I've had a thousand blog posts bottled up inside my head; just ricocheting around up there waiting to be put to keyboard. But not having written for so long has made these little essays pile up. So when I sit at the keyboard, I'm never sure what to write about first. But, I know writing is something I have to do, even if it's not very often. So here goes one of those grand blog posts that's been composing itself inside my head for the past few months. Enjoy.
Maybe almost six months ago, I met this guy. He had graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and he was pretty decidedly anti-religion. So when he found out that I was Mormon, the conversation took a brief almost hostile turn. He asked about the priesthood and women's rights among other things, to which I gave honest answers. Later I found out he'd actually been baptized a member as a child and perhaps that's where some of the resentment toward religion came from. Though the conversation started out rough, I think the outcome was ok. I tried to answer his questions in the best ways I knew how. The conversation eventually moved to other topics, but when our group split ways for the night, he proffered these parting words, "You're the most interesting religious person I've ever met." It was definitely a compliment coming from him. I think at the time I laughed. But in my head I was thinking, "How many religious people have you met? I'm really not all that interesting of a person or any different from any other religious person I know."
The funny thing is, that's not the first time I've been told something like that. One Christmas break during college, I was home visiting high school friends, and one told me that I wasn't like other Mormons, I was more interesting, more free. And though I didn't say anything then, I thought it was a silly thing to say. Often people have said to me that I'm not a "regular Mormon" and I find that to be confusing as well as troubling. What is a "regular Mormon" and do you even know anyone who happens to be one?
During my time at BYU, I met some of the most courageous women. These were women I lived with, but some were neighbors, some were classmates, and some were my professors. These women are vivacious, strong, independent, ambitious, and deeply intelligent. If I am different from them, then I want to aspire to be more like them.
Now my perspective is a Mormon perspective and that is what I know best, but I feel that there's this common misconception about most religious women in general. The older I get, the more plainly I see how wide the chasm is between what religious women are and what they are seen as being. Because religious women support an institution (which is usually patriarchal) they are often seen as weak, foolish, and yielding. There is somehow this belief that following a cultural structure limits agency. But what people fail to realize is that a religious life is a constant use of one's agency. (I don't explain this as well as Catherine Brekus, but click here for a scholarly explanation of what I'm trying to say) By following a religious institution like Mormonism, I am making a choice. Millions of other religious women do the same thing. Millions of other religious people do the same thing.
I've been thinking about all this in the context of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack. Besides the tragic loss of lives, and the fear that citizens now have to live with, one great sadness for me out of all of this is that the actions of extremists become definitive for a whole religion. I know there's some debate about whether or not the terrorists were really practicing Muslims. But it makes my heart ache that for some reason it's always the loudest and ugliest voices that seem to define religious groups even if they aren't expressly associated with that group.
So naturally, I've been thinking about how to change this. How do we live our lives as religious people in a world where other people think that might be an insane thing to do? I've come back to the same conclusion I've always have: We have to tell our stories. We have to open a door for dialogue between all different groups about what a lived religion means. That means claiming the right to worship by the dictates of our own conscience, but also letting other people do the same. And hey, how about talking about all of it with each other?
So with that, I'm breaking my usual rule of making no New Year's resolution and making a New Year's resolution. I'm going to keep telling my stories. And I hope you will too.