Tag Archives: Utah

Let’s Talk Stars.

Because I’m still reeling from realizing how one-sided my blog has become, I decided that this week I wanted to shift gears and talk about what I believe in. Basically, I believe in the stars.

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Six weeks ago yesterday I got a third piercing in my right ear. Call me a twenty-year-old, but it’s one I never plan on taking out, but wearing always. It’s my cross. (Plus, by buying these earrings I made a donation to the Make a Wish foundation, and who doesn’t like them?)

When I was a Mormon, looking at the stars freaked me out, especially when camping and away from city lights. They made me feel small. They made everything I had ever known or made or met or thought or seen small. The vastness of the universe drove into my young brain a helpless feeling of insignificance.

(Plus the LDS religion teaches that God lives on a planet called “Kolob” that is circling among the stars, watching you. And that’s just a little bit creepy.)

I’m not saying dropping the Mormon religion made my anxiety over the nighttime sky disappear (although for other anxieties, that’s perfectly true). But without a “God Made the World in 7 Days” roadmap, I started paying a lot more attention to science. And that’s how I fell in love with the Big Bang.

For official NASA explanations, click here: http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/

For my summary, read below:

At the beginning of the conceivable universe, we were a star. A giant whopping star, and when I say we, I mean everything: Humans, animals, plants, water, suns, planets, solar systems. All encompassed within a giant star. In an event known as the Big Bang, the star exploded and sent its stuff into all space. When the stuff settled after the galactic sneeze, the piece we know as earth was a molten ball. Without an atmosphere, comets pummeled it over and over and over again, each time leaving small deposits of water behind. Out of this water eventually grew algae, and after the eternity it took to gain an atmosphere, the first forms of everything crawled out of the puddles.

With a universal relative like the nighttime sky, I click perfectly, knowing each person and place and thing is the literal stuff of stars. It forms this big fuzzy ball of comfort in my chest. Everything is beautiful and miraculous, a series of incredibly complex chemical and electrical accidents that form every amazing thing I do and breathe and see. The fact that I am so tiny fits into the larger puzzle so perfectly—the inevitable heat death of the universe is now a mural on the walls of my mind. It works. We were all together and we all will be again, and there’s something so tenderly wonderful in that. Reincarnation is possible on this inconceivably huge, universal scale. And it doesn’t scare me.

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The Book of Mormon tells me over and over again that I am “less than the dirt of the earth.” Every cell in my body screams that I am star dust. I am not a cog in a deity’s machine. My life is a miracle.

My beliefs still have room for a god–after all, you have to explain where the giant star came from–but knowing that we are all stars, I just don’t see why anyone needs a god.

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Let’s Talk Figs.

Throughout my teenage years, I went through several periods where I would try really, REALLY hard to be Mormon in my heart. Each episode of devoutness would last from six months to a year. During that time, I was towing the line: I confessed to all the bishops and endured the humiliating repentance processes. I took time out of my high school education to take the seminary classes. I poured my energy into completing my Young Women in Excellence (a program that rewards “virtuous young women” with a ruby necklace [which, if you ask me, is the real incentive]). I prayed twice a day and credited God for everything in my life. In addition to reading the Book of Mormon every day, I was also reading the Doctrine and Covenants and the Bible daily. A couple times I was grappling with the decision to become a missionary.

It’s the most terrifying thing to fall out of a religion. I desperately tried to force my eyes closed and pray my blind faith back. I was so depressed I didn’t sleep for most of my senior year of high school. I wish more people knew that.

During my second-to-last religious episode, when I was 17 years old, I was reading through the New Testament in the Bible when I came across the only imperfect thing I thought Jesus had ever done.

Found first in Matthew 21 and later in Mark 11 is the story of when Jesus killed the fig tree. As the story goes, the son of God found himself hungering one morning, and walking up to the fig tree was so mad not to find figs ready to feed him (Note: Figs were not in season, based on Mark’s account), Jesus curses the tree, saying “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The tree then withers, dead.

I was immediately disturbed. Jesus? Killing a tree because it wasn’t bearing fruit when it factually could not? That sounded like an evil dictator to me. The verses following the episode didn’t explain anything, unlike the explanations that come after all the parables.

I took my question everywhere from friends to seminary teachers. I didn’t get it. What furthered my confusion is that no one could explain it to me—the most answer I ever got was to ignore it and focus on how much power Jesus and prayer had.

Note: I am not a Bible/scripture scholar by any means. You can bash and clarify me all you want, if you have the “divine” answer, but this is my answer. No one else could tell me, and after years of rumination, this is the best I’ve got (yes, I dared to think about it with my own brain).

I finally found an answer in my faith transition support group that makes sense.

Fruit image is rampant throughout the Bible, especially as it related to the theme “And by their fruits shall ye know them,” meaning that you can judge a person by the works and things they produce.

Applied to the cursed fig tree, because is has no fruit to offer (all facts aside), Jesus deems it worthless and prevents it from ever achieving fruition. As there is no spelling out of his reasoning, but rather the whole thing is slipped in, one word comes to mind:

Subliminal brainwashing.

Seeing the fig tree as a person, bible readers are subconsciously taught that if that person cannot give you a religious profit, that person deserves (Jesus did it) to be completely cut out, cast off, and considered as good as dead. No room for compromise. No consideration for the facts of the situation.

This is what Christians everywhere are worshipping without understanding what it is they are reading.

No wonder so many of my Mormon friends turned so bitter so fast without a second thought as to cutting me off, never mind the years of our friendship.

Let’s Talk Suffering.

I was in the living room, my mom around the corner in the kitchen, when I heard her discussing my blog on the phone with her brother. Among comments of how she didn’t know what happened to me, I sat rigidly perched on the couch, no longer reading the book in my hands. Over lunch an hour later, I told her I heard her discussing me on the phone, and I told her it hurt my feelings.

My mom gave me a polite look. “What did I say that hurt your feelings?”

“Well, the whole part where you’re gossiping about me and talking behind my back. Especially when I’m right in the next room.”

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On Sundays, Mormons are pumped full with the prejudice that ex- or inactive Mormons are sinners, projects to be preyed upon, and poor unfortunate souls that got sucked up by the devil for not saying their nightly prayers. When they open their mouths, evil is going to spray forth, so you better bring your umbrella to every encounter. They are people that didn’t try hard enough.

From the pulpit, speakers cry over what a loss to the kingdom of Heaven these lost sheep are.

But people are so focused on themselves being right and everyone else being wrong that they don’t notice that lost sheep stays home on Sundays and cries because they’ve lost the security blanket of religion.

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I recently heard the difference between pain and suffering described like this: Suffering is when you quit and give up all hope of trying.

Do people look at ex-Mormons and think they are suffering? Because they should. People who leave the Church (or any religion, for that matter), especially in the Utah bubble, quit trying on the religion that demanded to be the center of their lives. At home, they lose entire social circles, not just of friends, but of community. They trade open conversations with family for their mother’s tears. Some are cut off and rejected completely by the parents who raised them.

But it’s more than tangible loss. Reader, if you are religious, imagine losing God. If you’re not, imagine losing the sun.

Everything you’ve ever believed in crumbles. You trade daydreams of learning the secrets of the temple with an eternal companion for staying awake for six months straight with the anxiety of dying and losing consciousness forever. You realize that nothing and no one matters, and for a really long time, your outlook is scary as hell because you’re scared of being alive. You don’t get a magical book to read that saves your soul. You don’t get to fall on your knees and talk to someone who has the power to make your life change. You don’t get to drive half a mile to visit God’s house (the temple) and take peace from being so close to your Father.

You give everything you were ever taught to believe in for nothing. And unless you’ve done that, you have no idea how alone and terrible you constantly feel. There’s more than one reason there are more suicides in Utah than any other state.

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I am part of a generation of “heathens” that is suffering enough from the demons in our own minds without the world’s condescension. Instead of looking at us as Satan reincarnate, look at us like artists who have gone blind, runners who lost their legs, birds suddenly too heavy to take flight. We are little boys and girls, coming out of the baptismal font dressed in white, who grew up and opened their eyes.

And opening your eyes is like pulling the trigger on a gun—you can never take the bullet back.

The world needs to realize we didn’t shoot them, though. We shot ourselves. Please, treat us less like murderers and more like someone who needs medical attention.

Let’s Talk Patriarchy.

This is incredibly difficult for me to write about. It’s a tumor the doctors are still afraid to operate on because its fatty little tentacles wrap around my heart. It’s still cancerous. To make this blog post effective, I have to talk about my personal life.

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I wasn’t a Mormon in practice until I was seven years old. I might never have been if my mom hadn’t married Julio.

My mom was a 24-year-old single woman with three kids who made her living by running a daycare in her living room. Julio was an immigrant from South America whose green card was about to expire. Although the signs of emotional abusiveness were visible within the first month of dating, it wasn’t until I took an intro to Psychology class my freshman year of college that we knew that Julio had Antisocial Personality Disorder. This disorder is colloquially known as psychopathy, or the disorder of being a psychopath. Persons with ASPD is characterized by a violation of other’s rights and a disregard for consequences. They are impulsive and controlling, making them successful in such fields as politics and business. The most damming characteristic of ASPD is the systematic charisma of the person. Often they refuse to see a psychologist because they don’t see or feel that there is a problem. When they do see someone, it’s usually because a family member got them to. Like Julio, however, they maintain such a charming and polite appearance that they walk out of offices still undiagnosed. Sometimes, like Julio, they can flip the tables entirely and get the family member that brought them in diagnosed with something.

Although my mom divorced Julio over a year ago (and has been separated from him longer than that), his disorder still stains every day of my life. My family suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse for twelve years and we are still very much dealing with the aftermath.

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One of the first things Julio did to establish himself at the head of his ready-made family was forcing us to go to church. A man who didn’t believe in God took all the necessary steps to obtain the Priesthood, the Mormon God’s ultimate power—reserved only for men.

95% of Sundays during those twelve years, he stayed home in bed. Whenever he was disappointed in me or my sisters, though, he insisted on making us sit down so he could put his hands on our heads, a physical display of his dominance, in the name of giving us a Priesthood “blessing.”

When I believed in God, I knew that a man like Julio did not have the right to give blessings. Julio, the man who makes you eat your puke if you get sick, who makes you hold his steel-toed work boots out in front of you for thirty minutes if you come home three minutes late, who shoved my mom around the workplace, who rubbed his teenage stepdaughter’s backs every night to check what they were wearing because they weren’t allowed to wear bras or underwear to bed—

No god would give a man like that power over me.

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Not only did the Church give Julio authority by principle over his all-female family, but when my mom moved to divorce him, the Church shit its pants.

It didn’t matter that her husband was an abusive psychopath and my mother’s catchphrase of the time was “I want to die.” My mother was repeatedly told that she had to stay and work it out by men from the Church who came to lecture my family. She was told the same thing by her LDS therapist.

The icing on the cake is that even though my mom and Julio are legally divorced now, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which my mother believes in, she is still eternally married and bound to him in God’s eyes. She is still sealed to Julio past death and into eternity.

The only way for her to get out of that is if she finds a new man to get herself sealed to.

Because God doesn’t let unsealed women into heaven.

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The Mormon organization is obsessed with patriarchy, with men being the head and always having the final word, from the top to the bottom, women and children explicitly subordinated. But I’m not tackling the top of the totem pole (although there’s plenty of examples just from taking in the all-male leaders of the Church and the gender-specific “powers” of the Priesthood). I’m pointing out, with my handfuls of shit and pain, how much harm it has the power to wield behind household doors.

Let’s Talk Madness.

While out to dinner with a good friend, conversation inexplicably turned to Jonestown (I think because my peach lemonade reminded him of red Kool-Aid?). Between bites of fried pickle, he expressed how curious he was about how one man who claims revelation from God can convince people to kill themselves.

My friend is a bitter atheist who believes that religion has no place whatsoever in the world. Jamestown is one of his many good points.

Suddenly, he steered the conversation much closer to my little Cache Valley: “What if Thomas Monson suddenly had a revelation and told everyone to kill themselves?”

We agreed that the Church was too profitable for the prophet to pull a move like that, at least in the foreseeable future. Still, the thought was scary enough to make us put our forks down. He decided that his family would do it without hesitation. I wondered.

Not to jump on the bandwagon that is Mad Max, but I didn’t realize in time that I paid for my movie ticket with my soul. (Brief sales pitch: Go see it. Especially if you like being uncomfortable.)

With no further introduction/warning than one commercial that came between me and the movie I was trying to watch, I jumped from my theater seat into a world of pure, sandy Hell.

(If many of you are familiar with this version of the apocalypse, I apologize, but I need to recapitulate a bit to make my point)

At the head of a group of barely-survivors rules fat ol’ Immortan Joe. He is worshipped by everyone (not coincidentally, Joe controls the water distribution in his desert community). He cages and breeds with the most beautiful, multiple wives, considers human beings his property, and even raises an army of young boys to become chaotic warriors. Did I mention he hogs the water in the desert apocalypse?

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Joe is worshipped, especially by his brain-washed (and potentially drug-addicted) army of young men. They consider it an outrageous honor to die at his command.

How does an old, fat, dying guy rise to the top of the dung pile and stay there? How does he talk his citizens into giving him all the gorgeous women and keep everyone else impoverished? How does he manipulate his hordes of men?

Ahaha. With religion.

In the end, my friend and I decided that if the prophet of the Latter-Day church were to ask everyone to kill themselves and their families, he would know. If only because they would call him and try to get him to kill himself, too.

When the silver lining fades…

Specs: This decent-sized plain mug makes elegant use of its white porcelain exterior with its ribbed lines. With a slightly funnel-esque body, it’s a stretch to fit one fist in there, but you’ll be surprised to find that it holds all the chair you wanted in the first place. A shred of silver lining still clings to the handle, which is comfortably curved to allow 2-3 fingers.

Rating: 3/5 stars. It does its job of getting me through caffeine headaches (I recently moved back home for the summer) quite well.

Summary: I’ve been relying a lot on this little guy since moving back in with my mother and siblings while my boyfriend is working a couple states away. Suspicious of instant coffee, I’ve been sticking to tea every afternoon after I get my brother off to kindergarten and get a couple hours of peace.

This mug is part of an entire dishware set that was a Christmas present for my mother years and years ago. Not only is it one out of six mugs (~3 of which remain), but it also matches a set of bowls and fancy plates. When brand new, every item had a lining of silver around the rim.

Now–except for the plates, which we rarely use because we’re not that fancy–the silver has been all but rubbed off by the years of grubby fingers and dishwasher soap.

Some things simply aren’t as attractive as they used to be. What’s more, some things fade away that can never come back, even if you tried painting them back on. Sometimes, when things are rubbed down to the bone, you’re left with something simply useful.

Let’s Talk Silence.

In preparation for visiting my grandmother on Mother’s Day, I warned my own mother than I had made Grandma swear on Facebook earlier in the week (by sharing an article titled “My Mormon Mission Made Me an Atheist,” a very poignant read found here: https://broadclarity.com/my-mormon-mission-made-me-an-atheist).

What I had intended to be a soft warning (if I could make sweet ol’ Grandma say “Bull Shit” on the internet, I was a little nervous about what would be said face-to-face) turned into the first time my mom really opened her heart to me since I started my blog. She told me (correctly) that 90% of my friends had rejected me and 99% of my family were deeply hurt by the things I wrote. My mother wasn’t making a point about my decision not to be Mormon anymore. It was about this.

When she asked me if my blog was worth it, I quickly said yes. I told her first about all the people I were helping and giving a sense of community to, and secondly that the Church is doing so much harm in people’s lives and damaging world at large.

Mom said she didn’t understand how I could choose strangers over all the friends and family I was hurting/losing. Now, nearly two weeks later, I have words for the sadness that welled up inside of me at my mom’s confusion.

From left to right: My mother, myself, my grandmother.

From left to right: My mother, myself, my grandmother.

One thing it is not okay to do in this world is to stay silent—especially when you have something to say. There is not much practical difference in this life between the schoolyard bully and a corporate religion suppressing groups of people. In their gut, everyone has to stand up for what they believe is right, even when the fight isn’t theirs and the bully is punching the kid next to them. Only the people who speak out loud can share their ideas and make change.

Speaking up isn’t easy. Especially when you’re stuck in a mud puddle of opposition. But it will never be okay to swallow your tongue and sink in, because this life is yours and it really is what YOU make it. It’s not about the friends you lose, the grandmothers you make swear, or the strangers who are thankful they’re not alone. It has always been about you and being true to your voice.  

It’s the unconditional love and support my mother gave me that made me as brave and unafraid to follow my heart as I am right now. I hope she knows that my blog is me trying to pass that along to others who don’t have such a blessing in their lives.

 

So raise your voice up and pick your kickass boots out of the mud. What you have to say is beautiful every time.