Is Truth Optional?

A number of events over the past couple of weeks has me contemplating the importance of truth. Specifically, how important is truth when it comes to storytelling, history or religion.

Augustine-Quote

A few weeks ago, Kim and I attended an event where Carol Lynn Pearson discussed her book, Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. I haven’t read the book but was interested in the topic because polygamy was one of the first major issues I had with my church.

I knew Brigham Young married a lot of women, but I was shocked when the church admitted that Joseph Smith married at least 30 women, some as young as 14 and about 10 who were already married.

The bigger question I’ve considered is this: Is it worth investing my time and resources in a church that plays so loose with the truth?

I wish the LDS church had come clean with all the unsavory parts of their history before the internet came along and forced their hand. Put it all out there. And then allow each person to decide if it’s worth the investment the church asks of them.

One of my frustrations since leaving the church is that some friends and family assume I was looking for any reason to leave the church. They assume I lost my testimony or could not resist that Starbucks iced mocha.

But I didn’t lose anything. I gained knowledge and can speak to the history of the church in much greater detail than I could as a young missionary. I was willing to go wherever the truth took me, even if that meant out of the church. I didn’t select my desired destination and then search only for evidence that supported my decision.

That’s what I’d like my friends and family to understand. Truth matters more than feelings. Every member of every religion feels their church is the true one. Good feelings can come from reading a book, watching a movie or listening to music. How some religions tell their followers that feelings substantiate truth is absurd to me.

Especially when you say you are the only church on earth that has all the truth.

Be willing to demand the truth. And let it take you wherever it leads. In the long run you’ll be better for it.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

A good friend from high school sent me this poem. I love it.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Standing Outside the Temple

My grandparents on both sides of my family lived in Bountiful, or about 30 minutes from our home in Ogden, Utah. We visited them often. My grandpa Tingey was the first person I knew who owned an Atari 2600, and I spent many hours sitting on my knees at a wobbly card table playing Asteroids, Combat and Blackjack.

While the Tingeys were Mormon, my father’s parents were not, and I understood this at an early age, because they committed a major sin: they drank coffee! I loved to smell the coffee as I entered their home, but was reminded how breaking God’s health law could have a lasting impact on my body and soul.

Tingeys would attend special church milestones such as baptisms and confirmations. When I turned 12-years old and was ordained a deacon, the Tingeys gave me a leather-bound bible for my birthday and a matching Book of Mormon for Christmas. My grandmother took the time to write a note on the first page of each book stating how much she loved me and how she hoped I’d get closer to Christ by reading each book. She was a loving grandmother who made me feel like I was the most important person in the world when we sat around her dining table eating Snelgrove’s ice cream.

While we spent more time at Tingeys, we also visited my other set of grandparents; the Nordquists. They lived in a humble brick home not far from Bountiful High School that had a steep driveway to the side of their home. When my father would park the car, I’d open the door and race up the stairs to ring the doorbell. My grandma would always open the door, and then call to my grandfather, who was often watching 60 Minutes or All in the Family in their dark basement. My grandma Nordquist was an amazing cook, and if we were lucky, she’d make roast beef with mashed potatoes with gravy. They also kept Coke in bottles in the basement. That might not seem like a big deal to most, but some Mormons in the 70s and 80s believed that beverages with caffeine were against the Word of Wisdom. My parents didn’t purchase Coke and neither did the Tingeys so getting a cold bottle of Coke was a real treat!

My grandparents have passed away, but I think of them often. And lately I’ve been thinking about how I treated my grandpa and grandma Nordquist.

I loved them very much, but I also felt sorry for them because they were not members of my church. At times I felt superior to them, although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. While I was attending the University of Utah, I often visited them. One time I stopped by after school and we talked about religion for a couple of hours. They both expressed to me how they felt excluded from activities and discussions because they were not Mormon. I went home that evening bothered by what I’d heard because I felt I’d talked to them openly about my mission to Germany and other aspects of my life. I wish I had opened up to them about my questions surrounding polygamy and some aspects of LDS church history that bothered me. I wish I had found the CESLetter in my 20s instead of in my 40s.

Looking back to that time, I can understand how they would feel excluded. My three sisters and brother were all married in LDS temples which means the Tingeys were able to witness and experience each marriage as it took place inside the temple. But the Nordquists could not and were left to stand outside the temple and wait for the ceremony to end before joining up for family pictures.

At the time I was married, I didn’t think about it. I felt superior and blamed my grandparents for not putting themselves in a position to witness our marriage in person. I’m embarrassed to admit I used to think this way.

Now that I no longer believe in the primary truth claims of the Mormon church, I wish I could apologize to my grandparents. I left the church after they passed away, and I wish I could speak to them today and tell them how much I admire them for standing by their convictions while raising children in Utah where the pressure to convert can be immense.

For so many years, I felt I had found the truth and was better off for it. I had been raised in a church that teaches its members they belong to the only true church in the world. Other churches might possess bits and piece of truth, but Mormons believe they have ALL THE TRUTH. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for alternative ideas about religion.

Today I realize my grandparents were many years ahead of me in recognizing no one church holds all the truth or recipe for happiness.

I take some solace knowing I carry on a part of them as I raise my children to be critical thinkers and be leery of anyone who claims to speak for God.

Working Through Beliefs Together

I enjoyed this article written by a women coming to terms with her husband’s change in beliefs.

But I wanted to understand him. This was Sean, the man who stood by me during years of clinical depression. The man who pretended to be a dinosaur while he chased our shrieking sons around the room. He wasn’t some heathen. I couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t believe it. He’d always been a skeptic, and even though I didn’t agree with him, I knew intellectually that he’d never make this decision without careful consideration of the fact

I’ve been lucky because my spouse has tried to understand my change in beliefs. It’s not a given so embrace your spouse who cares enough to make the effort. Support them, love them, and have patience. What doesn’t work? Expecting them to follow your path. If they do come along it will be at their pace and when they are ready.

My tears stopped. Her questions were so off-base that they seemed absurd. She was sincere, and trying to help, but she believed what the Church teaches — that a man would only leave because he’s disobeying the commandments. She couldn’t understand this was a rational inquiry. She saw everything as the result of sin.

It’s a lot easier to write off unbelievers as sinners than taking an honest look at what bothers them by actually asking them. I think a lot of people are scared that what they hear might resonate with them so it’s easier to keep them at bay. Truth will stand up to scrutiny.

The High Road

You will be misunderstood.

Your point will be lost.

The other person will not be ready to hear what you have to say.

Never assume a full understanding. You’ll be disappointed.

Do prepare for the backlash.

Don’t take it personally.

Don’t lash out in anger.

Do take a break. Go for a walk. Listen to music.

And when you’re ready, take the high road.

I’ve never regretted taking the high road. It says, “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

They may never come around, but you’ve given the relationship a chance to breath, a chance to mend.

A chance to survive another day.

Mother’s Day Talk

This is a talk I gave on Mother’s Day last year.

On this mother’s day, I thought about what I could share with you that would provide meaning and proper respect for the day. As mother’s day approached, I began to think of the many lessons and skills I’ve learned from women and mother’s in my life, and that’s what I’ve decided to share with you today.

Gandhi said, “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

My skill at finding my own mother’s imperfections peaked right around the time I got my driver’s license. I loved my mother, but I felt she relied a little too much on Oprah for guidance on how to raise her five children.

I recall one evening when my mother called me upstairs to sit at the kitchen table. Every serious discussion in our family began and ended at the kitchen table. If all the kids were in trouble, my parents called it a “Family Council”. But this time it was just me and mom. She sat across the table from me and stared at me for what felt like 10 minutes.

Finally, she explain that a guest on Oprah had counseled parents to take any and all measures to make sure their children were not taking part in any illicit activities. Being this took place during mid-1980’s I knew exactly what she was referring to. I felt confident I was in the clear until she explained one measure this guest recommended was reading your child’s journal.

As you might imagine, this set off a heated discussion because I’d been keeping a journal about four years and felt anyone reading it without my permission was invading my privacy. As luck would have it, the worst bit of information my mother had gleaned from my journal was that I’d gone to see the movie, Rambo, without her permission.

Years later I sat next to my mother at the computer. She’d been given a new MP3 player but had no idea how to get music on it. So we began the painstaking process of going through folder after folder searching for her favorite songs when my mother took my hand and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made so many mistakes as your mother. You are my oldest and I often had no idea what I was doing.”

It would be a number of years later, when I had children of my own, that I’d begin to understand the importance of those words my mother spoke. She didn’t have to apologize to me, but she did and it made an impression on me. Seldom does a week go by where I don’t think, “I have no idea what I’m doing” while trying to help raise five children of my own. 

At the time, my mother was doing the best she could, with the knowledge and resources at her disposal. My father was a teacher at the local high school and he often shared stories with her about what students had gotten themselves into, some of which were life-changing.

As a 16 year old, I didn’t fully understand that, but as a father I do. When I hear that a friend of family member has acted in a manner contrary to what I would have done, I try to remind myself that person is doing the best they can and it’s likely I don’t have all the details. It’s not always easy.

Yet those two words, “I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language. They calm, they diffuse. They redirect the conversation towards resolution instead of feeding the conflict. If my children learn to use these words regularly, I will have succeeded at least in one area of fatherhood.

This past week, I was upset with my oldest daughter over something trivial. I’d taken a minor issue and extended throughout the morning until she was ready to leave for school. We headed outside to the car and my daughter opened the door behind me. For a moment I considered asking her to join me in the front seat, but then realized if I’d been treated by my father how I’d treated her that morning, I’d take the seat right behind him so I didn’t have to speak or look at him while he drove me to school. But the short drive through the neighborhood gave me time to put the issue into perspective and, more importantly, calm down. As my daughter opened the door, I rolled down the window and used the same words my mother said to me as a young man: “I’m sorry”.

The ability to not only know I was wrong, but to verbally express that to my children and spouse is a skill I learned from my mother.

I learned another lesson in an unusual manner shortly after I had been ordained to the office of a deacon. My mother had recently taken me to Sears where I picked out a light-blue suit to go with my first non clip-on style tie. My father was in the bishopric at the time and seldom home before church. Each Sunday morning I’d get frustrated attempting to make the tie knot look presentable without choking myself.

One Sunday I had miraculously managed to twist a knot into place that I felt gave my dad’s knots a run for their money. I couldn’t wait to show my father as we pulled into the church parking lot. I ran from the car into the church and up the unusually wide staircase leading to the chapel.

As I got to to the top of the stairs, taking them 2 or 3 at a time, I came face to stomach with Sister Jacobson. She was the wife of the bishop and a no-nonsense woman who always wore a bright red dress and intimidated me.

As I slowly took a few steps back, I expected Sister Jacobson to commence with a lecture about my lack of respect for the Lord’s house. I looked up at her and flashed a grin hoping to lessen the blow.

But it never came. Instead she put her hand on my shoulder, bent down to my eye level and said, “Your smile makes my day.”

That day I was excited to show my tie to my father,  but those kind words from Sister Jacobson brought even more joy to a young man going through an awkward stage of life. I learned that a few kind words could go a long way towards bringing joy to others.

The last mother I want to share with you is someone who lived her entire life in Utah but would only step inside a church to see her grandson’s mission farewells. She spent her career teaching third grade, but was incredibly uncomfortable around groups of people. She was well educated, but not entirely well-spoken. Her tone could be considered blunt if not entirely misunderstood.

This woman is my grandmother.

Summer days were often spent doing yard work and chores for my grandparents. I wasn’t an expert math student but I was wise enough to realize that grandparents paid significantly more than minimum wage so I spent as many days in their service as possible. My father would put me on a bus in downtown Ogden and I’d listen to my Walkman on the hour long ride up through Farmington, around Lagoon and eventually set down in Bountiful where my grandparents lived.

The bus would drop me off near this amazing candy shop in town, where I’d then run the remaining two miles to their house. My grandfather would have the lawn mower oiled and gassed and sitting in the driveway by the time I arrived. I’d mow their lawn, trim the bushes and sweep away the clippings before taking a break in the shade under their plum trees in their backyard.

That’s when my grandma would emerge from the house with a cold bottle of Coca-Cola in her hands just for me. It was the best tasting beverage on the planet made even more special because it was not allowed in our home back in Ogden. But this was grandma’s house and we’d play by her rules and that included the real thing instead of that cheap knock-off Shasta stuff my parents loved. 

My grandfather would often retreat into the home at this time in order to cool off by the air conditioner. This allowed me time to chat with my grandmother. Although she was shy around large groups of people, she opened up to me on the back porch and would ask how I was doing in school.

I couldn’t just dismiss her questions with a “I’m doing fine”. No, my grandmother would go through each of my classes and demand to know what grade I was earning. I recall one afternoon I told her I was looking at a “C” grade in keyboarding and she nearly fell off her chair. “You’ve got to do better than that” she’d tell me in her loving but firm voice.

Education was paramount to success in her mind and she wasn’t afraid to share that opinion with her grandchildren.

When I finished my Coke and was about ready to tackle mowing the the back yard, my grandmother would say, “You can be anything you want to be.”

That stuck with me on the bus ride home each day. You can be anything you want to be. Maybe that was important to my grandmother because she joined the workforce at a time when women filling full time jobs wasn’t looked upon favorably.  Whatever the reason, her words have stuck with me over the years and I’ve given thought to them recently when we decided to leave Seattle and move closer to family here in Utah.

I’ve spend the bulk of my career working for some of the largest technology companies that have helped me provide for my family. But that’s not what I wanted to be, and I often wasn’t happy in that line of work that required travel and a lot of time away from my family. For the past two years I’ve worked to find a job I could do from home. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d already found the job. All I had to do was ask.

There have been many women who have influenced my life for the better. I could tell you more stories about each of them before naming another dozen that had as profound an influence on my life.