a good sm

•September 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I went to church on Sunday for the first time in a month. I went by myself. I played the organ, and several people told me they had missed my playing. I’m glad people notice the organ, and how it affects the singing. I love it when people say that they could tell it was me even before they entered the chapel.

I was dreading the meeting, but I felt like I should go, since I had gotten a substitute for the three weeks previous, and I knew she didn’t love doing it. I know the men are trying to find a replacement for me, but I get the impression that their search could last months, because they are not actively searching, but drawing out my own attendance and/or don’t want to bother the other lady who was the organist for years before I moved in.

The last few meetings I attended, way back in July, were a mess of dogma that wasn’t even entirely doctrinal. I just couldn’t stomach some of it, and would get angry inside any time anyone professed any sort of “without a shadow of a doubt” kind of proclamation, especially when the someone was younger 12 years old. I really don’t think anyone “knows” anything, though they may feel strongly about it. It bothers me when religious belief is presented as a script of items that one should “know” and which people are encouraged to repeat out loud for the sake of a stronger feeling of “knowing”. It’s a little too 1984.

But back to last Sunday, I was really pleasantly surprised by the high council speaker. Many times in the past, I have tuned out the speakers who are either too dry to keep my attention, or are prone to preachy sermonizing on irrelevant matters, and hc speakers sometimes feel that, in their position of “authority”, their elaborations on doctrine should be taken as scripture. This is a huge generalization, but nevertheless, one that I have witnessed.

Last week, however, the speaker got up with some extra time on his hands. The only other speaker had been a child, so there was ample time to expound on his subject. Instead of making jokes, or deciding to abandon his written talk because he was moved by the spirit (shameless jab), he read what he had prepared, which was a rehashing of another talk presented at general conference. He began with bringing up the part of the “Proclamation to the World” that talks about marriage being between one man and one woman, and that is where I thought I may have to exit the room. I assumed he would enter into a barrage of anti-gay propaganda, and admonish all of us to call our California friends and family to encourage them to vote for Proposition 8, and send money to the church’s fund raising thing.

He also began speaking about the natural and inherent differences between males and females, and how we need to acknowledge those differences, accept them, and be happy with them. Whereupon I was sure he would expound on the priesthood, how women don’t get it, and why we should submit to them.

Instead, and to my delight, the hc started talking about how parents can make their relationships with their children and spouses better. He offered advice (which may have come straight from the gc talk) such as “develop a family hobby” and “make household activities family activities.” He spoke of a family as being important, of family love and peace as something to strive for, and of recognizing each other’s abilities and skills, and realizing that we had some too, but without assigning any gender-specific duties like who should be staying home with the kids.

I loved his talk because it was sound advice that would apply to anyone in a family situation, not just members of his church. It was non-dogmatic. It was full of advice that I would imagine a kind person like Jesus would give, without any demeaning side-notes. If I follow that advice, I can become a better person, and have a tighter-knit family. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken that away from a church meeting.

Plus, he ended 10 minutes early.

Taking a break

•July 8, 2008 • 10 Comments

I think we might be taking a break from church for a while. This is not effective immediately, but my sweet husband and I have been talking about what church means to us, and what it used to mean, and we both think it would be beneficial to take a step back and reevaluate.

Church, for me, has been part of my identity. For him, it formed him, but he doesn’t feel like he needs to stay in the mold, though he is grateful for the formative aspect. After all, we never would have met, nor would we be the people we are, without the church.

We now face the problem of our callings. He’s in a leadership position, and I’m the organist. We both feel like we have something to offer, but so far haven’t been able to reconcile ideological differences with the church.

The church, whatever it actually is, isn’t what I always thought it was. Even my wonderful spouse is sometimes surprised by what I have thought in the past, what attributes I ascribed to the body of the church, or the doctrine. I’ve been a member all my life, with nary a doubt, until two years ago. When those doubts arose, I found all sorts of stuff that contradicted my previously formed ideas about the church. My thinking changed, as well. And topped of with the depression, my idea of the entire world changed.

Last week, I decided to let go of the stifled feeling I got from church. I decided to distance myself, to give myself some space. I went about boxing things up in my mind, and moving them to the storage unit. I didn’t throw anything out, or have a bonfire, or anything. I feel so relieved, so much more peaceful. I don’t feel like I’m being squeezed to death, or like I’m grieving the loss of my best friend. My head feels clear, not cloudy.

I have thought about what I will do with my Sundays, when we finally do taper off our church attendance. I might go to the local yoga studio, where they have a Sunday morning practice. I would be so much more peaceful after an hour of yoga than 3 hours of torture, listening to things I don’t believe or agree with. I might also attend the local Quaker Meeting, or any of the various other local churches. There are at least five within walking distance. Or we may decide to do hikes and bike-rides as a family.

more of nothing

•June 3, 2008 • 4 Comments

My sweet lover has reassured me several times that he will be fine if I decide to stop attending church. Somehow, his kindness and acceptance of my disaffection really contributes to my continuing attendance. He has just been called as the first counselor in the Elder’s quorum presidency, but he spoke to me before accepting the call. He said he would refuse if it meant keeping me happy. Of course I told him to accept, as long as he thought it was the right thing to do, because who am I to say what’s right for him, when he’s so gracious about not telling me what’s right for me?

I love it that he has his beliefs, and that he doesn’t try to tell others they need to believe the same way, nor does he even seem to believe that there’s one right way to believe. One of my main problems with the church, indeed with religion in general, is that each group claims to have the right way, yet each is slightly different from the next. They all claim to have visitations and/or feelings from God, but each has a different view or understanding of that God. They each need to convert others to their way, they each grow up believing what their parents told them, they each try to weed out any differing viewpoints, to crush any dissent.

From where I’m sitting right now, it sure seems like humans are hard-wired to believe and trust their relatives and their community, and that over time, they have created belief systems to explain phenomena that they don’t understand, and to give purpose to their rules. You may not tell your children tales of monsters, or threaten corporal punishment if they don’t obey you, but you probably know someone who does, or whose parents did it to them. Bill Cosby tells the (possibly fictional) story of his parents leaving him in a crib and warning that if he tried to escape, the venomous snakes on his bedroom floor would bite him. Some people still tell their kids that if they are ill-behaved, they will get no Christmas presents from Santa Claus.

This type of manipulation has been going on for centuries, and whether the original tellers of the tales actually believe them is beside the point. The younger generation believes them, and perpetuates them. How am I supposed to know which stories are true, which punishments and rewards are actually waiting for me? I’m well aware that there’s no jolly fat man waiting to hear how I behaved this year before deciding what treasures to deposit under a dead tree in my living room this winter. I don’t even remember ever believing that, though my 6 year old does, despite my proclamations otherwise. He also believes that Superman is married to my cousin, and that there are sharks in Utah Lake and dragons with lairs in Provo. He will argue those points, no matter what brand of logic I use to dissuade him.  Why should he not also believe that he needs Jesus to get him into heaven?

And if we really do need Jesus, why is it so important to believe something for which we have no proof? Does God expect us to show our allegiance through our blindness? Does he expect us to quash our logical minds, to really use different methods of thinking when making sense of nature or science that when contemplating our place in the universal scheme? Why should those things be different, separate? Why can’t we teach our children to be kind and good for the sake of being kind and good? Why do we need an eternal punishment to hang over their heads? Why do we need to teach them to disrespect other cultures, to disregard other belief systems, even to protect themselves against ever being turned to believe a different way than we do? This makes me very uncomfortable, but thinking about how I used to be makes me almost ill. I did my share of thinking anyone who didn’t believe like I did was ignorant or stupid, like they just hadn’t seen the light yet. I went across the world to preach to people that what they believed wasn’t good enough, wouldn’t get them into heaven. I judged people inwardly when they did things that manifested their lack of belief in the “only true” belief system.

I feel broken. I feel like my blinders have been broken. The world seems different to me, and I don’t know how to navigate it, especially since I’m the only one that got broken. Everyone else is still behaving like they did before, but I no longer understand their signals, or their motives. I’m cowering in the corner, terrified that the person offering the plate of food is really going to deliver poison.

p.s. When he was set apart in the EQ presidency, the men in the circle all took turns shaking my husband’s hand and congratulating him. I was disgusted. Even as I was giving them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they weren’t thinking about it in terms “moving up in the world,” I knew they weren’t thinking at all about the implication of those words.

30 July, 1998

•April 30, 2008 • 1 Comment

Manila, Philippines

Boy, do I want a family, but I’m also very afraid of that. What if I can’t handle it? What if I’m too weak, or if I think I’m too weak? If I hadn’t come on a mission, I would never have thought I was weak.

Yeah, that was definitely before I had kids. I remember saying, when I spoke in church after I got home, that my mission was the hardest thing I would ever do. That gives me the giggles, in retrospect.

Not a cheesy Beatles song title

•April 29, 2008 • 7 Comments

I desperately want someone to talk to. I need someone who doesn’t care a speck what decisions I make, what I believe, what I don’t believe. I need someone who can understand that pain doesn’t always have to be a means to an end, or a part of a journey. Sometimes it’s just pain, and sometimes nothing will take it away.

I have no one who isn’t emotionally invested in the outcome of my decisions, what ever they are. I have people of both sides, some cheer for this decision, some cheer for that one, the opposite of the first. How can there even be a right or wrong, when all the people I love have a different idea of them?

I desperately want someone to hear my complaints, without judging me, or trying to convince me of anything. I desperately want to be able to listen to someone without having to change my mind about something, or act in some way.

The Viewing

•March 27, 2008 • 2 Comments

I had such a wonderful time at Grandpa’s funeral, with no kids to chase, and my whole family (minus one brother who couldn’t make it) to play with. We all crammed into the house on Cherry Lane, with some of us on the floor, some on couches. There was movie watching (Rubin and Ed) and Mexican cooking, and everybody waiting for Grandpa to come out of his bedroom and ask if anybody wanted any ice cream.

I had been very emotional about not getting to see Grandpa again, but those who were there said that he had woken one last time when they were discussing my plans to come the next day. In a very egocentric way, I love that he was excited to see me again, and that he responded to my name. The people who were present told him that I was trying my best to get there, and that I loved him. He died about an hour later, after slipping back into sleep.

My wonderful little brother sat with Grandpa for hours that day, holding his hand and listening to his breathing. He noticed the change, and called everyone in when it was time. After Grandpa died, and nobody knew what to do, my other younger brother went and built a fire in the fireplace because that’s what Grandpa always did when people came over, even if it was 80 degrees inside. My cousin wore one of Grandpa’s bolo ties to the funeral.

On Thursday night, we all went to the viewing. I knew we were going. We went straight from the airport to Provo. I was feeling terrible from the trip, so I had gone running. We had had dinner with the family, then headed to the mortuary together. I was happy to be with my family. Even my mom was there, and she and dad were talking (not something that happened often while they were married). Grandpa’s two living siblings were there, some neighbors came, and some of Grandpa’s second and third wives’ families came.

I was standing around with my brothers and cousins watching the slide show when I turned around and glimpsed the casket, which I hadn’t yet noticed. I was accosted with the realization that Grandpa was dead, and that his body, his shell, lay in the adjoining room. I saw the crown of his forehead, and his wispy white hair. Almost in a swoon, I fled outside to weep. Though I had known, intellectually, that I was at his viewing, I hadn’t processed the connection with him actually being there, to see. I was desperately sad.

I went back in with determination to face the mortal remains of my sweet Grandpa. As I stood over the casket, I noted his waxy, yellow-orange skin. His eyelids, wrinkled and painted, were no longer translucent, as I remembered them. His hands were folded, and they were familiar, yet foreign, their position and color contrived. His glasses seemed oddly large.

My youngest brother approached me silently. We stood for a moment, then moved into the other room, still with the casket in full view. We talked briefly about how the body there resembled our Grandpa, but wasn’t him. It was his leftovers. It was comforting to me to know that he wasn’t in there anymore. I have no firm beliefs about where Grandpa might be now, but I know he’s not in that aged, frail body anymore. As much as he enjoyed his life, Grandpa was ready to part with it.

blessings

•March 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

While I was on my mission, my mom was preparing for her Master’s recital in vocal performance, and she kept getting sick. She had laryngitis, rashes, sleeplessness, bronchitis… She asked a family friend to giver her a priesthood blessing. He was in the process of leaving the church by that time, I think. He invited my non-member step-father, and his own disaffected wife to join him in laying hands on my mother’s head during the blessing.

When I received my mother’s letter describing this unorthodox blessing, I was shattered. I worried for the welfare of my mother’s soul. I feared her husband would never respect the church of its authority if it was so lightly given. I wrote a letter to her stake president, begging him to look after her and help her find her way back. I never heard back from that stake president, nor do I believe he ever checked up on my mom.

Looking back, with eyes of disillusionment, I think how lovely it was of our friend to include others who also loved my mom in a bestowal of goodwill and divine blessing. I don’t know if there is any physical effect of a priesthood blessing, but I believe there is a psychological effect, which may be magnified when the receiver understands the love of those giving it. On the other hand, I can see no harm in including people who don’t “hold the priesthood” in the act of laying hands for a blessing. At the very worst, they won’t be channeling divine power, but they would not hinder the channeling of the the person who does hold the priesthood, if God really loves the person being blessed.

I also find it beautiful to have a woman participating in the blessing of another woman. In the early church, women ministered among other women, giving blessings and comfort as only women can do for one another. The only place where this idea is carried on now is in the temple, where women perform the initiation rites on other women in exactly the same manner the men are served by other men.

 
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