Sunday, November 26, 2006

Weekend Update--

It's been a long time since I posted anything here, so I thought it was time for an update. Since the last time I posted a lot has happened. I've had a lot of experiences and a lot of time to pray and study and think.

I haven't posted much for several reasons. Not much has really changed in my outlook, although I'm becoming more settled in what I see and how I think this all fits together.

Over the last year and a half some actual living of life has been sacrificed to web surfing and a lot of cathartic writing. I've gotten a little behind at work an in family time, and I've had some things to catch up on. Sometimes I think a well lived life has to be a blend of study and action. Some periods of life will focus more on study and contemplation, and some on living out the conclusions reached. Lately I guess the pendulum is swinging more into the "action" category.

So, after all this time and this wordy introduction, where do things stand?

In general I find that my faith in God and in Jesus Christ is as strong as it was before. I've been reading some of what you would call "liberal" books that attempt to tear down the historical and doctrinal foundations of Christianity, and for me they just don't hold up. Details available on request. I would be more than happy to see this blog spend more time articulating what I do believe rather than focusing so much on the things I don't.

I think it's possible to quibble over the historical details as recounted in the New Testament, but the primary event has to be the mission and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and my faith in those things stands firm.

On the other hand my faith in groups of people collectively has probably suffered irreversible damage. I have become mostly cynical about large churches, political parties, corporations, charities, etc.. As these organizations reach a certain size human nature seems to take hold. The primary focus of the organization seems to become its own survival and expanding its own power and influence rather than blessing its own members. The truth becomes secondary to the public image of the organization. People become secondary to growth and expansion of influence.

In this regard I see the LDS church as being no better or worse than any other organization.

Generally what I come around to is that the LDS church is just not that much different from the organizations around it. The people are no better or worse than most other Christians I come in contact with. Their focus just happens to be more on public morality issues that are more visible. IMHO the true mark of a Christian is probably their charity towards others rather than their personal morality, but this is a characteristic that is much less visible to the public eye. Put another way, other Christians are just as good as Latter-day saints, just in ways that are less obvious.

I spent a week and a half in the Salt Lake City area a couple of months ago. We made three visits to Temple Square, and I made it a point to see the films I hadn't seen before, like the new Joseph Smith film and another related film called, I think, "The Restoration". I went through both Visitors Centers, and I think for the first time was able to actually walk up and touch the outside of the Salt Lake Temple. It was really neat to be able to touch the doors and the doorknobs and to contemplate the pioneer craftsmanship that went into that magnificent building.

We also went to visit the Mt Timpanogos temple (the outside), and it is a wonderful and inspiring building. The pictures I've seen just don't do it justice.

Our visit to the Salt Lake area was extremely positive for me. The only downside was the sister missionaries on Temple Square. They're very nice and mean well, but they invariably pounced on me as soon as they saw me. I went into the South visitors center and was immediately engaged in pleasant conversation that quickly sequed to missionary work and a request for a referral. I was really there to see the visitors centers and not to be put on the spot to come up with a name to give to the missionaries. I told her I would pray about it and let her know.

I was confronted with a presentation on families, which was very nice, but I would expect to be introduced to the worship of Christ, not the ideal middle class suburban family.

The other end of the building was a nice exhibit on the construction of the temple, which was clearly visible through a large glass wall. I was again impressed with the faith, commitment, industry, and skills of the pioneers in building the temple, but I was still looking for some meaningful mention of Jesus Christ.

I then met my second sister missionary, who went through almost the exact same pattern as the first, asking me how the temple made me feel, sequeing to missionary work, and asking for a referral. I mentioned I had already been asked for a referral before and would let her know, and then just walked away to end the discussion.

I paused for a bit to contemplate the temple, and it was truly a wonder for me, once I could escape the sisters.

The North Visitors Center was a lot better. There was the presentation on Christ I was looking for. Only one sister missionary went through the commitment pattern looking for a referral. I ran into another who just talked about the things available on Temple Square and gave me what I was actually looking for, schedules for the films. She was very helpful and seemed guilty somehow, I'm guessing because she didn't ask me for a referral.

You can only view the Christus statue as part of a presentation now, and two sister missionaries pleasantly manned a velvet rope to block the way. I asked when I could go up, and she explained why I needed to wait. I stood there for awhile, and the sisters looked at each other and just let me go up.

The Christus statue is pretty impressive, and the sum total of all the exhibits in the North visitors center more than made up for the absence of much related to Christ in the other one. I just hope folks don't go to the South Visitors Center and then leave, thinking they have seen it all.

I got awhile to contemplate it all before the "official" group arrived and the Asian sisters bore their testimonies in broken English and then whisked those interested off to another presentation.

On a later visit I got to see the Joseph Smith movie at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Some have been offended because the movie plays fast and loose with several historical details. The official First Vision account is shown, to no one's surprise, there's no hint of polygamy, and the context behind all the persecution is completely eliminated, making it look like it was only their religious views that made them targets. The well-known fact that Joseph and Hyrum had pistols and fired back at their attackers is not present either. Joseph runs to the window and appears to be assumed into Heaven rather than being shot and falling into the street, which is what actually happened.

Many people in the theater were crying. I wasn't one of them. The movie was obviously not a documentary or designed to convey facts, so the selective storytelling didn't bother me much. I had a running chronology running through my head most of the time, noting what they depicted and what they sort of filmed around.

After the movie I had my chance to get up close and personal with the Salt Lake Temple. Before I don't think we could touch it, either out of security reasons or because of weddings. I got the chance to run my hands along the walls and doors and to contemplate what an achievement it was to build it. I was really moved by it in a way I can't really express and don't really completely understand. The closest I can come is that temples, especially the Salt Lake one, are probably the supreme monuments in existence to the faith of the Latter-day Saint people. I guess I am moved more by that faith than by the actual ordinances that are performed there.

After an entry this verbose some kind of summary seems to be required, but I wanted to be sure to include some of the experiences that have led me to where I am now.

Which is basically where I was before.

I am re-reading the Doctrine and Covenants along with Michael Quinn's book "Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power". I continue to find inspiration in those early prophetic works like the Book of Mormon, while at the same time being aware of their thoroughly human origins and the extent to which the LDS church has gone throughout its history to obscure those origins.

During my visit to Utah I was continually impressed with how nice the people are and how focused they are. Or at least appear. LDS chapels everywhere, and Sundays were a sea of minivans and white shirts. I attended church twice in one of the BYU wards, and they were some of the best LDS meetings I had attended in a long time. The speakers and teachers testified with power about both the Savior and about the "restored" gospel in a way I haven't seen in years. It was magnetic.

Having said that, the LDS church has always been surrounded by clouds of deception. Retroactively changed revelations. Secret marriage ceremonies not publically acknowledged, even to the members, for decades. Secret organizations like the Council of Fifty. Even today the General Authorities of the church, including the President, publish historical information that everyone who reads unofficial sources knows to be false and denies publicly doctrine we teach openly in the church.

As much as many get stirred up about this, I can't bring myself to see it as evil. Merely human, much as any other organization resorts to dissembling to maintain its public image.

My spiritual center has become much more personal, rather than relying on any human organization for ultimate guidance. I'm in church somewhere every Sunday, yet I treat what I'm presented more as input and perspective rather than fact.

I've come to the conclusion that most people's views on religion are based more on their biases than on the facts. Regarding Christianity, the facts and statements are contradictory, even within the same books of the Bible at times. We all filter out what we don't believe based on our biases, and what remains determines our religion.

God has left us a puzzle to figure out, with the basics in plain view and the details in turmoil. Just to confuse things further, the pieces can be put together to form more than one puzzle, much like a jigsaw puzzle with a different picture on each side. My puzzle may be different from yours, and it's intended that way.

Of late I am much less tortured by having to figure this out than I was before. I am much less hurt and disillusioned by the deceptions of LDS church leaders than I was before. They're only human and doing the best they can to keep a leaky ship afloat, and if I had given my heart and soul to an organization for as long as they have I would probably feel compelled to maintain the illusion also.

The spirit seems to be leading me out of "shock and betrayal mode" and into just living life to the fullest. For me that involves prayer and scripture study, seeking out ways to serve others and Jesus did, learning to love others as Jesus did, and seeking to worship my creator in every way possible.

I bought a motorcycle last month, and I feel blessed by God every day I get to ride it. It's an incredible privilege to just live life on this earth at the time I have been placed here. I don't want to miss a thing. Not one opportunity to revel in God's glory or to reflect that glory to others as best I can.

As far as "which church is true", none of them are and all of them are. Ultimately I'll be judged on my relationship with Jesus rather than what pew I chose to sit in on Sunday. Keeping the commandments or performing charitable acts are merely a reflection of that relationship rather than a substitute for it and are strictly secondary. Churches just enable us to gather together for worship, instruction, and service, and are strictly secondary also. Churches are inevitably repackaging of the source material by fallible human beings, and as such can only be trusted so far and no further. Churches are run by people with normal fears and ambitions and imperfections, and as such can only be trusted so far and no further.

Joseph Smith presented some truly amazing and revolutionary doctrine. Is it completely true? I have no idea. The apostle Paul presented some truly amazing and revolutionary doctrine. Is it completely true? I have no idea. In a way, each was inspired by God in ways normal people don't understand, and they did their best to communicate what they thought God was trying to tell them. Did either get it completely right? Probably unlikely, yet the basics of what they were trying to get across are probably pretty reliable, so the trick is to identify those things that are central and what things are just peripheral details and focus on the central things. To me Jesus said it best. Love God first, and then love thy neighbor. The rest is just commentary.

As Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord". I expect to spend the rest of my life figuring out exactly what that means.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Whose Church is it, Anyway? -

Wife of Bath and I spent pretty much all day cutting the grass and edging the grounds at our Episcopal church yesterday. "About two hours", the guy said. Well, if you've used a riding mower before, and you don't do the edging, and if you don't mow half the grassy parking lot, and get out a blower to clean up the clippings in the street . . .

While doing this we were basically the only members of the parish around, so we were running in and out of the building. Rather than a key lock they have a combination lock, because it's expected that most members of the parish will have access to the building. This was my chance to explore. Not a single room or office was locked, other than the AV room in the balcony. Not even the office or the rector's office was locked. The library was unlocked. I had access to all of it.

I couldn't help but contrast that to my experience in the LDS church. I'm in the presidency of a stake-level auxiliary, and I haven't had a key to the building in years. Even when I had to teach a weekly class I had to wait for someone to let me in. Even as ward clerk I didn't have access to the library. It was easier to get into Ft Knox than our ward library.

One way we know who has "the power" in the LDS church is by who has keys to the building. There are some things in our current building only the stake presidency has keys to. Heaven help us if we need to get to some of the lights and nobody from the stake presidency is there. Yet another thing that reinforces the authority of the leaders. I've begun to notice how much of what we do in the LDS church is designed to reinforce the authority of the leaders, but that's a tangent for another time.

So, whose church is it, anyway? Obviously not mine. I can only get into the building when somebody in authority grants me permission. Even then I'm restricted by whether the person has the right authority for the library, the kitchen, etc. So it's not really my church. It's the leadership's church. I only have the access privileges they give me.

By contrast our Episcopal church is my church. I can get in the building any time I want to. They trust me to use good judgment in what I do with my access.

It feels weird to be trusted, but in the end it's a good feeling.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Progress Report –-
It’s been awhile since I posted anything here, because we’ve been sending our youngest child off to college and taking some extended vacations.

What I initially conceived was a detailed description of the last few weeks, but I’m not sure I have the time to write it or you have the patience to read it. Details available on request, but I’ll provide the Readers Digest condensed version under the impression this is a better fit for both of us.

I haven’t attended my own ward sacrament meeting for four weeks now, and we’ve been away from church for three, due to visiting other churches and traveling. Frankly I haven’t missed it much. The local Episcopal church we have joined has provided spirit-filled worship experiences, and the church we visited in Indianapolis preached an inspirational sermon. His subject was basically throwing ourselves into the arms of Christ as children throw themselves into the arms of their fathers when they come home from work. The scriptures teach us that we are secure in our salvation once we make the leap of faith, so we don’t need to doubt our worthiness or our status continually. We don’t need to live in a state of fear about the state of our relationship with Christ. We just need to throw ourselves into it and look forward and up rather than inward and back.

Nobody in our ward seems to have noticed our absence, although I think people are aware we have been traveling. No phone calls telling us we are missed, nobody asking about how our trip was, etc.. E-mail about submitting my home teaching reporting, and somebody wanted a recipe from Wife of Bath. We haven’t heard from home or visiting teachers in months, although our leadership knows we have a “testimony” situation.

I have been playing “garment roulette” over the last few weeks. Sometimes I wear them. Sometimes I don’t. I can’t tell the difference. I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine with Wife of Bath, and I can’t tell the difference in my spirituality there either, other than a suspicious mild headache the next morning sometimes.

Today I wore my garments for the first time in a few days and read the latest Ensign. Surely I should have been filled with the spirit and inspired to return to a life of orthodoxy.

Basically it was the worst morning I have had in awhile. President Faust quoted a collection of men who have been dead for thirty years about how the father should be returned to a position of authority in the home. Elder Perry talked about what I’m sure must have been a truly inspiring family activity where he took them on a tour of Logan UT. At every stop he quoted a scripture and related a moral lesson from his upbringing, thus teaching that the most important role of fathers and grandfathers is to reinforce their own authority by imposing rigid programs and lecturing their family members. Much as we do in the church. One wonders if senior church leaders run their personal lives like a series of conferences and meetings, where family members are gathered to listen to them preach from the scriptures and personal time is scheduled like a temple recommend interview, as we are counseled to schedule personal interviews with our kids, schedule Family Home Evening every Monday, and “date night” every Friday, except when we can get a “twofer” by taking our wives to the temple on ward temple night as a date, thus freeing up a Friday night for preparing a talk or lesson.

A divorced woman talked about how she got through the divorce by relying on the programs of the church and the temple and applying a series of practical steps, similar to what might be found in Ladies Home Journal. I believe Christ was mentioned somewhere near the end of the article, but I’m not sure.

I find myself drifting out of an interest in activity in the church. It just doesn’t seem that relevant any more. What I find I need is to be brought into a close and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and then patiently led back into that relationship when my human tendencies cause me to drift away. I need to be brought into an awareness of who Jesus was and how he lived, taught, and served, and I need opportunities to be connected with other people with whom I can share those experiences and learn to serve. I need to be led to people different from me so I can practice loving as Jesus did, aware of their faults yet offering unconditional love and personal acceptance. Jesus had a way of accepting and supporting people who were failing, without necessarily condoning their behavior. He could tell a woman taken in adultery that he didn’t condemn or judge her, while at the same time encouraging her to turn away from her sins.

Basically what I see the church doing is striving primarily to reinforce its own authority, involving us in programs and teaching experiences where we don’t have to think or rely on the spirit, and then talking about Jesus as the wellspring of where the authority of all these people telling us what to do comes from. He’s out there somewhere, and during our free time from all these other things we’re encouraged to find him.

I remember reading somewhere that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. What I generally feel towards the LDS church right now is not hostility. With some exceptions everybody is doing the best they can to magnify what they have been taught. They have been taught the church is the Kingdom of God. The general authorities need to cover up the history to keep the weak in the fold, and the stake and ward leaders need to keep people anxiously engaged and busy in the church to keep them connected to it, so they don’t wander off on their own and drift away. Basically the earth is flat, and people who wander away from the mainstream of the church fall off the edge and are eaten by horrible sea monsters and dragons. They have to prevent that at all costs, and the “truth” will work itself out later in the millennium.

No, I’m just indifferent. Good people doing their best, but it doesn’t lead me to Jesus. It leads me to a closer relationship to the church and its leaders. I guess that works for most people. It doesn’t work for me.

Aren’t you glad this was the condensed version?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tender mercies --
I met with the stake president Saturday, and it proved to be a lot different than I expected.

Rewind to Friday. After going to a potluck dinner for a returned missionary we're related to, I headed home with the idea of going for a long walk. Typically I listen to music, but I felt kind of a dark spirit about listening to music.

"A talk", I thought. "How about an interview with a Catholic nun, Joan Chittister, that I read about on the internet".

So I downloaded it to my mp3 player and went out on my walk. She brought up a number of very interesting points in her interview. The ones that caught my attention related more to the commonalities of religious experience she has encountered among the world's religions in her travels. An interesting question was raised in her interview. When one begins to appreciate the elements of truth in other faiths, is that infidelity or the beginning of spiritual maturity?

She says the latter. She co-chairs a peace organization with women from several major world religions. Although, for her, the path for her is the one marked by Jesus Christ, she sees God drawing people to himself through many religions. Thus they have essential truths that should be appreciated.

Interesting stuff to be listening to the night before the big interview with the stake president.

Then my mp3 player went to the next recording, and it was one of my favorite songs by MercyMe, with the lyrics "where you lead me, I will follow". This was extremely surprising, because this is not the next song on my mp3 player. For some reason it reset itself and started at the beginning of the song list.

I took this to be one of the "tender mercies" referred to by Elder Bednar in one of his previous conference talks, those small things sent to us to strengthen us in times of trial.

I could have felt prompted to listen to a conference talk and some contemporary LDS music, which I also have recordings of, things that might have inclined me back to orthodoxy. But instead I got things encouraging me on the path I am on.

My actual interview was Saturday morning at 9:00am, and I was sweating it. My stake president comes across as being rather stern at times, and he's a scriptorian. Virtually every time we have any kind of stake meeting in the chapel he rearranges everyone to fill the front rows and the middle sections, under the theory that people sitting in front are more engaged in the meeting.

I was expecting to be challenged, admonished, and corrected.

I would really like to include some verbatim remarks, but I've given enough details in this so that my stake is not that hard to figure out, and I want to respect his confidentiality.

In summary he was aware of basically all the historical information I brought up, including some of the theories about the translation of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham. He has reached his own accomodation with it, and his counsel to me was to help me do the same.

I mentioned my concerns about the leaders of the church covering up information. As evidence of trying to pursue this in good faith, I also mentioned that I had given three talks from the pulpit since starting to learn about these things and hadn't said anything about my issues. He made the point that what I was doing was no different from what the general authorities were doing, trying to uplift people without unduly upsetting people with details that many would find confusing.

He counseled me to do the following: 1) Consider the sources of the information I'm coming across. Are they conveying actual historical information or wild speculation? 2) Pray about Joseph Smith and his calling. Seek to understand his motivations and his imperfections in light of what God was calling him to do and in light of the revelations he produced. 3) Stay grounded in the Standard Works rather than other books. Make them the center of my reading. 4) Stay balanced. Don't read things from only one point of view. 5) Stay close to the spirit and remain worthy of spiritual promptings and inspiration. Don't let my doubts lead me into behaviors that will push the spirit away. 6) If/when called upon to preach and teach, bear testimony of those things I know to be true that will uplift others. He told me that these internal struggles would eventually make me stronger, and that the testimony of those things I knew to be true would eventually grow to push out those things I was unsure about.

I was expecting to be released from my stake calling, but he felt confident in my ability to continue to serving if I wanted to. He trusted me not to try to lead the youth astray with my "issues", and I trusted him not to put me in a position where I was forced to teach things I didn't believe in.

We spent over an hour, and I had a lot to think about. I walked out of his office, and right behind me walked in a prospective missionary waiting to be interviewed. I tried to imagine being in the stake president's shoes, dealing with one member after another with difficult problems to work out, and my respect for him grew.

I walked across the parking lot to the temple that shares parking with our stake center. There was a wedding party coming out, and I wandered around to the street side and sat down, looking up at the angel Moroni and the words, "Holiness to the Lord". I sang as much of "The Spirit of God" as I could remember, and my mind went back to the early days of the church and the Kirtland temple. I thought about my own daughter's wedding in this same temple just a year ago. I felt a very strong spiritual confirmation of the validity of this path for some people, while at the same time feeling confirmed in the diverging path I'm on.

After awhile I realized that I was actually having a spiritual experience in front of the air conditioning unit rather than the front door, but I guess they have to put it somewhere.

What I had really hoped to get out of this meeting was an opportunity to choose one way or the other. In a way being rebuked and driven out of the mainstream of the LDs church would have made the choice for me. It would have pushed me in a certain direction without me having to continue to work this out. I was not so lucky in this respect.

I continue to feel very lucky in the ward and stake leaders I have. It looks like there's not going to be an ugly scene or confrontation. We will not be marginalized against our will. We will be given the freedom to work this out however it works out without being labelled as "bad people", "apostates", "ungrateful", "unworthy", etc..

I drove out of the parking lot feeling liberated, free. It looks like we will be able to make our own choices without having them made for us. We can pick our own balance point for right now.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Obedience –
After mostly writing the previous entry last night I listened to a talk from a non-LDS church on the way to work this morning. When I heard his subject was “obedience” I almost turned off my mp3 player. I had had enough of obedience in the last 24 hours. Here comes the to-do list and the guilt trip, I thought.

His take on obedience was quite interesting. He quoted from 1 John and pointed out that obedience can be summed up by 1) love God and 2) love your neighbor, and spent about thirty minutes on #2. He didn’t say a thing about personal morality, standards, or serving within the church as directed by the pastor. What he talked about was reaching out to others with whom we come in contact and simply loving them as Jesus did. He used the example of a man who spent three months serving the poor in India and then came home and began taking in the homeless, in his own house.

What a breath of fresh air. It was a blessing to finally hear some true Christianity.

Here’s a link to the sermon:

The Five Hour Block –
I have had many good Sundays in church lately. Today wasn’t one of them. It started off with the youth speaker in Sacrament and went downhill. His first sentence somehow related to having to perfect ourselves in order to feel the spirit, and I was glad Wife of Bath was not there, because I believe she would have headed for the door. The next speaker presented an eight point program for achieving something. I couldn’t figure out what, other than it was a lot of work to get there, involving scripture study, prayer, and the usual “do”s, other than actual contemplation. The concluding speaker talked about how the family was the foundation for our nation. I basically consider the extreme emphasis on the family in many conservative Christian churches today to be a modern idolatry, merely because we seem to place our focus on the family ahead of our focus on God. We try to lure new people in by talking about families instead of God and put them up on the pedestal that properly belongs to Christ. Our families are not the ultimate source of happiness or salvation. That would be our relationship with Christ. But I digress.

Sunday School was on Elijah and Elisha and covered the healing of Namaan the Syrian from leprosy. Through the lens of correlation this became a lesson on “follow the prophet”, no matter what small thing he says. Somebody in the class protested against blind obedience, and the class agreed that blind obedience is bad, and we should do everything the prophet says with our eyes open. Okay . . . and this differs from blind obedience how?

Priesthood was a pioneer day lesson from the Wilford Woodruff manual on the pioneers, including familiar stories of Joseph Smith raising people from the near-dead.

After the three hour block I had to wonder if we had talked about God at all, let alone Christ.

Later on I attended stake priesthood meeting, where we talked about the importance of performing our duties and obligations, returning and reporting, and the evils of pornography (which was quite appropriate, FWIW). The lone substantial reference to Christ was from a 16 year-old who talked about how serving in the church brought him closer to Christ and helped him feel the savior’s love. The rest of it was duty, obligation, and the importance of worthiness.

By and large it was a draining day. I found myself wondering if there was a morning worship service during the week at any local church, just so I could feel a spirit of group worship rather than being instructed on more things to do, while being reminded of the importance of doing them in order to remain “worthy” of the spirit, my eternal reward, etc..

I found myself wondering just how much more of this I can take. My main reason for staying in the LDS church is that most churches just don’t teach morality and commitment anymore, and I think that’s important. Even Baptists teach about sin and morality without the guilt load the LDS church imposes. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is quite simply not one long to-do list, however well intentioned this might be. Even if we load ourselves down with this to-do list for fully altruistic reasons, I don’t think this is what Christ really intends.

My impression from the scriptures is that Christ did not over-program himself. We don’t see Jesus racing from place to place trying to heal everyone, trying to convert everyone, trying to pack just one more thing into a crowded day like we do. Christ focused on relationships, both with his Father and with his people, and relationships take time. True relationships and being excessively schedule-driven and task-driven are at odds with each other. I knew a stake president once who bragged about planning his family home evenings a year in advance. In what way does this allow for the still small voice to suggest a particular message needed right now? Likewise our packed schedules. A day full of work commitments, family commitments, and church commitments does not lend itself to being interrupted by someone who either needs our help or needs us to listen. Jesus paced himself and focused on the people in front of him, and maybe we can learn something from this. He balanced rest, service, prayer, and worship. So should we.

I’m coming to believe our concept of worthiness in the LDS church is very destructive. It’s like a cartoon where the dog has a stick tied to his head with a bone on the end, just out of reach. As he moves towards the bone it moves away, because it’s attached to the stick which is attached to his head. No matter how hard he tries the dog will never reach the bone.

Likewise worthiness. It’s always “lengthen your stride”, “stand a little taller”, “do a little more”, “be a little better”. Based on what we hear from the pulpit we will never be good enough. We will never be “done”. We will never be able to satisfy all the obligations laid on us from the pulpit, thus we will never feel “worthy” of the companionship of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Youth Conference Report –-

Wife of Bath and I were heavily involved in stake Youth Conference this weekend as a result of my stake calling. We were also a host family for five young men. The combination kept us going pretty much constantly from 5pm Thursday to the end of the testimony meeting Saturday evening. We drove kids, we cooked hot dogs, we served food, we painted blocks, we sang songs, and generally handled a lot of behind the scenes logistics.

The theme was “I walked where Jesus walked”. Given my current state of mind this conference had a lot of potential to sway me either way. Last year’s conference was basically a tribute to Joseph Smith, so something a little more Christ-centered was definitely in order.

This was a good conference. The presenters did their best to present their messages about Christ, there were inspirational murals of the empty tomb and the city of Jerusalem, the food was good, and the youth were almost uniformly spiritual and well-behaved.

A couple of things really jumped out at me, though. Christ’s message was very complex in character, sometimes talking about social justice, sometimes talking about worship of God, sometimes talking about sin. His role was multi-faceted, subverting the political/religious hierarchy and teaching us how to express our love for God as well as our love for each other. He exemplified obedience, love, service, and personal righteousness, as well as taking upon himself the role of sacrificial lamb for our sins.

Almost uniformly the presenters at the conference focused on the atonement to the exclusion of other things. We have a tendency to see everything in the gospel through the lens of personal righteousness and morality, which reduces Jesus’ role to mainly paying the price for our sins. I think this tends to elevate the consideration we give to sin way out of proportion to the emphasis Jesus placed on sin. The gospel is not just about our personal behavior, keeping ourselves free from sin, and our righteousness. It’s mainly about relationships. Our relationship with God, and our relationships with others. Especially our relationships with the poor and those who suffer in other ways. This aspect of Jesus’ life went largely unexamined in the sessions I went to. We basically reduced Jesus’ life to a laundry list of things to do. Obey. Refrain. Serve. Be ye therefore perfect.

Another thing that struck me was the testimony meeting at the end. After two and a half long days, the testimony meeting is the payoff. The depth of the testimonies of the youth of our stake is always inspiring. Sitting on the stand you can see their hands shaking and their heavy breathing as they walk the long walk up to the microphone. Their strength is always inspiring.

I thought it was interesting that, after two and a half days of talking about Jesus, they rarely mentioned him in their testimonies. They bore their testimonies of the church, of President Hinckley, of the Book of Mormon, and Christ got a couple of sentences at the end. Only one young man really centered his remarks on Christ’s love and how the conference had helped him appreciate that better.

This reinforced my feeling that the members in general have a knowledge of Jesus and an appreciation for the atonement, but most of their loyalty and their attention goes to the church and church leaders, because that’s what’s in front of them most of the time. Rather than putting Christ at the center of our worship, I think we really have “the restoration” at the center of our worship much of the time, with Christ as kind of a component part of that. If you asked most of our youth who their hero was and who they wanted to emulate, I bet President Hinckley would edge out Jesus Christ.

In their defense I think most members consider it one package, and that their devotion to the church encompasses devotion to Christ, but I believe this is a dangerous lack of discrimination. We have elevated our leaders, our founders, and the organization of the church to a level where it seems to be on a par with Christ and the events of his historical ministry, and this is a big problem.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Ensign Moment That Wasn’t—

Wife of Bath and I went on a backpacking trip this weekend with an old friend from church. I was his home teacher for about eight years, through the death of their third child and some very tough times. James used to be the only person I could really discuss the LDS gospel with, because he was and is infused with the spirit and was serious about it. Most LDS shy away from spiritual discussions (at least men) because the subjects are considered “private” and people just don’t open up that much. At least not with me anyway. James was different, because he lived and loved the gospel.

One of my consistent prayers through all this is for intervention. “Lord, if I am on the wrong path, send me a sign. Have my bishop call me in for an interview. Have my elders quorum president schedule me for a PPI and ask me how I’m doing in a way that suggests he really cares, i.e. by allotting more than 10 minutes for the meeting. Send me a friend to ask me how things are going.”

As of yet, nothing. I have met with my bishop several times about mundane administrative things and tithing settlement, and he has never had a clue, other than our last meeting where I laid it all out. Since the evolution of my belief I have only had one PPI from my quorum presidency, which was last month after I had already decided to talk to my bishop.

This weekend was another “intervention” opportunity. Two days in the woods of Kentucky, with nothing to talk about but God, angels, and the restoration. James has been a seminary teacher for years, and is probably the most doctrinally knowledgeable person in my circle of acquaintance. He has pulled at least one person back from apostasy that I know of. Would this be my turn? Would he be prompted to reel me back into the fold?

Apparently not. Gospel subjects really never came up, other than he repeated a standing joke between us about me being called to be a bishop, which WoB and I found to be kind of grimly amusing, considering what is actually going on.

I have to believe that 1) if the LDS church was true, 2) if those around us are blessed with a spirit of discernment 3) if we have a father in Heaven who wants WoB and I to remain as fully active members of the LDS church, and 4) if we have a father in Heaven who answers really important prayers, that somebody around us would be inspired to stop us from going down the path we’re headed.

Instead, the spiritual witness I keep getting is that there is a God in heaven who loves us and wants us to look after each other, and that a good portion of what the LDS church teaches is legalistic pharisaical bullcrap. In some ways it leads us to God in ways that we might not otherwise be brought there, but in many ways it causes us to get caught up in the minutia of details and structure and human organization in ways that obscures a fuller and more nuanced relationship with the divine.

So, another chance to pull us back from the brink of apostasy passes without incident. Onward we continue into the unknown . . .

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Service --

Our Elders Quorum had a service project yesterday. A member had three trees taken down in his back yard, and he needed the wood hauled away. The Elders Quorum President talked to the bishop and got the name of a needy sister in the ward who needed the wood.

When we went to deliver the wood, I was surprised. I expected to find an older sister living in a rundown small home somewhere. What I found was a single sister living in a modest home in a nice subdivision. The thing that got me is that she's in the process of building a pond in her back yard.

In my experience we rarely render what I would consider meaningful service in the church. We rarely serve the truly needy, even in our own community. Most of our service goes to each other. I.e. it stays within the church. We are not as concerned with relieving the plight of the poor and hungry as we are helping widows with their landscaping.

I don't doubt that the sister in our ward was needy relative to others in the ward, but I hardly think somebody putting in a pond is on the edge of survival. We can do better than this. Jesus did not call us to merely look after those within our own group, no matter how comfortable that might be.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal church we visit sometimes had a meeting today totally devoted to the Appalachian Service Project mission trip the youth took. They spent a week in Kentucky repairing people's houses. They were hot, sweaty, dirty, and tired for a week, but they rendered what I consider meaningful service for people who are unable to help themselves. These kids came back with the light of Christ in their eyes.

And I bet not one house needed a pond built.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Meeting with the Bishop --

I had a very positive discussion with my bishop last night.

I didn't really intend to do this, but I ended up pretty much unloading all the historical issues, from the 1832 first vision to the mysterious disappearance of the pistols from the modern rendition of the Carthage Jail story. He didn't really attempt to deal with any of that, but I didn't really expect him to. He didn't attempt to argue or try to discredit the information. He allowed as how our church leaders aren't perfect and have never been perfect, and he bore his testimony of the humility of the apostles, their inspiration, and that they do what they feel is in the best interests of the church. We don't always have the big picture or understand the circumstances behind those decisions, but in his case he had faith in the Brethren to make the right choices most of the time. I reiterated that my issues aren't with the events themselves as much as the intentional deception of the membership. I mentioned that it was a punch in the gut to get blindsided with information like the Council of Fifty, Helen Mar Kimball, and the use of seerstones in translating the Book Of Mormon when we had never been told any of this before, and I expressed my feelings of betrayal at not having been told these things.

He reiterated that I was a good and honorable person and was grateful for my forthrightness in wanting to make him aware of my situation. He felt comfortable with what I was doing in my callings and trusted that I wasn't going to teach false doctrine to the youth or members, seeing as how this has been going on for over a year right under his nose and he wasn't even aware of it. I mentioned I could no longer sustain the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. I continue to believe they are inspired, in the same way that the Pope, Billy Graham, Mr Rogers, etc, are inspired, but I don't think their actions in misleading the membership about our history meet the standard for prophet, seer, and revelator. i.e. inspired by God to lead the One True Church. I mentioned I believed the church was true, but there are many sources of truth out there, and the church is not the exclusive, or even the best, dispenser of wisdom. Despite having said all that he left up to me whether I qualifed for a recommend, and if I had asked for one he would have whipped out the book and given me one.

He mentioned his sadness, not that I was being unfaithful to the church or anything, but that I was going through this, and he understood my position given the information I had been exposed to. We both agreed that this should be discussed with the stake president. He asked me to say a closing prayer, and after an hour and a half we parted on an extremely positive note.

So, round 1 is complete. I'm not expecting an interview with my stake president to be so touchy feely. He's more stern, and being raised in the church he's a scriptorian. We'll see what happens next.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Road Taken --

I thought about titling this "Coming Out", "Kicking Over the Ant Hill", etc., but this seemed more classy.

I sent this e-mail to my bishop on Saturday. Here we go . . .


Bishop X,

I currently find myself in a place I never expected to be, nor really sought out.

In summary, over the last year and a half of prayer, study of the scriptures, and study of church history, I have developed some serious problems with the foundational history of the church and the way it's presented, as well as with many of the foundational doctrines. It seems unlikely to me that I probably still qualify for a temple recommend.

It really hurts me to have to say this and to place this burden on your shoulders, but given that I hold positions of responsibility at both the ward and stake level, I have to be honest and up front with this.

I have no desire to leave the church or anything like that, but you have a right to know where I stand, and I have a need to quit hiding my concerns.

At this point we can proceed however you feel is most appropriate. Maybe this is sufficient to establish my situation in the ward. If necessary we can meet, or I can lay my concerns out via e-mail so you have something to forward to President Y if you so choose. I'm assuming he will need to be involved because of my stake calling. My emotions about this are extremely mixed, and I can probably express this better in writing, but that might not be the best use of your time. I can lay this out in whatever level of detail you're most comfortable with, as these are not pleasant subjects for anyone who has devoted the best of their adult lives to the church as we have.

One of my goals in this is to make this as easy for you as possible. I'm conscious of laying a burden on your shoulders, but I'm not sure what else to do at this point. It's time to get this out in the open.

Please let me know how you would like to proceed from here.

At this point Wife of Bath is fully aware of my concerns, but I have not shared them with [DS], [DD], or [DD’s husband]. One condition I would request is that I would like this to remain between us, President Y, and your counselors, until [DS] has left for school the middle of August. I don't want any hint of this coming out through the rumor mill. i.e. PEC, the high council meetings, etc., until he has left for college. At that point you can tell whoever you want. It would be unrealistic to expect it to remain a secret.

Thanks for your loving service to our ward,


Monday, June 12, 2006

Dateline 06/12/2006 –
Sometimes this blog functions as an essay repository, and other times it functions more as a journal to record what I’m thinking on a given day. Today I guess it’s a blog.

I was on the “five hour block” schedule yesterday as a result of my stake calling. I attended sacrament and Sunday school in my own ward and then drove across the county to attend ward conference for another ward. The preaching and teaching in both wards was nothing less than inspired and inspiring. The thing I continue to love about the church is the commitment of the leaders and members to the “restored” gospel. I just can’t help but be moved by it. The second talk in my ward and the bishop and stake president’s message at ward conference were very moving and Christ-centered. The concluding speaker in my ward pled with us to reach out to those who see themselves as second-class citizens in the church, due to marital status or other things. The SP in particular reminded us that the purpose of the church organization is to bring souls to Christ, rather than to have nice facilities for us to congratulate ourselves on how well we’re doing.

However . . .

I thought one talk in my ward was quite indicative. The second speaker gave a twenty minute talk reprising Elder Holland’s Sunday message from last conference on Jesus Christ. Unfortunately she gave a twenty minute talk in about fifteen minutes, reading it so fast it was hard to process. It was especially hard to tell when she was quoting Elder Holland and when she was speaking for herself.

The indicative thing was her testimony at the end.

After speaking for fifteen minutes on Jesus Christ, she expressed her thanks for the church, the ward, her calling, her family, and the temple. The temple was the thing she was most thankful for. The temple. The temple? Nothing further about Christ, his sacrifice, the atonement, his example, the resurrection, the second coming, or anything else. She was willing to speak about Jesus Christ by assignment, but the things she was truly thankful for came from the institutional church and its claims to authority. Jesus Christ didn’t make the list.

Fast-forward to the youth meetings of ward conference, and again the youth of the church are tremendously inspiring. Their testimonies and their devotion to what they have been taught are truly remarkable, given the things going on around them.

Our stake theme for the year comes from D&C 115:5 – “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;”

Four youth were invited in advance to testify about the ways in which they have let their light shine forth. Following their testimonies the stake YM and YW presidents were asked to come up, and a member of the stake presidency closed the meeting with his own testimony. All spoke eloquently and from the heart about their commitment to the gospel. I was thinking about their comments as I walked out to the car.

And then it hit me.

All but one of the youth and all of the adults talked mainly about the Word of Wisdom, with some comments about personal standards.

The way they let their light shine forth was by not drinking alcohol or smoking, by not using profanity or looking at pornography. All they talked about was their personal standards. Nothing about service, love, tolerance of others, charity, relieving the wants of the poor, or any of the myriad of things Jesus actually taught. Nothing about exemplifying the life of Jesus Christ in any way. Primarily about following the Word of Wisdom, and secondarily about exemplifying standards of morality.

I keep coming back to John 13:35 – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

We should be known as followers of Jesus Christ, not for our superior morality, but for our sacrificial love for others. I have trouble believing that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for me drinking a cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t even strictly observed in the church until the early 20th century, yet it and our standards of morality and dress is the centerpiece of who we are for most people, in and out of the church.

I have to wonder if I want to continue to be a part of a church that encourages people to focus on such a skewed version of the gospel.
Monkey in the Middle –-

I often find myself torn between conflicting influences as I try to figure out where the Lord is trying to lead me. One day last week was indicative. I started my day out with the latest Ensign as my morning scripture study. I listened to an inspiring sermon from the pastor of an evangelical church I follow. I was uplifted by a spiritual thought sent to me courtesy of the Episcopal News Service.

I sometimes see myself at the crossroads of three distinct influences these days.

The focus on morality, personal cleanliness, and devotion to God from the LDS church resonates with me strongly. The sense of mission of the members is very compelling.

In my inner mind, I tend to express myself mostly like an evangelical Christian. I made the decision to commit my life to Christ on 29 April 2005, and that decision was transformational. Jesus is my savior, and I am a broken vessel. I owe him everything, and I place absolutely all my hopes for future happiness on his grace and forgiveness. Not on my own righteousness, priesthood ordinances, temple marriage, or anything else. My entire hope for the future comes from Jesus Christ and not on my own strength or righteousness.

The one challenge I have with the first two paths is that I am suddenly no longer a biblical fundamentalist or primarily a moral or social conservative. I believe the bible to be a record primarily of what people thought God was trying to tell them, with the inherent inaccuracies of decades, and in some cases centuries of oral transmission. I believe the bible message to be inspired, but not inerrant. There are too many internal contradictions for me to believe that it’s literally word-for-word inspired. There are too many cultural things like women keeping their heads covered in church mixed in with more timeless messages for it to be totally obvious which is which. That’s where the openness of the Episcopal church comes in. For me the Episcopal church seems to establish a framework of worship centered on the Book of Common Prayer and elements of an almost Buddhist mysticism that turn our hearts towards a connection to the divine, while allowing wide latitude for interpreting what the scriptures say to us. This is a framework I can operate within without having to clench my teeth at many of the messages from the pulpit. This is a faith community where I can speak my mind without looking over my shoulder for the doctrinal inquisition.

Imagine a road intersection with three roads coming into it, like a wheel with three spokes, and you’ll get a good idea how I feel most of the time. Accidents and emergency vehicles seem inevitable.

For awhile I had the idea that I would be led to choose between one of these paths. Now I am beginning to wonder. I draw so much strength from all three that my testimony feels like a 12 cylinder engine some days. Maybe where I am being led is to remain in the middle, drawing from the strengths of all three traditions . . . but how to keep from being pulled apart – that’s the critical question.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I just can't help but find this hypocritical, considering Elder Nelson is married to two women "for time and all eternity". I don't necessarily take a position on celestial polygamy one way or the other, but how does he stand there and defend marriage as being between "a man and a woman" knowing he'll have one woman to rub his feet and another to rub his shoulders for time and all eternity? One to cook and one to do dishes? One to wash and one to iron?

Stand up for what you believe in, man! Defend your harem in front of God and country and the media, but don't make like an Evangelical monogamist.,15503,4028-1-23503,00.html
I Want to be a Fundamentalist –-

My son graduates from high school this weekend, and we attended a baccalaureate service this past weekend. It was held in one of the two largest megachurches in our county.

What a beautiful building! It was like being in a hotel. Dark wood paneling, carpeting, chandeliers, the whole nine yards. The main sanctuary was large enough by my estimate to hold well over a thousand people. It had a hard-wood floor large enough for two full-size basketball courts side by side with plenty to spare, populated by comfortable stackable chairs. The choir seats were generous in number, the lighting and sound system were professional and well run. Wife of Bath pointed out that this wasn’t even intended to be the main building. It was an auditorium, with the main building with permanent seats yet to be built.

There were racks of literature out, and everything about this church radiated confidence. There was a small bookstore featuring study materials for a wide range of biblical studies.

The students who spoke were wonderful, talking about the results of giving their lives to Christ in hopes he would make more of them than they could. Their faith was strong, their testimonies resolute, and their countenances shining with the light of the Lord.

I felt instantly at home. These people expressed themselves the way I think and am sometimes able to express. They didn’t believe, they knew as a result of many personal experiments with faith and with the Word. They just radiated joy and faith. It was so, so reminiscent of the best of the LDS people.

I picked up a statement of faith from a brochure rack, and I was immediately hit by the following:

“We believe that the Bible as originally written was verbally and plenary inspired, is the product of spirit-controlled men and therefore, is truth without any mixture of error. We believe the Bible to be the center of true Christian unity and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions shall be tried.”

And I found myself struck out on the first pitch.

Even as true believing as I ever was in the LDS church, I was aware of inconsistencies in the bible. I don’t think it’s possible to claim the bible as being free from error, when even the resurrection stories between the four gospels don’t match. Jesus’ own words are not consistently rendered between the gospels. Does that mean the bible is without worth? Absolutely not! But I don’t see how it’s possible to claim the bible is free from error and word-for-word inspired, when its issues are obvious. I think the general themes are obvious, but we can’t allow ourselves to get hung up on the literal correctness of individual sentences taken out of context.

The thing I have really lost in my journey out of the mainstream of the LDS church is that sense of confidence in the absolute correctness of what we have. For so long my testimony was built on that confidence that God had one plan and one church, and I was a part of it. There was a sense of plain truth there that inspired me and those around me with a sense of mission, much like the students at the baccalaureate, and I’m sure much like the members of the church I attended this past weekend. I loved that sense of surety, of building the Kingdom of God on the earth.

I don’t have that any more, and I want it back.

My faith in God and in the redeeming mission of Jesus Christ is as strong as it has ever been. I can stand up and testify about giving my life to Christ, about Him as the way, the truth, and the life, and I can do that with confidence. Much beyond that, and I’m in trouble. The details often seem shrouded in mystery these days. Which passages of the bible really reflect what Jesus said, and which ones reflect the best efforts of oral tradition to preserve them until they could be written down? Which things are timeless, and which things are cultural? Was Jesus really trying to start a single church, or was he transmitting religious, moral, and ethical values that could be incarnated in many different ways?

I want to be a confident fundamentalist again, to bear testimony of a single doctrinal statement, of a single people, of a certain way of building the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to be rock solid sure about what God wants me to do. I want to be free from doubt about the details.

And I just can’t do it . . .

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I include this mainly because of the title of this blog. I got this via the Episcopal News Service. Why don't we talk about things like this in General Conference, and instead choose generally to focus on things that reinforce the authority of the church? Should I choose a path that fills my heart with Jesus' teachings, or the path that binds me ever more tightly into the earthly organization?

Grow in Love
by Sarah Knoll-Williams

A smart young mother did a very smart thing. After she poured a full glass of milk, she set it before her daughter. As her daughter reached for it, the mother stretched out her hand and knocked it over. Milk was everywhere; all over the table, onto the floor, making a puddle. The daughter looked up at her mother in complete shock. The mother smiled down at her daughter.

"What happened?" she asked the little girl.

"You spilled the milk!" the daughter replied.

"The milk?" asked the mother in mock confusion. "Why didn't juice come out of the glass?"

"There was no juice in there! You put in milk!" the daughter squealed.

"Ohhhh!" the mother laughed. "You mean, whatever we put in the glass is what comes out when the glass is spilled?" As they cleaned up the spill, the mother spoke to her daughter. "We fall down, too," she said. "When something goes wrong, whatever is inside us is what comes out. If you are angry and someone pushes you down, your anger will spill out like the milk. If you are full of love, love will spill out instead."

Jesus says, "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart" (Matt 15:18).

The last time someone pushed you down, what came spilling out?

It is hard to fill our own glass with love. When I draw near to God in scripture and prayer, God fills my glass with good things. I have known people whose glass was filled with love, and it often overflowed into mine. If my glass is already full of selfishness, impatience, or anger, there is no room for love from God or anyone else. Have you looked in your glass? What's in there?

Our heart is like our own roots. Our lips, our hands, our feet -- these are like leaves on the stem. You can tell the roots by how the leaves look. You can tell the state of my heart by what I say to you and do for you. In Ephesians we learn to pray for each other "that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love" (Eph 3:17). If our roots are planted and watered in love, if love fills our glass, we will not be afraid of falling down. When we do fall, our good things from God will spill out.

Ephesians urges us to grow in love because we invite God to tend the garden. Jesus says, I am the vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes, to make it bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). I urge you to offer your branch to be pruned, and see what fruit God makes through you. Let's offer ourselves to God with an empty glass, that we would be filled with good things. If we grow in love, we grow in God. Out of God's great love, "my cup overflows" (Psalm 23:5).

As long as we are living with others on a daily basis, we will fall down. Some may push us; we may push others. Prepare with me to fall down and spill a full glass of love. Prepare with me to have a cup that overflows for others.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Two Temples --
I attended two temples on Wednesday, and the experiences were very revealing.

I went for a long hike in the woods with a 50 pound pack to get ready for a backpacking trip next month. I had my MP3 player with me, and the weather was glorious. For me, hiking is like a temple experience. It's a place of revelation. This day was no different. The glory of God was all around me, everywhere, in the blue of the sky, the green of the leaves, the blue of the lake water, and the gentle rhythms of the trees. No words of counsel manifested themselves, nor angels with flaming swords. None were needed. God was telling me in loud visible terms, "this is the glory and greatness of my creation, and you couldn't reproduce a particle of it on your own. Behold my glory, and be a part of it. Work with it and not against it. I hold you in the palm of my hand as the pinnacle of my creation. You are at my mercy in all that you do. Be still and know that I am God. Exult in my love for you and behold this earth I have created for my glory and for your sustenance during your short time there." The power of God was almost tangible, visible. I felt my part in his creation as one of his created.

I finished the hike, went home, and got cleaned up for an evening temple session. As this might be my last I approached it with a heightened level of awareness. What would it be like? What messages would God send? How would the revelation I felt in the temple compare with what I felt in the woods?

One of the downsides of the smaller temples is that I invariably try to pack too much in to a temple visit. I am always squeezing it in around other things, and I am almost always rushed. This was a little different, but not much.

One thing I felt as I drove the twenty minutes to the temple was a feeling of release. Like a great weight was lifted off of my chest.

Often what should be a place of worship is for me a place of failure. I'm running late. My shirt isn't white enough. It's wrinkled. I should be doing more genealogy and bring my own names. I'm not attentive enough. My mind drifts when I should be focused on the ceremony. I sweat visibly anticipating the transition to the celestial room. What if I forget something? What if the temple worker is disgusted by how sweaty my hand is as I am tested? Why don't I see angels and get more revelation? Why don't I come more often? I should have polished my shoes. I'm just not good enough to really be there.

There was none of that this time. With a more discerning attitude towards the church has come a sweet release from most of those feelings of inadequacy. Paradoxically, since I don't put things associated with the church on such a high pedestal anymore I enjoy them hugely more than I did before. My identity in Christ gives me everything I need, and we're all sinners. What other people in the church may think of me is of lesser consequence. I am justified by my faith and my relationship to God and Christ and not by how well I fit into church programs or "look like the propets" in how I act or dress or speak.

I have felt for awhile that the thing that we are blessed for in temple worship is our faith, not merely performing the ordinances. The value is not the ceremony itself, but as an expression of worship and faith. There are many other expressions of worship and faith. Do the dead need these ordinances? No. We need them as a way of worshiping and in feeling those tangible connections to those who have gone before. Temple ordinances create mystic ties to both the dead and the living.

I think I had one of my best sessions ever. The references to the atonement and the resurrection came through more clearly than before. The feeling of progressing in devotion to God and in sanctification came through more clearly. The doctrines about achieving godhood and of God having progressed from his own Garden of Eden were there, but inconsequential to me. I almost brushed them off.

I suffered my usual sweaty palms, but made it to the Celestial Room, perhaps for the last time, without incident.

Once in the Celestial Room I was left to ponder. What does it all mean? If the temple is a place of revelation, Lord, bring it on. I need some. This could be my last shot at this. If I'm supposed to repent and return to orthodoxy, send me a flaming arrow of revelation. If I'm supposed to tear off my temple clothing and start singing "Amazing Grace" and call the others in the room to repentance, give me a sign.

I closed my eyes as usual, preparing to launch into a tortured prayer, and the witness I got was to open my eyes, look around, and take it all in. So I did.

I perceived the symbolism of the temple ceremony as a process of cleansing and sanctification rather than exaltation. It seemed more about personal purification than an increase in power and status and authority. I appreciated the Celestial Room as a quiet place of contemplation and separation from the cares of the world. One of many places. Not the only place. One face of God was revealed to me in the woods earlier. Another was revealed in the temple. God has many aspects, many roles, many ways being perceived. The temple is an important one, but just one.

I looked around at the joy in the faces of some of the other people in the room and felt warmed by their faith. There was a young couple desperately in love. There was an older lady holding hands with a young woman, the both of them crying about something. I appreciated the beautiful white and gold furnishings and decorations and the flowers and the chandelier. It was truly a beautiful place that wholly reflected what I brought into it. It wasn't a source of light, but a lens through which the faith within me might be focused in a positive way.

Finally it was time to go. My gaze and my touch lingered on everything near me as I walked back to the locker room. I touched the wood work and looked in the sealing room as I passed. I wanted to remember everything, since I might not pass this way again.

I was one of the last people in the temple, and of course the only other person in the temple was using the same locker space, so I paused to put my immediate family on the prayer list, as well as all the members of the New Order Mormon web site.

On the way out the door I wanted to visit the sealing room where my daughter had been married, just one last time, but the smiling temple president and the smiling matron were there to gently guide me out the door so they could lock up, and I didn't fight it.

So, after all that, what about renewing my recommend? I felt at peace with myself. It was out of my hands. It's largely up to the bishop and stake president at this point to decide whether my heretical thinking puts me outside the fold or within it. I have no transgressions to worry about. Keeping the Word of Wisdom is not a problem, if I decide to. It might be a question of whether I want to keep that current on my tithing, but the central questions are the doctrinal ones. Once those are settled I can worry about the behavioral ones.

Another angle on this, which I felt in the temple, is that there are other beautiful houses of God in which we can worship. Are there not cathedrals to pray in? Woods to hike through? Mountains to climb? There are. One aspect of what I felt in the Celestial Room was to look around, mark the feelings I had, and search out other like places in which I felt close to God. Also, losing a temple recommend is not permanent. If my circumstances and faith issues change, I can work through getting it back.

In summary my temple experience was a great one, and it motivated me to seek out like experiences. Either in the temple or elsewhere . . .

Monday, May 22, 2006

Adult Beverages, Part II –-

I wanted to continue the experiment from last week, basically pitting Ps 104 against D&C 89 to see which one would win out. I was on my own last night, as Wife of Bath was out of town and my son was at work. I sat down with dinner in front of “The Gospel of Judas” on the National Geographic channel and a couple of glasses of wine. I’m obviously not in practice with this drinking thing, because I got a little fuzzier than I was expecting, and it lasted longer than I remembered. I’m not sure I felt that much more relaxed. Just fuzzier, although I was trying to pay attention to biblical scholars and archaeologists tell the story of a 2000 year-old manuscript, which is hardly a “good times” experience.

My son came home from work two hours earlier than expected, and I was in trouble. He wanted to go out and throw the lacrosse ball around, and I could hold it together in conversation, but there was no way I could play lacrosse. It requires a lot of coordination to throw and catch with a lacrosse stick, and I had had a little too much wine for that.

We went out to the back yard, and it was pretty humble. I couldn’t catch a thing. Once the ball hit me in the chest and I stumbled trying to pick it up. My son looked at me and said, “Dad? Are you OK?” He’s used to people drinking from his restaurant experience, and he asked me if I had been drinking, and I had to admit I had. He was very disturbed, and he went into the house and called the bishop . . .

OK, that’s the Ensign version, where I am caught in my transgression, am called to repentance by a member of my family, caused to confess to the bishop, and thus begins my return to the strait and narrow path.

What actually happened is that I had no problem playing catch. I’m not sure how, because I couldn’t think fast enough to actually throw and catch, but the stick somehow ended up in the right place, even when his throws were off and I was stretching to make the catch. Some subconscious part of my brain was able to make it work, even though the conscious part was a little dizzy.

After we got done playing catch he put some music on, shoveled a path through his room so I could get to the bed, and we listened to music together for awhile and joked around. A very companionable evening.

So, for whatever reason the Ensign version didn’t happen, and I wasn’t called to repentance for my transgression. In fact I felt kind of sustained and confirmed.

I’m not sure I’m going to repeat this experience for awhile. Drinking seemed more relaxing when I was in my 20s, probably because I wasn’t trying to hide it. Sort of like eating pepperoni pizza also. In my 40s, I have much more of a sensation of a foreign substance in my system that the body is not happy with.

Probably drinking is more of an accessory to relaxed, intimate conversation and listening to music rather than watching documentaries and trying to play sports.

This morning I have a headache, too. I wonder where that could have come from . . .

Monday, May 15, 2006

Why don’t we get drunk and –-

talk about the scriptures? (Apologies to Jimmy Buffett)

I’ve been intentionally having “scorecard moments” lately, where I try different experiences to see how they make me feel. I will arbitrarily not wear garments and see if I notice. I don’t. I will undress for some reason and be surprised not to find them.

Wife of Bath and I had a nice Mother’s Day dinner last night, and we shared the equivalent of a bottle of wine between us over dinner. How did it make me feel?

I am not what you would call a relaxed person. I am always seeking to “lengthen my stride”, always picking apart personal philosophies to see if they still hold water, always doing something. There is always laundry to do, things to pick up, books to read, etc..

It was nice to just sit on the couch and relax and talk, without feeling driven to get up and do something. We talked about Ps 104 and what it says about wine gladdening the heart. I shared things from a book I’m reading about less fundamental approaches to Christianity. In short we had a warm, relaxing experience. Often I’m too busy to listen, not only to those around me, but to the Lord. I felt the sort of warm glow that leads me to the scriptures to worship the Lord. I felt grateful for all I have been given.

I felt the sense of something from this world being used for a worshipful purpose, and thus being consecrated in a way. While this experience in this context felt OK, splitting a 12 pack of beer in front of a hockey game would not have been OK. It would have just been a drunk.

As Joseph Smith enjoyed a bottle of wine in his last moments in Carthage Jail, I felt uplifted in following the prophets in this way also.
Revelation --
in the LDS church is like the Colorado River. Most of it is siphoned off upstream from you.

Let's see, the inspiration I've received lately:

The Word of Wisdom is pharisaical.

The KJV is cryptic and should be dumped.

LDS are too inwardly focused on the clean people and not outwardly focused on people you might find in bars, homeless shelters, etc., where the LDS dare not go.

I find a better worship experience in the Episcopal Church.

God loves me and sends me spiritual promptings even when I commit sins.

I could go on. How much of this is "authorized" revelation? 0. All of it is contrary to things on which church leaders have spoken, so it's off the table.
The only authorized revelation for most people is how to accomplish what the church has told them to do. What to do and what not to do is not on the table. Only how to do it.

Basically "modern revelation" only applies to leaders. We don't need a personal relationship with God, because our leaders have told us what to do. All we need to do is to be obedient and we'll be saved. God may be consulted about minor implementation details so you don't need to bother the bishop.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I'm such an idiot--

I got dressed yesterday and was looking for a t-shirt. I picked out the one my daughter and son-in-law gave me for Christmas, largely because it was on top.

One of my errands was to go CD shopping. I listen mainly to contemporary Christian music these days, and my favorite store is the local Lifeway store, which is a franchise operated by the Southern Baptist convention. This one is a really nice store, and the people behind the counter are just nice, nice, nice. I always enjoy shopping in there.

Just before I walked into the store I realized I was wearing a Brigham Young University t-shirt into a Baptist Christian bookstore. I got a few strange looks, some glares, but nobody said anything. They were probably more confused than anything. Apparently our local LDS bookstore gets a lot of Baptists, because they sell modest wedding dresses you can't get anywhere else. Maybe it's good to return the favor.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Joseph’s Ladder –
In most orthodox Christian churches salvation is basically like throwing a light switch. If you believe, you’re saved.

Not so in the LDS church. For us, salvation can best be compared to a ladder. Everybody starts at the bottom, and you have to climb your way from being a spirit to being a God. Some people make it further than others. It’s recognized that most people will not make it all the way to the top. General Authorities of the past have told us that most people will be “terrestrial”, and thus not qualify for Godhood.

Even God himself started at the bottom, as a man on another planet. Through his worthiness and intelligence he climbed the ladder. General Authorities have indicated that even Jesus had to prove his worthiness. Yes, Jesus. The Son of God and member of the Godhead. Even he had to face some entity with a clipboard and a checklist who would decide whether or not he was good enough to take upon him the sins of the world.

What is the psychological impact of “the ladder” on the members of the church? I can’t speak for all of them, but for my family it has been tough. During her teenage years my daughter held our family up to the “ideal” families in the ward and pronounced us as strictly second-rate. My son just turned 18, without either his eagle scout award or his Duty to God award. He will be forever a second-class citizen in the church, and will have to listen to others extol the virtues of the “eagle” for the rest of his life, and know that he didn’t make it. He is fully active in seminary, but only fifty-fifty on Sundays, because he has trouble getting to sleep. He goes to seminary most mornings running on a few hours of sleep and ends up sleeping until noon most Saturdays to make up. He just has trouble getting up on Sundays for 9am church. Accordingly he misses many of the activity announcements, and when his priest’s quorum 1st assistant was asked to help him stay informed, he replied, “he should have been in church on Sunday”. So possibly salvation is only reserved for those able to get up for 9am church. More than any of us, I hurt for him, because he is just not one of these quiet focused people who get to climb the ladder and are rewarded with status in the Kingdom.

As a convert I didn’t serve a mission, didn’t go to seminary, and thus didn’t get the early imprinting of gospel knowledge others did. Accordingly I’m the 2d oldest person in the Elders Quorum, watching the guys younger than me being called into bishoprics and to the high council. Not really callings I want, but I’m conscious of being left on a lower rung of the ladder compared to those with the “high” priesthood.

After 22 years of this I’m tired of the ladder, of being told by my own child that our family isn’t good enough, of the implications that my son is a second class citizen because of his lack of full participation in a non-church program, of having to put up with being basically graded on my worthiness by my quorum membership. We talk about the church somehow being “restored”, but somehow I don’t remember Jesus establishing criteria for perfect families, establishing graded priesthoods, or establishing some kind of awards program for young men. What I remember Jesus saying was, “by this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love, one to another”. Not whether you got your eagle scout rank, had family home evening and passed the daily prayer checklist, or managed to get promoted to the right priesthood quorum. We are to be evaluated by our love for others.

Whose ladder is this anyway?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I hope they call me on a mission –
There are a lot of positive things I have gotten from the LDS church. I think the church teaches people to immerse themselves in the scriptures in a way few churches do. Unfortunately we're also given specific ideas about what they mean in the correlated lessons, which discourages people from searching the scriptures with an open mind. There only seem to be a few well-trodden paths down which the Lord sends people. I.e. education, temple, mission, temple marriage, leadership positions, etc.. The idea of joining the Peace Corps, starting a homeless shelter, etc., don't generally seem to be on the list, but I digress.

From the time we joined the LDS church Wife of Bath and I have talked about serving a mission together. The idea of setting aside 18 months in full-time service to the Lord has always been appealing.

Even though it seems unlikely that the LDS church would send us on a mission at this point, I still have that desire to serve, planted through dozens of GC talks on the need for senior missionary couples.

The nice thing is that now we can pray about what the Lord wants us to do and pick one of many available agencies to volunteer for. We could serve international missions, or we could just pack up and move to, say, Spartanburg SC and be full-time volunteers for any number of relief organizations. We get to decide after much prayer and contemplation, rather than based on the ten seconds or so of inspiration sent to the President of the Church.

I hope they call me on a mission!
Stake Conference --
We attended stake conference today, and it was a typical NOM moment. The focus was a satellite broadcast directed to 41 stakes in our area. We had opening and closing prayers and hymns at the stake center, and the rest of the content was the broadcast from Salt Lake City.

I could write a two-page summary of the talks, but I'll spare you by just summarizing their major themes.

The first speaker was Sis Kathleen Hughes, of the general RS presidency. She shared some personal insights about going on a mission. She and her husband plan to serve missions once her current calling is completed, and she shared her fears of inadequacy, that she will not be up to being able to share the gospel with people. She reminded us that we are not sent to do the Lord's work without the Lord's help, and that we rely on Him in everything we do rather than in our own strength. All in all a really good and inspiring talk. I found myself wondering, though, about an organization in which one of the senior leadership was caused to doubt her own worthiness and ability. If she is not up to the job, the rest of us are probably hopeless.

The second speaker was Bishop Richard C Edgely of the Presiding Bishopric, and he gave a riproaring talk on the healing power of Jesus Christ. He talked about counseling a couple whose young child had just drowned and were angry with God. He talked about holding stake conference in a prison and having a non-member thank God that he was sent to prison and found the gospel, and his feelings about being freer than he had ever been in his whole life. Just a wonderful, wonderful talk on the power of Jesus Christ to make things right.

At this point I was having that familiar feeling. Why am I so disaffected with this church again?

Then came Elder M Russell Ballard, who reminded us in a good way about the importance of being obedient to the doctrine of the church and about the ordinances. All have divine worth, and we need to go out and bring them into the church so they can benefit from the church programs and ordinances. In short, a talk about the church and the structure, rather than about Jesus Christ.

We sang "Praise to the Man" and worshipped Joseph Smith for four verses.

The concluding address was President Monson, who presented a familiar laundry list from the Kirtland temple dedication about how it should be a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of fasting, etc., and presented many stories I had heard before to illustrate his points, including a story he used during the last regional conference when he was here. His talk really seemed to be kind of a prefab talk constructed of recycled pieces, not really linked together very well. For example he spoke powerfully about Jesus last words on Golgotha, words of forgiveness. "Forgive them, for they know not what they do". Then launched *immediately* into talking about the humorous letters children send to the First Presidency. One revealing thing was being asked by Elder Harold B Lee about his favorite hymn when he was first called as an apostle. "The old priesthood hymns", he said, with "Praise to the Man" being his favorite. So, one of the chief apostles on the earth, called as a special witness of Jesus Christ, and his favorite hymn is a tribute to Joseph Smith . . .

In closing he blessed with a bunch of things related to temporal blessings and nothing of a spiritual nature.

In summary the dichotomy present in the way general authorities see the church was ever present. To two of the speakers the gospel is apparently about Jesus Christ as healer and our primary source of support. To the other two the gospel is about priesthood, programs, and ordinances, about callings and modern revelation, about the physical mechanics we see as the church does its business.

It struck me that President Monson said absolutely nothing new, nothing different, nothing that really seemed to be from the heart. Just a familiar multi-point talk illustrated using the usual stories we've all heard countless times.

This was a regional conference. Did the Lord having anything special to say to our 41 stakes outside the strength of the Church? About preparing for hurricane season? About healing racial issues? About getting along with the flood of Spanish-speaking immigrants we're getting? About President Hinckley's well-known declining health? About immigration reform? About anything? Apparently not.

So I will take to heart the lessons of the first two talks and pretty much file the last two in the "been there, done that" category. All in all the conference was a positive experience, and I got more out of it than not going, but I find the mixed message between "the church is founded on Christ" and "the church is founded on priesthood authority" to be quite illuminating.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Virtual Reality –
I spend a lot of time hanging around the DAMU lately, and it’s easy to become focused on all the things going on in the LDS church “out there”. Bishops and stake presidents doing dumb and abusive things, people’s mission presidents who were jerks, stuff GAs said twenty years ago, etc.. Likewise it’s easy to get wound up about things Brigham Young said 150 years ago, Bruce R McConkie said 30 years ago, President Hinckley said 10 years ago, etc..

As we consider what the LDS church means to us, it’s important to be aware of those other things, while at the same time staying centered on the church we actually belong to. i.e. the ward we attend, the bishop and stake president we have, as opposed to the ones people elsewhere have, etc.. The people we know, and the experiences we have personally. With the internet it’s possible to hear all the off the wall stories happening in 20 or 30 wards while overlooking the perfectly normal things happening in the other 25,000 or so every day.

Rather than getting wound up over what Brigham Young said, focus more on what the current GAs had to say at the last conference. This is the church we actually belong to, not Brigham Young’s church.

Which is not to say there aren’t objectionable things happening today. There are. The modern church is way too focused on obedience and institutional survival rather than dealing with the diverse issues the membership is increasingly going through. It’s just a question of dealing with our personal issues and not the vicarious issues of other people, which may actually be exceptions to the rule and not situations we face at all.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Faces of God—
After reading the Wilford Woodruff lesson I quoted before, I drove to work and listened to a sermon from the evangelical church of my roommate from college. His insightful preaching is what finally got me to wake up and appreciate the many gifts of the spirit available outside the LDS church.

I find myself drawn to the message of sin, personal inadequacy, grace, and forgiveness preached by evangelical churches. Probably because I am very conscious of my own weaknesses and my inability to measure up to the cultural standard set by the LDS church. Evangelical churches tell you that your faith is mostly all that matters, and I can do that.

I find myself drawn to the gospel of social justice and relief of the poor found in the Episcopal church and other mainline denominations. Mostly this is what Jesus exemplified. I also find myself drawn to the tradition of thoughtfulness and tolerance for others’ interpretations of scripture. Because I can read the scriptures and see many different viewpoints most of the time, depending on what you choose to focus on.

I find myself drawn to the organization and commitment of the LDS church, that feeling of being part of a worldwide body that generally speaks the same language where faith is concerned. I find myself drawn to the idea of a plan of salvation as articulated by Joseph Smith, and that view of eternity as a timeline with a well-defined beginning and ending.

I often feel somewhat torn between these things. Should I stay LDS? Should I be Baptist? Should I be Episcopalian? Which one is right? What should I do?

The thought I had this morning is that the creation and plan of God is so rich and diverse, what leads me to believe that any man-made church can actually hold it all? The best any one church can do is to try to make sense of a little corner of it. No church has any hope of articulating the whole thing, without driving its members into madness trying to fit the whole thing into their brains.

Rather than feeling like I have to pick one or the other, maybe what I am called to do is to be blessed by whatever value I find, wherever I find it. I remember hearing somewhere that “all truth may be circumscribed into one great hold.” Maybe these artificial man-made divisions just don’t matter that much after all.
What I Love About the Church –
This is the conclusion of lesson 7 in the Wilford Woodruff manual:

Through the merits of the Atonement, we can be perfected in Christ.

There is no being that has power to save the souls of men and give them eternal life, except the Lord Jesus Christ, under the command of His Father.
It should be our chief study to treasure up the words of life that we may grow in grace and advance in the knowledge of God and become perfected in Christ Jesus, that we may receive a fullness and become heirs of God and joint heirs of Jesus Christ.

Brethren and sisters, are we not the sons and daughters of God, and when he shall appear, if we are faithful, shall we not be like him? Yes; and when the glorious day arrives we shall once more have the privilege of standing upon this earth and meeting in joy and thanksgiving … thousands of others who have washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, and who, through the merits of His atonement, are anointed kings and priests unto God, and with Him reign exalted in His kingdom. May we all be found worthy of this reward; and now, while we travel through this world of change and sorrow, may we take pattern by the lives of the worthy … and, above all, follow in the steps of the great Exemplar of all righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ, whose grace be ever with you all.


Within the LDS church can sometimes be found some of the most eloquent and insightful testimonies of Jesus Christ and his mission available anywhere. I remember thinking when I went through the temple for the first time that I had learned more from my endowment than the previous two years I had been in the church.

In general orthodox Christian theology is like looking through a porthole onto the ocean. It focuses on a narrow visible piece of ocean. By contrast Joseph Smith managed to extend our vision beyond the narrow piece of eternity visible in the bible to our origins and to our destination. He presented not one, not two, but at least three additional creation stories. He took the simple question of “what happens when we die” and created a universe of kings and queens, priests and priestesses, gods and goddesses, reigning over worlds without end. The porthole becomes the panorama camera. The dot that represents our time on earth on the eternal timeline becomes the line stretching to infinity in both directions, backward into our past and forward into our future.

All of it, when properly expounded, based on the atonement of Jesus Christ as Wilford Woodruff presents.

Is it all true? Or is it just inspiring metaphor? I’ll just leave this where it rests right now.

Monday, May 01, 2006

How Did I Get Here? –
It’s interesting to contemplate sometimes how the Lord leads and guides our lives. Two years ago I was in a calling I considered the most important thing I had ever done, shaping young men into Aaronic Priesthood holders. It required weekly contact with ward members and lots of coordination. Then my father-in-law died, which caused me to re-evaluate a lot of things. I began to realize that my testimony was my most precious possession, and I immersed myself more in the scriptures to strengthen it.

Through a chain of events I am now in a stake calling that basically requires me to go to weeknight meetings a few times a month, and I’m in a ward calling that requires minimal contact with ward members. Because I sometimes have to visit other wards on Sundays, my stake calling gives me the freedom to visit other churches in the mornings and do my stake visits in the afternoons. Our long-time faithful home teacher was reassigned, and now we have a home teacher that comes sometimes, but is obviously just fulfilling an assignment. Our previous Elders Quorum president used to conduct home teaching interviews monthly, but our current one does so rarely.

If the Lord really wanted to keep me active in the church he has picked a funny way of doing it. My connections with my ward have been reduced to an absolute minimum, and I’ve been given the freedom to explore that I never would have had before. Much of my “support system” has been ripped away. I am much less busy than I was, so I have the time to read and ponder. I’ve had occasion to meet with the bishop a few times over administrative things, and he has yet to ask me any of “the right questions” that would bring my concerns out into the open.

I have prayed periodically for intervention if I’m on the wrong path, and as of yet no priesthood leader has ridden to the rescue. No one has shaken my hand, fixed me with a piercing stare, and led me into a classroom to ask me about my testimony. No new callings have shown up that would have caused me to have to lay out where I am right now. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

If we believe that there are no coincidences, what direction am I being led in?