Hermeneutics of Mormon

I’m reading Jonathan Edwards. Not his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” but some other shorter pieces for class. The one we studied about conversions sent me spinning for a few days. There’s a causal chain that the congregation has to prove. In order to show one went through a conversion, there had to be a physical manifestation to it. I thought of the time my sister wanted to go swimming on the sabbath – God’s day – Sunday. My parents had a pat answer for us when  we were about to break the law of the Mormon Church: “We don’t have a good feeling about it.”

This phrase lingers over me, a doom-cloud, the angry God’s hand at junctures in my life. What did my sister end up doing? She swam on the sabbath. What happened to her? Sure – she hit her head on the side of the pool and needed stitches.

Did my parents think that this teaching moment would scar my future, autonomous, god-decentered, life? Did they ponder over it affecting me while reading Protestant narratives in my PhD program? Did they feel like God’s disciples?

I am reading how Protestants settled in the United States but I am not of them. Even though I am so very familiar with their teachings as handed down, washed up and revised for a Mormon population, I come from immigrants.

Perhaps having this blood inside of me keeps me from despair?

Latvian, English, Scottish and Italian. These are the immigrants who brought me to the United States. I am not connected to a Mather by blood — only by ideology, and that, I shed daily.

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Crosses: an Abomination

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The Mormon part of my life only comes up randomly. Recently I presented on King James and his version of the bible. When I read about what the Protestants wanted for the church at the time I couldn’t believe how Mormon in doctrine their goals were. A protestant priest in 1607 wrote a pamphlet that denounced wearing crosses as idolatry. The name of the pamphlet was “A scholasticall discourse against symbolizing with Antichrist in Ceremonies: Especially in the sign of the cross.” My whole life came tumbling back at me starting with that wish to have a rosary, to pet it and own it and wear it. My neighbor was Catholic and knew how to hold it when she introduced me to her rosary. But the cross in any form to the Mormons is seen as an “abomination” and I think that began in 1607. Truly, though, this Mormon law wasn’t appropriated by Mormonism until Joseph Smith got his hands on it. Rooted in the King James version of the bible, this decree was amplified somehow and put into Mormon law.

Crosses of any kind have become more than a fascination for me. I have glittery pink ones and somber silver, a glass blown one, my favorite, from Murano, Italy. Crosses have given my life meaning—a way to claim some corner of earth as my own, a way to go far back to the three-year-old who lost her heritage in a heartbeat the day her parents converted to the Mormon church. If I would have been born just one generation on my mother’s side, say my grandmother’s, I would have gone to an all Catholic girl’s school, probably in Lucca. If I would have been raised like my father, I would have gone to church on Saturdays, and been immersed in Judaica. In a single swing to know their own truths, my parents white-washed my roots. We cut the moor of the ship and sailed off, six kids in a pre-fab wish to become something new…except the wish was never mine, and I was painfully aware of that my entire life.

 

Snow: Nothing to do with Mormon

old school snow

 

It’s old-school snowing today in Colorado. Global warming has changed Denver as a destination with 300 days of sun. When I first came as a lonely and estranged 17-year-old, straight from Tucson, I thought Colorado felt a lot like California. Lawns were the real symbol. And then when the snow came, I was proven wrong. It came – flocking onto our lawns, flocking into our hair and eyes. It crunched and folded into my shoes. It melted into a muddy mess, trekked into my new high school’s cafeteria. Boot leavings gathered under the toilet bowls in the girl’s bathroom. Don’t ever wear a skirt in that! I felt offended by this insidious icy rape. I wasn’t prepared for the levels of snow that remain. I had only driven up to the snow, waved at it, packed it into my brother’s shirt, and then by the time we got back down from Mount Lemon, it had all melted and we began to sweat again. Normal: sweating.

This wet to mud, this melting in all of its vague pools. There was never a time I was dry during winter in high school. My desert family was not prepared for winter.

My Parents, Good Mormons

As we were grilling last night, my husband’s mother comments, “Did you see your mother’s post today?”

I nod. “Something about God being there for his children?”

“Yeah. She sure is a good Mormon.”

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(Notice, I’m tweaking my baby sister’s ear!)

It’s true. My parents found the Mormon church while they sat in Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian pews, searching for “the truth.” They told us this story growing up. Always looking for the one they would join, when their neighbor invited them to theirs: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They were shown the movie of the Sacred Grove where Joseph Smith fought with the devil and where God sent his angel Moroni to tell him no church was true and he’d have to create the only true church on earth.

When I first broke away and staked a claim in the free world of no religion, I kept feeling that creepy sinner guilt that envelops the stomach and then grips down in quiet moments. But I also remember feeling light, like I could do or say anything, that I could swear more, for fun. That I could go to the grocery store on a Sunday and I wasn’t driven into a dark cave in the crevice of an earthquake…Coming from California, I always thought Satan must certainly live where earthquakes begin.

I’m so happy my parents love their religion and that they continue to shine in God’s truth. I am also one of the lucky people, who despite my leaving, my parents still love and accept me for who I am: a wacky dissident, one of six other wacky dissidents.

An Outsider in My Own Family

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I began to believe that maybe the world at large had something else to offer than Mormonism at about 7. As I was speaking with a friend about it recently, I told her about my memoir. “It’s not really about being Mormon. It’s about knowing I was an imposter and living with that lie for years.”

I’ve said it so many ways before…that I called BS on being Mormon because the doctrine said one thing and then I experienced something quite entirely different in “the world.” For instance, the whole word of wisdom thing. I saw that in my family we followed it to a “T.” Then, I’d spend the rest of the week in my grandmother’s halo of cigarette smoke  playing Spite and Malice, not going to hell but actually having fun.

I’ve called it a disconnect that widened as I got older but more than that, skating the line between pleasing my parents and pleasing myself became the new coping skill and then integrated into my personality. This human versus her society is not new, and it doesn’t have to be Mormon. Just in my case it was.

Ex Anything?

mormon clouds

Taken from https://www.lds.org/media-library/images/clouds?lang=eng

I’m a member of two ENORMOUS ex-Mormon groups on Facebook. My best friend from teen-hood got me into them and I’m grateful – because the groups promote honesty. People pour their hearts out revealing shame, turmoil, drugs, imbalances, psychological problems, psychological help, hate, love, the blahs, and everything one can do to purge a soul in pain and bliss. It’s often cathartic to read posts that dismantle religion in lieu of science. It’s also hopeful to see those who were in Mormon families — and I wouldn’t say this is the “norm” — who had abusive relationships, come out and champion their lives, find a new way and get help amongst friends.

I hardly post in it because I’m more of a surfer and truly busy. And, I’m a surfer in the truest emotional sense of the word. I’m surfing in a sea of Mormon past and spiritual now. I’m thankful to the Jesuits. Teaching for them has given me such insight into the intimate relationship one can have with a higher power. They’ve showed me such dedication to an entity that is not proselytized or pushed on me. I have students who have revealed to me their deep spirituality. I have discussed my fear of what I call “Jesus Fingers” (stolen from Will Ferrell SNL skit from the 90s) with Jesuit priests which is basically when parents of deeply religious sects make stuff up and pass it off as God’s word. (Much like my mother speaking for God not wanting me to swim on Sunday). The Jesuit priests don’t recoil in shock when I profess to be afraid of religion. In fact, one priest told me while leaning back in his lovely office that overlooks the mountains, “It is one thing to be religious. It is entirely another thing to be spiritual.”

This resonated with me.  Why? I think of that causal chain of my childhood Mormon psyche. Sorry mother, but your voice comes into my brain, “If you swim on Sunday, God won’t be happy.”

That’s religion. But if you pray inward this prayer can be a snippet of hope floating from your loins to some vague power. It can be a ceremony with crones around a bonfire thanking the crackling usurper for not taking more than it needed. It can be a group of Mormon men and women who have traveled to the temple to pray for a list of souls who are going through tough times. (The Mormons do this!) These prayers aren’t lost. They are personal and grow inside hope – a curtain flapping on the EB White kind of afternoon of sun, greens deepen around you in spring. These are spiritual yearnings – and not religious.

I’m not an ex-Mormon in the religious sense that I was Mormon to begin with. I’m not ex-anything. I embrace.

I’ll have to quote Walt here.

“To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”

Artifacts

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I recently taught a class I felt I had no business teaching. The class was Communication, which the institution claimed was heavy on writing and therefore matched my expertise. To be fair, I did take a Professional Communication course in my masters and I’ve edited communication classes in the past, but every time I read theory to make it more hands on for the students, I delved into new territories. One theory stuck with me though, and it was this idea that the CEO of a company either directly or indirectly creates his/her artifacts of a company (Schiffer & Miller, 1999).

The theory states that either knowingly or unknowingly the furniture, art, rugs, uniforms, even what plays on the radio reflects the culture of a company. I thought about how I’m always accused by my husband of having “high” taste. I go for the expensive items that he didn’t even know existed. Recent purchase: imported French Dijon mustard.

I woke up this morning trying to place my CEO. Who are our personal CEO’s who created our artifacts as children and how do we acquire our surroundings?

The first thing I thought of was the sound of my clock in the bathroom. I bought it twenty years ago because it made the same sound as the one in my grandmother’s bedroom. If you want to compare the best sleep you’ve had in your life, I would have to go back to my grandmother’s lavender talc filled room, her clock, the old black and white TV we watched (Keeping Up Appearances) and the ten to twenty books piled on her nightstand. Best sleep of my life. Tick. Tick. Tick. That clock meted out the calmest time. I woke to mocking birds and a few hot rods pulling to a stop on Winchester Blvd. three blocks away.

My artifacts were a direct result of my Italian Grandmother. Dijon is used in salad dressings and slathered on saltless Italian bread. Garlicky roast beef follows. Mayonnaise. On the side, an artichoke.

I don’t think my artifacts are particularly “high” taste. They’re pretty simple. Some items might be a little scarce. I have yet to find a bakery that makes saltless Italian bread. I guess I’ll have to bake my own.

The point of all this is in the previous post I’d said that Mormonism swiped away my heritage but really, that’s a lie. No one can take away the artifacts we endeavor to live with. The clock is an emblem of sleep. In some instances, the past artifacts are negative — a cycle that might be unconsciously handed to us.  I know I have these, too.

In this small case, the best sleep of my life exists with my clock. The best food of my life involves Dijon.

What are the artifacts of your lives?

References

Schiffer B. and Miller, A. (1999). The material life of human beings: Artifacts, behavior, and communication.  New York: Routledge.

Fierce Roots – Melani/Leskin

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Every conversation I have with my father, I want to tear open his brain and take out all the Jewish memories. What else do you remember about the Jewish cousins you lived next door to in Philly? I keep asking. This time, he remembers an Uncle Marvin who was “so cool and was so nice to me.” The Leskins married the Lakins. It was like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers where there were a few matches between the two families. My father’s grandfather was Joseph Meier and my grandmother’s name? Chana – חַנָה. One of my uncles was named Leon Lakin and married Rebecca who they called “Becks.” There was a Rose and a Frieda, my Aunt Helen and finally my grandmother, my father’s mother: Abigail Leskin married to Cecil Kinsey.

Looking at my name: Elisabeth Kinsey, you’d never know that I come from a Leskin and a Melani. I’m so hungry for my immigrant roots, it’s hard not to look back at my Mormon life as a big sponge that wiped all that rich culture clean and left white bread behind. I wouldn’t be writing this, however, if that Jewish Italian self didn’t absorb my heritage from my grandparents throughout my life. I’m fierce about that. Fierce to protect that struggle to make a life in the new land. Fierce to grow tomatoes in Saratoga, California. Perhaps the Torah service prepared my father for the three hour Mormon service. Maybe Mormon ritual reminded him of a more straight forward form of the Jewish ritual? He confided to me that he never learned Yiddish and felt like an outsider because of it. Looking at my Mormon parents, you’d never see those fierce roots. Until my mother tells me to put the basilico into a recipe or my father reminisces about his days in Philly. Then I know where I stand.

Ex-Mo Groups and Monsters

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(This is a re-post from my closed down Blogger account.)

I have a hard time writing with my new EXMormon slant. The reason is obvious to me but maybe readers wouldn’t think of it. My parents raised me, gave me love and nurturing and now I go and slander their wonderful religion that’s always supported them in life. You know that saying “There be Monsters” at the edge of the globe? I live in that place according to Mormons. So, what news do I have today to slander my parent’s savior and guide from the monster side? I am a member of a handful of Ex-Mormon groups and I wanted to share why they exist.

For the most part, religion is attached to identity and belonging. Many times, we’re raised in a specific faith and taught not to question it. In fact, questioning my faith would mean I doubt God almighty. What if I doubted God at the tender age of six-years-old? That’s what my memoir’s about.  That, and the journey to being okay with myself after Mormonism and disappointing my parents. It’s ongoing. And the ExMormon groups are there to support any religion-leaver with open arms and funny/sad/condemning/crazy posts and activities.

There’s an ExMormon conference. It’s like the Mormon conference, but the delivery is about spirituality after leaving one’s faith. There are activities like hopping on a bus to go gamble while doing Jell-O shots.  ExMormon groups come in all shapes and sizes and you can find them all over the internet. What I enjoy is the community of ex’s. They’ve left something to find themselves; they are on the identity journey with me. While it still doesn’t make me feel okay for letting my parents down, I have somewhere to go to remember why I left.

Borrowing Faith

jesus in prayer    I keep having terrible back attacks for which no doctor can find a solution or cause. Always, in my crumpled state, tears forming in my eyes without my control, I call my parents. Nothing comes out of my mouth because it hurts to talk or breathe. Everyone I describe this to says “kidney stones.” But then I go pee in a cup and nothing shows up. Nothing. My pee is heavenly, beautifully, clear pee.

So then my parents pray for me. I ask them to and I say, “Because God loves you guys the most.” I say this sardonically, as if God plays favorites, but there’s some truth to it. If God kept a list like Santa’s naughty or nice list, my parents would be in the top 1000.

I ask them to pray for me because I believe that they believe and that strong belief has to count for something. I don’t believe and don’t know what I believe.

A friend recently introduced me to this cool bunch of joyous spiritualists called Matrix Energetics. They embrace dolphin-like wonder approaches to the world and have an open energy about them. They preach that everything that has worked works for a reason. Christianity. Crystals. Buddha. Bahai. All of them have merit. Use them because they work.

So, I ask my parents because prayer works for them. I guess it’s my way of channeling a pure thing. My parents are the purist. Me? Not so much. I have to rely on others’ faith.