Mormon Folklore

This didn’t happen to me, but it happened to a friend of a friend of mine.

Two young missionaries sent all of their clothing to the local laundry, including their temple garments. That was a mistake, since the people who ran the laundromat proceeded to dye the garments funny colors and hang them on a clothesline out in front of the street. The missionaries, aghast when they discovered how they’d been mocked, dusted off their feet as a witness against the evil launderers, and about two days later, the entire laundromat exploded after a gas leak. That’ll teach ‘em to mess with the Mormons!

I have heard versions of this story about three hundred times. Sometimes it takes place in World War II, and the laundromat is bombed into oblivion. Other times, the laundromat bursts into flames. I think once or twice space aliens have been involved. In any case, it’s absolutely bogus. I don’t understand why this kind of stuff gets circulated and believed. I don’t know why someone, somewhere in the church finds it faith-promoting to believe that vengeful missionaries have the priesthood power to blow up laundromats, but, unlike the sinful clothes washers, this story doesn’t seem to be able to die.

Mormon folklore is kind of loony.

More often than not, it’s benign, and it involves celebrities who convert to the faith. Did you know that Lionel Richie is a Mormon? How about Steve Martin? Mrs. Cornell was once convinced that Ron Howard left Happy Days so he could go on his mission. Of course, none of this is true. In fact, in the personal info section on Steve Martin’s website, he listed his religion as “Not Mormon.” I’m not making that up – I saw that with my own eyes just a few months ago, but the current website seems to have been changed, so maybe I’m just imagining that I saw it. More folklore, I guess.

Many of these stories revolve around either John the Beloved or the Three Nephites, who, according to scripture, have been transformed from mortal to immortal beings and remain on the earth until the Second Coming. All these stories involve people appear out of nowhere and do good deeds only to vanish on the wind. On my mission, the male half of the one of the elderly couples who ran the mission office stood up and told the story of meeting one of the “Three Lamanites” as a young man and speaking to him in a language he’d never heard before. I don’t know who the Three Lamanites are, or if the Three Lamanites and the Three Nephites get together to reminisce about the old times. But if they do, I’m betting that old guy from my mission isn’t invited.

Like the laundry story, a lot of folklore involves temple garments, which critics of the church have irreverently dubbed “magic underwear.” It’s uncomfortable for most Mormons – including me – to discuss the garments in casual conversation, as they symbolize the sacred covenants made in temples, which are not to be taken lightly. So it galls me every time someone tells a story about someone’s legs or arms being charred “all the way to the garment line,” but the garment then protects the rest of them. What, the Lord isn’t concerned with the safety of your extremities? And what about head injuries? I would think heaven would be at least as interested in keeping your brain safe as they would be in making sure your upper thighs are unscarred. That is, unless you believe God’s blowing up laundromats all over the place.

Garments aren’t magical; they provide protection only in that they’re a reminder that staying close to the Lord provides safety from the evils of the world. But then one of the Marriotts goes on 60 Minutes and talks about how his garments saved him from being barbecued in a fiery boating accident. Aaargh! It never ends.

I’m an active Latter-day Saint who’s pretty doctrinally orthodox, which means I believe a lot of things that the traditional Christian world mocks as ridiculous. And that’s okay. But I don’t believe that Cain is Bigfoot, seven feet tall, inordinately hairy, and living, unable to die, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t think the Lost Tribes of Israel are holed up underground on Mars and waiting for Thomas Monson to tell them when to board the mothership. And while I think it’s nice that someone stopped to help you when your car broke down on the side of the freeway, I’m pretty sure that John the Beloved has better things to do than roam the highways looking to change as many tires as he can.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the laundromat.

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