Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Choosing a Fork --

This blog has been largely dormant for awhile because I didn't have much different to say. I've been in about the same place spiritually for awhile, kind of stuck between the LDS church on one hand and trying to figure out where I fit into biblical Christianity on the other.

Maybe "stuck" isn't necessarily the best description. I sort of am what I am spiritually and theologically. Functionally I am a star-shaped peg, and what I have available to me are different shaped holes, none of them being star-shaped.

I remain converted to the spirit of Mormonism, or at least that spirit that has so far been most compactly described by Mormonism, which I find exemplified by the first vision story. A 14 year-old boy went into the woods, seeking truth and an answer from God, and he got one. In fact he got a personal appearance from both God and Jesus Christ.

Now, this story has so many versions to it that it's impossible to know what actually happened, or whether anything really happened, but the story itself remains magnetic to me. The prevailing philosophies of the day had "truth" described by authority. Either the authority of a religious institution or the authority of a book that was the physical product of a religious institution. Whether that religious institution was guided by the hand of God is known in the heart of each individual. I believe it was.

But various institutions certainly reserved the right to tell each individual what the meaning of the text was. Did the words empower the apostle Peter, and thus validate the Catholic church? Did the words constrain the aspiring Christian to keep commandments as the pathway to Heaven? Did the words empower the believer through grace so that commandments were really no longer binding? Pick your preferred institution, and thus choose your yoke and your master.

The essence of Joseph Smith's first vision story is that God cares about individuals apart from institutions. Revelation comes to the individual directly from God. The institutional yoke is broken. The heavens are open, to the extent we choose to listen.

That right there is the underpinning of my faith. Whatever we might choose as a church, a creed, whatever, the driving force behind it must be that direct connection to God, achieved through the Holy Spirit. Institutions have value to the extent that they foster that connection, and they are damned to the extent that they impede it.

Modern day mormonism has become everything Joseph Smith's first vision story was supposed to overcome. It has become a large powerful bureaucratic institution that tells people how they must behave, and it supposes to be the conduit through which most meaningful revelation flows from God to the individual.

It has taken its place alongside many other large and powerful religious institutions that choose to use people to serve their institutional ends. It's better than many, if not most, but the fact remains that it impedes that channel of revelation, much as the life-giving waters of the Colorado river are siphoned off, bit by bit, until a mighty river becomes a muddy trickle at its disappointing endpoint, somewhere in Mexico.

So, my star-shaped peg no longer fits into the hole of institutional Mormonism. So where does it fit?

Largely I'm a scriptural Christian. I believe that God has spoken to men in various ways over time, and the most enduring records are found in the scriptures, primarily the books we consider the Old and New Testaments. These books are and always have been the core of my faith. I believe the Book of Mormon reflects a lot of biblical truth, yet there is no shred of historical proof that it is what it claims to be, a record of an ancient people. Nor does the translation process really seem designed to persuade the vast majority of people that a loving God would want to draw to himself. I don't think the Book of Mormon is the cynical fraud that many, if not most, do, because the principles in it reflect such inspired biblical truth. I find it to be a derivative work, inspired fiction, worthy of reading as one of the most influential books of the 19th and 20th centuries, a clear expounder of truth, yet not one that can doctrinally go beyond its biblical foundation.

So, where does all this leave a star-shaped peg in search of a hole to fit into?

Until recently, just sitting on the workbench. I no longer fit into the LDS church. I have a hard-won distrust of denominations and institutional churches. Yet as Christians we cannot stand alone. The core of Christian practice must happen in communities. No church that I felt drawn to would accept me, because my LDS connections and some resulting life circumstances were not acceptable. The points on the star would just not go down the holes.

Thankfully that may have changed.

This has been a pretty influential holiday period, and my direction seems increasingly clear.  I'll devote the next few posts to sharing the story, and following that to whatever happens next.


Mike Michaels said...

An excellent distillation of the crux of Mormonism. Good luck on your journey.

Thomas Gail Haws said...

I'm happy to see you are posting again, CF.

Your friend,