Mormonish: My view from the fence (aka What Good Have You Done Today?)

How Mormon do you have to be to be Mormon enough?

Not for the first time…(part 1)

…I have just been informed that I am doing the Mormon thing wrong.

Imagine that.

Last I heard, there was more than one way to Mormon.

I know I don’t Mormon the way I used to do.

Nor do I Mormon the way a lot of other Mormons do.

And, I dare say, I will likely never Mormon the same way again.

Like most Mormons, I was raised to believe I should Mormon a certain way, in compliance with a well-established set of expectations (expectations which were made known via every conceivable communications channel available). I grew up believing there was only one way to Mormon, and I had better Mormon the same way or there would be hell to pay. Literally.

And then I left home to go to college. Mormon college. in Provo. Utah. Mormon-land. And there I discovered that not only did the Mormons there not all Mormon the same way, but also that I was one of the most Mormony Mormons around. Even (maybe especially) the native Utah Mormons did not Mormon the same way I did. The more I looked around, the more obvious it became. I had been taught how to Mormon by a bunch of very Mormony Mormons.  If I was going to do Mormoning right for my new environment, I was going to have to adapt.

I adapted all right. I’m still adapting. Despite what some may think, that does not make me un-Mormon, nor does it mean I’m Mormoning wrong. It just means I’m Mormoning differently than they are. And, for a lot of Mormons, Mormoning differently than they do is a bad thing. Alas. I cannot cram the baby dragon back into its shell once it has flapped its little wings. Neither can I cram my evolving Mormonness back into its very tiny straitjacket,  not now that the seams have split and the stuffing has fallen out.

So…just how, exactly, does one go about Mormoning wrong? I’ll begin that exploration here.  Please pardon me if I wander off topic occasionally.

Maybe I should start with all the things I did as a kid that I thought must be sins. Mmm. Nah.

Or all the things I’ve done as an adult that might be sins. Mmmm. Nah.

Let’s talk about things I do that other people think are definitely sins.

For example: it has to be a pretty cold day in Timbuktu before I get out the door and go to church on any given Sunday. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons why this is true (none of them having to do with what I may or may not believe about church attendance), but the very fact of my absence is sufficient, in the minds of many, to keep me from being considered a fully committed adherent to the Mormon version of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Is my absence from meetings going to keep me out of heaven? It seems pretty unlikely to me that this will be an issue. Perhaps to the extent that I might bless others by my presence (which sounds pretty darn arrogant, reading it like this) maybe I’m missing out on opportunities to help or grow that may move me down the yellow-brick eternal progression road a little bit more efficiently, but my days are filled to overflowing with such opportunities as it is. I do the best I can all the time. If the only place we get credit for learning and growing and helping others is in a church building where everybody else is scrambling to do the same thing, then we’re all pretty much doomed anyway, because that is NOT what Jesus advocated. His advice was to go forth (not go inside) and serve our fellow beings (not limited only to Mormons, or Christians, or even humans).

Maybe I’m missing out on teaching a class full of wide-eyed, innocent, but runny-nosed three-year-olds that the flannel board version of Jesus is a pretty nice guy, while the Old Testament version of the same dude is angry and petty and vengeful and maybe isn’t really your best friend. Then again, maybe I’m not missing out on that. Nope. Definitely not.  I did that already. It did not go well.

Or maybe I’m missing out on having a conversation with the woman who sent me a letter in the mail the other day (having clearly received a fellowshipping assignment from the local relief society president to “reach out” to me to make me feel welcome). Her letter said, in part, “You must be a Mormon – I’ve seen your name on lists at church. So how come you don’t attend? Should I send the missionaries to your house to talk to you about coming back to church?”

I haven’t responded to her. I’m not sure I will. My sainted mother may have taught me a thousand and one picky ways to be a really Mormony Mormon, but one of the things she taught me that has been really useful is “treat other people the way you would want them to treat you, even if they can’t reciprocate.”  I’m not sure I can be nice enough in any response I might write to this not-my-friend to follow my mother’s mandate. Until I can be sure, I will probably hold off.

That will give me time to ponder how to respond to an email from my brother, who recently took me to task for doing my marriage, and my subsequent divorce wrong. I haven’t responded to him yet either. For the same reason. Maybe I’ll just call him and ask if he will meet me for lunch. Then he can tell me to my face all the ways in which I am doing my Mormon-ness wrong. And then I can share them with you, so you will know you’re not alone, and we can get on with doing our Mormoning wrong together, or at least simultaneously.

Until then, keep the faith.

^MC^

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PRIDE – It Matters

It’s pride month. I am proud to be an ally. I am proud to be a defender of my friends and loved ones, whatever their gender, orientation, and/or identity may be. 

I wish I could say I have always been an ally, but that wouldn’t be true. Early on, I was an interested observer as a number of friends and siblings very carefully navigated their non-conforming life paths through the minefield of the iron rod straight and homogeneous mid-twentieth century middle-American Mormon culture we were raised in, and I was supportive – at least as supportive as I knew how to be for someone very young and profoundly ignorant. I did not yet understand what it meant for my dear ones to diverge from the prescribed route to heaven. It didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I loved them and wanted them to be happy. 

Down the road a bit as my religious training ramped up and took hold, I forgot that important point: I forgot to let love drive my decision-making. I became so determined to fit into Mormon-ness myself  that I adopted the church’s official hard-hearted stance. I was so afraid of being ostracized, found unworthy, banned from the only community I knew, and – ultimately – excluded from heaven, that I abandoned and condemned my dear ones in an attempt to make myself feel and appear more acceptable. I said things to them – in person and in writing – that should never be said to anyone, and especially not to someone you love. At the time, I believed – or wanted to believe – I was telling them “what god wanted them to hear.” I believed what I had been taught, that I had a duty to god and to my fellow beings to teach “lost sheep” (i.e., anybody who wasn’t 100% all-in as a Mormon) to abandon their evil ways and join (or return) to the fold. Although I was rarely so brazen as to try to impose my presumed religious enlightenment on schoolmates or other non-member associates, I felt I had a special mandate to try to influence my relatives – especially my siblings.

Where did that mandate come from? Let me tell you a little story: Mormon scripture exhorts all the faithful to let their light shine so that others can see it, but in my case I had what I had been taught was something special: my patriarchal blessing. I guess I was a little bit religiously precocious: when I was twelve years old, I begged my parents to let me get a patriarchal blessing. Normally such blessings are something of a rite of passage into adulthood. Young people preparing for missions (usually around age eighteen now) will seek out their local patriarch for a special formal personalized blessing that is intended to provide insight into one’s unique spiritual gifts and destiny. I was twelve. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to know what to expect. I wanted some clues. I wanted some tangible proof that god knew me and could see me and actually cared about me as an individual. My parents, understandably proud that one of their kids – a daughter, no less – would be so invested in her spiritual future, agreed that I should go ahead and helped me set up the appointment with our local patriarch, a lovely elderly gentleman who had retired after a long and dignified career of public service and now served the church as the conduit for these ritual blessings for members who desired them.

First he spent some time interviewing me, asking me questions about myself in an attempt to become more than just passingly familiar with my name and my parents. We chatted about my interests and my concerns, my hopes for the future, my questions. Then he set an appointment for me to return the following Sunday, when he would bestow the desired blessing, to be recorded and transcribed so I could have a copy of it to refer to throughout my life. I was to spend the intervening few days in fasting and prayer in preparation for this appointment so my heart and mind would be ready to receive the sacred instructions I had requested and so the patriarch would be inspired to understand what he should say. To say that my anticipation and expectations were high is something of an understatement.

When the big moment came, it did not disappoint. I won’t recount the entire thing here (maybe I’ll save that for a podcast sometime), but the relevant bit in terms of my interaction with my peers and siblings goes like this:

I bless you that you will be a source of joy and comfort to your parents, and a source of wisdom to your brothers and sisters and kin… …you will hold out the hand of fellowship to those who are negligent in their duties in the Church, and in their duties in society. … I bless you that you will have a good influence with all those with whom you will associate … that you will teach the gospel by your good example and by word of mouth, and that you will let your light so shine … that others … will be inclined to follow in your footsteps.

Think about all of this for a moment, and consider how those words would work on the mind and heart of an ambitious but naïve twelve-year-old whose entire experience in the world was filtered through the Mormon bubble that surrounded her. I had been called, y’all! By GOD! To provide joy and comfort to my parents, and wisdom and fellowship and influence and light to my brothers and sisters and kinfolk! I was supposed to set a good example and lead the wayward back to the fold!

Fast forward a few years, and it turned out that the most wayward people I knew were my siblings (because most of the people I was acquainted with were Mormons and the ones I knew best were the ones I lived with, which meant I knew their “weaknesses”). Emboldened by my prophetic blessing (and – in truth – egged on a bit later by my equally arrogant and self-righteous, self-appointed priesthood-loving spouse who had a similar blessing he was using as his own Liahona), I called my siblings to repentance, individually and collectively. I told each one all of the ways in which they were offending god, and what they needed to do to “get right” so they could come to heaven with the chosen people (including me, of course, and our parents, who were surely going to be there).

I can honestly say I was motivated out of what I saw as genuine love and concern for them, but my approach was so fire-and-brimstone (because that’s how calls to repentance are supposed to look, isn’t it?) that my “encouragement” wasn’t well-received. It wasn’t welcomed. Heck, it pretty much wasn’t even acknowledged. Over time it became increasingly obvious that my self-appointed mission to the heathen had backfired. My precious siblings, who had previously been happy to interact with me, now avoided me. They wouldn’t engage with me even when we were in the same room, and seemed to genuinely resent my presence when they couldn’t avoid it.

Why? What had gone wrong? Hadn’t I done what I had been called to do? Hadn’t I lived up to my mandate? Why weren’t they grateful for my help in seeing the error of their ways? Why weren’t they happy that I had gone to so much trouble to show them the true path back to salvation?

Many years passed before I understood that the hateful things I had said were really propaganda  foisted on me by people who wanted me to believe that they had a direct line to god and that god authorized them to tell me what to think and how to live my life (including how to treat my dear ones).

I had learned the propaganda lessons very well. I bought the program hook, line, and sinker. As I reflect on it now, it’s not like I had any other options: I either had to conform to the expectations imposed on me or become an outcast. I knew what being an outcast looked like: some of my siblings had already made that choice, and that status wasn’t appealing to me. I wanted to be acceptable, I wanted to be good enough. I wanted to be found worthy. That worthiness came at a high price. I had been taught that Jesus loves everyone, but that he loves those who follow “the rules” better, and the church had taught me that it was the sole authorized interpreter of the rules and the sole overseer for determining who was following the rules properly (and who was not).

I didn’t see the holes in that logic until much later. First I had to learn how to think about what I had been taught, rather than just going with how I felt when I was singing hymns in meetings. Eventually, though, I figured out that the one and only truly divine mandate – to love one another, period – didn’t apply to just my fellow covenant-path following Mormons.

Apparently I was a slow learner. My dear ones had it figured out long before I did. They knew god couldn’t both love everyone *and* hate some people. They had – early on – opted out of the divisive, hurtful, elitist indoctrination, and had chosen instead to live kind, good, and loving lives despite the way I and others treated them. 

Still, eventually I figured it out. And I figured out that my new understanding meant that I needed to unlearn a whole bunch of damaging ideas. I’m still working on that; I’m still traveling that road, and I’m learning good things and gaining new awareness every day.

Here’s my revelation for today: 

I used to think it didn’t matter to me that someone was gay, bi-, a-, hetero-, demi-, or sapio-sexual, two-spirit, trans-, inter-, or gender fluid, or green, blue, brown, yellow, beige, x, y, whatever. I probably said so out loud on more than one occasion, trying to be reassuring, hoping to sound open-minded and accepting and egalitarian. Consistent with my previous pattern, I sincerely believed I was saying what needed to be said, and maybe even what you wanted to hear.

That’s what I used to think.

I’m starting to understand, rather later than I should have, that it does matter.

It matters that you’ve had to endure the slings and arrows, the bigotry, the shaming, the legal and illegal discrimination, the erasure that comes with society pretending you don’t exist because there’s something about you that’s unusual or unique.

It matters that you’ve been forced to spend far too much of your time trying to fit into a community that can’t seem to figure out how to make space for you.

It matters that you were born into a life where those who should love you the best struggle to love you at all.

It matters that you far too often must choose between staying alive and staying true to yourself.

It matters that you have to wonder, probably during every waking moment, when (not if) you will be assaulted, verbally or physically or both, by someone who just can’t stand to breathe the same air you do.

It matters that you ever have to worry about what you wear, how you wear your hair, or where you can safely use the bathroom.

It matters that after a day of celebrating your pride in your individuality, you still have to take defensive precautions against hate crimes as you travel back to your home.

It matters that – even with changes in laws that are supposed to protect you – you still have to worry about whether you can safely be out at work, at school, at church, at the voting booth, at the doctor’s office, at the grocery store…anywhere.

It matters that you have to fear for your right to earn a livelihood, your right to gain an education and/or professional credentials, your right to declare your devotion and commitment to share your life with your partner in deference to the discomfort of people who have no business trying to control your business.

It matters that your need to love and be loved is invariably subject to the scrutiny of anyone else.

It matters that on top of everything else, many who presume to speak for God would tell you that you are flawed, unacceptable, and sinful in the eyes of your creator, and that you should believe you are an abomination of no divine worth because you are *different*.

It matters.

This is my apology to you, my friend, my relative, my colleague, my casual acquaintance, my friend-I-haven’t-met-yet: I’m sorry for things I said, did, or failed to say or do, that hurt you, made you feel unloved or excluded, or made you feel my indifference, my ignorance. I’m sorry I didn’t see your pain and your struggle. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate your never-ending battle for safety and respect. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure some of this stuff out. I’m sorry for the things I don’t understand yet and I’m sorry that I probably still don’t have it all figured out. I’m sorry-in-advance because I am human and will probably accidentally say or do something stupid in the future that hurts you. I’m sorry I can’t go back and undo the hurt.

Please know I am working very diligently and intentionally to know better, to be better, to do better. Please know I that I see you. I see how we are alike and I see how we are different and I am grateful for all of that. I’m grateful for your patience while I learn. I am grateful to have you in my life. I’m grateful you are here. I’m grateful for the richness and joy you add to this planet.

I promise I will help you when I am able, and I will cheer you on no matter what. I am proud to know you, proud to be your ally, proud to be your friend, proud of you for hanging on and hanging in there in the face of overwhelming challenges. Proud of you for giving better than you have received. Proud of you for showing the rest of us how to be better at being human.

So, no more calls to repentance, no more self-righteous attempts to bring everyone into conformity with one narrow and limited way of thinking and seeing the world. I solemnly promise to stop thinking I know what god expects from any of us. I promise to start encouraging children and adults to love themselves and everyone else as they are. I promise to stop thinking god loves us only if we do x and if we look like y. I promise to put into practice my deep belief that if god intentionally created this planet and everything that’s on it, then the diversity here is also intentionally created by and pleasing to god, and if god loves diversity then we should also love it. I promise to do my best to do what Jesus taught, to follow his actual instruction to include everyone.

Jesus made room at the table for all of us, and we need to make room for each other.[1] Meanwhile, I will keep doing my best not to pass judgment, to avoid condemnation, to love unconditionally. I will continue to embrace and learn. I will keep working to expand my mind and heart to understand those who are so commonly misunderstood.

I learned how to hate those who are “different” by going to church. But “different” is relative. We are all different from each other, and there is no such thing as “average” or “typical.” Despite recent attempts to appear softer and more inclusive, The Church is still mired in its own bigoted traditions, but there is a very small ray of hope. Millennial members (those who stay) are showing signs of being less lock-step in their thinking, more inclined toward genuinely compassionate acceptance of their fellow humans of all descriptions.[2] A few enlightened souls in the leadership ranks appear to be trying. Not many. But a few. For the time being, I hope those who sincerely desire to bring the church into the twenty-first century will take heart in the message from President Russell M. Ballard’s 2017 talk, wherein he says:

I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian[3] to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and I recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do. We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.

There’s a long way to go, for all of us, but maybe, eventually, we can all line up together on the side I had hoped to be on all along: the side that really does embrace and rejoice in the beautiful diversity gifted to us by our creator.

Whoever and whatever you are, I see you and you are glorious. You are enough. Be proud. You have every right to be proud. You are awesome.

Pride Matters.


[1] OK – hypocrites, narcissists and abusers: y’all are going to need to self-select yourselves to the cry room until you can be kind and loving.

[2] This would explain the recent doubling-down from church leaders like DHO and RMN, who appear to be attempting to eradicate such egalitarian thinking from the ranks. The worry here, of course, is that this kind of pressure worked on me for far too long. We know it still works on a lot of well-intentioned people because those same people are sending out their own calls to repentance to their “wayward” loved ones, thus making it much more difficult to effect meaningful and positive change. On the other hand, as my understanding grew, those horrific messages started to work on my heart and my head in the totally opposite way: they stood out as being precisely what Jesus would not do in response to the needs of his wounded and grieving brothers and sisters. That contrast has helped me to sort out the difficulties with policies of exclusion. If it worked that way for me, maybe there’s hope that it will work that way for others as well.

[3] Editor’s note: …or marginalized in other ways…

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May the Fourth Be With You (and also with you).

On this day, forty years ago, in the House of the Lord, I said yes to the question, “do you take Brother _________ by the right hand and give yourself to him to be his lawfully wedded wife, and receive him to be your lawfully wedded husband, for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant; and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?” Or something similar. The exact language has changed a bit since then, but its intended effect has not, and its actual effect has not. I gave myself to him, of my own free will and choice, I kept the promises I thought I had made, and doing so led to unmitigated disaster and uncharted light and knowledge.

In contrast, here’s what he promised: “do you take Sister _________ by the right hand and receive her unto yourself to be your lawfully wedded wife, for time and all eternity, with a covenant and promise that you will observe and keep all the laws, rites, and ordinances pertaining to this holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant; and this you do in the presence of God, angels, and these witnesses of your own free will and choice?”

Read that again. Notice that he promises to receive me, but does not promise to give himself to me. He takes me, but he gives nothing to me. He took me, but he gave up nothing to get me.

His promise: to adhere to the holy order of matrimony in the new and everlasting covenant, which is more commonly known in LDS circles as the law of plural marriage. For a while, a century and more ago, many Mormon men practiced this principle of taking multiple wives. Over the past century, though, that practice has been suspended and Mormon men are taught that if they are worthy they will be rewarded in heaven with multiple wives. When men marry in the temple, the scenario is pretty much the same as it has always been. They do not promise to give themselves only to their mortal wife. They get to leave their options open so they can add more wives later as needed. If their first wife happens to die, men have the option to marry in the temple again…starting their harem early. Women? Not so much.

Was any of this explained to me at the time? Of course not. The vows weren’t even available in print for me to read before my wedding. The first time I ever heard the question was at that moment in the sealing room when it was directed at me. My parents were there with me – fortunately – and one cousin (out of my thirty-five first cousins), and some random people from the local ward. Every person in that room had made similar promises themselves and they were all there to watch me do the same. None of my siblings could attend – some were too young, some could not qualify for temple recommends. None of my girlfriends or roommates were there; young single women were not typically allowed to hold temple recommends in those days. No aunts or uncles. No grandparents. Still, there was no question: my supporters were also my enforcers. I was trapped. I couldn’t have bailed out even if I had tried. Of course I said yes, and of course I noticed that my betrothed was not required to give himself to me. And of course he said yes, also. He was every bit as trapped as I was. His parents were there, but only one of his siblings, and only one friend, and his mission president (who just happened to make a surprise appearance). Many of our nearest and dearest were excluded by policy. The room was full of people who were there to make sure we did the deed properly and included no one who might have enabled an escape, had one been attempted. In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing to me that they didn’t dispatch someone to witness us consummating the marriage the way they used to do in merry old England.

Less than five minutes after the ceremony began, we were married, and – presumably – sealed together forever. Except the ritual language doesn’t say that, does it? In neither case does it say we were sealed to each other. It says we were married, but that’s not the same thing. At best I think I might have been sealed to the church, which was never my intent. The wedding took place in a sealing room, but no sealing took place between me and my spouse. An oversight? Not hardly. An intentional obfuscation? Undoubtedly.

What do I remember about that day? I remember that my mother was not allowed to join me in the bride’s room because the temple was too busy and the room was already too crowded, so I had no one with me as I dressed in my beautiful designed-by-me and handmade wedding dress and no one was there to help me hide myself under the bizarre robes, headgear, and apron required in the temple. I remember being left alone (because my besties weren’t permitted to come into the temple at all) and losing my way as I tried to find the sealing room because my mother had been banished from the bride’s room. I remember being one of I can’t-remember-how-many-dozens of brides that day, and being quickly herded in and out of the sealing room to get out of the way of the next group coming in. I remember having to fight through a sea of people to get to my parents after the ceremony so we could exchange fleeting hugs before we were pushed out the door. I remember not having any of my siblings nearby and wishing they were there. I would have received more individual attention at one of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s mass weddings.

What I don’t remember about that day: I don’t remember feeling beautiful, or special, or even particularly contented. I don’t remember feeling uplifted or spiritually fulfilled, or even valued. I had expected to feel genuinely loved. I remember the look of determination on my fiance’s face, and I remember his look of satisfaction, when all the hubbub faded. I remember, by the end of the day, feeling profoundly confused. I felt claimed.

My cognitive dissonance shelf cracked hard that day, only I didn’t know it yet.

Over the years, other things went up on that broken shelf: an endless stream of church history lies, the systematic invisibilization of women, racism at every turn, especially against black people and indigenous people, overt hostility against two-spirit people, enabling and protection of predators and abusers of children and adults alike, shameless perpetuation of heartless patriarchy. Those are just the big things, any one of which would be sufficient to send most reasonable people running the other direction. Fast forward forty years. My shelf is fully broken – snapped in half and hanging from the wall by pathetic, wobbly brackets.

For many years I have marked these anniversaries with turbulent feelings, mostly anger and sadness at what was lost, what was stolen through deception, what was wasted. The grieving process has been long and fraught. In my pre-temple-wedding ruminations, I fantasized my future playing out the way I had been taught to believe it would: as a long-married wife, celebrating each passing decade of devoted commitment to someone who loved me completely. In reality, we weren’t married even ten hours before it was abundantly clear that our relationship was going to be a case of his-way-or-the-highway. In the end, even my resigned acceptance of that lopsided arrangement wasn’t enough to save it.

Now the marriage is kaput, along with my faith in the church. The non-existent sealing has been officially cancelled (I have the autographs of the first presidency to prove it). My belief in the hocus-pocus is suspended every bit as much as the church’s overt practice of plural marriage, which is now just a discarded relic of an obscured past – a past that comprises all of my pioneer ancestors. My parents and most of the other people who were in that sealing room with me are dead and gone. Those attendees who are still alive are unperturbed by the demise of the coerced promises I made that day, but my relationships with my siblings – excluded from my temple wedding – fractured in ways I have never been able to fully repair. Some of them are bothered by the demise of my marriage, because they now see me as an heretical apostate and they’re afraid I’m contagious.

On the up-side, the church pretty much leaves me alone these days, with the exception of occasional emails from the old single adults coordinator announcing the latest eternal mate-hunting fireside, and even less frequent random roving pairs of missionaries desperately searching for someone willing to let them come in and teach.

More lately, instead of knocking myself out to please an unpleasable spouse whose internal conflicts rivaled my own, instead of constantly bowing my head and saying yes to a church that never saw me as anything other than a fungible cog in its eternal breeding machinery, instead of surrendering my heart, might, mind, and will to an arbitrary, vengeful, and misogynistic church for the benefit of priesthood-ordained men and the detriment of everybody else, now I am free to start each day with two questions: How can I best spend the precious time I have been given? and Who needs the kind of help I can give? I make that assessment and I make those choices without all those other pre-programmed voices and agendas in my head.

I thought today might be yet another anniversary where I stewed a bit more about what should have been but wasn’t. Instead, it has been a day where I found I had no interest stewing. I wanted to spend my precious energy elsewhere, with my kid, my cat, my dog, my friends, my own heart.

Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to figure things out with my siblings. I can hope for that. Meanwhile, finally, May the Fourth is a day I can celebrate instead of regret. I celebrate, not because it’s my wedding date, but because today I am finally free to be whomever I choose to be. I’m no longer tied to a man who was as deceived as I was and who was ultimately unable to adapt to a new reality, or uninterested in doing so, or maybe both. I’m no longer bound to the fraudulent belief system the marriage was based on. Other happier celebrations fill the day now: World Naked Gardening Day, Weather Observers Day, and – my personal favorite – Star Wars Day. I raise a glass to these, because they make the world a nicer place to live in, and I raise a glass in gratitude to my ex for finally giving me a big enough reason to get out of the marriage and the religion we were both stuck in so I could reclaim my soul. The church forced me in. He forced me out.

Sometimes force is a good thing. May it be ever thus for you.

Cheers.

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Where is God in This? – Redux

We made it. Winter is over. We’ve just celebrated return-to-life over a long Easter weekend. We are now two+ weeks post-retraction of the Policy-of-Exclusion (POX) and I’m still angry. Not hopping, lava-spewing angry like I was over General Conference weekend, but intensely, heart-churningly angry. Maybe table-flipping angry. Maybe Jesus-clearing-the-money changers-out-of-the-temple angry. I’m starting to understand – finally – how it’s possible to intensely love and be simultaneously ferociously angry.

The closest I can come to an analogy for what the POX and its recent retraction both feel like to me is the utter rage that hit when my temple-wed spouse suddenly decided to opt-out of our marriage after twenty-five years. He dumped me, while calling that dumping an act of love. In truth, he dumped me because because he had formed a new alliance.

The LDS church just dumped its gay members, again, via the re-POX, because … why? I can only speculate, but some fairly obvious options leap to mind: gay people don’t fit the LDS brand. The brethren are trying to make the church look more conservative christian mainstream. The brethren are more concerned with controlling members than they are with saving them.

When my marriage ended, I felt like I had been adjudged useless, undesirable, unworthy, outcast. I soon discovered that there was no place in the church for me as a divorced woman. I can’t go to the celestial kingdom without a worthy mate, and as a single previously married adult I’m a social pariah in the church. Heaven only knows how much worse it must feel for those who are targeted by the POX.

Back to my former spouse for a second, and please bear with me because I do have a relevant point to make. After all this time, I’m still angry that I was so cavalierly disenfranchised. I’m still angry that the one person I thought I could count on, because he had promised me he would be worthy of my trust, intentionally lied to me – repeatedly – to accomplish his own self-interested objectives. I’m still angry that I believed him and was so gullible that I didn’t see the signs of his disloyalty when they were so readily observable. I’m still angry that despite the abuse and the lies and the trauma, there’s still a little piece of me that sees the good things in him, a little piece that understands he made the choices he made because he was fearful and unhappy and literally could not see his way clear to choose differently.

That kind of involuntary compassion for those who hurt us is, I think, what Jesus meant when he said, “love your enemies.” It’s a great idea. I’m trying, but I’m not good at it yet. Truth is, I’d still lots rather my ex keep to his own personal corner of whatever piece of afterlife real estate he lands in. I may eventually get around to forgiving him, but I don’t want to hang out with him anymore, not even in heaven.

Maybe the divorce scenario is not an exact analogy, although divorcing the church is starting to feel like an increasingly reasonable option. That possibility notwithstanding, however, other similarities still stand out, chief among them the notion that a corporate board of directors comprising fifteen aged (some might say ancient), comfortable, pious, privileged, and powerful men have unilaterally presumed to tell fifteen million members (give or take a couple million) who they can or can’t spend time with in heaven, and that permission to enter this premium heaven is predicated on whether any given individual meets the entrance criteria and knows the secret password supposedly laid down and revealed to the brethren by a hard-hearted, micro-managing god who can at best be described as petulant and punitive.

On third thought, maybe the divorce analogy holds up better than I thought. In the same way that I’m still angry with my ex, I’m still angry at the brethren because they dumped my LGBT sisters and brothers with no warning and no apology. They dumped them in 2015 and they just dumped them again. It too closely resembles an abusive relationship scenario.

I’m angry that they so cavalierly change policy or revelation or whatever they’re calling it this week, not just once, but so frequently that I’ve got a chronic case of emotional whiplash. I’m angry that they call what they are doing a loving policy based on continuing revelation when its net effect is increasing marginalization, oppression, and exclusion of those who are already hurting and marginalized while simultaneously trying to appear more inclusive and acceptable to the outside world.

I’m still angry that the same people I was taught to put my faith in, the people I was told to trust and believe as sources of truth and enlightenment in my life, those same people take my trust for granted and leverage it against me and so many others. I’m still angry that I ever believed them, that I was so gullible and naive that I didn’t see the signs of manipulation and power-grabbing when they were so readily observable.

I’m still angry that despite the abuse and the lies and the trauma, there’s a little piece of me that sees some good things that come from this religion, that understands that the members are not the brethren and maybe even some of the brethren aren’t “the brethren,” and many of them are genuinely trying to live lives patterned after the teachings of Jesus Christ. Understanding that there are exceptions to the “norm” of exiling those who are marginalized means I can’t just turn my back and walk away, because even though the brethren are hurting me, I know they are also hurting themselves.

That little piece of me also understands that the brethren make the choices they make because they are deathly afraid of being exposed and vulnerable. They literally dare not show open dissent, they dare not choose differently. They can’t risk appearing to be out of conformity with their brethren in the quorum, because it would result in their own banishment from positions they have invested their entire lives in attaining.

The more I think about it, this is the only way to make sense of their behavior – their so-called leadership. I’m left to conclude that the god to whom the brethren are willingly sacrificing so many innocent souls is not my god, and is certainly nothing like the kind and loving heavenly parents I learned about as a child in Primary.

So here we are on Easter weekend, and the focus is on Christ’s mission and learning how to apply it in our lives. In Primary and Sunday School, I learned that God’s divinely appointed son chose to be born in human form to teach us to do one thing: Love one another. If this message was so important that it required a literal human sacrifice in order to make its point, if it is the single most important lesson we are to learn from our journey through human experience, shouldn’t that lesson also be the sole focus of our efforts? Shouldn’t applying that rule at every opportunity be the one thing we are most concerned with learning? Shouldn’t we – individually and collectively – be more concerned with treating each other kindly and lovingly than we are with how anyone dresses, what anyone eats or drinks, or who anyone chooses as a mate? Shouldn’t we be diligently finding our commonalities with our fellow travelers, rather than looking for ways to impose otherness on everybody who isn’t us?

Let’s face it: it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the only way any one of us can really be with our entire family forever is if we are all with each other forever. If our universal goal is to be an everlasting family, then why is the church that preaches the importance of eternal family bonds so focused on finding ways to separate us from each other? More to the point, if we are all going to be together forever anyway, what’s the difference between here and “heaven”?

Could it be that the difference between mortality and immortality is less a physical one and more a spiritual one? Could it be that we need to focus less on getting to heaven and more on bringing heaven, heaven-like qualities, into our minds and hearts? If that’s the goal, then learning to live the way Jesus taught seems like it should be our prime directive.

In that light, one must wonder where is the love of Jesus Christ in the church’s policy? Where is the love in any version of the policy of exclusion? What genuinely loving and Christ-emulating parent, even when soul-blazingly angry, would say to their child “get thee away from me, you are abhorrent”? None that I know of, not in this life, or any other. And yet that is what the revised policy says. That is also what the old policy-turned-revelation-now-demoted-back-to-policy says. The two do not materially differ.

The brethren in Salt Lake are telling us that they have the authority, from God, from our heavenly parents, to impose precisely that kind of banishing judgment on those members who – for whatever reason – fail to measure up to the impossibly arbitrary and inherently contradictory “standards” as set forth in the church’s handbook.

Never mind that to characterize God in this way fully negates the mission of the savior, the one after whom the church has christened itself, the one whose theology the church supposedly uses as a template. Never mind that Jesus taught that we should love everyone. Everyone. He didn’t offer any exceptions. He didn’t impose any statute of limitations. Never mind that to declare even a small percentage of our human family unfit for heaven belies the message that we are all God’s children, that God loves and accepts, without exception, each and every being who lives, has lived, or will ever live.

Never mind all of that. The bigger question is this: whether the church – individual members and the collective membership – believes in the God who sent Jesus Christ to teach us what love means, or in the god the president, his counselors, and the quorum of the twelve claim to represent. They are antithetical to one another. They cannot be the same god.

So, yes, I’m still angry, but it’s an anger that simmers and clarifies and distills, and occasionally churns up ideas that are helpful, even when I don’t know I’m thinking them. I’ve been particularly concerned about numerous members of my own family – DNA family and kindred of choice – and how they must be feeling about being banished from heaven even before they have died. Some of them will talk about it; others are in too much pain or choose not to think about it.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve signed on to either the church’s earlier policy of exclusion or the “new and improved” version of eternal banishment. I want to tell all my loved ones I’m sorry for all the stupid and heartless things I did and said when I believed following the Mormon covenant path was my only choice. It wasn’t, and it’s not. If you’re looking for an alternative to spending your afterlife in the celestial kingdom, come on over to my place; we have cookies. 

Last night as I was preparing to sleep, I was focused on my sweet child, trying to find a way to make certain my anger didn’t spill over onto an undeserving target, hoping to ensure that I convey only, first, and foremost, my unconditional and everlasting love.

When I awoke, I understood that the one thing we all crave is acceptance, open-hearted inclusion. We want to be seen and valued as we are, whatever form that may take. This is the exact opposite of what the POX purports to offer, in any of its forms. I know the church’s policy has hurt and continues to hurt people because many friends have told me it’s hurting them. It’s hurting me. Declaring some people unfit for heaven means I must then choose either to be in heaven without them or be with those I love in some place that’s not heaven. My choice, in turn, then forces others to choose. Ironically, many would choose to disassociate with me because I choose to associate with those who have been or will be found unacceptable. How can any of those outcomes fulfill the promise of eternal paradise?

I know too many Mormons who believe – because they have been taught to believe – that they should not associate with those who may not be worthy of entrance into the celestial kingdom, that they should avoid even the very appearance of evil lest they be considered tainted themselves. What this often unfortunately translates into in daily practice is the least Christlike behavior of all: avoidance or refusal to love and serve anyone who may be perceived as “other.” The more an individual stands out, for whatever reason, the less lovable that person is considered to be; the more obviously in need of kindness one appears to be, the less likely it is that one will receive it from within the ranks of those who are determined to scrupulously follow the policies of the church.

I know the theory behind the thinking; I was trained and conditioned over many years to think the same way. We all were. The official doctrine may not say this explicitly, but the message from the pulpit, the church handbook, and the operant church culture certainly does: guilt by association will keep you out of the celestial kingdom. Don’t spend time in this life hanging out with someone who is obviously not going to make it into the glorious place you aspire to in the next life. Be nice, but don’t bond with the riff-raff.

In this case, the riff-raff aren’t even considered worthy of finding the love and acceptance of a partner in this life. Sure – they can be gay, they just can’t act gay lest they make the not-gay righteous people uncomfortable. The “new” version of the policy, just like the old one, declares – among other things – that gay people who marry other gay people (or who engage in sexual relations outside the bond of marriage) are presumed to be sinners, but there is no opportunity within the church for a gay person to enter into a loving same sex marriage because the church has declared it to be sin more serious than rape and attempted murder and is punishable by church discipline. That’s messed up.

Back to otherness for a moment: I’m enough other myself that I’ve repeatedly been the target of compelled niceness at church. It lets those whose ministering lists I am on check off their “assignment completed” box, but it doesn’t feel very nice in person. I also know this: my otherness is nothing like that of those who are being targeted by the most recent church policies and revelations, and I am sure any pain I may feel from exclusion is equally insignificant in comparison.

Those church members who discover they are not cisgender heterosexual must choose a life of celibate seclusion or enter into heterosexual marriage if they are to have any hope of celestial exaltation.

Let that sink in.

With this policy, the church (churches make policy, and call it revelation) is telling people whom they can marry, whom they can’t marry, and who will be kept out of heaven. The church. Not god. There is a difference between the gospel and the church. This policy is a bright line that defines that difference. This new policy is not divine fiat. It is not prophetic revelation. It is corporate coercion and extortion. Only the brethren can decide to alter their policies. Sometimes it feels as though nothing but time and attrition due to old age or cosmic intervention will effect that kind of change.

What I can do while I wait, what I will do, is refuse to accept a mandate that creates a sub-class of church members who presumably are destined to end up in the equivalent of an eternal leper colony. Separate-but-equal has never worked as an expression of genuine compassion and inclusion, and it certainly doesn’t work in this case. I will not, therefore, banish or shun or isolate and will instead welcome and love each, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.

I recognize that this means I need to learn to channel my anger into loving my fellow travelers without exception, even (maybe especially) those in positions of power who intentionally choose to hurt anyone-not-them in the interest of securing their own salvation. That last one’s a toughie. I’m going to have to work on it, a lot.

While I’m fighting off Demon Fury, I will close with this: If you are hurting, feeling cast out, or feeling cut off, if you feel you must hide because you are not just being shunned but maybe being hunted, please believe this: We are not all hunting you. We do not all want to shun you. Many actively stand with you and those numbers are growing as we learn how to love more authentically.

Nothing can force the brethren or the church to change what they think, how they behave, or even apologize. Those changes have to come from within. But I do know this: Those who stand with you are sorry. We know we have hurt you, and we are trying to do better. We have made mistakes and we will unwittingly make more as we learn and grow, but we see you and we want to see you. You are divine exactly as you are. You are an essential part of our human family – in this life and the next – and we want you with us. You are us. You are not alone. You are loved.

That’s the message Jesus came to deliver. That’s the reason he made the choices he made: so everyone would know they are included, without exception. That’s the reason we celebrate Easter. Now that the celebration is over for another year, maybe we can get down to the business of living what we believe.

Rant over.

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Where is God in This?

This is a long one; buckle up and eat your vitamins.

A few years ago, I posted here An Open Letter to LGBT kids in Mormon Families in response to what was then a growing trend in the church of parents of queer kids disowning, ostracizing, and/or shaming them, or worse. I chose that topic then because people I love were being hurt. They were being driven out of their families of origin, and being driven away from the church by people who sincerely believed they were doing what God wanted them to be doing. The harm to my own family has been incalculable, and appears to be irreparable. I posted because I wanted my queer dear ones – whether DNA relatives or adopted kin – to know that they are not alone, that they are loved and accepted. Period. Church expectations be damned.

That original post went up over a year before the release of what has aptly come to be known as the POX – the November 5th, 2015 announcement from the LDS church that children of gay parents were to be excluded from church ordinances, and their parents were to be considered apostates. For those who may not know, apostasy in the Mormon* church is the equivalent of a cardinal sin in the Catholic church. A few months later, then Apostle (now LDS Church President) Russell M. Nelson announced that the policy was in fact revelation and should be treated as doctrine. ** Local leaders and all members were expected to absorb, accept, and accede to the new rules as though their spiritual lives depended on it.

Was my original post prescient? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in those intervening years, despite the legalization of gay marriage nationwide, and despite increasing public awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues, life for other-than-heterosexual Mormons, whether adults or children, has only gotten harder. The cold statistics bear this out.## In the mere 3.5 years since that doctrine was announced, there has been indescribable harm to families torn apart by conflict (my own included), a huge jump in youth suicides (especially in Utah), church-wide exclusion and shaming and excommunication of good and devoted members, and thousands upon thousands of church membership resignations.##

Had this “revelation” not been made public, if it had been just quietly incorporated into the church policy handbook as was the original intent, it would have been difficult to understand the sudden increases in the above sociological phenomena. Fortunately, it didn’t go that way. The word got out, and the furor was so great that then apostle Nelson publicly pronounced the policy to be revelation. Was it damage control, or was it confirmation from on high that the handbook policy was what God wanted? Nelson clearly wanted it to be the latter, but to a lot of people it looked very much like the former. Either way, calling it a revelation just added fuel to the fire. Now – yesterday – the church announced that the “revelation” has been suddenly relegated to “policy” status again, with a slight modification to allow baby blessings and childhood baptisms, and without so much as an acknowledgement of the harm, never mind an apology for what remains a mistake of epic proportions.***

If this sounds to you like a half-hearted, economics-motivated modification, you are not alone. A couple of people have asked me why I don’t see the church’s retraction as a positive, why I’m not rejoicing. The best response I can come up with is the following: “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches, and pull it out 6 inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made. They haven’t begun to pull the knife out… They won’t even admit the knife is there.” — Malcolm X ~~

In short, not much has changed really, except that the young kids of LGBTQIA+ members will no longer be banned from receiving the ritual ordinances that let the church justify adding those kids to its membership rolls. That’s it. Their gay parents are still considered to be heinous sinners who will be dealt with via the established and openly hostile-to-them church disciplinary procedures, the church still insists that the children of queer parents are being raised by people most assuredly bound for the Mormon version of hell, and the predominantly cis-hetero membership has no incentive to change its shame-oriented thinking and behavior toward people who have been branded “other” by the brethren. This does not feel to me like something Jesus would do. I do not see God’s influence in any of this.

It’s worth noting, also, that most LGBTQIA+ members of the Mormon church are not converts. They are born into the faith. Devout parents have their children baptized at age eight, long before they are legally, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually mature enough to make an informed decision about their religious affiliations. The church knows this; thus the POX mandate that children of gay parents weren’t to be baptized until age eighteen. For those who suggest that anyone who is not happy as a member should simply leave the church, keep in mind that leaving the Mormon church is anything but simple. It’s more akin to getting a divorce or moving to a foreign country. Mormonism is an all-in religion. For kids who grow up in the church, everything in their lives is centered on their faith: worship services, education, recreational activities, social life, dating, marriage, reproduction, everything. If you leave, you have to reinvent yourself and your life from the ground up, often without the support of your family. For kids who are grappling not just with adolescence but with otherness and with the possibility that God might hate them because they are different, the choice of coming out and leaving the church presents a huge risk that they will be shamed, shunned, and banned not just from their community of faith but from their family of origin as well.

Disheartening, too, is the sadly predictable enthusiasm with which the general membership seems to be embracing this most recent about-face. Social media lit up yesterday (and even more today) with praises and alleluias running the gamut from a certain amount of relief that the conflict was now “over” to gratitude for a living prophet and continuously updated revelation. It’s always like this in Mormondom. The prophet could declare that fire ants in one’s dining room were now to be considered a blessing from heaven and most of the members would nod their heads and say yes.

So I guess I should not have been unsettled when a highly visible, very popular Mormon-with-a-lively-social-media-presence announced yesterday that she wasn’t fussed about policy changes in the church, because in her view policy is just about church operations and thus has nothing to do with her testimony. She alluded to having fielded questions from folks who were curious about how she felt about changes in the church. I’m guessing those questions came from people who embrace her wisdom and lovingly recognize that she is perhaps even more visibly “other” than our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters. They look to her for leadership when it comes to learning how to embrace all the beautiful diversity in the church. It’s a role she has willingly filled, and she has been both insightful and entertaining in the process.

I’ll confess, I went to her page to see what she had to say, anticipating (hoping) she would show us all how best to be empathetic toward those who have been so profoundly harmed. I was disappointed. There was nothing. Zero. In her rush to be supportive of the brethren in SLC and announce her own determination to let Jesus fix her, she ignored the collateral damage and unhesitatingly stomped right over her injured fellows. Because she has a huge voice and a giant platform to speak from, within hours many hundreds of people who follow her posts immediately jumped in with resounding huzzahs, commenting and sharing that all was well in Zion, with nary a discordant voice to be found. Any discomfort they may have felt at the disconnect between policy and compassion was immediately assuaged because she said wasn’t worried about it.

I don’t single this sister out to blame her. This is not her fault. Nor do I wish to shame her; she, like all of us, is doing the best she can with what she knows. My purpose is to illustrate what to me is the most distressing part of this whole sordid scenario: the LDS church first presidency, the quorum of the twelve, especially the president, and every leader down to the lowliest bishop, all know that whatever is announced officially from church headquarters will immediately be heralded as a gift from on high. There is no debate, no discussion, no indulgence of dissent. When the prophet speaks, the debate is over. The church is filled with good, kind, intelligent members, and they are all expected to check their opinions at the door. Because they want to remain members in good standing, because they don’t want to risk their eternal salvation, because they don’t want God to be angry with them, they say nothing. They do and think what they are told to do and think.

This isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s normal in LDS culture. Little more than three years ago, the membership was told to accept this policy as revelation. In the LDS church, revelation equals doctrine. When the church leadership declares something to be doctrine, the expected response is unquestioning compliance (see above). Members who are determined to follow the prophet and keep his commandments have gone above and beyond to show they support their leaders. That’s what happened when they accepted the POX, and now they are expected to make sense of the “update” without challenging its timing, its logic, its intent, or its impact. Neither the celebrity post nor the collective response to it is unique; it’s a picture perfect example of the kind of faithful obedience demanded of devout Mormons.

Although I can appreciate her position re: simple and personal rather than pulpit-driven testimony (she’s right about that ), I can’t ignore the not-really-a-coincidence timing. Even though she didn’t explicitly say so, her discussion yesterday regarding policy changes in general can be nothing other than a response to the policy change announcement from LDS church HQ only a few hours earlier. That the church changes its policies as regularly as some people change their underwear is no secret. But this particular policy change is actually significant because it’s not just a policy change. It’s a retraction, a “correction” made by the same people who made the original declaration.

I’m sure this demonstration of flock mentality was unintentional; I’m sure she was just trying to weigh in, to be seen properly lined up on the right side, but from here it looks a lot like a missed moment, a chance to do what Jesus would do: to show unconditional love and acceptance, to visibly and publicly reach out to those who have been excluded, to comfort the brokenhearted, to mourn with those who mourn. What little peace may have been gained by her declaration that we should not get all in a kerfuffle over simple policy changes is insignificant. In her haste to demonstrate her devotion, she wallpapered right over the blood and pain of real people who deserve every bit as much of the Savior’s love as anybody else on the planet, whether or not they are in the pews at church.

Regardless of how beautifully it may be presented, it is not just a policy change. The damage is done, and the harm will continue as long as the church insists on encouraging its members to draw distinctions where Jesus does not. Families are destroyed. Children are dead. The church can’t bring those kids back to life. No sealing ordinance can put those families back together again. This seems like the very definition of sin to me. I struggle to understand how anyone can ignore it. That’s why this “policy” change makes me feel worse, not better. Maya Angelou had it right: when you know better, it’s your job to do better.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, some of them related to this very discussion. Because I believed the church had my best interests at heart, because I believed the leaders spoke for God and God expected me to comply with what the church leaders were saying, I said and did things that hurt people I care about. I’ve since learned to never outsource my spiritual formation to religious authorities (thank you for that languaging, Gina Colvin); now I am continually trying to make amends for those unintended injuries, and to not cause further harm. I hope I can do some good in the process. But again, this isn’t about me. This is about the LDS church. The church knows better; yesterday’s announcement amply demonstrates that the brethren are fully aware of the harm their policy/revelation is doing; they know better. The policy shift is a clear attempt to try to get people to feel better about being involved with the church.

For me, it’s not enough. I might begin to feel better about the church when the church and its leadership actually starts to be and do better rather than being more concerned with its public image and its bottom line. I’ll feel better when the church that preaches that families can be together forever quits intentionally tearing them apart, when they are committed to actually loving and including everyone, and treating them kindly, too*~, when they stop driving people out of the church and let Jesus back in.

I hope I live that long.  

_________

*Yes – I’m aware that the church recently decided to re-brand itself and remove references to “Mormon” from its public-facing communications. For the sake of clarity and common understanding, I choose to follow my own style guide.

** https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=3391057&itype=cmsid

*** https://www.lds.org/church/news/policy-changes-announced-for-members-in-gay-marriages-children-of-lgbt-parents?lang=eng

# https://sistersquorum.com/2019/04/05/sittingwithmyanger/?fbclid=IwAR3OJAwonzT3lXcuH7zUsPM2G_T-P3c2BYGSjAh6OtHEoJGsHTvDFSMBEBo

## https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V49N02_101.pdf

~~ Thanks to Loren Evans for calling my attention to this quote.

*~ Lyrics from the LDS children’s hymn “Jesus Said Love Everyone,” words and music by Moiselle Renstrom, 1889–1956.

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Chastised by a Chickadee

I have a wild bird resort on my back patio: seed feeders, hummingbird nectar, suet blocks, planters and pots and furniture to perch on. It’s pretty cushy. The birds like it. The dog likes it. The cat likes it.

This morning, I took the dog out for her morning ritual. We were outside for all of 30.49 seconds. In that mere half-minute, four chickadees, three juncos, two male Anna’s hummers, and a squirrel showed up for snacks and they all stopped short. They simply could not bring themselves to share their restaurant with a human and a big black dog.

One of the chickadees, chestnut-backed, was the designated speaker for the group and he was not shy. I was informed, emphatically, that I was interfering with the natural flow of things, impeding birding breakfast, blocking digestive progress, and generally getting in the way.

Fine. The dog finished her business, finally noticed the visitors, and let out one big “boof” of a greeting. They all scattered, and the chickadee continued to scold me from a nearby tree.

We returned to the house. The chickadee stopped yelling. The critters all came back.

I guess they like the place.

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Silencing the truth-tellers

The list is getting longer  (and this is just a few of the many):

Sonia Johnson

D. Michael Quinn

Lavina Fielding Anderson

Maxine Hanks

Lynne Kanavel Whitesides

Paul Toscano

Avraham Gileadi

Kate Kelly

John Dehlin

Sam Young

Gina Colvin

Who’s next?

 

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To Form a More Perfect Union

Have you voted yet?

Consider this: in a democratic republic such as ours, the government is us …and as citizens of the union, we have an obligation to vote for representatives who will work with all the other representatives (regardless of which party they prefer) to “…establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” [Preamble, U.S. Constitution].

Will the candidates and propositions you vote for serve that end? Are they committed to these ideals we all claim to hold dear as Americans? If they’re not, or if you don’t know for sure, why would you vote for them?

Elections aren’t about which team (which party) wins; they’re about selecting public servants who truly believe in and are committed to working to protect liberty and justice for all  (and not just for a few, or just for themselves, or just for their friends and cronies) so we all – as individuals and as a nation, win.

Please, vote, with your head and with your heart. Vote like it matters. Vote.

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The Fine Art of Loving Those Who Persecute You

We’ve just survived another LDS General Conference (GenCon) weekend. It rolls around every six months, and the faithful assemble in Salt Lake City or around their televisions at home or at church to watch and listen as church leaders offer lessons for living and explain church doctrine. As the church becomes larger and more visible around the world, and as it becomes more bold in exerting its influence in society in general, especially in the U.S., more people are sitting up and taking notice when the church’s general authorities take to the podium. This past event two weekends ago was no different. The church typically welcomes media coverage as an opportunity to proselyte and spread its message.  The speaker in Saturday’s sessions who seems to have attracted the most attention was Elder Dallin H. Oaks, senior apostle and member of the church’s first presidency. Oaks is already well-known for his insistence that God’s plan does not include exaltation for any other than heterosexual cis-gender temple-married partners who are ok with a one man/several women arrangement in the hereafter, and his talk on Saturday hammered that point home hard  at a time when many members of the church who don’t fit the prescribed mold have been hoping for a softening of that stance. Those hopes were snuffed out in short order when Oaks reiterated, with emphasis, the church’s adamant opposition to same-sex marriage as well as other manifestations of LGBTQIA existence (click here for text).

Nobody is surprised by this, of course; the church typically makes social and political changes at a glacial pace. Still, the faint hope remains that at some point the church will soften or reverse its stance much the same way it did in 1978 when then President Spencer W. Kimball announced that all worthy black males would finally be eligible for ordination into the church’s lay priesthood. Alas, such a change in favor of our alterna-sexual brothers and sisters was not to be this day, although Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s message (click here for text) was – as is characteristic for him – much warmer and more inclusive. Uchtdorf invited faithful Mormons to help “build and strengthen a culture of healing, kindness and mercy…, forgive one another, [resist] temptation to gossip and find fault…and…become the best versions of themselves.” His message was kind and heartwarming, for sure. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. For those who find themselves marginalized, Oaks’ message rings more loudly and with greater finality than Uchtdorf’s, especially in light of the church’s past history, including the Proclamation on the Family and the November 2015 letter about same-sex marriages, and more especially in the absence of any comprehensive validating efforts from the membership at large to embrace LGBT+ members within their own congregations.

Still, more open-minded people, members and non-members alike, are quietly working behind the scenes to  minister to those who find themselves caught between their religion, their gender identity, and/or their sexual orientation, and to spread awareness of the hurt and harm the current policy is doing to the very people the church professes to want in its ranks (if only they will conform to the norm).

At the forefront of this effort is the group known as Mama Dragons (click here for more info), a support group for mothers of LGBTQIA+ kids. The group was started by Mormon moms, but it embraces women of all (or no) faith traditions and actively works to  help them advocate for and protect their kids. They are doing amazing work; you should check them out.

Possibly the best single example of compassionate consciousness-raising I’ve run across in the immediate aftermath of General Conference appeared early the next morning in direct response to Elder Oaks’ address, from Utah State Senator Jim Dabakis; it was sent out as a tweet. Bless him, he didn’t have to reach out, he didn’t have to say adnything, but he chose to publicly buck the dominant hierarchy to make it widely known that not everybody in Utah shares Oaks’s sentiments. Here’s his message:

What Oaks and others like him seem indifferent to when they make blanket proclamations about what God does or does not expect from each of us as individuals is that they alienate not just the people they think they are trying to “save” (which is certainly awful enough), but they also alienate many others who may “look” like they fit the prescription but who actually fall outside the rule: members who are devout but never married, single parents, divorced, children of gay parents, and gay children of devout members are a few who come immediately to mind. There is no group of people, or any individual, who deserves to be excised from Jesus Christ’s fold simply because they are different in some way.

One has to wonder why Oaks, and certainly others over the years, including current church President Russell M. Nelson, who has been doubling down on his own pet crusades ever since taking over the reins of church leadership only a few months ago, now feels the need to ostracize and close ranks, especially at a time when so many are leaving the church even without his encouragement.

It wouldn’t take much digging into past blog posts to figure out that I’ve been frustrated with the church myself for quite some time, particularly over just this issue of exclusivity. As a lifelong born in the church, sixth generation Mormon, I was raised to believe that the claim to be THE church of Jesus Christ was a very real one and that the basic tenets of our faith reflect the essential elements of the gospel Jesus Christ taught during his own life.  Granted, as a little kid I was utterly unaware of the inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and inequities embedded in the church’s history and policies.

As I’ve learned more, however, I’ve always tried to balance the truth of Christ’s gospel against the realities of the church’s identity and its interactions with the world, often with no small amount of suspended disbelief.  I have been waiting a very long time now for the church to truly become what it claims to be – i.e., the embodiment and manifestation of the gospel of Jesus Christ as he himself taught it. I’m still waiting.  I’ve resisted resigning, hoping in my heart of hearts that the intent is good but the humans are just struggling to up their game. I’ve kept hoping the church would eventually start to at least try to be what it purports to be (the church of Jesus Christ; the church that JC would endorse and call his own). Not only does it not appear to be trying, it now appears to be actively working against the notion of Christ-like acceptance and love, despite its recently renewed emphasis on its official name.

When I hear talks like this one from Oaks, I have to wonder if he isn’t actually, purposely trying to run me off, along with everyone else who doesn’t quite fit his notion of what a faithful Latter-day Saint should be.  If the church continues to trample over those who weep at its doorstep, it won’t be long before the only people inside the church – those who are presumably the only ones who will end up in the celestial kingdom – will be those who do fit Oaks’s mold precisely. I can’t help thinking that the Savior must be scratching his head over that one: if we accept that he loves each of us, and offers each of us his grace and salvation, in all our diverse splendor, then we have to assume the heaven where Jesus hangs out is going to be a lot more interesting and much more inclusive than the one where the paid-up Mormons are headed.

I think I’ll take my chances with Jesus.

 

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Kavanaugh, ad infinitum

Shortly after Brett Kavanaugh’s fraught appointment to the Supreme Court, I engaged with a friend online about the whole ugly process of hearings and confirmation and FBI investigation. The conversation was civil, but pointed; my friend and I share much, but our political perspectives tend to diverge. As we discussed the contrast between the testimonies of Dr. Blasey Ford and now-Justice Kavanaugh, the focus was on Kavanaugh’s very fortunate background, and particularly the privilege wealth and connection can provide.

My friend made the following astute observations:

“… Privileged upbringings don’t diminish the ability to understand right and wrong – quite the contrary – where much is given much is expected. Kavanagh’s [sic] privileged life could have, perhaps, allowed him to live on his trust fund, nevertheless, he is quite accomplished in areas that took a lot of work and more diligence than many can comprehend. Most the wealthy among us live ordinary lives. – Furthermore, there seems to be a misunderstanding between “believable” and “credible”. Believable – capable of being believed especially as within the range of known possibility or probability. Credible – offering reasonable grounds for being believed. Defending oneself from accusations that lack credible substantiation but with a believable presentation is an interesting challenge. But not only was there a lack of credible substantiation, there were substantiated findings that were incongruous with the negative reports against him.”

My friend wasn’t wrong – she made fair and important points that were rightfully included in the overall analysis. Her comments allowed me to finally synthesize the arguments for and against Kavanaugh’s confirmation in ways that had not come together for me previously. The conversation also helped me to see why so many people (including a number of my personal friends – people I would otherwise have thought would be put off by Kavanaugh’s response to Blasey-Ford’s allegations)  in this country felt he had been treated unfairly: to the extent that the national discourse had centered around Kavanaugh’s comfortable upbringing, it would have been easy to conclude that objections to his confirmation were also an indictment against wealth and privilege in America, and that removing him from consideration was a symbolic slap in the face of  those who enjoy the protection their affluence affords. I get it. Nobody likes to be judged based on their economic status alone. We all prefer to be assessed on our own merits.

This conversation made me grateful, once again, that as a nation we have the opportunity to engage in free and open debate about anything and everything these days, and grateful also for thoughtful people who are able and willing to have respectful and meaningful discussions with family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues about matters that affect us all. We need these exchanges; we need to understand each other so we can build empathy and learn to accommodate multiple perspectives not just in the social arena but in the political, economic, and governmental arenas as well.

The online conversation thread popped up on my discussion board again just now (somebody “liked” it and it bumped back up to the top; it’s nice to know it resonated with at least on other person), and as I reviewed my response, I decided to post it here, as a marker for future review. In response to my friend’s comments, above, I wrote back:

“I appreciate your thoughtful and well-informed insights here, and you’re right: privilege doesn’t equal corruption. It’s easy to fall into the rhetorical trap that makes that argument, and perhaps the OP did do so to an extent. Unfortunately, though, I think it’s also safe to say privilege can and sometimes does facilitate protection and/or obstruction where corruption or deception or other character flaws antithetical to what is expected of a supreme court justice may exist. Since the purpose of the senate hearings is, at least in part, to reveal such issues, asking questions during the hearing pertaining to negative reports and possible corroborating evidence is not just appropriate, but essential, if only to satisfy due diligence (but also hopefully to aid in revealing the actual character of the person under consideration). I also agree with you that where much is given much is expected, and in Kavanaugh’s case, where he clearly does come from a background of privilege and opportunity most people never will have, that expectation is and should be very high indeed, especially as it relates to his occupancy of one of the highest and most powerful offices in the country. His having worked hard to achieve his goals does not eliminate the possibility that he may have also engaged in activities he wouldn’t necessarily want to boast about in public. Again, I agree with you that defending oneself from the accusations he faced would be an interesting challenge, and – indeed – I expected to see a bit of consternation and perhaps some signs of acknowledgement that his recreational time as a youth wasn’t always free from risky or questionable choices. That wouldn’t have surprised me. In fact, it would have pointed to an individual capable of self-assessment, introspection, remorse, and maybe even personal growth. Very few people manage to make it through adolescence or early adulthood unscathed. If I understand the research properly, the human brain isn’t fully developed at that point and decision-making is one of the areas where maturity takes longer to manifest itself. In other words, experts tell us it’s more likely someone between the ages of 15-25 will occasionally make poor decisions than it is that they would *never* make even one mistake. What surprised me, and apparently a lot of other people who were watching, then, was that Kavanaugh betrayed very little inclination to recognize his own potential fallibility, and instead treated us to a dramatic display of hostility, self-righteousness, ego, and a willingness to mislead, to parse language with the aim of avoiding answering direct questions, and a propensity to think in terms of his own inconvenience and exacting revenge on any who dared to challenge him for any reason. Regardless of whether he actually assaulted Professor Ford, Kavanaugh’s singular display of petulance showed me enough to let me conclude that here was a person who is temperamentally ill-suited to act as an impartial and rational jurist over any legal question. His volatility and vow of “what goes around comes around” is an indication that he would, especially when pressed, put self-interest above duty to the constitution or the best interests of the country. This tells me he certainly shouldn’t be appointed to the court that adjudicates the most delicate and sensitive issues affecting us all. In one sense, then, the hearings accomplished their task: they showed us in very sharp relief exactly who we were dealing with. They also showed us that the majority of senators on the judiciary committee couldn’t have cared less about his temperament and how it might impact his ability to function on a team of highly skilled and thoughtful peers, even if everybody else in the country was astounded by it. Now that the process has concluded, we all get to watch to see if his performance in the hearings was a one-off, or if he is consistently as difficult a personality as he appeared to be in that moment. Here’s hoping he was just playing to the room, and now that the cameras have shifted their focus he will settle in and try to be the fair and open-minded judge he claims to be. I am – admittedly – skeptical, but when all we have left is hope, then I hope.”

I still hope: hope that Kavanaugh will surprise me, that he will live up to his own stated standard of fairness and objectivity and appreciation of the diversity that defines us as a nation. I hope he can and will set aside his own political and religious leanings in the interest of evaluating the constitutionality and essential fairness of the laws he is called upon to review. I hope he will, going forward, learn to be genuinely frank and forthcoming, answer the questions he is asked, and avoid the obfuscation and self-aggrandizement that marked his presentation during his confirmation hearings. Most of all, I hope he very quickly and consistently proves to be the fine, upstanding citizen he tried so desperately to make us all believe he is. Time will tell.

 

 

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Calling Home

The Exponent II published one of my poems as a guest blog today. I am honored to be able to share it with you:

https://www.the-exponent.com/guest-post-calling-home/

 

MC

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