When I was in my 30s I was sent by my company to Olympia Washington. I was a single mother with a three-year-old boy. We lived in the Olympia Hotel while I worked my job each week, then we boarded a flight every Friday afternoon back to DC, and repeated the same journey on Monday morning.
During that time I became very ill at work. It turned out I had a severe infection in my uterus requiring hospitalization and rest. Living in the hotel was not conducive to the situation. I was working in a newly acquired hospital, and it was my job to assess the operation, fire the ineffective employees, rebuild the clinical, marketing, and administrative teams, reach out to the community, and rehire or refill the vacant leadership positions. I inherited the secretary who worked for me, and she did not know if her job was secure. Yet, she offered to take my son home with her while I was healing so he could play with her children, get a good night's sleep, and she would treat him as one of her own until I was well. There was a question as to whether or not I had cancer which added to the stressful nature of the situation.
There was something so sincere and kind about this gesture that it moved me to tears. It wasn't because she offered, but it was something I felt in her spirit. She was genuine about it, her kindness was real. That said, I am certain it was not easy for her when she also worked full-time. They lived on the military base nearby and her husband was a military officer. When I shared this with someone at work her first response was, quotes well it's because she's Mormon and the more good deed she does the higher place in heaven.
i the first I felt a little sad about it. I thought that would mean that her good works are driving her, not her heart or it but the more I got to know her, the more I saw that the original response was the right one. As for something coming out of her heart, Something she genuinely wanted to do. You can't fake authenticity. We all can feel and see and since it's another. Sure, there are people who can fake it but, Overall, it's not easily done.
t this experience, A Mormon who demonstrated kindness towards me over the years happened time and time again. There is no one time that I felt disingenuous, fake, Forced, or the result of doing something for the wrong reasons. It always felt sincere
I remember sitting in the parking lot waiting for my son to come home on the bus football game when a neighbor man approached me, and asked me to roll down my car window. He said, "Linda, we held a leadership meeting at our church recently and your name came up in the discussion. We talked about how much we appreciate everything you're doing in the community and for the community. We want to make sure you know to reach out to us anytije you need help or support in any way. We are very grateful for all you do." My immediate and instantaneous response was a stream of tears that flowed down my face. Nobody had ever done that unless it was a public ceremonious gesture like at a new business opening, or a city council meeting, etc. This gesture went a long way in building trust with me and the Mormon community. But this was only one of many experiences during those years.
I had few friends, and even fewer Christian friends. Mackay, Idaho is a small, rural, Western town where they say you aren't considered a local unless your afterbirth was on the hill. This always grossed me out and made me laugh under my breath at the same time. It also intimidated me, reminding me I'd never really fit in no matter how much I genuinely wanted to belong. I loved this town and its people.
At around the same time, I attended the local Christian community church from time to time. The people were very nice and there was one family I loved dearly. I often went to church simply to be around their warmth and love. We didn't always agree on the same things theologically, but their love, sense of humor, enthusiasm for life, and genuine love for God poured out from each one of them. This was what it meant to be a Christian in my worldview. You see, it didn't matter whether we were always on the same page. What mattered was the shared experience of the love of Jesus. It never felt like a shared experience, in this case, made us better or different than anyone else. As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite. There was an unspoken knowing that love was what mattered. Love was the language itself, not being better, different, or holier than anyone else.
A member of this family wanted to bring a missionary family, recently traveling and living in South America, to our church. They'd been working all over Brazil and other South American countries, where they taught villagers clogging, singing, and ministered to them. The whole family, adults and children alike, were very talented and had incorporated many South American traditions, songs, and dances into their clogging performance. I decided to attend, and upon arrival noticed a large piece of plywood outside on the sidewalk. Inside, the family was sharing their stories of mission work and after, sang a few songs. At the close of their presentation, they invited us to stop as we went to our cars and watch them clog on the sidewalk outside. When I asked why they didn't do their regular performance the way they usually do it, I was told the church board didn't allow it because it involved dancing. The church board decided against it since the by-laws of the church, which were written many years prior, stated that no dancing was allowed inside the church buildings. Therefore, dancing would be inconsistent with the goals of the church. All I could think about was the many times the Bible insists that we dance for the Lord. Something was very wrong here.
For some reason, this was the straw that broke the camels back in my relationshihp to church. It demonstrated so clearly what the spirit and legalistic personality of this church was. The rules were more important than compromising the integrity and spiritual power of someone's ministry and more important than providing an inspiring and spirit filled experience to the local community and congregation. This was not exactly Broadway; entertainment and spiritual performances were few and far between.
The years I lived among the Mormons taught me so much about being a Christian. It became clearer every year that works mattered. I understood what Paul said, of course, that works without faith are dead. This made sense to me but works with faith or love or authenticity are not. Works with love, faith, and an authentic heart are an expression of God whether someone is a Christian or not. Mormons also told me in the most beautiful way possible that it's not up to me to define a Christian.
Many of my Christian friends often expressed concern about the Mormon influence around me. Or that I allowed my son to go fishing regulalry with the local bishop and some neighbor kids. Or that I taught Young Women's on occasion, and offered to do anything else they needed if asked. When my friend, Julie, was being instituted as the new Youth Teacher, I attended the ceremony and cried with her when the men prayed over her and blessed her.
I was not compromising my Christianity. I was growing it. I always knew that even in the face of judgment. These neighbors were not evil or even un-Christian. Sure, their theology differed a lot. It was also true that their beliefs even sounded pretty strange, but who was I to judge? Their role model was Christ, and they were taught to be like Christ in their lives. This, to me, was no different than any of my friends who had Indian gurus or me, who was most inspired by Jesus Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit.
One of the most striking observations I had as a non-Mormon in this community was the attitude they had toward women. Surely, there was a great deal wrong with it, but as a woman in the community with a leadership position, I experienced it very differently. Women were genuinely honored in this church - in a way I'd never experienced from the evangelical Christian church. SOmething was different about how they viewed women, even if their theology was even more skewed towards male dominance in other ways.
What I eventually concluded is that their understanding of honoring women was not just lip=service, which is what I always felt in an evangelical church. This was not true for everyone of course, but as a general rule, it was so.
Over time, I've wondered if this was the result of Mormons believing in God, the Father and that there is a mother too. God has a wife in Mormon theology which is actually defended by the scripture in Genesis that says, "We." Not to mention the fact that Genesis says, 'Man was created in our image, male and female." Why has nobody ever mentioned this, and how was it swept over as if it wasn't there all these years. Of course, this could mean a myriad of things, such as God is both male and female, or Father and Mother God are one, one in two - not so strange a concept when you compare it to the concept of the Trinity and how marriage is defined in the New Testament. Or God has a multi personality disorder....
I'm not sure what matters most, but I do know I experienced the love of Christ through all my Mormon neighbors over the years. I experienced being respected, not judged. It's funny when I think about it too because I never felt that kind of respect from Christian men unless they were very close friends. These were the exceptions. But the others always seemed like they were whispering behind my back. I think the emphasis on free agency in the Mormon culture provides a space for people to make choices that minimize oppression, even when there are many oppressive qualities within the theology itself that provide a structure more defined than evangelical Christianity did.
In addition to wonderful neighbors, I worked with two men who were the most supportive, encouraging male colleagues in my entire career. Both were Mormon. That said, another colleague, boss actually and a Mormon bishop, was the worst boss ever, and the most unjust with no integrity to boot. But the two who held me up and championed everything I did made up for the one rotten apple. I'd never worked with men that believed in me like they did, and I am forever grateful for their role in my life. I was so impressed with the kind of men, for the most part, that the Mormon culture raised that I didn't argue when he wanted to learn more about them, or when we were asked to have the missionaries for supper. In the end, my son chose to be Christian because of another wonderful man in our life, but that's another story all together.
I think the difference between evangelical Christianity and the Mormon culture was the Mormon message provided something to work towards, a goal; when evangelicals primarily emphasized the things we did wrong, or our sinfulness, or what we should NOT do. The Christians missed the mark when they focused more on what was shameful; rather than the higher ground to work towards and what the possibilities were. Also, by not focusing on works at all; or life application such as culture, finances, security, health, happiness - there was little to relate to, or connect with. When our hearts are not open to the spirit and there's more oppression and negativity, than hope and possibilty, people will close themselves off to the message. It's probably one of the main reasons people glaze over when its time for the scripture reading. It's not connecting with people.
The creative tension that exists between what we are working towards and where we are is where possibility and hope lives. Without it, we are only reminded of our inadequacies and faults - which for many of us, only drags us further down, depending on our life circumstances, mental outlook, and support systems. The further we're dragged down, the further we have to climb back up. Sometimes this is just too much for some, leaving them disillusioned and hopeless.