A Recovering Mormon Dancing With Episcopals

My Brothers and Sisters,

I write as one who has been perceived by many as having a foot in two different worlds. Perhaps it’s true. I  maybe even have enough different worlds I live in to have at least the toes of one foot in each.

I write as aparticipating member of the congregation at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho as well as the Coeur D” Alene Second Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

More on my St. Luke’s connection to follow in another writing.

To be more accurate I write as a re-baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who in  1999 had my request to have my name from the records of the Church approved. Twelve years later, in the Spring of 2011 I was re-baptized when my wife Lietta made a decision to join the church.

I had spent the previous years feeling somewhat inadequate and in a state of exile regarding my inability to express a testimony which is what Mormons consider witnessing. By 2011 while sitting once again in Church services, particular to that feeling  of exile was personal awkwardness after re-baptism. I recognized once again an environment that seems to encourage only a bare minimum of experiences of a personal nature. I recognized that members for the most part seemed to express what I called a scripted and somewhat corporate testimony that  involves testifying only of Church-related truths that is supposed to edify the members.

However, having come to grips with what we all seem to think we must bear testimony to ( as opposed to what we really know and feel in the most personal corners of our hearts), I’d like to take this opportunity to bear my personal testimony of the reality of  the Divine in my life.

I’d like to testify about my awareness that the Creator lives and loves us. My experience of The Divine’s love for me is one of the most consistent and real experiences in my life.

I’d also like to testify of all those things that I know to be true. I’d like to testify of the truthfulness and the power of the Holy Spirit as it invigorates and inspires human life.

Long ago, as a young adult I entered into the mission home in Salt Lake City in preparation for serving 27 months as an ordained minister called to preach the gospel. Emotionally I stumbled at the start. I came very close to walking out of the mission home within the first day or so as I became painfully aware of my unpreparedness for ministry and a missionary’s life of total devotion and commitment to teaching truth.

I had not prepared myself. My prime motivation was to complete a mission in order to be worthy of a certain young lady who I believed wanted me to serve a mission.

I felt that I had no testimony of the truth of any particular LDS narrative or teaching. I felt that I stood at the precipice of a dangerous leap into a pretense that – if maintained – would lead ultimately to a self-revealing as a hypocrite.

I did not want to be seen as a man who could mouth words and phrases regarding things of which I had no internal convictions – and about which I had received no divine prompting.

Back then, rather than give in to that temptation to walk away, I took steps that led to my own “Enos moment ,” if you will from the Book of Enos as found in the Book of Mormon,

3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. 

4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And my soul hungered and I felt my spirit suffer because of that unfulfilled hunger for God.

The first step of my “Enos Moment” was true to the missionary training I was already receiving. I began a process that took much longer than the one all-day-all-night period described by Enos. I’d have to say that a fullness in that regard did not come to pass until I was in Texas and already going through all the motions as an missionary called to preach the gospel. Eventually, in a form only I might be able to understand (since my prayers were personal and pertinent to me and my own standing before The Divine), I came to a place where I felt I could honorably serve as a missionary.

The intensity of life as a missionary can do much for the intensity of spiritual experience. For me a missionary should work for a constant flow with the depths of scripture; with the constancy of looking for the Spirit in every moment and event of mission life. This seemed to be the most logical way toward an inspired life permeated by that peculiar Mormon revelatory attitude that attempts to experience The Divine in every venue.

Not totally aware of the difference between how I experienced life spiritually as a missionary and a life of lesser focus on god-talk and religious stuff, I found it hard to understand how others might not be experiencing life in the same way. I assumed that what was happening to me had for the most part already happened to every active adult Mormon. I assumed that I had finally arrived into the Mormon spirit-driven way of living that I had envied for so long in others.

I returned home to Idaho as an on-fire returned missionary; ready for the next steps the Lord was preparing me to take. Like most active and participating members of the Church, I accepted as literal the LDS narratives about our earliest history, the LDS doctrines and assertions regarding my belonging to and being an integral part of the One True Church on the Face of the Earth.

It was a heady time and did not seem to dissipate for almost 20 years.

Consistent with my missionary personality of the mid-sixties, I for the most part with ease accepted and maintained the narratives, doctrines and commitments as a priesthood-holder, father and temple-wed husband.

– until there came a time when events, people and historical narratives came to my attention in ways that I had heretofore and perhaps subconsciously and deliberately avoided or ignored.

Eventually, a mindset came over me that hearkened back to 1965 and my frightened humanity in the Salt Lake Mission Home. That mission-home desperation of 1965 had driven me to a personal humility in the presence of The Divine that seemed so necessary in order to attain ministerial honor as a young missionary. That then was the only personal experience on which I could rely to help me deal with all these pieces of new information tumbling, as it were, into my awareness whether I was ready or prepared or not.

At that moment what I now call the “Moroni Promises” as described in Chapter Ten of the book of Moroni asserted themselves.

Ask God if these things are not true. Ask with a sincere heart, real intent and faith.

I possessed (as we all do) tangible spiritual experiences. Although these tangible and emotional experiences had served me well for years. I just seemed to have forgotten the import and meaning of those experiences. I seemed to have forgotten how I had made them work for me as a young missionary and a young father, husband and priesthood holder in every ward in which I resided

In the face of new information, confusing narrative conflicts and rising doubts, I seemed to have forgotten the next-step applications of wisdom regarding my experiences with the Moroni Promises. For me, the Moroni-Promise process in reality has nothing to do with whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet nor with those true-church narratives that intersect with LDS attention spans much like the chatter coming from a television set left on in the background.

The essence of that process is purely and simply the formula for success for every religious mystic in every setting (Christian or otherwise) going back thousands of years.
What appears to be the expectation a church has for what happens when we attend meeting where a spiritual domestication is on-going that feels relentless. In Chapels and Temples the domestication is at its most intense  with all the priesthood-correlated management of sacrament meeting topics/ talks, Sunday school, priesthood, youth and primary lessons and testimony-bearing

What sort of expectations do active members have as conditioned by Church narratives, procedures and patterns of activity/worship?

Does the Church expect membership to actually achieve experiences or moments of union with The Divine?

Would those kinds of experiences run counter to the hierarchical flow of information in which Leadership functions as necessary middle men between members and The Divine?

Do Church members as a whole understand spirituality or spiritual satisfaction as that feeling of “confidence waxing strong” (Doctrine & Covenents, Section 121) that comes from obedience and conformity?

Are  Church members as a whole satisfied with such prescribed feelings as being all there is or all that one could expect?

I agree with all those who by experience have learned that to be alive spiritually we only need personal union with The Divine that is  not a blessing dispensed as a consequence of obedience. In my experience being conscious or aware of that personal union is a natural event that comes from search, ponder and pray. This is not an impossible  task  and does not take years of patience, meditation or suffering to obtain.

Most important is the realization that gaining an awareness of union with The Divine is not based on worthiness. The Moroni Promises are proof of that and in their own right a powerful tool toward such achievement.

Without a personal awareness of the constancy of communion with The Divine, I do not see how religious life has much greater value than some sort of conscience-easing drudgery. Such a kind of religious life leaves more on the Lord’s table than anything consumed by repetitive activity which to me feels like nothing more than imitation of the real  spiritual things.

Why attend Church at all if the only thing that occurs is a never-ending repetition of things we have all heard at an almost kindergarten level of depth.

Why attend and participate if – as a result- we are not taught to swim in deeper water. How many feel like we are told only to continue wearing our water wings in the shallow end of the pool and splash harder – and make sure everyone else is splashing?

Shallowness and failure to offer any meaningful counsel regarding that trickle of confusing and contradictory information eventually brought about an unavoidable challenge of almost the entirety of truth claims made by the Church.

I felt that I had never attended Church in order to listen to exhortations to spiritual unity based on unquestioned acceptance of cookie-cutter spiritual-mindedness. Suddenly I recognized that such was the principle reason I as a younger man had attended and participated in Church.

I had thought for years that I was attending and participating with the idea that on any given moment – especially in a religious or worshipful environment – I could expect an enhanced awareness of personal union with The Divine.

This is not an unreasonable expectation for anyone unless perhaps a human being finds himself or herself lost in the artificial environment of a performance-based belief system. Such a system brings to imagined reality a god obsessed with obedience; a god who makes a big deal of worthiness; and a god who then is accepted as the Divine rewarder who may bless or withhold blessings based on obedience and conformity.

In such a religious context, Sunday school only needs to teach obedience. The Gospel needs only imply that the highest spiritual feeling one can obtain is that of being personally obedient. One could hardly notice the conditional circumstance that causes one to believe that The Divine will be present or withdraw based on one’s personal condition of worthiness which we are taught to believe.

I hope you can see that I am not describing a Heavenly Father who loves unconditionally.

Rather we see portrayed a Heavenly Father who must be pleased and satisfied before blessings are given. At some level adults ought to see that model as flawed because we learn almost daily how mortal fathers and mothers cannot parent children wisely in such a manner.

It is possible to enjoy membership and fellowship with the Saints without belonging and striving with a life focused on quiet desperation about reaching a Celestial Kingdom?

I say it is possible. I say that community in and of itself ought not be underrated or dependent on cookie cutter thinking. Most active members will disagree with and not understand that notion. Community and culture matter much  more than the dogmatic promises of church narratives urging conformity.

I live within two communities.

The performance-based  Mormon Community based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

St. Lukes Episcopal Church in Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho (about which I will write shortly.)

It  has been said that my wife and I have feet in two worlds. I find that to be a misleading cliche. I feel that we have both feet firmly planted in the reality of everything on this planet and brought to us by The Divine.

That’s what repair and reconcile really means in each of our lives.