Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Straw

Through the years there were things about the church that I had joined at seventeen that I didn't like and because I didn't understand it, I would put it "on the shelf" or "on the back burner" or "in the closet" where I didn't have to deal with it.

Some things I loved. Families are forever, Heavenly Mother, Jesus.

But some things like polygamy caused pain. In fact polygamy caused so much pain that I was too frightened to examine it, in case it really was true.

But in the end, polygamy wasn't what broke the camel's back. It sure weighted that camel down though and after the back was broken polygamy took a hammer to it. Which now is just making this whole metaphor bloody.

Nope, it was the face in the hat.

Old Institute Manuald Testament 
When I joined the church I was taught that Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni who commanded him to get the Golden Plates which were buried in a hill near where Joseph lived. Following the angel's directions Joseph found the plates but was forbidden to remove them. It took several years before he was considered worthy to have the plates and with the plates came the Urim and Thumim, devices that would help him translate the characters on the plates.

Now I was never clear on what the Urim and Thumim were. Sometimes it seemed to be a breastplate representing the twelve tribes of Israel that a man with the priesthood would wear while doing his duties. In fact there's an illustration on one of the church Institute manuals. You can see the guy sitting down is wearing it. I tried blowing it up but it just made it fuzzier.

The other explanation is that it was spectacles that Joseph could put on and see the characters. In fact the Urim and Thumim could be both these objects.

Art in the church depicted Joseph studying the plates.

This is what I was taught. The story never changed. This is what was said at church in sacrament, in Sunday School, in Relief Society and in every church meeting where the subject was about this the Golden Plates. And I was satisfied with the explanation that after Joseph translated the plates, the angel Moroni took them up to heaven.

Nowhere at church did I get this image.

Not once did anyone at church mention that Joseph stuck his face in a hat where he had placed a rock and translated that way.

When I first heard this I was watching an episode of South Park. It was an episode about the church that even I, a devout member found amusing and I wasn't even a South Park fan.

Of course when they said this I knew that the South Park people were making it up, or at the very least just saying stuff that anti-Mormon people make up. It was too ridiculous to be true.

One day my son mentioned it to me and I brushed it off. "That's just anti-Mormon stuff that people say. It's not true."

It took a couple years later when I dared to venture out of the safety of Mormon hood and started listening to John Dehlin's Mormon Stories. I'm not sure which church historian said it, but it was someone who was a respected historian, who was or still is a member of the church, and was or still is fully believing.

This was no anti-Mormon.

And as I looked further, I found that  the face in the hat story was true, not the story that the church had been teaching me.

Furthermore that rock that was in the hat, was a rock that Joseph happened to find one day and he told people that it helped him find buried treasure. None of which he found. Think about it, a poor boy claims to be able to find buried treasure and charges people money to do it. If he could find buried treasure wouldn't he keep it for himself and not have to charge other people to find it?

He was arrested and found guilty for this. And he wasn't charged just once. The church never tells that part of the story either.

So then he uses that same stone that doesn't work to translate the gold plates which don't even have to be in the same room with him.

I'm a miracle believer. I believe that God can do pretty much anything He darn well pleases. I have seen miracles and experienced them. We don't know everything that this world has to offer.

So I can believe in angels and golden plates and translations with instruments coming from God.

I can't believe in a face in a hat with a found stone that was used to con people out of money.

More importantly, the church lied to me. For over thirty years, it lied to me. It's not like the church didn't know. The church does know. And it lied to me through teaching other people like me those lies and writing it down in manuals and asking us to spread those lies and sending out young men and women to knock on doors and proclaim those lies.

So how can the church be true?

And how can the Book of Mormon be true?

Or the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price?

And if Joseph lied about how he translated, then how can the temple rituals which Joseph got from the Masons be binding?

The entire thing topples to the ground because of a face in a hat.

The one thing that is left is Jesus, because Jesus has other resources that testify of Him. And there are teachings within the church that can still stand because there are other resources that testify of them.

But the church itself? The church is a liar.

Can the church stand once everyone discovers this?

I think the church has some repenting to do. I think it can still survive. But the church has to admit its mistakes. It has to stop proclaiming that these stories are true. It has to admit that Joseph was not a prophet but just the guy who started the church. The church has to abandon the temple practices. The church has to admit that the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price are not accurate and that the Doctrine and Covenants is not a testament of God.

The church has to admit that they are another Protestant church that testifies of Jesus Christ.

And then maybe it can survive.

And then maybe that is a church I can support.

But I can't proclaim an unapologetic lying church as being the only true church.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 4 - Blessed Brokenness

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

I loved this chapter! There is so much wisdom in a few short pages.

Taylor writes about the travelers on the Road to Emmaus who are joined by a stranger. During the journey they speak of Christ and His death and the rumors of His resurrection. The travelers do not believe in the testimony of those who claim they saw Christ expressing their disappointment. It takes the stranger to point things out to them.

Taylor writes: "The Christ is not the undefeated champion; he is the suffering servant, the broken one, who comes into his glory with his wounds still visible. Those hurt places are the proof that he is who he says he is, because the way you recognize the Christ and his followers is not by their muscles but by their scars... Which means they are not to interpret their defeats as failures anymore."

It's very soothing and hopeful to not consider my many scars and my many defeats as failure. My scars and defeats are a by product of living, of not just staying in my room and watching TV but of going out into the world and taking chances and failing because I cared enough to try.

Jesus did not stay in His room. He did not stay in His father's carpentry shop. That wasn't His place although I'm sure he made beautiful tables and chairs. He went out into the world and said things that weren't popular and broke the rules and embraced the people. The consequences were devastating and initially it appeared that He had lost, that He had failed.

And yet, He did anything but. He rose above it and two thousand years later many still strive to live by His words and follow His example and we watch hoping to travel with the stranger on our road to Emmaus.


Watershed: an event or period marking a turning point in a course of action or state of affairs

I went to the United Church today. I had been doing so much at the United Church lately that I figured it was time to go to a service. So I went and was greeted warmly by people I knew, mostly from those other things I had been doing. There's the book club group on Tuesday mornings and a group that was looking at "Living the Questions" on Sunday evenings. So it wasn't an entirely scary thing that I was doing. Just different. Plus I had written an article for the newspaper about the United Church building.

The pastors message today was about the woman at the well. 

And about watersheds.

And so inspired I wrote a poem which has music in my head because that's generally the way I write poetry even though I have no musical abilities whatsoever in spite of being a singing nun in the Sound of Music.

Here it is. I never promised greatness.


The stream runs to the river, twisting, rushing, falling,
The river runs into the sea,
The water leaves its life, giving everywhere it goes,
And moves on towards its destiny.
I have been turned around from the road I was on,
And away from where my path had always led,
The view here is different, in sight, and touch and sound,
As I mark the point of my watershed.

Come and drink from the river rushing by,
Let it pool in the places that had dried,
Open up my eyes, open wide my heart,
Feast upon the word and be well fed,
I may travel this alone, as I make a brand new start,
I will mark the place of my watershed.

Though the path is different, the goal remains the same,
I re-examine things I thought and said,
I put on all my tools, my armor and my sword,
And mark the place of my watershed.
The road is bumpy and uphill, I’m not sure where I’ll be led,
And I look back on my watershed.


Gospel Medicine: Chapter 3 - Family Values

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book. 

I'll admit I was a little taken aback by this chapter. I come from a church that claims to love family and put family first and then proceeds to give people, especially men, so many callings and responsibilities that they're rarely home. This chapter claims that Jesus and the gospel will tear families apart.

"There they are sitting around the dining room table one night, minding their own business, when the gospel falls like a sword across their dining room table and quivers there, with half the roast on one side and half on the other, green beans everywhere. Some of those sitting around the table are struck to the heart. They want to pull the sword out and run straight into the street with it, swinging it above their heads and making perfect strangers listen to what just happened to them.

Others want to clean up the mess and get on with supper. Sure, it is the gospel, but there is no reason to get all upset about it. Being a good Christian is not all that different from being a good citizen, after all. You just stay out of trouble and be nice to your neighbors and say your prayers at night. There is absolutely no reason to go make a spectacle out of yourself. 

And then there is always the family member who does not see a thing, who does not believe in swords and who goes right on eating as if nothing ever happened, muttering under his breath about how everyone in this house is stark raving mad."

I loved this visual so much I had to reproduce it. It's true though. We all know or at least know of people who fall into these categories. Most I suspect appear to fall into the last one. We can't stand the ones that fall under the first. The middle ones are okay.

It is true though about the gospel tearing families apart. We've all heard of parents turning their backs on their gay kids citing the bible as the reason. Or on their kids who marry outside of their faith. Or because their kids have left the family faith. There are churches including mine who use excommunication to get rid of the undesirables who dare to present different ideas.

Churches war with each other. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Joan of Arc, the tug between Catholic and Protestant where nobility had to jump back and forth between faiths in order to keep their heads. The Westboro Baptist Church. We look at those who committed the horrendous 9/11 act and take a blind eye to the warring that goes on in Christian communities.

Jesus did warn us. "I have come not to bring peace but a sword." Matt 10:34

He knew that His message was controversial and would cause division, not just between people and nations, but between families.

I don't think Jesus wants families to be divided. His commandment was to love one another. I don't think he wants us to reject our children and not take care of our parents and then blame him for our behavior.

But there are times when it is necessary to turn our backs on those we love. When those we love abuse us, when they are toxic to our well being, when our existence in their lives allows them to continue with bad behavior, when they are a threat to the children that God has entrusted to us. Then we need to take a break from them. We need to allow the sword to separate us so we can heal, protect, and guard from the bad influences.

The trick is knowing when that is.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 2 - Arthritis of the Spirit

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book.

This was a tough one.

It's on forgiveness.

I admit, this has been a stumbling block for me. Most likely because when I have forgiven over and over again, it has only come back to haunt me. The people in my life that I have forgiven would continue to do the same things to me. It was a never ending circle. I would get hurt, I would forgive, the perpetrator would hurt me again.

My ex would say to me "if you don't forgive me then that makes you the bigger sinner," which took the responsibility of his actions off of him and put them on my shoulders. It also allowed him to do wrong over and over again and just say "it's in the past you have to forgive."

But forgiveness was never designed to allow people to do bad things and not suffer the consequences. The purpose of forgiveness is to set people free, not chain them to misery.

I learned this when one day I heard a voice in my head that said "You don't have to forgive him on his terms."

Eureka! I could forgive him on my terms. And what were my terms? Divorce. I would no longer have to put up with his behavior.

And so I was able to forgive and move on. He still accuses me of not being forgiving, but he says that whenever he does something that I have to forgive him for - again. But at least I'm not so emotionally involved as I once was.

I still struggle with forgiveness. It's a process that sometimes can take time. When someone does something bad to us, we don't have to forgive immediately. We need time to process and come to terms with it. Sometimes we need to get angry to motivate us to do something. Denying the anger doesn't help us. Accepting it, feeling it, and then turning it to something positive does.

As I go through this transition I realize that I don't want to be bitter towards the LDS church. I see it on the forums I'm on. Some people are very angry and they spew that anger all over the place. I understand the anger. I don't want to be a part of it. I don't want to feel that bitterness. Instead I want to speak calmly about what I'm learning, both the positive and the negative. Some may accuse me of anger or not being forgiving, but it's just me working through things.

I don't want to get furrows in my forehead and frown lines around my mouth and develop a reputation of someone that people want to avoid. 

I have to remind myself as Taylor states,  "We are being forgiven every day of our lives. We are being set free by someone who has arranged things so that we have all the advantages. We have choices. We have will. And we have an advocate who seems to know that we need lots of practice at this forgiveness business."

I need to remember this.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Things I Choose to Keep: Heavenly Mother

Mother Nature's Garden by jesus-at-art
When my shelf fell down, there was a whole lot of stuff that I had to sift through. I knew I wanted to keep some of it. Many people choose to throw everything away. I believe there is treasure in this mess far too valuable to throw away and start from scratch.

And so I sift through this, choosing to keep some things, discarding others. I will be talking about both, and obviously the things I choose to keep will likely be more positive posts than the things I choose to throw away. They may also be controversial.

Among the more controversial and unique things that the LDS church teaches, is that there is a Heavenly Mother. No other Christian church that I know of teaches this, although there are other religions that recognize the feminine divine.

It makes logical sense. It is even supported in the bible right in Genesis.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1 26-28 KJV

Who was God speaking to when He said "us" and "our"? If He made man in His own image, then who did He model woman after? I do not look like a man. It stands to reason that there was also woman to make an image of.

God also chose to create a world beginning with a man and a woman, and stated that in Corinthians 11:11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.

It stands to reason that we cannot create alone, and that God the Father would set the pattern much like one that has been set before.

I imagine a beautiful garden, and in this garden there is a man and a woman who are planning their own world(s). Perhaps it is one world, perhaps it is two, one for him and one for her, each one being the God of their own world or sharing the responsibilities of the one. I can see them working together, making plans, trying things out, helping each other as they build these worlds. And they create a garden much like the one they live in, and in the garden they put a man and a woman in the images of them. 

The church has taught there is a Heavenly Mother, but sadly has not expounded on this idea and has discouraged members from talking about her, praying to her, and searching for her. Often the reason is to "protect her". 

But She is a God. She needs no protection from humans. I would hate it if my children never spoke to me, never thought of me. It seems so cruel for the Mother of mankind to be ostracized from our thoughts and feelings. 

And so I keep Heavenly Mother, and I embrace her. Because sometimes I need a Mom.

Gospel Medicine: Chapter 1 - Gospel Medicine

This blog series is based on the book "Gospel Medicine" by Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal minister who has written several books based on her own life and her sermons. "Gospel Medicine" is a book of sermons around the concept that the Gospel of Christ is medicine to the soul. I discovered this book while attending a morning book club at my local United Church and I was blown away by the depth and beauty of Taylor's writing. These posts will be looking at each of the chapters of this particular book.

Taylor begins this chapter introducing us to Luke. I did not know he was a physician, so I looked on the internet for more information regarding that tidbit that Taylor gives. I found this from Examiner It does not say for certain that Luke was a physician, but it points to the possibility. Certainly the physician named Luke in the scriptures may or may not be the same Luke who writes the book of Luke.

This is Taylors introductory chapter to the book and doesn't delve too deeply into theology at this juncture. Her main point is that the gospel is medicine.

The following passage says it all so eloquently.

"On the one hand, the gospel is just a bunch of words. "Weep no more." "Do not be afraid." "Your sins are forgiven." "Stand up and walk." They are just words, and prescribing them to an ailing world seems as futile as putting a bandage on a broken bone or an aspirin in the hand of someone who is dying. But when we proclaim these words as gospel, we say more: we say that they are words that belong to someone, and that every time we speak them someone is present, speaking them with us, speaking them through us, so that we never speak them alone, and they never come back empty. They effect what they proclaim: they dry tears, they quench fears, they forgive sins, they heal souls, they make true the good news of God in Christ every time we speak them."

How beautifully joyous!