Monday, August 19, 2013

Ta-dah! My new blog series

Okay, so I'm writing this blog and I'm reconciling my renegade agnostic beliefs with my desire to be active in the church. Sometimes I'm straight up rejecting church teachings, other times I'm doing complicated brain gymnastics to make things fit into my own world view. Some people find it disingenuous at worst, pointless and silly at best.

So what is the point of it all?

You may have noticed three things that pop up in a lot of my posts about why I value the church and why I'm pursuing this tricky path of agnostic Mormonism: 1) It makes me a better person, 2) It strengthens my family, and 3) It enriches our lives. In fact, these things are the only things I KNOW about the church. I actually know these things are true. They are my testimony.

Well, I've decided that in addition to listing them all the time (super useful, huh?), I'm going to provide evidence of them. Starting today, I'm going to share specific ways that the church (and my participation in it) is making me a better person, strengthening my family, and enriching our lives. This series is called, "Ta-dah!"

For my first post in the Ta-dah! series, I just wanted to share how our Relief Society lesson yesterday made me evaluate the way I treat my husband and my neighbors. It was on Chapter 16 in the Lorenzo Snow manual, about unity. One of the quotes:

"And the father and the mother should be very careful. The wife should never in the presence of her children speak disrespectfully of her husband....And the father the same. He has no right to speak disrespectfully of his wife in the presence of her children."

This quote is not earth shattering, either in content or language. We all know we shouldn't belittle our spouses, right? Especially in front of our children (or anyone else, for that matter). Please tell me everyone knows this. But it was a good reminder for me. For one thing, it made me realize that my husband never, ever does this. He never speaks disrespectfully to or of me in front of other people. Oh, we have our knock-down-drag-out fights, for sure, but he is very respectful of me, especially so in front of our kids. It made me more grateful for him.

It also helped me see that I could probably be better in this area. I honestly don't disparage him in front of the kids very often, but I probably do sometimes. And it never hurts to have a reminder to be vigilant about these things, you know? My family is strengthened just a little bit, and maybe--hopefully--I am a slightly better person than I was on Saturday.

The lesson also talked a lot about unity within the church and with our neighbors. This was especially timely for me, because we have a rather difficult neighbor. We haven't even officially met him yet (we moved in fairly recently), but he has done some crazy things to our other neighbors and even to our daughter! He's just a little bit nutty. He has been keeping to himself lately, and so we've been tempted to just ignore him. But after yesterday, I feel like maybe we should try to reach out to this man--in some subtle, safe, discretionary way. Being able to forgive this man's strange and confrontational behavior will make us better, happier people, and having a functional, neighborly relationship with him will probably enrich our lives.

So, basically...Ta-dah! It's working!

*Just to ward off some inevitable reactions, of course I realize that I don't NEED to go to church to encounter reminders or ideas like this. But the thing is, as someone who spent six years trying to find another system for regular self-improvement and relationship inspiration, I can tell you that DIY-ing self-improvement just isn't as easy as having it built into your life through a community of people working together to help each other be better. It just isn't. I also realize that I don't necessarily need the LDS church for this, but I tried others, and this one just fits me better. That may or may not have something to do with the 25 years I spent completely immersed in it, but either way, this is the place where I feel most comfortable and the program that is most effective for me. And this blog is kind of about me and my experiences with religion, know. :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Book of Mormon Girl

Do you all know Joanna Brooks? She blogs at Ask Mormon Girl and regularly contributes to Religion Dispatches and the Washington Post, among other things. Most importantly, she was interviewed by Jon Stewart last year, so...she's legit. Anyway, I read her memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl, awhile ago and I just wanted to share my thoughts about it here.

I love Joanna Brooks for her courage, both to question AND to embrace Mormonism. It seems like most Mormons choose one or the other: criticism or total endorsement, rejection or complete acceptance, bitterness or unquestioning devotion. I'm so happy--and encouraged--to have a Mormon voice to unite those of us who cannot accept all of Mormonism, and yet want it to be a part of our lives. Because, as Brooks points out, it IS a part of who we are, regardless of how we react to it.

On page 159, she talks about her grandmother, who grew up in Garland, Utah, in a Mormon environment where her parents had a coffee pot on the stove and "people weren't as strict about rules or doctrine, but still taught the gospel as it should be taught, and who else were they to be anyways but Mormons? Who else in all the world were we supposed to be?" As someone who spent six years away from the church, all the while missing it and loving it but finding myself unable to reconcile my own beliefs with it, this really spoke to me. Who else in all the world am I supposed to be but a Mormon girl? For orthodox Mormons, this sounds bad, but most of me wants Mormonism simply because it is MY tradition. It's what I was born into. It's the culture I know. It's not something I necessarily believe is "true". But I don't care about that. It makes me happy. Belonging to it makes me happy.

The first part of the book was a fun read for both myself and my jack Mormon husband. We had a great time reliving the Mormon quirkiness that defined our upbringing. The second half is just heart breaking. But I love that Brooks has found a way to make this thing work for her. It's a process I have been through myself (though my own issues with the church may not be exactly the same as hers).

Oh, the last chapter. So lovely. "What do we do with ourselves when we find we have failed to become the adults we dreamed as pious children?....How do we react when we discover at the core of faith a knot of contradictions? Do we throw it all out?....Do we blame our parents?....I don't want to blame anyone. I want to do what my ancestors did: look west and dream up a new country for my children. I don't want to blame anyone. I just want to tell my story. Because the tradition is young, and the next chapter is yet to be written. And ours may yet be a faith that is big enough for all of our stories."

I think all of us unorthodox Mormons NEED to tell our stories. We need to have the courage to be honest about our testimonies (or lack thereof), so that everyone out there who has similar concerns or reservations or the same lack of testimony will feel like there is room for them in this tradition, instead of walking away because they can't give everything to it. We can embrace the church even if we can't embrace it all at once.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Agnostic Prayer

Ah, prayer. Communication with God. The cornerstone of religiosity. "Agnostic prayer" seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but I'm Agnostic Mormon Mom--my very existence is an oxymoron. So I'm here to show you how agnostic prayer can work.

I mentioned in this post that I consider prayer to be a healthy meditative practice. I do. I think we can all benefit from taking time every day to really center ourselves, contemplate where we are and what we would like to accomplish, etc. But that post was kind of vague, so I'd like to use this post to get more detailed about my prayer style.

Personal prayer is about that meditative, centering idea. It's a time for me to be really honest with myself about my weaknesses and what I need to work on. It's a time for me to think about, and actually specify with words, what it is I really want out of my day and my life and my relationships. It helps me be grateful, focus on the things I have, cultivate a positive attitude.

Here's an example of a prayer I might utter.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this day. Thank you for my little family and for my husband who works so hard to support us. I'm grateful for our home and all of our material comforts. I'm grateful that we live in this country. I'm grateful for our opportunities, freedoms, and safety here. I'm grateful for my friends and family, who support me and inspire me. Please help me to always remember why I do what I do by staying at home with my kids. Please help me to find patience, energy, and inspiration when I need it, so I can be the best mom and wife I can be. I love these little people and I want nothing more than to set them on a healthy, successful path for life. Please help me to accomplish that just a little bit more each day. Please bless my husband in his job, that he will continue to excel and be happy at it. Please help me know how best to be supportive of him.

What I'm really saying there is:

I'm grateful for what I have. I have a pretty damn good life. I have a great little family and a wonderful husband who works his tail off so we can have everything we have. I'm fortunate to live where I live. I have amazing friends and family. (Maybe I should communicate that to them.) I do what I do because I believe in it. It's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery of my job, but I have a plan here, and I'm defining it with actual words, and I'm going to stay focused on that today, through all of the tantrums and whining and laundry and diapers. I love my husband. He deserves my appreciation. Hmm...How can I show him that? How can I be supportive of him? Maybe I'll make him his favorite meal tonight, or write him a little note, or iron his shirts instead of letting them sit in the dryer and get extra wrinkled (he hates that). Or maybe I'll call him and say some cryptically naughty things to him on the phone because...well, you know.

[Okay, Adrienne, keep it clean. This is a post about prayer!]

Family prayer is my favorite kind of prayer, because it's a super effective way to communicate with family members about things they don't really listen to when I say them at other times of the day.  Oh, and it's also a good time to find out what is on other people's minds.

An example of my kind of family prayer:

Heavenly Father, we're so thankful for each other. We're thankful for our home and our daddy and our food and our toys. We're thankful for our friends and that we got to have so much fun playing with them today. Please help us to always be nice to each other and to be obedient to mommy. Please help us to have good attitudes tomorrow and to do our jobs happily.

I don't think I really need to go into what I did there. :)  The important thing is, everyone is focused on this one thing, and we're all thinking it together. We're reminding each other of how fortunate we are. We're aspiring to be good people and to be a strong family. We're aspiring. Together. That's awesome.

Recently one of my friends asked me if I pray at church. I do not pray at church, but nobody has ever asked me to since I came back. Rude, huh? In the past, if I had been asked to pray, I would have politely said, "You know what? I'd rather not. Sorry." No big deal.

Now days, I would probably pray, and here's why: I view an invocation as an opportunity to focus the meeting and everyone in attendance, to thank the teacher for their preparation, and to express my hope that we will all be edified. "God" is simply an object on which to focus my invocation.

Watch this:

Dear Heavenly Father, We're so thankful to be together at church today. We're thankful for our ward family and for the support and encouragement that we give to each other. We're thankful for the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. We're thankful for the time and effort our teacher put into preparing this lesson for us. Please help us to find inspiration and guidance in this lesson. Please bless us to take what we feel here and use it to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

What I'm really saying there is:

Hey, all you people in this room, I'm really thankful for you. I'm thankful that we can come here and use these writings and teachings to learn and grow together. Hey, teacher, thank you for your time and dedication to helping us grow. Let's all try to find something that will inspire us so that we can grow and become better, or so that we can find whatever peace and comfort we may be seeking.

So there ya have it. Agnostic prayer. It's legit.