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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Riding in Cars with Muslims (or, #LoveTrumpsHate)

My dear friends and respected readers, I have to get something out.

It seems to me that our nation is at a crossroads. I suppose it could be said that we are always at a crossroads, but this one feels like a fundamental shift in the American paradigm.

A leading candidate for our commander-in-chief can spout vitriol unimpeded. And the people cheer. They cheer!

Now, I’m not here to talk about Trump’s chosen policies or recommended plans of action, or even his desire for Russia’s assistance in bringing his opponent down. I’m here, as so many out there on the Internet are, to speak out against his seething hatred of the unknown.

I say the unknown, because in his actions and his words, Trump has made it clear he knows very little. Very little about the people he wants to kick out of the country. The Mexicans, who “don’t send their best”. The Muslims, who should be kicked out of our country. Women.  Black Lives Matter activists. The impoverished. Anyone who dissents against him must be evil, because in Trumpworld (copyright pending), Trump is God!

Now, Donald Trump is a special case. Sitting on high in his gilded castle, he does not seek to see reason. He has never had to try to understand the perspective of those less privileged than him. He is impenetrable.

But imagine! Imagine if his followers were able to sit down, breathe, and take a second. To stop being scared about “everything they have taken from us”. If they could instead have a simple conversation with their Muslim or Latino brothers and sisters—not about anything serious, but perhaps about the weather or over a hearty meal or while planting a tree—would they still harbor that deep-seeded hate?

“With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence.”  –Uber Driver #1

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Interview 10: Robert

HELLO AND HAPPY 2015! This year is going to be a good one, y’all. I can tell. Let’s get to our first interview of the year!

Funny story, I met Robert on Tinder. Except I kind of already knew who he was when I found him, because I had seen his picture on Facebook. He’s my sorority sister Katie’s brother–and I knew how awesome Katie is (seriously awesome), so I thought, hey, I can swipe right on this guy! He’s a real person! And so our friendship began. (My relationship with Tinder was much shorter–I’m done with that craziness). Robert and I haven’t hung out a ton, but when we do we just talk and talk and time flies by. He’s a fascinating individual and seems to burst with energy–his lust for life and  thirst for knowledge are unparalleled–which will soon become apparent, as you read through the interview. As I could have predicted, the interview ran long and we went off on tangents a few times–that’s the nature of our conversations–but I hope you read it all, it’s worth it.

Interview 10: Robert

“It’s not for me to say “I comprehend how this works”, it’s for me to say “I’m Catholic, and these are mysteries that I understand as they’ve been revealed to us.””

Me: [Would you] tell me what your own spiritual journey has been, over your life so far?

Robert: So…I’ve had a kind of up and down relationship with my personal religious spiritual beliefs. My family is Catholic, I was raised Catholic – a lot of people don’t realize that Catholicism is a much larger universe than just the Roman Catholic church downtown, for instance. So although I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that most people think of when they hear the term, my father’s family, being Lebanese, was originally Maronite Catholic, Maronites being one of the twenty-three branches of the Eastern Catholic Church—not Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic. In a nutshell—I’ll try to keep myself from giving the explanation that I have practiced—there are numerous rites–sort of like sects–that recognizes the primacy of the Pope, and recognizing the primacy of the Pope is essentially the defining factor of what we call Roman Catholic. So the Maronite Catholic Church, the Maronite rite, is one that uses Arabic as its vernacular language and Syriac as its liturgical language. It has a different background, a different set of traditions, a different focus than the Latin-speaking church has. The Latin speaking church has a stronger tradition of rational philosophy, the Eastern church has a stronger tradition of mysticism, of looking for symbols in everything.

Me: Which would make sense, given the traditions of Arabic cultures. There’s more of a proclivity towards mysticism, I find, in the Middle East.

Robert: Yes, I don’t know to what extent this is oversimplifying things, but to me it seems like the Latin church has inherited a lot of the Greek philosophical tradition, and the Eastern churches have retained a lot of the more native Semitic religious influences, which are always quite mystic. Catholicism itself—Christianity itself—is mystic Judaism, so that’s present all throughout any branch of Christianity, but in the Eastern rites especially. In any case, that’s only to say that I was raised Roman Catholic and very early on found myself questioning the strictures of the Church. I was essentially agnostic probably from ten on, for four or five years. You know, I’d grown up reading the Greek myths and you’re not going to tell me that Zeus isn’t real but this guy up in heaven is, I’ll listen to ya but you’re not making any rational arguments. Um… Lillie’s making a great face of agreement right now. (laughs)

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Me: That’s almost exactly when I decided I was agnostic. When I was like 10.

Robert: Exactly. I specifically remember, I had this whole mythology—not really mythology, this whole explanation worked up when I was really young, Dad still talks about this, I was like eight or something? Because we would go to Sunday school, and we would get all these lessons, and I’m listening to all these lessons and stories and I’m thinking, “This is mythology.” But I loved it, I was like, this is great, this just fits in with what I already know about mythology, about the Greek myths—and they were like “No no no, those aren’t real.” So I would go home and I would explain–I had this whole “Hercules is Jesus” thing going on. It all made sense in my head. But when I realized that there was so much pushback from people, from kind of the official church itself: (changes voice) “No, you can’t believe that, Zeus is fake and God is real”, and I…headed out. When we came back to the states—did I tell you we lived in Germany?

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Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

I already wrote an introduction to this post–and I once again apologize for the lateness. Sometimes life catches up with me. But I have finally transcribed my interview with Damon, and I am so excited to share it with you. It’s a long one, but worth reading, I promise you. So without further ado…

Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

“I just believe by faith that being in a relationship with something greater than me, God, is going to be better than what I’m doing now.”

Me: So basically, through my interview, I want to get an understanding of your beliefs and how you came to them. If you could use a sentence to describe your faith today, how would you describe it?

Damon: Oh gosh. A sentence to describe my faith?

Me: Well, okay, a paragraph. [laughs]

Damon: A paragraph. [pauses] So I believe in God, and I believe that the revelation of who God is, the character of God, God’s expectations, came through his son Jesus, who came to Earth approximately—the engineer in me won’t say two thousand years ago—approximately two thousand years ago, and that based upon the life that he lived, the way he lived his life, the sacrifice of his life, that he died for my salvation. So that would be the elevator speech of my faith.

Me: Good elevator speech. That’s exactly the terminology I should have used. [laughs] So how were you raised, and how did you come to those beliefs? Have you always believed that, or has there been a transition for you at any time?

Damon: That’s hilarious. No, I have not always believed that. I grew up in the most religiously nebulous household in the world. So, my mother, I would say is agnostic? She’s tried to come to an understanding of faith, most of her life, she’s tried to come to an understanding of God, just hasn’t been able to. When I was a kid growing up, she went to a Roman Catholic church. Every Christian and Judaic Christian denominational affiliation, she visited. Now she kind of goes to an interfaith center, so a place of spirituality and worship, but they would not claim any particular faith. My father grew up in an old-school Black Baptist church. His family went to that church. But during my childhood he was like a Sunday Christian. So Christianity wasn’t the core of his existence. He went to church on Sunday. He dressed up to the nines—excuse me, let me change my vernacular—he dressed as well as you possibly can—

Me: I understand what “dressed up to the nines” means. [laughs]

Damon: So you dressed to the nines and you went to church, and there was this old guy who had on this robe, and he got angry, and started yelling and screaming, who knew what he was yelling and screaming about, God was in there somewhere…. When I was a kid, to be perfectly honest, growing up, even through high school, I didn’t like going to the church. I loved the music, I didn’t like the length. Sunday, football season…I wanted to go home and watch the game. And the church wasn’t really about teaching. I didn’t learn very much. I didn’t learn about Jesus, I didn’t learn about this concept of faith. And then my mother—so the Catholic church—the music wasn’t hitting—this is going to sound totally racist, and it’s totally inappropriate, but I’m gonna say it anyway—black people are very—we’re rhythm-based people, and we’re into music, so these other churches that were singing like [breaks into falsetto Latin chant-singing], like you just can’t get with that. I couldn’t get with that. I needed something with a little more rhythm. So when I got to college, Georgia Tech, I went to church maybe twice? My entire collegiate career. Both times, it was because of a woman. [laughs] It had nothing to do with God at all.

So I didn’t actually come to faith, interestingly, until I was 24, actually, your age. I was a PhD student at the University of Michigan, I had just gotten my Master’s, and my roommate was going to this church, another typical Baptist church. The difference was the pastor was a teaching pastor, so he taught a lot. I used to not like people of faith, and Christians, I thought they just—the engineer in me, the scientist, I thought they just wanted to explain everything away with faith. He was very very very good at teaching. I was going because I liked the music, and I appreciated the teaching, and right at the age of 24 I went through this very traumatic experience—well it was traumatic for me at the time, looking back on it it’s not traumatic—where my advisor left the University of Michigan and went to Cornell, and he couldn’t take me with him. So I was stuck at Michigan with no advisor, not knowing if I was going to finish my PhD. Now I look back on it, not that big a deal, at the time it was like the world was ending, if I didn’t know what I was going to do with my doctorate. So that was how I came to faith.

Damon's official photo

Damon’s official photo

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Interview 5: …Me.

I had not realized how many verbal tics I have until I listened to my interview. Taylor was a wonderful interviewer, asking poignant questions and finding new questions from my answers. Perhaps I should hand my job over to her!

Introducing my own interview–and putting block quotes from myself–seems a little odd, so I’m going  ahead and writing it. Please let me know what you think! Also I think I’m going to post a poll as to whether or not people want the sound recordings of the interviews. Transcribing allows for editing and deleting my colloquialisms (some, I did try to keep it honest), but for long interviews such as my own, perhaps a sound version would be more appropriate? As an accompaniment, exclusively. So when I figure out how to post a poll, please do let me know your thoughts.

Interview 5: Me

“Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.” –Carl Sagan

Taylor: Well, thanks for allowing for allowing me to interview you, Lillie.

Me: Thanks for interviewing me! I really appreciate it.

Taylor: I’m excited about it, because when you were interviewing me, I wanted to ask you questions. Now here we are!

Me: Now you can!

Taylor: First, if you’d explain your religious background, history, exposure, etcetera.

Me: Yeah! So…when I was little, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and all the same stuff that everybody goes to when you’re Christian. It was at my preschool, which was a Methodist church. When you’re little you kinda just accept everything that’s told to you, so I was just like, “God is a person. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This is fact, and this is what they have told me.” And then I got a little bit older and my mom told me that my dad didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t tell anyone.

Taylor: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) At first I was kinda like, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in God?” I thought that God was just like, a thing. I mean I pictured him as this cleanly shaven old man who hung out in the clouds and just looked at us. Everyone always said he had a beard and I was like, “In my mind he’s very cleanly shaven.” He looked kind of like Mr. Rogers, in my head. Just so you know. (laughs) So that was my first exposure to understanding that people could believe different things. I just assumed that everybody was taught the same stuff. And then…I don’t really know at what point I understood that there were different religions, but there came a point in elementary school when I was like, “I don’t believe in God either.”  I think I was nine or ten. And I had been reading Time magazine and listening to NPR for quite some time, at this point in my life. So I thought I knew everything. I stopped saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was like, “There needs to be separation of church and state. This is important.” Of course nobody notices the ten year old who just stops saying the Pledge of Allegiance halfway through and then just resumes it!

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Interview 4: Elizabeth

“Like most healthy relationships, mine with God is based on trust.”

Last week I was on vacation, so no interview–I’m dreadfully sorry. (Not really, I was at Hilton Head and it was wonderful). This week I interviewed Elizabeth, my darling grand-little in my sorority. I didn’t get to meet Elizabeth until she became Taylor’s little, but she fit into the sister-family instantly. She’s charming, well-spoken, driven, and hilarious–her sarcastic sense of humor showed she was meant to be in our family instantly. As I got to know her, I learned that her religion was very important to her–but not much more than that on the subject, so I was excited to get to ask her about her beliefs. She also made a gluten-free peach cobbler for our interview…and it was delicious (and very thoughtful, as I am gluten intolerant). We ate it while standing in her kitchen with her boyfriend and talking about religion/politics/everything else. [Side note: my interview will be posted next week, since I don’t feel it’s fair ask others to publicize their beliefs without doing it myself.]

Elizabeth mentions two churches she attended, but wants it to be clear that the opinions expressed in her interview do not represent either church’s views and are solely her own opinions.

And without further ado…

Interview 4: Elizabeth

DSC_0272“I feel [my relationship with God] is kind of a mix between a relationship with a parent and a relationship with a friend.” 

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