It was the stuff of nightmares: 18 years, 3 babies, and a to-remain-unspecified number of pounds later, I ran into the captain of my high school football team. While I was wearing a bathing suit. Aaaaargh!
I was visiting home last week, and ran into him at the pool, where we were both chasing our offspring around the shallow end. I resisted the impulse to pretend I was someone else and run for my clothes, and he and I started talking. We reminisced about mutual friends, or, more precisely, he updated me on the doings of the beautiful people from my high school, none of whom were ever aware of my existence. We chatted about kids and careers–he’s now the minister at a local church. Just before the conversation was ended by my 6-year-old who can’t swim very well taking off for the diving board, he said “You know, I’ve never really known any Mormons except for you and T_______ (one of the rare Mormon beautiful people), but I’ve never been able to quite believe all the cult stuff and the mean things people say about y’all. I just couldn’t get with the opposition to that temple they built a couple of years ago, even though everyone expected me to get my church all worked up about it.”
It was a very sweet moment, for lots of reasons, but two things have trickled out into my thinking about it:
1) Most of us, most of the time, are not (despite Frank and Nate’s fond imaginings :)) very rational in our beliefs about the world. We base our most deeply felt convictions on the slimmest of anecdotal and experiential evidence. Like most facets of human nature, this tendency is potentially both horrible and redemptive: people can be swayed into ugly convictions, like racism, by a single experience or even by rumors about the behavior of one member of a group, but people can also be persuaded into positive and respectful beliefs by a single good experience.
2) The obvious conclusion to draw would be a sort of “Phew–I did my bit to make the church look good, and I can congratulate myself for a tiny bit of member missionary success.” To my surprise, I’ve found myself instead really grateful for the human connection forged by respect for strong and *conflicting* convictions. I find it difficult to imagine that I would have felt a closer tie to him if I learned that this friend had been baptized–there was such a profound and rich understanding in that moment of acknowledging our differences and affirming that that difference did not require enmity. Which led me to wonder about the Celestial Kingdom, where, if our current thinking is correct, everyone will have accepted some (presumably radically fuller) version of Mormonism. It makes me a little sad to think that, after a lifetime spent learning to tolerate and even welcome variety, we may encounter much less of it. Maybe it would be less jarring to contemplate if I had grown up in Utah, but I really have a hard time imagining what it would be like *not* to be part of a minority religion, *not* to have to do that insider-outsider shift all the time–I really like being one of two Mormons my friend has ever known, with all of the explaining and translating and negotiation that requires. [Then again, my Mormonism seems so different from Adam Greenwood’s or Jonathan Max Wilson’s (or that of many people in my ward) that maybe I’ll have to keep eternally progressing in my translating and negotiating skills!]