Sunday, January 1, 2017

Books of 2016

Another year over means another year of books have been read.

I still don't read as much as I'd like. I know my iPhone is part of the distraction, I'm not sure what else to blame. Still, this year was better than the year before, so that's good news.

  • Spindle's End by Robin McKinley was a really, really, really great variation on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I loved it. 
  • Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo - I managed to clean up and organize my clothing and books, but I didn't get rid of all of the other clutter in my home. I will say, my clothes in my dresser are folded in the way the author recommends, and it does bring me great joy to see all of my colorful socks at once. 
  • Royal Target by Traci Hunter Abramson was a cute, fun, yet unrealistic read. I like my book group ladies because they introduce me to books I wouldn't pick up on my own. 
  • The Art of Racing In The Rain by Garth Stein - A normal life full of trials all told from a brilliant, faithful dog's point of view. A great read. 
  • Rising Strong by BrenĂ© Brown. I'm not even half-way through this book. While I like what BrenĂ© Brown has to say, I find it really hard to read "self-help" type books. I will probably finish this book eventually. In the mean time, I highly recommend her videos and TED talks. 
  • Briar Rose by Jane Yolen was a great book. Another twist on Sleeping Beauty, but in a very different, heartbreaking way. Read it. 
  • The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer - I had listened to the audio book of Cinder in 2015, and listened to Scarlet, Cress, Fairest (I read this one on an ebook!), Winter, and Stars Above in 2016. These are more variations on beloved fairy tales, set in a robotic, space-age future, and I loved them. I really enjoy audio books because I can multi-task and still enjoy a good book. 
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse was a beautifully poetic look into the journey of transitioning through life. 
  • Enders Game by Orson Scott Card - Fantastic. A little different from the movie that came out a few years ago. I need to read the entire Enders series now.
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton was a wonderful novel following several stories at different times. I was thoroughly surprised at the end, so that was good. I'd like to read more by this author. 
  • The Last Girl by Joe Hart - This is the first book in the Dominion Trilogy. It's about a girl who breaks free and saves the day in a distopian America. I'm curious where the story will go, but the writing didn't suck me in the way other stories of this type have, so I don't know if I'll read any others in the series.
  • The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman - I only made it half-way through this book and I don't know if I'll ever go back and finish it. The idea behind the book is very interesting. It is a true story about the woman who saves hundreds of Jewish people's lives during WWII in her family's zoo in Warsaw. I love the story, however, this book bounces between reading like a novel and reading like a dry history text book. I kept waiting for it to suck me in. It never did. 
So, my grand total for 2016 was 16 books. Two maybe don't count since I didn't finish them. So, it's more like 14 books and two half-books. C'est la vie.
I should get extra credit for the countless picture books I have read to my children this year, including many diverse creation stories, myths, and classic tales. I'm also becoming quite a bilingual reader, because I can read Spanish children books, too. I don't understand many of them completely without using the Google Translate App on my phone, but I can read them!

2017 is upon us and I am already reading four books. What is wrong with me?

All year long, I've been slowly reading The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner. She was brought up in a polygamist off-shoot of the Latter-Day Saint tradition. It's hard to read because it is slow moving at times and deeply troubling at others. I will definitely finish it. Eventually...

I'm also reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, one chapter a week, in sync with the podcast Harry Potter and The Sacred Text. Reading, pondering, and hearing their discussion on the chapter is a fun experience.

This week I started the January book for my book group as well as the first book in the Selection series. 

If you're trying to get more books in your life, do it for free. I HIGHLY recommend you spend some time at your local library and get a library card. I LOVE our library!!!! Also, I use the free Overdrive App on my phone to check out ebooks and audio books from my library. My other book supplier is Amazon.com - I have a Kindle and a Prime membership, so I have access to one free new book each month, one month before it is released to the public. Books are awesome. Free books are awesomer!

Cheers to a year of reading, my friends!!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Next Chapter - Part 4 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Now I am here. 

The last time I attended an LDS church service was at Christmastime in 2015. I have chosen to completely disaffiliate myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and have found great peace in my decision. I am technically still a member of the church, as my name is on their records and rolls. I will continue to be a member counted in their statistics until I resign my membership, or they excommunicate me. According to LDS policy and belief, when that time comes I will be stripped of all my saving ordinances and blessings received through the Church. That is fine with me. I no longer subscribe to the concept that an organization on this Earth can hold power over my salvation. My standing in, belief in, and loyalty to a church has zero sway over my eternal soul and where I go when I die. I have reclaimed that power for myself.

I no longer believe in the teachings of the LDS church, so I no longer do all of the Mormon things. I don't read my scriptures anymore. I don't go to church. I don't wear garments or pay tithes. I try not to put on a mask of perfection while quietly judging or comparing myself to others. I don't believe that god cares what I eat or drink, so don't be surprised if you see me with a coffee in my hand or a bottle of wine in my shopping cart. I don't believe I should berate myself or feel guilty for trying my hardest. I don't believe that I should silence my voice against my better judgement.

All that being said, I am grateful for my time in the LDS Church. I am especially grateful for the friends I made, they are some of my closest, dearest friends still. I am grateful for the community, for the beautiful music, and for the opportunity I had to explore faith and feel a connection to the divine in my life.

So, what do I believe now?

After believing in a high-demand religion that required strict obedience and a sure knowledge in its teachings, I am giving myself permission to not need to know everything. I don't know if there is a god or not. Maybe god is bigger than any of us can comprehend. Maybe god is found in the chemicals that exist in the synapses of my brain. You could call me agnostic because I feel that it is impossible for anyone to really know whether or not there is a god. You could call me a secular humanist because I think that people are capable of morality and self-fulfillment without needing a belief in god. You could call me Sarah, because that's who I really am.

As of right now, I have no plans to ever belong to a religion again, but I suppose that could change. I am okay with not knowing how it will all work out. I hope to wind my way through this world using the wisdom of my brain, the kindness inherent in my nature, and the sound morals that my parents instilled in me when I was a kid.

My morals are the same as they have always been. I am still a good kid. I still believe in honesty, responsibility, hard work, generosity, forgiveness, humility, and gratitude. I believe all humans are entitled to empathy and equality. I believe that love is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. I believe we can change the world with our smiles and kindness. I believe in giving service. I believe that everyone should find a path that leads them towards light, knowledge, joy, and self-improvement - I believe there are a great many such paths.

I will honor and respect your path, I ask that you respect mine in return.

Friday, October 28, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Last Year - Part 3 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE LAST YEAR

When 2015 began, I had a plan to bring back the religious light and joy that filled the first half of my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that plan involved making New Year's Resolutions.

I used The New Year as a starting place. I set a goal to read my scriptures again every day, even though it was difficult to find the time. I set a goal to pray every morning, on my knees, even if the kids woke up early and started destroying the house. Also, I set a goal to follow more church accounts on social media, so that I would be uplifted even when I was zoning out on my phone while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

The scripture reading goal worked out okay. I have always viewed the scriptures as embellished stories, sometimes historically based, sometimes not, and only sometimes containing valuable lessons. I never read them literally. People didn't literally move mountains. No one literally angered God by building a tower to heaven, resulting in scattered people and language diversity. Nope. Those stories were written by people long ago to explain the inexplicable that was found in nature. So, there's that. Still, I made time every night to read, after the kids (and sometimes even The Cowboy) were asleep. Reading my scriptures was a familiar, comfortable habit, but it didn't bring me greater light or religious enthusiasm.

The prayer goal was a joke from day one. Squeezing in a quiet moment with God every morning was literally impossible. After staying up to read and pray before bed, I woke up in the mornings with no energy or time to spare. My kids were my priority and an Eternal Father in Heaven could not take precedence over what was happening here and now. So I prayed when I could, but it wasn't first thing every morning.

The Internet goal was working out, though. I liked seeing uplifting quotes, beautiful pictures of temples, and church news mixed in with my friends' photos and stories on social media.

One night I was reading the comments on a photo posted by the official LDS Instagram account. A comment was made by someone with an account called Mormon History and I thought, "Ooh! Another inspiring account to follow!" So I checked it out. I scrolled through the posts and quickly realized it wasn't published by official church resources. This was what the church would call "Anti-Mormon" because it didn't paint the church in a positive light. However, the history I found here was supported by quotes from early church books and church leaders, so how could it be classified anti-Mormon? The information there revealed a little more than I had previously learned from my Institute church history classes, though. Why this discrepancy? Why did I suddenly feel that I didn't know as much as I had been led to believe after my deep investigation and years of learning about the LDS Church? I had very mixed feelings during this initial discovery. I had never allowed myself to look at anything that might possibly by considered "Anti-Mormon Lies" because Church leaders cautioned STRONGLY against doing so, but these posts weren't full of lies. I found truths in the words I read. How could truth possibly be harmful to me or to the Church?
I had to understand this. I had to learn more.

I'm hungry for knowledge. I love to research the Hows and Whys behind new discoveries in my life. That is why my investigation into the church when I first converted was so incredible and uplifting. Back then, I spent hours every day learning as much as I could from the church about the church and it was beautiful and emotional. Suddenly, in 2015, it occurred to me that it was time to learn as much as I could about the church from all of the evidence available to me. I'm not sure why I didn't do so earlier, in my days as a new convert and undergrad student, when I was constantly practicing my skills of impartial investigation, observation, gathering evidence, and making logical conclusions. I guess I reserved that for school and kept the church in a separate, emotional space.

So, 2015 was a year I allowed myself to use my critical thinking skills and dare to ask hard questions about my religion. It was a year of endless searching, reading, and discovery. Thanks to the Internet, there was (and is) an abundance of well documented research and information available at my fingertips. I sat at my computer and read original papers written by Joseph Smith Jr. I read the words of a Prophet from the original Book of Commandments that filled me with disgust. I read old articles that were published in the church magazine, the Ensign, that blew my mind. I read through the newly written essays on the LDS website, clicked the links in the footnotes, and found that I came to very different conclusions than those presented by the church. I discovered changes made to the scriptures that altered fundamental teachings. I learned of contradicting timelines of events. I read transcripts of temple ceremonies and learned that core pieces had changed many times. I learned about Masonic temples, multiple versions of sacred first visions, the Priesthood Ban against Blacks, and disturbing details about the Prophets' polygyny and the resulting polyandry for several women.

It became clear to me that the history and foundation of the church that I loved so dearly was not everything I had been taught, and I had been taught many of the difficult truths during Institute classes. However, in 2015, I learned that those Institute lessons had been carefully filtered, and the bits that had been left out were too large for me to ignore. It felt like I had been lied to by my best friend.

Still, that was the past, right? The church of 2015 wasn't so bad. It was my spiritual home and I loved it there. I continued to go to church and do all of the Mormon things, but I started to see more problems than just the history. I learned about current events that didn't sit well with me, I contemplated the complete lack of financial transparency, and I wondered when the last time a Prophet or Apostle had spoken the words: I have received a revelation from God. I learned of malls and offices being built up while people all over the world starved or went homeless.

I couldn't unsee the imbalance, injustice, and untruths. I experienced cognitive dissonance as I tried to reconcile my increasing awareness of problems with my long-held belief that the men running this Church I loved were inspired men of God.

Do you remember my shelf? It was that spot in my mind where I quietly tucked away the difficult church issues that didn't sit well with me, so I could focus on the good instead. My shelf got heavy with all of the issues I discovered, and eventually it broke. Crap scattered everywhere. I was wading through all of the problems constantly, I couldn't ignore them and I couldn't pretend that the good outweighed the bad anymore. I had to stop lying to myself, and I had to find me again beneath the church mess that had exploded all over my world. 

I realized that my religion and I were no longer compatible. I went through the stages of grief as I processed the huge loss of my church from my life. It was painful, akin to the loss of a dearly loved friend or family member. My feelings were raw. I felt alone and I didn't feel comfortable talking to most people about my pain, anger, fear, and loss. Thank goodness for my Cowboy. He allowed me to be vulnerable with him. When I needed him most, he was there to hug me and hold me up. Our relationship grew stronger than it had been in years. 

I also found support in my earbuds as I listened to podcasts and discovered the stories of so many people who had traveled paths similar to mine. I found support on Facebook among groups of people who were also leaving the church and looking for ways to thoughtfully transition on with their lives. I came to realize that I was not alone, and that meant the world to me.

As I regained some composure, I started to rediscover myself. Extra earrings that were removed in an effort to conform went back in, and with each burning sensation that comes with the piercing of skin, I regained a bit of my dignity. Swear words that were silenced in an effort to obey started coming back out, and with each fierce piece of adult language I uttered, I regained a bit of my voice. I would no longer be the meek woman who sat back quietly, ashamed of myself for my silence, while people scoffed at the idea of human evolution. I would never again endure the disgusting taste of shame in my mouth after voting against my conscience in an effort to be obedient to an church who didn't know or love my gay aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I rediscovered the kiss of sunshine on my shoulders. I once again felt the peace that comes from believing that all humans are filled with goodness and that they need not berate themselves or seek righteousness from an external source.

I knew that I could no longer find peace and joy inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Still, I didn't know how to simply walk away from an organization that I had once loved, so I intended to fade away from it slowly. I planned to attend church part-time, to support my still-believing husband and stay connected with my church friends. I love my ward family and I didn't want to weigh them down, so I fully intended to quietly slip away without making waves.

Then November 5th came along and changes in church policy were leaked all over the internet. The first change defined homosexual marriage as a serious transgression alongside rape and murder, and grounds for excommunication from the church. Another change barred CHILDREN of homosexual couples from becoming baptized members of the Church until they turned 18 and "specifically disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage."

After a year of learning heavy truths and planning my slow exit from the church, that policy change was the final straw for me. I could not see Christ's love in it, no matter what justifications people tried to provide. No. I could no longer fathom the thought of people associating me with an institution that would enact such blatantly bigoted policies. My intentions of slowly fading from church went right out the window. The following day I made a bold declaration on Facebook that I no longer believed in, supported, or sustained the LDS Church. I was done and I wanted everyone to know.

TO BE CONTINUED...