Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Post-Mormon Life: The Trump-Era Edition

I grew up Mormon. Growing up, I couldn’t fit myself into the narrow box expected of me. I wanted a life that was more about marriage and children. I wanted a life that was more about judging others for their beliefs or lack of beliefs. I wanted a life that was more about the petty, small things, such as judging others for drinking coffee or wearing sleeveless shirts or not attending church on Sundays. I wanted a life that was open-minded and warm-hearted and fair for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. 
So I left Mormonism. I entered the World, which I told myself was a better place. A more humane place. I was grateful for this choice. I am still grateful for this choice. 
And yet. 
And yet, during this past year, as Trump started on his ugly, hate-filled campaign, I’ve found myself losing faith in the goodness of the outside world. As Trump has spread his lies, stirring up hatred and mis-truths, attacking women, immigrants, Muslims and minorities, I’ve been veering ever closer to despair. I’ve watched him tell outright lies, only to refuse to take accountability for his actions. Now he is our President-elect, with the power to turn his words into action, and all indications are that he will. Between his appointment of known racists, such as Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, as well as his appointments of lobbyists and insiders, it is becoming quite clear that Trump is committed to turning his ugly rhetoric into action. 
In this way, I am reminded of the LDS authorities. I am reminded of how they’ve been actively promoting rumors, falsehoods and untruths. I’m reminded of their truth-twisting about Mormon history, and their words about the moral character of people who leave. I’m reminded of the very real damage they have enacted on gays, both with their words, as well as their actions. I’m reminded of the racist rhetoric they promoted all the way up until the priesthood ban on blacks and I’m also reminded of their refusal to acknowledge their past words and actions. 
The outside world has started to feel like an enlargement of the Mormon culture I have tried so hard to escape.
As someone who grew up in this environment and left, this means that I've developed the tools for coping. I've developed the tools for seeing past the untruths, the half-truths, the fear-mongering, and the attempts to divide the world into us-vs-them. For many of us, this is how we escaped. Now, it turns out our escape needs to be on a bigger scope.  
So I'm back, and ready to speak up. I hope you will all join me. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vice Article

Last week, I attended the Hill Cumorah Pageant. Attending any Mormon event turned out to be, as many fellow Post-Mormons can attest, an odd experience. Between the strong nostalgia of remembering the past and the very awkward reality of being the apostate that most Mormons fear, these gatherings really highlight the weird limbo that we all exist in.

I then wrote about my experience for Vice. If you're curious, check it out!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Re-Learning Normal: Post-Mormon Edition

        When I was twelve, my Sunday School teacher was a very sweet woman with short silky hair and a wry sense of humor. One day she mentioned how happy she was in her marriage. At the time, I doubted her words: after all, her husband wasn’t Mormon. How happy could she be, really?
        Now, I cringe when I think back to that moment, with its casual bias against non-Mormons. I had been raised in an environment that taught me to dismiss anyone who wasn’t Mormon as second-rate, even really nice husbands. But this was normal. This was the attitude I heard echoed around me every-day. The first Sunday of every month, members would stand up and talk about their belief in the church and then express how sorry they felt for the nonbelievers who hadn’t seen the truth of Mormonism.
        I’ve been invited to a wedding this weekend. Perhaps the strangest thing about this wedding – at least, to me – is the fact that I am allowed to attend. This is not a close friend, but rather my husband’s coworker. We don’t share a common religion. To be honest, the subject of religion has never come up. And yet, I am invited. I can go and see the wedding. It sounds like a small thing – and in the outside world, it is – but given my post-Mormon background, this is not something I can take for granted.
        When my siblings got married, my non-member status relegated me to sitting outside the temple while everyone else went inside for the wedding. This is what passes for normal in the Mormon world. Worthy Mormons are allowed to attend the weddings of their loved ones. 
        The unworthy or the unbelieving ones? Not so much. We ask for time off work, pay our money for a plane ticket, buy our wedding gifts, and then sit outside, in a weird painful sort of heartbreak, as our loved ones exclude us from an event that is supposed to bring people together. Then, if our loved ones make note of the fact that we can’t come into the temple, we are usually told something along the lines of “But you could come inside if you wanted to!” (Translation: if we wanted to fake full membership in a church we don’t believe and sit through a probing interview about our worthiness, during which we would have to lie about our beliefs, we would be allowed to attend the wedding.) But most of the time, we don't say anything. This is a wedding and for the sake of our loved ones, we will keep quiet about how much this practice hurts. In the Mormon world, this is “normal.”
        Perhaps the hardest part about leaving the cocoon of Mormonism is re-learning the concept of “normal.” It’s normal to respect people of different religions. It’s normal not to talk too much about religion. It’s normal not to try and convert others to your religion. It’s normal to have a wedding where everyone is allowed to attend, regardless of religious belief.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Miracle of Modern Medicine


         These past few years, there have been a lot of medical emergencies and surgical interventions in my family. I was hit by a car. My husband had sinus surgery and tore a tendon in his hand. I had LASIK done. My husband tore his ACL and had an ear surgery that restored his hearing in his right ear.
        Four years ago, I had surgery that stitched up a laceration that had peeled my skin down to the bone and exposed my right eye. I later had surgery that tightened up a drooping muscle in my right eye. Now the scar is almost invisible, just a little line that stretches across my forehead. Three months ago, I had an all-laser surgery that shaved nanometers off my cornea, forever changing my vision from 20/2700 to a perfect 20/20. Every morning, when I wake up and reflexively search for my glasses only to realize I don’t need them anymore, I am astonished at the miracle of perfect vision, all thanks to a surgeon and a highly-advanced piece of machinery.
        My husband had surgery that removed a cyst in his sinuses and fixed a deviated septum. With the cyst removed, the allergies that had plagued him are almost disappeared. Then, a year later, the same surgeon went in and separated the bones of his middle ear, fixing a congenital issue that had been steadily causing progressive hearing loss. Had the surgeon not corrected the issue, he would have gone deaf. Now his hearing is restored. In another month, another surgeon will go in and reconstruct my husband’s ACL, performing a surgery to fix an injury that could have crippled him but won’t, thanks to the many medical professionals who spent years perfecting this particular surgery.

         I am constantly amazed at how much humans are capable of, how as human beings we can come up with so many creative solutions to so many problems.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mormon Control

              I have tried three times to have my name removed from the membership rolls of theChurch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly called the Mormon Church, only to have my requests go ignored. Technically, I am still counted as a member, in spite of my strong agnosticism and sinful habits, such as my undying love for all things coffee.
              Last week the Mormon Church excommunicated Kate Kelly, who does believe in the Mormon faith. Her “sin” was to found an organization called Ordain Women, which called on the authorities to prayerfully consider the matter of granting women the priesthood. A mild request and one that would have made Mormonism a much friendlier religion. But Kelly was excommunicated, kicked out of the church that she loved so much.
              Kate Kelly wants nothing more than to remain a member of the Mormon Church. I want nothing more than to leave. Neither of us have had our wishes fulfilled. I have had authorities talk down to me, questioning my maturity and the wisdom of my decision. Kelly’s worthiness was discussed in a private meeting, which Kelly was not privy to, with an all-male board deciding that excommunication was necessary.
              One woman wants to stay in. Another woman wishes to leave. Neither of us have been granted what we desire. And in the middle is a church that seems desperate for control. Control over a pesky woman who dared asked for equal rights. Control over a pesky apostate who wants to leave.
              Perhaps it seems small. Kelly can continue to advocate for equal rights outside of Mormonism. I haven’t been to church in years. But the reality is that these actions create a long chain of undesirable reactions. Already Kelly has been branded a sinner, a troublemaker, by the simple act of excommunication. Everything she has worked for has been tainted by the label of apostasy. I, on the other hand, run the risk of being hunted down by the missionaries and local authorities. Within Mormonism, being hunted down is the norm, rather than the exception. When I have children, their names will be put on the membership rolls. When these children turn eight, there is a strong probability that the missionaries will turn up on my doorstep to convince my children that their eternal salvation rests on baptism. No parent wants a nineteen-year old kid telling their child that Mommy and Daddy are wrong and bound for hell. I could hope that the missionaries and church members would respect my rights as a parent – but I have seen members and missionaries overstep the boundaries a thousand times before, all in the name of religious zeal.

              I sincerely hope that Kate Kelly finds peace in moving forward. I have found my own peace, although it fluctuates at times. 
             But maybe the secret is in not letting the Mormon Church control us. I’ll find a way to get past my failed resignation attempts and see the manipulations of the Mormon Church for what it really is – the futile attempts of a church that is desperate to avoid facing its own impotence and irrelevance. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Exhaustion and the Kate Kelly Excommunication

              Kate Kelly, leader of the “Ordain Women” group, was officially excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Kate Kelly is the leader of the Ordain Women group, which advocated for giving women the priesthood, which in the Mormon Church is a necessary prerequisite for any positions of authority. 
              To give you a little perspective on the issue, boys are given the Aaronic priesthood at the age of twelve. At sixteen, boys are granted the Melchezidek priesthood. Ultimately, holding the priesthood is a necessary prerequisite for any position of authority within the Mormon Church. There are a few women who hold offices – but even these leadership positions can be over-ridden at any point by the male authorities.
              When I was a young adolescent, I went to girls’ camp every summer. The camp was directed by women who had volunteered their time to organize and direct the camp. At the time, I never questioned the fact that there was always a male member of the priesthood present at camp. Sometimes the bishop, sometimes one of the counselors, there was always at least one male priesthood holder in residence. I didn’t realize that there was a policy that all-female must be chaperoned by a male priesthood holder. Church authorities – by definition male, by virtue of the priesthood exclusion on females – are allowed to sit in on any female meeting. The authorities are also allowed to over-ride any decision made by the few female leaders within the Mormon Church.
Kate Kelly, with her Ordain Women movement, was seeking to make Mormonism a friendlier, more egalitarian religion. But, as they have shown, the Mormon authorities are not ready for change. Once again, the Mormon Church is heading backwards.
Over the past week, as I have been watching as the Kate Kelly sage unfold, my predominant emotion has been exhaustion. I’m tired. I’m tired of my Mormon legacy, of having to deal with the inherent sexism that I grew up with, the inflexibility and obfuscation of Mormon leaders. The Mormon authorities don’t release their financial reports, aren’t honest about the unsavory aspects of their history, and continue to oppose any broadening of social rights. My Mormon past is an uncomfortable burden to bear. I wish that Kate Kelly had been granted the opportunity to make Mormonism a friendlier religion. But she wasn't and I'm no longer Mormon. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Bicycle Art

Sometimes art is found in surprising places. I recently watched the documentary, "The Sea of Rock," that followed the mountain-bikers Harald Philipp and Thomas Ohler, as they attempted to bike the Sea of Rock in Austria. Watching these athletes, as they finessed their unwieldy looking bikes into navigating an impossible terrain, all I could think of was that this was its own form of art.

"The Sea of Rock" can be found on Youtube - it's about 15 minutes long and well worth the watch.