One day, one of my good friends and I were talking about the gospel. She knows some of the sordid details of my past, and on this day when we were talking, she said something to me that filled me with a peace I rarely have concerning my faith. "It must seem so strange to you, the way we try to live as LDS believers," she said, "after all those years of knowing about it but not living it." I loved that she said that first and foremost because it reminded me why we are friends: she doesn’t just not judge me, but she tries to imagine things from my perspective. But her comment also validated the reasons behind my uneasy peace with being a Mormon. It does, quite often, feel strange. I don’t say this as a criticism of the church, exactly, but as one of my truths: some of the ways that the doctrines get interpreted bother me, and that comes straight out of my history.
I don’t blog a lot about my faith. Mostly this is because of my shortcomings as a writer: it is easy to drift into sentimentality when you’re writing about spiritual things, and I don’t always know how to put what I feel into words. But it’s also because of my shortcomings with my faith itself: I assume that almost anyone reading my words is rolling their eyes over my beliefs, or there is so much back story that to get to the point of my realization is just too much, or that those who are also LDS are much stronger than I am and so wouldn’t understand my ponderings. So I mostly write about it in my journal and keep it to myself.
But after this weekend’s NBC report about Mormonism in America, I have a few things to say. I’ve been surprised at how many of my LDS friends didn’t like the report; they thought they focused too much on people who are on the fringes instead of the steady, stalwart families. I thought, however, that they included a wider ranges of perspective to give—well, a wider perspective. Because despite what Juleen Jackson (the woman whose family was on the show) said in an interview after the program, 98% of Mormons don’t function like her family. I don’t have a statistic for how many do, but I don’t believe it’s almost all of the church.
Perspective and personal history do get wrapped up in how anyone lives the gospel. Someone like Juleen Jackson, who has lived the gospel her entire life and never even drank a Coke, has a different way of looking at the world than I do. Neither perspective is wrong, but I do have an issue with those who assume that every family works like their family. In my opinion, that is where the idea of the LDS homogenization comes from: good, strong, LDS families who do everything they should (scripture reading, family prayer, family home evening, pay tithing, never missing church, support scouting whole-heartedly, fast on every fast Sunday, go to the temple every week, never drink a Coke) quite often (but not always, as my friend taught me) assume that every other Mormon family also does everything they should. But let’s just be realistic here: they don’t.
Or at least, my family fails. (Translation: I fail.) While we watched the program, Kendell and I both had moments of thinking out loud: what if our family was representing the church on national television? Our story is much different. Take, for example, our house every Sunday before church, when I find myself raising my voice and getting frustrated because once again I am arguing with one kid or another about the fact that yes, we are going to church, even though said kid hates it/thinks it’s boring/doesn’t feel like he or she belongs/doesn’t want to wear church clothes/is too tired/points out that we already went to church last week so really? again? And the thing that spurs my anger and frustration with this weekly debate is, deep down, me feeling like if I had lived the gospel better, or not had such a rough start, or been a stronger example, my kids wouldn’t feel like they do.
But there is also the truth that I am imperfect. And I know, that’s a dumb thing to say because everyone is imperfect. But I also know there are people who are much closer to perfection. I look at a family like the Jacksons on the NBC program and I think: I won’t ever have that level of perfection. My choices as well as my weaknesses, personality, and circumstances haven’t brought that sort of lifestyle to me. And if I let it, this knowledge would make me give up on living the gospel. If I believed, like Juleen Jackson, that the only good version of Mormondom is her version, there wouldn’t be any reason to try.
But I cannot believe that.
I have to believe that my very imperfect efforts are understood by the Lord. I have to believe that what other people might judge me for is seen differently by the Savior, who knows my past, my current issues, and my potential, too. I have to believe that for me it doesn’t matter what level of spirituality other families attain, just like it doesn’t matter to me if someone has a gay child or a rebellious one or even—gasp—a feminist in their midst. The only thing that matters is what we do as a family, and that we keep on trying, and that we make it to church even if I’m prickly for the first half and we’re nearly always late. I have to believe that my very imperfect version of being a Mormon in America is equally valid and not—as it sometimes feels—deeply shameful.
I confess: I still have that rebellious, questioning Amy inside of me. Sometimes I roll my eyes when I hear other members’ opinions, especially when they involve judging others. I struggle and I question and I don’t always agree. Sometimes I look at the things I feel so guilty over and realize that to most of the world they are downright silly as far as sinning goes; I go to church and try to follow Christ and I strive to also be myself, and if that isn’t enough, what is? Most of the time I am exactly like Joanna Brooks: bothered by the patriarchy. I don’t judge others by their faults but sometimes I struggle with judging them for their perfections. I listen to what is taught and sometimes I have to struggle to make it fit with what my heart tells me. Plenty of things I just simply don’t have a response for and have to, instead, have faith that I will one day understand.
But the other side of that coin, inexplicably intertwined, is the fact that I also know it is true. That is a vague statement and it’s one of the reasons I don’t blog about my faith much. "I know it is true" is based almost entirely on feeling. It is based on the strum of my soul responding to the truths (as opposed to the traditions) of the gospel: believe in Christ, live the golden rule, try to be like Christ. Help others, be loving and gentle, put aside yourself and go to work. The knowing is based on some concrete things, but mostly on the abstract, the inexplicable, the things in my heart that no one else can see. Despite my imperfections and failures and shortcomings, I still believe and I still keep trying, and that is how it feels for me, being a Mormon in America.