*This is not about last Sunday, but rather, the end of my in-depth experience with the LDS of Taiwan.
If you chalk up every unforeseen event to circumstance, you deny the potential significance inherent in every moment.
Over a month ago, I told Sisters Walker and Tate that I was done meeting with them, i.e., I was done trying my hand at Mormonism. I was dreading this moment since I first started this whole exploration. I came into it with an open-mind, but at the start, there was probably a 0.01% chance that I would actually get Baptized (I’m not really a forever person. The idea of consigning myself to something forever is terrifying. And the thought that this conscription could have celestial consequences is too much. So I guess, even if I didn’t believe, the thought that this all could be true would actually keep me from getting Baptized because I’d be too afraid of reneging on my deal and then being horrible. Does that make any sense?). And that’s OK, Sisters Price and Knight, the first Keelung Sisters, told me. Faith starts as a seed. With constant care – go to church, keep the commandments, read scriptures, pray – that seed will grow into a tree. This is an analogy from the book of Mormon (Alma). Sister Tate reminded me of it as we sat, the three of us, around a table at Starbucks.
“How long does it take a tree to grow big and strong?”
“Yes, I know it’s not an immediate thing, but it’s been months and I feel nothing. I think that’s a sign that nothing’s gonna grow, you know.”
I expected our conversation to be 15 minutes, but it lasted the full hour. They probed me about why I didn’t think the Book of Mormon was true, and why I was giving up trying to find it’s truth. This did this in a very respectful way, so I told them honestly why I was done. It was difficult, because I didn’t want to offend them and I worried I would. But I was reassured when Sister Tate, who I’d only just met, said about 40 minutes into our talk: “I’m sorry if it seems like we’re just asking you so many questions. We’re not trying to be mean. You’re being honest with us so we just want to be honest with you and figure out what you’re thinking. It helps us.”
Being honest seemed the least I could do. I didn’t say the whole truth, like how I hadn’t been diligently reading the Book of Mormon. I had been on vacation and away from church for 3 weeks. So maybe that’s why my persistence was waning. But on the Sunday before my Monday Starbucks meeting, I did go to church. And I fasted. And I prayed. And I said: “If I’m not supposed to go, show me why I should stay?” It didn’t need to be a big sign. I’ve been known to run with the smallest coincidences and assign them huge significance. Just something that would tell me it’s worth it.
My first church experience was a testimony meeting and I remember thinking: <em>Wow, these people are so moved by their faith. I want to understand that. I want to </em>feel<em> that</em>.
At my last Sunday, also a testimony meeting, I sat in the pew and heard testimonies from members. I felt so detached from the conviction, from the emotion. I thought: <em>this is not for me. These are not my people. They’re wonderful, but I’m not one of them</em>.
I didn’t say this to the Sisters. At the end of our conversation in Starbucks, Sister Walker said: “we’re still friends. If you ever need anything, let us know!”
“We can still meet if you want to.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“Do you think you’ll still go to church in Taipei?”
“No, I think not because I’d feel like I’m lying because this isn’t my truth, you know?”
“They wouldn’t think that at all. They’re very welcoming.”
I knew that. And in a way, it’s harder to say goodbye knowing I benefitted from these people hospitality in the form of dinners, discussions, socks (it was a Christmas present), and now I’m just peacin’ out. I feel like I used them. But I don’t think I did. Because I was honest about wanting to learn, wanting to experience, wanting to try. I think <em>now</em> if I kept going, I’d be using them. Wasting their time and mine. But up until now I didn’t feel like I was wasting time. I learned so much about a faith people ridicule with pop culture caricatures instead of trying to understand. I learned about the importance of faith and discipline. I learned about my personal truth.
I thought about that first time I ran into Sisters Knight and Price on the bus to downtown several months ago. Do I wish I’d never met them? No.
So Tuesday, after work, I got on the bus to downtown Keelung to buy some new running shows and there on the bus, Sisters Walker and Tate, returning downtown after helping a ward member.
AWKWARD, RIGHT? It was somewhat. Sister Tate was chatting with locals in Chinese while Walker and I made small talk. She asked me the typical “how are you doing?” questions. I asked some questions about the daily life of a missionary (quite rigorous as I’ve come to understand). You know what would’ve made it more awkward: if I hadn’t been honest in my explanation of why I was done. Or worse, if I hadn’t shown up to our last meeting. If I’d just sent a text message. Or worse yet, if I’d just bailed: no text, no phone call. Stepping onto that bus on Tuesday could’ve been torture, but it wasn’t because I had been respectful and honest with them and they had been respectful and honest with me.
That’s another thing I learned from this experience: honesty. Because it had such a positive effect in my final interaction with the Sisters, I began to implement it in my interactions with more people since then. And it’s continued to yield neutral or positive results. In the past, I feel like I would have preferred to be dishonest at time to try to please people or get a desired result without directly confronting others opinions. I think this is cowardly and derives from a strong aversion to conflict. But recently, I’ve been more open with people, communicating more clearly what I want and don’t want, and I feel much better.
Would this realization and the other’s I’ve experienced through some LDS situation have every happened had I not gone down this path? Perhaps eventually. Like how in a random walk of a long enough duration eventually all paths are traversed. But I have doubts.