Friday, September 23, 2011

When a Loved One Thinks Again

This is probably the most well written essay on mormon doubt I have ever read. I hope it is helpful to someone:

When a Loved One Thinks Again

by Michael Felix

Are you a Mormon whose beloved friend or family member has seemingly thrown away the truth of the gospel? Perhaps the truth is so obvious to you that you cannot fathom the actions of this person whom you love and admire. This questioning of your principles might even feel like a personal rejection, though it is not intended as such.

After speaking to and reading the accounts of many Mormon "apostates," I've become painfully aware that the believers in any skeptic’s life often have trouble coming to terms with his or her questioning of faith. Skeptics may feel out of place, or complain that believing friends and family are unwilling to accept them for who they have become. Believing Mormons typically experience difficulty remaining on the same terms of friendship and love with an otherwise unchanged fellow who has undergone a theological or philosophical questioning. Because of certain attitudes which prevail in the church's culture, and because of the implications of certain doctrines and authoritative pronouncements with which every member is familiar, Mormons often have trouble actually allowing other Mormons to worship how they may. I have come to believe that the problem is fundamentally one of lack of understanding. Because of the mindset that many believers bear, it may be that they are simply incapable of understanding what goes on in the questioning mind.

Having noticed this, I feel a desire to give some advice from a skeptic's point of view, to the faithful believer who may have never waged a long and difficult struggle with doubt.

Honest Belief

To many a questioner, the makeup of belief is more important than its eventual alignment. In other words, that the compass is correctly assembled and aligned is a more immediate concern than whichever direction its needle is currently pointing.

To a skeptical truth-seeker such as me, belief is only valid if it is honest. I believe in honest belief, and that instills me with the following convictions:

• What I believe is not mine to directly dictate. I cannot use willpower to change it to coincide with a creed. I may only indirectly influence its nature by thinking and learning.

• I am free, even obligated, to believe the truths that intellectually and spiritually honest inquiry reveals to me.

• As such, I must consider each pathway of knowledge I encounter.

• It also means that my perception of truth may change because of new evidence or sharpened judgment, in which case I am obligated to reevaluate my honest belief.

• Furthermore, if two people appear to have arrived at diverging beliefs honestly and diligently, each belief is equally worthy of evaluation.

• If belief is honest, the most important judgment upon it is that of its owner.

• But if it is abandoned at will it has either become dishonest, or was already dishonest to begin with.

• Finally, honest belief does not imply absolute knowledge; when necessary, it also hinges on resignation to the lack of knowledge.
For me it is obvious that these are principles I must follow in order to seek for truth, just as it may be obvious to you that truth is revealed and must be maintained by engaging in practices that are intended to support it (such as reading scriptures, praying and obeying prophets). That is the fundamental difference between an intellectual questioner and most believing Mormons. It is, of course, difficult for a natural skeptic like me to believe in the disprovable, but it is impossible to accept that I should be required to tailor my truth-seeking behavior in order to influence the outcome so that I do.

The Believer's Checklist

Before you name sin and pride as the causes of your loved one's offense, remember that it's not by choice that he has questioned his faith. The idea that "those who reject Mormonism's claims apostatize from the church because they need an excuse to sin" is simply a misconception. Belief is not something to be brashly discarded like a banana peel when one happens to find a trash can nearby. The popular checklist of causes of apostasy typically includes: pride, social offense, and moral weakness. Too often the believer simply chooses an item from this list, placing blame squarely on the shoulders of the disbeliever without risking discomfort by questioning the belief system itself. Note what this checklist does not include: simple differences in belief.

Yet perhaps the believer who sees a fellow breaking commandments of the church is placing effect before cause. By not admitting simple disbelief among the causes for disobedience, the believer must assume that the disobedience itself is the cause of the disbelief. In order to accurately understand an unbeliever, it is first imperative that you augment your checklist to include another possibility: that he disbelieves simply because he disbelieves.

Most skeptics are insulted by the notion that they have simply discarded their former convictions to more easily sin. It implies that the disbeliever was never honest in his/her belief in the first place. To a believing Mormon, belief can and should be molded by constant exposure to the advice of prophets and the testimonies of other believers; however, those of us who question orthodox Mormonism may come to rely on different criteria for shaping our belief.

Furthermore, it is neither fair nor sufficient to contentedly insist that the loss of faith comes about simply because of the desire to lose faith. While it may be true for some that "belief is a choice," this is definitely not true for everyone. In fact, I would venture to say belief is a true choice for almost no one, especially one who cherishes honest belief. We can tell ourselves we believe things. We can publicly insist that we believe them. We can feel pleasant emotions when considering our cherished principles, and count those emotions as proof of the depth of our belief. We can leave home, lose money, love, hate, heal and kill for our beliefs, and all the while, deep down inside, our subconscious minds might still know that we don't actually believe in what we've fought for.

Most of those I know who act contrary to the commandments of the church do so because they honestly disbelieve the validity of those commandments. Yes, there are certainly people who drift from the practices of orthodox Mormonism because they find these practices too restrictive of the lifestyle they would rather lead. However, it is imperative that one allow a distinction between acting contrary to the church's rules and losing faith in those rules. Often these people who leave in order to sin still believe at their core, and if so, they probably feel immense guilt while they break what they view as God's commandments. Compared to changing belief, degrading in behavior is easy, for what human really has absolute control over what he thinks?

The Foundations of Questioning: Ideas About Ideas

Though it may contrast strongly with your point of view, the typical skeptic probably holds to the belief that no idea is unworthy of examination. To him or her, the church's way of constantly imploring members to ignore doubt and study only uplifting subjects is probably distasteful, because it appears as an attempt at information control. The Mormon skeptic wonders: "What do the Brethren have to hide that causes them to whitewash information and admonish us not to dwell upon the difficult things?"

Someone who questions probably values logic and reason very highly. While you may agree to some extent that the study of logic and all of its fruits (science and technology, for example) are worthy of pursuit, as a believer you have probably found instances when you must insist that logic is a secondary, less enlightened form of learning. For instance, regarding the theory of evolution, you may be willing to study its principles and possibly even hold some belief in many of them. But when it comes to the ultimate question in evolution, you probably exhibit at least one behavior that is based on something other than principles of reason. Perhaps you are unwilling to accept a certain few findings of science because they incriminate your belief system; maybe you discard parsimony (the simplest and most probable answer) and begin looking for more elaborate explanations to facts than the ones logic offers; or possibly you simply refuse to keep wondering and contentedly assure yourself that the answer will someday be given to you if you are diligent in other areas of your life.

I do not wish to pass judgment upon the validity of these behaviors. My hope is to point out that each of them departs from the normal principles of logic that we use to govern our lives. The difference between the believer and the skeptic is that, when foregoing logic in order to prop up his beliefs, the skeptic feels hypocritical. He wonders why he should be expected to ignore-in only certain instances-the reason that guides him so well when he drives a car, picks coins out of his hand, or decides which political candidate to support. He comes to believe that a God who created the world and his brain, and gave Man logic above that of the animals in order to guide him through the dangers of life, would not require that logic be discarded in order to understand or communicate with his Creator. This leads him to consider that, while faith in a principle for which there is no counter-evidence is fine and possibly good, faith against clear evidence is dishonest, and therefore not of God. With these ideas in hand, the skeptic examines the claims of Mormonism and often finds trouble there.

Your skeptic friend has probably questioned faith because of his discovery of historical or scientific facts that he finds damaging to a testimony. There are many teachings of the gospel for which supportive or contrary evidence does not exist; these points are open to everyone for personal interpretation and are mostly untouchable by logic. As an example, consider the teaching that our conscience is really the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, there are some aspects of church doctrine that closely intertwine with science, history or other scholarly disciplines, and for a skeptically-minded person these are the ones that usually provide difficulty. An example of this is the claim that Book of Mormon peoples actually lived on the American continent. Your questioner has probably studied arguments concerning many points of the latter variety, some of which you would consider helpful and some detrimental to the church's agenda. Though you may be inclined to postpone the consideration of difficult ideas (perhaps telling yourself that there are some mysteries you may never understand), he is not willing to do so. He believes all things are worth judging from a neutral standpoint and, in cases where it is possible to find evidence for or against the church's view, is not willing to give deference to a set of beliefs simply because they are the ones with which he grew up. He feels the evidence itself speaks the truth, just as it does in a court of law.

You may feel that your beloved friend has been deceived by Satan into accepting erroneous information as fact. I think it's important, in discussing this possibility, to differentiate between fact and interpretation of fact. Facts are historical or scientific, i.e. "Joseph Smith practiced polygamy." A corresponding interpretation would be, "Joseph was noble and obedient and did it because he was commanded to," or "Joseph used religion as an excuse to have sex with many women." Interpretations only come in single-serving packages, and it's impossible for me to vouch for the opinions another skeptic has formed as a result of his research. However, I feel there's a good chance-if he has researched well-that the set of facts he considers faith-adverse are, for the most part, true. Before you begin arguing with his interpretations, be aware that those interpretations are based upon underlying facts with which you may not be familiar, and upon which a skeptical interpretation is just as valid as (or more valid than) a faithful one.

On the other hand, you may be aware of some of the disturbing "hidden facts" of Mormonism, and perhaps it appears to you that your belief-questioning friend lends too much credence to the allegations of “anti-Mormons”. Perhaps it frustrates you that he is unwilling to accept the efforts of apologists that have answered all allegations. But chances are he has actually considered these efforts and found them wanting. Apologetics usually start with a conclusion (the church is true) and seek ways to prove it by discounting or invalidating evidence against it. This approach is obvious to believers, but actually quite distasteful to one who is not already convinced of the validity of the conclusion. One thing most intellectual questioners have in common is that they have resolved to throw away assumptions and start their search for truth from square one; as a result, the apologetic approach doesn't tend to meet their needs. This is because the apologetic approach is tailored to the believer who is already seeking ways to validate his beliefs, and who doesn't demand the kind of rigorous arguments that the skeptic would require. That is why your skeptic friend probably won't be as satisfied as you are with the ideas of FARMS and the like, which to him may seem contrived and unsupportable.

When I began to critically examine the church, I read a lot of apologetics in hope of retaining belief. I found some convincing arguments, and was always grateful for the point of view they offered, because it balanced the bitter or spiteful interpretations that were often attached to the facts I had discovered. But in the end I came to believe that, while a certain apologetic argument may explain away a problem quite satisfactorily, when the big picture is examined the apologetics don't mesh as well into a cohesive whole as the skeptical viewpoint does. Your acquaintance may share this view.

Assumptions to Reconsider

If you want to understand a skeptic, you have to remember that he no longer holds to many of the assumptions the church instills in us regarding the method of belief. As you discuss religion with him, it may help to remember that there are certain commonly held, basic assumptions always circulating in the membership of the church which are never debated, but are viewed as a foundation, to be taken for granted and upon which all actual arguments are to be based. However, none of these is taken as given by a skeptic, who has probably given them serious thought and discarded most or all of them. These assumptions include:

• The idea that disobeying the church = disobeying God. This is problematic because no provision is made for instances where the church's teachings are not exactly equal to God's will. While such an instance may be inconceivable to you, it is easily imagined by many of question faith. After all, which is easier to consider: that a difficult principle such as polygamy is difficult and unfair to women because God is unfair, or because the church was created and is led today by mortal, unfair men?

• The conception that, as Neal Maxwell once expressed, there is no alternative explanation for Joseph Smith other than the two extremes: that he was either a prophet or a scoundrel bound for hell. Mormons often desire only black and white solutions instead of seeing the world for the shades of gray in which it is actually painted. It is entirely possible that Joseph was something other than a saint or a demon, and there have been a number of possibilities put forth that merit consideration.

• The surety that sickness, misfortune, or bad luck on the part of a disobedient member are punishment from God, while these same afflictions when suffered by an obedient member are given by God as trials to test faith.

• The statement that no one can be truly happy outside of the church. Experience-if you're willing to look-has shown that it's just false.

• The assumption that a book of scripture must be historically accurate in order to be "true." It's frankly bewildering to me that something in the scriptures has to have actually happened in order to have meaning to most Mormons. No value is given to the possibility that any scripture may be simply uplifting metaphor that neglects to identify itself as such. Jesus' parables are an obvious exception, but only because they were recorded along with the story of their telling as parables.

• The idea that certain ideas, web sites, or books are inherently evil. As is often asked: if the truth is truth, why can't it withstand scrutiny? Just how fragile is truth's hold on our minds, anyway?

• The assertion that driving doubts out of one's mind without resolving them is noble and wise. Such a course of action is certainly the best way to preserve a testimony, but is it honest, or mentally healthy? The answer is different for everyone, but as a skeptic I can testify that for me such a course of action is unhealthy. However, I recognize that the maintenance of belief at all costs is paramount for the happiness of many people, and because of that I do not crusade to drag others from their places of faith or deride them for following a path different from mine. I ask that the same courtesy be extended towards me.

• The belief that dishonesty is permissible in certain circumstances (like finding a testimony "in the bearing of it," or giving an investigator "milk" and baptizing him without also giving him the "meat" he deserves before committing himself to the church).

• The allegation that highest form of worship is complete and even unthinking obedience to someone claiming to be God's servant. Galileo declared that he could not believe God would give humans such a marvelous intellectual capacity, and then expect them not to use it. Most skeptics I know agree.

• The oft-repeated adage: that which is not for Christ must be against Christ. This is often extended to label everyone as either an enemy or a friend of the church. Can nothing simply be neutral? Certain Mormons, and even the religion itself, have sometimes had a problem allowing the existence of neutrality in others' motives and actions.
Dealing with the Lack of Belief: a Tempered Approach
If you are a believer, please be sure you understand what your questioning friend has gone through before you call him to repentance. Speaking from personal experience, I have spent a lot of effort in examination of my beliefs and the beliefs of others, in an attempt to determine what is true. I've read many books and many, many web pages about all points of view on Mormonism. I still spend a part of each day considering religion and formulating my views. Unless you are doing the same, you have no right calling me or any other unbeliever lazy or disloyal (or even deceived or mistaken), or otherwise judging our position or direction. Too often we become complacent in a comfortable position, and it's too easy to deride those who refuse to assume the same position of comfort.

Ask yourself honestly, with whom God will be more pleased: the person who spends much time and effort trying to find out the truth about Him, or the person who is so certain that he has it that he judges others by his preconceived ideals? The answer: I don't know, and I don't pretend to. But I believe he'll be more pleased with the first. And that belief, since it is mine, is the only clear light that should rightfully guide my actions.

To examine a belief can leave one feeling profoundly empty. The lack of knowledge, like the lack of any vital component of life, can be a difficult affliction to bear. If it helps, regard the questioning seeker in your life with the same consideration you would afford a man who lacks shelter or food, or love. Believing something beautiful helps a human be happy, and those of who have lost that comfort are not deserving of derision or scorn because they have been unable to find it. In fact, they are deserving of respect for their courage. Ask yourself what you would do with your life if you suddenly became unmistakably convinced that the church possibly isn't "true." Answer honestly, and I hope you'll gain insight to the plight your friend is probably facing.

So, what can you do to help your questioning loved one? You probably wish very badly that your skeptical friend would renounce his wayward ideas, since you believe your eternal wellbeing depends upon his doing so. It is your right to attempt once or twice to change his mind, but please do so respectfully. It is important that you do not attempt to scare or shame your disbeliever back into his former mode of thought. It probably won't work. Such behavior doesn't stem from compassion and definitely won't create feelings of love. Even if you were to succeed, consider the outcome; does God, who loves his children, want them to love him back, or fear him, because he is awful? Mormonism has extracted the fearfulness from God, separated out the unpleasant aspects of the Old Testament deity who killed heathens and the New Testament Lord who damned unbelievers, and made Heavenly Father into a loving father who is actually worthy of worship, who really wants to save us all from the unbending mercilessness of the universe. Why would such a God condone the use of fear to gather his wandering sheep?

The choice of action I hope you'll take is to be understanding, to make certain the relationship you enjoy is not damaged by the discomfort you feel in the face of your friend’s new beliefs. If the wayward soul you're concerned about is a family member, especially a spouse, it is even more imperative that you retain control of the relationship. How disturbing is it that the church, which touts itself as a champion of family values and togetherness, can be the root cause of the demise of a family? I have heard far too many accounts of divorce occurring because of the inability of one partner to accept the evolving religious views of the other.

Remember that the disbeliever was once like you. Don't patronize him because you believe he has lost "spiritual knowledge;" he still remembers the Mormon doctrine he was taught, but has changed his interpretation of it. He is the same person with the same need for understanding, just as he would be the same person if he had suddenly undergone a change in political ideology or artistic preference.

Reflect on the eleventh article of faith and the wonderful gift of freedom that we all enjoy. Reflect, if you are so inclined, upon the doctrine of the Atonement, and upon the nature of its author. Remember what kind of man Jesus was: accepting of all, saints and sinners alike.

Your ultimate goal may be to win your loved one back to the church. But don't risk driving him or her away by concentrating only upon that goal. If you keep your mind open you'll do a great service to everyone involved, have the greatest chance of restoring his or her faith, and possibly even find some new enlightenment for yourself.

Metaphor of the map as how to relate to mormonism

This is a post I found on a website I frequent as I try to figure out where I stand in relation to my former beliefs:

My Mormon Map
Presenting my first guest post from my good friend -Domokun-:

I once moved to a new community that I was not previously familiar with. The homeowners' association gave me a road map of the area. As I was exploring the paths to find shortcuts and new commuting routes, I found one street that looked promising. As I traveled it in my car, at a place that should have been a through-road was a dead end. I was furious! Not only was this new route unable to shave the three minutes from my commute that I thought it would, my trust in the map had been shaken. I no longer fully trusted that particular map to be an accurate representation of the streets in the area.

I learned to read maps at a young age. As a boy, I loved camping and hiking, and the orienteering aspects of those activities really appealed to me. I learned to trust and rely on maps to educate me about places I had never been to before, and to show me the path that I needed to get there. Because of this, I feel like I have developed a relatively good sense of spatial direction, at least when I’m in a place with easily identifiable landmarks and regular, grid-like streets.

I think that many people also have a kind of metaphorical map that they use to orient their lives. In Mormonism, this map is very fleshed out, and includes many details.

There is a very large Legend in Mormonism that defines everything on the map. There is an incredible amount of detail in some parts of the map. As a boy and young man, I had my whole future mapped out for me. I was baptized at age 8, graduated from Primary into the Aaronic Priesthood at age 12, and every two years thereafter advanced into different offices, from Deacon to Teacher, and then onto Priest. I graduated from high school, and went to BYU. Shortly after starting my freshman year, I received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and then sent in my mission papers. I received my mission call, and left for it in the summer after my freshman year. On my mission I started as a greenie, then became a junior companion, then I was made a zone leader, and eventually a trainer. I had been a District Leader, trainer, Branch President, I helped "open" a new town, I baptized an above-average number of converts for my mission, and except for not ever being an Assistant to the President, I achieved every milestone a Mormon missionary could reasonably hope for.

After a two-year mission, I returned to BYU. I met my future wife there, got married in the temple, and then a year later graduated with my bachelor’s degree. My wife started graduate school out of state, and we moved across the country, where I found my first "real" job and started working full-time. A few years later, after my wife had finished school and was working full-time herself, we decided to start our family. Several children were soon born.

I was also following the Mormon "Priesthood Leadership" track, which included being part of an Elder’s Quorum presidency and holding several ward and stake clerk callings. I was on track to eventually being in a bishopric, high council, and if I were especially outwardly obedient and ambitious, perhaps even a stake presidency or higher. I was following the plan that one day I would soon be ordained to be a High Priest (especially before I became one of those older, late-40s types STILL attending Elder’s Quorum) and I knew that I would have many callings and positions of importance and responsibility in the church during my lifetime. In short, if I followed the Mormon map laid out for me, my life would have many planned milestones and accomplishments inside the church’s organization and social structure.

In contrast to the baroque map that young Mormon men get, the map that young Mormon women get is fairly sparse. After baptism, the young women of the church have very few formal milestones to look forward to. Baptism is the only church ordinance many young women receive prior to marriage. Temple marriage is the pinnacle of Mormon personal achievement, but is possibly the last personal ordinance they will receive, aside from the weekly sacrament.

Upon entering womanhood at age 18, women attend Relief Society, which is the church’s women’s organization, but is ultimately run by men. Following the Mormon map, they have only marriage and motherhood to look forward to, with maybe a small chance to be a Primary, Young Women’s, or Relief Society President (which would still report to, and ask permission from, the local Bishop for every meaningful detail). In the temple, women promise to obey their worthy husbands and in their wedding sealings must "give themselves" to him, who gets to "receive them". There are no Priesthood advancements for women, and in all of the callings they get (from men) they will always report back to men. The Mormon map can be overly detailed for men, but in stark contrast is very empty and sparse, relatively speaking, for women. As my wife told me, though, this is not necessarily a bad thing to have the freedom to chart her own course in life.

In addition to the "life milestones" such a metaphorical map can provide, there are also many things on that map that tell me what to believe, how to live, what to think, what to eat and drink, and even what kind of attitudes I should have. It is very much a mass-produced, not customized map. Even though the Mormon canon is supposedly “open”, these parts of the map are printed in indelible ink, and are not easily or often changed. For Mormons who have this map, they are not encouraged to go out into the world to verify the map, or even add to or take away things from the map, because the map is declared by the church to be perfect and complete.

One of the problems with the Mormon map is that it is the same map for everyone. Men are told in excruciating detail what to do, while women are told to be mothers and wives, and not much else. The problem is not that women are free to chart their own course, because the path is drawn for them, just without any additional milestones. They accomplish milestones vicariously through their husbands and children. They are described not as an artist, a great thinker, or as an accomplished individual, but as the wife of the bishop, the mother of the returned missionary, the grandmother of twelve. It is true that many strong, independent women do chart their own course. They have careers, high social status, intellectual interests, and lead very fulfilling lives. But none of those landmarks appear on the Mormon map. The official Mormon cartographers specifically counsel against women exploring those territories.

If a Mormon metaphorically leaves home and goes out into the world, and sees that his map doesn't always match up to the world around him, he can run into many problems. When he goes back and tells others that the map is wrong, he is viewed with suspicion. There must be some underlying reason, or un-repented-of sin, or desire to start sinning, otherwise there would be no reason for this Mormon to question the accuracy of his map. He may then be cast out of the tribe, either directly through excommunication because he questioned the map, or indirectly by being shunned or marginalized for having corrected only his own map, or for even suggesting that the Mormon map may have errors.

I think that for a group of people who insist that their maps of the world are the only correct maps in existence, Mormons should be more open to corrections and additions, so they can maintain the claim that their maps are the most accurate and relevant. Sadly this is not the case. Whenever a Mormon finds that their Mormon map does not accurately reflect the world around them, other Mormons insist that the perception is wrong or mistaken, that they are relying upon their own prideful learning, or that they don’t have the will or fortitude to live according to the map and want to sin. Of course it could NEVER be that the map itself is wrong.

Some Mormons run into problems when their mass-produced, one-size-fits-all, printed-in-indelible-ink Mormon maps aren't exactly true to their own personal experience. Sure, the Mormon map is correct in places, and there are some very nice sites on the horizon in these maps, at least according to the Legend. It’s too bad there's no verifiable proof that those prizes exist outside of the map’s Legend. So, I end up having to trust my map and I must put much faith into it, out of necessity, because I can’t prove it in any way. I hoped that the really wonderful promises beyond the horizon are really there, but I had no way of knowing for sure. Too many Mormons nearly kill themselves trying to follow the impossible path outlined in the map.

My map falls apart when I start to see the many problems and inconsistencies in the small part of my map that I have explored. If the map can be wrong here, what's to say that it is correct about the fabulous stuff that's supposed to be way over there? I then learned that the cartographers who made my map were wrong about many things, and my confidence in the Mormon map waned even more. I also discovered that other people have very different maps, yet they are just as happy or even happier than I am, and seem to find their own paths and treasures just fine with their different maps.

I have to ask myself, what is so special about the Mormon map? Is it even correct at all? How much of it is true? What parts are wrong? What if I discard this map for another? Why do I need this particular map in the first place? How will my family and friends react to my new map? What if the true meaning of life is found in charting my own course, instead of relying on a demonstrably incorrect map?

Discarding my Mormon map is difficult. I have relied upon it for so long that I have often taken it for granted that everything on it was correct. Many times it was so much a part of me that I didn’t even realize I was using a map. As I contemplate the errors in my Mormon map, I realize that I still have my moral compass. I am not lost without direction. I forgot that I could use my own compass to chart my own course. I am free from depending on an error-prone map that inaccurately represents the real world. As Alex Korzybski said, "The map is not the territory."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lack of a job well done

Sometimes I really appreciate it when people don't do their job. Be it a job they are paid for with money, i.e., career, etc., or whether it be a job they get paid for with 'blessings'.

Take this morning for example. Last night as I was leaving work I was packing up my ear bud headphones. They are the type with the little rubber caps that sit in your ear canal, block out external sound, and sound pretty good. Anyway, the one fault with these headphones, (aside from the fact that they tend to get coated with ear wax every time they are used, no matter how clean you think your ears are), is that the little rubber pieces like to fall off the headphone piece and become lost in various random places. I've lost the little buggers a million times, and always somehow managed to find them. Well, last night when I was packing up to leave work, I gingerly wrapped up my headphones to put them in my bag and head home. I even have a little baggy I put the headphones in so other things in my bag don't accidentally knock the rubber bits off. I normally don't ever get them out at home because I'm too busy doing fatherly things like playing with kids, giving baths, reading books to kids, and laying by kids. But last night I had to fix a car. When I pulled the car into the garage, I went to my work bag to retrieve my ipod so as to listen to some music on my stereo in the garage whilst I labored on the auto mechanics. I was very dismayed to find that when I pulled the baggy out that contained the ipod and my headphones, one of the rubber pieces from the headphones was MISSING!!! I probed the innards of my work bag with my fingers trying to find the little piece, but came up empty-handed. I was sad. I've had these headphones for about two years and had grown quite fond of them. So, I sadly plugged the ipod in to my stereo and proceeded with the auto repair with a heavy heart over the loss of my beloved headphones.

Fast forward to this morning. I arrived at work, and what should I find, but my little rubber bit, sitting on the floor in my office. We have a cleaning lady that is supposed to clean our offices every night. Her duties include dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms and other general custodial work. She is not good at her job. The office rarely if ever gets dusted, something that has annoyed me, but which I've gotten used to. I assumed that she vacuumed daily, but I was glad to find this morning that she also neglects that job duty. Thank you, cleaning lady, for sucking at your job. I can now enjoy my beloved headphones for another day.

Another area where I enjoy people not doing their job is in the home teachers that are assigned to my family. I LOVE it when people do not visit me on a monthly basis. I am not joking. We've had several home teachers assigned to us over the years we've lived in this ward. The ones I've liked are the ones who agree to our arrangement, which is as follows:

I do not need you to 'check up on me' every month. Generally by the time you squeeze in your visit at the end of the month to meet your quota, you're already calling me to schedule the next month's appointment. This is not desirable to me. I have enough going on in my family and professional life to keep me busy 24-7, without also making time for you to come and give me a gospel message in my home. I attend church every week and if you want to 'check up on me' you can do so when you bump into me in the hall at church. If I need something, and deem the home teachers as the best solution to my need, I WILL CONTACT YOU. That said, consistent with the church's mantra of self-reliance, I tend to work my problems/needs out on my own and won't normally require the 'help' of home teachers or anyone else from the church. If I need to move, I pack, load, and move my things myself. If I need to clean up weeds in my yard, I am totally capable of doing so on my own. Save your service project for those really in need, such as elderly widows, invalids, and lazy people, none of which are in short supply in our ward. As long as you respect my privacy and desire to NOT have monthly visitors, then we can be friends, and you can count me as 100% for your monthly home teaching numbers. If not, and you insist on calling me every month to try to schedule a home visit, I will put you off, avoid you, and not return your phone calls. Please note: Unannounced drop by visits will be greeted with hostility and rude manners, possibly worse.

Sometimes the home teachers are fine with this arrangement and are even relieved to not have to call me every month. Others feel like they need to 'magnify their calling' against my will, and still insist on trying to guilt me in to letting them come by every month. (I would actually be fine with them dropping by for a normal visit, as long as I'm not busy with family responsibilities. The problem lies in the fact that they tend to drop by at the worst possible times (dinner time or tub time), and then not be able to take the hint that it's not a good time. Also, the problem is that they don't give a genuine crap about me or my family, have no desire for a normal friendship type relationship, but care only to push the mandated gospel message flavor of the month so they can return and report their statistical excellence/valiance in propagating the Lord's kingdom on earth, aka keeping up appearances.)

I have much more to say about home teaching, and home visits in general, which I will write more of later. For now, thank you cleaning lady that doesn't clean, and home teachers that don't home teach. I appreciate you sucking at your jobs.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Family isn't good enough without the mirrors that go on forever.

A while back my mom called me up on the phone to give me the latest family gossip. I normally handle this by holding the phone to my ear as I watch a sporting event on the tv or read a book, throwing in the occasional grunt or gasp as appropriate to let her know I'm 'still listening'. Yes, listening. I don't do a lot of talking when on the phone with my mom. She's a dear woman, but not the best listener. When she does listen, all responses are pre-programmed, directly implanted by the church.
Me: "I lost my job, my car is broken down and all my kids have strep throat."
Mom: "Aren't you blessed to have kids?"

This is just how it is with my mom. She doesn't know any better, has never had to struggle with independent thought, etc. 100% of her focus in life is the church, church callings, how can she be better in the church, what more can she do for the church, etc. When she visits SLC, she mustn't stay too long as she needs to hurry and get home for church.

So, anyway, on this particular day she calls me up with the express purpose of wanting to discuss her idea that: "It would be so wonderful if I could have all of my kids in the temple with me sometime this year."
Me: "Not gonna happen, mom."
Mom: "Well, why not?"
Me: "#1 Sister lives with her boyfriend out of wedlock and has never been to the temple. #2, I don't have a recommend and don't forsee ever having one again."
Mom: "Oh! Don't say that. It hurts me so much when you say that. You were raised better than that, blah blah blah."

I asked my mom why she thought we needed a 'special event' like all of us being together in the temple to get together. She said she just feels so close to our Heavenly Father in the temple and would love nothing more than to have all of her children there with her, to feel close to the spirit and close to our (deceased) father. Now, for reference, I live in SLC with my wife and family. Brother, his wife and kids live in St.G. Sister 1 lives in Los Angeles, Sister 2 lives in Cedar City, mom and step-dad live in Northern Nevada. It is not common for us to all be gathered together very often. When we do it's usually very brief. I asked my mom whether she thought it would be a good idea to try to plan a time during the summer, when travelling weather is good, for us to call meet up for a couple days to let the kids play, visit together, and just enjoy each others' company. She said, yes, but it would just be so much more special if we could top it off with a temple session all together. I told her, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be able to give that to you...nor would I want to spend 3 hours in a temple session when we only get to see each other so very infrequently. I would much rather visit, laugh, eat, watch the kids interact with their cousins, etc., than sit across the isle from my wife and stand up and sit down repeatedly while someone else watches me kids. I can't get much visiting done with my siblings whilst watching the movie in the temple. She of course didn't appreciate that light-mindedness.

Why isn't it enough to get together with family and enjoy the company of those loved ones that we see so rarely? Why does Jesus always have to come to the party?

You can't come, but we'd love to invite you, just kidding.

I do not hold a current TR. It's been a while. After the birth of our second child, and the medical bills that went along with that, we could no longer afford to pay tithing. It was not something we made a decision about, there just simply wasn't enough money left over to pay that money to the church any more. It was something we felt bad about, and planned to correct, but to this point we have not. So, our TRs expired. No one ever contacted us for a renewal interview, nor did we seek out an interview ourselves.

Fast forward to this past Spring. Phone rings. "Hello, Bishop, how are you? Yes, fine, thanks." The bishop is now calling me directly. This despite the fact that he wouldn't recognize me on the street, although we attend church EVERY week and have been in this ward for nearly 10 years now. Anyway, the bishop proceeds to tell me that the ward is having a temple session outing that week and wanted to call and invite us personally. I was instantly livid.

I calmly stated, "Bishop, we do not have a current TR."
His response: "Oh, yes, I see that now. We need to get you in here to find out what we can do to change that. I also see you have not been paying your tithing, is that what your concern is?"
Me: "No, I'm not concerned about anything, I just don't have a TR right now. I'll let you know when we're ready to come in and talk about it, but I don't appreciate you knowing damn well we don't have a TR, yet calling and feigning an invitation to us, even though you KNOW we wouldn't be able to attend even if we wanted to!"
Bishop: "Well, what can I do to help you resolve your concern about tithing?"
Me: "Again, I do not have a concern about it. I simply cannot afford to pay it. When I can, I'll let you know."
Bishop: "Well, Bro.ThouSayest, let me just bare my testimony to you that if you pay your tithing FIRST, you will be blessed and you will be rewarded by your Heavenly Father, who loves you."
Me: "Thanks for sharing your testimony with me. I DON'T have the faith that if I pay tithing first everything else will work out. Please do not talk to me about this again. If and when I am able to pay tithing I will let you know. Until then, please don't call to invite me to any more temple outings, it's dishonest."
Bishop: "Your Heavenly Father loves you."
Me: "Thanks, tell him hello for me."

To give him credit, I think his heart was in the right place. He is terribly socially awkward, totally unaware of how to converse like a normal person. I think he has struggled with that as a bishop and it's really forced him out of his comfort zone to have to talk to people about sensitive topics, like worthiness, etc. I think in his mind this was probably a clever way to bring up the lack of TR without ruffling too many feathers. So, I don't hold anything against him. But, still I think it was kind of a lame attempt.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The worth of NUMBERS, I mean souls, is great.

As a missionary it always bothered me that we had to call in our weekly stats. It seemed to me that all that the leaders cared about was the numbers, the goals were based on numbers, etc. I felt like there should be emphasis on people and quality of contacts, not sheer quantity.

I've come to realize that while the focus appeared to be on numbers, that was probably just my poor attitude shining through. If you have no numbers-based goals, how do you measure progress? How do you keep hormone ridden young men on task? Etc. People are what counts, but numbers are necessary for records keeping and tracking.

Anyway, a lot of rambling about nothing.

These days I am a primary teacher, as I have mentioned. Because we live in a somewhat struggling ward many of us have more than one calling. I am also a Home Teaching District Leader...which is a fancy name for the guy that calls all the companionships to gather their NUMBERS...or in other words to see which families they made the time to see in the given month.

This is not a calling that is going well for me. It is easy, low time commitment, and should not be a challenge. However, this is not a calling that depends only on my commitment to getting it done, but also on other people's commitment to call me back when I call for their reports.

Take the month of March, for instance. I began calling for reports the first week of April. Left messages for each and every companionship. Return calls received = 0. Called all again. Return calls = 0. Finally able to track down 2 of the 5 companionships at church. Tried calling a third time to the remaining companionships. Return calls = 0. By this time I had received 3 phone calls and 2 voicemail messages from the secretary wanting MY report for the district. Finally yesterday I caught one more companionship at church. One companionship still MIA. District percentage for home teaching for March 2009 = roughly 22%. Nice effort everyone. For April numbers I will begin calling the first day of May. I will also make house visits this month to obtain numbers.

How can people think and project the attitude that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing when they don't do the most rudimentary of tasks? I'm not even talking about actually doing the hometeaching, although I guess the same comment would apply, I am talking about returning my phone call. Is that really too much to ask?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guns and God

I served in the Elders Quorum (EQ) presidency for a few years, through 3 different EQ presidencies, always as the 1st counselor. The first president was very organized, got all our assignments delegated and completed in a timely manner, and then proceeded to move and leave us in an unorganized heap because he didn't share his organization plan or any of the administrative tools with us prior to his departure.

The next EQ president was a very laid back kind of guy, willing to help people out almost to a fault. We did many service projects, which basically consisted of he and I showing up and taking care of the project, sometimes with the help of the 2nd counselor, but almost never with anyone else from the EQ helping out. The two of us handled snow removal at the church for two winters, as well as moving people in and out, transplanting trees from one place to another, and basically helping lazy people do projects that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves (but why do that when you can get free labor under the guise of having a special need?). EQ president #2 was a good guy to work with, fun, and reasonable in his expectations. We weren't always as organized as we would have liked to be, but we had fun and tried to do the right thing.

Enter EQ president #3, who we'll call Rambo. Rambo is a US Marine, military policeman, postman, and generally somewhat odd fellow. He came in to the EQ with a mission to totally revamp all aspects of the EQ. Being a military man he had very specific ideas of how things should be done and the 'training and background' to 'make it happen', or 'whip us in to shape', if you will. He immediately mandated weekly presidency meetings.....which lasted for about two weeks until he realized that those of us with children could not/would not sacrifice that much time away from our families for no good reason. We rarely discussed anything meaningful or purposeful that could not have been better handled during the 3 hours we already spent at church each week. The new plan was to meet for 10 minutes or so every week after EQ meeting on Sunday. Fine. Still nothing meaningful or purposeful was discussed. Other presidency members and I frequently expressed concerns or ideas we had for improvement of the EQ, but they were usually not discussed and usually ignored completely.

I recall one time shortly after the calling of the new presidency, Rambo paid a visit to my house because I missed church (I had strep throat). I was downstairs watching a Jazz game and he proceeded directly downstairs to confront me. He explained that he 'felt inspired' to visit me. I explained in turn that I had strep throat and he would likely contract it if he stayed. He wanted to kneel and have prayer with me before he left, which was okay with me because I was already sitting on the floor. Interesting visit. Purpose? Not sure.

Rambo's next idea occurred sometime around the birth of my 2nd child. I didn't attend meetings for a couple weeks as I was staying home with the family and we were keeping the baby out of public places to keep her from getting sick. Well, when we went back to church, I was sitting in EQ meeting holding my baby in my arms. I had been fighting to get her to sleep for the entire meeting block and had finally succeeded with about 10 minutes remaining in EQ meeting. Upon completion of the meeting, Rambo stood and knelt on the floor for closing prayer. The rest of the EQ followed suit as I watched with a bit of bewilderment. I had apparently missed the announcement that we would now be kneeling as we petitioned the Lord with prayer at the benediction of our EQ meeting. Since I had just gotten my baby to sleep I elected to remain in my seat so as to not wake her unnecessarily. This did not sit well with Rambo and he invited me to join the EQ on my knees. I politely declined, citing the above reasoning. He waited silently for me to join them. I declined his second invitation, then stood and excused myself from the EQ meeting without hearing the humble prayer of the holy posturing EQ president.

This story illustrates just one of many such situations that took place with Rambo at the helm. I feel it a pretty good representation of his mindset and my reactions to such insanity and outward displays of self-righteousness.

Rambo's next revelation was that each week the EQ presidency should visit members of the EQ. The time designated for these visits was 5:30 PM on Tuesdays. I explained that I normally don't get home from work until about 6:15 and would not be able to make it at 5:30. He reluctantly changed the time to 6:30, which I still didn't want to do, but which I agreed to. This meant that on that night I would miss dinner with my family and consequently not get to eat until after the kids were bathed and in bed. Still, I agreed.

The first week we showed up ready to make these visits....none of us (except possibly Rambo), sure of the purpose of our visits. We proceeded to drop by the homes of 3 EQ members of varying degrees of church activity. One let us in, one told us to never call on him again, and the third was not home. Within the home of the one successful visit we sat awkwardly on the couch as Rambo tried to visit with the EQ member. The chaos of family life raged on around us as the EQ member tried to be polite, but was obviously distracted by his family who was trying to eat dinner, children running around screaming, wife giving dirty looks, and the rest of us sitting embarrassed as Rambo pontificated over important, but untimely things. When we left he wanted to have a kneeling (would you expect anything less at this point) prayer. Then the EQ member hurriedly escorted us out the door. Rambo was on a spiritual high, totally oblivious to the imposition we had just made into that family's evening and to the social awkwardness of the entire situation. The other EQ presidency members and I expressed our concerns and inquired as to the intended purpose of our 'visits'. Rambo calmly, and with obvious sense of purpose, explained that we were just visiting people to 'check on them' and 'see how they're doing'. I said, "Well, didn't we just see him in church two days ago?" He didn't really have an answer for that.

The 'visits' continued on for a few weeks until the rest of the EQ presidency grew disillusioned with our supposed purpose and questioned again what we were trying to accomplish. I explained that I didn't have a problem with visiting people who needed help or had some special concern that we needed to resolve, but that I didnt' see the point in dropping by unannounced with no clear reason. Rambo's response was that we were just fellow shipping. I countered that that is what church meetings and home teaching are for and that unless we could agree on some additional purpose in our visits then I thought we should let the established programs of the church handle the fellow shipping aspect rather than trying to invent our own programs that not only are not sanctioned by the church, but also take us away from our families and inconvenience the families of those whom are visited. Rambo changed the visits back to 5:30 and I didn't attend any more 'visits'.

Shortly thereafter I decided I couldn't take it any more and asked to be released. I had been wanting to do so for a couple years, but figured I would endure to the end and all that. But, my feelings of frustration and enmity were getting to the point that I felt like I was doing more harm than good in trying to fulfill my calling. I teach primary now again, which is really where I belong, with the only non-judgemental members of the church. I have a hard enough time doing the things I'm supposed to do without obstacles and my attitudes toward those people getting in the way. Maybe I'm an evil person for asking to be released. Oh well.

Finally, one last story about Rambo, which I think illustrates why I was incompatible with him. In December Rambo asked for and received a few minutes during priesthood opening exercises to talk about the upcoming EQ New Year's activity. He explained that 'we' would be taking out some old tv's and fridges, and stuff like that to blow up with guns. He went on to explain that he has an AK47, as well as various other assault rifles and shotguns, and blah blah blah. I don't know anything about guns, so I didn't recognize the names of the guns. What I did recognize was that this was a totally inappropriate activity to hang under the banner of a church sanctioned activity. Not only that, but Rambo told everyone to invite all their nonmember friends as this could be a great fellowshipping opportunity. Really? Really? Wow.