Writing hard things.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde

I’ve been close to radio silent on the blog for the past couple of weeks, it feels like, but there’s been a reason for it. I’ve linked to the story when it broke in the New York Times, but the truth is I’m much more intimately connected to it than that.

I am a Mormon feminist. Or I was one? I’m not sure, it’s been a baffling few weeks on top of an already baffling decade. In one way or another I have been publicly and outspokenly at odds with the religion I was born into for a decade now, beginning when I arrived at university to find local leaders trying to organize volunteers in support of the LDS church’s Prop 8 campaign, which I staunchly refused to do. My personal religious experience has largely gone downhill after that.

I disagree vocally with the faith’s stance on LGBT people and issues, I’m unabashedly supportive for ordaining women to the currently male-only priesthood, I reject the teaching about gender and gender dynamics I was taught as not just often wrong but in some cases dangerously so. But in recent years (topped off by Kate Kelly’s experience, a woman I know, in addition to many other women in Ordain Women), my experiences with the faith and the people in it have gotten increasingly disheartening and even ugly. Things I thought I believed have been tested and found wanting, things I never believed have been proved. It’s been a decade of vertigo and unbalanced experience. I have longed to write about them, but felt utterly unable to express myself except to my husband or a few friends.

I’ve certainly never found a way to write successfully about my religion in this space. Perhaps it is because it’s so personal and I am not brave enough. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to reveal how deeply troubled I have been around it for so long – usually that only leads to people offering unsolicited advice one of two ways: to silence my doubts or to just leave. Neither of which are helpful, by the way. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so conflicted myself and have not been able to settle my own thoughts to my satisfaction and so could not organize them for anyone else. But I think at it’s base, the problem is I don’t know how to write about my Mormonism honestly.

I don’t know how to express what it is to love something and be ashamed of it at the same time. I can’t explain the feeling of wanting to be loyal to something that you feel, deep in your gut, is doing the wrong thing. I cannot describe what it is to belong to a people and a tradition that I disagree with in fundamental ways. I cannot usefully or concisely shrink 200 years of history into a cohesive narrative for the outsider yet. I cannot turn nearly 30 years of lived experience, 10 of it increasingly hard and painful to reconcile, into a blog post. I’m afraid that anything I write will be fundamentally inadequate.

Also, I am a coward. Typing this now, I’m terrified to think what the reaction of a number of people whose good opinion I value might be. Every time I have been open about my struggle with faith and relationship to it, I have paid a price for it. Friends have deserted me, leaders have punished me, and I have even worried about a job because of it. I am frightened to lose more than I have lost by being honest. Not only that, as followers of the news story have seen, there are other prices to be paid. Kate Kelly, a woman more faithful than I probably ever could be, has been cut out of the religion by excommunication. There is a long and troubled history in Mormonism of excommunicating feminists and for a long time I was silent because I feared the same fate, though I fear it substantially less these days.

I am tough but my struggle with disbelief and estrangement from my community over some very big disagreements has left scars. If you were to metaphorically strip me of my coverings, yes you would see a few deep gashes of massive religious doubt. But you would also see a thousand pinpricks of hurtful comments, ugly gossip, insinuation, and spite from members of my own community, for being “other.” You would see the shrapnel wounds from when a friend standing next to me was targeted with death threats for her feminism and I was too close to not feel some of the blast. You’d see friction burns from when people who loved me tried to apply pressure (lovingly, of course) to “fix” or correct my unorthodox opinions. You’d see a brow furrowed by a million doubts and shoulder grown round with the heavy weight of fear pushing down for 10 years. You’d frankly see some marks left from self-harm as I have punished myself for not believing hard enough or hoping strongly enough. I don’t want any more markings on my invisible skin and so I have often tried to cover it up by simply not speaking of it. I’m losing my capacity for silence.

There is so much I want to say about the religion of my youth, most of it good, but I cannot speak about it unless I can say all things, and some of it is bad. Some of it is quite bad. I cannot talk about one half of my spiritual experience without including the other. I want to be able to write why I stayed LDS so long in spite of massive misgivings and conflicts of conscience, and I want to write about how compelling the thought is of completely walking away – without having anyone weigh in on the matter. I want to write about the feeling of being caught in the middle. I’m not sure how to do so, but for the first time I’d at least like to attempt it.

Perhaps finally, I am learning to write hard things. I hope so, because I need to, everyone who writes does. I do not want to do it all the time, I admittedly prefer humor and lightness and think I’m better at those. But I am learning the painful lesson of the value of the hard things and though it’s difficult, I’m glad for it.

Weigh in, writers. What made you able to write about the painful, the rough, the unappealing, the unbelievably personal, and the hard?


31 thoughts on “Writing hard things.”

  1. Well, anonymity helped me write about it. Ha. But in all seriousness, when I’ve spoken up about difficult or potentially hurtful things, it’s been for the same reason you’re doing so here–because I’d reached a point where I felt the price of staying silent was greater than the price of speaking out.

    I feel fortunate to have grown up in a church I largely agree with. Despite my light treatment in our (beloved) e-mail exchanges, I do pay attention to what the Episcopal church believes and does–and several years back, during our little moment in the spotlight surrounding the appointment of the church’s first openly gay bishop, I was alternately proud of the official outcome and disheartened by what a rift it created in my parish. People left. It was definitely divisive.

    My parish is definitely a huge part of my community, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to walk away had the outcome not been what it was–but at the same time, I’m not sure I could have stayed had the church voted to keep LGBT clergy out of the higher ranks. Seeing what a personal struggle you’ve had reminds me not to take for granted the fact that I just happened to end up believing the same things my church does.

    Articulate and insightful post, by the way. Hang in there!

    1. I’ve loved our exchanges on this because I’ve wondered for years what it’s like to be part of a parish or church community that believes the same things *I* do. But we can relate on the “disheartened” part of division.

  2. This is such a beautiful post, Cadence. I can only imagine how you feel and how scary this is. I hope you will keep writing about it, even if (especially if?) it’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, because you write beautifully. I think this sentence captures it all: “I don’t know how to express what it is to love something and be ashamed of it at the same time.” I think many, many people relate to that, not just Mormons but countless others (including myself) who feel conflicted about their faith vs religion. Big hug to you, and as Katarina said, hang in there. xo

    1. Thanks, Niva. I’ve been surprised at how many people are relating to something that felt like such an internal or community centric struggle. Pleasantly.

      1. It has hit a nerve. btw, have you considered adding the category “religion” to the post? This feels like the kind of post that could get freshly pressed, if you’re interested in that. It’s really, really good.

  3. I’m not a Mormon, but I have been following this story for the past few weeks. (I’ve been thinking about the issue of women and religion for a while now, so this issue was fascinating.)

    I feel sad for Kate Kelly and her family. I also feel sad for the many wonderful Mormon women who clearly love their church and are afraid to speak the truth in love. It is truly heartbreaking.

    My thoughts and prayers are with Kate Kelly, her family, and everyone hurting as a result of this. (Our Lady of Consolation and St. Teresa of Avila, pray for them!)

    I hope that you find peace whether you choose to right about your ideas or not.

    1. Thank you for the kind words and thoughts, I’m so glad the story isn’t as insular as I feared and other people can relate to it.

      1. I don’t think there’s anything insular about the story. I’ll grant that most Americans (maybe even most Mormons) have heard of it, but I think that Americans who do hear about it (especially American women with a religious background, any religious background) can recognize many elements of the story.

  4. I’m a long-time reader, though I don’t come here as often as I’d like.

    As for the subject at hand, I can relate, albeit in a very small way by comparison. I was raised in the Catholic Church…which really means that at most my family went to Mass on holidays. I attended Catholic school up through my high school years. I have several misgivings about the conduct of the Catholic Church on so many subjects – not the least of which is the Church’s opposition to the marriage equality movement. I too, have been a longtime supporter of LGBT rights, and the opposition to allow people to marry whomever they love is just beyond difficult for me to deal with. Like you, my difficulty with my own religion has been particularly difficult over the last ten years. I have become rather estranged from my already tenuous connection to my faith. In fact, I have lately considered myself an Agnostic.

    But aside from the religion angle, I can relate to feeling like a coward for not being strong enough to write about “hard things”. There is always so much that I want to say on subjects that are not so fun and light-hearted. I am hoping that one of these days, I will be able to at least take some baby steps out into the light with difficult things that I have written much about privately.

    This is a lovely piece though. I do hope that you feel better dipping your toes into the proverbial water. Keep at it. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I keep saying this, but it’s such a shift for me (and others) to feel so alone in this issue, speak up, and realize that we are not. Here’s to being braver!

  5. I’m not a Mormon, but I think it’s really important to speak up for what you believe. You’re definitely not alone in this issue. I have encountered other feminist Mormons and even though I don’t share their faith, I am inspired by them.

    By the way, you might be interested in Emily J’s blog, The Bookshelf of Emily J. She is a Mormon, an academic and a feminist. I’ve been following her blog for quite some time now. She has written numerous posts and articles about tough things to write about, including feminism, religion and the realization that her father is gay: I Love You No Matter What. She also writes brilliant book reviews!

  6. As a former Mormon who left over Prop 8 and struggled massively with the challenge of walking away from 200 years of family history, thank you for saying what was in my heart.

    I promise it gets easier. Let the shame go away.

    1. Thanks for the weigh in, and the kind words. I’m really valuing the support and sincere words of encouragement and perspective. Working on the shame.

  7. I’m so sorry that you’re struggling so much with all of this. I’d wondered why you hadn’t talked about religion on your blog, since it is something you think and feel so much about. My thoughts and advise, for what they’re worth, are these: keep your heart open, stay close to God, and continue to seek for and follow promptings you get for your life and your family. God is perfect; people aren’t, in the church and outside of it. If there are people who have really hurt you, know that you can rely on the Savior to help you forgive anyone who hurts you. I know, because I’ve felt the power, love, and release come to me when I’ve truly had to rely on Christ to forgive someone I never could have alone.

    I feel that living the gospel and developing faith throughout our lives require us to question, to ask, to think, to ponder, and of course a whole lot of prayer, study, and taking steps into the darkness before the light comes. So keep asking, keep questioning, keep praying, and God will help you find your way through. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that God is real, loves you, and will help guide your life.

    Love you guys!

  8. Brava to you, Cadence. I love your work and your spirit — and know that this was probably a terrifying piece for you to write and to make public. It’s terrific. I’ve been wishing you would dig a little deeper in your posts and this is a great example of how well you do it.

    It would be very painful to stay faithful to a religion that I felt ashamed of. I’m an Episcopalian — and one of the many reasons it feels like home for me is the “three-legged stool” of scripture, tradition and reason. I would never be able to sit in a church (or other place of worship) that did not fully embrace women in positions of leadership and gays.

    I write about dark, difficult stuff for a few reasons. Selfishly, it can help me make sense of it for myself. It can be cathartic. It also creates community — as you are seeing here. Many other people struggle with the same issues we do, yet we have few safe places in which to discuss them civilly and supportively.

    1. Thank you! It was scary to write, but it’s been amazing to see (most of) the reactions to it. As you say, it creates community and it’s really lovely to go from feeling lonely or frightened to something far warmer. Like opening a door you thought led to a dark room and discovering a whole new country on the other side. Several of my good friends are Episcopalian, including Katarina, and we’ve had a lot of fabulous conversations on the difference experiences between faith traditions.

      It was very painful to stay, trying to make excuses for cognitive dissonance, especially over gender and minority issues. Jeff and I used to attend services and come home joking that if ever we had kids, we’d have to debrief them after every meeting to sort out the good from the BS. Over time, it has lost all its humor.

      1. I think this is a very cool — and powerful first step for you in a direction that will both create community for you and sharpen your professional focus. I love your lighter posts, but they don’t really reveal your values, principles or deep feelings — which you write about very well indeed. Proud of you!!

  9. This is by no means close, but the only thing I could think of was when I’ve written about Carter’s health issues and I’ve lamented openly. I’ve been worried about being seen as weak, or complaining about something as trivial as “food”. However, it has been very healing for me to be open and share. I hope it will be the same for you. Sending much love across the pond. Hugs!

    1. Thanks lovely, I’ve always admired how open you’re able to be about Carter’s health issues – and how you’ve charged in to fight for kids like him. You’ve made being both vulnerable and strong an art!

  10. 95% of the people out there with an opinion know nothing of the Priesthood of the LDS. Fact is, they know nothing of the LDS. Walking away from the rod is courageous only to those people. You are in charge of your life.

  11. I have many thoughts. I’ve tried about 6 times now to craft the response I want to write…and I’ve given up now. Probably because I am also a coward. That is all.

  12. I write about the things of my heart because I need to and because those are the posts that seem to hit home the most for others. Questioning is important and talking about your misgivings openly is even braver. There are many things I have yet to write about because I am not brave enough to face them. On the other hand, it seems like any time there is a strong opinion than others take it as an insult or that I do not love them. And then I read posts like this and wonder how in the world to reach out to you and tell you you are not alone despite our difference in opinions. Just because we may see things differently does not mean I do not care very much about you and want you to be happy and feel loved. Perhaps you writing about it may help me understand how to make that bridge?

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