Thursday, February 23, 2012

Following up with "What I Wish I Heard"

After a few months of following the "What I Wish I Heard" format, I found that I was able to move away from it. Even my readers noticed that after a while, I often started saying what I wished I was hearing and so I found that I didn't need to take notes anymore or feel like my viewpoint wasn't welcomed. I think it helps that I found a way to take emotion out of my responses and offer a more observational perspective. I try to indentify and be prepared for each opportunity to state the "minority view" just so it is present and acknowledged. I often speak in the third person talking about issues or people I am aware of and not from my own experience. Sometimes its a matter of picking and choosing what I will take the risk to respond to but my general rule is to try to respond at every opportunity where I can bring in a perspective that I know is often missing from church meetings.

For example, there was a lesson on the temple one day and the question was asked, "What makes it hard for us to go to the temple sometimes?" I saw that as an opportunity to say, "I know for some women its a challenge to attend the temple where they are taught things that that make them feel they are second class citizens to God and make them question whether they can directly convenant and relate to God." I didn't say it was my struggle. I didn't say how I felt about it. I didn't say I disagreed with these women, I just brough their perspective in. Of course, that's not the answer the teacher was looking for and she had NO clue how to respond, but the Stake President was present and I heard him murmur, "Those are good points."

I try to take every opportunity I can to present thoughts like that. I guess I consider myself the voice of the marginalized and disenfranchised in the church. I kick myself when I miss opportunities too. The other week, the lesson was on "the scriptures are true." The teacher asked the question "Do we all agree here that the scriptures are true?" That was my opportunity to speak up and say "When we say true, what do you mean?? Do you mean that the Book of Mormon is truly a book of scripture to guide and direct our lives or that everything in it is a factual historical record? And how important is it for the Book of Mormon to be a factual historical record? I know many people who are troubled with issues with historicity and that makes them question the spiritual truths in the book as well. For me, I can safely say that I believe the Book of Mormon to truly be a book of scripture but I can't quite as confidently say its a historical record."

I would love to see a day when more people in the church feel safe to speak in that manner and respectfully address the issues that people really struggle with. I try to be the voice for single women in the church, women/people who have experienced postpartum depression, mental illness, people who have experienced faith crises, struggles with doctrine, people who have a more liberal view of the gospel, etc. It definitely make church more interesting and at this point, my RS has no idea what I'm going to be saying next. Its fun.

I just started experimenting with what I can get away with in Gospel Doctrine. For the first year in my ward, I attended Gospel Essentials with my mother since she was an investigating/new member. When she had gone through the whole book once, she graduated to Gospel Doctrine. We only attended that class a couple of times before she started the Temple Prep class so I will have to get back to Gospel Doctrine in a few months.

One recent experience in Gospel Doctrine I did not feel comfortable expressing my view. Mostly because it was highly critical of church practice and I was unable to edit my emotions out of my comment. The topic was caring for the poor or the needy. That's a big frustration of mine that I have a testimony of tithing but I do disagree with the church practices in how tithing money is used and how little actually goes to relieving poverty. At that time, the healthiest response I could make was to write out my thoughts into my iPad notes and share it with my mother who was sitting next to me. A couple of times, I have done that and she and I have typed notes back and forth to one another. I do this in order to make sure that responses are respectful and not emotional in nature because that's when people are much more prone to act defensively and emotionally. I just don't want that drama.

The only place that I don't feel like there is a forum to represent minority view is in sacrament meeting. It usually takes me an entire fast and testimony meeting to outline my thoughts and I'm often too late to get it before the end, but I do have the opportunity once a month to do so. I'm trying to prepare myself before hand to be ready for testimony meeting so I don't keep miss the opportunity. I will say that I'm itching for an opportunity to speak in sacrament meeting again but until then I rely on the counsel given by President Eyring's father. He tells this story in his book "To Draw Closer to God:"

“Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father. He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a dull talk, given by a member of the stake high council. I watched my father, and to my amazement his face was beaming as the speaker droned on. I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.”

“Our home was near enough to the ward meetinghouse that we walked home. I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road, which at that time wasn’t paved. I kicked a stone ahead of me as I plotted what I would do next. I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting. He said it was wonderful.”

“Now I really had a problem. My father had a wonderful sense of humor, but you didn’t want to push it too far. I was puzzled. I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.”

“Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind, because he started to laugh. He said: “Hal, let me tell you something. Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting. When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say. Then, once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.” He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along. Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, “Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.”

I've been doing just that lately and I find that I really enjoy sacrament meeting. I believe its worthwhile to write down those thoughts and blog them. You might see those posts showing up here...