Sunday, January 01, 2006

A chip off the old block

If you're LDS, you may be familiar with the story of Elder Gene R. Cook's encounter with Mick Jagger on an airplane. (If you're not LDS [Mormon], Elder Cook is a high-ranking leader in my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I assume that, LDS or not, anyone who uses the internet is probably familiar enough with pop culture to know that Mick Jagger is the front man of the Rolling Stones.) According to Elder Cook, one day he found himself seated next to Jagger on an airplane on the way from Mexico to the US. (Elder Cook told this story publicly in a talk in 1989; from other sources, I gather the incident would have happened in 1983 or 1984. You can listen to the talk here. The part about Jagger starts about 24 minutes in, so in the unlikely event you actually want to hear it you may prefer to download the file and skip ahead rather than to stream the whole thing.)

Once Elder Cook realized who exactly Mick was -- which required Mick showing him a picture in a magazine and saying, "That's me" -- he began to ask him about rock music. He asked Mick what the impact of his music was on young people. Mick apparently replied, "Our music is calculated to drive the kids to sex." At Elder Cook's shocked expression, Mick apparently retreated a little bit and said that it was up to them what they do; he was just making money from it. Elder Cook and Mick then proceeded to talk about various things, until eventually Mick told him the Book of Mormon was a lie, whereupon Elder Cook whipped out his own copy and challenged him to show him one lie, which Mick couldn't do. Elder Cook then testified that it's a true book and that God would hold Mick accountable to the extent of his understanding if he didn't change his ways. End of anecdote.

Now, the way this story is used in the church, by Elder Cook and by those who repeat it, is to illustrate the idea that there is "good music" and "evil music" in the world and that LDS should avoid "evil" music such as that produced by the Rolling Stones. This story was repeated in my daughter M's Seminary class shortly before the winter break. (Seminary is a program of one-hour daily classes on religion for LDS high school students.) According to M, the other students in the class responded, "Yes, yes, that's bad music, we shouldn't listen to it."

M's response was rather different, in two ways. First, she said she couldn't believe that Elder Cook actually took Jagger seriously. She thought it was obvious that he was having Elder Cook on a bit, trying to shock him with his "evil ways." Second, she said something like, "Have any of you ever even listened to the Rolling Stones' music? It's great. I love it. And it's certainly never driven me to have sex."

Those of you who know me from the internet will probably recognize that I might have said the same sort of things. In fact, M and I had a bit of a laugh discussing this conversation and the idea that Mick was probably rather excited to still be able to shock someone. It probably even made him feel relevant again.

So, she's a bit of a chip off the old block. She's learned -- and I guess I'm the one who taught her -- to think critically and independently. She doesn't automatically accept everything she hears at church as The Truth. She questions and thinks, and recognizes poor reasoning and illogical thinking.

And I ask myself, did I do the right thing? Should I have taught her to do those things? I recall this passage from Chaim Potok's The Gift of Asher Lev, where Asher and his father discuss Asher's son Avrumel.

"How can we expect to know everything about God?"

He looked at me, his eyes narrowing.

"I call that ambiguity," I said. "Riddles, puzzles, double meanings, lost possibilities, the dark side to the light, the light side to the darkness, different perspectives on the same things. Nothing in this world has only one side to it. Everything is like a kaleidoscope. That's what I'm trying to capture in my art. That's what I mean by ambiguity."

"No one can live in a kaleidoscope, Asher. God is not a kaleidoscope. God is not ambiguous. Our faith in Him is not ambiguous. From ambiguity I would not derive the strength to do all the things I must do. Ambiguity is darkness. Certainty is light. Darkness is the world of the Other Side. Tell me something, Asher. Do you think Avrumel will be better off if he learns ambiguity from you or certainty from me?"

I said nothing.

And I ask myself if I should have taught M to accept her religion uncritically, if I should have striven to teach certainty rather than ambiguity. And, like Asher Lev, I don't know what to say.

1 comment:

  1. I listened to Elder Cook's talk. It would not surprise me if Mick said his music was calculated to drive kids to sex. But whether he was being serious, was pulling Elder Cook's leg, or was just trying to be funny, only Mick would know. The idea that his music is calculated to make himself a lot of money is something I definitely believe, and that sounds to me like he really doesn't care what emotional affect it has on kids.

    I have no idea really, I never listen to his music. There are other types of music that would drive me to sex more than rock and roll. But I'm an old lady. I need ambience.

    When I was a kid, my father got very upset if I listened to the popular music of the time (late 60's, early 70's). When he was around, I was "forced" to listen to elevator music and Lawrence Welk. He even convinced me the cows do not like rock and roll.

    When I left home, I listened to whatever I wanted, and eventually chose the music that helped me feel at peace. Music affects people in different ways. I do believe however that certain music invites the Spirit while other types drive it away.

    You've taught your daughter to think critically. She'll probably figure it out. I wish my father had been more like that rather than telling me what is good and what is bad, and what to do. (The fact that much of what I do now is what he told me to do then, is beside the point.)

    Julia

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