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10/30/12

Clara goes hiking and other things.



Greetings.

That should make you feel special, because that is how I address people in real-life most of the time, especially my students or co-workers. Every year I try a social experiment where I say a specific thing a lot, and try and get my students to start saying it too. Nothing too radical, (although I did successfully get all my co-workers to start saying "douchebag") but just enough to indicate that I can warp tiny teenage heads into saying things like "Greetings." I also end class with "goodbye forever." One time, my sub from maternity leave tried to say that and the students got mad at her, because that was my thing. Sweet victory. Also? Much cooler than standing on your desk all "Oh Captain my Captain."

I freaking hate that movie.


This is not a big announcement or anything, but sometimes I think we are nearing the end here, with the old blog. I mean, probably not, because I like attention, but I realized something recently: this blog always maintained the primary function of getting me through something. I started it in college, I complained all through grad school, I kvetched about unemployment here, survived my first year of teaching, and then began the agonizing process of tearing my faith apart and building it into something new. I hate remodels. In future lives, if my reincarnated self picks a religion, I hope she doesn't pick such a fixer-upper, even if it has tons of potential.

Oh, and then there was that time I got pregnant...

Anyway, I'm looking out now and seeing no big storms ahead. Last night we had our National Honors Society Induction Ceremony, which used to really stress me out. Planning! Emailing! Musical Numbers! Now I've got that sucker down to a 35 minutes fine-tuned machine, with cookies after. (Side note: I think parents appreciate short events. As much as we all love your student, no one wants to spend hours in a school Auditorium. Ever.)

That is sort of what the rest of my life is like. It used to really stress me out, now it doesn't. I graduated. I've been teaching for three years, and while I'm always trying to do better, not a lot freaks me out anymore. Took a semi-permanent hiatus on the church thing. No more babies or wild hormones (for a while) to create blog fodder.

So while I will probably always stick around, these very occasional check-ins are probably the new normal around here. Until something else traumatic happens and I once again don't want to shell out money for a therapist. Tragedy bloggers really do have it made, right? Tragedy and fashion bloggers will outlive any zombie apocalypse. (Now take a minute to imagine all those hipsters in their maxi skirts and J.Crew bubble necklaces trying to fight off zombies. I'd read that blog, and so would you.)

In other news we took a trip up to Midway a few weekends ago. I like Midway/Heber, both towns are so unapologetic in their Utahness. Kitschy Relief Society crafts sold in every establishment ever! Even the bike rental place. Five thousand ice cream stores! Cheese! Oh, Utah.

We took Clara on a hike, and it was one of those happy moments when you find yourself living the life you imagined growing up. You went on hikes with your parents, with your baby sibling in the back pack, and you imagined what it would be like, to be the grown- up. Now I'm the grown- up watching Clara ride on my husband's back, and I know that life is still good. Life is still good post graduation and  teaching, and even post faith-crisis. I thought my world would fall apart, and it didn't. It got better.




Dan says Clara spent most of the hike whispering conspiratorially in his ear.


Goodbye forever! (But you know, not really.)

10/11/12

Three things


I saw this on Facebook (damn you Facebook, for combining the useful and the useless,) and I cried my way through the presentation.

This is the kind of mother I want to be.

This is the kind of teacher I want to be.

This is the kind of person I want to be.

Sarah Kay scares me because I realize there is more I could be doing, and should be doing, in my world.






Sarah talks about making lists of things she knows to be true, and having her students do the same. When we identify what we believe, we discover that some people have the exact same beliefs on their lists, and some people have things we don't  even know about on theirs. When we share what we know to be true, we learn more about others, and more about ourselves. 

In honor of Sarah Kay, here are three things I know to be true.

1. Clara looks beautiful when she sleeps in her crib.
2. The place between believing and non-believing is lonely, no matter how many kindred spirits you find.
3. Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill taught me that.


What are three things you know to be true?



















10/9/12

In Defense of Your Believing Friend



This is a post written by my friend Sarah. I met Sarah on BYU London Study Abroad. (The Study Abroad that every famous blogger goes on, apparently. You hear that, Sarah? We are famous!) Anyway, Sarah is a Republican, an active Mormon, owner of a home in Utah County, and my friend.

Currently, Sarah lives in Thailand with her two daughters and her husband Rocky. When I wrote my last post, I knew I wanted her to write a response, and her post reminds me of a need to be kinder and more loving. Maybe even to swear less. Thanks for your post, Sarah, and thanks for being my friend.

In Defense of Your Believing Friend:


Mormons aren’t perfect, far from it. We’re just like everyone else, building our careers, raising our families, and living our lives. We’re just doing it with different beliefs and rules. Sure, we screw up. Sometimes we are hypocritical or offensive—but the truth is, we’re just trying to do our best. So next time you talk to your Mormon friend and they say something that you disagree with or find hurtful, cut them a little slack. They don’t mean to upset you.

Steph asked me to make a list to correspond with her list, “What not to say to your faith crisis friend,” and here is what I have. Really, it could be titled, “In defense of your believing friend” but to make it a response to hers I’ll call it, “Things to keep in mind when talking with your Mormon friend.”


1.      Don’t be offended if they try to talk about the gospel.  The gospel is very important to us. It’s like when you meet someone who’s never read your favorite book. (Middlemarch by George Eliot and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, thanks for asking.) You love that book so much, it’s so important to you, it may have changed your life or shaped your way of thought, when you recommend it to someone you do so hoping they have a similar experience. This is the way we feel about the gospel—the happiness and the peace it brings our lives.

This is why we talk about the church with our inactive and nonmember friends. We aren’t trying to save your souls in an attempt to gain some kind of celestial advantage. We are only trying to help you find the happiness the gospel has brought us.

If you don’t want to talk about it, just tell us, we’ll stop. We can’t read minds. We won’t know it bothers you unless you tell us. Politely please, because it is very special to us. We’re your friends, not the vacuum salesman at the door. We have other things in common, let’s hold onto those things and stay friends.

2.      Your believing friends are not naive, ignorant or brainwashed.  My testimony is a personal thing. I don’t have a testimony of the gospel because I don’t know better or because “I didn’t get out when I had the chance.” I have a testimony because I prayed about the Book of Mormon and received confirmation that it is indeed another testament of Jesus Christ. I have a testimony because I see the change for good the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings to my life and to the lives of the people around me. My testimony is not based on lack of knowledge—it’s based on faith and knowledge. Don’t patronize me by acting as though you know more than me because you’ve left the church.

3.      Don’t trample the things they think are sacred.  In Thailand, I am surrounded by tiny temples, raised on stilts, filled with daily offerings of food and juices.  All part of living in a Buddhist country. I would never affront the people around me for worshiping idols. I would never insult Buddha, Confucius, Hindi gods or Muhammad (I know what a fatwa is). I don’t agree with their teachings but I will not make crass comments about the things they believe are holy. Religion is sacred and personal. Lack of religion is sacred and personal.

If you’ve been a Mormon, or close to one, you’re more familiar with the things we believe are sacred—temples, covenants, religious leaders—don’t throw mud. I’m not saying you shouldn’t disagree, you’re welcome to, I’m just saying you can disagree without being offensive and tactless.

4.      Don’t think your friend sees only sunshine and happiness. I see the crap in the world today. I see the man sitting cross-legged at my train stop, holding a tin can with stubs that don’t reach his elbows. I’m torn between giving him money and the knowledge that chances are, he was maimed as a child and placed there to collect money for the mafia.  I studied Polish history, further evidence that I understand pain. We know life is awful for many people. We have seen sadness, death and lives lost for inexplicable reasons. But we still believe in God.

We keep smiling. That doesn’t mean we don’t mourn. I live by the Tolstoy quote, “God sees the truth but waits.” God sees the baby stretched out on the beggar’s legs. God saw the people pushed into the cattle cars in Poland. He will give them their reward. He sees me. Born to a stable family, in a developed country, at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and He expects more of me.

This is what keeps us happy. This is what strengthens our faith. We know in the end, all wrongs will be right and in exchange for our advantage in this life, we will be expected to have helped others in theirs. Don’t assume our happiness is born from oblivion to the pain in the world. Some people’s happiness does indeed stem from ignorance and oblivion but being Mormon does not make you unaware of hardship.

5.      All Mormon women are not repressed. We aren’t held captive by some evil, restrictive patriarchy. Sure, in our church the roles for men and women are different. WE’RE OKAY WITH THAT. If we weren’t, we’d leave. It’s that simple. You may have been repressed or offended with patriarchy—this does not mean we have. Accept that we are okay with the church as it stands today. This does not make us less of a person or a woman.

It’s the twenty first century—roles between men and women are aligning and becoming more equal than ever. I applaud the advantages made for gender equality while accepting God has a different plan for women than he does for men. I don’t know why women don’t have the priesthood or the answers to any of those other hard questions. What I do know is the church is true—it is true as it stands today. For me that is enough.

Basically, this whole list could be summed up with—agree to disagree, respectfully.

And a quick note to Mormons who have friends struggling with the gospel:

 If you have friend who going through a faith crisis, don’t shut them out. You don’t need to save them; you just need to be their friend.  Your friendship probably has some rooting outside the chapel doors, find that and keep being their friend. (Steph and I share a love of celebrity biographies, all things British and Ronald Reagan.) And to be honest, I hate that Steph’s going through this.  I hate when the people in my life don’t make the choices I want them to. Chances are very good I will die of a nervous breakdown when my kids are teenagers.

People are always going to like different things, act different ways and make different choices. Diversity makes things great. Diversity makes the church great. Accept that your friend is challenging something personal and sacred to you but they are still your friend. The last thing they need is for you to stop talking to them. Apostasy isn’t a contagious disease. Your testimony should be founded in Jesus Christ, not in your peers. Besides, if anything, maintaining a friendship and talking about the gospel will only make your testimony stronger. Keep them in your prayers, love them. That is what Christ would do…is doing.




10/2/12

Things Not To Tell Your Apostate/Heathen/Inactive/Questioning/ In- Faith- Crisis Friend


Back when I was a great Mormon but a mediocre human being (it happens, when you focus on the rules and not necessarily the pure love of Christ,) I tried to convince a male friend to go on a mission. Male friend, (alias Mike,) openly questioned his belief in the church, faced extreme pressure at home to conform to the “ideal Mormon male” prototype established by his very righteous siblings, and battled severe depression.  While sympathetic, I insisted that the only way to fix his deep unhappiness involved spending two years preaching a party-line he didn't believe.

 I did this because my belief in the Mormon Plan of Happiness hinged on the belief that traditional Mormonism offered a perfect blue-print for living. If you obeyed the Word of Wisdom, dressed modestly, went on a mission, got married in the temple, and produced at least three kids, you would be happy for the rest of your life. If you weren't happy, (because even then I recognized I was not,) you could at least achieve happiness in the next life. Just. Stick. With. It.

 Fortunately, Mike disregarded my advice. He did not serve a mission, and later left the church. I sincerely hope he found happiness, but I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to Mike because our relationship evaporated shortly after my attempts to convince him to serve a mission. When my friend needed a confidant, unconditional love, and support, I only offered conformity, the appearance of happiness, and the satisfaction that comes with making sure everyone follows the rules, even if it kills them.  I don’t want to be friends with that person, and neither did Mike.

Regarding relationships with my own friends after my Faith Crisis, I've lived the other side of friendship with a questioning Mormon. People concerned for my salvation offer the same advice I once offered Mike: Just. Stick. With. It. Most of their advice comes from a place of love, some of frustration, and most all of it ineffective.  “Endure to the end” quickly loses its appeal when it means a lifetime of cognitive dissonance and sadness. 

For the betterment of both species, the believing friend and their questioning counterpart, I've developed a list of things you should never, ever say to a friend in Faith Crisis. If you are my believing friend, and said some of these things, don’t feel bad. I've inevitably been a jackass in response, and I promise to follow up with a list of things not to tell your believing friend too. (As soon as I find a believing friend who is still speaking to me to guest post. Kidding.)


1.  “Move out of Utah!”  I hear this all the damn time.  I hate it.

First, I cannot just “move out of Utah.” Spouseman and I own a home and a business here. I am licensed to teach here.  Moving out of Utah would mean subjecting ourselves to potential poverty and financial ruin, and I like eating, and Clara likes having a place to live.

Secondly, what exactly happens outside of Utah that makes it so much better? Is the church still a patriarchal institution in Minnesota? Do Mormons in Nebraska benefit from complete transparency fom the church regarding spending practices? Are women and members of the LGBT community allowed to progress spiritually in a manner equal to their straight male counterparts? No? Then moving to Maine won’t solve my problems.

I find the suggestion to “Move out of Utah” offensive because it implies that I am just offended by Utah Culture, not dealing with serious issues of doctrinal discontent. Yes, I’m sure the Sunday School discussions are better in Tennessee. The Bishops more liberal, the Modesty Gestapo more like regular Police.  It doesn't make how I feel in the temple go away, or how I feel about my Gay brothers and sisters.  I’m not inactive because I hate shade shirts and bump-its.  It took a lot to truly question the faith of my childhood, and I didn't deeply hurt my Spouse and make my mother cry because I didn't like the “culture” in Utah.  Your friends who struggle with their faith crisis can’t just move, and by offering a false solution, you aren't respecting the validity of their feelings.


2.“The Church is perfect, the people are not.”  Blargh. Really? I reject the idea that the Church is somehow a mythical monolith that is self-run and therefore perfect.  The church is made up of people, who are flawed, so mistakes will happen. Beyond that, a little thing called history proves that the Church, just like everything else, is a living social structure that changes over time. If the church was perfect, we wouldn't be lifting bans on priesthood, altering conference talks that are offensive, and revamping manuals to get rid of outdated ideas.


3. “The Gospel is perfect, the people are not.”  See previous mini-rant, but the gospel evolves. Claiming the gospel according to Mormonism is perfect denies the church and its members the ability to progress and grow. Don’t be that guy.


4. “Do you think you are smarter than the prophet?” Well, do you really want me to answer that? Because rumors of President Monson’s dementia are pretty well known. But no, I don’t think I am smarter than the prophet, but I do think I am entitled to personal revelation. Answers to prayers can be different. Prayer is a constant companion for me, and has been for the duration of my faith crisis. But I got a very different answer than you regarding my relationship with the church. I will respect your faith journey if you respect mine.


5. “But if you don’t stay and fight, how will things change? You just can’t just leave and come back when things are good again!” Says who?

But seriously, the choice to stay in the church and hopefully make improvements is a noble decision, and I respect the people who choose this life path. That is still an option for me in many ways. But for some people, waiting and yearning for change when one (especially when one is a woman,) can do little to enact improvements on a permanent and broad scale represents a slow and painful death of the soul. The decision to stay, leave, leave and come back is personal, and there is not a right answer. I will quote my good friend e.e. cummings: “Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.” I spent years “Unbeing dead” in the church, and it didn’t make me a better Mormon, a better Christian, or a happier person. For some, the need to be alive supersedes the desire to wait it out.


6.  If you are dealing with a Feminist in faith crisis, female or male, do not assume that “You clearly had a bad experience with a Priesthood leader!”  Or, more insidiously, that you experienced some form of abuse by a Church leader. For the most part, my Church leaders, past and present, are nice people. Assuming that you are simply “offended” by a person invalidates real and complex feelings stemming from what you believe as a person, and what you learn in church. I’m a petty person, but again, not petty enough to leave a church I spent the majority of my life devoted to because a Relief Society President was catty or a Bishop was insensitive.  Alternately, assuming the only reason a person could leave is severe abuse makes us non-believers feel like freaks. We already feel bad about not loving church, no need to make us feel weirdly guilty about not being abused in order to justify our totally normal feelings.


7.  Lastly, and this one slays me a thousand slays, “Well I never felt that way. I never felt inequity between men and women, I never felt unnecessarily confined by traditional gender roles, I never felt cognitive dissonance between the teachings of Christ and the teachings of the Church. I didn't feel that way about that talk/proclamation/policy, etc.” I am so glad that your church experience is a positive one. Truly. Keep on keeping on. But just because you don’t personally relate to a friend’s struggles with the church doesn't mean their problems don’t exist.  I don’t know the heartache of not being Latin-looking enough to get the Hispanic vote like Mitt Romney, but it doesn't mean Romney isn't an enormous dickalope who doesn't know how to run an election.  Respect the struggles of your friends even if you cannot relate to them personally, they are real, and they are important, just like your friend.


8. Um, I had to add this after the initial posting because it also enrages me: "If God wanted XYZ to happen, it would happen."

Tell that to starving children, rape victims, and people with terminal diseases and see them laugh you off the planet. I'm a big believer in God wanting us to help each other, and to figure out our own shit. As Elie Wiesel once said, (incidentally, I bet Wiesel believes in a God who wept when things like, say, THE HOLOCAUST  happened,) " Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.” If we want equality to happen, if we want the world to be a better place, we need to make it happen. Waiting around for God when you could have righted a wrong or eased a burden yourself seems irresponsible of a people allegedly devoted to the teachings of Christ. END ADDENDUM RANT. 




So what can you do for your friend who suddenly goes heathen on you?

Love them. It seems so simple, and so saccharine, but your friend’s world is falling apart at the seams, and they need you to love them. They need love if they stay, if they leave, if they are only sometimes active and wear pants to Relief Society.  They do not need preachy email forwards, accusations, or threats.  I wish deeply that I had been a better friend for Mike during a difficult time in his life. I am grateful for the friends, both believing and hell-bound, that supported and loved me in the years post faith crisis. I don’t know what I believe sometimes, but I hope there is one thing believers and questioners can agree on: Love conquers all. 



*Corrections: I changed the line about using tithing dollars and malls to a question about financial transparency from the church. We don't know how the church uses all of its funds.

**I also changed the line about President Monson from reports to rumors. There are not official reports, just rumors.

I should have been more precise in my writing, and I apologize.