Where are We?

Eight years ago, as a new member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I sat in a chapel in Dallas, Texas, and watched my first General Conference. The first person to speak was our dear beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. He began immediately by speaking of temples, those that had been dedicated and those to be rededicated. And then he said, “This morning I am pleased to announce five new temples for which sites have been acquired and which, in coming months and years, will be built in the following locations: Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Córdoba, Argentina; the greater Kansas City area; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Rome, Italy.” At the time I had no connection to any of those temples. I had no idea that four years later, after that first general conference, I would meet and marry an incredible man, and four years after that our little family of three would move to Philadelphia—just in time for the Philadelphia Temple open house and dedication to happen in the following months.

The excitement of being here, at this time, is indescribable. After three months of waiting the day finally arrived, it was our night to the tour the temple. We were the last tour of the night. We had many of our family members and friends come with us, including the elder who taught and baptized my husband nine years prior, and his wife. It was a special day. As we began the tour, the guide shared with us what a temple was. He told us that this is the House of the Lord and this is where individuals and families come to feel peace and make promises with God. He told us to pay attention to every detail as we walked through. I looked at everything, from the floorboards to the lamps, to the carpet, to the tables and chairs. Every single detail I could take in, I did. It was beautiful. As I soaked in all the details I began to look at all the visitors that were there as well. It was beautiful. They were beautiful. One of the most incredible things about Philly is the overwhelming diversity and cultural richness that it holds. As a lover of cultures I noticed immediately that there were Asians, Hispanics, Whites, Blacks, all races of people and cultures on our tour. However, as I continued to look around the room and at the details, I began to notice none of the pictures reflected any of the diversity I was seeing in the room. On one floor there was an incredible panoramic painting of Christ visiting the Americas. In the painting I expected to see caramel skinned Natives, with beautiful, long black hair. Instead I was greeted by a painting of people with light skin and some with brown hair; their skin wasn’t even tanned. There were paintings of Christ teaching and preaching those in the Middle East, they were fair skinned with European features. As we moved room to room, I hoped to see more representation of what I was seeing in my tour group, but to my dismay, every picture depicted in the temple was of white/fair skinned people, sitting with Jesus, listening to Jesus, in heaven with Jesus. I looked around the room at my family and then at my daughter I realized there were no pictures in the temple that looked like me or my beautiful daughter. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where do we fit? Where are we?”

Closer to the end of the tour we entered in the bride’s room of the temple. As I walked in I noticed a painting of a black woman kneeling in prayer. “This is where brides get ready and,” as a tour guide told us, “feel like a princess on their wedding day.” I positioned myself directly across from the painting, though it was clear across the room, so I could stare at it. The tour guide made sure she told us that only women (and not all might I add) go in that room. By this time the lack of representation had began to weigh on me, though. I wasn’t ecstatic to see the ONE picture in the entire temple of a person of color that only a few would be able to view. Why weren’t there more? Why didn’t the art in the temple reflect the people that would be visiting it every single day? In a place that was suppose to give me the most comfort I left asking “why?”

At the conclusion of the tour, we were guided to the visitor’s center across the way. Because there were so many with us I didn’t want them to see me defeated or upset. I wanted them to know that I love the temple. I wanted them to know that this was a joyous moment and there was no other place I would rather be than there with them. As we walked into the visitors center, we were greeted by sister missionaries from EVERYWHERE around the world. It was refreshing to be reminded in that moment that the church is a worldwide church. When you step in the visitors center, you are immediately greeting with pictures on the walls of families of ALL races, nationalities etc. This made me think even more. How are we so well represented here but not in the temple? What is the difference? Who decides which pictures go here and which go in the temple? If we acknowledge that the Visitor’s Center needs to be a reflection of the people, why not in the temple? I felt like a visitor visiting my loved ones and then being told that I would be staying in the in-law quarters in the back. But don’t worry it’s just like the main house, just smaller and not attached to the main house. Why was I upset? I would have everything I needed. I couldn’t help but ask “Are we good enough for the in-law quarters but not the main house? Why weren’t these same things taken into consideration for the artwork in the House of the Lord? Why just the visitors quarters AKA the visitor’s center?”

I have often struggled with the feeling of inclusion and understanding in our church. When I mention it, people often say things like, “Why don’t you focus on what you have in common? Why don’t you focus on the fact that we’re all children of God?” I also think it’s important I add that the people that normally tell me these things are usually very well represented in the temple, pictures, paintings. Everything reflects them, even pictures of Jesus. I always have to reply, “I AM focusing on the fact that we are all children of God. God does not have children that only look one type of way. If that were how He wanted it, he would have made us all the same. But He didn’t. He loved us enough to make us all unique, and that uniqueness should be represented in His Home of all places.” Imagine for a moment you go to visit a friend, a friend that has 4 kids. As you walk in you notice immediately all the pictures are only of one child, little Timmy. Pictures of Little Timmy’s first teeball game, kindergarten graduation, riding a bike etc., it would probably make you feel a little uncomfortable. You may even begin to feel the unhealthy affects this could cause on everyone involved, the parents, Little Timmy and his unseen siblings. That’s because we understand  that if a parent puts a picture up on the wall, they usually put a picture of all the children. Not just one. It wouldn’t be fair for a parent to put up a picture of one of their children and say, “Just focus on the fact that Mommy and Daddy love all of you even though we only put up pictures of your sister/brother.” No! It would be weird, not to mention pretty unfair. As the “unseen sibling” in this case I can say that it doesn’t feel good. It’s hurtful and somewhat embarrassing not to be seen in your Fathers House.

So just know this, having cultural/racial representation doesn’t change the truthfulness of the gospel, nor does it change any of the ordinances we perform in the temple. But if the temple is suppose to be symbolic of what Heaven will feel like/look like, then it’s important that there’s an accurate depiction of the people that will be there. All I’m saying is… As members we all envision what our lives will be like/look like in the eternities. Today, I find myself caught up in my thoughts because I feel like I’m being told that not very many people will look like me there.

Advertisements

31 thoughts on “Where are We?

  1. I know I am very late with this response, but I’ve just found your site. Thank you for the beautifully written and honest thoughts. 45 years ago I moved to Baltimore, MD for a brief educational stint. The ward there did not have their own building at that time so they rented space from a local Baptist congregation. I was thrilled every week to see the mural behind the pulpit that showed the Savior surrounded by a multitude of angels of many ethnicities. I wish it were so in every worship setting, in the artwork and the congregation.

    Like

  2. Wow–you have opened up new perspectives for me; thank you! The Lord’s Gospel should be clearly for EVERYONE. I have appreciated that particular painting you mentioned, but hadn’t considered the impact of the ratio of this ONE beautiful face to the many, many Caucasian faces everywhere else. Even the depictions of Jesus himself are surely more Caucasian than his ethnicity would predict. I hope that this will change, that your input may lead to more inclusive thinking and artwork, not ONLY to show to non-Caucasians that they are included and every bit as important as “white folk” but to remind us “white folk” that WE are not any more important than any of God’s children who have a different appearance! All are alike unto God. Bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The painter of several murals in instruction rooms of various LDS temples has said that there is a deliberate and meaningful purpose to these landscape designs. “I want to…have work that does something for you,” she says. “I want something that puts people at ease or is therapeutic. Something people would want to live with.”

    An important part–maybe THE most important part–of putting people “at ease” and having a “therapeutic” temple experience is feeling like you belong. If temple landscape scenes are intentionally designed to reflect the distinct physical environments–mountain peaks with pine forests in the inter-mountain West and palm trees on beaches in the Pacific islands)–why would it be unreasonable for depictions of people in temple artwork to be any less reflective of the rich variety of men and women who serve and seek solace there?

    In addition to ordinances, the temple exists as a refuge, as a sacred space to encourage and bring peace and hope to its patrons. Art is a powerful and integral means of achieving those ends. An interior designer with the Temple Department has commented that rather then being objects to be passed by unnoticed, “people love to see art in the temple” because it “contributes to the comfort and peace they so often find during their instruction and learning there.”

    There is nothing about this essay that suggests in any way that the temple “is not really a holy house of God”. It touchingly points out that as precursors to our heavenly home, the art depicted in temples can underscore the welcoming message: “You belong here.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There are pictures of people on the walls of the temple?

    Apparently my attention has been focused on all the wrong things these past 35 years.

    I will just have to get my mind right and realize the temple is not really a holy house of God but merely the latest venue for telestial political battles.

    Perhaps when you see your racial quotas for the pictures on the walls set right you can begin to start thinking about the real reasons for temple worship. I suspect this will probably happen but I’ll never know because I’m still never going to the temple to look at the pictures on the walls.

    Like

    1. PACoug: It would appear that 35 years of temple attendance have not yet taught you empathy for people whose experience differs from yours (e.g., people who lived in times and places vastly different to where you now find yourself, and whose participation in the “welding links” of sealing notwithstanding those differences is the “real reason” for temple worship). The temple is fundamentally about inclusion; should not its artwork reflect that?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Maybe you missed the entire last paragraph of my post. However, I thank you for showing others the lack of empathy and understanding we, people of color, in the church have to deal with. You are well represented. Thank you for dismissing my experience all while undermining my testimony. I appreciate it.

      Like

    3. Perhaps you should take a deep look into your own heart and try to discover why your immediate reaction to someone feeling left out in the church is to attack them.
      Might I remind you that Christ said to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, not attack anyone who dares voice their feelings about the lack of representation for people of color in the church. As a white member, I have never looked at pictures in the temple and not seen myself represented. I have always looked at those pictures and felt a connection to them, like I could easily envision myself standing there with the Savior. It breaks my heart that many of my brothers and sisters don’t have that feeling because they don’t see themselves in those paintings. How can you not want everyone to enjoy the blessings of love and inclusion in the temple??

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Phylicia! As always, your expression of your own perspective has broaden mine. It kills me to see responses like this. Sometimes I (in some sort of delusional world) think others are of the same understanding, empathetic, loving mindset I grew up with in my own home, and then people like this snap me back into reality. It sucks. And unfortunately there will forever be too many people that think this way. Sadly, even when people like you, who eloquently address these important issue, speak out, these same individuals stay stuck in their selfish, idiotic perception. I wish we had an answer and it scares me that we don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know how the church selects artwork for the temples. That said, I invite you to visit the Houston temple. The artwork there is representative of our diverse city and reflects people of all races. The painting at the top of the stairs of a beautiful woman is especially striking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have always wanted to go to the Houston temple. It is beautiful. I’m sure there are more representation throughout other temples. It just hasn’t been my experience in the many temples I have been in. I’m excited to visit one day!

      Like

  6. Beautiful! I was told that the interior of the temple should have aspects that reflect the area that the temple is built but it seems that where ever you go the pictures are all the same. Unfortunately they reflect only a small part of our Heavenly Father’s children. I hope that we see changes in the artwork and that they represent our larger world wide membership. Thank you Phylicia for expressing your feelings in such a beautiful way. I hope you always continue to speak up on your feelings and impressions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well said. I noticed the same thing in the Payson, Utah temple which opened last year. There was ONE painting of a person of color (and if I remember correctly, I think it may have been the same painting you saw. It was in the bridal rooms as well.) How can we claim to have a global church if we don’t do a better job at representing people of color? I wonder if God is ever disappointed that we haven’t figured out this stuff by now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It is always great to hear from folks who have a testimony, but still understand that there is room and a need for growth in the church. I know that I have received His image in my countenance and I look forward to the day when all my brothers and sisters see me in it too. God bless and great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t know if this is true of all temples, but my parent’s city got a new temple a few years back. They said that the artwork inside was all custom made for the temple and paintings portrayed the families of the wealthy donors who paid for the land and a lot of the upgrades to the temple (done in appropriate settings, etc.). My parents (who live on the outside edge of a wealthy ward and thus such donations are discussed openly) found it off-putting to find paintings of their ward members in the temple. I don’t know if that makes what you are experiencing better or worse, but I find it freaky.

    Like

    1. That is freaky. I know of people that have had portraits made of their kids around Jesus, which is cool, for them, but for the temple seems a little wrong. Not in the temple, come on.

      Like

    2. The church NEVER has used paintings/pictures of local members inside temples. It is ALWAYS painting of the Savior and Gospel themes. Which temple are you referring to? If what you share here is true, then you should be able to tell us which temple it is, and we can go there and check it out. That would, obviously, be highly inappropriate. But something tells me this is not a true story.

      Like

      1. Gilbert, AZ – I’ve never been there myself, but I have no reason to doubt my parents’ word. From what they said, the pictures are appropriate (Jesus and disciples in biblical scenes, etc.). The ‘disciples’ are painted in likenesses of the ward members.

        Like

      2. Been to Gilbert temple. Basically, local artists need models…the same as anybody else. So the models may well be people you recognize. It’s nothing nefarious. Just the way art is created.

        Like

      3. I agree that if the models are random, then there is nothing nefarious. When the models are chosen based on millions of dollars of donations, that may not be nefarious either but it’s kind of icky.

        Like

  10. I feel your emotion in every word written and I couldn’t have agreed more. I often do not pay attention to the portraits in the temple in a way of comparison to myself or a person of color because I usually get caught up with the feeling of spiritual belonging and growth as I’m sure in many cases you have. However, this blog truly reminds me what it means to be All children of God. I feel that this beautiful piece ought to share with more and esp to our church leaders in hope of new changes for future temples. I just don’t know how or who? Can it be sent to the deseret news or church headquaters, or do we continue in sincere secret and personal prayers?? Thanks for sharing!!! I love you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was a lovely way of getting the need for inclusiveness across to people. I know that introducing people to new ideas (or even showing that their ideals are good, but practice isn’t working out the way it should be) is always hard and you’ve been burned, but you’ve got the strength needed to make a real change. And, don’t forget, for every naysayer, there are a dozen behind you! Excited to see what comes next.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The bretheren always mention people who send them letters etc. during General Conference. Maybe go directly to the source and email them? I think this is a beautiful and well-written post that deserves attention. I think some people just don’t have it on their radar so they wouldn’t think of it as an issue, so this is a great wake-up call. I’ll need to check around my own temple – Seattle – which was built in the 70s so not a lot of hope there…

      Like

      1. They are adding the picture aforementioned of the black woman in many temples across the states. I know because I receive a text about it every time a friend of mine visits one of them and sees it. Also, the letter is on its way. Thank you for the comment.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s