There should be some audio version available soon, and I will post it when it is available.
Lastly, you know I wrote out my jokes for my opening. I'm an English teacher, it is what we do.
Mormon Stories Conference 2012
By Stephanie Lauritzen
I’ve heard that when you are nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, you should picture the crowd in their underwear. I don’t know what kind of weirdo feels more at ease looking at a bunch of people in their underwear, especially if you are wearing the Mormon kind. However, I am very nervous, so instead I will picture you all as the type of people I’m most comfortable around: now you are all my high school Language Arts students. That means you all have bad hair and acne. If you are sitting next to someone you might be physically attracted to, please scoot away and pretend like you hate them. Much better.
A few weeks ago, my students and I read a short story by Percival Everett called “The Fix.” In the story, a man named Sherman Olney can fix anything. He starts out with broken refrigerators and faucets, but eventually, he is faced with bigger problems. Marriage problems, tax problems, and one night, he solves the ultimate problem: he raises a woman from the dead.
The end of the story finds Sherman standing on the Golden Gate Bridge, preparing to jump. He feels overwhelmed from the demands from everyone to fix their problems. A crowd stands below, begging him not to jump, screaming “Fix us! Fix us!”
Like the people in the story, I’ve spent a long time wanting to be fixed. When I was an angsty teenager who loved poetry, I loved the John Donne poem where the speaker begs God to “batter my heart” in to submission and faith. Even as a teen, I felt like a bad Mormon. I balked at seemingly nonsensical rules about earrings and dress length. Since when did God care about earrings? And knees? In Young Women’s, talk of finding a man to “preside” over my family made me shudder. I found the rhetoric on homosexuality disturbing. It didn’t help that my parents raised me as an ardent Democrat, alienating me from my peers. If I had a dollar for every time a classmate told me that Democrats liked killing babies…well I’d be really rich, and since I used to be a full-tithe payer, the church would be too.
Despite feeling different from my peers, I found myself mimicking them in most religious settings. Like my peers, I’d offer tearful testimonies around the Youth Conference campfire, promising that I knew the church was true; I loved my parents, and I believed President Hinckley was a prophet.
I could never admit it, even to myself, but I think I hoped that if I said it enough, I’d believe it. Fake it ‘til you make it was my subconscious spiritual mantra.
Sometimes I would fantasize about a cataclysmic event that would give me an instant testimony. Nothing painful or maiming, just a pissed off angel calling me to repentance, or a near-death experience that would solidify my faith. I was envious of Alma the Younger. All he had to do was sleep for three days, and suddenly, his faith crisis is over. So I would pray to Heavenly Father to help me believe. Help me believe better. Send an angel. Make this easier. Fix me. Fix me.
It wasn’t the first or the last time God didn’t answer my prayer.
As an adult, I sought a new path. My journey out of traditional Mormonhood started when I took out my endowments in the LDS temple, a few weeks before marrying my husband. When I promised to hearken unto my husband as he hearkened unto God, my heart broke inside. After all the weeks I spent repeating the Young Women values as a teenager, confidently believing in my own divine nature and individual worth, it all came down to listening to someone else. For eternity. Suddenly, it would take a lot more than an angel, or a three day nap, to make me believe enough to accept my Temple covenants as doctrine.
But it wasn’t until Conference 2010, with the fateful Elder Packer talk, that I was finally ready to leave my perfect Mormon path. Up until then, I had followed the Mormon blueprint perfectly. A baptism, Young Women’s medallions, Seminary graduation, followed by a temple marriage to a returned missionary. Despite feeling broken, I was willing to try, willing to shelf my unease about the temple and patriarchy if it meant God would fix me, and make me a perfect Mormon. But Packer’s talk signified all that was wrong with my faith. I was doing mental gymnastics to make myself believe. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, when Packer asked “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” He was asking why God would make someone Gay. We disagreed on the message, but ironically, Packer and I were asking the same question. “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” Why would Heavenly Father make it so hard for me to be Mormon? Why would he tell me he loved me, that I was his child, if I need a husband in order to hear him? Why would he deny me access to a Heavenly Mother? Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Like the people in Percival Everett’s story, I was once again broken and confused, begging anyone to fix me.
So, I decided that if I couldn’t be a good Mormon, I’d be an awesome apostate. I broke my spouse’s heart when I told him he wouldn’t have the happy Mormon family he signed up for. I wrote angry blog posts criticizing the church. I stopped praying, and would mentally berate myself when I’d slip up and ask for help from God. “Stop it, “I’d think. “You don’t believe that anymore.” But it wasn’t enough that I didn’t believe. Week after week, I tried to convince my true believing husband to see the error of his ways and enter the world of shopping on Sunday and R-rated movies.
Despite my anger and bravado, I was scared. I needed someone to help me be this new person. If I could convince my husband to leave, it would validate my choices, it would fix me. I wanted my spouse to help me stop believing, help me apostatize better. Make this easier. Once again, I was asking someone to fix me. Fix me.
However, Dan had other plans, plans that did not include leaving the church. He did, however, want to fix me, but not in the way I wanted. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t look past the things that bothered me about the church. There is a tendency in the church to attribute disaffection with a simple offense. That’s why Band-Aid statements like “The church is perfect but the people are not” exist. Dan thought it was silly that I would leave the church based on something said by an old man in General Conference. Like many who are perplexed when an active member decides to leave, he thought I was simply offended. At the time, he didn’t realize that the root of my disaffection stemmed from core doctrines of the church. I felt the negative impact of patriarchy and inequity in my life. For me, the feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness I felt in the temple and during Elder Packer’s conference talk wasn’t an issue of an imperfect people, but a deeply flawed church.
The more I distanced myself from the church, the more involved Dan became. He was not just an active member, but a super member. He served in the Elder’s Quorum; he went on campouts in the middle of winter with the scouts. If there was an old lady who needed help cleaning up her yard, he was there. There was no talking him out of the church, even when I replaced my believer underwear with a much more aesthetically pleasing option. That is a strong testimony. Much stronger than the faked testimonies of my teenage years. But the different directions of our lives made me wonder if our marriage had a chance.
When discussing potential subjects for this talk with a friend, it was suggested that I talk about the humorous aspects of living in an apostate/believer marriage. Maybe I will find this hilarious in a few years, but right now, I don’t see the humor just yet.
But I do see hope. At some point on our never-ending battles on religion, I realized something very important. I didn’t marry Dan because he was Mormon. He didn’t marry me because I was a Mormon. We married each other after a long road trip where we didn’t kill each other. We liked talking to each other. We had always been opposites in many ways. He liked Star Trek, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and voting for Republicans. I liked crappy reality TV, poetry, and voting for awesome people. If I could love a Trekkie, couldn’t I love a true-believing Mormon? If he could love listening to my Bachelorette recaps, could he love a questioning non-believer? Partially out of exhaustion from fighting, and mostly out of devotion, Dan and I decided to really listen to each other. We stopped trying to convince the other to change.
I learned some important things when I stopped trying to apostatize my husband. I learned that his faith went deeper than callings, outings, and service project. He believes. He believes with his whole heart, and it is an integral part of who he is. His belief has made him a kind person. He is a great example of someone who tries his very hardest to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. He loves his neighbor, and forgives trespasses against him. Dan wouldn’t be the same person if he wasn’t Mormon. Dan didn’t need to leave the church to live an authentic life. He was already living authentically.
But I was not. I wasn’t being authentic when I was half-heartedly repeating the testimonies of my peers. But I was also not authentic when I forced myself to stop praying, and refused to let myself realize that there are some parts of my Mormon heritage I want to keep. I remember the first time I prayed to my Heavenly Mother. I was driving to work, and my prayer was uncertain. I didn’t have any rehearsed lines to fall back on, but I knew I wanted to try. When I prayed and felt immediately comforted, I wasn’t sure if it was because a divine presence was answering my prayer, or if I felt peace because I was finally allowing myself to live the spiritual life I wanted. Maybe it was both.
There are many things I no longer agree or believe in regards to Mormonism. Likewise there are many things I no longer believe about myself. I no longer believe I need to be fixed. It is a difficult path, the one between believer and non-believer. I am constantly re-evaluating the world I live in to make room for the faith traditions of my past, and the faith journey of my present. True believers and non-believers may question my devotion to either cause. But living an authentic life allows me to be a better person, a better spouse, and a better parent.
Dan and I have found some common ground. I still don’t like Star Trek, and he still hates reality TV, but we both want a better world for our new daughter. We both want the church to be a better place. Dan now understands the pain and negative consequences of some church doctrine. He has watched me live with consequences of decisions I did not make, and wants more for our kid. I have seen the good the church does in helping my husband live the gospel he believes. I want my daughter to love others like he does. Last Sunday we both blessed our daughter. I prayed that my daughter would learn empathy and compassion for others, traits I see in her Dad every day. Dan prayed that our daughter would have wisdom and a discerning mind, traits he is learning to see in me as I question and re-evaluate my faith. Neither of us prayed for our daughter to be fixed. Like me, and like Dan, she was never broken to begin with.
If there is a Heavenly family, who loves us, I say this in their name. I also say this in the name of my new authentic family. In the name of Stephanie, Dan, and Clara Alice Lauritzen, Amen.