When they asked us about the meaning of “penitent” at a church group I was attending the other night, I have to admit that the first thing that came to mind was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when near the end of the movie Indiana is going through various obstacles to get to the Holy Grail. The instruction is that “only the penitent man will pass,” and at the last minute, he realizes he has to kneel in order to avoid having his head chopped off. So when I hear “penitent,” I think, “be humble before God or be decapitated,” which seems like potentially useful information, especially if I ever go on a religious quest that involves elaborate traps.
I was sitting in church a few weeks ago and noticing how several of the scriptural texts were about God calling people: Samuel hearing a voice and wondering what it was, Psalm 139 (“Lord, you have searched me out and known me”), and the encounter of Jesus with Nathanael. As I was listening to the sermon, which also touched on these themes, and emphasized God’s call to each one of us, and the need for our community to make space for everyone to become what God is calling her or him to be, a question came to mind which I’ve often pondered: how do you discern between a call or a challenge that pushes you in healthy ways, make you grow, and brings you closer to God—and one that simply beats you down and leaves you broken? Read More
I didn’t actually have to get baptized as part of my conversion. The Episcopal church doesn’t have a clear policy on what do with Mormons—while Catholics and some Protestants have ruled that Mormon baptism is invalid and converts from Mormonism must be baptized, Episcopalians have been rather less definitive. There are certainly LDS converts to Anglicanism who’ve made the religious transition without being baptized (perhaps most notably a former Episcopal bishop of Utah). When I first started playing with the idea of converting, I figured I’d do it via confirmation only; I liked the idea of holding on to my Mormon baptism as a way of maintaining continuity in my religious journey. Read More
It’s been almost two years since I was last hospitalized (yay!), but I’ve been reading through some of the journals I kept while I was there, and it put me in the mood to reflect yet again on some of my experiences.
In every psych ward I’ve been in, visiting hours were restricted to an hour or two a day. After lots of experiences with this, I’d actually forgotten that for people in regular hospitals, they usually let people come throughout the day and only send them away at night; I remember asking a friend of mine who was in the hospital for medical reasons a few years ago when I could visit, and being surprised when she said, anytime. In the mental hospital, they seem to think it’s a distraction that needs to be limited. Though at least everywhere I stayed, they had visiting hours every day; I’ve heard of places that only allowed them a few times a week, if even that, I think on the theory that you needed to focus on their program and on getting better, and less contact with the outside world would help you do that. I would have really hated that.
I can’t speak for all of U.S. history, given that I’ve only been around since 1975, and spent the first 15 or so years of my life not terribly attuned to the broader social dynamics in the culture of my country. But I can say that in my lifetime, I have never experienced the kind of bitter divides that I see happening in the country right now over politics, where people are at times ending friendships and cutting off contact with family members who have different political views. I have complicated feelings about this trend. It definitely concerns me that our society is going in this direction; it doesn’t seem like a healthy thing. At the same time, I feel sympathetic to the view that some positions are so toxic that they simply corrode the possibility of any real trust or good faith in relationships. I know that these were fraught questions long before our last election, but since the ascendance of Trump, it feels like it’s almost impossible to get away from them. To be perfectly candid, I’m in a place right now where I find it very difficult personally to really trust anyone who is a Trump supporter. It feels to me like those people are living in a world with completely different values. And more than just different; values that are actively hostile to me and the things I most care about. I imagine that they might say the same thing about me, though. And I realize that depending on where you are, you might see my perspective on this as simple sanity, or you might see it as my making unfair judgments about people. Read More
A particular combination of life circumstances last year lured me back into being a more active blogger than I’d been in a while. However, as the year went on and I started to suspect that my religious dabbling elsewhere might be turning into a serious thing, I found myself grappling more and more with questions about what it meant for me to be blogging on a Mormon blog. When I finally made the decision in November to convert away from Mormonism, I realized I was going to have to address the issue at some point. Should I keep writing about my religious journey and explorations of faith here, I wondered, or would it make more sense to go elsewhere? I don’t feel done with blogging, certainly; there’s still so much that interests me about religion (inside as well as outside of Mormonism), and there are other topics that I’d like to write about as well. But given where I am, I’ve worried about whether it really makes sense to continue to share my thoughts here.
Two Mormon-related events in the past week have shaken me up a little. On one level, neither of them were particularly surprising—but on another, I found them both unsettling and at least a little unexpected. The first was the release of the Gallup poll which found that the Mormon approval of Trump was, at 61 percent, the highest of any religious group surveyed. The second was the decision of incoming church president Russell M. Nelson to move Dieter F. Uchtdorf out of the First Presidency and replace him with Dallin H. Oaks. I also found the comments made at the press conference about the leadership transition, especially the ones about women, to be quite jarring. And I’ve found myself asking: whatever has happened to my church? (Yes, I know that it’s not technically mine anymore, since I’ve found a new religious home. But it’s still the church I grew up in, the church that shaped me. I don’t feel all the way disconnected from it.) Read More
President Hinckley once encouraged those not of the LDS faith, “ . . . we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.” It might seem odd, but I’ve actually thought a lot about that quote this year, because it speaks to something about my current religious journey, as I take a significant step in a new direction. This coming Sunday, the day after Epiphany, I’m going to be baptized in the Episcopal church. Read More
I suspect that a message that most human beings absorb growing up is that we should exercise some caution in our love. That love is always a risk, that it opens you up to being vulnerable, that you can get deeply wounded if you get too drawn in by love’s currents and run into troubled waters. That the people whom you love the most are also the ones who can hurt you the most. So we learn to hesitate, to look before we leap, to take care, to think in advance about what might go wrong. Sometimes we may let ourselves get swept up in it despite all this, an experience which can be both giddy and terrifying. But we also often build walls, sometimes as thick as we can make them, in hopes of protecting ourselves from getting too invested, from caring too much.
For most of my life, my religious beliefs have been both deeply meaningful to me, and a source of intense turbulence. I agonized over my relationship to Mormonism for decades, over what it meant to stick with a tradition that did things I so deeply disagreed with but which was such a profound part of my identity, and had played such a foundational role in shaping my spirituality. I don’t know how many hours I spent writing about those questions, talking endlessly to friends and family about them, even bringing them up in therapy. And because of all that, I think I developed the idea that genuine faith was meant to be difficult, and by “difficult” I meant, something that regularly drove you crazy.
This is my first year observing Advent. To be honest, in the past I only had a rather vague idea of what it was all about. I associated it with the Advent calendars we had in my family growing up (only one each year, which meant that if you had six siblings, you only got a chocolate every seventh evening and had to suffer the indignity of watching a sibling eat the chocolate on the other six). And I’d been to Lessons and Carols on multiple occasions. But my general impression was that Advent was just the time of excitement and fun leading up to Christmas. Read More
I grew up with two related beliefs about making decisions. The first was that in most cases, there was a right decision, a choice that you were supposed to make. “There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question,” asserts the hymn. The other was that with enough asking, God would reveal to you what that correct choice was. I heard again and again what a wonderful blessing this was, that God had a clear plan for your life and would guide you along that path, that you wouldn’t ever be left on your own to figure out what you were supposed to do. In fact, figuring out and then following God’s will for you was the entire point of this life. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” explains the book of Abraham. Read More
It first dawned on me that women weren’t necessary in church when I went to BYU Education Week as a teenager and heard what were meant to be faith-promoting stories about believing LDS women behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, who were unable to have an ecclesiastical organization because there wasn’t anyone with the priesthood to run it and who therefore didn’t get to take the sacrament for decades, but who nonetheless personally kept the faith. Rather than being inspired, I was somewhat taken aback when it occurred to me that for all the importance Latter-day Saints place on having an organized church, it is secondary to the importance of maintaining strict gender divisions. I realize that in the particular situation of the Cold War, there were added complications affecting what was possible. But a principle nonetheless became clear to me: if the choice was to ordain women, or to not have a church at all, Mormons would opt for the latter. (This led me to wonder: what if the only way to restore the church had been to work through a woman? Would the Mormon God simply decided to not have a Restoration rather than to allow a woman to act in his name and with his authority?) Read More
One of the complaints I’ve heard numerous times from Latter-day Saints is that we gay people are way too obsessed with our gayness, that we get caught up in some outlandish homosexual identity (which might eventually lead to the dreaded “gay lifestyle”), and that we need to just stop thinking about sexual orientation as being that big of a part of who we are. We’re discouraged from even using the word “gay,” because it might swallow up our identities and make us think that there’s nothing else to us. Mormons who claim to be especially enlightened have informed me that they just don’t think about people in those terms, that they’ve transcended even being aware of such details about a person, and then complained about gay people who “force” their orientation on others by talking excessively about it, and thereby making everyone feel unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable. Others have objected to an idea put forth by some church members that gay Mormons have a particularly challenging trial, pointing out that everyone has difficulties in life, and asking, when did we decide that gay people should get all this special attention? Read More
1. Taking the sacrament with your left hand is basically saying that you’re okay with being a goat on the left hand of Jesus.
2. When people who disagree with me share their political views in church, that’s inappropriate and should be discouraged. When people who agree with me do it, they’re just speaking common sense about moral issues.
3. Luther was a hero inspired by God. Also, people who criticize the church today should be swiftly excommunicated.
4. Before you doubt, doubt the doubt that leads you to doubt whether your doubts are actually doubts.
5. We don’t talk about Heavenly Mother much because she doesn’t matter for our salvation. It’s preferable to have sacrament meeting talks that focus on the essentials, like BYU football.
6. If you run into a show involving mummies and Egyptian papyri, do some comparison shopping before purchasing them as a potential source for new scripture. You might be able to get a better deal if you’re open to instead using the texts accompanying traveling zombie exhibits.
7. When you do your visiting or home teaching before the last week of the month, it feels really awkward for everyone involved. Better to play it safe and show up in the last 24 hours.
8. This high council talk is so good that I don’t mind that sacrament meeting is going twenty minutes over, said no one ever.
9. The most righteous people know that the church is true with every fiber of their being. The somewhat less righteous only know it with the finely woven threads of their existence.
10. Mormons don’t make a big deal out of Easter because they think about Jesus every week during the sacrament. (Churches that make a big production of Easter don’t actually think about Jesus during Communion, but instead about a different Messiah figure named Alfred.) Read More
I’ve been reading with interest the lively conversation taking place right now at Wheat and Tares about why people leave the church. This is of course a topic that has been extensively discussed over the years, and this thread has lots of classic elements, including a thoughtful original post that brings up a wide variety of factors, and people in the comments speculating about the extent to which those who end up leaving were ever truly converted. I’ve been reading these sorts of discussions for a long time now, but they’ve become interesting to me in a new way this past year, for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone familiar with my current religious situation.
CW: General discussion of sexual assault
When I was a teenager, my Utah County ward had a “morality talk” for the youth about every six months. (It was only years later that I learned that in other contexts, “morality” had a much broader meaning, and wasn’t just code for “chastity.”) Often they wouldn’t tell us the topic in advance, guessing (probably correctly) that pretty much no one had a great desire to hear yet another morality talk. We would asks our leaders suspiciously, is this going to be about morality again, and they would dodge the question. The talks, usually given by the bishop, tried to emphasize to us the seriousness of engaging in “immorality.” We heard a lot about the sin next to murder, and why sex outside of marriage was so terrible (not, of course, that the word “sex” was ever uttered). Often we would be allowed to submit anonymous questions, most of which turned out to be variants of “how far is too far?” and “how do I know when I need to confess?” There were no clear answers given to these questions, though we did get to hear about the dangers of “necking” and “petting,” terms which no one seemed able to quite define. We watched what we called the river movie a lot (the one in which a bunch of teens go river rafting, and one reckless young man neglects to wear a life jacket, while the voice of Spencer W. Kimball warns about evil.) At the end we would hear about the atonement and the possibility of repentance, with encouragement to come talk to the bishop if necessary. To my leaders’ credit, I don’t recall hearing analogies suggesting that engaging in sexual behavior would cause irreversible spiritual damage that even the atonement couldn’t fix (e.g., leaving you as chewed-up gum or a board with scars from nails). On the other hand, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. One of my friends in a different stake told me that her YW leader had bought them all crystal temples, which, if they remained pure, they were to present to their husbands on their wedding nights. If they slipped, they were supposed to smash the temple. I wasn’t overly aware of the problems in this discourse at that point in my life, but even I thought that was a little weird. Read More
This is going to be a cheesy, navel-gazing post. You can stop reading now. You’ve been warned. But losing Katie/Vada has made me think about a lot of things, including all the tributes to her that she didn’t get to see while she was alive. And I found myself wanting to write a bit about what the ZD community has meant to me over the years.
I don’t actually remember the first time I met Katie. I know what time period it would have been, probably sometime in the fall of 1999. But I’d heard about her long before I met her, because her older sister (who blogs here as Seraphine) and I were roommates at the University of Illinois, where I was a grad student. Seraphine and I were in the habit of talking late into the night, and in the course of our many conversations, we traded a lot of information about our respective families. When Katie showed up, then, it just meant putting a face with a person with whom I already felt somewhat familiar. Our time at that university and in the small singles branch connected to it overlapped by a year, but I can’t say I got to know her very well.
As some of you know, I’ve recently found myself engaged in the project of visiting as many churches and other religious groups in my local community as I can. I have a spreadsheet which currently has 143 entries; thus far, I’ve visited 41 of them. (My hope is to see another 60 or so in the coming year, but I’ll have to see how long my energy holds up.) I’ve seen Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, Pagans, Buddhists, and lots of nondenominational Protestants. These are some random observations arising from my experiences thus far. Read More