Monday, January 19, 2015

Kamikaze

I am inexplicably terrible at keeping up with blogs and journals at this point in my life. 

In kindergarten I drew elaborate scenes giving form to my deepest thoughts, namely a series of pastoral images involving myself and a boy in my class married to one another and holding hands in a blossoming meadow. Through middle school I kept an embarrassingly thorough blog account of each and every one of my days of early pubescence—so thorough that each class period I attended had its own generally lengthy paragraph dedicated to the going-ons there, plus any extracurricular life; to this day, I still have friends liken it to the Georgia Nicolson book series and Gossip Girl. Through high school I must have gone through at least six thick journals to organize my thoughts and relieve the pressures and pains and romanticized joys ("He touched my knee by accident today!") of giddy, angst-ridden teenagerhood. Post high school, as I entered college at BYU and for some substantial time after I left for health reasons, I got hooked on Tumblr and posted more Legend of Korra gifs and moony personal posts than the rational human should be able to imagine.

But here we are, about six months from my last blog entry on this site, only just now updating. It's not that I haven't had time: I have been miserably pregnant and subsequently unemployed to keep my and my baby’s health in check for quite a while now, so I should have had ample opportunity to write and express myself. But instead, I have watched literally every episode of every season of Twin Peaks and The X Files ever made and accompanying movies for both, in addition to Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and the episodes of Damages, Pretty Little Liars, Scandal and Supernatural I got behind on. I knit about a third of a scarf. I did the dishes maybe twice, which considering my morning sickness, trust me, was a feat. But the most I ever wrote during that time period were thoughts brief enough to post directly to Facebook. In a way I regret my absence, because I'm sure blogging or even keeping a small handwritten diary of my life would have proven extremely cathartic to the serious depression I encountered, and I would have had a more accurate account of what pregnancy is like for me should I choose to reflect on it again in the future—plus, I have way too much to say now (as you can probably tell already).

I almost want to break this entry up into different posts, but I feel that would damage its fluidity, and for the first time in ages I have the desire and the courage to express the carefully hidden sentiments that have been weighing on my heart for far too long. Of course, I have had my unmatchably loving, patient, wonderful husband Rob as an outlet, and I've been fairly active in various Facebook groups for intermittent support outside of his, but I feel very strongly that it's time for me to go forward with myself publicly. Part of me is honestly terrified—terrified of wild misunderstanding, of judgment, of hurt, of well-meaning but patronizing advice, of all sorts of things—but no longer can I be as disingenuous to the world as I have felt for so long now, and I want others like me to know they are not alone. At this point, perhaps the title of this entry is beginning to make sense: I feel as though I am on an emotional and spiritual kamikaze mission right now. Each keystroke could be a nosedive.

So in humility I implore you, especially my active and traditionally believing friends and loved ones in the LDS Church, to read on only if you are willing to with an open mind, an open heart and an open spirit—and I know most of you will, but I beg all the same. I implore those of you with anger, animosity or a sense of derision toward your spiritually different and oft downtrodden brothers and sisters in the Church and in Christ to take a deep breath and step outside yourselves a moment to walk alongside me through the somewhat abbreviated journey expressed here in this post (that continues on every moment of my real life). I do not ask you to agree with me. I ask you only to love and respect me and the many more like me; to avoid othering and inaccurate terms, for example "wolf in sheep's clothing," "apostate," "contentious” and the cruelly callous “silly;" to accept that my spirituality and devotion to the will of the Lord is as valid as yours. To be more concise, I ask you only to sustain me as a fellow child of God earnestly seeking to do the best I can in pursuing my eternal worth and destiny. I am not trying to lead anyone astray, to incite rebellion, to frame the Church as evil or anything to that effect. Please do not misinterpret any strong words I may use for fighting ones. What is expressed here comes from the profoundest depths of my soul after much experience, introspection, study, prayer and temple attendance. My intentions are only a greater expansion of honesty and understanding and a desperate plea for charity, that greatest spiritual gift of all and the pure love of Christ, at what has proven to be the most trying period of my life on earth so far. I feel this hour is my personal Gethsemane, and oh, how I seek comfort.

http://www.comentariojovem.com.br/2013/12/27/gosto-quando-sex-2712/

In full disclosure, I have been having a serious faith crisis for over a year now. It came completely unexpectedly.

While both my parents were converts to the Church, I was raised in it from birth, and we were sealed as a family for time and all eternity on April 5, 2002, in the Chicago Illinois Temple. While we occasionally slipped in and out of full activity for various reasons (though this was largely due to some serious health conditions) and sometimes shopped on Sunday(!), it was definitely a Mormon household. I was definitely Mormon—not one of those so-called “Molly Mormons,” but a Mormon all the same, and proud of it. Once I entered the Youth program, I thoughtfully served in the presidencies for Beehives, Miamaids and Laurels. I was called to BYC and had leadership positions in SYC. I was lucky enough to receive financial aid to go to EFY for two years, the Mecca for Mormon youth. I went to the Louisville Kentucky Temple with my fellow young church friends whenever our ward was able to book it and excitedly participated in baptisms for the dead. I never had the slightest inclination to take a hit from a bong or even partake in one can of beer at a party, unlike that naughty Mitt Romney. The only time I really ever swore was a very brief period in middle school, because it felt like the cool thing to do, but even then my potty-mouth was still pretty clean, and quite quickly my conscience got to me and I stopped. In high school, most of my friends lived their lives fairly far from LDS standards, but I usually held my own well enough if I was ever pushed (which was rare in the extreme), and I received respect from my peers because of it. My seminary attendance was spotty, again because of family health issues, but somehow I still managed to scrape by with a diploma and was accepted into BYU Provo, where I ended up going after high school graduation. Throughout my youth I sought to build up a strong testimony of my own that the Church was true, and you know, it held well enough for a long time. I was very happy with where I was.

As I started college in the hub of LDS culture, I was still generally very happy and I was looking forward to living in an environment where those around me largely kept the same standards I wanted to. Coming from Indiana, I was wary of the immensity of the cultural pressure, but I was able to live with it just fine. I drank my caffeinated Coke when I could get it, and the only reason I didn’t wear leggings as pants was because I thought they looked stupid as pants (a position since loudly recanted), otherwise I didn’t care. Meanwhile, through my newfound independence and time spent studying current events and scouring through various corners of the Internet, I came to better understand myself and began to nurture my pre-existing baby feminist ideals. No one had to convince me, and no one tricked me into it; it was a very natural progression. Over time, as I began to grasp the concepts of rape culture, benevolent sexism, etc., it all (meaning feminism) made a lot of sense to me as a daughter of God. Our bodies, spirits and destinies were autonomously ours, and the Plan of Salvation supported that. We were each our own person working to develop our divine natures by focusing on our individual worth. But when I saw this, I was shocked to discover many of my peers did not have the same view of these issues. I felt they used subjective cultural principles, like our current For the Strength of Youth’s definition of modesty and proper dress (it’s changed over time, too—young women used to be chastened not to wear hair curlers or pants in public and were warned against wearing strapless or backless dresses not just because they revealed too much skin, but because they were unflattering), or whether or not someone grew a beard when the semester ended, for example, to unfairly classify others’ perceived worthiness. I actually got into a fairly serious argument with a male friend in one of my singles wards after BYU-I had a fiasco with some overzealous testing center monitors not allowing students wearing skinny jeans to take tests: He thought the rule made sense because skinny jeans were “too revealing,” and I thought that was absolutely ridiculous—any properly fitted jeans can show off your body just as much as skinny jeans can, just maybe not at the ankles. But despite this discomfiture and growing divide between me and traditional Mormon culture, I was still okay; sometimes I found myself angry, but rarely at the actual institutional church and instead at what I began to view as a Pharisaical view of Christ’s gospel promoted by some of its members. I knew God viewed me as more than the length of my shorts (especially if they would have covered my then non-existent garments anyway) or anything similarly arbitrary: He viewed me as His eternal and eternally important daughter, and as a sum of all of my values, intentions, words and deeds toward my fellow celestial siblings. When people told me that they didn’t need feminist activism because God saw us all as equals, I was able to confidently meet them with the reply that of course I didn’t need feminism because of God, as it’s stated in scripture that the worth of every soul is great in His sight and He is no respecter of persons regardless of their identity, but that I needed it because of the imperfect world around me made up of mortals who do not value everyone as equals deserving of equal love, respect and opportunity. If I’d thought more about Heavenly Mother back then, I probably would have included Her in those all-encompassing testaments of love and care as well.

That was pretty much where I stayed for about three years. I rolled my eyes at the critics, said ’sup to the haters, and continued to learn more about feminism and social justice as a whole. I discovered the importance of intersectionality and worked to support matters my privilege as a cisgender, straight, white Christian American with some education and a roof over her head had previously been blind to. It filled me with such compassion for all those around me—all those infinitely differing but equally infinitely important spirits—compassion I feel can only come from positive spiritual confirmation and the blessing of Christ. I felt such a resounding agreement with previous spiritual impressions that the love I was seeking to grow was the true way to be a disciple. Maybe I was different from a lot of Mormons, now especially the Molly Mormons, but I was still Mormon and proud of it.


But this is where the story gets especially hard to tell: My faith crisis began in the temple on April 27, 2013. Please be aware that the next few paragraphs will speak quite frankly about what happens in the temple outside the baptismal font, but I will not reveal anything I have covenanted not to reveal.

In large part, the first time I officially went through the temple on the date previously noted, which was when I received my endowment in preparation to be sealed to my then-fianc√©-now-husband, was a wonderful experience. The unexpected female participation in various sacred Priesthood ordinances was shockingly empowering to me. Previously to this, I didn’t have any qualms about an all-male Priesthood authority and had the opinion that those who did were well-meaning but off-base and had to be misunderstanding something, but it was still a remarkably uplifting thing. After he took me through the veil, Rob and I actually ended up staying in the celestial room for a full two hours, basking in what I still believe to this day to be the Spirit; somehow, we had no inkling we had stayed that long, and my mother and his grandmother, who were my temple escorts, had already left and been dressed back in their regular clothes for about an hour and a half by the time we got out. But despite all the joy, a couple things nagged at me: I had covenanted to be obedient unto my future husband so long as he was righteous, but he made no such reciprocal deal to be obedient unto me, and while I would be made a priestess only unto him, he would be made a priest unto God and not me. All the same, I shook it off, assuming it was something I just must have misunderstood and that it would be resolved soon. When we got sealed in the Nauvoo Illinois Temple a few days later on May 1, 2013, the experience repeated itself, but again I assumed I must have misunderstood, and I was too swept up in the joys of being newly married to worry about it too much at that time.


Over the next six months or so, maybe a bit longer, maybe a bit shorter, I don’t remember, I attended the temple frequently with Rob and performed numerous endowments and a few sealings for the dead. I spent much of the time reflecting on my previous concerns regarding my husband’s purported stewardship over me, convinced there must have been something I was missing. There was no way that it was an eternal principle that he would be my intercessor to the Lord while I had no such power—it just didn’t make any sense. Regardless of how righteous Rob’s will was (and trust me, it is), the fact was that my will was still subjected to his according to what that covenant seemed to say. I also noticed that in the temple video recounting Creation Eve spoke very little at all before partaking of the fruit, and after she was completely silent; all other verbal communication was between male characters, though I do commend one of the most recent temple videos for allowing her to communicate through emotional expression and blocking. The rest of the endowment and sealing ceremony didn’t (and still doesn’t) concern me at all, and I felt an abiding truth in the covenants made. The rest of the temple video didn’t (and again, still doesn’t) bother me because I felt a strong kinship and resonance with Eve and her brave decision to partake of the fruit in order to fulfill God’s other commandment to go forth and multiply. But my questions still lingered, and I couldn’t get them out of my head.

In fact, the more I studied, inside and outside the temple but always through sources I considered legitimate by the Church’s mete, and the more I sought to find a logical and loving explanation, the deeper my questions grew. So much of LDS doctrine—not even culture, but doctrine—supported (and continues to support) a strong patriarchal order and leadership hierarchy with strictly gendered roles and traits for all. Men are born to lead over all, born to make decisions, born to have a special opportunity to bless others with Priesthood authority, but they are generally more prone to lust and other sin than their female counterparts. Meanwhile, women are pedestalized, told how important and righteous they are, how great of a blessing it is that they were created with the ability to bring new spirits into the world, how wonderful they simply all are at raising a family, how great they can be as Relief Society presidents and visiting teachers, but the buck stops there as far as influence goes. But this rang (and, yet again, continues to ring) false to me. As men and women were created to be equals, all this talk about how men and women were all fundamentally spiritually different didn’t make sense, and then the idea that if women were somehow more moral but men should still be the heads of home and like bodies made even less sense. It was completely illogical to me that certain spiritual gifts and weaknesses were inherent to only specific genders. After all, aren’t we all supposed to model ourselves after the perfect example of Christ? So shouldn’t we all have the capacity to be equally loving, equally caring, equally in charge of our self control, equally authoritative in matters of righteousness and leadership? The cognitive dissonance was growing inside of me. I didn’t like it. I had grown up all my life sincerely believing in the equality of men and women within the Church, but suddenly even The Family: A Proclamation to the World proved otherwise; the idea that men and women had very separate but equally important roles, while nice in theory, conjured up the memory of what “separate but equal” has really meant throughout history. Suddenly, the God of the LDS Church wasn’t the feminist I thought He was. This wasn’t the atheistic influence of the evil world beckoning me to come to its side, flirting like Korihor and the deceptive lawyers of the Book of Mormon. This was a contradiction in what I knew to be my destiny, my divine inheritance. I am self-aware and spiritually attuned enough to tell the difference, despite my doubts and fears.

Nevertheless, onward I plodded in my journey. I continued to attend the temple. I needed to find comfort there. But then, maybe I was asking the wrong question for comfort: “Is this really what my covenants mean?” One endowment session, either at the end of 2013 or in early 2014, my answer to that question finally came, but with it there was no peace: “Yes, you are correct in your interpretation of what they mean,” was the overwhelming impression I received. I was horrified. I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed. I began to panic. I finished the session and continued on to the celestial room as normal, but this time the tears I cried there were not of joy or peace as I had wept before, but tears of absolute despair. How could this be? Wasn’t the temple supposed to be a place of hope, of happiness, of beautiful answers to eternal questions? Why was it instead a place where I received more pain than had ever been inflicted on me, in body or in spirit?

While I am still temple-worthy and an active recommend holder, I have barely been back to the temple since. The endowment ceremony is too triggering for me, especially with my anxiety and panic disorders playing into the frustration, and I only ever leave spiritually spent. Initiatories and even sealings I can handle, but the ache is still there. Plus, on a far less serious note, my pregnancy has made it difficult for me to sit in one spot too long and I have far outgrown my dress and would rather not rent one (which is another issue for me entirely—I understand there are cleaning fees that someone needs to pay, but shouldn’t tithing or something handle that? No matter how minimal the rental fee or even if financial aid is offered, it puts a literal price on temple attendance and has potential to keep worthy and faithful members from serving there, and that does not sit well with me at all). However, I continue to hope that one day the temple language will change, as it has numerous times in the past. I don’t believe that God would let it remain, and I can’t believe my current covenants will apply as-is throughout the eternities.

Within six months of what I can only describe as the spiritual trauma I discussed above, the sky darkened even more. As I was faced with doubt, fear and confusion, Sister Kate Kelly’s excommunication process for starting Ordain Women, a movement seeking action for LDS women to be ordained with Priesthood authority—or at least for the question to be seriously and respectfully considered by the Brethren—began. Now, at one point, I was someone who considered Sister Kelly and those like her a rabble-rouser, someone who was leaning unto their own understanding and perverting a spiritual responsibility God imparted upon men. My dad’s ex-wife was one such woman, and so I grew up with the impression that all women seeking after the Priesthood were at best foolishly proud and at worst apostates. But it was only a few months into the deepening of my faith crisis that I found myself beginning to sympathize with Sister Kelly, though I wavered on how much I agreed with her approach and end goal. I definitely saw gender inequality in the Church, ranging from doctrine to ordinance to organization, and I agreed something had to give; I just wasn’t sure if being so outspoken for Priesthood was the way to go for that. However, now this question was in my mind, begging to be answered almost as fervently as my temple questions were: Should women be ordained to the Priesthood or a companion Priestesshood? After much studying, both of some Church materials and also of some essays and books by various Mormon or Mormon-specializing scholars, and after much prayer…I was very surprised to find out that yes, I believed that Priesthood ordination and authority was part of my divine right as a daughter of Heavenly Parents, a god and a goddess. How else would I progress to eventually become like Them, if not without the authority to act with God’s power myself? And then one fateful night, I mustered up all the bravery I could and clicked “like” on the Ordain Women Facebook page. It was an adrenaline rush of sorts, and as it was outside the status quo and accepted activities of LDS culture it was a little scary, but it felt so right then and has felt so right since. I still haven’t created a profile on the website, because as you can see I am sometimes very terrible at being concise, but it’s on my list. Unfortunately, though, there is now some more fear attached to that than there should be. On June 22, 2014, Sister Kelly was tried in absentia by her home stake and excommunicated from the LDS Church under charges of apostasy for her actions in Ordain Women. This woman sought earnestly for answers to questions regarding her eternal role, and because of that she was forced out of the community she loved and is still fighting to return to. (As an informed supporter of Ordain Women, please take my word that any other representation of Sister Kelly’s actions as power-hungry or anything similar is simply false and reactionary to the idea that such a supposedly eternal doctrine as Priesthood could ever be changed—which is funny, because Priesthood doctrine has changed significantly over time, most recently in 1978 as male Church members of African descent were finally granted it and the authority to serve in God’s name). This was petrifying to me. I believed women should be ordained to the Priesthood, so was I next? And wasn’t my opposition to certain temple covenants almost worse? Would I be forced from the spiritual home I grew up in for my differences with the status quo? Where did I fit in this church anymore?

I tried to steady myself as much as I could. I became involved in various online Mormon feminist groups, where I found a lot of support from an unexpected number of women (and men) hurting in the exact same way. Essays such as Feminist Mormon Housewives’ The Mormon Priestess struck strong chords with me. My appreciation for President Uchtdorf deepened even more as I read and reread his talks What Is Truth? and Acting on the Truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and felt comfort in my personal search for truth and a reignited faith. More recently, I stumbled upon Elder Tad R. Callister’s speech at BYU Our Identity and Our Destiny, and I was floored with the support of my divine femininity in it. But I still hurt. These voices I heard and read and people I interacted with online have never really crossed into my real life. In Relief Society as I heard various women make disparaging and uneducated comments about people who left the Church following Sister Kelly’s excommunication and the Ordain Women movement as a whole; in a meeting with my bishop where he offhandedly referred to her essentially as silly, which if you recall is one of those words I do not like to describe legitimate concerns; in a cubicle at work where several people were loudly discussing how ridiculous the issue was…I could not help but feel alone.

Since I became pregnant, these struggles have only worsened for me. As my hormones overtook the relief that my normal Prozac dosage could previously bring to ease my troubled mind, as I became so sick that I could rarely leave the house, I found myself wallowing in cynicism about my struggles in faith. The few times I was able to attend church or a church function in my first trimester and a half or so, it never failed that at some point in the day I was met with exactly what I didn’t need to hear: my gender was either pedestalized or diminished, my deeply troubling concerns were trivialized, when I was told that I shouldn’t be in the church building without a Priesthood holder as I created centerpieces for our ward Christmas party and my husband stepped out for 15 minutes… And as my garments became too impractical to wear most of the time because of fit and tactile issues, I started to wonder what really even mattered within the structural church. Weren’t my intentions enough? Wasn’t my love of Christ enough? My love for my fellow children of God, regardless of their circumstance? Would my children be raised to believe the same awful modesty rhetoric I was? And really, who cared about coffee? And if I voiced these concerns, who with the ability to change anything would really even listen to a woman?

In the past few weeks especially, I’ve found myself seriously wondering about my personal identification as a Mormon. The issues I have with much of the organization and some key aspects of its doctrine are deeply seated. The culture has largely seemed anything but welcoming or loving to anyone outside the norm. I don’t feel safe to express myself about the biggest concerns in my spiritual life right now in the one place where they should be easily addressed. While I know God wants me, I don’t know how many others in my congregation do. That terrible question everywhere on the Internet drones like a siren in my mind: So why do you stay? It used to be an easier question to answer, but my wounds seem only to have festered despite my immense desire to find peace in remaining. And with this past week’s news of April Bennett’s temple recommend being held for ransom and John Dehlin being called to a disciplinary hearing, the hits just keep on coming. I have felt so, so ready to throw in the towel, at least for a little while to let myself breathe.

But then this past Sunday came. Instead of our ward, Rob and I went to the mission homecoming of a dear friend of mine. After his talk and a beautiful piano rendition of “Nearer My God to Thee” by his sister, a member of the local stake presidency approached the podium to speak. Now, I’m not sure what I expected him to speak about, but in retrospect the judgment I cast was unfair and far beneath him. This man gave the talk I’ve been waiting on bated breath for my lay leaders to give for over a year now. The message he gave outlined in no uncertain terms that there must be room for those with doubts and questions in this church, no matter what those doubts and questions might be, and that our wards must be a safe place for those concerns to be met with love and kindness and without judgment and backbiting. He expressed that doubt and questions are often brave and that even Mother Teresa had them her whole life. He even said that they can bring us closer to God than we ever were before. I honestly cannot do this man and his talk enough justice, but it was one of the most beautiful and relevant things I have ever heard at any church meeting, and it healed my soul more than I could have possibly anticipated it to if someone had told me in advance. It took a lot of composure to keep from straight-up ugly-crying right there in the chapel, which trust me, would have been really embarrassing because I was sitting in the front row. I was on the edge of decided inactivity, but those inspired words saved me. In a matter of 15 minutes, my desire to return to full, vocal and honest participation in the Church was restored to a higher degree than I have felt in months and months. Despite the hurt I've felt from various doctrines, cultural practices and actions from the Church recently, I truly have missed that desire to go and do. I've missed having a strong testimony, or even a weaker testimony with the desire to grow it. I've missed the urgency of seeking faith in hope and not just despair. And out of the blue, that hope was rekindled to a brilliant flame. I don’t know if I will ever see the man who brought me here ever again in this life, but I strongly believe he has changed this life for me—and maybe even my eternity; gratitude is too weak a word to explain this feeling in my heart.

I know that times will get hard again. I know things will not be easy. I expect fallout simply from posting this, but I know I must post it all the same. And when it’s hard, I can remember the words of Catholic nun Sister Elizabeth Johnson, who is fighting for Priesthood ordination for women in her own faith: "If you feel deeply enough, you stay. Not because you're a masochist, but because it's worth it. You're struggling for the soul of something."

In a turn of events I would not have expected even a week ago, I’d like to take this opportunity to bear my testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While I have doubts, while I have burning questions, my faith is finally full enough again to see past them to remember that which I do know. I know that our leaders are chosen of God and have the ability to speak His words. I believe in the healing power of the Atonement, that our brother and Savior Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price so that we do not have to suffer alone or in vain. I believe that families are forever, that love is the foundational eternal principle for everything and everyone. I know each of us, man and woman, has a divine nature and destiny and is capable of miraculous things, even in mortality. I know our Heavenly Parents love and look out for us and only want us to return to Them again one day. I want to return to Them. I know that through perseverance I can. Once again, I am a Mormon, and I am proud of it.

This is the end of my post. It’s taken over ten pages now, but my soul has been bared, my weaknesses exposed, my heart made vulnerable. But I end it with hope, that maybe this will touch someone who feels as alone as I have, that maybe it will soften the hearts of those who would rather eschew the unorthodox believers than have their questions heard. I end it with hope that a better day will come for all of us, with men and women alike united and yoked equally under God and able to joyfully glorify the heavens without fear of being different. Let us walk side by side, acknowledging and celebrating and learning from those differences, until that wonderful day finally arrives.

https://twitter.com/MormonNewsroom/status/501485001225932800/photo/1

1 comment:

  1. Evelyn, I love this. And you. This totally resonated with me. It's only recently that I've begun to feel I have a place and purpose at church--mostly coming from the question--how is the church or its culture expected to change and be more welcoming and loving if those who are different and need it are silent or leave? Here's to making waves!

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