Coping with Changing Beliefs

caterpillar-nest-by-sam-loveland

As is probably apparent by my “Recent Posts” widget, I’ve recently left Mormon Orthodoxy. This is the church in which I was born and raised. My whole life I was taught to see the world through the eyes of Mormonism. The ironic part is that it is these very principles that eventually led me to leave in the first place; it’s because of my desire for compassion, equality, and empathy that I saw the need to change. My own mental health was a big part of this too.

But I’ve written an entire post on the subject, so now I’ll turn toward what life has been like after such a major paradigm shift. Everything changed after I left; things were no longer black and white, but an entire spectrum of color. Of course, I like to think I was already seeing in color, but this was like switching to a Mac screen.

That made things more beautiful in some ways, but more difficult in others. After all, if you have an infinite amount of color to choose from, your job as a designer just became much more complicated. Here are some things that have helped me, and they just happen to all start with M. Kind of like Mormonism.

Note: I’m not evangelizing these, I think there are plenty of ways to live a great life.

Mindfulness

rainforest-sunset-by-sam-loveland

Many have heard of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I listened to it over a year ago, and while I liked the sentiments, it didn’t give me much to go on in a practical sense. After spending time with a great therapist this last semester, he introduced me to Mindfulness as a means of Cognitive Therapy.

Some Amazon searches led me to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners. It was a great way to find practical application in beginning meditation. Even better, Jon Kabat-Zinn is an expert in Mindfulness Cognitive Therapy, and has conducted many studies that have proven it to be as effective with depression as medication (and even better with, which is my current status).

What I gain from Mindfulness:

  • An awareness of my mental/emotional state. Usually this awareness in and of itself makes everything much easier to deal with.
  • An increased ability to avoid making judgements of others or myself.
  • Gratitude – I already have everything I need.

One of the things I appreciate most about Mindfulness is that it has no religious tinge. I’m fully aware that its origins may be, but as it is practiced in Therapy there is no talk of energy, chakra, or these kind of Metaphysical abstract concepts that do nothing for me right now.

As I navigate the murky waters of doubt and belief, these serve as an anchor that bring me peace and help me stay grounded. Mindfulness has, in a way, replaced a lot of what prayer has done for me in the past – except that in prayer I would sometimes find myself wrapped up in a cyclical pattern of shame, and mindfulness helps address that problem without self-judgment.

I still find myself saying a little prayer here and there, but usually keep it to simple gratitude. Whether an actual entity hears it or not is besides the point for me, it’s a mental step that helps me find peace.

Minimalism

tiny-house-on-wheels-by-oregon-cottage-company-10-600x450

I’ve always been somewhat minimalist in my head. It’s part of why managing money in video games has always been a talent of mine. However, life is much more complicated than a video game, which makes things much more difficult.

I remember seeing pictures or blogs about mini houses built on trailers, and I would fantasize about living that way; Being free to travel, do web design/development remotely, free from debt and other anchors. But then reality set in. There are, after all, some great benefits to actually owning a house. And what about kids? Life could get unnecessarily complicated then, and I’ve always wanted to have a family (when I’m ready).

I listened to a Radio West podcast episode interviewing Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. The part of their story that really stuck with me was that minimalism is whatever it means to you – it doesn’t mean you have to live out of a backpack and travel across Europe (which does sound fun, I’ll admit). They suggested a “packing party”, where you pack everything you own (including your furniture) for 21 days. During this time, you unpack things as you use them.

It’s an interesting experiment, and so I decided to try it.

I never got around to packing everything. I went through one cupboard at a time, and found myself heaping up piles and piles of trash/donation/craigslist items that then had to be dealt with because they were taking up all our floor space.

One cupboard, box, and shelf at a time, I attacked our stuff with fury. I packed up our entire kitchen except for some essentials, things I knew we used on a weekly basis: two plates, two cups, two of each utensil, measuring cups/spoons, a mixing bowl, a frying pan and saucepan. We also kept out a few appliances that we use for preparation. Everything else was packed or donated.

The effects have been astonishing. Because we only have two of each dish, we’re forced to wash them pretty much right away – which means there is never a mess or big pile of dishes in the kitchen. One less thing to worry about.

Movies were put in a CD book, to be digitized later. One less piece of furniture. It went on and on like this, and even several weeks later I’m still not finished. It was a lot of work at first, but the benefits are starting to show.

What I get out of Minimalism:

  • A grateful, peaceful outlook. I already have everything I need. (sound familiar?)
  • Priorities. How much do I really need this thing (or “commitment” or “friend”), is it worth the investment in time, money, or energy?
  • Shedding Guilt. I can focus on what is best for my life, and that of my family, and not worry what others think or feel is necessary. (This comes in handy particularly when leaving a family orthodoxy.)

Money Makeover

cash-envelope-system

I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey. While he’s quite conservative and, well, Texan, and I’m no fanatic – he has some fantastic advice. The part that helps me the very most is his Baby Steps.

I’ve always been an emotional spender. When I was a kid, I was fantastic at saving. I was quite driven for my age, delivering papers, doing bake sales, cleaning yards, and finding methods to earn and save. As soon as I became a teenager, however, I had to deal with depression – and I couldn’t ever seem to keep hold of my money. That continues to this day.

In combination with Minimalism, It’s a lot easier to prioritize. I’ve always tried to keep budgets, but life always ends up being different from my predicted budget, and I become too frustrated to continue.

The other difficulty with money was all the advice out there, even the stuff that seems to makes sense, like save for retirement, have a years’ expenses in savings, save for your kids’ college tuitions. All this advice is intimidating, especially when you’re already struggling to just stay current.

For the last few years I’ve been driving older cars that I own outright. They are efficient, reliable, and I don’t have a big chunk of my income going toward them. I always felt better with this decision, and felt that it simplified things for me in a way that was healthy. A lot of Dave Ramsey’s line of thought comes from the same place.

So, I’ve begun Step 1: Save $1000 dollars in an emergency fund. I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve never saved this much just for a rainy day. I’ve only saved for things I wanted, such as an apartment or a car.

Even the few hundred dollars I’ve put aside so far has REALLY raised my confidence. I’ve been selling some of our things on craigslist to make our move easier/cheaper, and putting at least 80% of that directly into the emergency fund. On top of that, since we’ve been able to work full-time over the summer (things get really tight during the semester), we’re able to have enough elbow room to put some cash into that.

What I get out of Dave Ramsey’s Money Makeover:

  • Priorities with Money
  • Simple Goals with Money
  • Confidence with Money
  • And yes, Gratitude with Money

The Whole Package

In dealing with my depression/hypomanic phases, I’ve found a focus that helps keep my mind from veering off track in a way that promotes anxiety. In dealing with transition, I find it easy to maintain a curious attitude – I no longer am interested in an Imperical, Capitol-T “Truth”. I am open to the world as it is, and in accepting it (even if I do want to change it for the better).

Sorry ’bout my Church

I’m not going to be posting this one to my Facebook. That is what drives the majority of traffic from my friends and family, and most of them are still True-Believing Mormons (TBMs). Let this serve as a warning if you are – this may not be the kind of message you want to read right now. It is not friendly toward the LDS church, though I do my best to keep it reasonable.

This needs to be said. I would prefer it be said by the LDS Church, but I can at least throw in my own voice.

I’ve recently tried on some new lenses when it comes to the Church in which I was born and raised. I can see many of the harmful and insensitive teachings that are propagated by the LDS Church which hurt both its members and outsiders.

Isolation/Elitism

As far as authoritarian beliefs go, the Church is fairly progressive. All decent people go to heaven. The only ones who go to any kind of hell are extremely off the deep end – so much so that we are encouraged to not judge anyone of being worthy of going there (though we all secretly believe Hitler is).

This kind of inclusive belief explains our work for the dead by proxy – Church members perform “saving ordinances” like baptism on a live person, filling in the name of a dead person whose records have been recovered through Geneology work. It is explained that this gives the person’s spirit the opportunity to accept this ordinance (and blessings that come with it) in the afterlife. It is even taught that after Christ’s second coming, more of these ordinances will be performed until we have offered salvation to all people(s).

Comparatively (in the Christian world, at least), these practices can be seen as fairly inclusive, even kind. But the buck doesn’t stop there.

While Mormons are generally taught to value truth and seek it out, they are also brainwashed (there is no better word I can think of) into fearing and avoiding any and all information that may conflict with the teachings of the Church. Outside resources are to be shunned, or at the very least they are considered “less than” official Church ones.

Members consistently refer to the rest of the world as “the World”. It’s very much an “Us vs. Them” worldview. Individual members will vary wildly in their humility and acceptance of others, but all of them display at least a hint that their lifestyle and choices are higher and better than the norm.

It does make sense when you consider Utah history. The Church came out here and created an isolated pocket. Here, they were able to do anything that seemed desirable without any checks against their behavior – and thus polygamy was born. Powerful, rich, and influential men were able to come up with a doctrine that enabled them to sleep around and still be considered righteous.

Practices of polygamy were even taught to be necessary in order to make it to the highest level of heaven. Now the Church distances itself from this practice entirely. There are several ways we try to obfuscate these past teachings – some members explain that it was an eternal law at one point, but that God wanted us to get along with our neighbors, and so he commanded that the practice be stopped.

Even after members were supposed to have stopped, the practice was continued secretly in many places. These people were led to believe that they lived a “higher law” and were charged with the calling to keep the practice alive. Other members, even those who didn’t practice polygamy, knew to keep their mouth shut and ask no questions. This does a lot in explaining the secrecy, the “Us vs. Them” mentality, the persecution complex, and the concept of living a “higher law” that permeate the Mormon community.

I’m sorry for our elitism. I’m sorry if you have been hurt or excluded by this. Some people were unable to attend our wedding ceremony because it happened in the temple – I am so sorrowful that this was the case. Some of my exes (most of which are not Mormon) have undoubtedly been hurt by some of this exclusion or elitism that must have come through in my words and actions – I am responsible for and extremely sorry for this.

Insensitivity and Discrimination

This extends naturally from the first. Church members and leaders cling to ancient Puritanical beliefs that make certain acts, beliefs, or even natural physical aspects of being human out to be evil stains upon our souls. E.g. masturbation, homosexuality, transgender, depression, scientific study, progressivism, academic integrity and etc.

There are certain talks by certain Mormon Apostles which have led almost directly to suicide. I believe most of these are related to homosexuality and masturbation. These normal conditions and acts are continually demonized – both can easily disqualify you for a mission, a temple recommend, or even the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament ordinance each Sunday.

TBMs will explain this away. Gay members can still do these things if they do not participate in authentic relationships and/or sexual acts. This is why I included “insensitivity”. Though the Church has recently become a bit more accepting (at least officially) of Gays and Lesbians, they are expected to throw away that aspect of their life and either be celibate or marry heterosexually.

I am sorry for our insensitivity. I know I myself have been insensitive, especially toward Gays and Lesbians. I never once in my life believed that they were less than, but I was always conflicted about what I was taught and what I truly thought and believed – that these are people. And if I believe people have worth, or if I believe Christ loves everyone – he obviously loves them too.

Of course, I was still uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality and/or transgender. I attribute this to some of the cognitive dissonance between my beliefs and the things I was taught. Also, some of this was obviously my lack of exposure. Until I was old enough that many of my old friends were now coming out, I thought I had only met a tiny handful of gay people – none of them very well.

It becomes much harder to speak down to or about someone when you are friends with them. I’m so sorry for my past insensitivity, and hope that I have succeeded in stomping it out of my brain.

Racism

If the LDS Church was really led by a modern-day Prophet who has a direct line of communication to God, why were they decades behind the rest of the world on Civil Rights? Is it because God discriminates?

No. It is because the Church is led by a bunch of old, conservative men who are very set in their ways. The Church changes their policies over time, but move like molasses doing so. This is easy enough to explain; all those at the top stay in their positions until they either die or do something blatantly against our teachings. This means that more and more, our Apostles are… yeah, I’ve already said it, relics.

Some of our current leaders are STILL relics of the 40s and 50s. Thankfully they are outnumbered by others by now, but they still speak at every Conference, run our Church Education programs, and etc.

The Church did not allow black men to receive full participation until the 70s. They were not allowed to perform temple ordinances or to hold the priesthood. When this was stopped in the 70s, it was touted as a “revelation”. This put us on dangerous ground, because 40 years later the Church has to explain both that this is a “revelation” AND a result of decisions made by racist, antiquated men.

That implies that either God wanted blacks to be excluded, or that he is limited in his ability to lead the Church and its modern-day prophet. Both of these are problematic.

The Church has never apologized for its past racist acts, though there have been plenty of excuses. It focuses on teaching about repentance and the Atonement of Christ, but they cannot even follow their own teachings.

I am sorry for our racism. I don’t think I have been actively or overtly racist, but I know that I enjoy white privilege and, without knowing it, am insensitive toward issues of race. I do what I can to expose myself to what it is like to be other people in this world, and hope I can snuff out this ignorance.

Sexism

This one kills me, and has since I was a child. Women are talked down to at every turn in the Church. Every Sunday it is touted that the “best” thing a woman can do in this life is be a “wife and mother in Zion”. Women do not hold decision-making positions in the Church leadership. They have Relief Society, which does exercise a kind of soft influence, but as I say – no actual power.

I remember, being raised by my TBM father, him telling me that a day will likely come that women will receive the priesthood – that we had to wait until the Prophet had received word that it was now time for this to happen.

This is interesting, since Joseph Smith himself ordained women. Indeed, our history and doctrine do not teach anywhere that women cannot hold the priesthood. But if you ask your typical LDS member, you’ll find that most believe this is a doctrinal principle. And farbeit for the Brethren to disabuse them of that notion.

When a group of women (Ordain Women) faithfully asked the Brethren to go and seek revelation on whether it was time for them to receive the priesthood, their leader was systematically excommunicated by a local lay leader. The top leadership will not admit to having any part in this discipline, but they aren’t rushing to correct it either (and the past has shown that they can and have).

However the Church did put out an official announcement. You can have different beliefs in the Church, but keep them to yourself or suffer the consequences. Coming from a husband, this is emotional abuse. Coming from the church, this is fair and lovingly enacted doctrine by inspired leaders led by God.

Not the God I believe in.

A big factor in my decision to leave is that I hope to have a daughter one day. I want her to be smart and strong and independent, like so many of the women I have admired in my own life.

The problem with that is that women already have the deck stacked against them in a world of male privilege. If I wanted to raise my own daughter to have the kind of confidence and hope that I want her to have, I would have to “de-program” her every time she came home from church on Sunday. I would have to work extra-hard to empower her, an endeavor that already runs a high risk of failure.

Sorry bout our sexism. It’s disgusting.

Finances

Ah, finances. I can’t speak with authority on this one, but I’ve uncovered enough information about the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and how they use money to be fairly confident in saying the following:

The LDS Church is not a church at all, but a religiously-incentivized Corporation.

My whole life I believed the LDS “church” was essentially a non-profit religious organization. This would explain the tax benefits, the 10% tithing contributions, etc. I was also led to believe that the Church is extremely active in humanitarian efforts.

In the end, this is what we are led to believe – that tithing money is donated in order to run the practical matters of the Church (electricity bills, buildings, etc) and to help the poor and afflicted.

I’m not finding much evidence that this is the case. The Church is considered a “special” kind of corporation, one that is tax-free and enjoys all the benefits of a large franchise. They own a ton of land and businesses, stock, and other interests. As far as I can tell, they do not run their finances at all in the way that your typical Mormon believes.

But the Church takes and takes. It isn’t enough for you to give your time and service, but 10% of your income. If you’re doing that, it isn’t enough. Give to Prop 8, the Missionary Fund, the Perpetual Education Fund, Fast Offerings, and etc. The Church will never limit how much of yourself is sacrificed, and will always encourage you to give more.

Poor old couples, widows, or youngsters starting out in life are expected to pay 10% of their income. They are told, “even if you are unable to pay your rent or buy food, pay your tithing”. After this, the bishop is enabled to give aid to pay rent and provide food. Of course, this process is incredibly demeaning and embarrassing, and the participants of it are berated to be more “financially independent”.

I gained a 10% raise last month. I tell you what, I find it a lot easier to be “financially independent” now.

Sorry about the church and its financial corruption. It is misleading and favoritism at best, downright corruption at worst. Many poor couples faithfully give and give, and receive hardly even a nod from the church – they simply accept it gladly. And why would they do anything else?

So really… sorry about my church.

Leaving Mormonism (revised update)

Not too long ago I wrote a post titled “I am an Ex-Mormon”. I took it down a few days later because it took me that long to realize that posting it was harmful to some of my family and friends. I don’t truly want to isolate myself from anyone, or to be offensive, so I’m posting a revised accounting of that sentiment.

To clarify: Nothing has changed for me since the last time I posted. I have come to better terms with my own beliefs, and the idea that no one else has the authority to tell me what and how to believe. I will probably post on my reflections in this belief as it evolves in the future, but I’m going to try and focus on the topic at hand.

The Decision

At this point, the decision I’ve made is that I will no longer participate in Orthodox Mormonism. No tithing, temple worship, or expecting myself to have to attend meetings of any kind.

I need a break from the Mormon community, and I can’t promise I’ll be back. It’s like a bad breakup – I need time to heal, and I need to make some friends that aren’t her friends.

The Important Reasons

While I have come to take issue with certain points of doctrine, the real reason for my leaving is moral. I see many conflicts between what we profess to believe in the church, and what we actually practice. There are major disparities between Christ-like love and how we actually treat certain groups. These groups include, but are not limited to:

  • The LGBT community
  • Feminists
  • Intellectuals
  • Other Religious Sects (e.g. Islam)

In most of these cases our actual doctrine doesn’t preach against these groups. For that purpose I’ll cite the 11th Article of Faith – we allow all men the priviledge of worshipping who, how, or what they may. I take this to include social practice – the idea that people can practice what they believe to be right, so long as they are peaceful about it.

Peaceful doesn’t always mean pleasant, and I cite examples of peaceful protest across our American heritage as examples of this.

To cite a current example, I’ll use gay marriage:

One sect believes gay marriage to be less than ideal – this is usually due to a traditional mindset of sexuality, less than it is on scripture.

Another believes there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and in fact it should be celebrated in those cases where it would be authentic and bring happiness to a family.

The first group can peacefully practice their beliefs by… wait for it… getting married to the opposite gender.

The second can do the same regardless of gender. They also feel obligated in most cases to advocate for the rights of other human beings with differing beliefs.

I see both groups as peacefully practicing.

The Catalyst

I was definitely spurred on by the recent excommunications, and in specific Kate Kelly. All she did was peacefully advocate, but she is now being demonized in the culture for, basically, not shutting up. They paint her as being a problem seeker with ulterior motives, and the most common criticisms leveled against her relate to her being public or her peaceful demonstrations (characterized as being offensive).

Kate Kelly was excommunicated for apostacy, which the church has recently defined as actively seeking to spread views which are contrary to the church. I think this definition is way open to interpretation, which makes the practice of excommunication easy to abuse – especially for lay leadership.

For me, this basically means, “Believe what you want – but keep it to yourself. Or else.”

“Shut up or get out.”

Am I being melodramatic here? Perhaps, and I can see where people would feel that way. However, being the kind of person who aspires to progressivism and intellectualism, I feel very personally excluded from the church on this basis.

“You’re not welcome here.”

In other words, the church doesn’t want people like me. They don’t want people who may ask hard questions, or challenge status quo.

Christ’s Example

I find this in opposition to a doctrine of Christ, a man who demonstrated love, hung out with everybody (especially sinners), and constantly challenged the status quo. The only people he expressed dislike toward were hypocrites, meaning the regular church-going people in most cases. This is the case for all the great prophets in scripture (across religions), that they challenge the status quo. In this way, religion is often founded on progressive principles.

I don’t believe God endorses specific institutions. Christ exemplifies that. I don’t believe he requires people to believe in him… or else. I do believe he set the example of how he desires us to live, doing good with our lives, and beckoned us to follow that example. You don’t need to be religious to do that.

No, I think that being religious and subscribing dogmatically to an institution’s ideals are very different things.

Personal Health

This cognitive dissonance (the inner turmoil and pain that comes from holding conflicting beliefs at the same time) was destroying me, enhancing my struggles with depression. But they are real problems, aside from any mental illness.

What Now?

My reasons for leaving are not related to sin, rash decisions, being offended, or “Anti-Mormon” material or sentiments. Very heartfelt and thoughtful processes have led me to this decision. Please do not cheapen my experiences and decisions by characterizing them in these ways.

I would like to remain friends with Mormons. I think most are good people. But then again, I think that about all people. I feel the need to branch out and include more diversity in my life, especially after 3 years living in Rexburg, Idaho.

But I will end with this sentiment to my Mormon friends and family. Please remain my friend. Please continue to appreciate me for who I am. Try not to feel concerned about the welfare of my soul – my values aren’t going anywhere. Please continue to talk with me, hang out with me, and consider me part of your lives – if you want to. If it is best, we can leave Mormonism out of the equation – though I like having open discussions if you’re up for it.

Night and Light Photos

Light Painting

I’ve practiced Light Painting a few times now for various projects, and it was a great way to get down to the nitty-gritty and forcing myself to do intimidating things: such as using Manual Mode. My favorite part of Light Painting is that, since you’re probably shooting something static, you can really take your time to make the shot exactly what you wanted. No rush, no pressure to catch the perfect moment. Try this much light, a little less, or a little more until you’re pleased with the result.

Forbidden Island

forbidden-island

Date: Apr 26, 2011, Evening
Location: Rexburg, ID
F-Stop: 5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i

Popsicle Night Club

 

popsicle-nightclub

Date: Apr 26, 2011, Evening
Location: Rexburg, ID
F-Stop: 5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i

Photo Contest Entry

I chose the Photoshop World Photo Contest. Here are the reasons which appealed to me:

  • I could submit three photos, which made it much easier to select which ones I wanted to submit.
  • The prize is free attendance to a large Photoshop Conference, a great opportunity to learn about and participate in my industry.
  • The theme is completely open: subjects and edits of all kinds are accepted and encouraged.

I created my submission by going to ViewBug.com, starting an account via Facebook, and browsing the contest options there. There were a few that appealed to me, but none as much as Photoshop World. From here I found my original edited content, checked and touched up for the theme, and exported large detailed jpeg files. I uploaded these to my new ViewBug account, tagged and named the files, and submitted them to the contest.

Three Submissions on July 10, 2014:

746-tracks-blog

746 Tracks
Date: Apr 30, 2011, Evening
Location: St Anthony, ID
F-Stop: 5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/25
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i

guitar-porch-blog

Porch Music
Date: May 30, 2014, Evening
Location: Bannack, MT
F-Stop: 4.0
Shutter Speed: 1/125
Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i

type-drawer-blog

 

Type Drawer
Date: May 06, 2014, Afternoon
Location: Rexburg, ID
F-Stop: 2.7
Shutter Speed: 1/80
Camera: Sony DSC-W330