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.