The iPhone App of Mormon

This blog entry about the events of Monday, June 27, 2011 was originally posted on July 04, 2011.

PART 10 (DAY 12):  The bells of a holy church rang within earshot of the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, just as Cheryl and I had settled our things into a room there. 

“It’s Mormon time!” I announced. 

And so, the two of us went out to explore Temple Square, the epicenter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. “The Mormons,” although some sects of Mormons are not a part of this main sect), just across the street.

LIKE THE FOUNDERS OF THE MORMON CHURCH, Cheryl and I had descended from the cooler airs of mountain regions and arrived in the hot desert, where we decided to settle for the night.  We had left Grand Teton National Park earlier that morning, stopped in the skiing/rafting outpost town of Jackson, WY to pick up some epoxy to fix my glasses, and continued driving southwestbound through the southeastern corner of Idaho.  By lunch time we were within the state of Utah and stopped in Logan, UT, home of Utah State University, and Yelped Angie’s (“Where the locals eat”) for a couple of sandwiches and tater tots.

“Man it’s hot,” Cheryl said, swapping her hiking boots to flip-flops.  “And I was wearing five layers yesterday.”  The temperature shift was probably the reason why she was starting to get a cold and a hacking cough.

By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah’s capital, and brought in most of our bags into the hotel to sort through and do laundry.  When the desert heat started to cool down around six, we took a break from our room to explore the highlight of the city, just across the street: Temple Square, which is not only Mormon HQ, but the impetus that set the founding of the rest of Salt Lake City (even though more than half its current population isn’t actually Mormon anymore).

“HI, I’M SISTER GILBERT… and this is Sister Nakajima,” greeted the college-aged young woman, who would be one of our tour guides of Temple Square (arranged fairly easily at the visitors desk by interactive kiosk at the south gate).  Sister Gilbert, who was originally from Rochester, NY, was with her fellow missionary from Japan.  Cheryl thought it was suspicious that the visitor’s desk had chosen those two to give us the free tour; we were both obviously Asian-American, plus we told them we were from New York.  She knew that during the tour there would be some sort of a pitch to convert to Mormonism; Andy (Cheryl’s boyfriend) had toured around Temple Square before and had mistakenly given up their address as a courtesy — What’s a little harmless junk mail? he thought — only to get a visit from two missionaries two weeks later right at their doorstep in Massachussetts for a conversion hard sell.  (Fortunately they were away that weekend.) 

“Ha, I like your shirt,” Sister Gilbert told me, chuckling.  While her religion was dedicated to the teachings of their savior J.C. (Jesus Christ), my t-shirt promoted another savior: J.B. (Jack Bauer).

“So how much do you know about the Church?” Sister Gilbert asked us as she led the way.  (She did most of the talking on the tour.)

“Well, I saw The Book of Mormon a few weeks ago,” I answered with a smirk.  You could tell that she was wary of how they would be conceived by me, after admitting to seeing the expletive-filled, Tony Award-winning musical by the South Park guys, which totally pokes fun of Mormons.  I told her that it was hilarious mostly because of what the individual characters do in the play, and that “like anything the South Park guys do, they ride a fine line.  It’s blasphemous and respectful at the same time.  In the end, it’s sort of this feel good play about Mormons.”

I tried to convert her into an audience member, but she still debated it.  “I don’t know if I want to see it after being a missionary.”

The two sisters continued the tour of the grounds, showing us: the statues of the 19th century westbound pioneers who struggled to get to SLC after the Mormons were religiously persecuted from the east; the visitors center, which exhibited the Mormon’s dedication to Jesus Christ and the family (with or without multiple wives); and the Assembly Hall, where services take place, “...where we take the bread and water,” Sister Gilbert explained.

“Oh, like bread and wine,” Cheryl answered, making a parallel to the Catholic practices we grew up with.

“Well, as you may have heard, we don’t really drink, so it’s water.”

Sister Gilbert explained the story of the origin of the religion, how Mormons believe that a lost tribe of Israel made it to North America thousands of years ago, and buried an alternate doctrine of Jesus’ teachings (inscribed on golden plates) in what is now upstate New York.  The plates were discovered by a Joseph Smith in 1830, who had been confused with all the competing sects of Christianity, and was summoned by God not to join any of them, but to revive the one “true religion.”  As the first all-American prophet of a new religion, Joseph Smith had the plates transcribed into what is now The Book of Mormon, and grew many followers — as well as opposition.  Gradually the Mormons headed west after being constantly persecuted for their alternative religion; Joseph Smith was martyred in Illinois in 1884 on charges of treason, but a guy named Bringham Young picked up the Mormonic relay baton, making him the Second Prophet, and continued heading west with his followers — up and down the mountains — finally settling in the desert area of what is now Salt Lake City to build a grand temple of worship.

“I learned that from the play!” I told the sisters.

There would be no tour within the actual Mormon Temple for it’s off-limits to non-Mormons.  In lieu of a temple tour is an impressive scale model in the visitor center, which is the only way a non-Mormon can see what the inside looks like.  The model and nearby iPad-like interactive display of the different rooms showed the beautifully fancy interiors of the temple, including the one council room of the twelve modern apostles who pray for each missionary’s location assignment.  “They sent me to Utah and [Sister Nakajima] got sent to the USA,” Sister Gilbert told us.

“Is that what you wanted?” I asked; praying for your dream missionary placement was a part of the Broadway play.

“Well I was sort of hoping I’d go overseas, but they put me here,” the Mormon sister admitted, but without complaint.

“So ‘sister’ is the female equivalent to ‘elder’?” I asked, intrigued by the similarties between what I was learning in SLC and what I’d learned in NYC’s theater district.

“Yeah,” she answered.

“Wow, you know a lot about them,” Cheryl commented to me, curiously.

“Well, I learned it from from the play.”  (Who says you can’t learn from the South Park guys?)

“So do you guys always have to carry the book around [everywhere]?” Cheryl asked the sisters.  Sister Nakajima was walking around with The Book of Mormon while Sister Gilbert had a King James’ Holy Bible in her hands.

“No, we’re just carrying it around to show people on tour what we read,” Sister Gilbert answered, as if trying to prove to us that Mormons might actually not be crazy religious zealots as outsiders might conceive them to be.  “But no, we don’t… There’s actually an iPhone app you can dowload,” she added.

Sister Nakajima opened up her copy of The Book of Mormon to show it off to us and explain some things.  “Oh, there’s pictures in it!” I raved. 


“I have to take a picture of the pictures,” I said excitedly, marveling at the novelty of it.  “There are no pictures in the Old Testament.”

“No,” Sister Gilbert chuckled.  “Do you know the gruesome stories in there?  Those would be some pretty gruesome pictures.”  She seized the opportunity of our good-humored banter to get me to learn more; it seemed I knew more about Mormons than the average visitor.

“Do you know much about The Book?” she asked me.

Here it comes, I thought.  The pitch.  “Not really,” I answered aloud.

“You haven’t read it or anything?”


“Well if you want to know more, we can have someone send you a copy…”

“Nah, that’s okay,” I answered politely.

“Why not?”

“Uh, well…  I can just download it off of iTunes,” I answered with a smile.  She gave me a card with a URL on it, and backed off.

“You should have just told her that we were hardcore drinkers,” Cheryl told me after the fact.  “And then they’d pray for us.”

WE ENDED OUR BRIEF TOUR with the Mormon sisters at the famed Mormon Tabernacle, home of the world-renowed Mormon Tabernacle Choir, so harmonious it transcends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints into mainstream musical society.  The choir was on tour during our time there, but at least we got to see where they sing and record CDs — in a grand dome-topped building completely engineered for optimal acoustics.  To prove this, Sister Gilbert did a demonstration from the altar, sans microphone, where she ripped paper and made the sound of a pin dropping — and we heard it all the way in the back row. 

Before we parted ways, I had one more question for Sister Gilbert; it started off as hopeful interest.  “So, when you go to service, is it long and boring?”

“Well the first hour…”

First hour?” I said, frowning.  “Forget it.”  (An hour in Catholicism has been long enough.)

(She explained that it was usually a weekly three-hour thing, with two of those hours in communal discussion, which she actually enjoyed these days, even though she used to dread it when she was twelve.)

Cheryl and I continued wandering the square for a bit without the sisters, seeing a Mormon wedding in progress, plenty more images of Jesus — from outside to an outer spacey cosmic room — plus more arguably creepy wax statues of the Mormon prophets, and many displays showing the intended good nature of the church, with its philsophies of family, and humanitarian efforts around the globe.  (The Book of Mormon has been translated into 108 languages, including Pampangu, a dialect in the Philippines — the nation with third largest Mormon population outside the U.S.A.) 

“It’s not as simple as I thought,” Cheryl said to me, intrigued by all the informative displays like an anthropologist.  “You made it sound like they just followed one guy [like a cult].  I can see why people would be into it.  I mean, I’m not into it, but I get it now.  It’s definitely more interesting than I thought it would be.”

Mormonism, like any religion, is often slammed or misunderstood out of ignorance and fear, and the two of us had shed a layer of that during our brief tour of Temple Square.  And when you think about it, the whole story of Joseph Smith founding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints isn’t as far-fetched as the tall tales of other big organized religions: Moses getting the tablets of the Ten Commandments from God on the top of Mt. Sinai; the birth of Jesus Christ by immaculate conception in Bethelem; the ascension of Mohammed to Allah in Jerusalem.  The only thing peculiar about the Mormon story is that it happens only 180 years ago on American soil, not thousands of years ago in The Holy Land.

That evening, Cheryl and I used Yelp to find a place in the secular, modern business district of Salt Lake City, where you could actually get bread with wine (not just water), along with a delicious crab pasta and steak with chimmichurri sauce at The Copper Onion.  It was about as far of a walking distance away as possible from Temple Square, and therefore had a pretty decent cocktail and wine menu, which we utilized naturally — wondering if Sisters Gilbert and Nakajima were praying for our alcohol-imbibing souls.  Recharged with wine, a good night’s rest on an actual bed, and the knowledge of the all-American religion, we packed up our bags the next day (after room service of course), and headed back into the wilds of the all-American outdoors. 

Next entry: Raiders Of The Lost Arch

Previous entry: A Dinosaur In The Tetons

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Comments for “The iPhone App of Mormon”

  • Arches, Canyonlands, and the Grandest Canyon of them all, coming up soon…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/04  at  11:32 PM

  • I ate there too, right at the bar.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  12:32 AM

  • Did you download the app yet?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  02:03 AM

  • there are several Book of Mormon apps available to buy….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/05  at  05:44 PM

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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: From Sea to Shining Sea," which chronicled a two-and-a-half-week road trip across the U.S.A., from New York to San Francisco, visiting several American national parks and monuments along the way.

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