UU Mormon

Butterfly came out of her OWL (Our Whole Lives) class this morning with a couple of handouts about sexually transmitted diseases.  I caught sight of them and made an “Oh hey, fun!” type of comment. I expected some eye-rolling in return, but I didn’t expect her to say what she said.

“They showed us pictures.”

???

“Pictures?” I said.  “Pictures of… sexually transmitted diseases?”

“Yes.”

Now, I am well known for my naivete, and I do not have the background to know what STDs look like.  Other than being able to imagine herpes because I’ve seen cold sores before, I didn’t even know that, well, that STDs looked like anything at all.  I vaguely remember high school health class and lists of complications like, um, infertility? Pain, no doubt. There’s gotta be pain. And they can also eventually involve a range of unpleasant things like cervical cancer or insanity or death.  But they also do things you can see?

I couldn’t let this pass.

“But pictures of what, exactly?”

“Well…”  She didn’t seem eager to talk about it. At all.  “You know, infections.”

“So, like, sores?  Pus?  Stuff like that?”

She gave me a sort of non-committal response from which I inferred that I had the basic idea and she didn’t think I needed to know any more than that.

I still wasn’t quite ready to let it go though.

Were they drawings or photos?

Photos.

Color or black and white?

Color.

Wow, that must have been GROSS.

Yes, it was.  It really really was.

While this conversation was going on, NinjaBoy was pulling on my arm telling me to STOP TALKING ABOUT IT because even the vague hints were going to make him THROW UP.

“They passed the pictures around the circle,” Butterfly said, “and told us we didn’t have to look at them.  Only if we wanted to.”

That’s when it hit me.  This is genius. 

At the parent orientation one of the points they made was that OWL, at heart, is about promoting abstinence.  But instead of telling the kids they’re not ready to have sex, it gives the kids information — all the information, so that the kids can see for themselves that they’re not ready to deal with all the complications and messiness of sexual relationships.

Butterfly had mentioned that in the sexuality class at school (not OWL, just the regular public school curriculum) the teacher came right out and said the material was designed to scare them into not having sex. But from what I could tell from the information that was sent home, the school approach was basically just “If you have sex, you’ll get pregnant, or sick!  You could even die!”

C’mon. What teenager is impressed by hypothetical death threats?

But handing them a folder full of color photos of oozing pus and weeping sores and saying “You might not want to look at these”, thus ensuring that they can’t possibly resist taking a peek?

Genius, I tell you.  I’m fairly certain Butterfly will not forget this lesson any time soon.

While I love the UU services and values, every once in a while I get this hankering to go back to “our old church”.  I have a few friends there I really like, I know a lot of people (in the sense that I’m Facebook friends with them and I hear the gossip even though I don’t know them well personally) so there’s a small-town-within-the-big-metropolis feel to the ward, and I’m much more equipped now to do church on my own terms instead of letting them steamroll me with guilt and obligation.  It’s my heritage, my culture, my tribe.

And face it, Mormonism is fascinating.  The UUs are great with all their celebrating diversity, recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of every person, and determination to change the world into a more loving and compassionate place, but the Mormons have seer stones, angels, ancient mystical artifacts, uncreated intelligences becoming spirits becoming humans becoming gods, “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, all that good stuff  (I know, you don’t get to hear about it much, but it’s there, underneath the milk).

But should I ever get too enthusiastic about it, I remind myself that I have a daughter who is Beehive-almost-MiaMaid age.  And then I remind myself of the lessons I taught to girls that age back when I was one of the Young Women’s leaders.  Lessons like Attitudes about Our Divine Roles, YW Manual 1, Lesson 8.

What might our divine roles be, do you suppose? Could it be that we each have our own unique role that depends on our unique talents and gifts?  Or that we will all have many roles in our lifetimes, each of them different and all valuable in their own way?   Or, perhaps, that God will guide us to the roles he needs us to fulfill, that may be different than what we or others expect for us?

Nah.

We’re women.

The first section of the lesson has the heading “We Accept the Lord’s View of the Roles of Women“, and goes on to explain that if the divine roles the LORD has appointed for you (for those of you who haven’t been to church in the last, um, 100 years, those roles are — wait for it — wife and mother) don’t appeal to you, it’s because you are choosing to have a negative attitude.

 And that’s bad, because you made a promise before you were even born that you would dedicate yourself to being a wife and mother.
We committed ourselves to our Heavenly Father, that if He would send us to the earth and give us bodies and give to us the priceless opportunities that earth life afforded, we would keep our lives clean and would marry in the holy temple and would rear a family and teach them righteousness. This was a solemn oath, a solemn promise. (Spencer W. Kimball, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect,” address given at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, 10 Jan. 1975, p. 2)

And also

President Kimball cautioned, “Do not … make the mistake of being drawn off into secondary tasks which will cause the neglect of your eternal assignments such as giving birth to and rearing the spirit children of our Father in Heaven” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, pp. 102–3).

Now, you might think that guilt-tripping teenage girls over “solemn oaths” they can’t remember making is kind of ridiculous and silly, but when I was a teenage girl, I was incredibly susceptible to guilt-trips of all kinds.  God and Jesus never seemed entirely plausible, but condemnation, damnation, and hell?  Oh yeah, I bought into that stuff without question.  Because the Mormon hell is “a bright recollection of all our guilt.” That’s not hard to believe in. I was already there!

So, girls, do you want to grow up to be homemakers?  No?  Then you’re sinning.

There’s plenty more in this lesson (women’s greatest happiness comes from bearing children, wanting to do something different is selfish, women have great power through influencing their husbands to accomplish important things, etc), but this is certainly enough to illustrate my point, which is this:

I want my daughter to know that she has choices.  That she has many good choices about what to do with her life, not just one good choice and a whole lot of selfish, wicked ones.

I hope she’ll want to have a family.  I think she will — she’s awesome with little kids and she’d be a great mom. But she also has amazing gifts in math and science and a passion for the environment.  There are so many things she could do.  And she should be free to explore her options without guilt.

This is my number one biggest issue with the LDS church, and it’s not actually a feminist issue although this specific example is.  What it comes down to is that I don’t believe anyone is meant to do a particular job or live a particular life simply because of their gender (or race, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or… you know the drill).  A man shouldn’t be pressured to hold the priesthood and leadership positions if he doesn’t want to, a woman should have the option to do those things if she wants to.  Not every 19 year old boy would benefit by going on a mission. Not all women are cut out to be mothers, some men make brilliant stay-at-home dads.

Nothing is right for everyone.  There is no One True Lifestyle.

And that’s why I can’t go back to the LDS church, not only because of my daughter, but also because of my son, who doesn’t want to do scouts and who would live the next 9 years in a cold sweat and getting ulcers if he thought a mission was in store for him.  Neither of them fits the LDS mold (does anyone, really?), and while they’ll undoubtedly grow up to have their own parent- and church-induced neuroses (what do UUs feel guilty about?  Not wanting to go to protest rallies? Using plastic bags?), I’m going to do my best to make sure that a whole wide beautiful world of possibilities is open to my kids.  After they go to college, of course.

Who betrayed who how?

A while back the kids and I went to see a performance of Godspell that a friend of ours was in. If you’ve seen it, you know it’s one of those weird hippie musicals, like Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair, only with clowns and no nudity. It’s based on the Gospel of Matthew and portrays Jesus’s ministry, starting with John the Baptist and ending with the crucifixion, and in between the cast acts out various parables.

My kids weren’t quite sure what was going on, though it was a fantastic performance and was entertaining enough that they didn’t particularly care that they didn’t understand it. I provided a bit of commentary now and then.

At one point near the end I leaned over and whispered, “This is the Last Supper. Judas is leaving to go get the soldiers to arrest Jesus.”

They both looked at me blankly. “Judas?”

“Yeah, you know… Judas. He betrayed Jesus.”

No sign of recognition.

Now, they went Primary until they were 11 and 8, respectively, and I know they heard about Judas betraying Jesus because I taught CTR8 for three years and it’s in the Easter lesson. They heard that story every year.

 

So what were they learning in Primary?

And surely it wasn’t only once a year. Jesus! The Garden of Gethsemane! The atonement! Isn’t that the point of it all? I remember name-dropping Jesus in a lot of contexts unrelated to the New Testament Gospels — Jesus wants us to pay our tithing, Jesus doesn’t want us to drink coffee, Jesus gave us (at least the male segment of “us”) the priesthood, Jesus wants us to follow his example — but there had to be Bible stories too, right? There’s the story about John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, and there was one about Jesus healing a blind man, and… um…

That’s all I could come up with. I knew there had to be more, though, so I went back and looked through the manuals online. Turns out, the Choose the Right A manual does include many references to the New Testament. I found the story of Jesus’s family escaping from Herod and going to Egypt, Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus calling his disciples to be “fishers of men”, the healing of Jairus’s daughter, calming the seas, “suffer little children to come unto me”, healing the ten lepers, the widow’s mite, and others.

 

Jesus wants us to be correlated

But something struck me that I never noticed before. The purpose of the lessons is not specifically to learn about Jesus, but to learn principles, which are illustrated and supported by the New Testament scriptures.

For example, the story of the prodigal son illustrates the principle of repentance. The widow’s mite is in a lesson about paying tithing. The healing of Jairus’s daughter is about priesthood blessings for the sick. Jesus calming the seas during the storm is also about the power of the priesthood, and how men with the priesthood can perform ordinances like baptism, confirmation, blessings, and weddings (which is exactly like having the power to control nature). “Bear testimony,” the lesson text instructs the teacher, “of your gratitude that we have the priesthood—the same power Jesus has—to help us in our lives.”

Ironically, the lesson called “I Can Tell Others about Jesus Christ” doesn’t talk about Jesus at all. It mentions his name, of course, but if you swapped out every occurrence of the word “Jesus” and replaced it with “the Church”, it wouldn’t change the meaning or substance of the lesson. In fact, the lesson itself uses the two terms interchangeably.

The CTR B manual uses the Book of Mormon as the primary source of its supporting scripture references, and both manuals also occasionally reference the Old Testament and other books of scripture. In Senior Primary the classes start focusing on the actual scriptures, and they spend one year each on the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants/Church History (no comment), New Testament, and Old Testament. So they do get two years of Biblical education before they go into Young Men/Young Women.  It’s just that neither of my kids got that far.

 

A possible solution

The problem is, Bible literacy is required for cultural literacy. Whether or not you believe in it as a book of scripture or the word of God, it’s going to be nearly impossible to understand the literature, art, and culture of Western civilization without a certain level of familiarity with the Bible.

But if we went back to the LDS church and sent the kids to early-morning seminary (which Horatio vowed he would never allow after the year he spent teaching it), it wouldn’t help. To get a decent grounding in the Bible, you’re going to also spend a lot of years on the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants, and then what you’re taught about the Bible will be colored by the Pearl of Great Price, so it’s not going to match up with the broader culture. Obviously they’re not going to get that type of education in public school either. We toyed with the idea of vacation Bible school (there was a Harry Potter-themed Episcopalian one near here that sounded amazing), but ultimately we decided we’re just going to have to do it ourselves. And we came up with a revolutionary idea for how to do it…

Family.

Home.

Evening.

That’s right. Now that we’re apostates we’re having FHE for the first time ever. And it’s so much fun! I’m not even joking. We’ve done a couple lessons, but we’re still working out the details and curriculum, so…

To be continued.

sunrise Butterfly asked if we could celebrate the winter solstice this year.  It’s just the kind of thing that speaks to her on a spiritual level — that sense of being part of the cycle of the natural world.  We didn’t quite know how to celebrate it, so we spent some time surfing the web reading pagan/Wiccan websites and being very entertained.  I always knew that a lot of Christmas traditions and symbols were left over from pagan solstice observances, but I didn’t realize how pervasive it is.  It makes sense that efforts to focus on Christ at Christmas have never really caught on — there just isn’t much about it that’s truly Christian in origin.

For our little celebration we turned off all the lights in the house during the afternoon, then once the sun had set, we lit some candles (following the example of the solstice service at church last week, we had four candles, one for each compass direction), read “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, sang “Deck the Halls”, and each opened one of our presents.  That was more than enough for NinjaBoy, who opened his new iPod Touch and hasn’t wanted to talk about anything else since. Butterfly and I made some garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and I frosted the Yule log cake, but Horatio had choir practice and didn’t get home until nearly 11 and I was asleep by then, so we had it for breakfast instead.

garland

In the morning we took a walk in the woods at sunrise and put out nuts for the squirrels, NinjaBoy playing with his iPod all the while, and hung our cranberry/popcorn garlands on a bush in the backyard for the squirrels and chipmunks and birds.  There is evidence the critters have found them — I put some extra popcorn bits and cranberries on the top rail of the fence and it’s all cleaned off now.  Hopefully there won’t be any repercussions of attracting vermin — uh, woodland creatures — to our yard.

Breakfast was a sugar overload.  Not only did we have Yule log cake (with cream cheese frosting), but I couldn’t resist trying out a recipe for Nutella bread pudding. So good! And easy.  My kind of recipe.

Yule log

I’m fairly certain we will celebrate the solstice again next year.  Everybody enjoyed it, even NinjaBoy, and not only because he got to open a present early.  He especially liked the sunrise walk and asked if we could do it again.  I expected it to feel fake or forced — “real” holidays are the ones that you’ve grown up with and that are kind of organic.  Traditions just happen, you can’t manufacture them. But this felt like a real holiday, a cross between Christmas and New Year’s. And actually, it felt much more like an authentic holiday than New Year’s, because it was based in something real occurring in the physical world.  

After spending the morning in the quiet (and swampiness) of the woods and eating sweets with my family, it was interesting to scan through all the posts in my Facebook feed about the horrors of the traffic around the malls and the “Air Jordan” riots and think about how stressed out people are getting ready for the holidays, when I was feeling like it was a holiday.  A day for sitting around “playing with our electronics”, as NinjaBoy said. Christmas almost seems like an afterthought.  Not that the kids would agree with me on that. I hope we have enough presents…

Back however-long-ago it was that I decided to try the UU church, one of the main reasons I was interested in it was their sexuality class for 8th graders.  It’s called Our Whole Lives (OWL) and it covers… everything. Takes all the mystery out of sex.  It covers stuff I never even heard of until I was in my 30’s.  No, I won’t elaborate.

Somehow Butterfly got to 8th grade — I’m really not sure when my little baby turned into this young woman who is living in our house now — and she is taking the OWL class.  At the parent orientation the team of teachers made it clear that what the kids share in class is confidential. It’s very important that the kids feel comfortable asking questions and sharing thoughts without having to worry about it getting back to their parents.  But, as I pointed out to Butterfly, she can tell me about the topics they discuss, in general terms.  When I mentioned it, Butterfly thought about it for a minute and then said “Yeah, but I don’t see why you’d need to know.”

So, I have a class schedule that lists the topics of each lesson, but no idea what Butterfly’s reaction to any of it is.  Ah well.  She says it’s fun though.  NinjaBoy is very intrigued by it — Butterfly told him it’s a class that’s entirely about “inappropriate stuff.” He just started the school version (FLE) where they learn about puberty, sex, and STDs, and Butterfly commented on how little they tell you in FLE compared to OWL.  Just as well.  The first FLE lesson covered basic anatomy and NinjaBoy came home very grossed out.

In other church news, Horatio joined the choir and it has been a fantastic experience for him.  They do a wide variety of music, the choir director is really good, and it’s challenging enough to be exciting, but not super stressful.  There are, oh, 15 or so men in the choir, and Horatio is one of only 3 tenors, so he feels a lot of responsibility to get it right (especially when he’s the only one singing a certain part, since he’s the only 2nd tenor).  He practices at home, listens to the practice CDs in the car, and is generally having a great time.  Last week the whole service was the choir singing Rutter’s Magnificat.  It was wonderful.

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As I was aimlessly kicking around the Bloggernacle this morning I happened upon this post about using the National Organization for Marriage’s webform to send an email to New York legislators urging them to support same-sex marriage.

Now normally I wouldn’t consider using an organization’s website to send a message that’s the opposite of what they stand for because it’s, well, wrong. Maybe not as wrong as, say, denying people’s civil rights, but still wrong.

But then I saw how easy they made it.  You fill out one little form and it sends your letter to just about every person in the state of New York, plus your own state senator, which they figure out for you based on your zip code.  And the letter so readily lends itself to supporting same-sex marriage (my deletions in strikethrough and additions in bold)–

Dear [recipient],

I strongly urge you to oppose support the same-sex marriage bill if and when it comes up to a vote in the Senate.

Marriage isn’t about discrimination or exclusion, or just a package of government benefits (and occasional penalties). Throughout history, marriage has been a long-term, public, sexual union between a man and a woman. Why? Because these sexual unions are unique in their ability to produce children — even unintentionally in many cases.  Marriage is about forming committed, stable families — the foundation upon which a healthy society is built. 

Government has no business determining who I love — but it does have an interest in making sure that as many kids as possible get to know and be loved by their own mother and father. No same-sex union can do this for a child.  are well-cared for by loving parents. Same-sex marriage will create opportunities for more children to grow up in stable homes, especially those whose biological parents are unable to care for them. 

The threat to religious freedom — and the utter refusal of gay marriage groups to accept any substantive protections for people of faith – is another major concern. For years, gay marriage activists have argued under the banner of tolerance, but now want to silence any opposing views. Examples of religious groups being forced out of the public square have already begun to crop up as Catholic Charities across the country are forced to give up their adoption license, a religious group in New Jersey is denied tax exemption for refusing to recognize civil unions, and people   Many priests, pastors, and ministers are now barred from practicing their faith in performing marriages for their LGBT congregants. No person of faith should face professional sanction for their religious beliefs. And no one religious group should be able to impose its beliefs on another. 

Please, there are other ways to protect the legitimate needs of same-sex couples of churches whose beliefs preclude them from recognizing same-sex marriage.  They have the right to live as they choose, but not to redefine marriage for all of us. Please vote no yes on same-sex marriage.

So, yes, I gave into temptation and filled it out.

I didn’t really want NOM to have my contact info, but I also didn’t want to use a fake name or address, because it was a sincere message. I settled on leaving out a digit in my address. When I went to submit the email it caught the mistake and asked me to fix it.

Well… okay.

After I corrected my address it took me back to the page to preview my letter — where it now thanked me for registering and called me by name in big, bold letters —  and… uh oh, it had reverted back to the original version.  I was about to send a “vote no” letter to all those people!  I panicked and hit cancel (because, you know, if you don’t act fast it’ll just send itself), then futilely tried to see if there was a way to delete my shiny new NOM account, then got the heck out of there.

So there we are.  I didn’t send a letter to anybody, but now I’m on NOM’s mailing list.

That’s karma for you.

I’m actually going to church again! It’s not so much by choice, but I still do enjoy it once I get there.

Butterfly is REQUIRED by the county, as a seventh grader and therefore presumably a potential juvenile delinquent and drain on society, to provide 12 hours of community service during the school year.  It’s like preemptive sentencing, I guess.  And it can’t be just any random service or helping out your mom with yardwork or babysitting, either.  It has to be a cohesive 12 hour project approved by the school, and supervised by an adult who is not the child’s parent.

Sheesh.

Part of the problem with getting a non-parental adult to supervise is that the child’s grade then depends on the reliability of said adult. And we had trouble finding one because of the tendency of many adults not to answer their email in a timely fashion.  However, we did pull it all together only a week or two after the due date for the proposal, and the full letter drop in her grade because of its tardiness will not be reflected in her final grade.  So, phew.

Butterfly is helping in the nursery during our church’s newly-instituted Saturday evening service.  Since it’s both new and on Saturday, it’s a pretty small service, and there are usually two or three babies in the nursery, which makes it relatively calm and manageable.  Butterfly seems to be enjoying it. And I like it too, because I take her to the nursery and then go to the service, where I can find a seat without being jammed tightly in between two complete strangers.  NinjaBoy has been staying with a neighbor friend while Butterfly and I go to church, and that makes it all so much nicer for everyone!

The services are usually an hour long, so she needs to go 12 times, which will take her into February, probably, since I’m sure she won’t get there every single week.  Sometimes, like this last weekend and every two or three weekends on average, her mother will have yet another #@$%ing migraine and be unable to get her there.  But all we can do is all we can do.

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