There and Back Again: A Blogger’s Tale

Four years ago, I sat in a cramped Manhattan apartment and set up my first blog, “Mormon Rhetoric.”  I started this blog in a moment of frustration.  I had recently married in the temple.  But what should have been a key spiritual moment instead led to a spiritual crisis. Unable to reconcile how I perceived the temple’s message about women with my personal beliefs, I wanted my questions to be heard.  The blog was short-lived.

I was soon invited to join By Common Consent.  I had never heard of the Bloggernaccle, and I initially didn’t understand the social nature of the blog.  I didn’t realize that community, not ideas, was what made the Bloggernaccle thrive.  But I learned.  Now, four years later, I’m retiring from the ranks of BCC permablogger so that new voices can be heard.  Before I go, I want to reflect on the key thing I’ve learned through the people here: I can’t make intellectual peace with Mormonism, but I can make emotional peace with Mormons.

I became an adult over the course of my time at BCC.  In my personal life, I got married, gave up a career path I cared about when my spouse got an incompatible job, and, finally, started up a new career.  Each step in this steep learning curve was directly or indirectly reflected on the blog in posts where we supported and argued with each other over the issues these decisions raise about what it means to be Mormon in a twenty-first century world.

In the end, I’ve learned that if being Mormon means believing in a coherent set of doctrine that both explains and prescribes our existence, then I can’t do it.  The diversity of our experiences cuts against any attempt to comprehend God’s plan for our lives in simple maxims.  The questions that motivated me to start blogging still have no satisfying answers.  The temple still leaves me dissatisfied; the hierarchal organization of the Church still strikes me as less than perfect.  Mormonism as an organized, doctrinal entity is perhaps something I can never fully embrace.

And, yet, I’m leaving BCC with a renewed interest in the Church.  As we’ve witnessed members of our blogging community grapple with personal crisis and also successes, it is impossible not to see how those experiences have profoundly shaped our sometimes divergent views.  The most important thing I’ve learned through blogging is that I need to understand what motivates people who disagree with me.  For me, Mormonism at its best means something as simple and practical as that God wants us to care for each other.  The doctrinal questions only matter to the extent that they help or inhibit us in fulfilling this core goal.

In sum, I moved away from an interest in Mormonism as a cultural/doctrinal/intellectual organization towards a view of religion as primarily a place to help each other.  While I haven’t found the intellectual answers I seek, through blogging I’ve come to value church for being the space that pushes me most to love those who have little in common with me.

Wards can be hard places to learn about others in.  BCC gave me a my first place to have honest discussions with people about the issues most important to them.  It also gave me my first meaningful chance to have male Mormon friends.  I hope these aspects of the Bloggernaccle will  penetrate into the more scripted confines of our individual wards as we come and go from the Bloggernaccle.  These conversations are a necessary step in the project of learning to live with and trust each other.

My commitment to the church as primarily a practical place for fellowship leaves me with questions: What makes religion unique from mere service if we question some of its doctrinal messages?  What church issues are worth taking a stand about rather than putting on the shelf?  How is a service-oriented church best organized?  But I look forward to reading the musings of current and new bloggers here.

Thanks for four years,

Natalie Brown


  1. Steve Evans says:

    Natalie, thanks for everything.

  2. Hugs, Natalie.

  3. David Marshall says:

    Interesting post, not have seen your evolution over the last 4 years I cannot see your journey. I apologize for not having that perspective. However, if the LDS faith is not a coherent set of doctrine, it is not inspired. From the day Joseph walked from the grove it is an all in game. If its fruits are not a coherent set of doctrine what is it? Its value cannot truly be found in the good it does nor in the good works its members produce. That can easily be done elsewhere. It does not reconcile itself to our comfort nor to our intellectual inclinations. It exists separate and apart whether we choose to embrace or shun. I suppose that is why there be few that find it ultimately.

  4. One of my BYU profs in candid moments liked to say about church history/doctrine/stuff in that realm, “you can have it all or you can have it consistent, but you can’t have both.”

    Thanks for your sharing Natalie.

  5. Wes Brown says:

    You made BCC better, Natalie. Your honest and insightful posts were some of my favorite. Instead of offering up answers, you always seemed to be asking questions and I, for one, think that is a good way to participate in religious discussions.

    Have fun exploring your “Tookish” side.

  6. Chris H. says:

    Good luck in your pursuits.

  7. Thanks Natalie. I relate to your lack of understanding of the social dynamics of Mormon blogging. I’ve enjoyed your journey. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, Natalie, and I will miss the thought-provoking moments they provided.

    God bless you – and “May there be a road.”

  9. Here are some words from Elder Gordon Hinckley which haunt me every time I experience or hear of a crisis of faith. It’s a pretty bold dialogue that I wouldn’t dare ask of another but I often reply in my mind… I think one could readily substitute all of the concerns and consequences of a testimony that are described with similar concerns over structure,priesthood temples etc
    I have been thinking this morning of a friend of mine whom I knew when I was on a mission inh London thirty-six years ago. I remember his coming to our apartment through the rain of the night. He knocked at the door, and I invited him in.

    He said, “I’ve got to talk with someone. I’m all alone. I’m undone.”

    And I said, “What’s your problem?”

    And he said, “When I joined the Church a little less than a year ago, my father told me to get out of his home and never come back. And I’ve never been back.”

    He continued, “A few months later the cricket club of which I was a member read me off its list, barring me from membership with the boys with whom I had grown up and with whom I had been so close and friendly.”

    Then he said, “Last month my boss fired me because I was a member of this church, and I have been unable to get another job and I have had to go on the dole.

    “And last night the girl with whom I have gone for a year and a half said she would never marry me because I’m a Mormon.”

    I said, “If this has cost you so much, why don’t you leave the Church and go back to your father’s home and to your cricket club and to the job that meant so much to you and to the girl you think you love?”

    He said nothing for what seemed to be a long time. Then, putting his head down in his hands, he sobbed and sobbed. Finally, he looked up through his tears and said, “I couldn’t do that. I know this is true, and if it were to cost me my life, I could never give it up.”

    He picked up his wet cap and walked to the door and out into the rain, alone and trembling and fearful, but resolute.

  10. You’ll be missed, Natalie. Good luck!

  11. Natalie B. says:

    David, cs —

    The questions you ask are important: It seems clear that people who consider themselves Mormon hold a variety of beliefs. For example, some believe it is all or nothing; some, like me, believe parts are inspired but think other aspects are merely historical. I don’t think we know yet if Mormonism can encompass all these types of Mormons and yet still be an institution that all Mormons find satisfying. There is an obvious tension between growing the church and retaining homogeneity of Church culture and belief.

    Personally, I think that we often fight with other Mormons because recognizing that we internally differ in our beliefs is far more threatening than being attacked by an outsider. Historically, Mormons have had it easy because we could feel persecuted by outsiders rather than deal with our internal differences. And, yet, it is precisely between Mormons where we have the most need to accept each other, and I think this will be one of the biggest challenges that we will face as Mormonism becomes more global.

    Clearly, we understand the gospel differently. But, I’m glad that all of us who consider ourselves Mormons–and I do consider myself an active Mormon–can find places like BCC to have conversations about what the gospel means to us. It’s through these conversations that I believe we can make Mormonism stronger.

  12. I think that we often fight with other Mormons because recognizing that we internally differ in our beliefs is far more threatening than being attacked by an outsider.

    Great point Natalie! Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  13. I did not quite get why you are leaving BCC, but the context of your involvement in the bloggernacle was interesting.

  14. Natalie, we hardly knew ye. Best of luck.

  15. Godspeed, Natalie. Thanks for all that you’ve added to the many conversations here.

  16. Cheers!

  17. I’ll miss you Natalie. I haven’t often commented on them, but I’ve always enjoyed your posts.

  18. I think a great part of the dissonance is because some people call themselves Mormons for reasons of faith and some for social reasons. And within those two broad headings, I suppose there can be sub-headings also, and certainly there can be combinations and mixings.

  19. Even though I’ve mostly lurked, I’ve enjoyed your contribution… perhaps because I’m at a similar stage in life and with the Church and have come to similar conclusions. Even if you are stepping away as a Perma, I hope you’ll stick around as a member of the community.

    I’m not a fan of this dichotomy of people who make room for the Church for faith vs culture (you only stay because your family is Mormon or you like the community, etc) because the hegemonic faith position is that everything is divinely inspired. Thus, it tends to discount a lot of us who may not agree entirely with the correlated version of Mormonism as our faith, who don’t really care for much for the culture, but still find Mormonism a reasonably comfortable place – for a variety of reasons – to explore our spirituality and our relationship with humanity. I am thankful for people like you are willing to stand up and actively voice that third way.

  20. Paul Bohman says:

    Natalie B,

    I wish you the best. Good luck navigating the path in between the church as a cultural/doctrinal/intellectual organization the church as merely (or mostly) a place to help each other. I’m familiar with that path, having walked it for years. There are lots of other organizations through which to help people though. There are lots of ways to make personal and spiritual connections with people that don’t involve listening to talks and lessons and discussions that fervently teach things that you don’t believe.

    Of course, leaving that path comes at a cost too. Maybe you’ll reach a tipping point at which you realize that the cost of staying is more expensive than the cost of going. Maybe you won’t. Maybe honesty will win out over loyalty, or maybe some other factor will assume a more prominent role in your decision-making process. Whatever you do, keep it genuine and take courage in your innermost feelings. Be respectful of others’ faith stories, and keep writing your own, wherever that may lead. Throughout it all, take special care to resist bitterness. That’s a hard one sometimes, but it’s incredibly important. Again, I wish you the best.

  21. Good luck, Natalie – hope your journey continues well.

  22. nat kelly says:

    Dang. I always make a point to read your posts, and am always interested in what you have to say. BCC is definitely losing something with your exit. Thanks for helping to take us through some of those questions.

  23. Natalie, I’m sad to see you go. I’ve loved reading your posts. I hope you pop in from time to time. Thanks for your insight and good luck with everything.

  24. I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving, Natalie. I’ve always enjoyed your posts. Particularly there was on that sticks out in my mind that you wrote about the connection between the Church and Boy Scouts that I can’t find at the moment. Truly stellar!

    I hope good things come to you, and like others, I hope to see you commenting, even if you can only pop in now and again.

  25. Britt k says:

    thanks for your posts. I’m not a small tent mormon-mostly because that would involve excluding myself sometimes. I hope you still come and comment.