UU Mormon

Archive for October 2009

Some of the things about church that give me the most joy lately are the little things.  Like… a couple weeks ago the weather was cold and wet and nasty and I wanted to wear jeans and boots and a fuzzy sweater. And I could.   Normally I try not to wear my everyday clothes to church — I’ll at least wear a blouse with buttons instead of a t-shirt and pants that aren’t jeans — but when my feet are cold enough that I want hiking-type boots and thick wool socks, well, that’s okay.  I won’t feel out of place and it’s not a sin.

My life is at a sort of stressful place right now and I decided that this school year I was going to cut back on volunteer work and focus on a small set of activities that are important to me.  There are a few billion volunteer opportunities at church, and some things that I might like to get involved in at some point, but if right now I feel like I can’t do that, it’s okay.  It’s not a sin.

Last week after I got my son to his class I seriously considered not going into the worship service.  I hate being late, and the worship service at this church has a much greater sense of the sacred than an LDS Sacrament Meeting, so you can’t just wander in and out like people do at an LDS ward.  During almost every part of it it would be like walking in during the sacrament itself.  So I considered sitting outside and listening to it on the intercom or even — I can’t believe I considered this — reading a totally non-church-related book. I didn’t, but I could have, and it would have been okay.  Skipping my meeting and reading a book wouldn’t have been a sin!

These things keep popping up and surprising me.  Can’t quite believe how many opportunities to feel inadequate I’ve lost here.

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I have no idea what the kids learned in RE this last week.

NinjaBoy said that their holiday was “Hundi”.  He spelled it. I think he meant Hindu.  And I think it might have said “Diwali” on the chalkboard when I dropped him off.  They did a kind of puppet show, possibly, and the one he had was Hanuman the Monkey King. There may have been food.  That’s what I can surmise; he remembered nothing.

Honestly, I would think he had some kind of memory impairment if I hadn’t heard him give his friend a detailed plot description –including verbatim quotes — of the Doctor Who episode “Blink” just the other day.  He can remember things, just nothing educational.

Butterfly mumbled that her class was about “tolerance and diversity” and then changed the subject every time I asked for more information.  That’s all I got.  The curiosity is killing me.

For an eternal verity abides beneath diversities; we are children of one great love, united in our one eternal family.

— W. Waldeman W. Argow

The minister on Sunday talked about creating “a broad universalism,” that beneath all our religious and political and philosophical differences we’re all the same.  Every person has inherent worth and dignity and is deserving of respect.

The words are different than I’m used to (one of the good things about going to a different church– you think more deeply about a concept when the language is varied) but the idea is familiar… We’re all children of God, every person is of infinite worth, we are all brothers and sisters, we should love and serve one another.

She introduced a new UU theme for the year — Standing on the Side of Love.  At the Equality March on October 11 UUs wore bright yellow t-shirts with the slogan.   ssl

To start off with, though, she talked about why a broader universalism is needed, why we need to speak our minds with greater respect and kindness.   She talked about the current pervasiveness of meanness and hate.

A Baptist pastor in Tempe, Arizona preached a sermon to his congregation called “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” saying that he prayed for the death of the President and hoped he would burn in hell.

I read another article recently that said the Secret Service may be relieved of its treasury department duties in order to focus on protecting government leaders.  Threats against the president are up 400 percent compared to the Bush administration (and I suspect it’s not because President Bush was so widely beloved).

A childhood friend of mine recently sent me a note thanking me for the political posts I’ve made on on my Facebook page.  She said it renewed her faith in humanity to see them.  More specifically, it renewed her faith in Mormons.  Another LDS person she knew had been posting anti-Obama sentiments in her status updates that my friend considered hateful, and this person seemed to connect these sentiments with her religion.  My friend was starting to make judgments about Mormons and the religion as a whole based on these hateful messages, and she was grateful that I reminded her not all Mormons think that way.

I didn’t tell her that her other friend may (or may not, I don’t know) be more representative of Mormons than I am, since I’m distinctly unorthodox.

It hurts me that my church and its members are adding to the divisiveness and polarization that’s going on right now. The LDS religion teaches that “broad universalism” and yet… Glenn Beck’s books are prominently displayed in church-owned bookstores, and there’s that whole Proposition 8 thing…

I’ve heard a few reasons for the strenuous efforts of the church in the campaigns to deny or revoke the rights of gays to marry, and basically they come down to these two things:

1) God says marriage should be between a man and a woman (or, in the eternities, women)

2) Gay marriage would infringe on the free exercise of religion

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recently gave a speech comparing the backlash against the Mormon involvement with the Prop 8 campaign to the voter intimidation of blacks in the South during the Civil Rights movement, and warning that religious freedom is in danger.  He was, I can only assume, trying to play on the Mormon persecution complex to bolster the determination to oppose gay rights, i.e. if people hate us for it, we must be right.  Us vs Them.  If they have rights, ours will be taken away.

And ours are more important.  He said:

But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.

While church leaders continue to build higher the battlements in the war of values and supremacy of rights, they are also emphasizing civility in public discourse.  We need to be polite to those we’re working against and the people whose rights are less important than ours.

The word I’m not hearing in any of this is “love.”   Is the great commandment “love one another,” or is it “legislate ‘moral’ behavior”?   What is the more compassionate course of action?

LDS science fiction author and board member of the National Organization for Marriage, Orson Scott Card claims that a society that recognizes gay marriage will crumble.   For all I know he may be right — I don’t believe he is, but I don’t know. But my conscience tells me that the current situation is unacceptable, especially in the church (see the stories of gay Mormons and the suicide list at ldsapology.org).  Even if I might be making a mistake I would rather err on the side of compassion, on the side of love.

Perhaps I should get the t-shirt.

A little setback with NinjaBoy this morning.  He didn’t want to go to church.  He begged to be allowed to stay home.  I quickly discovered the problem — the teacher last week asked him questions.  So I went to the classroom while NinjaBoy was in the chapel service and further explained his idiosyncrasies to the teacher, who promised she wouldn’t call on him unless he raised his hand.

Tangent: My first round of church inactivity in high school was for this very reason.  Teachers kept calling on me and my mind would go blank and I’d stammer “I don’t know.” It didn’t matter what the question was.  I always wondered how the other kids knew what to say (I didn’t realize at the time that there were only three answers to choose from — read the scriptures, pray, listen to the Holy Ghost). And they kept asking me to say the opening or closing prayer.  After the time my mind went blank during a prayer and I stood there paralyzed until the teacher whispered to me like a Primary child (I was 14), I always said no when asked to give the prayer.  For years I said no, and they kept asking, until the embarrassment of the situation became too much and I stopped going to classes entirely. It was also embarrassing to be inactive for such a reason.  I mean, it’s such a minor thing, right?  All you’re doing is speaking to Deity on behalf of all the other people present.  No big deal.  I went back once I turned 18 and could go to Relief Society and the big adult Sunday School class where there were so many people it was unlikely I would ever get called on.  One thing I really like about the UUs — they don’t pray.  At least not in the same way.

After assurance that he did not have to speak if he didn’t want to and he did not have to eat anything he didn’t want to, NinjaBoy was okay with me leaving to go to the worship service.  Unfortunately I was late because I waited to leave until after the chapel service, because there’s no one to make sure the kids get from the chapel to the correct rooms and it’s a little chaotic and it would freak him out if he wasn’t sure where to go, so I saw him to the classroom and then left.

The holiday they were learning about today was the Hajj, which afterward he could tell me absolutely nothing about.  He did not try any of the food.  I saw what they were serving — flat bread, dried apricots, tea, some kind of sesame things I couldn’t identify and a couple kinds of dip.  Not a chance.  But they played tag in the basement so it was all good.

Butterfly learned about meditation and prayer as ways to connect to the spiritual.  The kids were asked what they thought prayer was for, and Butterfly had an idea but was unable to put it into words.  She says she’ll tell me later if she can think of a way to articulate it.

Since I was late to the worship service I had to take the first seat I could find, which was in the middle of a row halfway up and I felt crowded and trapped. I like to be in the back or on an aisle and had to manage a certain amount of anxiety throughout the service which interfered with my ability to focus.

The music was gorgeous as usual (how is that they have so many professional level musicians in one congregation?  Or do they bring in musicians from outside?).  This time it was a folk group.  The music was acoustic, mellow, beautiful and very appropriate for church, I thought.  I’m not sure I could cope with the rock band churches.  Maybe you get used to it though.

The sermon was on the very big and the very small, galaxies and atoms, how we find our place in the vastness of the universe without underestimating our power and potential.  I liked the balance.  In the LDS church we talk a lot about our potential and value as the children of God, heirs to His kingdom.  We don’t, however, talk much about our smallness or our interconnectedness with other forms of life.  We talk about having stewardship over the earth yet there’s no emphasis on preservation of the environment.

The closing hymn was something about a blue boat, and it was terribly confusing to me because during the first verse I realized that I knew the tune and the words were ALL WRONG.  I knew it was a hymn in the LDS hymnbook and I narrowed it down to a Sacrament hymn (something that mentions “the bread and water”), but I couldn’t figure out all the words and I still don’t know which one it is. [Edit: It’s “In Humility, Our Savior”] It’s a pretty one though.

Once the service is over the kids are in class for another 15 minutes so the adults can socialize.  That’s a painful time for me.  I stood there feeling stupid for a minute or two then went and loitered outside Butterfly’s classroom.  I only know two people in the congregation and haven’t figured out how you meet people, but that’s nothing new.  After 8 years in my LDS ward I only know three or four people there.  But when you go to a new LDS ward people know you’re new, and there’s an aura of friendliness even if it doesn’t go deeper than saying hello on Sunday.  I don’t know how well people know each other in the UU congregation, but I feel entirely invisible there.  Which is both good and bad.

There was a group asking people to write to their senators about a bill to reduce carbon emissions that’s in the senate right now, in anticipation of the International Day of Climate Action.  Butterfly wanted to find out about it and is going to write letters this week.

Butterfly’s class today talked about helping people.  And one of the boys, whom we’ll call George, was annoying.  George was the one who last week suggested giving beer to the homeless man, and today he said a swastika was a symbol of peace (it didn’t sound like he was talking about the Buddhist symbol either).  Not only that, but as they discussed serving in the military as a way of helping people, George said that the soldiers in Iraq “could do more for their country,” and he didn’t know that we’re using up our natural resources.  Butterfly was quite offended.  She was so hung up on George that she seems to have missed everything else that went on in class because that was all she could remember about it.

The younger kids started out with a chapel service again.  The thing that struck me this time was the lack of adults as we went in the room.  I was looking around for the teachers, couldn’t see any, and took it upon myself to interrupt the boy who had another boy in a headlock, and the ones who were tripping each other and sitting on each other.  I think they wondered who in the world I was and why I was telling them to keep their hands to themselves.  Why aren’t the teachers in the chapel with their classes?

The subject of the chapel lesson was redemption.  Apparently it’s what they’re talking about in the adult services too, and I wish I could have heard the sermon because it’s hard for me to separate redemption from sin, and I don’t think you can have sin, exactly, in Unitarian Universalism.  Can you?  For the kids they talked about it in terms of taking a bad thing and making it better — i.e. being honest when you do something wrong and apologizing, learning from your mistakes, etc. It was very age-appropriate.

NinjaBoy's prayer rug

NinjaBoy's prayer rug

The holiday for NinjaBoy’s class was Mawlid al-Nabi, Muhammad’s birthday.  I was only in the room for part of the class, but got to hear Muhammad’s life story.  Later they decorated prayer rugs and learned how to use them — NinjaBoy demonstrated for me at home afterward — and tried jordan almonds.  The teacher mentioned that not all Muslims celebrate Mawlid al-Nabi; there is a concern that it exalts Muhammad too much.

There was poster up front that said something like “Unitarian Universalists believe that religions arise out of people’s needs and longings.”  That’s about what I would say on the subject.  And they are a way to help people in a certain society or culture live together (put up with each other) by adhering to shared values.  What those values are and how they are expressed in a religion depends on the circumstances the group lives in.

I tried to do a little helping people of my own halfway through the class.  My favorite kind of service, the kind where you help other people by reading a book and eating cookies.  Unfortunately, my iron was too low and they wouldn’t let me donate.  Dang it!  I’m taking iron supplements and everything!

Next week I’m hoping to go to the worship service.  Really, I think it’ll happen this time.

It was becoming apparent that folks in my LDS ward were noticing that we weren’t there.  My kids were assigned speaking parts (which were mailed to us) in the Primary program coming up later this fall, and Horatio was starting to get emails from the bishopric asking if we were still living in the ward.

So rather than try to be vague and evasive and make my life harder, I bit the bullet and sent an email to the bishop explaining exactly what we’re doing. And mentioned that it’s been a really good experience, we’re doing great, and I’m still in contact with my visiting teachers.

The response I got back was SO NICE.  Basically he just said that they want to make sure we’re okay, and he’s glad things are going well, and please keep in touch.  No pressure, no lectures.  My bishop is a really good guy.

I know not everyone gets that kind of response when they disappear off the face of the church.  I feel lucky.  I wonder if it helped that I said we were taking a sabbatical for the school year.  Maybe it’s less threatening if it’s a temporary situation.

I had a lovely talk with Butterfly the other day. She’s 11 and very scientific and serious-minded. It’d surprised me the week before that she commented with such astonishment on how they didn’t tell her what to believe in her RE class. We talked about that some more. I told her that I don’t have all the answers and I know what it’s like to feel guilty about not being able to believe everything I was taught at church, and I want her to hear different points of view and be free to make up her own mind about what she believes.

She thanked me. Not with a casual “Oh, thanks, Mom,” either, but enthusiastically, with sincere gratitude. Thank you for not telling me what to believe! It sounded like it was something she had already thought about. Something that was important to her.

Can that be? She’s eleven.

Then on Sunday I heard some of General Conference, and this statement from Elder D. Todd Christofferson jumped out at me:

I’ve heard a few parents state they don’t want to impose the gospel on their children. They want them to make up their own minds about what they will believe and follow. They think that in this way they are allowing their children to exercise their agency. What they forget is that the intelligent use of agency requires knowledge of the truth, of things as they really are. Without that, young people can hardly be expected to understand and evaluate the alternatives that come before them. Parents should consider how the Adversary approaches their children. He and his followers are not promoting objectivity but are vigorous multimedia advocates of sin and selfishness. Seeking to be neutral about the gospel is in reality to reject the existence of God and his authority. We must rather acknowledge him and his omniscience if we want our children to see life’s choices clearly and to be able to think for themselves. They should not have to learn by sad experience that wickedness never was happiness.

Hm. It was in the context of a talk about moral discipline. Basically, it seems to be saying that you can’t have or teach morality without believing in God.

When mev met with the missionaries this was a topic of the discussion where I saw the mismatch in underlying assumptions. The missionaries said that in order to do what was right, you had to know why you were doing it, which was to follow God’s plan. “Why?” asked mev. Why couldn’t you do good for its own sake? Why couldn’t you want to make the world a better place simply so that the world would be a better place?

Um….

Point for the atheist, I thought.

I agree with Elder Christofferson on some things. I think my kids do need to be prepared to evaluate the intelligence and rightness of their possible courses of action. I don’t think they should be left to be influenced purely by the world at large, although I don’t believe they’re being targeted by Satan. I want to raise them to be responsible and compassionate. I would like them to know about their own religious heritage and other people’s too. But I don’t think pretending certainty about the unknowable would help me accomplish those things. And admitting what I don’t know seems to have increased my daughter’s trust in me. We can talk about what we think and believe and don’t believe.

I told her that they said in General Conference that I shouldn’t let her make up her own mind about what to believe. She laughed.

And she said that it didn’t make sense to her for there to be one correct religion, because what you believe depends on where you were born. How could she assume the religion she happened to be born into is the right one when everybody else all over the world thinks the same thing? (This was not something she heard at church. It was because of something she read in a fiction book about how you wouldn’t find Hindus in the Arctic (well, you know, unless they moved there) and she thought it through.)

If I were a Calvinist I would think she was predestined to be a Universalist…