I was pretty much done with the “should I become Mormon again?” thing, but it wasn’t done with me.
I’m really starting to think that this is my path. First I encountered the outer limits of my knowledge, the ultimate blank despair, and as I reel/try to recover from that, I keep coming across people uniquely positioned to get across to me right now, and to answer my very specific concerns in a satisfying way.
Yesterday, despite my self-reassurance that God is love and all I need to do is follow love, I felt incredibly fearful all morning. This fear drove me to finally face up to something I’ve been carrying around for a long time.
When I was fourteen I was babysitting a seven year old boy (this adorable seven year old who just loved everyone and told me all the time that when he grew up, after he finished his mission, he was going to marry me…despite the age gap). He was sitting in my lap and, horny, repressed little teen that I was, I sort of…masturbated against him. Very subtly. I tried not to let him notice, and I don’t think he did.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a “sin” and I don’t feel bad for it abstractly. In fact, I fully blame the confusing teachings of the LDS church, which say that masturbation itself is bad and you should repress those feelings until you’re married. If I had felt comfortable with my body and the desires that were so irresistible at the time, I would have taken care of my urges in a much more appropriate way.
My big problem was, I dated a man at one point who was touched inappropriately by a camp counselor, and it messed him up, big time. I know that kids can be confused about what’s their fault and in a puritanical society, they can feel dirty or impure just for being a target of someone else’s sexuality.
I’ve been worried all of these years that this kid noticed and that he internalized it in a negative way. I’ve been trying to get up the courage to talk to him, and I sent him a Facebook message which he never answered, and I thought he had ended his mission early and maybe that was my fault, tracing all the way back to that one time when I babysat him.
So this fear built up and my brain was looking for something to attach it to, and I fixed on this kid. I needed to talk to him ASAP, because what if he committed suicide or something, and then that was hanging over me forever, when I could have done something about it?
I called his mom, pretty terrified of her reaction. You know, mama bear, aforementioned puritanical society, what is she going to say to this. Her reaction? “It is so brave of you to come forward with this after all these years! God bless you! I’m so glad you were able to finally lay that burden down at Jesus’ feet! You know, I’m pretty sure he never knew about it.” She said he was very open with her about everything and she never saw anything that would make her think he was affected. I asked her to think about whether we(/I) should talk to him about it anyway, just in case. He actually did finish his mission, and he’s super happy and coming home soon.
Finally, after all of these years, peace on this matter. Peace I was driven to by fear. Hmm.
So I keep going through my day, feeling better, but still fearful. Still this powerful fear eating me up for no obvious reason. It starts to attach itself to my meeting with a man who could possibly help my career, who I’ve never met before. I start wondering if he’s going to hurt me, maybe. I take some minor precautions, like telling several people who I’m meeting with and texting a friend with our meeting location and time, and he picks me up and we go to dinner.
I like him right away, and the more we talk, the clearer it becomes that our world views are very, very similar, especially in terms of the way we believe in treating other people and why. Our approaches to life are similar, we have similar personalities–although he has a more aggressive streak, and whenever I hear a hint of it, or something that could be a subtle warning, my fear rises in me again. The whole time, I’m trying to figure out—is he going to hurt me, or help me?
We’re talking about our mutual friend who introduced us, and existential crises come up. I laughingly mention how I almost was driven back to Mormonism by this recent crisis, and…turns out he’s Mormon. He doesn’t believe in evangelism, but by now I’m curious to see how this very intelligent and compassionate man reconciles his worldview with an LDS one, because I’m still seeing some important incompatibilities.
Over the course of our discussion, in the way he explains things to me, I’m seeing hints of a patronizing viewpoint towards others that kind of bothers me. An investment in hierarchy, in some people being “more equal” than others. But the more we talk, the more I begin to see a picture emerge, and though he hasn’t quite said it in this way, I can begin to see a valid reason that the LDS church, as a whole, might be a little bit behind the curve instead of leading the way.
Because of course the first question I ask him is, “Why should I even listen to an intermediary? If god is love, why shouldn’t I just follow love? Especially an intermediary that seems to clearly enact love to a lesser degree than I want to, rather than a greater one?”
Some answers I came up with during/after our discussion, a combination of his explanations and my attempt to make sense of them on my own:
One: if there’s a plan for salvation, it’s for everyone, not just me. The church is suited to the society it’s in—it’s supposed to help people in the current society get where they’re supposed to be (just like the old testament form of governance was suited for a more savage time with people who understood things more physically and less symbolically). This might sound patronizing until you realize that the more advanced lesson, the ahead-of-the-curve version of how to love others, was already presented by Jesus completely intact, and people over the centuries have really, really struggled to follow that lesson in a way that remotely resembles what Jesus told them to do. We’re all hindered by our collective endeavor, and we’re all helped by our collective endeavor.
The LDS church puts Jesus’ teachings at the center of its philosophy. They’re actually called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” The advanced lesson was always waiting at the center of the less symbolic, more physical “thou shalt nots” so it has always provided the opportunity to keep pushing to love more, at the same time as creating a safe space for people to move forward according to what they already understand. No one says I have to love exactly in step with the church; I can keep doing my thing, trying to love people more and more. There’s nothing stopping me. I don’t have to vote against gay rights, I can support and pray for women to have the priesthood, I can refuse to avoid people, stories, etc. because they might “negatively influence me,” and I can specify that there are certain things I want my tithing to support and certain things I’m unwilling for it to contribute to (like the mall and other financial ventures that promote our consumerist society and the exploitation of people across the globe.)
I’ve got friends who do things like this, who hold onto Mormonism but resist the things that contradict their perception of love and their rational understanding of what the teachings mean (I‘d always wondered why they didn’t just up and leave) and there’s nothing stopping me from doing the same. BUT. It’s not enough for me to be able to believe what I believe. I still need a better reason to be Mormon instead of just doing my best on my own.
One reason: I struggle to know which feelings to trust. This man across from me clearly means me good and not ill, this is more and more obvious as the night goes on. And yet here I was, spiking with fear every time he made mention of something that could be interpreted as threatening (like saying things about how resisting the system instead of learning how to work within it will get you squashed—my paranoia re: whether scary folks like the Koch brothers might try and squash me for my ideas about ditching our current structures in favor of a truly representative system, or how our currency ought to be a human hour of labor, if we have one at all, or how our financial systems are all a lie, etc. etc. goes into hyper drive…what if he’s about to kill me or something?)
This man describes himself as having total peace of mind and confidence. And he doesn’t blindly follow, and he doesn’t believe in that. (More on this later.) I need help figuring out which feelings to trust. I need help beating back my fear and knowing what is instinct, what is nurture, what is inspiration. Since our conversation last night, my fear has dissipated.
Another reason: my crisis. I trust myself, but I recognize my own limits. If someone has a better plan than I do for how to make this all come out okay in the end…I really want to get on board with that. Seriously. The ultimate conclusion of my personal way of seeing the world leaves me all alone, throwing myself a giant tea party that means nothing. That’s not cool. That’s pretty much hell, actually. Trusting my own logical conclusions, based on my own understanding of the universe, is just not enough. I need other people.
Last: I have been following my own instincts this whole time. I’m here, and these answers are being handed to me, and they are interlocking perfectly with everything I need to know and need to hear. It could be coincidence, it could be wishful thinking, but the more I zoom out and look at the big picture of my life, the more that picture makes sense. But I’m still listening and looking. There are still some serious conflicts.