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.