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.

If what I've written on this blog has helped you, or entertained you, or if you're just feeling generous, please consider making a donation through the PayPal link below.  Any amount is greatly appreciated.  Thank you.


# 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.

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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.


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? 


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!  

If what I've written on this blog has helped you, or entertained you, or if you're just feeling generous, please consider making a donation through the PayPal link below.  Any amount is greatly appreciated.  Thank you.


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.

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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.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

# 50: Rebecca Maesato!

Say what you want about polygamy and seer-stones and multiple accounts of the First Vision, but the Church produces some downright decent people.  One of these people is featured today as reason # 50 to stay LDS.  Her name is Rebecca Maesato.  Don't ask me how to pronounce her last name.

Actually, if you want to pronounce her last name correctly, listen to this podcast.  The proper pronunciation is probably in that podcast somewhere.

Really, listen to this podcast.  Do it!  Please!  I mean, if you're reading this blog, by now you've probably listened to a couple of Mormon Stories and Mormon Expression and Infants on Thrones podcasts, and you've probably read a lot of angry ex-Mormon forums and articles on Mormon Think.  Can't you take the time to listen to an episode of A Thoughtful Faith?

If you don't want to listen to the podcast, I'll just blab about it here in this blog post.  And if you don't want to listen to the podcast... well... I'll blab anyway... because... that's what I do...

Sister Maesato has spent a lot of time in Haiti doing humanitarian work.  She has helped establish orphanages and care for some of the poorest, most vulnerable people on earth.   She's truly Christ-like.

She sounds just wonderful.

In the podcast, Sister Maesato describes some of the faith and stories of Christians from other denominations, and it's clear to Sister Maesato that God is working through other denominations.  She says that some of the prayers she heard from "non-members" in Haiti were some of the most heartfelt and sincere prayers she had ever heard.  She also describes a non-denominational church service that she went to, shortly after the major earthquake in 2010.  In that church service, a lot people sang church hymns and played and sang uplifting gospel music.  Sister Maesato says that that church meeting, in the open air, was one of the most spiritual experiences she ever had.

Sister Maesato did not go to Haiti to convert people to Mormonism.  And she didn't go as an official missionary from the LDS Church.  She basically went to Haiti on her own and eventually formed her own non-profit organization.  When she's in Haiti, she does not proselyte, but she does occasionally share values, and generic faith in God.  Most of all, she shares Christ-like love, through deed more than through word.

Also, she actually ended up adopting a lot of Haitian orphans.  She said she saw so many miracles in her years-long process.

At one point in the podcast, Kathy, the sister of Rebecca, describes a time when Christians gave her the Christian equivalent of a priesthood blessing.  A bunch of men and women put their hands on their heads and shoulders and prayed, and the Spirit was there.  Rebecca says that she felt that that prayer was just as valid as any prayer that she had ever said.  She said, "You don't need the priesthood to call down the powers of Heaven and to bless people."

If you're going through a faith crisis, I have some advice for you.  Follow the admonition of Christ and serve your brothers and sisters.  Help them.  Care for them.  Relieve their pain.  Love them.  I'm not saying you necessarily need to care for your LDS brothers and sisters.  Maybe you can't stand most TBM's now anyway.  But why don't you try caring for your spiritual brothers and sisters, a.k.a every person on the planet?  I think you'll find yourself growing closer to God by serving others than by reading anything on FAIR and Mormon Think.

(By the way, I should be taking my own advice.  Instead of caring for orphans, I usually waste time online.  But I suppose I serve and care for my own two little children, and I really enjoy doing that, and I do feel that I grow closer to God as I try to become a better father.)

Look, everyone has to deal with the sometimes ugly and sometimes beautiful history of Mormonism in his or her own way.  I'm not sure staying LDS is best for everyone.  In fact, in the case of the Wilder family, it seems to me that they were better off leaving.  But for me, and a lot of other people, I think staying LDS is, in fact, the best path.

So if you leave, I respect your choice to leave.  But I hope you'll listen to Rebecca Maesato on A Thoughtful Faith podcast.  If you do, I think you'll be less angry at the LDS Church, and you'll recognize that there are some wonderful, wonderful people in the Church.

Well, thanks for reading this.  Sorry if my writing is... um... not so good sometimes... anyway... I hope that the importance of my subject matter compensates for my lack of style.

Take care, whoever you are.

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# 49: The Refried Beans Are Yummy

If you stay LDS, you can buy some great refried beans for a low price from an LDS cannery.  The ingredient list is short.  It only contains two items: beans and salt.  The beans are processed so they can be stored for a long time- five years, in fact, which is much longer than the shelf life of an ordinary can of refried beans.

The most important thing about the beans is that they're delicious.

They're dehydrated, so you basically just add water.  All you do is put some water in a pot, and bring it to a boil.  Dump in some big scoops of the beans.  You can follow the ratio printed on the label, or you can just do whatever.  If you like your beans runnier, add more water.  If you like them thicker, add more beans.

Turn the stovetop off, put a lid on the pot, and let the beans just sit there for a few minutes.  I think the recommended sitting time is 10 minutes, but it can be more like 5 minutes if you're in a hurry.  Stir the beans occasionally, if you feel like it.  This isn't rocket science.  In fact, it's hard to mess these beans up.

Once the beans are done, put them on a tortilla.  Add some shredded cheese, jalapeƱos, tomatoes, and maybe some avocado and a dollop of sour cream, and Wham!  You've got yourself a delicious burrito!

Oh, and the beans will be so hot you don't even have to put the rest of the stuff in the microwave.  The heat of the beans will actually melt the shredded cheese.  Yeah, you gotta be careful, actually, because the beans can be so hot they can burn your mouth.  It's a good idea to let them cool down a little before you eat them.  One time I dropped some hot beans on my wrist and Ouch! That hurt!

Another important thing about the beans is that they're addictive.  My non-member in-laws are hooked.  They always have a # 10 can of the beans squirreled away, and they affectionately refer to them as "Mormon Beans."

I've tried a lot of refried beans in my life, and I can't find another brand that beats "Mormon Beans" when it comes to taste, quality and price.  What are you waiting for?  Go buy a case of refried beans at the LDS cannery nearest you!

Actually, the truth is, you can buy the beans whether or not you're a member.  So, if you resign because you don't believe in the church anymore, you can still come back for the beans.

Perhaps Reason # 49 is a lousy reason to stay LDS.  Oh well.

I'm hungry.  Maybe I'll go fix myself a burrito.

Wait!  I just thought of something else!  If we all leave the Church, who's gonna make those beans?!  Somebody's gotta keep making them!  They're so good!  And who's gonna sell the beans to all the ex-Mormons and all the other hungry bean-eaters?

Hmmm... maybe Reason # 49 is a pretty good reason to stay after all!

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

# 48: Staying LDS Encourages You to Seek Your Brother

William Blake wrote a short poem that I recently found in a book I bought at a thrift store for my daughter called, "Poems and Prayers for Children."  Here it is in its entirety:

I sought my soul, 
but my soul I could not see.  
I sought my God, 
but my God eluded me.  
I sought my brother 
and I found all three.

Here is my prose paraphrase of the poem:

I tried to figure out what this "soul" thing is that religious people keep talking about, but my senses couldn't detect anything like a soul.  My scientific methods were inherently inadequate for the tasks of locating, pinning down, and studying my soul.

I prayed to God, I went to church, I read scriptures, but still, God and His mysterious ways seemed so far away from me.  After all my religious study, I felt I knew nearly nothing about God.

Then I shifted my attention to other people.  I helped my brothers, and my neighbors, and somehow, in the very act of serving others, the concepts of soul, God, and others made more sense to me.  I spiritually understood what the soul is and I felt that I had encountered God.  I learned, on a deep, spiritual level, that my soul, and my God, and my neighbor, are inseparably combined.

I love this poem.  It rings so true to me.

Grant Palmer points out in various interviews that in the four gospels, Christ never really taught theology.  He never sat his disciples down and said, "OK, now I'm going to explain to you the role of rituals in the process of achieving salvation." And Christ never really clearly explained priesthood keys or the nature of the Godhead or the Trinity in detail.  Instead, Christ focused mostly on how we should live.  He went around healing people.  He dealt with each individual on a case-by-case basis.  He didn't have a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all approach to evangelization or pastoral care.  In each one of his interactions with the individuals of Jerusalem and surrounding areas, he demonstrated his transcendent love through service.  Christ recognized that people don't need doctrine nearly as much as they need love.

And so, through example, Christ taught us the same truth that William Blake teaches us in his poem.  And King Benjamin was also teaching the same concept as both Christ and Blake when he said in Mosiah 2:17, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God."  Instead of focusing on theology or doctrine, focus on your brother.  Focus on your neighbor.

What does your neighbor need?  Does he need food, shelter, a shoulder to cry on, good company, or encouragement?  Well then, do the Christian thing and give that to him.

Does your neighbor need a fiery sermon and a call to repentance?  He might.

Does your neighbor need a Sunday School lesson about why baptism by immersion has to be done by one who has the proper priesthood keys and is authorized by the bishop to perform the ordinance?  Probably not.

Most of all, your neighbor needs love.

Being a Mormon encourages you to seek after your brother.  All the programs of the church are designed to help us take care of our brothers and neighbors.

If you serve in the nursery, you should care for those little ones for the few hours a week that you have them, and treat them the way Christ would treat them.  Those little kids are your spirit brothers and sisters.  They're children of God, and they have souls.

If you are an Elder's Quorum President, treat the elders in your quorum as Christ would treat them.  Don't guilt-trip them into home teaching or make them memorize the thirteen articles of faith.  Instead, just model good home teaching yourself, occasionally give them gentle reminders, and do what you can to show them that you care about their well-being and the well-being of their families.

If you stay LDS and seek your brother as Christ does, I testify to you that you will find your soul, and God, and your brother.

I'll end this post with the words to the third verse of "Lord, I Would Follow Thee":

I would be my brother's keeper.  
I would learn the healer's art.  
To the wounded and the weary, 
I would show a gentle heart.  
I would be my brother's keeper.  
Lord, I would follow thee.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

# 47: Doubters are Multiplying and Replenishing

Every day, another Mormon stumbles onto Mormon Think, and has his or her testimony dashed to pieces.  Every single day.

The Internet is not going away, and the issues that cause people to lose their testimonies are not going away.  In fact, the presence of the Internet is growing.  And the research that calls into question the claims of the LDS Church is growing, and is being distributed more and more, every day.  The doubters are multiplying and replenishing.

What do Mormons do when they lose their testimonies?  Some leave.  Some stay.  There's no easy way to deal with the information critical of Mormonism so prevalent on the Internet.  Leaving is hard, and staying is hard.  Life is hard.

Those who stay, despite not believing all or some of Church doctrine, are sometimes referred to as cultural Mormons, or New Order Mormons, or cafeteria Mormons, or doubters.  I like to say that I'm behaviorally orthodox but theologically unorthodox.  Well... I like to say that in cyberspace.  In real life, I'll probably give you the impression that I'm a happy Mormon sheep in the happy Mormon flock.  And in some ways, I am.

I'm one of those who intend to stay, for the rest of my life.  And I'm not muddling along in quiet agony.  I'm not staying only until my family or work situation changes so that leaving is easier.  I'm in this thing for the long haul.  I find living the Mormon religion to be spiritual and meaningful, and there are many times when I feel that God wants me to stay.  To borrow from a favorite hymn, "Stay Mor-mon, Stay Mor-mon, Oh, there's One who smiles on high, when we stay Mor-mon."

I feel God nudging me to stay.  I've prayed a lot, not as much as I should lately, but, seriously, I've done deep and long soul-searching and studying and praying and thinking about staying LDS.  (Religion is the most important subject in the world, and it deserves strict attention and serious study, and solemn hours of pondering.)  And after all that searching, the conclusion that I've come to is that I should stay LDS.

And there are others like me.  There are other people who don't believe everything they hear at church, who don't believe that the Book of Mormon is a literal book of history, but who keep going to church anyway, because they want to share the religion with their families, because they want to be a part of the beautiful Mormon community, and because of so many other reasons, some of which are enumerated on this blog.

I've met some of these people in real life, and I've chatted with quite a few of them on New Order Mormon and  Again, I emphasize, there are more and more New Order Mormons being created every day.  

Why is this a reason to stay LDS?  Well, the more New Order Mormons there are in the Church, the more acceptable they eventually will be.  And even if New Order Mormons aren't officially welcomed by the LDS Church, their increasing population will probably mean that there will be more positive changes in the church.  These changes will make church more accommodating to New Order Mormons.  What changes might there be?  Well...

Maybe we won't sing "Praise to the Man," anymore.  Maybe there won't be so much pressure on young men to serve missions.  Maybe the Sunday School lessons won't be quite as whitewashed and dumbed-down.  Maybe there will be more financial transparency in the church, and maybe they'll open up the vaults in Salt Lake City and let historians do their thing.  Maybe tithing settlements will be discontinued.

I hope these changes are on the horizon.  But even if these changes never come about, that's okay with me.  Generally speaking, I'm happy with the Church the way it is.  And instead of advocating for institutional change, like Kate Kelly, I think my time is more wisely spent doing different things.  I'm trying to be the change I want to see in the church.  I'm trying to do my best to bring out the best parts of Mormonism on a small, local level, as I participate in my ward and as I raise my children.

If you're going through a faith crisis, you may feel alone.  And yes, there are few of us New Order Mormons, but again, our numbers are growing.  I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that there are more and more doubters every day.   Eventually, the Church will have to do something to make members like us feel more welcomed.

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