The difficulty of this new course is not yet clear. All I know is that the old one could not be sustainable. Ultimately, I am seeking peace and how can I find peace if I keep bullishly stumbling into the shelves of the China shop of my life? Well, I suppose it is not just the difficulty that has not yet elucidated itself. Perhaps I don’t yet even know how to do this gracefully.
What constitutes being graceful about losing your faith might be too subjective to even define concisely. I debate with myself as to whether or not it can include being in any way public, or observable. So I’m hoping to find some wiry tightrope upon which to walk, careful not to fall too far towards denial and repression, or towards ranting and collateral damage.[quote]
The treatment of personal faith struggles is approaching a poignant and potentially combustible state as the holidays draw near. My family is extremely faithful and traditional. I would hesitate to say “orthodox”, because they have never been about serious doctrinal discussions or demanding of particular beliefs. Instead, it has just always been assumed that everyone is on the same page. The church is true, the big questions answered, so let’s get on with our lives. Of course, there are a couple family members who enjoy discussing politics and/or end times narratives (often dovetailed tightly). My own politics, and my distinct lack of end times acceptance, carry the potential for great distress at family gatherings. In the past I have squirmed with zipped lip as homosexuals were stereotyped, Michelle Obama was officially categorized as “evil”, and food storage was speculated to be a mechanism for separating the wheat from the chaff. But something has happened to me in recent weeks. Something like finding the dangling pull-string to the lightbulb in a pitch dark cellar.
You see, on paper I do believe something. I believe that there is an essential oneness between all people. Probably all life, not just people, but I’ll focus on people right now. Yet, its easy to fall into spirit-less patterns of being and allowing your selected beliefs to become mostly academic. Reduced to a boilerplate ready for quick placement on a survey, but lacking the soul of convicted living. I don’t know what happened, but something did, and suddenly I have become aware of this discrepancy. If I believe in the oneness of all humanity, then how can I go into every interaction with family seeing – and by extension, treating – them as “others”?
That question extends to other parts of life, too. In my ward. In my cosmic relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as an institution. In my public writing about religion and faith. What has become clear is that if we all share a oneness of humanity then I have to learn how to respect and honor the journey of even those from whom I feel most distinct. For some time I have thought of my faith journey as a story of one among a collective body. Each position on a doctrine, church policy, historical event, or truth claim has been measured as my view versus the TBM (True Believing Mormons) view. When you look at things in this way, two things happen. First, your stories force people to choose sides and cast judgments. Second, everyone involved becomes a caricature as the essential nuance of truth is sold out for emphasis and melodrama, which results in the illusion of our “otherness” becoming the strongest point made. To avoid those problems, otherness has to be transcended.
While this irksome otherness poisons both our relationships to those with whom we disagree and our most personal stories, I hold onto a hope that connecting with and honoring the sameness will repair, enlighten, and add new value. How much of the connection between us is my responsibility? I don’t know, but I recognize that we often try so hard to be understood and accepted that we end up creating more conflict and division.
Thanksgiving will be a test. It will require a level of grace that often eludes me. But I do long for that communion of family. It was easy when we really were on the same page, perhaps even unearned. It will require effort now, but I feel willing. Perhaps I will have something new to be thankful for after the experience… a little extra grace in my being, and a little extra peace in my life.