Why I’m Thankful “I’m a Mormon”

By: Brad Masters //

Alain de Botton is not the most famous atheist . . . but he might be the most interesting.  He recently wrote a book called Religion for Atheists and has started a movement in which atheists attend — for lack of a better word — church. They sing hymns and hear sermons.  To many Christians, this sounds bizarre. It sort of is. But it’s also pretty rad.

You see, when de Botton was in his twenties, he experienced what he called a “crisis of faithlessness.” All his life, he had believed in neither God nor religion, yet suddenly, he found himself jealous of religious people.  They had a community, where they worshipped and suffered and truly lived together.  That sense of community, that social engagement, is incredibly meaningful, to de Botton and to all of us.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 11.33.00 PM

I knew almost none of these people before 2008 — but here we are goin to church together!

Sadly, community interaction is on the decline in our society.  More and more, we are disconnecting from each other, sidestepping real interaction for the virtual kind. We’ve joked before about Klout scores here at Normons, but some people actually take it seriously. And it’s not just about social media. Recent generations are a lot less neighborly than older ones: only 42% of Americans know most of their neighbors and 30% don’t know any. The busier our lives get, the less often we extend ourselves outward.  And the less often others extend themselves toward us.

Enter the LDS Church.  One of the cool things about being Mormon is the community we inhabit. No matter where you move, there are a bunch of Mormons waiting to help you unload your stuff from the moving truck and welcome you to the congregation.

Someone actually made a logo about Mormon "Elders Quorums" helping with the moves.

Someone actually made our quirky but helpful habit of being cheap movers into a BUTTON!

This past summer, I moved to Palo Alto, California (it was actually East Palo Alto, the ‘90s murder capital of the US, but I didn’t tell my mother that).  I hardly knew anyone, and that made me more than a little nervous.

I arrived on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, I went to the local Mormon church meeting.  Within minutes, I met ten new people — just a few kids reaching out to shake the hand of a new face. By the end of the first hour, I got to know dozens more, and they got to know me, too.  They seemed to genuinely care why I was there and what I hoped to get out of my time in the area. It was a relief.  In that moment, I knew I wouldn’t spend that summer alone. And it was awesome.

When you become Mormon, you are instantly connected and plugged in to a network of people who are, by and large, very eager to weather life’s storms with you.  Mormon communities are full of imperfect but striving people, and we are all keenly aware of the fact that the life and vitality of our congregation depends on how much love we spread around. To be sure, we aren’t always perfect at loving our neighbor because, well, we aren’t perfect. But that’s another great upside to being connected to other people: our character is forged through interaction, both good and bad.  Our associations often teach us more about life than we could otherwise learn if our eyes were always glued to our iPhones on subways with our earphones in and giant “DON’T TALK TO ME OR I WILL BITE YOU” looks on our faces.

One of my favorite stories in Mormon history really underscores our sense of community.  As you probably know, Mormons were some of the first, and best dressed pioneers to ever cross the plains.  For many, the journey was fraught with hardship, disease, and death.

Some pioneers traveled without oxen — they pulled handcarts full of possessions and provisions.

Some pioneers traveled without oxen — they pulled handcarts full of possessions and provisions.

One group of pioneers had it worst of all.  These men and women — who had walked the entire way, pushing handcarts full of their only earthly possessions — had departed for Utah so late in the year that they became hopelessly trapped in frigid snowstorms.  Over 200 of their company died (about 20%), and the rest were cold and destitute, without provisions and without hope.

Brigham Young, leader of the Church at the time, learned about this on October 4th. It just so happened that the next morning was General Conference, the semi-annual event where all the members of the church gather together to sit and listen to the Prophet speak.  Except this time, Brigham did not allow them to just sit and listen. Instead, he told them to get up and go to their rescue, a command that captures the essence of Mormon community:

“Many of our brethren and sisters are on the plains with handcarts, and probably many are now seven hundred miles from this place, and they must be brought here . . . And the subject matter for this community is to send for them and bring them in before winter sets in.  That is my religion . . . I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains.”

That’s the Mormonism I’m grateful for. That is the power of religious community. THAT is my religion.

Alain de Botton is right: community is one of the most important aspects of life, and it’s something we religious folks do really well.  And even before de Botton came around, I knew that my staunchest atheist friends would still benefit from being a part of an LDS congregation — that their lives would flourish and expand toward a richness they would never know on their own. Maybe they still could.  After all, everyone loves cheap movers.

_______________

I asked a bunch of friends, some currently Mormon and others formerly so, why they are grateful to be a part of a Mormon community.  There responses are featured below. Note: Each slide stays up for 10 seconds, but you can pause it or move forward and backward by clicking inside the box.

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18 comments

  • Brad, you are one of the greatest community builders I know. You are the friend who shows up at 2 in the morning, eager to listen, to uplift, to empathize, and to extend a warm hand that offers not only friendship from Brad, but friendship from Jesus Christ. I know Him better (and sometimes exclusively) because of our awesome Mormon community and the camaraderie that we share. Thanks for this post.

  • November 26, 2013 at 4:38 pm // Reply

    I loved the church, which is why it was so painful when the Mormon community shunned me for expressing doubts about the Church. They say “a government big enough to give you everything can take it all away.” I’d say that’s true of the church. The church was everything to me, and to have that community ripped from me within a matter of days was one of the more painful experiences of my life.

    • Diego,

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience. If it’s any consolation, I find that the members of the Church are much more open to doubt now than perhaps they were at the time you experienced what you did. Check out President Uchtorf’s recent talk at general conference. It will bring serious hope to your soul. Here’s my favorite part:

      “To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.

      Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.

      Some might ask, ‘But what about my doubts?’

      It’s natural to have questions–the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith–even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.7″

      That tastes good to me. I hope it does to you too, brother.

  • I just love your blog so much. This was another great post!! Will be sharing. I just recently moved, and feel such a sense of community and love from church members (and ones that aren’t) that I think I’m never going to move again. I hope. :)

  • “That is my religion . . . I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the Celestial Kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains.”

    A sense of community is good. A sense of family is good. Rescuing those who need help is good. But…

    If you have and believe the wrong gospel, the eternal life you hope for will never happen. It is important for us to understand that we have nothing to give to God. The Scriptures ask the question, “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” All we have is a sinful nature. All we are is by nature an object of God’s wrath. Our righteousness is as filthy rags to God.

    The Scriptures say, “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” What is the righteousness that God demands from us? The Scriptures go on to say, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

    The gospel that Mormons embrace is a doctrine of works. It can’t be a gospel of grace plus works. That’s impossible. The Scriptures say, “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works. If it were, grace would no longer be grace.”

    The Gospel of Christ that the Apostle Paul preached was a Gospel of grace, and it was never lost from the earth. Think about the fact that the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Scriptures that were around in Joseph Smith’s day were in fact correct.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • “To get salvation we must not only do some
    things, but everything which God has
    commanded. Men may preach and practice
    everything except those things which God
    commands us to do, and will be damned at last.
    We may tithe mint and rue, and all manner of
    herbs, and still not obey the commandments of
    God. The object with me is to obey and teach
    others to obey God in just what He tells us to do.
    It mattereth not whether the principle is popular
    or unpopular, I will always maintain a true
    principle, even if I stand alone in it” (Joseph
    Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 332).
    ■ “If we keep the commandments of the Lord, we
    shall enjoy the presence of both the Father and the
    Son, and we shall receive the Father’s kingdom
    and shall be heirs of God—joint heirs with our
    elder Brother. O how wonderful, how great the
    blessings of the Lord to the Latter-day Saints and
    to all who are willing to go through the waters of
    baptism and abide by the law and keep the
    commandments of the Lord!” (Smith, “Keep the
    Commandments,” 3).
    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

    Isn’t that what Joseph Smith a prophet of God just taught in simplicity and clarity as a prophet of God does for us. We are saved by obedience to the commandments of God. It means we have faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know this?

    John 15:12-14

    It is right there in the Bible. We are to bring forth fruit. We are to work at keeping the commandments of God. You are free to disagree and believe you do not have to be obedient to the commandments of God. It is a gift of God, however me, you and everyone will be accountable for our choices in this life.

    So here is a simple command: Keep the commandments.

    Jesus said”I am the way, the truth and the life.”

    We keep the commandments his way.

    He live by the truth of his commandments.

    We will have eternal life enduring in keeping his commandments.

    Simple. Just as Joseph Smith taught the doctrines of Jesus Christ in the Bible.

    • We keep the commandments as a result of becoming a child of God, not to become a child of God. Romans 3:28, 31, “For we maintain that a man is justified (declared righteous) by faith apart from observing the law. Do we then nulify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

      Romans 9:30-32a, “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith, but as if it were by works.”

      The Jews pursued a law of righteousness and as a result did not obtain righteousness. Will you pursue a righteousness that comes through the law? It doesn’t make sense to pursue something that God says He will not honor. Romans 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

      http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • Nice picture, but why are all the males wearing white shirts? That was the uniform of IBM salesmen in the 1960s, so it’s a little weird to see a bunch of young dudes all dressed similarly in 2013.

    Also, I wonder if the best thing about having a deep religious faith is that we get help in getting our furniture moved? I think Christ wants us to stretch ourselves to help those outside our circle of faith–not by proselytizing, but by giving generously of our time and resources in ways that make a difference in their lives.

    For years I was part of a very warm and supportive faith community, but I ultimately left it because I felt we were spending more of our energy on serving each other than on serving those who were truly impoverished and beaten down by guilt and shame. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be one or other other–help the insider versus help the outsiders–but when more effort/time/attention is expended on fellow members than on those who have yet to experience the Good News in practical, human form, I think there’s a problem.

    • Andy, thanks for your comment. Obviously, my three brief mentions of “moving furniture” were making light of a funny, but helpful, phenomenon. The majority of the post, as you can see, focuses on the deep, communitarian benefits that come from religious involvement.

      Interesting point about insiders vs. outsiders. I think you’re right that it doesn’t have to be an either/or. In fact, i think true religion requires both.

  • I completely agree. The best thing about the LDS church is the people. You are never without friends in this church, unless YOU are prickly, disagreeable, or carry a big chip on your shoulder … And even then, Mormons will keep trying to be your friend.

  • To amplify on my previous post, I grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist church, in a community where 50%+ where Adventists. I thought this was very unhealthy. In Matthew 5:13, Christians are called upon to be the “salt of the earth,” but salt doesn’t do much good if it’s all piled up in one place. I read that 50-60% of all LDS members live in the “Mormon” corridor that runs northeast and southwest from Utah. Is that true?

    The SDA community in which I grew up felt very insular. Most of my Adventist friends and acquaintances associated almost exclusively with other Adventists–and, to be frank, looked down upon those who didn’t have “the truth.” Is this also true of LDS communities?

    My sense is that geographic concentration leads to insularity. A particular problem for me was that young people didn’t get the chance, or weren’t encouraged, to ask the deep philosophical questions that most intellectually curious kids ultimately ask: Is there an ultimate intelligence in the universe? How would we know if there was a God in the universe? Why is there evil in the world? In insular communities, parents and teachers are often threatened by these questions, so they don’t get addressed. I think some kids just “bury” these questions, having decided that it’s easier to conform than to dig deep. They are less concerned with “what is true” than “what is socially comfortable, or supportive?”
    Outwardly these individuals may seem to be solid Adventists, or Mormons, or whatever, but in reality, their beliefs are quite shallow.

    Other, kids, who are perhaps more curious or less conformance-minded, ultimately abandon their faith, because they sense (perhaps wrongly), that it is based on shaky intellectual foundations, or that its distinctive doctrines don’t really stand up to scrutiny.

    So I’m curious, is there your experience as a young Mormon? What has been your intellectual journey into the roots of your faith?

  • Community is important….

    I like southern California, the weather is nice (not as nice as Hawaii, but a heck of a lot nicer than Nebraska), my wife is from here, that alone gives it high marks in my book. However, I have to say that sometimes, I miss the biting cold of winter. I miss the blanket of whiteness that lays around and over everything; it makes the world seem somehow surreal and clean. I miss the cold snap you feel in your throat when you breathe in. To see the ground and trees brighter than the gray skies is a delight for me. To feel the soft crunch of crystals under my feet makes me smile sometimes. Even avenues that are half buried except for a single strip in the center road where the salt has “almost” eaten through the snow to the road. I like the forests I have walked through and the silence that engulfs the world with only the slightest breeze whispering through the pine and skeletal trees and sometimes the brightest blue in the sky after it clears from a deep snow, and its amazing how much brighter everything is at night. It is a rare kind of solitude that I prize much more now in my later life than I did then when I was younger.

    Allow me to share something here. I am the eldest of four sons. At 16 after much discussion with my parents and agreement from the courts, I left home as an emancipated youth, in the eyes of the law, I was now a man, with no obligation upon me, and no one obligated towards me. This was due in part to my parents going through an acrimonious divorce that affected all of us sons in different ways. I went the route of independence and introspection. My parents were too involved in their fight to object to my court maneuvering and so I won, and, in a sense lost. I began to wonder if marriage and society were a croc, that there was really only one person that was important, and of course that was me. As I contemplated the possibilities of being 16 and independent, and being vaguely dissatisfied at what was out there for “me”, I ran into a good friend who acted as a guide to life of sorts. I must admit that the world took on an entirely new dimension with the position he took in life. I began living a much more thoughtful life. That was good, because that first winter was a hard one for me. Being emancipated entailed competencies, one of them being responsible for my own income and well being. Child support does not exist for the “emancipated”, you were in every sense of the word alone and on your own in this world. That first winter was a hard one for me. Work in those days was not to be found, unemployment for that area was in the 20 percent range. In fact, it came to the point of having heat or food. I figured I could get by with a few more blankets. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with me that winter. It was to be one of the coldest winters in known memory for that part of Virginia. Nights plummeted to the single digits, and the days never saw more than the low 20’s. Water pipes froze and I had to heat my water to bathe or in the least wash down. Come late December food ran low and I was laid off from my part time job. I did odd jobs here and there, but being a student meant your most valuable work hours were taken up by the drivel of Calculus, Government, and other classes. Thursday I had my last can of Chef Boyardee, Friday I was able to snag lunch at school, and that was that. I was probably the only student who did not look forward to Christmas break that day. No money, no food, and freezing every night, it would be a lonely and difficult holiday for me. By Saturday I was famished, tired, and weak. I would walk outside wearing an expensive (and warm) coat that was given to me as a gift by my more affluent family in Germany. It kept me warmer than standing around in the house. Now I know many of you are thinking that the local food branch for the poor or welfare office would help. I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I still find it hard to consider. Pride is the toughest sin we cling to. Both for what it does to us, and for the difficulty we have in getting rid of it. I refused to ask, even in those straights.

    So Saturday this pastor’s father (we call them branch presidents), comes by and sees me walking down the road, walking kept me warm. His car pulls over into the snow (which I consequently had to help push and clear after the conversation). He says “Jeff, I need you to do something for an elderly sister in the church.”

    “Great I thought.” I could feel my stomach wrapped around my backbone and now I was going to be involved in some more work. Work I wouldn’t be paid for. But there is a certain obligation that comes with friendship, more to the point, from a position of pride, it is easier to help others than to allow yourself to be helped. One of life’s little jokes I guess.

    So this man drives me up a steep hill in the snow deep into a hollow past a mill to a home in the heart of the wild. Trees were everywhere; this was the thickest part of the forest. And there standing on the wood front porch of a clapboard and stone home stood the elderly lady I was to help. You could see the smoke coming out of the rough stone chimney and wafting through the branches. She was an old shrew to say the least. Hunched with age, pinch faced, but eyes as sharp as an eagles. The wrinkles around her mouth made it hard to know if she was smiling, or had them pursed in a soured expression. You could not tell if she was laughing at you or sizing you up. This woman had tangled with the tougher side of life. While its hard to tell, it looked like she may have won.

    “Boy, this hayre is what I wancha ta do”, hers was that deep strong southern accent, without anymore ceremony she tossed me an ax, then a sledge hammer and a rail splitter. She pointed to an incredibly large pile of wood. “Split it and pile it up boy”.

    So I commenced to chopping and splitting. I was hungry, but the pangs seemed to lessen as I worked, and I actually got warmer. Even in the cold, I took my coat off, the flannel shirt did just fine, and I could move easier without the coat as I swung the axe. Four hours or so later two nicely stacked cords of wood stared back at me. She then had me clear brush in the back and chop it into smaller kindling. I guess if you are really occupied, you think a bit less about food. I finished up with moving a half ton of coal into the basement and the day was pretty much over. You could feel the night chill creeping out of the forest. The sun was still up, but lower and it gave less heat. I even had to put my jacket back on. What was a bright forest grew darker.

    “Boy” she said “I have some food, y’all hongray?” I couldn’t help but smile when she said that. So she invited me into her home. A Franklin stove kept the small, well-insulated living room warm. The kind of warm that you feel when you’re under a blanket on a cold morning and don’t want to get up. She had pictures all over the walls, mostly black and whites, old wallpaper, more pictures on her mantle, and an old wooden radio that must have been depression era. Now that did not capture my attention the way the table did. It was heavily laden with all kinds of food. Fried chicken, homemade biscuits, gravy, big pile of corn and beans, string beans, and bacon strips (not the neat little strips from a store, but thick slabs from a smokehouse. Milk with the cream still in it, stuffing, pickled eggs and water melon rinds, slices of ham…. I sat down and went to work with a gusto. In the next two hours I ate, quickly at first, but then slowly, savoring every bite. The whole time she was telling me about her family. I confess I only half listened, my stomach had all the attention..

    After dinner, she kept talking, and I plopped on an old thick couch with doilies while she sat in the rocker and told me more of her stories, she gave me some warmed apple cider (real cider I might add) now and then you could hear the clink as she opened up the Franklin stove to toss in some wood. I say heard, because my eyes grew pretty heavy from the meal and the warmth and I had rarely felt better than that in my whole life. I slept sitting up, but restfully and warm for a good hour on the couch. I have never again felt more relaxed and at home than I felt that night.

    Later when I woke, she commented on how well I slept, gave me a soured smile as the branch president Jim showed up. I rose to leave and she placed all these jars of canned food, “left over” ham, green beans, chicken, biscuits and cornbread in two wooden boxes. Over the food she lay the quilt I had fallen asleep in. She said she didn’t have use for the food now that the jars were opened. I wasn’t going to say no.

    That food lasted me a good week. Long enough to find something more permanent for employment. That quilt she gave me kept me warm all winter and into spring. I still tend to sleep with just a quilt and nothing else as a blanket.

    I was young then, more than a little stupid. But later I came to a realization and could not help but appreciate the power of the spirit and the wisdom of a man of god and ancient lady who learned to overcome my pride with just a touch of deviousness, and all in the name of love. It was perhaps the strongest Christmas present I had ever received. A sweet moment of safety, warmth and comfort that shall remain in my mind forever.

    One more thing. There was another cord of wood already cut and carefully piled up. Weeks later I asked the branch president who had cut that, and with a smile and a wink pointed the person out, the social hall. There sitting in back in a dark dress was the old woman. “She did”, he smiled.

    I spoke with her some more after that. But she was mountain folk, they don’t talk much, they don’t show much of themselves. They just do what needs to be done

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