I’m lying on my front porch, the sun is beating down on me and I’m sweating. It feels good. Like a certain popular creation story, I’ve been working for six days straight with late nights and early mornings. I’ve finally hit a resting point and I’m taking advantage of it. My eyes are closed and my mind begins to wander. I let it go – I think it’s healthy to put the noggin on auto-pilot from time to time.
While my brain slips away, I open my eyes and stare into the blue, cloudless sky, wondering if God is staring back at me – if his Great Eyes are boring directly into my soul right now, reading my thoughts and seeing me naked. And then my brain wanders a little more and I imagine the big blue sky being completely and entirely empty and Nobody staring at me. I imagine my wife and I sitting on the porch and God nowhere in sight. Nowhere in existence. Nowhere.
I start to slowly turn over these questions, rolling them like a cigarette over the fingers of my soul. Is it possible for me to be sitting here and for God to not exist? Is it possible that God does not exist? Is it possible that I’ve spent my life chasing an empty faith? Bigger yet, if as an individual, I am full of love and compassion and kindness, is God necessary?
Is God necessary? That is a really big question for someone of The Church Culture. To put it into perspective for anyone NOT of The Church Culture, it’s tantamount to a male with children saying, “Is my dong necessary? Sure, I use it from time to time and I certainly like it’s company. It gives me a certain feeling of who I am and I have a good time with it – makes me feel good about myself. I would even say that I have a pretty nice relationship with it, albeit kind of a secret one that I don’t fully indulge the rest of the world to. But do I need it? The way I need food or oxygen? COULD I get by if it suddenly fell off and rolled down the leg of my pants?”
That’s a very crude analogy but I stand by it and give it my stamp of approval.
That is, for most of us, our relationship to God. It’s quiet. It’s tucked away. We don’t expose it to people. We only use it when it’s necessary.. like when we’re really sick or need money we unzip the church and say a prayer.
As a Christian, faith is so frustrating. It’s frustrating for two reasons. The first is that the large majority of people who claim to have faith, don’t treat faith as faith. They treat faith as fact and those are two very different things. Your faith is, by it’s very definition, an act of trust in something that you cannot prove exists. People approach God in the same way that they approach Mount Rushmore – like they can get in their SUV and drive there – get their photo taken with it.
The second thing is that I don’t understand WHY faith is important. I don’t understand why the Great and Powerful God of the Universe and of All Things Everywhere doesn’t tear open the sky, reveal himself to all of us and say, “HERE I AM! I EXIST! NOW BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER ALWAYS AND FOREVER! I’LL BE BACK IN TWENTY YEARS TO REMIND YOUR KIDS!” and then the sky stitches back up and there is zero doubt about the existence of a celestial being that oversees our alien ant farm.
I stare back into that blue sky and now I’m thinking very clearly – my mind is no longer wandering – I’m thinking very intentionally to myself, “I have seen and felt the existence of God in one thousand small ways throughout my life. Little signs that could have been coincidence, things I’ve written off as well as things I’ve held onto. I’ve been very sick in my life and have felt the closeness of a divine being that I can’t explain. I believe in God. I have faith in God. But I’m always circling around it and poking at it and turning it over and trying to figure it out because… it isn’t tangible and I can’t prove it and it is a cause to wonder. But why does God have us dancing around with this faith issue? I don’t understand why it’s necessary to live my life in absolute blind belief. Maybe there’s a purpose I don’t understand. Maybe God keeps this from us for a reason… But I’m still going to ask and I don’t think there’s harm in asking so here we go!”
And then I pick up steam and really get on a roll.
“Why? Why? Why is this necessary? God, if you’re there, why aren’t you tearing open the sky and showing yourself to me? Why aren’t you making yourself known to us? Why aren’t you giving me a sign, something? Something that is more than the wind blowing or a bird chirping? Why does our relationship have to be like an affair – where I sneak away to talk to you and then you never call my house? If you’re real, I want to know it. I want to know that you’re real. I want to know that you’re looking at me and watching me and -“
I guess you could call this a prayer.
Jade cuts me off mid-thought.
She says, “Hey. Look who’s here.”
I sit up and glance over my shoulder.
Walking up my sidewalk are two Mormons. I lift my hand in the air in greeting and say, “You have got to be kidding me.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** ***
The guys are both nineteen years old and one of them is definitely a virgin. I don’t say that in a derogatory way because I believe that virginity is a shiny token that is very important… however, he did have this kind of gloss about him that made me think he’d never unsnapped a bra. The other one was the team leader but I suspect only because he was forced to be. It was clear that he didn’t like to hold the reins.
I offered them each a sparkling water and we sat on my porch for an hour and spoke. Mormon missionaries are truly fascinating creatures. Can you, Reader, imagine something that you’re so passionate about that you go door to door to share with strangers even though you know people cringe when they see you approach? Even though people run and hide in their bedroom closet when you step onto the front porch? Even when the doors slam and the porch lights go out, you keep going. Can you imagine having that kind of passion? For anything? I have a difficult time telling friends about a good book I’ve recently read.
We talk about a great number of things, spanning various topics. They tell me about how “disheartening and kind of humiliating” it is when people slam doors in their faces. Actually slam doors in their faces. AH! Why do you have to do that to me? Give yourself human emotion? And such a strong one! You tell me that you can feel humiliated? All those times I’ve ran away and hid my children in the dryer to shield them from you. “But why, Daddy? Why must we be quiet?” Rory asks. “The Gestapo!” And then I slide the bookcase over the laundry room.
These guys are no longer just flat characters. They’re people. They’re humans. With their own stories. Their own faith. Their own lenses to view life.
I say to them…
“I was born into a middle class, white American Christian home – I’m about as super vanilla as you can imagine – so it’s not surprising that I’m a Christian. You’re born into a Mormon home so you’re Mormon. We’re products of our environments, right? Had any of us been born into an Islam nation, I would place a solid bet that our faith would be quite different. Now, I know you two don’t bet, so I’ll put enough down for all three of us. This is a sure fire thing and I’m taking it to the bank.
“My concern, guys, is this… Have I / you / we been raised up in a culture to believe a very specific thing and have we ever actually lifted our heads up to look around at anything else? I’m sitting here and talking to you today and I’m telling you that I don’t believe in the teachings of Joseph Smith but… I can’t say why. I don’t even know anything about him. And it concerns me that I’m so quick to put on blinders to something I know literally nothing about. The same can be said of my knowledge of all faiths. A couple of my friends are Jewish, I have a cousin who is a Muslim, and my best friend from high school actually joined a Hare Krishna commune where he dawns an orange robe everyday. I’m 110% certain that they are completely wrong in their beliefs and I am also 110% certain that I don’t know why I think that. And I hate that. I hate that I have such blinders on and I can’t seem to shake them off. What if I am being blinded by my culture and The Truth is just outside of my peripheral and I can’t see it because I am unwilling to look? WHAT IF the One True God isn’t the one that I subscribe to and WHAT IF the One True God is waiting for me directly outside my field of vision just waiting for me to shake off everything that man and culture has taught me and just look up.
“And so I’m sitting here right now talking to you two, not because I’m interested in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. I’m interested in The Truth. The Great Truth of The Universe. So here’s my question to you two… if a deity shows up to you one day – purple skinned woman with six arms and an elephants head – and she tells you that you need to leave your Mormon faith and come and follow her because she is Ultimate Truth and the god you’ve been following is built by man and completely imaginary – if that happened – if an actual Divine Celestial Entity came down and spoke to you and called you to a new religion… could you leave your faith? Could you leave behind the faith that has you so passionate that you knock on strangers doors? Could you leave it all if you knew it was built by man and was an imposter religion and that your belief was empty?
They both stare at me. One of them starts to say something about Joseph Smith so I put up my finger. “Why are you here?” I ask.
“No. At my house. There are a lot of houses on this street. Why are you here? Did you start at one end and work your way down?”
“We prayed about it.”
“You prayed about La Crescenta, California?”
“No. We parked down the street and we prayed and we felt The Spirit guide us to your house. Specifically this house.”
I take a drink of my now warm, now flat sparkling water and I say, “Here’s what’s happening to me right now, guys… I’m on a little bit of a Quest. I’ve been out looking for God and I want Truth. I’m not saying you have it and I’m not saying I’m interested in what you’ve got but I am saying I think knowledge is imperative to a successful quest and so I want to hear everything you have. Get out your pamphlets. Get out your book. Tell me everything you can.
They both dart to their backpacks and satchels with clumsy and nervous hands. Virgins.
*** *** *** *** ***
To wrap this up, there are no answers here. I didn’t have any hugely enlightening moment with two strangers and I’m not going to be knocking on your door to tell you about Joseph Smith. But I am looking for God. And while I look and while I pray and while I speak with people of all faiths and manner of upbringing, I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I want to be kind and generous with my time, attention and resources. I want my family to know that I love them. I want my friends to know that I care. I want strangers to know that I will not slam doors in their faces. I believe that whoever and whatever God is, at the center of His / Her / Its being is Love. And more than anything, I want to strive for that heart.