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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The permanence of my agnosticism

Some people consider agnosticism a temporary state on the road to belief or atheism. Indeed, many Mormons and readers of my blog think I'm searching for that. They make well-meaning comments wishing me well on my "faith journey". Some people even make comments about how "we're all in a different place" in this journey, as if my hope testimony is kind of a "step in the right direction" (which is actually kinda condescending, but I try to focus on the well-meaning part, because these really are wonderful people with good intent).

Well, I'm not searching for real belief. I don't expect to ever have the convictions that I used to have. I'm not seeking them. My beliefs are what they are, and I'm comfortable with them. I hope for the things I hope for, and that hope drives my behaviors, but I don't require that hope to ever progress to belief or knowledge or conviction. It's enough where it is.

When I first felt the urge to start this blog, I started looking around at what else there was like it. You know, market saturation and all that. I found a lot of blogs about being an agnostic Mormon but they were all about an active Mormon who was a closet agnostic, working through their belief problems and ultimately leaving the church. My blog is obviously kind of the opposite. It's about being agnostic and trying to work my way back into the church. But it's about being Mormon AND being agnostic. I don't ever intend to separate the two (though you should see my disclaimer). This journey of mine is not a journey toward faith. It's just a journey toward happiness, using principles from the LDS gospel to guide me and my family, because I believe that those principles are good and effective ones.