In a recent conversation with a fellow writer, he highlighted the importance of reading in my life and how my love (and often voracious omnivore reading habits) of the written word isn’t overtly stated in a memoir I’m writing about growing up Mormon in Japan.
A lot of people, when they hear the premise of my memoir, ask, “So are you still Mormon?” I always answer “yes” because it’s true, I am. However, it surprises me how narrowly my faith is defined. Culturally, I don’t fit well into the “typical LDS” stereotype. Sadly, LDS/Mormon stereotypes exist because not enough people are aware of the diversity in what is considered a “new American” church.
My father raised me to believe in faith as something deeply personal, a matter which often cannot be properly conveyed in words. As I write this memoir, I struggle with putting my beliefs into words.
I question where I belong in what is rapidly becoming a global church with a very strong emphasis on family. When I watch General Conference we no longer have speakers for whom English is their primarily language. I like this diversity of nations and languages. It makes me feel more comfortable about my own very multi-cultural upbringing as I’ve lived over half of my life outside of the country I was born in.
For a lot of people their culture of origin doesn’t matter. One of my favourite friends in the whole world made a startling revelation to me as we walked across the London Bridge. “My cultural identity doesn’t matter to me, because my identity is truly in Christ. Nothing else matters.” I nodded my head and thought, “Yeah that’s my new mantra.”
However, it only worked for so long. Identity is this sticky thing, and when you’re writing about it in sociocultural religious context s it makes it ever more interesting. Writing about your life and debating what defined you growing up and what defines you now isn’t a fluid process. Identity isn’t a fixed point. You can’t foreclose on a particular label and make it applicable. Humans don’t work that way.
It is difficult to envision a certain label being applied to me when I say, “I’m still Mormon.” Generally people are surprised because they expect something different and although I am flattered that maybe I’m being an iconoclast I also want to be accepted within a variety of contexts and not feel like an outsider because I happen to be religious.
What is even more puzzling is how often people of faith have difficulty with questions. Like “label affixers,” I find within Mormon culture a need to have solid, practical answers that quash all doubt. For a long time I have struggled with doubts about a variety of things in my life, like any human being. But, somehow having questions about matters of faith or philosophy I felt guilty about.
A member of my congregation said it best when she was talking about a controversial issue surrounding women holding the priesthood, “I like to be able to talk about issues without having to make up my mind about anything.” When she said that I was a little scared, thinking that the thought police might catch us. (Not really, but it is enjoyable to be rather dramatic about my fears).
When a former professor sent me a link to this radio broadcast I found a wonderful answer through Melissa Leilani Larson’s interview. Instead of having LDS members portrayed as very stock characters, I was relieved by Larsons questions about the future of our faith and what would happen in a fictional future if a certain solution was provided for single females in the church.
I like investigating beliefs that I hold dear. By having a conversation bonds can be formed between people instead of barriers due to a lack of sameness. I would like to believe that people of all faiths and beliefs can have conversations from a variety of vantage points.
The most important questions I have been asked are from fellow writers who accept each other, as we are, as we believe. Writers are some of the most generous and giving people I know on earth. And I believe that as I keep asking questions, answers may or may not come, but perhaps the important part is the seeking and not the arrival at a set answer in time.