Jun 1, 2009

Love Is Not Blind - Part III: Reconciliation

This is Part III in a series of posts about Bruce C. Hafen's talk Love Is Not Blind from 1979. If you missed the first two parts, you can read Part I here and Part II here.

Part II dealt with ambiguity, and Part III expands on that theme. I encourage you all to read the talk in its entirety, if you haven't already, but I wish to include here the parts which are most relevant to the discussion. My personal comments are in red.

"Given, then, the existence for most of us of a gap between where we stand and where we would like to be, and given that we will have at least some experiences that make us wonder, what are we to do? I believe that there are three different levels of dealing with ambiguity. There may be more, but I would like to talk in terms of three. At level one there are two typical attitudes, one of which is that we simply do not--perhaps cannot--see the problems that exist. Some seem almost consciously to filter out any perception of a gap between the real and the ideal. Those in this category are they for whom the gospel at its best is a firm handshake, an enthusiastic greeting, and a smiley button. Their mission was the best, their student ward is the best, and every new day is probably going to be the best day they ever had. These cheerful ones are happy, spontaneous, and optimistic, and they always manage to hang loose. They are able to weather many storms that would seem formidable to more pessimistic types, though one wonders if the reason is often that they have somehow missed hearing that a storm was going on."

If you're like me, these are the types of members that tend to push your buttons. They're the ones for whom church seems to be like Woodstock: everyone is happy, everyone loves everyone, everyone nods in agreement... it's perfect! They seem to have difficulty understanding why anyone would want to quit going to church or not find the counsel of leaders to make perfect sense. And while you're sitting in sacrament meeting fuming mad at the narrow-minded statements from a speaker, they're sitting there seemingly oblivious to the fact that anyone could possibly take offense.

"A second group at level one has quite a different problem with the gap between what is and what ought to be. Those in this category eliminate the frustration created as they sense a distance between the real and the ideal in their world by, in effect, erasing the inner circle of reality. They cling to the ideal so single-mindedly that they are able to avoid feeling the pain that would come from facing the truth about themselves, others, or the world around them. I recall listening to a group of students as they discussed which of the two types of people I have just described offered the most appropriate model for their emulation. They felt that they had to choose between being relaxed and happy and carefree about the gospel, or being intense perfectionists. After listening to the discussion, I felt that both of these types suffer from the same limitation. It is not much of a choice to select between a frantic concern with perfection and a forced superficial happiness. Both perspectives lack depth, and their proponents understand things too quickly and draw conclusions from their experience too easily. Neither type is very well prepared for adversity, and I fear that the first strong wind that comes along will blow both of them over. This, I believe, is primarily because their roots have not sunk deep enough into the soil of experience to establish a firm foundation. Both also reflect the thinness of philosophy untempered by common sense. In both cases, it would be helpful simply to be more realistic about life's experiences, even if that means facing some questions and limitations that leave one a bit uncomfortable. That very discomfort can be a motivation toward real growth. As someone has said, the true Church is intended not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable. I invite you, then, to step up to level two, where you see things for what they are; for only then can you deal with them in a meaningful and constructive way. If we are not willing to grapple with the frustration that comes from honestly and bravely facing the uncertainties we encounter, we may never develop the kind of spiritual maturity that is necessary for our ultimate preparations. It was Heber C. Kimball who once said that the Church has many close places through which it must yet pass and that those living on borrowed light will not be able to stand when those days come. Thus, we need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives... ...We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction that are so likely to come along in our lives. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels some may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear. Our encounters with reality and disappointment are in fact vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding."

That last sentence is very interesting. Prior to the last few years, I was a "labeller." Now I hesitate to label anything -- which some could perhaps argue is just as dangerous. But I believe that a vital part of stepping up to level two, as Elder Hafen puts it, is challenging our thinking and being willing to cast aside those labels if we discover that they are not as "clear-cut" as we previously assumed. I think that homosexuality is a good example of this because I'm sure I'm not the only Mormon whose views on the subject have changed dramatically in recent years. Even just a couple of years ago, I think that I had the subject filed nice and neatly under the "labels" that I was sure they belonged. But now, after further investigation and opening my heart and mind to the reality of the situations that many gay members of the Church find themselves in -- even though I do not claim to know what is "right" or "wrong" -- I find things to be not nearly as clear as I thought they were. It's been extremely challenging to me on so many levels, but I hope that that is one of the "vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding" that Elder Hafen speaks of.

"Despite the value of this level-two kind of awareness about which I have been talking, some serious hazards still remain. One's acceptance of the clouds of uncertainty may be so complete that the iron rod fades into the receding mist and skepticism becomes a guiding philosophy. Often, this perspective comes from erasing the outer circle representing the ideal, or what ought to be, and focusing excessively on the inner circle of reality. When I was a teacher at the BYU Law School, I noticed how common it was among our first-year students to experience great frustration as they discovered how much our legal system is characterized not by hard and fast rules but by legal principles that often appear to contradict each other. I remember, for example, one student in his first year who approached me after a class early in the semester to express the confusion he was encountering in his study of law. He said that he had what he called "a low tolerance for ambiguity" and had been wondering if part of his problem was that he had returned only weeks before from a mission, where everything was crisp and clear and where even the words he was to speak were provided for him. To feel successful, all he had to do was follow the step-by-step plan given him for each day and each task on his mission. Law school was making him feel totally at sea, as he groped for simple guidelines that would tell him what to do. His circumstance was only another example of what I have previously tried to describe as typical of college and university students early in their experience. However, by the time our law students reached their third year of study, it was not at all uncommon for them to develop such a high tolerance for ambiguity that they were skeptical about everything, including some dimensions of their religious faith. Where formerly they felt they had all the answers but just did not know what the questions were, they now seemed to have all the questions but few of the answers. I found myself wanting to tell our third-year law student that those who take too much delight in their finely honed tools of skepticism and dispassionate analysis will limit their effectiveness in the Church and elsewhere, because they become contentious, standoffish, arrogant, and unwilling to get involved and commit themselves." Does anyone else recognize themselves in the paragraphs above? "I have seen some of these people try out their new intellectual tools in some context like a priesthood quorum or Sunday School class. A well-meaning teacher will make a point that they think is a little silly, and they will feel an irresistible urge to leap to their feet and pop the teacher's bubble. If they are successful, they begin looking for other opportunities to point out the exception to any rule anybody can state. They begin to delight in cross-examination of the unsuspecting, just looking for somebody's bubble up there floating around so that they can pop it with their shiny new pin. And in all that, they fail to realize that when some of those bubbles pop, out goes the air; and with it goes much of the feeling of trust, loyalty, harmony, and sincerity so essential to preserving the Spirit of the Lord."

I'm not one to try out any of my new "intellectual tools" (if you can call them that) at church. I lack the confidence and ability to express myself verbally in a way that I feel I won't be misunderstood. But I'm guilty of doing so in my head. Boy, am I guilty. If my thoughts at church could be heard, I'd probably get myself thrown out. So I make mental notes and blog about it instead. It's an important outlet for me.

"If that begins to happen in your ward, in your home, or in your marriage, you might have begun to destroy the fragile fabric of trust that binds us together in all loving relationships. People in your ward may come away from some of their encounters with you wondering how you can possibly have a deep commitment to the Church and do some of the things you do. I am not suggesting that we should always just smile and nod our approval, implying that everything is wonderful and that our highest hope is that everybody have a nice day. That is level one. I am suggesting that you realize the potential for evil as well as good that may come with what a college education can do to your mind and your way of dealing with other people. The dangers of which I speak are not limited to our relations with others. They can becomes very personal, prying into our own hearts in unhealthy ways. The ability to acknowledge ambiguity is not a final form of enlightenment. Having admitted to a willingness to suspend judgment temporarily on questions that seem hard to answer, having developed greater tolerance and more patience, our basic posture toward the Church can, if we are not careful, gradually shift from being committed to being noncommittal. That is not a healthy posture. Indeed, in many ways, a Church member who moves from a stage of commitment to a stage of being tentative and non-commital is in a worse position than one who has never before experienced a basic commitment. The previously committed person who developed a high tolerance for ambiguity may too easily assume that he has already been through the "positive mental attitude" routine and "knows better" now, as he judges things. He may assume that being submissive, meek, obedient, and humble are matters with which he is already familiar, and that he has finally outgrown the need to work very hard at being that way again. Brothers and sisters, those are the assumptions of a hardened heart."

Withdrawing from participation in class discussions or activities is something that I am guilty of. I am in the "non-committal" stage and to be honest, I'm not sure how I can leave it without putting on a big act. When I resigned from my RS calling, it was because I felt uncomfortable teaching things that I didn't feel right about. I was also a bit uncomfortable with some of the tactics being used to try to reactivate certain sisters because I doubted the sincerity of certain people. I even doubted my own sincerity. If someone says something that I disagree with, I'm always afraid that my silence will be misinterpreted as being in agreement. And yet if I voice a dissenting opinion, then I definitely risk alientating myself as "the apostate." It's a catch 22. If I commit to something, I feel horribly guilty having to back out of it (which is why I grappled with the decision to resign my RS calling for well over a year before actually doing it), so my natural inclination is to just avoid committing to anything. Do I have a "hardened heart?" Absolutely. But it's not impenetrable.

There comes a point, however, when we have to decide whether we want to be in this Church or not. And if we've made the decision to stay, then we have to decide whether we're going to make it a pleasant stay or just be angry and resentful our entire lives in the Church. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but I do believe that each of us has the power to decide whether or not we will respond to offense, even when we're entirely justified in feeling offended. I don't yet know exactly how to reconcile my doubts and resentment with my desire to stay in the Church, but I am at least committed to doing my part and resist letting my heart become hardened beyond repair. I admit that it's not easy. In fact, it's incredibly difficult at times.

On occasion, I have received e-mails from people who have stumbled across my blog and wished to thank me for a particular post that really resonated with them. This happened recently when I got an e-mail from a reader who was very touched after discovering my blog and reading Love Is Not Blind. In the course of the past couple of weeks, she and I have been writing to each other and discussing many things related to our experiences in the Church. With her permission, I wish to quote directly from the blog that she has just started, Simply Me, in order to introduce her to my readers. I encourage you all to read what she has to say and to share your thoughts and experiences with her, because the connections that we make and insights that we get through blogging are things that are hard to get in your own ward -- and vice versa.

"As I am exploring the creation of my blog I keep reading other blogs and I am intrigued. Today I want to talk about what I've gleaned from one post, in particular, and how I can use the gift of ambiguity as I embark on my journey to return to church and to embrace reconciliation along the way. It is a new journey for me that draws parallels similar to my baptism. When I was 19 years old my grandpa stood in the baptismal font and guided me as I entered the waters of baptism. On one hand I knew that it was a completely personal and spiritual act and on the other it was meaningful to have my grandpa be the one to hold me as he baptized me. It was a special moment for us. On my baptismal program the verse that was shared was from 2 Nephi 31: 20. It reads: "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." My baptism was a time when I had broadened my horizons. When the musings of my heart were confirmed by what I had learned regarding the eternities from the LDS church's perspective. I knew that I was on a good path. Approaching the road of reconciliation is similar to having entered the waters of baptism even though one is an ordinance and the other is not. They are both intentional. During baptism I exercised faith in simple ways. During this phase of reconciliation I plan to exercise faith using ambiguity in an attempt to make things a little simpler for me, as oxymoronic as that may sound. Thanks to the writings and examples of people who struggle in that place of ambiguity yet hold to their faith pressing on with hope, love for God and people, studying the word (in whatever form that works for you including these discussions), and staying the course."


Is reconciliation with the Church and fellow members possible even if we have "irreconcilable differences?"


Anonymous said...

I think that "what" we decide is less important than "why" we decide it.

There have been times in my life when I had to make decisions that were going to compromise legitimate duties to the church and/or to my family and/or someone else in extreme need. Sometimes I chose for my family; sometimes I chose for the church. I'm sure neither believe I chose right in particular cases.

That doesn't seem to matter in regard to longterm reconciliation as long as they retain confidence that I was trying to do what was right for the sakes of each of them.

It does seem to matter when and if I cross over the line and start doing things for "me" instead of "we", no matter how much it hurts the "we".


Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks for printing more of this talk as well as your thoughts. I've really enjoyed it (even if I haven't commented much about it).

I do think reconciliation with the church and its members is possible even if one has irreconcilable difference. I think of my own case. I'm still sure the church is true even though I'm just as sure that I'm gay. The two don't fit. But I live my life the best I can and do what I can to be a participating Mormon, and even if I am excommunicated, I will continue to do what I can to be a "participating Mormon" even if I am no longer a Mormon in name.

One thing I did like about the John Dehlin podcast you linked to was his thoughts on taking what works for you and building on that even if you have other issues you are unable to find agreement with. That's all I can do in my situation. I think as long as we can learn to live our lives feeling at peace with our decisions, we're on the right track. It's not always an easy balance, but I do think it is possible.

I just think things aren't so black and white as they sometimes are laid out for us, and I think realizing that is a good first step.

I liked Elder Hafen's thoughts on moving to level two. He's right that level two can be a dangerous place, but I think it's so much better than level one even if it causes us to stray from things we've always been taught.

As always, I love reading your blog.

SimplyMe said...

"One's acceptance of the clouds of uncertainty may be so complete that the iron rod fades into the receding mist and skepticism becomes a guiding philosophy."

When ambiguity began for me I moved to the other end of the continuum allowing skepticism to be my guiding philosophy. That led me to be contentious and arrogant to the point that I threw my hands in the air and said "forget it"! That end of the continuum was opposite to acceptance of certainty, which I interpreted as eternal, permanent truths that the church repeatedly testifies of. Like the missionary that Elder Hafen talks about, I clung to the rod of iron in my acceptance of certainty and 'truths'. That rod of iron represented rules that were crisp and clear and, like a mission, that is what I felt that I needed to be successful in normal gospel living. Five years ago I shared with my branch president that as non-committal as he sees me now, is not how I was in previous years. I was surprised at how much I had bounced from full service in the church to none at all. I realize now, as I reflect on my movement to skepticism before I left the church, I had lost my grip and I became contentious and untrusting of people I really cared about in my branch. Being on that end is the same as being too far on the other end (certainty); neither side is about building authentic and meaningful relationships and neither side makes the gospel any easier to live.

I'm thrilled that I can see the word ambiguity for what it is. That it is in the middle of the continuum, it is flexible, it is not knowing everything and it is not following blindly. It is holding on to the iron rod with one hand and scratching your head with the other. It is being faithful while at the same time thinking things through with the intelligence and brain God gave us. It is the point of reconciliation.

I really enjoy this post and the comments. Thanks for introducing me to your readers FD!

The Faithful Dissident said...

"I think that "what" we decide is less important than "why" we decide it."

That's really good, Fire Tag, I never really thought of it that way. I think that can be applied to Cody's (Gayldsactor) situation because if we look at what has led him down this road of probable excommunication, it's not because he wants to offend God or break the rules. He's made love a priority, not only for his partner, but also for himself because he knew he was in a bad place mentally and spiritually until he made the decisions that ultimately brought him peace. (I'm just making assumptions here, Cody, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. :)

When John Dehlin talked about taking what works for you and building on that, I'm reminded about why I decide to stay in the Church. Although I have some big disagreements with a lot of things that tend to sometimes drown out all the things I like about the Church, if I look at just the number of pros vs. cons, I find that the pros probably outnumber the cons.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Your assumptions are correct. :-)

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, you wrote, "I don't yet know exactly how to reconcile my doubts and resentment with my desire to stay in the Church...

Pardon my being nosy, but do you feel comfortable talking about some of your resentments?

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, no problem! :)

I think that all of my resentments boil down to one big resentment, and that is the "follow the prophet, he will never lead you astray" mantra. I suppose that Mormons have different interpretations of what "astray" constitutes, but to me, if all the stuff surrounding the priesthood ban and polygamy doesn't equal "astray," then I don't know what does.

I have nothing personal against the prophets, past or present. Brigham Young, in all his harshness, had his good side and I realize that he was simply a product of the time in which he lived. The same can probably be said about all the other negative/bothersome things that all the other prophets have ever said. They were influenced by the time they lived in, their perceptions, culture, upbringing, etc. So all that doesn't bother me so much as all the constant excuses on the part of many orthodox members and how they attempt to justify everything that leaders have always said as being inspired nonetheless. I just don't buy it and I think it's dangerous to put someone on such a high pedestal. It's like the saying goes, "Catholics say the pope is infallible but no one believes it, and Mormons say that prophet is fallible but no one believes it."

My personal view on the matter is that prophets can definitely be inspired and that yes, we should listen to what they have to say because it may be for our benefit. And in all honesty, aren't most of the things that the prophets have taught us for our benefit? I say yes. I just think, however, that there are some bad things that get mixed up in there and many members over time have accepted them blindly simply because of the pressure to believe and follow everything that the prophet teaches, often at all cost. I think, also, that being "inspired" is perhaps very different from being "God's mouthpiece." But to be perfectly honest, I don't always know which is which. I just personally believe that all the ugliness surrounding things like racism, polygamy, and anti-homosexuality was anything but God's word to us.

Like I said in my blog intro on the sidebar, I believe we've messed up, are currently messing up, and will continue to mess up. :) I think we need to be realistic about that.

Anonymous said...

Well said, FD.


Mormon Heretic said...

Resentment is an interesting word to me.

On the one hand, I agree with pretty much everything you said: I believe a prophet can make big mistakes and doesn't always follow God's will, despite the best of intentions. I understand that the prophets have the best of intentions, even if they are misguided. On the other hand, I don't feel like I hold any resentment toward the church over this.

I'm trying to understand why we feel so similar about prophets, yet I don't understand why you feel resentment, but I do not. I think the reason for our differences is primarily on the gay issue. You feel much stronger about the issue than I do. Perhaps if I had a strong disagreement with the brethren, I would feel more resentment to "follow the prophet."

SimplyMe said...

For me, resentment is more out of the general mormon population's holier than ever's desire to 'follow the prophet'. A regular lifetime church member has been taught through primary in song to "Follow the prophet, follow the prophet..." AND this church encourages reading and learning.
But many mormon's reactions to ALL that the prophet says seems over the top faithful and contrary to having personal thoughts and opinions to what we are reading and learning! I find that frustrating and contrary.

I can see resentment from FD's perspective; not that I can speak for her b/c my example may be nothing like her experience. It is simply the idea of resentment toward the leaders. I know a less active lady, who to this day, cannot closely associate herself with anyone who is active or even visit with a missionary. As a child in Utah, she grew up being mormon and felt resentful of all that she was taught as a child in the church. She found out that the world outside the church wasn't as scary or as evil as she remembers the prophet teaching over 50 years ago. She's never gotten over the sense of betrayal and falseness of what she learned as a child. She is still full of resentment towards leaders in the church but, in the 70's, she came to a religious faith that centers on inclusivity throughout the world. Where she 'landed' is very telling about how important it was that she be told the truth by leaders that she was raised to trust.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Yes, I think that the gay issue certainly is where some of my resentment comes from. I suppose I feel bothered by the fact that being taught to "follow the prophet" resulted in my sometimes marginalizing and judging others, their experiences, perspectives, and challenges. Homosexuality is a perfect example of this. I remember being taught as a YW that homosexuality was a choice, and I carried that belief with me for many years. Luckily I had already started to let it go once my best friend from school came out as a lesbian to me. If she had done so a few years earlier, I think I may have said things that would have done irreparable damage to our friendship. I guess I see the Church's stance on homosexuals to be a repeat of history in the sense that, just like with the priesthood ban, we've come to some offensive and demeaning assumptions about a group of people that has caused a lot of damage to some individuals and families. I will say that I think the Church is making progress, although not at the pace that most would like to see. I no longer hear that being gay is a choice (although I think that too many Mormons trivialize what it entails to be gay and celibate), gay Mormons attend the temple, and hopefully we are getting past the stage of believing that homosexuality can be "cured" by therapy or heterosexual marriage (although I know that such attitudes still exist, just as some still hold on to out of date teachings regarding blacks).

Another tough one for some LDS women like me (and perhaps the men as well) is very defined gender roles. There's a lot of pressure to be a wife and mother, but if you choose another path, you can really feel guilty about it. I think that the Church is gradually loosening up on that, as most women that I know work outside of the home, some even by choice, and there are perhaps more who put off marriage and children for personal pursuits (something that is often looked down upon within Church circles).

Anonymous said...


In regard to your last comment, you might want to checkout today's post by Matt Frizzell on www.saintsherald.com entitled "Sexual Policy and the Church."

Never a dull moment in CofChrist theology! :D


Kalola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kalola said...

You wrote: "They're the ones for whom church seems to be like Woodstock: everyone is happy, everyone loves everyone, everyone nods in agreement... it's perfect! They seem to have difficulty understanding why anyone would want to quit going to church or not find the counsel of leaders to make perfect sense."

I couldn't help but smile at your reference to Woodstock. =)

Mormon Heretic said...


Like you, sometimes I have struggled with some Mormons 'holier than thou' attitude. However, sometimes I find I am just as guilty of acting 'holier than thou.'

For example, I was in my 30's when I got married. I often felt like people were looking at me with "there must be something wrong with you", or "you must be too picky", or other similar comments. This made me very defensive, and I despised these people. In that sense, both of us had a 'holier than thou attitude." They were holier than thou for judging me without understanding me, and I was holier than thou by basically shutting them out of my life, or being rude back.

Yes, the things they said were thoughtless, but many of them were really not meant to be mean-spirited. Some of them were attempting to be helpful, but were tactless. As I have matured, I wish I would have said to them, "do you understand how hurtful that comment/question is?" so that they could attempt to learn more tact. I should have "turned the other cheek" but I was emotionally immature. (I still am in many ways.) But as I get older, I have tried to realize that often these are misguided or tactless ways to offer help. People who say these things usually aren't trying to be mean--often they are trying to help me get married by trying to help me identify how I was screwing up on all those dates. I mean, after all, they are married, so they must know a thing or two, right? :)

So, I think that that resentment towards others should be replaced with charity. We need to lovingly help them understand how to quit being so judgmental, and how to improve their communication skills. Of course, this is much easier said than done, and it is still something I struggle mightily with.

SimplyMe said...

Hmmm. Maybe I had a 'holier than thou' attitude at church today only it manifested itself on exactly the opposite end of the spectrum. It looked like insecurity. Maybe I was judging others ('holier than thou') to protect myself b/c I felt that I was being judged, especially during sacrament. Maybe judgement is what I fear and my fear made me insecure. I shut people out too when I feel insecure or 'holier than thou.' It's hard to feel secure in church where I feel so different sometimes.