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 http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html and http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/jensen.html. 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. :-)