Yes, this is another blog post that isn’t about writing. Please resist the urge to run away screaming with flailing Muppet arms.
Although the flailing Muppet arms might be fun to see.
As you know, I’m Mormon. It’s been a fascinating experience to watch the religion I’ve been an adherent of for 19 years be defined by, generally, people in the media who have not ever even attended a Sunday service. That would be like me reporting on Hurricane Katrina– all I know about it is what I’ve been told and have made the effort to see.
My reporting on Hurricane Katrina would be limited to the knowledge I gained about it based on whatever effort I wanted to put forth in the gaining of that knowledge. If you read and believed my stories about Katrina, you would be doing yourself a disservice, because you would be basing your opinions on incomplete information. Whereas if I was reporting from the site, having talked to many victims of the hurricane, my report would be more reliable.
Please draw your conclusions now about what I’m getting at, before you read on.
The point being that as an enthusiastically devoted Mormon, my days are not defined by doctrines and dogma. My life is not centered on esoteric doctrines, nor on making sure I do as many baptisms for the dead as I can, the personal feelings of others ignored.
I would venture to say that most devoted Christians do not spend their days focused on dogma or little bits of doctrine here and there, so I’m not alone.
But as a Mormon, I am a part of a unique faith that does deserve notice, but for reasons far different from those little nuggets being chewed on by much of the media. This is a faith, a religion, that stands distinct in this world, which is why when you talk to people who have encountered Mormons in day-to-day lives, their accounts are almost universally full of praise and admiration.
So what is at the heart of Mormonism that deserves notice and that distinguishes this religion from the other Western faiths? Our lives and membership in this church are based on covenants. These covenants are very personal, individual promises between each member and their Heavenly Father– and are based on their love for and faith in Jesus Christ.
Mormons believe that we can find great joy, satisfaction, fulfillment, and purpose in this life as we live according to our covenants. Many of us visit two or three other member families in their home every month as part of a program called Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching. We do this out of a sense of duty, and granted, some of us do this because we don’t want to be seen as less faithful.
But the overriding motivation is that we have made covenants to love and serve God and our fellow man and we feel it when we don’t live up to those covenants. We feel a diminishing of our sense of fulfillment and peace in our days when we don’t measure up to the standards we set for ourselves as part of making those covenants.
It is because of these individual covenants- and yes, each covenant is very individual- that we have an unpaid, devoted, lay-clergy that puts so much time and effort and love into their work.
I have had the privilege and honor of serving in multiple positions in the many local congregations I have lived in, both as a single student and a married professional. I have taught Sunday School to kids, youth, and even adults. I have also served as the President of the Sunday School, working to keep classes staffed with teachers who had been trained and were filled with love and excitement.
This was at times really hard! People move. Classrooms get really hot. Lessons are sometimes very dry, or they go very awry with strange esoterica and random anecdotes and personal opinions and interpretations. This is the richness of a faith peopled by, well, people. Normal people that you see every day. Imperfect people.
These are people, however, who are not satisfied when they come out of a Sunday School class that hasn’t uplifted them. These are people who often look into themselves and decide to come to the next week’s class more prepared to participate in a meaningful way so that they and others can have a more positive experience.
I’ve had the chance to serve as a Scoutmaster as well, which is one of the most challenging things I could be asked to do. I interact with youth fine, but I was never a scout and learning the language and culture of scouting has been an extreme challenge. I admit that I’ve had times when I’m not sure I like this service opportunity, or ‘calling’ as it’s termed in our church. This is a new experience for me- this feeling of sometimes not enjoying a calling. I don’t like this feeling and I’m trying to remember to pray for charity and patience and opportunities to really help my scouts so I can gain a love of this calling.
It’s a tough calling. It takes a large amount of time from my week, what with planning and activities and meetings. You know I’m busy with my day job, my lovely wife and 6 kids, and with my writing activities and websites. But I don’t begrudge the time I need to put in; what I struggle with is how hard the calling is.
I also had the privilege of serving as the president of a priesthood quorum called the Elder’s Quorum in our congregation. I did that for 3.5 years. Those were tough, taxing, humbling, and ultimately incredible years. I got to interact with hundreds of phenomenal families and men, spending around 10 hours each week serving in that calling.
I know hundreds of other people, members of this church, who serve faithfully, administering and ministering to others. Caring for the needy and sick, visiting people in their homes, teaching and training others, counseling with people, and doing their part to make the lives of others a little better. My callings and situations are normal for the Mormon faith.
This is what sets us apart. Millions of people living normal-looking lives that are in truth extraordinary because of their commitment to the covenants they have made to God. These people are like everyone else. They struggle financially, emotionally, and with debilitating illness. They are successful businesspeople, CEOs, writers, actors, performers, and politicians. They get fired, fail at starting a business, strive for their dreams and lose them, wish life could be easier, lose family members and other loved ones, and die young.
At the heart of these people, and at the heart of Mormonism, is the conviction that living by sacred, individual covenants can elevate a sometimes dreary and challenging life to something nonetheless satisfying, service-oriented, and filled with an inner joy that nothing can assail.
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You may now flail your Muppet arms. But you should also share this post with your friends so that the media and people who don’t know will get a better idea of what is really at the heart of this faith.
I am an independent writer and you should take note that none of what’s said here is the official position of the LDS Church on any of these matters.