An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Crisis of Faith

As a child, I enjoyed neither Primary nor Sunday School. My dad worked Sundays and my mother had to get dinner or care for my baby brother on Sunday mornings, so my brother Dooby and I were sent to church only half the time. But I knew I should go—something about blessings bestowed for seat time. I felt guilty when I didn’t attend—something about disappointing Heavenly Father. Church attendance for guilt appeasement continued until I left Utah. Our ward in Casper, Wyoming was so welcoming—the people so interesting—that one morning as I dressed for church, I was shocked to realize I looked forward to meeting my friends there and learning their take on the gospel.

Church attendance generally inspired me for almost 20 years. Sisters in Relief Society provided the wisdom I would have received had my mother lived longer. Scripture study in Gospel Doctrine class fed me intellectually and spiritually as we spent two years each delving into both Old and New Testaments. Repeated study of the Book of Mormon—my least favorite of the four standard works—helped me winnow spiritual gems such as King Benjamin’s admonition to share with the poor without judging whether they deserve their misfortune for, “are we not all beggars?” Alma’s teachings that the baptismal covenant includes being “willing to bear one another’s burdens” was another spiritual find.

Mormon meetings and activities met my social needs—especially when I became a Stay-at-Home-Mom and had no other access to adult company. Church provided spiritual comfort. I was taught, and in turn taught, that Heavenly Father is a kind, loving parent who would guide me in making wise decisions, help me deal with challenges, and raise my children righteously.

After sixteen years of marriage, George and I decided we needed a change in our lives. Instead of having separate flings, we decided to move. We fasted and prayed for guidance, received a confirmation, then plunged ahead into the worst financial decision of our lives. Church isn’t a lot of comfort when you do something stupid. In fact, it makes it worse to associate with people who relate their experiences of fasting, praying, and getting the right answers. I struggled with God’s unwillingness to bless us when we were trying so hard to obey the commandments.

Before I’d resolved that crisis, the church decided to save money by recycling Relief Society lesson manuals. Lessons that were already fairly similar were repeated until I could not only recite the lines with the teacher, I could predict when Sister Wilson would share the time she had gone back to the grocery store to return the 86 cents extra change the checker had given her—or when Sister Barnes would describe walking out of a movie with inappropriate language. I replaced Relief Society with my own home schooling.

Sunday School held my attention for several years longer because lessons were based on passages of scripture. But even scriptures get tedious if only one interpretation is allowed. General Conference, which used to inspire me, lulled me to sleep. I’m not sure if the speakers changed or if I had just heard it all before. But not attending church left a hole in my life. I investigated several possibilities and found spiritual compatibility with Buddhist study.

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Comments on: "Crisis of Faith" (10)

  1. This is indeed timely. I was just called as Sunday School President, and I am somewhat at a loss. I too find Sunday School terminally boring, and I really wish people would invest in some personal research, but I am not sure what to do now that I am in charge. The current teachers are not bad, actually, and I am not sure that they are necessarily capable of more, so I hesitate to encourage them to delve into more research.

    I am caught complaining about something while being in a position to fix it!?!?

    Recommendations?

    • Yusuf

      The problem with asking teachers to do more research is that church policy limits teachers to using only the manual, the scriptures, the Ensign, and personal experiences in teaching classes. One thing Gospel Doctrine teachers could do this year, I suppose, is to study translations of the NT other than the KJV. The Catholic Study Bible has wonderful notes based on scholarly research. Yes, I know using that would be stretching the use of scriptures a bit, but as the old saying goes, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permissin.

      • I’ve always found that Church policy can be flexible. More like..guidelines. I will look into the various Bible translations, just for kicks. My Gospel Doctrine teacher is, while a tremendously good man, not intellectually adventurous. I feel like what I would envision would simply go over too many heads (isn’t that an elitist thing to say!?!?). I will think about it for a while.

      • Maybe a more intellectual approach would not meet the needs of your ward members. Maybe an informal survey of class members would be helpful to find out what they really want.

  2. In some ways, I think my journey is mirroring yours a bit, though I never felt that church met my social needs. I’m getting further into a study of Buddhism and wondering how this will affect my desire to somehow return to church. If I don’t get anything out of going, and I can’t bring myself to talk to anyone, what good does it do? I’m still trying to answer that for myself and hoping that I can figure it out before my kids get wise to the real reasons for my absence. I don’t know how I’m going to endure anything past the sacrament. Are you going to share more of your journey, or have you already?

    • Corktree,

      Buddhists have no problem with you continuing as a Mormon, but Mormons don’t feel quite the same about your trying to straddle both fences. I have shared bits and pieces of my journey on my blog and in Dialogue, Spring 2007. I’ve been debating whether to follow up this piece with a sequel. Thanks for your interest and best of wishes on your own journey!

    • Though likely not as long as Ann, I have also practiced Buddhism for a while, and done so completely while maintaining Church membership and activity. If you are so inclined, Thich Nhat Hanh has done a lot of inter-religious dialogue and has some good joint Christian/Buddhist books. Keep in mind that the point of my Zen practice is to find peace amid the hurricane of life. If I can find peace in the most boring Gospel Doctrine, or Priesthood lesson ever, I am doing pretty good. If the lesson is not engaging me intellectually, I simply practice zazen. If I like, I have two hours extra on Sundays to practice zazen, which is a blessing.

      But it is a matter of self choice as well. I have found a way to make both work very well for me, but I am not you. I would encourage you to find your own way, whatever it is.

      • Great suggestions! I like Thich Nhat Hanh also. I think Sharon Salzberg’s Loving Kindness is another book with teachings that can be incorporated into Christian religions. The Catholics have been quite open to incorporating Buddhist practices into Christianity. Thomas Merton was a pioneer and Father John Keating is a contempoary Catholic writer on meditation.

        I have a short piece in the upcoming Sunstone Magazine about Deepok Chopra’s book, The Third Jesus which gives a Hindu take on Christian teachiings. Hooray for ecumenism!

  3. Thanks for the reading suggestions. I’ve read The Heart of Understanding, but have a few others I’ve been meaning to pick up of Thich Nhat Hanh’s. It’s funny you mention Catholicism and meditation. I’ve begun using mala beads as a form of rosary for myself, and I really like where it’s taken me so far.

    • Corktree–

      Thanks for telling me about mala beads. I sometimes use my fingers to keep track of reciting mantras, but I like the idea of 100 beads much better. I often struggle with monkey mind while trying to focus on meditation.

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