Thursday, January 15, 2009

Out of the Closet

When we moved back (to our hometown) this past August, our bishopric wasted little time in extending callings to my husband and I. No big deal; we knew the drill. First they stopped by our home as a "get to know you" type meeting - the type I like the most. There's something about when you have a leader take the time to stop by your home that feels more genuine. A past Relief Society president did that, and I loved her for it. She was amazing.

Anyway, within a few weeks we both received that phone call. Brother J asked Eric if he'd like to be a Sunday School teacher for the 16-17 year olds, and of course Eric said yes. He liked the idea - not time consuming, no meetings, kids, cool. Then, because I was otherwise occupied, Bro. J told Eric he wanted to call me to be the fourth Sunday Relief Society teacher.

I'd never taught before, not really - and never in church. I don't count the two times I substituted for the Sunbeams class. I did have some experience as an English tutor and I do enjoy giving talks during Sacrament meeting, so I accepted, knowing the potential of the challenge due to my faith issues. But I understand the deal: stay within what's accepted, keep my opinions to myself, etc.

November's lesson went much better than expected. Even two weeks later I had sisters complimenting me. I wish I remembered what I did. I know I gave them opportunity to discuss and I did little reading...but I also know my preparation lacked severely. Apparently I did well though, which propelled me to December's lesson.

Oh boy. This lesson was based off Elder Uchtdorf's talk The Infinite Power of Hope and Sister Dalton's A Return to Virtue.

This lesson didn't go all. I found I struggled greatly in keeping within the approved lines. I couldn't handle the dialogue, the difficulty I found in asking questions which didn't lead to the standard Primary answers. I could hear Sister Dalton's voice in my head, and it screeched like nails on a chalkboard. A return to virtue? Yes I know the world has a different idea of virtue at times, but I tire quickly of the intonations, the vocabulary, the insinuations, the complete lack of feeling someone is relating to me.

Say I'm making much out of something small, and you'd probably be right. I do have some anger right now. I'm annoyed. But I tried.

I extended the lesson on virtue to that of charity. One woman in the room recognized that charity is much, much more than just bringing a new mom a casserole: it's what's in the heart. Yay!

Someone else related a story which reminded me of one of my own. In short, two friends of mine and I went to a Giants game in San Fransisco some years ago. A man rifled through the dumpsters in the parking lot. While I did all I could to avoid this person, my friend ran back to the car to get some food for him. As she handed him her twinkies, another man approached and handed the transient a beer.

My first reaction, I said, was "Oh, geez, a beer?" but then I remembered and understood this man's charity matched my friend's and far exceeded my own. I learned a few lessons that day I'll never forget.

When I mentioned the beer in class, however, one woman sighed with disapproval. A beer.

I'll admit nervousness and little preparation for this lesson, but I felt it all lost in this one story. I could be wrong, perhaps the women believed I wanted to make a point regarding twinkies versus beer in charity. I don't know. My driving point as a teacher, though, has been to help people know that we're not alone in our righteousness, that good, even amazing people really do exist outside this church. Even virtuous people.

Suffice it to say the lesson bombed. I knew on one level I could recover from it; after all, everyone suffers bad lessons, especially as novices. My issue came with the fact that I harbor a special irritation with the talks. Come to Zion, Our Hearts are Knit as One, O Ye That Embark.

For real. I don't get why we're still stuck in the pioneer age.

Last week put the last nail in the coffin for me, though. I substituted for Eric's Sunday School class. I had four boys and one girl, and all of them didn't want to be there. All of them complained. All of them liked to harp on other churches, on their hypocracy. "Do you see them smoking pot?" "Yeah, they get drunk all the time, too."

It didn't occur to me until after class that these kids harbored a jealousy over their non-member friends. These kids are angry. I asked for their honesty, and honestly, they just don't care. They don't get it. They don't believe in it, and they don't really want to. They don't have a reason to.

I couldn't teach the lesson because...well, I couldn't. Not in good faith, so we just talked. Their attitudes, lack of respect, and anger truly astounded me - and it's nothing I haven't run into before with our youth. But I was good. I didn't let any of my feelings through. Just let them talk.

I understand my heart may be "hardened" right now. I also know I shouldn't be teaching like this, so I called my bishop. Of course he wanted to know why, so I told him.

I'm out. At least to my bishop. He wanted to know what exactly was bothering me, but I couldn't figure out how to put it into words. I know I write here like crazy about it, and I know I talk with my husband about it to death and I've other people online I've vented to, but I still don't know how to tell my bishop. I don't know how to say it. My writing and incessant talking is all in an effort to figure out what exactly I'm feeling, believing and thinking and how to say it.

I need an Aaron.

I respect my bishop. He's a good man. He understood my need for time. That'll help; it already has. Perhaps I've mentioned it before, but my previous bishop counseled me to watch more BYU-TV. Gee, thanks.

Yesterday was a hard day. I was a mess. Today I feel I could talk with him. I hated asking for a release so soon after my call, but I didn't feel I could teach in good faith anymore. I don't know. I need to talk with him again, if only to get this all off my chest. I don't expect much to change, I don't expect my bishop to understand, but he gave me my space yesterday. He's been a good man that way.

I think that's why I hesitate to tell him exactly what's on my mind. I don't want to disappoint, and I fear my emotions are getting the better of my otherwise level head. I don't want to give the impression, as some have commented, that I'm throwing the baby (doctrine) out with the bathwater (the culture). I do take issue with some core doctrine, but it's easier to harp on the culture. Less frightening. More people tend to agree the culture needs help whereas doctrinal issues may prompt a spiritual intervention. The look on a close, once best friend's face when the topic of gay marriage comes up breaks my heart. She's scared. She wants to save me despite everything I've said.

It's very difficult to say what is going on in my head out loud. It's like stepping into the dark, and before anyone says that the dark is no place we want to be, let me assure you joining the church was like stepping into the dark. When Joseph Smith prayed, there was a period of darkness before the light. There is often darkness before the light. This I know. I've experienced it.

I'm still a little afraid of it, though.


cmhd said...

Sorry, you don't know me (I think I found you through FMH or Google Reader suggestions), but if it makes you feel any better, or any less alone or scared, your posts on this matter mirror my own feelings to such a degree that I wonder how it is you are reading my mind. It's a comfort knowing I'm not the only one.

Kengo Biddles said...


As a Sunday School President, I understand what you're feeling, with regards to lessons and not wanting Sunday School answers. I'll e-mail you privately to go into more depth, but one suggestion I can say is this: your lessons are probably not lost on most people aside that silly sister that failed to understand the charity of the man that offered the beer.

Talk with your Relief Society President about your feelings, as well. (If she's approachable).

More in my e-mail

Steve M. said...

I have a hard time with teaching too, honestly. If I were called to a teaching calling tomorrow, I'd probably give it a try, but I don't know how it would go. I like to think that I can just pick and choose what I want to teach from the manual and perhaps give the subject matter a new spin, but when you're given a topic like "Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys" and your personal belief ranges from non-literal (at best!) to agnostic to downright skeptical, depending on the day, it gets pretty difficult.

The last time I taught a lesson was in Elders Quorum nearly two years ago, shortly after I moved into my current ward. I can't remember what talk I was to discuss, but I think I went a little overboard in incorporating "outside" materials. I used a bunch of quotes from Levi Peterson and non-Mormon theologians about the value of doubt. I think I succeeded in weirding everyone out, but probably little else.

I've been in the nursery since then, so I fortunately have not had to deal with the same dilemma.

Anyway, I hope your bishop is understanding. Most of these guys are decent, well-intentioned, and understanding men. I've had experience with authoritarian and insensitive bishops, but I think those men are the exception rather than the rule.

That having been said, it's probably still a good idea to be on guard and maintain your boundaries. You don't need to spill all the beans at once, so to speak.

Good luck.

Grégoire said...

The utter obsession with membership always amazes me.

Why do you care so much what your bishop thinks? Before you answer, realize that this isn't so much a personal question as it is an exploration into the phenomenon itself. It's not just you.

The bishop doesn't pay your mortgage. It's not like the old days where he can raise an army of the faithful and make a blood-atonement human sacrifice of you for your apostasy. The most he can do is excommunicate you -- and really, what does it mean to be excommunicated from the LDS church? To the vast majority of people in the world, it's like being thrown out of the Sasquatch Hunters Club or the Mutual UFO Network. Nothing to be ashamed of, in other words; and a funny story around the dinner table for the rest of your life to boot.

I guess my perspective is different because my stepfather was a bishop. I lived in his house, saw people come over to the spare bedroom for advice, saw the way things worked behind the scenes.

If I were you I'd just simply spill what you're feeling and let the chips fall; but then I'm not.

Good luck...

The Faithful Dissident said...

I was in the RS presidency in my branch for about 3 years. The last year was tough and I hated it when I had to teach. I felt like a hypocrite standing there teaching things that I didn't believe in myself. I also got frustrated with the oversimplified lessons, the same questions and answers over and over again.

It took me a year of being back and forth in my mind, but I eventually resigned my calling. My branch president was good about it. I felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. Now I can go back to being a "student." It's nice to be able to just sit back, listen, and not worry about putting on a happy face and an act while teaching.

Maybe someday I'll accept another such calling. Maybe I won't. To me right now, the only thing that's non-negotiable for myself is Sunday church attendance. Anything other than that is only if I feel like it. I have to, in order to hang on.

Lisa said...

cmhd: No need to apologize. Glad to have you here, and I'm glad there's another person whose in my, glad to not be alone. It sucks to be in these shoes.

Kengo: I recieved your email. It may take me some time before I can respond, but thank you for taking the time. I really do appreciate the thought and your concern :)

Steve: Again, so refreshing to know I'm not alone here. Same to you, FD :)

I know about the boundary thing...I'm not always good about it, but over the years I've learned. And I agree. Thanks for the advice; good stuff.

Gregoire: Yeah, just not how I work. I'm really not looking to get ex'd. I want this to be on my terms, not the Church's you know? But thanks for the dissenting opinion, haha :)

FD: Yepyep. I know. I don't want to give up attending church entirely, because I do find value in it, but...I don't know :( Again, not sure how to put this into words. Again, though, so glad to know I'm in such great company. Thank you.

Matt said...

Lisa, I've been reading your blog for a while but haven't had the chance to comment yet. I'm very sorry to hear about all of the struggles that you've gone through, yet despite all of the doubts and frustrations, your blog has been a gift for me and I believe that it has helped me to better carve out a place in the church where I can feel comfortable. It's good to know that there are other folks out there that do not find bliss in their ward meetings and in swallowing the Happy Valley experience whole, but who still wish to hold on to their faith and find meaning in the gospel (though maybe not the whole fellowship experience). I think the church needs more people like you, so I'm secretly hoping you decide to stay, but I can understand how wearing yourself down so much that you completely lose your faith isn't appealing.

Back to the topic here, I grew up with Aspergers and now suffer from manic depression, so I'm wired to see things a little bit sideways and make different mental associations. The upshot of this in church is that I am both socially anxious and constantly bothered by how in talks and testimonies and lessons people seem to stay in a very narrow safe zone and always give the same answers to questions, the same rationalizations for practice, and the same macabre pioneer stories. I find that there's little awareness in church that between the full-on celestial mentally disabled and the so-called neurotypicals (who aren't as whole as they think) are unhappy people with varying degrees of agency who don't get consistent results from "experimenting upon the word."

I've had to sort of turn off during a lot of meetings, where I decide that I'm not really attending the meeting so much as watching from a distance. I like to scream inside along with the screaming babies. Many times, I've had panic attacks in sacrament meetings and had to leave. Sunday school is not as bad, though. There, I'm able to make unexpected or arcane comments to hopefully goose the class into thinking laterally if only for a second, or at least to point out where the gospel ends and where the folk gospel begins.

It isn't always taken well, and I often find that whatever I have to say won't fit neatly into whatever list is being made on the board, so it's won't get written down between "Word of Wisdom" and "Pay Tithing" like all the other shout-outs from the yawning class. Bearing my testimony of evolution during Gospel Doctrine seemed to puzzle a few people. So did my complaint about how we publish our scriptures in spreadsheet format. I find humor in this.

A few years back I was one of the instructors for the Elders quorum and I had to give a lesson on how awesome temples are. I have mixed feelings about the temple. I do feel something unique in the temple, something peaceful and spiritually relaxing, but I don't have the same kind of epiphanies that my wife gets from going there and of course the experience is very repetitive: not only is it the same thing every time, but the endowment is itself repetitive on several levels. Maybe the class and I could work on this one together instead of going through an awful hour of pretending to be a cheerleader for something I didn't have enthusiasm for.

By quirk of fate, in attendance that day were the whole bishopric, the high councilor assigned to our ward, and the stake president with his first councilor. I did it anyway:

"Bretheren," I began, "The temple is boring."

It turned out to be a pretty good lesson. I was released one month later.

Now my wife and I are the standby primary substitute teachers, and since we never know who or what we'll be teaching, we get to show up on Sunday with no preparation and we get little kids to act out Bible stories. Okay, you're the rock, and you be the house. Now who wants to be the rain? Whooooosh!

belledame2 said...


I just wanted to say thank you for running this blog. Both my husband and I feel like black sheep in our own ward. I'm so glad to know I'm not alone in my feelings either. A really good web site I have found is that has helped me tremendously and I hope it will help you as well.

Steve M. said...

Re Matt,

I find that there's little awareness in church that between the full-on celestial mentally disabled and the so-called neurotypicals (who aren't as whole as they think) are unhappy people with varying degrees of agency who don't get consistent results from "experimenting upon the word."

Amen to that, brother. Amen.

Lisa said...

Matt: First of all, welcome and thanks for your comment. Loads of people worry about leaving long comments but I don't mind them. Probably because I'm just as inclined to do so, but I also see it as a compliment.

Secondly, your story had both my husband and I *cracking* up. Oh! I can't imagine. That would've been a great lesson to be in audience for. Reminded me of my first RS lesson. Not nearly as controversial, but I began with "Ladies, I want you to complain today." (I might've said "murmur")

They lit up. It was awesome. I gave them permission to murmur, yay! haha

I wish there was more honesty in church. That said, I'm not surprised you were released. Oy.

belledame: Welcome (your screen name sounds familiar...? FMH?) Thanks for the compliment and for the link. I visited the site for a spell yesterday and printed out one of the essays for my husband to read so we can both talk about it later.