11.08.2015

Seismic Shift.



A week ago tonight I was lying in bed at 11:30 pm, jotting a note to a friend before turning out the light when suddenly our newly installed pocket doors began rattling. A strange, simultaneous rumble went up from somewhere outside. I wasn't sure what it was, although it didn't really sound like thunder. As quickly as I could wonder what was going on in the other side of the house where everyone was asleep, the mattress began to hop and roll, and I realized with an Aha! that this is what an earthquake feels like. It wasn't a big earthquake, just enough to make the pictures hang crooked and cause me to sit up in my pajamas and say out loud, "What on earth...?!"

When the next one rumbled through twenty minutes later, I knew from the telltale rattling of those doors precisely what it was. I didn't even pause in my typing.

It's been a tough few days in Mormonland, as we've experienced a bit of a collective What on Earth in the form of policy changes to the handbook regarding the children of same-sex marriages, and an accompanying shift in our official definition of apostasy. But you know all of that. It's no surprise that there's been a flood of members' reactions running the gamut from defensiveness to bewilderment to heartache to resignation of church memberships.

But curiously, I haven't noticed a lot of what I would describe as outrage. What I have noticed instead is sadness. Many of our members are expressing feelings of real pain as a result of these changes.

I've felt sad about it myself, also hopeless, and I've thought a lot about why that is. I don't have a horse in this race, so to speak, by which I mean merely that no one at my own dinner table is personally affected by these changes. My larger, metaphorical dinner table is a different story, however, as I do have close friends for whom this constitutes a direct hit. So that hurts.

But even more than that, I think my sadness, hopelessness and accompanying frustration stem from the fact that no matter how many times I turn this new policy over in my mind, it still causes me to sit up in bed in my pajamas and say out loud, "What. On. Earth."

I just can't square it with anything I know or understand about Jesus Christ, whose name is on the door. It doesn't make sense, and I like things to make sense.

I've listened to Elder Christofferson more than once, hoping I'll catch a glimpse of something, but it eludes me. The analogy to polygamy doesn't hold water for a lot of reasons, just one being that polygamists aren't members of the Church. It's pretty unlikely that a polygamous couple is going to show up asking to have their baby blessed or their children baptized. That's not at all outside the realm of what I'd expect from the parents or grandparents of a child living with same-sex parents, however. I'm pretty sure that happens all the time, because these families live in our wards and around our dinner tables.

The idea of the policy being designed to protect these children from the challenges inherent in hearing teachings at church that continually contradict the reality of their home life also makes no sense to me. In fact, I reject that idea completely. For one thing, I'm guessing a pretty good percentage of the children in most Primaries are regularly subjected to teachings that they can't quite square with what they see going on at home.

Just today I attended a regional broadcast in which there were numerous conflicting ideas presented, within single talks! Anyone in the habit of paying attention to our church speakers and thinking at all about what they're hearing is bound to encounter those things just about every Sunday. My lifetime of Mormonism has subjected me to 52 years of cognitive dissonance that has at times been deafening. Suffice it to say, I have a big shelf and I keep a lot of things on it. And I happen to know I'm not alone.

But I'm not sure I can find a way to quietly shelve this particular item.  

There. I said it.

I saw a gorgeous movie from Finland this week called The Fencer, set in early 1950's Estonia during the Stalin years. It depicted a predictably grim place, but the reason I bring it up here is that the social construct of the time was one of extreme and generalized distrust. Before the screening the filmmaker spoke to us, prefacing his movie by describing to the audience the way the people of that time and place interacted with each other -- they were completely guarded, every meeting an uneasy dance in which each person tried to get a feel for whether or not the other was on the right side and should be trusted. In the film, our hero eventually ended up being turned over to the secret police, to be carted off to Siberia. But the scene in which the betrayal occurs is curiously devoid of emotion. The man who betrays his coworker says something to the effect that, "I'm just playing my part. I'm just doing what's expected. This is what I'm meant to do." And not only does the protagonist not blame him, the audience can't really blame him either. You don't expect him to question a society in which he must be wholly focused on his own survival, no matter how twisted right and wrong have become. And he doesn't.

A Hollywood version might have had the man experience a change of heart and decide to do the right thing. Perhaps the two of them would even have escaped the police together. But in this film, I didn't really expect that kind of ending, and I didn't get it.

I bring this up because in this current Mormon episode, people have behaved pretty much the way I thought they'd behave too. The Church has handled it in the way I've come to expect -- I saw a carefully choreographed video "interview" between a PR person and an apostle who was chosen, I believe, specifically because he is seen as friendly to the "cause," having a gay brother to whom he has remained close. I'm uncomfortable at what feels like that attempted manipulation. With the kind of potential hurt and sadness in such a change, I'd have felt better if I'd seen the Prophet himself just step up to a mic and explain What On Earth They Were All Thinking. I know, the Prophet is in failing health. But it's also become plain we don't operate that way. In fact, we increasingly seem to operate more like a slick corporate entity than anything else. And that's about all that was clear in the brief video we were given as an official response.

It was around 4th grade that I specifically remember beginning to awaken to what I can best describe as Big Ideas for Grownups...things that I'd catch glimpses of that would make me feel like I was on the brink of understanding the universe in new and important ways. Ideas that seemed to me like secret passages to the next level. They were mainly silly things, looking back, but I consumed them greedily. It was as if I was on a treasure hunt, delighted by any clues that could help me better understand where I should be headed next.

One of those I remember most distinctly came in the form of this well-known verse by Edwin Markham:

Outwitted

He drew a circle that shut me out --
     Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
     We drew a circle that took him in!

I don't remember where I came across it, but how I loved this little verse! I jotted it in margins of papers, I rehearsed it in my mind as I walked home from school. Something about it seemed so simple but profound. As if possessing this one secret might give me a leg up on all the competition as I struggled to navigate the social structures I found increasingly baffling and intimidating.

Here was a strategy I could actually use.

It still seems simple to me. But I don't see this most simple of Christ-like strategies anywhere in the blueprint of the Church's new policy changes. Yes, there are definitely lines being drawn, but they are the first kind rather than the second.

I'm trying to think of a time in the scriptures when we see Christ draw that kind of line around himself. He seems to be the one in the situation who is forever grabbing the stick and patiently enlarging the circle in the dirt to include whomever is standing nearby. He doesn't ask a lot of questions or lay down a lot of conditions first. He doesn't do an uneasy dance in which he tries to figure out which side the other person is on. He just invites everyone. And then he invites us again.

There is, of course, not a thing I can do about it all. I know, many of my Mormon friends would tell me to pray about it and I can receive a confirmation of the Spirit that these changes are indeed Christ's intended direction for His church. Many would suggest that I fall in line and do what I'm expected to do. That's becoming the climate, as near as I can tell -- I find myself increasingly in situations where Mormons tell other Mormons that sustaining the Brethren means trusting that they always speak on God's behalf, accepting what they say without question, or praying ourselves into agreement. 

But I don't believe that's what God intends for us. In fact to me, that idea has more in common with a different plan.

So in the interest of silencing some of my own cognitive dissonance, I've decided to change my personal approach. Rather than sitting in the discomfort of implied agreement by fearing to express the ways in which I struggle or even disagree with some of the things I hear, I can question those things, including the ones from Church leaders, and even openly disagree while continuing to sustain them. After all, I sustain them by showing up on Sunday, and by trying to follow Christ. By trying to ensure that my neighbors' lives are better as a result of their association with me, a Mormon, and by contributing to my congregation and looking after those over whom I have direct stewardship in my family and my callings. Those things are my responsibility as a member of the Church.

I do not have a responsibility to agree.

And what I would hope for in other Mormons is an increase in empathy, and an enlarging of our collective hearts and circles. Not silent acceptance of policies (these are policies after all, not gospel principles) that we feel may have the potential to alienate and cause pain or spiritual harm.

What's the anti-terrorism saying? If you see something, say something. It's a good policy for safeguarding spiritual health and well-being, too. God already knows our hearts. Our silence isn't protecting us in ways that actually benefit us at all.

I'm perfectly capable of drawing my own lines. I don't need anyone to draw them for me. And more importantly, I'm beginning to understand that it's vital to my continued spiritual health and growth to express that out loud when I need to. So I just did. Talk about seismic shifts.

Please don't feel like you need to come in and straighten my crooked pictures. I'm still standing, and in exactly the same place. But growth and progress require movement, and to that end I think it's time I finally, finally got comfortable with the sound of my own rattling doors.

- S.

23 comments:

  1. My heart sank when I heard the announcement. It sounded like we were punishing children for circumstances out of their control. Not that I necessarily believe those circumstances to be as wrong or sinful as others may believe either.

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    1. Regardless of whether one supports the church's official position on gay marriage or not, it's hard to not feel sad and/or confused about policies that build walls. Thanks so much for reading, Christy.

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  2. Well said, beautifully presented. Respectful and authentic.

    Thank you for your words. You are invited at my dinner table anytime.

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    1. Thanks, John. Speaking of dinner tables, when are we going to actually make that happen?

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    2. yes, when?!!! :-)

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  3. I couldn't like this any more than I do. Thank you, Susan. I think of you like a spiritual big sister and am grateful to have you as a (Facebook) friend...I'm certain I would like you as much in real life.

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    1. Thanks, Mindy! I so appreciate your support. Just knowing I'm not alone helps so much. No one I'd rather have as a spiritual sister. I hope we can make the "in real life" meeting happen someday soon.

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  4. I love what you have said here, and I love your final stance.
    Just as an FYI, I DO have a friend who, after being married for 20 years and having six children, joined a polygamous group. His wife did not. They didn't divorce, but he lived with his second wife and they had three children. The first wife wanted the final two of their children baptized, and the church said no. Under this very policy, as I understood it. It does happen.

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    1. Interesting. Thanks for expanding my perspective on this, Pwall, and for reading and taking time to share. I'm sure it does happen. I don't live in an area where there are a lot of polygamists. That being said, I actually was in a stake Primary presidency when we had 2 children from polygamous families baptized, so I am aware that it can happen. I think in the world at large there are likely to be more people who fall under the gay parent heading, not that that should really matter in setting policy. Just an observation. I'm wondering if polygamists don't bless/baptize their own children according to the doctrines and practices in their own religion? I assumed they would. I don't know how much their teachings overlap with ours. Anybody have more info on this?

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    2. So there was a big thing before this came out where a polygamist daughter from the reality show Sister Wives wanted to get baptized in the LDS church, but was told she couldn't unless she disavowed her family. She stated that she didn't want to be a polygamist, but she wasn't going to deny her family. I thought that was a pretty stupid move on the church's part. I love how the D and C spells out how it's a commandment from God, and most Mormons agree that it will be going on in heaven anyway. They try so hard to distance themselves from polygamy that they're tripping over themselves. Hey Mormon Church! I have polygamist ancestors! They thought they were being obedient to God(until the government went after them...)
      Anyway, I don't know if this is true, because it smells like a steamy pile, but someone said that the Mormon Church had issues with FLDS sending their kids over to get baptized with the true priesthood power, and apparently boys would get ordained, and then take it back to their branch of Mormonism. I don't see why they would even think that they didn't have the true power, but I don't believe in the special power that the LDS church claims to be the only holder of.

      I really appreciate your openness on your blog. Too many people trying to explain it away, and you are one of the few who admits there is a problem. Not easy to do.

      My last thought is that the church should consider all or nothing approach. Either 8 year olds have a full grasp on what they are getting themselves into, or they don't. Baptize the kids(who want to be baptized), but don't make them automatic church members. I don't think John the Baptist interviewed everyone to make sure they were acceptable to be baptized. He did question whether Jesus should be, but hey. I also think that there should be a Mormon Rumspringa. They told me that at 19, I wasn't old enough to know the decision I was making to leave the church. Apparently at 8, I had wisdom beyond my years and lost it. Maybe it would have been better for me if my inactive mom who had my younger sister out of wedlock(making me 8 when she got pregnant, lol), and my dad who was no longer a member and an alcoholic had been a factor in deciding whether or not I could get baptized.

      Sorry for the blog within a blog. ;)

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    3. So there was a big thing before this came out where a polygamist daughter from the reality show Sister Wives wanted to get baptized in the LDS church, but was told she couldn't unless she disavowed her family. She stated that she didn't want to be a polygamist, but she wasn't going to deny her family. I thought that was a pretty stupid move on the church's part. I love how the D and C spells out how it's a commandment from God, and most Mormons agree that it will be going on in heaven anyway. They try so hard to distance themselves from polygamy that they're tripping over themselves. Hey Mormon Church! I have polygamist ancestors! They thought they were being obedient to God(until the government went after them...)
      Anyway, I don't know if this is true, because it smells like a steamy pile, but someone said that the Mormon Church had issues with FLDS sending their kids over to get baptized with the true priesthood power, and apparently boys would get ordained, and then take it back to their branch of Mormonism. I don't see why they would even think that they didn't have the true power, but I don't believe in the special power that the LDS church claims to be the only holder of.

      I really appreciate your openness on your blog. Too many people trying to explain it away, and you are one of the few who admits there is a problem. Not easy to do.

      My last thought is that the church should consider all or nothing approach. Either 8 year olds have a full grasp on what they are getting themselves into, or they don't. Baptize the kids(who want to be baptized), but don't make them automatic church members. I don't think John the Baptist interviewed everyone to make sure they were acceptable to be baptized. He did question whether Jesus should be, but hey. I also think that there should be a Mormon Rumspringa. They told me that at 19, I wasn't old enough to know the decision I was making to leave the church. Apparently at 8, I had wisdom beyond my years and lost it. Maybe it would have been better for me if my inactive mom who had my younger sister out of wedlock(making me 8 when she got pregnant, lol), and my dad who was no longer a member and an alcoholic had been a factor in deciding whether or not I could get baptized.

      Sorry for the blog within a blog. ;)

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    4. Rosalie Bergeson Petersen11/14/2015

      A long time ago I accidentally found a book at the library called Kidnapped From That Land: The Raids on Short Creek by Martha Sonntag Bradley. At the time she wrote it, she was a BYU history professor. She said that for a number of years the fundamentalist Mormons recognized a dual hierarchy, both their leaders and leaders in mainstream Mormonism. Their members would attend the temple to take out their own endowments, but continue to practice polygamy. I have some friends who were raised in polygamy, then recently converted and had to have an interview with a general authority. I don't know for certain, but assume it is related, at least in part, to that.

      As always, love your writing and your take on things.

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  5. Susan. You. Are. Wonderful. Full stop. This is the first thing I've read that provided me any comfort or any kind of framework to handle the crippling sadness I've been experiencing. Thank you. Please let's meet in real life.

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    1. Yes, let's. (You rescue me daily. Happy to return the favor in any small measure.)

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  6. Beautifully written. We've been taught the doctrine and principles too well, not to notice when policies create disequilibrium and cognitive dissonance within us. For me, it dates all the way back to the 1800's and the policies regarding blacks in the church. Thank you for writing this; I totally support your position.

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    1. Thanks, Betty. The blacks and the priesthood policy is indeed another troubling one. I'm glad they finally got it right, and I personally hope that we can keep moving forward as a Church in every area relating to inclusion and equality. I believe that doctrines and policy should always be changing, of course -- I can't see any use for having a prophet on the earth if we can't install updates regularly.

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  7. Thank you so much for this. I saw it on Facebook when my mom (Nedra) commented on it and it was comforting to have someone reflect my own feelings on this matter so beautifully.

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  8. Your are truly a gifted wordsmith. I can honestly say that I have confusion and yet so much faith that all will be well in His hands. Love you friend!

    I like this poem. I don't know the author.

    "The Weaver"

    My Life is but a weaving
    between my Lord and me;
    I cannot choose the colors
    He worketh steadily.

    Oft times He weaveth sorrow
    And I, in foolish pride,
    Forget He sees the upper,
    And I the under side.

    Not til the loom is silent
    And the shuttles cease to fly,
    Shall God unroll the canvas
    And explain the reason why.

    The dark threads are as needful
    In the Weaver's skillful hand,
    As the threads of gold and silver
    In the pattern He has planned.

    He knows, He loves, He cares,
    Nothing this truth can dim.
    He gives His very best to those
    Who leave the choice with Him.

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  9. You always put my own feelings into perfect verse. I was attending a youth Sunday School with my special needs son this Sunday when it came up and I explained my feelings about it to the youth this way. A long time ago, April and I discussed how much the church's policy on not allowing a couple married outside the temple first to marry in the temple for a year. Despite the fact that couples in countries that don't accept temple marriages as legal are allowed to do this. As converts, the majority of our relatives can't attend a temple wedding. It put us in a situation of hurting people we love because we could not have a simple secular ceremony for their benefit first. I will always disagree with that particular church policy and I have put this new one in that same category.

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  10. I just can't square it with anything I know or understand about Jesus Christ, whose name is on the door. It doesn't make sense, and I like things to make sense.

    Susan, I've known you for decades, and your entire posting- particularly the excerpt above- has been one of the most compelling things I've ever heard you say or seen you write. Even though I'm not a follower of "JC", as I call him, I do respect 1) the things he said, and 2) the devotion he inspires from his followers.

    For what my input is worth, I think that as long as your Church has persons like yourselves as members- willing to "put it out there", for lack of a better phrase- and who are (also) willing to speak from the heart, as you so eloquently have done- that attitudes, beliefs, and eventual doctrines and standards will change.

    The LDS Church did not admit African-Americans' into the priesthood until, what...1978? In but three years that will be forty years ago. I myself am hoping the LDS Church will change it's stance on the children of same-sex marriages- not because I have any "dogs in the fight", so to speak, but (in part) because I think that will go a long way toward enlarging the circle you spoke of. It will take time. But years from now; decades from now...i can see it taking place.

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  11. Thank you for what you've written. You've expressed my own feelings perfectly.

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  12. I love this so much. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts so beautifully.

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  13. I love this so much. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts so beautifully.

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