Braving the Forks in the Road

By Margo Catts

Faith and religion are hard topics to discuss across differences of belief. We’re tender and vulnerable there, and hold our beliefs with terrible care. It feels safe to talk with people who we believe share our beliefs—or at least with those upon whom we find it easy to project our beliefs—when we can relax that grip just a little. In its own way, it’s also easy to talk with people we know don’t share our beliefs. Our guards are safely up, that basket of beliefs is held close, polite rejection mechanisms are ready for any direct challenge.

But, ah, then there are the people in between. The ones who share our beliefs…but not completely. Or the ones who used to share our beliefs…and then rejected them. The ones who know everything we do…and then a little more. How is it, exactly, that we can engage with those who are best equipped to do us the most harm?

Like many of you, I was devastated when I learned, one year ago, of the policy that formalized special conditions of church membership for LGBTQ adults and their children. This church has been my spiritual home for my entire adult life. It has provided the framework for my family. I have been blessed by service given and received. But on this my soul refused. Men who identified themselves as God’s chosen servants insisted that I follow one path. The tools of personal discernment I have always been encouraged to use to seek light and truth and love, to govern my daily walk with my fellowman, told me God lay down another. There was no way to walk both at once. The struggle to find my way called upon me to set down my basket of beliefs, reexamine all that I had previously taken on trust, and identify which items—if any—I should carry with me moving forward. The past year has included hundreds of hours of study, much prayer, many tears, and untold sleepless nights.

My struggle, while personal and important to me, is nothing special. It’s the same everywhere. Whether you are an orthodox Jew, a Muslim, a Christian, a Mormon, a Catholic, Democrat or Republican, or really, really into a certain kind of furniture distressing, the more tightly any group holds to a set of ideas as truth, the harder it is for people to love and help each other when their beliefs change. I have many dear friends who have stood by me through this transition, and in time I found safe places to examine information and process my thoughts without shame, judgment, fear, or correction, but it has been a deep disappointment that I found no such place within the institution I served for so long.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I want to believe we can do better. I want to believe we are better than our fear—which is what’s really the source of  all the trouble. Changing belief doesn’t have to divide us. There are many, many around us, also wrestling through the dark night of the soul, mourning faith undone, fearing changed relationships, and feeling alone. There will be more. They don’t want to be fixed. They want to be heard, loved, and accepted. They want to feel safe to express what’s in their hearts and minds without being marginalized, judged, labeled.

But we know why those things happen, don’t we? Changing beliefs in someone with whom you shared one heart and mind—or thought you did—are threatening and destabilizing, and imposing distance is simple self-protection. We start looking the other way. We avoid each other. We want to sort out what’s happening, but do it by talking to others. Anything but risk speaking directly to the people involved. Fear, on both sides of the relationship, ends up being the tectonic force that shoves us away from each other so that our paths seem to run along the edges of entirely different continents.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear.”                       (1 John 4:18)

So let me propose a deal to help us hold onto each other: If someone you love wants to discuss hairy things you don’t want to know about, you don’t have to. It’s fine. A person who loves you will accept the boundaries you set. But in exchange, if you draw a line, you need to extend love and trust to those who say that what’s beyond it—which you have not seen for yourself—is real, and is causing pain. They’re not experiencing the consequences of being offended or lazy or deceived, of wanting to sin, of not being committed enough, of seeking an easy way out. We all need to acknowledge that the beliefs we hold so tightly are really, truly, beliefs. Others can believe differently.

Acknowledging that reality can be huge. “I’ve seen that you seem to be going through something big. That must be hard.” Or for those whose beliefs are changing and who see the bewilderment among their families and friends, just “I see you at a loss of how to engage with me. That must be hard.” That’s all. That’s not awkward or frightening. That’s love.

Divisions created by fear can narrow and disappear when people on both sides acknowledge that both are seeking truth, integrity, and meaning. As fear drives us apart, perfect love pulls all paths together. Love that assumes the best. Love that believes God speaks equally to us all. Love that doesn’t just mouth the words, “I love you,” but says in word and deed, “I trust you.”

It has been one year, now, since the morning I woke to news that dropped me to my knees in tears, my basket of beliefs broken, the contents scattered. One year since the paths before me parted ways. I am changed, as I should be. I have grieved many losses, but am grateful for many more gains. I am wiser. My spirituality is deeper and more self-reliant. I hold my beliefs more lightly, more hopefully, and without fear. But from the beginning, I knew there wasn’t really much question about what path I would follow. My feet have to go where my soul demands. I cannot do anything else.

Trust me.

 

image by Margo Catts

8 Comments

  1. Lisa's Gravatar Lisa
    November 7, 2016    

    This is so beautifully written, and articulates the journey many of us have gone on or are going on since the release of the policy changes last year. Margo, you have captured the essence of what so many of us have felt. Even if we decide that the church is no longer a healthy place for us, this decision does not also mean that those of us who have distanced ourselves from the church do not still want to desperately maintain close relationships with believing ward and family members. However, all to often this proves to be very challenging. From my believing family’s perspective, we have removed ourselves from the eternal family, so our choices can not be validated because it would mean for them that they are giving up on us being part of that narrative. So they feel that they MUST reject our decision and try to fix us, which only makes us withdraw from them. From the disaffected perspective, we feel so bruised from the journey and we have such a desire to be understood, that when we feel rejected or that our intelligence or integrity has been questioned, we lash back. Both sides would do well to follow Margo’s advice and build loving boundaries of respect with the foundation of love, where we can maintain relationships without needing to disparage one another or prove that the other person is wrong. Love this Margo. Great Job. You are amazingly courageous and your writing resounds in my heart!

    • January 7, 2017    

      Thank you! I’m sorry it took me so long to come back and find the comments. Yes, the “sad heaven” paradigm is destructive. I so wish more could look at the people they love, recognize those people are earnestly seeking truth and integrity, and trust that God will support that endeavor wherever it leads.

  2. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    November 7, 2016    

    Hey Margo, I did not know you were going through this. My reaction to the announcement was perhaps somewhat like yours. For me, I chose to deal with it in a 1 Samuel 24 sort of way, but I can appreciate that others will have found that hard to do. If you ever want to talk about your experience, Lori and I are available. I’d be interested to know how you are doing and where you’re at with things. Religion is for our relationships and not the other way around. Religion is supposed to be a means of being connected to each other, emphatically, in healthy ways and for enduring periods of time — eons even. You have our email addresses. We’d love to hear from you. Be well. – Jim Phippa

    • January 7, 2017    

      I’m sorry it took me so long to get back and read the comments! I suspect comments awaiting moderation led me to think there were none during the first week and I haven’t been back until now. We loved lunch with Lori, and are anxious to learn when we can see you again. If I’m reading the 1 Sam chapter as you are, I feel the same way–I have no desire to harm the king or those who want to follow or sustain him, but I am finding the wilderness far more nourishing than the city. It grieves me that the teachings and culture of the modern church do hold so closely to Saul’s Old Testament idea that the people of the world are divided into two camps, marked by their loyalty to the king. After Jesus put so much effort into tearing those walls down, it’s tragic that they’re still keeping us from engaging with one another as true brothers and sisters. I’m so deeply grateful for your outreach and brotherhood.

  3. Rod Woodward's Gravatar Rod Woodward
    November 20, 2016    

    Beautiful thoughts, Margo. I’ve always respected your writing. I don’t know if you will remember me, but we were members of the same Branch in Riyadh. I knew your husband better because we had studied Civil Engineering together at BYU. While attending together in Riyadh, I was also going through a faith transition, feeling very alone and unable to talk about a lot of things I was discovering and allowing myself to think for the first time. In February 2015 I was summarily reléased from the Stake High Council after giving a talk on the new church essays and how we needed to be kínder and more egalitarian to our gay, minority, intellectual, and female members. I was sort of inspired by John Dehlin’s recent TED talk on being an LGBT advocate. I sensed that you were fully in at that time. I am curious to know how your husband has been affected by your journey. I have been fortunate to have a loving and supporting wife that went through the same journey at the same time, and being a convert, it was a bit easier for her. I got 100/100 on Bob Caswell’s Mormon Cred Scale over at Infants on Thrones. My struggle has been longer but feel that I have come out in a good place. You may be surprised to know of another couple in Riyadh that went through a faith transition and have since resigned their membership. I won’t put their names on this post out of respect for their privacy. Peace and blessings to you.

    • January 7, 2017    

      Of course I remember you, Rod! I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner, and will message you right away. I wasn’t notified of comments and haven’t been back to the post until now. I’m sorry to hear how alone you felt, and I’m sure you’re one of many suffering people around me over the years that I was utterly unaware of. Oh, what a difference it would make if we could talk to one another freely and truly bear one another’s burdens! It’s this tragedy I wish I could fix, as thousands more also do, to equally little effect. I’m so glad to hear you are well and happy, and look forward to talking more.

  4. November 30, 2016    

    Amazing post. Super well written. Great advice for those in and out. Those who leave and stay. Thanks for your clear thinking.

    • January 7, 2017    

      Thank you, Sam! Bless you for your brave, diligent, unceasing work seeking and sitting with those who suffer. I’ve been struck to see that among friends and family outside the church who learn of my experience, the universal response is some form of “Oh, that must have been so hard.” Among those inside? “Oh.” (pause) “Of course we still love you.” Somehow, the natural human response, to imagine and enter into the suffering of someone you care about, has been switched off, which should be a flaming red alarm that something is wrong and must be repaired. You’re calling it out, and loudly, as any hero would. Thank you.

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