Friday, October 6, 2017

Dear Mom, I recognize the irony in this one.

Dear Mom,

Remember when I wrote to you about not going to church anymore? I mean, I'm sure you do, I just wanted to give some context for this letter.  Well, that post went a little unexpectedly crazy.  As of the posting of this letter, it has almost 22,000 views.  22,000!  Not something I ever expected.  But I think that says something about the nature of the sentiments I expressed.  A lot of people feel the same way.  Relationships with The Church are complicated.

Here's the thing.  Everyone I know personally who commented expressed love and support.  Even, perhaps a tad surprisingly, certain members of my own family. (I know!) Which is so so great.  A lot of people who commented said they felt the same way.  There were some commenters, however, who were very quick to jump to the defense of The Church.  Now, while I understand that reflex, I also want to tell them to relax.  The Church is perfectly capable of defending itself.

What I want to tell them is to take a minute to breathe, and then think, "Hmm.  This post seems to be resonating with people.  A lot of people seem to be saying they feel the same way.  I wonder why that is.  I wonder if there are people in my life who feel the same way." And Mom, based on the response I got, I can all but guarantee there are.  And then I want them to find those people and listen to them.  Really listen.  And then I want them to say, "Thank you for sharing that with me," and not offer advice, or solutions, or spiritual guidance, or say, "Sure, but...".  And then.  Then I want them to go home and think about what they've heard. Do a little reading. Do a little praying. Seek for understanding. They might even return to their friend and say, "I've been thinking about what you said, and I'm having a hard time with it. Tell me more." Then I want them to continue to listen.  Then maybe they can say, "I understand that your experience with The Church has been challenging.  My own experience hasn't been, so I've been doing some reading/praying/studying.  I don't have any answers for you, but here's how I approach/reconcile/deal with A, B, and C.  If that's helpful for you, great.  If not, I'd love to keep this conversation going and see what we can discover together - regardless of where that discovery takes you."  See that last bit there?  No.  Ulterior.  Motive.

What I want is for people to stop assuming that because they've had a positive experience with The Church, everyone else should have as well.  That because The Church works for them, that it will work for everyone. That because they feel welcome and supported, and part of the community, that everyone does. That because they "know" something, that everyone else "knows" the same thing - or will "know" the same thing at some point.  That they are "right".  That because they love the people around them, that those people feel loved. Yeah verily, even stop assuming that the institution of The Church is good at loving all of its people.

I have seen that The Church can be INCREDIBLE when it comes to moments of crisis in people's lives - death, loss, tragedy, suffering.  But what does it say about the community of The Church that when people disagree or have doubts or differing opinions or questions or even different experiences, that their first response is to feel anxious about saying anything?  Shouldn't a community like The Church be the first place people run in a situation like that? And wouldn't it be great if when they ran to that community, they were embraced with open arms, empathy, compassion, and love, instead of side-long glances, judgment, and fear?

Mostly I want people to check that defensive reflex.  It's understandable given our own history with persecution and expulsion, and everything The Church teaches about zealously championing the faith, and being a witness for Christ.  Understandable, but not helpful.

Can we all learn to ask more questions and really listen to the answers before we jump right to passionately listing the reasons we're right, or we're not wrong, or #notallmormons or whatever?  Still loving, and caring for, and fully supporting people even if in the end they decide to take a different path? It would be pretty great if The Church were that community.

I also recognize that in my own way, I'm getting a little defensive here.  I think it's warranted.  But I'm also open to discussion because I want to be that person who asks questions, and listens, and breathes, and says, "That hasn't been my experience.  Tell me more, and let's see what we can discover together."

Anyway.

Love you,

Greg

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dear Mom, I think I'm still Mormon, though.

Dear Mom,

I'm not sure how to write this one.  It's probably gonna be long though, so gird your loins.

I suppose there's no reason to bury the lede - I've stopped going to church.

There are a lot of reasons, really.  Questionable history.  Practices and policies with which I do not agree. Changing doctrines. The culture. Oh, the culture. The fact that an overwhelming majority of Mormons in Utah voted for a man for president who does not, in any conceivable way, embody the teachings espoused by the gospel they claim to love and live. What it really comes down to, though, is that, anymore, church feels a bit like an old favorite pair of jeans that just don't fit anymore.

I also think maybe it's that the church doesn't really know what to do with me.  I mean that in a few ways.  First, The Church isn't very good at dealing with anyone who isn't straight, white, and married.  It's like a perpetual awkward first date. But also, I think people in the church don't really know what to do with me, specifically. Mormonism was, and to a large extent still is, my culture - I'm not going to request that my name be removed from the records or anything.  But Mormons, with a few rare exceptions, have never really been my people. I haven't ever really attended church for the social aspect.  I mean, the people are pleasant enough, but church is usually a pretty lonely place for me.  When I first moved to LA, it was about a year and a half before I felt like I had any real friends here.  And I went to church every week.  "But wait!" you say, "You have plenty of Mormon friends!"  True.  But I counted.  I can think of maybe a dozen people who I would consider friends who I met at church - and I didn't meet any of them in Utah.  The rest are friends who are friends for other reasons who just happen to be Mormon because I lived in Utah where everyone is Mormon.

I don't begrudge anyone who finds value and joy inside The Church.  It works really well for a lot of people.  And I don't hold anything against the church, necessarily. I still value growing up with that framework.  And I still believe in God and things like love, self-improvement, kindness, compassion, mercy, good stewardship, courage etc.  But more and more I've noticed that the times I feel most connected to those ideas, to something Divine, it has absolutely nothing to do with The Church.  It happens in yoga, or during the fireworks at Disneyland, or watching a sunrise over the mountains, or while playing a sparkly purple hippo in a kid's show because that's what a kid said I should play.  Church is a place I feel increasingly frustrated.

I don't know what this means long-term.  But for now, I need to take a step away.  It's entirely possible that will be a permanent decision.  Right now, I don't know.

There's a Buddhist parable about a raft that goes something like this: A man traveling along a path came to a great expanse of water. As he stood on the shore, he realized there were dangers and discomforts all about. But the other shore appeared safe and inviting. The man looked for a boat or a bridge and found neither. But with great effort, he gathered grass, twigs, and branches and tied them all together to make a simple raft. Relying on the raft to keep himself afloat, the man paddled with his hands and feet and reached the safety of the other shore. He could continue his journey on dry land. Now, what would he do with his makeshift raft? Would he drag it along with him or leave it behind? He would leave it.

A counselor in a bishopric said to me recently, "We're all on our own journey home." I think in this situation the raft was The Church for me.  And I can be grateful that it served me, but I can also recognize that for now, my journey doesn't require a raft and I can let it go.

Now comes the difficult part of facing well-meaning family and friends who love me and are going to try their darndest to reach and rescue me.  They'll send me Ensign articles and share scriptures they read that morning and mention conference talks in an off-handed way. And I know it comes from a place of love. I do. But Mom. No. I just...I can't. I grew up in the church, remember? So I know all about that stuff. I know all the tricks. And also, I didn't reach this decision because of a lack of study or prayer. In fact, the journey to this place has been a journey of study and prayer. Though I know it comes from a place of love, when people share scriptures, or issue spiritual challenges like that, it says to me, "You don't know what you're doing, and I don't respect you enough to make your own decisions.  Let me show you the right way."  But I do know how to make my own decisions.  God and I are good.  I don't need to be rescued. Ya know?

This is something I found that I think is pretty great for approaching these kinds of conversations:
Things to say and not to say when a loved one leaves the faith.

Anyway.  I'm rambling.  Shortly after making the break, I had a moment where I thought, "Am I making a mistake?" and then I just felt peace.  I'm good.  I have some larger contextual thoughts I may share with you another time, but for now, I think I can be done.

If you need me of a Sunday, you can probably find me in yoga class, or wandering the beach, or reading a good book in my hammock, but you won't find me at church.

Love you,

Greg

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dear Mom, I've become a vegetarian.

Dear Mom,

So.  Vegetarianism.  Remember when I kind of tried that out a couple of years ago?  I can't remember if you were around for that. Anyway, I decided last week that I'm gonna take the plunge and commit to doing it.  It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and based on what I've read and what I believe, it just makes sense to me.  I actually think I might be trending vegan, but I don't know that I'm ready to jump into that full-tilt.

This probably isn't a surprise to you.  After all, I wash my hair with baking soda, live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle, sleep in a hammock, try to buy eco-friendly products, and want to live in a tiny house.

Here's what it comes down to for me.  I believe in God.  And I believe that God probably isn't too pleased with our approach to animals as food.  Because I believe he wants us to be good stewards.  And we're not. That's not to say I'm against eating animals, just that our current system of making that happen is kind of messed up (Did you know it takes 50 times as many resources to grow a pound of beef as a pound of plants? 50!) so I will make the decision not to participate in that system so far as I can.

I did accidentally order a beef taco at Taco Bell yesterday - all it said on the menu was "Cheesy potato taco," so I thought I was safe - but I didn't realize it was beef until I took I bite. I could have taken it in and exchanged it like a good vegetarian, but part of my whole rationale for being vegetarian is the wasteful aspect of the food system.  So, I ate the burrito because I figured if I took it in, they'd just throw it away, and that sort of negates the whole reason for doing it in the first place.  Ya know?

So. That's where I'm at.  And though I can no longer eat your chicken enchiladas - not that I have recently anyway... - family chip dip is still on the table.  Luckily.

Love you,

Greg

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dear Mom, thanks.

Dear Mom,

I went to an acting workshop yesterday.  Well, it was really more of an acting lecture, but all the same, I enjoyed it.  The speaker took us through a visualization exercise that I found rather impactful given my current life situation.  It went something like this:

Picture yourself as a small child.  Back when you were young, and vulnerable and full of hope and youthful joy. This is your inner child. Now take yourself by the hand.  Look up and standing in front of you are your parents, smiling peacefully. And you say to them, "Mom, Dad, thank you for raising me the way you did.  Thank you for teaching me and guiding me and loving me.  And I forgive you for the mistakes you made.  They weren't your fault.  After all, you're a product of your own upbringing.  But now it's time for me to take over.  I can no longer live my life for you."  Your parents smile, and wave goodbye. You turn and start to walk away.  You keep walking until your parents are gone and it's just you and your inner child.  He looks up at you perhaps a tad confused or scared, but you lean down, gather him in your arms and say, "It's okay.  I've got you now.  You are safe, and I love you.  I'm here with you now, and I always will be."  Then you put that child into your heart.  Once inside, you flip on the lights and your heart is a place of light and warmth and creativity where you and your inner child can play and explore and create together.

Well, that about broke me. I had tears streaming down my face. I think that actually probably has more to do with my relationship with Dad than with you.  But maybe it doesn't.  I guess Dad just seems more...here?  Which sounds obvious, but I think you know what I mean.

Anyway, I guess what I want to say with all of this is...thanks. And I forgive you.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go. This chubby cheeked little piece of heaven and I have some catching up to do.



Love you,

Greg

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dear Mom, it's been a minute.

Dear Mom,

Remember when I had that crazy idea to write you letters to keep you updated on how my life was going, and then I only wrote one?  I remember that, too.

Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking recently and partly out of my own wish for yet another creative outlet, and partly at the encouragement of my roommate (You remember my friend Farrah, don't you?  We went to the roller derby together? She thought you and Dad would look like little gnome people for some reason...anyway, I ended up moving in with her.  It's a pretty great situation. You'd love her couches.), I want to start writing some more.  And my last letter to you was the last thing I published on my blog here, so I thought it might be fun to pick it back up again.  I don't think all of my blog posts will be specifically for you, but feel free to read them all anyway.

Anyway, I think I'm going to try being vegan for a minute.  But before that happens I want to use up all of the non-vegan food currently in my fridge/freezer (I'm also trying to be more conscious of food waste), so I'm gonna go have a nice, buttery chocolate chip cookie.  I'll have one for you, too.

Love you,

Greg

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dear Mom, I got this idea from a podcast.

Dear Mom,

I was listening to a podcast this week called Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids.  I don't think you would have been much of a podcast listener, but you sometimes surprised me, so I won't assume.  Anyway, one of the grownups read a series of letters she had written to a fictional friend who had died.  They were sweet, and funny, and tender, and sad.  And I thought, "I should do that!" And as with most of my brilliant ideas, I gave it a couple of days to see if it was really something I thought I should do.  I still like the idea, so I want to start writing you letters.

This is not some sad, pathetic attempt to stay connected to you.  I know you're gone and won't be coming back.  I'm pretty level-headed like that.  Besides, I have pictures, and memories, and that quilt you made me that never fails to receive compliments whenever I bring it out, and that one olive green Tupperware from the 70s that I am keeping until it literally disintegrates to help me stay connected to you. But I kind of like the idea that maybe I can just write to you and keep you updated on my life.  Plus I think this will be an interesting way for me to work through some things.  To get some thoughts down on paper, as it were, and grapple with this messy, complicated, exciting, stressful life that I seem to have ended up with.

Anyway, I'm meeting some friends to see some free Shakespeare, so I gotta go.

Love and miss you.  I'll write again soon.

Greg

Monday, April 6, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 2

People, and I think Mormons in particular, respond to the news of death in two primary ways: service, and food.  Not necessarily in that order.  In the days following my mom's death, it became borderline comical how many people said to me and those in my family something along the lines of, "Let me know if there's anything at all I can do."  I almost kept a tally.  That isn't to say I didn't appreciate the sentiment - I very much did - it's just that everyone said it.

There are several articles making the rounds on the internet about what to say and not to say to someone who has lost a loved one.  "Let me know if I can help," is often on the "what not to say" list.  I didn't mind it so much.  It's people's way of processing sensitive, unexpected, devastating information and expressing solidarity with those closest to the center.  However, I do like the idea of rather than saying, "How can I help?" just finding a way to help.  It's true that someone grieving often doesn't know what they need, or have the energy to ask even if they do.  Also, I'm more willing than most to ask for help or call on those willing to do something, but there were plenty of moments when there wasn't anything to help with.  What I needed was my family and time to heal.

If you're thinking, "I'd like to help, but don't know how," let me let you in on a little secret.  The "how" doesn't matter.  Seriously.  Couldn't matter less.  Just do something.  A very dear friend of mine has some experience dealing with death in her family.  She's got it down to a science.  She happens to be single and between jobs, so she became our family's personal assistant for nearly two weeks.  She babysat, made sure we were drinking enough water, provided rides and distractions, kept us well-stocked on coca-cola, reminded us to nap and get priesthood blessings, prepared snack packs for between the funeral and the cemetery, brought french fries to the cemetery, organized boutonniere pinning, gathered whatever we left behind at the church, etc. etc. etc.  If you are able to be that person for someone else, you will be a god-send. If not, you can still help out.  Our situation was a little different because we had to wait a full two weeks before having a funeral because of the repatriation process.  Regardless, here are some other things that people did for me or my family that we found helpful or comforting:

My best friend brought over my favorite kind of chocolate milk.  Later she also made me my favorite comfort food (mac & cheese) for lunch.

My sister-in-law is training for the Boston Marathon and a friend of hers offered to watch her kids while she did the long runs in her training schedule.

My brother was planning on moving to a new apartment and some friends packed his apartment and moved it while we were dealing with viewings and funerals out of town.  That included an old piano that weighs about 1,000 pounds.

A friend of mine who is a very talented designer and florist made our boutonnieres using some of my mom's jewelry.

So many people brought food of one kind or another.  So.  Many.  People.  I'm not necessarily discouraging food.  If you're going to bring food, however, here's a tip - bring something healthy.  Grieving people are going to get plenty of treats.  Also, you cannot go wrong with homemade bread.  Unless those you're taking food to are weird gluten-intolerant people.  Also, most people bring dinner.  Breakfast is nice once in a while.  Lastly, bring food in disposable containers.  Don't make the mourners return your Tupperware.

My dad's neighbor was out buying fertilizer for his lawn and bought extra to do my dad's lawn.

A friend offered to go to a thrift store and buy a bunch of plates for us to go out into the mountains and break.  (We ended up not taking her up on the offer, but I think it was a fantastic offer.)

My family went to lunch at a favorite lunch spot and the owner paid for our meals.

A friend of mine came over just to sit with me.  That same friend took charge of moving my car on street cleaning days while I was out of town, and had my car cleaned while she was at it.

Another friend watched my sister's baby so we could all go out to dinner and a movie.  While watching the baby, she cleaned my sister's house and started some laundry.

Friends and neighbors of my parents opened their homes to our rather large extended family who had to travel for the funeral.

Various professionals - photographers, designers, massage therapists, hair stylists, nail artists, grief counselors, offered their services free of charge.  If you're in a position to offer some sort of professional service, that's a great way to contribute.

Along with standard flowers and cards, some of our favorite things we got were:  Tylenol PM, tissues (especially the kind with lotion), sleepytime tea, coloring books, babysitting services, massages, freezer meals, disposable plates/cups/utensils (especially forks), one-time-use freezer containers, coolers of assorted beverages.  You might also give garbage bags, diapers, airport rides, parking passes, oil changes, buddy passes, pet food if appropriate, and any number of other daily necessities.

As of the publishing date of this post, my mom passed away almost a month ago.  In the days following the return to "normal life" one of the most helpful things has been small check-ins and message of love or humor from friends.  A text, a picture, a phone call etc.  Don't forget about people.  Months later we're still figuring our our new normal and may need a shoulder or a friend to buy us ice cream.

Again, what you give, or how you help does not matter.  Use your imagination.

And a huge, and deeply heart-felt "Thank You!" to anyone who helped or offered to help in any way.