Zelophehad’s Daughters

The Names of My Wounds

Posted by Eve

But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

–3 Nephi 12:22

And the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.

–1 Corinthians 3:13

I’ve been ambivalent about blogging for a long time, and I have to admit that on the balance, I have found it spiritually destructive. Not because I found any dirty little Mormon secrets that shattered my faith; for whatever reason–perhaps sheer intellectual laziness–Joseph Smith’s amorous adventures and nineteenth-century English in the Book of Mormon and the Mountain Meadows Massacre and institutionalized racism, while they do disturb me, don’t fatally damage my commitment or conversion. I suppose I figure that prophets are human, that God has to work with what he has–us–and that moral complexity is an inevitable part of life, even life in the true and living church. Blogging has breached years of loneliness and helped me come to terms with questions that at times I’ve barely had the courage to admit to myself. I blog, in some measure, to know I’m not alone–intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Online conversations have sharpened and complicated my thinking, advanced my understanding, and broadened my perspective.

But while I don’t think belief and intellectual conviction are spiritually trivial (a complex subject that merits its own discussion), I also doubt that, beyond a certain point, God much cares whether I’m radical or reactionary, whether I think the lost ten tribes will emerge from a singularity in the earth’s core or whether I’m a Marxist Mormon plotting the overthrow of the military-industrial complex in the name of the United Order revolution in permanence. The hardest and truest trial of Christian devotion that no purity of ideological commitment can evade is how I live, what of my heart I offer the people I know (and, for that matter, to what extent I bother to know the people I know)–with what interest or indifference, what generosity or self-absorption, what mercy or contempt I treat my fellow human beings.

On the whole, I’m not doing so hot. (This is not news, of course. I’ve never done all that well at Christianity. But I have to ask myself if blogging is making that vital work of receiving the love of Christ by the grace of God, of becoming purified even as he is pure–the only thing of life that endures when everything else falls away–harder.)

I’ve come to feel a great deal of affection and respect for many of the people I regularly encounter online. But I also go online in black moods to troll for my own demons, seeking contrary views precisely for the perverse pleasure of noting that they–and, by implication, the people defending them–are (astonishingly!) muddleheaded and morally offensive to exactly the degree I knew they would be. It’s like the sick fascination of picking at a wound and watching the blood slowly flower.

We all have our wounds, of course, and the deepest sink through layer after layer of us, forging dark jagged channels among the intellectual, moral, and spiritual realms of our being. We’re probably all drawn irresistibly to those wounds we cannot seem to heal. But something’s wrong when I find myself going online in order to give my wounds the names of other human beings. I’ve always been quick to anger, and then bitterly regretful when I have to confront the damage I’ve done in the form of someone else’s crumpled face.

I know what I have to do. Somehow in those moments I have to learn to take back my wounds and reclaim my demons, and develop the moral imagination to see the faces of my enemies–unguarded, open faces that somehow still me to the core, at a stroke dissolving all my petty, irrelelvant rage.

I have a long way to go.

25 Responses to “The Names of My Wounds”

  1. 1.

    Eve, thanks for this, a great post. As possibly one of the people you’re referring to (how many radical-egalitarian Mormons are there, really?), can I just say that I agree with you? One of the things that Mormon blogging has done for me is confront me with the need to accept people who really aren’t like me. A second thing is that it has forced me to try to learn to forgive people who are really abusive to me. These are both lessons that I haven’t finished learning, but I do think that I’m becoming a more tolerant person because of it.

    At the same time, I do know the temptation to read for the thrill of disagreeing. It’s hard to avoid this, and even harder to know if we should. Is the right solution to avoid the people and texts that provoke this in us, or instead to learn to genuinely listen to the authors?

  2. 2.

    Beautiful, Eve. And spot-on, too. No matter how much we talk about intellectual issues, our Christianity is measured almost entirely in how we treat others. That’s an area we can all stand to work on. And to the extent we let our intellectual discussions serve as an excuse for treating others less kindly, those discussions themselves stand in the way of our Christianity.

    Thanks for this reminder. (And I really hope you don’t decide you need to stop blogging, myself — because I always enjoy your posts and comments.)

  3. 3.

    What a charmingly painful post, Eve. I suppose browsing weblogs is a better place to work out those feelings and harsh responses than, for example, in the foyer of your local chapel or at the dinner table of your next family reunion. If blogging or browsing clears out that clutter and makes real life a little smoother — well, I can think of worse reasons to blog.

  4. 4.

    RT,

    OK, this is time for True Confessions. The first time I encountered LDSLF, I thought you were trying to compare Joseph Smith, Jr. to chairman Mao, and I was offended. My first thought was: “This person is nuts!!!” But you have now become one of the people I can always look to for an example of charity and reasonable discussion. I admire both you and Taryn for your devotion and testimony.

    Eve, you’re the best. I think a certain amount of loneliness is inevitable, and interaction in a forum like this can often alleviate it. And since we are distinct individuals, it can sometimes be hard to understand exactly what sorts of problems and struggles our brothers and sisters are facing. But when you say this:

    On the whole, I’m not doing so hot.

    I am tempted to say “Raca, Thou Fool”. You are an inspiration, to me at least. I have always found you to be kind and charitable.

    Th

  5. 5.

    I often find myself composing comments then closing my browser and simply not submitting them. I think of it as writing nasty things on paper then burning the paper. It’s a suprisingly effective way to get anger out of my system. I think Dave makes a good point- it is possible that getting it out of you online could make it easier to be more patient and Christ-like with the your family and friends, theoretically the people who matter most. On the other hand it could just be like feeding stray cats, if you keep putting out the food they just keep coming back. Only an individual can make that call.

    I actually think it is the anonymous nature of blogging that makes me more reticent to submit to the trolling urge. I have this odd paranoia that people in my ward or real life might read what I’ve written and respond with disappointment in me when or if they learn that I’m the one who said that online. I’d rather they react with excitement because they’ve come to respect or admire the online me.

  6. 6.

    I think Starfoxy’s right — it’s easy to be callous or outright mean when you comment anonymously. Without any social repercussions, a lot of people sink to the lowest common denominator. I’m guilty of doing it sometimes, and that’s a big reason why I don’t comment more often on blogs and forums. If I let myself get wrapped up in the ideological fight, I become a different, meaner person.

    I appreciate the post, Eve. You articulated a lot of ideas that I recognize in myself if I take an honest look.

  7. 7.

    I’ve pretty much stopped commenting and blogging because I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf and take Thumper the Rabbit’s father’s advice: if I can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

    So I guess my lack of participation lately is evidence that I’m a curmudgeon at heart, or that there’s a dearth of worthwhile posts in the bloggernacle. Probably the former. :)

    Beautiful post, Eve.

  8. 8.

    I’d have to say that blogging or more acurately reading them as I don’t often post, has spiritually uplifting.
    At church, I’m able to be friendlier and well almost less antagonistic to the people that I would have referred to as robot mormons. I felt so stiffled before. The members in my ward (even the ones I thought would be open to it) wont disagree or even discuss issues that provoke thought! They are by large nice caring and helpful but seem to have a vant space where others have brains. I found myself “picking” at these people, mentioning homosexuality for example to verbally spar with them and be critical when they wouuld defend the opinion I knew they had. I was frustrated with the lemming mentality and that made me angry.
    Now I know that there are other mormons who question, who discuss issues, and because they do, it doesn’t make them heretics! It’s helped me reconcile my thoughts and really strenthened my faith. I find it has made me less frustrated, less lonely, and enabled me to be more Christ-like.
    I think the because of the anoniminity of blogging those that you may have offended would have taken it far lighter than if it was done to someone you knew.
    What a great, thought provoking post!

  9. 9.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments and kind words.

    RT, for what it’s worth I think we could use more Mormons of your ideological persuasion. And you should know that whenever my siblings and I talk about blogging and blog-fighting and blog etiquette, we always bring up you and Serenity Valley as models of calm and civility.

    At the same time, I do know the temptation to read for the thrill of disagreeing. It’s hard to avoid this, and even harder to know if we should. Is the right solution to avoid the people and texts that provoke this in us, or instead to learn to genuinely listen to the authors?

    That is exactly the question I’m trying to come to terms with for myself. I suppose for me the answer varies. I do think it’s important–vital, even–to engage ideas I don’t agree with and consider arguments for positions I don’t endorse. But my blood pressure can go up fast. And there are days I know I should just walk away, that I’m already mad and just looking for fuel.

    Kaimi, no worries–I think I’m too addicted ever to quit blogging entirely, although I’m often promising myself I’ll cut back. And my family’s here. That’s a strong pull. (Hmm, blog subtitle: Bloggers Can Be Together Forever?)

    Dave, very good point. Blog rage, problematic as it is, has some very important advantages over certain other kinds of rage.

    Mark IV, I’m glad I’ve come across as kind and charitable–but that’s simply because no one online can see the vituperations that sometimes swirl around in my brain (and in my first drafts, until I get a grip and take them out). Which brings up a very interesting question about anger and text mismatch in the absence of non-verbal cues; I’m sure that all of us sometimes come across as angry when we’re not and as calm and reasonable when we’re not particularly either. I don’t really know what the implications of this are.

    Starfoxy, I can see how writing and deleting could be very therapeutic. I might have to try that (of course, being very careful NOT to accidentally send….) And good point about anonymity–and how we may not be as anonymous as we think we are! (now there’s a disturbing thought). I think Peter’s onto something about the dynamics of certain fights. They take on a life of their own and drag down everyone who’s in them.

    ECS, FWIW I’m a total self-proclaimed curmudgeon (and like many curmudgeons, I’m also a marshmallow, but I try to hide it beneath a crusty exterior). When I was in the BYU Bookstore with Lynnette and Kiskilili at Christmastime, they picked out “The Portable Curmudgeon” just for me. What nice sisters they are.
    Lizzilu, I find it fascinating that blogging has promoted reconciliation in your life and strengthened your faith. That’s been my experience as well. It’s comforting and inspiring to see so many other people acknowledging that they struggle with the same issues I do–or with others–and yet managing to sustain their faith commitments.

  10. 10.

    Wow, Eve, everytime I think I’m just so impressed with you, you seem to outdo yourself!
    And, coming from someone who knows someone who knows you, you may be right that the web isn’t as anonymous as it seems to be. :)
    What strikes me most from your post is the concept that our intellectual struggles can be (and often are) so separate from actually living.
    My husband has been asking me that for months as I struggle to get to the place where you and others seem to be “managing to sustain [your] faith commitments.” He doesn’t understand why I want answers to a brainful of questions when it really won’t affect how I actually live (or should be living) with a truly Christian heart.
    Also, I have been wondering lately if my time on the bloggernacle (I really only visit here and fMh) has been good or bad for me. I think my reasons are much simpler than yours (in fact, I’m not even sure I understand what demons you refer to), but I echo being drawn irresistably to this forum. It is difficult to find the faith here because so much of the conversation is academic, brain-work, and I don’t hear much of other’s heart-work, or how they feel the Spirit. Perhaps it’s just this medium that makes this aspect difficult to convey.
    It seems like doubt is easier to convey than faith. Or maybe doubt is the focus, not faith. Either way, I’m probably way off what you were saying, but that’s just how the post resonates with me.

  11. 11.

    Jessawhy, that’s really nice of you–but as the person you know who knows me can assure you, I’m extremely prosaic in real life. Blogging is a great medium for introverts like me because we can think out every word in advance. In face-to-face conversation, I tend to hem and haw a lot.

    Actually, I think my reasons for blogging are pretty simple, too. I’m looking for discussion of issues it’s hard to discuss in my offline life. The demons I referred to are just my tendency to project evil characteristics onto other people with whom I disagree.

    Your questions about faith and doubt in this medium are excellent ones. I suspect we tend to discuss doubts, conflicts, questions, and frustrations more frequently here because they’re less easily discussed in our Sunday-to-Sunday church lives. And you may be right that blogging is more amenable to expressions of doubt than expressions of faith. Still, I think–I hope!–our conversation hereabouts is basically faith-based.

    The question of searching for answers that aren’t immediately relevant to living the gospel–that’s a good one. I guess I see both as important. Living the gospel, or trying to, is the most important thing there is, of course, but pursuing answers to the questions that haunt us is important too. Most of my academic study has no immediate bearing on living the gospel. But I still find it vitally important to who I am. So I don’t think we have to make a choice. We can–and ideally should–both try to live the gospel and seek answers to our own most vexing questions.

    Sorry, that may be way more of a response than you wanted!

  12. 12.

    Lovely post.

    “I often find myself composing comments then closing my browser and simply not submitting them.”

    Me too! Often, the comment becomes too long, too emotional, or I can’t quite express what I want to say, so I just close my browser. But I feel better for having worked through it.

  13. 13.

    I guess my lack of participation lately is evidence that I’m a curmudgeon at heart

    ECS – you are so NOT! You are one of the kindest, nicest people I know

    Eve – I identify with your post a lot. You may have a long way to go, but your posts always inspire me

    I too go looking for a fight at times (although like Starfoxy, I delete comments I write a lot more than I comment), but I’m really comforted by knowing other Mormons have some of the same questions I do, and when I’ve had the chance to meet fellow bloggernacle people it’s been great.

  14. 14.

    What a thoughtful, lovely post.

    I’m not a blogger (nor even a prolific commenter), but the bloggernacle has strengthened me spiritually. Most of that comes from overwhelming relief of discovering that not only are there others, but LOTS of others who think and question and struggle in much the same way I do, and still remain faithful. More importantly, I’ve gained an understanding and appreciation for the nearly wide-open variety of viewpoints regarding which behaviors, attitudes, and practices constitute a Christlike life. Like Eve, I have concluded that it is my intentions toward and interaction with others that is the primary marker of my faith.

    And Eve (and the rest of ZD . . .), please find a way to make it to the Utahnaclesnacker. I simply must meet you!

  15. 15.

    I was on an on-line depression group for awhile in college, and I came to conclusions that were related to Dave’s. While the interactions that I had on-line were different in some ways from my RL interactions, learning how to get along with people (i.e. the fact that there were misunderstandings, and you had to learn how to deal with and negotiate those) was the same. And I found it good practice, since I am pretty socially reserved and generally less overwhelmed when I can express myself in writing rather than in speech.

    Anyway, I think whatever forum we use communicate with people is going to enable both positive and negative interactions, and it’s our job to figure out how to maximize the former and minimize the latter. Thanks for a lovely, thought-provoking post on what this means for you in this particular forum.

  16. 16.

    Eve, I pretty much adore you. This is exactly the post I needed to stumble upon tonight. Thanks. Also, you write so incredibly well that I am breaking the 10th commandment as I write this :)

  17. 17.

    Thanks to all for your comments and observations. Seraphine, I particularly like your point about the parallels between RL and online interactions. (I suppose we tend to accentuate the differences, but I think you’re right that negotiating differences in relationships is a skill that has quite a bit of transference from one domain to another.)

    And it’s always nice to see Sue, Rebecca, Janet, and Idahospud over here. One of these days we ZDs will make it to a snacker! I think part of the challenge is that we tend to congregate in the West at Christmastime, which is I know is a terrible time for many people to try to squeeze another event in. But this summer I think at least some of us will be around. (I’m shy, so I’ll have to go with a couple of other people I already know to fortify me until I get to know the rest of you and relax a little. ;) ).

  18. 18.

    Eve,
    Even though your post wasn’t on this thread, I want you to know that your comments on fMh emboldened me tonight. I sent an email to my Institute teacher (who is also our Stk RS pres) about the closed minded and insensitive comments in her class. (they were knocking the ‘nacle and women who have concerns about why they don’t have the priesthood, as well as comparing SSA to a tendency to violence).
    At fMh you said,

    I sometimes complain about my frustrations with the church to them, and I end up feeling guilty about that.

    and it made me realize that I feel the same way, but it’s not going to change unless I stand up and say something. Perhaps I’m missing something, and then they can clue me in. Otherwise, I give them the opportunity to be more open-minded. I hope she receives the letter in the spirit it was intended, as honest feedback. I’m interested to see how it goes from here . . .
    Also, just in case she comes back with some support for her claims that SSA has no genetic component, does anyone else know of any GA quotes relating to this?
    PS (I just realized I totally thread-jacked, AND on the wrong thread. I’m in double trouble)

  19. 19.

    Jessawhy, no big deal. I’m glad you find my comments inspiring–but to be very honest, I’m not at all good about dealing with my frustrations with the church in productive ways, and I’m not at all a role model in these matters. (Maybe Janet, on the other hand….) I tend to say nothing because I don’t want to face all of the exhausting conversation that often ensues, and then get more and more resentful, and then one day explode or….blog! (Not a cycle I’d recommend.)

    I do hope that your letter to your Institute teacher turns out to be a positive experience for you and promotes dialogue and mutual understanding. Keep us posted.

    Hmm, as far as SSA–the latest discussion I’ve seen on that topic is Taryn’s review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s book over at BCC:

    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2007/02/review-no-more-goodbyes-circling-the-wagons-around-our-gay-loved-ones/

    (I can’t seem to get the link feature to work…sorry about that. But I think you can find the discussion quite easily. It’s at the top of the blog right now.)

  20. 20.

    Like Seraphine, I’ve found that my online interactions tend to be a lot like my offline ones. I noticed again and again a particular pattern in the previous online community I was involved with: people showed up and were so excited to have found us, a place that was friendly and supportive and gave them a chance to talk about things they weren’t able to talk about elsewhere. And then inevitably the honeymood period would end–they’d get in an argument with someone, or feel left out or ignored–and then have to adjust to the realization that our community was, like any other group of humans, riddled with problems and imperfect people. I don’t see this so much on the Bloggernacle, likely because my earlier community was a support group and people understandably came with certain expectations. But that experience made me think a lot about online dynamics, and how it’s not all that easy to escape whatever quirks and foibles you may possess when it comes to relationships–even online, they still come bubbling up.

    That said, however, I think in the past couple of years I’ve gotten much more worked up by online disagreements and problems than I have by disagreements elsewhere. And I’ve wondered about that. Is it simply because I’m having discussions here that I don’t have in many other settings? Is it because it’s easier to caricature people I know only through the internet, because I don’t see them in a broader context? Even if Sister So-and-So says off-the-wall things in testimony meeting, after all, it’s likely that if we’ve been in the same ward for a while, I know more about her than her views on Kolob, so I see her religious opinions as just a slice of her identity and not the whole picture. But I have a harder time doing that with people here, especially if the only interaction we’ve had has been in the form of lively disagreements about religious issues. And it doesn’t help that some of those religious issues are so emotional for me, that they touch on such raw hurts.

    I often think I would do better with blogging if I were less emotionally involved. And yet I don’t think that the ideal is one of complete detachment, either; I certainly don’t subscribe to the view that the best discussions are those devoid of emotion or passion, as if being carried out by robots. Religious disagreements are likely to push my buttons precisely because I care so much about the subject; the same is true for feminism. If this were a blog about the economy of medieval Europe, I don’t think I’d have this problem of getting too worked up. But I’d also be bored to tears. Hmmm.

    Well, this comment seems to be going on and on. But thanks for a beautiful and thought-provoking post, Eve. Also, because I strive to be a supportive sister, I’m going to back you up in your assertion that you’re a curmudgeon. :)

  21. 21.

    Lynnette, heh heh, the one who had to share a bedroom with me growing up is the one with the authority to confer the curmudgeon title.

    I graciously accept. :D

  22. 22.

    Eve, you asked me to keep you posted. . .
    Well, institute started out pretty rough. Although the teacher didn’t talk to me directly about my concerns, she addressed some of them to the class. She read bits of a talk by Elder Oaks on SSA given in 1995 (which seems a bit too long ago) and explained her position.
    After I sent the letter I wished I had waited a day or 2 and refined it better. I’m not sure it was just my letter, but she was pretty teary up there telling us she hasn’t been focused on institute b/c they are starting an int’l adoption, etc.
    Otherwise it went fine, we ended the class discussing ways we individually feel the Spirit. That was the best part.
    In the end, I think she was talking to me, about all of those things because I doubt anyone else disagreed with her. However, she didn’t even touch the stuff she said the week before about the bloggernacle being evil (a step away from the church) or women who are waiting for the preisthood being crazy. (I said they have real concerns and laughing at them isn’t very Christlike). I’ll bet she thinks that one was way out there.
    One interesting comment she made was that up until recently she hadn’t been such a fan of Deseret Book, and I started to nod and agree when I realized she meant that because she couldn’t trust the content there. She only orders from the distribution center. hmm, then I realized how different we are. (btw, i found that Deseret book is now carrying In Sacred Loneliness, interesting . . .)

  23. 23.

    Jessawhy–
    I’m amazed that In Sacred Loneliness is for sale at Deseret Book. It’s interesting they’re selling it for $41.95, whereas on Amazon its $27.69.

  24. 24.

    DD,
    The extra $14.26 is a sin tax. Also, you have to supply your name should it be needed for Church disciplinary purposes later. ;)

  25. 25.

    Jessawhy, thanks for the update. It does sound as if you and the teacher are coming from very different positions. That’s hard.

    I know what you mean about having written something in the moment and sent it only to wish one could revise a little later. Negotiating fundamental differences really is a delicate matter. It’s hard to find that still center at which you assert your onw position clearly and without apology but also without any malice or provocation, intentional or unintentional. I constantly struggle to find it.

    It’s possible too that your teacher’s under some stress (with the international adoption) and so may be feeling more provoked in general. I tend to feel much more provoked when I’m stressed.

    I’m fascinated that she has found the Bloggernacle and thinks it’s evil (did she refer to it by name?). I’ve yet to hear a single word at church about blogging.

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