Monday, February 27, 2006 

The Mormon Machine: It just doesn't work without guilt

One of the things that outsiders who know anything about Mormonism find impressive is the degree to which things are organized. The hierarchy of the church, the manner in which responsibilities are assigned and carried out, and the way things operate perpetually is pretty amazing. In order for it all to work, it requires a deep, deep commitment from the members inclusive of consideration, and vast amounts of time and effort.

But the machine is only as good as the wheels, cogs and gears that keep it in perpetual motion. This is both to the advantage and disadvantage of the church. This is why I think that there is some validity in the claim that Mormons are "brainwashed."

Of course, don't think that the Mormon folk are literally hypnotized and forced to to anything. That's crazy. But the reason why the church works like it does is because Mormons are guilted and "holier than thou'd" into it.

Here are some examples from my motivation in my own experience with service in the church:

Calling: Ward Employment Specialist
I accepted this calling, even though I had no idea how to do it. I was actually unemployed at the time, had no idea how to get myself a job, or one for anyone else. I sent around sign up sheets for people who needed jobs or knew of jobs, out of obligation (i.e. guilt) , but I didn't actually help anyone find a job.

Calling: Visiting Teacher
I hated visiting teaching. I hated everything about it, but I did it faithfully and consistently, out of guilt. I hated visiting other people who I didn't really know or ever get to know. I hated being visited by people who came to my house out of obligation.

Calling: Education Counselor in Relief Society
I was called to this position because--wait for it--I was majoring in Education! So, I thought that I was hot stuff. I gave the other teachers feedback on their lessons and relished planning out the schedule of lessons. I worked so hard at this calling because I felt I'd finally been recognized as someone who was important by being called to the Relief Society presidency.

Calling: Stake Young Single Adult Activities Director
I received this calling because when I came back from BYU, I told my stake president I was worried about all of my friends who became inactive. Ironically, I went inactive while holding this calling. I did work my tail off for a year and a half, though, but it was more about me than about the people I was trying to serve. I wanted to do a better job than the person before me.

Besides proving that I am completely shallow, a sincere examination of my motivation for working at my callings shows that the work we do in the Mormon Machine isn't necessarily done for the "right" reason. It still gets done, though, so does it matter?

I think it does. And I think that if you look closer at your motivations for working at your callings that it will matter to you, too.

Posted by Kaycee.

Friday, February 24, 2006 

The Children are not the Future

I was going to write a post about my niece, Madison. She is 10-ish, homeschooled, highly intelligent, and, currently, sticking bugs in boxes for a museum. I caught a ride with her this morning. She carries a notebook around her everywhere in which she writes down discovered facts from children's books about animals, which she also always carries with her. While we waited for our ride this morning, she was idly teasing her cat with a spare telephone cord. I was struck by the beauty of the moment and I was determined to write about how much more focussed and in control of herself she is than I was at her age, about how the future is our hope.

The problem is that I don't believe that anymore, nor do I believe that the Book of Mormon teaches that. We have a standard definition of "hope" as "wishful thinking," nice when it comes through, not terribly surprising when it doesn't. We're not supposed to get our hopes up, but if we do, it is because we are still innocent or blissfully naive. Adulthood is apparently accompanied by the destruction of hope.

This is a crass, shallow form of hope. It is beneath grown people. How dare we blithely accept the desecration of our hope and then pin our hopes on children, who have hopes and dreams of their own. It is the replacement of hope with idol worship. We shouldn't worship our children, as they are just people like us. We would certainly prefer it if they were better than us, but there are no guarantees. If nothing else, finding our hope in others entails losing our hope in ourselves. It is not humanity for whom we must hope, it is ourselves.

In any case, what I understand to be true hope is not easily discarded. In fact, it appears to have quite a hold on a person. To quote Moroni:
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God. (Ether 12:4)
I don't claim to be abounding with the hope sufficient to keep me anchored in all of life's storms, but it is a powerful idea. Much greater than "wishful thinking", at least.

In particular, I am drawn to the order of events here (these thing are not always presented in this order, but I find the order significant here). Hope follows faith. In fact, hope here appears to be much more closely akin to knowledge. Not intellectual either, but rather the sort of bone-deep, experiential knowledge that Paul got on the road to Damascus or Joseph Smith got in a New York wood. I don't know that similar experiences are necessary for the hope/knowledge; I do know that a similar certainty is. And it is promised to anyone who cares to try for it.

It is, perhaps, a peculiarity of Mormonism that, at times, it stops talking in metaphors. There is a God who knows us and wants to be known. In that, I take hope for me and for anyone else who wants such.

Posted by John C.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Some hope and some despair...

We've all heard that hoary myth about how the Chinese word for crisis is a combination of "danger" and "opportunity." Even if it's not exactly true, it still sounds cool. My version is a little less profound. In Spanish, the verb "to hope" is the same word as "to wait." This seems apt to me; I have a hard time believing that hope is a virtue. Hope consists mainly of the lies we tell ourselves to get through the day. It's emotional lubrication.

Used in moderation, it's invaluable. When I used to have a job, I'd wake up each morning, dreading the grind of another day. I hoped that some day, I wouldn't have to get up and go to a job I hated. Sometimes our lies come true. But just the glimpse of this oasis was strong enough to get me out of bed and onto a train every morning.

The worst thing in this world is false hope. The paid programming television that promises drinking fish oil will cure your diseases or that they have cures that others don't want you to know about. If there is a hell, I'm confident it will populated almost entirely by snake oil salesmen and con artists.

As for me, I think I'll just wait. Things are bound to get better.


Posted by Ned Flanders.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

All With Hope, All With Hope

For those of you who read my personal blog you may or may not have noticed that I title each entry with a song lyric; and it's something I do here as well because it has served me well thus far. The lyric I chose for today's post is from a song called "Hand Me Downs" by my favorite group in the entire known universe, the Indigo Girls. The lines following the refrain of "All with hope, all with hope" are the lines that actually stuck with my the most from the first time I heard Amy Ray belting out her agnst riddled song. It goes like this: "All with hope, All with hope that emptiness brings fullness and loss of love brings wholeness to us all."

The reason I liked (and continue to like for that matter) those words are that it is the very sentiment I seem to carry around on my scarred and tattered heart. I have spent a lifetime hoping against hope that perhaps the things that were (or were not in some cases) happening to me would bring me the things I so lacked: fullness, wholness, faith in things unseen. I understood emptiness and loss of love, I so longed for the other side of it to know the heaviness of things instead of the terrible lightness that loneliness and loss seemed to leave in their wake. And so, my little mantra that I chanted to myself and had as the message that popped up everytime I turned my cell phone on was (and remains) All With Hope. It is not hope that has come by faith (Ether 12:4), but hope that has come because I could not live without it. Even in the darkest dark, I held out for some light. I wanted to believe that things could and would be different for me, that my life could and would be better and brighter and filled with the things I had always dreamed of. In a way, I think that is what hope really is: wanting to believe. I think hope is stronger than faith and in many ways far more powerful.

Posted by Sarah

Monday, February 20, 2006 

Hope: Where my faith got lost

I think "hope" is an integral part of gaining faith and/or knowledge of truth. My understanding is that it fits into a continuum, like this:

Recognition of a Possibility ---> Hope ---> Faith ---> Knowledge

Even though I don't have faith in God anymore, I still think that this is how gaining faith works.(Did I learn that in Sunday School? Probably.) If this is the case, then "hope" is the part that I'm stuck at. I'm agnostic, meaning that I've accepted the fact that I just don't know whether there's a God or not. But in that definition and in reality, I do recognize the possibility of a God.

What keeps me from the "hope" that there is a God? There are a few things... big things... unoriginal things... that everyone with faith has somehow overcome.
  1. Why so are there so many religions and gods? If the others are " made up" why not "yours"?
  2. Most religions have a religious text... and they can't all be "the one" correct one. They each have plenty of historical data to back them up as well.
  3. Miracles are indistinguishable from coincidence, except that someone prayed for them. But there are plenty of prayers that don't get answered. And there are good things that happen that nobody prayed for.
  4. The feeling that I used to think was the "Spirit" is the same feeling I've gotten at a touching movie or while reading a good book.
I'm not trying to make a case for not having faith in God, but these are the things that keep me from hoping that He/She/It is out there. There's too much that doesn't make sense to me.


Posted by Kaycee.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 

Is There a Reason?

At moments in my life when everything is going wrong (or more likely, just not going my way) I have a way of saying, “Well…everything happens for a reason.” I somehow make myself believe that me having no control over a situation is supposed to happen. That in the grand scheme of things, it was meant to be. Somehow, my cure all for when bad (or unpleasant) things happen is to believe there is a plan…an idea of a plan. Even when tragedy strikes, I try to tell myself that it is supposed to happen like that. There must be a reason.

But is there? Really?

Is it faith or ignorance that protects my fragile heart when tragedy strikes and I seem to believe that what happened was “part of the plan?” Is it faith or ignorance that keeps my childlike belief that everything happens for a reason and that there is something to be gained by the circumstance?

Could there really be a reason one of my dearest friends lost a baby and her father so very unexpectedly in the span of one year? Is there an explainable reason that there are tsunamis and hurricanes that cause such destruction and devastation? Is there a good reason why there are children in this world that are tortured and abused?

Would finding out the reason for those things happening make it any easier to deal with? No, I would say not. Just though of thought of such pain and tragedy happening to someone for a planned out, orchestrated reason is just too much to handle.

It’s just way too much to comprehend.


Posted by JP.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

A loss

I had a friend named Chad Parker. When he was in his mid-teens, he was diagnosed with having a brain tumor. It spread like a hand around the right side of his brain. His doctor told him that without surgery, he would die. The surgery was successful, but Chad lost all hearing in his right ear and had a big hole in his skull (having opted out of the proverbial metal plate).

Chad served a mission in Russia; I met him there first as he was being shipped out to the city of Ekaterinburg. He passed each other in the office of the mission. I was going to meet the mission president, the kindest, most rational, most compassionate Christian I have ever known. He was going to a city with a big tower in the middle of town that lets people know when the atmospheric radiation in the town is too great and, therefore, the schools are closed.

Chad's mission president was transferred in from Spain. He was, by all accounts, a big fat jerk (at least compared to our mission president). He was hard on his missionaries and on the members. Nobody apparently liked him (and his wife was universally hated). He never learned Russian. Chad became an AP and clearly considered the man arrogant and self-absorbed. Rumor had it that back in Spain, his mission had been riddled with sexual immorality and the president apparently saw missionary sexual conspiracies everywhere. Nonetheless, Chad left the mission field with a testimony of that man's divine calling because, idiot that he was, he was inspired when necessary.

I really got to know Chad when we moved in together at BYU. I moved in just after his girlfriend (another friend of mine) had broken up with him. Prior to this, Chad had come down with appendictis. It had been misdiagnosed twice and, as a result, his appendix ruptured prior to his arrival at the hospital. Chad was able, through a lawsuit, to get the hospital who misdiagnosed him to pay his hopsital bills, but he had to pay his lawyer's fee, which sucked up most of his resources. Just prior to that, he had been praying about this girl in the temple and had received a strong confirmation that she was "the one." She broke up with him shortly after he got out of the hospital.

A few months later, Chad came to discover that the original surgery on his tumor was unnecessary. The tumor had been benign and and had stopped growing before his original surgery. He had lost the hearing in his right ear and a large chunk of his skull due to a misdiagnosis. He had grappled with his own death as a teenager as a result of a doctor's error and nothing more.

In the midst of all of this, Chad and I were talking one day. He said (paraphrasing through dim memory), "The church tells me that I am supposed to grow or to learn from trials. That is absolute crap. I haven't learned a single thing from all of this, except to not trust doctors. I'm not a better person because of this. I'm not any more humble or holy. I haven't been refined; I've been crapped upon."

I suppose that I could have pointed out that he had survived, that he had friends and family who loved him, that the tumor had stopped growing (it was never entirely removed), that the surgery hadn't resulted in brain damage. But, really, what does any of that matter? If you are in pain, you are in pain. One doesn't ameliorate pain by pointing out the sky is still blue or that bunnies continue to hop. All things that don't deal directly with the pain are incidental and, frankly, arrogant. "My wisdom should reduce your feelings of abuse" is not the posture of a humble person.

To be honest, I don't know what I did. I probably commiserated and tried to say something funny (humor as emotional defense). Chad hurt, blamed human error, and moved on.

Tragedy, like most mortal experience, has no meaning for us beyond what we give it. God's motivations usually remain inscrutable and, for whatever reason, if we don't choose to see his hand in some event, random chance is the fallback position for causation. Searching for the motivations behind tragedy may be fruitless in any case, like debating the problems of the Weimar Republic in 1940. Tragedy must be dealt with immediately because the pain and the sorrow are immediate.

For me, the greatest tragedy in all of this is that I have lost touch with my friend. There was a time when I valued no-one else's opinion higher. However, as I married, I became super self-involved and lost touch. We ran into each other occasionally, but we stopped hanging out. Then he got married and moved away. Last I heard, he was in law school. In my ending to his story, he spends the rest of his life suing incompetent doctors. I would like to know his and feel the lack every day.

I miss my friend.


Posted by John C.

Thursday, February 16, 2006 

Ned's Wager

One of the hardest things about losing your faith is adjusting yourself to your new world. A lot of the old assumptions no longer hold true, and it can be quite disorienting.

For example, being a know-it-all type person, I've always found comfort in thinking that all of life's mysteries would be revealed to us after death. We'd know who shot JFK, which sibling tattled on us, and whether Ben Roethlisburger really broke the plane of the goal line. But if there is no God, there are no answers. The secrets of our world have passed into oblivion, and will never be known. There is something depressing about that. I'll never be able to read the lost plays of Sophocles or know just what burned up in the library at Alexandria. The Dark Ages will always be dark. It's stupid and geeky, I know, but oh how I wish there was an absolute knowable truth.

The worst thing about my new world is the lack of justice. There is no reward for good deeds or suffering, and there is no penalty for evil. Victims of tragedy have that tragedy multiplied several times over by the fact that they will never receive justice or comfort, just oblivion. The tragedy is that no one will ever make up the difference for all our wrongs. We have to do the best we can on our own, because no magical accountant can come and level our balance sheets.

For this reason, I think I am more attuned to the everyday tragedies since the loss of my faith. It is far too easy to rationalize things away, saying, "God will fix everything in the end." Some people may find hope in an eternal perspective, but I find it repellant. Repellant because people are risking their real present happiness for an amorphous and uncertain future. I respect people who have faith; I find it difficult to accord the same feeling to those who are certain.

I think it is almost arrogant, this feeling that I know that everything will work out in the end, so be quiet and stop complaining. This is an attitude that can turn people off of religion in general. I am 99% certain of my point-of-view and you are 99% certain of yours. One of us is wrong. It could be me. I doubt it, but it could be. It kills me when people are forced to sacrifice their happiness for blithe assurances of the eternities. One of the doctrines I dislike most is that this life is just a short interval in our eternal progression. The implication is that this life is just a burden to be borne, one long temptation to be avoided. Keep your head down and don't look to the sides, or you'll screw up not just your life, but your eternities. How noxious an idea! Turning our brief, miraculous consciousness into a degradation and humiliation to be endured.

To me that is real tragedy. To live your life in constant fear of destroying your eternity. I refuse to believe it. Everyone is familiar with Pascal's Wager. It goes, if I believe in God and he exists, then I will be rewarded. If I believe and he doesn't exist, I won't have lost anything, so I might as well believe.

I propose Ned's Wager: If we warp our lives to conform to what we perceive to be God's will and we're wrong, and he doesn't exist, then we've squandered our entire life. Our complete eternity if you will.

If I am wrong, and an all-powerful God does exist, then he has some questions to answer. I can't believe that he will punish me for being sincere, for being concerned about others' and my happiness.

I will not waste my time on things that make me unhappy. That's a gamble I'm willing to make.


Posted by Ned Flanders.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Tragedy: Why Not You, Why Not Me

I don’t have much to share in the way of personal tragedy. I just don’t feel like sharing some of those things right now (plus, you wouldn’t want to be here all day, would you?). However, allow me to share with you a time (one of many, I assure you…) when I was reprimanded by…or er, taught a lesson by the Spirit.

During my freshman year at Rick’s College (now BYU-Idaho) I often crossed paths with a young man of about 21 who, through what I assumed to be a birth defect or degenerative disease, walked with crutches on twisted legs. Because Rick’s College was small, we had a couple of large group classes together where I learned that he was a returned missionary.

I remember one early, dark winter morning, trudging up the hill toward campus and seeing this young man making his way to campus also. As I watched him struggle along the eternally frozen streets, amazed at his ability to stay up-right, several thoughts crossed my mind:

“Why does he live so far from campus? Why doesn’t he have a motorized wheel chair? I wonder if he’s ever had a girlfriend…I wonder if he’ll ever get married. I wonder what kind of girl would date him. I…”

And then what I assume to be the Holy Ghost butted in with a very clear redirection of my thoughts…

“Well why not YOU?! Are you too good to look beyond his disability to get to know him and chance falling in love with him?!”

I felt stunned. I did think I was too good to date someone like him. All I could see was someone who was living with a tragedy, a difficult physical disability, while I was walking around with a tragic spiritual disability. What if that was the path Heavenly Father had in mind for me? What if I ignored promptings that would lead me to an incredibly happy and fulfilling life with a wonderful human being?

So this leads me to think, why not me when something bad happens. Bad things happen all the time. Am I too good to avoid tragedy in life?

One of my young women shared with me an experience she had when her divorced, going-to-school, trying-to-raise-three-kids-alone mother sat in the car with tears in her eyes and asked in all honesty, almost as a prayer, “Did I choose this life?”

Probably not. I doubt she sat in heaven and chose to have an unfaithful, dead beat husband who would leave her without any of thought of taking care of her or his children. Some tragedies are the result of people making really bad decisions that have detrimental effects upon the innocent. This is why we have commandments and the Golden Rule, to avoid unnecessary tragedy…and believe me, some tragedies in life are UNNECCESSARY and could have been avoided.

So I try not to take things personally. I don’t ask why me. I don’t even ask what God wants me to learn from this. That would make it too, fate-ful, too planned…I don’t think God has worked that way in my life, at least I don’t think it’s a healthy way for me to perceive his plan. I usually try to decipher what I CAN learn from what’s going on. Although, to be honest, that usually only happens once some time has passed, once the tragedy is over, once I’ve healed or regrouped or whatever… I can only hope that during the tragedy, I am making the right choices; that I am doing what Heavenly Father would want me to do to grow the most, learn the most, or get the most out of a difficult situation.

Posted by Carrie Ann

Tuesday, February 14, 2006 

Wait In The Fire

I can't tell you how many times the words, "This is the tragedy of my life" have passed my lips. It's one of my favorite phrases, and I use it more than I probably should. The truth is, my life has known little actual tragedy. Sure, I've had death in my family, but now my husband is a funeral director, and he comes home and tells me stories of REAL tragedy. He tells me about people who aren't sure if they will ever see their loved ones again, who don't know how to deal with the sudden loss of someone they love, who have nothing to cling to. I feel so deeply for these people that often I don't let Dustin finish his story. I don't let him tell me about the tragedies, because I can't stomach that kind of pain.

It is for similar reasons that I don't watch the news. I can't handle real life tragedy broadcasted to my living room. There is a sadness that seeps into my skin from the tales of woe and heartache of strangers, and honestly, there are so many people I know and love who must struggle with their own heartache, I can't handle the burden of strangers, it is too much for me.

Dustin and I were on our honeymoon when Hurricane Katrina hit. We had no idea it had even happened until we returned home and witnessed the aftermath of it all in the papers and on every television channel and every radio program. One of my bridesmaids and dearest friends, Tifferbob, was living in Mississipi at the time, and because she was here for my wedding, she was stuck. She couldn't get back to her husband for weeks. Finally, she was able to get a flight into Texas and her husband drove for 10 hours to pick her up. Once electricity and phones were restored she started sending me emails about the people that had shown up to help, the people who had looked this tragedy in the eye and realized they could do something to make it less of one. She talked about the good and the bad of that time, and I sat in my warm dry home thousands of miles away and lapped up her words of hope. She was living in the midst of catastrophic tragedy, and throught it all she found something deeper than the pain of destroyed homes, a husband out of work, neighbors who had died. She found something to take her through that tragedy and on with the rest of her life. Tiff thanks her faith for getting her through, and I find so much in that statement. She credits God for getting her through the two days she didn't hear from her husband. I can't tell you how impressed I am with her attitude.

I am somewhat of the opposite of Tiff. When I experiance something I think of as a personal tragedy I weep, wail, curse and beg the question what have I done to deserve this. I don't often see the fact that I'm growing, being pulled and stretched, being molded into something greater than I was before. It is painfully difficult for me to see that any good at all could come from something that hurts so much, or interfers in the plans I had laid. I've said it before and I will say it again, but I do NOT handle difficulty with much grace. I am slow to be grateful for the good, I tend to focus on the tragedy and not on the things that are going right. I hope that I am changing from this little by little. I am learning to be more graceful and grateful. I am learning about the silver lining - it's there, you just have to brave enough to look for it.

I'm grateful for the examples I have in my life of people who are graceful under fire. They make me want to be better when the tragedies of my life happen, they make my want to possess what they have: grace.

Posted by Sarah

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

Tragedy

I've read "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." I keep it on hand in case tragedy strikes too close to home. When I see others coping with tragic circumstances (like Hurricane Katrina victims or my friend whose parents are both undergoing chemotherapy) I'm empathetic and I try to do something (donate, listen). I often wonder, though, how tragedy would affect my faith in God.

I've heard so many times about people who found faith when faced with challenges or tragedy. After I lost my faith in God, I came to find that life was easier for me without religion in my life. I am free of many of the stresses (from striving for the impossibility of perfection to feeling guilty if I had a snack on the wrong Sunday) that detracted from my overall mental and physical health. I didn't stop believing in God so that I could relax, it just worked out that way.

But I wonder and worry that the opposite could be true. Would I, in the face of tragedy, find that I needed faith and try to regain it? Would I be able to cope with losing a loved one or losing physical abilities without faith to keep me afloat?

It's impossible to say. I would like to categorically say "no" because if I thought I could have faith again, then I should be trying to regain it now instead of living my life without it. However, I find that I can't say "no" because I've been proved wrong before. If you would have asked me when I was 20 if I would have ever left the church, I'd have called you "crazy" for asking. But I did.

So, would tragedy propel me back to faith? I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure it's what my mom prays for every single night.

Posted by Kaycee.

 

Redirection Resurrection

Good news... We're not dead!

Contrary to comments listed on the last post (from an embarrassing 6 weeks ago), we are alive, well, and recommitted to our beloved Various Stages of Mormondom.

Our plan to post "whenever" did not motivate us as we thought it would, so we are returning to our former method of assigned days and topics. We have made a change, though. Formerly, our topics were very specific and by the end of the week, some writers felt that they were sounding like a broken record. From now on, our weekly topics will be words or short phrases on which a writer could take any number of approaches. We will begin anew on Monday.

We hope that this will make writing more fun, reading more interesting, and creativity ever flowing.

We realize that we have a unique voice and position in the "Blogosphere" and don't want that to disappear. Thanks for sticking with us.

This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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