12 January 2017

Broken Faith



In the first week of last term, I was sitting in a lecture hall with all my fellow theology-studying peers. One girl sitting in front of me was reciting her course load to a friend, which included classes on Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. Her friend seemed confused.

"Really? I thought you were a Christian. Why aren't you taking any classes on your own faith?"

"Oh," came the girl's emphatic reply, "I DO NOT mix my faith with my academics."

That moment stuck with me, not only because I live my life with pretty much the exact opposite attitude, but also because after last term, I get what she's saying. I really do. 

The 'Christianity and the Arts' program at King's is amazing. I couldn't have imagined a program more perfectly suited to my brain. It is everything I hoped it would be, but it has also pushed me and pulled me to the point of almost breaking. 

In November, I was furiously working on my research papers. I had intentionally chosen topics that were hard-- things no one has ever published on. Some were doctrinal, some were scriptural, but they all forced me to take a long hard look at my faith. 

This particular day, I was feeling unbalanced. The previous weeks had introduced me to so many new ideas. My brain was reeling, just trying to figure out where to file all these paradigm-shifting thoughts. On top of this, I was waist deep in academic papers about the history of Mormonism. There was so much information--so much information I had never heard before. I had heard the metaphorical cracks starting several days before, but on this particular night, it was like someone ripped out the foundation stones. Everything I thought I knew and understood about the world got sucked down this vortex of doubt and my testimony crumbled. 

I realised I had no idea how anyone knows anything. I had always prided myself on having searched deep into my faith's history and doctrine and faced the demons long ago. I had had so many encounters with other faiths and had studied them out, and I was certain Mormonism held the truth. And yet there I was, crumpled up on my bed not even sure if there was God. 

I cried to Jon that night (who was up in Sheffield). This is just one of many breakdowns I've had in the last year-- from infertility to being stuck in Australia, from personal issues with our extended family to twenty rejection letters from potential university funding sources, it had been a tough year. This time it felt more serious though. This was an existential crisis if ever there was one. 

Jon was perfectly calm and simply said, "Babe, it's ok. I went through this exact experience on my mission. You are going to have a couple of really really crappy weeks, but then you are going to be ok. You are going to get through this."

His confidence made me feel safe. I loved him for holding together my world even as doubt pulled me down into a really dark place. 

The next couple of days were rough. I couldn't think about anything without feeling like a tiny trembling puppy. However, I noticed that even though I wasn't sure if there was a God, I felt myself praying. I wasn't sure to what, but something inside me was calling out to something higher than myself. 

I realised that if there was no God, then belief, or disbelief, was pointless. If there was a God, belief was necessary. Either way, disbelieving offered me nothing. 

Heartened by this realisation, I sat down with Jon and we started philosophically rebuilding my understanding of the world. Completely independent from scripture or anyone else's beliefs, we constructed a theology. "If x is true, they naturally y must be as well." "What about z? Does that logically make sense with x and y." 

It started off so basic (what/who is this higher power?) and evolved into places that were so deep it is hard to put them into words.


In hindsight, this conversation might be the single most important discussion of my life. From it, I finally FULLY understood Christianity, not as Bible stories or separate doctrinal parts, but as a cohesive, interwoven, beautiful expression of human existence. I can tell you that right now, my testimony of Christianity is so certain. My belief in Christ and his atonement and all that comes with that is completely mine. It has nothing to do with the way I was raised or habit or loved ones. It is my own. 

I'll be honest and say my testimony of Mormonism isn't quite at that level. There are things with which I am still struggling. Yet, it must be said that even in my darkest days, the theological beauty of Mormonism left me awe-inspired. If Joseph Smith didn't get his ideas from above, the man is probably the single greatest theologian ever to walk to Earth. 

I say that fully admitting that it is stuff from Joseph Smith that has caused my problems. However, if you spend any time reading books on theology, you'll start to see how intimately interconnected doctrine becomes. When you shift one tiny idea, it comes with an avalanche of philosophical issues to resolve. Most theologians agonise over dogmatic minutia for hundreds of pages, only to realise several years later that they missed some crucial logical fallacy. 

But with Joseph Smith, it's like he just woke up one day and BAM! A perfectly stable theology, which in many ways departs drastically from mainstream Christianity, was born with what appears to be almost no conscious deliberation. It is impressive and, admittedly, quite heartening to someone who is doubting. 

So, going in to a new term, my journey of faith and learning will move forward.  I don't know what tomorrow will bring... but whatever it is, I'm hoping it is just a little bit brighter and little bit more full of truth. 

05 January 2017

Sheffield

These holidays have been so cozy because they've been spent up in Sheffield. Sheffield is several hours north of London, right about in the middle of England. There are nice parts and not so nice parts, but the part Jon's flat is in is chocolate-box beautiful. 

The flat is on the top floor of a house, so it feels a bit like a little swiss chateau with sloped walls and lots of skylights. These are the views we wake up to every morning. Be still my beating heart!


Despite being a bit frosty, we found a warm and cozy hideaway at the botanical gardens. The main attraction is this late Georgian/early Victorian greenhouse. I have a thing about paned glass windows, so having a ceiling covered in them, it is pretty breathtaking.  

Also, Jon's Sheffield flat is about twice the size of our London place, which means it has a big ol' beautiful bathtub. I treated myself to the first bubble bath I've had since I was probably five years old. New Years resolution: Take more baths. 

We also took some lovely drives (Jon has access to a car through work) to the Peak District, which is just a few miles outside of town. We'd taken a drive in the autumn, but now all the stone walls and fields were covered in frost. Sometimes it felt like we were driving through in a real live gingerbread landscape, with everything sprinkled with sugar. This, of course, made me hungry for gumdrops and cookies. 

One night, we were just hanging out at home, when all of the sudden we heard that awful noise--a screech followed by a car hitting something.  We looked out the window and a car had smashed into the stone wall surrounding our garden. It has also smashed in the whole front of another car across the road. 
Jon called the police and ran downstairs. The idiots in the car had already called a taxi as all the neighbors ran outside in their bathrobes and pjs. Fortunately, Jon had the presence of mind to snap a photo of the driver as he was fleeing the scene, but then had to wait for another 40 minutes in the freezing cold for the police to show up. It was a very event filled night. Still not sure if they ever nailed the guy.
There is a decent chance that I might be moving up to Sheffield to join Jon come the end of school term. I would desperately miss London, but it would feel nice to be in an actual house. Sheffield is full of happy families, and honestly feels a bit more like America. It would be a cozy place to settle down for a bit. We'll have to wait and see!

02 January 2017

2016

I think we are all collectively breathing a sigh of relief now that 2016 is behind us. Because seriously, it was the worst.

This year has been particularly difficult for me for a whole host of reasons I, unfortunately, can't really talk about. But through it all, I've been lucky enough to have this wonderful human being by my side. He has been the rock I needed and I am so unbelievably grateful for him. When I think about it, I get all weepy, which probably puts me at a four-topping-stuffed-crust level of cheesy, but I don't mind. I'll take a slice of sentimental dribble any day of the week if it means this guy knows how much I love him.



In the spirit of sappy sentimentality, for Christmas I put together photo albums for Jon. One of his childhood, one of mine, and one of our lives together.

It was horrifying for me to realise that, even as a photographer who has experienced the paralysing dream of losing image files, I have important visual memories which are now misplaced. Some of our photos only exist on facebook and were uploaded back in the days when digital image files were still pretty small. I managed to track down most of them, but some are still slightly blurry or pixelated. Let this be a lesson people, GO PRINT YOUR PHOTOS. Then back them up some place safe.

So, as I go through these images, I'm reminded of all our many happy times. It's a good moment to to also look forward at 2017 with my fingers are crossed for magical things to come.

This year has already started off with a bang... Jon and I have spent the New Year up in Sheffield (Jon works up here during the week, so I usually only get him in London on the weekends). Five minutes before midnight, one of our neighbours went out and started playing the bagpipes.  He paused for a few seconds and all the neighbours stuck their heads out of their windows and shouted, "Awww, don't stop!"

I cannot imagine another country in the world where that might actually happen. 

So, here's to another year in beautiful England! May it be the best so far... :)

24 December 2016

December

So, it's been two plus months since I posted last, and I can hardly believe it has been that long... Time seems like it is being sucked into this vortex (along with everyone's ethics and morals, as evidenced by the demagogue about to take office back home). Seriously, what is happening??

It has been a whirlwind first term. I'm still up to my eyeballs with essay writing, but I'm giving myself a couple of Christmas days off to catch up on writing down memories.



One of our favourite people, Jonny Palmer (our cousin by marriage) came to visit us. We went to Speedy's cafe, which is the restaurant that Sherlock and Watson live above in the BBC Cumberbatch Sherlock show.
 

Jon is working fives days out of the week up in Sheffield. He is working with a portfolio company called Longden, which makes fancy-shmancy doors for places like Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. He leaves on Monday and comes home Friday, so I only get him on the weekends. It has been easier than expected, probably because I've been pretty busy with school. However, I'm eager for when we get to be together full time again. When exactly that will be (and where it will be) is a bit undetermined right now. Fingers crossed for April.

I have been able to go up and visit him though. We spent a weekend exploring the city and the Peak District which is just outside the town. It is gorgeous! We got a little Airbnb up in the hilly countryside and spent our days running after sheep (because we could) and hiking around to find abandoned castles.



We've also made some new friends. Robyn is (are you ready for this?) Jon's uncle-by-marriage's cousin, and she is in the picture with our Auntie Claire below. She has been here in London going to culinary school and unfortunately has felt the brunt of international displeasure with Trump. Some of her extraordinarily petty classmates (grown women even!) would turn off her oven and even got physically violent toward her simply because Robyn told them they had no idea what they were talking about when they were bashing the American electorate. Pretty unbelievable, but evidence of the growing chasm between ideologies.


In other happier news, Jon's parents came to visit us! WHOO HOOOOO!



We spent our week together exploring London and Brentford (for some geneological research). We had an epic and wonderful time at Winter Wonderland while Daddy-o got his fill of cheese and deli meats at Harrods. The boys surprised us by planning a final concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which was a perfect ending to a brilliant week. I'm still really impressed they kept it quiet until the last minute. :)



In other news, it has been a tough semester, for different reasons than I had expected, but I feel like I've grown a lot. I'm feeling good about my papers, so I'm praying I do well. The full grade for each class is based entirely upon one paper, so it has to be incredible. It is a stressful way to spend your holidays, but I'm super grateful for the extra time.




And, as a little Christmas bonus (mostly for my nieces and nephews who have been asking for these), here are two new vlogs. One from Australia and one from my in-law's visit to London. Merry Christmas!!

14 October 2016

University

Hello world! I am officially a university student again. Whoo hoo!

I am still considered an international student, which means tuition is insanely expensive and just getting into classes means jumping through twenty bureaucratic hoops that are completely unnecessary. But, once you finally get in the program, it is pretty mind-blowing. 

Currently, my favourite class is at the National Gallery and focuses on art as a theological medium. The class is taught by Ben Quash who is also an Anglican priest, so every point of doctrine is treated as truth, which I love. However, sometimes it feels like mental gymnastics. 

I've never been surrounded by people outside my faith that were so well-versed in scripture. They know their Bible backwards, forwards, and understand all the deep, deep doctrine and implications behind it. The weird thing is that even though we are all reading from the same book, the interpretations are VASTLY different. As mind-bending as it can be sometimes, I'm really enjoying thinking about Mormonism from a new vantage point. 

I went in to talk to Ben about this, (I needed some doctrinal points clarified) and found out I'm the first Mormon they've ever had in the program.  Makes me feel pretty cool, and I'm hoping I am just the first of many.  


This has been my bedside table lately. Up until this morning, there were twice as many books all from the glorious Maughn library which I know have full access too. I am not exaggerating when I say the library itself might be worth the tuition. That place is insane (think I'll do a post on it soon). 

Every day I walk back and forth between the Maughn and campus I pass by the beautiful Courts of Justice buildings (below). 


One of the cool and unexpected perks of being in the program is that I get special access to certain museum collections. We were brought down to this one, in the belly of the National Gallery earlier this week. 

It genuinely feels like you've just walked into some cave of treasures. They unlock the doors and all this beautiful art, in jewel-tones and gilded in gold, is staring back at you and you think "AH AM I DREAMING THIS IS HEAVEN!" It gets even better as we stand around and discuss it. 


In other news, this past month or so has been very busy. I've had an aunt-in-law, brother-in-law, and a step-great-uncle and his two sisters (whom I didn't even know existed) all come out to visit. Jon is back in the UK and working up in Sheffield and I'm back nannying. I'm also back in charge of the nursery on Sundays, which I am genuinely happy about. 

Life is good. I'm enjoying living in the now.