Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lost Wallet

          My husband lost his wallet today.  This was a heart-racing, sweat-inducing  event, as we are in upstate New York visiting my parents.  No wallet means no license, which means no ID, which means no plane ride home, especially in light of the fact that my husband is a foreign national.  We had been at the playground playing with my seven-year old niece, when the wallet must have fallen out of his pocket.  When we got home again, my husband noticed the wallet was gone.  
          My husband and I both panicked, searching the playground for the wallet.  Another family - the mother a friendly brunette with a sympathetic smile, her children firmly in the awkward phase of adolescence - helped us search, wandering the playground and nearby fields looking for the lost wallet.  After a while we admitted defeat and headed home again.  When we got home, my brother told me about the time his briefcase was stolen and later found in the dumpster.  He offered to go back with us to search again.  Still no wallet.  Once again, we gave up, going home for my mother’s lasagna.  
          Before the meal, my father prayed, asking to find Badri’s wallet again.  At one point in time, my back would have stiffened at this prayer.  But I am trying to reconcile my lack of beliefs with my family’s belief in Mormonism, so I reminded myself that my father’s intentions were good.    
          In the evening, we called the sheriff’s office to ask if a wallet had been found.  A wallet that matched the description had been found; the operator gave us the name and the number of the woman who had called to report the lost wallet.  
          We went to the woman’s house, who turned out to be a friendly person spending her retirement operating the local food pantry.  She was a warm person and happy to be of help.  She gave my husband his wallet and the three of us talked, standing out on the porch as the day eased its way into night.  We talked about our families, about our personal histories, about the town.  She had worked as an engineer before retiring; my husband is also an engineer.  As we turned to leave, we noticed her car-lights were still on.  She thanked us, grateful that she wouldn’t have a dead battery in the morning.  
          As a Mormon, my father’s prayers for the lost wallet were answered.  As an agnostic humanist, my belief in the goodness of humanity was re-affirmed.  And so, in its own way, this lost wallet has served as affirmations for both us. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feminist Mormons

          These past few years, I have been noticing an unusual phenomenon - the presence of liberal feminist Mormon women.  Between Feminist Mormon Housewives, The Exponent, and Joanna Brooks, there is a faction of women within the church that are laying claim to their right to be liberal and Mormon.  And I am very grateful for the work of these courageous women, as they are fighting to create a place for my mother and sister, who are liberal Democrat Mormon women with careers.  
          When I was a Mormon, I knew many fantastic women, my mother being one of them.  But most of them were very quiet about their convictions.  My mother is a Democrat, one who has hinted at pro-gay marriage and pro-choice convictions.  She is my mother and I love her with a fierce conviction.  Touch a hair on my mother’s head and I will eviscerate you.  I am grateful to the courageous women that are working within the Church to make life better for my mother.  
          This rise of feminist women within the Church is forcing me to re-evaluate my precise reasons for leaving the Mormon Church.  It is true that I felt like I was being forced into a box that did not fit - marriage, children, homemaking.  The thought of my future as a Mormon woman filled me up with terror.  What if I had stayed and become part of the feminist Mormon movement?  Would that have been an acceptable compromise between my personal convictions and the rigid intolerant faith I was raised in?  What if I had stayed and fought the good fight?
          The more I examine my convictions, the more I realize that the narrow mold of life as a Mormon woman was not my only reason for leaving.  The core reason for my departure from the Mormon Church is simple.  I do not believe the Mormon Church is true.  I do not believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  I do not believe the Book of Mormon is true.  I cannot support the current authorities in good faith.  
         Post-Mormonism, as I have examined my convictions, I have arrived at the conclusion that I am an agnostic atheist with humanist tendencies.  I don’t know if there is a god or not; I suspect there isn’t.  In the meantime, I take comfort in the basic goodness of humanity - people are capable of amazing things.  And for me, this is enough.  I will live the best life I know how and find joy in the tiny beautiful things.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Life Will Never Be The Same Again

Note: This post is in memory of the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.  My heart goes out to all of those affected by this senseless tragedy.

          November 3, 2010, I was in an accident.  I was walking across the street, on my way to work, when a man in a Nissan Sentra ran a red light and hit three pedestrians, myself included.  I looked over a millisecond before impact; in that millisecond I learned what it feels like to be unable to flee an impending fate and to think that death is imminent.  This terrible knowledge lingers with me to this day, weighing me down with a frightful sense of the fragility of life.  I can no longer trust that drivers will obey the basic laws of traffic and I now know the full pain of driving mistakes.  
          As a fellow victim of a senseless trauma, I am reeling from the tragedy of the Aurora theater shooting.  I cannot fathom why a person would commit such a violent act of hatred towards a group of innocent people.  I have been trying - and failing - to put my very deep sorrow into words.  My heart goes out to all of those who have been affected by this tragedy, whether they were in that theater or love someone who was.  
          Life will never be the same again for these survivors.  Never again will they have the luxury of walking into a darkened theater in eager anticipation of spending a few hours in mindless entertainment.  Never again will they be able to watch - or hear - of Batman, without suffering flashbacks and ghastly nightmares.  Never again will they have the luxury of trusting in the goodness of strangers.  
          The media loves to concentrate on the bravery and resilience of survivors.  And in the first few weeks following a tragedy, survivors are strong and brave.  But the true test of survival is when the media cameras move on to the next story.  When the friends of the survivors forget and move on to their next phase in life.  When the survivors find themselves alone, with no one but their own thoughts for company.  That is the point when mettle begins to crumble, superhuman strength begins to wane.
          Right after the accident, I was strong and brave.  I made jokes - my words slurring from the morphine and the traumatic brain injury - about getting into a fight with a car.  I fought to let my grad school advisers know where I was and what had happened.  I fought to start walking again, one slow painful step at a time.  I fought to return to school and the life I had before.   I was a “success”, an “example” of the resilience of the human body.    
          But what I neglected - and what most of the people around me were oblivious to - was the emotional impact of the accident.  The pain and the physical recovery were the easiest hurdle to overcome.  And yet I used up all of my willpower just clearing the first hurdle.  By the time I realized the full emotional impact of my accident, I was drained of strength.  
          When I returned to my old life, I found that my old life no longer fit.  I had changed - I just didn’t know how.  Between the anxiety and the nightmares, I found myself unable to handle the high-stress environment of grad school.  I was forced to withdraw from my Ph.D program and re-evaluate the new person that I had become.  Almost two years after this accident, I still suffer from severe panic attacks and nightmares, all involving cars and the awful inevitability of fate.  
           And so I ask you to be sympathetic towards trauma victims.  I will never understand what the victims of the Aurora theater shooting went through.  But I do know that their lives will never be the same again.  I would urge you to lay aside the partisanship, the blame, the finger-pointing, and focus on the victims.  Focus on their physical and emotional recovery.  Focus on who they are as fellow human beings.  
          I am a believer that our experiences shape who we are as a person.  We cannot choose our experiences but we can choose our responses.  I am still sorting out the effects of my accident but I do know that this accident has caused me to become more thoughtful, more empathetic towards other human beings.  The victims of Aurora will spend years doing the same.  As a nation, we need to use this tragedy to reflect on who we are as a people and to become more empathetic, more aware of our shared humanity.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

On Trying To "Have It All" As A Mormon Girl

          I was a fourteen-year old girl attending a Mormon camp called “Especially For Youth”.  After a seminar meant to excite the youth about serving full-time missions - taught by a very cute blonde boy who had recently returned from his own - I was standing in line for lunch.  I struck up a conversation with the boy next to me, who had also attended the same talk.  My enthusiasm for serving a mission was at an all-time high, as I started gushing about how much I wanted to serve, how important the work was to me.  I was fourteen and I wanted to be the perfect Mormon, to live up the standards that everyone expected of me.  I wanted to be everything that everyone expected of me.  
          “I just can’t wait to go on a mission!” I said, looking at the boy.  He was average cute, which in the hyper-competitive world of Mormon courtship, was enough.  Even at fourteen, I was all too aware of the overwhelming pressure of marriage and its implications on my eternal salvation.  
          He looked at me and arched his eyebrow.  “Aren’t you supposed to be concentrating on -- other duties?” he said, the meaning in his voice plain.  
          “I can do both!” I said.  He shrugged, looking skeptical.
          I was hurt; I turned my back on this guy, who looked uglier and uglier by the moment.  I dismissed him as a pompous jerk.  I convinced myself that I could still do it all.  
          A few months ago, I discovered a talk by Gordon B. Hinckley, the man I considered to be a modern-day prophet of God.  I was twelve when he gave this talk; two years later I got angry when a boy dismissed my goal to become a missionary.   Hinckley gave this talk during the Priesthood Session of General Conference; only the men were allowed to attend.  

“Now I wish to say something to bishops and stake presidents concerning missionary service. It is a sensitive matter. There seems to be growing in the Church an idea that all young women as well as all young men should go on missions. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot.

I confess that I have two granddaughters on missions. They are bright and beautiful young women. They are working hard and accomplishing much good. Speaking with their bishops and their parents, they made their own decisions to go. They did not tell me until they turned their papers in. I had nothing to do with their decision to go.

Now, having made that confession, I wish to say that the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve are united in saying to our young sisters that they are not under obligation to go on missions. I hope I can say what I have to say in a way that will not be offensive to anyone. Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.

We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.

Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.”  

          Gordon B Hinckley was a man that, as a fourteen-year-old girl, I considered a Prophet of God.  I discovered this talk a few months back and every-time that I think about it, I feel hurt.  I don’t why this talk hurts me so much, more than ten years after leaving Mormonism.  I suppose because as a fourteen-year old girl the idea of serving a mission struck me as one of the few accomplishments I could aim for in equal accord with men.  
          At the age of twelve I had been inducted into the Young Women program; the lessons about marriage and children were already starting to weigh me down.  And the thought of marriage terrified me; I wanted the luxury of waiting until I was at a reasonable age.  This luxury seemed denied to me in the Mormon world, as most of my fellow Young Women were getting married before the age of 21.  I had just seen the first of my peers get married off - she was eighteen, just a couple months out of high school, when she married a man who had noticed her a couple years earlier while serving his mission.  The ward made a huge fuss over my friend - they talked about her as the ultimate success, having fulfilled her highest potential at the precocious age of eighteen.  And while I was supposed to be happy for her, the thought of marriage at such a young age terrified me.  
          Serving a mission meant that I could defer the prospect of marriage for a few more years, until I was old enough to feel ready. I didn’t want to be married at a young age.  I wanted a life that included a little more than simply marriage and children.  I wanted something of my own; an education, maybe a career.  Some goal that was mine and mine alone.  I wanted to have it all.  
          And yet, even at the age of fourteen, the doors to a larger world were closed to me.  I wanted everything and yet the prophet was instructing the men in my life to hold me back from having it all.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: Sweet Land Of Bigamy

          Helen Motes is, above all, a survivor.  Fatherless and with an alcoholic mother, Helen lived a fractured, poverty-stricken childhood in rural Utah.   As a sixteen-year old girl, she met and married an older man, Larry, a solid respectable Mormon.  Helen’s marriage to Larry represented the stability she never experienced growing up.  But after ten years of marriage, during which Helen is forced to cope with the pain of infertility, Larry leaves for a two-year stint in Iraq, in full defiance of Helen’s fears and wishes.  
           Angry and heart-broken, Helen heads back to her childhood town in hopes of making amends with her alcoholic mother.  While there, she meets and falls in love with an Indian poet, who proposes marriage to her before she even has the chance to explain about her husband.  Her new lover is full of starry-eyed ideals about the world; through his eyes Helen is able to experience the wide-eyed wonder of childhood that she missed out on.  She marries her Indian suitor, expecting to quietly divorce her first husband while her second husband is in India tending to his dying mother.  And so Helen finds herself in the awkward position of being a bigamist - a woman married to two men.  
          Things quickly get very complicated as Helen finds herself unable to sever her emotional attachment to her first husband.  These husbands of hers fill two separate voids in her heart.  She loves the two of them, both in their own unique way.  The plot is original and surprising, with a lot of very unique characters; the people are flawed yet relatable.  The author made the wise decision to tell the story from a variety of different perspectives, rather than sticking to the point of view of one woman trying to decide between the two men that she loves.  By showing us the story through the eyes of many, the reader is drawn into a deeply textured and vivid portrait of a woman trying to make the best of a difficult circumstance.  
           This is a story about cobbling together a life out of broken remnants: a fractured childhood, absentee parents, a marriage of necessity, a marriage of impulse.  The author does not shy away from the difficult moments but handles them with such grace and such affection for her characters that the result is a truly heart-warming story about the ability of people to stick together in spite of their flaws.  

Sweet Land of Bigamy is available in both e-book and hardcover and can be bought at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, as well as your local independent bookstore.  I would also urge you to check out the author's webpage, as she is a fantastic writer - her essay "You Owe Me" was recently selected for the Best American Essays of 2012, and is, without a doubt, the best non-fiction essay I have read in a very long time.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

New Feature - Suggested Reading Section

          As some of you may have noticed, I have added a new feature to this blog - a "Suggested Reading" section.  In the future, I will be writing regular reviews of books that add a meaningful voice to the dialogue about Mormonism.  In the meantime, the listed books are all books that I have either read or am in the process of reading.  I would recommend these books to anyone.  
          In the interest of full disclosure, I am now a member of the Amazon Affiliate program.  If you are interested in these books and choose to purchase from Amazon, clicking on the link provided for each book description would generate a (very small) commission for me, which would help offset the costs of this blog and my writing education.  
          And as always, thank you for the incredible support I've gotten since starting this blog!  Your comments and feedback have been truly heart-warming!  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In Memory Of A Friend

         My friend Billy* was a year younger than I was, a sweet kid with brown hair that curled into ringlets and enormous blue eyes.  He came from a very poor family; he was also a non-conformist who wore chains on his Sunday dress-pants and listened to Linkin Park.  The opinion of the ward was stacked against my friend, as adults and teenagers alike whispered about him.  There were rumors that he skipped school, that he smoked cigarettes, that he had “bad” friends.  I never knew the truth of these rumors - we attended different high schools - but I do know that he loved his little sister dearly.  Her face lit up when she saw her older brother and he always gave her a hug.  My junior year of high school - my final year of church attendance - we were both prone to skipping sacrament meetings.  Sometimes we would cross paths as we wandered the empty church halls.  Our discussions were always topical - school, life, jokes.  The elephant in the room - our personal reasons for skipping sacrament meeting - was never addressed.  I was too afraid of the possibility of condemnation to confide in my friend.  
         Billy committed suicide my freshman year of college; he jumped off a bridge to meet the jagged rocks below.  I never mustered the courage to tell him about my shattered belief; now I am left with the empty feeling of having failed him in some crucial way.  I reached my limit at the start of my senior year of high school; I quit attending church and withdrew into a shell as I struggled to cope with my father’s anger, my mother’s heart-break, and the various gossip surrounding my exit.  We lost touch as I sorted out the aftermath of my exit; dealing with any Mormon, no matter how sweet or atypical, was just too painful.  And then he was dead and there was no second chance for reconciliation, no way of letting him know that he wasn’t alone.  I suspect he may have been going through the same struggles I was.  But I will never know the truth.  
          But what I do know is that being a non-conformist or a non-believer among Mormons is a very stressful and isolating experience.  A year after Billy committed suicide, I attempted to take my own life.  My father was making petty judgmental comments about my character while my mother was interrogating me about my “sinful” lifestyle.  The idea that my parents - the two people in the world that were supposed to love me unconditionally - had turned against their apostate daughter was too heavy a burden to bear.  The prospect of the impending years seemed bleak; I thought I would never regain what I lost when I left.  That was a very, very low point in my life and one that I never wish to return to.  And so I am compelled to write, in order to describe the warp and weft of a life spent traveling a different path in life.  A life that, in the years since my suicide attempt, has grown deep and rich from a curiosity about the world at large.  
         And so this brings me to the issue of why I write this blog.  Why I am going public with my story.  I grapple with the issue of sharing my story in a public venue; I worry that I am self-centered, that I will hurt my family, that my story is not relevant.  But then I am reminded of Billy and of why I need to write.  I want faithful Mormons to know that people who choose to leave the Church are not bad people.  We exist and are fellow human beings, with all the hopes and dreams and aspirations that make humanity so wonderful.  We deserve respect, to have our choices and beliefs honored.  I want the people who have never been involved with the Mormon Church to have a deeper understanding of what it means to be associated with this peculiar American faith.  And most of all, I write because I want others who are struggling with their faith to know that they are not alone.  I want them to know that their doubts do not make them a bad person and that life will get better, as they find the courage to shape their own destiny.
          Billy deserved better; he deserved to know that he wasn’t alone.  I have failed one person by my silence; I will not fail another.   

*Name has been changed

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Mormon Family's Finances

          Recently Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an investigative piece titled "How the Mormons Make Money", written by Caroline Winter.  The Mormon Church is very secretive about their finances; they refuse to publish their financial accounts even to members.  BusinessWeek’s conclusion was that the Mormon Church is very, very rich, with an estimated $40 billion in net worth and $8 billion in annual tithing revenue.  The article also outlined the Mormon Church’s business structure, listing all of the church’s for-profit ventures, which include a $5 billion dollar project aimed at revitalizing downtown Salt Lake City, real estate ventures, insurance holdings, among many others.  Although there was little in this article that surprised me, there is a heavy feeling in my chest as I compare the enormous wealth of the Mormon Church to the very modest - often desperate - financial accounts of my own family.  Although my family’s financial decisions were made of their own free will and they offered tithing out of love for their church, I am considerably saddened when I pause to think that their hard-earned money is funding the business ventures of the Mormon Church.  I was even more saddened to read that the Mormon Church only devotes an estimated 0.7% of their annual wealth to charitable ventures.  
          My parents were both converts; they joined the Mormon Church in their late twenties.  At the time, they had three children; my father was a gunsmith, my mother was a housewife.  My parents were poor.  But in the Mormon Church, there is a strong emphasis on large families - in 1979, three years after my parents joined, the prophet Spencer W Kimball went on record saying “It is an act of extreme selfishness for a married couple to refuse to have children when they are able to do so.”1  
          My parents were obedient and had another four children, the last of which was me.  Their financial situation became more and more desperate as they obeyed the dictates of their religion.  To feed the family, they raised chickens, pigs, cows, and had a large vegetable garden.  I was lucky - my mother went back to school after I was born and became a special education teacher.  By the time I was eight, my mother’s income meant that my family no longer had to worry about where the next meal was coming from.  My parents’ battle to lift themselves out of poverty was ultimately successful but was also brutally hard, as my mother had to juggle the demands of a large family, her school-work, and various part-time jobs.  
          During these financial struggles, my parents always paid their tithing.  Every year the Mormon Church received from my parents 10% of an income that wasn’t enough to feed a family.  There is a strong emphasis within the Church to pay tithing first; leaders promise that if an individual has enough faith, the Lord will provide.  And the Church did give back; when times were desperate, the local leaders stepped in to donate food.  Sometimes members would also pitch in, donating food and helping with babysitting.  In return, my family has also done their part.  The Mormon Church is composed of a lay clergy - the majority of positions are filled by unpaid volunteers.  My father worked for years as the ward clerk, keeping track of membership records.  Now that he has retired, he volunteers his time at the church’s family history center and the Palmyra temple.  My parents also volunteer their time and skills to help members in need.  One of my brothers is now the bishop for his ward; in addition to his full-time job, he volunteers an extra 20+ hours a week tending to the spiritual and practical needs of his congregation.  He is in the third year of what should be a five-year stint.  
          When I was fifteen, my oldest brother had a financial crisis.  He was building a house to replace his run-down trailer when he lost his job as a trucker.  My brother and his family was forced to move in with my parents while he worked full-time to finish his house.  My parents were faced with the burden of feeding five extra mouths, as well as financing the construction of a house.  I woke up every morning with a pit in my stomach, which was only heightened by the sight of the tithing checks sitting on my parent’s dresser, made out for an amount I knew we couldn’t afford.  
          To the ward’s credit, everyone pitched in to help out my brother.  Members volunteered time, coming every Saturday to help my brother build his house.  My brother also received weekly donations of food from the Church Welfare services.  The Relief Society stepped in one time, accompanying my mother to the grocery store and giving her $100 to buy food.  There was a strong sense of community within the ward as they tackled my brother’s crisis.  And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the help received was in the form of volunteer work.  Even in a very dire circumstance, the local ward had few financial resources available to help members in need.  This was in spite of my parents’ monthly tithing donations, along with the tithing contributions of other members.  The policy is for tithing to be wired directly to Church headquarters, a small amount of which is returned to the local ward for assisting members in need.  
          My family pays tithing because they believe in their church.  And while I don’t want to impinge upon their beliefs, I do want to see the Mormon Church treat my family’s sacrifices with respect.  The Mormon Church refuses to release their financial records.  My family has worked so hard over the years to pay their tithing; why won’t the Mormon Church respect their sacrifices by telling them how their money is being used?  

1 Spencer W Kimball, “Fortify Your Homes Against Evil”.  General Conference Address, April 1979.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Salon Article - "My Failed Mormon Resignation"

I just wanted to let you know that one of my posts was picked up by Salon.  If you are interested, here is the link

My Failed Mormon Resignation

And thanks so much for your readership - my experience has been great!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hill Cumorah Pageant

          As a child, my family and I used to attend the Hill Cumorah pageant every year, which is a large theatrical production put on every year in the birthplace of the Mormon religion, Palmyra, New York.  The pageant is a dramatic re-enactment of the Book of Mormon.  The pageant was a festive affair -- my family and I packed snacks and piled into our rickety blue station wagon for the two-hour trip to Palmyra.  We sat on the hill, waiting for the show to start.  When darkness fell and the hill lit up, I sat in wonder at the story that un-folded before my eyes.  All of the Book of Mormon stories I learned about in Sunday School were appearing right before my eyes, larger than life.  Lehi, being ordered to leave Jerusalem.  The rift between Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel.  Jesus, coming to the Americas after his resurrection to preach the Gospel.  A dying Moroni, burying the gold plates in the very spot that we were sitting in, which was later found and translated by the prophet Joseph Smith.  I was enthralled by the re-enactment of the stories my family held so dear.  
          One year, when I was five or six, I noticed some people standing at the periphery of the show, holding up sheets of paper.  The pageant had just ended and we were heading back to the car.  I was sleepy -- the time was hours past my normal bed-time.  My family looked at these people askance, while my father warned us in the strongest of terms not to accept anything from them or to engage them in conversation.  These people seemed so out-of-place, standing mute with their sheets of printed paper while pageant-goers streamed past them.  I had been warned that Satan was trying his hardest to tear the Church apart with lies and deceptions.  These people seemed to be proof of what the leaders had been saying.  My little-girl mind just knew that whatever was printed on those sheets of papers would be vile untruths.  And maybe they were untruths.  Or perhaps they weren’t.  Either way, my family and I refused to find out.  And perhaps that was for the best -- any attempts to engage the protesters would have lead to anger and turmoil during a peaceful family outing.  
          That night, as my father drove us home, I fell asleep in the backseat snuggled up against my siblings.  The unsettling hum of the speeding car combined with the eerie muteness of the protesters to give me uneasy dreams about a world stacked against my family.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Outer Darkness Tastes Pretty Good!

          I went out with some friends last week to a new bar that specializes in craft beers - my favorite type of bar.  One of the beers on tap was called "Squatter's Outer Darkness", a Russian Imperial Stout.  With a name like "Outer Darkness", I just knew I had to try it.  And the beer was tasty - there was a sharp bite to the first sip, followed by the mellow stout taste that I love.  Although with a 10.5% alcohol percentage, I would recommend drinking in moderation.  

Squatter's Outer Darkness Russian Imperial Stout

          When I got home, I looked up the beer and discovered that Squatter's Brewery is located in Salt Lake City.  Which surprised me because I thought Utah laws only allowed light beers.  Am I missing something here - has there been a change in liquor laws?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Re-examining Priorities In Light Of A Near-Death Experience

          Two years ago I was the typical ambitious grad student; I worked my way through college and graduated from Cornell University with an honors degree.  I then enrolled in a Ph.D program in developmental biology at a top-ranked medical college.  My motivation defined me - I was content to put in the long hours necessary to complete my schoolwork and begin developing my research project.  My life's plan was mapped out for me - Ph.D, post-doc, professorship in academia.  School was spent in a blur of studying and lab-work; I was relentless in working towards my goal.  Life was school and school was life.
          And then, at the beginning of my second year of grad school, I was in a life-altering accident -- I was hit by a car while walking across the street, in the type of freak accident that people hear about on the news but never imagine will happen to them.  There were a total of three pedestrians hit - I was the first to get hit and sustained the most serious of the injuries.  My head hit the windshield, completely shattering the glass, and resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury.
          I was lucky - my physical injuries healed within a matter of months.  The brain injury took a little longer - for about six months I had a mild stutter and I got dizzy every-time that I tried to work out.  But the emotional imprint of my accident turned out to be the most lingering effect.  I developed an acute fear of cars, which in the car-centric city of Houston is prohibitive to maintaining a normal life.  Between the acute panic caused by my accident and the everyday stress of working in a high-charged grad school environment, I turned into a sobbing, hysterical mess.  For the first time in my life, I was unable to fulfill the responsibilities expected of me.  I no longer knew who I was - I had always defined myself by my work ethic and my ambition.  Now I was incapable of working a full-time job, let alone a graduate program that demanded every ounce of my concentration.  I was forced to withdraw from school and redefine who I was as a person.
          This accident has forced me to examine who I am as a person.  During the accident, when I saw the car heading towards me a millisecond before impact, my last thoughts were not about my career options or my life as a grad student - my last thought was the achingly sweet look on my husband's face as I kissed him good-bye that morning.  The idea that I might never see him again crushed my heart.  
          And so now I am at a point where my days are centered around my pathological fear of cars and the unsettling feeling that my life is no longer defined by how busy I am.  Withdrawing from grad school has wreaked havoc on my self-esteem as I struggle to understand how I have changed in light of a near-death experience.                
          I am now re-examining my priorities in life.  What I have discovered is that my priorities in life are centered around family.  Once my life has settled down - once I am at a point where I can live a functional life again - I will return to school and the pursuit of a career.  But when I do return, I will return with the attitude that although a career can be fulfilling, my full heart belongs to the people I love.

The Only Sin Worse Than Murder

          A couple weeks ago, I read “The Girls From Fourth Ward” by Donna Banta.  The book was a dark romp into the world of teenaged Mormon girls, complete with the bishop from hell.  One of the scenes that lingered in my mind was a conversation between the four girls about the consequences of leaving the Mormon church.  Mormon theology teaches that the only sin worse than murder is renouncing the teachings of the church.  In the mixed-up minds of these four teenaged girls, this teaching somehow justified the murder of a bishop who was acting as an obstacle to fulfilling their potential as ideal Mormon women (and achieving access to the highest level of Heaven).  This example is extreme and one that I hope is relegated to the pages of fiction.  But the conversation in this book brought up very painful memories of just how afraid I was when I began questioning my faith.  
          When I was sixteen, and my faith was just beginning to crack, the missionaries were asked to teach my Sunday School class for a week.  Being the missionaries, they decided to use the opportunity to show off their knowledge of the Gospel.  We were treated to an overview of the Gospel and the three-fold mission of the Church: perfect the saints, preach the Gospel to the world, and redeem the dead.
          Then the missionaries started talking about the levels of heaven.  I grew up learning about the Telestial, Terrestrial, and Celestial Kingdoms but I had heard very little about Outer Darkness, which was a fate too awful for my mind to even comprehend.
          “Don’t worry.” the missionaries assured my class.  “It’s almost impossible to get sent to Outer Darkness.  You have to either kill someone or renounce the teachings of the Church.  And even murder is forgivable in some situations.”
          Uh oh.  I sat there on my hard plastic chair, painfully aware that I was in the process of committing the only sin worse than murder.  The only sin that meant irrevocable exile to Outer Darkness.  I felt as though I had been punched in the gut.  The rest of the day was a blur as I mulled over the lesson and all of its implications on my life.  
          I was upset for a while.  Upset and terrified.  But as the lesson began to sink in, I began to get angry.  Really angry.  Boiling, red-hot anger that started at the top of my head and crawled its way down my body.  I knew that what I was doing -- asking questions of my religion and expecting rational answers -- was not a sin.  The fact that I had received no answer, the fact that logic dictated that there could be no proof, did not mean that I was a bad human being.  And yet, as part of Mormon Church, this sin of mine was worse than killing another human being.  I began to see the Church in a different light; I could no longer rationalize its goodness.
          I reached my limit that day.  I was tired; tired of feeling like I was less faithful, less worthy, simply because the answers I had received were not the “correct” answers.  This lesson tipped the balance from grief about my lack of faith to anger at an unforgiving authoritarian religion.  This anger gave me the courage to start my journey out of Mormonism, as I began to untangle the many threads woven throughout my up-bringing.  A year after this lesson, I made a permanent break with the church.  I am grateful that I managed to find the courage to break away, even while faced with the threat of absolute damnation.  But for every person that does manage to come to terms with their lack of belief, there are ten more that stay because they are too afraid to commit the one sin worse than murder.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Excess In Moderation

          My up-bringing taught me to fear the outside world.  Coffee, tea, alcohol, sleeveless shirts, premarital sex - all were considered to be very serious offenses against God.  When I left Mormonism, I had little to rely on as a guide to right or wrong.  I associated fear and shame with actions that mainstream culture accepted.  And so I found myself navigating a strange road as I examined my own internal values.  
          I have never been a wild personality; I am not one for partying or crazy stunts.  Even as a freshman in college, out of my parents’ home for the first time in my life, I was still tame by the standards of my peers.  There were some drunken escapades that we laughed about afterwards but overall, I was a student who spent most of her time in the library studying.  My evolution was slow and a practice in studied moderation; I didn’t want to be defined by what I did and did not do.  As a Mormon, I had been defined by what was considered sin.  As a post-Mormon, I did not want to be defined by what I no longer considered to be sin.  
          So my experimentation was gradual.  I started with cursing, to vocalize my emotional turmoil.  I was eighteen when I wore my first tank top; the feeling of a breeze on my shoulders was both foreign and liberating.  My first beer was Keystone Light, at a frat party my first week of college.  I hated the watery horse-piss taste of Keystone but later discovered I loved hefty beers such as Guinness and Young’s.  Coffee was a delightful surprise, as I discovered the joys of well-brewed coffee (the discovery of which coincided with the joys of romance).  Intimacy was harder, as I was very shy and had never been taught proper boundaries.  But contrary to all of the dire threats I grew up with, I learned to navigate my sexuality in a safe and respectful manner.  And when I did meet my husband, our pasts were simply something that added depth to our character.  My mother was quite distraught when we moved in together but living together before marriage was important to my own personal values.  I view marriage - and family - as commitments that should not be entered without careful reflection and research.  
          Bit by bit, I sampled the different options available to me.  Over the years, I have evolved into a beer-drinking, coffee-sipping woman who believes in taking responsibility for your actions.  As long as no one gets hurt, the choices of an individual should be respected and allowed.   
          I enjoy excess - in moderation.