Some things I proselytize for:
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.
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:
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.
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.