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.

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# 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.

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.


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.