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.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an exciting post. I'm so happy for you that your meeting went this way. It really is great that you are free to explore without sanction. Roomate...

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that it went better than you expected. You may not want a critical perspective on what you describe, so here's what I see in your comments, framed in a general way. I do not doubt the sincerity of your SP's remarks, but they seem intended to preempt and reduce whatever dissonance you may experience. For example, take the idea that you should bear testimony of the things you know and that will be helpful to others. What we know in studies of attitudes is that this will shape your unspoken ideas in the sense that you'll consider them to be less important than you otherwise would. Maybe that's a good thing, or maybe it isn't. It reminds me of the idea that not all that is true is useful. (Isn't it Packer who said that?)

Best wishes for a good journey, where ever it may lead.

exmoron said...

I'm not a regular commenter on your blog but I caught this on a blog aggregator I set up and thought I'd comment.

I think the Stake President is, like the last comment said, trying to prevent you from pursuing truth, even if it is in a subtle fashion. By discouraging you from reading books other than the "standard works" he is basically trying to limit your sources of information. One of the key ways oppressive leaders and groups maintain their control over those they are oppressing is by limiting information.

On my own journey out of Mormonism I slowly became aware of the huge amounts of good, scholarly information that was not contained in the "standard works." Much of that scholarly information was very influential in my decision to leave (e.g., D. Michael Quinn's work, Armand Mauss's work, David John Buerger, Dan Vogel, etc.). I highly recommend you DO NOT follow your Stake President's advice on this point! If staying within Mormonism is the right path for you, then why should reading outside sources of information be a problem? If "truth" is "truth," why will external information sources be a problem.

I say, "seek truth wherever you can and keep that which is verifiably true." Any group or religion that discourages the seeking of truth does not warrant my adherence!

Just my two bits!

Anonymous said...

Another thought or two. 1) It had not occurred to me that "standard works" meant only approved LDS books. I'm not accustomed to having defined for me what is approved or not approved for reading. I don't think that I approve of that idea. 2) Sounded like the SP has had his own troubles with some of the doctrines and issue, but has made his own accomodation with that. In other words there is stuff he doesn't believe either, he just doesn't talk about it. This reminds me of a priest that I once knew who spouted the Catholic line, but told me in private that he really didn't buy any of it. So why was he a priest then. He wanted to do good works for others. How about the SP where does he fall in that regard?
Well anyway, sounds like you've been given some room to explore for the time being. .....Roomate

Equality said...

CF,

Did you ask the SP how he resolved the issues with the Book of Abraham. I've not seen a persuasive argument for the divine inspiration of that book from any apologist yet. I'd like to know how he came to grips with it, if he in fact knows the salient facts that demonstrate clearly that the Book of Abraham is not what the Church purports it to be.

Overall, I can see how you would think this was a positive meeting, given some of the horro stories with which we are all familiar. But I find disturbing his counsel that you not lead the youth astray. I would ask, "who is leading the youth astray?" To answer my own question, I think it would be those who try to keep the youth in the dark about the true history of the church while teaching falsehoods as gospel truth. Those who teach our youth falsehoods are the ones leading them astray--at least astray from the path of truth.

ChristFollower said...

I should clarify that he didn't tell me what to read. He merely suggested that my study should remain centered on the standard works and not on other people's writings. For those not familiar with LDS-speak the standard works are the bible, the Book of Mormon, a book of "revelations" on church government called the Doctrine and Covenants, and the books of Abraham and Moses, which are other things Joseph Smith claimed were revealed to him. "Centered" doesn't mean "don't read other things". Just that the primary emphasis should be on a prayerful study of the scriptures, with other things being secondary.

Although he didn't make this point himself I'm assuming what he was trying to get across is that the scriptures are a more reliable source of truth than other books, and I don't dispute this. Even if they are not really truth, they are primary sources for what Joseph Smith taught and felt God was saying to him, and primary sources are going to be more accurate than other people's interpretations of them.