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.