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.