Monday, March 19, 2012


for those of you who don't know, i am in the US Army. i joined the Utah National Guard 2 years ago--in march 2010. it has been a great experience. it has also been very different from my experiences in high school, at college, or on my church mission.

in comparing the army with my personal religious beliefs, i often have been faced with conflicts. i don't enjoy the dirty jokes, drunkenness, or profanities that are often a part of Army culture. in mentioning this, i want to point out that the Army is full of very good people. just because they differ from me in behavior or religious preference does not make them somehow "bad." i have often been impressed with the professionalism and conduct of my fellow soldiers. they strive to live the Army values, which are:

Selfless Service
Personal Courage

in my unit, i interact with many soldiers--male and female, old and young, enlisted and officers. religion does not come up often in conversation (though we do start company activities with a prayer). in my company there are few people that are actively and openly religious. those few people tend to hold back in conversations because they do not want to be involved with some of the conversation topics that come up.

there is a brother and sister in my company who are very religious and innocent. they both recently turned in mission paperwork at the same time (she is 21, and he is 19). i have been impressed with how genuine and sincere they are. these two individuals are without guile.

yesterday at the chow hall, one of the soldiers brought up the "popcorn song." the young man did a little demonstration of the song, singing it for those of us at the table. if you are LDS you know it--just a ridiculous little ditty about how the blossoms on fruit trees looks like popcorn. a few minutes later the first sergeant came in the room. one of the soldiers at our table said, "hey first sergeant! this kid has a song he wants to sing for you! he's been practicing at our table." the first sergeant loved it. he called the young soldier over and announced to the whole company, "hey, listen up! we've got us some entertainment."

we all laughed and enjoyed as the soldier sang "popcorn popping on the apricot tree," complete with actions. he was red-faced and embarrassed, but a good sport about it. when he sat back down, one of the soldiers said, "man you are so innocent i fear for you." we laughed, but i could tell that he meant it. the young soldier could also sense that. one of the other soldiers said, "yeah, you need to get out of utah," somehow implying that his innocence was naive and ought to be outgrown. the implication was that only by getting out of utah could he experience what the world is really like.

what bothered me was the expectation that he needed to "finally grow up." did the other soldiers think that after living somewhere else he would come home with street smarts and cynicism, finally willing to laugh at their dirty jokes? i understand what they were saying. after all, i think utah is quite a protected place, separated from many aspects of the "real world." perhaps it is a good thing to go out and experience the difference. whether you live in south africa, russia, or south america (this young soldier will be serving in ecuador), i think that there is value in experiencing different cultures, religions, and languages. i also think that there is a lot of variety to be found within the united states.

while it is good to experience differences in culture and perspective, we do not have to change ourselves to fit whatever culture we live in. we can (and should) still be ourselves. i believe that we can let our experiences change us, and we can increase in our ability to understand and empathize with others. however this increase in understanding does not need to coincide with a decrease in those beliefs and behaviors that make us who we are.

i am glad to say that i never "grew up" from my state of innocence. i have learned and understood many things so far in my life, and i plan to learn much more. but i have come to the conclusion that innocence is not just a state of being; it is a choice. there are several definitions of innocence: freedom from sin/guilt, simplicity/naiveté, harmlessness, and lack of knowledge or understanding. i think all but the last are positive attributes that we ought to be developing in ourselves.

in conclusion, i want to go back to the story of this young solider. i hope he never grows up. i hope he expands in learning and understanding while remaining innocent, simple, and harmless. i hope he can stay strong and be himself in a world that sees innocence as weakness and naiveté as stupidity.

1 comment:

  1. Jeremy... first of all, I want to say that this is a beautifully written post. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, experiences, and insights. Thank you.

    At first as I was reading your article, I couldn't help thinking, "Remain innocent? In a world of crime, murder, abuse, betrayal, and so many other horrors? How is that possible. Virtuous, yes. Righteous, yes. Innocent? I'm not so sure..." In my head I was picturing the pure, untouchable notion of innocence: a newborn infant, a butterfly, a rose, fresh snow. To me, it seemed that innocence was unattainable since it was so easily spoiled; that's what gave it an almost romantic appeal.

    But then I remembered, didn't Christ ask us to be like little children? Aren't children innocent? Though nothing that Christ asks is ever easily attained, it is always possible. Then isn't innocence possible?

    So, thank you for the reminder. :) It is too easy in today's world to get caught up in the cynicism of society, the drama of the news media, and the plagues of the world. I think everyone needs to remember that, though this world can never be an innocent place, we can still maintain an innocent disposition.