watching their children. It’s really a great thing for us, not only because Melanie and I will have some friends around, but because our kids will too. Jenn and Seth have three children of their own, and they’ve already sparked some life into our kids’ daily routine. It’s really great to have them around. (It was also very therapeutic for me to have them over for dinner last night and be able to talk to some Community of Christ members who have an LDS background, like I do. There are things you can only understand if that’s been your own journey, and aside from having Melanie, I’ve lacked that type of camaraderie while out here.)

I think that about does it for today. I’ll conclude with yet another “fun fact” from church history. It appears that the current LDS method of presidential/prophetic succession, where the senior apostle by default becomes the next president, was not firmly established until at least Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of the LDS Church. Over three years passed between Joseph Smith’s death and Brigham Young’s becoming president, as also between Brigham Young’s death and John Taylor’s becoming president. Nearly two years passed between the death of John Taylor and Taylor’s successor, Wilford Woodruff. Interestingly, some members of the Quorum of the Twelve were initially opposed to Woodruff becoming the next president of the LDS Church. Among the apostles who did not feel Woodruff was cut out to be the next leader of the Church was future LDS President Heber J. Grant.

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