In conversations about whether God really commanded such-and-such a thing, I’ve often heard the argument that “God wouldn’t do that.” God wouldn’t tell Abraham to kill his son, tell Joseph Smith to marry underage girls, tell contemporary prophets to enact a policy against the children of gays parents. Such things go against the character of God, so we can be confident that there was no divine involvement in these cases—just human error at work. The response from defenders of these things is often that God is far beyond our comprehension, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, and we are in no position to evaluate what he might or might not do. Continue reading
As a follow-up to my last post on chronic suicidality, I thought I’d mention some of the things that have kept me going over the years.
I’m like Hermione—when life throws you lemons, go to the library. Except that it’s hard to find books that have anything helpful to say. I’ve read my share and more of self-help books, and they’re almost all completely stupid—they don’t really speak to the experience of utter despair. There are some books on depression that I’ve found to be worth reading, though they can be hard to find. I prefer memoirs, accounts of people who’ve actually experienced it. But what’s helped me the most, honestly, is poetry. Mary Oliver in particular has a way of re-connecting me with what matters in life, of making me see things differently, without being cheesy or sentimental. For example, “The Journey”:
It was junior high when I first started thinking about how I’d really prefer not to be alive. I don’t think I got to the point of actually thinking about how I could bring that about—it was just a desperate unhappiness. But by high school I was starting to think more actively in that direction. I read all the books I could find about suicide, looking for information about methods, but also, I think, hoping to find something that would somehow help, even if I couldn’t articulate what that help would look like. If nothing else, learning more about it made me feel less alone with my demons. Continue reading
Like many of you, I was devastated by the results of this election. Devastated in a way that I never have been, even when the person I voted for lost, even when I had serious concerns about what the winner would do. I’ve never been through an election like this.
It’s probably not entirely fair of me, but I have to admit that I felt particularly betrayed by the Mormon vote for Trump. I’ve been thinking about why that is. And the reality is that I bought into the narrative being promulgated for a while that Mormons were different, that we, unlike evangelicals, were going to put commitment to religious values above commitment to party. I gobbled up that narrative. I loved it. I explained to non-LDS friends with pride about Mormons defying the national trend of Republicans, who were unifying behind their morally reprehensible candidate. Continue reading
Prayer and personal revelation have always been the foundation of my religious life. I’ve counted on them. When the church has done crazy things and I’ve wondered why I was still a believer, I’ve come back to them as the core of my faith.
But lately I’m losing that core. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s been a long time since I felt like I was getting divine communication, since I felt spiritually connected. It’s been an adjustment. It’s not like I haven’t had patches of feeling distant before; I’ve always felt like it was kind of on-and-off. But this has been a long “off” period. And the timing has made it particularly difficult. My life currently feels like a disaster area. With this happening on top of that, I feel like God has abandoned me when I’ve been especially desperate for help. I want to believe in a God who’s loving and faithful, not random and capricious. But right now, it’s taking all I have to hang on to that belief. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking about some of the things that lots of people I know absolutely rave about, or I feel a lot of social pressure to like, but in reality I just don’t get—for whatever reason, they simply don’t click with me. A sample:
Podcasts: Sometimes it seems like all the fun discussion these days is happening on podcasts. Because of that, I want to like them. But somehow I don’t have the patience to listen, and I find it hard to stay engaged with them.
Museums: I have a really hard time with museums; I just find them boring. Looking at objects and displays doesn’t do much for me.
Strawberries: It amazes me how much people love strawberries, how they’re widely seen as a treat, how they’re even dipped in chocolate. I simply can’t stand them.
Breaking Bad: So many of my friends love this show, and I see it appearing all the time in lists of the best television. I’ve tried to watch it twice, and seriously found it unwatchable.
Nature: It’s not that I dislike nature. I genuinely enjoy being in the mountains or visiting the ocean or being in a forest. But for me, it’s not a transcendent experience. It doesn’t really move me emotionally. For years, I felt tremendous pressure to be having certain experiences when I was out in nature that I just wasn’t having. It’s been a relief to let that expectation go.
The sacrament: In 41 years in the church, I have yet to have any kind of spiritual experience related to the sacrament. I’ve tried various ways of making it meaningful, but in the end it’s a ritual that leaves me cold. People talk about it making a difference to take it; I’ve never felt that way at all. I still take it, but I’ve stopped driving myself crazy trying to make it into anything special.
I’d be curious to hear what other people would put on a list like this.
I’m sitting in a small room on the fifth floor of the local hospital. I’ve had to change from street clothes to scrubs, and my possessions are being examined to see what I can keep. I didn’t bring in much; I turned most of it over to my sister Melyngoch when she left me in the ER. A nurse is sitting at a computer, answering question after question. I haven’t been in this particular hospital before, but I’ve been in enough similar places that the drill is familiar.
I’m reading the questions over the nurse’s shoulder. She has to check boxes about my attitude. Am I hostile? Aggressive? Withdrawn? I can’t help but notice that all of the options are negative. She checks “other,” and writes, “overly polite and helpful.” I can’t help sighing a little—it’s a reminder that whatever I do, however I act, it’s going to be seen through the lens of dysfunction. She asks my name, to find out if I know who I am, and I answer her. She asks if I know where I am. In the psych ward, I say. She corrects me, explaining that this is actually the “stress care unit.” I just smile. I know perfectly well where I am, regardless of what they’ve decided to call it.
When I was about 15, my bishop gave me some horrible advice. It was the kind of generic advice you might give to a teenager that in many situations would be harmless and probably even positive. But if he had known more about my personal situation, I’d like to think that he wouldn’t have said what he did. Unfortunately, he didn’t just say, this is something you might want to consider. He said, God is telling me that you need to do such-and-such thing. Because I’d always heard that bishops could be inspired on your behalf, I took him seriously. I did what I was told, and it was awful. And most awful of all was the message that it conveyed, which was that God didn’t actually care about my needs or experience. It reinforced destructive messages I was already getting about myself and some of the situations I was dealing with. My relationship with God was already full of landmines, and it added to the chaos. Continue reading
Hi. You don’t know me, but I got into an argument with you this morning on Facebook. I don’t usually do that—one of my resolutions is in fact not to argue with strangers on social media, because I think it’s easier to demonize and dismiss people when you don’t know them, when they’re only friends of friends (if even that). And Facebook arguments in general seem to just go back and forth and leave everyone even more deeply entrenched in their positions.
But I jumped in anyway, because I was so troubled by what you said. Troubled by the content of it, for sure, but also by the reality that your views are shared by many, many members of the church. Troubled enough that I wanted to respond. I left the Facebook argument because I quickly realized that nothing I said would make any difference. But I find myself still want to say something, to see how well I can do at explaining where I’m coming from. I don’t expect that I’m going to convince you to agree with me, but I’m wondering if we can do better than reciting talking points at each other. Continue reading
It’s been a month now, since the church’s November 5th policy changes. It’s been a pretty awful month—in the church and in the broader world. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so discouraged about my country, and its enthusiasm for guns and xenophobia. And I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so discouraged about my church. Continue reading
A painful church experience to which I think many people can relate is that of listening to people share stories of divine intervention that didn’t happen in your life. People might talk, for example, about God giving them healthy children. If you don’t have children, or if your children aren’t healthy, this can really sting. Or perhaps God is reported to have intervened to cure a disease—one from which you or someone you love still suffers. Maybe God spared people from accidents, or blessed them financially. Those who weren’t blessed in those ways are inevitably going to wonder why. As a single person,my favorites are the “how God led me to my spouse” stories. (You might think that this would be a different sort of concern for me, given that I’m gay, but actually there are plenty of gay people who will testify that God brought their partners into their lives.) And hardest of all, I suspect, are stories about God saving people’s lives, when he didn’t save the life of the person you loved. Continue reading
It’s gray outside. That’s not unusual here; it’s been gray for days, and I know this is only the beginning of some long months. I remember that from living in the Midwest before, years ago. But twelve years of living in California got me used to seeing the sun on a regular basis. I knew this part of the move would be challenging.
This past summer I was starting to crash yet again. Life was increasingly appearing both bleak and terrifying, and I was barely treading water. I hadn’t been hospitalized for an entire year—an accomplishment, that—and I saw myself headed to the ER once again. Except that I wasn’t sure I could stand yet another trip to the regulation and boredom of a psych ward, and I wondered whether this time around I could keep myself safe.
Alma is unarguably the figure in the Book of Mormon who exhibits the most concern for the concepts of justice and mercy—which he notably conceptualizes as different things, even things that are in competition. He thoroughly explicates this in Alma 42, as part of his sermon to his wayward son Corianton. I wish to go briefly over his argument, and then raise some questions about this conception.
One of the many, many things I find troubling about D&C 132 is that it’s a revelation in which the recipient is put in a privileged position vis-à-vis significant others his life; in this case, his wife. In it, Joseph is promised all kinds of blessings. To be fair, Emma is as well—but only if she’ll swallow the bitter pill of Joseph taking other wives. Otherwise, she’s warned, she’ll be destroyed. Continue reading
It’s been a difficult, heavy couple of weeks, both in the church and in the world. I think it’s important to be talking about the issues that are getting talked about. But just for a break, I’m posting a survey of completely random questions.
1) What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
2) Do you use a mouse or touchpad?
3) What time do you think you should ideally go to bed? What time do you actually go to bed?
4) Are you on Facebook? How often do you post?
5) Which of the meetings of the three-hour block is generally the best one—sacrament meeting, Sunday School, or Relief Society/Priesthood?
6) What was the last TV show you watched?
7) What is your favorite month?
8) What blogs do you read the most?
9) If you have a pet, what is it, and what is it named? If you don’t have a pet, what kind of pet do you think you’d be most likely to get?
10) Would you rather travel by car, by train, by plane, by bus, by boat, or by something else?
11) What is your favorite breakfast cereal?
Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems VIII” concludes with the lines:
Well, that’s finished. The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go on from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.1
I find that powerful. I’ve thought a lot about that temptation of cherishing your suffering, of making a career of pain. In my life, it’s been a seductive one—to define myself in terms of what I’ve suffered, to make that the center of my identity.
- Adrienne Rich, “Twenty-One Love Poems VIII,” The Dream of a Common Language (W.W. Norton 1978), 29. [↩]
I think I hadn’t realized how much hope I had that the rumored clarification/revision would substantially address the problems caused by recent policy changes until the clarification actually arrived. My heart sank when I read it. I will say that I’m happy to hear that many children who had temporarily fallen into a state of limbo will now be allowed to be baptized. I actually guessed that would happen; it seemed like denying baptism to children in joint custody situations was going to be a step too far for even conservative church leaders. But the fact that other children are still left out in the cold is deeply troubling. Even if the policy only applied to a single child, we’ve crossed a certain bridge now, in terms of what we’re willing to do in the name of rejection of gay marriage. It’s not pretty. And I worry that it will be very difficult to go back. Continue reading
I would indeed be ungrateful today if I didn’t acknowledge the blessings in my life. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it’s nonetheless true; I have been reminded again and again in this past, difficult week that I have a lot of good friends. People have reached out to me, checked up on me, reminded me that they loved me. I’ve been asked over and over, are you okay?
And the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes. I’m okay. I really am. Continue reading
Ever wondered what the ZD backlist is like? Wonder no longer! This is one of many, many discussion threads over the last couple of days.
Lynnette: Another person I know just sent in his resignation letter. I feel like I’m watching a disaster unfold in real-time.
I usually start out upset at things and then calm down some. But this is going in reverse. The more time goes by and I see the effects of this, the more awful stories I encounter, the more horrified I am.
Vada: I’m horrified, too. The posts Jerilyn has been sharing are just about killing me. Especially the ones of parents trying to explain this to their children. Or of parents knowing they’ll have to, but not knowing how. I can’t imagine having to explain to my 7yo that he can’t get baptized next year, even though his brothers did recently. Or explaining to my almost 11yo that he won’t be able to pass the sacrament next year like everyone in his age. It breaks my heart, and I don’t even have to do it.
Lynnette: I feel like there’s been a lot of discussion about hypothetical children who might have cognitive dissonance while real actual children are getting directly harmed.
I don’t know how many times in the past couple of days I’ve read something along the lines of, “I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, so I know this can’t be wrong,” or, “This is what God wants, so we shouldn’t question it.” As I’ve argued in the past, I think we’ve ended up with practical infallibility — we might in theory say that the Brethren could be wrong, but in practice, we’re expected to act as if they couldn’t be. A rejection of the notion of infallibility as understood by many Latter-day Saints, then, doesn’t necessarily allow for disagreement on specific issues. Continue reading