Those of us who grew up Mormon had a childhood set apart from the rest of the world. We were in the world, but we were not of it.
Oh, how much we wanted to be of the world. How dearly we wished to be cool. But even when we would hang with the cool crowd, there was an air of “different,” or “nerd” about us because of our standards which we wore on our sleeve. When we were young, the standards were bright and shiny. For most of us, when we were older (high school and such), we rolled up our sleeves to hide that shine a bit.
For us Mormons, we always knew the uber-Mormons. We knew them because they would shine like a beacon on a hill. They would uphold every standard, chide us for missing standards, and then look hurt when we just wanted to fit in for a few hours each day. I’m related to some of these beacons. You know them because even in a crowd of weirdos (also known as Mormons), they don’t fit in at ALL. But 90% of the rest of us learned to fit in over time.
But try we would to fit in. I remember in 1st grade, when I was going to school at Lakeside Country Day (now gone from this earth because the owner died and his greedy children desperately wanted to cash in on that land). The playground had various structures made from old tires. I remember playing with a foul-mouthed friend, whom I never chided for his language. I stuck my head out of the tire and said, “Shit!” quite by accident. That was my first bad word. Even though I did that, I still remember telling on Taylor Valentine for calling me a dillweed. You see? I was in the world, and trying to look like I was of it, but I just was not.
No matter how much you try to fit in, people find out you’re a Mormon. I’m sure the first thing that happens is they go asking their parents over dinner (see how old-fashioned I am? There is no more “over dinner” – it’s drooling over your frozen meal on the couch in front of Glee reruns) what a Mormon is. Within a day, the kids are back at school asking how many moms I have, or how many wives my Dad has. Then in later years they’ll ask about magic underwear. They’ll ask if we go to Church in that huge white thing in La Jolla. They’ll ask if I come from Utah (in the same tone they’d ask if I came from Neptune). They ask if we have a golden Bible. My favorite are the ones who ask if we’re polytheists, and how many wives that means we can have. It’s best to just start with a basic English lesson at that point. With each one of these questions, our coolness factor drops through the floor and we’re reminded that we are a world apart from the world around us.
Then, sooner or later we find out we can’t date till we’re 16. So then we look at girls our age and realize we can’t really talk to them, because dating could ensue. For me, I was two years ahead in school and thus I wouldn’t hit 16 till 4 months before graduating high school. I stayed away from dances, and so met no girls. If I couldn’t go to school dances, I wasn’t about to go to Church dances, so I didn’t get that exposure either. Then I was in my senior year realizing I was coming up on my last Homecoming, and knew my parents’ answer before I asked, “That’s a dance, you’re not 16. Sorry.” I went to my prom, but I had been going to an all-boys school so everyone thought my distance from girls meant I was gay. So I asked the prettiest girl I knew if she’d go with me. Then I had Disneyland grad night. I asked the prettiest girl I knew of (well I went to her brother and mother first) to sorta get her on loan for the night. Who knows what happened to her. At least prom night girl is still a friend, and one of the cooler people I know. What a cluster.
Anyway, back to our weirdness. I’m trying to show the lifetime of avoiding ridiculously over-repeated questions. Here’s one: in grade school, Teresa Wilson thought it was funny every single one of the 367 times she told the story about passing a ward building in her car with a friend, and the friend asked, “Is that the Moron Church?” Oh man I hated that.
But now, us Mormons (and excommunicated Mormons waiting on the sidelines) are gaining cache. There’s an increasing coolness factor to us. But we haven’t changed! What’s going on here?
First of all, I’d say President Hinckley’s massive temple construction surge helped. Now in just about every important city in the Western world, there is a temple. The most visible symbol of our faith can now be seen in what is really the only modern mega religious architectural marvel. That helps to familiarize us with the Gentiles.
Then, we have Big Love. I have my complaints, such as the fact that the writers get to double-dip. They portray polygamy, with many of the airs of the LDS Church, and get to show our most sacred ordinances and rituals, and still poke fun at the uber-nerdy Mormon family constantly trying to convert the single mom who’s really a hidden third wife. That might be triple-dipping, or quadruple-dipping. They’re obviously no friend to us, but what it does is finally draw a distinction in pop culture between what it means to be a Mormon and what it means to be a polygamist. Nice first step.
Then comes the Jeffs weirdos. Mr. Jeffs goes to jail for running his weird 1850s-style (and Big Love bad guys-style) polygamist compound. People now see a connection between Big Love pop culture and real life weirdos. They start to get it a bit.
Then comes Mitt Romney. He fixes corrupt Olympics, and he has good hair, he is a governor of a really blue state (and gets criticized by fellow Mormons who believe that the only good Republicans vote against any tax over 0%, jails people who get abortions and who sell the Pill, and never compromises on anything. They believe it’s much better that he stand on principle, win 3% of the Massachusetts vote and have a noble loss, thereby leaving the State to another 4 years of liberal leadership. The shortsightedness is baffling and more naive than I can stand. I’ll put it another way. If far Left is -10, and far-right is +10, my idiotic purist compatriots would rather have a -8 than a +3 because it’s so noble to lose.).
And now Mitt runs for President! He looks like a normal guy – he is a little wooden, of course, but I think that comes from the way we Mormons stand apart. He seems like any other guy with a calling at Church to us, but to the outside word they want to see some stains on his character, something that reminds them that he’s human. They won’t get that, but I sincerely hope they get him for President.
Next comes The Book of Mormon on Broadway. We have now sunk down to the level of South Park. We can officially say Mormons have become an everyday occurrence in American pop culture. Very nice.
But just when you think we’ve made enough inroads from the periphery, there are billboards everywhere! But it now looks a little contrived. It’s like when every TV show had a black guy who was the funny, ethical guy. Or when TV Shows put in a gay guy to be the funny, ethical guy who had the only loving, caring, honest, faithful relationship in the show while they were surrounded by lying,c heating, boyfriend-trading, hateful heteros. Are we being pushed into liking Mormons now? I suppose it helps to show that we don’t have horns. But still, I kind of get my back up against a wall waiting for a criticism about that. I feel like it’s going to force me to defend the Church’s decision to spend dollars on these ads. But that’s just me.
All of these things happen, and it helps. But we still live in a separate world from everyone around us. We go to school and know that we are in a bubble apart from all the other students. I go to work and I know that I need to stay in my bubble, because when I get stuck going to events with my coworkers they’ll all be falling over drunk, cursing up a storm and looking at me weird for not being drunk with them. And I can have a bad mouth every now and then, but it’s something I work on. I think that helps show them I have stains on my character. And I’m rather free with the knowledge that I’ve been excommunicated. More stains. But they know I have the bright-blue letter M on my chest, even with those stains. They can see Mormon written all over me. When there’s a Mormon exec to call they tell me to get my Mormon love fest on with the exec to make him our ally. Which I do. You see, I know the lingo. I know the secret handshake (so to speak). I can joke about how I’m a California Mormon, so we think Utah is kind of on the other side of hell. They always get a kick out of that. Call this a bubble within a bubble. But still, the bubble extends between us.. There’s a silent exchange of nods, as if we know and are comfortable with this person being in our bubble but we don’t want to be seen as weirdos so we won’t exchange too many pleasantries or relieved sighs about it.
We’re still in our bubble. Our bubble can’t be pricked by those around us, even if we want it to. We are Mormon. We don’t have horns. We aren’t polygamists. We don’t all live in Utah. We don’t all cram into the Temple every Sunday for worship services. We don’t have any problem with soda. We don’t drink coffee. We aren’t weird.
Well, we’re a little weird. We just don’t really want to be. Now go look at that billboard before you ask any more [stupid, tiring] questions.