You’re Not Broken—I’m Sorry

Budapest Shoes

Children’s Apology

Last year, my wife and I traveled to the congenial country of Hungary.  We toured The Great Synagogue of Budapest, the largest in Europe.  Hungary is still struggling to come to terms with its treatment of their Jewish population during WWII.  By war’s end, at least 70% had been murdered.

Our tour guide told us of a recent concert she had attended.  It was a singing & dancing group of German high schoolers.  At the beginning of the program, a couple of the children stepped forward.  They apologized for crimes their country had perpetrated during that long-ago war.

The story touched me.  Born years after this horror, these children had had no part in it.  They were not official spokespersons for their country.  Yet, they were willing to apologize to a people who had been wronged.

Here’s my attempt to follow their poignant example.  An official spokesperson for the LDS Church, I’m not.  But, I am the church.  At least part of the church.  At least a single part of the church.  And this little part of the church, along with any who will join in my cry say,  I am Sorry!  We are sorry!

Rainbow Ribbon

To My Gay Friends, Both Known and Un

For all the ways we’ve been wrong—I’m Sorry.

  • When I was young, church & culture tutored that gay was foul and perverted. I wish the prophet had spoken.  You weren’t broken.  We were wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • You chose to be gay.  So the leaders say.  I wish the prophet had spoken.  You’re not broken.  We were wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • chairTo some, they tried to shock your gay away.  At the Lord’s college, you were strapped in a chair, electrodes placed down there.  Movies of naked men were turned on.  If you were turned on, an electric shock in turn was turned on.  You wanted the strongest current to be cured.  But, gay doesn’t work in those ways.  You were simply tortured in those days.  An elder from my mission endured this, in submission.  Today, he’s still gay.  From the church, he’s parted ways.  Oh, how I wish the prophet had spoken.  You were not broken.  I went along, although I didn’t know.  Now, I’m so, so, sorry.  Tears blur my eyes.  I just want to cry….I’m sorry. I’m sorry
  • You were told to pray and pray and soon the gay would just go away.  Of course it didn’t.  You became depressed.  Maybe next time pray and pray ALL of the day.  Still gay and more depression came your way.  With no cure, some couldn’t endure.  By their own hand they sent themselves to the heavenly land.  I wish the prophet had spoken.  These precious people were not broken. We were dead wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • “Get married,” your respected leaders said!  You faithfully followed, while full of dread.  Your gay didn’t magically go away.  Now, with children and spouse, heartache and shame, you finally came out, and all suffered pain.  I wish the prophet had spoken.  Now a family’s broken. We were wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • Finally, something sure, that would result in a cure. You agree to participate in reparative therapy.  Humiliated, disgraced, and degraded again.  You cry because no matter what you can’t win. Now, this procedure is discredited & thrown in the trash bin.  Why couldn’t the prophet have spoken?  You were not broken.  We were wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • With Prop 8, we tried to legislate away, the rights to marry if you were gay.  I don’t know if the prophet had spoken.  What I know is, you are not broken.  This was wrong.  I went along.  I’m sorry.
  • Last November the edict came.  Out of love was the claim.  If the gay marry, throw them away.  Really?  It just sounds wrong.  These are my friends.  I don’t want to follow along.  I’m sorry.
  • November’s policy also contains what I consider to be a stain. Children of parents who are gay, will have God’s choicest blessings taken away.  No baptism at 8, no holy spirit to guide, no priesthood at any rate.  With shame, the policy will make  kids want to run & hide.  Has a prophet really spoken?  The rules are broken.  We are wrong.  This time I will not go along.  I’m sorry.

I wish the prophet had spoken.  You are not broken.  We were wrong.  Next time, I will not just go along.  I love who you are, just as you are.  Of that, I feel very strong.

I’m Sorry.

“Tear Down this Wall”

“Tear Down this Wall”

Quoted from a seminal speech delivered by Ronald Reagan in 1987.  It was given in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate.  Of course, he was referring to the Berlin Wall that divided the German city in half.  It was a global symbol of repression, division & oppression.  Two short years later, the infamous wall was torn down.  Within four years, the entire Soviet Union ceased to exist.  In its place, freedom was about to sweep over the continent.

While I was growing up, the dissolution of the “evil empire” was thought to be impossible, or at least a generation away.  Once people’s desire for Liberty was set in motion, the course of history raced forward.  The speed of its advancement was a surprise to most everyone.

Now….“Tear Down THIS Wall”

There is a wall in my church that divides, separates and excludes.  I, Sam Young, have made sacred covenants within the confines of a modern-day temple.  I have promised to avoid every unholy practice.  The definition of my promise is that anything contrary to the teachings of Jesus is unholy.  There is an unholy wall that, as we speak, is tearing down families in our midst.  It’s time to tear this unholy wall down.   Part of my temple promise is not only to avoid, but to speak out against “every unholy practice.”

The current policy regarding temple marriages states that if a couple is married outside the temple they must wait one year before being sealed.  As a result, almost all marriages are performed in the temple, at the same time as the sealing.  The consequence is exclusionary, hurtful and entirely unnecessary.  Any parent, sibling, child, friend who does not have a current recommend is excluded from the ceremony.  Dreadful!

Weddings are pivotal events in life.  They should be filled with joy and celebration for everyone.  Instead, this wall of division creates hard feelings that often last a lifetime.  When I was married, my parents, my wife’s parents, her siblings and most of my siblings were simply shut out.  My mother has since left the church.  Her first doubts formed as she paced outside of the Salt Lake temple, denied inclusion in her own first born son’s wedding.  Does this sound cruel to only me?

Temple

“Why is This Wall Here?”

That’s the question Reagan asked the Soviets.  That’s the question my covenants push me to pose.  The marriage ceremony is not a saving ordinance.  There is no requirement that it be held in the temple.  “Legal and lawfully wedded” applies to those performed in public as well as in the temple.  So, why is this wall here?  It’s time for its demolition.

What’s more it has already been dismantled in many countries around the world.  From Serbia to Spain, the UK to New Zealand, Mexico and Germany, France and Brazil, from South Korea to Switzerland, and on and on and on.  In all these countries, the wall of temple marriage has already been torn down.  Not by our church, but by the citizens of each nation, themselves.  Their laws require weddings be performed in public.  The sealing then follows in private.

It’s time to tear down this wall in EVERY country where it disconnects families that are just forming.  Let’s not wait for the citizens of each country to demolish this partition for us.  That could take decades or never.  My covenant calls me to call the church to take action.

Make a policy pronouncement.  Watch the people rejoice.  Parents and children.  Members and non-members. Believers and non-believers.  Brothers and sisters.  Bride and groom.  Tearing down this wall, is a no-lose proposition.

One Vote

The Best Solution

There is a better way than just a pronouncement.  The procedure prescribed in our own LDS cannon.  Call upon the Law of Common Consent.  Allow the fellowcitizens, the Latter-day Saints, to vote this wall of familial division, either up or down.  We never voted for the wall in first place.  Let us vote now.

Either by pronouncement or poll, “TEAR DOWN THIS WALL.”

 

Temple Covenant Breakthrough!!!

No Small Thing….To Me

Tonight, I had an epiphany so exciting that I could hardly wait to get in front of my computer.  It may not be a big deal to any other planet inhabitant.  But, it is huge to this one.

CovenantSearching the Covenants

Great emphasis is placed on the importance of keeping the covenants we make in the temple.  In the summer of 2015, as part of my faith journey, I carefully reviewed those weighty promises.  Quickly, I found myself with more questions than answers.  For the next 3 months, I diligently searched, studied, examined and prayed in an attempt to understand exactly what my commitments meant.  Attempts were made to discuss them in the men’s meeting held every Sunday.   No dice.  Supposedly it’s forbidden to discuss temple covenants in public.  I then asked church friends and leaders in private.  Initially, everybody said they understood what these sacred promises meant.  With the shallowest of interrogation, NOBODY had answers.  In fact, almost without exception, as I continued to press, 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???  This experience was highly disappointing.  I was left disillusioned and dismayed.

When I initially entered into these fateful temple covenants, I was not told in advance what the promises even were.  They weren’t explained at the time I made them.  Years later, I still didn’t understand them.  Then, I’m told we can’t talk about them.   The coup-de-grace…..nobody else knows what they mean, either.

EpiphanyA Lovely, Lovely Epiphany

I don’t know exactly how or why an epiphany finally bursts into view.  But, it did tonight as I drove away from a family reunion.  While ruminating on my covenant disappointment, it hit me.  Not with a slow burn.  Rather, like a distinct and sharp crack of lightning, right before my eyes.

Today, I don’t use the word “know” lightly.  But, in this instant I suddenly “knew” what it means that nobody knows what my covenants mean.  And, I love this revelation.  My friends and leaders can’t possibly know the meaning of my covenants.  I did not make the promises to them.  I made them with God!  Only God and I know what I have promised!!!  Only I and God decide on the terms and their meaning.

How gorgeous!  What freedom!  Of course, the words for the covenants are the same for all.  It’s the meaning of those words that are individual and perhaps unique.  We are not told the meaning of the covenants in advance.  Of course not.  That’s because we can’t be told their meaning by others.  Our promises are determined by us.  We don’t study their significance in priesthood.  Of course not.  That’s because nobody knows their significance except the individual covenant maker.

I have struggled to get what the higher law of the temple is.  I get it now.  The higher law is simply this:  I am a thinking, reasonable,  & grown-up adult.  As such, I am trusted by God to determine exactly what I can & will promise.  He sets the wording.  Both, and only, He and I determine the definition.  YES!!!  Nobody can tell me what my covenants mean…except me.

It has been over 18 months since my last temple visit.  With my new epiphanific understanding, another temple visit may now be in my future.

To all my friends and leaders who had no answers, THANK YOU.  And, I mean it!

Apostles’ Best Friend by Voting Opposed

Ballroom B&WBallroom dancing is my hobby.  Don’t worry.  It’s not terribly contagious.  But, it is great fun.  Inadvertently and with serendipity, ballroom has also taught me precepts of general living.   Recently, at the beginning of a lesson, my instructor, Lisa, and I had the following interchange:
Lisa:  Today, I’m going act like your best friend.
Sam:  What does that mean?
Lisa:  I’m not going to let you get away with anything.
Sam:  What does that mean?
Lisa:  I’m going to be totally truthful.  We’re working on your style and I want you to get it right.
Sam:  Good.  You know I prefer honest feedback.

Time for Best Friendship

In the LDS Church, the top leaders are called apostles.  For all of my 63 years, I have held them in high esteem.  I’ve attentively and earnestly listened to them, followed them, quoted them, loved them.  However, I was not being a ballroom best friend.  That has changed.  As of last April, I have started acting like the best friend I should be.  Three times, in April and May church conferences, general, stake & ward, I gave my honest opinion by raising my hand when “any opposed?” was pronounced from the pulpit.

Opposition vs. Disapproval

As part of the Mormon Church governance, 4 times every year, the names of the apostles are presented to the membership.  We are given the opportunity to sustain or oppose these men as apostles.  It’s a wonderful part of how the church should to be run.  However, I don’t care for the wording we use.  “Opposed” seems a little harsh.  But, that’s the way it’s done.  This procedure is based on multiple LDS scriptures contained in the book, Doctrine & Covenants.  For example, in D&C 124:144 Christ gives Joseph Smith the commandment to get approval or disapproval of those selected for various callings.  This is done by presenting the names at conferences of the church and asking for a showing of hands.  I much prefer the wording Jesus used:  approve vs. sustain and disapprove vs. oppose.  I’m not opposed to the apostles.  I simply disapprove of some of what they are doing.  Most of their decisions, I do approve of.  But, their is a fly in the ointment that has pushed me to dance onto the stage of disapproval.  It’s time for me to be a best friend.

The Gay Policy

Last November the church leadership announced a new policy.  If members of the church marry someone of the same sex, they are now labeled apostates and excommunicated. Their kids are to be excluded from baby blessings, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordination, & participation in temple worship.  Only when these children reach the age of 18 can they be baptized.  Two conditions are stipulated.  1) Approval of the First Presidency.  2)  Disavowal of the lifestyle of their parents.
The purpose of this post is not to discuss all the reasons for and against such a policy.  At this point, I’m just going to say that it’s disturbing to me on several levels.  I disapprove and have done so in the manner set forth by Jesus and Joseph Smith in our LDS canonized scripture.

MoroniCovenants

Although, I don’t want to discuss details of this edict, I do want to frame the mindset that has resulted in my disapproving conference votes.
The pinnacle of LDS worship is carried out in our temples.  Therein, sacred ordinances are performed.   Serious covenants of exaltation are at the very heart of these holy rituals.  I have made these promises.  I take them seriously.  It’s in consideration of these very covenants that I feel compelled to manifest my best-friendship.  Following are the three covenants in particular that relate to my decision.
  1. Avoid all lightmindedness.  Not sure exactly what this means.  But, at least, I take it that it I should be serious about serious matters.  Jesus tells his leadership to consult me 4 times every year and ask for my opinion.  Should I approach this opportunity with lightmindedness?  If I’m not thoughtful, prayerful, studious about the sustaining process, I now consider it as breaking my covenant.  A former apostle offers some support here, “It is clear that the sustaining vote by the people is not, and is not to be regarded as, a mere matter of form, but on the contrary a matter of the last gravity.”  It’s my opinion that the Savior wants me to be a best friend to His leadership.  It’s a vital part of the church governance that He established.  From here on out, no lightmindedness from this poor dancer.  I’m going to be a best ballroom friend.  Totally truthful.  As my instructor would say, I’m not going to let them get away with anything.
  2. Avoid all evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.  Again, I’m not sure exactly what this means.  But, let’s take it that the Lord’s anointed are the church leaders. BTW, I don’t agree with the limiting nature of this interpretation.  Never-the-less, let’s go with it here.  Some have said that I’m breaking this covenant by voting opposed.  Obviously, I don’t agree with that assessment.  It just seems silly that Jesus would have them ask my opinion and then say, “Uh, uh, uh!  You just broke your covenant by being honest.”  For me, this covenant implies that I should be concerned about the welfare of the apostles.  I am.  This policy has created lots of evil speaking.  Many have lost respect for the high leadership.  The apostles have lost credibility and influence with many members.  I’ve seen friends and family simply walk away.  With them, the apostles have now lost total influence.  I desire to help in the avoidance of evil speaking.  Voting opposed works towards keeping this covenant.
  3. Avoid all unholy practices.  Once again, I don’t know exactly what this means.  Here’s what I’ve come to:  Jesus tells us to do something…it’s unholy if we do something different.  Jesus tells us not to do something…it’s unholy if we do it.  This is the most important reason I voted opposed.  For me, this exclusionary policy, especially regarding children, is an unholy practice.  A clear and present violation of my temple covenant.

Temple Recommend

When I voted NO, I held a current recommend.  I still do.  After the first vote of disapproval, a 2 3/4 hour interview ensued with my stake president and bishop.   I was asked, “How would you feel if you were to lose your temple recommend?”  My response, “I would view it as an egregious example of unrighteous dominion.  Christ has commanded the leadership to ask for my opinion.  If I’m punished for being forthright and honest, that wouldn’t be right.”  My recommend was not pulled.
But, if it had been, I would have been OK with that.  Another apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, speaking of temple covenants, weighed in with this insight,  “The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men.”  I’m OK with that assessment.  Keeping McConkie’s words in mind, I’m certainly willing to sacrifice my temple recommend in order to keep my temple covenants.

Questions?

Do I believe others in the church are violating their temple covenants by supporting our gay policy of exclusion?  Absolutely not.  There is something really divine about these sacred promises.  We don’t understand them when we make them. We never discuss them openly.  And, no one has been able to answer my covenant questions when I queried.  So, I guess it’s up to each one of us to sort out their meaning.  Well, that’s kind-a-cool.  I respect your interpretation of your covenants.  I ask that you do the same for me.

Do I believe others should vote OPPOSED?  Not necessarily.  I’m not encouraging anyone to vote one way or the other.  Common consent is a vital, yet overlooked part, of the governance of the church.  In my opinion, the church would be much better at self-correction if more would consider voting their opinion, if they are truly opposed.  Unfortunately, those who are troubled  about this and other policies often vote with their feet rather than their hands.  That’s OK, too.  If you leave the church, I wish you the very best.  I respect and certainly can understand your decision.  Godspeed and happiness on your journey.  I will remain your friend, probably even better friends than before.

In the meantime, I’ll remain best friends with the apostles by giving them my truthful opinion every time they ask.  My ballroom instructor has taught me well.

Joseph Smith IS My Hero

image.jpeg

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.

Today, I Danced with Jesus. His Name is Ken.

image

One word made my day, today. One word….spoken while I was….dancing with Jesus.

Not much traffic this morning, until I reached the tollway exit.  Only 2 more lights to traverse before turning into my office.  A long line of cars greeted me at the first one. Three of four red light cycles would ensue.  Ahead, I could see a homeless man slowly wending his way along the line of possible donors.  He carried the standard cardboard sign.  It notified any who didn’t look away that he was a disabled veteran, homeless and hungry.

He’d made his first appearance at this street corner maybe two or three weeks ago.  A newcomer.  During that time, on a few occasions, I’d managed to roll down my motorized window and from my air conditioned comfort handed him a $1 dollar bill. Quite generous of me.  As he graciously accepted my paltry gift, a warm and grateful smile lit up his dripping face.  Houston summers are known for unrelenting heat, humidity and sizzling sunshine, except when it’s pouring down rain.  We chatted each time.  I sincerely wanted to recognize him and engage in pleasantries.

Today, much the same scene played out. I in my comfort, he in the heat.

Sam:  Seems pretty hot today.
Homeless Man:  Yeah. But, it’s not raining.
Sam:  How are you doing today?
Homeless Man:  The Lord is watching over me.
Sam:  I’ve forgotten your name.
Homeless Man:  Ken.
Sam:  Do you remember my name?
Homeless Man:  SAM.

Immediately, a tear graced my eye.  A homeless man, immersed in heat and humidity, remembered MY name.  It touched me deeply.

Aren’t we taught that Jesus knows each of us intimately, loves us dearly, knows us by our name?  Could it be that this soft-spoken homeless man, humbly living and humbly making his living…..was…..Jesus?  He knew my name!  He remembered my name!  He uttered my name!

A few hours later, I walked back to that, now special, intersection. Ken was still there, plying his trade. We talked about his history. His military service.  His injury.  Where he slept.  His plans.  His challenges.  I look forward to seeing my friend again.  He has lifted me more than he knows.  Or maybe he does.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.”

Today, MY name was spoken while I danced with Jesus.

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.