Spirituality Outside Religion

March 12, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Religious

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“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies.
My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
Dalai Lama XIV

My religious label used to be a really important part of my identity. Mormon. My sense of self was defined by that distinction, and much of my time was devoted to making sure I was living my life in a way that felt worthy of that title. Disentangling my Self from my Mormonism has been a painful experience over the past year.

The things I was taught about God were wrapped up with the things I was taught about Joseph Smith and the temple and the hundred other facets that make up the Mormon belief system. I was told to pray and listen to the Spirit for confirmation that I was learning truth. I prayed as directed, and felt a warm comforting feeling when I thought about the Book of Mormon. I wrote in detail about that feeling when I was a believer, which you can revisit here. I had that same feeling when I thought about the temple ordinances, Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, Jesus as Christ, and God as my Heavenly Father. All of the times I felt I had learned the truth about something, that “confirming feeling” I had felt the same to me.

Quotes like this one were reiterated in a variety of ways –

“Finally, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. … But in like manner, if the Book of Mormon be true … then one must accept the claims of the Restoration and all that accompanies it.” source

Imagine a basket, filled with dozens and dozens of papers. Each paper has a statement or belief written on it, and all are ideas that came from authority figures in the belief system. One might say “God has a body like us” and another might say ”There was no death before the Fall of Adam” and then “Millions of Nephites/Lamanites lived, fought, and died in Ancient America.” Each of these things are presented as unimpeachable truth by the authorities who lead and taught as fact by kind people who are doing the best they can. I took it all in and did my best to read from LDS sources to learn more, praying and pondering along the way to decide if I felt I was heading in the right direction. And then one day I started to read things not directly produced by the LDS Church and I realized that some of the things written on the papers in my basket were patently false. The more I read, the more I realized that my basket was full of lies, guesses, half-truth, hyperbole, and nice ideas that can never be substantiated*. I could never sort through everything and figure out what was right and what was wrong.

I left it all behind and decided to start over.  Read more →

Your Post Suggestions, RE: Mormonism

February 10, 2014 By: Jenna Category: Religious

Lately I’ve been feeling a desire to write more about my departure from Mormonism. I have a few drafts in my folder with scattered thoughts, and as I was unraveling one of them into a potential post I had the idea that it might be interesting to open up the floor to all of you and find out what you have been wondering.

In relation to my (ex?)Mormonism, what would you like to know more about? The only caveat I will add is that I’m only willing to write about myself. My relationship with the LDS Church, my actions, the way I interpret my relationships with other people. If you want to know more about another person’s positions or actions (TH, for example) you will have to ask them directly. I don’t know how many ideas I will get to over time, but I’d like to know more about what you would like to read.

Making Amends

May 10, 2013 By: Jenna Category: Personal

I’ve had this post on my mind for a long time now, but I felt I couldn’t write it until I revealed the enormous shift I’ve made over the past year. If you didn’t know that I had left Mormonism how could what I am about to say come across as anything other than pandering? I needed you to know that I am in a different place so that I could atone for my past mistakes. I choose the word atone carefully, knowing that my recent declaration could make it sound as though I am trying to be clever. But I know of no better word than atone to convey a complete cleansing, which is what I need. Some of the things I’ve said in the past hurt people in really deep ways and I want to shed the baggage that comes along with realizing that. This does not mean I recognize all of the mistakes I’ve ever made or will continue to make, or that I have the ability to own up to each and every one of them. I am deeply flawed, and within that bundle of flaws comes pride and shame, both which prevent me from being all that I want to be. I’ll keep chipping away at those stones that burden my progress, but for now I hope those I have hurt will accept the apologies I am offering up below and know that they come from the truest part of myself that I am mentally and emotionally able to lay bare.

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Most of these apologies are related to my Mormon mindset, but I will start with one that has no relation to the faith of my childhood. While I was pregnant I wrote a post called I’m Gonna Climb That Mountain (those who were hurt by this post have requested that it be made unavailable to the public so that the hurtful messages I voiced within it can’t be spread any further). I’m not sure anymore what I was trying to convey, but reading back over it I can see that it was a terrible post and I said a lot of hurtful things. I’ve been ashamed of that post for a long time, but haven’t allowed myself to take it down because I didn’t want to hide behind my ability to make posts private or delete them altogether. I think women should birth how and where they want. I am sorry that I made any woman feel like her birth plans or birth experience weren’t good enough. I think mothers should have every opportunity to choose the birth experience that leaves them feeling empowered and triumphant, because that is how I felt after the births of my babies and that is what I want every woman to have as well. I think that some women do everything they can to give birth a certain way and it turns out to be something else entirely. Those women should have the opportunity to grieve the loss of a great dream while they simultaneously celebrate the arrival of their little one(s), and no one should ever criticize them for doing so. There is no mountain. There’s just a pregnant woman doing her best for the life she carries inside of her, and then there is a beautiful mother doing her best for her child.

And now for the opinions and thought processes that were a product of my personal history and religious tradition. A wonderful thing to note is that not all of those who come from my community or belong to the Mormon faith think or act the way I did; they are much better people than I. But when I shifted away from Mormonism and a worldview shaped by my youth I left old hurtful attitudes behind and I can’t untangle where these attitudes began and how much of a role my past played in nurturing them. All I can do is acknowledge that they were a part of the Jenna of the past and that I want to leave them behind forever and move toward the better Jenna of the future.  Read more →

Thank You

May 08, 2013 By: Jenna Category: Personal

Feeling free

Thank you for the love and support that so many of you took the time to offer on my post about my faith journey. I knew there would be people who spoke up to support this, but I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response. That Husband has been teasing me, asking how it’s going to feel to go back to real life when people aren’t leaving virtual applause in my inbox all day long. Seeking validation and understanding is part of my character, for better or for worse, and so the time so many of you took to reach out is really appreciated. I’m working my way through the emails and comments as my children allow me to do so.

As I stated in my post, I have decided to prioritize authenticity over acceptance. Some of your comments reminded me of the way I feel about the blogger CJane. She wrote a post detailing why she was not a feminist, and then two years later she wrote a post reversing her position. I really respect her for that, for analyzing her life experiences, learning from them, and being honest with the world about changes she was making even when doing so was painful. I don’t bring her up in an attempt to compare myself to her, as I think our journey into feminism and progressive Mormonism (even if she doesn’t embrace that title I think that’s what she is, a Progressive Feminist Mormon) has brought us to different places, but because so many of you expressed a desire to hear more about my experience and that is exactly the way I have felt about CJane over the past year. Her blog didn’t interest me for a long time, then she moved from Point A to Point B and I wanted to hear more about what she thought on a variety of topics, even though I was at Point CZKR. I do have one more post related to my faith transition that I have been drafting for a long time, but I’m not sure where things will go from there. If I write critically about Mormonism (even if it is constructive) I am labeled as one who is fighting to take down the Church and can’t leave it alone. I want to see changes occur within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints no matter my relationship with it because many people I love are still participating in it, but I think being public about my unbelief has stripped me of the opportunity to do so.

I’m certainly not alone in my departure from Mormonism. The LDS Church is experiencing a mass departure, described by Elder Marlin Jensen in November 2011: “…since Kirtland we’ve never had a period of—I’ll call it apostasy—like we’re having right now, largely over these issues.” The issues he is referencing are the same ones I am unable to rectify. I admit I am stunned by the number of people who have spoke up about transitioning out of the faith of their parents as well. I didn’t realize it was such a common experience across belief systems. I feel honored by people like my friend Kat (as well as a few others) who have linked to the post and said that it gave voice to their own experience. That means a lot to me.

Many of you have also mentioned that you saw this coming, and that in a way it doesn’t surprise you. Before I got married I was working as a waitress at a winery near my hometown. I was very orthodox in my Mormonism, and wouldn’t even taste the wine and spit it out in order to understand its properties so I could be more effective at my job. One of the chefs, Shauna, was very familiar with Mormonism as she had grandmother who was a devout member, and Shauna used to make predictions about my eventual departure from Mormonism. Back then, I found this to be very insulting. What part of myself was manifesting as weak and would cause such a terrible thing to happen? Now I look back and view that as a strength she pinpointed. She viewed me as a person who was intelligent and open-minded enough to ask questions and arrive at my own conclusions. And that is the kind of person I want to be.

I knew there would be a lot of questions about That Husband and where he is at. I have a compulsive desire to tell everyone everything, and so before I went public with all of this we sat down and talked about how he would like to be represented. He loves me, but he doesn’t want to be represented by me. I get that, because I don’t want anyone or anything speaking for me either. Until he expresses a desire for another approach, for now I will keep repeating that our marriage is strong (this is important to note because for a lot of couples the faith transition experience of one or both members can cause great harm to the relationship and we are so grateful that hasn’t been the case for us) but I’m telling my story, not his. If and when he is ever ready to be public about his experience he knows my blog is open for him as a platform to do so.

I haven’t felt any desire to be “religious”, in the traditional sense, for a long time. I’m still too frustrated with many things related to religion, and it’s going to take me some time to work through that. Last weekend though, I went to a festival in Cupertino and they had a group of men and women playing drums in a traditional Japanese style. The way they played and the sounds they produced were so beautiful. It touched me in a way that I haven’t felt since before my faith crisis and I realized that I want to make time to seek out beauty. Dancing, music, writing, nature, art. These things are good for the soul and I want more.

 

 

I’m Coming From Where I Have Been

May 06, 2013 By: Jenna Category: Personal, Religious

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I was raised in a tiny town. It seemed to me that everyone was either Nazarene, Catholic, or Mormon. Growing up I never heard anyone vocally identify as a democrat. There was one African-American in my school, otherwise everyone was either Latino or White.  I didn’t personally interact with a gay person until I was out of college. I tell you these things to try convey the lack of diversity in my hometown community because it played a pivotal role in shaping the person I was throughout my early and mid twenties. During my freshman year my roommates teased me for taking a Women’s Studies course at BYU. They said I was going to turn into a “dirty feminist” and I fought back not because I wanted to defend Feminism, but because I too thought that feminists hated men while secretly wanting to be like them in every way. I knew so little and I was wrong about so many things. Mormonism wasn’t just one hour of church on Sunday, it was my entire lifestyle and culture for a quarter century. I don’t blame my past for my actions, but I am the person I am today because of my personal history.

This journey that I’m about to describe was initiated, in large part, by my blogging. Between the posts on Mormonism that I used to write each week and the questions that were sent my way via Formspring, there were so many aspects of Mormonism that I had never considered. Ever the stalwart missionary, I set out to find the answers for my readers so they could understand why joining the LDS Church would be the best possible thing that every single person out there could do. That’s what Sunday School lesson after youth devotional night after annual temple trip had taught me to do. I relied pretty heavily on the FAIR LDS Wiki, an apologetic resource with the tagline “Defending Mormonism.” I liked that this was a place full of people taking a look at difficult issues and trying to make sense of them from a faithful perspective. Over time I was exposed to things I didn’t know about, things that felt a bit jarring, but the apologists at FAIR were always there to help me make it all fit together within my belief system.

Slowly I started to feel like it was okay to learn about Mormonism from sources other than those approved by the leadership of the Church. I know this limitation isn’t what every LDS person believes regarding reading and studying about Mormonism, but it was the framework that I personally was operating in and I think this is a framework that is encouraged by the current LDS curriculum. At one point in my life I limited my information to very specific sources because that is what felt safe, and I was terrified that something written or shared with ill-intentions would deceive me and make me question my beliefs.

 

My online missionary efforts pushed me out of the circle I had drawn for myself. For the first time in my life, I was asking questions that I had never dared to even think before.  Mormonism encourages congregants to build their faith upon their own testimonies, but also encourages members to “shelve” things that are difficult to answer. To quote myself from just over a year ago, “I have several boxes on a shelf in my mind, and I want to sort all the issues out . A box for the things I know, a box for the things I’m puzzling through, a box of ideas that others accept which I’ve rejected, and a box for things I will never understand no matter how I search, ponder, and pray. This idea of a “box on the shelf” is not a concept of my own invention, it’s a pretty common idea passed around within Mormonism. We are encouraged to build up our faith like a house, laying the bricks that form the foundation, and then moving on to the pillars and windows and shelves, fortifying along the way. If we don’t have a strong testimonyof something, we put that idea in a box on the shelf and come back to it again later.” As I started to seek out answers to questions I had previously shelved I realized I wasn’t finding answers that worked for me. Pieces of information that used to fit perfectly together like a puzzle were jutting out uncomfortably. I was no longer sure. This was extremely upsetting because feeling sure was a critical part of my faith. Once a month members of the congregations I belonged to would get up and talk about not just what they believed, but what they knew. I would get up a few times a year and say “I know God lives. I know we have a loving Prophet. I know the Book of Mormon is a literal story of a people who lived in America. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is True.”

 

The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable. – Arundhati Roy

I used to know things, and then I had come to un-know them. Read more →

      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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