My kids grew up traveling a lot. By adulthood, they had logged between 20 and 30 countries each. We were restless parents, always looking for a getaway from the mundane daily routine. I was chatting with my second son when he was still a teen, and I noted that I had also grown up with restless parents. We moved every few years to a new house, a new town, a new state, a new ward. I said that it seemed to me that when you grow up that way you either have wanderlust and crave new experiences (like me) or you feel rootless, and you never want to go anywhere again. He was the latter. He said he liked the idea of putting down deep roots somewhere and building a life in one place. Travel was fine, but staying rooted was better.
And he hasn’t left his room since! That’s a very slight exaggeration; most of his life, at least when he’s not at work, is online which is its own place, one we can carry with us, a home we have in our pocket. If our phone breaks, it’s like losing access to a place that feels like home, our own set of websites we visit, online communities we frequent, or our source for news and information. Part of what continues to make travel appealing to me is that I can be online no matter where I am (although generally I don’t go online on planes still, even though it is technically an option). I can be “home” while also exploring the world.
Recently my hubbie suggested we take a trip to do some hiking in a national park. It’s the kind of trip we can do while remaining safe and socially distant, but I also felt like “meh.” It’s not like me to turn down a trip, any trip, and I wondered why I couldn’t get jazzed about it. I think it’s because right now we are literally “homeless” for the first time in over two decades. We are between the house we sold and the house we are buying. We are living in an airbnb, using furniture that isn’t ours, without our cats who are staycationing with a friend, without the majority of our things, only a handful of clothes (I mean, really, who cares what I wear right now? I am usually wearing lounge pants that a year ago I wouldn’t have left the house in). Going on vacation is great, but it’s because I want to get away for a while and then have the familiar to return to. Without a home, a getaway isn’t really getting away. The house is the starting point and the destination.
We spent our final days in the old house doing long-neglected home repairs, fixing my leaky vanity faucet (that I endured for 7 years), replacing a loose kitchen faucet, buying a new water heater we hadn’t even noticed was rusty until the buyers pointed it out, resurfacing the pool that was pitted and chipped from wear over the 15 years we had lived there, fighting back the never-ending scorpion hostile take-over. Many of these were things we chose to live with rather than resolve, and I wonder what new problems we’ll find in our new home. Will there be a creaky door, a temperamental sprinkler system, a rusty side gate, a loud garbage disposal? It’s part of any home to find these things, then to ignore them because it’s a pain to fix them.
Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who had left the Church. He said the Church was like a house that was falling apart. There were areas where rain came through the ceiling, parts of the house that were unsafe, and none of it was great. Some people liked it, but some found it was worse than being homeless. Maybe that was true for some. I felt at the time, and mostly do still, that living in a bad house that needs repairs is still superior to wandering around without any house. Camping under the stars is great (theoretically anyway) until you want a hot shower or a cold diet coke. It’s great until you need a closet to keep clothes in or want to have pets. And some houses are in worse repair than others, or different parts of the house are in worse repair. It can depend on where you are in the house.
There was an episode of the Andy Griffith show in which the citizens of Mayberry became jealous of each others’ houses. They saw all the good things in their neighbors’ houses, and they noticed all the bad things in their own. I’ve thought a lot about that episode during this process. One of the neighbors (it’s been years, and I don’t remember how it all happened) agreed to switch houses with another, and that caused a cascade of house swapping (or maybe they bought & sold, but I kind of think it was more casual than that). But once they got into their new house, they realized that the new house was bad in a different way than the old one, and they missed their old houses. Eventually, they all went back to their original houses. I guess it was a realtor’s nightmare.
Maybe part of what I like about having a house is being able to get away from it, but to still come back to it. I both like to complain about the repairs we need (there’s nothing so satisfying as making a list), but also to rejoice with the most minute of improvements, that small relief that comes when the sink is no longer clogged or the once brown grass is now green again or the ugly mural someone painted on the wall is now just a blank wall because I painted over it. We can stand back and congratulate ourselves on making life just a little better in our little haven.
Years ago when we were founding Wheat & Tares in the wake of our departure from Mormon Matters, I was trying to articulate what I wanted our blog to be like. Some blogs were more about top notch content, posts that met academic standards of publication, that were footnoted and researched, but that didn’t necessarily drive conversation beyond “attaboy” comments of agreement and admiration and some shares on social media. Those types of blogs are great, and their authors are highly talented. I enjoy reading them. I even occasionally enjoy writing something that’s shareable or quoted. But I was more interested in the idea that the comments could be the real content, that the post was the canvas that commenters could use to paint on. They could agree or disagree, but they would bring new ideas to the discussion beyond what the author suggested. I wanted a community of participation and for commenters to feel like they were creating valuable content, not just patting great authors on the back.
The Church can be like that too. It doesn’t always want to be, or rather, many leaders and members would prefer it to be the source of answers rather than questions and discussion, a resource rather than a community, but to me, and perhaps to people like me, its value is in the experience of participation. When participation is squelched or viewed with suspicion, as is sometimes the case, being in the Church has very limited value to me. I can sit back and read excellent content from a whole lot better sources than the Church’s website or your average Church lesson. There’s a world of wisdom available to me on my phone, just a few clicks away. If the Church is trying to compete with that, it’s not doing a great job at it. But it doesn’t really have to compete with that because I can have both.
For those who say that you should either love the Church as it is or leave it, I say “Get off my lawn!” This is what home is to me. The dripping faucet, and best of all, the lack of dripping after years of complaining, and that feeling that suddenly we made things better. That’s what life is like as a progressive I suppose, and I know that there are many who hate progressives. It’s not just true in the Church, but also in the country (all countries, but particularly in our current political binary in the US). People who love things as they are don’t like others mucking them up. They would prefer the status quo, not another person’s preferred change. Not all changes are fixing a leaky faucet, a thing we all find irritating. As I often quote Kissinger saying, “Every solution is a ticket to a new problem.”
- Do you think the Church is like a house in need of repair? Is it better to be homeless or do you like to make lists of repairs and work on improvements?
- Do you see the Church as a place to discuss questions or to find answers? Would you prefer it be different than it is?
- Did being away from Church make you long for the community or make you realize you didn’t miss it at all? Why do you think that is?
- Are you a person with wanderlust or who wants to settle down with deep roots? Or both, like me?
 I suspect this is going to be much worse in the new home, but I’m ready for battle.
I think there are parts of the church that are strong and good. There are some parts that need a good paintjob, but instead are just whitewashed (I couldn’t resist the pun).
I used to find the church was the place with the answers, until I found it really wasn’t answering the questions I had come to have. Then I realized how it seemed to be the same lessons every 4 years and it no longer appealed to me.
The time away from church this last year to me felt GREAT and I am having a really hard time even going now for 45 minutes. I guess that is proof that I am more of an introvert than I thought I was. I do talk with coworkers sometimes for more than 8 hours a day and maybe that fills most of the socialization that I need. But I sure would like to go have a meal at a restaurant with some friends or even make some new friends over a few dinners.
I am certainly more of a “roots” person, but I do like to travel a bit. Years ago I had to travel for work and was gone about a week per month. I did that for over a year and I was getting really tired of it.
Good luck in your new house and I hope you don’t find as many scorpions!
Thank you, Hawkgrrrl, for a beautiful, moving essay. As to your statements and questions:
1. So-called “conservatives,” both in our church and our larger culture, often DO hate progressives. I think that progressives do not hate in the way that conservatives do, but they often are quite contemptuous as they react to conservatives. I am not advocating a both-sidesism that says both sides are equally at fault. The greater fault, IMO, now lies with conservatives; that is why (wince) I am voting for Biden, the first time in my long, disreputable life that I am choosing the Democrat. But contempt does play a share in inciting the other side’s hatred. So we have to try for Christ-like love toward the (tongue-in-cheek, here) ****** that surround us.
2. Your observation that many Mormons do not like questions, only answers, is unfortunately dead-on. To which I reply, how do get the answers you crave, without the questions? Think Joseph Smith and his questions, for goodness’ sakes. I have had many people get angry with me in Church because of the questions I raise, and tell me that my questions threaten those with fragile testimonies. They are actually talking about themselves. I tell them that people like me cannot stay in the Church if we don’t deal with those questions.
I had to deliver the eulogy for my best Church friend several years ago, who died a painful death from leukemia after having been blessed by the SP, an outstanding man, that he would recover. I bluntly said in my remarks that Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, and Easter Bunny testimonies in the Church don’t survive life. If one wants to keep a testimony, one had darn well better be willing to confront the hard questions of life and about the Church.
It is okay to say that the answers available are not satisfactory.
3. I insist on raising questions in church, that many people don’t like. When they often complain, I tell them that this Church is as much mine as theirs.
I also quote DC 93 (glory of God is intelligence) and DC 88 (seek words of wisdom out of the best books). It is amazing how quoting those scriptures agitate so many people.
4. The Church IS a House in need of repairs, for goodness’ sake. It is comprised of sinners called by Christ to repentance. Even RMN, our President, knows that. I don’t always care for how he goes about making repairs (the whole POX fiasco, for example), but he has been doing a lot of fixing up—he has the personality of a surgeon.
Thanks again for a great post!
It’s been many years since I attended church, but my impression is that the church is in more need of repair than it has ever been. Why? To retain the metaphor, it isn’t leaky faucets and drafty windows that are the source of greatest concern. Rather, the foundation is cracked, crumbling and unstable, and the internet ensures that it is irreparable.
If the church had been an intellectually honest organization or at least willing to entertain criticism, I might still be in it. It is neither of those things, in my experience. Oh, I know that people in Boston or Berkeley or even the east bench of SLC can play with the idea of ‘progressive Mormonism,’ but I see no evidence that those types of ideas are gaining traction on North Temple. Like Trump (sorry) in tonight’s “debate,” the church is speaking to a defined group who already agrees and just wants confirmation. Also like Trump, the church’s problem is that retaining the devoted is not enough.
The problem, as I see it, is that you can’t promise some people eternal salvation if they’ll jump through a series of hoops and then concede that those other people over there shouting and waving signs have some legitimate complaints. You don’t get to convince most people “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that you are the great and terrible Oz and then pull back the curtain and expect them to stay for the rest of the show.
The church spent decades painting themselves into this corner. It will be interesting to see how they get out of it without tracking paint all over the place.
Yes, the Church is in need of repair, but I don’t feel like most of us have any real power to make repairs. Sure, at a local level we can toil and serve but I almost feel like that is more damage control (“how can I be the LGBT ally that our youth need since the Church is failing them so miserably”) than actual improving. So, good for anyone who wants to stay in the Church to try to repair it; I don’t have the energy for that anymore and am starting to feel like I should find other ways to serve my community outside of Church.
And I’d have to agree with @jaredsbrother that the issues are foundational and not peripheral. Indeed, many might conclude that the Church is an abusive home and certainly worth finding a new home that, yes, will have a different set of problems but they are problems worth trading for. (Like moving away from an asbestos or radiation problem … probably an upgrade!).
Stepping away from Church during Covid has not made me miss it. I don’t want to go back. I miss seeing people but am just as happy seeing them out and about around the neighborhood. I think a lot of people feel that way and it has to make one wonder about the value for most people.
Speaking of homes – Wheat and Tares has become a meaningful home for me. I don’t recall how I stumbled across W&T, but it was at the right time in my journey. I appreciate the thought and research that go into the OPs. I really love the comments.
You all are articulate, passionate, bring a variety of thought and experience, and make the comments section challenging, thought-provoking, and delightful. Commentors on most blogs are a bunch of animals – just saying.
Thank you all – the most important part of a home are the people in it.
We are very proud of our home, having developed the block of land, then designed the house, drawn the plans, and built it with our own hands from unconventional materials. The walls are eco-blocks, the roof of the back half is concrete with a layer of foam insulation, and the front half is 300mm thick cool-room panel. There is no wood in the building which is super insulated, We have solar hot water, and solar PV. Most electricity bills are credits. We have a lot of ourselves invested in our home, and it returns a lot of joy.
We have a lot invested in the church too, but the investment is not paying off. We are told we have Prophets to answer the problems of our day. I see no answers to morality, racism, the virus, climate change, or poverty. I do see discrimination, against women and gays. Last conference we had a fast to stop the virus (when the deaths in US were 20,000) but most members refused to wear masks, or otherwise follow the science, so now we have 200,000 unnecessary deaths, and still conservative members believe Trump over science.
We have been to church twice, less than 10% wore masks, and we had singing. Not sure why we bothered to get there at 8am. Our State government follows the science, and although they are testing 8000 a day we have not had a positive for over 2 weeks, so safe, and life has returned to normal except for overseas travel, and limited gatherings, which are just relaxing.
We love travel and have Scandinavia, and Japan left on our list. We have been round North America, and Australia, and Europe, and UK, by car twice. Australia is more of an adventure (if you choose it) We have a great grandchild on the other side of the country, 4000k away (google says 48 hours direct). Last time we visited them we went via the Nullaboar plains and came back by the Outback way to Uluru, which involved 1200k of dirt road through aboriginal land. It is recomended you have a well maintained 4WD, with extra wheels, and carry water. We went in a Jaguar XF deisel, and had no problems. Uluru is incredibly spiritual, (aboriginal sacred site) largest monolith in world, in the middle of desert. I have been converting my Mercedes S to a 4WD and plug in hybrid, which should be very economical, and more capable off paved road. We want to go to the top of cape york, the back to visit great grand children next year.
I have a big time wanderlust. I’ve been to 30+ countries. I’ve lost count. To me, knowledge is not certain. Questions are incredibly important. There is great enjoyment in discovery, which can only come through questions. That said, at some point, on a number of issues, we must draw conclusions and have answers. To ceaselessly question is conspiracism and paranoia.
Taiwan, great comment.
I don’t see how we can grow as a church if we don’t allow ourselves some leeway to be wrong. Our insistence that the church is true (what happened to true and living?) and our constant drum beat about our “beloved prophet” put us in a corner. Then we compound that by allowing the rumor to persist that the 12 have this nonstop communication with God to present his will all the time, especially at conference (read Journal of Discourses and that will snap you out of that mindset really quickly).
I believe in the institution and the ordinances but I also allow room for Joseph through Russell to be wrong and still be good people trying to do God’s will since they’re human and bound to make mistakes. Peter and Paul fought. That means that at least someone was wrong. If that’s ok, why can’t we be wrong every once in a while?
I think Hugh Nibley’s thoughts about the church in a letter he wrote to Sterling Mc Murrin is interesting and fits well into hawkgrrrl ‘s post:
Letter to Sterling McMurrin:
I find for one thing that there are some things that I simply cannot take seriously, and other things which I must take seriously even at the risk of giving offense to my more rational colleagues. It is surprising how many people have thought me to be merely spoofing–just having a little fun, like Joseph Smith when he got up the Book of Mormon. I wonder if they realize what a price one must pay for that kind of fun? I say to hell with careers and the things of the world; but if I thought there was the remotest possibility that this was my only life and my only world I would most assuredly NOT say it, and I would not throw away invitations to serious accomplishment for the sake of a monotonous series of pranks…I am stuck with the gospel, I know perfectly well that it is true; there may be things about the Church that I find perfectly appalling–but that has nothing to do with it. I KNOW THE GOSPEL IS TRUE.
Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life, Page 159
I tend to be more of a solitary disposition, so I welcomed being able to worship as a family. We had some of our most inspirng and spiritfilled worship services during that time.
If the church needs fixing, I definitely do not feel it needs to be doctrinally. I have personnaly been able to fiind meaning and answers as I’ve pondered and researched the scriptures. It did come to the price of detaching myself from the commonalities we hear way too often (you know the snipped-out decontextualised fridge magnet answers and quote we keep hearing).
I’ve figured that Plato’s allegory of the cave applies pretty well here. For Plato, he had to change his point of view to see who gave him “truth” in order to climb outside the cave and slowly discover the “true world”, and once he found it, he was rejected by those who stayed in the cave.
my guess is that most problems that need fixing in the church are not exclusive to it. The same zealous proselyters can be find on both sides of the barrier. I think that fixing the church means in part that we need to be better at seeing the best in each other, abandoning idelogical groupthink and resorting to truisms. If we are honest enough in our values and confident enough in our faith that we don’t feel threatened whenever a question is brought up or somebody has a different point of view, I think we can see true growth in the church (in maturity, spirituality and so forth).
A french poet once said “Glad is he, who like Odysseus journeyed well (…) and filled with wisdom and traditions, lived between his kind, the remainder of his days” (Joachim du Bellay, “Heureux qui comme Ulysses…”). To me, he said it best.
I look at the Church as a house under construction, as the Restoration is unfolding. Sometimes we build a part, and then realize it will not work and tear it out. Sometimes we make mistakes. But for me, it is a work in progress, sometimes quite beautiful and novel, and sometimes there are errors in the construction that need to be fixed. I think that if the foundation is the simple, core principles (like faith in Jesus Christ), the house will eventually be what it should be, a shelter and a gathering place. I am able to find that right now, but I understand how that is not the case with everyone.
I have been reading this blog nearly daily from Mormon Matters days, and I am so grateful to all those who take time to blog, and to comment. I feel like we are in a nice warm room in the “house” (my Church is a VERY big tent, and there for everybody and anybody), before a fire, drinking tea and have a warm friendly conversation (quite different from the debate last night!).
Faith over Fear: Let me offer a different perspective in response to your message.
It is true that the simple foundation of the Church is based on principles of the Gospel like faith in Jesus Christ. But what I have discovered is that once you start to doubt the historical and truth narratives of the COJCOLDS, you begin to go down a road in which you discover that you don’t need the COJCOLDS to be between you and the Savior. In other words, your testimony of Him is strong but your comfort level with the COJCOLDS is weak so you distance from the latter while trying to hang on to the former. So yes, the foundation is strong (Christ) but the rest of the house gets blown away. So the foundation you are talking about isn’t really the foundation of the Church, it’s the foundation of your testimony and you might not need the Church (the bricks, wood, glass, etc.) to hang on. In fact, you can build a new house on that foundation and the new house is your personal revelation and a relationship with Christ, as opposed to organizational membership-based testimony.
Of course, some people who lose a testimony of the “true Church” also lose a testimony of Christ because, after all, what they learned about Christ they learned at church in the fist place. Thus, if the Church is based on lies then maybe Christ isn’t “true” either. I haven’t seen this much. Most people I know who have left the Church still maintain a testimony of Christ, although they are somewhat confused about what exactly to believe since their knowledge came from the COJCOLDS in the first place.
To extend the analogy a little, the church may be a house in need of repair, but the members at all levels except the highest echelons of leadership are like teenagers who are forced to live in a house in disrepair because their parents (the GAs) refuse to admit repairs are needed. For some (our LGBT members especially) the house may be a dangerous place to live; leaving may be the safer option.
Thanks for the kind comment. Agree with you that at some point we have to draw conclusions and accept answers on some issues, that to ceaselessly question invites cynicism and paranoia. I would add: also paralysis. At some point, we have to go forward. The best secular example of this that immediately comes to mind, in my opinion, is when Obama was President and he was bluntly told that the proposed operation against Bin Laden had no more than a 50 percent chance of success. He went ahead, with a reasonable chance of success, and it worked. He had to accept the uncertainty.
Now for the important question: Hawkgrrl, why do you have cats? Could this be part of your problem?
Honestly, I like every ward I have been in. Not that I formed deep and lasting friendships with any ward members, but they were good people and I have always enjoyed the fellowship. My kids had good youth leaders and good youth experiences. I have also lived overseas in various countries on several occasions. Good experiences overseas.
Strangely, in light of that history, I haven’t really missed church since its suspension. Great when it’s there, don’t miss it when it is gone? That doesn’t quite make sense, I suppose, but there you go. Lack of church will certainly, I think, push some people to re-evaluate why they go and what they get out of it.
The Church’s health is certainly a matter of perspective; kinda like asking if cilantro tastes good or not (for the life of me I cannot understand how people like eating something that tastes like a bar of soap). The reality is cilantro is neither good nor bad, it simply is. Same for the Church. I don’t think it’s either in good or bad shape, it simply is. It’s the individual’s perspective based on their beliefs and opinions that cause them to conclude one way or the other.
My wife and I remain active even though there are things we simply don’t agree with or even believe; we speak up and push against the norm. But as the OP has stated, you need a place to call home. And even though we may be considered “fringe”, we both are given callings and feel loved by our ward family.
I would not want to try and “fix” that.
@Mark O- Not sure if you’ve seen this but it’s a talking point at every meal at my in-laws when Cilantro is brought up because my sister in law has the same complaint.
Some people are genetically wired so that it tastes like soap.
Oh, wow, is the cilantro comparison interesting. Might science prove in the future that some of us are not genetically wired for organized religion and vice versa?
Hi JB, I’d say yes since they can track how religion affects our brain. So if the neural pathways are lit up because of religion then those would have neural pathways that are damaged or just plain work differently will not experience religion and cause them to find no value in it.
I just reread and noticed that the comment was regarding ORGANIZED religion and not just religion in general so I’m not sure if my prior comment was to the point but I can see you can extrapolate a similar conclusion from the findings and research.
The “soapy” flavor of cilantro (I’m afflicted too) is concentrated in the stems. If you judiciously pick the leaves off and discard the stems you can enjoy the flavor of the herb.
As for wanderlust, put me in the happy at home camp, however, my husband’s career requires some assignments from distant locations. On those occasions we make a home for 6-8 months at a time wherever he’s required.
I must say that actually living in a foreign culture is a very cool experience. You have no choice but to adopt other ways of doing things. Other approaches to and philosophies about life. It’s most refreshing to test your assumptions and even to discard long held and even treasured ones that don’t hold up by comparison. I feel as though I’m a better person for the experiences and I am better able to remove my emotional reactions to things and consider them from a broader perspective. I’m extremely grateful for that.
@Mark Olmstead I think that’s mostly true, but it’s an attitude that can be harmful and dismissive taken to extremes.
I remember being in a (friendly) conversation with a white, male, heterosexual, wealthy, married, etc. LDS friend and while he acknowledged some issues around women and the priesthood and LGBT members he just kept saying, “But it’s working for me!” And that’s fine. But just because the Church “works for me” doesn’t mean there aren’t some things that need fixing.
I don’t think you were suggesting that – I just don’t think the cilantro example is totally on point here. If you like cilantro, but you know a lot of people don’t, and in fact maybe not only does it taste like soap to people but it’s actually poisonous to them, and the Church is making everyone eat cilantro … just because it works for you doesn’t mean it’s right for the Church to make everybody eat cilantro.
And now we’re taking that metaphor very, very far ;-).
I enjoy wandering, anytime and anyplace (almost). My “ward” includes Buddhist, Anglicans, Catholics, Mormons, Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Evangelicals, Protestants, and humanists. With the Internet and easy/inexpensive travel, I can meet and discuss from anywhere. I don’t need SM for social and organizational reasons. I don’t need that social prop. In fact, for my wife, it’s had a negative impact. I love to travel; I love to see my global friends; while I’m not much of tourist, it is on occasionally informative and fun to check out the local history, culture, and environment. And it’s important for my grandchildren to understand that Utah County is not the only reality. We spend most of our time traveling in developing countries.
As for the Church, I believe it needs foundational changes. Basically, it needs to move past the trappings of Christianity to Christ’s actual message. For me the message is rebellion against the status quo; it is help for the less fortunate. Temple work (work for the dead) is not an important message from the NT. But helping the poor and those in trouble is. Certainly assisting those in need is also stressed in the BoM.
The Church has vast resources (in the hundreds of billions of dollars), yet it’s assistance to the poor has been minimal during this difficult year. The leadership brags about important, but relatively minor, humanitarian work. And much of what has been done has been initiated at the local level. As a global organization, the Church needs to take the lead on and start living the teachings of the NT and BoM.
Relating to falling down house. There are a couple of pubs built on a similar style I could not get the pictire to transfer
I know this isn’t the main thrust of the post, but I really like your explanation of what you were hoping to accomplish when starting W&T. I feel like you and the other bloggers have done an excellent job of fulfilling this vision. Well done!
I needed this today, Hawkgirl! Thank you!