I’m always surprised at how many people assume I must be Mormon.
A family member at a California wedding last year--someone I hadn't seen for many years--hit up my youngest daughter for information about it. Flashing a borrowed CTR ring, she plied Livy for information.
“So, Livy, do you have a lot of Mormon friends?”
Livy: “Uh. I don’t know.”
“You see this ring? You get this after you’re baptized in the church.”
Awkward silence. “Oh.”
Livy doesn't know or care which of her friends are Mormon. And CTR? Forget about it.
Livy described the person to me later (I hadn't been there for the quiz) and—with powers blessed by the tightly-controlled guest list at this very un-Mormon, same-sex wedding—we figured out who it was. And it was so aggravating to me. That this person was nosy enough to pack her friends CTR ring to the hours away wedding, and corner my 11 year old, making her feel weird by answering awkward questions that she didn't know the answer to. It reminded me of the time my nosy, callous Mormon neighbor came over with cookies after my divorce; I knew she wanted me to let her in so she could get all the dirt. But--not being 11--I knew better.
On record: I’m not Mormon.
The fact that I am geographically inclined to know more Mormons than the average American is simply coincidence, a twist of fate brought on my an ex-husband who traveled to Salt Lake and moved us here because “it was the cleanest city he’d ever seen.”
We’ve lived here for 13 years, and it has changed my life. Because usually people self-segregate, and don’t have to confront the fact that there are some people who believe much differently than they do. But here, we all know—it’s all out in the open that 40 percent of us are of one faith--and together we make a concerted effort to be tolerant. And polite. Like by not asking each other if we’re Mormon and by not assuming that people who are different than us are total freaks.
And I know it’s hard. For people who don’t live here to accept that we manage to make it work. That we manage to be happy amid our Mormon neighbors without actually EVER feeling tempted to become “one of them.” That I can say I have Mormon friends who are wonderful without seeming like I should be on an LDS missionary’s brochure.
I know it’s hard. Because I’ve seen it in my family.
The last time my Mom visited from California—a year ago—she was downstairs watching cable, and I came down to talk with her and asked her, “Why the hell are you watching THAT show?” It was some stupid show with Screech or something. WAAAY out of her comfort zone of the Antiques Roadshow or Weeds. Her answer: “I just thought that that’s the only show they had on out here [in Utah].” I had lived here 11 years at that point, and Mom had been here many times before.
Another close relative's first visit—in 2000—is the funniest of any story. Our neighbors to the east are the Creer’s; to the west are a gay couple, C & D. When the doorbell rang during her visit, my relative and I bolted—not wanting to talk to that same aforementioned nosy, callous Mormon neighbor (the one who had also asked upon meeting my 2 year old daughter, "What's wrong with her?") who was knocking—but could overhear my then-husband talking to her. The neighbor was asking something about the Creer’s driveway. After she left my relative was like, “I can’t believe she used that word.” Quizzical, I’m like, “What word?” I had no idea what she was talking about. “'Queer.' When she called your neighbors ‘the queers’”. I’m like, “She said ‘Creers’ not queers.” I still laugh over that.
But behind laughs like these is a prejudice--a "pre-judging", or rush to judgment--that makes me uncomfortable. And makes me feel defensive about whether my own family think I've sipped the Koolaid simply because I proclaim--in response to their assumptions about Mormons--that there really are Mormons out here who are nothing like they assume they are.
I’m not Mormon. And I want people to understand that living here does not mean I approve of the Mormon agenda, or love the fact that my vote for president almost never counts. Living here doesn’t mean that me and my neighbors are all kumbaya, and that I haven’t called up that aforementioned nosy Mormon neighbor about one of her latest butt-ins with the intention of telling her to mind her own freaking business.
But I have lived long enough to know that there are all sorts of people in the world that I once assumed were idiots and who rapidly proved me wrong, and I have since come to accept that I don’t have all the answers. Living here has shown me that the domain of judgmental holier-than-thou bullshit doesn’t just have religious people in residence; it also has the overeducated, entitled, self-important first-worlders who’ve never known true hardship and are bitterly critical of those who don’t share their exact same views. Living here has taught me to accept the differences between me and my Mormon neighbors/friends without feeling the need to judge them or smugly show them the error of their ways.
Because—and here is the crux of it all--who’s to say I know anything about anything. I certainly don’t know enough to be able to tell the entire world how they should live their lives.
So long story short: I’m not Mormon, and if I was forced to pick a religion to cling to, it wouldn't even be Christianity. It would be Buddhism. Because The Buddha’s “Life is Suffering” noble truth changed my perspective on everything, and I just won't ever agree with the Christian view that we should be good so that we'll go to Heaven.
For me, living in Utah has been an exercise in mutual tolerance that the Buddha would be proud of because it's through interpersonal experiences that we learn about each other, rid ourselves of stereotypes and prejudice, and feel a connection that goes beyond labels. People are happy here. And nice. And nowhere else—in all the cities I’ve lived—has there been so many helpful people willing to assist you with your car, with shoveling your walk, or with attending to a stray animal. Whatever is going on in Salt Lake City—with both Mormons and non-Mormons—is working.
And while I'm not saying that it wasn't an anger-management Level 5 crisis that time that same nosy, callous Mormon neighbor sent out a note saying that my burned out porch light was "ruining the integrity of the neighborhood"; I am saying that I didn't prejudge her freakishness simply based on her religious affiliation. I waited, gave her a chance, pondered, and decided that I could honestly say that she is truly, perfectly, without reservation the most controlling, callous, clueless, OCD person that I've ever even known. Who also happens to be Mormon.
And she's also made me thankful all over again that "Heaven" isn't an option I have to exercise. Because I can deal with the Mormon label well enough down here on Earth, but I simply can't envision spending all eternity cohabiting with someone labeled "nosy, callous, integrity-monitoring, total freaking jerk down the street."