Pithy Phrase

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a woman, I put away childish things.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Whiny List of Complaints

Hey friends, remember when I had a blog?  I haven't forgotten, I've just been busy/lazy.  I'm in grad school now, dontchaknow, so I'm kind of consumed with that.  So why do I choose the week before finals to finally write another blog post?  Because I'm a procrastinatory glutton for punishment, of course.  Also because of the ongoing Great Pants Debacle of 2012.

A quick update on my life: I now live in New York, and I now have cats.  Two kittens, to be exact.  Named Kevin and Linda.  That's about all that's worth mentioning.

And now, to our featured presentation.  People have asked me, on the interwebs and in person, what particular feminist beef I have with my religion and/or its accompanying culture.  Well, in the midst of the Great Pants Debacle, I stumbled upon this old post over at LDS WAVE (LDS Women Advocating for Voice and Equality).  This list pretty nicely sums up most of my issues with the differential treatment of males and females in the LDS Church.  And, because I know several readers will see this as proof of my apostate nature, let me say that I love the majority of the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I have no intention of leaving.  Instead, I intend to stay forever and stand up for these issues.  I believe that God is no respecter of persons, but that many of the practices in the church do not reflect that.  I want everyone to feel equal in Mormonism, but I know that is not currently the case.  So I am hoping that my thoughts, actions, and example will contribute to positive changes in the church.

Sometimes the inequality I see is very hurtful.  My faith is still shaken, and my resolve wavers often.  But I'm trying.  So, please, I would appreciate it if no one would question my personal worthiness or righteousness in the comments.  Also, please don't tell me to find another church.  I find that to be incredibly insensitive.  I have feelings too, you know.

So, after that little explanation, here is my list of grievances, as copied from WAVE.  (I hope they don't mind my copying it!)  I understand that many women and men will not be bothered by these things at all.  Many women may feel completely equal despite these things.  That's okay.  But my feelings are valid too.  I feel kind of weird posting all of these complaints, with no qualifications or explanations.  But people keep asking, so here's my answer.  Remember, if you don't like what I have to say, you may stop reading at any time.

"I feel unequal when there are more (a lot more) men’s voices in religious texts, meetings, leadership positions, and decision making bodies.

"I feel unequal when callings that don’t necessitate the priesthood are given only to men: Sunday School Presidency, BYU, BYU-I and BYU-Hawaii Presidents, Church Education Commissioners, Ward Mission Leaders, recommend takers at the Temple, etc. (Similarly, men are not currently called in Primary Presidencies and could be.)

"I feel unequal when women doing the same job are called by different titles (i.e. Sister vs. President) and/or are accessories to rather than serving equally with their husbands, i.e. Mission President’s wives.

"I feel unequal when I have a calling as an auxiliary leader and have to get approval of every decision by men and/or when I am not invited to attend Priesthood Executive Committee meetings (PEC) which directly influence my stewardships.

"I feel unequal when my value is primarily linked to being a wife and mother rather than by being a child of God.

"I feel unequal when the men in my life acknowledge that they have no female spiritual leaders in their wards or communities.

"I feel unequal when women have less prominent, prestigious, and public roles in the church, even before and after child-rearing years.

"I feel unequal because even one of the most inherently female-dominated time periods, having a new baby, is publicly displayed at church in an all male ritual of the baby blessing.

"I feel unequal when males handle 100% of the church finances.

"I feel unequal when I am taught at church that my husband presides in my family, he is the head, and all things being equal, he has the final say.

"I feel unequal when people preach that men and women are completely equal and in the same breath say the above sentence.

"I feel unequal when I realize that at church all men have the final say. Good leaders might consult with female auxiliary leaders, but ultimately even after being called to a position via inspiration, men still make the final decisions.

"I feel unequal when cub scouts and boy scouts have a larger budget (they are allowed to do fundraising- although this might be a local issue) than achievement days and Young Womens and thus, they often have better activities.

"I feel unequal when the Young Women and Young Men’s programs have such different manuals, budgets, activities, etc.

"I feel unequal when fathers and mothers are encouraged to fulfill primary roles to provide and nurture, but only the fathers are given the freedom to seek out the best way for them to provide, whereas, mothers are told the best way for them to nurture—to be stay at home moms.

"I feel unequal when men teach me that being a stay at home mother is the most important thing a person could do, and yet most of them do not do it.

"I feel unequal when people do not emphasize fatherhood as much as they do motherhood and when we have numerous annual lessons on the priesthood and I’m not taught anything about the woman’s role as a priestess.

"I feel unequal in primary when most of the lessons and songs are about men although most of the teachers and leaders are women.

"I feel unequal because church disciplinary courts are made up of solely men and there are no female voices in the very sensitive matters of church discipline.

"I feel unequal when women have to talk to men about their sins, especially sexual ones, and have no other church sanctioned options.

"I feel unequal because most men, even inspired ones, can’t fully understand or provide enough resources for sexual abuse.

"I feel unequal when young girls are taught about modesty and chastity from older men, especially because females make decisions about these things for very different reasons than males.

"I feel unequal because many of the official church declarations and proclamations have no female input, regardless of how drastically they affect women.

"I feel unequal when there are no checks and balances for females who experience abuse in the system. While abuse may be rare, it is terrifying that women have no resources to go to outside of the male hierarchy.

"I feel unequal because the Relief Society’s autonomy was taken away and it became an auxiliary presided over by men.

"I feel unequal when women’s financial autonomy isn’t encouraged as much as men’s at church and/or church schools.

"I feel unequal because men conduct, men preach, men speak.  Men teach us how to be women.

"I feel unequal because local leaders rarely use gender inclusive language even though church manuals and General Conference talks try to do so.

"I feel unequal when men speak at Relief Society and Young Women’s meetings, but women never speak in priesthood meetings.

"I feel unequal when there are very few women’s voices in our official correlated church manuals.

"I feel unequal when women don’t pray in General Conference and usually only give 2 or 3 of the many talks.

"I feel unequal because men and women can be sealed to different numbers of people.

"I feel unequal in the temple because women a have different script and role.

"I feel unequal when female employees of the Church Educational System and temple ordinance workers are no longer allowed to keep their positions after they have children.

"I feel unequal because we know very little about Heavenly Mother and her role in the Godhead and there doesn’t seem to be any emphasis on the part of our leaders to pray and find out more. I don’t know what my divine potential means as a female and that makes me feel less important.

"I feel unequal because all of these concerns are mediated by male leaders and that they are only as important as these men deem them so. While most of our leaders are wonderful, there is very little in the structure or doctrine to prevent male leaders from misogyny or benevolent sexism.

"I feel unequal when these gender inequalities are not acknowledged by leaders. It is difficult to be a female in a patriarchal church and we are trying our best to make it work. Acknowledgement of that difficulty would go a long way."


Monday, July 16, 2012

Lessons from the Lotus Temple: Reincarnation and LDS Theology

I went to the Llama Fest at the Hare Krishna temple in Spanish Fork this weekend.  To my knowledge, llamas have nothing to do with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).  The lovely Lotus Temple just also happens to run a llama farm.  And hold a yearly festival for their beloved llamas.  This year's festivities included traditional Peruvian music and dancing, llama races and other llama competitions, a llama petting zoo, llama wool spinning, and a Beatles tribute band.  Yeah, not sure where that last part fits in, but, for the record, they were good!

Aside: why doesn't the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have llama festivals?  Or any sort of non-preachy event open to the public?  I think it's a great way to get people to come investigate your religion.  I remember, growing up, the local Saints Simon and Jude Catholic church held an annual carnival.  The whole town showed up.  It was oodles of fun.  And the only religion you got was an occasional glimpse of a priest walking by.  At the Krishna temple, during the festivities, there is a set of informational posters set up for your perusal.  (Many of these posters highlight the overlap between ISKCON and LDS theology, including things LDS prophets have said about cruelty to animals and vegetarianism.)  You may also enter the temple and participate in a service.  It's all completely pressure-free, which is nice.  Perhaps we Mormons are so focused on converting people that we tend toward the overbearing routes instead.  That's a shame, really.

Anyway, so we had a fabulous time.  As usual.  Look, here's a picture, the first picture I've ever put on this lil blog here:

I've been to many events at the Lotus temple, including the popular Holi Fest, the India Fest, and others.  I love it there.  Not only is it one of the relatively few places around here that has some culture going on, I also just like the atmosphere.  You know, what with all the incense, henna, and veggie-tree-hugging-granola types.  What can I say?  I like hanging out with hippies.  Is anyone surprised?  I thought not.

So, as we were about to leave, it occurred to me that I might not be coming back any time soon, if ever again.  I'm positive I could find a Krishna temple in New York somewhere if I wanted, but still.  I wanted to say goodbye.  So Husband and I ventured into the temple to savor it one last time.  We left our shoes at the door, went up the stairs, and sat on some chairs toward the back of the ornate room.  The man leading the mantras had taken a break to share a spiritual thought of sorts.  He was talking about the nature of the soul.  He said that the soul that's in each of us isn't just for right now.  It was somewhere before this life, and it's going somewhere after this life.  I was struck by how similar this statement is to LDS theology.  Soon, he started back up with the mantras, so we went up to the front, sat cross-legged on the beautiful rug, and joined in the singing.

Just now, I was laying in the dark with my eyes closed, and one of those mantras got stuck in my head.  "Jaya Sita Ram, Jaya Jaya Hanuman."  There's definitely something to chanting.  It's relaxing, somehow.  I started thinking about reincarnation.  Surely, when the man was talking about the eternal nature of the soul, he was thinking of reincarnation.  It occurred to me, as it has in the past, that maybe the idea of reincarnation is not at odds with LDS theology at all.

The third chapter of the book of Abraham calls premortal beings "intelligences."  Verses 18 and 19 of that chapter says,
If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are . . . eternal . . . These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
This scripture is strikingly similar to the man's statement above.  (In fact, we talk about intelligences a lot, although it's not always clear exactly what they are.  They seem to be related to light, truth, knowledge, spirit, and matter.)  Moses 3 says that all things were created spiritually before they were created naturally.  It implies that even plants have a spirit that existed before the plant's tenure on Earth.

We also have a lot of scriptures about gaining intelligence.  They say that the glory of God is intelligence, and that the more intelligence we receive in this life, the better off we will be in the next life.  That sounds a little reincarnation-like.  The scriptures say we receive light, or intelligence, little by little, grace to grace.  We are taught to be obedient to the light/knowledge/intelligence that we have been given, or else we will lose that light and regress.  Could it be that plants, animals, or other "lower" organisms are on the same path toward gaining intelligence as we are, but are just a little behind us on that path?  Reincarnation does technically mean re-embodiment.  While perhaps the idea that a human can be reincarnated as another human does not jive, could plants and animals be reincarnated as humans at some later point in the universe?  Or, could we think of resurrection as reincarnation?  That makes sense, particularly if we throw in the idea that those who inherit celestial glory are resurrected to celestial bodies, those who inherit terrestrial glory are resurrected to terrestrial bodies, etc.

Going back to Abraham 3, God says that s/he is the most intelligent of all beings.  According to LDS theology, our purpose in life is to become like God.  Could it be that eternal life and nirvana are one and the same?  They both describe the act of becoming one with the Supreme Being.  (Also, atonement literally means at-one-ment.)  God, being omniscient and omnipotent, has power over the universe.  Is God not then "one" with the universe as well?  Could becoming one with God also mean becoming one with the universe?

I believe that all religions have some truth to them.  Certainly the Mormons don't have it all.  (Although many like to think that.)  Hinduism, and its offshoots, are particularly interesting due to its age.  And its belief in goddesses.

Anyway, these are my late-night musings.  I should probably stop now.  I'll end with this: if you ever get the chance to visit a Hare Krishna temple, do it.  Also, I want a pet llama.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On Not-So-Simple Gifts, Spiritual Ineptitude, and the God Gene

Lately, I've been thinking about spiritual gifts and whether some people possess some kind of intrinsically faithful/spiritual nature.

My mom is so naturally faithful, she started walking by herself to the local Christian church when she was five or so.  She joined the LDS church at age thirteen (when her parents finally consented) after several years of investigating.  My dad, a twenty-plus year investigator and now a convert of seven years, bases the foundations of his testimony on his assertion that a man with as little education as Joseph Smith could never have written the Book of Mormon and all that.  (He says he's grown beyond just that, but it's still an important component.)  He does not read scriptures.  It is difficult to describe his naturally unspiritual take on life.

I guess I'm somewhere in the middle, but I lean more toward my dad's side.  I fundamentally believe in Jesus Christ and the atonement as presented in LDS theology (perhaps because of my upbringing).  But I think my devotion (in all its wavering) is primarily based in intellectual interest.  I enjoy putting the pieces of deep doctrine together, reading the scriptures and extrapolating meaning, understanding context by studying church history (warts and all).  It's the philosophizing that is so agreeable to me.  Seminary was a joy, because I had an extraordinarily well-versed scriptorian and theologian for a teacher.  I prefer the Bible to the Book of Mormon because it is far more poetic and not nearly so cut and dry; I enjoy ambiguous biblical philosophy infinitely more that dull, re-hashed Book of Mormon storyline.

Add to all that that I have never received any kind of revelation.  Not even in my most faithful days.  I prayed then, to receive a witness of the Book of Mormon, to get guidance for life, to know who I should choose for my counselors in whichever position . . . but I've never gotten anything.  I remember crying at one of those overly-emotional youth meetings as I bore my testimony and mentioned that I "have trouble receiving revelation."  I remember another time at institute when some guy recited the first vision from JSH 1:17-19 in like Mandarin or something.  After he did that, he said "now, even though that was in a different language, didn't you still feel the Spirit as I spoke, testifying of the truthfulness of the story?"  My mind answered with a blatant, "Um, no."  I asked my friend about it later, but she insisted she had felt spiritual confirmation during the recitation.  And that was when I believed Joseph Smith was nigh unto deity.  (Hint: I no longer believe that.  Not even close.)

Perhaps I exaggerate.  Perhaps the extent of my revelatory experiences is limited to following my moral compass.  It goes thusly: "God is no respecter of persons."  I like that.  That resonates with my deeply-held belief that all people are equal.  I believe that to be true.  Or: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife . . . so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing."  Hmm.  If God really insists that I be subservient to my husband, I would rather go to hell.  This scripture goes against every fiber of my being.  I believe this is a load of crap.  In other words, I feel happy when I hear philosophies I like, and I feel bad when I hear philosophies I don't like.  And I hear a lot of both in LDS theology (as well as other belief systems).

Of those classic faith-promoting stories, however, what with bosom burning, distinct feelings, any evidence of divine communication, I've got nothing.  Now you may be thinking that because I'm having a faith transition, I'm moving backwards and "losing that which I had."  You may think that I've just forgotten.  But I haven't.  As illustrated in the stories above, I was struggling with this even in my Molliest, Mormoniest days.  And you devoted followers will remember my vain struggle for confirmation of my marital decision.

I was talking to my husband about this the other day.  He was describing some profound revelatory experiences in his family, including visions, dreams, prophesying, strong impressions, answers to prayers, etc.  Many of these were his own.  When I expressed dismay due to my dearth of revelation, he suggested that perhaps I just lack the spiritual gift of receiving revelation.  When I shared this possibility with a good friend of mine, she told me not to write myself off as spiritually inept - that it takes a lifetime to understand the way God speaks to us.

So here's my question: is it possible that I am spiritually incapable of having miraculous revelatory experiences?  Is it necessary to have some kind of spiritual gift to receive revelation?

Mormons believe that everyone has spiritual gifts of one kind or another.  These may include gifts of faith, healing, prophecy, discernment, knowledge, miracles, etc.  It is acknowledged that there are more spiritual gifts than are listed in any of our religious texts.  As the scriptures say, different people have different gifts; some people have more and some have less.  If this is true, then I must have at least one spiritual gift in there somewhere.  I've wondered if perhaps I have the gift of charity (if that's even one of them), but usually that one makes me more disaffected with my religion than less.  What I need right now is some kind of faith-promoting gift.

I have skimmed some genome-wide association studies linking the ability to have spiritual experiences with genetics.  I wonder about the possibility of genetically-encoded spiritual gifts.  Could it be that my genes have predisposed me to a life of disgruntled, unaffirmed doubting and floundering?  Are spiritual gifts even real?  Do you, dear reader, believe in spiritual gifts, spiritual experiences, or the possibility of communication with God?  If these things are real, then where are my spiritual gifts, and how long do I have to suffer until I find them?  If ever I was in need of revelation, it's now.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Update About My Way Fun Life

Hey blogosphere!  I know this is not the purpose of my blog, but I want to let all my blogger friends (yes, you!) know what's up.

It's officially decided.  There is a light at the end of the dark, dank tunnel that is living in Utah.  In August, we will be moving to New York because I will be attending Sarah Lawrence's human genetics/genetic counseling Master's program!

Things didn't work out exactly how I'd planned, but now that the decision is made, I'm getting more excited about it.  I was overwhelmed with NYC when I went there to interview ('twas my first time), but now I'm warming up to the idea of living there.  Husband and I will probably live outside of the city a bit, maybe even in Connecticut.  We really want pets.  And maybe a garden.  (Sometimes we go on dates to animal shelters and coo over the furry inmates.)  Sarah Lawrence is actually in a suburb just outside of the city as well.  So all of that will probably help me not feel so much like a cockroach.

I decided not to do the Ph.D. program at VCU because I fear that after five plus years, I will never go back and get the genetic counseling degree.  There was a chance that they'd combine the two for me at VCU, but that didn't happen.  I decided that I ultimately want to be a genetic counselor, so I'm making that a priority.  Perhaps I'll apply for doctoral programs again after the Master's is got.

Sarah Lawrence was not my favorite, but in the end it's the only genetic counseling program that accepted me.  I was rejected from one (Stanford, no surprise there), and wait-listed at three.  This was unexpected, since I felt really good about my interviews at these other places.  My pride is currently sustaining some injuries, but I guess I'll get over it.  I believe Sarah Lawrence has a good reputation in the genetic counseling profession.  I mean, it was invented there, after all!  It is known as being the "touchy feely school," but the directors counteracted that rumor.  I know I'll get all kinds of varied experiences there, and the program seems well-suited to personal adaptation.  I am concerned about the large class size there (twenty-five students where most programs accept five to ten), and am mourning the loss of a more intimate group of classmates.  It isn't at a medical school like I would have preferred, and it doesn't have complex quantitative genetics or psychiatric genetics (my particular topics of interest) going on specifically, but I think I can tailor it the way I want it.  It's only two years, right?

I think I got in because I told them that in Utah I'm considered a "flaming liberal."  The interviewer seemed to like that.  I saw her write that exact phrase down on her notepad!

So at the moment I'm feeling kind of disappointed, but I just have to keep reminding myself of all the awesome things I can do in New York.  Can you help a sister out?  What are the perks of living in the Big Apple?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It Is Not Enough

A couple of posts ago, a commenter asked me what changes I want to see in Mormonism or in the world.  While they are far too numerous to list in a single post, here is one that has been haunting me for nearly a year now.

I just read a fantastic post over at Zelophehad's Daugthers about the sexist nature of Mormon cosmology.  While I wouldn't assert that Mormonism's cosmology is the most sexist, per say, this post lists a lot of issues I have with the male-centric treatment of eternity in Mormon theology. Don't get me wrong, there are many things I love about Mormon cosmology, like the incorporation of the law of conservation of mass, the idea that we have always existed, and the almost reincarnation-like idea of eternal progression.  So much of Mormon cosmology is beautiful, but it is incomplete in its presentation.  It is presented from an entirely male point of view.  As the ZD post mentions, while Jehovah, Adam/Michael, Abraham, and Peter, James, and John all play a role in premortality, there is no mention of Eve, Sarah, Mary, or any other woman in our premortal dialogue.  And that includes Heavenly Mother.  We are taught that the plan of salvation was Heavenly Father's, and that he taught it to all of us, his spirit children.  Did Heavenly Mother have no say in this plan?  Did she not teach it to us as well?  Were all of the pre-Earth logistics undertaken by men alone?  What were all of us female types doing that whole time?  Why haven't these questions been addressed?

I am grateful that we have a Heavenly Mother at all.  Given the Mormon doctrine that sex/gender is an eternal characteristic, it would stand to reason that a literally male god would have a literally female equivalent (unless you want to go down that "everyone was male until God created Lilith/Eve/Pandora and thereby introduced evil into the world" road, which I, of course, do not).  But somehow, it is not necessary that we know a single thing about her, except that she exists.  Men can look at all the information we have about Heavenly Father, and have some idea as to what to expect, should they succeed in attaining exaltation.  They can expect to create worlds, have eternal posterity, and be omniscient and omnipotent.  Women have exactly none of that.  I have almost no idea what exaltation would hold for me; I only have what I learn in the temple.  There, I learn that I am to be obedient to my husband and that I "get to" be a priestess to him.  So all I can gather is that I am bound to an eternity of servitude and childbearing.  To be honest, if that picture is accurate, I don't want exaltation.  I'd rather chill in a lower echelon of glory where everyone is equally in second place.

When visiting my husband’s home ward last Christmas, I attended the gospel essentials class taught by my fabulous feminist mother-in-law.  It was on Heavenly Father, and at some point in the lesson I made a comment about Heavenly Mother.  After church, my fabulous feminist father-in-law came up to me and kindly told me that I can’t mention Heavenly Mother in a gospel essentials class where investigators and new members are present.   I replied that I see no reason why that should not be addressed, and he answered that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is “not essential.”  When I tearfully asked why not, he fairly admitted that he didn’t know, and that it was troubling.  I was certainly troubled, and went to my room and moped and wept about it a little bit.

That is my question now: why is Heavenly Mother not essential?  Why the hell not?  Why is it not essential that over half of the church have an inkling of what eternity holds for them? Why do women not warrant actual, knowable role models: a mother, a goddess, a female angel or prophetess? When will the entirely male leaders realize that what we have isn’t enough?

It is not enough for me.

I wish more women (and men) would stand up and admit it with me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Free-For-All Brag Fest

I just read a post on feminist Mormon housewives and have to give it a spin here on my own blog.  fMh Lisa, the author of the post, called my attention to the fact that women in our culture are socialized to devalue their accomplishments.  In fact, while men consistently tend to overestimate their awesomeness, women consistently tend to underestimate their awesomeness.  Why is this the case?  Why is a healthy sense of pride desirable in men, but undesirable in women?  Humility is certainly a virtue, but self-deprecation is not.

Think about it, ladies: what would you do if another woman complimented you on, say, your toned upper arms?  I'd probably waggle one around to make it jiggle and say, "no way, look how flabby they are!"  If I were to compliment Husband in the same way, I know exactly how he'd respond.  He'd put on a gruff voice and say, "I'm a big strong man!"

I have been attempting to stop myself from devaluing compliments for several years.  I try to accept all compliments with sincere thank yous and no qualifiers.  But it's so darn hard!  And that's to say nothing of volunteering why I am amazing on my own.

With that in mind, I am going to give it a go right here and now.  I am going to tell you my secret shame: why I am proud of myself.  I have a strong urge to downplay these.  I have a strong urge to admit that so-and-so is better than me at this or that.  I have a strong urge to give into the chronic plague that is the imposter syndrome.  But I refuse to give place to those urges.  So here is a lovely list of ten reasons why I am fabulous:

1. I'm smart.  I’m a female scientist.  At BYU.  I have participated in lots of research.  I have formed lasting relationships with several excellent professors who think very highly of me.  I am an excellent genetics TA.  I'm good at giving presentations - and actually enjoy it.

2. I’ve been accepted into a PhD program.

3. I did a summer internship in Germany and was successful there.

4. I can sing really well.  I am astounded at the progress I’ve made in sight-singing in the past five years. I’ve sung in a choir for twelve consecutive years now.

5. I have an aptitude for dancing.  I have varying levels of experience with ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary, ballroom, swing, and hip hop.  I’m currently learning to belly dance, and I’m good at it!

6. I've got a nice tush!  Seriously, ask anyone.

7. I’ve got class, charisma, and culture (and I'm good at using alliteration!).  I'm adept at writing genuine thank-you notes.  I like to help people around me.  I volunteer at a battered women's shelter, where I give real service to people who have great need.  When I want to, I can command the attention of a room.  I have a sizable knowledge of art, literature, music, politics, history, religion, and of course science.

8. For two summers, I volunteered at the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, California, where I was painted from head to toe (practically) on a nightly basis and posed as a tableau vivant!  In other words, I pretended to be paintings and sculptures.  To about 125,000 people each year.  Here's one of the pieces I did (I was the one on the left).

9. I'm left-handed!

10. I dare to be an outspoken, liberal, feminist Mormon!  I'm no longer afraid to say what I'm thinking in church.  I'm no longer afraid of people who think or live differently than I do.

Whew!  I won't tell you how long that took.  Or how difficult it was to refrain from self-deprecation.  Then again, are these last two sentences my way of implying that I really am humble?  Curses!  Oh well, I did my best, I suppose.

 As some commenters at fMh have said, ultimately I hope we will all be able to believe in our own un-qualified awesomeness without having to list our accomplishments.  Someday I hope to embrace my value like the fabulous woman I know from my home ward, who is always saying, "I have unusually high self-esteem for no reason in particular.  I just look in the mirror every morning and think, 'I'm fantastic!'"

It's your turn, dear readers!  Tell me why you are fabulous, with absolutely no qualifying statements.  Okay go!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Story of My Faith Transition

I wrote this to a bloggernacle friend, and have decided to put it on my blog.   I want everyone to know the story of my faith transition, especially those who are going through the same thing.

Growing up, I was the golden girl of the young women's program.  I was everything a young Mormon woman should be, I suppose.  Except that I didn't babysit and was adamant about becoming a geneticist and going on a mission, which threw some people for a loop.  (I identified as a feminist even then, but this was southern California, not Utah, so I didn't get too much flak for it.)  Well, I got married instead of going on a mission, so I guess that's another check mark on the list.  In high school, I prayed at least twice a day, studied the scriptures daily, had perfect attendance in early-morning seminary, was bright and perky and knowledgeable about sacred and secular topics, was president of the laurel class, was the pinnacle of chastity, was involved in choir and student government, etc, etc.  It's kind of nauseating to list.  But at the same time, I was happy.  The church, the gospel, school, being involved, feeling like I was doing things right, it made me happy.  I had a great group of stalwart Mormon friends, and we were always doing silly, fun things.  I also had lots of wonderful non-Mormon friends.  I got into BYU, and off I went.

I was recently reading the memoir of Mindy Kaling, one of the writers of The Office, who also plays the ditzy Kelly Kapoor.  It's a hilarious read.  Anyway, one of the chapters is called "Don't Peak in High School."  Whoops.  My mean happiness level has steadily decreased since high school.  Perhaps it's because my little religious habits have waned.  Perhaps it's because my group of friends has disbanded somewhat.  Or perhaps it's just a part of growing up.  Like I thought I was busy in high school . . . psh!

Whatever it was, my testimony did not begin to falter until more recently.  I started dating my husband (a democrat with a beard) about two years ago, and with his influence I began to see life from a new perspective.  He isn't so much about looking righteous externally as he is about being righteous internally.  I think being with him was the impetus of my faith transition.  He looks at life through an unorthodox yet faithful lens.  He acquired this lens from his parents, whom I adore.  I discuss my faith transition openly with them all the time, and they understand because they've been there.

At some point while we were dating, he confessed to me that he suffers from depression and is medicated for it.  I loved him and tried not to judge him for it, but being 100% orthodox until then, I believed the folk-doctrines and harbored some ill-feelings toward the depressed (like that it's because of sin or self-absorption).  Plus, my mom told me growing up not to marry someone with a disability, because it will make life harder (it sounds so terrible now, but it seemed practical at the time).  Things became worse after we got engaged.  His depression often messes up his sleep schedule.  He kept blowing me off for things because he was asleep.  I'd be so excited to see him, I'd wait and wait for him, but he wouldn't come.  It felt like having my bubble burst on a daily basis.  I was unsure if he actually loved me, or if he was just done being single (which he had said repeatedly), and was settling.  I was unsure if I was supposed to marry him.  I prayed and cried and prayed some more, but never got an answer.  I felt alone in my anxiety.  I felt like God wasn't listening.

Then I went to the temple.  Despite my fear about God not listening and/or not condoning my choice of mate, I was so excited.  I yearn to know the "mysteries of God", and knew that the temple would be full of them and would expand my understanding.  I had been through several rounds of temple prep, where teachers had been appropriately frank about the ceremonies.  I had read scriptures about signs and tokens.  I had also been sealed to my parents at age 20, so I knew about the garb.  I thought I was prepared.  I don't know what else I could have done, but I certainly wasn't.  I wasn't prepared for the sexism I saw there.  The temple told me that God doesn't love women as much as he loves men.  That I am somehow unworthy to minister as a priestess to God directly.  That I am doomed to forever be a servant to my husband.  That he gets the crown and I get to be veiled, hidden, and silent.  That may not be what most see, but that's what I see.  I went home, shut my bedroom door, and cried myself to sleep.  I've only been back twice, and I've cried then too.  I met with the temple president about it, but it only made things worse.  Going to the temple puts me in a funk for about a week.  I keep rehashing doctrinal inconsistencies in my mind until I just about go insane.  What about "God is no respecter of persons?"  What about "God is love?"  It appeared that exaltation would be hell for me, not heaven.  This compounded the issues I had already been having regarding God listening to me.

I talked to my wonderful mother, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law about it.  They all said essentially the same thing: the temple ceremony is inspired by God, but written by men.  It has changed in the past, and many women are waiting for it to change again.  That answer opened up a whole new can of worms.  Prophets are never wrong . . . right?!  But if they do make bad calls sometimes, how can I trust them?  How can I trust anything they've said?  How can I be sure that God is actually in this religion (after all, he didn't seem to want to talk to me, and the temple God was the antithesis of my God)?  And all the questions I had suppressed my whole life came bubbling back up.  Polygamy?  Heavenly Mother?  Priesthood ban?  Priesthood/motherhood dichotomy?  Gay marriage?

So for the last several months, I've been re-evaluating my beliefs.  Before the onset of my faith transition, I believe I suffered from "zeal that is not unto knowledge."  Hugh Nibley wrote a great essay about zeal without knowledge, based off of a quotation by Joseph Smith.  The gist is that if you only have zeal, when your faith is tried you will "shatter like glass."  That is exactly what happened to me.  Now I'm picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct a new, real faith.  I firmly believe in Jesus, in the atonement, in a Mother and Father God.  I believe that God loves everyone equally, and any evidence to the contrary is the byproduct of humans not loving everyone equally.  I believe that charity is the most important attribute to gain in this life.  I believe in universal salvation as exhibited in the plan of salvation (everyone is resurrected and receives glory in the end).  I want to believe in personal revelation, but I'm still working out how to receive it.  With a belief in personal revelation, it becomes much easier to navigate the prophet issue.  I can still believe in prophets as people who receive revelation sometimes, interpret revelation in funky ways sometimes, and are left to their own devices sometimes.  I must then use my own personal revelation to determine which statements fall into which category.  I'm still working out the kinks, as you can see.

This whole thing has required a lot of pondering, crying, loathing, loving, and studying.  I've read more about my religion in these past few months than I probably ever did during my orthodox days.  Feminist Mormon Housewives has been indispensable.  Husband and I clashed about it at first, but he's come to see things from my perspective and is now sympathetic and totally supportive.  In fact, I finally feel completely confident in my decision to marry him, because precious few Mormon men could handle the person I have become!  I'm the unorthodox one now!  I appreciate where my faith is at the moment: it's less about a righteousness checklist and more about loving and being genuine.  I am not as happy as I was in high school, but I feel wiser.  Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

Your turn.  Have you had a faith transition (not necessarily a Mormon one)?  What was it like?