Mormons, Modesty, and City Creek

This is the Tiny Dark Lord enjoying the kiddie splash fountain last week at the new City Creek Center. We went to check it out with my mom while she was here. Now, this thing is a big deal. It's been in construction forever, we kept hearing about how amazing it was going to be, how expensive, how Like the Nice Stuff They Have in Europe. Near the home stretch all these billboards started going up with pictures of Cullen lookalikes on them. Anticipation mounted.

I also knew that there were people who were not as thrilled about the new development, or about the Church's involvement with it. (I saw this blog post, and then this rebuttal-ish response to it.)  Upon learning that a Tiffany & Co. would open in the mall, I wondered if we were about to raise the bar on Mormon Princess High-Maintenanceness. So I did have some of those questions in the back of my mind when I visited, and I came away feeling somewhat conflicted.

First off: it is gorgeous. Super, super gorgeous and amazing and you could spend all day there. There is a dancing fountain, and real trout in the creek, and it is so clean and sparkly. I went to the family bathroom in the food court to change TDL's diaper and those bathrooms were some of the nicest I have ever seen. The food court bathroom, which is usually where you go to catch a disease. And yes, people say things about investments and protecting downtown Salt Lake City and blabbity informed facts blah.

A few weeks ago GH forwarded me an article about modesty by Jana Riess (this is called having a really cool husband). I shared it with my sister Jenny and we both really liked some of the points she made. She talked about how the dress & grooming standards of the Church have actually become more conservative, beginning with the 1960s as a response to the youth culture (hippies). But she also brings up the term "modesty" itself and ask the question, "When did modesty--an attitude of unassuming moderation in all things--become an anemic code word for conservative dress?"

Because she's right, that's kind of the only way we hear it talked about. When we hear the word "modesty" at church it usually means, "girls need to cover more of their bodies with clothing so that they are not walking porn because they are responsible for not only their own thoughts and actions but also for those of the boys and men around them." (Do not get me started about that--it is a rant for a different time.)

We don't really talk about all the other meanings of the word modest.

1. having or showing a moderate or humble estimate of one's merits, importance, etc.; free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions.
2. free from ostentation or showy extravagance: a modest house.
3. having or showing regard for the decencies of behavior, speech, dress, etc.; decent: a modest neckline on a dress.
4. limited or moderate in amount, extent, etc.: a modest increase in salary.

The City Creek Center? It is so not modest. It's absolutely over the top. And just about every store there is crazy expensive except for, like, Deseret Book and Forever 21. And the food court. It kind of makes me think about how in the Book of Mormon whenever people start with the wearing of "costly apparel" you know within a paragraph or so things will be going downhill. Should we be the kind of people who spend that kind of money on things like that? Or is it different if we are just encouraging other people to be super materialistic?

I mean, on one side of the street you have the Salt Lake Temple, which the pioneers built out of the finest materials and craftsmanship that were available because it was meant to glorify God. And now on the other side of the street there is something that you could almost call a temple to a completely different god altogether. I don't know. Is this just my crazy brain?

ps. I got some bath stuff from Lush. You know how I like that stuff.


Jessica said... [reply]

Don't forget H&M for cheap stuff!

I've gone back and forth on this issue- I live about two blocks away from City Creek and have had frequent opportunities to visit/gawk/overspend...you get the idea. I'm an unabashed advocate for modesty in the (to us) more archaic sense. Here's where I stand right now. I can't get around the fact that, despite all the extravagance (the only other retractable glass roof in the world is in Dubai...not totally sure that's a category in which I feel comfortable), it is an incredible investment in downtown Salt Lake. For years it's been kind of dead outside of business hours, and now...people! Glorious people! Everywhere! Spending money between West Temple and State Street! It is what the city needed, but without the Church's investment it never would have happened; the area around the temple would have deteriorated further (Pioneer Park after midnight, anyone?). I think with this investment, the Church is less saying "hey, extravagance is ok!" than it is "hey we care about this city and the environment near the Church campus, AND we need tons more parking, AND people are starving between conference sessions (not to mention during the workday- Bocata has saved many a lunchtime for me), AND there are fewer and fewer residential buildings in the city center, AND maybe if we lead the way, we can shame, ahem, influence others into making similar investments downtown!" And...well, you get the point.

This isn't even considering the fact that between City Creek and the new Harmon's the downtown food desert has pretty much disappeared. Thank heaven for a grocery store run that takes less than 40 minutes and a quarter tank of gas.

Honestly, it's a mall. It's no less or more extravagant than it would have been had someone else in the country had the chutzpah to open a new mall in the country this year. It's not a doctrinal statement, it's an investment. Hopefully a smart one. I guess time will tell.

Jessica said... [reply]

Longest and most nonsensical comment ever? I think so.

Señora H-B said... [reply]

Modesty as a lifestyle (rather than a dress code) has been on my mind a lot lately. Are we really living that modestly if we're constantly talking about how much our shoulder-covering, knee-length dress cost? If we're living in a hugely extravagant home? If I can barely cover my credit card payments with my income? I'd say no. It's kind of a bummer to me because I love stuff. I just do. It's definitely a challenge to stay focused on what really matters when there are so many pretty things out there.

However, I agree with what Jessica said about this particular case - this seems to be an investment in Salt Lake City. If that comes at the cost of a Tiffany & Co. in the mall, well...so be it. I think? I don't know. I don't live there...

Jen said... [reply]

The glacial pace at which I read the Book of Mormon has landed me right in the book of Helaman at the exact time that we're talking about the Buffet Rule, rich Mormons, and extravagance all throughout the media. Samuel the Lamanite really throws down, and I'll admit to feeling some ants in my pants this time through.

A friend posted this article (titled, "When Mormons Were Socialists") on Facebook a while back, and you might find it an interesting read.

CAW said... [reply]

I don't live in SLC so I can't personally comment on the mall, but I can think of a thousand things that I would consider better "investments" than an upscale mall. I don't even necessarily think that revitalizing SLC is a bad thing; I just think that the money (or at least a portion of it) could have been better spent elsewhere. I know it's not as simple as saying starving children or Tiffany's, but that's how a lot of people see this. Maybe it's easier to swallow when I realize this is the church as corporation and not as charitable institution making this investment. I think it would also be easier to accept if the church made their financial info more transparent so people could be reassured that tithing wasn't used to make this "investment".

As for modesty in general, I think the way it gets taught in church (from The Friend up to YW and RS) is awful. Tying modesty to dress, as it has been especially done with girls/YW/women, is creepy. I do not want my daughter to get the message that her body is something she needs to be ashamed of and cover up. I think it's weird that girls as young as 4 and 5 are being taught that there shoulders need to be covered up. Body image issues anyone? I think my opinion stems, in part, from my belief that garments and modesty aren't related. Plus, as you already noted, modesty is about much, much more than clothing.

G said... [reply]

I hate how tricky that line is. Where do you cross over from self-respect and hard work into pride? You said it yourself, "the Salt Lake Temple, which the pioneers built out of the finest materials and craftsmanship that were available..." But people learned to use those techniques and materials in other more secular settings. I think the pursuit of fine materials and craftsmanship cannot be a totally evil thing - I refuse to believe that God would be pleased with shoddy workmanship in order to avoid a "lack of modesty." I guess the tricky part is our attitude. We just have to be honest with ourselves about WHY. If we're doing something to be showy or better than someone else, then it's definitely wrong. I just wish it was easier to figure out when that line has been crossed!!!

Maggie said... [reply]

@ G - I think it's a bit inaccurate to suggest that the pioneers learned their skills in secular settings when most architectural advances and skills were historically practiced in building of churches and cathedrals. No grand shopping centers have survived from the 19th century and earlier, but churches, homes and public buildings.

I wonder, if Nephi had thought to ask "who built the great and spacious building in my father's dream?" what the answer would have been.

Also, Nem I can't tell you how jealous I am that you have a husband who reads Jana Reiss - swoon.

G said... [reply]

Good point Maggie, a lot of these building techniques came from churches and cathedrals originally. But I wonder how many of the pioneers learned their skills working on cathedrals??? By secular I simply meant not building other temples/cathedrals/etc, so what about homes, like you mentioned? Is it wrong to use the kinds of techniques used on a temple on "just" a home? I'm not necessarily arguing that a fancy shopping mall is a good thing, I'm just interested in how we, as a society, keep high-quality craftsmanship alive and well without crossing the line into excess. I don't claim to know...

Jenny said... [reply]
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said... [reply]

All the articles I read about the construction of the mall were pretty clearly stating that no tithing was used for the mall and will never be used for any type of investment or money making venture.

I look forward to the day where modesty in the church isn't perceived as just a spot on the knee and a place on the shoulder or arm or chest, or is only important if you're poor. But that the actual meaning of modesty is rekindled among parents.

Jenny said... [reply]

I was considering having a modesty lesson for activity days. Only instead of making paper dolls with appropriate clothing for endowed women and not little girls, we'd actually talk about what being modest means. Thank you for essentially writing it out for me.

Little girls, and really anyone shouldn't feel like less of a person because their knees and shoulders are showing.

As for City Creek, I don't really know. I did miss crossroads, but that is because I live in L town and the CV mall is just sad, sad, sad.

emandtrev said... [reply]

This is really interesting. We had an activity/youth discussion (YM and YW) recently and the discussion on "modesty" quickly evolved into what girls should and should not wear. Thankfully a well-meaning and very in-tune YW leader said, "What about what the boys wear? And say? And what about all of our attitudes? Pride? Vanity?" Go her. My delivery probably wouldn't have been so tactful.

Yeah, this is hard. I've never known the Church (especially in the last several decades) to do anything halfway and I personally think City Creek is an awesome/needed addition to downtown (to what degree it was executed will probably be debated for years to come). Your comment about Tiffany's fostering a whole new crop of Mormon princess brides did make me think, though. Hmmmm...

P.S. So excited to see a comment from Jenny here. I think you two would get along swimmingly in real life. Or do you already know each other? She is awesome. And she makes amazing quilts. Check out her blog, if you haven't already. :)

Desmama said... [reply]

Love what Emily said. So lucky to call her a friend. ;)

coolmom said... [reply]

I loved every minute of the two days I spent there!!! Thank you!!! I loved the fountains and the food and the music was great, and I love the shopping and outdoor art and the sunshine! You people are so lucky!!!

C. said... [reply]

Okay, so this is not about modesty, but I thought that given your recent posts about women, you might be interested in this: http://www.mormonwomen.com/2012/04/18/celebrating-the-unseen-woman/

Nemesis said... [reply]

Jessica, there you are with the informed facts and stuff! :-p Thanks for giving the perspective from someone who lives downtown and can talk about the way the new development affects your life. And I am really glad that you have food near you now. Had not even considered what that would be like. Yikes.

Senora H-B, yes. I am right now listening to a podcast about the very specific, very skewed towards women, very getting-more-extreme-every-year way we teach modesty and how we could do better and it is FASCINATING. ( Healthy Approaches to Teaching Modesty at Mormon Matters)

Nemesis said... [reply]

Jen, THANK YOU for the validation. I realize that so often when we read the scriptures we are maybe just looking for things that bolster what we already think, but there are many, many things in the Book of Mormon that make me think we have a long way to go before our hearts & desires & attitudes are where they need to be.

CAW, you ought to check out that podcast if you haven't already. You would find yourself nodding along, I'm pretty sure.

G, yes. Although I tell myself that my knitting mistakes are intentional so that I am honoring God because I once read that some cultures do that so as not to be prideful, I do believe that God expects our best efforts. Like you say, it can be about where our heart and our attitudes and our priorities are. Like I know I put effort into things that are not as worthwhile, while the meaningful things like my visiting teaching get the leftovers. Blah.

Maggie, I did luck out there. I really think that getting married has turned me into even more of a feminist/questioner. Not necessarily because of marriage itself, but because I married someone who is also a feminist and questioner.

Word, my sister. One of the big points they're making in that podcast is that we focus so much in other areas of the gospel on the "teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves" (or at least come to a self-motivated understanding, which will evolve with time and maturity, of how to best follow them) and yet when it comes to modesty do not do that at all.

Jenny, hello! Lovely to meet a friend of Emandrev's, although you sound quite great on your own merits anyway. And the universe thanks you for not doing the paper doll thing. Holy cow.

Emandtrev, that sounds like an awesome re-direct by the YW leader. Wow. And when you are in town, let me know and I will come gawk at the mall some more with you. :-)

Nemesis said... [reply]

Agreed, Desmama!

Thanks, Mom! My favorite memory will always be the part where we broke the Word of Wisdom together. (And now everyone will be wondering how . . . mwah hah hahahaha.)

C., I love that Mormon Women Project, thanks for the link to this woman's story! This is one more nudge for me to start learning more about the women who did make it into the scriptures.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

Daquiri Ice cream?

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

One thing that strikes me often in my reading of the BoM is the phrase "traditions of their fathers." Usually it is used to disparage those that are fighting against God's people, but I think it is worth taking a hard look at from any perspective. Do we follow God because it is our tradition to do so? Dress a certain way? Act a certain way? Talk a certain way, etc. etc.? So much of what we brand as "Mormonism" is cultural, not doctrinal, and certainly not spiritual. Elder Oaks has given several excellent talks on the culture of the gospel and what it means to leave certain practices behind. I think all of us--6 generations in the "fold" or brand new need to ask ourselves what parts of our own cultural practices need to be sacrificed to more fully embrace the meat of the gospel.

For example: Today I spent 90 minutes cleaning the Cub Scout Closet, will spend another 45 minutes sorting the stuff pulled out of the Cub Scout closet, will spend 30 minutes tracking down parents to get their fund raiser money turned in; at least an hour working with my son on his Pinewood Derby car . . . and how much time in the scriptures? Exactly zero. Perhaps I need to rethink how I'm spending my time.

Mad Hadder said... [reply]

Riess. Ms. Riess has a particular interest in Mormon kitsch (or did back when I met her in Princeton). She'd be most interested in this blog's content and might also note that at some point that mall and ALL of Babylon will become dust--as will all of our closets of shoes and vain attempts to "cover our nakedness". ALL that will survive through eternity will be what we've tucked away in our brains, our pure acts of charitable kindness, and our testimony of Christ. Therein lies the rub. Tiffany's, do you want to weigh in on that? Conspicuous consumption vs. provident living? Idol worship vs. a mind focused on eternal truths? I'm not so sure the bigger issue here isn't so much the country's insatiable need to consume as it is our total lack of inner substance.

Dave and Gina said... [reply]

will have to comment more when i have more time, but for now, THANKS for bringing up things to consider, talk about, THINK about. as a sahm of 4 little girls, this is something i think about a lot (also in the whole, why is modesty mostly referring to just dress code now?) LOTS more to say on this subject, but i have to go take care of those 4 girls (ages 4 and under) now. love this stuff, thanks for the discussion!

Liz Johnson said... [reply]

Amen. And amen. And amen to Jen. I still don't know how I feel about the church's involvement in the project, but I do know that the mall itself is gross to me - the epitome of materialism and indulgence and first-world extravagance. You're exactly right - it's the complete antithesis of modesty.

annie (the annilygreen one) said... [reply]

another perspective: are people with talents in business or jewelry-making or whatever just out of luck as far as righteousness goes? i don't think a thing is bad just because it's expensive or because it's not what i would choose to spend my money on. if the church did nothing for humanitarian causes in favor of building malls all over, then yes...i think we would have cause to grumble. but they are hardly unaware of the needs of humanity. the church is a business, and it has to earn money (apart from tithing) to finance all the good it does. business is not bad. luxury is not bad (see temples, temple square, the flowers at conference, etc). pride is bad. thinking we are better than others because of how we do or don't spend our money is bad. plus, no one can say that God doesn't highly value beauty and order. i'm sure he's more worried about charity and faith, but that doesn't mean that beautiful products created by his children for the improvement of our environment are evil. and those companies bring jobs and opportunities for people to use their talents and learn and grow (not to mention improving the economy). we're human. we're builders and beautifiers. God made us that way.

heidikins said... [reply]

I've been thinking about this pots for weeks. And while I agree with yo on some fronts (i.e. modesty and it's actual definition), on others, I absolutely disagree. I live downtown, I work downtown, and for years and years without some kind of shopping center it has been craptastic to live and work downtown. Grocery shopping? No. Department store? No. Central location for cheap-ish lunch options? (Food Court) No. Driving 120 blocks round trip to buy face wash or mascara (department store make-up counter) is a bit ridiculous. Being able to have a western style shoot-out (no injuries) on Main street at 5:30 because it is ABSOLUTELY EMPTY is ridiculous.

Yes, City Creek is bigger and fancier and cleaner and different than the other shopping malls in Utah. But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Fashion Place just had a huge overhaul as well and no one has talked about how it's so ostentatious with all the new stores and fancier shopping options. Just because it is different, and new, and perhaps a little scary, does not mean it's bad. It just means it's new and different. Besides, it's not like every single one of those stores did massive amounts of market research before signing a lease, they knew they would be successful here long before they opened their doors. You can buy a modestly priced, modest looking engagement ring at Tiffany that would be similar to something you'd find at the Shane Company. Or, like at OC Tanner, you can buy something that is tens of thousands of dollars.

Anyway, that's my rant. Thank you again for reiterating that modesty is not only shoulders and knees but something all together different.


Mrs. Clark said... [reply]

I have lived in Utah and visited many times during the last 35 years--enough to see the downtown area go from nice to crummy and nice again. There was urban blight there, big time. While I'm glad the Church didn't use tithing funds for this upscale mall (and I am seriously doubtful of a lot of the stores' success) this needed to be done, and nobody else was stepping up.

Gateway and its mixed-use condos, etc. has been successful. My son claims the Church is letting Nordstrom have its space for free because it's closed on Sunday. I don't think the point is to have a profitable project, but a pleasant space where people can eat and enjoy themselves as part of a trip downtown. I have two kids living near there, and I am glad to see that downtown SLC is becoming an attractive, vibrant place once more.

Mrs. Clark said... [reply]

Oh--and I went into the food court bathroom the last time I was there, and frankly, I have been in much nicer bathrooms (stores in Beverly Hills, and here in No. VA). I don't think City Creek is over-the-top compared to a lot of shopping malls in large cities in this country.

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