Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Internet Communities

I figured out why I love the internet so much, or more to the point, my internet connections from around the world. Besides being a communications major in college, and having been told my entire life that I talk entirely too much--my parents thought it was endearing as a toddler, and my first husband was sweet about it, but grade school teachers and my childrens father protested otherwise.

When we first moved to the heart of Mormon Utah over a decade ago, I loved being surrounded by churches around every corner. As a convert, it felt macaroni-and-cheese comforting and secure, and oh those beautiful temples, thinking of all those loving spirits watching over us...But what was at first a protective field has become a cage of sorts. I can stand on my condo deck and see not one, not two, but three church spires just in the neighborhood. It can get downright claustrophobic.

I got over the sheer numbers early on, even devising a travel game with the kids which we called, Spot the Steeple; you earned five points for being the first to spot an LDS church, fifteen points for a Stake Center (a Mormon church that comes replete with a satellite dish to broadcast Salt Lake's doctrines worldwide, including, er, um, it's own backyard, which we practically are) and a whopping twenty-five points for a temple....okay what can I say, it fit the tight budget of a family of six--it was free and it was distracting.

Not until a non-member (translate, normal) friend recently passed through the state and got stuck somewhere south of us in St. George, and failed to make her appearance up here, did I get a glimpse of how the rest of the world might view us. She said the proliferation of Mormon churches was creepy, and couldn't bear to venture into the heart of the LDS labyrinth to visit, and the sooner she could get out of Mormon Dodge, the better. Seeing it from an outsider's view, and make no mistake, it can feel like you are dead on the outside of something when it's broadcast in your face so pointedly, as in, "Here I am! Here I am! I AM MORMON and proud of it! Want a piece of me?" Okay maybe a bit overboard, but I'd never considered how exclusive we appeared to someone outside our tight little community.

Over the years I have felt less and less a part of the fold, particularly after experiencing firsthand that religion and love and and compassion don't necessarily go hand in hand. I was amazed to rediscover that perfectly good people don't belong to this religion, often not to any religion, and still have more heart than some who spend their entire life focused on the energy of following rules/beliefs. What a shocker. There are good Mormons, but to me they are simply good people and would make good Buddhists, good Jews, good Atheists, good Muslims--you get my drift. They simply ARE 'good' and don't need to be endlessly badgered into being good which frankly, I prefer to call just being decent. Good is such a judgmental word. People who are genuinely kind, decent, and compassionate who allow their heart to actually guide their actions in how they treat others, not just whether someone is obeying the rules and thereby deserves to be treated well. People who openly embrace humanity as a whole, not just their community of fellow believers.

Which oddly may be human nature after all. I find that though I live in a place mired in the sticky mud of belief systems, some occasionally offensive and small-minded (think small-town mentality with a hint of territorial aggressiveness) I could easily feel swallowed and lost in the sea of judgment. Including, I admit, my own. But I want to believe that goodness, or just plain decency, exists everywhere, including here at home.

So even though my community has expanded to include my neighbors worldwide, of all different beliefs, cultures and backgrounds, I like the feeling of being all in this together. And I love that my 'internets', i.e. Facebook--despite all it's bad press and continued privacy violations, although once you are on the web you have pretty much signed that over anyway, but I have nothing to hide, so why hide?--I love that I can go on the computer and connect, communicate and BE with people with the same, different, or really out-there ideas. Though I am still shy of adopting beliefs per se, because, well, they limit your world. Or at least mine.

Ultimately Mother Theresa said it best, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." So welcome, World, into my very own backyard, steeples and all.


  1. Fascinating piece. For me, especially, as I lived in Salt Lake City in the mid-80's. I've heard it has changed greatly, to become more diversified. Seems still, it is a very tight community.

    How I wish I had the internet when I lived there. To let the outside world in, as you say. At that time, the newspapers and television were tightly controlled. No cable TV. I about died when the Denver Broncos were upended for the Conference weekend.

    I had arrived with a totally open mind as I knew nothing about the LDS. I had my own religion, and no desire to change, but enjoyed learnng about theirs. I can't say I left that way. However, when I moved to Austin, a family of Mormons lived across the street from me. I think there was some purpose there. Our families became great friends and I marveled at how their religion truly worked for them. They made it work, without all the fear (was it fear?) I saw in Salt Lake. We're still friends 22 years later.

    I've rambled. Glad you have the internet. Enjoyed the post. I think the internet has opened the world for many - even those living in very remote places.

  2. Thanks Julie, thoughtful comment. Salt Lake is perhaps more diverse in its thinking that Utah County, where we reside. Had to laugh at your Denver Bronco comment; I know right? Your Austin friends sound like good people, the kinds of folks I was trying to describe who would be awesome no matter what their beliefs. Nice to see people actually walking their talk!

  3. Beautiful post, Lorna. And you are SO much a better person than I am! I am soooo judgmental when it comes to Mormons. As you know, I lived in Cedar City for a while and never got over the creepiness of such a controlling religion being front and center in everyday life. See--even that statement is judgmental.

    I know without a doubt there are lovely Mormon people, but again, the controlling aspect of that religion and the fact that it's anti-gay and didn't allow black men to serve as bishops until 1978, and forget giving women any type of status... I can't get past that stuff.

    The world needs more people like you to balance out people like me. Hugs to you, dear virtual friend!

  4. Thanks Linda Lou. Probably a big reason I work on my judgmental nature here is because I know absolutely amazing folks who are treated 'less than' because they are gay or less active or otherwise different than their more traditional LDS neighbors. I have always been one to champion those treated unfairly, maybe because I grew up with a brother who was mentally challenged and saw how he was treated for being different. In my experience, different is a good thing. Too often we huddle in cliques, excluding anyone who doesn't fit the mold, and that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Linda, you are a genuinely fabulous person, make no bones, and I can't blame you one bit for getting your feathers (hehe, bird reference) ruffled when injustice occurs in the name of self righteous beliefs (oooh, now I've brought out the big guns, my bad!) Hugs for your honesty :)

  5. Salt Lake City is more diversified, by far. I live up there and I looove it. Being down here for the week to help take care of mum, it's sucked. You can't even wear tank tops and shorts down in Utah Valley without getting dirty looks. The drivers are all dumb, the environment feels very suffocating. I dislike it down here very much! Salt Lake City is one of the only places in Utah where you can survive the Mormon oppressiveness (sp?), in my opinion. :)

  6. Well, to be fair, not all drivers in Utah County are dumb...ya, dirty looks, not so much. Guess that's just some of the small-town mentality. Or maybe the lookers are jealous, and wish they could wear tank tops and shorts instead of clod-hoppers and modest shirts, hehe. Okay, I'll behave now...

  7. Your words ring so true to me. Well, in all your posts and this one too. I think it is difficult to get over being judgmental on both sides and the best way to do it, as you describe, is to look at the inner essence of a person, not the religion practiced. I am working against my prejudices every day and try to just get closer to people and their need for spirituality in any way it can be encountered.
    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I love you posts and, please, post more often!

  8. It's serendipitous that you should write about this, Lorna, as I've got a post in the works about the Baptists here in Georgia. My daughter sent the 4 and 7 year old boys to vacation bible school this week, even though they are only casual church-goers. Their cousins were going and the boys wanted to do it together. Garrett the 7yr old came home and said that he wanted christ in his life and was going to be baptised on Friday! One of the people from church called that night to tell her about it, said that they had asked the kids if they WANTED TO BE SAVED, they could come forward and commit their lives to christ by being baptised! SEVEN YEARS OLD, PEOPLE...of course he wanted to do what everyone else was doing, so he went up to be saved! Melody tried to be polite, said she didn't want him baptised yet as she wanted him to make that decision as an OLDER TEENAGER OR ADULT when he understood what he was doing! The audacity of doing this without consulting the parents first! Anyway, the point being, religious clicks are everywhere, some more extreme than others. (Gosh, I almost wrote my post here!)

  9. Thank you Lori, I hear what you are saying, and though it may seem so, I'm with you. It's important to avoid dividing people, including along religious lines, because its the destructive Egoic mind that judges and divides and keeps people from loving. It's a sensitive issue for me because of where I reside, because I'm faced with the judgment of being an 'outsider' in my own backyard. And I don't want to do what I accuse others of doing. If there's going to be peace, it starts with each of us and how we look at and treat one another. Sidenote: Would love to post more! Have been distracted with health issues, and I write when something starts percolating in my mind...

    Linda, my heart goes out to you on this one. It is disconcerting when children--innocent and eager to please and belong--are involved. It's appalling to think children need to be saved from anything--they are as pure as it gets. So they wouldn't even understand how upsetting the politics of religion can get for us adults. Even though clicks 'mean well' on the surface, it's disturbing to wonder what on earth they think a child could do 'wrong'. I have issues about what people see as right and wrong, since it differs depending on who you talk to. So when clicks do things based on their idea of right and wrong... shudder. That's what I mean about people who live in the world of beliefs rather than following their own common sense or heart, where if they went inside and asked themselves, they would KNOW something was off, but no, since it's a 'belief' they don't even question it. And yes, it's downright arrogant not to consult the children's parents on such matters. Wow. Can't wait to read your post!!!

  10. Lorna, another wonderful post...and can I say an AMEN Sister! After all it's all about the love, right? Stay grounded - Hugs - Julie

  11. I love being a part of your internet world. I've been listening to Eckhart Tolle, finding his words to be powerful. I agree with his belief in one God whom we all know in different ways, and whose light we all carry in our hearts. Lovely, thought-provoking post, as always.

  12. I don't actually know any Mormons or maybe I do and they haven't expressed any of their beliefs.
    Here in Australia we don't have communities that are obviously dominated by any one particular religion. I can't begin to imagine that.

    I like what you have written here. It's always great to learn how different and the same we all are.

    I agree with you that the internet is a wonderful tool for communication.

    I believe that the more we share the more we learn.

    best wishes

  13. Julie; it is all about the love, thank you for reminding me! And to staying grounded. Peace!

    Deb; Thank you, and I can never seem to get enough Tolle. Wise, kind soul that he is.

    Robyn; Love your quote about how different and same we are; so true! Lucky you, living in a place where folks are pretty even in your religious distribution; would love to find out what that is like! Thank you :)

  14. Lorna I love what you have to say and certainly what Mother Theresa says is so true!I have never really noticed the number of church steeples in my area..but it sure is worth noting next time I'm out and about. I know for a fact that we have NOT a community of Mormon churches and if so I would not know.
    I do know that the community of bloggers whom I've had the pleasure of knowing are like minded and a pleasure to communicate with even though we have never laid eyes on one another!You fit into that community my dear Lorna!
    Nice to see that you're back blogging and visiting my blog!

  15. I'm glad I found you today in my blogwandering!

    We're all in this life together, and in my opinion there are many paths to the divine. I suspect God would have it be that way, to be all inclusive.

    Most of the Mormons I've known have been loving, welcoming family people. I've also known a few who aren't. I could say the same thing about most religions, I expect, as well as about people who share the Twelve Steps, which is my particular spiritual path.

    I believe we're all alike under the skin, regardless of religion or culture or nationality. That gives me great hope. And here in Internetland, we can find like minded friends, where in decades past we were limited by where we lived. Aren't we lucky?

  16. Anna! Nice to hear from you; have missed you :). We passed through an LDS stronghold in Cardston, on our way to Calgary. There is a temple in Vancouver if you ever wander thataway...Hugs!

    Linda; nice to meet you fellow internet wanderer! Big fan of the 12 steps, in fact, like you I believe that all paths lead to God. And yet, I sat through a LDS Sunday School meeting where a revered member of the congregation (highly active, successful lawyer by profession, etc.) specifically stated that to be a fallacy, that there is only one way to God and it is through the church. Needless to say, that put my teeth on edge....yes, I love that we can expand our backyard to include the world through the internet; we are all One, in my family 'view' :).

  17. Oh, don't get me started on religion!

    I was brought up with a born again Christian mother and an atheist father; maybe that's what makes me so open-minded about religion. Yes, like you say, there are good and bad people in every religion and non-religion. I know two Mormon men who I think THE WORLD of; I also know a Mormon family who are the among the most intolerant, selfish, and immoral people I've ever known. Same goes for Catholics, Baptists, Church of Christ, etc.

    I am not a subscriber to any faith or belief, but my friends at work have come to the unanimous conclusion that I am a "Christian in denial." HUH? They do not understand how I, and many other persons of no-particular-religious-belief, can be morally upright and good-hearted without God. I even had one dear friend insist that people can only be good when they have a "healthy fear of God."

    But I do love to see a little white country church, and steeples dotting a landscape. There's a comfort there - maybe it's just a feeling of nostalgia and family and old times and ways, but there is an undeniable comfort. Your view, both literal and conceptual is lovely.

  18. Ethelmae; amen sister! Aren't your co-workers hilarious? Makes me think they need to travel more; get out there and meet the rest of the world, and see that yep, great folks live all over this planet we all share! I too love to see little white country churches, always have. And I think you are right about the nostalgia part.....