Recently I've been thinking a lot about my Mormon mission. Mainly because of the debate about gay marriage and those in support of denying me equal rights. Don't worry, this entry is more about my Mormon mission than it is the diatribe about me being denied equal rights just because of who I love. Rest assured, that diatribe will sporadically pop up in this blog. While reading the first of three journals I wrote while serving my mission, I ran across a couple entries and thought I really needed to share them. They are as follows (everything in italics is my me interjecting from my perspective nowadays):
November 15, 2003
BYU and Notre Dame game day! A rich member of the church had bought all the missionary leaders in the area tickets. Sierra's birthday! We all scream for ice cream! They lost but was still really cool. To this day, my strongest memory of this game was the Notre Dame side screaming "I've got spirit, how bout you? I've got one wife, you've got two!" I laughed every time. I've lost my little voice from screaming so much. Here is the little ticket stub for memorabilia's sake. The ticket is, in fact, still taped to this page of the journal. It was a really fun day and I felt totally normal again. I felt like I was just one of the guys at a football game. I don't know why I wrote this. I do not, nor have I EVER, liked watching sports or joining in such things. Elder and Sister Kenley are moving Monday and this makes me sad. This older married couple held me together at points when I could not do it myself. I will go to my deathbed happy they were there to support me. Apparently this freaky neighbor came on to Sister Kenley while Elder Kenley was gone. Did I mention that the freaky neighbor was a woman? I was extremely critical and afraid of anything gay. I now know it was in an effort to be a "good boy." Elder Hawkes got a ticket for speeding. This was my companion. Companion refers to the other male Mormon missionary you have to travel with for a time. You are never to leave your companion's side. I laughed because, well, I don't like him all that much. He is a very heartless person so to see him treated heartless was a nice change.
January 7, 2004
Holy sadness, Batman. Today was a definite tear jerker. First I said goodbye to Elder Howell, who I really grew to like (this is completely untrue. He screamed at me, calling me a fagot, several times because I liked to knit and I liked Spongebob Squarepants. He wasn't wrong, but still, what a dick.) then said hello to Elder Papke. He is from Sacramento and seems very nice. A little quiet but I'll work with him. :) Elder Papke was my second favorite companion. A genuine person who was also kind of weird. Two things I love in a friend. Then we had departures tonight. This was a meeting where all the missionaries getting "killed," going home because there two-year tenure was up, gave a speech about what they learned. We sang army of Helaman and yes I cried. I also said my final goodbye to Elder Hawkes (the douche bag I said I didn't like in the entry I just wrote about). He is a good man and I'm ashamed I didn't take full advantage of what he had to teach me while I had the chance. I told him thanks for all he'd done for me and good luck. He is going to live in Cedar City so maybe I'll see him around. Probably not, but hey, it's the thought that counts.
January 9, 2004
The last day of this saga of journal entries! Believe me, the subsequent journals were much more of a saga. It's been a fun ride. So today we did all our hospital stuff for Elder Papke. We thought he had TAPE WORM...long story. We also went to the cancer center and found out what we'll be doing for our volunteer hours next week. After that we tried to see a media contact ("media contacts" were when the Mormon TV commercials play and people order the free bible, we would deliver it and try to squeeze in a message or two) but he wasn't home. We then had lunch at Taco Bell. Funny, I'm still addicted to the quasi-meat gelatinous goo that is Taco Bell. We visited Billy Duncan today and he says he is still going strong not smoking. The saddest part of reading these journals is that I have absolutely no recollection of who half these people are. They dominated my life for a short time, and now that I read their names I come up with fog in my mind. I don't for sure but let's try and be positive here, people. We then went and saw Mark and Corry and that was just as awesome as it was the first time. These people I do remember because I saw Janet Jackson's boob fall out at the Super Bowl at their house. They said they will try to come to church now so I hope they follow through. That would be the highlight of my time here. We also saw Sister Figuroa. Without even saying it, you know that was great, so enough said. "Sister Figuroa" is to this day a good friend of mine and very supportive of me as a human being. I will forever be grateful for my mission, because it introduced me to Sister Figuroa and other people that I consider family.
December 4, 2011
Reading this is weird. Being a Mormon missionary is a lifestyle that no one can fully understand unless they've lived it. I was always trying to be extremely positive, even about the douche bag companions, because I thought presenting otherwise to the world would make me seem like a bad person. I relied heavily on the strength of others to carry across parts that I, quite honestly, could not handle myself.
As I have been reading this first of three journals I have this to say about my Mormon mission: it made me a more functioning adult. I was put in situations that were incredibly uncomfortable and forced to deal with the outcome. Do you know what it's like to harass a college student running to class about their beliefs and try to convince them they are missing something? All the while making it seamless and not awkward? Me either. But I do know what it's like to have an incredibly awkward conversation about Jesus with someone I don't know while they are rushing to class. Without my mission, I wonder if I would never have attempted some of the things I have in my adult life including: graduate school, teaching at the university, or taking the job I have now.
I don't know what to call myself now. Mormon? Not any more, not after what I've experienced. Atheist? No. Agnostic? That seems to be the closest fit at this point. Don't get me wrong, I am not content at being agnostic. In the book "Life of Pi" the author explains his view on agnosticism: "To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." I can somewhat agree with this but disagree at some level too. I am a spiritual person and I know there is something more to what I'm experiencing. But I absolutely refuse to accept what I was raised with just because it is easier than finding it on my own. To me, agnosticism is not a destination, but a designation of someone that is en route. I don't know what is true yet, I may never know, but I keep searching.
True, I don't believe the same things I did back then. Also true, I wish I could have learned the same lessons in a different way. That being said, all I can do now smile about the times I had and the lessons I learned. I'm an open gay man that also knows what it's like to be a Mormon missionary. These seemingly opposing worlds made me more open-minded. Although, I don't think they are that opposing - I have many of the same values as I did then: hard work, self sacrifice, self discipline, dedicating yourself to something larger, and I certainly endorse traveling through life with a male companion all the time... Trying to convince non-Mormons to believe something different did the opposite, it showed me THEIR perspective. I went out on my mission thinking that converting others would make me a better person. Instead, they showed me a life outside Mormonism. For the first time in my life, I realized with certainty that I may not know exactly what I'm talking about and that other people's opinions are just as valid as my own. This didn't teach me that Mormonism was wrong or bad, but that it wasn't the only way to think. It is eternally ironic that entering a world focused on teaching others that they should reconsider their beliefs, is the very thing that taught me to really examine mine and leave what didn't fit.