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Five Things

I am grateful for…

  1. … a half-baked idea for a new blog (shh! don’t tell anyone about it yet) that I’m really excited about. I think I’ll have fun with it even if no one else pays attention (which is a good sign).
  2. … the chance to learn stuff, one of my favorite things to do.
  3. … the opportunity to watch the crazy, improbable miracle of life as I watch young things sprout and grow.
  4. … the perspective that watching things die gives me.
  5. … the good fun I have with my wife.

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Journal Entries from 2006 – Part 2

April 12, 2006

Releasing myself from what I thought I knew about God and Satan has empowered me.

I was taught to be in perpetual combat with my adversary, Satan. This colored my life and perceptions with a tone of crisis. Putting down my weapons of war has given me the calm, inner clarity to see that the evil that I do comes from within, not without. I have the power to direct my actions, not an immaterial tempter. I alone bear responsibility.

Releasing my hope for a life beyond what I can see has made this life more precious. I do not know whether I will live beyond my death or whether my consciousness is a function of the biological processes of my body. I can no longer see injustice and pain and excuse it in the hope that it will be rectified in an afterlife. My best hope is to improve the human situation today, now.

Strangely, Alma the Younger’s word have more meaning to me today than I can ever remember:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

My heart swelled with peace and confidence when I finally accepted the evidence that has been before my eyes my entire life. Still there lingers some shame for being disloyal to the community that nurtured me. If anything, the Mormon faith has taught me virtuous principles and a loyalty to the truth above all else. For that I am grateful.

[It is true that I learned the importance of truth from Mormonism. However, the LDS church for all its talk about the truth has a stilted, awkward relationship with it. Where I learned to value the truth from Mormonism, I learned how to find it from scientists, skeptics, and freethinkers.]

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Never Say Die

Never Say Die brought me clarity about why it is so hard to believe that my awareness ceases when I die.

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Dreamless Sleep

Our consciousness vanishes in dreamless sleep every night. It’s such a familiar experience that we pay no attention to the annihilation of our sentience. I imagine we experience death as the dreamless sleep from which we never awake to notice that time has passed and the world has gone on without our awareness.

All the earth is a grave and nothing escapes it,
nothing is so perfect that it does not descend to its tomb.
Rivers, rivulets, fountains and waters flow,
but never return to their joyful beginnings;
anxiously they hasten on the vast realms of the rain god.
As they widen their banks, they also fashion the sad urn of their burial.

Filled are the bowels of the earth
with pestilential dust once flesh and bone,
once animate bodies of man who sat upon thrones,
decided cases, presided in council, commanded armies,
conquered provinces, possessed treasure, destroyed temples,
exulted in their pride, majesty, fortune, praise and power.

Vanished are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes
that belches forth from the infernal fires of Popocatepetl.
Nothing recalls them but the written pate.

(A poem purportedly written by Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco)

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I just got back from a funeral.

It caused me to think, as funerals tend to do. The man who died and the services held in his honor were emblematic of my relationship to Mormonism.

The man who died was the bishop to whom I first confessed my sins. He tried to help me the best he knew how, but our shared belief in Mormonism got in our way. Instead of telling me that I was acceptable just exactly as I was, he tried to help fix me, to help me meet an arbitrary standard. Though he was kindhearted, our interaction led to years of heartbreak.

Everything in my life has been a mixture of good and bad.

Going to the funeral was a homecoming. The church was the same building where I spent long hours in stake conference as a child and where I attended my freshman year of early morning seminary. The people that I saw were the faces of my childhood: teachers, leaders, old friends, people whom I haven’t seen in years, people with a smiles of recognition when they see me, everyone a little older and worn down by life. The lilt and rhythm of Mormon thought weaved itself through the entire occasion and helped to impart to my mind a sense of timelessness. So many parts of my life were connected in this moment. My childhood folded in on the present moment.

I appreciate Mormon funerals. Because they sincerely believe that they will see their family and friends again, their funerals take on the air of a somewhat melancholy family reunion. I don’t share their hope for a continuation of life after death, but I want my funeral to celebrate that life goes on. Saying goodbye is the inevitable price of building relationships. We can’t have the one without the other.

I sat listening to stories about his life mixed in with assertions of supernatural miracles and certainty for unjustified beliefs. I briefly wished that we could dispense with the nonsense and focus on who the man was. However, these beliefs were part of him. They were an appropriate part of his funeral because he received a sense of meaning from them. Even though my feelings about Mormonism range from ambivalence to repugnance, if I wanted to acknowledge this man as a friend, I had to make peace with the parts of him that I dislike.

I can’t say that I willingly accept the bad with the good. But what choice do I have when the two are inseparable?

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