My Story

I am deeply interested in religion, politics, current events, history, musical theater and books! I left the LDS church a couple years ago and have spent a lot of time since then thinking and considering various religious influences in my life and in the lives of those around me. For more information on why I left the LDS church, look here. I also love to sing, act, dance (tap preferably) and perform on stage whenever possible.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Somewhere to go on Sundays

When I first left the LDS church I immediately tried a different non-LDS Christian church in my area. The people were all very nice and the services were fun and exciting. However, after attending on multiple occasions I determined that the new church was in many ways the same as the LDS church that I had just left. They were right and everyone else was wrong. They had the "truth" about Jesus and it was their job to let the whole world know about it and get everyone to accept Him as their Savior. In my last meeting there, I left after the Pastor told of an experience of meeting someone in a mall and helping them to get saved after a 10 minute conversation with this complete stranger. I'm sure people can turn their lives around and have a change of heart in 10 minutes, but it all left me wondering if it was truly necessary. It made sense to me that perhaps some people find spirituality through believing in Jesus, but maybe others find it in Buddha or Alla or ??. Not to mention, I could never reconcile the "we're right, and you're wrong" mentality of the major Christian religions. I wondered why everyone couldn't just find the way to God or their spiritual self in whatever way made sense to them? Needless to say, since I left that day (and was followed out to my car by a very well meaning man who wanted to tell me that "God loved me and was there for me") I have been enjoying my Sundays on my own. Thinking, reading, relaxing and taking care of whatever needed doing.

Fast forward to today. The story of the attack on the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has been in the news all weekend. My friends and acquaintances have been saddened by the intolerance shown by this brutal attack. Discussions on websites I visit opened into further discussion of what Unitarian Universalist's believe. I was surprised to find that my views on religion are very closely aligned with Universalism's views. So, I quickly googled for the nearest church and found a congregation that I think I will try out on Sunday. I don't necessarily think I need to go to church every week to be spiritual, but I think it would be nice to be around people once a week where I would kind of "fit in" belief-wise. As it is now, I feel like the black sheep of the neighborhood, cruising past the church and all the LDS members in my tank top and shorts to go shopping on Sunday.

Here are some of the basic tenants of the church. Cool stuff.
You are good. From our Unitarian ancestors we have inherited a belief that healthy minds, hearts, reason, and intuition can be trusted. We encourage people to think and come to their own conclusions about religion, science, politics, and all areas of life. There are no experts that know what you should believe. You are the expert of your own heart and our job is to encourage you to keep learning, growing, and searching for what you can believe.

You are loved. From our Universalist ancestors we have learned that there is a Love that will not let us go. Some of us call this God, others bring names from diverse traditions, and still others are content to leave this mystery unnamed. However we encounter it, we aspire to live in ways that help grow compassion, equity, and justice in our own lives and the communities around us. We welcome all people of goodwill because we deeply believe that every person is valuable and worthy of love.

You can make a difference. For centuries, Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have acted on their beliefs. We know that people are powerful and that we can change the world, even if it’s just a little at a time. We also celebrate that we do not have to do it alone! We support and help each other as we learn to “walk our talk” and let our values show in the way we live our lives. Unitarian Universalism is a faith we live, not just something we believe.

You are not alone. There are many people in this world looking to deepen their experience of life and live in spiritually healthy ways. We seek to support and encourage one another as we explore our own faith journeys. There is no reason to "go it alone" in life and, in fact, many reasons to gather companions around to share both the joys and the sorrows that life brings.

So Sunday, I will try something new. I will let you know how it goes!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Devil's in the Water

So, today, in a ultimate act of LDS defiance, I went swimming on Sunday. I know, WOW! But, I am happy to report, I have lived to tell the tale.

In all seriousness though, this is one of the things that as I was growing up was always taboo. Before I was born, my Mom had a scary experience involving my oldest brother and Sunday swimming. As I understand it, they were boating on a Sunday and my brother wanted to try water skiing (or something to that effect). My Mom had a bad feeling about it (call it mother's intuition, the Spirit or whichever label you would like) but finally relented and let him do it anyway. Something bad happened and my brother nearly drowned, saved only by my Mom's watchful eye. My Mom felt that her feeling that day was a testament to the fact that we, as a family, should not swim on Sundays. She would always tell us "The Devil's in the water on Sundays" and I never questioned it. Being prone to worry as a kid, I accepted this statement as absolute truth and was always afraid that if I even stepped foot into a swimming pool on Sunday, the Devil would certainly drag me under and it would be all over for me. If we ever did end up in the water on Sunday, I can assure you that her words were never far from my mind and I was always extra cautious. Looking at the situation now, I'm sure the entire experience with my brother could have just as easily occurred on a Tuesday or a Friday or any other day. I do not question the validity of my Mom's experience. I hear of mothers having this same kind of intuition regarding their children's safety all the time, both LDS and otherwise. But at this point in my life, I am forced to question her conclusion.

As a member of the LDS church there were so many things I did out of fear of what would happen if I didn't. I went to church, paid my tithing, attended the temple, wore the temple garment (even though I never felt comfortable in them and always felt unattractive wearing them) and didn't swim (or do much of anything else) on Sundays.

Going swimming today was proof once again that the consequences I feared by not doing those things were and are completely unfounded. By swimming today I was able to get exercise and feel better about myself. By not paying my tithing I have been able to support other causes that I truly feel passionate about and be happy that I can make a difference in someone else's life. By taking off the temple garment I am able to feel attractive and sexy again and actually be comfortable in the summer! By taking back my Sundays I have been able to read more, write more and get a few more things done so that I can be more relaxed going into the week.

As each fear slowly disappears, I find myself enjoying life more as I do the things that are important to me. I am continually surprised, though, at how often one of these kinds of thoughts will come to mind. The, "If I do this, then what bad thing will happen to me?" thought. I suppose it will take awhile to deprogram 30 years of LDS upbringing. In the meantime, I am enjoying the process of discovering who I really am and what I truly value.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BOM Translation

After reading the first few chapters of "Rough Stone Rolling", I was left with several questions regarding how, exactly, the Book of Mormon was translated. In the book, author Richard Lyman Bushman makes a distinction between the Urim and Thummin that was used to translate the first 116 pages and Joseph's seer stone, that was used for the remainder of the translation after the 116 pages were lost. In reading an article from Russell M. Nelson, I found it interesting that Nelson leaves out the distinction between the Urim and Thummin and the seer stones. He quotes the following
“Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted ‘seers’ in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.” (JS—H 1:34–35.)
Then a few paragraphs later he relates the following account:
“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)
By putting this paragraph after the previous one, it makes it sound that the Urim and Thummin stones are the same ones that he put into the hat.

But I have found the following from an 1885 interview, where Zenas H. Gurley, then the editor of the RLDS Saints’ Herald, asked Whitmer if Joseph had used his "Peep stone" to do the translation in which his response was:
"... he used a stone called a "Seers stone," the "Interpreters" having been taken away from him because of transgression. The "Interpreters" were taken from Joseph after he allowed Martin Harris to carry away the 116 pages of Ms [manuscript] of the Book of Mormon as a punishment, but he was allowed to go on and translate by use of a "Seers stone" which he had, and which he placed in a hat into which he buried his face, stating to me and others that the original character appeared upon parchment and under it the translation in English."
Here Whitmer rather clearly states that the Urim and Thummin stones and the seer stones were really seperate stones used at different times. (ie. the Urim and Thummin stones for the 116 lost pages and the seer stones for the rest of the translation)

In searching I was unable to find any distinction between the seer stones that Joseph had since he was a young teenager (used for treasure hunting) and the Urim and Thummin he claimed to have been given with the Book of Mormon.

I'm curious if there are any other places where it is documented that the Urim and Thummin (as they were called later) were taken away from Joseph after he lost the 116 pages and if the LDS church believes/knows/teaches this. I have read that Joseph himself claimed that the Urim and Thummin stones were taken away but other than Whitmer's interview I have not been able to find the supporting documentation I've been looking for.

If the church does profess that the Urim and Thummin was taken away and the seer stones were used for the rest of the translation, they have rather carefully hidden that fact in the scriptures, talks, etc. so that they all sound like the same thing. They use the terms interchangeably to, perhaps, purposely mislead the members into believing a more sanitized/sanctioned version of the translation process.

UPDATE 07/17/2008: Bruce R. McConkie presented the following information on pg 818 of "Mormon Doctrine". It doesn't address the issue of whether or not the Urim and Thummim were taken after the 116 pages but it does confirm the existence of both the Urim and Thummim and Joseph Smith's separate seer stone.
Joseph Smith received the same Urim and Thummim had by the Brother of Jared for it was the one expressly provided for the translation of the Jaredite and Nephite records. (D. & C. 10:1; 17:1; Ether 3:22-28.) It was separate and distinct from the one had by Abraham and the one had by the priests in Israel. The Prophet also had a seer stone which was separate and distinct from the Urim and Thummim, and which (speaking loosely) has been called by some a Urim and Thummim. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, pp. 222-226.)

President Joseph Fielding Smith, with reference to the seer stone and the Urim and Thummim, has written: "We have been taught since the days of the Prophet that the Urim and Thummim were returned with the plates to the angel. We have no record of the Prophet having the Urim and Thummim after the organization of the Church. Statements of translations by the Urim and Thummim after that date are evidently errors. The statement has been made that the Urim and Thummim was on the altar in the Manti Temple when that building was dedicated. The Urim and Thummim so spoken of, however, was the seer stone which was in the possession of the Prophet Joseph Smith in early days. This seer stone is now in the possession of the Church." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 225.)

Are they really so different?

Recently the LDS church has gone out of their way to dissassociate themselves with the Mormon Fundamentalists and the religion they practice. They have created videos and a press releases attempting to convince anyone and everyone that the LDS church is in no way related to the FLDS sect.

This outpouring of information in the media came just as I was finishing up the book "Stolen Innocence" by Elissa Wall. The book tells of Elissa's harrowing experiences in the FLDS church and her forced marriage to her adult husband at the young age of 14. She had been raised to believe that her eternal salvation was dependent on getting married. She was expected to obey the prophet and marry the man that was chosen for her even though she had deep concerns regarding her pending marriage. Warren Jeffs (who spoke for his father, the prophet, at the time) told her that her marriage was a "revelation from God" and that by rejecting it, she was disobeying the prophet and God. Even her own Mother told her "This must be the will of God and the prophet." and to "just be strong. The Lord knows what he's doing".

I couldn't help but connect her story with another story * I have read about recently. Helen Mar Kimball was married to Joseph Smith in 1843 when she also, was only 14 years old. She wrote that her father

"asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph...[and] left me to reflect upon it for the next twenty-four hours...I was sceptical-one minute believed, then doubted. I thought of the love and tenderness that he felt for his only daughter, and I knew that he would not cast her off, and this was the only convincing proof that I had of its being right. I knew that he loved me too well to teach me anything that was not strictly pure, virtuous and exalting in its tendencies; and no one else could have influenced me at that time or brought me to accept of a doctrine so utterly repugnant and so contrary to all of our former ideas and traditions."

The next morning Joseph visited the Kimball home. "[He explained] the principle of Celestial marrage...After which he said to me, ‘If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father’s household & all of your kindred. This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward."

After the marriage she wrote that "like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me; and thought myself an abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did murmur.”

Similar to Elissa, Helen was told that the marriage would ensure her salvation and exhaltation in the next life even though she felt too young and unsure whether it was the right thing for her to do. She looked to the one person that was closest to her, her father, and trusting his judgement, married Joseph.

These stories seem so similiar to me that I can't help but wonder if the Mormon church of the 1840's was really so different from the FLDS church today? Perhaps there is more in common between the two than either church would like to admit?

*To see Helen's complete story, click here.