I was raised in the LDS church. That’s the Mormons in the very unlikely event you don’t know. I don’t think there is any “typical” LDS experience, but I think my own upbringing was well within in the norm. I am a multi-generational Mormon with two younger brothers who along with me were raised on the east coast. My parents grew up in the inter-mountain west and are both from devout Mormon families where siblings and parents are and were, nearly without exception, devout and active. Of course, there is much variation within the faith and the variation within my immediate family had at least the slight flavor of liberalism and critical thinking.
This doesn’t mean that we were praying to Heavenly Mother or critically breaking down General Conference twice a year. Far from it. But it meant that we talked about things and I never developed the sense that it was not okay to ask or question. My parents were both educated and both educators. In fact, my father frequently quoted his very faithful father (who died when I was little) as saying “the church must stand up the question mark.” Though I don’t remember having too many questions until after I reached adulthood, it was still an idea I absorbed. My parents were also very practical in their approach to faith. Principles were known to yield to practicalities from time to time. I recall well being 14 or so and taking my dad on over the fact that it was Sunday (probably Stake conference) and that we were doing a family activity (probably apple picking in the Blue Ridge Mountains). I don’t remember the precise contours of my argument, but I will never for get Dad’s response which was, roughly, “I’ll take my chances with the Lord on this one, son.”
Still, we attended church every week. Prayed over meals every day and had family prayer from time to time. We participated in week day activities as teenagers and were all required to attend and complete early morning seminary. I did home teaching with my dad and did more or less what I was expected to including holding callings and doing my best to magnify them. While I was not a perfect teenager by any means, by the time I graduated high school and was on my way to BYU my spiritual life was well in order and I had thoroughly absorbed the principles of Mormonism.
The Church was the one true church on the earth. It had the answers to all the important questions. More than this, it made sense. It was logically unassailable. How could anyone not believe? I felt lucky to have been born into the truth. I was excited to begin my preparation at BYU to be a future leader of the church and to share the faith with others as I would serve a mission a year later. I really enjoyed my first year at BYU and excelled socially though not ever having needed to study before struggled academically. I really liked Provo. Provo, Provo. The scene of my downfall.
So there I was at 19 years old. Confident, articulate, athletic, socially well adjusted, happy and armed with The Truth. To this point in my life I had not suffered any serious adversity or setbacks and I was relatively confident that adherence to the principles of my faith would make sure I didn’t. Of course, I knew people who had. But mostly adversity came from weakness or was self inflicted. The solution was to teach people The Truth. I was filled with the hubris of youth. Against this backdrop and with my mission call to Argentina in hand I entered the Mission Training Center in Provo as serious as a heart attack and fully intending to keep all the commandments with exactness. I was on the precipice of what in the South we call a “comeuppance.”
*As a bloggers note, I plan to return to this narrative from time to time, in sort of serial fashion, but will blog on other things in the meantime.