On Being Lukewarm

Some things I proselytize for:

Reading.

To say I love books is to understate it somehow; reading’s influence in my life has been second only to my family. When I read, I learn, I enter new worlds, I bask in the beauty of words in the hands of masters (or, occasionally, wince at the stilted prose of amateurs). Most of all, I get a view into the hearts and minds of others. I’m naturally an intellectual person, prone to abstract away from emotions, even my own, and it’s easy to imagine myself, raised in a world without the windows of fiction, as cold, standoffish, and a little heartless. Books have trained me in the paths of compassion, offering me a chance to use my mind to connect, paring and shaping the natural woman with an effectiveness that ordinary social interaction could never have achieved. Everyone should read.

Exercise.

After that paean to reading, no one should be surprised that I had an unathletic childhood, but a few years ago I pushed myself into regular and intense exercise regimen, and, to use a cliché, it has changed my life—and also my wardrobe. (I now own a lot of active wear.) Exercise brings me pleasure in the moment and some tiny definition in my biceps, but most of all it brings me the mental resilience I need to manage stress, calm my anxious brain, and inch closer to self-acceptance. I now love my workouts, whether it’s lifting weights, running, biking, swimming, hiking; anything but yoga. (Clearly I’m not yet perfect at mental resilience and self-acceptance.) I eagerly tell others to work out, and recently even helped a friend set up a training program and learn weightlifting form. I’m that jock friend, now, and I’ll tell everyone about it as much as they’ll listen: strong is the new everything.

The Diva Cup.

The transition from pads to tampons freed me to think about something other than “oh no is my pad leaking” during high school classes. The transition from tampons to the Diva Cup was even better. I only have to buy it once? It lasts longer than tampons? You can out it in before your period starts? You can forget about it for days without risk of toxic shock syndrome? (Oops.) Sign me up, and you should sign up too!

Frequent Flyer Programs

I don’t know why I wasted all those years flying without one! I stereotyped rewards programs as being useful only for the actual frequent flyers, not people like me, but if you’re patient and clever about booking the same airline, you only have to travel once or twice a year to make this worthwhile eventually. It took me five years, but I now have priority boarding and the ability to use a business class lounge regardless of ticket class, and all those pre-flight croissants and cookies make me want to spread the word.

The dry-braised green beans at my favorite Chinese restaurant

The head waiter here recognizes me and writes down my order as soon as I walk in, since I’ve been visiting regularly, and ordering the same thing, for close to seven years now. I sometimes joke with him that I should get a free meal just for the number of people I’ve referred to this place; it’s my favorite local restaurant to recommend, which I do frequently and I always mention the green beans. If you’re ever in town, I’ll take you there.

*****

Some things I don’t proselytize for:

Belief.

I talk about Mormonism with non-Mormon friends; I’m interested in Mormonism and happy to share that interest, plus I like to explain things. Only extreme optimist would consider it sharing the gospel, as my interests in Mormonism are as much intellectual as spiritual and I’m just as happy explaining polygamy or patriarchy or the Church’s Republican bent as I am the tenets of the plan of salvation. My patriarchal blessing talks about my ability to explain the gospel in ways that people can understand in their environments, and God moves in mysterious ways, so I don’t want to discount these conversations entirely—I may be setting the stage for later conversations, or just building more positive feelings about the Church among my mostly liberal atheist acquaintances—but I doubt they’d meet most definitions of missionary work.

Why is it, I sometimes ask myself, that I don’t have the same fire for sharing the gospel I see in some of my fellow Saints? Maybe it’s introversion; maybe it’s a lack of practice; maybe it’s an unwillingness to embrace the vulnerability needed for that kind of conversation. I have to wonder, though, whether it’s simply that I believe less. Born in the church, Mormonism has been present in the background of my entire life, and has guided me in some significant ways, but my church membership, thus far, has caused me as much pain and trouble as joy. I can make an argument for that being in itself a positive–if religion is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, surely I am among the comfortable—but while that’s a choice I can make for myself (or, more accurately, endlessly debate with myself) it’s a choice I can’t hand-wave away or enthusiastically press on others.

I remembering hearing someone once compare missionary work to wanting to share a delicious sandwich, I think to try to frame it as simple, non-offensive, and motivated out of love: all fair points of the analogy, I think, and it helps me to understand those who love to share the gospel. But, to extend the analogy, what if you don’t love that sandwich? What if you know you’re allergic to its sauce, spread over all the other ingredients? What if its cilantro, so delicious to others, only tastes like soap to you? You can bring your own lunch, recreating the original sandwich with your own bread and safer ingredients, can eat your version at lunch with everyone else, and when it comes to the original sandwich you can smile and nod along with the discussion, can appreciate its merits that others enjoy, but you can’t, try as you might, wholeheartedly sell that sandwich.

Non-belief

Like any good conflicted Mormon of the Internet age, I spend a lot of time on blogs and Facebook groups of people discussing the church, and so I see former RMs preaching their new atheism or agnosticism with the same fervor that presumably, they brought to teaching the discussions in Mexico or Japan or wherever. The process of leaving the Church, for some, brings no intellectual humility, just the same old here-you-have-got-to-try-my-sandwich enthusiasm with a flip off the switch between ‘off’ and ‘on.’ I don’t blame them—I proselytize myself, when I’m enthusiastic about something; can I tell you more about the Diva Cup?—but I don’t see myself there either. I don’t know where I am on the belief spectrum, right now; my own religious tradition is actively painful for me, has sent me home from church in tears more times than I can count, and lately I’ve been taking a small break from it, like a trial separation in a struggling marriage, trying to evaluate its place in my life and psyche.

But still: I don’t want to sell that break to others. Stepping back from Church activity hasn’t quite moved me into non-belief; even stepping outside the tight grip of the Mormon embrace, hovering somewhere on the borders of belief, I can’t enthusiastically endorse non-belief or encourage others to follow my path. The sandwich of non-belief, to continue an overly tortured analogy, is a Subway sandwich: you’re not opposed to any of the ingredients, since you got to choose them yourself, and it tastes pretty good, but a few hours later you’re hungry again.

I wrote this to try to sift through complicated feelings, hoping that in the course of the draft I’d find some kernel of truth, something that could inch me closer to one end of the spectrum, or provide some clarity into what I really think. I got nothing. In the end I’m simply whining about my problems, just like everyone else on the internet. I am neither cold nor hot, but ready to be spewed out of God’s mouth.

 

9 comments

  1. I have a terrible time recommending anything to anybody – reading in general? Yes, absolutely! This specific book? Well, it depends. What do you like, how much time do you have? Do you want the kind of book you can snuggle up with, or pore over details, or whiz through and move on?

    Similarly, can I recommend a relationship with the divine, probably mediated through some form of religion? Yes, for sure! At least try it out. But being a Mormon? Well, it depends. How much time are you ready to devote to a religious community? How interested are you in the complicated ways God speaks to us, and how willing are you to let a little patriarchy/American nationalism be a part of your religion? Are you comfortable with a religion that thinks it can encompass all truth?

    It is mine, and I’m pretty sure I love it, but that does not follow that it is the only good option for everyone else.




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  2. Petra,
    I love this. I’ve never been a fan of that scripture about being spewed out. Probably because even as a teenager I knew it described me. There is no amount of effort or force of will I have been able to exert that has ever changed that. Even as a missionary (I had no desire to proselytize, but the only powerful spiritual prompting I have ever received was to go on a mission) I couldn’t get over that lukewarm hump. There were plenty of people I met that I really thought the church would be good for them and bring them happiness. There were also a lot of people I met who were very happy with their current set up and I didn’t want to force on them all the pain I have felt in the church. As obedient as I tried to be, I was terrible at getting anyone interested in the Church. It was hard to bear testimony when you’re unsure if you believe it yourself. There are a lot of things about the church that I love and I could bear fervent testimony of them, but not the things that are required to check off all the necessary lessons for baptism (i.e. the first vision, obedience, even some of the details about the plan of salvation.) I just can’t force myself to believe something that is so counter to everything that makes sense to me. I can pretend, I can even convince myself for a little while, but it doesn’t last.

    Costco, on the other hand, that’s something I could proselytize to anyone. Even one-person families should shop there! Seriously, everything they sell is good. And they let you return anything, even years later. Costco is literally right for everyone. 🙂




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  3. Also, I agree with your second point about non-belief. I am 3 months in to my trial separation with the church. While I’m happy where I am, I have absolutely no desire to convince others to do the same. This is working for me right now, but that doesn’t mean others will have a good experience. I’m happy to talk about it with people who are interested, but that’s about as far as it goes.




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  4. Petra, I needed this today. The hardest part is sometimes to just allow yourself to be okay with where you are. Sometimes I find myself floundering; other times I find enough foundation under my feet to try to be a beacon of light for others – showing the way you can stay upright as the ocean constantly pulls and pushes sand out from under your feet. I have enough zeal for Jesus that it keeps me in place. Usually.

    My patriarchal blessing is pretty specific that later in my life I’ll serve missions. Multiple missions. I sometimes freeze out of fear just considering it. I’m comfortable helping people who want to stay, stay. But could I proselytize with the same fervor I do my diva cup? No. Unfortunately not.




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  5. Maybe I am going against the grain here, but I do have a desire to share the gospel. I am not great at it and I feel awkward about it.

    This comment will sound trite, and even repetitive. I’m sure you have heard it before. Read, pray, study, and visit the temple. These activities lead to understanding and faith. Removing yourself from the church and these activities will lead to less understanding and doubt. Remember that the church needs people like you because you do provide a different perspective than the mainstream members of the church.

    I recognize the church has many issues. Church leaders, locally and globally do things wrong. The church will be a better place with people like you in it because you provide a different view. I hope that the church in 100 years changes because it reflects the opinions and life experience of people like you.




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  6. I’ve always struggled with sharing belief. One of my problems with proselytizing religion is that I feel like once you do it, especially with a friend, you run the risk of making them call the whole friendship into question, as they wonder whether the friendship is simply an attempt to convert them.

    The thing that kind of made it click for me was that one day I was telling a friend who also likes poetry that she absolutely had to read such-and-such poem. And I thought oh wow, maybe that’s how some people feel about sharing their faith. It’s still not something I’m likely to do, but it helped me understand people who do proselytize belief a little better–that this is something that has been so amazing in their life that they want to share it.

    Like you, I talk a lot about religion with people, but it tends to be in the intellectual realm. And while I consider myself a believer, I also have some pretty deep disagreements with the church, and at this point I figure that it would be dishonest (and just weird) to only share the positive aspects of my relationship to my tradition. I’m relatively at peace with that, but I went through a long period where I felt horribly guilty for not being the kind of missionary I’d always heard about at church. I finally realized, though, that most people aren’t all that interested in hearing propaganda, and actually take me much more seriously when I talk about my faith as a complex thing.




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  7. Your words so closely reflect my own feelings. Amen to books, the diva cup, a runner’s high and good food (San Tung? I once lived by some very nice dry fried green beans in SF).

    I’ve never been a missionary type either. I freeze up at sounding false, like I’m just a friend trying to change make my friends and acquaintances Mormon. My relationship has always felt so dynamic and fraught with complicated emotions that I can’t promote with simplicity. I just freeze. Not for lack of love of God or my Mormon family- it’s just not wired into me.Mu church is a mixed bag of things I love and things I struggle with, so it’s hard to know how to share it. I usually don’t go about it overtly, but I answer questions and try to live authentically.




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