Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts on the temple--
This is kind of a weird post for a "disaffected" blog, but maybe it will average out with some other things I have said previously. If you're non-LDS you will probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but I just want to write and not translate right now.

Of late I've developed a real sense of enjoyment in attending the temple. I recognize that the temple doesn't work for everyone. Often it hasn't worked for me, but that's because I went out of a sense of duty. I was supposed to go, so I went. Under those circumstances it was kind of claustrophobic, without windows. I felt sort of trapped. I couldn't get out.

My circumstances are different now. I go because I want to, because I enjoy that sense of peace and separation from the world. I enjoy the symbolism of entering into the celestial room, as though entering heaven.

I had the chance to visit the Mt Timpanogos temple a month or so ago. I hadn't been to a large temple in about eight years, and the grandeur of the celestial room was literally awe-inspiring. The bright light from the windows just made the entire room glow. An entire large room of people dressed in white. They looked like angels.

I guess my thoughts tonight were more on leaving the temple than entering it.

I don't really take the temple for granted anymore, because each visit could be my last. I recognize I barely qualify for a recommend because my activity is about 50-50, and many bishops would start to ask me probing questions about my testimony of the "restoration", and my recommend would end up locked in his desk until I could produce more orthodox answers. I really stand out in the temple, because I have a beard and a ponytail these days. These are going to be red flags to a more strict bishop, and away goes my recommend based on his feelings about my answers. For now, though, I'm enjoying it while I can.

Used to be I walked out of the temple and I was struck by how "unclean" the world was. I earned my recommend by being righteous and by following the rules, and after walking out of the temple I didn't want to touch anything. People just looked dirty and clueless compared to those angels dressed in identical white clothing. The temple was a safe haven from the chaos of the unwashed and uneducated on the outside.

My perspective has changed.

I haven't "earned" the right to go to the temple. It's random chance as much as anything, the luck of the draw of bishops. To the extent righteousness gets me in the door, it's not my righteousness. It's the atonement of Christ that washes away my sins and makes me righteous, not my own efforts. My own "efforts" only count to the extent that I have accepted the grace that has been offered me and done the few simple things asked by the LDS church. I no longer see the world as being unclean. The temple is not a place to hide from the world. It's a place to prepare to engage it. Our mission is out in the world, spreading the message of Christ and ministering to those who need us, not hiding from them because we're somehow "cleaner" than they are and have a membership card to prove it. We're not called to dust off the world as we walk into the temple. We're called to try to take the temple with us into the world. We're not better than anybody else because we can go to the temple. We are the luckiest people in the world because we can.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Since I've become a less orthodox Latter-day Saint I find I get depressed a lot. I feel bad about things. I feel bad about people. I wish I could fix problems better. I wish I could communicate my faith better.

One of the things I realized yesterday is that I feel bad more because I empathize with people more. Before I used to look at the bad things that happened to people, and I thought "if that person were only a member of the church, this wouldn't have happened". "If only that person were more active in the church, this wouldn't have happened." "If only that person followed more correct principles, this wouldn't have happened". I used to look at entire categories of people as sort of broken and unclean and mostly responsible for the bad things that happened to them. I put an emotional distance between myself and them that didn't involve me in their problems.

I don't really do that as much anymore. I don't apply those silly rules as much, and consequently I hurt for people more, regardless of what they might have done to get themselves into trouble. I just feel bad for their problems and wish there was something I could do to make it better. I tend to think of most everybody as kind of a mixed bag, struggling to make their way in this world as best they can, based on the information they have.

That doesn't mean I actually *do* anything most of the time. I just feel bad for them. I identify with them.

I think Jesus was like that. He looked at people, shook his head, and tried to love them anyway.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's always interesting reading old posts in this blog. The last couple of times I have posted, I was pretty disaffected. I guess my heart has softened some since February. I really enjoyed the March issue of the Ensign, which really collected together a lot of doctrine about Christ in one place, where I really needed to hear it. My daughter was out here a couple of weeks ago and I became kind of reconverted to the extended family aspects of the church. Which, granted, don't save us, but it's still pleasant to be a part of.

I read a run of conference talks from the October conference that seemed very shallow to me early in the year, and I just had to put the Ensign down for a couple of months. Lately I've been working on the Sunday sessions from last October, and there were a lot of really powerful talks in that conference. And IMHO a couple of clinkers, but in general it seemed like the right things were said.

I had a nice experience in the temple this evening, plus I listened to an uncut version of an NPR "Speaking of Faith" interview with Robert Millett:


He pushes all the right buttons with me. He's open about the fact that he doesn't understand some things, but for him it's more about the process that Joseph Smith started rather than the lurid details about Joseph Smith himself.

I went to the temple with my daughter a couple of weeks ago and had a good experience. Tonight was good because there were some odd disruptions in the session that left me with a lot of time to think. I really enjoy that feeling of separation from the world I get in the temple. I remember reading (really skimming) a book on Heaven once written by Baptists with varying opinions on what it would be like. I realized that I know exactly what heaven will be like. It will be just like the temple, with people dressed in white moving about in quiet reverence. I'm coming to believe that I needed to go through a process of tearing my testimony down to the chassis and rebuilding it, in order to get rid of all the cultural mormonism and to replace it with what the scriptures actually say and what you can find the general authorities teaching. I still don't understand why some of the history happened the way it did and why the church obscures its origins so much, but I guess I just find the doctrine too compelling to walk away from. In many ways I think Evangelical churches do a better job of explaining the bible, and Anglican churches do a better job of pure worship. As a doctrinal package, though, I seem to be stuck with being LDS. It just reflects what I believe and is the best approximation I can find right now of biblical community.

Check back in a couple of months and I guess I'll be disaffected again, but for now I'm enjoying what I have.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thoughts on President Hinckley, part 5 --

I thought this was a pretty moving testimony.


How different would the church be if the GAs spoke like this about Christ more often?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Thoughts on President Hinckley, part 4 --

Well, this isn't actually about President Hinckley, but I'm still going through old conference talks as a memorial, so he gets the credit/blame either way.

I listened to this one today:


There was something about it that bugged me, so rather than continuing with another conference talk I listened to a sermon from one of the Protestant pastors I follow.

The difference jumped out at me immediately.

His latest sermon series is on the book of Collossians, and in summary the Collossians are overwhelmed by Roman culture and the messages of "Caesar is Lord". Paul preaches the contrary message that "Jesus is Lord". The pastor's premise is that our society is just not that much different culturally from the Collossians. Nike is Lord. Cadillac is Lord. Microsoft is Lord. Etc.. We're bombarded with messages from people demanding to be our Lord, yet there is only one Lord who will save, redeem, and satisfy, and that is Jesus.

Considering President Faust's talk, who is Lord?

I think he sums up his opinion in this kind of weird quote of "Invictus":

"I am the master of my fate:I am the captain of my soul"

Why, we are, of course. The important thing is self-mastery. We are the masters of our fate. We are the captains of our souls. We are in control. We are in charge.

I guess I no longer suffer under the illusion that I am the master of my fate or the captain of my soul. I tried that for a long time, and it didn't work. I think Jesus is a better Lord and master than I am.

As a complete aside I thought this was a particularly unusual thing to quote, for a special witness of Jesus Christ:

"I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul."

Invictus strikes me as vaguely Deist and not very Christian, but I'm no English major.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thoughts on President Hinckley, part 3 --

As a sort of memorial I am trying to listen or read all of President Hinckley's conference talks. I guess I am giving him one last chance to try to convert me. So far I would have to admit it's not working terribly well.

I have several years' worth of conference on CD, and while I was grabbing talks for my iPod I also ripped President Faust's talks also, as I always loved his talks and his plain-spoken and gentle way of making his points.

Last night while walking I listened to these talks:





It was sort of an interesting view of the gospel. In summary the church is a large and impressive organization that requires a lot of skill and resources to manage. Primarily the gospel seems to be about my behavior. I need to be faithful and obedient and work hard to move the kingdom of God forward. I need to reach out to others and serve. I need to be a moral and spiritual person. I need to work on being perfect, which admittedly I can only completely achieve through the atonement, but there is a long list of things I need to work on.

Additionally, Bishops are caring, capable people and need to be respected and venerated as they carry out their many challenging responsibilities. More than the rest of us they are to be held to an incredibly high standard, serving not only their congregations, but being exemplary in the workplace and not letting their families down either.

By contrast, I also listened to this talk:


Now, of these people and these talks, which one is the special witness of Jesus Christ?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

As sort of a postscript to yesterday's entry, I had kind of a trifecta yesterday. I listened to one of President Hinckley's conference talks, I went to an Ash Wednesday service at our Episcopal church, and I listened to a sermon from a local Baptist church while I walked in the evening.

I realized that I spent a lot of yesterday in kind of a funk, which I often do when I get drawn back into LDS church issues.

President Hinckley's talk reminded me that the church is less a congregation of worshipers than a large management training exercise for priesthood leaders. Probably the best thing the church does is to train people who can speak in public, teach classes, and run groups. After all, is BYU known for its school of social work, or for its school of management and its business programs?

The doctrines of Joseph Smith, expanded on by those who followed him, creates an organization that is really one large food chain leading to godhood for those with "demonstrated ability" and being put out to pasture in the telestial kingdom for the lesser.

I am not one with "demonstrated ability". I'm a passable speaker, but at the time of my disaffection I was the oldest person in the Elders Quorum. I'm a counselor, not a presider. When I was 1st counselor in the EQ presidency the president moved, and they called the 2d counselor to be the president. It was hugely embarrassing to me, and a tremendous lesson I won't expand on now.

If the church is really true I will always inhabit the lower rungs of whatever kingdoms are present. I will never rise in the food chain, because of my lack of "demonstrated ability". Thus the closer I get to it the darker my mood.

Despite all that I still want more than anything to belong to the church the missionaries taught me about. That vision somehow won't go away. I was talking to Wife of Bath last night, and I told her that I would go back to full activity and give my heart to the LDS church if it would only do two things: tell me the truth and let me think for myself. If it would be honest about its history and the frailty of its leaders and allow me to follow my own spiritual witness about doctrine and practice, I would go back. I just don't see that happening anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thoughts on President Hinckley, Part 2 --

This is going to be kind of a multicultural day for me. I started out by doing my Bible Study Fellowship homework, listened to a general conference address from President Hinckley on the way to work, and I'm going to an Ash Wednesday service in an Episcopal church this evening. I should find something Buddhist to do after the Ash Wednesday service just to round things out.

Anyway, as kind of a personal tribute to President Hinckley I decided to listen to as many of the general conference addresses he gave as president of the church as I could find, and read the others from the church website. I have the October 2001 GC on CD, so I started with those.

So far I have listened to his talk from the Priesthood session and the Sunday morning talk he gave. This was the first general conference after the introduction of the Perpetual Education Fund and after the September 11th attacks.

I'm used to listening to podcasts from Protestant ministers, so the differences in content were pretty apparent. In these two talks President Hinckley doesn't really dwell on God or spiritual matters much. His September 11th talk starts on the theme of defending ourselves from evil and the sacrifices involved, and segues into fairly familiar themes of getting out of debt and self-reliance in the face of global economic uncertainty. The PEF talk was designed to boost support for that program and talks a lot about the mechanics of it and gives some vignettes of the participants.

A couple of things that caught my ear were the way he described the two men running it, John K Carmack and another emeritus GA, (Richard ?) Cook. He venerated their worldly accomplishments as an attorney and a former comptroller for the Ford Motor company and described them as men of great ability.

He likewise talked about the beneficiaries of the PEF as returned missionaries of faith and ability who need a little help to get started so they can start careers, raise families, and become future leaders of the church.

You can tell from these talks that he really judges success in terms of character. Thrift. Self-reliance. The ability to work hard. Obedience. He doesn't really describe the PEF administrators as men of compassion. He admires them as good managers and men of ability. Likewise the PEF is not about homeless people or the desperately poor. It's about returned missionaries who need a little help to become successful. Always the scorecard. Those who have, get. Those who qualify, prosper. Those who don't are like the 5 slacker virgins. Unless you make it over the line, the lifeboat with the more worthy pulls away and leaves you behind. Always the church is about venerating the successful.

The talk finished before I got to work, so I listened to a MoTab choir hymn from the same conference, "Nearer My God To Thee". That hymn always reminds me of my mother's funeral. There were six people at the graveside, including Wife of Bath and I, pretty much everybody left in the world who cared about her at all. We couldn't find a minister, we couldn't find an LDS bishop, or anybody else to conduct, so the funeral home asked me to do it. Having been in an Elders Quorum presidency and having spoken in church several times this was not a great stretch. I conducted, assigned prayers, WoB and I picked the songs, I gave the eulogy, and either the opening or closing prayer. I had the skills to do all those things because of the skills the church had developed in me as a priesthood holder.

As I pulled into a parking space I had just a few moments to reflect on the many ways I have been shaped as a person by the church and the many things I have learned. It certainly refined my character and taught me how to speak and preside in religious meetings. I have always been blessed in the experiences I have had exercising my priesthood. I would certainly not be the person I am today without those things.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I just wanted to record a few thoughts about Gordon B Hinckley.

Wife of Bath and I went to the broadcast of his funeral Saturday, and it was a moving experience. My father died when I was 17, and my mother died about six years ago. I wasn't that close to my father, and my mother was clearly ready to go home. I didn't cry at either of their funerals, and wasn't really that upset at their deaths. Both had had long illnesses, and I was just worn out by the experiences.

President Hinckley's funeral was a very emotional experience for me. He touched me deeply in many ways. His practical wisdom and gentle humor was very endearing. Much of my vision of what it means to be married comes from his relationship with Marjorie. Several parts of the funeral just made me gasp out loud in tears. One was after his coffin was wheeled into the Conference Center and they showed the First Presidency with his empty chair. Another was at the end of the funeral after all the tributes about him, when after having watched his coffin placed in the hearse, without warning they cut to a documentary of him being with the people of the church around the globe, loving them and being loved by him.

I never actually met him, but I saw him in person three times. Once at a regional conference where he spoke with Sister Hinckley and twice at the dedication of the Raleigh NC temple. In all those occasions you could tell he really wanted to speak to and touch each person individually, but time and numbers just wouldn't permit.

At the funeral they recounted his legacy. They talked about the hundreds of thousands of miles he traveled. The growth of the church. The number of temples he built. The number of temples he dedicated. His warm and folksy humor. His love for the people of the church, and their love for him. His testimony of the restored gospel. His accomplishments were numerous.

Having said all that and despite my feelings for the man personally, it just seemed to me like there was something missing.

Given all his personal accomplishments, is all this really what prophets of the Lord are known by?

What does it really mean to be a special witness of Jesus Christ?

The one thing that seemed conspicuously absent to me was much discussion about his testimony of Jesus Christ. He obviously had a burning testimony of Joseph Smith and the "restoration" of the gospel, as we tell the story in the LDS church. His last General Conference talk, his last message before being called home, was essentially a recital of the Joseph Smith story. I counted, and there were 12 references to Joseph Smith and 6 to Jesus Christ. So, at least at the end, who was he a special witness of? He recited facts about Jesus Christ in his talks, and he clearly understood the mechanics of the atonement and Jesus' role as savior. It strikes me that the primary love he always expressed was his love for the church, the "restored" gospel, and Joseph Smith. A few years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer he gave what sounded so much like his eulogy that he included a disclaimer that it wasn't. In it, in his warm personal way, he talked about the many ways in which the church had blessed his life and the inspiring people he had met and served with as a result. Any serious discussion of the nature of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ seemed particularly absent, as though the saving relationship were the one with the church, the one that prepared us for judgment, and Christ was a distant figure we only meet at the end, the one with the scorecard in his hand.

In the Baptist bible study I go to we discuss the concept of saving faith. Their definition of saving faith is an understanding that we are saved by faith in Christ alone, and works are an inevitable byproduct of that faith. Unless we truly understand that we are saved through the atonement and not as a reward for our own works, we don't understand Jesus as our savior and we are not truly "saved". At this writing I'm not totally sure what I think of that, but it's an interesting concept to think about.

During the funeral, despite the love I have for Gordon Hinckley as a person, I found myself wondering whether he really thought he was saved by the atonement, or whether in his heart he felt saved by his relationship to the church, through the doctrines expounded by Joseph Smith, and through the ordinances performed through the priesthood authority of the LDS church. Did he really have "saving faith"? Only God knows for sure.

Gordon, God be with you until we meet again. I pray you had saving faith in Christ. Give my love to Marjorie, because I'm sure that wherever you are, she is there also. The alternative would be hell for you, whether it was the highest degree of celestial glory or not. Tell Jesus how much we love him, even though we don't show it very well or very often. Help him understand how hard it is to sort all this out sometimes, and encourage him to have compassion on us sinners who are just trying to figure all this out. Thanks for everything you did for us. Thanks for doing your best to lead us down the road you thought led to Christ, even if it was a long and circuitous path at times.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The latest --

I haven't posted in awhile, so I thought I would provide a short update.

The last few entries I made here were pretty positive about the church, but since September/October I have been trending the other way pretty substantially. In summary I have been attending a non-denominational bible study, and the contrast between how other churches teach the bible and how the LDS church approaches it is stark. This bible study basically talks about the bible and Jesus and not much else. It serves to illuminate just how much of what we do in the LDS church is focused on promoting the church and reinforcing the authority of the leaders. The study is held in a large Baptist church and most of the people in the class (200+) are Baptists, yet they never talk about the Baptist church, quote former Baptist leaders, etc. Just the bible and Jesus.

One of the things we covered a couple of months ago was the concept of "saving faith", which is basically an understanding that we depend on Jesus for our salvation and nothing else. Not ordinances, not our works, etc. I can't hope to do this subject justice in the space I have here, but it again helped me to appreciate how much we do in the LDS church is designed to convert people to the church rather than to Christ. Basically other churches try to convert people to Christ and then hope they find a church. The LDS church converts them to the church first, and then hopes they find Christ.

I'm also disheartened by the way they are handling the media issues surrounding Mitt Romney and some of the uncomfortable doctrine being exposed. i.e. whether Jesus and Satan are brothers, whether polygamy actually did take place after 1890 when it was officially abandoned, etc. Rather than being upfront about these things they are resorting to mealy-mouthed PR responses which are technically correct but not really truthful. These are questions that should be addressed head on and not obfuscated.

Recently Mitt Romney said he doesn't believe God has spoken to prophets since Moses, which totally disavows Joseph Smith and every other LDS prophet. Granted he doesn't speak for the church, but I think this is a representative approach. Officially, instead of standing up for what we believe, they are trying to blur the very distinctions we should be the most proud of, if this is really God's true church on the earth.

In summary I am not in a good place with respect to the LDS church right now. I love the people. The culture is my adopted heritage. Much of the unique doctrine Joseph Smith taught may well be true. However, I have difficulty giving my heart to a church that doesn't teach what I consider saving faith and that continues to be deceptive in public about its doctrine and practices.

It's hard to say where I will be a year from now, but before, I was unsettled by my concerns. I wasn't sure what to do. I was torn between the good and the bad in the church. Now I understand why things bother me, and I can easily separate my love for the people from my disdain for the institutional church. I understand that the "restoration" merely restored priesthood authority, and I just don't think that's important anymore. I have trouble sustaining leaders at the general level who are not totally honest in what they present to the public.