Into My Skin

When I first joined the Church, I did so with gusto. The exhilaration of finding long-yearned for answers- answers that did not disallow my own personal revelations, was almost narcotic. I still feel that way. For the most part.

My first Visiting Teacher was the Temple matriarch. My first Home Teacher was the Stake Patriarch. Sensitivity on the part of my bishop led to these stellar examples being a regular part of my life, and I was showered with the best examples of being Mormon. Framed temple pictures, photos of the prophets, Greg Olsen prints, the Proclamation and a dozen other symbols of my new faith were bestowed on me by kind ward members. Overwhelmed, I felt I had to display all of these things in order to be a “good Mormon” girl. All the other homes I visited had similar decorations; I must need them, right? I was grateful for the kindness of my new friends.

And yet… Somehow, these things were a like a tight shoe, slightly too small.

At first, I thought I was slipping in my new faith; what kind of woman would not be grateful for so much kindness? I wondered if I was cut out for this; maybe all the changes were just too much. I felt out of place and wondered if I could be a good Mormon and yet not embrace everything about the culture of Mormonism.

Now, four years later, I have my answer: Yes. My faith is still an imperfect animal; it wavers, it surges, it crests, and it subsides like the tide. But I stay with it, because time has shown me that changes are the norm- change is the constant, and that is part of being here on Earth. The coolest thing is, the roots of my little mustard seed, since they have grown on a moving, tumultuous vessel, are flexible and very strong.

I find that my testimony, though still not as vast and all-encompassing as some Saints, is indeed deep. The minutiae of Mormon life does not worry me or cause me pause- I don’t care if there are inconsistencies, glitches in history, imperfections or living rooms full of kitschy art. What I do know is this:

The Lord expects me to figure things out for myself. Studying, praying and listening for the whisperings of His spirit will never lead me wrong.

Had I subscribed to and confused the culture of Mormonism with the Faith of Mormonism, I would surely have fallen. It wouldn’t have taken long for the frosting to wear thin-I’d have found myself, like the Pharisees, praying on the street corner, and getting my just reward.

The church is not perfect, and if I had continued on in this faith believing it was, it would have undoubtedly led to a fall- disenchantment and disillusionment and eventually, disfellowship. Taking off the shoe that was too tight- stripping down the cultural accoutrements that felt contrived to me, actually forced me to find my own voice, my own faith, and grow into my own skin.

I can’t imagine a God who would want anything better for His daughter.

Comments

  1. Steve Evans says:

    Tracy, what a great, great post. Thanks for this. I remember when Sumer and I were teaching our little gospel essentials class in new york, probably the biggest difficulty was in helping people understand what you say: “Had I subscribed to and confused the culture of Mormonism with the Faith of Mormonism, I would surely have fallen.”

    Thanks.

  2. Tracy,
    You are officially my favorite BCC poster.

    Thanks

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Had I subscribed to and confused the culture of Mormonism with the Faith of Mormonism”

    AMEN, Tracy.

    ~

  4. Tracy,
    Where did they find you? Honest straight talk from the heart without the academic jibber jabber? Those BCC higher-ups might be on to something.

  5. Awww guys, thanks! I’ve been writing for myself for a little over a year, and for Mormon Mommy Wars for a little less than a year.

    Honestly, I’m just an artist and stay-at-home mom with three small kids. But I do appreciate stretching my intellect and thinking about things deeper than how to get my 3 year old to eat something besides peanut butter…

  6. Memo to BCC: Draft Tracy. (If you can pry her away from Heather O., that is.)

  7. Tracy, this is a lovely piece of writing. I recognize so many of the feelings you describe.

    I know that when I have been stationed in wards where Mormon culture prevails (i.e., most of the folks are from the Mormon Corridor), I am far less happy with church–nothing personal, but I just don’t relate. I often joke with the missionaries that I could never live in Utah–too many Mormons.

    I also remember the energy that comes through in your post–the excitement of spiritual growth. But I am almost 20 years into this experience now, and for me, the excitement is struggling under the weight of endless repetition–talks, lessons, correlation, meetings, etc.–and the shock of learning that the church’s history is not the pretty picture that was presented to me.

    I suppose that’s why I’m here–searching for a new way to connect to the church that has played such an important part of my life. Your posts have helped remind me of the force for good the church has been for me, and helped me as I try to find a way to pick up the baby before I kick over the tub.

  8. You write:

    “I love being part of this organization…”

    I guess that’s where we differ, and the heart of my challenge. I have, mostly, gotten past the anger of being deceived (though unintentionally) about church history. But the fact is that I just don’t enjoy church any more–not socially, not spiritually, not intellectually. Going to church is like going to another staff meeting at work. It was easier to endure when I at least believed it was all true.

    Yet this is my family’s church, and the church I believe God chose for me. The challenge is to find a way to connect with the church, when the things that connect me with God, for the most part have nothing to do with church.

  9. George- I deleted my comment only moments after I posted- sorry for the confusion. I decided it was best I refrain from any sort of advice…

    Good luck with your struggles- the last sentence I think might be a key:

    Yet this is my family’s church, and the church I believe God chose for me. The challenge is to find a way to connect with the church, when the things that connect me with God, for the most part have nothing to do with church

    .

  10. The metaphor of the shoe is great, Tracy.

    The Lord expects me to figure things out for myself. Studying, praying and listening for the whisperings of His spirit will never lead me wrong.

    Had I subscribed to and confused the culture of Mormonism with the Faith of Mormonism, I would surely have fallen.

    That’s the crux of all things Mormon. Unfortunately, when Elder Poelman raised the issue, his speech was rejected. Lately, Chieko Okazaki has spoken to the issue as well.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Wonderful post, Tracy. You are fortunate that you have learned so well the lesson that, sometimes, less is more. You don’t have to have a framed, embroidered Proclamation on the Family hanging on your living room wall to be a good Mormon.

    (But you do have to have large, homemade resin grapes displayed in a bowl on your piano. This part is nonnegotiable.)

  12. The church is not perfect, and if I had continued on in this faith believing it was, it would have undoubtedly led to a fall- disenchantment and disillusionment and eventually, disfellowship.

    It seems to me that it is perhaps the notions of “church” and “perfection” that would trigger the chain of events you describe rather than an inherent flaw in the church as the divinely inspired means to the Lord’s ends.

  13. Peter- Perhaps, but I do beleive the church is divinely inspired- yet that doesn’t mean everything the Church does is square in line with the Lord. Had I confused the Church with having my own deeply, profoundly personal relationship with God, it would have failed me. The Church is a vehicle for the Lord, not the Lord Himself. That’s what I meant.

  14. Tracy, thank you for continuing to share yourself with us in the various venues of the Bloggernaccle. No wonder you’ve been tapped as a guest by so many sites! You write beautifully and from the heart.

    You have taught me today. Thank you.

  15. Thanks Tracy. Nice perspective. It shows how you have progressed on a subjective level without making the claim that the Church somehow has anything to hide.

    Re George who wrote about the shock of learning that the church’s history is not the pretty picture that was presented to me, it’s probably worth noting for the benefit of posterity and google searchers, if for nothing else, that many Latter-day Saints believe that the church’s history is not not the pretty picture that was presented to [us]. To the contrary, it is a very beautiful picture indeed.

  16. the roots of my little mustard seed, since they have grown on a moving, tumultuous vessel, are flexible and very strong.

    This was my favourite part. Thanks!

  17. Thanks Tracy for sharing thoughts most of us have but cannot describe so thoughtfully. I live in the Mormon Corridor (though I’ve spent years outside) and find it difficult sometimes to relate and connect. I am in a bishopric and feel almost completely unable to share things I think are important. So I go home and find most of the rejuvination there–and from within. I just sit down with Thoreau or Anne Morrow Lindbergh (or Patricia Holland, one of my favorites) and unwind a bit.

    I find that if I try to help and love and serve in the Church, it makes up for what the institutional Church does not provide for me–at least right now. Someday I may find my way back to it. I have found that I do not need to conform to the cultural norms at all, but can still participate without being dishonest. I can go protest a visit to our city by the President and then just return home, knowing that there is virtually no one I could talk to about it in my ward. But that’s okay.

  18. Again, just to provide perspective for the uninitiated newcomer that might happen by: despite the harsh judgmentalism of many on this thread about “Mormon corridor” culture and inhabitants, it is a perfectly valid and equal subculture to any other, and it and its people are very fine indeed. Some of the commenters might feel more comfortable at Haight and Ashbury but let’s not lose perspective and take their comments about the “Mormon corridor” as anything but the same judgmentalism that many criticize when it emanates from a “corridor Mormon” with relation to their preferred subculture. At least, postmodernism assures us that corridor Mormon culture is every bit as valid and valuable as Haight and Ashbury or South Bend or whatever else subculture.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    John, it’s OK, I don’t think you need to take such remarks personally. You’re valid.

  20. I hope I didn’t give the impression I was judging in the OP. I’m not. At all. Only making observations about my own journey- and would be just as out of place in the Haight as I would be in a fundamentalist town somewhere in the bible belt.

    All of different ways Mormonism mannifests are valid- that was my point. My own journey is just as valid as any other, wrought from my own experiences and my own imperfect life.

  21. Tracy, my wife and I have had a similar kind of experience moving from Boston to SLC. We had become accustomed to a Mormon culture experience that matched our personal faith walk, filled with food for the mind and for the soul and for the social conscience. Here in “corridor Mormonism” (where we have developed deep affection for john f and his coreligionists), we have been pressed to consider our relationship to a different instance of Mormonism, a different ward and community personality, a different set of priorities and standards.
    While recognizing this new cultural setting as vital and compelling in many respects, we have also experienced “transition pains.” This is an ongoing dialogue for us, and I find that I am energized by the differences with this new environment, though I battle with nostalgia for our old life.

    Perhaps another way to summarize the core theme in this thread is that the divine community is greater than any given cultural representation of it, whether that be mass-produced Mormon artwork, needlestitching or bowls full of plastic grapes (we have chosen hollowed quail eggs instead) or shelves full of academic works and cutting edge fiction with colorful shirts untucked and ties donated to the Goodwill store.

    The great difficulty, particularly in bloggish settings, is to recognize the divine community animating its various instances and to avoid facile criticisms of those who differ (oh please let us not require postmodernism as the infrastructure of our tolerance). The moment of self awareness critical to maintaining one’s own faith is only the first step. Then comes loving and embracing the people who frame the Proclamation on the Family and have portraits of church leaders hanging proudly from their walls.

  22. And may I echo john f’s comment about the beauty of early Mormonism? The more I explore in our early history, the more captivated I am by the stunning complexity, humanity, and divinity of the early Mormon experience. Sure it ain’t a bunch of neo-Victorians in starched business suits (can they be starched? i don’t wear them and haven’t a clue), but it’s something vastly more beautiful and exciting than that. Just because current official attempts to smooth relations with outsiders and maintain a certain theological coherence in the face of perceived sectarian and secular threats have deemphasized the richness of our history does not mean we shouldn’t be able to find great pleasure in our past.

  23. simply lovely!

    you know, as a convert who married into “good ol’ pioneer stock,” i have to admit that most of the culture for me is only read about, never experienced. we’ve always lived in areas with a high lds concentration (well, except for the east coast stint) and we’ve just never experienced much of what i see posted here. the safety valve thread was the first time i’d heard of “needing” specific pictures or artwork or proclamations in the home or about people really believing that soda was sinful.

  24. Prudence McPrude says:

    I believe BCC should modify its comment policy to strictly prohibit any criticism of kitschy Mormon arts and crafts. Such things are fundamental to the faith, have supreme importance in Mormon theology, and any attempt to downgrade their value should be viewed as heresy!

    I volunteer to cast the first stone at the heretics.

  25. Prudence McPrude says:

    Tracy — Just so you know, any mention of the doctrine/policy distinction in a post usually triggers an obligatory monologue from yours truly as to the problematics of how we Mormons typically employ this distinction. I’ll try to restrain myself this time.

    And I quite enjoyed your post.

    But I will say this: Like you, I also dislike many aspects of Mormon “culture.” Sometimes, I suspect my dislike is more a function of snobbiness or presumed sophistication on my part than anything else, but sometimes Mormon life is just really darn annoying.

    However, some of what I don’t like about Mormon life, while “cultural” in a sense, is not “just” cultural. For example, like many other “liberal Mormons” (whatever that means), I don’t like the extent to which obedience to authority is generally touted as a virtue, while skepticism of authority is discouraged. I think both concepts have their place, but I think we often put undue emphasis on the one at the expense of the other. It’s a balancing act, and I often feel that we are, collectively, a bit out of balance.

    Now, it would be easy for me to describe this aspect of Mormon life that I don’t like as “cultural,” but I think that would obscure things a bit. Truth is, Mormonism’s doctrinal emphasis on authority and obedience inevitably produces the effects in the “culture” that I find distasteful, and I think it’s important to be honest and up front about that.

    Not that this has anything to do with your post, I guess.

    Aaron B

  26. Tracy, you managed to say something that I have been unable to put into words these last six years since joining the church. Thank you so much. I love the shoe analogy and will use that the next time I get into the culture/doctrine discussion with church members.

  27. You know, I always thought Prudence was another one of Steve’s nom de plumes! (improper French grammar, I know)

    Anyway, I really didn’t intend for the post to be about bashing Mormon culturism- really, honestly, I don’t have a problem with a lot of the things that culturally define us a Mormon. It really was about how I realize I don’t NEED those things- that my faith is not about those things… and that I’m alright even if I choose to express my Mormonism differently than the majority of the people I know. (And I don’t even live in the intermountain west)

    Thanks Aaron B, for your comment- I can’t really argue against anything you have said.

  28. Tracy – this was a beautiful post. It is too bad that it turned up several negative comments on Mormon culture, but I think they missed your point.

    I agree with any mouse in #23. I’m from “good ol’ pioneer stock” and I live in the Mormon corridor, and no one cares a bit that I don’t have any Greg Olsen or prophet pictures on the walls. It really isn’t that big of a deal. If you enjoy the Mormon folksy stuff, go for it. If you don’t, no one blinks an eye.

  29. Tracy – I couldn’t have said it better myself. You are an exceptional writer. Yes, everyone has to find their own voice, you are fortunate to have figured that out early in your journey. My journey has been extraordinary. I, like you, have felt that the shoe sometimes is too tight. It’s during these times that I have to step back, pray and wait for the spirit to whisper that everything will be o.k. and the disillusionment subsides.

  30. Derrick is right let the spirit witness to you durning those moments when your faith waivers. No matter how you may feel about your fit in the Chruch, remember who leads this Church. When I returned to activity 6 years ago my new hometeacher said “Just stay focused on the Savior and no matter what else is happening at Church you will be alright.” When I’m feeling unsure and my faith is waivering I knee down and reach to Jesus Christ. He never fails me and the Holy Ghost comes to the rescue as was promised.

  31. Operative word: culture

    Life in Utah revolves around the culture of Mormonism and you would not believe the people who don’t know the difference between faith and culture.

  32. The other operative words: people/humans

    I have first hand experience with the number of people on the Wasatch Front that don’t know the difference between faith and culture. I grew up there in the small town of Roy outside of Ogden. In 1977, I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. My perception of culture broadened immedately.

    The problem was that I left the Church while in High School around 1965 because I felt like an outsider in my own ward. When I found, 35 years later, that I still had a testimony, I swore that I would not allow the so-called Mormon culture/people/humans drive me away from my salvation. For that matter, neither would I drive my self away. My focus became the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course this resolve is tested all the time but the testimony contiues to grow.

    Maybe alot of Mormons don’t understand the concept of being in the World. When the Savior returns he will be in the World doing his Fathers Will, if possible I plan to be by his side to help him.

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