Friday, October 23, 2009

In the Beginning: Chapter 1

*This is a re-post of what I had placed as a note on my Facebook.  It created such a stir with my very active LDS sister and brother in-law that they requested I take it down because such sacred things should not be "cast before swine".  While I do not consider all things that are personal to be sacred as many active LDS believe I feel this is my story to share as I feel impressed to do so.  Since many of my blogger friends are either ex-mormons, moho's, or somewhere in the middle it seemed good to give my story from the beginning.

This is the first part of my life's journey so far. How the life of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the search for truth (in amongst other experiences) ultimately led me away from the church.

This is not a story for the faint of heart. It is not a story that as of yet has an end. It is an ongoing tale of my journey of faith in and out of Mormonism. This is a story of self discovery and honesty. Many good active members of the church may find a story like this hard to believe or possibly even anti-LDS. While it is not my intention to put the church or any of it's teachings or sacred rites on public trial it is the choice of the reader to openly take in these experiences and reach their own conclusions for what ever end. But it is my story of my experiences and my journey - of such cannot be discredited by one who has not walked a similar path.

So let it begin...

I'm not usually much of a blogger but it seems to be good for me to process stuff in written form instead of just talking about it with people.

As I actively seek my own path in the world to truly live honestly to who I am I have found myself in some interesting places. I guess to explain myself there needs to be some sort of background. Those who knew me or thought they knew me in my past might be shocked, disappointed, or otherwise disapproving of anything I might mention. To them I'm sorry that the truth sometimes hurts, but I've spent 29 years too long not being honest with myself.

About me...

I was born and raised (BIC) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) to convert parents. Their stories may be interesting but won't be explored here. I was the first of two temple miracle baby boys, as the story goes. There is 7 years between me and my older sister. My brother came along one and a half years later. Growing up in the church is about like one would expect and many have their stories should you be curious. As a family we never lived in Utah but my parents had earlier in their relationship. Jumping through the hoops of baptism and through the various levels of Aaronic and later the Melchizedek priesthood were as expected.

The first trial of life came for me as a Junior in high school when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I had a spiritual experience that cautioned me that she would not be on the earth much longer and that my life would change after her passing. I can remember to this day that after receiving that prompting I prayed that if she must go that it would at least be painless for her - and indeed it was. The Lord kept his part of the bargain. After a brief period of remission which was thought to be the answer and affirmation of priesthood blessings for healing, moms cancer returned with a vengeance (which as some described to me was apparently God's will after all). I knew the inevitable was upon all of us. Little did I know how things would change.

In my Senior year of high school 24 days before Christmas mom passed. Non Hodgkin's lymphoma had finally taken it's toll as did all the drugs trying to prevent it. It was devastating. Mom was our spiritual rock - the one who seemingly held the faith for all of us in the church. As my sister was already married and away with her own life and kids I ended up being the pillars to hold things together. It was hard but it had to be. Dad eventually remarried, and as many may have experienced merging two families together, especially where differences in faith are concerned, is not going to be easy. Add to that a brother with his own struggles with mental health and a step sister with bi-polar disorder. They were troubled and turbulent times. Music was my life, my solace, and a saving grace.

After completing my 2 year degree pressure was on from the Bishop of my ward to serve a full time mission. Of course members like to pose the mission question too. Somehow the bishop knew it was moms dying request for her two boys. The coercion and guilt used in those rounds of personal interviews coupled with the intensity of home life made it impossible to refuse. Who wants to be told that if they don't answer the Lords call that their entrance in to heaven and seeing passed family members is in severe jeopardy. It was, perhaps, not the most honest of tactics. But if the prophet says each young man should serve than why should I be an exception. For some reason going off to school to finish my undergrad work didn't enter the picture. I think it was the religious and cultural pressure of members in my small town more than anything that swayed me to going.

So the paperwork was sent, the blessings and temple ordinances took place, and off I went with a call to the Alaska, Anchorage mission via Provo UT, where the Missionary Training Center is located. At the risk of being sacreligious to those who still find the temple ordinances sacred I won't get in to the detail of all of that. Anyone that knows how to use the internet can find everything they are looking for to satisfy their curiosity there. But I do need to comment on how uncomfortable the whole thing was for me. Although I don't have a personal confirmed source there have apparently been some recent changes that make it a little less... personal. I was surprised because I was led to believe the sacred ordinances of the temple were revealed in their fullness to Joseph Smith and could not be altered - how can it be changed in any fashion.

"As temple work progresses, some members wonder if the ordinances can be changed or adjusted. These ordinances have been provided by revelation, and are in the hands of the First Presidency. Thus, the temple is protected from tampering."
- W. Grant Bangerter, executive director of the Temple Department and a member of the First Quorum of Seventy, Deseret News, Church Section, January 16, 1982

"The Gospel can not possibly be changed.... the saving principles must ever be the same. They can never change.... the Gospel must always be the same in all of its parts.... no one can change the Gospel... if they attempt to do so, they only set up a man-made system which is not the Gospel, but is merely a reflection of their own views.... if we substitute 'any other Gospel,' there is no salvation in it.... the Lord and His Gospel remain the same--always."
- The Prophet's Message, Church News, June 5, 1965

So surprised am I at the increased convenience in the 2005 changes that I also dove in to other changes which apparently removed penalizing oaths etc. in 1990's. Yet there is always the catch that the Lord can change anything he wants whenever 'through the prophet' so that it better benefits those who partake. So much for the Gospel of the Lord being the same - the alpha and omega.

Back to the point the entire experience was quite a froth of emotion for me. There were many there from my home ward and my dad to "cheer me on" for lack of better words. But I didn't feel like I should be there - I was uncomfortable for some reason. At the point where you are given the option to withdraw from proceeding I was strongly considering it but yet again fear, and some degree of curiosity compelled me to stay. I have never heard of a "good Mormon" making it to the temple to get cold feet and opt out which happens to come before you find out what it is you are getting in to. In business you would never sign a contract without knowing what you are getting in return or promising to the other party. It does seem a little dubious. There is certainly little disclosure up front.

After toughing it out through the presentation and all of the expected participatory spots the end is in sight... The room of grand appointment which anyone can see in an open house. Usually, for many devout members of the church, what happens at the temple stays at the temple, but what follows is important to realize in my journey. Those who subscribe to all things occurring within the Celestial room being fully sacred never to be disclosed outside temple walls can walk away at this moment of my story.

I chose to sit and collect myself after the session in the Celestial room. The strangeness of it all was too much for me. It was almost a different doctrine than what you hear in church. I don't think there is any way to fully prepare for that experience regardless of how worthy you may be. I needed to sit and sort it out. As other members from my ward came to the room there were lots of smiles and hugs. After some time passed someone mentioned to me how proud mom was of me for making it there and how they could feel her presence and commented how thin the veil is at the temple. I must have been puzzled. But yet the emotions of wanting to feel that same presence more than anything caused copious amounts of tears not out of joy or confirmation, but concern. I couldn't picture her in my head any clearly than any time before, nor did I feel anything that could have led me to believe she was there - no familiar smells or memories that I couldn't generate outside of the temple. I can remember being in a mental panic wondering if I wasn't worthy enough. Did I not fast and pray enough to have those same experiences of feeling a parted loved one? Was there some unresolved sin getting in the way? You start going through the Mormon mental checklist of worthiness. But I couldn't resolve how others felt something that I should have been entitled to and couldn't. It was a secret and crushing blow to me that drove me further to returning to the temple while on my mission to try and experience what they felt.

But there was little time to sort out the temple experience. It was time to be off to Utah. Strange how it seems the church believes it self to be truer the closer you get to Salt Lake. The religious zeal at the MTC is incredibly infectious. If they wanted they could probably get you to believe pigs will fly with enough faith - certainly mountains will move. Fortunately for me I went in with the flu and a significant fever, so my transition in to the situation was far more gradual than others. I was in bed the first week there. Yes I had a Utah born and bred MTC companion. Sure, he was a bit of a jerk, but ended up finding himself out in the field so I can't hold too much of a grudge. After the MTC experience I thought, foolishly, I was ready for anything even though I was not the sort to desire converting the world. But even then I still secretly harbored doubts.

We were to fly in to Seattle where I was to briefly meet up with my dad but ended up spending a day in Portland due to the Nisqually earthquake. I'm not usually one to read too much in to things like that but it did seem a bad omen of what was to come in Alaska.

[End of Vol. 1]

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