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Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

Introduction
With the “I’m A Mormon” ad campaign recently hitting the shores of Australia, frequent Mormon Expression board commenter Martin Jacobs was prompted to consider it’s message in light of trends he sees emerging in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I found his analysis intriguing enough to merit stepping aside and letting him mount my soap box as a guest blogger.  I hope that you find his insights as  fresh, challenging, and thought provoking as I did when I heard them for the first time.

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist
by Martin Jacobs
The tag line “I’m [insert name here], and I’m a Mormon” superbly clinches the current advertising campaign by the Mormons. However, I suggest that the message that it projects is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not even the gospel of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith; it’s modernism. More

What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Introduction:
Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

The Parable of The Box

I was first exposed to this parable via Chad Spjut’s Exmormon Foundation 2010 Conference Presidential Greeting.  I offer it to you now  in the hope that this powerful, articulate, and poignant expression of the life experience of so many resonates as deeply for you as it did for me.

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

The Parable of The Box
by Anonymous Utahan
There once was a boy who lived all his life with a cardboard box over his head. His parents taught him that he should never take the box off, for doing so was dangerous and foolish. The box protected him from the scary world outside of it.

On the inside of the box, he could make out some letters, and he could see the outlines of the box around him. His world was brown cardboard. His parents taught him to study the inside of the box carefully, for in it was all the wisdom he needed to navigate life. Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.

Some of his friends told him that they had taken off the box and life was much better, but he didn’t believe them. His parents made sure he stayed away from these people, who clearly wanted only to hurt their boy. 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