Things I Like About Mormonism

I went to have a chat the other day with the rector of the local Episcopal church where I’ve been attending services, mostly just because I am manically talkative right now and always looking for a new victim to process my religious journey with. Fortunately, he turned out to be a skilled listener. And something that really impressed me came early on, after I told him my basic background (namely that I was a super conflicted Mormon who’d been recently dabbling in all things Episcopal and loving it). He easily could have used that as a launching point to do a sales pitch for the Episcopal tradition, or plunged into a narrative of Mormonism as an oppressive tradition from which I needed to escape. But instead, rather my to my surprise, the first thing he asked was, “what do you like about Mormonism?” As a lifelong Mormon I am perhaps overly alert to potential proselytizing, and the thought may have crossed my mind that this could be a trick question, part of “building a relationship of trust” or “establishing common ground” so that then you can later pounce and get the person to convert. But as the conversation continued, it was clear that nothing of the sort was happening. He genuinely wanted to learn more about Mormonism (he didn’t know much), and in particular my experience of it. He didn’t have an agenda for me; he just wanted to hear about my spiritual journey. It’s an absolute delight to talk to someone with that attitude.

Anyway, the conversation got me thinking about what I do like about Mormonism, and inspired me to dig out a post I started years ago on the topic and expand it. Here are some of the things I came up with:
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My Holy Week Experience

Palm Sunday

Holy Week kicks off! I’ve been excited for this ever since I found myself not just doing drive-by visits to the Episcopal church, but attending regularly. I’ve dipped in and out of different Holy Week events in the past, but I’ve never gone to all of them. This is actually my first time attending a Palm Sunday service.

We meet in the courtyard outside the chapel, and they distribute palms as we enter. We hold them up as they read the opening liturgy outside. They have a choir with handbells, and the music is just gorgeous. We slowly process into the building. Most of the service is taken up with a reading of the Passion narrative. They’ve assigned different people in the congregation to voice the different characters, which really brings it to life. (I’m amused to note that one of the rectors is playing both Judas and Pilate.) Since that’s the focus, there isn’t a sermon, although they do have Communion. (I’m coming to realize that Episcopalians pretty much do the Eucharist whenever possible.) They don’t read the Resurrection part of the text, of course, since it’s not Easter yet, so the service ends on a rather serious note. The congregation leaves in silence; unlike regular Sundays, the rectors don’t stand near the doors afterward and shake hands with people. But I leave on a real high nonetheless, excited for the coming week. Read More

A Person Who Stays

Like most kids born into the church, I was baptized at the age of eight. I turned 42 earlier this year. (Tangential sign that you are getting at least middle-aged: I actually had to stop and check the year and subtract to verify my current age. But yes, it’s 42.) That means I have a solid 34 years of membership in the LDS church. I was by no means consistently active for all those years. My first foray out of Mormonism happened about thirty seconds after I finished my last class at BYU, and was no longer required to have an ecclesiastical endorsement. That time around, I left for a good year and a half. But looking back, “left” is a very strong word for what I did. I mean, I quit going to church every week (though I’d still drop by for special occasions). But I still did stuff like praying and reading my scriptures, and even (such are the contradictions of life) attending an Institute class for a while. And given that I was living in Provo, with five Mormon roommates, I was still pretty immersed in the whole thing. In a stroke of good fortune, I got to take a night class on Mormon literature from Eugene England, who had found refuge at UVU at that point, and I loved it. It was an environment where there was room for real questions; I found there a constructive and supportive space to begin the process of seriously wrestling with my Mormon heritage and what it meant to me. Given my continuing attachment to the LDS tradition, I don’t think anyone was terribly surprised when I eventually decided to come back to church. Read More

Exploring the Episcopal Church

Several months ago I decided, for the umpteenth time in my life, that I needed a break from church. All the usual factors were at play, from frustration with the expectations surrounding gender and marriage to frustration with the culture of obedience and family-worship. The immediate catalyst for my leaving was not unrelated to these things. My older sister moved into the ward, and we started going to church together. This should have been fun, and of course I was happy she was there. But watching the sharp differences in the ways we were treated by other members of the ward just brought home to me that no, I was not imagining my marginalization in the community. People who barely registered my existence went out of their way to talk to and include her. People would literally talk over me, if I was sitting next to her, to engage her in conversation, without appearing to notice I was even there. I may as well have been a piece of furniture. She was asked to speak in sacrament meeting soon after moving in, and had a calling shortly thereafter—very different from my experience moving into the ward nearly a year earlier. Read More

With God, Nothing is Impossible…Except Choir

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I am our ward choir director. If you knew me in real life you might find this shocking—I am no great musical talent, I have no formal training, and most importantly, I sport no distinguished-looking facial hair—no mutton chop sideburns or flamboyant goatee—the true mark of a virtuoso conductor.

What I can do is read music and play the piano passably well, and that is about it…which apparently qualifies me as choir director. I am a warm body who can keep a beat and carry a tune. Praise the Lord and pass the earplugs! Read More

A Mormon Voyage

In his brief history of India’s geography, Land of the Seven Rivers, Sanjeev Sanyal describes how India’s maritime prowess fell into decline beginning at the end of the twelfth century.

Indian merchants had once been explorers and risk-takers who criss-crossed the oceans in their stitched ships. They could be found in large numbers in ports from the Persian Gulf to China…Suddenly…they almost all disappeared.

What happened? Read More

The Covenant Keeper’s Guide to Attending Church While on Vacation

You may have heard that it has been said by them of old time that covenant keepers will attend the full three-hour block of Sunday church meetings, even while on vacation. But I say unto you that that’s not nearly enough. Simply attending the three-hour block is for slothful, lukewarm covenant breakers who were clearly less valiant in the pre-existence. If you want to demonstrate that you’re a true covenant keeper, you’ll be sure to do the following while on vacation:

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Three wards enter. Four wards leave.

My ward is getting divided this Sunday. Or as you can probably guess from my title, it’s not actually a straight-up split of my ward. It’s that I’m in one of three wards that will have its boundaries realigned, and the result will be four new wards.

churchI’ve been through this process only twice that I remember. One time was when I was about sixteen. My family had lived in the same place for eight years or so, and I was felt pretty comfortable in my ward. Between the time that the realignment was announced and the release of the actual details of who would end up in which ward, I remember being extremely worried about having the ward split cut me off from my best friends in the ward. As I recall, the change ended up making very little difference, at least to me. All my best friends were still in my ward after the split. And in retrospect, it’s kind of odd that I was that concerned. I lived in Utah Valley and the ward was geographically tiny, so even if my friends had been divided away from me, I could have still easily walked the short distance to their houses to visit them.

The other ward division I recall going through was just a couple of years ago, when my wife and I lived in a college town that had two wards that were realigned to make three. I was less worried than I had been as a teen, but I still recall worrying that the people I liked most in the ward would end up split away from me. Again, for me the outcome was very little change. All the people I liked most stayed in the ward with me.

What strikes me about the process of ward boundary realignment is that I know so little about it. The process of how such things come about is pretty much completely opaque to me. So what I’d like to do is pose a few questions about the process and speculate a little about the answer to each, and then hope you, dear reader, will be so kind as to share any knowledge you have in the comments.

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Who Speaks for the Trees?

At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…is the Street of the Lifted Lorax. And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lorax away.

For several years I have wondered what the future holds for the Church. Before then, I’d always envisioned the stone carved out of the mountain without hands, rolling forth to fill the earth. That is what I observed on my mission in Brazil nearly 25 years ago, where once we caught two buses and trekked up a big hill for 20 minutes to reach the chapel for the baptism of my friend Antonio; now, due to the growth of the Church, Antonio lives a five-minute walk to the chapel and a ten-minute drive to the temple.

What was the Lorax? Any why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows? Read More

Is the Church Becoming like FIFA?

I am a huge soccer enthusiast. I grew up playing in my neighborhood parks, at the nearby indoor soccer facility, and on my high school team. My dad would take me to Camp Randall stadium to watch the Wisconsin men’s team play on the hard Astroturf. Later, I served a mission in Brazil and played soccer on many P-days and for a few minutes most other days with the “moleques” in the street, trying to scoot their scuffed up balls into the homemade goals that would be hastily dragged to safety whenever a car came down the street. So of course, I loved the recent World Cup—that one time every four years when the world gathers to celebrate our global religion, and time almost stands still. Read More

Approaching Zion

In my latest post I shared my words from my ward’s latest fast and testimony meeting. It was intensely personal to me; I sniffled through some of it, something I almost never do despite my good Mormon upbringing. Even so, I posted my testimony because I wanted to give encouragement to those members who, for various reasons, love the Church in spite of the sometimes painfully large, angry-red, pus-filled warts that they see. I wanted to provide support to Mormons who desire to be themselves at church, in a church where being yourself can make you undesirable if your beliefs are not mainstream.

In the past I have avoided sharing some of my concerns about the Church with my TBM friends. If the Church is working well for them I do not want to give them difficulty. If they are deriving strength and hope from our community and its teachings, if they are comforted by the certainty of belonging to the One True Church and are learning to know God and love their neighbors by participating in it, I do not want to rain on their parade. Read More

Let’s Make the Hymnbook More of a His and Hers Book

This Sunday in sacrament meeting we sang the hymn O God, the Eternal Father. I noticed this time, more than previous times, the gender-exclusive language:

That sacred, holy off’ring,
By man least understood…

With no apparent beauty,
That man should him desire…

To walk upon his footstool
And be like man, almost…

I understand that when W.W. Phelps wrote these lyrics back in the 1830’s, gender-exclusive language was the norm, it was the way people talked, wrote, and thought. I also understand that in many instances such gender-exclusive language was typically understood to mean both men and women. I suspect that Brother Phelps had no overt desire to leave anyone out; by using “man” he may have been simply using the default term for the word “humans”. Read More

Making Space for Myself as an Uncorrelated Mormon–Part 4: Learning to Say No

I’m going to share with you something important I’ve learned in therapy (said the blogger, both of his remaining readers scrambling for the exits). In order to have healthy relationships, we need to have healthy boundaries. And when constructing boundaries, we must be aware that they can be either too porous or too rigid.

First, the problem with too porous: Read More

Making Space for Myself as an Uncorrelated Mormon–Part 3: Try This One Weird Trick

(Previous posts about making space can be found here, here, and here.)

A while back I listened to a podcast where Fiona Givens discussed the lovely book she and her husband co-wrote called “The God Who Weeps”. I highly recommend it–the God they describe is compelling, one worth seeking after, connecting with, and emulating. Anyway, I was struck by her confidence in her Mormon-ness, her self-assurance that her way of being Mormon was completely valid, even though it sounded quite different from much of the Mormonism that I experience in my ward and during General Conference.

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Area Mormon Called to Serve as a Facebook Member

In a dramatic move viewed by many observers as a step towards hastening the Lord’s work in the last days, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called their first Facebook member. Area man Aaron Fizz, of the Provo 279th ward, was asked by his bishop to accept the calling of a Facebook member, and will commence his new duties as soon as he can be sustained in sacrament meeting and set apart by his local leaders.

In his bishop’s charge to him, Brother Fizz was exhorted to be willing to bear other members’ over-the-top political statements, to friend with those who friend, to like those who stand in need of liking, and to play Mafia Wars at all times and in all places that he may be in, even until death or his wife says it’s time to come to bed. Read More

Dona Nobis Aequalitatem

In May of 2010, I was standing alone in my new room after having just started a new job for the summer working the dorms at BYU. I had just finished completely unpacking, and everything was in place and orderly. And it was at that moment, when all seemed settled, that I decided I had to leave.

There I was, just done with my first year at BYU. The past year and a half of my life had been spent fighting against a thought that started as a small flicker but overtime became impossible to push back. That struggle had been spent with what seemed like virtually constant prayer, and I was feeling very close to God at that time in my life—closer than I had ever felt before.

And so, I sat down at the end of my bed and said a simple, to the point prayer. . It wasn’t a prayer of asking—I am much too decisive a person for that. I said something like “Hey. I know I just unpacked and everything. But I can take it no more, and I have decided to leave the church. No one understands my struggle better than you—you’ve been with me through it all. But I can’t do it anymore. I do not feel welcome, and I do not feel that this is my home. I’m starving slowly and I am finding no nourishment in this church. I am scared if I stay much longer, the damage will not be reversible and I’ll never recover. So, I have decided to leave. I’ll transfer to a new school. I’ll move on from this.” Read More

Making Space for Myself as an Uncorrelated Mormon–Part 2: Mormon Open Mic

  (Previous posts about making space can be found here and here.)       microphone

I have performed stand-up comedy four times: three times for church talent shows and once at a work fundraiser. But, I have not yet mustered the courage to try stand-up at a comedy club open mic night, not yet taking that next comedic and soul-baring step, and I’ll tell you why. When I do comedy the nearly universal response I get, when friends approach me after my performance, is this: “That was really funny! I had no idea you do comedy. I never would have guessed.”

I know these people don’t mean it—it’s more of a knee-jerk reaction than a reasoned response—but what they’re telling me is that I’m just not that funny in real life. Read More

Making Space for Myself as an Uncorrelated Mormon–Part 1: Going with Nixon to China

(My introductory post on making space can be found here.)

In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon went to China, thereby reopening official diplomatic ties that had been ruptured by the Communist revolution of 1949. During the ensuing quarter century, the Cold War had created between the two countries a suspicious and unsurpassable barrier that American politicians would not approach. Doing so would paint them as pink, soft on Communism, too weak to protect American interests, and therefore vulnerable to domestic political attacks. Nixon’s rabid anti-Communist rhetoric, anti-Communist policies, and tacit approval of McCarthy’s communist witch hunts proved his bona fides. He was, in Mormon-speak, anti-Communist with every fiber of his being, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Thus it was said that only Nixon could have gone to China–he had, according to Wikipedia, “an unassailable reputation among his supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials.” In other words, he was able to step outside the orthodoxy because everyone knew whose team he was on.

Nixon’s bare-knuckled domestic politics were, in many instances, despicable, as Watergate subsequently highlighted. But the important lesson to be learned from his China diplomacy is that, to depart from a team’s orthodoxy in some areas, requires that we demonstrate our commitment to the team in other areas.

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In defense of boring meetings

Today’s guest post comes to us from Mike C. In case you haven’t already seen it, don’t miss his recent guest post at fMh.

Main entry: bored for the Lord

Definition: the practice of sitting through LDS Sunday meetings in a dull stupor as a demonstration of true devotion and faith

Etymology: variant of lying for the Lord, early Mormonism (ca. 1848)

Synonyms: PEC attendance, reading handbook #2, sitting still during hometeaching visits if you are younger than 18

Antonyms: teaching Sunbeams (see also, frazzled for the Father)

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