If there was a way to discover (or regain) a vibrant, affectionate relationship with someone who disagrees with you about Mormonism, would you be interested?
Mark and I have been musing about this for quite awhile – experimenting with the possibility in our own relationship. As I’ve mentioned before, Mark is a former Mormon who I met in the MTC years ago, with whom I recently re-connected over common professional interests. Usually the tacit agreement with friends not involved in the Church is to ‘not go there.’ Mark and I decided to do the opposite – turning towards the thorny things that often caused such resentment…with some fresh curiosity.
Even though we both had plenty of stories in our heads about the ‘other side,’ part of our success, I think, arose from a shared willingness to hold these stories gently enough to make space for the lived experience of the other to surprise us. (The Buddhists call this “beginner’s mind” – encountering something or someone fresh – as if for the first time).
What didn’t I understand about Mark’s experience? What more was there to see?
Quite a bit, it turns out. As our conversation matured and progressed, powerful realizations and ‘breakthrough’ moments happened for both of us. Along the way, we’ve also had to face and metabolize some of the same tension and misunderstanding that characterizes the Mormon/former Mormon interface. But rather than allowing that to push us away from each other, we’ve held onto our friendship – trusting both the sincerity of our desire to better understand and the authenticity of each other’s personal care.
This wasn’t hard for me to believe. I’ll never forget calling up Doc Foster late one evening when our baby had the croup (the kind of cough where you think your child is going to suffocate!) In 10 minutes, Mark helped us walk through the symptoms and triage our options – quickly allaying both our fears and the severity of Sammy’s cough.
That’s pretty much how our relationship has gone too. Rather than ‘freaking’ out about the frustrations, we’ve made space for them – ‘cradling’ them with some tenderness. And sure enough, the ‘symptoms’ of alienation have passed in a remarkable way…It’s been a long time since I felt deep tension or frustration with Mark. I now experience our relationship as powerful and enjoyable – even more so than other relationships, frankly, because of the unique way that we can press each other openly (about big questions), exploring without all the fears-of-fragility and offense.
So how much of the Mormon/former Mormon conflict is related to deeper dynamics of resistance and resentments, versus the actual substance of our disagreements? Clearly, those differences are significant – but even so, is it possible for others to find the space that Mark and I had? Were he and I just a strange anomaly to be explained away, or was it possible for other people (many other people) to have vociferous disagreements about the fundamental nature of reality, while deeply respecting (and enjoying) each other?
At this point in the discussion, the idea of a ‘shared space’ emerged as a broader metaphor for us both: what would it look like to have a ‘third space’ – separate from our usual home turf as Mormons or former-Mormons? What kind of qualities and characteristics would that Third Space require for both sides to feel not only safe and comfortable, but to actually be able to enjoy each other again? Is that even possible?
That’s our question for you today! (check out Mark’s parallel post here). If you feel some skepticism about the prospect, we welcome your hesitancy! After all, we might be dead wrong. But we’ve seen so many stories of heart-breaking, chronically-awful tension, that we can’t help asking the question!
In proposing a Third Space, by the way, we’re not trying to propose some grand new schema where everyone lives together happy ever after. People on both sides will continue occupying their home-turf on a day-to-day basis – and we’re fine with that. Rather than focusing on changing those spaces, we’re inviting people to consider “visiting” this Third Space with us – seeing it more like an exotic vacation spot where we get out of our normal patterns and let ourselves try an adventure together: ‘come check it out…we think you’ll like it.’
And if you don’t, that’s okay too. After all, sometimes dialogue may not be appropriate. Sometimes space apart from ‘those people’ is crucial.
And other times, that yearning for deeper connection comes right back: So what would it take to make that happen?
In the weeks ahead, we’ll be going back and forth on some ideas that have emerged from past conversations – aiming together for some kind of joint construction and integrated Third Space infrastructure. If you’d like to help that happen, we welcome your input and suggestions along the way.
Who knows whether this will lead anywhere. But we think it’s worth a try. How many other beautiful relationships are currently diluted or paralyzed by the warring stories and expectations along the Mormon/Former Mormon divide? If there was a way to move beyond that, wouldn’t it be worth a shot?