Thursday, June 11, 2015

My ex-boyfriend, Mormonism

A metaphor that perfectly describes my relationships with the church:

So, for me, the church is like an old boyfriend that I just couldn't quit. We had a long and wonderful relationship, and we really, really loved each other. This boyfriend is a huge part of who I am. But at a certain point, I realized that we just weren't right for each other, so we broke up. But I missed him terribly. My heart was still tied to him. So I went back and forth, trying to make it work, always realizing that I had changed too much and we just weren't a good fit anymore. When I saw my friends posting pictures of their kids' baptisms or their hangouts at the General Women's meeting, I felt kind of like how you feel when you see your old boyfriend with a new girl, and she looks so happy with him. It made me wonder if I had made a mistake or given up too soon. Maybe he was great and I just didn't realize it? It made me want to give it another try.

But last summer, when I had the emotional break I've described here, it was like I finally quit him. I finally, really severed my heart from his. Now, when I see him with other girls, I just see him for the jerk he is (sorry). I don't want him. I've found a new guy (agnosticism), and he treats me with respect, like his intellectual equal. I feel much more comfortable with this new guy in my kids' life.

The tricky part is that my old boyfriend is kind of always in my face because all my friends and family are Mormon. So they're always talking about it and posting about it, and it's like I finally got over this guy, we're both happy with new people...but he lives on my street! So I see him every day! I just won't ever get away from him, and that's okay.

For my husband, the church is also like an old girlfriend but a totally different kind. She was the girl who really, really liked him, everybody thought they should be together, but he wasn't really into her. But she was super persistent, and it was kinda convenient (because their friends were all dating each other), so he just kind of went along with the relationship. She was basically just a convenient make-out, and dating her made it easier to be with his friends.

But when he moved away, he finally felt like he could break up with her. And he never looks back, he doesn't even think about her, because he never really cared about her in the first place. She was a relationship of convenience.

So, for him, he just doesn't want anything to do with the church at all. And I'm just way, way over it, too. No more Mormonism for me. And I'm just so much happier this way.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Long Overdue Post--Take Two

Last week I wrote a post that was basically just word vomit brought on by my strong emotional reaction to a friend's story of growing up gay in the closet and then finding a "solution" in forcing himself to marry a woman and so he could have a family and remain "righteous". I can't think about it too much or I'll go back to that emotionally charged place--and clearly I can't think straight there. Suffice it to say, that post was incoherent and rambly and didn't really accomplish what I was going for in my "long overdue" post, which was to articulate some sort of closure regarding my relationship with the church.

So let's try this again.

I left the church almost nine years ago.  It was a slow process of realizing that I just didn't believe the basic tenets of LDS faith anymore and having an increasingly difficult time participating in meetings when everything I heard and sang and read seemed to conflict with my actual beliefs. So eventually, I did just admit to myself that I couldn't do this thing anymore.

In the years that followed, I had random periods of wanting to try again (usually once or twice a year). And then I discovered my "hope testimony" strategy a few years ago. It was definitely good enough to get me through the meetings. It wasn't enough to ever get me to commit to full activity in the church, though, and when I finally acknowledged the toll it was taking on my family, it wasn't enough to keep me even trying anymore. But I still had conflicts. Because somewhere inside of me, I still wanted to make Mormonism work for me and my family. My friends posted pictures of their babies' blessing days or their kids' baptism days (or elaborate baptism invitations) and I found myself wishing that I could have made it all work. I wished that I had never left the church and could just be a happy, normal Mormon.

Last summer, during and in the wake of Kate Kelly's excommunication and all the brouhaha over Ordain Women, something changed inside me. I was engaged in a lot of online and offline conversation about every aspect of it. Nothing new there. But after the dust of debate settled, things were different. I didn't feel any inner conflict about not going to church on Sunday. I didn't feel any pangs of envy when I saw my friends' family pictures at baptisms. I felt totally--and happily--separate from it all.

I haven't really understood what it was exactly that changed, until recently. The other day, I finally realized that when I initially left the church, that was because I broke with it spiritually and intellectually. It didn't resonate with me anymore, I didn't believe it, and I never felt any conflict over that. I never felt any twinges of my old belief, and I never really wanted to. Even when I was trying to be active with my hope testimony, I was totally content with long-term hope and no actual belief. That was because I was so completely comfortable with not believing.

So I broke with the church spiritually nine years ago, and I've never looked back...spiritually. But I never broke with the church emotionally. Until last summer. Prior to that, I was very caught up in my love of the institution and the community and the way I was raised. I hated the idea of not passing those things on to my kids. I was proud of my affiliation with Mormonism, because I viewed it as so good. If I'm being totally honest, maybe I subconsciously viewed it as an institution that was perhaps even superior to the average church, just one that I couldn't get fully on board with. That's why I was trying so damn hard to hope.

But last summer, when I saw this other, nasty side of Mormonism, it destroyed my romanticized vision of the community. That's not to say that Mormons aren't great people. I still love them. So much. But they aren't a community I want to be a part of any more than any other community, which used to be the case.

The Ordain Women materials played a specific role as well. Reading through the 1st Conversation, particularly Patriarchy Bingo, was kind of traumatic for me. A tiny excerpt:

"The leaders whose names you memorized and whose words you read were men"

"More money and time was spent on boys in your ward than girls (Boy Scouts, Young Men's activities)"

"You were taught that young women must help control male thoughts by removing temptations through modesty."

"If you looked for spiritual guidance, it was usually from a man."

In the eight years since I had left the church, I was very comfortable being critical of Mormon dogma as well as the institution. And yet, they had done such a good job of conditioning me that I was still largely okay with women's roles. (WTF, right?) When people questioned me about it, I responded with things like, "Well, no, women don't hold the priesthood, but they're very honored and respected. The leaders always speak very highly of them."

How foolish I felt when I saw it with new eyes. I realized that when the men were saying things like, "God had to give men the priesthood because he knew we needed it. Women are naturally more righteous and close to God. They don't need the priesthood," it was the same as when I eat a candy bar that I don't want to share with my toddler but I make a disgusted face to make her think it's no good. Then she won't keep asking for it and I can have it all to myself. ALL the ways that men--and women!--talk about gender roles in the church are super patronizing.

Then I started realizing how very few women speak in General Conference or sit on the stand there (HOW did that never scream out at me?). Never have we studied in Priesthood and Relief Society the teachings of Eliza R. Snow or Emma Smith. We simply don't quote women--the men especially don't. The fundamental message the church is sending with all of this is that men's ideas are more important than women's ideas. And guess what? That's not a message I want to send my three daughters--OR my son. And it's a message that is built into the very structure of the church. I can't simply teach against it with my words and then condone it by actively bringing my kids there every single week to have it reinforced.

Reaching a point where I could see that bringing my kids to church was actually harmful to them is what finally helped me break emotionally from the institution and its traditions. Not only am I okay with not passing on some of the things I grew up with, I don't want to. I don't want any of those ideas to be a part of my kids' upbringing.

Another thing that influenced my emotional break was the Uncomfortable God essay by "Cate". It's so filled with badass rhetoric, I don't even know which parts to highlight. I have read it several times, trying to pick out the best parts and I just can't. It's the whole thing. The whole thing resonates with me, and it helped me see the church for what it is. Seeing it for what it is made it a lot easier for me to leave it in my past where it belongs.

So there ya go. My spirit and intellect broke with the church nine years ago, but I was still hopelessly attached to it by my emotions. When that attachment finally broke last summer, all of the blinders came off. So I'm done. I will always love the community that raised me. And I will always claim Mormonism as my heritage (and there are still elements of it that I am very proud of). The church has a lot of good, but all of it can be found elsewhere--without the judgment and shame and sexism and oppression and cruelty toward gays and everyone else who isn't the way they're "supposed" to be.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A long overdue post--Closure

You guys, I'm a bad blogger. And it's not surprising to me, because I'm generally just really bad at consistency and following through on things that aren't essential. Plus, I just have all these kids and I homeschool and I have this house to keep up...and I guess blogging just isn't a priority.

But I've reached some resolutions in the last several months and I feel like I should wrap up some stuff here on the old blog.

As I mentioned in my most recent post (which I though I published back in May, even though I apparently didn't--I was in the fog of mothering a newborn, after all), I decided I was d-u-n least for that time.

Well, now I'm double d-u-n done. Like, forever.

I originally left the church nine years ago. Since then, I have felt perfectly fine with my choice. I certainly haven't ever felt like I was doing anything "wrong" by not attending church, because in all this time, I haven't ever believed in any of the rightness and necessity of church activity. But as you know, I have almost always missed the community and a lot of the culture of Mormonism, because it was good to me. And I've always been kinda proud of my Mormonism, because I've always believed Mormonism to be a good thing...just a good thing that I couldn't reconcile my actual beliefs with.

Well, that has changed.

I still think most Mormons are fabulous people. And there are a lot of things about me that were shaped by Mormonism and are good. And I'll always claim Mormonism as my heritage. I'm a Mormon, dammit.

Now days not only am I at peace with not raising my kids in the church, but I actually don't feel like I could raise them in the church. I now see the church as an atmosphere that is severely damaging to people and relationships.

Most recently there's this show, "My Husband's Not Gay", on TLC. Maybe you've seen the controversy surrounding it. It's about Mormons in mixed-orientation marriages. Well, one of the men on the show is my friend from high school. He is one of the most sincere, wonderful people I've ever known. My initial reaction to the show was pretty supportive, at least of the couples involved. I mean, if someone says they're happy, who am I to say they're not? Plus, knowing and loving this person, I just really, truly hope he IS happy. So I started a discussion about it on Facebook (because that's what I do), saying that I'm happy for those people and we can't really judge their actually happiness, because we're not inside their heads, right? I still stand by that.

But then one of my other friends shared this friend's interview for Voices of Hope (a site all about "same-sex attraction", particularly couples who are involved in mixed-orientation marriages). I sat and watched, for an hour, someone I love talking about a horrific childhood and adolescence. When I knew him, he was suffering shame and loneliness. It was very difficult to watch, knowing that I was there, every day. He went on a mission and bargained with God to take away his feelings if he served faithfully. He was devastated when it didn't work. He never told a single person until well into his twenties. When he told his mom, he says she was just so wonderful about it. How did she react, when her grown son fell on the floor in tears and told her he was gay? What was her angelic reaction? She immediately told him that they were going to find answers and figure it out. He bore his whole self to her for the first time in his life, and she told him she was going to help him fix it. Ick.

As we were watching, my husband observed that Preston's parents were the reason he suffered. Truth. And the reason they were the reason? The church. All of his suffering is because he was raised in this messed up church.  I cried through the whole damn video. I was heart broken.

And then I thought of all the gay Mormon kids who have lived and are living like that--completely alone, not telling anyone, terrified that someone might find out, worried about what it means about the rest of their lives, not sure how they'll ever be happy, wondering if the only way out of their agony is suicide. All because of the teachings of the church. I just can't. I can't be involved with a church like that. Because even if it isn't my kid feeling like that, somebody's kid is. Lots of them are.

So anyway, I was suuuuper done before this, but this is the freshest thing on my mind today. Perhaps I'll write some more about some of the other stuff later.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I quit. At least for now.

*Oops. I wrote this back in May and thought I posted it. I guess this is how I felt in May. :)

I have been feeling like I should write this post for a very long time. I suppose some people saw it coming.

Anyway, world. I quit. I am no longer trying to cope as an active Mormon when technically I'm agnostic.

For two reasons.

Most importantly, it just isn't working for my family. My husband works long hours and has a long-a commute. My kids almost never see him during the week. And then the weekend comes, and we can finally all be together, and I take the kids AWAY for three hours? It just doesn't seem right. If I go to church, I feel guilty for leaving my husband at home. If I stay home, I feel guilty for not pursuing my goal of doing this Mormon thing for myself and my kids. I'm tired of feeling guilty no matter what I do! So I asked myself which thing is most important to me--My family being together when we can? Or raising my kids in a church that, while certainly beneficial in many ways, I don't actually believe in?

Guess which one I chose?

The second problem wouldn't necessarily be enough on its own to make me quit, but the timing sort of coincided with my other issue. It's kind of complicated, I guess. Basically, I'm having a lot of conflicts about the role of women in the church and the way we respond to people who question the status quo. 

I'm not necessarily big on female ordination (since I don't exactly believe in priesthood anyway), but I have been really bothered by the way mainstream members have responded to the Ordain Women movement. Inviting these women to "just leave" if they don't like how the church operates? That doesn't seem like the way Christ would respond. Questioning their faith? Writing mocking blog posts about things the men want, like cushy chairs and a nursery during their activities? It all just seems so insensitive, intolerant, and sometimes even cruel. Not the Mormon community I thought I grew up in, and not the community I thought I was trying to raise my kids in for the last two years. These are women who love their church and want badly to be involved in it. They have legitimate questions about some things. They have problems with the way they feel marginalized by the church they love. They are internally conflicted. Faith struggles can be intense, emotional, lonely. And how do their "brothers and sisters" respond? They invite them to leave. Surprisingly, it's mostly the "sisters" doing this. I just don't really like the idea of raising my kids in a community where asking questions or disagreeing with something results in an invitation to "just leave" the community; where your "family" turns on you the minute you speak up. That doesn't work for me.

And why CAN'T women occupy more leadership roles regardless of the priesthood? Why CAN'T they handle money? Why AREN'T they a part of disciplinary councils, particularly those concerning other women? I could go on and on, but I'm sure you all have heard all of these questions from various other platforms. 

I'm just saying, I'm glad women are asking these questions and fighting these battles. I see the church changing, institutionally and on a membership level. I'm excited about that. But I really don't care for the disdainful treatment of people who ask questions or disagree. Yuck. And no, thanks. 

Anyway, if my husband woke up this Sunday and decided he wanted to go to church, I would go. I would happily raise these babies in the LDS church if it were a family affair. (Though I would teach them not to be intolerant jerks to their "brothers and sisters", and I would encourage them to think for themselves and ask questions freely.)

But for the foreseeable future...Agnostic Mormon Mom...out. 

(But I still might blog sometimes, because I just can't keep my mouth shut.)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Marriage and my relationship with the gospel

When I first started this blog, my good friend Rachel commented on my testimony post and said this, "I believe that testimony is a relationship that developes bit by bit. Just like a human relationship builds over time and through shared experience, so do testimonies grow over time."

I really, really like this idea.

Think back to the time before you were married. Do you remember what you thought marriage was back then? Now have a good laugh, because I'm sure you think your pre-married self was pretty naive. Or is it just me?

I had so many theories about how to have a happy marriage. I come from divorced parents, so my ideas were mostly theories. I just couldn't understand how people who loved each other enough to get married could ever say truly hurtful things to one another. I believed that there was sort of a formula for a happy marriage. That formula included simple things like praying together, going to church together, having weekly date nights, writing each other love notes, always kissing hello and goodbye, etc. I believed that if I satisfied this formula, things would flow smoothly.

Well, I still believe that following that formula will make it pretty likely for things to turn out well.  But that doesn't mean we won't go through trying times where we really wonder what the hell we got ourselves into. Am I the only person who has wondered what I was thinking!

As marriages progress, we learn more about each other. Our bond deepens, for sure, but marriage is HARD. As we grow closer, we learn things that aren't so simple to understand. In the beginning, your partner is all good things. That's the Primary stage of the gospel. It's all simple and sunny and happy and straightforward. Then you get to the point where some things just don't make sense. That's like the first time you and your spouse have a real fight. You know, the kind where you get in the car and go for a drive because you just can't be in the same physical space as that person. You are physically angry. And it makes you question your relationship. You start thinking you're not the couple you thought you were. But you come back and you make up, and things are actually better after that--better than before the fight, because you dealt with some things, you got to know each other better, and you recommitted yourselves to each other. The struggle makes you grow. That's normal marriage crap and that's normal testimony questioning. It makes you stronger.

But for some couples, there are worse times. Way worse. (This isn't me and my husband, just for the record.) Some couples deal with very serious problems. The kind of problems that make them want to quit. And sometimes they do quit. This is like being inactive. You can't be around each other anymore.

For many of those couples, the spark never returns and they move on. But for some, they are so deeply tied together, that they never can truly quit each other. This is like me and the Church. I tried to leave, because things just didn't work out. But I can't get away from it. It's too much a part of me. So I had to come back and "work things out". Working things out involves compromise. For me and the Church, that compromise means that our relationship can't ever be the way it used to be. In order to move forward, our relationship needs to change. And while I would certainly prefer that we had never broken up, and that our relationship had continued in its honeymoon bliss, I would rather be together like this than not be together at all. Does that make sense?

So at this point, all I can do is hope that my relationship continues to grow. I can work to make it as good as it can be, but I also have to accept that it won't be what it once was. It's a new relationship.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Coming out of my closet

Have you guys seen this TED talk from Ash Beckham? You should watch it before you read my post. :)

"All a closet is, is a hard conversation."

I think most agnostic Mormons have probably been in a closet to one degree or another. I'm a really open, "take me as I am" kind of person, but even I lived in an agnostic closet for a few years. When my husband and I first stopped attending church, we didn't tell anyone outside of our immediate families (and "telling" might be a strong word for what we really did with our families, which was more like just letting it spread) for about two years. We didn't tell some of our very closest friends. For TWO YEARS. I didn't openly discuss it with my best friend--who also happens to be my sister-in-law--for THREE YEARS.

It wasn't because we were ashamed. I've never been ashamed of my status in the church, whatever it has been. It was because of what Ash Beckham says--we were nervous about our friends' reactions. Now, I have never been friends with the kinds of Mormons who would cut off their relationship with me over beliefs. I tend not to choose a-holes for my friends. So I wasn't afraid of losing my friends. But I think I was afraid that their opinions of me would change. Indeed, I believe many opinions of me did change, if only a little bit. Some of my friends actually looked up to me, especially in high school when I was super duper righteous. I was nervous about the letdown.

I was also nervous about how people would judge the testimony that I had lost, the one that they had admired. I was afraid of people judging my old faith as insufficient or unauthentic. My previous faith was genuine and that genuineness was important to me. I didn't want it questioned.

I was afraid of people's assumptions about my reasons for leaving the church. Mormons have a tendency to assume that you're sinning--or want to be sinning--if you choose to leave. I was afraid that everyone would think I was that weak and shallow. As if I would throw away the very structure of my life, something that formed me, something i loved, something I had dedicated actual years of my life to building that I could drink a margarita every now and then? I don't think so.

The other assumption people like to make about those who leave the church is that they were somehow offended. I was afraid that my friends might think I was that petty. First of all, I really don't get offended that easily to begin with. But mostly, again, I wouldn't throw away something important to me over something someone ELSE did. I like to believe my character is stronger than that.

I think I wanted to avoid people's efforts to reactivate me and the inevitability of them praying for me. I didn't want anyone to try to resolve my concerns. I didn't want anyone's sympathy (come on, you know Mormons feel bad for people who have "lost their light"). I just wanted to believe what I believed and live how I wanted to live. And I wanted my friendships to go on as they were before, unaffected by my loss of faith in a gospel that played a role in most of my relationships.

But they were affected, because I felt like a liar. I was lying to my friends. I was letting them believe something that was no longer true. And just like Ash says, a closet is no place for a person to live. I didn't like tip toeing around certain topics for fear that I might have to fess up.

So I slowly started telling people. Facebook really helped. I got brave and posted  my "religious views" on it (you know, back when it had that option). At the time, I think I classified my views as "agnostic deist". I later abandoned the deist part. Some of my friends asked me about it, and I was happy to tell them my story. I despise feeling misunderstood (hence my blog all about explaining myself).

Most people were quiet about it. I assumed there were conversations. "So, did you hear Adrienne is inactive??? I can't believe that!" And maybe there was speculation about "what happened". Or maybe none of that happened and I'm just incredibly narcissistic. Yeah, probably none of that happened. But I've heard comments and conversations like that about other people, so I wondered if people were having those conversations about me.

And you know what? I had to shrug my shoulders. What else was I going to do? I was being authentic. Honest. Me. I can't apologize for that. And it felt better than living in my agnostic closet.

I like how Ash gives people the benefit of the doubt when they react to her. Starting with the little girl in the diner, and on to her parents' friends at her sister's wedding, when people are trying to understand her or be supportive, she accepts that graciously, because she's accepting their intentions, regardless of the awkward expression of those intentions. The little girl just wanted to know if she was a boy or a girl. Her parents' friends just wanted to tell her, "Hey, we accept you and love you, even though you're telling us something that we know you were afraid to tell us, and even though maybe this information makes us a little uncomfortable. We love you. We accept you."

I really believe that most people in our lives will react like this when we come out of our closets. They accept us. They love us. They try to express that in whatever awkward ways they can muster. They might be uncomfortable. They might even be devastated. But once they recover from that (which, admittedly, can take some time), if they're being totally honest, I think even they are happy to have us living out in the open.

And then our relationships can become as authentic as we are.

When I finally brought it up with my best friend (of 20 years!), she was so relieved that I did. Obviously she knew everything (since she's also my sister-in-law--remember that letting it spread thing?), and it kind of hurt her that I had never brought it up, that I hadn't opened up that part of myself to her. She didn't want to make me uncomfortable, though, so she just waited for me. She was, of course, incredibly accepting. And I was surprised by how much she really understood where I was coming from. Our relationship finally went back to being truly authentic, and it was so refreshing. Oh, and it wasn't as different as I feared it would be.

Unfortunately, some people may not react with love, acceptance, or understanding. That's their problem. It might be difficult for us and it might make relationships hard, but it's their issue. All we can offer to any relationship is ourselves--our real selves. If someone rejects that, then they reject it. But you can't have a real relationship that involves fake people.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Are you Mormon?

"Are you Mormon?"

Simple enough question, right? You either are or you aren't.




"Oh, you're from Utah? So, are you Mormon?" can be an incredibly complicated question. I've chatted with many a non-believing, non-ex Mormon about this question. Clearly it's not just me who feels uneasy about it, so let's chat.

I've been through three stages of Mormon identity.

Stage 1 comprised the first 25 years of my life. That's when the answer was simple. "Are you Mormon?" Um, yes. Duh.

Stage 2 consists of the six years I was completely inactive.  I lived in Utah for most of this period, so answering in the affirmative definitely gave the wrong impression. Saying yes would imply that I was going to church every Sunday, wearing my garments, reading my scriptures, etc. But saying no would imply that I didn't have any relationship with the church, and that was obviously not true. It made me feel like I was hiding something, and I wasn't. I was never ashamed of my inactivity. I finally settled on something along the lines of, "Well, yes, technically, but I'm not currently active."

My husband was going to the University of Utah during some of that time (the dirty U!), and he would totally answer no. That bothered me! I felt like he was denying his upbringing or something. I don't know, it just hurt me that he wanted to ignore any relationship at all with this church that formed him, and frankly, is and always will be a huge part of who we are as a couple. He has since become a little more comfortable with his Mormon upbringing and he can just answer, "I was raised Mormon." On the East Coast, nobody bats an eye at that answer. Back here, pretty much everyone's answer to questions of religious identity is, "I was raised [blank]." I think that answer would even work in Utah. People would get the idea.

Stage 3 is where I'm at now. I've come to realize that I almost can't become un-Mormon any more than I can become un-Italian. It's just what I am, regardless of my actual religious beliefs. So sometimes I just answer yes. Because you know what? I AM Mormon. My name is on the rolls and I know a thing or two about the church's doctrines, practices, culture, etc.  I have also started telling people that I'm an agnostic Mormon. It is AWESOME. People are obviously fascinated by the idea and I think it has actually been good for people to see that Mormons aren't as homogeneous as they're made out to be. It sums me up perfectly, because my beliefs are agnostic, but culturally, I am very much a Mormon.

Ultimately, I think this is a very personal question. I'm curious how all of my blog friends with similar faith issues answer it.