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Appreciation of Truth


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Because the LDS church doesn't have a lot of activities for children under 12 outside of Primary, and because church in general is such a large part of the culture in the South, I spent a lot of time at other churches as a child.

Our home school group (I was homeschooled 1st-6th grades) would meet at a local church for activities. Girl Scout Camp was held in the basement of a church on the University of Alabama campus. I played softball for the local Methodist church for five years, and sang in their Childrens Choir for three -- I was even given the lead in their musical production in the 6th grade.

I distinctly remember spending lots of time in the various basements, gymnasia, and choir rooms of these sorts of churches, but I didn't often venture into the Sanctuary or the Chapel (depending on which church) because those were mostly used by adults and on Sundays and I didn't really have any reason to be there.

But I do remember being fascinated by them. I remember sneaking up some musty stairs, in the dark, scared to turn on the lights for fear of being discovered, so I could peek into the chapel and see what theirs looked like. And I remember a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I did.

I interpreted that funny feeling as the Holy Ghost telling me that their religions were wrong. I even gave a talk on it once, when I was ten or so: "I know that our church is true because when I go into other churches, I get a funny feeling like I know I shouldn't be there."

Looking back on those reactions, it's no wonder that I was honestly and absolutely surprised the first time I felt the Spirit in a building that housed another religion, or at another religious meeting, or even standing in the chorus room of our music building on campus and singing Mozart. And when I knew with an adult's knowledge -- not a child's assumption about funny feelings -- that I was was feeling that Spirit.

Should I have been surprised? Now, I don't think so. Knowing that most religions have their snippets (or large chunks) of truth, even if not the whole of it, it shouldn't be surprising that the Spirit would manifest itself and proclaim the truth of those bits. And now I really enjoy attending other meetings and investigating other creeds.

I know my surprise probably has its roots in the idea that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the gospel of Christ restored in its fullness -- something I generally believe, of course -- but I don't think this principle precludes the Spirit from speaking to us when the truth manifests itself in other places.

But I have to wonder -- as with many things -- if that's something that surprises many in the Mormon community. If I had converted, instead of being raised in such an orthodox household (at least during those younger years), would I have felt that surprise? Is the appreciation for truth in other places something we need to foster more, or would that be dangerous to testimony?


10 Responses to “Appreciation of Truth”

  1. Anonymous Susan M 

    It's something we need to foster more.

    I'm a convert and it's no surprise to me to hear that people feel the Spirit in other churches. If anything I'm surprised that anyone would doubt it.

  2. Blogger D-Train 

    I definitely agree with Susan on this one, but doing that would really drag down the cultural monopoly that the Church wants (for better or for worse). The Church wants people involved in the community, but not too much, especially in the religious realm.

    I think about this in light of the stuff that the Church offers for people to do. At our singles ward, for example, there's FHE on Monday, institute classes on Tuesday/Wednesday night (as well as during the day), IMA/IWA on Thursday, often an activity on Friday, sometimes stuff on Saturday, and church on Sunday. If you go to all that stuff, you don't have time for anything else. I think the First Presidency actually said something about this some time back.

    I don't think it would hurt testimonies to emphasize truth in general, but I doubt it would be that good for Church culture.

  3. Anonymous Christof Meyer 

    I am not a convert, having stumbled onto this blog by accident (not an accident?).

    I have a great deal of interest in all things Mormon and I often wonder why this is. When I poke my head into the local Mormon church I get a funny feeling in my stomach too... Although I tend to believe this is the Holy Spirit telling me "whoah be careful" perhaps it's more like, "whoah this is different" and doesn't have anything to do with God... Just a thought.

    Also, there are a lot of conversations going on right now in the church blog rings about testimonies... It seems to me like KISS testimonies that all sound the same short-change the individual work of God that seems to be His hallmark throughout the scriptures.

    Just some thoughts.

    Christof

  4. Blogger lchan 

    Very thoughtful post. We should absolutely appreciate truth and wherever we find it.

    When you said Knowing that most religions have their snippets (or large chunks) of truth, even if not the whole of it I think that's basically the church's take. Or, at least the one that I've gathered. I don't think we can expect the church to stress that way of thinking, though.

    To think of a testimony as being something that you have to preserve and protect at all costs is to avoid asking yourself real questions, I think. That said, I think it's important to view the questions that come up in the warm light of faith, not the cold shadow of doubt.

  5. Blogger D-Train 

    Christof,

    What do you mean by KISS testimonies? Surely not Gene Simmons? ;) And how do you think they short-change individual work?

    I agree that testimonies can sometimes become formulaic and not really authentic. But I do think that there are common principles that apply to all of us and that we learn in different ways.

  6. Blogger Arwyn 

    Christoff,

    I think that's what my feelings as a kid were, really -- something along the lines of "Ooh, this is different!" or "Ooh, this is neat!" I don't think it's a "Ooh, this is dangerous!" sort of thing, because I got the same feelings every time I walked into a bookstore or a library and--

    --well, okay, you could argue that bookstores and libraries are inherently dangerous, but that's a side issue entirely.

    D-train,

    I find it really interesting what you say about church culture. I know my interest in attending FHE, institute, and all those many activities has declined in recent years, but I don't know whether I'd attribute it to my interest in truths outside the realm of Mormon culture or pure laziness/a desire to spend my time in a way I deem more useful, like doing homework (ie, nerdiness).

    I get the impression, myself, that the culture would look more favorably on acknowledging truths than acting on them -- for example, if I found a lot of truth in Buddhist meditation, I feel it'd be acceptable to say "Well, they have some traces of truth there, and here's how I can tie it back to what we believe is true" than "Well, they have some traces of truth there, and I think I'll start practicing."

  7. Blogger Dave 

    FYI, Unofficial Manifesto was my new blog of the week over at The Bloggernacle Times.

  8. Blogger D-Train 

    Dave,

    Thanks for the lovin'! We all need love.....

    Arwyn,

    I think you're right on that. Using other things to communicate a view of truth is quite sensible. Plus, it makes for less boring lessons. And you can't beat that.

    I do think that there's this block with a lot of church members that extends to just dismissing everything that doesn't come straight from the Church as a source of truth. I think that's why the Church is so central in our social lives: the gospel's true, it's safe, it's clean, it's easy, why not? Why take the chance? And I think that for a lot of people, that's great.

  9. Anonymous christof meyer 

    d-train,

    I guess my thought on the whole KISS=bad (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a bit complex but I'll try to simplify. It's intuitive you know?

    I guess it just seems like if your testimony sounds SO simple that it is indistinguishable from the guys to your left AND right then who's to say you didn't just subconsciously copy their testimonies?

    Ok maybe that's a bit blunt, but there is another possibility too, that if God is genuinly doing something unique in your life and you don't share that with other people that you are holding back a certain kind of spiritual blessing from them, namely; that God IS alive and at work not just in somebody's life but in MINE. That kind of information shouldn't be kept bottled up under the banner of "keep is simple" it seems like it should be shared...

    Does that make sense?

  10. Blogger D-Train 

    Christof,

    Sorry I didn't recognize that. You're right on the money about formulaic testimonies. I can understand why that's a problem and can see that it is in my own life. The key to avoiding that is exactly what you mention --- acknowledging the Lord's hand in guiding you to where you are and where you want to be. That acknowledgment must be deeply personal and it will be unique.

    You might be interested in this talk from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-479-2,00.html

    This is my favorite talk that I've heard since I joined the Church and I'll quote from the middle section of the talk:

    "Later, the incomparable Ralph Waldo Emerson rocked the very foundations of New England ecclesiastical orthodoxy when he said to the Divinity School at Harvard: "It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater [for] new revelation than now." "The doctrine of inspiration is lost. . . . Miracles, prophecy, . . . the holy life, exist as ancient history [only]. . . . Men have come to speak of . . . revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. . . . It is the office of a true teacher," he warned, "to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake." In essence, Mr. Emerson was saying, "If you persist in handing out stones when people ask for bread, they will eventually stop coming to the bakery."

    When you bear your testimony, you serve as a teacher. When you teach, you've got to do the above: show that God lives now. The best and only way that you can do that is to speak from your experience of the Master's touch in your life.

    I know that my testimony of the Lord isn't perfect, but it can touch people because he's helped me in ways that lots of other people need. When you share how the Lord has met your needs, how he's provided you with spiritual manna, and how his nurturing hand has led you to a surety of truth, then you can bear your testimony of the simple things --- reinforced by a mature understanding of just how fortunate you are to be there.

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