Thursday, December 13, 2012

You Don't Want Me Here? I'm Out.

I will not be returning to church when the new year starts. That was my plan for a while, but recent events have made it clear to me that is what I need to do.

A group of Mormon Feminists created a Wear Pants to Church Day. I've stated my opinion on that here on the Exponent. Recently, responses to this event have gotten even stranger than the ones I listed in my Exponent post. Organizers have received death threats. Women involved have gotten messages from people they don't know calling them sinners and all kinds of horrible names. The event page has been taken down, either because people were protesting it so much that Facebook took it down or because of the death threats received. People are being threatened with violence for suggesting that women have the option to wear pants to church. Pants = Death. This is not okay. This is wrong on a fundamental level. And these are members of the LDS church threatening to kill other members over pants, over gender equality.

I realize that this is a fringe group of members. I realize that there are many members who are wonderful people, including my friends and family. But if this craziness is what the church attracts, I just can't stay. If something so simple as questioning a cultural practice (not a church doctrine) creates this kind of reaction among members, there is little hope for changing gender inequality in the LDS church any time soon. It is so entrenched that people go insane defending a cultural expectation. So while I love my Mormon family and friends and know they do not support the behavior exhibited by other members, I don't feel I can stay in an organization that breeds this kind of mentality among some of its members. So I will not be returning to church after I wear pants this Sunday to show solidarity.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Unknowable God

I've been having a conversation with a friend, started by All Are Alike Unto God. The conversation has gone all over the place, and recently hit on the notion of eternal gender. My friend had this to say about it: "But, I do believe that our spirit's gender is what it has always been. Can our body's sex be different than our spirit's gender? Would God allow a spirit woman to be born in a man's body? I would doubt it."

That struck me as a very strange statement, reminiscent of a statement made by Boyd Packer about gay people. He said that a loving God would never create a gay person. (This statement was removed from the official version of the talk.) Both of these men seem very sure they know the mind of God. Both are convinced that God would never do something they do not understand.

These men can accept that a loving God would create a child with a disability so severe they cannot walk, speak, eat or take care of themselves. They can accept a loving God would create a person with cancer, would allow people to be born into war zones and famines, would allow children to be born from rapes and addicted to drugs. All of this is okay for a loving God to do, but someone who is gay or someone who feels that they are a different sex then their body is not something God would do.

I realized that this has nothing to do with the love of God, but the need to make God make sense. I'm having flashes to the Joker in the Dark Knight (go with me on this) when he tells Dent that people can accept all kinds of horrible things as long as it is part of a plan they understand. Mormons have been taught that disease and tragedy is part of God's plan, so they accept that a loving God can allow these things to happen. But homosexuality and transgender are not a part of their plan, so in their minds God could not have been involved. So God becomes an excuse for their own belief system, rather than something outside of themselves. And since they define God, their God tells them that their opinions are doctrine. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I understand the need to explain God, to claim to know God's mind. It's a way to make the world make sense. If we know exactly who God is, that makes the world simpler; we can know exactly what we are supposed to do in any given situation. I don't begrudge anyone that desire, or the desire to provide knowledge of God to others. But I've found that the more I try to define God, the less divine God is. If God can be broken down into a list of do's and don'ts, God feels less like God.

While reading She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson, her discussion of the Trinity spoke to me. The Trinity is a concept many Mormons struggle with, even mock, because it cannot be easily explained. They laugh or shrug because it doesn't make easy sense, while their God does. But Johnson believes is that the lack of clarity is the point. God in unknowable, that is what makes God divine. God cannot, and should not, be easy to explain or God would cease to be God. The Trinity serves that purpose. It makes God difficult to define so that we don't fall into the trap of thinking we now the mind of God.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

This is Not a Triumph for Mormon Feminists

Yesterday the LDS church made a big announcement in General Conference. The age of LDS missionaries has been lowered. Men can serve at 18 and women at 19. While this is an interesting change, many in the bloggernacle are treating it as a triumph for Mormon feminists. I see how they can see it that way, I can't. I can't see this as anything but another slap in the face to Mormon women.

The problem that many Mormon feminists had with the previous missionary set up was that there was an age gap for no apparent reason, and well as a difference in length of time served, again for not apparent reason. Both of these differences still exist. Women are still serving at a different age than men and for a different length of time. That status quo has not changed at all.

The reason given for this change was that it would make getting an education easier. In many places, you cannot start school than leave for two years or eighteen months. You lose credits, your place in school and even your chance to attend school in some cases. When men left at 19, they had a year to either screw around in school or waste time before going on a mission because they couldn't or didn't want to start school. Now, they wont' have that year, and will be able to start school easily when they return if they wish. Now it's the sisters who get put in that position. They are the ones whose education is in jeopardy just as the men's used to be.  So it's not okay for men to hang around or mess up their education, but it's fine that the women have to do that. How is that any kind of equality?

What makes this worse to me is the fact that church leaders had a chance to make things right. They had a chance to prove that they do in fact value women in the same way the value men. And the intentionally chose to keep the status quo to keep men and women different. It would have been so easy to make the age the same in this instance, but they CHOSE not to. The pain of this is incredible for me It's not just old policy or unexamined tradition. It is a deliberate choice in brand new policy.

I"m tired of this. I'm tired of this church not giving a crap about the women who are members. I'm tired of fighting and hoping for change just to have garbage like this happen. To me this is not a step forward; it is proof that the church does not think women are as good as men and has no intention of making changes to give women more of a voice.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mormon Diaries

I've found that when I anger one person in a public setting, at least one other comes out of the wooodwork to express appreciation or shared opinions. That is how I met the author of this book. I was irritating her cousin, a guy I knew freshman year at BYU, on Facebook and she friended me. She's written a book called Mormon Diaries that is coming out this month. It is a series of essays sharing her experiences as a Mormon and leaving the church. It is incredibly well-written, and explores, in a respectful and real way, the difficulty in leaving the church you dedicated your life to for years.

"Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart. 'Sophia Stone has a fine eye and a searching heart. Her story of growing up in and reaching through her Mormonism for a deeper, more authentic spirituality reflects all the ways that religion can both keep us satisfied with easy answers and push us to more difficult and complicated realizations. We need a hundred more books like this one . . .' –Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl

'Sophia Stone captured my attention from the beginning. This collection of personal essays, about questioning the legitimacy of Mormonism after having faith in the religion for the first 30-something years of her life, is not just a controversial quake to a reader’s heart and soul. Stone’s voice is brave, bold and intriguing. And surprisingly relatable to someone who is not religious.'-Jessica Bell, author of String Bridge"

Mormon Diaries comes out this month; keep an eye out for it! It is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It's Okay to Say No

I just listened to a Mormon Expression podcast about opening your mouth and taking a stand. It's an awesome podcast that I found inspiring. It's hard to speak out against the majority but I feel that we can't complain about things that are wrong if we aren't doing something to draw attention to it (which isn't to say you have to be vocal in a specific way; there are many ways to draw attention to problems.)

Listening to this podcast made me feel better about something I did on Sunday. I ended up in Gospel Doctrine class because I thought a woman I love and respect was teaching. We have long discussions about the church and women's position in it. We don't always agree, but she is understanding and extremely intelligent so talking with her is always fun. And she is a fantastic teacher. So we walked into the classroom and someone else was teaching. It felt rude to walk out, so we stayed. The lesson was Alma 39. I wasn't really paying attention so I'm not sure how the teacher got here, but he started railing about enthusiasm and ragging on people who refuse callings. He described his early life in med school, where every night he and his family had church activities. He spoke with pride, saying that having this constant participation in the church brings joy and there is no good reason to turn down a calling. His method for curing unhappiness was to do more in the church.

I was enraged. I thought of the posts on the Expoenet and FMH written by women who are utterly exhausted, and yet feel like they can't say no to a calling or asked to be released. You can feel the pain, the helplessness, the despair in these posts as they ask permission to do what they know is right for them by turning down callings. I thought about the people I know who feel they don't know their fathers because all their growing up years their dads were never home. They were always in church meetings and neglected their families in the process. I was enraged that this man felt okay telling a room full of people that it is never okay to turn down a calling and that joy comes from spending all your time involved in church stuff. That doesn't hold up in many people's experience, and it ignores the fact that people are capable of determining what is best for them and their families. It says that some random church leader show does not know much about my life knows better then I do what will be best for my mental and physical health, my family relationships, my job and schooling etc.

So after the lesson, the woman I know went up and called him out. She shared that her dad was constantly absent in church callings and because her mother was an unstable person, she had to take over as parent as a young child. Every time her dad left she was terrified. She believes he should have been home but he chose the church over his family and his family suffered. She and her siblings have been damaged by his continued absence. I went and stood with her and gave my two cents, telling him abut the women I know who are literally killing themselves trying to do everything. They are hurting themselves by always saying yes to callings they don't have the capacity to fill it. And when they finally feel that they have the right to decide for themselves what they can handle, then they hear a lesson like this and go back to feeling like sinners for not being able to do it all. We spoke at him for about 10 minutes.

He looked a little deer in the headlights; he's a convert and very enthusiastic about the church. I don't think he has ever encountered such a strong negative reaction to something he has said, and I also don't think he has considered that there are legitimate reasons for saying no to a calling. He seems to assume everyone who says no is just lazy.

I felt a little bad for ganging up on him and fore being very blunt. But if he doesn't know that what he is teaching can be damaging it won't change. And he is jst a teacher; there is nothing that makes him more right then anyone else. Just because he has been given a podium that does not mean he can say what he wants and expect everything to think he is correct or more intelligent then anyone else in the room.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Judge My Worth By What I Do

I've recently gotten myself into something of a mess. I've said yes to too many projects and am now so swamped I'm about to go crazy. Literally, I don't sleep, I don't have time to eat and I barely see my husband. I'm working full time, stage-managing a show (which is a full time job in and of itself), working as an intern for a non-profit doing communications and creating an index for someone that I've never met's family history. This is on top of the writing I normally do for the Exponent and other blogs. I'm not writing this to say "Look how cool I am!" I'm trying to figure out what motivates me to get into situations like this.

Part of my problem is that I want to feel I'm contributing to society. My job, while a good job, is fairly specific and can't really be said to add to the goodness in society. I catalog books, and while books are great things, putting book information into a libraries system just doesn't cut it for me in the do good for the world department.

The bigger issue though is that if I"m not doing something extra, something different, something useful, I feel like a failure at life. And my idea of is useful is pretty specific. The fact that I'm the person supporting my family financially doesn't feel important enough to me to make me feel like a useful person. I don't know why.

I'm beginning to wonder if my drive to do too much is based in the Mormon idea of earning salvation. In most other Christian traditions, salvation is free to those who accept it. They don't need to earn it through good works or perfection. But in Mormonism, we need to earn our way to heaven, by serving, being worthy, etc. We are only saved after we've done everything we can do. But then, because Mormons claims Christianity, we are also taught that all we do is never going to be good enough, so Christ fills in the rest. But he only fills it in if we do everything we possibly can. This creates a bunch of stressed out Mormons who do a lot of good but feel they haven't earned their way to heaven.

I have no idea if I believe in heaven or the Atonement, but I was brought up to do everything I could do. I wonder if that stuck; if I'm not doing every good thing I can possibly do, then I feel like a failure.

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything; just trying to figure it out.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why I Won't Leave the Church Alone

People who leave the church are often accused of not leaving the church alone. Church members and leaders act all offended that people are angry at the church, as though they in no way deserve anyone's anger. Here's the problem with that; they church won't leave those who leave alone. So if they get to stick their noses in my life, I get get to stick my nose in theirs. If the church wants people who leave to leave the church alone, they should follow suit.

This breaks down into two issues in my mind. First, there are the church members who won't leave you alone. Second there is the fact that the church has inserted itself into EVERY aspect of your life, and felt justified in doing so. Detangleing yourself from that is an extensive process.

First, the church will not leave people alone. If you haven't been to church for a while, people comment, as though you didn't know you'd missed church and they are providing you with vital information. People who never speak to you at church make a point of telling you haven't been to church and that they missed you. How is that possible if they never speak to you when you are there? Then they send all kinds of people to your house who don't know you, and are frequently only there because they are supposed to. They have never exchanged words with you and will likely never do so after they are released from having to visit you. (Yes, I'm being a bit snide. I actually really like my current visiting teachers, but that was after I requested a change.) Then if they find out you are struggling, the bishop calls you in every couple of weeks and is passively aggressively threatening until you tell him you won't meet with him any more. So if the church can send people in to comment on my life and pass information about it up the food chain, I can comment on what the church does.

This is not my primary point however. The church feels okay inserting itself into every single aspect of my life. It has rules about everything I do and think. It feels it has the right to tell me:
-What I can and cannot eat.
-What I can and cannot drink.
-What I can and cannot wear.
-What I can and cannot wear on Sunday.
-What I can and cannot do on Sunday.
-What I can and cannot watch.
-What I can and cannot read.
-What I can and cannot listen to.
-What jewelry I can and cannot wear.
-What words I can and cannot use.
-Who I can and cannot date and marry.
-Who I can and cannot be friends with.
-What I can and cannot say and write about the church.
-What I can and cannot say about the church in public.
-What jobs I can and cannot take.
-What my role and purpose in life is.
-What I can and cannot do with my husband in private.
-What kinds of birth control I can and cannot use.
-Who, when and how I could date.
-What my family will look like.
-What my priorities should be.
-What I can think about.
-What God I should worship.
-What church I should attend.
-What leaders I should listen to.
-How I spend my money.
-Who I give money to.
-How I spend my time.
-How I might raise my kids.
-What my relationship with my husband should look like.
-What I should study.

There is nothing in my life the church doesn't feel it has a right to make a statement about. For most of my life, I've been following those rules because I was Mormon. But now, I need to figure out which rules I want to keep and which I don't. I never got a second ear piercing because the church said I wasn't supposed to. But now that I'm sorting through what I do and don't believe, I also have to sort through the rules as well. I couldn't think of a good reason for not getting a second piercing, and I wanted one so I got one. I've chosen not to drink at this point, because there are legitamate health and family reasons not to.

But since there is not a single aspect of my life, it's going to take me some time to parse out what rules I still want to follow. And since the church feels justified in inserting itself into every part of my life, I feel just as justified in inserting myself into every aspect of the church. If they don't want me there, maybe they shouldn't be as involved in my life and decisions.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Your difference is the medicine the world needs"

A few years ago I attended ACTF, a college theatre conference. There were acting, tech and writing competitions, workshops on all things theatre and performances by colleges from the western United States. I was there as a new play dramaturge for the 10-minute play writing contest, and it was awesome.

While I was there, I saw a play called Dear Harvey. The title references Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician. It was a mosaic piece about the history and experience in the gay community, and was of the most incredible pieces I've ever seen. Most of us walked out crying at the injustice and pain experienced by this community.

One line in particular stuck out to me, "Your difference is the medicine the world needs." Harvey Milk encouraged people to come out to their friends and family because he knew it was harder to hate a group of people, to deny them rights if a friend or family member is a part of that group. That has been true in my experience. I was never very comfortable with the church's stance on gay marriage, but I dealt with and defended it for a while because it was what my church told me to. But as friends came out to me, I started to realize I couldn't just sit on the sidelines. If I didn't speak up for my friends, I was siding with those who would deny them rights. It was knowing and loving my gay friends that turned me from a fence sitter to a gay rights advocate.

Recently on a Facebook thread (I spend way too much time on Facebook) someone posted his experience of coming out to a church friend and the reaction he got. I thought it was an awesome story, and share it with permission.

Nic D.
"Today at church in a Father's Day talk a member went off about how society is going down on the backs of the iniquity of homosexuals everywhere, gays are no better than animals and gay marriage will destroy families and gay parents destroy children. How evil homosexuality is and how ashamed they should be for corrupting things God intended otherwise. Given my internal compass I am not offended by this but I looked around at everyone and wondered who else could be gay and hearing this. I tried to be cured and was in a hetero marriage that ended in divorce but I am a Dad as well. After sacrament I took this brother, he is a good man btw, in the hall and talked with him. I just told him I was gay and started testifying of the deep struggles I had for years trying to be cured. How much I love my kids and try to be the best Dad to them. How I did not choose this and I have an undeniable testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ including a strong relationship with them. And an even deeper testimony that they have always known i was gay, have never treated me differently and loved me even though I am gay. His face turned more and more pale white as I talked. I looked up at him to notice at the end tears streaming down his face. This is a brother I have befriended, helped through struggles, helped with his house and moving, helped him anytime he needed it and always smiled and asked how he was doing. He said, "I just can't stop crying I feel the spirit so strong right now. I am so, so sorry. I, I, I didn't know I mean you have kids, I mean I need to repent so bad. You're gay? That entirely changes everything I have ever felt or been taught about gay people." He hugged me and kept crying. And apologized several more times. I told him even more than me I worried about others who heard it and their thoughts and feelings. He said "I will go to the Bishop and ask him how I can correct this, so I can share what I have learned and my apology." So he did. Contention comes from one place, not God. We too easily politicize everything but souls are not political pawns to be played with. They are beautiful, intrinsically worth it children of God! Miracles happen as we reach out in love and understanding ONE soul at a time! I know this works as we have the courage to be ourselves and testify of tru principles"

Monday, June 11, 2012

There's Someone Wrong on the Internet! (And they might be Mormon)

This comic has been floating around Facebook, and I love it. I describes my life entirely too accurately. I know I'm not the only one; if people didn't want to talk about what they thought social media would not exist. I was talking with my mom about social media the other day and she said that even on cooking sites she goes on, people argue heatedly over the merits of recipes. People like to say what they think.

There are many who say social media is dangerous and pointless. I don't deny that it can eat up large chunks of time if you let it, that it can hurt social skills if people use it as their only source of interaction, and that you can find garbage that you don't want to see. But none of those things are exclusive to social media; you can waste time and find things you are uncomfortable with anywhere, and you can isolate yourself without social media. I believe there are major benefits to social networking sites. They allow people to find communities of like-minded people who don't live in their area. They allow for the spread of information (I get a lot of my updates on feminist issues and Mormon issues from various Facebook groups0 as well as vetting for that information. With hundreds of people looking at something, you are more likely to be made aware if it is inaccurate or made up.

The church struggles with social networking sites, and the internet in general. It hasn't seemed to realize that anything it has ever said, in private or public, is available somewhere. They can change or remove information from the sources they control, but not everywhere. For example, they edited a talk given by Bro. Packer a few years ago in general conference. In the Ensign and on the video-feed on, it was different then the original. But people had recorded and transcribed the original, so you can still find it and use it. The same is true with historical information, church policy that isn't readily available through church sources (like parts of the Church Handbook of Instruction), personal experiences with the church and many other things.

Another problem I've noticed is encouraging members to bear testimony using social networking sites. I've seen many members do this, and generally it's pretty innocuous. like posting quotes or conference talks. Generally the only comments they get are from fellow Mormons agreeing with whatever it is. That's more preaching to the choir then missionary work, but whatever. Occasionally I see things that only Mormons will get, like someone who took two weeks and posted an Article of Faith as his status every day. He was trying to prove that Mormons were Christian, but since only a few actually talk about Christ, and many (number 10 comes to mind) are straight up confusing if you aren't Mormon (and sometimes even if you are.) Many non-members would look at that and just say "huh?" I guess confusion can lead to questions which could lead to missionary work, but often if I see something I really don't get on Facebook I just ignore it. Then you run into the problem of people reacting in anger if someone does ask a question about their religious posts, because they aren't prepared to deal with those questions.

But the biggest problem I've seen is people who, in an attempt to make the church look good or defend it actually end up making it and themselves look bad. This seems to happen mostly when trying to defend the church's stance on gay marriage and other social issues, or when trying to prove that the church is right for everyone. I've heard people say that they don't care if they hurt other people's feeling because they are defending what's right. I've heard God is prejudiced, that people who leave the church will be punished and all kinds of things that make people look bigoted and cruel and make the church look like an institution that cares more about being right then loving others and following Christ. In trying to defend the church's policies, the church comes out looking more bigoted then it did before they tried.

This was brought home in a recent Facebook thread on my wall. The person who did the most damage is in dark blue and I'm in dark green. A friend took this picture because it was astounding how much this person did not know about their own faith. They claimed that the church's stance on sin and homosexuality has never changed, and continued to say that after being shown changes in the CHI. They refused to believe that a man can be sealed to two living women, claiming anyone who did that was doing it without the knowledge of the church. Again, this is something the church has a policy on. They give permission for a man to be sealed a second time if he is legally divorced. This person simply did not know enough about their own religion to defend it well and because they were uneducated they ended up looking really stupid and making the church look stupid. How is it missionary work to say that the church doesn't do something when it does? And how are you a credible missionary if you don't know your own religion?

For a while now I've been thinking that the church should stop telling people to bear testimony on social networking sites. People are used to doing so in church where everyone nods, and even if someone disagrees they generally don't say anything. People rarely have to defend their testimonies in church. The same is not true online; not everyone shares your beliefs and since it is a public forum, questions and comments are fair game. In my mind if you put something up in a public forum, you should be able to explain it and answer legitimate questions. But the irritation that arises when someone is asked to explain something in their testimony is interesting; what exactly do they want to happen. If someone is interested, wouldn't they ask questions. And if those questions were shut down in anger, wouldn't that push people away from the church? Until people can discuss their testimonies intelligently and understand the church well enough to know what they are talking about, I'm not sure social networking is the best missionary tool.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It Doesn’t All Come Down to Joseph Smit

In conversations with people about my concerns with the LDS church, they often say “Well, it all comes down to whether Joseph Smith was a prophet or not. If you believe he was a prophet then your concerns don’t matter.” That mentality is supported by this quote forGordon Hinckley “That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of [the First Vision.] It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.” I’m not really sure what this argument is supposed to prove; I guess the idea is that either I believe in Joseph Smith and should therefore should just let my issues go or I don’t believe in Joseph Smith and am therefore an apostate and not worth listening to.
The problem is, that argument doesn’t hold up. Belief in the church does not come down to whether Joseph Smith was a prophet or not because the church he started is incredibly different from the church that exists today. If we were still the church of Joseph Smith, we’d be polygamists, with very different temple experiences, living the law of consecration, speaking in tongues and seeing visions. Women would be giving blessings, running their own organization with their own money and decision-making power and lesson manuals. Members of the first presidency and quorum of the twelve would disagree, and do it in public. Doctrine and manuals would not be correlated, conference talks would not be edited to put them in line with orthodoxy. These are just the things I cam come up with off the top of my head. The church has been through major changes since the days of Joseph Smith. So to my mind it is entirely possible to believe that Joseph Smith was inspired without believing in the modern church. That isn’t to say I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, but as far as the truth of the modern church goes, it’s almost irrelevant whether he was or not.
So why did Gordon Hinckley made a statement like this? Why do members tell me the same thing? If Mormons aren’t actually living the church Joseph Smith started, why is he the one people always come back to? Part of me wonders if it’s because it’s an easy blanket statement to make. It’s easy to say, “Well, if you believe this part, then you should just sweep all your worries under the rug because one part being true makes it all true.” The First Vision is an awesome story; it teaches that anyone can have remarkable experiences, that God answers prayers, that anyone can do important things and matter to God. That’s a lot easier to accept then things like polygamy or sexism and racism in the church. The hope appears to be that if someone believes enough in one part, they will believe in the whole.
But this, in my experience, has a tendency to backfire. It has for me anyway. There are parts of the church that I still believe, that feel right to me at this point in my life. There are parts that feel wrong to me; I mean inherently wrong in my soul, and have always felt that way. If that were okay; if I could say “I believe in x but not y” and have the be accepted, then I could stay. And the truth is, everyone doesthat. No one does everything, no one believes everything. How many Mormons say the keep the Word of Wisdom and eat meat every day? How many don’t pay fast offerings? How many have a problem with polygamy? How many believe in evolution? You get my point. But publically it’s called being a cafeteria Mormon, and you catch flack if you express doubt or ask questions publically. So, even though every Mormon does it, there is no space for vocalizing it in Mormonism. So people leave because they don’t believe it all, and have been told it’s all or none. So if they don’t believe it all, they feel there is no place for them. Many go from believing in Mormonism to believing in nothing connected to religion. The all or nothing model sticks, and it makes people leave the church. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the church, since they care so much about numbers and maintaining activity, to move away from the all or nothing mentality?

Monday, May 21, 2012

The One Thing I Regret About My Marriage

Three years ago I was sealed to my husband in the Oakland Temple. His whole family was there. Mine was not. My grandparents were not present and neither were my sisters. My grandparents are not Mormon and my sisters were not endowed although both held temple recommends.

 I grew up hearing that the only valid marriage was in the temple. And since I live in the United States, I also knew that if I chose to do a different kind of wedding ceremony before my sealing, I would have to wait a year for no apparent reason. (Although if I had done something after, there wouldn’t have
been anything the church could do about it. Not like they would have cancelled my sealing for going to another church or courthouse. Wish I’d thought of that at the time.) It didn’t occur to me that I had any other option aside from a temple sealing. So I chose to be married in a place where some of my family were forbidden to enter.

The church claims that it is pro-family, that family is the most important thing. But it feel utterly justified in banning family members from some of life’s most special events and punishing those members (at least in the US) who choose their family over the church by making them wait a year to be sealed and attaching a stigma to that wait. So basically the church is only pro all-Mormon, all endowed families. My sisters were worthy to enter the temple, but were banned from my wedding anyway. How is that pro-family?

I feel I owe my grandparents an apology. My sisters are members, and one of them is making the same choice I did next month. But my grandparents aren’t members. They were not allowed to see their only child, my mother, get married. They are still angry about it, and in my mind they have every right to be. And then I did the same thing to them. I chose to exclude them from my wedding. And I feel so guilty for that. There are very few things I regret doing, but that is one of them, and it physically hurts to think of the heartless way I acted.

The truth is, because of health issues, they likely wouldn’t have been able to come to California anyway. But they still knew that if they had they would have been unwelcome. They knew they wouldn’t have been allowed to see me get married, and that I made the decision to leave them out. That was not the right choice for me to make. It was wrong of me to choose the church over my family. And I want to tell them I'm sorry. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to apologize to them because it would probably cause problems with my mother. They might hold it over her head or ask her why she hasn’t apologized. And with my sister getting married in the temple, they might give her a hard time too. (Our relationship with them is complicated.) But I feel like I need to make some kind of restitution to them somewhere, so here it is.

Dear Oma and Opa, I owe you an apology. When I got married I did so in a place where you were not welcome. I should not have done that. Even if you had not been able to come, I should have gotten married somewhere that would have welcomed you if you had been there. I should have made it clear that my family was more important to me then some religion. What I did was wrong and unkind and I am so sorry.

I should have gotten married somewhere that welcomed my whole family, not just those who believe a certain way. I regret the decision I made to marry in an LDS temple and if I had it to do over again, I would do it differently. I’m sorry for the decision I made and if that decision hurt your feelings or made you think I cared more about a church then you. I did not feel that way then, and certainly do not feel that way now. Any religion that would exclude family from events like weddings is wrong and I’m ashamed to have been a part of something like that. I wish I had figured that out sooner.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Things You Should Never Say to a Person Who is Childless by Choice

I recently read an article called “Infertility: 16 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Who is Childless but Not by Choice.” It was posted on the FMH Facebook page, and I was shocked by the insensitivity experienced by the author of this article and those commenting on the Facebook thread. I imagine that most people don’t intend to be rude, but honestly.

On the Facebook thread, someone said that she could write a similar list of things not to say to women who are childless by choice. I like that idea, so here’s my attempt. I haven’t too many experiences with people being insensitive about my choice, mostly because we’ve only been married three years and K is still in school. But I’ve gotten a few comments. Recently there were a couple of episodes on Daughters of Mormonism discussing being childless by choice, so I’m drawing on that as well. Here’s goes:

1. “Oh, you’ll change your mind.” You’re right, I might. But I might not. And assuming you know me better then I know myself and that I made this choice lightly enough to just change my mind one day is a little absurd, don’t you think? 

2. “But kids are so much fun!” That’s your opinion. I don’t find little kids all that much fun. Why would that change if they are mine and I’m around them all day, every day? And is it a good idea to do something as big as having kids just because it’s fun? 

3. “Being a mother is the best thing you can do.” Being a mother is a great thing to do. And there are all kinds of great things that people can do, for themselves, their families, their communities. The best thing that someone can do depends on the person. There is no one best thing for everyone. 

4. “You’re being selfish.” Why is selfish to choose myself and family’s needs over someone who doesn’t exist? I don’t have children that I am neglecting, I am just choosing the needs of people who are already alive over the needs of someone who does not exist. I also feel that there are so many people who are already alive who need help, and that the people who are alive and in need should take precedence. And at this point, I would make a bad parent because I would resent my kids. I’m choosing not to put a child into that situation because that would be unfair to them. How is that selfish? 

5. “There are kids waiting for you in the spirit world.” First, show me doctrinally (Saturday’s Warrior does not count) that we are assigned spirit children. I know that many people feel that way about their children. I don’t discount their experience, but I don’t share it. It could also be said that there are people here who are waiting for help; children waiting for a stable home. Why do spirits count more than those that are already here? 

6. “But there are women who can’t have kids and want to!” I understand that. It is a sad thing. But how exactly would me having kids help them? It wouldn’t change their situation at all. 

7. “God wants you to have kids.” I am entitled to personal revelation for my life. You are not entitled to revelation about my life. So you don’t know what God wants me to do. Trust me when I say that I do. 

8. “You need to give your mom/mother-in-law grandkids.” My mom and mother-in-law won’t be the ones raising my kids. They would be my responsibility. Kids are a big deal, and having them just to make someone else happy seems like a recipe for disaster to me. 

9. Keeping talking to me as though I’ll have kids. Dude, I just told you I don’t want kids, so why are you still assuming I am? Respect me enough to respect my decision and trust me enough to believe that I am doing what I feel is right for myself and my family.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are Mormons Moral Relativists?

Recently I got into an argument on Facebook (shocking, I know) about whether everyone is capable of being Mormon. Because I feel the God has told me that the church is wrong for me, and because of the many who leave because Mormonism feels wrong to them, I said that not everyone can be Mormon. Not everyone is capable of believing the teachings of the church (which is a good thing in my mind.) I was then accused of being a moral relativist for thinking that God can give different answers to different people.

First, here's a definition of moral relativism: "The philosophized notion that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are personalized according to the individual and his or her circumstances or cultural orientation."

When I was accused of being a moral relativist, it was because I believe God can say different things to different people. Do I think that God will tell someone to kill someone, to mistreat someone, to judge someone? No, I do not. The basis of most religions and philosophies is being kind to and serving others. If God is behind all religions and philosophies that tell people to love others, then God is being consistent, and my morality is based on loving other people.

The problem becomes that Mormons have left the two great commandments of the New Testament behind in favor of minutia like the Word of Wisdom, temple attendance, church attendance and tithing. Look at the temple recommend questions:
1. Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?
2. Do you have a testimony of the Atonement of Christ and of His role as Savior and Redeemer?
3. Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?
4. Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?
5. Do you live the law of chastity?
6. Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?
7. Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
8. Do you strive to keep the covenants you have made, to attend your sacrament and other meetings, and to keep your life in harmony with the laws and commandments of the gospel?
9. Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?
10. Are you a full-tithe payer? Do your keep the Word of Wisdom?
11. Do you have financial or other obligations to a former spouse or children? If yes, are you current in meeting those obligations?
12. If you have previously received your temple endowment: Do you keep the covenants that you made in the temple? Do you wear the garment both night and day as instructed in the endowment and in accordance with the covenant you made in the temple?
13. Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?
14. Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord's house and participate in temple ordinances?

In my interpretation, the only questions that deals with how we treat others are 9 and 11, and 11 only applies to specific circumstances that not everyone is in. The rest are about the orthodoxy of your beliefs and behaviors that relate to the church. Even fast offerings, which are designed to take care of the physical needs of individuals, are not required, whereas tithing, which can be used to build expensive temples and malls, is required. (Yes, I'm being snarky.) But in all seriousness, a temple recommend is what gets you access to saving ordinances and loving your neighbor and serving others doesn't seem to be as important as orthodoxy of belief.

So I reject the idea that orthodoxy trumps kindness, because I find kindness and service at the heart of religions, and therefore believe God's morality is love and kindness. I am just a relativist when it comes to the things that are attached to religions and become more important then service, but believe that morality is love and service. My God tells everyone to love and care for the people around them, and if religion will help them to do that, then that religion is right for them. God will not tell someone to mistreat another. (This is my world view, and I'm open to the idea that I'm totally wrong, but at this point this makes sense to me, and allows me to try to be a better person.)

Mormonism, on the other hand, strikes me as morally relative. There seems to be nothing that is totally wrong in Mormonism; it's wrong until God says
it is okay. I'm pulling this from places like the story of Nephi killing Laban in the Book of Mormon. Nephi shows the inherent abhorrence that most people have for murder, an inherent quality that I believe is divinely inspired. But because God said murder is okay, he does it. There is something similar in a discussion of polygamy in the Book of Mormon; there is a verse that says having multiple wives is wrong, unless God says it's okay. This is after a discussion of the damage having multiple wives and concubines does to families and how those who have done so have been punished by God. But the caviot that it's okay when God says so seems to say that the damage and pain caused by polygamy and adultery would be okay if God condoned polygamy. So the morality of Mormons seems to be "X is wrong, unless God says otherwise." And God can say anything is okay. In Mormonism, and other faith traditions, God has okayed murder, rape, incest, theft, arson, lies, polygamy, genocide, and on and on. These are things that most people shy away from and agree are immoral things to do. God appears to have no moral code at all if you want to look at it that way.

Now, most of the Mormons I know would agree in this day and age God will not command people to rape or murder or whatever. But it is in the doctrine. The story of Laban is used to teach "the children [to] understand that Heavenly Father helps those who trust him and obey his commandments." God was helping Nephi get the plates by telling him to cut Laban's head off. So while most would say that it doesn't happen today, it is still present in the teachings of the church that God can make anything okay. I wonder how many Mormons, if told by the prophet who speaks for God, to attack or harm someone else would do it?

So is belief in a God who is very attached specific rules, but can okay any behavior no matter how inherently wrong it feels to most of humanity morally relative? I don't think that an element of moral relativism is bad, but I've heard many Mormons say that moral relativism is bad. If it is, how do the above examples fit into the notion that relativism is bad?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Christ Didn't Just Exist

As Easter has been coming up, I've been thinking about what my understanding of Christ is. Do I believe he is the son of God, do I believe in the Atonement, do I believe in the New Testament.

I've realized these questions show a very literalistic way of looking at the world, a trait I believe I picked up from Mormonism. In order for something to be true in Mormonism, it had to actually have happened. Joseph Smith must literally have seen God and Christ,, and translated the Book of Mormon from actual plates, and those plates must have carried a record of people who actually existed. If these things did not actually happen, the foundation of the church falls apart.

So getting back to Christ, does it matter if he was actually the son of God, or if the Atonement really took place? On some level, it might, but when it comes to how I live my life I'm not sure it does. I have no control over whether or not the Atonement happened, and if it didn't there's nothing I can do about it. I can choose to believe in it, or feel that it happened, but belief doesn't make something true.

What can have an impact on my life, and what I can control, is how the things attributed to Christ affect my behavior. I haven't done enough study on the subject to form an opinion on whether or not a man called Jesus lived. But the legacy that has become attached to his name is a beautiful thing. The idea of Jesus teaches us to love everyone, not to judge others, to care for those in need. The Atonement, whether it happened or not, is a story of someone loving people so much he was willing to suffer and die for them. the power of that kind of love is amazing to think about. Even if none of it happened, or if Jesus was just a powerful teacher, following his example can lead me to become a better, more loving person, and help me to improve the world around me. Whether or not the Atonement happened, it can still show me how to love others, even those I don't know or don't like or who are cruel to me.

So this Easter I can celebrate the example of Christ, whether he exists of not. I once heard a quote attributed to Mother Teresa: "If there is a God, I will live as he would want me to live." I may never know about the existance of God or Christ, but I can live as they might want me to.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Oh, Body Issues

A feew years ago I wrote an essay for a program called Recapturing Beauty,, sponsored by BYU Women=s Services. Here=s the edited version that may or may not be published this year.

Women deserve to feel beautiful. But how do we go about doing that? How do we see standards of beauty that no one can meet and still feel beautiful? My answer to this is simple in theory, but difficult in practice: I chose to believe that I was beautiful.

This process started during a theatre class taught by Eric Samuelsen. He said that while most men believe that they are in the top 50% of the world’s handsomest men, most women do not believe that they are in the top 50% of the world’s most beautiful women. Most women believe they are less beautiful than half of the women in the world. This blew my mind. I looked around the room; I knew most of the women in it and every single one of them was beautiful. I thought about my friends and my family. I thought about my sister, who struggles with anorexia and bulimia, but who I’ve always felt is the pretty one in the family. I thought about a friend who struggles with depression and low self-esteem whose beauty had struck me the last time I saw her. I thought about my mom, who spent weeks looking for a dress for my wedding, crying because she felt that she looked terrible in everything. My heart still breaks over that. All of these women deserved to feel beautiful, but didn’t, and neither did I. I compared myself to advertisements, to clothing sizes, to my ex-boyfriend’s expectations, and not surprisingly, I came up short.

As I sat in that class I came to a decision. I didn’t want to spend my life feeling like I wasn’t pretty, so I decided not to. Instead of comparing myself to other women, I started looking at myself. When I did that, I found things about my appearance that I liked. I began to appreciate myself on my own merits and to believe I was beautiful.

It’s been a year since I made that decision. There are still times when I look in the mirror and think “Man, I look terrible.” But now I don’t let those thoughts sink in. I know that they are destructive and untrue. So I make myself look again and think “I look good.” I can’t stop negative thoughts from surfacing, but I don’t need to believe them. It’s a wonderful feeling to know I can make myself feel beautiful by believing that I am.

Recently I=ve hit a new snag in body image issues. In general, I feel good about how I look. But since I started working a desk job, and also eating out of boredom at work, I=ve been gaining weight. So while I'm okay with how i look, for health reasons I need to lose some weight. But this has thrown a bit of wrencch in my difficcultly established body image; ccan I still be alright with how I look while realizing that I need to lose wight? It's sad to me that I have to rework my body image again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Let the Rejoicing Began!

After almost 2 years in Primary, we were released on Sunday. It's a massive relief; I've been trying to work up the energy to ask to be released. Last time I asked my bishop, he said no. (I'm pretty sure he can't do that; it's a volunteer position after all.) When it was the New Testament, it was fairly simple to just teach Christ loving everyone. And we had some older kids who could grasp nuance and were asking good questions. But when the new year started and we started the Book of Mormon with a new class,, it was painful every week. There's some strange stuff in the Book of Mormon that's hard to teach, like Nephi killing Laban. How do you teach that murder is sometimes okay? Then there's the issue of teaching it like it's historically accurate. I don't know if it is or not (although I lean towards not) but it's difficult to teach it as though it's anything but totally historically accurate. I felt like I was setting these kids up to fail, because so many people find out about the questionable origins and lack of historical evidence of the Book of Mormon and leave. If we could teach it as allegory, as inspiring because it teaches good principles like all kinds of good fiction and theatre that didn't actually happen, then the lack of historical evidence might be less of an issue, and people who wanted to might be able to stay in the church. But the manuals and the church itself doesn't allow for that kind of view to be taught, so now I'm the Primary teacher who taught that it really happened. If they encounter anything to the contrary, I didn't give them an alternative because I didn't know how. And that makes me feel like I betrayed them.

So, now I'm done. No more small children (that really aren't my thing anyway) and no more feeling like a liar because I couldn't give them the tools to think differently about their religion. And no more obligation to show up to church if I don't feel like it. So all in all, a good thing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I'm Trying Dangit! or, How Can You Tell When You are Being Rude?

I'm often accused of being rude. I'm perfectly willing to admit that I can be a rude person. I have strong opinions that I am passionate about and I generally think (like most people) that I'm right. Mormonism probably added to my already strong personality; the church claims that it is the one true church and teaches it's members to state that without shame. In teaching that it is the only church with all the truth, it creates superiority complexes. There's a lot of "we know more then they do, we have more truth then they do, we're right and they aren't." We often seen mocking or condescending remarks made by leaders, teachers and members about other religions; "They believe in the Trinity, but WE know better." "They say the same prayer over again, but WE know better then that." So I spent a lot of my life thinking I was right about God and others weren't.

I really don't want to be that person. I don't want to be the person telling other people they are wrong. But I also don't want to bow out and not express my beliefs because they are just as valid as other people's. So I'm trying to find a way for be kind and respectful of other people and their opinions, while expressing my own. Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not so much. And sometimes I really can't tell. Sometimes I feel like I'm polite and respectful, but the person I'm talking to gets angry and says I'm rude because I disagree with them. So who do I trust? Do I determine my success by my own feelings or how others react to me?

While I'm trying to figure when I'm being rude or not, I'm also trying to cut myself some slack. I'm trying to be respectful, I'm trying to be compassionate. But I'm also a passionate person who is working through anger. Sometimes I'll blow my stack at someone, sometimes I'll ream someone out instead of being polite. Sometimes I'll treat others with disrespect when they disrespect me instead of treating them how I want to be treated. That's not okay, but I'm trying dangit! I'm trying, I really am. I can't do more then try.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Not Good Enough to Bless Him

My brother-in-law's wedding, the wedding I've kind of been timing my life by, was last weekend. We flew out Thursday to find that everyone in my husband's family was sick with the flu or phenomena or something. Literally, everyone was coughing and throwing up and the whole bit. So on Friday we spent the whole day setting up for the wedding reception, and were planning on going to the sealing, luncheon, ring ceremony and reception the next day. But K woke up at 11:30 on Friday night barely able to breathe. I spent the rest of the night awake on the couch to make sure he was okay.

The next morning it was pretty clear that we weren't going to make it to the wedding. K was barely able to stand, and looked ready to die. So we told his mom that he didn't feel up to it. She asked if he wanted a blessing, and he said yes. His older brother and grandfather gave him a blessing and I stood off to the side and watched.

This made me really angry. As his wife I can stay up all night with him, I can stay home with him and get him what he needs, I can worry about him, I can take him to the doctor, get him to take his pills, I can do everything but call on the power of God to help him. I'm not good enough to do that. I can take care of him physically, but I'm not allowed to invoke the name and power of God to heal him. As a wife, that made me really mad. He's my husband; he's the most important person in my life and I would do anything for him. But as a woman the church does not allow me to. They deny me the ability to bless my husband. I have to stand aside and watch while men do it.

I don't deny that his brother and grandfather had a right to bless him. They are his family and love him. If he had wanted them to do it instead of me, he has that right. I don't want to deny anyone the right to bless those they love. But I am denied that because of my gender. I'm good enough to do everything else expect use the power of God to bless. It felt so wrong to me to be excluded from that not by the choice of the person being blessed but by the rules of an institution that chooses to deny half the population the ability to access the power of God to bless the lives of others.

Many insist that women are not second class citizens in the church. This is an instance where I felt very much second-class. The only reason I could not bless my husband was because of my gender. My relationship with him, my worthiness, my connection with God were all overshadowed by the fact that I have different sexual organs then my brother-in-law. I am excluded based on my gender, which is the definition of a second-class citizen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How to Fix the Problem

I spend a lot of time reading the Exponent, FMH and the various Facebook groups attached to them and podcasts like Mormon Stories. See the list at the right. So I'm very aware of the problems within Mormonism. I'm also aware of the problems people face in the US and the world. Often I feel like all I do is vent about problems without being able to solve them. It's so depressing to see pain and injustice and not be able to do anything about it! I know others feel the same way, so I thought I'd share the ways I've found to try to change the problems I see.

So in no particular order...
I'm on the email lists for the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Emily's List. Both send out updates about women's issues in the US and provide links to petitions and ways to contact politicians to express your opinions. It's nice to keep up to date and to express my voice about what's happening.

The Facebook groups for LDS Wave, Feminist Mormon Housewives and Mormon Stories podcast are good places to keep up to date on what's going on and what people are doing about it.

To express opinions within the church, there is Agitating Faithfully, a site that keeps track of Mormons who want women to be given the Priesthood. There is also Latter-day Saints for Change, a new site collecting letters from Mormons expressing their desire for change in the church. There is an email address to submit a letter of your own. The goal is to eventually present these to people in church leadership. I also currently work with LDS WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality.) check out the website to get involved.

There are a few things happening right now that are interesting. Here's a petition asking that action be taken concerning a rapper whose lyrics encourage rape.

Feminist Mormon Housewives is currently trying to determine temple policies about menstration during baptisms for the dead. There seems to be no pattern to policy and it causes embarressment in young women and shame about a natural process. Here's more info and how to help.

Recently Liz Trotta of Fox News stated that women in the military should "expect to be raped" by the men they are serving with, which is an appaling statement. There is a petition online asking Fox News to take action.

So there are my ideas! Anyone else have any thought about ways to help solve problems?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My God

As I've been navigating my path in Mormonism, I've found myself questioning all of my religious beliefs. This was bound to happen, since once you remove parts of a structure of belief, you have to re-examine all of the pieces. In general this has been a rewarding and exciting experience, and I've been having fun with it! Since I no longer assume that the LDS church's definitions of things are right for my life, I've had to start from the beginning, all the way back to God. When I say God, I'm open to He, She, Them, It. My preference is currently She and He, which I'll discuss at some point. But even that came second to the question of whether I believe in God and what kind of God that is.

First off, I believe in God. Why? Because I choose to. I have no proof one way or the other, but I find comfort in the concept of God, and therefore choose to believe. I've been reading The Case for God by Karen Armstromg, which discusses the various ways God has been discussed in the Abrahamic religions. In the early days of Christianity, people were much less likely to try to prove the existence of God through scientific means. When churches started saying that science proved the existence of God, that's when they ran into problems. (Which might be why some members still deny evolution.) I'm less concerned about the actual existence of God then I am about how the concept of God is used. My belief in God makes me a better person, so I continue to believe. I once heard a quote attributed to Mother Teresa: "If there is a God, I'm going to live my life as he would want me to live." I can't know if there is a God or not, but I can live in a way that God would approve.

This leads to another question to answer: what does God want me to do? In the church, we have leaders to tell us exactly what to do. But so many of the rules they "pass down from God" simply don't make sense to me. I've prayed about them, and feel that they really don't matter. Yet the church keeps telling me that it does. The church believes it can tell me what God wants for me better then God can tell me what God wants for me. For a church born out of Protestantism where a personal relationship with God is more important then clergy, that strikes me as odd. I'm told that I can have personal revelation, but if it conflicts with the church, then the church is right. But the God the church teaches is irrational to me. On the one hand, God loves everyone and we are supposed to do the same. But then God seems to care more about our hair length, jewelry and drinking habits then how we treat other people. That simply doesn't sit right with me. We teach about a loving Heavenly Father; my parents don't disown me for not cleaning my room or for wearing something they don't like. The things they get upset about are things that they think will hurt me or other people. So, using the idea of loving parents as a base, I've come to believe that the things God wants me to do are things that will make me a more compassionate person and things that will improve other people's lives. Scripture seems to back this up, especially the New Testament.

But I'm not sure if this belief actually sits with Mormonism. I once told my bishop that I though the most important thing to God was to love and take care of other people. He scoffed a little at the simplicity of that; he seemed to think I was being stupid and missing the point. But what is more important then loving others and taking care of the people around us? As a bishop, what does he feel is more important? He is very attached to obedience, and seems to feel that following all the rules is the most important thing to do with your life. But how accept that judging someone else, making someone unhappy, denying someone things they need is okay as long as I'm not drinking tea, spending 3 hours in church every week and covering my cleavage. I just can't accept that. I can't accept that God would keep people out of heaven for things that have very little effect on anyone's life, especially if those rules led to less compassion.

This is going to need to bleed onto other posts. So to sum up, I believe in God, and I believe that the things God cares most about are how we treat other people. IF something isn't going to hurt us or someone else, my God doesn't really care. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says that commandments are important because they turn us into certain kinds of people, and if they aren't doing that, keeping them doesn't serve any purpose. So if it's not turning me into a more compassionate, more intelligent, more aware person, I don't think it is of God.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Who is Welcome in Zion, or, Thank You Exponent!

Recently I've been struggling with the loss of an LDS community. My beliefs prevent me from feeling and acting in an authentic way in many church settings. I don't wish to harm another person's faith by expressing the many problems I see within the Mormon church. If it works for them, I have no right to try to blast that apart. But since my beliefs about God, religion and the church have altered, I feel I must often be silent rather then speak my truth. It is an uncomfortable position to be in.

This is exacerbated by people in the Mormon community telling me that I am unwelcome. One recent example Is on my Feminist Mormon's Bucket List post. Caren, who I have learned is in my ward, told me to leave the church. Another woman I don't know at all attacked me on Facebook, calling me selfish and irrational after I said that I did not want kids in an exchange of experiences on someone's Facebook wall. This may sound like a pity party, and I am pretty hurt and angry. These women have decided to exclude me from their community, from the Zion most members wish to create. In order for their Zion to exist, I must be removed. There is no place for me in their Mormon Zion; their God does not want me.

But I have also had encounters with Mormons who would accept me into their Zion. In the same post where Caren told me to leave, TopHat said I was welcome in her Zion. (I hope she reads this, because that comment meant the world to me.) She wasn't the only one. The comments on that truly cruel and painful post from Mormon women (largely from the Exponent community) expressing acceptance and coming to my defense were astounding. These women don't know me well; in fact most of what they know about me are my questions and doubts and anger. But they welcome me into their community of Mormon women. They do not feel the need to throw me out to improve their community or please their God. The women of the Exponent have made me feel welcome and accepted without telling me to shut up or get with the program. They welcome difference into their Zion. I hope they know how absolutely grateful I am for that.

Recently I attended a book group with women in my ward. We were discussing All God's Critter's Got a Place in the Choir by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Emma Lou Thayne. (Here's a video of Celtic Thunder singing the song the title is based on. Great song!) I was leading the discussion and started with the essay Lusterware, which suggests that questions and doubts are a good thing, because they lead us to a stronger understanding of God. I was worried about choosing that essay to talk about, but I shouldn't have been. The women present jumped in, talking about how questioning is a good thing, and how there is no reason to be afraid of questions or those who ask them. They made it clear that questioners were welcome in their Zion. Granted, most of these women do not know the extent of my differing beliefs, but I do not believe they would shun me if they did. They would worry, but they would welcome me.

Many believe that Zion will only exist when everyone believes the same thing. Therefore they may feel the need, as evidenced by my recent experience, to exclude those with different beliefs. But I wonder if God does not intend this to be Zion. One of the descriptions of Zion is that there are no poor; everyone has what they need. Everyone is taken care of. So what if Zion is about learning to love and take care of everyone, even those different from us? What if Zion is living in a way that everyone can find God in their own way and have that way be respected by the people around them. I am different from the women of the Exponent and in my book group. But they respect my path while living their own. Spunky said in a comment to Caren that she respects my attempts to find truth even though they differ from her own. That sounds much more divine to me then telling someone to "get out" because they disagree with you. (Yes, I'm still a little pissy. I'm working on it.)

Long story short, thank you Exponent and book group for showing me Zion!

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Firm a Foundation

I've always enjoyed singing, and hymn singing has been been one of my favorite parts of church, depending on the hymn of course. :) My family is rather snotty about music. As my understanding of God has changed, many hymns have become more difficult to sing. I struggle with all the male pronouns. Hymns express such love and dedication to our Father, but what about our Mother? I miss expressing love and devotion to Her. I feel like there's a hole where She should be in Mormon litergy. I also struggle with the exclusivism in many hymns. (A few monthes ago I went to Mormon Expression live podcast recording Mormon Fight Songs for Dummies. Having a rock band under the hymns helped make them easier to sing.)

On Sunday we sang How Firm a Foundation as a rest hymn. I love that song and was really worried that it would be hard to sing. That would make me sad. But as we were singing the 2nd verse, I realized that it was a song about how we can follow Christ's example.

"In every condition-- in sickness, in health
In poverty's vale, or abounding in wealth
At home or abroad, by land or by sea
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

The verse may originally have been written to talk about God taking care of us. But I was struck by how we could use this as a guide to who we can take care of. If Christ took care of everyone, regardless of situation, then we can to. The 7th verse added to my feelings that this song describes how we can be like Christ.

"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot desert to his foes.
That soul though all hell should endevor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

Christ will not do everything. Our Parents will not do everything. If they did, we would not need to exist in communities. They have given us the responsibility to take care of the people around us. They are counting on us to take care of each other, regardless of their situation. Deserting or mistreating others is akin to deserting Christ to his enemies.

This has come home for me this week. I've been attacked by several people for having experiences and beliefs different from theirs. Despite claiming to follow Christ, they seem to feel justified in ridiculing my choices and attacking my beliefs. It's been a truly painful experience to be attacked so personally, to have my choices, my relationship with God, my spirituality, my self-definition and self-expression all invalidated and scorned by those who identify as Christian, even someone in my ward. Christ never said to only minister to those you liked or agreed with or understood. I tried to react respectfully to these incidents, and I sincerely hope I never hurt anyone as these Christian women have hurt me.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I'd like to bear my testimony of intelligence...

Today was fast Sunday, and the bishop was the first to bear his testimony since he was conducting. For some background info, I don't particularly like this bishop. After I, stupidly, told him I didn't like going to the temple and my issues with women and the church. He's a very black-and-white thinker, and was more concerned with getting me to think like him then understanding where I was coming from or my emotional well-being. He had me in every 2 weeks, and told me that I was going to ruin my marriage, that I'm too smart for my own good, that I'm proud and need to repent. Finally I refused to see him anymore; it was just pissing me off.

Today he bore his testimony on the dangers of listening to your mind rather then your heart. He seemed to believe that intelligence was opposed to spirituality, that you had to reject your intelligence in order to find God and feel the spirirt. He sounded so sure of himself, so sure he had thevonly right answers, so sure he was giving everyone listening exactly what they needed. I was absolutely livid. Who is he to assume he knows more about how God speaks then the rest of us, to think his way of finding God is more valid then others, the only valid way. If God Created us with minds, why would they be dangerous? Must one be unintelligent to find God? My experience tells me otherwise. I find God in learning, in intelligence, it things that make sense. The bishop, in his fear, dismissed my relationships with God, dismissed any relationship different from his own. That may not have been his intention, but he clearly believes that my connection to God is wrong and "dangerous." He's told me that I'm too smart for my own good in the past. Then to add to the "there is only one correct way" idea, most of the people who got up after him said similar things, including my mom.

So, instead of sitting there fuming, I got up and bore my testimony for the first time in over a year. I described how I find God, how my mind leads me to my Parents. I also said that we were created individually. Our Parents did that intentionally, and will communicate with us as individuals. They know how to speak with each of us in different ways. Everyone can find God in their own way, and don't need to feel bound by anyone else's experience, including their bishop's.

I got a pretty positive reaction. One of my BYU professors, who is the most intelligent and compassionate person I know (he's at BYU out of the goodness of his heart; he's taught at Cambridge,) said I made my point respectfully and clearly. A young woman asked my name because she'd written down some of the things I said. And a woman I work with in Primary said it had resonated with her daughter. I'm not trying to be cocky; it just proves that speaking differences can be helpful to others, which was my intention. I wanted to help people who might be feeling guilty for being different, or who might feel hopeless because the bishop's method doesn't work for them. I wanted to remind the bishop that he has stewardship over a group of individuals with varying needs and personalities, and needs to treat them as such. Granted, differences will also make people mad (see Caren's comment on my Feminist Mormon's Bucket List post.) But I've found courage I've never had before in speaking my truth to try to help other people. It feels more right, and gives me more confidence then anything in the church ever has.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My Dreams are Trying to Tell Me Something...

I'm really not into dream interpretation, meaning I never do it ever. But over the past few months, I've been having dreams a few times a week with the same theme; not being listened to. In each dream, I"m in a situation where I need or want people to listen to what I'm saying, like the high school classrooms where I student taught, my Primary classroom, a discussion with my family or in a theater where I'm directing a play. In each instance I'm trying to make myself heard. I'm trying to teach or direct or explain myself to someone. And I can't make myself heard. People are talking over me, or disengaged, and no matter how hard I try, I can't get people to listen to me. I get more and more frustrated until I'm yelling, trying to be heard.

If I'd only had one of these dreams, I'd probably ignore it. But I have a dream like this at least once a week. I know that I've been frustrated recently because I feel like I can't express a lot of what I feel and believe to the people around me. And that frustration is coming out in my dreams.

So recently I've been trying to be more authentic to myself, without causing major problems to my relationships. I quit wearing my garments, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise with my family. This has already caused some problems with my sister, who is close to getting engaged. She is angry at my attitude towards the church, and we got into an argument last week. But even as she was upset with me, and I was trying to explain myself, it felt better to try to explain and to be myself then to lie or keep my mouth shut. It was a nice feeling, not to be scared to tell the truth or frustrated by not saying anything.

So my goal for this year (I guess I'm making a New Year's resolution), is not to be afraid of who I am or what I believe. If I have something to say, I will say it. If I"m going to do something, I'm not going to try to explain myself. There is peace in being who I am and doing what I think is right.