This is from: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here at work we recently have been hooked into the Internet, and I have availed myself of the opportunity to browse through various topics. I was more than a little surprised to find so much information regarding the Mormons, and their various detractors. You see, I am also a former member of the LDS church.
A little background on my mind set; I do not have anything against the Mormons, nor have I ever set out to disabuse any active member of their fallacious (from my point of view) belief system. I feel that religion and spirituality, while mutually exclusive of one another, are a personal thing not unlike an individual's spouse/lover. As such, they completely subjective to the individual, and have no basis in facts, provable datum, or any other quantifiable medium. I would no more want to tell a person that their religion is "wrong" than I would tell a friend that his/her spouse was ugly. When I left the Mormons, I did it on my own; no fanfare, no histrionic requests for excommunication or removal from the records. They are simply a worldly organization, and as such have no power over my own personal brand of spirituality. Any request for those actions would have given validation to any claims that they thought they might have over my soul. I my view, they have none.
My parents were converts to the church before I came along, so it was the belief system into which I was born. My earliest memories of the church, while not necessarily negative, are not really positive either. They are sort of bland; null, if you will. What I do remember are impressions of not seeing what everyone else seemed to be seeing, and feeling left out as a result. I would sit through the meetings, wondering if there was something wrong with me because I couldn't get up in front of the whole congregation and spout the same platitudes that my peers did. What prevented me from thinking and speaking as the others around me?
My father always called me "Mister Blunt" because I was unfailingly honest in my appraisals of people and situations. This got me into trouble more than once over the years. But, in this context, I could not testify to something which I did not really feel.
As I approached my 8th birthday, I was filled with trepidation. The Sunday school classes told me that I should feel something special, as those in my age group who had already been baptized vociferously proclaimed. But, try as I might, all I got out of the experience was wet, cold, and more confused.
The years passed, and I turned 12. The same lack of feeling was present at my ordination, and so on through my teen years, and the three levels of the Aaronic priesthood. I did the things that I was told to do, for to disobey my dad would bring swift retribution. I went to church, passed the sacrament, collected fast offerings, went home teaching, blessed the sacrament, spent time doing church stuff because I was always the "dutiful son". I just figured that I didn't feel anything because I wasn't "worthy" for some strange reason or another.
High school wound to a close, and I was pushed towards attending classes at BYU. I really didn't want to go there, but I felt that my father dealt with enough disappointment in my older brother - who was, and still is a complete social and metal misfit. So, off to the "Y" I went. Full of good intentions, I enrolled in my freshman year in the Fall of 1977. I have always been socially adept, and being loose on the BYU campus was like being on a field day - there were so many people to meet and learn from. But the heavy "Mormon" atmosphere was strange to me.
During my first week there, I met a person who would change my life. I was skateboarding (yes, skateboarding!) across campus, when I saw a woman who looked somehow familiar to me. I skated right up to her and stopped, realizing that I didn't really "know" her, but somehow I did. I know this sounds like the typical "boy meets girl" scenario, but this has only happened to me twice in my life. Once with her, and many years later when I met my wife (who is NOT Mormon). We fell madly, and completely in love over the next few months. For the first time in my life, I began to think that maybe the church did have a purpose in my life. The bond that we formed over those six short months together is something that has continued to exist, in one form or another since that time; although our lives did eventually take different tacks. We started talking about a future together, and then the subject of a mission came up. I hadn't really thought that I would participate in this ritual, but she seemed to think that I should do it, and get back as quickly as possible so we could get married.
So, I began the process of applying for a mission calling. Several agonizing months later, I received a call to Ecuador, Quito. I always had an affinity for Latin cultures (I speak fluent Spanish, as a result of my upbringing), so I figured that it wouldn't be so bad. I would go do my duty, and she would wait for me. Sounds real simple. You do what the lord wants of you, and everything will turn out peachy keen and rosy, right? WRONG!!!
From the get go, I KNEW that the mission was the wrong thing to do. The Language Training Mission (LTM) was fairly new back then, and I was shocked to find the type of treatment that we were to receive while there. We were not mistreated in any physical way - the beds were warm and dry, there was plenty of food, the temperature of the buildings was comfortable. But I have always been a reader, an independent thinker, and a bit of a rebel against people in authority over me who use the "because I said so" method of rule. That place is a serious boot camp for removing an a person's individuality, and replacing with an automatonlike mentality that leaves the weak minded completely gutted emotionally. Not unlike a military boot camp, the LTM drains a person of their roots, and bonds them to a system of religious salesmanship that makes them feel justified in doing just about anything for the cause, and walk around with a false sense of invulnerability.
While there, I saw young men and women driven to the point of tears by their own inability to cope with this mental and emotional reprogramming. Those who failed to pass the gauntlet were sent home to deal with the embarrassment of not honorably completing a mission. Being of strong will, I put my head down and dealt with it the best way I could - humor, and obeying the rules as I saw fit (without really pushing the envelope).
My rationale behind writing this - aside from the personal benefits that purging brings, is that I would hope that others may be able to read, and relate in some way to the things that have occurred in my life, and perhaps realize that it is OK to think for yourself, act for yourself, and be yourself, without having a pre-designed belief system to guide you. If one is truly living by The Golden Rule, then there is little need for any of the other accouterments that are offered by most organized religions.
Back to the story - [second letter]
Let's see....my previous communication found me at the LTM in Provo, Utah, straining to reconcile my feelings with what was occurring around me. As I mentioned previously, I dealt with the thought reconfiguration (I tend to think of the term 'mind control' as somewhat harsh) on my own terms. Think of it as an agreement I made with myself; I could put up with just about anything for a couple of years if it meant that I would be able to spend eternity with my intended spouse.
Even more so than in non-missionary Mormon life, my time was fully occupied by a constant barrage of repetition of dogma, litanies of stories that were told in ways that would hopefully inspire devotion, dedication, and single-mindedness. I went through the motions, and was actually quite successful at those things - as far as outward appearances were concerned. My unorthodox approach to the rules, and study was a constant irritant to my companions, because by definition, I should not be successful if I failed to toe the line in all respects. To say the least, this duality of purpose made me feel guilty. But, it did not hinder me from doing what I was supposed to do.
At this point, the reader might ask; "If you didn't believe in what you were doing, why didn't you quit?" I will reiterate what I stated earlier in my own defense. As a Mormon, one is expected to do certain things, and is taught that doubts arise from Satan. I just figured that there was some inner failing on my part that kept me from seeing 'the emperor's new clothes", and that one day, if I was truly "worthy", I would be able to truly feel that which everyone around me seemed to feel. Until that time, my mind set was one of waiting.
Off to Ecuador I went after the requisite 2 month stint. Most of the other guys in my group had no previous experience with Third World Countries, or Latin American Culture, but I was fortunate to have spent quite a bit of time in Mexico as a child, and so was better prepared to deal with the cultural, and language differences that shock most citizens of the USA. Needless to say, this caused not a little jealousy among my peers. This, in combination with my own somewhat skewed perspective on mission life, assured that I would be treated as something less than a "fair haired child". When we went through the mission home in Quito, our luggage was taken by the assistants to the president, and placed in another room while we were all interviewed. Later, upon reclaiming my luggage, I realized that they had performed a thorough search of all of our belongings while we were occupied elsewhere. When I questioned them on this, they took offense, telling me that I should not question them, as I was guilty of bringing contraband into the mission - on my last P-Day stateside, I purchased several music tapes, which were strictly prohibited.
It seems that my time today has run short, I shall write more later.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that for the most part, the local people there did not adapt well to typical mormon life. Their lives are very different than ours, and they work very hard just to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Most of us cannot concieve of the sort of life that they lead. It is simply beyond the realm of most people's comprehension. If you think I am exaggerating, go live in a Third World Country for a few months - as a local, and you will see what I mean.
Through the course of my mission, I saw many things that would open my eyes. Mormons, as a rule are quite myopic in their views on truth. Being a member of an elitist organization, it is easy to dismiss other people's ideas, beliefs, and knowledge as pure balderdash because you "know" you have a corner on God's own truth. You know, "the chosen people".
As a side note, during the first year of my mission, the girlfriend and I corresponded quite regularly and passionately - proclaiming our undying devotion to one another. But right after the one year mark, the letters became less frequent, their content more distant. This gave me great cause for concern, as my original 'raison d'etre' was contingent upon the relationship remaining firm. Since I did not have a firm grasp on the church, or vice versa, the success of our relationship was extremely important to me. It gave me a reason to continue with my mission, despite any misgivings that I had about what I was doing. Despite the reduction in letters, I continued onward through the fog, hoping that everything would turn out all right, but knowing in my heart that things would more than likely not turn out the way that I expected.
There is a series of incidents stand out in my mind as being of particular relevance to this missive. I had been on my mission about seven months when I received a transfer to a town called Santo Domingo de Los Colorados. Among the missionaries it had a reputation as somewhat of a "pit". Situated smack in the middle of the coastal rain forest, the weather was merciless. Like most equatorial countries, there are two distinct seasons; wet, and dry. The "dry" season differs from the wet season in that instead of raining almost all of the time, it rains every other day or so. After having spent the first part of my mission in various mountain towns, the warm weather was a relief to me - I spent most of my childhood on the Texas Gulf Coast, so the humidity was actually comforting.
Santo Domingo was a town whose official church membership rolls showed over 600 members, yet the regular weekly attendance usually brought less than 20 people. What is wrong with this picture? In speaking with the locals, I heard stories of previous missionaries holding meetings where large numbers of minors were baptized without parental consent. A closer inspection of the membership records confirmed this. The local people were friendly, but reticent to do more than speak on a casual basis. During my six month stay in "Santo", our main goal was to re-activate the membership and get them to take a leading role in their branch. This was not an easy task, and while I was there, we were not very successful. The town also had a quite a number of evangelical/proselytizing type churches, and we came in contact with them quite frequently.
One fellow, and his name escapes me, became friends with us. We would have friendly, but rather heated discussions on assorted religious and philosophical concepts. After several weeks of pestering him about the lessons he finally relented, agreeing to allow us to teach him. Over the next few weeks we met with him, feeling certain that this humble pentecostal man would become a fervent convert, and future church leader in Santo Domingo.
We challenged him to be baptized, and he accepted. Setting a date for the following week. The fateful day arrived, but he failed to show up. Since it was such a small town, we set about trying to find him. We had all of our meetings with him at the church, so we did not know where he lived, but figured that it wouldn't be too hard to find him. After a half hour, we located him sitting on a bench in the town square, bible in hand. A very serious look was on his face as we approached him. We must've appeared threatening to him, because he assumed a rather defensive posture as he stood to greet us. We immediately began to tell him how thoroughly disappointed we were in his failure to keep his promise to us. My companion told him that God was likewise disappointed - I felt rather uncomfortable with this, but since I was the junior companion, I kept my mouth shut. At this point he stopped us, saying that he had something very important to tell us, and that it would behoove us to listen with our hearts.
We sat down on the bench with him, and he proceeded to bear an extremely heartfelt and sincere testimony on the truthfulness of his own particular beliefs. My companion told him something, I cannot recall what, and we left him sitting there. On the way home, my companion dismissed the man as completely deluded, chatting animatedly about how we should move on. My frame of mind was completely different. I was completely and totally stunned by the man's sincerity (no, I didn't think he was "right" anymore than I felt that the mormons were), but the fact that a man would be able to do that for a religion other than the LDS church was an eye opener. How could I possibly have the temerity to go around trying to change peoples minds about how to conduct their lives? Weren't we all given a choice? And if this guy could feel so strongly about his beliefs, how could anyone want to try and undermine his faith?
In retrospect, understanding what I do now about their culture, I can see that he was just trying to be nice to us, and that he had no intention of ever becoming a mormon.
Rather than go into a full blown account of my entire mission, I will try to relate a few events that occurred while I was there, and how they helped me to come to my own conclusions about how my life should be conducted. Because I am by nature a person who does not like to quit, I put my head down and set about doing what the other missionaries were doing.
One thing that amazed me was the blase attitude that taken by the mission structure in general towards getting people to be baptized. I do not mean that no emphasis was placed upon gaining converts. The atmosphere of the mission was quite the opposite. We were told in no uncertain terms by our mission president, a former government official (he was always rather secretive about his former career - go figure!), that our most important job as a missionary was to see people baptized, period. In addition, the regional representative at that time, Gene R. Cook - who is a former insurance salesman/millionaire type, told us in various meetings that our job was to BAPTIZE, and that we were not to worry about whether or not they were; a) Truly ready - that was between them and God; b) If they would stay active - that was the job of the existing local church members. His theory was not unlike the obnoxious t-shirt applique that you see every now and again that says "Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out." Replace the word "kill" with the word "baptize" and you have a pretty good idea about how the mission was being run at that time. Here's a sober thought; not too long ago one of my LDS friends told me that Mr. Cook is now a member of the first quorum of the 70's. They would have these big mission-wide conferences, and the leaders would get up and tell the Elders & Sisters that we should be focusing on NUMBERS.
I cannot tell you how really disconcerting this mind set was to me. I sincerely wanted to believe that the things that I was teaching were true, and that by bringing this truth to others their lives would become better somehow. But my experiences over the course of my mission showed me that for most people this would not be the case.
As it has evolved, the mormon religion is a fully North American invention, and the way it is structured fits the fast-paced type of lifestyle that is fairly typical for most US citizens. Life in Ecuador, and Latin America in general, does not run at that same kind of pace, and does not lend itself well to the sort of frenzied activity that is required by membership in the church. As a result, we as missionaries found ourselves constantly in the position of having to gently (and sometimes not so gently) prod our local converts to action.
The experience with our pentecostal friend was one that made me seriously doubt that any one set of beliefs could hold a monopoly on The Truth. His sincerity was such that there was no way to doubt that he really "knew" that what he said was true, from his own perspective. The human mind is an amazing thing, and there are no limits to our own ability to convince ourselves of the veracity of anything - no matter how outlandish it may seem to others.
How did this affect me? Up to that point, I at least made an attempt at trying to be a part of things in the mission. After that, I went through the motions, but did not really try to convince anyone that we had a corner on the market for truth. My own pride kept me from quitting then and there, and I figured that I could deal with whatever came my way until it was over.
Many missionaries in Ecuador became infected with various types of unfriendly intestinal flora during their tenure, and I was no exception. Throughout the course of my mission, I was sick numerous times. The cures for these infestations were almost as bad as the illness themselves. Eventually, these parasites nearly got the better of me, but I shall go into that later. The reason I am touching on this subject is that it pertains to the incidents that I am going to recount next.
The locals are also subject to the same parasitical infestations as the missionaries, and frequently are made quite ill thereby. Small children are especially susceptible to these types of maladies, often with fatal results.
One of the families that I knew well in Santo Domingo had a new baby. The father once served as the Branch President, but his need to provide for his family did not allow him time to do the job while I was there. I should also note that they were EXTREMELY poor. He, his wife, their two small children, and new baby lived in a 5'x5' wooden shack. It was made from pieces of wood they were able to scavenge from the local garbage dump, and they had no electricity or running water. He made his living as a day laborer. One day we visited them, and the baby was extremely ill. He was less than 4 months old, and I had attended this family right after his birth, as well as witnessed his blessing. The fact that the child was ill did no concern me too much at that time, as babies get sick all the time. Several days went by, and this man came by to tearfully tell us that they had taken the baby to the local clinic because the child's diarrhea had become uncontrollable, and quite bloody. We hastened to the clinic without delay.
Let me take a moment to describe this place. The clinic was made from standard local red brick, and from the outside appeared to be no better or worse than any other of the newer buildings in town. Once we entered, the scene was far different. The floor was covered with mud, mixed with trash, blood, and human excrement, and flies buzzed with impunity 'round about the people who sat along the walls. The stench was overwhleming. There were a few benches up against the walls, and some worn out old gurneys. Those who were lucky got to use one of these, the rest sat, or lay on the floor awaiting medical attention.
We walked through this nigthmarish scene to a smaller room where they had taken the baby. There were mostly children in this room, and this man's wife sat on a cot, holding this poor child in her arms. His lips were cracked and dry, his skin was mottled and pale, his diaper was covered in excrement, and there was blood oozing from his nose and ears. From time to time he would go into convulsions, and his mouth would open as if to cry, but no sound issued forth.
With tears in his eyes, these people plead with us to bless this infant so that his life would be saved. My companion started to go through with it, but I pulled him aside, swiftly telling him in english that this poor thing was on death's door, and that we had no right to abuse these people's faith by giving him a blessing to be healed when we knew very well that he would more than likely not survive the night. I could not, and would not participate in what I knew to be a sham. My companion told the parents that he could not bless it tha tit would be healed, only that the passing would be painless (more bovine fecal matter). All the while, the infant writhed in pain.
The child did indeed die that night.
We did not see them for several weeks. When we finally did run into them, they avoided eye contact with us, and quickly begged off. A night or two later, this man walked up, staggering drunk, apologizing to us for his weakness and lack of faith. He felt that God was punishing him for his sins, and that he deserved the loss of his child. He went on to explain that he was once a member of the Otavalo Tribe of indians - they are a reasonably pure strain of ancient natives from Inca times. They are extremely clannish, and are not allowed to marry anyone outside of the tribe. He met and fell in love with his future wife, who was not of this tribe, when he was on a trip to another town. When he took her home to tell his family of their intentions, he was told that if he was to pursue this course, he would be completely cut off from his family, and it would be as if he had never been born. Following his heart, he ignored their threats, and married the woman. He related how their life had been difficult ever since because he did not do as he was told, and the death of his child was further proof of his sins. He clung to us, sobbing for our forgivness.
My companion derided him for being drunk, and I walked away from the spectacle, unable to give any comfort to this man's grief, and angry with my companion for being such a hypocritical ass.
I had been on my mission roughly 18 months when I received the Dear John. I did not, and could not write her any sort of response. To do so would have been far too painful. How does one deal with the rejection of a loved one? The church would tell you that if she didn't wait, then it wasn't to be. I have never been much of a fatalist, and felt certain that man cannot be so blase about something as important as chosing a lifetime mate. I tried to tell myself that we just weren't meant to be, but it didn't really help. In our time together, she and I formed a bond that would prove impossible to sever, despite time and distance, and no matter how our own pride and stupidity got in the way. It was only in the past few years that I've fully learned to understand, and appreciate the true nature of that bond.
At the time of my Dear John, I was working in a northern suburb of Quito. The branch there was fairly well organized, and the local people took care of the majority of the details as far as running things were concerned, unlike most of the areas in which I had worked over the course of my mission. As in other areas, the member activity level was quite low, but due to sheer numbers, there were usually a fair number of people at church every week.
During the weeks following receipt of the letter, I was laid low once again by the dreaded amoebas. The recurrent illness had become somewhat of a joke to me by that time, and another missionary in my zone was currently dealing with the same stuff. We were living in the same quarters, and we used to have mock "competitions" on how long we could keep our food down. Humor is useful in adverse circumstances.
But, the seriousness of these parasites had been driven home to me quite thoroughly by my experiences in Santo Domingo. After more than a month of being unable to function, and visiting doctors who were unable to do anything but give me the same medicine over and over, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I scheduled a chat with the new mission president.
He was a very personable; an easy-to-talk-with kind of guy. His name was Wagner. Unlike our former mission president (David Farrell), he was older, and had retired several years before becoming a mission pres. We discussed my current physical state, and he was concerned also, but seemed to think that since I was so close to completing my mission, that I should just "tough it out" for the next five months. This was in September of 1979. We talked some more, and he asked me to pray about it before making a decision.
At this time I should like to diverge from my narrative to make a few comments on prayer. I was taught as a child that I should pray about everything - every decision, every event, should be subjected to God's approval through the medium of prayer. This had always been difficult for me, because we were told that if something was "right", then we would receive a "burning in the bosom", and if it was "wrong" then we would receive nothing at all, or confusion about the subject. My family was no exception to the mormon rule of prayer; we prayed morning, noon, and night. However, our prayers were more often than not the mormon standard of "thanks for the blessings, the church, our family", etcetera. Whenever it was my turn to pray, I always had trepidation, because it seemed to me to be just so much repititious verbiage. When I was in my teens, I went through the motions to please my parents, but avoided having to do it at any church functions. It was bad enough to have to do it at home, but to do it in public made the play acting even more unpalatable. Before I went on my mission, I never received the old "burning", nor did I have any of the opposite feelings either. At the risk of being repetitive, the most I ever received was feelings of blandness.
The night before I went into the LTM, I hiked up Provo Canyon to pray. It was a beautiful late winter night, and there were no clouds to obscure the spectacular vault of stars spread above me. Once alone, I knelt and prayed as never before. Deep feelings came out of me, and I begged to "know" of the correctness of the course on which I was about to embark. I did not ask for anything other than that which I had been taught my whole life, that is; the burning in the bosom. I did not request signs, manifestations, visions, visitations, nor any other celestial phenomena - just a simple answer. The same answer that had been promised to anyone who humbly sought it - to know of a certainty that what I was doing was right. I knelt until my knees ached, but there was nothing. After a long while, I got up and walked back to where I was staying. Disappointed, and feeling guilty because I assumed that there must be something wrong with me, I went ahead with the mission.
I am not a person who seeks proof, but somehow even the so-called simple spiritual promises of prayer seemed to elude me. During the course of my mission, I had a few of what might be termed small "spiritual experiences", but I can liken them to feelings that I have also had while being throroughly engaged in some type of "non-spiritual" group activity, like team sports. None of them ever let me know that I was doing the right thing. In fact, as I went through my mission, I was more and more inclined to feel the opposite. I tried to avoid this feeling, because I had been taught that to go contrary to the teachings of the church would be to follow the father of deception (like many other religions, mormonism is great at creating chimeras with which to scare the faithful!). So, I supressed these feelings of doubt, hoping that one day I might be worthy to receive confirmation.
You should know, however, that despite everything you have read up to this point, I was still an optimist about the church at that time in my life. I hoped it was true, and to even consider the opposite was too terrible to even contemplate - that is, that everything I had been taught my whole life was untrue.
Returning to my apartment, I did as the mission president asked, and prayed fervently that night to know the right thing to do. As always, there was nothing. I thought about the children who had died in Santo Domingo, and others who suffered from the same malady as I, and decided that I would ask the mission president to get me transferred back to the States to receive proper medical attention, and perhaps finish my mission in some semblance of health.
to be continued...
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to post my views for others to read. This is a new for me, and I hope that others might be able to learn from my experiences.
"...Going to California with an aching, in my heart." - Led Zepplin
The following day, I met again with the Mission President. Once again, he listened intently to the things I had to say, and my rationale for wanting to go stateside. When I had finished, he looked at me for a good long while without saying anything. His disappointment in my decision was written plainly on his features, and I felt rather guilty - even though I knew I was doing the best thing for my health. After the pregnant silence, he asked me if I had really prayed about this, and said that perhaps it might be a good idea if I gave it further consideration. I was somewhat offended by his change in demeanor, and that he would try to manipulate me into doing something that may well have permanent negative consequences as far as my health was concerned. Mormon missionaries pay their own way, and I was no exception, so why should I be made to feel guilty because I didn't want to sacrifice my health, or even my life for a "cause" that I believed in only marginally? Keeping my composure, I reassured him that I had indeed prayed quite a lot regarding this matter, and that this was indeed the proper, and only course of action. He questioned me one more time on this, and I began to weary at his unwillingness to accept my decision about my life.
Individuals placed in leadership positions often use their supposed superiority to manipulate individuals in their charge. Church members, especially missionaries, are taught that the leadership is "inspired", and that they should submit their decisions to the "wise counsel" of those who are placed in stewardship over them. Philisophically, this is a bad thing, because it teaches people to question their own ability to make life decisions, and makes them more dependent upon the infrastructure of the church. The entire church organization is set up to make the membership feel commitment. Tithing, endless meetings, ward budget and other contributions, church jobs, and missions, are all designed to keep the membership dependent upon the organization. After all, how many people would want to give up something in which they have invested so much of their time, money, and energy?
Unsuccessful at deterring my purpose, he gave it one last try, asking me that since the lord had intended for me to serve in Ecuador, how could I possibly be content to complete it elsewhere? This one was almost more than I could bear, and I really wanted to tell him that I thought it was all a bunch of nonsense, and that he should just send me home. Of course, decorum (and years of conditioning) prevented me from doing so, and I just reiterated my desires without responding to his arguments. With a look not unlike disgust, he told me that he could arrange to have me transferred to the California, San Diego Mission, and that they would see to the care of my health problems. Then he picked up the phone and called the mission secretary, telling him that he was to arrange for my departure the following day.
I was met at the airport by the APs, who drove me to the mission home, where I had a brief, and wholly disappointing 3 minute interview with the president. His name was Middleton. He seemed distracted during the brief time I spent with him, and more than a little annoyed that I should inquire as to when I would get to see a doctor regarding my amoebic problems. He told me that the APs would take care of it, then sent me on my way.
The treatment I received from both mission presidents was completely unwarranted. I am sure that the fact that I was seriously ill, and making an issue of receiving proper treatment, made them think that I was something less than a dedicated missionary. Their whole attitude was one of annoyance, and I was treated with disdain as a result of their mindset.
I was sent to stay with some other missionaries, and several days later, the APs called to say that they had made a doctor's appointment for me. I should note that few doctors in the United States have experience in dealing with tropical diseases, and the one to whom I was taken had no idea as to how to proceed. He said that I would do well to see a specialist. I told the APs what had transpired, and they said that they would take care of it.
A couple of more weeks went by, and I was becoming impatient with the lack of attention being giving to my medical situation. At this point, I was still unable to eat much, and what I did eat was (to be delicate) "processed through" quite rapidly. Also, I had started passing blood.
I called my parents, explaining to them fully my current physical state, and the action, or inaction taken by the mission in that regard. To say the least, they were put off by the mission's apparent lack of interest in my health. After a long talk, we decided that they should call the mission president to discuss what was being done. A while later, they called back to tell me that they had spoken with him, and were singularly unimpressed with his attitude towards me. He told them that he had no intention of having me hospitalized, and that it was not the mission's responsibility. My parents said that their discussion had ended with him agreeing to send me home to Houston, where I could be given proper medical attention - the Univeristy of Texas Medical Center is one of the best in the world. Then, if I so chose, I could have the option of returning to Sand Diego to finish my mission after I was well. This was the best idea I'd heard in months! I telephoned the mission president, who said that he did not need to give me an exit interview, and so I caught a taxi to the airport the following day for the flight home.
I spent the next four weeks in the hospital, being poked, prodded, x-rayed, and tested. Just how totally anomalous my malady was in the USA was brought to my full attention on a daily basis, as each day I would be visited by at least half a dozen different doctors interested in tropical disease. Anyone who has ever been hospitalized will tell you that it is not much fun, and my experience was, on the whole, less than pleasant. But, I did receive proper treatment, and my health was stabilized. The diagnosis was: dysentery, colitis, and hepatitis B.
Being in the hospital gave me a great deal of time to reflect on my own motivations for going on a mission, and the course that had led me back home. I still had not been "released", so officially I was still a missionary, but the thought of returning to the San Diego Mission for another four months was not one that I relished. At that point in my life, I had more than a belly full of the whole mission scene, and was anxious to get on with my life. Since I had heard nothing more from my now ex-girlfriend, I figured that I would just move ahead with my life, maybe go to school, maybe even move out to California. Most of father's relatives live in So. California, so I wouldn't be a complete stranger there. Besides, being a surfer for many years, I was anxious to live someplace where they had "real" waves. I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do next - besides get well.
After getting out of the hospital, the Stake President came to visit me. He was very kind and inquired solicitously after my health. We spoke at great length about my mission, and after a while, he asked me if I had any desire to complete it. If I chose to complete it, then I would be required to make up the time I had been ill. If I chose not too, then I would receive a "medical release" from my mission, rather than an "honorable release". This issue did not concern me one way or the other. I was still not running on all "eight cylinders", and the doctors had told me that it would be several months before I would feel one hundred percent.
I chose not to return.
During my recuperation, I stayed with my parents, going through the motions of being an active member. As far as the church was concerned, I was a returned missionary, and they immediately set about trying to give me various callings. I declined, citing health reasons (when I really wanted to tell them that I didn't want any more church related responsibilities), but I did go to church. I worked slowly at rebuilding my physical and emotional strength; I started surfing again, I started running, I read a lot, I even began dating - albeit somewhat tentatively.
A couple of months went by, and I had just returned from surfing when my mother said I had received some mail. Along with the latest copy of Surfer magazine, was what appeared to be a wedding announcement. It was addressed in Tamara's (my ex-girlfriend) handwriting. Yes, she was getting married. The wedding date was still a week off, and I knew that if nothing else, I should at least call her. I really didn't know what I would say, but that didn't matter. I knew that I had to make the call.
Tamara was still at BYU, so calling directory assistance, I obtained hernumber. Scared stiff, I dialed. After three rings, a strange voice answered the phone. It was her roommate. She told me that Tamara was in SLC at her parents, and that if I wanted to talk to her, that I should call there. I still had their number, so I called.
Her mother answered the phone. I asked if I could speak to her, and she inquired as to whom was calling. When I told her who I was, she became extremely upset with me, saying that I had hurt her daughter deeply, and that I had a lot of nerve in calling a week before her wedding. Then, she hung up. I was shocked, to say the least. After all, she had written the Dear John, not the other way around. My mind went reeling through a dozen different scenarios, but I realized that to act on anything would be impossible. So I decided to just "let it be". In my heart, I wished her well (I still loved her) and hoped that she would be happy in her new life. So much for broken dreams.
While I was in Ecuador, I made the acquaintance of another missionary who was from Huntington Beach, California, and was also a surfer. We had been corresponding, and it was at his invitation that I decided to move out there. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my future, but I knew that I could in no way go back to BYU - the mormon "atmoshpere" was more than I could handle. Besides, I might run into Tamara up there, and that was an idea that I could not bear. At the very least, while in California I could surf and go to school.
Southern California has a very large, and extremely well organized population of mormons. As a result, there's plenty for a single person to do. Since I knew only a few people, being a member of the church gave me an instant social circle. My friend - the returned missionary - was active, and we participated in the usual round of dances, firesides, and all of that type of thing. I dated a little, but mostly I surfed, worked, and started attending classes at the local Junior College. Life in So. Cal. is very different than life at BYU, but there is still that subtle pressure to returned missionaries to get married and start on that treadmill.
Six months after I moved there, I met Kathy. We started dating, then began talking marriage. I should say at this point that the feelings that were within in me for Tamara were still very much alive, and I figured that there would be no way that they would be fully eclipsed by any other relationship. Yes, I did feel love for Kathy, but it was not the same kind of deep and abiding feeling that I had previously experienced. This may sound rather convoluted; but, my rationale was that the sort of feelings that Tamara and I had experienced was a kind of once in a lifetime deal, and that through my own ineptitude (or unworth), I had blown whatever chance that we may have had for a future. So, I decided that since Kathy seemed to genuinely love me, and since we were both a mass of seething hormones, it was a better idea to get married than to commit some type of sin.
Prior to going on my mission, I - like most teenage males, did a fair bit of sexual experimentation, but this had all been cleared up before I went on my mission. Knowing my own proclivities, I knew that if Kathy and I continued to date, we would sure enough end up in the sack. I still was going to church at this point in my life, and my hope for the truthfulness of the gospel was still there. I did not want to be excommunicated for having sex, but I also wanted to indulge myself. So, like many, we got married young, and for the wrong reasons.
I never felt comfortable with the temple ceremony, it seemed rather strange, and smacked of something that was somehow less than honest. In other words, all of the "great and wonderful" things that I was taught about the temple as a youth never really measured up. The reality was far less than the conception thereof. The promises bothered me, and the whole thing about women being subject to men seemed somehow discriminating. All of the old people running around, saying the same thing over and over again, it was somehow comic, and tragic all at the same time. I would look at them, wondering if that would be me someday - old and bent with age, spending my time closed up in a pretentious building wearing a white suit doing something that I didn't think was real. I just couldn't picture myself doing that. The idea of being with the person I love forever is a grand concept. But, what if you ended up marrying someone that you couldn't stand? What kind of God would force two people to be together forever if they didn't like each other? Sounds more like hell to me.
Since I had been off my mission, I had refrained from going to the temple because of these reservations, but I knew that if what I had been taught my whole life was true, that we had to get married there. During the course of our nine month courtship, Kathy had had seemed to agree with most of my ideas on life, so I figured we had a fairly good chance of being happy together. But, I had some nagging doubts about it all. Afraid of being alone for the rest of my life (and eternity???), I decided to go through with it anyway.
As she went through the temple to get her endowment, I watched her reactions during the ceremony. She seemed alternately surprised, bewildered, and shocked. This made me sad in some strange way, but I suppose that my own reactions to the first time were somewhat similar. At the end of the ceremony, when everyone goes through the veil, there was a mix up, and some old geezer ended up bringing her through, instead of me. When she finally showed up in the Celestial room, she didn't really want to talk about it all. In retrospect, I should've taken this as a harbinger of things to come.
We were married in the LA temple in June of 1981.
During the first year of our marriage, we did what we were supposed to do. We went to church, had callings, and paid tithing (even though we couldn't afford it). I was teaching the 14 year old sunday school class, and the lesson plan that year was "lives of the prophets", or something like that. The lessons were built around small scenarios and stories pulled from the lives of presidents of the church since Joseph Smith. After doing this for several months, and not feeling so great about it, I started to really study the lesson plans. They were so superficial, transparently naive, and sometimes patently false in the ideas that they were trying to convey. Basically, each lesson plan was virtually identical; a story would be told about how noble and virtuous thus and such a prophet was in his youth, and it would always culminate with the recommendation that "at this point the instructor should bear his/her testimony on the truthfulness of the principle being taught". I felt real uncomfortable teaching type of ideas to the kids, because I had come to the realization that I could not do the things that the lesson plans asked, namely give my testimony that they were true.
So, I chucked the lesson plan, and taught three or four weeks of classes from stories that I enjoyed from the bible. The sunday school president was not pleased with my deviation from the lesson plan, so I resigned.
Kathy's family comes from "mormon pioneer" stock, and the church is a very strong tradition in her family. In spite of her upbringing, she also had serious doubts about the church (for very different reasons which I will not go into), and it was during this time that we began to talk about our own feelings on the church. Many of the feelings that I had hoarded throughout my life, and more especially, during my mission began to surface. This was so for a number of reasons. Our marriage was less than the mormon ideal - like many young married couples, we were not very well prepared for our life together, and it was not long after our wedding that we found out how very different we were. I am an adventurous, risk taking kind of person, whereas she was mostly interested in security, and stability. There were many other differences which really have no bearing on the church, per se, but the increasing realization that we were not really happy with our marriage did affect our outlook on the church.
We did work very hard, and had a difficult time making ends meet because it costs so much to live in California. During this time I was approached by a co-worker about a potential business opportunity. Being financially desparate, I agreed to take a look at his business plan. We met for breakfast one morning, and he took out a piece a paper and began drawing circles and lines; talking about uplines, and becoming financially independent. He told me that he and some of his business associates would be having a meeting later that week, and that my wife and I should come to check it out. In my naivte, I agreed.
We met at the pre-arranged location, and Kathy and I rode with them to an industrial park complex. There were at least two hundred people in the building, everyone was running around, shaking hands, and smiling that insincere sort of "I'm so happy" smile. It reminded me a lot of going to an LDS service. Once the meeting began, they had a dozen or more people who got up to tell us how this business had changed their lives (you guessed it, Amway!). After three or four of these testimonials (testimonies), I began to have this strange feeling that all of this was very familiar. The speakers would get real emotional, talking about how their lives had been changed by the business, how their time was so fully occupied, and all of the things they expected to get as a result of their association. The feeling of similarity was overwhelming, and when we went home that evening, I realized that the Amway meeting was run exactly like a mormon testimony meeting.
The similarities in emotions. The constant repetitions of testimonials. The total immersion in the cause. The association of those who are likewise engaged, it was all the same. This has no bearing on the truthfulness of the church, but it made me take a serious look at the whole thing, and analyze why it was that I had never felt anything for the church throughout the course of my entire life.
After our experience with the Amway meeting, as I said earlier, I really began to analyze objectively why it was that my feelings, and experiences about the church we such as I have described in this account (by the way, we didn't join that organization either). Having tried for so many years to force myself into a mold that did not fit, I realized that there was really and truly nothing "wrong" with me at all. The reasons why I never felt what the other mormons felt, or experienced that "burning in the bosom" to which many people testified was that I simply did not require that level of organization, regimentation, and control over my life in order to be spiritual - or experience spirituality. For me, I found that spirituality did not arise from living my life according to the dictates of some pre-designed set of tenets, but from living my life in a spirit of love.
A person cannot be true to any other individual, job, organization, or religion if they are not true to themselves. Because I was raised in the LDS church, and because I love and respect my parents, I falsely assumed that in order to "do the right thing" I must live my life as they had taught me. With respect to the mormon church I had tried to do this throughout my life, but somehow never received any of the confirmation that was supposed to accompany this type of life. Even from the time I was a small child, I had always felt like a square peg being shoved into a round hole (or a fish out of water - pick the metaphor), and I finally realized at that time in my life - I was 23 - that in order for me to be a "success" as a human being and for my life to have value and meaning, I would need to live my life without the mormon church as its center.
The answer that I had sought my whole life had been right in front of me all the time, I just never noticed it because I was too busy trying to focus on something that FOR ME made absolutely no sense - the mormon religion.
Prior to that time in my life, I had had doubts about the veracity of the church, but I had always shelved them away. Freed from the dogma, they began to come forth, and it was a singular experience. I began to share them with my wife, who was 8 months pregnant. As I mentioned, her doubts came from a very different source than my own, and she wasn't really interested in my own views on spiritual philosophy, nor was she interested in living life as a mormon either.
Looking at the church from this new perspective, we stopped going to church right after our daughter's birth. I shied away from other religious organizations, but studied heavily on all different types of religious and spiritual concepts. I felt that in order for me to be truly objective, that I must have a more wide ranging knowledge of as many different views on this topic as possible.
At first, the blatant contradictions that lie at the heart of mormon belief became glaringly obvious to me. The challenge that "the Joseph Smith Story has to be true, or else all of mormonism is a lie" did not stand up to the light of extreme scrutiny by logic. I knew that the mormon myths, legends, and fairy tales that had been taught to me as a child may have had their basis in some truth, but were twisted along the way in order to accomodate a growing worldly organization. By the same token, in the course of my studies I found that most of the world's organized religions cannot stand up to the same sort of logicial scrutiny either.
Where did that leave me?
Yes, just where did that leave me?
After spending a great deal of time studying other religions, and spiritual philisophies, and talking with people of all different types of faiths, I came to a conclusion that has seemed to work well for me. I mentioned early on in this communication that a person's religious beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with anything that can be "provable"; it is based wholly on faith. Any attempt to prove the truthfulness of a belief system is bound to fail, because they are based on faith.
Webster's dictionary says that faith is " a belief not based on logical proof or material evidence", and I remember something that I heard once at church when I was a teenager (if I may paraphrase); Faith is the belief in things yet hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I never sought proof that the mormon church was true, and for the first 23 years of my life, I tried with all of my heart to believe. But, for me it was not to be so.
To the reader who might say that I simply did not have the faith, or that my faith was not true, I have this as an answer: Since my ambiguous feelings about the church have always been with me, does that mean I was faithless as a child? And if so, where does that leave the teachings of your god in regards to little children? Throughout my life I wanted it to be true, I hoped it would be true, but the promises made by my teachers, church leaders, parents, and general authorities were all empty as far they related to my own life.
The human mind can convince itself to believe just about anything. And once convinced, if that person has enough "faith", then that belief becomes "true" - relative to that individual. I have likened religious faith to romantic love, and it is so. No matter what other people may think, if a person has enough faith, then it is true to them. No amount of logical disputation can gainsay that belief. Truth, as far as religion is concerned, is relative to the individual.
Relative to my life, the mormon belief system was not true. But then again, I also found that no other set of religious dogma would be required - for me - to live my life according to the dictates of my own heart. The world is full of disparate religions. Religions that have been, and always will be at odds to one another. According to the myth, Joseph Smith was confused because they all claimed to be right. What I found out was that if a religion teaches good, and helps people to become better human beings as a result of these teachings, then it is "true" (again, relative to individuals), no matter how ridiculous or outlandish its claims may be to outsiders.
As far as religions claiming to have a monopoly on God, it is my personal belief that God cannot be so small minded as to restrict humans to one set of "true" beliefs. There have been too many people on the earth over the course of time to think that this type of thought would be fair. What I do think is that individuals will more than likely be judged according to how they have lived their lives with respect to their own individual beliefs - the truth relative to themselves.
Basically, what I found was that I did not need the things that mormonism, or any other type of religion, had to offer in order for me to; a) be a good human being; b) be a spiritual human being; and c) try to live my life according to the golden rule.
Enough of heavy philisophy.
During this time, my wife and I slowly drifted apart. Like many, we got married for the wrong reasons, and as time passed, it became more apparent that we would not make a successful life together.
When I started this letter, I stated that I have never set out to disabuse any mormon of their beliefs. With the bishop, such was the case. I did not try to convince him that he was wrong, and that I was right. I really did not want to make him feel like I was belittling him for what he believed, but he asked me to be honest, and I felt that unless I was anything less than honest, then he would more than likely keep badgering me to come back "into the fold". I still remember the look on his face, it was almost as if I had told him that I did not believe in Santa Claus. I felt bad, but there was no guilt in my actions; for the first time in my life I had been vocally honest about what I really felt regarding the church, and it was most liberating.
They did not keep after us, although in the years since, I have had several occasions where they have attempted to contact me. Their persistence is quite amazing, because I have moved quite a few times in the ensuing years.
Being unshackled from the drudgery of the mormon lifestyle, I was amazed at the mental and spiritual peace that slowly came into my life. It did not happen all at once, for there were years of mental conditioning that had to be undone. I have never felt any guilt for leaving the church, and my life has been far better as a result. I will go into more of this later.
With leaving the church, Kathy and I lost whatever common ground that we may have had, with the exception of our daughter. During the last year of our marriage, I was paid a visit from a "ghost" from the past.
It was a fine spring day, and I was cutting the yard. Kathy came out to tell me that there was some lady on the phone for me. After wiping the sweat out of my eyes, I thought 'who would be calling me?'. I hoped it wasn't someone from church. After answering the phone and hearing the voice on the other end, I nearly dropped the receiver. It was Tamara.
We talked for a while, and she told me that she and her husband had several children, and were now living in Ohio. We chatted for a while, sort of playing catch up, then said goodbye. Why did she call? This troubled me, because my marriage was certainly failing, and this "ghost" raised even more questions and doubts. I still loved Tamara, after a fashion, but I wasn't "in love". In other words, I had no intention of leaving my wife to chase her across the country, nor did I want to cause any problems in Tamara's life. So, I left things as they were. I had enough problems with my marriage to know better than to try and stir up something that might cause many people grief.
Several moths later, Kathy and I separated, then divorced. We did not pursue a "temple divorce" because we never believed it anyway.
Over the course of the next several years, I changed careers, and was able to finish up my college education. During that time, Tamara and I talked occasionally. In these conversations we were able, because of time and distance, to analyze what it was that we had experienced those many years ago, and the actions/inactions that had led to our eventually letting go of one another. She related to me what had occurred to her after the Dear John, and I was floored. Her intention with the letter had been to simply "put the brakes" on our relationship, not to end it. Since I had failed to write back, she assumed that I did not want anything to do with her, and became quite ill. It was during that time that her future husband, who was a friend, helped her through it all. In her convalescence, he proposed to her. She decided that although she wasn't in love with him, she did care for him. She related that he was nice and loved her, and that was sufficent. So, they got married.
Knowing this, I could understand her mother's reaction to my phone call one week before her wedding.
This also liberated me from holding onto an ideal of the past. Sure it hurt, but there was no one to blame but ourselves. The church didn't make us do, or not do anything. We made our own choices, and the relationship that has evolved as a result of those choices has been very important to both of us. With our periodic phone calls, we have used each other as a sounding board for ideas, thoughts, and relationships. She is my very dear friend, and something more, because of the bond that we formed so many years ago in our youth. Yes, she is still married, happily so, although it took her husband a while to adjust to the idea of us speaking. The pain associated with past memories is gone, and I cannot feel anything but good towards her, and the life she has made with her husband and family.
I have also served as entertainment for her - for she has loved to hear stories of my travels and experiences, and I have also given her ideas to ponder regarding the church.
In the years since I have left the church, I have had occasion to share my views with my parents, family, and friends. My parents are quite active (in the church), but they are tolerant of my views, and respect the fact that I try to live my life according to the dictates of my heart. My father is very intelligent, and has experienced many things in his life. He understands how I feel, and does not make an issue of our differences. He knows that I am happy with how my life is unfolding, and feels confident that I am doing that which I feel is right for me.
Many of my former mormon "friends" have nothing to do with me. This is very typical, and it does not bother me. They were never anything more than social acquaintances anyway. On the other hand, there are still individuals in my life whom I consider to be my very dear friends - they just happen to be mormon. Like my father, they are people of integrity, and are secure enough in their own beliefs not to feel threatened by a former mormon. I consider it a measure of an individual's emotional and spiritual maturity to be able to be accepting of belief systems that do not coincide with their own.
To anyone who might read this I would say: Find out what your own truth is, then hold true to it with all of your might. For some reason that I cannot fully fathom, the mormon church did not provide that which I needed in order to be spiritually fulfilled. I know many people for whom it works very well indeed. If it is "true" to you, then live it. If it is not, then get out! For it will only cause you frustration, guilt, and anger. I am tolerant of other's belief systems because I feel that God is big enough to encompass all beliefs that teach good.
What has happened in the ten years since my wife and I separated? I have done many things, and been many places. I have traveled extensively, and used my time to gain a more complete understanding of my own nature, and thereby a fuller understanding of human nature. This journey is a continuing one, and I do not make any claims at having the secret to happiness, or salvation. I have experienced good and bad, success and failure, love and heartbreak, exhilaration and abject depression. All of these are part of the human experience; Life is never an 'arriving', but a 'becoming'. The good of life comes in the journey, not the end.
And my daughter? She is now 12 years old. She is a wonderful human being, and a very sweet young lady. Until four years ago, I still lived close to where she, her mother, stepfather, and stepbrother live. After moving to Texas, we still have stayed in close contact. I just can't see her on a weekly basis because of our geographic separation. She is a deep thinker, a reader, a poet, and a child after my own heart - sometimes her mother tells me that she is so much like me it makes her want to scream!. She is not being raised in the church, so she will not have that to deal with along with all of the other trials that growing up has to offer.
Over the last two years, I have experienced more completely than any other time in my life, a happiness and singularity of purpose unlike anything before. I mentioned earlier on that I have only met two people in my life whom I felt of certain I have know before (where or when? it does not matter). When I met my wife, Elise, was the second time.
Because of my past, I have never been one to rush into relationships with those of the opposite sex. If anything, I have tried to shield myself from becoming too emotionally involved - a holdover from my past, no doubt. But when we met, we both felt an emotional bond unlike anything before. I have been able to give myself without reserve to Elise, because we are kindred spirits. We are very much alike, and friends have said that we are mirror images of one another. Not in any physical way, but who and what we are. Less than a month after we met, we were engaged. We have now been married one year, and our life together is the stuff one reads of in books.
We live on a sailboat, and are preparing for a journey across the Gulf of Mexico, across the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and up to Costa Rica, where we plan to live for an unspecified period of time. Once in Costa Rica, we will be starting a family - something I have never felt compelled to do before. Before we met, this journey was one for which we both had planned and dreamed. Upon meeting, we knew that our lives must be joined.
My wife is one of the most spiritually "in tune" people I have ever met, and she is not a member of the church, nor has she ever been one. The life that we are making together is one of which I have always dreamed. Together we are making it a reality. This oneness of purpose is something that I have never experienced, and I am certain that it is rare. I have been blessed beyond my ability to count, there is no doubt in my mind of that fact. Call it a testimony, call it what you will, but I know that we were prepared for one another. There are too many similarities to not think it so.
The teachings of the mormon church would have one think otherwise. Because I have rejected them in my own life, the church would say that I should not be recipient of such blessings. All this does for me is confirm the fact that I made the right decision in leaving the mormons. I have never regretted my decision, and the events of the past two years have served as an even greater confirmation of the rightness of that decision. I never was more certain of anything in my entire life.
Had I not left, I would not be where I am today.
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