Monday, February 28, 2011

Talking about talking about being a mormon

Talking about being a Mormon is something that's been tricky in my life. Growing up, I was the odd one -- peculiar, I suppose. Being LDS put me in a staggering minority; growing up in a family of converts not thoroughly versed in the practices of the religion is one thing which made me hesitant to discuss the matter. That hesitancy has seeped into my adulthood, but I've realized that a lot of that is because of a pattern which stems from my childhood: that of being told that what I believe is wrong.

This happened in more than one way. There, of course, was the typical method: people -- classmates, even ADULTS (I'm sorry [nope, not actually sorry], what kind of adult questions a child about their religious beliefs and then openly laughs in the child's face about them?) -- telling me Exactly What Mormons Believe. Another (specific) example, however, is something about which I don't think I've ever even spoken: I remember with clarity a day when I was being babysat by my dad's best friend's wife, a kind and soft-spoken woman who also happened to be my violin teacher. I had been singing a song to myself which I had learned at the Neighborhood Summer Bible Camp, you might know it: "I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N," and so forth. Here's the thing: as a kid, I hadn't been directly taught that being a Christian meant Believing In Christ, I thought that the title Christian was simply a religious denomination; this comes from the following (simplified) exchange:

"You're a Mormon?"

"Yes. What are you?"

"Christian."

In my mind, the available churches were: Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon, and Christian -- all with similarities and differences.

Are you getting what I'm saying?

I was under the impression that I wasn't a Christian.*

And so that day, being babysat, Sue asked, "What are you singing?" When I replied that I was singing my own version of that song which went, "I'm NOT a C, I'm NOT a C-H," etc., she gently suggested, "But I thought Mormons are Christians."

Confused (two different Religions, remember?), I said, "No, we're not."

"Are you sure?"

"Uh...yeah."

Relaying that story to my parents...boy oh boy, did I get The Guilt. (I sometimes half-jest that even though I've been LDS for most of my life, I was raised Catholic, what with The Guilt.) (Though, let's be honest: Mormon Guilt could give Catholic Guilt a run for its money.) Head shakes and eye rolls and "Oh, GREAT!"s. Clearly I had said something wrong. Very wrong. And there was very little chance to fix it. The damage had been done.

I had been told that what I said about what I believed was incorrect. And while, in that instance, the accusation was accurate, the sting of warning to Never Be Wrong was long-lasting. Combine that with years of being told (rather than asked about) what I believe and the accompanying ridicule (increasing in frequency and intensity over the years) and you've got the result: hesitancy to discuss Mormon beliefs -- my own beliefs, for fear of being incorrect. I didn't want to misrepresent Church Doctrine or policy, and I held my own opinions closely guarded.

While this hesitancy has remained, however, it has also evolved: I'm more familiar with the (substance of and) difference between Doctrine and Policy, and most certainly how that relates (and often doesn't and shouldn't) to Culture, and if I choose to discuss these things I do my best to differentiate. Because they are different. And yes, I said if I choose to discuss. I have no interest in engaging in a Shouting Match or a Who Can Say The Most Words contest or a Whoever Talks For The Longest Amount Of Time Wins game.

I am pleased when someone who sincerely wants to know what I believe or what I practice will ask me their questions. I look to answer those inquiries with respect, when they're asked with an earnestness showing that they're not looking to 'trap' me or some other such thing. Once I was asked if it was true that each Mormon man had permission to beat their wife once a month. Even though the notion (to me) is preposterous (not only because it's not true, but it's something I hadn't heard before, and also -- what?!?), I answered the question with the same amount of straightforwardness with which it had been asked.

I'm more than happy to have those civilized discussions, with an end goal not of conversion on either part, but of more understanding and appreciation. Asking, rather than telling, me what exactly I believe. Otherwise, I choose to NOT cast my pearls.

AND ANOTHER THING . . .

(please to read my upcoming post about said other thing)













*Mormons are Christians.

17 comments:

Fig said...

The wife-beating thing .... seriously, what?

Nicole said...

Interesting that you're writing about this topic, because I also wrote about what it's like to be a Mormon in my last post.

I grew up in Oregon, and was one of very few members at my school. I too got lectured about what I believe, which was some combination of witchcraft, polygamy, and only drinking 7up.

But I get you on the guilt. Boy do I get you. I've realized for me that it's more of a function of my upbringing and life experiences, and I've done a lot better accepting myself once I started discussing it with my therapist instead of my bishop. Cause as we've discussed before...depression is not caused by sin. But most of my bishops have supposed that it was

Gerb said...

I'll have to have a conversation with you about all of this. My comment would be too long. However, I can SO relate to much of what you said! Things I'd love to tell you about: I was confronted by my high school history teacher when we got to the section on religions, how my brother responded to weird questions about our religion (for example: Where are your horns? and What are you doing at the dance? I thought you were a Mormon) and what happens when the vacation bible school we were attending found out we were LDS.

Emily said...

Love the post. My favorite part? Mormon Guilt giving Catholic Guilt a run for it's money.

La Yen said...

The best part of this? You are raising children who feel absolutely safe discussing their beliefs and opinions and hopes and fears and dreams--not just about religion, but about EVERYTHING.

Stacey said...

I love what Nichole said about guilt being a function of upbringing. It was the same for me. Luckily I married a man that helped me with that realization.

I've never been gung ho on discussing my Mormon religion either. I'm not sure why. It has nothing to do with being embarrassed. It's very much a part of who I am, I just don't go out of my way to discuss it, I suppose. I look forward to the second part of this post.

Kalli Ko said...

Shut up. WE'RE CHRISTIAN?

swampbaby said...

Liked this post a lot and can totally relate to it as well, growing up in the Bible Belt and all. I think that we (meaning LDS people) do need to speak up more and speak more openly to show those in our circles/community that WE are "the Mormons" and we aren't freaks.

Vern said...

So THAT'S why Snoop Dog joined the church!

La Yen said...

Snoop and Steve Martin are doing a Christmas Concert on Temple Square, you know.

Steph said...

bwahahaha... mormon and catholic guilt. Last time I checked if you believe in Christ you are a Christian. I didn't realize certain religions had the market cornered on christianity.

Vern said...

@ La Yen - Ha ha ha!

T said...

:)

I was once asked whether or not we'd go to H.E. double toothpicks if we didn't ride a bike for two years before getting our licenses...

I thought that trumped all the rumor-beliefs... but the monthly wife beatings just leaves it in the dust!

Naomi Miles said...

I had a lot of similar feelings and experiences growing up, even today I don't like to voice my thoughts in church meetings but make myself do it occasionally!

Melissa LeVesque said...

In high school, I never knew you were Mormon. And now that I do, I admire you for sticking with your beliefs in the face of all the crazy people. Seriously, monthly beatings? I haven't heard that one, and I have trouble believing that a strong woman such as yourself would stand for that. I can't say that I knew anything about Mormons before I started reading your blog, but I like them better now that I do!

"Lucky" said...

GERB!!! I SO want to hear your stories...

~j, touche' on the proper/non-proper way to run a religious discussion.

D'Arsie Manzella said...

Hey woman! I read this and now I want to know more about Mormons. But not from a textbook or flier. I want to learn more about Mormons from you. You've said temple is exhausting. If you would share what you mean, I would like to know!
Makes me happy to see you expressing your heart so freely. Fantastic YOU.