Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Cranky Confessions of an Orthodox Mormon

Posted by Eve

It is high time I came clean. I am the wolf in sheep’s clothing among all you liberals (insert maniacal laughter). I just took a couple of orthodoxy tests on the Believe It or Not thread over at the friendly neighborhood Cultural Hall. As I’ve been every other time I took the test, I am 100% Mormon (and 98% Mainline to Liberal Protestant, if you really want to know).

On the one hand, it’s an undeniably trivial test, and online tests of religion are even more reductive than most. On the other, it’s an interesting exercise to pause over just how thoroughly Mormon I am. (I believe in a corporeal God, the divinity of Christ, the reality of Satan, the pre-existence, the afterlife, the final judgment, the three degrees of glory, the Restoration, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the reality of priesthood authority, the necessity of ordinances, and the reality of the living prophet.) And as Lynnette recently said, I can’t imagine drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, or not filling out my tithing slips. I’m a wholehearted supporter of the law of chastity. I think the sexual revolution was a mistake. I even took out my second earring after the famous talk of 2000. (Lest you get the wrong idea about me, I can be persuaded to watch R-rated movies, I love to say “damn” and “hell,” and I frequently find other drivers a source of extreme provocation.)

So what’s my beef? Well, aside from various feminist issues we will not doubt continue to discuss ad nauseum around here, I struggle with church. Sunday is the low point of my week. The dread begins to grip me every Saturday night and doesn’t abate until I come home miserable to tell my husband what a lucky sucker he is for being so contentedly agnostic about it all. I find myself in a constant dilemma about the sacrament; just being in church puts me in such a dark mood that I really don’t know if it’s moral for me to engage in the single aspect of it I find meaningful. Sunday school and Relief Society are an ordeal (“How does Isaiah teach us to support our religious president?” “How can winning a beauty contest like Esther prepare us to order the wholesale slaughter of our enemies?”). Having a home- or visiting-teaching message read at me makes me feel as if I’ve been forcibly strapped into a theological high chair. (Did you know, Sister Eve, that Relief Society is a great blessing to us in our lives today?).

I am, more or less, what you would get if you ran a New Order Mormon through a brain inverter. (I say this with the greatest possible respect for NOMs; my husband basically is one.) As I understand it (poorly, no doubt; please correct me, o NOMs among us), NOMiness involves doubts or disbelief about some or all of the Church’s truth claims but a continued desire to associate with the Church. I actually believe all of this propesterous stuff (I figure that as long as I’m Christian, I’m already very far on in the business of believing the proposterous). I just hate the social part of Mormonism. This evening I begged Kiskilili to buy me a huge T-shirt with Eyeore and the word “GRUMPY” on it, so that I can wear it to church and warn people away from me. I wish I could worship in a cubicle. (And yes, I’m well-acquainted all the high-minded ideals about the Church being as true as the gospel and the necessity of religious community, and I even believe in them. They sound so moving when I’m sitting at home reading about them ALL BY MYSELF!)

So I put it to you, gentle readers. Just what kind of a Mormon am I?

51 Responses to “The Cranky Confessions of an Orthodox Mormon”

  1. 1.

    How long have you had the cultural conflict? Sounds like you are surrounded by pablum and you don’t always enjoy it.

  2. 2.

    An introverted Mormon?

  3. 3.

    Actually, I don’t care too much about what kind of Mormon you are as long as you do your building clean-up assignment so I don’t have to do it for you.

    I imagine it would be nice if you were a happy Mormon though. It’s nice to be happy.

  4. 4.

    Well, it’s a strange sort of orthodoxy you’re describing. It seems like you are fine with the doctrinal side of orthodoxy — particular beliefs — but conflicted about the institutional side of orthodoxy — quorums and classes and talks and assignments and trading little LDS pleasantries with people in the foyer. Sounds like the soul of a Massachusetts Mormon trapped in a Utah ward.

  5. 5.

    Seth, nice one! (coming from one who skipped her cleaning assignment) But good idea to be happy. It is a choice, isn’t it?
    Eve, I’m with you. For all of my feminist misgivings, I am 100% mormon on the belief-o-matic. And church is still hard for me. I think it’s okay that way, though. My favorite seminary teacher once admitted to skipping church ocassionally when he didn’t feel like going. I sometimes wish I could, too. Especially when I’m holding on for dear life in Primary with my 11 mt old and Sunbeam who alternate screaming and sitting on my lap. (my sunbeam is the only challenge child of 80+ kids in Primary). Anyway, Sundays are hard, and after a year in Primary, I really miss Sun School and RS. At least there I have the opportunity to learn (if not from the teacher, at least by the Spirit). But in Primary I am just so busy with being secretary and trying to keep my kids under control, I need a “grumpy” shirt, too!
    I would like to skip out occassionally, but that would give my husband (also YM pres and gone for the 3 hrs preceding church, yikes!) a heart attack.
    So, until I get a new calling, I’m holding on (clinging) for dear life.

  6. 6.

    I can’t take church either. I can’t feel comfortable there. I feel like an alien. I go anyway, sometimes, but it becomes harder and harder until it just isn’t worth the effort anymore. I miss the sacrament, though, so I go sometimes just for that.

    I, too, am 100% Mormon. I believe in it totally, I pay tithes, pray, read scriptures, read church literature and magazines, so I ought to be going to church every week, and accepting a calling, but I don’t. Once, I got a priesthood blessing online from one of the missionaries who taught and baptized me, a great fellow. I want him for an online home teacher. I just need an online ward. That would be so awesome! We could all paypal in our tithes, have meetings online, do visit-teaching via chat, etc. Who all is for it?

  7. 7.

    This isn’t so unusual, Eve. Most folks find a lack of support at home to be a hinderance to their progression. I suggest it is primarily through the support provided by our loved ones that we are encouraged to practice personal, family and couples prayer daily, scripture study and active ward involvement. To get beyond being stuck in that dismal place you describe requires active participation rathering than just observing. But having to go home to a religiously ambivolent spouse puts a damper on things, especially because so much of the ward and stake lifestyle requires a couple. An honest and frank discussion with your bishop can provide you a way to get past the feelings you talk about. Your bishop was called precicely to deal with the situation you describe. He was given access to special spiritual insights and tools to be used for members of his ward. Courage Eve! There is no problem your bishop isn’t prepared for.

  8. 8.

    I can relate to your post somewhat.

    I loved my last ward. This new one drives me insane. I take a book to church (usually something Hebrew Bible or ANE related) to keep me happy.
    Also, I’ve given up, more or less, on any good discussion in Gospel Doctrine. I’m going to start attending a Minyan torah study at the local synagogue on Saturdays for my churchy scriptural stimulation. And of course, I have my soapbox at Institute, soon to be twice a week :)

  9. 9.

    Eve, you true-believing wolf in sheep’s clothing. One hundred percent Mormon–whatever are we going to do with you? ;) (For the record, my latest score was 84 percent Mormon, coming in at number three, which is actually a bit higher than the last time I took the test.)

    But I can relate all too well to that Saturday-night dread, to that feeling of having to brace yourself just to walk through the doors of the church. Part of it for me is definitely the introversion factor; all these people wanting to make cheery small talk leaves me looking frantically for a fire escape. And I think it can be worse in a church setting because sometimes there’s a kind of presumed intimacy–people at church whom I hardly know will ask highly personal questions, and I’ll find myself either awkwardly dodging them or–to my own horror–answering them because I don’t manage to think fast enough to deflect them. Such encounters leave me feeling quite oogie.

    I can’t, however, entirely explain my sense that I just don’t fit. Throughout my life, I’ve come back again and again to the impossible question: am I reacting to real dynamics at church, or am I simply coming with such negative expectations that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy? The answer, I suspect, is a bit of both. But when things have been particularly bad, I’ve hardly dared mention to anyone that church is difficult for me, because when I’m already feeling that alienated I don’t have the emotional energy to listen to a call to repentance. Though I’d like to believe JLFuller’s positive portrayal of bishops–and I’ve had plenty of really good ones–I’ve also had some extremely negative experiences. I’ve found that some bishops, simply because of personality and life experience, are more understanding of this kind of situation than others.

    I have to confess that when church has been driving me absolutely crazy, my tendency has been to bail out for a while, to stop going for a few months. I don’t at all think that’s the best answer for everyone, but I do think there have been a couple of times when it’s enabled me to keep my sanity.

    Right now, though, at least for the most part, I don’t really mind going to church. I like my calling, and I feel like my current ward is unusually welcoming to diverse kinds of Mormons. This is why I’m rather skeptical of the “you just need to have a good attitude and then you’ll like church” philosophy I’ve heard preached so often, because I can claim absolutely no personal credit for this somewhat surprising turn of events.

    Tatiana, I’ve also thought on more than one occasion that an online ward would have some real advantages. :)

  10. 10.

    Eve,

    You are, truly, an inverted NOM. Either that, or we are an inverted imprints of you.

    Either way, I enjoy the fellowship of the relation/association. :)

  11. 11.

    I had times like that, but I’m lucky with my current ward.

  12. 12.

    One thing I crave when attending Church are more moments of sincere authentic realism. Maybe call me an orthodox contrarian, that is one who enjoys the tenants of the church but craves more moments of spontaneous authenticity.

    For example, today in Sacrament meeting a women gave the best talk I’ve heard in years. It was sincere, it was from the heard, and it imported the spirit strongly to me.

    She spoke of her conversion, but she also explained how grateful she was a part-time stay at home mom and part time worker – and she loved both.

    I like it when people in EQ ask why they have to show up 2 hours before stake conference to serve as an usher. Can’t 30 minutes before the meeting suffice? I like it when someone asks about the utility of teaching 5 families monthly as perhaps…unreasonable?

    Why do we send countless sign-up sheets and clipboards around each week in priesthood and nobody ever signs up? Can we simply question the utility of some of those projects and assignments and say if they are really worthwhile?

    Why can’t we reinvent hometeaching (not to scrap the program) but find a way to make it more sincere, authentic and a way to connect with peoples lives rather than hear the incessant drum beat weekly to “bretheren it’s the end of the month, let’s make sure we blah blah blah.”

    I don’t want to sound negative, but I enjoy it when I meet someone who is authentic and truly trying to press forward in the gospel without all the trappings of programs that are often executed with an empty heart or without sincerity.

    I am probably a lone wolf on this one, so I’ll head back into the wilderness and practice my coping skills.

  13. 13.

    I think it goes back to the misconception that those who are favored of the Lord are blessed. Blessed with money, nice cars, health, obedient and beautiful children, talents, leadership abilities, etc. It’s another double standard, I think. We understand that God chastens us through trials, but when people go through trials, we can often think they brought those trials upon themselves (think wayward children, divorce, bankruptcy, obesity, etc.) Also, I don’t know why, but it seems that a lot of GAs have a lot of money. How else can they afford to not work and travel around the world.
    At BYU my sociolog professor, Richard Johnson, wrote an article for the BYU magazine that almost cost him his job. I don’t know the title (if you do, post it!) but it was about this very idea. I think he proposed that based on Book of Mormon teachings (and ideas like the law of consecration) that true saints would have very few worldly possessions. There was a big uproar among wealthy alums who donate like crazy. I think BYU backed him, though.
    Anyway, I would love to read that article again, I don’t remember it well.
    So, I’m realizing that was a bit of a tangent, sorry. I do agree with Razorfish that we should examine our home and visiting teaching to

    find a way to make it more sincere, authentic and a way to connect with people

    As a visiting teacher, that involves probing questions like, “What do you struggle with in your life?” and carefully listening to answers. I often wish my home or visiting teachers would ask me that. I think we have the ability to connect with people, but we have to get past some of the culture of feigned happiness to do so.

  14. 14.

    I think we have the ability to connect with people, but we have to get past some of the culture of feigned happiness to do so.

    The trick is that this is the responsibility of each of us — those who are seeking to empathize and reach out and those who need to be reached out to. I have had many times when my VT have come and I have wanted desperately for them to ask how I was. This last time was one of those times, and guess what? I just opened up and told them I had hit rock bottom just a week or two previously. Of course, they felt awful for “not being more in tune” or “tuned into me,” but what resulted was a deeply meaningful discussion for all. It’s so easy to expect people to read our minds, or to wait for someone else to open up first in RS so it’s not so risky, or to blame the culture for the fact that we don’t open up. I have been thinkings lots about this issue, and ultimately, I think all I can do is change myself to try to encourage others to open up more, too — to do my part to encourage a safe place where we can be real. I think often if people will see that you are willing to be vulnerable, they might feel inclined to open up, too…maybe even to you because you aren’t trying to appear perfect. :)

    There is a challenge, though, in deciding when something should be brought up and when it’s better to put on a happy face. Sometimes I struggle, and sometimes I’m really fine. Sometimes opening up means people think that things are always ______ (whatever I shared) and life isn’t “I need to talk” hard all of the time. I don’t know where that line is, though. But I do believe that there are many times when being “real” and opening up more has a lot of value in potentially bringing people closer.

  15. 15.

    Jessawhy,

    The article you mention isn’t by chance this, is it?

    I took a class from Rich Johnson too. I think it was called something like the sociology of deviance. He’s an excellent teacher. Did he ask you to call him “Mr. Teacher?”

    He also home taught the family of Zelophehad for a long time when we were growing up. He was a really good home teacher too.

  16. 16.

    He’s an excellent teacher

    I second that. His “Social Problems” course was one of the most eye-opening I took at the BYU.

  17. 17.

    Wow, I am so impressed! I haven’t had time to read the whole article, but the title sounds right, and I think the year is about right, too.
    He is an excellent teacher and I’d forgotten about the “Mr. Teacher” thing, but I do remember he wore hand-me-downs from his kids, rode the bus to work, and openly cried in class (I, too had the Social Problems class, and it was very eye-opening )
    M & M: I think you are right about our responsibility to reach out and be reached out to. I’ve had that same experience with VTs, where I just wish they’d stop talking about fluffy stuff and talk about what really matters. Right now I just wish I had visiting teachers. . .
    I think an online ward is a great idea!
    Let’s meet in the chapel on second life! (actually, I think it says it’s not for worship services) but we could have a potluck there or something : )

  18. 18.

    Thanks, as always, to all commenters.

    As Bejing and Lynnette both said, I am very introverted, and I find the nicities of casual social interaction both puzzling and exhausting, which is one reason I don’t enjoy church. Another is one suggested, I believe, in the comments of Ethesis, Dave, Ben, and Lynnette. Contrary to countless sacrament meeting reassurances, and as we all know if we’ll just admit it, the church is very far from the same everywhere. The only unit (sounds to me like a toaster oven, but it is the church’s term) I’ve really enjoyed living in as an adult was the small, rural branch my husband and I lived in for six years. It was the only church unit to which I have ever felt as if I belonged. Our first week there, people swarmed all over us because they were genuinely excited we were there. They needed us. Organizations fought over active members–and all of us active members knew each other. I could sit in sacrament meeting and name every single man, woman, and child in our little phase-one chapel. I really had something to contribute. And for the first time since the Bay Area ward of my childhood, I actually had friends at church. I still can’t think about it without getting choked up, it’s such a stark contrast to my current situation.

    The ward I’m in now consists largely of young marrieds straight out of Provo, here to get business and law degrees and then move on. Most of them are perfectly nice. But the atmosphere is very different–more transient, more divided into cliques, and much more concerned with appearance. (One of these days we need a post on the fashion show that is young Mormon wards. What does it say about us that as a culture we are so insanely appearance-conscious? BYU was outrageous that way, and throughout my life I’ve consistently found that church is the place my appearance is most likely to present a problem. I’m not talking here about flip-flops and excessivey casual attire–I’m talking about the sin for which there can be no forgiveness in this life or in the life to come, dressing out of style and failing to gel one’s hair.) Differences that didn’t matter much in my little branch–the fact that my husband is inactive and unbelieving, the fact that I don’t have children, the fact that I tend to wear the same clothes over and over–suddenly seem like barriers. I’m constantly fighting the feeling that Mormons will put with me when they have no choice (in a small branch)–but as soon as they have a choice, they’ll drop me cold. Moving to this ward has given me the junior-high-school-cafeteria feeling of watching one’s lunch companion catch sight of a more popular lunch partner and being left to eat alone.

    John Dehlin, I am honored to be considered an honorary NOM and for my association with you ;).
    Tatiana, an online ward sounds fantastic.

    The line in all comments that gripped me the most was Tatiana’s: “I feel like an alien.” I have uttered those words over and over. In spite of being raised Mormon in Utah, there is a Mormonese and a web of shared assumptions I simply cannot bring myself to speak. Like Razorfish, I go to church starving for moments of authenticity. When a rare person stands up and talks honestly about their trials or struggles or frustration, I want to kiss their feet. On the other hand, I think we sometimes use the gospel as a weapon to shut authenticity down and to keep ourselves comfortable. As Lynnette said, a person says they have Problem A, and three peope shove scriptures and GA quotes at her about it in a frantic effort to make her be quiet so that we can keep feeling comfortable and safe and won’t have to face the radical contingencies of our own lives (i.e., that we too could end up with a daughter on drugs, a gay son, an unfaithful spouse, bankruptcy, cancer, whatever). Or we pathologize people with problems, swoop down on them condescendingly, and then criticize them behind their backs. (I’ve heard enough gossip from Mormon women about other Mormon women to be very cautious about whom I confide in.) Too often church is anything but a safe place to be honest. In past wards I’ve generally liked to raise questions just at the edge of the discussion and try to push things toward more honest, engaged conversations, but in this ward the teachers don’t let the class have a word in edgewise, so I’m ready (like Ben) to start reading in the hall. I’ve assigned myself the calling of permanent on-call nursery substitute, and I love it. Jessawhy, I can completely see why you would miss adult interaction–but in my ward there really isn’t anything to miss.

    I’d forgotten that Rich Johnson was our home teacher for so many years. He was also in the bishopric at one point. He gave me one of my first youth interviews, and I remember him uncomfortably asking me, “You’re not on drugs or anything, are you?” I think as a way of seeing if there were any problems. Poor man, I think he was more uncomfortable than I was. He always struck me as a really kind person.

  19. 19.

    Eve, where do you live now? (you mentioned young couples coming to do grad degrees)
    I echo the fashion show comments. All of my wards have been that way, except my BYU wards, actually.
    It’s really hard not to get caught up in, sometimes.
    I found myself commenting yesterday on a sister’s appearance, “After all, we get dressed up on Sunday for each other, our husbands certainly don’t notice.”
    How sad. Thanks for bringing that up.
    I liked this line.

    the sin for which there can be no forgiveness in this life or in the life to come, dressing out of style and failing to gel one’s hair

    so true.

    Lastly, this really hit me, when you talked about people who speak about their problems.

    peope shove scriptures and GA quotes at her about it in a frantic effort to make her be quiet so that we can keep feeling comfortable

    I’ve experienced this, too. What do you think a better solution is? What would you like to see happen in those situations?

  20. 20.

    I don’t have any insight to add, but I just want to say THANK YOU for this post!! This Monday morning I’m still in my post-church gloom and it might save me to know that out there somewhere there are people who feel exactly like me! I wish I could be in your ward Eve. Everythinng you have said has literally mirrored my same feelings and experiences. I have never been able to figure out why Im in such a bad mood after church. For years, I have felt anything but ‘uplifted and edified’. I am in a new ward now and have a VT companion who is pure sincerity and has a heart of gold. I think this might make my church interaction a thousand times better. I have also vowed to myself to quit hiding and running away, and instead being the one that puts myself out there and is open and sincere. For the introvert that I am, we’ll see how well that goes :) I think we need to start an online support group for introverted mormons!

    THANK YOU AGAIN FOR THIS POST.

  21. 21.

    It’s not surprising that an organization promoting gender essentialism along the traditional gender roles of women being nurturing and sweet and pretty, that Mormon women feel pressure to approximate this prototype.

    Who was the GA who once said that a little paint never hurt an old barn? Classic :)

  22. 22.

    P.S. This comment should probably go on another thread, but I was at the bookstore this weekend and browsed around the “Women Studies” section looking for something interesting. Since my dabbling into feminism consists of about two books (The Beauty Myth – does that one even count? and Towards a Feminist Theory of the State – which is fascinating but I’m still slogging through it), I’d love to hear some recommendations of (preferably interesting and not filled with recondite academic jargon) books along these lines. Thanks!

  23. 23.

    heh. Towards a Feminist Theory of the State convinced me that I was not really a feminist, and that it was a good thing, because feminism must be really, really, really, a-visit-to-the-dentist-would-be-so-fun boring. (And Poli. Sci. was one of my longer-lived majors in college, so it’s not that I find all theories of state dull!)

  24. 24.

    I’ve had that same experience with VTs, where I just wish they’d stop talking about fluffy stuff and talk about what really matters. Right now I just wish I had visiting teachers. . .

    Sorry you don’t have VTs. I need to clarify, though, that my teachers don’t discuss fluff. I won’t let them (and they love discussing the gospel, esp. one of them). :) We usually have discussions about the gospel. I usually make them stay longer than they want because I love the discussions. This was just an even deeper discussion because we were opening up to each other that much more.

  25. 25.

    Oddly enough, the Belief-o-Matic has me pegged as 100% Jewish. “Mormon” came in at #8. This doesn’t really surprise me, as there’s a lot of Mormon doctrine that I just can’t make heads or tails of. However, I very much enjoy Mormon society, on the whole. There’s a lot of BS in church, to be sure. I’ve gone to countless church meetings and failed to be edified because nothing seemed relevant to my life. But I think authentic Mormonism is lived beneath the surface. Since I gave up on wearing my own church face, I’ve been able to see beneath other people’s church faces, too. They may not share my doubts and cynicism, but they struggle and feel frustrated, and they’re not as innocent as they look (at first glance).

    Some wards are better than others. Right now I live in a ward full of people who are more orthodox than I am, but they aren’t afraid to be authentic and honest. Other wards have a culture of phoniness, which is sad and wrong. I just think, given my experiences in non-Mormon social circles, that it isn’t a peculiar LDS phenomenon. In reality, most people are phonies.

  26. 26.

    What kind of Mormon are you? Any kind you want to be! :)

    Also, don’t feel compelled to attend all the meetings if they are demoralizing you. At one point myself weighed down tremendously by all the extraneous stuff. I requested to be released from my calling (because I hated it and said as much to the RS president in an email) and stopped attending anything but sacrament and sometimes the newcomers gospel principles class. It helped me feel better at the time about the core doctrine to go back to where that was being taught and to be around others who this was all fresh to.

    I still held my recommend throughout that time and went to the temple. Eventually, I felt out of my funk enough to go to more of the other meetings but I felt it important to take that time for me to nurture my core first. Good luck.

  27. 27.

    ECS,

    It’s hard to recommend something without knowing more about what you’re looking for—feminist ethics, feminist theology, feminist political theory, feminist epistemology, feminist methodology in philosophy or the social sciences . . . ?

    And you’re right, Naomi Wolf doesn’t count.

    M.

  28. 28.

    Hi, Melissa-

    Thanks for responding. I’m interested at this point in reading a broad overview of feminism as a social movement – I guess along the lines of “Feminism for not-so-dumb Dummies” – but after reading your comment I realize that feminism is probably too fragmented to be able to tackle all at once like that. Is there a book or article you’ve found particularly helpful as a starting off point in any one of these areas?

    Kristine – how can you not be captivated by MacKinnon’s feminist machinations to expose Marx as the sexist that he was? I picked up the book again, found where I’d left off (ahem, page 16) and came across this comedic gem (quoting Marx):

    The destructive impact of capitalism upon the family was deplored largely in terms of its impact on woman’s performance of her sex role. The introduction of machinery permitted the enrollment of “every member of the workman’s family, without distinction of age or sex,” so the working man who had previously sold his own labor power, “now sells his wife and child” in addition. They do not even sell themselves; he sells them. To Marx, this arrangement resulted in the “physical deterioration. . .of the woman” and usurped “the place not only of the children’s play but also of free labor at home within moderate limits for support of the family.” Perhaps dinner was not ready on time. This theorist, so sensitive to the contribution of labor to the creation of value and to its expropriation for the benefit of others, could see the work women do in the home only as free labor, when the only sense in which it is free is that it is unpaid.

    Can’t you just picture a disheveled Karl Marx stomping off in disgust, muttering under his breath and blaming the capitalists because his dinner wasn’t ready on time? :)

  29. 29.

    Jessawhy, I live in a college town pretty far away from Arizona, unfortunately (I feel weird broadcasting my exact location online–chalk it up to introversion, I guess–but I’ll email it to you if you want to know.)

    I found myself commenting yesterday on a sister’s appearance, “After all, we get dressed up on Sunday for each other, our husbands certainly don’t notice.”

    So, so true.

    In answer to your question about alternatives to shoving scriptures and GA quotes in people’s faces, hmmm. Good one (now you’ve caught me! Easy to criticize; hard to recommend solutions.) But here are a few suggestions, off the top of my head:

    (1) Not rush to prescribe solutions before we take the time to listen and really understand the person’s concern or question or problem. Genuine understanding and empathy don’t come quickly. They take time and careful listening. And often we find that the solutions we want to offer either have already been tried or aren’t really helpful. (If the easy answers <em>were</em> helpful, the person probably woudn’t be asking.)

    (2) Respect the limits of our own understanding. There are a lot of experiences I don’t understand. To pick a few: I don’t understand what it’s like to be single in a church of married people. I don’t understand the trials and joys of motherhood. I don’t understand what it’s like to have a chronic physical illness. So I should probably be careful about presuming to prescribe solutions to such problems.

    (3) Recognize that while the gospel is universal, the specific applications and answers that speak to someone else at a given time are extremely individual. Even the same problem can have very different answers for different people. Several years ago, I found myself pouring out my infertility frustrations to a woman who also struggles with infertility. She shut me up pretty brusquely with the answer that had brought her peace. But that wasn’t my answer. That was the last time I talked to her about my feelings on the subject.

    (4) Avoid the temptation to “save” people and the condescension and arrogance of taking on their problems. Christ is the only savior and the only one who can bear our burdens for us. Help is great, particularly help offered in reciprocity–willingness to be served as well as to serve–and help that sends a message of confidence in the person to manage her own problems. Help is appropriate only when we do things for people they genuinely can’t do for themselves. But “saving” can be terribly wounding and foster the degredation of dependence in some who relish the victim role.

    (5) Quit the gossip and the criticism of people for having problems, since we all do (and we never know what problems we’re going to have in the future!). I get weary of hearing about the filth Sister Y lives in, or how poorly Sister and Brother X have managed their finances, or how snooty Sister Z is, or the despicable manner in which Sister A is raising and educating her children, or the slutty way Sister B dresses, or the shockingly non-nutrituous food Sister C consumes. (And this is another way in which we women really do it to each other, I think.)

    All of those are probably more applicable to long-term relationships, now that I think about it. When someone raises a tough question in SS or RS, what I’d like to see people do is to be willing to be vulnerable and speak from their own experience: “I struggled with this, and this is what helped, or this is what I realized.” What drives me nuts is when people elbow each other out of the way to preach: “You should PRAY MORE!” or “You have to realize_____!” As if we have any idea how much the person is or isn’t praying–or as if we have any idea what she does or doesn’t realize….

    Veritas, you’re very welcome. (I’ll promise to think of you on those grim, miserable Sundays if you’ll promise to think of me!) Nee, I’ve certainly toyed with cutting back on my own activity. It’s a fraught question, one that probably deserves its own post.

    Seth, I meant to respond before and say that I’m perfectly happy to clean the church. That’s actually the kind of assignment I don’t mind at all, particularly because it involves relatively minimal interaction with others.

  30. 30.

    I’m perfectly happy to clean the church. That’s actually the kind of assignment I don’t mind at all, particularly because it involves relatively minimal interaction with others.

    I just have to second this. I’d far rather vacuum and wish windows than attend Enrichment and talk to people. In a ward I was in a few years ago, I actually don’t think I went to a single activity of any kind, but I nonetheless showed up to do my cleaning assignment. (I suppose a savvy bishop might make use of this information, and give the introverts cleaning assignments in return for no pressure to go to activities.)

    I also wanted to agree with the observations about church being a place where people are unusually appearance-conscious. At times I’ve honestly wanted to just wear a paper bag over my head.

  31. 31.

    Hey Elisabeth,

    I’d recommend starting with primary sources instead of someone else’s history. Miriam Schneir has a volume of collected essays from a variety of second-wave feminist mothers called _Feminism in Our Time:The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present_.

    Begin there.

  32. 32.

    Thanks, Melissa! I just ordered it from Amazon.com.

  33. 33.

    Eve,
    I just read your post (after I sent that email).
    Numbers 1-5 are great thoughts. Maybe you can submit them for a lesson in the RS manual. I’m trying to imagine how a lesson like that would go, without perfect answers. . . I think it would be great!
    I had one institute teacher who talked about how we sometimes (particularly when we teach our kids) get out the GA quotes/scriptures as “ammo” for our “guns.” (She was speaking to the women who attend our stake institute class, who are hyper-active in the church) She then asked why we want to shoot anyone? Isn’t that the way the pharasees and saducees acted in the NT? She deflated the whole room (except a few of us who were silently cheering). Anyway, I’d like to see that wake up call around the church, and implementing the ideas that you mentioned of people trying to understand and resist judging.
    You mentioned responding to a real concern with this.

    “I struggled with this, and this is what helped, or this is what I realized.”

    But, I think this thread illustrates that it doesn’t have to be that comfortable. We could even respond: “I have a similar struggle. It’s pretty hard, isn’t it?” That’s what happens around here, and that’s what we love about it.

  34. 34.

    I had to laugh at the line about husbands not noticing what their wives were wearing at Church. Last Sunday, I was running a bit late to church, and somehow forgot to finish tying my tie. I wear a shirt and tie to work, but usually leave the top button undone and don’t pull the tie all the way to my neck. Well, Sunday, I buttoned the top button, and so must have thought my tie was completely tied, too. I didn’t notice until I was standing talking to a few people between meetings.

    Not so bad, just a tiny bit embarrassing. Then I realized that, not only had I been sitting on the stand because I play the organ, but I had also given the opening prayer with my tie undone.

    If only my wife hadn’t stayed home, sick–she would have made sure I was completely dressed before I went up to the stand.

    I don’t feel comfortable in church, either. Luckily, between playing prelude and postlude on the organ, and then playing piano for the Primary, I don’t have to interact very much if I don’t want to.

  35. 35.

    Jessawhy, I love your Institute teacher! And good point about what we love about the Bloggernacle–the possibiity of such conversations.

    CS Eric, in my marriage my husband is the one who looks at me and wonders if I’m going to leave the house dressed like that. (And I never notice his constant experiments with faical hair–he’s always appearing in front of me and asking hopefully, pointedly, “Notice anything different?” so that I’ll realize he’s shaved the full beard down to a goatee, or shaved off his moustache.)

    For a long time this year I wore the same skirt to church every Sunday. Somehow it just seemed like the easiest thing to do, much easier than going to the closet and contemplating…another skirt. Much too much brain work for a Sunday morning. Now I have this denim skirt that’s so comfy it’s hard for me to wear anything else.

    For what comfort it is, I barely would have registered that your tie was undone.

  36. 36.

    Eve,
    I think you’re right. There are people who notice, and those that don’t. It doesn’t matter which group you fall into, but the person you marry almost always falls into the other group.
    And, my institute teacher is really cool. She’s in her 40′s, probably 30lbs overweight, but she did 3 push-ups (on her toes, not knees) to illustrate how exercising our faith is like exercising our muscles. (She’s been going to a trainer lately)
    (and the bit about her weight and age is just to illustrate the point that it was not easy for her, not a judgement of her)
    I enjoy her teaching, especially her unconventional methods!
    Institute is a nice substitute for those in primary or nursery who can’t attend SS or RS. (although some, don’t choose to anyway)

  37. 37.

    I had one institute teacher who talked about how we sometimes (particularly when we teach our kids) get out the GA quotes/scriptures as “ammo” for our “guns.” (She was speaking to the women who attend our stake institute class, who are hyper-active in the church) She then asked why we want to shoot anyone? Isn’t that the way the pharasees and saducees acted in the NT? She deflated the whole room (except a few of us who were silently cheering).

    As one who has often been criticized and/or misunderstood for taking the approach of using prophetic quotes or whatever to address questions, perhaps it would be helpful to know that for some people, this really is an approach that is used for any question that arises, not necessarily to shoot someone else down or suppress questioning. I say this because I suspect there are those who have felt that I have been loading guns to shoot on a repeated basis during the past several months as I have interacted in the ‘nacle. And yet, if I’m doing what I do with myself and in discussions with anyone in the Church, is that really pharisee-like ammo? Surely I’m imperfect (we all are, right?), but this is simply the way my brain and heart and spirit work. I look at what the prophets say and work through ANY questions and concerns that I have with that as a foundation. I don’t personally know of any other way to work through questions in life. It’s what has provided peace and perspective and understanding when questions arise. And they do arise, for all of us.

    I’m not saying that there is never legitimacy to what that institute teacher said (I’m sure there have been times when my motives have not been perfectly pure, even though I try to keep my actions based in love and not pride), but I think it’s important to take a step back and consider that just because quotes are used doesn’t mean they are being used as ammo. And to consider that we are all trying our best to do our best.

    I can’t help but wonder if some of those “hyper-active” women in that class have, like me, done the best they could with what they know and with what works for them, perhaps with no intentional malice. I would like to take that teacher’s question and say, “Why would a teacher want to “deflate” anyone? And why would there be cheering when people were deflated? Isn’t that sort of like ammo in its own right? It feels sort of that way to me.

    Just as those who have and vocalize questions and who may struggle sometimes with the Church or with doctrine desire the benefit of the doubt, so do those who may not so struggle, or who may appear “hyper-active” to some. Again, we are all doing our best, right? :)

  38. 38.

    M&M,
    I think I should have explained my story a little better. I can see where you’re coming from, but that wasn’t the context of the story.
    She wasn’t talking about responding to questions asked in a group setting, she was talking about how to help our children (esp teens) choose to follow the path. Her demo topic was why we don’t eat out on Sundays. She got the class all riled up with the quotes and scriptures (even though there is no exact scripture on that point). She then explained why we shouldn’t go about teaching in that way (with guns loaded). I don’t think her intent was to deflate, but just to help people see how it can come across to their children (or others) when teaching is approached in an “I’m right, and you’re wrong” way.
    Her larger point, however, is that we all have our own commandments that the Spirit tells us are important for us to obey. They may not be important to others, and if we try to tell others they have to obey them, we sound preachy and self-righteous. Her example was having FHE on Mondays. For her, that was a must, she would listen to that by the letter, and not reschedule for another day. Anyway, it was a good lesson, and I don’t think the deflated sisters stayed that way for long. :)
    Good point about giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and being tolerant.
    I don’t know about everyone, but I am certainly trying my best(most days, that is). And, it’s all that anyone can do.

  39. 39.

    Jessawhy,
    Thanks for the clarification. Helped explain more of what you meant. I agree with not trying to push specifics of how to live commandments on others. Believe it or not, I actually try hard not to do that. :)

  40. 40.

    Sounds like you should change wards. I am currently very happy with my ward and am deathly afraid of moving. In my not so long life I find the the two determinants of my enthusiasm for church are how many people in my current ward I would call friends and how interesting the lessons/talks are. If that’s not happenin’ I guess you can always try weekly affirmations (Stuart Smalley Style).

  41. 41.

    I go to church starving for moments of authenticity.

    I’m sorry to be such a pessimist, but I find I’m happier if I don’t expect as much from church. I’m an introvert too, but perhaps not as dedicated as you, as I can kind of enjoy the small talk there. Or at least I can with my wife serving as an ice-breaker; she’s more social than I am. I’m sorry that you don’t have that option.

  42. 42.

    aws, ah, yes, Stuart Smalley..I’m strong enough…I’m smart enough…and doggone it, people like me!

    Ziff, that’s such a great point about expectations, and I think that mine about church are part of my problem. I’m well acquainted with the process of enduring boring, meaningless meetings in other aspects of my life, but at school or work they don’t bother me nearly as much because I don’t expect them to be anything other than what they are. Last spring I had to take an extremely dry required class, and though I enjoyed complaining about it to all longsuffering listerners, I never expected it to be interesting, so I was never disappointed. I’d sit there for the hour and fifteen minutes twice a week surruptitiously writing grocery lists in the margins of my notebook or planning my schedule for the next semester or reviewing Latin paradigms in my head.

    I’m trying to think why it is I have a hard time viewing church in the same light–as one of those unpleasant things we all sometimes just have to endure? Partly, I suppose, because of the church’s presentation of itself as spiritually fulfilling and as a place of genuine friendship, and partly because I have occasionally, in times and units past, found it spiritually fulfilling and a place of genuine friendship (spoiled me–now I expect it to be!). But I think you’re right that I would do better to have minimal expectations of church and be pleasantly surprised if they are exceeded.

    I think part of my problem with church is that while I’m doctrinally quite orthodox (the big exception is my views on gender, and I suppose my views of authority), I’m culturally wildly unorthodox. There’s a particular cultural protocol that’s supposed to be followed, and I find it unbearably dull. I want to hear genuine questions and genuine discussion, not routine Sunday school answers. And I think it’s OK if we disagree about things, and it’s OK if we can’t answer every question, as long as we’re not mean about it–in fact, I think disagreements and different perspectives and experiences are what make discussion engaging. But church discussion, when it’s even allowed to occur, usually ends up feeling like a shoehorn to get us all to repeat the same mantra. I think another part of my problem is that I just can’t engage in–or even passively witness–this stuff without feeling like a complete fake. Just sitting in church witnessing everyone all agreeing that we should just have a Positive Mental Attitude (when did the fine virtue of gratitude get dragged thorough the sparkles and twinkles of the pop psychology industry?) makes me feel like an alien. I just do not share some of the assumptions, the worldview, the culture that seems to dominate so much of the way church is conducted. So shared commitment to the basic principles of the gospel and to the basic truth claims of the Church just doesn’t play out into a shared basis for discussion.

  43. 43.

    I want to hear genuine questions and genuine discussion, not routine Sunday school answers.

    Eve,

    I’m sorry; I’m probably thinking of different parts of church than you are. I agree that Sunday School questions and answers are so routinized that they’re practically scripted, and this makes them thoroughly uninteresting.

    I guess what I was thinking of when I said that I enjoy church more than I expect to is the social part. I like to see people I know and exchange small talk in the halls–”Your kids cut their hair with an electric carving knife?”–far more often than I enjoy the actual content of church.

  44. 44.

    Ziff, not at all. But you’re right about the social part (of church and of anything else); I hate and dread socializing, and I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to social events–my husband has to listen to me mutter my misery all the way there–but when I actually get to them, I usually enjoy them more than I expect to. I think I dread socializing just because it takes so much out of me, but the socializing itself is often fun–as long as it doesn’t last too long.

    Come to think of it, that’s what I loved about nursery. The parents would drop their kids off and instruct us to please not tell one of their twin daughters how cute her (self-inflicted, it would turn out) haircut looked because we were working very hard on not playing with scissors this week. In some ways kids are more exhausting than adults–in the ways that involve chasing them around and preventing them from sticking things up each others’ noses or into electric outlets–but in some ways they’re so much less exhausting. With them, there’s none of the polite and empty routine exchange that’s so draining. If they’re mad, they scream. If they’re sad, they cry. If they’re happy, they laugh. And they don’t care what I’m wearing. It’s all so much easier than navigating Relief Society.

  45. 45.

    This post is a few weeks old but I love it and had to comment.

    “I go to church starving for moments of authenticity.”

    “I want to hear genuine questions and genuine discussion, not routine Sunday school answers.”

    So there really are others who want to challenge, who want to debate who want to see things as more than superficial? I realize what I’v been missing now, I’m starving for sincere interaction at church. I feel better just knowing I’m not alone!

  46. 46.

    I haven’t been around much lately but had to tell you that I LOVE the way you write, Eve. You definately turn phrases with pith and humor.

  47. 47.

    Janet, aw shucks…it’s nice of you to say so, and it’s always a great pleasure to see you here and at FMH.

    Just for the record, earlier this semester I had a professor call me to his office and drag me painfully, point by point, through everything that was wrong with one of my papers and tell me that I was taking refuge in the overuse of antithesis, “word-painting,” and various forms of sloppy thinking. Ouch ouch ouch. After a sufficient distancing interval, when I could force myself to revisit his comments on my work, I could see that he was right.

    Writing is such a strange activity. It always takes me aback to read over old papers and see the glaring tics of which I was utterly unconscious at the time.
    (Can we say addicted to italics, for example? How about paper overrun with parenthetical observations?) In the long run, I always appreciate perceptive criticism, even if it’s painful at the time. That professor was doing me a tremendous courtesy by attending to my work so closely, which is one reason I’m taking him again next semester–I know I can learn loads from him–but I sometimes struggle to don the thick skin I need if I’m going to improve. I suppose that difficult balance of passionate engagement and critical detachment is the challenge in any human endeavor, whether it’s writing or quantum mechanics or creating a light and flaky pie crust.

  48. 48.

    Great post Eve!
    So, my dh attends church for the sake of our family/relationship, but he hasn’t believed in any of it for like 13 years (well, okay, he believes in basic principles such as honesty, integrity etc. you know.)

    In that time, he’s employed a number of tactics to cope. Maybe some of them would be helpful to you. Also, he’s an extreme introvert and intellectual/academic type…so you have some things in common there.

    1) he requested to be the nursery leader.

    this served to get him out of all auxiliary meetings and thus avoid doctrine and discussion (or lack thereof). It also had the added bonus of, like you mentioned, limiting how much exposure he had to the adult population in the ward.

    he was the BEST nursery leader too! (I was Primary president for a bajillion years, so I know.) Brought his guitar every week and would play songs for the kids. He brought hand sanitizer for them to put on before eating snacks which they really got into for some reason. The kids, boys and girls alike, all LOVED him. Girls would come sit with us in Sac meeting, and call him dad (the really little ones). They’d dream about him and plan their sunday dresses during the week to show him (according to some of the moms who loved that their kids like nursery and couldn’t wait to go!) It was a great fit for him, and he appreciated the chance to provide a valuable service without

    2) for sacrament meeting, he has come up with a few tactics for moments when he is wishing he were elsewhere. First, photocopies of things he needs to read (he’ll copy pages from a book etc) because this somehow doesn’t attract as much “look at that guy not paying attention” attention as an actual non-scripture book would. He doesn’t have a PDA, or i’m sure he’d just use that. Alternatively, he has his planner, and will use that hour to plan his week out…making notes and lists, checking things off etc. And finally, he started bringing his missionary journal and re-reading that. I don’t know why he likes that, other than the fact that it was his life and it may be interesting to him in an academic kind of way. But he feels comfortable doing that during services.

    I’m sure that you can find ways to make services more palatable. Where you sit in the chapel can also play into your experience. Avoid the front ;-)

    I have had times when church was hard and i couldn’t stand my ward and really wanted to throw in the towel. I was just so fed up with everything and everyone about my religion. But a friend I was complaining to commented “it’s just a group of people who are trying to do their best.” He was sympathetic, but his kindly reminder caught me off guard, and helped me realize that I wasn’t giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    Later, when that hard time was past, I greatly appreciated those words, and the fact that I had hung in there. Maybe I need that reminder again, as last Sunday I took a “mental health break” from church. It’s been years since I had one of those, but I keep a few scripts for them in my medicine cabinet for days when I just can’t swing it. (my daughter explained my absence by announcing to everyone “she’s sick and tired” LOL!)

    best of luck to you!

  49. 49.

    Blue, thanks for your excellent suggestions. I particularly like your ideas about nursery–I’m currently the unofficial on-call substitute, and I’m planning to try out your suggestion and ask our new bishop to be a nursery worker when we next move.

  50. 50.

    Eve, I don’t know if I have anything new to say, but I feel very much like I’m in the same situation as you. I’m a freshman at BYU, and I came to consider church to be a bit of a nuisance. Everybody else seemed to click so well into their respective social groups, and I just wasn’t interested. I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider: I read Hugh Nibley and wonder why we don’t talk about that stuff, I have radical social views, and I question everything that comes out of church members’ mouths (silently). I find gospel doctrine to be boring, repetitive, and intellectually uninspiring, regardless of my attempts to make it interesting.

    I believe that the church is true and so forth, but I just didn’t like going to church. I felt that the social aspect of the religion was shallow and harmful, and I felt that the people were not focusing on the right things or investing enough thought into their study and teaching.

    After a few weeks, though, I realized that my religion was completely between God and me. I came to understand that the church is given to us as a tool through which we receive the ordinances. We don’t have to be friends with everyone in the ward (in fact, barely anyone in the ward knows my name), we can’t expect everyone to truly understand their religion, and we can’t expect the church manuals to emphasize those doctrines that are difficult for some to understand (I’m not talking about deep doctrine, I’m more talking about Zion, grace, social justice, and the significance of the Godhead doctrine). I learned to be forgiving of other’s imperfections, and of my own desire for privacy.

    Outside of church, I’m a very outgoing and social person. But, I’ve managed to turn church into a purely religious experience. I don’t alienate anyone, but I also don’t go out of my way to make church a social or intellectual experience; that’s for my own time.

  51. 51.

    You remind me of me, I believe all the core doctrines wholeheartedly, but like that like from the church movie “Legacy” : It is their doctrine,and NOT their manner which converts me. The actual mechanics of how a meeting goes and drives me up a wall.

    I offered my kids a dollar each to be reverent during stake conference because I knew it would be boring. They were and now I’m $4 poorer.

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