"Before we allow ourselves to be consumed by regret, we should realize that
the mistakes we make in life do not matter as much as the lessons we draw
"Yes, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize
To which mortals or Gods can aspire;
Go search in the depths where it glittering lies
Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies,
'Tis an aim for the noblest desire."
-'Oh Say, What is Truth'
LDS Hymns p272
"Truth is like a diamond; it has many facets."
After having gone through the stories here and thoroughly perused this site, I feel a desire to add my own as well. They have all touched me- sincerity breeds eloquence. I hope that in posting this others may hear their own feelings as I have done here for many nights, and that it might possibly contribute in a small way toward someone finding personal inner peace.
My father joined the LDS church in Ontario in 1968 when I was five years old. He was baptized a short while after receiving all of the discussions, and rapidly became a zealous member. He urged my mother to join, which she did after some misgivings. My sister and I grew up thinking the LDS atmosphere was the norm: Sunday School, Primary, MIA. The church was the background of our lives.
Its teachings especially struck a chord deep in my father. He had come from an unhappy home with drunkenness, infidelity, and occasional violence. As a young man he joined the military and became a pilot, spending seven years in the Canadian air force before joining Air Canada. He was naturally not inclined to drink or smoke and did not participate greatly in the standard military lifestyle.
This fit right in with the LDS culture. All of his free time rapidly became devoted to it and he fulfilled many callings and responsibilities, helping to build up what was at the time a very young ward in Ontario.
On the other hand my mother, although desirous to support my father and keep our home happy, found she was floundering in the church. She is naturally an outgoing person; vivacious, spontaneous, and independent. The patriarchal authority combined with its endless callings and commitments began to drain her. Unfortunately this was in reverse proportion to my father's diligence. The more he blossomed, the more she withered- albeit inside, as she did not wish discord in the family.
After six years in the church my mother had an affair. It was with a church member who had moved into our home for a short while.
My father was devastated physically and mentally. It was the first time my sister and I had seen him break down and cry repeatedly, and we also experienced anger and violence previously unknown in our family. There was constant tension, arguing, crying, yelling. To us young children it seemed heaven had truly become hell.
My mother took both of us to her parents' home, afraid of the escalating verbal and physical abuse. After a period, she returned to try to resolve the marriage. She was re-baptised as well. The attempt at reconciliation failed, and she and my sister left to settle in British Columbia. They continued to attend church for some time there, ultimately deciding it was not for them and having their names taken off the church record.
I made the decision to stay with my father. I knew he was a good person and, while he had lost control of his emotions for a period, did not deserve to be by himself. I could see him suffering also. I felt I was his support.
I attended church diligently, becoming president of the deacons, teachers, priests. I went to all MIA and young adult meetings. I was frequently out assisting with the chapel construction which was done by members, and spent many Saturday mornings cutting the lawn to look good for Sunday. I took four years of early morning seminary. I was on the scripture chase team. I occasionally DJ'd the local stake dances. I paid a full tithe and attended yearly trips to the closest temple to do baptisms for the dead. I was an unquestioningly active youth member.
I visited my mother and sister several times a year and enjoyed being with them. Although I felt my mother had done something wrong, I knew she loved me very much and was proud of me. She always spoiled me, doing the little things only a mother can do. It saddened me to think that she had committed one of the most grievous sins that she would probably go to hell. But, that was what the church taught and I accepted it.
I always felt it was right to come back to my father's home. He had remarried a younger active woman- her first marriage- and they started a new family. The first child was born while I was still in high school. My father became bishop of the ward.
While I admired my father's integrity and activity in the church, within myself I resented the lack of time he spent with me. Yes it was the Lord's work, and yes who was I to deny him that. But it always seemed that given a choice between the family and church, there was no question which took priority. Of course thinking these thoughts made me feel selfish. Nonetheless I can remember only two times that my father made a specific effort to be with me.
One was when I set a new personal record for bench press, and he came into the school weight room to watch. The second was when he and his wife came to my karate dojo to watch me participate in a tournament. I took first place albeit it was a small turnout. Other than that any time we spent together seemed church related- family home evening, or home teaching together. It felt as if he spent time with me because it was a church requirement, as if he was killing two birds with one stone. This was only my opinion but it is how I saw it. I began to understand a little of my mother's feelings.
Eventually as I neared the age of nineteen I began to ask myself serious questions about the church. I think any honest young person- especially male- asks the same questions when the idea of a mission looms up. Do I know this is true? Can I teach this? Do I really need to set aside this long a period of time? Does God care?
Of course I received the usual support from the ward; that this was the right thing to do, that God wanted every able young man to serve a mission, that I would go a boy and come back a man. I was also taught that a mission would provide me with a sure testimony that this was indeed God's church.
This last promise was most important to me. It made sense to me that I had yet to prove myself to God; I had been faithful in the little things but now it was time to prove myself under fire. After some deliberation I knew there was not really a choice. I must serve a mission.
At my worthiness interview I was asked which country I would like to serve in, given the opportunity. I wanted to go to the far east and said so. This turned out to be the case as I was assigned to the Fukuoka Japan mission. I was so impressed to see the prophet's personal, if shaky, signature on my calling confirmation. I eagerly began my preparations, getting my papers ready etc. I was of course also ordained an elder.
The hardest thing to do prior to leaving was to say goodbye to a long-time friend who had been with me almost as long as I had been a member- his family moved in around the same time. We had grown up through the church together and spent countless hours discussing our futures, missions, etc.- he would leave a year or so after me- and what a lifetime in the LDS church implied. I was OK saying goodbye but broke down in the car on the way to the airport. It would be a long time before we saw each other.
The MTC (Missionary Training Center) was what I had expected; very rigorous but that was what we were there for. I attended all language classes, becoming the only one in my group to pass off all seven discussions in Japanese prior to leaving. I prayed sincerely morning, lunch and night. I was dead tired but the scripture urging missionaries to 'thrust in their sickle with their might' (D&C 4:4) was constantly on my mind. There was no time for slacking.
Of course some of the missionaries would blow off steam from the intensity. Pizza was ordered in; forays were made outside the MTC. This was 'legal' and I saw nothing inherently bad in it. I did think it strange when members of my group and others held a frat-like ceremony in a dark closet involving candles and chanting or something. I did not participate but I let it go.
Toward the end of the stay as we were realizing we would actually be going to Japan, I had a meeting with the MTC president. It was a standard interview but in it I expressed my doubt about having a true testimony, and how I would be able to teach sincerely feeling this way. His answer was to the effect that (although I am quoting from memory) "a testimony was made in the giving of it;" that as I bore witness to the truth of what we were teaching, the spirit would in turn confirm it to me. This seemed to be a subtly new twist on things but it was enough and I left convinced to do my best in the field.
I arrived in the Fukuoka mission. After a night at the mission home I left for my first apartment and senior companion. He was a big guy from the states. He welcomed me and gave me a hand with my luggage. I had some time to settle in. Later we went to the local ward to teach the weekly English lesson, a way of attracting potential converts. I was surprised at the low building standard compared to North America (this was not yet a chapel), but knew I was not here for comfort.
A day or two later I felt I was settled well enough in and wondered when we might actually be teaching. We had done no tracting. My senior assured me that we would be and that it was necessary to meet ward members, make connections, etc. I knew I was "green" and he was a seasoned veteran so I kept quiet and followed his lead. Days went by. Although we did not tract we did go to member's homes for chat and sometimes for dinner. I do not remember teaching a lesson to anyone.
Slowly it became clear to me that my companion was, obviously, not doing any missionary work nor did he have any intention of doing so. Days became weeks. I chafed. This was not what I was here to do. I buried myself in the discussion memorization, having been told that I could not become a senior until I had "passed off" at the mission home.
Thanks to my senior I was able to pass off within my first month because memorization was all I did. I remember tracting only one night with him. I grew more and more irritated as I sat in the apartment watching him fill his face with goodies from frequent packages from home. It was becoming apparent he had spent his whole mission, or most of it, this way. The tension grew. I wrote about it in the weekly letters to the mission president. I was told to obey my senior and learn the discussions.
The other set of elders had a TV in the apartment which was not allowed. One of them stayed up watching the spicy late-night Japanese programs. On one of our occasional trips to the mission home, the president took my senior- who was also the apartment senior- aside, and reproached him for it. He later asked me if I had told the president. I had not.
After only one month I was assigned a new senior, a Japanese one in a more rural area. I eagerly anticipated the change; things in our apartment were getting unbearable. On the last night we had a verbal blowout. We were both happy to leave each other the next day. Years later I ran into this first companion on a Tokyo subway. He was wearing a nice suit, working as an expatriate at a big American investment house. Obviously his missionary effort- or lack thereof- hadn't slowed down his temporal progression in the least. Not, I suppose, that it would.
My next companion was Japanese and a diligent worker. In fact all my Japanese companions were with the exception of one. They impressed me with their level of maturity and commitment. Most of them were in their mid-to-late twenties, having graduated university first. Overall I found them far better than the North Americans. I started asking the president for only Japanese companions as they were serious. From them I was able to see why their converted Christian ancestors had suffered torture and death rather than step on a cross, a test to find hidden Christians centuries before.
The North Americans on the other hand, from what I saw of them, were not serious. I generalize but it seemed to me that many (if not the majority) were immature and pressed into doing something they did not fully believe in or grasp the significance of. Without personal dedication they were just putting in time until they could go home. Many of them used the members for dinner appointments and talked about the big souvenirs they had scored off them.
I heard horror stories of missionaries 'gone bad,' running prostitutes out of their apartments and "skipping off to Hong Kong" for the weekend, getting caught and being sent home. I will say here that these were only talk and that I was not aware of any substantiated. But why should rumors like this exist in the first place? From the general atmosphere of the mission, it was very clear that Fukuoka was not a burning core of dedication.
Looking back now my head tells me that they were young, immature, pressured. It was to be expected. But my heart says they had no honor. We all made the same promises. I remember moving to one apartment and seeing a garment of the missionary who had left dumped on top of the raw kitchen garbage. I guess it wore out. He hadn't bothered to cut out the symbols so I did and burned them.
My mission president was a Japanese American, a big kindly bear of a man. Whenever I saw him he looked very tired and my impression was that it was more over concern for the missionaries than membership growth. I vowed early in my mission that I would not be a burden for him and kept this promise. In many ways I had the same feelings of sympathy for him that I did for my father; a good man frustrated in trying to do what he thought was right.
In retrospect I do not think this attitude was healthy- I was not there to serve out of sympathy for the mission president; I was there to serve for my own testimony. I did not envy him spending three years though. I learned later, several years after my mission, that he had died prematurely of health reasons.
The mission- mine was only eighteen months, sixteen without the two months at the MTC- dragged on. In spite of low interest levels we managed to keep our appointment book relatively full. The current method of approach at the time was to do door-to-door and, when accepted in by a family, to kneel in the 'genkan' (front hall) and offer a prayer for the household. We did this in many dirt genkans, always sincerely. My prayer Japanese was getting very good.
If we did not have appointments we tracted. We never quit. My nickname in the field was 'Robot Rayner,' I suppose because I went like an automaton from door to door. During my whole mission I did not get up at six o'clock only two mornings- once because my alarm did not go off, and once because my companion shut it off saying I was sick and needed to rest. We were told only to send positive letters home. I questioned this; I wanted to be honest. I wanted to say that no matter how hard we tried, the Lord's spirit was clearly not helping us reach people nor was it in the apartment.
Things went from bad to worse. During the third last month I ended up in an apartment in the northern city of the island. When I walked in, the first thing to catch my eye was a Van Halen calendar on the wall. It was obvious from the atmosphere there that very little or no missionary work was being done. My companion was Japanese but (this was the only one I had trouble with) disliked me already because of my reputation, and snubbed me most of the time we were together. He very clearly did not want to be there.
The senior of the other pair was a serious problem. He would not make any effort to get up early. He would not tract. To make matters worse, he had a new junior who wanted to work and was feeling guilty. Friction built until we had a major blow-up one morning over his total refusal to do chores. I thought at one point it was going to come one of us killing the other. In our attempt to work it out he sat across the table from me whirling a baseball bat.
Shortly after this I was called to be a zone leader for my last two months. This was not much better. I was now responsible for visiting all the apartments in the zone. Most of them did not feel good. At one point we attempted a surprise visit to a particular trouble apartment. They were ready for us, and it became clear that the other pair in our own apartment had called them and tipped them off.
The attitude of these missionaries was summed up by one individual who asked me if they could take one morning a week off to play basketball with a potential convert. He said "When I work I work hard; when I play I play hard." I did not recall anything in my missionary statement about playing hard. I told him that if he thought his request was legitimate he should ask the mission president and it would surely be granted. He declined.
All I remember feeling in those last two months was fear. Fear of further conflict, fear of collapsing before my time was up, fear of not making it back to Canada. Ultimately my return date was postponed for two weeks. Far from being overjoyed at this opportunity of further service, I was not amused.
During our group's final get-together at the mission home, we were all complimented and told that we now had much leadership skill to use in the church. It was obvious that we were being stroked for greater things. Finally we were asked to bear our testimonies. It amazed me at how all of my group were able to stand and say they had done their best here, that they knew this church was true. I knew some of them had been lazy most of the time. But boy, were their testimonies strong. I ended up saying that it had been an interesting growing experience. I could say no more.
My father had mentioned that when my mission was over he might come out to get me with the family. I was looking forward to this; I think I really needed it. It did not happen due to time, expenses and circumstances. I understood. It was the usual story; more important things at home. It was selfish of me to expect him to come. But I really, really wanted at least him to come and see what I had poured my heart into for a year and a half. Anyway...
I returned to my home ward feeling inwardly drained, exhausted, empty. I was very tense. I cringed at loud voices. Seeing a couple of missionaries arguing in the lobby of our local chapel did not help. I ate heavily; throughout the mission I had constantly been hungry with the hours of walking. My body could rest but my brain did not know this. My weight, which had dropped off at the end, shot up to over one hundred and sixty pounds, a lot for me. It took me several weeks to be able to slow down.
My mind was a-whirl attempting to digest my experience. My family was happy to see me; the ward members crowded around me, congratulating me. I was too tired to fight it. On the first Sunday back I was asked to say a prayer to close the sacrament meeting. It was the most sincere prayer I have ever given. I gave thanks for everything. I was so happy to be back. I am sure many members were impressed with it.
The following fast and testimony meeting, however, I did not bear my testimony. I sat and listened. I think I was expected to but I did not. I attempted at one point to discuss my feelings with my father, but could not bring myself completely to do so for fear of disappointing him. I was a returned missionary; I had a testimony. There could be no doubt.
Shortly after I went out to the west coast to see my mother and sister and to attend university there. I think they were a little afraid of what I would be like, but they were happy to see me and accepted me. I did continue to go to church and received several callings. I began teaching a teen-age Sunday School class.
It was around this time that I began to date again, a Chinese girl in the ward. She was very nice. I do remember the stake patriarch who was in the ward coming up to me and saying "Oh come now Wayne, you really don't want to date someone outside of your race do you?" This was my first exposure to what could be termed a racist comment. But he obviously meant well and my own ward back east had always been 'liberal', with a black family (one!) attending regularly. I also had for the first time a criticism of wearing other than a white shirt. This struck me as somewhat simplistic; it also had never occurred in my own ward.
One night after a date before I dropped her off, I kissed this girl goodnight. She returned the kiss aggressively (french). I was caught off guard. She knew better. Then I found my self kissing her back again. Greedily. The kissing went on and on. We must have kissed until our lips were ragged. I knew this was way over the 'legal' limit, but we did not stop as I recall for a couple of hours. During this time we did not touch each other in any other way.
I dropped her off and went home stunned. I could not believe what I had done. Here I was, a returned missionary supposed to be setting an example for my mother and sister, my Sunday School class, a pillar of fortitude in the ward. I could not explain it. The next Sunday I told the bishop. He had handled heavier stuff than this; I assured him I had not done anything else to her. He knew my sincerity. He asked me who she was but I declined out of respect for her privacy, and because I believed she had to decide on her own to come forward and take her own responsibility too.
I thought and thought about why this had happened. Was I really a monster inside? Was I this easy for Satan to topple? Had I no spiritual strength? What was wrong?
As I thought, the reason started becoming clearer and clearer to me. All of the unanswered prayers, all of the spiritual emptiness, the lack of any fulfillment on my mission, the bitter feelings of unworthiness no matter how hard I tried, the anger, the frustration at being told to pray more, study more, believe, obey, obey, obey- had cried out to be satisfied. And it had taken a physical form. She had been the catalyst, but she was not the cause. More and more I was becoming aware of how my mother must have felt.
I knew then that I had to leave. I could not in good conscience teach a Sunday School class or attempt to re-activate my mother and sister as my father wished, because I did not have a testimony and I had serious doubts about who I was and what I was doing. I had to be in a place where neither my father or mother could influence me. I had to sort things out.
I decided to return to Japan.
There were several reasons for this. One was that the whole mission had seemed a surreal nightmare, and I needed to go back and complete it with myself. At this point I would like to make a poor comparison, albeit I believe a valid one, to another situation. It is Vietnam. When young American soldiers were sent there they went with an ingrained set of ideals to perform with. When they got there they found this impossible.
They lived in a different reality. And a different morality. It was a nightmare in which they had to frequently kill or be killed. They could not in many cases survive with the morals they had been taught. All ethics flew out the window. When it was over, the ones who survived came back and found tremendous difficulty adjusting back to 'normalcy.' They began to wonder in many cases if it really happened. Many had to go back to confront themselves, to see again the places they had been. While I would in no way compare my experience to this level of intensity, the psychology is the same. I needed to go again, to confirm that it had happened, that it was over.
Secondly I wanted to maintain my language skills, for career reasons. I had certainly earned it, I felt. Thirdly I thought I would be able to earn enough money to pay for continuing education here. I also felt like just a number at university; there was nothing special in what I was doing. Japan seemed like the right ticket.
And I wanted to get away.
After completing my first year of university I packed up and returned to Japan. I went with the intention of staying only a year or so; this time it turned into a seven-year sojourn.
Initially I taught English and studied Japanese at a private school, then found I could enter one of the international universities there.
During this time my father had written me occasionally, inquiring how things were going and how was I doing at the local church? I had already decided prior to arriving that I would suspend church activities. I wanted time to think. Also, I felt I had worked hard enough at spirituality for awhile. It was time to get my life balanced on a temporal keel.
My father's letters became more persistent in inquiring about church. He had noticed that I was not writing about it at all. I finally decided that I would have to make a stand. I wrote back and told him that I had made the decision not to attend church; that I had serious doubts from my mission, that I wanted to enter university here- and would he please lend me $5,000?
I felt bad about this last one but I knew it was what I wanted to do; I was being honest and had to act. I knew he would be surprised and shocked. But I could not worry about that now. I waited. To his credit he responded and said he would send me the money, although he was obviously worried about the church aspect. This enabled me to enter and complete my final three years of university in Japan. Fortunately I was able to make good money teaching English, and I paid him back the original loan with interest as well as covering all my own expenses thereafter.
During this time I made the decision to stop wearing my garments. I respected their intention- cut out the symbols, burned them, and carefully threw them away. I wrote to each of the members of the Sunday School class I had taught and explained that I could not ingrain them with something I was not sure of, even after serving a mission.
I also returned to the mission field I had been in, and visited the three people I had been directly or indirectly responsible for baptising. I told them my concerns and my decision and urged them to be sure they were in the church because they wanted to be, not because of pressure from the missionaries, or because they 'owed' us anything. It was their own happiness at stake. I felt better.
Prior to entering a Japanese company I returned to Canada for the first time in three and a half years to see my family. On the way I passed through Singapore, India, and England. I showed up at my dad's door with a light bag and the clothes on my back. He seemed distant in greeting me. I guess it was because I was wearing a muscle shirt with no garment. I felt this right away. The prodigal son would have to earn his greeting. I stepped forward and hugged him. He responded.
After seeing my father's family in Ontario and my mother and sister on the west coast, I returned to Japan. For the next four and a half years I worked at a Japanese company, occasionally making the trip back home.
During this time the church was pushed in the back of my mind as I brought myself up to speed in other areas of my life. I did not have my name taken from the record "just in case." I found though that two things were constantly on my mind: fear and anger. Fear that just maybe the church was true, and anger that God would allow this to happen after all my efforts in it.
At one point I re-read the Book of Mormon and prayed sincerely about it again. I felt nothing.
I began to think again about my missionary experience, and some things became clearer to me.
First, missions in the LDS church are in many ways a catch-22 experience for the people who serve them. If they are called but refuse for whatever reason, the stigma of lack of faith will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They can never say that they do not think it is true and leave the church with any authenticity, having "refused the Lord." Hence most of this type choose to marry young instead of the mission and opt for a lifetime of lukewarm attendance, being undeserving to know for 'sure'- and unable to creditably doubt. They spend their 'not quite valiant' lives depending on others for their testimonies, being told what to do. They cannot afford- or deserve- to doubt.
People who do choose to go on missions are considered more 'valiant.' However, once they are in the mission field, even without difficult proselytizing circumstances maintaining the highly regimented lifestyle is very difficult. If you do not get up every morning on time, if you do not read all of the assigned reading, if you do not avoid any temptation or distraction, if you do not 'thrust in your sickle with your might' and run a hundred-yard dash from day one to the end- completely exhausted, sacrificed, used up- who are you to expect a testimony of the Lord?
The problem is that people are human. They get tired. They get depressed. They get no answers. And they slip up. And this is where the church has them by the intellectual short hairs of their own conscience. Because as soon as they put out less than their best effort, the church can say they were not worthy enough to expect a confirmation from God.
Very few missionaries can sustain this effort. Many just give up in the process, beaten down and made to feel guilty by slothful senior companions who do not allow them to do what they are supposed to; many get tired of day after day of fruitless tracting. Some get homesick and are unable to function. Whatever the reason, when it occurs these people have lost their right to expect a confirmation and hence to be able to deny the church. They go home with no choice but to "bear their testimony" to expectant family and friends; the pressure is enormous. They conform and continue to attend.
Certainly a person who comes home midway through has no credibility. Even if he returns because he can not in good conscience support the mission; because he feels no spirit in the work, because he is being honest with himself- it does not matter. The unspoken stigma is that he had "weak faith" and was "unvaliant." He will not be believed. I felt very keenly that if I had gone home during my mission it would have been said of me, "He was too critical of others and didn't focus on his own mission." To these people I say, 1) I doubt you have served a mission, and 2) If I had made decisions based on the behavior of others, I would have come home very early in the game. I stayed to the end. This type of person may say nothing to me.
Finally there are those who serve honorable missions and still come home unsure and unsatisfied. They were told in no uncertain terms that they would have their testimony confirmed if they did their best. They do not receive this. Does this mean they did not do their best? It is easy to think so. God is never wrong. Receiving a promise of a testimony from God and saying that one has not received it after the fact can only mean one thing: that person's effort was not enough.
And so they continue to accept empty and unsatisfying callings in the church, hoping that some day they will be 'worthy' to know. They cannot consider that the two years was, in terms of a testimony, useless. To a degree, ego becomes involved- 'Even the very elect may be deceived.' And they are the elect, are they not? They must not doubt. Theirs are lives of increasing frustration and self-righteousness.
The promise that the church extends regarding the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:4) says that if you pray with a sincere heart, with real intent, the answer will be given. It does not say that it will be given after numerous years in the church, studying only what it recommends and nothing else. It does not specify that you need be humble to a certain degree, or be a tithe payer for a period, or zealously hold numerous callings. It does not say that you need to lie about your testimony to others to prove your intent. It says pray sincerely. Period. And if you don't get an answer, that's your answer.
I believe that there is one path a person of integrity can take to solve the post-mission dilemma. It is not easy. I did not do it at the time. It requires tremendous courage.
It is to honestly and publicly say that after having done one's best, the answers were not there. Perhaps at the pulpit in sacrament meeting.
This is a very hard road to take. It means facing the huge disappointment of family and friends; possible abuse from church members- "How dare you say such things and destroy our children's dreams for going on a mission! How dare you undermine our faith! How could you!..." etc. etc. But I think that the ones who are your true friends, the ones who are mature, will come up to you and say, "I admire you for being honest with yourself. I respect you for it. I know the kind of mission you would have served. You are honest, and you have integrity." I think this really is a time you will find out who your friends are.
Remember, what if Joseph Smith had bowed to the pressure of his mother to join the Presbyterian church instead of following his own yearnings? The LDS religion might never have existed. (Here I'm sure the die-hards will jump in and say "But the Lord would have called another in his place." Stuff it.)
In all fairness I should add that there is possibly one more category. There may very well be some (many?) missionaries who go on their missions, have a wonderful time, incredible spiritual experiences, and come back with unshakeable testimonies. As I know nothing about this category, I cannot comment.
Anyway, back to my story.
A SECOND HOMECOMING
After a total of eight and a half years in Japan I returned to Canada. The cycle had completed itself; I did not feel there was anything more I needed from my Japanese experience. Shortly before coming back I met a former Japanese companion who had been with me for the longest time- three months. We had worked hard and shared many good times together. He was laid back, comfortable with himself, and more experienced with life than I was. One time he told me "Wayne, every time we get turned down at a door you let out this huge sigh of tension. I'm getting tired just listening to you." I took the hint and tried to lighten up.
After his mission he went to Hawaii for several years and got married. Finally he had come back to Japan. In the interim he had become semi-active himself, though his wife was apparently quite staunch. As we chatted he sheepishly pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit up. "Hard to do this while the wife's around," he said. He also ordered a cold beer- it was summer- and smacked his lips on the foam. "I really missed this." I felt sorry for him and at the same time sorry for his wife. I was glad not to be in that position. But I paid for the beer, for old times' sake. When it mattered, he had honor.
I returned with some misgivings. Of course I did not have a job. I was tired of pushy, loud, greasy types at my work place (I worked in a Japanese brokerage firm). Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had gone from a religious extreme to a temporal extreme. My soul was still yearning for some answers. I still felt anger at God for what I considered punishments for being honest with myself. My heart was heavy.
At this point I was staying at my mother's place. We were very happy to see each other. She sensed that I had finally come home, and I felt I was truly glad to be back. My sister was also there. I was happy to see her but she had developed an alcohol problem for a few years and we had a falling out. I resented what I perceived to be her lack of control.
It was wonderful now to be back in Canada- so cool, quiet, and GREEN. Imagine your local Chinatown with 27 million inhabitants- that's Tokyo.
After several months my mother suggested that I take a course which had helped her. It was called the "Forum" by Landmark Education. This is the current version of the old EST training by Werner Erhart. It is an extremely intense course. Very powerful, very controversial. Without really knowing what it was I took it. It hit me like a sharp pick into a block of ice.
Over the course of three days the participants were stripped down to their bare emotional bones and made to look at themselves. I saw people with horrifying problems exposed- incest, abuse, accidents, really rough stuff. The course instructor had been a soldier in Vietnam and walked into a rear propeller blade on a chopper. There wasn't too much that could phase him.
What amazed me was the incredible skill with which this man could confront people, take them apart, and then put them back together so that they could believe in themselves. There was a feeling of total love with him but no backing down. There weren't many who could say that they had it rougher. As I watched him, for the first- the very first- time, I began to understand the expression, "milk of human kindness." For that is what he bathed us in for three days. It was clear that the LDS church had no monopoly on good, honest love- the kind worthy of Christ. And this was totally non-religious. It was the feeling I had longed to experience. For that short period all fifty or so of us were confronted, exposed, and put back together. By the end there was a feeling of complete acceptance and love for each other, a high that continued for me for a year.
Several exercises stand out in my mind. One involved us looking within ourselves to see what kind of a child we saw there. I forget the exact nature of it, but I saw very clearly (metaphorically speaking) a small boy with a blond crewcut looking at me, crying, asking me why he could not fix mommy and daddy. He desperately wanted to fix mommy and daddy. Why couldn't he? Was it his fault? He would do anything...
This upset me horribly. Here I was, thirty, and I had never dealt with my parents breaking up. All the king's horses, all the king's men, all the churches, all the good missionary work in the world couldn't put them back together again. The little boy stayed in my room that night looking at me and asking, and I cried and cried. Up to that point, I had almost never cried.
Another exercise involved visually confronting our worst fear. Mine came up immediately. It was God, standing in front of me saying- thundering- that my father had been right, that Jospeph Smith was a prophet. Why had I betrayed him? But this time I stood my ground. After two fourteen-hour days in the course I was dead beat, but I stared at God and said "I was honest! I was honest! I was honest!" I repeated this over and over again, literally facing down God. It scared the hell out of me, no pun intended. At the end of twenty minutes I was trembling profusely. But I did not stop. I did not back down.
Suffice it to say this course is not for everyone. But it was for me. It opened new doors and fired my mind off in new directions, directions of self-worth and self-acknowledgement. It is not my intention to do a commercial for Landmark, but I am forever grateful for what that Forum instructor helped me deal with. For a couple of years after I continued to take various Landmark courses and seminars. Then I moved on to study other things.
There is something else the instructor said to me that I would like to mention here. After talking with him about my father's beliefs, and his constant warnings of how I would be cast down to hell if I was not valiant, he asked me a surprising question. "Are you afraid of going to hell?" he asked. I did not want to answer this in a room full of strangers; it sounded superstitious. "I don't even know if there is a hell" I replied. "That's not what I asked you," he said. "Are you afraid of going to hell?" I decided to risk looking foolish and was honest. "Yes" I replied. "I am afraid that my father is right, and that I am going to hell." He gave me this reply, and I will never forget it- "Wayne, you already are in hell." The constant obsession and fear was already the punishment.
The course also made me intensely aware of something about my sister. With her alcohol problem we had drifted quite far apart. It hit me that I was being like my father- my love was based on her toeing the line, doing what she "should." There was no unconditional love. I called her immediately and apologized, telling her I did not want to be like our father in that way. I would be there for her. We both cried. It was the start of a sincere, meaningful, depthful relationship that continues now. Several months after that she took responsibility for her drinking and has remained sober since. I love her very, very much.
As for my father, I started seeing him in a different light. Before I had always considered him a victim, a man who was only trying to do God's work betrayed by our mother. This changed.
AN OBJECTIVE VIEW
I saw that my father was equally responsible for the family break-up. As a child I frequently remember him saying, "It only took Satan two weeks to destroy our home!" This was apparently the period of the affair. I realize now that no family breaks up in two weeks. The problems had existed from long before, essentially from the time that my father joined the church and coerced my mother into doing so rather than letting her decide what was right for her in her own life and supporting her in it, as he expected her to do for him. Far from two weeks she had attempted for six years to live her life for my father and his righteousness, feeling herself drown in it. The affair was the catalyst, but not the cause of divorce. My father often mentioned that the bishop warned him that something would happen to his marriage; I strongly suspect now that other people in the ward saw it coming too. An oblivious, over-dedicated husband and a frustrated, beautiful wife.
My father implied that he was only trying to do God's work, and doing it for his family. I no longer accept this either. He did it first and foremost for himself, because it satisfied his own personal needs. He should not use us as an excuse. The fact that he was shocked and surprised at my mother's 'sudden' affair and attitude change is to me an indication of how poorly in tune he was with her needs, almost none of which were religious. I say religious and not spiritual because my mother is a very spiritual person in her own way.
Even in his second marriage my father has not essentially changed. He still spends his time doing what he wants to do in the church; he has simply surrounded himself with a second family and friends who accept it. I will add that his second wife is a loving, caring person who has brought him a tremendous amount of happiness, and that they have a harmonious marriage to date with three girls, my beautiful step-sisters. I personally feel that like many 'ideal' Mormon marriages, his second wife's complete financial and emotional dependence on him is unhealthy. But she is happy in those circumstances and it seems to nourish a part of his ego. So who is to say it is not best for them? And he has learned lessons from his first marriage, about relationships.
I also suspect that on a deeper level my father got something from his first marriage that he wanted, perhaps subconsciously- to be a martyr for Christ. Certainly he has continued to carry the anger from my mother leaving him as his martyr's cross. I think most of that anger has come from the fact that she has never regretted the decision to leave him and the church, and he cannot understand this. In essence it is because their spiritual needs were totally different. My mother knew this instinctively and while she regrets having hurt my father, she knows that ultimately she made the choices that were right for her.
Several years ago my mother was dating an engineer at Boeing. This man caught the Amway bug. For those of your unfamiliar with it, Amway is in many ways familiar to the LDS church; in fact its compatibility with the LDS lifestyle has attracted many church members. The same clean-cut image, business-like attitude, a similar set formula for success in life. This man suddenly expected my mother to attend Amway rallies together, distribute the products, and commit herself to 'their' success in this business venture, which she would do 'if she really loved him.' It was 'their' ticket to happiness. She broke off the relationship, very upset. It was too familiar.
I think my father sometimes wonders what plots my mother concocted to make my sister and I 'fall away' from the church. All she ever had to do was be herself and let us see who was happier. I suspect that some day, possibly at either my sister's or my own wedding- if we decide to get married- he will finally confront her, and be surprised to remember the good person she is. It is sad that he has chosen to carry the anger with him all these years. But it is his choice.
I wish to write a little further about insensitivity, which I feel is a frequent by-product of the LDS culture mind-set.
INSENSITIVITY PART OF MIND-SET
"...We are belligerents in defending the good." (Boyd K. Packer, "Do Not Spread Disease Germs!" BYU Studies, Summer 1981 pp. 259, 262-271)
When I was still in Japan, toward the end I suddenly began receiving the Church News. It was a subscription from my father. I was very offended to receive it. I suppose a member (my father?) would say that I was "shying away from the light of righteousness," or something. Actually, it had nothing to do with the content. Sending me such a publication was a clear indication that almost nothing I had tried to convey about my own feelings, my struggle with personal integrity or anything else, had really penetrated his consciousness. I was expected to "come around," to "feel the righteousness of the message" or something, I suppose. Instead all I felt was the implicit arrogance of being expected to accept the unquestioned correctness of what he believed. It became very clear to me in that moment why my mother left him.
This continued after I returned to Canada. At one point I received a letter from him castigating me for my faithlessness and the poor example my friend and I were setting for, among others, my sister. (This was my best friend, who left on a mission a year after I did. More on this later). Again the expectation that we were to live our lives for others, rather than having integrity to ourselves. I wrote a letter back and argued this.
Another time- while trying to discuss with him the frustration and depression I had experienced most of my mission, he said to me "Perhaps you took it too seriously." I was shocked. All I had ever been programmed for as a youth in Sunday School was the mission, the mission, the mission. How important it was to be worthy to go, to serve with one's total might, etc. etc. It may have been an off-handed remark, but to one who has believed, who has done his best, it is offensive. After the fact, it was being changed to "Well, the mission isn't everything." I was furious.
A final incident, again a letter. In it my father said that "he had heard that I was a fornicator." This was upsetting for two reasons. One was that if he had a reason to be interested in my sex life, he should approach me directly, not go on what someone else had said. Secondly, my sex life is obviously my own business. For the record, I was 31 or so at the time of the letter, and yes (surprise) I had sex by that point. In fact I first had sex at 24, older than my father when he first got married.
This was in Japan. By that point I definitely felt a natural need; marriage seemed out of the question, especially a Mormon one. I knew a woman that I wanted to have a relationship with. Before starting it I even prayed, saying that I felt it should be a normal part of my life; that I had waited past most, and that with all due respect to God I would need substantially more to go on if chastity or marriage was that important an issue. I felt good about my decision, went ahead with it and had the relationship. It was wonderful and I do not regret it. I do think that this is obviously a highly personal thing that each decides for his or her self.
There is one more thing I would like to say about sex, however. Sex is very similar to religion. Both are a part of life, not an excuse for it. Both should be constructive and positive for the participants. Both involve passion but if it is negative, degrading or painful the intent should be questioned.
The anger with my father continued for several years, even after the Forum. Eventually though I grew tired of the cold war. I felt I should accept him for what he was, even if I thought he could not completely do so for me. I began to correspond. A lesson I learned from my mother was, to accept a person show interest in what they do. She had always been this way for me. I felt that part of accepting my father involved listening to him talk about what made him happy, i.e. the church. If I felt threatened by his conversation, that was an issue inside myself that I would have to deal with.
I also made the decision to have my name officially taken off of the church's records. There was no more "just in case." I felt it was important to be honest about it.
This was a relatively painless procedure for me. I called the local bishop, explained the situation, and requested my records to be sent to that ward. I waited several months and called again. He informed me that the papers were in and would come over to see me, which he did. He asked me to confirm my desire to leave and give an 'official' reason. I requested the statement to be that I was leaving the LDS church because I felt no spirituality in it. He accepted, shook his head, and left. I appreciated his candor. I was never contacted again.
Meanwhile, my best friend- who had also come out to the west coast- and I had been sharing an apartment. It was the first time we had spent significant time together in quite a few years. Initially when we met after our missions in our early twenties some three years later, things seemed- different. I couldn't put my finger on it but I later understood what it was. I knew that I still had serious questions about the church but ironically I wouldn't talk to anybody for fear of setting a bad example, or destroying someone's faith. I was still in a mind set where it was more important to live for others than to be honest with myself. I found that the sincere conversations we had as teenagers were now impossible. He seemed the same way. I could not fathom his thoughts now except that I knew his mission had physically been very rough on him. He served in Peru and was frequently very sick.
At some point in Japan I told him I had made the decision not to attend church. He expressed the usual concern and sent one or two letters in an effort to change my mind, as all active good friends would do. Other than that, we kept in touch regularly as always.
When I returned permanently to Canada the quality of our conversations jumped, because I could now be honest. I was surprised but not shocked when he told me that he had also made the decision to leave the church. After this as we shared an apartment for a period, the world of conversation opened up and we were able to talk about all that which had been impossible before.
Sometime later he again made an attempt to attend, being re-baptized. He said that he felt he had needed to separate himself from the church completely and look at it as an objective outsider, rather than subjectively as a member from childhood.
This lasted a period of perhaps a year or so and he again made the decision not to attend. I believe he still did not feel the spirituality he needed. He remains a post-member, exploring and searching for that which is right for him.
Recently he told me that he has decided to sue the church for, among other things, all of the funds (tithing, fast offerings etc.) that he had donated over the years, feeling they had been coerced. While I respect his integrity to himself, I feel that to a degree he is becoming obsessed with his church past. It is something that will always be a part of him and I. Something to be accepted rather than fought. I think the offerings should be remembered in the spirit they were given. They were voluntary and the intention was good. It is like trying to heal a wound that is already scar tissue. But he must do what he feels is right.
In the last year or so my father's flying schedule has brought him out to Vancouver regularly. Between this and email we have finally begun to establish a rapport that has more meaning to me. Regardless of the past he is my father and I love him immensely. I am glad that I have pursued the relationship.
Because it is now only the two of us when we see each other, I feel that he is being himself talking to me. By this I mean that staunch LDS members have a habit of talking as if God is in the room; as if they are performing for the heavenly video- "And I want you to know that the church is true." [Looks up] "Did you get my best side there?" For a long time this bothered me; I could not have a genuine, meaningful conversation. As soon as the church came up he would slip into that comfortable monotone 'tape-recording of God's will' mode that is an excuse for conversational effort.
That has changed now. We talk about many things; life, experiences, death, taxes, relationships, dreams. Last time he was here he said, "You know what I would like to do? Go and live on a beach for a year." After years of serving as stake president- a tiring job by any standard- I hope he gets his chance.
I acknowledge that in doing what he feels is right for him, my father has continued to blossom. He serves honestly. He has helped many people. He learned many things from the pain of his first marriage. He has been in the church for thirty years, with all the effort and sacrifice that implies. I love him, and respect him.
As for myself, I continue to read voraciously from many different sources. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Deepak Chopra. Anthony Robbins. The Kama Sutra. Mein Kampf. The Mormon Murders. Salamander. The Teaching of Buddha. The Hazards of Being Male. Some I read to explore the minds of their authors; all I read to stimulate my own mind. Many have touched me and awakened a spirituality which I never once tasted in the LDS culture.
OBEDIENCE VS. INDEPENDENCE
Something which has always concerned me in that culture is the concept of "obedience vs. independence." The church seems to emphasize that the greatest virtue is obedience, sometimes unquestioning. A scripture used to stress this is Moses 5:6 (Pearl of Great Price)-
"And after many days, an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him, I know not, save the Lord commanded me."
Personally, in reading this, I feel the opposite. I think that because Adam could not look beyond what he was doing the Lord finally sent someone to talk to him about it. If you were a god and man was your creation, would you not want him to examine himself and grow? To question his existence, to do things for himself? For the path to true spirituality begins with questioning.
To the LDS culture questioning and independence are arrogance. They are threatened by it. The church purges of the mid-eighties- such comments as "Three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away... [are] the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and ... the so-called scholars or intellectuals" (Boyd K. Packer; address to an All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting May 18 1993) and slogans like "When the brethren have spoken, the thinking is done" are, as has been mentioned in other posts, completely incompatible with "The glory of God is intelligence" or "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves" (Joseph Smith).
Unquestioning obedience is an excuse for intellectual laziness. This pattern concerns me because it is the same one displayed in totalitarian rulerships such as Stalinist Russia, or China today. First, the intellectuals are purged. Frequently homosexuals and other minorities- jews, blacks- are persecuted. Finally, how many great female historical figures can you recall from these two countries?
The indication that such organizations as 'Church Security,' headed in the eighties by L. Martell Bird, a former FBI agent (see either The Mormon Murders pp.43-44, or Salamander p57, p61) monitor and keep files on liberal Mormons or anti-Mormon activists such as the Tanners, or the existence of the overbearing BYU campus 'Honor Code Committee' (stories from BYU students at this site) clearly show the trend is toward control. Threats to deny education because the participant does not agree with the church's idea of what is right or wrong dress-wise or otherwise is fascist. Where is the love in this?
You have your free agency but what your home teacher tells you is God's message. What your quorum or group leader tells you is God's advice. What your bishop tells you is what God wants you to do. What your stake president says is God's will. What the general authorities say is God's word. What the prophet says is from the mouth of God. And when you have finished doing all that you are told from these people, you may think about what you want to do for yourself. But not for too long. It's selfish. Don't question too much. Keep your head down. Obey. Obey. Obey.
Reversely, look at it from God's point of view. Imagine that you are a father with several children. The children grow up and leave. Yet they call home every day, two or three times. They visit every Sunday for three or four hours, begging and pleading for guidance. They do whatever they are told. They are afraid to say "no." They are completely dependent, not using their own minds to study facts and make decisions. Would you consider them mature?
If people had stood up for what they thought was right instead of blindly obeying, the Mountain Meadows Massacre would not have occurred. Blood Atonement would not have occurred. Jonestown would not have occurred. Perhaps Waco, Texas or the Heaven's Gate cult would not have occurred. Nazi Germany would not have occurred. The key to all these tragedies was blind obedience, without questioning.
The lack of real historical/archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon- in fact the preponderance of evidence against it- and the actions of church leaders to purchase and then make 'unavailable' historical documents disputing the sanitized version of church history do not bode well. Although some of these documents were of course fakes by Mark Hofmann, church leaders themselves were convinced the contents were genuine and purchased them to 'protect' the church story. Why were they not inspired immediately to know the documents were fakes? By all appearances they were deceived, trying to do self-justified 'damage control for the Lord.'
The contradictions from one leader to another- e.g. modern denial of many of Brigham Young's statements in the Journal of Discourses- (a few available at this site)- are inconsistent as well. If in fact Young said these as a man instead of a prophet, why were they so carefully recorded by the people present at that time? Why did not Young himself state that they were only his own opinions? Because of course they were meant to be prophecy. Modern LDS leaders cannot simply pick and choose now what was God's word and what was Young's. The study has proven interesting but ultimately only confirmed my previous feeling. Ironic, isn't it? This is what the church would say- feeling first, and evidence after.
At Fast and Testimony meetings it was always my observation that most testimonies tended to be solemn with deep sighs, and crying is not unusual. I have often wondered about this. Rarely are there people who get up on fire, excited, joyous about what they are doing with an ear-to-ear grin. They are comparatively scarce. I believe it is because at a deep level, most members have honest doubts and concerns about testifying to something they are still not sure about. Their psyche senses this integrity conflict and symptomizes it with sighs, tears and general heaviness.
I have always had a great concern for children. They are programmed by parents whispering in their ear as early as possible the standard phrases "I know that the church is true," or "I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet." This is something young minds will not begin to understand or explore honestly for many years, yet already their defenses are being removed.
Accepting total responsibility for right and wrong (which of course includes accepting the church) at age eight through baptism is a travesty of fairness. Few are the young children who will refuse to bear a testimony or receive baptism for mommy and daddy. Eventually if they decide for themselves at an older age to reject this programming as false, there will be much fear, anger, and frustration to overcome. It is a sad cycle and a difficult one to break. My own opinion is that baptism and membership should only be permitted when an individual has reached legal adulthood according to the 'law of the land.' I doubt this will ever happen.
PERSONAL SPIRITUAL GROWTH
I would now like to write a little bit about what I have found works for me in attaining some degree of spirituality. It is certainly not meant as the be-all and end-all. I make no claim to the 'answers.' But it has helped me so I will share it.
Personally I no longer pray vocally to another being. I find it externalizes my power and makes me dependent. This decision comes after years of fruitless and empty praying. I have no wish to cross God but I will not spend time worrying that I'm going to offend some being I can't see with something I unknowingly do. This brings nothing but paralysis. Being further expected to jump through hoops for a 'fair and just' God in a world where there is seemingly no fairness or justice makes me feel only resentment. There may be a tinge of bitterness here but I am being honest. I no longer feel a need to justify this life's vagaries on behalf of God.
I believe that there are more satisfying ways of appreciating what I have. Instead of mumbling a repetitive grace I make sure to eat everything. I maintain my good health by exercising regularly every other day, and attend an Aikido class. I have never had the desire to smoke, drink or use drugs- for this I do thank my upbringing. When a problem occurs I make every attempt to control my mind, to avoid thinking it is a 'trial' or 'punishment' and take responsibility for it. It is what it is. If I can't deal with it right away I sleep. Nothing is that urgent. I consider this an effort for independence and an attempt to grow and mature, not arrogance.
If I were to sum up the meaning of life I would say one phrase- "integrity to self."
For several years now I have also been seriously meditating. It stills my mind and lets me focus within myself rather than giving my power away. I have found that among other things, it has allowed me to erase much of the old LDS programming with new self-realization and responsibility. In essence, rather than talking to God I talk to myself. I change the tape. This has not been easy and is an on-going process.
I currently meditate for forty minutes in the morning and perhaps thirty minutes at night. I begin by sitting Japanese style (this is painful and not a requirement. One should sit comfortably so that the mind is free of distractions). I take deep breaths, holding them and releasing them. I do this till my lungs feel clean and my pulse has slowed. Then I breathe normally. I ask myself what I can hear. Finally I listen for my own heartbeat. And I begin to 'talk' (think) to myself. Like this:
"Tonight again I welcome myself to the retreat, the sanctuary, the refuge, the intimacy and privacy of my own mind.
Here in my mind I am God. I Am that I Am, and I am the Word. Here what I say, is.
And I say that here there will be:
Peace. Calmness. Coolness. Stillness. Quiet.
Self-love. Self-acceptance. Self-respect. Self-acknowledgement. Courage.
Here these qualities will continue to grow and overflow, radiating out from myself.
I reflect on the events of the day and I release them. I release my work, my frustration, my successes, the small things. Little minds worry about little things. I will not concern myself with small things for everything is small, and I release them.
I release my apartment, my money, my possessions. I release everything I own.
I let go of my family and friends.
I release any concerns about God, or my 'worthiness' for anything.
Finally, I release:
My past, for I am not controlled by it.
My future, as it is undecided but for what I want.
Time, as irrelevant.
I release my body,
And I release my life.
And I am free.
For as I hold on to nothing, there is nothing to hold me back.
And I am free to be at peace with myself.
Free to be one with the universe.
Free to be in harmony with all."
I then allow my consciousness to expand and contract to a point within me. I do this three times each way, several minutes for each effort.
When I am done I feel calm, refreshed, and I can usually remember little about the day. I go to bed with my mind stilled and fall asleep quickly.
In the morning I repeat this but shorten the expansion/contraction and focus more on deep breathing and intense exhaling, imagining my 'Ki' flowing up and down through me. This is an Aikido technique.
Needless to say I find no small irony in the fact that I went to Japan with some arrogance to 'enlighten' a people, and have ultimately found a degree of peace in a Japanese philosophy which teaches harmony of mind and body (Aikido), and in contemplation of many of the Buddhist precepts. I do not however feel a need to practice Buddhism as a religion.
I realize that some may be concerned or offended with the concept of calling oneself "I Am," or saying "I am God within my own mind." My answer is, do what is comfortable for you. I feel no arrogance in doing this for I should be master of my own mind, not the other way around. God and Satan only have the power over our minds that we allow them to have. This thinking centers me and
makes me feel I am disciplining, controlling, and taking responsibility for myself. For this I have no apologies. I offer it only as an example, hoping that some might find it useful in their own meditation.
I do feel that the LDS culture may be a valid lifestyle, and a spiritual one, for a certain type of person. Regardless of the flaws in the church it does produce a percent of stable families. It provides discipline and hope. I believe it to be a cult but a comparatively benevolent one. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' However I am concerned, as I have said, about the increasing tendency toward control and right-wing policy.
There comes a point when we realize that facts do not matter as much as feelings. It is integrity in the pursuit of our dreams which brings us happiness, not necessarily adherence to 'reality.' I think if we all lived for fact alone, we would be a pretty miserable lot considering the bleakness of life and death. For this reason individuals may be fulfilled in the LDS lifestyle as much as any other, if they feel in their hearts it is right for them. However one must temper one's religious ego to allow others the same freedom, and allow them to walk their own spiritual paths. I wonder if missionary efforts are an attempt to bring other people to our own level of 'enlightenment,' or merely a craving to have the beliefs of our own religious egos further supported?
For the other post-Mormon readers I wish to again express how much I have appreciated the stories here, and I acknowledge the courage it took for each person to confront his or her self and write. I hope that while it has been long my story may in turn help someone to understand their own feelings in their search for spirituality.
For LDS members who are reading these in hopes of "saving the fallen," I suspect that if you have read this far your motive for being here runs deeper. Be honest with yourself.
I am happy to receive email regarding this post but I do not wish for an on-line relationship. As the author of another letter aptly put it, I do not want any 'cookie cutter' testimonies. I simply will not respond. If any reading this are old friends or acquaintances, I am glad to have this opportunity to explain myself and my actions since leaving my father's home. I wish you happiness in pursuing that which feels right for you.
We have a difficult choice. Is it better to exist conservatively in security and comfort and never really live, or risk all and experience the possible agonies and ecstasies of the result? Better to be told what to do or assume total responsibility for one's own actions, which can be devastating to the conscience? Better to be a free man in hell or a servant in heaven? Each must decide; both kinds of people exist. Whatever the choice, do it for yourself- living either to impress others or out of sympathy for them will ultimately bring nothing but bitterness.
I would like to end with a quote from Thoreau:
"If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies. The faintest assured objection which one healthy man feels will at length prevail over the arguments and customs of mankind. No man ever followed his genius till it mislead him. Though the result were bodily weakness, yet perhaps no one can say that the consequences were to be regretted, for these were a life in conformity to higher principles.
If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched...
I find it to be the height of wisdom not to endeavor to oversee myself and live a life of prudence and common sense; but to see over and above myself, entertain sublime conjectures, make myself the thoroughfare of thrilling thoughts, live all that can be lived... Keep the time, observe the hours of the universe, not the cars. What are threescore years and ten, hurriedly and coarsely lived, to moments of divine leisure, in which your life is coincident with the life of the universe?
...If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
Walden, or Life in the Woods 1854
Write to the author of this story, Wayne