Thursday, June 14, 2007

Returning to the Temple --
I had a really good interview with my stake president a couple of nights ago. I re-iterated all my concerns, as well as the fact that despite all that I feel called to stay in the church for whatever reason. It's too much a part of my outlook on life to do anything different. For some reason I have been planted in the LDS church, and I feel like the right thing to do is to work out my salvation within that context rather than elsewhere. I mentioned my evolving understanding of what "worthiness" means, and how I used to think it was mostly up to me to be worthy, but now I appreciated that as long as I was doing my best I was worthy, because the atonement makes up the difference. Instead of 99% being on my shoulders, I can rely on Christ for that 99% through the miracle of grace. He told me he wished he could bottle that and give it to most of the members he meets with, who are crushing themselves under the weight of perfectionism. He felt I was ready to return to the temple and signed my recommend.

I went to the temple for the first time in about a year last night and had a good experience. Nothing really earth-shaking in the presentation of the endowment. I realized that I put the temple in a different context now. Before I went because I was supposed to, because it was ward temple night, because we are supposed to go once a month in order to more fully use the temple, etc.. It was time to cut the grass, throw on a white shirt, race out the door to the temple, race home, and get ready for the next day. I no longer subscribe to that approach. I should go from now on when the spirit dictates and not cram other activities around it.
I am very "different" in the temple, since I have a beard and haven't had a real haircut since September. I think I will progress to the ponytail stage next month, and it will be interesting to see what kind of reaction I get to that.

As I entered the Celestial Room I realized how much I missed that sense of peace that can be found there. Our temple is right next to a busy road, so you can almost always hear faint traffic noise outside. I guess that serves as a reminder of the intrusion of the world outside and the inevitability of having to make our "re-entry". For me I appreciated that the temple is truly a holy place, and temple worship is something I need to hold onto and not let slip out of my grasp again.

I guess another major difference I realized is that I don't see the temple as the only "holy" place. I am looking forward to visiting the National Cathedral with Wife of Bath sometime, and I realized also that there are probably other "holy places" in the city where I live that I have overlooked. For me, though, the temple still has a great deal of meaning.

As I sat in the Celestial Room I thought of a scripture, and went got a bible and looked it up:;&version=31;
I guess that's what the temple means to me now, rather than being a "good conduct" award as I viewed it before.

All the other concerns I had before are still out there. The church oversimplifies its history to the point of being deceptive, maintains an almost cult-like reverence of its leadership, and focuses way too much on works and conformity to the point where it chews some people's self respect to pieces, when it could serve as a poignant reminder of the love of God, who gave his son as a sacrifice for sin and to exemplify what it means to lead a moral and meaningful life. Somehow those concerns seem secondary to me now, with the most important thing being working out what God has called me to do despite all those things and to live the Kingdom of God in whatever faith community I'm supposed to do that in.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Bishop's Office --
I've had a number of really positive experiences with the LDS church over the last several weeks. I was involved in a move project for a sister with no able-bodied males around the house, pneumonia, a handicapped mother, and a two-story house literally packed from floor to ceiling with dusty stuff. Dolls, fabric, books, clothes, etc.. She was using an "owner's suite" sized bathtub as a laundry hamper, for example. Clothes everywhere. I think we moved at least seven full containers worth of stuff out of that house. She was in trouble, and the ward bailed her out.
During the project one of the high priests from our ward, who happens to be a high councilman, called me aside and asked me to help give a blessing. Now, I probably haven't been in church more than half a dozen times this year and he knows that, yet he called on me anyway. I was just really touched by his faith in me and by the simple faith of the sister involved, who is going through a nasty divorce and has seven kids at home.

Then I had my PPI with my EQ president, which was likewise a positive experience, full of Christ-like concern for me and the families I home teach.

As I pulled out of the stake center parking lot I stopped to look at the temple (which we share a parking lot with), and I came to the realization that despite all my concerns about the church, I couldn't imagine not being able to worship in the temple.

I reflected back on some of the thoughts I had about the PBS special on the church.

I realized while watching that documentary that for better or for worse the church is part of my heritage, even though I'm an adult convert. The way I view religion is through the paradigms I have been taught. Tithing, sabbath observance, scripture study, the desire for true Christian community, and many other things are just part of who I am now, and I can't deny it. I was touched by many of the stories, both by Marlin K Jensen's "conversion" story on his mission and by Margaret Toscano's story of her excommunication.

For whatever reason the Lord led me into this church. I don't claim to know all the reasons why. It just is that way. I don't understand all the historical issues, the Book of Abraham, post-manifesto polygamy, etc., but despite all that I continue to feel a spiritual witness that I'm supposed to continue to be a part of it. At least for now.

Anyway, given all that I felt like the time was right to meet with my bishop to find out what the roadmap was to get my temple recommend back. I haven't paid tithing to the church in over a year, my attendance has been spotty, and I have had some word of wisdom issues, all of which he knows about. I was expecting some kind of metric I had to meet, like being fully active, paying tithing, and holding a meaningful calling for six months or something like that.
He basically looked at me and said, "do you think you're ready to go back to the temple?". I said I did. And he just whipped out the recommend book and we went through the questions. My understanding of what those questions mean has evolved a lot over the last several months. Based on my understanding of what I think they mean, along with my commitment to fix the things we both knew were broken, he handed me a signed temple recommend.

It was a very moving moment for me, mainly because of the level of trust my bishop showed me. He told me what a good person I was and how happy he was that I had reached this point again, and he actually cried. As a former Air Force pilot he told me he would be happy to have me as his wingman anytime, and from a pilot who flew in Viet Nam that meant something.
Another funny thing happened also. Since then I have had a lot of trouble getting worked up over all those irritations with the church that used to just push me over the edge. I was reading some statements of Brigham Young's just yesterday about how women could essentially "trade up" to a priesthood holder with a higher office without needing a divorce, much like you would shop for a nicer car. Things like that used to just push me over the edge, but I just can't get worked up over something Brigham Young may have said 150 years ago. It just doesn't seem relevant to me right now.

Well, this process is ongoing. I am not and will not ever be TBM again. I am probably too broken to ever do missionary splits again, or to teach Sunday School in any fashion other than maybe Elders Quorum lessons. I know too much. Although I can sustain the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators, that is probably more because I have dumbed the title down more than anything. I think lots of religious leaders are prophets, seers, and revelators. God works through lots of people and lots of churches, even non-Christian ones. If you asked me if the Dalai Lama was a prophet, seer, and revelator, I would probably say yes.
At this point in time I guess I am seeing the church sort of like a marriage. You enter relationships with people mostly on faith, and they disappoint you. Mature, committed people try to work through relationships rather than just ending them and moving on to the next one, carrying the same baggage that doomed the previous one to failure. For whatever reason I think I am supposed to stick with this and try to work it out, at least for now. Naturally your answer will be different, and that's how it should be. I recognize that many people are damaged by their experience in the church, and I am not trying to say that you are not "mature" somehow if you have decided to quit or stop participating. Only that this what I feel like am being called to at this point in time. More later, no doubt.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Bearing of Testimony --
I got out of bed yesterday morning with the realization that I was going to bear my testimony in church.
This was a little unusual for me, since in 23 years in the LDS church I have only borne my testimony in fast and testimony meeting twice. Also, I haven't been to a sacrament meeting since about the second week in March. Nonetheless I knew that I had a message to deliver on the subject of joy.
The 1st counselor in the bishopric went first and bore a stirring testimony about the reality of God and Christ and talked about his wife being able to be in Utah when her mother died of cancer. As I listened to that I realized that I wanted to follow him, before somebody else got up and spoke about a family vacation, the knowledge that their dog was going to be resurrected, etc..
Basically what I said, to quote from a Chris Tomlin song, is "the joy of the Lord is my strength", and that joy is our birthright. Romans 8:16-17 tells us we are children of God, and if children, then heirs. If being an heir to everything God has, including possibly his very nature, is not a source for joy, I don't know what is. The problem is, we let things get in the way. Sin, materialism, and most commonly filling our lives with too many good things that distract us from being able to ponder and feel the spirit and remind ourselves of that joy that should be ours.
In summary I bore my testimony that I knew the church was true. My understanding of that was evolving, but I knew it was true. I testified that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated the Book of Mormon. My understanding of that was evolving, but I knew it was true. More than all that I bore my testimony of the risen Christ as not only the example of perfect morality, but perfect compassion.
Of all the times I have ever spoken from the pulpit, this was probably the most "on" I have ever been. It couldn't have really come out better if I had written it out. The interesting thing was that despite feeling the Holy Spirit like a rushing wind, I was a little hung over from the night before. :-)
I rarely drink alcohol anymore because one drink is enough to give me a headache the next day, along with an upset stomache. I haven't had beer in nearly 20 years, but I was at a going-away party for a co-worker and kept eyeing the kegs in the corner. Finally curiousity got the better of me and I had two cups of beer. After that my boss immediately pigeonholed me about a change in top-level management for about half an hour, and the beer made it a lot easier to listen to him go on and on about a tedious work situation at a party.
I paid for it a little bit Sunday morning, but it wasn't too bad.
Over the last couple of months I have come to some conclusions, especially after listening to the PBS special on the church. Despite my many concerns, the Lord led me to the LDS church for some reason and refuses to lead me totally out of it. It's my cultural heritage, even though I'm an adult convert with no real pioneer heritage. The stories of Jackson County, Far West, Nauvoo, and Kirtland are my stories. The community that was functionally pushed outside the United States because of their religious beliefs and practices is my community. I look at the world through Mormon eyes, at least for right now. Having been away from my ward for over a month, even having attended another church, I miss the conviction and the sense of purpose. I miss people so moved by their testimonies of Christ that they cry over the pulpit. I don't deny the historical coverups, Mountain Meadows, dissembling statements by President Hinckley that "I don't know that we teach that", etc., but for all intents and purposes this is my church and my heritage and I can't walk away from it just yet. Neither can I be fully a part of it, because the spirit that I carried into my meetings yesterday is not totally sustainable in church. There's a real spirit of worship in my Episcopal congregation, and I could never stay away from the celebration of the Eucharist for too long. It's just too moving. For the most part my ward is in need of an infusion of worship and joy. It doesn't produce it. It's too full of tired young couples trying to manage their kids and callings and careers, just putting one foot in front of the other and slogging through the lessons and talks and trying to keep the programs running.
I come to this position especially in light of some of the interviews that were posted from the PBS special, especially and Elder Holland made some fascinating comments about how the issue of Blacks and the priesthood was handled in the past, and he acknowledged that many people have issues with the historicity of the Book of Mormon without being run out of the church. I thought Elder Jensen made some interesting comments about opening up the archives of the church to foster a second type of history. The church's area is faith-promoting history, while at the same time allowing others to pursue a more balanced approach. There is more going on here than just the correlated product that is the public face of the church right now, and I sense sort of a tacit permission to go beyond that. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. We actually spent about 5 minutes talking about the Mountain Meadows Massacre in priesthood opening exercises yesterday, so real history is beginning to slowly work its way through the membership.
Anyway, that's how it looks this month. :-)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Smell of Death –

I make no secret of the fact that I tend to bridge the LDS and non-LDS doctrinal worlds. I find witnesses of both things. Some say I have to choose. I’m not sure I do. When I go to a library do I have to pick books by only one author, or do I have to read books by different authors from different perspectives in order to find truth for myself? You probably have your own opinion on this question, and whatever it is, if it’s right for you I won’t disagree with it.

Anyway, I’m reading the Spencer W Kimball lessons out of order and read this one this morning:

I found it very disturbing. Not so much because it isn’t true. For all I know it may be true, and I am disturbed because I have wandered too far from the undeviating course leading to eternal life.

No, I read this and was disturbed, because I knew I was dead. I think President Kimball makes it quite plain that my salvation is in my hands. Faith alone won’t save me. Ordinances won’t save me. My church membership won’t save me. The only thing that will save me is a constant and diligent attempt to perfect myself. This life is a real-world game of “Survivor”, and only a few will make it to eternal life, those with the knowledge of the restored gospel who make all the correct choices.

"The Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, has given us our map—a code of laws and commandments whereby we might attain perfection and, eventually, godhood. This set of laws and ordinances is known as the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is the only plan which will exalt mankind. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the sole repository of this priceless program in its fulness, which is made available to those who accept it."

"The treasure house of happiness is unlocked to those who live the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity and simplicity. … The assurance of supreme happiness, the certainty of a successful life here and of exaltation and eternal life hereafter, come to those who plan to live their lives in complete harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ—and then consistently follow the course they have set."

“We are deeply grateful that we have his definite promise that where there has been sin and error, they can be followed by sincere and sufficient repentance that will in turn be rewarded with forgiveness.”

“The glorious thing about the whole matter of repentance is that the scriptures are as full of the Lord’s assurances that he will forgive as they are full of his commands for us to repent, to change our lives and bring them into full conformity with his wonderful teachings.”

“Why will only a few reach exaltation in the celestial kingdom? Not because it was not available to them, not because they did not know of its availability, not because the testimony was not given to them, but because they would not put forth the effort to pattern their lives and make them like the Savior’s life and establish them so well that there would be no deviation until the end.”

Of course I can repent, but in my case repentance is like bailing out a leaky rowboat with a teaspoon. I can’t repent fast enough to keep up. I’m short-tempered and self-centered at times. Times? Like when the second hand on the clock is moving. I provoked a fight with my wife last night just asking what time she wanted to leave for church and trying to take her car out to fill it with gas for her. That phrase "sufficient repentance catches me up. We are taught that true repentance means to forsake the sin and turn away from it. Returning to the sin is evidence that repentance wasn't sufficient. We are commanded to change our lives in "full conformity" to his teachings. I've been trying for 23 years, and I still can't do it. At the pace I am going I would need to live to be 300 to get even close, and I don't have it in me.

No, if I have to do this on my own effort, I am lost indeed. Jesus may have marked the path and showed the way, but I am buffeted about too much by my own short-comings to be able to reach the gate and enter in to his rest.

I was actually planning to attend my ward today, but after this message I couldn’t. Attending my ward would have been like throwing two more cinderblocks to someone who was already drowning. I went to our Episcopal church instead, where one of our readings was this:;&version=31;

Imagine this. Even Paul, the super-righteous Pharisee, wasn’t good enough based on the law. He felt what qualified him was his faith and his willingness to share Jesus’ suffering and to press on. Maybe I can do that. Maybe I can throw myself on the grace of God and rely on Christ’s merits, and so win the prize and eternal life.

For those who can be like President Kimball and do it on their own, I’m happy for them, much as I glory in the successes of athletes in the Olympics. For the rest of us, thank goodness we have Jesus.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Worldwide Training –
I need to say in advance that if you’re not LDS much of this is probably going to go over your head, because you don’t have the cultural context to understand it.

This is going to seem like a lot of rambling, but I promise it all ties together at the end. Trust me on this.

It’s been an interesting few weeks. This year Wife of Bath and I have been on the “one Sunday a Month” plan in our ward. Otherwise we have attended our Episcopal church. One Sunday we played hooky because we just needed to talk more than we needed to be in church. So most of my exposure to the LDS church has been either the Ensign, conference talks, or the DAMU (aka the Disaffected Mormon Universe).

In general the Ensign has made me mad as hell.

I’ve been reading in the New Testament with a new enthusiasm, starting in 1 & 2 Thessalonians and James, because they appear to be the oldest books. I have developed a real love affair with coffee over the last month, because I have been trying to quit drinking so much soda and was looking for a caffeine replacement so I didn’t get headaches. Caffeinated coffee and scripture study are a marriage made in heaven. In the mornings I get a lift, a sense of focus, and a general sense of well-being from a freshly brewed cup of coffee that I spend the rest of the day looking forward to. The writings of the New Testament are elegant in their subtlety, inspiring us to faith while at the same time reminding us of the perils of falling back into putting our own wants (i.e. sin) ahead of a simple love of God.

On the other hand the Ensign and most conference talks are extremely simplistic “gumball” theology. It’s all about you and your choices. God punishes disobedience. God rewards obedience. Sacrifice brings the blessings of heaven. Worthiness brings the influence of the spirit. Unworthiness drives it away. Just one absolute statement after another. Good or evil. Obedience or disobedience. Worthy or not worthy. The funny thing is that experience teaches us that real life is not really like that. Most situations are shades of gray in which both elements of good and bad may be found. God’s will is not always our immediate happiness, and the spirit doesn’t always flick on and off like a light switch based on our most recent choice. Good behavior is not always rewarded in the way we might expect, and bad behavior is not always punished in the way we might expect. That’s why they call it “faith”. We don’t usually get that kind of “red light” “green light” feedback.

The Ensign makes me mad as hell lately because this kind of oversimplification just confuses people and guilts them out. It forces them into a great deal of stress trying to convince themselves that what their mind tells them must be true because of what the Ensign says and what their eyes and actual experience show them are actually happening are actually in agreement. In the physical world this type of experience produces motion sickness. The eye says “I’m not moving”, and the inner ear says, “yes you are”, and vomiting results. The Ensign may affect some people this way also.

In the meantime I have been listening to the Richard Bushman podcasts on, and it has been fascinating. I have learned less about Joseph Smith and much much more about how someone like Richard Bushman, who knows more about Joseph Smith than any anti-mormon alive, manages to maintain his sanity, let alone his faith. In summary I believe Bushman manages to maintain his faith because he sees the church at many levels. His foundation is a feeling that the church is a force for good, and that is solid granite. Built on top of that is his historian’s training, which teaches that facts can often be assembled into more than one story, depending on the bias of the teller, and all tellers are biased. There’s no such thing as an absolutely true interpretation of history, because even eyewitnesses to the same event may differ on what actually happened. I don’t think he really takes the history of the church as seriously as he takes his basic belief that the church is a force for good. Whether or not Joseph Smith used seerstones, propositioned 14 year-olds by promising their parents eternal security, actually translated the Book of Mormon from any sort of plates, whether the three witnesses actually physically saw anything, etc., is just not important relative to that foundational truth that the church is a force for good.

Likewise his understanding that the official church history is more of a public relations effort than an attempt at real history. It just seems obvious that the church has to tell it in such a way that it doesn’t shatter the faith of the members, while at the same time not going so far afield that people are shocked by some of the actual details.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

I attended the Worldwide Training meeting broadcast by satellite from Salt Lake City at our stake center.

The subject was basically on teaching, primarily in the classroom setting, but also in the home.

It consisted of three basic parts: a “conversation” between Elders Packer and Perry, a generally unscripted teaching demonstration by Elder Holland, and a wrapup talk by President Monson.

I thought the unscripted class part with Elder Holland was the most effective training coming from church headquarters that I have ever seen. He had a "class" assembled of about 15 people, some GAs, some in the auxiliary presidencies, and a few younger folks who I guess are from the area, work in the office building, etc.. He taught them a class on teaching, basically by example. Here's an "apostle of the Lord" up there, yet he got the class to answer most of the questions, encouraged them, brought out people who weren't saying much. Members of the class challenged him a little on some points and sisters from the presidencies actually admitted *they didn't know things* and asked for real answers to their questions. He didn't say one thing I remember about obedience, modern prophets, etc.. His basic message was communicating the love of Christ to our classes by the spirit. He cried a few times during his lesson, and I did too. One thing he said that broke him up while he said it was, "if you can't teach them, at least show them you love them, and maybe you'll be able to teach them later", referring to difficult students.

By contrast President Monson gave the closing speech, a typical scripted rehash of stories we've all heard before, standing behind the podium in the conference center reading from the teleprompter.

On one hand you have Holland living on the edge (so to speak) and trusting the spirit in front of a worldwide audience. On the other hand there's Monson, afraid to turn loose of the old forty year old formula and share a little bit of himself.

In trying to bring all of these experiences together, I realized that to a large extent the church is what you want it to be. To another extent it resembles an onion with many layers. Bushman makes a similar point. If you want to believe in modern prophets and that God has an orderly plan for the universe, you’ll probably believe in the Book of Mormon. If you don’t, you won’t. He explicitly said that the facts by themselves don’t draw you absolutely to one conclusion or the other.

I believe Elder Holland was speaking to a mature audience, and as such assumed we could handle a certain sense of unscriptedness about not only him, but the luminaries in his “class”. In order to invite the spirit he had to take some risks and abandon some structure and allow us to see a more personal side of not only him, but his class. He spoke quickly and animatedly, jumping from one thing to another, a restless intelligence. Julie Beck seemed a little slow, like she had had some kind of brain trauma at some point. Kathleen Hughes broke down and cried during Elder Holland’s summary. They were real people, just like us, with emotions and questions and imperfections.

On the other hand, President Monson obviously felt that the men and women of experience and maturity in the worldwide audience were not ready for that kind of informality. What we needed was an authority figure behind a lectern reading simple and easily understood platitudes.

In general the LDS church is trying to present a very complex and subtle organization and doctrine in simple, easy to understand ways. It does that by dumbing down the doctrine and the history. The idea is that this works fine for most people and is very soothing and comforting. Eventually some people break out of that level, much like finding out that the stars we see above are really just a painting on the ceiling, and we break through the shell and find something else beyond. I think most leaders at the bishopric level and above have broken through that ceiling. They know the leaders are just people, sacrifice doesn’t always bring forth the blessings of heaven, maybe Joseph Smith had a little drinky once in awhile and cast an approving glance on a fine specimen of womanhood, but fundamentally they’re going to perpetuate the simple story the general membership and the public can understand and not confuse them with details.

I guess maybe the realization I came to is that the leaders don’t really believe the simple story, any more than we believe that Primary lessons encapsulate the entire gospel. They can sit through dumbed down Gospel Doctrine lessons, seminary lessons, and priesthood/relief society lessons, knowing that there’s a deeper truth out there because they’ve found it on their own. Since they don’t believe it, maybe it’s OK for us to not believe it either and not feel somehow unfaithful, apostate, or somehow morally wrong.

Put another way the church teaches a very simplistic view of Sabbath observance, with stories about Joseph Fielding Smith walking past a corner grocery store to patronize one that was closed on Sundays. Yet really the General Authorities don’t believe this, because they eat in restaurants when traveling away from home on church business on Sundays, and many church-owned businesses function on Sundays. They are more than happy to have people standing by to collect offering reports on Sundays, the church websites will take orders on Sundays, etc.. They teach something simple the members can understand, yet practice something much more nuanced. They have broken through that painted ceiling, so maybe we can too.

What church do you want to believe in? The one where a 14 year-old boy went into the woods to pray and saw two personages, or the one where a boy somewhere between 14 and 16 may have had a spiritual experience that evolved as he grew older and his understanding grew and what he was trying to communicate evolved?

What church do you want to believe in? The church where God always answers the prayers of the faithful and punishes the wicked, or the one where sometimes children of full tithepayers get cancer or fall into swimming pools and drown while their parents are distracted.

What church do you want to believe in? The one where modern prophets speak to God and will never lead the church astray, or the one where they pray and sometimes get answers, and other times are completely fooled by document forgers just to remind them that they are only reflectors of divine light and not the sources.

The thing is, it’s all the same church, and you have a choice as to which view to use, just like the General Authorities do. You can either view what’s put in front of you, or you can break through the painted ceiling and see what the real immensity of the universe looks like, unscripted and unpredictable in all its glory.

It’s OK to sit through a lesson on Jesus choosing the original apostles that morphs into “follow the current leaders and you’ll be blessed”, like I did today. Or a priesthood lesson on the Atonement that tells us that all we have to do for God to love us is to keep the commandments (except if we could do that, why would we need the atonement?) The leaders know these things aren’t completely true, and it doesn’t bother them. It’s OK to break through and see the truth. It’s OK to stay where it’s safe and simple. Ultimately it’s up to you which view you want. Either is OK.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I haven't posted in awhile, so I thought it might be time for an update.

I just re-read my last entry, and it was better than I remembered. :) I can't say things have changed much in what I covered.

I realized a few weeks ago that I was actually getting a little flat in my spirituality, which hasn't happened to me since my de-conversion from being a "True Believing Mormon" began a couple of years ago. I trace it to a couple of things. I mentioned last time that I have been reading a lot of "liberal" stuff. My latest books are "Mormon Origins: Hierarchy of Power", which shows how the control structures of the LDS church evolved and the "revelations" backdated to make it look like it had always been that way. His claims are pretty easy to verify, because you can go online and find copies of the 1833 Book of Commandments and the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants and see the changes. Basically most of the story we tell nowadays evolved through the mid-1830s, with accompanying changes to Joseph Smith's revelations.

The other book I was reading was "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman, which describes some of the changes to the New Testament over its early history. Some were copying mistakes, and others appear to be intentional changes in order to grind some ideological ax or another. Most are minor changes. Some are not.

After all this I found myself wondering just who I could trust anymore and what from the scriptures could really be believed. I still had my core belief in God, but I was starting to wander just a little bit on just who Jesus was and just what the point of this whole thing was.

I honestly don't see Joseph Smith and many of the early Christian apostles as being that different in the nature of their writings. Generally I think they were recording what they thought God was telling them, and their stories don't necessarily always agree in detail and message. I think there's some level of inspiration in there, but not to the degree we say sometimes. With the documented copying changes, the difference in historical details, the difference in basic theology, I can hardly consider the scriptures inerrant in any degree. I think they primarily witness what the authors thought God was telling them, and our challenge is to figure out what God is trying to tell us through these divergent sources.

Given all that I just found more meaning and joy in motorcycle riding than in studying all this and doing all the writing I had been doing. Maybe it was all just a mysterious crap shoot anyway. I was tired of being blown this way and that in my faith. I'm tired of being the sheep for every self-appointed sheep herder out there who wants to tell me what to believe and what to do. The world is full of Eveready energizer bunnies wanting me to do my home teaching, give blood, rescue the poor, go fight and die in Iraq, buy their product, work my tail off to produce some product they can sell, and about a million other things. Everybody wants me to sign up for their cause these days, join their church, believe their version of the Christian story, spend money on their consumer product, and the list goes on. I'm tired of being herded by people like a sheep. I'm tired of junk mail and TV advertising. If I'm in any meeting with a person up in front with any other message than what they can unselfishly do for me, I've had enough of it.

All I really want to do these days is ride. Just ride. Engage in the real world, in small towns and farms and people living in the real world and not in a fantasy land they want me to believe is real so I'll invest my time and blood and treasure in it.

Well, you can tell I was pretty dead flat this week.

I decided to do something a little different in my morning scripture study routine, because I was beyond flat and into depressed. I ditched my study of the Doctrine and Covenants, LDS Church magazines, and LDS conference talks for a few days and just immersed myself in a parallel bible where I could compare things and see any translation differences, copying differences, whatever. I ran across something really startling to me:

Hebrews 10:10-24

The interesting thing is that this doesn't appear to be a disputed passage. It's pretty consistent across all translations. The writer of Hebrews is unknown, but the book can be dated to before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, just because the author doesn't mention it. The book is referred to by several early Christian writers. What all this says to me is really more the consensus of the early church than God appeared to the author and said, "write this".

I learned, or rather was reminded, of a couple of things. First, although Ehrman points out many things that were changed, there are a lot of core things in the New Testament that no evidence exists have been changed substantially. Whether what the author says is actually true or not is a matter of faith, but it seems to have been reliably transmitted, anyway, and generally accepted by the community as being doctrine. Otherwise it wouldn't have made it into the New Testament.

What it said was illuminating to me also.

I realized I had been immersing myself too much in LDS writings, which always have you doubting your worthiness and your relationship with God. God loves you based on how exactly you keep the commandments, and all these blessings are out there for those that do. Inspiration, guidance, a celestial family, etc.. The implication I think many people get is that, since these promises are so certain, if you're not feeling and receiving these things you must not be doing it right, and you need to clean yourself up more. You're always just one mouse click and one Victoria's Secret ad away from blowing it. The gospel is not about God's love for mankind, it's a massive filtering-out process, a game of "Survivor". We're tried and tested in this life to see who is worthy of godhood and who will eternally be a washroom attendant, serving those that get a higher score and make the final round in the quiz bowl of life. Plus I mentally fill in so much of the backstory about the organization's relentless push to reinforce its own authority and to bolster its legitimacy by sanitizing its founding history. It's just draining.

Anyway, verse 18 reminded me that Christ has paid the price for these sins I can't seem to get away from, once and for all. I think verse 22 was the real motivator. Drawing near to God with full assurance of faith. How often are we ever inspired to have full assurance of faith in the LDS church? It's always the refiners fire with angels, silent notes taking. Taking the deliberate path into sin is pretty damaging, but in absence of that I have that full assurance of faith and the hope of a fair deal, in this life and the life to come. God loved me enough to send his Son, and is not just waiting for me to screw up so he can give all my blessings to someone more perfect. At least that's what those who knew Jesus personally and those who received their witness seemed to think. Maybe that's what I think, too. It's at least one basic truth to hold onto.

Anyway, I've been studying in Hebrews and 1 John this week, and life seems a little better. The love of God seems more tangible to me than it did before and more accessible. There are promises I think I can trust a little more than I did before. If you weren't convinced before, you probably aren't now, but that's my witness, anyway.