Friday, August 15, 2014

Mormon Missionaries are Such a Joke.

A joke? That seems a bit harsh, wouldn't you say? Not to the viewers and writers of The Book of Mormon musical I suppose.

While getting dinner downtown with my family this evening, we noticed many nicely dressed people walking to the theatre to see the award winning musical The Book of Mormon. The story follows the lives of two missionaries in Africa. It's catchy, crude, and mocks the beliefs of the Mormon faith that I hold very dear to my heart. That, in addition to making fun of raping babies, female genital mutilation, and racism; everything that the thousands of Americans supporting and viewing this musical love, I guess. Good to see $11.4 million hard earned American dollars well spent.

Since the beginning, this musical has really puzzled me. As a nation, I like to view America as a good-hearted place with kind, intelligent, and selfless people. As a whole, we take care of each other and band together in times of need. We defend the defenseless and seek truth, understanding, and overall love and equality. Ideally, I'd like to continue to believe this to be true.... and yet, overall I will admit I feel alienated.

Generally, I think the LDS church has been very accepting and light-hearted about the production, but does that make it ok? Because our general approach is to turn the other cheek, then that's perceived as permission? Just because someone is an easy target, is it morally right? The general leadership of the church, it's members, and it's admirable approach gives a wonderful example, and though I'll continue to try to follow it, they are better people than I am.

I feel like a finger has been personally poked at me by my neighbors currently viewing the play. I feel laughed at by public figures (like Hillary Clinton) who rave about it's hilarious and "brilliant" script. I feel sad that there is such a draw towards an evening immersed in what has been described as "a nearly miraculous combination of vile and sweet." I feel defensive of my own baby brother living as a missionary currently in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, and my brother-in-law in Antofagasta, Chile.

(The cutie patootie in the top photo, left side is my brother Steven, stud in the bottom photo is my brother-in-law Garret.)


Then there are my other brothers. Bryan (below) actually served his mission in Africa (JUST LIKE THE PLAY?! Yes. Sort of.) If you wanna know what an accurate portrayal of a missionary in Africa is like, I'm sure something can be arranged. I can assure you that proclaiming the F-word in an african language was not a common occurrence.

And Jeff spent two years in Austria. He was the first in my family to choose to go on a mission.

And that handsome blue-eyed guy on the left- that's Michael. He served in the good ol' state of Colorado. Believe it or not, us Americans can put missionaries through the ringer without the language barriers or culture shock.

Serving missions are serious, difficult, and can be trying. They are also selfless, rewarding, life-changing, and uplifting. More importantly, they are something the young men in the LDS faith don't do for themselves; they do it to help and serve others. Missions are strict, and spiritual. They can also be dangerous. My husband can attest to many times that he feared for his life while being a Mormon missionary in Chile. And, they do all this to share a message of faith, along with a belief that is sacred, special, and important to them with others who may be unaware of it, and the blessings it has to offer in their own lives.

This is why a raunchy portrayal of missionary life in the form of a satirical musical bothers me.

Not only that, it is a jab at all organized religion. Though presented in the familiar, yet misunderstood foil of missionary life, the fun is being poked at other christian denominations, sects, and religions as well. Is it still ok? Did they hide it well?

 I like to think I have no problem laughing at myself, I mean come on, I'm hysterical! ;)
But really, I recognize the importance in being able to take a joke, poke fun at yourself in all of your oddities, and I tend to not get offended easily. I also recognize that as this musical is a satire, it's nature is to poke fun. Even so, under every "just kidding" is the hint of someone's true feelings.

Sure, those missionaries in the play are naive, and ill-informed, and want to share doctrine that is downright comedic, but.... we're just kidding!

.... Are you?

I want to tell myself that the supporters of this musical, it's raving critics, and the common American viewers aren't laughing at me. I want to believe that even those not of my faith recognize the true sacrifice Mormon missionaries make by saving their money from a young age to support themselves for 2 years in going to a place unfamiliar to them to serve others, and try to share the sweet message of Jesus Christ and his love for us with others - others who may reject them, laugh at them, and even try to harm them.

Mormon missionaries may just be young guys (or girls!) in suits and ties riding bikes to you, but they are not to me. Those are my brothers, my husband, my cousins, my friends, and my future children.

I want to believe that those who go to see this play recognize that. But part of me wonders... if they truly did, would they be seeing it in the first place?

Having friends who are of many defining characteristics, faiths, orientations, races, and the like, I would like to believe that I would not support a production that openly ridiculed their beliefs and made a mockery of their lifestyle. I really, really wanted to believe that others would feel the same way about my faith.. but 9 Tony awards and a Grammy seem to disagree with me.

And frankly, that hurts. I cannot speak for all members of the Mormon faith, but it does. hurt. me.

Even so, people will continue to see it. The play will continue to be a roaring hit, and for years to come will continue to tour in cities that surround me.

That being said, I have a request. As a friend, family member, reader of my blog, acquaintance, or stranger, I hope you don't have the desire to see this broadway musical. If you are at all human, I've maybe even piqued your interest, but hope you understand my view.

Please don't see this play for all that it represents, that being it's crudity, cruelty, and straight-up ignorance.

If you should choose to see it though, I simply ask this: educate yourself. There will be points where you might think "Is that true?" or "That's what Mormons believe?!" and when those moments come I hope you are driven to really know. Want a free copy of the actual Book of Mormon? Tell me, I will get you one. Ask questions. Ask me. Ask a pair of real, live, bonafide Mormon missionaries (after all, that's what they are here for!) and learn what is real, and what is half-baked satire concocted to sell seats.

You are not a bad person for seeing this play, nor are you ignorant, but to believe everything said in this play is a whole other story. Though there are factual truths in the play regarding our beliefs, the presentation of them can be misconstrued, and belittling. It's hard to grasp the full and accurate representation of a story when you have only read chapters 3, 17, and 38. Out of respect for me, and the things that I hold sacred in this faith, I beg you to get the facts straight!

If you want to see a TRUE story about a pair of Mormon Missionaries, see The Saratov Approach (About two missionaries kidnapped and held ransom in Russia, available via Neflix) or movies like The Best Two Years, or The Other Side of Heaven (featuring Anne Hathaway, and I think available of YouTube). These are all pretty darn accurate, uplifting, and at times funny :)

There's a scene in the movie What's Eating Gilbert Grape (with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio) where the main character's mother is made a spectacle of because of her large stature and weight. Children peek through the windows to catch a glimpse of her, people take pictures when she steps outside of her home, and in the end of the movie, she dies. Gilbert is distraught with how he will remove her from the second story of their home without a crowd gathering to watch in awe. Finally, he chooses to burn down their home, with her resting inside. A line in that movie always stood out to me when he says, "I can't let her be a joke. ... I will not let her be a joke."

That is the line that flashed in my mind seeing the crowds of people on their way to see The Book of Mormon musical.

I will not let my Brother be a joke.

Blood related, or the one that died for my the remission of my sins.

I hope you won't either.