06 April 2014

The thing I didn't say - an addendum to Ordain Women

When I was writing the Ordain Women post, I took out a paragraph about a certain line of reasoning I hear from time to time used to justify why women don't have the priesthood. I took it out because I didn't want to offend anyone who feels it is an adequate answer, but after hearing the line of reasoning reiterated in a talk by Dallin H. Oaks in the priesthood session - the first time I've ever heard it come from the pulpit, mind you, I wanted to share the thoughts that I originally omitted. Here's the line, usually a simple answer mothers give to their children:

"Men have the priesthood, and women have babies." There are other offshoots, like, "Men have the priesthood, and women are co-creators with God."

Dallin H. Oaks stated, "The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood […]" He then followed with a quote from J. Reuben Clark,

"Only to his daughters has God given the power to be a creator of bodies so that God's design and the great plan might meet fruition."

I disagree with this line of reasoning. And I have a physical reaction when I hear it. I first heard the "women are co-creators with God" line when I was pregnant and in the trenches of hyperemesis gravidarum with Magnolia. My very initial thought was, "What a lovely sentiment," followed quickly by, "WAIT A MINUTE!"

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I always thought Jake and I made babies together. Unless immaculate conception is happening, men and women share equal parts in the body creation process. I think it's a low blow to men to say otherwise [just like I think it's unfair to say that men have the priesthood to make up for their lack of sensitivity, intuition, and nurturing abilities]. Sure, I had the special privilege of birthing…and expanding, and barfing, and weeks of hospitalization, and getting cut open with one and ripped a part with another, not to mention the crazy emotional roller coaster that comes post birth. I love that responsibility. Truly. Do I sometimes wish I didn't have several inches of extra skin on my abdomen? Sure. But just because my babies grew inside of me, doesn't mean they aren't just as much Jake's. Or that they're mine any more than his in God's eyes.

What does that mean for all the women who can't have children? Or for the women who never marry and live the law of chastity? I can think of several other reasons why women aren't ordained to the priesthood that make way more sense to me than my ability to carry a child. Actually hearing a general authority say it, instantly made me think of all of the other completely erroneous reasons given in the past by leaders of the church as to why the priesthood was withheld from other worthy people throughout the church's history. Wait a minute…extended and then retracted and then withheld….oh, and then re-extended. Fence-sitters in heaven, anyone? A cursed people. And now a woman's uterus as the organ that can sustain the life she and a man create until it is ready to be born.

The analogous role to a mother is not a priesthood holder, it's a father.

03 April 2014


I read a post at By Common Consent today that did a good job describing something I've been thinking about, but haven't taken the time to hash out. The whole post is good, but the part that allowed me to finally put a finger on this elusive feeling floating around me was pretty much summed up in about the first seven paragraphs (down to the end of the quote by Alexander Pope). Here's a taste: 

Faith crisis–often leading to faith transition–is a “thing” these days. Someone innocently does a google search, travels down some online rabbit hole, and soon discovers weird–sometimes really weird–stuff about the Mormon past. These substantive issues are troubling enough on their own, but pretty soon they cease to be the primary issue. Rather, the fact that the person was never taught about these things at Church becomes the dominant issue. The person feels as though she has been lied to all of her life. The image she has constructed in her mind of a church that never changes, where everything is perfect, where the prophet has afternoon tea with Jesus Christ himself every Thursday afternoon in the temple, comes crashing down around her shoulders, as she considers for the first time the very human institution that is the LDS Church. 
Those who have gone through an experience like this often toss around a brief list of issues as a sort of shorthand for the longer list of problems the person has encountered that has fractured her faith, often something like “multiple first vision accounts, polyandry, Book of Abraham, a stone in a hat, City Creek Mall.” Is there anything that can be done to help these people?
Admittedly, coming across some things that have happened in the history of Mormonism have been shocking and upsetting, but like I said in a previous post, none of those things have been deal breakers for my faith. The hardest thing for my membership in Mormonism has been a reconciliation of certain things while still dealing with the death of "the only true church." Since I've moved passed my hangup (mostly) with "the only true church," the "list" is far less detrimental. It exists, and it's a bummer of a reality that just about every history of anything is a little [or a lot] muddy. 
I'm trying to figure out how to come to my point without writing a novel - I guess it's something like this: I know several people, either in person, or via the internet, who have come across hard facts in Mormon history, and they have gone from being active, immersed in church-life, the whole nine-yards of Mormon to a total abandonment of Mormonism in a very short amount of time. I know this is because of the "it's true or it isn't true mentality." Part of their "true" broke off, and if one part falls, everything else does too. (Are Mormons reading this envisioning the "cornerstone" and "keystone" lessons we've had more times than we can count throughout the years the way that I am?) 
I don't fault anyone for this quick departure. I just feel like it's a diminished way to go through what ultimately can be a powerful transformative (albeit REALLY HARD) process. I guess there isn't really a lot of "going through" in just severing ties. I don't want this to read at all like I think anyone is handling it wrong because there is absolutely no right. I also think there's something valuable about knowing when to let go, I just think making that decision shouldn't be a knee-jerk reaction. 
To answer Kevin Barney's question (the author of the post), "Is there anything that can be done to help these people?" Yes. Very obviously it's find a way to incorporate the complete history of Mormonism in the curriculum we see as we grow up in the church. It lessens the blow - the feeling of having been lied to. And then we can have "real" conversations about it as adults in a faith community that actually feels like a community. I think it's important to see Mormonism in its time and place amid all that was going on societally. It makes it human. It makes it make sense - even if some of us wish "the only true church" would have come through various societal woes unscathed. 
I really like what Kevin Barney suggests later in his post (his main point, really), that we dive into Mormon scholarship, and make that the basis of our knowledge of Mormon history, rather than a brief snippet someone says in a post about something that turns out to be earth shattering for someone else - the thing that starts someone's list. To restate the Alexander Pope quote (assuming you read it for this to be a restatement), 
A little learning is a dangerous thing;  
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: 
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, 
And drinking largely sobers us again.
As I've been exploring when and why and how this journey of faith and doubt began for me, I think I've finally figured it out. I was 18, and it wasn't a huge explosion of "WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?!" It was relatively small, very personal, had nothing to do with church history, and ended up being the first straw on the camel's back. The same camel's back has a whole lot more straw, but it isn't broken yet. (And just for complete honesty, I still go back and forth sometimes about whether it was the event when I was 18, or something that happened when I was 16.)

This has been a long journey for me, with the REALLY HARD part starting about 5.5 year ago. I've also previously stated that my faith crisis isn't one of personal faith, but of my faith community. I had faith in the Mormon Church -in the way it is set up, in what the leaders had to say, in the "only true" part of it. When that pillar crumbled, largely due to a deepening understanding of the nature of God and in the role of Christ as exemplar, my belief system wasn't completely shot (again, all very personal - this deepening understanding could strengthen a pillar of faith in the Mormon church for someone else). So I think I'm about to make my real point -

I'm not exactly like the people in faith crisis/transition mode that were described in the Dialogue Diet post. I'm obviously in it for the long haul, or have tried my best to be. I rarely dive into blogs specifically about Mormonism (like the one that inspired this post - ironic, right?) as well as podcasts like Mormon Stories, so I'm missing out on being superficially exposed to "problematic issues in Mormonism's past." I don't think there's anything wrong with them, and I used to read them more often because there was comfort in common sentiments, but I often feel like it's information overload. I guess it's because I came to a point where I didn't like information being second hand - I would rather read something "scholarly" and experience my initial response than experience the emotional response of someone else. I don't have a running "list" at the heart of my struggle. I have the present day church. If "only true" is now out of the equation (not entirely - it still takes my breath away sometimes), which makes any "list" I could have far more forgivable (which makes it easier to stick around), then I have a whole slew of other churches/faith communities that are waiting to be explored. But I want to stay tethered. But there are times when I have no idea why I'm remaining tethered to Mormonism besides fear.

I don't trust the church. There are moments when things are said by leaders that enliven me, but many more things that disappoint me. I don't know how long I should keep waiting to feel a little bit comfortable again. Or how long I should continue in what has become an unhealthy relationship. I'm at a loss for how to turn it around. I'm at a loss for how to feel comfortable saying, "I'll give a little [trust] because I know you're something worth sticking it out for (the latter of which I'm not always certain)." I'm trying to remain vulnerable while protecting every vulnerability because of the way it hurts to be disappointed by something you love so much. My attempts at expanding my depth of knowledge so far (I've been implementing Kevin Barney's suggestion for quite a while - though not his specific sources), have done little to alleviate this internal tug o' war.

I'll leave you with a poem by Anne Sexton because I thought of it when trying to come up with a title for this post (which I still have not).

The Rowing Endeth

I’m mooring my rowboat
at the dock of the island called God.
This dock is made in the shape of a fish
and there are many boat moored
at many different docks.
“It’s okay,” I say to myself,
with blisters that broke and healed
and broke and healed–
saving themselves over and over.
And salt sticking to my face and arms like
a glue-skin pocked with grains of tapioca.
I empty myself from my wooden boat
and onto the flesh of The Island.

“On with it!” he says and thus
we squat on the rocks by the sea and play–can it
be true–a game of poker.
He calls me.
I win because I hold a royal straight flush.
He wins because He holds five aces.
A wild card had been announced
but I had not heard it
being in such a state of awe
when He took out the cards and dealt.
As he plunks down His five aces
and I sit grinning at my royal flush,
He starts to laugh,
the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth
and into mine,
and such laughter that He doubles right over me
laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs.
Then I laugh, the fishy dock laughs
the sea laughs. The Island laughs.
The Absurd laughs.

Dearest dealer,
I with my royal straight flush,
love you so for your wild card,
that untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha
and lucky love.

02 April 2014

Too often, God, your name is used

Too often, God, your name is used to sanction hate and fear, so love and justice are refused to people you hold dear. 
O never let us use your name to harm or hurt or kill or consecrate a vicious aim as your almighty will.

But move through us in deeds that spell your name as Love and Light, for faithful actions far excel beliefs that we recite.
Let naming you through how we live become our public creed: the clearest witness we can give is meeting human need.

And keep us ready to receive the good that others do, that helps expand what we believe and why we trust in you.
For where deep love and justice meet we see anew your face and for a moment glimpse complete the world transformed by grace.

That vision opens wide the church to look beyond its walls, to honor all who ask and search for where your Spirit calls. 
Their questions and their wondering help us more fully claim our mission as an offering that glorifies your name.  

- Thomas H. Troeger

01 April 2014

Ordain Women

A group of Mormon women have organized themselves and are actively pursuing priesthood ordination for women in the LDS church. Their group is called Ordain Women.

Twice a year, in April and October, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds a general conference. One of the five two-hour-long sessions held over the weekend is specifically for men and young men (12 and older), and is called the Priesthood Session. (There is a General Women's meeting for women and girls (8 and older) held the weekend prior to general conference.) At the October 2013 Priesthood Session, Ordain Women came and peacefully asked for admission (admission was declined). That's when they became a blip on my radar. 

They are planning to do the same thing at the April Priesthood session coming up this Saturday. And while I hadn't thought much about them over the last six months, a couple of weeks ago, the LDS church publicly released the letter they sent to the leaders of Ordain Women asking them to reconsider their plans to try and gain entry into the Priesthood Session because "activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the harmony sought at General Conference." The letter continues, "If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints."

After reading the letter, which was also when I found out about OW's April Conference plans, I started thinking about whether or not I support what these women are doing. In October, I was proud of their courage. I was proud of them for being a source of strength for one another in what had been and continues to be a source of pain for some Mormon women. I didn't love how they were doing it in terms of trying to get into the Priesthood Session, BUT I totally get why they chose that time and place. In terms of demonstrations, it makes perfect sense. It's a powerful way to make a point, whether well received or not.
I was especially touched by this photo of Stephanie Lauritzen, who had actually gone to participate with OW on a whim, and was embarrassed that this picture was taken and widely circulated. Regardless of how or why she was there, I was glad to see her face. She is my sister (in the sista-from-anotha-mista kind of way), and that smile and tear did something to my heart. 

After reading the church's letter to OW, and remembering this face, in the last few weeks I've asked myself two things, "Would I have gone in October?" and "If I could, would I show up on Saturday to support this movement?" I feel like my answer to both questions is, "No." Not because I don't want to support these women who are doing something difficult and brave in being strong when their hearts are hurting, but for many of the reasons I couldn't get behind "Wear Pants to Church Day:" I try to avoid groupthink, and [up until a few days ago] I've never felt put out by not having the priesthood.

In terms of becoming part of a group with an agenda - it can't help but create division. Women were so ugly toward women who decided they wanted to wear pants to church because they couldn't understand the gender inequality women were feeling in the church, and women are being ugly to one another about whether or not they think women should hold the priesthood for the same reason. My least favorite attitude is "If you don't like it, leave." I think what I'm trying to say here is easily understood - camps have been set up, trenches are being dug, claws are coming out. 

After "Wear Pants to Church Day," the majority of Mormon women came out saying that not holding the priesthood didn't make them feel unequal to men in the church. I understand this on many levels: women hold leadership positions in the church, they speak and pray in their congregations, co-decision making is encouraged between husband and wife. Women can even stream the Priesthood Session that OW keeps trying to get into. In these ways, women are never put upon or left out. 

For me, I don't feel like not being ordained to the priesthood affects my ability to love or serve or grow closer to God. Ultimately, on a personal level, I don't think it's a matter of haves and have-nots. I don't have it right now, and that's okay. And if tomorrow the church said that women would be ordained to the priesthood, that would be perfectly okay too. Last week, however, something really simple struck me. I can't remember where or how, just a prompting that came in an instant while I was in my kitchen making a meal: "Women cannot be bishops." This thought led to women being unable to be stake presidents, apostles, and the prophet, as well as several other positions in the church. Each of these callings require a certain office in the Priesthood. And because women do not have the priesthood, these roles in the church are closed off to them. This was my lightening bolt. This was the simple answer that firmly declared, as it stands, women are not equal to men in the Mormon church. 

I think I've always thought of ordination to the priesthood more in a "Now I can give priesthood blessings" kind of way. I'd be able to stand in the circle of my children's baby blessings. I've always thought of these things as formalities, so I didn't mind not being able to do them because I've always felt I have the same ability to call on the power of God, despite not holding a Priesthood badge. I didn't mind letting the men in my life handle those special occasions. I still don't, but there's something heart-wrenching when I think of the women I would love to sustain in callings they currently cannot hold. 

I've spent time wondering what ordaining women to the priesthood would look like in the LDS church. What would a bishopric with women and men be like? Temple and mission presidents who are women. A quorum of the twelve apostles with men and women. "Authority" being equally distributed. I like the peace I feel when I imagine these things. This Sunday I was in Seminole, OK attending a service at the Community of Christ. At the end of the service, the congregation was asked to stay while one of its members was administered to. This is what is looked like - 
Her mother is on the left, her sister on the right, and her husband is kneeling by her side.

Being present for this was a blessing in the midst of what I've been pondering. The feeling in the room was gentle and sweet. Ordaining women to the Priesthood created a huge divide in Community of Christ. I hope that, if women are ordained, the Mormon church can learn a lesson from CofC's transition. That we can find ourselves at a point of being understanding and loving and gentle with one another. That kindness and gentleness must be present currently, a tenderness towards all of our sisters' [and brothers'] feelings, even if it's not easy, so that we can love one another through any change that might occur.

24 March 2014

The time I basically diagnosed myself with scabies, but had shingles instead.

We spent our spring break in Denver with Jake's brother Parker, his boyfriend Preston, Jake's parents, and for two nights, Jake's cousin Kory. And last, but not least, Parker and Preston's dog, Amelia. It was a great trip that included lots of yummy food (I LOVE City O' City in Denver), fun sights, lunch with my cousin Kalli in Golden at a Nepalese restaurant, and perfect weather. 

One of my favorite things about the trip was the facts that we all stayed in P&P's one bedroom, one bathroom apartment. It was actually more roomy than you're probably imagining because, 1. The apartment is laid out really well, and 2. One whole wall in their living room and one whole wall in their bedroom (so pretty much the entire outside wall of their apartment) is made up of huge sliding glass doors that lead out to a generous balcony - the same balcony on which Kory slept in a sleeping bag (on purpose in below freezing temperatures) his first night with us. They live on the ninth floor, and the views of the mountains are great. Why was staying together in their apartment my favorite part? I like getting all up close and personal with people. 

We got to Denver on Monday evening, and when I went to take a shower Tuesday morning, I noticed a cluster of eight-or-so blisters high on my left leg. After a day or two, I got to work on Google trying to figure out what it was. I was convinced it must be scabies, and I was mortified because I was also convinced I got it after trying on swimsuits the weekend prior. There was one major exception. It didn't itch. At all. But it was progressively hurting worse each day. When we were on our way home on Friday, there was a rash in addition to the blisters. I contemplated going to urgent care on Saturday, but decided to wait until I could get into my doctor. I called first thing this morning, but before I did, I spent a little more time Googling, and that's when Shingles crossed my radar. It seemed likely, but even though I know people my age can get it, I still associate it with a condition of the elderly. When I got ahold of the scheduler, my doctor was booked, but since wearing clothes had become torturous, I opted to see one of her associates. 

I took Cora to school, returned home and slipped into some loose fitting running shorts (the kind with built-in undies), and Magnolia and I headed to my appointment. Magnolia was very helpful, even warning me that I might get a shot. After we went through the progression of the blisters and the rash, and the pain (oh, the pain), and upon looking at the first set of crusted over blisters (I have two patches), it was pretty obvious that I definitely have shingles. I've never been so relieved and so disappointed that I didn't have scabies. (Disappointed because I have shingles instead. Relieved because I don't have to be forever repulsed by trying on clothes - and because who wants scabies?)

The good news is that it's a mild case. The bad news is that it's best to start the anti-viral medication within 24-48 hours after the blisters appear. I missed that with my first little crop, which is the most severe, but he gave me the anti-viral medicine in hopes of lessening the severity of the newest little string of about 6 blisters. And usually all blisters are present 3-5 days after the first ones appear, so I should be dealing with all that I'll have to. The other less than pleasant news was that missing that magic window of time makes me more susceptible to postherpetic neuralgia - continued pain long after the rash is gone. 

I spent tonight looking up transmission rates for shingles and was delighted to find that I won't need to write personal apologetic notes to everyone I've come into contact with. You can can only get the virus that causes shingles through direct contact with the contents of the blisters, and even then, the virus isn't transferred as shingles, but as chicken pox - and only to someone who has never had chicken pox nor the chicken pox vaccine. Phew. Mine are all kinds of under wraps. Even though I'd like to figure out how to make wearing my swimsuit everywhere for the next few weeks appropriate. I will probably be wearing my one pair of "old school" running shorts (I've switched to mostly compression shorts for running) as much as I can. They lessen the intense pain, which I'm happy for, even though there is always a dull pain (more than an ache), with intermittent sharp, stabbing pain to shake things up a bit. And even though clothes are my new enemy number 1, I'm glad shingles didn't decide to show up on a super exposed part of me like my face or hands. 

For your viewing pleasure:
This is the first [worst] section.

And look how gigantic my anti-viral pill is:

23 March 2014

Missionary Work. And Faith. And Crisis. Sort of.

Our lesson today in Relief Society was about Missionary Work. I sort of cringe when this is the topic of anything at church. And cringe because I don't like what mostly comes to the mind of members of the LDS church when "missionary work" comes up. To those outside of the LDS church, you've probably seen/heard of/shared a joke or two about Mormon missionaries knocking on your door, etc. Tens of thousands of LDS people are serving missions around the world. Ultimately, their goal is to share the gospel and bring people into the church. So when missionary work comes up, that's the idea that goes along with it.

Why do I take issue? I think there's a lot of confusion when it comes to what it means to share the "gospel" and what it means to share the "church." Many Mormons tie the "church" and the "gospel" together and use them interchangeably. They are not the same thing. We've been reminded of that in recent general conference talks, but the disconnect hasn't happened entirely, and it is most clear that they're still lumped together when "Missionary Work" is discussed. Part of a lesson on MW always includes how scary it is to reach out and talk about "the gospel," but I think the real fear isn't in talking about the gospel, it's talking about "the church."

I especially appreciated two comments. The first was from a woman who had started opening up and sharing various points of doctrine with a friend who isn't Mormon. As the discussion furthered, this woman invited her friend to speak with the missionaries. Her friend accepted the invitation. After a few visits, her friend didn't want to have the missionaries involved in their conversations any longer, so that stopped. At the conclusion of the missionaries' involvement, the woman in our church felt that even though her friend didn't want to join the church, she was glad to have a friend outside the church with whom she could discuss things of a spiritual nature. Her friend felt the same, and their conversations continue. I feel like this story began as something of a dream in terms of the LDS perception of "missionary work." The friend accepted the invitation to dive deeper into what Mormons believe by talking with the missionaries, and in the end, it might feel disappointing, that for whatever reason, this person wasn't completely sold on Mormonism. But rather than disappointment, there was an evolved response - a recognition that the relationship didn't hinge on the fact that one friend had this wonderful glorious news to share, and the other friend rejected it. It is a story of mutual growth and understanding. Both women have something important to say - both can teach and learn from the other.

The next comment involved praying for missionary opportunities. We're often told to pray for missionary opportunities, but this woman said she never prays for missionary opportunities, but rather to be able to engage in good conversations with others, and that she might be a blessing to someone. She says her prayers with the understanding that good conversations are made up of give and take. She'll spend just as much time, collectively, learning and growing as she spends helping others do the same. And the way she can be a blessing to someone doesn't mean directly having them join the church. She can bless them with love and kindness and service, by living a life that reflects her commitment to following Christ's example. [On a side note, if these are the things this woman prays for, I know her prayers have been answered many times over for all of the good conversations I've shared with her, and for the way she continually blesses my life.]

Maybe I feel there should be a distinction between "missionary work" as defined by the what pops into most Mormon's heads - working toward having people join the church, and "discipleship" - trying one's best to live in a way that reflects the life of Jesus Christ (and not making a distinction between what we're sharing naturally because it's part of our lives and something we feel we must do because someone says so).

I've been working at [re]mustering the courage to publicly share what I feel about the church. Very honestly, I think the main reason why I cringe so much when the topic is "missionary work" is because I'm in a place where I have absolutely no desire to share anything about the Mormon church. I've discussed my feelings over the last few years with a close few, mostly members of the LDS church who have gone through/are in the middle of their own personal faith crisis. For some, a crisis of faith is a questioning of everything they've ever believed - one part of their belief system is knocked out from under them, and then they begin to question everything from the church's validity to whether or not they believe in the existence of God. My faith crisis was not one of personal faith - it is not one of personal faith. My faith crisis is one of my faith community.

Certainly, learning some not too often mentioned historical facts of the church, like the extent of Joseph Smith's involvement in polygamy, the fact that men of African decent held the priesthood before a priesthood ban was put in place, and painful, inaccurate things LDS prophets have said throughout the history of the church that continue to create cultural havoc have been hard to hear.  But not any one of these things has been enough for me to say, "I give up on you, Mormonism." Not at all. I understand that the Mormon church is relatively new in the scheme of things. And I give it room to make mistakes and have growing pains, but I feel like so many of the mistakes and ugliness that I work hard to see beyond, are continually repeated in one way or another. With that being said, I don't think any church is perfect, and that's been hard to say because I used to place the Mormon Church on a pedestal.

So I'll go back to the last few years of questioning, of time spent trying to dust the church off and return it to the place it occupied for so long in my life and mind - What I've discovered through this period of time is that I've been learning so much more about the "gospel" outside of the "church" than within it. And I want to belong and be part of it, but I'm disaffected by so many things, it's hard to keep even the tiniest flame going. Part of my inner turmoil has been because of my own struggle with separating the gospel from the church. A feeling that I'm not living the gospel right if I have so many issues with the church - that something is wrong with me. Luckily, I've recently been brave enough to say nothing is wrong with me. As I've learned more and more about who Jesus Christ is, about how he loved and cared and lived for others, I've felt gap grow between how I want to live my life with what I know about Christ's gospel, and how I can live my life in the Mormon church with some of its commonly held beliefs (some cultural, some not).

In Mormonism, there's so much talk about the straight and narrow, and for the most part, there is an expected level of understanding that everyone be on - even our own language of sorts. If one falls outside of this cultural norm, the biggest opposition they face is from members of the church. My other very honest omission, is that people within my faith community have been the least understanding. Someone dealing with a faith crisis is treated like damaged goods - something is wrong with them, they must not be living their lives right if they're struggling with the church. This has been heartbreaking to me, not just in a personal way, but in the way I've seen how it has hurt so many of my friends and some of my family. I know it has everything to do with taking criticism of the church personally. If the church and the gospel are the same to so many, then one cannot help but be offended when others don't see eye to eye on something so personal. Mormons could be way better at lifting one another up, especially when they don't understand the whys and hows of the struggle. Mormons are great at meeting physical needs. You need help moving? No problem. You need a meal? You get a week's worth. But if you need a safe place to fall a part, make sure it isn't in Sunday School.

I grew up believing that the Mormon church was the only true church on the earth. It's a sentiment to which many still cling. Part of my faith crisis has been letting go of the only part of that statement. The Mormon church doesn't have the market cornered on truth, nor is it the only place where one can grow closer to God and Jesus Christ. God doesn't love Mormons more than anyone else. Churches that are actively seeking out and trying to do God's will are just as true.

Churches are an avenue to the Gospel of Christ. Mormonism presents its take on it. Lutherans do the same, and so does the United Church of Christ, etc. We often tether ourselves to whichever one makes the path toward discipleship make the most sense to us. Or we follow the tradition of our families. Mormonism is the tradition of my family. Mormonism makes me feel connected to them. Mormonism has also shaped my belief system, even though I have been on a journey of unknowing to know.

Last year, our church service began at 2PM, so I took advantage of the later time to go and visit other churches (something I LOVE doing). I spent several Sundays at the Unitarian church. Unitarians are special to me - not only for their unitarian beliefs - that God is God, and Jesus is Jesus, not God (a rejection of the trinity). I also love them for their universalist beliefs - all people will be reconciled with God (all people will be saved.) I also enjoyed the fact that I was visiting over summer when their paid clergy is off, so all of their services were organized by members of the congregation. I think these beliefs resonated with me so much because they are in line with the doctrines of the Mormon church that keep me tethered (though in the Mormon church it is always lay clergy). Mormons believe in a "Godhead" rather than a "Trinity." That God the Father could be standing next to his son, Jesus Christ - that they are distinct beings, and that the Holy Ghost is also separate from God and Jesus. Mormons also believe that anyone who has ever lived on the earth, and who will ever live on the earth, is saved. That Christ's atonement saved everyone and his resurrection made it possible for all to have eternal life. In a nutshell, Mormons believe that there will be varying degrees of glory for everyone who ever lived on the earth - that Hell doesn't exist for anyone who has taken part in this life. I love these teachings.

Other things I love about Mormonism -
- The emphasis on the family and its role as the most important organization in society, but I loathe the very narrow definition of what kind of family is acceptable.
- The sealing power in the temple - but not exactly in the eternal marriage/family kind of way. I love the idea of working towards uniting all people with one another.
- The teachings on Provident Living (which is why we're so good at taking care of physical needs) - as long as it doesn't paint needs and those who have and those who have not as black and white (which sometimes happens).
- The Word of Wisdom (but not as a tool of condemnation for those who don't follow it).
- That so many of my ancestors lived and worked and bled and died for their faith in this church.

When I look at Mormonism as a faith tradition, I want to be part of it, I want my children to be part of the tradition of their ancestors. When I look at it as a church, there are others where I feel more connected to how they conduct their worship services and what they have going on between Sundays. I also know that there are many who aren't Mormon who would find a great connection with the things in the Mormon church that I struggle with. Today at church, we discussed Tithing and Missionary Work. I know it varies by congregation, but I would much rather talk about Jesus Christ. We don't do it enough. I'm starving for it. For true worship together as a faith community - not a constant laundry list of things that need to be happening in the church. I appreciate when messages of Christ do happen, I hang on every word.

In the times I almost feel certain I'd be better off outside of the Mormon church, I think I know I'm not afraid of acknowledging the difference between the church and the gospel. The gospel exists outside of the church (many Mormons would argue that the "fullness" of the gospel doesn't exist outside the church). Then there are times when I almost feel certain I belong to this tradition. That I have just as much claim to this church as any other member, and that it doesn't have to be so uncomfortably exclusive, and I can help with its inclusivity. But it's hard when I feel, over and over, that my growth in the gospel is stunted by the church. And there's also a part of me that knows many are happy with the church just as it is, and why should they have to worry about someone else shaking things up. In or out, I know who I am and who I belong to. My life is dedicated to following Christ's example in the ways I am led and am continually learning to understand.

The Mormon church is full of wonderful people, just like many other churches. I wish there was a place for everyone inside, and especially right now, a place for Mormons who feel like there isn't a place for them in the church. One of my friends who has left the church confided in me that she stuck it out in the church for years because she wanted Mormonism to be a viable option for her children, and how could it be if it was the church their mother left? I feel the same way. Not only for my children, but for friends and family. And not only for my children and my friends and my family, I want it to remain a viable option for me.

07 March 2014

Finding Out

On Wednesday afternoon, while sitting in a meeting for the historic preservation commission, I received a text message from Jake. 

"UCLA said yes!" He continued on with information about his funding package, and let me know that he'd also been nominated for a fellowship. 

He decided to give musicology PhD programs one last go at the end of summer. He applied to eight schools. And then we waited. And waited and waited and waited. He received an invitation to interview at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. While being there, he realized the program wasn't a great match. 

A few weeks later, he received an invitation to interview at UCLA. From the moment he arrived in Los Angeles, well, even in his interaction with the department in arranging his travel details, there was a certain level of excitement in Jake that I know exists in him, but rarely breaks the surface. Anyone who knows Jake knows that he's super low key and mellow. During his time in LA, he was sending me pictures of random trees, pictures of food, he even sent a selfie. And every time I talked to him, he had something new and great to say about the program and UCLA as a whole. It was a match made in heaven. We knew that if got accepted there, he would accept the offer. He came home. And then we had to wait some more. But luckily not long. 

My life changed in a text message. It's still so new. I've sent many emails and messages to people and potential schools for my girls since finding out. Almost all change is bittersweet. Our girls parent-teacher conferences were today. At the end of Magnolia's, after spending a wonderful several minutes listening to how she's blossomed in the classroom, we told her teacher that we were moving. I didn't expect the rush of emotion that came. Saying it makes it real. My eyes welled up with tears, but miraculously none of them came out. 

I've been working hard at thinking "short-term/long-term." We live in a sweet little home in a wonderful neighborhood, and our girls go to a dream school. These are important things that are a big part of our world, but in the grand scheme of things, they are "short-term." Jake has a great opportunity to advance his education and open up career opportunities that will have a huge impact on our "long-term," it will just require us to leave some things we really love. 

Here's where the tears start gushing - I will have to leave Dot. I've always felt a deep connection to place, but it's always been tied a location - the base of the Superstition Mountains, the black soil in Eagar Arizona, floating on my back in the ocean... I feel the same connection to Dot. I know she's just wood and brick and mortar and plaster, etc., but I want some part of her to always be tied to me too. I want to drive by in 20 years and see the trees we planted creating a canopy to walk under. As I was lying in bed this morning, I decided to spend the rest of my time living in Dot in a way that will make it okay to leave her. I feel like I've entered into a kind of mourning stage, but I want the mourning to be over when I say goodbye to this home and move on to my next. Oh, Dot, how I love you so.

When I was young and growing up in Arizona, I was always certain that I was really supposed to be living in California near the Pacific Ocean. When I was older, a junior in high school, I went on a trip with my choir to Los Angeles. We went to the normal places: Disneyland, Venice Beach, the Walk of Fame. They were all fun, but the thing I enjoyed most was going to UCLA. We were there to do a master class with one of the choir directors, but we walked around campus for a bit after we were finished. I stopped and had a friend take a picture of me in front of Royce Hall. 

After I developed the photos, I found the one of me at UCLA, and added it to the collage I'd been making on my closet doors. It was full of pictures of friends and words. Above the photo of me at UCLA, I wrote "Dream." I've always been a dreamer, and perhaps this move for this school, to this new city, will be the culmination of some sort of dream of mine, maybe even the start of a new one. 

I don't know where my family will be living, or where my girls will be in school, but I want to practice the art of letting go. Of not worrying and letting life play out. Of having faith that there really is divine course for my life. Because I believe that one exists for everyone else. I'm excited for the possibilities - for this change, even if I'm sad to be leaving some things (Dot is way up there, but there are some people who I can't even think about leaving without completely breaking down). I will try my best not to randomly burst into tears for the next few months. 
[You'll have to imagine the silver scroll-y "Dream" written above it.]



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