LOT’S WIFE – AND ME

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FROM SWEETNESS TO SALT

It is taught that Lot’s wife was turned to salt, and in a sense, I was too. When I “looked back” at the history of the LDS Church, the chemistry of my belief was altered. What had been sweet and trusting in me became salt, and then I cried even that away. Depleted, I wondered how I could sustain a connection with God, other people, or even with myself in this new context.

I might’ve turned to singing hymns of worship which in past years brought a peaceful, quiet awareness of the infinite; except that now, the lyrics of those hymns seem to carry a delicious sort of brainwashing. It is hard to hear the words and impossible to sing them with integrity; and so I struggle, often declining to sing at all. The deliberate abstinence from a former source of joy has been painful.

MY LYRICS, YOUR MUSIC

But today, when a 3-verse hymn began, I closed my eyes and thought of those who have lived in past ages, whose very real sacrifices touch me even now. Because they fought ignorance and injustice in their own place and time, mankind has been lifted to higher levels of knowledge and freedom, making my world a better place. Copernicus died for teaching that our solar system is heliocentric; but later, his grandchild’s generation listened and learned. Somewhere, perhaps an early tradesman refused slavery, and so starved – leaving a legacy of integrity which strengthened others to embrace his compassionate stance.

I do not know the names of these builders of the past, just as I cannot know the names of everyone who continues their work today. But as I sat in Sacrament Meeting to be with my husband, feeling my kinship with Lots wife, I began to sing for these people. I sang for them all. I hope that somehow, across either ages or miles, my hymn of gratitude for their sacrifices reached and warmed them.

FROM SALTY TO SWEET

Maybe this seems strange to you, but as I left Sacrament Meeting, I felt calm. I began to trust that, having left religion behind, I can know spiritual sweetness once again. On this day, I listened intently to my feelings of gratitude and ignored the expectations of others entirely. Perhaps I am on my way to becoming more connected with the family of man; with my changed self; and with even God – who I no longer care to define, but toward whom I will always reach.

***

TWO DAYS LATER

After walking home last Sunday, I put my lyrics back together again as best I could, polishing them as I went. The thoughts expressed remain absolutely true to my feelings as originally expressed. I now offer them to you – certainly not as a poet! – but as stumbling me, whose purpose is love, as I discover and then embrace that which is meaningful and real.

By spear or sword, my brothers died
Because they took a stand
Wherever human power thought
To force the free heart’s hand.

Within the fire, my sisters died
And I, through tears, do plead
My chance to thank them was not lost
For all eternity.

I honor those who sacrificed
Long centuries ago
Upon whose blood and bones we build
The world we hope to know.

CHANGE OF HEART: A Mormon Story

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Today I attended Sacrament Meeting with David and our two granddaughters, one of whom had been away for awhile.  Sitting side-by-side on a middle row after a sweet and somewhat rowdy morning, I enjoyed our shared stillness.  I felt peace.

This time, I sang the hymns and though I do not agree with many of the words, the melodies – so familiar, like old friends – warmed me.  I recognized sincerity in each ward member who stood to express staunchly LDS views, and managed not to wince when several children shared testimonies-by-rote.  I took the bread and water without feeling that I must perform mental gymnastics to wrap that ordinance around my new reality.

I was comfortable and refreshed.  I chose to be “in the moment” rather than in my head.

***

Beginning five years ago this month, my personal faith crisis could no longer be ignored or placed on the symbolic “shelf”.  I took a long, hard look at things I really hoped NOT to see.  I made myself accountable for accepting whatever I found to be true.  I also began listening to Mormon Stories, a website dedicated to providing support for Mormons experiencing a crisis of faith.

MormonStories.org was founded in 2005 by John Dehlin.  In addition to his leadership role, John conducts and publishes interviews with members and former members of the LDS Church who hold distinctive views on all things Mormon.  Most are passing through, or are past, their own faith crisis.  Many express themselves quite strongly.  Mormon Stories’ stated mission is (in part) to “acknowledge and honor different spiritual paths and modes of religious or non-religious truth-seeking [and to] respect the convictions of those who subscribe to ideas and beliefs that differ from our own.”

John has long struggled with the ways in which the LDS Church can negatively impact the lives of its members.  Like me, he rejects most of its foundational truth claims.  As a lifelong member of the church, his beliefs took hit after hit for 20 years until finally, in early 2012, John felt that he must leave the church.  Listeners, knowing of his struggle, were surprised when he suddenly did an about-face to embrace his membership and the good that can be found within the religion of his forefathers.

This past week, I listened to a podcast in which John was interviewed regarding his change of heart.  I stood up for him online when some non-believing contributors reacted to the podcast by withdrawing financial support of Mormon Stories.  Did these individuals ever accept or buy in to the mission of the organization?  Had they consciously planned to support John only so long as his position matched their own?  As I see it, a limited and judgmental perspective is revealed when a person decides what they believe and then stands in that exact same spot, unblinking, for the rest of his or her life.  Is this not exactly what is expected of LDS members who DO believe?  I find the contributors’ behavior this week to be ever so ironic.

John Dehlin has found a way to stay LDS for now, and perhaps for always.  I find him to be a courageous man, and wish him the best.  In fact, I wish I could be like him, for I have long sought a way to make the church work for me.  I miss it.  I miss feeling certain that I have access to “all the answers”.  I have discovered nothing which replaces what was lost for me when certainty flew away.

***

Nevertheless, John’s path has now diverged from mine.  I believe that religion is archaic, based upon stories told by ancient peoples to comfort themselves in the face of an existence, and natural phenomena, which they could not otherwise explain.  In our time, religion paints lines of enclosure around believers and then subtly whispers that their “knowledge” makes them blessed beyond all others (read: “superior”).  Anything meritorius is diminished by this, my studied observation: RELIGION DIVIDES.  While warning that we must guard against Satan, who is as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, religion ITSELF is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It smiles with teeth sharpened upon the whetstone of power.  Religion rips into and can tear individuals and families to pieces; just as, throughout history, it has torn and ruined nations.  Most people know that religion threatens the stability of the entire world, but see THEIR religion – the true religion – as an exception.

For example, a key doctrine of Christianity is that peace – for everyone on the planet – will only come with acceptance of Christ and his return to earth.  In my view, this idea is (at best) lazy.  At worst, such doctrines have given birth to missionary efforts so intent on forced compliance that they end in horrors beyond our comprehension.

The God I trust will not provide a magic wand and send any one person, divine or otherwise, to heal a warring world.  My God requires that we become Christ-LIKE and do the work ourselves.  As mere mortals, our only hope is to erase the lines which religious dogma has drawn and stand face-to-face with the rest of mankind, determined to discover our “sameness” first so that all which is “different” takes a back seat to our love.  Then will peace and synergy, for the first time in human history, become possible.

***

Today in church I felt a calmness that often eludes me.  Listening to friends and neighbors speak, I was baptized in tenderness.  For awhile, my heart stood open to theirs while our differences slept.  Why is it, I wondered, that I typically exit the building so quickly once Sacrament Meeting is over, avoiding connection with these same good people?  Is it I who stand, unblinking, within an enclosure drawn by my own hand, content in a somehow undetected sense of superiority?  Do I disallow what could be most precious and priceless between us?

Most importantly: could my mindset serve as a building block for war?

Old ways of being die hard.  I vow to step outside the box I have drawn with this paintbrush formed of judgment.  I will meet others where they stand and, eye-to-eye, seek first to honor the sacred sameness within.  Perhaps they will be inspired to do the same.  Perhaps not.  Either way, I choose to live Gandhi’s words and BE the change I wish to see in the world.

There will still be Sundays when I won’t be able to sing hymns without hesitation.  But today I did.  And today… was good.

A Door, Once Opened…

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Five years ago, a door opened for me. It had been ajar for years, and when I finally walked through I found a place where I could openly acknowledge and explore my concerns about the LDS Church.

Claiming the freedom to think for myself is exhilarating. I seek to find clarity with compassion for those on either side of the door. In this blog, I honor my own voice as I come to terms with a new way of seeing myself, my life, and the world around me.

The story of my journey will come in whatever chronological sequence my heart follows. If what I write is meaningful to you, then I will be glad.

POSTMORMON PRAYER

So many Mormons find themselves godless after leaving the LDS Church.  I observe this phenomenon with interest, and with understanding.

Is There No One Home?

One friend, a former Mormon, said to me, “If there is a God, I do not believe he cares about us, for he never answered my prayers.”  He and I shared that experience when it came to asking whether the LDS Church was true.  We were promised that this knowledge would come through the Spirit and because of our exercise of faith through sincere prayer, daily scripture study, fasting, faithful service within the church, paying a 10% tithe, and obedience to other spiritual laws… etcetera.  Others all around me celebrated having received this answer, but when I sought, it did not come.  Clearly, I deduced, my performance was somehow flawed.

I counseled with church leaders, and worked harder.  For decades.  I’d give up for awhile and just coast, until I couldn’t stand the guilt and the not knowing, and I’d start again.  I held this prayer, this desire to be sure, in my heart at all times.   Eventually, I sought a thought-path that would take me “around” this non-event while allowing retention of my religious beliefs and faith in the power of prayer.

First, I reasoned that I must be so inherently wicked as to simply not qualify to know if the church was true.  And then… perhaps I was spiritually handicapped, one of those lesser souls who should just “believe on the words of those who do know, so that by continuing in faith I, too, could be saved” (my translation of D&C 46:14).  Wow!  A way out!!  I didn’t have to hold Moroni (or Joseph Smith) to the promise that “…when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”  (Moroni 10:4)

Ultimately, neither of these self-deprecating thoughts worked for me.  Was I really so “unworthy,” even when sincere and obedient?  And how was I to know that others knew what I did not — know?

“No,” “Not Now,” and “Never”

When the only answer a person will accept is a resounding “yes,” that person will certainly be deaf to any other response.  I finally gave up, and said “ENOUGH!”  Listening to my heart, I came (painfully) to accept what seems, in retrospect, to have been the reality all along: that the church was not true, and no amount of stubborn and insistent prayer on my part could make it so.

My friend’s experience with prayer was similar.  He did not receive a positive answer regarding the church’s truthfulness the first few dozen times he asked, but still determined to do everything possible to obtain the answer promised.  He acted as if he knew, following counsel from the highest of church leadership.  He walked the walk, and talked the talk. He diligently prepared for, and honorably served, an LDS mission. Still, the heavens seemed silent on the one question that he believed would allow him to proceed into the rest of his life with confidence.

Over time my friend gave up, as well.  He determined that the answer he sought could never have come, for the church was not true.  And eventually, he also determined that there had never been a God to hear his prayers, at all.

As well as another person ever can understand the feelings of another, I understand his; for he is my friend, and he is also my son.

My Song Will Not Be Quieted

Though we are close, we differ from each other, he and I.  I know him, and that his heart, and motives, are good.  Still, I, his mother, choose not to give up on God or prayer, and here is why:

When the beauty of a winter sunset stops me in my tracks, all thought ceases.  Joy washes over me and then flies upward toward heaven as an expression of gratitude that is natural and oh, so… delicious.  My whole being thrums with the sweetness of the moment.  I feel that I am known by a higher intelligence, One who held a place of honor in my heart even before my parents joined the LDS Church – before we attended any church at all.  To me, all of creation is a loving and even personal gift.  I am granted the freedom to do with that gift what I will by One who desires my happiness.

And happiness comes to me on the heels of my swiftly ascending songs of gratitude.

But what when I am a supplicant?  For a very long time, neither my son nor I discerned the answer we sought to our prayers regarding the truth claims of the LDS Church.  Does that mean that my prayers have never elicited a response from One to whom they are offered?  Can I prove – to myself, since I can never prove it to anyone else – that some caring being hears me?  In my mind’s eye, I can see myself…

  • Kneeling at 11, begging for my first, long-awaited and very tiny newborn sister, to thrive and to come home to me.
  • Begging protection for my first husband, whose terrible mental anguish, I feared, might lead him to suicide.
  • Holding my 8-day-old baby girl and pleading that she would live and somehow be comforted to know that I was there for her… forever.
  • Crying for the safety of a friend and her family, who lived within sight of the first, televised bombings of the Gulf War.
  • Seeking guidance in qualifying for a job promotion for which I had no real experience, and which would allow me more time at home.
  • Pleading, from a proven position of weakness, that I would be strengthened to turn away from a most dangerous and heartrendingly beautiful temptation.
  • Begging that a doctor would be proven wrong, and that the growth on my 10-year-old friend/son’s arm would be nothing, after all.
  • Praying that my sweet Grandma would be released from her tired, worn body and die in peace.
  • Holding the hand of a white-haired stranger as our plane roared sideways on a runway, tires exploding, and praying that we might all go home to our families and our lives.
  • Kneeling, in the most lonely moment of my life, exercising my every ounce of hope as I asked to find a man who could love me and my children as I could love him and his.
  • Sobbing on the floor and pleading that beloved ones living far away – who had engaged in a dance with almost-certain death – would receive whatever assistance was needed to free them from addiction.
  • Asking that an injury, decades-old, would be healed, even if just long enough for me to hike in the mountains one more time.

A Resounding (and Still Quiet) “Yes”

Uttered among other prayers, mostly forgotten, which did not bring the response for which I hoped, the answers to each supplication listed above was a resounding “yes.”

Our children are all grown and healthy; I landed, and greatly enjoyed, that amazing job.  My friends survived their time in the Middle East, and my grandmother died soon after my prayer, while holding the hands of her daughter and her son, my father.  My now ex-husband came back on that long-ago night, and found a way to end the worst of his torment and remain alive.  Amazingly, the beloved ones overcame an addiction to heroin, and I was strong enough to walk away from the greatest temptation of my life.  My husband and I were brought together with the calculating assistance of four of our children, who became the best of friends and brothers.  All passengers left that disabled plane on shaky legs, while applauding the pilot.  To the surprise of my doctors, I hiked in the mountains for a decade to come – embracing every single moment as an evidence of medical brilliance combined with answered prayer.

As I see it, two things are possible.  Either God heard me and – knowing that my motives were good, and sometimes even almost pure – demonstrated love and power by allowing me a hand in directing my future, or…

All these things were going to happen anyway, and the events which followed these remembered prayers does nothing to prove the existence of a higher intelligence who is engaged with mankind, and who listens to, cares for, hears, and answers me.

If the latter, then I have certainly been one very “lucky” woman.

Proof and Disproof

There is no proving God’s existence, just as there is no disproving it in any way that can affect another’s personal belief.  Thus, it is clear that each person, using evidence available to all, makes a choice.  Pragmatically, then, I ask: Why would one choose not to believe in God?

Is it because, as when my son and I wanted to know whether the LDS Church was true, the negative response was received but unrecognized – and therefore, by default, rejected?

Are there those who choose out of belief because sometimes the answer turns out to be “no”, “not now,” or “never,” even regarding subjects so dear as the survival of a loved one?

Does the choice not to believe seem imperative in light of all the horrors which have been and are worked by men in the name of God?

Do some observe, and disdain, those who lazily lounge in their easy chairs while waiting for “Sky-Daddy” to assist the starving masses, clean up the environment, and heal even those that they, themselves, have damaged?  Might it be deemed imperative that belief in God disappear so that men and women will begin to depend upon themselves?

I can see every one of those perspectives. I get it.

A More Pragmatic Faith

On the other hand, can one who honors and cherishes her relationship with the unseen and the incomprehensible still, successfully, hold herself accountable for following her own conscience and determining her course?

Can a person believe in a God who both expects mankind to fix things and to graciously accept that there are limits to our perspective and our power?

Can I, as a believer utilizing both words and dedicated action, embrace and fulfil my responsibility to heal myself, my family, and the world?

Is my life enriched because I recognize that I am surrounded by an entire universe of beauty and possibility that I could not create and have done nothing to deserve?

I will answer these questions myself. The answers are “yes.” This is the God, and this is the life, that I love.

I choose to live as if this life is the only time I’ll ever know, while inwardly trusting that there is more.  I choose to exist in a state of gratitude and joy, open to splendor while willing to walk through all kinds of tragedy and all kinds of human-made mud and muck to assist others.

I will also, in times where I am powerless to effect results I find important, turn to One who is greater than I am, and greater than you are, in supplication.  I will ask for the outcome I feel is important; but I will trust whatever answer comes, and I will not demand.

If my God exists, I hope that we will be united, or reunited, at the end of my life.  I will not, however, get lost in a desire to understand all the workings of eternity, for all my work is before me right now: here, on this planet and in this time.

And what if there is no God? Then I will have lost nothing by believing, but will have gained all the happiness that comes to me when I offer thanks and in return, experience greater peace and a sense of belonging to something larger than what my near-sighted eyes can behold.

And Now, My Son

One of these days, my son’s eyes will be drawn to a glorious sunset – and perhaps a tear will fill his eyes as gratitude fills his heart, and he will catch the words “thank you” as they fly heavenward from his lips.  Then he will face a choice: whether to view his response as beautiful, natural, and uplifting; or as weak and conditioned by his early exposure to religion. In my pragmatic view, he could lose nothing by choosing to believe in my God.  He might even find himself the bearer of a gladdened heart – and it is so hard to live in this world bereft of gladdening.

As for me, I continue to pray.  The evidence in my life strongly suggests that my prayers are answered, and that they have power – even when the answer which comes from One who knows alot more than I do must be “no.”

Where there is trust, there is no need to know all.  And that is good, for I now see that I know – and will know, by virtue of my human liimitations – very little. Even so, I am free to choose.  And I choose belief and hope in my God.

A Hitch in My Thinking

The man’s voice, melodious and still bearing the lilt of his Scottish upbringing, drew me in.  He was devastatingly witty and intelligent, but his appearance was slovenly, and I knew he smoked and was a committed “anti-theist.”  He was old enough to know better on all counts, I thought.  With a click of my keyboard, I dismissed him from my world.

Then, later, I caught a story about his death.  Some mourned him as a friend lost to mankind.  Intrigued, I returned to the internet and found him there, being interviewed in 2003 and again a few weeks prior to the end of his life. This time I perceived the gentleness in him, a gracious humility in his interactions with others, and deep concern for the future of humanity.  There seemed to be beauty lying just under the surface of a face showing signs of too much drink.  I wondered if, in a life that encouraged critical thinking and discouraged “jumping to judgment” on my part, he and I might have been friends.

A Google image search produced a photo of this man during his college years as a political activist with long, dark, unkempt hair and, even then, a look of brilliant determination in the set of his handsome, chiseled jaw.  I repented of my earlier judgment.  Unwilling and uninformed, I had not respected the man or his motives while he lived, and now he’s gone.  I know where to find him, though, for he hangs on the airwaves forever.  I am appreciative of his life’s work, to which he was true, and I mourn him as a friend lost to mankind.