Monday, February 16, 2009
Here's the problem: the Church and my disaffection with it has become too central to my life. It dominates conversation and has shoved every other interesting part about me out. Tonight during a conversation with a longtime friend, I found I had little else interesting to talk about and it's grown old. This is not who I am - friend or foe, the Church should not be this much a part of me. People can only handle so much of my bitching and complaining and honestly, I can't either. I need to figure this out and just decide. I won't as long as I blog about it.
Later I hope to start up a new blog, but I'm unsure when that will happen. Perhaps with time, self-reconciliation, and new found energy I'll renew my efforts there with a different focus. I've also other endeavors I want to explore. This blog and the thoughts therein crowd everything else. I can't do this anymore. I may want to, but as we know wants and needs are two different things. I shouldn't do this anymore. Not now.
I appreciate so much the support I've found here. I'm happy to say I can stop while I'm ahead. I know many who "follow" my blog do so because they've found a kinship or some worth in my words. Flattered doesn't begin to describe. I'm honored, really. It is my prayer that inasmuch as we allow others to worship how, where, or what they may, I wish that we can allow the same of ourselves. God knows our hearts. In that I can trust - or at least hope.
Thank you all so much. I wish everyone the best.
It's a heartbreaking story, and until I began frequenting the blog I had no idea so many women felt this way and thus refuse to enter the temple. Some say they only go in for baptisms or initiatory ordinances. More than a few women said they keep their recommend updated for the sole purpose of attending a child's wedding, and I thought...
If a person has already been through the temple once, surely the dress and the signs/tokens won't take them off guard; it's not as if they do not understand. We should also stop assuming those who refuse to enter the temple are somehow stained from sin and are "unworthy" to attend. We need to give these people the benefit of the doubt unless we know for certain they are out desecrating what many do feel to be sacred. This is a wedding. To deny mothers and fathers (or even sisters and brothers) attendance to a wedding because they don't pay their tithing or cannot/do not observe the Word of Wisdom (or more!) suddenly seems outlandish to me.
After all, when attending a temple wedding, one does not need to dress in the temple garb (Sunday dress is appropriate unless the couple feels otherwise) and no requirement exists for attendees to go through an endowment session prior to the sealing ordinance.
The attendees themselves are never placed under covenant, either.
So why can't we just allow disaffected family members a chance to attend their son or daughter's wedding? Issue a temporary, one time use recommend, much like the temporary recommends issued to youth who wish to perform baptisms for the dead.
Would a compromise of this degree be so bad?
(Really, would a one time use recommend be so terrible for even non-member family? What would be the harm? I'm hardly being facetious here, and "because it's sacred" won't satisfy this girl. What would happen? I guarantee everyone a family member rejected from their son/daughter's wedding harbors harder feelings toward the church than would happen if allowed to see something they don't possibly understand (and come on, it would be one thing). Let them have their own "interview" with the Bishop/Stake Pres where they can talk and then let them come if they promise to be good. But that's just me.)
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Our teacher today, Sister B, readily offered the fact that she was inactive for some years and even went so far as to call herself an apostate. Other women in the room also fessed up, one making sure to tell everyone that though she went inactive, she never renounced the Church, always believed in the "power of the priesthood" and in the "truthfulness" of the Church. When pressed, she said she didn't necessarily consider herself an apostate at that time, even now, though conceded that according to some definitions one could say she was.
Many women were quick to add that the "state of apostasy" rests upon a spectrum, that until or unless one knows the heart of the apostate, we cannot say for sure just how antagonistic one is or why. I appreciated this very much. One woman said, "It's a broad word and we have to be careful how we use it." The consensus lay that not everyone who leaves is antagonistic, and gratefully Sister B refrained from referring to such points to the contrary in the lesson except for one time, but nobody focused on that for very long. Yay!
Onto the quotes. If the responses aren't in quotes, they're paraphrased from what I heard the women say. I thought it would be of interest.
Question: What is apostasy?
1) Turning from the faith of Christ.
2) Relinquishment of faith - President Kimball
3) Fighting against the teachings of Christ.
4) There was some debate whether inactivity = apostasy, which led to the conclusion that apostasy is a matter of attitude/degree and the aforementioned spectrum.
Question: "What are the reasons one would apostatize?"
1) Failure to recognize leaders are fallible and laying fault when they act like human.
2) Failure to recognize the difference between The Church and the Gospel.
This surprised me, though it is closely related to #1. I hadn't heard many members...ever...suggest The Church and The Gospel could possibly be separate things. The people, perhaps, but never "The Church."
3) "A prophet has said the basis of all apostasy starts with sin...Not partaking of the Sacrament is a sin, let's face it."
You know, upon thought there is some truth to this statement. I don't believe this sister was correct, though many agreed. With everything the Church teaches to be sin, it wouldn't be difficult to sin in the eyes of fellow members and leaders, no matter what the offender thinks or how they came to that conclusion. This brought me to the conclusion that, as we all sin, well...we're always in danger of apostatizing. That doesn't mean that it is necessarily the reason every time, but I can see now how some might come to that conclusion.
4) The desire and chase of worldly things versus spiritual things.
5) "I tend to believe people leave when their expectations aren't met" and they start to believe "maybe this isn't true." (someone who's struggling, perhaps? I've never heard anyone utter those four words in church in any context)
6) One told a story of a man who coveted the position of bishop very much; when another man was called, however, and later was accused of having an affair with a temple worker, this man became rather offended and is today excommunicated. (They also said this was an extreme example, but one nevertheless). Everyone agreed with the woman when she concluded that anytime anyone feels they deserve or ought to have a specific calling, they're on their way to apostasy. Many spoke of no calling being "better" or higher than another. I know this is what we teach, but isn't exactly something most really remember. It's hard to.
Eventually one woman spoke of how we must respect the mantle of the calling, remember our leaders are human, and try putting ourselves into their shoes for a moment.
I almost hugged the woman who said, out loud, that we are expected to take everything our leaders say and pray about it. So glad. Not everyone thinks so.
7) "Satan twists everything in your head."
8) Apostasy is not always an immediate thing, but happens inch by inch.
Question: Why do apostates fight against the Church?
This was a question which led to a surprisingly short discussion. Among the answers:
1) "I believe they feel guilty for not going."
2) There was a great consensus that pride was the main reason.
Question: What happens to apostates?
A little attention was given to a likening of apostates to Judas, betrayers of the truth, betrayers of Christ. Sister B read this quote from Joseph Smith: "From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him. There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned."
The last part of this quote really haunted a few of the women in the room and led to another quote about how those naked and destitute are among the most helpless and hopeless individuals.
One woman said in relation to this, "We can't judge because we don't know what's in their hearts, but they do lose the Spirit. When we're around apostates, we feel their nakedness."
Another woman, one who confessed previous inactivity, said (and I paraphrase) "Many who leave the Church think they're just fine, but they will reach a point where they will look back and see the times when they could have used the Spirit, needed His help and it wasn't there. They'll realize their times of stupidity."
Another simply stated apostates will "Lose understanding and ability to judge" and they stay away from Church because they fear judgment from others. I believe a story was told about one who feared coming because he couldn't give up smoking. He was a great Boy Scout leader - very talented in his calling: loved camping, loved the boys, etc. He had all the boys set up to receive their Eagle. As members couldn't handle his smoking habit, he eventually left. The new scout leader couldn't measure up, and none of the boys received their Eagle. The woman concluded this was God's little consequence, that it happened all because some couldn't handle the fact that the one man couldn't break his smoking habit, and who the hell are we to judge. What matters more, anyway?
What surprised me most about this anecdote was the fact that no one belied the man for "allowing himself to be offended." One woman even said something to the fact that we needn't focus so much on other's but more on ourselves.
I cannot tell you all how grateful I was to hear some of what was said today, especially that last bit. All in all, it was a happy lesson and gave me some food for thought.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I didn't want to admit that, though.
When I first began discussing lefty topics with fellow LDS on Facebook, I did so to feel a sense of community. The good people there gave me strength. I thought maybe I could do this, that who I am doesn't have to contradict the Church, that maybe I was wrong concerning everything and could be a middle-roader without sacrifice.
Numerous faithful, liberal members of the Church fight valiantly against sweeping generalizations that one cannot be a liberal Mormon and yet a good Mormon. Some succeed better than others. It's a hard fight to be made in a Church which seems to pride itself on being rooted in "family values," in being "pro-life" etc. and can't see past their ideological noses. Funny, really, because the Church is technically pro-choice and is based on as many liberal ideals as conservative. But whatever. Nobody wants to see that.
When I first began this blog, a girl from my stake came by to discover I support Obama, I am Pro-Choice, and I thought Prop 8 was a load of crap. She said something to the effect of "Except Obama, everything you just said goes against the Church!" These are basic stances many liberal members have and must contend with, along with a very real questioning of our faith and worthiness. This is the reason many choose to remain in the closet. I daresay this is why so many of us became so aggressive when it came to Prop 8. In our own way, we know what it's like to be shoved into a closet.
Over time, though, I weakened. My doubts raised to a piercing scream I couldn't ignore anymore. Knowing that my bishop could find this blog and call me in for expressing my opinion and discipline really rubbed my fur the wrong way. It's happened to too many others. Good members everywhere have walked into their bishop's offices where they were asked to shut down their blog. One commenter at The Faithful Dissident's recent post says his bishop told him he wouldn't sign his temple recommend based on his blog. He shut it down. Call me prideful, but there's something seriously wrong with that. I don't think I could shut mine down. Not in good conscience.
Freedom of expression, shut down. There's a reason so many abhor censorship - it brings to mind far too many things I'd learned in school, so much history we'd rather never happened. We live in America where we are supposed to be free to express our own beliefs. Without America, we would have no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I should be able to say I respectfully disagree and why without fear of rebuke. I should be able to discuss why I think marrying gay couples won't be the end of society as we know it and encourage people to reconsider their vote.
But, one might say, if you don't believe, why are you here?
This is my eternal soul, that's why. For so long I fought against the cultural crap - I could sweat the culture. I could rally against and scream about it all I wanted. There are some things about LDS culture I really love but most of it just sucks. But this is my church, I've been grafted to it. This deals with my eternal soul. I believed in enough for it to matter.
I didn't want to be this stereotypical liberal Mormon girl on the precipice of apostasy. I wanted to be an activist of sorts, change minds. I've never wanted to be an activist for anything until this past year. I wanted to be an example, so the first time I expressed serious doubt with the Church. I thought great, so much for being an example. But I couldn't keep pretending. That wasn't fair.
The Faithful Dissident says that without the courageous gay community who fought for so long to have others know their orientation is not a choice, that without courageous Mother's Who Don't Know fighting against the June Cleaver or Die mold, that without activist members this church never would have changed. And despite what many orthodox members will insist to the contrary, this Church does change.
I wanted to be part of that so much. I'm a martyr. I would be more than willing to fight except I don't really believe this anymore, not enough of it at least. I could still attend (and do) without being "worthy" of the temple, but...I would be willing to pay tithing if I could and if I believed in what I was investing my money in. It's not really a matter of faith. I would be willing to avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol if...well, as stupid as it is to make a point to drink this stuff, it's just as stupid to make a point not to drink it. I could give it up, though. Much as the garment top bugs the absolute shit out of me, I would wear it. These things matter about as much as they don't in the eternal scheme of things, and instead of worrying about the piddly crap, I'd rather spend my time focusing on other things that will make me a better person because I've so far to go. So that's what I'm doing.
This is the church that most closely mirrors my lifelong beliefs. BUT! sometimes the best form of protest is the one we make with our feet. I have a difficult time believing God would place me on the same shelf as the man who couldn't give up everything he had and follow Christ because I have an occasional cup of coffee - and no, I was never addicted to the stuff (though I freely admit addiction to soda).
My bishop knows I'm having a crisis of faith. At least that's what I told him. The truth is I've been having a crisis of faith for four years now; my husband for the last eight - I didn't even know about his doubts until I expressed my own. The truth is I'm at my end. I requested release from my calling as a Relief Society teacher because I couldn't stand up there and do what I could to show these girls that the norm isn't always the best way, that there are good people outside the church, that the culture doesn't always jive with the doctrine. I couldn't stand the material, of people trying to sound biblical instead of like regular members of the human race who are trying just as hard as I am.
They are no better than me and I am no better than them.
I never wanted to be the rule. I wanted to be the exception, but sometimes it's not worth the fight, not worth the mental abuse one has to go through. I've a family. I worry about enough things. I guilt trip myself, I don't need any help.
There are good, liberal Mormons out there who do believe and have testimonies. I just don't know what I have to add anymore but more of the same, more validation to the idiots' belief that "Liberal Mormons aren't Good Mormons." They do exist, and they're amazing people with very valid views and concerns. I hope more members accept them and give their ideas a moment of their time. I wasn't always like this. I used to be a Limbaugh girl - it was because I listened to other views that I began to change my mind. Not everyone will, but acceptance is all we ask for. We need each other, after all - apostate or not.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Apparently we cannot be trusted. Better safe than sorry.
Here's the thing: I may be a child of God, but I'm not a child. I'm not someone to be coddled or mistrusted as a human with uncontrollable urges, one who needs to be placed in a padded room to be kept safe from all evil at all costs. We would never do this to our own children. We allow them to learn for themselves. I'll teach them my ways and they'll give or take and I am to accept that because they are individual people. I am to trust in my ability to teach them and in their ability to discern and govern themselves when they become of age.
When it comes to Church, though, we are far too often saved from ourselves, spared the horrors of sin. The problem is that a person loses all ability to trust in themselves and in essence, their agency. Let the Church tell me what to do because I don't know if I should.
No? That’s not how it goes? I might have an Apostle publicly shame me for refusing to remove an earring, but the Church won't tell me what to do? I am not able to choose for myself when it's drink a cup of coffee or be "worthy" for the temple - for most, that's an easy decision. It shouldn't have to be a decision, though. I don't see how the crime fits the punishment anymore.
Just as we allow others, I want to be allowed to worship when, where, and how I may. I want to be able, even encouraged, to doubt and question and debate. If we are not to criticize our leaders, I would hope they would refrain from criticizing me for the very same reasons. If our leaders are fallible, then I shouldn't be encouraged to revere them as if they were because they're not, even when they're behind the pulpit.
Are we not to criticize Elder Mark E. Petersen for his abhorrently racist comments? We reject them now, but what of then? President Kimball for his ridiculous claim that masturbation leads to homosexuality? How about a good bishop who tells a tearful sister that leaving her abusive husband will only result in her being responsible for every bad thing that should befall her children?
Or are we supposed to remain quiet and faithfully bow our heads and say yes? Many do. Better safe than sorry.
Elder Ballard argues that "Discussions focused on questioning, debating, and doubting gospel principles do little to build the kingdom of God" and continues to say that to do so is to show shame in the gospel. Again, and I know there's an overarching theme here through many of my entries, but we should not be so damned concerned with the Church as we should be with the individual! Not every question is rooted in a dark desire to disrupt the Kingdom. I'd say most if not all aren't.
It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to question. Un-be-lievable, and yet we are so quick to shut a person down before they even start because to do so is seen as aggressive. So what does one do when they find the courage to question and discover the insufficient answers? I feel this shouldn't be about "The" church or any church, but about our individual selves and our personal relationship with God. Guidance is fine. Teach me the principles and allow me to govern myself, but for heaven's sake let me govern myself!
We're famous for saying we have agency, but where is the choice? Heaven or hell. The Church or hell-bound Apostasy. A social network or spiritual and emotional exile. You pick. Stay in the ship or jump overboard and drown as Brigham Young alluded. It is tantamount to an ultimatum. I'll theorize most who jump decide their own brand of agnosticism is the only realistic and comfortable alternative and go on to lead successful and happy lives.
While a person may not fit in a congregation or feel at home in a religion, they do fit in with God somewhere, somehow. I trust in that more than I trust in those who may mean well but can't see beyond their fear enough to actually have faith in God and allow me the same. The problem with our church as I see it is that we're not given this. It's all or nothing. Some try to find or forge a middle road but I don't see how it can be done. The road is too narrow for a middle road. It's all or nothing. Black or white. Others have tried to argue otherwise, but I just cannot see it. We preach His way or the highway.
The Church wrongly places dissent on the same stage as contention and betrayal when contention is bred when dissent is silenced or casually dismissed with quick and easy answers to complicated questions and concerns. Every question one asks of their leader too often comes with an answer rooted in just a sliver of truth. This is enough to make a person second-guess themselves. That's the hook, and if we don't know any better, we're loathe to stay in the ship because we're told we can't swim, that nobody can in the worldly waters infested with ideals ready to eat us alive. Stay in where it's safe, where we'll be saved. Better safe than sorry.
Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I can't buy that. Not anymore.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
How can she SAY that!?
I tried to tell myself it certainly wasn’t because there was any bit of truth to it. Nonono. It was because everyone knows that if you pay your tithing you’ll be able to pay your bills. That’s just how it works.
But I knew deep down her offhand, innocent (albeit frustrated) comment stung with truth. Sure she always seemed to make it somehow, but she had to go on government assistance to do so. What is the logic in that? Eric and I always had to go on government assistance and take money from our savings. Savings is supposed to be…well, savings. More times than not we couldn’t follow both admonitions of the church to save a little and pay tithing (not to mention the kid situation). Inevitably the money we’d place in savings each week would have to come back out so we could buy food.
And now? Forget it. We’re in a house now – for my sanity, mind you – so rent is more expensive, but as a first year teacher Eric is making just as much as he was before. I know we *could* move back into an apartment, but I’ve just spent the last seven years of my life in an apartment, six of them pregnant and/or with kids. Apartments are not for the faint of heart and I needed space. The kids needed space. We could never afford more than a two bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer, and with prices the way they were it just made more sense to get a house.
I assure you we lucked out finding the place we’re in now, but it’s still too much to have everything else in its proper tithing envelope.
Could we live in poverty and pay our tithing? Erm, maybe. But I don’t want to.
And before anyone gets up in arms about this, tithing was never, ever, ever an issue for me until this past six to twelve months. I moved out of my parents’ home working for an unstable retailer. Somehow I still made rent and had more money at the end of the month than my roomie who also paid tithing but loved to spend.
I attributed my success to tithing.
Then four years ago, Eric and I received what I still refuse to deny as a divine impression to have a third baby. We had no idea how we were to do this. The store he worked at announced promotions would be next to impossible to get and he probably wouldn’t receive any more pay raises. And we only had a little sedan, so we’d need a van for sure. And we’d have to move – I wouldn’t make it without our own washer and dryer. Ideally I wanted a third bedroom, but the laundry situation was horrific and it came down to one or the other and laundry won. This would mean a rent increase of at least one to two hundred dollars. Despite all of this, we decided to heed the revelation and toss birth control to the wind. I became pregnant.
Not too much later, we found if we applied for our very first school loan we could use that as a down payment for a car, so that’s what we did. We bought a van no problem. Then one of the head clerks at the store decided he didn’t want to be head clerk anymore, and since the boss really liked Eric she let him have the job. Two days a week and more if opportunity allowed, Eric was head clerk and made $6 more an hour - $9 more an hour on Sundays and holidays. Helloooo miracle!
Then came this past summer. Our struggles with the church had reached a point where we just didn’t go to church if we didn’t feel like it. We still paid tithing, but grudgingly. We stopped being so orthodox about it, paying it on absolutely every little thing – birthday money gifts, financial aid (we weren’t comfortable anymore with the fact that it’s illegal to do so). I couldn't stand having Abbie pay it. I don't know why - she didn't want to and I just felt horrible about it all. I really goofed up when I thought she should pay on her birthday money. That didn't seem right. Anyway, we still paid it on income though and considered knocking it down to net income rather than gross, but couldn’t bring ourselves to do that.
And yet, Eric still landed this amazing job here. We still found this great house with great rent.
(and yes, I am so knocking on wood. We’re told we’re okay job wise – he’s the only math teacher at his school with a single subject credential and math degree. That said, shit happens. God has a sense of humor and I can’t help but feel I am testing him here, though I’m unsure if this is learned superstition or not. I have much faith in life working out the way its supposed to)
When it came to moving to another city, we knew we’d be changing banks too. For a while we had our cash in two different places and all our tithing money…well, it was a mess. We decided to wait to pay until we got our cash situation figured out, but deep down in that place we call honesty, we really weren’t sure we wanted to pay.
I kept thinking of the scriptures which stated God cared about the heart, about the intention. Are you good to get your reward or good because you want to be good, because you are good? Do you pay your tithing with pure intention or because of obligation and/or blessings?
We were paying because we were scared not to. We felt obligated. Where it had never been an issue before, it was suddenly an issue. I told Eric I didn’t want to refuse to pay tithing because of money, and he agreed (we’d always been okay before), but that’s what we finally concluded. I thought about the many times we had to dip into savings. Had we always had savings? For the most part – there were scary times. But more and more it didn’t make sense to go on government assistance when we paid tithing. Really, tithing can make it impossible for some to be truly self-reliant. I *hated* WIC with a passion. It made little sense to me when there were people who needed it more than we did, people who didn’t have tithing to pay. It just felt wrong and embarrassing.
So, we stopped. I still worry about it, you know, losing blessings, but so far we’ve done well for ourselves. I don’t think God is going to abandon us, because we're trying. We're searching. The church is just fine without us (I mean c’mon, that mall they bought in 2005? The 2007 $1 billion downtown renovation project?). Tithing is not for God or his Church anymore. Neither need it. It's about faith, they say, and our faith was waning before our tithing was. I thought perhaps we should pay it if we were to continue attending church, but at the moment we’re not sure we want to for much longer. Our money in the meantime is going toward other causes as we can afford it.
That’s the other thing: Fast Offering. Why is it not okay for us to take what would be our fast offering and give it to a charity of our choice? Naw. No more of that. I appreciate what the church does but hate that it requires it to be the middleman. That doesn’t seem right. Once I wanted to help a friend – a single parent going to school – to buy her books. She fell on rough times, but I was told I couldn’t take my fast offering to do that. It killed because I couldn't help her otherwise. She was taken care of, sure, but the idea never truly sat right.
Anyway, life goes on. I worry and know perhaps later we’ll change our minds. Right now it’s not feasible to pay it, and trust me I know the arguments and I know how ridiculous it sounds to many members for me to say that. “How can you afford not to pay tithing?” is the common refrain. Hell, people, I’ve said it before.
But we can’t. Not without dipping into savings or going on assistance, and so we don’t. I don't advocate everyone neglecting to pay – please know this blog is not meant to be a pulpit – but for us this is what it is, and I’m okay with that.
It is interesting how life still goes on much as it did before, with things working out much as they’re working out for anybody else. It’s just not as scary. Living in fear just isn’t worth it to me anymore.