I finally read The Book of Mormon Girl. I’ve been meaning to for awhile now. I think I was avoiding it because I knew it’d make me face some things. I was right.
Joanna Brooks, the author, is a liberal, feminist Mormon. I am a liberal, feminist Mormon. There are a lot of things about that identity I ignore. It’s like I have a compartment inside my head. I have a swarm of thoughts and emotions that I store away in there. You see, I have to do this or I find myself having a hard time fitting myself into the culture that I belong to.
Most Mormons are so steeped in the Mormon tradition that they have a hard time separating tradition from doctrine. And when you question a tradition it is, for many Mormons, equal to questioning a God given truth. And if you question one God given truth, you might as well question them all and admit yourself an apostate heathen. We’re big on the quick descent. I suppose it’s not so different from many other faiths that have their Orthodox and Unorthodox sects. Mormons just have a habit of disavowing the unorthodox.
There were so many things Brooks said in this book that resonated with me. Among them was the idea that her heart was on concrete and that a cinder blocked had been dropped on top. I know that squeeze. Which is why I have my compartment in my head. If there is something in the Mormon tradition that I don’t like, don’t believe, don’t advocate… it usually goes into the box.
Because I’ve learned that when I say these things out loud it’s only met with a small spectrum of reactions. And none of them are generally, “That is an interesting point, and something we should really reevaluate as a church.” or even, “I don’t agree, but I respect that you see it differently than I do and we both still belong here together.” No. There is usually just lots of awkwardness and distancing mixed in with some disdain and coldness. And then there are those who just don’t give up telling you why you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Every chance they get. It’s so exhausting. So I try to avoid that by keeping my questions, comments, and concerns in the box.
But the box rattles, and makes a lot of noise. I never forget what is there and what is inside. I just fit into my culture better with the lid on. My heart still feels the concrete/cinder block squeeze.
Sometimes I think I can relieve the squeeze by spending time with friends outside of my culture. Friends that are more likeminded in ways that my fellow Mormons are not. But when I’m with them I have a different box. We’ll call it the Mormon indicator box. I hide away the indicators so that these people will forget that I am Mormon. I don’t want them to think I’m like all the others. And I’m embarrassed about what they think about all the others. And I’m afraid they won’t give me the opportunity to show them that we are not all the same. And I hate the conversations that start with, “How could you belong to a church that…” because even though I know the answer to that I just don’t think it is the kind of thing you can make another person understand.
So I have these two boxes and these two parts of myself. And I think they are the concrete and the cinder block.
So I finally read The Book of Mormon girl and I weep a lot. And I realize how much sorrow and loneliness I’m constantly feeling, and how it’s been so long that I’ve been feeling that way that I barely even recognize it anymore. And when I finished the book, I knew that I should be feeling positive that I wasn’t the only one (which I am so grateful for). But instead I just kept thinking about the concrete and the cinder block, and the sorrow and the loneliness. I knelt down and prayed to the God that I know and I told him about the concrete and the cinder block and I said, “These are the things that my conscience tells me and it seems like everything I believe puts me at odds with another part of me.
But when I study and pray about these issues, I always come up with the same conclusions. If I am wrong, please tell me. Because I don’t want to feel like I’m at odds with everything any more. Just tell me what part of me is wrong and I’ll fix it.” And that is when I feel an overwhelming sense of love and peace. And God speaks to my heart and tells me that there is no part of me that is wrong and that there is nothing I need to fix. And that I can take everything out of both my boxes and organize all the pieces together into the whole of me.
In my head I know that means that I may lose people from both ends and it makes me so nervous. But in my heart I think, maybe that is a good weeding out process. Maybe the people who can’t accept me for all of me are the concrete and the cinder block. Or maybe just the idea of them and my own fears are the concrete and the cinder block. Either way, I’ve got to embrace my brand of liberal, feminist Mormonism without pretense.
The squeeze is starting to feel not so tight already.
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