Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fitting in

I've worked with the youth in the church for most of my adult life; and, I've gotten quite close to a few of the young men I worked with and with whom I've kept up with as they've moved on with their lives.

One such young man's family moved back to Utah a couple of years ago where he finished high school and is now in the military. I've been thinking about him a lot lately. He is a facebook friend which makes it easy to keep up with him. From his facebook posts - it's obvious he is no longer active in church; for example, he recently posted a picture of his new tattoo - one that covers his entire upper back and includes a skull.

To be honest, I'm really not surprised; in fact, I think I would have been more surprised if he had gone on a mission. He always has been a person who just doesn't fit in with Mormon culture.

I always thought of him as my little redneck friend - he is short, wears cowboy boots and the stereotypical big belt buckle, drove an old pickup truck with a gun rack in the back, etc. In class he was loud and obnoxious - he was a leader who could get the class going with whatever he was doing. While other adults viewed him as a problem - for me he was a challenge to get him going in the direction I wanted so that he could lead the class with him. He was involved in the high school wrestling team; so, he is cute, physically fit and likes to wear tight clothes to show off his physique - I never felt that what he wore was inappropriate for the occasion; but, more than once I heard others make derogatory comments about what he was wearing. At high school football games you'd find him shirtless with his face painted and a big letter painted on his chest. A friend of his posted a Youtube video of him stripping down to his shorts and running across the football field after their team won ... and then being escorted off the field by the police. He got 2 weeks in school suspension for that stunt - and our bishop was most displeased with him.

But, he has a heart of gold. He is friendly to everyone - I never heard him say anything bad about someone else (although I heard plenty of people say unkind things about him). He'll do anything you ask him to. At service projects, while the "good" kids were standing around complaining - hand him a shovel and he'd turn into a human backhoe. After his in school suspension for his little stunt - he bought his high school principal a fruit basket as a peace offering and to let him know that he had no hard feelings. He knew there would be consequences to his actions and was willing to pay the price.

I find myself wondering if him distancing himself from the church is a result of the choices he is making - or is it a result of the general membership choosing to not accept him for who he is. Is he seeking acceptance outside of the church because he can't find it within? If so then which is the greater sin? The choices he is making? Or the choices of others to reject him because he won't change to be the person they think he should be? This gets back to the age old question: Should church be a hospital for sinners or a sanctuary for saints? Too often it's the latter when it should be the former.

Should I feel sad because he is no longer going to church? Or should I be happy for him because he's doing what he wants to do? He never had college aspirations - he always talked about going into the military. As I think of him, I find myself wondering if this is a truly a church for everyone - or is it only a church for those who are willing to toe the line? Is it right for us to cut off the corners of all of the square pegs so that they'll fit into our round holes? While we profess to be the one true church - are we really only the true church for the round-ish pegs of the world - the ones that can be easily molded to conform to our round holes?

Something I've always admired in him is that he is a person who is not ashamed of who he is. While many people have a church persona which they put on while attending church meetings and activities - he is the same person at church, at school, and at home. He is honest about who he is - with him, what you see is what you get. I respect that - it's an attribute I wish I had more of in my own life. Instead I have my own persona that I project - one that does not reflect who I really am. I am afraid to be myself out of fear of rejection.

On a more personal note - I find myself wondering if the struggle I'm having with the church of late is because I am not conforming to the Mormon mold - I no longer feel like I fit in. I can't talk about some of the things that are on my mind with my church friends if they are perceived to be contrary to the church. I can't comment on what others say if my comment doesn't fit the party line. So, I withdraw - I attend my meetings, but I do not participate. People at church are friendly enough - but they are friends with the fake me. I find myself wondering if they would still be friendly if they knew the real me - the gay me.

Just as being gay is part of who I am - being Mormon is part of who I am, but it doesn't define me. Should it? Should everything I do or say revolve around the church? Is it wrong to march to the beat of a different drum if that drum is playing a rhythm that is dissonant with the drums the rest of the church is beating?

In the distance I hear other drums beating a rhythm that is harmonious with the drum I am beating. How long can I live with the dissonance? Something has to give - either I have to change my beat to fit in with those around me - or I will eventually start to drift towards those distant drums whose rhythms are mellifluous with my own.

I know what the LDS church says I should do - but is that truly the right thing for me to do? Am I a square peg who just can't squeeze into the round hole anymore? Or am I a round peg who is so intrigued by the square pegs I've encountered that I'm trying to be more like them? Or perhaps I am a hexagonal peg which has corners not unlike those of the square pegs and and looks like it ought to fit into the round hole if you pound it hard enough. Maybe I'm a triangular peg that fits in neither the round hole nor the square hole. Whatever the case, things just aren't fitting together for me anymore.


MoHoHawaii said...

You should feel sorry for your young friend! That tattoo sounds like a hideous mistake. There are some absolutes in this life, and avoiding ugly tattoos is one of them.

As far as your friend's Church involvement goes, who knows. Like you, I've noticed that the Church works well for some people and not so well for others. Fitting yourself into the LDS mold is sometimes part of the problem and sometimes part of the solution. It all depends on whether the peg's shape matches the hole.

You might be on the road to apostasy, and this might be a good thing for you. On the other hand, maybe what you get from the Church is enough to compensate for the discomfort you feel. There's probably no way to know this right now. There's a lot to be said for viewing this as a journey whose destination is not yet known.

Goldarn said...

People love to disapprove of other people's sins, while holding their own close to their hearts.

Ned said...

He may continue to surprise you. I know a great fellow who got tats in the military and did a lot of other stuff good Mormon boys are supposed to do. But then he came home, met the love of his life, and is now in a Bishopric. You never know.

Beck said...

So, if you are neither a round or square peg, but hexagon instead, why don't you find a hexagon hole to fit in. Nothing's wrong with being a hexagon. I like hexagons!

Anonymous said...

Just to say that people CAN have tattoos and STILL be active in the Church. (I have three). :)

Crisco said...

You should always be proud of and encourage the good qualities you find in others. My grandmother was always fond of a saying one bishop told her one, "Sometimes the best people in church are not sitting on the benches on Sunday." As I've matured, I've come to love this statement more and more. One of the people my grandmother would refer to with this statement was my dad. He comes to church when asked, on holidays, or when there's a family event like a primary program, baptism, or mission talk. I even had him speak at my farewell. He's a great man who lives to serve others. He just doesn't go to church, but I see the Christ-like qualities he possesses.

Abelard, I feels somewhat like you in going to church. I don't get too much out of it anymore. Occasionally there's a good talk in sacrament, but I'm always dealing with my kids, so paying attention is tough. I find an excuse not to go to Sunday School most weeks. But I do like teaching the YM during priesthood. I never really get a chance to discuss with others my thoughts about doctrine. I think that there are other ways of worship that would be more effective for me than repeating the same basic lessons over and over again among other things. I think that much of how the church is run is not doctrine, but how the church leaders have done the best they could. That means I'm not excited about every fireside, meeting, activity, etc. that occurs. I also have other ideas about where we should be focusing our efforts, but there really isn't a forum to discuss that.

Anyway, I do love the Church and generally I find the members to be great people. I do feel the Spirit sometimes, and I believe in the doctrine. I also want my kids raised in the Church. I go probably more for them and than me. Whether or not they choose to remain in the Church as adults, I don't worry so much about that because being raised in the Church will give them good habits and good character.

Abelard Enigma said...

maybe what you get from the Church is enough to compensate for the discomfort you feel.

That is an interesting way to think about it; and, right now I'd say they're about equal. So, I'm balancing, ready to tip one way or the other.

People love to disapprove of other people's sins, while holding their own close to their hearts.

Sad but true - and I think Mormon's can be especially good at it since there are so many thing accepted by the world that are considered sinful in LDS doctrine.

He may continue to surprise you.

Perhaps. But, the road he is on now doesn't surprise me so much.

if you are neither a round or square peg, but hexagon instead, why don't you find a hexagon hole to fit in.

OK, but what if that hexagon hole doesn't say "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints"? What if it has a rainbow flag flying in front of it?

Just to say that people CAN have tattoos and STILL be active in the Church.

Agreed, I have known several - including one full time missionary who was serving in our ward. But, the tattoos I've seen on active members are generally smaller and don't include skulls.

I find an excuse not to go to Sunday School most weeks.

I generally attend the Gospel Non-Essentials sunday school class - that's the one held out in the lobby and hallways :)

Scott said...

Minor quibble with MoHoHawaii: I don't think Abelard will ever travel the road to apostasy. I think the best (worst?) he can ever hope for is heresy (and perhaps he's already on that road--a lot of us are!) :)

I addressed this topic several months ago and got many comments. Perhaps there's something in that post or its comments that might help you find the answers you're looking for?

Abelard Enigma said...

I don't think Abelard will ever travel the road to apostasy. I think the best (worst?) he can ever hope for is heresy

Apostate or heretic - hmmm, what to choose ...

GeckoMan said...

Abelard, your young friend reminds me of another young man I taught in Priest's Quorum in Mesa. I lost touch with him after my move, but he had intentions of doing military service as well. (Such seems to be an acceptable exit from straight and narrow path of missions and towing the line.) I hope your keeping linked in will provide opportunity to share some of those sentiments you've expressed about him in your post. Has he ever had such self-affirming candor given him by church people? You just might be the one up for the task.

I'm feeling much like you, when it comes to 'fitting in' these days. The folks at church are kind to me and I love to serve, but there is this growing wedge in my own consciousness that I'm finding a hard time reconciling. If only they knew what I was really thinking half the time, would they be so generous to me?

I am going to blow my cover one of these days and come out of the closet at church. I think this is the real answer, for myself, to address the dilemma I feel. I want to be honest with others, not pretending to be straight or conforming to cultural norms that I deep down disagree with. I hope I can maintain my callings and keep the friendships I've made at church, but I'm getting more and more willing to put it on the line. Like you, I fear rejection, but something has to change.

Cindy said...

I just found your blog today. I am what most people would consider a molly mormon but I would not think less of a gay, married, mormon, man. In fact I knew 3 gay guys at BYU. If people are truly your friends they will accept you for who you are. Let people know the real you and if they don't like it... oh well... you still love yourself.

Melody said...

I just came across your blog today. I grew up in the church but never quite fit in. My husband jokes that I am too chocolate to fit into my (active Mormon) family and too vanilla to fit into his (non member total punk rock) family. I don't really fit in anywhere. I think there are more of us than anyone realizes. Those who attend church regularly but don't really fit. Those who are "active" but are struggling silently.