A few weeks ago I went with some friends to see The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County up at the Blessed U. I liked some parts of it, and not other parts of it. It is still very hard for me to watch people, even fictional people, wrestle with a faith transition. I felt like I was looking at myself in a mirror after a sleepless night. Puffy eyes and smeared mascara: me, before I've put my "people face" on.All the raw energy and feelings, love and pain mixing together in ways I'm too familiar with recently.
After the play we chatted with some of the cast a bit, and we discussed faith transitions, and the happiness that comes from living an honest and authentic life. Someone (and I'm sad to say I don't remember who,) reminded me "You only live once. It would be a shame to live that one life unhappy."
Recently, I've described the reaction from people who knew me when I was active with the old cliche "death by a thousand paper cuts." When you live your faith very publicly, as I have, you are often blessed with an amazing support system. But it is also inevitable that everyone who knew your old self, and who continue to believe the things you no longer believe, will hurt you. Often unintentionally. Small comments that you recognize because you used to say them yourself. Veiled judgement and blame that hurts, but is justified as "bearing testimony" and speaking the "truth."
A few months ago, I wrote a sort of flippant post on what not to say to your Apostate friend, and if I ever wrote that again, I'd probably just say: "Nothing. Say nothing. Unless it is really nice. Because a questioning Mormon has 99 problems but a bitchy comment from your old Young Women's leader (or your grandma, or your friend from college, or your ex boyfriend, or......) ain't one."
But I only live once, and it would be a shame to live that one life unhappy. And while I'll openly admit that I'm probably at capacity for paper cuts, I'm not dead yet. Which allows me to decide how to live this one life. I can live being hurt by the comment made by a relative at my sister's wedding. I can berate myself for the mistakes I've made as I've lived my one life. I can focus on the tiny injustices brought against me, or I can just live.
A few years ago my sister read this Mary Oliver poem at her high school graduation. And I've been thinking of the closing lines recently, as a reminder to keep living this life happy. Because it really is beautiful, faith transitions, smeared mascara faces, weddings, family, all of it is beautiful, and all of it is part of my one life.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to knell down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
To be honest, I don't know how to pay attention, or how to fall down in the grass. What is it like to be idle and blessed? I still don't know how to stroll through the fields.
But I would like to learn.
That's what I plan to do with my one wild and precious life.
PS: Sometimes I get emails asking me where I find my poems. This one is an old favorite, but I found the text on the Poetry 180 website. Poetry 180 provides "a poem a day for American high schools," and is a cool resource for teachers and poetry enthusiasts alike.
One of my favorite things to do is mess around with words. I especially like to turn nouns into verbs. When we run out of food at our house, I tell Spouseman we are "Grapes of Wrath-ing it." I also like making up words, "dickalope" being my crowning achievement in made-up words.
English teachers always talk about word choice, and words having power, and that's true, but it also isn't true. It isn't the words that have power, it's the intent and the meaning behind the words. Words can mean whatever you want. Some meanings just happen to be more powerful than others.
Another hobby of mine is taking words with definitions don't fit my purposes and bastardizing them until they do. For instance, my Dad is always defending this awful relative* who everyone hates (because he is mean and enjoys his meanness,) so whenever he starts in on how Relative X isn't so bad, I yell HOLOCAUST DENIER, because in my mind, justifying the behavior of Relative X is like denying the holocaust: only crazy people do it.
(For the record, I like manipulating language in really offensive ways, if you haven't noticed already. Hi. Welcome to my blog.)
When the whole THING happened (hint: I suggested some people wear a type of clothing to a religious service and the shit hit the fan,) a lot of people scoured my blog to find evidence of what a terrible person I am.
Um, I didn't make that really hard. Not because I am a terrible person, because I'm not, I'm actually a very good person, but because I try not to pretend to be better than I am when I write. It is one of the truly good things I think I do with this blog, so I am owning it: I'm a flawed person with lots of questions, and I think God is okay with that.
But in Mormon-land, showing flaws is like breaking the first rule of Fight Club. We aren't supposed to talk about how we swear or have doubts, or how we make mistakes. So if your parameters for "good person" are narrow, some-what arbitrary, and sometimes down-right Pharisaical, I'm probably not going to make your cut of "who gets into heaven." Too bad you're not in charge.
One of the things people found offensive when they read my blog was my self-identification as "Apostate."
"She is secretly plotting to lure in Mormons with her evil pants and destroy the church! She even admits she's APOSTATE! She weighs the same as a duck!"
Yep. I self-identify as Apostate sometimes.
I've been blogging about religion for six years. When I was a true-believing, active, faithful-in-every-way Mormon, I got called apostate for being a baby-murdering Democrat. When I was a questioning Mormon who believed in Gay Marriage I got called an Apostate. When I talked about how art and literature brought me closer to the divine...you guessed it, Apostate.
I realized it didn't matter what I did, someone was going to call me Apostate, so I just decided to own the term, and give it a meaning that works for me. This worked really well for Henri Matisse and the Fauvists, Monet and the Impressionists, and unfortunately, the Tea Party.
When I call myself Apostate, I mean that I have apostatized from many ideas from my youth. The dictionary definition says that "apostates" "abandon a belief or principle," so I didn't even have to work my word-bastardizing magic too much to make it work.
I've apostatized from the idea that questions indicate a lack of faith. I've apostatized from the idea that we can be "too tolerant" and fall into "tolerance traps." I've apostatized from that idea because I'm a parent, a spouse, a sister, a friend, and a daughter and I know you cannot love "too much" or care "too much" about other people. I've apostatized from the belief that little girls are somehow sexual beings who need to be taught about modesty because they will "need to practice how to dress appropriately when they are older." They will also need to learn how to do Calculus, but I'm not going to buy my-one-year- old a graphing calculator.
I've apostatized from a God who keeps score based on ritual alone, and a God who insists on blind devotion to fallible men. I've apostatized from Patriarchy and the mental gymnastics that tell me Patriarchal institutions are gender neutral. I've apostatized from a pedestal that claims my worth is all in my uterus. I've apostatized from sitting three hours in uncomfortable chairs when I can't feel God there under-neath all the presiding and fear.
I haven't apostatized from grace. I haven't given up hope in the divine, whether we find it in the cosmos or in our souls. I haven't apostatized from hope that religious tradition I grew up in will someday be better. It irritates the hell out of some of my truly agnostic friends, but I haven't apostatized from a God who speaks to their children, or a Son who walked on water to rescue the doubter. I haven't apostatized from the idea that the best way to protect my daughter doesn't involve covering her shoulders, but teaching her about the nuances of rape culture, because Elizabeth Smart was wearing long-sleeved pajamas and pants when she was kid-napped.
I believe all things, I hope all things, I will endure many things, except not Polygamy because that's crazy.
So there you have it. There is no food in my fridge, we are grapesofwrathingit. I sort of think Brigham Young was a dickalope. My Dad knows the Holocaust happened, but he has really bad judgement in certain relatives, and I am an Apostate.
*not a close relative, just a super creepy one.