If you are somewhat new to engaging with Wheat and Tares, you might be wondering who this new blogger is, but I was an active blogger in the past.  Over the last few years I just can’t say I have had something I felt work writing about.  Like many others during a faith transition, I had several years of really intense dive into many of the topics covered on Wheat and Tares.  Many (most) of my posts were very therapeutic for me and very much helped me work through issues.  I appreciate the Wheat and Tares group allowing me to participate.

In case it helps to know where I have landed about 10 years since I started questioning some of my beliefs, I think I kind of fit in the role of what is usually referred to as “PIMO” or physically in, mentally out.  But even within the realm of PIMO there can be quite a spectrum of how IN one can be and how OUT one is.   Maybe I need to trademark, “There is more than one way to PIMO.” 

I am not all that “in”, but I do go to Sacrament Meeting and Gospel Doctrine as my wife appreciates not being there alone.  She has graciously offered that I don’t have to go, but I told her I will let her know if I find it hard to attend.  I asked not to have a calling.  I have told the bishop that I no longer pay tithing to the church, but instead give to other organizations.  I have known my bishop for 25 years and worked close with him over the years.  To put it a bit self-serving, but he has seem me really sacrifice for some of the callings I have had and he respects that.  He has read the book, “Bridges” by David Ostler after I suggested it to him.  He said he liked it.  When I handed over my recommend to him, he just asked, “How can I help you and  your family?”  Yep, I have not won the lottery (because I have taken too many stats classes and never buy any lotto tickets), but I did win big on the leadership lottery.  We still can have discussions, but of course he isn’t interested in diving into each of my questions.  I think I am still a bit “in” because of my wife’s desire to continue to be a fully active member.  Otherwise I think I probably wouldn’t be attending.

And I am widely advertising the “mentally out” to ward members.  With some that I have shared I have passed on one of the several copies of the book “Bridges” that I own.  So far that has gone well.  I think that book is great for LDS members, especially leaders, to better understand those that leave and how to respond to them.  I feel it has been one of the most useful and important books in this area as it is written by what seems to be a very loving and highly credentialed LDS member (as in a former stake president and former mission president – and fully believing).

And just the last few days I think I have found a book that is impactful as “Bridges”, but focused on another audience.  The book is “Living on the Inside of the Edge: A Survival Guide” by Christian Kimball.  It seems in no way pushing the reader to stay in the church or leave the church as it isn’t about the validity or non-validity of truth claims or positions/teachings of the church being correct or incorrect.  It is focused on helping those that are not all “in” the church, nor those that completely distance themselves from the church.  It is for those that for whatever reason are not fully believing, but still are participating in some way with the church either due to an internal desire to stay somewhat connected to the church or being in a situation requiring it, such as a professional in Utah were not being seen as a member can impact your livelihood. 

Being a bit of a space enthusiast, it seems to me the book is not for those who’s feet are firmly planted on planet Mormon or those that are far away, but those that are a satellite being pulled by the gravity of planet Mormon and also centripetal forces counteracting that and pulling away from that planet.  And just like satellite’s circling the eartht, many people in this space are occasionally jostled into a different course by individual issues and large meteors coming close to the earth.  The 2015 policy of exclusion dealing with how the church changed polices when the US legalized gay marriage nudged some to be more distant from the church and I could see a spouse doubling down with “you have to believe or I am leaving” could be a situation that pulls one in the opposite direction.

For those on the inside of the edge, the book does not make any value judgements on what particular orbit you might have, but is focused exclusively on giving advice on how to live with the tensons and defines a few potential paths one might follow.  And on some paths it wars they are uphill battles.  He does touch on some of the main reasons people stay and acknowledges these as viable paths, but does warn that some can lead to burnout and instead suggests focusing on changing your ward might have more success than attempting to change the whole church.  But even then he warns that something like a new bishop or stake president can undo all of one’s work.

And if I can go off in a small tangent here, I would like to focus on those that stay to make change.  I recently read a book called, “Do I stay Christian?” by Brian McLaren.  This is a good book that gives reasons to stay and reasons to leave Christianity.  It is surprising how much it maps to Mormonism.  But McLaren also mentions the path of staying a Christian to help improve the church from within.  He comments how many that leave Christianity fall into a “cult of innocence” where they leave and feel that them leaving they move into being fully virtuous for no longer being one of the “bad guys” as a member.  But they have not done anything to help the situation and those around them.  I found that quite interesting.

But back to Christian Kimball’s book.  I think the main thing that I got from the book was the reader pushing for those inside the edge to “grow up” a bit and deal with the church not as a parent/child relationship, but more of somewhat equals.  He strongly and repeatedly pushed for someone to be differentiated in their relationship with the church.  The author mentions that he knows that adamant “ex-mo’s” are probably going to put his book down quickly as he doesn’t push to confront the church on it’s “wrongs”, but he focuses on how individuals inside the edge can better live in this space by being an equal level with bishops and other leaders.  These leaders are a human and you are a human – yeo equals.  You don’t have to bow down and grovel to a bishop because you no longer believe, but neither should you disrespect or attack leaders just because they are part of the church.  I absolutely agree with this advice.  It can take years for someone to be able to like the author does and tell the bishops, “I don’t sit ‘interviews’, but if you want to chat sometime that would be great.”

There are several times when the author describes a situation in a technical way and I fully expected for more specific examples or scenarios to be given.  But I sense that Kimball doesn’t want to do that and I am OK, but I do wonder if some others might be able to make the suggestions more applicable with a few more examples.

Kimball gives quite a few descriptions of how the church works that to me are spot on.  Someone growing up in the church one might subconsciously know these, but calling them out is helpful for someone contemplating staying inside the edge.  One that he really describes well that most anybody (including believers) would recognize as the of the role of the stake president.  I agree with Kimball that the buck stops there and you as an individual have very little recourse if you are at odds with your stake president.  You can be someone that wants to keep a temple recommend or if you are OK not having a recommend, but he suggests you manage that relationship well.  Because if the stake president feels you have crossed a line or are not towing the line such as having a certain declared belief, things can go sideways for you – and there are not many avenues for challenging a stake president. 

The book is well organized and the first few chapters are generally what you would expect from the titles: Working with Yourself, Working with the Institution, and Working with the Culture.  These are chalked full of wise words on how to navigate inside the edge.

Kimball calls out several times that he has privileges that others don’t.  He is a professionally successful white male with a grandfather that was a president of the church.  He acknowledges that others will have different challenges on the inside of the edge and gathers several essays from others for perspectives from women, singles, LGBTQ+, Black members, and then several dealing with families.

I was listening to this book* and didn’t catch who was giving the woman’s perspective.  It really hit me that as much work as I have done trying to better understand how women must feel, the essay really impacted me.  Then I went back to the book and realized it was given by Susan Meredith Hinkley.  I was a little less surprised as I LOVE listening to her and Cynthia Winward on their “At Last She Said It” podcast.

I was also touched by the last essay by Kajsa Berlin-Kaufusi as she talked about her “all in” father and how they got to a place where they can respect and love each other without having to believe and feel the same on every item.  A model for “differentiation” from both of them.

So if you feel you are in the position of not fully in nor fully out of the church, there isn’t a better book to help navigate being a satellite on the inside of the edge of planet Mormon. It is no wonder that it has achieved the rank of Amazon’s “#1 Best Seller in Mormonism” category!  It is a testament to both how good the book is AND just how many people there are “inside the edge”.  Kudo’s to Christian Kimball on the wisdom he has learned over the decades and his willingness to share that via this book.

*This book is (currently) offered in Kindle or Paperback.  But if you buy a Kindle book (or borrow from a library) you can use Alexa to have it “read” the book to you.  I have tried the Alexa app on my iPhone and a Windows PC (both free to load).  There are a few times it trips up on some homographs, such as the word “live”.  In often verbalizes the incorrect word.  The difference being “live on stage” (verb with short ‘i’) “live your life” (adjective with a long “i” sound).  Even on the second case, it pronounces the verb form.  But I have found this very helpful as I can mow the lawn (not mentally taxing) and listen to a book.