Sunday, January 29, 2017

Charity

I was asked to speak in church last week on charity.  An easy topic, but an incredibly difficult weekend to talk about it.  I wanted to say so much more, but it is hard to find balance between gentleness and preachiness.  It's also hard to write from a position of total hypocrisy, for I am far from charitable most of the time.  Anyway, this is what I stood up and said:
The brunt of my talk is based on Moroni chapter 7.  Moroni was the last Nephite prophet in the Book of Mormon.  He was born and raised in a time of divisions, violence, and degradation.  He was surrounded by war and witnessed his once powerful society fall into utter destruction.  I imagine he felt a helpless grasping of loss when he heard his father, Mormon, sorrowfully cry, “oh ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the lord?”  Moroni had intimate knowledge of what can happen to a great society, a once righteous society, when it loses sight of the simple teachings and promises of Jesus Christ.  Moroni also had intimate knowledge of isolation and loneliness.  He spent years wandering alone, most likely longing for human connection.  I imagine his life experience of loss, coupled with painful seclusion, led him on one of the most profound existential journeys ever experienced by a human being.  I imagine he spent years pondering the most critical elements of human existence. 

Having no immediate audience, Moroni wrote for future generations.  In Mormon 8:35 we read, “behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”  From the wealth of his own spiritual life he assembled a collage of insights designed to have particular relevance to our time. Having witnessed the collapse of his own civilization, Moroni was conscious of the causes of social disintegration and therefore worked to record the principles necessary to reverse it.  He wrote for the future, for he knew the day would come when other civilizations would also be marred by war and a separation of ideologies.

His writings reveal that he was interested in identifying the personal attributes that must be nurtured to avoid the onset of social decay.  Let me say that again, he was interested in the personal attributes that each of us as individuals can cultivate to avoid the onset of social decay.  Things we can all develop independent of our life’s circumstances, struggles, beliefs, or social pressures.  Central to the writings of Moroni are the three interlocking virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

Now, before I continue I would like to confess that I’m not good at faith, I have very little hope, and I have a lot of room for improvement in the charity category. So I do not speak to you from a position of expertise, I speak to you from a position of humble transparency where I openly acknowledge my own need for improvement as I focus on the third virtue: charity.

In Moroni 7 we read “charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”

I’ll be honest, as I have read this scripture over the years my inner sarcastic pessimist has always come to the conclusion that charity is an impossible expectation of which I may never achieve.  I don’t suffereth well when it’s short, and charity suffereth long.  I am also admittedly prideful, puffed up, easily provoked, I thinketh evil more than I should, I’ve been known to enjoy a little iniquity every now and then, and I do not always rejoice in the truth.  I do not believe all things. I certainly do not hope all things.  And as my inability to consistently eat vegetables has proven time and time again, I do not endureth all things. 

Let’s be honest, pure, Christ like love, charity, is hard.  I, you, we, are currently swimming in a sea of collective anxiety, angst, and division.  Over the last few years it feels like we have been forced to take sides on numerous issues at the local, national, and international level.  This has left many feeling divided and full of righteous indignation.  We have cultivated a thus vs. them mental and purposely isolate with like-minded people.  We pick and choose the groups that make us comfortable and struggle to understand those on the other side of the aisle.  I do this, we all do this.  My personal experience of this often leaves my chest and stomach twisted into knots.  I feel ready at any given time to throw up my defenses and argue my side with spirited energy.

I grew up in the LDS church.  I have heard the phrase charity never faileth a thousand times.  But it was not until recently that this phrase started to mean something to me.  Charity never faileth.  The pure love of Christ never fails.  Arguments fail.  Trying to convince someone they are wrong fails.  Pushing your agenda on someone else fails.  But love.  The scriptures tell us that love never fails.  If ever there was a time when we needed a successful tool for healing it is now. 

So what does this mean for us?  How do we, imperfect and opinionated humans, have a love that never fails?  Especially when we feel strongly about certain topics?  How do we hold charity and disagreement simultaneously?  How do we show love when we are full of fear and distrust for those who do not look like use, do not act like us, or do not believe like us?  How do we love those we do not understand or even want to understand?

We follow what Moroni says:
1. We suffereth long.  We engage in patient endurance under provocation.  Love does not retaliate.  We do not love someone only as long as they are living up to our standards and act how we would have them act.  We love them even though their beliefs and actions grate against our own.  There is no greater example of long suffering than that of our Savior.  He lived among those who hated and despised him.  He was ridiculed, tortured, and eventually killed by a group of people who misunderstood, hated, and despised him.  Yet in the end he asked the father to forgive them. 

2.  We are kind.  Kindness does not require you to like, agree with, or understand another person or their beliefs or actions.  Kindness is simple.  Kindness is choosing to make eye contact with a homeless person.  It is offering an understanding smile to the older lady holding up the checkout line in Target while she writes a check.  It is recognizing that life is hard and we all need the gift of kindness and grace on a daily basis.

3. We are not easily provoked.  We work to keep our fear, anger, and hurts in check.  We cultivate the ability to recognize and celebrate the imperfections in ourselves while connecting with the imperfections in others.  We take a step back and work to see those we disagree with as human. We seek to find goodness instead of fault.  This is not easy.  Provocation instinctually triggers a fight or flight response.  We are predisposed to fight back, to argue.  But we must learn to override this natural instinct. We must seek to see the good, no matter how it is packaged and find some particle of humanity with which we can connect. 

4.  We beareth all things.  We push ourselves beyond being tolerant.  Tolerance is walking on eggshells with gritted teeth.  Love is recognizing that we need and want someone in our lives.  To quote one of my favorite authors**, “If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are…then we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated”
 
5.  We are full of hope.  We hope in humanity.  We hope in goodness. We embrace the stomach twisting knot of disagreement and we hope that God can handle the difference we struggle to contain. We hold to hope as we love in spite of our fears.  We reach out to those we do not understand, those we despise, those that trigger our disgust, and we hope we can find within ourselves a well of kindness that is greater than our own discomfort. 

6.  We endure, in love.  Meaning we practice loving, again and again, until we fully get it.

Fortunately, my life has have forced me to learn to love people in a way that I am not naturally predispositioned to do.  I am blessed with the humble honor of listening to other’s pain, sorrows, and struggles on a daily basis.  My prejudices, preconceived stereotypes, and judgements are constantly being challenged.  I have endless opportunities to practice loving those who have drastically different beliefs than I do. 

And what have I learned from practicing charity with those who don’t believe in god?  Who are pro choice?  Who are pro life?  Who are members of the LGTBQ community?  Who are uber liberal?  Who are uber conservative?  Who are refugees, immigrants, and grandchildren of the founding fathers?  I have learned that loving others is the most sacred experience we can engage in.  I have learned that the belief that I am motivated from a place of love while those who disagree with me are motivated from a place of hate is a holy war of ideology that keeps us polarized.  I have learned that we can find commonalities in a sea of difference. I have learned that love never faileth.  Loving someone is always the right thing to do. 

To quote president Monson, “we cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey”.  That is how we, imperfect and opinionated humans, have a love that never fails.  We recognize that all of us are travelers on a mortal journey. To quote one of my favorite authors again**, “Life hurts and it's hard. Not because you're doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody.”  And, “The only meaningful thing we can offer one another is love. Not advice, not questions about our choices, not suggestions for the future, just love,” and finally, “People who are hurting don't need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpful vigil to our pain.” 

That is what it means to have charity.  We stand in helpful vigil to others pain. And brothers and sisters, we are all in pain on some level. 

In the October 2007 conference, Elder Wirthlin said, “Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the pathway of discipleship. It comforts, counsels, cures, and consoles. It leads us through valleys of darkness and through the veil of death. In the end love leads us to the glory and grandeur of eternal life.”

Have charity and love others sounds overly simplistic; but it is not.  It is one of the most difficult challenges we have been tasked to do.  None of us have the luxury of sitting in comfort knowing we have mastered charity.  For all of us have room for improvement.  At a time when the lines of division are starkly drawn by religious, political, and social ideologies let us use our shared imperfection as a starting point for connection.  For it is through connection that family relationships are healed, communities are strengthened, and civilizations thrive.


Charity never faileth.  Love never faileth.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Die Verwadlung: On Being a Single LDS Woman (July 2014, posted July 27, 2015)

In your twenties it's unmentionable, unthinkable, unnecessary.  Of course you'll get married.  Of course you'll have babies.  Of course, of course, of course.  It's God's plan for all of his daughters.  That's a given.  So you go to college, because girls need education too, knowing that every tid-bit of knowledge you gleam from school will one day help you be a better wife and mother.  You pray that God sends you someone soon.

And then you graduate.

And you're still not married so you give a wild shout-out to God, "I will serve a mission!", because you know idleness is the tool of Satan and God must want you to serve his other children before you have your own.  So you go, and you serve, and you love those you work with.  And you pray that God sends you someone when you get home.

And then you come home.

And no one was at the airport with a ring and a promise, so you set your standards high, and you attend the temple every week, because you want to keep yourself on a spiritual high so when Mr. Right comes along you are ready to commit for all time and eternity.  And you get a job, one that isn't too serious, because once you're married and have babies you'll be staying home anyway.  So no need to inconvenience the company you work for...it's all just temporary.  And you pray to God that he puts someone in your life, so your life can start.

And then temporary turns into permanant

And you're still not married.  So you go back to school for another degree and you work even harder.  Hard working, independent women are more attractive to hard working independent men anyway.  So you work and you start to see how maybe you're path is one that includes a husband, children, and a job.  At first that idea feels horrible, a job is so menial, so NOT a part of God's grand plan for his daughters.  But the more you work the more you realize you're good at what you do.  You feel a sense of pride climbing the corporate ladder, even if, you tell yourself, it's still just temporarily permanant.  And you pray to God that there is someone who will notice you're worth their time.

And time passes.

And you're still not married.  So you get a passport and you travel. And you meet people from all over the world.  And you start to realize that there are a hundred different paths for women, a hundred paths that were never even discussed as you grew up.  And you see that women are happy, career women, childless women, single women, and a part of you starts to feel scared.  "I don't want to be happy and alone" you beg and reason with God.  But you embrace those you meet and fall in love with what they bring to your life.  A life that is quickly becoming something unrecognizable, something you aren't prepared for.  And you pray to God that one of those lives isn't meant to be your own.

And then you turn 30.

And you're still not married.  So you start to buy all of the things your mom always told you you'd receive at your wedding reception.  Dishes, nice towels, appliances. And you invest in impractical furniture, large overstuffed couches and armchairs covered in hard to care for colors and fabrics.  You surround them with things that define you like photos of excursions and paintings you purchased in Europe.  Your cupboards fill with handmade dishes, purchased from an 80-year-old potter who dug the clay out of a small Kentucky hill then delicately formed into one-of-a-kind bowls and pitchers.  And you look at the care and simplicity molded into those dishes and you realize that the stuff in our life isn't just stuff, it's a part of your life.  The life you've built by yourself, alone.  It's not how you ever imagined you'd build your life, but you're proud of it.  Proud that you have the ability to take care of yourself.  And at that moment part of you starts to die.  The part that has spent decades believing that you need someone else to make you whole.  Someone else to fill your life with stuff.  And you pray to God to forgive you for being worldly, and that someone will come into your life that fits as nicely as the bowls in the cupboard.

And then you fall in love.

And he hates your independence.  He hates how you change the flat car tire instead of calling him to come to the rescue.  He hates how you know how to change wiper blades and do basic plumbing.  He hates that you drive a car with a manual transmission.  He hates your lack of a need for him.  So you change.  Working to become dependent in a way you don't trust.  And you succeed.  You replace your independence with deep, abiding, passionate love and trust.  He becomes the air you breathe, the reason why you wake.  A dream become reality.  And you pray to God that it never ends.

And then it ends.

And you find yourself gasping for air at a bottomless, light-less pit of despair and anguish.  And you pray to die because the heartache is too big.  You're too shattered.  And you fill with a clawing ache for your independence.  So in a last ditch effort to save yourself you do something hard.  Something you don't want to do.  Something that will make you something, someone.  Something that you hope will be your salvation.  And you pray to God that it's the right decision and will lead you back to life.

And you move.
And you start over.
And you go back to school.
And you turn 35.

And all of a sudden your aging body's biological alarm clock start blaring in your brain, that primal dual- bell, can't-find-the-damn-knob-to-turn-it-off, grappling-in-the-dark kind of alarm.  It fills you with panicked sadness and a thousand deaths as you realize all the dreams that will never live.  The excited squeals of soon-to-be grandparents, the baby showers, the nursery, the anxious excitement of your changing body that miraculously gives whatever it needs to nourish the heartbeat carefully nestled in that most sacred room you've carried since your own creation.  The cherubic cheeks and newborn nuzzles, the hilarity of chaos caused by one little person.  The first step, the first day of school, the first date.  It's a hoped for memory massacre.  So you take that alarm and in an act of self-preservation you rip it from your soul and throw it back into the universe.  And you stop praying to God for a family.

Friends have babies, and you rejoice in their excitement.  And you relish your own, breathing in the reminders of freedom:  you get to sleep in Saturday mornings and have ice cream for dinner any. time. you. want.  And you tell yourself you would have been a horrible mom anyway, your impatient, selfish, demanding self was never really meant to have kids.  They smell.  They are dirty.  They take up so much time, and energy, and money.  "Whew", you breathe at the latest news that your best friend is pregnant with her fourth, a tinge of jealousy rising in that place in your heart that holds your most vulnerable hurts, "I'm glad it's her and not me".  Then you tuck yourself in bed, far later than is necessary, just to prove that it's a treat to be childless.

And then you fall in love again.

And he's amazing.  He's someone you've known since your youth.  He understands the trauma you carry from the culture in which you were raised.  He likes your adventurous side, your independence.  He plans a life with you.  Talks of marriage and moving to far off countries.  And you pray to God, telling him that you're heart won't survive another break.

And it gets broken anyway.

So you stop praying.  You stop hoping.  You stop believing in the doctrine of your childhood.  You accept that your life was never meant to go the Mormon way.  You were never meant to have a husband.  You were never meant to have kids.  You were meant for something else.  What, you do no know.  But something.  So you push the idea of love out of your heart and you throw it in the trash.  You walk away with determination.  You make a vow on your 37th birthday to be done.  Done with dating.  Done with hoping.  Done with the tears and overwhelming sense of inferiority.  Done with lugging around a broken heart.  So you let it go.

And then someone finds it.  And he picks it up, brushes it off, and hands it back to you.  "I don't want it" you tell him.  "I'm done with it".  So he tucks it away, carefully, in his pocket.  You find that you've grown difficult, demanding, stubborn.  And he stays.  You find fault, and flaws.  And he stays.  Bit by gentle bit he tries to hand you pieces of yourself back.  And you fight it.  He offers you all of those past hopes and dreams in one beautifully wrapped messy package.  And you panic, realizing how absolutely numb and broken you are.  And how you might need God, but you have no idea if he even exists, or if he'd even listen if he did.

You love with what fragments of your self remain, knowing your offering is measly, guarded, hopeless.  You search frantically for the parts of yourself that use to know how to love.  That use to know how to feel.  And you can't find them.

And you discover a whole new kind of lost. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Finally...someone else said it

The full article is here, the parts that resignate with me are here:

"When I contemplate God...I find only emptiness and silence. I feel alone, and I do not like feeling alone...I do not like this sense of God, this nothingness in which I now dwell. It’s dark and discomforting, and I blame it for my grey hairs.

"...As time passed, however, my faith weakened. I lost the feeling of God’s presence and the impetus to pray, and perhaps as a consequence, the ideas I had of God began to make less and less sense to me. I lost clarity of what I believed, finally confessing...that I couldn’t honestly say whether or not I still believed in God. This was not a confession that brought...peace. A cloud of unknowing separated me from the words of the creed I recited at Mass...To make matters worse, I had no answers to give...
 I couldn’t explain my lapse. I couldn’t point to any decisive event, something that had pushed me off the precipice. Instead, as we reflected back on the previous months and years, I felt as though once solid ground had changed into the wisps of a cloud without my having noticed, and only now did I realize that I was falling. If my broken heart was to blame, it has taken its bitter time, acting stealthily.
I hadn’t fallen into unbelief or atheism, exactly, but more of an agnosticism or skepticism about what I believed and whether I believed. I could no longer say what my faith, such as it was, meant in my life. I no longer had a sure sense of how the Christian story was true. I couldn’t answer where its myths ended and reality began. Occasionally I shot a few words of prayer in what I hoped was the direction of an unseen God, but I struggled and doubted even these simple practices of my faith. Neither Paul nor Kierkegaard were kidding when they wrote of fear and trembling.

"For now I live with this uncertain tension between belief and unbelief. In a way, this tension opened up to me another way of being religious, one that oddly makes more sense to me. If God is infinite and ineffable, as my religious tradition says, then I have nothing against which to measure what anyone says of God. Without comprehending the infinite, I cannot assess a correspondence between what anyone’s scriptures say of God and what God really is. My Catholicism has given me words, but by its own teaching these words fall infinitely short of the realities to which they refer. With God, there’s no line between being and nothingness.

"In one sense, I feel trapped. Looking ahead, I see no exit from this tension unless I wholly abandon my faith. In another sense, I feel liberated. Living in this tension means that I can seek wholeness in my shattered existence without having first answered whether I have discovered or created the meaning that I find. Is God the name of a mere idol or the name of one who reveals? Is my religion the product of false consciousness or a conscious response to the true God? Is the universe guided by love or by indifference? I suspect these questions defy answer."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Baby Jesus + Python = BEST CHRISTMAS PARTY EVER!!!

 
Note:  I started this one back in December of 2012...better late than never...

As a child I loved the ward* Christmas party.  Buck Bennett, the gruffest, grumpiest farmer in the neighborhood, always dressed up as Santa Clause and the children took turns sitting on his lap, telling him what we hoped would be sitting under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning.  He'd grumble something in his deep farmer's voice, then hand you a small bag of unshelled peanuts and hard candy and send you on your way, full of hope and excitement.

As a teenager I thought the ward Christmas party was lame.  Especially the year the Primary President asked me to play Satan in the Christmas play...you can read that account here.

As an adult I've avoided the ward Christmas party like the plague.  I'm not a fan of the potluck food, the noisy kids, the socializing, the ambiance...not. a. fan.  But this year (2012)  I was up to my eye brows in finals, socially deprived, and really hungry when my roommate asked me to go with her to the ward party.  So I caved and went, laptop in tow.  My plan was to snag some of the pot luck spoils and then settle myself in a corner and continue working on school work.  That would have happened had I not gotten distracted by THE MOST AMAZING display of Mormon talent to ever grace a stake center* stage.

Typical Mormon talent shows are a hodgepodge of piano pieces intermingled with vocals, a flutist, a clarinet or two, and that one kid who does a jazz routine in a questionable costume.  Snore...but not this Mormon ward*...this Mormon ward had me glued to the edge of my seat, mouthing the most holiest of "shits" and vacillating between prudish horror and sheer delight.
First up was the primary* presidency.  They graced us, clad in their bathing suits, to do a mock synchronized swimming routine.  Now, for those who aren't aware, Mormons are very anti showing any skin...so seeing the entire primary presidency, and their bare shoulders, was pure scandal.  The moment I saw them drop their towels I knew Satan himself had stolen Christ from Christmas and turned this into an X-mas party.

There was only one way for this to go...and that was down a path strewn with urine jokes and a lot of hula-hooping...and that's exactly where it went.  It continued down the path of destruction, decking the halls with bows of folly until it culminated in what can only be described as an abomination to all that is pure and holy. 
A male member of the ward, dressed in his 10-year-old's boyscout shorts and showing his P90X package off for the whole world to see, bounded on stage with a tiny set of wings on his back.  He then proceeded to talk in a Minnestraulian accent and imitated the late Steve Erwin (God rest his crocodile hunting soul).  My eyes were the size of silver dollars as I watched him wrestle stuffed animals of all breeds.  Every time he lunged, the crowd could hear the thin threads holding his balls in those pants moaning with every fiber of their being.  I gasped when he dove for a large stuffed python, surely the shorts were going to give out.  He wrestled and rolled...our eyes stayed glued to the large bulge...would the shorts hold?  The python flipped and flopped and then with a loud guttural man-whelp the python went careening through the air.

The python sailed towards the audience and for a brief moment we forgot about the shorts.  We all watched in amazement as the snake flew right into the nativity scene, tangling itself around the manger, and the baby that lay snuggled inside.
"OH NO!"  a small child screamed.

"NOT A SNAKE!" he continued.

"JESUS!!!  SOMEONE SAVE JESUS!!!"

The child burst into horror driven sobs,  "JESUS!!!  JESUS!!!"

I slow clapped and mouthed the words "bravo!  bravo!" as a kind ward member ran towards the snake and the smothering baby Jesus.

I don't remember much happened after that...but I left that night full of holiday cheer.  If ever a X-mas party deserved an "amen" it was that one.

I can only hope 2013 has something even better in store.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wee Wisdom

My mind has been blown lately with the wisdom of kids.  It's amazing what those little people pack around in their brains.  For instance, I was having a discussion about Curious George with a kid the other day and mid conversation they look me straight in the eye and say, "He has too many privileges if you ask me."  Well little one, I didn't ask, but you do make a mighty solid point. 

Another kiddo made another solid point during sacrament meeting a few weeks ago (and by  few I mean 6 months).  She's 6 and has been known to give me dating advice.  I guess getting married is a pretty easy concept compared to learning how to use scissors and stand in a straight line.  So when she snuggled up to me a few weeks ago I was prepared to hear more about how I should wear earring and take up soccer.  Instead she drew this (and narrated as she did it).
For those of you who aren't therapists and trained in the art of interpreting children's drawing, I will go ahead and retell this love story gone tragically awry:
First, girl gives boy flower
Boy turns into a mean pirate and puts the girl in a box. 

Boy pirate takes girl and puts her on a boat and sails her into the ocean to dump her on a deserted island. 
Girl attempts to distract boy with a flag, hoping he'll fall off of the boat and drown...

Now, just a few months ago she was singing songs about love and marriage and giving me advice on how to snag a husband.  But this, this is a 180 in what I would consider "a very mature and wise" direction.  She's six, but she has already been taught that if you give a guy your flower, you've relegated yourself to a life lived in Slutsville and the dirty bastard probably won't appreciate it and if he does he's going to get possessive and work to isolate you...all of which are things she knows now but will forget in 10 years...after she's become indoctrinated with the fantasies which make up the perfect Mormon Marriage Myth (MMM).

In case you're not familiar with the MMM it does something like this:
1.  Girl meets boy at youth dance.  They do the deacon shuffle (her arms on his shoulders, his arms hovering several inches away from her body, near her waist...standing 2 feet apart...awkwardly rocking back and forth).
2.  Girl waits for boy to serve his mission (2 years).  While she's waiting she's refining her cooking, sewing, and housecleaning skills.
3.  Boy returns from mission.  Boy and girl get engaged and married within 3 months.  They move to BYU where she works a menial job until she can get preggers.  Then she'll stop working and stay home to raise babies and make casseroles for the remainder of her days....with a smile on her face...because being a stay-at-home baby maker is the pinnacle of the MMM.

Sigh.  I would like to think that as a Sunday School teacher I dispelled some of the MMM for the young women in my class.  But alas...three weeks ago a girl came bounding in and announced that her goal in life was to become "a trophy wife, and a soccer mom".  I may have come unglued a little...not so much outwardly, but totally and completely inwardly.  Have the past two years taught her nothing?  Have my incessant negative comments and weekly doses of reality gone unheard?  Evidently the answer to that is yes.  A loud, resounding YES.

*Sigh*

The myth lives on, long and strong.

That may have been the straw that broke this camels back...well that and the girl who did nothing but complain about and put down the weekly treats that I brought (note:  you can bash me for whatever you'd like...but you challenge my baking skills and I will cut you).  So me and my broken camel back marched down to the bishop's office and requested that they release me.

I have nothing left to teach those kids.  Nothing.

The myths are too big.  Too ingrained.  Too irritating for me to challenge any more.

So I stepped down as the most rockin' youth Sunday School teacher to ever grace Minnesota...and perhaps the world.  I am now without a church responsibility and it. is. good. 

I'm pretty sure I'll stay without a church responsibility for quite some time.  Especially after I told the bishop how I really feel about things...no calling for me :D

I hope this current state of under employed church responsibility allows me to get back to the basics...and this blog. 

Because I kind of miss writing...and I know ya'll miss reading.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Disenchantment Lesson #1

You know that story you heard as a kid?  The one about the deranged circus clown doll with the evil eyes that came alive at night and roamed the neighborhood killing people?  Remember that one?  The one that your older cousin told you one dark summer night as you and your siblings sat piled on top of a blanket covered trampoline.  Remember how scary his face looked as he held the flashlight under his chin, the way the light eerily touched his cheeks but left his eyes dark, sunk into his head?  Remember how he cackled into the black night sky when he said that nothing, nothing could stop the clown from stabbing his victims, how their screams were silenced by a gush of blood filling their lungs?  Remember how you sat there, wide eyed, trying to convince yourself that what he said was not true, but how you knew deep down that the clown was coming to get you...that you would die at the mercy of his bony hands and petrified smile?

Remember that?

That's pretty much what happened in church today.  Only it wasn't dark, and there weren't any clowns, and my bastard cousin wasn't present.  Just me, seven teenagers, a "better than sex" cake, and a whole lotta dream crushing information.

"Guys...today is the day we have ALL been waiting for.  Today we are diving in and we're going to have an open and honest discussion on one of my favorite topics."

"I'm so excited," Gabby said, "I've been waiting for this for months!"

"Are we discussing marriage?" one of the boys asked.

"Yep," I replied.

"Is that 'better than sex cake?" the new girl asked.

"You said it not me," I answered, "but if your parents ask it's chocolate caramel cake."

"Or 'better than scriptures' cake," Nathan pipped in.

"Brilliant," I smiled.  "Now, let's just state the obvious.  I am single."  I made direct eye contact with our visitor.  "Ladies,  am your worst nightmare in the flesh."

They stared at me confused.

"No need to act like it's not true.  None of you are sitting there thinking, 'Gosh, I hope I end up careening towards 40 and am still single'.  I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, 'please God, don't let me end up like her:  old, husbandless, childless, lifeless".

Gabby shook her head in disagreement.

The other girls' sat like wide-eyed statues.

Ryan 2.0 quietly said, "sad".

"It is what it is folks.  So let's just be open and honest.  I am a Mormon's worst fear...I am *lower kingdom material."

"Sad", said Ryan 2.0.

"Ok, now that we have that out on the table let's dive in.  What is marriage and how has marriage changed in the last 100 - 150 years?"

They threw out some ideas:
1.  Marriage doesn't mean as much as it use to.
2.  Marriage doesn't last.
3.  People don't take marriage serious any more.
4.  Gays can get married.

This is where I cut them off....because the last thing I wanted was for them to naively go off on gay marriage only to have me launch into an uncontrollable diatribe about the ridiculousness and completely misguided idea that "gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage".  I doubt they, or their safely structured social construct of marriage is prepared to have their minds blown by the realization that heterosexuals have "destroyed the institution of marriage" all on their own and that our gay brothers and sisters have had nothing to do with the current state of marriage an/or families.

So I launched into a social science history lesson about the the modern view of love, marriage, and gender rolls.  I looked at the girls and said that women have been culturally conditioned to believe the lie that love and marriage is something that makes them whole and fulfills their every whim and need, that gives them value and their lives meaning.  I turned to the guys,

"And you all are in an incredibly difficult situation.  Women expect you to be strong and solid providers AND we want you to be sensitive and meet our emotional needs.  Except we really don't, because at the first sign of emotion we get scared and view you as being weak.  We tell you to 'man up' and to stop being 'a woman'.  How confusing is that?  It's crazing making if you ask me."

"Sad", said 2.0.

I moved on...but before we really begin...

"We haven't started yet?" the new girl asked.

"Nope, I'm just setting the stage for what we're really going to discuss."

She looked scared.

"Now, as I was reviewing the material for this month's topic I kept running into a statistic that I spent an hour researching this morning.  As your teacher I want to you be informed consumers.  I know you will probably hear this statistic multiple times over the next month so we're going to talk about it right now.  Because it sounds super amazing and paints Mormon marriages out to be 'safe guarded'.  It leads you to believe that if you are married in the *temple your life will be full of unicorns and rainbows, and cherubic faced babies where every day is a spiritual high full of love and happiness.  That's not the reality kids..."

I then commenced a lecture about the methodological shortcomings of a study done in 1981 that stated that only 6% of all temple marriages end in divorce.  I explained that that 6% came from a relatively small sample size and that most LDS marriages that end in divorce do not include a temple divorce.

They looked confused.

"What's a temple divorce?"  one asked.

Oh boy...this is going to lead to AWESOME discussions around the family dinner table tonight...

I explained that when one is married in the temple it is recognized by the US government as a civil marriage as well as by the church as a religious marriage.  I stated that a civil divorce dissolves the civil marriage but unless one gets a temple divorce you're still technically married to that person in the next life.

"Oh yeah," said new girl.  "My sister was married for 6 months and her ex husband won't do his part so she can have a temple divorce."

"Yeah, it can be hard to get a temple divorce," I responded.

Minds. Were. Blown.

Fear fell upon several faces.

"What?  What about if you don't like that person?", "What about kids?", "What about getting married to someone else?"

I smiled.

"Welcome to the messy reality of not having all of the answers."

"Sad," said 2.0.

"So, the real statistic is that temple marriage or not, roughly 50% of you will get a divorce at some point in your life."

"Sad," said 2.0.

Depressed looks fell upon the rest of the crowd.

"Ok, so with that cheery introduction let's dive in..."

"THAT WAS JUST AN INTRODUCTION?" said the new girl.

"Yep," I said, "so," I clapped and smiled, "what is the difference between a *temple marriage and a non-temple marriage?"

"Temple marriages are forever," one said.

"Eternity," said another.

"That's A LOT of commitment," said a third.

"Sad," said 2.0.

And thus begins our month of marriage lessons.

Stay tuned because next week we're discussing marriage prep AND the "single sister" clause.

This. Will. Be. Epic.

It will also surely lead to my release.

Things Are About to Get Real

This month's Sunday School topic is Marriage & Family.  Let me do that math for you on how this is going to go:

Mormon Spinster Sister + PhD student steeped in research methodology + a helluva lot of skewed data + being a Marriage and Family Therapist + an inability to paint a rosy picture of reality + chocolate cake for breakfast = a lot of opinionated energy ready to burst any fairy tale misconceptions about Mormon marriages and families.

I made a "Better than Sex" cake for the event, you can find the recipe here:  BETTER THAN SEX CAKE.

Let the shiz hitting the fan commence....stay tuned.