This post is an unusual one in as far as it is not about a specific book or reading-related topic, although faith and reading do go hand in hand much of the time. This post is more personal, and if you’re here for the book posts, ignore it and don’t worry, this is still the place for reading about what I’m reading.
This post started out as a comment on my friend Susan’s blog post “On Why I’m Leaving the Catholic Church (and What I’m Doing Instead)”, but then I realized it was becoming far too long and complex for a comment, and also that I wanted others to also read this, so I’m making this its own post and linking it back to Susan’s. Go read hers first if you like. I’ll wait. Go on.
Okay. Here’s what I have to say today:
Susan (and anyone else else reading this),
Spirituality is an interesting thing. Some people just live with it, others grow out of it, or into it, and others grow within it — I think it’s great you are taking time to explore what it is you can stand for and believe in. I may have told you this before, but I’ve been ‘around the block’ faith-wise.
My parents raised me Protestant / humanist / follow-the-golden-rule if you will, but my family background is Catholic, Protestant, and some other things. I had questions from age 8, doubts soon after that, and felt much like you did when I was confirmed as a full member of the local Protestant church at age 14. I looked around, but growing up in a small town (not quite a village, but almost) and in a very sheltered environment, there wasn’t much to explore. It seemed it was either be Protestant or be Catholic, or opt out altogether and save yourself the church tax.
Over time, I looked into Wicca because the idea of a strong role of women appealed to me. I stumbled across Druidism and exchanged letters with a druid priestess for some years. I read about nature and the elements, but kept moving on. I finally felt I’d found what I was looking for when I learned about Mormonism. It had some of the ritual aspects I liked from that I grew up with, and lots of the stories and social aspects. Mostly, what got me was the sense that these people actually firmly believed what they said they believed, and they took their faith seriously, which was something I missed in my growing-up experience.
I was over 20 when I got baptized (a decision that greatly upset my family). I had read up on all the anti-Mormon materials my parents provided me with before baptism, and had made sure that I knew what I needed to know. Both before and after my baptism, I studied my new faith in earnest. That was the first time I felt I made my own decisions regarding my own spirituality. Things went pretty well for a bit. A year after I was baptized, I knew more about the church than many of the missionaries I hung out with, and I made a point of learning everything I could. I got my patriarchal blessing as soon as I was able to, and also went through the temple to receive my Endowment. This was the most I could learn about the church at this point in my life.
Finally, I realized I wanted to serve a mission. I got called to England. It was a tough experience — not everyone is as polite as you (Susan) were to the Baptist father and son, even if my companion and I were nowhere near as persistent. And we weren’t out there preaching gloom and doom — none of my companions were like that. We were out there because we felt we had something good to share, something that would make people’s lives better and richer and more fulfilled. And I do think we touched lives for the better.
I learned a lot during that time, and I do not regret any of it. Not even accepting those bizarre candy mushrooms from a sister named Dotty every week after church, knowing full well she had broken the Sabbath and bought them in the corner shop on her way there that morning. Not even getting head lice *twice* in the same month from the numerous children of a struggling single mom in our area, because they loved hearing our stories about Jesus and would hug us like they didn’t ever want to let go. This was over a decade ago.
For some years now, I’ve known that this is not what I need or want. Coming out to myself / realizing I’m a queer asexual as well as a feminist changed a lot of things for me. I am going to leave the LDS (Mormon) church formally before long, because I cannot with good conscience be a member of a church that discriminates against queer / LGBTA people or that opposes the equal treatment of women. I don’t want to be a member of a church where I could not marry the love of my life (once I find her). And there are a couple of other things. That’s beside the point though. Leaving is hard because I know it will hurt some of my friends, but at the same time, I know (or hope) that they will stick with me. I know V will understand that I have to do what I feel is right. I know E will understand this too.
There are still things I love about the LDS church: how genuine many of its members are, and how easily kindness comes to many of them. Earlier this year, I was sick and my LDS friend found out, even though I’d not been to church in years, sisters from the local congregation here brought me meals for several days. Some of these sisters had never met me and didn’t know anything about me other than that I wasn’t well enough to cook.
A couple of years ago, I was traveling and I had no idea where I could go to church or how to get there, and all it took was a web search and a phone call, and that Sunday, a very pregnant young woman and her husband, in a neat suit and tie, but barefooted (he really disliked shoes and only put them on for work and church) came to pick me up to go to church. I was not on their way — where I was was on nobody’s way, I’m sure — but they were very happy to do it.
The hymns, for the most part, are also great — this may sound trivial, but I love to sing, and some of the hymns are just beautiful, and many of them are easy enough to learn for even a small congregation to sound good without much practice. (If you’re at all curious, you can read / listen to virtually all of them here: https://www.lds.org/music/library/hymns?lang=eng#d ) I really think singing is good for the soul — maybe it’s the change in breath, maybe the physical vibration, maybe the patterns or the sense of community. I know how you feel about singing, Susan. (For those of you reading this who are not Susan, just a hint: Susan’s poetry chapbook is titled The Singing is My Favorite Part.)
So, I’m not saying you should or should not explore the LDS church. I’m saying I’m glad you are aware of what you do and do not want in your life, and that you want faith to play a role in it. If I can help you out in any way I’ll be happy to — and I’m excited to hear about your experiences. Faith is a grand adventure, and I’m so glad you’re both in this together. I hope you find what you are looking for.
I love the social aspect of the LDS church — if you want to be part of a religious community that keeps you active, this is great. There are so many ways in which you can interact with others, serve others, help out, and organize / take part in activities. Lots to keep the kids involved and help them make good choices. I also love the idea of not having a paid clergy, and having many members of the congregation teach and preach.
That said, there is a place for paid (and specially trained) clergy. I’ve sat in numerous awkward lessons where the teacher either got it wrong or wasn’t teaching well. I’ve been an ineffective sacrament speaker and gospel principles / gospel essentials teacher. I’ve heard plenty of what I like to call ‘space doctrine’ and odd testimonies, and seen things go wrong.
In the end, we are human, and we fall short now and then. And in the end, faith is about that which does not fall short. It’s about what helps us know how to avoid falling short, or know when we do fall short. Faith is not about people. It’s not about buildings with plain or stained glass windows, with or without gold decorations inside, and it doesn’t matter if your family name is carved into a 200 year-old pew (which is true for a good number of the folks where I grew up). It’s not about tithing, or eating kosher, or going to mass and confession, or praying toward Mecca. Those are part of it, but it must not be all there is to faith. At least for me. I need more.
As far as my own exploration goes, I’ve been spending a little time with mindfulness / very basic Buddhist ideas, and once I’ve completed my current big adventure (the Ph.D.), I’ll dig deeper into that. I hope we can share experiences!