Mar 31, 2008

Danzig vs. Bloggers

I'm just throwing out a question out there to all of you. Feel free to answer if you like.

When one compares someone like Danzig to some of us bloggers who express our views on a variety of different subjects, what's the difference? Is it merely because he went to the newspaper and signed his name or is there more to it? If we were to all post our names and addresses on our individual blogs, would we be getting a summons to the Bishop's court?

I honestly think that most of us have the best intentions at heart. I can only speak for myself, but I think that like me, most are curious and confused and need to talk about things in order to clear the air or just get it off their chests. Blogging can also help us gain insight and perspective that we wouldn't have necessarily gotten on our own. I would never want or mean to be irreverant, but I think it's important for members to really think about things, ask questions, perhaps even debate a little.

I'm very curious about how this works.

"The church is perfect, but the people aren't."

That's what my dad always said when I was a kid and complained about something that had happened at church. I tried to adopt this as my personal philosophy when encountering conflict with other members, and it served as a good reminder that even in the Lord's Church there are some morons. But, however moronic some people can be, only I could push myself into inactivity.

Dad was definitely right that the people aren't perfect. And for many years, I believed that the Church was. But as I've gotten older and (perhaps) wiser, I've had doubts about that part. I think that I believe that the Gospel is perfect, but I often find myself asking which is which.

I had an interesting experience at church a few weeks ago. The stake president, who barely knows me and was utterly unaware of my many doubts and questions, was speaking that day and throughout his talk, which managed to keep my undivided attention for its entire duration, it felt and appeared like he was talking directly to me. He said several things that I could really relate to, but perhaps the most interesting, and surprising, comment he made during his talk was when he said something along the lines of "the Church is good, but not everything that has been done in the Church has always been good." Interestingly enough, right after the meeting ended, he approached me and told me that he had actually prepared another talk, but felt a inspired to speak about something totally different. And he felt a strong impression that his words were directed specifically at me.

I know that some people will really think that I'm a true dissident when I say that I don't believe the Church is perfect. And I don't. I do, however, still hold out hope for the Gospel being perfect. I used to assume that they were the same thing. I mean, the Church is supposedly headed by the Lord and has the fullness of His Gospel. So they're really the same thing, right? I don't think so. I can't say I have a proper definition of what constitutes "The Church" and "The Gospel," but a church is an organization run by human beings. Even if the Lord is at its head, it's still being run by flawed humans capable of making mistakes and committing sin. I'd like to believe that the Lord's true and pure Gospel has not been corrupted by men, despite their human weaknesses. It's still hard to differentiate between the two.

Just a thought... has anyone had similar thoughts?

Mar 26, 2008

The Mormon Critic: Out Of Work

As Mormons, we don't like to be critical. Nobody really likes a critic because who likes to be criticized? I don't, you don't, and leaders of the Church sure don't. Some members have found that out the hard way.

I've learned in life that we need to pick our battles. We're not supposed to criticize our Church leaders and really, when it comes to things like the overcooked spaghetti being served at the Relief Society potluck or how out of tune the ward choir sings... well, let's just say that every ward has its petty critic and you're probably thinking of yours right now. However, sometimes you may think that you have a really good reason to be critical. In fact, you're probably CERTAIN that your justified in your criticism because you know that if you keep your mouth shut, people might get hurt. So what do you do?

Dallin H. Oaks has said "It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true." In the case of trivial matters, who could disagree with him? Criticism usually results in hurt feelings and hurt feeling often lead to members leaving the Church. But is it EVER right to criticize a leader, particularly those in a higher calling? A couple of examples come to mind:

The Priesthood Ban: Though I always have and probably always will struggle with this doctrine, I nevertheless am willing to accept that God did perhaps have a reason to withhold the priesthood and blessings of the temple from those of the black race. Though there were perhaps other factors, which I do not feel confident enough to get into, I understand that what it all boils down to is the scripture stating that they were "cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood" (Abraham 1:26). So, the issue for me is not this doctrine in itself, but rather all the theories and possible reasons behind it which were presented over the years by various general authorities. Among these is the notion that those born into this world as blacks were somehow fence-sitters or "less valiant" spirits in the pre-existence. Unfortunately, some of these false ideas have stood the test of time, have generally been regarded as doctrine by many members, and have done their damage. Thankfully, I think that most members in 2008 are able to see the foolishness of such theories and reject them. In this case, why would it have been wrong to criticize the leaders who presented ideas that were indeed wrong and did nothing but give fuel to the fire of possible racists within the Church, at the same time alienating a large group of people?

Homosexuality: This is the hot issue of our time and it's an emotional one. I think back to the days when we learned in YM/YW that homosexuality was a choice -- and I don't mean just the sexual acts, but the feelings in themselves. At the time, I'm sure that Mormon homosexuals were probably being counselled by leaders to get married in order to cure themselves. Thankfully, I think that most Mormons of a sound mind are starting to see homosexuality for what it is -- a very real and uncontrollable orientation that is a huge struggle for those homosexuals who want to live the Gospel. For those of us who haven't experienced it ourselves, I think that it's way to easy for us to dismiss the impact that it has on not just homosexuals themselves, but their friends and families. The rhetoric from Church leaders regarding homosexuality has definitely changed for the better, and though I'd like to just concentrate on that fact and look positively to the future, I often think how things could have been different for those homosexuals who ruined their own lives, as well as scarring the lives of a spouse and children, hoping to be "cured" through heterosexual marriage. I'm sure that most of them had the best intentions at heart and took a huge leap of faith, trusting that the Lord would "heal" them. If only leaders would have been more open to the possibility (which is pretty much regarded as fact today) that sexual orientation could not be changed, then so many people could have been spared spiritual and emotional devastation. I can't help but think that all this has come too little, too late. And for some, it's still too little, and my heart aches for them.

So... not to be critical or anything... is Dallin H. Oaks right or wrong?

Mar 25, 2008

The Marriage Mission

Have you ever thought what it would be like if everyone got married in the temple? Things would be great, right? Sure, we'd be one big, happy and secluded people! Having not been married in the temple myself, I wouldn't highly recommend marrying outside of the Church to anyone considering it. At the same time, if it's right for you, then it can be a valuable learning and faith-building experience. I believe that marriage is a highly personal decision and the Lord has a will for each individual. Sometimes we're required to take a leap of faith, for which there are no guarantees. I am the product of a mother who took that leap of faith and a father who later joined the Church and both remain strong this day. Of course I wish the same success story for myself and everyone, but if it doesn't happen in this life, then I refuse to look at my life as a failure, as many members would unfortunately label it. It's 2008 and there is still a lot of mistrust and myths that are prevalent among non-Mormons. Excluding someone from our lives solely on the basis of faith is, to me, the antithesis of what Mormonism stands for and in most cases, results in further suspicion and resentment of Mormonism in general. I don't wish to paint a black and white picture of marriage because there are many factors that need to be examined when marriage is being considered. I just believe that faith, as incredibly important as it is, is not the only one. Sometimes, in order to bring people into the Church, we have to marry them. And you thought that knocking on doors was demanding missionary work!

Mar 24, 2008

Theology vs. Culture

One thing that I've come to learn the older that I get, is that Mormon theology and Mormon culture are, although closely related and intertwined, two different subjects. Even for us "seasoned veterans" of Mormonism, it can, admittedly, sometimes be very difficult to differentiate between the two. We have our cultural quirks, such as green jell-o salads and our vocabulary of swear-word substitutes. But sometimes getting caught up in the culture can impact our lives in a much bigger way than what colour of jell-o we eat. The consequences aren't necessarily negative because Mormons are, in general, a happy people. But several times throughout my life, I've had to stop to ask myself whether I'm really doing God's will for me or just following the crowd and giving into Mormon "peer pressure."

I suppose that I have a love-hate relationship with Mormon culture. I love the "safe" feeling that I get whenever I see The Mormon Tabernacle Choir or a pair of Elders walking down the street. And yet I resent the pressure to follow the same path that all my Mormon peers took, however righteous it was, simply because it's what we're "supposed" to do.

Recently I was talking to a good non-member friend who has known me for many years. We've known each other since we were kids and we were talking about the paths we've taken, the circumstances of our lives now and how we couldn't have imagined all those years ago how things would have turned out the way they have. He made an interesting observation about me that I had perhaps never realized myself. "You have a need to be different, don't you?" he asked. My first thought was no, I don't. I hate being the centre of attention and I like to blend in just like everyone else. But he had a good point and that was perhaps when I started to wonder about my "dissident" qualities. When I am in the "Mormon Bubble," as I like to call it, when I am surrounded by other members or being active in Mormon cultural activities, as much as I love it, I'm mindful of the fact that I never want to blend in so well that I lose myself. I don't mean this as a put-down of my fellow Mormons because like I said, I love them! I'm just afraid of getting swallowed up in the narrow-mindedness and limited perspective on the world that I think many Mormons share, particularly those living in a Mormon-dominated society. The vast majority of them, I would say, are good people with good hearts just doing the best they can do and probably doing it a lot better than I will ever be able to. I just think personally, that there is a big, bad (and good) world out there that you can't really grasp by living in a bubble, where everything is not so black and white, and it fascinates me! And I'm sure I don't even know the half of it...

Going back to my need to be different, there is another side to this. Being a Mormon and actually living the religion is a challenge that I enjoy, though I may be living some aspects of it very poorly. When I'm among non-Mormons (which I am most of the time), I don't exactly like to broadcast the fact that I'm a Mormon. At the same time, I'm not ashamed to say that I am. When it does somehow come out, I feel a combination of nervousness because of the questions which they may ask (which I probably won't be able to answer to my or their satisfaction), but at the same time I relish in the fact that they are probably puzzled by the fact that I can seem to be a normal and rational person, and yet believe in this "nonsense" that many assume that it is. To me, blending in totally with the educated, enlightened, open-minded -- yet faithless -- members of society is taking the easy way out. There's just no challenge to it!!! I don't want to adopt all their philosophies because once again, I will lose myself. So, to answer my friend's question, I guess I do have a need to be different, in my own quiet little way because it gives me a strange sense of satisfaction of being true to my "authentic self," as Dr. Phil would say.

Any other "dissidents" out there who can relate?

Mormon Misfits?

I'm not sure whether "misfit" is any more endearing than "dissident," but I definitely have misfit qualities and would venture to guess that there are other Mormons who have felt at times like they just don't fit into traditional Mormon theology and/or culture. The two are, I believe, distinctly separate yet closely intertwined and even a lifelong Mormon like myself can confuse the two.

We all know what we ideally should be in life: model Christians, return missionaries, loving spouses (married in the temple of course) and parents whose greatest joy is rearing a family where "the more the merrier" is the norm.

And yet we all know what we really are: sometimes lousy Christians, mission dodgers, spouses trying to keep their marriage from falling apart, not necessarily married in the temple, or perhaps dreading spending the eternities together with someone we can barely stand in this life, homosexuals who are trying to envision a life and perhaps afterlife of being single, parents of dysfunctional or troubled kids, or those of us who are childless not by choice, and yes, those few who are childless by choice.

I'm going to "come out of the closet" and admit that I'm a Mormon Misfit. Yes, I love to see happy couples and families around me, knowing that they of course aren't perfect, though some seem to come pretty darn close. I would never dare to imply that people living the "Mormon Dream" aren't happy. Most of them are probably some of the happiest people you'll ever meet. Enough to make anyone envious, right?

Well... what if it doesn't???

I'm not a return missionary. I didn't marry one either. Neither did I get married in the temple. I've never really truly felt the driving force to have children that I think other Mormons (and non-Mormons alike) are generally born with.

For as far back as I can remember, I seemed to be lacking in some common instincts, while others surfaced that my peers didn't always share. I've always been a misfit, but I'm happy with the unique insight and experiences it has given me. If anything, I've learned empathy and compassion for other misfits that I don't believe can be learned in any other way. Christ reached out to misfits and sinners alike. I try to do the same, though I may at times fail miserably.

Adam said “in this life I shall have joy” (Moses 5:10) and we know that "men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Unfortunately, sometimes, one man's joy is another one's sorrow. Can we define what is "good" joy and "bad" joy? Many would like to define the two and write a recipe for how to be happy or miserable in life, but I'm not so sure. Perhaps what causes each one of us to be joyful is as unique as our individual DNA.

I'd like to hear from all you Mormon Misfits out there and perhaps we can share some coping skills with each other.