A Small Catalyst

Too long ago, I sat in the back of a 7th grade science classroom while my teacher droned on through the hot September air something like, “blah blah something and oxygen and the blah this and that catalyst into the solution blah blah reducing the something something something reaction….etc.”  I was barely paying attention and was wishing I were somewhere cooler and more interesting and then suddenly realizing, “Should I be taking notes?”  So I wrote, “Catalysts” at the top of my notebook page and continued staring in the direction of the front of the room in a state of complete non-attention.

Suddenly, he moved to another part of the desk where a large flask sat on a tray and he’s pouring something into the liquid that’s already inside and, with a frothing-whooshing sound, foam erupted from the top and nearly hit the ceiling.  The spectacular jet that settled into a massive pile of foam around the formerly visible flask had the desired effect on the classroom.  In one instant, the classroom was no longer a hot, muggy prison of boredom.  It was a room full of locked eyes that were all just inches in front of a mass of 13 year old brains that are silently screaming, “What the hell just happened!?”

His recap, very likely,  consists of the same thing he was lecturing about before.  Except now, we were an audience wrapped up in his every word.  Stuff like, ‘the solution in the flask had a lot of oxygen and it gives the oxygen molecules off slowly, but with the catalyst that was poured in, the solution gives off all its oxygen at once…captured in bubbles of dish soap’….  Whether my teacher had realized it or not, he had just produced a catalyzing event via a catalyzing event.

I was open to learn the concepts in spite of my discomfort and boredom.  I learned, and have always remembered, that a catalyst lowers the energy required for a reaction to take place and therefore speeds them up.  And that’s a really good thing as it turns out.  Almost every action in every system in our body depends on catalysts and enzymes to keep things working right.  No reactions happening in our body is death.

Now, forty-something, I experience a catalyzing event that brings everything I’ve ever read in mormon literature (the good along with the bizarre and contradictory) frothing and surging to my cortex in a sudden instant with the question, “Can a prophet lie?”

I suppose my former self and a few apologetics would still try to dance around the head of that pin.  Well, the prophet isn’t perfect; no one is.  Every human makes mistakes.  Only God is perfect.  That’s why we have modern-day prophets…they can fix human error, but the doctrine is perfect.

Yet, there is that doctrine that “the prophet will never lead the church astray”, right?

I think somehow, mormons think that there should be some allowance for error when it comes to the leaders of the church.  However, there is a crystal-clear divide between a prophet stating either of the two following statements:

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot.”  (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 10, p. 110)

and

“No officer, I had no idea how fast I was going”  (no known reference)

One is clearly a mandating of the ‘perfect’ will of God and the other is a mark of human error.  For now, I’ll let the reader sort out which is which.

So the question isn’t really whether Brigham was speaking as a man or as a prophet about the “African race” – and by the way, there’s a whole lot more where that quote came from.  The question is whether Brigham was leading the church astray when he said it or whether the current leadership is leading the church astray when they attempt to negate or cover it with words like “theories of the past” or explain it away as a product of the time in which he lived.

So can a prophet lie?  NO.  He can make a mistake, but if he preaches that mistake to the church, he is intentionally propagating a crap-shoot opinion to the millions that may blindly follow while knowing full well that God didn’t say it.  By definition, he would no longer be a prophet any more than some random racist is a prophet.  To spout off lies and opinions like this would be to negate the entire foundation of the church….that ‘God is real and that he speaks his will to the living prophet and the living prophet communicates that to the church.’

God, in his infinite wisdom, would not put that trust in one so prone to error.  The moment such an utterance spewed out to the congregation, God would have put in motion the gears of change that would put a less volatile and more compliant prophet in place.  How good would a “restoration of the truth” be if it was riddled with false opinions preached as God’s word?

In my late teens, I read many books to prepare to go on a mission.  My dad’s bookshelf had an impressive looking series called Journal of Discourses.  I read them all and found them to be an interesting mix of dynamic preaching, dry filler, and what-the-heck.  I remember jumping over the filler and ignoring the WTH and focusing on doctrinal snippets like I was studying for a future verbal test in which I had to know the answer to every question I might be asked.  Later in life, I would discover throughout my teaching of hundreds of priesthood and sunday school lessons that most mormons have never actually read much of what has been written beyond the Book of Mormon itself – and even then barely.  For the leadership of the church, perhaps that’s a good thing and perhaps there’s a good reason why they don’t want the general membership reading the discourses of Brigham Young.  It would lead to conflicts between the membership like the one illustrated in the reviews on the Deseret Book website:

https://deseretbook.com/p/journal-discourses-millennium-edition-temple-hill-books-83237?variant_id=13915-paperbackJournal of Discourses snip from Deseret Book page reviews

No cherry-picking required.  You could make an entire book summarizing the non-faith-promoting doctrine contained within just these several volumes.

In case you don’t have $450 to buy it, you can find it here for free.

http://jod.mrm.org/

So, having read it for myself, I have to ask myself that if that doctrine were preached over the pulpit today, would I “follow the prophet”?  Conversely, I also have to ask if I were a member of the church when Brigham was a “living prophet”, if I would be justified following him then.

I am the fortune of my past, but, as yet, a mere farthing of my future.  The catalyst can be something as simple as asking the right question.

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The First Sound I Ever Made

I have wondered sometimes about what we could find out about ourselves if we could remember our lives from the very beginning.  Not just as an infant, but the very, very beginning… Cramped and swimming in nothing but our prenatal ignorance.

Pop!  Our eyes open and we realize with our sudden and jolting birth that the world we knew was darkness and everything new comes in with blinding light and cradling hands and voices, once muffled and distant, now sharp and deafeningly clear.  Our cry is the panic of sudden change and the disappearance of the swaddling embrace of our previous definition of the universe.  The cry of our first pang of hunger as our life blood is quickly and efficiently separated from everything we thought we were.  The cry of surprise as the rug is pulled out from under us.

There was no camera recording my fall into the world.  Much of it, I’m sure, was like the many others that happen every day.  However, mine was the kind that every parent dreads.  Silent.  Nothingness.  Only the rush of hands and voices of the doctors and nurses and the cries of my mother filled that room.  Sounds that raised to panic as the frantic hands surrounded me to help me the rest of the way onto a new and frightening stage.

I was blue.  Bluish purple like death – my clenched eyes and shaking fists the only sign of life – my blood and brain and lungs screaming for air.  I somehow had not needed it before, but now, in this new place, air equaled life.  I had none.

So I’m rushed off and, airway cleared, the well-trained and equipped staff (at that time in history anyway) give me stored air from a mask and machine which, fortunately for me, has been prepared long before I was born for just such an occasion… Lucky me.  Slowly, I’m not blue anymore.  Little by little, I get my breath and, for the smallest fraction of a second, I find peace.  That moment when I finally have a pause between breaths that isn’t filled with a desperation for the next one.  A moment of infantile clarity.

And as soon as it was there, it was gone.  My brain, finally out of its previous distraction moved on to its next desperate need.  I was starving.

I cried.  My lungs echoed through those great greenish tiled halls of the hospital.  Perhaps I felt that since those around me had solved my previous problem, they could get moving on my current demand.  I was returned to my mother.  Problem solved.  But, it would not be the last time I would cry.

I cried when I fell off the fence and gashed open the back of my head.  I wheezed for breath looking at the sky through tears when I fell out of a tree flat onto my back.  I cried the morning after a childhood friend moved out of state.  I cried in terror every time my brothers rigged some new idea for terrifying me.  I have cried the hiccupping sobs of a child being beaten with a dowel. Tears have followed breakups, sad movies (Where the Red Fern Grows, I’m looking at you…), leaving home, betrayal, divorce, and the deaths of loved ones.  I never knew it at the time, but my tears, and perhaps all of ours, are the outpouring of, “I’ve been moved from the status quo to a state of extreme and horrible discomfort.  Please help me.”

I cried silently one night at the close of a day filled with realization and epiphany as forty years of mormonism fell like a dark, blinding shroud from around me to the floor.  I had no sound I could make to give expression to the complexity of my grief.  No air for the vacuum welling in my soul and I felt as though I were falling out of myself onto the floor.  It was as though I had never made a sound in this world and had no idea how to make one.  There were no hospital staff with anxious hands to assist me.  There were no machines prepared in advance for just such a contingency.  No language to describe this new thing that pierced me.  I had been breathing lies… and when the truth came, my lungs failed me.  In my arrogance, I had refused to breathe.

Slowly, I am finding my voice.  I finally found and rejoiced in that pause between breaths that requires no desperation.  I have found reflection and insight.  I realized just how long the contradictions had been piling up in the neglected recesses of my mind until that moment finally arrived that I refused to ignore and apologize for it anymore.  I shoved it out of me in a chaotic heap and I left it for the liars and the apologetics to dance on.

The recovery from this has been a few years in the making.  I am forever thankful to my loving wife and a very dear friend who have helped me along the way to recovery.  They each have had their own path through this.  The common thread is just knowing that a commitment to the truth means refusing to stand for something that is false.  Building on a lie creates more lies and covering those lies creates even more.  The mormon church has an interesting challenge ahead of it and its not the one that they thought it would be.  They didn’t realize their biggest opponent was going to be the truth.

My mind is starving.  I owe a debt to those who for years now have been posting and publishing the facts in online forums where I could find them and slowly begin to piece together the bizarre tapestry of doctrines I had read in Journal of Discourses, Mormon Doctrine, Lectures on Faith, and others.  From them, I have discovered that I am not alone nor am I in the company of evil-doers and apostates.  The blogs, videos, and websites that I have found are full of sincere former mormons all trying to find their voice.  What I thought before were angry apostates, I’ve realized are really just like the person that runs up to you to knock the cup out of your hand because they saw someone put poison in it.  Rude of them, right?

I speak now to silence.  For now, this is to bring clarity to me and that, on its own, feels complete somehow.  Seeing the words come out of me feels like I am finally breathing.  I hope it is helpful.  Truth sometimes is painful before it is helpful.

This is my first sound.