As a college student, I had my ear pierced with second holes. Not too long after that, a talk given by President Hinckley indicated that multiple ear piercings were unacceptable.
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have declared that we discourage tattoos and also “the piercing of the body for other than medical purposes.” We do not, however, take any position “on the minimal piercing of the ears by women for one pair of earrings”—one pair.
The choice of the word “discouraged” indicates that such an admonition is not a firm commandment. However, the talk did offer us another benchmark to measure a level of righteous behavior.
I immediately removed my second earrings in obedience to the principle — and gained an amazing Namaan-like story to share for the next 11 years.
We're good at trying to outdo each other in terms of the way we adhere to what we're told we should be doing. We've long been told that “obedience is the first law of heaven.” I once gave an entire talk on the subject. A talk that my leaders heralded as amazing, showing my surprising understanding of the gospel.
I was self-righteous about my ears for more than a decade. I also felt extremely self-righteous about my decision to eschew R-rated movies. I even, following the example given in a Sunday School lesson, walked out of a movie theater when I realized that the movie in question was so-rated.
Today, my second holes contain earrings, and I watch the movies I want (although, to tell the truth, most of them aren't R-rated). I don't believe that obedience is the first law of anything.
And I'm super-embarrassed about the times I told other Mormons, with asperity, “I don't watch R-rated movies.”
There are plenty of active, faithful LDS folks out there watching R-rated movies and who have multiple piercings and/or tattoos. These are folks who are certainly kinder and more Christ-like than I was at the height of my own Church activity.
It's easy to get caught up in these types of benchmarks. We struggle to love our neighbors, make time in our busy schedules to read scriptures, and do a myriad of other things that involve actual self-improvement.
Abstaining from alcohol? Avoiding R-rated movies? Taking those earrings out of second piercings? Turning off the TV on Sunday? These are relatively easy things to do if you grow up in the Church — and it's possible to be perfectly obedient in these actions. Plus, if you do them, and others don't, you get to feel like a better Mormon. Someone who is truly righteous and understands what it's like to live by the spirit.
Looking back, I realize I was one of those types. While I was tolerant toward members of other religions and fascinated by those with differing beliefs, I felt smug toward other Mormons who should “know better.”
I was insufferable.
I'm probably still insufferable in other ways. But I also realize now that I need to keep that feeling of superiority to others in check. Because tomorrow I might wake up to discover I'm the type of person I deride today.