Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Missionary’

I referred to myself as a pagan in conversation with my beautiful and sexy wife a few days ago (we were talking about piddly, meaningless stuff like the meaning of life), and she recognized the significance: it was a casual but meaningful declaration of spiritual identity of the kind that I have not been able to make in years.

It wasn’t just a slip, either. I have been thinking about this and I came to an important realization. One of the issues I have been grappling with in the background of my mind is if at the end of the day I basically think that religion and spirituality are highly subjective and have more to do with assigning meaning to human existence than they do with making objective truth-claims about the universe, why shouldn’t I have just stayed Mormon? Wouldn’t it have been easier, after all, for me to just figure out how to reconcile the religion I was raised with than to try to blaze a completely new spiritual trail? My gut rebels against the idea of staying Mormon, but why? I think Mormonism’s truth-claims are bogus, but that’s not really the issue for me (except it kind of is, because Mormonism spends a lot of time and spiritual effort insisting that its truth claims are literal truth). I have problems with the Church as an institution, but a lot of liberal and New Order Mormons figure out ways to deal with that, and the insistence of the orthodox believer notwithstanding, my relationship with the organizational church should not really affect how I feel about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, right?

So why do I feel like remaining Mormon, or going back to Mormonism, would just be unacceptable? I think it is because I never really internalized Mormonism in the first place. Sure, I internalized some ways of thinking about religion because I didn’t know any better–some cultural transmission from my parent subculture is inevitable–but in a spiritual sense, I was always torn and doubtful about Mormonism and I was always drawn to mythology, the gods, and the spiritual power of the wild places of the earth. As a little kid I was obsessed with mythology. As a young adolescent I stayed awake all night with my best friend on Boy Scout camp-outs talking about Beltaine. As a teenager I flat-out just wanted to be a druid. As a young adult I was absolutely enthralled by Joseph Campbell, the Arthurian romances, Celtic myth, and the cosmic and spiritual significance of poetry and literature.

Yes, when I was nineteen, I “got a testimony” and went on a mission, and began to live a fairly orthodox Mormon life. But let’s not give my conversion too much credit. The coercive pressure from my family was immense-it was made clear to me that being an adult meant setting aside childish things like entertaining the possibility of paganism, and taking Mormonism seriously as the One True Religion. People I trusted and relied on made it absolutely clear that there was no viable moral alternative, that anything less than fully getting with the program meant personal weakness, laziness, and a lack of integrity. So I did what I was supposed to.

But the pagan inside me did not sleep too soundly. As a young adult I was captured by the power of Norse myth, by the dynamic majesty of romantic-era classical music (I discovered Sibelius, and it was love), and ultimately by the brutal, mythic energy of heavy metal.

On top of this, I have noticed a clear pattern in my life: when I have lived out of touch with nature, I have been depressed, unbalanced, and extremely mentally unhealthy. Proximity and involvement with the natural world are simply things I need for spiritual wholeness. And I have consistently had feelings about love, the feminine, and sex that have been reverent, passionate, and worshipful.

The point is, I have been a pagan all along. It doesn’t matter that I went to sacrament meeting every week. It doesn’t matter that I spent two years as a missionary trying to convert people to Mormonism. Mormonism never really fit. My mother and I had countless discussions and arguments about religion and point of view: in her mind the right thing to do was to completely internalize Mormonism, and subvert your entire mind to it, to relinquish all non-Mormon thought as something unwelcome and alien. I always wanted to take the point of view of an outsider, because I always was an outsider.

I was a pagan, and I always have been.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

When I went running this afternoon, I saw some of the Mormon missionaries doing street contacting outside my apartment complex. As per my usual, I began to have a lively discussion/argument with an imaginary missionary in my head. This time, our argument was about the Book of Mormon (I didn’t bring my iPod, so I had nothing else to do but suffer for three miles; otherwise I would have probably been listening to the Doors).

One of the most frustrating things to me about Mormonthink–and something that I think is evidence of cultlike behavior and cultlike thought in the Mormon church and culture–is how complicated, intermeshed ideas get blurred together into a simple question of “true or not true” that winds up really obscuring and distorting the ideas that are being manipulated.

Specifically, when a Mormon talks about the Book of Mormon being “true,” they mean at least three different distinct things. First, there is the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon is a faithful translation of an authentic ancient document written by Hebrew religious leaders in the western hemisphere. Second, there is the question of to what extent the religious and spiritual concepts expressed in the Book of Mormon (regardless of its authorship) reflect eternal truths. Third, there is the question of whether Joseph Smith Jr. found and translated the Book of Mormon by God-given supernatural means.

In my experience Mormons often conflate these three issues, or insist that they are logically linked so that you can’t have any one without the others, and so they just wind up bearing their testimonies about how the Book of Mormon is TRUE. It’s imposing black-and-white thinking on a potentially nuanced and relatively controversial set of issues, and as such it honestly pushes the boundaries of brainwashing tactics.

Of course I am generalizing here. Plenty of Mormons have thought through all of the questions I have raised here, and have an answer–even possibly a really nuanced answer–for each. Nevertheless to the extent that they simply use the shorthand of talking about the Book’s truth, generally, they are truncating the issues and contributing to a paradigm that discourages or disables critical thinking. And that’s no good.

NOTE: At one time I down comments on this post because it was kind of swallowing my blog and dominating the traffic, but enough time has passed that I decided to open it again, especially since Jonathan Blake has since closed down the comments on his “Convince Me” thread.

Read Full Post »

After I had a dream about the English Standard Version, I went out and bought a nice slimline copy with an embossed celtic cross on the cover, and I’ve decided to start reading the Bible in earnest, starting tonight.  I’ve “decided to start reading the Bible” a couple of times in the last few years, but i have a weird feeling about this time, like I’m going to make it stick.  I kind of feel, I don’t know.  Hungry for it.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read the King James Version a couple of times (well, the Old Testament once, and the New Testament maybe three times, the Gospels at least one time more than that), but it was a long time ago as a Mormon missionary, and the experience was filtered pretty heavily through the lens of my Mormon belief.  Nevertheless, grappling seriously with scripture for the first time resulted in some of the early seeds that eventually led me away from Mormonism.

I want to read the Bible again, as a Christian this time.

My wife and I have challenged each other to read the New Testament by the end of the year, in any version (sort of a Christian counterpart to the LDS Book of Mormon challenge).  I also think I’d like to read through the Gospels in several different versions (ESV, Message, NRSV, NIV, and the KJV again).  Ultimately I’d like to read the Old Testament again, but probably in an easier translation (NIV, Message, Good News, something like that).  I have no desire to labor through the KJV Old Testament again; not without a much better foundation biblical knowledge.

What am I expecting to get out of my reading?  Well, like I said, I’m feeling a bit of hunger for the Word (that seems lame when I write it out like that, but it’s pretty much true).  I want to get a better handle on who Jesus really is.  I want to feel closer to God.  I want to strengthen my relationship with my wife.  And I want to grow spiritually.  I’m having trouble figuring out where and how to do the latter, but I’m planning on writing another post on that soon.  Suffice it to say for the moment, that as a relatively new Christian, I’m lacking quite a bit in the guidance department.

Anyway, I’m really going to try to stick to reading this time.  I’m not going to starve when the food’s sitting in front of me.  I’ll keep the blog updated on any developments.

Read Full Post »

So, I thought I was going to be sent to Iraq with my National Guard unit this month.  Turns out it’s not happening.  If you have any experience with the military, you know how things can change at the last minute.  Anyway, I mentioned in an older post that I was reluctant to make any big decisions because of the upcoming mysterious, major life-changing event, and that’s what it was.  Now it isn’t happening.  So life goes on, and I no longer have an excuse for resting on my laurels.  But what do I do now?

We haven’t been going to church for awhile, and I have long stopped praying (since it started to seem mechanical and pointless).  Do I start again?  Do I give Christianity another go?  If so, what kind?  Back to Cedar Ridge?  Back to Grace Episcopal?  Just be a Christian on my own and don’t worry about church?  What does becoming a Christian even mean?  What does one do?  Becoming Mormon is a fairly regimented process: you take the missionary discussions, you read the Book of Mormon, you pray to know if it’s true (and get Your Testimony), you attend church meetings, you commit to live the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity, you get baptized, you get confirmed, you get the priesthood, you go to the temple, you get callings, and you endure to the end.  It’s all extremely structured.  I know how to become Mormon.  But I don’t know how you become Christian.  At what point do you become Christian?  What’s the right motivation for becoming Christian?  What does “being Christian” look like?

Do I even want to be Christian?  Right now, the answer feels like no.  Especially since Christmas is over.

Do I start a candidate year with the Ancient Order of Druids in America?  Do I want to?  Do I really want Druidry as a belief system?  Is it all just New Age flakery?  Do I want my whole life to be Celtic-y?  Do I always want to be thinking about ancient times and yearning for the forest?  Not really.  After I’m done with law school we’re moving back to New York, where we’ll probably stay.  I like the woods and nature, but I also love the city.  I feel compelled to be environmentally conscious and take care of the earth, but I actually think in many ways urban living is the best way to do that (it’s certainly more sustainable than suburban living).

There are a lot of things about Druidry that I find very appealing, but do I want to color my whole life with that crayon?  The answer feels like no?

Do I abandon the journey and just get on with life without God and without religion?  I’ve been sailing for awhile and it doesn’t seem like Byzantium is anywhere in sight.  I’m kind of getting tired of looking for it.  My main roadblock is clear (I was nervous about making any hasty decisions with such a major punctuation mark on the horizon), so what do I do?  Hinduism?  The Qur’an?  What?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: