Thursday, February 11, 2016

Doubt, the true path to enlightenment

"Doubt your doubts, before you doubt your faith." These words, uttered by a man believed to be an apostle of God, have become an oft repeated mantra by those who stand in judgement of unbelievers. These words come with an arrogant assumption that the doubter has given in to the temptation to let go of faith as easily as one lets go of a belief in Santa Claus.  In reality, it felt more like letting go of my mom's hand the first time I crossed the street alone. The fear and trepidation I felt at stepping away from the security of my mother's side mirrors the fear I felt when I stepped away from the security of the faith traditions I had been raised in.

I doubted my doubts long before it was cool. For forty nine long years, I doubted my doubts. And I doubted myself. But I would not allow myself to doubt my faith, because to doubt my faith meant doubting all those around me who were faithful, and faith-filled. People I loved and idolized. My parents. My church teachers and leaders. The prophets and apostles I'd been taught to revere as one revered God, and to accept their word as God's word. And when they told me that the church was True, the living embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the only way to return to the loving creator of my soul, I believed them. I did not doubt them. I believed that they knew something I did not, and I put my faith in their faith.

I can remember, as a child, looking around me at my fellow worshippers in wonderment as they took the sacrament. I was puzzled at the solemnity of the prayers and the ritual, but I partook alongside my loved ones, even though my understanding was limited. And as I grew and matured, I expected my understanding to grow as well, only it never really did. I could not grasp the concept of partaking of the flesh and blood of a savior in the belief that it would somehow bring me closer to him, and make me more like him, and atone for sins I wasn't even aware I had committed. I gave it my best effort, I really did. I attended sacrament meeting faithfully, taking the sacrament, listening intently to the prayers, pondering the meaning of the words and the emblems. Struggling to control my monkey brain and keep it focused on Jesus and his teachings and example. In retrospect, I was learning to do little more than meditate, which I now find to be a highly valuable practice. True worship eluded me, though not for lack of trying. But I did not doubt that my parents worshiped the Savior. So I tucked my own doubts away, and put my faith in their faith.

I remember, as a teenager, beginning to contemplate the meaning of forever. I pondered deeply the promise of celestial glory, and I came to the conclusion that I was not then, nor would most likely ever be, a good candidate for the highest kingdom in the eternities. I doubted my innate faithfulness and goodness, and I doubted that I had what it took to rise above my earthly frailties and assume a heavenly mantle. I was convinced that I would be relegated to a lesser kingdom, but I made my peace with it. I figured that I would still be able to see those loved ones who did make it to the celestial kingdom and were interested in visiting me, and this provided enough comfort for me to shelve my doubt about my own eternal salvation. My mom and dad had faith that we would all be together as a family in the eternities, so I put my faith in their faith.

I remember, as a young adult, moving out into the world, struggling to understand how Mormonism fit into the big picture. I was meeting people who had never encountered Mormons, some of whom were not involved with any religious tradition, and I was coming to understand that Mormonism did not encompass all that was good and right in the world. I was seeing that there were many ways to be moral and ethical, that compassion was in abundance among non-believers, that goodness far exceeded the Mormon paradigm. How could we be a chosen people, sent here to good Mormon families because of our righteousness in the pre-earth life, meant to take the gospel to all the world, somehow superior to those born without its light, when all around me I saw people who were good on a level that I could barely comprehend? People who were good for goodness' sake. People who cared deeply about their loved ones, and their communities. People who were religious, and people who were not. There didn't seem to be a single factor that defined humanity in a way that made sense through my Mormon lens. But my parents believed that Mormonism defined our existence, so I put my faith in their faith, and shelved my doubts. Again.

I remember in my mid twenties, as I confronted difficult church history, beginning to doubt the divine origin of the church I'd been raised to believe was restored by God through the prophet Joseph Smith. I was uncomfortable with the premise of polygamy as a mandate from a loving heavenly father, and I struggled to understand how a prophet of God could be misled into taking brides for himself who belonged to another. How he could lie to the wife he claimed to love, and the public he claimed to lead. I found it difficult to reconcile what I had learned about the man revered by many as prophet, seer, and revelator, and I began to doubt that the church was indeed of God, as I'd been taught by my faithful parents. I studied and prayed, and even visited Nauvoo in search of answers, but ultimately, I had to put my doubts to rest, as the conclusion that the church might not be true was too heavy to bear. Once again, I put my faith in my parent's faith. And it was enough. For a time.

I remember as a young mother, with two young daughters, coming face to face with debilitating doubt masquerading as depression. I had recently quit working as a nurse so that I could fulfill my divine destiny as a mother in Zion, and I found myself facing a future that was supposed to bring me joy, but instead brought despair. I was doing as I had been taught, dedicating myself full time to the family I had helped bring into the world, and I was puzzled at the feelings that flooded my soul. I could not comprehend an eternity of motherhood, particularly silent motherhood. I could not see happiness or fulfillment in the idea that I would, along with my eternal spouse, procreate an immeasurable number of spirits who would inhabit the world we would create for them, only to be relegated to the sidelines as too sacred to interact with my offspring. I faced, for the first time, a bleak future that offered no joy, no satisfaction. Only loneliness on a scale I had never experienced. I remember that summer as one with no light or color. Only shadows, bringing with them despondency. I struggled to remain faithful and to remember that I was a beloved daughter of a loving heavenly father, but I could not feel his love. I only felt shame for doubting that love, and for doubting my eternal destiny, and for desiring something more than to be my children's mother. I sought counseling, and eventually anti-depressant medication and, after many long months, I once again began to experience joy and happiness. And those doubts were shelved along with all the rest, because to allow myself to confront an eternity devoid of joy was to doubt the promises of eternal happiness the church, and my believing loved ones, offered me. I put my faith in my loved ones' faith, as I had so many times before, and I continued to persevere as an active Mormon.

Fast forward a few years. Another child had been added to the family, and I was busily raising my children in the church, attending faithfully, magnifying my callings, going to the temple, reading the scriptures, encouraging family home evening and daily prayers together. In short, I was doing all I could to live the gospel as I understood it. And yet, doubt continued to raise its ugly head on regular occasions.

One Sunday, I happened to stumble across a scripture that suggested that we are each, as children of heavenly parents, recipients of spiritual gifts. "To some is given one, to some is given another.... and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God." D&C 46:11-12.  I knew I did not have the 'gift to know', as my husband did. He never questioned, he never doubted. He just knew. I had been jealous of his gift, and wished I had it for myself, as I was tired of the endless questioning and doubting. I had spent my life questioning, wondering, doubting, and I wanted to 'know'. I wanted his gift. Then I read on: "To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful." v.14. And I decided that I could have that gift. I could believe the words of my husband who 'knew'. I made up my mind right then and there that I would doubt no more, but would believe, with every fiber of my being, that Daron 'knew', and that would be enough for this life. 'Knowing' would come in time, I was sure. Maybe not until the next life, but I was content to believe that he 'knew'. And I was determined to put all my doubts behind me, to plague me no more. I would believe.

And for ten years, I did. I pushed any and all doubts to the deepest, darkest corners of my mind, and I believed. And I acted on those beliefs by being the most faithful Mormon I could imagine. I was 'all in', in every way. I could list the various ways I acted on my faith, but suffice it to say, I did all that I could, and all that I believed I should, in my pursuit of a testimony of the truthfulness of the church. I had based my testimony on the testimonies of my loved ones. I had believed their words and put my faith in their faith, and now was the time to gain my own testimony, to stand on my own strength, and to 'know' for myself. My intent felt pure, and my desire felt strong. And I began to think that maybe I had defeated doubt for good, and was coming to 'know'.

And then, like a bad penny, doubt reappeared. I can't remember the exact catalyst, but I do remember my growing concern that what I had held to for so long, what I had pleaded with God to preserve, my faith in him and his church, was slipping away. I remember the feeling of bewilderment that I should find myself in such a place yet again. I remember feeling abandoned by the spirit. I remember begging God to keep me close, to seal me to him, to not let me wander. And I remember the fear I felt as I drifted further and further away from certainty.

And I remember the day I allowed myself to turn the Mormon truth paradigm on its head, and ask myself the question that I had avoided for so many years: Is the church true?

I had believed for so long that it was, and that any doubts I had entertained were evidence of my inadequacies. The church was true; I was not okay. And when I had prayed to know if the church was true, I did not actually pray with any real intent. I did not really want to know if the church wasn't true, because the implications of that were too dire to contemplate.

If the church wasn't true, all of these people I loved and trusted were wrong, and the paradigm upon which I had based my entire life was faulty.

If the church wasn't true, how was I to explain the mysteries of the universe? If the church wasn't true, how could I answer the 'big' questions (why were we here, where did we come from, where were we going....)?

If the church wasn't true, what was?

But, conversely, if the church wasn't true, I was okay. If the church wasn't true, I no longer had to wrestle with my doubts. If the church wasn't true, I no longer had to squeeze myself into a box that didn't fit.

And in that moment, I felt a surge of peace flow through me like an ocean breeze. All of my doubts, all of my anxieties, all of my insecurities faded away, and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the church was not true. And I was okay.

When did doubt become such a dirty word anyway? I was accused once of "choosing doubt as a philosophy of life, which is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation". What's wrong with using doubt as a vehicle to get us where we belong?

My doubts lurked and lingered for many years, on occasion frantically trying to get my attention, at other times content to lie dormant. But never for long. They'd rear their heads at pretty regular intervals throughout my life, signaling the need to check my progress, prompting me to assess my direction. And then retreating once again, to lie in wait. Until they could wait no more. Until the day I had to acknowledge that my doubts, my feelings, were trying to tell me something of great import.

The person I had always been told to be, the Mormon, was not the person I was meant to be. I am no longer a Mormon, and I am not religious. And I am blissfully, giddily, content to be what I am.

Without my doubts lighting the way, I would still be attempting to stuff myself into that box, and I would still be wrestling with inadequacy and insecurity.

I doubted my doubts. I doubted my doubts until they could be denied no longer, and then I doubted my faith. And what I discovered is that the faith of my fathers, and mothers, was not my faith, and that it was okay to let it go. Just like my belief in Santa Claus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


My nephew is getting married today. He found a girl he loves, enough that he wants to create a life with her, and, eventually, a family.

His family has been busily preparing for this day, with great anticipation. My brother and his wife are thrilled that their son will be joined together in holy matrimony with this beautiful young lady, whom they have grown to love as their own. It is a day they have prepared for since their son was born, 23 years ago. Their joy is palpable and infectious.

Two years ago, my husband and I attended the wedding of my cousin. He had also found someone with whom he wanted to create a life, and a family. And he also looked with great anticipation and joy toward the day two would become one. The difference was that he wasn't marrying the girl of his dreams. He was pledging his love and fidelity to the young man he believed to be his soulmate.

My nephew's marriage will be socially acceptable and sanctioned by his religion. My cousin's marriage was forbidden by the authorities of that same religion, and in many circles is considered grounds for shunning.

Both of these young men were raised by Mormon parents, with deep Mormon roots. Both were taught to love God, and family, and to pursue righteousness.  Both grew up in families that embraced the ideals of the faith, with a mother and a father, families that embodied all the good found within Mormonism. Both had loving parents, who wanted only the best for their sons.

Both my nephew and my cousin love their mothers deeply, and both look up to their fathers. Neither wants to disappoint their parents, and they have each aimed to become adults their parents would be proud to call son. That they have each found the love of their lives, and are seeking a future devoted to their sweetheart, speaks to the ability of their parents to raise courageous young men who are unafraid to commit to love.

I was invited to my cousin's wedding, which I took to be a great honor. It meant that he knew I loved him, and accepted his choice of a mate. I took as my guest my husband, who, as a deeply religious man, was struggling to come to terms with gay marriage, and figure out how to accept this young man's decision to marry his beloved, while also believing in his heart that it was a violation of God's laws. I knew it would be a challenge for my husband, and I told him that I would only take him along if he could celebrate this union with a happy and accepting heart, not bringing prejudice and bigotry to the proceedings. My cousin and his intended deserved to have a day free of controversy amidst their guests. My husband assured me that his intention was to support this young couple with love, and to honor their commitment to one another.

The ceremony was held in the ballroom of a hotel in St. George. As we entered, we could see that it had been decked out in the traditional manner befitting such an occasion. It looked much as any wedding or reception would, except that the pictures of the happy couple were of groom and groom.

The chairs were set up facing the front, with an aisle created down the center. After greeting other family members, we found seats near the middle, close to the aisle where we could have an unobstructed view.

Music began to play, and the guests stood and turned toward the back of the room, where the grooms were beginning their processional down the aisle. Each groom was accompanied by his mother, one couple behind the other, each face marked with a tremulous smile. Tears were falling freely on the faces of those watching, and a feeling of joy and peace filled the room.

I turned to look at my own husband's face, and was surprised to see it streaked with tears. His chin was quivering, his eyes transfixed on the scene unfolding before him.

My beloved husband, the man who believed God did not sanction this union, was moved to tears as he witnessed the love and devotion between mothers and sons, and the happy anticipation of the grooms as they walked down the aisle toward their future.

As the couples reached the front of the room, each son turned and gently kissed his mother on her cheek, then joined hands in front of the officiator, as their mothers joined their families in the congregation. The officiator, in a voice trembling with emotion, greeted the young men, and invited us all to feel the great joy that had brought them together. As he looked around the room at the relatives and friends gathered to witness this ceremony, he remarked on the love that had preceded the occasion as the families had prepared feverishly for this celebration. He pointed out the considerable faith of these two families, and the strength and courage evident in their willingness to set aside religious convictions and celebrate love where it was found.

Then he said the words that will remain with me forever.

Love overcomes fear.


I could feel my husband close beside me, and I felt a sob course through him as his body shuddered with emotion. I turned to look at his face, and was surprised to see tender love radiating through the tears. He was overcome in that moment, looking at these two young men standing with hands clasped, waiting to be declared husband and husband. I knew, looking at his face, that his heart had been touched. I knew that he understood love. I knew that he felt love, and that it had erased fear.

Recently, the Mormon church has come out with a policy change that declares, unequivocally, that gay marriage is a grave sin, one worthy of excommunication from the fold. This policy has been the source of much anguish for many, believers and nonbelievers alike. This policy comes from fear, not love. It separates, divides, isolates.

How different might the church be if those who espouse such a policy could be witness to the tender love shared between faithful mothers and their beloved sons on that happy occasion, and the devotion between two young men pledging to spend their lives in the pursuit of happiness for the other.

If only they could see into my husband's heart, and be touched by the love that permeated every cell, changing him from a man who loves God, to a man who loves.

If only they understood that love overcomes fear.

Love. Overcomes. Fear.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

For love of Isaac......

The last time I went to Sunday School was over five years ago, in early 2010. Just a few months prior, I had allowed myself to entertain the notion that the church was not true. In that time, I had begun to see the stories of my religion in a new light, and not necessarily a favorable one.

The topic in Sunday School that year was the Old Testament. I had read the Bible as a missionary, but had skimmed over the juicier parts, looking only for those faith-promoting tidbits offered up as testaments of God's love and concern for the well being of His children. And as I'd read the stories that were best known to us, as Latter-day Saints, I had accepted the interpretation given by our leaders, that the events as they transpired pointed to a loving God, one who wanted only for His children to return to Him. The way He interacted with the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament was appropriate for the times in which these stories occurred, or so I'd been taught. I didn't allow the heart-wrenching details to penetrate my heart or my mind. I accepted the notion that His ways were not our ways, that times had changed, and that the stories were meant only to serve as guideposts, leading us back to Him.

Then came that lesson on that fateful day. The story highlighted was the well-known tale of Abraham and his son, Isaac. Abraham had been commanded by Jehovah to take his beloved son into the wilderness, and to offer him as a sacrifice to God. And it hit me, that day, what a horrific proposition God had laid out for Abraham.

"Abraham, if you love me, prove it. Kill your son."

It doesn't really matter what words are recorded in the Bible. God asked Abraham to kill his own son. Sacrifice him, as a sign of devotion and perfect obedience to God. He, whom Abraham worshipped.

"Abraham, if you love me........ kill your son."

Never before had I experienced such an intensity of emotion in Sunday School. As I listened, I placed myself in Abraham's shoes, and for the first time, I considered what had been asked of him, by the God he loved. And my heart broke for Abraham, and for Isaac, and for Sarah, Isaac's mother. And I wanted to raise my hand in class, and demand to know why this story was being heralded as an example of perfect obedience to a commandment that should have been spurned as ungodly. Is obedience greater than love? Why?

The story was being used to illustrate the requirement that we, as God's children, be willing to do as He asks, in all circumstances, and under all conditions. But what it meant to me, that day, was that a loving father had been asked to do the unthinkable, and take the life of his son. And he was being asked to do so by someone he worshipped, to whom he had devoted his life.

I looked around me at the others in the class, at their thoughtful faces as they contemplated the lesson. And I wondered how many of them were thinking of their own children, and the terrible consequences of following God's commandment. I wondered if any of them asked themselves, that day, if they could do as Abraham had done, and take their child into the wilderness, with the intent of giving him up as a sign of their devotion to God. Could they willingly sacrifice their own flesh and blood, to prove to God that they could be strictly obedient to His demands? Of course I don't know what they were thinking, but I do know that the comments offered were in support of the doctrine of obedience. Unquestioning, perfect, strict obedience.

Remember, Abraham didn't know the rest of the story. He didn't know, at the time he set out for the wilderness, that God would step in and stop him before he could complete the sacrifice. He didn't know that it was a test. All he knew, according to the story, was that he must sacrifice his son, as a similitude of the sacrifice God the Father would one day make, when His own son's life was taken. Or did he even know that? The bible doesn't tell us what Abraham was thinking. We only know that he was commanded, and that he obeyed. He passed the test.

But........ what if the test wasn't about Abraham's perfect obedience, but was instead seeking to prove Abraham's perfect love? What if the answer God was looking for was..... no?


"No, I will not do as you command, and take the life of that which is more precious than my own breath. No, I will not plunge a knife into my son's body, spilling his blood on the ground. No, I will not offer him as a burnt sacrifice to your incredible hubris.

"No, God. I will not kill my son."

That day, sitting in that class, I knew I was done with that god. A god who could ask such a thing is a god not worthy of my devotion. He is a god I will not obey, a god I cannot love. I do not want to return to such a god, and I do not want to become such a god.

Why do the Latter-day Saints not disavow such a god? Why do they continue to use this story to illustrate a principle that separates us from our humanity? Why, for the love of god, would I be asked to place the lives of my children, my blood, on an altar dedicated to a god who could ask such a thing?

Those who continue to perpetuate this notion of perfect obedience to a narcissistic, egotistical, maniacal father are really not so far removed from those who would fly planes into buildings.

Killing in the name of God: it's a time-honored tradition.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Highway to Hell

Coffee. Sin in a cup. Dark, bitter, aromatic, delicious coffee. 

As a lifelong Mormon, I had tried coffee exactly one time. And it was decaf. And it wasn't that great. Not worth the trouble. Keeping that portion of the Word of Wisdom, abstaining from hot drinks, was easy for me. My parents didn't drink coffee, so my experience with it was limited. Though I have to admit I loved the smell. But I was never tempted to drink it, and I had no idea what delights a cup of coffee held. Not until I was almost 50 years old.

That year, 2010, I had come to the conclusion that the church was not true. In February, my mother was hospitalized for surgery. I spent the night at her bedside, wanting to be close enough to tend to her in her time of need. Which meant, obviously, that I got little sleep. In the morning, when my dad came to relieve me, I was exhausted. As I drove away from the hospital, headed for my parent's house to freshen up, I struggled to keep my eyes open, and I considered stopping off at McDonald's for a diet coke to revive me. As I drove, I began to contemplate my options for refreshment, and the idea of coffee entered my mind. 

I had been pondering for some time my loss of a testimony in the church, and what it would mean in my daily decisions. I truly believed, in the beginning, that nothing would change for me. I would continue to attend church weekly with my family; I would continue to wear the garment of the holy priesthood as instructed in the temple; I would continue to abide by the instructions contained within The Word of Wisdom as I understood it; I would continue to be a worthy temple recommend holder. I may have ceased to believe that the church was true, but I still believed that the rules I followed religiously (pun intended) made sense. 

But then I started to wonder about the 'commandments' I had been so rigorously living. And I began to take them apart, one by one. I decided that if a commandment, as taught by the church, moved me in the direction of love, either toward myself or others, it stayed in my lexicon of belief. If it was arbitrary, it was jettisoned. And the more I learned about the Word of Wisdom, as practiced by the church, the more arbitrary it seemed. 

The Word of Wisdom had its beginnings in a conversation between Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. She objected to the use of chewing tobacco in The School of the Prophets, primarily because the job of cleaning up after the men fell to her. I can only imagine how nasty that chore was. So she told Joseph that he needed to put an end to it; she is quoted as saying, "It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding it’s suppression."

The story continues thus: "The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter ‘dig’ at the sisters.” Sure enough the subject was afterward taken up in dead earnest, and the ‘Word of Wisdom’ was the result. ( 

The Word of Wisdom began as a "principle with promise", and, somewhere along the way, it became a commandment, and a marker of righteousness. History is not clear on when exactly this change took place, but certainly by the time I came along, in 1960, adherence to the Word of Wisdom was a requirement to obtain (and keep) a temple recommend. It also became a yardstick with which to measure a person's devotion to God's true church.

Throughout my life, I had taken seriously the church's teachings to abstain from tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea, and any other substance that was known to be harmful to the body. (With the exception of meat unless in time of famine. I'm a carnivore. 'Nuff said.) So, up until that morning in February of 2010, I was a faithful and devoted temple recommend holder who had never partaken of a cup of joe. My 'caffeine infusion' came only in the form of diet coke. Which I drank by the gallon at one point in my life. Healthy living, right?

As I pulled into the drive-through at McDonald's, and perused the menu, the coffee options fairly jumped off the screen. "Iced Mocha..... Frappe' Mocha..... Latte'..... McCafe' Coffee..... Frappe' Caramel..... Caramel Mocha....." How was a girl to choose? Especially one as uneducated as I? I knew next-to-nothing about coffee! So I picked the most innocuous yet tempting drink I spotted, the Frappe' Caramel. And I drove to my parents' house with my devil's brew in the cup holder, glowing so brightly I was sure everyone who passed me wondered what the hell I was doing with plutonium inside my car.

When I got to the house, and carried my cuppa in, I felt such excitement as I had not known since my wedding night. Okay, hyperbole. But I was inordinately excited about the prospect of trying something that had been previously forbidden. I was going to drink coffee! I WAS GOING TO DRINK COFFEE! OMG! I was visibly trembling as I carried the cup into the house, and I felt as if I was engaging in a life-altering event. It felt big, momentous, huge. I WAS GOING TO DRINK COFFEE!

And then I drank coffee. And it was 'meh'. Mediocre. Granted, it wasn't much more than a milkshake with the slightest hint of mocha flavoring, but it was technically coffee. What a letdown. 

I drank coffee, and nothing changed. I didn't grow horns. Lightning didn't come down from the heavens and strike me dead. I didn't feel different at all. It was just coffee, and I was still just me. I didn't feel guilty, and I didn't feel sinful. I did feel a little disappointed, though. I thought it would change me fundamentally, at the cellular level, so deeply convinced was I that to drink coffee was to sin grievously against God. 


Coffee had not lived up to its promise. I was not a devotee the first time out. I was not a fan. I was not addicted. And I left the stuff alone for another four months. 

Then, one afternoon in June, I found myself in Provo, Utah, of all places, with my young adult daughter. We were talking about coffee, and my disappointing experience with it, and she informed me that I had not yet had coffee; I had had a milkshake with coffee flavoring. "Want to try real coffee?" she asked. 

With some trepidation, I agreed to let her introduce me into the world of java. 

We started at Krispy Kreme. I ordered a cup of black coffee, and sat down anticipating an earth-moving, phenomenal experience. 

OMG! People actually drink this?! It was bitter, nasty stuff. It tasted like liquid burnt popcorn! Burned my tongue and made my eyes water. Coffee, with its enticing aroma, tasted gross. Horrible. I added sugar, then cream, then more sugar. Then more sugar. Then more. Then I told my daughter that there wasn't enough sugar in the world to make the stuff palatable. She laughed, and suggested we move on to Starbucks.

Yuck. Still horrible. How could anyone get past the first sip? Blech! 

This was the drink people raved about? THIS??

So we moved on to a gas station. No luck. I hated the stuff. There didn't seem to be anything I could add to temper the bitterness, and I gave up. I would have to find another way to rebel. 

Fast forward a month, and I began working a shift that started at 5:00 AM. That's five o'clock in the morning. I wasn't a morning person, and I could not wrap my head around a 4:00 AM alarm. How was it possible to wake up at that ungodly hour and be a functional human being? 

And thus my love affair with coffee began.

My first day on the new shift, a coworker suggested that I try coffee with a packet of hot chocolate mix added to the cup. And it worked! It was palatable! I could drink it without gagging and wincing in pain and disgust. I was drinking coffee! Granted, it was mostly hot chocolate, but I was drinking coffee! 

I continued to drink a cup of coffee-infused hot chocolate each morning, and one day, I made a surprising connection. That little habit had begun to work on an intestinal issue that had plagued me for most of my life. The exact issue shall remain nameless, in the interest of pride, but suffice it to say, my bathroom habits became more regular, and I began to feel less bloated and, well.... I've already said too much. Let's just say that I was no longer full of sh*t. Metaphorically speaking. Actually, it was a literal transformation. But again, I've said too much...... Just know that I had realized the benefits of regular coffee consumption. And I became a fan.

It took awhile, years actually, to adjust my palate to the bitter taste of coffee. But eventually, I was able to take my coffee without the added chocolate mix. And eventually, with time, I was able to take my coffee black, and I learned to love it. I felt like such a grown-up!

However, there have been drawbacks to my coffee consumption, all related to my beloved family and friends' reactions to my new-found love.

My best friend, who is a die-hard believer, learned of my disaffection in the fall of 2010. She took it very hard, struggling to understand how I could turn from the 'truth' upon which I had based my life. Then she found out that I drank coffee. And she cried herself to sleep at night. Because I drank coffee. 

My teenage son also struggled with my loss of belief in the church, and was understandably upset that I would break the Word of Wisdom. He asked me one day, "Mom, are there any studies that show that coffee is bad for you?" I replied that I was sure there were, but that there were also many studies that showed the benefits of coffee consumption. However, I told him, there were no studies that proved any health benefit to soda consumption, and yet he could drink 64 ounces of Dr. Pepper a day and still get a temple recommend, whereas I could not get one because of my 8 ounces of coffee a day. I told him that I had no problem with the Word of Wisdom as a code of conduct, a way to identify with one's co-religionists. But it should be noted that the WoW is about obedience, not health. It is not about health. And my coffee habit has been good for my health. (I never was all that into obedience anyway.....)

Then my mother got wind of my new habit, and she shook her finger in my face. (I may be a grown woman, but my mother can still put the fear of God into me!) She admonished me for my 'sin', and I responded that I drank coffee because of its intestinal stimulant effect. I explained that it brought me much needed relief from my lifelong struggle to..... um..... you know..... "Do I have to spell it out?? I am no longer full of sh*t!" (That did make her laugh!....) Then she said, "Just so long as you don't enjoy it! That would be a sin!"

Sigh. I promise I don't enjoy it, mom. (Now I've added lying to my list of transgressions.)

The truth is that I enjoy my cup of coffee more than I have ever enjoyed a beverage in my life. I love coffee. 

I love the smell. I love the feel of the cup in my hands, the warmth emanating through the ceramic. I love the deep, dark, velvety color of black coffee, and I love the caramel color when a bit of cream is added. And I love that first sip. The bitter taste as it hits my tongue, and the jolt as it hits my bloodstream. I love coffee. 

Am I a sinner? Am I going to hell? Is this a condemnable offense? According to my believing loved ones, yes, it is. It approaches unforgivable. And I think I've figured out why. Breaking the Word of Wisdom is a rejection of the prophet Joseph Smith, and every prophet since who has admonished us to follow this 'principle with promise'. Breaking the Word of Wisdom is shouting to the world that I no longer practice Mormonism. My cup of sin separates me from my Mormon family and friends like the Berlin Wall separated East from West. 

I wish I could broker peace between the loves of my life, but I am resigned to the fact that my family will never accept my coffee. 

And that will have to be okay. Because I'm not giving up my coffee. And I'm not giving up my loved ones. Maybe this can be a lesson in tolerance for them. Maybe they can learn to love me in spite of my faults and transgressions. 

Because if loving coffee is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

To be or not to be......

Be who you are and say what you feel,
 because those who mind don't matter, 
and those who matter don't mind.
Dr. Seuss

When I had my first child, I was determined to make her a reader. I come from a family of readers. I had my nose in a book for most of my childhood and adolescence, so I knew from experience the exhilaration that comes from a good book. I lived vicariously through reading, and my curiosity about the world and its inhabitants was fueled by reading about people whose lives were vastly different from mine. I loved reading, and I wanted my kids to love reading as well.

That tiny baby was subjected to books almost as soon as she could breathe. I figured there was no better time to start than before she became mobile and could get away from me. I plunked her down in my lap, and I read out loud. Sometimes I would lay her down beside me on the floor and hold the book above our heads. She would stare at "Go Dog Go" with rapt attention, and wiggle her entire body with excitement. Reading to Erin was a delight. Those days are some of my most treasured memories of motherhood.

As she grew older, I continued to read aloud to her. We were reading chapter books together by the time she was four years old. She loved books as much as I did, and I was thrilled.

My second daughter was born less than two years after the first. I had no reason to believe that she should be parented any differently, so I started the practice of reading with her as well. And it was a bust. She had no interest in hearing the words; she was far more interested in eating the pages. It was a struggle to get her to hold still on my lap, even as a tiny infant, and if I laid her down on the floor and attempted to lay beside her, holding the book above our heads as I'd done with the first, she would roll away. She could roll from back to front by 2 weeks of age. There was no holding her still for something as mundane as a book.

I persevered with my second child, as I was convinced that I could make her love reading as much as I, and her older sister, did. Books were, and are, a window to the world, a peek into lives we would not ourselves live, places we would not get to see, adventures we would not get to have. We could experience all of these things by reading about them. It was almost as good as living them. I wanted her to have what I had, a curiosity about the world around her, and the world far away. I wanted her to love reading, and to experience the joy and sorrow to be found within the pages of a book. More than anything else, I wanted her to crave books, as I did.

Throughout my girls' elementary years, our nightly tradition of reading continued. The second child eventually stopped wiggling long enough to listen, especially if she was snuggled under her covers and attempting to delay sleep. One of our favorite books was "To Kill a Mockingbird", which we read as a family before renting and watching the Gregory Peck movie. I hope my kids never forget that shared experience. It was truly magical, and I believe it laid the roots for my children's acceptance of all humanity, be they black or white, gay or straight. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it." Books are one way to climb inside another person's skin, and experience life as he or she lives it.

In spite of all my efforts, my second child never did develop a love of reading. As she grew, she preferred playing with dolls, or playing dress-up, or dancing. Especially dancing. She spent many long hours choreographing dance routines to her favorite music, and she would perform them for us regularly. She loved to dance. She worked hard to develop her talent, eventually performing with a dance group at the Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa, and in a national dance competition in Orlando, Florida. She danced with her high school drill team, and she was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to teach dance to the next generation, passing on her passion. Just like I tried to do with reading.

Even now, as an adult, if she has leisure time, she does not spend it buried in a book. Over the years, I have given her many books as gifts at each holiday and birthday, hoping to rouse in her a desire to read for pleasure. But, alas, it was not to be. She does not love to read.

She can read, certainly, and has occasionally found a book she has enjoyed. But she does not seek out books for pleasure, or entertainment. Music is her passion, and, still, dance. And I have accepted that this is who she is. I do not berate her because she doesn't love what I love. I still gift her with books on occasion, if I find one I think might speak to her. For example, last Christmas I gave her a guidebook to Melbourne, Australia. I knew she would enjoy it, as she was soon to leave for a six month stay Down Under. But it has been several years since I have given her a novel. She isn't a reader. She just isn't.

As a new mother, I had fallen prey to the notion that I could mold and shape my children to be who I thought they should be. And what I learned, after much effort, was that my children came to this world hard-wired to be who they are. They were not blank slates, waiting for me to imprint my hopes and dreams on their little brains. They were people, with unique talents and gifts, and their own personal likes and dislikes. One likes to read, one likes to dance, one likes sports, one likes Shakespeare. And each is magnificent in her (and his) own way. Because they are each who they are supposed to be. Not mini-me's. Not carbon copies of their parents. And that is to be celebrated, not mourned.

My daughter may not like to read, but she loves to dance. And watching her dance is like watching poetry in motion. It is beautiful. She is beautiful. Not in spite of what she isn't, but because of what she is.

As much as I wanted my children to be readers, my mother wanted her children to be religious. To that end, she started teaching us from birth to pray, and to read holy scriptures, and to revere holy things. At least, she attempted to.

She (and my father) took us to church every week, and we attended every church-sponsored activity. She did her level best to hold weekly Family Home Evening, a special night set aside for family religious study. She made multiple serious attempts to get us to sit still as she read to us from the Book of Mormon. Most of those attempts resulted in scoldings and recriminations for wiggly children unable to pay attention to what she considered divinely inspired writings, yet still she persevered. She taught us to fast monthly, and to pay fast offerings, and to tithe ten percent of our income. She encouraged my seven brothers to make it a goal to serve a church mission, and she taught all of us to look toward the temple as the place where we would be sealed for eternity to our chosen spouse. My mother loved the church, and she wanted us to love it, too.

My mom believed wholeheartedly in the scriptural admonition to train up a child in the way he should go, believing that when he is old, he will not depart from it. She believed, as a prophet had said, that no success could compensate for failure in the home, equating failure in the home with children who did not embrace the gospel as she herself did. She loved church as much as I loved reading, and she wanted to pass that love on to her children. It was more than a duty to her; it was her life, and she wanted to share it with her beloved offspring.

Unfortunately, for my mom, she has had about as much luck teaching all of us to love church as I did teaching my daughter to love reading. As it stands now, 50% of her children are still practicing Mormons. I am one of those who is not.

One of my brothers left the church as a teenager, only to return several years later. He has since been a devoted attendee, bringing much joy and rejoicing to my mother.

Three of my brothers left the church in their young adult years, and have not returned. Their lack of devotion to religion has grieved my mother to the depths of her soul. I know she mourns this loss, as she has shared her grief with me over the years.

And  me? What became of me, my mother's only daughter?

After 49 years of attempting to forge a religious identity, I found that it was not to be. I could not, can not, be religious. I am not religious. Much to my mother's dismay, I do not revere holy things. I do not like church, and I do not feel an affinity for spiritual matters.

I believed, for most of my life, that how I felt about religion and church was inconsequential. It didn't matter if I didn't like it. The church was True, with a capital T. So I didn't see that there was a choice about participation. It was True; I was flawed. So I persevered. I did all of the things my mother had taught me, and I stayed the course. I did my best to be a model Mormon, believing that if I did so, the sure knowledge that it was True would come, in time. My mom believed it was True, so I believed it was True.

Until the day I knew it wasn't.

And I realized that my feelings over the years had been valid, and that it was okay for me to be secular. That being secular was a bonafide option. That in spite of my mother's best efforts, she could not turn me into a believer, just as I could not turn my daughter into a reader.

I discovered that I am decidedly, contentedly, happily secular. My discovery has not pleased my mother. She does not see religiosity as an individual character trait. Religion, to her, is for everyone. Like it or not.

I'm not sure Dr. Seuss got it right. My mother minds, and my mother matters. And neither of those two things is ever likely to change.

I know my mother loves me. I do. I know this. But I also know that my mother mourns what I am not. I wish instead that she could celebrate what I am.

Unfortunately, her religious beliefs do not make room for such a celebration. So maybe I can be the example for her this time around. I can love her wholeheartedly, unabashedly, unconditionally, even though she is a believer.

She is, after all, also a reader. That counts for something.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why I Left

There has been a never-ending parade of blogposts over the past couple of years, written by faithful Latter-day-Saints, listing the reasons people leave the church. The authors come across as authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject matter, but, as one who has traveled this particular path, I find that they often miss the mark. By a wide margin.

I'm responding here to one such blog, but I am not providing the link to said post so as to avoid driving traffic his direction. If you really must know what he said, google Greg Trimble's "You should not leave Mormonism for any of these five reasons." Then come back here for the rebuttal. I'll wait.

You done? Good. Read on.

1. Being Offended

This gem gets trotted out with regularity. In a nutshell, somebody said something to someone else at church that was insulting, then that someone got their panties in a wad and stormed out, and as a result, that someone refused to return and worship with the offending party. And maybe that has actually happened. In fact, I'm sure it has. Some people are offensive, and some people are sensitive. Stands to reason feelings will be hurt, sometimes beyond the point of repair. I'm not going to defend the actions of the offended, or the offendee.

What I would like to address is this little gem: "It's almost unfathomable to me that a person would ever let someone else keep them from worshiping God." 

I agree, it is unfathomable. And no, I would not let anyone else prevent me from worshiping God.

I have, in fact, been offended at church. The relief society president called me a "belligerent teenager". While I have to admit that she wasn't far off in her assessment of me, I will also admit that it hurt. And I was offended. And I was in church the following Sunday, doing what I had always done. I worshiped alongside a woman I despised. And I continued to do so for several more years, right up until I realized that I didn't believe in the God I was worshiping. But the two events are not related in the slightest, though there are probably those in my former congregation who would draw a direct correlation between them. And I don't believe there is anything I could say that would dissuade them. It is probably easier to believe that I fell away because I was offended than acknowledge that I no longer believe in what, to them, is "The Truth".

So, no, I did not leave the church because I was offended. Though I am offended by the accusation. It's a little like asking someone why they're mad, and they insist they aren't mad, and you say, "Well, you seem mad," and they say, "Well, I wasn't mad until you insisted that I was mad!" I wasn't offended until you insisted that I was offended. So now I'm offended. But that's not why I left.

2. Not Understanding The Doctrine

Oh, boy. This one is a doozy. The big one. The one that truly offends.

"Everyone that goes inactive or leaves the church, did so because they did not or do not know something they need to know."

The assumption here is that the apostate somehow failed in their quest to know that the church was true. That they didn't do enough. They didn't study scriptures enough. Didn't pray with real intent. Failed to attend Sunday meetings faithfully. Weren't a regular at the temple. Whatever it is that leads to that elusive something, the apostate failed to do it.

Soon after I had 'come out' as an apostate to my church friends, one of the more faithful asked me if I had given God equal time. She assumed that because I had lost my faith, I was at fault. That I hadn't given it enough effort or time. And all I could do was sigh. Because the truth is that I had given God the first 49 years of my life, give or take a few there at the beginning, before the age of accountability. And I can't imagine, looking back, what more He wanted of me.

I could take a paragraph (or a few pages) and recite all the things I have done over my life to qualify for Moroni's promise. You know the one..... "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you...." But I won't bore you with the details. I feel confident stating that my church resume is impeccable. (If you're still dissatisfied, read the rest of my blog. It's all there.)

So my question for Mr. Trimble is this: if there is some mystery ingredient that I, and my fellow apostates, need to know, why has God made it so hard to discern what this something is? Why, if I did everything God asked me to do, to the best of my ability, wasn't I privy to that something that is so essential to my eternal salvation? Why was I not blessed with the right answer to Moroni's promise, and given the testimony I so desired?

As I write these words, I can imagine the response from Mr. Trimble. I wasn't worthy, amiright? Even though I say I did it all, I must have missed something. Maybe I wasn't sincere. Maybe I was too proud. Maybe I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Maybe I just didn't do it long enough. I didn't endure to the end. Whatever that elusive something is, I didn't qualify to receive it, through some fault of my own.

I know I'll never convince Mr. Trimble, and those who agree with him, that I deserve what he has. And he does have a point. I do not know something that I need to know to stay in the church. I do not know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints is the one true church on the earth today. But my lack of a testimony is not because I lacked desire, or effort, or even faith. I did my due diligence.  I gave God equal time, and more than His fair share of my life. What He didn't give back was that mysterious something that I needed to know.

What I did get, for all my efforts, was the opposite of what Moroni promised. I do not believe in the truth claims of the church, and I can say that with as much conviction as I once professed my belief. And believe it or not, Mr. Trimble, that conviction brings me peace.

3. It's Just Too Hard's hard to be a Mormon. It's not supposed to be easy. 

As Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh."

Mr. Trimble thinks spending most of his free time serving the church is hard. Giving 10% of his income to the church is hard. Sitting in a pew for three hours every Sunday, obeying the Word of Wisdom, sacrificing two years of his young adulthood for a mission. He thinks those things are hard.


He should try standing up in front of his community, family, and friends, and admitting to them that he doesn't believe in God.

He should try looking into his mother's eyes and telling her that, in spite of her best efforts, she was unable to keep all of her children firmly in the fold.

He should try looking into the eyes of his beloved companion and telling her that he doesn't believe in the saving ordinances of the holy temple, in effect nullifying their eternal marriage.

He should try explaining to his teenage son why he no longer believes in the God he taught his son to worship.

Those things are hard.

So why would I do them?

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself." Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes, it would have been easier to stay, in some ways, but staying meant sacrificing a crucial piece of my soul. It meant professing to believe something I did not, could not, believe. It meant playing a part, just to please those I loved.

Some would say I acted selfishly, that I set aside my loved ones' happiness to pursue my own. And I have struggled with this idea myself, admittedly. But isn't it equally selfish for them to ask me to deny my feelings and pretend to be who I am not, just so they don't have to be sad? So their worldview isn't threatened? To maintain the illusion that all is well in Zion?

Living a religious life is hard, I'll grant Mr. Trimble that. But so is leaving it behind, when it means leaving cherished relationships, and treasured friendships, and my reputation. When it means no longer being seen as moral, or virtuous, or lovely, or of good report.

Leaving the church has been both the hardest, and the most rewarding, action I have ever taken. My only regret is the pain I have caused my loved ones. But I think Mr. Trimble and his ilk deserve some of the blame for that pain when they attempt to portray me as having taken the easy road.

Yes, it was just too hard.

“Out of the night that covers me, 
Black as the Pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the Horror of the shade, 
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul.” 
― William Ernest Henley, Invictus

'Nuff said.

4. Anti-Mormon Literature

Hoo-boy. Getting a handle on what constitutes anti-Mormon literature is a slippery venture. From what I have gathered, based on my many years inside the church, and the five years outside, anything that exposes the warts of God's True Church can be considered Anti-Mormon literature.

For most of my life, I did as directed by my leaders, and I stuck to material that was approved. I was a prolific reader, and I enjoyed a wide variety of genres, but when it came to gospel topics, I generally only read material that had the church's seal of approval. I was very much afraid of anything that even smelled of apostasy, for fear that my testimony might be challenged.

My journey out of the church has been well chronicled in other blog posts, so I won't repeat it here. But at the time I realized that I did not believe the church was true, I had read very little that could be characterized as Anti-Mormon literature.

Once I came to terms with my status as an unbeliever, I was still somewhat reluctant to read anything that cast a negative light on the church. 49+ years of conditioning is tough to overcome overnight. So, on the advice of a trusted relative, I started with a book written by a faithful Mormon. "Rough Stone Rolling", by Richard Bushman, sent me headlong down the rabbit hole of church history. I was introduced to many events, and alternate explanations, that I hadn't heard before, and I began an indepth study of the early years of the church. And my mind was blown.

Here's what made me literally laugh out loud in Mr. Trimble's essay: "Then someone out of the blue tries to make Joseph Smith look like a freak by painting a picture of him burying his head in some “magical hat.”"

I grew up in the church. Born and bred, I was. And I had never, ever, heard the story of the stone in the hat method of translating before I read it in Mr. Bushman's book. It was not taught in any class I attended, and it wasn't represented in any of the pictures I had seen of Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. So if it wasn't weird, or freakish, why wasn't it taught? Why wasn't it pictured?

And by including that juicy little tidbit, is Mr. Trimble implying that the story of the stone in the hat is Anti-Mormon? If it's true, and it's not freakish, how can it be Anti? What was the point there, Mr. Trimble?

My point, simply, is that it wasn't Anti-Mormon literature that led me out of the church. By the time I delved into what Mr. Trimble would qualify as Anti-Mormon literature, I was already mentally out. And what I read only confirmed what I had felt: the church was not true.

Could I have overcome my feelings had I not read any so-called Anti-Mormon literature? I don't know. I'll never know. But I can say this...... I am overwhelmingly grateful to have found my way out. And I am grateful to those who risked their professional and social reputations to bring me that Anti-Mormon literature. Thank you, Richard Bushman. Thank you, Todd Compton. Thank you, Grant Palmer. Thank you, Michael Quinn. You enriched my life, enlarged my understanding, and validated my feelings. So, thank you.

5. Sin

 ".... sin leads people to one or more of the items listed above."

It should surprise no one that I no longer define sin the way I did as a believing Mormon. I do not believe that human beings are sinful by nature, and I do not believe that the natural man is an enemy to God.

That being said, I can emphatically state that it was not sin that led me out of the church.

At the time of my de-conversion, I was a card-carrying member of the church. I was worthy in every way of my temple recommend. At least in the behavioral categories. I was struggling in the belief categories, and had been for some time.

But my behavior as a Mormon was exemplary. I was faithful to my spouse (still am), and I lived the law of chastity; I was honest in my dealings with my fellow man (in fact, it was my honesty that wouldn't allow me to continue living as a believer..... integrity, y'all); I was a full-tithe payer, and generally rounded up; I kept the Word of Wisdom religiously, pun intended, eschewing alcohol, hot drinks such as tea and coffee, and tobacco; I wore my temple garments both day and night as instructed in the endowment; and I attended my Sunday meetings faithfully each and every week that I was able.

Was I a perfect human being? Of course not. I was (am) judgmental and petty, lazy and undisciplined, prone to discontent. Are those sins? That would depend on your definition of sin. To me, they are very human traits, asserting themselves in a very flawed, very human being.

But by the church's definition, as outlined in the temple recommend interview, I was free of sin. So I can categorically call bulls**t on Mr. Trimble's assertion that sin led me to one or more of the items listed above.

So, why did I leave the church, if not for the reasons outlined by Mr. Trimble? Quite simply, because I no longer believed it to be true. What led me to that conclusion has been detailed quite extensively elsewhere in my blog. Suffice it to say, I didn't believe, and my integrity would not allow me to pretend that I did.

Mr. Trimble may have plenty of anecdotal evidence to support his claims, but I believe I can muster up just as much anecdotal evidence to support mine. I have had the opportunity to meet many people in the past five years who have walked the path of apostasy, and I can state confidently that not one of the many souls I have encountered has left for Mr. Trimble's petty reasons.

Not. One.

So thank you, Mr. Trimble, for sharing your thoughts on the matter, but I reject your five reasons people leave the church on the grounds that they are unfounded. Anecdotally speaking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who Knew?

The church recently released a series of essays about the prophet Joseph Smith, and his practice of polygamy during the early days of the church. Big news, apparently. I mean, who knew?!?

Turns out, a lot of people did. If the internet is to be believed, most of them were Mormons, and most of them were, and are, faithful. The big questions then became how did they know, when did they know, what exactly did they know, and what did they do about it. And the answers were infuriating.

"You're upset because you didn't know 'Ol Joe had multiple wives? Teenagers, some of them? Other mens' wives, men he'd sent on missions? If only you'd paid attention in church! This is not new information, and it wasn't hidden from those who cared enough to look for it. Dumbasses."

Okay, nobody called anybody a dumbass. Not that I saw, anyway. But the insinuation was that the fault lie with those who were ignorant of the history. Victim blaming.

"I knew, and it didn't change a thing for me. Joseph was a prophet of God, and was commanded by God to take other wives, much like prophets of old. Doesn't change a thing. Why you so upset? Why you gotta leave? Why you gotta be a hater? Wah! Wah! Wah! Big babies! Go! Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!"


Way, way back in the mid 1980's, I knew. I don't believe my story is unique, but it is worth telling. If only to shut up those naysayers who knew, and were not bothered. Because I was bothered. A lot.

The first edition of "Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith", was published in 1985. I found it on my very believing mother's bookshelf, and was intrigued by the title, so I read it. It was an eye-opener for me, a lifelong Mormon girl, raised in Utah. I don't recall ever hearing in church that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. Or if I had, I hadn't paid much attention. It wasn't spoken of over the pulpit in glowing terms, unlike the account of the first vision as told in the Pearl of Great Price. It certainly was not common knowledge among my peers. I don't recall any mention of it in seminary or institute, though I was a graduate of both. Maybe it was a lesson topic one day, and I was out sick. Or I was goofing off on the back row, a reality on any given day. Both scenarios are possible.

Nevertheless, though I grew up in the church, schooled in the beauty of the gospel restored through the efforts of Joseph Smith, I was not aware of Joseph's history with polygamy. I believed, as did most of the Mormons I knew, that polygamy started with Brigham Young, and was an altruistic-attempt-to-care-for-the-poor-widows-and-orphaned-children-who-had-lost-their-husbands-and-fathers-in-the-terrible-struggle-to-cross-the-plains-in-pursuit-of-religious-freedom. That was our story, and we stuck to it.

The real story of polygamy I learned while reading the above-mentioned book about Emma Smith. It provided details about their marriage, and his marriages, that I had never heard. And it was disconcerting, to say the least. I was bothered by the idea that Joseph married other women without his wife's knowledge, and, once she was made aware, against her wishes. I was bothered by the fact that Joseph married a girl who was only 14, among other teenagers. I was bothered by the fact that Joseph married other men's wives, many of whom were alone on the frontier because he had sent their husbands on missions to spread the gospel word. I was bothered that Joseph Smith claimed God had commanded him to do all of this, at the risk of his own life should he refuse. And I was bothered by the fact that this was new to me, a lifelong member.

This new information sat in my brain for awhile, over a year, and festered. In July of 1987, I took a cross-country trip, with a younger brother along for company, and we made a stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. This was in the days before it had been restored to its former glory. We wandered up and down the streets, looking at the many, many homes that had been left behind by the saints, and stood for a while on the temple mount, contemplating the exodus of our Mormon ancestors. I didn't entirely trust the narrative fed us by the missionary couples, the story of a people who had been driven off by an angry mob because of their faith in God. The story of Joseph's polygamy was too fresh in my mind, and I couldn't help but wonder how much that had to do with the saints hasty departure from their beloved city.

Then we visited Carthage jail, the site of the martydom of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. I sat in silence in the upper room, listening to the story of Joseph Smith, the hero, and the mob that had gathered on that fateful day to carry out their evil deed. And I couldn't quiet my feelings of unease, thinking about the acts of Joseph Smith, the polygamist. Joseph Smith, the deceitful and, in my view, unfaithful spouse to Emma. Joseph Smith, the arrogant self-proclaimed prophet of the new dispensation, who had God's ear, and spoke God's word. I was very uncomfortable with these feelings, having been raised to revere Joseph Smith. "Praise to the Man" was an oft-sung anthem to our martyred prophet. And yet, there I sat, with a troubled heart. The story no longer resonated as one of faithful saints driven off by hate and fear. It had been tainted by truth, and I was in turmoil.

My journal entry, recorded the next day, reads, in part, ".... he was such a complex person, and one with whom I have a hard time identifying. I have a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, but my conviction that he was inspired in all of his actions is a bit weak. I guess I don't understand him well enough -- but I also think that the people of that time period bear some studying as well, since that could shed some light on Joseph Smith himself. He would most likely have gone about things much differently in this century, been similar to the apostles and prophets we have now. I don't have any trouble respecting them. Not that such is the case with Joseph -- I just don't understand him. I can empathize with Emma --."

If I recall correctly, this did not reflect my feelings entirely accurately, but I was reluctant to record for my posterity any doubt that Joseph was a prophet. I couldn't commit in writing my disquiet with the story as I now knew it. But reading between the lines, I was disturbed by the actions of Joseph Smith, and I couldn't make them fit what I believed to be true of prophets and apostles. I could no longer see him as a man of God. In my mind, he was a fallen prophet.

That fall, I lived in Boston, working as a traveling nurse. I took an institute class in Cambridge, on the Doctrine and Covenants, which included much of early church history. I listened carefully, but no mention was made of Joseph's polygamy. And I wasn't brave enough to bring it up myself. So, I shelved it. Again.

Until the next summer, when I read a fictionalized account of the church's early days, written by Orson Scott Card. Titled "Saints", it told the story of a woman whose life was based on that of Eliza Snow, who had married both Joseph Smith and, after his death, Brigham Young. The story included many of the same details I'd read in "Mormon Enigma", and stirred up all those feelings of disquiet about Joseph Smith and polygamy. I remember spending many nights lying on my couch staring off into space, trying to fit what I had learned into what I already knew. Trying to make it make sense. And failing. I wondered if the church was even true, and the thought terrified me.

I had been struggling with other issues that year, among them the excommunication of someone I loved dearly, who had been having an affair. I couldn't reconcile his excommunication with what I viewed as Joseph's unfaithfulness. The one was revered as a prophet; the other kicked out of the club. And their actions were eerily similar. My head spun in confusion.

In August of that summer, on one particularly emotional night, I told God that I couldn't do it anymore. I was done. I didn't want to participate in a religion that revered a man such as Joseph Smith. I didn't want to be a Mormon anymore. And I gave God an ultimatum. I told him that he had one chance to keep me in the fold. I was going to call on an old friend, a general authority by the name of Jacob de Jager. I knew from an article in the newspaper that my friend was on assignment in Asia, and wouldn't be available to take my call. But I told God that if I could get in to see my friend, talk to him a bit, benefit from his wise counsel, I'd stay. It was an ultimatum that I knew God would fail.  Only, God came through.

When Elder de Jager's secretary came on the line, I asked if I could speak to him, knowing he was out of the country. She said, in a cheerful voice, "Sure! He's sitting in his office. I'll connect you."

And so it came to pass that I found myself sitting in the office of a general authority the next day, pouring out my heart to him, confessing my grave sin of doubt. Telling him of my confusion and exhaustion at trying so hard to make it all work. As I recall, I did not reveal my misgivings about the prophet Joseph. I knew enough at the time to guess how that would be received. In retrospect, I very much wish I had brought it up. Maybe he would have had some useful advice on how to make peace with the past. Maybe he would have brushed it off as inconsequential. I'll never know, because of my fear.

What he did tell me was that I shouldn't give up, that good things were on the horizon, and that I should stay the course. I trusted him, and, as God had made Elder de Jager available when I most needed him, by extension I trusted God. I left our meeting with renewed faith in the church.

After speaking with Elder de Jager, I made good on my vow to stay in the church, and I began faithfully attending my Sunday meetings. I read scriptures daily, and prayed both morning and night, and re-committed myself to living the gospel as best I could. And I shelved, deeply, any doubts I had about Joseph Smith. I put my feelings aside, and became the best Mormon I knew how to be.

In November of that year, I met the man who would become my husband. After my final disaffection from the church, he confessed that had I not been an active, believing Mormon at the time we met, he would not have married me. And, to be honest, I married him, in part, because he was also an active, believing Mormon. We were both looking for someone with whom to raise a family, and neither of us would have considered a person out of the faith. And I am so very, very glad that we have had a life together. I have no regrets there. He was, and is, the right guy for me, and I feel fortunate to have spent the last 25 and a half years with him. He's the guy, my guy, and I guess I have the church to thank for that. I can't explain it, from my perspective now, and I don't try to. It is what it is. And what it is is good.

Fast forward 21 years, from the summer of '88 to the fall of 2009. As I have detailed elsewhere, I finally had to acknowledge to myself that I did not believe in the church. In the intervening years, I had successfully kept my feelings about Joseph Smith buried. Any time I was called upon to testify of his prophetic calling, I did so, as a good Mormon should, but always with a twinge of lingering doubt. Doubt that I pushed back forcefully, refusing to even acknowledge that it existed. What finally tipped me over into apostasy wasn't Joseph Smith's polygamy, however, but my own deep and abiding feelings that something was wrong. The church didn't make sense to me, the gospel itself confused me, and I couldn't accept so very many things I had been led to believe about God. And accepting my unbelief was incredibly liberating. Finally, I could allow my mind to wander into those dark corners, and take stuff down off the shelves for examination, and not fear where it might lead. And I didn't have to ignore my doubts about 'Ol Joe. He wasn't a prophet, and the church he 'restored' wasn't True with a capital T.

The only trouble was that I had no one with whom to discuss my burgeoning disbelief in the church. I hadn't yet brought it out into the open with my husband, and I had no friends who were former believers turned apostate. And even if I did, I wouldn't have dared talk to them. Conversing with known apostates was verboten. So, for about 3 months, I simmered silently. I was no longer talking to God, not in the way I had always done. I wasn't even sure He was there, and formal prayers felt foreign on my tongue. I have always been a verbal processer, never one to suffer in silence, so this period of my life was very lonely. And confusing.

And then I realized that there was one person I could talk to. One person to whom I could unburden my soul. My husband's Uncle Denny.

Uncle Denny was married to my father-in-law's sister, and had been excommunicated in the 1980's, for heresy. My husband's family were mostly very active, believing Mormons, and Uncle Denny's story was whispered about, but never acknowledged in the open. I knew bits and pieces of the story, but had never spoken with him personally about his own journey. I knew him to be a friendly, kind man, and I suspected that he would be open to discussing my concerns and questions. The only problem was, how could I go about meeting with him? I had seen him at my mother-in-law's funeral in December, but the topic of my unbelief in Mormonism hardly seemed appropriate at that particular venue. And I didn't feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling him. "Hey, yo, Uncle Den! How's about that excommunication? Crazy stuff, huh?!? Wanna talk about it?" That just didn't feel right, for so many reasons.

Then, in January of 2010, Uncle Denny was injured in an accident at his airplane hangar. No, I do not for a minute believe that God, or the universe, or whoever is in charge, caused his accident just to orchestrate a meeting with me. I don't have a good explanation for what followed, but it was certainly serendipitous. For me, anyway. Didn't work out so well for Uncle Denny, although he did survive his injuries. (Incidentally, he passed away the next fall, of a previously diagnosed cancer.)

I knew that Uncle Denny was an inpatient in the hospital where I was working as a nurse, and I had visited with him and his family, who were very close, and who were staying nearby to be with him as he recovered. I had been at a staff meeting at the hospital one evening, and decided, before I went home, that I would visit with him and his family, whom I suspected would be at his bedside. Only when I went to his room, I found him alone, lying in the dark, resting quietly. He was awake, and pleasantly surprised to see me. He invited me in for a visit, and what transpired that evening, in the darkness of his hospital room, was a pivotal point in my transformation from believer to unbeliever.

After exchanging pleasantries, I blurted out to him my doubt, and confusion. It was the first time I had uttered the words out loud, and it felt weird, and disconcerting. "Uncle Denny, I don't know if the church is true." He didn't express shock, or even surprise. Maybe it was due to his pain, but he seemed very calm, and sure of his words. And though I can't recall specifics of the conversation, I do remember that he asked me what had started me on my journey, and what I had read. He never once suggested that I should leave the church, and in fact didn't even confirm that the church was not true. He simply asked questions, and made suggestions.

What I remember most clearly is his quiet affection for me, and his gentle assurance that I was not flawed. I do remember feeling loved, and I trusted him. And in that conversation, I learned to trust myself, and my feelings. I realized that I could let go of God, and hang on to my humanity. I learned that morality, and love, and compassion do not come exclusively from a belief in God, nor from religion, but from within our own hearts. That conversation has become a precious memory of Uncle Denny, and when I doubt myself, or my doubts, I remember Uncle Denny's quiet assurance. And I know I'm okay.

As a result of that conversation, I picked up a book I had previously tried to read, but had found to be dry and boring. Richard Bushman's historical treatise of Joseph Smith, "Rough Stone Rolling", proved to be a fascinating history lesson. One that ultimately confirmed to me those feelings from years ago, and I knew then, as much as I'd ever known anything, that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. And I knew that my eternal salvation, or eternal destiny, did not rest in my allegiance to his church. And I felt peace.

These two conversations, two decades apart, stand out in my mind as pivotal points in my life's journey. Each resulted in a different trajectory, neither ending in regret. And I have no explanation for either event.

Some would see God behind these fortuitous life events, but I cannot bring myself to believe in such a Divine Being. I cannot believe that He would care so much about the outcome of my life, and so little about the extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust, to use a commonly known historical atrocity. Unfortunately, there are many from which to choose. No, I don't see God's hand evident in these stories.

So, what, or who, gets the credit for my amazing journey? No idea. And yes, it is amazing. I got to marry a beautiful soul with whom I built a beautiful life, and then I got to leave behind all the superstitions of my youth that were stealing my joy. And in the process keep that beautiful life with that beautiful man. Amazing.

No regrets.

And 'Ol Joe? What of him? He was simply a man, a deeply flawed, though charismatic and brilliant, man, one who started a movement that changed the world. His story is fascinating, with all of its sordid details, and I'm not sorry I got to know him.  And I'm not sorry to leave him behind. Nor the church he founded. It is now part of my history, but not part of my present. Or my future.

That belongs to me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Where Was God That Night?

I have friends all across the religious spectrum, from true-blue believers, to die-hard atheists. And their facebook posts reflect their biases on a regular basis.

I apologize, but I'm taking issue with the believers today. Because their facebook posts are the ones hitting me the wrong way lately. They have a tendency to attribute to their God all the happenings in their lives, big and small, thanking him for stepping up and taking care of business. 'Cause that's what he does, takes care of their business. And whether he fixes their current woes to their liking, or sends further trials their way, he still gets their reverent thanks. Lucky guy, can't do anything wrong.

A couple of months ago, a friend posted her gratitude that God had helped her find a precious piece of jewelry, a diamond earring that she had misplaced about a month previously. She was pretty sure she had dropped it on the bedroom floor, but after much fruitless searching, the earring remained lost. Fortunately, and miraculously, it would seem, the earring turned up a few weeks later, smashed into the carpet near where it had been dropped. It was saved, by what seemed to be divine intervention, from being hoovered into oblivion. She very effusively thanked God for preserving her earring until such a time as it became visible to her, deep down in the pile of the carpet. And there was an accompanying picture. A beautiful earring, to be sure, and I can imagine the joy she felt upon realizing that its twin would not be relegated to a permanent, lonely spot in the jewelry box, bereft of its mate for all eternity.

It may appear that I am mocking her joy, and I suppose I am. But not gleefully. It makes me sad that she worships a being who would so graciously find for her a lost piece of jewelry, precious as it may be, and refuse to answer the many prayers uttered in behalf of lost humans. Whom he claims are precious in his sight.

The most egregious example that comes to my mind occurred the same week my friend made her joyful post.

A family in Texas was brutally gunned down, in their own home, by the unhappy, vengeful, ex-husband of a relative. From what I read in the news, the five children were home alone when this man came to their door. He kicked the door in, proceeded to tie the children up, aged 15 and under, and then waited until their parents arrived home. He then tied them up as well, and forced them all to lie face down on the floor of their home, where he shot them, execution style, in the back of the head. Each one, shot, in the back of the head. And all but the oldest child, a 15-year-old girl, were killed.

This was a Mormon family, a faithful church-going family, headed by a priesthood holding man. The parents, by all reports, had been attempting to raise their family in righteousness, which I would assume included regular family prayer and scripture study, and regular Family Home Evenings, as recommended by the church, as well as regular attendance at church meetings. They seemed to be a pretty typical Mormon family, and, as I listened to news reports of this horrific crime, I couldn't help but imagine what went on in that family room that night.

I can envision those parents, in their positions face down on the floor, praying and pleading with their God for divine intervention. These would have been prayers unlike any other uttered in their faithful lives, as they were helpless against what seemed to be, and indeed turned out to be, pure evil standing over them, wielding a gun, threatening the lives of their precious little ones. These were children they had been raising to worship a supreme, heavenly being, one capable of stepping in and protecting them, as he had protected the children of Israel. As he had protected the righteous family of Noah. As he had protected and preserved the lives of modern day pioneers as they crossed the plains in pursuit of religious freedom. They had been taught, as was I, that this God was capable of wrapping his arms around them and shielding them from evil, if they lived up to the covenants they had made. And they were looking for him to come through on this promise. Here, in their moment of greatest need, they pleaded, pleaded, with God to please, please, please, stop this evil in its tracks. Please save their children. Please make the gun misfire. Please bring the police to their door. Please change the mind of their executioner. Please, God, do not let this happen. Please.

As a mother myself, I wept when I read this story, and I imagined myself in that position, lying helpless next to my husband and children, listening as the gun went off, then again, and again. Seven times. Defenseless against the evil being perpetrated against my loved ones. And begging my God to intervene. Pleading with him, bargaining with him, promising him anything if he would save my family. Anything. Please, please don't let this happen.

And then, nothing. No more cries, no more pleading. No more praying. Because no one intervened. No one stopped the evil. No one stepped up and stayed the hand of the gunman. He was allowed to accomplish his horrendous deed that night, and succeeded in killing all but one member of that family.

I have struggled to make sense of this, with my limited understanding of what it means to be a god. To be an omnipotent, supreme, being, with the powers of the universe at my command, and to decide not to step in and prevent the massacre of a family. A beautiful mother and father, and the five children they were lovingly guiding through this mortal probation. To allow them to die at the hands of a crazed, deeply disturbed, former family member.

And that same week to guide another of my children to find her precious earring hidden in the deep pile of her bedroom carpet.

I have spent a lot of time in the months since then contemplating this scenario, and I have attempted to discuss it with believers, those who look to God for intervention in their own lives. How can they justify the lack of intervention under such dire circumstances, but give God credit for what is ultimately worthless in the grand scheme of things? Given a choice, I'm betting the finder of the lost earring would have given it up forever in exchange for the precious lives of this family. If only God were the bargaining type.

The answers I have received range from "God's ways are not our ways", to "You're putting limits on what God can do". I have been told I need to have greater faith and know that all things will make sense in time. I have been admonished not to question God, the maker of us all, and the ultimate judge of us all.

And I have to wonder, in all of this, who will be God's judge? Who does he answer to?

If there is any justice in this universe, he will answer to that mother. He will look in her eyes, and see her anguish, and sorrow, and pain, and he will have to tell her why he did not answer her prayer. Why he allowed her family to be taken in this brutal manner. Why he allowed them to die when he had, has, the power to save them. What greater purpose can there be in the murder of an entire family? What kind of a monster stays neutral when so much is at stake?

Where was God that night?

Religion provides no satisfactory answer, for me. I understand that others find comfort in prayer, in the hope that the reasons will be clear in the eternities, and I have no wish to take that away from them. If believing in God helps them cope with tragedies such as this, great.

But it doesn't help me. It just makes me sad. And angry.

And determined to make every day count, and to love those close to me while I have them, because life can change in an instant. And when it does, God may not be there to intervene. He has earrings to find.