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 fiancĂ©.

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.

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