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The Baby and the Bathwater

I wonder if anyone reminds a newly released prisoner to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater?”

Is there something positive to be sifted out of a stint in the slammer? With a regular schedule for meals, exercise,  no crime, no alcoholism, and no drugs (theoretically) one would think to recommend looking back and focusing on keeping up with the positive side of prison existence. Or not?

Context is everything and if you are not making positive life choices completely freely and independently it doesn’t register as the good life. A stint of not doing anything bad doesn’t really help in making the tough positive life choices.

Leaving my religion, coming out at as gay man, getting divorced… were life altering modifications that all came with the advice to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” More

Scientology-Lite

I’ve joked several times about Mormonism being “Scientology-lite” but until recently I never had the chance or much interest to do a compare/contrast. But I suppose you can’t make that joke without backing it up, so here goes.

I probably have as much knowledge or interest in Scientology as the general population has regarding Mormonism.  I’m familiar with several buildings in my local area; I know some of the absurd parts of the doctrine and I’ve heard rumors.  Of course, I know about the celebrity members and I’ve also witnessed several  “Anti-Scientology” street protesters (former members I presume) holding placards declaring it to be a cult. More

Cutting the LDS Church Some Slack

Oh I know, I’m the first one to jump on an opportunity to point out the many holes and errors in the Mormon Church.

Believe it or not, there are some areas of thought and principle where I believe the LDS leaders get it more right than the majority of their members. Yes, sometime the leadership and organization are actually less fanatical about certain issues. The real interesting point is that they rarely feel the need to clarify any of these issues, but they just sit back and let the crazy take over. Sometimes LDS members have an eagerness to take an off-hand comment, or counsel and run with it as if it were a commandment. You’d think a reasonable leadership would either be more careful about what is said publicly or at least clarify more often.

For example, I don’t think Hinckley ever actually intended his whole one earring fiasco to get blown up into the symbol of righteousness that it is now.  Even fellow General Authorities quickly hopped on that bandwagon and a good prophet never taps the brakes apparently. More

Contempt

I didn’t recognize it as such at the time but I think that’s because I was used to it.  I was accustomed to feeling contempt from others.

Contempt is an intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless.  Contempt is also the state of being despised or dishonored. Just like you hardly notice a particular brand of car until you start looking into buying one and then they appear everywhere, a straight person most likely has no visibility to the contempt directed at gays in society generally but most especially in the LDS Church.  Women don’t recognize the contempt with which they are treated.  The general membership don’t recognize the contempt which the highest leaders have for them. More

Mine vs Yours

NEWS FLASH: Just because you still believe in a concept doesn’t mean you OWN it!

The Flat Earth Society may still cling tightly to irrational and goofy reasoning, but the history of the idea belongs to anyone whose ancestors lived without the convenience of modern science and information transfer. In other words, that history belongs to ALL of us.

If I quote scientific evidence for a spherical earth I am not “Anti-Flat Earth.”  I am pro truth. The fact that the larger community gives limited time and space to the consideration of a flat earth doesn’t indicate a conspiracy of Anti Flat Earth sentiment; it doesn’t indicate  weakness of relying too heavily on the learning of men; it doesn’t indicate a lack of spiritual enlightenment. More

The Small Things Shall Become Great

I’ve heard it said Catholic doctrine dictates that the Pope is infallible, but Catholics don’t really believe it; Mormon doctrine on the other hand admits that the prophet is fallible, but Mormons don’t really believe it.

That’s just a humorous highlight of the difference between the LDS Church and other religions, but most especially their respective followers.

I have a Catholic friend who grew up in South Dakota, had relatively no contact with Mormons there and yet she decided to blindly attend college at BYU.

“Notre Dame is Catholic, but so what? Right?”

I think I laughed for a full day when she told me that story. She lasted a year in Provo before transferring to a west coast state university. She had no concept that Notre Dame to Catholicism is not the same as BYU to Mormonism. More

Belonging

One evening, while I was playing prelude at the piano for a stake priesthood leadership meeting, I looked down at all the brethren arriving in their suits, white shirt and ties, greeting one another and I felt something distinct and powerful. It was a whispering of the spirit of sorts. I’d felt it before many times, but I’d never been able to define it or recognize it for what it was.  Perhaps I was too afraid, but for some reason on this occasion I felt ready to acknowledge it and accept it.

“I don’t belong here,” I thought.

At first I told myself, “Of course I don’t belong; I don’t have a leadership calling.”

I was no stranger to the priesthood leadership meeting. I’d been the bishop’s executive secretary for several bishops, but due to boundary changes I didn’t have a calling in the new ward yet.

But it was more than that.

Perhaps having no calling for several weeks gave me a freedom to see things from a new perspective.

The feeling wasn’t a negative emotion targeted to any individual.  I knew most of them.  I’d served in some capacity in the priesthood with many of them.  I liked them.  They were friendly men and good people, but I had very little in common with any of them outside the LDS church. The next thought went something like this:

“I’m an adult.  But here I am feeling obligated to spend my free time with people I’d rather not.” It’s as if I were a young child whose parents had forced me to invite the weird kid at school to my birthday party to be nice.  Yet, I wasn’t a kid.  I was an adult who already knew how to play nice in the sandbox.  I think there comes a point when the privilege of being a grown-up is that you get to choose your own playmates and your own free time activities.

It’s not tough to spot other members who feel similarly.  They hang out in the foyer. When they pray they say something you’ve never heard anyone else say. If and when they bear their testimony it is concise, interesting and lacking the requisite “I know”.  They laugh loudly. They say “no” to callings that are terrible mismatches.

As I began to eventually distance myself from my obligatory life, one of the first things I did was sign on for a long distance charity sporting event.  It was the kind of event where you train as a team for several months while raising money from friends and colleagues.  The team training was intense and fun as I made several wonderful friends.  The fundraising was very far outside my element and yet it was an enriching and rewarding experience too. On the day of the 100 mile bike ride as I was riding next to a fellow teammate riding with one leg, I contemplated what a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience I was in the midst of.  The sense of belonging was powerful … and it dawned on me that I was probably the only Mormon there. The event took place on a Sunday. In fact, when I told my sister about the event, she shared her desire to do something meaningful like that but couldn’t because they were usually held on the Sabbath Day.

My experience in Mormonism was that my time and my social circle were determined by the ward I lived in and the callings I held. Even when I lived abroad, I made local friendships but again my time and energies were mostly directed towards the fellow Mormons in the wards I attended.

On one hand, it is a really nice feeling to be able to go just about anywhere in the world and find an LDS ward where you will immediately be welcomed warmly and find that one “spiritual” connection that can abate the homesickness or cultural confusion. On the other hand, once I found my geographic and cultural bearings I would have been far better off using my free time and energy outside the ward. In the same fashion, once you get your moral and individual bearings, life is richer on the outside.  Mormons miss a lot of good stuff because of the insularity that is very inherent in the LDS Culture.

After coming out, I had a straight friend tell me that he had always thought I seemed uncomfortable in my heterosexual skin, like I didn’t belong. Indeed I was uncomfortable and it was exhausting pretending to own my straight LDS Priesthood skin. I didn’t belong. I not only felt like an intruder in others’ experiences but also in my own life. I had a decent job, a beautiful wife.  I was temple-worthy, home teaching regularly and fulfilling whatever calling that came along. But I felt like a visitor in someone else’s life.  That other life was Mr. Should because my life was in every way what any LDS man SHOULD do.

I believed it all, but I never felt quite fully inducted in the tribe of Mormonism.  Small things were hard to swallow….things that Mormons would say are part of the church, not part of the gospel.  All I know is that they weren’t ME. Even the bigger concepts and “answers” that Mormonism provided were answers to someone else’s questions, not mine.

Personally, I don’t feel like I need saving.

I don’t wonder where I came from, why I am here or where I am going.

I know my body well enough to know what I should and shouldn’t eat or what to wear.

I’m ok with what we know scientifically about the origin of man.

I know how to set up and create peaceful and enlightening experiences for myself.

All of the main “answers” of Mormonism seem irrelevant to me.  In essence, the people who do find answers and meaning there don’t belong with me and I don’t belong with them.

Like many others, I initially searched for a replacement church after I left Mormonism.  The only place I found that was even a remote possibility for me was the local UU congregation. Unlike Mormonism, their message isn’t that EVERYONE belongs there.  Instead, I was actually told by the UU minister, “If you feel at home here you are welcome to join us, but if this doesn’t feel like home certainly don’t try to force yourself to come here.” So I didn’t and I don’t.

I go where I belong.  As a gay father who likes to think and question, that place is not in Mormonism and it seems rather juvenile to think that there would be one best place for everyone.  If you are at a place in life where you don’t feel like you belong, get out.  I’m certain that there’s a place, a group, a congregation, an activity, a career, a family, a lover, or a friend for you.

One man’s home is another man’s wilderness

I like how Jim Croce expresses this in his song, “New York’s Not my Home”. I have lived in New York City.  I loved it and I’d return in a heartbeat, but I certainly understand Jim Croce’s reaction to a place not being for him.

NEW YORK’S NOT MY HOME

Well things were spinnin’ round me
And all my thoughts were cloudy
And I had begun to doubt
all the things that were me

Been in so many places
You know I’ve run so many races
And looked into the empty faces
of the people of the night
And something is just not right

‘Cause I know that
I gotta get out of here
I’m so alone
Don’t you know that
I gotta get out of here
‘Cause New York’s not my home

Where did I come from? Why am I here?

Area code 801?  Who could be calling me from area code 801?  I was born in Utah and even went to BYU but I only maintain a couple of relationships in that state and their names weren’t appearing on my caller ID. I knew Utah was a big telemarketing center so not knowing who it was, I just didn’t answer the three or four days in a row that they called.

Then, curiosity got the better of me.

“Hello?”

“Is this XYZ?”

“Yes”

“This is President ABC calling”

Gulp. It was my former mission president.

I hadn’t talked to him since I had attended a mission reunion probably 10 years earlier. I’d certainly never talked to him on the phone. I liked my mission president in a distant-leadership-respectful sort of way. Our mission at the time was among the world’s top baptizing and it had been a very “get-em, dunk-em and move on” environment and that always made me uncomfortable but I didn’t know anything else. I was an average missionary but easily baptized over a hundred souls (but who’s counting, right?). My president certainly wasn’t among the worst that I’ve heard of, but I was never one of his golden child missionaries either.  That’s due to an experience I had with my first companion, but that’s too good of a story in and of itself to tell here.

I knew immediately why he had called me.

I’d recently told one former mission companion about my disaffection from the church. This companion had obviously gone to our mission president for help. President ABC was now a General Authority and I was shocked that he actually took the time to call.  After my initial surprise, I quickly regained composure and stunned myself even more that I was neither nervous nor unsure about my position or my conclusions.  Again, the conversation that followed could be the stuff of another post, but he mostly asked questions and listened.  He was very respectful and I held back too in my habitual deference to him.  But it was the conclusion that blew me away.

This man who had taught me to bear my testimony boldly and to deliver a baptismal challenge on the first discussion ended the phone call by telling me that his testimony remains intact because he always comes back to the fact that Joseph Smith named some middle-eastern object in the Book of Mormon … and got it right (sorry, I don’t remember the actual example he used).

Whhhaaa?

Really? That’s it? I was speechless … and the phone call ended with his promise to follow up with me on another detail of our conversation (which he never did).

I won’t even get into how I should have responded, but suffice it to say that as a scientist by profession, his logic was way askew. I had expected a powerful touchy-feely testimony close, not the shaky-logic, fact-based but easily-refuted linguistic evidence close!

I don’t remember if I said this to him or not, but why would I give that sort of re-consideration to the LDS Church which had gotten so many other things wrong?  Why not reconsider Catholicism or Islam? I’m sure I could find a thread of fact-based evidence on which to hang a testimony of those faiths as well. The obvious answer was simple – because the LDS Church is the one I was born into, the one I knew. It was familiar and comfortable.

I was accused on my mission several times of only being a Mormon because my parents were LDS. I resented the implication that my religion wasn’t a choice but something akin to a genetic disease. In my mind I told myself that I had experienced “the world” during my first year in college and determined all on my own to follow the LDS church and come on my mission. But did I really? Did I explore Humanism for a year? Did I take up Yoga and try to find peace or happiness in one of the gazillion activities available to me?  Not really.

What I had actually done is set up a false dichotomy for myself.  Either follow the LDS church, serve a mission and marry in the temple or partake in the hedonism around me at college for the rest of my life.

I see LDS gay men who do the same thing.  They have a period in their lives where they supposedly live “the lifestyle.”  They go to gay bars, have random sex and even dabble in drugs and alcohol. Some of them even found partners who did all this with them. In essence they lose self-control for a year or two. None of it fulfilled them and so they ran back to Mormonism. In their minds they use that period of decadence on one end of the decision scale and balance it with how they behaved and felt during an LDS youth conference years before  and those become the two choices. They’re still miserable after they return to church, but at least they’re not addicted to drugs or having dangerous sex and they swear they’ve explored the other side and know they’re at a better place. And in one sense they are right. They are in a better place and just slightly less miserable…but they’re definitely not content or at peace. Those are not the only two choices in life. Being gay does not mean drugs and promiscuous sex. And there are far more choices in life than being a temple worthy Mormon or a gay-gone-wild college student.

In fact, let’s be honest. The only reason I believed as I did or that most of you believe as you do is because Scientologists didn’t get to our ancestors first. If I had been born into a Catholic family, I have no doubt that I’d have been as touched by the rosary as I was by the temple. Faith would be just as powerful in another belief system and the instinct would be to not question the religion of my birth. I’m not saying everything would be exactly the same without LDS faith, There would certainly be differences…but it would be neither “up” not “down”, not better or worse…just different…and that alternate reality would be the one we all tell ourselves is meant to be… and that alternate reality would have been the one my mission president feels has blessed his life and taught him things.

Some of the most interesting people I know have been the ones who have “strayed” into life paths somewhere in the middle.  These are places I never even considered or thought possible when I was younger, but apparently there are ways to be a good, honest and productive person outside the LDS faith.  There are ways to remain LDS and still be compassionate, liberal and a lover of truth.

Just be honest about how you got to where you are.

I only write about being a former Mormon and my frustrations with it … because great-great-grandpa Peter and his wife jumped on the Mormon train rather than the Jehovah’s Witness bandwagon.