Alogical Path of Testimony

Sometimes the process of coming to believe is talked about as though it were simply a logical argument involving deductions from one initial conclusion, typically relating to the restoration. If I believe the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God then I must also believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and similar conclusions must also be drawn about other elements of church doctrine. I’ve heard similar things regarding beliefs about the Savior – He can’t just have been a really good moral teacher so you must believe that either He was a crazy person spouting crazy ideas about being the son of God, or that He really IS the son of God, that He is our Savior, that He performed miracles, etc.

I’m not denying the logic of those chains of thought but, at least for me, a belief in the Book of Mormon didn’t come as one of the first tenets of my testimony, nor did that belief, when I did come to it, somehow automatically set off a chain of belief in the rest of church doctrine. And certainly, for me, holding the belief that Christ was not a crazy person did not lead to my testimony of the Atonement.

The other day a friend asked me why missionaries don’t talk about Joseph Smith all that much when they talk about why they’re choosing to serve and what message they want to share. Her thought, based on her previous experience with the church, was that Joseph Smith is key, due to something like the logical testimony chain described above. Belief in the church (any and all of it) starts and ends with a belief in Joseph Smith and his role as a prophet, a restorer of truth, and maybe even a near-perfect man. Probably for her, and for many people, it’s hard to get past some of the less positive aspects of the Joseph Smith story, and church history in general. Without the story of the founder being everything one might hope, how can anything that has followed since be believed?

There are most certainly negative and disappointing stories to be found about early church leaders, and even more current leaders or other elements of the church.  I’ve not spent any time researching any of the baggage that is to be found and even my familiarity with some of the more commonly discussed incidents is very limited. My friend referenced a quote along the lines of, ‘Faith is easiest in the dark,’ her take on it being primarily that faith is much easier when you can’t really see, and my guess is she thinks that I’m just not seeing a lot of things that might dampen my faith.

But I’m not sure what the goal of that pursuit might be. For me it doesn’t feel like it would be about the pursuit of truth, not because I think all the anti-church literature is full of made-up stories and lies, but because I already believe that these things exist. I know there are facts and stories out there that would be faith-shaking (though not necessarily faith-eliminating). LIke most people I struggle with many, many things I am already aware of that I don’t understand, and I’ll continue to struggle to try to figure these things out. But I’m fairly certain I won’t understand everything about which I wonder or have doubts. Life has and will provide me with lots of those so when it comes to the things I’ll spend my time seeking, I’d rather look for things that will be faith-promoting and uplifting.

And thankfully there are things about which I don’t have doubts. I believe my testimony is founded upon the only sure foundation. I explained to my friend that I didn’t think Joseph Smith was the lead message for most missionaries because he isn’t the core of the gospel, and he certainly isn’t the core of my beliefs.

I like the way Paul said it when he wrote to the Corinthians, having heard that they were focusing their faith on him or on other teachers and messengers:

Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Who then is Paul but a minister by whom ye believed? For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and an instrument in God’s hands in restoring truth that had been lost and spreading that truth across the earth, but my testimony did not start and does not end with him. My testimony of the gospel did not follow logically from the Joseph Smith story – rather it has come line upon line, in a somewhat unpredictable order, based on my own experience with the principles of the gospel as I’ve come unto Christ. He is the foundation of my beliefs. The change and hope I’ve found, really all the things worth having, are of Him and through Him

It Is Wonderful

In the wake of my announcing my decision to go on a mission I have received an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and general good wishes. It’s been really lovely to feel such a sense of caring from surprising and unexpected sources.

And as I’ve been feeling all this love I’ve been thinking about how it’s all really just an approximation of the love of the Savior. Unfortunately it is all too easy to forget the mercy, love and devotion of the Savior. But I’m trying to remember the greater love which no man hath than this – that He should care for me enough to die for me! 

I stand all amazed and confused and I marvel and tremble that He died for me, such as I am. Not just an earnest though imperfect soul, but one so rebellious and proud as mine. He has extended his great love unto me…sufficient to redeem, to justify, and to own my salvation, and as such He owns my loyalty, my will and my heart in the best possible way.

Abiding, Living, and Moving

As I was packing and going through all of my papers yesterday I came across a quote by Marion G. Romney:

“Testimony is an abiding, living, moving conviction of the truth revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

And I started thinking about the three different adjectives he uses:

1. Abiding, which seems to connote permanence. That a testimony is persistently present, which actually makes sense to me. It’s hard to draw a distinct line between something that is fleeting (not abiding) vs. the way testimonies seem to ebb and flow. But maybe the ebb of a testimony just never fades to the point of nonexistence, or ebbs as much as it flows with the right amount of attention. At minimum, it seems that Romney believes it is not a fleeting thing.

2. Living, which could tie into the ebb and flow concept, but is more heavily focused on the flow. The word living seems to imply growth, and certainly in the natural world when I think of living things I think of growing things. In the church our concept of growth is line upon line, precept upon precept. which never really resonated with me, but recently, really in last week’s testimony, I realized what a blessing that is. We don’t have to jump in and know or believe everything at once. I certainly don’t, and I’m not so worried about knowing everything, but believing everything at once is overwhelming. It’s nice to be able to move at my own speed and build slowly.

3. Moving, which is the most interesting adjective I think. Moving could be seen as relating to the emotional element, which testimonies absolutely have of course. We see people “moved to tears” all the time when bearing their testimonies. And that’s an important component because I know, from my own experience, that a lot of thinking or an intellectual approach is not what makes a testimony. The other way to look at “moving” is that a testimony moves us to action. It ought to create change, motivate us to do good, and help us avoid sin. This aspect, I think, is my area of struggle. Sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m an imperfect, lazy person with a testimony or a more imperfect person without much of a testimony.

I have felt more moved by my belief of late, which is progress, line upon line…my testimony is definitely living. And abiding…I suppose there is a case to be made that it is, since here I am after years and years of ignoring, destroying, or avoiding it and yet I find that it still matters to me. So I guess this is another thing I’ve discovered I believe. I believe testimonies are abiding, living and moving. I’m grateful that they are, because it means people like me are never without hope. Testimonies don’t just disappear and even though they might shrivel up, they don’t die and can always be brought back – living waters!

Fast-Sunday Shocker

Today I did not wake up in time to attend my Ward at 9am (said as if this is the exception rather than the rule, which, of course, it isn’t). So, I went to my parents’ Ward at 1pm, not feeling anything other than pleased with myself for going to church. About 10 minutes into the testimony portion of the meeting, and hearing several people touch on things I had been thinking about, my heart started pounding – as is often described by testimony bearers – and it was pounding so hard it was physically uncomfortable.

I really wouldn’t have wanted to get up with my parents sitting there, they don’t really know my situation and I don’t like talking about it around them, but I got up anyway. And here is a completely ridiculous, unnecessarily long play-by-play:

I started by apologizing for taking up time since I’m not technically a member of that Ward, and saying that no one could be as surprised as I was, except maybe my parents. After the conversation the night before at the cabin with my aunt and uncle, and lots of mulling previously, I talked about three major impediments to faith that seem to affect people my age, and maybe others, but especially me.
  1. First is the instant access to information, which makes faith really hard as we are so used to getting answers immediately.
  2. Second is the focus on authenticity – not faking it till you feel it, but living in a completely authentic way based solely on how you feel. But of course faith requires stepping outside what might feel “authentic”.
  3. Third is a resistance to authority and being told what is right. Along with authenticity, not being receptive to hearing what we should feel or think from others and never being obedient for obedience’ sake.
Then I mentioned three things that I’ve found have formed my foundation of faith, such as it is at this point.
  1. Hymns – I’ve always been able to feel the spirit with church music and that has been a faith builder for me. So I believe in the spirit and the power of music to bring it and confirm the truth of the words being sung.
  2. Funerals – One man who bore his testimony before me talked about how people in the church have a sense of peace at funerals because they know it’s only a temporary separation. (A woman in the Ward died yesterday and I feel a little bit bad about not saying anything about it, especially since a lot of the meeting had people talking about her.) I said how after going to funerals I realized that I absolutely believe I will see people who have passed away again, and that I believe in the plan of salvation.
  3. The thing that kept me connected through rough years, and the most motivating of the three, is the fact that all the people I love and respect most in the world believe in the gospel and participate in the church. So, I realized I can’t help but believe because of how much I respect them.

I wrapped up by talking about how my faith is building, very slowly, line upon line from those basic things, and that I’m grateful for the way that works. I’m also grateful that it CAN work that way, and that I don’t have to jump in to everything at once.

At one point I looked back at my dad, and I’m not sure when this was – if it was when I half turned while I made the remark about my parents being surprised, or if it was when I looked back while referring to a funeral comment the second counselor had made, but my dad was definitely very teary. And when I sat back down I could tell that he had been crying, or maybe he still was. I would like to take credit and say that I was just really bringing the spiritual heat, but I’m guessing it was mostly a result of his relief that I am not an atheist or agnostic after all.

Lots of people made nice comments – my mom said, “That was very nice – very intellectual.” She definitely meant it as a compliment, but I think I’m generally thought of as being too intellectual. It is a source of frustration for me that I go into brain mode and get cutoff from my feelings. My dad said it was really great and said,”I learned.” I responded by saying that was the whole reason I did it – because I was trying to teach him something and it was the only way I could get him to listen, which made him laugh.

A coworker/important friend/previous YW leader with me said she was very proud of me, and hugged me, and was looking at me in this different way, which made me uncomfortable. I sort of edged away and told her to stop looking at me like that – handling compliments with grace as usual. One of my more endearing qualities. Another woman also said she had never “thought through things that in-depth” before – another intellectual type comment, but very nice. It seems I always get that when I speak. I remember in my first talk in that Ward, maybe age 15, I said that the very first verse of the Book of Mormon contained a “plethora of principles,” trying to make the point that there is no shortage of learning to be had from the scriptures. (I thought it was a good idea to use the thesaurus to amp up my talks). Boy did I get comments about that – people talking about needing a dictionary, etc. I think I used the term “cornucopia” in a talk once too, with similar reactions for years after. My former YW President also made a comment about how surprised she was, “Where did that come from?!” Not in a very negative way, she just knows my history, sort of, and I’m not generally thought of as the testimony bearing type.

Afterwards my friend asked me if I was coming to Sunday School and I of course said no, that I hadn’t even been in a church building for a month and that I had way exceeded my spiritual quota for the day. So after the meeting I went back to my parents’ house to start my laundry where they were all getting ready to leave for Lake Powell. I hung out with them until they left but when I didn’t have anything to do I ended up going BACK to church for Relief Society. A seriously strange day.

It’s kind of a relief and I’m mostly pleased with it – but seriously, where did that come from?