Status Update: I’m an individual…please don’t shun me

If you’re keeping up with the latest debates in LDS pop culture, you’ve probably come across some discussion over the new site.  It’s fantastically imagined and executed–an amazing leap away from the stogy PR of the past and a clear leap into the iFuture, if you will.  I’ve found the stories on it personally moving and uplifting in so many ways, especially those featuring women.  Here I’m told about mayors, dentists, non-profit humanitarians, journalists, artists, doctors, lawyers, and everything in between: women who are Mormon and following their dreams in the “secular” world!  On a church-run website!  It’s a revelation! (pun may or may not be intended)

As I read along, Cassandra Barney’s profile stopped me a little short, however.  In her life, she writes, her commitment to Mormonism gives her “the freedom to be an individual.”

That is so awesome, Cassandra!  But, I must say, it did, in fact, make my heart tighten every so slightly.

The reason?   I haven’t felt that my commitment to Mormonism has given me the same freedom that Cassandra claims.  In fact, I often feel as if I’m playing the masquerade at church, showing a person who is, at least with her silence, not much different than everyone else.  And I have felt, regardless of how illogical this may sound, that everyone else at church is doing the same thing to some extent in some aspect of their lives.  That we are all playing a mask game and trying our darndest to not stand out, to actually not be an individual.

I don’t think this is some freakish, solitary occurrence.  I think it’s actually a church-wide problem, this fear, perhaps even terror, of heterogeneity.

Maybe this is one of the goals of these profiles.  It may not actually be so much for those unfamiliar to Mormonism but rather a subtle way to change the way Mormons actually view and accept themselves!

I think this switcharoo is only part of a larger revolution that has been underway for years.  This is the revolution of the social network–a world in which social walls are torn down and disregarded willy nilly.  It has created a world in which we have to try and be more honest with ourselves and our communities.  Subsequently, it is a world where we also have to try and be more understanding of others who trust us with their truer selves.  It’s the world, you guessed it, of Facebook.  There on facebook, your fellow congregants have the opportunity to get to know you better than you may want them to get to know you.  And herein lies my dilemma.

It has been, to some degree, a lot easier to live in the masquerade at church.  I can hold back on rocking anyone’s testimonial boat for three hours after all.  I can deeply bury any feelings of disloyalty to self by hunkering down behind a Primary room piano, biting my lips when I hear outdated doctrine or paens to the patriarchal order.  Then, I spend the rest of my week chatting with grad school friends about deasophy, old testament prophetesses, christologies through history, and endless theorizing about where the line is between cultural influence and God’s influence in the workings of our church.  Often, these conversations occur over long, pithy strings of comments on facebook with people who I know well and who know me too.   People who I know share my educational interests and general understanding of the role of theology in society.

But what does one do when the Relief Society president “friends” you?

This is a trick.  By refusing to accept, you risk losing the possible friendship and goodwill of another woman of your faith.  Yet, if you accept, you know that this woman may develop some, shall we say, negative feelings about you based on your discussions.  She’ll know that you have a mask of orthodoxy on your truly heterodox face every week.  She’ll see through your social camouflage.  Well, it’s that, or you can extend your three-hour mask to encompass your entire online presence.  Unacceptable.

I’m at a crossroads then and I hope I’m moving in the right direction–the direction that is showing me.  I’m trying to be more honest with myself on facebook by continuing my usual discussions, even as I still feel apprehension with each status update, concerned about how my newly friended fellow ward members might see me and my little family.   And I’m hoping that they will read my self, consider themselves, treat my individual soul with a spirit of love, and know that I want to do the same with them.

Maybe, in the future, our actual weekly meetings will start to take on the tone of the social network instead of the masquerade that it is now.  I’m hoping so, and I’m peeking my head a little above the piano every week to find out.

  • Ben S

    Unless, of course, your Relief Society President largely feels the way you do .

  • Andrew S.

    While I want to agree with your point, hhconcord, I think you have a line that directly cuts against what you’re trying to say (and goes with what Ben said in comment 1)

    In fact, I often feel as if I’m playing the masquerade at church, showing a person who is, at least with her silence, not much different than everyone else. And I have felt, regardless of how illogical this may sound, that everyone else at church is doing the same thing to some extent in some aspect of their lives. That we are all playing a mask game and trying our darndest to not stand out, to actually not be an individual.

    If these things are true, then why should the “mask reveal” be socially damaging, when it is mutual? Sure, everyone may not be on the grad level, but it shouldn’t be one-sided, either.

  • Emily

    I know what you mean, hhconcord. I don’t think that lack of full disclosure is necessarily a mask, though. I don’t share all my opinions in Relief Society or in sacrament meeting, but I don’t say inauthentic things, either. It’s more that I consider not sharing my potentially inflammatory opinions to be courteous to others.

    Still, my lack of full disclosure does lead to a lack of intimacy with other ward members, and I often imagine that close personal friendships are common in the ward, even if I don’t have them. As a working mom I’m already on the social fringes since I can’t attend playgroups etc, so I am careful about what I share with others for fear of further alienating myself.

    Fear of being shunned is the underlying concern in what this post is about, I think. The solution is probably to just stop caring about being shunned and put myself out there, intellectual warts and all. I think people will still be nice to me, even if they don’t invite me over for dinner, and that’s okay, it’s not like I’m getting lots of dinner invitations hiding behind the proverbial piano anyway.

    Nice to hear about the profiles – I hadn’t heard about them and they sound quite interesting!

  • Christina q

    The fear of being shunned is far too prevalent, and I heartily agree that part of the solution is absolutely to just stop caring and part is to generalize less about the “group”. People across the board respond well to authenticity, kindness, openness, and a generosity of spirit. I believe there is more often a perceived sense of difference than really exists and that we greatly underestimate others around us and their capacity to respond openly and interestedly to what we consider more fringe or unorthodox points of view.

    I say embrace who you are privately and publicly and grant other individuals the same gracious openness you would hope to receive. You may be surprised…

  • Joyful St

    I keep quiet for opposite reasons – I am a feminist gone feminine. After some long reading and pondering and praying I decided to give up most of my feminist ideas and try the “patriarchal, biblical, old-fashioned” approach. My marriage has never been better, myself full of less angst and stress, my kids happier. So I have decided to stay like this…but, no one really wants to here about it tooo much. Too weird. Too fundamentalist. All in my ward know who I am, and what I’ve become, but only a few want to engage me on the issues, so I don’t speak out too loudly in church, and I save those conversations for those who are being led along the same path.

  • hhconcord

    Andrew: Great point. I think what I forgot to really get into was the paradoxical idea we all can sometimes have that everyone is behind a mask…yet…there’s a part of us that is afraid to actually try and find out because what if no one else is behind a mask at all. What if everyone really is the way they are at church! So we prance around the illogic of it all because we’re afraid that the truth may not be what we want it to be.

  • hhconcord

    Ben: True and valid. But still, it’s a risky gamble.

  • hhconcord

    Emily: Fear of being shunned is most definitely what it is about! Right on target. It’s an almost debilitating feeling for me and I don’t think I’m alone. I’m interested in exploring why I feel this fear so keenly–I think it’s because of the emphasis Mormonism places on community vs. individual spritual salvation (in that, we really emphasize that no one is saved alone, families, etc. etc.) So, if the community is THE THING, then the idea of possibly being excluded from the group is, literally, a form of hell on earth, if you put it theologically.

  • hhconcord

    Christina, my friend, I think you’re completely right. The trick is then to overcome my mortal fear and then be able to be okay if I do get a few shunny feelings because hopefully the majority will not shun me at all! More charity and hope is needed in my soul, I think.

    Joyful: I think that your journey is fascinating! I’d love to hear more about it actually. I’ve heard enough of stories like yours to think that there must be something to them. But, I’m also interested in the more metaphysical ideas behind what “Truth” is: can different people have different Truths? And if so, what is the definition of TRUTH? Your comments just reminded me because, clearly, you’ve found something that has made your life happier, while I know of others who would say that rejecting or seriously modifying your same philosophy was the only thing that made them happy. Innnnnteresting thinking points all.

  • Christy

    I think your restraint in church vs openness in public forums is actually a good approach: they are different places, and have different rules. Some debates and conversations, if they show up in a 30 minute meeting, can be very harmful. Yet when those same debates appear where all can have the time necessary to think, respond, etc, the debate can grow in a way that the 30 minute restraints would never allow.

    Of course, I understand your fears about alienation, etc. Yet, like Emily, I think we have a responsibility to show ourselves, intellectual (and spiritual, I might say) warts and all. That way we can help each other in more meaningful ways.

    You are, of course, assuming that a “friend” on facebook means they actually read and pay attention to your profile. This may be entirely untrue . . . or entirely accurate! No way to know.

  • Cassandra

    re:”the freedom to be an individual”
    I understand what you are saying about feeling like you are supposed to be a “certain” type of a person, or having to wear a mask. I present that idea in my video. And, I know it might look like I said the quote above, but actually someone else wrote it as a short description of my video on Facebook.

    In my video, I say that there was something that I “thought” I was supposed to be and one day I realized that I totally made that up. To me, such a realization IS liberating… letting go of ideas of conformity and just being the best “me” I can be.

  • Fran

    Interesting idea. But I think general culture and Church (as always) are being mixed together here. I think in most cultures, there is a general trend for trying to fit in with the crowd. I don’t think that’s a-typical behavior. However, being a Mormon who grew up outside the US (and now lives in the US), I also think the culture of the country displays itself differently in Church. Americans, in my opinion, overall seem to be ‘afraid’ to just speak their mind and be who they really are (or say what they really think). I find this particular in Church here where I feel a general cultural tendency for being positive about everything, and agreeing with people, amplified. I don’t think that’s the case as much among members in other places of the world. So, while you may have a point, I think it’s greatly diminished by the one-sided cultural view of Mormonism. Just my two cents.

  • a grandma

    I popped in here and probably won’t stay–

    I considered myself an intellectual decades ago, but, though I’m pretty skeptical about the influence of popular culture on the church (as in, realize that it is a powerful influence), I have become stodgy in my old age. There is nothing that means as much to me, now, as being in my home, nurturing people.

    I was googling, out of desperation, looking for a place where I might discuss how my children are being shunned at church, for being ‘different’. And not ‘different’ in a cool way, but . . . –

    and then I realized that, since I’m not on FB and since at least one of my ‘shunned’ children is on FB and won’t expose anything personal–

    where do people who seriously, seriously, seriously do not fit go?

    I’m not talking about the politically charged not fitting, like SSA–

    I’m talking about someone who chooses another path besides college–

    (I’m watching the tomatoes as they come at me)–

    if I went into too much detail about what path my single adult child has chosen, it might give me away to anyone surfing on here, but believe me, it’s a very worthy path.

    My child(ren) are not clones of anyone; they are free thinkers, and the social price they have paid, as others have gone off to the BYUs, etc.–has been enormous. Such as, the people they trust are mostly non-LDS. (sorry about the negative implications of ‘non’)

    But, I sort of think that most of the people on here might be a bit younger–

    I went to graduate school almost three decades ago, and it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore–

    oh, and where do people who are anti-war go in a church like ours? I love my church; I do. Or people who don’t listen to Glenn Beck but also aren’t democrats, aren’t anything–

    I wonder if anyone will ever read this. I find that my age puts most people off. People don’t like talking to grandmothers–


  • me

    re: a grandma
    nope, your age doesn’t put me off. In fact, you sound delightful – i just don’t have an answer for you about where to go…..except turning to the scriptures and prayer. Heavenly Father is a God of the individual,