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.

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stories for tithing settlement
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analogy of the bus of depression

crazy kids say
quotes on prepackaged identity teenagers
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rituals ashes
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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