Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

The flyer said: Legislation is being debated in committee to vote on whether to send a defense of marriage act for the state of Texas to the legislature for a full vote. Members should write or call the committee members and urge them to vote to send the bill to the full legislature. Here are the committee members names. A list followed.

The origins of the flyer were convoluted. Area Presidency guy asked Stake President to let the wards know about the committee meeting. Stake Pres was to get the word out to members; he did so by advising the wards’ stake high council representatives. One of the folks along the way wrote up a flyer with the particulars.

During ward council, a member of the bishopric passed them out. I received a stack of about ten flyers. “Please announce this during your meetings, and hand these out to the adults in your organization.”

I was the primary president. I didn’t announce the information during primary closing exercises. I did hand out the flyers to the adults. I felt lousy about it for days.

A few weeks later, an interesting counterpoint arose. One of my favorite cousins is a lesbian. Her partner was not an American citizen. Partner had finished school, and had been unable to secure a green card for long-term employment here. The United States would not allow her to remain as a “spouse” for immigration purposes. However, the two of them could go the other way: the partner’s country allows the same-sex domestic partners of citizens to live and work there. Documentation of the partnership can include leases, bank statements, and letters from people testifying to their relationship.

My cousin asked me to write a letter for her. I did. I wrote that I had observed them living as a couple for five years; buying a house, raising dogs, planting a garden, planning a future. Writing the letter was cathartic. I was cleansed of the flyer.

Five years later, I feel like I’m reliving that ward council meeting. While the stage is national this time, and the request doesn’t seem so cloak and dagger, the issue is the same. My feelings about that issue have not changed.

I did not attend church on Sunday (I did not see any point in attending just to walk out). I have opted out of church attendance for a while. I don't want to get my hands dirty again. I did follow the instructions in the letter and write to my elected representatives; however, I don’t think I wrote what the first presidency had in mind.

I am not as angry as I was three days ago. Mostly, I’m disappointed. Every time I think I can make a place for myself; that the church has a pretty big tent and maybe I can worship with the Mormons as well as anywhere else, the suits in Salt Lake muck it up.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Me=You (or, Me=Everybody)

Here in the bloggernacle and on the DaMU, writers mesh their personal stories with ideas about doctrine and politics and current events. The personal experiences adds intimacy to the medium, and can give us new ways of thinking about both ideas, and each other.

Sometimes, in our posts and discussions, we take our experiences and use them to support general statements. But anecdotes do not equal data. Personal experiences are not global. Other people know all the same things I do about church history, and yet have not come to the same conclusions as I have about the mission and character of Joseph Smith. While I tend to look at my experiences as "normal," that doesn't mean that my responses are "the norm." They're just mine.

A comment exchange starting at #71 in the FMH Trailer Trash thread brought this subject up for me. It was a good exchange, about God-as-cosmic-vending machine. The statement "this is what happens to me" received the reply "that doesn't mean what you are saying." It all resolved very nicely, and interestingly, with a reference to Buddhism (so it must be true). But the initial exchange is one I've seen over and over: "This happened." "That doesn't mean what you say."

"Lead balloon moments," when contradicting data comes up in a class discussion and the room falls silent, are a well-worn experience in the DaMU. My own LBMs, however, have been few and far between. In one Gospel Doctrine class, when I piped up with "I don't agree with that at all," and went on to explain why, it resulted in an interesting and insightful lesson. I didn't add much beyond my initial disagreement; the other participants really moved the discussion forward. I wasn't the only one who didn't believe the premise being offered, and the resulting discussion led us to explore a richer variant of that premise. Just the same, only different.

Personal conversations and lessons have the advantage of immediacy. We don't really have that here in the 'nacle. It takes longer to get through the dialogue:
"This Happened to Me."
"That doesn't mean what you say."
"I know that. But it's what happened."
But as the discussion on FMH shows, we are often able to get there eventually. I think it's an example of what's best about the 'nacle: moving from sharing experiences to understanding, and thinking of old ideas in a new way.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Preparedness and Fear

"If ye are prepared ye shall not fear." (D&C 38:30)

I don't believe it.

I do believe that if ye are prepared, ye are prepared. That seems pretty obvious, though. Being prepared is good for its own sake. It's good to have water stocked up. It's good to have a ready supply of non-perishable foods. It's good to know where the sleeping bags are stashed. It's good to have lots of size D batteries for the flashlights, and a rechargeable lantern. A grill. Charcoal. A portable stove.

Some people are more prepared than we are: they have a generator, firearms, and ammo.

Even with all the preparation, though, I'm still afraid. Afraid that the levees won't be repaired in time. Afraid that even if they are, they won't hold. Afraid that next time, the trees WILL fall on my house. Afraid that if it happens again, there will be no recovering; that the people who want to write off the city as a bad investment will prevail; and the city will be lost. Afraid of the nightmare of bodies floating down Canal; search and rescue hieroglyphs, meaningless except for the occasional "1 body"; 24/7 footage on CNN of the city dying. Again. My city.

I'm prepared. I'm as prepared as I can be. But I'm still afraid.

Hurricane season begins June 1

Sunday, May 21, 2006


How do you tell the difference between divine inspiration and your own ideas?

My best friend tells me he can tell the difference, but he can't explain how. I, on the other hand, have no idea where the boundary is. Maybe that's because I always get such great ideas.

I don't think it's enough to say, "well, if you're being prompted to do something good, it's from God." Because I sometimes want to do good things all on my own initiative.

Does it even matter what the source of an idea is?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I use a lot of hyperbole, myself. I'm sort of a drama queen. Things aren't "nice," they're "awesome." I don't get nervous, or concerned, but rather, "scared witless." To be fair, it's not an act. I'm an emotional person. I react fast and hard, and I'm over it, whatever it is, in minutes. I'm quick to anger, quick to beg for forgiveness, and very sincere about all of it.

So, as someone who is given to grand sweeping statements, I am a little unnerved by how irritating I find the Hyperbole of Holiness. The latest annoyance popped up last night, when I read somewhere a reference to breastfeeding as "sacred." Huh? Since when is lactation holy?

The same subject came up over on the DAMU in the form of snarky comments about Russell M. Nelson's new wife. I don't have any direct quotes, and I've never read her stuff. It's not unlikely that what I've read about her writing may have been taken out of context. Even so, I found her purported admonition to remember that God is the third person in the room when you're having sex with your spouse a little over the top.

I think the reason the hyperbole of holiness is so irksome to me is that I'm inherently suspicious of those who live on a "higher plane" than I do. Breastfeeding was a great experience for me, but I wouldn't describe it as sacred...just rewarding. Sex is great, but I don't think of it as exactly "holy," either - maybe "divinely approved," but not holy.

Maybe there are people who are able to sense the divine in everyday matters. I think, though, that by elevating all experiences to the level of sacred, the sacred is rendered mundane.

"Holier than thou" is not a pejorative without reason. I think it makes those of us muddling along in the mundane world, awaiting experiences that we feel are sacred, feel like there's just no point. We obviously aren't on the same level, so why bother?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Church in my Dreams

When I dream about church stuff, it almost never bears any resemblance to the church in real life. For example:

Last night, I dreamed that DH and I were in charge of a big ward activity, so they direct deposited $10,000 into our checking account, in advance, to cover our expenses. Alas, I did not also dream that they said, "Keep the change."

As part of the same dream, the closing song in Relief Society was "California, Here I Come."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Michael Stipe as a Vehicle for personal revelation

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed Sunday. I had considered foregoing church the day before, but decided to suck it up because something good might happen. But I slept late and we were running late because I made DH fix me breakfast even though it was fast Sunday. He can fast some other Sunday, when he can't make me breakfast because he has an early meeting, right?. So he was anxious and rushed, and I HATE being rushed, even though he wasn't rushing me.

I got to church in time to take the sacrament in the foyer. I went into the chapel during the first testimony. The second testimoney was from a person who moved here after the storm. The first few sentences out of this person's mouth were how much better his other ward was. Not in those exact words, of course, but I was in a bad mood, remember? That's how I heard it, so I looked at DH and said, "Well, I think I'm going to go." It was probably the shortest amount of time I've actually attended a church meeting. I think I was in and out of the building in under ten minutes.

After I got home, I put on some streaming audio and started to clean the kitchen. The kitchen was a mess. I worked on it in fits and starts, stopping on occasion to sit and browse the internet. I thought off and on about the annoying testimony, and the person who had borne it. This was not the first time this person had annoyed me, and it wasn't even the most annoying. Why did this bother me so much? Why was I giving this person so much power over me?

During one of my sitting down times, REM came on. I like REM. I cranked up the song very loud, and sang along.

A couple of minutes into the song, I thought about this person again. It was during a chorus...
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

...and I remembered driving into the City on Lundi Gras, and the indescribable devastation I saw there. This person is from an area that has been almost entirely wiped out, and has probably lost everything.

This person is probably not going to be less annoying to me in the future; he just has that kind of personality. But I am not him, and do not live his life, and do not have his struggles, and actually know almost nothing about them. But I do know one thing: he has lived through the end of the world as we know it.

Maybe I can cut him some slack.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Guest Post: What's Next?

I have known Square Peg for several years, in the way you know people you've only met on the internet. He's a wonderful writer, and I'm glad he's allowed me to post his story on Viva Ned Flanders.

At the beginning of the year over on LDS Liberation Front, RoastedTomatoes ran a series called "What's Next?" The series told the stories of people who had undergone a change in faith, and discussed where their journeys could or did take them. (Full Disclosure: I was a major instigator of this series.) Not all the stories that were written were posted. This one was one of my very favorites. You snooze, you lose, RT! :)

My So-Called Heretical Life

An episode of the public radio program This American Life featured the story of Carlton Pearson, an Evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma who—until sometime in early 2003—was widely regarded as “a rising evangelical megastar.” Reverend Pearson had it all: a thriving congregation in Tulsa with more than 5,000 members, close personal ties with leading members of the Evangelical elite, a seat on the Oral Roberts University Board of Regents, financial security, respect, honor.

Less than a year later, Reverend Pearson’s congregation had shrunk from 5,000 to 250. He had been denounced and rejected by virtually every leader in the evangelical movement, including Oral Roberts, the man who often used to refer to Pearson as his adopted son. He stood on the brink of bankruptcy and financial ruin. He had been rejected by many of his closest, most intimate friends. In what must have seemed like the blink of an eye, Carlton Pearson had gone from a celebrated leader to a complete pariah in the eyes of the only religious community he had ever known.

So how could this sad tale of a fallen Bible Belt preacher have anything to do with my own spiritual journey as a 5th-generation Idaho Mormon? The answer starts with the reason for Pearson’s dramatic downfall. There was no salacious sex scandal or financial misdeed. Nope. Carlson Pearson’s whole world came crashing down around him simply because, after a period of intense reflection and prayer, he stopped believing in the traditional Christian version of Hell—and started preaching that Christ’s atonement is sufficient to redeem “all of creation, including all human beings.” Because he refused to keep quiet about these (from an evangelical perspective) shocking beliefs, Pearson was branded a heretic and unequivocally rejected by the community he had dedicated his whole life to.

On the surface, I have very little in common with Reverend Pearson. I have spent most of my life as a quietly devout, believing member of the LDS church. I’m not particularly charismatic. I probably couldn’t give you a respectable AMEN! or PRAISE GOD! if you paid me. And I’ve certainly never aspired to any kind of leadership position—either inside or outside the LDS church. Until recently, I was one of the quiet, unassuming masses who simply tried his best to keep most of the boxes on the official “Worthy Mormon Male” checklist dutifully checked.

But despite our differences, Carlton Pearson’s story profoundly moved me for reasons that transcend our backgrounds and experiences. First, I too am a heretic—in my own quiet, low-key way. A couple of years ago, after an intense period of study and reflection, a gradual accumulation of vague doubts flowered into full-blown disbelief. I won’t bore you with the details—the circumstances and experiences that have led to my disbelief are as personal and unique as my own fingerprints. It’s enough to say that I no longer believe most of the foundational claims of the LDS church, and although anything is possible, I think it’s highly unlikely that I ever will.

But despite my heretical beliefs, I still feel deeply connected to the only religious community I have ever known. My wife, children, and extended family on both sides are all devout, active members, and I live in the heart of Utah County, where so many aspects of daily life are inexorably intertwined with the LDS church. I long to feel comfortable and accepted in the church as I once did—despite my unorthodox beliefs.

I have spoken with or read about many who remain active, faithful members on their own terms—often in spite of doubts and unorthodox views. These stories offer me hope that perhaps there is a place for me in the church—a place that will allow me to be true to myself and doesn’t force me to choose between my beliefs and my religious community.

But then I hear stories like Carlton Pearson’s (or Grant Palmer’s or Michael Quinn’s or Lavina Fielding Anderson’s) that remind me how much conservative religious communities fear and distrust heretics, and I realize that unless my beliefs somehow change, I will never again be completely accepted by (or acceptable to) the LDS community. In practical terms, this means I will probably never hold a temple recommend. I will never be able to participate in most cherished LDS rituals. In my very conservative ward, I will be gossiped about, strategized over, and fellowshipped. I will most likely not even be able to participate in my own children’s weddings, which frankly, seems inconceivable to me.

Of course, the costs of my private, low-key heresy are trivial compared to what Carlton Pearson and many others have been forced to pay. But they still feel pretty damned steep to me. So from my perspective, the answer to “What’s Next” boils down to two possibilities: I can continue to participate in the LDS community as a quiet heretic—and simply live with the fact that I will always be partially unaccepted and unacceptable. Or, like Carlton Pearson, rather than quietly going along to get along, I could choose to leave my religious heritage and begin the painful process of finding or building a new community that is more compatible with and accepting of my beliefs. The first option seems easier and more convenient—but also possibly less fulfilling over the long term. The second option feels more difficult and much more painful—but possibly more rewarding, honest, and meaningful.

Right now, I’m straddling the fence, considering both options but choosing neither. Someday, probably soon, I will make my choice, and I can honestly I don’t know which road I will choose. In retrospect, Carlton Pearson says that if he’d known, when he first started preaching his gospel of inclusion, that it would cost him so much, he would never have opened his mouth. But he also says that God doesn’t show you everything at once for a reason. And now that what’s done is done, there’s no way he’d go back. After I complete my journey, whatever I decide and whatever the outcome, I only hope I can say the same.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dialoguing with the Others

My first contact with internet discourse about Mormon stuff was on, a Usenet group that is moderated for topicality and civility. SRM was my earliest model for what conversation between believers and non-believers should look like. Two years as a moderator showed me how this model behavior was cultivated: through the miracle of software and a dedicated moderation team, discourteous posts never get through.

Prevention is built into the charter. One hot button is defined as discourteous: Is the church a cult? Another is defined as off-topic: Are Mormons Christians? Discussion of the temple ceremony is prohibited.

This is not to say that everybody who posts on SRM is a believer, or even supportive or positive about the faith. Posters have come and gone who are adamantly opposed to the teachings and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but they were unfailingly civil in how they presented their disagreements. That's because if they weren't, their posts didn't see the light of day.

Over at LDS Liberation Front, I got my underwear in a bunch about the reasonableness of divorcing an otherwise acceptable spouse because said spouse doesn't believe any more. The discussion made me think about discourse between Mormons and Former Mormons.

The stereotypical conversation is a shouting match between the prissy, offended LDS who thinks the ex-mo "can't let it alone" and should just go away quietly, and the angry ex-mo who thinks all those &%*$(#@! Mormons are *$@!*%+ idiots. But if you're outside the corridor, isn't that kind of confrontation rare? Isn't it pretty rare on the internet, too? I've been impressed, overall, by how pleasant most of the folks on the 'nacle have been to me, my Transitional Mormon status notwithstanding. Even the occasional uber-Mormons have been very polite.

I contrast this with the way each group talks about the other in their "safe spaces." Some places on the DAMU* would be downright horrifying to a believer to read. I have read some assumptions about ex-Mormons in believing spaces that are not exactly charitable, either.

Are we being fake in our dialogues with the Others? Are we putting on the show that's expected in our "safe spaces"?

Do you restrict your reading to believing blogs? Do you read boards like FAIR? Do you ever peek in on RFM? How does the discussion of the Others among themselves affect your perception of them?

I sense the need for a poll.
*DisAffected Mormon Underground. It's a great acronym; admit it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Full-body Singing

I filled in for the ward chorister yesterday. She's a friend, and trusted me not to switch the lyrics to "Praise to the Man" to "Scotland the Brave." Maybe she knew we weren't singing "Praise to the Man."

Leading the music is different from singing with the congregation. One major difference is that everybody is singing toward me. The sound is focused toward the podium, which is where the chorister stands. I found myself singing louder than I usually do (and I'm not usually a shy singer). The congregation seemed to sing louder to drown me out. Most of our songs were of the enthusiastic nature, so "loud" worked for everybody.

Leading the music also means I get to pick the tempo. If the organist slows down, I tend to just follow along, but she seemed to like the pace, too. Since the songs were enthusiastic, "fast" worked well with "loud."

Since the congregation is facing me, that also means that I'm facing them. I enjoy watching the congregation sing. I pick out faces and watch how they are responding to the music. Lots of beaming countenances during our loud, fast version of "The Spirit of God."

The best thing about leading the music, though, is that my whole body is singing the song, not just my brain and my voice and my breathing. Leading the music means a lot of flailing, but it's rhythmic flailing, and it connects my self with the music and the message in a way that just singing doesn't. It's really cool to be fully engaged with
"And then, wondrous story, the Lord in his glory, will come in his pow'r in the beautiful day."
I just can't be immersed in a song like that and not be joyous about it.

Later in the day, I had another transcendent experience with full-body singing. I saw Bruce Springsteen at Jazzfest in New Orleans. After all that's happened here, and how hopeless things still seem sometimes, he sang "My City of Ruins," and the audience wept, and raised hands in Hosanna during the chorus,
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
I'm not much of a fan of popular praise and worship music; I think it's manipulative. I do sometimes wish, though, that there was a way that more people could experience, during a normal sacrament meeting, how profound it can feel to become part of the music. Because not everybody gets to be the chorister, or to pray in unison a song for the healing of your city on a beautiful spring day.

Announcing New Perma-blogger: Ann!

VivaNedFlanders is thrilled to announce that Ann will be joining on a permanent basis (or at least until she gets sick of me).

Ann's posts and comments in the bloggernacle have always been intelligent, thoughtful, and kind, and I think I'm pretty lucky to snag her as a co-blogger. I had to trade away most of my draft picks for the next couple years to get her, but it will all be worth it.

Thanks for joining, Ann.