Why Do You Stay If You Don’t Believe?

Some of you may know Ann – she’s a long-time commenter, and a thoughtful one at that. She’s been kind enough to submit a guest post related to our ongoing discussions of why people stay in the Church when they don’t believe the entirety of the Church’s teachings. I’d invite you to listen to her story, and comment with the same thoughtfulness and compassion that Ann has obviously put into her remarks.

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When I proposed the idea of guest blogging on this topic to the Cabal, I had thought I would write a detached, impersonal essay about why non-believers (as a group) might want to continue to attend and participate as members of the CoJCoLdS This topic has been addressed other places, and in a manner similar to my original choice. My friend Peggy Rogers wrote an essay, The Paradox of the Faithful Unbeliever, several years ago. The subject was also the topic of a Sunstone Symposium session in August 2003 (printed in the magazine under the title Why We Stay in October, 2003). Since there has been so much said along those lines in other places – and even here, in the “Firestorm” thread – I’m going to address the subject more directly: Why do I keep attending and participating as a member of the CoJCoLdS when I no longer believe many of the church’s unique doctrinal claims? At the risk of invoking a hearty “Who cares?” from anybody reading, here goes…

The first reason I continue to attend church is my husband. We come from very different backgrounds and found each other rather late (late 30’s). I consider that finding as almost miraculous; I had a very bad first marriage, and this one is everything I could have hoped for. We rarely argue. He’s a wonderful listener (which works out well, because I’m quite a talker). He has been encouraging and supportive and stalwart during my long, messy, angry, and painful journey from devout convert to bemused observer. I think he loves me more than God does. He is a loyal, faithful believer. If I go to church with him, it is to the LDS church. Why would I want to go to church somewhere else when I can go with him?

Second is awareness of my own limitations. I am perfectly willing to accept that I might be wrong about my conclusions. Other people know all the same things I do about problematic issues, and yet have not come to the same conclusions. Perhaps somewhere along the line, I will be able to synthesize the data in such a way that I will see what others see and I am missing. I have not yet received the gift of believing on the words of those who believe. Perhaps I never will. But I try to be open to the gift if it should come.

The third reason is communion. I was born and raised Catholic, and I take the sacrament in a way that may be different from how other members see it: it’s a community act. When I take the sacrament, I see a group of people, who may not have a whole lot in common besides their church membership, coming together as they seek to remember and emulate and learn about Jesus. The sacrament is a powerful symbol of many things to me, including our common humanity, desire to serve, and the great Teacher who brings us together. The room is filled with good people. They’re my neighbors. I want to share that symbolism with them.

The final, and most significant reason I continue to attend is personal revelation. After a particularly horrible sacrament meeting (it was a High Council Sunday), I decided I was done. I went to my bishop’s office and told him that as soon as he replaced me as Primary President (a process that was already underway) that I would not be back. Later that day, as I was complaining to God about my horrible sacrament meeting and how I didn’t want to go back, he told me very clearly: This IS my church. Stay.” Maybe I don’t invest the proper meaning in that statement: God didn’t say “only,” so I don’t infer it. God didn’t provide any information as to WHY I should stay, only that I should. So, I do.

I don’t delude myself that I’m making a difference. The church is what it is, and I’m not in a position to affect any changes. I don’t do things that require bearing a testimony, which means I pretty much can’t hold a calling, unless somebody decides someday I’d be good on the activities committee or as a building scheduler. I can’t even sing in the choir now, because I’m not detached enough to sing big arrangements of “Praise to the Man.” It gives me pause that I may never go to the temple again.

More often than many believers, though, I sit in a pew on Sundays, singing the hymns (sometimes thinking alternate lyrics, I confess), listening for the good in the talks and taking the sacrament with my friends, the Saints. Very recently, for the first time in several years, I had a connection with the divine. LDS would describe it as the Holy Ghost. My Buddhist friend says it’s the Great Emptiness from which everything emanates and to which everything returns. Maybe I was just tuned in to a perfect E-flat being hummed by the Collective Unconscious. I don’t know what it was, but it happened, to me, in an LDS sacrament meeting. Maybe it will happen again. I want to be there if it does.

Comments

  1. A moving post, Ann. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Interesting, Ann. Thanks. I admire your willingness to remain open to the fact that your conclusions are not infallible.

  3. “Other people know all the same things I do about problematic issues, and yet have not come to the same conclusions.”

    This is really, really refreshing.

  4. Ann, nothing to say but “amen.”

  5. D. Fletcher says:

    A beautiful and brave post, Ann, thanks for giving it to us so willingly.

    I don’t believe in the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon, and I haven’t since I was a teenager in seminary. I was really into archaeology at the time, and it just seemed wrong to me that there would be no physical evidence, no buried pottery, no buildings, no writings of any kind of these people who lived until 500 AD, not that long ago in archeological determination. I concluded that Joseph Smith wrote this book. Having made this conclusion at an early age, my “disbelief” about the Book of Mormon and its writing has colored my thinking about a lot of other Church beliefs and practices, all emanating from Joseph Smith and his particular and peculiar teachings.

    And yet I have stayed. I have felt the warm feelings, and the connection with the Saints. I have paid my tithing and faithfully filled callings. I have rarely spoken up about some of my concerns, though in private, I’ve been tormented all my life.

    Some years ago, I prayed very fervently about this issue. Why do so many people believe in the Book of Mormon, and not me? What do they know that I don’t? I prayed very sincerely, but with real complaint — God, if you love me the way I assume you do, why won’t you let me in on the secret? And I received a very strong personal revelation, in words — Why do you doubt? Hasn’t it brought you to me?

    Indeed, it had. Finally I knew the secret: that the Book of Mormon is scripture, another Witness of Christ, which is the conduit for many to come unto Him. Joseph Smith himself may have known this, or may not have; it doesn’t matter to me. The truth of the book is in its power to convert and transform the lives of its readers, as Jesus would have them do, and not in its historical, factual veracity.

    Here are some lines I wrote on another thread:

    I’m somebody that chooses to stay in, despite huge doubts as to the veracity of the origins of the Church, and a continuous unpleasantness when dealing with the bureaucracy.

    Joseph Smith’s main value is that he brought back to the earth real feeling for Jesus (admittedly a controversial point for other faiths). Joseph “restored” Jesus to the earth, in my view, and this is the chief reason I have attended the LDS church. I have looked into other faiths, but I didn’t feel the feeling there.

    Though I also grate at the abuse of authority in our Church, I enjoy many of the uplifting messages, in talks and classes, pertaining to Jesus, His divinity, His sacrifice, and my benefit. Nothing is so moving as unresolved yearning, the yearning of someone wanting to alter their life for the better. The power in Jesus’s message is that everyone can alter their life and gain a bit of eternal happiness.

    I haven’t sought a Temple Recommend for 20 years, and I didn’t serve a mission call. I’m a mousy, social invert, a little bit thick of tongue and mind, but in my solitary way eminently suited to accompanying hymn-singing on the organ or piano. As an accompanist, I have found a social outlet, because a good accompanist is a catalyst for a lot of different kinds of events, stage plays, concerts, recitals, parties, weddings, funerals, and regular church services. It is my central identity, and the chief way that I participate in the LDS meetings.

    I’ve been chastized for this viewpoint, and I’ve had some traumatic episodes, particularly this year. But I’ve recovered, surprisingly energized, to realize that my talents haven’t gone away, and may be employed another day.

  6. Ann, one more thing: I wish you were in my ward; I would love to have you in my choir.

  7. What I think is interesting in Ann’s remarks is that it opens up the idea that we can enjoy and get spiritual fulfilment out of our worship without it being tied to doctrines. It suggests to me that there is real value in our community and our meetings, beyond the sharing of common belief.

  8. Ann,

    One of the many things I find interesting about your post is that it reveals a practical approach towards religion that is an oft-dismissed factor as to why people embrace, or continue in, a religion. Leaders of religions generally prefer to take their beliefs black–but many followers are privately happy to add some cream. I personally am generally happy that our leaders promote a vigorous faith rather than a weak version that would gradually die on the vine. It seems to me that in our zeal some followers want to up the ante in ways that make equally devout but more measured saints uncomfortable. Upping the ante takes many forms–making claims that exceed revealed knowledge (see some of the excesses on recent T&S threads dealing with IVF and embryos), inventing new commandments (see Coke) and driving the sick from the hospital (see demands for total fealty to the tribe). Unfortunately, as in politics, so in religion, fringe elements who are most devoted to their cause often drive the agenda and control the discourse.

    I’m not saying that you are mainstream in your attitudes or beliefs–you seem to recognize that the opposite is true. But you seem to have succeeded in drawing an appropriate line where others have not–choosing silence rather than riding your hobby horse from the pulpit down the ailse and into your neighbors’ homes. Quiet, introspective and open–not a bad form of worship in my opinion.

  9. ann, loved your post. i too am trying to remember the good things about the church as i transition into non-believing member status. i am glad that there are people like those here at BCC that think there is a place in the church for us.

  10. Ann, I really appreciated you sharing your thoughts. I actually found what you wrote to be edifying and affirming.

    D. Fletcher,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings as well. I really appreciated being able to read them.

    I’m glad that both of you stick around with the LDS Church, despite doubts and trials that show up.

  11. Enjoyed your comments as usual Ann.

    I lost my belief, quit going, and finally resigned my membership. My wife and daughters still attend; in fact, my wife teaches early morning seminary. I can relate to those who are making a go out of attending, even after losing some or all of their conviction that TCOJCOLDS is the one and only true church.

    In my case, however, the continued investment of time and energy in something I clearly couldn’t believe was making me a terrible father and husband. Leaving has actually helped me become better. I am resigned to missing my daughters’ weddings and sitting in the congregation with my female relatives when babies are blessed; for me, it’s a small price to pay.

  12. The reason some people stay is because the church is really good at tearing families apart if one should become a non-believer. I know of many cases where a believing spouse has left a non-believing one. The belief that was created as a defense for Joseph Smith’s polygamy – eternal marriage – is taught to members, making them think this is the only church where eternal families are possible… BS! If a mother or father doesn’t want her or his family ripped apart, they better damn well keep believing, in some situations. Or as in the case of an adult finding out the truth about the church, perhaps leaving the church would break his mother’s heart. Hmmm… break mother’s heart or stay? Be separated from my children or stay? Be considered an outcast in the family bound for hell, or stay? Funny that the church that brags about, “Family – isn’t it about TIME?” is the one that tears so many apart.

  13. Peep,

    I sort of think that most of the saints think there is a place in the church for non-believers. That’s not to say BCC isn’t special; BCCers are probably better looking on average than the general membership (we’ll soon have the 2005 pin-ups ready for shipping).

  14. Ann, judging by this post you’ve done a fabulous job of retaining the compassion and love that the church really does try to promote. Although I no longer believe mormonism’s most fundamental claims, I simply can’t believe that it’s a malicious and damaging church. It’s always nice to hear from a fellow non-believer who still recognizes that the church is just like most groups of well-meaning people: flawed, yet still of worth.

  15. D. Fletcher says:

    Mathew,

    I, for one, am REALLY looking forward to those pinups. Will there be a calendar?

  16. Don’t hold your breath, D.

    It’s tempting for believing members to be tough on non-believers. After all, we think you’d be much better off if you could enjoy the benefits of full belief that we enjoy. So there’s this tension of being welcoming, yet wanting to continually prod people into doing better. It can be awkward at times.

  17. D. Fletcher says:

    Yes, being a doubter is almost automatically marginalizing. I felt quite marginalized at BYU, until I realized that there might be others in my precise predicament at BYU, and I sought them out and found a lot of good friends. BCC is kinda the same thing as that.

  18. B. Hedshiz says:

    Ann,

    Thank you for your heartfelt comments on the matter of attending church when we lack faith.

    I was a rather faithful Latter-Day Saint up until my 30th year. At that point I began to learn many issues from Church History that weren’t pointed out to me as I grew up.

    I became very bitter toward a faith that I felt had been less than honest with me. I told my devoted LDS spouse about my concerns and it did not go well. Took keep peace in the marriage, or even just keep the marriage, I backed off a step or two.

    But in the course of reviewing the evidence, I also found that I had adapted a more rational view of the universe. That change in how I view the world has helped me greatly outside of the church, but has made it impossible to move back into the faith of my youth.

    I have many wonderful feelings for my fellow saints, especially of my life with them as I grew up. I still strive to find that joy, but it is hard when the Church itself seems to have changed. Things are much more stale now at church. Lessons are correlated into pabulum, and bean counting trumps fellowship.

    I’m not the only member who feels that way. I know other, very faithful, Saints who feel the same way. Some who believe find themselves attending in spite of the sheer boredom that is the three-hour block. One of those members is my spouse.

    I’ve tried in vain to regain the spirituality that I had as a youth in order to get my tent to the center of Zion’s camp. Our leaders have made it clear that there is no middle ground. That makes me feel like there is currently no place for me in the religion.

    I’ve also tried in vain to feel that spirit of fellowship that I felt earlier in life. So far it has been very difficult. But I will persist in my efforts.

    Perhaps sometime in the future, my spouse will also have finally had it with the social and historical problems the church seems to have. Then we may both pack our tents up and leave Camp Zion.

    Until then, like Ann, I will keep attending and keep hoping for further revelation.

  19. IMHO, different methods of achieving spirituality work for different people. If someone is able to experience bliss, emptiness, or whatever you want to call it through following the LDS gospel, then who am I to judge? It wasn’t working for me, so I chose to follow a different spiritual path, one that works much better — for me.

    The problem is the either/or dichotomy that the Church appears to be moving towards — either all of the church’s historical and spiritual claims are “true” or they are fraudulent. If those claims are true, then the church is the one and only way to achieve ultimate salvation and spirituality. The middle ground on which people like Sterling McMurrin and, evidently, B.H. Roberts stood is shrinking, and that’s a shame. Fortunately, on the local level, there are plenty of bishops and stake presidents who will make room for an unbeliever who will carry a load.

  20. D. Fletcher says:

    I agree with you, Randy. I think the Church should put much more emphasis (than they do already) on personal revelation of the truthfulness, and not on any kind of physical, temporal evidence. FARMS, to me, is a bit of a mistake for the Church.

    Again, just my opinion.

  21. Thanks to everyone for your kind remarks. I know that everybody’s situation is different; I’m fortunate that my husband doesn’t expect (or want) me to pretend something that is not real, and that he has encouraged me to see worship symbolically. That freedom has, if anything, brought me CLOSER to the church than I was just a year ago. I think of Joseph Smith much more generously than I did in the early throes of my loss.

    John, I took the statement “This IS my church,” as God telling me I could find Him there.

  22. I'd rather not say says:

    Ann:

    Thank you for putting into words many of the thoughts and feelings I’ve experienced during the last year. Despite the shock of concluding that my religion is not all that I was taught it was, I have continued with normal church activity. In part, I continue because of my wife and children, parents and siblings. In part, I continue because of friendships. And, in part, I continue because it is comfortable.

  23. I suspect that there are many in the church who haven’t ever confronted any of the trickier doctrines or historical issues, so we can’t really say that they’ve resolved those issues for themselves because they don’t know about them, they’ve never felt the need to address them, or they’ve never found themselves in a forum in which those issues are even brought up. So it would be fair to say that they attend for exactly the same reasons as Ann — sociality, community ritual, and the opportunity for personal spiritual experiences — because they perhaps don’t have any more of a real conviction of church historicity than Ann does. Yet they wouldn’t ever think to call themselves anything less than fully devout.

    I suspect, for all of us on some level, the search for “what is true” is also/instead a search for “what ‘true’ is.”

  24. Has anyone else who as read Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” think perhaps it might address Ann’s situation?

  25. I have not yet received the gift of believing on the words of those who believe. Perhaps I never will. But I try to be open to the gift if it should come.

    I believe this is one of my gifts. My problem came when the person I believed fell away. Then I realized that I needed to know for myself, and I did not. I’m still searching.

    Davis:

    I admire your willingness to remain open to the fact that your conclusions are not infallible.

    If only more members of the church were so open it would make things easier on us faithful unbelievers.

  26. How can faithful believers best help faithful unbelievers? Is it any of our business? Should we be concerned that others don’t believe?

  27. D. Fletcher says:

    Maybe it isn’t a matter of belief vs. non-belief, but two separate sets of beliefs living side by side.

  28. This is an interesting topic because it’s so easy to lump “The Church” into a big generality, rather than a large group of individuals trying to work out their own salvation. As if all the talks given (general conference or otherwise) are all spoken to the everyone no matter their spiritual state. There are members dealing with all sorts of issues (as has been generously showcased here), we cannot assume that every message is meant for us. Of course there is room for those in every level/stage of spirituality/understanding. Christ taught different ideas to different people depending on their situations. I hope that we can see the teachings of the Church as speaking sometimes to some and sometimes to others. It’s the flawed people that assume all messages are meant for everyone.

  29. I agree with Rusty’s comment. Too often, Church members are seen as a homogenous group. In my experience, the members are anything but that.

  30. Well, you’re correct that the membership is not a homogeneous group, but the top brethren in Salt Lake City appear to be quite homogeneous — and they are the ones who define the LDS Church and its message. Wasn’t it Boyd K. Packer who quoted Harold B. Lee for the proposition that leaders in the LDS Church face only one way? I don’t think there is room in the organization — at least from the POV of the top leadership –for those who, say, take a purely allegorical view of the “Book of Mormon” or who believe that the “Book of Abraham” was made up out of whole cloth, and who are willing to openly discuss their views. I myself have no interest in returning to the fold, but I feel for those members who are left feeling like they have one foot in and one foot out.

  31. D. Fletcher: I think the Church should put much more emphasis (than they do already) on personal revelation of the truthfulness, and not on any kind of physical, temporal evidence. FARMS, to me, is a bit of a mistake for the Church.

    I think that FARMS espouses that view rather strong, so I’m not quite sure how you see them arguing otherwise. They at best provide arguments against some of the arguments of critics. The can only show how one can be a believing member and be rational.

    Apologetics can only perhaps alleviate some questions. But a testimony never comes by way of external evidence. Most FARMS articles are emphatic on this point.

  32. Lovely comments, Ann. As you know from my comments to you elsewhere, I totally support you in your chosen path. And as you know, I’ve moved in quite a different direction…i.e., out of the church.

    Many (though, thankfully, not all) of the faithful believers in my life have at times made me feel inadequate because I couldn’t bring myself to stay in the church when I stopped believing. Trying to be compassionate, welcoming and helpful, they point to people with stories such as yours, they point to their own unorthodoxy (in whatever degree), and say “if there’s a place in the church for X and me, there’s a place for you.” Unfortunately, this often comes across as “if X and I can find a place in the church despite unbelief, why can’t you? What’s wrong with you, anyway? Are you just not trying hard enough, do you just not want it bad enough, are you too angry and bitter, are you not sufficiently spiritually enlightened…etc.?”

    I recognize my limitations, too. I’ve come to different conclusions about LDS doctrine than some people. I’ve come to different conclusions about Catholic doctrine, Jewish teachings and Muslim teachings than some people. I recognize that I may be wrong not to wear garments, not go to Mass, not to celebrate Shabbat, and/or not to wear the hijab. I may be wrong to reject these paths without having spent a lifetime in search of the depths of wisdom to be found in each tradition. And I do believe that there are such depths of wisdom to be found in any of them, including the LDS. But I do not have as many lifetimes as there are religions. I can only feel sure that I have this one lifetime. I’d rather not spend it in a spiritual community whose foundational claims I can’t agree with, and whose current practices do not make my soul sing.

  33. David King Landrith says:

    I’ve heard inactives told that they are welcome to participate at any level that they feel comfortable. Presumably this has something to do with the parable of the lost sheep. I’ve often wondered why Mormon’s are reluctant to extend the same courtesies to those drifting away (so to speak) as those who are drifting back in.

    And for the record: many, many, many more people struggle with their faith than talk about it.

  34. Ann: Since you believe that you can find God in the LDS church, would you stay even if your husband shared your opinion about the Church? Do you believe that you do find God there, or are you simply hoping that someday you will?

  35. Would I stay if my husband shared my opinions? Heavens, no! I don’t have the deep roots that many faithful unbelievers have, so I have very little social/family reason to stick around. I wouldn’t leave without asking God about it, though,. If he said to stick around…well, I probably would, but I wouldn’t be too happy about it, and He’d have some ‘splainin’ to do in the next life.

    I find God there as well as I find him anywhere. At least, I find my experience of God there. I think God doesn’t conform to my expectations or beliefs of Him. He is what He is, and what I believe is pretty much irrelevant to that belief. I find what I expect there, I guess, and it’s mostly good.

  36. Steve Evans: “How can faithful believers best help faithful unbelievers? Is it any of our business? Should we be concerned that others don’t believe?

    Frankly, I don’t know. I suppose awareness that there are many who attend church for reasons other than belief in some or all of the claims of the church may help. I remember as Elders’ Quorum president feeling great frustration at the slothfulness of some of the members of the quorum. I attributed it to laziness. I would have been a better leader if I had an understanding that many of them may not have believed as completely as I did, but only attended because of upbringing or to make a spouse or parent happy.

    At church I keep my mouth shut. I believe that fellowship in the church is based parly on being with people that believe the same thing you do. That you can go somewhere where others will not question your belief in doctrines/history that the world views as “strange.”

    There are some members that I suspect may share my views. At some point I may venture to establish a rapport. I long for fellowship of my own. The ability to discuss the issues that face a faithful unbeliever like myself in a non-confrontational way. My Sunstone subscription and message board postings only get me so far.

  37. “He is what He is, and what I believe is pretty much irrelevant to that belief.”

    What a wonderfully pardoxical sentence. I still can’t quite puzzle out what it means, but if feels deep. Perhaps I just need to chant it over and over again like a mantra, or perhaps figure out the hidden meaning contained in the gammitry of the letters.

  38. Nate, is it that complicated? She’s saying that our own subjective interpretations of God are irrelevant to God’s actual nature.

  39. Actually, you’re both right, Nate and Steve. I read that over and thought, “Well, that sure isn’t what I thought I wrote.” What Steve wrote is exactly what I meant, only more accurately worded.

  40. Well done Ann, thank you.

  41. I meant the label of paradox as a high compliment. Steve’s rewording may be more accurate, but I confess that I like Ann’s original formulation better.

  42. Nate, me too.

  43. he told me very clearly: “This IS my church. Stay.”

    I think it is interesting how people respond to messages of that sort.

    Or, compare

    And I received a very strong personal revelation, in words — Why do you doubt?

    What if we had Eli’s sons or Samuel’s sons with us today, how would we endure?

  44. I admit, Budge isn’t much better than Frazier’s later editions for accuracy, but when I was much younger it was a good introduction to the Book of Breathings.

    Later, as I began to realize that the Egyptians had an endowment (though they used boats in the place of bridges or doorways) with gods having grips and signs, and that it matched in many ways the Chinese endowment (preserved in funary veils, the Tongs/Triads and other groups), down to signs such as the sign of fire, and that the Book of Breathings was an endowment book similar to the masonic “cheat sheets” Masons use, I began to wonder how the Book of Abraham fit into our endowment.

    It is fun to read Enoch scholars ponder on how Joseph Smith’s version (the Book of Moses) has episodes and names lost to his time (though recently recovered) and to hear them insist that they will find his source, it wasn’t angels or revelation, the truth will out (as a friend said, “sure, the Wandering Jew just dropped by and spent a summer with the Smiths tutoring Joseph on Enoch — now that’s a non-miraculous explanation we can all live with”).

    Had a friend recently see the latest King Tut exhibit and come back in awe of the Book of Abraham as an endowment that fits the motifs so well, without the magic.

    Then I meet people that aren’t inspired and it is fascinating, especially as we have both had God tell us this is his church and we should be a part of it.

    I’ve been pondering the meaning of revelation for a long time, not to mention the meaning of prophets and where an endowment fits in a literate society with books.

    What does literacy do to us and for us? It is an amazing question.

  45. I am in infrequent visitor to BCC but the dialogue here never fails to stimulate.

    Just one comment, which I hope will be taken in the spirit in which I offer it: This blog seems very inwardly-focused. Posters here seem very concerned about their own struggles. Now, that is a very legitimate function for a blog like this; I am sure it is very therapeutic for many. But . . . do you find, as I do, that there is very little here on BCC about serving God and others? A huge part of my faith comes from the joy of service, whether as a young men president now, as a Scoutmaster in the past, or even as a ward clerk. I am struck by how little there is here about how to serve better, more patiently, more lovingly, etc., which I find to be big challenges.

    Just a question, not loaded, and not a criticism. What do you think?

  46. Lowell, I think that service to others is the core of the gospel and the truth to religion. You’ve made a good point in many ways.

  47. D. Fletcher says:

    Although I agree with Lowell, in theory, about service, I don’t know how that would play out here on the blogs. How best to serve someone else in need but perhaps by writing my own experience of a similar nature and the wisdom I gained from it. By validating someone in their conflict.

    But in order to do that, someone’s got to write up their own conflict here, and it might seem a little bit…inwardly-focused.

  48. Lowell,

    I think you raise an excellent point, but if you think this little corner of the web is inwardly focused, what must you think of places like FARMs? Regardless, I’m a big believer that at the end of the day, our actions and service to others will count far, far more than our beliefs, whatever they may be. Your point is well taken.

  49. Lowell, you’re right about needing to serve others. And you’re also right about “This blog seems very inwardly-focused. Posters here seem very concerned about their own struggles.”

    But while you’re right, you’re also wrong. Weblogs are by their very nature inwardly-focused; they are public, online diaries. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to see that we’re all navel-gazing around here — that’s the essential nature of a blog. It’s true that BCC is on the border between a true blog and an online forum, so your points have some merit, but we’re not a magazine or a journal.

    Now, your comment is a little strange; is it possible that you’re not really talking about what our blog content ought to be, but rather how we as bloggers should be thinking? That is, are you saying we’d be happier if we stopped moping and griping and started serving others?

  50. Steve:

    My comment was an on-line musing, not intended to be a commentary on how anyone else should act or think. So I hope it is not strange.

    I’ll try to add some substance to my musing. I consider myself an LDS intellectual (applying to myself one of many meanings of that term) and love the life of the mind as much as the next person. Over the years (I’m an older guy now) I’ve not stopped navel-gazing, but have found great peace and satisfaction in focusing on discipleship at the same time. I guess I’ve read too many Neal Maxwell books and talks and it started to stick.

    At the risk of causing some here to think I am simplistic, I’ll say that that short line in 1 Nephi 11:17, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things,” means a great deal to me. (I also do not think Joseph Smith wrote that or any of the other gems in the Book of Mormon, but that’s a subject for another time.)

    An application: There is a lot of behavior by some in my immediate stake and ward that, were I to focus on it, would be a significant and dispiriting distraction to me. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) And yet right now I am the Young Men president in my ward. I have three priests who are struggling with various real-life challenges right now, a 14 year-old teacher who’s at a crossroads in his life, and a brand-new Scoutmaster who needs training. I am getting huge spiritual rewards from loving all these people, and generally using my wits and my heart to do that. When I am doing so, those behavior issues involving others fade in my consciousness and I even find I can be more patient with those people. That strikes me as an approach that works, at least for me.

    Man, I know that sounds preachy and simplistic, but I am just reporting on my own experience. When I come here to visit this blog and see so much energy spent on rather negative issues, I am struck by the contrast between the way reading that material makes me feel and the way service makes me feel.

    Just a comment. I am not saying these blogs should be Sunday School lessons or BYU student ward testimony meetings. But they might be more rewarding and less discouraging if they focused outwardly a little more often.

    But then again, I could be wrong! ;-)

  51. Lowell, I’m glad you’ve brought up that contrast in feelings. I’ve felt the same way too at times, so I don’t think you’re wrong.

    Any advice, perhaps, on how to say something interesting and yet outwardly-focused?

  52. Lowell, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by outwardly-focused. Your latest comments seem to address what you perceive to be an undue focus on negative issues. Are you equating the two? They seem quite different to me.

  53. Lowell Brown says:

    Randy:

    I’m not equating the two. When I referred to coming here “to visit this blog and see so much energy spent on rather negative issues,” I used “negative issues” as short-hand for “self-centered discussion.” Again, I am uncomfortable saying that because I do not intend to march onto this blog and upbraid everyone. That’s not my intent at all.

  54. Lowell, I see a couple of problems with talking about service here–while I have some tough visiting teaching assignments and I would love to ask this online community’s advice about how to deal with them, it would feel like gossiping to divulge the nature of the challenges I’m trying to help with. And when I’ve had a successful experience with giving service, performing my calling well, etc., it would seem (to me at least) really boastful to describe it publicly. It’s hard to walk the line between honesty and negativity, I think, especially if one wants to avoid preachiness.

  55. Right, Kristine. A strong point. I am not offering suggestions, just reporting a reaction. I come away from service a little more full than I started, and I usually come away from this blog a little more empty than I started. But my experience may not be the same for everyone. I am sure, for example, that many leave here glad to know they are not alone and that others share their concerns about the Church.

  56. Lowell: You make an important point. However, we belong to a church that sometimes makes it difficult to simply focus on service and let the intellectual issues go. We have regular testimony meetings where we are encouraged to publicly proclaim our convictions about core doctrines. We spend a lot of time in classes where we are instructed in doctrine. As a condition of temple attendance, we must affirm our belief in things that most of the world considers incredible. We have a lot of policies and procedures which govern many aspects of our lives. Although we teach the importance of service, service alone is never enough. As a result, when some of what is taught does not make sense to some people, it creates a lot of tension. The Church makes it quite difficult to just ignore those issues because they are woven into many aspects of our daily lives. As a result, people are driven to try to make sense of it all. I think that is what gives birth to blogs like this and to the many other forums for these kinds of discussions. If one’s life is consumed by this kind of instropection and questioning, it would indeed be destructive. However, some of it is essential for some people.

  57. Gary: I agree. We cannot “let the intellectual issues go.” There can be no real faith without reason. But neither should reason engulf faith. Service alone is never enough, but in terms of the time and energy we devote to it, service must always be at least as important as instruction (I would argue more important) and much more important than intellectual inquiry for its own sake. And to the extent blogs like this one give people with questions a place to discuss them without creating stumbling blocks for themselves or others, they’re very useful.

    At least that’s how the world looks to me. I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion. ;-)

  58. “as I was complaining to God about my horrible sacrament meeting and how I didn’t want to go back, he told me very clearly: “This IS my church. Stay.” Maybe I don’t invest the proper meaning in that statement: God didn’t say “only,” so I don’t infer it. God didn’t provide any information as to WHY I should stay, only that I should. So, I do.”

    Ann, of all the great thoughts in your post, this is my favorite. I’m curious, did you infer these words to mean, “This IS my Church,” as in, it’s God’s church. Or did you take it to mean, “This is MY Church,” meaning it’s your Church and you ought to stick with it?

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