Rebel Without a Cause? … Delighting in the Flip Side

I live in Los Angeles … a city known for many things, of which righteous living is not among the top 100 descriptors. And yet, I find myself better able to not be of the world precisely because I am very much in the world. It’s the rebel in me. If I lived in a place where everyone was the same, I’d probably experiment with going against the grain just to break up the monotony. So, it’s probably a good thing that I live in a rather sinful place where I can explore the far reaches of my righteousness (such as it is), instead of living in a hyper-righteous place and exploring the limits of my wickedness. And sometimes I wonder what this says about my character, that I have a certain need to feel … what? Rebellious? Special? Unique? And what would happen to me during the millenium? I don’t know. I can only say that I feel more ownership of my righteous choices because I don’t feel socially obligated to make them.

In the LDS church, we’re taught that there must needs be opposition in all things (2 Ne 2:11), a doctrine that I find a lot of comfort in. I like the idea that every issue or concept is multifactorial, and finding out where I do (or don’t) fit. The idea of a spectrum with opposing ends is not a uniquely LDS concept. The most delectable culinary dishes are the ones that find the best balance between sweet, sour, salty and bitter. The perception of beauty is heightened by contrasting ugliness. One’s ability to feel joy is often deepened by one’s past experiences with pain. The complementary yin and yang pairing in asian cultures. And so on.

I’m reminded of a movie that a friend told me about. I must apologize here, because I can’t remember the title of the movie, or WHO is was that told me about it, but I picture a Marvel-esque setting, and cartoon animation. Also, I am probably embellishing the story here, but it’s just how I remember it. An Evil Villain is being chased by the Good Guys. EV is about to be caught, when he inadvertantly stumbles through a portal that transports him to another world inhabited solely by super-heroes who go about their lives as normal people, but occassionally rip off their regular-people-clothes to reveal super-hero-attire in order to rescue other unwitting superheroes from accidental catastrophes such as falling pianos, after which point the rescuer is delighted at the break in monotony, but needs to go home and dress in RPC again. Anyway, EV starts doing EV-type things again, and the local super-heroes have the time of their lives catching and imprisoning him. At this point, the GG’s re-enter the scene, having found a way through the portal. They approach the leader of the SH community to extradite EV back to their home world and are rebuffed. Turns out that the SH’s had developed a fondness for EV, and were planning on letting him out of jail every once in a while for a “Hunt the Evil Villain” spree. In short, they were very loathe to surrender him and give up all that good fun.Talk about a twisted plot …

Anyway, my point in bringing this up is not to bombard you with images of bulked up people in spandex, but to explore the pitfalls of entrenched cultures. I won’t discuss them here, as they have already been wonderfully explored in emilycc’s and Nate Oman’s blog posts. In terms of change, I think the church culture moves at an excruciatingly slow pace … slower even than the pace of the general leadership, which I happen to think is a tad bit more progressive. In Feb 1996, church membership outside the United States outnumbered that within the states. Last year, the first foreign general authority born in the last century was sustained as an apostle (all the other ten foreign apostles were born prior to 1900). And at every general conference, although I’m sometimes irked at not being able to understand their accents very well, I always look forward to hearing from general authorities who have spent a significant portion of their lives outside of the United States. The church is growing and diversifying, and that fills me with joy. It gives me hope that as the membership of the church grows to include those who have very different origins … be they racial, geographical, philosophical, cultural or intellectual … it will also invigorate us to further understanding of what it means to be a child of god, and how we can love each other despite and because of our differences. Thus my personal goal is to rejoice in unity without feeling stiffled, and diversity without feeling fear.

So where does that leave me, with my trenchant desire to be other than what is expected? When the millenium comes, will I go mad at the lack of opposition? I hope not. I fervently hope that when the time comes, I will have worked long enough to see others as God sees us. I hope that I won’t be distracted by race, gender, age or physical beauty. I hope that I will be able to see someone as the distinct being that they are, with unique blessings, talents and struggles. And I hope that my desire to be a rebel will be put to rest as I fully realize that we are all rebels from the adversary’s plan for enforced monotony.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. EmilyCC says:

    I totally identify with this post, Dora. All week, I’ve been thinking about my rebel side. When I was working without children, I used my husband’s last name, I never made controversial comments in church because I figured the things I was doing (getting a theology degree, working instead of having children, etc) made me controversial enough. Now that I’m a SAHM, I find myself wanting to make sure I stand out. At an EXII retreat one year, a SAHM talked about how she shaved her head because she wanted to be different. Now, I get what she was talking about.

    Church diversity is very exciting (EXII has published some excellent issues on the International Church—I’ll try and post a link by the end of today). I wonder if it will help quell my rebellious side. If I get to live in a ward full of converts, married, single, divorced, working, international, interracial people, would I still feel the need to be different?

  2. Deborah says:

    Dora wrote: “So, it’s probably a good thing that I live in a rather sinful place where I can explore the far reaches of my righteousness (such as it is), instead of living in a hyper-righteous place and exploring the limits of my wickedness.”

    I LOVE this line. It reminds that though I might be [occasionally] nostalic for Utah, I am probably a better person — and better Mormon — for having left. Is it bizarre to enjoy being the only Mormon at my workplace?

  3. Jenny says:

    Are you all really that desperate to be a little bit different? I find this post very very sad.

  4. Caroline says:

    What’s sad about it? I think Dora has elucidated a very common psychological phenomenon.

    I too am drawn to the flip side. I’ve often thought about how different I would be if I weren’t married to a faithful TBM. I’m pretty sure if I were married to someone who really struggled with their faith or maybe was a screwball in some ways, I’d probably be the one encouraging us to pray together, go to church, have family home evening, etc. I’d probably be the strong faithful one.

    But because Mike is such a rock, I think I sometimes subconsciously – and consciously – take the flip side. I become the screwball, figuring I can coast or wander because, well, Mike’s the anchor that will always draw me back.

    I wonder if the ideal is to find a person – or a place, since you, Dora, were speaking geographically -that has a nice balance of screwball-ness and steady goodness. That way you can explore both sides of your nature -sometimes being the strong, good steady one, and sometimes being a mess and therefore allowing the other party to be the good influence.

  5. Mike says:

    “When the millenium comes, will I go mad at the lack of opposition?”

    A funny thought!

  6. Dora says:

    Thank you all for your comments. Especially jenny. I find your comment to be the one that makes me the most eager to see as God sees. When I come across voices that condemn the sinner (and maybe I’m just reading into what you’ve posted, but if so, it’s good for you to be aware how you’re being perceived on-line), it makes me sad as well. If anything, the repentent sinners are the ones who have more need of God’s mercy, and also the ones with whom Christ chose to spend his time with here on earth.

    Emily, I’d love to see some of the old EX II articles. I love the picture of the diverse ward you present. If anything, I would think that with such situational and physical diversity, I would feel more unity in spirit instead of alienation in the midst of homogeny.

    Deborah, it’s not bizarre. I quite enjoy it myself. Interesting discussions when I brought my _Rough Stone Rolling_ book to work one week.

    Caroline, I think that finding that balance is key. And I do agree that the balance in constantly shifting and requires frequent adjustment.

  7. John says:

    I love this post, Dora. If you delivered this as a sermon, I would be nodding and punctuating it with “Amen!” and “That’s right, sister!” We’re a peculiar people but I think it’s funny that Mormons have a group approach to their peculiarity.

    I’m beginning to accept a variety of tensions within myself (I picture a rubber-band pulled taut, but still retaining elasticity, rather than the flowing yin-yang). One of these oppositions is my desire to belong to a community of people like me and my desire to be my own unique person. They are both very powerful desires, and it’s a struggle to keep that rubber band from breaking or growing too slack.

    I hope that Jenny will elaborate on her comment. I’d like to understand where she’s coming from.

  8. Tri Mama says:

    As a couple my husband and I have lived in “sinful places,” but now that we have kids I find myself retreating to Suburbia. When I think about myself I trust my decisions regardless of the circumstance, but when I think about my children I want them to have the best and most uplifing environment. It makes me wonder if Heavenly Father prefers us to be “hyper-righteous” places to give us the best odds towards eternal life.

  9. dangermom says:

    I am like this too. I positively enjoy going against the grain and being a minority. I think it might be a really good thing that I didn’t go to BYU; I went to one of the most famously liberal and hedonistic universities in the US and loved it. The ward was great and my testimony grew a lot, too.

    I’ve been wondering lately if this contrary streak in me is partly why I decided to homeschool. Anything to be different!

    I also wonder how much of a weakness it is. Growing up, it was an asset to enjoy being the different one when I was different anyway, but I’m not sure it’s such a good thing to be quite so antagonistic to the idea of living in Utah. What does it say about me that I automatically dislike being part of the majority, no matter what that majority is doing?

  10. Jenny says:

    Sorry to take the wind out of all your sails, but my comment had nothing to do with “condemning the sinner”. As usual people here try to read the worst into someone else’s comments. My post had nothing at all to do with sin . I simply meant that if being a tiny bit different gave people so much pleasure, they rest of their lives must be awfully dull.

  11. Dora says:

    Thank you again Jenny for elaborating. I’m sorry that you feel that you’ve been misunderstood, and multiple times at that. However, I did try to look back at your past comments, to understand where you’re coming from, but I wasn’t able to find any. Did you previously post under another name, or was this months ago?