Sunday, October 30, 2005

Soul Bearing

I can tell strangers and people slightly close to me exactly how I feel. But I haven't been able to tell those who have been closest to me through my entire life - my family - the truth... until 5 minutes ago. I just sent them this email - and I'm currently shaking with anxiety wondering what consequences it will bring. (btw, Erik is my non-LDS husband, and Dalyn is my brother.) Ok, here's the letter, my soul, naked:

Dear family,
Please forgive this being full of mistypes and grammatical errors, or what just my be human errors. I've been typing at the computer all day long, because I've finally found a way I can do this. Please understand that the following is simply an explanation of where I am right now in regards to church, with a bit of history behind it, to try to help you understand. I do not wish for any of it to be argumentative in any way, but simply an explanation of my feelings. I pray you'll be able to read this with an open heart and that I've been able to communicate my feelings simply - without intending any offense.

It begins with war. Russell M. Nelson gave a talk in General Conference that hit me more powerfully than anything I've ever heard in General Conference. His talk was given relatively soon after 9-11 and shortly before our country made the choice to invade Afghanistan. He spoke powerfully that we as a church must "renounce war and proclaim peace." He was NOT referring to peace simply in our hearts or our homes. He was referring to war. Yet, I still felt like a lone soul within church and almost even within my family in believing that invading another country, even with the justification of retaliation for a horrid event, was the wrong thing to do.

Then came talk of invading Iraq. Again, I felt strongly – and strongly alone - that it was (and is) the wrong thing to do. I reread Nelson's talk. I reread the section in the Doctrine and covenants he referred to. I could find nothing to console me and allow me to find a way that our choice to invade another country was ok.

When we did go to war, I would find myself frequently raising my hand in Sunday School classes and saying things like "no, the general presidency has not said this war is a blessing from God. No, they have not pronounced that it's right or a good thing, or justified." As well as, "Aren't we studying the second coming to learn the way to be on the righteous side? Isn't war listed as something that all but Zion will be involved in? (Excepting spiritual war, of course.) Aren't we to strive to be Zion, not proclaiming war to be a good thing?"

I was confused. Why would such a powerful General Conference talk be so easily brushed aside? Why did I feel so alone when I believed I was following the words we count as valid as scripture? Why were our leaders, the ones who said that "we AS A CHURCH need to renounce war," not speaking up? Instead, in fact, our Church President was receiving a medal of patriotism from our Country's President.

When I asked these questions I was met with a few different reactions. Some people either called me names, or did everything they could to invalidate me. Oh well, there was really not much I could do about this. Some said to me "We believe in honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law." To the latter, I agree! We SHOULD honor, obey, and sustain the law. We ARE subject to those we vote into office. But last time I checked, having an opinion different than our president was not against the low in this country. In fact, I thought our country was FOUNDED on the principles of freedom of conscience, and our government was structured so that opposite viewpoints could and WOULD be heard. When WE are the ones who elect our officials, than truly WE are the ones responsible to speak up. This is OUR government. There is nothing unpatriotic, in my opinion, in speaking out against sending our loved ones into war.

"I'm sure it's the right thing. He knows things we don't, and I'm sure our leaders would speak up if this wasn't the right thing to do,"was anther response. These often included statements like "President Bush is a good Christian man. I'm sure he prayed about something this serious." How could they be so sure? Everything I had read, seen, and heard - both "worldly" and scripturally/doctrinally/spiritually - pointed to this not being right. Of course our President and security officials know things we don't know! But even since then, so many things have come to light that "what they knew" was based on weak speculations, or worse. Of course, if I bring this up to anybody, they immediately go off into a spell about the liberal or biased media. I won't deny that news sources have biased ways of spinning stories, or choosing what to report, but the truthfully, there is bias in both directions from many media sources. In today's information age, it is very easy to filter in the media sources you want to hear, and filter out those you don't. Anyone wishing to find an alternative viewpoint can do so at the click of a button. Anyone wishing to further investigate matters for themselves can do so. Blaming media sources changes nothing for me. As far as President Bush being a "good Christian man" I do not doubt that he has good values he believes in like any other good Christian, or good non-Christian for that matter. But to use that as a matter to simply put your faith in him I disagree. He is not an apostle, and in fact, belongs to a religion that preaches AGAINST ours. I do not say this to say I believe he didn't pray, isn't good, or holds something against our faith in his heart. I simply point it out to explain why I don't hold these points as reasons to put simple trust in him and his and his associates choices. But why are so many ready to? And why was our/is our own leadership silent on the matter?

So I took my questions directly where we're told to: to prayer and scripture study. I previously hated reading about so many wars in scriptures, but this time, I began at the very first page of the book of Mormon, and read through to the very last page - taking notes and pondering all the way through, especially on any matter concerning war. By the end of this journey, I did not find solace and comfort in our actions as a country. In fact, the opposite happened. The more I studied war, the more evidence I found that this was NOT the right thing, and was not justified in any way, nor could I imagine it being sanctioned by God.

If this is truly Christ's church, where is his voice in this matter?

This curious spot led me to more questions, and deeper inquiries into my faith, the gospel, the church, and what I saw as differences in the three.

I began studying and reading other philosophies and holy text on top of continuing my study of LDS church literature. With a few books, I decided to take "The Book of Mormon Challenge" to the test. In other words, I would read prayerfully, and meditate and ponder what I was reading. I had never really tried this with anything besides the Book of Mormon, and I had never once felt any need to question the validity of the Book of Mormon. I simply knew it was true.

The first book I tried this with was called "Seven Theories on Religion," a book a friend gave me to read. It was a collection from various psychologists and philosophers on the origins of religion. When I prayed and asked if the book was true, and immediately had the deepest darkest feeling I've ever imagined fill every part of me. I can only imagine what the dark feeling Joseph Smith described. The dark feeling took a long while to recover from, but it was very easy to put the book down with no desire to open it again. It was simple enough evidence to me that it was not true. But I didn't discontinue this method of study on other books. I continued my interest in various writings and teachings of people and books that seemed good. I found much good in many of the teachings of Confucius and Siddhartha (The Buddha), and found much of what they said to compliment and enrich gospel teachings. I attended a few other churches, and tried other practices, all along using the "search, ponder, and pray" method of seeking if there was wisdom and truth in them. All the while, I stayed fully active in all aspects of the church.

After a few years of this, in a roundabout way, I discovered a man named Rudolph Steiner. (I did not learn of him through religious studies, but instead through studies in educational methods, when I leaned of Waldorf Schools - which fit perfectly, from what I could tell, the same educational philosophies I had created from my own pondering on the subject.) Steiner was born in Austria in 1861, and lived through 1925. From what I could tell, he never knew anything of our church. The more I learned of him, and the things he and his ideas accomplished, the more fascinated I was. I began to read his writings, still using the search ponder and pray guide. I read a short work of his, "Anthroposophy in Everyday Life" and found it to be and feel very good, even though I didn't understand all of it. Then I found a book he wrote called, "How to Know Higher Worlds - The classic guide to the spiritual journey." I felt something peaceful, amazing,and beautiful while studying this book. I was still extremely interested in Waldorf education and took a trip to a small college in a gorgeous upstate New York town that specifically teaches Waldorf Education and other concepts that stemmed from Rudolph Steiner. (On top of education, he had contributions in the fields of medicine, science, philosophy, religion, economics, agriculture, architecture, drama, and created his own dance/art form called eurythmy.) This school had a very special feeling to it. I stayed for two days, sleeping overnight in their dorms. I visited classes, explored the campus and surrounding area, and spent a lot of time in personal reflection. I had the same feeling the whole time that I've had once or twice visiting the temple, or on an especially spiritual day at church. All the people I met seemed radiantly beautiful and almost holy.

When I got home from this trip I suddenly realized I was feeling the same things I feel from Church from a completely outside source. This shocked and scared me. How could this be? The things I was looking into did not come from prophets. These people knew nothing of the Book of Mormon. Was I being deceived? I cried and I prayed, and I found no comfort. After several days of distress I called a friend who I felt safe discussing these kinds of thing with. "What if the church isn't the only true church? What's going on here?" This friend understood, said they had been through similar questions themselves, and decided that everything was ok. They stuck with the church because it's what they were given, taught, and blessed with from the beginning - and it just didn't make sense to give it up. I still wasn't sure of what to believe, but I decided that I too, would choose to stick with the church. I was benefiting from it, not to mention I was currently in love with a good LDS boy, which was already causing enough emotional turmoil in my life.

I set the Rudolph Steiner books aside, decided that it wasn't the right time for me to go back to school, and devoted 100% of my studies strictly to church matters. But in the back of my mind, I still had the nagging question - 'what if it isn't the ONLY true church?'

After a while, I was able to find a place of peace within myself and the church by coming to the following metaphor: When I heard anyone speak the words "this is the only true church" I thought of the mountain we must all climb to reach our Heavenly Father. "one true church" translated, in my mind, to "one way to the top of the mountain" = UP! We each have the choice to move away from the mountain, or sit and stay where we are, or move up. To reach a level of Godhood, we have to choose to continually move up. The good work and service we do for others, continual self improvement, striving for perfection - the peak of the mountaintop, is where we're going. Yes, up we must all go, but at the same time, people choose different ways to climb. Some use a guide, a teacher to show them the way. Some forge their way through unknown thick forests. Some climb rock faces. Some solo, some in groups. I saw our church as a group, rock climbing with high tech equipment to move up very fast. In other words, it may not be the ONLY way to go UP, but it was highly efficient, with lots of help.

Because of this view, I was able to finally be ok with the idea of personally being a missionary. I could openly and easily share my feelings about the church to those who would listen, or who seemed like they would benefit from it. It also helped me be less sad (= judgmental) of those I loved or saw who were good people, striving to do what's right by what they knew, but who were closed to any thought of the church. I saw them moving up the mountain, and I believed they had just as much chance of making it to the top as I did.

I loved discussing gospel matters with Dalyn. We all know the man can argue, convincingly, thoughtfully, and well. (He would make a great, good, charismatic politician!) But of most anyone I ever spoke to about the church or gospel matters, Dalyn not only had a way of not invalidating what I felt, but also giving me knew angles to ponder, things to look into, and better arguments for things I didn't understand or agree with than anyone else I could find.

When I mentioned my metaphor to Dalyn, the concept was turned into turmoil once again for me. Although he refused to work within the metaphor, his points were very clear. Dalyn gave me three points to ponder, and look into doctrinally. They were these:

*If your problem with the church is people in the church, you're not giving them a fair chance.
*The Church is the right place for everyone.
*You can be a good person, and do good things, and still be damned, i.e. separated from God.

What this did for me in reality, was turn what I had been using as a source of being at peace into a hurricane whirlwind of once again, NOT being ok.

In talking this through with another friend who WAS willing to work within my metaphor, his response to my view of the mountain was this: "Amber, you're right. However, no matter who you are or what you do, if you want to get to the top of the highest mountain, you HAVE to do it the same way. There's ice and there's danger, and if you don't do it right, you don't make it."

I took this and pondered it. He was right, but I was still uneasy. Later, I had a great discussion with my Relief Society President and told her what I was going through. Without batting an eyelash, her reply to the idea that we all have to reach the top the same way was, "but who says we have a monopoly on the equipment?" She was putting my uneasiness into words for me. The answer, of course, is the Church says it has the monopoly... but did I agree?

Now I was ready to directly look into and answer Dalyn's points. *First, the people at church. That one was easy. I knew very well the church was made of and for imperfect people, myself included. Every one of us makes mistakes and does stupid things. If my problem was *people* at church, I would have quit when I was in young women's (like so many of my peers did), where if you weren't a cheerleader, didn't wear the latest fashions to church, you simply weren't included socially. People were blatantly and rudely made fun of by girls and boys in a more visible way at church than what I witnessed at school. But socially fitting in is not why I went. I went because I believed in what I was being taught.

But was that really honestly true? I thought deeper. It was, after all, an issue of feeling alone at church when it came to views about war that seemed to begin this entire cycle of questions. But the more I thought about this, the more I was sure. It wasn't the people and the feelings of being so different than everyone else there that was a problem for me. But if it wasn't people, what was it? What is my problem? Scarily enough for me to admit, for the first time, it must be the doctrine.

So to Dalyn's second point; the Church is the right place for everyone. This would be the point that we all have to climb the same way, or at least once we reach a certain point. Did I, could I believe this? This was gray area for me. I came to the conclusion that I believed the church would only be the right place for everyone if everyone were part of the church. This is gray because that's the church's goal. 'Exactly, everyone needs to be part of this church.' But not everyone IS a member of the church. The only thing we ARE all part of is humanity, and why isn't this life and our actions through this life, instead of solely our actions in the church, what matters. What about all the people who are truly good people, but are frequently targeted by the church as the kinds of people it's not ok
to be, namely intellectuals, woman who WANT careers and true leadership roles outside the home, homosexuals who want to live as homosexuals. (I wrote of only those I've heard specifically singled out in General Conferences, and left out more who typically don't fit in at the ward level, but this is due to the imperfection of
individuals, not church teachings.) To be okay with this concept, I would have to do what I've done for years whenever I heard something I disagreed with at church; apply a different personal interpretation. The Gospel - which is to love God and others, follow the teachings of Christ and his example, and do the best we can do through faith, the atonement, and good works IS the right way for everyone. Which gets me back to my original idea. Are they working to go UP the mountain? And the gospel applies to everyone, no matter who they are or what religion. To me, the gospel and church are not one and the same. The church is the organization of guides and ropes we're using to go up. The gospel is the simple concept that you must go up.

But it IS Church doctrine that the Church is the right place for everyone. So me not agreeing with this points out to me one place where I disagree with the church, and there is no getting around it. It's a rather difficult thing to recognize that what you actually do believe in and what you thought you believed are not the same thing.

Looking at the last point, makes it pretty clear to see where I stand on the last point Dalyn gave; "you can be a good person, and do good things, and still be damned, i.e. separated from God." In other words, it's the ordinances found only through the church that will keep you from being damned (as Christ's atonement was and is a universal gift).

I see beauty in the outward act of carrying out a ritual to show commitment to something. Baptism is beautiful. But it doesn't make sense to me that God's love would be so narrowly conditional. Even in this earth life, within our families, I cannot think of any example of a loving parent's love being so conditional that they would require their children to perform a certain rite a certain way or they would not be allowed in their presence. If God's love is conditional like this, why? I honestly cannot stop at the only answer I've found within church doctrine, which is obedience. Again, a personal translation to Jesus's example of baptism and the need to follow him, is in the meaning of what he did, and not the ritual of it. I've done baptisms for the dead many times, and no matter how hard I tried, never felt a testimony of the necessity of baptism. The necessity of turning your life to that of good works, and godliness, yes, but immersion in water by one with a proper line of authority doesn't make my bosom burn.

If all that is good comes from God, and if "by their fruits" i.e. good works "ye shall know them," how can the good person be separate from God? What is the point in being with or like God anyway? I believe it is to do good. Happiness may be an ultimate thing for us, but what good is it if it produces nothing? Good works bring happiness, and the happiest are those who continue in good works.

Why do we want to become like God, or gods ourselves? It is not because we are power hungry, or because being simply obedient it's what we're supposed to do. It's because we believe we'll be able to do infinite good, beyond what we could in any other capacity.

In fact, we don't even deny happiness to other post-life realms we consider damned. It's that Eternal Life, that continual progression, we seek. The ability to do more and more good.

So how does it or could it make any sense that those who do good are kept from continuing in that goodness?

The way we must all go to reach the top of the highest mountain is pure, individual, personal goodness - so that we may reach the pinnacle and continue to do good. The Church does not hold a monopoly on good works.

So I've pondered these things at great length and in great detail, and have not been able to reconcile my own beliefs about what the Gospel is, and what the Church is. Unfortunately for me, this has led to one step after another of what I thought I believed in and what I actually believed in turning out NOT to be the same thing. And, even though I have still avoided any study of anti-mormon literature (I say this to ensure you that I have NOT been seeking for things to dislike about the church) I continued to find more and more doctrines and official church practices that I did not believe in, or that I disagreed with. (For the point of this letter, now is not the time to go into them, but perhaps someday. I will if you really need to know.)

I continued going to church for some time after this because I still felt I was benefiting from it. But as I continued, I unfortunately got to a point where words that were being said were too consistently in disharmony from what I believed, and my life long method of personal reinterpretation no longer could continue. I was spending time at church thinking too often, I just don't agree, and leaving church too often feeling worse than when I entered.

Because of this, I've decided to take some time off from going to church, while still trying to pursue those things which brought me fulfillment from it: the concept of knowing for yourself - not relying on others' testimonies, loving others, discussing spiritual matters with others, studying, pondering, meditation, and prayer, striving my best to climb the mountain and abound in good works. I have no desire to officially quit my membership or cut my ties with the church. I have no desire to bad talk it, or convince anyone to leave it, or refrain from looking into it for themselves. I am not even closed to the idea that I may go back and fully embrace all of it.

My biggest fear in being totally honest about this was an artificial idea I'd constructed in my mind about conditional love within our family. Erik can tell you of the many nights I spent in tears worried about my family not loving me. I know those fears were and are completely irrational. However, because I know how important and central the church is to all of you, I can't imagine my honesty not causing pain and heartbreak. This is the same thing I went through in my choice to marry Erik. I knew many of you would take it as a blow. But I loved (and love) Erik too much, and was so fully confident in knowing that marrying him was the right thing to do, that I had to take that choice.

I don't know if my time off from church is the right thing to do or not. I don't have answers to a lot of the questions you may have for me. There have been many other reasons I've held back. One, I have been worried that you would lay blame on Erik. Two, I've been worried that you will place judgment on me - that there must be some gospel standard I'm not living, or don't want to live, and I don't want the guilt of church hanging around all the time. I still believe and practice high moral standards. I want what is best for my body, my mind, and my spirit. Third, lack of support. I don't expect ANY of you to actually support me in making a choice that is against how I've been raised and against what you all believe in. It has been difficult coming to terms with being honest with myself that my true beliefs are not the same as yours, and the church's. I haven't sought any support or help in this journey except God's, and it hasn't been an easy journey, and I know it will continue this way. I haven't wanted to tell you for fear of making things even harder for me. Your love for me could manifest in ways of hurt, or anger, or the decision to distance yourself from me. Of course I don't desire any of that,
but can't fool myself into thinking it won't happen. But I've reached a point where not telling you, and just holding it in, is harder than the thought of facing the consequences of letting you know where I stand.

I love you, completely. All I can do is hope that our love for each other will be able to find a way to support each other in the ways we all need.

With all my love,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

A new kind of SDG

Today we discussed how we could create a safe atmosphere where we can share feelings, explore ideas, and really connect with each other. We also discussed opening the meetings up to new people that want to join in. We will be trying a new kind of meeting next week and the following week the group will be open to anyone that's interested.

We have run into some obstacles in our first few meetings and I want to ask for feedback from anyone who reads the blog.

First of all, the approach to discussing ideas that we hold sacred has been difficult. How do we discuss these things without getting into a mode of debate. How do we avoid trying to convince anyone else that what we know is right; how do we discuss without making anyone feel wrong?

Secondly, we have felt a lack of connection with each other at the meetings. How do we create a more loving atmosphere where we can connect with each other. Ideally we want everyone that attends to leave the meeting feeling that they are respected and loved no matter the differences of opinion.

Last, we want to create a listening for everyone that attends. A real listening where everyone is truly heard. How can we facilitate listening?

Any ideas are welcomed and we will experiment and find something that works. Those of us that attended today are commited to creating an atmosphere of love, openess, safety, and listening. We want to find edification in the love we have for each other and have an element of inquiry and discovery. No question is out of bounds but we need to have boundaries that allow for mutual respect.

This can be daunting. The issues that we're discussing can be very emotionally charged, but we're trying to keep these emotions in check so nobody gets hurt, at the same time we want our emotions to be open so we can feel a spiritual connection with each other.

If anyone has had experiences or ideas with these issues, please share.


My current biggest fear: I'm becoming something I never wanted to be. The more I formulate and settle into my opinions, the more closed-minded I become. I never wanted to be someone who was so stuck in her ways, or her way of seeing things that she was not open to other ways of looking at things. Obviously, this would close me off from seeing my potential mistakes, or finding new or fuller truths.

I also did something today I hate. Kristin was in the middle of explaining her feelings about an issue she is really struggling with. I did the worst thing I could have done in that situation; I interrupted, and I said the words "no you don't." Negating someone's feelings! Being argumentative when someone is expressing something important to them. And I did it. How awful! I did nothing that was truly supportive, truly trying to understand. I did not connect with Kristin. I am so sorry. Instead, I just expressed my opinion, and that was that.

When I asked to begin this group, this is exactly the opposite of what I wanted, and here I am being the hypocrite.

We ended up talking about it later. HOW do we connect. How do we ensure we're really supporting each other.

How do you stop yourself when you see yourself becoming exactly what you DON'T want to be?

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Hey SDG folks. Are we meeting again any time soon? Sunday?
I need to hear your ideas, voices, thoughts, and comments about the food in the oven again soon!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Truth in People

Ryan posted this as a comment, but I think it deserves its own post. Sorry I don't have time to format it into its original paragraphs right now...

An experience just came to mind. When I was on my mission in South Africa I had first served in the black segregated areas. A little further down the road I was in the first white ward in that province. Pretty much every other ward had split off from that one. They said welcome to zion. We brought an investigator to church who was black and the whites told them to move out of their seat. A little while later we were visiting a member and she asked if we had any baptsims coming up and we said yes. She said is it one of those beep beep beep black people? I was so angry and upset. I felt like I was becoming racist against white people. How could they do that? I prayed to Heavenly Father and said in a mean tone of voice, prove to me there's such a thing as a decent white member in this country because I don't believe it. I really wasn't expecting proof, I was just venting. I said they don't understand the gospel if this is how they treat people. A funny thing happened. I was transferred to the richest whitest city in my mission. Prior to and after this area I had many baptisms and taught many discussions in every area. But in this area in one month we taugh 1 discussion. The only thing that happened was I was shown there was white members who understood and loved the gospel. They were incredible. I was transferred from that area to the highest teaching and baptizing area in the mission. But I cried like a baby when I left. My prayer was answered.The truth is I have been so hurt by people in this life that I don't care for almost anyone. I have for the last 17 years become incredibly withdrawn from the world and drew closer to God. The only beauty I see is in nature. When I see people I see everything that's wrong with them and think why should I even try to get to know them? Why should I care? I had been so incredible obedient to the gospel yet I was saying I hate people. Then I was lead to this one soulofthemoon. I was shown all that was wrong with me. I tried to push Emily away. Basically everything I saw as wrong she saw as beautiful. This is so hard for me because I tried to do it her way with herself and someone else you know. Emily was true the whole time and the other proved that my orignal attitude was right and I never should have tried to begin with. I am struggling with the truth of who people really are. It kills me to know I am seeing things in the wrong perspective. But how many Emily's do I need to know to help changed that. It's not even possible when I have put up this brick wall to begin with.Religious and scientific truths are great. The truth that totally troubles me at this time is people. How do you find the truth in people? There, I'm not so positive and see the world as far as people go in a very polluted and corrupt state. Yet I am corrupted because of how I have allowed my perspective to be polluted. Do any of you know how to find this type of truth? I am deaf and blind to it. I can only see and hear cleary with Emily. There was another and I was proved to be a fool. I am struggling so bad with this right now.
10:10 PM