Friday, December 26, 2014

# 56: The History Doesn’t Matter That Much


By now you’ve probably heard that Joseph Smith “married" a whole bunch of women who were already married to other men.  And you’ve probably heard that Joseph Smith “translated” the Book of Mormon by putting a rock in a hat and looking at it for a long time.  Maybe you’ve heard that Brigham Young tried to sell the Nauvoo Temple, or that he said that there were people living on the moon.  

Maybe you’ve read Jeremy Runnells "Letter to a CES Director," and have been convinced by it.  

My question for you is this: how much does this history matter?

How much does this history affect your life, right here, right now?  

And how much does this history affect the way the current LDS Church is running?  

The Church has changed so dramatically over the last 180 years.  I bet if a Mormon from the 1830’s time-traveled to our day and went to Church, he would feel totally out of place.  

This new history I’ve learned about over the past three years is interesting.  I have no interest in suppressing it.  In fact, I don’t think it should be suppressed.  It should just be put in its proper context. 

Someone has pointed out that Jesus said, “By their fruits shall ye know them,” not by their roots.  In other words, you can tell a true prophet from a false prophet by looking at what the prophet produces.  It's less important to go digging into the prophet's past.  It's more important to examine a prophet's prophecies and teachings, and see if following the prophet's teachings leads to a good and happy life.  In my opinion, sustaining President Monson as a Prophet and following his teachings does lead to a good and happy life.  Therefore, I think I can honestly say, "I believe President Monson is a true prophet."  I just don't think he talks with Jesus Christ face to face or that he actually holds sealing keys and things like that.  

I have polygamist ancestors.  I now believe that polygamy is a deplorable institution and I’m happy that it was destroyed, thanks in large part to the actions of the U.S. government.  

But, all my polygamist ancestors are dead now.  They’ve been dead for a long, long time.  I’ve never met them.  I suppose I have their genes, and some of their culture has been passed on to me, but all their crazy ideas about polygamy have little or no effect on me.

And the historical Joseph Smith doesn't matter that much.  I contend that the myth of Joseph Smith has been, and still is, more important and influential than the historical Joseph Smith.  He's more of a mythical creature now, or a religious archetype, than an actual person.  He's a figment of our collective religious imagination.  And the Joseph Smith of the popular LDS imagination was a really great guy!  We should all be more like him. 

I don't think it's harmful to believe in the myth of Joseph Smith.  I actually think it's beneficial, and that's why I don't voluntarily share "anti-Mormon" information with my true-believing Mormon family and friends.  I think most Mormons are better off believing in the Church and living the religion.

The same kind of thing has happened with Christopher Columbus.  Columbus has been romanticized and glamorized, and he's come to represent discovery, American values, Christianity, adventure, bravery.  I don't know exactly how or why the myth of Christopher Columbus has been popularized and perpetuated the way it has, but I don't think that spreading the myth is a bad thing.  Unfortunately, the historical Columbus sounds like a pretty bad guy.

Even if historical evidence somehow came out that showed that Jesus Christ was a fraud, I would continue to follow Christ's teachings, until something better came along.  

If you look way back in your family history, you’ll probably find some horrible people who did some horrible things.  And there may be secrets that have been kept from you, secrets that you’ll never find out about.  Maybe some celebrated great-grandfather had a bunch of illegitimate children from extra-marital affairs.  Or maybe some grandmother spent some time in prison, or in a looney bin.  Um... so what?  

I just don’t think the history matters very much.

Here’s my suggestion for you.  Don’t worry about the history.  Just appreciate the Church for what it is now, pray, live the lifestyle, and do the best you can.

# 55: Tithing



You should stay LDS so you can keep paying tithing.

Some of you might be thinking, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, tithing sounds like a reason for me to leave the church, not to stay.”

Well, let me tell you a few stories that I believe in.

First story: I’ve always been a full tithe payer, even during and after my faith crisis/change-of-testimony/whatever-you-wanna-call-it.  And I’ve always been financially stable.  Is there a connection between these two things?  Uh… I don’t know.  Maybe.  Ha!  I suppose I don’t have a faith-promoting story about tithing from my own experience, but I believe the stories I’ve heard from other people.

Second story: My parents have always paid a full tithing.  One time, a long time ago, they were having trouble financially.  They had to choose between paying rent and paying tithing.  They paid tithing, and a few days later, they got a mysterious cashier’s check in the mail for a hundred dollars.  There was no address on the envelope.  That hundred dollars was enough to pay the rent.  I was told that story in Family Home Evenings a couple of times when I was a kid, and I believed in the story.  I still believe in it.

Third story: A nice guy in my ward told an anecdote recently during Elder’s quorum about paying tithing.  He said that a few years ago, he and his wife made the choice to stop paying tithing for a few months, because money was tight.  They were trying to sell a house, but they couldn’t get their house sold.  The house wouldn’t sell for a few months, even though they were asking for a reasonable price, and all the rational indicators pointed to a quick sell.  Then, even though they were short on money, they decided to pay tithing, and the house sold quickly thereafter.

Fourth story: MisterFake372 tells his faith-promoting tithing story in reason # 54.  Basically, MisterFake372 started paying tithing again, and his business picked up.  But go read the story yourself.  It's a lot better when he tells it, and it's more dramatic.  

I believe these stories.  I know all the people who told them, and they are good, honorable, honest people.  Why would they lie?

Even though I don’t believe in many things I hear in Church on Sundays, (like a literal, historical Book of Mormon, or that we're the one true church with exclusive priesthood authority) I still support the Church enough to keep paying my tithing.  And I think that paying tithing is good for you, and good for the Church, and good for others.

It’s clear that paying tithing benefits the Church.  Every time you pay tithing, the Church gets a little richer.  And that’s a good thing.  The Church needs money to operate, and to continue its good work.  Is all the money used wisely?  Sadly, no.  I think the City Creek Mall was a mistake, and I think there is plenty of corruption and misuse of funds in the organization.  But I keep paying tithing anyway because I know that virtually every church, government and charity organization is susceptible to corruption.  Does that mean we should jettison all churches, governments, and charity organizations?  Of course not.  Rather, we should continue to support these organizations, to a reasonable extent, helping them improve.  

And how does paying tithing benefit you?  There are a few benefits I can think of.

Paying tithing helps you become less attached to worldly things.  Jesus wants us to be less materialistic.  We humans have a tendency to be selfish.  You can see this tendency in children, when they fight over toys.  Every kid wants the most popular toy, and they regularly assert their ownership over their toys when they shout, “Mine, mine, mine!" But remember, you can’t take all your possessions with you when you die. And remember the wise words of Bob Dylan in his song, Masters of War: “All the money you made will never buy back your soul.”  

Paying tithing helps you walk by faith.

It helps you contribute to the church, which you benefit from.

It helps you feel invested in the organization.  It helps you feel like a part of the Mormon community.

It helps you care about people and things outside of yourself.

I believe that paying tithing benefits me, and that doing so will benefit you, too.  But even if paying tithing doesn’t benefit you, you should still do it anyway, because it will benefit other people.  

When we keep commandments, we shouldn’t have the attitude, “What’s in it for me?”  Rather, we should keep the commandments because we want to help other people, and because we fear God.  

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had the right attitude.  Do you remember that story?  The wicked king Nebuchadnezzar was going to throw them into a fiery furnace if they didn’t worship his gods.  And the trio said, in Daniel 3: 17 - 18, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

In other words, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, "God can miraculously spare us from execution.  But even if He doesn’t, we’re still going to keep the commandments."  These three heroic men had the attitude that they were going to keep the commandments, whether or not it benefited them.  This is the same attitude that Job had when he said, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him."

Well, thanks for reading.  I wish you the best in your spiritual journey.  Take care and see you later.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

# 54: The Story of MisterFake372



Hello Reasons to Stay LDS readers.  I have a special treat for you today.  This blog post will be a bit different from the norm.  

In this blog post, we’ll be hearing a lot from MisterFake372, not to be confused with me, your unorthodox Mormon friend, MisterFake371.  

I met MisterFake 372 online a few months ago, through this blog actually.  He left a comment, and I gave him my email address, and blah blah blah... 

We ended up meeting in real life, and one night we had a nice visit for about an hour and a half.  We talked about the Church.  He's kind of a non-traditional believer, with an interesting life story.  He actually formally resigned from the Church about five years ago, due to historical and doctrinal issues, but now he's on the path to re-baptism.  He's planning on getting baptized next month.

After I met with MisterFake 372, I thought, "Wow, I bet there are a lot of people out there who would really benefit from hearing his story."  So, I decided to email him some questions, have him type up the answers, and then publish them on this blog.  What follows is our virtual interview.  My questions are in bold, and his answers are... what's the word?  Normal?  Less emboldened?  Well, you know what I mean.

Enjoy!

Note: If the fonts are weird, um... it's because I don't know how to fix them.  I'm not that good with computers.  Remember the advice from the title page of the Book of Mormon: "If there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God."

How were you raised?  Were you raised in a strict Mormon home?

I was born and raised LDS. Both my parents were LDS and very active. 

My Dad was the only one in his family who stayed active. His Dad died right after he was born. His Mom died when he was twenty-five. He has only one half sister, who is in a same-sex marriage. (That’s an important detail because that affects my attitude towards the church later on.) He went on a mission to Japan and did everything he was supposed to. He was a great Mormon role model. Never smoked, never drank, never got in trouble. He graduated from BYU and became an English teacher. In 1995 started the first charter school in Arizona. He was smart. 

My Mom was the perfect “molly mormon.” She was quiet but always attended church and accepted any calling. I knew she believed, but I never heard her talk about it. She was the perfect example, but did not have the “missionary” personality.

My Mom and Dad were married in the Mesa temple. They had five boys. I’m number four of five.  It was a typical Mormon family, as I can remember. We all caused trouble or rebelled from time to time, but my parents were steadfast in their belief and attitude. It wasn’t a strict upbringing, but we knew what our parents expected from us. 

How old are you? 

Thirty.

Where are you from? 

I was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona

What do you do for a living? 

I’m self-employed. I do transport, moving, and delivery.

Why did you leave the Church?  How did that all play out?

This is a very difficult question to answer with a simple sentence or two. So, here’s a long drawn out explanation. 

I was married in the Mesa temple at twenty years old. Growing up I was not wealthy. After getting married, I worked hard. I was successful. I was very blessed. Married life was great. In December 2010, I took the wife out to dinner and explained that I had not paid tithing. I had just “forgot”. Work was so enjoyable and the year flew by. I told her I’d pay it if she wanted me to, but I didn’t think I was a bad person if I didn’t pay.  Although, if I didn’t pay, then we would not get our temple recommends renewed and on and on. It just seemed silly that we’d be “not worthy” for not giving money. We attended church, did our callings, did everything asked of us, we believed, but just did not pay tithing. 

She didn’t say anything.  

A week later she came to me and expressed some of her concerns on the church.  For the next year we had fun looking into church history and talking to people who had the same concerns as us. It was “bonding”. We grew closer. We were more honest with each other than ever before. So, we decided not to go to church any more because their were so many “red flags” in the church history and doctrine and such. 

We had our first child in 2008. She couldn’t teach our daughter LDS doctrine without feeling like we were lying or misleading her. My wife’s family was not LDS. So they did not attend our temple wedding. That was very difficult for her. She did not want to do that to our daughter. 

My aunt is in a same sex relationship and has been for fifty years. She’s the nicest lady and very involved in her community in San Francisco. Proposition 8 was a big deal for me. I felt like I was indirectly “fighting” my aunt. If I gave the church money, then that, in my mind, went to “fighting” same sex marriage.  That's another reason I left the Church. 

How did your relationships change with family and friends after you left?

Nobody in my family confronted me. Everyone was pretty easy going. Everyone from church disappeared.

Why did you resign, instead of just go inactive? 

At first we just stopped going. But people from church would randomly stop by. It was annoying and inconsiderate. They were doing what they felt was right, but to a non-believer, it was rude. 

So we heard other people would actually remove their name from the records. At the time it seemed exciting. I thought, “All I have to do is write a letter and suddenly everything I’ve done in the church vanishes? How true can a church be if writing a letter and putting it in the mail can erase all the covenants I’ve made and such?” It seemed so superficial and silly. But that seemed like the correct thing to do. We wanted to live our lives and be true to ourselves.

What started your desire to go back to Church?

First off, in my responses, I’ve been saying “we” and not “I”. It was easy to leave the Church when I was supported by my wife.  In 2012, though, my wife and I separated, and now we're divorced.  Everything changes when you go from being married to being single.

For two years now I’ve been able to figure out what I want and where I want to take my life. Being married at age twenty, life was about “us”. I didn’t know how to "take care of myself” emotionally? I’m not sure how to explain it. I didn’t know what I truly wanted. I had never been “single”. I always had a girlfriend. I’ll try to be humble when I say it, but, I always attracted women :) 

Now at age thirty, I feel more alive. I feel more aware of my surroundings. I have more years under my belt to make better life decisions. This has been the most exciting time of my life. The first six months going through the separation, I was bitter and angry. As soon as I knew the separation/divorce was “final”, not legally, but emotionally, and we were done, I felt free and I was happy and optimistic. 

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection in these last two years. I’ve woken up and thought “I can do anything I want today. What do I want to do?” So, I’ve traveled. I’ve dated. I’ve interacted with people more. I’ve seen different lifestyles and ways of living. I know I want to get married again and settle down sometime. So, knowing that, it has made me think of how I want to live my life, what personality type of wife I want around, and what I want to be doing daily. 

I dated so many non-LDS women. I had so much fun but something was missing. I dated a Catholic girl that went to church regularly. So I went. I actually missed going to church. I then started looking into dating some LDS girls. I met quite a few. I danced around the topic of me not actually being Mormon when they asked me. 

But it finally happened. I met a beautiful, perfect, temple worthy woman. 

We dated for about three or four months. She had three kids. She prayed often, read Scriptures often, attended every church activity, and her family was all active. 

I fell in love fast! 

Her and I talked about church and religion often. I wasn’t sure what I believed in at the time. I knew that was the type of woman I wanted though. It’s true the Spirit radiates from these women. It’s beautiful to a non-believer. I had no intention or thought of getting re-baptized while dating her. I told her friend that I’ll never be able to take her through the temple. She broke it off with me though because she needed a strong priesthood man. 

She asked me one question that I’ve pondered often. She knew I had quarrels with the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. So, she asked “What do you believe in so strongly that no one could ever change your mind?” I quickly responded without hesitation, “I know my Dad is still alive”. My Dad passed when I was seventeen, but I’ve always believed in life after death. 

I then pondered "WHY do I believe my Dad is still alive?" 

Five things happened to me, or rather, I did five things, after she left me and we broke up.  

First, I realized that I had been around such a spiritual person and that I had felt a heavenly spirit that I hadn’t felt in years. When she left, that spirit left. One of the things her and I talked about was the Holy Ghost. I felt like anyone should be entitled to feel that. It shouldn’t be contingent on LDS activity. 

What I realized around this time was that I did occasionally feel the Spirit, but that it would quickly leave. I read somewhere in the scriptures that after being baptized the Spirit would guide and protect me…  that it would stick around…. something like that.  I wrote down the exact scripture in my journal. I realized I gave that up when I resigned. When I was a believing, active member of the Church, I had always had that spirit. I never knew what it was like to NOT have it. 

Second thing that happened: I craved that spirit and peace. I attended church. Sacrament was so spiritual to me. I cried at church. I attended two wards on the same Sunday. I couldn’t get enough. I read EVERYTHING. That’s one way I found your blog, Reasons to Stay LDS (even though you don’t believe in the Church anymore.) 

Third, I went and saw the bishop. I knew that was the direction I wanted my life to go. I didn’t go back to Church in hopes of getting this specific girl back.  She was already long gone. 

Fourth, I got my daughter involved.  A couple weeks after getting my daughter involved, the ward had the primary program. I cried all the way through that. I thought of how horrible it could have been to have my daughter miss this lifestyle growing up. 

Fifth, I started paying tithing. It's weird.  The concept that first started my exit from Mormonism, was now acting as a catalyst for my re-entry. So, as a nonmember, I’ve been paying tithing for a few months now. Every week I walk up to the bishop at the end of sacrament and give it to him. Sometimes I even have my daughter lick the envelope and have her hand it to the bishop.

Why do you want to go back to Church?

There are so many reasons. It all boils down to this: I’ll a better father, husband, and individual for following the teachings of the church. Read any general conference talk. Read any church article. Listen to anything taught on Sunday. Nothing is harmful! Everything is meant to better the person. Everything is meant to keep the family together. Everyone at church is trying their best. Everyone wants the best for others and wants to serve. 

What’s your testimony like now?

Stronger than ever. I’ve felt the spirit SO strong. I’ve always tried to avoid getting to close to the Spirit. It makes me emotional and for some reason I thought I was supposed to “be a man” and toughen up. But, being sensitive to my daughter's feelings and emotions is being a man. So, I’ve embraced the spiritual side and let it guide me. I’ve felt the Spirit so strong while driving that I’ve cried. I’ve been at home and out of no where, I feel it and get teary-eyed. Ever since truly following the Spirit, life has fallen into place. It’s peaceful.

When we met in person, you told me of the miracle that happened when you first started paying your tithing again.  Can you tell us this story?

I’ve always had enough money. I’ve never had to worry about bills.  After this LDS girl left me and I first started going to church, however, I had unexpected bills from the divorce, truck repairs, on and on. 

I’ve always had a spreadsheet with my projected income and bills for the next month or two.  For years and years I’ve always kept meticulous track of my bank accounts and such. For all these years, my spreadsheet would show plenty of extra cash flow at the end. But, the first week or two going back to church, my projection for the following month showed a negative balance. It’s never been like that. I posted ads on Craigslist to sell a couple of my trailers and other equipment to make up the difference. It wasn’t ideal, but it was needed. 

After getting home from church one Sunday, I had a strong impression that I needed to pay tithing. Now, I had just started going back to church. I knew I wanted to be LDS again but I thought I would start paying tithing after I got baptized.  I thought I couldn’t afford the extra expense right now. But the thought kept coming to my mind over and over. That’s when I decided that if tithing was the reason I left the church, then I have to put some faith into it and have tithing be something I have to do to prove to myself that I believe. 

So, I gave my tithing to the bishop after sacrament. What happened next was like one of those stories I had heard over and over again when I was active. Work became busier. I had more work than the trucks could handle. I had people calling and reserving spots for the next month and paying ahead of time. I did not sell a single piece of equipment that I had anticipated. Everything worked out… somehow. 

I even had an old lady call me after I left her house and she said “you did such a great job that I want to mail you a check.” Seriously! I keep meticulous track of my income and bills and somehow I had so many "blessings” pour out that I did not have room enough to receive them. I couldn’t have asked for a better testimony builder than that.  

So, ever since, I’ve paid religiously. I don’t expect "physical” blessings like this every time. I am more aware of the spiritual side these days. Paying tithing is more of a spiritual blessing for me. I have a different perspective on tithing now, than I did when I left the church.  My thought process on tithing and taking my ex-wife out to dinner to tell her I haven’t paid tithing, seems so silly now. 

Just pay it. It’s not about the money. It’s about your personality. Don't put more value on worldly things than on spiritual things. I don’t care where my tithing money goes now.  That's not the point.  For me, the important thing is knowing that I am more spiritual and can let go of the physical things in life. 

What’s the process for getting re-baptized after resigning?  What questions have your priesthood leaders asked about controversial Church history and doctrine?

The process is different for each individual and his past. So the process is the same as if you were never a member PLUS a few additional hurdles that I’ll explain. First, just like an investigator, they want you to meet with the missionaries for a while. They want you to read the scriptures and pray. They want you to attend church. They want you to meet with the bishop and he’ll ask the normal questions like fidelity, porn, drug use, and such.

The additional hurdles so far have been meeting with the stake president and multiple meetings with the bishop. They have both asked why I want to come back and asked why I left. They asked if I’ve done anything to hurt the church. They asked who I talked to about my disbelief. 

The stake president asked what specifically it was that made me leave. This was an interesting question when he asked. I thought about it for a second and said “Nothing I read says the church is 100% false. So at the end of the day, everything I read, doesn’t matter. I believe my dad is still alive, which means I believe in the plan of salvation and on and on.” 

The stake president wanted to get me to say specifics. It almost felt like he wanted to see if there was still some anger or bitterness towards the church. I’m glad he did that because I’m not angry or bitter. It was a very spiritual moment for me. I told the bishop the first time we met that I don’t care how long the process takes, I know I’m where I should be and that's good enough for me. The politics of re-baptism will work itself out. 

After meeting with the stake president and bishop a few times, the bishop and I met again. The bishop said that, after counseling with the stake president, he thought I should wait six months before baptism.  During the six months, he wants me to have the missionaries over weekly, attend church, and meet with the bishop a couple times to check up on me. After getting baptized, then I have to wait a year before having all my original blessings restored, like, priesthood, temple, etc. So a year from my baptism, then I’ll essentially be exactly where I was before I resigned.  So i don’t have to become deacon, teacher, priest and etc. I'll just continue where I left off.

The bishop stopped me at church last week and said he talked with the stake president about me. The bishop said, "Let's meet soon and talk."  So I set up another appointment with him. Originally my baptism was vaguely set for December or January.  I’m excited :)

Do you picture yourself living the religion for the rest of your life?

Absolutely. I wouldn’t do this if I was hesitant. I know what this entails. I want to be a great example for my daughter.  Living the church teachings will do just that.

Are you happy?  Do you feel the Spirit more now?


I’m very happy and optimistic. I feel the Spirit more and very strong, but again, it’s difficult feeling the Spirit and then having that feeling disappear SO fast. I remember what it was like to have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion and now I can feel the difference. it’s such a difficult topic to explain.

Thank you so much, Misterfake372, for taking the time to type up these responses.  I believe many people will enjoy reading them.  And thank you for being willing to open up about your personal life.  You have some amazing stories.  And I believe them, even the nearly unbelievable story about the miracles that occurred when you started paying your tithing again.  I look forward to attending your baptism!

If any of you have questions for MisterFake372, just leave a comment below, and maybe your question will be answered.  And remember ladies, he's available!  

Friday, November 14, 2014

# 53: Staying LDS Keeps You Social



A while back I visited an uncle who lives alone in a retirement community.  It’s an upscale trailer park in southern California.  There’s a community center in that neighborhood where the senior citizens go to play games and socialize.  Sometimes they have non-denominational church services there.  

My uncle spends quite a bit of time in that community center, and he has gotten to know his neighbors.  But he said something that made me sad.  He said that about a third of the residents were shut-ins.  They rarely came out of their houses, and when they did, they didn’t initiate conversations with anybody.  They just stayed inside and uh… I don’t know what they did.  Maybe they watched TV or read books.  

Why does that happen?  What is it that makes all these people want to be alone all the time? 

I also remember talking to a Resident Assistant of a dormitory I lived in, while I was in college.  He said that for many people, the college years were lonely years.  Some people just aren’t good at making and keeping friends.  It’s sad to think about all the lonely college students out there, suffering in isolation, in their dorm rooms.  

I also felt this heart-wrenching loneliness, when I was away at college, from time to time.  Weekends were the hardest, weekends when I had nothing to do, and no one to hang out with.  I still naturally gravitate towards isolation, so I’m glad I have my family around, and I’m glad I have all the great people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to shake hands with on Sunday.  I’m glad I have families to home teach.  It’s just nice to have friendly human contact.

I heard about this experiment some Communists did with some babies.  The Communists wanted to see what language kids would end up speaking if they never heard adults speaking a language.  So, they took a bunch of babies and put them in a room.  They gave them food, and water, and blankets, and all the necessities for life.  But they never talked with the babies, or held them, or anything like that.

And do you know what happened?  All the babies died.  

It turns out that babies will not live by bread alone.  They also need love, care and attention.

We’re not much different from these babies.  We need family, and we need friends, and we need community.  We’re not emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually healthy when we’re isolated for long periods of time.  That’s a general rule, anyway. 

The words in Genesis ring true: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

I have these neighbors whose kids bother me.  The kids leave litter in the street, and they cut off a few paddles from my cactus with a pair of scissors, and they generally cause problems, but you know what?  At least they talk to me.  At least they play outside and are social.  I would rather have annoying neighbors who go out of their way to talk to me than neighbors who don’t want to talk to me, or get to know me, or even make eye contact with me.

If you stay in the Church, you’ll have ample opportunities to socialize, and make friends, and be around people.  There is church on Sunday, and seminary, and Institute, and church parties and activities, and family home evening groups, and home teaching and visiting teaching.  What’s something that all these things have in common?  They all require people to have face-to-face interactions with each other.  And that’s a good thing.  

You'll also meet a lot of interesting people, if you stay in the Church.  There are a lot of neat people in your ward.  Get to know them.  You'll learn a lot about the world just by chatting with people, finding out what they do for a living, where they've lived, what kind of books and movies they like, what their hobbies are, and so on.

Of course, there are a lot of interesting people outside of the Church.  Some of the people I see around town look very interesting.  But it's a lot easier for me to talk with people at Church than to just randomly strike up a conversation with someone in a restaurant or something.

The interactions you have with people at Church may not be ideal, but, it’s better to have less than ideal interactions with people than it is to have no interactions at all.

You may feel that your friends at church are mere acquaintances, and the relationships you have with them are shallow.  If you do feel that way, keep in mind that it’s better to have a shallow relationship with another human than it is to have no relationship at all.  And if you want a deeper, more meaningful relationship with someone, you have to work at it.  That’s true in the Church, and out of the Church.  If you try, you can make a true, good friend with someone you find at Church, even if you don’t believe in the foundational claims of the Church.

Hang in there buddy, and good luck.

Monday, October 27, 2014

# 52: Hot Chicks at Church


You should keep going to church because there are a lot of hot chicks there.  

There’s a lot of babes in my ward.  Believe me.  I see them every Sunday.  We say hi to each other.

Of course, I’m happily married to the most babe-a-licious babe of all the babe-a-licious babes, so it’s not like I’m flirting with any of these women.  I just enjoy their company during the three hours of church.  I just wave and say, “Hi Sister So-and-so,” and sometimes they say hi back.  That's all.

Seriously, Mormon women are attractive.  And charming.  And hard-working.  And good cooks.  And they enjoy long walks across the country, wearing bonnets.  ;) 

Of course, it depends on where you live.  I’ve heard a lot of Mormon women these days, especially in the rich suburbs of Salt Lake City, are shallow spoiled brats.  And some of them are crazy.  Stay away from the crazy ones.  But the majority of Mormon women are downright lovely.

What is it that makes Mormon women so hot?  Well, maybe it has to do with their spirituality.  Spirituality is sexy.  Remember when Moses came off of the mountain with the Ten Commandments, and his face was glowing?  Remember that?  Well, what could be more attractive than a glowing face?  I do think that righteous and spiritual Mormon women have glow-powers.  And women who have glow-powers attract men who also have glow-powers.  

Even Trey Parker, one of the creators of South Park, can’t deny the attractiveness of Mormon girls.  His first girlfriend was Mormon, and he says that she was just the nicest young woman with the nicest family.  

If you’re at that stage in life when you’re looking for a spouse, then it’s a great idea to keep going to church, even though you might not believe in all its doctrine or teachings.  Don’t worry about the history or doctrine too much.  That’s my attitude.  If you can live the lifestyle, and enjoy it, then why not stay and get yourself in a position to marry one of those fiery darts of the Relief Society?

And the women are plentiful! If you go to any of the BYU colleges, you’ll find binders and binders full of women just pining away in their dorm rooms, waiting for a guy like you to ask them out to the nearest frozen yogurt stand!

And they dress up on Sundays, and most of them know how to sing, and they’re non-smoking, and they aim to please.

And they exercise!  They were told in the last General Conference to exercise!  I don’t remember who said it, and I don’t feel like looking up the reference, but I’m pretty sure that some guy in a tie said it.  (I don't want the women to obsess about their looks.  That's not very Christ-like.  But, to a reasonable extent, I do want women to care about their appearance.

Ha!  Turns out I’m not the only one to notice the hot chicks at church.  Somebody asked on Yahoo Answers a while back, "Why are Mormon girls so hot?" 


"just moved to arizona and there is all these really hot girls I keep meeting and my cousins say they are mormon and they wont have any interest in me. But wow, there all so hot, what do you do in that church to crank out the hotties, and good god, the moms are bad either and their all so obedient, whats going on, and is there really magic undies?"

And some poster named R Rosskopf responded, 

Anyone who wears as much clothing as a Mormon girl in Arizona is going to be hot! ;-) 

Seriously, though; I knew this LDS girl in High School who was the most popular girl in school. I tried to look at her objectively and discovered that if you took away the love and the light that seemed to emanate from her, that she was was only average in looks. Her spirituallity and her personality made her into the most beautiful of women."

That's a wonderful response.  There's a lot of other entertaining responses on that thread.

Well guys, hang in there.  Learning about the dark side of church history is rough.  But uh... try not to worry about the history, and just bask in the glow of the hot chicks at church.  

Oh, and if you're a woman going through a faith crisis reading this, just pretend that reason # 52 to stay LDS is "Hunky Guys at Church."

And if you're offended at me using the term "chicks," or "babes" or anything, well, uh... I don't care.  Ha ha ha.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

# 51: Staying LDS Helps You Write Poems



Losing my traditional testimony in the LDS church has been a loooooooong, rough process.  But, on a positive note, my faith transition has given me lots of material to write poems about, and I've ended up with some great poems, if I do say so myself.  Some of the poems I've actually worked on during church meetings!  I don't know what it is, but there's something about doing Church activities that just makes me feel poetic.  

Here are some of the poems I’ve written about faith and stuff in the last few years, along with my commentary. Enjoy.

A Few Steps

I came to Nogales for cosmetic dental work at a low price
and now I have about thirty-five minutes to spare.
Somehow I get the feeling that it might be nice
to pass the time in an old Catholic church that they've got there.


I ascend a few steps and stroll through doors propped open,
passing by the holy water because I don't know what to do
with holy water. I don't think I should touch it. I'm hoping
that these Catholics won't be bothered by a tourist passing through.

Seated now, I look at statues, works of wood and stone, architecture.
If the clergy inquires, I'm merely here to see the beautiful pictures,
not to worship, not to pray, or to hear a priestly lecture.
Everything's in Spanish, anyway. How could I read their scriptures?

Oy vey. How do I tell my rabbi that, though Judaism is quite lovely,
I enjoy this church, and I like the Pope, and I no longer believe it's beneath
the customs of our people to reverently sit in such a place, occasionally,
next to Mexican men with bowed heads, wrinkled skin, and missing teeth?

A week ago I was in Mexico getting a metal rod rammed up the upper bone of my mouth.  I’m in the process of getting a dental implant.  While I was south of the border, I walked by an old Catholic Church, and it inspired me to write this poem.  I thought it would be fun to have the speaker of the poem be Jewish.  

The poem is about feeling not completely loyal to the religion of one’s youth, but also feeling a little uncomfortable, but also strangely at peace, visiting the church of a different religion.  I admired the faith of the poor-looking people I saw in the Church.  I like the way some old churches are always left open and people can go in there and pray whenever they want.  

The Agnostic’s Nightmare

In his dream he’s awake,
but sleepy, and he can’t make
much of his gray surroundings.
There’s fog.  The next scene brings

his head pressed into a warm pillow
by a pair of heavy, unseen hands.
Meanwhile, in real life, he dies,
and does not become one with the sands

of some cosmic ocean shore,
and is not, in any meaningful way,
enlightened.  Rather, he is reincarnated,
returning to life on a random day, hazy and gray,

and this time around he's an electron,
blindly thrashing about in the brain
of yet another agnostic who is
wracked with the pain of a migraine,

and without a reason, or a rhyme,
an awareness of the nucleus,
a knowledge of any past or future,
he pops in and out of existence.

This poem is about an agnostic person who dies and still never finds out the meaning of life.  He just moves on to another life, in which none of the big questions get answered.  Ha!  Wouldn't that be horrible?  

Oh, and electrons really do pop in and out of existence.  And sometimes molecules behave differently when you observe them.  I’m fascinated by trippy quantum psychics and stuff like that, even though I don’t know much about science.

Franklin, hey, Franklin

Franklin, hey, Franklin, Dave is dead.
Linda told me.  Linda said
he had a heart attack yesterday.
It was sudden, it was quick, 
and now he’s passed away.

I really liked Dave.  He was my favorite cashier.
Isn’t it sad to think that he won’t be here
tomorrow, or the next day, or ever again,
to buy us candy, and say we’re living in sin?

Dave is gone.  Do you understand?
Franklin, will you please hold my hand?
He never reached retirement.
He never got his wish
of living next to a river 
and catching a thousand fish.

That’ll be us someday.  
That’ll be me and you.
I only hope you’ll marry me
before our lives our through.

In this poem, the speaker is moved by the death of an acquaintance to get her life moving in the right direction.  The poem should remind people about brevity of life.  

I have a soft spot for evangelical Christians who tell people they’re living in sin or they're going to Hell.  Some of these radical street preachers are really passionate, and they might be right, and they don’t care much about offending people.  They would rather offend people than offend God.   

Fire-and-brimstone preachers remind me of Enos 1:23: "And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgements and the power of God, and all these things - stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord.  I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction."  

A Small Pink Flame

Wait until the dark of night,
turn out every electric light
and envision a small pink flame.

Make it as small as the flame
of a candle, but do not picture
the candle, the wick, 
the slowly melting wax.
Only the flame.

Allow the muscles 
in your neck to relax
but flex your mind.  
Focus and focus
until at long last you find,
eleven inches in front of your face,
the small pink flame, 
floating in the air,
bright, solid, constant.

Start to notice
the gentle opening
of your third eye.

This poem is just some hippie blather.  I once knew a schizophrenic guy who told me how he meditated.  He said that he imagined a pink flame floating in the air.  I’m not sure what the point of that was supposed to be.  But sometimes going through the temple seems just as weird as turning off all your lights and imagining a small pink flame floating in the air in front of you.

About Divinity

The Book of Isaiah. The Book of Revelation.
Abstract paintings. Charts of the Universe.
Thick novels, rife with symbolism, perched
on bookshelves like menacing gargoyles
that guard ancient, sacred, dark cathedrals.
It’s good to keep these things around the house.

Climb the mountain, reach the peak,
and still you will not find a wise man,
nor an up-to-date, all-encompassing dictionary,
nor a cosmological telescope in which to peer,
only an army of charlatans in trench-coats
stocked with knock-off merchandise
and armed with tranquilizer darts.
They’ll get out their guns and shoot you
and then, while you’re fainting,
assure you that they can fathom infinity
and know all there is to know about divinity.

Along the trail, though, you may encounter
a few of your fellow hikers, who will faithfully,
freely recite the words of holy revelations.
Hear them when they speak to you,
for they love God as fish love water.

The fish attempt no transoceanic analysis.
They feign no theology of the water.
They merely live to bubble along,
humming a joyful, fishy song,
and swim and swim and swim and swim,
pausing to pray now and then.

The Universe is so vast and mysterious that our mortal minds can't comprehend it.  But just because we can't comprehend it, that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to comprehend it.  We should try to comprehend the Universe.  We should try to get in touch with God.  

I think only complex and mysterious works of art, and passages of scripture, can really give us a glimpse of the Universe.  Am I making any sense?  Probably not.  :)

I hope to be one of the “fellow hikers” who direct others to divinity.  

The “army of charlatans” could be a reference to LDS Church leadership.  Or it could be a reference to some of the crooks in the religion business.  Or it could be a reference to something else.  The nice thing about poetry is there can be several different equally valid interpretations.  

Communists

If you believe in God
and seek to do His will
the communists will tell you
that you ought to remain still
in your home or in your church
for what they call your hate
and what you call salvation
is not tolerated by the State.

And when the Spirit moves you
and when you dare to spread
the everlasting love of Jesus
they will hunt you
they will find you
they won't stop until you're dead.


I do believe in Jesus, with my whole heart.  After I lost my testimony of the traditional LDS story, I was trying to figure out if I still believed in Jesus and the Bible, at least to some extent. I ended up reading a wonderful book called “The Rage Against God" by Peter Hitchens, the brother of the atheist Christopher Hitchens.  Peter was raised a Christian, renounced Christianity alongside his brother, but then regained the faith of his youth in his mid-life.  For much of his career, Peter was a journalist for the BBC stationed in Moscow, reporting on the USSR.  He observed firsthand how Christianity was squelched by the Communist government.  

It’s completely frightening to read about how Communists have persecuted Christians in the past.  Now, with ISIS gaining power in Iraq and Syria, Christians are again being persecuted.  Some of them are even being crucified.  

This poem is pretty straightforward.  I like the way the poem contrasts Christians who just stay still, and thus satisfy the wicked demands of the wicked State, with Christians who are moved by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel as Christ directed.  

Originating At The Heart

When a man appears to you,
perhaps in the bathroom mirror,
perhaps beside you as you walk alone
along a roadway in your city,
(this will only happen when you are alone)
saying he has a message from God,
request him to shake hands with you.

If his essence is chiefly angelic,
he will shake your hand,
and you will feel his hand,
as you do when you shake 
the hand of any ordinary man.
He will then deliver his message,
and indeed it will be a message from God.
A deep, abiding, familiar warmth, 
originating at the heart, 
will spread inside you,
reaching to the tips of your toes 
and to the crown of your head,
and you will rejoice.

If his essence is chiefly demonic,
he will attempt to shake your hand.
He will reach his hand forward and
you will reach your hand forward.
The air around you will drop in temperature.
Yet, though the hands will appear 
to touch, you will feel nothing,
and by this means you will detect him.

Remember these instructions,
teach them to those who believe,
for today I have given you a grand key 
whereby you may test the veracity 
of any alleged fourth-level communication.

This poem is kind of like my other poem, “A Small Pink Flame.”  They’re both told from the perspective of a crazy spiritual leader, giving direction to a newcomer.  This poem is inspired by Section 129 of the Doctrine and Covenants.  

Reading that section now as a non-believer, I think, what the heck were these people thinking?  They really believed that this was a genuine revelation? But it’s fascinating, you know.  The people who got the LDS Church rolling really expected that sometime, angels or demons would visit them, and they could distinguish between angels and demons by this secret handshake stuff!  It’s really bizarre.  

But then at the same time, I believe in ghosts, and I suppose it’s possible that I’ll be visited by a supernatural entity someday.  I just don’t think a handshake will help me differentiate between nice beings and mean beings.  

I like the line, “teach them to those who believe.” It reminds me of the way, in almost all religions, more knowledge is conferred upon members who are loyal to the religion.  The more a member believes the things that are being taught, and does what he’s told, the more secret knowledge and ceremonies he gets.  Why shouldn’t these things be taught to those who don’t believe it, as the line implies?  The cult-leader speaker of the poem would probably say that non-believers aren’t ready to receive such privileged information.  After all, milk before meat.   

In my opinion, the true gospel of Jesus Christ should be taught openly to believers and non-believers alike.  Although, Jesus did teach in parables, and said he was sending secret messages through the parables... see Mark chapter 4, verse 11 and 12.  

The Improper Disposal of Chewed Gum

Before I was a high school graduate, wearing a cap and gown 
and smiling for the camera, before I was a Boy Scout displaying 
a sash decorated with merit badges, I was a Cub Scout, because 
my Mom put me in Cub Scouts. Something happened to me then, 
or, rather, I did something, when I was eleven, as a Cub Scout, 
that I have never told a single soul about,
something that I want to tell you, now that I’m thirty-two, 
now that I’m a little more free to live as a I please, 
now that people and things appear to me a bit more clear.

My Mom really wanted me to get the Arrow of Light award,
because if you get the Arrow of Light award, you also get
a patch.  It has a yellow, right-pointing arrow stitched 
onto a blue background, and the entire patch is about the size
of a stick of gum that you chew for a minute or two until the 
sugar’s gone, and then you press the slobbery waste up against 
the slick underside of a school desk, smirking. You smirk 
as you press the wad of gum up in there, where the wood
meets the metal, even though you’ve previously been reprimanded 
by those in authority for the improper disposal of chewed gum.

If you get the Arrow of Light award that comes with the 
patch then you also get put through an award ceremony where 
they turn off all the lights and you slowly walk up the steps of a 
miniature staircase that lights up with each successive step 
you take while a well-intentioned man with a microphone talks 
about what a great little boy you are and about how the straight 
and true arrow on your new patch represents the straight and true 
manner in which Cub Scouts live their straight and true lives.

My Mom really wanted me to get the Arrow of Light award
that comes with that patch, so I had to observe insects
and identify leaves and learn the difference between 
a standard screwdriver and a Phillips-head screwdriver,
which are all good and proper and worthwhile things,
but there was this one patch called the Physical Fitness patch, 
and it was a required patch for the Arrow of Light award,
and so for thirty days in a row I had to exercise and write down
how many sit-ups and push-ups and jumping jacks I did.
I started the process, but I never finished, and I told my Mom
that I did finish, and I remember fabricating a document, because 
Mom wanted me to get that Arrow of Light award and Mom wanted 
me to get that patch and Mom wanted me to go through with 
that ceremony where I stood in front of everybody with a smile 
forced onto my face and everybody looked at me and everybody
clapped, so I lied.

I lied.  I told a rotten lie to my dear, sweet mother, and I climbed 
those steps and I let that man with the microphone keep talking 
about straightness and keep talking about truth because 
I was only a boy.  

For years after the ceremony, every time I saw that patch on my
Scout shirt, I was reminded of the secret that I dared not tell, I
was reminded of the counterfeited exercise chart, and I knew 
that I was a crooked Cub Scout. I knew that I was a deceiver, 
and yet, I now perceive, that I had also been deceived.

Is it any wonder that on the day I left my parent’s house, I threw
away all my Scout stuff to make more space in my suitcase 
for Bob Dylan CD’s?

This poem is autobiographical.  I really did lie to get my Arrow of Light patch, and the fact that I lied really did eat away at me for a long time.  There was so much pressure on me to get all those awards. My experience is not unique.  Millions of young Mormon boys and girls also face this pressure.

This is a big problem in the Church, folks.  There’s too much emphasis on attaining outward signs of righteousness and success.  

I’ll tell you another thing that really tormented me as a young man.  I felt that I was unworthy to bless the sacrament on Sundays, when I was a Priest, because at that time in my life I was masturbating regularly.  I thought that I was such a hypocrite, while I blessed the sacrament, and yet I was terrified to tell my bishop or my parents about my dirty little habit.  

I thought that if I had died, I would have gone to the Telestial Kingdom.  Somehow I also got the notion that the sins of the congregation weren’t really being forgiven whenever I blessed the sacrament, because I was an unworthy priesthood holder.  

In the second to last stanza, where I wrote, "I had also been deceived,” I was trying to hint that I had been deceived by my Mom, the Scouting Organization, and the Church into thinking that the Arrow of Light award was such a big deal.  

Oh, and Mom, if you’re reading this, then… I’m sorry and I love you.

Land-locked

With quiet feet and determined eyes
a girl with braces
borrows a green pair of her mother's pants
and tiptoes to the bathroom.

The bathtub fills with warm water
as she squeezes both her
legs down one pant leg.

And now that her little ocean
has come alive, she flops in, face first,
wanting desperately to feel
what it's like to be a mermaid.

But no, it's nothing whatsoever
like being a mermaid.
All she's doing is making
a big mess in the bathroom.
Her splashing, blubbering experiment is failing.
She's nearly drowning!

It's a bad and dangerous imitation
of the state of being a mermaid,
just as punctuation is a sorry substitute
for the soft sounds of human breath.

I’ll never know what it’s like to be fully non-Mormon.  But I suppose that’s part of the human experience.  Catholics will never know what it’s like to be fully non-Catholic, Jews will never know what it’s like to raised in a non-Jewish home, and so on.  The girl in the poem will never know what it’s like to be a mermaid, just as I’ll never know what it’s like to be fully non-Mormon.

When the girl tries to fundamentally change who she is, when she awkwardly tries to transform herself into a mermaid, she just makes a big mess.  Perhaps when Mormons try to completely shed their Mormonism, they also make a big mess.  Perhaps they'll be better off maintaining their Mormon identity.

A White Stone

Dark Matter.  Dark Energy.
It’s an expansive darkness. 
When we look up at night 
at the space between the stars,
we see the universe as it mostly is.

Even the park at noon is mostly dark,
when we consider all the darkness
beneath the grass and all the darkness
inside the tree trunks and all the darkness
inside our own bodies.

For dark is the gate
and dark is the way
that leadeth to darkness,
and many there be
which go in thereat.

Only a few bodies
will be transformed into stars.

Perhaps it will be your body-
Pray that it will be your body-
which will be among the few
to receive a white stone
whereby things pertaining
to a higher order of kingdoms
will be made known,
will be made bright,
will be made alright.

This poem borrows from Doctrine and Covenants 130: 10 and 11.  Also, see Matthew 7: 13 and 14.  It would be nice if some enlightened being gave me a white stone after I died, and then I could use the stone to understand the universe and bring mercy and justice to the cosmos.   Yep, that sure would be nice.

Location, Location, Location

Sylvia was raised for years in a city
and so considered it a pity
when her family moved
out, out, out to the countryside,
where rivers were her only neighbors
and rocks her only friends.

Each lonely night she dreamed
of the city she’d left, with its neon 
lights blinking and beaming,
tall brick buildings 
opening their dark doors, 
calling her forward, seeming 
to swallow her with warm mouths
and tightening throats.

But as the days went on and on, 
she began to hear the countryside’s song,
and her dreams began to brighten.

One night, under the influence of stars,
Sylvia looked down at her arms
pushing a shopping cart full of pinecones.
The next night, a taxi driver, a raccoon,
drove her to a mountain, and told her to get out.
The third night, she stepped off a sidewalk
and stumbled into an icy stream.
At dawn she shook from her sleep, 
surprised to find her feet dry.

Only then was she moved
by the story of Moses 
on a mountain, barefoot,
and communing with God.

I think it’s good for your spirituality to get out into the wilderness.  A lot of prophets seem to get their revelations in nature.  And even the non-religious folks like Henry David Thoreau find God’s fingerprints in nature.  Even if the story of Moses talking with God on the mountain isn’t technically true, it’s still a great myth.  I think it still teaches true principles.

Flowers in the Gardens of the Spirit World

are giant and bright and beautiful
and they sway all day
and they’re green 
and they’re blue
and they’re purple too
and they communicate with us
by the way they sway
and by the way they spray
out a mist of pure love
and a mist of pure joy

and with their petals outstretched 
they shout out praise 
to the God of flowers
and they shout out praise 
to the God of people
and by their love 
and by their life 
the flowers in the gardens 
of the Spirit World 
produce more love 
and more life

and you might say
that this is my imagination
and you might say
that this is hallucination
and you might say 
I need medication

but if you would have been dead
you would not have said
“Nonsense,” and then walked off 
to pick and pin down 
the normal flowers
on this normal Earth,
and you would not have attended
the bi-monthly meeting 
of local flower enthusiasts
at which you serve as secretary 

rather you would have 
closed your eyes, 
let your soul rise,
seen the flowers
smelled the flowers
felt the flowers
all the million flowers
in all the million gardens
of the glorious Spirit World

and then you would have believed me
that this petunia is temporary 
and that this lily
and that this other lily
both of which are neatly reposed
in your science flower book
will decompose, decompose, decompose,
along with your science flower book

and if you would have been dead
then you would have believed me
that these flowers pinned down
in your science flower book
are not everything that Existence 
is willing to give to you, freely. 

I wrote this poem after I stayed up late one night reading about people’s near-death-experiences online.  Almost all of the accounts say that dying is wonderful.  People who have had near-death-experiences say you go to a beautiful place of peace and light, and some have even given accounts of seeing beautiful gardens and flowers in the next life.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to have that other-worldy experience, and I wrote this poem.  

To Those Who Bury Their Talents

There is a song inside you.
Sing it,
or else you're nothing more
than a nightingale without a throat,
an oyster sealed shut,
just another pig
withholding its bacon.

I'm writing this blog partly because I don't want to hide my talents.  God has given me the gift of writing, and God has given me the experience of being raised Mormon, and God has given me the experience of losing my traditional testimony.  I want to use my talents and my experiences to help people, and to entertain people. 

I should probably be volunteering at an orphanage or a soup kitchen or something like that, but... well... I think writing this blog is a good, too.

To a Six-Armed Hindu Idol, on Display at the Phoenix Art Museum, Sculpted by an Unknown Artist, Circa 900 AD.

I will not bow to you
or pray to you
or do whatever it is that Hindus do
when they come walking into your view.
I will not offer you a sacrifice,
and I won't give you respect, or even act nice.
How can I, when your mere presence
is an affront to everything I believe in?

You have no real power.
Nobody really has six arms.
You are a false god, an idol,
nothing more than the stone
from which you were cut,
inspiring neither fear nor love
in my thoroughly Christian heart.

How can you sit there
-whatever your name is-
some name I can't pronounce,
and shouldn't remember anyway,
but how can you sit there,
century after century,
sturdy, solid, confident?
Don't you know you're a phony?

My God is a jealous God.
How do you think He felt today
as I walked briskly by the European exhibits,
casting a few obligatory glances at Jesus?
How do you think He feels now,
seeing me stop here at your feet, slowing my breath,
admiring your bulk, grace, and symmetry,
gazing into eyes that look deep into mine,
ancient eyes which look all ways at once?

My agnostic sister was offended when she read this poem.  She thought it was mean to speak so disrespectfully of other cultures and religion, and I suppose it is.  But remember that the speaker of a poem is not the same as the author of a poem.  In other words, it’s not really me yelling at a statue in the Phoenix Art Museum.  

In this poem, I wanted to explore the idea of how one can’t really follow two Gods at the same time. Gods are usually jealous of each other.  I don’t see any practical way to make the God of Christianity and the God of Hinduism to get along, so in order to follow one, I have to denigrate the other, at least slightly.  (I'm doing a pretty good job of making the God of Mormonism and the God of Christianity get along in my head, though.)

In the last few lines of the poem, I was trying to imply that I was strangely attracted to the Hindu God.  My worship of Jesus felt old and obligatory, and a forbidden fling with a six-armed God seemed exciting.  

In Sunday School

I learned that rocks don’t have souls,
but people do, as well as elephants and moles.
Jonah got swallowed by a great and terrible fish,
and Judas Iscariot put his hand in the dish.

Some stuff is clean, and other stuff is not.
The Holy Ghost’s power cannot be bought.
Jesus cast out a demon, and it went into a pig.
You can’t hide from God in a hole, however deep you dig.

I learned a hundred other pretty neat things,
but I like it best when the teacher sings.

This might be my favorite poem that has sprung from my faith transition.  A lot of the stuff I learned in Sunday School and Seminary and Institute was really neat stuff.  I used to be captivated by tales of the continents coming back together before the Second Coming and Nephi chopping off Laban's head and etc.  It’s too bad that a lot of that stuff turned out to be fairy tales.  

However, a lot of the music at church is great.  And I still love singing the hymns at church, except for "Praise to the Man," and "Joseph Smith’s First Prayer."  But the vast majority of the hymns in our hymnbook, I absolutely love.  I really do feel the Spirit during stunning, worshipful musical performances.  These days, I try not to focus so much on doctrine… now I don’t really have a plan, or claim to know much about absolute truth and eternal doctrine… I just go by the Spirit.  :)

There Ought To Be Words

There ought to be words
when the Eternal God causes
another baby to be born.

There ought to be words
when from innocence
these children are torn.

There ought to be words
when a bride is presented
to a groom to be married.

There ought to be words
when dead bodies are
dressed, lowered and buried.

And when the new priest
sits in the old priest’s seat,
and when the next chief
cuts into animal meat,
there ought to be words,
words of the ceremony
words of the Big Soul.

And after the words,
there ought to be silence.

I started writing this poem during a sacrament meeting, about a year ago, after I heard a set of twins get their names and blessings.  It was a very beautiful priesthood ordinance.  Beautiful words were spoken by the father of two tiny boys.  

The blessings made me think of how important it is that we have communal rituals to mark important events in our lives, like birth, puberty, marriage, death, and the transfer of political power.  And at these rituals, there ought to be beautiful words spoken.  

Words have power.  And these ceremonial words should be so powerful and meaningful that it takes a moment of silence after they are spoken to give the words the contemplation they deserve.  

SOS 501: Introduction to the Study of Studies

Samples various studies across the collegiate curriculum,
finding presentation and expression in, um,
a myriad of modalities through the medium of modules
designed with/to/for/through/against telekinetic duels
occurring, ostensibly, through the doings of the Occult,
thus we’ll summon the real professor: a textual lightning bolt.

Examines and mines -hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school we go- glue.
We’ll be sniffing it extensively, on Tuesdays, at dawn. If you
oppose, on moral or mental grounds, the sniffing of glue,
then taking this course is not recommended for you.
Instead you should go be a farmer and grow some yellow corn,
or you could be a tailor. You could mend that which is torn.

Spelunks the gamut of hierarchies, patriarchies, nubs,
tubs, bubs, stubs, subs (war machines and sandwiches), glubs,
reconsidering retirement home politics of exclusion, the forest of illusion,
cocoa collusion during Bingo, mango and pepper-jack fusion,
creating real-world slap-happy applications of radical Eco-feminism
which include the formation of wind-chimes from discarded forks.

Prerequisites: open heart, open mind, open wallet.

OK, this poem isn’t very Church-related, but I'm sharing it here it anyway to make the point that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints isn’t the only organization I’ve felt ripped off by.  Some college classes have also left me feeling like I wasted my time, money and effort.  

I also want to point out that there's a lot of false doctrine, manipulation, and madness outside the Church.  If you leave the Church, you could get end up involved with some organization that's ten times worse than the Church.  Remember the 3 Billy Goats Gruff?  Remember the moral of that story?  It's "the grass is always greener on the other side."  Well, the grass is not always greener outside Mormonism.

Tonight

Tonight, if I were called upon to die
I would not panic, nor tell God to tell me why,  
only sit silent, cross-legged, calm-hearted,  
‘til I met my new countrymen, the dearly departed.  
My soul would rise to Heaven, I hope, and rest eternally.  
You’d all stay bound to Earth, until you flew to me.  

I have no affairs to settle, nothing I need to complete. 
The pantry is full; there’s enough food for my family to eat.

Except, I'll say I love you, and please do not fight 
over the few stupid things I left behind.  Now it is night.

I think we should all live our lives in such a way as to be ready to die.  We should all be at peace with God.  I realize this means different things to different people.  And obviously, being at peace with God is easier said than done.  It’s easier to write a poem about having spiritual peace than it is to actually obtain, and keep in my possession, spiritual peace.

A Reading Recommendation

Upon my old bookshelf are hundreds of books,
Novels of dragons and heroes and crooks,
Books about gardening and trades of all kinds,
Great for refining and teaching young minds.
These volumes of knowledge, worth more than fine gold,
Provide education and should never grow mold;
They should be opened often by parent and child
(Without books we might turn ferocious and wild).

But as much as my heart loves to sit down and read
Books about spaceships or a knight with his steed,
I must tell you, my friends, and tell you it square,
No secular books can ever compare
With one so amazing, so sacred, so good,
That teaches the difference between shouldn’t and should
I speak of the Bible, the Testament Old, the Testament New
I’d love to share some of its teachings with you.
I’ll start with the prophets, all those great men,
Whose stories I’ve read again and again.

It starts with old Adam, the father of all,
Who partook of some fruit and caused a great fall.
It tells about Noah, that brave patriarch,
Who, though people taunted, still built the ark.
It talks about Abraham, so faithful and true,
How always God’s will he endeavored to do.
It tells us how Moses did part the Red Sea
Providing a path for God’s people to flee.
It speaks of Joshua’s battle at Jericho
How all the loud trumpets the people did blow.
It talks about Samson with very long hair
Who conquered a lion with hands that were bare.
It talks about David, a hero, merely a boy-
I think that a sling was his favorite toy.
It talks about Solomon, a king with a staff
Who wisely almost cut a baby in half.
It tells of Elijah and the priests of Baal
How only upon the true God you must call.
It tells us of Daniel in the dark lions’ den
But still he would never be caught in a sin.

The Testament of Old tells a thousand more stories
Of prophets and kingdoms, their lives and their glories.
All of these characters have lessons for you,
But did they have faults? Of course that is true!
David was lustful and Noah got drunk,
Solomon worshipped idols and other such junk.
But thank Father for granting the New Testament,
Where we learn about Jesus and the life he has spent
Teaching and preaching and helping the poor,
Spreading good news to each soul and each door.
Unlike the old prophets, and unlike all men,
The Savior Jesus Christ never did one tiny sin.
I wish now to tell you, I wish to proclaim
All of his glory and honor and fame.
I’ll tell his life story, I’ll start with his birth
I’ll tell of his teachings and travels on earth.

It starts in a stable, during the night,
Where after a long and strenuous plight,
Joseph and Mary and animals too
First saw the Savior of me and of you.
The Christ child grew in spirit and size
Until he became incredibly wise
And when he was grown he was baptized by John
Then went to the desert the very next dawn
To be tempted of Satan, the father of lies
The devil was sneaky- was that a surprise?
But Christ knew his tricks. He knew Satan’s heart
And loudly proclaimed, “Satan, depart!”

Then Jesus went preaching to every man
“Repent for God’s Kingdom is nigh and at hand”
He preached on the mountains, he preached on the street
He taught everyone he happened to meet
His doctrine is holy, His teachings are pure
Christ spoke the truth, of this I am sure
But more than just words he gave freely to you
He gave up his life, and performed miracles, too.

He fed five thousand people with only five loaves of bread,
And two little fishes. “Eat and be filled,” Jesus Christ said.
Once when a storm raged in the Sea of Galilee.
The apostles in the boat wished they could flee,
Then Jesus arose, and commanded, “Peace, be still.”
And the lightening and waves obeyed the Lord’s will!
He healed a sick leper and the dead he has raised
For all this and much more his name shall be praised.

So please read the Bible. I promise it’s great.
It will gladden your heart and improve your fate.
It will teach you about God and his mysterious ways
And grant unto you wisdom through all of your days.

I started this poem on my mission and put it aside for a few years and then finished it.  Youll notice that its more generically Christian, and not very Mormony.  Itonly about the Bible, which is only the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly.  ;)  

I think the more that Mormons do mainstream Christian stuff like use the Bible, quote the Bible, and use the image of the cross, the more mainstream Christian we will actually become.  And that's a good thing.  In my small way, I do mainstream Christian stuff in my local ward.  I like to think that in very small way, I'm helping the Church to move in a good direction.

Think Ill Stick With Christianity

First thing this morning it was cold
so I went back inside
and now it's around ten 
and I'm out again.  It's warming up.
I'm barefoot, and there's really
nothing I have to do right now.

Winter is coming,
but so is another summer.

A bird lands on a branch,
weighing it down,
moves the branch and its leaves 
down and back up, down and back up. 
The dark bird with white eyes
looks forward, looks this way, looks that way,
leaps, spreads his wings, glides off 
into flight, into sunlight.  
Athletic.  Majestic.  
This happens every day.

He must have a reason to arrive
and he must have a reason to depart.  
It's bird business I know nothing about.
I am a witness to the bird's activity,
his beautiful, animal activity, 
but I will never be a judge.

I have sympathy for the heathens who 
worshiped the sun.  They never knew Jesus.
They never felt the salvation that springs from
joining his flock, of being found
by the Good Shepherd,
cast upon his broad, strong shoulders,
finding pasture, finding rest.

And yet I imagine the ancient illiterate ones,
the ones without Bibles, felt spiritual strength
flowing into them, flowing from the sun,
and I imagine they absorbed a feeling of transcendence,
however erroneous and however doctrinally impure,
whenever they opened themselves to the beams
that streamed day by glorious day 
from the orb floating in the sky, 
the orb, that, like the great I AM,
cannot be looked upon directly.

They worshiped the sun, 
the same sun that now upon us shines.
Can you believe that?

It wasn't a bad idea.
The sun is always there, 
though hidden at times by the earth 
and hidden at times by the clouds,
but it's always there,
whether you give it cursings 
or whether you give it praise.
It feels better to give it praise.

But the heathens got carried away.
If they had settled with the soft-spoken decency
and the cyclical, sacred nature of life 
that seems to come from the sun,
if they had quietly felt the serenity
that emanates from a sunlit afternoon,
maybe things would have worked out,
maybe they would have been happier.

Instead they whipped each other until
they finally finished the Pyramids
and they started stabbing people in the heart
and the blood flowed down grooves 
carved into an altar, collected in clay pots
and the pagans took turns drinking it, 
chanting some mumbo-jumbo
about a blood-thirsty sun
that would cause the rain to fall once again
all because they killed another guy
ate his flesh and drank his blood. 

Like my poem To A Six-Armed Hindu Idol…” this poems explores parallels between Christianity and heathen religions.  I like the comparisons between the sun in the sky and the Son of God.  

I wrote this poem shortly after my faith crisis, when I decided to give my heart to Jesus.  I didnt have a powerful born-again experience or anything like that, I just read the New Testament, and looked at the world, and looked at the way Christians lived, and, in a gradual way, I decided that I believed in Jesus.  I decided to stick with Christianity.  

I dont think Ill ever have the same burning testimony or head-strong conviction of Christ that I had of Joseph Smith and all things Mormon back when I was a true-believeing Mormon, blissfully unaware of the difficult historical issues.  But now I have a more thoughtful, informed faith.  Now instead of saying, I know with every fiber of my being that the Book of Mormon was written in Reformed Egyptian, I say things like, I believe that Christ is my Savior.

Well, thanks for indulging me.  I hope you enjoyed reading my poems. 

I hope you stay LDS, and I hope you write a few poems of your own!