Gordon Monson: My LDS faith journey might be different than yours, and if it is, maybe I’m OK, you’re OK

Here is why I stay — even though there are things I’d like to change in my church.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Angel Moroni atop the spire of the Salt Lake Temple in 2008, long before the iconic structure underwent a massive renovation. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson writes about why he remains faithful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Here’s a column on one of my all-time favorite subjects: me.

That’s supposed to make you laugh. This thing’s not meant to be about me as much as it is about my faith journey — and, perhaps in some indirect way, about yours, too. They’re probably not the same, but that’s OK. I hope you don’t mind if I get personal for a minute or two, even if it seems clumsy and cryptic in places.

Here goes:

I have both appreciation for and questions about my church, yeah, Utah’s dominant one, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But even as I have the former, the latter sometimes is a mix of soothing answers, answers that are fulfilling, leading to increased faith, and answers or nonanswers I don’t like, leading to frustration. Still, l love my faith, have relied on it and feel deeply attached to it.

Getting caught in that faith-frustration vortex puzzles some folks who wonder why and how, if I disagree with some stuff, I stay with it. Maybe some readers can relate to that in the ebbs and flows along their own tidal paths. Maybe others can’t.

Some people want out of this — and every corner — nothing but criticism of the church, no compliments. Others want the opposite. Only sunshine, no shade.

In my life, there’s been both.

Faith, at least for me, is a funny thing, not bust-a-gut funny, just different, unlike anything else I’ve experienced. Typically, I look for empirical data and other basic facts to govern my thoughts and actions, to form opinions and attitudes, to make decisions, to seek knowledge and truth. Logic makes a lot of sense to me.

Emotion has its uses, but I try to lean away from allowing that to have much control. An exception is the love I have for my wife, my kids, my grandkids. In those instances, deep feelings flow.

Acquiring, developing and maintaining faith have come via similar deep feelings. That’s right, feelings. But it’s not emotion. It’s three fairways over from emotion. It’s a sense of correctness, a sense of peace, a sense of comfort and clarity, a sense of being close to God, feeling dialed in, a sensation that registers in my soul, not in any rock-steady way. In fact, there are times, probably based on my wandering mind, my human condition, my own frailties, when that sense is like a Super Ball hurled in a shower stall. It ricochets here, there, everywhere.

Trouble is, I’m a natural skeptic. When someone tells me something that seems and sounds fantastical, I’m inclined to doubt it. Faith around here doesn’t come easy.

In the eyes of the Almighty, I see myself as nothing special, just a regular dude trying to make his way through this earthly existence, bumping and skidding as I go. But there also have been times — of triumph and tragedy — when I’ve felt touched by the hand of God, not because I’m anything special, just because I was either in a heightened state or in desperate need.

My Latter-day Saint roots

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Utah-based faith's official symbol.

I was raised in a Latter-day Saint family, my father, a remarkably smart, spiritual man, jammed into the same vortex as me. He was a scientist who spent his time studying and relying on the foundations of chemistry and physics. Logic was the seat he sat on. But he taught me early the rudiments of other fundamentals — prayer, respect for other humans and for the heavens. He was open-minded enough to consider a range of philosophies, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was where his religious beliefs settled, firming up like steel brackets in concrete.

He asked a lot of questions and did a lot of research to find his answers. At times, he found the same frustrations I have. But he also found answers about his identity, his purpose, his destiny and how to draw closer to God and help others. He learned to hold onto faith and allow it to bridge the gaps along his religious road.

My story is pretty much the same. The church brought direction into my life as a kid growing up on the East Coast, wondering what this whole deal was really about. I prayed, I read, I lived. And I experienced stuff that I cannot, not to this day, fully explain. Small touches from heaven, I guess. I had friends who fed on similar pieces of manna. I went on a church mission to Germany, even though on the mission application papers, where it asked what my least favorite subject in school had been, I answered “German.” One of my preferred subjects was … Spanish.

Meine gute!

Sometimes, God — or, rather, those who act in God’s stead — doesn’t seem to listen.

The call said to go to Dusseldorf and the cities around it. And while I hated Provo’s Missionary Training Center, hated it, felt trapped in that sterile, woeful place, I learned to love the people I interacted with once I got to Germany. Not all of them, but the ones I was able to teach, there was just something about those relational exchanges that switched on a sensation that I’ve already described, tried and failed to properly describe. It was meaningful and powerful. The mission was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — physically, mentally, emotionally. But spiritually, it was a rocket to ride.

In the years thereafter, I met the woman who became my wife, the best person I’ve ever come across. We had and reared five daughters, wonderful humans who constantly bless my life — all of them spiritual, too, some of them believers in my same faith, a number of them have taken a different religious route. They’ve answered a different call, and I’m happy that they’re happy.

Even as I’ve torn into the world of sports, complimenting and criticizing some of your favorite and least-favorite sports figures in the written word and the word that came through the car speakers, I’ve always felt that connection to God in heaven.

Even when I’ve done dumb things.

Small graces of God

(Plinio Lepri | AP) In this 1999 file photo, the "La Creazione" (The Creation) fresco by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel is pictured. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Gordon Monson notes that he, too, at times has felt touches of God's graces.

I’ve had enough touches, though, to grow my faith, even after stretches when I’ve run across church teachings that I thought were bogus, when I’ve seen cultural actions and attitudes that appeared to be anything but godly, when I’ve been uncertain regarding things about which I’ve read, cogitated and prayed.

When it comes to spiritual endeavors, I know what I’ve studied, I know what I’ve experienced, I know what I’ve settled on, I know what I’ve doubted. Beyond that, I don’t know much. I know what I believe, and my church has played a role in a whole lot of that. I’m grateful for it. I’m sorry if my church’s teachings hurt some people, sorry if the application of those teachings by way of imperfect human minds, mouths and hands hurt people.

My interpretation of my own beliefs is, at least when it comes to people’s status before God, to let them be what they are, to accept them, to do my best to love them, just like a fellow named Jesus said to do. If they do stupid things as it pertains to matters outside of religion, like, I dunno, sports, I will sometimes rip them, but I won’t, unless they hurt innocents, condemn them before the Almighty.

That’s not my job.

So it’s those touches through my life that have formed and framed my religious beliefs. If you have different beliefs or have no beliefs, you do you. Live and let live. Would I change some cultural and doctrinal items in my church if I could? Yeah, as I’ve often stated in this space. Maybe other believers would do likewise. Maybe God would, too.

I’ve run through enough imperfection in my own life when it comes to matters of faith to respect it, or tolerate it, in others, even as I openly share my ideas. But I also deeply appreciate the perfect, personal moments, the times when bits of inspiration, small graces of God’s friendly favor, have floated down to me and to those around me.

I’ll go on asking questions, because I have them, still, frustrations and all. But I’ll hold onto my faith because I can’t deny the experiences I’ve had, the answers I have found. If you’ve had different experiences and answers that have caused you to believe differently, hold onto what is yours.

And we can all bump and skid through this earthly existence together, helping one another where we can, giving one another our hand and our hearts, as we go.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Columnist Gordon Monson.

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