Tuesday, March 3, 2015

# 62: The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

It might be a good time to review the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

Once upon a time there were three billy goats, Daddy Billy Goat, Mommy Billy Goat, and Baby Billy Goat, and they lived on a field of grass, and every day they would eat the grass.  Munch munch munch, munch munch munch munch.  One day, Baby Billy Goat was eating the grass, and he looked across the river, and he saw more grass over there.  And it looked greener than the grass that he was eating, and it looked delicious, and he wanted to taste it.  

So Baby Billy Goat went up to his Daddy Billy Goat, and he said, “Daddy Billy Goat, how come we never cross the river and eat some of that grass over there?  It looks so green.”

And Daddy Billy Goat said, “Son, I was born on this field of grass, and my father was born on this field of grass, and my father’s father was born on this field of grass.  So we’re staying here.”

So the Baby Billy Goat said “okay” and went back to eating the same old grass.  Munch munch munch, munch munch munch munch.

The next day, Baby Billy Goat was walking around, eating some grass, and he looked across the river again, and the grass looked so much greener over there, and he really wanted to taste it, so he started walking along the river, until he found a bridge.  And then he started crossing the bridge, walk walk walk, walk walk walk walk.  

POP!  It was the troll!   Meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh!

“Ah!” The Baby Billy Goat screamed, turned around and ran away.  Then he went to his Mommy Billy Goat, and he said, “Mommy, do you think you could try crossing the bridge and getting some of that grass and bringing it back here so I can taste it?”

And Mommy Billy Goat said, “Um, I don’t think I really wanna do that because I have this friend named Debbie, and she’s a Billy Goat, too, and Debbie has a husband named Jerry, and one time they were going for a walk, and they found that bridge, and they were just curious, so Jerry started walking across the bridge, and then a scary troll popped out of the river and just did this ‘meh meh meh meh meh meh’ thing and they were so so so scared.  So Debbie and Jerry told me that I should never try to cross the bridge, so that’s why I think I don’t wanna try to cross the bridge even though the grass over there does look kind of tasty.  I mean, it really does look greener, doesn’t it?  Like, really really green.  You know what, Baby Billy Goat?  Sometimes when I’m alone, I think, what if I never really do what I want to do with my life?  What if I never really achieve my dreams?  What if I end up as an Old, Old Mommy Billy Goat and for my whole life I’ve just walked around the same old patch of grass, nibbling and nibbling and nibbling until I go crazy?  Question: When is Mommy Billy Goat ever gonna reach for her dreams?  Answer: right now!  OK! OK!  I’m gonna do it!  You’ll see!  You’ll all see!  I’m gonna cross that bridge!”

So Mommy Billy Goat started crossing the bridge, walk walk walk, walk walk walk walk.   

POP!  It was the troll!   Meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh!

“Ah!” the Mommy Billy Goat screamed, turned around, and ran away.

Then Baby Billy Goat went up to Daddy Billy Goat and he said, “Daddy Billy Goat, can you please try crossing that bridge?  You’re so big and strong, maybe you won’t be scared of the troll.”

And Daddy Billy Goat said, “Son, I was born on this field of grass, and my father was born on this field of grass, and my father’s father was born on this field of grass.  But what the heck, I’ll give it a shot.”

So Daddy Billy Goat started crossing the bridge, walk walk walk, walk walk walk walk.

POP!  It was the troll!   Meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh, meh!

But Daddy Billy Goat wasn’t scared, he just put down his head, stuck out his horns and ran straight into the troll.  And he smashed right into him!  Bam!  And he knocked the troll off of the bridge and the troll fell into the river.  And the troll was hurt so bad that he couldn’t swim anymore so he drowned. 

Then Daddy Billy Goat said, “Come on, Mommy, come on Baby, let’s start crossing this bridge.”  And then they all crossed the bridge and got to the other side of the river.  And Daddy Billy Goat said, “Come on Mommy, come on Baby, let’s start eating this grass."  So they all started eating the grass.

And then, something really funny happened.  Baby Billy Goat was eating the grass, and it tasted okay.  But it wasn’t delicious.  It just tasted like normal grass.  And then he looked back across the river, and the grass over there looked greener!

And the moral of the story is: the grass is always greener on the other side.

As bad as life as an active Mormon seems sometimes, life away from the Church is just as bad, if not worse.  

Have a nice day.

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# 61: MisterFake373

Some of you just coming across troubling LDS history might be surprised to find that some of your fellow Mormons, though totally active and committed, don’t have traditional testimonies.  I know that for myself, back when I was a True Believing Mormon, the notion that an active Mormon didn’t believe in, say, the First Vision, struck me as  blasphemous.  

(Although, I do remember a guy in my ward growing up who was a little odd.  He didn’t have a social security number because he thought it was the Mark of the Beast.  He wouldn’t let any of his kids get Social Security numbers, and I don’t think he even had a bank account.  He only dealt in cash.  But even still, this same guy taught Sunday School, and he was careful to point out the chiastic passages that supposedly proved the Book of Mormon true.  So, even though he had some funny interpretations of scripture, he still very much believed in the traditional narrative of the founding of the Mormon Church- you know, Christ set up the true Church, it fell into Apostasy, then God restored the true Church through Joseph Smith and a series of extraordinary events, including the First Vision, Priesthood Restoration, and etc.)  

Well, whether you like it or not, some of the members in your ward, or your stake, don’t have traditional testimonies.  For today’s blog post, reason # 61 to stay LDS, I’m highlighting MisterFake 373, not to be confused with me, MisterFake371, or with MisterFake372.

I’ve never met MisterFake373 in real life, but I’ve chatted with him a bit on the online forum for weirdo Mormons, New Order Mormon.  He agreed to answer a few of my questions and have them posted here.  He’s a nice guy.

My intent with doing this interview is to show you that there are really nice people in our Church who don't have traditional testimonies, but who still want to stay involved with the Church and live the LDS lifestyle.  To any True-Believing Mormons (TBM's) reading this, my questions for you are: would you want to kick this guy out of the Church?  Is MisterFake373 better off in full fellowship with the Church, or should he be shunned until he regains his testimony?

Without further ado, here’s the interview.  

Where are you from? 

The Northeast U.S.

How old are you?

I’m in my 50’s.

What do you do for a living?

I’m a teacher.

Were you raised in the Church?

No.  I converted in my early 20’s.

Can you share your conversion story with us?  

I essentially converted due to the influence of a friend who I admired very much. He had actually moved away prior to my conversion, and did not know I had joined the church for a number of months. He was not exactly what you might call a true believer, and although he was raised in the church he did not serve a mission. That said, I was pretty much a "golden" covert, and in my own research I had read A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. The first missionary lesson was about the First Vision, and I still believe Joseph Smith had this experience (although I also believe it has been spun by the modern church).

Looking back, are you glad you converted? 

I sometimes wish I had never converted, quite frankly.

What was your upbringing like?

My family was not religious, but my parents taught me and my siblings good moral values.  Because I was a non-member, I did not go to seminary or Boy Scouts.

Did you serve a mission? 

Yes, I did serve a mission. It was generally a good experience but I always had trouble with the "business" aspects of it and I felt the rules were overboard (and that was then!)

How did your testimony grow and change over the years?

I can't say my testimony grew significantly during my TBM (True-Believing Mormon) years, although I did have what I thought were spiritual experiences and I do believe I was becoming closer to God.  I did believe in Jesus Christ.

When and how did you lose your testimony?

I lost my testimony about ten years ago due to a serious event in my life that I am unwilling to share with strangers. It is enough to say that the event shook me to the core.  

When answers to prayers did not come, I began to question why this happened to me/us and why God was not responding in the way I had been taught He would/should. My loss of testimony was more of a process than a singular event.  I think parts of my testimony dropped away over a period of several months.  At one point I was agnostic, if not completely atheistic.

Losing my testimony was devastating to me and my family. Words cannot describe the pain. The worst part of the whole ordeal was my perception that I was alone in my feelings and others could not or did not understand.  There was nowhere to turn for comfort.

How did you regain your testimony of Christ?

I can't say I regained a testimony of Christ. Not that I don't have one. I do. But now it's different. I did regain a testimony of God. Let me use an analogy. Losing my testimony was like a building being demolished, or rather, disassembled.  I used parts of the old destroyed building (faith/testimony) to build the new one.  But I also used new parts and discarded old parts. Once I had a different view of God (as in Heavenly Father) my view of Christ was also able to be reestablished. My current testimony and beliefs regarding Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are not TBM views.  But I don't really know what others are actually thinking or feeling when they say "I know God lives" either.

Why did you go back to Church?

Frankly I went back to church as a direct result of President Uchtdorf's "Come, Join With Us" talk. Perhaps it was a tender mercy that I happened to hear it, but it was a life-changer. I realized that I was not the only Mormon without a traditional testimony. But more importantly, I realized that I could go to church, even with my doubts and questions.

How were you received when you went back to Church?

I had trepidation in returning to church. I did work with my priesthood leaders before my return and they probably helped pave the way a bit. I was well received. Pres. Uchtdorf is right.

When you’re at Church, do you feel like an outsider?

No.  I don't feel like an outsider.  Although, I do sometimes feel like an observer of those who believe differently. I think my relationships with the people I knew are the same as they were before I lost my testimony. The people I liked and associated with I still like and I still associate with.  I'm not especially fond of some other people, so I keep my interactions with them to a minimum, just like before.

Do you plan on staying LDS for the rest of your life?

I don't know what the future holds. I will probably stay LDS, but activity level is uncertain.

What spiritual things do you do now?  Do you attend church regularly, pray, read scriptures, have family home evenings, etc.?  

"Spiritually" (I'm not sure that's the right term, but I'll go with it), I do attend church regularly. However, I frequently skip Sunday School and often I am looking at something else during priesthood. Depending on the topic and speakers, I'm sometimes looking at something else during Sacrament Meeting as well. These something else's are often church related, but not always.  I do sometimes just surf the net. I pray sometimes, not regularly and not in the way most LDS prayers are said (I never ask for anything). I read scripture weekly, but not necessarily daily and I mostly read from the Bible, especially the New Testament. I sometimes read the Book of Mormon, rarely the Pearl of Great Price and never the Book of Abraham. My children are grown; we do not have Family Home Evening.

Why do you do these spiritual things?

I attend church mostly for social reasons, although I won't deny that I do sometimes feel uplifted by messages I hear there. Likewise with scripture - when I read scripture I am usually looking at something that puzzles me (like prayer) and I am sometimes uplifted by what I read. I believe loving our neighbors to be a universal truth, and I appreciate that Jesus emphasized this principle. I do sometimes feel what I believe to be the Spirit, but it is not necessarily (or even very often) related to being in church, reading scripture, or prayer.

Do you have a temple recommend?  If so, do you have any reservations answering yes to all the questions?

I do have a temple recommend, but I have not actually been to the temple in several years.  I believe the temple to be mostly symbolic. I did at one time have some reservations about some of the questions, but now I no longer do.  I think they're vague on purpose. I have also been known to point out to people that there is no question asking if I believe in the Book of Mormon, if I pray or study scripture every day, if I believe Joseph Smith or President Monson is a Prophet with a capitol P, or if I believe in polygamy, among many other things. In other words, I think people read way too much into the questions.

What advice do you have for those who have lost their traditional testimonies?

I like the StayLDS advice that I see there frequently - take it slow, focus on what you do believe, and don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Something else I learned there is that the gospel and the church are not the same, and I have found value in separating actual Bible-referenced doctrine as opposed to church policies and traditions.

Can you share your current testimony with us?

My current testimony is very simple: I believe Jesus is the Christ, and I believe the most important thing we do in this life is love and care for our neighbors. Anything else is nothing more than an appendage to these essentials.

Is there anything else you would like to say to the good readers of Reasons to Stay LDS?

Well, you didn't ask me specifically about callings or church service.  I don't mind admitting that I'm a high councilor and that my stake president is aware of all that I have told you here.  The rest of the high council is only partly aware of my doctrinal and historical issues with the Church.  (They do all know that I was inactive).  My assignments aren't any different from the assignments that the other high councilors have.  I'm assigned to advise a ward, I oversee an auxiliary, I'm in the regular speaking rotation, and so on.  The talks I give are centered on the Savior and core gospel principles.  Fortunately, all of our assigned topics are aligned with those ideas because our stake presidency believes in sticking to the basics.  My wife is TBM.  I have a son on a mission right now, and another son preparing his papers.  I have a daughter who graduated from BYU and also questions, but not to the extent that I do.

Wow, that's really neat that you're on a high council.  Just that fact alone shows that people with doubts aren't shunned in the Church.  Those with non-traditional testimonies just have to learn how to navigate the Church a little differently, like you're doing so successfully.  Also, it sounds like you have the perfect Stake President for Mormons like us.  Either that, or he's desperate to fill callings.  LOL.  In any case, thanks, MisterFake373, for taking the time to answer all these questions.  And thanks for sharing your story with strangers on the Internet.

You're welcome.

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