Shortly after I left the church my brother and I moved into an apartment in Ogden right across from our University. We lived together for almost a year but only talked about my religious differences once, not until the day he was moving out. Somehow I kept my best friend aloof from me on a topic extremely important to both of us. We were together all the time, talked politics, girls, science, gossip, sports, and everything else, but nothing religious, until we both finally set some time apart to discuss the reasons I left.
Why do we do that?
My mom asks me not to put drinking pictures up on Facebook, my girlfriend doesn’t tell her parents she “doesn’t believe” for three years and feigns activity, and a friend politely declines teaching Sunday School when he doesn’t have a testimony and continues going to church so he can avoid judgement from his family (and some very real consequences in his marriage). Presentation-relationships take the place of real relationships because of things we don’t want to know or don’t want to tell. We are sacrificing deep and meaningful relationships to avoid an awkward conversation. In fact . . . it’s really not that awkward once we open our mouths.
One of my favorite fantasy authors is Terry Goodkind – in one of his books he writes about a group called the Mud People; an “uncivilized” people with a custom our civilization could learn something from. We greet each other by hugging or shaking hands; the Mud People slap each other . . . hard. When they first met Richard, the main character in the book, they slapped him in greeting and he immediately reacted by punching the person full-on and knocking him to the ground. In a tense moment when the reader is sure arrows will fly and someone is going to end up dead, the hunters all smile and nod in approval. Well, that was unexpected . . . but to them, the Mud People, to slap someone is a sign that you respect their strength; the harder you slap, the more respect you show. Richard had just given a big compliment and had no idea. Most importantly, if a Mud person didn’t respect you – if they didn’t think you were strong – they wouldn’t slap you at all, or maybe they’d just give you a light tap on the cheek.
What are we really saying to our loved ones when we refuse to talk about religion or politics?
I will not have presentation-relationships with those I love. Family and friends–getting to know someone deeply, having meaningful conversations and sharing all my thoughts–are the things that make me the happiest. Happiness, I think, is incomplete unless that happiness is shared with someone else, mutual memories we can talk about for years to come. If we’re sitting there across the dinner table, unwilling to disclose what we think and who we are, we’re missing out on something that makes life beautiful. Once that conversation is started, once the silence is broken, its not actually that bad. Some people will be unreasonable–they’ll get angry or upset for some reason because you decided to make an adult decision and let them in on it so they knew what was going on–but eventually life only gets better by being honest and open, by respecting each other enough to be ourselves even if its a slap in the face–at first–to the person who’s listening.
(this post is balanced by my next post)