Friends, and a Picture of What Religion is Supposed to Look Like

I have always tried to be an open minded person. I don’t want to go around making assumptions and labeling people based on stereotypes. That’s pretty much the same as hating on countries and cultures you’ve never experienced; it’s ignorant and it doesn’t serve a purpose. However, as much as I try, I’m still human and I definitely make a lot of assumptions. There’s nothing worse than that feeling when you abruptly realize you’ve said something stereotyping or ignorant to a person who might be offended by it. It’s the lowest level of shame.

One of my closest friends in Thailand is Buddhist. Another is Mormon. It’s not difficult for me to be open minded about Buddhism, because my only preconceptions about it were a. It’s peaceful and b. it’s all ritualistic and pretty and exotic and stuff. Mormonism, however, is a whole different story.

Mormons always made me think of crazy old polygamist men and incest and 107 virgins and scary cultish stuff along those lines. Please don’t take offense to this…again, that’s just what the word Mormon always brought to mind. However, I have since discovered (or rather, reaffirmed) that no stereotype is true. Ever.

Let me preface this with the fact that I am not remotely religious. I just don’t feel a personal connection to any one faith, although I do feel moved in spiritual contexts, such as temples, churches, and so on. I like the concept of spirituality; for me it just doesn’t take the form of religion. However, I was listening to my Mormon friend describe his feelings about his faith, why he wants to be a missionary, and so on, and I cried.

He had just bought me a chocolate bar or something and I was surprised and he started to explain how he was feeling more religious lately, trying to be a kinder person in small ways and to treat everyone around him with love and respect. Then he told me how he disagrees with a lot of people in his church, who continue to believe that being gay is a choice. He was talking to two young men, both of whom are gay. He told them that they should love themselves and never let anyone tell them that who they are is wrong or sinful, and that love is beautiful and that God makes everyone exactly the way they are supposed to be. He said that God intended for them to be gay, that they were both born perfect. They were crying, he was crying. This is why he wants to be a missionary. Not to force his beliefs on others, but to find people who are looking for a community, for love and acceptance, and give them a place to grow. I might not need religion, but many people do, and if it is practiced the way it is meant to be faith is just another way to love.

I am so honored to know a person who spreads kindness and compassion through something that has become polluted with bigotry and extremism. There are horrors in life, but meeting people who bring so much light to the world makes everything look more hopeful.

Thank you for showing me that stereotypes are lies. Thank you for showing me that faith can still be a thing of hope and beauty.


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