I'm a contractor and that means that I'm low man on the totem pole when it comes to office space. I currently occupy what I think used to be a storage room along with eight other contractors. We've been having some interesting conversations about Mormonism lately.
Growing up I always knew that I was different. For as long as I can remember I knew that I belonged to the one true church and that everyone else in the world was wrong and living in spiritual darkness and needed to be converted. This is a heavy burden for a child and colors everything you perceive about all of the gentiles that surround you. It is also a heavy burden since all those gentiles are unlikely to convert if you are setting a bad example. So I was always trying my best to be a good example of what a Mormon should be so that people would see how wonderful my life was and want to know why and want to join God's one true church.
I don't remember it being much of an issue until I entered junior high school. Then I definitely felt like a wierdo. When everyone at school went to dances I had to stay at home because I wasn't 14. Everyone seemed to be experimenting with sex and I knew that that was akin to murder. This carried over to high school except that by then I'd learned that being a Mormon made me different than everyone else. At an age where I desparately wanted to fit in I was terrified of anyone finding out I was a Mormon and avoided the subject at all costs. All I wanted to be was normal but it seemed like being Mormon made that impossible. I knew I was different. I knew I was supposed to be better. I knew I was supposed to be happier. I knew that they should be suffering as sinners and non-members, but somehow it didn't seem to ever work out that way. I was miserable and for the most part they seemed happy.
My mission changed all that. Spending all of your time and energy promoting Mormonism and being a very publicly visible emblem of the church can do that. When I returned I discovered that I no longer feared people discovering that I was Mormon. In fact, I felt quite comfortable in my own skin for the first time I could remember. Given the all-intrusive nature of the church it would be impossible to hide the fact that I was a member and I gladly shared my life and experiences as if they were perfectly natural. I realized that I'd have to really go out of my way to hide my Mormonism and didn't see any reason to do that. It was all very natural to me by that time and I had no problem sharing my church experiences with the gentiles around me. It never occurred to me how strange I must have seemed to them.
Now, as I share my knowledge of the Mormon church and culture with my co-workers from the perspective of a former Mormon I'm having a completely different experience. Since I no longer believe they feel free to share their true feelings. And it's quite funny to see the looks of incredulity and humor on their faces as I share with them. You see, no matter how much Mormons want to portray themselves as normal, happy people, they are still wierd. I'm only rediscovering that again. The whole concept of prayer and faith overriding logic, evidence and reason is just amazing. My co-workers are amazed that any educated, intelligent person could ever believe any of it.
So no matter the marketing spin that the church puts on it, gentiles still perceive Mormons as pretty wierd. They may be too polite to say so, but inside they are rolling their eyes and trying to hold back the laughter.
(And as a side note. Yes, Mormons call non-Mormons gentiles. I had a high councilman try to tell me that Mormons have never called non-Mormons gentiles. Apparently he's never read his own scriptures or he'd know differently. I suppose they don't consider Jews to be gentiles. But that's the only exception. The rest of you are gentiles. Sorry, unrighteous gentiles whose only hope is to join God's one true church on the face of the earth: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)