Friday, December 28, 2007

adam and eve

It was my turn to put Little FTA to bed, Adam and Eve somehow came up. Little FTA, never having heard the Adam and Eve story, asked for an explanation. So I told him how in the stories about the origin of the earth, the first man and woman were called Adam and Eve. He asked incredulously, "So they think that there was the Big Bang, and then poof, Adam and Eve?" I explained how the Big Bang isn't part of those stories. The Big Bang is such a given for him, so he demanded more explanation.

I went on about how before science figured out the Big Bang and the first life on earth and evolution, people didn't know how all that happened. So in each culture, they made up stories to explain how it all started; they are called creation myths. I then went on to tell him that the Adam and Eve story is the creation myth of one people, the Hebrews, and it's written in a book called the Hebrew Bible. There are lots of different creation myths from all over the world, and this is one of them.

He was cool with that; I loved the freedom he had to just accept that. So I told him how god created the earth in seven days, etc. I feminized the story, having god create Adam and Eve together, and together they named the animals, etc. When I was done, he looked at me and said, "Boring! Tell me a different creation story." I couldn't remember any. To try to spice the Hebrew one up for him, I continued on with the story of the forbidden fruit, the serpent, and the kicking out from the garden. I tried to explain how it was a metaphor for growing up and discovering sexuality, and having to work hard as adults. But I realized I didn't know the Bible version well, and was telling him the Mormon Pearl of Great Price/temple version. Oh well. I gotta get more Bible literate myself, I guess.

And more cross-culturally literate, as well. Since that little chat with Little FTA, I looked up alternative creation myths. Here are some for your perusal.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


I hope everyone is having wonderful holidays. All my best to you and your families and friends.

I've managed to shake my bah-humbug mood this season and enjoy being with extended family and having fun.

Sideon's thoughtful post really helped, too.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

solstice celebration

After a few years of wanting to celebrate solstice, we finally decided to try it. We didn't know until the day of how long we'd have the house to ourselves, so we didn't really prepare as much as I'd have liked. I would have loved to light a fire in the yard with a Yule log, but we didn't have a fire pit or wood, and I didn't check if it was a no-burn day, etc. There's a fireplace in the master bedroom here, but it's fake. Sigh. So we skipped the fire.

Instead, we eagerly waited until the house was empty except for us, then I flitted around the main rooms of the house placing unlit candles on nearly every horizontal surface. On the family room coffee table, we placed three candles for the three of us; one yellow candle to represent the sun and substitute for the Yule log; and a big glass bowl filled with water and sprinkled with gold glitter. The glass bowl also had a candle in the center. We had wanted the yellow candle in the bowl, but it wouldn't fit.

I made sure the lights were out, and we let the house get darker as the sun went down. The three of us gathered in front of the coffee table, and as we waited for sunset (I had looked up the exact time on the Internet), we talked about some of the hardships of the year: leaving our home back East, my uncle dying, my health, our trip postponement. We let the darkness of the long night represent sadness, difficulty, etc., and reminded our son that life sucks sometimes, we're sad sometimes, and that's okay. Little FTA named an incident in school this year when his friend said he didn't want to be him friend anymore. We discussed how that made him feel, and how he might go about repairing that friendship.

Just at sunset, we lit the center candle, then lit each of our candles from the "sun" candle. During this we talked about the sun as happiness, hope, and love, and how the sun makes life on earth possible. Still in the dark except for those four candles, we moved about the house lighting the rest of the candles, as well as turning on the Christmas lights. We lit the yellow one in a very safe candle holder and let it burn all night.

Little FTA was excited about getting his own candle to light things, but he's still young, so we supervised. He dropped his candle right on the carpet once, and luckily the carpet snuffed it out. "Whoa!" he said, "I thought it was going to light the carpet on fire!" Later, he dropped the candle and candle holder on the kitchen floor, and it shattered. (Note: Make sure the kids are old enough to handle the candle ceremony.) Other than that, we had a nice time lighting the candles and watching the flickering flames around the house.

By then, we were hungry, and we'd read that pagan celebrations of solstice involved indulging in good food and the pleasures of life, so we picked a nice organic restaurant whose name meant The Sun. After a three-course meal, most of it foods we'd never tried before, and some yummy microbrews, we headed home and re-lit the candles we had extinguished for safety reasons while we were gone.

It was a very nice little family celebration. I think we've got ourselves a tradition.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Have a wonderful winter solstice.

Here are some links to information, celebrations, and rituals to help you enjoy your day.

School of the Seasons

Candle Grove: Ancient Origins of Solstice Celebrations

Religious Tolerance: Winter Solstice Celebrations

Circle Sanctuary: Celebrating Winter Solstice

Wikipedia: Winter Solstice

(Picture credit.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

immorality education

Like other Mormon young women (doesn't everyone else call them teenagers or youth?), I had the importance of "morality" drilled into me. Morals and ethics are fine things, but in Mormon parlance, "morality" means one thing: abstinence from sex. Conversely, "immorality" means having sex. Why the terms took on such specific meanings I cannot fathom, and I believe it creates a skewed idea of what morality actually is, but that's not the topic of this post. What I want to talk about is the Mormon version of teaching youth about sex.

As a youth, I was taught that immorality (which I always had to sort out in my head as different from immortality, another hot topic in Mormon churches) was bad, bad, bad, to be avoided at all costs, and just downright bad. Fornication was listed as the third worst sin, after murder (number two), and denying the Spirit (whatever that means). How messed up is that? Also, if you were "immoral," you were unworthy to go to the temple. And it was the temple where you wanted to get married, to start your eternal family, so you had better avoid immorality!

And how to avoid it? By staying as far away from it as possible. How? Not dating until you were at least 16, not entertaining dirty thoughts, not reading dirty romances, not watching rated-R movies, not watching dirtier PG-13 movies, not having a steady boyfriend until after high school, not single-dating, not staying out past midnight ("When the holy Ghost goes to bed!"), and not going to parties where the parents wouldn't be there. Don't masturbate would've been on the list, had any of our leaders imagined that, yes, females masturbate, too. But they didn't.

Oh, and all the do's, too: Go to seminary, stay worthy of the Spirit, read your scriptures, say your prayers, attend church every week, go to Young Women's activity nights, befriend only people with your same standards (read: Molly Mormons, and only Mormons), listen to good music, read worthy books, and always dream of the day you will be sealed in the temple to a worthy return missionary!

I remember my dad's explanation behind waiting until you were 16 to date: You start dating, hanging out with people you like, and you're going to want to move to the next step--holding hands. Pretty soon, holding hands won't be enough, so you'll want to move on to hugging. Then little kisses. Then even that will get boring, and you'll want to kiss more. Maybe even make-out. And making out will lead to heavier making out, and before you know it, you're clothes are off and you've blown (heh) you're chance at happiness (e.g., temple marriage). So don't start dating early, and don't be alone with your date, until, oh, you're married, mmkay?

Oh, and if you are "immoral" with that 18-year old, you'll prevent him from going on his mission, so not only will you have ruined his life, but you'll have stopped him from teaching all those people he would have converted had he only stayed worthy, you slut!

Did we get any lessons about STDs? Teen pregnancy? How hard it is to be a teen mother? How to deal with the emotions around having sex? Birth control? HIV? Where to get condoms and how to put them on? How to negotiate safe sex with your partner? How anal and oral sex can still spread diseases, if not pregnancy? Nope, nope, nope.

How to say no to a boy? How to be confident and strong? How we have the right to say when and where and how and with whom? No way. How about sexual abuse? Rape? Incest? How to deal with those? Where to seek help? Nope. What to do if you find yourself pregnant? The teachers were eerily silent on the issues.

Instead, it was simple: Stay clean, stay worthy, and all will be well and you'll live happily ever after in your perfect temple marriage. Slip up, and you're screwed (heh). And left to wallow in your guilt for having sexual impulses.

That is, being a completely normal human being.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

say a little prayer for you

A while back I wrote a post about how I assume my parents pray for me, and that's all fine and good since I know it brings them comfort, even if I don't believe it actually has any causative power.  I also wrote how I would prefer they don't inform me that they pray for my return to the church, out of respect for my world view. Further, I find it offensive to believe that god would help me on my exams or whatever, just because I or someone else prayed for it, while apparently ignoring bigger problems in the world like thousands of dying in natural disasters and wars, just because they aren't praying to him, too.   But I realize that as believers, they will and do pray for me, and I've accepted that, and they've had the good sense to keep it to themselves.

Until the other day.  

I was talking to my mom on the phone, informing her of my latest health woes (now you know why I haven't left the country yet), and at the end of the conversation, I could tell she was hesitating about something.  Finally, she blurted out, "Well, I'm praying for you.  I know you don't believe in that stuff...but I do.  So I still pray for you."

Her tone was upbeat and friendly, enough to make me laugh in reaction. It didn't seem self-righteous or like she was trying to shove her beliefs onto me at all; it was just a statement.  It was almost a little apologetic, like she was very aware I held different ideas than her.  

So I told her that's fine.  And it felt fine, too.  Praying for me during my hard times is something she does to feel a little bit more in control of circumstances way beyond her control, and a little bit of comfort.  And that doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

if I were free of all fear

Sister Mary Lisa invited anyone who would like to to write about the topic, If I were free of all fear. She intended for us to send her our essays and she could post them on her blog. I loved, loved her essay, so I decided to participate. But I also decided to post it on my own blog.

If I were free of all fear, I would...

get a tattoo, a big one, on my back. One that would be seen when I swim and wear strappy dresses and tank tops, because I can. One that would show my transition, my power, my self, without fear.

sky dive, to feel the thrill, to feel alive as my body is forced to tune in to every sensation.

just say it. Whatever it is.

announce my blog to my family, and say, guess what. This is me. Take it or leave it, but I’m just so sick of hiding.

tell everyone exactly why I hate the fuckin' church.

write. A book. A memoir. A children’s story. A novel.

dance when I felt like dancing. Dammit.

write what I’m really thinking, now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


In a phone conversation with my dad, he brought up Carl Sagan.

"I always wondered," he said with a chuckle, "what Carl Sagan thought when he woke up on the other side. 'Oops, guess I was wrong [about the non-existence of an afterlife and god]!' "

"Huh," I said to let him know I was listening. But I was quite bothered by his comment.

"Can you imagine? What do people who didn't believe in God think when they die and see God? What are they going to do then? 'Well, now what?' Bit of a shock." He laughed some more.

And once again I was jarringly reminded that I am a closet atheist.

Sure, it's easy enough to tell a random neighbor, or a non-believing colleague, or DAMU friends, or post about it openly on my anonymous blog. But tell family? Mom and Dad?

The conversation with my dad made me realize not only that I've never discussed my new positions with him, but how very far I am from telling him. How do I tell him? Just squeeze it in to a Sunday evening telephone conversation? Write a letter?

I've really not felt compelled to announce my personal beliefs like that at all, actually. I never was comfortable with testimony-bearing when I was a Mormon, though the culture encourages open and frequent professions of belief. Personal beliefs should not be the subject of casual conversation or family newsletter announcements, in my opinion.

I suppose the Carl Sagan conversation would have been the perfect opportunity to let him know. Possible phrases skipped through my mind as I listened to him. "You know, Dad, I'm an atheist." "Actually, Dad, I really respect Sagan, and I find it rather rude to talk to him like that." "Um, Dad, Sagan wasn't off the mark in my opinion."

But he was talking about atheists so dismissively, so derisively. My dad is generally quite nice. He doesn't make fun of people or speak rudely. It's weird for me to use "derisive" to describe anything he ever said. But atheists, apparently, are unworthy of the normal respect with which he would talk about the dearly departed.

I found it too difficult to come out and tell him he might as well group me with the non-believers whom he so obviously derides. It didn't occur to me that maybe he was trying to pull me out of the non-believers' closet, throwing out some bait and seeing if I'd bite. I'd assumed that the word had gotten around that I was an atheist; apparently not.

After some deliberation of whether to speak up or not, I decided on a compromise. Rather than tell him what I thought, I told him what I thought Sagan would have thought had he woken up in an afterlife after all. We'd discusses Sagan's ideas on aliens a few months ago, so I jumped off from there.

"Well, maybe Carl Sagan would think the same way about God as he would about aliens. He'd be pleasantly surprised, excited, you know, to find any aliens. He just thinks there's not enough evidence to support that idea that we will contact any aliens. Maybe he'd think the same about God. Not enough evidence to believe, but still, he'd probably say, 'Oh, okay, cool!' if he woke up after dying. You know?" Which is what I think a lot of atheists would think. We don't disbelieve in God because we don't want an afterlife necessarily, we just think there's not enough evidence to believe in one. But if there is, all right, awesome, next great adventure, huh?

My dad laughed some more, but a pleasant laugh. "Huh, yeah, maybe. That could very well be true. Like the aliens. Ha!"

And I remained in hiding.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

heaven, hell, and screaming latkes

As anyone who’s read my blog for long knows, I am trying to raise my son without religion, while also being religiously literate and tolerant. The teaching-moments come up at odd times, or meet with resistance, or are forced upon us by religious relatives. They are full of significant baggage for me, but refreshingly free of it for him (so far). I’m basically going by the seat of my pants here, and it’s been going fine for the most part.

I had a couple teaching moments recently:

Listening to the radio in the car, my son heard the singer mention both heaven and hell.

“What’s heaven?” he asked.

I decided to go with a simple answer first, and see if he would be satisfied with it. “It’s the best place you could possibly imagine.”

“Oh,” he replied. That was easy enough.

"What’s hell?” he continued.

“It’s the worst place you could imagine,” I said.

“So…in hell, I would have no toys at all.”

“That’s what your hell would be like, huh?”

“Well, can you imagine having nothing? Nothing!?”

Earlier, at a bookstore, I was reading Little FTA a variety of children’s books. I saw one that explained the traditional Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Christmas story. I avoided it at first, but then picked it up. I thought if I read it to my son, I could expose him to the Baby Jesus story on my own terms, and we could talk about it, before he hears it from grandparents on Christmas Eve. But to my surprise, he refused to hear it. Just wasn’t interested. I tried to explain that it’s important to know what his grandparents think about Christmas, but he would have none of it. So instead, we read The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming and Knuffle Bunny Too and Wacky Wednesday and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I’ve got this emotion, this mood. I can’t quite identify it. I think I can’t identify it because I am emotionally unlearned, because of my Mormon upbringing where there were two emotions: of God and of Satan. Or maybe I’m just blaming that, and really, a lot of people are emotionally unaware and incapable, just like me.

Whatever the reason, I can’t decide what emotion it is and what to do about it. I tried counting. But by the time I get to seven or so, it boils up again, fierce in my chest. It makes my words bite at my son, and it makes me hide my eyes from my husband.

It’s not quite sadness, not quite anger, not quite discontent, not quite loneliness, not quite anything. But it is there. And it makes me want to scream. It’s one of those moods where I’d want to watch something depressing or hard or raw or violent or ruthless, like a realist war movie, or a tragedy, or a German movie, those ones that always end with everyone dying. You have to be in the mood to watch something like that, and this is that mood.

It makes me want to push the envelope. To leave my comfort zone and try something new, something reckless and scary and dangerous. Something that would have people saying, That doesn't seem like something she'd do.

Some people pick up a guitar and write sad songs in moods like this. Some sleep, or listen to music, or drive fast. Yeah, I want to drive fast. Too fast. That’s the mood I’m in. Make it feel like I’m driving away from it. Whatever it is. Some have a couple beers, or a cigarette or a joint. And I think, maybe I should do that. But no, I shouldn’t, that would only numb it, not confront it. Then I think of how many times I’ve ignored this emotion, or numbed it with prayer or scripture reading, and I figure those aren’t any better than chemical-induced numbing, are they, really? Anyway, I write. It’s the mood that pushes me to write. Which isn’t ignoring it; it’s confronting it, and that’s the best way to explore and tackle these things, I’ve found.

But what is it? What is it? I can’t tell.

I know what it’s not. It’s not what I grew up thinking it was. It’s not the absence of the Spirit. As a Mormon, I thought this mood, this feeling, any feeling like it, was the loss of the Spirit. And that meant I did something to make the Spirit go away. I did something bad. Something bad like swear, or have a mean thought about someone at school, or want something I shouldn’t have, or hit my brother. That’s what this was. It was my fault. My inability to be perfect--now. My fault. My own, ugly fault.

And to get rid of it, to get the Spirit back, I had to repent. To pray, to read scriptures more and more often, to ask forgiveness for being human. To obey, to sacrifice, to control my emotions, to put on a happy face, to pretend like everything is perfectly normal. Run away from the emotions, because they weren’t emotions, they were Satan trying to tempt me, to ruin me, to bring me to a miserable hell along with him.

From that, it’s taken some time to adjust to thinking of emotions as just emotions, as part of our humanness, our evolutionary biology. This down mood, this emotion I can’t name, it isn’t evil, though it is unpleasant. I wouldn’t want to stay here forever, but I don’t have to run away from it, to push it away as quick as possible, to ignore it or root it out. Instead, I explore it. I let it act as my muse, and look what it has gotten me.

A whole damn blog post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

my strange sense of humor

When we found out my in-laws were to be out of town the weekend before Christmas, I was delighted. Not only would we have a weekend alone, but it would be the weekend of Winter Solstice. I've been wanting to celebrate Solstice for three years now, but haven't done anything more than light a candle. So with my in-laws gone, I mentioned to my husband that we could have our own little celebration, our style. He was in.

Then my mother-in-law said something about not going away for the weekend after all. In an indirect effort to get her to go like she planned, I piped up with a little humor.

"Well, we were planning on having a pagan winter solstice celebration that day, so...if you want to join us..."

The look on her face was precious. For her, the word "pagan" obviously has the unfortunate connotations of animal sacrifice and devil worship.

"You're kidding, right?" she asked.

I kept it fun. "Nope." I smiled.

"I just hope that celebration isn't happening at my house," she said, unsure about my tone.

"Well, Little FTA was really hoping to run naked around a bonfire..." I laughed.


I left it at that, letting everyone think I was just being silly. And secretly hoping I'd scared her off to that weekend away after all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

we're happier than everyone else

We got roped into attending a Baptist church's Christmas choir performance today, as my father-in-law was playing in the orchestra. Not our cup of tea, but we wanted to go at least to support him. You know, the "the relationship is most important" mantra I'm trying to use to negotiate this Mormon-EvilAtheist divide in the family.

I sat down with my already bad attitude about Christmas this year, wanting to just get this obligation over. And don't start thinking I'm foreshadowing to a big change of heart where I realized my inner love for Baptist Christmas music, either. 'Cause this ain't about that.

Recognizing my attitude, that I was there to fail to enjoy anything, I tried to soften up and just appreciate the music. Last year I would have appreciated it. I tried through "Go Tell It On The Mountain," and through "Angels We Have Heard on High" (which used to be my favorite Christmas hymn), and through a "Joy to the World" arrangement.

I kept reminding myself that it was just a religious celebration. Could've been Islamic recitations or Jewish singing or of any other tradition, and I would've appreciated it. But I just couldn't get into it. I couldn't get past the baggage. The Christianity. The history and traditions I have rejected.

Maybe if it had been only music and song, it would have been okay. But they had to throw in those proselytizing moments, too. Showing how wonderfully happy Baptists are above other Christians and those poor, lost scoffing non-believers. How Baptists have that special light, that special something-something people recognize in them, but can't quite put their finger on. It sounded all too familiar. The same attitude as a Mormon one, just presented in slightly different terminology.

That non-believer was not giving an substantial arguments, either. He was just a straw man, speaking nothing but what was easy to "answer."

"Nah, there's nothing after death. When you're dead, you're dead!"
"Oh, no! When we die, we got to heaven with Jesus! And we live there in His love forever."
"Oh, really? What was I thinking? Gosh, that'd be great to go to heaven. How do I get there?"

The killer was when the Christian-who-isn't-good-enough-because-he-only-attends-on-Christmas-and-Easter said there must be something to the Jesus story, since it's such an old story. "If people have been telling the story for 2000 years, it can't be just a fairy tale!" Wow, what an argument. 'Cause the story of Zeus? How old is that one? And how long were Egyptians worshiping Amon-Ra? And does that mean the Muhammad's story is only 600 years less of a fairy tale than Jesus'? So if you're going to judge by how old the religion is, should we all be embracing nature worship or something?

After that little proselytizing session, my husband and I were rolling our eyes and decided to sneak out with our son the first chance we got. And we did.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

tis the season

I'm rather ambivalent about Christmas this year. I'm almost ready to call myself a Scrooge or a Grinch. I am participating in the festivities, I am buying presents for people, I'm sending greeting cards (that do NOT say Merry Christmas), don't get me wrong. But I feel like all the Christmas around me is too overwhelming and I need to push back to give myself some breathing room.

Perhaps it's the fact that my in-laws over-decorate so much that it looks like Christmas exploded in the house. I'm drowning in Christmas wreaths and advent calendars and ornaments and nutcrackers and cutesy Santa Clauses and various items that for some reason picked up Christmas significance along the centuries but no one is sure why. (Some were stolen from Yule, of course.) And the nativity sets and the Christmas story books about Jesus that my son begs me to read every day.

Perhaps it's the fact that my son's school class is talking about nothing but Christmas. No Hanukkah, no Kwanzaa, no Yule or Solstice, no Festivus for the Rest of Us. Just Christmas, candy canes, snowmen, reindeer, Santa. At least it's the secular version of Christmas at school.

Last year, I didn't mind the secular version. It was so refreshing that a secular version of Christmas was available at all. I think part of that was because there was such diversity in our town, and in school, my son learned about all the holidays. His best friend, a child of secular Jews, invited him over to light Hanukkah candles one night and read him a secular version of the traditional story. So last year, I felt like we chose to celebrate Christmas, because that was our heritage. We celebrated at home, so we were able to keep Jesus out of it and do things our own way. I even ended up choosing to attend church services (a liberal Protestant church) on Christmas Eve.

This year, it feels more in my face, like Christmas is just pulling me along, whatever I think of it. Personally, I'd rather celebrate Yule and Solstice. But my son? The five year old? He LOVES Christmas, the presents, the festivities, the visiting-Santa-even-though-he's-just-pretend. I've been singing him Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as a bedtime song all year, at his request. How can I say, "Hold up, dude, we're celebrating the longest night of the year and the return of the sun, mmkay? So no Santa this year"? The momentum of Christmas is a strong current, and I feel helpless in its wake. And that, I think, is why I'm resenting it this year.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Okay, so this is kind of a cop out post, but I do find these search terms endlessly entertaining. And like Mormon Erotica pointed out once, they are like poetry.

lds library 2007
lds symbols of Christmas
good prayer lds
lds library
lds beehive garments
child of record form lds

stories for tithing settlement
tithing settlement

heavenly father, are you really there? and do you hear and answer every child's prayer?
mormon song love is spoken here
i see my mother kneeling mormons song
i see my mother kneeling mormons

mormon pray folded arms
mormons praying arms
why do mormons fold their arms when saying the blessing?
why fold arms pray

mormons looklike
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what does lds mean
what ethnic groups make up the mormon faith
cultural Mormonism
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mormon light skinned wholesome tribe

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jan schipps
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intellectuals, feminists, and homosexuals boyd k packer

alliance church take on Mormonism
why is ed decker mad at the mormon church?

underwear mormon right of passage
mormons sewed into their underwear
pictures of mormon gay men without garments
wife wont wear garments

marie osmond immodest
marie osmond dancing with the stars immodest
marie osmond exmormon

lds hot tub
hiding drunk
getting drunk in a hot tub

religion extrinsic motivation for morality
strongly disagree agree

depression lds
antidepressants mormon women
mental health problems in the book of mormon
analogy of the bus of depression

crazy kids say
quotes on prepackaged identity teenagers
parenting religion
can a sip wine kill a kid

rituals ashes
native american rights to passage into adulthood

the theories and debates around the cattle killing
did the xhosa cattle killing really happen

obsession with coffee
too complicated to have simple labels
the letter i never sent you
what does marrakech mean
recovery from Christianity
losing friends quotes
from now onwards i shall get up a full hour
take no thought for tomorrow

emerging from the ashes
from the ashes
and from the ashes
emerging from

Friday, November 30, 2007

his dark materials

Just before Thanksgiving, I finished reading the children's fantasy trilogy called His Dark Materials. The three books are called The Golden Compass (now a movie), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. I simply adored these books, and highly recommend them, for adults as well as kids. I am a big Harry Potter fan, but I liked these books more than Harry Potter. For me, who waited in lines at midnight to get book 7 and to watch movie 5, this is saying something. (No, I did not dress up.) Maybe I'll share my ideas on Rowling, death, and agnosticism later, but right now, I want to gush about The Amber Spyglass.

I don't want to give too much away for anyone who wants to read these books for themselves, but I will say this. One of the main plots involved killing god. That idea hit me like lightning. I've heard Nietzsche's ideas on god being dead, and I've written before about how I felt like I killed Heavenly Father when I left Mormonism. At the time, I grieved about that symbolic death of a mythical figure. But when I came across the idea in these books, it thrilled me. I couldn't wait to see how it played out.

The books also deal with souls, death, evolution, friendship, love, the fall, sexuality and original sin, the institutional church, church-leaving, deceit, character. The Church is a bad element; childhood innocence as well as maturity and sexual awareness are celebrated; the heroes and heroines are multi-faceted and capable of both "good" and "bad."

These are some of my favorite bits at the end of The Amber Spyglass:

"'The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that's all.'" (Mary, p. 441)

"'Was it hard to leave the church?' said Will.

'In one way it was,[' answered Mary, ']because everyone was so disappointed. Everyone, from the Mother Superior to the priests to my parents--they were so upset and reproachful...I felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended on me carrying on with something I didn't.

'But in another way it was easy, because it made sense. For the first time ever I felt I was doing something with all of my nature and not only a part of it. So it was lonely for a while, but then I got used to it.'" (p. 446)

"'When you stopped believing in God,' he went on, 'did you stop believing in good and evil?'

'No, but I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names from what people do, not for what they are. All we can say is that this is a good deed, because it helps someone, or that's an evil one, because it hurts them. People are too complicated to have simple labels.'

'Yes,' said Lyra firmly.

'Did you miss God?' asked Will.

'Yes,' said Mary, 'terribly. And I still do. And what I miss most is the sense of being connected to the whole of the universe. I used to feel I was connected to God like that, and because he was there, I was connected to the whole of his creation. But if he's not there, then...'" (p. 447)

"That was the meaning of this night, and it was Mary's meaning, too.

Had she thought there was no meaning in life, no purpose, when God had gone? Yes, she had thought that.

'Well, there is now,' she said aloud, and again, louder, 'There is now!'" (p. 452)

"'She [an angel, Xaphania] said that all the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity. She and the rebel angels, the followers of wisdom, have always tried to open minds; the Authority and his churches have always tried to keep them closed....And for the most part, wisdom has had to work in secret, whispering her words, moving like a spy through the humble places of the world while the courts and palaces are occupied by her enemies.'" (p. 479)

(Thank you to hotmomama and her kids for recommending these books to me.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

an allergic reaction

Last week just as we drove over the border into Utah, I shuddered involuntarily.

"What?" my husband asked.

"Utah," I answered.

"Ah." He understood.

"It's like my desire for a tattoo shoots through the roof as soon as I get into the state."

Monday, November 26, 2007

crazy stuff (Mormon) kids say

"Do you know who saved Baby Sister's life?  Me.  'Cause I was the one who prayed when Mom was bleeding when Baby Sister was in her tummy.  I said a prayer, and she was fine.  I saved her life."

Never mind the doctors.  Never mind biology.  Never mind that there were only two possible outcomes, and had it been the other one, they wouldn't have blamed him for saying the prayer that didn't save the fetus.  Never mind that if god really did intervene, it would have been god who saved the life, not the prayer-giver.

"There was a hurricane, but we said a prayer and it turned the other way and missed us."

And would the hurricane have turned away anyway?  What about all the people who prayed for the hurricane to miss them, too, but it flattened their houses anyway?  Are they not good prayer-givers?  Did they lack the faith it required?

"Jesus said tattoos are bad.  You shouldn't get tattoos."

Really?  I don't remember reading that anywhere in the scriptures.  

And the craziest thing?  They're saying this shit in front of my son.  

Like this little gem he reported to us:

"They said, 'We felt an earthquake, but we said a prayer, so the earthquake stopped.'"

We turned that into a skeptics' teaching moment.  "Well, let's think about that," I said.  "If they had not said a prayer, would that earthquake ended in a few seconds anyway?"


"Earthquakes are about geology, about the shape of the earth, the earth moving.  How is a prayer going to change that?"

"It's not.  And besides, if god is way up in space," he wondered, "how is he supposed to stop the earth from shaking?"  He's really been into this idea that heaven is up in space somewhere.

"Know what I think?  I think saying a prayer during an earthquake or a hurricane helps them feel not scared.  There are a lot of things in the world we can't control, and saying prayers and thinking that god is helping them out makes them feel safer and more in control."

Sigh.  I guess my son has to learn to negotiate through this kind of thing, and on his own, too, since I won't be there every time someone brings up something believing.  So far, he's been polite enough to not say, "But god is just pretend!" when god is mentioned in conversation.  Today, though, I saw his face when someone recited a poem about god making this and that.  Oh, his face was precious.  Disbelieving and sassy, as if he was thinking, "Oh, these people!  How silly of them!"   But he held his tongue.

That made me smile, but really, I don't want him to be condescending to believers.  I want him to be sympathetic, polite, and respectful.  Which is why I explained that praying makes people feel safer in scary situations, instead of just leaving it at "Yup, aren't they silly for thinking a few words to a pretend friend in the sky will change the nature of the earth?"

Saturday, November 24, 2007

as if that was all it takes

Sister: hangs up phone

FTA: Who was that?

Sister: [Our brother].

FTA: What'd he say?

Sister: The baby blessing is a week from Sunday at nine.

FTA: Ah. I'd probably even go to church for that.

Sister: Oh, yeah?

FTA: At least until after the blessing. laughs

Sister: laughs But you'll be out of town by then.

FTA: Yeah.

Sister: teasing Well, I'll call him back and tell him you'd come, and he'll call mom and tell her and then they'd change it to tomorrow so you could be there.

FTA: Right, so I could maybe feel the Spirit and come back!

Sister: laughs The sad thing is that it's probably true that they'd think that.

FTA: Yep, they totally would.

Monday, November 19, 2007

what women know

I commented before about the 1950's-era talk given in LDS general conference recently, and how people criticizing it got a slap on the wrist, as it were, in subsequent church meetings. The church can believe and teach what it wants, but in teaching the kinds of things about women (and men) that the church is teaching, they are ignoring what women (and men) really are. And therefore hurting them, even the very people who want to be Mormon.

Well, people are stepping up and have written a response. It's beautiful and powerful, and it shows that a lot of Mormon women--faithful, liberal, and ex--are thinking, and not just obeying blindly. It takes guts for faithful Mormon women and men to sign their names, at the risk of church discipline, and I applaud them. They are seeking signatures from people who can show their support in that manner (I know there are many reasons to be anonymous on the web, both the 'nacle and the DAMU).

I added my name. Check it out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

garment memories

I sifted through some archives from the old foyer, finding some posts I wrote, oh, so long ago, as I was transitioning out of the church.

When I took off my garments (the date I now consider my anniversary of leaving: General Conference weekend of April 2005), I was terribly conflicted about it. This is what I wrote:

"I bought new underwear today--at Target, not at Beehive Clothing. But I'm feeling really conflicted, jumping from one world view (no one can tell me what kind of underwear to wear) and the mormon world view (I've made a convenant and will be damned now; I should just obey and hope I'll understand someday). I'm thinking maybe I wasn't ready. But will I ever be ready? Is this conflicted-ness just a part of it? Should I go back to Jesus jammies and wait until I've completely lost hope that there's any significance to garments besides Joe's magical world view, being a part of a select, secret group, etc, etc?

I should also note that my husband also changed out of his garments today too. He felt ready. He is not conflicted. He has reasons that work for him. He was waiting for me to be ready (not giving pressure), and I didn't want to hold him back. We made a day of it, even our toddler got new big boy pants (his first, starting potty training [Ack!]). I guess I don't want my reason to stop wearing garments is that my husband was ready. But if it's not going to be any easier later, why wait?"

Someone commented that there is no actual temple covenant to wear garments; it is just expected. So taking them off is not actually breaking a covenant. I replied:

"Actually, that nitpicking does help. I feel less like I'm breaking a covenant when now I realize I didn't even make it. (I never did any initatories for the dead--once was enough.) And I understand the concept that we didn't really make covenants when 1) we didn't even know what covenants we would be making until the moment of making them, 2)we really had no choice to make them (has anyone ever seen anyone actually stand up and leave at the point the officiator asks?), and 3) we didn't know what they really even meant."

I later added:

"I've been in and out of G's the past week (I had some regular underwear handy even before the Target trip). One day I wanted to wear a short-ish shirt and some low-rise pants, but my garment tops showed in the middle. So I found a [garment] top that was short and let my belly peep through a bit. It felt quite good and liberating. But I was also paranoid about seeing any Mormon buddies (quite a few live near by). DH thought I had just gone "spiritually topless" and asked me if I'd been hit by a train while I was out. It's incredible (and ludicrous) the thoughts that come to my head...that something bad will happen w/o the G's. Duh. I don't believe in amulets and protective hexes and things (expect for a placebo affect in some cases), and yet I believed in garments. And, yes, normal underwear is way sexier."

That first weekend when I changed out of garments, I wore them for church the next day. But then took them off again in the afternoon when it was hot outside. The next day was the day my mom found out I was questioning. I stood there on the phone with her, feeling awful and guilty and oh-so-naked wearing my evil underpants as she told me I was being deceived by the devil. I felt dirty and exposed. She didn't know I didn't have garments on, but I felt like my body was screaming it out loud enough for her to know through the phone. After the conversation, I put garments back on and felt comforted. Ah, the power of those ugly underclothes. I took them off again that night, and have never worn them since.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

in which Mormonism is conspicuously absent

I've been meaning for a while to comment on the section on my sidebar called "On the world, in which Mormonism is conspicuously absent." Most of the other lists of books in my sidebar include books on Mormon history, culture, theology, etc., all books I personally read during my exit process. The exception is "further reading," which includes books I've read since transitioning to my post-Mormon world that I found were relevant to my adjustment and understanding the mindrape that was Mormonism.

The "conspicuously absent" section, then, are books I read just before my world view collapsed, or only shortly thereafter, when I was still reeling from the collapse. Now, it's been two to three years since I read those books, so I don't remember all the details, but a few comments on a couple of them is in order.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
, by Jared Diamond
This book discusses major societies in each continent, their developments, and conjectures why they developed, or in some cases, why the didn't. Geography and environment are big factors in the fates of human societies, as are domesticatibility of animals and plants.


A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson
This one is an easy read (Bryson is normally a comedic travel writer), and gives some funny and interesting histories from science, from the primordial gunk that was first life, to modern theories and debates.

Very interesting in themselves but why did they affect me and my transition out of the church?

There are no Lamanites in these books.

No Nephites, no Hebrews building ships to sail to the Americas. No indication whatsoever, no blip on the screen, no unanswered questions about how a certain group of people just suddenly showed up in South America. The traditional Mormon view of how the New World was populated is 100% beneath the attention of the authors and all the anthropology, geology, paleontology, archeology, geography, linguistics, and biology that they mold together to tell the history of the Americas and the world.

Years before, that would have not worried me. I would have brushed it off as persecution (they know we have the truth, but their scientists repress it; it's all a part of Satan's plan to confuse people and fight against Heavenly Father) or ignorance (they just haven't heard the true history yet; we need to get those missionaries out there to soften their hearts).

But since I read these books when I did, when my mind was more open and doubting, they struck me like a ton of bricks.

Mormonism is insignificant in the world.

Heart of Redness, by Zakes Mda
This is the fictional story of a modern Xhosa village and how their history of the Xhosa Cattle Killing (a real life event) affects them. The Cattle Killing occurred in the 19th century in South Africa. Two young girls, who would most likely be diagnosed with schizophrenia in today's world, were treated as prophetesses visited by spirits in the 19th Xhosa village. One of their prophecies was that the Xhosa, whose entire livelihoods were keeping cattle, must kill all their cattle in order to defeat the white people and make those damn colonists just go away. If all the Xhosa people would kill their cattle, ships of powerful warriors would come from the sea to help defeat the whites. Some people believed the girls, and killed their cattle and waited. And waited. And waited for those ships to come. They never came. The believers blamed the non-believers for not killing their cattle too. Whites took power and eventually formed the apartheid government. In the fictional part of the story, set in a coastal village, a group of people resurrect the cattle killing story, forming a cult of believers who again wait and wait and wait for the coming of the ships.

Having been raised with the story of Jesus and the Second Coming, I couldn't help but see parallels. Once upon a Mormon world view, I would have interpreted this story to be an echo of the One True Story, proof that all societies once knew about Jesus. Instead, I saw Jesus and the waiting and waiting and waiting for the Second Coming to be just as ridiculous as half of this village relying on the voices of a couple schizophrenic girls from 150 years previous. They differ in time frame and scale, and Jesus, if he existed, probably wasn't schizophrenic (at least I haven't heard any theories like that), but all the same, it was a serious blow to my belief in a Second Coming.

Monday, November 12, 2007

my boy, the skeptic

While driving in the car with my son in the back, I listened to him matter-of-factly tell me his thoughts on heaven.

"You see, people said God lives in the clouds. But then they built airplanes and flew up there and saw that there's no God there. So then they said God lives out in space. But then they built rocket ships and flew up in outer space. And guess what."


"No God there either."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

leaving is hard

My friend responded to my email about leaving with surprise that it would be hard to leave the church. It just had never occurred to her. So I speculated about why.

Oh, I also wanted to say that I had never considered that it would be hard to leave, either. Maybe this is partly because the three most common reasons listed within the church for people who leave are "they were offended; they wanted to sin or they sinned and were feeling unworthy; and they were lazy." Doesn't sound difficult.

In fact, these reasons are grossly inaccurate. Of all the people I have interacted with since leaving (and that's a lot of people), very, very few of them are captured in those reasons. For most people who actually leave the church or stop believing (as opposed to "jack Mormons" who still believe but just don't practice for a variety of reasons), the main reason is that they simply don't believe the church's claims. "Simply not believing" may sound simple, too, I guess. But it's not.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

transitions and non-religious upbringing

This is from a email I sent recently to a Mormon friend who asked how I was handling things with Little FTA, and how he transitioned out of the church.

As for Little FTA...He was almost 3 when we stopped attending church. So he'd been to nursery, but never primary. In nursery, he didn't get much religious-training, since the nursery in our ward was more about making sure the wilder kids weren't beating up the others. But other than that, we prayed with him before meals, showed him pictures of Jesus, I told him "remember Jesus" during the sacrament, we celebrated Christmas as the birth of Jesus, etc.

As we left, it never, ever occurred to me that we would stop being religious or stop being Christians. So as we stopped attending the LDS ward, we started shopping around to other churches, and we took Little FTA with us. We went to Catholic, Islamic, Episcopalian, Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, and Congregationalist churches. The UU was easily the most comfortable for me, so that's where we went most often the summer after leaving (the last time we went to the ward was April, '05). Little FTA being still quite young, he was more interested in how fun the playtime was at church. Most churches either don't have children's classes during the main meeting at all, or had a separate nursery during the main meeting. So he preferred the places he could play with toys, of course, which meant the UU and the Quaker. He loved it also when the UU meeting had a special Children's Sermon at the beginning; it made him feel special to go up front and have the pastor speak directly to the children. But for some reason, he hated the UU nursery teachers, and started to protest about going. By the end of the summer, it also became apparent to me that my husband was more fond of staying home on Sundays than going to meetings, so I started to go alone. Not every week, just every once in a while when I felt like it. Once grad school started, though, I found I was too busy most of the time, and preferred to spend my time on fun outings with my husband and son. A walk in the woods on a Sunday became just as satisfying to me as a church meeting. Since then, whenever I ask Little FTA if he wants to come to UU with me, he says no, and I don't push it. I did take him to a Christmas Eve service last year, at the congregationalist church where our exmo friends have attended. He enjoyed seeing his friends in the nativity play, and the dog and goat that were part of the production. But the rest was lost on him, and I'm okay with that.

At first, I was really concerned about finding a replacement church and a religious community in which to raise my son. I couldn't conceive of a moral upbringing without religion. I mentioned this to a Mormon friend of mine who is married to a man who was raised atheist (and still is). It made sense to her, but then she brought it up once when we were all together, her husband included. As she said it, it struck me that here this man was, a great person, a wonderful husband, a perfectly moral, ethical man, who had been raised without religion. And I knew it was possible, and that religion was not necessary to being good.

Little FTA hasn't missed church, though there have been a couple moments where I could see he was making the transition. Once, a few weeks after we stopped attending, when we were walking around a Divinity School lawn, I told him what people there do (learn about Jesus, etc). He said, "I don't know who Jesus is." It struck me profoundly, certainly more profoundly than he meant it, and I answered simply, "I don't either, Little FTA. I don't know either." I was having major doubts about the divinity of Jesus at the time.

I want Little FTA to be aware of religion and religious traditions, though, and he's freely asked questions about his Jewish/Christian/Muslim friends, and understands that some people do this or that because of their different religions. I tell him Greek myths, Bible stories, etc., all with the same attitude: they are old stories that try to teach us something. Holidays are the same; Christians do this, Jews do that, there's also Yule and Kwanzaa, etc., and isn't it fun?

He's still a little confused about some details, but he's young yet. For example, he thinks "grandma and grandpa don't drink coffee because they believe in God." I correct him on such things, but don't push it. I have no problem with his religious education coming later rather than sooner. We will not allow him to be baptized into any religion until he's an adult and can make his own decision if he likes. We will make him aware why we've chosen not to be Mormon, but that he also needs to be respectful to his relatives who are. For example, we tell him he need not participate in relatives' meal prayers, but he does need to be quiet during them.

He's really, really into science, and questions about where he came from and what happens when he dies come up--and he's perfectly at ease with the scientific answers, at least so far. He thinks it's great, for example, that the hydrogen molecules in his body were present 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang ("I'm 14 billion and 5 years old!") and that when things die, their bodies "return to the earth and fall apart into lit bits" and those molecules will be around in the universe until the end of the universe. When I read him children's stories that imply a heaven or afterlife, and he asks, "What does that mean?" I explain how we always remember people who die, in our heads and in our hearts, so in those moments, it's like they are with us again, and how some people call that heaven, and some people think that there is a heaven, too, where people really are when they die. Currently, he doesn't believe in God, and I'm okay with that for now, but when he's older, I'd like to him really explore the options. I could see myself taking him to UU services, for example, because I really like their youth program. For one year, when they are teenagers, they learn about a bunch of other religions and take the youth to those churches so they really know their options. I like that a lot. UU is also really good about helping people find their own spiritual path rather than defining the right one for them, and people in the congregation range from atheists to theists, Jewish, Christian, pagan.

Whoa, I've gone on for a while, haven't I? I guess I needed the chance to clarify these things in my own head, so thanks for asking the question! We've been making it up as we go along, really, as I think most parents handle a lot of things.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

my version, at least

I recently had an old Mormon friend ask my what humanism was, as I'd listed it as my "religious views" on a networking site. Humanists define their own meaning, and I am still in the process of defining my version. This is what I answered.

Humanism. Hmm. I'm probably not the best person to ask, I haven't studied it that much. But since leaving the church, I found my approach to life and beliefs are pretty much in line with humanism--that there is no god, that humans are responsible for improving the world with an emphasis on using reason, improving knowledge, fighting for social justice, and environmentalism; that bad stuff happens because of human foibles and natural workings of the earth. I don't know that that would be the definition you'd find on a humanism website, but that's sort of how I put it in a nutshell. It's humanist as opposed to theist. I realize that to some theists humanist thinking seems pompous or conceited, in a "relying on the arm of flesh" kind of way, but when approached from the idea that there is no god, it's what makes the most sense to me right now.

For a while after leaving, I still held onto Christian thinking, as many people do, without believing in the actual divinity of Jesus. But I'm not too keen on the basic paradigm that Christianity espouses: that humans are "fallen" and in need of redemption, and that people have a savior to solve their problems. I prefer the more humanist approach, that people have it in our power to improve our world. I know Christians are perfectly capable of taking it in their own hands to improve the world--many, many have--I just mean that for me, it's been healthier to approach life from a different paradigm. I care more about the world and doing something about it, doing my part, than I did before. Make sense?

And in a old post, I wrote this in response to a comment. Since hardly anyone will go back and read it, and since it fits this post, too, I'm bringing it up here.

I agree that humans _can be_ stupid, greedy, and immoral. Hence many of the world's problems (eg, not Satan). Humans _can_ also be unselfish, hard-working, and good. I don't believe humans are either inherently good or bad; they are inherently very intelligent animals with the capibility to ask themselves "Am I good? Is this action moral? Why do I exist? What is my purpose in life?"

I have no doubt, nor did my post assert that, Christians are bad people. Christianity creates one way of many of approaching the world and the questions above. It's simply not for me. I became a better person outside of Christianity; I did not say that would be true of everyone or that everyone should abandon it. And I do not fault my friends who decide to accept that paradigm.

[The commenter asked me if I was prepared to give up my possessions]: As for possessions and the rest of the world: I am not ignorant of the world. I have lived abroad in one of the poorest countries in the world, lived very simply (and live more simply than the average American), and saw poverty, malnutrition, and other deprivations at every turn. I just don't think that's because the Fall or Satan's temptations, etc. It's more about environment, politics, economics, social problems (including parts of religion), human foibles, etc. In this way, I am a humanist and not a Christian. I will not attribute social ills to the supernatural, nor will I hope that a supernatural being will fix them all. Humans are responsible both for the problems and the solutions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

losing friends

An old Mormon friend of mine asked me why some old friends who left the church won't return emails and phone calls. There's the desire the keep up the friendship, but the faithful/exmo divide seemed insurmountable. This is what I replied.

I'm really sorry to hear about your lost friendships. That really bites. I've been trying to get my thoughts together on what to say, but, of course, I don't know your friends and why they haven't kept in touch. I do know, though, that it is a very difficult transition.

Especially in the case of your gay friend, I would guess, there's a lot of negative baggage associated with all things Mormon. For me, leaving was like my house fell down around me, and adjusting to "post-Mormon" life is like a major renovation. I've had to sift through the rubble, throwing out stuff I find harmful, and trying to preserve the stuff I want to keep. I became very inward-focused for a while, neglecting my relationships with others, so I could concentrate on my own upheaval. Not on purpose, it's just what happened.

I think there's also a tendency among us leavers to cut off everything church-related, including faithful Mormon friends, in order to come to grips with our new selves, redefine our selves and goals, and move on. I think it's an effort of self-preservation, really, where everything is just so overwhelming. If your friends are anything like me, it's just more comfortable and easier to be friends with fellow ex-Mormons, people who understand us and have been through similar things. More than anyone right now, they are "my people." I am, and I bet your friends are, trying to repair relationships and negotiate how to be friends across those barriers. It's tough.

In addition, many of us fear that faithful Mormon friends are hoping to get us back in the church, or will simply misunderstand us, or will want lengthy explanations (or worse, debates or fights) when we may not be prepared to dredge all the emotions and reasons up again. (Don't worry, I don't feel that with this email exchange.) We also fear that our Mormon friends will judge us, like you said, or cut us off. While I haven't lost any good friends, I've certainly lost church acquaintances and people whom I thought were friends. Partly because we stopped attending church and activities, and partly because (it seems) they were afraid of us. Ouch.

I don't know if that helps you understand your friends a little better or not. Just my thoughts. I'd say, try again. Be explicit. If it were me, I'd prefer my friend to just come out and say, "Listen, I feel like our different religious choices have gotten in the way of our friendship, and I think that bites. I want to be friends with you. What can we do about it?" Everyone is more comfortable once the elephant in the room has been acknowledged; it may cause some awkwardness at first, but it's worth getting past it by just talking about it directly.

Friday, October 26, 2007

baby pressure

A friend of mine wondered

Maybe the reason the church tells you to pop them out early is because at that point you're still young and naive, and haven't had time to fear it.

This is definitely the spirit in which I had my son. Way too fast, way too young. And we had even been married for years by the time I had him! I've had people at grad school ask me, "Um, I don't mean to be offensive, but was he planned?"

"Yes, he was," I say. "We were just young and crazy."

I remember feeling the push to bear children while I was at BYU living in married housing. The people without kids were referred to strangely enough as "single people." They were outside the social circles, never quite accepted. The ones with kids had nothing to say to them. I felt like I was getting really old and had waited way too long to get pregnant when I was 21 and had been married for about a year.

When I became pregnant while living there, I didn't tell anyone. I was rebelling against that system of motherhood-is-everything. When I started showing, though, at about 16 weeks, damn my belly, I was suddenly in the in-crowd. Oh, goodie me. The women really had nothing else to talk about but babies and scrapbooking; those were the only issues on which they talked and connected. Even then, I hated that culture, and felt relieved that we moved out of there before the baby was born. Not a single one of my new "friends" tried to follow up when the baby was born. I was in a different ward, you see, all the way down the street.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

free speech in Mormonism

I haven't commented on Julie Beck's recent LDS General Conference talk that told women that homemaking, nurturing, and house chores are their highest calling. Aspiring to have a life outside the home is apparently ungoddess-like, and while I, as a faithful Mormon, aspired anyway, I always felt very conflicted about it. It wasn't until I was out of Mormonism that I was actually comfortable with pursuing my master's degree with the idea that I'd actually get a full-time job afterward.

Anyway, many Mormon people in various stages of faith and non-belief have spoken up about Beck's talk since that first weekend in October. Since then, Boyd Packer, one of the church's highest leaders, has made comments that appear to chastise the women and men who have criticized the seemingly 1950's-era talk. Packer quoted a scripture that basically called the critics (both faithful and exmo) "children of disobedience" and "servants of sin." (The scripture's context appears to me to be regarding people accusing Joseph of polygamy, but never mind that for now.)

Hellmut over at Main Street Plaza has written a more extensive post than I have, and I want to bring attention to it. Every Mormon, faithful, doubting, ex-, or post- should have the right to speak freely, even if that means criticizing leaders, their opinions, policies, and doctrine. Period.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

that's a bad word

My brother-in-law, S, and I were driving with his four kids and my one kid in his car. We went over a little hill in the road, and his 3-year old, C, piped up with, "Whoa, my penis feels funny!" S and I snickered a little. I had heard stories about C's current curiosity with body parts, like most little kids.

Then from the back, I heard my son whisper, "C, that's a bad word" and giggle.

I've never taught him that anatomically correct words are "bad words," and I don't want him keeping that idea, either, wherever he picked it up. I, for one, didn't have any words for certain female anatomy when I was a kid, and that silence contributed to my ignorance. I didn't know about vaginas until I was in high school health class, and even then, I didn't pay attention because I was so embarrassed. About my own body.

So I explained, "No, honey, that's not a bad word. It's just a word for a body part. Like ear, or nose, or foot." From the driver's seat, S laughed and whispered something about how a penis is different, but I tried to ignore him. I continued explaining to my son, "It's just that saying penis might make some people uncomfortable, like at school. Some places it's inappropriate to say it, but it's not bad."

Encouraged, my son joined in the refrain, "My penis feels funny! My penis feels funny!" until I said that's enough and S tried to distract them with "Name that farm animal feces smell!" as we drove through the farmland and orchards.

Later, when we met up with S's wife, A, my son happened to hear her say on the phone, "I'm gonna kick his ass!" My son immediately turned to C and whispered, "Hey, C, your mom just said 'kick his ass.' Isn't that funny? That means kick his butt."

"Honey, you can't say that word at school, okay?" I told him.

"It's a bad word?" he asked.

"'s a word only for grown-ups, all right?"

"Okay," he answered, giggling.

Monday, October 22, 2007


When I go out to get a couple drinks, I get carded. More so than other people. Maybe it's my innocent-looking, ethnically Mormon face (supposing there is such a thing). Maybe it's my younger-than-I-actually-am look I inherited from my mom. Seriously, she looks young. We have this family picture from years ago, and if you look at her face alone, you could easily guess she was 15. Except that she's surrounded by five kids.

Once when I walked into a bar to meet a couple girlfriends, I got carded at the door. Then when I ordered my drink at the table, I got, "Um, I'm going to need to see some ID from you." I thought nothing of it, and handed over my card. When the waitress left, though, my girlfriends immediately started teasingly protesting. They hadn't gotten carded at all! And one of them was four years younger than me.

The other day, I got carded again at an Oktoberfest. The gray-haired woman checking IDs looked at my card, then at me, at the card again, then back at me. She smiled and said, "Honey, you're going to be getting carded until you're 50!" I laughed, sure I don't want to look 20 when I'm 50.

There is a situation in which I am never carded, though. If I got out to dinner with my family--my husband, my son, and me--and order a drink, the staff never bothers to card me. I guess they figure someone with a five-year-old kid is old enough to have a drink. Hell, anyone with a five-year-old kid needs a drink.

Friday, October 19, 2007

invitations have started

I've had a couple invitations to attend church with my relatives this summer, but now the invitations to church activities have started. A Relief Society craft night here, a Halloween party there. Luckily, I've had other plans during these particular activities, and so was able to decline politely and easily.

But what's the matter with going to church activities? Would I go? Would I not go? And why? (I'm asking myself these questions, though I'd love to hear your points of view.) First off, I don't want to go because it's the church. Yes, I still think the church is a sick institution and I don't want to support it even with my casual attendance at a church activity. If it were something important, like a funeral or a wedding reception (of course not the wedding itself; I'm not invited ever again, now am I?), I would be okay with attending it in a church building. Second, the activities aren't fun or interesting or stimulating to me, and I don't have any good friends there to catch up with.

Third, I can't help be think that I'm being invited not because they'd think I enjoy it or because they want my company, but because they think it'll help me, even if only a little bit, come back to the church. As in, "See what nice and friendly people we are? See what fun activities we have? The church can't be a bad place if we are such good people!" As in, "Maybe she'll feel the Spirit again." As in, "Something is fundamentally wrong with your life, and I'm going to do every little thing I can to fix it."

Maybe they don't think that. Maybe I should be a little more forgiving. Maybe attending a function now and then would help sooth the relationship, help them be a little more comfortable with my current position. But remembering back to when I was a devout Mormon, how I used to think, I would have seen any "inactive" coming to any function as a step in the right direction--back to the church. Not as a "fine, I'll do it for the sake of the relationship," not as a "I thought the activity would be fun," but as a return to the fold. So why would I lead my relatives on like that now?

Monday, October 15, 2007

no more hiding

This last weekend, we went to a dinner concert with my in-laws. A whole hour before the concert was set aside for people to eat, drink, and mingle. We got all dressed up, and my husband and I went a bit earlier than his parents so we could have a little time alone with the open bar. The very presence of alcoholic drinks apparently keeps my in-laws away from the eating and mingling.

When the parents showed up, I had just finished my drink, and my red-stained glass was still in front of me. My husband's cup was still half-full of Cabernet.

So, there it is. Not only do they know we drink (I think they suspected it before), but we drank in front of them. It was, big deal. To us, anyway. I wouldn't know how they felt about it, seeing as they didn't say anything. And I doubt they ever will.

The reason I suspect they know we drink is because I was drunk and extra loud and expressive one evening in their hot tub a couple years ago. I was too drunk to realize how loud I was, and my mother-in-law looked at me a little weird, but I'm not sure how familiar she is with drunkenness. And I was too drunk to care and really be aware. She eventually left, and I regaled the rest of the group with exactly what I had had to drink that night, still in a loud voice. I didn't realize how loud until I left to get a glass of water, and could hear the hot tub group from the kitchen--the opposite side of the house. My in-laws bedroom is right next to the hot tub. So I'm sure they heard all about my drinks, but everyone in the tub with me had thought it so funny to see me drunk that they didn't try very hard to shush me.

The next time I got that drunk was this summer, and I drunk-dialed Sideon along with Christy and smoked a clove cigarette. Ahem. There, I admitted it. First and last cigarette.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


The other day I turned on the TV to find an afternoon cartoon for my son. The TV was tuned to some random channel, and a woman was on telling the story of Samuel from the Hebrew Bible to a group of children. "And Samuel said, 'Here I am, Lord'."

I immediately tensed up. I bristled at the thought of my son hearing that story about god talking to a boy. It could have been any Bible, story, though, and I still would have gone on the defensive. I turned the channel as quickly as possible. To me, that TV show represented the literalist religious tradition I have rejected, as well as the figurative or mythological tradition I have rejected as the standard and origin for morals. To me, the Bible is baggage.

I realized a second later that had it been a religious story from anything outside of Judeo-Christian tradition, I wouldn't have cared. Because to him, the Bible could just be another old book, a collection of stories and sayings about a people and how they see themselves relating to god. I shouldn't keep him from it any more than I should keep him from Hindu scripture or the Koran or Greek stories or Confucian writings. It could have been any Bible story, Celtic myth, fairy tale, Rwandan origin myth, etc. To him, it's all the same. Stories about gods, origins, history, and pre-scientific ways, and oftentimes just fun ways, of explaining the world and human interactions. None more correct or privileged than the next.

What freedom.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

on parenting and religion

I frequently think about how to raise my son, since I was raised believing Mormon things and want him to have a broader, more critical and open mindset than I did. I recently had an email exchange with a fellow ex-Mormon mother about how we handle teaching our kids about religion. The following is from my emails:

"With regards to kids, it's difficult, isn't it? We want our son to be aware why we left Mormonism, but we also want him to be kind and respectful to our families. So far, we've done the bare minimum, like ask him to be quiet while family says dinner prayers. We've also explained why the family prays, and why we think that's, frankly, silly. Why say thank you to an invisible "god" when you know perfectly well that it was the earth, the sun, the water, the farmers, pickers, truckers, and grocers that brought us the food? Isn't it rude to forget them? He's also been really into science, which we encourage, because of the critical thinking it requires. He knows about Big Bang and evolution, so if he hears the Bible creation story, he'll recognize it as just a story. I think literature and art could have a similar effect, of broadening kids' mind to the varieties of human experience.

In all, we rarely talk to our son about religion, and we never take him to any church at all. We think he's just too young, and he doesn't like it anyway. We've never let family take him to church or activities, either, and we've asked them to avoid religious talk around him. If religion is idiotic and harmful--and I think it is, in many ways--I have no problem letting my son see that. I don't think religion and beliefs automatically deserve our respect and deference simply because they are religion and beliefs.

I didn't mean to say we protect him from religion, we just haven't had any interest in going to church right now, and he hates going, so we haven't bothered. He's had a lot of exposure to Islam abroad, the call the prayer, etc., and having friends who are Muslim, secular Jewish, devout Catholic, Mormon, etc. So religion does come up, and we discuss it with him. We talk about different people doing different things because of religions tradition--fasting at Ramadan, lighting candles at Hanukkah, wearing head scarves, etc. I also tell him stories from the Bible, so he'll be "Bible literate," but I tell them like they are mythology, just like Greek myths, African myths, Chinese myths, etc. I think it's very valuable to have that exposure. As he gets older, it will come up more, too, I'm sure."

I also want my son to be respectful of people, whether religious or not, and while he doesn't have to agree with their beliefs, he should be sympathetic to people. I'm still figuring out how to teach that--being both critical and sympathetic. Hell, I'm still trying to figure out how to achieve that myself.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Wow. It's been a year of emerging from the ashes. The year has been good for me. I've sifted through my emotions and beliefs, met new friends, found wonderful people who, like me, are just trying to make sense of their new lives.

It started with a fury of cleansing posts, the words exploding from my head to my fingers. I could hardly keep up with my thoughts and get them down fast enough. The pace has slowed, and my ex-Mormon muse is barely with me these days. Moving on, moving on.

Here's to 274 posts, 16288 hits, and a year of Outer Blogness.

Friday, October 05, 2007


I've had a couple Mormon dreams lately.

In one, I was at the veil in the temple. Except there was no veil, the man representing god was just standing there. And he was a little creepy. I was trying to go through all the signs and tokens and names and kept screwing them up. Not on purpose, just because I couldn't remember them well. It didn't worry me, though. And in my dream, I didn't remember that I am actually apostate and should've just been messing with everybody for some laughs. Hey, it was a dream.

In another, I was lying in bed, sick. Some priesthood-holding man came into the room and started to put him hands on my head to give me a blessing. I most definitely did not want a blessing and I protested, asking "What are you doing?" in an appalled voice. He tried again to put his hands on me, and for some reason this was just the absolute worst thing that could possible happen (you know how dreams are). Short of physically moving out of the way, which I couldn't do because of my illness, I tried to think of the ways to get him to leave me the hell alone. I thought swearing might scare him off, so I started swearing up a storm, but it didn't seem to bother him. That's all I remember.

Why can't I just have dreams where I'm flying?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

love bombed

I was at my "inactive" brother-in-law's house, and noticed a paper plate of cookies, loosely covered in saran wrap, on the counter.

"Let me guess, your home teachers came over?" I asked my brother-in-law.

He looked up, utterly shocked. "How did you know?"

I pointed to the cookies. "Love bomb."

He smiled. "Better watch out. They might be poisoned."

Monday, October 01, 2007


I sat at the kitchen table drinking some herbal tea. My son asked where I got the tea, and I told him my mom gave it to me.

"She drinks tea?" he asked incredulously.

"Yeah, herbal tea."

"Even though she believes in god?" he asked.

"Yes," I smiled, "even though she believes in god," I answered. "But, you know, most people who believe in god still drink tea. It's Mormons that don't drink tea."

"Oh," he answered. "So Grandma FTA is not Mormon? She drinks tea."

"Well, yes, she is Mormon. And she drinks certain kinds of tea. Like herbal tea."

"Why?" he wondered.

"She thinks herbal tea is okay, but not other kinds of tea. It's kind of weird."

"But my other grandma doesn't drink tea?"

"No, I don't think she does."

"Is she Mormon too?" he asked.

"Yes, she's Mormon too," I told him.

"They're both Mormon?" he marveled.

"Yes," I confirmed.

"You know what I was thinking?" he said.


"If got caught in a tunnel like Curious George did," he said, "and they covered the holes with metal, I would use my lasers to blast a hole and get out. Wouldn't that be cool? If a laser came right out of my forehead?"

"Dude, that would be sooo cool."

Friday, September 28, 2007


Since I was raised to abhor tattoos and believe they were a slap in the face to god, who, after all, gave me my body as a temple to keep holy and pure, I never thought about tattoos for myself until I left Mormonism. Once I had the true chance to think for myself on the matter, I realized it just ain't none of anyone's damn business but my own whether or not I get a tattoo, or enough of them to cover my whole body. I realize, still, it can affect people's perceptions of me, and this could affect personal relationships as well as career situations. Which is dumb, but a fact of life.

I still didn't get tattoos, though, and wondered how people could choose a design they would like the rest of their lives. Or how they deal with tattoos they learned to dislike or will be embarrassed about later (like the one I saw on a young father's chest: Money over Bitches). Or why someone would even want to put permanent art on their bodies. I started watching Miami Ink now and then, as often as I could beat my husband out of the remote control because it was on the same time as the reality show about climbing Everest. I watched Miami Ink and listened to the people's stories. There was always a story behind the tattoo--a death of a beloved relative, an overcoming of a destructive drug habit, a birth of a new child, a success in career, the turning of a new leaf. These tattoos meant something personal, something beautiful. They marked an important part of their bearers' lives, and served as constant memento to that. For others, tattoos are a celebration of the body, of self, using the body as art, a canvas. Now I understood.

I've often thought about getting a tattoo of a phoenix, complete with fire still burning. It would show my rebirth from Mormonism, with the burning and destruction a necessary part of that rebirth. But I have yet decided upon a design I like, or decided to spend the money to hire a tattoo artist to design one. Maybe I'll get around to it, and maybe I'll decide I don't want one. Perhaps I'm a little reluctant to have people (read: Mormon relatives) see me with a tattoo. Perhaps I would regret it. I don't know. And since I don't know yet, I'll wait. I have had extensive henna tattoos and loved, loved, loved it. But perhaps my ability to love them was their impermanence. I'm not sure.

One funny thing about Mormonism and tattoos is that the proscription has extended to temporary tattoos. You know, the kind you get in grocery store quarter machines, the wet-and-stick, kid ones. I got one once when I was dating my now-husband, and put it on my belly, lower and to the left of my belly button. My mom caught a glimpse of it and flipped out. Never mind that it was temporary. Never mind that I was nineteen. She lectured about body-is-a-temple and tattoos-laced-with-LSD and avoiding-the-appearance-of-evil. And I rolled my eyes, as any nineteen-year-old would do.

I've continued to have fun with temporary tattoos since then, and enjoy buying them for my son, too. He loves them, too, but is scared of "needle tattoos" because "that would hurt" and "they stay on forever and ever until your body breaks up into tiny bits and returns to the earth." His opinion of tattoos he's formed entirely by himself, as far as I can tell, but because we certainly haven't said anything to knock them and admire them on people when we see them. And I'm proud of him for having his own mind on the matter. I imagine he'll change his mind when he's older and not as afraid of needles, but either way is fine with me.

So when my mother-in-law accidentally bought all her grandsons some temporary tattoos, which she thought were stickers, we stuck them on my son's arms, exactly where he wanted them. Around the same time, I found some tattoos I had bought a couple months ago, and my son wanted those on his arms too. Pretty soon, he had a full sleeve of temporary tattoos.

The adults all thought it was a great irony that Mormon Grandma had bought the tattoos, even on accident, and we weren't going to let her take them back. My mother-in-law, as soon as she discovered her mistake, freaked out, and tried to dispose of the other grandsons' packets of tattoos. I rescued them, knowing that the other grandsons would like their present as much as my son did. She keeps making comments wondering when those things will come off, and if she could bathe our son tonight so she could scrub his arms clean. We keep telling her not to worry about it, he loves them, but she keeps pushing. Why? She's afraid that this youthful episode will "get him used to having tattoos now, and what if that makes him want a real one later?"

She didn't express this fear to me, or else I wouldn't have given her an earful. One, the connection between temporary now and permanent then is silly. Two, so what if he wants one later? If he wants one, then he'll get one. Hell, if it bothers you that much, I'll go get one at the same time he does! Three, if you'd just bother to ask him yourself, he'd tell you he only likes temporary ones. Four, remember that your other daughter-in-law has tattoos? And would love it if her sons decide to get inked when they are older? Five, it just ain't none of your damn business.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I was with my devout Mormon relatives this last week, and some interesting conversation topics popped up. One topic was "any publicity is good publicity," a view apparently held by some of the apostles. You know all the Mormonism-in-the-news that's been going on? The polygamist Warren Jeffs trial (guilty!), the 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the movie September Dawn, and Mormon Mitt Romney running for president? Yep, it's all publicity for the mainstream LDS church, even if only tangentially through history and the FLDS church.

Apostle Perry, for his part, believes all this to be a good thing for the church. Why? Because when people hear about the funky doctrines of Mormonism that Romney equivocates about, and the FLDS church's prophet-accomplice to rape, and the ugly, ugly history of fanatical mass murder, people ask questions. And, Perry must believe, the curious place these questions to devout Mormons who know little enough about them that they can make them look okay.

You know, like, we're really about family values and we don't actually worry about man-becoming-god and the New Jerusalem and denial of the priesthood to blacks. And the FLDS church is in no way related to us; we're LDS, see? Those FLDSers are bad and not Mormon and a big fat embarrassment to us. They have nothing to do with us, and their version of polygamy is in no way anything like the LDS historical polygamy, no, no. And those MMM murders, well, okay, they were murders, but it was a bunch of fanatics. If they had just listened to their leaders, they wouldn't have been led astray. It was their own sick brand of Mormonism that they interpreted to allow for the murders; that wasn't true Mormonism. Besides, the Arkansans were claiming they killed Joseph and all that--of course the Mormons were angry!

But I would venture to guess that, for the most part, all this publicity mostly makes Mormonism look worse than it already did to the general US public. Most Americans think Mormonism is as strange as Scientology and Moonie-ism and JW-ism. To hear more about polygamy and massacre and funky doctrine is only going to solidify that opinion in most minds. And when the curious ask questions, they are going to ask Google as often as their faithful Mormon neighbor, and get very different answers. In my experience, when people do ask faithful Mormons questions about their religion, it is often out of simple curiosity, and the only thing keeping them from saying "That's sounds idiotic!" or "Oh, please, you actually believe that?" is politeness.

So when my family was talking about all this, I was polite. I put in my two cents about MMM and the polygamy trial, to be sure, but I chose my words and tone carefully so that they would actually listen, rather than automatically ignore my opinion because it's so exmo. The interesting thing about those topics, though, is that we, as devout Mormons and exmo, can somewhat agree. The MMM was disgusting. Polygamy is disgusting.

The difference between us lies in the beliefs about the origins. To them, MMM came from local, fanatical leaders--so it is not a part of the True Church of God. To me, it came from local and regional leaders and from a fanaticism that Mormonism itself engendered--so Mormonism is not the True Church of God. To them, polygamy came from God for some incomprehensible reason, but as long as we ignore it, it won't bother us, and a church that once demanded it for salvation can still be the True Church of God. To me, polygamy came from Joseph Smith for personal power and sexual pleasure--and no god would tell a man to do such a thing so Mormonism is not the True Church of God.

Publicity for Mormonism? Yeah, I guess it's a good thing. From my point of view, anyway.