Today’s MCS guest post comes to us from Katie L., a “thirtysomething wife, mother, writer, runner, believer, and lover of good food and bad movies” who blogs at http://standingsittinglying.wordpress.com.
A few weeks ago, Brent wrote a wonderfully evocative Mormon in the Cheap Seats post in which he described the path of unorthodoxy.
It begins, he said, when you look out the window and realize that people from a variety of traditions claim spiritual experiences as profound as those we claim in Mormonism. Once you see that – really internalize it – you arrive at the edge of a critical decision: will I conclude that my experiences are better, somehow, than theirs – more authentic, more true? Or will I conclude that my spiritual experiences are not fundamentally different from a Hindu’s, a Protestant’s, a Muslim’s, a Jew’s?
The way you answer this question determines the direction your spiritual journey will take.
It is a fundamental fork in the road.
Those of us who choose the latter are plunged into a new paradigm in which truth is not necessarily determined by the rubrics set forth by our religious culture; instead, we’re left to grope around in the dark a little. A major distinction that Brent drew in his post is that while Mormon orthodoxy is currently characterized by knowing (“I know this church is true”), this second path emerges when we admit our not knowing.
It’s important to note that this is not just a Mormon phenomenon. What is happening in Mormonism is a microcosm of a massive global shift. For most of human existence, we have been separated by distance, language, borders, and customs. We assumed that our way was the best way, because it was the only way we knew – the only way that was possible for us to know. But advancements in technology have given us unprecedented views into other ways of life. We have seen beauty and humanity in what we previously would have regarded as Other. This has challenged our most basic assumptions about what is “normal,” “correct,” and “socially acceptable.” At the risk of getting overly technical, you might call the old path of knowing “modernism”, and the emerging path of not knowing “postmodernism”. (NOTE: this is a massively oversimplified explanation of this story, but go with me…) :)
I believe it is difficult to overstate the impact this is having on the world. It is a social paradigm shift analogous to the Enlightenment. Postmodernism asks an entirely different set of questions than modernism. It is not as concerned with abstract truth claims as it is with impact and meaning. Of course, to the modern mind, which is very invested in “getting it right,” this is unthinkable. To the modern, if it isn’t “right,” it isn’t useful. And so we find ourselves in the middle of an intense ideological battle. The stakes are high.
Mormonism, of course, has felt the repercussions.
As an entity, Mormonism is still firmly modern (I believe it’s only a matter of time before it makes the leap, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic). Yet, individual Mormons are becoming postmodern every day. For those of us who make the shift, it leaves us with some serious issues to grapple with: what to do with those who don’t follow us? How can we live from a postmodern perspective in a religious culture that is decidedly, at times stiflingly, modern? How can we love and serve side-by-side with people who do not agree with us on the most basic ways we make sense of the world?
It feels irreconcilable…because it is (at least for now).
But perhaps paradoxically, it is precisely because of these irreconcilable differences that Mormonism provides a phenomenal climate for spiritual growth.
It provides us the amazing opportunity to really love.
Here’s what I mean: although on many levels the world has become more unified, in a couple of important ways we have become more segmented. That is: now instead of segmenting by geography, we segment ourselves by worldview and interests. The New Media has allowed us to find and associate with people who are just like us. This blog is a case in point. Here we are, most of us liberal-leaning Mormons on a liberal-leaning Mormon blog, discussing Mormon topics from a liberal-leaning perspective. That’s not wrong – it’s important to associate with people who share our perspective and with whom we can explore the corners and nuances of a particular worldview – but if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves in an echo chamber.
Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt 5:46-47, ESV)
The real test of love is not if we can love and appreciate people who agree with us…but if we can honor and respect people who don’t. If we can accept, with unconditional kindness, those who come to the edge of decision and take the other road. If we can see the best in them. If we can support them in their convictions. If we can embrace them with open arms, even when we see the problems and pain and imperfections of their path (ours has plenty of that, too, of course) — and, perhaps most importantly, even when they do not embrace us.
Is it easy? No. It takes practice, care, and patience. It means getting comfortable enough with who we are, where we are on our journey, and in our relationship with God, to be willing to be misunderstood. It means experimenting with when to speak up and when to be silent. It means making painful mistakes and wrestling with challenging questions. It means having difficult conversations. It may even mean sacrificing the comfort of complete “insider” status.
But like most things worth having, the difficulty is part of what makes it so beneficial.
Real love is never easy, but it is always the better road.
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