Sunday, May 31, 2009

2nd Week: The Stk Pres. and Mental Health!

Yesterday, I saw a good friend who is also inactive. After a lengthy talk we agreed to support each other at church the next day as it would be her first time visiting church in a long time as well. It was Branch Conference and much of the Stake Leadership was present. There was a joint RS/Priesthood section, after Sunday School, when the Stake President asked us all to put our chairs in a circle. I was surprised and quite happy to see something sort of 'unorthodox' to occur. A circle feels more unifying. Then the President asked everyone what challenges they face as a branch and/or individuals; what tries our faith. Nobody said anything for a bit and he allowed the silence. Then someone said, "As young women's president I think we need more young men". Others stated traveling as a barrier (many travel 45 and 60 minutes to church). Many feel that b/c the branch is so small they are spreading themselves thin fulfilling sometimes two and three callings. The president asked questions and gave lots of time to discuss these issues.

Then my friend said that she isn't sure if she should say this but what tries her faith is mental illness. I was so proud that she said something that is amazingly brave, especially after she has been away from church for awhile. The Stake President was sensitive, kind, and knowledgeable about the issue. He asked if people who have a mental illness should repent. He didn't get a response so he asked it again. One person said no. He confirmed that. He related having a mental illness to losing a limb. What do you do when you lose a limb, or have diabetes, or muscular dystrophy? Mental illness, while we cannot see it as a physical disbility, is like losing a limb. We manage the best way we can. Mental illness is not a result of not following commandments. He said repenting, studying the scriptures and going to church does not take mental illness away just like it doesn't take diabetes or muscular dystrophy away. Then he spent the next fifteen minutes on the topic and I felt shocked and emotional at the amount of attention to the issue, as well as how he fascilitated an open discussion. I can't believe how open he was. He and I had a good conversation afterwards, as well. I didn't share much about myself during our visit but I got an even greater sense of his openness. And all the Stake Presidency remembered my name! Another shock.

After church the branch had potluck and one of the members got me a stake directory, a book on mormon art, and the book on teachings of the prophets for RS. I didn't want to offend so I didn't say anything and I left the books there. It's enough that I am showing up but I can't start getting bogged down with 'stuff' at this point. I just want to quietly take it all in.

My husband is happy that I came home from church feeling happy. I really appreciate that the Stake President's approach of unifying each other, asking questions, and sharing. I felt that he was speaking to us as people who the church belongs as 'little' people and leaders alike. The content of these discussions could have been discussed in a meeting behind closed doors but he included everyone as having a sense of ownership who feel invested in this church. Even though I haven't been to church in awhile I feel validated being that this leader is interested in what we have to say regarding the running of the church at a local level. I'm glad for that today.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Exercising Ambiguity Is Exercising Faith

Note: I am learning how to create a blog and I do not yet know how to connect a link to my post. When I refer to something I read I can only give the location of where to find the particular blog that I am referring to.

As I am exploring the creation of my blog I keep reading other blogs and I am intrigued. Today I want to talk about what I've gleaned from one post, in particular, and how I can use the gift of ambiguity as I embark on my journey to return to church and to embrace reconciliation along the way. It is a new journey for me that draws parallels similar to my baptism.

When I was 19 years old my grandpa stood in the baptismal font and guided me as I entered the waters of baptism. On one hand I knew that it was a completely personal and spiritual act and on the other it was meaningful to have my grandpa be the one to hold me as he baptized me. It was a special moment for us. On my baptismal program the verse that was shared was from 2 Nephi 31: 20. It reads: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." My baptism was a time when I had broadened my horizons. When the musings of my heart were confirmed by what I had learned regarding the eternities from the LDS church's perspective. I knew that I was on a good path.

I believed back then that hope, love, feasting on the word of Christ and persistence were sources of positivity leading to a bright future. I had many wonderful times in the church and as I gained more knowledge and became more and more involved I soon began to struggle with doctrinal and cultural issues within mormonism. My struggles climaxed on my mission and with a lot of work I was able to find peace enough to continue steadfastly having hope, love, and effective scripture study to finish the work I believed I was called to do. However, those issues remained unresolved. As a returned missionary I continued to struggle and worked very hard at trying to ignore these issues by being "obedient"'. I went to church without fail for several years. I paid my tithe, went to the temple despite great dissenting views on that, and fulfilled my callings however painful they sometimes were. But the issues festered and, eventually, I turned away from the religion altogether.

Now, after 5 years of being away and as I view so many wonderful blogs I am building courage to believe that an ambiguous me, with a husband who is not a mormon, and as a woman who has no desire to have children, might be able to find a place in this church.

In my first post, I talk about ambiguity as being a gift that I can use on the road to reconciliation. Ambiguity may seem unappealing to some. To quote a song by Enya, "'s either this or that way, it's one way or the other...". Being ambiguous implies indecisiveness and a waffling attitude. If we are any of those things, it looks like we are of little or no faith. However, I see ambiguity as the ability to see things from many different perspectives, to exercise the brain in thought and the heart in compassion and empathy. The blog I mentioned earlier is called Things of My Soul by PapaD, which you can find on Mormon Blogosphere. Please check that out! The author expressed compassion and sympathy for Laman and Lemuel as they struggled to be obedient in the midst of adjusting themselves to the shock of their father becoming a prophet overnight and whisking them off into the wilderness. Often in the church I've heard Laman and Lemuel being criticized and even joked about for their "stiffneckedness". I agree with PapaD who suggests the great conflict that these brothers must have had while they worked hard to be obedient despite their 'dissenting' views. When compared to the ever faithful and obedient Nephi, Laman and Lemuel are seen on the opposite end of the continuum as being rebellious and having little faith. I would like to suggest, as I believe I did on PapaD's blog, that perhaps most of us who live in the world of ambiguity can relate much easier to Laman and Lemuel than to Nephi. We can appreciate the faithfulness of Nephi as it is presented in scripture, but we can learn a lot from Laman and Lemuel as heroes who simply strived for what they could despite their internal and behavioral conflicts.

My point is that with Laman and Lemuel's example we can see how living in ambiguity can be hugely difficult. We know it in our own lives. But what if ambiguity is actually a beautiful and intriguing place to be? What if it allows us to bump up against angering issues and frustrations in the church, accept our own reactions/responses to those issues (as well as others') through exploration via blogging, for instance, thereby building compassion, empathy, and understanding? Could it be done or am I dreaming?

In The Faithful Dissident's blog (on my blog or can be found on Mormon Blogosphere) I read that people can effect change better when they're inside the church as opposed to outside of the church. I believe that healthy ambiguity could be an effective way of remaining in the church, building a life of reconciliation and then effecting change, however subtly.

Approaching the road of reconciliation is similar to having entered the waters of baptism even though one is an ordinance and the other is not. They are both intentional. During baptism I exercised faith in simple ways. During this phase of reconciliation I plan to exercise faith using ambiguity in an attempt to make things a little simpler for me, as oxymoronic as that may sound. Thanks to the writings and examples of people who struggle in that place of ambiguity yet hold to their faith pressing on with hope, love for God and people, studying the word (in whatever form that works for you including these discussions), and staying the course. Thank you for that. You give me faith.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Two days ago I attended the LDS church for the first time in 5 years.I will share my experience later in this post.

For now I want to start by explaining why I am choosing to start a blog. I created this blog at the suggestion of a fellow-blogger who I stumbled upon about a month ago and who I have had some wonderful exchanges with since. She, and blogs that she has introduced me to, have taught me that there is room in this church for ambiguity. I've come to admire the people whose voices I've heard and whose words I've read on those blogs who share their ambiguity and ways of reconciliation in the church and, therefore, continue to be active Latter-Day Saints. As I listened and read, I began to develop a little bit of courage to believe that maybe there is a place in the church for me.

I believe that I am approaching a new chapter in my life that involves the church once again. My thought is that with the support of the blogging community I will have an outlet to deal with the challenges of Mormonism in a way that does not cast such a huge and overwhelming shadow (as I've experienced in the past) over the good that is in the church. I intend to use this venue as an opportunity for me to author my way to reconciliation within the church and with its' members. I believe that God loves me for simply being me. I believe that as a devine creation, I am accepted and worthy in the spiritual and religious sense. My reconciliation is not with God. It is with a church that I once called home and diligently served as a missionary in. I hope to call it home again somday.

As I share my journey here I hope that the blogging community embraces me and feels free to respectfully, courageously, and sincerely share your thoughts, ideas, and hopes for the church and for yourself. I hope that this sharing clarifies issues that you deal with and encourages you as we relate to one another and to our struggles within the church. My hope is that this is a space where we can sometimes live, always love, and often laugh as we become virtual friends learning to live in the world of reconciliation, the ultimate act of love.

Here is my story about attending a church meeting two days ago as an inactive member. I'm relaying it as closely as to how I wrote it to a fellow-blogger, who I mentioned above, and who has been a great support:

"I went to the LDS church this morning. People were very friendly (and it seemed that they were sincerely so). They smiled and hugged and said it's been so long... After sacrament they practiced a song for a Branch Conference meeting next week and asked me if I'd like to join them. I declined, thinking that that might be jumping the gun. My questions and comments seemed to be accepted. I was invited to RS and I went. RS invited me to make pies with them before Father's Day. I wasn't sure and they asked me what kind of pie my husband and I would like for Father's Day in case I was going to be there that Sunday. It sounds pushy in writing, perhaps, but it felt friendly and inclusive.

It was nice to see everybody again. They are very sweet people, even the ones I need to reconcile with in my mind--and maybe in person too. It's surprising that they seem to want me back. I think I was more of a burden to them than anything back then. I had accepted a calling in RS to teach and within weeks I gave it back b/c I couldn't teach what I struggled so much with. So I did nothing. Plus I was a little bit temperamental. Maybe I hid it well. :)

Did I hear anything frustrating? Of course! LOL.

One talk this morning was given by a guy that I've discovered I need to take with a grain of salt. Ie/ One thing he said was that people who don't have the gospel or a belief in Jesus CHOOSE to use their free agency to perpetuate their unhappiness. Ouch. That makes me want to come to the rescue of the rest of the world when I hear statements like that. Who is anybody to judge someone's unhappiness and if they LIKE being there? What about issues like FASD, alcohol/drug addictions, and mental health, or simply being stuck in a rut? Most people in this position don't choose to stay in this place of misery. For some it's all they know and surviving is all they feel that they can aspire to at this point. I was able to reconcile his comment by thinking to myself that it was simply this guy's opinion and nothing more. Hmmm (Sigh of relief. I didn't feel like bolting!).

Another frustrating comment was a SS class on D&C 76, the 3 degrees of glory. "People who belong in the Terrestrial Kingdom are like those who live in the penitentiary!" What?? Anyway, the SS teacher stated that it will still be heaven for them in the Terrestrial Kingdom. Someone asked how it could be heaven when liers, fornicators, whoremongers, etc. would all living together in that kingdom. I made a comment that people's behaviours are often b/c of environmental factors that cause things like FASD, addictions, and some aspects of mental health, which often lead to behaviours like lying, stealing, pedophilia, etc. In the Terrestrial Kingdom, as it's taught, Satan would not have dominion and these "sins" would not be in existence, therefore the environment would be condusive to living a 'good' life even for those people who have, what I call, growing edges or places in which to grow. Everyone has a soul and when given the right environment and the right supports a person can live to their true capacity. Someone beside me said, "Live up to their capacity to lie and be whoremongers?" I said, "Lying and the like are behaviors that come out of living life and surviving in an environment that a person comes from or currently lives in that does not feed their spirit or soul. In an environment like the Terrestrial Kingdom it seems to me that there is potential for people to recognize the spirit within her or himself and then live to their true capacity as a child of God." I'm glad that I said what I said and got to ask a few questions as well. I felt a little emotionally charged but I was able to feel free to express my views and felt confident that my comments followed Jesus's teachings.

During sacrament the speaker's talk on obedience made me cringe b/c I have a love/hate relationship with authority. But I searched the scriptures for a similar word, which was self-discipline and I replaced obedience with self-discipline in my mind. The talk became easier to listen to. Another thing that made it easier was thinking about all the bloggers out there; knowing that there are hundreds of people attending church this day and at this time who probably heard something that they don't like or are struggling with. That was really helpful to me. It reminds me of when I was a missionary and there was peace in knowing that in temples, church gatherings, and homes all over the world there were people thinking about and praying for our health, safety, and well being. There is a lot of confidence that comes from knowing that as a missionary. I felt the same feeling of confidence when I went to church this morning knowing that all of you, (the bloggers) were attending too. So confident, in fact, that I chose to be comfortable and wear pants! Before I left I looked up clothing in the LDS scriptures to see if there is any doctrinal base on "Sunday best". The only thing I found was in Deut. 22:5 where it talks about women not wearing men's clothes and men not wearing women's clothes. Apparently, this statement is not literal and is more about not changing sex roles of men and of women (that does go against feminism, too, but I digress). It is about recognizing that each gender is designed by God as unique. So I felt confident and authored my own way to church this morning wearing pants. I really tried to keep reconciliation to God and to church members as my motivation for being there and I think it worked out for today. I'm not commiting myself to anything and no one is making me. I had a good visit with people as I left and they simply said they hope to see me again soon and asked me to keep in touch.

My husband was funny when I came home. He followed me when I got in and looked like he was expecting me to talk about the crappy day I had. I saw him relax, glad that I had a good day. I know that he would rather me not go to church b/c of his own views but as long as I'm happy he accepts it. He has in the past."

I don't really expect anyone to give me feedback on my experience. In fact, I don't even know who would know to find me. But if anyone wants to share, I love to read!