Interview 12: Tyson

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.

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Tyson, possibly giving me side-eye, possibly because I was trying to convince him that he should have some decaf coffee. (He politely declined).

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#LivesMatter

I’m currently in Brazil so I get all my news from the internet, which is how I found out about the shooting in North Carolina. I want to take a moment to discuss something with y’all.

It seems that there is some confusion as to what the murderer’s motive was—I’ve seen articles asserting he shot and killed three young adults over a parking dispute. Ignoring the religious/racial aspect of the murders for a moment, this idea alone is ridiculous, and a great example of why gun control is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love guns. I shoot them for fun. At a piece of paper. In a range. However, I do not own one, because I do not need one. But I digress, this blog is not here to debate gun control issues, and I’m not well versed enough in the intricacies of that debate to assert a solid opinion (the one thing I know I believe is that background checks should be mandatory).

A man, possibly angered over a parking issue, murdered three people.

Over a parking issue.

Now, in the next several days, there will be many debates over whether or not it matters that the three victims were Muslim. Pundits will argue back and forth about whether this man would have killed these people if they had been WASPs, and whether he should be labeled a terrorist. Hypotheticals will be bandied about in an effort to eat airtime and justify the profit made off of commercials.

So does the religion of the victims matter?

Yes. Yes it does. But not necessarily in the way we might think.

This man may not hate Muslims. I don’t know him, I don’t know what went through his head. But I do know he looked at three people in anger and shot them. And this tells me something. It tells me how little he valued their lives.

As humans, we have a tendency to categorize other humans. It’s our nature. It makes it easier for us to draw connections, easier for us to think we understand the world and the people in it. This person is Christian. That person is Muslim. That other person is Jewish. This person is conservative, that person liberal. This person rich, that person poor. This person religious, this person not. We walk around every day and we carry our labels. We are asked to define ourselves using them. Life is simpler that way.

There is a movement out there in the media and in politics that defines Christians as good, Jews as less good, and Muslims as evil. Cities fight to forbid mosques from being built. Extremist pundits argue that it is not possible to be Muslim without hating America. Most of us know better, but the message is there, and it is prevalent. It eats away at us as we argue over Islam and forget that we are talking about other human beings.

This insidious message got to this man, this murderer. He was angry. Maybe at Muslims, maybe about parking. But either way, he saw Muslims, and he did not think of them as living, breathing humans. He looked at two women and saw their headscarves instead of their beautiful faces. He looked at another man and did not see an equal.

And so three lives, filled to the brim with potential, were tragically cut short.

What are we doing?

It is time to stop categorizing. It is time to stand up for the only category that matters, humanity. I am human and you are my brethren. It is easy to get angry at each other as we encounter one another in the world, but at the core, beneath the superficial slights, we share a consciousness, a knowledge of each other, a bond beyond comprehension.

We should be judged individually, on our own merits, or not at all.

Please take a moment today to value the lives of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and mourn their loss. We owe it to them.

And then take another moment to value all life, this beautiful gift we have been given that can be so easily taken away. Hug someone and hold them close. That is humanity. We are beings of love.

Interview 9: Emily

Once again, sorry for the gaps in posts. Traveling internationally takes a toll on the blogging! If you want to be updated when I post a new interview, you can subscribe via email (at the bottom of the page), via WordPress, or you’ll see it when I post it on Facebook (since I assume many of you are my Facebook friends). But let’s get to the point–my interview with Emily!

I met Emily over seven years ago, at nerd camp–the Governor’s Honor’s Program in Georgia. We were both selected as “Communicative Arts” majors, a fancy way of saying “bookworms”. The first time I saw her, I knew I was looking at a kindred spirit. I don’t really know why. But we’ve been friends ever since. We went to different high schools and different colleges, but in Atlanta, so we saw each other at least a few times a year and spoke frequently.

Emily once wrote on her blog (check it out, it’s witty and poignant and fantastic) that she feels about me “roughly the same as Leslie Knope feels about Anne Perkins,” which is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. And if I am Anne Perkins, she is definitely my Leslie Knope. She’s smarter and more focused, positively adorable, and overall a better person than I–and I would HAPPILY punch anyone for her or make her a last minute wedding dress. She’s also wickedly funny. And I know if I needed her, she would drop everything and be here for me in a second. She’s that kind of friend.

When transcribing interviews, I usually have to edit out a few shared jokey moments or make some things clearer because of my history with the interviewee. What I discovered during my interview with Emily is that not only do we have a habit of understanding where each other is going and interrupting–we also don’t finish sentences because we know the other knows what we are thinking. The result was an interview that made me laugh out loud while I transcribed it and also required a lot of editing for clarity. I’m still not so sure that some of my questions are clear–but Emily knew what I meant. There’s also a bit toward the end where we both started crying–I didn’t keep the actual crying in the transcribed interview, but you’ll probably be able to tell where. We managed to pack a LOT of interview into less than thirty minutes–so this one is a bit long, but it’s definitely worth the read.

Interview 9: Emily

“To be remembered, and remembered well by people you have helped, is a motivation for doing good works, and also for making as much of an impact as you can in your time on this planet.”

Me: If you would go through how you were raised, and how that brought you to where you are religion-wise today?

Emily: Sure! So…my mother was raised as a practicing Reform Jew, and kind of quit practicing herself when she was in high school, and didn’t really identify as a practicing Jew past that point. My dad was raised…my paternal grandfather was raised fairly strictly Baptist and my paternal grandmother is the daughter of a Methodist minister and went to a Methodist college on scholarship as a result. Both of them, I think, had fairly aggressively lost their faith by the time they went to grad school, and they were both in a PhD program, that’s how they met…they were super into the Beats, that was their whole deal, so they super didn’t believe in anything. They identified, I think, my grandfather in particular identifies as an atheist, and so raised my dad not as anything, and my dad pretty aggressively identifies as an atheist at this point, but an atheist descended of Christian stock, so I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter as non-religious but family holidays. We’d go visit my grandparents.

Emily

We always did Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family so as a result—because on that side of the family, everyone else is still practicing Jews—we would do Hanukkah then, just called it good. Beyond that, my cousins on that side of the family were all named growing up, so we’d go to my grandmother’s synagogue for the naming; when my grandmother died we had an unveiling after a year–so that side of the family is actually Jewish, and my sister and my dad and I are kind of the anomaly there. So yeah, I was raised—that was kind of roundabout—was raised not really believing anything, didn’t have to go to church, didn’t have to go to synagogue, didn’t have to do any of those things, which was considered super weird by the standards of Tulsa, which is where I grew up. My sister and I used to joke that we’re Jewtheists, but like—there’s a difference, I think, between atheists who …walked away from the faith they were raised in versus people who just weren’t raised with any of that, and we fall into the latter camp. We were never rejecting anything, we just weren’t raised practicing as anything. So as a result, my sister and I both went to Emory, my dad works for Emory, my mom worked for Emory—which is…Methodist affiliated—and so, I don’t think we ever had any issues with that particularly, liberal Methodists being the Unitarians of the Protestant denominations, and so my sister was in the Glenn Methodist Youth Group growing up, and did that kind of stuff; I was involved in the Inter-Religious Council in college…we weren’t really ever like “Fuck religion, it’s the worst,” but we just didn’t—it wasn’t ours.

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Interview 3: Taylor

“I’ve gotten strength from God in hard times, and I’ve gotten wisdom.”

I met Taylor because I was assigned to–she had just joined my sorority, and we were matched as “Alpha Buddies”, a chance for older girls to meet the new pledges and introduce them to sorority life. I picked her up and took her to lunch, and we hit it off immediately. She is kind, smart, and wickedly funny–her ability to say the most outrageous things in a deadpan manner has left me crying from laughter. Our mutual interests and overall similarities were obvious from the start, so she became my Little in the sorority (my little sister, essentially). I have now known her for five years, and my life is so much better for it.

One of the multitudes of things I appreciate about Taylor is her faith and her willingness to speak about it. Since faith is so central in her life, it was something I was curious about–and she was equally curious about my beliefs. We have had open and honest discourse, and so of course I thought of her when I started my interviews. I have watched Taylor go through college–a time of trials and tribulations–with her faith intact. And she’s had more than her fair share of awfulness. But her sense of humor and strength from her faith have served her well, and I feel privileged to call her my little sister.

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Interview 1: My Parents

To ease myself into the “interview-style” of questioning, I started with my parents. Mom (aged 51) is a Southern girl who works hard and laughs harder, and Dad (aged 56) is an Iranian-born lawyer who loves nothing more than to sit and read. The combination is both insane and adorable, and their love has taught me more than they will ever know. There were some hiccups with my first attempt at an interview (I first interviewed Mom separately…and then deleted my only audio copy as soon as we were finished) so this is the second interview. There’s a lot more that they each have to say, so more interviews may be posted later on.

A few notes: the interview is long, so prepare yourselves accordingly, but I think a lot of what they said is very poignant to religion today. To be fair, I’m biased…they’re my parents. Also a few times we mention the word “baba”, that just means Dad in Farsi.

and here we go.

Interview 1: Mom and Dad

Me: So I’m going to ask you guys the same questions basically, and we’ll delve into some things with each of you, but I would like for you to kind of alternate talking. So who would like to go first? Mom’s already had some practice.

Mom: Okay, well go with me first.

Me: Okay, so I would like you to go over your ‘faith journey’, how you were raised as a kid and where you are today and how you came down that path.

Mom: Okay. Pine Forest Baptist Church was the first church that I remember going to. We were very involved there. I asked to be baptized when I was around eight, which was a little young, I remember there being some questions as to whether I was too young to make that decision, but I convinced the minister that I was ready. So I was baptized there. Fully dunked. And we moved away from that house, to the other side of town, to [another church]…went there (sighs) occasionally. What I remember is we’d go at the beginning of the school year and then we’d go twice more, so it was almost painful, because every time I went back, I didn’t know where I was going, I didn’t know the people there, it didn’t feel like I belonged there. I didn’t enjoy going to that church. My dad never went very much. I think he went back at Pine Forest. When we finally joined Highland Hills—well I got involved because I knew some younger people there, and so I visited and then Mother visited and Mother got very involved. And so Mother started going very regularly and I went more regularly—had some great Sunday School teachers there, and of course, Reverend Jim Bruner who married your baba and me. He was just a wonderful minister. I learned a lot about my faith through him and the Sunday School teachers there. I haven’t found another place like that. They were just open-minded. You know, when your baba and I got married, Reverend Bruner sat us down and talked to us about how we were going to make this marriage work when we came from different faiths. He never seemed to question whether he should marry us, he just wanted us to be aware that it was going to be difficult coming from different places. I now understand there are ministers who would not have married us, and I find that shocking, because I never thought for a second that Reverend Bruner wouldn’t marry us! So that’s the beginning of my faith.

 

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