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.

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