Monday, August 21, 2017

The God Box

Hello, My Dear Blog. It's been over a year since I last posted. Goodness, I didn't mean to be gone so long. Perhaps I haven't had much to say, or maybe I just lacked the words to describe my thoughts and ideas. Anyway, it's nice to be back.

I'm fascinated by today. There was a total eclipse of the sun, which crossed the United States. Here in Utah, the eclipse wasn't to totality, but close. The experience was very cool, and I was happy to share it with my wife and kids, and even a couple of friends. Other friends of mine saw the eclipse from the areas of totality, where the moon completely covered the sun for a couple of minutes, darkening the land they stood on, and chilling the air. The photos I've seen from those areas of totality are amazing to say the least. No, beautiful. No, breathtaking. No...maybe words won't do. Maybe my words will limit the expansiveness of the event. And so I'll just say I saw it, I was moved, and I'll leave it at that.

At work, I had a discussion, which just happened to coincide with the subject-matter of my last post here---God and boxes. It was a lovely discussion during which beautiful truths were unpacked. Once again, I thought about how limiting thoughts can sometimes be. I thought about how religion can at times stifle one's spirituality.

For those who believe in "God," there has been at some point in their lives an introduction to this idea of deity. Perhaps their parents presented them with the idea of God. Often, as was the case for me, it was a combination of things. My parents introduced me to the idea of God. They taught me that I could talk to God, and that God would listen to me, and even answer me. They taught me that with God anything is possible. They introduced me to Mormonism, and Mormonism introduced me to a box.

It was a neat little box. It was beautifully, intricately wrapped, with pretty paper and lacy ribbons and bows. No one had given me a box like this before. It felt special. It was special. Not long after I received it, I opened it up.

Now imagine, if you will, a neat little box, with the top flaps opened, but the contents remaining neatly, tightly inside. What is inside is so special, so sacred that one must handle the box with the utmost of care. The contents are packaged well, with a sufficient cushion of bubble wrap and packing peanuts. The contents fit so nicely, they are clearly safer left inside. And at that point, it doesn't matter. One doesn't need to remove it from the box. He/she knows it is special and powerful because he has been told so. He can see about the top 15-20% of what lays inside anyway. And if he wants to know about the rest, he can just ask. (Although, if one asks only those who had also not removed the contents of the box, what good did that do?)

For many years, I loved my God in a box. Still do, actually. I could pray to God and often I'd get answers. I could feel that God had the power to affect my life in different ways. I could feel God's influence at times. Other times, I felt my god lacked the power to help me, or to help other people. On a few occasions, I thought I felt something that seemed likely to be God, but I had never seen that possibility when I had looked or studied my God in a box. And the people around me, who also had similar boxes, were unable to explain my experiences as God. They'd never seen that side to God. They'd never read nor heard about God behaving in such ways. Several years ago, I began pulling my box open a little further, shuffling around the styrofoam peanuts, and peeking at the sides of God I hadn't yet allowed myself to see. I saw even more power, more beauty, more possibility for miracles and wonders. As the years went by, the box was becoming a little tattered, less secure, and less useful.

Now, I don't want to project my experience onto anyone else's. I don't want to tell anyone what to expect. But just imagine again that box which contains something so powerful, so wondrous, so...well, again with the limitation of my words. Imagine that you can open the top flaps and see what's inside. You see the neat wrapping and packaging. But those packing peanuts and bubble wrap are keeping you from seeing what can be seen, if only you take God out of the box. Once you do so, you're able to free God from those cardboard constraints, and you're able to free your mind to limitless possibility. You will then be able to observe all of the sides of God. You might not understand it all, but there will be nothing keeping you trying to reach higher understanding. You'll quickly realize that God never needed to be kept in that box.

What have I learned from my own God box experience? I've learned that the box is neither good nor bad. The box was a handy wrapping in which to introduce God in the first place. The wrapping helped me understand that what was inside was indeed special and important. The box actually helped me feel that I was special and important. Yet, my relationship to God became so much more once I took God out of that box, out of those constraints, beyond religion's written and spoken limitations. With the box, I was telling God how to be. But without the box, I was allowing God to be God. They say "with God, anything--including miraculous things--is possible." I've learned that God IS possibility, and allowing possibility allows for miracles.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Does your God live in a box?


Rather than being a water tight, air tight, precisely engineered box, maybe books like the Bible (or Book of Mormon, or Quran, or Torah, etc...)are just introductions, insights into God and belief in God. Because, if we operate under the assumption that God is only what we read in the scriptures--never mind all of the pretzel twisting those words have gone through over millennia--we run the risk of limiting God, both who/what God is, and what God is capable of. How many times has God been limited, because someone insisted that some passage in Leviticus is literal, and exact, and means precisely only that which is written, and then understood, after however many translations, in whatever language?
This isn't to suggest that the scriptures don't have value. They absolutely do, in my opinion. But do we see them for what they are, or do we make them into a brick of solid, immovable "truths", with which to beat ourselves and others over the head?
The best advice I think I've ever been given, with regards to God and a belief in God was this: Don't put God in a box.

P.S. "Any belief system tends to narrow the mind."
--BYU BIO professor, during a panel discussion titled "Teaching Evolution in Utah," given at UVU, 2014.--
(Sorry--I can't recall what his name was, but I was there in the audience.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Policy™ is our Opportunity



Recently, The LDS Church,  made official the policy that excludes children of gay parents from fully participating in Mormonism. In fact, Elder Nelson, current President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in an address to students, asserted that the leaked handbook policy came by way of revelation to President Thomas S. Monson. This means The Church's official position is that this policy came from our Creator, our Father in Heaven, our God.


For more about the policy, or Elder Nelson's talk, follow these links:

https://www.lds.org/church/news/elder-christofferson-says-handbook-changes-regarding-same-sex-marriages-help-protect-children?lang=eng

and

http://www.sltrib.com/home/3391057-155/lds-gay-policy-came-from-god

Now, I believe in prophets, and in revelation. (  See my post on my definition of prophets: http://unchurchedmormon.blogspot.com/2015/02/prophets.html  ). I believe the church's general authorities spend a lot of time, thinking about important issues, issues of moral relevance. I believe they do their best in their callings as prophets, seers, and revelators. I believe they take their callings seriously, and I believe they have a great love for people, specifically for members of the church. I don't know what experiences each of them have had with the LGBT community. I can't say with any certainty what they were thinking when they apparently sought this revelation. There have been times where general authorities have admitted mistakes, and that leaders have gotten things wrong. ( https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng )  I believe it's very easy to let personal bias or opinion cloud the channels of inspiration. And I believe this policy/revelation is NOT from God; I believe they got this one wrong.


I believe the basis for, and the overwhelming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is love. In the scriptures, Jesus spent a lot of time with people. He obviously loved those precious souls. He showed that every soul is precious to God. When asked what was the greatest of all the commandments of God, Jesus replied that we are to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and that we're to love our neighbor (everyone/everything with whom we share this world) as ourself. We should love others as we'd have them love us. We are to love as God loves, looking not at the outer form, but at the inner Being. My personal belief is that this policy focuses far too much on the outer form (one's sexuality in this case) and pays very little attention to who these souls really, truly are.


Now, regardless of whether the Brethren had the best of intentions, and regardless of how much they prayed over this issue, and regardless of how much they love people, real souls are being harmed by this policy, and by such a laser focus on the LG
BT community and any supposed sin. Real families are being pushed and pulled and divided. Loving parents are being criminalized as apostates based on who they love. Children are being otherized by this policy and the accusatory attitudes it engenders among members. Those same children are being told, essentially, your parents, who love you, are an abomination. They are then being told, if you want to be exalted, you must disavow your same-sex parents' loving relationship. I can only imagine what that must feel like.

I do not agree with those who suggest this policy is "causing people to take their own lives." I don't blame those suicides on the church, nor on the policy by itself. I know that there are so many variables and factors to why people want to end their lives. HOWEVER, I do believe, per the Mormon culture, and stigma surrounding homosexuality, the church and this policy are pushing at-risk kids toward, and sometimes over the cliff's edge, rather than pulling them to safe, kind, loving, empathetic arms.

The church has a real opportunity to exercise God-like love here, and I worry they're missing it. This is our opportunity, as fellow saints, to change our own behavior, rather than pontificating/rameumpting on why we think someone else needs to change theirs. How much beauty, and how many souls are we overlooking? How many of God's precious children are we forgetting? For these too-often marginalized souls, this policy is less likely to make them feel loved and wanted, and more likely to make them feel more hopeless, and more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide. On the other hand, if we can offer a GOOD support system, offer them hope, and show them we believe in them and want them here, they are more likely to succeed in leading productive lives and in having a beautiful existence.


Right now is our opportunity. For those people in their social circles, their families, their workplace, their wards--will those beautiful souls see our outstretched arms, waiting to embrace them, or will we turn our backs to them? Never mind "loving the sinner, hating the sin." We need to drop that from our gospel vocabulary. God-like love doesn't offer one hand of support, while the other hand waits to slap with piety, condescension, condemnation and judgment. We must offer both hands, both arms, our whole hearts in a loving, caring, welcoming embrace. We must discontinue to see people as their outer forms, and begin to see them for the beautiful inner-Beings which reflect our own, and which reflect God.


If this policy, or an unkind attitude has touched you, and affected you in a negative way, I want you to know that I stand up for you. I see you. I am listening to you. I love you. I want you to be a part of this journey we call life. You are enough. You are perfect. I want you to be a part of my own journey, and I hope you want me to be a part of yours.








Thursday, January 21, 2016

No, you haven't failed as a parent, and no, your child isn't rebelling.

I'm writing this post in response to an article in the February 2016 copy of The Ensign. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/02/when-a-child-leaves-the-church?lang=eng&clang=tpi

As a parent, I try to teach my kids what I believe to be correct principles, but I can't make them walk my path exactly, nor should I try. I try to teach them about faith, to have it. I teach them to think critically. From my perspective, I may fear their path at times, but I must also remember to take joy in their journey.

While reading the Ensign article, a few thoughts came to mind: First: Parents will never stop being parents. They will never cease to care for their child(ren). (At least not the good parents.) Secondly: It's natural for parents to have dreams and aspirations for their children, and expectations for how their lives will turn out. It's important to remember that everyone has agency, and children will have to use it at every point in their lives. Helping them attain sharp critical thinking skills, and helping them know how to nourish their faith are important parts of parenting. They'll need these skills when they begin to be faced with tough choices in their lives. They will need them in order to use their agency. And thirdly: As children begin their journeys, it is important to recognize they aren't rebelling against you when their path varies from the map you had envisioned for them. This is neither inherently failure for a child, nor his/her parent(s).

I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as are/were my parents, my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great gra--you get the picture.  Up until ten or twelve years ago, I was quite active. I served a mission. I once married in the temple. (Ended in divorce). I served in leadership positions, as well as experienced times where I was active, but without a calling. I've had spiritual experiences within the context of Mormonism, and without. And I have had wonderful ward members, leaders, and church friends all along the way. At some point in my life, I began really questioning my beliefs. Questions from my mission, as well as earlier on, which I had basically just put on a shelf after no one could answer them, began to weigh heavily. Rather than facing the fact that I was having serious doubts, I went inactive. I stopped reading scriptures or studying gospel principles, more or less. I didn't go to church. I stopped asking questions. I was quietly being "less-active."

A little more than 4 1/2 years ago, my mom took her own life. I was devastated. I became unsure of myself. I questioned all of the things I might have done or said to my mom. I wondered how I might have saved her; how I might have made her happy instead of depressed and sad. I broke down many times over my mom's passing. I spent many hours in therapy, and shed many, many tears. I even went through a couple of nervous breakdowns. One of my favorite therapists told me that I was being very strong. He said that I was in a self-preservation mode, but that I was likely to crack within a couple of months. At the time, I had no idea what that would look like exactly. But he was right. My belief system, the lenses through which I viewed the world, my proverbial shelf of ideas and questions, and my whole self shattered.

After about a year of just trying to stay afloat, I began to look at all of the pieces of my old self; everything that had come apart. It was a puzzle of sorts. And when I decided to put it back together, it seemed as good a time as any to make a deliberate choice to put that puzzle together in a way that made sense; in a way that seemed truly me. Some pieces were still as necessary as they ever were. Others seemed less definitive of how I then felt about myself, and I set them aside. But I was on a new part of my life journey; I wasn't reinventing myself, mind you; rather, I was attempting to look into the mirror and see what was authentically me. Who had I been? Who had I become? (Of course, I believer my soul is eternal, and my Being is intrinsically me always, but that's another post for another day.)

When you're raised as a Mormon, you're taught that, through an exclusive, special temple ritual, called a sealing, your family will be granted togetherness for all of eternity. After losing my sweet mom so tragically, it was natural that I would take a hard and honest look at my feelings about eternal families and temples. Earlier on in my life, I had always just taken this for granted. My parents were sealed in the temple, so we'd all be together for eternity. I had also always figured it made sense that, if there is a Heaven, EVERY family--where there is LOVE--will be eternally bonded. When I really thought about it, I realized I didn't necessarily believe about eternal families, in the way that Mormonism teaches. At present, my belief is that we are all eternally linked. Our souls are eternal. I hope that I'll be with my loved ones forever, but it's not contingent upon whether or not a temple ritual took place. Rather, it is contingent upon the closeness and love that is present in a family. Obviously, I might be wrong, just as we all might be wrong. But this is what I believe, deep down in my soul. As a side note, but an extremely dear side note, I feel my mom's presence at times, which bolsters my faith in the eternal nature of that relationship, and in the possibility of eternal families.

I won't go into all of the other things that fell off my shelf. That would take many other blog posts, and none of that is the main point of this particular post. As well, I don't feel it necessary to lay out which of my beliefs now differ from those of my traditionally-believing parents, or friends. Suffice it to say, my faith journey has led me to a different place than where my parents might have hoped I'd be. It very likely isn't the place they'd have chosen for me, if the choice were theirs. This doesn't mean I'm rejecting everything my parents taught me. It doesn't mean I'm rebelling against them. It most certainly doesn't mean I don't love them, or that I'm not grateful for all of the things they taught me. Most certainly it doesn't mean I don't want to be with my family always. But I feel that it's most important to take the path that feels divine, or good, or TRUE to my soul. I am the son of very goodly parents. I love them intensely. But I am also an individual. I have a personal relationship with deity, and it's not something that anyone else can feel, nor think, nor choose, nor do for me. One of my greatest fears is that I'll one day face my Creator, and be asked, "Who were you on Earth?", only to be able to answer, "I'm not sure. I just did what I was taught by The Church."

I get anxiety, and downright uncomfortable thinking that my dad or mom feel sad about my place in the church. It would be a painful thing to think my parents look at my path, or where I've been, or to where I've thus far come, and feel like they've failed as parents. And I guess I could write off the hurt that causes me, but I hate the idea that they feel bad because of something I do, or say, or believe, or don't. Those feelings, if they're there, DO NOT come from our Creator. I believe they come from the darker part of ourSELVES. I believe they come from our egos, trying to falsely attach all of this stuff to our identities. Those feelings are not light. Mom and Dad, if you do feel like failures, please, PLEASE stop. And look at me. Try not to look at me through anything but the clearest, truest of lenses.

I may not have millions of dollars. I may not have a prestigious job. I may not have done everything my parents had envisioned I would. I don't believe exactly as I was taught at church. But I am a wonderful person. I'll just come right out and say that. I am a great friend. I'm a good dad, and a decent husband. (Working on that, Honey!) I'm a good home teacher. I am good at caring for people. I don't always do a great job at it, but I am good at loving other people. I still have so many of the values that I saw in both of my parents. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and can be hard on myself. I'm always working on myself. I get that from my dad, for sure. I am learning compassion and empathy for others. My mom was always so great at that. There just wasn't anyone around--even people she didn't particularly like--in whom she couldn't find the good. I'm a hard worker--no one worked harder for the benefit of loved ones than my dad did. I want to be every bit like him in this way. I have a good sense of humor. I can make people laugh, and I can laugh with others. Both of my parents have great senses of humor--although my mom was certainly less afraid of showing her goofiest sides. How I miss that! I have a profound love and respect for Mother Nature, the wild places, the wild creatures, etc... Certainly, that came from my dad, who took me fishing, hiking and hunting, very early on when I didn't stand as tall as that damned stinging nettle that always seemed to get me. I still have a relationship with my dad, which I value greatly. I still go to him with questions, or problems, or wanting advice, or wanting to share a story, or some success I've had, etc...If I experience the same from my own kids one day, I will see that as success. I am a good person, with a lot of good qualities. I'm not trying to toot my own horn there, but I want to show you a clear view of who I am. We are not our skin color. We are not our jobs. We are not our sports trophies. We are not our bank accounts. We are not our political affiliation. And we are not our religion. We are Beings. And we are intrinsically divine.

As parents, we needn't view our kids' personal journeys as rebellion. Sure, some kids are rebellious. I get that. But I'm just a few weeks shy of 40 years old. I'm hardly interested in rebelling. Every soul has its own journey. Every person has to make their own way. Every believer in God has to work out that relationship in an intimate, sacred, and personal way. Some people's paths will look Mormon. Some will not. There is no failure in either path. So, if your child goes less-active in the church, or steps away for a while, or leaves completely, do not listen to the darkness and feel as though you've failed. Instead, find your light. Listen to it. Let it shine and see all of the good, miraculous, and amazing things that your kids ARE.

Post Script: I realize that because I don't subscribe to a literal interpretation of most of Mormonism, this may be tough to translate for the traditional or more orthodox Latter-day Saint. This post may not resonate with everyone. I know many of you believe that your kids are lost, and breaking up the eternal family if they leave The Church. And if that is what you believe, I accept that. Still, I'd encourage you to look past the Mormon elephant in the room, if only for brief glimpses of your kids. See them for who they are, intrinsically. They are not reasons for you to feel like a failure. They are children of our great Creator. That is a beautiful truth, in my heart of hearts. You can find joy in their joys, and you can have pride in their successes. You can take satisfaction in the way they're taking their journeys and owning their paths.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Prophets?

I believe in prophets, meaning I believe people can be divinely inspired. And, I believe I am the primary prophet for my life; I have a direct line to 'God' and divine influence; nothing, and no one, is supposed to replace that direct line. I believe that the general authorities are prophets, with a special calling--that is to focus their time and energy, pondering many important matters and questions of mortality, and then presenting their ideas to others.
I believe the purposes of a priesthood blessing, prayer, listening to General Conference, attending the temple, etc...are actually united; they are to bring to our minds, things and ideas and questions we may not have considered previously. If we listen closely, we may hear or read about an idea that we should be pondering in our lives at that moment, but maybe something we hadn't thought of, due to our foci being elsewhere. These things--prophets, scriptures, blessings, etc...--are all sources of ideas and inspiration. However, they are NOT the answers, in and of themselves.
To put it as simply as I can, prophets DON'T have the answers; rather, they have the questions, and then it's each of our responsibilities to consider those questions, and then present them to God, always seeking his influence on our hearts and souls.
This idea that the prophets don't have the answers, and aren't there to give us the answers was a bit of an epiphany for me. But it sure makes sense, and rings true to life, in my experience.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Care to take TWO quick surveys for me?

I'm doing this research for my blog, and because I have these questions myself. If you would, please take the time to take both. (I realize they're not completely professionally done; it's my first time using surveymonkey).

Thank You!

1) https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/63QRLWS

2) https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6QM37FR

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What do you mean, SUSTAIN?!?!

SUSTAIN
1) "I SUSTAIN the leaders of the church. I raise my right hand to show that I will sustain them. In so doing, I'm showing my willingness to support THEM in their callings. I don't necessarily intend that I will believe anything that comes from their mouths. I believe they are called of God, yet I recognize that they are mortals, subject to all those things to which I am also subject--both strengths an weaknesses."
2) "F*ck this guy! He isn't my president! I didn't vote for him!"
The Oxford dictionary defines "sustain" to mean: Strengthen or support physically or mentally. It also describes it to mean: Uphold, affirm, or confirm the justice or validity of. We do these things "from below," meaning, we submit--or subject ourselves--in some way to those things/persons we sustain.
The 12th Article of Faith says: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
As a collective church, we believe the 13 Articles of Faith to have been divinely inspired.
Now, where is the distinction in sustenance, of the following?
1) I sustain Pres. Monson, as president of the church, and as a prophet when he speaks as such. This doesn't mean, necessarily, that I will automatically agree with everything he says/does. And sometimes, I don't agree with him. I will pray on all of it first, and then draw my conclusions, as to its origins, whether divine, or mortal.
2) F*ck President _________ and his stupid health care law! I aint having it. Impeach him! Screw the fed. government! Let's sue them and take our land back! Screw the BLM! I'll graze my cows wherever I want to! F*ck the EPA! Let's get in our trucks and "roll coal!"
Assuming these 2 statements were said by 2 different people, why is one considered more pious or faithful than the other?




For a great article on why Mormons are more hostile toward the current U.S. president, than are their Christian counterparts, go to this link: http://m.deseretnews.com/article/865606978/Latter-day-Saints-should-appreciate-the-president.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fm.facebook.com