Sunday, December 10, 2017

Not Your Average Mormon

For quite a while, I've been meaning to try to write here more often. Obviously, that hasn't really happened.

Instead of aiming for any deep theological reflections, my goal will be simply to post weekly - small reflections or meditations about what I've been studying, talks I've heard, things that have happened. Fingers crossed, and maybe hoping to receive some grace to keep up with it?

I'll start today with a little bit of a background of what's going on lately.

I unofficially left the LDS church in April 2016. That was really rough for me. I spent a couple months believing there was no god, then spent a couple months exploring various expressions of faith and spirituality. For nearly a year, I have been attending a nondenominational church in my area off and on, and flirting with the idea of returning to my LDS ward. I've watched every general conference since I was baptized, and have read the Book of Mormon infrequently since leaving. Like I said, going back is an idea that's been tugging at my mind lately. That's a whole big bag of complicated that I can't get into now. It would take way too long, and besides - I don't even know where I am with that exactly, so I surely am not in a place to explain it fully. As Liz Gilbert said regarding one aspect of her life in an interview, "It's something I'm living in right now, so I can't really say too much about it." I'm going to focus on being present in my faith journey, rather than trying to turn it into a story prematurely. The point: Mormon, not Mormon, kind of Mormon - confused.

For about two and a half years, I have been employed at a Methodist church (the church where I grew up), as an assistant in the children's ministry.

One month ago, my supervisor at work resigned unexpectedly. I have since stepped up into some of her roles, including teaching Sunday School to about 60 elementary schoolers and dealing with extra programming. This has given me a great opportunity to do some good studying and evaluation of what I believe. It has been enlightening and a lot of fun. I have stepped into these roles prayerfully.

I say that because some of the things I bring up in these reflections or meditations will be inspired by the things that I'm studying and teaching on Sunday mornings.

It's kind of funny, my boss stepping down. For over a year, as I've toyed with religion, I have explored many traditions, but felt that nothing fit exactly. There's a lot that I like from all different places, but nothing seemed to work exactly. After a while of this, I realized that every religion and every denomination would have things that weren't perfect, things that I didn't exactly believe, problematic pieces of history. I knew that I'd find a depth of religious experience as I chose one - though imperfect - and devoted myself to a tradition and to a people. I was frozen, though, because I didn't know which tradition to choose! And now I teach children about Jesus in the Methodist tradition. I'm learning all kinds of things about the Bible and Methodism. I don't know if I'd call myself Methodist right now, but I do think it's . . . interesting that God kind of shoved me into a faith community.

Despite this all - the questioning, the Methodist church - I write on this blog which has attached the identifier "Mormon."

I love the LDS church. I love the Book of Mormon, and I love our prophets. I love Joseph Smith and the movement that he started.

I love the Relief Society. I love Mormon women. I love Emma Smith and Eliza Snow and Emmeline Wells. These are the women I call my spiritual ancestors. They came before, and I follow their footsteps, because they were faithful, courageous, strong- and I want to be those things, too. I love every Mormon woman I have met in my wards; they have all taught me something valuable about life and love. I love the sister missionaries (those who were full-time and those who personified the call "every member a missionary") who met with me when I was in darkest night, who loved me when I was unlovable, who courageously accepted the call to serve their God, who persevered in proclaiming their faith boldly. They are an inspiration, and thinking of them brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.

I love this church. I may not love everything about it, but I love it. People say you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Well, this church is my family. This is where my heart is, and may always be. This church chose me, sought me out, loved me when I was alone, and healed me when I was broken. I am forever indebted to this church; it will always have a place in my heart and in my life.

I'm not orthodox. Not even close. I never will be "just your average Mormon." Nevertheless, I remain glued to this church by my baptism and by the spiritual bonds that have been built by heaven's hands.

Kirtland Temple (source)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Brigham Young on Government

I was reading recently in The Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young. The chapter on "Earthly Governments and the Kingdom of God" seemed especially relevant in our current politcal climate.

What a government based on the Kingdom look like? 

President Young said that if the Kingdom of God ruled on earth, "Every one would be fully protected in the enjoyment of all religious and social rights, and no state, no government, no community, no person would have the privilege of infringing on the rights of one another. . . . Whoever lives to see the Kingdom of God fully established upon the earth will see a government that will protect every person in his rights" (268). 

Young reminds us that the Kingdom of God does not force anyone to do or believe anything. As such, "If that government [the Kingdom of God] was now reigning . . . you would see the Roman Catholic, the Greek Catholic, the Episcopalian, the Presbyterian, the Methodist, the Baptist, the Quaker, the Shaker, the [Hindi], the [Muslim], and every class of worshippers most strictly protected in all their municipal rights and in the privileges of worshiping who, what, and when they pleased" (268). Our country and church leadership would do well to work harder on to "protect every person in his rights" and ensure that "every class of worshippers [are] most strictly protected," rather than allowing Jews and Muslims to suffer and die as refugees abroad or victims of hateful actions domestically.

What kind of leaders are needed for such a government?

President Young also spoke about good leaders and the traits necessary for leadership: "[A good leader] should understand what administrative policy would be most beneficial to the nation. He should also have the knowledge and disposition to wisely exercise the appointing power. . . . He should not only carry out the legal and just wishes of his constituents, but should be able to enlighten their understanding and correct their judgement. And all good officers in a truly republican[*] administration will constantly labor for the security of the rights of all, irrespective of sect or party. . . . We want [people] to rule the nation who care more for and love better the nation's welfare than gold and silver, fame, or popularity" (269). 
  1. Knowledge and Understanding
  2. Carry out the legal and just wishes of this constituents
  3. Constantly labor for the rights of all, irrespective of sect or party
  4. Care more for and love better the nation's welfare than money, power, or fame

How are Latter-Day Saints expected to participate in such government?

President Young spoke regarding electing representatives, saying, "We will vote for the man who will sustain the principles of civil and religious liberty, the man who knows the most and who has the best heart and brain for a statesman; and we do not care a farthing whether he is a whig, a democrat [etc]" (270). 

After election, "We will pray for them and give them our faith [trust] and influence to do the will of God and to preserve themselves and the people in truth and righteousness" (270). Here, I do not believe the President Young is saying that the Saints are to vote, pray for our representatives, and leave it at that. He also says we should "influence" them - in today's words, an injunction to phone and write our representatives to tell them what we believe they should do and how they should act in given situations. We are to influence our representatives "to do the will of God." What does this mean? Well, I think the next part of the sentence partially explains that: "to preserve themselves and the people in truth and righteousness." We are to guide our representatives to act according to principles of truth and righteousness. We are not to allow or representatives to act based on falsehoods, assumptions, or bigotry. Remember, President Young said that the a Kingdom government "will protect every person in his rights."

"Are we a political people? Yes, very political indeed." 
President Brigham Young 

So, Latter-Day Saints, follow the prophet in all areas of your life, including government. May I remind you that Jesus of Nazareth was executed on a Roman cross for defying the government and calling for social, economic, and religious justice for the Jewish people. May we not be afraid of a fate like Jesus in fighting for the Kingdom he initiated. 

*Republic - "a government in which supreme power is held by the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives governing according to law" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

All images from

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

Through countless dangers, doubts, and fears
I have already come
God's grace has brought me safely here
And grace will lead me home

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace
His mighty hand shall be my stay
His strength with me abounds
And though I stumble day by day
He shall not leave my side

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace
The earth shall soon melt like snow
The sun refuse to shine
Yet God, Who sent me here below
Will be forever mine

Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Year of Absence: Part 3 - Mormon?

*This post is part of a series entitled "A Year of Absence." Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.*

I found hope, and I began to unearth faith. This faith was not and is not certain, but rather is a faith based on hopes and questions. I believe that I will never arrive, but can find “joy in the journey.” I ned not fret about tomorrow, because Love will take care of me. “Give us this day our daily bread,” one day at a time, God. We will trust in You.

Today, I believe that the divine is found in community. I believe that the stories of the Bible teach us about God’s creating power, from the creation story in Genesis to the creation of a people in Israel, the creation of a way out of slavery in Egypt, the creation of a new heart in David and Saul and each of us. God is always creating. I also believe in a God of resurrection - a god who brings life from death, salvation from sin, relationship from separation, and light from dark. This god is resourceful, a god who uses pain and hurt to create something glorious. I believe that “religion must speak in metaphors. Because the Beyond is beyond, there is no language in our world that is capable of fully comprehending it. Here we are either left speechless or we speak in tongues or we use symbols” (Christiano et al, Sociology of Religion, 12-13). I believe in “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” - I believe that heaven is not “far away, in the sky” but here and now among us, if we can only open our eyes to the wonders of love hidden in this existence. I believe “there will be a day with no more tears, no more hurts, no more fears” - and that day will come because of the active efforts of the people of God on the side of justice. Emmanuel, God with us, will work in us to bring about the Millennium, a time when all people live with hope and love in their hearts. “This world is what we decide this world is” (Glennon Doyle Melton).

“Wisdom, Happiness, and Courage are not waiting somewhere out beyond sight at the end of a straight line; they’re part of a continuous cycle that begins right here. They’re not only the ending, but the beginning as well.” 
Hoff, Tao of Pooh, 137

In February, I read Al Carraway’s More Than the Tattooed Mormon and Joanna Brooks’ Book of Mormon Girl. I do not believe everything the same as these women believe. But as I read their stories of Mormon missionaries and Mormon baptisms and Mormon temples, of Mormon mothers and Mormon genealogy and Mormon pioneers - something feels like home. I realize I need to go home. I realize something is missing.

I am not like Al Carraway, a convert who has a vibrant, full, radiant faith in the Church and its doctrines about Jesus Christ and the rest. I am not like Joanna Brooks, who remains tied to the LDS Church because it is her family, her history, her home. I am a convert with unorthodox theology, who nonetheless came to life because of this church. I admire the stories told in this church for the lessons they teach. I admire the examples of faith and courage found in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and saints of the latter days. I admire the emphasis on family and on the gracious support of sisterhood. I love the songs of faith and perseverance and hope. The saints, the people who birthed and delivered and raised this church up from nothing, these people are the people I want to be like. These people and their stories are the stories I identify with. Stories of a people who were outcasts, who were persecuted, who traveled to a “strange land,” and who relied on each other to make it from one day to the next. Press forward, Saints. Put your shoulder to the wheel. We have work to do. And they did it. I want to do my work of love just as the saints worked for love in building temples and establishing Zion. Just as the saints still continue to work for love and build Zion. The day dawn is breaking.

I return to this blog, "Mormon Sprinkles" because I want or need a place to write and work out these thoughts. I feel I want to be a part of the LDS community. I also feel that I am very unlike most Mormons. My theology is not exactly in line with the official teachings of the Church.

But I come back, because this Church feels like home, and always has. I feel a connection to this place, these books, these people, these songs, this history. I love the story of Joseph Smith. I love stories of the pioneers. I love to hear stories about the early days of the Relief Society. I love the belief that God has reached out to humanity over the centuries by opening new dispensations and teaching God's people again and again about God's message when we forget. I love the belief that God has never given up on us. I love the belief that God still speaks. I believe that we can and will hear God speak. I love the responsibility that everyone in this Church takes for the well-being of the institution and its members - callings are a serious business, and Church members take their responsibilities seriously, and because of that, this Church is strong.

I come back, because becoming part of this family and of this people was one of the bravest and most influential things I have ever done in my life. I was reborn a new person because of this church and its people. I learned to love and I learned to stand up for myself and what I believed was right. I met people who changed my life and taught me and are still teaching me how to be a fuller, more authentic human being. This church changed me in such a profound way that it will always be a vital part of my story.

This church is my coming-of-age story. This church is my Exodus and my Promised land. This church is my journey to Zion. This church is my home.

I don't know how to reconcile the immense place this church has in my heart with all the doctrines that I don't quite believe. I want to feel the joy and wholeness that I felt when I was a part of this, journeying with the saints toward Zion.

"There by the waters we sat and wept as we remembered Zion." Psalm 137:1.

In short, I don't know for sure what I believe or where I belong.

But Joseph Smith taught me that these kinds of big questions are okay - and that God will answer.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Year of Absence: Part 2 - Seeking

*This post is part of a series entitled "A Year of Absence." Read Part 1 here.*

I never regretted my decision to join the church. A journal entry (about one month after my last Sunday at church) reads, “I’m still not going to church. I feel good about my decision, peaceful.” The next day, I tucked our little boy into bed. As he said his prayers “I felt . . . something - calm, comfort, home. I miss that. I miss the comfort of religion. I miss the history and the culture, stories of Joseph Smith and pioneers, songs sung for hundreds of years.” I couldn’t believe the doctrines of the faith, but I mourned for having nothing to believe.

For months I struggled with what to believe. Is Christianity correct? Are any of the other religions correct? How would one know? Did we create these varieties of gods? Or does God simply reveal Godself in whatever way will be most effective in speaking to each particular individual? Perhaps the whole world is holy. Perhaps all holy things are holy because we have consecrated them as such, have named them holy.

While I struggled through these dark mists, my life was not all bad. I had many times of joy - picnics, bike rides, birthday parties, joining a new dance class. I traveled back to my college town with my old roommate for a weekend of service projects on campus.

My life was Both/And. Filled with both big questions and much joy.

I explored a much more personal, spiritual, intimate idea of the holy.

“Love and relationships. All love and relationship is possible for you only because it already exists within myself. . . . I am love.” 
Young, The Shack, 103

“Every creation is a word of God and a book about God.” 
Meister Eckhart, in Fox, Original Blessing, 35

“The universe is the primary revelation of the divine, the primary scripture, the primary locus of divine-human communication.” 
Berry, in Fox, Original Blessing, 36

“The glory of God is a human being fully alive” 

“The harmony that naturally existed between heaven and earth from the very beginning [can] be found by anyone at any time . . . Earth [is] in essence a revelation of heaven, run by the same laws.” 
Hoff, Tao of Pooh, 4

And finally, “I decide to believe. Something in me says yes to the idea that there is a God and that this God is trying to speak to me, trying to love me, trying to invite me back to life. I decide to believe in a God who believes in a girl like me” (Melton, Love Warrior, 64-5)

And I begin to make peace with my journey and my questions, rather than fighting against the tide and scrambling for answers. Because I learn that “Man grows closer to God through the questions he asks Him[,] . . . I pray to the God within me for the strength to ask Him the real questions,” and I wait for eternity, for “that time when question and answer would become one” (Wiesel, Night, 23).

“It’s Your Breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to You, only You.”

After many months, I begin to write a rudimentary testimony. I believe that God is raising the broken up to Life. I believe we need to be yoked to this divine power to find being. I believe God is accessible, that we were not created to be separate from the divine, no. God is here. God is for us. God is within reach. I believe God is loving, nurturing, encouraging, and cares about the things that we care about. I believe God will “break open the skies to save those who cry out” (Tenth Avenue North, “Strong Enough to Save”). I believe that God changes us and our circumstances not by objectively changing our surroundings, but answers our pleas by working within our hearts.

I believe that this universal divine power, which many people call “God” is too big, too powerful, too magnificent, too all-encompassing to be contained in one tradition or scripture or person. I believe that the eternal Spirit of Life within each person and living creature, is also the Spirit of Love. I believe that the divine yearns for connection, and will reveal itself to humanity in any way to get the message across - anything to teach people to love one another. I explore the many revelations and expressions of the divine nature which have existed throughout time. I speak to this power, praying to be connected to myself, my life, and my world.

“The basic thrust of Jesus’ message is to invite us into divine union, which is the sole remedy for the human predicament” 
Father Thomas Keating, in Fisher, Living Religions, 347

One day, I hear a message on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I think about this. I think about Jesus’ message of love and radical inclusion. Jesus tells the people over and over to “repent” and “sin no more.” Perhaps following Jesus means repenting, turning away from sin and separation, from the false message that we are all separate, and re-turning towards the Truth that we are all one human family created for and living inside the divine goodness. Over and over, I read of people teaching that salvation and healing come from connection - connection with God and connection with others.

I remember that “the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for He speaketh unto men according to their own language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). I know that the divine is revealed to and through all “nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples.”

At this time, I have ideas about God, the cosmos, eternity. I don’t have any answers, and I’m realizing that that’s okay. God is real, but maybe not in the way we thought before. “Man grows closer to God through the questions he asks” (Wiesel). My faith continues to be rooted in seeking healing and salvation by re-turning to others.

“When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
Martin Buber

*This post is part of a series entitled "A Year of Absence." Read Part 3 here."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Year of Absence: Part 1 - Loss of Faith

“Our story is the only thing we have that is completely our own” 
(Melton, Love Warrior, 148)

I have been absent for some time now. I would apologize for social niceties, but I will instead choose authenticity and truth-telling. I am not sorry. Recent months have been . . . well, just another chapter on my journey.

In the spirit of authenticity and truth-telling, here is where I’ve been.

~ ~ ~

Several months ago, spring of 2016. The one-year anniversary of my baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is approaching. I was eagerly awaiting the day, amazed that it had been nearly a year since I decided to do what I felt God was calling me to do, the thing that I knew was right for me, for that time. Since the day that I publicly declared that I would follow wherever God led me. Since I received a compass necklace, reminding me that as long as I kept trying, the Divine would help me and lead me.

That day, I committed to this church, this institution, but more importantly, I made a covenant between myself and my God that had no intermediary. This was a personal covenant. A covenant to the journey. I promised that I would follow. When people around me, not members of the Church, asked why I was doing this, I told them it was because I felt that God was asking me to do this right now. It was the right thing for the right time.

For much of that first year, I had been quite honest about my struggles with faith and my doubts. However, something had kept me afloat in this faith, in assurance of the truth of this church and the nobility of this work.

During April, that string of attachment snapped. I suppose the tension and weight had become too strong. That rope had been fraying for many weeks, growing weaker and weaker, the light dimmer and dimmer.

I asked to be released from my calling, told my Relief Society president that I would no longer be able to keep my visiting teaching route, and cried in the church parking lot.

I could feel no Spirit of God. I could fathom no faith in any type of god who created or loved or paid attention to the workings of this planet. My mind and world was dark. Hard as I tried, I could not bring myself to believe essential doctrines. Everything ceased making sense to me, ceased seeming reasonable. I was utterly alone in the dark, angry that I had been so foolish as to accept the doctrines of this church and live with a false hope. I was angry that I’d ever dared to think any kind of god existed.

*This post is part of a series entitled "A Year of Absence." Read Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.*

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Two Years

“Come, come ye saints, no toil nor labor fear, but with joy, wend your way.”

Two years.

This second year of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has certainly not looked like I expected it would.

Two years.

Two years ago, on the day I was baptized, I believed I was making a commitment to God, this church, and to this gospel - the commitment to God being the most important, and the commitment to this church being an appendage to that, but not an integral part.

I believed that God had led me to this church and these principles - faith in a God who acts morally towards Their children and provides salvation from the ills of this life, and repentance of wrongs and ignorance with the possibility to grow and improve. I believed that God had led me, and I believed that God would continue to lead me. I did not assume that this day or this church was necessarily the last stop. I committed to following God wherever God led for my whole life - whether God intended to keep me in this church or not. My baptismal covenant - for ME, personally - was not a covenant to any church but a covenant with a living God who continues to speak to us.

This past year has not been like anything I would have imagined or chosen. It has surely been a year spent seeking God in God’s various forms. Trying desperately to find God’s voice. Learning about who God is, what God is like.

Two years.

The things I have learned about God in this second year are quite different than the things I learned about God in my first year. But they are also the same. I have learned that God is love. I have learned that God is present. I have learned that God is big - bigger than anything we can imagine in our tiny imperfect human minds.

On the day I was baptized, I received a small compass pendant. I wore this necklace daily as a sign and symbol of the commitments I'd made, as a reminder of my responsibilities and, more importantly, God’s promises. In the book of 1 Nephi, Lehi and his family use the Liahona to know where to go. God gives the Liahona power to show Lehi where to go as he has faith and is obedient to the commandments, as he does what is right. My necklace reminded me of this Liahona, and reminded me that as I was faithful and trusting, I would be led to know what to do. I believed that God had led me thus far, and that God would continue to show me whither I should go.

Two years.

Two years of trusting that I would always be led, as long as I sought guidance and listened.

Well, most of two years. There was a period during this second year that I did not believe that I would could be led. I don't know why this happened. I don't know if I was led during this time. I can't explain all the feelings that I had during that time, or why I had them - anger, confusion, sadness, hopelessness, loneliness. But I know again that I am guided by a light which resides deep within me, which can be heard when I cultivate stillness and practice the discipline of simply being.

I find moments of happiness. I find moments of wholeness. I find pieces of a confident trust in a power beyond myself. I hope.

I am not the same girl I was on the day of my baptism. I am not the same kind of Mormon I was the day I was baptized. However, my name is on the books and I hold to a hope that there is a power within and beyond us which beckons us forward and will deign to reveal to us what we should do - a power many call “God.” A power which created our world and our lives and is deeply invested in the happenings of our existence. A being who longs to see all of creation, “all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people” liberated from sin and darkness and united in love for one another.

Because I hold to this hope, because I believe in a God who continually gives new information to humanity, because I want to be a part of a community who encourages questions and seeks to learn what God would have them learn, because I love the story of a small boy with big questions who was brave enough and confident enough to ask God what’s what - because of all these things, I'll keep the “Mormon” label. And I'll end this in a characteristically Mormon fashion - with a testimony.

Today, on this two-year anniversary, I believe two things.

  1. The day dawn is breaking.
  2. We’ll find the place which God for us prepared.

I have this hope as an anchor for my soul.