The Mormon Urge to Glurge

Hawkgrrrl Asides, book of mormon, catholicism, children, christianity, church, Culture, evangelicals, faith, Folklore, Humor, inter-faith, media manipulation, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, religion, scripture 52 Comments

glurge (GLURJ) n. A sentimental or uplifting story, particularly one delivered via e-mail, that uses inaccurate or fabricated facts; a story that is mawkish or maudlin; the genre consisting of such stories. 

Not a day goes by that I do not get some sort of email glurge from a relative.  Usually, the stories are designed to inspire patriotism, sentimentality for years gone by, or religious devotion.  As a missionary, I noted that several of the elders were prone to sharing Mormon glurge in talks, especially since the Spaniards had never heard these threadbare stories imported from the US.  This was well before the term “glurge” was coined (and before the internet was even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye).  You may have heard some glurge from the pulpit recently.

My favorite glurge-gone-bad story was in an area with a few faithful members, recently converted from Catholicism.  One of the elders was giving a talk on the Savior.  To illustrate his point, he spoke in the first person about his “brother” who had taught him everything and given so much for him.  When he got to the part of the “story” where “they took my older brother and crucified him,” the entire congregation, who were taking every word of his story literally, all quickly and in unison made the sign of the cross as murmurs of “Aye, Dios mio” rippled across the congregation.  To this day, if you mention that Elder’s name in that branch, people will say, “Did you hear what they did to his brother?  He was murdered, crucified just like Jesus, in cold blood.”

Is glurge good or the root of all evil?  Why do people feel compelled to glurge?  Here are some reasons I am a glurge-hater:

  • It purports to be true, but it isn’t.  Can people not tell the difference?
  • It is emotionally manipulative.
  • Glurge sometimes conceals much darker meanings than the moral overtones suggest (according to Snopes anyway).  For example, a boy believes he will die if he agrees to a blood transfusion.  Where are the parents here?  Did they forget about him in their rush to save their other child?

While Mormons certainly do not corner the glurge market, religious glurge stories are often retold by different religious groups by changing some of the details.  Here are a few examples of glurge you may have heard:

  • Teen befriends a new kid at school, unwittingly preventing his planned suicide.
  • Child with ailing brother tries to buy a miracle at a pharmacy and meets the doctor who can help him live.
  • Boy agrees to transfuse his ailing sister thinking the procedure will kill him.
  • Child badly injured in an accident is comforted by “birdies,” his description of angels.  This story was originally recorded by Lloyd Glenn, who is LDS; however, the story has since been highjacked by other Christian sects who have taken out the elements related to temple service and made the “birdies” angels vs. departed souls waiting for temple work.  As a true story, it is not glurge, but as altered and retold, it qualifies.
  • Paul H. Dunn’s story about a serviceman saved by the Book of Mormon in his pocket was a retold glurge from another denomination with a Bible in his pocket.  In both cases, the bullet came to rest on a meaningful scriptural passage.
  • Patriarchal blessing to a Down’s Syndrome child who then temporarily has his handicap removed following the blessing.
  • Japanese pilot converted because he was unable to bomb the Hawaii temple.
  • Del Parson’s “red robe” portrait of Jesus was re-done several times based on eye-witness accounts or confirmed accurate by various leaders (or alternately a child whose parents were killed in a car accident).
  • LDS Missionaries were miraculously saved from the 9/11 attacks on the WTC.

So, what do you think?  Is glurge inspiring and good?  Or is it soul-killing evil in inspirational story form?  And, have you heard any good (or bad) glurge lately?

Comments

comments

Comments 52

  1. Nice post, Hawkgrrrl. A quick definitional question: is there a difference between Mormon “glurge” and Mormon folklore or Mormon urban legends? Or are they all one and the same? Just curious because the term “glurge” is a new one for me.

  2. While not exactly a “glurge”, I wrote the following hoax when I was a kid because I was sick of similar warnings being sent to me by friends:

    http://www.f-secure.com/v-descs/matra440.shtml

    I scraped the Internet for every email address I could find and I spammed it all over Usenet, and apparently it got forwarded liked I hoped it would to point where it’s been included in every major “virus hoax” database.

    Can anyone spot the Mormon reference in my hoax email? There is a very important Mormonism hidden away in there (so is my birth date).

  3. For example, a boy believes he will die if he agrees to a blood transfusion. Where are the parents here? Did they forget about him in their rush to save their other child?

    You may or may not realize that the LDS church actually promoted this story, making it into a short instructional film. As I recall, however, the child in question was presented as a little girl. The title of the LDS film, again as I recall, was “No Greater Love.”

    Child badly injured in an accident is comforted by “birdies,” his description of angels…As a true story, it is not glurge, but as altered and retold, it qualifies.

    Actually, most of even the LDS version of this story is false. The originator of the story has said so.

    Del Parson’s “red robe” portrait of Jesus was re-done several times based on eye-witness accounts or confirmed accurate by…a child whose parents were killed in a car accident.

    When I was in law school, we had a wonderful, caring, loving woman as stake relief society president. She and I were sitting in the foyer, about an hour before she was to speak to a stake relief society meeting. She happened to ask me about this story, as she was planning to use it in her talk. I gently explained to her that not only is the story untrue, but Del Parsons has explicitly denied that he’s ever given a fireside about the painting, let alone all the dramatic details about explaining the process, “unveiling” the painting, and having the inactive girl suddenly spring up and declare “That’s the man who held me while my parents were dying after the accident!” This poor stake relief society president looked a little perplexed for a moment, then brightening, said “Well, I’m going to tell it anyway!” I kid you not.

    So, what do you think? Is glurge inspiring and good?

    In each and every case, such stories are told in order to prompt an emotional reaction, which the hearer is expected to interpret as a spiritual witness that the story (and by extension, all LDS beliefs) is true. I’ve long argued that it is impossible for the LDS concept of the Holy Ghost to testify of the truthfulness of a falsehood. These stories teach people to transmute their emotional responses into supposedly ironclad evidence of truth. It’s not only dangerous, but downright evil.

  4. There used to be a package available in the MTC that contained numerous ‘Glurge’ stories. An extremely zealous missionary in my mission used one of these stories repeatedly during the first portion of his mission.

    The story was something about a soldier who refused to execute another with respect to a WW2 court martial. When the missionary found the story to be untrue he devoted his considerable zealotry to having the MTC remove this package from the print shop. I wonder if he was ultimately successful.

    Where the purpose of “Legacy” was to make people cry, does that qualify as ‘glurge”?

  5. Nick,

    Just thought I should point out that LDS scripture does present a method for identifying falsity. See verse 9 in particular:

    8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
    9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong (D&C 9:8-9.)

  6. Where the purpose of “Legacy” was to make people cry, does that qualify as ‘glurge”?

    You mean the purpose wasn’t to turn Mary Fielding Smith’s experience of giving a healing blessing to her oxen on the plains into a fully-correlated, milquetoast story about a woman kneeling down and praying that deity would make everything better?

  7. I’ve heard the one about the Japanese Bomber. No one likes to feel like they’ve been scammed, so after discovering once that you fell for it, you become skeptical. The emotional response to the glurge ends up casting a shadow on the ability to have faith in miraculous tales. I have heard that President Kimball made some comment about a painting of Jesus along the lines that it was a very good likeness. I keep that in my mental file of possible truths. Most of the book, “Fate of the Persecutors of the Prophet Joseph Smith” also resides in this file. I understand counsel to keep certain personal experiences sacred. When they end up as glurge, they are no longer sacred.

  8. Just thought I should point out that LDS scripture does present a method for identifying falsity. See verse 9 in particular

    Of course. Just like when Spencer Kimball and Gordon Hinckley had a sufficient witness to purchase certain documents from Mark Hoffman. 😉

  9. I understand counsel to keep certain personal experiences sacred. When they end up as glurge, they are no longer sacred.

    Excellent point. It’s so easy for people to make stories “bigger” as they pass them along!

  10. Nick (8),

    On the other hand, it seems that would have been a step toward studying them out in their mind. I don’t recall ever reading that they claimed the still small voice ever told them to buy them.

  11. Does anyone else read Derek’s posts and suddenly anticipate the audio of Rod Serling’s voice followed by the musical strain, “doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo doo, doo dee doo doo.

  12. Rigel (11), yes, I do. I still don’t know whether Derek seriously means what he says, or if he is running a highly sophisticated hoax in attempt to put one over on all of us. The ultimate in dry humor. Lately I’ve been thinking it’s the latter.

  13. Rigel & Mo’ Betta —

    Beware the Intolerant I-Rads (and Anonymous, who has no name):

    Moses 5

    49 For Lamech having entered into a covenant with Satan, after the manner of Cain, wherein he became Master Mahan, master of that great secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan; and Irad, the son of Enoch, having known their secret, began to reveal it unto the sons of Adam;
    50 Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew him, not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oath’s sake.

  14. I’m a nasty person who grabs the Snopes links, does some additional research, writes the rebuttal and spams every email address on the much forwarded letter with it.

    Yes, their evil. Their used to substantiate all manner of prejudices. They prop up ideas that should be destroyed. And they encourage people to believe in the kind of world you see in Thomas Kincade paintings which allows them to avoid actually confronting our own world problems. They’re the spiritual equivalent of Funions.

  15. “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”

    I’m still looking for the source of that “quote.”

  16. Andrew – “A quick definitional question: is there a difference between Mormon “glurge” and Mormon folklore or Mormon urban legends?” Valid question. I used them somewhat interchangeably. Glurge is usually email or internet specific, with a purpose to provide a sentimental experience for either a religious or patriotic end.

    Nick – “Actually, most of even the LDS version of this story is false. The originator of the story has said so.” You apparently know more than Snopes does on this one. They merely state that the owner of the story was identified and its claims are not verifiable for obvious reasons.

    “In each and every case, such stories are told in order to prompt an emotional reaction, which the hearer is expected to interpret as a spiritual witness that the story (and by extension, all LDS beliefs) is true.” I agree; this is the insidious evil of glurge–substituting emotion for truth. I often wonder how much of “teary” testimony is due to nerves vs. the spirit.

    Ricercar – I too have an MTC packet of glurge-like stories, but I didn’t include them as I don’t know the true/false status of each. I have my suspicions, though.

  17. #15 — that is my favorite piece of false doctrine.

    Another, more positive, term for “glurge” is “faith-promoting rumors.” I, too, get bombarded with e-mails containing these nuggets. One I heard all the time on my mission concerned a Catholic priest who, many decades in the past, had declared the veracity of Joseph Smith’s mission, and had written several tomes about the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel. I had several companions use this story on Catholics we taught. I always hung my head in shame. Thankfully, I’ve yet to see this one make the transfer to e-mail.

  18. I attended a Disciples of Christ revival in Tennessee many years ago that left me pondering the powerful role of emotion in religious matters, and how easily it can be confused with my understanding of “the workings of the Spirit”. It began with about 20 minutes of uptempo rock-n-roll gospel music, performed by a very talented band. Everyone stood and clapped through the entire presentation. This was the emotional high. This was followed by a traveling evangelist with truly great hair talking about our depraved condition on earth – the emotional low. He concluded with a story about a wonderful family with a nine-year-old daughter, who’s mother was very ill. As the doctor concluded his visit to their home, he privately told the father that “when the leaves fall from the tree in your back yard, your wife will have died.” That night the father was awaken by noise in his yard. On looking out his window, he sees his daughter – who had overheard the doctor – up on a ladder. With tears running down her face, and scissors and a spool of yarn in her hands, she was carefully tying each leaf on the tree to its branch.

    Every person at the revival that I could see was sobbing, some uncontrollably. When the evangelist made his call to the alter to accept Jesus as their personal Savior, people rushed forward in droves. Were they going up because the Spirit was witnessing to them, I wondered; or because of the emotional content of a story that was (to me) obviously apocryphal? I drew my own conclusions and have sought ever since to attempt to separate the two.

  19. My brother in law studied under Del Parsons, and he gets hit with this crap constantly. I got his phone number to give to a member of my mission presidency after watching the poor guy give a whole fireside full of GLURGE about that painting.

  20. larryco_ #18,

    “I drew my own conclusions and have sought ever since to attempt to separate the two.”

    How has that worked out for you? I, for one, spent the bulk of my mission attempting to do that. I found that if it’s me that has to do the discerning it robbed the spiritual experiences of one of its basic purposes, to provide certainty. Ultimately, I came to the inescapeable conclusion that the bedrock spiritual experiences I tried to hang my hat on were only as certain as I decided they were.

  21. Paula – great site! Several “twinkies” listed here certainly qualify as glurge (3 of them are on my list).

  22. I’ve had so many real life glurges happen to me in the past 4 years, that it doesn’t bother me to “put on the shelf” those faith-promoting stories I read that might or might not be true.

    Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

    In 1971 I never thought I’d be a Christian, but then in 1972 I accepted Christ as my Savior.
    I never thought I’d turn away from Christ, but in 1973 I did.
    I never thought I’d join another Christian church, but then in 1982 I joined the Mormons.
    I never thought I’d leave the Mormon church, but in 1987 I did.
    I never thought I’d go back to the Mormon church, but in 2002 I did.

    In 2004 I started giving out Chinese and English copies of the Book of Mormon at Chinese restaurants, and never dreamed the concept would grow to include 55 Book of Mormon languages, and 17 more languages for other church material.

    Who would have thought you could go up to strangers, ask “What languages do you speak?” and then ask “Want a free Book of Mormon in your language?”, and then they’d EAGERLY accept it along with the English edition? Who would have thought that you could get “spiritual driving directions” to specifically find such people?

    I say cut glurges some slack. But on the other hand, real life is more interesting, and can be even more miraculous.

  23. It’s also the ‘Chicken Soup’ problem. And as a friend of mine commonly says–it’s terrible for the soul. It kills us spiritually, and is one of the worst things that we do.

    I am admittedly terrible at sourcing my information. I freely admit this. This is because I read so widely and rapidly that I have a difficult time keeping up with what I have read where. But I am absolutely adamant about one thing–if I’m not positive that something is scriptural, I’ll make that clear. If I’m uncertain about a source, I make that clear. If I don’t know an answer I also make that clear. Why? Because I live and die by my references professionally. If I get caught in my professional work making a claim without using a source when I should, then I’m sunk. So I’m careful in my church work to be clear when I don’t have a source or when I’m being lazy and paraphrasing. I never ever ever, however, quote something that I don’t know to be a reliable source as a direct quote from someone. That’s just stupid.

  24. One very simple point:

    There is a HUGE difference between “glurge” (in my own words, made up crap to elicit an emotional reaction) and “representative/allegorical fiction” (which should be understood by anyone with half a brain as being fiction). Most of what you mention is glurge; some of it is not.

    For example, the missionaries story of his brother *should not* have been glurge, and really only was glurge – in its truest sense – if the missionary realized the members would take him literally at the end. If he thought they would “get it” when he mentioned crucifixion, it really doesn’t qualify as glurge.

    “Boy agrees to transfuse his ailing sister thinking the procedure will kill him.” I’ve heard that numerous times, and each time it was not presented as glurge, because it was presented as an obvious allegory – a fictional example of unconditional love. Nick, there is NOTHING wrong with “No Greater Love”, unless you want to call it cheesy and overblown. That type of criticism is anyone’s right. To somehow condemn the Church for producing obviously fictionalized dramatizations of a principle is ludicrous hyperbole that simply isn’t worthy of your intellect.

    However, the country song “The Little Girl” is classic glurge, since it was based on an internet glurge.

    ***Based on the broadest definitions of glurge some of you have advanced, Jesus’ parables were glurge – and He should be reprimanded as a lying manipulator for telling them.*** Personally, I’m not going there.

  25. The transfusion film was allegorical like the film about the boy who walks on the railroad track bridge and his father has to manually hold the track control so the train can cross the bridge. Not glurge. Someone retelling the story in church as an actual account rather than an allegory becomes glurge.

  26. What about that old story about the young woman who is tormented endlessly by girls in her ward, then at last gets a beautiful package from them which, when unwrapped, turns out to be dog food. Anyone know whether that one was true?

  27. Nick – re: the birdies story. I too read the site you reference above, but I’m not sure your statement is accurate: “It seems pretty clear that he’s saying the story has been corrupted as it’s been passed through the LDS church.” I found this story in many a bastardized form around the internet being claimed by other religions to their own religious ends (e.g. birdies are proof of guardian angels, etc.) and completely changing the LDS “version” to suit their own faith. The author was LDS, and he claims the story is his and that his son did have a remarkable experience. But, whether the LDS have changed it or not in the retelling is unclear in his remarks. He says that the internet versions people are sharing are often modified and inaccurate, and that he never authorized widespread distribution.

  28. Ray – you have a point about the missionary story not being “true” glurge in two ways: 1) it predates the internet and the term glurge, and 2) he understood it was an allegory even if he failed to grasp that everyone else took it literally. So, it was really the “birth of a glurge.” Those members re-telling it as truth, “and we knew the guy,” that’s the glurge.

  29. Just thought I should point out that LDS scripture does present a method for identifying falsity.

    But the D&C also contains a passage that can be construed as divine approval for saying things that are mildly misleading for the sake of motivational or emotional effect:

    Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.

    Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.

    (D&C 19:6-7)

  30. Nick, there is NOTHING wrong with “No Greater Love”, unless you want to call it cheesy and overblown. That type of criticism is anyone’s right. To somehow condemn the Church for producing obviously fictionalized dramatizations of a principle is ludicrous hyperbole that simply isn’t worthy of your intellect.

    Ray, I can see how what I wrote could be easily misunderstood. I was not criticizing the LDS church, or any individual, for presenting an allegory. I agree that the LDS film was just such an allegory. My intended point was that the LDS film certainly popularized the story, making it part of the LDS culture. In that sense, the LDS church “promoted the story.” The original post here suggests that the story has morphed to the point that people think it’s a true event. I’m willing to be most of those who believe the story are quite unaware of the film, since it was “current” when I was on my mission over twenty years ago. Sorry I wasn’t more clear.

  31. Thanks for the clarification, Nick. I don’t see how to avoid a story possibly morphing over time to where people begin to think it was an actual event, though, so I still don’t think I’d call this example “glurge” – but I also realize I’m a bit of a parsing English Nazi, so it probably rubs me wrong just because of my personality. That’s cool.

  32. Thomas Kincade is a tool. He hires students from the Kansas City Art Institute to paint by numbers onto his print reproductions, and then he sells them in his stores across the country for thousands of dollars. Thomas Kincade is worse than glurge.

  33. “How has that worked for you?” #21

    Actually, pretty well. From the very beginning, I have felt the prompting of the Holy Ghost in my life and have learned to distinguish His voice from the many “voices” that the apostle Paul alludes to. The fact is, deep-down to my very soul, I feel that I have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the strongest part of my testimony of the restoration, and keeps my heart and body active in the gospel while my mind tries to sort out all of the many things that I struggle with, both intellectually and behaviorally. But I have to realize that my separation between what I perceive as “spiritual promptings” versus “emotional tugs” may be quite different from someone else. This manifests itself often in fast and testimony meetings, where I might be moved by one type of testimony while many others will be moved by a very different type.

  34. “What about that old story about the young woman who is tormented endlessly by girls in her ward, then at last gets a beautiful package from them which, when unwrapped, turns out to be dog food. Anyone know whether that one was true?” #31

    That was a story by one of the Yorgasons that was sold in booklet form in the 80s. Man, I hated that story.

  35. Re: #15: “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”

    Uggh! This is the most annoying one to me, as it attributes words to Christ that He never said. I personally don’t think it can even be supported scripturally (“His yoke is easy and his burden light” comes to mind.) I served a mission in Hungary from 94-96. When the Hungarian translation of the D&C was finally finished about 18 months into my mission, I was approached one Sunday by a sincere young woman who wanted me to show her where this “quote” was in the D&C. I felt absolutely horrible while I explained to her that it wasn’t a real quotation from any scripture. Somewhere along the line, some well-meaning missionary had shared this “quote” without specifying that it wasn’t actually from scripture.

    I don’t mind hearing faith-promoting stories when they’re purposefully used as allegory and/or parable: after all, didn’t Christ use parables to teach His gospel? However, when the stories are presented as truth rather than as parable, a line is crossed from “parable” to “lie,” and I just don’t feel good about “lying for Jesus.”

  36. Though glurge is bad, doubtlessly, we do have to be careful before labeling something as glurge. Some of these stories can be true. For example, I’m here because a German fighter saw the line of my grandfather’s garments under his fatigues and so captured him out of curiosity rather than gunning him down on the spot.

    It’s not the glurgiest story out there (my grandfather ended up being part of the March, not exactly the most feel-good story), but it could easily be told as glurge.

  37. These tiresome tales would certainly qualify for what Elder Holland referred to as “spiritual twinkies”. The problem filled story told in general conference about the school mate being beaten to satisfy the demand for justice of an apparently demented schoolmaster is on my top ten run out of the room stories after it was told in my ward in countless talks.

  38. # 15 Dan

    Matthew 11:30

    “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    It appears that Jesus DID say that it would be easy. Now, if only I can find where he said it would be worth it…

  39. Actually, most Mormons I know have a pretty highly developed glurge-o-meter. We’re pretty good at detecting it, but we’re usually just too nice to say anything about it.

    The story about the missionaries in Spain reminded me of an American missionary in Germany who wanted to tell one of his favorite stories in sacrament meeting (not glurge necessarily, just a faith-promoting analogy). He didn’t speak the language very well yet, but for some reason he decided to try to translate the story on his own. It was the one about the eagle that thought it was a chicken, so the farmer takes it to a cliff and tells it that it’s an eagle and that it can fly, and then he throws it off the cliff, and it flies. Anyway, it’s about realizing who we really are. Well, this missionary translated the story of the eagle and the chickens into the story of the hedgehog (Igel—a false cognate, I guess) and the rotisserie chickens (just picked the wrong word from the dictionary). The congregation listened quietly to the farmer’s words: “Fly, you hegdehog! You have such lovely feathers and long wings. You are not a rotisserie chicken like the others. You are a hedgehog. You can fly.” I can only imagine the missionary’s companion (who did nothing to rescue him) sitting there dying of repressed laughter through the whole thing. Well, the missionary finished his talk, and everyone said “Amen,” though with a bit of a question mark attached to it. I think they all chalked it up the cultural differences—”Those Americans and their kitschy stories. I just don’t get them.”

  40. Zelph: Matt 16:25 “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Kind of fits the bill of “worth it” if not a direct quote.

    mormonmagmeister: That is a hilarious story! “Fly, you hedgehog! Fly! Fly!” I think you’re right that people are just too polite to say anything sometimes. I corrected someone once in RS who shared a Paul H. Dunn story (she must have been the last person on the planet who heard his stories were fictional). It was the bullet in the Book of Mormon one. She ended with a tearful testimony that the best part was that it was all true and blah blah blah. I raised my hand and said, “Actually, that story is not true. That did not happen.” She looked like a cake left out in the rain, but a few people thanked me after for pointing out that the story wasn’t true, which they knew but weren’t sure what to do about it.

  41. what’s the story about “Patriarchal blessing to a Down’s Syndrome child who then temporarily has his handicap removed following the blessing.” do you have an actual reference?

  42. Pingback: Zelophehad’s Daughters | My Nacle Notebook 2008: Funny comments

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