My Choice Choice

ChoicesJune – November 2014

At the tender age of 62, in June of 2014, something jolted my religious attention.  For the next six months, I was consumed with studying LDS church history and doctrine.  Literally, 3 to 5 hours were spent everyday reading, researching and ruminating.  By November, I had reached a shocking conclusion about beliefs held my entire life.  Up to that point, my spiritual knowledge had been rock solid.  It could be described as certainty.  Frequently, I had repeated the phrase “I KNOW that ________ is true.”  In fact, I “knew” that everything was TRUE about the Mormon church.

In a poignant and sobering moment, that fateful November day, I realized that I “knew” nothing.  Nothing was certain.  Confusion.  Disappointment.  Sadness.  Anger.  Loneliness.  All these emotions swept though my mind.  Other than continuing to search and study, I didn’t know what to do.  Anger continued to build.  It frightened my wife and family.  For a time, it harmed our relationship.  Of course, that was my fault.  I recognize that and have worked to correct and control the anger.

After a few attempts to discuss issues with church members, it became clear that this was not a good idea.  A loneliness started to creep in.  It appeared that I was the only person in my circle of family and friends who was traveling this path.

January 2015

In January ’15, three meaningful things occurred.
  1. Friends leaving the church.  I discovered a close friend in the ward and a sibling in far away Utah who had both quietly left the church.  They had discovered and studied the same issues.  Their conclusion was to part with Mormonism, never discussing their concerns privately with their bishop or in public with members.
  2. The Bishop encounter.  I met with the bishop.  For all intents and purposes, it did not go well.  I put on a happy face during our discussion.  But, inside I was disappointed, depressed and angry.  In defense of my bishop, he’s a friend and a great guy.  It was the first time that anyone had presented him with serious doubts.  He told me, “Sam, you are the only person who is questioning.”  Of course, by then, I knew that was inaccurate.
  3. Paul, the apostle.  I rediscovered a wonderful scripture.  It would tide me over for the next several months.  1 Corinthians 13.  This is the classic chapter describing the characteristics of charity.  But, it also contained a description of exactly what I was going through.

Paul said, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall pass away.”  Oh my goodness!  That’s just what had happened to me.  My knowledge, my certainty had just passed away.

Paul goes on, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Oh my goodness!  He was describing my journey from childish “knowledge” to speaking, understanding and THINKING, like a man.

 Paul continues, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.”  Oh my goodness!  I’m following in Paul’s footsteps.  For 62 years, my religion was crystal clear.  Now, clear as mud.

Paul concludes, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”  This was something I could wrap my head around.  For me, certainty no longer was part of my belief system.  Why should I put my trust in ‘knowing’ when Paul teaches it will vanish.  I was determined to put my faith in faith.  My hope in hope.  And strive for charity.  But it would take another year before settling on a comfortable path comprising these three abiding gospel principles.

TempleSummer 2015

I continued to study for hours everyday.  The obsession to find answers was as unrelenting as fly paper.  By the summer of 2015, I’d decided to delve into the pinnacle of Mormonism: The temple.  Not only are the sealing ordinances at the apex of our doctrine, they are also unique in all of Christianity.  The temple experience consists of two beautiful teachings.  First, that we can be ‘sealed’ to our loved ones, with the promise that we will be with them in heaven forever.  Second, that all mankind will have the opportunity to go to heaven regardless of whether or not they had ever been taught of Jesus Christ while on earth.

These blessings are not guaranteed.  Their realization is contingent on keeping the covenants that are made in the temple.  Hence, the temple covenants become the centerpiece of what the temple is all about.  From the pulpit, encouragement to keep these preeminent promises is constantly preached.  Now at age 63, I realized that I didn’t fully understand them.  I had lots and lots of questions.  And, as I pondered, more and more covenant questions kept coming.

Over the next 3 months, I started researching.  I asked, discussed, probed.  No one, and I mean no one, had answers.  Almost without exception, as I continued to ask questions, this response would eventually rear it’s ironic head, “Sam, why do you even care?”  What???  Why do I care about what the temple covenants mean???  Really???  Initially, everybody said they understood their meaning.  With the shallowest interrogation, NOBODY had answers.

This experience was highly disappointing.  Especially, the attitude that temple covenants are not to be discussed outside of the temple.  If you have questions, you should set an appointment with the temple president.  He’ll give you the answers inside his temple office.

My observation & conclusion:  Before we make the covenants, we can’t discuss them.  We  don’t understand them when we actually make them.  After the promises are made, we can’t discuss them.  And, finally, NOBODY knows what they really mean.  If keeping our temple covenants is so vital to eternal salvation, you’d think we could & would devote tons of time to understand exactly what the heck they mean.

Fall 2015

Frustrated with my temple covenant quest, I decided to take a look at Christianity in general.  I bought books, studied online, listened to debates, and watched videos.  I LOVED much of what I heard.  Also, I was turned off by much.

Soon, it became apparent that Christian history & doctrine, along with New & Old Testament history & doctrine, contained holes, inconsistencies and unsavory elements similar to our Mormon history & doctrine.  No longer did I look down on atheists.  They had good reason to believe what they believe.

Decision Time

Through January 2016,  I was still consumed with reading, listening, and now writing.  But, my gut (my turning stomach) was telling me that enough effort had now been spent on gathering my thoughts.  It was time to trim the sail, adjust the rudder and start sailing a purposefully chosen course.

Leave the church.  Do nothing.  Stay in. Stay silent.  Embrace Christianity.  Embrace atheism.  In hindsight, I think that I already knew what I was going to choose.  But, it took another month for a clear path to emerge from the fog.

Good SamaritanThe Choice Choice Arrives

I was raised Mormon, just a few miles north of Salt Lake City.  The church, prophets, priesthood, temple, Book of Mormon and  plan of salvation had always been taken for granted as true.  I ‘knew’ they were true.  Now, I ‘knew’ nothing.  Never, ever had I considered that faith could be a choice.

It was February 2016, at the tender age of 63, when the choice opportunity had presented itself.  The choice chance to choose for myself.  I was free to think as an adult.  Finally, as a rational man, I had put away childish things.

My decision:  Follow Jesus Christ, both his teachings and example.  How could I not select this path?  To me, it has divine appeal.
  • The Good Samaritan.
  • The Golden Rule.
  • Leave the 99 for the 1.
  • When you have done it unto the least of these.
  • The Prodigal Son.
  • Reaching out to the marginalized, the hopeless, the helpless.
  • Standing up to the proud & powerful, including the church leaders of his time.
  • Standing up for the poor, the sick, the weak, including those rejected by the church leaders of his time.
  • Finally, He had paid the infinite price necessary to bring EVERYBODY home.

My choice choice is to follow the lowly son of a carpenter.  The humble & homeless teacher, who had nowhere to lay his head.  He came from and lived at the margins of society.  His focus was ministering to the marginalized.

I have chosen to follow Jesus in the Church of Jesus Christ.  The church that has been my home for 63 years.  The institution to which I have dedicated much blood, sweat, tears, time & treasure.  The church is not perfect.  Far from it.  But, I and my family have derived significant benefit from our membership.  I love the church.  I love Jesus more.

Change???

This may not sound like a faith transition.  For me, it is a cataclysmic change.  I have chosen to follow Jesus.  Although, I am a member of the church, I recognize that the institution is not my salvation.  I listen to the prophets.  They are good men.  Men selected by my Savior. But, they are men.  My Lord has instructed me to not put my trust in the arm of flesh.  In my past life, I had fallen victim to worshiping the prophets.  I hung on their every word, willing to believe and obey all directions flowing from their lips.  Today, I put my trust in Christ, willing to follow the church leaders when they align with the directions flowing from Him.

It turns out, this path is more difficult than expected.  I’ve encountered unexpected push-back. That’s OK, because this path is working for me.

Does Jesus really exist?  I don’t know.  ‘Certainty’ is no longer important to me.  I don’t view it as a principle of His gospel.  Rather,  His touching teachings and eloquent example beckon me to follow.

34 thoughts on “My Choice Choice

  1. This is beautifully expressed Sam – simple, clear, principled. It mirrors my recent journey in many ways. I have also been been frustrated and unsettled by having to shift a lot of what used to be clear certainty about what was true back into the realm of faith and choosing to believe. But this has helped me have far more empathy for my non-LDS Christian friends who have always been in that place.

    I used to see that as indicative of the weaknesses of their churches and doctrines that so much had to be taken on faith rather than clearly understood while I was very lucky to be able to go a lot further towards certainties because of the additional knowledge and clarifications the Restoration doctrines and scriptures offer. Like you, I still appreciate that these things do help a lot in a lot of areas, but not as completely as they used to.

    I am very grateful for how you have articulated with reference to some very relevant scriptures what I have realised and advocated for a while but had not connected with obvious scriptural fundamental Mormon principles – that we are still a long way from knowing everything, still going line upon line, step by step, and that means we also have to manage letting go of previous assumptions.

    My missing ingredient was to accept that this leaves us much more in the dark than is always comfortable, but still heading towards the light, even though GAs have often used those metaphors in their talks.

    If our LDS brothers and sisters who have not started this process from simple child-like levels of understanding of Church history and doctrines towards more mature complexity and nuance find this worrying or threatening, I would just remind them that this approach is all over the scriptures about faith and our journey towards knowledge as you have pointed out. As Alma 32 in recent Doctrine Lessons points out, we only get partial knowledge of a few bits of truth at s time and must not make the mistake of now thinking we know all about everything.

    Even Brigham Young urged members to question and get personal spiritual witnesses of what the General Authorities teach before trusting or feeling obliged to treat their words as revelatory or the will of God. That caveat and safety net has always been a fundamental principle in Mormonism – the personal spiritual witness before the obligation to believe and act – and with it the acknowledgment that sometimes leaders get it wrong.

    What helps now is they the GAs themselves are being much more open about the scale of past mistakes or misrepresentations in their predecessors’ teachings and policies and the highly edited correlated versions of our historical story that were perpetuated and became the orthodoxy.

    They are now urging us, like Elder Ballard in his address to all Church teachers, to know the Gospel Topics Essays which are authorised by the Forst Presidency in the Church website ‘like the back of our hands’ so I hope your family and friends have the integrity and wisdom to familiarise themselves with those essays, what they admit and what they mean before deciding that you have somehow moved away from, or compromised, your Mormonness and legitimacy as a faithful member in full fellowship and harmony with the Church and its teachings. You are ahead of the curve and in harmony with what the living prophets, seers and revelators are urging us to all do – get informed, make significant adjustments to our understanding and beliefs about our history and the history and journey of our doctrines, and move forward with FAITH not overstated certainties that do not have complete foundations yet. Thankyou again for helping me to understand ways to remain faithful and committed to the Church while dealing with a lot of depressing and disillusioning epiphanies and discoveries as I transition from thinking like a child to believing like an adult.

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  2. “Thankyou again for helping me to understand ways to remain faithful and committed to the Church.” Peter, you are reciprocating by helping me with the same thing. Thanks!

    And….where the heck did you learn to write with such speed and clarity?

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  3. Well, I’m English and we are all born talking like Shakespeare …..with his really dodgy spelling though in my case! I also get to practice a lot in the day job as a teacher of Arts, Religious Education and Philosophy and Politics. I’m rubbish at building things or farming so don’t be too bedazzled 😉

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  4. Thank you so much for this, Sam. I have gone through similar, and recognise that shattered sense of devastation that follows hard on the heels of the realisation that, “if X was actually not true, what if none of it is true?” I’m still working my way through the fear and painful feelings. But I have at times felt the heart of Jesus very close to me, and know that all is not lost. In many ways it has been freeing. But at the same time, I feel shaken to the core.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “In many ways it has been freeing.” I feel the vey same. But, that freedom came with a cost. I’m still working through that cost. It will likely cost me more. Publishing this blog post may exact a cost in friends. Some have not reacted well to my journey or its present conclusion. That’s what I meant when I referred to “unexpected feedback.” For some, faith in Christ is not enough. They are disappointed and defensive at my lack of certainty. But, I would much rather be true to myself and real to those around me. I belief that I’m on a stronger, more stable, more satisfying foundation than ever before.

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  5. Sam- how were/are your children feeling and responding to you during your quest of truth? I think if my dad- who raised me in the church and who much of my testimony as a child/teen mimicked- I’d really start questioning my own testimony and truths of the gospel as well. If one of the people I respect the most for leading and guiding me most of my years was questioning the core of what we believed as a family for so many years- I think it would definitely shake my foundation.

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    1. My faith journey was difficult for the kids and my wife. Mostly because of my anger. Much because it clashed with the certainty that I’d raised them with. I actually don’t want them to question their beliefs. We haven’t talked much about it. However, I would imagine that they have. They are adults and will have to come to their own conclusions. At this point, hey are pretty supportive of me. I’m supportive of whatever path they choose. Hopefully, choosing to follow Jesus Christ will be acceptable and inspirational to them.

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  6. Sam, this was so well said. I guess we all question our beliefs at different times and in different ways. Thank you for sharing this very personal journey. I, too, have had periods of contemplation. I have disagreed with the leaders at times and had to realize their imperfections. I have been inactive on a few occasions but always returned to where I felt safe. I never liked to hear the sentence ” I know the Church is true”. I prefer to use the term “I am grateful for the Fullness of the Gospel.” I believe we have been given the basic principals that, if lived, will get us bak to our Father. There is so much more we can live with the love and study of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Thank you again for your testimony.

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  7. Sam you never cease to amaze me. I love how articulate you are and your focus on Christ.
    Obviously you’ve chosen a path that I so hope works for you… And your family as well because I sense your choices have so deeply considered your previous family.
    I honor and respect your choice to stay within the confines of the LDS faith. Especially as you stand firm to your personal authenticity and devotion to the master teacher… Jesus.
    obviously many of us have had the same enlightenment (or similar) that you so beautifully describe… Gone is certainty! Gone is “knowing”. Gone are the rose colored glasses that we wore so happily.
    And… If I could choose to put them back on (which of course is as impossible as believing in the North Pole Santa again) I would not choose it.
    For all the unrest, questions, harsh judgements coming my way, understanding that some of my own children have honest heartache because they believe their mother is “lost”, despite the lonely solo walk I’ve embarked on…I have the peace that passeth understanding. I live comfortably in my awakening and uncertainty. And I live free!
    Free if the shame and guilt, free of the pressure to conform, free to think, free to question, free to seek answers anywhere I desire, free to speak my truth.
    From this side I cheer for you and the others who choose to stay within the confines of the church with open eyes and hearts…

    Onward ever onward!

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    1. I love this: “I live free! Free of the shame and guilt, free of the pressure to conform, free to think, free to question, free to seek answers anywhere I desire, free to speak my truth.” Pretty much the way I feel. However, staying in the church does require one sacrifice from your list. I’m not totally free to speak my truth. That’s a big hole in the church. People can only ask certain questions, form certain opinions, consider certain doubts. As a result, more people are leaving than might otherwise. I have been judged as prideful, a sinner, desirous to sin, and under Satan’s power for expressing what I’ve just made public here.

      Now, you know that I totally support your path. I cheer YOU on, my dear friend!

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  8. Sam, thank you for sharing your journey. It can be so humbling to realize you’re struggling with what was always your truth. In my journey I had to let go of the searching for a time and just live those “correct answers to all gospel questions” (pray, read the scriptures, keep the commandments, and go to church…). In the Lord’s appointed time I received the answer I needed long after I had stopped asking. This isn’t to say that I have perfect knowledge, only that I know God loves me. He knows my journey. He rewarded my faith with some knowledge, enough to keep me going.
    You and your family have my love and support.

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    1. Thanks, Veniece! I feel like I’m taking a big risk sharing this publicly. But, lately, gossip, misunderstanding, and judgment have started to appear. Besides, I think it’s best to be honest. How can we support others I they hide their questions and doubts? Having to deal with them in loneliness and isolation. So many of my good friends and family have now left the church. It brings tears as I think about it.

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  9. Wow, so interesting to read. You should consider writing a book about your experieces!!
    Christ never came to start a religion. He only asked people to follow him, as he is the only way to God. So happy you decided to do so. I wish you ALL the best!!

    Greetings from far, far away (Norway) 🙂

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    1. Thanks! All my to best you in the land of my Mormon ancestors. BTW, most people would consider this post so long that it qualifies as a book.

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      1. Then we might be related! 😉 Keep posting your blog post on reddit. I just realized you are the guy that wrote about dancing Jesus. Loved that one too!! (Seriously – you should conside writing a book) 😉

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      2. Well, thanks again, cousin. You might not like my next blog coming up. It’s entitled “Joseph Smith IS my hero!” So, feel free to skip that one.

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  10. Sam,
    As you quoted when I was a child, I thought like a child….”. The first reply referred to to the text “line upon line, precept upon precept”.
    These go hand in hand as we grow. Our entire life depends upon these two ideas.
    There are times when that growth is slow and tedious, then grand and illuminating. Inbetween and all around are those are times of question.
    It was because of those questions that I joined the LDS Church. To me, it was answering some very basic question I had been struggling with for many years. The basic ideas of the life before here. Churches speak of “life everlasting”, but nothing about what happened before.
    The concept of the Trinity always confused me. There had to be three separate beings. Again, none taught that. Those were my soul searching questions. My path started when I was about 16 years old. And it continues to this day. Some of those “line upon line” ideas bring more questions than answers. For me, it’s those questions that keep me going. Sometimes it makes my membership in the church stronger, sometimes just lukewarm. Sometimes things the GA say reach me to the bone, some just get packaged and put on a shelf in my brain.
    As I have said before, at this point in my life, my biggest questions are why did my son (ergo, other children), have to suffer so much. If Heavenly Father is a loving father, why does he let them suffer? My son may have been 33 when he died, but he had a genetic disease that effected him his whole life. The more time since his death, the more I see of the problems he had. Then I see how he tried to cope with the situations. Many were not probably the best, but they were all he could figure out. Why!
    I still get more questions.
    Then there was my husband. Too many questions. But at the end, he accepted what he felt was right. Wish he had let me in on it because he was more at peace than any time I knew him.
    So I guess it all goes back to questioning and that ” line upon line”.
    Thank you for actually reaffirming my idea that questioning all is not bad. I, like you, may continue this quest from within the church, and to me, that is not a problem. In the very beginning of my investigation of the church, I was told that it’s not the people who make it true, for none are perfect, it is the person it is based on that is true and perfect, Jesus,the Christ. That is the one person I have always hung onto. Maybe, together, we can go this journey of life.
    (Don’t have time to go back and edit. Hope this makes sense)

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    1. Don’t worry about editing. It all makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing. Searching, asking questions, attempting to reach truth and understanding….those should be good things to pursue. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one doing it within the church framework.

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  11. As always well written, heartfelt and sincere. One can not go wrong if they sincerely follow the Saviour. Your quest for truth is stretching you and helping you to grow. The effort you are putting in will stand as a witness of your integrity. It is not like you got angry over a point of doctrine and quit the church, and are now fighting against it (as some have done.) You have thoughtfully considered where you come from, where you are going, and are keeping things in perspective. Hang in there, know that your thoughts and feelings are valid, and that you are a Pioneer in your own right. Keep the faith, work through the questions, remember the witness of the Spirit that can/will sustain you through the tough times. Love to you and your Family!

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  12. Once again Sam, you have helped me to advance in my journey. As I struggled with my faith crisis in regard to family and friends, I too felt the anger and betrayal. I felt betrayed because I had given my whole life of 38 years to this church. I had brought my wife and kids with me through this journey, to only find that it was not what I had always believed it to be. It left my family’s world turned upside down for a time, and we are slowly righting the ship. I still have anger at times, but now it comes from the looks I get from member friends, or from hurtful comments from close friends and family that have no clue as to even the questions that got me and my family to the place we are at. I have to go back to what you talk about in your post. Follow the teachings of the Savior. I don’t believe in him the way that I used to, because coming out of this whirlwind, my whole view on what I understood about my creator and his Son has changed. But I can still follow the teachings that have given me peace before. You can’t go wrong by thinking of others first. Thanks Sam

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    1. So glad it has helped. The road to enlightenment can be bumpy. Thanks again for coming to the Talkeria. I’ve been out of town the past couple weeks. We’ll have another one this Thursday.

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  13. One simple question: Is it only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that you access the grace necessary for salvation and exaltation?

    Elder Ballard said, “Yes.” He said so very recently, and he said so over the pulpit of General Conference.

    If you do not agree with this, why would you continue to support a church that teaches such a doctrine to its members?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a great question. First, I don’t “know” anything. I now look at belief differently,too. For example, I can’t say that I believe Jesus Christ is real. He may or may not be, I don’t know. What I do believe is that the teachings and example ascribed to him are a good way to live. So, I have chosen to follow those teachings and example. To me that is faith.

      I don’t remember Elder Ballard’s remarks about access to grace only through the LDS church. But, that would have been my take for most of my life. Not my view now. I think that our temple ordinances actually show the opposite. Everyone who has ever lived, whether they have heard of Christ, whether they chose to follow another religion, or whether they were good or bad, all will have the opportunity to accept Jesus after this life. Joseph Fielding Smith said that God has endowed men in other religions with power from on high to accomplish his work. It sure sounds like God’s grace will be extended to all regardless of any religious affiliation.

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing this, Sam. You are fast becoming one of my favorite prophets.

    My own journey shares some elements with yours. In other ways it diverges. Like you I questioned. Unlike you I was fortunate enough to have avoided the anger. (Not because of any virtue on my part, I was just blessed with different circumstances.) Unlike you I opted to leave the church. Like you I am trying to hold to the bedrock of Jesus’ precepts as taught by my “goodly” parents; Love, acceptance of others, the search for light and truth. the humility to acknowledge how little I understand, a commitment to strive for the right as best I can despite my ignorance and feebleness. I only hope we are the same in finding peace at the end of our struggles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Favorite prophet?” Now that’s a scary thought! But, thanks for the thought. I’m so glad that we somehow managed to reconnect. There was a time that I looked down on people who chose a path outside the church. A loss of this type of judgmentalism is one of the side benefits of my faith journey. I’m delighted that you have found a path that works so well.

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  15. Hi Sam — thanks for the honesty and for the searching. Though I understand that this is frowned upon where you come from I think the Bible itself demands it of us — test the spirits, Paul commending the Bereans, the heart is desperately wicked, even if an angel of light comes to you with a different Gospel let him be accursed – Jesus Himself encouraged Thomas to touch His hands and feet. I have appreciated reading of your journey.

    This saddens me greatly though:

    For example, I can’t say that I believe Jesus Christ is real. He may or may not be, I don’t know. What I do believe is that the teachings and example ascribed to him are a good way to live. So, I have chosen to follow those teachings and example. To me that is faith.

    1 Corinthians 13 is talking about the love that only Jesus can provide and talking about the gifts ending when we come face to face with the perfect — Jesus Himself. He either is or isn’t the Eternal Son of God – the agnostic answer means that you believe that He isn’t.

    I get it to some extent, I grew up in a different authority stealing religious system and when my eyes were opened about it I was angry as all get out and skeptical of anything and everything for years — and I did not have the pull of the impressive social system you guys have. It was just exhausting and I felt I would never be able to know the truth. Years passed before I was ready to fairly and openly seek the truth. I hope despite your comfort that you still seek.

    One additional comment, I may be biased but equating the problems of Christianity with Mormonism seems a bit like apples and oranges. There may be arguments about some of the historical details of christianity, but man the historical issues with Smith and his claims are just overwhelming unless you just close your eyes.

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  16. Thank you for sharing this. I think your decisions to research the truth claims (in Mormonism and Christianity) and to follow the Savior are both heroic and beautiful. Best of luck to you in your journey!

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