The Only Label
The truth – evasive and bending out of the light. Almost within my grasp only to dance away faster than I can follow. Truth exists everywhere, but I realize I only find it where I bother to look. Once I find it I am momentarily excited, but then I become painfully aware that what I have actually found is only a fragment of truth. Until I can view truth through thousands of lenses at once it will not be seen. Instead of trying to find the truth I turn and focus on the lenses for it to be seen through. A wave of clarity washes over me. It isn’t about truth, none of it is. It is about the lenses the truth is seen through. Human eyes – individual truth, experiences, and understanding. Which makes me question how open to other people’s truth I am. I am not Lamanite, my mother says she is a Lamanite. Have I considered her experience as being completely different than mine? Do I honor her truth as I desire her to honor mine?
The beauty and variety in the human experience. There are many cultures, nations, families, and faiths. The most important of all of these are the children watching and learning from the actions and knowledge of those around them. The world seen through the lenses of each generation after generation. What was true for my Grandmothers generation is no longer true for my children’s. We do not stay in one place, but continue to grow. What was true for my mom is not true for me. Do my experiences invalidate hers?
My truth and view, Lamanites are a myth. More parable than anything historical. I personally view the Lamanite narrative as damaging, a tool of cultural genocide and colonization. So why then with all the harm and damage that has transpired upon indigenous people through Mormon history am I supportive and protective of those who choose to be Mormon? It is something I would like to explain, though am often grapplling to find the words to express it. So hopefully this will make sense. Please be patient as I struggle my way through this.
A little over a week ago I was speaking with a friend about my views. He was trying to be patient while I explained myself, and it took awhile for me to even explain a little of my views. He asked great questions and listened. I am much better at writing than having a conversation so it wasn’t pretty, but he was patient. I gave him two statements to try to make my stance clear.
The first statement I gave my friend was that I am vastly supportive of many in the ex-Mormon community who do amazing work. People who stand very clearly and openly on one side. I support their actions, believe in so many ways they are necessary, and I see immense value in it all. I have benefited from them personally when I was Mormon and transitioning out of the faith. I was lost and in pain, and the work of so many who have been labeled as anti-Mormon or apostate helped me when I felt like I was in deep mourning. How could I not be completely behind and supportive of such a community of individuals? They all are working to help those who have been or are just beginning to deal with a faith crisis. In many ways I view it as more than a faith crisis, but also a culture crisis. The pain individuals are in is immense, and the experience of leaving Mormonism is so much more complex than I could have imagined. It is impossible not to see the beautiful humanity in the ex-Mormon community.
The second statement I gave my friend confused him. I told him I was also vastly supportive of the Mormon community. The many who do amazing work while keeping their religion. People who stand very clearly and openly on the active Mormon side. More specifically those whose personal actions and words are ones of love, acceptance, and hope. I do not have to agree with their doctrine which was once mine. I do not – in any way – have to support their leaders who long ago lost my respect. I just choose to see the good in what many of the people do. Those who are amazing and kind. It is not their unique Mormon beliefs I see when I look at them, it is their humanity that stands out.
Regardless of what religion, culture, nation, or any other identity a single individual belongs to or claims – what it means to each individual can be completely different from one person to the next. Even when two people claim the same identity it can mean something vastly different. What it meant for me to be a Mormon was different from the person next to me. What life means to me now is different to those around me. It is easy to find differences that separate, but it is just as easy to find common ground. For example, to do that I had to accept that the lens I view the world through is different than my mom’s. She joined the church, served a mission, and was married in an interracial marriage all in the 1960’s. To say her experience as an Indigenous person was different from mine would be an understatement. Do I say that she is ignorant and refuse to honor her truth? Or is it I who is ignorant? Do I continue to look at our differences in belief, or should I look at everything we have in common? Is it possible to celebrate things in common when so much of the world is focused on differences?
Anyone who knows me well understands I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself, and every decision I make is not made lightly. Once I do make a decision little can deter me. So yes, I plan on supporting the truth of active members who claim the identity of Lamanite, even as I refuse it for myself. I will not dishonor those who have already been damaged by religions, politics, and racism by demanding they renounce their truth. Indigenous communities survived genocide, horrible labels, racism, forced sterilization, cultural genocide, children being taken from their homes, treaties being broken, and have been told stories about their people by those who don’t know their stories nor have a right to tell them. This happened long before Mormonism and continues today. The stories the people themselves handed down generation after generation has not been respected. I will NOT dishonor another Indigenous person who has found peace and community, by personal choice, in the Mormon community. It is through their lense that they have made their choice. Only they know what their many experiences have been. For example, my own mother found the church and was baptized at 19. At age 21 she went on a mission to the Navajo reservation. She then went on to BYU, eventually meeting my dad and starting a family. She dedicated her life to her chosen faith, and gave herself entirely to raising her children. I have had many conversation with her about her love of Mormonism and what it brought to her life. She finds so much peace in the Word of Wisdom, going to the temple, and priesthood blessings and prayer. I have known and watched her life and it’s struggles. So when she speaks of her love for Father Lehi, the Book of Mormon, and of being a Lamanite I will NOT dishonor her. She has fought hard to survive whatever she faced. To honor her I simply love her. I ask her about her life. I support her when she shares her faith. And when she asks about my current beliefs I share with her the ones that we have in common. I tell her of my belief in humanity and in loving one another. Her generation is not mine, nor is it my children’s. She has seen things in life that I never will, just as I will see things she never will. She has experienced a world that has changed, just as each generation does. But she is not just my mother, she is an elder. I will treat her with respect.
It is possible for me to love and respect others, while standing for my own truth. It is all in how I do it, and I can only hope that as I speak out on history and current issues that I do so while respecting those who view things differently than I do. We do not need to agree, we only need to accept we each have unique views and experiences. More though I hope that we always see what we have in common, even with differences. The first year I wrote on the blog I was still growing and changing. I was adjusting to a life that I had not been prepared for while mourning a life I had lost. I am no longer in mourning, but now in the act of becoming. Every choice I make is influenced by my children and who I want to be for them. Their world is changing, their experiences will be different from my own. What will I leave for them?