I don’t think that it is a secret that I am Mormon. At least, I haven’t tried to make it a secret. Think what you want about what that means, but what I really hope you’ll do for me before you read this post is assume that my intentions are pure and good. That’s truly all I ask is that you have a little leap of faith in that. If you want to pick apart what I’ve said, feel free to do so, but do so with the understanding that I am only trying to speak from my heart, not to start an argument.
Millenials are known for a lot of things that are unique to the last century (at least since the 1920’s, did you know that our generations are very similar?) such as the desire to work to “make a difference” or the expectation to be a millionaire by the age of 30 (or both, that seems to somehow be the goal for many of us). I am not exempt from such grandiose ideas. On any given day you might find me spouting about some schematic design to change the world with a business plan that I have no resources to fulfill. However, I take some pride in being able to admit that I can be grandiose (hence my blog title).
Ask a Millenial what their political affiliation will be and they will most likely tell you that they are “independent” or “non-partisan” (I will admit that I am guilty about that). Ask them what race they are and they will spend the next 20 minutes explaining where their grandparents are from and what part Native American they are (I have also been guilty of that). They write open letters to people who have been rude to them because they want to make sure the world knows their intentions (again, guilty here). Ask them what their religion is and they will tell you what religion they were raised with but then say that they consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”. They don’t want to be put in a box because they don’t like to think you will choose not to get to know them based on one thing you know about them. They want validation and to be celebrated for being different from everyone else. I won’t comment on whether these are good things or bad things- after all, every generation has its dark spots, so who is anyone to judge? However, the one issue that has struck my interest is that Millenials are much less religious than their forefathers and foremothers, and every religion is suffering an exodus of members due to this mentality.
Here is where I will always be different than other Millenials. I am madly and unapologetically religious. I am spiritual, too, but I am Sunday church-attending, 10% of my meager income-paying, and serve the saint and sinner alike type of religious.
I am madly religious because my religion and my faith in Jesus Christ and what Mormons consider His restored gospel and restored priesthood have saved my life in distinct ways. I cannot deny this and I know that if I do, I will have undone all of the hard work that many others have put into my well-being; and that would be terribly selfish of me. I won’t publicly share all of the details in order to protect the dignity of some other people in my life, but my story is unique and yet not unique in the way that it has brought me exactly to the place that I am in now and I have nothing to complain about. If you want to know, ask me. I am an open book about my life.
One perspective about religion that I want to bring to the table is this: Religion isn’t about piety or self-rejection. Religion isn’t about forcing others to abide by your standards. Religion isn’t about ethnocentrism, race-superiority, and brainwashing. To me, being religious means being a resource for something good- nay, great (and for my own case, life-saving)- in someone else’s life. It means serving someone else regardless of their own self-accountability. It means lifting up others simply because I know what it’s like to need that strength. For me, religion fosters the personal touch and connectedness that human existence is badly craving in our technologically-addicted world. Religion provides a social, emotional, and spiritual support that is essentially unobserved anywhere else. Religion can be a resting place for a weary and confused head, and a comfort from the storm.
Most shelters, food banks, social service supports, and therapy centers are run by religious institutions. Among my cohort in my Master’s program (I am currently working on my MSW), a large majority of them have admitted that their religion motivates them to do their work in the social services. In fact, the U.S. cultural standards about equality and the protection of minorities and individual freedoms can be traced to our religious roots. Just some things to think about.
I am currently interning with Jewish Family Services (we provide community services regardless of religious affiliation) in Capitol Hill, Seattle. My time there has been immensely uplifting and I feel so at home and welcome. I met with the spiritual educator a couple of weeks ago and our conversation was so spiritually uplifting, I feel like I must carry this memory with me my whole life. What I really loved, though, was something she said when I asked her about how Judaism motivates the mission of JFS. She simply said that serving fellow neighbors is what it means to be a good Jew. There is no expected reward, it’s just what you do. In fact, the opportunity to serve is the reward in itself.
This was one of those moments when I knew I was receiving truth. Do you know what I am referring to? Not just a simple inspiring thought, or a validating experience, but that feeling you get inside where you just know it’s truth and you cannot deny it even if you wanted to. That the only way to reconcile your feelings is if you concede to that admission.
Except, that I am not a Jew, so how can I say that it’s truth for me? The principle in Mormonism is the same- to be a good Mormon, you serve other people. Serving other people can come in many forms and doesn’t have to be under the umbrella of religion, but in my experience it is incredibly effective.
I admit that not all religions act in this way. Do you see areas where your religion needs improvement? Then improve it. Criticism and fault-finding adds to the noise of contention, but filling the holes of your religion with your own works motivates others to do the same and will do so much more good.
I am not sure what I wanted to accomplish with this post- simply that just because everyone else around you seems to be leaving your church, doesn’t mean you are alone and should leave, too. If it means anything, you can remember that I am not and will not. I refuse to think that spirituality only has something to do with how it benefits me or adds to my ideals. I believe that fostering true spirituality comes when I practice my religion and worship; but the application of my spirituality in services to others is a binding force that I choose to foster because I have personally been the recipient of the wonderful fruits of religion.