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Talking about me behind my back

January 20, 2009

As my winter break from college comes to a close, I have to reflect. The best thing about the break, I suppose, was finding out all the good news. And of course, by good news, I mean good, juicy gossip.

Now, I know gossip is bad. It’s an ugly thing. Peeping is wrong, Flapjack.

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of stuff. People have changed. Some changed in some expected ways, and some changed in some unexpected ways (really, some people’s closet doors aren’t as closed as they would like to think but some are surprisingly airtight). But, coming out experiences are really dull and uneventful. The *best* stuff is that I’ve found out valuable information that I can’t get on my own: gossip about me.

So, it seems that in my absence, several ward members have had considerable things to reveal. Some have inquired about me, my whereabouts, my goals, plans, etc., Interestingly enough, some seem to inquire only because they are interested in knowing my failures. My father relayed a story about how some brother who had moved away from the ward for a time period came back and asked him, “So where is your son?”

Hmm…really, you come back to a ward you haven’t been to and that’s the question you ask? I’m so popular :3.

He seemed to have this idea that because I wasn’t at church, I must be out doing all kinds of unseemly things (which wouldn’t be so far away from the truth about some of his own children, but hey — gossip is wrong.) My father had to simply point out that I was at college and that was the reason for my absence…not some unwholesome and honor-staining reason (of course, at this time, my father didn’t know about my falling out, or perhaps he just didn’t want to weaken his case.)

Unfortunately, the gossip and the expectations from others are much more exciting than my actual life. Regardless of my movement away from the church (which would be interpreted by some as all the sin they need to label me a shameful disaster), my life really hasn’t deteriorated in any fun or exciting way as they hope. I’m not into drugs; I’m not drinking, partying, having premarital sex, etc., I’m not flunking out of school. I’m not losing my mind with the extra independence.

It seems strange to me that so many members of my ward have expected me to go down such a path. It makes me think that some of themselves have this lust for schadenfreude…because they recognize that their own children have never been so “proper” as my brother and I have been seen as (now, I’m not going to say I’m proper or a saint, but in terms of orthopraxy, I can see why if people never knew my thoughts and beliefs, they would not doubt that I’m on the “good track.”) People always knew that my brother and I would be doing the right thing, whereas some of the other children would not. And I think parents get jealous over that kind of stuff.

Beyond parental jealousy (or whatever their motives are…because I don’t know!), it’s interesting that my peers in the church have also wanted to get into contact…because now they want my advice on how best they should prepare…It is most delicious irony — these guys want *my* advice on how to ship up and fly right in preparing for their own missions.

As I wrote in my Mormon Matters article, I see value in missions because of their transformative power. (Of course, as I was corrected by many commenters there, I guess that’s not the focus on the mission. Oops! Fortunately, even I have realized that. I realize that I can’t be so selfish as to go on a mission for *my benefit* without personally believing in the gospel. That’s lying to myself [and I detest the thought] but it is also lying to the church and lying to those I would teach.) So, in many ways, I’m happy that these guys are thinking about missions. I’m happy that they are genuinely concerned because they know they have several acts from their past that could bar them from the opportunity — regardless of if I believe in it or not, they are coming to a conviction of their ideas, of their church, and of the repentance process.

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  1. Andrew – I have to tell you – there is a part of me that can understand where you’re coming from. Because, although it was ten or so years ago, almost a very similar thing happened to me. I know many may argue that there isn’t a great deal of gossip or spying within various wards, but that was never my experience. Someone not taking the sacrement, a woman wearing pants or a man growing a beard was a big deal. Granted, it’s not just mormons, I am still floored by all the speculation on various political figures, celebrities and their families.

    Being a mission aged mormon young man (not on a mission) is a big deal. Well, and not playing football for BYU and being a mission aged young man not on a mission. There is a ton of stuff in mormonism to encourage young men to go on missions and to encourage young women to encourage young men to go on missions. I can think of at least four primary songs about this topic. One of my bishops had not gone on a mission (he played football instead) and it was still a big deal for one mom in particular in the ward (she thought it set a bad example).

    So, with that said, this is how I ended up dealing with the gossip about me in my parents’ ward. I ignored it. I didn’t ask family members what was being said. I made a conscious choice to no longer care what these people thought about me or my choices. I was living as authentically as possible, being a good person (getting good grades), volunteering, doing all sorts of model teenager type of stuff. I just wasn’t attending all my meetings or trying to get into BYU. If they (other ward members) still chose to disapprove, that was their choice.

    And despite it all, there were some parents who felt the need to tell my parents that they (my parents) weren’t strict enough. I just mention it as an example of the very real and rude need that some members had to pry/interfere into personal family matters. Sometimes the only thing a person can do is to ignore and detach.

  2. Thanks for the comment, aerin. We also had a bishop who didn’t go on a mission (he was in Vietnam though), and even though I’ve seen some people try to speak ill of him, really, you can’t touch this guy; he’s been so great at being a bishop they keep on calling him back after getting other RM bishops who botch things up. (so our non-RM bishop has been bishop upwards of 5 callings, I think).

    I mean, I’m not too worried about it in the end, because I look at it like this: the other parents in the ward who dare say that my parents weren’t strict enough really need to look at their own kids. I mean, it’s not the case where all the youth are perfect angels, but some have faith and some don’t. No, it was this case where my brother and I were some of the most well-behaved people (but didn’t really have a lick of faith), and the other young men/young women were out doing who knows what.

    And that’s what makes things interesting now — because *now* they want to get their acts together, get through the repentance process, etc., and go on missions.

    I can ignore it for myself because that’s all on me. The only thing that kinda worries me is that my parents have to deal with this. I mean, if someone wants to say to me, “Oh, you’re a so n’ so,” I can take it. But if they are going to look down at my parents for something I’m doing, that’s just not right.

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