Wednesday, May 21, 2008

some more about my options...

(...continuing from this post)

Just a month or so ago I was going to write a post about how church had thankfully become quite tolerable after I gave myself permission to not believe what was said over the pulpit or in the class room. I had taken to bringing my journal to write in, or a book to read to get me through talks or lessons that would have otherwise driven me over the edge (church is a GREAT place to read Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History or History of the Wife).

This worked really well for a while. I thought I had reconciled myself to a different way of being in the church, but the relationship didn't last; lately this has been an exhausting isolated place to be where an enormous elephant follows me from sacrament to sunday school to relief society. Can't talk about it, can't acknowledge it, but it won't go away.

I used to cling to this statement by Chieko Okazaki:
"If you experience the pain of exclusion at church... Don't become inactive. You may think that you are voting with your feet, that you are making a statement by leaving. You are, but your absence may be welcomed and encouraged by those who don't understand or value you. They see your diversity as a problem to be fixed; as a flaw to be corrected or erased. If you are gone, they don't have to deal with you anymore. I want you to know that your diversity is a more valuable statement." (quoted by Brian Chapman in the march 2007 Sunstone)

But as a non-believer, staying in the church just to make others have to deal with me seems... wrong. I was especially impressed by this thought as I read Alya's post at fMh asking if she should join the church. She has a lot of very 'diverse' ideas that may make her uncomfortable in church culture (and make church culture uncomfortable with her)... but she believes the church is true, and that God wants her to be a part of it. That's a good reason to join the church, and stay in the church. Mostly I feel that the only reason I am sticking around is out of habit, and because I am afraid of what my family will say. And because I honestly don't know what I will do instead. Because of Fear.

I was touched by Natasha's post about the things that she (as an "unbeliever") does love about the church... but right now my short list of common beliefs I share with the church isn't enough, I am sitting through three hours of listening to stuff I don't believe, unable to participate at all. This is hard, because I have always been the one that loves to participate.

I've wondered if, like Deborah, I should take a sabbatical from the Church. Visit other religions, do some soul searching, just take a break from the mental gymnastics. Ha, easy for her to do... she wasn't married at the time. I will be deserting a husband and a son (who is slated to give the scripture in primary this sunday). I'm really not sure how we will actually do that. How will sundays look and what will we tell little buddy?

On the other hand, I could also move back into full participation, setting aside the cup of tea and glass of wine, putting on garments again, going into the bishop to start working towards getting a temple recommend again. There was two very thought provoking posts, one by Natasha, and another by Zeniada, on how they negotiate being active in their wards while being non-believers. By adhering to the requirements of the church they are able to have a voice in their wards, are able to participate and make a difference. For the first 30 years of my life, the church was a pivotal, central force. I was heavily involved in my various wards, starting in young womens frequently holding leadership and teaching callings. It's probably what makes my current situation of silent non-participation so hard. I always defined myself by my callings, my testimony, my activity. If the shell of that organization is taken away, what will fill it's void? But if I stay merely to retain the comfort of that familiarity, what will be the consequence?

To be a non-believer but still be able to participate, I'll have to do it like Natasha or Zeniada, where I 'live the gospel' by observing all of the obvious external indicators of the church. Law of tithing, word of wisdom, temple worthy. Will I remove my extra piercings? They are a big neon sign hanging over my head confirming the fact that "I don't believe". Likewise that box of green tea in the pantry is a glaring search light revealing me as a non-believer. Blowing my cover. (And incase the glare from that box of tea isn't strong enough... you should see what the six pack of local beer in my fridge is putting off).

In other words, I am doing this all wrong. And I am feeling the burden of the double life. What I am doing right now is schizophrenic. If I want to continue as I am, I should just move on and come out of the closet about it. Or else I should go back, 'repent', hide my disaffections and find a way to participate.

*Sigh*... Easier said than done, for either option.


Anonymous said...

G--I recently made the leap (and it IS a big leap isn't it) away from the Church and can only say that the act of finally making the decision has brought me great personal peace. The duality for me also became too much. (I am extremely lucky in that my leap came at a time when my husband was ready to jump as well. I know that the decision to leave or stay is so complicated when spouses have differing views.) Have I found that same peace with my extended family, friends, the ward, or the culture I've lived for the past 35 years? Not yet. But I am hopeful that in time it will come. For now, I am gaining confidence in my choices, in upholding new boundaries (um, no, I don't want the Primary Presidency visiting my kids....I'm a returned mish, past YW pres, Gospel Doc teacher....I know how this works and it's not that I don't feel loved or fellowshipped, I DISAGREE), and in opening my heart to the unexpected joys that I'm discovering day by day.

Wishing you happiness from the Southland in whatever path you choose and hoping that you'll give yourself the luxury of changing your mind later if needed. I have. Never say never, my momma always says ;-)

G said...

thankyou for your kind words, anonymous. I'm so glad that you have found peace in your decisions.

and THANK YOU for the kind reminder that it is okay to change my mind later. the apparent permanence of these things is part of the scariness of them.

I think that peace will come to me if I finally make a decision (either way), instead of continuing to slide along in the path of least resistance.

on a different note, I was just re-reading natasha's post (the one about how she is able to be fully active while being a non believer... such a good post) and it this part really stuck out to me:
"The church will have to adapt, 20 or 30 years behind the cultural curve. When they do, I will be there to take a turn in shaping things. As long as I stay in it is my church too."

as much as part of me wants to cut the tie and be my own person... another part yearns for that place in the church, that voice.

Anonymous said...

Hi G, I'm a different anonymous than your first commentor. I've been lurking on your blog for a few weeks because I fully relate to your situation (exception: my husband doesn't know and would most certainly not be as understanding as yours seems to be). Anyway, we are of course different people so this may not be the case for you, but I know that if/when I were to come out of limbo-land, the only direction I could go is out. Just knowing what I know now and not believing what I don't believe anymore... I don't think I could un-ring that bell. Know what I mean? I think I would continue to always feel that uncomfortable nagging in my mind. Just my opinion, but you of course must do what is best for you!

Best of luck and thanks for the courage of your blog. And for not making it private so I can continue to lurk. :)

Lessie said...

Hola chica. I'm sorry things are getting so difficult for you. I hope you're able to find something that works. I also know what you mean about missing the participation. I got so much out of that when I was still active (and believing). It's been difficult to adjust to not having something like that. I'll call you.

Anonymous said...

Hi G!
I was waiting not so patiently to hear what you've figured out. I'm so with you right now. I've decided lately, mostly just for my husband's sake, that I've just got to figure out how to make it work in the church. It's tough, though, and I don't know how long it will last. I love reading posts from others about how they manage to stay in while not believing, those help. I admire you so much and definitely appreciate where you're coming from. Hugs to you!


G said...

hey bones!
I'm still curious to see what I will figure out too! (when ever I do, I will have to change the title of this blog :) )

we (my lover and I) were just invited to be nursery leaders in our ward. Just when I had decided that a three month sabbatical would be the best thing.

we haven't said yes to the calling yet... I've never said no to a calling before. and it feels very selfish, especially, to turn down this calling. nursery is sort of a sabbatical from church... at least you don't go to sunday school and relief society....
not sure what we'll do. but I need to figure it out soon!

(chandelle) said...

g, i must be honest and say that i can't wrap my head around staying active in a church if i don't believe in it. i wouldn't attend a republican rally, though i used to be a republican, because i don't support their ideology. i wouldn't have visited a catholic church for regular services as a mormon (or now, for that matter), because i don't believe in their theology. and i wouldn't visit a steak house for dinner and just sit there and not participate and mumble in my head about how gross the food is, because i don't support that diet. i do understand the desire to stay with a community; i hear you on that void. but if this is any metaphor: when i joined the church, i lost a lot of friends. they went to gay bars on the weekends, or regular bars, they drank a lot and got high, they had a lot of casual sex, and my new "standards" decreed that we just didn't have much to share anymore. any massive change in life requires leaving something behind. something must fill that vacuum; visiting other spiritual communities can be a great stepping stone until you find your place. the quakers and UU are good options.

i can't imagine wanting a temple recommend unless i believe in, or at least enjoy, and grow from, what occurs in the temple. i can't imagine desiring to take the sacrament, or teaching church principles to small children (much less my own children!), unless i believe in their veracity. so i can't say that i really relate to anything you're saying, honestly. for me, when i no longer believed, there was no reason for me to stay. my children were young, my husband was by my side. so admittedly i have no idea what attraction there is in staying to avoid a fight like that. i wasn't willing to sacrifice my self to keep the peace within the extended family or neighborhood. i have to live this life and nobody can live it for me. i have to be true to myself or everything becomes a waste. it might raise an eyebrow here or there, but that consideration only lasts for a few minutes, maybe hours, or days altogether, of another person's time. for me, it's every minute of every day that i'd be living a lie if i hadn't left.

g, you are a smart, soulful, lovely person and i have no doubt that you will make the right decision for you. i hope that you can find peace either way. i hope that nothing i said was offensive. for me, leaving the church was as important and worthy an effort as the decision to join it. in both cases, my vision was clouded by any number of confusing issues, but i followed my heart and was true to my own needs and understanding in both cases, and in both cases, my choice provoked very important and wonderful results that i wouldn't change for anything.

Anonymous said...

Well, you know me, too, but I'm following suit here with the anonymous comments (gosh, what does this say about all of us?!). I SO hear you. I've read those posts, too. And while they make good points, I've got to be honest (and I don't mean this as a judgment toward them), for *me,* it seems like a cop-out, like one is not living with integrity to oneself. That's currently my issue--my inner voice is saying take a break, leave, etc., but the outer me is being a half-hearted conformist as a way to avoid the crap that comes when you stop going (like the email I got tonight that tells me what I "need" to do in terms of church attendance, sacrament, etc.). Gag. Anyway, thanks for your blog. (And Hi Bones!)

Jessica said...

Thanks for your post. I go back and forth feeling like you do. My single cousin just left the church and that has actually had the opposite effect on me. I realize that I want to stay. It may be fear, but it may still be that there are things I want to believe.
I teach Primary, which is hard when the unspoken questions are ones I really have a tough time with (like "All worthy men have the priesthood." What the?).
I just found your blog so I haven't been following your story closely enough to know how your husband has been supporting you, but I'm glad to hear from other comments that he has.
Mine mostly ignores me, hoping I'll get through this in one piece and join him, smiling, as Mrs. Elder's Quorum President. :P Yuck.
Anyway, best of luck to you. I've added your blog to my reader and hope to be able to hear more in the future.

G said...

hello jessica, welcome!

and anonymous (I don't think I have ever had so many 'anonymous' comments in one post before!)

chandelle, your comment didn't offend at all... it sort of made me smile, because I came this close to attending a speech by sheriff Joe Arpio in which he endorsed Mitt Romney. Why? Because my mom really really really wanted all her kids to come and hear it (she was a huge supporter of Romney). I was so absolutely dreading going, but really wanted to support my mom (she is getting involved in local politics. Republican, of course). I ended up ditching out, but only to go hang out with my bros who were also ditching out on the speech. And they ended up going to McDonalds, which I had said I was swearing off... but I went anyways. to be with them.

so, mostly, I guess this just shows up the difference in personalities between us.

I might attend a political event for a candidate/party that I don't support, just to support a family member.
likewise, I could see myself visiting a catholic church or a mosque or a synagogue with a friend (actually... I would enjoy that more than the political rally)
my mom keeps talking about getting all my sisters together and attending one of those Deseret Book "Time out for Women" sessions (the thought just gags me), and while I have told my mom that those 'really aren't my thing' I might still attend if all my sisters were.
and for the purposes of solidarity, and because I enjoy eating with my family so much, I go with them to restaurants that I otherwise would not eat at. (like politics and religion, my food choices are also not up their alley.)

whether it's cause I'm a chicken, or just mellow and easy going, or don't like to make waves, or I let people walk all over me, or am afraid of asserting myself, or am afraid of being cut off socially still more from family and associates... I do these things that I otherwise not do.

And yes... I really do need to get a backbone, be assertive about ideas I think would be good... and if something is really going to be just obnoxious have the guts to just say no.

(chandelle) said...

well...i would do those things for someone else, too. i even went to a pro-war rally with my parents when i was in college. what i meant was that i wouldn't do those things for myself.

woundedhart said...

Hi G,
I'm here from ExII, and I wish I knew what to say. This is painful to read, but only because it reminds me that my wounds aren't healed either, and I haven't made the choice either. I can fairly say that your situation sounds almost identical to mine. I face either going to church with my family, or staying home alone. Acutally, though, I can't even stay home, because I'm the organist, and I feel too guilty about abandoning the ward to the inability of the other "musicians" who can't play like I can. So I attend partly out of guilt.

I love the Chieko Okazaki quote, though it doesn't fully persuade me. And though I take several sudoku puzzles to solve during class, sometimes I can't help but hear the lesson (this week's was about the rules of sealing, how polygamy is still up for grabs...) and I just have to flee. I've even told the RS pres, who has a non-believing son and seems more accepting than I would have expected. But for me, it's not the "pain of exclusion." It's the pain of doubt and feeling misled. If I still believed it all, I don't think it would be a hard decision, since it never was during my first 30 years, even when nearly all of my family went inactive.

Anyway, I appreciate your post. It's wretched to have to decide against something that you've been taught is the most important thing in your existence. It's not fair to feel programmed, and to try to deprogram yourself.

If there's a God, and if he really is loving and kind and knows each one of us, surely he will understand our decisions. I don't know if I actually believe that, but I don't know how else to believe right now.

Anonymous said...

If I were not married with children, I would seriously reconsider my commitment to this particular religion. I don't know what I would conclude, though, because I am married with children, and seriously reconsidering my church membership is just not an option for me; it would destroy my marriage, and nothing is worth that.

So because I am committed to staying in the church, I've figured out a way to live with it and make it work for me. I wouldn't call myself a non-believer, though. Even though I don't believe quite a bit of what I'm "supposed" to, I have chosen to make my personal faith work in this framework of LDS church membership. Actually, it's an ongoing process. But I can only do it because I've decided that I'm here to stay. I couldn't do it if I were still entertaining the option of leaving.

I wish you the best in your journey.

Anonymous said...

G, My heart goes out to you. It's a painful place to be in. I remember the days of trying to make it work, the intense, wondering how my family would respond, feeling guilt about leaving the branch with no organist at all. I did an abbreviated schedule for a long time- I only went to sacrament meeting and played the organ, then I went home. If you're in an in-between space, shortening your time at church might possibly be an option.

I understand the wanting to stay too, particularly if you were raised in the church. Leaving for me felt like comparable to what it would be like to leave my family.

My very best to you whatever path you take.

Natasha said...

These actions have been helpful for me:

1) deciding if I want in or out (in)

2) giving myself the space to enjoy the good parts without taking part in the either/or mentality that the church promotes.

You say that you have to go in or out i.e. be a WoW temple Mormon or leave. Maybe, for your own sanity, you have to choose. But I find nothing unethical about participating in the community, while disagreeing with 50% of what is said. I think the emphasis on us all believing the same thing is sort of creepy anyway.

But the good parts balance out the bad, for me. And it took me a long time to just make the decision to be in the middle and be okay with it. I consciously am my own person every Sunday as I dialogue with the speakers in my head. I'm not public about it unless it is safe, but I no longer care about whether I am public or not. I know me, and the people who count know me, and I get to do the good that I want to do in the church.

However, whenever I meet a former Mormon, I just want to say, "boy do I get what you did. And by the way, in my book, you're still family."

Whatever you choose, you'll still have lots of cultural Mormonism in your blood. Thus, it will be with you always, even if you "cut the tie [to] be [your] own person."

cheers, suerte, it will all be fine in the end.

G said...

hey chandelle, I think that at least 86% of the pull to stay is that sense of wanting to support my husband (and son) and to avoid conflict with my family. I say 86% because (like madhousewife) I am a bit uncertain that I would leave the church even if there was no familial or friendship ties depending on my membership; The Church itself has been such a huge part of my WHOLE life, thinking about leaving it feels a bit like a death of a loved one.
ya, it's complicated.

Hi woundedheart, thanks for stopping by. What? Sudoku isn't enough to filter out lessons on polygamy? darn! ;-)
thankyou for your kind words and well wishes. I hope the same for you.

Hi madhousewife, thanks for the comment! I wonder if some of the difference between our situations is the reactions of our spouses. while my husband still believes in the church and will remain active, he is supportive and accepting of whatever path I feel I need to choose. Sometimes I think it might be easier if I HAD to stay in order to keep the family together, and simply needed to find a way to deal with that... as it is, the family will stay together wether I go or stay, and so I have to tackle that choice.
Personally, I LOVE that you are a voice from 'inside' the church. You (like natasha) can have so much influence for good by staying within the framework of the church membership... loosing that, of course, is part of my conflict.

Hi amyb, thanks for the comment!
Ironically, just a few days ago (right about when I published this post) we were called to be Nursery Leaders. I said yes, and a good portion of it was from the guilt of not helping out where the ward needs it. so... maybe I can skip sacrament mtg and just go hang out with the kids as a way of dealing with church? We'll see.

Hi natasha! thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. And for the reminder that black and white is not the only way to be in the church.
While I still was able to keep the balance of belief to disbelief somewhere within the parameters of 50/50 I was fine... it began to get more problematic when that ratio moved to 30/70 then to 20/80, and when it finally hit 10/90 is about when church just really became three hours of torture. I mean, how many lessons about the importance of gardening, or food storage can I expect?
As I mentioned earlier, we are going to be nursery leaders, and a part of me is relieved that now the doctrine part of church will be reduced from three hours to 10 min (if I skip sacrament). I think this may help a bunch.

Anonymous said...

I'm really lucky because my husband is about on the same page as I am. In fact, we recently discovered that he is more ready to quit--he's less social by nature, plus his parents have been out for some time (unlike my family, which is uber-Mo). We also have a kid turning 8 this year, which added some urgency to our consideration.

Anyway, for the time being we are maintaining our activity status quo: full SacMtg/Primary/choir/activities attendance when we're in town, no temple recommends (and no plan to get them, in fact the opposite) but continued garment wearing. Our oldest will be baptized on schedule. But we also feel free to take field trips during the second and third hours (while the other kids are in primary/nursery), often now with the pretext of getting our baby to sleep in the car (she doesn't sleep well or long at church).

I also faced the same getting-a-new-calling issue as you: enrichment leader. I agonized a bit, but ultimately took it because although I'd never had the calling before (my first calling not in SS teaching or music), it's pretty much in my wheelhouse. My first big meeting is next week.

Anonymous said...

I feel so . . . wrong for posting anonymously when many of you know who I am, but there it is. It's what I can handle for now.

My question for you, G, and for all who have posted is . . . how can you/do you reconcile your own dislike/discomfort about church with exposing your kids to it? Like nursery works for you, but what about your son? Do you worry about his dealing with all the crap (or being brainwas, er, indoctrinated)? I guess that's my thing--I could suck it up and go and deal with my struggles with it, but the older our kids get, the more I worry about them having issues because of the culture/dogma, etc. How do you handle that? Any advice? Ideas?

G said...

Hi janeannechovy! thanks for the comment, sounds like you guys are also at an interesting crossroads.

And anonymous... yep that is the big question. And, for me, it is something that does weigh heavy on my mind. My son has started saying 'look, it's the prophet' every time he sees a picture of an old man in a suit, and 'look, it's the temple' every time he sees an elaborate building.
and I am highly conflicted about this.
I manage it by trying to believe that my own influence and example and words will have far more impact than the two hours of primary he (currently) gets a week. I am starting to collect images of Female spiritual leaders (both modern and ancient) to use as additional examples of inspired people... and similarly collecting images of holy places from a variety of traditions.

but when I read posts like the one artemis wrote about the correct primary answer, my stomach turns sick inside, and when I heard one of our primary teachers bear testimony in church last sunday that her whole goal is to teach the kids that this church is the true church... I want to grab my son and run out of the building as fast as I can.

but, of course, I haven't. not yet.