The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

 - The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

The Christlike Atheist

Linda Crocheting

by Pink Hedgehog

My mother-in-law was a beautiful woman. She wasn’t a supermodel, didn’t wear fancy clothes or have a trendy haircut. She wasn’t slim, nor was she concerned with fashion. She was quirky, a little weird, and sometimes cranky. She was generous and kind, and had a very soft spot in her heart for animals. She loved birds a great deal, and her front yard is still filled with birdfeeders of all kinds. She was very organized and tidy, and she never forgot a birthday or anniversary. She was a knitter, and taught me how to knit, which sparked my interest and turned me in to a knitting fanatic. She made hundreds of blankets for needy children, and served the community in many ways. Whenever we would visit, she loved to bitch about the goings on in their little community. Her personality amused me and endeared her to me.

I say all of these things in the past tense because she died last February,–unexpectedly–with no warning, and left a huge hole in our lives. As I have struggled to cope with her loss, I have reflected a great deal about the kind of person she was and of life she lived.

For as long as I knew her, which was since I was a teenager, my mother-in-law was an atheist. She had no religion to shape her values or to help her determine how she should treat people. She raised two sons, who are tremendously moral people, and very successful in life. One of these sons is my husband. She taught them to respect women, to be kind, and to always try to do the right thing. Her sons are a tribute to her life and a testament to the goodness inside her soul.

I had been an observant Mormon for all of my life, and I was taught to be “Christ like,” and to treat others as Jesus would have, and yet many of the rules I lived by as an observant Mormon were anything but Christ like, even though I was both expected to simultaneously follow those rules and be Christ like. For all of my life, I had been hyper focused on following rules and being obedient, and not at all focused on thinking and reasoning in order to develop a sense of morality. When one concentrates too much on obedience to authority, one loses the ability to evaluate a situation in order to determine right from wrong. It happened to me. I became very good at following rules, and very bad at doing the right thing.

As my husband and I began our marriage, we did something that hurt her very deeply and yet this atheist never spoke a single word of her pain to us. We were good, obedient Mormon kids. I was raised in the church, while my husband was “a convert.” We were high school sweethearts. My husband joined the church when he was 18, served a mission, and we got married a mere six weeks after his return. When we got married, we did it the “right” way, following the rules, and married in “the Temple.” The problem is that in following these specific rules, we failed to make the right moral choice and include my mother-in-law in our wedding. This loving mother, who happened not to be Mormon was deemed “unworthy” to enter the sacred Mormon temple and was–therefore–summarily excluded from her oldest son’s wedding. All good Mormon couples get married in the temple no matter who gets excluded, shamed or shunned in the process.

We could have been married in a civil ceremony elsewhere and been sealed in the temple after one year’s time, but I had been taught all my life about the dangers of doing this, and that should one of us die before that year is up, we risk not being together forever. In addition, the stigma attached to those who wait a year can be strong, the assumption being that the couple had sinned sexually before the wedding and is often a badge of shame. So, we chose to do the “right” thing without even thinking for a second how wrong it was to exclude and disinvite my husband’s mother to the ceremony. This is one of the least Christ like rules I have ever heard of, and yet it’s a hard-and-fast rule of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A church that claims to have Christ at its head, and to have a prophet who speaks to God, and for God certainly has a lot of rules that don’t seem very kind, compassionate or Christ like to me.

My sweet atheist mother-in-law endured this pain silently. She always treated me well. She was not critical of me, and as far as I could tell, never held a grudge towards me for the horrible thing I had done to her. She and I shared a love of cooking and knitting. We exchanged recipes and gave each other cookbooks as gifts. She truly embraced me and loved me as her son’s wife and mother of her grandchildren. She lived a more Christ like life than I did, even though I was a Christian; a Mormon.

I find solace that she was able to see my husband and me leave the church 18 months before she died. I was able to apologize for the things I had done. I judged her harshly sometimes for superficial choices, such as drinking alcohol. The day we told her that we were both leaving the church, she cried and we cried. I was able to make things right. Since then, we shared a drink with her, laughed with her, and poked fun at the things I once thought were so important. I am grateful for her example to me of what a good mother-in-law should be. I’m thankful that she was part of my life for nearly 30 years. She showed me that what I thought was Christ like, was in fact unkind and cruel. She showed me this by behaving more like Christ than I ever had.

You will be missed, but your mark on this world will never end, my beautiful mom.

Why the Mormon Feminists Have it Wrong

"You're Nothing but a Pack of Cards,"  by Sir John Tenniel.  (Used under the provisions of the license agreement of he Project Gutenberg eBook of Tenniel Illustrations for Alice in Wonderland.)

“You’re Nothing but a Pack of Cards,” by Sir John Tenniel.
(Used under the provisions of the license agreement of the Project Gutenberg eBook of Tenniel Illustrations for Alice in
Wonderland.)

by Pink Hedgehog

“Mormon Feminists.”  To many, that phrase is an oxymoron.   How can one be a believing Mormon, and a feminist?  If you are a faithful Mormon, you believe that the church is led by a prophet who speaks for God.  If you believe that the prophets have all spoken for God, and currently institute the will of God as church policy, then how can you speak out against that policy?  Either you believe the church is true and instituted of God, or you don’t.

I was a super faithful “Molly Mormon” as recently as last year, and I had no concept that there were women (and men) in the Mormon Church who do not agree with the leaders—and are speaking out.  There are many issues to be tackled, but the feminist issues in church doctrine and policy have to be some of the most important.  It’s been 15 months since the day my husband told me he didn’t believe the Mormon Church was the one true church.  Three weeks after that day, I realized that he was right, and I joined him on “The Dark Side.” Since that time, I have become involved with a number of movements which are clamoring for reform.

Last year feminists called for women in the church to begin wearing pants to church to protest the treatment of women.  Women are not allowed to hold the priesthood.  This means that a grandmother doesn’t even have as much authority in the church as her 12 year old grandson does.  Mormonism is one of the staunchest patriarchal institutions in existence.  Most leadership roles within the church are restricted to men, and only men can lead and preside at LDS meetings and ceremonies.  In temple weddings, women are not allowed to be witnesses, nor perform the ceremony.  Women cannot give blessings, and they may not administer any ordinances in the church.  In the Mormon Church, men make every policy, interpret doctrine, preside over meetings, and tell the women what to do and what to think.  The women largely obey.  I know I did.

For nearly two centuries, women in the church have asked for change and equality.  In the early days of the church, Emma Smith complained about having to clean up the mess that resulted from the men using tobacco and drinking when they held meetings that would become known as School of the Prophets. Curiously, Joseph Smith then received a “revelation” disavowing alcohol and tobacco.  Women in Joseph Smith’s time sought equality; Joseph Smith did give women the priesthood and allow them to perform blessings and other ordinances, but that practice ended upon his death.

In the early 1900s women petitioned for a change in the temple garments.   The temple garments were the same for men and for women (essentially the long johns in the “union suit” style), which was very uncomfortable for women, and uncomely.  The women were chastised for such a desire, and yet decades later, that change is exactly what happened.  I have a hard time believing that God suddenly altered His views on women’s underwear, but maybe that’s just me.

In the 1970s when support for the Equal Rights Amendment was in full swing, the church excommunicated men and women who publicly supported this issue, or at least took their temple recommends from them.  The church vehemently opposed the amendment, using vague statements about “serious moral implications” without actually providing evidence of such implications—or even explaining what the dire moral implications might be.  It’s strange to me that any church led by God would be opposed to equality under the law.

Before April of 2013, women had never been allowed to offer the invocation or benediction in the bi-annual LDS General Conference.  After months and months of planning, blogging, speaking out, talking to the media, engaging social media, and pants wearing, the church finally conceded by allowing two women to offer prayers at the April 2013 General Conference.  Two prayers out of (at least 10, all tangential meetings included).  That’s it.   Furthermore, the church made no official announcement about this change, nor did its PR machine acknowledge any wrongdoing or remorse for the mistreatment of women.  True to form, the church simply made a change, bowed to social pressure, and tried to pretend nothing ever happened.

If we learn anything from history, we learn that the church never apologizes for anything.  They didn’t apologize for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, or the racism that existed and still exists, or the treatment of women, abuses by scout leaders, bullying bishops, blackmail by a murderous document forger or anything else.  The church settles lawsuits, lets women pray, and makes subtle changes to policy, all the while pretending that things have always been that way.  The church has never admitted to any wrongdoing; to do so would be to admit that God made a mistake.

Yet another result of women speaking out for change is that many women have been and continue to be bullied by their bishops for speaking out.  I personally know women who were told by bishops to shut down their Facebook pages and to stop posting controversial material.  Some women lost their temple recommends, some their callings, some were called to disciplinary counsels.  In spite of their efforts to seek the change they desired, they were still trapped in the patriarchal system where men administrate and women obey.

Now that you have a bit of history, I’ll tell you why I think the feminists have it wrong.  The feminists want change.  They say they seek change, and they know exactly what kind of change they are asking for.   Their mistake is that the soft approach of blogging, pants wearing, etc. is rather like trying to defeat an ogre by throwing marshmallows at him.  The ogre ignores the marshmallows because they have no effect on him.  They do, however irritate him, and once in a while, a marshmallow thrower gets crushed.  Finally the ogre decides that the marshmallows are too numerous, so he backs up a tiny step and allows prayers by two specially selected marshmallow throwers,

If women really want to see change in the church, they need to pack up the marshmallows and bring out the bazookas.  What if every woman in the church just stopped?  Stopped doing everything?  No nursery leaders, nobody to run the Primary, no lessons, no seminary teachers, no funeral potatoes, no Cub Scouts, no weekly activities, no Jell-O salads, no pianists, no organists, no talks, no musical numbers, no visiting teaching, no tithing, and no ward activities.  Sure, the women should take care of their family responsibilities, but do nothing to benefit the church in any way.  Just imagine!  Imagine if the men who support these women did the same.

The church would grind to a screeching halt.  The leadership would be forced to listen and take these women seriously instead of brushing them aside in an ogre-like fashion.  It almost makes me giddy just picturing it.  It would be the Mormon version of a ‘60s sit in…actually, more of a sit out.  If the feminists really want change and they want it quickly, they need to hit the church where it hurts.  Until then, they are merely an irritant.

Mormon feminists unite!  Dust off the bazookas and get busy making Rice Krispie treats with those marshmallows.  The troops are going to need snacks!

No Perfect People Allowed

On the Platform, Reading by Mo Riza

On the Platform, Reading by Mo Riza

by Lorraine

I took a deep cleansing breathe as I approached the  Christian bookstore. I had never been into a religious bookstore other than Deseret Book. I had recently found myself at odds with the religion of my youth and was desperately trying to build a foundation that was crumbling. At times I felt like I was free falling and losing my spiritual footings. I thought that if I could replace or repair the religious foundation, then I would be OK. I was not prepared, nor ready to give up on God or Christ or my faith. I believed I could replace my entire 40-plus years of religious indoctrination with something… anything…else. I felt like a criminal as I walked through the doors of the local Christian bookstore. I felt like an impostor as I wandered through the store searching and looking for something that would touch my desperate, aching spirit. I found a book entitled, No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church, by  John Burke.

I liked the title and as I read some I decided that to buy it. I loved almost everything he had to say. He discussed the importance of creating a church or community of people who defied traditional cultural mores. His premise was that no one was perfect and that acceptance was the foundation for change. This message resonated with me. I felt like I had spent a lifetime trying to fit into a specific mold that was predestined for me. This book, this message, was another catalyst that precipitated my exodus from the Mormon Church.  I was learning that outside of my Mormon roots, my Mormon religion, there was an entire world of communities, beliefs, ideologies, that I had never been exposed to. I was like a sponge absorbing different points of view that felt like home to me. I began to distance myself from the religion from which I was moving away.

Growing up Mormon meant that I embraced and accepted the idea that I was destined for perfection. I built a life, albeit, a dysfunctional life, around the idea that perfection was attainable in my mortal life. If I could only fit all the pieces into the ridiculously impossible puzzle that I was desperately trying to put together, then I would understand what God wanted from me. I spent most of my life trying to be perfect according to God’s standards, or more specifically, Mormon standards. The task was too big. It was simply a gigantic, enormous, ridiculous exercise in futility. No matter what I did, which calling I accepted, or how awesome a mother and wife I was, I was a failure because I struggled to be a perfect Mormon. I simply could not reconcile my imperfections with who I thought God wanted me to be. That disconnect lead me to that Christian bookstore. I wanted to know what other Christian’s, thought. I wanted, no needed to know what other Christian’s believed. Unfortunately, John Burke eventually let me down too. As much as he embraced No Perfect People, he really didn’t. His attitude about homosexuality was not accepting and left me wondering if any religion embraced homosexuality with love and acceptance.

I have since realized that no person is allowed to tell me or preach to me anything that absolutely contradicts my own personal divine intuition.

At that point I came to the conclusion that I did not need a person, mediator, or intercessory divine being to tell me what resonated within my soul. Deconstructing all religious dogma was painful and eventually liberating. I stumbled upon a book called The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. It is a book that blends both eastern and western philosophies with the Dalai Lama as the central author.  I felt like I had found the secret to life. I had been free falling for so long and I had finally found peace in the sweet, sincere, simple, words that came from the pages of that book. The Dalai Lama’s message did not seem that different from Christ’s “pure message.” I felt like I had been walking around in a fog and I was beginning to understand who I was. I had pretended for so long to be someone, anyone, other than myself. I was beginning to build a foundation on something solid, something that finally resonated with my soul. Doing it proved difficult but imperative.

From that time until now has been a series of painstakingly moments of rebuilding a foundation from which I can lean that does not diminish my spirit, but rather enriches it. The process has been heartbreaking but rewarding. As I ponder why I write and document this journey, I am buoyed by and grateful for other Ex Mormons, especially Ex Mormon women. I am grateful to a therapist who helped me find the lost girl who desperately wanted to reclaim her life. My departure from the Mormon Church tested my tenuous marriage to its ultimate limits. As much as I tried to bridge the gap, my lack of faith was eventually a deal breaker.

The foundation with which I built my life failed my children, my spouse, and ultimately me. Rebuilding has been a painful, yet rewarding process. I was a stay-at-home mom for 22 years. I recently began working again and have found that I enjoy the challenges that come with working. I also applied to and was accepted into graduate school at Purdue University. I am grateful for this opportunity to be a student again. I have come full circle as I look back at the arduous task of reclaiming myself. I have found a space for gratitude as I reflect on the day many years ago when I walked into a Christian bookstore.

I Hate to Say It, but I Owe Dr. Laura

pandora's box
by Miss O

My feminist mindset ironically began one day while listening to Dr. Laura (I know, barf, I used to eat up every shaming word she spewed). A caller had called in about “duty sex,” and how her sexual relationship with her husband was not fulfilling — she just lies there to get it over with. This caller’s grief resonated with me. I had been married to my husband (high school sweethearts and both ill equipped in the intimacy department) for 12 years at this point and I could have been this caller. My head was nodding in an “I feel ya, sistah” sort of way, and I listened closely to what the wise old doctor would prescribe.

Dr. Laura’s advice was simple: if the caller was going to participate in the act of love-making with her spouse, then she should enjoy it too. She asked the caller why it is that we do it for the man’s pleasure only? If we are married and obviously going to be having intercourse, we women can certainly indulge ourselves in the act as well.

Now for the record, and I feel the need to specify this, Dr. Laura is hands down the epitome of female-shaming and after leaving the Church, I used to yell at my radio when she was on. But this piece of advice from her was life-changing for me. Instantly, I realized that I am a woman with a body that has sexual desires that I had not been acknowledging. My desires had been masked and shut down through many years of shame. I had no sexual identity of my own; duty sex was on the weekly list of wifely chores and God knew I wanted a gold star next to each finished chore.

I had no idea what it looked like to be a sexual being without shame or a submissive, timid approach. Sex was empty and time could always be spent doing more important things like balancing my check book or scheduling next week’s events. But now it could be different. I began to approach sex with the intent of finding out how much physical pleasure I could get out of it. I admit, at first it felt selfish, but if Dr. Laura prescribed it then I was willing to try it. I gave myself permission to lose myself in the pure, clean energy of sexual pleasures. It was uncharted territory that I discovered upon the terrain of my body that I never felt before – I didn’t even dare to look. I realized my own desires, once they peeked out from behind the rock they’d been shoved under, had just as much validity as a man’s.

My body began to sync with my mind and my heart. I realized that pleasure was mine to own and explore; it was not something to hide from myself or something to give the ownership of away to my husband or Church. The damage of the years in the Church was not easily overcome in one night – although once I allowed myself to be curious enough to get lost in pure, personal ecstasy, a whole new world opened up for me. I am beautiful, powerful and I love my feminine beauty – whatever it looks like today.

Women’s (and men’s) sexuality has been owned by the Church and governed by God since the early years in the Church. To find out, through personal bravery, that I actually owned my body was the pivotal point in changing my mindset. I began to build resilience to the shame all around me, especially from those in the Church. I later found that this resilience was the key to arming myself against the cultural stigmas. It was a path I was going alone, that was very clear.

I began to see the women in my family and close friends in the Church as imprisoned. Our bodies were locked behind the bars of patriarchy. Those bars were outwardly noticeable – long skirts, covered cleavage, no sign of shoulders, and frumpy styles. Where was the beauty in our sexuality? Are we too busy mothering our litter of children to put ourselves on the front burner? Is that selfish of us?

When you get a small enough group of LDS women together who feel safe to open up you find that you are not alone. This was the second step in realizing I was on the right track. I shared my new views and watched as the muscles in the faces of my friends and family responded as if I was speaking Chinese. I felt like a missionary in a foreign land preaching the Book of Female Ecstasy. Yes it can be yours, for free! Really free, you don’t have to pay 10% of your income to enter the Euphoria Kingdom.

This breakthrough trickled down to other things in my life. I began to realize that my whole life was set up around men. The duties listed under my responsibilities just because I have a uterus, the things required of me just because I am not a man, and the reality that our culture (in the Church) made it clear to me that no matter what or how hard I try I am not, and never will be, equal to men in God’s eyes.

This caused a revolt in my soul. I began to speak up to my friends and family and become the voice of advocacy for the oppressed women in my family – my sisters, my sisters-in-law, my mother-in-law. Even though it may have resonated, we each have to take that first step of allowing ourselves to see things outside of the bars. Some of them did, most of them did not. My husband was told to get his wife in check, my sisters-in-law frowned upon my disinterest in submitting at family get-togethers where all the women serve the men while they sit on their priesthood asses. I began to see just how much my new Self did not fit within the prison walls anymore. This was the beginning of the end of my marriage. My ex-husband always appreciated my bold personality but so long as it stayed within the lines. This did not work for me and who I really am. I was now awake and nothing was going to put me back asleep.

Although my awakening was caused by one of the biggest public anti-feminists, I am grateful at one time, during her younger years when she was a feminist, she found the power of her personal sexuality and shared it that day. I love that I can pinpoint the moment: it’s burned into my memory – driving in my Volkswagen down Madison Avenue just as I passed the local high school when the advice on the radio hit me to my core. It unlocked what my family viewed as a Pandora’s Box and I will be forever grateful.

Setting the Record Straight

Warren Barnes Smith

by Scarlet A

The dirty little secret of the women of my mother’s bloodline is that Patriarchal Blessings were viewed with deep suspicion and to be taken with a grain of salt. We kept this fact secret by either not receiving them, as my grandmother had opted, or simply refusing to discuss something “so sacred” in a light-hearted matter. It was spin. It was a smokescreen. There is a story behind it.

My great, great grandfather, Warren Barnes Smith, was a patriarch and a well-known one at that, being the son of Amanda Barnes Smith—survivor of Haun’s Mill, who splinted her son’s hip with an alder branch, secretary of the First Board of the Relief Society and a woman who was sealed with her children to Joseph Smith.

In church lore, church history, and the two-and-a-half-minute talk circuit, Warren was a saint, a generous man who turned no one away and whose divorced wife still laundered his shirts from a sense of devotion to her temple sealing despite a civil divorce. But Warren had a dirty, little secret: He broke his wife’s heart, abandoned his children and contributed precious little to their daily needs after his uppity wife left him.

My great, great grandmother, Elizabeth Echo Mercer, his first wife, divorced him. The stories handed down from my grandmother say that she loved him deeply, sacrificed for him, waited for him while he went on a mission and bore him seven children. She endured the second wife—even grew to love her and her children—but was heartbroken when he began courting a third. Such behavior has made three generations of women in my mother’s line question where the line lay between adultery and a covenant even in the murky and nebulous boundaries of plural marriage. Her heart couldn’t bear sharing him anymore. She had a revelation of her own: Polygamy was hell on a woman in love.

She divorced him—and yes, a true civil divorce—and she remarried. She did his laundry not out of a sense of devotion—as the revisionists insist—but because she was desperately trying to survive and raise her children. So she took in laundry, delivered by the dutiful children of the other wives, to rub in her poverty and divine punishment for divorcing a holy man.

I named my youngest daughter after Elizabeth Echo Mercer because she lived by the courage of her own conviction and stood against the wrongs she believed inherent in her society and managed to live life on her own terms in the Mormon-dominated corner of the American West of the mid-1800s.

Warren’s daughter, Florence, was my grandmother’s mother, needed shoes for her daughter, my grandmother, Helen. Together they went to the General Store in American Fork, owned by Warren Barnes Smith. When my grandmother told the story, she said she was looking forward to seeing her grandfather, a respected citizen and renowned member of the church. His reputation loomed larger than life and he would help her get new shoes, without holes and without having them handed down from her two older sisters. Upon arriving, grandma—who was no older than eight—and her mother approached the counter. Her mother said, “Hello father, I needed some new shoes for Helen and I was hoping you could help.”

“Who are you?” he replied.

“Dad, don’t you recognize me?”

“Who are you?”

“Dad, it’s me, Florence! This is my daughter, Helen.”

“Oh. You’re Elizabeth’s.”

Grandma didn’t get new shoes that day.

Years later, in the late 1920s, Warren Barnes Smith came to my grandmother’s high school in Lehi, Utah to give Patriarchal Blessings. The teacher knew that Helen was the granddaughter of Warren Barnes Smith, and announced it. Not that he needed to, everyone seemed to know it anyway—everyone but Warren Barnes Smith himself.

As the day of the blessings approached, Grandma would remember thinking, “maybe he would drop by and mention how special it would be to bless his own granddaughter.” Surely, if he didn’t recognize her when he was working his secular job, being in communion with the Holy Ghost to give such vaunted blessings would prompt his heart to know who she was, recognize her, and greet her. When the day came, it was obvious he didn’t know who she was. He hadn’t acknowledged her, her mother or said anything at all. “I was angry and hurt,” she told us. “I felt humiliated that he wouldn’t even acknowledge us or even be kind to us, and yet I was so special because I was his granddaughter. A granddaughter he wouldn’t acknowledge or even recognize.” She refused a Patriarchal Blessing from her own grandfather and went home instead of attending seminary.

The snub was noticed although it had to be brought to the attention of Patriarch Smith. She wasn’t punished at home. Not by her mother and not by her father. In fact, they supported her decision. It was the gutsiest damn thing my meek grandmother did in her entire man-serving, Mormon-fearing, keep-the-social-order-together-at–all-costs life! I remember her saying, near the end of her life: “If he didn’t recognize me, if the Spirit didn’t move him to know his own granddaughter, why would I believe he was inspired to tell me anything?” She queried. “I thought to hell with him.”

She never regretted it. She was proud that she had, in a small way, exposed his cruelty, injustice, insensitivity and charlatanism. I heard the story from her own lips, the excitement and the disappointment—the heartache still present half a century later. I heard her discuss it with her sisters, my sisters and my own mother, who held him in equal contempt. In fact, my grandmother never spoke ill of anyone and didn’t allow it of her children or grandchildren. We were reminded of what Thumper’s mother told the mouthy bunny in Bambi, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Her favorite hymn was “Let Us All Speak Kind Words to Each Other,” nonetheless; I still remember her referring to her grandfather unabashedly as “that old son of a bitch,” not as a curse, but as a mere description of his character.

Google Warren Barnes Smith and you’ll hear that his granddaughter who refused his Patriarchal Blessing later regretted the decision. Sit in Sacrament Meeting and Primary long enough his name will be mentioned vis-à-vis Patriarchal Blessings and the power of prayer—you might just hear how my grandmother, on her deathbed prayed for forgiveness and spoke of regret about not having her Patirarchal Blessing bestowed upon her by her own grandfather.

For the record: My grandmother died calling out for my grandfather, an apostate who drank to soothe his own pain growing up a sensitive child in a mind-controlling cult. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet and hold with great suspicion and skepticism any inspirational talk ending with the phrase: “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

Patriarchal Blessing Mad Libs!

MadLibsIT

by Donna Banta

Brother/Sister        your name       , according to your request, I lay my     body part     upon your       body part      and through the power of the   adjective        male celebrity          give unto you your Patriarchal Blessing.

You are of the House of ­     Hogwarts sorting hat assignment     through the loins of   Clue game character  and shall enjoy the      plural noun     of that lineage which has the assignment of     bodily function ending in –ing      here on the     piece of furniture  .

Soon you will marry. Choose a/an    Crayola crayon hue         fruit or vegetable     who will remain faithful to his/her      article of clothing      and help you to      math function   and      bodily function     all over the     piece of furniture    . You will find     emotion ending in –ness      in serving in the Church, especially in the      adjective             possessive/plural farm animal        organization.

I       verb      you up to come forth in the       ordinal number (first, second, third, etc.)      adjective             Marvel Comics noise      to receive a/an       Clue game murder weapon      in the      Clue game room       . You will enjoy a/an       adjective       life of        household chore ending in –ing         in these      adjective      days, and will perform a/an      adjective             dance step       that will help to usher in the return of       your favorite Beatle­­­      .

In the name of ­­        person in the room      , Amen.

Paul Dunn and my Patriarchal Blessing

Paul_H._Dunn

by Kay Lay Ale

In the early ‘80s I was sitting at a devotional at Ricks College (it would be a few years before the name change to BYU-I). The guest speaker we were anticipating was Paul H. Dunn. It would also be a few years before the scandal broke involving his lies about his baseball and war years. For the moment, we all idolized the church leaders like rock stars. I do not remember what the subject of Paul Dunn’s speech was that day, but I remember clearly his comments about Patriarchal Blessings. He said that he had read hundreds of them and no matter how specific they were, it was his opinion that Jesus’s second coming was not going to be in our lifetime! So his advice to us was: finish your educations, buy life insurance, plan your career paths, and live your lives.

I was stunned! My Patriarchal Blessing was very specific about witnessing The Resurrection. Maybe he would change his mind if he read mine. How could this discrepancy exist between the inspiration and Priesthood-inspired discernment of two men chosen by Heavenly Father to prognosticate the derring-do of the “latter days.” My roommate helped me approach the podium as the crowd thronged around him. I tried to get his attention, but to no avail. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. He did give a caveat that his statements were his own opinion, but he was an apostle, after all. Certainly he had some special insight into God’s mind, didn’t he?

I went back to my apartment and read the specific passage in the Patriarchal Blessing again:
I bless you that your days shall be long upon this earth and you shall enjoy health and strength Through your righteousness you shall have that rare opportunity to be in the flesh when the Savior comes for the second time, and you shall be caught up in that great throng of righteousness, and the Savior will even embrace you and express His love for you.

As I read it again, I wondered how could it not be a literal meaning of the last days and me being on the Earth, in the flesh when Jesus would arrive in the second coming? As the years passed, and I lived my life, my Patriarchal Blessing played a pivotal role in the decisions that I made. I enrolled in nursing classes, even though I found blood repugnant because of these promised blessings:
Then the Lord desires to use you as an angel of mercy, for you shall literally be called to go to even distant lands to administer to the sick and afflicted, to raise up the downtrodden, and to bless those who are less fortunate than you.

I dropped out of the pre-nursing course work because of my revulsion to blood. I was ambivalent to getting married, but because my Patriarchal Blessing told me it was my destiny, (and because of family and church pressure) I decided to find a worthy elder. I dated, prayed about who fit the description in my blessing, my prayer was answered, and I got married. I did not desire motherhood or having children, but found myself pregnant and gave birth to three children, even though I did not desire this path for myself.

You are a beautiful young girl. You are just progressing in that stage of life where many wonderful things are about to happen to you, and you shall see many choice events come into your life, because of your righteousness and many beautiful things shall happen.

Throughout my 20s and 30s, I looked to my blessing as a guide to make decisions and to guide me. I desired a career, not only because it is in my nature to want to work, but because it seemed that my Patriarchal Blessing could not be fulfilled unless I had one. My husband was adamant that I remain a stay-at-home mom. I desired to have the type of relationship with my husband that the Patriarch spoke of in my blessing. My husband was emotionally distant. I read books on how to bridge the gap, I kept a clean home, had meals ready on time, wore sexy lingerie, planned date nights and vacations. The more I did, the more distant he grew. I begged him to talk to me, to tell me what I could do to bring him closer. He walked out of the room each time I brought up the subject. The distance between us grew. I became more desperate, frustrated, alone and hopeless. What was worse, other symptoms of emotional abuse popped up. It flew in the face of what my blessing promised: and great shall be the work that you shall accomplish on this earth, and great shall be the union that you shall have with the young man that is preparing himself.

I’d had many prayers answered, my prayer about whom to marry. I had prayed about what to do with my life when I was 19 and received an answer to go on a mission. I had, on several occasions, felt an intuition to be called to a certain place on my mission and that I would know for certain, what I should do and would be led by The Holy Spirit and have the opportunity to speak and commune with angels—literally.

Even after my mission as a wife, I felt lost and alone. I wasn’t fulfilling the obligation to be an angel of mercy. I didn’t have any bond with my husband, let alone a great one. I certainly hadn’t seen any angels. Members believe that within the church, if you are righteous, then you will be blessed…if you are not blessed, then you aren’t trying hard enough. If things remain bad after you try hard, then it is God’s will…I wondered how it could be God’s will that the promises of my Patriarchal Blessing were broken. Since I was not receiving the blessings promised me, I continued to look at what I was doing wrong that was keeping me from receiving these blessings. I doubled down on my prayers, on being dedicated to my church callings, on holding Family Home Evenings, on everything I could possibly think of that I was not doing well enough. No matter how faithful I was, the blessings just were not coming to fruition. No matter how faithful and dedicated I was, God was not blessing me.
I began to have doubt in blessings.

I thought back to Paul Dunn and wondered why he said what he said. I had no insight into what he said, but as I sat in my state of cognitive dissonance, I wondered why God would tell me to marry the man I did, tell me he was preparing himself for me, that he was a fine young man, then allow him to emotionally abuse me and distance himself from me? Why would God not listen to my earnest prayers and give me the blessing he promised me? Why would God not bring to pass the blessings in my marriage and in the church that he had promised me? I wasn’t perfect, but if perfection is the standard for receiving blessings, then we have all been set up for failure as his children and none of us is worthy. What then was the point of any of this? If I was supposed to learn a lesson, then what was it?

I began to question all spiritual answers…where would this path eventually lead? Was this the end of my faith in the Mormon church and the end of my marriage? It was.

When I left the church, this was the only path that with which I was at peace. I had stopped attending church, stopped believing in the infallibility of its leaders, stopped paying tithing even, but what about the time I prayed about marrying my husband and was told to marry him? When I was separated from my husband, I prayed and asked what I should do and the answer I got was that the path I was on was the path best for me. How could that be? I knew I had received an answer to marry him, then how could I now be receiving an answer to divorce him? If he wasn’t the man I should have married in the first place, then why didn’t I receive that answer 20 years beforehand?

As I searched for an answer to my question, I found it to be so simple, I don’t know why I couldn’t see it before—the answer had been inside me all along. Our brains have an amazing capacity to give us the answers we are looking for at the time we need it. It makes perfect sense now. I wish I had understood this sooner. Each time I prayed, the answer I received, was the answer that I really wanted to hear at the time, or at least best fit the situation.

I had an intuition about my personality and the direction I wanted my life to take, but instead of relying on my own judgment at each new fork in the road, I abandoned my decision making to another authority or power…I had let the Patriarchal Blessing dictate the direction of my life rather than allowing myself to determine my own path.

I Was Just a Girl Who Couldn’t Say No

JUST SAY NO

by Morgana

I should have said no to that calling. That much is obvious in retrospect, but at the time, saying no didn’t seem like an option.

How could it have? Every year since birth, I’ve heard someone from the pulpit give THAT talk. You know the one—where the guilt is laid thick if you happen to not totally, completely and superlatively (what’s the word now? Let’s say it all together) MAGNIFY your calling. Actually turning down an opportunity to serve the Lord is presented as abhorrent an act as robbing an orphan.

So when the Second Counselor extended to me the calling of CTR6 teacher, I accepted it, with serious reservations. I even jokingly questioned from which source the Bishop had received his inspiration. It was the third time in seven years that I would serve in Junior Primary, during which time I had also worked as a preschool teacher. I had three kids of my own at home to boot, including a special needs child and an active toddler. I was burned out.

I was also hiding a shameful little secret—well, shameful for a Striving-to-Be-Valiant Sister in Zion, anyway. I was coming to understand that I didn’t really like other people’s children. It was a slow and hard realization, but there it was.

But, I figured, the Lord wanted me in this calling at this time. There was something I could learn, or someone I could help by fulfilling it to the best of my ability. And fulfill it I did. I worked diligently on my lessons, created fun activities that invited the Spirit, and made cookies and a little card for each child’s birthday. I prayed that I would learn to love the kids and to enjoy teaching them. I even fasted toward that end a couple of times.

I know it sounds ridiculous. They were just kids! For a mere two hours on Sunday! They were all cute and sweet, with the average amount of wiggles and giggles. Yes, one of them had Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) just like my son. But I should know how to handle that, right? Right??? (Hint: although it would seem like a natural fit, do not call parents who are dealing with a special needs child to be in charge of another child with those same needs. We are exhausted, and need the break.) In truth, my class overwhelmed me, and in spite of the prayers, every new Sunday would fill me with increasing dread.

And then one Sunday, it happened. I was in the library, requesting copies for my lesson. The white-haired librarian asked me how many I wanted, and I froze up. I could not answer. The librarian appeared a little alarmed. I began to hyperventilate, and then my husband walked in. He put an arm around my shoulder, and I began to sob.

It was before the second bell, so the library was full, as were the halls. People were staring. I was beyond mortified. Here I was, trying so hard to make this calling work, yet having a mental breakdown in front of my fellow ward members. To appear as anything less than competent, cheerful, and willing to serve is not the Mormon way.

The Primary President approached me. We had a long talk and she asked if I would like to be released from my calling. I said yes, but not without a lot of guilt. I could not figure out why the Lord would call me to something that would end in what felt like abject failure and humiliation.

I began to ponder if the calling had been inspired at all. Something the Primary President said didn’t sit well with me: I had been called because I had known experience with kids and with PDD. It had been an intellectual decision, not a spiritual one. The Lord had had nothing to do with it. And with that realization, came another one: I could have said no.

Saying “no” in the Mormon culture is extremely difficult. Lessons, talks, special firesides all point to the wonderful blessings we’ll receive if we do ALL that the Lord requires of us. Hell, the whole temple experience is a lesson in never saying no. We covenant with God (with angels as witnesses!) to give all of ourselves, even our very lives, to the building up of the Kingdom. Now that I’m out of that culture, it seems so bizarre—so obviously cult-like and disturbing. But when you’re in it, the pressure is very real. It’s no wonder that “no” is a word that’s rarely heard.

But the reality is sometimes “no” is the best answer. We are never, ever taught that. It’s particularly hard for Mormon women, who have been conditioned to believe their work is “the errand of angels.” I’ve pinpointed three responses we Sisters make when the answer should be “no.”

1) We say “yes.” Then we take on the calling, stress out, fast and pray for strength, but end up exhausted and even sick. (See above story…)

2) We say “yes.” Then we grumble and complain at the audacity of so-and-so to even ask that of us—because, you know, once asked we can’t possibly refuse. That would be un-Christ like.

3) We actually say “no.” Wait, that’s not true. We say, “I’m so, so sorry, but I just can’t.” Then we launch into a fifteen minute explanation of how we’ll be in flight to Timbuktu at the time to help our mother deliver her 14th baby, or at the hospital donating our kidneys; but if no one else can step in, then yes, please call us and we’ll email the exquisitely cute RS birthday invitations from the airport, or create the origami representation of each temple from our hospital bed.

There are many problems with this inability to draw proper boundaries and learn to take care of ourselves. One problem is undue judgment of those who actually *gasp* say no. Another problem is undue judgment of those who say yes, but really and truly should have said no. I’ve been privy to the conversations: the criticisms that are heaped on women who appear to be performing less than their best can be frightful and cutting. I think this was another reason for my panic attack in the library, AND my subsequent shame.

Another problem, and this is widespread, is that if we are taught to never say no and to constantly give, give, give of ourselves, this bleeds over into other aspects of our lives.

On my mission, I had a district leader who was wild and rebellious. But he was charming and funny, too. I wanted him to approve of me, regardless of how much he flouted the rules and confused me by his utter lack of conviction. We became friends, and I never reprimanded or guilt-tripped him, something he came to confuse with acceptance of his behavior.

One day, he approached me about going to the beach with him—a topless beach. He would arrange a split for me so that I’d be companions for the day with a known rebellious sister missionary. I’m not sure this is what the Church has in mind when it asks us to follow our leaders.

I look back on the occasion and shake my head at my former prudish self, but at the time I was horrified. But I didn’t say no. I rarely said no. That was not my M.O. I said yes, even when I was deeply uncomfortable with the proposition, and then internally panicked.

As it so happened, the mission president found out about the plan and put the kibosh on it. I considered it a blessing from God, but what it represented was a lost opportunity for me to learn to stand my ground.

I still have difficulty with that, but I’m learning. I’m learning to respect other people’s boundaries as well, another thing rarely taught in our weekly lessons. And by rarely I mean never, which brings up an interesting observation: something that only struck me as obvious recently. When you get a group of ex-Mormons together, with many experimenting with newfound freedoms and most raised neither to say no nor to take no for an answer, it becomes a tinderbox waiting to catch fire. So fellow ex-Mormons, go easy on each other. Respect delineated boundaries! And remember: It’s okay to say no!

Bringing Them Back to the Fold

Sheep in a fold

by Pink Hedgehog

It seems that the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been– unwisely–asking Google all kinds of embarrassing questions about the Church, and leaving it in great numbers, or so ex-Mormons are claiming.   I’ve seen many people who say they left the Church because they discovered the Mormon Church “is not true.”  I think this is a smokescreen, and I decided to write a “how-to” manual to bring these members back to the fold.  If you follow my instructions carefully, you will surely bring your friends and family back to activity and full faithfulness.

John Dehlin came up with five “myths” about why people are leaving the Church.  I propose that these are not myths, but are, in fact, the real reasons that people are leaving the Church.  The reasons are as follows:

1.  They were offended by someone
2.  They desired to sin
3.  They never had a testimony to begin with
4.  They were lazy….or stopped praying and reading the scriptures
5.  They studied anti-Mormon literature

Now that you understand the five “myths,” I will help you to determine how best to help your loved ones to return to the fold.

1. Was a family in your ward offended?  The easiest way to find out if a family in your ward left the Church because someone offended them is to show up unannounced at their front door and simply ask them.  It’s best to choose a time in the evening when they are sure to be home, like when the family is trying to get the children in bed.   After a bit of chit chat, just get right to the heart of the matter.  Tell your friends that you know they have a testimony of the Lord’s church, and that they should not put their eternal salvation in jeopardy by taking offense and walking away from the church.  Help them to find forgiveness in their hearts by sharing a few scriptures with them and bearing your testimony.  It will help to soften their hearts and show them the error of their ways.

2.  Do you think your sister left the church because she wanted to sin?  In this case, you should attempt to discover exactly which sins she has been committing.  When you visit her home, check the refrigerator for the presence of alcohol.  Is she wearing immodest clothing?  Do you suspect she is committing adultery or some other sexual sin?  Any of these things can lead someone away from the church.  If you can determine the source of the sin, you have the best chance of bringing your sister back.  In some cases, you may want to stage an intervention, especially in the instance of substance use, such as alcohol.  In all cases, it is best to confront those who are sinning with the consequences of their bad choices.  The church offers many programs to recover from sin, repent, and return to full fellowship.  You can suggest some of these ideas, after consulting with your bishop.  Always keep a prayer in your heart, and make sure to bear your testimony often about the power of the atonement.

3.  Maybe your friend never had a testimony to begin with.  If you suspect this is the case, it is important to intercede–and quickly, before the spirit leaves her home entirely.  I highly recommend that you bake treats and deliver them at least weekly, and make sure to include spiritual thoughts or scriptures on handmade greeting cards with each delivery of baked goods.  You may wish to enlist the aid of your friend’s visiting teachers, home teachers, and some of the other sisters in the ward.   It may take some months to accomplish, but if you endure, you can be assured that your friend will soften her heart.  In addition to treats, you can offer to read scriptures with her daily, and have Gospel discussions about faith-promoting topics.  Avoid any debate on the more difficult issues in church history because those topics were invented by Satan to damage testimonies and drive away the spirit.  If you start to get a bad feeling about any of the things your friend is saying, you will know that Satan is present and attempting to deceive you.  People who never had a testimony are desperate for opportunities to feel the spirit.

4. Do you suspect that your husband lost his testimony because he became lazy and stopped reading his scriptures and praying?  To help someone in this situation, I suggest you create a chart to keep track of scripture study and prayer.  In the case of your spouse, you can actually supervise his spiritual activities on a daily basis.  If you are helping a friend, you can deliver a new chart each week, along with a treat.  Be sure to include quotes about the power of prayer and scripture study.   Tell your friend that you will bring a new chart each week, and check in to see how her progress is going.  Use encouragement and positive reinforcement to facilitate the behaviors necessary to gain a Testimony.  Do not become frustrated if those you are trying to help do not respond, simply keep up your own scripture study and prayer, continue delivering the charts with treats, and don’t give up.

5. Do you think your relatives have been studying anti-Mormon literature?  This last category is very tricky to deal with.  You will need to avoid allowing your relatives to expose you to any of Satan’s tricks.  It is important to show your relatives where they went wrong, and to help them rebuild their testimonies, while preserving your own testimony.  It is common knowledge that all truth can be found on lds.org.  You have no need to seek anywhere else for answers to life’s most troubling questions.  Your relatives may attempt to lead you away from the church, but do not be fooled.  If you receive an email containing uncomfortable information, simply do not read it.  Skim your eyes over the text to pick out some keywords, then look up those topics on lds.org and send your relatives links to your faith-promoting material.  As always, it’s the perfect opportunity to bear strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel, the Book of Mormon, and the atonement of Christ.

If you are unsure which of the above reasons caused your loved ones to stop attending church, the best course of action is to make sure they know you love them and that you have a testimony.  Pop over regularly without calling, bring casseroles, home canned goods, produce from your garden, jam, home baked bread, and other treats.  Never miss an opportunity to bear your testimony, or to leave them with a nugget of truth.  Eventually this will cause the hearts of those you care about to be softened and receptive to the spirit.  It is your duty as one who understands the fullness of the gospel to share that knowledge with those around you, especially those who have wandered from the straight and narrow path and become lost.

I know these things to be true. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

Invasion

facebook business

by Kay lay ale

What an interesting week. It started out with me learning that the Mormon Church is changing the way it is doing missionary work. They are asking their missionaries (and since every member’s a missionary- are they extending this invitation to all of our Mormon family and friends as well?) to proselytize on Facebook. Is it just me and others who DO NOT want our private space invaded seeing this as a boundary issue?

I write my own blog. Nobody really pays much attention to it, which is fine by me; it allows me to say what is on my mind without having to worry about offending anyone. Then a few days ago, I posted a piece that was well-written and -researched, with LDS Church sources cited only. I received three messages, each one escalating in intensity.  Here is the last message:

Wow. Many of these things are the exact opposite of what the LDS Church teaches! Please stop spreading false rumors about my faith.

On Pinterest, another woman is offended that I linked an article that quotes one of the Mormon Church leaders telling the women of the Church they have no need to fight for their rights. She also informs me that “homosexuality is harmful and evil.”

An old mission companion, whom I’ve been Facebook friends with for a long time, just noticed that I support gay rights when I made a comment about it on MY Facebook page. She asked me about my standing in the church. For the first time, I decided to tell my entire story to my Mormon family and friends. It was heart-wrenching, full of pain, sorrow, fear, suffering, lots of study and soul searching, yet I make it clear I am not lost and do not need saving. She told me she understood, even though she was shocked. Then two days later, I get a private message from her, calling me back to the Church, saying I am lost and she wants to bring me back to the Church. We exchange a few messages in private, but when I tell her how I found out about polyandry and link her to the Church’s own websites, she calls me to repentance. Sigh. This brings back so many memories.

When I first left the church, I did so quietly with no fanfare. I did not tell my family or friends; I just stopped attending. When I was able to get my feet under me, I informed my family and friends. I let them know I left for personal reasons and not to sin or because I was offended. I told them I was happy and that it was a good decision for me. It didn’t take them long to cross over boundaries and tell me how wrong I was. I had one brother tell me I was full of anger, and that I couldn’t trust in my own reasoning, and I should lean on his greater reason and intellect. I then had another brother tell me that I couldn’t possibly be happy without the Church in my life; that I would never be happy until I repented and came back to the Church. He then sent me a link to a General Conference talk on repentance.

My children left with me. I have one daughter who is an advocate for women’s rights, working on her bachelor’s degree; she has several piercings, tattoos and multiple hair color changes. She also happens to be bi-sexual. My family does not accept her on any level. They have not invited her to family functions, included her in family mass emails, or friended her on Facebook. After one visit, her grandfather called her up and told her she would be more beautiful without the piercings. Here is a beautiful woman, advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. She is passionate about making positive change in the world, and my family only cares about her outward appearance? That she must conform to some set standard in order to be accepted? The ultimate boundary crossing is telling someone else, either overtly or covertly, that she is not acceptable because her appearance does not conform to your views.

Many ex-Mormons are so often leveled with the criticism, “You can leave the Church, but you can’t leave it alone.” Does is ever occur to Mormons that they can’t leave US alone? In each one of the examples, I was in my own private space. I had an article pinned to my Pinterest board, I wrote on my blog, I wrote on my Facebook wall, I was minding my own business with my family. Each and every time, I had Mormons invade my personal space to tell me how wrong I am to express myself—to voice my opinion. They feel no violation has taken place to call me to repentance, to tell me whether I am happy or not, to determine what Church I should or should not belong to, yet how would they feel if the same was done to them? We can’t leave you alone? How about you try to leave us alone?

x
Share your thoughts with us on Facebook
Ex-Mormon Mavens