Growing up as a Mormon in the Southeastern United States, I learned quickly that if I wanted to remain true to the standards I was taught, I had to be bold about my anomalous beliefs. I had to honestly and straightforwardly answer questions without hesitating. The sooner I stood up for myself and the more roundly I answered questions, the easier it was the next time. In fact, more often than not, my religious beliefs were a non-issue. There was sometimes the random insensitive guy who teased or considered it a challenge to get me to drink or smoke, but otherwise, people were generally very accepting of my way of life. As a result, I have rarely had a moment when I was nervous to share my religion with others.
For the first time in a long time today, though, I got nervous. My co-workers recently started getting drinks after work on Friday, and fortunately, I've been able to avoid having to go for the last few weeks. It's not that I feel nervous about being in a bar or being around people who drink -- I've done that countless times. It's just strange having to mingle with people I don't typically see outside of work and
being the odd one out. That combination is . . . Well, it's uncomfortable.
So today as they were leaving, they asked me whether I was going, and I said I have something else to do tonight -- which is absolutely true, though I probably could've done both, if I had really wanted to. I also said, "Besides, I don't drink" and I shrugged my shoulders. Of course they all said it didn't matter, and I said, "Well, it's just kinda weird . . ." And my other co-worker said she understood what I meant. Another one said, "It's not like we're going to tease you!" And then we all joked around about that for a bit until the same co-worker mentioned something about a Mormon he used to know. "Yeah . . . I'm Mormon." I was so nervous saying it. I didn't have to, but I felt like I should. So I did. And it was just a passing comment that quickly faded into the background and didn't even cause a blip in the conversation.
But now they know. Now they know part of the reason I don't drink, and now they know a little bit more about me. That's great, right? Right. Except I don't feel great. I feel like I should've gone with them, anyway. I feel like I should've gone, gotten a drink of water, stayed for 45 minutes, and left. Why? Because of this phrase: "Be in the world but not of it."
used that phrase in 1968 to talk about how Mormons ought to live. The idea is that Mormons need to live among everyone else in the world while still holding fast to the standards they put their faith in. But I don't think I do that. I don't think most Mormons are very good at that. Most of us cluster together in Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona, and other western states. Most of us only spend time with the people in our local congregations. Most of us see others as "Mormon" or "not Mormon," and it doesn't seem right to me. We are, after all, supposed to live in
the world. We are supposed to be a part of the vast network of people that is the human race. That's impossible, though, if we keep to ourselves.
So I should've gone to the bar for just a bit. Just long enough to be relatable, to connect. Otherwise, what's the point in explicitly stating a religious affiliation?
Next time . . .
Thing I'm thankful for: growing up in the Bible Belt