Friday, December 26, 2014

Why I'm proud of the Episcopal Church

Growing up Mormon, I was fairly dismissive of other Christian religions. I was taught that the LDS church was the only church's that logically could even be thought of as a true church. I would look at a church like the Episcopal Church and say to myself "Huh, a church based on the authority of a man wanting a divorce.  That's pretty stupid." Which is about as inaccurate and reductionist as arguing that the LDS church's authority is founded on a local wizard for hire who could never figure out how to use his magic powers to find actual gold so he instead used it to find a gold treasure that nobody, including mostly himself, looked at except in vision trances. Both summations are partially inaccurate and blatantly offensive even if they contain elements of truth. Both fail to capture the heart of how the religions perceive themselves. Since I'm pretty sure many of the LDS people I have known would probably find my choice of the Episcopal Church a little strange I thought I'd explain a little bit of why I'm proud of the Episcopal church.

When I was looking into the Episcopal Church, it was interesting to see what historical accomplishments they emphasized. I grew up accustomed to hearing LDS church lessons celebrating someone else's ancestors doing frontier settlement. Community building is great, but I was always slightly bored and frustrated with such lessons. None of these collective ancestors being celebrated were actually my ancestors. Not that those stories weren't great for my friends growing up who were descendants of pioneers. It just didn't have much to do with me except in a rather abstract sense that rarely became more concrete than a reenactment pioneer trek at a local cattle ranch. The history of the LDS church giving charitably, though interesting, is rarely brought up as being a significant part of church historical identity. The Episcopal Church historical narrative, on the other hand, is much easier to connect to. I read a story about people who won their national independence but were cut off from their spiritual community as a result, developed their own expression of faith, and went about preaching, helping the poor, and doing community outreach programs to ethnic minorities. Simply by being an American with English roots reaching before the time of the Founding Fathers, this story has a lot more to do with my actual ancestors than the LDS narrative. Looking at the present- Episcopalians are a progressive part of a national discussion of how to behave inclusively and justly to the poor and minorities. Giving to the poor and doing outreach for the people at the margins of society is something, I can potentially be part of in a very real way as part of my membership in my parish. In addition, my commitment to environmentalism, which many LDS people would view suspiciously as overly liberal, fits right into the Episcopalian identity where the mistreatment of God's creation is used as an example of the fallen nature of man.

This isn't to say that the Episcopal Church is somehow a perfect organization that never does anything wrong. However, there is a distinct flavor to how the Episcopal Church deals with problems in its culture that is admirable in its own right. For example, I've read online articles that openly complain that many clergy and church administrators often behave in appalling ways in certain contexts. In the comments section of these online articles I expected to see people jumping to their leadership's defense but instead I'd see comments like "We like all of humanity are fallen, only Christ is the answer." Also, my wife and I have read accounts of an Episcopal Bishop who participated in protests outside of the national convention meeting where he was arrested without being removed from his office. Can anyone imagine an LDS general authority participating in a protest outside of General Conference and getting arrested for it without being released? It would be altogether unthinkable. Open dissent simply isn't tolerated. Arguably, this is because the LDS church is based on the ideal or the goal of giving to the world the TRUTH to solve all the world's problems through prophetic leadership. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, is based around the ideal of creating a beautiful unifying worship pattern to unite a community of worshipers regardless of underlying disagreements. While this model creates very little doctrinal certainty, I don't believe this is an unhealthy position given how uncertainly issues of faith may be known in this life.

Probably of everything I've enjoyed about the Episcopal Church so far, what I've enjoyed most is how Christ centered the worship services are. While LDS worship and teachings try to bring people to Christ as understood through LDS theology, the focus is less direct. The percentage of worship and teaching focusing on the words of Christ is dramatically different between LDS services and Episcopal services. This is probably true of a large majority of Christian churches since the LDS church teaches God's will through the teachings of its own current leaders and as such feels less need to spend time focusing on the teachings of Christ as delivered by Him personally.

So yes, I feel there is much to be proud of in the Episcopal tradition. It isn't a perfect church, but I believe in many ways it is a healthy one. I've enjoyed many aspects of their worship that are incredibly rich and rewarding for me. It feels like home.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Helpful thoughts for Members of the Church

For those who want to stay in the LDS church and want to avoid making people feel pushed from the church if they are struggling, I wanted to give a few thoughts. Steven Covey wrote about how if you really want to communicate a readiness to love people, you have to do it to those who act as if they deserve it the least. That way everyone who sympathized with that person for whatever reason will understand that love means them too. That is the basic principle to keep in mind if you want people to feel loved when they are secretly on the fringe of a community. Here are just a few thoughts about what that might mean.

How does your ward talk about former members or critics of the church? Are they spoken of with love, a desire for empathy, and respect? Or are words and motives assigned to them based on convenience? Are they thought of as a kind of painful constipation that the church really ought to forcibly expel from its body?

The statements of early church leaders regarding their detractors model much of how the church today views its former members and critics. Over time, these one sided stories were warped from reality to become inspirational stories rather than history as is predictable for any history written by the winners of a conflict. This is important because Mormon's having a crisis of faith these days often become obsessed with church history and might know a lot of background information about these issues. Does your ward talk about historical ex Mormons and critics with respect, a desire for empathy, and a willingness to research beyond the motivational stories to truly understand? Or do they view historical ex-Mormon's and modern ex-Mormon's by extension as bad people fighting against the church because they are filled with a evil spirit?

Do your ward members express fear of non-members, ex members, or questioning members? Do they talk about the need to keep their children away from non-believers? Do they express beliefs that only the Mormon Church teaches basic goodness? Do they speak condescendingly about the morals of non members or people in places without as many Mormon's in them?

Does your ward commonly conflate its religion and its politics? If someone brings up politics, do they do so in such a way that it is clear that they believe a good person could fundamentally disagree with them?

The LDS church has many external worthiness indicators, which are fertile places for gossip to fester. Does your ward gossip about people who haven't achieved external worthiness indicators like missionary service, taking the sacrament, garments, wealth, callings, and temple service? Would someone who smelled of tobacco smoke be truly and comfortably welcome in Sunday school?

The LDS church talks a lot about an ideal path in life including educational choices, missionary service, heterosexuality, early age at first marriage, number of children, not getting a divorce, women not working, and other issues. Does your ward speak respectfully of people who choose to live differently? How about towards people who live differently through no choice of their own?

No congregation is perfect, but if your ward stumbles on these issues, then probably somebody in your ward is getting a loud message. They hear that they do not belong and would never truly be loved if they showed you who they truly are. If you want your ward to be united in love, these might be some excellent blind spots to start checking. Its not about being politically correct or overly sensitive to nit picky issues. It matters because of what Jesus said in Matthew 25: 44-4: “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The "Are Mormon's Christian's?" debate

One thing that kind of sticks out as amusing to me looking back on Mormonism from the outside now is the amount of effort Mormons put into arguing about whether or not Mormon's are Christians or not.  Probably the most even handed answer to that question I've ever seen was stated by a theologian interviewed by a newspaper who said something along the lines of that Mormonism is not part of the heritage of traditional Christian belief systems.  I think very few Mormon's would have any problem with that sum up.  Mormonism is proud not to be protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.  Mormonism, in reaching for a restoration of pure religion throws out a lot of traditional Christian beliefs in ways that come across to other Christians as strange.  The theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are profound, but difficult to characterize fairly because Mormonism has never really had a systematized theology and how far Mormonism departs from the trends of traditional Christianity change depending on which time period in Mormonism is in question (and which branch of traditional Christianity is being used as a comparison).  In any case, it is important to contextualize which groups tend to make the most noise about claiming that Mormons aren't Christian.  It tends to be conservative evangelical Christians- some of whom are in the habit of declaring any group of Christians they substantially disagree with to be fake Christians.  Liberal protestant churches have been accused from time to time of being non-Christian because they tend to focus less on missionary work, accept homosexuals, ordain women, or care too much about the environment.  Some Christians believe that any religions that broadly disagree with their theology must be in communion with the devil and are therefore evil.  While being a victim of this hatred, Mormonism is not immune to responding in kind though it has definitely become better over time in its ceremonial behavior in this respect.

There are two levels at which these kinds of judgmental attitudes are very problematic.  The first and more important one is that it encourages a lack of love and respect between people in their disagreements.  The second one is that there is a trend in conservative US politics to try to define the United States as being a Christian nation in which the theology and social practices of Christianity are supposed to be given social and legal precedence over the desires of people who disagree with them.   It sounds all nice and good to say that America is a "Christian" nation because it invokes ideas of Christian virtue and love, and this is perhaps what many who repeat this rhetoric mean by it.  However, it becomes clear that for many this is an attempt to control the government for the benefit of specific branches of Christianity to the detriment of atheists, agnostics, actual non Christian religions, and any Christian religion that is out of favor with the group trying to achieve power.
To explain why I see the "Christian or not" debate as funny, I need to explain that the Episcopalian church is another one of the "liberal" Christian churches that is accused of being not a true Christian church.  If you google search the term "Episcopalian not Christian" you'll find many search results claiming that it is a church straight from hell, a church led by the devil, satanic, not a "Jesus" church, or pagan.  Mormonism reacts to this kind of vitriol by doing big advertising campaigns and by giving talks in General Conference loudly proclaiming their belief in Jesus.  It almost seems like a kind of a mental inferiority complex for some Mormons who want the whole world and especially the conservative Christian world to acknowledge Mormonism's Christianity.  As a result, Mormon's talk about their Christian identity a lot.  However, the Episcopal Church hardly seems to react to the noise at all.  That is what is so funny to me.  Perhaps Episcopalians have self-confidence rooted in their ancient yet new worship structure. I've never heard an Episcopalian talk as if they had anything to prove on the subject.

Probably what is most offensive to me regarding the whole argument is that Christ didn't say that his followers would be known as those who obeyed, belonged to a particular organization, or accepted a specific creed.  In fact, Jesus was tolerant of those inspired by him but who weren't technically affiliated with him.  Mark 9:38-39 reads, "John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. "For he who is not against us is for us."

Jesus gives one criteria for being known as a disciple in John 13:35.  "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."

Anyone who is inspired by the love of Christ to try to love as Christ did and taught deserves to be known as a Christian.  Credentials, memberships, and belief systems help us as humans to organize and apply what we think Christian life is supposed to be all about in very important ways.  Nevertheless, it doesn't define what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  Love alone does that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where are we now?

Leaving Mormonism is huge.  Sometimes it makes me feel lonely, afraid almost everyone I knew from my past might be ready to cut me off over this.  We're just stepping into letting people know who wouldn't be friendly to us having made the decision already.  For someone like me who has a very high need for a sense of community, just cutting ties off without going somewhere else would be nearly unthinkable.  For a lot of reasons, we made a kind of slow transition.

When LDS church services were being so overwhelmingly spiritually and emotionally exhausting for me, we hit a time period where the kids were getting a lot of colds and so one of us would either have to take that kid with us to our own meetings or we'd have to stay home to keep all the other nursery kids from getting colds.  Neither of us felt like we were getting enough out of church to want to go on our own so we spent a lot of Sunday's with no church at all.  Eventually I got the idea that we could use these Sunday's to visit other churches.  The Episcopal church was the first one we tried.  From spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional dimensions we felt an immediate and powerful appeal.  They were in Lent season and they explained to us that as a result the services were more subdued than normal.  Even their sad and subdued services felt to me to be full of joy compared to what I was accustomed to.  We decided we wanted to share their Easter celebrations with them no matter whether the kids were sick or not because if their lent was that joyful, what would their Easter be like?  We weren't disappointed.  Though we did consider other churches either by looking up information about them online or by visiting, we've stuck with the Episcopalians when we made our break with Mormonism.

So what about them was so compelling?  Well, for one thing the priest is a superb sermon writer.  We'd gotten very used to bad quality talks in church- such as a ward deciding to have all the talks for an entire month in a row be on the same subject with no differentiation, or to have talks be nothing but a summation of a talk given by someone else.  To hear sermons given delivered by a trained  clergyman with a background of having a history phd was amazing.  For another matter, the worship structure in the Episcopal church is a work of art.  From simple yet profound public affirmations of faith to the organ music played by a real organist, to the ornate stained glass, the services are Christ centered to a degree we'd hardly imagined possible, emotionally moving, and spiritually satisfying.  For the first few months of attending I was often crying with happiness because of how overwhelmingly I was able to respond to it.  After spending months and months resisting emotional engagement with worship because of so many of the negative things I found there, I was able to worship with my whole soul again.  There are many other things I also enjoy about worshiping with the Episcopalians- many of which can certainly be found in many other healthy denominations.  After suffering for the lack of a spiritual community for so long, its been good to find a place I can call my own.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tapestries- unraveling and learning to weave

Life can be experienced like a tapestry, where everything that happens and everything that exists is like a little thread in a broader narrative of your life and of the broader cosmos.  It can be beautiful and powerful, giving a sense of purpose and order.  Occasionally there will be a tangle, some kind of problem or discord in the pattern.  These can be painful, but not necessarily a problem.  Just how discordant notes in music can provide tension to be beautifully released in renewed harmony, the problems you hit in life aren't necessarily a reason to thrown away the tapestry of how you see life.  Somethings are just endured and eventually become better.  Some pictures in a tapestry can simply portray a painful or a sad story.  But painful and sad stories aren't necessarily bad.  They just are- which is how I viewed the consequences of my being denied missionary service.

Sometimes some parts of a tapestry have to be rewoven.  Some problems can be fixed and create a greater harmony in life.  Its just part of life.

Sometimes the discord shocks you.  You desperately try to recontextualize the discord within the greater tapestry, but find that to make all the pieces fit the tapestry has to be taken apart and put back together again.  The picture is never the same afterwards.  A permanent worldview shift is triggered.

Probably one of the most prominent times this happened in my life was when I was attending EFY as a teenager.  My life had a very large accumulation of pain in it, things that hurt to such an absurdly deep level that the burden was simply enormous to bear.  In a moment of pondering on the scriptures, I learned to accept divine grace and simply give up the burdens of pain and hatred that festered inside me.  I was fuller and more healed as a person than I had been in years.  When I came home suddenly it was as if I weren't even a part of the same family anymore.  As a new person, I no longer really felt that the animosities and petty absurdities of an emotionally abusive home life really had any meaning to me any more and I started focusing on reestablishing relationships in a more wholesome way.

Another such time when I had such a world shift was when I learned I had Asperger syndrome.  I had always struggled with many basic social interactions.  When you suddenly have an explanation for why every single social interaction in life had such difficulty in it and can examine that from a new perspective, the tapestry of what life means has to be rewoven.  I was essentially paralyzed from being able to do just about anything for about two weeks because I was so obsessed with figuring out who I was and why life had gone the way it did.  I came out of those dark weeks with an intense rebirth of self.  I was no longer the same person, because I suddenly understood why so many of the things that made up who I am were there and could learn not to be ashamed.  It was deeply healing.

Over the last year and a half I've gone through another such transition.  Instead of it being a flash in inspiration or two weeks of darkness, I've been at it for about a year and half- obsessively learning and reinterpreting my religious worldviews.  I learned  things that were shocking and contradicted  many of my expectations.  I had to figure out how to put all the pieces together again.  If I misunderstood things so badly, what other things had I misunderstood?  Where else could I trust my assumptions?  Where could I hold on my previous assumptions as sure truth and where could I hold onto them as just useful or beautiful?  I had to tear apart the tapestry of my life and reweave it with new information.  Being reborn has both destructive and constructive sides to it.  The destructive side hurts like hell.

Over the last 6 months or so I've been working a lot more on the constructive side.  The entire time I've undergone tremendous personal growth.  I've become a better person- more humble in my ability to accept the gaps in my knowledge instead of paving over those gaps with beautiful assumptions.  Less judgmental of the diversity of human experiences and conditions.  Less accepting of social traditions and practices that cause pain or stigmatizes people.  At first I tried to balance my new self with my spiritual home in Mormonism.  Not everything has to be true to be beautiful and useful.  This was a difficult balancing act, in part because the social structure of Mormonism is often intolerant of such diversity in views.  The balancing act was also difficult in that I was suddenly much more aware of the traditional enemies the church defined for itself in its culture and the traditional cultural unchristlike ways such enemies are often viewed and treated.  Near the end, it was difficult because our ward leaders picked up on some untrue rumors about us and decided that we met some of the classic criteria of "enemies of the church" as defined by Elder Packer and began trying to save our souls in ways that we experienced as bullying.

All of this tension created an enormous amount of stress for us and for me in particular.  It was worse because I worked a very stressful job and no longer had Sundays off.  So I went directly from a very stressful ward to a very stressful job and by the time the day was over I was emotionally and spiritually exhausted.  We almost left at that point just because it was being too much of a burden to carry for me.  But giving up the only spiritual home we'd ever known is extremely painful, so we held on.  I simply ignored most of what went on in church and just brought spiritually inspiring books to read during the service- doing my best to ignore my surroundings except on rare occasions when I tried to give thoughtful input to contribute to the lesson discussions.

In the end it simply wasn't worth it.  In our ideal vision of church membership, we'd eventually find a ward where we could openly discuss our concerns about the church and its history in a respectful way to try to make it a healthier place for everyone.  But instead, the church very publicly disciplined people whom we had a great deal of respect for how they lived those ideals.  Since our full and healthy participation would never really be welcome, and we felt it was no longer worth trying.  If you don't believe that a church is necessary for your salvation or has any divine mission beyond what could be argued for many good churches, there is no particular reason to endure its toxic behavior towards you.  We've left Mormonism and have no intention to ever return to it.  We've found a healthy worship environment elsewhere where we are better spiritually fed.  Life is too wonderful to waste in needless suffering for a human institution that doesn't return your love.  I have no desire to tear anyone else away from the LDS church.  I'd be satisfied if they were simply humble in how they lived their religion to avoid inflicting pain on others in the name of institutional loyalty.  I know too well that the destructive side of being reborn in faith is extremely painful.  But for me I think it was worth it.  I wouldn't be true to myself or the kind of person I've always wanted to be if I hadn't been willing to take the plunge to acknowledge that I might be wrong about the church and that my assumption that I was right might be keeping me from being a better person.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Telling a religious leader about being autistic

Ever since I was denied serving an LDS mission over having Asperger syndrome, I've felt some level of paralysis in knowing how to talk to people about my condition.  My symptoms aren't obvious.  I don't roll around on the floor screaming.  I have a job.  I can talk to people mostly normally- if you want to see it that way.  Since my medical condition can be essentially invisible, it would be all too easy for people to assume that I wasn't allowed to go on a mission for other reasons.  Mormons, at least in the areas I've lived, seem to have this fascination for guessing what sins someone must have committed and can sometimes become intuitively confident that they can know which sins someone has committed based on circumstantial evidence unrelated to the sins in question.  Therefore, I was terrified that if people realized I hadn't gone on a mission they would assume I had been having premarital sex.  Even worse, I got married before the age when Mormon missionaries normally return home.  In other words, the Mormon equivalent of getting married before you are 18.  I felt at the time that I had a spiritual duty to get married as soon as possible, but marrying before the culturally eligible age invited absurd assumptions about my private life.  To make matters worse my wife and I attended "married student wards" where almost every conversation between men started with something like "how long have you been married?" and "where did you go on your mission?" and where young husbands still fresh off their missions could barely give lessons in church without talking about or soliciting comments regarding missionary service.  I didn't know how to cope with all of this missionary work focus and nostalgia- so I frequently withdrew within myself and spaced out- unable to engage with my environment.  I had been raised to expect that a full time mission would be the climax of all of my spiritual devotion.  Being told that my social skills were too poor and that God didn't really want me as a missionary was something of a spiritual shock to my system despite having full faith that God could call me to not serve a mission as readily as he could call me to serve a mission.  Whereas before I was passionate about sharing the gospel I suddenly felt depressed and paralyzed on the subject, feeling that part of me wasn't really good enough for God.

What it came down to was that I rarely talked to anyone at church about being on the autistic spectrum.  I could jeopardize my reputation by getting merely close to talking about it.  I could hardly avoid telling the first Bishop I had after being denied missionary service.  Our main conversation on the subject happened because he found me and talked me down when I was stressed out in a fright nearly to tears because I was afraid rumors were spreading around the ward about me.  After that, I don't think I ever explained it to a church leader even once.  Having always been bad at making friends or sustaining real personal relationships, maintaining a good reputation was always very important to me as if somehow that would make up for my lack of social abilities.

With our son now being diagnosed on the spectrum, I've felt a need to be more open so I can advocate for my son.  For the first time in years, I haven't tried to hide who I am to a church leader.  I was able to be open about it.  Somehow, this feels like it has healed a gap in my soul.  For the first time in the decade since I was denied serving a mission, I don't have to worry about whether some unexpectedly bigoted self righteous person will make assumptions about me because of who I am.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My thoughts on the new Polygamy Essays

Some time ago when a rumor in the ward about my family amplified itself against people's fear into absurd proportions, things were getting pretty bad for us.  The leadership had started treating us as outcasts and saying that they didn't believe we were telling the truth about ourselves and treating us as sinners just based on what we looked like.  I wasn't going to lay down flat for the rumor mill to destroy our standing in our community.  So I went and had a conversation with some of my neighbors about what had really happened- trying to make sure that the people who knew us best knew what was being done to us, why, and what we felt about it.  Unfortunately, one of the neighbors, less driven by sympathy, demanded that I defend myself to him.  When I complained that I felt like we were being treated as heretics, he actually directly asked me if I was a heretic.  Not exactly the "bearing one another's burden" reaction for which I was hoping.  In any case, for some reason he decided to bring up the anecdote about Joseph Smith demanding that another church leader transfer his wife to Joseph to be Joseph's wife as a test of faith.  Annoyed by the example, I agreed and added that Joseph Smith sometimes didn't just do it as a test of faith but actually took the woman as his wife- spiritually compelling the husband to share his wife's affection with Joseph as an act of obedience.  Lets just say I shocked the poor brother who didn't know as much LDS church history as I did.  Neither of us being in a charitable mood at that point, he didn't react thoughtfully and started to demand that I explain how that could possibly be true and Joseph Smith be the righteous true prophet that the LDS church claims.  In other words, how could I be a good person and believe what I had just said?  Perhaps there was a little bit of a plea behind it that if I was going to shake him up like that he wanted me to provide an explanation or a simple answer to make it all better.  I didn't have any easy answers to give him.  I just told him essentially that I thought people were complicated mixtures of good and bad and that I didn't think there was a simple answer or way out.  That probably sealed it in the man's mind that I was an apostate.  I knew things that shook the conventional form of the LDS narrative to its roots and I didn't believe there was a simple answer.  Humanity isn't simple.  Life isn't in black and white.  People aren't perfect no matter what titles they hold or what amazing things they accomplish.

The other day, the Salt Lake Tribune was carrying a front page article in the newspaper talking about how the LDS church acknowledged in print that Joseph Smith married teenage brides, married already married women, that his wife didn't know all about what he was up to, and that definitely some of the relationships were sexual in nature.  It made me want to track down this man and force him to acknowledge the past, and admit that I had my basic facts right, and tell him that it isn't my job to make it better for him.  The fact that the past isn't convenient to modern assumptions isn't my problem to fix for anyone.

We can all take the facts referred to in these essays and use them however integrity of our minds and hearts leads us.  The dentist turned historian, Brian Hales, whose analysis is largely depended upon for the interpretation in the recently published essays is I'm certain is writing from his heart.  I've even heard him speak at a public event before and I honestly did not find his interpretation of evidence to be compelling.  However, I left having felt his humanity shining through.  I am certain that he is a good man trying to do the best that he can to make his spiritual worldview make sense for people who were struggling while himself participating in that struggle.

Any history that politely lines itself up to confirm what you already think you know isn't history, its a moralistic allegory where the names and the places are all the same but where the what the people actually did is edited and simplified to provide inspirational stories.  I don't particularly like shocking people out of that narrative.  However, it can be difficult to avoid.  It feels like I'm not even in the same world anymore, so how can I possibly explain why my path is different without explaining my world?  Its as if I'm in a parallel dimension that can see and interact with the one that I grew up in, but now there are a multitude of additional obstacles that arise because of things that I care about now that I didn't used to care about, and simple paths through things that I no longer care about.

There is no answer, I think, but humility and love.  Any path that leads to sharing in God's love and goodness to the best that you know how is the right one.  It takes humility to not try to shake people away from growing in love because you don't like the view from where they are doing it.  Loving people and helping people grow in love- or in a sense to make love- is something that can only be done with consent.  Though we need a humble view of the past for a healthy future, forced worldview shifts (including ones sometimes made tragically necessary by unhealthy views of the past that push people away from being able to love) can be an abhorrent violation.  I wouldn't wish on anyone the pain that comes from a violent readjustment of his or her worldview.

While learning about polygamy did not trigger the changes in worldviews, it is one more place where I feel liberated to not have to make excuses for the past anymore to myself or to anyone.  The past simply is.

One Day Emma

I wrote this piece a long time ago.  I was feeling very upset regarding some things happening in the LDS church and expressed myself by imagining what would happen if Emma asked Joseph about smoking and chewing tobacco today?  How would the church respond?  Elements of my own life began mixing in with elements of how the church has responded to people (especially women) over its history including the ERA movement, wear pants to church day, and women's ordination.  The whole story took a life of its own.  Previously I've only shared this privately.

One day after mopping up another tobacco spit covered floor while coughing up lungfulls of second hand smoke, Emma decided something wasn't right.  How could such filthy unhealthy habits be of God?  In this very room the most divine revelations were discussed, creating an absurd contradiction of the most pure and lofty ideals being discussed in a pig sty that she was supposed to clean up after.  She was talking to a friend one day and mentioned that she had decided tobacco just didn't seem to be of God and she would ask Joseph to pray about it for a revelation.  Her friend, who up to that point had been sympathetically listening, suddenly blanched with fright.  "But Joseph is the prophet, if God had meant the church leaders to stop chewing tobacco wouldn't he already have been told?"

Emma replied "But he's never thought about it before.  Smoking and spitting for the brethren is a habit, not a revelation.  Just asking the question couldn't hurt."

But for some reason she never got around to asking, or Joseph was too busy to talk to her.  Word got around though that she had a question in her mind.  Soon her visiting teachers brought it up.  Emma was surprised they even cared, but next thing the visiting teachers were talking up how concerned they were for her spiritual welfare.  "What has not liking cleaning up tobacco spit and breathing in smoke have to do with my spiritual welfare?  I just think I should have a right to have a home not polluted by adult spit up and smoke smell.  This place is hard enough to clean without them spewing all over it.  At least they could actually try not to miss the spittoon part of the time."

"Well, you should know that as a woman you aren't supposed to ask for your rights.  All women in the church know that God hasn't given them the keys to ask for anything for themselves.  Our place is just to quietly accept what we are told."

Emma was confused, what did asking questions and having opinions have to do with spiritual gifts or rights?  And since when was she lobbying for anything?  She just wanted to get Joseph to ask God a question.  Joseph didn't seem to believe her that cleaning tobacco juice and breathing smoke should be any burden at all.  It was supposedly part of her womanly role.  The whole cigarettes are a masculine symbol, cleaning is what women do, so cleaning up the liquid emissions of chewed tobacco as a woman was a symbol of her divine role as a sexual recipient of male emissions from the parts of the man symbolized by the pointy cigarette and fat cigar.  He really needed to stop reading the Freud.  If Joseph wouldn't listen to her then maybe he would listen to God on the subject if he would just ask the question.  After a few heated exchanges about whether she was allowed to ask questions or lobby for her rights her visiting teachers left, and Emma was sure she would never let them bring up the subject again.  The idea of change just scared them too much.

More time passed, and to Emma's surprise more women came to her sympathizing that they also failed to get any spiritual or symbolic benefit from cleaning up tobacco juice off their floors.  They all hated cleaning it, they all hated breathing it.  Many thought that it was their proper burden as women, a cross to carry as called upon by God and the men in their lives.  Many were willing to say it was just wrong.  Some of them even looked up what was known about tobacco from medical journals and it started to be known how unhealthy it was for the men, and how second hand smoke actually increased the chance of miscarriage, hurting their femininity rather than somehow vaguely symbolizing it.  Some didn't care about that and simply wanted to be able to smoke themselves without facing social judgment.  While most would give assent to that idea in theory, given how bad smoking is for you, that opinion was pretty rare to find, but people who thought they knew best talked about it as if it was all women wanted.

Emma's Bishop called her in and told her that since spittoons were in the temple they were obviously of God along with all the tobacco juice on the floor that went with it and she should stop being such a heretic.  Emma felt that spittoons were in the temple because the brethren had put them there, not because God put them there.  She didn't appreciate being called a heretic.  The Bishop wouldn't apologize or even discuss the matter reasonably.  It was for her to obey him, nothing else mattered.  He threatened to take away Emma's temple recommend because she wouldn't accept tobacco as being ordained of God.  Emma dared to let him try and find out what Joseph would say, and decided to ignore the Bishop.

Rumors started to fly in the ward.  People said that Emma wasn't a true believer.  They said that if she wasn't on board with all the doctrinal and non doctrinal assumptions of the church she shouldn't even belong, no matter how much she believed in everything else.  Since it was mainly women who expressed concern about this, members of the church, encouraged by church leadership, started spreading rumors that she and her friends were lesbians.  That was particularly hurtful.  Just because Joseph wanted relations with extra women didn't mean she did.  Not that the consensual relationships between the lesbians she knew had much comparison to the "marry me or God will kill you" or "marry me and you and all your extended family will be guaranteed exaltation automatically just as a reward for your sacrifice" or "you can marry me and your husband, just love both of us" deals that Joseph was cutting.  People started to stop her in the street and yell at her, commanding her in the name of God to stop her anti tobacco campaign.  People called for her to be excommunicated if she ever mentioned the subject again.  One radical even said she and everyone like her should be killed.  The ward's response was much more moderated.  Since she had discussed it in Relief Society and the idea had gained popularity there, the Relief Society was dissolved as a den of heresy.  Emma herself was told she couldn't hold callings until she recanted or if she stopped looking the wrong way- apparently someone told the stake presidents that women wearing the color black meant that they were secretly anti tobacco.  Apparently the fact that Emma was in mourning for her latest dead child didn't matter very much- she looked wrong.

It all came down to that revelation in the church wasn't supposed to come through asking questions.  Or at least not most of the time for day to day stuff.  Revelation came through tradition.  Smoking and chewing tobacco was a traditional activity for men, and since the church represented God's chosen people then all of the traditions of the church were chosen as God's chosen doctrines, along with all the traditional reasons given to explain the traditions.  The traditions had been in place for so long it was assumed that the leaders being in tune with the spirit would have resulted in a revelation already.  No additional knowledge was needed or desired.  Anyone who wanted new knowledge was simply wrong because they violated the doctrine of tradition.  If men didn't smoke, it would be erasing the differences between men and women and that was that.

Eventually, the noise from all the fuss got above the day to day level where tradition ruled, and caused even the leaders to doubt.  Doubt allows sincere questions to be asked in faith, nothing wavering.  Faith and study lead to revelation.  The word of wisdom replaced the word of tradition.  The announcement was proclaimed with a special explanation that it wasn't in response to any social pressures or social movement, but was pure revelation.  Years later, Emma was described as having been right all along with all the leadership of her time being in lock step with her idea of how a husband can respect a wife's clean floor.  Only later scholarship would reveal the Hero Emma was.

Why another blog?

I've been blogging at Owl's Cyber Nest for some time, but every once in a while I keep having a great idea for something I want to blog about but I feel like I can't because I'm trying to keep my main blog a friendly place for everyone who I wish would read it- essentially all of my family and friends who might be interested.  However, there are so many things I want to talk about now that just wouldn't fit there for one reason or another.  Therefore, I'm putting up a second blog to talk about those things.  I will probably still mostly post at Owl's Cyber Nest when I feel it is appropriate, but I'll use this blog for subjects upon which I feel more passionately or where I wish to have a place to express myself more openly.  Perhaps in the future I'll merge the two blogs together, but for now as my life is changing very rapidly having them separate will serve better.