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Knocking

By Maralise Petersen

“Do you pray regularly?” asked the director. Never having been asked this in any interview before, I said the first thing that came to mind.

“I’m praying right now, sir.”

–Melonie Cannon “Knock and It Shall Be Opened Unto You”
Segullah Spring 2006

Where I live, plastic signs line the intersections. Elsewhere, these signs might advertise lawn care services, political candidates, or Avon representatives, but most signs in rural Virginia tell you where you can worship. One has a picture of Christ’s pointing finger, directing you to a Baptist church. Others indicate that one can enter “Our Father’s House,” praise within “Living Ministries,” or attend a Methodist, Episcopalian, Assembly of God or Catholic church all by turning one way or another.

When I began looking at preschools for my eldest son, the non-religious choices were slim. So, I picked a nice Methodist school with a contiguous cemetery, three playgrounds in the back, and a bright-faced, loud, cross-wearing teacher named Miss Betsy. I never mentioned to her or anyone else at the school that we were LDS. And in a place where so many religions co-exist, I somehow felt that being Mormon was something to hide.

I know that as a member of the LDS faith, I am distinctly peculiar. I know that I have the privilege to accept this peculiarity and share my faith anyway. I want to be more willing to stand out, stand up, and simply BE peculiar. However, until then, to those who doubt my belief or my faith, my answer is that I pray to God—and also, in fact, “I’m praying right now.”

What are your reactions to Melonie’s article?
How do you cope with being a peculiar person?
Have you ever had the literal or figurative experience, like Melonie, of being a Mormon crossing the threshold into the cathedral? What was it like? How did you feel?

Welcome to Segullah’s Blog!
Maralise Petersen
Editor

About Maralise Petersen

(Emerita)

21 thoughts on “Knocking”

  1. In High School, talking to a cute young lad, he asked me during the course of our conversation, "Now, you're a Buddhist, right?"

    Growing up in rural Michigan in a largely Catholic community, I was the only member of the church in my High School. I hated being peculiar. As an adult, however, I kind of relish it.

    Sharing the gospel is a tough thing. On a very tactile level, I hate the idea of making someone else uncomfortable by discussing the gospel. But there have been so many great examples of sharing the gospel, I'm warmnig up to the idea. Now I just need to move, so I can meet a real-life living breathing non-member in their natural habitat…

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  2. I love how Melonie's essay shows respect flowing between members of different faiths. I get frustrated with LDS who are condescending towards other religions. I remember when the Pope died, there were several smug comments in Sunday School about how "their leaders are chosen by men; ours our chosen by God." I thought that was lame; I am confident that the members of the upper echelon of Catholic authority were asking for (and receiving) revelation about their decision.

    At the same time, I also get frustrated with those LDS who soft-pedal the Church's exclusive claim on priesthood authority, or have other PC hangups regarding what's unique about the Church. I've struggled myself with how to discuss such things with non-members in a respectful way. But I don't think that watering down the doctrine is the answer.

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  3. For the first time in years, I feel peculiar. That change occured one month ago, when my family and I moved to Nebraska. In many ways we are still in our comfort zone, because everyone we have made friends with is in our ward—we have still had a few wake-up calls that remind us who we really are.

    Our neighbor, Bob, and his aging mother came over to meet us a day after we moved in. They invited us over for beer. We declined, they smiled politely, with curious looks on their faces. My husband took a watermelon over the next day as a peace offering, we got home-grown tomatoes in return.

    The family on the other side of them is from Africa. And the neighbor on the other side of them is Shirley, a 42 year resident of Lincoln. My goal is to befriend everybody on the street. I often hear people express disappointment in the LDS people they know that befriend them, but then slowly wither away once they know they aren't interested in the gospel. I hope I never do that—I think one of the best testimonies has got to be pure, unconditional love for everyone. Wish me luck!

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  4. One of the things I miss about living in Oregon was the relative ease of sharing the gospel. There were so many people who were not familiar with our faith. We'd get comments like "Oh, that's like being Amish, right?" And it was natural to explain the facts. We always seemed to be inviting people over for family home evening. In Southern Idaho it's a bit more tricky. Many people are either LDS already or think (often incorrectly)that they know all about it. I find that missionary work here is much more low key–just befriending people, loving them, and hoping to soften hard feelings for those who have misconceptions or who may have had a bad experience with a church member.

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  5. I agree it can be difficult… living out here in the Bible Belt, especially! But I find that even those whose churches show "The Godmakers" and the like and mostly curious… the hatred that (thankfully very few) congregations try to inspire is fairly easily short circuited by continuing to be pleasant and standing up for what you believe. It doesn't stop hateful words… but it sure does confuse the folks who sling them at you!

    Granted, this is something I've had to get used to, growing up in the South- in high school I had several people stop talking to me when they found out I was Mormon, and once a girl came up to me, smiled nicely and said, "You're awfully nice for a Mormon. Too bad you're going to hell." How do you react to that? But still more people really respected my values, and I had lots of friends in school who were of many different faiths, but who shared values of integrity, modesty, and seeking to learn and follow Christ. Some of my best friends were Catholic, Presbyterian,Methodist, and the continual questioning of my beliefs made me realize that I had to either a)know what I believed, or b)not be able to follow it. I chose to want to know my religion and others inside and out, to study comparative religions courses (though I'm by no means an expert) and to try to do as Ammon did, to build upon common principles.

    I was happy when friends would say, "We're going to the movies, but we know you don't watch anything Rated R, so what can we go see all together?" or say, "We're going to a party, and we wish you could come, but we know there's going to be drinking there and you wouldn't want to be there, but we wanted to tell you so you didn't feel like we were wanting to do something without you." Lots of times I could suggest alternate activities, and often I didn't ever remember "stating my values," as such, it was just a product of many years of familiarity with my personality.

    It can be a scary prospect knowing you might be the only Mormon a family has ever met! Still, it amazes me how quickly folks you don't even know know you, and know you're Latter-Day Saint. Last fall we had moved into our house only six weeks before. When we went trick-or-treating with the kids and mentioned we were new neighbors, one family said, very friendly, "oh! That's right, ya'll are…uh…." she paused unsure of how to continue. And I smiled and said, "Mormon? Yep." They seemed so relieved… like they were getting ready to commit a great faux pas… but our comfort in our own skin made a nice difference. Turned out they knew other folks in our ward.

    I love this essay because Melonie did just what I work on here- perhaps not actively proselyting, but just being herself, and attempting to stand as a witness for God in all times and places. I especially like the greater understanding she got of another faith, the reverence towards Catholicism as well. I know so many great and faithful people of all different religions, Christian and otherwise, practicing and not quite. I love the example of respect and dignity in this piece… That's one of my favorite things about studying different religions texts, to find the underlying truths and commonalities.

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  6. I love the idea of a Segullah blog! And I wanted to post a reply to this discussion, because just today a neighbor of mine here in Ashland, Massachusetts came over for a short visit. She has a son just starting first grade, and I have a son just beginning Kindergarten. Both of the boys are on the quiet side, and we talked about our hopes that they'll be assertive when needed, and that they'll be able to handle the pressures of school. My friend, a member of the Christian church in town, told me how her family has been praying for her son every day, asking God to bless him and be with him. I shared with her our experience the night before, giving our children father's blessings to help them through the school year. Our conversation concluded with both of us sharing our gratitude that even though we can't always be with our sweet boys, God will be with them, even when we can't. It was such a wonderful, touching conversation, and although there was room for a missionary opportunity when I explained the Priesthood and father's blessings, the emphasis of the conversation was our shared faith in God. It made me realize how little I need to be concerned about having religious-centered conversations with friends outside of the church. It was my friend who broached the subject, and she was so natural about it. Maybe my problem when I hold back from talking as freely about my life as a member of the church is that I think I'm more peculiar than I really am!

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  7. That's a great point, Janessa. I have been working closely on a big project with some women of other faiths, and it's funny how hesitant and apologetic I feel when I bring religious things up…I'm quick to assume that people don't want to hear about it. Yet these women don't bat an eye. They don't necessarily hang on my every word and beg me to tell them more, but they're certainly not offended. I'm not sure why, but when I'm sharing gospel-related things I tend to expect my "audience" to either love it (and eventually get baptized) or hate it (and be offended that I brought it up). I've never had either of these responses. So why do I keep expecting them???

    I've been surprised, too, by how normal I am, compared to these women. I don't think they consider me peculiar. Maybe if they got to know me better… ha ha. Of course, peculiar means chosen, set apart… that isn't always readily apparent, especially when conversing with other people with strong morals, etc.

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  8. Justine–you want to meet non members? Yes, come visit. I have to get comfortable in my seat and enjoy the drive in order to visit another member. In one sense, I love it because my activity/faithfulness is not influenced by what others might think of my actions. In other words, I don't refrain from shopping at Food Lion on Sunday because I think someone from the Ward might identify my car. But, in another sense, it makes me want to blend in and seem less different than I am.

    Kathy–I too have "issues" with some of the smug comments that I hear about others' faiths. Even my husband and I differ in how we approach the topic of religion with others. He is much more "hard-lined" than myself and I have a tendency to soft pedal. So, it's a fine line that we draw when we assume that we have the absolute, 100% truth but don't want others to feel like we think less of them because they don't.

    Kristen–good luck with the transition! I have found that some of my closest friends were my "first" neighbors during a move.

    Angie–this dilemma definitely changes when you live in an area with a lot of members. I think I might need to change my attitude so that I can view this experience as a unique challenge instead of an assault.

    Heather B–You know, I've never had a hard time being myself. I think you're right that Melonie shows that sometimes, that's enough.

    Janessa–Wouldn't it be nice if all religious conversations went that way?

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  9. Yeah, the reason why I get frustrated (with the smug ones and the timid ones) is because I fall into both of those camps myself at times. Much easier to accuse others than to work on my own problems. 

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  10. I very much enjoyed reading Melanie's experience. I love the challenge that the Lord give us in our missonary efforts. We can be like the tiny stones on a path. The path is not clearly marked without the stones. Sometimes, many times, our words and actions can lead or take astray a persons quest for truth.

    The problem with the "every member a missionary" statement is it is often quantitative in nature. We are so results oriented that we do not always see the path we carve for others throughout our lives. It is through our actions and our words that the path is defined. We drop small stones along the way, hoping it leads another through to light from darkness. Their journey can be long or short, but eventually our stones mark the way.

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  11. I love these comments! Thank you everyone for being so honest.
    I have recently moved from Washington State where there weren't too many Mormons around me. I had some really wonderful non-member friends. I miss them terribly. They would tease me mercilessly about my non-drinking, non-gossiping, strange habits. I would tease them back about becoming baptized. It's been four weeks since I've moved to Pleasant Grove, Utah where my ward directory asserts that every house (but two) in a 2 mile radius has a Mormon family. Where I once felt strong and confident to speak of being LDS and to share my thoughts, I suddenly feel small and insignificant spiritually. At church, my mouth feels stopped. Why is that??????? This is not what I expected, but I am working through it.
    I really enjoyed reading what the "Chronicler" says about the stones and our path through life. Unfortunately, I haven't been dropping stones lately..just breadcrumbs…and the birds, I fear, are eating the path I've marked.
    When I taught at the school I wrote the article about, I learned so much. I grew to love the people I met and Catholicism so much that my heart still fills up when I think of them years later. I never felt that learning and being surrounded by a different religion was ever a threat to my testimony. Some Mormons might think so. I remember getting negative reactions at church when I brought up how much I felt the spirit at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Perhaps being surrounded by our own religion is a greater threat.

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  12. That is fascinating, Melonie. Could it be that my sometimes-reluctance to share my faith, and my fear of giving offense, is partially due to a false view of how God interacts with us? After all, the message is not that "God is only with us." But that's the cultural vibe I get at times.

    I've spent all of my "active years" in Utah. I wonder how that's colored my views.

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  13. When we moved to Provo a few years ago, I felt the same smallness you talk about Melonie. I am just starting to find that confident person I once was, back when I was more "needed", more "strange", more something. I have found new, albeit different, opportunities here, and have learned that I have to be willing to find opportunity wherever it presents itself. Those chances just manifest themselves differently here.

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  14. I remember this article, and enjoyed it again. When we moved our family to Utah from California almost 2 months ago, I asked my husband if our missionary experiences had come to an end. Surely there would be opportunities to share the gospel in Utah, but I was, and still am, more hesitant and afraid to talk about my beliefs here with unfamiliar people, people who make think that "oh, she is one of Them, and all They do is try to convert Us." In California, having mini-missionary moments was easy, even fun. I'm hoping I'll be able to embrace the same idea here. Soon.

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  15. I love Melonie's essay. And I love the questions, the awareness in the questions, forget the answers. They reflect my ambivalence, my search for identity. I also love each of your posts, the dialogue there, the way you wonderful intelligent caring women express yourself. It makes my spirit soar and validates me. Thank you so much.

    Like Kathy, I've lived all my active years, save one, in Utah. Boy, does it color my attitudes. Kathy, I feel exactly the same way you describe, that disgust at the superior attitudes active Mormons so prevalently display here in Utah. I think when we do ultimately have that big court in the sky in the millennium, however you spell it, a lot of those people are going to go into comas from shock at who's there and in God's good graces.

    Your question, about being peculiar, Melonie, raises so many issues for me. Among Mormons, I'm peculiar for my liberal views, my visible and infamous flaws. Among non-Mormons, I'm considered conservative! I can't win!

    The Presbyterian Church here has AA and Al-Anon meetings in their building. I had a key to their church for years before I changed meetings. I felt the spirit there, they are good and generous people who love and serve the Lord. I hear people say they went to cathedrals while they are tourists and don't feel the spirit. I think they're crazy and stupid.

    I'm looking forward to this blog. Thanks.

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  16. The Light of Christ permeates so much of our world, and I hate that it is minimized. There are spiritual and loving people everywhere I go. I may indeed have the GIFT of the Holy Ghost from proper priesthood authority, but the Light of Christ (the Holy Ghost) will indeed bless the lives of millions of others. It is what draws people to conversion; it is what brings grace and kindness to most of the world.

    I believe people in and out of Utah are really just doing the best they can. Most people don't intentionally act with malice regarding their testimony. It is just too easy to fall into the snares set for us and become proud and vain. I'm sure I am guilty of it. I know I felt it when first moving to Utah.

    annegb, why is it so much easier to talk about the gospel outside of this area? I wonder if it's because we are a majority here, and it seems too easy to become overbearing and "in-your-face" about our beliefs when there are so many of us.

    Thanks for your comments!

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  17. "Perhaps being surrounded by our own religion is a bigger threat"

    Ha! Isn't that the truth with so many things. I struggle with my weight and my worst enemy is the tiny person who eats anything they want and is tiny anyway. Why do I have to hate that woman? Why do I have negative feelings towards the mother that has "perfect" children? Why do we have to be so destructive to others who are on this journey too? Oh, how I wish I knew…

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  18. An Amish Friendship

    I have a couple of things that come to mind when reading Melonie's article and the subsequent comments. One of my first experiences being a missionary in a formal sense was being part of the cast at the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, New York. I was set apart and given a companion for the two weeks of rehearsal and performance and the fire was ignited within me. I had never had so many people to testify to. I realized that my testimony was just that, my testimony. I knew for myself that the Book of Mormon is a testament of Christ, that Joseph Smith translated it and restored the Lord's true church in our day.

    It was an exciting time filled with faith building reassurances that each of our Heavenly Father's children needed to know these truths. But my departure from the Hill was bittersweet. I dreaded going back to Utah and having no one to share with. I wanted that rush of the Spirit to be part of my daily life. I prayed on the way home that I could keep the missionary perspective, testify to others, be an example, be a friend. I spent the first leg of my flight home writing post cards and letters to several of my friends who were serving full time missions. At my stop over in Denver I was determined to get them put into a mailbox before my next flight took off. When I asked where I could drop these notes I was told to go to the next terminal via a shuttle train. This was my first time traveling on my own. I didn't know, well let's leave out the insignificant details and just say, I didn't know a lot which caused me to miss my connecting flight. They booked me for the next flight they could and after a sheepish phone call to my family I made my way back to the gate, to wait. As I sat there I felt strongly that this had happened for a reason. So I started scouring the faces of those waiting to board the plane. Surely, this was my chance to give away that Book of Mormon I had tucked into my carry on, now was the time to show the Lord that I could be a missionary, even away from the excitement of the Hill Cumorah.

    I struck up a conversation with the middle-aged man next to me, but it wasn't the time. He was busy flipping through papers in his brief case. I had a couple of hours until take-off so I hopped back on the shuttle to the other terminal and met a European teenager, all of his belongings on his back, who told me of his recent travels to the Grand Canyon. Just when I felt I could spring into a conversation about religion and God, he hopped off to catch his next flight. So, I returned to the gate, praying that whoever I ended up sitting next to would be receptive, would accept the Book of Mormon.

    As I approached the gate it was crowded with maybe ten or fifteen young men, about my age, probably between 18-21 years old. They all seemed to know each other; they joked and laughed. As we filed onto the plane I found myself following this group of young men to the rear of the plane. They were filling up the last few rows and my seat was right among them. I found out they were all on their way to basic training for the military. I was in a row with two of them. We chit chatted and right away I told them where I had been and what I had been doing. They called across the aisle to some of their other friends sitting close by to tell them, “Hey, this girl is a Mormon.” One of them looked at me disbelievingly as he said, “You don’t look like a Mormon.” This caught me off guard and I asked, “What does a Mormon look like?” He proceeded to tell me that Mormons don’t wear make-up and they drive in carts pulled by horses. I laughed at the thought of a good Amish girl sitting alone in an airplane wearing a hot pink t-shirt with gold hoop earrings and highlighted blonde hair. I cleared up their perception, but was struck by the fact that none of the five or six boys sitting close enough to be part of our conversation seemed to know anything about the Church. None of them had ever known a Mormon that they were aware of. I passed around the cards I had in my bag that depicted different scenes from the pageant. I told them about the Book of Mormon. And as I had hoped and prayed for, one boy in particular perked up as I retold the coming forth of this book of scripture. “I’d like to read that someday,” he said. I reached into my bag, the surge of energy that the Holy Ghost brings, a feeling that had become familiar over the past couple of weeks, filled my heart with a powerful beat, my head felt warm and it spread to my fingertips as I handed it to him. “Thanks!” he said. “No, thank you,” I thought.

    This experience of praying for and receiving an opportunity to share in such a classic way has been a strength to me ever since. I find that missionary opportunities don’t always happen by the book like this one did. As Melonie’s article pointed out, missionary work is often more complex than offering what we know to those on the outside of our beliefs. Sure on that plane I felt like the outsider, misperceived and peculiar. But it is much more often that true sharing happens through building a friendship that is real, through love and respect, through listening and learning. And that friendship is the reward. It is not the means to an end; we befriend someone so they can become a member of the church, No! The friendship itself is the beautiful and uplifting reward, something eternal that leaves us, as Melonie so beautifully put it, “transformed.”

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  19. Heather–There has always been something that bothered me about befriending others in the name of conversion. And I think you identified why. That is so true that the friendship is the reward. Thank you for pointing that out.

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  20. Melonie, I think your breadcrumbs, even eaten by the birds, have their effect. Sometimes when we are in the most familiar surroundings we feel less needed or effective. I have learned to listen to the cues and find even my breadcrumbs are being enjoyed by those seeking good nourishment.

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