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3/22/14

Mormon Open Letter



               My friend Alison asked me to share some information about her project, Mormon Open Letter. This an an open letter to President Monson, asking for increased transparency regarding church history, among other things. You can find out more about the letter, as well as sign it,  HERE. The participants are specifically  asking the church for:


  • Increased awareness for the existing and upcoming topic essays through online and print announcements and global availability in official publications of the Church
  • Translation of the topic essays to other languages for a greater international reach
  • Inclusion of publication dates, authorship attributions, and an indication of the content being or not being official policies or doctrines of the Church, for all online and print content
  • Inclusion of this information in the correlated material used in church meetings, seminary, MTC courses, and with investigators
  • New lessons and training to directly address the challenges faced by mixed-faith families and how to maintain strong relationships in these situations
  • Separation of civil marriage and Temple Sealing ceremonies allowing for the inclusion of all family members5
  • Ending the rhetoric that tears down those who question or leave the faith and puts families at odds with each other
  • The same level of transparency into the finances of the Church that is expected from other non-profit and religious organizations


All former, current, and future members of the Church deserve complete, honest, and accurate information in regards to church history, doctrine, finances, and culture.


As I read the letter, this statement resonated with me both powerfully and painfully, "When we learn something new that we are excited to share with our families and loved ones, we are often met with suspicion and distrust, leading to discord, contention, and unhappiness in our relationships. The strife affecting so many goes against the Church’s own counsel on building love within our families."

For me, my first exploration into church history involved a study of the role of women in the church. It was both exciting and painful to read about the power and influence early church women maintained, and to learn how women's roles had been reduced to something that required "presiding" power. I  knew that I wanted to talk about these things with my husband, and at the time, he didn't believe me . The idea of women offering blessings by laying on of hands, the fact that Joseph Smith ordained Emma to create the Relief Society, all of these ideas struck Earl as scary. He accused me of reading "anti-Mormon" literature. It wasn't until the church officially released the Relief Society minutes in 2011, verifying my discoveries, that Earl was willing to truly talk to me about the history of women within the church. He needed official confirmation from the church that what I was saying was true. 

I don't tell this story to make my spouse seem like a mean person, or even a sexist one. He isn't. But we were both raised in a church that did not fully share it's history with members. We were both trained to be wary and afraid of any messages about the church that were not officially sanctioned. I felt betrayed when I learned about church history, and Earl felt afraid. We both didn't know what to believe, and yes, it caused a serious amount of  distrust and unhappiness in this part of our relationship.

While Earl and I have grown and learned new ways to navigate our faiths, it is an incredibly lonely road. The church does not offer many resources for families where one member is inactive and the other is not. In our old ward, there were members who would suggest we should get divorced, since a mixed-faith family presented challenges no one knew how to master. Others believed Earl had a right to divorce me since I had obviously been led away by sin. I suspect people assumed one of us had been unfaithful. And since the church does not provide adequate resources for helping members with mixed-faith marriages, articles like THIS one, in which the author claims there is no valid reason for questioning the church, encourages members to assume the inactive partner has sinned or is spiritually"sick."  Narratives like this only result in promoting negative stereotypes about members who leave the church, not strengthening and supporting families. While there is no way to avoid some of the difficulties that occur when one spouse goes inactive, I agree with the writers of Mormon Open Letter, there needs to me more kind and nuanced resources for members of the LDS church, and their inactive or ex-Mormon family members. There is not enough Uchtdorf, it seems. :)

I think there are many members who believe that admitting to a confusing and often upsetting history hurts the church, but I disagree. I think that institutions thrive on intellectual honesty. It allows us to see and understand the past without fearing it, and prevents us from becoming destroyed by the inconsistencies between reality and belief. And, as one of my favorite authors John Steinbeck so beautifully states, "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." I believe an increased transparency regarding church history, finances, and policy will allow Mormonism to leave the false idea of perfection behind, and head towards good. 










3/13/14

back to you



             I don't write much about Spouseman for a variety of reasons.  Mostly, I think people should be allowed to tell their own stories, and my husband tells stories differently than me.

           That said, we celebrate seven years of marriage this Saturday, and since this online place has followed so much already, I thought it fitting to include a written testament to Spouseman and the last seven years together.

            The day we were married I read a poem by e.e. cummings. The first stanza goes like this:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)


              Seven years later and while I still feel like I carry his heart with me, I know that "whatever is done by only me is your doing," is only partially true. Seven years later and the world Earl and I married in is different.I walked away from our faith tradition, and we've worked hard to create new pathways and new worlds. There are times where he goes and I do not follow. We've learned to carry our hearts differently now.

               But, as ee. cummings says in the next stanza, "i fear no fate." That is still true. More importantly, e.e cumming's claim and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart/i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart.) is still true. Our marriage is often a wonder. Here is the deepest secret nobody knows.

              Now when I think of our marriage, I think of this poem by Rob Burton:

Back to you...


It's icy on the outside 
The fields go flashing by
Dark skeletons of tree branch
Against the darkening sky.

White fields of icy sculpture 
The grass an icing froth
Sheep huddled against the hayrick
The lakes a solid broth.

Ghostly shapes emerging
From the riming mist
Bushes sparkling brightly
Whitely blushing, frosty kissed.

Quilted horses blowing steam
Above the icy stream
Trains hot blasting
Through this winter dream.

England in the winter
A monochromatic view
From my speeding window
On the train right back to you
Back to your smile
The one that saved my life
Through snow and rain and ice
To the warm arms of my loving wife.



Wherever I've gone the last seven years, and whenever I've spent time with the the dark skeletons of tree branches and ghostly shapes, at the end of the day, I'm always back on the train.


On the train right back to you/ Back to your smile/ The one that saved my life/Through snow and rain and ice.


                                                                   (January 2007)

             

                 




2/22/14

I been there before.

I just finished teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for what may be the last time. I might be transferred to the history department next year, and while I’m excited to teach a new subject and grow as an educator, I am going to miss teaching novels. The most wonderful part of being an English teacher is holding a book in your hand and knowing that it is your job to bring that novel to life. It feels good knowing your coworkers are people like Harper Lee and Mark Twain. I teach from the shoulders of giants.

I will particularly miss my favorite coworker, Huck Finn, a 13 year old boy with distaste for becoming “sivilized.” Huck and I have a lot in common: accidentally offensive, (Huck horrifies his foster parent when he tells her he’d rather go to hell if it means being with his friends, a sentiment  I also espouse, ) earnest, funny, and deeply conflicted on what it means to be good. Huck is raised in the violent and racist antebellum South, taught from infancy that being a “low-down abolitionist” is a crime against God, and consistently criticized for not measuring up to society’s expectations of manliness. (Huck climbs up a tree, like a “coward,” to avoid being killed in a multi-generational feud.)

Despite Huck’s antics, Huck desperately wants to be good. He is consumed with guilt when he decides to help runaway slave Jim escape to freedom, and constantly torn between the devotion he feels towards Jim as his only true friend, and his loyalty to the religious values of his upbringing. Near the novel’s conclusion, Huck decides he must finally learn to “be good.” He kneels down to pray and repent for helping Jim, but the words don’t come, “I was trying to make my mouth say I would do… the clean thing …but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie-I found that out.”  He isn’t able to pray until he resolves to confess and turn Jim in, but at the last moment he changes he mind. “I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, for-ever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it.” When forced to decide between being good and “clean” and abandoning his friend, he picks Jim. He chooses love. He knows it will change his life forever, and maybe even his salvation, but he doesn’t care. With all the gumption a 13 year old boy can muster, he declares “All right then, I’ll go to hell.”

I try to be as brave as Huck. Like Huck, I’ve stood at the brink of disaster, torn “betwixt two things” and forced to decide “for-ever” which one I would choose. I’ve tried to pray and I can’t.  Raised in a homophobic and benignly patriarchal religion, I’ve climbed a tree, (wearing pants,) to avoid being killed in the multi-generational feud between equality and sexism raging in my church.  I’ve been called much worse than a coward for refusing to accept my role as a second-class citizen in the LDS faith. And if the people who love the outcast and oppressed go to hell, I want to go too, because that’s where my friends are. I can’t imagine enjoying a heaven without my gay, feminist, social activist friends. I don't want to be sivilized. 

But like Huck, I struggle with my choice. Even after deciding he is willing to go to hell for Jim, Huck still doubts his decision. When his friend Tom Sawyer is willing to help free Jim, Huck is astonished. “ Here was a boy that was respectable and well brung up; and had a character to lose, and folks at home that had characters; and he was bright and…I ought to just up and tell him so; and be his true friend, and let him quit the thing right where he was and save himself.”


 I’ve sometimes longed to be like the “well behaved Mormon women” who conform so perfectly to what our church expects of us. I listen to fiery sermons on “protecting the traditional family,” and like Huck, I’ve allowed myself to believe the messages that tell me I’m bad. Like Huck, I sometimes wonder why I have a conscience when if all it does is “takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow.” I’ve been raised my whole life to listen to my conscience, this enormous thing inside me that tells me if God is “no respecter of persons,” I shouldn’t be either, and yet this conscience gets me in more trouble than I ever imagined. If Huck is a “low-down abolitionist” I’m a “low-down feminist and LGBT ally” and sometimes I internalize the message that this dooms me to Huck’s fate as an orphan and outcast. All Huck wants is the thing Tom takes for granted, a family and a place in the community where he is accepted for who he is, not who he is supposed to be. I wish I didn’t have to choose betwixt being “respectable and well brung-up” and my devotion for Jim in his many modern incarnations.  

My students always think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a happy ending. As it turns out, Jim’s been free all along, set free in will of his master after she dies. I take comfort in the idea that the slavery we create in our own minds might be equally invalid. Maybe we’ve been free all along too, I hope.  Even better, Huck is offered the one thing he’s always wanted: a home with Tom’s relatives, where he will be raised will all the advantages he envies in Tom.

True to his conscience, Huck makes a different choice. “I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” Huck leaves for the west because he’s “ahead of the rest.” His refusal to succumb to the racism and religious dogma of his culture puts him beyond his time, but it’s a lonely road to wander, especially for someone so young.  I know this, because I know Huck’s pain. I’ve been sivilized too, and I’ve been there before.

  But I’m also more like Tom that I dare to admit, raised with every advantage and often homesick for the privilege I’ve left behind.  So every time I finish Huck Finn I hope the territory out west is beautiful. I hope Huck strikes it rich panning for gold and going on adventures better than anything “sivilization” can offer. I hope it for Huck, and I hope it for me too. In the end, I choose to believe kind and gentle Jim, the Christ-figure who sacrifices himself for underserving Tom: “Sometimes you’re going to get hurt, and sometimes you’re to get sick, but every time you’re going to get well again.”  Okay. All right then, I’ll go to hell.




Notes: I’d like to personally apologize to Mark Twain for deliberately ignoring his notice at the beginning of the novel. “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”



Also, for a great Rational Faiths  essay by Lori Burkman on how to be “sivilized” in the LDS church, and still advocate for the Jims in our community, go HERE.








12/14/13

I felt like writing something



I worry that this entry will sort of be like a pop star announcing their umpteenth farewell tour only to keep coming back, so forgive me, and forgive Cher.

I still don't know what to do with this space, but Spouseman is out with Clara, and I have a cold, and the weight of tomorrow seems very heavy. Tomorrow is the second annual Wear Pants to Church Day, and while I'm not in charge of anything, the magnitude of it all seems very big and heavy.

There are days where I feel very proud of what I did. I look at the way a very dumb and hastily orchestrated event I dreamed up at Target one night changed the landscape of Mormon Feminism, and I'm proud to be a small part of the past, present, and future of that heartbreaking terrain.

There are days where I am incredibly angry.  A few weeks ago Spouseman was watching a talk by Elder Holland. Elder Holland talked about how disappointed he was in LDS people for "leaving their religion at the door" when a former BYU basketball player switched teams. A basketball player had some mean comments and Elder Holland writes a talk. I received hate mail and threats, and got Elaine Dalton telling me not to lobby for rights. I cried and made Dan turn off the talk.

I am angry too, at members of the Mormon Feminist community who made Pants a big part of their community, who listened to my endless questions on the phone, who I genuinely considered friends who were very quick to betray and abandon me when they realized I was not the Mormon Feminist they wanted me to be. I am working to forgive, but Lord, that hurt more than the dozens of nasty emails and comments online.

I'm mad at myself. For countless errors and missteps and hubris.

There are days where I know my anger simply masks sadness, so I let myself feel sad. I've moved to a new house since pants, and while every single member I've meet in this new neighborhood has been astonishingly kind to me, I left a "neighborhood" (read: ward) function a few months ago shaking and almost in tears because it is only a matter of time before they discover who I am, and in my experience so far, that leads to all sorts of rejection and pain that I'm not sure I'll survive.

But weirdly of all, the thing that got me through this last is a scripture from the Book of Mormon. Isn't that strange, and funny? The universe is weird. But whenever I've felt overwhelmed with sadness and anger I remind myself of King Benjamin. I remember that he was a kind king, and that he wanted his people to be happy. I've always liked King Benjamin, and I'm okay with carrying his story with me as I move on from orthodox Mormonism. In Mosiah 4:19 King Benjamin reminds us, "For behold, are we not all beggars?" And in Mosiah 4:30 he pleads "Remember, and perish not."

It has been one year, and I have not perished, because each time I felt worn down and defeated I remembered that we are all beggars. Our actions, even our unkindest ones, are driven from our status as beggars in a confusing world. The people who wrote me mean letters, and the women who felt threatened by sudden entrance into Mormon Feminism, and most especially myself, we are all begging for something to make us whole. It's hard to think of other people when begging for survival.

The world seems less scary,and pain easier to forgive, when I remember we are all beggars. Because in the heyday of my literal belief I also loved the "As Sisters in Zion" hymn. I loved remembering that "the errand of angels is given to women." I've learned now that the errand of angels is given to people. To find the things our neighbors beg for, and to forgive them when their begging hurts us. I remember this, and I perish not.

Lastly, in the midst of a year of sadness I've also experienced remarkable joy. There were long days where I was given reprieve from begging and been blessed with happiness. I'm grateful for the people who heard me begging and gave me what I needed. From my Spouse, who is out buying a purple shirt for Sunday tomorrow, because he still believes yet loves me anyway.  To my sweet toddler who does this entirely disgusting thing where she licks my face because she loves my exaggerated response: don't gross your Mama! To my friends who know that spending the evening watching Kayne West's Bound 2 video over and over is true joy, and that mindless crafting is immensely therapeutic. To all these people with the errand of angels, I remember you, and I perish not.









10/6/13

movin on



           I went to the Ordain Women event on Saturday, which was a surprising decision, especially if you read my previous post in which I compare the church to an ex-boyfriend. I'm still working out my very complex feelings regarding my motivations for going. A few of them, in no order of importance:

1. A genuine desire to support an idea I believe in: I do believe in equality, everywhere.

2. A genuine desire to mourn with the women who are currently mourning their place in the church. As I watched countless men walk past us into priesthood, none of them making eye-contact with the women standing a few feet away, I was proud to be standing where I was standing. My believing feminist sisters are the  robbed and beaten neighbors of my world, their birth-right stolen, and desperately hurting. Sometimes they are different from me, but I cannot by the Levite or the Priest in this story, I must be the Samaritan. I was proud to stand with them, and I was proud to ask to be admitted to the Priesthood session.


3. I don't want to be a quitter. Last year I asked Mormon Women to do something, so when they answered my call, and supported me in wearing pants to church, I didn't want to give up on them when they wanted me to stand in line for Priesthood. I don't want to be a quitter.


So I went, and it was one of the most powerfully painful experiences of my life. Surprisingly painful. It hurt to be physically separated from fellow church members, it hurt to be rejected for what should be a reasonable desire. It hurt to realize that to the institution of the LDS church, I am not worth a whole lot of consideration. Lovely words by  Elder Uchtdorf aside, the tangible image of approximately 150 women shivering in line as twelve year old teens walked into the tabernacle reaffirmed a sneaking suspicion that us feminist women don't matter too much.

Especially when church spokesperson Ruth Todd kept reminding people that the women standing in line do not "represent the majority of women" in the church, and called our quiet and peaceful actions "divisive."

In the same breath that church leaders remind us that the church is not a democracy, I'm told that there aren't enough people like me to merit consideration. The church is not a democracy, but apparently you need to have the majority opinion to matter, to be validated, to be welcomed as fellow saints.

As it turns out, the church is not the good Shepard who pursues the one lost sheep.






Then there's this picture. I'm embarrassed by it. I'm embarrassed that I let my vulnerability show to people who don't understand. I'm embarrassed when it is passed around as an example of bravery or courage because mostly I feel like an imposter. I'm a person who has lost a lot in the last ten months, who has given up orthodoxy and belief but is afraid of being a quitter. I don't want to be a quitter. I don't want to feel like this pain is worthless. I don't want to abandon this faith wondering if there was anything I could have done differently or better. I want to do the right thing, even when it is hard and confusing and complicated.

But I also know that I am reaching my own critical mass for pain. My sister posted something I found really hurtful on Facebook page last night, and I lost it. I don't think I can physically handle another person questioning my motives and my heart. I can't. Not after the comments from strangers about pants, not after the messages from old YW leaders, after friends and now family how doubted why I keep going up to the door and fighting for my faith.

 I was explaining how I felt very much alone sometimes to a friend, who reminded me that pain and loneliness is sacred. You can't hide from it, and most of the time you experience it alone, in the Gethsemane of your mind. But instead of viewing my pain as something I needed to escape, she taught me that pain is a Christ-like attribute. It allows us to empathize with others walking their own quiet and lonely paths, it allows us to sanctify our minds and our spirits. Pain can be holy, and regardless of the orthodoxy of my belief system, I'm learning to believe in the sacredness of pain.

However, I also believe that pain is an active feeling. It moves and evolves and changes with growth. Pain is sacred and holy so long as we allow it to progress naturally. The moment we let us consume us, it isn't useful anymore. I hit that point last night, where I realized my pain was no longer changing, but static. I can't keep experiencing it the same way as before, it isn't allowing me to grow anymore.

On the way home last night, alone in my car, I pulled up to the driveway just as Rascal Flatt's "Moving On" came on the radio. (Yes, I'm embarrassed about that too.) But suddenly these words meant something to me. Because I realized that it is time for me to move on. It isn't quitting, it isn't wrong, it's just time. It is noble to want to be a Good Samaritan, but until mine comes along, I'm going to have to save myself. I do that by moving on. The pain might not go away, but it will change, and grow, and I'll keep growing too. I've loved like I should but I've lived like I shouldn't/I had to lose everything to find out/Maybe forgivenes will find me somewhere down this road/I'm movin' on. 

I don't know what this means for this space, this weird little blog that's seen so much. I just want to write about TV again, honestly. But it feels odd writing with the ghost of my old self in the title. I don't know what I'll do, but I think at least for a while it is time to give this space a break. Thank you to everyone who has followed me here. Thank you for your nice emails and comments, and even the mean ones that made me a better writer. May any God (except Xenu, he gives me the creeps,) be with you 'til we meet again.

Also, here are the lyrics to "Movin' On" in case country music is your thing. 




I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on

I've lived in this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they're always the same
They mean me no harm but it's time that I face it
They'll never allow me to change
But I never dreamed home would end up where I don't belong
I'm movin' on

I'm movin' on
At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me
And I know there's no guarantees, but I'm not alone
There comes a time in everyone's life
When all you can see are the years passing by
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone

I sold what I could and packed what I couldn't
Stopped to fill up on my way out of town
I've loved like I should but lived like I shouldn't
I had to lose everything to find out
Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road
I'm movin' on




10/2/13

boyfriend

                When we first got together, I loved the feelings of safety and security I felt when I was with him. He seemed to have all the answers to life’s big problems. Nothing felt insurmountable with him by my side, guiding and directing me, making it easy to ignore the chaos of the outside world. It felt good to envision my future, our future, together.  Back then, if you had told me that he would someday break my heart, I would not have believed you. Our love, a love that began with pioneer ancestors and grew strong at Girl’s Camp testimony meetings and filled the margins of worn scriptures, our love was the real deal.

Plus, my parents loved him.

                I don’t know when I started to notice the tiny annoyances. Every relationship has its quirks, after all. He doesn't put the toilet seat down; she never calls when she’s running late. Nothing we couldn't overcome. Nothing he couldn't explain away, nothing I couldn't pray away, nothing I couldn't fix with an increase in righteousness.

It’s not like he was mean. Even when he bothered me, I knew he did it because he loved me. Like sometimes, always so lovingly, he would speak for me. Answering questions in my behalf, and worse, answering my questions wrong.

Sometimes I wondered if he even knew me. If he really knew me, he wouldn't say those things about gay people, or working moms, or the ERA. One time he said he felt threatened by feminists. One time he said women who dressed “immodestly” (I still don’t know why he hates shoulders and knees so much,) were like “walking pornography.” I didn't have the heart to tell him I liked the way my shoulders felt in a sleeveless shirt, how I smiled every time a new freckle appeared after spending too much time in the sun. I couldn't tell him I was a feminist, because I couldn't stand the idea of not being together. I loved him so much, how could he see me as a threat?

Plus, all my friends loved him.

Sometimes he wouldn't let me talk to my friends. He promised to pass the message along to God (so long as I paid my tithing,) and in the temple, he sent a message through my husband.  When I asked him why, he told me it was because I was special. I liked feeling special, so I wondered if I really need to be equal. After all, all good relationships require compromise.

But one day I wore pants and someone called me fat (apostate!) and he didn't say a word, and I could tell he kind of agreed.  That wasn't a compromise! How do you stay with someone who says you look fat (apostate!) in those pants?

He’s seeing someone else now. She’s nineteen, and he showers her with gifts. Mission calls earlier than ever before, blessings of the priesthood (without the responsibility of holding it! How chivalrous!) He tells her she’s incredible. I tell her she doesn't know what she’s getting into. I didn't know. I didn't know what it meant to go through the temple at age 20. I didn't know what I was promising when I told him I’d never leave, and he promised me the world, maybe even my own world.

Plus, I loved him.

Sometimes he dates feisty Mormon feminists. I see their pictures all over Facebook, and it hurts to see he’s moved on so quickly. She promises that he’ll change if she just loves him enough. I shake my head. Women always think they can change their man.  But he gives her a prayer, and he broadcasts the Priesthood session (and even though that’s not what she asked for, she thanks him profusely, because she loves him.)

Maybe someday he will change. I imagine running into him at the park. He’ll be on the playground with his wife and their kids, and he won’t preside and she’ll bless the baby, and they’ll be happy. I’ll wonder, “what if?” What if I’d waited just a little longer, what if I’d just been a little more patient, maybe it would be me. I’d be the one blessing the baby.  What if? 

Even when you know you’re not meant to be, you never forget your first love.

I remind myself, as all single girls do, that it is important to enjoy being single. I’m dating myself these days, thanks very much. Maybe someday I’ll even feel that thrill of anticipation as I go on a first date with someone new. Someone who doesn't answer for me, who counts the freckles on my shoulders after a long summer day, and isn't threatened by my gender or my power.

Or I’ll grow old all on my own. Surrounded by friends who still answer my calls without an intermediary (I lost a lot of friends in the break up, but not God, so that’s good.) Who see me as special and equal. I’ll get a cat or take a trip. I’ll be okay.

And someday, maybe, I’ll even see him as my friend. We’ll laugh about our crazy young love, and joke about how disastrous it would have been to stay together.  I’ll wish him and his wife well, and I’ll mean it. After all, I loved him.






9/27/13

haiku






Friday

Friday. Hate outfit.
Teens notice smeared mascara.
No effing pants fit.