The Pastor

When the kids are wound up sometimes we’ll load them up in the Odyssey, give them a Nintendo DS or iPod Touch and tell them to keep quiet. Of course, they are never quiet, but they are strapped into their seats and unable to inflict too much damage on each other.

That’s what we did tonight, and have done on a number of occasions. If we’re lucky the kids will fall asleep giving Kim and I a chance to talk.

Tonight I asked Kim a question that’s been on my mind: “Had you not been raised in a Mormon family, how religious do you think you’d be?” 

This lead to a discussion about the differences between religion and spirituality. I believe one can be religious without being spiritual. For me, religion has more to do outward behavior and practices often set forth by an organized church. Attending church and paying tithes or offerings are examples of this. I know plenty of people who are really good at appearing religious.

Looking back on my two year mission to Germany, I recognize most of what I did was centered around quotas, rote memorization, and keeping rules. I had a few spiritual experience during those years, but it was by sheer accident, and had little to do with traditional missionary work.

One of those experiences took place about six months into my mission. My companion and I had been teaching a man who worked as a Protestant pastor. He was interested in learning more about the Mormon church so we got together to discuss how our beliefs meshed and differed from his.

He was single and often invited us to his home for lunch or dinner. Over time we become close friends to the point where he gave us a key to his home where we could retreat from the bitter winter months when our limbs were numb from walking the streets searching for people to teach.

We shared a few ups and downs. Members of his congregation hassled him for speaking to us. Although Germany recognizes Mormons as one of only had handful of sanctioned religions with the freedom to openly proselyte, we were often mistaken for Jehovah Witness missionaries who were more aggressive in their recruiting techniques.

I’d lived in Germany for six months, and my speaking skills were rusty, but I learned to listen and was able to understand well. I often asked my new friend to repeat himself. He showed a lot of patience and never made me feel stupid when I asked for help or referred to my Germany/English dictionary.

Most evenings my companion and I would stay at his home until 9:45. The pastor would call a cab, give us a 10 Mark coin, and send us out the door so we’d be home by the mission mandated 10 pm curfew. But one night, he asked if we wanted to walk home and offered to accompany us.

That gave us about 35 minutes to chat as we walked down moonlit cobblestone streets that lined the tiny city of Unna. This man was more than twice my age, belonged to a different religion, and certainly didn’t need two young American missionaries telling him that what he’d been taught all his life was only partially true.

As we neared our apartment and were about to say goodbye, the pastor reached into his pocket and pulled out two solid silver 10 Mark pieces.

“I want you to have these. Maybe they will remind you of all the cab rides. Or maybe they will remind you of me.” he told us.

I was stunned at his kind gesture.

Connecting in such a manner with another person is a rare experience. Over twenty years later I can appreciate how seldom such connections happen. It’s those connections that kept me going for two years worth of days filled mostly with rejection. Our mission president called it something else: failure. 

I can’t recall a single memorable experience I had handing out a Book of Mormon, inviting someone to church or teaching a memorized discussion. The most memorable parts of my mission occurred on the periphery, not in the weekly statistics we called in to headquarters.

The pastor could not have known the insecurities that existed in that 19 year old young man from Utah. Or the feelings of “What the hell am I doing here?” that ran through my mind each morning as I sat in my bed staring at the ceiling. How could he know how I was feeling when he’d only known me for a few weeks?

I felt as though I’d been given a spiritual gift, although it would take years before I’d recognize it as that.

I recently gave my oldest son this silver 10 mark piece, and shared this story with him. By his reaction he gave me I don’t believe he fully understands its significance, but that’s OK.

All in due time.

What I Learned on Capitol Hill

Years ago, after I’d moved from Utah to Seattle I interviewed for a job that consisted of managing a 20 unit apartment complex. Before the interview, a friend warned me that the complex was located in the gay district of the city, two blocks below Broadway on Capitol Hill. At the time I lived in a tiny apartment near the University of Washington.

The initial interview went well. A few days passed and I decided to follow up with the woman who interviewed me. I had no apartment management experience, but I explained to her that I needed the job and would work my butt off. I don’t know if she had planned to give me the job, but I was persistent. She told me to drive by the apartment complex to get a feel for the area and then, if I was still interested, to call her again.

I knew exactly what she meant when she told me to get a feel for the area. Capitol Hill is an eclectic and densely populated area just a short walk from the city center. Like any neighborhood that borders a major city, it’s full of diversity, especially to a kid who was born and raised in Utah.

When I called back and told the woman I was still interested in the job, she was genuinely surprised. The apartment was the perfect size for me, my cat and my computer. I had little else to my name having just come off a divorce. But I didn’t need much.

I eventually got moved in and settled. I loved that I could walk to my full-time job located in the city. On Saturdays, I walked to the bagel shop on Broadway to people watch. There was also a great newspaper shop that carried all sorts of rare computer magazines. I spent so many hours in that store they should have hired me.  And I don’t want to think about all of the money I dropped at the used CD shops. You know, the ones that only play Velvet Underground over crappy JBLs.

Occasionally I was reminded by friends that I lived in the gay district.  I suspect they were looking for a reaction from me. If they were, I’m sure they came away disappointed as I didn’t have a single salacious story to share with them. Since I walked to most places, I got to know my neighbors well. In a short period of time, I came to love Capitol Hill and couldn’t imagine moving away. Kim loved it too, so when we were married, we decided to stay in the same building for another four years.

I made a number of good friends as well. One of the tenants told me about a job his employer had recently posted. I applied and landed the position. We’d worked together for a year when he told me I was the only straight person in the apartment complex. When I see him today, we still laugh about that.

Maybe I was naïve. I’m sure I was. Yet I don’t recall anyone judging me for who I was while I lived on Capitol Hill. One meets a number of good and not so good people trying to rent apartments close to a large city. But, for the most part, people were incredibly kind to me at a time in my life when I had no family and few friends to fall back on.

I’m thankful for that experience living on Capitol Hill because my uncle recently announced that he is gay. Like me, he was raised in a Mormon family and served a mission. Unfortunately, he lives in a part of the country which is known for being hostile towards people like my uncle.

I’ve wondered how my family would take the news, but that’s not something I can control. My uncle didn’t have to come out to me. But I appreciate the time he took explaining how he’s continuing to figure out what this means for him while respecting the beliefs of his friends and family.

What I can control is how I treat others, and that’s the lesson I want my children to learn. When I was a young boy, it was OK to play games during recess called “Smear the Queer” and call people “faggots” or refer to someone “being gay”.  I hope such games and language are no longer tolerated.

When the president of a popular fast food establishment comes out in support of traditional marriage he has every right to make his beliefs known. But when profits from that business are funneled to groups that continue to promote inequality and hatred, those same owners are responsible for how their words and actions damage their reputation and make expansion into some cities more difficult. I will vote with my wallet to make sure none of my money goes to support these groups.

I postponed writing this post for a few days while I gathered my thoughts. Last night I’d decided to keep my thoughts to myself. But today I decided to write. My aim is not to change minds as I know that’s impossible. No, I decided to write because I’d like my children to know where I stand on the issue and learn from the mistakes I made when I was their age.

I look forward to the day when I tell people I lived on Capitol Hill they ask me about the bagels.

Friends

Last week wasn’t one of my better weeks at work. I won’t go into details here but dealing with HR over personnel issues about as fun jumping into a pool full of push pins. I spent most of the week writing and justifying and writing some more.

So I was pretty down all week. The only thing I was doing well was keeping to myself. I kept my office door shut at work which I seldom do. I ate lunch at my desk and I skipped the vanpool a couple of times. I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone. About anything.

But the kindness of two friends jolted me out of my self pity on the same night.

Thursday evening I missed my ride home and Kim had locked her keys in our van so I was stuck at work at 7 pm while most of my coworkers had gone for night. One of my employees who recently accepted another job (with no incentive to impress me) offered to give me a ride home at 10 pm and a good 60 miles out of his way.

Another friend IM’d me at work to say it was National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. Who knew? But his wife had baked cookies and they were on their over to our house to drop off a bunch. I love the fact that I have a friend who has the wherewithal to know when National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day is and takes action.

Here’s to a better week. It can only go up from here. Thanks to two friends for lifting my spirits when there wasn’t much to be lifted last week.

The Kindest Words

I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old at the time. This was the time in my life when it was cool to grow my hair over my ears and wear OP corduroy shorts and Hobie Cat T-shirts. I liked bottle rockets and Space Invaders more than girls.

So there I was at church wearing my light blue suit that my mom bought for me at Sears. I had been ordained a Deacon in the Mormon church which means I could pass the bread and water but couldn’t be trusted to prepare or bless it.

After one meeting ended I bounded up the stairs, two or three at a time, to the last class of the day. As I got to the top I came face to stomach with a lady I barely knew. She was wearing a fancy red dress I doubt she found at Sears.

I stopped and waited for the inevitable lecture about how this was the Lord’s house and how dare I run through it. I flashed a goofy grin hoping to lesson the blow.

But it never came.

Instead she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Your smile makes my day. I just love it”

As I continued into my class I was stunned yet thrilled. My whole body was tingly with joy.

Those few words brought so much joy to a young boy many years ago.

And it still makes me smile whenever I think about it.

Technorati Tags: , , ,