Monday, February 6, 2012

Whose world is "realer"?

Dear Ian Williams,

I've calmed down now. When I first read your letter, I was very upset--not because of any specific dig at my faith as because I felt like you'd built up a fantasy world and exiled me to it. You gave yourself a "messy, colorful" America and stuck me into an Edward Scissorhands world, where the shallow sameness is suffocating and anything unusual is kooky ("don't buy the underwear yet!" ha ha) rather than unique and worthy of the respect you might otherwise offer to Difference.

I've heard all that before, of course--I wasn't baptized yesterday--and, on honest reflection, I can understand where people like you are probably coming from. We Mormons persist in valuing an optimism and earnestness that can easily come across as naive. Our commercial art competes with Bollywood film for sentimentality. And we do like knowing our physical neighbors, which is beginning to seem so twentieth century, right on the border between quaint and antiquated.

Yes, we must seem like vestigial Jimmy Stewart fans in the era of Robert Downey Jr. For a screenwriter like you, I'd imagine the mismatch is particularly disconcerting. You've tried to talk with us, but we get even the rhythms of the dialogue all wrong. You've been to church meetings, but you can't get over the decades-old memo about white shirts and suit jackets being passe our wardrobe department obviously missed. And then, of course, there's the disaster of the casting: all those women with all their babies--sometimes five to a family!--so many that you wonder whether their mothers will ever get to have normal, productive lives doing important things, like writing op eds or restaurant reviews and otherwise contributing to adult society.

I get it, Ian. Your world is not my world. Fine. Your world is cooler than my world. OK. I'm not bothered by that.

But you seem to think that your world is the real world, and that the real world is something I'm impossibly distanced from. You say that missionaries, in particular, are immune to reality. "Mormons see the world," you say, "but they don't get it."

And that's when I get mad.

Because, Ian Williams, I don't think you get the world either. Where I come from, we believe there's a beam in every human eye. And it's my strong personal belief that there's a whole skyscraper worth of beams in eyes that look through ultra-specialized, demographically segmented late capitalist culture.

I am going to make some assumptions about you now. They are assumptions based on patterns that are largely true of Americans, but feel free to correct me when I'm wrong. First assumption: I'm betting that your job matters to you and that, like most Americans, many of the people you know best are people you know through work. Second: I'm betting that you went to college, and that in college, the people you spent your free time with were almost all college students. Shall we go on? I'm also betting that most of the people you break bread with are somewhat similar to you in terms of educational and income levels, political views, and favorite TV shows. Am I at least close to the truth so far?

None of this, of course, is inherently bad or would make you unusual, but all of it suggests a degree of separation from that big, diverse, messy world you don't think Mormons are a part of. You may read about poverty and have great ideas about it, but you probably don't spend a lot of time around poor people. You may have positive attitudes about immigrants, and I commend you for them, but you probably aren't having dinner with families whose legal status is complicated. You almost certainly think Nazism is terrible, but you've probably never sat in the living room of a former Nazi as she tells you what those times felt like.

You know the world, I would guess, far better from how it looks on paper than from how it looks up close.

Because of my church, I've seen it up close. I've helped struggling people in two continents move out of apartments due to all sorts of crises, from crooked landlords to persistent gunshots at night to serious vandalism by drug-addicted friends. I've eaten in homes where the first language has been Spanish, Navajo, Telegu. Where it's been German, Turkish, Portuguese, Russian, Marathi, Farsi, French.

And no, I wasn't following the news when I was a missionary in the former East Germany, and I never went out clubbing or whatever people do in your world to get to know the locals on a European trip. But I've sat in an old woman's apartment and listened to her struggle to make sense of what she remembers feeling when she saw Hitler at a rally in her youth. "He was like a god to us then," she said, "like a god." And I've been cooked meals by women who served in that war, and who can never forget the hunger they felt as the war dragged on and ended with near chaos in its wake, some of whom walked for hundreds of miles from confiscated homes toward uncertain futures. I've learned by experience how to recognize someone who won't feel right unless you eat every last scrap on the plate. And learned deep respect for the endurance of the old.

A man who was imprisoned by the communist government for non-cooperation once showed me the model train set he works on to find peace. A woman who'd believed and participated in the same government told me how her sense of betrayal when the wall came down and the secrets started coming out was so acute she had to be hospitalized.

I've had people tell me, holding little back, just which scars on their hearts they blame a God they don't believe in for. And I've felt a part of the pain in their old wounds come up fresh through their eyes.

I've heard people who swore they were staunch "materialist" atheists tell me why they believe in guardian angels. What happened in their lives they couldn't explain any other way.

I've talked to people about homes back in Africa they long to return to. To others about forsaken homes in authoritarian countries they've given up the hope of seeing again. And to one man, who'd been a trucker in the old days and taken long hauls across Siberia, about how at home he'd felt in the villages where everyone would come out to welcome him, where they'd give the space nearest the fire to the rare visitor from so far west.

There's a town near Leipzig called Eilenburg. About 17,000 people live there. As a missionary, I walked down every street in that town. Rang almost every doorbell. Met the variety of people who live in a real town in a real world, who never in their lifetimes will all meet each other. When I got home from my mission, I started to think about how even a mission in your home city would seem foreign. About how through the church, I'd been to parts of Columbus where no one from my suburb of Upper Arlington normally thought about or went. I still think about how many amazing people are always just beyond the edges of our awareness, and about how we find a piece of the divine whenever we really get to know someone.

I helped a woman move one time from the west side of Columbus to the east, this was a woman who'd only recently fled from a failed marriage with a bad man in a county known for strip mining to the concrete and cracked asphalt of the big city's low-rent areas. She tended her plants so carefully. Just little things in pots she could keep by run-down apartment windows. She said she'd seen another woman grow potatoes out of a boot above a sink and intended to grow her that stubbornly. I still think about her, too. And about the Mormons in the east side of Columbus who took time out of their weekends to welcome her to their side of town.

Just a few months ago in Utah, I held a man who was bone-thin, dying with two kinds of cancer, just held his body in place as gently as I could while his wife washed him. She wanted to do that while a church brother was there instead of a church sister, she said, to protect what she could of his privacy. She told me, "We come into this world without much dignity and that's how it is again all too often as we leave it." But I swear, no one else has ever looked so much to me like Jesus Christ as that man did just a week before he died.

We're kind, Ian Williams, but we're not blind. We know that life can ache, that people struggle and suffer as often as they find transcendence or joy. We believe in guidelines--or confines, call them what you will--not because we're running from the messiness of life, but because we know that life can be messy enough on its own and doesn't need our help to get there.

And because we want to be ready to find God in the faces of his children. Every day of the week, yes, and twice on Sunday.

182 comments:

  1. Well said. This is a great post.

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  2. I really enjoyed this post (a friend linked to it on Facebook), and I was quite surprised as I was reading it to discover you and I served in the same mission. I was in Leipzig form 1997-1999--served in Schwarzenberg, Leipzig, Gotha, Weimar, and then Leipzig again. Elder Cundick. When/where were you there?

    I remember in my first city, we tracted into a man who generously invited us in, despite the fact that he was only wearing a pair of traditional lederhosen. He was old, fat, hairy, and he played the accordion for us. He also told us all about what it was like to live through Nazism, Communism, and Capitalism. I think that experience was one of the biggest eye openers for me in my life. Suddenly these were just concepts in a history book. They were ideas and experiences people had lived through, agreed with, and been disillusioned by. Yes, my mission in Germany was different than my experiences there would have been had I been there as an exchange student or as an employee. But I think it was actually a more authentic experience because of that--not a less valid one. Missionaries talk to everyone. Encounter people students or employees would never think about talking to on the street. You get a real sense of how life is like for people in the country. You don't eat at restaurants--you eat with families.

    Anyway, I've poked around your various blogs some more now--good luck with the book and querying. My first novel's coming out next month, so we have another similarity there (although I write YA fantasy, which seems to be quite different from the work you're shopping around). I also went to BYU and got my Masters there--took a slew of creative writing classes from Plummer, Thayer, Wolverton, Crowe, Taylor, and a screenwriting class from a gentleman whose name escapes me at the moment. I graduated in 2005.

    Once again, thanks for the excellent commentary and observations. They were much enjoyed.

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  3. Thanks for this beautiful response. I feel like all Mormons could add their own stories to this.

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    1. I'm upset at you, friend, for not introducing me to this earlier . . .

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  4. Wow again... Keep writing, James. Keep writing. So true and moving. Thank you.

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  5. James, thanks for this. This reads a lot like Eugene England's "Why the Church Is As True As the Gospel" (http://www.eugeneengland.org/why-the-church-is-as-true-as-the-gospel). It resonated deeply with my own experience as a Mormon.

    I read a bit of Ian Williams' blog out of curiosity after reading this post. He has several posts about Mormons in particular and religious folk in general that don't illustrate a particularly nuanced understanding of religion. Or even much of an earnest attempt at understanding. This surprised me. I would have expected more from a New York Times guest author, I have to say. And from the NYT.

    Quite honestly, that itself upsets me. How can you feel at all qualified to write about a group of people when you so obviously haven't done the research necessary to even begin to understand their worldview? Just knowing people who are Mormon isn't enough. Most people are rational beings. There are reasons they think and act the way that they do.

    I tend to lean somewhat conservative, but that doesn't mean that I paint partyline liberals as people who are irrational and whom I could never hope to understand. And you know why I don't paint liberals this way? Because being an active Mormon means I am frequently admonished to exercise Christian charity and try to understand other people. Which means that in many ways, Mormonism expands my worldview rather than limiting it.

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  6. I desperately want to add a comment here that has some value, or adds to what you have said, but I don't think I have the ability to match the power of the words you have written here. Bravo, my friend. I eagerly await your next post.

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  7. very well said. As I read his letter last week, I felt the same. How is that "cool, relevant and trendy" world that NYT writers live in any more real than the world LDS culture lives in? So many people think they are "in the know" or some how wiser just because they follow the latest cultural trends

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  8. This was a wonderful post and very well written. Thank you for sharing your amazing experiences and lessons learned.

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  9. This is a beautiful essay. I often felt like you were describing the joy of my life, my real world. What a joy it is to know you. Neal Kramer

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  10. Thank you for articulating this so well. This is such a lovely piece of writing. It rings with sincerity.

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  11. Bravo, James Goldberg. Bravo.

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  12. Anyone with an ounce of soul will feel the truth of what you've described. Well done.

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  13. The truth moves deeply and this certainly has stirred my soul!

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  14. I have written or edited other stories for more than 23 years. This is perhaps the most moving blog post I have ever read about the church. You lifted me up today when I needed it the most. And I thank you.

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  15. I don't know you, but my friend posted this on facebook. It almost made me cry because I've been feeling this way more and more each day I live. I could write my own post and talk about completely different but equally real experiences from many places in the world. Thank you and amen.

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  16. Wow and thank you for writing this. As I read, many memories of my mission in Bulgaria in the mid 1990s came to mind, many similar experiences with people. Currently I live in a large geographic stake with many different people, income levels, education levels and so on. We're asked very frequently to serve in ways that I never thought possible here, but it's good for us, it makes us better people. Thank you again for your great words.

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  17. Thank you so much for this moving essay. Bravo!

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  18. Awesome points, James. I'll say this: you've got style.

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  19. You know James, when I was on my mission there was a little paper stapled to the bulletin board outside the branch president's office that had your picture on it. I was all excited and told my companion, "Hey! I know him. We took a class together at BYU." After reading this post, I feel the same pleasure I felt then, for the opportunity to have your acquaintance. :)

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  20. I followed Jon here from Facebook. Very well written. Thank you for sharing those experiences.

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  21. James, this was beautiful. My roommate Emily B. mentioned the letter the man had written to you the other day, and I am glad to see this honest and eloquent post in response. Thank you.

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  22. A wonderful response. Your post captures Mormonism at its best.

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  23. Jams, after reading this response to an article that was clearly written by a person who does zero research, let me make a few observations of my own. First, and most importantly, I would like to point out, to any who have read this post, the most important aspect of what you wrote compared to what what written in the New York Times. Simply the purpose and spirit in which it was written. I would love to read a piece that was critical of any faith without feeling like I've gotten my hands dirty in the process of reading it. I don't claim to believe in a lot of ideology of many of the world's religions, but I can't find honest criticism very often because everyone who wants to write about a religion seems to start with either a pro, and more often a con view point. Your piece was beautifully written and brought me great joy. It reminded me of some wonderful experiences I had on my own mission in Italy. My hope is that people read some of the slander and commentary that is associated with the man's article. People will believe what they want, but as a group, members of the church could learn from the perceptions and most especially the experiences that many listed there. It would help us be better at avoiding past mistakes that we as a group have made. Keep making your responses, they are inspiring and offer a contrast in content and most definitely in soul. I for one would rather be away from the "real" world forever than join so many who have not found the joy of the Everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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  24. Now that sounds like the Mormonism that I know! Which, from a journalist's perspective, is actually amazingly colorful! Thank you for this!

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  25. This is the feeling I have about the time I spent in the inner city in the Northeast US. I wasn't a missionary per se, but my husband and I agree that our time there was a missionary experience. You've captured it well, something I haven't been able to do yet. Thank you for writing this with such skill. You've reminded me why I feel so uncomfortable living in the suburbs and why I love writing.

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  26. You need to post this reply to the NYT. I'm frustrated that they call this section "room for debate", you can't have a debate when all the argumentation are on the same side http://screencast.com/t/8Z1FGI9N

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  27. I went to college in LA in the early 70's and was very active in helping in Watts area. We used to have college students sign up to help on a regular basis in the tough neighborhood schools there. The LDS students showed up regularly, never complained and were wonderful with the kids. People said their religion was prejudiced. Many other student groups were irregular in attendance, disappointed the kids and talked the talk, but didn't walk the walk. The LDS students walked the walk. They didn't have to talk. Example says everything. I noticed. Five years later, I studied up on that religion. I was impressed and prayed about it. I had a spiritual experience and I became one of them.

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  28. Iam williams article was about why the mormon culture is a bad reason to vote for Romney... This response makes no sense at all.

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    1. Ian Williams' arguments against Mitt Romney were based on the idea that Mormons don't understand the real world. This post is responding to that premise by saying that Mormons probably understand the real world as much or more than your average American.

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    2. I would argue that mormons, due to correlation, do not see the "real world" as much or more than your average american.

      For example, if a black man robs someone, they might think it was because he was less faithful in his premortal state.

      If a black man helped someone, they might think he was overcoming that handycap.

      If a mormon sees two gay men holding hands, they might think that there is a devil involved.

      If a mormon hears that Joseph Smith used rocks in a hat to translate the book of mormon, they fell prejudice and like the target of attack, instead of understanding that it is the actual history (Even according to FAIRlds's wiki).

      If a mormon sees a woman working, she thinks she has chosen an inferior activity.

      If a mormon sees people limiting their number of children, they think there are spirits going without bodies up in the pre-existance.

      All of these things are beliefs not grounded on any sort of actual evidence, that come from cherry picking various prophets/apostles and other's comments throughout time.

      Yet these beliefs can truly affect day-to-day interactions.

      How do I know... I am a mormon, but I see clearly how that biases me from the rest of society.

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    3. I'm from Sacramento, and when I see the Lakers win a game, I DEFINITELY know there is a devil involved. ;-)

      Heh, heh. Sorry--bad joke.

      In all seriousness, I don't think James' post meant to convey that Mormons' beliefs don't shape the way they see things--and that some of those perceptions differ from the way other groups of Americans see things.

      The point is that everyone's beliefs shape the way they see things, and I don't know that the Mormon way of seeing things is inherently less realistic or out-of-touch than any other group. And there may even be some things we see more clearly on because of the situations our faith community puts us in.

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    4. To Anonymous up above:

      what? those things you put in there are not what Mormons believe. We don't believe black people were less faithful in the premortal state. We are against homosexuality, but that is their choice not a devil making them, and the rocks in hat comment was so off I don't even know where you got that, i guess from some wiki (because wiki's are completely true :) catch the sarcasm? good ) Women are allowed to work, we believe raising children is the most divine job on earth, but that doesn't mean she can't do both. And the last one is false, we are encouraged to have children but how many is between couples and God, not anyone else. There will obviously be enough bodies, or are you saying God's plan is not perfect? If you really are a Mormon, then you do not understand what we believe.

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    5. Anonymous: I don't know what Mormons you've been hanging out with, or maybe your family is very different from mine. What you're talking about sounds like the worst 2% of the Mormon population back in the 80's, or like you were unfortunate enough to have been dropped into a rather superstitious ward. Some of my best friends are black, and I don't feel like they're overcoming some handycap. I learn things from all of my friends, because we all have things to learn from each other. I have been in wards with openly gay members. I am not going to claim that members of the Church have become perfect with that, but most are trying. My younger sister served her mission in mostly poor areas in the south among African Americans, and all the time she would say that she wasn't sure she was as good a person as they were with how grateful they were for life. I'm sad that your experience has been so different from mine. And for the record, I've lived in five different states and France. And yes, every ward and branch I've been in has been somewhat different. There were a couple that I have to admit I'd rather not have to go back to. Two out of over twenty is pretty good, though, I'd say.

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    6. Rachel, I feel I should point out to you that if there are openly gay 'members' in your ward, they are not faithful members. We believe it is their choice, and no, we don't believe there is a devil involved, but homosexuality is a sin and you cannot be a faithful member of the church and say otherwise. Please don't advocate for them, because that is most definitely not part of the Lord's plan.

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    7. To the first anonymous: I'd like to address what you said one by one.

      "if a black man robs someone, they might think it was because he was less faithful in his premortal state." First of all, why does race matter? From your tone, I assume you think we're all racist. That is the opposite of the truth. To go back to your original statement, there are a million reasons why people steal, and none of them have to do with the premortal existence or race.

      "If a black man helped someone, they might think he was overcoming that handycap." This is such an ignorant statement it makes me want to swear. Never in my life have I thought that people of different races are 'handicapped'. When we say we believe God loves all His children equally, we really do mean ALL His children. Racism is disgusting and not rooted in anything but prejudice. How can I say this with such conviction? Because I've been the only white student in a school full of illegal aliens from Mexico, the only one that didn't speak Spanish. The racism I experienced wasn't rooted in anything but the color of my skin and the language I spoke. Not a single faithful member of the church that I've spoken to believes this to be right, on either side. I have friends of all colors and ethnicities, and I don't love one 'color' more than another.

      "If a mormon sees two gay men holding hands, they might think that there is a devil involved." Yes, we believe homosexuality is a sin. No, we don't believe these people are possessed. Just like any other sin, we don't condone it, but we don't condemn them to hell either. They have free agency to act as they choose, and God will be their judge.

      (Comment was too long, so will be continued in next one)

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    8. (Continued from the last comment, directed toward the first anonymous and others who have similar beliefs or thoughts about the church)


      "If a mormon hears that Joseph Smith used rocks in a hat to translate the book of mormon, they fell prejudice and like the target of attack, instead of understanding that it is the actual history (Even according to FAIRlds's wiki)." This is just ridiculous. First of all, don't go to 'wikis' for information when you can go straight to the church's own statements. Second, yes, they were rocks as far as we understand. Should the fact that God used something so simple to do such a miracle make me feel defensive? Absolutely not! It makes me thankful to know what He's capable of! This isn't even an issue, and I don't know why you'd try to make it one.

      "If a mormon sees a woman working, she thinks she has chosen an inferior activity." ABSOLUTELY NOT. This statement makes me angry. We believe that men and women have different roles, but we do NOT think working is 'inferior'. Some women have to work to support their family, either because their husband can't find work or because they don't have a husband. Or, in some cases, because they need two sources of income. I, for one, plan on working in the future. I want to be a drama teacher, and nothing is going to keep me from doing that. The mistake comes when a woman or even a man puts their work ahead of their children. Once I have children, they will always be my priority. If that means I need to give up work for a few years until they're older, I will gladly do so. But do I think that a woman who continues working is 'inferior'? Absolutely not. That, again, is ignorance.

      "If a mormon sees people limiting their number of children, they think there are spirits going without bodies up in the pre-existance." This just made me want to laugh. All of the Lord's children will have bodies, no matter what decisions we make. I want a lot of children, but that doesn't mean I look down on others. The decision of how many children you have is between you, your spouse, and God. No one else. I've known faithful members of the church who only had one child. They are just as blessed as my father's parents, who had nine children.

      NONE of these are beliefs of someone who understands the LDS faith. They are judging statements, when our church preaches not to judge. We have no place making these assumptions, and we don’t. God alone can judge His children.

      I sincerely wish you the best, and hope that if you've been convinced of these things by bad examples that you will open your eyes to see the truth.

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    9. Anonymous, that argument would have to stand for all LDS members then. We are all sinners and imperfect. Anyone who is lacking in charity, who judges another, who gossips, who doesn't love every person as much as Jesus loves is then not a faithful member. Anyone who yells at their kids, takes office supplies home from work, complains about their neighbor, or lies (white or otherwise) would also not be a faithful member. I could go on, but you get the idea and your imagination is healthy. If having a sin that people know about is not being a faithful member...well I guess I'm not faithful member either, despite wholeheartedly believing that the church is true and loving my Savior Jesus Christ. Count me out of the Faithful, because I'm sinning plenty. In fact, I'm so bad that I'm going to need the Savior's grace and His atonement, or else I'm not gonna make it at all.

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    10. The article was first about beating up on Mormons, then about why we should not vote for Romney. The logic is pretty flawed if you think about it. Assuming he will incorporate all of his views and standards into his administration is a little naive, and it's also incredibly narrow-minded to assume most other presidents did not do that as well. The writer has a huge chip on his shoulder - doesn't it sound obvious?

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    11. You are the narrow-minded one here. The article is NOT politically oriented, which to me shows YOU have a huge chip on YOUR shoulder. You see the straw in your neighbor's eye, but can't see the beam in yours.

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  29. I followed a friend's post from Facebook as well. I haven't read whatever letter it was that inspired your post, and I probably won't because I am so tired of people ranting about my religion when they know nothing about it. It irritates me that people can write about something they have no clue about in an "authoritative" manner and reach so many people with their unfounded opinions.

    Thank you for adding truth to the "debate." I admire your courage to stand up and proclaim what you know to be true.

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  30. Thank you for your great words.

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  31. I know I can't add to what has already been said, but I did want to say, "Thank you" from the bottom of my heart for putting into words what I cannot say, but feel deeply. I was once told by a dear friend who was not a Mormon, that being a Mormon wasn't what you were, it was more like who you were. Sums it up so well. Thanks again for this great article and hope you don't mind my sharing on FB.

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  32. I hope you have sent this letter to the editor, because it is beautifully written. It drives me crazy when people write, like they know what they are talking about and I know they don't! Thank You. And I"m not even an American that has to listen to this stuff all the time.

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  33. My mission president used to remind us that we were in the real world. This other thing . . . it's temporary.

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  34. Thank you for such a poignant response.

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  35. Send this to Mitt...he'll be proud.

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  36. Thank you so much for this blog post. It definitely has uplifted and edified me when I needed it most. I love when I read things like this and say, "That's EXACTLY how I feel!" This is one of those times.

    Have you thought about sending this letter to the writer or the New York Times? I have connections to the Washington Post's OnFaith Editor, and I'd love to see if she's willing to post this, or at least link to this post -- with your blessing.

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    1. You have my blessing.

      I haven't sent this to anywhere yet--don't really know who in any given organization to send it to, since it's well over standard letter to the editor length. But it seems to be meaning a lot to people, so I'd love to share it further. Let me know what to do.

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    2. Thank you Nick for sharing this link! It made my day!

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  37. Don't mind me. I'm just over here in a corner falling in love with your mind.

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  38. When one firmly believes that they belong to God's one and only true church, they are at least a little out of touch with reality. Granted, a growing number of Mormons (and other religious folks) are developing a more nuanced view on this point.

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    1. Everyone is out of touch with reality. The miracle is when moments of deep human connection bring you into a new kind of touch with the reality someone else inhabits.

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    2. I agree that everyone is out of touch with reality to some degree, but is it possible that some people are more out of touch with reality than others?

      I also agree that empathy and understanding are important, and I think we are bound to miss something when we think that everyone ought to live and believe exactly as we do.

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    3. I am certainly all for respect for difference. In my personal case, though, believing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as God's restored church interferes with my ability to deeply respect, say, the faith of my Sikh and Jewish ancestors. My strong belief in my own church makes it easier for me to understand what it might mean to an orthodox Sikh to wear the kachera.

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  39. I had the exact same experience on my mission... in Japan. I met a ham radio operator who wanted to practice his English and told us of how he was a kid living in Tokyo when the Americans first landed. He saw that American officers didn't beat the enlisted men. he saw that white and black soldiers were treated the same, and that American enlisted men didn't beat locals or make the old women carry their burdens, like the Japanese military did. He told us he had always been taught that when the Americans came they would kill the men and rape the women and eat the babies, and he realized that he had been lied to .
    I walked every street of the little town of Yuriage, and visited the open air fish market there, and an old man let me sample some octopus, giving me the beak, telling me it is the best part. So when the tsunami hit Miyagi prefecture, and completely destroyed the entire town of Yuriage, don't you think I had a slightly better understanding of the actual human cost than did Mr. Williams sitting in Manhattan?
    Every single person who ever served a mission has had similar broadening experiences because missionaries talk to everybody. And Mitt Romney in particular, since he was a bishop, has dealt with people who are down and out, unemployed, going through divorce, and dealing with all kinds of trials. Don't think he is "out of touch". It doesn't qualify him to be president, but it certainly removes the "he doesn't understand the common people" trope.

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  40. I had many touching experiences on my mission visiting with people in extreme poverty, listening to them recount their life of suffering. And then I tried to get them to join my church.

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    1. And then you got home and wondered whether you'd acted a bit like a shallow 19-year-old when you could have been paying more holistic attention to their needs? Yep.

      I am not denying that we focus on conversion as missionaries and see the world through a spiritual lens as Latter-day Saints. I am denying that it somehow makes us impervious to their human experience. And I do believe that through the church I've able to give service that matters to people both physically and spiritually. I'm not always good at giving that service--but those missteps are part of the messiness of Mormon life, wanting to be more truly helpful than our mixed efforts actually manage.

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    2. Anonymous: But what in practical terms does that mean, "and then I tried to get them to join my church"? When I see someone suffering, it makes my heart ache, and I fumble around for all of the resources I have available to try to help heal their suffering.

      The resources that come to my mind are the ones that have helped me the most in my own suffering. Since I'm Mormon, that's going to include food, comfort, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I would expect anyone of any faith (or secular) tradition to offer what they had to give when they met someone who was hurting.

      Granted, we can't beat someone over the head with our "compassion." That negates it. If a missionary does that, he or she misses the point (a lot of missionaries are young in their faith and still learning that.) But if they don't offer to give what they have, that would also be missing the point.

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    3. I really like the idea of a mission being an opportunity to go out and relieve suffering, but I'm not convinced that the church has all the answers in this regard, as the standard narrative assumes. Unfortunately, I think young missionaries sometimes lose sight of the amazing service opportunity a mission can be, and end up focused on simply getting people baptized as Mormons, which may or may not have any real, lasting impact on their lives.

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    4. I'm not sure the church has ever claimed to have all the answers to anything. If someone insinuates that we do, they're mistaken. However, the church does have something of great value to offer, conditional on the investment of the applicant of course :) And by investment, I mean something different than trying to justify themselves through dogma.

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  41. Thank you for writing this. I have struggled with hearing so many people bash the LDS faith in recent months, but this helped me realize that what we believe is beautiful and sanctifying. Bravo!

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  42. Oppostion is just an opportunity to share. The Mormon faith may be getting bashed in some circles. It is also getting a lot of people thinking and taking a look and listening to something that they might not have without the opposition. I know of a couple of friends that spent lunch hours trying to prove the Book of Mormon was not true. Their conclusion after deep study -- they and their wives joined.

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  43. There's a slow-clap in my head that started round-about the third paragraph and kept growing as I kept reading, eventually gettin slightly out of control (but I promise I'm not given to hallucination). What a wonderful, well-reasoned, and well-expressed post. I found myself thinking of my own time as a Spanish-speaking missionary in Southern CA. Only a handful of the people that we met and worked with were in this country legally. The stories they shared about their struggles in coming to and living in this country were chilling. I often wonder how our attitudes would change if more "real" Americans were exposed to the communities they seek to marginalize and drive out.

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  44. I've never read a more moving piece. Bravo, sir, you have a good heart.

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  45. Wow. Thank you for eliciting such emotions within me today with your writing. You have a gift and the beauty of your humanity shines through.

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  46. Really loved your post! I have to say for all those who judge Mormons -- it is always fun to get to know that person and have them be surprised to find out that you are a Mormon...why are they surprised? Because they have that sudden realization that we are real people dealing with the world too...and they figured we would be a cookie cutter person. Surprise! We are not cookies...but still sweet!

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  47. Beautifully articulated, James. Amen.

    -Janelle Higbee

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  48. Someone said, "You need to post this reply to the NYT." I agree.

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  49. The posts under that article were depressing. So glad you wrote this. Wish more people could see it. Thank you!!

    -Rachel Loveridge

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  50. James, it's been a while since Dr. Eastley's seminar--so wonderful to ready and "hear" your thoughts again. Thank you.

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  51. Thank you for putting a voice to how so many of us feel. It's funny how I have never met you but can empathize with so many of your experiences...and isn't that what living life is all about? Creating meaningful relationships that bring us closer to God. Your response was beautifully phrased. I hope it continues to make the rounds!

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  52. Thanks, I really enjoyed this. We need you for a guest post at Wheatandtares.org

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  53. Wow. If I could only express what I feel, like you so eloquently have... You put words to what is in my heart and what my very frustration has been with those who criticize us for what they perceive as naivety. No, actually, we are nice not because we are naive, but because we are enlightened--to a higher purpose, and to a higher light and truth. It is so refreshing to read something filled with faith, and truth (REAL reality) instead of bitter resentment, lack of understanding, and lack of truth. Write on Brother.

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  54. Beautifully written. Thank you for writing this. It speaks the words that I cannot write but that are in my heart and in my soul. I have experienced enough glimpses of the "real world" that I am completely and utterly content to be in this world of truth, happiness, light and peace. Jesus Christ said that He is the light of the world. White light is the display of all the colors of light combined. If we try to follow Him, our world will indeed be the most colorful.

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  55. Thanks for your post. I specifically loved your last paragraph. We know exactly what's 'real' in the world, and have decided to do what we can to improve our own and others' reality.

    You've gained a new follower, my friend!

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  56. Thank you for this beautifully written post.

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  57. James,

    Great job at responding. I think, for the great majority, missions have been the first great eye-opener to the real world. There is no better way to understand someone as to when you sit at their table or living room and talk. How is your book coming?
    We should get together soon. Say hi to your family for me.
    -Antonio

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  58. Well done, sir. Thank you.

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  59. Beautifully expressed. I agree with you, it bothers me when people think of Mormons as naive simpletons. We are not untouched by life's messiness. Our challenges are real and deep...our coping tools are enriched by our faith. I guess sometimes that faith looks like optimism which translates to some as innocence.

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  60. I saw this on my Facebook newsfeed on a friend's page.It's shameful that this Ian, and a lot of people lately, think it's okay to generally disrespect the entire LDS population. However, your response is cut from the same cloth. The world is not us and them, it is full of thoughtful, caring individuals in complex societies trying to make human life work. I'm a former member of the LDS religion, and have been living as a 'non-member' for about five years. I grieve for the relationships and wisdom I missed out on when I was LDS because I thought my religion had the right answers to the hardest questions. Your faith system is valid, and how dare anyone ridicule you for living what you believe with integrity. But by the same token, yours is not by any means the only valid faith system, nor is it the only path whereby people build meaningful relationships, make meanimgful commitments, perform loving service, make connections with diverse individuals, etc. In fact, outside your faith people independently organize or do these things just because they have a natural human inclination to be happy. Believe it's possible and you'll start to see it everywhere...even outside your stake.

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    1. I completely agree Lara... and I would bet the majority of Mormons do too. I think the vast majority of us know we don't have a monopoly on truth, or faith, or good works. We just know that we have a pretty good faith system and that it serves us well. Sure, other ones out there may also be amazing, but that shouldn't stop us from sharing ours with others (whether they have one or not). I think the vast, vast majority of LDS members know they don't have the only path whereby people build meaningful relationships, commitments, and give meaningful service. We just enjoy the fact that we have a great path to do so. And we believe it's the best path. There's nothing wrong with that. I really do enjoy your comment and perspective and greatly appreciate your respect that you show. I hope that your path brings you all the happiness and desires of your heart; I certainly believe it will.

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    2. Thanks, I appreciate your response. Believing that one belief system is 'the best' is not a benign position, though, and acceptamce of such an extremely ideologically-derived world-view s in itself one of the cultural mores of religions in general that I think draws such revulsion from secular citizens to the idea of a national leader of any evangelical religious persuasion, LDS or otherwise.

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    3. Really? I thought believing that democracy is "best," at least given the current options, is something most people expect of a President.

      Maybe believing the belief system of democracy is better than other governments is dangerous. But it's probably also dangerous to believe all systems of belief about gov't are equally valid...

      Ugh. I'm already dizzy and I haven't even got to religion yet...

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    4. Of course there is good, better, best. There are murderers and there are life savers, and all different levels in between, both spiritually and temporally. The ones on the life-saving end are better. If you're not going to take the time and effort to sort through it all, fine. But don't try to convince me that all belief systems are equally good when it's obvious from real-life outcomes that they aren't.

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  61. I'm currently serving as the ward mission leader in my area. Your post brought me back to my mission, and the subsequent "mission" experiences I've had since then serving in the various callings that have come my way, and, most importantly, as a father and husband.

    Becoming a "Latter-day Saint" is a never-ending process. Thanks for giving me a shot of the spirit and perspective.

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  62. What a great response. The attacks on Mormonism seem to be growing greater and greater with each passing day. It's great that you can use your obvious talent for writing respond to such attacks. I'm really glad I read this today. Thanks so much!!

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  63. I don't think the author of the opinion letter to which this post responds would disagree with much written here. This impassioned response seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

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  64. Excellent. Well said. I'm often amazed when people think of Mormons as close minded, narrow, unaware of the world. As a visiting teacher, and wife of a Bishop, I am in contact with a MUCH larger cross section of life than most (I'd even venture to say all) of my upper middle class suburban neighbors.

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  65. Somehow I can't help but think that in Christ's life many around him thought he was aloof to the things of the world. I imagine the people chanting for Christ to be crucified, and my heart goes out to them because they didn't know who they had in their midst. It is so easy for us to be blind and so hard to truly see. My mission experiences taught me similar lessons about opening my eyes to try and see the good in all people. Doesn't always work but trying to be like Jesus is a never ending process. Great blog post - thank you.

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  66. Thank you for writing this. I've been so disturbed by all those hateful Op-eds about Mormons in the New York times. This was just what I needed to read to clear my head.

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  67. James,

    I'm really happy I know people like you.

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  68. Thank you for this. It's great.

    Anonymous up there -- so sorry you've chosen to put Latter-day Saints in a box like that. Open your mind.

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  69. I don't know much about the Mormon church, but your post gave me a glimpse into your life of service and I applaud that.

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  70. Very well spoken sir...

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  71. Ich kann nur aus dieser artikel behaputen das die beste missionare werden immernoch nur nach Deutschland geschickt. Ich hab' geheult. Danke.

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    1. Die besten Missionare werden nicht nach Deutschland geschickt. Ganz normale Missionare werden nach Deutschland geschickt, aber wir lernen und erfahren so viel von Ihnen dass es nachher scheint, als waeren wir schon vorher die besten.
      Und wenn ich Gott suchen will, ab und zu fange ich an in Google Maps. Denn ich weiss, dass es einen lebendigen Gott in Gera, Eilenburg, Eberswalde, und Berlin gibt.

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    2. Ich bin vor drei Monaten von meiner Mission nach Hause geflogen, und ich habe den himmlischen Vater und seinen Sohn immer wieder und immer tiefer dort kennengelernt. Ich weiß ebenfalls, dass es einen lebendigen Gott in Göppingen, Ludwigsburg, Dornbirn, und Landshut gibt.

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  72. Thanks, Brother.

    -Kathryn (Hartvigsen) Crosby

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  73. Thank you for writing this--it really spoke to my soul. I've never thought about my life or my mission in quite this way before. But I have been there too. We taught a woman from Rwanda whose entire family was killed in the massacres--when she learned about the doctrine of eternal families, I cannot even tell you how powerfully beautiful the light was that shone in her eyes. We taught a refugee from the former Yugoslavia who had seen and felt so much pain that she tried to take her life by jumping in front of a train--she was miraculously saved, and I will never forget how her story impacted me. We went to broken-down apartment buildings in the banlieue of France shortly after the 2005 riots to visit bed-ridden old women and bring comfort to lonely wives abandoned by their husbands. I hope you really do send this in to Ian Williams. It needed saying and you said it well.

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  74. The response to the Times article was very well put. I may have missed something, but was the response sent to the Times and was it published? It expressed many of my frustrations with the media and its deliberate portrayal of Mormons as a people who are lost in space and have no clue about the "real" world. Being in the world but not of it is a lifetime pursuit and requires the drawing of lines that are sometimes fine lines, but which nevertheless must be drawn. I have always felt that my limitations were in spite of, and not because of, my experiences in the church and with the Gospel. Well done.

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  75. It's nice to run across good people who can actually go toe-to-toe with those who like to skewer the people with their own prejudices and double-talk. His problem does sound pretty obvious, doesn't it? He has a huge chip on his shoulder, and he feels that someone wronged him, and he can't get over it. Plenty of people have felt oppressed by trying to live within a set of standards they can't handle, but they don't all attack that organization or people. I think it's enough to admit that you can't live up to it...I find myself admitting that all the time.

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  76. And, for what it's worth, is Mr Williams saying that you can't understand, or sympathize with, or even help a drug addict, for instance, unless you've been one yourself? That thinking is a little flawed, isn't it? I must admit, I'd much rather be the one helping, than the one trying to overcome an addiction that might haunt me for the rest of my life. All because I did not want to be 'forced' to live by a standard that I believe I can't live up to? I'm going to have to give this one some more thought...

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  77. Beautifully written. Thank you.

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  78. Was this submitted? Please tell me it was submitted to the editor... Please. :)

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  79. Unbelievably eloquant. I served in North Germany in the early 70's and had many of the same experiences, but I never could have expressed it so well.

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  80. I have plastered this everywhere....I loved it!!
    please come by my blog...bleachervision.blogspot.com
    I am discussing the government mandate on healthcare in a very different way

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  81. Wonderful post, thank you. I lived in Leipzig from 2007-2010 and loved it. I've heard some of those same stories that show humanity no one would ever find in a club.

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  82. Very nice. Specificity. It always clarifies the point. Love your examples - love your turn of phrase. Way to speak.

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  83. Good post.

    Who's Ian Williams?

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  84. This essay is brilliant. Thank you!

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  85. Wow. I mean really, WOW. How incredibly moving. Thank you so much.
    It seems so ironic to me that these people, like Ian Williams, think that they are so wise and knowledgeable and experienced in the world around them...when the truth is that they are quite ignorant. Thank you for, so eloquently, setting things straight.

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  86. The Mormon church dictates how many earrings their female members may have. One per ear. Women may not wear open toed sandals to church meetings.

    The Mormon church dictates the color of dress shirt men should wear on Sunday to church: white. Other colors are not approved, and if you do wear a different colored shirt, you are showing your rebel stripes. How exactly is this not stifling and conformist?

    These outward expressions of Mormonism reflect an institutional tenant of Mormonism: unquestioning obedience.

    A Mormon missionary is not in a foreign country to broaden his horizons or experience the local culture. He can't do the things that would allow him to see his own culture differently. He can't watch TV, listen to the radio, attend cultural events, or even go to the beach. He is there with the objective of imposing his religious culture on the people around him. Missionaries are stifled and cloistered away from anything that would allow them to experience life outside of Mormonism.

    Yes, missionaries see culture, but in the same way scientists watch aboriginal tribesmen. They don't get it. I know because I was one.

    Mormons trying to argue that Mormons "get it" is like the kids in the highschool band trying to argue that they are cool and that band is the greatest thing on earth. To them it is, to everyone else it is not.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I assure you that where I taught High School (inner city DC) the kids in the band were cool, and they didn't have to argue it because the whole student body loved them. Your comment shows how little "you get it." The world is beautiful because everyone is different, and everyone admires different things.

      I'm sorry you are disgruntled at the LDS Church, but spending your time ridiculing their commandments won't help you find peace.

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    3. I think it's the lens of consumer culture that makes us feel that wearing a shirt of whatever color we please--and having people actively affirm us in our design choice--is some sort of deep sign of personal identity and freedom. So most Mormon men wear white shirts and ties to church--is that so sinister?

      I also think it's a consumer mindset that has convinced you that watching local TV, going to a concert, or hanging out on the beach is somehow a more "real" way of getting to know people than being in their homes and talking to them about God and what life means.

      My point is that we are out of touch through a lens of consumer culture, not through some absolute, objective lens. Just sayin'.

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    4. Also, a minor picky point the English teacher in me just has to raise. You say: "Yes, missionaries see culture, but in the same way scientists watch aboriginal tribesmen. They don't get it. I know because I was one."

      There's a bit of a pronoun reference problem there. See, strictly from the sentence structure I can't tell whether you were a missionary, a scientist, or an aborginal tribesman...

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    5. @jamesgoldberg If you want to deconstruct white shirt versus colored shirt, let's take it to the next level. Does God care what type of shirt you wear to Sunday services? Does He care whether you wear a tie? Does He care if your shoes are polished and your nails clean? All of the self-presentation dynamics of worship services can be critiqued, and on a much deeper level than "consumer culture".

      Cormack McCarthy wouldn't disapprove of my stylistic use of pronouns, so I'm not sure I should care that you do.

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    6. Well, I sure hope God doesn't care, 'cause I've worn a tie to church all of once or twice in the past eight years. But I'm OK being one of the few who doesn't wear a tie without denouncing the community as "stifling"--over clothes. Especially considering everybody still seems happy that I come to church.

      As for the pronoun use: if Cormack McCarthy is on your side, I will admit defeat. Though the image of an aboriginal scientist on a mission was a very nice one...

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    7. @jamesgoldberg I enjoyed your piece. I think that often people who consider themselves secular and sophisticated oversimplify religious culture so they can dismiss it.

      Mormonism provided me with opportunities to get outside of my day to day selfish endeavors. It also kept me from meeting people on their level because the Mormon lens is so confining. When drinking is evil, those who drink are evil, and thus suspect.

      My wife and I live next door to the lead council for the LDS church on the Prop 8 litigation. My wife drives a car with a marriage equality sticker in the window.

      When I am out of town, he will shovel the end of our driveway so my wife can make it through the snow. When he was out of town this month working on the Prop 8 case, I shoveled his driveway and took his garbage cans to the curb.

      I would vigorously disagree with his political positions and attempts to impose his religious values to prevent others from marrying, but he is a good man and a great neighbor. When we had our baby, his wife arranged meals for us for several days through the relief society.

      Whenever we paint a caricature of a culture we get it wrong, especially at the margins.

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    8. corporatepolicies: Classy response. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    9. corporatepolicies: I think what you have to understand about the so-called "dress code" at LDS church services is that it has more to do with the spirit of the law than the letter of the law. We are not commanded or even required to wear suits and dresses to church, but we are asked to wear our very best in an outward symbol of the reverence we feel for the Lord and his house. I don't think God does care what shoes or shirt or tie we wear, but he does care that we show appropriate respect to the sacredness of the meetings we are attending. The sacrament that we take at church is a holy ordinance, not a casual one.

      That said, I can promise you I have never attended a church meeting where anyone announced that men must wear white shirts and ties, and that anyone who didn't was wicked and should be cast out. I've never been told I can't wear open-toed shoes to church, but I have been taught that beachy flip-flops are probably a little too casual for church meetings. Still, even with all of these guidelines in place, I have never been shocked or offended to see a man in a colored shirt or a woman wearing flip-flops. Some individuals may be outraged to see casual attire at church, but people are not perfect, and I can assure you that those whose pride and ignorance cause them to judge others do not represent the opinion or policy of the church as a whole.

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    10. Promise you, you can wear open toe shoes to church, They don't want you to wear them to them temple unless you had some kind of foot issue that required it, and it would be no for a mission. Same obviously for the elders. AND the bishopric (for shirts) but otherwise really if you walk into a church you will see men wearing other shirt colors and woman with sandals. Sometimes that is all woman can afford, or they have swollen feet and can't fit into regular dress shoes. For the earings they have asked woman to stop doing more then one earing once woman started piercing up and down multiple times. None of these issue's are make or break your not a mormon any longer, however.

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  87. BEAUTIFUL. Thank you! I really appreciate this because you put what I wanted to say to so many people into words for me. It is hard to explain our religion sometimes to other people who have distorted views about it.

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  88. Followed a link from Facebook -- and so glad I did. Please submit this to NYT! I think you have said what so many of us feel. I can't help but give thanks that some of the adverse attention has given rise to stirring responses like your own! More people need to read what you have written -- so put it out there, brother!

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  89. Wow! Thank you for saying so eloquently what my heart yearned to express.

    Compassion and love are not commodities that you display for public consumption and trade on a market...they are a way of life. Typically, the most moving expression of compassion is only evident to two people: The person giving and the person receiving. Often, that is way it is supposed to be. Other times, you miss it because you were looking for the wrong things. That may be the case here.

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  90. Thank you for this post. I thought it was very well written, but I find one fact missing (and I might have just missed it) - The ridicule that comes from disgruntled critics mainly supports trivial things. If they were to look at "Mormonism" as a whole, not at individual "Mormons" who may do/say certain things or live their belief a certain way, these critics might find less to complain about. Does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourage people to be good or bad? Do the principles, commandments, admonitions that its members are expected to follow lead to a beneficial member of society, or harmful one? (Never mind your opinion of said commandments, etc). Are we looking at the facts, or opinions? And are we getting our facts from reliable sources (ie the actual Church) or misinformed, angry people who voluntarily left something that once held great importance to them? If it is the latter, are we sure that person isn't inflecting personal grudges and sticking to just the facts? If the end result of our investigations come to find that "Mormons" are trying their best (same as everyone else in this world) to be the best person they can be while respecting others to make the same choice, where really does their argument stand? Whether or not each individual member of the Church decides to live up to ALL of the Church's standards is up to that person, but to categorize ALL members as the same annoying neighbor you remember growing up with is unjust.
    It irks me to no end that people come up with randomness, or half truths, and pass it off as fact. No, women are not allowed to hold the priesthood, but we are not any less important in the eyes of God. Neither one can be "saved" without the other. In my feministic point of view I like to think that women are great and men need the priesthood to be just as great. :) To the argument that women can't hold positions of authority, that is a yes and a no. No, they don't hold priesthood authority, but only a woman can be the president of the woman's organization (Relief Society). Typically women are also the primary president in a ward. This all goes back to men and women having different roles to perform on earth. By nature women are more nurturing, so why is it so many people can't comprehend that they would also be best at callings in the primary? Men, by nature, are leaders and protectors, so it would also make sense that they would preside over the organization of the Church. Isn't it interesting that the very things each sex is good at are the very roles God asks them to perform? Now, not every man/woman falls within this stereotype, but the majority do. In no way does this mean that men can't be (or aren't) nurturing, or that women can't be (or aren't) good leaders. We each have a bit of both in us. Some characteristics are just stronger than others and are more developed depending on your life circumstances.
    I appreciate the candidness of this article and the attempt to set things right that might have gone wrong. I, too, wish more people could read it and gain another view to add to their monocular vision.
    Oh, and since when did having a monogamous relationship become a fad? Most people who make unselfish decisions about their life's values aren't looking for multiple partners or to get married and divorced multiple times. I find it comforting to hear people of many different faiths defend the choice to be faithful to just one, despite what the media would want us to believe.

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  91. Bravo. Well said. And thank you.

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  92. THAT is exactly the way I see Mormonism; WELL SAID! And thank you!!!! :D

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  93. Typical response to someone who sees your group for what it is, odd. You're not like us and never will be. The relevency of your life experience and good deeds has little to do with the image your church has. Its polygamous, misogynist and racist past haunts you in such a way that the mere mention of something negative, triggers a defense not unlike the kid with cookie in hand, arms behind back, swearing he wasn't in the jar. Your kind spend more time defending your beliefs and history while, if said history weren't so jaded and beliefs so clearly man mad you could move on. That's not the case though. Apologists of this church have a full time job defending something so clearly false, made up and plagiarized from the bible. It still amazes that in 2012 those so desperate to see and feel god consider a book concocted by a crook to be the most truthful thing on earth.

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    1. VodkaChronic,

      Re: "You're not like us and never will be"--I only wish that were more true. But we, too, make a lot of mistakes and sometimes say generalized, prejudiced things.

      Oh well. We are working on becoming unlike you and staying that way. Perhaps someday we will live up to your inadvertent praise. ;)

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    2. Holy cow, man. You must be the most patient person on earth.

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    3. This is coming from someone whose profile title is "VodkaChronic"? I hope I'm not ever like you. No worries.

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  94. Thanks! I enjoyed every bit of this. It's really incredible to see what a powerful impact good communication can have on people. I'd like to be more like you, Bro. Goldberg, because you have your priorities straight. See you in class on Wednesday :)

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  95. An incredibly well written response to a biased and skewed opinion. The title of Mr. William's article could have been: "Jesus Christ Just Didn't Get It" and then substitute Christ for Mormon and it would have had as much relevance. Why do I say that? Because Christ commanded us to be in the world but not of it--the same as Himself. Mr. Williams seems to think we have to be "of the world" in order to "get it". I totally disagree.

    I was fortunate to have the type of personality to hear good advice and take it. I didn't have to participate in drugs, alcohol and promiscuity to know that those were dead end means to happiness. I learned that self-discipline, delayed gratification and obedience brings true happiness and prevents sorrow and regret. I guess Mr. Williams would have the farmer jump in the wallow with the pigs so he could understand farming! haha

    It has been my experience and observation that there are certain so called "elitists" who speak with authority on subjects without every really knowing what they are talking about. Mr. Williams sounds like one of them. He criticizes Mormon culture and customs while not seeing his own for what it is--imperfect, flawed and, in many cases, unhealthy.

    As to the point of his article, I would say that I would prefer a president that hadn't done drugs, that hadn't cheated on his wife, that didn't pit one person against another in class envy, a person that has lived his live based on good principles and has honored his commitments and promises. Oh, to have a president like that would be a blessing to the whole nation. Goodness knows we will still have plenty of congressmen and senators to give us the "real world" example.

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  96. If the NY times had the guts to run that editorial piece they'd become a true news paper.
    I, like so many, am frustrated with the hardness of the souls and coldness of the closed minds that have taken over the world. The people who follow the puppets and blame anyone with an open mind for all of the wrong things in the world.
    I grew up in the 60's. I thought the peace and love spoken about was so cool. I went in that direction and then stumbled across the church. Well, my story is deeper than that. I asked and was led. Today, there are so many good people in the world who fear being themselves. There are so many people who fear being associated with what the yearn for. I'd rather die than live a lie. But, I'll live the truth until I die whether it is from the hand of God who from the hand of someone terrified.
    Thank you for writing that. Very well done. You brought great thoughts to my mind and the Holy Ghost did touch me as I read certain parts of it.
    I envy your mission. Perhaps someday I'll have the ability to have one of my own. Until then, a member missionary.
    John Stevens

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  97. One of the best blog posts I've ever read, seriously. Thanks.

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  98. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. So...I'm cool with people raising historical questions, but I delete comments that link to anti-Mormon websites.

      The previous comment made points about Joseph Smith sometimes using only a seer stone in a hat (and not the plates at all) when translating the Book of Mormon. It also mentioned court cases against Joseph Smith--I think it was referring to an early one based around the treasure seeking thing referenced briefly in JSH. And it mentioned the radical differences between the Egyptian funery text that inspired the Book of Abraham and the text of the scriptural book.

      If you are into history, I would recommend starting with Bushman's "Rough Stone Rolling" for a detailed historical account that tries to put things in context rather than maximizing sensational impact. You might also read some solid historians' works on 19th century America to get an idea what the world around Joseph Smith looked like before you try to understand his relationship to it.

      All history is complicated. Don't flatter yourself into thinking you've found the whole truth by browsing 150-year-old accusations on the internet.

      Delete
  99. Did you see that Daniel Petersen took your concept and rewrote it using his own experiences and published it in the Feb. 16 Deseret news. You should sue them.

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    1. No, I hadn't seen that. That's kind of funny. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765551094/Are-Mormons-spared-from-reality-Hardly.html?pg=1

      Well, I think he makes a good point. Although I would have done it without quoting quite such a long passage of "I am a Rock."

      Come to think of it, I DID do it without quoting any of that song...

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  100. I thought this post was beautiful. Thank you.

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  101. "Oh that I were an angel and could have the wish of mine heart" ....this is exactly what I would write. Thank you for the beauty I experienced at your hand today.

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  102. Why are only mormons commenting on this?

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  103. I understand that you have had the opportunity to experience a deeper view of many people and places due to your Mormon duty as a missionary. I would however like to point out that being a Christian and experiencing life from a Christian perspective is much the same in the amazing people and places we get to experience...it is about following Jesus and sharing his Grace as our Savior not Mormonism... I would hope that would be your future focus.

    Sincerely,

    A Now Christian ex-Mormon

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    1. I think a life of service has a great human depth whether it's a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or a Protestant or a Catholic. And it's not just we Christians: a Muslim, a Sikh, or an atheist who serves will have a depth of direct human experience that adds richness to his or her life.
      My point in defense of my faith is hardly exclusive to one faith: I just wish people who think their worldview is more sophisticated than mine would give mine credit for having some substance. (Even if they don't, though, it still works great for me.)

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  104. I wish you could still enter the McKay contest but I'm glad to still be able to read you here. I so needed this, James. Thanks for your brilliance.

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    1. I also wish that I could still enter the McKay contest--and only partly for financial reasons. ;) It was lovely to have an incentive and a deadline to help motivate me to craft essays on applied gospel topics. Thank goodness for O.C. Tanner for funding the contest and people like you for running it.

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  105. What a lovely, beautifully written post. Any chance you would submit it to the New York Times opinion section, where the post you are replying to was originally published?

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    1. After numerous recommendations that I do so, I this piece with a note about how resonant it's been to so many Mormons to the New York Times "Room for Debate" section. I very much doubt the NYT would ever publish this piece because of its length, but I did include suggestions for future debate topics that might break down instead of reinforce antagonistic stereotypes about Mormons, and I'm hoping that maybe they'll listen to those suggestions.

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  106. James, thank you so much for writing this, it was so inspiring. I know that doesn't mean as much coming from someone you don't know, but I really appreciated this piece.

    And thank you, mom, for sending it to me.

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  107. I'm an RM, married and still young and all that and lately have been thinking that I missed out on a lot of life because I took that route rather than what a typical young person is doing at my age. This article made me realize how ignorant I was and that the experiences I have had are far better than any other thing I could have been doing at this age. I have been selfish and ignoring all the amazing experiences and people that have taught me so much and I just want to thank you for pointing out to me all that I have had without realizing it. I don't know if this fully explaines what I mean to say but thank you.

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    1. Your reaction means a lot to me. Thanks you so much for sharing.

      We live in a larger culture that has different values and perspectives than our smaller religious culture--and sometimes we start to see ourselves as if from the outside. Which can be good, for a moment. But is bad if it means we start to undervalue our own rich culture and experience.

      I think careful, thoughtful Mormon writing has an important role to play in addressing that.

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  108. This is amazing. Thank you for putting the Church's culture out there with as little ire possible, and for not intending to put anybody down by proving that we are separate but not blind.

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  109. Great piece! I have not served a mission, but I was an apartment manger for a low income housing unit (did not normally get fed or state money) and worked with a lot of members and non members and really got to know these people and got to be apart of their life. The stories I could tell. I really opens your eyes, and I have a more moderate take on things now. I worked a lot with our Bishop and Relief Society Presidency with not only the members that needed help but the non members as well. That's right they were more then happy to help non members too, that were not going to church, nor were planning on it either. Not just pay rent but food and when one families apartment burned down, they provided a lot of assistance within 24 hours...with no expectation of anything back in return. I have had to watch woman be abused by their boyfriends, fish drugs out of an apartment (without the new tenants realize what I was doing), Call CPS on tenants, Not call CPS on a Tenant..when I should of., Go to the County Jail to pick up Rent from a tenant (that was loads of fun........not)...and I could go on...

    If someone assumed that all I knew was Molly Mormonville I would cackle in laughter..they have.no.idea!

    I also met some wonderful people I still consider my friend. We had a wonderful elderly gentlemen who was deaf on social security. We normally did not take section 8 housing as it was a pain to do, but our owner felt for him it was worth it because he was so limited on his income. I"ll call him G. G was nearly wearing Rags at this point. He didn't want to move though, because two other deaf people lived near by and as you can imagine he really liked living near deaf people. So we worked real hard to get his apartment approved for section 8 housing (the list of things you have to do is insane LOL). Section 8 housing paid for about half of his rent, so he only paid half..he actually got to go and buy new clothes..which he hadn't done in probably 15 years. It brought tears to our eyes!!! So worth it! These are the things that I will cherish forever.

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    1. Awesome stories!

      My idea of heaven involves a lot of time sitting down with people we've known and laughing good and hard about all the crazy times we went through together on earth.

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  110. Thank you very much for this post. As a young adult in college, there are so many voices around me that pull and push in different directions. As a Mormon, I felt that your conclusion truly captured what I truly believe, and what it truly means to be a REAL person. Thank you again. This will help me a lot.

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