I want to clear something up. You’ve probably noticed I write about my religion a lot. If you’re Mormon, you probably get why I do this. But if you’re not Mormon, well, I don’t know what you think. But I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to convert you. I understand why you might not believe me. After all, we send young men out in pairs to any part of the world that will accept us, to knock doors and deliver Books of Mormon and baptize entire families. Even more than that, we also send you women out in pairs, and elderly couples, and pretty much anyone else who wants to go. Oh wait, there’s more: we also regularly use the slogan “every member a missionary” and have people who are designated to head up the missionary effort in their own communities. They’re called ward missionaries. I was a ward missionary last year. I didn’t knock doors, but I did meet in a little church office building once a week with a group of other Mormons, mostly young professionals, to talk about how to connect with people who were investigating our church. We also talked about how to support the full-time missionaries (the pairs of young men and women with the name tags on). It was also part of my job to visit new members of the church who didn’t know very many people, or people who’d been Mormon for a long time but didn’t make it to church, for whatever reason.
Maybe this freaks you out. I think it’s a weird, too, in the abstract. In practice, it feels just like building a community. Still, I don’t really tell people about it. In my non-church life, I usually wait too long to tell people about my religion, because I don’t want them to think I’m doing the missionary thing, when really I just want to know people. Sometimes I wait months. Sometimes even longer. I’ve had close friends accuse me of trying to hide my beliefs because I quietly ask for sparkling water at work events where people are drinking, instead of broadcasting, “Hey everybody, I’m a MORMON.” I see it as just good manners, not to force people to talk or even think about religion when they just want to enjoy a drink, but I can see how somebody who doesn’t see the world in the many fine grays that I do would think this is a character inconsistency. I mean, a “ward missionary” should want people to think about religion, right? Wrong. I don’t care. I think my religion is great(ish) for me. But you can worship how you want or not at all. If you want to know more about mine, it will come up and I will tell you about it. But that’s not what I’m doing here.
The other accusation that’s launched at Mormons, although not so much at me, is that we’re too insular. We only spend time with other Mormons. We look down on people who don’t go to our church. We’ve got those secret temples that you can’t go into unless your part of the faith. We’ve got those secret underwear. We’ve got a history of human blunders that we keep trying to cover up. We’re just plain weird. It looks like we’ve got a Mormon Catch-22. If I talk about my faith, I’m trying to convert you. If I don’t talk about my faith, I’m ashamed, or secretive, or a weirdo insular freak. There are number of people these days who write and talk about Mormonism because they want to educate. If we provide enough information, maybe we can convince you we’re not that different from you. I’m glad people are making this effort, but that’s not what I’m doing here, either.
I write about my religion because I can’t not. I mean, I can, but not well. When you grow up Mormon, the religion, by which I mean the people and the peculiarities and the habits, in addition to the rituals and beliefs, it gets in your bones. It’s my culture. I can’t erase it from the story and it’d be dishonest to try. I could tell you about my weekend and skip over the part where I spent three hours in a brick building in northwest Chicago, partaking of stale bread and tap water, and teaching a Sunday School lesson to ten-year-olds. But when you add in the time I spent preparing the lesson the day before, and the half-hour I drove each way, and the fact that I spent the rest of the day listening to Mormon-centric podcasts, well that’s a big chunk of time to leave out.
I could tell you about growing up criss-crossing the country in my family’s suburban filled to the brim with kids because my dad’s job made us move a lot. But it’s be hard to skip over the fact that my dad worked for the Mormon church, teaching high school and college students about the Book of Mormon and the Bible and the history of our religion, and that we drove a suburban instead of flying, because religion teachers don’t make that much money, and, oh yeah, Mormons have tons of kids.
I could tell you about my first real crush, and the first time I danced with a boy I liked to that song from Jerry Maguire, but it’d feel dishonest to skip over the fact that it was at a church dance in Washington D.C. and that we’d spent the whole day before in a big marble white temple doing ritual baptisms for our ancestors and that I felt like a rebel because I spent the rest of the night playing poker with wrapped Starburst candies in the hotel room with my girlfriends.
I could tell you about falling madly in love with Robert and knowing at twenty years old that I’d found a person who could make me happy until I turned old and gray. But that would only be half the story, because I also knew at twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two and twenty-three that we could not get married, not until he was a Mormon anyway. And I could tell you about five blissful years before we got over our irreconcilable differences and tied the knot. But that wouldn’t be fair because it’s never fair to tell a fairy tale when there wasn’t one, and there was bliss, but also agony and screeching tears and so much anger, at myself for choosing the path that led me to Robert, and at Robert for not just believing the way that I did, and at God for letting this happen, for making me choose between faith and love.
When I tell you about Mormonism, it’s not to persuade, or educate, or entertain. It’s because I want you to know me. And in return, I want to know about you, and all the weird things that make you who you are.