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Project Conversion

Well, I promised I wouldn’t cry when I left my local Latter-day Saints home on Sunday and–it was tough–but I stayed strong.

Months like July are rare for Project Conversion. Not only did I get a local faith community (the LDS church is 10 minutes away…when traffic is bad), a fantastic LDS following on the Facebook page (Come aboard! We need everyone.), but I also scored not one, but two Mentors…who travel together! It’s as if there was some cosmic alignment where a perfect balance of drama, enlightenment, and fellowship came into play and descended upon my efforts. I’m sure the universe got the wrong guy, but I’ll say thank you anyway. These are the times when Project Conversion and my development through this adventure really shine because everything works so beautifully.

Because my wife and I have to pick up the kids from their grandparents this weekend, (I’ll be in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. If you or someone you know attends the Harrisonburg or Woodstock wards, holla back via email.) Pioneer Day Sunday was my last with the local LDS branch (but my time with the LDS faith continues!). I’ve spent so much time with these folks between weekly church cleanings, meetings with the Mentors, and Sunday church service that I asked the branch president if I could give a proper thank you and goodbye. He did one better. Our branch president suggested I speak with the elders quorum, the group of men and priesthood holders of the church ages 12 and up, and hold a question and answer session.

I thought it was a fantasitc idea.

Aside from one of the older fellows insisting I stay with them because, he claimed, the LDS church was the only way I needed to look into, the group of men were a wonderful crowd. They were aware of my mission there, however never got the chance to ask questions. Each question, such as “What religions have you followed so far?” and “Did you find any as welcoming as our church?” was presented with great enthusiasm. I let them know just how much I appreciated them for hosting me these past few weeks and that their hospitality and willingness to help me understand their faith made my stay with them that much more comfortable and enjoyable.

I also spared no words in telling them how absolutely fantastic their missionaries (my Mentors) were in teaching me about the Church.

In the end, they thanked me just for giving them my time and a fair chance to explain the faith on their terms. A few took down the website address so hey, Lumberton branch, if you’re reading this, you’re awesome. This reaction, of thanking me for just listening, is a common theme I find with all the faiths. People don’t want to argue or convince me (well, the LDS guys tried, but I love them anyway) that every other faith is wrong, they just want people to give them a chance–to listen instead of criticize or judge. It surprises me every time it happens.

Are we that bad at listening? Why are we so quick to condemn those who think differently than we do?

You know, I used to think that I was doing something unique with Project Conversion, that I might start some theological revolution, but the more I do this the more I realize that all I’m doing is listening. When my kids were babies, they cried to communicate. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for an infant trying to communicate and no one listens or understands. Is that what religious strife is, everyone fighting, pitching a fit because we stopped listening to one another?

“Well, I don’t understand those people. They do things differently so how can I listen or even want to?”

Here’s a suggestion: Take a year of your life and devote it to living among, listening to, and devoting yourself to those outside your current orbit of understanding. That’s right. That means turning off the talking heads on that right-wing, left-wing or no wing cable channel and learn something for yourself. Want to know what a Hindu really thinks? Ask a Hindu and then ask about ten more because they each have different ideas. Did you know it’s the same way with other faiths?

If I just stepped on some toes, good, now you’re paying attention. See? Listening isn’t so hard now is it?

So here’s to you, Lumberton branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and LDS members of the Facebook Congregation (honorary ward this month). Thank you for showing me what it is to be one of you. Thank you for the smiles, the welcome, the patient answers to my siege of questions, and for inviting me again, and again, and again to be part of your beautiful lives. My ears are always open to you.

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