Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Flanders' Shocking True Life Confessions

Everybody likes to hear other people's confessions. It piques our curiosity and often makes us feel better about ourselves. "My life may suck, but at least I'm not that screwed up!" St. Augustine wouldn't be half as popular today had he titled his book "Interminable Religious Ramblings." He certainly wouldn't have a Spring Break city named after him.

Geoff J.'s comment on my earlier post and his follow-up post at his site have prompted me to confess something. According to Geoff, studying the Church is all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, you have to ask God for confirmation. You have to, in his words, puncture the veil. My confession is that I have never punctured the veil. Furthermore, I have never attempted to test Moroni's promise, despite telling innumerable people on my mission to do just that. Yes, I'm a hypocrite of the worst kind.

The question arises: why not? After all those years growing up, and during two years of a mission, why the hell didn't you ask? I was scared. I was scared that I would pour my whole soul into it and not get an answer. I was happy surviving off the occasional warm fuzzy and not taking the big gamble. I had plenty of doubts, but the Church was true enough for me.

This worked fine until one day when I was teaching a discussion to a woman during my mission. I recorded the event in my mission journal:
"... the reason [the discussion] was so disturbing was that [Elder X] gave his testimony that he asked God if the Book of Mormon was true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet and he was answered by a good feeling--and I thought, 'Good, I don't have to say anything.' So I told her I knew Joseph was a prophet and the Book of Mormon was true because I felt it inside. She point-blank asked me if I had done the same as [Elder X] and I said yes and felt terrible. I don't think that was true. I haven't asked and received an answer like [Elder X] but I know it's true; it's hard to explain. But she knew just where to pin me down and she won. That was incredibly disturbing. I felt as though for the first time my lack of testimony, lack of preparation was hurting someone else. I felt at that moment that if she didn't get baptized her blood would be on my head."

I was attempting to skate a Clinton-esque line and my investigator called me on it. What was I supposed to say? "You're right, I haven't asked either. I'm secretly afraid that my religion isn't even true. I don't even know why I'm here." Well, that probably would have been preferable to lying, but we can't change our past choices. I decided to go with the party-line and hope for the best. I still feel guilty when I think about that discussion.

The logical question that follows is, now that you don't believe, why not ask now? Well, I'm still scared, but perhaps the other way now. Maybe I'd get an affirmative response. (It is at this point, reader, where you can make the exclamation, "My life sucks but at least I'm not as screwed up as Ned!")

I'm beginning to have doubts about the validity of the whole enterprise of asking God. It seems set up to favor only one outcome. If we ask and don't receive a response, then possibly we weren't asking hard enough or we hadn't studied it out in our minds properly. Perhaps we felt nothing because we had sins that blocked the Holy Ghost or we weren't sincere enough. How can we distinguish between a negative response and a non-response? Maybe we didn't want to believe enough.

I think that's part of the problem. I don't want to believe. There are so many things that bother me about the Church, I can't imagine the size of the shelf needed to house all my concerns. How can I ask sincerely if deep down I don't want to have to deal with all the thorny issues? I think the Sunday School answer is that I have humble myself and be prepared to accept polygamy, blacks not having the priesthood, and Boyd K. Packer. I just don't think I can do that.

Does it make sense to ignore facts we don't like and rely solely on a spiritual witness? Does rationality not always apply in spiritual matters? Does it make sense to have different rules and standards for our knowledge about religion than, say, science?

My confession, besides the fact that I am a liar and a hypocrite, is that I don't trust myself to recognize the truth.

39 comments:

Paper Mache Art said...

what you say is so true..
I like your blog..
happy holidays/ may you have a god one.

NFlanders said...

This is what I get for complaining about deleting comments. Cruel justice!

PLEASE NOTE: Blogger was having problems with word verification, so I have temporarily turned it off. I apologize if anyone had their comments eaten.

Ronan said...

what you say is so true

dude, spam as conveyor of revelation.

may you have a god one

wow.

a random John said...

Ned,

What is the worst that could happen? Do you think that getting an answer would ruin your life? It seems that a non-answer would be acceptable to you in that it would maintain the status quo.

I guess the worst thing that could happen is that your answer is that the BoM is true, and that you personally need to move to Colorado City and joing the FLDS church. That would be a tough one...

NFlanders said...

Hilarious, Ronan. Spam comments as oracles. I have goosebumps.

I will draw the line though, aRJ, if the spam tells me to be a fundie. That would really be disappointing.

(BTW, it's nice to see you around again.)

Pris said...

Flanders,

I had almost the same exact feelings from the other end (and the one you're at now). I was scared that the answer would be positive, that God would say something and I would be forced to change.

But I did it once I got to the point where I thought I could handle a positive answer--and have done it since--and haven't recieved an answer of any kind. It has been an amazing disappointment for the reason you mention: everyone is alway saying, "just read and pray and you'll recieve"...and it didn't work.

After that, there was much hand-wringing about what that meant. But ultimately I ended up with what you wrote: when is "no answer" a "NO!" answer? How many times must we try before it's "okay" to quit?

I don't know the answer to that question.

The one benefit from all this, for me, is that I'm relatively confident about my choice to NOT join the Church. I feel that I've looked at the church and confronted it on its own terms and...nothing.

Whether I have made the "right" choice or not, at least I don't have to deal with the constant question of doubt--that feeling of being inbetween, not having a(n intellectual) home.

So, eh. That's how my story. I don't know if there's anything to be gleaned from it for your own situation, but maybe there is.

Wendy said...

There is a lot to be said for the witness of your own heart and your own mind, as well.

Even at my most spiritual (yes, I was a former Molly Mo) I never received a spritual witness and I used to think that was very sad, but it's not. It just is.

NFlanders said...

To your questions, aRJ, I would say I don't have much to lose except a couple of hours on Sunday. Forever.

I don't think I have the right frame of mind to ask in the first place and I think I would still struggle with my issues regardless of my answer.

NFlanders said...

Thanks, Pris and Wendy. I hate to say it, but sometimes it is encouraging that I'm not the only one who doesn't get it.

I admire your straight-forward approach, Pris. I don't think I can confront the Church as objectively as you simply because I have so much baggage from being raised in the Church. Am I getting a warm fuzzy from Moroni 10:4 because it's true, or because I have had it drilled into me 1200 times since childhood? It's tough to say.

Pris said...

Well, it did take me 2 years being away from Idaho before I could even begin to confront it objectively--and three years more before I could truly (with a contrite spirit) ask. My baggage wasn't from growing up in the church, but from growing up around it. It did cross my mind: is the reason I'm not getting the warm fuzzy because of my dislike of all the secondary (social) characteristics of the Church that I had to grow up with?

(I do wish, however, that most at least considered that possibility.)

Katie said...

I love your posts Ned. You are one of my favorite bloggers. You are open and honest and yet never devolve into being snarky and dismissive about the church. In response to your previous post about getting blogging burnout, well, I for one hope you stick around.

In reference to this post, a couple of thoughts came to my mind. The first is the mysterious question of why some people pray to get an answer, like Pris, and do not get one. My husband told me a story on the mission about a woman he taught, who was golden, who loved the discussions, who was living righteously already, and who was sincerely interested. Yet when she prayed, there was no answer. She did not get baptized. How can this happen?

The only answer that came to my mind is that I think sometimes we misread Moroni’s promise to those who ask. He says that if it is true the Holy Ghost will manifest it to you. But there is no timetable. It does not say, “I will manifest it to you, while you are on your knees, intently waiting for an answer.” It doesn’t say “within the week, or within a month, or within a year.” And most importantly, it doesn’t say “by a warm, peaceful feeling.” We definitely read the burning of the bosom into these verses, but no burning is mentioned. Yes it is by the “power of the Holy Ghost,” but in reality there are very few “warm fuzzy HG feelings” mentioned in the scriptures. But what is mentioned in the scriptures is that the fruits of the Spirit are peace, love, and joy. And to me, this is what Moroni promises. As a convert, I did a fair amount of asking God if these things were true. Sometimes the answer seemed to come while I was on my knees. But mostly it came as the wind which blows and “whence it cometh, and whither it goeth,” I did not know. As I lived the gospel, an amazing amount of joy, peace, and love came into my life. It transformed me and I knew the Spirit was telling me the church was true. I was happier, kinder, stronger, and more at peace. This was my answer. Now there have been times when I have gone astray and it is not like when the Spirit leaves I feel like I am in a dark abyss. Its departure happens so slowly and imperceptibly that I don’t really even notice. But during those times when I am really living the truth, and the Spirit really is there, it is amazing. And I think that is what Moroni is saying. It is not a one time deal, where you feel all this pressure and fear to what the answer will be. You go with it, and if your life feels better, and the gifts of the Spirit start working in your life, then these things are true.

Now I am not saying that the gospel is all dandy, and I myself have an issues shelf I am sure could rival yours. Yet despite my absolute bafflement at some of the crazy things about the church, I always come back to the fact that I am better when I have the spirit and worse when I do not. Not night and day, but shades of color, that grow more vibrant the closer I come to God. I have tried so hard to deny this fact, and rationalize it away, but I can never quite dismiss it.

Sorry this is so long. It was just one of those things that comes flying off you

Katie said...

your fingers

Rusty said...

Ned,
This is an interesting situation. I'd say at this point to not worry so much about getting an answer. You've got time. You've got stuff to store on a shelf. You've got Homer to deal with.

My advice would be to get a better understanding of how the Spirit touches you specifically. The Spirit touches each of us differently and being able to recognize when that happens is perhaps the most important thing we can learn on this earth (IMHO). You've had experience with it, you know the scriptures that talk about it, there are a few great blogs discussing it, do some research. The way that the Holy Ghost talks with you is what this conversation is all about. Figure that all out first.

NFlanders said...

Great comment, Katie. You made several interesting points that I had not considered.

I think the missionary program tends to boil down Moroni 10:4 to Read + Pray = Instant Conversion. You are right that the actual text doesn't promise an immediate or even a warm fuzzy answer. I am guilty of projecting my own ideas onto the scripture. Now that I think about it, I guess you can't really schedule your own conversion.

I have to say that I like your slow approach, shades of color approach. It may not be as decisive as mine, but it makes a lot more sense.

NFlanders said...

Thanks, Rusty. Sometimes I just want to get everything wrapped up, but there isn't any rush.

The Spirit is a tricky one for me. Personally, I can never figure out if it's just me or something else.

lchan said...

This is interesting. I'm surprised you've never asked.

I've asked and asked and asked and nothing. Big. Fat. Zero. I just decided that I can't know in that way. That God doesn't work that way or maybe I don't work that way.

But, since I've decided that I can't know anything and I'm just going to choose what I want to believe, I can have that feeling of spirit sidle up to me when I least expect it. And it amazes me that it can happen.

I like what Katie said. It's much easier to second-guess the instant conversion scenario than the slow peace comes with faith.

Geoff J said...

Hey Ned,

Sorry to be late to the party. Thanks for the link too. Here's my latest totally unsolicited online home teaching message (Kaimi is my Web home teacher, btw).

I think you might be getting hung up on the questions you think you must ask. Why not start with one yes or no question at a time. And if you did that you would need to start at the most basic question and work up from there. It seems to me that the most basic question is: "Dear God, Do you exist?"

Now if you already know the answer to this question, I would ask "How do you know God exists?" or at least "Why do you firmly believe God exists". Some people in the world know why, others don't. Those that do seem to have this deep gut feeling about it. Isolating the source of that gut feeling is largely what communicating with God is about I think – it is about spiritual ear training.

Look, it seems to me that either there is a God that answers prayers or there isn't. If you get him to answer one prayer in a way that you can clearly hear/discern (like "Yep, I'm real") then you can get him to answer further questions.

J. Stapley said...

I think we do fundementally missread Moroni's promise. As I read it, it has nothing to do with a historicity check for the BoM. To quote it:

"...would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true"

It seems to me that "these things" are not the book of Mormon, but the things mentioned in the previous verse:

"...how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things..."

That said I appreiciate your ambivalence. There are many things that only time will rectify.

Rusty said...

Exactly right Jonathan.

a random John said...

Ned,

I don't know that anybody has it all wrapped up. Studying things often raises more questions than answers. A spiritual answer won't bring all the answers either but it can bring peace.

Of course the non-answer situation that Pris brings up is a possibility as well. I don't know what the time table for answers is. And like you say, it is a lot of time to spend each Sunday if you don't have one.

Of course, maybe your answer would be to start coming once they bring 2-hour church to the USA...

RoastedTomatoes said...

Ned, you've gotten a lot of sincere and insightful comments at this point. So I guess it's time for my disjointed ramblings, as well...

Do you really think you haven't asked God whether He wants you to be a believing Mormon? I mean, you may not have sat down and spoken those words, but your life to date (in the sketchy way that I know about it) sounds like one long series of lived repetitions of that question. So I think you've asked, a lot. You asked every time you went to church or read the scriptures, and you sure as hell asked every day of your mission.

So you say you didn't get an answer. I'm inclined to agree; modelos de compromiso notwithstanding, I'm not one of those who believes that God speaks to us in ways that we can confuse. In my experience, in my reading of the scriptures, and in my vague theological musings, it doesn't make any sense for God to speak in an indistinct way. So I just don't buy it.

What does it mean, then, that you've asked and God hasn't answered? I suppose it either means that He doesn't want you to be a believing Mormon at all or that He doesn't want you to be a believing Mormon yet. Either way, I think there are few things worse than trying to "kick against the pricks" and force yourself to have a witness that God hasn't given you.

I love the scriptural statement, "Be still and know that I am God." Perhaps that's one idea: maybe just be spiritually still and then God will tell you what He wants of you. (Or not. What do I know?)

Ann said...

Ned, old buddy, bless you. This is exactly where I am now. Exactly. I mean, I've pretty much decided that even if it is a perfectly fine religion and Joseph Smith did have a vision, that's completely irrelevent to the structure and doctrine of the 21st century church. There's just no connection, IMO.

But if I'm wrong...I don't want to know. Because any more, I don't think I WANT to go back there, where every waking minute of my life is subsumed into this Mormon identity.

I'll keep my boundaries, thankyouverymuch. And if I AM wrong, then when I die, God has a lot of 'splainin' to do.

Abner Doon said...

This post really hits home for me. Just a couple of years ago I was traipsing about the mission field telling people the church was true. I too tried the "big lie" once or twice (saying that I had received an answer about JS and the BoM when, in reality, I never had) and I felt very, yea exceedingly, uncomfortable about it. In my own defense, I was trying to implement the fake-it-until-you-make-it strategy so often taught in the church (i.e., "A testimony is found in the bearing of it"). It didn't work, and I wish I hadn't been encouraged to lie. Still, I figured if I didn't bear testimony at least once in a while, what the hell was I doing as a missionary?

But unlike you, I had asked - many times, and was still asking regularly - whether the church was true, if JS was a prophet, if God exists, if Jesus was the Messiah, and so on. I never got an answer to a single question. In the absence of any credible evidence (personal revelation or otherwise) to the contrary, my answer to all those questions is now a simple no. And I don't ask anymore. If God wants me, he knows where to find me.

D-Train said...

Ned,

I can't encourage you enough to start as Clark advised. Start with a small question and be the guy that you are. Good nice people aren't ever going to get screwed over, regardless of whether they prayed perfectly or not. As long as you're trying to be good, God knows that you are good. And that is all.

Stephen said...

Reminds me of a couple things from my mission.

The first was an elder complaining that he hadn't gotten an answer. Yes, he had felt the Spirit bearing witness to others, but since it wasn't directed at him, just bearing witness of the truth to someone else, it did not count for him. It was an interesting experience, a rejection because he felt he was just part of the audience.

I think there is a lot to be said for reflecting on the witness your converts received while you were there and asking yourself what it means.

The other was a sweet family who were very impressed by the way the Spirit bore witness as we taught and felt sorry for us as a result. They were convinced that we must be very holy, but were sure that we were damned because of the doctrine. They refused to believe that it might be possible that the Spirit was bearing witness to the doctrine rather than in spite of it. It was surreal in many ways.

One problem many people have is that they see the gospel as the cultural baggage and programs, not the light of the love of God. Do you think Abraham had home teachers, conducted family home evenings and sat on a ward correlation council?

Reading the Old Testament every so often helped me appreciate the fraility and humanity of hte people involved, Eli and his sons, Samuel and his sons, Noah and his drinking problem, etc. God worked through and with these people in spite of their problems -- and the problems were not the message God was sending.

What we need to find is the truth of the mercy and love of God, and connect with that, not to be subsumed in culture, but to find and aid in love.

Truly.

kd clement said...

Honest and very well done post Ned.

I had a dream about your blog last night (I guess my subconscious is trying to tell me that I'm on the internet too much). So I checked it out today and, lo and behold, a terrific post! LOL

Sometimes I think we are afraid to pray because we already know, on a level way beneath our conscious mind, what the answer is. We don't need a spiritual witness but we ask anyway. At least, this has happened to me my whole life.

I was an Alma the younger in my teenage/early college years and couldn't understand why all the stepford Utah types people found happiness in "the church". I was sure they were fools being fooled by a patriarchal monster. Then I hit a low in my life and decided, for the first time, to earnestly pray to know what to do and if there was a God, and if the church of my birth was worth looking into again. I was in the middle of a crisis at the time.

The answer to my prayer was clear-I was to leave college at that time and go home and "get healed" with my family. I spent almost an hour on my knees trying to decide if the answer I received was my own voice or the suggestion of something beyond my own "I".

I decided my answer was from God.

I repented, felt the spirit, went home to my family, but I was not ready to really take a deep dive into the gospel yet (I had never read the Book of Mormon-always fell asleep in 1st Nephi). I was 20 years old and decided I should pray about going on a mission (even though my dad said I should stay home and get married. While I was inactive I had had dreams that I would serve a mission. These dreams, or at the time, nightmares had me waking up in the middle of night in a cold sweat).

So when I finally prayed about serving a mission, formally, the answer I received shocked me. I can't even describe what happened-but I was most definitely supposed to serve a mission. I was so disturbed by my answer that I decided not to go (makes a lot of sense, eh?)

My life came to a standstill. Nothing seemed to move forward-not friends, not college, not my job. I figured I was too old at 22 to go on a mission until I had a roommate who was the same age who was going. I saw her off at the airport-and I just knew inside that I was supposed to go too. I cried because I didn't want to! I wanted to stay home and get married. But I decided to formally pray about serving anyway. I didn't get much of an answer-except that my first impression, that I should definitely go, was the correct one.

I WAS supposed to serve a mission. That experience changed the course of my life forever and I think was necessary so I could marry my husband (who is not a member btw-whole 'nother story).

Usually my answers and revelations haven't come from formal get on your knees gestures-though I've had those too-but come to me during moments of stillness and meditation. Often I already knew the answer but I just wanted the confirmation through a blessing.

My sense, from reading your blog, is that you already know what you want and have received revelation after revelation through the bloggernacle and other experiences. Why did you start searching again after living in blissful anonymity? What makes it all so fascinating if you are so sure that the restored gospel is false? What have YOUR dreams been about lately Ned? :-)

It isn't about the asking of questions but the courage to live the answers imo.

One of the reasons I got married to my non-member husband was because of personal revelation. Marrying him disappointed my family (especially after seeing me through the Alma the younger days and my endowment)and I received a lot of negative reactions from people in the church. But marrying him was the correct choice. I am so lucky to be married to this wonderful man. But even before I did the formal on the knees thing, I already knew I would marry him. It was supposed to happen. God has confirmed my choice over and over ever since.

Katie and Geoff had some very good points. Start small with the basic questions (is there a god?) and realize that you may never see a pillar of light or feel a burning in your bosom (or maybe you will?). Line upon line, her a little there a little...

mellancollyeyes said...

Hey Ned,

I'm in your boat. I tend to avoid asking about the tougher things because I'm afraid of the answer I'll get. I'm afraid that if I ask, I'll get an answer that I don't like. Or one that I don't want to listen to.

However, I think that sometimes no answer is our answer. For example, my mom told me that when she was by herself with me, she prayed and prayed and prayed every night for about a month to get the financing to purchase a mobile home. She wanted that trailer soooo badly that she cried and cried in her prayers and begged and pleaded with God to let her get that financing.

She never felt like she was getting any answer and she was eventually turned down for her funding. She couldn't figure out why she wasn't getting any answer and then why God would give her an answer of No after a month of praying.

However, about 3 months after she was turned down, we ended up moving into the upper part of a house. In the lower part of the hosue was the man who eventually my mom married and had two more kids with and is still with today.

This isn't to say that it always works out like that, all peachy in the end. But, there are times when the lack of an answer or a no answer leads us to something else that we couldn't see or know.

Not that this always assuages my concerns, but it's something to consider...

the femme facetious said...

Ned,

De-lurking to comment on your true life confessions. I really like your blog and I hope you stick around as long as you are getting something out of it (as a writer/blogger myself I know what burnout feels like, though I am wholly inexperienced with all things bloggernacle).

I was a convert. To this day I can't figure out if I truly felt "the Spirit" or if I felt "the spirit of wanting to please the missionaries, my friends, some of my family, my boyfriend..." Having grown up in So. Idaho my entire life I was surrounded by the Church, and I knew that nearly everyone I loved expected/hoped that I would eventually see the light.

I really did ask. I did the whole Moroni's promise countless times. And I didn't even expect an answer right away while I was on my knees, a burning in the bosom or whatever, because I figured that might not be how it works for everyone. Faith had always been a tough thing for me to wrap my head around and I almost expected the whole thing to be difficult, so I wasn't immediately disappointed. But I felt I was doing the right thing. I wanted to believe so very much.

I waited and waited for an answer that never came, despite my living the commandments, magnifying my callings and truly being gung-ho on the whole thing. I was rather disturbed that it wasn't all that hard to fool people into thinking that all was well, but it was a little harder to fool myself into thinking that I "knew" the church was "true". I felt like a terrible hypocrite but I didn't want to give up on the idea and I didn't want to let my loved ones down.

But I didn't really know if I wanted it to be true either. While I loved the whole "families are forever" and eternal marriage business, polygamy/BKP/blacks and priesthood/histrocity of the BOM and countless other issues with church history and doctrine plagued me and obviously if it weren't "true"--or at least what it claimed to be--I didn't want to be a part of it. I never understood how a friend of mine, an incredibly intelligent biochemist and part-time historian, could say "Well, there are things about it that really bother me and it might not be true, but it's a good place to raise a family and it makes me feel happy so I think I'll just ignore that other stuff" (paraphrasing here).

I finally just stopped asking, and eventually I stopped feeling guity for not "knowing" or even believing. I got so tired of faking it that one day I just decided not to do it anymore. And the amazing thing is, I'm really quite happy with that decision and the depression that had been hanging over me for the past few years lifted in a matter of weeks.

I guess what I'm trying to say with this longwinded and probably really boring post is that if there is a God, he knows that I tried. He knows that I still try my best to be a good, honest, compassionate person. I think that it's not what church you belong to, it's what you do and the intent of your heart that matters. Everything else will sort itself out in the end. Maybe that's a cop-out but it's why I can look myself in the mirror now and not see someone who's sacrificing personal integrity to meet the expectations of others.

The Narrator said...

Ned-
First off, I've been lurking for a while, but I enjoy reading your thoughts.

I'm a convert (12 years ago), coming from an Agnostic, Anti-Christian background. I've always had trouble with prayer, not so much the concept of it, but getting it done. It took me two years into my church membership to finally do a "Moroni". For which I received a very simple but distinct answer: "You know it's true".

As I've thought about it, here's where Rusty's advice "...to get a better understanding of how the Spirit touches you specifically. The Spirit touches each of us differently and being able to recognize when that happens is perhaps the most important thing we can learn on this earth" is solid. I've realized that, for me, the Lord answers my prayers not so much in words or "warm fuzzies" as he does by opening doors and presenting evidence.

More often than not, I've gotten answers to questions by things that happen. I heard a guy say once "i believe coincidence is when God acts and wishes to remain anonymous". I've seen his hand in my life directing me in a way that is the results are far too correct to brush off as mere coincidence.

Find out how God speaks to you. You may find that suddenly it's like someone replaced the light bulb in your room, one you didn't know was dimming.

Another thing about answers to prayer; After the last two Apostles died this summer, President Hinckley did not receive an answers as to who should be the new members of the Twelve until the Friday before conference.

NFlanders said...

Wow. I definitely have the best commenters in the bloggernacle. All of you should be up for an award.

Basically, I've gone wrong in thinking that I can just ask once and be done with it. Black and white thinking is very seductive, but rarely corresponds to real life. I want to know 100% either way that it's true or false but it doesn't work that way. Maybe Mormonism and religion in general just is. Use it if it helps you, don't if it hurts you.

I think what I've learned from the comments is that as much as I may want or fear to be Saul/Paul, it just isn't going to happen. All of you have had differing experiences: from having no spiritual manifestations to having some, but no one has been stopped on the road to Damascus and hit over the head with it.

My problem is that I tend to overanalyze everything. Is that a feeling of peace? What does it mean? Does that mean the BoM is true? Am I denying the HG if I think it's just a good feeling? Instead of this, I need to just focus on living my life the way that feels best for me. Does that include full activity? Certainly not. But at least I won't rule out anything for the future. Maybe I'll become comfortable with a different religion and join that. Maybe I'll come back a little to Mormonism. Who knows? All I can know is what feels right to me now. And that is probably a couple weeks at the Episcopal church, a couple weeks at the Mormon church, and several weeks at home on the couch watching football with my wife.

By the way, isn't anyone going to ask if the woman in the discussion got baptized?

Yes, she did, and at the time I let out a huge sigh of relief. I was terrified that my false witness would keep her from feeling the spirit and from joining the Church. Now that she's an active and believing member, I have a different kind of guilt. Maybe I lead her somewhere not true. But the point is that she is an adult and has made her own decisions; it's time I took responsibility for mine.

Hellmut said...

Great post, Ned.

Here are a couple of other questions. In light of all the evidence of systematically abusive policies by LDS Inc, why would anyone need feelings to determine the "truth?"

For example, if we know that the LDS Church is pressuring researchers to lie to preserve their membership privileges, wouldn't we become complicit if we continue to support this organization?

m said...

this past week i was talking w/ my hometeacher (a very cool guy btw) and i was telling him how i was going to have to tell my family that i don't really have any sort of testimony any more because my brother is getting married in the temple this spring and i no longer have a recommend.

to get to the point and how this relates to your post, my hometeacher opined that if one were active then they could still qualify for a temple recommend even if they had serious doubts/disbelief, which he often struggles with. but i told him that the main difference between he and i was that i no longer had a desire for it all to be true.

there are so many issues i have w/ the church that i couldn't imagine wanting to live in a universe where it was all true. i don't think the church is bad or evil or anything like that, or necessarily any worse than any other religion per se, but i have no desire for many of it's doctrines/teachings to be true, nor the results that them being true would entail. i totally agree that it would take a huge shelf at this point to hold all of my concerns. my favorite quote regarding that comes from the "angry mormon" who said:

And then there is the concept of “putting it on the shelf,” which I’ve seen around. The idea is, when you come across some church shit that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, something that, if true, if followed to its logical conclusion discredits any minor or major tenet of the church; you just put that on the shelf. Forget about it. But this stuff that doesn’t make sense, the more you start looking, the more you find. Fuck man, ten minutes of internet searches and you’re gonna need a bigger shelf.

nomdujour said...

wow. good stuff here. i have been unable to read them all but wanted to unbear my untestimony about your unquestioning and fear of unanswers. whoa.

Ned, i dont recall all that promise that joseph smith credited to moroni. but i recall there being a part about sincere hearts and real intent.

i gave it my best shot. i missioned and married. i childrened and served. i did some, my wife did a ton. she slaved for a church despite a pile of issues. she expected change. she consulted with the leaders of the general relief society. she studied the manuals and served by the book. together, despite my part in the equation, there could have been little more intent and sincerity.

and for what? to realize that we had been lied to about many things. and then we were slapped with the realization that we were simply passing on rituals, traditions, doctrine, philosophies and a culture that was unfriendly to the people we loved most - our children.

there may be some good in the church, but it pales in comparison to the harm it can and will do to girls, women and families. it harms men too, but they are raised in earthly glory in the process, it feels more subtle.

i cant explain the different experiences for women and men to my daughter with any integrity.

i agree with the shelf parable of the previous post. there just aint enough home depots to supply the materials to build a sufficient mormon shelf.

ned, you did the test. you acted with faith by going on a mission and serving. a god that cant see that as a prayer, unorthodox as it may be, aint a god for me. a god that failed to see the real intent of my wife and answer sufficiently, aint a god for me. a god that would expect me as a parent to be the bridge of truth between the primary lessons about the priesthood and first vision, aint my god. a god that creates riddles through men about _________, (insert every FARMSFAIR topic)aint a safe god for my children.

if there is a god, i shall no longer insult his intelligence with the circular twists that the mormon experience requires a parent to assume. its interesting that the mormons claim to the one true church, and yet the bloggernaccle is filled with contradictions and fueled by debate and questions. what a weak god to inspire that mess.

and more, i love my wife. i will not endorse a church that would raise my children to hate their mother and brand her with the judgments this church encourages. and before the apologists insult that last line, let me remind you that packer was never rebuked for his comments about feminists and intellectuals et al.

packer sucks. his unchecked comments are a disgrace to mankind. as a witness of christ.... forgive me, i digress.

ned, i say stop. your prayer is sent. so what if it wasnt by telegram and in thee and thou on bended knee. it was sent.

now, go and weigh the facts. do you want the narrow riddled path? if so jump on board, bow your head and dig in, some find a reward in that. do you want more? then shed this cacoon and spread your wings. life is an adventure.

there is no shame in having traversed a rocky path. enjoy the adventures you have had, enjoy the many upcoming adventures. but do so on your terms brother. have fun.

Susan M said...

My husband had a Saul/Paul kind of experience when he converted. I won't go into details but if you want to hear about it, I can.

My first thought was similiar to Rusty's, Ned. Have you ever felt the Spirit? Would you recognize it if you did? Learning how the Spirit works for you is very important.

And it helps if you pray for help to be able to recognize it.

Sue said...

Ned, thank you for this post. I have had the same problem, and it's wonderful to hear these comments from everyone. A lot to think about.

Ichan said: "I've asked and asked and asked and nothing. Big. Fat. Zero. I just decided that I can't know in that way. That God doesn't work that way or maybe I don't work that way. But, since I've decided that I can't know anything and I'm just going to choose what I want to believe, I can have that feeling of spirit sidle up to me when I least expect it."

This really hit home for me. I've gotten no answers when I pray. But I look at my life, I look at my family, and I think we are better in the church than out of it. There are so many things I love about the church and it's people. The church is my heritage, my culture, and my spiritual home, even if the spirituality is confusing at times. My life would not make sense outside of the context of the church. So I'm trying very hard to believe, even though I have issues I'm trying to work through, and even though I never get confirmation.

I am saddened that I will never be able to be a full participant anymore. I can't answer the belief questions in the TR recommend appropriately, so no TR for me, which means no real calling, which means that I'm kindof sidelined. I feel like a half mormon - spiritually speaking, and in reality. I don't know if I will ever be able to get my TR back. And in a way, it's sad, because I live my life appropriately, and I probably devote more time and energy and thought to my religion and scripture than most of the people in the ward. But I can't honestly answer those questions, and until I can, I guess I will continue to live my mormon life in a self-imposed semi-disfellowshipment.

Wow, how did this become all about me? Sorry. I just really related.

nomdujour said...

thanks sue,

you sound like a very practical and spritual new order mormon. personally, i think its a shame that people like you arent in the "big" callings.

Stephen said...

I think that forgiveness and acceptance are important steps, that you need them to find inner peace.

Often times it isn't having faith, it is having patience. It always struck me when I read Christ saying "it is impossible but that offenses will come" -- that he could not have a church or a body of believers without offenses coming.

But we lose so much by being swallowed by offenses.

Anonymous said...

Ned, you are exactly right when you say that even getting an answer doesn't end the inquiry.

I never had any trouble receiving answers. When I was a young Mormon kid and prayed like King Lamoni "Dear God, someone told me there is a God, so if there is a God and you are Him and you can hear me, please just let me know," I heard God answer. When I did the Moroni thing, I got the full-on burning in the bosom. I repeated the process many times alongside the investigators in my mission; I would ask again and again, and have it confirmed again and again. It was totally baffling to me how someone would struggle to receive answers, because almost every time I even thought about God, BAM! Whammo! Super amazing feelings I couldn't begin to describe.

When I started to examine my discomfort with certain aspects of the church, and when the only way I could make sense of some of the history was by thinking "this is just another man-made church like all the rest," my biggest fear was, where are those feelings going to go? Those spiritual feelings that I've always been taught are from the Holy Ghost (tm) copyright by the Corporation of the President, only available in the fullness to members of that organization, am I going to lose those spiritual feelings if I feel compelled to leave? And suddenly, BAM! Whammo! Super-amazing peace and comfort and all those feelings came pouring into me. I knew right then that leaving was OK. I ended up resigning from the church, yet still today in my daily life I feel prompted to talk to people and say certain things, I feel peace about major decisions, and so on. Just as before.

I'm sure any faithful LDS person can explain that away if they are so inclined. They can claim that it's not really the same somehow--that what I feel now in my daily life is not the "Spirit" but is merely the "light of Christ" or, worse, what I felt about the un-truth of the church came from a deceptive, impostor evil spirit. Whatever. The fact is, it feels exactly the same to me. So if they wanted me to rely on those feelings that were standard, textbook pro-LDS, why shouldn't I follow those same feelings right out the door?

I think the reason I, and some others, get these feelings while you and some others don't is just normal human variation. Just like some people are more inclined to intuition or logic or anger or depression or calmly and optimistically rolling with the punches. My brain just happens to be more susceptible to these feelings. It doesn't mean I'm a better or more spiritual person than you. It's also not an infallible compass in life as to what is right or wrong, in either the global or the personal sense.

Beijing

Steve EM said...

Well Ned, as is already well known, I think BKP is a false prophet and likely a repressed homosexual to boot (Apparently an opinion that Snarkey can't stomach, given recent comment deletions). That said, I'm a believing LDS, meaning the spirit testifies to me this is Christ's church. Jesus had to put up with flawed apostles, at least one of which was a false prophet; why should our day be any different?