Thursday, January 26, 2006


I've always been interested in religions. I love to read the scriptures and holy texts of the world.
I often get fascinated by a particular practice and study it for a while.

After some discussions on some of my "issues" with the LDS church, many people have told me to look into "The Society of Friends" aka Quakers.

Here are some of their standard beliefs that I agree with. They call them testimonies. (I found these from the "Religious Tolerance" link on the right.)

"Every man and woman has direct access to God; no priestly class or "steeple houses" (churches) are needed"
*Not to say there is no value in gathering together and meeting as a community. Also, there is no preacher "in charge" of what happens at their gatherings. Each individual acts "as guided by the spirit."

"Every person - male or female, slave or free is of equal worth"
*Regardless of race, sexuality, intelligence, etc. Every person deserves equal dignity.

"There is no need in one's religious life for elaborate ceremonies, rituals, gowns, creeds, dogma, or other "empty forms."
*One of my original "issues" with the church. An absolute NEED to go through a ritual
to gain Eternal Life doesn't make logical sense to me. At the same time, I do see beauty in ritual, just not necessity.

Following the inward light would lead to spiritual development and towards individual perfection."
*It our own journey.

I have not yet attended a Quaker meeting, but I plan to.

Disclaimer: I am not looking for a replacement for my LDS practice, as much as I am continuing my search. I doubt the search will ever stop. I can't remember who it was, but I believe it is a Buddhist saying that goes along the lines of "the only ones you should be skeptical of are those who claim to know." I don't believe knowledge is stagnant.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Staying true

Last spring, after a family reunion, I was discussing the church with my sister, Ginny, and her husband, Craig. They are not members, although my sister grew up in the church. Her husband has deep respect for members, and they are both very spiritual... although their beliefs do not usually coincide with church teachings.
After a heated discussion with my oldest (and very apostate) brother, Ginny and Craig wanted to know why I choose to be a member of a church that I question and disagree with. I talked about my faith, and how I don't think I'll ever leave the church... and Craig said something that has stuck with me. He said, "It's the people who question and disagree with parts of their religion, but remain faithful to it, that I respect the most. That takes work. It's easy to be a member of something if you believe everything about it." Kristin said something that ties it all together nicely, and I thank her for that:

"For people who still believe, to step outside the paradox by leaving the church is not a viable option, because they aren’t being true to their belief. It is for these people that finding a resolution within the paradox is necessary. I think that the people who stay in the church because of their belief and try to catalyze changes because they think the status quo is not right are people who are acting with the utmost integrity."

So I thank you, Kristin, and I thank Craig and Ginny, for those words.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


I think that the issue of racism is important enough to justify continued discussion. Let me address some of the big questions:Is black skin a mark of God's curse on Cain for killing Abel? If so, should all generations be cursed for the actions of an ancestor?

Since it is such a sensitive issue, there isn't even complete agreement among scientists about the 'scientific cause' of differences in skin color. It seems reasonable to believe that people with dark skin are better equipeed to live in areas that receive more ultraviolet light. Some argue that sexual selection (differing concepts of beauty) is the most important factors when it comes to skin and hair color. However, whether natural or sexual selection be the cause, it does not appear that black skin arose seven thousand years ago as a result of a divine curse.

Still, the civilizations that eventually came to dominate and colonize the world mostly consisted of rather fair skinned people. A book I am reading argues (and quite convincingly) that the reason for this is mostly due to the fauna and flora available to those groups who were able to make the quickest and most successful transition from hunter-gathere to agricultural societies. In other words, location was more important than race.It seems as if there is no room for God in any of these theories. This is a particular instance of the general question of whether the creation (or history) requires an "intelligent design".

Does God participate in history, or are the religious accounts simply myths that serve some ancient cultural function?I will not attempt to answer this broader question except to say that science will always tend to eliminate the need to rely on miraculous explanations, but the diminishing need for explanatory myths does not prove the absence of anything divine. I maintain a personal faith in the existence of God for non-scientific reasons, but I also believe in the validity of science. The idea that God interracts with mankind is central to my belief, so I will take that as an assumption while making my points.

There is a long history of enmity between socieities (and individuals) that have different means of food production. A recent example is represented in the play Oklahoma, where farmers and ranchers can't get along. Cain and Able have often (and perhaps originally) been used as symbols of the conflict between settled agriculturalists and nomadic hunter-gatherers (or herders). It may not have been clear seven thousand years ago that those societies with the most highly developed agriculture would eventually dominate and in many cases enslave those societies that continued to rely on hunting, gathering, and inefficient agriculture, but by now this should be readily apparent.Therefore, using the terms "blessing" and "curse" in a purely secular way, it can be said that highly developed agriculture was a blessing, and being nomadic was a curse. These blessings and curses were not limited to one generation. In fact, to understand them we must look at the whole course of history.

If we suppose that this dichotomy was known by God previous to the creation of Earth, then it is not unreasonable to say that God blessed certain people with agriculture and cursed others with a nomadic lifestyle. Of course, in this case the curse is more the lack of a blessing, since every society as far as we know started out in hunter-gatherer mode. The transition was just being made by the time the story in Genesis is supposed to have happened.It also so appears that the societies that were blessed with agriculture also happen to have fairer skin than many of the societies that they eventually subjugated. But I think that the question of skin color is of little importance in determining which societies eventually came to dominate. Both skin color and agricultural development are correlated to a large degree with the location where the societies were located, but one had a more direct impact on the result when the different groups came into conflicts.

So let us suppose that God planned all of this. Why would he do so? Why would he bless some people and not others? This question is equivalent to asking why he would let some societies develop in equatorial regions and others in Mediterranean climates with plenty of domesticable plants and animals. But to state it like that almost obviates the question if you believe God acts within the bounds of natural law. He created it like that because differences in climate are inevitable when creating a planet suitable for human life, and differences in climate will inevitably lead to differences in food production, which in turn lead to different rates of technological and societal development. The "blessings" and "curses" that result are very real, as anyone who has ever been subjugated to a more advanced society will tell you. They are also, by their very nature, passed on from one generation to another.

So then our question becomes: are these physical differences due to moral or spiritual gradations that existed prior to creation, or that were manifested in such things as the murder of Abel? Or in other words, did God give the best spirits His best real estate and the ancestry with the most material advantage? I think it would be ridiculous to claim that every member of a powerful Western society was of higher moral caliber than every member of a less developed society. It is clearly not true. But is there a statistical difference?

I think that the question would be a bit humorous if it were not for the fact people have taken some very strong opinions and done some very terrible things based on those opinion. It is one of the key questions underlying racism. However, it is not the key question when considering the doctrine of foreordination. Trouble arises when people fail to see the difference. So what is the difference?

The question underlying foreordination is whether God chooses certain spirits and places them on Earth in a way that He sees fit in order to achieve His ends. In some cases this might involve placing them in societies which are, or are destined to become, the dominant soceities in the world.

Is it unreasonable to believe that God chose Abraham and Moses and placed them smack in the middle of the fertile crescent at a time when human culture was just beginning to develop because He knew which areas on Earth were going to be the first to develop agriculture and whose cultures would eventually come to dominate the whole world?

Is it unreasonable to believe that "unto whom much is given, much is required..." so that those who are born into powerful societies have special responsibilities to minister unto those who have been born into less fortunate circumstances?

If you believe in God, such things are not so unreasonable. So to be honest, I think it is largely true that the black races were cursed to be "servants of servants" for generation after generation. That is just a restatement of history. I also think it is entirely possible that there was an historical person named Cain who killed his brother and (perhaps for this reason) rejected the sedentary lifestyle, thereby bringing the curse of eventual subjugation upon all of his offspring. Of course I am not sure that the story is literally true in its entirety, or whether he was actually black, or whether his offspring became associated through intermarriage with another nomadic people, etc. An answer to such questions exists, but I am not sure it is critical to my understanding of Earth's history or God's Plan.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Edit -

Kristin, et. al -
I've given you all administrative privileges, so now, you should be able to edit your comments.
Please, do not go crazy changing settings, do not delete others' comments without permissions, changing settings, etc. These requests seem obvious, but I thought I'd err on the safer side.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I think it is important for someone to present a rational perspective in answer to the concerns presented by Paul in his last post. Although my perspective is not necessarily "authoritative", I believe that there are points which need to be made in response.

Before I attempt to answer any of the individual concerns, however, I would like to address an implication that seemed to be one of the themes of the post. Namely, that the church should change its perspective on issues such as homosexuality, the historical nature of the book of Mormon, and the idea that church policies are guided by revelation (as opposed to, for example, the racist tendencies of Brigham Young). Perhaps I misunderstood what you were advocating, but it seems apparent to me that certain issues, including some of those mentioned, are so critical to the belief system of the church that it would be impossible to change them while still maintaining that "the Church is true". Of course, this has not prevented a great many churches from abandoning any sort of literal belief system. But if you want a church that believes that the Book of Mormon is a myth, that there is no literal priesthood authority/revelation, and a host of other more politically correct ideas you would be better served to seek another church than to wish changes upon the existing one.

Having said that, I do not believe that the issues you raised are indefensible. Let us begin with DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon. I agree that given our current understanding there is no preponderance of DNA evidence that would provide a scientific verfication of the theory that inhabitants of the New World emigrated from Israel. In fact, I haven't seen any evidence to that effect. However, it is important to point out that a lack of proof is not logically equivalent to a proof of the opposite. This is critical because most of the people who believe the Book of Mormon to be a literal account do not justify this belief based on DNA evidence to begin with. I would say that the justification has more to do with personal spiritual experiences that lead them to believe the account of Joseph Smith that he was visited by angels and led to discover gold plates. There are also witnesses who testified to the existence of the gold plates. So let us suppose for a moment that the testimony of these witnesses were sufficient proof to believe in the literal nature of the Book of Mormon. There would be no inconsistency in believing that such proof exists and also believing that DNA proof was not available. Surely, if DNA proof were evident it would be a lot easier to believe the other, but again, a lack of proof does not constitute a disproof. The Book of Mormon also explicitly says that those most likely to carry the original DNA markers (the Nephites) were essentially destroyed. It does not explicitly say that the only inhabitants of the New World were of Israelite descent. Still, the most important point is that if you have accepted the truth of the BOM for other reasons, the DNA evidence does not force a contradiction.

The issue of blacks receiving the priesthood is a very sensitive one, but I think your representation of the issue has been less than fair. First of all, one of the basic tenets of the gospel is the concept of foreordination. These days it is politically incorrect to say that any race has any special abilities or any special relationship to God, but the Bible is pretty clear about the concept of a chosen people. Also, it just so happens that the chosen people of the the Bible, the Jews, are demonstrably "chosen" in at least one very important way. Namely, they have an average IQ that is significantly higher than the rest of the population. Am I a racist for saying this? Perhaps, but it is a simple fact. That there are racial differences is a scientific fact. That God gives certain responsibilities and prerogatives to certain groups of people is a Biblical "fact". It is also true that the responsibilities that people assume within a society are to a large part determined by the level to which that society has advanced. For example, I would argue (and there is siginificant evidence to support) the idea that in many socieites, especially those at certain levels of development, the practice of polygamy is beneficial. I would also argue that given certain circumstances, a caste system such as existed in India is advantageous. Since God is responsible for the welfare of the whole race and not just each individual it is reasonable to assume that an institution which is beneficial on the whole might have His sanction.

When the church was established, a lot of effort was put forth to try and mimic the organization of the early church. Also, people had their own ideas of what was acceptable given their own social context. I do not believe that God micro-managed the church in every way. I believe that some things could have been done better. However, I also believe that there was Biblical justification for the development of the institutions as they stood (if we accept that it was taken as fact that the black races were not descendents of Israel, and were still subject to a "curse" inherited from their ancestors). I agree that not all of the institutions had their beginnings in the actions of Joseph Smith. But Jospeh Smith was never seen as God. He was seen as the first prophet of the modern age. There was prudence in the decision of subsequent prophets to wait until they felt they had explicit authorization from God to extend the priesthood to blacks if for no other reason than they felt that the job of a prophet is to act in God's name and not just make politically correct decisions.

What I am advocating is that the morality of social institutions changes with the development of society. This may sound like "moral relativism", and in a sense it most certainly is. But by nature (especially when it comes to modern physics) I often fall in the camp of the relativists. In saying this, I would also like to point out that it creates a strong possibility of finding common ground on many issues. I think that in certain ways the church will, and should change. I think everyone would agree that it is better that blacks have the priesthood. I simply disagree with the idea that there was never any justification for racial, or gender, distinctions within the church. I adhere to the concept of spiritual and physical foreordination. I think that the house of Israel is a chosen people and that God literally placed certain people in certain ancestral relation to each other for a reason. A correlary of this is that certain people are not "chosen" in the same sense. But bitterness over not being "chosen" for whatever purpose you wish to be is the motivation for the first and many subsequent spiritual rebellions.

The final comment that I would like to make is that to believe in a religion is always going to require a leap of faith. This means that we are going to have to make a hard decision. On one side is always going to be what seems to be a preponderance of physical evidence that fails to justify belief. On the other side is going to be a desire to believe. It is the responsibility of the church to be true to the central tenets of faith that best represent our spiritual desire. It is not the responsibility of the church bend in the face of political pressure or a lack of scientific confirmation. If guided by the Spirit, this will not necessarily lead to physical conflicts such as the Catholic persecution of Galileo, since the Spirit has no need to get defensive about advances in science. However, I think that internal conflicts are inevitable, and a necessary part of our growth.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Paradox of Obedience and Integrity

I apologize for the length of this post. My cork has finally popped. I have been avoiding discussing many of these issues and questions for some time for fear of offending people or being branded an anti-Mormon. Recent discussions on this blog have increased my confidence in sharing my concerns; I feel like I can air my feelings and ideas and that they can be positive food for thought for the readers here.

Recently, my friend Skye gave me an article, “OBEDIENCE, INTEGRITY, AND THE PARADOX OF SELFHOOD”, reprinted in short in Sunstone magazine:, which discusses the paradox of obedience and personal integrity. The article was thought provoking for me since my reasons for leaving the Church have to do with issues of personal integrity.

The author, Eugene England, responds to an address by Richard Cummings, President of the Association of Mormon Letters, that speaks of

"a creeping identity crisis which is gnawing at the very heart of Mormondom," what he called "the clash between institutional authority and individual integrity and between the imperative of blind obedience and the claims of reasoned belief." He spoke of a problem which is for many the most anguishing in Mormon experience-that is, the struggle to be true to self despite pressures to obey, to conform, or to overlook what seem to be "clear fallacies or even tyrannies in the strictly authoritarian pattern" and then to maintain our integrity in the face of misunderstanding, hostility, even ostracism from our brothers and sisters and disciplinary action from those in authority over us in the Church.

England responds:

“That issue is indeed central to Mormon experience and literature but in ways that are in my view less troubling and at the same time more challenging than Cummings suggested.  He saw the problem, at least in terms of our own decisions, as essentially a simple one, though the consequences might be difficult and complex: Clearly we are to choose individually reasoned belief over blind obedience, the honor of self over the demands of the group.
     I sometimes wish the problem were that simple, with the enemies clearly identified and all lined up together and the main challenge being to attack or at least survive them.  At other times I am grateful that, in fact, the issue is a genuine paradox, a difficult but fruitful condition of existence, a source of the struggle but also of the supreme joy of growth in this universe in which "there must needs be opposition in all things."
     I believe the tension should not be resolved in favor of one or the other of those conflicting values.  Rather, what Cummings called the Mormon identity crisis will, I hope, continue-successfully transcended, of course, by each of us in our own way but in ways which maintain both obedience and integrity as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling and as we try to write and appreciate Mormon literature.”

I hope you will take the time to read the entire article using the link above (you have to scroll down through the articles until you find England’s).

England’s conclusion is that rather than seeing the problem as a dichotomy where we have to choose blind obedience or become completely autonomous, possibly leaving the Church, we should see it as an acceptable paradox where there is another choice. He illustrates this through the issue of the denial of the priesthood to blacks.

“…the modern Abrahamic test for Mormons, the denial of priesthood to the blacks.  In that test God, through his servants, asked us not only to sacrifice our political and social ideals and the understanding and the good will of our colleagues and friends, but he seemed to ask us to sacrifice the very essence of his own teachings to us.  To many it appeared necessary to deny our Mormon understanding of the divine potential of every human being and to compromise our higher ethical vision of possible exaltation for all people through unrestricted progression-concepts that are among the most attractive and vital features of our Mormon faith.
     There were two groups who failed the test, I believe: There were those who thoughtlessly accepted the practice or rationalized the mystery away by finding some way to blame the blacks because of their supposed lineage or invented pre-existent mistakes.  On the other hand, there were those who emotionally opted for their own personal vision, rejected the authority of the Church and loyalty to their community, and blamed Brigham Young or the current prophet or other supposedly racist Mormons, never themselves.  My personal hero from that time is President Hugh B. Brown, who wrote the First Presidency message of 1969 that urged all Mormons to pray (and thus prepare)" that all of the blessings of the Gospel become available to men of faith everywhere," which could only mean when blacks would be given the priesthood.  

Neither of the groups I mentioned that failed the test-whether conservatives or liberals-followed that suggestion to pray for a change, and thus they did not find a resolution of the paradox of obedience and integrity through their personal preparation nor did they help God prepare us to live the higher law of priesthood for all.”

Ultimately, his solution of praying for resolution of the issues that breach our personal integrity does not satisfy me. The idea that the people that rejected the authority of the Church failed the test because they didn’t help God say it was OK for everyone to hold the priesthood is ridiculous to me. Does God need our help to establish his doctrine? If God knows our heart and mind, why is it necessary for him to test us in this way?

If the leaders at the time that blacks were forbidden the priesthood were truly inspired, why would they have taken away that privilege (Joseph Smith ordained an African American man to the position of an Elder in 1836) only to give it back in 1978? The idea that God needs to test us in this way is full of deceit. It isn’t rational; it’s cruel and pointless. If God is omniscient then why would he need to perform a test that is punitive to several generations of African Americans? Let’s quit trying to whitewash the fact that Brigham Young was a slave owner and that he and many other leaders of the Church were racists under the guise that it was all a test. It’s insulting to anyone willing to look at the facts objectively. If you read Brigham’s statements about blacks you will find no reference to a test, but you will find blatant bigotry and prejudice.

I believe that irrational arguments/excuses such as these are manipulative devices used to shame people into conformity and silence. It’s too convenient to explain away wicked policies such as denying blacks the priesthood by calling it a test of our faith. Religions have been using the old justification that if the people’s faith was greater then the ________ (fill in the blank with miracle, unfulfilled prophecy, incorrect doctrine, etc.) would/wouldn’t have happened since the beginning of recorded time. Another example would be the doctrine of polygamy, which was also a “test” of many members, especially women’s, faith.

Is it up to us pray to “help” God tell our current leaders to correct unjust doctrines? I see that as a manipulative way to keep people in line and I see it as an insult to the Creator of this world that is endlessly powerful and doesn’t need us to help Him to do anything. I also see it as a way to diminish the accountability of the men that have the power to change policies. It places the burden of correcting the unjust policies of the Church on the lay members and makes them accountable for the decisions of their leaders. If that is the way it works then why shouldn’t we reject the authority of those leaders? Would we let our political leaders off the hook if they instituted policies of discrimination by calling it a test and praying for them to become enlightened? No, we would reject them by voting them out of office or even impeaching them.

The problem I have with being expected to believe in our leaders (past and present) being inspired and communing with the Lord is that they aren’t dealing with basic issues that are concerns for many people in the Church. Maybe it’s the insular environment of Church headquarters that is to blame for the lack of dealing with the issues? I don’t know, but I’m waiting to hear a General Conference address that is something more than the same regurgitated messages, over and over. I want to hear about the issues that are confusing to people, the issues that when left unanswered, cause people to leave the Church, like homosexuality, DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon, the many omissions and inconsistencies in our official Church history, etc. The Church’s growth is slowing down and two thirds of the members are inactive; this should be alarming, but I haven’t seen it acknowledged or addressed. The leaders need to respond to people’s concerns instead of telling people to pray about it. If these men have the access to the Lord that they claim to have then why aren’t they taking these things to Him and telling us what He has to say about them? Isn’t that the advantage of having a living prophet?

Until the Church can openly deal with its own imperfections (historically and currently) and be willing to acknowledge truths as they come to light (i.e. DNA and the Book of Mormon), I’m not willing to be a part of it. I do have hope in the possibility that the Church may evolve into a religion that will promote individual’s explorations rather than shaming them for questioning the status quo.

I hope that the Church’s attitude of secrecy will eventually fade and that a new attitude of openness and accessibility will prevail. A good start would be a rewriting of the official Church history to make it complete and accurate so members don’t have to go to non-LDS sources to find out what’s in the SLC archives. I think it would be beneficial for members of the Church to know what happened in the early Church, to understand the prevalent attitude that encouraged the exploration of spiritual beliefs and gifts. It was a magnificent, weird time and we should celebrate it rather than hide it. The heart of Mormonism is in the stories of the early saints, especially Joseph Smith. Shouldn’t we really know him?

I hope that the Church will be open to scientific discoveries that contradict established ideas. I hope that the Church’s future leaders have the courage to admit that the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon are neither American Indians nor Polynesians in light of overwhelming DNA evidence. I hope that they won’t shame thinking members of the Church by proclaiming that the Earth is flat when it becomes plain for all to see that it is round.

My hopes are outrageous but that’s the kind of organization that could inspire me to live in integrity and authenticity. I’ve been exhorted by some to stay in the Church and try to help catalyze these changes. Brother England would tell me to stay and pray for these changes to happen. That won’t work for me. I can’t sit through meetings biting my tongue the whole time, and I can’t state my opinions without disturbing the worship of those around me. I’m incapable of being a representative of Mormonism right now.

My vision of what an incredible organization full of motivated, good-hearted, loving latter day saints could be and do is too different than the vision that SLC has right now. So I say “so long”, not to my friends and loved ones, but to the organization of the Church. For now.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this paradox/dichotomy.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


The pain involved in leaving your faith reminds me of one poignant moment in my own spiritual reckoning. I call it my spiritual mental breakdown. I was physically disabled by it one day. Crying and shaking and hysterical. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, to feel the essence of all of my hope and faith and belief crumble away, and be left utterly naked in the face of the world around me.

No one could save me from that moment.....and I am grateful for it and it's repercussions in my life.

Emily Potter walked by my room at that moment, and I followed her, and begged her to let me go wherever she was going because I was so afraid to be alone. she was going to church, but stayed home with me, and listened to me. I'm so glad she took me seriously and listened and loved and honored me while I struggled.

I want to do that for you Amber and Paul, and anyone else. I love your questions and I love your integrity. I love you for living through the pain and into your realest truest selves. I love you.

I believe in questioning all the way to the core. I believe in shaking it so hard that all the leaves fall off, and only the bones are bare.

I also believe in seasons....

that in the coldest dark of winter, there is life waiting below...spring comes fro everyone and everything...miraculously...and that the barest trees will flower forth and bare fruit in what seems like the blink of an eye. The world rotates, and everything changes quickly, death comes before resurrection.

I love you everyone here.

On my journey, my diary reads, that I discovered a beautiful warmspot of sunbeam sunlight, in the Book of Mormon! The Book of Mormon, went from completely dull and dreary, to shining and bright, in the turning of a few paper-thin pages. I'm very excited about that.

And, I brought my friend Hyun to church with me, and to meet with the missionaries. Missionaries shine! We watched the Restoration DVD in Korean, and the Spirit was tangible.

Hyun said, "The people at your church and the sangyossa (missionaries), their eyes are very pure and very true."

I couldn't help but smile so wide! I felt so happy.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Love, Discussion, Debate...

Wow...I missed some interesting posts in my absence. I would like to make a few points regarding the "How to love a leaver" and "Safe Discussion Zone" concepts:

First, I am an advocate of debate. I enjoy it and I think it challenges me to better articulate my ideas. Occaisionally I even agree with someone elses opinion. However, a debate is much more interesting if I repsect the person representing the opposite point of view. I think a healthy discussion demands that people take opposing sides to an issue and point out when errors of reasoning have been made. But I do not feel that this blog is primarily about debate. I think we all feel that if we can share a few sensitive ideas and see how other respectable people respond we stand to gain something. Sometimes that involves support, and occaisionally it involves disagreement. A group that isn't open to both would be one-legged.

I also agree with the statement that has been made several times that an improper response to those questioning and/or leaving the church is due to immaturity. But it is important to realize that the primary way to transition from immaturity to maturity is through experience, and most of us don't get the required kind of experience that often. Immaturity is not suprising, horrifying, or abnormal. It is just another word for the natural state that everyone lives in until they are forced or inspired to move to another level. I am constantly amazed by the new levels of immaturity that I find in myself. I sometimes seem like such a child.

Amber, I am glad that you can share your experience regarding your spiritual search and I hope you realize that there are people out here who are interested, sympathetic, and moved by your experience. I don't necessarily agree with all aspects of your approach, however, so I would like you to clarify a few things. Is your distance from the church motivated more by doctrinal or social issues? It is a valid complaint to say that church members do not love unconditionally, or that you simply don't feel comfortable or accepted in the society, but to me that does not seem to be the thing that causes such deep questioning. All people are imperfect, and I think that anyone who cannot accept a key doctrinal tenet is going to feel uncomfortable in a soceity that is based on commonality of belief.

In a way, I am agnostic. I don't think anything important can be proven (this despite my love of proving things). However, I feel comfortable being active in the church, amongst a lot of people who seem pretty sure that everything is proven, because I am willing to act on "blind" faith. I don't feel like I have any other options, and I am pragmatic in the sense that when I don't have a choice, I don't take it. To me, the option of finding meaning in things I physically know does not exist. So I hope for things that are not seen, and I understand that I share a common hope with the believers.

Monday, January 02, 2006

HOW to Love a Leaver II

Ryan's comparison of fighting for the life of a suicidal friend to my question about how to show love to a close one who has left the [LDS] church has been the focus of many of my thoughts lately. I think this analogy is a great one, and may help reach the answer to my question, and problem.

The question is still: HOW to love a leaver? How do you best demonstrate your love for them, while experiencing the loss... in my parents case, believing in the loss of having one of their children with them and the rest of the family in the hereafter.

HOW do you “fight” (in Ryan's words) for the life of a suicidal friend?

I've only known one person of my acquaintance who has committed suicide, and I was not close to them, so I cannot say how I would deal with the loss.

I have, however, had a very close friend attempt suicide, and many others I've known discuss their thoughts about the possibility of committing suicide. At one point in my life, I thought a lot about the possibility as well.

I'm happy to report that nine years after the attempt, my good friend is still alive. I cannot claim to have any sure contribution to my friend surviving the trying time of his life. In fact, I believe that any desire he kept to remain with us in this life came from within himself.

But HOW show love? My friends' suicide attempt affected my severely. I had ignored an intuition to call my friend the night of his attempt, so I felt partial responsibility in this low point in his life. I was heartbroken – for both our sakes. I cried, I prayed, and I did everything I could to show my love for my friend. (I eventually came to a place where I was able to cope after composing a beautiful song in his honor.)

But still, I haven't addressed this issue: the fight itself. When I've learned of loved ones thoughts of suicide, my initial reaction has always been 'why?' followed by the desire to listen, and be a support for them. When I went through thoughts of suicide myself, what I hoped for more than anything was a listening ear. Someone who would listen to my cry for help, and just be willing to listen, and possibly even empathize.

Part of my internal struggle was that I knew thoughts suicide was selfish, and would accomplish nothing of positive consequence. It would get me the attention I desired, but not in time to be of any use. I hated myself for thinking selfishly, and this self hatred only deepened the desire to end it all. Luckily, I was able to find the personal strength to find a hope for value in my life, and avoid the attempting the thoughts that were constantly swimming through my mind.

Had I found someone to talk to about my struggle, it would NOT have helped to be told that I was being selfish, that my ending my life would do no good, or anything like this. What I needed was a listener, a hug, and someone to try to understand me.

Unfortunately, I can liken much of the reaction I've gotten from church members to this latter example. Being compared to archetypal wicked Book of Mormon characters, or being lectured that the direction I'm going is wrong do not help the cause. Certainly, they stem from a source of love. But the “fight” only deepens the feelings of rejection and pain.

What I seek is understanding, eventually. In the mean time, a willingness to listen, and to know that this is a time of deep personal pain. With each sharp arrow thrown from a bow of love, my pains and struggles deepen... and the struggle to reconcile my current understanding of my path and the courage I knew it would take to follow this path is becoming worse. If the “fight” is for my spiritual life – and what it should be in the eyes of those within the church – the approach of constantly trying to “remind me” or “drive home” the messages of the church only make the struggle to not become embittered about the church more difficult.

If I am ever to return to a belief in the church, it will be because I feel it is a source of unconditional love. Unconditional is key. Do not love who you want me to be. Do not love what you feel I should be. Recognize and appreciate value that is CURRENTLY in me – believing member of the church or not.