Today, I went to visit the new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia. While non-Mormons cannot generally enter a Temple, the holiest spaces in the Mormon tradition, because this Temple is new, it has not yet been sanctified, so they have opened it up for a month for tours, before they sanctify it and begin to use it tomorrow.
It was fascinating.
To be able to see a space that I would not usually have access to, to learn a bit about Mormons, and to see an architecturally stunning space with so much amazing detail in the interior design was a rare opportunity. And one I am glad I was able to have.
Being Jewish, and being there with a friend who is also Jewish, we naturally had questions. A lot of questions. Asking questions, after all, is what Jewish people do. We learned pretty quickly during the tour that the folks with whom we interacted during the tour were not very interested in answering them; one man who showed us the baptismal font told us that we should ask our questions at the reception hall at the end and our tour guide (whom we were told we could ask questions along the way–and this was when we were waiting for a part of the group to catch up–sort of answered, but was clearly not comfortable answering (or perhaps, with the idea of questioning).
I actually liked my question to her and would still love an answer–if there is an emergency fix that is needed (say, a pipe bursts), do they need to have only mormons come and fix it, or can they temporarily desanctify the space? If anyone out there knows the answer, please let me know in the comments!!!
After that, we stopped asking along the tour; although we talked about our questions between ourselves and saved them up for the end.
At the end of the tour was a lovely reception hall, where several young people (mostly if not entirely female) on their mission were there to answer questions. We didn’t think that they’d likely know the answers, but there had been a gentleman with us on the tour who was also from the church, so we asked him if he minded answering some of our questions.
And we had a lovely conversation, in which we were able to hear about his ideology and how he came to become a Mormon and what he believes.
Later on, my friend and I had a great conversation about how rare these moments are–where we are able to talk to someone from a completely different background and belief system from our own. In which we can ask questions and learn more about something that we will never ourselves believe, but can come to understand.
I believe that it is through such conversations that we are able to accept those who are different. The stranger becomes much less strange–very different, perhaps, but more human. More like us.
When we learn about other people as people. And ask questions to learn more about them and their point of view, I believe we make the world a little bit smaller. And come a little bit closer to a world less broken.