Divorce or Disobey?

Hint: Adam and the Mormon Temple say……..DISOBEY.

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A Tender Text

Today, my youngest daughter sent me this message:

Dear dad,

Thank you so much for putting mom and our family before yourself. Today I met a Mormon couple that is getting divorced because the man has left the church. I talked with them for a while and it was apparent that he just wasn’t willing to make sacrifices for his wife’s happiness. I am so glad to have a father who is able to see the importance of family above everything else.

Love, Emily

BTW, I have not left the LDS church.

Divorce

Over the past couple of years, I have come in contact with many members who have left the church. Their prior faith obliterated by history, doctrine & policies that they had only recently discovered. This includes good friends and family.

Sometimes, married couples depart from the church together. Sometimes, it’s only one spouse whose faith transitions. Unfortunately, I have heard and read many stories of couples divorcing when only one leaves the church. Often, the believing partner is encouraged by bishops and stake presidents, family and friends, to divorce the non-believing spouse. The family is broken. Children confused, scared and heartbroken.

All this over belief & church.  Is marriage less important than belief?  Is family less treasured than church?

Disobedience

For the first time in almost 2 years, I recently attended the temple. I explain here exactly why I decided to go back.  This time, I went with new eyes.  It was fascinating, uplifting, and spiritual.  Lot’s of new understandings.  I have already written about one monumental take-away here.

The temple movie presents a beautiful portrayal of the creation story.  Adam & Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden.  Satan tempts Adam do disobey God.  Our first father will have nothing to do with disobedience.

Eve is Lucifer’s next target for temptation.  She carefully considers the Adversary’s argument. Her rational decision is to disobey God.  Result: Eve was to be cast out of the protected, perfect and paradisiacal Garden of Eden.

Now, it’s her turn to offer the forbidden fruit to Adam. He considers. Refuses.  “I will not disobey Father,” he insists.  Eve persists.  Finally, Adam looks into heaven and weighs the options.  His decision: it’s more important to disobey God than to have their precious union broken-up.

What a tremendous temple statement!  What an amazing example of righteous disobedience!  This, from the very first story in the bible.  The foundational epic of Christianity and Mormondom highlights two “sinful” acts.  Eve disobeyed God in order to bring about the human race.  Adam disobeyed God in order to keep his marriage in good grace.

So, bishops & stake presidents, friends & family, reflect on the temple teachings before you encourage a believer to divorce the non-believer.

1 Corinthians 7:14 “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.”

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Joseph Smith IS My Hero

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Born & raised in the Mormon Church, I was taught that Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of mankind, except for Jesus Christ.  Joseph was highly respected and revered.  Sixty-two years of my life transpired before I heard the proverbial “rest of the story.”

Over the past 2 years, I have studied, pondered, discussed & prayed……a ton. Joseph Smith had big problems. The narrative taught in the church has huge holes. At this point, I DO NOT dismiss the historical and doctrinal issues. However, the topic of this blog posting is not the challenges. Rather, the subject is just one quote from Joseph. One that I love.  I wish it were taught in the LDS Church, the very church that he founded.

My Favorite Scripture

We are taught that words from the prophets that are spoken under the direction of the Holy Spirit are scripture. To me, the following paragraph is so gorgeous that I’m taking it as inspired by the Spirit. That makes it scripture.

“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” — Joseph Smith, Jr. in the Millennial Star, volume 14, number 38, pages 593-595.*

Why Do I Like This So Much?

Let me count the ways.

  1. LDS culture–follow the prophets, even when they are wrong.  JS–that is “slavery in the extreme.”
  2. If we follow leaders even when they are wrong–JS:  We “should not claim a rank among intelligent beings.”
  3. When LDS leaders say follow “no matter what” and “without any questions” they (the leaders) generally “have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.”

Wow!  Just Wow!  Joseph Smith, you are my hero!!!  Can we print those words in the sacrament meeting program?  Every week?  Can we discuss this prophetic pronouncement out in the open in priesthood meeting?

It appears that Joseph was warning of and condemning the very culture that seems to be prevalent, today.  No wishy-washy words.  Spoken with perfect clarity.  I embrace them.  So special are these words that I’ve decided to go even further.  To obey when I know it’s wrong or to obey without question….I now classify as an unholy practice…for me.  I won’t “willingly degrade” myself.  My desire is to claim a “rank among intelligent beings.”

Of course, this is only my interpretation. I recognize that many of my friends and family believe in following without question, even if it’s wrong.  That’s OK.  It’s a path that I followed for 62 years. It’s a fine approach and consistent with our culture. I hope my friends and family will be equally non-judgmental of my approach.

THANK YOU

Even with all your problems, thank you, Joseph. You are my hero.

* There are questions about the authorship of the quote. Some have attributed it to Joseph Smith.  Some, say it was likely composed by someone else. All questions aside, there are 2 things that I “know.” 1) It was printed in a church publication, sanctioned by church authorities. 2) This quote has huge appeal to me. So, I’ve embraced an official view straight from an official church journal. I’m glad to err on the side of Joseph Smith and refer to him as my hero.

This is somewhat of a pattern for me. For example, there are some who say Jesus didn’t really exist. That the gospels were written decades after Christ’s death. That they don’t contain first hand accounts. Contradictions and other problems are easy to identify.  To me, if He is real or not doesn’t much matter. I love the teachings and example that are attributed to Jesus.  So, I’ve embraced His gospel. I’m glad to err on the side of Christ and refer to him as my Savior.

My Choice Choice

ChoicesJune – November 2014

At the tender age of 62, in June of 2014, something jolted my religious attention.  For the next six months, I was consumed with studying LDS church history and doctrine.  Literally, 3 to 5 hours were spent everyday reading, researching and ruminating.  By November, I had reached a shocking conclusion about beliefs held my entire life.  Up to that point, my spiritual knowledge had been rock solid.  It could be described as certainty.  Frequently, I had repeated the phrase “I KNOW that ________ is true.”  In fact, I “knew” that everything was TRUE about the Mormon church.

In a poignant and sobering moment, that fateful November day, I realized that I “knew” nothing.  Nothing was certain.  Confusion.  Disappointment.  Sadness.  Anger.  Loneliness.  All these emotions swept though my mind.  Other than continuing to search and study, I didn’t know what to do.  Anger continued to build.  It frightened my wife and family.  For a time, it harmed our relationship.  Of course, that was my fault.  I recognize that and have worked to correct and control the anger.

After a few attempts to discuss issues with church members, it became clear that this was not a good idea.  A loneliness started to creep in.  It appeared that I was the only person in my circle of family and friends who was traveling this path.

January 2015

In January ’15, three meaningful things occurred.
  1. Friends leaving the church.  I discovered a close friend in the ward and a sibling in far away Utah who had both quietly left the church.  They had discovered and studied the same issues.  Their conclusion was to part with Mormonism, never discussing their concerns privately with their bishop or in public with members.
  2. The Bishop encounter.  I met with the bishop.  For all intents and purposes, it did not go well.  I put on a happy face during our discussion.  But, inside I was disappointed, depressed and angry.  In defense of my bishop, he’s a friend and a great guy.  It was the first time that anyone had presented him with serious doubts.  He told me, “Sam, you are the only person who is questioning.”  Of course, by then, I knew that was inaccurate.
  3. Paul, the apostle.  I rediscovered a wonderful scripture.  It would tide me over for the next several months.  1 Corinthians 13.  This is the classic chapter describing the characteristics of charity.  But, it also contained a description of exactly what I was going through.

Paul said, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away.”  Oh my goodness!  That’s just what had happened to me.  My knowledge, my certainty had just passed away.

Paul goes on, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Oh my goodness!  He was describing my journey from childish “knowledge” to speaking, understanding and THINKING, like a man.

 Paul continues, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.”  Oh my goodness!  I’m following in Paul’s footsteps.  For 62 years, my religion was crystal clear.  Now, clear as mud.

Paul concludes, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”  This was something I could wrap my head around.  For me, certainty no longer was part of my belief system.  Why should I put my trust in ‘knowing’ when Paul teaches it will vanish.  I was determined to put my faith in faith.  My hope in hope.  And strive for charity.  But it would take another year before settling on a comfortable path comprising these three abiding gospel principles.

TempleSummer 2015

I continued to study for hours everyday.  The obsession to find answers was as unrelenting as fly paper.  By the summer of 2015, I’d decided to delve into the pinnacle of Mormonism: The temple.  Not only are the sealing ordinances at the apex of our doctrine, they are also unique in all of Christianity.  The temple experience consists of two beautiful teachings.  First, that we can be ‘sealed’ to our loved ones, with the promise that we will be with them in heaven forever.  Second, that all mankind will have the opportunity to go to heaven regardless of whether or not they had ever been taught of Jesus Christ while on earth.

These blessings are not guaranteed.  Their realization is contingent on keeping the covenants that are made in the temple.  Hence, the temple covenants become the centerpiece of what the temple is all about.  From the pulpit, encouragement to keep these preeminent promises is constantly preached.  Now at age 63, I realized that I didn’t fully understand them.  I had lots and lots of questions.  And, as I pondered, more and more covenant questions kept coming.

Over the next 3 months, I started researching.  I asked, discussed, probed.  No one, and I mean no one, had answers.  Almost without exception, as I continued to ask questions, this response would eventually rear it’s ironic head, “Sam, why do you even care?”  What???  Why do I care about what the temple covenants mean???  Really???  Initially, everybody said they understood their meaning.  With the shallowest interrogation, NOBODY had answers.

This experience was highly disappointing.  Especially, the attitude that temple covenants are not to be discussed outside of the temple.  If you have questions, you should set an appointment with the temple president.  He’ll give you the answers inside his temple office.

My observation & conclusion:  Before we make the covenants, we can’t discuss them.  We  don’t understand them when we actually make them.  After the promises are made, we can’t discuss them.  And, finally, NOBODY knows what they really mean.  If keeping our temple covenants is so vital to eternal salvation, you’d think we could & would devote tons of time to understand exactly what the heck they mean.

Fall 2015

Frustrated with my temple covenant quest, I decided to take a look at Christianity in general.  I bought books, studied online, listened to debates, and watched videos.  I LOVED much of what I heard.  Also, I was turned off by much.

Soon, it became apparent that Christian history & doctrine, along with New & Old Testament history & doctrine, contained holes, inconsistencies and unsavory elements similar to our Mormon history & doctrine.  No longer did I look down on atheists.  They had good reason to believe what they believe.

Decision Time

Through January 2016,  I was still consumed with reading, listening, and now writing.  But, my gut (my turning stomach) was telling me that enough effort had now been spent on gathering my thoughts.  It was time to trim the sail, adjust the rudder and start sailing a purposefully chosen course.

Leave the church.  Do nothing.  Stay in. Stay silent.  Embrace Christianity.  Embrace atheism.  In hindsight, I think that I already knew what I was going to choose.  But, it took another month for a clear path to emerge from the fog.

Good SamaritanThe Choice Choice Arrives

I was raised Mormon, just a few miles north of Salt Lake City.  The church, prophets, priesthood, temple, Book of Mormon and  plan of salvation had always been taken for granted as true.  I ‘knew’ they were true.  Now, I ‘knew’ nothing.  Never, ever had I considered that faith could be a choice.

It was February 2016, at the tender age of 63, when the choice opportunity had presented itself.  The choice chance to choose for myself.  I was free to think as an adult.  Finally, as a rational man, I had put away childish things.

My decision:  Follow Jesus Christ, both his teachings and example.  How could I not select this path?  To me, it has divine appeal.
  • The Good Samaritan.
  • The Golden Rule.
  • Leave the 99 for the 1.
  • When you have done it unto the least of these.
  • The Prodigal Son.
  • Reaching out to the marginalized, the hopeless, the helpless.
  • Standing up to the proud & powerful, including the church leaders of his time.
  • Standing up for the poor, the sick, the weak, including those rejected by the church leaders of his time.
  • Finally, He had paid the infinite price necessary to bring EVERYBODY home.

My choice choice is to follow the lowly son of a carpenter.  The humble & homeless teacher, who had nowhere to lay his head.  He came from and lived at the margins of society.  His focus was ministering to the marginalized.

I have chosen to follow Jesus in the Church of Jesus Christ.  The church that has been my home for 63 years.  The institution to which I have dedicated much blood, sweat, tears, time & treasure.  The church is not perfect.  Far from it.  But, I and my family have derived significant benefit from our membership.  I love the church.  I love Jesus more.

Change???

This may not sound like a faith transition.  For me, it is a cataclysmic change.  I have chosen to follow Jesus.  Although, I am a member of the church, I recognize that the institution is not my salvation.  I listen to the prophets.  They are good men.  Men selected by my Savior. But, they are men.  My Lord has instructed me to not put my trust in the arm of flesh.  In my past life, I had fallen victim to worshiping the prophets.  I hung on their every word, willing to believe and obey all directions flowing from their lips.  Today, I put my trust in Christ, willing to follow the church leaders when they align with the directions flowing from Him.

It turns out, this path is more difficult than expected.  I’ve encountered unexpected push-back. That’s OK, because this path is working for me.

Does Jesus really exist?  I don’t know.  ‘Certainty’ is no longer important to me.  I don’t view it as a principle of His gospel.  Rather,  His touching teachings and eloquent example beckon me to follow.

Dancing with Jesus

Tango Dancers

Thirty-nine years ago, I accomplished the impossible:  I graduated as a single male from BYU.  Very rare back in 1977.  Relatively common today.

I moved to Houston with no wife in tow.  Young LDS singles being sparse, I was constantly on the look-out for a future spouse.  City wide dances were held every couple of months. Prime occasions to meet someone cute and available.  I don’t think I ever missed a dance. Within 1 1/2 years, I was married to my sweetheart. Singles dances faded into the distant past.

Odd Behavior

During those long-ago dances, I observed a rather interesting ritual.  There was a particular single man who attended regularly.  I’ll call him John.  He always brought a date.  The very same date.  I think they were engaged.

John followed a predictable pattern.  As the evening progressed he would only dance a couple of times with his delightful & dependable companion.  However, he danced every song…..with a different girl!  He was pretty picky and chose carefully who he asked.  You see, back then, there were girls who could count on dancing all night.  And….then, there were girls who could only hope.  Of course, these women were not deficient….in any way!  They may have been a bit different, but not deficient, defective, or discardable.  Never-the-less, there they were, lining the walls, filling a chair.  These are the women with whom John chose exclusively to dance the night away.

A Parable

Fast forward almost 40 years.  I didn’t see it at the time.  Maybe John didn’t either.  But, I see now that he was…..Dancing with Jesus.

One of my favorite spiritual teachings is found in Matthew 25.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least, ye have done it unto me.”  What a drop-dead gorgeous, tear-in-the-eye, teaching!  One of the mainstays for me choosing to follow Christ.

Back to John.  The women he chose to dance with certainly were not the “least” in most situations.  But, for some reason, that evening, they were the “least” in the cultural hall. Literally, they were at the margins.  Isn’t that the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry?  Reaching out to those marginalized by society?   John was Dancing with Jesus.

Over the years, I have often thought about the concept of the “least of these.” Occasionally, I’ve attempted to implement it.  At this point, I’d like to Dance with Jesus way more often.

The Least

So, who are the “least” around us, today?  Who are the modern lepers?  There are two groups that I think fit this category and that I want to actively reach out to.  They are not deficient or defective in any way!  They may be different.

Rainbow Ribbon

Group 1:  LGBT

For most of my life, society and the Mormon church have viewed gay people in much the same way as lepers were viewed in Christ’s time. They have been the poster child of marginalization.  Fortunately, our society is progressing.  Perceptions and understandings are changing for the better.  However, gay adults and children still face a very difficult road in the LDS community.  Parents and siblings also face daunting challenges.

I’ve decided to Dance with Jesus through my beloved gay brothers and sisters.  You are my friends.  I have your back.  I love you.

ThinkingGroup 2:  Faith Transitioned Mormons

Until the past couple of years, I would have never considered this a marginalized group.  I didn’t even know they existed.  Naive and sheltered was I.  No more.  I have personally witnessed the pain, anguish, and alienation of many members whose faith has been challenged by history and doctrine that seem to have been hidden and obfuscated by the very top church leaders.

Questioning, transitioning or transitioned members have no safe place within the church to discuss and work through their issues.  Rather, they are frequently judged as prideful, lazy, sinful or desiring to sin.  Often they FEEL alone and shunned.  Often they ARE alone and shunned.

So, I am now Dancing with Jesus through my good transitioning brothers and sisters.  You are dear friends.  I have your back.  I love you, no matter what path you choose.

Clueless?

Do I know exactly what I’m doing or how to do it?  Nope.  Will I stub my toes?  Will I step on someone’s feet?  Yep.  When I first started my ballroom hobby, I had 2 left feet.  After lots of work, I’ve advanced to: ½ right foot and 1 ½ left.  Progress!  In this new dance, I’m pretty sure I can count 3 left feet.  But, I’m Dancing with Jesus.  He led the leper.  He’ll lead me.

Now, on to Dancing with Jesus.

The Mormon Talkeria

3D colourful people talking

Two Traveling Talkerias:  #29 & #30

Coming this weekend to a city near you.  Well…maybe.  At least, if Phoenix and Las Vegas are cities near you.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Phoenix:  Saturday, Sept 9, 3:00pm.  At…..a private residence.  If you would like to come, send me an email or PM me or make a comment on this blog and I’ll share the address with you.  It’s in Scottsdale near the intersection of Shea & 142nd

Las Vegas:  Sunday, Sept 10, 1:00pm.  At…The Macayo Mexican Restaurant, 1741 E Charleston Blvd, 8245 W Sahara, Las Vegas, Nevada 89104.

Talkeria #28.  Wow, it’s been 1 1/2 months since the last Talkeria.  Twelve were in attendance.  About half were first timers.  The stories…the heartache…the light that were shared that night created wonderful bonds of  empathetic friendship that will not be forgotten.

Talkeria #28

Sorry about the late notice in announcing TOMORROW’s talkeria.  Thursday, July 20, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location:  James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford., TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Talkeria #27 had 6 attendees.  Two were first timers.  I loved the discussion.  Especially love the people.  I’d really like to list each person’s name and write how amazing each one is.  Of course, that would violate a core value of our get togethers.   The conversations aren’t secret…they’re sacred.

The two newbies are both active in the church.  Love the church.  Have no intentions of leaving.  Good for them.  They received complete support and understanding for their chosen path.  The other four are at various stages away from the church.  They received complete support and understanding from those still in the church.  In this kind of environment, there is such love and connection between all; active & inactive, believer & non, atheists & god-fearing.  It is so beautiful.

#27 The Daugher Talkeria

That’s right…one of my TBM daughters plans to attend.  She’s terrific.  Non-judgmental.  She gets where I’m at and what I’m doing.  You’ll really like here.  The Talkeria will convene Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location: James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX. For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Talkeria #26 was held two weeks ago.  Tears well up as I think of the amazing people who were there.  Four first time Talkerites.  A young couple with their 2 super well behaved children.  A prior acquaintance who I hadn’t seen for several years.  One year ago he was in a bishopric.  Another man who I became FB friends with only a few months ago.  Also, recently serving in a bishopric.  Such lovely people.  The church is truly losing it’s best and brightest.

Recently, the Talkeria has taken a new direction. Click HERE to read about it.

We talk about ANY Mormon issues you’d like to discuss. Especially, those you are afraid to bring up at church. Here are some of the reasons people have come to the Talkeria.

You want to share the story of your faith crisis/journey/transition.
LDS history and doctrine are troubling you, family members or friends.
You have left the church, but still have Mormon issues to discuss.
You have a child who is doubting or has left the church.
You have a parent, sibling or friend who is doubting or has left the church.
Your faith has changed, and you are having difficulty interacting with family or friends
.
Your faith has changed and are having difficulty navigating a mixed faith marriage.
The faith of your spouse has changed.
You are LGBT, in or out of the closet.
You have an LGBT child, sibling or friend.
You have left the church, but still want to maintain contact with Mormons.

Talkeria #Twenty Six

Thursday, June 1, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location: James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Five people attended Talkeria #25.  Five fabulous people.  Three veterans.  Two fledgling visitors.  One was an amazing woman.  Asked why she came, she responded, “To be with other people who have left the church, but can’t leave it alone.  Until recently I felt so alone.”  Over the past 2 years she has been attempting go get her temple sealing cancelled.  It’s been a demeaning, cruel and grueling process.  The wringer that the church puts women through, and only women, is misogynous and MUST be changed.

The other newbie flew all the way from North Carolina, just to attend the Talkeria.  That’s right.  He lives in North Carolina.  Flew to Houston in the afternoon.  Rented a car.  Spent the night in a hotel and flew back home the next day.  Obviously, he felt a great need to talk about what he’s facing with his faith transition.  And talk he did.  It was cathartic for him.  Frankly, it was cathartic for all of us.

Talkeria #25–Turning in a New Direction

Thursday, May 18, 2017, 7:00pm. Location: James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  Click HERE for more details.

Talkeria #24–Voting Opposed

Simply amazing.  Held in SLC, Saturday evening, April 1.  Earlier that day I along with 2 friends voted opposed in the Conference Center.

Eighteen people attended.  Lasted 5 hours.  I need to make sure the time doesn’t get out of control.  Wonderful people.  Tender and heart rending stories.  Great friendships established.

Talkeria #23–Trailblazing!

Thursday, February 9, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location:  James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

A very special visitor is coming.  Click HERE for more details about my honored guest.

Talkeria Twenty-Two

Thursday, February 2, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location:  James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Talkeria Twenty-One.  Back to Houston.

Thursday, January 19, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location:  James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX. For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Sincerity in Sin City.  Oh boy, was last week’s Talkeria amazing.   4 1/2 hours of discussion.  How in the world did we manage to talk that long?  The meeting in Las Vegas was held in a private residence.  After about 3 1/2 hours, I tried to wrap it up.  The homeowner said, “Just 15 more minutes.”  Another hour transpired.  Of course, the conversation was poignant and passionate.  Here’s the  juicy part……Sorry, talk in the Talkeria stays in the Talkeria.

For all those who came out, all I can say is..THANK YOU.

#20:  Traveling Talkeria–Las Vegas

Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 7:00pm.  Location:  Private Residence in Las Vegas, NV.  Please private message or e-mail me for the address.  If you are new to the Talkeria concept, see all the details by scrolling down to “Original Post.”

Last Sunday’s Talkeria in Salt Lake City was totally terrific.  Eighteen attendees.  Six still active and want to continue so.  Two resigned.  One gay man.  One transgender youth.  One pink haired woman.  One amazing hostess.  And…..my MOM.  That right there made it worthwhile for me.

Eighteen new friends as a result of sharing and discussing personal journeys.  I’ve come to recognize the recounting of these journeys as sacred stories.  Of course, all the narratives were interesting, touching and insightful.  There were 2 that I was stunned by…in a good way.  I plan to write a short blog about them both.  Thanks to all who came.  It’s an honor to be counted as your friend and you as mine.

#19:  Traveling Talkeria—Salt Lake City

Sunday, January 8, 2017, 2:00.  Location:  Private residence.   Please private message or e-mail me for the address.  If you are new to the Talkeria concept, see all the details by scrolling down to “Original Post.”

Embarking on a new adventure.  Several friends have expressed a desire to have a Talkeria near them.  OK.  Here goes nothin!  I’ve decided that in the course of business travel, I’ll attempt to schedule something.  First up….the world headquarters of Mormondom…Salt Lake City.

BTW, last Thursday’s Talkeria was amazing. Twelve people came. One non-member and her Mormon wife. One resigned. Five active members in various stages of faith, 4 not-active faith transitioned members. Poignant. Fascinating. Four shed tears during the course of their story. All of us FULLY supported the others in the faith choices they have made or are in the process of struggling through. We parted with a hearty hug of friendship, forged in the crucible of trust and openness.

Talkeria Eighteen….the 1st of 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017, 7:00pm, James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

The Tannenbaum Talkeria was terrific.  Nine of us gathered to share an intimate dinner at delightful and delicious Fung’s Kitchen.  The food was great, but the real highlights were the conversations and personal stories.  Five of the attendees were first timers.  This gathering had a somewhat a different flavor in that 8 of us are still active members.  Amazing and open were the narratives that were shared.  Some shocking.  Some heart rending.  Some topics never discussed before.

#17—O Tannenbaum Talkeria

Special Christmas Talkeria.  Dec 21, 2016.  For details, click HERE.

Talkeria Sixteen

Thursday, December 8, 2016, 7:00pm, James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX. For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Sorry about the month long hiatus.  But, the Talkeria hasn’t stopped.  It’s just gone underground this past month.  Several ‘individual’ Talkerias were held at lunch or in people’s homes.  Some trying to stay in the church.  Others who are in the process of leaving.  I’m finding that when we open up our deepest concerns to one another, something magical happens.  A spiritual connection is established.  A bond of love is established.  Of course, this beautiful bridge is only built if judgement is totally absent.

Some Personal News.  I’ve decided to give up my temple recommend. No one is asking that I relinquish it.  I’m worthy to keep it.  But, here’s the problem I’m trying to resolve.  Over the past 2 years, it has been super difficult to get any attention to the concern of people leaving the church.  None.  It’s been very weird.  So counterintuitive.  One of the distractions has been my temple recommend.  Members continue to criticize and complain that I have one.  In their view, the sin of voting opposed in conference is of such magnitude that my temple privileges should be yanked.  OK, I cry uncle.  Now, can we just focus on the painful faith struggles that our friends are enduring in excruciating silence.

I have made the sacred temple covenant to live the law of sacrifice.  It basically says that I will sacrifice everything to sustain the kingdom of God.  Elder McConkie said that includes my good name, reputation, and honor.  This past year, I’ve definitely put my good name on the sacrificial altar.  To many of my friends, it’s been trashed.  At this point, I’m willing to sacrifice my temple privileges in the attempt to draw attention to the cause of sustaining the kingdom of God.  What we are doing is not sustainable for so many of our friends, family and children.  It’s time to do something different.  If not, the steady bleed of church members will start to gush.  In England, the activity rate is now 22% and declining.  The same trend is emerging in the U.S.  Are we going to wait until it’s ‘English’ bad before taking any action?

No temple recommend to distract.  So, let’s act.

Talkeria Fifteen

Sunday Nov. 6, 2016, 3:00pm, 8744 Westpark, Houston, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

To accommodate more people’s schedule,  I’m alternating between Thursday and Sunday. If you have a hard time finding the location, send a PM on FB.

Last week a sad, fascinating, and hopeful discussion with a strong woman who drove across state lines to attend the Talkeria.  She inspired and heartened me.  Thank you, my friend.

Talkeria Fourteen

Thursday, Oct 27, 2016, 7:00pm, James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

We’ve taken a 2 week hiatus due to travel.  The last 2 Talkerias were held on Sunday.  At this point, I plan to alternate.  So, this time it will be moved back to Thursday.

Over the intervening weeks, lots of great discussions being had, over the phone, by e-mail and in person.  If you want to talk about anything Mormon, feel free to come.  Groups are usually small.  I’m hearing about lots of family issues related to faith transitions.

Talkeria Thirteen

Sunday Oct. 9, 2016, 3:00pm, 8744 Westpark, Houston, TX.  New time & place–my business office.  Hopefully, this new day and time will be more convenient for many.  If you have a hard time locating it, send a PM on FB.

Last week another amazing discussion was had.  At this point, over 30 different individuals have come to talk about Mormon issues.  From Mormon atheists to current Relief Society presidents, and all the way in between. No Mormon topic is forbidden.

For more details of what the Mormon Talkeria is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Talkeria Twelve

Sunday Oct. 2, 2016, 2:30, 8744 Westpark, Houston, TX.  We’ve moved the time and place, this week.  This is my business office.  Hopefully, this new day and time will be more convenient for many.  If you have a hard time locating it, send a PM on FB.

Today’s GC has been very exciting.  Many reports of opposing votes, including one at the conference center.  My wife and I voted together at home, seated side by side, in front of my laptop.  More on all this later.

For more details of what the Mormon Talkeria is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Talkeria Eleven

September 22, 2016, 7:00pm.

James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Last week, four intrepid souls shared intimate concerns and issues.  One atheist, one questioning, one transitioned, on traditional believing.  No judgmentalism interferred. We shared problems, concerns, compassion, wisdom.  When all was said and done one Talkeria attendee had this to say, “We both really enjoyed the evening. This is one of the first times we’ve been able to discuss our situation openly with others. It was very therapeutic.”

Talkeria Times Ten

September 15, 2016, 7:00pm.  James Coney Island, 11940 S.W. Frwy., Stafford, TX.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Shocking that 2 1/2 months of Talkeria have already transpired.  With the release of the Mormon Stories podcast, there has been a ton of activity.

Talkeria Time #9

September 8, 2016,7:00pm.  James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Last Thursay was like Christmas in September.   I gained a new perspective on my favorite holiday.  It’s going to make a difference on the next Dec. 25th.  This week I have a topic submitted by someone out of state.  This person is struggling in the church and is looking for input.  His wife has no idea that he has doubts.  Of course, he can’t discuss anything at church.  So, loniness and isolation has set in.

Talkeria Tonight #8

September 1, 2016, 7:00pm.  James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.  For more details of what this is all about, scroll down to “Original Post.”

Last Thursday was amazing.  7 people attended.  One from Utah, here on business.

Whether you are angry or at peace, at the start of your journey or years into it, whether you don’t have the courage to speak yet or are bursting to speak out, this is a safe space to talk.  Whether an active member (like me), inactive, resigned, or never been Mormon, you are welcome.

Talkeria #7

Next meeting, August 25, 2016, 7:00pm.   James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.  If you have any questions or problems regarding Mormon issues, please come.  Whether you are angry or at peace, at the start of your journey or years along it, whether you don’t have the courage to speak yet or are bursting to speak out, this is a safe space to talk.

Twenty-two different people have now attended our little Talkeria.  People from all across the spectrum:

Non-memeber & members: inactive, active non-believing, active believing, resigned, left to go to other churches, left to become atheist.  Current RS Pres, HPGL, Ward mission leader, several former bishops.

P.S. I buy the hot dogs!!!

Talkeria #6

Next meeting, August 18, 2016.  James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas

What an amazing discussion in #5.  An active RS president & her husband, in the HP leadership joined us.  They sincerely wanted to know how to interact with those who have doubts without offending or pushing away.  The 5 other attendees had great feedback for them.

Total run down:

  • One in-active
  • One non-member spouse.
  • One resigned
  • One recently left
  • One active, transitioned faith
  • One active R.S. Pres
  • One active HP group leadership

Talkeria #5

Will be held Aug 4, 2016.  Same time.  Same place.  James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.

Last week, amazing and amazingly frank  discussion.  There were four attendees.  A pretty perfect number.  Two new.  Two veterans.  Here is the run down.

  • One active, traditional believing member
  • One active, with very nuanced belief
  • One active, non-believer.  Has YM calling.  Major concern:  authenticity
  • One ex-member.  Left church 20 years ago.  Major concern:  how to discuss church with adult children who are still active.

At this point, 16 different people have joined in the Talkeria discussions.

Talkeria #4

July 28, 2016, 7:00pm, James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.

14 people have now attended.  Many more have wanted to come.  Today, I received a heartfelt message from a very good friend.  I cried through most of it.  For the past 3 to 4 years, he has been wrestling with faith issues.  As many experience, it has been done in silence and loneliness.  His wife is aware of his struggles.  But, he doesn’t have the confidence to discuss with his parents, siblings or members of his ward.  He has witnessed all the judgmentalism so commonly leveled at those with doubts and questions.  Unfortunately, he lives far from Houston.  I wish he could visit in on our Talkeria.

If you are anywhere near my home town, & need to talk about Mormon issues, feel free to join us. -All My Best to ya’ll.

Talkeria #2

July  7, 2016, 7:00pm, James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.

Talkeria One was terrific.  Eight wonderful souls showed up.  Much needed talk ensued.

Original Post

Six weeks ago, I started this blog.  At the time I had no idea if anybody would be interested.  I was willing to write, even if I were to be the only reader.  To my pleasant surprise, as of this moment 11,765 views have been registered from 63 countries around the globe.  Thanks for reading.  I hope you have enjoyed, learned, or experienced new thoughts.  It’s certainly been a learning experience for me.  Your comments have been especially meaningful.

Tomorrow Night, Thursday, June 30, 2016, something new is in the offing.  It will be called The Mormon Talkeria.  YOU….are invited.  7:00pm at James Coney Island, 11940 Southwest Frwy, Stafford, Texas.  Of course, I know most of you can’t make it.   There might only be 3 of us in attendance, me, myself and Irene.  I’ll be sitting there from 7 to 9, in my gray hair and black, long sleeve shirt.  Oh, yeah, I’ll have pants on, too.  This is not a one time affair.  I plan to be there talking at the Talkeria for the next several Thursdays that I’m in town.

Gut-Wrench in the Closet

Over the past 2 years, I have undergone a gut-wrenching faith transition.  I am still a faithful member of the LDS church.  However, I look at the world much differently.  I say gut-wrenching because my journey has been accompanied by a good bit of anguish, pain, anger, disappointment and loneliness.  Navigation has been difficult for me…..and my family.

For the first 7 months, I thought that I was completely alone in searching out new truths.  Little did I know that there were, and are, many treading the same path.  But, that was not initially evident.  There was a part the LDS culture that I was naively unaware of.  Much of the history and doctrine of the Mormondom is forbidden to discuss at church.  Asking certain questions in public or in private yields judgment but no answers.

The suppression of honest discussion causes a number of unintended consequences.  I have personally experienced several.   I have also witnessed the difficult experience of others.  1 1/2 years ago, I started suggesting to my local ecclesiastical leaders that there was a need to find a way to discuss troubling issues.  As the months have passed, I have watched as more and more friends and family walk away from the church that they had once been so committed to.  All of them had basically grappled in private with their gut-wrenching faith transition.

So, absent any other venue for open & in-person discussion, I’m starting a Talkeria.  A casual sit-down to kindly and respectfully talk.

TopicsTalkeria Topics

If you find yourself in any of these situations, let’s talkeria.
  • LDS history and doctrine are troubling you, family members or friends.
  • You have a child who is doubting or has left the church.
  • You have a parent, sibling or friend who is doubting or has left the church.
  • Your faith has changed, and you are having difficulty interacting with family or friends
  • Your faith has changed and are having difficulty in your marriage.
  • The faith of your spouse has changed and you are having difficulty in you marriage.
  • You are gay, in or out of the closet.
  • You have a gay child, sibling or friend.

Mormon Talkeria

The Mormon Talkeria is meant for both believing Mormons, ex-Mormons and anybody in-between.  Whatever path a person choses or has chosen,  judgment has no place here. Discussions are not intended to try to sway  anyone to leave, stay or come back to church. Rather, this will be a place of support for the journey each has chosen.

I am not an expert at anything.  I’m certainly not a professional counselor.  That’s not the purpose of The Talkeria.  It’s simply a venue for talking face-to-face and friend-to-friend.

Recently, I was called in for Jury Duty.  Four hours at the courthouse.  Rounds of questioning by the prosecuting and defense attorneys.  Finally, the actually jurors were selected.  The judge turned to those of us who didn’t make the cut and said, “Thank you for your service.  Being a part of the jury selection process is very important to our system of justice.  We have found that the best way to discover the truth is through a jury.”  I was kind of blown away.  Twelve ordinary, untrained men and women from all walks of live, are the best way to determine truth.  Whatever The Mormon Talkeria turns into, it will just be ordinary, untrained men and women trying to ferret out the best course to take at this time in their life.

For the next few weeks, I plan on being at JCI every Thursday.  Me, myself, and anyone else.

Not in Houston?

Well, that’s pretty much 99.9% of everybody reading this.  But, if you would like to be a part of the discussion, feel free to send an issue my/our way.  We’ll chew on it at our little Talkeria and share whatever wisdom might pop out.

Taboo

***Warning–Adult Topic***

If offended by mature matters, pause your perusal NOW!!!   I mean it.

Quiet. Young woman with her finger on lips.

Masturbation

There you go. I’ve said it. I’ve said it out loud and in print. Whew!  When I became a man, at 62, I finally gained the courage to make this hitherto verboten verbalization. So, if you are under 62, or not adult yet…please pause your perusal, NOW.

In order to not overuse this provocative term, I will also refer to the subject as SS (self-satisfaction).

Background

In my religion, the youth are generally taught that masturbation is a sin.  Some bishops and their counsellors regularly pose the question, to young girls and boys, “Do you touch yourself down there?”  This starts at age 12 and continues until 18.  Queries regarding this sexual practice are made behind closed doors by an older adult male. The man and the child are alone.  No parent is present.  Usually, the parents are unaware that SS is being discussed with their child.  Almost universally, the adult leader asking the question is untrained in how to discuss sexual matters with a child. Often, a twelve year old’s first introduction to the term ‘masturbation’ is when he/she is questioned by their ecclesiastical leader.

Fortunately, at least I consider it fortunate, when I was growing up, no adult leader ever brought this subject up in a private interview.  For over 5 years, I served as a Mormon bishop.  During that time I never once asked anyone, adult or child, about SS.  It simply never entered my mind.  No direction or training was ever given by my ecclesiastical leaders that I should delve into such matters with the kids.

The purpose of this blog post is not to explore whether or not masturbation is a sin for young people.  But, I do have BIG concerns about the practice of adult men questioning 12 year old girls, behind closed doors, without a parent’s knowledge, permission, or presence. Frankly, it sounds creepy and inappropriate. But, again, that’s not the point of this treatise.

Adults

My real question is this: “For married people, is masturbation a sin?”  During my entire adulthood, which now spans 4 decades, I have never once heard this issue addressed.  You may be wondering, “Why do I care?”  Patience, my reasons are detailed further on.

Attempt #1:  My first attempt to find the answer was last summer. In priesthood, a men’s meeting held on Sunday, the topic of chastity came up. I said, “I have some questions about what the law of chastity entails.” Immediately, this response was given, “We don’t talk about details of forbidden activities relating to chastity. It can unnecessarily give people ideas.” OK.

Attempt #2:  Since, I’d been stopped in my tracks at church, I decided to ask for opinions in private.  To eleven friends and family, I posed this question, “For a married person, is masturbation a sin?  I was shocked at the results.  Remember, these eleven are all members of the LDS church.  Perhaps my friends and family are more liberal than most.

Results:
1 = Yes. It’s a sin.
5 = No. Some discomfort, not knowing exactly where the church stood.
5 = No. Categorically, not a sin.

Attempt #3:  A couple of weeks later, the lesson for the men’s meeting was going to focus on chastity.  After my prior experience, I wasn’t taking any chances. Once the teacher introduced the topic, I blurted out my question, “Is masturbation a sin if you are married?”  The instructor’s response, “I’m so glad you asked that.  I wanted to talk about it, but didn’t know how to bring it up.”  Amazingly, an open and frank discussion ensued.  I’m sure it was uncomfortable for many.  A semblance of a consensus was reached.  “Masturbation is not a sin, as long as you discuss it with your wife first.”  S…H…O…C…K…I…N…G   Only one person voiced an opposing opinion, “Like abortion is next to murder, I consider masturbation next to adultery.”   In attempts #2 & #3, the vast majority of LDS members believed SS was not a sin if married.

Attempt #4:  So far, I had only posed my query to rank-n-file church goers. Certainly, the leadership could give a definitive answer. NOPE.

Leader A:  “Why do you even care, Sam?”
Leader B:  Unwilling to give any answer to the question.
Leader C:  “I never ask about what goes on in a couple’s bedroom.”
Leader D:  “It doesn’t say anything in the manual.”
So, what the heck does that mean? Clear direction?  No way.  Sin or not sin?  It appears that nobody really knows.

Out of the eleven who I individually interviewed, 4 had been asked by a bishop or stake president if they engaged in SS. Wouldn’t that alone indicate that it’s a sin? Otherwise, it sounds perverse to ask about such a personal practice in a personal interview.

Why Do I Care?

Consider the following scenarios.

  1. It IS a sin. However, many members view SS as not a sin. Isn’t it important that we warn them? Sin has consequences. In this life and the next. Ultimately, we could lose our salvation. Big reason for the prophets to send a clear and unmistakable message…..It’s sinful.
  2. It is NOT a sin. In that case, it’s unfortunate that some members view masturbation as a SERIOUS sin.  A person engaged in a practice he views as sinful is subject to guilt, shame & depression. Why would we let a person suffer in silence when their behavior is not sinful?  That seems SUPER cruel.  Gigantic reason for the prophets to send a clear and unmistakable message…..It’s NOT sinful.
  3. It’s up to each individual to determine if it’s sinful or not. Yes, I have been told that.  Not sure that I understand it.  But, I kind of like the concept of God giving me agency to decide for myself.  Whatever I decide, He won’t hold it against me.  But, again, it seems like the message should be clearly stated by the leadership rather than speculated by the members.

Conclusion

We have made masturbation a Taboo topic.  Yet, it’s consequences are ambiguous. Balmy for some, brutal for others. So, why do I care?  It brings a little anger and a little teardrop, thinking that someone in my congregation is needlessly suffering guilt, shame & depression.

Mormons Supporting LGBT Community–Prayer Vigil

imageFriday’s Thirteen

June 17, 2016, a small group of Mormons organized and conducted a prayer vigil in response to the Orlando murders. It was held in a community clubhouse in Sugar Land, Texas.

Oh, what a night it was!  A little band of thirteen diverse men and women gathered together.  Mormons & former Mormons.  Believers & non-believers.  Gay & straight. One serving bishop & three former bishops.  Rainbow ribbons were prepared and donned by all.

imageWe sang, we cried, we laughed. We shared, we listened, we remembered.  Accompanied by Amazing Grace, the names of the 49 slain were read aloud.  A prayer was offered in memory of the departed, for healing of the wounded, and that all might unite in brotherhood as fellow citizens and human beings.

I was delighted with the turnout.  We sat in a compact & comfortable circle.  It made for an intimate setting that was conducive to poignant communication.  All who spoke expressed love, unity and support for our LGBT brothers and sisters.  All have close family, or friends, or both who are gay.

When our vigil ended, no one moved from their chairs.  When we did finally stir, conversations continued for another hour.  Hugs were common as we departed. Such a sweet meeting of friends, new & old.  One attendee described it as quaint.  In that case, I have a new respect and yearning for ‘quaint.’  The gay man, who none of us had met before, expressed great appreciation for the group’s support. He happens to be an active Mormon, serving as the executive secretary in his congregation.  Openly he recounted challenges he has faced.  I felt honored and trusted to hear his story.

One of my daughters made this comment, “Dad, there are lots of us who want to show love and support for those who are gay. But, we don’t know how.  Tonight, just sitting in the prayer vigil, I felt like I was doing something.  What else could I do?” I pointed to the rainbow ribbon on my chest and said, “wear one of these at church.”

Besides the ‘Friday Thirteen,’ over 30 additional well wishers from around the globe sent messages of strong support.  They related that their thoughts, prayers and hearts were with us in reaching out to the LGBT community. All their messages were read during the vigil.

From me, a Mormon

Now, if you are gay I’d like to express the feelings of my heart.
You not a lesser part of society.
I love you.
I love you without conditions.
With me you are safe.
I have your back.
I stand with you and for you.
Thank you for being my friend.

imageA Gay Friend Talks Me Down From the Ledge

Putting this vigil together had it’s difficulties.  It’s genesis occurred on a plane from Utah to Houston on Sunday evening. The terrible shooting had occurred early that morning.  Initially, my spirit was high.  It was a time of sadness, despair, and confusion.  It was also a time of need.  This was an opportunity to actively reach out to the LGBT community. Very special, was the chance to send a message of love and support to those in my own church who are gay, whether they have come out or not.

From Monday to Thursday, one difficulty after another presented itself.  By Thursday, evening, I was angry. My thinking went something like this:  Cancel the crumby vigil. Take ‘Mormon’ off the title.  Quit the Mormon church!!!

I reached out to several people. The response was either troubling or silence.
My frustration mounted.  Then, I called a gay friend. I had gotten to know him over 20 years ago as his bishop. Somehow, someway, he had managed to remain active until the church’s new gay policy was released in November 2015.  As a direct result, he has now left the church.  After a good and long discussion, I said, “Are you trying to talk me into staying with the church?” He responded, “No. I’ve really lost any interest in working for change within the church. That door has closed. Maybe you will be more successful. What I know is that your ribbon WILL touch somebody.”

That was the clencher. My treasured and true gay friend knows that I can give hope to some unknown fellow Mormon, simply by being in church with my rainbow.

Further encouragement came on Friday. Supportive communications were received from three of my local LDS leadership. They are all good men with good hearts.

My final message to my gay family, my gay friends & the gay community in general:      I will not forget you!!!