The Lesson of Eve

In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the garden with no cares or worries. Anything they could ever need or want was given to them, but with no opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain experience through a struggle. The Biblical account goes this way.

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

The Christian world tends to come down hard on Eve, blaming her for the sorrow and misery of this world that her choice gave to us. The LDS church has a more expansive, compassionate view. Joseph Smith in a re-translation and expansion of the story captured in our book of Moses describes Eve’s interpretation of the experience as she looks back on her choice and the resulting consequences:

11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.

This is an interesting story and a profound one. God gave Adam and Eve an explicit instruction not to eat of the fruit. Satan tempts Eve, but in his temptation he speaks truth, that if she eats the fruit she can grow wise. Rather than an outright rejection of the information, she ignores the source and considers only the content of the message. Eve digs into it and realizes this truth on her own, deeply and profoundly. Her path, the choice she has to make in that moment is to defy God in order to pursue wisdom and experience. And ultimately both Adam and Eve are blessed with the opportunity to bring forth seed, with the opportunity to learn through their troubles, the “joy of our redemption”.

I’m wondering if there is a broader lesson here. Most of the time we should live by and obey God’s commandments for us. We should be loyal to our family, our community, our leaders and especially our faith, sustaining and supporting their best efforts. But along the way, we need to do our own individual work, reading and studying scripture, coming to our own conclusions, praying and developing a relationship with God that is deep and independent of others. Learning to serve and care for others without compulsion, without relying upon a call from others. Life can be easy and comfortable when we follow the path laid out for us by our circumstance or our heritage especially as we lean on others for our strength. I was born a Mormon, raised in Arizona, studied engineering, worked for large companies my entire life, married with beautiful children. All this is good and beautiful. I’m loyal to my faith, I try to sustain my church leaders, I pay my tithing, do my hometeaching, try to read my scriptures and pray often.

But there are times, I’m learning, times for real growth. These times come when the right decision is to veer off paths others have laid out for me.  The lesson of Eve is to choose courage. But there is danger here as well. Eve knew what she was doing, she felt it in her soul. Her action was motivated by care, thoughtfulness and love.

Bob Dylan said it best “To Live outside the law you must be honest”.

Mostly what I’m saying here is that I should also withhold judgment. When someone makes a decision that doesn’t make sense, when I see someone else choosing the “apostate path”. When I think I disagree. I have no idea what the full story is. I can’t get inside their head. It’s possible they are following the example of Eve. To live outside their law, but with a head and heart full of integrity.

I hope when the time is right I can have the courage to do the same. I hope I can allow my children the same privilege.


Where Should We Send our Kids To School

What feels like now an eternity ago, when our oldest was just about to turn old enough for school, we kept her out and decided to do it ourselves. If you want to know why we chose this path the reasons are right here. But that was before. Before we actually had the experience of suffering through it. How we think our lives will go and how they actually do go are entirely two different things. I wanted (and still want to) shepherd our kids toward a sort of rebellion, and by rebellion I mean a desire, no matter what others may say, to stay true to themselves. But this takes so much maturity,so much confidence, an inner sense of purpose. And a long the way, we’re discovering, our kids often rebel hardest against our own best efforts to parent and school them.

Last year, we sent our son to public school, the one literally across the street from where we lived. Just the neighborhood school, attended mostly by poor and ethnically minority kids from surrounding neighborhoods, he’s one of the few white kids attending. And he loves it. He loves the school, he loves the teachers. He’s doing well. It’s hard to argue with these results. At home, he resisted and fought. At school, he’s thriving. This will be his last year at this school and we need to figure out what we’re going to do with him next. Similarly, our oldest is on the cusp of high school. She’s been homeschooled her entire life but we’re not sure we really want to homeschool high school after all.

To this end, last week, we went to the Tempe Prep open house. It’s a great school. It emphasizes the classical education style, something we’ve modeled our homeschooling curriculum on. They teach Latin, every child studies and performs in a theater production. Class sizes are small, typically less than 20 students. Most every child ends up at a four year university. The top students go on to elite universities, the best in the world. They all have the same basic curriculum, six subjects through the day, and each class has daily homework. It’s pretty intense.

It’s open enrollment, simply put your child on the waiting list and eventually a slot opens up. I don’t think they worry too much about children dropping out, in fact, I suspect that’s the result they want. I think the rigor and the waiting lists, the intensity and the level of homework, all act as a natural selection filters, keeping the more marginal children out of the school system. I’d love to know the exact economic makeup of the student body. I’m guessing it’s a majority middle class demographic.

I thought we were rebelling as homeschoolers, but homeschooling has gone mainstream. It feels much more subversive these days to just send our kids to the neighborhood public school.

You see, I love the curriculum of Tempe Prep. I want my kids to be studying history from the original sources and to take drama and music classes from teachers who love their subject, to rub shoulders with other kids who are engaged and are trying. I also believe our kids need to get access to other points of view, to be inspired by teachers who do it professionally, full time.

I’m not sure yet where my kids will end up. My oldest has just turned 13. She’s painfully shy. She’s been homeschooled all of her life. I’m not sure, really, just how academically strong they really are. Every parent naturally believes and hopes for the best out of their children. I’m no different. But schooling at home doesn’t give one a good sense of perspective. I’m not sure this will come completely into focus until high school anyway.

But I think there’s something wrong in our culture. There’s this cult of over-achievement and perfectionism and for some their career is everything and all-consuming. I think the work-place is getting more competitive, at least in some sectors of it, as economic inequality gets more pronounced as our global wealth clusters in the hands of the too few.

I want to raise curious, ambitious, caring life-long learners, but I’m not sure sending them to an over-achieving school is the way to get there. It feels insular, not really connected to the world at large. But homeschooling sure isn’t connecting our kids to the world either. Again, I’m not sure if this is a risk for our kids. I’m not sure if they will be the type of people to stress over every grade. They seem pretty content with themselves at the moment. But homeschooling we don’t grade and my son is cruising in his public school without too much of an effort – I actually like this about his school. Feeling stressed about academics is not something a ten year old should be feeling.

Perhaps the truly rebellious path these days, as a white, middle class, upwardly striving, educated two-parent family, is to purposely send our kids to the nearest available public school, a school where perhaps they are in the ethnic minority, with plenty of other kids who are poor from families who struggle.

I’m wondering, as well, if this is perhaps the best way to send our kids out into the world, by, you know, sending them off into the world, the real world, with real kids, with real problems, where they may encounter drugs and sex and poverty and broken families.

But what angers me more than anything is how unfair things can be. At Tempe Prep, the school offers Latin and drama, small class sizes, engaged and passionate educators. And it also only serves 250 kids. I’m not sure why every kid can’t get this exactly this is they want it at the school they already attend.

One final point. My kids aren’t the most athletic, but still they do sports because I think every kid should do sports. In the fall, they are all playing soccer in the rec league. Our son is probably the least talented kid on his team this year. But he plays. The coach gives him time. The other kids are nice to him. They work together and they play each and every week. I think being forced to work with other kids who are less (or more) talented than you is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to mentor and be mentored. To learn both patience and humility. To realize life is and should be more about relationships than it is about achievement.

It’s not about clustering oneself off with just those who have the exact same interest and background. Sometimes life requires you to get a long with others with differing skills, interests and background. Sometimes we need to slow down and bring another along. To spend a little extra time teaching or mentoring. So many of our big problems are caused by the elites playing games with the economy to benefit them at the expense of others.

But I’m not sure what we’re going to do about school. I’m not sure how rebellious I really, truly am.

My Reaction to My Church’s New Stand on Gays in the Church

Being Mormon and on social media at all, it was difficult not to notice that my church has shifted its policy toward gay Mormon participation to a more hard-lined, less inclusive, some will say less loving, position. I haven’t dove deep into it. Maybe I never will. This issue doesn’t affect me full on. I’m not gay, no one in my immediate family is gay. But I’ve read their stories.  I know people who are gay. I know people who know people who are gay. Thinking about it at all, it’s hard not to sympathize with those people in pain because of this policy.

But I also have some sympathy for what the church is trying to do. They are trying to walk a mighty fine line. They admit that same sex attraction is not a choice:

The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

The church no longer recommends (at least not necessarily) a gay person marry someone of the opposite gender. I hope they have stopped recommending reparative therapy. Instead, they advocate celibacy. By all accounts, mixed orientation marriages largely end up in divorce, and reparative therapy is ineffective and damaging. I’m not an expert on this subject, I’m just repeating what I’ve read.

But of course another option is to fall in love and marry. The church policy clarifies the church’s response to that choice. A gay couple who marries will be subject to a disciplinary council for apostasy and children raised by these couples will not be eligible for baby blessings, baptism, priesthood or missionary service until they turn 18, no longer live with their parents and disavow the marriage relationship of their parents. I didn’t know this before, but the church has had a similar policy in place for years, without scrutiny, for polygamous families and their children. There are reasonable arguments out there that try to explain and defend this.

I have a ton of respect for Bill Reel and he comes down hard against the policy in his podcast here.

Here’s my fairly convoluted take. First of all, I think the dynamics of a same sex marriage is different than polygamy. I think reasonable people can find similarities. And if I squint, I can see why the church puts them in the same basic category and creates policy that treats them similarly.

Because of the shift society has made on this issue and the fact that the law has changed, choosing gay marriage is considered apostasy, not just sin. I think this distinction is important and it’s why I think this logic falls a bit short:

In the LDS Church, children born out of wedlock can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.

Children born to rapists can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.

Even children born to murderers can be blessed, baptized, and approved to serve a mission.

But children born to faithful, loving, monogamous couples in a same-sex marriage or other committed relationship will henceforth be excluded from all three of those things.

People who embrace and live in gay marriage are considered apostates, those who commit murder or rape are terrible people. Those born to parents who are actively living an apostate life need to put more of an effort to show they have embraced Mormonism and its core tenants despite what they may have been learned by those who raised them. Those born to terrible people are simply embraced and loved. To me, this makes some logical sense. The point here is that apostates can be good, they simply disagree with basic tenants of Mormonism.  You can be an apostate and be good. You just can’t be apostate and be Mormon.

And this is the point I’m trying to get to. We shouldn’t treat apostasy as a pejorative. It doesn’t have to be seen negatively, though in practice it is. Perhaps we need another word. Here’s wikipedia:

Apostasy (/əˈpɒstəsi/; Greek: ἀποστασία (apostasia), “a defection or revolt”) is the formal disaffiliation from, or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. It can also be defined within the broader context of embracing an opinion contrary to one’s previous beliefs.[1] One who commits apostasy (or who apostatizes) is known as an apostate. The term apostasy is used by sociologists to mean renunciation and criticism of, or opposition to, a person’s former religion, in a technical sense and without pejorative connotation.

The Mormon church has made it clear that it’s made families, traditional husband, wife, children families, foundational. The church recognizes that the traditional family is not realized by everyone: the never-married, the divorced, the widowed. But members are encouraged to strive for marriage and children and support others who have. That’s what membership in the church requires, as it stands today. I will say, though, this focus on the family narrows the theology, mostly because it doesn’t recognize and make appropriate and compassionate room for the gay population. Unlike polygamy, this is difficult, because gay people are inter-dispersed among us. They may be, without our choice, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins, our friends and yes, our parents.

And for Mormons, families are both foundational and essential for salvation. We are saved with God not just by ourselves but in our relationships, especially in our most intimate relationships. For better or for worse, this is what the Mormon church is today. This is what is driving, fundamentally, its behavior.

So, what is a gay person to do? They can try to make a mixed-orientation marriage work, they can try to make a run at celibacy. Slipping in these efforts is tolerated. The church supports and has compassion for those who are trying to live up to the standards, recognizing we all fail. But those who choose gay marriage have simply chosen a different path. The church calls this apostasy. Can we still be friends?

I’m loathe to use this term. It’s pejorative. It’s divisive. Someone who falls in love with a same sex partner and marries may still believe and support the church in every other way. They may still value the community. Their family members are also likely members of the church and they hope to preserve and deepen these relationships within a faith journey. Labeling someone an apostate is not a way to build relationships. I think this is why gay Mormons are at elevated risk for suicide.

I don’t know what to say about all of this. All I can do is love, the believer, the non-believer, the faithful, the doubter, and especially given this definition of apostasy, the apostate. That’s all I can really do.