When Truth & Light = the Goal, Differences Can Lead Us There

I once overheard a (good) friend at a gathering tell another (good) friend, “I just don’t see eye-to-eye with Tara at all on this. I don’t get it,” and then, gratefully, I heard my other friend reply, “That’s okay. We’re all different. It’s good for us.”

I don’t agree with some friends and family members on many political or religious issues (apparently I’m disagreeable), but I keep telling myself this:

Differences challenge our assumptions and can teach us more about what we truly want and believe. This doesn’t mean every opinion or every viewpoint is equally valid or equally moral, but allowing space for dissent or disagreement or argument helps us recommit or adjust or change.

As someone who wants what is best, what is good, what is light and noble and true, I want to know everything. But I don’t. I want to be right and wise about every single thing. But I’m not. So I keep telling myself this: Remember truth and light are always the goal. Choose humility.

Image result for blind men and elephant

“When the opinions or ‘truths’ of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.”

“My young friends, as you accept the responsibility to seek after truth with an open mind and a humble heart, you will become more tolerant of others, more open to listen, more prepared to understand, more inclined to build up instead of tearing down, and more willing to go where the Lord wants you to go.”

– from Pres. Uchtdorf’s “What is Truth?

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For My Friends at Church Who Want to Know if It’s Good to Stay

I’ve recently had a few people contact me on behalf of themselves or family members about struggling in the church. Some of these contacts have been more serious than others, including whether or not to continue being Mormon, or living the endowed Mormon life. I am not one to oversimplify the concerns some members feel because I’ve been there and I’ve emerged and am still emerging in a way that I believe is harder, but more beautiful and rewarding.

As someone who has at times experienced the effortless, adored lifestyle of Mormonism from my youth and even now off and on, and as someone who has literally had to confront my decision to remain in the church, I wanted to share a letter I wrote to a friend a short while ago (with some additions), which hints at why I continue to practice Mormonism full-heartedly. I’ve posted it below.

***

Dear friend,

I am sitting in the temple pondering our conversation. I feel much love for and mindfulness of you.

I have been praying for you this day. Not only because of the trials you have been through but for your path forward. I have wondered why I have felt impressions of you on my mind lately and now I know why after our conversation. I wonder now why I feel so invested in praying and pondering on behalf of you. Perhaps God continues to bless me with his love for his children and perhaps we have been placed in close proximity to help and buoy each other up. I know you have helped and lifted me with your joy and zest and interesting perspective.

While here in the Provo City Temple (after they let me in by looking up my records online because I again lost my temple recommend which I literally just interviewed for last Sunday to replace my previous one I lost—cool), I am sitting in front of a picture of our Savior praying on behalf of us. The picture moves me because I literally begged God for the privilege to attend his holy house today even though I’ve been flippant about the temple in the past, and at times resentful of it, and obviously careless about attending it and even keeping track of my recommend. I say this because I recognize it is a privilege to be blessed by priesthood authority given to men and women in the temple. I really believe that. And even though I struggle with feeling complete peace with the temple and understanding all the ways in which the rituals are taught, today in initiatories, women blessed me in behalf of a deceased sister with eyes to discern between truth and error, right and wrong.

And so now I’m writing you because of that discernment. I am becoming increasingly aware of my need for discernment. My patriarchal blessing says I have been given this gift but to be careful not to abuse it. I have often thought about this: how can I abuse this gift? At times I have thought to abuse it is to call out bad in people and in ways that may focus more on judgment than on love. I felt impressed after reading the words of Elder Bednar (yes, he’s probably not your favorite apostle, but what he says here is enlightening), that discernment is the gift to see the good in those around me. I have really felt that I have been given discerning eyes of light to see good motives and to honor and encourage those motives. Today, though, as I am sitting in the temple, I am again thinking about discernment in the context of initiatories and the instruction not to abuse my gift. These women bless my brain with discernment. Is this to only see the good? No. It is also to see evil and error. Today I feel like I am learning that discernment is to see the two–it is not to only see good and truth, but also evil and error. Both can exist at the same time–in a person, in an argument, in a church experience. Error is an interesting word, don’t you think? It doesn’t imply blame but instead unintentional mistakes. Which is why I wanted to write you.

As I’ve pondered your comments about church or wearing temple garments I’ve contemplated my responses to you. I have a close friend who listens remarkably well. She is introverted and reflective and I adore her feedback because I know it is thoughtful and honest. She often questions my ideas out of her quiet love and wisdom because she loves me and wants me to have joy and also return to God with her. I have thought of the real value of her friendship—I’ve known her since I was 7–and how friends should at times, when moved upon, move beyond echo chambers and compassionately provide questioning in times of serious contemplation about real life choices.

I worry in my flippant responses to you I may not have provided valuable, thoughtful, discerning feedback. I may have been more of an agreeing soundboard vs a thoughtful and reflective friend who acts less on impulse and more on discernment. I am thinking of that now. Here. And I feel troubled. So I want to offer some of my more meditated-upon thoughts and questions in hope that you will value them as I value my old friend from home.

I told you about my experience recently asking—“Is this where you want me, God?” I asked that, and it was an honest, sincere, even scary question, because no part of me wanted to stop practicing or believing Mormonism. Mormonism had been a good experience in the past. But I asked it because I had real issues that challenged my understanding of Mormonism–the role of prophets, scripture, revelation. I still have questions, but God responded to my question telling me that yes, this church is where he wanted me.

That was the beginning revelation, though. Not the end. I have since had incredible experiences that have expanded my mind and my heart because I stayed. Because I chose the wrestle vs the nap. I worry about you and the choice you have right now: do you leave the church with the hope that you come back rejuvenated? AKA do you take a restful nap? Or do you stay awake, groggy, tired, with eyes barely open? What good can come of THAT any of us might ask. Unlike some members, I am not inclined to tell you to stay if it tortures you. I do believe some who do stay in the church are napping already. They’re not seeking and finding light here. In fact, they may be going through the motions, focusing on rules vs developing a relationship to God. Instead, I am inclined to suggest you ask God himself and see what he tells you.

As someone who has chosen to stay awake, again and again (you know me and my probing questions. I’m a curious little daughter), I have felt increase in spirit, power, strength, love and wisdom. I have felt that that increase has been particular to my decision to endure.

I have wrestled in the dark so many times, but each time, more light comes. Stronger, purer, brighter light. I say this because for me, the persevering has brought the blessings I needed and what I believe you and your family want. And so I don’t want to be flippant or lightminded about suggesting you stay because I’d like friends like you at church. Or that we, the body of Christ, need you, so come for us. Even though that’s true, it’s more than that. Real lives, real consequences, real increased light and power—especially during a dark time for you and your spouse and your beautiful boys—are at stake. I believe in personal revelation but I would plead with you to be very prayerful and mindful of that revelation and to have the discernment to know the answer is from our Father. I feel my discernment is stronger when I keep commandments, repent, read my scriptures, and pray. That’s all I have to do and immediately my eyes see better. Which is why I chose to come to the temple today even though I told you I don’t actually like to. I often get bored. So bored. I joke with God that symbolism is not my learning language. I get restless too. Distracted. Angry, even. Why and in this way? And I could be at home doing good things with my family or outside where I feel God distinctly or reading scriptures which I adore. There are other ways I can connect to God, but the promise of discernment is something I want and need in a very confusing and necessarily complicated world. The temple uniquely gives me an increase of that and I need that more than ever now. I believe we all do.

You know Father and Mother see the big picture. I worry about relying on current emotions in our limited paradigm with church or callings or doubts to determine our choices when perhaps there is more good at the end of this particular wrestle. I worry about relying on current feelings (e.g. “I don’t like how I feel or I don’t like these people”) when so much light and knowledge can come by continuing to explore, rather than stopping too soon. Can God still reach us if we choose to leave? Could he still reach us after mistakes? Of course, if we let him and still want him. If you were to leave church or him or whatever just to know for yourself, would God punish you? I don’t know. But do I want my daughter to jump in a pond out of curiosity or rebelliousness and drown for a bit in order for her to learn to listen to and trust me? And what happens if I reach down to save her and she swats at my hand because she’s “got this”? What if because she’s under water she thinks my hand is a snake and opts out for drowning instead? As an earthly mother, I will jump in that pond and save my girl. I don’t care if she kicks me or hits me or bites me or screams at me. But whether or not she chooses to keep following me on the paved path around the pond, whether or not she chooses to jump back in the pond (and how many times?), once we’re out of the water, the choice is hers. What will she choose to do?

I don’t know if or how much God will so much punish us for lightmindedly wandering or even deliberately wandering, but he will grieve and ache because we will lose the potential light we could have received in a very hard time. Light he was waiting to give but couldn’t because we weren’t in earshot or eyesight. Or maybe he was still shouting instructions across the pond and we heard, but we were too far and the instruction was muffled or obscured. Or perhaps we swatted his hand away in the depths of our drowning. Perhaps this relates to discernment. When we’re too far from God, we may still hear him but incorrectly. Or we may think we discern a solid rock, when it is instead sand and we fall. This is why God gives us more than just personal emotions and convictions to follow him. He gives us resources that help us hear and discern him. It is work and it takes growing into. I’ve already mentioned the sources our church teaches about—scriptures, prayer, repentance, obedience, service, temple. Church can be a place in which we practice discerning that voice—what’s really from God, what’s really the spirit amidst our fellow crazy church friends. We’re practicing hearing and learning to listen together.

I say this all somewhat hesitatingly because this all suggests God is here in this church. Some do not believe he is. But what do we make of those that do feel him here? Because I’ve experienced him here–I’ve learned to pray to him, read of him and her (this church gives me more access to scripture and light than anywhere else), practice serving his children in my callings and appointments–so I believe he is. Though I’ve had moments of doubt, despair, turmoil, confusion, resentment at or during my church experience, I’ve also had earth shattering answers to prayer. I’ve had witnesses in the temple. (This coming from someone who even struggles with the temple!) I’ve had light spear my heart and divine revelation pour into my mind. I’ve wept at the grandeur of God’s majestic and simple love. I’ve basked in divine priesthood blessings that have revealed to me what I thought were hidden desires and secrets whispered only to God. This church has taught me of God, and how to find him and her. And it has actually worked. Where would I go to better find God? To become like him and like her? Like in a dating relationship, at times I felt restless with my now husband–believing I was giving more than I got in return (which wasn’t always true), feeling unhappy, upset (which was definitely true). But often, I would ask, where would I go? Who wouldn’t I have these issues with? And who do I want to work on these issues with? Like my now husband, the church for me can be hard, but it can be immensely worth the work. To give up on or be shunned from a potential relationship can leave feelings of bitterness and resentment and understandably. So what can we do?

If the church is not what you think it should be, would you stay if it were? Why or why not? If it could be so much better, how does leaving help you? If you believe in God, what led you to that belief? That God is here in the Mormon church doesn’t mean he isn’t elsewhere. But if your choice is to leave, where will you go to find him and her? If that doesn’t matter to you, that breaks my heart. We all need God. And I believe God needs us. I’m developing a more human perspective of God. A complex and feeling God, with many nuances.

Yes, I’ve had harrowing doubts of inspired leaders, and what feels like tumultuous encounters that confuse the hell out of me, but I cannot deny what has also happened here, at church–the good with the bad. I don’t have to ignore the bad. I can do something about that. But I can’t ignore the good either. Because I’ve stayed and chosen faith over and over–and to do things for my faith–God has blessed me with a more authentic, intimate relationship. And I honestly want that for everyone. I want you and those I love and every child, every divine child of God to hold on and feel the pure love and reality of a God in heaven.

I hope you feel God’s love and I hope you feel my sense of urgency because upon further reflection, I believe you are at a fork in the road and the choice you make matters, just as it did for me those few months ago. I also experienced my mom calling me after listening to my giant “IS THIS ALL A SHAM!?!” moment with divine, motherly, powerful revelation for me. She said, “You are on a precipice. You are a strong spirit. I sense that things are so serious right now and you are making a choice. Make the choice that leads you to God. Nothing else. Not even yourself. God knows who you are and what you can be.” She then went on to tell me how crap happens at church and that local and higher leaders can sometimes be idiots. But choose faith and use your discernment. Actively choose it and use it. And she plead with me because she knew my intentions despite my perspective. I had desires to be faithful even if I didn’t all the way understand how. I am so grateful for that call at a critical time in my life.

In my faith journey, I could have so many times chosen to pursue abandonment over faith. Every time I’ve chosen faith, however, God has blessed me with giant love and insight. Like universally-explosive love and light. I really do love him and feel mercy, kindness, thoughtfulness from him.

I am so proud of my choices to stay. I say choices because it is a repeated choice. I am aware of Satan and how he tries to get me to doubt myself and others. He wants me to abandon what I know for the allure of the unknown or the potential. None of us wants to be deceived. It is natural to not want to stay somewhere that is not true or good. But find out for yourself with patience–again and again if you have to. I really get that faith is a choice more than ever now. It wasn’t a choice before when I was young and church was the only thing I knew and the only obvious solution. But when other options—what seem to be pleasant, fine, work-for-other people options—are on the table, this is a moment of many moments to choose faith. Like in a marriage, that choice has to be deliberate and conscientious. You can have the greatest spouse in the world, and still that choice has to be deliberate and conscientious.

So that’s how I want to end this. I want to say use discernment. Sometimes I’m more discerning than other times based on what I read, do, listen to. In moments of doubt or confusion, I choose to nurture my discernment. I turn to the Book of Mormon. I know it’s so cheesy. And I know you have said you’re more of a music person. I know it’s so basic. But it is a freaking lifesaver for me. It dispels darkness for me. There is a real power I get just by reading it. More light enters my heart and my brain. So much sacrifice has been made in behalf of the Book of Mormon and the temple and the church. I think reason would have me consider why. What good is here?

Perhaps if I had asked God “Are you okay with me leaving?” He might have said yes. I don’t know. Similarly, he could have told that to Eve about staying or leaving in the garden. If she chose to stay, we couldn’t be here. If she chose to eat the fruit, we could come but there would be hard times. God gave her two options and let the consequences follow. He didn’t force her and it wasn’t an easy black and white choice. It required discernment and thoughtfulness and a choice of the greater good with greater potential. I am grateful she chose the choice that challenged her and taught her more about who God was. I think it’s very possible she could have stayed in the garden and learned less about God even if he was there with her. Isn’t that interesting that she could learn more about Mother and Father by living like them rather than just being near them? I believe Mormonism, in its essence, teaches us to live like them.

But I didn’t ask if it’d be okay to leave. Instead I asked, “God, do you want me here? Is this where I can best find you?” God told me yes, and that has made a big difference for me. What matters less to me now is that everything is as it is preached at church or that it meets the expectations or wishes I have for it. But like God with me, I choose compassion and work. This is where I can learn God if I choose to keep awake, eyes open, always blinking toward the light.

I hope you feel inspired in every step of this journey and that you feel particularly the gift of discernment–seeing the good with the bad in every choice you make–during this confusing time.

I love you. Amen.

Tara

An Open Letter to My 3-yr-old to Convince Her to Want Me As Her Mother

Dear Eleanor,

(Is it cool that I call you that? Or do you prefer Aurora Rose?)

Are you sure you don’t want me as your mother? Or in your own words: Are you sure you don’t want to be [my] daughter anymore?

I’m writing you to persuade you to stay. Please stay in our family. Please be a Boyce with us. I think this would be a good choice for you because of the following:

  1. I like Cheetos too, so I buy them more than the average mom. You will have less access to Cheetos if you leave.
  2. I don’t yell as much as some other bad moms I’ve seen in the Walmart parking lot. And I certainly don’t yell like that in public. That’s a good thing for your reputation, isn’t it?
  3. I sometimes pretend I don’t notice you eating a second snack pack of blueberry muffins because I’m literally too lazy to stop you. You could eat a lot of blueberry muffins!
  4. I let you crawl in my bed every night because I’ve become that mom who values sleeping the short time it would take to carry you back to your own bed more than an entire night of quality sleep. You love sleeping burrowed in my back! I don’t know if other moms out there would let 3-yr-olds sleep on, around, or beneath their bodies.
  5. I let you brush your own teeth half the time because it’s too D hard. I can’t brush my teeth, your sister’s teeth, and your teeth? And twice a day!?!?!?!?! Sometimes I even let you brush your own teeth only once a day so you and I can spend more time doing more interesting things.
  6. You get to go to the dentist a lot more when I’m your mom. Remember all the cool prizes you got in your dentist bag? Another non-electric toothbrush that requires more exertion!? And toothpaste! And floss! There are a lot of cool crafts you can make with floss.
  7. Other moms make their 3-yr-olds floss. If I’m your mom, you don’t even need to worry about that.
  8. I let you roam the yard because I am not a helicopter mom. You can do anything you want because I won’t even be there to notice until minutes after you’ve already done it! I GUARANTEE YOU THAT FREEDOM!
  9. I take you to DI and let you pick out your own hideously puffy dresses. What other mom would let you dress yourself in that and on Sunday?
  10. I don’t exude any authority so I have to entice you to not hit, punch, scratch, or tackle your sister with “mad toys”. You literally get to play with squeeze balls and poop balls or chew gum when you’re mad and feel like beating everyone up. I give you fun ways to get rid of your “poopy” feelings. WHO ELSE DOES THAT!?!?

There are many more reasons I think you would like to stay, but I think these are the most convincing. I hope you thoughtfully reconsider “running away to a new family” and to a “new mom” because even though you “don’t even want to be [my] daughter”, you might find that you actually do.

Love,

Mom

Bless Us This Good Friday, This Sad, Doubting, Wallowing Friday

I’m thinking today of the ancient, long ago, heartbreaking Friday.

I’m imagining the apostles and disciples and their feelings of despair and confusion and doubt:

Was he really the Son of God? If so, how come people killed him? Couldn’t he have prevented that? What does it mean that he didn’t? That he couldn’t?

Why didn’t he stand up for himself–for all of us, his followers? How can dying further the work of his supposed righteousness? Where’s the wisdom in this? 

How could he betray me? I thought he loved me. He always made me feel loved. But now he’s leaving me and my family here, hunted, despised, likely to meet his same end? How could he abandon me, his friend, and leave me to the wolves?

Or

If he left by choice, why didn’t he love us enough to stay? Or at least stay a little longer? Why not tell me? Why not let me say goodbye? 

Why didn’t he explain to us better that he was going to die and like this? Why didn’t he prepare us?

What am I supposed to do now? What are all of us supposed to do now?

Or

The real Son of God wouldn’t have let this happen. Did he lie to me–to all of us? I let him hold my kids. I let him hug them, and bless them, and weep over them. Was he manipulating me? Was he delusional? Am I?

What does this say about me, a disciple, that bought into all of this? Was what I felt not real? Did I imagine it? How could I have been so deceived? How could he let me? 

I wasted all those years listening and following him–what for?

I’ve thought about these disciples today because I can relate to some degree to the confusion and circuitous route of doubt. I have had moments of deep despair in regards to faith, worship, Jesus, prophets, scripture, not to mention Mormonism as a “correct” church or an inspired one. In the middle of these moments, the outcome has never been clear or certain.

These moments have been very dark as I imagine they were for these disciples and some apostles when their entirely new and fresh Christian paradigms–which had been so radically changed in the last three or less years they spent with Jesus–seemed to crack and break before their eyes. They had been healed, had witnessed others healed, had even healed others themselves through the “supposed” power Jesus had given them, so I can imagine, after watching Jesus wither and die in front of their eyes made them question everything they saw, felt, or heard. And how could it not?

A logical assumption you can make about meeting the Son of God is that if you follow him, if you do what he says, if you give everything up for him–habits, traditions, sin, money, lusts, social standing, comfort, belonging–then you’re going to be okay. Saved, exalted even. Because God is on YOUR side and God doesn’t lose. The logical assumption is that God can’t be killed by a bunch of worried, jealous humans. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense at all. And therefore, a logical conclusion is to assume that if worried, jealous, loser-ish humans can kill the Son of God so they can keep controlling the city and making money off sales in the temple, then who you think is the Son of God probably isn’t the Son of God. And what a depressing, depressing conclusion to make.

That, to me, is the heartbreak of that old Friday.

I love how many Christian denominations observe this Friday with fastings and services to commemorate this day as a time of acute suffering. I love the idea that Catholic priests wear black robes instead of the usual red or purple they wear for Lent to signal a moment of wallowing. I love how Catholics in particular, but other denominations as well, don’t just remember the day, they try to relive it:

“The Holy Church opens before the eyes of believers a full picture of the redeeming suffering of the Lord beginning with the bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane up to the crucifixion on Golgotha. Taking us back through the past centuries in thought, the Holy Church brings us to the foot of the cross of Christ erected on Golgotha, and makes us present among the quivering spectators of all the torture of the Savior.” From Bulgakov’s Handbook of Church Servers. 

This knowledge has been profoundly helpful to me today as I have reflected on the Friday as if I didn’t know the following Sunday existed. What would I feel? How would I react?

As someone who sometimes doubts my own religious impressions or feelings, I can empathize with these disciples because logically you’re seeing one thing, and emotionally, you’re feeling another. You’re literally seeing loser, mocking people with no real power compared to what you’ve witnessed stab the very man who literally washed your feet the day before. Someone who called down bread and fishes and fed thousands–THOUSANDS–in front of your eyes. Who healed sick, manic people and cast out demons into pigs. Even those who study the historical Jesus now describe him as a healer because there are so many witnesses of his healing. So what does that mean? The man who cooked for you and walked on water, and spoke truth that burned in your blood, is now dead because people–just a bunch of regular jerks–killed him.

On this day you’re thinking, where is the power Jesus claimed to have? He hangs from a cross in front of you, bleeding, gasping, bruising. He is thirsty and asks for a drink. Can’t he get his own drink? Where is his power now?

That Easter Sunday does come and the revelation is mind-blowingly bigger and huger than anything I or you or those dear disciples then could have imagined, is a lesson to me that these questions are questions and they do not always reflect reality, as real and bowel-wrenching as the pain can be as a result of asking them. Can any of you imagine how Mary Magdalene–having been healed of demons by the Savior himself–must have wrestled with what lay before her in the tomb? Of course she brought herbs and spices to bless the body who blessed hers. But I’m sure she must have asked herself what all of this meant and prayed hard to not let the sorrow and the confusion consume her.

A brighter light exists and will soon come and the light will feel warmer on her cold, pale, dry skin because she has weathered the weekend storm.

I, too, must weather the wait.

We Are the Church; We Are the Body of Christ

In light of comments and discussion on my blogpost I recently posted about the alleged victim of sexual abuse, I want to emphasize four things:

1. The local bishop of the victim during the 80s didn’t believe the victim at the time. He trusted someone’s calling (MTC president) more than an alleged victim. This isn’t right. Many of us non-leaders are also guilty of this type of privileging callings or positions over truth. Let this be a reminder to all of us members that truth matters more than position, according to our own LDS doctrine found in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“[W]hen we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

D&C 121:37 

Callings don’t = automatic priesthood power. Righteousness does. When someone in a calling acts through unrighteousness, God withdraws. But when they do act through righteousness, the power of God can work through them to bless others under their stewardship. God grants us stewardship and gives us opportunities to particularly bless those within it. Perhaps that’s what the victim means when she said that God can work through “unclean vessels.”

This understanding of priesthood power and authority and the Spirit of God doesn’t just apply to our local and higher up leaders. Anyone set apart in a calling–women included–are given priesthood authority and power. To those who may not have callings but have been given an office of priesthood or who have been endowed with priesthood power in the temple: this doctrine also applies to you. We also are not immune to this higher standard to avoid pride, vanity, compulsion toward those we are meant to minister to.

2. We don’t know what or if actions were taken by Carlos Asay when he heard about the rape from the victim. Clearly, not enough happened and we don’t know why. This is wrong. The church is now conducting a further investigation. (Scroll down to the updated Mar 23rd version.) They specifically state:

“The Church is looking into all aspects of the assertions on the recording of Joseph Bishop. This includes the work of outside legal counsel, who are interviewing priesthood leaders, family members, law enforcement officials and others with knowledge of these incidents.”

Regardless of why they’re doing that now–we can criticize, but let’s at least be grateful for steps in the right direction–it’s really good that they’re doing it now. Maybe justice can come because members let leaders know “all is [not] well in Zion.” Our leaders listened to some of us.

3. All of us = the church. We are together the body of Christ. We can help our body heal by our individual roles and actions. We should never leave it only to those in higher positions to think and act on behalf of the whole body. This suggests we believe the head matters more than the heart or that the eye matters less than the leg. All matter. All parts are needed. Our own perceptions may suggest that a head does matter more than a heart, but without the heart, without the legs, the stomach, the mouth, the head would be utterly wasted.

Because of leadership callings I’ve had in the church, perhaps I’m especially appreciative of people who have contacted me to let me know of things I’ve done wrong and right. I needed both types of feedback to maintain any type of good. I’ve done so many immature, zealous, silly, downright ignorant things. Leaders need proactive, caring, loving, supportive body members to help them and their organizations be better. Forgive other body parts and be the strongest body part you can be. God will teach you how to do that.

4. After thinking more on my previous blogpost I want to add a few more thoughts that I would like to be the takeaways:

a. The victim demonstrated remarkable courage and an understanding of repentance and forgiveness. She is a hero.

b. The victim trusted her own intuition and impressions and boldly spoke against evil. She is a hero.

c. The Atonement is real. Jesus is a hero. Repentance and forgiveness is a real power that can change lives. Even if leaders don’t always demonstrate this publicly or privately, LDS Church doctrine does. It teaches us to repent and to confess and to forgive. The victim showed a remarkable faith in that Christian doctrine in the interview.

d. I have talked to and cried with close friends and family about this event because to me, the body to which I belong–the LDS church–gives me eyes to discern between truth and error, legs to run and explore marvelous truths, and knees to pray and feel the love of my heavenly parents. This body gives me a mind of consciousness, a heart of compassion, and a pulse for strength to endure. At times, parts of the body to which I belong hurt me and they hurt others. In these moments, an eye may go dark or an ear may not hear. I have to wrestle in the darkness or in the silence, and mourn the loss of an essential body member with other remaining members.

In some cases, like in this instance with Joseph Bishop, parts should be cut off, even if temporarily. Jesus would want that: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee,” Jesus says. “For it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

But for the record: Jesus can still heal plucked parts–the corrupted, poisoned, rotting parts. He can make them new and he can bring them back to their proper function. The rest of us body members can help that happen by what we choose to say and do in these moments of amputation.

I am mourning for this whole body to which I belong because I love it like a family. Bad things have happened that have cut off body parts we need, like this victim who would have strengthened our body. I’ve literally felt my soul churn in sorrow for a body of faith that has so much potential. We come from such a history of communal suffering. Amidst that suffering, we have buoyed up each other in the past. Let’s continue that aspect of our legacy.

e. Though I sometimes wrestle with particulars, and at times that wrestle has been deep and dark, the doctrine of Atonement and Jesus’s ministry of boldfaced love and healing have been taught to me by LDS scripture, leaders, and the ministry of other saints inside and outside of our church buildings. I say this not necessarily because I want to declare that “only the Mormon church can be true then,” but to emphasize the distinct parts of Mormon doctrine and theology that empower me, which is why I choose to remain in it.

The LDS Church has given me section 93 of the Doctrine & Covenants, which sets my heart and my eyes and my hands and my brain on fire, particularly in cases like the one that recently happened to the victim:

“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.”

Despite some members or leaders not demonstrating an understanding of that scripture, LDS revelation has given me that knowledge and that consciousness.

I want to say this not to ignore what wrongs have happened and what wrongs will happen. I write this to emphasize that the victim’s experience was wrong, and is not what should happen in this body I adore and so many of us adore. Like in a marriage, I acknowledge wrongdoing in my church with the intent to improve my relationship with it. The goal isn’t to estrange my partner or my church. The goal is to grow closer in intimacy and love so that we feel safer and happier together. That we feel knit as one.

If any of you have been hurt by what I or others have written in response to my post, please let me know. And please hold onto the light and truth you do have. Because darkness exists, does not mean light does not.

Again, we all have different strengths, perspectives, and roles. Please be the body member you can be and are meant to be, and help the rest of us.

 

 

for my Mother who taught me this

 

Dear Anonymous Victim: Thank You

I saw a tweet a few days ago about the anonymous woman who reported sexual abuse by Joseph L. Bishop, the former Provo MTC President and Weber State president. I couldn’t read it at the time, because it made me sick and I was too busy to be sick.

But the thought kept coming back to me. So today I read all the things. I had so many other things to do, but I read anyway. I read the initial Deseret News article. The Salt Lake Tribune article. The LDS Church’s response. I read friends’ tweets and Facebook responses. I read the entire transcript of the secretly recorded interview because I wanted to know what happened for myself. I’m all about primary sources. I even listened to the latter half of the audio to hear their voices. To hear a woman confront her abuser.

And then I cried. I totally surprised myself because that’s not like me to cry over strangers. I even cried for Joseph L. Bishop. I read and listened to his responses and he seemed so messed up. Weirdly calm. At times controlling. Damningly confused. Utterly ashamed. Sorrowful. He even seemed to treat his abused victim like a therapist. Trying to make sense of how God let him still have spiritual experiences even though he knew he was messed up. His whole life serving in the church, he seems to admit later, was an attempt to dig himself out of this black hole.

And she remarkably kept listening. She said so many strong things and kept listening. To him. She said things like,

“But, okay, so, your addiction was the problem. I understand that. I understand that more than you know, only because I worked in substance abuse, addiction.”

And later,

“[L]ogically, I can understand why people would want to hide from their pain. But when we talk about repentance, we talk about making up for what we did and being sorrowful, and part of that process is we say we’re sorry. And that’s gone 33 years without an apology from you.”

She said real, true, honest, hard things. She listened and reminded him about what it means to really repent. That he actually can be forgiven if he really repents. That she understood how he had a problem. That God can still work through “unworthy vessels,” she kept saying. That he wanted and still wants to hide from his pain. But that’s not enough for his salvation, even if she’s forgiven him.

I want to write about that. Not necessarily about what the church should or shouldn’t do. I’m always hesitant to publicly declare what the church should do because I don’t know all things and I’m hyper-sensitive to its reputation. But also, a lot of good stuff has already been said about what the church can do. Yes, the church can and should dismiss Bishop from his callings of power until he’s proven not guilty. Not the other way around. And the law doesn’t have to prove anything before the church takes action (especially when the law can’t do much of anything now–so many years later). Callings, authority can be reinstated. But unviolated bodies can’t. Real lives, real bodies, real testimonies are at stake here. The eternal life of one does matter more than a temporary bad reputation of the church. And I don’t say that easily. I care very deeply about the church and its reputation because I believe it is good and I have been so blessed by it. I’m committed to the church because I’m committed to its gospel–that its message can light the world. But not adequately handling abuse or not confronting abuse for any reason–even if unintentionally, mistakenly, untraining-ly–requires chastisement. Dear leaders, be deliberate and honest and let the consequences follow. We improve and we change. Mormonism teaches us that. Jesus teaches us that. BYU President Worthen’s response to the sexual assault cases at BYU was a good example of this–admitting fault of the institution and changing. He even oversaw a study on how sexual assault on campus is handled, demonstrating that he is committed to change. Be proactive about improving. Correct false perceptions and messages about trusting leadership authority more than personal revelation. And choose not to privilege the accounts of leaders over common members (especially when women and children are not in those authoritative positions. Maybe they should be.). And lastly, create explicit policies for leaders on how to deal with reports of physical and sexual abuse in ways that protect victims rather than abusers or the church as an institution. I believe many of these errors are a result of not knowing how to handle things or not being trained. I know I would be terrible at handling these things. For that I can offer understanding and forgiveness. But let’s figure out a solution and address these issues head on, and then do our best to enforce those proper solutions.

That said, I want to talk about this anonymous 55 yr-old woman.

There’s this part in the transcript when she says to her abuser,

“[Y]ou singled me out the very first day. The very first day you asked me to bear my testimony. And then the next time the missionaries met you asked me to give the prayer. And then you would call me out of class, the other missionaries were teasing me calling me teacher’s pet, and I can’t record, oh, ridiculous things. But I was so flattered. I thought I was so special. And you told me that I was special. That even though I had been abused that the Lord loved me. And that I was going to be amazing.”

Bishop says, “I remember that.”

And then, the victim says, “I wasn’t amazing. I was nothing. I was no one. I was just a missionary. I was just like all the other kids, well 21 year old, 19 year old, trying to serve the Lord.”

Later, she says, speaking of herself now, “I’m not perfect. I’m not anything. I’m nothing special.”

I want to say something to this anonymous victim: The thing is, you are something. And not in the perverted sexual-abuser way. (Just to clarify.) You are brave. You are needed. You taught me about repentance just by reading your transcript that you didn’t even intend to be leaked. I think I cried because what you said was powerful even in the context of a very sick, sad, horrific situation.

“You can be forgiven,” you said to a man you blamed for robbing you of your trust in men, Priesthood, and the Church.

“You absolutely can be forgiven,” you said. But, you didn’t ignore the bad. You didn’t sugar coat. You said, “You have to be honest. You have to say you’re sorry. You have to make amends. You have to try to make up for what you did. You’re 85 years old. What happened with me, because I can’t talk about anybody else because I wasn’t there, but what happened with me was 33 years ago, and I had struggled for 33 years.”

After I read how you confronted your own abuser; how you mustered up the courage to even talk to him, to your own leaders–has anyone done anything?; how you even listened (I think we could all say this may be a case in which not listening would be understandable); you were firm in your own authority, your impressions, your knowledge of right and wrong. Some might say that this is an obvious wrong, but in those situations with leaders, authority, spiritual settings, things can get muddled and confusing. You chose clarity and conviction.

And yet you still forgave. And you told him you forgave him. That alone requires humility in a potentially humiliating situation.

Because I read what you said and what you did, I just emailed an old leader about an issue that happened in the past that bothered me then and since. To be clear: my situation was not yours at all. But I have had impressions since that I believe needed to be acted on. And you inspired me to act on those impressions. To not let what others say skew what I believe is true and needed. To speak to leaders who need to know and have the institutional authority and power to do something. To not let fear or doubt dominate my actions.

You are something. Something amazing, special even, even though I hate that word.

Perhaps some good can come out of this craphole of a situation. If any of you readers out there feel a need to say something or do something because you know it’s the right thing to do for yourself or for others, do it. Do what is right.

And in true Mormon fashion, I’ll end with a prayer for strength, guidance, confidence, trust, forgiveness. For humility and grace and healing through Christ Jesus.