Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking Off the Mask

Years ago I read a section in C.S. Lewis’ small book “Beyond Personality” that tells the story about “someone who had to wear a mask; a mask which made him look much nicer than he really was. He had to wear it for years. And when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful. What had begun as a disguise had become a reality.” The author’s point was that the Christian should dress up as Christ—behave as if they really possessed the attributes of the Savior. Eventually these things would actually become part of their personality.

That young, idealistic girl who read the story immediately put on the mask. I’ve worn the mask for years, trying to become the perfect Mormon girl.

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. The face beneath has not grown to fit. The mask was comfortable for a while; especially when I was a SAHM of eight, fulfilling callings in the Church and pouring all of my energy into keeping the family going. But as far as helping me become more like Christ, the mask has been a miserable failure. Pretending to be kind and sweet to all I meet has not made me more kind. Pretending to be obedient, humble and submissive has made me a hypocrite.

Now the mask is popping off with a vengeance. (Picture Jim Carrey in reverse: me trying to hold the mask on my face, the mask throwing me every which way trying to pull itself off.) I know the mask’s days are numbered. But I’m afraid to show my true face. I haven’t seen it for so long. Is that true face an ugly, warted monstrosity? Is it a failure to live up to the commitments I made and become a truly Christlike person? Please don’t discount this possibility. This is the point of view of all who are dear to me and I halfway believe it. But somewhere deep down I wonder if my true self might be nice to look at. It might be nice to live with. It isn’t what I was aiming for, but it might be all I have.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Put on Black

I put on black,
My head I bow.
You like me now.
You like me now.

I put away my chartreuse scarf,
And colored things I used to wear.
My second piercings now are bare,
I gel down my unruly hair.

I do not have a lot to say.
My makeup now is quite subdued.
I seem to cook a lot of food,
I don’t go swimming in the nude.

I nod and murmur when I should,
I shut my mouth, my thoughts I still,
My questions and my quirks I kill--
My secret longings none can fill.

The ward is suddenly so kind.
I’m not as different now, you see!
A call has been extended me
To teach Relief Society.

Sedately I walk down the aisle,
The Bishop’s wife sits by my side,
She nods at me; you smile with pride,
I feel a tearing deep inside.

I clean the toilets and the hall,
Read stories to my sweet sunbeams.
We never argue now, it seems.
I wonder where I put my dreams.

Your temple marriage now is safe,
You hold my hand that wears the ring.
I never dance, I never sing,
You would not notice such a thing.

I’m all in black,
I’ve kept my vow,
You like me now,
You like me now.

But this is what
You do not see:
I don’t like me,
I don’t like me.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What Kind of "Fold" is This?

(Posted at Exponent 2 blog--go there to see some interesting comments!)

The other day I had a rude comment on my blog by an anonymous poster. This poster berated me for my opinions and urged me to “come back to the fold.” I continue to be surprised that the perspectives I present on my blog and in my comments on other blogs are perceived to be so apostate. I realize that my viewpoint is probably not mainstream, but I don’t know why bloggers reading my posts immediately assume that I am not a member in good standing.

As far as I can ascertain, the following opinions of mine are those which have drawn the most acrimony:
1. I don’t believe Church leaders are infallible.
This is something I taught to people on my mission. I don’t believe I’m doctrinally incorrect here. I see leaders as people much like myself who are doing the best they can and will occasionally make mistakes. When mistakes are made, I see no problem discussing them in a respectful manner, without covering them up or pretending they don’t exist.
2. Faithful endowed women hold some type of “priestesshood” which we do not understand completely at this time. Latter-day revelation goes so far as to tell us that we have a Heavenly Mother, but goes no farther. Perhaps we will not be able to increase our understanding very much by discussing the matter, but we can harm no one by our speculations, hopes, dreams, poetry, or attempts to move toward a theological understanding of the feminine.
3. The Church’s official stand in regards to politics is strict neutrality. We are reminded of this over the pulpit on each and every election day. Members are free to hold any political position that they deem righteous and in accord with their personal integrity. As members of the Church, we should be able to maintain any political position, and though others certainly may disagree heatedly, they should not call into question our Church standing due to our political views.
4. Certain practices in the Church are “policy” related rather than doctrinal. An example of this might be that we don’t allow guitars in the chapel. Withholding the priesthood from blacks is a policy which is no longer practiced today. Who we give welfare help to or who should be excommunicated are both policy related issues and may vary in different wards throughout the Church. It is usually a mistake to attempt to attach doctrine to those things which are policy related.

After receiving criticism from the anonymous poster, I responded by outlining my level of activity in the Church. But I felt angry that I needed to justify myself on my own blog. What kind of “fold” ostracizes good members who may be pied, spotted, straked or just a little different? How do people who actually are less active ever gain the courage to come back to a “fold” which is so intolerant of diversity, or for that matter, sin?

I address this to you who consider themselves part of “the fold.” Do you think these opinions place me outside of the pale of true Mormonism? Are my opinions simply diverse, or are they dangerous and subversive? You are welcome to browse my blog

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Counterpoint--A Place At the Table

The most difficult and poignant session at the Counterpoint Conference dealt with the question: “Is there a place for our gay brothers and sisters in the eternal family?” Though it wasn’t mentioned at the conference, Carol Lynn Pearson’s recent book “No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones” was on my mind. I had just read the press release announcing the book with this quote by Rabbi Harold Kushner:

“Thank you, Carol Lynn Pearson, for reminding us that the task of any religion is to teach us whom we’re required to love, not whom we’re entitled to hate.”

I wish all of you could have met these eminently lovable children of God who addressed us at the conference.

Tina Hatch intelligently and emotionally described her attempt to integrate Mind/Body/Spirit. She explained that truth production in Western thought is centered on white, male, middle-class, institutional point of view. Differences are misunderstood and feared. She has found through much struggle and spiritual confirmation that happiness is possible outside of the traditional hetero experience. Said Tina, “I am whole the way I am. God created me and told me I am good.”

Hugo Olaiz spoke about the position of the LDS Church on homosexuality. He claimed that the position they have taken in the Proclamation is very recent. He said that it is not based on the teachings of Joseph Smith, but rather a tactical effort to combat homosexuality. Hugo nonetheless believes that leaders are more willing to admit there are genetic factors. He says there is no need to rewrite our theology, but calls for the following actions:
1. Call them what they are.
2. Stop endorsing support groups promoting changing orientation
3. Stop condemning same-sex families.

Kathryn Steffensen, the mother of a gay man, found little support when her son came out as gay. “When he came out of the closet, we went into the closet.” Kathryn says that there need to be more positive gay role models. She founded Family Fellowship to meet a need for support. She decided in her journey never to overtly challenge the institutional Church—they have the power to keep people out of the Church. Instead she vows: “we’re going to make the world better for you.”

LeGrand Olsen bore a powerful testimony of his spiritual convictions. He discovered he was gay in spite of his strong witness of the Church. “There is no peaceful dealing with this,” he lamented.

Another Speaker gave a personal account of her experiences as a lesbian in the Church. She and her partner have been excluded from many family events. They have made a place at their table for all who desire friendship. She sees no similar inclusion for gays in the Mormon Church.

I am glad to see a few slow changes in policy toward gay members of the Church. No longer do leaders excommunicate members who come out as gay simply for their orientation. Some few gay members hold callings in their wards. I realize that change has been very slow. I wonder if Carol Lynn Pearson’s new book will be as widely read as Goodbye I Love You, and if it will stimulate the changes that she hopes it will.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Counterpoint and Excommunication

I never finished blogging about the Counterpoint Conference—life got in the way—but I intend to finish. It just won’t be as fresh news as it could have been. One portion of the Conference that stirred me was the keynote speaker, Gay Blanchard. Gay was awarded the “Eve Award,” a recognition by the organizers of the Mormon Women’s Forum which honors those who have made contributions to enrich the lives of Mormon women that may not be noticed by the community as a whole.

Gay, a sweet white haired woman in her eighties, stay-at-home mom, wife, musician and playwright, began at midlife to diverge doctrinally with her local leaders on the subject of the Atonement. As I’ve been following along with some of the discussions lately occurring on Atonement Theory, I realize that the Mormon Church does not teach a comprehensive Atonement Theory. In fact, there has been considerable latitude in the doctrine that LDS leaders have espoused along these lines. Apparently, Gay began to reject a salvation by works paradigm.

From some of her writings available on the internet, I obtained this quote by Gay: “the whole purpose of the Law of Obedience is to convince us that we can't keep all the contradictory rules required of us by religious leaders over the centuries. Trying to do so is truly an education. We grow in our understanding of ourselves and of others; we assume responsibilities; we learn about the gospel. If we are awake, we learn painfully our many limitations. We work and work and work at trying to perfect ourselves one thing at a time, at trying to make ourselves worthy, at trying to work out our salvation. But we do not progress into higher law.” Gay says that for most Mormons “their journey stops here: working at trying to be obedient to the whole letter of the law.” Once we discover that we are unable to keep all of the commandments, we become open to experience a mighty change of heart and begin to rely on the grace of Christ to save us. This sounds not so different than some recent LDS authors, notably Steven Robinson. However, several decades ago, these thoughts were not so acceptable.

Because of Gay’s teachings on this subject, she was excommunicated from the Church. The decision was later appealed and changed to a disfellowshipping. However, much damage has been done to Gay and her family through this action. Of a large family, only one of her children continues to be active in the Church.

Lavina Fielding Anderson and I discussed this briefly in the hallway after Gay’s speech. “It might be easy for me to remain active in the Church after an excommunication,” she said. “But it’s different for the children. I don’t think I could stand a Church that did that to my mother.”

I grew up in a church that did not excommunicate or disfellowship its members. I find it a difficult policy to accept. Why does our Church feel the need to cut off members who continue to desire to belong? Even if there is sin, or doctrinal misunderstanding, it seems to me that these things would be corrected more easily from within than from without. I would prefer to leave it as the Lord’s prerogative to cut the sinner off from his presence.

I would love to hear some of my readers’ thoughts on excommunication.