An hour-long bus ride into Taipei and the movie I came here to see is sold out.
So now I’m sitting in a McDonald’s basement, munching French fries and listening to the club/house music they’re piping through the speakers.
I think I should be more upset about the movie and wasted time, but I decide it’s an opportunity to reflect.
Yesterday I was invited to attend a service at the Keelung Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. So today I went, because “why not?” is my version of “YOLO.”
Growing up, I knew very little about LDS. I think when I was really little I thought it was the Church of Ladder Day Saints (whatever that would look like, maybe saints climbing up ladders to heaven?). Probably the most I knew about them came from the South Park episode about Mormons. Then there’s a memory of my older cousin – a Baptist – mentioning how their beliefs were weird. Also, the commercials on late night cable television telling you to join today! In high school, I knew four LDS members, but no one talked about their religious beliefs at school, so this thing remained an enigma wrapped in caricature.
It wasn’t until I went to their meeting today that I remembered there’s an LDS meetinghouse five minutes from my old home in Wilmette. Until now, its only significance was the parking lot, where police cars lurked at night waiting to catch you speeding down Lake Street.
How wild is life? I could’ve gone five minutes and instead I’ve had to go half way around the world to get more informed.
I really didn’t know what to expect. Although I’m not religious, I’ve been to a variety of religious ceremonies. People talk, people sing, people pray.
This was all true of today, except it was all a video – a pre-recording of their semiannual conference that happened in Salt Lake last week. I sat around a table with two girls (“Sisters”) and four boys (“Elders”) and watched a screen. The boys wore white short-sleeves with ties and the girls wore ankle length skirts.
At first I thought: Oh my god, a video? IDK if I can sit through two hours of this. I guess I expected someone to talk live, but it really wasn’t that bad once it got going. I learned a lot. Like Joseph Smith was murdered?! They did not mention that in the South Park episode. And the weird state road signs in Utah, which at first I thought were poops*, are actually beehives, which symbolize the church. According to one Elder, the LDS members are like the industrious bees** that find refuge from the dangerous world within their hive; like Zion, a land of honey. I asked the Elder what he thought about the fact that bees may soon be extinct. He said that would be a shame. I thought, but did not say, that trying to explain this bee metaphor to an LDS youth in a post-bee world would assume a mythical quality, which is, I think, a lot like scripture itself. Also like dinosaurs. I know dinosaurs existed, but it’s hard to really think about them and the Earth at that time. I think: I wonder what the dinosaur that lived in the land near my house did day-to-day. Terrence Malick’s dinosaur sequence in The Tree of Life helps one imagine, but still.
Anyway, I learned a lot of interesting philosophy, that when stripped of the words God or Jesus, still hold significance in my secular mind.
After two hours of the main conference, I stayed for another two hours to watch the women’s conference, because, why not?
I was worried this would be a whole thing about subservience and women’s importance in the home, but it wasn’t all that. Obviously, LDS values family, but it was not the only thing they spoke of during the women’s conference. They talked about the importance of the temple and showed some temples around the world and I have to tell you, LDS temples are GORGEOUS. Gosh golly, that architecture.
After that ended I was thoroughly tired of sitting and ready to go. They asked me if I wouldn’t mind coming back to speak with them next week, and like the pushover that I am, I said yes. They’re awfully nice people. And I hate to say no to people, especially when they’re nice. So I’ll be back next Thursday. They asked if I preferred they meet me at my house, but I was able to say no to that.
Here’s the thing: LDS seems pretty cool. The people seem nice. One speaker during the conference preached tolerance in the face of a changing world, which is nice that they mentioned issues like marijuana and gay marriage without bringing judgment and hate. They abbreviate their name into LDS. All these things are cool. But I just don’t think I’m a believer. My opinions about Christianity are a lot like my opinions of the musician Pink: I think she’s a good person, I think her music has a good message and helps a lot of people; but I personally don’t like the way it sounds. I’ve tried to believe. I have an open mind to most things, and God is one of them. But it has so far been impossible for me to believe Jesus is the Son*** of God. I plan to tell them this and hopefully save them from wasting time on me.
A speaker today, when mentioning the difficulties Joseph Smith encountered, said: “We do not abandon something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand.” This is certainly true of my mindset during AP Calculus. But it is not true of my feelings towards religious concepts like miracles or afterlives. Maybe they’ll convince me otherwise. Maybe I’ll begin to believe. Maybe it will become truth. I’ll keep an open mind.
*I didn’t actually think this but they really do look like they could be poop.
***Microsoft Word autocorrected lowercase “son of God” to uppercase “Son of God.” Just thought you’d like to know that…