Holy, Humdrum, and Horrible: The Collapse of the Sacred, Banal, and Profane.
I attended a lecture a few months ago by professor Terryl Givens, where he described how Mormon theology collapses the sacred and the banal. God was once like us and we have the opportunity to become like him—Adam & Eve experiencing mortality in order to become holy—heaven and earth being the same physical location—even the fact that we hold church services in gyms.
But if there is no distinction between earth and heaven, I am as interested in making the fantastic mundane as I am the mundane fantastic. My life was changed the first time I saw Mormon pop art—holy symbols juxtaposed with Diet Coke and ranch dressing. Suddenly religion didn’t have to be up in the clouds anymore. It’s here, on the earth, with us—with our postmodern 21st century selves, with our smartphones, our laziness, our existential dread. It’s here with our pizza and our video games. It’s here, in our ordinary lives, as much a part of it as drinking water.
Andy Warhol reveled in the ordinariness of ordinary things—but in depicting cans of soup as colorful, wall-sized prints, he sensationalized the mundane and recontextualized it as sublime. Is it truly possible to look at a can of tomato soup again without feeling a sense of the magic of Andy's paintings? Is it possible to look at his silkscreened image of the Last Supper without understanding that Christianity relies on mass consumerism?
by Andy Warhol
That being said, I do not want divine manifestations and visions to be simply a salespitch, a product of the mind or a metaphorical story. I see no reason why Jehovah couldn't have appeared to the Israelites as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. I see no reason why Moses couldn't have parted the Red Sea, or why the brother of Jared couldn’t have seen the finger of the Lord, or why Joseph Smith couldn't have seen a pillar of light. I love these stories because they took place in the ordinary world, though the manifestation themselves were extraordinary. There is no reason that the ordinariness of our world should preclude extraordinary events from occurring. Science is just a new mythology, another form of magic. Impossible creatures are discovered all the time.
When heaven is earth and earth is heaven, every natural phenomenon becomes an evidence of the Divine. Every ordinary thing becomes extraordinary if you pay close enough attention. We are constantly surrounded by strange & holy wonders, knowable to the initiates who have the eyes to see and ears to hear. People say the mountains in Utah are ugly in winter because they are brown—but I see them as orange and purple and cream, mutable with the light and the weather, as beautiful in winter as they are in the summer, as beautiful as anywhere else in the world.
My favorite book is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It's so difficult to describe to people when I say it out loud—"It's about a woman who lives by a creek in the Ozarks for a year and writes about it." She lives in an ordinary world, but it is her attention that is extraordinary—she sees holy symbols in the rattlesnake on the rocks; in the grasshoppers in the meadow; in the lights in the trees. She writes about the horror and brutality of the natural world with the same reverence as the benign and beautiful. After all, they are two sides of the same coin. Three, maybe—heaven and earth and hell. All piled up on top of each other, in the same place, at the same time.
Sacred. Banal. Profane. Is that my new Trinity? The Three that are One.
I, personally, am quite fond of the language of symbols. I love how one representation can connote so many things at the same time. Bread and water becoming flesh and blood, at once holy and humdrum and horrible. We live in a world that is all of those things. We as human beings are all of those things. We as a church are all of those things.
Nothing wrong with that, in my opinion.