Well, Who Writes Here?

The circumstances in your life that have brought you to a place of considering the writings offered in this book are uniquely your own. They may resemble the circumstances of others who have shared similar thoughts, but ultimately the reason you are reading these essays belong to you.

Let’s talk about spiritual or religious disillusionment. What might that phrase mean? I suggest that such disillusionment is another way of referring to the mental dissonance connected to feelings of spiritual discontent.

Often we encounter an idea or fact that is in opposition to something we previously  accepted and believed without question. We experience a new curiosity in a venue previously thought of as inviolate. At some point we find ourselves seeking to understand the issues around which doubt has arisen. Once unquestioned faith was the dominant spiritual factor in the life of a committed Latter Day Saint. How then do we get to a place of asking questions we would not have asked in the past?

What I have written is for readers to judge. It is offered sincerely, with a desire to encourage the highest good of all concerned. My desire is for frank honesty of what I have felt, what I have learned and why I found myself in that “crisis of faith” that believers are taught to dread.

My desire with this writing is not to encourage doubters to leave or to stay. I am attempting to write as someone whose efforts have led to my own opinions worked out with my own experience of “search, ponder and pray.” What I have learned for myself is the importance of assuming ownership of my own reality. In that regard I challenge you to understand just how powerfully your assumptions expectations and intentions have played a role in the formation of your own life’s pattern.

Finally there is the evolution of spiritual experience to which we may become religiously and emotionally wedded. As we have heard many times, we cannot live on borrowed light. We must make our way using a lantern of our own creation. We cannot live according to someone else’s magic.

Paradise Lost

It’s all about testimony is it not?

“How did you lose your testimony?”

“I really thought I knew it was true. But now …”

Let me offer my description of testimony as I came to learn and  understand within the narratives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In legalese testimony may be thought of as  “a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law. Is it  evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.”

What about testimony  as Latter Day Saints regard testimony?

The legal definition sounds real, factual and at times self-evident. It is considered proof.

The other is purely personal. In the Church it is very much personally pure. The word “testimony” has become synonymous with “belief.” However, although testimony and belief are often used interchangeably, they are inherently different. Most Saints believe that when faith is acted upon, individuals can receive a spiritual witness which solidifies belief into testimony. As a people we are taught that if the exercise of faith brings forth good works, we can know that our religious principles are true. An individual who no longer believes in the religion is referred to as having “lost their testimony. – wikipedia

Testimony is described in a legalistic manner by and apostle known for his legal mind.

A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true. Such facts include the nature of the Godhead and our relationship to its three members, the effectiveness of the Atonement, and the reality of the Restoration. – Elder Dallin Oaks

Testimony is defined in a manner that suggests catechism or a “principle and ordinance” of the Gospel.

The foundation of a Mormon’s testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves us;

that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement;

that Joseph Smith is a prophet, which God called to restore Jesus Christ’s church to the earth;

that we are led today by a living prophet;

and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s Church restored on the earth today .-www. mormon.org

I offer the following as the most useful passage I have seen regarding testimony.

Mormons may not have a bound canon of prayer, an approved prayer book from which we read and repeat at our meetings, but we do have an extraordinary, complex, unwritten formality that all of us learn and which we use to evaluate other’s testimonies.

… A Mormon “testimony” is simultaneously at least two things. It is a metaphor portraying one’s internal commitment to the Church and the community.

It is also a ritual practice. For example, when we ask someone about her testimony, we are inquiring about her connection with the body of members and thence with God This is not the same thing as when we stand, in church or elsewhere, and bear testimony;

then, we perform a ritual–a patterned practice of rhetoric, a chaining of
words together in socially established ways. In performing this ritual the metaphor is motivated and made real; our internal commitment is given context and purpose within a set of communally validated meanings.
– David Knowlton, Belief Metaphor and Rhetoric: The Mormon Practice of Testimony Bearing, Sunstone April 1991

 

My Brothers and Sisters,

I write as a re-baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who in  1999 had my request to remove my name from the records of the Church approved.

In the Spring of 2011 I was re-baptized when my wife joined the church.

I had spent the past few years feeling somewhat inadequate and in a state of exile regarding my inability to express a testimony. Particular to that feeling was awkwardness after rebaptism. I recognized 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 priesthood-correlated testimony that  seems to encourage testifying only of Church-related truths that will edify the saints.

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 testimony of the reality of God in my life.

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

I’d 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 to me to go.

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 revealing of myself 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.

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 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.

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 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, pertinent to me and my own standing before God), I came to a place where I felt I could serve as an honorable 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 depth 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 God in every venue.

Not totally aware of the difference between how I experienced life spiritually as a focused missionary, 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 in 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 25 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 God that seemed so necessary 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” asserted themselves.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

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 should we expect should happen for or to us as we attend and participate in Church?

Perhaps better asked, what appears to be the expectation the Church has for what happens when we attend meeting where a spiritual domestication is on-going that feels relentless. In the 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 God?

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

Do Church members as a whole understand spirituality or spiritual satisfaction as that feeling of “confidence waxing strong” (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 God 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 (you guessed it)  search, ponder and pray. This is not impossible tasks and do not take years of patience, meditation or suffering to obtain. Above all gaining an awareness of union with God is not based on worthiness.

The Moroni Promises are proof of and in their own right a powerful tool toward such achievement.

Without a personal awareness of the constancy of communion with God, 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 and splash harder – and make sure everyone else is splashing?

Shallowness and failure to offer any me 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 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 God.

This is not an unreasonable expectation for anyone unless perhaps a human being fins 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 God will be present or withdraw based on one’s personal condition of worthiness which we are taught to believe.

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 within focussed on a quiet desperation about reaching a Celestial Kingdom. 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.

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

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