Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Impressions of Sacrament Meeting

Yesterday, I attended sacrament meeting for the first time in three years. In all honesty I’ve not been active, with a calling, since 2008. I’ve been contemplating going back for about a year and during this last week, finally decided to act. Sunday morning rolled around; I was rather surprised at my lack of fear (nervousness that felt like excitement, but not fear). This is staying something. I spent all of my twenties existing in a perpetual state of anxiety. After a disastrous attempt to serve a full-time mission, sacrament meeting left me in tears, and interactions with church leadership induced horrible panic attacks. I was afraid and ashamed because of my lack of conventional LDS belief, transgressions, mental state, family situation, educational goals, and adult expectations. Mostly, I was terrified of failing my eternal family. The complex story of how I made it to sacrament yesterday, not in fear but in peace, is a conversation for another day. 

I’m still processing yesterday’s sacrament meeting experience, but I have a few interesting impressions to share:

1. While walking to church, my youngest nephew and I found a cracked robin’s egg and the body of a baby bird. I was initially sad to see the lifeless little form. Yet, its silent body was not repellant, but natural. Dying is as natural as being born (I’ll unpack the event’s symbolism, later).

2. My younger nephew purposefully arrived at the church about ten minutes early. I joked that we were serving as a ‘scouting party’ and could save seats. Honestly, I was very nervous and wanted to evaluate my reaction to the building, congregation, and situation. I walked into the meetinghouse and kept telling myself, “Be cool honey-bunny.” (ten points if you get the allusion). In the past, Sacrament meeting always reduced me to panic-laden tears. As I sat down I was still nervous, but surprised to discover a peaceful sense of familiarity.

3. I had the privilege of attending church with my sister, brother-in-law, and their two sons. The day before, I chatted with my nephews and told them about my plans. They were excited to be there with me. After the service, my younger nephew proudly told my visiting teacher, “It my Aunt’s first time at church in three years and I’m here to help her!”

4. Fast and Testimony is wonderfully egalitarian! The youngest kids in the ward have just as much access to the podium as the Bishop.

5. I still don’t trust ‘the suits’ but I refuse to be afraid of them. Walking with other LDS-folks in this year’s SLC Pride Parade helped me learn to see white shirts, ties, and suits as a positive symbol (perhaps for the first time in my life).

6. My younger nephew asked me if I have a testimony. I said, “I believe in eternal families and I’m working on everything else.” He said, “that’s good,” and promptly snuggled into my side. I put my arm around his shoulder, lifted my hand up, and stroked his wheat-colored hair. I also have a testimony of love.

7. Even after a three years, I still want to smack parents who purposefully ignore their screaming babies!!

8. Testimony meeting is not boring. I found sparks of truth in more than one speaker’s words. The fierce love a mother feels for her family, an older gentlemen’s belief in the importance of community service, and a child who expressed her gratitude for her pet dog. I admit, the rote testimony format is perplexing. I can't validate many of the speakers' assertions. Yet, who am I to judge their words, or the intent of their hearts? Also, I need to be mindful of both reactions. Why do some concepts resonate, while others perplex?

9. I adore the inherently communal nature of LDS music. Specifically, I love how my sister and I blend our voices together.

10. The meeting was going into ‘over time’; when the next testimony-barer, a statuesque older women, got up to the podium and simply said, “We’re out of time today, so I’ll bare my testimony in Relief Society, thank you.” Classy and aware of others! Wow, I want to be like her when I grow up.

11. I did not partake of the sacrament. I’m at peace with my choice. I did not cry or feel horribly ashamed, just resolute. My nephew noticed and was worried. Not out of judgment but out of a sense of equality. He said, “Hey, you need to have one too.” I quietly whispered, “It’s alright, I’m choosing not to take the sacrament and that’s okay.” I concluded saying, “Buddy, thank you for looking out for me.” My nephew and I have the type of relationship where if he asks, I can talk (in general) about the ‘whys’ behind my choice to abstain.

12. The rhythms, connected Sacrament meeting, are natural and familiar. I walked home flanked by my broad-shouldered oldest nephew, who asked, “So, what did you think?” I smiled and said, “I think that I’ll be back next week.”

Why I'm Going Back to Church

I've never seen myself as anyting but Mormon. I love my people. I can't reject the church, just because it has bizarre, fantastical, absolutist, or uncomfortable elements. I'm at the point that I think being a questioning, involved, and engaged active member might be the path for me. If I think that some of the church's policies and viewpoints are questionable, then I need to embody the change I wish see. I want to be an activist, but mainly for myself. If there's LDS doctrine/culture that I struggle with (or even embrace) I need to engage with the issue, understand it, and create my own dialog regarding it.

For too long, I was afraid to confront those parts of the church that I had doubts, concerns, and/or questions about. I was ashamed to make sense of them. I was so afraid of fearing loosing my faith. I thought that doubt was evil. Well, I lost my black/white absolutist religion and I've never felt so 'at home' in my faith.

There are (and inevitably will be) elements with the church, that I disagree with. The same goes for what I agree on. What I want is to free myself from viewing these elements as static, binary, polarized, black/white. Life (and Mormonism) rarely reduces down to good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. The only way I can think to break out of this structure is to actually 'experiment on the [Mormon] word' by questioning, engaging, and creating a dialogue, with myself and others. 

I understand that the this type of transparent dialogue is an ideal. At this point, I don't think that my 'spirit of inquiry' would be accepted in most formal church settings. What I do know, is that I can keep making sense of things for myself. I can also keep discussing these issues, with the people I love, and within the communities I'm involved in.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faith, Doubt, and Agency: Discussing an Excerpt from "The Silver Chair" by C.S. Lewis

This excerpt is from The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

"The Witch shook her head, 'I see,' she said, 'that we should do no better with your lion, as you call it, then we did with your sun. You have seen lamps, so you imagine a bigger and better lamp called it the sun. You've seen cats, and now you want a bigger and better cat, and it's to be called a lion. Well, 'tis a pretty make-believe, though, to say truth, it would suit you all better if you were younger. And look how you can put nothing into your make-believe without coping it from the real world of mine, which is the only world. But even you children are too old for such play. As for you, my lord Prince, that are a man full grown, fie upon you! Are you not ashamed for such toys? Come all of you. Put away these childish tricks. I have work for you all in the real world. There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan. And now, to bed all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But, first, to bed; to sleep; deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams.

The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddlegulm, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn't hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck's. But he know it would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, griding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good bit of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone's brain far clearer. The Prince and the children help up their heads again and opened their eyes.

Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all the sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, 'What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I'll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.'

Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum's head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really though. There is nothing like a good shock of pain form dissolving certain kinds of magic.

'One word, Ma'am,' he said, coming back from the fire. Limping because of the pain. 'One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always like to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I wont deny any of what you said. But there's on thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed , or made-up, all those things—tress and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. An that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hallow. That's why I'm going to sand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side eve if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking yo kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the you lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.'”

This passage and the themes it explores are profound...How do human beings define reality and truth? what is faith? Why is it important? How can people of faith be unapologetic about their beliefs (or unbelief)?

This issue boils down to the individual power that choice/agency embodies. It's easy to only read this excerpt from The Silver Chair as a polarized response to faith vs. non-faith. That reading is too simplistic and unimaginative. It also creates a problematic binary relationship; an 'us verses them' mentality. That mode of thinking only leads to a monologue, not a desired dialogue.

I read the above passage as a statement about the importance of having the freedom to make a choice. The witch is villainous, not because she lacks the same beliefs of the main characters. She becomes the villain because she attempt to force those around her to only believe in her construct of reality. She'd still be the antagonist if she forced the protagonist to believe in Narnia. Using, force, guilt, superiority, or coercion are equally vile, regardless of theological/philosophical motivation.

I could not fathom living in a world where my construction of reality was the only one; nor would I ever hope to force another person to adopt my view. The hypothetical social scenario that is singularly terrifying would be a world that lacks questions, disagreement, or a multiplicity of perspectives-- A reality where individual agency is null and void.

Image: "Treading the Basilisk" by Brian Kershisnik

Thursday, October 20, 2011

D&G Terms: Deterritorialization

from A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari
Example by Dr. Ryan Moeller's (aka Rylish) #writingtech
Illustrated by Rebecca Elena James

D&G Terms: Deterritorialization

from A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari
Example by Dr. Ryan Moeller's (aka Rylish) #Writingtech
Illustrated by Rebecca Elena James

D&G Terms: Rhizomes

from A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari
Example by Matt Winters
Illustration by Rebecca Elena James

D&G Terms: Space

From A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari
Example by Adam R. Bair
Illustrated by Rebecca Elena James