01 Mar

The Awakening: Where I Am Now and Why I’m Staying

Posted by Jenna, Under Religious

My baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1993

Overall, my Awakening series has been a wonderful experience. Writing about media choices, motherhood, the Priestesshood, and homosexuality has largely brought peace and happiness into my life. I felt good as I was writing them. I feel good knowing that I can be myself without accusations of hypocrisy, and that I continue to develop relationships with kind people like Kari.  I like questioning things. Questioning everything actually. I have several boxes on a shelf in my mind, and I want to sort all the issues out . A box for the things I know, a box for the things I’m puzzling through, a box of ideas that others accept which I’ve rejected, and a box for things I will never understand no matter how I search, ponder, and pray.

This idea of a “box on the shelf” is not a concept of my own invention, it’s a pretty common idea passed around within Mormonism. We are encouraged to build up our faith like a house, laying the bricks that form the foundation, and then moving on to the pillars and windows and shelves, fortifying along the way. If we don’t have a strong testimony*of something, we put that idea in a box on the shelf and come back to it again later.

There are two small differences between my approach now and the approach I used to have. First, I am building my own house from the ground up. No one else gets to lay a single brick, no matter their age or status within the Church hierarchy. I have no way of knowing if certain ideas or beliefs are the result of personal history, cultural background or God, and so I must puzzle it through on my own. Second, I added another level to my sorting, a box titled “Commonly Held Beliefs I’ve Rejected“. Sometimes, ideas preached from the pulpit are not what God would say. They are the product of man’s thinking, and I believe this to be true because of the things our own Church history demonstrates to us. We’re all down here on earth trying to puzzle through as best we can. We all make mistakes, and I want my mistakes to be made because of my own thinking, not because I oversimplified my analysis of another person’s views.

There are the parts of Mormonism that I find really beautiful and fulfilling. These are 10 of the (many) reasons why I stay, and why I will continue to encourage others in an exploration of the faith I love.

Eternal Marriage

My love for my husband is all-consuming. I want to be paired off and united with him for forever. The LDS Church gives me a framework for how I can make this happen.

Heavenly Parents

We are the literal spirit children of Heavenly Parents. They love us and know us the same way I know and love my own child. Better actually, as They are Divine.

Exaltation

They wants to give us all that They have.

Jesus Christ

He is my brother. We lived together in an existence before our time on earth. He atoned for my sins that He might one day be my advocate when standing before the Judgement Bar.

Plan of Salvation

Every person who has ever been born lived together in a pre-earth spirit life. We came to earth to gain a body and conquer our mortal desires. Life is a test of our ability to conquer the natural man. God is waiting to reward us with the ultimate happiness.

Equal Opportunity for Salvation

No matter when and where a person lives, their circumstances or experiences, we all have an equal chance to demonstrate our fidelity to God.

Modern and Personal Revelation

God speaks to us today. God speaks to me directly (if only I could understand the message better).

Authority

The Priesthood authority for the Church is passed down from man to man in an unbroken chain. You become part of this chain by accepting, believing, and obeying.

Free Agency

We are not born as sinful creatures because of the choices of those who came before (Adam and Eve). We are all responsible for our own mistakes.

Community

When we move, I don’t have to feel scared that I won’t make new friends. The Relief Society is often referred to as the “oldest and largest women’s organization in the world” and it is filled with wonderful women to associate with and befriend. Some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around Primary activities, my time in Young Women, and the many cultural/holiday activities that our congregation held throughout the year.

————-

These are the reasons I believe. I recently laughed and cried my way through The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From An American Faith. Laughed at us, at our silly Mormon culture. Cried because I, like Joanna, fiercely love The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, warts and all. I love it so much that I want to see it only become better, and that’s only going to happen when we acknowledge our faults and work to overcome them.

I want a faith as expansive as the skies above the Eastern Sierras at eleven thousand feet. I want to rest my back against lodgepole pines with you and puzzle out the mysteries. I want a faith as handmade as pioneer-carved wooden pews under an arching tabernacle skydome. I want a faith as welcoming as a Pioneer Day dinner table set with a thousand cream-of-chicken-soup casseroles and wedding-present crockpots, a table with room enough for everyone: male and female, black and white, gay and straight, perfect and imperfect, orthodox or unorthodox. Mormon, Jew, or Gentile. – Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl

 

*belief in

32 Comments


  1. Jenna, your self-exploration brings tears to my eyes and reminds me of my own personal revelations. The way you speak of your religion is how I speak about God..to me it’s the same. The faith, the loyalty, but the relief of knowing that you don’t have to sacrifice yourself in order to really love. I LOVE God, I feel Him with me in everything I do and thank Him profusely for the blessings in my life. I know He has touched my life in ways I can’t explain.

    He also reminds me to be tolerant and understanding. It’s likely that I’ll never share your religion, but I am SO proud of you for standing up for your faith, thinking outside of what ‘everyone else says’, and finding out what works for you and your life.

    I truly believe that this type of personal exploration is something that God really wants for all of us. We are all made differently, so we all have our own ways of concluding, but the point is to search out what really touches your soul.

    Thank you for being Jenna–for always being true to yourself and sharing with the world that you’re not afraid to be Jenna. Thank you for always looking to other people and accepting them despite their different ways of living to your own.

    Thank you for seeing the good in others–even if it’s not the same choice you would make for yourself.

    The world needs more people like you.

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  2. These is the same way I approach the Church too- it’s nice to hear from someone who does the same thing! I hope people aren’t too hard on you about this (some of my relatives are)– everyone has the right to explore their faith differently… as long as we’re doing the right thing, our testimonies are ours to explore, believe and work on as we wish to!

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    April Reply:

    I meant to say “some of my relatives are on me” :)

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  3. Beautifully written, as always. I, too, believe, warts and all. :)

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  4. Marissa C says:

    Curious–does the Mormon Church have anything like the Catholic Catechism that specifically outlines their beliefs and why? It’s one of the things I love about being Catholic.

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    Pam Reply:

    Yes, we have the 13 Articles of Faith that detail our Beliefs.

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    Jenna Reply:

    There are several replies to yours down below :)

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  5. so mormons don’t believe in original sin? and what about reconciliation of sins? does that happen in mormonism?

    Why do you use all these capitalized letters? Who are the Heavenly Parents? And what did They have? why capitalized?

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    Jenna Reply:

    Original sin? Our belief is a bit more nuanced. We don’t believe that we “inherit” sins from Adam or Eve. We have a sinful nature, but that’s because of ourselves, not someone else.

    Repentance, or reconciliation, does happen. It starts with admitting your mistakes, to yourself and to others you might have hurt or affected. If a sin is serious enough you would need to talk to your bishop about it. The sanctification process happens through the Atonement.

    Capitalizing shows respect. When we are referencing God, we use Him or He (same with Jesus Christ, who we believe is a separate person from God). Heavenly Mother would also be capitalized as She or Her.

    Heavenly Mother is our Mother like Heavenly Father is our Father! They are our life-givers and creators.

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  6. Thanks for posting, Jenna. You summed us Mormons up!
    Mormons, in answer to the above questions, do have a summary of beliefs called “The Articles of Faith.” Another good resource is “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” The first can be found easily at mormon.org under “Our Beliefs,” and the Proclamation is easily found under “Menu” at lds.org.
    The Articles of Faith may answer the question about sin. To sum up, we believe that we are mortal because of the fall of Adam and Eve, but that we work out our own salvation individually. We’re certainly responsible for teaching our children what is right, and if we didn’t that would be a sin on our heads, but our children will still be free to make their own choices and work out their own salvation through continued repentence and obedience to God’s laws and ordinances, the same as their parents.

    Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are referred to in capital letters to denote respect and divinity. I believe Jenna also includes here a lesser-talked of Heavenly Mother, though we certainly believe in Her existence and role.

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  7. Amanda W. says:

    “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.” Article of Faith #2

    We believe that we will be held accountable for our own personal sins and not that we are born with someone else’s sins already on our shoulders. So in essence, no we don’t believe in the original sin as far as it is concerning our own salvation.

    We believe in repentance and forgiveness of our sins if we completely repent (I think that is what you were asking), however, we don’t believe that just by confessing our sins our “slate” is wiped clean. We believe that that is a step in repentance but only one of the steps. It is a process.

    She likely capitalized most of the things she said because they are important, and titles to what she was going to talk about. As far as Heavenly Parents, they are nouns. Real people. We believe that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother that are the parents of our spirits.

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    Amanda W. Reply:

    Sorry, this was supposed to be a reply to Eva

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    Amanda W. Reply:

    oops. I meant Andrea! Sorry. Wish there was a delete option in times like this *blush*

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  8. phruphru says:

    A lot of Catholics have been thinking like this for years. We are derided as “Cafeteria Catholics” because we pick and choose what to believe in and many absolutists think we’re not truly following the faith. I believe in the most important parts of Catholicism but cannot abide by some of the rules set forth by the men who run the Church. My biggest beef is the ban on “unnatural” contraception and I just refuse to follow it. While apparently individual Catholic missionaries in parts of the developing world turn a blind eye at distributing condoms or IUDs, the official Church thinks it makes perfect sense to tell married couples to not have sex unless they want children they cannot feed or educate (not to mention the risk of death or severe problems during childbirth). GAAAAAAAAHHHHHH… drives me crazy. I come from a long line of Irish Catholics and the world was NOT a better place when women gave birth to 12 or 14 children (my great grandmother had 16, my grandmother herself had 8, etc., etc.). Rant over. Bottom line: God is perfect. Man is not.

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    Jackie Reply:

    I hate the term “cafeteria Catholics” with the fire of a thousand suns. We are all cafeteria Catholics. It’s not just people who use birth control. Didn’t say something nice to your sister? Cafeteria Catholic. Didn’t donate to the homeless? Cafeteria Catholic. Why are only *certain* people labeled as being a “Cafeteria Catholic”? Why do we try to divide???

    I had a priest liken Cafeteria Catholics to Lucifer once. He left the Jesuits a few weeks later to become a Diocesan priest.

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    Jenna Reply:

    Oh I have made comments in the past about how I didn’t think picking and choosing was acceptable in Mormonism and that if you couldn’t believe all of it you should just leave.

    My how things have changed!

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  9. It’s so nice to read these posts. Thank you, Jenna! I hope we can all continue to learn about our faith and grow. So many people in my life don’t understand me questioning and deciding what I believe but I think it’s a big part of our life here. It’s been refreshing to read these posts.

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  10. Sometimes you make me wish I believed in God so that I could be Mormon.

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    Jenna Reply:

    This is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

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    Kristine Elise Reply:

    my oh my how that comment hits home for me. I can tell you that for awhile I was really unsure what i believed in. Coming from an educated world where everything needed to be proven to me for me to believe in it, I never “knew” if God really existed. I always had the fundamental belief that there was someone up there looking out for us, who created this world. I couldn’t believe that this world came to be just by “magic” and evolution. I, too, was intrigued by the Mormon church and wanted to learn more about it, because (mostly) everything I knew about it seemed positive and made sense to me. It took me a long time, but eventually I started to meet with the Mormon missionaries and started to pray to learn more. Eight months later I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and I don’t want to sound preachy, but it honestly is hands down the best decision I have ever made. The Church is true, and I know that. I just wanted to share my story to you for whatever it is worth. I wish you all the best!

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  11. I’ve enjoyed these posts so much, Jenna! Thanks for being so open and honest. :)

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  12. This touched me in so many ways. I am not Mormon but my aunt and her family are. And she is undeniably one of my most favorite people on earth and I cherish her advice and wisdom. I admire the faith that you and her share. I love the idea that we are not born creatures of sin but we make our own mistakes. I wish my religion saw things that way also. In fact, there are many ways my religion could learn from the community of Mormonism. Sadly, that will never happen but I can adapt “my house” to encompass the things that I like.

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  13. Allison says:

    Beautifully written!

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  14. Interesting. You made a list of what I think are great things that are part of the church. But is the reason you are staying because you haven’t found anything else better, or you actually believe salvation only comes through the LDS church?

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  15. Hi Jenna, Can you clarify more on the Heavenly Parents? Is the God mentioned in a lot of your posts (Heavenly Father) changeable (ie have there been other Gods, such as the sealed husband and wife who go on to become Gods? Am I totally confused I thought I read that on another blog I follow??)? Is it the same God that the major religions have? Appreciate clarification as trying to understand more.

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    Jenna Reply:

    I don’t think we really know the answers to these questions. One modern prophet offered up the quote “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”

    I had a religion professor in college who taught that we are Polylatrists. We believe in the possibility that other gods exist, but we worship only one, God. We believe in exaltation, or becoming “like God”. If God imparts upon us all of the knowledge and power He has, literally giving us “all that He hath” would we also become gods? By our mortal understanding it seems like that makes sense. These sort of things are part of the deep mysteries of the universe in my opinion though, and everything is mostly speculation.

    I know that as a parent, I want my child to have everything I have, if not more. It makes sense to me that our Divine Creator would also want to give us everything, literally. This is one of the many reasons that the doctrine of exaltation makes sense to me.

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  16. I was telling my husband today that this blog is your LDS mission. Through this blog and getting to know you, I have drastically changed my (previously a bit negative) view on the LDS church.

    I hope your church realizes how lucky they are to have you – few people are loyal enough to question and challenge. I think that people confuse passivity and obedience with loyalty – and confuse questioning and challenging with disobedience. We are all encouraged to work on our relationships with our families and spouses – we couldn’t work on them by being passive and obedient – we need to be introspective and challenging.

    I’ve been asking my parents a lot of really tough questions as we all struggle through their divorce. My mother tends to get defensive and feel attacked, my father sees it as a sign of how much I love him. I love him enough to have really (really, really) difficult conversations with him. And that’s how I see your relationship with your faith and the LDS church – you love them SO much, that you are willing to have difficult conversations (with the church and yourself) so that you can have the best possible relationship with both. I’m impressed.

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    Taylor Reply:

    It is quite one thing to be a missionary for the church, and quite another to offer opinion’s about the church’s doctrine. Missionaries teach the doctrine of the LDS church while Jenna gives her opinion. This is not necessarily bad, but just a distinction I think is important.

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  17. I’m really confused. Who Is heavenly mother? This make me wonder if Mormons are Christians. What is the creed for Mormons. You stated above that Mormons are open to the possibility of other gods? Why? I believe in one God creator of heaven.and earth. Also why can’t people visit the Mormon church?

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    Jenna Reply:

    Your first few questions were answered above by me and other commenters.

    We believe in the possibility of other gods because we believe Jesus Christ is a seperate being from God, that we have a Heavenly Mother (our Goddess), and that we can all become like God one day (possibly becoming gods ourselves).

    You can come to church any time you’d like! Meeting times are listed here: http://www.lds.org/maps/index.jsf

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  18. I admire the strength of your faith. But from what you say, it seems like your love and admiration are being poured out on the LDS church — its doctrines and creeds and ‘outer trappings’, if you will.

    This is all good, but shouldn’t the focus be to know God Himself?

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  19. anonymous says:

    jenna, first of all, i want to thank you for being so open in sharing your very personal beliefs. it is admirable that you take the time to question and explore in building your own belief system, on your own terms.

    that being said, i hope not to offend you in any way, but…this is something i noticed: how much is Jesus Christ truly the center of your life? I don’t mean, the CHURCH of Jesus Christ or any other CHURCH for that matter. I mean Jesus Christ. Not an organizing body of believers, nothing like that.

    I ask you to take notice of something yourself, a bit of an experiment. Next time you are witnessing testimony (fast, etc.), keep a tally of how many times it is Jesus Christ that is the center of the attention, vs. “The Church.” Do this over a long period of time and through several wards, if possible. Then, please do share your results.

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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