Monday, April 29, 2013


The response of my friends (and so many gracious others) to this blog has been so incredible. I hate to use a Mormony phrase that has become perhaps a little trite...but "I'm truly humbled."


One of my friends, after her very supportive comments, asked me an interesting question. She said, "Let's say you hadn't been raised a Mormon but were currently at the 'hope' point you're at right now...would you go ahead and get baptized?"

I didn't have to think too long about that, because I, along with my dear husband, have already thought long and hard about the question of baptism for our children.

My answer is yes. Definitely.

Do I believe that the act of being baptized cleanses me of my sins? Not necessarily (although that would be pretty awesome. Aha! Apparently I hope it.) So the ugly rationalization is that, fundamentally, with my views and beliefs the way they are, I see baptism as a rite--an entree into a community. It's part of belonging. It's how you "sign up". And it's how you officially make your commitment to be a part of the church, to follow the rules, to fulfill your responsibilities.

Despite my crass labelling of baptism as "just" a rite, I still think it merits dedicated preparation and thought, and even a special event to celebrate a person's decision. All baptisms should definitely be followed by delicious treats. I probably won't send out fancy invitations with professional baptism pictures of my daughter in a field, wearing a white dress. (Seriously! That's a "thing"! As if we all didn't have enough to make ourselves feel inadequate.) But committing to something this big is a pretty major event. I have every intention of preparing my children for their baptisms by teaching them the basic principles of the gospel and explaining what a commitment like this means. Heck, I'm already doing those things.

The less ugly rationalization of baptism is what I just discovered as I was writing this post: I do hope that baptism cleanses us of our sins. And I hope that the gift of the Holy Ghost is our constant companion, helps comfort us when we need it, helps direct us when we ask--and even when we don't. I suppose hoping for the doctrine of the atonement to be legit would automatically include a hope for the legitimacy of baptism, right?

Either way, the answer is yes. I would be baptized.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"How can you belong to a church that...?"

Ah, yes. The ugly parts of church history.

"How can you belong to a church that used to practice polygamy?"

"How can you belong to a church that didn't extend full membership to black members until 1978?"

How can you???

People get really hung up on this. There are things in Mormon history that modern Mormons (and others) aren't thrilled about. By modern standards, these things were insane. Some weird stuff happened 200 years ago, especially among our fledgling faithful. If you read certain accounts, it's even crazier. And unfortunately, some pretty weird stuff has happened recently as well.

So, how do I deal with that? I don't know, how can you be a citizen of a country that exists because of complete brutality toward the people who initially inhabited its land? How can you be a citizen of a country that used to allow slavery? How can you be a citizen of a country that didn't allow women to vote until well over 100 years after it was founded? How can you be a citizen of a country that currently employs "enhanced interrogation techniques"? How can you be a citizen of a country that elected George W. Bush as President--twice? (I kid, I kid.)

Every organization that has been around for any length of time has some black marks on its history. I'm not going to judge the United States as a terrible place to live and pay taxes today based on how it treated black people 200, or even 50, years ago. That's not the country I live in right now. That country no longer exists.

In much the same way, the LDS church that practiced polygamy and excluded blacks from holding the priesthood no longer exists. I, personally, have never been a member of that church.

To be sure, there are still things about the Church that I'm not thrilled about--its position on gay marriage, the inequality of women, and a gazillion cultural issues. And there are things about America that I'm not thrilled about--No Child Left Behind, our obsession with war, uh...the debt crisis. But I'm not just going to up and leave America to find some perfect country that has always lived by 21st century standards and agrees with every single one of my political positions. Obviously such a country doesn't exist. I could spend my entire life searching for that country and where would that get me?

So I accept the LDS Church with all of its historical--and current--flaws. I don't have to agree with its history in order to benefit from what it is today. And I don't have to agree with everything that it is today. Those things I mentioned that I'm not thrilled about? I see those things as areas in which we can make progress. And we have! Women prayed at General Conference! If we never make the progress I hope for, well, I'll deal with it, just like I dealt with W's re-election in 2004. ;)

The key to my acceptance of the Church's flaws is the way I view the Church leadership. Given my agnostic leanings, I don't necessarily consider these guys to be acting for God in everything they do. In order to accept an organization's flaws, you have to be comfortable acknowledging that the organization is run by flawed individuals. And I am. It doesn't bother me one bit. I'm still happy to live in America, even though I don't like President Obama's positions on certain issues.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Scriptures are kind of a tough issue. Some people believe them to be the word of God, others believe them to be only a historical record, still others may not even go that far.

Primary children sing that if I prayerfully read the scriptures every day, "I'll know the scriptures are true."

As an agnostic, my opinion of "scriptures", regardless of which religion's scriptures we are referring to, is that they definitely have value as a tool of instruction and inspiration. Do I believe that any of them are God's words? Probably not. Do I believe that Joseph Smith translated gold plates? Probably not. Do I believe that Book of Mormon characters were actual historical figures? Probably not. But honestly, who cares?

Whether King Benjamin actually existed and delivered his address, or Joseph Smith made those words up in his own head, I just don't care. Because the thing is, there's some good stuff in that address! And elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (and all other books of scripture).

Last year, when I was first trying to make this church thing work for me, I was going through a pretty tough time. I had a brand new baby and was adjusting to life as a mom of three. We live a continent away from our families, my husband works long hours and is working on a graduate degree. Oh, and I homeschool. It was HARD! (It's still hard!) I was just in kind of a bad place.

One week in Sunday School, we were discussing King Benjamin's address in Mosiah. Fortunately, I decided to pay attention that day. We read good old Mosiah 4:27, a classic, oft-quoted verse. "And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order."

Now, I can see you rolling your eyes and being unimpressed. Isn't this the classic verse that women love to quote because we are all just so overwhelmed with our various responsibilities? Yes. Yes, it is. But the thing is, the last time I had personally read that verse, I didn't have any children. The plight of the mom with multiple young children was basically just a tale I heard in Relief Society (a lot). But this time, in my current station in life, and with my current struggles, it really spoke to me. Not only should I not run faster than I have strength (which could just be a nice pat on the head to make me feel okay about not being Super Mom), but it is wisdom not to do that. And the word "order" made me feel like maybe there's time to accomplish the things I want to accomplish but just can't even think about now. Then "King Benjamin" (or Joseph Smith or whoever the heck said/wrote this) goes on to remind us that, even though we shouldn't run faster than we have strength, we still need to be diligent in order to win the prize. A good reminder for a mom who just found relief from the overwhelming stress of her self-imposed expectations. I still have to be diligent. I still have to try. I still have to work hard.

"I know the scriptures are true." In a sense, I guess I do. I believe many principles in the scriptures are true principles. Do I believe the stories of their origins to be true? Not necessarily. But those stories don't need to be true in order for me to profit from the principles and inspiration they deliver.

So I think I will follow King Benjamin's admonition in Mosiah 1:7--"And now, my sons,  I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby." 

They're here for us to profit from them. And who doesn't like to profit?

Monday, April 15, 2013

I bore my testimony???

So, yesterday I bore my testimony at church for the first time in well over seven years. What compelled me to do such a thing? I don't really know. I do know that Elder Holland's conference talk really spoke to me (more on that later), which isn't shocking because I'm pretty sure he peers into the soul of every single person who hears him speak. It kind of inspired me. And I like to share my experiences and tell people what I think, so...what better platform, right? (Oh, right. A blog. A blog is a pretty good platform, too.)

The testimony I shared is exactly what I have written on this blog as my "hope testimony".

And then a strange thing happened. People stood up and said that their testimonies were basically the same thing, a hope that this stuff is true, not a knowledge of it. At least ten people approached me throughout the day and told me that my "testimony" was the most inspiring testimony they had heard in a long time.

Say what???

They said that the honesty was refreshing. A few people told me that they or their husband or their son really needed to hear it. What is happening here???

Anyway, this morning I read Alma 32 (obviously). "Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." Alma 32:21

Oh my gosh, I have faith? I think I do. That is exactly what my testimony is--hoping for things I don't see (with my eyes or my reason).

So then I started reading lots of hope scriptures.

Jacob 2:19--"And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them." Not after you obtain knowledge, but after you obtain hope.

Ether 12:4--"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God." Hope seems to be sufficient to anchor the soul, which then leads to all this other stuff.

Moroni 8:26--"and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God." I like this one because we tend to view the Holy Ghost as a means to obtaining knowledge, but this is saying that his job is to fill us with hope and love, which appears to be sufficient.

13th Article of Faith: "We believe all things, we hope all things..." There is no claim that we know all things. We admit here, and indeed in all the other Articles of Faith as well, that we believe this stuff--we hope it.

I think it's interesting that our church--or at least the culture of it--places such a premium on knowing. We see kids being trained to say it from the very beginning. ("I'd like to bear my testimony. I know this church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet." Yadah, yadah, yadah.) Why do we do this? The scriptures don't seem to indicate that knowledge is the stuff of righteousness or salvation. Faith is. Hope is. I mean, as Alma does go on to say, hope should compel us to "experiment upon the word", which means living the principles of the gospel, testing them to see if they do indeed bring us the happiness they promise. But I'm just not getting the message here that knowledge is the requirement, or even the goal.

I know you're probably thinking all of this is obvious, and wondering how I could have missed it all my life. Well, I did hear/read these scriptures over and over, and I did have a million lessons on Alma 32. Indeed, I delivered many of them myself. But they always seemed to end in the possibility of obtaining knowledge. You know, if you're righteous enough you might obtain that. And I'm sure that a lot of my faith problems have to do with my personality, with the way I processed this stuff. But I'm clearly not alone. For goodness' sake, in ONE ward, at least TEN people APPROACHED me! Who knows how many people feel the same way but didn't approach me? And who knows how many people there are in all the other wards? And how many other people weren't attending any ward at all yesterday BECAUSE they have these issues?

I blame "Moroni's promise" (Moroni 10:4-5). "And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere hear, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."

Or rather, I blame our emphasis on Moroni's promise. We teach kids to seek this. As missionaries, our entire purpose is teaching investigators to seek this. We largely define a "testimony" as having received this witness. But what about all the people who never get this? Or what about those of us who think we have, but later realize maybe we haven't? This emphasis on knowledge and bearing "testimony" of knowledge makes the church a really hard place to be for people whose minds just don't work like this.

How about teaching people to hope for these things? Maybe for their entire lives. Maybe it's okay to just hope and experiment until you die. That's probably what I'll be doing. But I think Alma says it's enough in Alma 32:43--"Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffereing, wating for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you."

We are rewarded for faith and diligence, not for knowledge.

I have a dream--a hope, if you will--that one day, in LDS congregations all over the world, people will honestly acknowledge their doubts. They will feel safe to say that they don't know. The church will be a place where people come because they're experimenting upon the word, they're hoping for something, together. They're helping each other sustain that hope and test the principles of the gospel in their lives. THAT is what I believe the church should be for. It shouldn't be a club for knowers. It should be a support group for hopers.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Prayer is probably one of the hardest concepts for an agnostic such as myself to embrace. Who do I pray to if I don't really believe in God?

First of all, I have to acknowledge that "prayer", however one wishes to define or practice it, is a healthy meditative practice, if nothing else. It's a time to reflect on your day, your goals, your weaknesses, your hopes, your relationships, etc. I can't see that ever being a bad thing. I think family prayer is pretty incredible, too. My husband and I don't currently pray together, but I remember when we did back in the early years of our marriage. It was such an interesting thing to hear his concerns and goals through his prayers when he hadn't necessarily voiced them the same way in direct conversation. I think prayer bonds couples and families by revealing concerns and hopes while having everyone's attention focused on one thing (ideally--I have little kids, so...attention is never really focused on any one thing).

Secondly, for a heathen like me, my prayer practice actually depends on the day. Sometimes my hope is a little stronger and I can imagine myself praying to God. Other times, the idea of God serves as more of just a focal point for my meditations. But that works for me.

Either way, prayer centers individuals and families. That's valuable to me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Teaching my children the gospel

Coping as an agnostic Mormon is complicated, no matter how you shake it. But it becomes infinitely more so when you are leading (if you can actually call it that) little minds and souls through the haziness behind you.

How do I teach my children a gospel that I don't necessarily believe? This was one of my biggest issues with coming back to church for social reasons. I would be meeting my social needs for sure (my ward is fantastic!), but in the meantime, my children would be indoctrinated. That was a problem for me.

First, I and my husband had to acknowledge the possibility of these children growing up and becoming real, believing Mormons. And you know what we decided? There are much worse things for your children to become than good Mormons. So that was settled. Not only are we okay with that, we actually think it doesn't sound half bad. In fact, one of the things that keeps me going when I feel confused and otherwise unmotivated is that we actually want our kids to go to BYU! Even my husband, the dirty, dirty Ute. We have heard what goes on at other universities, and oh my gosh. Please, no. Plus, BYU is a steal! But if I want them to go there, or grow up in this church at all, I do feel like I should teach them the basics.

My hope testimony helps a lot. See, if I'm hoping that something is true, then I don't have a problem teaching it to my children. Unfortunately, when you get down to the nitty gritty details, it does become slightly more complicated.

Reactive teaching opportunities (or more accurately, obligations):

"Mom, where does Jesus live?"

"Mom, how did Heavenly Father make the first people?"

And so on.

There are a few ways I handle this. My beautiful and brilliant cousin, who has struggled with a lot of the same issues I have, clued me into the first two.

1) "When I was little, I was taught that..." This works for things related to faith, like encouraging your child to say a prayer about something. "When I was little, I was taught that if I prayed to Heavenly Father, He could help me feel better if I was scared." So I'm imparting the information I want to impart (because I really don't mind if my kid learns to believe these things), but I'm also not saying anything I don't technically believe.

2) "You know what? I bet Grandma could explain that to you." This is a great one when you have a mom and a mother-in-law like mine. They can impart the knowledge and faith, so my kid is getting it, but again, I'm not saying anything I don't technically believe.

3) "Some people believe that..." I can also say "we believe" if I feel comfortable with it. Some people believe that Heavenly Father created Adam and Eve, and they were the first people. Other people believe blah, blah, blah. The point is, I never answer questions like this with absolute certainty. I don't possess that certainty. Plus, I think it's fine for my kids to know the various answers people have to fundamental human questions, so I deliver those answers without judgment or condescension.

Then there's the issue of proactive teaching. If I want to be a good Mormon mommy, I should teach my kids about the scriptures and other good Mormony stuff, right?

With scriptures, heck, I just teach them as the stories that I view them to be. (See my thoughts on scriptures.) These are stories with good morals...usually. They're also a part of our cultural lore, and if I'm going to raise my children in this culture, I owe it to them to clue them into the culture's lore as well as its founding stories--some of which are pretty dang inspiring, whether you believe the doctrine of the church or not.

With other gospel principles, it just sort of depends on the topic. Who doesn't want to teach their children about kindness, honesty, service, etc? If there are scripture stories that help illustrate them, great. When it comes to things like baptism and the Word of Wisdom, I teach them in the way I personally believe them (hang tight for my thoughts on those topics). If my kids decide at some point to believe them another way, that's their choice. My main goal with those things is to make sure I'm not raising Judgy McHolier-than-thou.

So there ya go. I'm not lying to my children. I could obviously never do that in good conscience. But I am imparting the information and values that I want to impart. It's like walking on a tight rope--tricky, and I can't become complacent--but it's getting me where I want to go.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Warning: The following may be offensive to Mormon eyes.

Truth. Mormons love truth. They claim to be the only church that has all of it. They encourage the pursuit of it.

Fundamentally, I don't care about religious "truth" (and I apologize, but let's just pretend that all of my references to truth are in parenthese because I consider it to be a concept that is debatable, especially in areas like religion, philosophy, politics, etc.). I don't intend to pursue "truth" or a testimony of it, because I don't think it matters. Who cares what is "true"? I just care about what works for my life. This makes me a pretty bad Mormon. Given the Mormon obsession with truth, this kind of attitude is verging on wicked.

There are a few reasons that I don't care to pursue truth.

First, if there is a God and if there is a life after this one and if our status in that life is based on a judgment by said God, I just can't bring myself to believe that that judgment is going to be based on whether or not we knew what was true about the foundations of the earth or what comes after this life or whatever else this elusive "truth" encapsulates. I hope that judment has to do with how we treated each other and what kind of people we were . And since lots of different beliefs about what is true can lead to that good behavior and can nurture good hearts, I just don't think it matters.

Secondly, I think that the pursuit of truth can be a major barrier to action. Insisting that truth exists compels some people (usually the most honest and sincere ones) to search for it and search for it and ultimately require themselves to find it before they can commit to a set of principles. The pursuit of truth can also drive otherwise happy and satisfied people away from good principles. It makes me sad (and okay, sometimes it makes me laugh) to hear of Mormons talking themselves out of church activity because of some random historical inconsistency in the Book of Mormon, or because of some artifact found or not found in Central America. Those people obviously feel that a church needs to be "true", through and through, in order for them to participate in and benefit from it. And that's too bad.

Third, insisting on the existence of truth is divisive. It builds barriers and makes people think they have special authority or rights or whatever, just because they "possess" it. Mormons are obviously a peaceful people, but look at the potential for harm that comes with some versions of truth and the people who consider themselves privileged enough to possess it. On a less dramataic scale, it can make people exclusive. Why do they exclude? Because they possess truth and the "others" do not. They feel superior because they have apparently found the truth. Then there's the opposite of exclusion--the compulsion to convince everyone else that you have found the truth. You're so fortunate to possess it that you have to go tell everyone else and get them to accept the same thing. Again, a divisive practice.

Fourth, I don't care about the pursuit of truth because at my core, I am agnostic. I don't believe that anyone can really know any of these things. And I just don't accept what are fundamentally emotional experiences as evidence of anything but the fact that someone loves and cares about what they are reading or thinking about or doing. I'm happy that they love it! But, for me, it doesn't mean anything beyond that. Since I don't believe that anyone can really know "truth", particularly as it pertains to religious questions, why would I spend my time looking for it or trying to verify or disprove various claims to it? Doesn't seem like a good use of time.

Ultimately, I'm a pragmatist. I don't care what is true, I care about what works. Mormonism makes me happy, it has the potential to make me a better person and to strengthen my family, so I intend to participate in it. But I do so as a choice, because I believe that religion is just that: a choice. You can't prove (or disprove) it with history, science, your feelings, or the Holy Ghost. You just choose to believe it or you choose not to. Period.

I can no longer require myself to believe the Church's doctrine in order to to participate in and benefit from its organization and programs. On a practical level, this approach is tricky. How do you sing hymns, or pray, or read scriptures if you fundamentally don't believe the content? That's where my hope testimony comes in.