Friday, August 31, 2012

8. I Have Nothing Left

I'll be writing about some things here that some may not want to read. It will change the view you have of the church, even if you still believe in it, unless you just don't believe me. That's okay too.

My re-investigation of the church took several years. I'd been doing quite a bit all along. I wish I told my wife about it during the time, but somethings are learned the hard way. I doubt she would have approved anyway. As I've written before, I have always had some problems with the church. There are a few things that kept me engaged. One is my feeling that the Book of Mormon was a strong testimony of Christ, even though I really wouldn't have recommended it to many as a good read. Second, the dream I had during my mission to "Stay". While I have never felt that it was a testimony of the truth claims of the church, I did have a feeling that God was aware of me. (My bishop once suggested it was a testimony of the truth of the church. I couldn't disagree more. I didn't get a testimony of the church, but a direction for my life to immediately take.) The third was the night I proposed to my future wife. It was a very strange experience, and one I can consider as a rush of endorphins or adrenalin if I chose to.

So, I knew what that feeling was like, the one LDS attribute to the Holy Ghost. I made a careful note of when they occurred. I also made note of when my mind did little things to alert me to something. Quite regularly, my mind plays tricks on me, like putting the sound of my cell phone in my head to wake me up, for no apparent reason. It seemed that those feelings were distributed throughout my day. I would feel the "spirit" at inappropriate times. I could feel it at church, on the road, and my most consistent was during the start of "For Those About To Rock" by AC/DC. If those feelings were just my own emotions or the "spirit" and I couldn't distinguish, then it wasn't a good source for determining objective truth. Next I had to test other issues. One of the first was that I stopped paying tithing. I was told and have told others that tithing would bring blessings. It has for me, but not directly. Because I was a tithe payer, I could use the church agencies for our adoptions and I could attend the temple. I found peace at the temple, but also frustration which I will go into later. After not paying for some time, all I found was that I was blessed with more money. I felt free to buy what I've wanted for so long, a motorcycle. If tithing brings blessings, then it should be falsifiable. I didn't feel any different after a year. Yes, I should have talked to my wife about it, but then I probably wouldn't have been able to test it. Mixed feelings on that.

I did start listening to Mormon Stories podcasts. I have listened to many of the previously, but I paid more attention to them this time. I tried to stay away from the apologetics this time, because many of them were merely ad hominem attacks against the critics. For example, Grant Palmer was roundly attacked on the boards many years previous because he wrote an "anti" book while working for CES. Well, his interview with John Dehlin was particularly interesting. I didn't care for the man, but I cared about what he said. Many of the things he said I knew from my studies, but I never took them to a logical conclusion. The big issue I had was with polygamy that Joseph practiced. I knew he did it in secret. I knew that he married girls as young as 14. I knew he promised Eternal Life to those who agreed. I knew he married other men's wives. However, I loved his writings. I never put it together that if my bishop ever tried to do this, I would call it abusive, an abuse of authority and felonious. I put what I knew in context to what I would do if this was asked of me now. I wouldn't put up with it. I knew that what William Law published in the Expositor was truthful, that Joseph reacted like a man caught in the act. I knew this for over a decade. I didn't pursue it then because it would be emotionally harmful if I took it to the conclusion it demanded.

While some of these things were new to me, many items weren't and are undisputed by the apologists. We know Joseph did these things. It is well researched and is well attested. The only apologetic answer is that some of these women had spiritual confirmation. Well, some didn't, and rejected Joseph's advances and the church has taken after them. I also read long and hard all of section 132. I have always known that it speaks harshly to Emma. By this time though, my own feminism had come back strong and I just couldn't bear it. Emma was treated too harshly. Also, women are treated as objects to be handed to the faithful. (Joseph was a liar and a horrible husband to Emma exampled how he treated her. He lied about his marriages and closed down the Relief Society when she became a problem to his trysts.) Women are not things that can be traded for good behavior. I don't want to worship a god that treats them so. There is a reason why the last verses of Section 132 are never studied in the church. It is misogynist. I wouldn't want my wife, my friends, my daughter treated as this section describes.

I also contemplated the situation of a close friend. I knew what the promises and curses that were associated with leaving the church. I couldn't bear having this happen to her. I knew she loved her husband and any god that would be so vengeful on a couple, to separate them eternally, because the movings of the spirit are so vague, so subjective... It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. The logic of Doctrine and Covenants 76 was starting to fall apart for me. I found it hard to justify the magic spells that we utter in our chapels and temples as binding of anything. They were words. These are people. They shouldn't be reduced to uttering a few words and towing the line. Obedience started losing it's power over me. Why be in subjugation to men because of their station? One of my random writings started taking apart the priesthood, if it had any power or significance. The things that I once viewed as miracles had disappeared as I gained more experience in the world. If the priesthood held no power, discernible power, then of what use was it? It had been a stumbling block throughout my church experience. We talk about the priesthood being the power that created the worlds. Well, the Krishna's have an analog, and I view that as so much empty words too. Why give these words more power than is demonstrable?

As an aside, as my friend had related her status, I had quite a hard time with the concept on raising my children outside of the church. I had more than a few moments of panic. Of course, billions of children are being raised outside of the church, but this is one of those moments when you realize your thinking has been affected. I have never been a fan of the church's youth program, yet here I was despairing at the thought of not raising them in it. I had this and other thoughts that surprised me in that I actually had them. I found that very educational in what had happened to me, and any indoctrination that I have had.

I still had not found anything other than emotional justification to the Atonement. It was time I be honest with myself. I appreciate Jesus' teachings, but I couldn't find any reason other than an emotional reason to believe in the atonement. I know that shows how faithless I had become, but I was always borderline anyway.

The temple. It was my most beloved institution. I was a temple worker for many years. I had built up many various reasons on why the endowment was the way it was. I always had known it was "borrowed" by JS from the masons. I had looked at many sources that seemed to be ancient descriptions of something similar to the endowment. I had reasons to believe why some things were the way they were. I listened to a Mormon Expressions podcast, several hours, where a mason described what was taken and from where. Much of the endowment was borrowed from an 18th century ceremony instituted by the masons. The blood oaths....why they didn't sicken and repel me when I did my endowments in the '80s, I'll never know. I guess I had too much invested in the church to become disturbed by it. I mean, when I realized that "cupping" was to hold our entrails after we symbolically killed ourselves....that was it. Done. Temple is done for me. If I ever return to it, that will need to be explained away. (BTW, this was more clear in previous versions of the endowment.)

I didn't spend much time on the problems of the Book of Abraham. I never spent any time to criticism of it before even though I knew that JS had gotten the translation wrong on all counts. I like the Book of Abraham (much stolen from masonry) but it isn't a translation. JS clearly proved himself a fraud in being a translator. If that was a fraud, then the Book of Mormon could be a fraud.

My tipping point on the Book of Mormon came from what I already knew of biblical scholarship. Some of the writings of Isaiah simply weren't written by the time Lehi left Jerusalem. Moroni was a rip-off of Paul. I couldn't understand why all the time spent on useless items were engraved on plates. It was quite possible that none of the witnesses actually saw any physical, uncovered plates. The lost 116 pages showed JS's desperation at not being able to rewrite the story. The explanation in the D&C always appeared forced and simple analysis would have shown how silly it was. JS also kept playing Martin Harris, promising to pay for half of the printing and a later revelation made him, Martin Harris pay the entire cost. How convenient. The same trick was played in Nauvoo. "Stop building the temple, Joseph needs his house finished first."

The first vision as we know it was probably lifted from a boy JS visited in Kirtland, at a time when his authority was questioned. The previous versions were significantly different and seemed to be structured towards a con. The restoration of the M. Priesthood was announced years after the fact, again at a time when authority was questioned. (See chapter 7 on this link) It just felt like a con and I had to ask myself, if I would be a member of this church, knowing this now, as a convert. The answer was a simple "No." There are too many questions, history is not clear. The reason I was in it now is because I love my family. I love my family more than anything else. My family is in the church. I no longer believe in it, but I believe in my family.

I had to completely disassemble my faith before I came to any conclusion. Once I reached it, I had the pain of talking to my wife. Many who left the church had their families break up. I would hope my wife loved me more than that.

If the workings of the spirit really are what the LDS Church claims, then I can say, while I was at work one day toiling away mentally on all of this, was struggling coming to terms with all that I knew and debated internally, I asked myself how I can continue believing it. My family, my life was tied into this church and how can I keep belief going with what my study has presented to me, what I think is the truth. I had some words voice themselves in my mind..."You don't have to believe it." If I was to put this to the test in the LDS paradigm, I believe it would pass. I felt an extreme burden lifted off my mind. I didn't need to struggle between two propositions. I could come to the conclusion that the LDS Church isn't what it claimed to be, and that it was alright. I have felt more at peace with my decision. If this was the Lord answering my prayers, then it took me some time to realize it. If it wasn't, then I can still be at peace. I don't need to struggle with this any longer. I wish it was easier, as other issues started coming forward...

Evanescence - Lost in Paradise

I've been denying this feeling of hopelessness
In me, in me

All the promises I made
Just to let you down
You believed in me, but I'm broken

I have nothing left
And all I feel is this cruel wanting

We've been falling for all this time
And now I'm lost in paradise

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

7. Force 10

Facebook Happened. I am not sure how else to put it. I found people that I had been looking for for the last twenty some years. Some were high school classmates, some were from college.

I found the companion on my mission that had the biggest affect on me. I found the girl that I knew from my favorite area whose family helped me overcome my longing to feel normal, wanted and appreciated. She had such an impression on me that I named my daughter after her. I had written a heart-felt letter to her, to try and express how much her friendship had meant to me. I took a trip out East and tried to get in touch with her but our schedules didn't mesh.

The biggest effect was it opened up emotions, feelings that I had held down for so long. I guess it was a life changing moment, facing all these memories, embracing them.

I was at the farm on vacation and I was using the facebook app on my phone, checking my feed and a friend had posted something....and in the comments section was a comment from from my old girlfriend. The rush of emotion hit me like a 2x4 aside the head. There were a few people that I had determined I would have to wait to the afterlife to let them know all that they had done for me, how they had changed my life. Most I had found and let them know. Here was the woman that changed my life the most (aside from my wife), although she probably didn't know it. Her leaving made me change the person I was, to claw my way out of depression with the resolve to be a better person, to never treat anyone like that again; never to treat myself like that again. The need of forgiveness, to talk to the first person I ever opened up to, to be honest with myself, her, my wife...It all struck me with a wave of desperation, wanting. I can't speak to how detached I became from everyone or everything at that point. My life was at a moment of change, and I could feel it. I felt so vulnerable, alone, yet my chance to make my life right, to let go of the burden I had carried so long. How painful it was!

I can't remember how long I ruminated over what I should do. I was besides myself. I wanted to do what was right, and make sure I wanted to do this for the right reasons. How long I wanted to talk to her, to ask her to forgive me for how I had acted, that my life was different and how much it had changed my life. I was still ashamed at what I had done. I had to overcome my pride. I needed to!

One day, on the way home from work, I broke down, crying. I pulled off the road and I needed to get this out of my system. I needed to let her know how sorry I was. I still thought she was mad at me, which is probably silly after such a long time. It was horrible to think that my one-time best friend was mad at me for so long.  Still, it was my most important relationship I had had to that point in my life, and I failed miserably at it. It was unbelievable how much this had affected me, how deep I drove this down because it was so raw. Was my life to this point so empty? Had I been dishonest with my wife? Would she understand? Where will my life be after I let this go?

I composed myself sometime later and wrote a note to our mutual friend. I didn't want this to be misinterpreted. I figured I could ease into this. I'm not sure if anyone really knew how tortured I had been because of this. I opened communication with her, with my wife's knowledge, and I hope that we are continuing a good friendship. I was actually giddy just because of the burden that had been removed from my soul.

It opened a tsunami of other things though. I opened up with the difficulties of my mission. My struggles with the church became more pronounced. My musings on the nature of sin took center stage, because of what I went through I couldn't attribute to Christ, and if we have eternity to forgive each other, why was the atonement needed? Why can't God do what we do every day, meaning, forgive each other? I spoke with my friends, my wife, the internet...I needed to see why the atonement was really necessary, and I wasn't getting an answer. I knew what the scriptures said, but I needed something real, not just conceptual. Since I wanted to become a better writer, I took to several exercises like free form writing. In one exercise, I decided to write those things that I never before gave any voice to. It shocked me the concerns, and thoughts I had. A close friend had confided in me with her church status, and it was someone that I couldn't dismiss. Dismiss is the word I purposefully use. I had dismissed my other friends who had left, and the bitterness that they felt. I couldn't dismiss this friend. She was important to me. I wanted her in my life, in whatever level, and my friendship wasn't founded in church status.

I had asked my High Priest Group Leader to be released from any teaching assignments, as I didn't want my views to bother any others, and I felt that it had affected a few of my friends there. I spoke with the bishop and was "dismissed" by him but he agreed that I shouldn't have teaching assignments. I studied, and I did not read any "anti-LDS" materials at this point. LDS sources were troubling enough. In one post on a board, the writer mentioned that we preference our sources. If the sources were correct, what difference does it matter the point of view of the author? I had read "Rough Stone Rolling" and that practically admitted that Joseph Smith was guilty of adultery and that was written by an LDS historian. I decided I wasn't going to preference my thinking. Besides, I needed my rest. My working through this was keeping me up at night, and it was having a bad effect on my relationships.

Monday, August 27, 2012

6. Unwell

I read more and more trying to come to terms with the questions that I had. Some questions I didn't even have the vocabulary for. For my entire career as a christian, I never really did figure out what it meant that "Jesus died for me". I had an emotional response to that. I know that. As I matured in my beliefs I couldn't quite put a finger on what it really meant. I know it meant something because it was the reason I clung to what little faith I had. It had to be more than just the emotion, didn't it?

I read books. Lots of diverse books. I had the emotion, but the rational side of me needed justification. It had to be something other than the feelings. I knew that religion brought out the best and worst of people. I think it brought out the best in me. And lest someone question, I still do think that the theology of the LDS Church is superior than that of the rest of Christianity. My faith in scripture had eroded substantially. The Book of Mormon simply put me off as time went on. The writing was poor and the storyline became more difficult to rationalize. My own beliefs in the scientific method and my own sense of reality had already pushed the Old Testament into nothing but mythology. I found great wisdom in the story of Adam and Eve but I didn't believe that Adam actually existed (but this didn't lead to my discarding the revelations of JS, oddly). I doubt Moses existed and viewed the Pentateuch as more of a tribal history than anything that actually happened. The morality of the OT, the genocide, killing of all but virgins, and the God presented was certainly not something I found worthy of worship. Isaiah still held my interest but very little else did. It seemed more and more the sacrifice of Jesus seemed tied to the killing of animals in the temple. If killing animals couldn't cleans sin, why then would human sacrifice do it? It is only the  scale of it that gave it meaning, and that seemed to be what the BoM was telling me too.

My faith in the New Testament was put into question by "The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture" by Bart Ehrman. He showed by scholarship how much the scriptures had been manipulated (His study eventually led to his leaving the faith). I also found that the High Christology presented in the NT was of a much later edit and that was a problem with the BoM as the Christology was way too high for the jews of the pre-exile period. The more I read the more the BoM presented itself as a post 6th century document. Even the defenders had issues with it. More and more of my friends on the boards were leaving the church. Little did I realize that if you are an apologist, you are already in stage 4 of Fowler and the cognitive dissonance is manifesting itself. Some sort of resolution needs to be made and most leave the church in order to calm themselves of the conflict. But all that is what I accepted later. At the time, I just wished them well.

Sometime after our adoption of our children from Guatemala (2006), I was turned on to a man named Blake Ostler. His books were incredibly educational. While most of it went over my head, I found some comfort in the philosophical musings on LDS thought. The second book, "The Problems of Theism and the Love of God" was a flood of ideas, language and an epiphany on my thoughts on the atonement. Here was what I was wrestling with, but I didn't have the words. Literally, I didn't have the words. (punny, that). My conflicts were there expressed. My difficulty was made manifest. My Review. I must have tired my wife to no end as I tried to sort out my emotions, excitement, and the theory of the Atonement that Ostler presented. It provided some solace, but eventually, it wasn't enough.

Ostler presented an idea that the atonement was best modeled after the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that the pain of the atonement was based on his resolve, his hope to build a more intimate relationship with us, as the father did in the Prodigal. Forgiveness is pain. It isn't that Sin is pain, but forgiveness is. That is how the Atonement is devoid of time restrictions. That pain transcends time. This did leave an issue with what Sin really consisted of, and eventually that is what I found as being the weakness of the theory. He, Ostler, needed Sin to be meaningful, so he constructed a meaning. I saw it for what it was, a construct for what he needed to shoehorn it into the scriptural record. I soon became disconsolate again.

Then Facebook Happened.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

5. And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently

I always had an interest in religions. My interest in Hinduism began mostly by looking at the strange pictures in the Krishna Books that my brother picked up in college. When I attended BYU I routinely listened to the Krishna station there while sometimes finding humor in the presentation. I didn't act much upon my interest during the 90's as my wife and I were busy becoming established and doing our callings in the church. At some point I became interested in Patristics, or the study of the Early Church Fathers of Christianity. I'm not exactly sure what sparked it. I remember a site created by a fellow LDS author that attempted to connect LDS teachings with the ECF. I distinctly remember downloading the Pre-Nicean documents and storing it on a floppy disk. I also started to look at LDS history. One of the things I remember was finding the text of the Nauvoo Expositor, the newspaper whose destruction eventually landed Joseph Smith in jail. While I hadn't put any analytic energy towards the incident, I remember thinking that there wasn't anything in the Expositor that was untruthful. It must have been that JS didn't want that information out in public. At the time, I couldn't see JS's actions as covering up any sins or misdeeds. I was still enamored of his teachings.

There is a saying in LDS apologetics as "putting things on the shelf". Those are the issues that come up while studying that we can't find a good answer to, or are challenging to one's belief. You "put it on the shelf" hoping that some time later there will be an answer or explanation. I had just started building my shelf. The Expositor and Joseph's reaction were the first issues I distinctly remember setting aside to tackle later.

All this time, I always considered that it was my fault that I didn't enjoy the services of the church. I always put the pressure on myself for these things. The temple wasn't exactly the most spiritual experience for me, and I just didn't understand the underlying ideas. I figured more experience would teach me these things. Indeed, I started to develop some intricate ideas, assuming that these things came from God. Apologetics seemed to help some of my questions.

The more I studied, the more I came to terms with the difficulties that religion posed. The problem of Evil, injustice, the nature of sin, the meaning of inspiration. I tried to understand it all, to make sense of those things that just didn't want to mesh with reality. In many ways, I have always been a humanist or fatalist. I just didn't think that God interacted with humanity all that much. The fingerprints just weren't there. But here I was a member of a church that teaches that God is involved intricately with people's lives. I had some huge issues to try and answer. The shelf kept getting more populated. My studies of other religions helped me see the humanity underlying it all. I started thinking that mankind can convince itself of whatever it wants to. I still didn't see that I was convinced of something that just wasn't true, but I think I was firmly transitioning to Fowler's Stages of Faith stage 3 to stage 4. If you even start to ask questions, you are moving into stage 4.

I started getting more involved with LDS Apologetics. I even found out of my first child's adoption while attending the first conference of FAIR in Utah. I was just starting to get involved in other message boards where I interfaced with members of other faiths. My most active was at Christians Online and I developed some friendships there. I was still firmly LDS, but I was beginning to see the wisdom and points of view of others. I was very devoted at this time to learning as much as I could as my questions were becoming more complex, more informed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

4. Time Stand Still

I did pray about it. I had a dream and I was explicitly told to "Stay". So I did. I didn't like that answer. However, if it was from God, then so be it. If it wasn't, so be it. I really didn't have a whole lot of will power at that point to have a discussion with myself on the matter.

I set some rules for myself. I needed to be true to myself. I didn't believe that rule X or Y made any sense, so as far as I was concerned, they didn't matter and I wasn't going to sweat over it. If I caused a fuss, then send me home. I didn't care. I needed to get out of whatever hole I was in and that was that. I had a companion at that time that more than helped and could see how desperate I was for any kind of normalcy.
I was eventually transferred to Catskill, NY. It wasn't hell, but you could've seen it from there. I personally became better and had a good companion. The branch was horrible but we had some people that tolerated us. It was a beautiful area. I wished I could have enjoyed it more. I only gave away one Book of Mormon there. She wanted to give it back, but we wouldn't let her. They closed the area after they transferred us out.
Danbury, CT. It was fantastic. My comp was wonderful and I truly enjoyed my time there. I met some great people and for once in the past year and a half, I felt like a person again. I had my only baptism there. I don't think he understood what was going on, but we did get a wonderful party out of it. My last month I was sent to Derby. Nothing of note. My mind was already home. BYU had re-accepted me and I was going back to reclaim the person that was me.

Dating was treacherous. It was a minefield that I didn't recall, but it was probably because I was now a Return Missionary (RM). Some of these girls were in it to win. I did meet "the girl" and she had married. She worked in the bookstore, and I steadfastly avoided the bookstore. It hurt to know what kind of a person I was just a year earlier. I was ashamed of myself and I just wanted to hide from it all. I was faithful through all of this. One of my closest friends, when I told him of just a few of the things I felt, was surprised that I was still a member of the church, that most would have left after all that. I looked at him incredulously and responded, "I love the Lord."

I met a girl in German and in our second semester together, I built up enough nerve to ask her out. I was already dating regularly and often, but this girl was different. After a few weeks of pulling out all the stops, I decided to quit trying with her, as another girl I was dating seemed genuinely interested in me. That weekend, the girl I tried so hard to have notice me brought me cookies. Things moved quickly and before I was even home a full year, I was married.

I can't recall too many spiritual bumps in the road. My wife and I carried on as many other good mormon couples. I still struggled through meetings. I was hard pressed to find good religious reading material as most LDS authors left me desiring more...something. We had moved to Chicago. We were temple workers, presidents, clerks, teachers. We were good LDS people. Then, the internet happened. Information was streaming into our lives. Mine wouldn't be the same.

Monday, August 13, 2012

3. If We Burn Our Wings, Flying Too Close To The Sun...

As I settled into church, I became the teen with the most steady attendance. It was just a matter of determining what was more important to me, and my discomfort with the services and some of the teachings were negligible compared to having my life back, and the trust of my parents. Socially, the ward wasn't big enough to really provide a teen boy all the opportunities he might like. The girls that attended were a bit on the weird side, with parents that were too attentive. Occasionally I would strike up conversations with girls from the arts school nearby but that wasn't all that often. I didn't go to church for the social aspects. I went to learn. I also was the one always on the stand to bless the sacrament. I became a believer. I did flirt with some hindu books that my brother had every once in a while, but overall, I was a mormon.

My last year of high school was nothing too interesting. I went on my first dates after I graduated. I wasn't very good at it. Still, no harm in trying.

My choice of college was more important. I chose to go to Brigham Young University, mostly for the opportunity to go west, and to have a college experience without the distractions my brother had when he went to Central. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to learn. I decided on electrical engineering because it was hard, and I was curious about how radios and computers worked. I had worked with computers for a little bit, even bought one that my parents didn't know about. It was one of those first $99 ones. I wrote a few programs for it. I didn't know what else to expect out there. I didn't relish the idea of a whole school filled with over-protected kids like the ones I knew from my home ward. Still, it was a big enough school so maybe I could slip in-between the cracks.

This isn't a blog about my first two years of school. Let me just say, that aside for some bumps on the road and a lot of exasperation, it wasn't too bad. I didn't feel smart anymore. My first semester crushed me. I did have a lot of fun though. I was still a geek, not overly social, but I was in my element. I completely enjoyed school. I never chaffed at the rules, because I lived the way I did, I never came into conflict with anything.

My second second year was epic. I met a girl that I knew from my first year and while I can't remember it well, I do know that I asked her roommate out.  I fell in love. She was fiercely independent, nothing like any other girls I had met there before....hmmm.... But I digress, I was at a point now where I had to make a decision, or perhaps I had already made it, on whether to go on a mission. I decided to go, but my insides, my mind was screaming at me not to. My last semester had one programming class in it. Programming was something I immensely enjoyed. This class destroyed me. This was probably my profession...and I was failing spectacularly. I was also dating a girl that I thought the world of and I knew she wouldn't be there when I got back. I was about to embark on a rite of passage for my chosen religion and I was scared and knowing I wouldn't do well. I was too shy, introverted...

I was called to Zurich Switzerland. I wanted to stay stateside as they were MY people. I didn't have any romantic notion about preaching the gospel to others. Damn it! Was it to be that nothing would go my way? If I was called of God, why was everything so damn wrong?

Looking back, I was severely depressed. I think I was even diagnosed by a counselor from LDS Family Services. I did the work of learning my new job, but I didn't care about the mission rules. The rules were stupid. Why would God block me from being the person I was? I desperately missed the girl. I learned the language, but I absolutely hated the idea of the work. I wasn't a preacher. I wanted to look at numbers, curves and watch the sparks fly. I lost about 30 pounds while I was in the Missionary Training Center. I loathed the place. BYU was right down the road. That was where I was happy. I didn't want to be shipped halfway across the world to preach a book with which I still had unresolved issues. I was a mormon, don't get me wrong, but I wasn't a fanatic. There were issues.

I arrived in Interlochen after the two months of training. It was stunning; beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. That I got to go to the most beautiful place on the mission as my first area was unbelievable. I also starved. I lost more weight. I was in the most expensive area in the world and my parents weren't wealthy. I was a burden to them. They sent money, but I never got it. I had to live on what the members might feed me. One meal a day if we were lucky. A cup of macaroni borrowed from my companion if we weren't. There were some days that I didn't eat anything, and by that point, I didn't have any weight left. The depression was still there, getting stronger by the day. Eventually, the mission president sent me stateside, if only so I could eat again. The language was easy...just a set of rules with words to place. Language wasn't the problem. Depression and hunger was.

I received a second call to Boston Mass. Mission. The president's first words were his wondering why he kept getting the problem elders. That was a kick to the gut...and I didn't have much of that left. My depression kept going on. I caught pneumonia in Boston that winter, as we couldn't afford heat. It was a trial to get out of bed on any morning. I was a failure to my parents with my struggles in school and out in the mission. I was a failure to the girl and any hope of my having any lasting relationship, and I was a failure to God as I failed being his salesman. A transfer to Vermont and then down to Connecticut followed. The girl finally had enough and told me to not write her anymore. I didn't blame her. I was a mess. I hated the person I was.

I called a close friend and told him that I was going to come home. I wasn't doing anyone any good out there. He told me to pray about it. I told him I would. I contemplated coming home a failure. I would leave BYU, as I surely wouldn't be accepted there, perhaps to go to Michigan or perhaps Arizona. My brief journey into a social life, such as I had one, in my church was effectively over. I would have to rebuild everything. I would pray about it, but I was pretty sure I was going to call the mission president the next day and tell him that I was done.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2. Men Are That They Might Have Joy

My reading of the Book of Mormon was done in a very short time. I attacked the book with gusto. I wanted to know about it, more to find out what about it I disagreed with than to determine what I agreed with. About 2/3 of the way through, I thought to myself, "This is the strongest testimony of Christ I've ever read." I was sold, but I was also at a point in my life when I wanted to know more about Christ, more about God.

There were still some things that I had to work out. I didn't like the services. I wasn't sold on the programs of the church. I really didn't have all that much in common with most others in the church. I was more of a logical, geeky guy. I wanted facts, science...and Mormonism very much holds to a magical world view. I did want that too. I wanted miracles. I wanted visions, dreams, etc. The church had them all over. I did want a piece of that. My own prayers on things like that weren't being answered either so perhaps the church could help me with that.

I finished my reading of the Book of Mormon (BoM) and I can't recall ever receiving an answer to Moroni's promise.

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
I didn't do that specifically because I didn't feel that I needed to. I liked the book. Even though I wasn't sold at the time on the culture or church surrounding the book, I did like the book.

I never felt the need to re-read the BoM. I figured out later that it probably had something to do with my memory. I have a decent one and once I read something, I very rarely feel the desire to re-read it. In fact, it kind of annoys me. That was something of a problem when I hit the internet boards in the 2000s because I couldn't stand proof-texting. I just never liked repetition of books or even verses.

My biggest positive take-aways from the book were

  • A Fortunate Fall. Adam fell that men might be. Men are that they might have joy. In other words, God didn't have an error when Adam fell. It was part of the story.
  • Jesus cared about the whole world and preached accordingly. This painted a much larger picture of the gospel than was had before. 
  • "The blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them". This concept of retribution helped me deal with the injustices of the world, and not just those of the christian faith.
  • Angels and visions and the world of magic are part and parcel of faith in God.
My negatives of the time with the book specifically

  • No evidence of the events of this book ever really occurring, no location for the events even attempted. I still liked facts, something I could point to.
  • All the repeating of the NT and OT teachings. If this was a different culture, why did it have all the same stuff as modern christian culture?
  • It was poorly written. Events and thoughts were jumbled and contradictory. The prose was so bad that it more than once failed to keep my attention.
  • The church as I knew it didn't quite match up to what was written. It was hard to put my hand on at the time, but the church in the BoM was a bit more evangelistic, outward focused. For a very simple example, perhaps too simple; We are warned against costly apparel, yet we were to wear our finest clothes to church. I know that might not mean much, but I was a very discerning person even then.
I committed myself to this church and I decided to minimize the things I didn't like because I felt it had a good pattern of life for me to lead. I still was wrestling against it in other ways. My brother sent me a few books, "Doctrines of Salvation". I tore into them too. I was greatly disturbed by them. The president of the church that wrote them was clearly against science in any and all forms. The earth was only 7000 years old (no, it is much, much older), Evolution is wrong (while I didn't believe in it and still have issues with it, the evidence is there), and some other issues I cant remember right now. While I liked the teachings of the church, this was craziness. I didn't feel the love of Christ in it's pages. This was written by a president of the church, one of the guys who supposedly talks to God. I had a real problem there.

I also picked up a book called "The Miracle of Forgiveness" which I thought was a horrible book. I never felt so guilty, so unworthy of any consideration after reading that book. Look, I was a 16 year old boy. I had sins. I had sins all over. I had the sin of testosterone pumping into my bloodstream at a good rate. I liked girls and my mind wandered and that was adultery (or fornication) and that is next to murder.....I can't tell you how bad that book made me feel. I actually had to forgive myself for reading it and pretend it never happened because I just couldn't live with what a bad person I was.

As a side note, I do now think that the concept of "sin" is particularly damaging to people. To codify it, measure it and remedy it is a bad thing to do. It separates people. It is damaging to our normal social selves. It was very damaging to me and my relationships of those years. It has colored my thinking since and I am not proud of that. Mistakes are a part of life. We don't need to punish it. We need to get over it.

So there it really was. I started my journey into mormondom. I wasn't all that comfortable, but I was 16. I wasn't comfortable doing anything.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

1. Entre Nous

Before I begin the next few years of blogging, I wanted to give some reference. I've experienced some major shifts in my worldview in the past years that are actually a product of the thirty years that preceded them.

As a warning. I will feel free to expand, edit, and redact my posts if I so desire. In some regards, I will be creating a history I may reference myself from time to time. I may at times be blunt in my discourse. I do not intend to offend. Generally, I feel more unrestrained in my writing than I would in a face to face conversation. I will try not to ramble. I will also put this forward: These are my feelings and experiences. I will try not to project them on others. My life, my words.

Some of you may know my real name. I ask that in any comments, you refer me as Darth, Darth Bill, or my preferred "DB". I will be moderating comments to verify that they aren't spam or if something may be too private to post comfortably. I invite comments. I'm more than willing to dig deeper into any topic that I might bring up.

Since this is one of those religion/philosophical blogs, I will start with my own excursion into this realm. I was baptized at the age of 9 by my brother into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. To say I didn't really understand anything at this point is a foregone conclusion. This was the church my mother belonged to. We went there because she did. Aside from occasional crushes on girls that attended, I can't really remember much about this time. I don't think were were very active otherwise. My mother felt needed because she could play the piano and the branch didn't have any other resources. I think I attended until I was 10 when I believe my parents had a rough spot in their marriage and family demands dictated that we spend our time elsewhere.

During my family's inactivity and while my brother was attending college, he drove down to Florida with friends and when the car broke down, they abandoned him. He was stuck in Macon, Georgia without any friends, money or support and my parents suggested that he contact the bishop of the church there, to see if he could help at all. My parents didn't have many resources to draw upon. Unknown to me at the time, I would be going through a similar circumstance in Kansas with my new bride in -25 weather some time later. The help that the bishop provided my brother would be remembered by my family from then on. It was foundational in my relationship with the church and drove many of my feelings and passions throughout my life. I'm sure I will expound on this in later posts. I am pretty sure that my brother's years of activity following this event were based upon this event also.

While I was in 7th and 8th grade I capitalized on the issues my family was having and I did quite a few things to cause a loss of trust with my parents. I also realized I was on a path that I didn't want to be on. After a particular encounter with law enforcement, I decided to change my life. Since I really didn't have anywhere else to turn, I turned to religion. I didn't have any other way that I knew of to reform my life. I turned to the only way I knew....Jesus. Like many other converts, I spent a great deal of time experimenting with the religion. I wanted to know what I was doing was the right thing. I was disappointed and hit my first frustrations. I wanted to know what was right, but to ask for a sign was sinful. The cognitive dissonance was beginning. Goody.

In order to create some peace and order in the family, my parents determined that we were to go to church again. My father, who wasn't a member, went also even though he visibly didn't enjoy himself. He went to make his wife happy. I also didn't enjoy the church of my youth. I was 15 and the LDS church meetings were not something that I found engaging. When we first started attending, we only went to the Sacrament Meeting. Later, I was to attend all three meetings. At some point there was meeting consolidation so the meetings were at some point sequential. I can't remember the details. I didn't enjoy the church, I didn't believe the teachings (what little I knew) and I was starting to desire to rebel. I decided I would come to an informed conclusion so I pulled out the blue-covered Book of Mormon that I had and started reading....

Just between us
I think it's time for us to recognize
The differences we sometimes fear to show
Just between us
I think it's time for us to realize
The spaces in between
Leave room for you and I to grow