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.
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.
The metaphor of a “crush” to describe my newfound love for the Episcopal tradition is really quite apt. I’m smitten. I’m infatuated. I’m giddy and excited, and I even find myself feeling almost guilty at times for being so happy about this when so many terrible things are happening right now in the country and in the world. But it’s spring! And the sun is shining, and the flowers are blooming! And I get to go to church! Oh, so much church. On Palm Sunday a friend asked which of the Holy Week services I was planning to attend, and I said oh, all of them, and she laughed. But I can’t get seem to get enough. (For one thing, I think I’m absolutely famished for good liturgy, in a way that I didn’t even realize.) And just being at church, just being in the building, makes me ridiculously happy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this about Mormon church, not just because it’s beaten me down a lot over the years, but also because I suspect that it’s hard to have a period of falling in love with a tradition in which you’ve been immersed since you were born, and is never going to be new and exciting in the same way. Yep, this is a crush for sure. Read More
The first time I ever went to see a therapist, I was 18 years old and a freshling at BYU. I’d finally gotten up the nerve to admit to my bishop that I was suicidally depressed, and he referred me to the university counseling center. I’d never been in therapy before, and I didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately, it turned out to be kind of a disaster from the very beginning. The person who did the intake asked me about my suicide plans. When I hesitantly told him what I was thinking of doing, he said dismissively, “oh that would never work.” I was seriously burned by that brief interaction; years and years later, therapists would plead with me to share the specific details of my suicidal thinking and I would remain reticent, not wanting to re-live the shame of being told that my plans (and by extension, me) were not worth taking seriously. Read More
Like most kids born into the church, I was baptized at the age of eight. I turned 42 earlier this year. (Tangential sign that you are getting at least middle-aged: I actually had to stop and check the year and subtract to verify my current age. But yes, it’s 42.) That means I have a solid 34 years of membership in the LDS church. I was by no means consistently active for all those years. My first foray out of Mormonism happened about thirty seconds after I finished my last class at BYU, and was no longer required to have an ecclesiastical endorsement. That time around, I left for a good year and a half. But looking back, “left” is a very strong word for what I did. I mean, I quit going to church every week (though I’d still drop by for special occasions). But I still did stuff like praying and reading my scriptures, and even (such are the contradictions of life) attending an Institute class for a while. And given that I was living in Provo, with five Mormon roommates, I was still pretty immersed in the whole thing. In a stroke of good fortune, I got to take a night class on Mormon literature from Eugene England, who had found refuge at UVU at that point, and I loved it. It was an environment where there was room for real questions; I found there a constructive and supportive space to begin the process of seriously wrestling with my Mormon heritage and what it meant to me. Given my continuing attachment to the LDS tradition, I don’t think anyone was terribly surprised when I eventually decided to come back to church. Read More
I posted this on Facebook the other day, with reference to my recent exploration of the Episcopal tradition, and I thought I’d share it here as well.
I’ve been wanting to express appreciation to my believing Mormon friends in particular who’ve been so supportive of my recent forays into other religious possibilities. It means a lot to me that no one has lectured, or asked me if I just have Word of Wisdom issues, or played the “you’re falling into apostasy” card, and that so many of you even seem excited and happy for me. Because I am in fact excited and happy. This has all been spiritually nourishing and powerful, and because I am still in many ways very Mormon, I have to think that it unquestionably passes the Moroni 7:41 test (“every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”) Read More
I recently emerged from a very long depression. While I am quite enjoying this rare life interlude of an existence not characterized by overwhelming apathy and despair, and am wanting to just savor the radical sense of being remarkably and unexpectedly enthusiastic about this whole being alive thing, my therapist keeps pushing me to think about how I can cope better when the depression returns. This isn’t a fun question to tackle, of course, because in my current state I’d prefer to believe that the depression won’t ever return. I do realize that this is completely wrongheaded. My particular manifestation of bipolar disorder is constituted by something like eighty percent down, fifteen percent in between, and a mere five percent up. (To really look at that, which I don’t often do, makes me feel both profound grief about how much of my life I’ve lost to depression, and intense rage about the unfairness of it all. Which is probably why I don’t like to think about it too hard.) But I do know in my head, at least, that the chances of the depression being permanently gone are close to zero, and I’ve thus been reluctantly willing to do the kind of strategic thinking that my therapist is asking me to do.
I’m temperamentally a neurotic person, anxiety-prone and a worrier. Thinking back to some of the things I remember best about growing up in the Church, it occurred to me that many of them evidence an interaction of my neuroticism with my Mormonism. I thought it might be interesting to share some of these experiences.
- At the ages of six and seven, I really internalized the teaching that children who died before the age of accountability would be guaranteed exaltation. I also didn’t learn too much (i.e., anything) about grace, and it was pretty clear to me that that was likely my only shot, since as soon as I was baptized and became responsible for my sins, I was sure to sin up such a storm that I would never be able to keep track of and repent of them all. Considering these facts, I mused a fair amount about suicide. I wasn’t particularly depressed; I was just thinking through things logically. I never made anything like a concrete plan, but I often turned the idea over in my mind, and wished that I could come up with a way to make it happen. It seemed perfectly in line with what I was learning at church: better to suffer a small pain now and have happiness later than avoid pain now and have sadness later. When I turned eight and went ahead and got baptized, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to work up the courage to go through with killing myself. I was resigned to the reality that I now had my feet firmly planted on the path to damnation.
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.
In my latest post I shared my words from my ward’s latest fast and testimony meeting. It was intensely personal to me; I sniffled through some of it, something I almost never do despite my good Mormon upbringing. Even so, I posted my testimony because I wanted to give encouragement to those members who, for various reasons, love the Church in spite of the sometimes painfully large, angry-red, pus-filled warts that they see. I wanted to provide support to Mormons who desire to be themselves at church, in a church where being yourself can make you undesirable if your beliefs are not mainstream.
In the past I have avoided sharing some of my concerns about the Church with my TBM friends. If the Church is working well for them I do not want to give them difficulty. If they are deriving strength and hope from our community and its teachings, if they are comforted by the certainty of belonging to the One True Church and are learning to know God and love their neighbors by participating in it, I do not want to rain on their parade. Read More
On Sunday I decided to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting and talk about my involvement with Ordain Women. I’ve transcribed below approximately what I said. In case you were wondering, in my opinion it was only the third strangest testimony of the meeting. Yay for Mormon weirdness!
Next post I’ll share the response so far from my local leaders and fellow ward members. I think you’ll find it to be generally good news.
This past year I taught Book of Mormon in seminary and I absolutely loved it. I loved the kids, even when they were half-asleep or all-the-way asleep, or even when my son was making smart remarks. What I especially loved, though, was the opportunity to help the kids develop a personal relationship with God.
I love the Book of Mormon and am deeply moved by many of its teachings. One of my favorites is when Nephi teaches us that all are alike unto God. Over the years this scripture and other Church teachings have led me along a path of life that may be different from yours, and that is what I’d like to talk about even though it is hard for me. I feel very vulnerable baring my soul like this so I hope you’ll bear with me. Read More
One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss
In the name of love!
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love!
What more? In the name of love!
For seven years I home taught a gay man. Despite numerous invitations during that time, he only came to church twice–once to wish me a happy birthday and once when I gave a talk in sacrament meeting. He regularly prayed for my family, spoiled my kids with Key lime pie and toy frogs, and treated me to his favorite Mexican restaurant–El Toro. I helped him repair his leaky roof and foolishly pushed his 1991 Toyota pickup to the mechanic at 2am (with my car!) because neither of us could afford a tow. Two days before he died of a heart attack at the age of 59, he confessed to me that he had finally met the love of his life, a kind, affirming man from Germany. At that last visit together my friend theatrically lifted up his shirt while sticking out his chest and sucking in his gut to show my daughter and I how much weight he had lost with his latest diet. We laughed, not knowing he would soon be gone.
If I were playing the lottery, I know what numbers I would choose. They would have some variation of 0803 in them (but no, would-be scammers, that is not my debit card PIN number). If I were starting a land war in Asia, I would invade on August 3rd. If I were having elective surgery, I would do it on this day. Today is my lucky day.
You see, August 3rd is the day that my organizing, funny-story-telling, contagiously-laughing wife and my creative, ear-to-ear-grinning, anime-loving only daughter were born. What an awesome day!
The big toe on my left foot is purple and the nail, like the hair on my head, is starting to fall out. I wish I could say this was an unusual state of affairs, but ever since I took up soccer again, I find my body perpetually suffering from minor traumas.
While limping around the house last week I thought about why I do this to myself. It seemed easier years ago. As Paul Simon sheepishly laments, “And all my friends stand up and cheer and say, ‘Man, you’re old.’ Getting old.” But stubbornly in my middle age (can 42 really be middle age?!), I still do it to myself, cursing as I play, that the 22 year-old I know I am inside has mistakenly woken up, through a tragic, Freaky Fridayesque accident, in an over-the-hill body. Now, the easy solution to this discouraging reality would be to stop playing. A less drastic measure might be to not play so hard—less recklessness, lower risk of injury. More brain, less pain.
I have long been wary of Ether 12:27, with its assertion that “if men [and women] come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.” My response has generally been along the lines of, actually, I’m all too aware of my many weaknesses. So thanks, but no thanks—if this is what God is up to, I’m better off keeping my distance. Read More
In high school, I was often frustrated with the standard gender narrative for women (get married in the temple, have babies, become a noble mother in Zion, ad nauseum). I was passionate about education, and even in high school, I imagined myself going to graduate school. I resented being told over and over in YW that my only purpose in life was to be a mother. I wasn’t anti-motherhood, but I had other goals and dreams that I wanted everyone (including God) to recognize. Read More
Last week I began to ponder how the Atonement might apply currently to the struggles I’m facing. We’re taught that the Atonement is not only there for sinners, but for everyone who needs healing and reconciliation. I began to wonder how it might be possible to use the Atonement to reconcile myself to a God from whom I am distant and with whom I am very upset.
This was in the back of my mind as I went to church on Sunday. Read More
An oft-quoted scripture in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 2:25: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” When I typed “joy” into the lds.org search and looked at General Conference talks, I found talk after talk that expressed the joy that comes into our lives from living the gospel, being righteous, repenting, etc. Read More
Recently, as I’ve sat pondering the mess that’s been my life for the past year, I noticed a common thread. For awhile now, I’ve been allowing other people to invade my boundaries, to dictate how I will act, to affect my life in negative ways without directly standing up for myself and my needs. Instead, I’ve been withdrawing further and further into myself, hoping the barrage from the world around me would stop. Read More