Summary: If being tattooed and being a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ (the Mormons) is a switch, maybe we all need to re-examine what it must be like for anyone (you, me, your mother-in-law or neighbor) trying to move forward in this life, no matter their past. After all, isn’t that what this Church is about? Letting your past drive you, not define you, and “having unshaken faith in [Christ], relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save”?
A colleague at work today asked if I know about Al Fox, aka “The Tattooed Mormon”, a young woman who joined the church a few years ago from Rochester, NY, and who has moved to Utah and, among other things, speaks frequently to youth around the state and country. No, I didn’t know about her, but as much as I like her story and support all the work she’s trying to do and service she’s giving, I am subtly influenced by really two different undertones here:
The first is that there’s no avoiding the rubbernecking effect here. She’s mormon (what!). She looks like a Utahn. She likes churchy things! (what?!!) She has tatoos! (OH MY GOsh!) WE MUST HAVE FIRESIDES AND RECORD SEVERAL PODCASTS WITH HER!!!! BREAK OUT THE CENTERPIECES, SISTERS!
The second is that she represents something that I have been feeling for several years now, and that is the RELIGION of the Church and the CULTURE of the Church are rapidly disconnecting.
I think several factors are driving this:
- Next-generation coming into their own in the Church
I have talked at-length before about how I love the Millennials, aka Gen Y. I love their energy, vitality for life and their zeal for the Gospel. Now, they are your Young Men and Young Women Presidents. Now, they are taking the reins that Gen X has held for a long time but with less distrust than Gen X traditionally has, and they are more willing to sacrifice their time and energy to do good for the sake of doing good than Gen X has been.
- Millennials not afraid of the Truth–they want it straight.
It helps that this generation loves the truth. They are idealistic and they want it straight. It may be well said of them what J. Ruben Clark said: ”
“[the youth are] hungry for things of the Spirit [and] eager to learn the gospel.” He said: “They want it straight, undiluted. They want to know … about our beliefs; they want to gain testimonies of their truth. They are not now doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth.”
President Clark continued: “You do not have to sneak up behind this spiritually experienced youth and whisper religion in [their] ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with [them]. … You can bring these truths to [them] openly. … There is no need for gradual approaches.” [Quoted by Boyd K. Packer in April, 2009 General Conference, “Counsel to Young Men“]
- Missionary age being lowered
This is a driving force for change in the Church. Everyone is going on missions now, it seems, and it is fantastic. Though the bar has been raised, the call is being answered! Younger, and younger, these youth are prepared–through real life experiences, not just textbook examples and Sunday afternoon sleepy lessons–to bring Christ’s Gospel into their life and to share it with others.
- Renewed doctrinal focus
I feel a renewed focus on doctrine in the church, not “sunday school answers”. At least, where I live, and perhaps this is my perception, I feel a sense of urgency to talk about applying the doctrine of the Gospel for when things are hard in life over when things are idyllic.
- Reality about sin and wickedness in the Church
Where I live, it has finally become admitted out loud that people in the Church still sin and make mistakes. Sarcasm aside, there are open groups and therapy available for those who have, for example, fallen from sin to addiction
In an interview on the Cultural Hall Podcast, she relates a story about being in Utah and going to Cafe Rio and, being tattooed, she became a victim to one of Utah Mormonism’s favorite pastimes: passing judgement. Afterall, that’s what we do here (sarcasm). When I heard this, I had to facepalm because, of course, she got judged. Of course, we can’t look at someone with tatoos without thinking crazy things. But, she responded just right (youtube), I think, and the story has turned out for the best.
I first noticed this several years ago as I was going through what I call my own restoration to the Church. I had drifted from some of the teachings and needed to determine if I was going to continue with the Gospel of Jesus Christ or not.
In that state, I began to really feel harshly judged, both by people who knew me and people who didn’t. Now, I am not saying their feelings weren’t justified, but through that process, I also learned during that time that the fastest way to get nobody to talk to you at all is to show up to a family ward in your thirties… by yourself. Something is wrong with you. You must have the plague or perhaps facial hair or (!!) not hometeach very regularly.
It came down to this: As I worked slowly and steadily in my journey back to Christ, and step-by-step had to realize that I could not do it alone and I needed the enabling power of the Atonement to help me overcome my weaknesses, it came down to a decision I needed to make between fully accepting the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which included being a part of the culture of the Church, or not.
And, I chose to contribute rather than to back off and throw stones.
There’s far too much good here, and I want to enjoy it and share it with as many people as I can!
It always brings me back to this video from Daughtry: What about NOW?? What if THIS is the time to actually step OUTSIDE your comfort zone and make a real difference for someone else?? NOW!