Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year to all! It's a great time to remember that all we have is the present. So let's focus on a few things we should be doing to make the most of life.

1. Develop and show more empathy.
Nothing will make human existence better faster than trying to sincerely understand what others are going through. Empathy pacifies and unifies. We're all safer and happier with empathy.

2. Show more gratitude.
Gratitude requires a dose of humility. You have to slough off the notion that you earned and deserve everything you have and instead recognize the roll others have played and play in your life. Life gets better with gratitude.

3. Keep your nose out for bullshit.
A sucker is born every minute. Bullshitters are born every few seconds. We're all prone to make shit up and pass it off on others, but we can curb that tendency. Question others and question yourself. What you've been told is gospel truth very well may not be. What you tell yourself is true might very well be false. Keep an eye on the rhetoric people use to convince you one way or another. Take the time to engage with serious research. Some rational skepticism can go a long way in keeping the bullshit away.

4. Have some fun.
Life is short. Moments are fleeting. Have a laugh.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Google "Joseph Smith's wives" or "Fanny Alger"

If you search for "Joseph Smith's wives" in Google, please take the time to scroll to the end of the names and pictures at the top. It looks something like this:

It would appear that Fanny's picture comes from my blog post about her. I got it from this AMAZING VIDEO. Amazing as it is, it's not entirely accurate. No angel with a drawn sword was needed to convince Joseph Smith to practice polygamy until the early 1840s, several years after he had hooked up with Fanny and a few others. That's right, it doesn't make sense and it's not the only thing about the sword story that doesn't make sense.

The doubters seem well pleased. Emma looks pissed.

I'm just happy to have helped make a slight difference in the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Communist conspiracies

Remember how Ezra Benson was absolutely petrified by the Red Scare? This man, a prophet of God gifted with the privileges of visions, prophesy and discernment, couldn't sort his shit out when it came to world politics.

Shit like this kills me now. I could never quite believe that Communism was Satan's version of the United Order. It always felt like a wishful conclusion on the part of my church leaders and teachers. But I find it extremely problematic that a true prophet of God would get so carried away in McCarthyism and political scare tactics that he couldn't help but marry them to Mormonism. Talk about philosophies of man mingled with scripture!

Though I doubted it for years, I can now comfortably say the Ezra was a product of his time and clown of a prophet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How the LDS Church is different

While out and about seeking new investigators as a missionary, I often heard the question "How is your church different from mine?" As far as I could tell, it was almost always a sincere question. It's also an excellent question. If Mormonism has nothing exceptional to offer then there's probably not a great reason for joining it.

Hearing the question filled me with a mix of joy and anxiety. On the one hand I was thrilled to be given the open door invitation to talk about how awesome the Church is, but on the other hand I knew my major selling points weren't exactly the most impressive.

1. We have a living prophet like Noah and Moses! He tells us all the useful and relevant things God wants us to know for these very times.

Typical responses to this depending on one's religion went something like this: 1) Cool, we have a guy like that too!, 2) We don't need someone like that because we have a book of scripture that's still perfectly relevant or 3) We don't need that sort of thing because we have the Spirit guiding us at all times. At that point you had to then make the case for how much more impressive the LDS prophet was than their figure head, book or ability to listen and understand the will of God via his Holy Spirit. It was never an easy task. I always sought a fine balance of diplomacy and conviction, hoping and praying that the Spirit would fill my mouth with just the right words.

Inevitably discussions would arrive at the point where I have to explain what the prophet has said recently that was so great and so clearly prophetic. That's where all momentum was lost because no LDS prophet since Joseph Smith has done much of anything at all.

2. We have The Book of Mormon (and other new scripture)!

 This comment usually would of course get some people saying the Bible is all you need, but usually people would ask what it said that was so great. At that point I or my companion would share the wonderful tale of Jews settling parts of the Americas in 600 BCE, how they tried killing each other until the resurrected Jesus stopped by to set them straight, at which point they lived happily for 200 years until they eventually decided that killing each other was better. This only ever impressed uneducated people. Everyone else waited patiently until we left them alone.

3. We have the same power and authority held by Jesus Christ himself during his earthly ministry!

This usually got a response similar to "Oh, we've totally got that!" but would also receive challenges like "Great. Go ahead and tell me about the miracles you've performed." In the first case you had to get into the same type of debate mentioned above in number 1. How do you tell someone who believes they have the power of Jesus available to them that they really don't, at least not to the same degree that you do? And how do you prove it? I hadn't performed any miraculous healings, cast devil spirits into swine, fed thousands of people on scraps or kicked thousands of people out of a house of worship for not being reverent enough. All I had to offer were the miracle stories I had grown up with - stories about Joseph Smith, pioneers and the bishop of the brother of the one guy in my ward who maybe healed the child of a family he home taught - and those, I'm telling you, failed to convince. More often than not my miracle stories were met with other miracle stories that sounded just as awesome if not a little bit more grandiose.

4. We know that families can be together forever!

I could never understand how people weren't more impressed by this claim to Mormon exceptionalism. Most people were absolutely unimpressed by this doctrine we hold so dear. I met people who were sincerely confused that we would think our family mattered once we were in heaven. Weren't we all going to be one gigantic family anyway? Other people were annoyed by the idea that they would be stuck with family in heaven. Why should they be happy spending an eternity with people they don't especially care to see now? What's the point of having our earthly family in heaven? What problem does it solve? Will Mom still have meals to cook and dishes to do? Will Dad have to keep the Pearly Gates oiled and our misbehaving hides tanned?

5. We can teach you how to have a direct, personal relationship with God the Father. 

Most religious people we encountered had already heard this from their current religion. Communion with the Divine is an extremely popular and persistent promise of religions across the world. Trying to convince religious people that their previous encounters weren't as personal or frequent or powerful as they were with Mormons was a great way to offend people. Occasionally, however, we would find someone who had been longing to escape the chill of the Universe and make a connection with a loving god they hadn't yet known. These were our moments of elation. They occasionally turned into baptisms. I saw people enthusiastically accept baptism and I LOVED it. It made me feel so good. Unfortunately I saw almost all of those people leave the Church in frustration, the same frustration of others who tried and failed to make the connection as well as those who thought they had succeeded only to find themselves once again cold and alone.

I wondered if God simply didn't have time for his children. I wondered if God was testing how long we could hold our breath underwater. I wondered if God was as good as we say he is. I wondered why God would be so stingy. I wondered why I believed in God at all.

Why believe in this amazing father god if he can't stick with us despite our total loyalty? How is that any better than worshiping an idol? How is my god any better than the those worshiped by people I contacted daily on my mission?

For years I assumed that people couldn't see why Mormonism was so special because they weren't giving it a fair shake. Now I see that Mormonism has nothing different to offer the world. It's the same slop with a different name. I can see no reason why the LDS Church should be considered a "true" church, let alone The One True Church.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

My worthiness interview

It's absurd that members aren't given the temple recommend questions and told to assess themselves rather than having to sit down one on one with a non-discerning authority figure. If I were called into the bishop's office today to have a worthiness interview I think it would go something like this.

1. Do you believe in God, the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost; and do you have a firm testimony of the restored gospel?

I definitely don't believe in the Mormon gods. Claiming you're the offspring of total knowledge and power is ridiculous. Believing that you can physically harm someone for a few hours and have everyone's mistakes disappear is absurd. I'm not entirely sure what the Holy Ghost is but it sounds like supernatural malarkey. As far as I'm concerned the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just an ugly latecomer branch to the tree of Christianity, definitely not a divine replanting.

2. Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?

Thomas Monson has shared no prophesies, no visions, and has revealed nothing noteworthy to the world. I respect that he has inspired millions of people to be kind to one another, but his priesthood is imaginary and his authority exists only within the confines of belief within the worldly organization he represents.

3. Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?

Of course not. These men have no divine authority. However I do feel sympathetic to many of their trials. Dedicating endless hours to other people's problems is not easy, and I applaud their sincere efforts to help other people feel loved and accepted. Those in authority who belittle others, pile on guilt, and needle their underlings for more money can do us all a favor and step in front of an oncoming train.

4. Do you live the law of chastity?

What I do with my genitals is absolutely none of your business. 

5. Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?

I hold a mild grudge against my father. I can't imagine you care, nor can I imagine you have advise that will help fix it.

6. Do you affiliate with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or do you sympathize with the precepts of any such group or individual?

Definitely. Every degree I've worked on has come from an institution who's teachings and practices are contrary to those of the Church. That includes BYU. Many of my close friends "teach" and "practice" things that are unaccepted by the Church. Members of my family often try to convince others of concepts and practices that go against the Church's teachings. I also advocate against many Church teachings.

7. Do you earnestly strive to do your duty in the Church; to attend your sacrament, priesthood, and other meetings; and to obey the rules, laws, and commandments of the gospel?

I acknowledge no duty to the Church and stopped attending years ago. The rules the Church has set up are of no account to me.

8. Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?

I use an online alias. I suppose I could be more straightforward there.

9. Are you a full-tithe payer?

I pay no money to the Church.

10. Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?

No. I like green and black teas and occasionally enjoy wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. I also eat too much meat.

11. Have you ever been divorced or are you now separated from your spouse under order of a civil court?


12. If you have received your temple endowment -- (a) Do you keep all the covenants that you made in the temple? (b) Do you wear the authorized garments both day and night?

No. I am repulsed by the absurdity of the temple in all respects. I deplore it. I do not regard what is done there as sacred. I do not consider the covenants made there to be of any effect (especially considering how they are presented without previous disclosure and in a high pressure setting).

13. Has there been any sin or misdeed in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but has not?

I never should have gone to my priesthood leaders about any of my sins. Unfortunately I did. I talked privately with men about masturbation and dry humping my girlfriend. Those men didn't need to hear it. I should have shown more respect to myself and to my former girlfriend and kept it to myself.

14. Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?

I have no interest in participating in most temple ordinances. I would however like to attend marriages of friends and family. I definitely consider myself worthy of that - much more worthy than Joseph Smith the con man, fraud, emotional abuser and child molester ever was.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Back to you, Dieter

Dear Dieter,

Two years ago I started this blog because you recycled a mind-numbingly stupid slogan about how we needed to be aggressively critical towards our doubts instead of towards our faith. It's a slogan that suggests we should engage in self-censorship by turning a blind eye to unfavorable information. You suggest that ignorance is better than honesty. The fact is it's not.

In one of your talks earlier this month, you repackage the story of Daniel ("and other young students in Israel") in Babylon like it's the story of a young, enthusiastic Mormon headed off to a liberal university where he must resist the peer pressure to adopt the philosophies of man. "But Daniel believed. Daniel did not doubt." It's a clever move. It's also a very misleading juxtaposition. To suggest that today's higher education systems throughout the world are comparable to the vicious theocracy of King Nebuchadnezzar in which nonconformists are burned alive is, in a word, bizarre. Seriously, the Babylonian "team of scholars" (the Bible says "magicians and astrologers") has nothing to do with thousands upon thousands of highly trained researchers across the world who endlessly critique each other's work. Daniel, the Israelite captive carried off to be indoctrinated probably has more in common with young LDS missionaries than college students being pressured to binge drink with their fraternities and sororities.
Just think about it. I am, Dieter, and I think your analogy sucks. How much easier would it have been for Daniel to simply go along with the ways of Babylon? I don't know. I imagine he would have faced some pressure from his fellow Isrealites in captivity and I can't imagine how attractive the Babylonian belief system would have been, if at all. Please don't think that replacing one's belief system is easy. When a belief system is not yours, you're mostly likely going to think it's obviously ridiculous. He could have set aside the restrictive code of conduct God had given the children of Israel. He could have feasted on the rich foods provided by the king and indulged in the worldly pleasures of the natural man. Think of all the vile bacon he could have been eating! He would have avoided ridicule. I didn't see where in the book of Daniel it mentions ridicule. Can I get a verse on that?
He would have been popular. WTF? He was the prince of the eunuch's favorite and one of Nebuchadnezzar's top four councilors.
He would have fit in. Poor kid. At least the totalitarian king loved him. :S
His path might have been much less complicated. Had he just drank the Kool-aid, er... wine...
As silly as your talk is up to this point, it's outdone in the next section where you blame it all on Satan and shame people who are skeptical or have doubts.
Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail. Satan is an early Christian invention, not an actual spirit being. He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. What lies? That Joseph Smith had a history of making shit up to get money out of people starting from his early teens? That he plagiarized and falsified rather than actually translate? That he cheated on his wife many, many times and tried to exonerate himself with a fabricated revelation? He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naive, blind, or brainwashed. No, that's not Satan, that's logic. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets. No one's doubting because it's "cool", you asshole! People doubt because they see various inconsistencies in the theory of spiritual gifts and the teachings of those claiming to be prophets. Most of us don't go hunting for them; they arise naturally throughout the years of indoctrination. Right now you sound like the type of person who would claim fossils were put on earth by Satan to deceive us.
And now for the token quote from this train wreck of a prophetic message - the part where you call doubters ignoble, unimpressive, lazy, morally weak, disloyal and cowardly.
Brethren, let me be clear: there is nothing noble or impressive about being cynical. Skepticism is easy—anyone can do it. It is the faithful life that requires moral strength, dedication, and courage. Those who hold fast to faith are far more impressive than those who give in to doubt when mysterious questions or concerns arise.
Who the fuck do you think you're fooling? First off, don't conflated cynicism for skepticism. Now let me show you the other side:
Following your family, your friends and your community in their beliefs is easy. It's great having everyone around you be in constant agreement because they think like you do. It's very hard when you don't share the beliefs of your community and you live your life as an outsider. Your kids might even have a hard time finding friends whose parents will let them come over to play. But it is the sincere life of inquiry and careful judgement that requires moral strength, dedication and courage! Those who hold fast to integrity of thought and open-mindedness are far more impressive than those who allow their family or the geographical location in which they were born to provide a prepared set of default answers to questions or concerns about your worldview.

You end your talk with the horrible idea that we simply choose to believe because somehow that will make all the absurdities of the LDS history and doctrine magically disappear. You're asking us to shut off our brains, to stop thinking. Most people can't do this. Most people will struggle silently with cognitive dissonance, will wear out their knees praying for answers, will hate themselves for not understanding and not getting any divine enlightenment. Others will have the courage and good sense to accept the reality of life on earth and walk away from the Church.

Dieter, you should be ashamed of yourself. Your talk will hurt thousands of people who are struggling to make Mormonism work somehow. My only consolation is that the only reason you gave this talk in the first place is because so many people are leaving the Church. You're desperate. You can't defend the Church with facts, so you attack the people who have seen the facts. How cowardly of you.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dale Renlund criticized

The most lowly of the new LDS apostles is Dale Renlund. It's time we consider his witness of Jesus as offered earlier this month.

My dear brothers and sisters, thank you for sustaining me yesterday as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I didn't. I'm not sorry. It is hard to express how much that means to me. Are you going to try? I was especially grateful for the sustaining vote of the two extraordinary women in my life: my wife, Ruth, and our dear, dear, dear daughter, Ashley. You didn't try to express how much being sustained means to you. Hi, Ashley, you little dear you!!!

My call gives ample evidence to the truthfulness of the Lord’s statement early in this dispensation: “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.” Right, because nothing screams "weak and simple" like a white dude from the United States with a top education and a healthy income as a cardiologist and professor. :S I am one of those weak and simple. Um... maybe "weakling" and "simpleton", but let's not pretend you've been dredged up from the lowly of the low. Decades ago, when I was called to be the bishop of a ward in the eastern United States, my brother, slightly older and much wiser than I, called me on the phone. You're really hammering away at the false humility bullshit and you only just started. In the words of Dieter: STOP IT! He said, “You need to know that the Lord hasn’t called you because of anything you have done. The bishop called you because you insisted you don't look at porn or cheat on your wife. In your case, it is probably in spite of what you have done. We all know you touch yourself sometimes. The Lord has called you for what He needs to do through you, and that will happen only if you do it His way.” He needs you to avoid counseling people and refer them instead to professionals. I recognize that this wisdom from an older brother applies even more today. Definitely. Now that you're in the big time you're probably going to start thinking you're way hot shit. Remember, you're a cardiologist, not someone channeling the mind and will of Jesus for the masses.

Something wonderful happens in a missionary’s service when he or she realizes that the calling is not about him or her; rather, it is about the Lord, His work, and Heavenly Father’s children. You're God's little pawn and it's beautiful. I feel the same is true for an Apostle. It probably is about the same. This calling is not about me. It had nothing to with your close vicinity and sucking up to the hierarchy? It’s about the Lord, His work, and Heavenly Father’s children. Let's see what you can do to increase the Church's spending for the homeless and hungry rather than real estate and city development. No matter what the assignment or calling is in the Church, to serve capably, one must serve knowing that everyone we serve “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, … has a divine nature and destiny.” Well, not everyone. Some beloved spirit children are destined for something less than divine. Most actually. But don't worry, God loves you lots.

In my past profession, I was a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and transplantation, with many patients who were critically ill. How lowly! :S My wife jokingly says that it was a bad prognostic sign to become one of my patients. Your wife's not very funny. All teasing aside, I saw many people die, and I developed a kind of emotional distance when things went poorly. What a horribly segue. You really are a calloused man. That way, feelings of sadness and disappointment were tempered.

In 1986 a young man named Chad developed heart failure and received a heart transplant. Oh lord. Is this a story about how you cried once back in 1986?! He did very well for a decade and a half. Chad did all he could to stay healthy and live as normal a life as possible. He served a mission, worked, and was a devoted son to his parents. What does "devoted to his parents" mean? The last few years of his life, though, were challenging, and he was in and out of the hospital frequently. So he did died. Did you cry?

One evening, he was brought to the hospital’s emergency department in full cardiac arrest. My associates and I worked for a long time to restore his circulation. Finally, it became clear that Chad could not be revived. We stopped our futile efforts, and I declared him dead. Although sad and disappointed, I maintained a professional attitude. I thought to myself, “Chad has had good care. He has had many more years of life than he otherwise would have had.” Yes, he did have many more years... THANKS TO MEDICAL SCIENCE, not a miracle. That emotional distance soon shattered as his parents came into the emergency room bay and saw their deceased son lying on a stretcher. In that moment, I saw Chad through his mother’s and father’s eyes. I'm not sure how you can claim you saw him through their eyes, but empathy is a beautiful thing so whatever. I saw the great hopes and expectations they had had for him, the desire they had had that he would live just a little bit longer and a little bit better. Sad. With this realization, I began to weep. Ah-ha! This story is about you crying! Lovely. I'm feeling the Spirit now! :S In an ironic reversal of roles and in an act of kindness I will never forget, Chad’s parents comforted me. And it was awkward as hell for them.

I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. This is the god who saw fit to exile a full one third of his spirit children eternally and exile the other two thirds for some kind of poorly thought out test. Those involved in the test have seen their father do strange things. He drown 99.99% of them one day, ordered genocide another, has left and continues to leave millions upon millions to suffer sicknesses and various calamities, and has never even sent a prophet or Mormon missionary to explain why it was all happening to the vast majority of his children on earth. I'll tell you now, as a parent, I cannot relate to this being. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. This god sells life cheap. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. His unconditional love requiring baptism and full conformity to his arbitrary set of rules? We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes. Can you imagine what it would be like to see what God sees? Everything that is, ever was and will be all at the same time! Talk about a headache. This expanded perspective will open our hearts to the disappointments, fears, and heartaches of others. God is perfect - he's whole and complete - why would he be vulnerable to disappointment, fear and heartache? But Heavenly Father will aid and comfort us, just as Chad’s parents comforted me years ago. Of course he'll craddle us and tell us it's OK that Jesus died, he's the one who ordered him dead in the first place. The difference is that God got his son back in a few hours, Chad's parents are still dealing with their son's absence to this day. We need to have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that know and feel if we are to accomplish the rescue so frequently encouraged by President Thomas S. Monson. What rescue is that? The rescue of human souls? I'm sure it sounds important to be part of a "rescue".

Only when we see through Heavenly Father’s eyes can we be filled with “the pure love of Christ.” Let me simply point out that the terms you're using are confusing. I want to think you're talking about empathy and selflessness. Those are wonderful things. I hope that's what you're trying to say. Every day we should plead with God for this love. Hey, if it helps you treat others better, go for it. Mormon admonished, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” Mormon sounds like a 19th century revivalist preacher. I'm about to fall to the ground struck by the Spirit!

With all my heart I want to be a true follower of Jesus Christ. That shouldn't be hard. You just imagine him however you like him and imagine he thinks more or less like you do. Historically that's how everyone has approached following him. I love Him. Gay! I adore Him. Don't let him walk all over you. Make him respect you! I witness of His living reality. Are you saying you've seen him? Alive? Did you talk to him? Did he really call you to be a "special witness"? Does what you just said mean anything other than "I believe Jesus is a living person somewhere in or outside of the Universe"? I witness that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah. In other words, the Christ. Yeah, yeah. How did you "witness" this anointing? What are you referring to exactly? I am a witness of His incomparable mercy, compassion, and love. You obviously haven't read The book of Mormon. Jesus is not merciful or particularly loving in that book. I add my testimony to that of the Apostles who, in the year 2000, stated “that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. … He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world.” That string of "special" witnessing put a load of heavy questions on my shelf of doubt. I testify that on a day in 1820 in a grove in upstate New York, the risen Lord appeared, along with God, our Heavenly Father, to the Prophet Joseph Smith, just as Joseph Smith said They did. To quote a creationist asshole named John Ham, "WERE YOU THERE?" The historical record indicates that the event you're talking about is a narrative invented by Joseph Smith years after the alleged date in his constant effort to reinforce his authority over his followers. Priesthood keys are on earth today to enable saving and exalting ordinances. The restoration of the Priesthood is another post hoc fabrication. I know it. Ahem! You "believe" it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. No. This is false witnessing. Fuck everything you said except the part about being nice to other people and trying to see their hardships from their perspective.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Gary Stevenson criticized

I think it's only fair that we take a look a the words of our newly called apostles. We all deserve to know just what exactly they can testify of. What witness can they give? Elder Stevenson's recent General Conference talk with my comments.

Dear brothers and sisters, it has been many decades since a general conference has been convened that President Boyd K. Packer and Elders L. Tom Perry and Richard G. Scott were not seated immediately behind the podium and speaking at one of these sessions. It's also been many decades that people have been hoping and praying that Boyd just fucking die already. That man was a monster. Our memories of them are poignant, and I add my tribute to honor them, each so uniquely different yet so harmonized in their witness and testimony of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. It's not too hard to harmonize when both their witnesses and the Atonement are complete mysteries. None of them ever claimed to have seen Jesus and none of them ever gave a satisfactory explanation of the Atonement.

Furthermore, I, like you, find strength in and sustain President Thomas S. Monson as prophet, seer, and revelator, and I marvel at his faithful and dutiful apostolic service spanning over 50 remarkable years. Like me? Never in my life have I been impressed with Monson's record as a prophet, seer or revelator (but it was rumored in the mission that he had a photographic memory and that impressed me).

And so it was on Tuesday morning of this week, just after 9:00 a.m. as the Bishopric was beginning a meeting with the Asia Area Presidency, who are here for conference, that I was called to meet with President Monson, along with his counselors. "And so it was"? Where did that come from? You weren't telling a story or any kind of narrative that calls for a "and so it was". Moments later, as I walked into the boardroom adjacent to his office, I must have looked nervous sitting across the table, as he kindly spoke to calm my nerves. It's nice to know Tommy remembered his manners considering he can remember so little these days. He commented, noting my age, that I seemed quite young and even looked younger than my age. This sentence is both horribly redundant and hardly information worthy of your audience. I hope you get better at telling stories real fast.

Then, within a few moments, President Monson described that acting on the will of the Lord, he was extending a call to the Quorum of the Twelve to me. How do we know he was acting on the will of the Lord? Was Jesus to busy to call his own "special witness"? He asked me if I would accept this call, to which, following what I am sure was a very undignified audible gasp, in complete shock, I responded affirmatively. "Guh! Wha? Really? You want me to back the Porche out of the garage? Wow! OK, sure!" Dude, Gary, where was your wife in all this? And then, before I could even verbalize a tsunami of indescribable emotion, most of which were feelings of inadequacy, President Monson kindly reached out to me, describing how he was called many years ago as an Apostle by President David O. McKay, at which time he too felt inadequate. But don't worry, you'll learn to fake the shit out of this whole apostle thing! And the pain of being a fraud fades fast. He calmly instructed me, “Bishop Stevenson, the Lord will qualify those whom He calls.” You'll soon find justifications for why your "special witness" consists of nothing more then the same happy feelings that make a Mia Maid cry at girl's camp. It's your position, bro! It's the cumulative faith of everyone who believes you have a particularly special relationship with Jesus not unlike the one the original apostles had 2000 years ago. These soothing words of a prophet have been a source of peace, a calm in a storm of painful self-examination and tender feelings in the ensuing agonizing hours which have passed day and night since then. Monson the soothsayer. I don't think Mormons are supposed to like soothsayers. Flattering people is a no no.

I rehearsed what I have just described to you to my sweet companion, Lesa, later that day, seated in a quiet corner on Temple Square, with a serene view of the temple and the historic Tabernacle lying before us. Oh, here she is! Isn't it beautiful how Tommy and his crew took no consideration of her in this whole process and left it entirely up to you? I'm sure she was thrilled to have this new popped on her like an unexpected wedding engagement! :S As we tried to comprehend and process the events of the day, we found our anchor to be our faith in Jesus Christ and our knowledge of the great plan of happiness. In other words you sat around confessing that you had no idea what the fuck was going on, but it's all good because Jesus is rad and his plan is the best? Whatever works for you, man. This leads to an expression of my deepest love for Lesa. She is the sunshine in and of my life and a remarkable daughter of God. Sounds... condescending... Hers is a life punctuated by selfless service and unconditional love of all. So she's the perfect Mormon woman who has given up everything to bear children and watch her husband move up the ladder of success. How 1950s of you two. I will strive to remain worthy of the blessing of our eternal union. It's time to close your Ashley Madison account.

I express my deepest love to our four sons and their families, three of whom are here with their beautiful wives, the mothers of our six grandchildren; the fourth, a missionary, has special permission to stay up past missionary curfew and is viewing these proceedings live with his mission president and the mission president’s wife from their mission home in Taiwan. Oh, the mandatory pater familias creds. No thanks. I love each of them and love how they love the Savior and the gospel. Chances are one of those grandkids is going to up and leave the Church one day. I hope you still love him or her then.

I express my love to each member of my family: to my dear mother and to my father, who passed away last year, who instilled in me a testimony which seemed to dwell in me from my earliest memories. That's called childhood indoctrination. Had you been born in another part of the world, just imagine what you might have known from the earliest age. I further extend this gratitude to my brother, sisters, and their faithful spouses, as well as Lesa’s family, many of whom are actually here today. They didn't fucking nominate you for an award, man. This isn't the Oscars. I cast this net of gratitude to numerous extended family, friends, missionaries, leaders, and teachers along the way. Now thank Jesus for looking favorably upon your whiteness and delightsomeness.

I have been blessed with a close association with the members of the First Presidency, the Twelve, the Seventy, and the general auxiliary presidencies. I express my love and esteem to each of you sisters and brothers and will strive to be worthy of our continued association. This sounds like a business promotion speech. The Presiding Bishopric enjoys an almost heavenly unity. Sounds sexual. I will miss my association each day with Bishop Gérald Caussé, Bishop Dean M. Davies, and the staff. Especially the hot young staffers (you know who you are!).

I stand before you as evidence of the words of the Lord recorded in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “That the fulness of [the] gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the [earth], and before kings and rulers.” Enough with the false humility bullshit. You and Ronny are probably going to get into fights over who's the most humble about your new calling. These words are preceded by the Lord’s declaration which demonstrates the love of a Father for His children: “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” Right, because fathers who love their kids a ton call up one of them - and only one (who happens to live in an extremely remote part of the world) - to give emergency preparedness instructions. Contacting each child individually is too time consuming for a father. By the way, is this the same father who called a council in heaven? He obviously regretted calling it.

Our loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jehovah, with a knowledge of the end from the beginning, opened the heavens and a new dispensation to offset the calamities that They knew would come. Oh, Mormon polytheism, how the rest of the Christian world deplores it! The Apostle Paul described the forthcoming calamities as “perilous times.” Fear mongering. For me, this suggests that Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fulness of times. Yes! It's so wonderful living in a day and age when polygamy and abstinence from coffee have been restored! It totally makes up for all the killing going on around us constantly. :S

As I agonized over my inadequacies this week, I received a distinct impression which both chastened and comforted me: to focus not on what I can’t do but rather on what I can do. Whoa! This almost sounds like a spiritual experience! It's not quite a visitation from Jesus, but we'll be damned if we don't take it! I can testify of the plain and precious truths of the gospel. Which are what? I'm only asking because nothing in Mormonism seems very clear or precious to me these days.

These are the words which I have shared hundreds of times with both those who belong to the Church and many who are not members: “God is our [loving] Heavenly Father. I seriously doubt that. We are His children. I so doubt that. … He weeps with us when we suffer and rejoices when we do what is right. I can't see how that's even possible. He wants to communicate with us, and we can communicate with Him through sincere prayer. I've tried it often. It never worked.

“Heavenly Father has provided us, His children, with a way to … return to live in His presence. He's got an awesome TV, a huge Blue Ray collection, tons of tasty treats, cozy furniture and is a generous cuddler. … Central to our [Heavenly] Father’s plan is Jesus Christ’s Atonement.” Ah, yes. The Atonement! That nonsensical act in which torture and bloodshed satiated the demands of some powerful law that God himself couldn't disregard or build around. 

Heavenly Father sent His Son to the earth to atone for the sins of all mankind. Because he was powerless to forgive. He absolutely had to have payment for every last sin. Of these plain and precious truths I bear my testimony, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. Oh, shit! These were the "plain and precious truths"? I'm not better off in understanding this stuff than I was before.

Ronny Rasband criticized

I think it's only fair that we take a look a the words of our newly called apostles. Which ones were visited of Christ on the road to Damascus? Which ones were chosen Michael Corleone-style ("I don't need tough guys. I need more lawyers")? Let's start with Elder Rasband as he's highest on the ladder. What follows is his recent General Conference talk with my comments.

My dear brothers and sisters throughout the world, I’m very grateful to the First Presidency for inviting me to share my humble testimony this Sabbath day. The words of a favorite Latter-day Saint hymn describe my current feelings:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, (Jesus? I thought you were talking about your gratitude toward the First Presidency.)
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me. … (Are you hiding sins from him? Repent!)
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine, (It's definitely a rare trip for him.)
That he should extend his great love unto such as I, (Give yourself a break! Remember, he made you the way you are so he'd have to be a total jerk to deny you his love because you're a flawed being.)
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify. … (I could probably do without you, if that makes you feel any better.)
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me! (It's always all about you, isn't it?)
A few days ago I had the great privilege to meet with the First Presidency and receive this call from our dear prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. Not from Jesus? Are you just trusting Tommy is passing along JC's divine word? If so, how does that make you a "special witness of Christ"? I want to witness to all of you of the strength and love President Monson had as he said to me, “This call comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Later in this conference we got to see some of that strength as he finished a talk entirely slumped over the pulpit. It sounds like you're putting all your bets on the charisma of an elderly man and none on an experience with divinity.

I am overwhelmed and shaken to my very core to consider the import and significance of those words so tenderly spoken by our loving prophet. This is the second time you mention love, but what about reality or truth? Lies and falsehoods can be spoken in loving tones. President Monson, President Eyring, President Uchtdorf, I love you and will serve the Lord and you with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength. Way to kiss the ring, buddy.

Oh, how I have loved President Boyd K. Packer and Elders L. Tom Perry and Richard G. Scott. Oh, who cares? What's important is that you can bear "special witness" of Jesus Christ. I dearly miss them. I assume they were friends of yours to some degree. I'm sorry for your loss. I am blessed to have been trained and taught at the feet of these dear Brethren. The ass kissing here isn't warming my heart. Sorry. Not in the smallest part am I able to walk in their shoes, yet I am honored to stand tall on their shoulders and carry on in the Lord’s ministry. WTF? This exaggerated humility thing is repugnant. Can you, or can you not testify to having seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus?

When I think of those who have helped make me who I am, I think first of my sweet and selfless eternal companion, Melanie. "Sweet"? Of course, that's how Mormons like their women, sweet and self-sacrificing. Through the years, she has helped mold me like potter’s clay into a more polished disciple of Jesus Christ. Like in the movie Ghost, right? That's some sexy shit. Her love and support, and that of our 5 children, their spouses, and our 24 grandchildren, sustain me. Really? You had to share the numbers? When are Mormons going to stop bragging with posterity tallies? To my dear family, I love you. This is the best line of your talk so far.

"This represents the penis of our Lord. We seek after this thing."

Like Nephi of old, I was born of goodly parents in the gospel and they of goodly parents back six generations. Huh? Are you dissing your ancestors seven generations back or just prepping us for a brag about your long LDS lineage? My earliest ancestors who joined the Church were from England and Denmark. Like everyone else in Utah. These early pioneers gave their all to the gospel of Jesus Christ and leave a legacy for their posterity to follow. Low education and a propensity for credulity? I am so grateful for a multigenerational Latter-day Saint family, and I know this is a worthy goal for all of us to strive for. Are you shitting on people who don't have a multigenerational LDS family "legacy"? What's so great about it anyway?

Many others have contributed to preparing my life for this new call. They include my childhood friends and family, early leaders, teachers, and lifelong mentors. This sounds a lot like my mission farewell talk. It also sounds a bit like an award acceptance speech. I hope you thank God or Jesus here soon. I must include those from my early mission to the eastern states and our beloved missionaries from the New York New York North Mission. Ah, I get what this is. It's your Mormon resume. You have to let us know why you were hired for the job. For the many who have influenced and shaped my life, I am most grateful. You're most welcome, probably. 

I have cherished serving with my Brethren of the Seventy. For 15 years I have been in one of the greatest quorums and loving brotherhoods of the Church. Thank you, my dear fellow servants. Now suck it, cuz I'm a mo'fuckin' apostle, bitchez!! Now I look forward to belonging to a new quorum. A quorum not shared with anyone who isn't white and sporting two really big testicles. President Russell M. Nelson, my love is deep for you and each member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I'll "anoint" you with oil any time you want.

Sister Rasband and I have been blessed to visit members during many assignments in congregations and missions around the world. We love the Latter-day Saints everywhere! Naturally. Your faith has increased our faith; your testimonies have added to our testimony. You know what, I'm going to have to agree with you on this. There's something empowering about traveling the world and seeing Mormons abroad do their best to be like you and adopt your way of thinking. It makes you feel like your way really is the right way and you want to cheer them on. It's pretty much an imperialistic ego boost, but it's there. It's real.

Now, if I could leave one small message with you today, it would be this: the Lord has said, “Love one another; as I have loved you.” That's one of JC's finer messages. I’m confident that there is no choice, sin, or mistake that you or anyone else can make that will change His love for you or for them. And yet you quoted a song at the beginning of your talk that expresses a sort of disbelief that he would love you at all. Isn't that a bit inconsistent of you? That does not mean He excuses or condones sinful conduct—I’m sure He does not—but it does mean we are to reach out to our fellowman in love to invite, persuade, serve, and rescue. What makes you so sure that he doesn't "excuse or condone sinful conduct"? Did he talk to you about it? I also don't understand your transition from "Jesus loves you" to "that means we have to reach out and save people". Jesus loves us so we have to reach out and save? If he loves us why doesn't he reach out? And why do we have to save people when Jesus, the Savior allegedly already took care of that? Jesus Christ looked past people’s ethnicity, rank, and circumstances in order to teach them this profound truth. But he took special care to select white men in Utah to teach this... um... "profound truth".

I have been asked many times when I received my testimony. I can’t remember not believing in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Because you were born in an active LDS family that took special care to effectively cultivate you. Had you been born in another part of the world, just imagine what you wouldn't remember not believing. I have loved Them since I learned of Them at the knees of my angel mother, reading scripture and gospel stories. "Them"? You're a polytheist? "Angel mother"? Are you putting your mother on some ridiculous pedestal or are you semi-divine? That early belief has now grown into a knowledge and a witness of a loving Heavenly Father, who hears and answers our prayers. A knowledge based on what? YOU SAW HEAVENLY FATHER??? Why did you switch from a first person singular (I) to plural (our)? My testimony of Jesus Christ has been built from many special experiences in which I have come to know His great love for each one of us. What "special" experiences? It sounds like you're trying to justify your calling to apostleship, but you're definitely avoiding a description of any experience that would undoubtedly qualify you for this position. This whole talk is about laying out your resume and this is the one line that matters. Why leave it out?

I’m grateful for our Savior’s Atonement and wish like Alma to shout it with the trump of God. Comparing yourself to Nephi and now Alma? You're fucking awesome! I know that Joseph Smith is God’s prophet of the Restoration and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. How do you know that? Good feelings? And I know that President Thomas S. Monson is God’s true servant and prophet on the earth today. Because he gave you a promotion?

As we follow our prophet, I pray that we may have charity in our hearts toward others and that we will become a living witness and indeed “stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers [us].” WTF? You just threw a bunch of nice sounding stuff into a sentence without worrying if it made sense or not. Rewrite. Oh, may it be “wonderful, wonderful to [you and to] me.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Ronny, I believe you have mastered Mormon speech like a true Utahn. I believe you'll make a great non-prophetic, non-revealing, non-seeing apostle of the LDS Church.

Friday, September 25, 2015

When You Don't Like the Temple - My response

Rumors about people leaving the church because they didn't like the temple abound in Mormonism. I heard that it was freaky or weird, then I took out my endowment for myself. I didn't see the freaky. I did see a little weird. But my problem was I didn't see much of the divine or inspirational. It's nice to know that others have had the same problem. It's nice to be able to talk about our temple experiences without fear of committing some kind of sin.

What follows are the thoughts of a couple who has struggled and then found faith somehow, and my thoughts on those thoughts. I applaud their willingness to breach the issue, but that's about all. The original post can be found here.

When You Don't Like The Temple

My husband was asked to speak this month on the temple, and so he and I worked on this talk together. I wanted to put it on the blog in case it is helpful to anyone else in this situation.

 So to start, I want to share a very personal experience. I hope it's about seeing a spirit apparition in the temple...

When my wife and I were engaged, I had the opportunity to take her through the temple for the first time, a moment I had looked forward to since going through myself. Sounds like you were probably smitten with the experience for some reason. I wasn't. When she came into the celestial room where I and all her family were waiting, she started crying. And it took everyone back a little, because it didn’t look like a happy cry. That's horrible. I feel for her already.

As it turned out, she had not enjoyed her temple experience. I wonder what the statistics are on people not having a good first time in there... In fact, unbeknownst to me at the time, that night she stayed up until 4:00 in the morning crying and wondering if she should tell me that she no longer wanted to be married in the temple because of how it had made her feel. I certainly wanted nothing to do with the temple after a while as well, but for me it took more than one lackluster experience. I was devoted! Did you really use "unbeknownst" in your talk? Wow. Anyway, let's see how she felt after going through the temple...

Well, she decided to push through her doubts and confusion, and get married in the temple. Wait, you didn't say how she felt, you didn't bother mentioning what her doubts were or why she was confused. This feels like a major jump in your story. Why didn't you give us something here? The importance of the temple was something she had believed in her whole life, and she didn’t think she should so drastically change her mind after this first disappointing experience. Hold up. Let's set this story straight. She has spent her whole life being taught that the temple was important and decided it was better that she be disappointed rather than disappoint her whole family, friends, ward and fiancé.

So we got married in the temple, and it was a happy occasion. Probably because she didn't have to go through the same sexist bullshit that she had to endure during the endowment. The next time we went to the temple together, however, I got the whole story. I hope we get it too... Her feelings were all shocking to me. I think there are a lot of folks like you in the Church who are shocked to hear that the temple didn't come off too well on someone (most of them are probably men, like you). I had never struggled with the temple and I had always thought of temple as the happiest place on earth! But not because that's what you were told your entire life that it was. :S Initially I was not as understanding as I should have been. I am not proud of it, but I was probably a little combative and so the conversations usually ended with both of us in frustration. At least you'll admit it now. But over the last 6 years of conversations, I have come to better understand her experience and have learned of, and sometimes felt, the uncertainty and pain that aspects of the temple bring to her and others in the church. It's taken six years of conversing about this?! Hey, at least you've gotten somewhere.

I don’t share this story to strike fear into the hearts of youth and people getting ready to go to the temple. It is not something to be feared. I totally agree. Kids, be fearless in the temple. Don't let concerns of divine acceptance prevent you from thinking for yourself and doing what you feel is best for you. Temples are built as monuments to God and we take incredible steps toward him and learn many things about him when we attend the temple. The steps you take involve learning Masonic handshakes and saying while wearing Freemason-inspired clothing. I personally don't see Feemasonry as the pathway to God. I also don't recall what you learn of God other than his special Hebrew name, Elohim.

I do share this story for three reasons.  
  • One, because I want to dispel the belief that having a hard time with the temple is always associated with not being personally worthy or not having enough faith. AMEN! My wife was and is amazing, and her doctrinal knowledge and active participation in the church were some of the main reasons I was attracted to her.  
  • Second, I want people to know, unlike me at the time, that there are those who have a hard time with the temple so that we can be prepared to demonstrate compassion and love when we hear of such experiences. So God puts these doubters into our path to test us? God's a nut.
  • Finally, I would like to present to you a few of the things Liz and I have learned as we’ve worked through this experience together. Oh, please do! I've never felt very inspired or educated in the temple. I would love to know what you've learned. In fact, you will hear a lot of “we” in this talk. We counseled together a lot in preparation for this, so these words and this experience truly are “ours.” Team work! There's no "I" in "marria-" Oh! Never mind.
One final caveat, if this is surprising to you, like it was to me, that some people have a hard time with the temple, I would ask that you stay with me! STAY WITH HIM! You never know if someday it might be you, or if there is someone that the Lord wants you to hear this message for, so that you can give them the kind of love and support that the Lord would give them. That's right, YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE THE TEMPLE when you go through for the first time! God might have inspired this talk for you so when you meet someone who didn't have a good experience you'll be prepared for that nutty test thing alluded to earlier.

With that said, I want to share a quote from a conference address by President Monson in 2010 where he said, “I think there is no place in the world where I feel closer to the Lord than in one of His holy temples. He thinks? Is Tommy doubting? As we go to the holy house, as we remember the covenants we make therein, we will be able to bear every trial and overcome each temptation. That's an easy promise, isn't it? It almost sounds too good to be true... The temple provides purpose for our lives. If you're life had no purpose without the temple, I can't help but feel bad for you. It brings peace to our souls” But not all of our souls for some reason. Probably because of Satan. Or maybe God if he's using us to test each other again.

I want to testify that this is what a dedicated house of the Lord, the temple, is for. We should use the building as a place to build our relationship with God, in addition to making sacred temple covenants!  We need to remember that! I'm pretty sure we don't need temples to build our relationship with God (should he even exisit). Jesus was pretty quiet about the whole temple thing and preferred instead to focus on baptism and loving God through loving our neighbors. It should be the place where we ponder and seek counsel from God on the purpose of our life. Not by our bed as we pray, or sitting meetings in church, or when we're having a difficult interaction with family and coworkers, or when we're out in nature? It should be the place where we learn the temporal nature of this life, learn how to overcome trials, gain insight from the Lord, and learn about the eternal possibilities that lie ahead, both from what is being said and done, and also from prayer and contemplation there. And what happens when the temple does almost none of those things in any significant way for us? Is it OK to move on with life and find something else more reliable?

However, as I’ve already mentioned, to some their trial is the temple, because it does not inherently bring them peace. That puts one's testimony in a very tricky situation. So what are you to do if that is your situation? Exactly! Now there are a lot of things you probably could do, but as I said, I want to share some of the things Liz and I did:

First, we never stopped going to the temple. I did. But it took me a while to reach that point. Eventually you've got to call the spade a spade. Liz had been taught that she would never have a testimony of the temple if she wasn’t going to the temple, so even though she didn’t feel comfortable initially, she continued to go, genuinely trying to find ways to like it and to feel spiritually filled. And eventually she got used to it, I guess.

In the beginning, she decided that if nothing else, it was peaceful to sit in a place that represented heaven, and that could be a sacred experience for her even if everything else that was said or done didn’t bring her peace. Really? Nothing else that was said or done brought her peace? I can't believe she put up with the temple for so long! The funny thing for me is that the Celestial Room is one of the things that didn't bring me peace. I was an awkward hotel lobby. I tried meditating and praying in there and just couldn't get anything. As she continued to go, she was able to add things to her list that she both enjoyed and had a testimony of. So she just got used to it all with time. Not a great testimony sell.

She continues to do that today. I'd love to see the list of things she still doesn't like. That would definitely give us something to talk about. So if you don’t like a part or several parts of the temple, or don’t understand them, don’t let that ruin the whole temple experience for you. Why not? Would you eat a bowl of ice cream with cockroaches mixed in? Would you just focus on the parts you like as you dutifully eat it? Cling to the things you do enjoy, the things that do bring you peace, and let those things bring you back to the temple as you continue to expand your knowledge. Knowledge of what? I don't think you're using knowledge the way the rest of the English-speaking world would understand it.

Second, we continued to ask questions and seek answers in the temple. What questions did you ask? Who did you ask? What were the answers? What questions do you still have? Isn't it a little strange that after going through the temple endowment regularly for six years you still have questions about things? Elder Nelson in 2010 said “The temple endowment was given by revelation. Thus, it is best understood by revelation, vigorously sought with a pure heart.” You mean you don't ask anyone except Our Imaginary Friend who is Heaven? Have you ever asked other people if they've received the same answers through revelation? I'm guessing no.

Admittedly, revelation on the temple is hard to come by. That's quite a reveal! Are you sure you're doing it right? If so, why would your loving heavenly father be so stingy with his answers? It takes a lot of work, a lot of study, and even then you don’t know if you have the right answer. That's because you can't check your answers with anyone. The brethren like to keep us seeking answers in the temple endlessly and paying a full tithe in order to do so. But I can testify that while having questions initially brought me and Liz a lot of awkward conversations, frustration, and pain, it also eventually brought, and continues to bring, answers and faith that I’m not sure would have come if we hadn’t had the question in the first place. Are you insinuating that people who don't struggle with the temple are in the end weaker than those who do? I'm still dying to know what questions your wife had.

I can also testify that while we have sought to understand parts of the temple that were stumbling blocks to Liz, and thus to me, we have  a much deeper understanding of the things taught in the temple and in the church than we did before we asked the hard questions. Wait! How do you know you have a deeper understanding of anything at all? You just got through telling us that you don't ask other human beings your questions and you don't get many revelations from the Big Guy. So what scale are you using to measure your understanding?

Let me emphasize, we do not understand everything in the temple. Bring your questions to me and I'll do what I can to straighten you out on the details. Sometimes parts still cause pain and confusion. Like what? Let's talk. I'm curious to know why you keep subjecting yourself to this thing that causes you pain and confusion. But we are hopeful that answers will continue to come. All we have is hope. In essence, continued attendance is our faith in action. That's true. We have a solid testimony in the 9th article of faith which states: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." Good for you. I have no faith in that. Here's an idea why I don't.

One of my favorite religious and secular authors is Clayton Christensen. In his book “The Power of Everyday Missionaries” he says, “There is not a footnote at the end of the 9th article of faith to say that we know all things about any gospel principles. We have more to learn!” and so it is with the temple. We shouldn’t expect to have all the answers, because it's in our doctrine that we don’t. What answers are you talking about? What questions are we answering? You make this sound so difficult and yet we don't know what your difficulty is.

The idea that He will yet reveal many great and important truths is a central part of our doctrine. So you go to the temple regularly and participate in activities you don't like or understand because you hope that one day it will all make sense to you? THIS IS NOT HEALTHY. GET OUT.
Liz and I have become intimately acquainted with the pain and patience required to learn the gospel “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” Jesus never said it would be easy, right? But we have grown immensely in our understanding of revelation because of it. You understand that it doesn't really come very often and that it's hard to understand if it did come. Thanks for being honest, but it sounds like you're being conned.

Third, we actively pondered on and studied the symbols in the temple.
Again from, Elder Nelson “The temple ordinances are so imbued with symbolic meaning as to provide a lifetime of productive contemplation and learning.” This bullshit about symbols really gets my goat. You can stare at a wall of symbols all you want but without proper guidance and training you're not going to get very far. Even in the case of highly trained people making a breaking through in some previously unknown set of symbols, they always share their finds and see if others agree with the predicted meanings. Symbols are about communication and don't mean anything without an interlocutor. So let's back up a bit to the creation of the symbols. Who made the symbols? Why do the makers of temple symbols not share the meaning of these symbols with the rest of us? Are we to believe that God inspires these symbols without explaining them to the people who present them to us? Did God reveal the words and gestures of the temple to Joseph Smith and then say "figure it out, buddy!"? Did he guide the hands of his movie directors and not give them the reasons behind the moments of genius he bestowed upon them?

Given the amount of symbolism, Liz and I have made a habit of focusing on one or two things each time we go and then ponder and study them. Like what? What are examples of temple symbols you've focused on? Which ones have you figured out and what do they mean? Don't leave us hanging. Are you worried we won't agree or are you worried God will get mad at you for taking temple on the internet? This practice has kept the temple both current and more meaningful. Meaningful only to the extent that you make up what it means. It has helped us not become complacent in our learning or understanding of the temple ceremony. Except you don't know if you're learning or just pretending to. As a result, we’ve found answers and explanations, and we’ve also found more questions. But you won't share. That's very dickish. It seems we are never out of questions, but those questions are no longer as frustrating because we have learned to live in peace with questions and learned to enjoy the process of looking for answers. You've resigned yourself to the futility of it all. Congratulations. :S

Fourth, we had faith that the blessings of the temple would hold true even if it was hard to go. What blessings are we talking about again? We have been promised that we will be given extra spiritual strength and help with mortal problems when we attend the temple, and we trust that that will be true even if attending sometimes feels spiritually draining in the moment. "Spiritual strength" to deal with "moral problems"? What are you talking about? Give us an example.

This faith was built on knowledge that throughout the scriptures, the Lord consistently has his prophet’s build temples. So they must be a place where He wants us to be. Actually, there are only about three temples in all of the Bible and a good many more prophets than that. One of the biblical temples - the during Jesus' time - had been totally redone by a non-prophet. Not only that, those temples were all drastically different from the secret Masonic thing the LDS Church has going on today. I think the only reason you're conflating current LDS practices with ancient Israelite practices is because the LDS Church tells you it makes sense to. You're also conveniently ignoring all the temple building traditions that the LDS Church excludes. Are Buddhist temples a sign of divine guidance? In fact, in the Old Testament, Ezekiel is shown a detailed vision of the temple. He sees a temple sitting in the desert, and out of the temple is running a huge river of water. The water main must have been busted...

In Ezekiel chapter 47 verse 7-9, an angel shows him that there were “very many trees on the one side and on the other.” And then he was shown that the waters ran through the desert into the sea, where the waters of the sea were then healed. The angel concludes by saying “every thing shall live whither the river cometh.” Zeke was totally trippin'!

I love these scriptures, because it does indeed feel like the world is a spiritual desert sometimes. Because the Church constantly teaches that the world is barren and depraved and miserable. But we’re told that the temple will give healing water to those living in the desert, “and everything shall live whither the river cometh.” Sure, but what about all the "very many trees" on either side of the temple? It sounds like they had their own water and were probably part of an amazing ecosystem independent of the temple's broken water main.
We know, that despite questions, we need access to the spiritual water that can keep us and our family alive in the deserts of our lives. "Deserts of our lives"? I thought the world was a desert. Aren't we all living in a spiritual desert all the time? We have faith that if we continue to go to the temple, we will be given the water we need. Kids, if this "we'll die without the temple" routine sounds dramatic to you, let me assure you that it is. It's also bullshit. Billions of people live happy, beautiful, moral lives without the LDS temple.
Lastly, when I decided that I would be focusing my talk on our personal experience with the temple, by coincidence (which I don’t typically believe in) I saw on Facebook that a close friend of ours had just given a talk in her ward on this exact same topic! Everything happens for a reason, doesn't it?! :S I asked if I could get a copy of it and I would like to share an excerpt that I think sums up the message I wanted to send today:

She says: “The temple should be a place of peace, but unfortunately the temple is a very painful place for some members of the church. Maybe because it's not all it's cracked up to be. The temple should be a place free from sin. But it's totally not because those men assigned to filter out the sinners have no true filtering capabilities. It probably is in the brief moment between when it’s dedicated and when the first person walks into it. I doubt it though when I consider how much the Church spent on it verses how much good that money could have done for the poor and destitute. The temple, like our homes, should be a place that binds families together, both through ordinances and the closeness that comes from worshiping together. It should bind families, but it doesn't always. So many times it becomes a place of division and family feuds. However, differences in belief, poor use of agency, or misuse of the temple can actually damage families or pull them apart. AMEN. My point is that the temple is not a magical building immune from the frailties of our telestial existence. So true. The temple feels just as worldly as the rest of this "telestial" world. The temple is a building that we built and that WE dedicate to God. Yes, built and dedicated to the god that we build for ourselves and dedicated ourselves to. Dedicate means devotion and work. The dedication of a temple is a beginning, not the end.” I hope the temples end up as public buildings dedicated to housing the homeless and feeding the hungry.

To echo her words, we often discuss the temple as the climax of our church membership, but in truth, the temple is another beginning which takes work and devotion! It's another pointless Mormon boulder we have to keep rolling to the top of the hill only to have it roll back down again. There are many such boulders God wants us to push up hills. Seriously, baptisms for the dead is an insane endeavor considering how few accurate records have been kept for the world's population; temple sealings are an utter mess and even the top leadership admits that we'll just have to wait until the afterlife to see how God will sort it all out. I can only imagine why a loving intelligent god would makes us go through with this silliness.

 “Get everyone to the temple and the spirit of the temple in every heart and home” is our stake motto by revelation. You know it was a revelation how? Your stake presidency said so and it felt great when you prayed about it? What if your stake president had picked about any other sentence from a general authority's General Conference address? In the temple we make promises with God that have eternal significance with incredible blessings for us as we are faithful! I tried to identify those promised blessings not too long ago. I didn't see much in them worth fretting about. However, when we attend the temple, we need to understand that the temple is not perfect, as our friend says, but it is a truly amazing blessing given to us to grow closer to the Living God and learn to be more like him. What's not perfect about it? Let's identify some problems and get them resolved. We have to own our temple experience and use it for its designed purpose. Yes, as with essentially everything, it's only what we make it to be. While some aspects of the temple may cause some pain, do not discard all of the blessings that come from temple attendance. Tell us what the pain is and what the blessings are and let's do a cost benefits analysis.
In conclusion I want to share  a few thoughts from our general officers of the church:

First, Elder Bednar in this most recent conference said, “Within the sound of my voice are individuals who have received the ordinances of the temple and for various reasons have not returned to the house of the Lord in quite some time. My reason is that it didn't make me feel closer to God in any way shape or form. Then I found out more about how Joseph Smith came up with the whole charade. There was no way I was going back. I didn't miss it anyway. Please repent, prepare, and do whatever needs to be done so you can again worship in the temple and more fully remember and honor your sacred covenants.” There is no honor and no sanctity in the temple. And nothing to repent of.

I want to bear my testimony that it is worth going back, even if it requires a lot of soul searching and stretching of your mind, and maybe even actively overlooking parts that you do not like. I'm sure God's thrilled with us when we sit in his sacred theater and ignore all the stuff we don't like. :S It is worth going back and experiencing how the temple can draw you closer to Jesus Christ. Been there multiple times and tried that over and over. It didn't work.

Second, you may be tempted to think that if you don’t currently have a strong testimony of the temple, than you must not belong in this church. Kids, the Church wants you no matter what as long as you pay your tithing in full. But Sister Chieko Okazaki, a past general relief society presidency member, spoke to members who had felt like outsiders in the church when she said:

"If you experience the pain of exclusion at church from someone who is frightened at your difference, please don't leave [or] become inactive. The Church likes differences? Since when? Joseph Smith was avid about excommunicating people he had differences with. Things haven't changes too much since then. You may think you are voting with your feet, that you are making a statement by leaving. You are! The faster you walk away the sooner the Church will change for you.  [Some may] see your diversity as a problem to be fixed, as a flaw to be corrected or erased. Usually that someone is your bishop or neighbor who wishes he were the bishop. If you are gone, they don't have to deal with you anymore. Actually, you don't have to deal with them anymore! I want you to know that your diversity is a more valuable statement." Yes, stay and piss people in your ward off by making comments during lessons that will drive them all nuts. It'll be fun to be the target of their frustration. :S

Do not allow the fact that some people don’t find pain in the temple make you think that it is you who is broken. It's not you, it's the temple, believe me! We all have our trials of faith and for some it is having faith in the temple and being obedient by attending until understanding or new revelation come. You'll likely die before that happens. That is not something that disqualifies you from being a valuable member of this church. Your value in the Church rests entirely upon your regular tithing payments. And for those who may not struggle with the temple, we should be constantly reflecting on how we can be those ward members that are there to support others, even if we may not have had their same doubts. Empathizing with others? Sounds pretty awesome. We need to value diversity and the new insight and revelation diversity brings to us as a whole. Amen.

Liz and I have grown together in the temple, not because we felt it was perfect, but because of the way we dedicated our worship while we were there. Couples projects are the shit! We believe in the blessings of attending the temple, and I hope that if for whatever reason you have also struggled with attending the temple, that you will trust that it is worth going back. Sorry, you haven't sold me on the going back thing at all. I totally disagree with the idea of sitting and fuming over all the bullshit in the temple with the hope that one day my prayers of understanding will magically be partially answered. The way I see it, your god is about as generous of a teacher as someone who gives a toddler a Rubik's cube for a couple of hours and shows up every ten or fifteen minutes to show what the next move should be. Or worse, your god is the kind of sadist to give his torture victims enough false hope to keep them going despite the total absurdity of his torture chamber. Some people get off on that sort of thing, I don't. From where I stand the LDS temple is a sunken ship. I can't see any reason to climb back aboard.