Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance & Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride

"Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon."
- Donald Miller

I remember the moment that I fell in  love with God.

I was born and raised in the South, which means that I was also born and raised in the church. A Southern Baptist church, to be precise. Believing in God was like believing in the sun - it's always there, why question it? 

Then, as the story always goes, I grew up. I moved away from the safe, cozy bubble that never asked questions into a world where questions filled every second of every day - (dun dun duuuun) college!

It didn't help that one of my very first college courses was centered around examining and questioning images of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, in cinema, in art, and in our cultural makeup. 

I remember the first paper that I wrote for that class. One sentence, and I quote, said, "My God is bigger than facts!"

To which my professor replied, in red ink, "um...what!?" 

In a matter of weeks, my faith went from being the center of who I was to being virtually nonexistent. I had trouble justifying everything that I used to believe with everything that I was starting to learn in class. It felt like a knife, stabbing me over and over again, slowly chipping away at the thing that had made me... me.

But then, one day in class, we read Matthew 22:37-40:
Jesus replied:  "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
"Mind" - that tiny little word made all the difference in the world. Could it be that this examining, this questioning, was exactly what I was called, as a Christian, to do? Could it be that God wanted me to ask questions? To use the mind that he gave me? To reason and to think?

All of this time, I had thought that examining my faith under a microscope was wrong. Turns out, it's what I was called to do all along.

That's when I fell in love with God.

Elna Baker writes about all of this in her new autobiography The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween DanceNow, I have been looking forward to this book for awhile. Last year, after coming home from a grueling day at the bookstore, I sat down to listen to NPR with my husband and happened to catch one of Elna's stories, Babies Buying Babies. This story follows Elna's journey as a recently graduated theatre major who takes a retail job in a kids' store in order to support herself.

"Holy shnikes," I thought. "That' me."

So I went to Elna's website, where it said something a long the lines of "Hey! Elna has a book coming out soon and the title is a really long, complicated one that you won't be able to remember when you get to the bookstore, and also one that booksellers will hate you for not being able to remember."

I searched, using all the high-tech (ba-dum-bum-CHING!) bookstore tools that were available to me as a bookseller.

"Um...New York...Mormon...Dance...Singles"

"Search Results: 0"

"Mormons... in New York... Dancing"

"Search Results: 0"

Needless to say, I jumped for joy when, about a year later, I found Elna's book on the shelf and realized that it was, in fact, real and not something that I had dreamed or hallucinated. It took me about a millisecond to buy it and about a few hours to read the whole thing.

Not only is Elna a recently graduated theatre major who takes a retail job in a kids' store in order to support herself, but she is also a Mormon living in New York City.

And I thought being a Christian at an Episcopalian university was hard.

I loved this book even more than I thought I would (which was a lot). Elna's honesty is enlightening and refreshing, and I found myself wanting to be her best friend so that we could write shows and plays and be actors and Christians and friends and, ya know, cool stuff like that.

But what I liked most about her book was how empowering it was. She loses 80 pounds, she goes on adventures, she stands up for herself, she makes out with a Hollywood star that she calls "Warren Beatty" but who isn't actually "Warren Beatty" (and, for the record, I think it's Sam Shepard... hey Elna if you read this and you want to be my friend you could TOTALLY tell me who it really was. Cool? Cool).

Elna is someone who loves her life and lives it - truly lives it. She seizes opportunities, she says what she thinks, she takes risks. And she does all of these things because of - not IN SPITE of - her faith.

In spite of all of the white noise, all the madness, there is that still, small voice inside. The voice that encourages you to seek, to ask questions, to strive for the best, to strive for the truth. To love your life, to love the world, to love others. The voice that says, "I'm here, and I understand."

It always makes me think of Sylvia Plath's words (as out of context as they may be),
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am."
Hey! Look at this!

1 comment:

  1. For what it's worth, I'm confident it's Sam Shepard, too. I was at a show she presented. It was essentially "Truth or Dare" with a bunch of comedians. She got a "truth" asking her the weirdest thing that's ever been inside of her, and her response was "Sam Shepard's finger."


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