The Writer’s Desk: Fear Not

About a year ago or so, in the process of following links here and there from a comment made by a friend of mine on Facebook, I happened upon a blog post by someone who was either officially declared as, or was certainly self-confessedly on the road to being, a Former Mormon. The post was all about the events leading up to being summoned to a Church tribunal and the tribunal itself. There were descriptions of the process and suppositions about the motives and intentions of the men involved, but, laying those details and other forms of editorializing aside, the thing about the post that intrigued me the most was the anxiety suffered by the individual telling the story. Perhaps intrigued is the wrong word to use here because, truthfully, I was somewhat confused.

Now, it has been some time, as I said, since I read the post, so I can’t say for certain that the person actually claimed to be filled with trepidation, or fear or even any level of anxiety, but that is the feeling I came away with. Even before I started reading the comments from other Former Mormons who praised the individual for the bravery exhibited in telling those pompous old men to stick it where the sun don’t shine, I got the distinct impression that there were significant amounts of all three of those feelings present in the situation. One comment after another, after another remarked on the courage it takes to put those insufferable Mormons in their place. Many of the comments contained uncharitable if not downright vicious characterizations that kind of turned my stomach. It was not a pleasant place to hang out. Eventually, I just couldn’t bear the weight of all that anger and vitriol and I left. And here’s what I took with me: What bravery?

Here’s the thing; if you leave a community because you no longer feel any loyalty or consideration for its tenets or purpose, why should you care what those who remain followers might think of you and your feelings? If you think the puffed up self-important old men who are leading a self-important puffed up old institution are all a bunch of idiots, why should their opinions of your opinions hold any weight with you? Standing up to these people requires courage only if you fear them or what they can do to you. There’s no bravery in rejecting, castigating, reviling or condescending to persons or organizations you so clearly disdain. It’s not brave to walk into a dark room filled with ghosts if you are sure that ghosts do not exist.

And here’s what this has to do with art.

As previously mentioned, I’ve written two plays wherein divine figures appear on stage and speak outside the canon. The premier production of Brothers closed a couple months ago, and I just got back from a short run of Stones down in San Diego County. A friend, and fan of both plays, came up to me after our Provo preview of this latest version of Stones and said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that you are very brave.”

“Why?”

“I’ve seen Stones three times now, and it has just occurred to me what an outrageous thing it is to put Jesus on stage in a completely invented situation with completely invented dialogue.”

 

“Maybe I’m just stupid.”

He laughed. And graciously disagreed.

Creating art of any kind requires–I think–a kind of fearlessness. Being afraid of what might happen to me if I put Jesus on stage would only keep me from doing the right thing…as I see it. And I think putting Jesus on stage is the right thing to do. As a Latter-day Saint, I profess him to be at the center of my life. I think that means I have to put him in the center of my art as well…as often as I can.

And I don’t think that’s particularly brave.

The jury’s still out on stupid.

This entry was posted in The Writer's Desk and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Writer’s Desk: Fear Not

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Really interesting post, Scott. How much bravery does it take to hate? How much bravery does it take to say, "No"? Obviously, some people think the church is so big and tough that it takes someone brave to reject it. And I guess I can kind of see that if one is part of the monolithic culture of Mormonism. Admittedly, growing up in a place like Rexburg, Idaho, it took no bravery at all to go to church, graduate from seminary, get your Eagle, go on a mission, etc. simply because that’s what the prevailing culture did.

    But if I really think about it, it takes a certain kind of courage to be a Mormon – to buy into it and live it. Frankly, there are days I feel it would be immensely easier (and more fun) to reject the church and just be completely worldly.

    By the same token, it takes bravery to create and to put yourself out there artistically. And there are days when it’s easier (and more fun) to just watch TV or do nothing.

  2. Because I am deeply involved in missionary work (still in weekly communication with missionaries my husband and I worked with in the MTC), I see the exit from church activity as the culmination of many sad events, usually including a failure to forgive on someone’s part. I think my own writing will ultimately reflect the place the Savior plays in my life, because I am who I am. The mandate to "invite souls to Christ", which is the missionary theme, makes anyone’s departure from a steadfast faith (even when the faith includes some doubt and cognitive dissonance) something I grieve. And I am married to a man who has sometimes sat in a disciplinary council. I know he approaches that particular assignment with tremendous humility and a lot of prayer. He is who he is, too.
    Thanks for a fine post, Scott.
    Btw, the comment above mine appears to be spam. Someone please delete.

  3. Melinda W. says:

    I’ve finished the first draft of a novel that has two priesthood blessings verbatim, and a repentance experience that reads like a conversion. I’ve heard discussions discouraging both of those plot devices. I don’t know whether or not I’d say it’s brave to leave those in; they’re necessary to the story, so they’re staying.

    I used to read quite a bit of the former Mormon stories back when I was struggling with my own testimony. I finally got tired of the anger and vitriol. It also seemed more admirable to find a way to believe and be peaceful rather than be cynical and angry. Quitting isn’t brave.

  4. "It’s not brave to walk into a dark room filled with ghosts if you are sure that ghosts do not exist."

    What if you grew up believing in ghosts, if your self-definition has been shaped to a great extent by that belief? What if you loved the ghosts, worshiped them even? What if you feel betrayed by their absence, betrayed by every story you hard from almost everyone you loved the most–which you can no longer believe to be true?

    What if the signs of these ghosts still live in your home–heck, what if the trappings of the ghost are what have made a place count as home all your life for you? What if many of the people you value most still believe desperately, passionately in the ghosts and will also grieve your new blindness to them?

    Leaving the church is not, I imagine, a simple cognitive light-switch for both people: you don’t just turn the belief off in your head and suddenly not care about anything you’ve been invested in. I don’t think leaving the church is a good idea, and I think it is very brave to stay, but even if it’s wrong, it’s got to take guts to leave. Are we really surprised if some people have to get drunk on their anger to go through the room of empty ghosts, if they resort to cruel stereotypes to fill the otherwise-haunting absence?

  5. I hope my comment is helpful and promotes understanding. I can see many levels of courage when a person leaves their community behind on matters of conscience, including those who leave the LDS church (or those who leave another church to join the LDS church!).

    People who leave a religious faith that has a strong sense of community find themselves separating from that community, a frightening, daunting prospect because human beings are social creatures. They risk losing family and friends. They may have learned over the years (for some, all of their lives) to give authority to leaders of their church, whether that’s a Mormon bishop or a bishop in the Catholic church. It can take a while for this air of authority to dissipate even after the former member stops believing intellectually in their authority. Standing up to that authority can take courage.

    There are quite a few historical examples of the courage necessary to stand up to the religious community of your birth for what you believe to be true: Galileo Galilei, Martin Luther, and I hope you would include Joseph Smith.

    Former LDS members often go through an angry, bitter stage similar to the grieving process (in fact they are grieving the loss of their community and Mormon identity). The angry stage is the most vocal and gets preserved in the amber of the Internet. Most go on to find meaning and edification outside of concerns about Mormonism, but you can’t read about that much because they stop talking about Mormonism at that point.

    Again, I hope my comment is helpful and promotes understanding and compassion.

  6. Wm Morris says:

    Wait, where’s the comment that James quoted above? And it seems like there were other comments on this post as well that weren’t spam that have disappeared.

  7. Katya says:

    William,

    The line about ghosts is in Scott’s original post, if that’s what you’re referring to. (And Moriah’s and my comments about getting rid of spam have disappeared, presumably because they don’t make sense out of context, although I’d still like more assurance that the spam issue will be dealt with.)

  8. Wm Morris says:

    Oops. My bad. I re-read the post looking for the ghosts statement but skimmed too fast — I should have used search. Thanks for the correction. In general, I think it’s better to delete the spam comments only and not the comments from regular commenters about them, especially if they say more than just "that’s spam" as it is part of the conversation even if a tertiary one.

    I do know that there was another comment on this post that got deleted, though. It was by someone named Andrea. Perhaps it violated the comment guidelines. And that’s another thing that would be good to have — a page of comment guidelines and a contact e-mail that is linked to from every blog post/page.

  9. Katya says:

    And now I have to own my mistake, as well, because I’ve been made aware of other comments not having to do with spam that were also deleted. I agree that it would be nice to have information about comment guidelines–randomly disappearing comments also lead to an unfriendly blog environment. (We’ll see if this comment sticks around . . .)

  10. J. Scott Bronson says:

    I understand that the process of working through a seperation can be difficult–even debilitating–but I was reacting to a specific situation where the discussion of that process, if it even occured, was never included. I know that most things like this in life are loaded with complications and multiple levels of concern and worry, but the story that was being shared dealt with a specific event wherein someone was telling the local authority, "I no longer feel that you have anything to offer me." Now perhaps I shouldn’t take that at face value, and should use my writer’s imagination to imbue the scene with more depth and emotion. But I did accept the blogger’s (and commenters’) statements at face value and wondered, "Then why should it matter that they’re rescinding the offer?"

    I never can give full voice to my thoughts with my first or second and even my third attempts to do so–which is why it’s probably a bad idea to have me as a blogger on a site like this–but I will endeavor to clarify.

    Since it is a hopeless effort to make people like the art that we create–we can only hope that we will find an audience for our work–it follows (in my mind) that it would be pointless to fret about the inclusion or exclusion of this or that based on the worry that some potential audience members may or may not be offended. Yes, we want an audience, we want to communicate, but we should forget about trying to decide who the members of our community are going to be; we just have to accept the ones we get.

    Yes, we could run through a whole series of what ifs, but those have to be dealt with individually as they arise. I’m talking about the kernal of the idea here: the community you’re a part of is there to nourish you, if it doesn’t, then it’s not your community–move on.

    And keep on moving until you do find the crowd that does nourish you and that you can nourish in return. And forget about the rest.

  11. Well said. There’s a whole story in moving on. For some whose identity is bound up in the relationships they’re leaving behind, the story is messy, charged with emotion, and paradoxically takes much longer than they’d wish. A really good comparison to make would be to a bad break up after a long term relationship. The relationship is over in fact, but it’s not really over… yet.

  12. Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury says:

    Something is happening that may be causing comments to be deleted that shouldn’t be. It appears that spammers have figured out how to insert their spam links and email addresses into the names and email addresses of real commenters, and when we delete spam, legitimate comments that are somehow connected by the spammers get deleted as well.

    I’ll notify our webmaster about this and hope that it can be fixed. If you posted a comment and it got deleted, please repost. And if you post a comment, and there is something saying that you are not yourself, but someone selling shoes or stationery or real estate, please understand if it gets deleted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>