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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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 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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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 2: Joe

“For me it was a very easy decision to choose to continue to grow in my faith and live by it, not just blindly following it because that’s what I was used to, but believing it because I wanted to, and importantly, trying to live based on that belief.”

I met Joe (aged 22) through work. He can be quiet at first but as he opens up, his quick wit and genuine kindness become apparent. Joe is part of the reason I started this blog–as I got to know him, I learned that he lives his life in a manner that is deeply rooted in his faith, and I couldn’t help but ask him questions constantly. I wanted to understand his faith because Joe demonstrates the values of his religion through his actions, quietly and without any desire for recognition. He is extraordinary to me and also somewhat foreign, so of course I found myself trying to comprehend every angle of his beliefs. He was patient and answered all of my questions without hesitation, further proving to me how deep his convictions are and yet how open and understanding he is. So of course, when I decided to bother lots of people with my questions and start this blog, he was one of the first people I thought to interview.

The interview below was conducted via email as Joe lives in Minnesota (though I did manage to snap some photos of him on a recent visit, there wasn’t time for me to interview him in person).

Interview 2: Joe

Could you describe for me your faith journey thus far? As in, how were you raised, and have there been any moments in your life that have changed your faith?
I was raised Catholic, the fourth child of eight (typical large Catholic family). I went to a Catholic grade school and a small private Christian high school that had a mostly Catholic student/faculty body. For my whole life, our family has always had a nightly prayer time where we say at least one decade of the rosary – it’s been very central to our lives. My parents have said that when they made the decision to do this they immediately noticed us kids getting along much better with less fighting and yelling, so it definitely had an effect on us (and on others who have said that upon entering our house, they felt a sense of peace – despite young kids shouting and running around with lightsabers).

During junior year of high school I decided to also pray a rosary of my own each day and have ever since. I decided this in response to feeling a bit down and somewhat lonely at that time in my life, and I immediately benefitted from that, including growing much closer to the people who to this day are my closest friends. Deciding to commit myself to this daily routine affected me in a behind-the-scenes way. I never mentioned it to my friends or anything, and the basis of that friendship wasn’t our religion or religious practices. 

I attended the University of Notre Dame (heyyy another Catholic school), and freshman year was probably the hardest of my life. I didn’t know anyone else at ND, I was separated from my high school friends, and had just had a falling out with my very best friend at the time, who was a girl whom I had very strong feelings for, so there was a good deal of heartbreak there. Plus, the culture shock alone of being in college was draining enough, and having no one to go to with a sense of familiarity and security was tough. I spent a lot of nights at the grotto on campus, which is a beautiful and peaceful candle lit area, and I would say my rosary before heading back to my dorm to do homework or binge-watch Scrubs.
DSC_0080With all of this, I would say freshman year was the most significant moment of my life that changed my faith, as I felt like my faith was what kept me afloat. I built up a large deal of trust in God and I greatly benefited from that. After freshman year and throughout the rest of my time on campus I continued to become more social, more confident, and felt more like a person. 
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