Thursday, September 10, 2015

For love of Isaac......

The last time I went to Sunday School was over five years ago, in early 2010. Just a few months prior, I had allowed myself to entertain the notion that the church was not true. In that time, I had begun to see the stories of my religion in a new light, and not necessarily a favorable one.

The topic in Sunday School that year was the Old Testament. I had read the Bible as a missionary, but had skimmed over the juicier parts, looking only for those faith-promoting tidbits offered up as testaments of God's love and concern for the well being of His children. And as I'd read the stories that were best known to us, as Latter-day Saints, I had accepted the interpretation given by our leaders, that the events as they transpired pointed to a loving God, one who wanted only for His children to return to Him. The way He interacted with the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament was appropriate for the times in which these stories occurred, or so I'd been taught. I didn't allow the heart-wrenching details to penetrate my heart or my mind. I accepted the notion that His ways were not our ways, that times had changed, and that the stories were meant only to serve as guideposts, leading us back to Him.

Then came that lesson on that fateful day. The story highlighted was the well-known tale of Abraham and his son, Isaac. Abraham had been commanded by Jehovah to take his beloved son into the wilderness, and to offer him as a sacrifice to God. And it hit me, that day, what a horrific proposition God had laid out for Abraham.

"Abraham, if you love me, prove it. Kill your son."

It doesn't really matter what words are recorded in the Bible. God asked Abraham to kill his own son. Sacrifice him, as a sign of devotion and perfect obedience to God. He, whom Abraham worshipped.

"Abraham, if you love me........ kill your son."

Never before had I experienced such an intensity of emotion in Sunday School. As I listened, I placed myself in Abraham's shoes, and for the first time, I considered what had been asked of him, by the God he loved. And my heart broke for Abraham, and for Isaac, and for Sarah, Isaac's mother. And I wanted to raise my hand in class, and demand to know why this story was being heralded as an example of perfect obedience to a commandment that should have been spurned as ungodly. Is obedience greater than love? Why?

The story was being used to illustrate the requirement that we, as God's children, be willing to do as He asks, in all circumstances, and under all conditions. But what it meant to me, that day, was that a loving father had been asked to do the unthinkable, and take the life of his son. And he was being asked to do so by someone he worshipped, to whom he had devoted his life.

I looked around me at the others in the class, at their thoughtful faces as they contemplated the lesson. And I wondered how many of them were thinking of their own children, and the terrible consequences of following God's commandment. I wondered if any of them asked themselves, that day, if they could do as Abraham had done, and take their child into the wilderness, with the intent of giving him up as a sign of their devotion to God. Could they willingly sacrifice their own flesh and blood, to prove to God that they could be strictly obedient to His demands? Of course I don't know what they were thinking, but I do know that the comments offered were in support of the doctrine of obedience. Unquestioning, perfect, strict obedience.

Remember, Abraham didn't know the rest of the story. He didn't know, at the time he set out for the wilderness, that God would step in and stop him before he could complete the sacrifice. He didn't know that it was a test. All he knew, according to the story, was that he must sacrifice his son, as a similitude of the sacrifice God the Father would one day make, when His own son's life was taken. Or did he even know that? The bible doesn't tell us what Abraham was thinking. We only know that he was commanded, and that he obeyed. He passed the test.

But........ what if the test wasn't about Abraham's perfect obedience, but was instead seeking to prove Abraham's perfect love? What if the answer God was looking for was..... no?


"No, I will not do as you command, and take the life of that which is more precious than my own breath. No, I will not plunge a knife into my son's body, spilling his blood on the ground. No, I will not offer him as a burnt sacrifice to your incredible hubris.

"No, God. I will not kill my son."

That day, sitting in that class, I knew I was done with that god. A god who could ask such a thing is a god not worthy of my devotion. He is a god I will not obey, a god I cannot love. I do not want to return to such a god, and I do not want to become such a god.

Why do the Latter-day Saints not disavow such a god? Why do they continue to use this story to illustrate a principle that separates us from our humanity? Why, for the love of god, would I be asked to place the lives of my children, my blood, on an altar dedicated to a god who could ask such a thing?

Those who continue to perpetuate this notion of perfect obedience to a narcissistic, egotistical, maniacal father are really not so far removed from those who would fly planes into buildings.

Killing in the name of God: it's a time-honored tradition.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Highway to Hell

Coffee. Sin in a cup. Dark, bitter, aromatic, delicious coffee. 

As a lifelong Mormon, I had tried coffee exactly one time. And it was decaf. And it wasn't that great. Not worth the trouble. Keeping that portion of the Word of Wisdom, abstaining from hot drinks, was easy for me. My parents didn't drink coffee, so my experience with it was limited. Though I have to admit I loved the smell. But I was never tempted to drink it, and I had no idea what delights a cup of coffee held. Not until I was almost 50 years old.

That year, 2010, I had come to the conclusion that the church was not true. In February, my mother was hospitalized for surgery. I spent the night at her bedside, wanting to be close enough to tend to her in her time of need. Which meant, obviously, that I got little sleep. In the morning, when my dad came to relieve me, I was exhausted. As I drove away from the hospital, headed for my parent's house to freshen up, I struggled to keep my eyes open, and I considered stopping off at McDonald's for a diet coke to revive me. As I drove, I began to contemplate my options for refreshment, and the idea of coffee entered my mind. 

I had been pondering for some time my loss of a testimony in the church, and what it would mean in my daily decisions. I truly believed, in the beginning, that nothing would change for me. I would continue to attend church weekly with my family; I would continue to wear the garment of the holy priesthood as instructed in the temple; I would continue to abide by the instructions contained within The Word of Wisdom as I understood it; I would continue to be a worthy temple recommend holder. I may have ceased to believe that the church was true, but I still believed that the rules I followed religiously (pun intended) made sense. 

But then I started to wonder about the 'commandments' I had been so rigorously living. And I began to take them apart, one by one. I decided that if a commandment, as taught by the church, moved me in the direction of love, either toward myself or others, it stayed in my lexicon of belief. If it was arbitrary, it was jettisoned. And the more I learned about the Word of Wisdom, as practiced by the church, the more arbitrary it seemed. 

The Word of Wisdom had its beginnings in a conversation between Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. She objected to the use of chewing tobacco in The School of the Prophets, primarily because the job of cleaning up after the men fell to her. I can only imagine how nasty that chore was. So she told Joseph that he needed to put an end to it; she is quoted as saying, "It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding it’s suppression."

The story continues thus: "The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter ‘dig’ at the sisters.” Sure enough the subject was afterward taken up in dead earnest, and the ‘Word of Wisdom’ was the result. ( 

The Word of Wisdom began as a "principle with promise", and, somewhere along the way, it became a commandment, and a marker of righteousness. History is not clear on when exactly this change took place, but certainly by the time I came along, in 1960, adherence to the Word of Wisdom was a requirement to obtain (and keep) a temple recommend. It also became a yardstick with which to measure a person's devotion to God's true church.

Throughout my life, I had taken seriously the church's teachings to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea, and any other substance that was known to be harmful to the body. (With the exception of meat unless in time of famine. I'm a carnivore. 'Nuff said.) So, up until that morning in February of 2010, I was a faithful and devoted temple recommend holder who had never partaken of a cup of joe. My 'caffeine infusion' came only in the form of diet coke. Which I drank by the gallon at one point in my life. Healthy living, right?

As I pulled into the drive-through at McDonald's, and perused the menu, the coffee options fairly jumped off the screen. "Iced Mocha..... Frappe' Mocha..... Latte'..... McCafe' Coffee..... Frappe' Caramel..... Caramel Mocha....." How was a girl to choose? Especially one as uneducated as I? I knew next-to-nothing about coffee! So I picked the most innocuous yet tempting drink I spotted, the Frappe' Caramel. And I drove to my parents' house with my devil's brew in the cup holder, glowing so brightly I was sure everyone who passed me wondered what the hell I was doing with plutonium inside my car.

When I got to the house, and carried my cuppa in, I felt such excitement as I had not known since my wedding night. Okay, hyperbole. But I was inordinately excited about the prospect of trying something that had been previously forbidden. I was going to drink coffee! I WAS GOING TO DRINK COFFEE! OMG! I was visibly trembling as I carried the cup into the house, and I felt as if I was engaging in a life-altering event. It felt big, momentous, huge. I WAS GOING TO DRINK COFFEE!

And then I drank coffee. And it was 'meh'. Mediocre. Granted, it wasn't much more than a milkshake with the slightest hint of mocha flavoring, but it was technically coffee. What a letdown. 

I drank coffee, and nothing changed. I didn't grow horns. Lightning didn't come down from the heavens and strike me dead. I didn't feel different at all. It was just coffee, and I was still just me. I didn't feel guilty, and I didn't feel sinful. I did feel a little disappointed, though. I thought it would change me fundamentally, at the cellular level, so deeply convinced was I that to drink coffee was to sin grievously against God. 


Coffee had not lived up to its promise. I was not a devotee the first time out. I was not a fan. I was not addicted. And I left the stuff alone for another four months. 

Then, one afternoon in June, I found myself in Provo, Utah, of all places, with my young adult daughter. We were talking about coffee, and my disappointing experience with it, and she informed me that I had not yet had coffee; I had had a milkshake with coffee flavoring. "Want to try real coffee?" she asked. 

With some trepidation, I agreed to let her introduce me into the world of java. 

We started at Krispy Kreme. I ordered a cup of black coffee, and sat down anticipating an earth-moving, phenomenal experience. 

OMG! People actually drink this?! It was bitter, nasty stuff. It tasted like liquid burnt popcorn! Burned my tongue and made my eyes water. Coffee, with its enticing aroma, tasted gross. Horrible. I added sugar, then cream, then more sugar. Then more sugar. Then more. Then I told my daughter that there wasn't enough sugar in the world to make the stuff palatable. She laughed, and suggested we move on to Starbucks.

Yuck. Still horrible. How could anyone get past the first sip? Blech! 

This was the drink people raved about? THIS??

So we moved on to a gas station. No luck. I hated the stuff. There didn't seem to be anything I could add to temper the bitterness, and I gave up. I would have to find another way to rebel. 

Fast forward a month, and I began working a shift that started at 5:00 AM. That's five o'clock in the morning. I wasn't a morning person, and I could not wrap my head around a 4:00 AM alarm. How was it possible to wake up at that ungodly hour and be a functional human being? 

And thus my love affair with coffee began.

My first day on the new shift, a coworker suggested that I try coffee with a packet of hot chocolate mix added to the cup. And it worked! It was palatable! I could drink it without gagging and wincing in pain and disgust. I was drinking coffee! Granted, it was mostly hot chocolate, but I was drinking coffee! 

I continued to drink a cup of coffee-infused hot chocolate each morning, and one day, I made a surprising connection. That little habit had begun to work on an intestinal issue that had plagued me for most of my life. The exact issue shall remain nameless, in the interest of pride, but suffice it to say, my bathroom habits became more regular, and I began to feel less bloated and, well.... I've already said too much. Let's just say that I was no longer full of sh*t. Metaphorically speaking. Actually, it was a literal transformation. But again, I've said too much...... Just know that I had realized the benefits of regular coffee consumption. And I became a fan.

It took awhile, years actually, to adjust my palate to the bitter taste of coffee. But eventually, I was able to take my coffee without the added chocolate mix. And eventually, with time, I was able to take my coffee black, and I learned to love it. I felt like such a grown-up!

However, there have been drawbacks to my coffee consumption, all related to my beloved family and friends' reactions to my new-found love.

My best friend, who is a die-hard believer, learned of my disaffection in the fall of 2010. She took it very hard, struggling to understand how I could turn from the 'truth' upon which I had based my life. Then she found out that I drank coffee. And she cried herself to sleep at night. Because I drank coffee. 

My teenage son also struggled with my loss of belief in the church, and was understandably upset that I would break the Word of Wisdom. He asked me one day, "Mom, are there any studies that show that coffee is bad for you?" I replied that I was sure there were, but that there were also many studies that showed the benefits of coffee consumption. However, I told him, there were no studies that proved any health benefit to soda consumption, and yet he could drink 64 ounces of Dr. Pepper a day and still get a temple recommend, whereas I could not get one because of my 8 ounces of coffee a day. I told him that I had no problem with the Word of Wisdom as a code of conduct, a way to identify with one's co-religionists. But it should be noted that the WoW is about obedience, not health. It is not about health. And my coffee habit has been good for my health. (I never was all that into obedience anyway.....)

Then my mother got wind of my new habit, and she shook her finger in my face. (I may be a grown woman, but my mother can still put the fear of God into me!) She admonished me for my 'sin', and I responded that I drank coffee because of its intestinal stimulant effect. I explained that it brought me much needed relief from my lifelong struggle to..... um..... you know..... "Do I have to spell it out?? I am no longer full of sh*t!" (That did make her laugh!....) Then she said, "Just so long as you don't enjoy it! That would be a sin!"

Sigh. I promise I don't enjoy it, mom. (Now I've added lying to my list of transgressions.)

The truth is that I enjoy my cup of coffee more than I have ever enjoyed a beverage in my life. I love coffee. 

I love the smell. I love the feel of the cup in my hands, the warmth emanating through the ceramic. I love the deep, dark, velvety color of black coffee, and I love the caramel color when a bit of cream is added. And I love that first sip. The bitter taste as it hits my tongue, and the jolt as it hits my bloodstream. I love coffee. 

Am I a sinner? Am I going to hell? Is this a condemnable offense? According to my believing loved ones, yes, it is. It approaches unforgivable. And I think I've figured out why. Breaking the Word of Wisdom is a rejection of the prophet Joseph Smith, and every prophet since who has admonished us to follow this 'principle with promise'. Breaking the Word of Wisdom is shouting to the world that I no longer practice Mormonism. My cup of sin separates me from my Mormon family and friends like the Berlin Wall separated East from West. 

I wish I could broker peace between the loves of my life, but I am resigned to the fact that my family will never accept my coffee. 

And that will have to be okay. Because I'm not giving up my coffee. And I'm not giving up my loved ones. Maybe this can be a lesson in tolerance for them. Maybe they can learn to love me in spite of my faults and transgressions. 

Because if loving coffee is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

To be or not to be......

Be who you are and say what you feel,
 because those who mind don't matter, 
and those who matter don't mind.
Dr. Seuss

When I had my first child, I was determined to make her a reader. I come from a family of readers. I had my nose in a book for most of my childhood and adolescence, so I knew from experience the exhilaration that comes from a good book. I lived vicariously through reading, and my curiosity about the world and its inhabitants was fueled by reading about people whose lives were vastly different from mine. I loved reading, and I wanted my kids to love reading as well.

That tiny baby was subjected to books almost as soon as she could breathe. I figured there was no better time to start than before she became mobile and could get away from me. I plunked her down in my lap, and I read out loud. Sometimes I would lay her down beside me on the floor and hold the book above our heads. She would stare at "Go Dog Go" with rapt attention, and wiggle her entire body with excitement. Reading to Erin was a delight. Those days are some of my most treasured memories of motherhood.

As she grew older, I continued to read aloud to her. We were reading chapter books together by the time she was four years old. She loved books as much as I did, and I was thrilled.

My second daughter was born less than two years after the first. I had no reason to believe that she should be parented any differently, so I started the practice of reading with her as well. And it was a bust. She had no interest in hearing the words; she was far more interested in eating the pages. It was a struggle to get her to hold still on my lap, even as a tiny infant, and if I laid her down on the floor and attempted to lay beside her, holding the book above our heads as I'd done with the first, she would roll away. She could roll from back to front by 2 weeks of age. There was no holding her still for something as mundane as a book.

I persevered with my second child, as I was convinced that I could make her love reading as much as I, and her older sister, did. Books were, and are, a window to the world, a peek into lives we would not ourselves live, places we would not get to see, adventures we would not get to have. We could experience all of these things by reading about them. It was almost as good as living them. I wanted her to have what I had, a curiosity about the world around her, and the world far away. I wanted her to love reading, and to experience the joy and sorrow to be found within the pages of a book. More than anything else, I wanted her to crave books, as I did.

Throughout my girls' elementary years, our nightly tradition of reading continued. The second child eventually stopped wiggling long enough to listen, especially if she was snuggled under her covers and attempting to delay sleep. One of our favorite books was "To Kill a Mockingbird", which we read as a family before renting and watching the Gregory Peck movie. I hope my kids never forget that shared experience. It was truly magical, and I believe it laid the roots for my children's acceptance of all humanity, be they black or white, gay or straight. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." Books are one way to climb inside another person's skin, and experience life as he or she lives it.

In spite of all my efforts, my second child never did develop a love of reading. As she grew, she preferred playing with dolls, or playing dress-up, or dancing. Especially dancing. She spent many long hours choreographing dance routines to her favorite music, and she would perform them for us regularly. She loved to dance. She worked hard to develop her talent, eventually performing with a dance group at the Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, and in a national dance competition in Orlando, Florida. She danced with her high school drill team, and she was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach dance to the next generation, passing on her passion. Just like I tried to do with reading.

Even now, as an adult, if she has leisure time, she does not spend it buried in a book. Over the years, I have given her many books as gifts at each holiday and birthday, hoping to rouse in her a desire to read for pleasure. But, alas, it was not to be. She does not love to read.

She can read, certainly, and has occasionally found a book she has enjoyed. But she does not seek out books for pleasure, or entertainment. Music is her passion, and, still, dance. And I have accepted that this is who she is. I do not berate her because she doesn't love what I love. I still gift her with books on occasion, if I find one I think might speak to her. For example, last Christmas I gave her a guidebook to Melbourne, Australia. I knew she would enjoy it, as she was soon to leave for a six month stay Down Under. But it has been several years since I have given her a novel. She isn't a reader. She just isn't.

As a new mother, I had fallen prey to the notion that I could mold and shape my children to be who I thought they should be. And what I learned, after much effort, was that my children came to this world hard-wired to be who they are. They were not blank slates, waiting for me to imprint my hopes and dreams on their little brains. They were people, with unique talents and gifts, and their own personal likes and dislikes. One likes to read, one likes to dance, one likes sports, one likes Shakespeare. And each is magnificent in her (and his) own way. Because they are each who they are supposed to be. Not mini-me's. Not carbon copies of their parents. And that is to be celebrated, not mourned.

My daughter may not like to read, but she loves to dance. And watching her dance is like watching poetry in motion. It is beautiful. She is beautiful. Not in spite of what she isn't, but because of what she is.

As much as I wanted my children to be readers, my mother wanted her children to be religious. To that end, she started teaching us from birth to pray, and to read holy scriptures, and to revere holy things. At least, she attempted to.

She (and my father) took us to church every week, and we attended every church-sponsored activity. She did her level best to hold weekly Family Home Evening, a special night set aside for family religious study. She made multiple serious attempts to get us to sit still as she read to us from the Book of Mormon. Most of those attempts resulted in scoldings and recriminations for wiggly children unable to pay attention to what she considered divinely inspired writings, yet still she persevered. She taught us to fast monthly, and to pay fast offerings, and to tithe ten percent of our income. She encouraged my seven brothers to make it a goal to serve a church mission, and she taught all of us to look toward the temple as the place where we would be sealed for eternity to our chosen spouse. My mother loved the church, and she wanted us to love it, too.

My mom believed wholeheartedly in the scriptural admonition to train up a child in the way he should go, believing that when he is old, he will not depart from it. She believed, as a prophet had said, that no success could compensate for failure in the home, equating failure in the home with children who did not embrace the gospel as she herself did. She loved church as much as I loved reading, and she wanted to pass that love on to her children. It was more than a duty to her; it was her life, and she wanted to share it with her beloved offspring.

Unfortunately, for my mom, she has had about as much luck teaching all of us to love church as I did teaching my daughter to love reading. As it stands now, 50% of her children are still practicing Mormons. I am one of those who is not.

One of my brothers left the church as a teenager, only to return several years later. He has since been a devoted attendee, bringing much joy and rejoicing to my mother.

Three of my brothers left the church in their young adult years, and have not returned. Their lack of devotion to religion has grieved my mother to the depths of her soul. I know she mourns this loss, as she has shared her grief with me over the years.

And  me? What became of me, my mother's only daughter?

After 49 years of attempting to forge a religious identity, I found that it was not to be. I could not, can not, be religious. I am not religious. Much to my mother's dismay, I do not revere holy things. I do not like church, and I do not feel an affinity for spiritual matters.

I believed, for most of my life, that how I felt about religion and church was inconsequential. It didn't matter if I didn't like it. The church was True, with a capital T. So I didn't see that there was a choice about participation. It was True; I was flawed. So I persevered. I did all of the things my mother had taught me, and I stayed the course. I did my best to be a model Mormon, believing that if I did so, the sure knowledge that it was True would come, in time. My mom believed it was True, so I believed it was True.

Until the day I knew it wasn't.

And I realized that my feelings over the years had been valid, and that it was okay for me to be secular. That being secular was a bonafide option. That in spite of my mother's best efforts, she could not turn me into a believer, just as I could not turn my daughter into a reader.

I discovered that I am decidedly, contentedly, happily secular. My discovery has not pleased my mother. She does not see religiosity as an individual character trait. Religion, to her, is for everyone. Like it or not.

I'm not sure Dr. Seuss got it right. My mother minds, and my mother matters. And neither of those two things is ever likely to change.

I know my mother loves me. I do. I know this. But I also know that my mother mourns what I am not. I wish instead that she could celebrate what I am.

Unfortunately, her religious beliefs do not make room for such a celebration. So maybe I can be the example for her this time around. I can love her wholeheartedly, unabashedly, unconditionally, even though she is a believer.

She is, after all, also a reader. That counts for something.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I Left

There has been a never-ending parade of blogposts over the past couple of years, written by faithful Latter-day-Saints, listing the reasons people leave the church. The authors come across as authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject matter, but, as one who has traveled this particular path, I find that they often miss the mark. By a wide margin.

I'm responding here to one such blog, but I am not providing the link to said post so as to avoid driving traffic his direction. If you really must know what he said, google Greg Trimble's "You should not leave Mormonism for any of these five reasons." Then come back here for the rebuttal. I'll wait.

You done? Good. Read on.

1. Being Offended

This gem gets trotted out with regularity. In a nutshell, somebody said something to someone else at church that was insulting, then that someone got their panties in a wad and stormed out, and as a result, that someone refused to return and worship with the offending party. And maybe that has actually happened. In fact, I'm sure it has. Some people are offensive, and some people are sensitive. Stands to reason feelings will be hurt, sometimes beyond the point of repair. I'm not going to defend the actions of the offended, or the offendee.

What I would like to address is this little gem: "It's almost unfathomable to me that a person would ever let someone else keep them from worshiping God." 

I agree, it is unfathomable. And no, I would not let anyone else prevent me from worshiping God.

I have, in fact, been offended at church. The relief society president called me a "belligerent teenager". While I have to admit that she wasn't far off in her assessment of me, I will also admit that it hurt. And I was offended. And I was in church the following Sunday, doing what I had always done. I worshiped alongside a woman I despised. And I continued to do so for several more years, right up until I realized that I didn't believe in the God I was worshiping. But the two events are not related in the slightest, though there are probably those in my former congregation who would draw a direct correlation between them. And I don't believe there is anything I could say that would dissuade them. It is probably easier to believe that I fell away because I was offended than acknowledge that I no longer believe in what, to them, is "The Truth".

So, no, I did not leave the church because I was offended. Though I am offended by the accusation. It's a little like asking someone why they're mad, and they insist they aren't mad, and you say, "Well, you seem mad," and they say, "Well, I wasn't mad until you insisted that I was mad!" I wasn't offended until you insisted that I was offended. So now I'm offended. But that's not why I left.

2. Not Understanding The Doctrine

Oh, boy. This one is a doozy. The big one. The one that truly offends.

"Everyone that goes inactive or leaves the church, did so because they did not or do not know something they need to know."

The assumption here is that the apostate somehow failed in their quest to know that the church was true. That they didn't do enough. They didn't study scriptures enough. Didn't pray with real intent. Failed to attend Sunday meetings faithfully. Weren't a regular at the temple. Whatever it is that leads to that elusive something, the apostate failed to do it.

Soon after I had 'come out' as an apostate to my church friends, one of the more faithful asked me if I had given God equal time. She assumed that because I had lost my faith, I was at fault. That I hadn't given it enough effort or time. And all I could do was sigh. Because the truth is that I had given God the first 49 years of my life, give or take a few there at the beginning, before the age of accountability. And I can't imagine, looking back, what more He wanted of me.

I could take a paragraph (or a few pages) and recite all the things I have done over my life to qualify for Moroni's promise. You know the one..... "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you...." But I won't bore you with the details. I feel confident stating that my church resume is impeccable. (If you're still dissatisfied, read the rest of my blog. It's all there.)

So my question for Mr. Trimble is this: if there is some mystery ingredient that I, and my fellow apostates, need to know, why has God made it so hard to discern what this something is? Why, if I did everything God asked me to do, to the best of my ability, wasn't I privy to that something that is so essential to my eternal salvation? Why was I not blessed with the right answer to Moroni's promise, and given the testimony I so desired?

As I write these words, I can imagine the response from Mr. Trimble. I wasn't worthy, amiright? Even though I say I did it all, I must have missed something. Maybe I wasn't sincere. Maybe I was too proud. Maybe I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe I just didn't do it long enough. I didn't endure to the end. Whatever that elusive something is, I didn't qualify to receive it, through some fault of my own.

I know I'll never convince Mr. Trimble, and those who agree with him, that I deserve what he has. And he does have a point. I do not know something that I need to know to stay in the church. I do not know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints is the one true church on the earth today. But my lack of a testimony is not because I lacked desire, or effort, or even faith. I did my due diligence.  I gave God equal time, and more than His fair share of my life. What He didn't give back was that mysterious something that I needed to know.

What I did get, for all my efforts, was the opposite of what Moroni promised. I do not believe in the truth claims of the church, and I can say that with as much conviction as I once professed my belief. And believe it or not, Mr. Trimble, that conviction brings me peace.

3. It's Just Too Hard's hard to be a Mormon. It's not supposed to be easy. 

As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh."

Mr. Trimble thinks spending most of his free time serving the church is hard. Giving 10% of his income to the church is hard. Sitting in a pew for three hours every Sunday, obeying the Word of Wisdom, sacrificing two years of his young adulthood for a mission. He thinks those things are hard.


He should try standing up in front of his community, family, and friends, and admitting to them that he doesn't believe in God.

He should try looking into his mother's eyes and telling her that, in spite of her best efforts, she was unable to keep all of her children firmly in the fold.

He should try looking into the eyes of his beloved companion and telling her that he doesn't believe in the saving ordinances of the holy temple, in effect nullifying their eternal marriage.

He should try explaining to his teenage son why he no longer believes in the God he taught his son to worship.

Those things are hard.

So why would I do them?

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself." Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, it would have been easier to stay, in some ways, but staying meant sacrificing a crucial piece of my soul. It meant professing to believe something I did not, could not, believe. It meant playing a part, just to please those I loved.

Some would say I acted selfishly, that I set aside my loved ones' happiness to pursue my own. And I have struggled with this idea myself, admittedly. But isn't it equally selfish for them to ask me to deny my feelings and pretend to be who I am not, just so they don't have to be sad? So their worldview isn't threatened? To maintain the illusion that all is well in Zion?

Living a religious life is hard, I'll grant Mr. Trimble that. But so is leaving it behind, when it means leaving cherished relationships, and treasured friendships, and my reputation. When it means no longer being seen as moral, or virtuous, or lovely, or of good report.

Leaving the church has been both the hardest, and the most rewarding, action I have ever taken. My only regret is the pain I have caused my loved ones. But I think Mr. Trimble and his ilk deserve some of the blame for that pain when they attempt to portray me as having taken the easy road.

Yes, it was just too hard.

“Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul.” 
― William Ernest Henley, Invictus

'Nuff said.

4. Anti-Mormon Literature

Hoo-boy. Getting a handle on what constitutes anti-Mormon literature is a slippery venture. From what I have gathered, based on my many years inside the church, and the five years outside, anything that exposes the warts of God's True Church can be considered Anti-Mormon literature.

For most of my life, I did as directed by my leaders, and I stuck to material that was approved. I was a prolific reader, and I enjoyed a wide variety of genres, but when it came to gospel topics, I generally only read material that had the church's seal of approval. I was very much afraid of anything that even smelled of apostasy, for fear that my testimony might be challenged.

My journey out of the church has been well chronicled in other blog posts, so I won't repeat it here. But at the time I realized that I did not believe the church was true, I had read very little that could be characterized as Anti-Mormon literature.

Once I came to terms with my status as an unbeliever, I was still somewhat reluctant to read anything that cast a negative light on the church. 49+ years of conditioning is tough to overcome overnight. So, on the advice of a trusted relative, I started with a book written by a faithful Mormon. "Rough Stone Rolling", by Richard Bushman, sent me headlong down the rabbit hole of church history. I was introduced to many events, and alternate explanations, that I hadn't heard before, and I began an indepth study of the early years of the church. And my mind was blown.

Here's what made me literally laugh out loud in Mr. Trimble's essay: "Then someone out of the blue tries to make Joseph Smith look like a freak by painting a picture of him burying his head in some “magical hat.”"

I grew up in the church. Born and bred, I was. And I had never, ever, heard the story of the stone in the hat method of translating before I read it in Mr. Bushman's book. It was not taught in any class I attended, and it wasn't represented in any of the pictures I had seen of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. So if it wasn't weird, or freakish, why wasn't it taught? Why wasn't it pictured?

And by including that juicy little tidbit, is Mr. Trimble implying that the story of the stone in the hat is Anti-Mormon? If it's true, and it's not freakish, how can it be Anti? What was the point there, Mr. Trimble?

My point, simply, is that it wasn't Anti-Mormon literature that led me out of the church. By the time I delved into what Mr. Trimble would qualify as Anti-Mormon literature, I was already mentally out. And what I read only confirmed what I had felt: the church was not true.

Could I have overcome my feelings had I not read any so-called Anti-Mormon literature? I don't know. I'll never know. But I can say this...... I am overwhelmingly grateful to have found my way out. And I am grateful to those who risked their professional and social reputations to bring me that Anti-Mormon literature. Thank you, Richard Bushman. Thank you, Todd Compton. Thank you, Grant Palmer. Thank you, Michael Quinn. You enriched my life, enlarged my understanding, and validated my feelings. So, thank you.

5. Sin

 ".... sin leads people to one or more of the items listed above."

It should surprise no one that I no longer define sin the way I did as a believing Mormon. I do not believe that human beings are sinful by nature, and I do not believe that the natural man is an enemy to God.

That being said, I can emphatically state that it was not sin that led me out of the church.

At the time of my de-conversion, I was a card-carrying member of the church. I was worthy in every way of my temple recommend. At least in the behavioral categories. I was struggling in the belief categories, and had been for some time.

But my behavior as a Mormon was exemplary. I was faithful to my spouse (still am), and I lived the law of chastity; I was honest in my dealings with my fellow man (in fact, it was my honesty that wouldn't allow me to continue living as a believer..... integrity, y'all); I was a full-tithe payer, and generally rounded up; I kept the Word of Wisdom religiously, pun intended, eschewing alcohol, hot drinks such as tea and coffee, and tobacco; I wore my temple garments both day and night as instructed in the endowment; and I attended my Sunday meetings faithfully each and every week that I was able.

Was I a perfect human being? Of course not. I was (am) judgmental and petty, lazy and undisciplined, prone to discontent. Are those sins? That would depend on your definition of sin. To me, they are very human traits, asserting themselves in a very flawed, very human being.

But by the church's definition, as outlined in the temple recommend interview, I was free of sin. So I can categorically call bulls**t on Mr. Trimble's assertion that sin led me to one or more of the items listed above.

So, why did I leave the church, if not for the reasons outlined by Mr. Trimble? Quite simply, because I no longer believed it to be true. What led me to that conclusion has been detailed quite extensively elsewhere in my blog. Suffice it to say, I didn't believe, and my integrity would not allow me to pretend that I did.

Mr. Trimble may have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support his claims, but I believe I can muster up just as much anecdotal evidence to support mine. I have had the opportunity to meet many people in the past five years who have walked the path of apostasy, and I can state confidently that not one of the many souls I have encountered has left for Mr. Trimble's petty reasons.

Not. One.

So thank you, Mr. Trimble, for sharing your thoughts on the matter, but I reject your five reasons people leave the church on the grounds that they are unfounded. Anecdotally speaking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who Knew?

The church recently released a series of essays about the prophet Joseph Smith, and his practice of polygamy during the early days of the church. Big news, apparently. I mean, who knew?!?

Turns out, a lot of people did. If the internet is to be believed, most of them were Mormons, and most of them were, and are, faithful. The big questions then became how did they know, when did they know, what exactly did they know, and what did they do about it. And the answers were infuriating.

"You're upset because you didn't know 'Ol Joe had multiple wives? Teenagers, some of them? Other mens' wives, men he'd sent on missions? If only you'd paid attention in church! This is not new information, and it wasn't hidden from those who cared enough to look for it. Dumbasses."

Okay, nobody called anybody a dumbass. Not that I saw, anyway. But the insinuation was that the fault lie with those who were ignorant of the history. Victim blaming.

"I knew, and it didn't change a thing for me. Joseph was a prophet of God, and was commanded by God to take other wives, much like prophets of old. Doesn't change a thing. Why you so upset? Why you gotta leave? Why you gotta be a hater? Wah! Wah! Wah! Big babies! Go! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!"


Way, way back in the mid 1980's, I knew. I don't believe my story is unique, but it is worth telling. If only to shut up those naysayers who knew, and were not bothered. Because I was bothered. A lot.

The first edition of "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith", was published in 1985. I found it on my very believing mother's bookshelf, and was intrigued by the title, so I read it. It was an eye-opener for me, a lifelong Mormon girl, raised in Utah. I don't recall ever hearing in church that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Or if I had, I hadn't paid much attention. It wasn't spoken of over the pulpit in glowing terms, unlike the account of the first vision as told in the Pearl of Great Price. It certainly was not common knowledge among my peers. I don't recall any mention of it in seminary or institute, though I was a graduate of both. Maybe it was a lesson topic one day, and I was out sick. Or I was goofing off on the back row, a reality on any given day. Both scenarios are possible.

Nevertheless, though I grew up in the church, schooled in the beauty of the gospel restored through the efforts of Joseph Smith, I was not aware of Joseph's history with polygamy. I believed, as did most of the Mormons I knew, that polygamy started with Brigham Young, and was an altruistic-attempt-to-care-for-the-poor-widows-and-orphaned-children-who-had-lost-their-husbands-and-fathers-in-the-terrible-struggle-to-cross-the-plains-in-pursuit-of-religious-freedom. That was our story, and we stuck to it.

The real story of polygamy I learned while reading the above-mentioned book about Emma Smith. It provided details about their marriage, and his marriages, that I had never heard. And it was disconcerting, to say the least. I was bothered by the idea that Joseph married other women without his wife's knowledge, and, once she was made aware, against her wishes. I was bothered by the fact that Joseph married a girl who was only 14, among other teenagers. I was bothered by the fact that Joseph married other men's wives, many of whom were alone on the frontier because he had sent their husbands on missions to spread the gospel word. I was bothered that Joseph Smith claimed God had commanded him to do all of this, at the risk of his own life should he refuse. And I was bothered by the fact that this was new to me, a lifelong member.

This new information sat in my brain for awhile, over a year, and festered. In July of 1987, I took a cross-country trip, with a younger brother along for company, and we made a stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. This was in the days before it had been restored to its former glory. We wandered up and down the streets, looking at the many, many homes that had been left behind by the saints, and stood for a while on the temple mount, contemplating the exodus of our Mormon ancestors. I didn't entirely trust the narrative fed us by the missionary couples, the story of a people who had been driven off by an angry mob because of their faith in God. The story of Joseph's polygamy was too fresh in my mind, and I couldn't help but wonder how much that had to do with the saints hasty departure from their beloved city.

Then we visited Carthage jail, the site of the martydom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. I sat in silence in the upper room, listening to the story of Joseph Smith, the hero, and the mob that had gathered on that fateful day to carry out their evil deed. And I couldn't quiet my feelings of unease, thinking about the acts of Joseph Smith, the polygamist. Joseph Smith, the deceitful and, in my view, unfaithful spouse to Emma. Joseph Smith, the arrogant self-proclaimed prophet of the new dispensation, who had God's ear, and spoke God's word. I was very uncomfortable with these feelings, having been raised to revere Joseph Smith. "Praise to the Man" was an oft-sung anthem to our martyred prophet. And yet, there I sat, with a troubled heart. The story no longer resonated as one of faithful saints driven off by hate and fear. It had been tainted by truth, and I was in turmoil.

My journal entry, recorded the next day, reads, in part, ".... he was such a complex person, and one with whom I have a hard time identifying. I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, but my conviction that he was inspired in all of his actions is a bit weak. I guess I don't understand him well enough -- but I also think that the people of that time period bear some studying as well, since that could shed some light on Joseph Smith himself. He would most likely have gone about things much differently in this century, been similar to the apostles and prophets we have now. I don't have any trouble respecting them. Not that such is the case with Joseph -- I just don't understand him. I can empathize with Emma --."

If I recall correctly, this did not reflect my feelings entirely accurately, but I was reluctant to record for my posterity any doubt that Joseph was a prophet. I couldn't commit in writing my disquiet with the story as I now knew it. But reading between the lines, I was disturbed by the actions of Joseph Smith, and I couldn't make them fit what I believed to be true of prophets and apostles. I could no longer see him as a man of God. In my mind, he was a fallen prophet.

That fall, I lived in Boston, working as a traveling nurse. I took an institute class in Cambridge, on the Doctrine and Covenants, which included much of early church history. I listened carefully, but no mention was made of Joseph's polygamy. And I wasn't brave enough to bring it up myself. So, I shelved it. Again.

Until the next summer, when I read a fictionalized account of the church's early days, written by Orson Scott Card. Titled "Saints", it told the story of a woman whose life was based on that of Eliza Snow, who had married both Joseph Smith and, after his death, Brigham Young. The story included many of the same details I'd read in "Mormon Enigma", and stirred up all those feelings of disquiet about Joseph Smith and polygamy. I remember spending many nights lying on my couch staring off into space, trying to fit what I had learned into what I already knew. Trying to make it make sense. And failing. I wondered if the church was even true, and the thought terrified me.

I had been struggling with other issues that year, among them the excommunication of someone I loved dearly, who had been having an affair. I couldn't reconcile his excommunication with what I viewed as Joseph's unfaithfulness. The one was revered as a prophet; the other kicked out of the club. And their actions were eerily similar. My head spun in confusion.

In August of that summer, on one particularly emotional night, I told God that I couldn't do it anymore. I was done. I didn't want to participate in a religion that revered a man such as Joseph Smith. I didn't want to be a Mormon anymore. And I gave God an ultimatum. I told him that he had one chance to keep me in the fold. I was going to call on an old friend, a general authority by the name of Jacob de Jager. I knew from an article in the newspaper that my friend was on assignment in Asia, and wouldn't be available to take my call. But I told God that if I could get in to see my friend, talk to him a bit, benefit from his wise counsel, I'd stay. It was an ultimatum that I knew God would fail.  Only, God came through.

When Elder de Jager's secretary came on the line, I asked if I could speak to him, knowing he was out of the country. She said, in a cheerful voice, "Sure! He's sitting in his office. I'll connect you."

And so it came to pass that I found myself sitting in the office of a general authority the next day, pouring out my heart to him, confessing my grave sin of doubt. Telling him of my confusion and exhaustion at trying so hard to make it all work. As I recall, I did not reveal my misgivings about the prophet Joseph. I knew enough at the time to guess how that would be received. In retrospect, I very much wish I had brought it up. Maybe he would have had some useful advice on how to make peace with the past. Maybe he would have brushed it off as inconsequential. I'll never know, because of my fear.

What he did tell me was that I shouldn't give up, that good things were on the horizon, and that I should stay the course. I trusted him, and, as God had made Elder de Jager available when I most needed him, by extension I trusted God. I left our meeting with renewed faith in the church.

After speaking with Elder de Jager, I made good on my vow to stay in the church, and I began faithfully attending my Sunday meetings. I read scriptures daily, and prayed both morning and night, and re-committed myself to living the gospel as best I could. And I shelved, deeply, any doubts I had about Joseph Smith. I put my feelings aside, and became the best Mormon I knew how to be.

In November of that year, I met the man who would become my husband. After my final disaffection from the church, he confessed that had I not been an active, believing Mormon at the time we met, he would not have married me. And, to be honest, I married him, in part, because he was also an active, believing Mormon. We were both looking for someone with whom to raise a family, and neither of us would have considered a person out of the faith. And I am so very, very glad that we have had a life together. I have no regrets there. He was, and is, the right guy for me, and I feel fortunate to have spent the last 25 and a half years with him. He's the guy, my guy, and I guess I have the church to thank for that. I can't explain it, from my perspective now, and I don't try to. It is what it is. And what it is is good.

Fast forward 21 years, from the summer of '88 to the fall of 2009. As I have detailed elsewhere, I finally had to acknowledge to myself that I did not believe in the church. In the intervening years, I had successfully kept my feelings about Joseph Smith buried. Any time I was called upon to testify of his prophetic calling, I did so, as a good Mormon should, but always with a twinge of lingering doubt. Doubt that I pushed back forcefully, refusing to even acknowledge that it existed. What finally tipped me over into apostasy wasn't Joseph Smith's polygamy, however, but my own deep and abiding feelings that something was wrong. The church didn't make sense to me, the gospel itself confused me, and I couldn't accept so very many things I had been led to believe about God. And accepting my unbelief was incredibly liberating. Finally, I could allow my mind to wander into those dark corners, and take stuff down off the shelves for examination, and not fear where it might lead. And I didn't have to ignore my doubts about 'Ol Joe. He wasn't a prophet, and the church he 'restored' wasn't True with a capital T.

The only trouble was that I had no one with whom to discuss my burgeoning disbelief in the church. I hadn't yet brought it out into the open with my husband, and I had no friends who were former believers turned apostate. And even if I did, I wouldn't have dared talk to them. Conversing with known apostates was verboten. So, for about 3 months, I simmered silently. I was no longer talking to God, not in the way I had always done. I wasn't even sure He was there, and formal prayers felt foreign on my tongue. I have always been a verbal processer, never one to suffer in silence, so this period of my life was very lonely. And confusing.

And then I realized that there was one person I could talk to. One person to whom I could unburden my soul. My husband's Uncle Denny.

Uncle Denny was married to my father-in-law's sister, and had been excommunicated in the 1980's, for heresy. My husband's family were mostly very active, believing Mormons, and Uncle Denny's story was whispered about, but never acknowledged in the open. I knew bits and pieces of the story, but had never spoken with him personally about his own journey. I knew him to be a friendly, kind man, and I suspected that he would be open to discussing my concerns and questions. The only problem was, how could I go about meeting with him? I had seen him at my mother-in-law's funeral in December, but the topic of my unbelief in Mormonism hardly seemed appropriate at that particular venue. And I didn't feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling him. "Hey, yo, Uncle Den! How's about that excommunication? Crazy stuff, huh?!? Wanna talk about it?" That just didn't feel right, for so many reasons.

Then, in January of 2010, Uncle Denny was injured in an accident at his airplane hangar. No, I do not for a minute believe that God, or the universe, or whoever is in charge, caused his accident just to orchestrate a meeting with me. I don't have a good explanation for what followed, but it was certainly serendipitous. For me, anyway. Didn't work out so well for Uncle Denny, although he did survive his injuries. (Incidentally, he passed away the next fall, of a previously diagnosed cancer.)

I knew that Uncle Denny was an inpatient in the hospital where I was working as a nurse, and I had visited with him and his family, who were very close, and who were staying nearby to be with him as he recovered. I had been at a staff meeting at the hospital one evening, and decided, before I went home, that I would visit with him and his family, whom I suspected would be at his bedside. Only when I went to his room, I found him alone, lying in the dark, resting quietly. He was awake, and pleasantly surprised to see me. He invited me in for a visit, and what transpired that evening, in the darkness of his hospital room, was a pivotal point in my transformation from believer to unbeliever.

After exchanging pleasantries, I blurted out to him my doubt, and confusion. It was the first time I had uttered the words out loud, and it felt weird, and disconcerting. "Uncle Denny, I don't know if the church is true." He didn't express shock, or even surprise. Maybe it was due to his pain, but he seemed very calm, and sure of his words. And though I can't recall specifics of the conversation, I do remember that he asked me what had started me on my journey, and what I had read. He never once suggested that I should leave the church, and in fact didn't even confirm that the church was not true. He simply asked questions, and made suggestions.

What I remember most clearly is his quiet affection for me, and his gentle assurance that I was not flawed. I do remember feeling loved, and I trusted him. And in that conversation, I learned to trust myself, and my feelings. I realized that I could let go of God, and hang on to my humanity. I learned that morality, and love, and compassion do not come exclusively from a belief in God, nor from religion, but from within our own hearts. That conversation has become a precious memory of Uncle Denny, and when I doubt myself, or my doubts, I remember Uncle Denny's quiet assurance. And I know I'm okay.

As a result of that conversation, I picked up a book I had previously tried to read, but had found to be dry and boring. Richard Bushman's historical treatise of Joseph Smith, "Rough Stone Rolling", proved to be a fascinating history lesson. One that ultimately confirmed to me those feelings from years ago, and I knew then, as much as I'd ever known anything, that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. And I knew that my eternal salvation, or eternal destiny, did not rest in my allegiance to his church. And I felt peace.

These two conversations, two decades apart, stand out in my mind as pivotal points in my life's journey. Each resulted in a different trajectory, neither ending in regret. And I have no explanation for either event.

Some would see God behind these fortuitous life events, but I cannot bring myself to believe in such a Divine Being. I cannot believe that He would care so much about the outcome of my life, and so little about the extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, to use a commonly known historical atrocity. Unfortunately, there are many from which to choose. No, I don't see God's hand evident in these stories.

So, what, or who, gets the credit for my amazing journey? No idea. And yes, it is amazing. I got to marry a beautiful soul with whom I built a beautiful life, and then I got to leave behind all the superstitions of my youth that were stealing my joy. And in the process keep that beautiful life with that beautiful man. Amazing.

No regrets.

And 'Ol Joe? What of him? He was simply a man, a deeply flawed, though charismatic and brilliant, man, one who started a movement that changed the world. His story is fascinating, with all of its sordid details, and I'm not sorry I got to know him.  And I'm not sorry to leave him behind. Nor the church he founded. It is now part of my history, but not part of my present. Or my future.

That belongs to me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Where Was God That Night?

I have friends all across the religious spectrum, from true-blue believers, to die-hard atheists. And their facebook posts reflect their biases on a regular basis.

I apologize, but I'm taking issue with the believers today. Because their facebook posts are the ones hitting me the wrong way lately. They have a tendency to attribute to their God all the happenings in their lives, big and small, thanking him for stepping up and taking care of business. 'Cause that's what he does, takes care of their business. And whether he fixes their current woes to their liking, or sends further trials their way, he still gets their reverent thanks. Lucky guy, can't do anything wrong.

A couple of months ago, a friend posted her gratitude that God had helped her find a precious piece of jewelry, a diamond earring that she had misplaced about a month previously. She was pretty sure she had dropped it on the bedroom floor, but after much fruitless searching, the earring remained lost. Fortunately, and miraculously, it would seem, the earring turned up a few weeks later, smashed into the carpet near where it had been dropped. It was saved, by what seemed to be divine intervention, from being hoovered into oblivion. She very effusively thanked God for preserving her earring until such a time as it became visible to her, deep down in the pile of the carpet. And there was an accompanying picture. A beautiful earring, to be sure, and I can imagine the joy she felt upon realizing that its twin would not be relegated to a permanent, lonely spot in the jewelry box, bereft of its mate for all eternity.

It may appear that I am mocking her joy, and I suppose I am. But not gleefully. It makes me sad that she worships a being who would so graciously find for her a lost piece of jewelry, precious as it may be, and refuse to answer the many prayers uttered in behalf of lost humans. Whom he claims are precious in his sight.

The most egregious example that comes to my mind occurred the same week my friend made her joyful post.

A family in Texas was brutally gunned down, in their own home, by the unhappy, vengeful, ex-husband of a relative. From what I read in the news, the five children were home alone when this man came to their door. He kicked the door in, proceeded to tie the children up, aged 15 and under, and then waited until their parents arrived home. He then tied them up as well, and forced them all to lie face down on the floor of their home, where he shot them, execution style, in the back of the head. Each one, shot, in the back of the head. And all but the oldest child, a 15-year-old girl, were killed.

This was a Mormon family, a faithful church-going family, headed by a priesthood holding man. The parents, by all reports, had been attempting to raise their family in righteousness, which I would assume included regular family prayer and scripture study, and regular Family Home Evenings, as recommended by the church, as well as regular attendance at church meetings. They seemed to be a pretty typical Mormon family, and, as I listened to news reports of this horrific crime, I couldn't help but imagine what went on in that family room that night.

I can envision those parents, in their positions face down on the floor, praying and pleading with their God for divine intervention. These would have been prayers unlike any other uttered in their faithful lives, as they were helpless against what seemed to be, and indeed turned out to be, pure evil standing over them, wielding a gun, threatening the lives of their precious little ones. These were children they had been raising to worship a supreme, heavenly being, one capable of stepping in and protecting them, as he had protected the children of Israel. As he had protected the righteous family of Noah. As he had protected and preserved the lives of modern day pioneers as they crossed the plains in pursuit of religious freedom. They had been taught, as was I, that this God was capable of wrapping his arms around them and shielding them from evil, if they lived up to the covenants they had made. And they were looking for him to come through on this promise. Here, in their moment of greatest need, they pleaded, pleaded, with God to please, please, please, stop this evil in its tracks. Please save their children. Please make the gun misfire. Please bring the police to their door. Please change the mind of their executioner. Please, God, do not let this happen. Please.

As a mother myself, I wept when I read this story, and I imagined myself in that position, lying helpless next to my husband and children, listening as the gun went off, then again, and again. Seven times. Defenseless against the evil being perpetrated against my loved ones. And begging my God to intervene. Pleading with him, bargaining with him, promising him anything if he would save my family. Anything. Please, please don't let this happen.

And then, nothing. No more cries, no more pleading. No more praying. Because no one intervened. No one stopped the evil. No one stepped up and stayed the hand of the gunman. He was allowed to accomplish his horrendous deed that night, and succeeded in killing all but one member of that family.

I have struggled to make sense of this, with my limited understanding of what it means to be a god. To be an omnipotent, supreme, being, with the powers of the universe at my command, and to decide not to step in and prevent the massacre of a family. A beautiful mother and father, and the five children they were lovingly guiding through this mortal probation. To allow them to die at the hands of a crazed, deeply disturbed, former family member.

And that same week to guide another of my children to find her precious earring hidden in the deep pile of her bedroom carpet.

I have spent a lot of time in the months since then contemplating this scenario, and I have attempted to discuss it with believers, those who look to God for intervention in their own lives. How can they justify the lack of intervention under such dire circumstances, but give God credit for what is ultimately worthless in the grand scheme of things? Given a choice, I'm betting the finder of the lost earring would have given it up forever in exchange for the precious lives of this family. If only God were the bargaining type.

The answers I have received range from "God's ways are not our ways", to "You're putting limits on what God can do". I have been told I need to have greater faith and know that all things will make sense in time. I have been admonished not to question God, the maker of us all, and the ultimate judge of us all.

And I have to wonder, in all of this, who will be God's judge? Who does he answer to?

If there is any justice in this universe, he will answer to that mother. He will look in her eyes, and see her anguish, and sorrow, and pain, and he will have to tell her why he did not answer her prayer. Why he allowed her family to be taken in this brutal manner. Why he allowed them to die when he had, has, the power to save them. What greater purpose can there be in the murder of an entire family? What kind of a monster stays neutral when so much is at stake?

Where was God that night?

Religion provides no satisfactory answer, for me. I understand that others find comfort in prayer, in the hope that the reasons will be clear in the eternities, and I have no wish to take that away from them. If believing in God helps them cope with tragedies such as this, great.

But it doesn't help me. It just makes me sad. And angry.

And determined to make every day count, and to love those close to me while I have them, because life can change in an instant. And when it does, God may not be there to intervene. He has earrings to find.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Father's Daughter

My father is one of the best men I know. He is kind, humble, positive, optimistic to a fault, and forgiving. His childhood was very difficult, growing up with a father who was gruff and cold, and a mother who was narcissistic and flighty. His mother left the family when my dad was ten years old, only to return months later to snatch his two older sisters from a street corner and disappear with them into the night. My dad records his feelings about that event in a life sketch he shared with me: ". . it was a miserable, lonely time for me. A lot of months passed before I saw Beverly and Lorene again. Us 4 kids were extremely close those first 10 years of my life, and for my 2 sisters to all of a sudden be gone, was like taking half my life away." My heart breaks for that ten-year-old boy, and at the same time bursts with gratitude that the boy grew up to become the loving, compassionate father I knew. How he came to be that man is a mystery to me, but I feel so very lucky to get to be his beloved daughter.

My dad calls me occasionally just to remind me that he loves me. I have known and felt that love my entire life, and have never, not even once, felt that love withheld from me. When my dad looks at me, I feel like I am somebody special, and indeed, I am. I am my father's daughter.

I know I've disappointed my dad, especially in the last few years. My dad is a devoted Mormon, and has never wavered in his testimony of the church, and the gospel. He still, knowing that I no longer believe in or practice religion, talks with me frequently about his experiences with prayer, and God, testifying to me of his belief in a divine Father who watches over us and takes care of us. He has never told me that he is disappointed in me, has never even intimated it, but has continued to share with me his deepest feelings about the meaning of life, and the importance of loving those closest to him. My dad is the epitome of a loving father.

I got lucky twice. I was born to a loving father, then I married a man who became a loving father. My husband, from the time our children were born, has never hesitated to express his love for them. One of my most tender memories is the day our oldest child was born. I looked over from the delivery bed to where Daron held tiny Erin in his arms, and witnessed the birth of a father. He looked her over from head to foot, and his gaze spoke volumes. He had fallen deeply, passionately, in love with this little girl. I had no clue in that moment how very deep that love would prove to be, but I felt the warmth of it from where I lay, and was profoundly grateful to feel its reflection.

The love born in that moment has never wavered, even though that child's life has not unfolded in the way her father envisioned it would. She grew up to become a beautiful young lady, who, at age 22, discovered that she was gay. Coming to that realization brought with it a variety of complications, and she has had to 'come out' many different times, to many different people. But the most difficult conversation of all, for her, was the one with her father. He was her first love, and she feared disappointing him, and possibly losing his love.

She agonized over this conversation in her mind, carefully rehearsing the words she would use, but could not overcome her fear at his reaction. I finally convinced her to get it over with, so the three of us sat down on a bright sunny Saturday morning, and she attempted to share her deepest secret with her father.

We sat on our couch, Erin between her father and me, with her back to her father, and the tears streamed down her face as she struggled to form the right words. Ultimately she failed, and I asked her if she'd like me to tell him. He sat behind her with a look of fear on his face, watching her back heave with sobs, wondering at the emotions running through her. I looked around her, and said, "Honey, your daughter is gay." At these words, a look of relief flooded his face, and he laughed and said, "Whew! I thought you were going to tell me she had wrecked my truck!" Then he gently took her in his arms, and he told her that there was absolutely nothing that she could say that would change how he felt about her. She would always be his little girl. And they both cried. Well, we all did. It was a beautiful moment, rivaling the moment they met in that delivery room so long ago. A father, tenderly holding his daughter, and loving her unconditionally.

This morning I received a newsletter from the church, thoughtfully left in my front door by a representative from the Relief Society. The topic was the divine mission of Jesus Christ: Advocate. It defined advocate as "one who pleads for another", going on to say that the Savior pleads for us, before our Father, for justice and mercy.

"Listen to [Jesus Christ] who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him- Saying: Father, behold the suffering and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life". (D&C 45:3-5).

Jesus Christ is described as our literal savior before our heavenly parent. His job is to intercede for us and plead for mercy with our father, our creator, as he, Jesus, is the only being beyond reproach. Jesus was our older brother, chosen as the firstborn of the father, the only one of all the children created by our Heavenly Parents who was perfect, and beyond sin. Because of our sinful natures, we were in need of an atonement, and Jesus was able to step up and fill that role. And because of that act, he is in the perfect position to intercede for us with our Father. This, in a nutshell, is Christian theology.

The journey out of Mormonism began with the acknowledgement that I did not believe that the church was True, with a capital T. I did not believe that it was the only way back to God, and I did not believe that its beginnings were divine in nature. I did not believe that in order to return to God, I would have to spend my life conforming to the principles of Mormonism. As I traveled further down the road of disbelief, I began to question the story that formed the roots of all Christianity. And I began to see that the roots of my own disbelief lay in my inability to believe in a Savior for mankind. 

The story, as I understood it, took on the dimensions of a horror tale, intended to frighten adherents into submission. Broken down to its simplest form, it is the tale of a father, who created a family of children who he considered to be flawed and imperfect. Too imperfect, as it turns out, to be allowed back into his presence. So he formed a plan to have his oldest child, the perfect firstborn, sacrificed by crucifixion, in order to make atonement for these imperfect beings, thus enabling them to once again enter his presence. And, as I understood it, this child, Jesus Christ, would suffer exceedingly for the sins of mankind, sort of a proxy suffering, that they, the children, would not have to suffer for their own sins. But only if they professed to believe in him as a savior and redeemer. And then obeyed his commandments, and followed him in word and deed. And then prayed in his name, the name of Jesus Christ, who would then petition our father, the father of us all, in order that he, our father, would hear us and extend his love to us. 

I remember many, many occasions sitting through the sacrament, listening to the prayers, attempting to ponder the act of divine sacrifice, and just not getting it. Not understanding why it was necessary. But shrugging my doubts off as the thoughts of a sinner, a doubter. I heard the story too many times to count, and I knew that God the Father was my Father in Heaven, and that he had created me and sent me here, and had given me a savior who would make it so that I could return to my heavenly home, and my heavenly parents. I knew the story, told in song and scripture, but I didn't understand it. Ever. It just didn't compute. I just couldn't understand why, if he was my father, he required someone to intercede between us. My earthly father didn't. The father of my children doesn't. Why would my father in heaven? Why was I not good enough to approach him myself? To talk to him without an intercessor? Why did I need a savior, if I had been created by a perfect being? These thoughts, though, were blasphemous, and I shoved them back into the darkest corner of my mind. Over and over again, I shoved them back. And over and over again, they worked their way to the forefront to haunt me. It just didn't make sense. The story didn't make sense. It didn't work. 

Then, this morning, as I read the aforementioned scriptural reference to Jesus as an advocate before our father, it came to me why I could not understand this story. I was lucky enough to be born to an earthly father who, while imperfect himself, loved me perfectly. He didn't require anything more from me than to be his daughter, and he loved me perfectly. Still does. No one has ever had to intercede on my behalf. My father loves me, his daughter. 

And my own daughter's father, my husband, loves her perfectly. And he requires nothing more from her than that she be his daughter. She may have needed me to say the words, but she didn't need me to plead her cause. He loves her because he is her father. No advocate required. 

Why, then, would a perfect heavenly father be unable, or unwilling, to hear from me, his daughter? Why would I need an intercessory, an advocate, a savior? Why couldn't my heavenly father love me unconditionally? 

The answer, for me, is that the story doesn't make sense, because the story isn't true. 

I know millions, billions, even, believe this story, and it brings them peace. But I found peace when I allowed myself to not believe this story. I don't believe in that god, and I don't believe in that father. And I don't believe in a savior of mankind. 

But I do believe in love. Because I've felt it, from my father. My imperfect, earthly father, who loves me unconditionally. I'll take that over the fairy-tale any day.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Have I a Mother There?

I stopped in to visit my mom recently, and she hugged me tight, and said, "I've missed you. We don't talk as much anymore, and it makes me sad." It made me sad, too.

My life has changed dramatically in the last few years. I used to be a stay-at-home mom, spending my days seeing to my family's needs. It was a good life, and I don't regret the years I was able to be available to them, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was also a busy life, but it seemed that I always had time for what really mattered, the people who really mattered. I had regular outings with my friends, sometimes as playdates with the kids, sometimes a well-deserved girl's night out. And I spent a lot of time with my mom.

Growing up, I wasn't close to my mom. I have seven siblings, brothers all, so my mom was kept busy caring for us, cooking for us, cleaning up after us, trying to get us to pick up after ourselves, attempting to get us to mind our manners. I don't envy her that job. We weren't an easy lot to raise, and she frequently lost her patience with our antics. It seemed to me that she was always angry, unhappy with the life she 'chose', and I tried to stay out of her way as much as I could. I have a few happy  memories from my childhood, but most of what I remember is colored by the contention that is a natural byproduct of a large family, living in a small home, with limited funds.

Once I reached adulthood, and moved out of the family home, my mom and I were able to establish a different kind of relationship. We became friends. She has always had a fabulous sense of humor, and an ability to see the funny side of most situations. She was, and is, well known for her wit and intelligence. And we frequently found ourselves laughing together at life's quirks and inconsistencies. I considered her one of my best friends, and we talked often, on the phone when I lived out of town, over lunch if I lived close by. I visited with  my mom several times a week, spilling the details of my life to someone I knew would be able to help me make sense of it all, and could get me to see the absurdity in taking any of it too seriously. She was my confidante, my therapist, my adviser, my mentor, and my best friend. I felt lucky to have such a mom.

Then, four and a half years ago, I went through some pretty big changes. I had been raised in the church, by a mom (and a dad) who were devout practitioners of Mormonism. The church meant everything to them, and played a big role in all our lives. Their faith continues to be very important to them, and I don't begrudge them this, as I can see how they have benefited from their devotion, and have both found the meaning and comfort that they felt were missing from their own upbringing. Both had experienced traumatic family break-ups, and tragedies, that they attribute to their family's lack of faith in God, and Mormonism. But finally, at age 49, I realized that I did not share their beliefs, and I left the religion my parents cherished.

The past few years have brought other changes to my life, as I returned to work full time, and went back to school, pursuing the master's degree I've always wanted. Those activities, combined with caring for my husband and children, fill my days almost completely, leaving precious little time for relationships I once held dear. Such as my close friendship with my mom. And knowing that I disappointed her by leaving the church has contributed to the distance between us.

For over three years, I avoided the crucial conversation that I knew would break her heart, in fact generally avoiding conversation with her at all. I lived in fear of her rejection, and I knew that she would blame herself for her failure to keep me faithfully in the fold. I knew my mother wasn't responsible for my apostasy, but I also knew that the church's teachings about a parent's duty had sunk deep into her heart, and I did not want to contribute to her sense of failure as a mother. I have never felt that my mother failed me; just the opposite, in fact. It is to her credit that I stayed faithful for as long as I did. She taught me well the tenets of her faith, and my attempts to live by those tenets were out of a desire to please her. But, once I allowed myself to acknowledge that I did not believe the story of Mormonism, I could no longer go along with the practice. My mom also taught me integrity. I could not act in contradiction to what I believed in my heart to be true. She may not like it, but she has to take credit for that as well. Model authenticity, and your children will follow suit

Finally, I girded up my loins, and I had 'the talk' with my mom. It went as expected, with her expressing her deep disappointment, and wondering out loud how she had failed me. I attempted to reassure her that she was not a failure, but the conditioning runs deep. It was a very difficult conversation, one I am glad is behind me. I don't think I could do that again.

That day was a new beginning for us. The wall that had grown up between us started to come down, piece by piece. We began talking more frequently, as I was no longer living in fear of being 'outed'. But, our talks were still somewhat stilted. It was difficult to know what topics were safe, and which would cause her more grief. She had expressed fear that my decisions would no longer be sound ones, made with God's approval. I tried to let her see that the fruits of my choices were good, that I was still a faithful wife and mother, and a contributing member of society. But there were many things I did not share with her, such as my new-found freedom to explore previously forbidden territory. I knew that she did not want to hear about my occasional forays into the land of the infidels. The drinking of alcoholic beverages was of particular concern to her, as the daughter of an alcoholic, and I shielded her from my experimentation. Not all truth is useful.

Many times it felt like we were dancing around a giant elephant in the room, neither of us willing to acknowledge its existence. And it wasn't the behavioral changes that were the most difficult to talk about. It was my changed philosophy of life that proved to be a sticky, uncomfortable topic. Leaving religion causes one to rethink many other presuppositions, and come to vastly different conclusions than one had previously reached. And many times, believers assume that others share their particular worldview, whether the topic be the purpose of life, or current politics, or what constitutes proper moral behavior. And learning how to navigate these topics without causing offense requires a skill many don't possess. Defensiveness is a natural reaction when one feels their way of life is being questioned or challenged. Emotions tend to run high in these circumstances. So, most of the time, we avoided talking about anything of substance. And I was beginning to accept that this was the new 'normal'. What we once had was no more, and there was no going back. Call it collateral damage. Authenticity indeed comes at a price.

Then came that visit a few weeks ago, when my mom told me how much she had missed me. Then she bravely broached the subject that lay at the root of our disconnection. She told me about a conversation she'd had with a friend, who had been informed of my apostasy, and how they had both cried, grieving together my loss of faith. And, interestingly enough, that conversation did not offend or disturb me, but instead opened the door to honest communication. I decided in that moment that if we were going to have any kind of relationship at all, we each need to be free to express our true thoughts and feelings, without fear of offense. We need to be able to talk about those things that move us, and make us who we are at our core. I don't mind my mom 'bearing testimony' to me about the church, as I know that her testimony is an integral part of her. But in return, I need to feel free to talk about my own hard won convictions and beliefs.

As we began to converse, my mom, for the first time, asked me what some of my issues were with the church. I reminded her of what she had said to me in the beginning of our conversation, about how much she missed me, and missed being a part of my life. I told her that I had missed her as well, as she is my mom, the one and only person in my life with whom I have that particular connection. The mother/child relationship is unlike any other relationship in the world. I grew inside of her, attached to her physically and emotionally, closer to her than I will ever be to another living soul. Except for my own children, of course. I had always felt lucky to have a close relationship with my mom, as I know many people, my mom included, who have not had that same experience with their mothers. The maternal bond can be broken in a variety of ways, and frequently is. And I was lucky enough to not only love my mother, I liked her. I could share my life with her, my feelings and my experiences. We laughed together, a lot, and cried together on many occasions. As I said before, she gave me comfort, and counsel, and support. That's what a mom is, and what a mom does.

Growing up in the church, I had been taught that I had a Mother in Heaven, who existed alongside my Father in Heaven. But she was never a part of our worship, we never prayed to her, we never even talked about her, other than the occasional brief mention of her existence. She was a silent partner to our Father. The only reason I've ever been given for this is that she was too sacred to be exposed to the vulgarities of humanity. And we were expected to become like her. But she wasn't really a mother, not in the truest sense of the word. She was not my mentor, nor my counselor, nor my friend. She was not there for me when I cried out in the 'dark night of the soul'. She did not send comfort my way when I struggled, or cried, or prayed. She was an absentee parent. She had no part in my spiritual upbringing. She existed only in a hymn. And once I allowed myself to consider her non-existence, I let go completely of any remaining belief in God himself. Without Her, I don't want Him.

So, when my mom told me how much she missed me, I asked her if she could envision an eternity separated from her children? Denied a presence in their lives, a place in their worship, simply for being 'too sacred'? Unable to comfort them, or counsel them, or just laugh with them at the absurdities of life? What part of this sounds like heaven?

My mom looked thoughtful, and said that she had never before considered this point. Then she added that she would just have faith in her Father in Heaven, and His plan. And I don't blame her. It is a frightening thing to consider the nature of our existence without heavenly parents. Faith in an interventional, personal God isn't an easy thing to let go.

But for me, if that is the only heaven offered, then I politely decline. The only kind of mother I want to be, is the kind of mother my mom is to me.