FAQ on Escaping Polygamy

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Because of our connection with the Escaping Polgyamy episode that I blogged about a month or so ago, I have wanted to address some of the FAQs around this episode for a while. I guess today gets to be that day. Like I have already said, I can’t speak to all the circumstances that are portrayed, but I can offer some behind-the-scenes insight into the AUB with some of the false narratives that the show perpetuated. Shall we?

Was the featured family in danger from their church/community/the wives’ family?

No. Not only that, I don’t even believe they felt they were in any danger. Living in their community had become uncomfortable because the husband in this story had made bad business deals, taken advantage of people and just generally stopped interacting in a way that promoted neighborly feelings (lied, stolen, failed to keep commitments with no communication.) He was in hot water on multiple fronts (including a legal dispute with his non-member brother over ownership of the home they moved from) and wanted a quick and easy out. In addition, his wives come from a very close-knit family, and he wasn’t a huge fan of what he felt to be too much influence there. I’ve always found him to be very controlling and personally feel that if the wives are in any danger, it’s from him.

How hard is it to leave the AUB? How do people generally leave this group?

Most people quietly move away or just stop attending. While there is definitely cultural pressures to stay and comply with the lifestyle expectations, there’s no overt threat employed to ensure people do. In fact, if you want to go back to one of the earliest episodes featuring the AUB, they set up a scenario where the “young girl” was getting “picked up at church” to get away when this woman had left the church years before. (They showed the hosts “helping her shop for new clothes” when the reality was she had not only piercings and tattoos but a baby and had never worn a prairie dress as anything more than a costume. She certainly didn’t need help shopping for “regular clothes.” Please understand that I don’t care about the tattoos, piercings or the baby, but am merely illustrating that she left the church as a teenager on her own volition.) I still live right in the middle of a predominantly AUB community. I have never felt in danger in any way. My neighbors are still kind to me, and my kids still play with their kids freely.

Didn’t he imply that the church could take his wives?

Anyone can pressure anyone else to leave their spouse, and it happens here on occasion (and is wrong) in the same way that it would anywhere else, but “taking spouses” and “reassigning wives” does not happen in AUB culture. That’s just not a thing. If the family wanted to stay together, there is nothing anyone in the church could do to stop them outside of advising them that they think it’s not a good choice.

Is there an AUB militia?

This assertion that the husband in this episode made is based on a half-truth. Like many mainstream Mormons and even Christians, fundamentalists are apocalyptic in their beliefs. Jesse belonged to a church-sponsored preparedness group for a time that practiced self defense, first aid and community protection in the event that the world fell apart. (There are lots of similar, private groups among the mainstream LDS church membership, especially in our area.) Their approach was always defensive in nature with the main goal of being able to safely move people from other in-danger communities to safer, more rural areas like ours when things collapsed. The group was completely disbanded about 3 years prior to the show’s filming when new leadership took over and no longer exists, to my knowledge, in any fashion. His claim that this survival group was partially to control members and they were coming after him for turning on them is a blatant lie.

Is there a God Squad??

This was probably the funniest untruth in this whole show to me. There is nothing that could even be construed or rebranded as a God Squad. We have nosy neighbors that will probably peek out their windows if you drive through our subdivision, but that’s about it. The vehicle they showed that they said was watching them is an old, dead International Scout that belongs to my pack-rat neighbor. It literally had not moved from the spot they filmed it in on the side of my road for as long as I’ve lived here. We live in a regular subdivision with a public, county road running right through it. All our houses are privately owned and there are no church spies. (We have a very tall fence, but that’s because the freaking deer eat everything in sight if you don’t set up defenses. Ha ha ha!)

Was there a gun pointing at the family when they were moving?

I addressed this in a my first post, but the short answer is no. Absolutely not. This was a pretty disgusting lie, and not just because it implicated my family. Though they have plenty of actual problems, the AUB is arguably the most peaceful, mainstream, open-minded and non-violent fundamentalist group.  Nobody I know would have ever done such a thing, and we certainly did not. The fact that he targeted this claim at my home is ironic considering the pretty public disagreement I have with the church. I have zero motivation to protect the public face of the AUB at this point. But, I do care about my friends and neighbors. They’re good people.

Was anything this episode said true?

There were a lot of cultural things that were portrayed fairly, in my opinion. Polygamy is difficult for the staunchest believers, and that was discussed in a way that wasn’t dishonest. Whether or not I think Jesse was genuine in his criticisms is another thing and really just my perspective based on our long-time acquaintance and my pretty low opinion of his personal integrity.

What did this family get for being on Escaping Polygamy?

I don’t know what all the arrangements for financial compensation were. At the very least, their moving expenses were covered, and the show secured and paid for 6 months of housing for the family with separate homes for both wives. Upon their move, they were completely isolated and disconnected from their families, though they have since reestablished contact.

What’s your opinion on the show in general and the work the hosts do?

I have kind of mixed emotions about this. I definitely believe that no one should feel trapped and that everyone should have resources should they make a choice to move on. I believe that there are some circumstances where these women do a lot of good and provide an out, and I applaud those efforts insomuch that the stories are true as presented. Still, the fact that I have first-hand knowledge of dishonesty and the perpetuation of stereotypes with an agenda makes me really question their motives and the truthfulness of anything they present. I believe that the show’s producers, hosts and other crew knew that they were creating narratives that weren’t actually, ahem, reality. I think that is kind of a shame. There is enough complexity surrounding fundamentalist culture that just telling a story without embellishment is compelling enough – there’s really no need to lie.

Again, I do not intimately know the ins and outs of all fundamentalist communities. I can communicate what is generally considered to be credible rumor that circulates among the spectrum of fundamentalism about the hierarchical structures involved, and I can say what I know to be true of the AUB by direct experience. I will not claim that Escaping Polygamy is all a lie, but I can say unequivocally that it is most definitely not all the truth. At the very least, take it with a grain of salt.

 

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Wait – Are You a Mormon? Or What?

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I’m sorry I missed posting last week! That’s a first since I started the blog, but I was really sick with a bad cold/sinus thing, and something had to give. We’re all on the upswing now!

This blog is a sometimes awkward space for me. I originally started it completely on a whim as a way to speak to people who I actually know in real life, and I have sometimes written in a way that assumes the reader has at least some basic context. However, a good part of the readership growth does not fit into this category, and I find that the missing details sometimes cause confusion. Hopefully, I can do a better job of providing context, starting with today’s question. Am I Mormon?

While this seems to be a simple question, it’s kind of not. The answer is both yes and no. I was raised as a member of the AUB or Apostolic United Brethren which is a fairly liberal-leaning Mormon fundamentalist church, so I have never been on the rolls of the mainstream Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was, however, baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because that’s how fundamentalists do that – there’s no “AUB baptism” or “FLDS baptism.” I also attended the modern LDS church for portions of my teen years and was probably more active as a non-member than a lot of my officially-baptized peers. I heard John Bytheway speak live at a stake youth conference in my father’s California ward when I was an older teen, played ward basketball and had plenty of bishop’s interviews. (Non-members have to have a new interview for every activity because guest recommends are one-time use.) In addition, my own church culture was pretty much identical to the mainstream church down to the manuals we used, except there was also polygamy. So, yes, I’m very Mormon while no, I’m not considered a member by many in the LDS church.

For many years, I hated this question, dodging and avoiding it. I felt embarrassed by my background and, frankly, found it very complex to answer. If I said “no,” it was completely overlooking the fact that I have deep-rooted cultural context in Mormonism. I have maternal family that goes all the way back to the first Mormon converts in England. My family was born, married and died in Nauvoo and on the trek west. (Not the same ones at the same time – ha ha!) I was raised on LDS primary and Sunday school, learning the same things from the same resources as my member schoolmates in Utah. On the other hand, answering “yes” in my circumstances felt dishonest and like I was pulling one over on people. While my husband thoroughly enjoyed engaging with missionaries that came to our door, I hated it and avoided it at all costs. Because, really, what do I say? Having any kind of open conversation required a level of transparency that I was just not comfortable with among strangers.

Taking my place as someone who has a rightful place at the table of Mormonism with something to add to the dialogue has been an interesting journey. Some of my first deep research I ever did into the history of Mormonism related to polygamy because it was a pretty huge catalyst for me (for some strange reason – ha!) In the process, I discovered the Year of Polygamy podcast and Lindsay Hansen Park who is now one of the top researchers on the history of polygamy and fundamentalist culture. I remember the first time I heard her interviewed (and I really hope this is the right one!) One of the things that struck me the most was her assertion that the entire spectrum of Mormon thought belonged at the table, and the mainstream church had neither the power nor the right nor the ability to insist that the conversation be a vacuum that they determined. This honestly blew my mind. It was the first time that I had heard someone who came from a mainstream LDS background say that my story was part of the picture and valuable and worthy of seeing light. As someone who was pretty traumatized as a child by LDS friends that were forbidden to associate with me when their parents heard about my background, this was a Big Deal and changed my perspective significantly. It continues to shape my approach to my engagement with Mormonism today.

So, I am a Mormon, culturally. I do have a Mormon Story, you could say. When I talk about things that are pretty consistent across all Mormon society, I don’t always even discuss the fact that I have a more complicated history. However, I do bring up the complexity when it’s pertinent to what I’m discussing, so you’ll also hear me talk about my fundamentalist background and the things that are unique about it. I apologize if that’s sometimes confusing for people – especially those of you who are not versed in the complexities of Mormon culture as a whole. Hopefully, this will clear that up and provide some context.

 

 

I Don’t Always Love Being a Mom, and That’s Okay

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I’ve followed Shelia Gregoire, a Christian blogger at To Love, Honor and Vacuum for a long time. I really appreciate her stance on sex in marriage, focus on healthy churches and take-no-prisoners stance on abuse advocacy. I deeply respect this woman and her kind, but honest approach to the very hard questions that can pop up in life. She posted this blog earlier this week. I’m not someone who can really relate to this reader’s question – I was very excited to be a mom and definitely wanted to have kids. Still, I’m not the most, um, maternal person, I guess? It really wasn’t so much the question this reader posed or this blogger’s answer that made me stop in my tracks, but more the question she posed when she shared this post on her Facebook page. Sheila effectively asked, “Why are so many moms exhausted, and what can we do to help?” That’s what really made me stop and think.

I don’t always love being a mom. I like to succeed at things, and there are too many stubborn variables in parenting for me to always knock it out of the park. I’m not someone who would ever say that I savor every minute of motherhood and always look at my children with awe and wonder. I don’t like to play with kids, really. I wouldn’t even say that my emotional life revolves around my kids, though a good part of my time is spent with and for them. Though I didn’t hate pregnancy, per se, extreme morning sickness made me dread a good part of it. I had postpartum depression that got so severe that it led to the decision to stop having kids. (C’mon, 7 is a LOT!) Still, if you asked me what the most meaningful part of my life is, it would be parenthood, hands down. I cannot ever imagine NOT being a mom, and I wouldn’t want to try to wonder who I would be without what I’ve learned from my kids. Not the same person – that’s who.

So, how does someone like me – someone who I think you could reasonably assert isn’t the most ideal candidate on paper, mostly do okay? That’s the question this post made me ask myself. I think there are a few things that have made my journey a bit smoother and helped me be a more effective parent.

  1. I am real. I think so many moms get caught up in having everything look good on the outside and not showing any cracks. Can you imagine if you just thought that everyone’s marriage, for example, was sunshine and roses and nobody ever fought but you, and oh, my gosh, if my husband leaves his socks on the floor one more time, I’m going to throat punch him! – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?! Nothing. You’re normal. I think moms hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection, when the truth is they’re normal and life isn’t always pretty. Embracing that as a strength is probably the best thing I’ve ever done as a mom because it takes SO much pressure off and frees up my energy for things that are actually helpful and productive.
  2. I don’t really care at all what other people are doing. Most of my friends have their kids in tons of sports and activities, and I just don’t. It doesn’t work for me. If my kids really want to do something, I will help make it happen, for sure, but I honestly feel zero pressure to push them to do things because “it’s the thing to do.” And, if they’re resistant and it’s unessential? Pssh…not even going to spend any energy there.
  3. I try to look at the big picture. The fact that I don’t always love being a mom doesn’t really bother me because I really don’t consider that the point at all. I find fulfillment in motherhood, but it’s no picnic. At the end of the day, raising kind, decent productive people and learning a lot about myself in the process is more the point for me.
  4. It’s not about me, necessarily. I think one of the biggest points in Sheila’s post was that being a parent means being the adult. I struggle to always wear my big girl pants as a mom, but it is always my goal. I think we’ve become a society that wants everything quick and easy rather than difficult and lasting. I think the trick here is to be willing to do things that are actually best for your kids and their future and not necessarily the things that make you LOOK good.
  5. I know that it is vogue and, I don’t even know what, to completely sacrifice yourself for your children to the point where you feel bad about having “your own life.” I’ve pretty much rejected that. I have hobbies that I spend a lot of time on. I spend money on myself without guilt. I go out with my friends and give a lot of focus to my husband when he’s home. While I can see how someone might perceive this as being in conflict with the prior point, in my experience, this makes me a better, more stable and more available mom to my kids.
  6. Independence is literally my best mom friend ever. I remember being pregnant with #4 and visiting my husband’s friend whose 10-year-old spent a good 15 minutes nagging his mom to GET HIM A DRINK. Sorry to yell, but I just cannot even wrap my head around that. My 11-year-old regularly makes his siblings breakfast and can pretty much follow any recipe. My 5-year-old can make toast and peanut butter sandwiches. I encourage my kids to do whatever they can for themselves as soon as possible because there’s lots of them and one of me, and we’re all happier and more confident when the load is spread around. Being a slave to the whims of one kid let alone multiples just isn’t sustainable, and that’s nothing to feel bad about. A less-stressed mom and capable kids is a win-win in my book.
  7. I have community. I have lived around my sister pretty much my entire adult life. When I didn’t have built-in help at home, I had her to depend on. I’ve always sought friendships for advice, support and commiseration. As a bit of an introvert, it definitely helps me feel less alone and more supported.
  8. I’m adaptable and willing to change up anything that is causing angst for me or my kids. I’m pretty committed to the idea of homeschooling, but my 15-year-old is my second child now that has gone to public school. Both decisions were for the absolute best for both me and my sons. I was super nervous both times, but I had zero regrets in the end. I am pretty stubborn about my kids being good people, respecting boundaries and taking care of responsibilities, but most anything else I will change up or let go when needed.

Like I always say in posts like this, none of this is to suggest that any of these ideas are right for every reader. I’m not anything special. I don’t know more than any of you. I’m not a better mom, and I don’t have it more figured out. Some women really thrive in environments that register as “traditional mom things.” I think my biggest point is that not all of us do, but that you can still be successful and find ways to thrive anyways. I’m a big believer that we’re all the “right mom” for our own kids, and that whatever strengths we bring to the table can be employed for own good and for the future of our children. While I don’t always love being a mom, I’m a pretty okay mom. I don’t have to always love my job to love my kids.

Belief and the Color Blue

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Untangling the webs that weave together through your life is an interesting process. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? But, one of the most interesting questions that I have chewed on over the last few years is this one – “Is belief a choice?” There are dozens of talks and articles in Mormon vernacular that suggest that choosing to believe is synonymous with looking for the good in things. Doubters are painted as Negative Nellies. I have come to believe, however, that belief isn’t a choice at all.

Let me explain using an analogy (because we all know that I love them.) If you were to look at the photo that I chose today, what color would you say it is? Blue? What if I were to tell you that, historically, there is no word for blue in any ancient language? I’m not suggesting that blue did not exist. I think one would be hard pressed to prove that the sky has changed as history has progressed – it’s most likely exactly the same as it’s always been. Still, for hundreds of thousands of years, people did not distinguish blue. This is incredibly bizarre, I know. I have no idea what color people called the sky or ocean or blueberries. But, it wasn’t blue.

Imagine living in a world where blue wasn’t recognized. (For the sake of our analogy, let’s make the assertion that all other colors were known.) I suspect that some blues would get lumped in with green or purple while others might even lean grey or black. This would be the norm – the paradigm held by everyone in society. If you were to pick yourself and plop yourself down in 800-something in a community that didn’t know blue, could you cease to see it yourself? If you were persecuted for being someone who saw blue, could you make yourself fit into a paradigm that no longer saw it for the sake of conformity? (If you could, I don’t think it would be good for your mental health to be that disconnected from your actual reality.)

In my experience, belief is like the color blue. Either you do or you don’t. Either you interpret available information based upon what you know and see it one way, or you pull from other information that makes you distinguish it differently. Belief is based upon your background, the way you think, the way you see and interpret evidence and your life experience. If you don’t see blue, you don’t. If you see it, no amount of mental gymnastics can make it disappear.

I believe lots of things about lots of different subjects. Many of my beliefs have changed over time as I have learned new things or understood things differently. Some of my beliefs have not shifted much at all as my life has progressed. While I can certainly choose to not explore any new information on any particular subject and be more likely to keep my beliefs from altering, I can’t actually choose how I believe about something. My brain either sees it one way or sees it the other based upon what information I have available to me.

I’d like to take credit for this light-bulb moment like it was my own little glimmer of genius, but it turns out that this is a long-discussed question, and I’m not even particularly original in my conclusion that you can’t choose what you believe. When I did a quick search of “Is Belief a Choice” for this blog, there was a variety of perspectives that ranged from religious discussions to psychological approaches all of which are quite interesting and worth consideration.

I understand that the way we feel about belief is, well, a belief. I understand that it can be incredibly frustrating to have a loved one or friend believe differently than you about something fundamental (boy, do I ever!) In my experience, people don’t upset the apple cart on purpose, especially when they’re riding in it. If you find yourself in a situation where you just want to blow a fuse in frustration because you can’t get through to someone, I invite you to take a deep breath, look up at the sky and squint your eyes until it becomes green. Just kidding – do it until you remember that we’re all unique and understand the world differently based upon our own unique experiences, and then rejoin the conversation with fresh eyes (maybe even blue ones?)

 

We Can Break the Silence

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This week, a woman took her own life. I don’t know her, but she travels in some of the same circles I do, and it’s given me pause. While I didn’t ever talk to her, this event is incredibly heartbreaking to me. I can’t tell you all the details of her story because I don’t know them. I won’t even say her name or give any more information because this story isn’t mine to tell and there are real people affected by this. What I can say is that this woman had experienced a faith transition and was in an unexpected and unplanned for mixed-faith marriage. This cuts me to the core and hits so close to home because, you see, I am also in a mixed-faith marriage. My husband is still a believer (though quite nuanced) in the truth claims of Mormonism while I am not.

This is the first time I have really come out and said this in any open forum. I’ve hinted. I’ve danced around it. I’ve even been quite bold in some of the statements I’ve made. But, I’ve never been completely transparent about this. I don’t owe this information to anyone, really. Faith and how a person relates to it is quite private and personal. While I’m nervous to publish this, I find myself compelled to do so. For no other reason than the fact that I have come to believe that silence can be deadly. I know this woman’s battle. I know what she fought, can imagine how she felt and understand what would cause such a deep and cutting tragedy. Because I’ve been there.

There is a incredible shame in religious community associated with “losing one’s faith.” It is seen as an act that only happens to the lazy, the unmotivated, the weak. You haven’t tried hard enough. You didn’t study enough. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is a narrative that hurts people, and it is deeply unfair. Until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you really do not understand. (And, if you ever do, I’ll be the first one to step on that path with you because it’s incredibly lonely to walk alone.)

I’m in a good place right now. We spent many months redefining our marriage, but I know this woman’s pain. My daughter had surgery in July and was given a too-generous dose of hydrocodone. I made her flush it as soon as her pain was manageable, partly because I was concerned about its addictive nature, and partly because I was having way too many days of despair to trust myself with it in my home. This is hard to say out loud. However, it is the reality of a faith transition. When the emotional bottom drops out of your life and your most trusted loved-one feels it as a personal affront, it is devastating. When you would do anything to just go back to the paradigm you had for so long, but you are unable to force yourself to see things in the way that you’re supposed to, and the person you trust the most to hear your innermost thoughts reacts to them with anger and defensiveness and hurt, the fear and loss and heartache are unimaginable.

I am one of the lucky ones. My husband has processed this in a pretty healthy way. We’re differentiating. We’re focusing on the health and well-being of our marriage and family. We’re doing our level best to work as a team and support each other. Many, many families are not this lucky. There is no current narrative in Mormonism that allows for people to step away from the faith with respect, dignity or honesty. (This recent devotional given by Elder and Sister Renlund is a perfect example of how this is still preached in such a harmful way.)

So, why am I talking about this now? I don’t need anyone to respond to this post with sad faces and worry that I’m lost forever. (If you think that and don’t want to have an honest and open conversation with me, please keep the random response to yourself.) I don’t want anyone to glance at my husband and feel sorry that he has to be stuck with me. (Even now, I think he’s happy to be married to me most days.) I don’t intend to start proselyting anyone with my thoughts or beliefs outside this blog (which any of you can choose not to read.) If we meet in person, I’ll talk about the same benign things I always have – my kids, schooling, what’s going on in your life, what we may have in common. However, what I do want is that this woman and others like her will not die in vain. I hope that what I have to say will strike a chord and that it might, in some small measure, change the way that you interact with the people like me in your life. If you hold callings and leadership positions, I hope that you will choose to support the families in your congregation wherever they may fall and not make them the punching bags of a dogma that is long due for reform. I hope that feeling crushed to death by abandonment, public punishment and shame becomes the exception in our communities rather than the rule. I believe that it’s what Jesus would want.

Finally, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I did not lose my faith because I couldn’t hack what we went through this last year. I experienced my faith transition due to extensive and intense study of church history via primary source records about two years ago – a good year before the details of our story became public. The two events weren’t really related in any significant way. I likely would have attended as a silent non-believer indefinitely had there not been extenuating circumstances, and none of you would have been the wiser. (I would put money on the fact that there’s people in your congregation right now that are doing so.) I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m not out to drag anyone down. (I would actually prefer not to share the specific details of what I’ve studied because I have no desire to complicate other people’s lives.)

In life, one of the most consistent expectations we can have is that it will change. We can not always control how things change, as much as we try. There is a deep unfairness in putting people in a box where there is an intolerance for natural change. As the foundational building block of society, I believe that there should be no institution that should get a higher priority than the family and that its destruction ultimately undermines the strength of everything, including our churches. While it may not always be possible to be helpful in every situation, I think we can all make a commitment to be the change we wish to see in the world. To borrow a medical term, every one of us, in any faith, any community we may travel in, can first, do no harm. We do not have to continue to make this experience so painful that people choose to end their lives rather than walk through it. People are going to walk through it. Put down the stones and take their hands.

How to Get Banned From TLC’s Facebook Page

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For many years, I was very secretive about the actual details of my background. I lost a friend when I was in middle school because her parents banned her from hanging out with the “polyg kid,” so I learned very young that it was not okay to come from a fundamentalist background. (This was probably one of the most traumatizing events of my childhood.) A few years ago, however, I went public on my Facebook page, mostly by accident, really, with the fact that I was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon church. I also got banned from TLC’s Facebook page in the process. See, a few years ago, my neighbor went on the TLC show Escaping Polygamy. And, he lied. About my family.

I really don’t even know where to start with telling this story. (Maybe I can do a Q&A in a later post that separates the facts from the fiction in this particular show because I just won’t have room for it all here.) I should first offer a disclaimer with my take on the Escaping Polygamy show. I can’t comment on the details of all the stories they cover. There may be some situations where they are actually pulling people from dire straits. While many people equate fundamentalist culture with the highly-visible FLDS sect, the truth is that there is a huge spectrum between the different groups with some being very restrictive and controlling and some being quite liberal. I was raised in the AUB which is a more liberal fundamentalist church. (Think Sisterwives. And, yes, I know their family.) You don’t have to secret away from the AUB. You just move. Or stop attending. We still live right in the middle of a subdivision that is largely members of the AUB. (And, it’s a normal subdivision that has a public road running right through it.)

My neighbor is the family that “escaped” with two wives and the family stayed together. (So, he escaped polygamy to remain a polygamist. So much irony.) There were reasons they decided to go on the show but I guess I can sum it all up by saying that his personal and business dealings were not above board, and he had alienated himself from his friends, family and community by his lack of integrity – he’d made a very uncomfortable bed for himself. We started hearing rumors months before that they were going on Escaping Polygamy, and I kind of couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. I watched it as soon as it released. (I’m weird that way, I guess. It’s bizarre seeing what used to be such a secretive lifestyle on TV, especially when it’s people you know. My husband’s cousin was on One Husband, Three Wives, and I watched that, too.)

Imagine my surprise and anger when I realized that my son appeared on their show. My son was 13 at the time of filming. At almost 16, he now towers over almost everyone in our house and is well over 6 feet tall. A few years ago, he was getting pretty close to that. He is also, um, quirky? He’s my difficult one, and I often wonder if he’s not somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. If his brain isn’t engaged in something specific, he’s pacing. And, because we’re super on the ball that way, none of our upstairs windows have blinds. Anyway, I’m watching the whole story unfold, one that is filled with a little truth, a lot of half truth and a good dose of flat out lies, and they start freaking out because they “think a gun is pointed at their house.” The camera pans to the source, and they’re filming my son’s bedroom window with a light shining out of it! A light that I immediately recognize as the camping headlamp thingy that my boys have been playing with for months. The Escaping Polygamy show just filmed my child and my house and implied that we were pointing a gun at this family with a dozen young children! (Seriously, if you think someone is in imminent danger and THERE IS A GUN, call the freaking police, don’t zoom in and wax eloquent about the danger!) I. Was. Livid. Livid at our used-to-be-friends for implicating us in such a horrible way and livid at the production team for knowingly fabricating this scenario. (I actually think they got the footage of my son and the headlamp on a different night than when they filmed the “escape.”)

So, I went to their Facebook page and said so. And, so did dozens of other people who were familiar with the situation. People that were both still in the group and people who had left many years before. It took all of 6 hours for me to be banned from the TLC Facebook page. After a few days of heavy censoring, they stopped doing it and allowed comments that were calling out this family for their deception to stay. They had to hire extra staff to moderate the Facebook page and were really entirely unprepared for the backlash created from this episode. At one point, they gave me a contact to discuss the situation with someone on their PR team. I went back and forth via email with them for a bit but just walked away when I realized that they really had no intention of trying to make any of it right. Because they hadn’t shown my son’s face distinctly, I had no legal recourse.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m discussing something that happened two years ago now. I guess because, while my feelings about my culture and community are complicated, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Regardless of what I may or may not believe, these are still my friends, family and community, and I hate to see such misinformation perpetuated about decent people. I think it’s unfortunate to see good people lumped into stereotypes and boxes that they don’t deserve. (This is also why I chose not to do a story for the Tribune about the situation with my step-dad.) Like most high-demand religions, Mormon fundamentalism is largely populated by good people who are truly committed to their beliefs and lifestyle. There is good reason to honestly argue the merits of a belief system (this and others), but there’s no reason to lie about it to get the upper hand. Truth is like a lion; set it free, and it will defend itself. Which, apparently, is how you get banned from TLC’s Facebook page.

P.S. Escaping Polygamy is no longer affiliated with TLC. They switched networks a bit ago, so please don’t take this as a commentary on TLC specifically. That’s just who it happened to be when this situation happened.

P.P.S. If you have specific questions about this episode, please leave them here or in a comment on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can address them at a later date.

 

 

Lifting Your Hands Toward Holiness

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It’s 8:30 at night, and this blog is due for publication in the morning. Some days I have been chewing on something and just need to gather it up and lay it in print. Days like today ebb and flow and nothing is settling. (I’ve been sewing all day and, dangit, I’m proud of what I produced today! Follow me on Instagram @rosazerkle if you want to see my crafty side.) I’m sitting on my bed listening to my husband listen to a Christian band on YouTube. Contemporary Christian music is my husband’s absolute favorite genre, and he listens to it a lot as he works. He found a new band today, and it’s really good. I feel emotion in it.

In many ways, I am religiously homeless. I live in a space right now where I don’t know where I want to settle. When you’ve been chewed up and spit out by what used to feel natural and comfortable and yours, you become very wary of anybody and anything that makes promises that you can’t verify. I’m not someone who can’t take direction or change an opinion, but I’ll be damned if I hand my life over to anyone else’s authority again that isn’t worthy of that faith. I don’t know what this means. It’s equal parts liberating and disconcerting. I had a friend ask me the other day if I was looking to visit a new church. I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right time for that.

One of the challenges of my marriage right now is finding our touch-points and rediscovering what the roots of our relationship are. I think every couple does that, but we’ve become so mindful about it. We had the most beautiful Christmas this year. (I’m not even going to be modest – I killed it!) Months before, I was talking to my teaching partner (she teaches; I take notes.) and mentioned that I had never been to a concert and that my husband loves Christian music. She sent me info on an artist that was going to be playing this year about an hour from us. On Christmas morning, my husband opened a calendar that I had lifted from his own desk and wrapped up with the tickets to see Mercy Me, his second favorite Christian artist. There were tears – something that I haven’t accomplished very many times with very many gifts in our marriage. (I filmed it and begged him to let me put it on Facebook. He was such a good sport!) I felt like a million bucks to give him such an amazing surprise, and I can’t wait to share this experience with him.

For our anniversary this last year, my husband took me to a “hand-raising church.” It was the first church I had ever been to in my entire life that wasn’t some flavor of Mormon. I’m 41 years old. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like home. The live band was new and different, but a little too much to feel like a church to a multi-generational Mormon girl.

What does it mean to “feel like church?” What is that magic ingredient that makes you feel spiritually fed, full of gratitude, with an eye looking toward something greater? I’m softly and quietly watching and waiting for it. But, this music flows around me, and it feels like church to me. Sitting here on my bed with my drowsy 5-year-old boy pulling on my arm and making me type one-handed feels like beauty. Having my 7-year-old daughter sandwiched on the other side breathing holiness in my ear is a voice that I recognize. Feeling my husband inches away from me finding the home church of this band on Google Earth is comfort and peace and love. I hope that God authors all these things. I think He does. After being born and bred in a system that makes it their literal business to provide explanations and answers, one of my most profound realizations has been that the beauty is in this mystery. There is so much that I admit I don’t know, but I find that the more I see that, the less I feel like the knowing is the point at all. Maybe, the gift is in the journey, and I’m right where I need to be after all.