Sunday, August 30, 2015

I can't feel better

Gosh, it has been so flipping long since I have blogged. I honestly forgot I had this thing for a while. It's been two years I think. And life has basically done about ten 180's since then. It's turned out good, which is good. And I'm too lazy to get in to all of that now. Maybe I will later. But for now I have to write. I have never written on this blog for anyone but myself. I write to stay sane...or some version of sane. But the published and unpublished posts were causing some issues for me, both in my marriage and in my extended family, so I stopped using it. Thankfully it is now a safe space again. So I can talk. And while most people don't get it, I honestly think that words are the most valuable thing on the planet. Without them, it is a boring place. Okay, so on to why I need to write. I need to write because I feel a lot and think a lot, and some times it is just about to cause me to burst. Tonight I am writing what I felt today.

I volunteered at the shelter today. I do this most Sundays. And today I just felt sad afterwards. I told Pat, my boyfriend, that it often feels like I've failed the kids when I am leaving. I've given them two hours of playtime, but it should be three times that. I have given them a small snack of cheese slices and milk and fruit, but it should have been a breakfast and a lunch. I have given them toys to play with, but I wish there were more pretend play items, and dress up. The kids have fun but it would be better if they had better spaces, and more room to run. It would be better if the adorable six year olds, who really want to play make believe where they are dressed up as heroes and villains, didn't have to worry about trampling the toddlers that are in the playroom too.

One of my volunteers tells me we should limit the numbers. She is right. We should. But it is almost impossible for me to do that. Because I remember. I remember having little ones of my own. And the only thing that saved me was having a break. Even if was tiny. So when a mother, who is at her wit's end, comes knocking on the playroom door, an hour in to it, with a look that tells me she is at the edge of a cliff. Her child may or may not have shoes on. This mother may or may not have eaten in the last 24 hours, or slept, or cried hard tears of despair. And I am supposed to turn her child away?  Turn him away from the one chance he has that day to play with toys, since all of his were put in storage when he moved in to the shelter? Turn him away, when this may be the one opportunity to eat for the day, because it's the end of the month and the money has run out, and his mom can't get a job because she has no child care for this child?

The child may be a pain in the neck. And those are the ones that need it the most. I am not a child psychologist. I am a social worker. I do not know all the tricks. I know a couple. And for some of the kids they work. But for other kids, they could use a team of specialists, to peer in to their little heads and see what is going on. One sweet girl struggles. And it makes sense. Her dad is in jail, and he's there for beating her. She can not see a child and not hit him or her. And then immediately feels horrible about it. She needs to be retrained. Her brain needs to be rewired. Yet her mother, who has been in the shelter for a year, or more, has never been referred to the Children's Center. She had no idea what it was. I don't blame the case workers. There are three of them for 115 families. I don't know who to blame. But I want to blame someone or something, because it eases my guilt.

It eases my guilt because I can't give these kids what they need. Nutrition, safety, stimulation, enrichment, peace. I can't do it. Instead I give them this tiny slice of time, filled with a million kids, where the goal is to have children interacting in a positive way, playing and creating, learning. But one child is yelling, and as soon as we remedy that, someone else is crying and as soon as that is attended to, someone else is struggling with the inability to share. With 38 high needs kids, the majority of whom are experiencing trauma, it is bound to happen. They are fragile. They appear tough, but they are not. And the tweens and the teens, with their special needs. And the parents. I mean, I have to compartmentalize because the lack of support is just unbelievable. It feels cruel.

I was wrong, this didn't make me feel better. But maybe I will never feel better about this. Maybe I shouldn't. It's horrid. No amount of journaling about it is going to make it better.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Life in 2013

This year I would love to tie up loose ends.  This year I would love to be more calm.  This year I would love to wake up earlier.  This year I would love to be more strong.  This year I would love to connect to nature.  This year I would love to read with my kids more.  This year I would love to loose my fear.  This year I would love to let go and move forward.  This year I would love to entertain friends and family in my home.  This year I would love to write.  This year I would love to accept my limits.  This year I would love to be happy, content, forgiving, and accepting of myself and others.

I am grateful for my three children.  I am grateful for my health and the health of my family.  I am grateful for my quality of life.  I am thankful for Gavin and how hard he works to provide for us.  I am grateful for lessons that I've learned that have altered my path in life and opened my eyes.  I am grateful for friendships, both old and new.  I am grateful that I can finally let go of relationships that no longer fulfilled me.

2012 feels like a bit of a kick in the pants.  Tragedies across the globe seemed to hit closer to home than ever.  The suffering of someone across the world nicked my heart if only for a moment.  As soon as I'd recovered from the first sting, news of more suffering would tear back open the wound, so that it felt that there was never a reprieve from the assault on humanity.  Just as wrenching as the victim's grief, was the knowledge that other humans were the ones oppressing and afflicting.  Hope was lost in humanity, and that was devastating.

Personally, I had to let go of the notion that once a friend, always a friend.  I had to re-examine what the word "friend" even meant.  I was forced to accept that some people don't like me.  And that's okay.  I shouldn't try to change myself to try to win them over.  Some people like who I used to be.  And that is fine.  I can't force them to accept me, and how I will adapt and change over my life.  Quality over quantity is what I've come to accept.  And once I let go of old ties that no longer served me, I opened myself up to sweet, and very fulfilling friendships that have mended old wounds and lifted me up.  I've had my faith renewed in humanity because of these dear friendships.

I would love to return to school this year.  I would love to learn and constantly be rubbing shoulders with other people who love learning as much as I do.

There is a constant sadness that exists in the far reaches of my soul.  One day I would like to address it, but until I have the emotional energy, I just leave it out of reach, on that high, dusty shelf, acknowledging that it exists but recognizing that with every rainbow comes a cloud.  Maybe it's the price I pay for my reality.  Maybe it's always been there, it's just that I am finally conscious.

The joy still outweighs the sadness.  Or at least it does in most moments of most days.  And a large part of it comes from my children and the humans that they are becoming.  Their personalities, accomplishments, journeys, and relationship with me are the single greatest joy in my life.  I had no idea they could cause me such happiness.

Life is a lot of things.  But it is also very good.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Terryl Givens recent talk


Letter to a Doubter:
I understand that some doubts have arisen in your mind. I don’t know for sure what they are, but I imagine they are ones I have heard before. Probably some of them I have entertained in my own mind. And perhaps some of them I still harbor myself. I am not going to respond to them in the ways that you may have anticipated. Oh, I will say a few things about why many doubts felt by the previously faithful and faith-filled are ill-founded and misplaced. The result of poor teaching, naïve assumptions, cultural pressures and outright false doctrines. But my main purpose in writing this letter is not to resolve the uncertainties and perplexities in your mind. I want rather to endow them with the dignity and seriousness they deserve. And even to celebrate them. That may sound perverse, but I hope to show you it is not.
So, first a few words about doubts that are predicated on misbegotten premises. I will illustrate an example of this from the life of Mormonism’s greatest intellectual, and then address five other kinds in particular: So: the example comes from B. H. Roberts.
From his first experience debating a Campbellite minister on the Book of Mormon in 1881, Roberts was devoted to defending the Mormon scripture. While in England as a church Mission President in 1887 and 1888, he studied in the Picton Library, collecting notes on American archeology that could serve as external evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. The three volumes of the work that resulted, New Witnesses for God, appeared in 1895, 1909 and 1911. Then on August 22, 1921, a young member wrote a letter to church apostle James E. Talmage that would shake up the world of Mormon apologetics, and dramatically refocus Roberts' own intellectual engagement with Mormonism . The brief letter sounded routine enough. “Dear Dr. Talmage,” wrote W. E. Riter, one “Mr. Couch [a friend of Riter’s] of Washington, D.C., has been studying the Book of Mormon and submits the enclosed questions concerning his studies. Would you kindly answer them and send them to me.”1 Talmage forwarded the five questions to the church’s Book of Mormon expert: B. H. Roberts, expecting a quick and routine reply. Four of the questions dealt with anachronisms that were fairly easily dismissed by anyone who
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understands a little about translation theory. But one had Roberts stumped. It was this question: How [are we] to explain the immense diversity of Indian languages, if all are supposed to be relatively recent descendents of Lamanite origin?” To put the problem in simple terms, how, in the space of a mere thousand years or so, could the Hebrew of Lehi’s tribe have fragmented and morphed into every one of the hundreds of Indian languages of the Western Hemisphere, from Inuit to Iroquois to Shoshone to Patagonian. Languages just don’t mutate and multiply that quickly.
Several weeks after Talmage’s request, Roberts still had not responded. In late December, he wrote the President of the Church, explaining the delay and asking for more time: While knowing that some parts of my [previous] treatment of Book of Mormon problems . . . had not been altogether as convincing as I would like to have seen them, I still believed that reasonable explanations could be made that would keep us in advantageous possession of the field. As I proceeded with my recent investigations, however, and more especially in the, to me, new field of language problems, I found the difficulties more serious than I had thought for; and the more I investigated the more difficult I found the formulation of an answer to Mr. Couch's inquiries to be.2
Roberts never found an answer to that question, and it troubled him the rest of his life. Some scholars think he lost his testimony of the truthfulness and antiquity of the Book of Mormon as a result of this and other doubts-though I don’t see that in the record. But here is the lesson we should learn from this story. Roberts’ whole dilemma was born of a faulty assumption he imbibed wholesale, never questioning, never critically analyzing, i.e., that Lehi arrived on an empty continent, and his descendants and his descendants alone eventually overran the hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to the Straits of Magellan.
Nothing in the Book of Mormon suggests that Lehi’s colony expanded to fill the hemisphere. In fact, as John Sorenson has conclusively demonstrated, the entire history of the Book of Mormon takes place within an area of Nephite and Lamanite habitation some 500 miles long and perhaps 200 miles wide (or a little smaller than Idaho). And though as late as 1981 the Book of Mormon introduction written by Bruce
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R. McConkie referred to Lamanites as “the principal ancestors of the American Indians,absolutely nothing in that book of scripture gave warrant for such an extravagant claim. That is why, as of 2007, the church changed the wording to “the Lamanites are among the ancestors.” No, the most likely scenario that unfolded in ancient America is that Lehi’s colony was one of dozens of migrations, by sea and by land bridge. His descendants occupied a small geographical area, and intermingled and intermarried with other peoples and cultures. Roberts couldn’t figure out how Inuit and Patagonian languages derived from Hebrew because they didn’t. And there was absolutely no reason to try and make that square peg fit into that round hole. You see, even brilliant individuals and ordained Seventies can buy into careless assumptions that lead them astray.
So what are some of the assumptions we might be making that create intellectual tension and spiritual turmoil? I will mention five: the prophetic mantle, the nature of restoration, Mormon exclusivity, the efficacy of institutional religion, and the satisfactions of the gospelincluding personal revelation. I can only say a few words about each, enough I hope to provoke you to consider if theseor kindred misplaced foundationsapply to you.
1. The prophetic mantle:
Abraham lied about Sariah being his sister. Isaac deceives Esau and steals both his birthright and his blessing (but maybe that’s ok because he is a patriarch, not a prophet strictly speaking). Moses took glory unto himself at the waters of Meribah, and was punished severely as a consequence. He was also guilty of manslaughter and covered up his crime. Jonah ignored the Lord’s call, then later whined and complained because God didn’t burn Ninevah to the ground as he had threatened. It doesn’t get a lot better in the New Testament. Paul rebuked Peter sharply for what he called cowardice and hypocrisy in his refusal to embrace the gentiles as equals. Then Paul got into a sharp argument with fellow apostle Barnabas and they parted company. So where on earth do we get the notion that modern day prophets are infallible specimens of virtue and perfection? Joseph said emphatically, “I don’t want you to think I am very
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righteous, for I am not very righteous.”3 To remove any possibility of doubts, he canonized those scriptures in which he is rebuked for his inconstancy and weakness. Most telling of all, is section 124:1, in which this pervasive pattern is acknowledged and explained: “for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the weak things of the earth” (D&C 124:1). Air brushing our prophets, past or present, is a wrenching of the scriptural record and a form of idolatry. God specifically said he called weak vessels, so we wouldn’t place our faith in their strength or power, but in God’s. Most cripplingly, however, is the false expectations this paradigm sets up; when Pres. Woodruff said the Lord would never suffer his servants to lead the people astray, we can only reasonably interpret that to mean the prophet will not teach us any soul destroying doctrinenot that they will never err. President Kimball himself both condemned Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings as heresy, and an apostle referred as early as 1963 to the priesthood ban as a “possible error” for which he asked forgiveness.4 The mantle represents priesthood keys, not a level of holiness or infallibility. God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say “in all patience and faith” if their words were always sage and inspired (D&C 21:5).
2. The nature of restoration
Recently a Mormon scholar announced his departure from Mormonism and baptism into another faith tradition. “Mormons believe that the churchCatholic, Orthodox, and Protestant visions alikecompletely died,he said of his principal reason for leaving. Then he quoted another dissident as saying, “The idea that God was sort of snoozing until 1820 now seems to me absurd.” Well guess what. That sounds absurd to Mormons as well. President of the church John Taylor said, “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.”
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Joseph didn’t believe the church died either. He was very particular about his wording, when he recast his first revelation about restoration to state specifically, that God was bringing the church back out of the wilderness, where it had been nurtured of the Lord during a period when priesthood ordinances were no longer performed to bind on earth and in heaven. Precious morsels of truth had lain scattered throughout time, place, religion, and culture, and Joseph saw his mission as that or brining it all into one coherent whole, not reintroducing the gospel ex nihilo.
3. Mormon exclusivity
In a related way, some come to doubt Mormonism’s monopoly on salvation, as they call it. It grows increasingly difficult to imagine that a body of a few million, in a world of seven billion, can really be God’s only chosen people, heirs of salvation. I think the most unfortunate misperception about Mormonism is in this tragic irony: that the most generous, liberal, and universalist conception of salvation in all Christendom is Joseph Smith’s view. We would do well to note what the Lord said to Joseph in section 49, when he referred to “holy men,” that Joseph knew nothing about, and whom the Lord had reserved unto himself. Clearly, Mormons don’t have a monopoly on righteousness, truth, or God’s approbation. Here and hereafter, a multitude of non-Mormons will constitute the Church of the Firstborn.
As a mighty God, our Heavenly Father has the capacity to save us all. As a fond father, He has the desire to do so. That is why, as Joseph taught, “God hath made a provision that every spirit can be ferretted out in that world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death. The idea is certainly a generous one, and it seems suited to the weeping God of Enoch, the God who has set His heart upon us. If some inconceivable few will persist in rejecting the course of eternal progress, they are “the only ones” who will be damned, taught Joseph Smith. “All the rest” of us will be rescued from the hell of our private torments and subsequent alienation from God.
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4. Inefficacy of institutional religion
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote perhaps his greatest sermon on the fallacy of cheap grace. I think the plague of our day is the fallacy of cheap spirituality. I find among college freshmen I teach a near universal disdain for “organized religion,” and at the same time an energetic affirmation of personal spirituality.
The new sensibility began innocently enough with the lyrical expression of William Blake, who suggested that God might be better found in the solitary contemplation of nature than in the crowded pews of churches. He urged readers “to see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wildflower / hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” It took a Marxist critic, Terry Eagleton, to point out that the gospel of Matthew teaches us that “Eternity lies not in a grain of sand but in a glass of water. The cosmos revolves on comforting the sick. When you act in this way, you are sharing in the love which built the stars.” Holiness is found in how we treat others, not in how we contemplate the cosmos. As our experiences in marriages, families, and friendship teach us, it takes relationships to provide the friction that wears down our rough edges and sanctifies us. And then, and only then, those relationships become the environment in which those perfected virtues are best enjoyed. We need those virtues not just here, but eternally because “the same sociality that exists here, will exist there, only it will be coupled with celestial glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
The project of perfection, or purification and sanctification, is in this light not a scheme for personal advancement, but a process of better fillingand rejoicing inour role in what Paul called the body of Christ, and what others have referred to as the New Jerusalem, the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, or, as in the prophecy of Enoch, Zion. There are no Zion individuals. There is only a Zion community.
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5. Satisfactions of the Gospel / Personal revelation
Brigham Young said, “To profess to be a Saint, and not enjoy the spirit of it, tries every fiber of the heart, and is one of the most painful experiences that man can suffer.” We expect the gospel to make us happy. We are taught that God answers prayers, that all blessings can be anticipated as a direct and predictable result of a corresponding commandment. I love that quote, because I think Young was being truly empathic. He realized that then, as now, thousands of Saints were paying the high price of discipleship, and asking, “where is the joy?” And he knew the question was born in agony and bewilderment.
I have no glib solace to offer. I will not bore you or insult your spiritual maturity with injunctions to pray harder, to fast more, to read your scriptures. I know you have been traveling that route across a parched desert. But do let me repeat here three simple ideas; Be patient; remember; and take solace in the fellowship of the desolate. In Lehi’s vision, he recorded, he “traveled for the space of many hours in darkness” (1 Ne. 8:8).
Patience does not mean to wait apathetically and dejectedly, but to anticipate actively on the basis of what we know; and what we know, we must remember. I believe remembering can be the highest form of devotion. To remember is to rescue the sacred from the vacuum of oblivion. To remember Christ’s sacrifice every Sunday at the sacrament table, is to say “no” to the ravages of time; to refuse to allow his supernal sacrifice to be just another datum in the catalogue of what is past. To remember past blessings is to give continuing recognition of the gift, and re-confirm the relationship to the Giver as one that persists in the here and now. Few-very few-are entirely bereft of at least one solace giving-memory. A childhood prayer answered, a testimony borne long ago, a fleeting moment of perfect peace. And for those few who despairingly insist they have never heard so much as a whisper, then know this: We don’t need to look for a burning bush, when all we need is to be still and remember that we have known the goodness of love, the rightness of virtue, the nobility of kindness and faithfulness. And ask if we see in such beauties the
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random effects of Darwinian products, or can we not perceive in them the handwriting of God on our hearts?
At the same time, remembering rather than experiencing moves us toward greater independence, and insulates us from the vicissitudes of the moment. Brigham said God’s intention was to make us as independent in our sphere, as he is in his.5 That is why the heavens close from time to time, to give us room for self-direction. That is why the saints rejoiced in a Pentecostal day in Kirtland’s temple, but were met with silence in Nauvoo. Silenceand their memories of Kirtland. One can see the Lord gently tutoring us to replace immediacy with memory, in section 6, when he says to Oliver, “if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22-23). C. S. Lewis wrote that God allows spiritual peaks to subside into (often extensive) troughs in order for ‘servants to finally become Sons,’ ‘stand[ing] up on [their] own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish... growing into the sort of creature He wants [them] to be.’”6
Finally, find solace in what I have called the fellowship of the desolate. With Mother Teresa, who said, “I am told God lives in me and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” ... “Heaven from every side is closed.”7
Or with the magnificent Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who poured out his soul in achingly beautiful lament:
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!

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And more must, in yet longer light's delay. With witness I speak this. But where I say Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent To dearest him that lives alas! away.
Or with my favorite poet, George Herbert, who expressed frustration with his own ministry, barren as it felt of joyful fruit, and described his almostdefection from life lived in silent patience.
I Struck the board, and cry’d, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store. Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it. Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it? No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted? 9
...
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.

He that forbears To suit and serve his [own] need,
Deserves his load. But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word, Me thought I heard one calling, Childe:
And I reply’d, My Lord. (“The Collar”)
Finally, listen to Fyodor Dostoevsky who, like Herbert, found only the slim anchor of one memory ensconced in an overwhelming silence to hold on to- but hold on he did.
I will tell you that I am a child of this century, a child of disbelief and doubt. I am that today and will remain so until the grave. How much terrible torture this thirst for faith has cost me and costs me even now, which is all the stronger in my soul the more arguments I can find against it. And yet, God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm; at those instants I love and feel loved by others, and it is at those instances that I have shaped for myself a Credo where everything is clear and sacred for me. This Credo is very simple, here it is: to believe that nothing is more beautiful, profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly and more powerful than Christ."8
Now to my conclusion:
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Maybe none of these issues apply to you. Maybe you have a whole different set of doubts. Or maybe none of my words are persuasive in allaying those doubts. In that case, I turn to my last but most important point. Be grateful for your doubts.
William Wordsworth was. Mormons know the early stanzas from his intimations ode, the “trailing clouds of glory” lines. But more magnificent in my opinion are the later stanzas, where he tells us what he is most grateful for, where he finds the source of his joy. After struggling with the indelible sadness of adulthood, trying in vain to recapture the innocence and joy of childhood delight and spontaneity, he realizes it is the tension, the irresolution, the ambiguity and perplexity of his predicament, that is the spur to his growth. That is why, as he tells us, in the final analysis he appreciates the very things that plague the questing mind. He is grateful not for the blithe certainties and freedom of a past childhood. He is thankful not for what we would expect him to appreciate,
not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest--

Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast:--

Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those
obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things,
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Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature Moving about in worlds not realised,...
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may,

Are yet the fountain light of all our day.
(“Ode: Intimations of Immortality”)
You see, it was in the midst of his perplexity, of his obstinate questions, uncertainties, misgivings, and shadowy recollections that almost but don’t quite pierce the veil, that he found the prompt, the agitation, the catalyst, that spurred him from complacency to insight, from generic pleasures, to revelatory illumination, from being a thing acted upon to being an actor in the quest for his spiritual identity.
I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt, because it gives me the capacity to freely believe. I hope you can find your way to feel the same. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. Fortunately, in this world, one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in
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other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.
The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we “get it right.” It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet’s image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.
This is the realm where faith operates, and when faith is a freely chosen gesture, it expresses something essential about the self.
Modern revelation, speaking of spiritual gifts, notes that while to some it is given to know the core truth of Christ and His mission, to others is given the means to persevere in the absence of certainty. The New Testament makes the point that those mortals who operate in the grey area between conviction and incredulity are in a position to choose most meaningfully, and with most meaningful consequences.
Peter’s tentative steps across the water capture the rhythm familiar to most seekers. He walks in faith, he stumbles, he sinks, but is embraced by the Christ before the waves swallow him. Many of us will live out our lives in doubt, like the unnamed father in the gospel of Mark. Coming to Jesus, distraught over the pain of his afflicted son, he said simply, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Though he walked through mists of doubt, caught between belief and unbelief, he made a choice, and the consequence was the healing of his child.
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“The highest of all is not to understand the highest but to act upon it,” wrote Kierkegaard.9 Miracles do not depend on flawless faith. They come to those who question as well as to those who know. There is profit to be found, and advantage to be gained, evenperhaps especiallyin the absence of certainty.
Terryl Givens University of Richmond
(A Fireside Presentation to the Single Adult Stake, Palo Alto, CA on 14 October 2012)

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1 W. E. Riter to James E. Talmage, 22 August 1921, in B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1992), 35.
2 B. H. Roberts to Heber J. Grant et al., 29 December 1921, in Roberts, Studies, 46.
3 Manuscript History of the Church D-1, p. 1555-57.
4 Edward L. Kimball, ed., Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1995), 448-49.
5 A Discourse by President Brigham Young, Delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, 3 December 1854. 6 Cited in Rachael Givens, “Mormonism and the Dark Night of the Soul,” Peculiar People, Patheos, 21 September 2012. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peculiarpeople/2012/09/mormonisms-dark-night-of-the-soul/
7 Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light (New York: Random House Digital, 2009), 202.
8 Joseph Frank, Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 160.
9 Soren Kierkegaard, The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from his Journals, ed. Alexander Dru (New York: Dover, 2003), 213. 


http://terrylgivens.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Letter-to-a-Doubter.pdf

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

For my friends from the Boston 2nd ward

After my youngest, Garrett, was born I needed a wonderful babysitter.  There were a couple classes that I was going to be taking and I needed to know that he was safe.  I needed someone that I could trust.  Someone that would be like a mother to him for the couple hours a week that I needed to be away.

We hired a fantastic sitter.  I felt a lot of peace knowing that my baby (and two older kids) were in good hands while I was away.  I told her that the most important thing, when it came to the kids, was that they were loved.

One day I came home to find that the kids had not eaten hardly any dinner.  When I inquired as to why they were full, they told me that they had eaten cookies, and bagels, and yogurt pops, and goldfish crackers, and juice.  These were all snacks and treats that I allowed them to have after dinner, in moderation.  But certainly not all together, before dinner.

After they went to bed, I spoke with the sitter.  I told her that I needed her to enforce my rules.  I then explained my policy on junk food before dinner, along with some other family rules that I'd failed to mention before.  When she saw the kids the next time she said, "Hey sorry kids.  I thought that it was okay to say yes to you whenever you asked for treats.  But now I know the rules, so we have to follow them."

A couple of days later, I came home after dinner, and saw that one of the big kids was obviously sad.  When I asked what the matter was, they reported that they weren't allowed to have any desert because they didn't finish their vegetables.  I looked over at their plate and saw a few straggling peas, but everything else had been eaten.  I gave the kids some ice cream and sent them to bed.

After they were asleep I spoke with the sitter.  I told her that she had interpreted the rules a little too literally.  I told her that while I wanted the kids to eat their food before desert, they didn't need to eat every morsel on their plates.  They just needed to eat most of it.  When she saw the kids next she said,
"Kids, I am sorry about not giving you your desert last time.  I overdid it when it came to the rules and punishment.  But now I understand so we're good."

Did my kids and I hold a grudge over these miscommunications and mess ups?  No.  Because we are human, and even though someone is an adult, we know that they can mess up, and often do, and that they can apologize and make things right.

Luckily, this babysitter was patient with me and my kids, as we figured out the groove, and got a handle on what all the rules and expectations were.  I told her and the kids that while I was gone, she was going to be the authority.  She was like "Mom" because I trusted her to do the things that I would do.  The kids felt safe because they knew that the sitter would be checking in with me while I was away.

Last weekend the LDS church held it's semi-annual General Conference.  They broadcast this message to the world.  I should know because A) I grew up watching it my entire life and B) I convinced the cable station in Boston to have it broadcast for the first time in Massachusetts while I was living there.  The last General Conference I only caught two talks, they were Elder Oaks and Elder Cook's talks.  And while the rest of the speakers may have been completely different, I was shocked by what I heard from these two Apostles.

They said that those with "same sex attraction" should be consoled with being celibate until after they die because in their next life they will be fixed to be attracted to females in the Celestial Kingdom.  And they said that two-parent families were ideal, where in kids who were brought up by single-parent families were at a disadvantage.  There were studies to back up these claims.  Though we didn't hear what they were.  But at the end of each talk, I felt sick to my stomach.  Like I'd swallowed a giant rock.

I had been raised by a single mother, who gave so much of her time and energy to the Church, only to have her efforts put down in this way.  Would it have been better to have had her and my Dad stay together in an unhealthy marriage?  Kids marinating in the sewage of anger and resentment?  Our childhood was not perfect, but my siblings and I felt that we had it good.  My Grandmother, who was an LDS Family Therapist, often counseled couples to call it quits, when it was apparent that they would be healthier apart than together.

I often felt shame as an LDS child, for coming from a single-parent home.  My neighbors had to take my siblings and I to the father-son or father-daughter activities.  I was constantly reminded that mine was not an "eternal family".  I had panic attacks thinking about the empty lot in the Celestial Kingdom where my dad's house was supposed to be, but where instead would grow holy weeds, as he cried his eyes out for eternity down in the Telestial kingdom, wishing that he would have just stayed married to my Mom.  Later on, in Boston and then Salt Lake City, I would meet single parents with whom I would develop deep friendships, and see the strength and the excellence in their parenting, combined with their unwavering dedication and love for their family.  I would realize that what I had growing up was every bit as valuable as what non-divorced families had, and that the strength of a family has nothing to do with the genders or numbers of adults in the home, but from the love that is within the walls.

And then there is my gay brother.  Growing up, his "gayness" was the 500 pound elephant in the corner that no one wanted to address.  So we just covered our ears and closed our eyes as he grew up.  We could sense that his childhood wasn't fun.  He wanted to draw the comic book Characters, The X Men, while other boys his age were playing basketball.  He was not interested in scouting, or athletics, and found it hard to make friends with other boys in the neighborhood.  But he put on a happy face.  His best childhood friends were his female twin cousins and neighborhood girls.  He didn't have a negative bone in his body, and had the biggest heart of anyone I knew.  So in High School when he struggled with depression...dangerously so...we still never talked about it.  Everyone knew what was going on.  He was horribly sad.  He felt incredible self-loathing and isolation.  But we all just smiled harder, hoping that our false cheer would somehow rub off on him, never really inquiring as to what he needed because in our hearts we already knew but we didn't want to name it.

I had been taught that it was a sin to be gay.  There was the whole Adam and Eve thing.  I read the Miracle of Forgiveness, where you basically read a story where a bunch of cities were destroyed because all the men succumbed to the temptation of being gay.  Their populations died out and their city burned.  I did not want our city to see that wrath.  So I judged him.  Righteously.  I mean, I was entitled to see him as wicked.  He didn't seem any different than the eight year old that I would play Ghost in The Graveyard with, but I had been taught that he was sinning, so I believed it.  If he prayed hard enough it would go away.  Somehow he'd be transformed.  So I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed.  I didn't know how, but somehow God could fix him.

I moved to Boston with my husband and baby, and marched against gay marriage in Massachusetts.  On the Capitol steps, shouting to my Governor Mitt Romney inside, about how God only approved of love between a man and a woman.  Eventually I would have a complete change of heart, and decide that gay people were perfect and should have every right that I do as a heterosexual.

There is my history with single moms and gay people.  Obviously these issues hit close to home for me.  And these journeys that I went on in regards to these topics happened over a decade.  It did not happen over night.

So when I think of those two talks last weekend, and my desire to stand up and say that there were very harmful parts of those talks that were wrong, I wasn't acting out of malice.  I was acting out of love.  I feel that the church is like the sitter while our Heavenly Parents are out.  We are entrusted in the sitter's care, but the sitter is not the parent.  And while the church leaders try their best, sometimes they misinterpret.  Whether it be Brigham Young teaching us that Adam was our Heavenly Father, or another prophet teaching that evolution did not happen.  They just had a human moment.  IT HAPPENS.  

It doesn't mean that you are awful.  Just like my sitter was wonderful, she just needed to have some things cleared up that she was a little confused about.  What is not okay is when one can not admit that they have erred.  We teach children, at the youngest of ages, that when they do or say something unkind or untrue, even if it was not with the intention to hurt, that they need to apologize for it.  It is what my sitter did so effortlessly.  And it made the kids immediately trust her again.

When Shelby was a young child, I disciplined her the way that I had always disciplined her brother.  I don't remember the infraction.  But I remember her reaction.  Her eyes welled up with tears.  And in an instant her face turned blue.  The grief in her little heart was so great that it had caused her to lose her breath as she gasped with choked crying.  I did not know if she was having a seizure or was just crying.  It turns out that it was both.  When she cries too hard, sometimes she forgets to breathe, and then she does have some seizures as her eyes roll back in to her head and she goes lifeless.  NOT the funnest thing.

When she came to, and my heart rate returned to non-hummingbird status, I asked her what she was so sad about.  She told me that it was the way that I yelled at her.  That I had made her feel so sad.  I couldn't believe that my parenting, what I had been doing for years with no complaint from Dalton, was so overly critical.

I asked her older brother how he'd felt when he'd been similarly chastised.  He told me that he felt the same way his sister did.  It was at that point that my heart broke in two.  WHY didn't you ever tell me?  I asked him.  He said he didn't know how, and that he thought it would only make me more mad.  I told him that he should have told me.  That if I would have known how much it hurt him, I wouldn't have been so hard on him.  (We aren't talking beating here, but just yelling that when you're little feels just as scary).  In typing this, I am having a hard time, because I am reliving this, and it is still one of the things that pierces my heart to the core.  I will never forgive myself for not being a more calm mother when Dalton was little.  Did I apologize to Dalton (and Shelby)?  You bet I did.  Over and over and over.  I revisit it.  I rehash it.  I want him to know that I screwed up.  And if I would have known better, I would have done better.

And so it is with General Conference.  How can I stand by and not cry out in agony over the pain that those parts of those two talks inflicted on me, the child?  If I stay silent, and scared, like Dalton, that sends a message that the talks are appropriate, when they are not.  I must be brave, and honest, like Shelby was with her feelings, to send a message to the sitter that this is not right.  I don't have false allusions that anyone is perfect.  But I do have the self respect to know when someone messes up they should own it and apologize.  This way there continues to be a loving, respected, relationship of trust.  This is the way our Heavenly Parents would want it.

From one child, to another, this is why I must cry out.

Elder Oaks's Talk- Protecting Children

Elder Cook's Talk- Can Ye Feel So Now





Tuesday, October 02, 2012

My friend Stephanie's blog post

It's not like I don't have stuff to write about.  It's just that I only seem to have about three spare seconds in my days as of late.  Here is a great post by a good friend:

Stephanie's post

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A Day in the Life of Us

I won a photo shoot at my elementary school's fundraiser, and I am SO happy that I did, because the photos turned out beautifully.  http://www.redbeanphotography.com/ is who did them and she was so great to work with.  She was fun with the kiddos...super natural.  She captured my family's personalities perfectly.  Dalton on his cell phone, wanting so badly to be the teenager he feels he is inside his 11 year old body.  Shelby with her collection of stray cats.  Garrett, keeping up with the big kids, the life of the party.  Gavin and I with our weary love for one another and our fierce commitment to our family.  

I wanted the photos shot at our house, before things changed.  Before school started for the kids and they changed.  Before we began our home renovation project and the house changed.  Before the season turned cool and the weather changed.  I wanted to capture what our life was like for our little gang, in the summer of 2012.



 























Saturday, September 01, 2012

Romney V. Obama


t1larg.romney.obama.jpg


About a month ago I was with my in-laws in California, and one of my darling nieces was with my daughter in our hotel room.  They were watching cartoons, and scanning through the channels, when a political advertisement came on the TV.  I can't remember who the commercial was for, but my niece asked my daughter, "Do you like Obama?"  It was kind of the same way that you ask someone if they like brussel sprouts or kissing someone of their same gender.  Like, you can't imagine that they would, and if they do, you don't really want to know.

But Shelby, quickly and without hesitation, answered in the affirmative, "I LOVE Obama!"  Her cousin looked crestfallen.  Knowing that this cousin's family members were big fans of Romney, I could see that she was trying to reconcile her unconditional love of my daughter, her best-cousin, with the stuff that she'd overheard on the TV news channel her parents watched regarding those who would support Obama.  How could her favorite cousin be one of those people?

My heart broke a little for this cousin, as I knew the turmoil that she was currently processing.  She could not not love Mitt Romney.  He was practically her Uncle.  In most LDS families, when it comes to Mitt Romney, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game turns out to be more like two degrees, thanks to polygamy.  An Aunt in the family shared the same great, great grandfather with Mitt Romney, which is not all that unique when you understand that this man had 12 wives.  And so was the reason that Mitt's name was spoken with reverence amongst her family.  Even if they are not perfect, you don't diss your own family members.

Yet here was her favorite cousin, who was like the mirror image of herself.  Someone who she thought she knew everything about and with whom she felt completely safe around.  Someone who she would always be completely loyal to.  But how could she stand by someone who loved the enemy?  And more importantly, how could her cousin not love Romney?  He was so nice and good.  He loved serving people in his religion.  He was honest and hard working.  Plus he was so handsome.  It just didn't make sense.

Shelby was equally shocked to find out that her cousin supported Romney.  Her wheels were turning in her little head trying to reconcile the same issues.  The things that she'd heard on her parents news channel about that man were awful.  How could her best cousin like someone like that?  And more importantly, how could she not love Obama?  Obama was kind of like an adopted uncle in her family.  Her mom had a shirt with his name on it.  His logo was on her car bumper.  The family talked often of all the good that he did to help the poor, make people of other races feel included, give help to college students and people who fought in the wars.  Plus his wife was so beautiful.  It just didn't make sense.

And it was at that point that the truth of what most people in the United States honestly feel, came out of this 8 year-old cousin's mouth.
Spoken with tears in her eyes, she dejectedly said, "I just wish it was over."  What this little love was saying was that for the past 3 years of this election season everyone was divided up in to two camps.  There were people who were supposedly safe because they were like her family.  And then there were those who sided with the other camp and were supposedly different and bad.  For her little eight year old self, it was stressful (and probably a bit scary) trying to figure out who was safe and who was not.

She just wanted everyone to be on the same team.

It's kind of like in grade school, when you are playing red rover for recess, and everyone in your class is divided up in to two teams.  It's fun for a while, out there in the sun, shouting and daring the other team to try to break your invincible bond.  But as your classmates come barreling towards you, one after another, from across the field, charging at you to infiltrate your team and win someone away to their side, you grow tired of trying to withstand that force.

It stings to have friends who have been won over by the other side.  They seem happy over there, and it's hard to understand why they wouldn't be just miserable on the enemies side.  You have to chant louder and cheer harder to convince yourself and others that yours is the right team to be on.

After a while you secretly wish for that recess bell to ring so that the two teams can dissolve back in to one united group.  And when that bell rings, the tally of who'd conquered more team mates, and whose team was winning instantly vanishes.   The promise of the rest of the day is what is most important as classmates who once stood on opposing sides, walk shoulder to shoulder back in to the school building.

I tried to comfort her.  "I know" I said, "It's almost over."  She and Shelby both quickly spouted off diplomatic ramblings about how really both men were good people, and were doing the best they could.  How either way, things were going to be fine in the end.  It was enough to put these two besties at ease, so they could go on watching Adventure Time without the slightest bit of contention.

My thought, after I was humbled by these two wise eight year olds, was that rather than sitting out the game, because of the stress of choosing sides, we should be engaged, learn the rules, and play with our best effort.  The team you're on does not have to be concrete.  People change sides all the time.  The point isn't whose team you are on.  It's that you played the game with integrity.  A little rabble rousing makes the game fun, but at the end of the day, we're all on the same team.

Thank you darling girls.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Love Hate

I love/hate my son's school, Challenger.  I had a very positive experience there when I was a child.  My memories include school programs where I shined on stage (early on I had an affinity for affirmation), the school director dancing in to our room showgirl style as we sang an alphabet song, and feeling like a million bucks for learning every day.

It pains me to admit that transferring in to my local public elementary school when I was in the second grade felt somewhat like going from sixty to zero.  It was as if i'd hit a brick wall.  I believe that the reason that my parents transferred me out of Challenger and in to public school was cost.  It was the 80's, my dad did real estate...'nough said.

So when it was time for kiddos to go to pre-school Challenger seemed like the perfect choice.  There was one close to my house, the kids would get the stimulation that I loved when I was their age, and I could sit back and relax knowing that my kids would learn to read and write like no one's business.

But then Dalton was in the first grade and he looked like he wanted to kill himself when I observed him in class.  It's like the life blood was being sucked out of him.  Contrast that with our local elementary school where the walls are covered in colorful art, and the sounds of Virginia Tanner dance are wafting through the halls, and I knew I needed to pull him out.

With Shelby I put her in our local elementary school for Kindergarten and regretted the decision from day one as she withered on the vine with the squeaky wheel (the kid who does not yet know A from B) getting the grease, and her just sitting there waiting for stimulation.  Thankfully her 1st and 2nd experiences have been completely different and she is thriving in a kind, nurturing, and stimulating environment.

Now we are to my final child, the apple of my eye, the love of my life.  Just kidding...kind of. ;)

I walk through the white sterile halls of the old bank building that Challenger is housed in and wonder when the fun loving, creative school that I went to, changed so much.  It seems like now it is a numbers game.  Challenger must prove to the parents that we are getting our money's worth so they test the children and point out how much smarter our kids are than those poor children who are being loved to death at the neighborhood school.

I believe that the testing starts in Kindergarten, and that is when things really start to ramp up in intensity.  In preschool the kids are still doing rug time, snack time, and multiple recesses.  There are toys in the classroom, and music playing.  However, the music sounds like it has been given a dose of roids since I was in the classroom 25 years ago, and the familiar songs that I know by heart are all a beat faster with the words sounding as though they are being sung by a group of hummingbirds.

Winter Festival is now called Christmas Festival because according to the founder, that was the original Christian holiday of our nation.  Really?...don't remember Santa and Christmas trees in the history books.

There are things that have definitely changed.  The school has become much more political.  When I was there it was important that we learned about the founding fathers and the constitution, but now they have fetishized that document and those men to the point of absurdity.

During election season there are lawn signs on the campus, for the conservative tea party candidate.  The older kids are tasked with writing assignments and book reports for Atlas Shrugged, the capitalist manifesto that basically espouses that we should return to Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest where are industries and people who can not thrive on their own should be taken out behind the barn and put out of their misery.

Our campus seems like one filled with Tiger Mothers, hoping that by placing their children in the care (or the mercy) of this conservative and rigorous school, that they will be on the first rung of the ladder to the Ivy League.

If I had to do it over again, I would think about keeping Shelby there.  But for Garrett it will probably just be until the 1st grade.  I drive to the pick up lane, with my 99% and my Obama sticker and get death glares as if I've just chained myself to a tree to protest it's death.  I bristle when they insist on school uniforms for pre-schoolers.  It's just not natural.  It's like a factory...churning out children who know a lot, and who can spout a lot of facts, but are not well-versed in the reality of the diversity that is the real world outside of libertarian philosophies.

The idea that the American Dream exists is the biggest fallacy in my mind, and the myth that they package and push to every parent.  Sure, if you can afford to keep your kid at Challenger until they are in the 8th grade, then maybe they will have access to the American Dream.  But if you can't afford their school tuition, then you are hosed if you are a minority, and/or poor.

I just wish that they would stick to what they do best- teaching the basics.