Before commenting, I’d like to request that people please review the policies – please refrain from giving me advice (the questions I ask here are meant to stimulate discussion, they are not me actually asking for people to give to me personally solutions), questioning my testimony, or challenging my faith. Any such attempts to do so will be moderated.
I was a junior in college when I first saw the movie The Incredibles. It was a Saturday afternoon, I’d had a really bad day when plans for a project feel through in the last minute, and I was in a foul mood. Wanting only to spend money on indulgence, I took a bus to the mall to see a movie. I picked The Incredibles – it was new, it was popular, and it got great reviews. What could I lose?
I did not like the movie. What was worse, I was in a packed theatre where every single person around me loved it. They were laughing and cheering and enjoying the experience with an exuberance to which I could not relate. It was the most painful movie watching experience I can remember. When I left the theatre that day, I no longer disliked The Incredibles – I hated it.
Gallup recently released a poll (link) which revealed that the most optimistic place in America is the Provo-Orem area, where I grew up. I’ve found it’s released a lot of mixed feelings for me in response. I’m only a year and a half away from living there, and I feel my retrospective on that experience expanding. For instance, I’m only just beginning to realize how much I despised my stint at BYU – but since it wasn’t all that different from my time growing up in Utah Valley, it didn’t strike me as particularly unusual at the time. I think that growing up in Utah Valley knowing that so many people around me loved living there, made me hate it all the more.
I think it’s human nature to, when in the minority in any situation, to want to conform to the majority, because being that one and only person singled out with a differing opinion can be a difficult situation. I know for myself, I’ve often told others that I do actually agree with the majority, and then tried to convince myself of that fact. Even when I knew deep down it wasn’t true.
The difficulty of it also further comes because it’s easy to take a contrary perspective as an invalidation. Which certainly wasn’t my intent in much of these experiences. I don’t think it’s invalid for other people to love Utah Valley; just as I don’t think it was invalid for all those other people in the theatre to love The Incredibles. But my differing still opinion needs to be acknowledged as legitimately equal and of worth.
Some of this occurs to me because I realized recently that for the first time that I can ever remember, I’m actually happy with my life. I attend a small, tight-knit branch of people I really like (including a couple like-minded liberals), I’m attending a graduate program with people I enjoy, and I actually feel like I’m doing well in school. And I’m no longer surrounded by hoards of people who define themselves first and foremost as Mormon, people who find validation in the fact that everyone around them does the same. I find interacting with people of a variety of faiths refreshing, with different (and oftentimes more relateable) perspectives. I talked to my work supervisor once about something similar to this subject, and I think she put it best: everyone needs to live in a culture that validates them. I was never really happy living in Utah Valley, not once in 26 years.
A few weeks ago, I attended a temple trip with my branch. We’re enough in the middle of nowhere that it takes a 3 1/2 hour drive to get there, so it’s an all-day event. I don’t attend Endowment sessions (yes, I’ve been Endowed, and my agitation with that is an entirely different set of issues, one which I’m not interested in discussing here) and have always done Baptisms for the Dead. But while I was sitting by the font waiting to be called for confirmations, it occurred to me that I really don’t like doing Baptisms, and I think I figured out the reasons why. First of all, I am not a morning person (and I subscribe to the belief that such a thing is biological) meaning that getting up at 6 am in the morning, and then driving for 3 to 4 hours (and then 3 to 4 hours to get home) always leaves me incredibly tired. And almost every time I’ve gone, I’ve ended up having a fight with someone, and usually over stupid things. I hate fighting with people – especially when I’m tired. But even more than that, I compulsively time manage. And sitting in a room with a dozen other people not knowing when I’m going to be called up for confirmations is near about torturous for me (that is only a slight exaggeration). I hate not knowing, and having no control over when I’m going to know. I’m the kind of person that wishes that we had enough of a system that it was more all laid out in advance, because I would do much better if I knew exactly how much time I was to be sitting there and waiting. I hated that when I showed up at 6 am to the Provo Temple and waited two hours in line while other people’s friends showed up and cut in line, and I still hate it now. So because of that, I don’t really feel spiritual doing it. And I feel like my attempting to change this would be tantamount to a dramatic alteration of my personality.
To attend this particular trip, I had to make a number of modifications to my life in the days preceding. My Saturdays are normally taken up grocery shopping, doing laundry, and the three to four hours it takes me to do my homework. And getting all of that done in the days prior, on top of all my regular priorities, as well as the fact that I fed the Sister Missionaries the night before the trip (something I did very happily, as I like the Sisters in my branch), on top of giving up the one day of the week I have to myself and when I can sleep in, made my week incredibly stressful. I’m not saying all this to say, oh look what a great person I am for making all these sacrifices (or go the opposite, to bemoan all that I had to give up). My point is to ask: isn’t enough that I sacrifice and go willingly – do I really have to love the experience?
I have spent my entire life in the church, and I feel pretty confident it’s where God wants me to be. But I am never going to love being in this church. Even if I put aside all my doctrinal issues, my feminism, my liberalism, how much I hate the Mormon culture, and all the clashes I’ve had with other members, my experiences at BYU in particular have made very clear to me one thing: with the church as is, I will never gain acceptance; because the institution and its people don’t want me for who I am – they just want me for who they think I should be.
So can’t I say that’s enough? Do I really have to love it? If I show up every week with a good attitude and participate in my callings and keep myself temple-worthy, is loving it really necessary? If we start requiring love from its people, we move into dangerous territory. I’ve long held the belief that no utopia is applicable to everyone, because people are far too varied. And I resent the idea that a place with Mormon homogeny should be the ideal for everyone, especially everyone who’s Mormon. I hated living in Utah, and I resent any implication that I should feel otherwise simply because it varies from the opinion of the majority. And where other Mormons see church as a safe haven from the world, I oftentimes feel it’s the opposite.
It goes back to my experience when I first saw The Incredibles. While my dislike of the movie was enhanced by it being contrary to everyone around me, it didn’t change the fundamental fact that I still disliked the movie, and that my opinion of it was every bit as valid as everyone who enjoyed it. It’s hard to sit in church and hear people gush about how much they love the Mormon church, or talk about loving the temple. I don’t in any way mean to imply that their feelings are invalid. But at the same time, my feelings still deserve equal legitimacy and worth.
- 15 March 2012