Several years ago two young women visited me from Utah on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I had finished my morning chores, showered, and then sat down on the couch with a glass of wine to keep me company while I was reading when the doorbell rang. The spokeswoman for the pair asked if they could come in and talk to me about their Mormon faith and to present me with a copy of The Book of Mormon. As my son and daughter were in their bedrooms I acquiesced and permitted them inside.
I asked if they minded if I sipped upon my wine while we talked and they assured me that it was perfectly fine and we entered into a back-and-forth discussion of their faith and my own particular spiritual bent. Even though, I explained, that I attended church with my family, was a youth group leader, and had spent five years as the Board President, I had never considered myself a religious man although I do consider myself a spiritual one.
I listened to the young women and they listened to me and we genuinely respected each other’s beliefs and could see the value in them. There was once a time when I had trouble with three tenets of the Mormon faith but they demonstrated the value of two of those leaving me issue with only one, which is their idea that the Latter Day Saints practice the one and only true religion. I always figured if there was an infinite God then there must be an infinite number of paths that lead to Him/Her/It.
One of the two young missionaries hailed from Ogden and the other from Salt Lake City continued to visit me once a month or so for the remainder of the Southern California Mission and we spent many pleasant hours learning about each other’s beliefs. They were quite happy to learn that I had visited Palmyra while on a business trip to Rochester, toured the facility there, and was shown the spot where Joseph Smith was said to have retrieved the Golden Plates. They were also pleased to know that I had also been to Joseph Smith’s home in Salt Lake City while on a business trip there.
On their last visit to see me they said their mission was over and they were returning home and that other missionaries would visit me. It was a bittersweet farewell, as if I was seeing old friends for the very last time. I had, after all, truly enjoyed their company, our discussions, and our explorations into faith. Blame the anthropologist in me for being so interested in other’s beliefs.
We said goodbye and sometime later two young men stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. The spokesman for the two introduced them and that asked: “Are we ever going to convince you to visit our church.” When I replied in the negative they said I would not be visited again and left.
I still have The Book of Mormon the young women had presented me with a personalized inscription on the inside directing me to some passages they believed to be of particular import. I read those passages along with others and rarely I’ll pick it up and read a little bit but the truth is I may never finish it, although I should so I can better understand the faith of coworkers, neighbors, and friends although I don’ t know how much of a difference it would make. I suspect very little.
I will always treasure the memories of the two inquisitive young missionaries and of lazy Saturday afternoon discussions and of the fact that we could follow different paths and maintain a relationship that was not only pleasant but also one of mutual respect. It’s something I think our shrinking world could use a little more of.