Tyson is one of the most calm and collected people I have ever met. He is often quiet and spends more time listening than speaking, but when he does speak, it is softly and slowly, in a measured manner–I daresay his speech pattern is rare among our generation, and it is refreshing. He seems very selective about the moments he chooses to speak up, but when he does, you don’t want to miss it. Our coworkers are often surprised when Tyson’s humor comes out due to his quiet and unassuming nature, but you can tell from his eyes when he is about to drop a wicked one-liner that may leave his audience gasping for air–a wryness comes over his face and I make sure to tune in.
I find Tyson to be one of my favorite people to talk to due to his depth of character and multifaceted personality. He is, as another coworker described, “jacked”; he is thoughtful and kind; he is curious about others and their opinions; and he is deeply religious. I’ve known many members of the Church of Latter Day Saints in my life, but Tyson is the first one I would consider a close friend, and so I was ecstatic when he agreed to sit down to an interview. One of the things I enjoy the most about this blog is the opportunity to discuss topics that may be considered “taboo” with people I truly respect–and Tyson is completely open to conversing about his faith and what it means to him, so cutting the interview at my usual twenty-minute mark was heart-breaking–but even in those twenty minutes, I had learned so much more than I could have anticipated. Throughout the interview, Tyson’s quiet confidence and security in his beliefs became more and more evident. If I ever need someone to represent something I believe in, I want it to be Tyson.
Interview 12: Tyson
“It’s cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture: God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.”
Me: So, Tyson, I don’t know if you’ve read of any of my blog, but the way I have people start out is I have them tell me a brief picture of their life story in terms of religion. So how you came to where you are currently—just tell me about your whole life!
Tyson: So…both of my parents are Mormon, or LDS.
Me: Which one’s better?
Tyson: Mormon is a term that a lot of non-members call us, but we don’t really call ourselves Mormons. We’re LDS, which means Latter Day Saints. A “Saint” is a follower of Christ, “Latter Day” means “last days.” I was born into it, and to some degree, a lot of my extended family are too—but a lot aren’t, as well. You’re baptized when you’re eight, not when you’re born, and it’s your choice.
Me: So like Baptists.
Tyson: Mhmm. It’s your parents’ choice as well. Some people don’t want to until later—a lot of kids are baptized at eight. It’s just an age of accountability. You go to church every Sunday, where there are Sunday school classes for kids, teenagers, adults, etc. Once you graduate high school, both boys and girls have the option, if you choose, to go on a mission. It’s not really a requirement—you’re not forced to. There might be a little bit of social pressure just because a lot of your friends might be going, but you’re not really urged to go unless it’s for the right reasons. Once you graduate from high school you see a lot of LDS kids having a little bit of a soul searching phase, trying to figure out if it’s really for them, or not, and if it’s real or if they feel that it’s true. I definitely had a phase like that. But when it came down to it, I felt like the message of the gospel that I had been taught my whole life was full, peaceful, logical, happy and it’s something that makes other people happy, so it was worth pushing off college for two years and pursuing. So yeah, I served a two year mission, spent in service and gospel teaching and spending a lot of time in the community. Hardly any of your time is your own on a mission—you’re told what you need to be doing, but it’s kind of cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture: God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it. And now I’m here.
“We’re children of God, and He created us, and the fact that we’re children of God means that we’re offspring of God and that there’s goodness in us, and that His greatest goal is to have us back again.”
Me: Was it weird to come back and jump into college—because you’d already taken two years, matured, and devoted yourself to something so fully? College kids aren’t necessarily used to that. And do you think that being at BYU helped because there was probably a bigger population of people who understood?
Tyson: Yeah. I wouldn’t say that it was weird going back to school, because everyone starts school at their own unique stage of life. Of course, there were a lot of other returned missionaries at BYU as well. Probably the weirdest post-mission thing that I have dealt with to this point was entering corporate America in a big city that’s very culturally and religiously diverse. I came in as an entry-level analyst at the age of 26, and everyone else is coming in at age 23, so that’s weird because people think, “well what the heck did you do with your life, why did you just barely graduate college?” Probably the weirdest part is, at least in the eyes of the general cultural population, you’re kind of seen as a step behind in life.
Me: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that, what it was like to come to a city that is so diverse? I mean, I’m basing that on the assumption that growing up in Provo and then at BYU, you’re probably mostly surrounded by people who had the same belief system as you. Is that true?
Tyson: I don’t know the exact statistics, but I know that the percentage of LDS people in Utah is about 50/50. And the people that aren’t LDS tend to be very against it, because they’re so drowned in that culture. But coming out to a city where a lot of people don’t know what LDS or Mormon is has been good for me because it’s almost like a second mission—a chance to be thrown into the ocean with all sorts of different beliefs and views, and really have a chance to find out for myself it it’s for real all over again. To a certain extent, when you go to BYU, it’s easy to live your standards, because such a high percentage of the kids there are doing the same. It’s a little bit of a bubble. But when coming out here—I could drink and smoke and do drugs and everything else that my religion suggests to avoid, and a lot of people around me wouldn’t think it’s anything weird. So being out here and on my own in such a different environment has really put me to the test of is it really true and is it worth holding myself to it.
Me: Well, so far so good, ‘cause you won’t drink coffee. (laughs) So what is it that you—I have a very vague sense of what members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints actually believe, and I feel like that’s just because when we talk about Mormons, we just say, “Oh, they’re super straight laced,” and that’s what we know about them. But when it actually comes to belief structure, I know very very little.
Tyson: To briefly sum it up, we know that there is a God, and that he is seen as a loving Heavenly Father who has a perfect plan for us, which only has happiness in store the more we try to follow that plan. He has called prophets throughout time—people like Abraham, Moses, or Isaiah—that he has spoken through. Because of that, it’s an act of faith, because God isn’t here walking amongst us, he speaks through prophets to test people’s faith and see, “are they really going to follow someone that I call, or are they going to demand signs and demand proof that I exist?” The most important part is that God gave these individuals special priesthood authority to act as prophets.
Next, the family is very central to the way that everything works, and God’s plan is built for families. One big principle that we really cling onto is that families are forever—you’re not born into a family by chance, and you’re not just going to go off and be random spirits after death. Families have purpose, and purpose long before life and after.
The Gospel that guides us was established by Jesus, and he was the one that performed the sacrifice so that we could live with God again. When we sin, we distance ourselves from God, so it took a perfect person who was a god to make a sacrifice in order to create a bridge between us and God again. Because Jesus made that possible, it’s Him who we worship.
After Jesus’ death, and the death of all his disciples, priesthood authority was lost from the earth. There was no prophet, or no way for God to effectively guide His children. The world remained prophet-less for several hundred years.
And so here we are today, again following a prophet—but that prophet needs to have special authority from God, which came through a Restoration of that priesthood to the earth. You’ve probably heard of a guy named Joseph Smith that Mormons talk about. We believe that in the 1800s, Joseph Smith as a young boy wanted to know which church was right. Basically he decided “I’m going to ask God which of these churches is true.” He put a lot of thought and diligence into that question, and pretty fervent prayer, and one day was visited by God and Jesus Christ. Their message was that after the death of Christ, priesthood authority was lost from the Earth, and that it was time to restore Christ’s gospel to the earth for these Latter Days. It was through Joseph Smith that that happened, and so through several years of preparation he was given the priesthood and guided to restore Christ’s church to Earth. Since then, the priesthood has been passed down through a series of prophets to a prophet on the Earth today who we believe is the mouthpiece for God and has the authority to do so.
Me: That’s really interesting. So there’s still a prophet, and that’s a person? Is that person revered at all or is that somebody that you’re like, “Oh hey, Bob, Prophet Bob, what’s going on”? Does that person live in Utah? Sorry, I just have a lot of questions.
Tyson: Yes, he’s a person. I think he has a little apartment in Salt Lake, for when he’s at church headquarters. He doesn’t make a single cent for being prophet, and much like Christ’s church long ago, he has twelve apostles.
Me: I never knew that. That’s really interesting. So, when it comes to beliefs, do Mormons—and do you—believe that people are inherently good and become evil and then need to be purged, or, because they are humans, they are inherently bad and the sacrifice helped us to get to that bridge and we have to accept it? Sorry, that’s a bad question. Are we inherently good or inherently bad in your eyes?
Tyson: Good. Absolutely.
Me: Is that common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
Tyson: Like I said, the first truth that I shared is that we believe in God, and believe that He is our loving Heavenly Father. What goes with that is that we’re children of God, and He created us, and the fact that we’re children of God means that we’re offspring of God and that there’s goodness in us, and that His greatest goal is to have us back again. So we are absolutely good. But sin means distance from God. Sin means we take a step away. And so it’s through righteousness and repentance, which Christ helps us through, that helps us to close that gap between us and God. 100% Good.
Me: I like that. So you were talking about how when you’re in a family, you’re a unit, and it’s not just random, and you’ll stay together in the afterlife. What is your concept of that individual spirit? And also, how does that individual spirit move on and create a new family?
Tyson: I’ll try to answer what I think you’re getting at. So, my spirit and your spirit and everyone’s spirit, in some form or another, has always existed. Our spirit wasn’t just suddenly created when we were born. So millions of billions of years ago, long before I ever lived on this earth, I was still a spirit, I lived in a preexistence state with God and all of our other heavenly brothers and sisters. But part of His plan was, “I need to give each and every one of my children an earthly chance to grow up for themselves, otherwise they’re just going to be coddled up here in this easy preexistence state, and they’re never going to progress.” So basically a spirit has existed as long as God has existed, I’ve always been me, and after I die I will still be me, and I’ll still be linked with my family, but going along with that, God has established a path for me to be linked with my family, and that’s where temples come in. You’ve probably seen or heard about temples, and the things that go on in temples are things for families so that families can be sealed together.
Me: So when you marry someone, because you go to temple with that person, you can start sealing that family unit as well?
Tyson: Marriage is a pretty big deal, because it’s an eternal thing, and that’s why it takes place in a temple and not just in a park somewhere.
Me: Is there ever any misconception about Mormons that you’re like, “I really wish people didn’t believe this about us”? Anything you want to set the record straight on? Like I already know you’re not all polygamists.
Tyson: Not really, I’m not ashamed of anything. You know, I think a lot of people view any other person that’s in a very active church system to think that they’re either closed-minded or brainwashed. If there’s anything that I could help people understand, it’s that anything that happens within the church is not forced, you’re not intimidated into anything, everything happens out of choice, which is hopefully decided between you and God.