Thursday, June 02, 2022

Falsehoods that Trip us up

 There are a lot of falsehoods that float around modern thought, and sometimes they embed themselves as the foundations of ideas that lead people down really strange and sometimes damaging paths. Often the idea is never questioned, and the direction it sends you is not good.

Some of these ideas I've noticed:

*People are born perfect, just the way God intended them to be. 

While this is appealing, saying we need to embrace exactly what we are and never change, it's not true. We're born mortal. This is not our final condition or state. What's more, this idea is really hurtful to disabled people. What it says is that God intended us to be in pain all the time, and that our perfection includes pain. It's important to accept who you are and what condition you are in, but it's also important to understand that mortality is temporary, imperfect, and designed to include flaws. If this was perfection, we would not need resurrection.

*People are the best judges of what is good and right for themselves.

This is flattery of the kind Korihor uses. People are notoriously bad at judging what is good and right for themselves. That's why we need commandments. And prophets. And prayer and revelation and inspiration. And laws, including basic traffic laws. We are inherently selfish and driven by base urges. Left to ourselves, people tend to be selfish, addicted, lazy, etc. We are easily motivated by immediate, temporary pleasure for ourselves. Easily motivated to cover pain instead of remove the source or heal the wound. Easily driven to never learning, never changing our ideas. Left to ourselves, we judge that we should eat sugar, drink alcohol, do drugs, sit around and be entertained, go with the crowd, avoid education, waste time in silly frivolous hedonistic vain pursuits. We fight, we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. We cannot take ourselves as the best authority on what's good, right, and best for us. We are woefully inadequate judges of what's good for us. We need someone who knows more and who has our best interests in mind, like God.

*God doesn't actually know what will make certain groups of people happy.

God made ALL of us. We're all His children. He has greater vision and understanding of who we are collectively and individually. He knows us personally. He really does know what can make every single person the most happy--way better than we do, and with an eye toward an eternity that we do not comprehend.

*Living "right" is supposed to be easy and comfortable. We shouldn't have to give up anything or change.

In fact, God requires sacrifices from all of us. Living is not easy and not comfortable because growth requires stretching and working hard. Easy and comfortable is not the way to grow and become. And to get the greatest blessings, God requires great sacrifices from people. All people. We all have hard things. We all have to do hard things in order to get the best that God has to offer. The way it not strict and difficult just for some people, but for everyone. Stricter than we want, but the blessings are greater than we can imagine. But we get to choose. Maybe we don't want to sacrifice for those blessings--or don't want to sacrifice what's being asked. Maybe it's not worth it to us. God respects our right to choose that.

*Marriage is primarily about fairytale falling in love, romance, chemistry, and magical kisses (and especially about great sex).

This corruption of the idea of marriage is appealing, but not real. Marriage is about partnering with a best friend to go through life together, solving problems, facing challenges, being a family with each other. It's about respect, and love of a deeper kind, profound devotion, friendship. Flirting and falling in love and kisses are all choices to make and skills we cultivate to make marriage more fun. They are not the foundation of marriage. Marriage is not something that happens to us, swept off our feet and love and happily ever after just magically. It's something we do, something we choose. It's incredibly valuable, satisfying, important, and wonderful. But if you're looking for a fairytale, you're looking at the wrong things. (And yes, sex is part of marriage, but sex is a skill and a choice as much as anything--it's not something that you can't control or change, and it's not magic, either.)

*We understand the afterlife, exaltation, resurrection, and even what we are.

Really, we have no clue. No clue at all. We're trusting God on this one. We like to say that certain characteristics we have are immutable and will never change, even in resurrection. But we don't even know what manner of beings we are! We have no idea what resurrection actually consists of, or what exaltation looks like. We can't even comprehend eternity. Like, at all. We really don't know what we're talking about on this one. We just take it on faith, trusting God can work it all out. 

*Disagreement means hatred, and hatred is a good reason to kill yourself (but don't because I will love you).

This is outlandish, but I see it all around. Ironically, usually it's coming from the people who are supposedly your "friends" saying things like, "You don't have to kill yourself because they disagree with you/dislike you. I will love you as you are." This actually plants the idea of suicide in someone's mind, and suggests to them that it's an option while simultaneously deflecting the blame for the idea from your "friend" to the person they are anxious to define as your enemy. This is especially dangerous because planting the idea of suicide is the first step toward suicide. This kind of "helpful" language is profoundly unhelpful. Additionally, it's a wormy way of getting in to define your thinking for you. When they say "I will love you as you are," they usually proceed to engage in flattery ("You are perfect and don't need to change ever"), and then to define what lifestyles and behaviors to need to engage in to be accepted by them.  ("Don't kill yourself if they hurt your feelings by telling you how to live to be happy--I love you; let me tell you how you should live to be happy instead, with a heavy dose of flattery.")

I'm sure there are many, many, many more falsehoods that we base actions and ideologies on. That seems to be the name of the game! 



Monday, February 07, 2022

Most common concern I hear from abuse victims is "What is normal? Am I being abused?" Thus....

In a relationship....


Not normal

Your partner wanting to know where you are

Being tracked by your partner (is through your phone or a hired person)

Telling your partner what you're doing; coordinating schedules and plans

Having to ask permission to do things; your partner controlling all schedules and plans; having to get approval to do things

Taking care of your personal needs (showers, eating, bathroom, health care, medication, etc) yourself; supporting your partner if they need it, and asking for help if you need it

Having to get permission to take care of personal needs (like shower or eat), your partner criticizing or demanding how you care for yourself; your partner denying you access to care, medication, etc., or interfering with care

Giving gentle, loving feedback--given and received pretty equally by both partners

Criticism, nitpicking, harping, frequent "correction" from your partner; explosive behavior, anger, blaming you, or tantrums if you give feedback to them

Saying or doing something mean or stupid on occasion, followed by apologies and sincere and largely successful attempts to do better (both partners do this sometimes, but not super often)

Your partner frequently doing mean things, apologizing only that you're angry (never for what was done), and making no sincere or long-lasting attempts to change even if there is lip service to the idea or a few days of better behavior; you never being allowed to make a mistake or do something stupid or mean without dire consequences; your partner mocking or punishing you for feeling sad when they are mean

Disagreeing or feeling angry at your partner on occasion (both partners, but not super often)

Being yelled at, shouted at, insulted; violence in language, demeanor, or behavior; frequent or constant disagreeing with you (but you not allowed to disagree with them);your partner always having to "win" the argument; feeling compelled to let your partner have their way out of fear, exhaustion, threat, or coercion

Feeling afraid of your partner

Consistently feeling deflated or sad or smaller after interacting with your partner

Asking questions to further understanding (both partners, as often as needed)

Gaslighting; frequently or repeatedly being made to question your own impressions, ideas, perceptions, understandings or made to feel you are just plain wrong on a regular basis; not being allowed to question your partner on anything without negative consequences

Having friends outside the marriage

Your partner controlling or demanding to know all the details about your interactions with people; not being allowed to have certain friends; having to report every detail of conversations or activities

Deciding for yourself what relationships you want to have with your own family

Your partner defining or pressuring you to have a certain (having more or having less) relationship with your family.

Pet names that both people enjoy that are loving; lightweight, mutually enjoyed teasing

Name Calling, demeaning, mocking, little "put downs" as pet names that sting or hurt; cruel teasing; saying or doing mean things under the guise of "teasing"

Discussing why things went wrong

Consistently being blamed for everything that goes wrong, your partner never accepting any responsibility. Everything is always your fault

Supporting your partner in changes, accepting their support, making suggestions

Your partner demanding you change or defining exactly how you must change

Consensual intimate behavior that both people enjoy and consent to

Non-consensual physical touch of any kind, coerced physical intimacy, intimate behavior that you are not comfortable with, not feeling like you can say no

Discussing money and using money wisely

Your partner denying you access to money, giving an "allowance," or controlling what every penny is spent on.

Sharing the workload

Being forced to do all the work (paid or unpaid); getting frequent criticism or strict instruction about how the work is done

Occasionally doing something stupid that makes your partner cry, have hurt feelings, etc (followed by apologies)

Your partner saying or doing things that make you cry on a regular basis

Learning together and solving problems together

Lecturing, demanding, controlling, manipulating, mandating, etc.; alternately, refusing to communicate about problems or engage in mutual problem solving; demanding you solve all the problems; criticizing how the problems are solved

Physical contact that is mutually desired and pleasant for both partners

Hitting, pushing, throwing things, other violent contact; alternately, withholding physical contact in order to punish or control the other person

Generally speaking, relationships should be between two independent adults who have mutual respect and mutual freedom within the relationship. Everything is cooperative, supportive, on equal footing, honest, kind, and loving. It is NOT NORMAL or HEALTHY for one person to be dominant in a relationship. One person should never have control or be in charge of the other person. No partner should ever feel afraid of the other. No couple is perfect all the time--feelings get hurt, anger gets expressed, people do stupid things and need to be corrected in errors. But when there is a pattern of controlling, demeaning, demanding, or fear-inducing behavior, that is NOT NORMAL. That is abuse.


Friday, January 14, 2022

Encanto and Metaphors for Abuse and Healing

So many people in my newsfeed in the last 24 hours have complained that "We Don't Talk About Bruno" from Encanto is stuck in their head.

That one is a super heartbreaker as soon as you realize that Bruno was there listening to them sing about how they don't talk about him because he ruins everything--listening to them while he patched the cracks in their house to keep it standing, and loving them and wishing he could be part of the family still, even while they sang that song. It just kills me. The poor kid.

It's kinda dark, as my 14 yo said.

Actually, the whole movie is kind of dark. It’s a movie about abuse.

In fact, I can't get one particular scene from Encanto out of my mind.

First a little background so you can understand why. In Encanto, the magical house that helps everyone with everything represents family--family love especially, but family stability in general. And the house gets cracks in it, which are abuse. Each cruel word or behavior, each abusive attitude or action, causes a crack in the building. Enough abuse builds up that the house crumbles.

This is actually a really great metaphor. And it's true. Every person is sometimes mean or cruel to other people. That's part of being human. Each of us causes cracks, but increases of real love, apologies, fixing our mistakes, etc., erase those cracks and we can stay stable as a house/family. But an abuser causes so many cracks that eventually the house falls--and the individuals left have to decide if and how to rebuild.

In the movie, the victims can see the cracks, but the abuser makes them invisible to the outside world and even sometimes to the victims. Everything looks stable, and the message that the abuser deliberately projects to the public is that we are stable and perfect and beautiful, even as things are crumbling. The abuser doesn't even let the people in the family see how badly things are crumbling if they can manage that. And the abuser often won't acknowledge even to themselves that the cracks exist because that would entail acknowledging to themselves and others that the fault was their own--that they made the cracks.

And then when the building comes down, the abuser inevitably blames the victims, not themself--most abusers do not take personal responsibility ever. And most of the victims blame themselves for the collapse, even though it wasn’t their fault. But they’re trained by the abuser to always see pain as their own fault, so they see the collapse as their fault, too.

Okay, with that all in mind, here is the scene that is haunting me and hurting my heart:

In the movie, there is one family member (Bruno) who knows the abuse is happening because it hurt him so badly that he had to stop interacting with everyone else. He can see the cracks. He, the abuse victim, is working furiously to make his own mortar and patch all the cracks inside the walls, trying to keep the house from falling down on the other victims (for which he is demonized by the abuser and, because of that, the other victims as well).

This happens SO Often. The injured child (and the hurt child inside the adult they grow into) loves their family and frantically tries to make all the cracks better as if it is their fault or within their power to fix the breaks and make things okay. But they are just a child. They can't fix these things. They didn't cause these things, and their attempts to repair the damage don't do anything because the abuser keeps abusing. And it's not their job or within their abilities to fix each little crack. But they feel like it must be, and they give their all to trying to address every little break.

That's the picture that haunts me. A poor hurt child, rejected by everyone at the abuser's insistence, frantically trying to invent mortar and fill the cracks to save everyone else in the family and maintain the existence of the family--to fix the brokenness as if they can and as if it's their job to do so. This is deeply painful to think about.

The image seared in my mind of that scene has driven me to tears, and I woke up multiple times last night thinking of it and all the abuse victims trying to patch the cracks to save something that is trying to break them. This is every abused child who is hit (verbally or physically) and says, "I'm sorry I'm sorry" as if that will fix things, when they have nothing to be sorry for. This hurts.

It hurts because I know this child.

In fact, Bruno is not the only character in Encanto who is a perfect avatar of a defensive adaptation to abuse. The characters in Encanto are mostly actually adaptive identities that abused people take on to protect themselves. Each of the "gifts" is actually something people do to survive abuse in real life, and each of them is highly effective in an abuse situation but it maladaptive in a healed, healthy life.

You have:

*The character who feeds everyone and tries to heal their wounds, but still can't escape. They bury themselves in taking care of people's bodies.

*The character who has to modulate and deny their own feelings in order to try to control the "weather" in the home.

*The guy who can see what's going to happen and tries to warn others, but also feels like they are hurting everyone else and people would be better off without them "causing trouble" and so they become "invisible" to protect everyone else from raising the ire of the abuser.

*The person who is hyper-sensitive to things going on around them so they can know as quickly as possible what everyone is thinking and saying and judge what to do--but can't really be heard for themselves even while they hear everything.

*The person who is a chameleon, who becomes everyone else around them and never can be comfortable as themself.

*The person who is perfect all the time so that wrath never falls on them, but at the expense of their being free to be human, make mistakes, or even have desires and thoughts of their own.

*The person who is extra strong, not for themselves but to protect the littler ones--the one who takes the beating to protect the smaller kids, or who feels like they have to guard and protect everyone and never get a chance to be vulnerable, sad, or even relax. This one is also the one in the story who feels like their worth comes exclusively for how they can serve others or what they do for others.

*The one who loses themself in communicating with animals instead of people because animals are safer.

And you have the one who is pretty much normal and not so maladaptive (has no gift) and so they just get the brunt of the emotional abuse.

Interesting, no?

These are all very common reactions. The less common reaction is Mirabel’s eventual confrontation of her abuser.

I think it needs to be made very very clear that most children subjected to emotional or other abuse (like literally every child in this family, even the adult children) will never and probably should never confront their abuser because 90+% of the time, those abusers will not humbly turn and change, but will double down and abuse more often and more viciously. And when the family breaks from the abuse, they will blame the victim, not take responsibility. 

        It's a false narrative (and potentially a dangerous one) that abused children do and should confront their abusers. Sometimes a confrontation is important, but not always, and it often makes things worse—and it rarely makes things better. The work Mirabel did freeing her siblings and starting them on the path toward healing was much more realistic (although sometimes trauma must be healed in separation, even of sibling victims).

Also, it needs to be stated clearly that children are not responsible for healing the trauma of their parents. Parental trauma can and often does lead to abuse of children--but the children are not supposed to be the ones who shoulder the burden of healing. We are each responsible for our own healing and for our own behavior toward our children. If we need help, we turn to professionals or to Jesus (or both! Yay for both!); we don't put that responsibility on our kids or grandkids to fix us.

It’s also important to remember that someone going through something traumatic might explain but it does not justify or excuse abusive behavior. Past trauma does not erase the consequences for the abuser or the victim. 

Now, I'm not a professional therapist, but I have supported a lot of people through healing from abuse. So I've been around the subject a lot and have done a lot of research in trying to help loved ones and navigate complicated landscapes.

One of the things I've learned is summed up perfectly by Encanto: Every abused person has to move from "I love my family and we're great" (Mirabel's first song in the movie—promoting and embracing the abuser’s version of “family”) through "Actually, Wow that hurts" (sitting in her room acknowledging her reality) to "This is actually not okay" (cracks that she can see and she realizes others are feeling, too) to "it's not what she does--it's what you do" (what Bruno says to Mirabel to tell her she has to act if she wants to change things; she can't wait for someone else to change) to "build a new house on a better foundation" (last song in the movie). The movie is actually really brilliant in a way that it gives us the words and metaphors that are needed to talk about this and help people understand it.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that the person no longer loves their family at the end of the process. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. That outcome is very much an individual thing, but the journey itself is remarkably similar in all the people I’ve interacted with who need to heal from abuse. 

Healing from abuse isn't a moment--it's a journey. And it's a consistent journey that includes those steps every time, for every person, usually in that order, although in their own ways. 

Sometimes the last part, building a new house, includes members of the broken family, but sometimes it doesn't--at least not in the same way with the same relationships and dynamics as before because of the realities of what it means to build a new foundation and a new structure that works better and protects you. 

Bruno got a good way through that journey, but he tried to repair the old house instead of building a new one--and the building of a new house is vital to healing. You can't keep living in the old abuse and still heal. You have to build a house on a new foundation if the old foundation is broken, and in abuse situations, it absolutely is (no matter how much the abuser denies this). This is not to say there is no contact ever again with family members; it's just to say the person healing gets to define how their new house is built and on what foundation--the broken family, and especially the abuser, has no say in this. Even other victims of the same abuser don’t get to define how this works or what it looks like: Healing is individual.

What I've seen consistently in the journeys of the people around me is that people cannot heal from abuse—they can’t  move from living in the abuse to building a new house--until they go through the middle three steps. And, even though that’s an individual journey that looks different for every person, certain things are consistent among all the journeys.

1. To heal, people have to acknowledge that things are broken. Usually they have to be able to say the word "abuse" in context of their situation before any change can happen. As long as they are denying the reality or hiding in the illusion that all is well, they can't heal. 

2. They have to start to allow themselves to have and recognize their own feelings, and specifically to feel sad (about the way they were treated, about the broken relationships, about the mess and pain, etc.). 

and 3. They have to get angry (about how they were treated, about being hurt, etc.).  

In Encanto, we see Mirabel go through all three of these. She not only notices the cracks in the house, but tries to alert the others (remember, the cracks symbolize abuse). She feels sad. She gets angry.

Ideally, eventually people also get to a point where they can forgive and move on, as Mirabel did, because this gives victims the ultimate freedom from their abusers. Forgiving does not mean things go back to the way they were, though. Unlike in Encanto, this often (maybe even usually) happens without retaining an actual familial relationship with the abuser--sometimes a relationship can be fixed or rebuilt, but only if the abuser is repentant, and most are not. (I do actually know people who were informed or realized they were being abusive, and they changed and worked toward healing and growth and fixing their mistakes and problems. So it IS possible. I've seen it happen. Not as often as I've seen people double down, but it really does happen sometimes.)

Forgiving often includes acknowledging the challenges their abuser faced; it does not include denial, though. Denial is a sign someone isn't ready to heal yet.

Healing from abuse can't be imposed on someone. They have to be ready, and being ready often happens in fits and starts, here a little and there a little as a person processes what their experience was like and realizes it wasn't okay. It's hard for a lot of people to work from "But I love my family and it will break if I don't pretend nothing was wrong" to get to "It was wrong. I should not have been treated this way." (As Kate Bishop says in Hawkeye, "It's not okay. It was never okay." And, like Kate Bishop, sometimes love remains, but on new, different terms that include what is right and what is wrong. And sometimes people just move on entirely, no love remaining.)

In Encanto, Mirabel is not only on this journey--she enables others to take the journey, too. She takes time to approach her siblings as people. She makes them feel safe, and they open up to her and acknowledge that all is not well, express fear and anger, and then she helps them find a path toward healing, in part because she helps them see that she values them separate from their adaptive behavior/identity they are hiding in (their "gift"). She helps them feel sincerely loved and understood and safe, and also human, and supports them as they process and change and begin healing.

Mirabel helps her siblings do this, and she also has to do this. You watch her feel sad, acknowledge things are broken (the cracks she can finally see), get angry, and eventually come to a place where she can forgive (and her abuser is repentant, so they have a healing journey together for a happy ending).

Still, despite Abuela being repentant, you’ll notice that the house, at the end, recognizes the source of the love—the magic—is Mirabel, not Abuela. Mirabel has replaced Abuela as the one who can open the door to family—she is the new head of the family. Even though Abuela changed, there are still consequences, and the family cannot be rebuilt on her terms or under her control and guidance. The family can only heal with someone else in charge.

What can you do to help someone going through all this?

Don't be afraid of their abuse. Don't shy away from their reality. Don't flinch when they need to tell you what they've been through. Let them talk.

Listen listen listen, and don't judge them for feeling sad, angry, or needing to build a new foundation without their abuser.

Love them for who they are, outside their adaptive behaviors/identities. Everyone needs to feel valued and loved. Love is very healing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

On How Christmas is uncomfortable and what I'm going to do about it.

     I used to love Christmas. I loved it because lights are beautiful and because there is something magical about snow before you get bored with it, and about presents magically appearing, and about the house being cozy and full of good smells. I loved the music and the ambiance and the everyone being warm toward each other.

    And then somehow I ended up being in charge of putting up the lights, and the snow became more of an impediment than a beauty, and suddenly I was the person who had to make presents magically appear (usually with no budget except what others generously donated), and if the house was going to be cozy and full of good smells, that was on me. I had to make that happen.

I realized that Christmas had been magical because of my mother. SHE was magical, not Christmas. (She still is, actually.) And now I am the mother, and I have no idea how she did that. The entire season, until after the presents appear, is one long stressful imposition on my time and health. And because Tim is making Christmas magical for everyone else's families (using his voice), I'm usually making the magic at home all by myself for the great majority of it. And I'm not very good at it. I'm terrible at decorating. I can't bake cookies and shop for presents at the same time and I don't have energy to do them sequentially. I don't do Christmas cards. I can't find our stockings....And at the best of times I can barely keep on top of the most important of the household work for keeping ten people alive without a holiday interfering.

On top of the practical difficulties of making Christmas worthwhile, I have also grown increasingly uncomfortable with the jarring mismatch between how we celebrate Jesus's birth and who He is and what He taught. Despite overly energetic and unconvincing attempts to justify these things and connect them to the Savior, there is nothing about Jesus in Christmas trees, Christmas lights, candy canes, gingerbread houses, stockings, Santa, elves, glass ball ornaments, tinsel, holly, ivy, mistletoe, wassail, turkey or ham dinners, candles, presents, colorful wrapping paper, decorating literally everything, snowmen, jingle bells, sleighs, snow, fireplaces, hot cocoa, snowflakes, penguins, the Grinch, Scrooge, pajamas, reindeer, glowing noses, magical hats, cookies.....shall I go on? You get the picture.

In fact, the most-quoted texts of the season are "A Christmas Carol" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which are both texts about repentance without Jesus. The most common pictures I saw this year celebrating "Jesus's birth" on social media were new jammies, with a handful of new assault weapons thrown in to "own the libs" and deliberately offend "our enemies" and increase division. Commercialism and stuff-worship are rampant. And the more I listened to Christmas music radio, the more strange it was that we sing "O Holy Night" as a screaming rock song (is -that- what Holy means?) and put "Silent Night" in a playlist with "All I Want for Christmas is You." It was literally mixing the sacred with the profane and then celebrating it and claiming it meant Jesus. "Last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away" is an awful way to honor the birth of our Savior. Not sure how Jesus feels about us singing about cheating lovers or holding up assault weapons to celebrate His birthday. 

Plus mixing a bunch of fake magical stuff in with scripture makes me worry: If we teach children that Santa is real--just kidding no he's not, and we pair Jesus with the same holiday, are we teaching the same message?

I tried to address this years ago by inventing a new holiday that we use to celebrate Jesus's birthday: White Cake Day. April 6 every year we have a simple birthday party for Jesus that parallels the birthday parties we have for our children. It's lovely. One of my favorite days of the year.

But it didn't solve the problem. Christmas is still entangled with Jesus for me, and not in a healthy, appropriate way. So we do celebrate Jesus's birth in an appropriate way, but what about the mess in December?  I can't just cancel it and say we don't do that without harming my children. And I loved Christmas once upon a time.

Pondering this problem, I realized that we, as a culture, have seasonal festivals for every season. Often we paint these with religious or patriotic themes, but really our actions show we're primarily celebrating the season, not the excuse for having the celebration. Easter is our Spring festival (which I have successfully separated into a dual festival: Saturday is celebrating spring, Sunday is celebrating Jesus's resurrection), Fourth of July is a Summer fest (we say it's about patriotism, but we are celebrating all things summery), Halloween is a Fall Festival (and most of us don't even pretend it's religious anymore--we just use the religious name), and Christmas is a month-long Winter Festival. 

Halloween is an interesting case study, actually. It's very parallel to Christmas: the name has religious origins, there is a strong imaginary magical beings component, and we engage in it as a culture for the joy of it without pretending it's religious at all.

I also realized that we, culturally, embrace celebrating ideas, often with non-religious festivals connected to religious origins. We celebrate romance with a holiday named after St. Valentine, but it's not about him at all. We celebrate Irish lore (and drinking) with a holiday named after St. Patrick, even though it's not about him at all. We celebrate Fall and scary things with Halloween, even though it's no longer about celebrating Saints. We also celebrate being thankful for Thanksgiving. They've all become pretty arbitrary and culturally defined, but void of actual religious meaning--and that has not made them less valuable. They are still things that help define us as a people, that bring us together as communities, that give us chances to do fun things and make good memories with our families. Not all valuable, useful, important things need to be overtly religious in nature.

And I realized that most of the things we use to celebrate Christmas are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. Having the whole family gather and wear matching pajamas is fun. Christmas trees are beautiful, and the ornaments in  many families prompt discussions of family history. Giving gifts is a wonderful, joyous thing. Making cookies together and sharing them with neighbors is fantastic. Grinch and Scrooge teach good lessons. Snowmen are fun. Most of those things on my list above are wonderful ways to make good memories and bond with your family. They are largely harmless or even good. I don't want to remove those from my children's lives.

And if we're okay laughing and talking about vampires and enjoying that lore for Halloween, what's wrong with enjoying the lore about Santa and elves for Christmas? They're the same amount of real. And it's the same amount of fun to talk about pretend things. I'm not opposed to playing pretend--so long as it's clear that we're playing pretend and that Jesus is not pretend.

I don't want to take the fun away. And I don't want my children to be isolated from their own cultural traditions. These are part of who we are. And they're not wrong or bad things. It's okay to embrace them. (Although I think the commercialism and money money money and things things things and me me me parts of Christmas are absolutely wrong and damaging.)

But I don't want to just completely abandon the Jesus parts of Christmas, just like I didn't want to abandon the Jesus parts of Easter. Those are the most important parts, and I don't want to leave those behind in favor of the less important but more prominent things. I don't want to give up on the nativity to embrace the winter festival. Seems like throwing out the precious things because they got mixed with the silly things--and that seems counterproductive.

I actually do love the Nativity story. I do love the creche exhibits. I love looking at a nativity scene and pondering the reality of it. I love the clumsy live re-enactments of Jesus's birth story (and I think Jesus probably loves them, too, with all their poor costumes and mishaps). I love reading Luke 2. I love watching the Church videos about the nativity. I love the Christmas messages about the Savior. I love the family time. I love the sacred Christmas hymns and carols. I love the awkward Christmas sacrament meetings where people present to Jesus and to us their talents, doing their best to offer whatever they have. The deeper meaning in that is so profound to me, even (especially) when the violin is slightly out of tune or the narration is read haltingly and with hesitation. This, to me, is what Jesus would love for his birthday. The service and the generosity and the giving are about Jesus. The families being together making happy memories are what Jesus would want.

There are sacred things scattered among the profane, and I don't want to lose those things. And I don't want my children to lose those things. But I can't bear to have them mixed with all the other things anymore. It doesn't work. It stresses me out, makes me feel dirty, prevents me from embracing the fun because it's inappropriate to pair and associate those things, harmless as they may be, with Jesus. We host dances, but we don't host dances on the temple grounds, you know?

So my new attempt to make Christmas new plan:

We're going to separate them. We are going to sift the whole lot of things into two different celebrations that happen close to each other: Celebrating the Birth of Jesus, and Having a Winter Festival.

We'll have a Nativity holiday that's all about the birth of Jesus where we do all the sacred things. My plan is to do this from the Sunday after Thanksgiving for a few days. We will decorate the house with nativities and other reminders of Jesus's birth during this time. We won't put up a tree or holly or mistletoe or any of the trappings of the winter festival until AFTER the nativity celebrations are done.

Then we'll have Christmas, which I'm going to think of as our culture's Winter Festival despite the religious origins of the name (just like Halloween isn't about saints and Valentine's day isn't about St Valentine). It's going to include all the "things"--presents, jammies, candycanes, grinches and scrooges, santa and elves, reindeer, silly Christmas movies, Christmas trees and trimmings and decorations, lights, decorating the house, etc. We're just going to embrace that we're celebrating winter the way our culture celebrates winter.

And if you take the superficial "oh we're celebrating Jesus" out of the picture, you start to see that we're doing other good things with Christmas and our winter festival. While we are not really celebrating Jesus (let's be honest--we're not and it's become gross to me to pretend that we are), we are celebrating hope in the darkness of winter, and family, and making beauty in the midst of desolation, and bringing light and warmth into a time of darkness and cold. We are celebrating choosing kindness, choosing family, choosing generosity. We're celebrating that light will come and that we can choose to not let our circumstances overpower and freeze our souls. We're taking time to notice people who are in need in the darkest, coldest days of the year and working to relieve suffering. We're adding beautiful things to our world when it's mostly dead and covered in snow. And we're having fun with magical beings and fun treats, same as we do for Halloween. We're making the effort to reconnect with family despite difficulty, and to be together with other people on purpose and with the goal of deliberately building, maintaining, and improving relationships and connections. We are bringing what nature is still green into our lives.

Christmas is a time to celebrate being good and adding good to the world. It's a time to remind ourselves that in the winters of our lives, there are things we can do to bring joy and hope. And those lessons really do apply to the hard times (to the winters of our lives)--when things are hard, we can choose to deliberately notice or surround ourselves with beauty, we can serve others, we can get closer in touch with nature, we can turn on the lights, we can add music, we can turn to family and other valuable relationships, we can rely on good traditions, we can make fun, we can eat treats--and all of these things help carry us through the difficulties. (And yes, I know that Jesus carries us through the difficulties even better. But the little things we do can have a major impact as well, and remembering what we do for Christmas, which is pretty well ingrained in our beings, can help us remember the list of things that help us through the winters of our lives.)

Oh, and, while we'll decorate at the beginning of the month, we're going to really celebrate our Christmas--our Winter Festival--from winter solstice (because that is a tangible, easily predicted date) to about January 5 because then the presents stuff will be over with at the beginning of the "season", so that I can enjoy it, too, and the performing season will have settled down, so that Tim can enjoy the holidays with us. It takes the pressure (and guilt) off me for not doing more before Christmas day. 

The kids heard me explaining all these ideas to Tim, and I got zero pushback. In fact, the kids were delighted with the idea of having a Winter Festival. They were even more delighted with the idea that both Anda and Tim both separately proposed that if we're embracing this as a Winter Festival, we are not bound by our own religious tradition. We can explore and embrace the good Winter traditions from many cultures (respectfully!) and time periods. We can enjoy cookies from Tim's ancestral homelands, and mythologies from mine, and traditional meals from his mission, and songs from medieval winter celebrations.

We can explore winter festivities and ideas and music and really just party and have fun because we don't need to try to keep it holy (and fail). The holy part is clearly defined and distinct, and that makes it okay for the rest of it to just be fun. 

And that is a huge relief to me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

AntiChrists in the Book of Mormon

 I have been working on a research project trying to find similarities in the rhetoric and techniques of AntiChrists in the Book of Mormon off and on for over a year, and finally decided to write up what I've learned. It was going to be a blog post, but it came out 27 pages long. I wrote it all and then set it aside, but recently read a few chapters of the book my brother is writing and I was inspired by that to finish this.

Since it's not practical to paste 27 pages of text here, I'll drop a link to the .pdf instead. Feel free to read or download. Or you can read it in the embedded copy below. 

Monday, August 09, 2021

Thoughts on Temples

 There was a lovely lesson on Temples in Relief Society Sunday, and I was too tired to comment. But I had some thoughts, so I'm going to share them here so my kids can have them (and whoever else).

The first thing I remembered during the lesson was in response to the teacher asking, "Why do we go back to the temple? What makes us go?" And I remembered a very vivid dream I had years ago while I was a missionary at a Temple Visitor's Center. I dreamed that masses of people were standing in front of a huge set of ornate doors. An angel was there giving them instructions, and the last thing he said was, "And when you go through these doors, you will no longer be families." The vast majority of the people shrugged and said to each other, "I never really liked you anyway," and when the doors opened, they thronged through into a new world, sort of dimly lit. But a small family looked at each other in fear, and pulled themselves out of the throng--Mom, Dad, and two small children. They pushed to a room on the side of the doors, out of the masses, and found the angel standing there. They said, "But we want to stay a family! Please." And the angel replied, "Wait here," and gestured at a couch. And I woke up understanding that that is why we go to the temple again and again. Because amidst all the millions of people who don't care, there are little families like that, sitting and waiting so they don't have to stop being a family forever. In the temple, we help those people (as well as ourselves) be with the ones they love forever.
I also thought how we often wish that we could be closer to Jesus, But He seems so very far away and unreachable. But, in fact, we can go hang out at his house, like we hang out at friend’s houses. Like, that’s super super cool! But we say “The Lord’s House” so often that it stops meaning, “Hey, come hang out at my house” and starts meaning “edifice of straight faces and whispering.” But we need to not forget that the temple is Jesus’s house and we’re invited to come hang out there–in the grounds or inside. That’s so amazing! Even if he’s not always at home, we’re still welcome. His servants are there and will let us in, show us around, help us enjoy the activities. If we let it become a building of stone and lovely furniture, or a quiet spot to be alone with our thoughts, we're missing a major (and amazing!) aspect of the Temple: It's Jesus's and Heavenly Fathers house, and we're invited to come on over and be there. 

I also remembered the day I did some research on the actual coronation ceremonies of Queen Elizabeth as part of an online class I was taking on the clothing of royal Brits through history. There was a unit on coronation regalia, and that led me to reading more details about actual British coronations. Like, what's the actual ceremony that turns a person from being a person into being a queen? Turns out the very public crown-placed-on-head bit is only a tiny part of the ceremony, and not the most important part.

In fact, the girl becomes the Queen through a series of private (and they consider sacred) and public ceremonies that endow her with power and authority to lead England. During the ceremony, the queen takes an oath (which included multiple separate covenants), prays at an altar, and she's ritually washed with clean water and then anointed with sacred oil (on forehead, hands, and breast while wearing a white dress), to symbolically cleanse her and to give her power and authority to run the kingdom, and she’s made a queen of the kingdom and a leader of the church, and she has different items and clothings added to her at different parts of the ceremony--and also before and after--to represent things (The Order of the Garter, for example, worn by royalty represented by a blue sash on the left shoulder, across the chest, fastened at the opposite hip, and the Royal Victorian Order, which sash is worn on the right shoulder; the sash of highest ranking is worn in the ceremony so there are not sashes crossing the chest in every which way, but one, worn on the shoulder that represents the highest Order). Some of it happens in a very small, intimate setting and some happens in a more public ceremony that includes language that is supposed to help everyone--Queen especially--understand the change in status, role, responsibility, and behavior expected. Bible scriptures are read. The Bible is placed on the altar after reminding the new queen that she is to follow the law of the Gospel in her life and decisions. There are tokens of various aspects of her new life as Queen exchanged with the priests who have authority over those things in ritualized actions and words, explained and then given to the queen, who sometimes accepts them (like putting on rings) and sometimes gives them back after receiving them. There's a lot there--you can read up on it. 

All of this helped me understand the temple better. The purpose of the temple is, in part, to endow us with power and authority in God's kingdom and Church. The ceremony educates us and also provides covenants that help direct our outlook and behavior--help us understand and succeed in our roles. Like the queen at her coronation, we are symbolically washed, we are literally anointed with oil--for the same reasons the Queen is. We have symbolic clothing, action, and education. And the point is to make us leaders in the kingdom (which, of course, means servants, not bosses, in God's kingdom). The priesthood is, in fact, called the Order of the Son of God. 

And, like the girl becoming the Queen, the ceremony ought to give us a different view of ourselves and our place in the universe and the Church, and a sense of gravitas and focus in our daily activities and in our bearing and behavior, because we emerge different than we went in, just like the queen emerges different than she went in. Of course, one major difference is England wants but one queen, and God wants all queens. (And kings, of course.) Another is that God's power is real; the Queen's is mostly symbolic. 

Anyway, thinking about all those things during the lesson, and it was lovely to ponder. 

And I just finally got an appointment to go back. YAY!

Sunday, May 02, 2021

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