A Mormon’s Greatest Responsibility

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Ponder that thought for a moment. What would you say is the most important responsibility of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ?

Ladder On the Wrong Building

When I was a kid, the following parable was taught at church. Perhaps it was even preached in General Conference.  It goes like this:

  • Life is like climbing a ladder.  First, we choose what building to lean our ladder against. Then…every day…every month…every year, we advance upward. One rung at a time.  At the end of our life, we will have climbed high up on the building that we have selected.  But…what if?  Just what if…we picked the wrong building?  How sad that would be!  An entire lifetime of climbing, only to arrive at the top of a worthless building.

I have now learned that my building of choice is highly flawed. Fortunately, at 64, I still have a few years to scurry down my ladder and move it to the building of highest worth.

My New Perspective

Today, during the joint Relief Society/priesthood lesson, Joseph Smith was quoted:

“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to….”

How would you complete that sentence?  You’ll probably get it right.  I didn’t.  And haven’t my entire life.

Could my greatest responsibility be…..

  • To follow the teachings and example of Jesus?  That would have been my first guess. But, nope, I was wrong.
  • To love others as I love myself?  Another great guess…but wrong.
  • To love God above all else?  Nope.  Oh man!
  • To obey the commandments?  Nope.  What?  And, here I thought that was the first law of heaven.
  • To love my wife more than anyone else?  Nope.
  • To nurture and take care of my children?  Darn it.  Another nope.
  • Provide for my family?  Nope
  • Clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick?  Nope, nope & nope.
  • Be the Good Samaritan?  Nope.
  • Welcome back the prodigal?  Nope
  • Care for the least of these?  Nope.
  • Everything else I can think of?  Nope

Obviously, I’m in big trouble.  For 64 years, I did not know what my greatest responsibility was.  Thank heavens, it’s finally been lodged firmly in my brain.

A video was shown about the coming Trek activity for our youth.  Elder David R. Bednar was the apostolic speaker.  He shared the Joseph Smith quote.  To drive the point home, the citation was passed out in written form.  And then someone was asked to read it out loud.  Then we discussed.  I tell ya, after all that, I’ve got.

Here’s the quintessential quote from the very first prophet of the restoration.

“The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to…..seek after our dead.

Now, if your proverbial ladder is leaning on the wrong building, let’s both of us get ’em moved, pronto.

To the Parents of Gay Children—I’m Sorry

mother-childA few months ago I wrote my sincere apology to my LGBT brothers and sisters. Both who are in the church and those who have left.

Today, I offer my apology to the Mormon and ex-Mormon parents of gay children.

Back in Time

Five years ago, I was the high priest group leader.  In one of our quorum meetings, the lesson topic was teaching the gospel to our children.  This scripture was highlighted:

Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.  D&C 68:25

One brother asked with concern, “How can I know if I taught my children as I should?”  He then shared some of the bad decisions a couple of his children had made.

The balance of the meeting was filled with a fascinating back and forth discussion.  Finally, somewhat of a consensus was reached.  If your kids follow the commandments, then you can know that you taught them well during their childhood.  However, I don’t think this sat well with a few quorum members, including me.

I was about to close the meeting, when a brother interrupted me.  He had been totally silent during the entire discussion.  This good man happens to have 3 gay children.  As he began to speak, I realized how insensitive the discussion and conclusions had been to his situation.  His voice betrayed a sense of discomfort, maybe even pain.  He said something like this, “I think I did a pretty good job raising my kids.  They have their free agency to make their own choices.  All my kids are very good people.”  In the following years, my friend has seldom ventured back into our priesthood meetings.

I’m Sorry

To my friend and to all parents of gay children….I apologize.   You see, we were taught by our church that ‘blame’ for children being gay rests on the shoulders of the parents, on bad choices made by the kids, and on other, now discredited, speculations.

There is no ‘blame.’  Blame doesn’t even belong in an LGBT discussion.  Maybe…credit, but not blame.  And I give the credit to God.  Your children came into the world perfect.  Just as God created them.  Beautiful babies with beautiful spirits.  Blame and shame rests only on the shoulders of parents who do not embrace, love and champion their gay child.

I Apologize for What my Church has Taught

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These words were pronounced in General conference by Elder Hartman Rector;  April 1981-Sunday afternoon session.  I’m sorry that these and many other misguided statements were ever part of our church teachings.

I’m Sorry that We Accepted These Teachings as Truth

That’s right.  I did.  We did.  We absorbed this erroneous instruction from our leaders.  As a result, an unfounded prejudice towards gays permeated our LDS culture.  And…towards their parents…who hadn’t provided “a happy family experience.”

Unfortunately, these hurtful beliefs still abound within the church membership.  Our leaders have done little to counter the unsound teachings of just a few years ago.  A few months ago, I told my home teachers that during their next visit I wanted to discuss the November 2015 policy regarding gay couples.  I commend them for their dutiful and well meaning response.  They brought a paper discussing how homosexuals become homosexual.  Guess what was at the top of the list.  It’s the parents fault!  Several other reasons followed.  All totally discredited by modern science and experience.

I don’t hold any of those views today.  But, I did.  I’m sorry, my dear friends who have gay children.

I’m Sorry That We Are Now Hiding Our Past Teachings

You can find the audio and print versions of Elder Rector’s talk HERE.  But, there’s a big problem.  The written words don’t match the spoken words.  The quote above, along with the entire section dealing with homosexuality, have been scrubbed from the written version.  You can listen to the deleted section starting at the 6:45 minute mark.

We should not silently whitewash our past teachings about families with gay children. Rather, we should condemn and disavow them.  Otherwise, this false and damaging ‘knowledge’ will live on in our culture until it dies of old age.

Well, I’m disavowing it right now.  I disavow the false theories that were presented as truth in our recent past.  My dear friends with gay children, the state of happiness in your home had no effect on the orientation of your children.  I’m sorry that we are now hiding what was once openly taught.

I Love You

Finally, if you have gay kids, I love you and your beautiful children.  If you are gay, you had better know that I love you.  Our society is marching forward in a wonderfully positive direction.  I love it that the younger generation has no compunction regarding LGBT.  Thank heavens.

I also love my church.  It has beauties.  It has blemishes.  Ignoring our imperfection only leads to greater imperfection.  So, no way am I going to ignore.

 

Talkeria-Columbine-Connection

img_0169Sundance Film Festival.  I’ve never gone.  But, one of my daughters just returned from it.  On her way home she clipped an article from United Airline’s inflight magazine.   With eager anticipation it was presented to me when she walked in the door.

Unlike what you are about to read, my faith journey does not include the horror of mass trauma.  But, it does share a similar element of gut-wrenching pain and loneliness.  My experience has also resulted in a similar resolution.  The Talkeria was born.  Born “to reach out and find others, to talk to others, and to make those vital connections so they never feel alone.”

Heather, thanks for your kind example of vision and initiative.  And thanks for the validation!

Dear World,

We interact with hundreds of new people every year, and yet there are times we all feel alone. I believe that if we took the time to notice, we’d see that we are infinitely more connected by our similarities than divided by our differences.

Hours after the SWAT team found my classmates and me huddled in a locked office in Columbine High School, I sat on my couch, feeling utterly alone – even though I was surrounded by loved ones.  Years passed and tragedies kept happening. But I continued to feel alone, convinced that no one understood what I had experienced. Until one day the helpless feeling just became too much, and I realized that I did have something unique to offer others: experience. Experience fighting the personal battle that results from mass trauma. I never wanted another person to feel like I did for over 10 years. So now my efforts are to reach out and find others, to talk to others, and to make those vital connections so they never feel alone.

The truth is, none of us are alone. All we have to do is take notice.

So reach out.  Be kind.  And don’t forget to notice our similarities instead of focusing on our differences.

Peace,
Heather

Standing on the Side of Love

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Garth Ogzewalla 

Eighteen years ago,  my wife and I, along with our 6 daughters, moved to a new ward in Sugar Land, Texas.  Garth was a member of the congregation.  I met him, but didn’t really get to know him.  He left the Mormon church soon after we arrived.

Almost 20 years passed before we were to reconnect.  It happened through the Talkeria.  No longer are we just acquaintances.  I consider him a close and valued friend.

Last week he gave a talk at a special ‘vespers’ service sponsored by the church he now attends.  The theme was “Standing on the Side of Love.”  He kindly sent me a copy.

Every reading has brought tears to my eyes.  My sweetheart’s evaluation: “That is so beautiful.  We need to share it with all the kids.”  So, kids…I hope you read and enjoy.

More Kin than Stranger-by Garth Ogzewalla

It was a prayer vigil after the Pulse nightclub shooting… Mormons showing support to the LGBTQ community. (You may be surprised, but so it was.) Would I like to come?, Sam asked. “Of course I would”… but *then* he asked “would you like to *say* something?”

Now I should have known he was just being polite.  Everybody who came was given a chance to share feelings, if they wished. But I thought he was asking more.  I thought he was asking for a talk, a homily.  So I fretted over it.  What could I say?  Here I am, a straight, atheist, apostate, no immediate family (that I know of) who is gay.  Surely a theist could give a better prayer!  Surely an LDS church member could address recent church actions more convincingly. Surely someone with gay family members could speak more movingly of their pain or how to find comfort.

Then I thought, “NO”!  What is more appropriate, more timely, more helpful than an outsider showing solidarity.  Isn’t that what we need to mortar the cracks and fissures that appear between us?   If I only worry about and support those who are just like me those cracks widen to canyons.  If I only care for my own, what merit is there? (Oh, there is some to be sure. Loyalty and faithfulness to community, family and even self does have value.  But if we feel and care for those who are NOT our own how much more commendable is that?

That is why I need to worry about your civil rights.  Why this male needs to respect women and women’s rights, this citizen needs to welcome the immigrant, this white man needs to stand with a “black lives matter” sign, why I (blessed, educated, wealthy) need to safeguard the minimum wage worker, and this free man needs to be mindful of the prisoner.  Indeed, why this cisgendered atheist needs to bow in prayer with the LGBTQ.

In truth, we are all in this prayer circle together.  What’s more, we are not only in the same circle, we are more kin than stranger.  This is the great paradox.  The paradox that belies all I have said and turns it on its head as moot.  For when I support your rights, no matter how different you seem at first, I am actually supporting the rights of my own community.  Despite how foreign you first feel, on closer inspection, we are of the same family. You are my brother, my sister.  I am your child, and you are mine.  We are one.

May it be so, Amen

Home Alone with Goliath

david-goliathSaturday night–Home alone.

Sunday morning–I lay in bed.  Discouraged.  Then this thought, “I’m ready to quit. Why go to church?  Why get out of bed?  My 2 year journey continues in loneliness…yielding little impact.

I reached to the nightstand.  Opened my iPad.  A new message from a previously unknown Mormon friend.  He’d thoughtfully sent a link to the song below.  How did he know I needed it now?

These lyrics highlighted by him:

Oh what I would do to have
The kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant
With just a sling and a stone
Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors
Shaking in their armor
Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand

 

Today–May I, and all, have the courage to step out of our boat of comfort to press the battle God has placed in our path.

Thank you, my new friend.

 

 

Hope–A Breathtaking Virtue

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Three Years ago, I KNEW that God existed.  Today, it’s a beautiful hope.  No longer do I KNOW with certainty.  Fortunately, I have some backup from the Apostle Paul who said, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”

He followed that up with, “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.”  Over the past few years, I have been in the process of putting away childish things.  And embracing that which Paul said will abide, rather than vanish away.

Paul’s three great & enduring virtues are faith, hope, and charity.  Here’s my current interpretation:

Faith

I have placed my faith in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ.   I don’t KNOW if Jesus is real.  But, I do KNOW that the teachings and example ascribed to him are the “way, the truth, and the life.”  In other words, it is true that they provide a way to live a good, productive and fulfilling life.  The very kind of life to which I aspire.

When I speak of faith in the religious sense, I only place it in Jesus Christ.  I have 64 years of experience to KNOW that His teachings and example contain the truth for how to conduct my life.

Hope

I hope that Jesus is real in every aspect.

I hope there is a God.

I hope that there is a life after this.

I hope to be with my family and other loved ones in the next life.

Regardless of whether or not the things I hope for are real, I will pursue what I KNOW to be true…the teachings and example of Jesus.

Charity

According to Paul, this is the greatest of the three abiding virtues.

I am working towards having charity for ALL.  Perhaps it’s the greatest virtue because it requires the most conscious effort.  It may be easy for others…good for you.  For me, I learn to love one group and then I realize I’ve started to love another group less.  It’s a work in progress.

Charity never faileth.  Often mine does.  When it doesn’t, I witness marvelous and majestic things happen.

Why I am I writing this today?  A video.

For my family and most of my friends, the concept of not KNOWING that God exists is startling, weird, and frequently off-putting.  I had similar reactions…to myself, as I felt my knowledge “vanish away.”

But, something beautiful has now happened on two occasions.  These occurences would have been impossible if I had not stumbled into Paul’s footsteps.  These two transcendent experiences would not have occurred if my knowledge had not vanished.  If I had not put away my childish things.

A couple of months ago, my wife and I saw the movie ‘Dr. Strange.’  One of the main characters had lived for centuries.  A pivotal scene arrived where she was about to finally leave her earthly existence.  It was poignant.  Tears came.  Then the thought, “How beautiful is the idea that there is a God.”  More tears.

Today, a son-in-law shared a video.  It was a compilation of family events from the past few months.  The center piece being the birth of their third child.  As I watched, tears flowed.  Then the thought, “How beautiful is the idea that there is a God.”  More tears.

All my life, I have taken for granted the existence of God.  My former KNOWLEDGE was a gorgeous childlike belief.  But never once had I experienced the overwhelming awe and wonder of the thrilling possibility that there is a God.  Now that my knowledge has vanished…Now that I have put away childish things…Now that I’ve become a man…It really is breathtaking to experience the abiding virtue of hope.  Time & time again.

Temple Recommendless–Not Friendless

IMG_0164.JPGDear Active and Faithful Latter-day Saint,

A heads up.

I am talking to your adult children.  To your parents.  To your brothers.  To your sisters.  To your friends.  They are afraid to talk to you…their family.  They are afraid to talk to you…their friend.  They are afraid to talk to their church leaders.

This has been the oddest, most ironic discovery of my entire life.  The lack of emotional intimacy and trust among family and friends in the LDS Church.

Your children and friends have questions and doubts.  There are no safe places to discuss their issues.  Some members tell me there are.  There are not.  If there are…show me.  For 2 years, I’ve been lobbying stake and ward leaders to create safe spaces where your loved ones can discuss their concerns.  No action to date.

The questions and doubts of your family and friends are causing excruciating pain.  They are suffering a very lonely faith journey.  Knowing this, it’s unconscionable for me to sit back and do nothing.  It should also be unconscionable for friends and family to do nothing.  It certainly should be unconscionable for the church itself to do nothing.  Aren’t we the church of Jesus Christ?  The Jesus who taught the parable of the Good Samaritan?  In it, he portrayed priesthood holders as callous and unfeeling.  The lowly, apostate Samaritan was the hero of Christ’s great story of how to be a loving neighbor.  Why did Christ array his cast of characters in this ironic way?

Last week I decided that keeping my temple covenants are more important to me and to my Savior than…keeping my temple recommend.  As a result, I’ve given it up.  Below is the letter that accompanied ceding it to the bishop.

Dear Stake President and Bishop,

Enclosed your will find my temple recommend. I qualify to hold it.

However, it has become a big distraction in my attempts to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I’m working at ministering to those with questions and doubts. That message is being completely obliterated by church culture. Church friends are only concerned with the fact that I still hold a temple recommend. By giving it up, I hope to shift the focus to our brothers and sisters who are struggling in painful silence. Seated right next to us in the pews. Hiding in plain sight.  Until they finally make their totally unsuspected exit.

I no longer want to sugar coat my message. We are not following Jesus Christ’s gentle and beautiful teachings.  We are not following the message that was preached in last October’s conference by Elder Ballard. We say we do…we do not.

Leave the 99 and find the 1? Nope.  We tell the 1 to hide, to shut up, to cower in silence.

Be the Good Samaritan–cross the road to help the bloody and the beaten?  Nope. We hold the priesthood. We are the modern priests and Levites. Members are suffering “excruciating” pain in silence and loneliness. No way are we going to know of their pain…until they flee our midst in order to find healing Samaritans outside of the church.

Elder Ballard: “My heartfelt plea is that we will encourage, accept, understand, and love those who are struggling with their faith. We must never neglect any of our brothers and sisters. We are all at different places on the path, and we need to minister to one another accordingly. Just as we should open our arms in a spirit of welcoming new converts, so too should we embrace and support those who have questions and are faltering in their faith.”  Nope. We continue to force the majority of those with questions into hiding. They know our church culture is unsafe. There are no open arms, no support, no understanding, no acceptance. Just a vault of judgment awaiting a hint of doubt.

I love you, my brothers. But, I am very disappointed for 2 reasons.

  1. Zero action with regards to helping people with faltering faith. At least nothing out in the open. Nothing that would send a message that all are welcome. Certainly, as a group of saints we are better than this. Jesus Christ and his apostle have given us clear direction. Yet, we stand statuesquely still.
  2. I have the church’s back. I have your backs. NOBODY has mine. Bishop, you reached out to me after I walked out of priesthood. In 2 years, that is the only outreach that I’ve experienced. That’s my fault. It was me who has sought out meeting with both of you. I had an agenda to discuss…helping others…not helping me. I’m starting to regret that. Over the past year, I have spoken with hundreds of people. Several in our stake and my ward. I’ve defended the church and helped many find ways to stay. What do I get for that? Not one peep of support from either of you. Members gossiping behind my back. Gossip within earshot!!! Harsh criticism from fellow Saints. Tattling to my leaders. Not one word of encouragement from any friends…except one quorum member. He has said on a couple of occasions that I’m one of the most Christ like and compassionate people he knows. Well that’s nice to hear amid the bombs of criticism and name calling that continue to be hurled my way.

I no longer possess the distracting temple recommend. Now, I call on you to create a safe space for our questioning friends. It’s foolish that in the Church of Jesus Christ there would be any hesitation to discuss the history, doctrine or policy of the Church of Jesus Christ. We have the truth! We are acting like we don’t. That sends a terrible message.

It’s high time that we do something so that questions can be discussed on friendly territory at the start of a faith crisis. Otherwise, more and more of our children, parents, siblings and friends are going to bolt. And it will be gut-wrenching and heartrending when we discover their decision ONLY at their journey’s end.
At this point I plan to remain silent until I hear from you. But, my activity will not stop. I will continue to seek out the one. I will continue to minister to the bruised and broken. My next talkeria is this coming Thursday. The focus will be on a family in our stake who wants to stay. I’ve invited other members from our stake to participate. I know they will understand this family’s particular situation, support them in staying, and most of all that they will be safe and free from judgment.

All My Best for a Happy New Year,

Sam