Simian Anger

October 31, 2008

A few years ago, I had my little blog, and I got an email from a guy from California who went by the name of Simeon. He told me that he, like me, had experienced an epiphany regarding Mormonism. He was really distraught, especially considering the reaction of his believing wife and family. He had stumbled across my blog, and he told me that it had helped him navigate some difficult waters, which of course was extremely gratifying.

Shortly after that, he shared his feelings with his believing brother, who, to his surprise, told him that he had been struggling with the same issues. They both left the church together, and they were both very angry, feeling that they had been lied to and betrayed by their religion and its leaders. At one point, Simeon wrote a brief post on his blog that said “Fuck the morg!” Morg, of course, is a derogatory nickname some former members use to describe the church (it’s sort of a contraction of “Mormon organization” with a hint of the “resistance is futile” Borg collective from Star Trek). Simeon said he was a little worried that he was too angry, and several commenters roundly criticized him for his anger. But I understood. Anger is part of the grieving process when you lose someone or something important in your life, and we had lost perhaps the center of our lives. I told him it was OK to be angry, and I added a “Fuck the Morg!” of my own just to humorously emphasize my point.

That was the post some of my family members discovered, and it caused me no end of grief, but a couple of years later, I’m not sorry I posted it. To quote two of my favorite punk poets, “Anger is an energy” (Johnny Rotten) and “Anger can be power” (Joe Strummer). Anger can be a good thing if it is used properly. Unfocused, uncontrolled anger is almost always destructive and harmful, but even Jesus got mad once or twice. In Mormon-speak, Jesus’ clearing of the temple was an example of “righteous indignation,” which we are told is a firmness bordering on anger used for righteous purposes.

We ex-Mormons ought to own righteous indignation. We have every right to be angry at a manipulative and deceptive religion that focused our energies away from ourselves and our families and instead pushed us to grow and maintain the organization, whatever the cost. Daniel Peterson once told me that it was irrational to be angry at Joseph Smith simply because we didn’t know the man, and he’s been dead a long time. Of course, that would be like saying I shouldn’t have any feelings toward the truck driver whose negligence killed my two younger brothers just because I never met him face to face. Joseph Smith did what he did, and just as believing LDS have strong feelings of admiration and even love for him, we ex-Mormons have a range of emotions toward him, and that’s as it should be.

But if we are to be angry at all (and I have to say that the anger has pretty much dissipated for me, though it occasionally surfaces), we ought to channel that anger into something worthwhile. It does no good to stand outside Temple Square waving signs and screaming, and it does no good to try and force our families to understand where we’re coming from.

For me, the best use of the anger is to turn it into resolve. I have decided that I will not let the past ruin the present. I won’t allow the hurt and the destructiveness of the past dictate what I do. I think there’s a tendency for some people to react to their history in the church by acting exactly opposite of the way they were raised. Thus, some people end up indulging in drugs, sex, and alcohol and harder things like Sunday waterskiing. But doing that in some ways is still letting the LDS church dictate how you will live your life.

I’ve decided to keep the good and discard the bad, and then to the best of my ability stand up for truth and honesty. I do get angry sometimes when I see people behaving dishonestly regarding Mormonism. And this cuts both ways. I’ve seen critics distort the facts, and I’ve seen Mormons do the same. I figure if I stand up for truth, I’ll always be on the right side of things. And there’s no need to be angry when you have the truth.


October 29, 2008

Last night I was doing my volunteer shift at the United Way’s free health clinic, and I was feeling a little out of place. The people in charge are mostly retired people, as are the volunteer doctors. But the interpreters were mostly BYU students in their early twenties who are trying to add something to their resumes before applying to medical school. There were two eighteen-year-old LDS girls helping out, and they went up to every young guy and asked the same question, “Are you married?” followed by a slew of get-to-know-you questions. All the boys’ majors sounded “exciting,” and their missions “wow.” Eventually, they got to me, and I suppose they asked simply because they didn’t want it to seem too obvious that they were hitting on the guys.

“Yes, I’m married,” I said, feeling a little stupid.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” said one of the girls. “If you weren’t married at your age, you’d be like a total LOSER.”

“TOTAL loser,” the other girl agreed.

The young guys all stood there looking a little embarrassed until one said, “Hey, have you seen the picture I have of my seven-week-old baby?”

It’s always interesting talking to these college students. It’s a little weird knowing that they were born during or after my mission, but I’m OK being the old dude in the room.

Of course, all I have to do to feel younger is talk to the older doctors and administrators. One of the volunteer doctors last night was my branch president in the MTC. Back then he had red hair, but now his hair is white. He stood up close to me and took his glasses off, staring into my eyes.

“Look at the eyes,” he said. “Back when you knew me, they were bright green. They turned blue when the hair turned white.” He was right. His eyes, which I had remembered as a bright emerald, were now a pale blue. He, being a Spanish speaker, didn’t need an interpreter, but the pharmacist was having a hard time, so I told people about pills and creams and follow-up appointments. And it felt good to do something worthwhile.

An elderly Mexican man came up to me as the crowd was thinning out and said, in a very quiet Spanish, “Excuse me, but my wife and I got here first in line, and it looks like we’re going to be the last ones seen.” I had to apologize and tell him that they served people by prioritizing them by symptoms. Those with the more serious problems were seen first.

“Hay que tener paciencia,” he smiled. Sure enough, they were seen last. They had been there four hours.

I went home tired last night, but at least I knew I had done some good.

And I knew that, with my beautiful wife, I’m not a loser.


October 27, 2008

I’ve decided to see my therapist again. I’m not very good at conflict resolution, and I certainly have self-esteem issues. But I’m surviving.

When I went to see her before, she stressed that I needed to express myself openly and confidently, or I would end up depressed and miserable. I haven’t really learned to talk about troubling issues with people who are important to me, so I’ve too often just gone along to get along. I think that attitude was slowly crushing the life out of me.

This blog has been kind of an escape hatch where I could express what I was feeling and thinking. I could be as blunt as I wanted, and it was OK. What I’m learning is that the rest of my life needs to be like that, too. I need to stop worrying about what people think of me and just do and say what I think is right. I don’t think that’s too much to ask from someone.

I’ve been more open in my personal relationships recently, and it feels good, even though it has led to some heated moments and some other moments of despair. Somewhere inside of me are opinions and feelings that need to be expressed. So far, so good.

How Wide the Divide

October 24, 2008

Yesterday someone I don’t know wrote about the deep chasm that exists between unbelieving me and my faithful LDS wife. This person spoke of my beliefs as “toxic” and coming from “the darkest of places and times.” Conversely, this anonymous stranger described my wife’s beliefs as “a firm foundation” and “precious pearls.” At first reading this, I thought it was a bit harsh and judgmental and smug (well, it was that, actually), but it made me think of how easy it is to misread when something is in print, and you’re not talking face to face.

The person wrote as if, being married to me, my wife would be confronted by “criticisms and doubt … from day to day.” I wonder how this person came to believe that. If nothing else, I have tried in my personal and family relationships, to avoid criticism and attempting to sow seeds of doubt. When I had my initial epiphany regarding the truth of Mormonism, I wanted so badly for my family members and loved ones to understand, to know what I knew. But I soon learned that it isn’t my place to proselytize people to my point of view. Sure, I will share what I have learned when asked, and I post things that are interesting to me, but I have consciously avoided telling people what they should believe.

In short, I’m content to respect and honor my wife’s beliefs, and she respects mine. Chasms form when we don’t communicate with each other, when we allow our differences to obscure the love we have for each other. And no, I’m not just talking about my marriage. That’s how it works in every important relationship in our lives. When we start seeing other people as toxic or dark, we build walls between us, and we imagine that they are sowing criticism and doubt or pushing their beliefs on us. When we start seeing people as agendas, that’s when the chasm becomes wide and deep.

I don’t know this person who has so roundly criticized me (and by extension my wife). But I’m glad I don’t view the world the way he or she does.

Top Ten Things Overheard at the Exmormon Conference

October 23, 2008

10. Drunk? No, I’m not drunk.

9. It probably wasn’t a good idea to schedule this in the same hotel as the Packer family reunion.

8. Why is that man writing down license plate numbers?

7. I think I’ll pass on the green jello salad shooters.

6. No, that’s not Church security. That’s Nom de Cypher.

5. Of course my life is better since I left the church. Just ask my ex-wife!

4. Relax, everyone. It’s just the Geek Squad.

3. No, she doesn’t literally give big green hugs.

2. Now I’m drunk.

1. The “S” stands for Spencer, and yes, there were 87 widows in my ward. You’re not recording this, are you?


October 22, 2008

Sometimes I send my posts to be linked from the Carnival of the Vanities, a conglomeration of posts from Outer Blogness. One poster was Jason, who went by “Starbright” on RfM and elsewhere. I linked to his blog early on when I still had my old blog, and he linked to mine, and we exchanged comments and emails. I knew he had been dealing with mental illness, and I was shocked and saddened to learn that this terrible disease had finally claimed him.

I am so sorry for his family for their loss. I cannot imagine how it feels to lose a spouse and parent that way. It’s a sobering reminder for me that I nearly did the same thing last year. I’m really not sure what it is that stopped me before it was too late, but I’m grateful I didn’t go through with it.

It’s easy to blame Mormonism for the kinds of problems that led to this tragedy, but that would be simplistic and really unhelpful. It probably goes without saying that I think that Mormonism’s culture of guilt doesn’t really help people who are predisposed to mental illness, but that’s not the whole picture. And it would be just as easy for Mormons to point to Jason as showing the results of unbelief and apostasy. But that would be equally as wrong. I do think that becoming detached from lifelong moorings can certainly add to existing mental illness, but again, it’s not the cause.

I wish I had some words of comfort, but none come. In grieving for Jason, maybe we should remind ourselves that there are others out there suffering just as he was. If we see someone struggling, I hope that Jason’s memory will motivate us to do something to help.

What a drag it is getting old

October 22, 2008

I’ll be 44 in a couple of weeks, and I wonder how I got to middle age so quickly. Last night at my son’s orchestra recital, my sister and I ran into an older couple we had known in California when we were kids. They must have been in their early forties when we met them, but here they were white-haired and looking rather frail last night. Brother Smith, who was the Young Men’s president, used to have one of those two-cylinder Honda cars they used to make in the 70s, and as a joke, the young men of our ward used to pick it up and hide it in places like the gym. I don’t think he appreciated that much. Back then he was dark haired and full of energy. Last night he looked a bit worn-out.

My sister and I introduced ourselves, as they clearly hadn’t recognized us. At my parents’ house last week, my sister showed me a picture of her in a BYU engineering brochure (she’s on the faculty), and she looks really great. She’s two years older than I am, and she’s in terrific shape, being an avid jogger. Likewise, my wife never seems to get any older. She has no gray hair whatsoever.

My hair is steadily growing grayer, and my uncle recently took one look at me and said, “Who would have thought I’d live to see John with gray hair?”

But I feel pretty good for someone with two kids in college. Other than my continuing battle with depression, I don’t have any noticeable health problems (of course, now that I’ve said that, something is bound to appear). And with the medication I take for the depression, I feel more energetic and even-keeled than I ever have. Come to think of it, the Seroquel is a little yellow pill, so maybe Mick was onto something.

This should be a time when I’m facing my own mortality. Paul wrote that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” I’m not miserable, even if it turns out that this life is all there is. I would like to believe that there is a God out there who has a plan for us, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how to approach Him, but for now, I’m enjoying this life. I haven’t lost myself in “riotous living” or found myself in despair at the lack of hope in an afterlife.  I’m good for now.

My wife’s sister told her the other day that the best time of life is in your mid-fifties because you’re just kind of comfortable with where you are. Maybe I’m mentally and emotionally in the fifties because that’s how I feel.

It’s not bad getting old.

The Health Clinic

October 21, 2008

I mentioned before that my LDS bishop and stake president had asked if my wife and I would volunteer down at the United Way’s free health clinic once a week. We went last Tuesday, and I neglected to write about it.

The counselor in the stake presidency had said he would meet me there, but he was late, and by the time he showed up, I had been helping people fill out information sheets. Hardly any of the patients spoke English, so it was a good opportunity to practice my Spanish. The counselor stayed just long enough to make sure I was actually doing something, and then he left.

There were four or five other volunteer intepreters, all of whom were pre-med students at BYU. I felt pretty good that my Spanish was at least as good as theirs (and way better than one of them). After filling out the information sheets, we moved into the main clinic reception area. The information would be put into the computer, and then when a doctor was available, the patient’s name would be called. I spent some time filing and doing some restocking of supplies, but then I was asked to interpret for a couple of doctors. The one spoke Spanish marginally well, but he had trouble understanding the patients. So there I was explaining to him about a guy who had six or seven bowel movements a day and was feeling some generalized pain. Then I helped a pharmacist explain to a young woman about the medication she would be taking (they have a free pharmacy there, too), and she seemed genuinely grateful that I was able to interpret for her.

I also met a relative of mine who is deeply into Williams family genealogy, so that was a plus. But mostly, it felt good to help people who need help. The number of people who came in and the level of poverty at which they live was overwhelming to me. That we were able to help that many people in one evening felt really good. I know some people have criticized me for accepting this as a church-related assignment, but I don’t care. It’s good to do good.

Top Five

October 20, 2008

Someone has linked to a couple of my blog posts (both retreads from the old JLO blog) from something called Suddenly I’m getting thousands of hits on my blog, and I’m listed as number five on the fastest-growing blogs on WordPress.

My blog has always been a rather small-time affair, and only a few friends and family have spent any time here. My wife, after reading my posts here, wonders if part of the reason I blog is the need for validation. And of course, that’s part of the reason. I can’t even remember who suggested that I start blogging, but I think it was probably someone from the message boards that I used to post on frequently. Anyway, this has been a relatively safe and benign place to write out my thoughts and start conversations about things that are important to me.

Mormonism, for whatever reason, is still important to me. I don’t think I would have spent six months writing and rewriting a missionary memoir if Mormonism weren’t still a big part of my life. But it is. I hope I’ve reached the point at which I can think and write about it without animosity and too much emotion. But the emotion will always be there. When I think about the LDS church, the emotions are mixed. I think of all the wonderful LDS people I have known and loved in my lifetime. I think of the values I was taught (faith, integrity, kindness, service), and I wonder if I would have internalized those values as much had I not been part of the LDS church. But the other part of me feels more than a little betrayed. The religion I pledged my life to (literally) turns out to have grown out of a poorly executed nineteenth-century hoax. I suspect I would have figured that out earlier on had the church taught its own history honestly and openly.

But there’s really nothing I can do about any of that. I am trying to live my life to the values I have been taught while rejecting the baggage of falsity and deception. I don’t know how well I’m doing, but I’m doing my best.

So Cal

October 17, 2008

I’m back home in California at my parents’ house. It’s always strange coming back to my childhood home, especially as a middle-aged father of six, but it’s good to be home.

We arrived at 2:00 in the morning the night before last, and my dad and I ended up talking for a good hour about life and love. We talked about the tension in my house regarding my disbelief in Mormonism. Although my father chooses to stay in Mormonism, he understands where I am and why I have left my faith behind. “Religion is a philosophy by which you approach life,” he said, “but Mormonism wants more than that. It insists on a rigid set of rules governing how you live your life. That’s never been for me.” Nor for me. I’m glad he understands me and doesn’t judge.

On the subject of my book, he told me that I shouldn’t budge on letting my wife edit out the “offensive” parts. “The book is what it is, and letting someone else take out what you wrote would be a crime.”

Yesterday we spent the day at Zuma Beach, and it was perfect. It’s Santa Ana wind season, when hot winds push southward from the Mojave Desert into the city. The winds bring high temperatures and dry conditions perfect for brush fires (hence the big fires earlier this week). But when it’s this hot (96 yesterday) and dry, the beach is marvelous: 77 and clear. It felt so good to dive under waves and bodysurf to the shore. Today we’re doing the “tourist” things that I hate, but my kids want to see “Hollywood,” whatever that is or used to be. My oldest daughter is headed with Grandma to the Getty Museum. I’m so jealous.