Friday, January 25, 2013

Flashback: For The Strength Of Youth

          I found this video this morning and it brought back a lot of memories of what being a Mormon youth was like.  This song is a parody of Cee Lo's song "Forget You" and is centered on the standards in the “For The Strength of Youth” pamphlet, which is given to youth when they turn twelve years old and are inducted into the Young Men/Young Women programs at church.  The pamphlet laid out all of the standards by which we were expected to live; we were expected to take the words in this pamphlet seriously. 
          Bad singing and corny lyrics aside, the attitudes and expectations shown in this video are pretty true to my own memories.    

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Brodie Awards: Voting Now Open

The voting for the 2012 Brodie Awards has now been opened: these are year-long awards for people and websites pertaining to Mormonism in one form or another.  This has been a really great year for discussion of Mormon-related issues.  I am proud to announce that I have been nominated for a few categories, including best new blog!

Polls close on February 6th.  I would recommend checking out some of the categories, as there are some fantastic pieces of work that have been nominated!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Renaissance Woman

          In high school, I met with a college admissions counselor, who asked me about my extracurricular activities and academic performance. For sports, I had done ballet and track and cross country. I had won an art competition, performed in the school musical, and played guitar for the jazz band. I excelled at history and I loved science. I worked in a research lab, where I helped screen for mutations affecting mesodermal development in worms.
          “So you’re a Renaissance woman” he said, looking pleased. “College admissions officers love that.”
          I always assumed that growing up meant pruning away my interests to concentrate on a single discipline. That is the logical route to take; we live in an era of specialization. Being a jack-of-all-trades, or a student of all disciplines, is confusing and chaotic.
          I have been searching for that one single thing that I am good at; I still don’t know the answer. None of my ventures have seemed to be quite the right fit for me. Lately, it has occurred to me that I need to play to my actual strengths, rather than the strengths I wish I had, or the strengths that I think I could develop.
          My strength, as I see it, is that I am interested in everything. This doesn’t seem much like strength – these past years, I have often thought of it as weakness. The flipside of being interested in everything is that you never really master one thing. My concentration – and my ability to focus – is hampered because I am always going off on tangents. As they say – “Jack of all trades, master of none”.
          I cannot change who I am; all that I can do is try and find a way to position myself to turn a potential weakness into strength. And so, after all these years, I have reached a point where I realize that I just need to accept my strengths for what they are and learn to work with what I have.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Tale Of Two Seminaries (Part Two)

Note: This post is part of a two-part series.  Part One can be found here

         After the schism, I was sent to the seminary class held at the ward building. I was pretty torn up about the matter – I had known the bishop’s family for years, which made the exclusion all the more painful. I felt, more than ever, like the apostate leper. But attending a different seminary class – without all of the attendant baggage – helped me to resolve my feelings about my apostasy. Bit by bit, I made my peace with my lack of beliefs. Full activity – seminary, Mutual, Sunday School, Young Women’s – helped me realize that my atheism was not due to a flaw in my moral character. The longer I attended, the more I understood that I just didn’t believe.
          The following summer the stake president became aware of the situation regarding the separate seminary classes and intervened, making the decision to send me back to the class taught by the bishop’s wife. This was a pretty intimidating situation; I was being told to return to a class that had made it clear my presence was not welcome. I was angry and confused about the situation, which was exacerbated by the fact that my psyche was beginning to crack under the burden of living a double life. I was in a very dark place at the time and the complication of the seminary situation only made the issue worse.
          The school year started and I began attending seminary class at the bishop’s home. The situation made me very tense and edgy; my mood was going downhill rapidly. Then, one day, I read a touching story in Newsweek; the story of a couple that had adopted a disabled child from Russia. The story had a happy ending – the child was smiling and laughing. I figured the fact that the parents were gay would probably be a side-note, a slight complexity that still didn’t take away from the fact that the child was happy and in a stable home, as opposed to living life in an orphanage. I was scheduled to give the spiritual thought in seminary the next day – I figured this story was as spiritual as it could get.
          Naïve, I know. But this was a story that helped me believe in humanity at a time when I was in desperate need of that faith. I had been through hell the past few years, as I navigated the roller coaster of emotions that come after losing your faith. During the last few years, as I went back and forth, back and forth on my state of disbelief, I had watched my sense of self-worth slowly erode. Being a closeted apostate among Mormons is the loneliest feeling in the world; the events of the past year had taught me that I couldn’t trust the people I grew up with.
          The next morning, I went to seminary class. When the bishop’s wife asked me to give the spiritual thought I opened my copy of Newsweek and began reading. About a third of the way into the article, the fact of the parents’ sexual orientation was introduced; that was when a very deep silence entered the classroom. I became acutely aware of the thinness of my voice and the slight wobble of my words. I pushed on with the story, determined to finish. I could feel my hands shaking and my heart pounding in my chest but I refused to stop. I did not want my voice to be silenced, not this time. And so, I pushed on.
          When I finished reading, I looked up from the magazine to meet the eyes of my teacher. I have never, in all of my days, seen such a look in anyone’s eyes. Perhaps it was hate, perhaps it was fury, or perhaps it was anger. Either way, I felt a chill that sunk down to the bottom of my toes.
          The bishop’s wife flicked her hand at me in a dismissive gesture and said “Well! That child will certainly grow up to be open-minded!” I almost laughed but caught myself. The teacher was right. Her comment, although it didn’t ease the tension in the room, helped me see clearly again.
          I never went back to church or seminary after that; I was tired of living a double life. I was tired of feeling ashamed of who I was and dishonest about my beliefs. The time had finally come to stop living a lie and start with the business of living my life.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Tale Of Two Seminaries (Part One)

          I lost my faith when I was sixteen, when I was still living at home. For this reason, I tried to keep my apostasy quiet. However, my increasing doubts and disillusionment did not go unnoticed. I lived in an area where Mormons were in the minority; there was one other Mormon in my grade in high school, a girl by the name of Beth*. Beth and I grew up together, bound by geography and the isolation of upstate New York Mormons. 
          Beth was my oldest acquaintance and, bound together by our shared classes and early-morning seminary, she was the person that saw me the most, even more than my parents. Therefore, when my faith began to splinter, she was the first person to pick up on the fact. I tried to be discreet about my beliefs but every once in a while, a negative comment would slip out. I told her I felt uncomfortable with the idea of actively trying to convert others – her response was a fixed smile and the statement “So you’re telling me you don’t believe in the premise of the Church’s mission?” We stopped talking about the matter after that. A few months later, when I became upset in seminary about a General Conference talk – I said that the speaker’s promises were not grounded in reality – she lashed out at me, asking me what my problem was.
          Once again, we let the matter drop, at least until a few weeks later. At the time, Beth’s uncle was the bishop; the other students in the seminary class were comprised of the bishop’s family, the seminary teacher’s family, and me. A few weeks after our disagreement in seminary, the bishop’s family came in, announcing they had formed their own seminary class, with the bishop’s wife as teacher. There was no announcement, no warning; they simply gathered their scriptures at the end of class and said good-bye.
          Later that night, I went to the seminary teacher’s house to talk. She was visibly upset; she started crying while I was there, asking me what she had done wrong. There was a very painful feeling in my chest as I comforted her; I felt torn between privacy and honesty. She had been our teacher for two years, prodding us to complete scripture mastery and showing sympathy when we fell asleep in class.
          I wanted – so much – to confess to her of my disbelief, to let her know the fault was not hers, but I still could not utter the taboo words, especially not in light of Beth’s reaction to my unorthodox views. I was still confused, still uncertain; I knew I didn’t believe in God but I still hadn’t figured out that my disbelief didn’t make me a bad person. Part of me still believed that my apostasy was due to a defect in character. I had moved on from the belief but the guilt and shame still lingered. And so I couldn’t bring myself to voice the words “I do not believe”, not even to let a woman I cared about know that the blame was not hers. I still regret my cowardice; she was a good woman who did not deserve to get caught in the cross-fire.
          And so our seminary class was fragmented; I spent the next year attending seminary class in the next town, until the stake president intervened, sending me back to the seminary class taught by the bishop’s wife.

*Name has been changed

Monday, January 7, 2013

3 Idiots: Memorization Or Understanding?



          A couple weeks, I watched a Bollywood movie called 3 Idiots.  The plot centered on the adventures of three friends who are attending a top-ranked engineering college in India.  The 3 idiots in this movie are a group of friends named Rancho, Farhan, and Raju.  Rancho is a brilliant student who graduates at the top of his class while his two friends are consistently last in everything.  Farhan was pushed into studying engineering by his parents, in spite of his talent at photography, while Raju’s studies are affected by his fear of poverty and failure.  Rancho’s mantra is that people should follow excellence, not success, as success will follow excellence.
          3 Idiots features an argument between two types of people – people who learn and people who memorize.  The protagonist is a student named Rancho, who is studying because he loves engineering and wants to understand how machines work.  The antagonist is a student named Chatur, who believes in mindless memorization, in order to achieve the social and economic status he craves.  Chatur, in a fit of jealous rage, challenges Rancho to a bet: after ten years, who will end up more successful? 
          Silly antics and over-the-top drama aside, this movie raises an important point: what defines learning?  Memorization or understanding?  The movie came out on the side of understanding, which is a conclusion I agree with personally.  However, as I have seen, real-life is not always that way.  I have known many people over the years – including some very highly ranked researchers – who believe that memorization is the key to becoming a successful student.  In the short-term, memorization is very useful.  For some areas – learning the muscles of the body in anatomy class or the myriad of reactions in organic chemistry – memorization is necessary.  In other areas – such as research – the habit of memorization proves to be a crutch that inhibits a student from asking questions and challenging assumptions. 
          3 Idiots was a fun movie that also raised a few questions.  The engineering college featured in the movie was modeled closely after my husband’s alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology; he informs me that the college-life details featured in the movie is a very close match to what he experienced.

This movie, with English subtitles, is available on Youtube.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Looking Ahead (And Writer's Block)

          There comes a time in every person’s exit out of Mormonism where the past begins to lose its painful edge and the future begins to fill up with promise. For some, this journey takes longer than others. Sooner or later, we all reach this point. For a post-Mormon, Mormonism will always be a part of the past. For most of us, Mormon culture also infuses the present in the form of friends and family. There is no middle ground within Mormonism, a fact that has caused many of us to struggle along the way.
          I chose to name this blog “A Post-Mormon Life” because, for me, as well as many others, the life I have gone on to live has exceeded my wildest expectations. I don’t have to lead a life that feels hollow; I am free to shape the future to fit the person I am. I don’t have to fake happiness or belief anymore. I don’t need to struggle to believe something that always felt hollow to me. I am free to explore who I am and to arrive at my own conclusions. I am also free to accept my own limitations and to accept myself for who I am, even if the person that I am is not considered worthy by Mormon standards. This freedom, bewildering at first, has given me the rare opportunity to dig deep and search for understanding, a freedom for which I am forever grateful.
          This past year, much of my writing has focused on my Mormon past and the struggles I faced growing up. These stories are not yet finished; there will always be time for reflecting on the past. But as I look to the year ahead, I find myself wondering about the direction of this blog. 
          The truth is, I've been a little stuck for the past couple months; I have been starting pieces, only to have them either stretch into unwieldy essays or to discard them as inappropriate.  As a writer and as a post-Mormon, I think the time has come for my little blog to expand into new territories.
          I have not yet decided on what direction I want this blog to take – whether to expand by including the voices of other post-Mormons or by focusing more on the life I live now. I have been mulling over this issue for a while now. What I do know is that the time has come to dig a little deeper.