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.

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