Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pioneer Trek Heretics

We tread a little lightly here because we don't want in any way to diminish the honor due the Mormon Pioneers on this day of all days. Nor do we want to appear in opposition to local ward or stake leadership. But Anonymous D and I share a similar heartfelt aversion to the excesses of youth activities that manipulate emotional experiences and call them "spiritual."

Don't get me wrong. I am all for historical reenactments and living history activities. What we don't like at all is the tent-revival emotionalism of phony analogies and excessive extravaganza. Go on a hike for historical significance. Climb a mountain because it's there. Above all, do something in service to others that is meaningful - youth temple trips being the best of all. But please spare me the angels of death taking people out and the contrived "women's pull" while the Mormon Battalion boys rest on the hill until they feel sorry enough. Play it straight, or not at all.

Even youth conferences frequently leave me with a sour taste to the extent they venture into EFY evangelism. (Neither I nor my kids went to EFY [Especially For Youth] and somehow we managed to marry in the temple, go on missions, etc.) And the Lord has blessed me to be able to avoid youth conferences for the most part.

So with my little diatribe out of the way, we'll have Anonymous D take it away!
So, it was Trek Sunday in our ward.  After the High Counselor waxed rhapsodic about the experience for 10 minutes, I left.  I think Pioneer Trek has evolved into something which is potentially emotionally damaging because it’s now a manipulative, stimulus-response melodrama with very little basis in reality.   I keep waiting for the church to put a stop to the excesses but with little real hope.   I don’t think it necessary to have angels jumping out of bushes, or people dressed in prophet garb talking to you, or pretending to kill children to make the point.  Add to that the fact the Handcart companies were actually a rarity and a bit controversial at the time even among the twelve.   We make it sound like everyone came over that way.
So I’m already hopped up about Pioneer Trek.   I usually hold my peace about it.   Someone in church made the mistake of asking me why I left the meeting and I made the mistake of telling them that I hated Pioneer Trek.  “Why?” they asked.  “Because” I said “It’s manipulative and phony from beginning to end.”  Which was probably a bit hyperbolic but I still believe to be true.  Stunned silence and then, “But it does so much good.”  I didn’t reply.
I get to work today and the guy next to me is telling me about their Youth Conference where they did a “Tree of Life” exercise.  I don’t know if you’ve heard about those.  They set up an obstacle course and blindfold you and make you hold onto a rope.  Pretty goofy stuff, ah, but not goofy enough for a people who will stop at nothing to elicit an emotional response from you and call it a testimony, we must add people tempting you to leave the rope and heck knows what else.  This kind of thing angers me.  I got my testimony the old fashioned way, I wanted to know and I read the Book of Mormon.  And then I asked. 
"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—" D&C 121:41
Without guile . . . without guile.  Guile which Webster’s defines as “the use of clever and usually dishonest methods to achieve something.”  I want to shout that from the rooftops when I hear of things like this going on in the church.
Commercialized handcart (a whole other problem) Bountiful Pioneer-eve Parade last night.
The good news is: no Roman generals leading stripling warriors


  1. Hmm. Doesn't sound at all like my unit's Pioneer Trek, which involved no angels jumping from bushes, people pretending to be historical figures, or reenactments of child murder.

    I did dress up as John the Revelator once for a fireside on the Second Coming many years ago. Went over like a lead balloon. Serves me right.

  2. I hated, just absolutely hated my pioneer trek experience as a youth. Even as a not-yet disillusioned teenager (at the tender age of 14), I found it to be unbearably preachy and melodramatic. Combine that with the fact that I had been on tons of campouts with the Scouts by that point, some of which were able to elicit actual emotional responses, and the entire thing felt contrived and pointless. Add to that the horror of doing things like tackling and killing a turkey, then eating it for dinner, and I had a pretty darned miserable time. If ever asked to participate in Pioneer Trek, I think my response will be a short "no", because if I try to make it polite or give any context, I'm going to end up offending somebody.


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