experiment: missionary

aka the longest blog EVER

i went street contacting with the missionaries on saturday in times square. it was scary and exciting and cool. as someone who hates being approached by pretty much everyone, i also hate approaching people who are strangers and asking them for a minute of their time. (i have the utmost respect for those who do this long term—shout out to alex, my brother in argentina!)

no doubt you’ve seen the Mormon missionaries around at least a few times in your life – white shirt and tie (men) and modest skirt/dress (women) and tried to avoid them or walk a bit faster so you don’t have to look them in the eye. c’mon, i know how it is. well on saturday, i volunteered to team up with them for a few hours. watch out!

i wondered if there would be much competition in such a TOTALLY INSANE part of town as Times Freaking Square—there are always (manic) street preachers declaring fire and brimstone at the top of their lungs. i wondered how we could compete, with what i’m sure some think is a comparably crazy message (it’s not. really). i happened to be working with the sister missionaries (one who used to be one of Jared’s film students--weird). our directive was to tell people a bit about our faith and invite them to attend a church service in one of our many manhattan chapels. simple.

some were “too busy.”

some thought we were handing out free tickets to something, and were disappointed when no, it wasn’t a free sandwich coupon after all (sorry) or a ticket to a pre-screening of the Love Guru (not sorry, you should be ashamed of yourselves).

some were Muslim and didn’t want to hear anything about Christ. but they were nice about it.

i’m sure some talked with us just because we were two attractive twenty-somethings. whatever, catch’em with honey i guess.

some tried to sell us knockoff handbags. very aggressively.

some people were on the phone.

some had earbuds in, undoubtedly grooving to that tres annoying “bleeding love” ditty that entertainment weekly, in a clearly unprophetic and unfortunate manner, has just named the song of the summer.

but most people were really receptive. they expressed that they often felt confused about the idea of God or salvation, they didn’t know who they really were, where they came from, why they struggled with particular challenges, the purpose of life, etc. most people were happy to hear us reassure them of our belief in God’s love for us all, that His church is on the earth, and He has a plan for them. some expressed their existential crises and prodded us for some sort of therapy, which i didn’t feel qualified to give – hello! i’ve got my own stuff to figure out, called “being an adult,” before i can dole out that kind of advice to others. and then many echoed our testimonies of Christ and the importance of family, etc.

it was cool to see how people i didn’t know minutes before, grew to understand that Mormons weren’t just some kooky polygamist sect but A) that we were nice, educated and articulate and B) that what they believed about God and Christ and what we believed weren’t really so different. to come to commonality. that was the most rewarding.

in fact, almost all those we spoke with, even if they weren’t interested, were really nice.

there were a few who weren’t though, and even though I ALWAYS WANT TO ARGUE ALWAYS AT ALL TIMES ABOUT EVERYTHING, at that point i (miraculously?) didn’t feel argumentative, but rather just smiled and wished them a nice day.

but really, so many people we ran into have no idea what we believe or have totally wrong interpretations of Mormonism! if anything, i really get upset when people who don’t even know me tell me what i believe! thank you, but as someone who lives with ME i know what i believe. i don’t want to be a Christian apologist. i’ll leave that to CS Lewis, who does a much better job than i ever could, but please Internet, let me set it straight (because there are so many misrepresentations and so much hilariously false info out there):

What I Believe, in My Own Words (i was going to call it The Gospel According to Adrienne, but that feels like it might somehow tow the line of sacrilege):

1. God: i believe in God. i believe He created me and loves me unconditionally.

2. Jesus Christ: i believe in Jesus Christ. i believe He is the Son of God, the Savior of the World.

a few people refused to talk with us on the grounds that, “you’re mormon, you don’t believe in the same Jesus that we do.”

um, no. i can assure you the Jesus you believe in (if you are Christian) is the exact same one i believe in. call me crazy, but i think Mary only had one immaculately conceived son, certainly not two twins both called Jesus. so please, don’t tell me it’s not the “same Jesus”—that’s like saying there are two Thom Yorke’s and you believe in one and i believe in another. guess what—there’s only one of him, (and one working eye), and just because you prefer Kid A while i will forever extol the virtues of The Bends, doesn’t mean they came from different people. (i’m listening to radiohead today, that’s why i picked his name out of the air. i do not mean to compare Yorke to Christ, although i guess he could be called rock deity). Ill analogy? Perhaps.

i believe Christ atoned for our sins and died on the cross and was resurrected. “Mormon” is a nickname. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the real name. hence, i believe it is HIS church, He is at the head of it, just like He was in the days of the original 12 apostles. CRUX!!: HE is in the center of my faith, everything else is just an appendage (important yes, but supporting).

3: Joseph Smith: He is not a God. I do not worship him. in fact he is very mortal, and made plenty of mistakes. no prophet is perfect because –eh, they are mortal. that’s true for those in the Bible or in the Book of Mormon. God works through all sorts of people, qualified or not.

4: Polygamy: nope. not us. don’t trust Big Love, no matter how much you loved Bill Paxton in Apollo 13. (man, i am abounding in good works AND pop culture references today!)

here’s where what i believe becomes a bit different from quote unquote mainstream Christianity

4: Continuing revelation

okay. so prophets of old taught scripture from revelation received in their day. and as the books of the Bible were written, those new doctrines began to be preached. it didn’t all come at once, but as events transpired, those oral doctrines (and sometimes written, like all of the epistles of paul, james, etc) started being taught. so i believe that since God is the same yesterday, today and forever ad infinitum, he continues to work through His prophets like this and continues to reveal new things. He cares about us today as much as He cared about his children then. i know He still talks to us, with messages perhaps more relevant to 2008 than 8AD. just like Moses and Noah of old, there are prophets on earth today who can give us instruction and guidance for our time. God wouldn’t abandon us. He cares about us too much to stop talking to us altogether. God is definitely not dead.

5: Personal revelation aka prayer

i’ve been accused of being in a faith that breeds blind followers. that i just dutifully obey leaders and never question anything. that’s almost laughable in light of one of my church’s foremost beliefs that every person on the earth (LDS or otherwise) is entitled to a personal relationship with their creator. they can get their own confirmation of what the truth is, independent of any organized structure. ie- you don't always need a rabbi or priest to relate God's words to you, you are entitled to have Him to answer you directly. i believe in this personal sort of revelation—it’s called prayer. by praying, you’re talking to God, and He can answer you. sometimes He doesn’t though and then you must use your INTELLECT, REASON and agency to figure out what to do. my faith is an extremely participatory one. you cannot follow blindly, because you must be engaged, acting for yourself. the way my church is structured is so everyone has a role to play (teachers, bishops, librarians, publicity folks (hi mom!), leaders of auxiliary organizations etc). everyone, including clergy, is unpaid, and everyone works together as volunteers.

6: Families: Families are forever. we will be with our loved ones after we die. so naturally, eternal marriage is a reality. we believe that through the proper ordinances, it doesn’t have to be “till death do us part.” nope, we’re sticking together—in this life and in heaven. temples play into a big part of this, too. most of the sacred ordinances performed in temples are done so to perpetuate the concept of the eternal family. this is why geneology work is so important to mormons.

okay, that’s enough on my Mormon beliefs for one day, but still i always want to discuss and philosophize on the following topic — general to any breed of spirituality, organized or not, Christian or not.

I believe that faith is not the opposite of reason

the two can and do coexist. you can tell me they don’t but that’s like telling me i didn’t have honey nut shredded wheat for breakfast. i know from personal experience that i did, along with a few spoons of peanut butter. likewise, i know from personal experience and leagues of soul-searching that this is the case. so don’t tell me reason and faith don’t belong together because i have employed the use of both to get to where i am - spiritually, intellectually, emotionally.

i believe in science. i believe in evolution. i believe in God. that triad is not an incongruous one. sometimes i have to have faith in science, sometimes i have to have faith in spirituality. blind faith in science will get you just as far as blind faith in god. the unexamined life/religion is not worth living etc. etc

i just read this very interesting (secular) book —it had its problems and half-baked arguments for sure, but the core idea is something i find to be very prescient: that there are truths that cannot be discovered or quantified by science. i mean, the concept of Love is the one that always get used as the example, but beyond that. there are things even the rigors of science cannot explain. not to discredit science, there are also things faith, or Art in Lehrer’s case, can’t explain. i think the best way to find truth is some combination of the two.

i think people are often surprised to find that as someone to whom religion is so foundational, i also love and acknowledge science. that i can have a testimony of creationism and evolution (in parts). Darwin was right about a lot of things, but so was Christ. at the helm of the LDS church (the general authorities- our modern day 12 apostles) are prominent and respected neuroscientists, heart surgeons, chemists. none of whom have formal religious training, but are all very secularly sharp men, all critical thinkers—no strangers to reason.

as a super curious girl (from a young age) i’ve always questioned everything. i've continued to do so. my faith encourages critical analysis. if you disagree with something, you speak up. i have done this. Elena is a very good example of this and was constantly asking the hard questions when we were growing up (and now), sometimes to the frustration of our teachers who didn’t always know the answers off hand (they were volunteers after all), but i like that she dug hard until she could understand something.

okay, i’m stopping – i could honestly speak forever on this point, and it will have to be saved for another day because i am straying, straying. . . . straying . . .

in summation. our late prophet, Gordon Hinckley, often said this (speaking of our faith), and i love it:

“Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true.”

what i have learned:

i found out for myself that it is true. that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ . i found this out at age 24, using a killer combo of intellect, reason, and faith and a very cool personal spiritual manifestation that shall not be discussed herein. some of you who have known me as mormon from day one might think i've always known it's true. but i haven't. i've had glimpses here and there during the way, but i still questioned and questioned. it required lots of work and intense pleading with God, asking him to tell me if i was involved in a "great fraud," or if what i was doing was, in fact, real and true and pleasing to my Father in Heaven. that's not to say that now i'm set for life. noooo. far from it. i'm still at the early stages of my spiritual development. i've been severely humbled and am still learning and growing.

so. whether you buy it or you don’t, at least now you understand me a bit better. let me know if you want to know more or discuss anything, i looove talking about religion/spirituality and not just my faith, but all religions, creeds, what have you. and i’m not asking you to call the missionaries or covert to Mormonism tomorrow – i’m not one to push my beliefs onto others. most of my best friends do not share my faith. and that’s cool. i will let you believe what you believe as long as you (general public) let me do the same. this hasn’t been me proselytizing, hopefully it was more informative than anything. also, here is a good place to start for more information.
or, if you're within a stone's throw of a borough, you can go to the chapel on east 87th between 2nd and 3rd tonight! to hear Glenn Beck speak on What Mormons Believe. NExt week, the CFO of Citigroup (Gary something--aren't they all) will be speaking. Both should be good.


EKD said...

Very interesting post...I enjoyed it. And guess what? I am STILL asking the hard questions and prodding people for answers until they are about to burst, but I love it. I love talking about religion and God and spirituality. It's a great conversation that you can have with someone when they finally open up their mind and explore the possibilities of this life and the next.

I'm glad your experiment went well, oh great experimenter!

JB said...

Great experiment Adrienne, and a great post. We respect you so much and are grateful for you.

J A and C

dn said...

I believe the order should go:
OK Computer
The Bends
Every other album ever
Kid A

Liz Canaan Roberts said...

Adrienne. Thanks for the post. Brings back memories of my mish in Korea so many moons ago. And it was what I needed to read today.

Also, I found Alison Faulkner Robertson's blog recently and have since been thinking of you and looking for a sign of you. I found it today through one of Alison's friends. I wasn't positive it was you; there's not much info on your profile. But when I read your blog I knew that was YOUR writing, (nobody writes Adrienne like you do).

If you don't recall me (but I think you will) I was in Poetry Writing with you at BYU almost two years ago. I've since married, dropped out of school and still live in Utah (ahhh).

What are you doing in NY (school I suppose)? I could make this comment as long as your post. However, I'll refrain.

casey elizabeth said...

how did i miss this wonderful post? geez!

thanks for sharing your faith via the web. it is so encouraging to hear from a woman i've always admired about the pursuit of Truth. i, even though i am in seminary and supposed to be all pastoral and stuff, learn something new and confusing every day in regards to Jesus the redeemer, God the Creator, and Spirit the Sustainer. we are in a story that, as you said, continues to be written even now...the story of God's interaction with creation, and, in my beliefs, the regeneration of creation that God longs to bring about through screwy people like us. it is exciting to be living the faith, as you are, and not just learning about it.

i am learning all the time that it is in the wrestling with God that we are named, (Jacob and the angel) even if we walk away wounded and weary. it is a great endeavor. but God is not afraid of any question we offer and God rewards those who grab for Truth...however messy, however long it takes.

i wish we talked more about our faith experiences and revelations. can we work on that?

i love you.