Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why I don't want to stay in Utah

This is a question that many people have asked me over the last few months. We almost took a job in California, and when we decided to stay here, "here" was my biggest complaint. "What's wrong with living in Utah?" was the question I heard most. So, I thought I'd tell you why. But first, a little background...

Orson Scott Card is hands-down my favorite author. I'm so glad my dad is a fan (he's even been to numerous book signings) and introduced me to this great legend when I was young. I think I read my first OSC in like 6th grade. It was great. A couple of weeks ago, his new collection of short stories called "Keeper of Dreams" was on the library's new fiction stand. Sweet. I totally needed something to read and I hadn't ever ventured into his short story collection.

One of the last sections of the book is called "Mormon Stories" and he prefaces them with the fact that they are not really religious, or spiritually uplifting but that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons) have a particular culture, and that's what he wrote about. Because of the Church's organization, every member lives in a community (or ward) where we all serve each other in callings, "we become familiar with every face; we know which children belong to which parents; many of us know every single person's name." He goes on to say that "for most of us--for those of us who are actively engaged in the life of the ward--we live in Mormonism and only visit American culture."

Okay, now to the whole point of this long post... The states of Utah, Eastern Idaho, and parts of Arizona are considered, by some, to be the "Mormon Corridor". Many towns are at least half Mormon, compared to the East or South where Mormons are relatively rare and are "awash in a sea of Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterian Catholics".

In those more sparse areas, "teenagers need each other in order to help sustain each others' identity as Latter-Day Saints; adults depend on each other and are tolerant of variations. If you show up and do your calling, then we don't care what political party you belong to, you're one of us. Also, wards are spread out over large stretches of cities and country-side so that people of every walk of life and every income level gather together to worship."

"In the Mormon Corridor, by contrast, members are expendable--there are so many Mormons you can afford to ostracize those who don't believe exactly the way you do. And wards are so bunched together that zoning laws shape the church to a dysfunctional degree--everybody in the ward makes the same amount of money, lives in the same-size house, and never has to deal with anyone markedly poorer or different from themselves. When wards are smaller than Zip Codes, it's easy to forget that it's faith and obedience that bind us together, no the superficial similarities of income and career."

"In 'Zion', Mormons are far more likely to get confused about where worldly values leave off and religious values begin. Whereas in places where Mormons are a small minority, the lines are clear and everyone can see them."

Before you flag me (or OSC) as blaspemous, let me point out that we both know there are good and bad Mormons everywhere. Doesn't matter if you live in SLC or Timbuktu, there are going to be some bad eggs. But, his insight into Mormon culture is very astute.

I have loved living here. I grew up here. I love the friends I have made, and the experiences I have had. It's just time for something new. Something to push myself and our family a little more in our beliefs. It's too easy for me to relax, be lazy, and get myself mixed up as to what is really important. Sure, living in the Corridor is great for some people. Most have probably never thought twice about it. It's just not for us. And I know life elswhere won't be a walk in the park. Having differences in income level, house size, political affiliation, etc. all in the same ward creates it's own set of problems. But, at least it'll be different.

So, there you have it. As Sam always says in answer to "the" question, "There's too many Mormons".

Congratulations for having read my whole post. I'd love to hear what you think, so leave a comment or two.


Jen said...

I feel the same way. Utah is beautiful, don't get me wrong. But I LOVE living in San Francisco amidst diversity. I've learned so much about people in general and about myself. I could go on and on... but I will never live in Utah again.

Katie said...

I really enjoyed this post. I've never heard of that author, and now I'm intrigued to read some of his works.

Living in Las Vegas for 5 years was one of the best moves for me and my family. While Las Vegas does have a high volume of LDS members, wards aren't spread across country-sides, etc.. it does have great diversity. I met many wonderful people from many different walks of life. People would come to church in jeans or smelling like cigarette smoke. We were just glad they were there.

We moved back for many reasons.. but one being that while it was great to be outside "Mormon culture", we prayerfully decided that Utah is where we want to raise our children.

I wasn't raised LDS, but had many LDS friends and truly converted at the age of 17 after some deep soul-searching. I don't feel that I live in the "typical" Mormon culture. My children will be raised to tolerate all people, accept people for who they are not what they are, and be loving to all mankind. Most importantly they will be raised to think for themselves and know that I'll love them no matter what walk they take in life. I'm grateful my parents still love me even if I did become one of those "damn Mormons".

While I do hope you get to venture out of Utah.. I hope it's only for a bit. I need my friend and my photographer. :)

Sabrina said...

Great comments, Jess. I am indifferent about living here or not. I grew up here so I have most of my family and lots of family. That's why I would be happy to stay here. Besides, it is beautiful and there are a lot of great places to visit so close by. However, I am also so excited to move out of the Mormon strip. Granted, there are still a few stakes in Tucson, and we are only 2 hours from Mesa which is very LDS, but it will be great to meet a wider diversity of people. I look forward to that. I don't have all the typical political and cultural beliefs as a lot of people here anyway, so I think I may find other people with which I can share common ground that I can't get here.

In any case, I am sure you'll learn and grow a lot here, especially if you felt that was what's right for your family. I hope one day though, if it's right, you get the to venture outside of the "Mormon strip".

P.S. I've only ever read Ender's Game and I occasionally read the Ornery American website, but I do enjoy me some Orson Scott Card. I need to read some more of his stuff.

tweedlediva said...

Amen. That's all I need to say, you and Orson summed it up beautifully.

Natalie Layton said...

To each his own. If you're not happy there, by all means head out.

I grew up there and miss it everyday.

Personally, I think diversity is in the eye of the beholder. People have commented to me that they never would have guessed I was from Utah. I obviously don't fit the stereotype of the cute little mom with 5 kids, highlighted hair, and a fake tan. It's usually intended as a compliment, and I'm not offended by it, but I'm not excited by it either. I don't have many friends in Utah with 5 kids, highlighted hair, and a fake tan. And they've never pressured me to be that either. You choose who you let into your inner circle, and everyone else can use their agency as they see fit. But the most important reason why I would move back is, hands down, my family. The thought of my daughter only seeing her grandparents twice a year makes me sad.

Oh, and just a heads up. I spent $85 last month on gas just driving to church and doing my visiting teaching.

Good luck. I didn't mean this to sound preachy, but you rarely hear people talk about what they like about Utah. It's usually what's "wrong" with the "culture".

Heidi Bell said...

Glen tells me that OSC is signed on with MARVEL comics to write the Ender story in Comic book form, and maybe even a movie. Hopefuly, since OSC is writing all of the above, then it will be good. And I definently know what you are saying about "mormon culture" in Utah.

Stacie said...

I agree with Natalie. It is hard to think about kids being away from family and missing family traditions. On the other hand, our little family has become stronger because we are on our own. Additionally, we savor the time we have when we visit our extended family. It can't happen every day, so we enjoy it when it does.

It is important for each of us to find the place that makes us happy, and I believe that feeling rarely comes from physical location. It's about who you are and who you are working to become.

Diversity is everywhere and the opportunity to help change someone for the better exists in all places.

My high school kids here aren't faced with any decisions I didn't have to make. While I was at Jordan, I learned to make my own choices and love those who chose paths I wouldn't choose. That's what the Lord wants us to do - follow Him and love and encourage those around us.

I love living out of state, but I don't want to restrict myself by saying I'll never go back. And I think there are a lot of people who are very happy living there.

Barbie Madsen said...

well josh and I... to be honest don't miss Utah! since we have been here we ahve been able to feed the missionaries invite neighbors to conference. Today we will be helping the sister missionaries in a lesson, and while Josh was at the AT&T store he just struck up a conversation with the sales rep and now she wants to come to church and have the missionaries over!! I find it easier to serve here! The members are closer knit because we need eachother! well Jess... I hope your dream comes true!! you can always come to Chicago!! It's a BEAUTIFUL place to take pictures!!

Jess said...

Thanks so much for your comments!! Keep 'em coming. I love hearing other people's opinions.

I have to agree that staying by family is a good thing. At the same time, Sam's side of the family is mostly in CA. However, we love being with my family and will enjoy the time here with them before living elsewhere.

I think having never lived outside Utah it's hard for me to have perspective. In fact, having lived my entire married life at BYU makes it even harder. Who knows? Maybe we'll move somewhere else and decide this really was the best place to live and we want to come back. It could happen!

You definitely teach your kids principles, ideals, tolerance, and love no matter where you live.

Sarah and Wes said...

Well, having grown up outside the Mormon Corridor (Ohio to be precise), I know what the other view is like. And that sounds pretty accurate. I had culture shock coming here for college! It is a wonderful place, and I think it is good to experience both sides. I prefer to live outside the Mormon corridor--but that may be because that is how I grew up!

Corinne said...

Hi Jess, I just started this blog thing. I grew up in a part of Salt Lake where it was around 50% LDS, and at that ratio I definitely saw/experienced some of the issues you discussed to some extent, but there was enough diversity so it wasn't that bad. Now that I've lived in BYU Provo though, I definitely understand ALL of your complaints about the "mormon corridor" and agree completely! So, I'm with you...I can't stay in Provo, and probably Utah County, but I do hope to end up in the Salt Lake area where our families live and there is enough diversity for my comfort.

Janssen said...

I'm in your camp, Bart is in the other. . .I hope we don't end up living and raising our kids in Utah, but it's a very real possibility. Great comments all around.

Joanna said...
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Bev Robison said...

Yes, you need to get out of Utah for a while. It's time for some diversity and a new perspective. Come to Poland!

Shannon said...

Mitch and I had the same discussions before deciding to stay; I grew up in Seattle, Mitch in California, so our only time of residence in Utah was at BYU. We really had no idea what to expect; we have come to love Salt Lake and find it to be very similar to larger cities we've lived in, except everyone here has an opinion of the Mormon culture. Elsewhere it seems people don't really care what religion you are, which is a plus.

Also, returning to my suburb of Seattle has made me realize that the Mormon population there does somewhat mirror "The Corridor," meaning unless you're living in the middle of a diverse city somewhere, the Mormons will still be pretty similar. Salt Lake definitely has more diversity than we'd expected. Either way I'm sure you guys will be happy... we've come to the conclusion that everything just kind of works itself out, no matter where you live!

Margie said...

I feel the same way. That is why I pushed so hard for us to move. I was so "spiritually depressed" living in Utah. I had all of the things that were suppose to make me in the heart of mormon country, temples...etc. But living out here make you really dig into what you believe. I think that living in Utah is great. But living outside of the "bubble" makes you grow more.

Melanie said...

Wow, Jess! I feel the same, but I've never expressed it so eloquently as you did. Wonderful way to explain! What a great sister-in-law I have.

Jamie said...

My mom and I were just having this very conversation last night...

I can certainly see why people want to live in Utah, especially when they have family living there. It is extremely comfortable. Utah is a beautiful place, and a safe place with down home values, a great place to raise kids. I loved my BYU experience in Utah. Loved it.

Living in San Francisco has been EXTREMELY uncomfortable during these political elections. We've been asked to be involved with Prop 8 in ways that force us to step outside our comfort zones(knocking doors, cold calling, passing out flyers,etc).

I definitely feel like we are "on the front lines" so to speak. It's hard, but the reality is that it makes my own convictions stronger. I feel like I'm apart of something bigger than myself and I love that.

People can absolutely be positive influences in Utah, just in a different way.

Tiffany Williams said...

That is just the reason I didn't want to move to UT in the first place. Although, once I got here I realized it wasn't so bad, but maybe I'm just getting used to it. I'm glad there is less to worry about in the school system here. I definitely feel safer sending my kids to school here, than I would where we lived in CA.

H&M said...

YAY for you! Way to feel that spirit of adventure and exploration. I think Utah is a great place but I think there are many more great places. I was a missionary in Virginia and I thought the east coast/south beautiful, diverse, and amazing. I think if you feel like moving out of Utah for growth and experience you are going with an attitude that will expand you and help you become an even more amazing person than you already are. I know for me, I am just not ready to settle so we may or may not live it Utah, it just depends on what is waiting for us. Experience is beautiful and I am glad to see your desire for it.
By the way, love your photography! :)