City Lights, Utah Style

I just returned last night from a few days spent in Utah, seeing kids and a granddaughter. One of the things that seemed to resonate with me more than usual was the sheer quantity of temples. Driving north from Provo into Salt Lake City at night, soon after you round the point of the mountain you can see the Jordan River and the Oquirrh Mountain temples in the distance to the left, then looking to the right, the Draper temple comes into view, perched high on the hill. Drive a little farther, and the grandaddy of them all, the Salt Lake Temple peeks out through the downtown buildings.

The same for Utah County. It used to be that the Provo Temple was the only game in town, but with Timpangos, Payson and the gorgeous Provo City Center Temples, they are everywhere. It is impressive.

Here is some context: I grew up in Bountiful, Utah, about 15 minutes form the Salt Lake Temple. That was the only temple I saw on a regular basis, mostly at Christmastime.

When I was Primary-aged, there were a grand total of 13 temples…in the entire world. Thirteen. I distinctly remember that a small picture of every temple fit onto one sheet of paper, because that is what we used to memorize them in Primary. I knew where every temple in the world was located, and could name it from the picture.

Man, how things have changed – for the better. It is amazing to have witnessed the explosion of temples in my own lifetime.  Current count of proposed or constructed temples today? 182.  Memorize THAT list.

Another beautiful thing in Utah, (that people who live there probably just consider a normal fact of life) is that everywhere you look, you can see the white spires of an LDS meetinghouse. Sometimes you an see dozens without even turning your head. It is remarkable.

But what is remarkable is not that the Church constructs a lot of building, but all of those meetinghouses and temples represent people – brothers and sisters – who are trying to live the gospel. We get a taste of that here in Gilbert. The Church here is strong, there are lots of meetinghouses, and a beautiful temple, all of which represent saints doing their duty.

Too often I hear people dismiss members in these active areas as being out of touch. Phrases like “Utah Mormons” or living “Behind the Zion Curtain,” or my personal favorite, “Utards” attempt to diminish, rather than applaud the concentration of members in those areas.

With that strength, inevitably comes opposition. There is a huge anti-Mormon industry in Utah. There is a huge ex-Mormon influence there as well. That is to be expected, just as the protesters at General Conference are to be expected. There is a simple reason for this: The shadows are always darkest where the light is the brightest.

To my Utah friends and family, a quick shout-out and thank you. Thank you for your strength, and example. Thank you for living your lives in such a way that they Lord sees fit to build a zillion temples just to provide you the resources to carry out the service you provide. Nice job!

The world would be a better place if there were a white LDS steeple poking out of every neighborhood.



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  1. I had a similar attitude when I lived outside of Utah. My thought was, “I will NEVER live in Utah”. I have been here for 12yrs. My daughter was just commenting on the number of chapels we can see as we come out of SF Canyon. We talked about how it isn’t like that in other areas. While Utah has such a LDS influence it also has the adversary’s also. Everywhere in the world you go, there are extremes. Utah is not excluded. We have the good and bad just like anyone else. Outsiders may not see it passed the Steeples and temples though. Or lay blame for things because “we know better” and should do better. I like your comparison about light and shadow.

  2. Thank you MMM for your positive thoughts on UT Mormons. I moved back to Utah last year after living all over the US and Europe for the past 50 years. I have found the members in my new home area to be amazing people, strong in their faith, willing to serve in callings and to serve others. I think often Utah gets a bad rap from those living outside the state. I, like you, can remember when there were only 13 temple; President Hinckley had such great fore site….what a blessing to see all these temples go up every where and more importantly, what a blessing to see so many have easier access to temple blessings.

  3. Only trouble with so many chapels is if you are looking fora family baptism. Can hunt for a very long time!

  4. I feel so blessed and guilty that we have so many temples here in Utah. So glad that Idaho and Wyoming and Southern Utah and Arizona are getting temples now, it is wonderful. My elderly mother and I are going to a different temple every week, and they are all so beautiful!

  5. On our way from California to north of SLC one year, we played a game of “Spot the Chapels.” My wife was watching for them, calling out “There’s one,” “There’s one,” until she said “There’s one…Oops! That’s a cell tower.”

  6. I went to BYU and visit family members in Utah occasionally and love seeing all the temples. Besides the sheer numbers, it also helps that there are less trees in Utah than VA, so seeing spires and lights is easier. (Though there are probably just as many church spires here, there’s just not all the same religion…).

    I never really envisioned myself living in Utah (having grown up in the “mission field”), but my husband applied for a job at BYU this past summer, so I started thinking about it. When we heard that our temple (Washington DC- 2.5 hours away) will close in 2018 for almost 2 years, and the next nearest (Raleigh- 3 hours away) is ALSO closing for 2018, so our nearest will be Philly (supposedly 4.5 hours away, but it took us close to 6 to get there for the dedication last year and 9 to get back…), I did a radius search centered on Provo and found that there are (or will be, when constructed) 15 temples that we could get to in the same amount of time it takes to get to DC! That would be wonderful- maybe I could make a goal to do as I did while at BYU the year I got engaged and visit the temple weekly.

    1. I grew up in Atlanta, GA, went to BYU and married an Air Force pilot. For 24 years, we lived all over the world. We were in about 15 wards during that time. I can HONESTLY say I’ve lived all over and we CHOOSE to live here.
      I never thought I wanted to live in Utah, or Provo! We came here 20 years ago, I just retired after 18 years at BYU — and we actually live in Provo city limits. There were some “Provo Moments” the first couple of years here when things were VERY different that what I’m used to. Now, I’ve totally drunk the KoolAid and have gone native – even BYU stick figures on my mini van! Sometimes, I feel guilty about how easy it is to live here – the ward, temples, visiting teaching, neighbors, etc. But half of our grandkids and three out of four children live here too.

  7. Great article. Great perspective.
    This phrase –“The shadows are always darkest where the light is the brightest” really caught my attention. That is something to ponder on. When there isn’t much light the shadows are minimal, but also overall there isn’t much light.
    One reason this concept of light and dark is so fascinating to me is because we recently moved to Alaska. Through the summer we enjoy immense amount of light. In the winter we get short, short amounts of daylight. This dramatic difference in light and dark gets me thinking a lot about how I can get more “light” in my spiritual life. That phrase you shared feels significant to my study of light and what it means for me personally.

    1. Interesting thoughts. Reminds me of the title of a Switchfoot song : “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine.”

    2. I think another aspect is the intensity and directionality of the light. A single bright source of light will leave many deep shadows, but bright and diffuse light leave few, and weak, shadows.

      If we only have 1 or 2 places in our lives that the gospel is part of it, then no matter how intense those connections are we will find shadows. These might be “gospel hobbies”. But the more the Savior is part of our life the few places in our souls will be in shadow, because His light will infuse our whole soul.

      This idea also holds outside the gospel. If we view the world from a single point of view, then there are things we will not be able to understand. It isn’t until we can look at something from the other side (even if we don’t agree with it) that we can see into our blind spots.

  8. Love this. And while I didn’t plan to live in Utah after completing my schooling at BYU, I’ve now lived here more than half my life and I love it here. I love my ward and rereading Elder Rasband’s talk this morning “By DIvine Design”, I can absolutely see that the Lord’s hand has guided me here and put people in my life that have blessed my life in profound ways.

    Of course there are challenges to living here. As there are challenges to living anywhere. But if we seek the good and notice the blessings, we can all see that the Lord is in the details of our lives. Thanks for this post!

  9. I love the article and the comments. I’ve lived in Utah and in several other states, and I’ve known wonderful members everywhere, many of whom are trying to follow the Savior’s teachings, and some who for whatever reason are not. I love that we all have our agency to choose how we will live and I hope we can all love others as the Savior would, without labeling them. We are all imperfect, and are we all important to Him and to our Father in Heaven.

  10. It’s pretty great that with the remodel of the Jordan River temple Oqurrih and Draper are always busy. But, if you can’t get into a session, you just decide whether you’d like to go north or south to hit the next session.
    Didn’t Joseph Smith say something about people who leave the church can leave it alone?

  11. I have known many extremely faithful and many less-faithful members both inside and outside Utah. I find that stereotyping members by their location is no more accurate than what we’ve heard so much of lately with “Whoever votes for [insert your least favorite candidate here] is [insert your favorite stereotypical attributes here].”

    I believe the Spirit is the great universalizer – it makes soul brothers and sisters of people regardless of nationality, race, status, etc.

  12. I like driving through Provo/Orem on Sunday and the majority of shopping parking lots are empty.

  13. Utah Mormons, Idaho Mormons, Arizona Mormons, California Mormons….I proudly, and sometimes grudgingly, identify with each of those. The only difference I see between them and the Tennessee Mormons, New York Mormons, Alabama Mormons, Kentucky Mormons, German Mormons, Korean Mormons and Colorado Mormons, is that usually, there is a lot higher density in the first 4 places, and your kids are not the only Mormons in the school.
    Other than that, people are pretty much the same everywhere, with the exception that in Kentucky, an ex-Mormon doesn’t want anyone to know, where as in Utah they wear the label with a sense of misplaced pride.
    I love driving around point of the mountain. I wish they would build a scenic overlook there that we could pull over and look at the valley. Headed up there in a few weeks….to see our kids and grandkids.

  14. I joined the church at 15 and visited Salt Lake City for the first time the next summer when I attended EFY. I loved flying into the valley and seeing spire after spire and even several temples–coming from Oregon, a very irreligious state, I was elated to see such a large community of Saints. And yes, those meeting houses aren’t built until there’s a large enough body of active, tithing members. 5 years at BYU and 8 years living in Utah have taught me that no one is perfect, but I live in a 2-street-long ward that does its best to fellowship and watch over neighbors and fellow members, and I see the gospel in earnest action, despite our imperfections.

  15. Awww….This perspective really resonates with me. I spent a ton of time Utah/Idaho this past year and really struggled with how I felt about life and the people there. With this short, sweet post you’ve tipped the scales and given me a perspective I’ve sorely needed.

  16. I admit the casual references from those outside Utah regarding “Utah Mormons” gets my goat. One young missionary here in our mission recently told me he thinks “Utah Mormons” are hypocritical and pharisaical. However, I’ve lived in many places in a variety of wonderful wards and branches in and outside of Utah and have to say the current Utah ward we’re from is just fantastic in regards to great leadership, a spirit of service, and full of charity and love for a great variety of people and their circumstances. I’ve not seen any of the criticism or judgment that I’ve heard some level at those Utah Mormons. I tend to think there are just Mormons, with some making more progress in being Christ-like than others, but everyone striving the best they can. And all of us are blessed by the same gospel.

  17. I’m with you and couldn’t agree more with your comments. I live overseas and every time I return to the Utah area, I can’t help but feel how the Lord has blessed this area of the world, where so many saints live and where temple parking lots are full every day of the week. Having traveled the world, it is easy to see the Lord’s blessings on the land and the people. His promises are true. You are exactly right about how opposition works!

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