Chat With a Mormon Online
Lately I've been spending a lot of time studying math and science to strengthen my brain in preparation for the GMAT and grad school! I also have been working my way (slowly) through watching all the many, many episodes of Star Trek that have been made over the last six decades. And I love answering questions on MetaFilter and updating my Tumblr blog. Now that the weather is cooling down, I look forward to renaissance festivals, pumpkin shows, and taking long hikes in the state parks near where I live.
I was born in a very different religious tradition - really more of a secular humanist environment than anything else. We went to church, but more for the companionship and sharing time with like-minded people than for worship. My mom converted to the church when I was young, but my parents were divorced, and my dad wasn't very happy about me becoming a Mormon. I wrestled with this a lot as a teenager - what do I believe is true? Is anyone actually listening to me? Is there a point to all of this? Are the people I love, who are no longer alive, still around, somehow? Does it really matter? Why should I work so hard if it just annoys my family? The turning point for me was, I think, the day I was baptized for my grandmother in the Los Angeles temple. I had to take a bus to get to the temple, by myself, because no one would drive me. I realized on that trip that it really matters - that it's not just about what makes me feel good or bad, but that my actions, my faith, has a real impact on other people. Being a Unitarian versus a Mormon wasn't about comfort, about making my parents happy, or anything else - it was about truth. And I knew that Heavenly Father cared for me and wanted me to keep working at being a Mormon, even if it was painful or difficult or made my dad upset. I've had a lot of ups and downs over the years - inactivity, struggling to get myself to church when I have to go by myself, etc. - but that knowledge, that this stuff matters and that I know the truth, is why I'm still a Mormon, even in the low times.
I share the gospel with my friends because there are worthy things that they deserve to be exposed to. I'm not at all confrontational or even particularly assertive with my beliefs. The most important things, for me, are for people to know that I'm a Mormon, to know that I take the gospel seriously, and to feel like they're in a position to get honest answers if they ask me a question about the Church. So, I share Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Messages videos on Facebook. I "check in" on Foursquare and Facebook Places every time I go to a church event or service. I retweet quotations from church leaders. I let people know that I'm taking a vacation to go to Utah, rather than just vaguely disappearing. If someone says something about a church issue, I speak up. It's not hard, it's not pushy, and I know for sure that if someone wants to know more, they know they can ask me.
I do genealogy work because those people are real, and they matter. Fundamental, to me, in the idea of eternal life and eternal families is the realization that these people, who lived long before me but are now gone from this life, still exist. They have desires and needs, but no physical bodies, which means in a very real way that they're powerless right now. They know so much more, understand so much more, have experienced so much more - but they need me. And I believe that things that happen on earth are still very important to them. My grandmother, for instance, died when I was nine years old. This was back when I still called myself "fifty percent Mormon and fifty percent Unitarian Universalist." And Grandma was Catholic, who'd gone to UU meetings for the previous fifty years. But after she died, I had the very strong realization that my beliefs and my actions still mattered to her - that she was on my side, and supported the choices I was increasingly making, the ideas I was embracing, that drew me closer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wasn't alone in my journey; she knew what I was doing and she approved. A few years later, I was baptized on her behalf in the Los Angeles Temple, and I knew that if she agreed with that action, and if I kept up my end of the bargain, we'd be together at the end of it all. Grandma was pretty easy - I knew her, we had her birth date, I had lots of pictures of her. My ancestors from long ago, my cousins who died in WWII, the folks no one even knows the name of (because it's all in dusty parish records, or it was all hidden from the Nazis, or they were so poor no one cared about them enough to record their names,) are much harder. I can't recall the look in their eyes when they thought I was doing good. But I can still love them, and still try to help them in every way I can, by finding them, and giving them a chance to be baptized, if that's what they want.
When you make a good choice - picking the "good" over the "bad," or the "better" over the "just okay," you are building a habit. And you quickly discover that it feels good, that the results are good, that you respect yourself more, that it was easier than maybe you thought it would be. I think, basically, that it's for the same reason that people who brush their teeth, do it frequently. Brushing your teeth is healthy for your body; making good choices is healthy for your soul. Also: when you lie to other people, or steal something, or spend all night drinking away your salary, it makes everything in your life harder. You feel like you have to make up another lie to cover the truth, you are desperate to hide the evidence of your crime, you find yourself writing post-dated checks to try and stretch things out till your next paycheck. It's much harder to make the right choice - repentance is painful and scary-sounding and involves things that might be very unpleasant. If you're facing jail, or a breakup with your significant other, or having your car repossessed, repentance can seem like a completely impossible choice! Similarly, if you keep not brushing your teeth, you'll find that every time you DO brush them, your gums are sore and bleed, and your teeth are hurting, and the toothpaste tastes weird. You're not in the habit of brushing your teeth and it's all strange-feeling, AND your teeth are in such bad shape that brushing your teeth seems like a terrible thing to do. You also start to think about what going to the dentist, to fix all that damage, will be like! Better not to even LOOK at that toothbrush! Making good choices turns you (over time) into the kind of person who makes good choices because that's what they do. And, making good choices helps you avoid a lot of the nasty consequences of bad choices - the kinds of consequences that breed more bad choices. You can repent - but it's better to choose the right the first time!
My favorite job in the church is being a teacher. I've mostly taught children, ages six to nine. Every year we learn about a different book of scripture; my favorite is teaching the Old Testament, because we can see the blessings and challenges presented to so many different people, in so many different circumstances. My absolute favorite is teaching the kids about how Heavenly Father told His people that Christ was coming, again and again - that He loves and takes care of all of His children, and doesn't ignore someone just because they were born too soon or had the wrong color skin or any other useless differences that we like to think are so important. I also love our community service projects - every time we have a young single adult conference we clean up a park or repair a homeless shelter or something. I especially like that we do this locally, that it's based on what people in the community actually need. We're not always well-liked out here in the Midwest, but we focus on being helpful, and I think that's really wonderful.