The Watermelon Analogy
My father knew how to choose a good watermelon. First of all, he would put his thumbnail into the skin. If it went in easily it was ripe. Another test was to heft it. A heavy melon is usually a ripe melon. Then he would look at the light-colored patch on the bottom. If it was yellow, that was a good sign that the melon was ripe.
That’s a quote from my grandma about her father (my Great-Grandpa Greer) who was president of the Aurora Branch for twenty-eight years — growing it from a handful of members to a large and thriving congregation.
Great-Grandpa Greer was a colorful character who used to throw neighborhood barbecues — free for anyone to attend — at least once a month (and probably more often than that). It was his way of doing missionary work (to attract potential converts to the church). He was far from rich — he and my great-grandma would sacrifice and put in a huge personal effort to throw those dinners: barbecuing twenty-five chickens, baking rolls, and often serving fresh-picked sweet corn and watermelons from their own garden.
The early days of the Aurora Branch were an exciting time to be a Mormon. My mom could tell you — she has written a lot of history and memoirs about it. And from what I’ve read about it, there was an inescapable feeling of being a part of something important.
Fast-forward to the 70’s and early 80’s. Every summer, as soon as the watermelons started arriving in the supermarkets, my mom would buy a big one and bring it home. And how she would look forward to this treat and savor it! I would eat my watermelon with considerably less enthusiasm. It was OK, but nothing to write home about. And I think there was more going on here than simply a difference in personal preference. I think Mom and I weren’t really tasting the same watermelon.
Those watermelons (like a lot of the industrially-farmed supermarket produce of the time) were enormously bloated up with water, so the flavor of the fruit was diluted over a huge wet-spongy mass. It tasted enough like those flavorful watermelons from Grandpa Greer’s garden for my mom’s memory to take over and convert it to that childhood treat. But I’d never tasted those watermelons. All I tasted was this mildly fruity, gritty, pink sponge that Mom brought home from the supermarket.
Now, you can probably see where I’m going with this. Growing up in a post-correlation suburban ward wasn’t quite the same thing as growing up in Grandpa Greer’s old branch. My mom and I both grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But the church that my mom has continued to serve faithfully her whole life and the church that I ultimately rejected aren’t exactly the same church.
(Related: The Baby and the Bathwater)
I guess the lessons and the lifestyle have been bloated and watered down just like the store bought watermelons; leaving a gritty, mildly fruity taste in your mouth.
@1 Exactly. 😉
Mark has these amazing memories of growing up in his childhood ward. Then, as an adult, he learned some unsavory things about some of the leaders he looked up to. Also he remembers prejudices he harbored (MLK was a communist, for example) that he’s sure he learned somehow at church, but doesn’t remember where. We both wonder what we would think of our old wards if we were given the chance to view them through our adult eyes. Memory can be a compost.
That being said, the church is definitely different from what it used to be. But if a person had a good experience in it as a child, simply singing a hymn on Sunday can trigger a rush of warm memories, something like a store bought watermelon. Great analogy.
I’ve heard the argument that religion shouldn’t be thought of as personal preference. That two people might have different tastes, but that doesn’t mean that they should reject their religion altogether. I can’t really explain the argument better than that because I don’t really remember it. I think the idea was that religion was more important than something “petty” like personal preference.
But, the question is how a person determines which religion or faith is right for them. I think the idea was that if you are raised in a certain faith, it shouldn’t matter how personally fulfilling you find it, but continuing the tradition.
It also falls apart because of the many people throughout the ages (Martin Luther) who left their ancestral faith.
@5 True. Of course, with this analogy, I’m not really trying to argue whether people should stick with their faith or leave it — I’m just throwing out some ideas on why some people want to leave their faith tradition and others don’t.