If this were a Mormon testimony meeting, I would stand up, start with the obligatory â€œbrothers and sisters, I want to bear you my testimony that I know this is the one and only true church on the face of the earth blah blah blahâ€, and then get into what I really wanted to say â€“ that I just got back from a wonderful vacation in France that I am sure you all want to hear about, and then go on to deliver a ten minute travelogue that would have only the most remote connection to religious belief or experience.
Since this is not a Mormon testimony meeting, I will simply tell you that I just got back from a wonderful vacation in France where I saw all kinds of interesting art, architecture, met some fascinating people, read all or parts of about a dozen books, and while immensely enjoying the experience found very little that that to do with Mormonism, post Mormonism or religion, practically speaking. Hence, I donâ€™t have much to say that is relevant to the topics under discussion here, and I will spare you the travelogue.
Perhaps what I just said does not mean much for most people, but in my case it is significant. For the past five years, I have not been able to read so much as the badly translated assembly instructions for my grandsonâ€™s new bicycle without finding deep and intensely important significance with regard to religion in general and Mormonism in particular. Everyone teases me about this. My children can be downright vicious at times in this regard.
And so, as week after week in France went by and I read book after book and visited interesting place after interesting place and found little that drew me back into Mormon related themes, I realized that I am indeed recovering. And I felt good.
Maybe if I get some energy going here once jet lag has subsided and I am caught up at the office, I will cull some of the religion related stuff from my book review notes and post them. Most of that has to with human growth in general; how we deal with crises; how our relationships work; what makes art art and why are we attracted (or not) to it; etc. The books are Frances Mayes â€“ Under the Tuscan Sun; Chaim Potok â€“ My Name is Asher Lev; Michael Kimmelman â€“ The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice-Versa; John Gottman â€“ The Relationship Cure; John Gottman â€“ The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work; Pascale Quiviger â€“ The Perfect Circle; Eleanor McKenzie – Beyond the Kama Sutra; Baron Baptiste â€“ The Yoga Bootcamp Box; Harry Rasky â€“ The Song of Leonard Cohen; Alberto Manguel â€“ Reading Pictures: What We Think About When We Look at Art; Lao Tzu â€“ Tao Te Ching; Christopher Hansard â€“ The Art of Tibetan Living; Erica Brealey â€“ The Spirit of Meditation; and a couple I left in France the titles andauthors of which I canâ€™t now recall.
In any event, it is good to be back home and to do some RFM reading. I am starting to feel like an RFM grandpa(ma) â€“ kind of like SL Cabbie, Randy J., Stray Mutt, Dagny or perhaps even Richard Packham or Eric K. (bless their holy names). You know â€“ I care but do not feel the kind of panic that hits a new mother when her baby gets really sick for the first time. That is, experience has finally made me comfortable with the fact that as bad as Mormonism was, it can’t really harm me. Victor Frankl survived, didn’t he. Life hurts as well as it wraps us in wonder; we usually overestimate how bad its going to be and underestimate how much fun we will will have; we usually over-react; shit happens and gets cleaned up.
Donâ€™t misunderstand. I still feel the agony and panic of those posting as they achieve their first painful glimpses of the massive fraud practiced on them. For example, here is the text of a message that was waiting on my email when I arrived home, changed sufficiently to protect identity:
â€œI find myself going in circles. I can see and argue both sides of the story. (The church is true/no church has the all-encompassing truth.) I see them both clearly. I am leaning more and more towards atheism, and on those days my garments are off. On days when I rely on the old framework, my garments are on. I feel miserable and scared no matter what I wear. I am torn and longing to be free. I am waiting for an answer from God and digging for any answers I can find in books in the meantime. I know that I have a strong sense of ethics, yet I have found that they still remain unscathed–with or without the belief in God. I donâ€™t know how to get past this point and I feel as though my heart could break at any given moment. I just want to be able to make up my mind once and for all without the fear of being cursed for doing so. I am afraid to live and afraid to die. I donâ€™t know how to adequately make sense of the spiritual experiences that I have had.â€
Nice. They should build a missionary discussion around that one. “Bro. Brown, do you feeling that grinding, churning feeling in the pit of your stomach? What does that mean to you?”
And, I empathize with the endless stream of tortured spouses who try to find help coping with unraveling relationships. But since I am no longer so raw myself, I accept these feelings without having my own hormonal cascade set off again to twist me into a typing, reading, thinking, sleepless frenzy.
As I read RFM, I also note the way in which many of the same cognitive biases that hold people inside the Mormon tribe are immediately turned into tools that solidify a variety of beliefs that contradict Mormonism, some of which have sketchy rational foundations though in almost all cases, being relatively benign.
And as time passes, I find that I have more trouble getting worked up over whether J. Smith was consciously fraudulent, delusional, well-intended but mistaken, or any combination thereof. He was untrustworthy â€“ that much is as clear as it is that the Earth is almost round. Hence, without compelling, objectively verifiable evidence to support what J. Smith says, he should be ignored. If anything, when he said “white”, maybe put money on “black”.
I donâ€™t care about the degree to which G. Hinckley is conscious of the role he plays as the current chief con in the Mormon game. A con man sells confidence instead of substance, and whether he is aware of this or not is irrelevant. The best salesmen make themselves believe in their products. Why? Because if you are a salesman, this helps you to sell. Measure Hinckley for that suit and see how well it fits.
Serious jet lag twice in a few weeks is a form of mental enema â€“ it clears the circuits through exhaustion and so allows lifeâ€™s most recently formed pieces to find their places. This is like what sometimes happens when a writer accidentally deletes an almost finished but troublesome chapter, curses himself, starts to try to re-create it and then watches in amazement as the problems he was struggling with seem to resolve themselves while his story takes off in a fresh direction.
So, as I come back to myself here at home, I notice lots of things. For example, life feels more comfortable. This is not because there is more joy and less pain than when I was Mormon or recently post-Mormon. Rather, it is because my expectations are gradually becoming more realistic. I expect to be sad, angry and bored as well as contented, wondrous and ecstatic. And instead of continually needing to tell myself this, it is becoming instinctual. These new instincts bring peace.
And I increasingly notice that most of lifeâ€™s satisfaction is found in the daily grind. I am finally past persuading myself of this, and accept it. I donâ€™t need to become God, or save the Earth, or be great in any way. The gradual accomplishment of anything fills us and so enables our occasional glorious overflowings, and provides the stamina we will sometime call upon as we stagger through lifeâ€™s deserts.
Keeping promises. Encouraging each other. Becoming more constant; more present; more conscious; more real; more interested in more aspects of life; more creative (thus, as said the Chinese sage, living twice – once while experiencing and a second time while recording and interpreting the experience through art). All these fruits and many others may the recovering Mormon expect.
I have never felt more positive with regard to lifeâ€™s short, medium or long term prospects, for myself as well as those I most love.