I am writing this blog entry on the heels of a category 5 social media firestorm. And, as I sit at my desk and observe the flooded mess left on my Facebook wall, it is with a heavy heart that I must say goodbye to my friends on social media. I guess “Facebook suicide” is not the most accurate term to describe it. More like “Facebook bankruptcy.” But in any event, I have come to the realization that my alternative perspectives on Mormonism (namely my hopes that our Church may one day come to accept alternative interpretations of Mormon history, and place less emphasis on prophetic authority and more emphasis on Christian living) will only continue to incite controversy, and fail to persuade my friends. And before I leave, I hope to share some personal thoughts that I haven’t quite had the courage to share previously.

As far as I can remember, my spiritual awakening began at the impressionable age of 13.  I was among a large group of rowdy boys who made up the Willow Canyon First Ward Deacon’s Quorum.  Some of us managed to keep it together more than others, but as a group we were a serious wrecking crew.  The girls hated us and we loved it. And we went through sunday school teachers like Donald Trump goes through catchphrases. One leader only lasted two weeks before he lost it and lifted one member of our group by the neck and pinned him against the classroom wall.

You could imagine what scout camp was like. My dad was the Scoutmaster, and god bless him for it. I have yet to meet anyone who can match him in patience. His mild demeanor was endearing to all of us.  Even today my First Ward friends will comment on how much they admire and love my Dad. He would keep us in check without us even noticing it.  

There are many things I’ve forgotten about the summer camp of my 13th year, but one thing I haven’t forgotten is the Friday night fireside.  It was the only time I can ever recall where all of us sat reverently, quietly, on our own volition, huddled around a blazing fire.  Scoutmaster Dad invited us to share our testimonies (our personal conviction of the truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ).  Everyone shared and we were all a crying mess.

My most poignant memory of that evening came when my friend Nate shared his testimony. Nate wasn’t at last year’s fireside because his dad pulled him out of camp early to go see a college football game. (Nate and his dad will both deny the fact that it was a BYU game, as they have since converted to Ute-ism.)  I remember always worrying for Nate’s soul.  His family didn’t follow all of the conventions of Mormonism like the rest of us.  They drank Coke before it became generally accepted, his dad didn’t wear a tie to church, and Nate listened to alternative rock music. (It’s funny looking back how I saw all of these things as warning signs.)  The point is that I remember being disappointed that Nate had missed out on our first testimony meeting because I felt like he could have really benefited from it.

I was excited for Nate to be with me that night to experience the warm glow of the fire and the bonds of Mormon fellowship.  And it worked perfectly. I was even surprised to see Nate cry. He had never shown that side of himself before.  And when he finally shared his testimony, of course, I completely fell apart.  

But the thing is, Nate didn’t bear witness of the restored gospel. He didn’t say a word about Joseph Smith or Gordon B. Hinckley, or the Book of Mormon.  He talked almost exclusively about how much he loved Scoutmaster Jack, and us, his fellow scouts, and how glad he was to be there with us around that warm fire.  Even today, after 20 years, a marriage, and four children, experiencing that evening with Nate and Dad and all of my best friends was one of the most intimate human connections I have experienced in my entire life.

I continued onward in my Mormon life, and from that and other experiences, I recognized early on that we had something special.  Our ward felt and functioned like a family. We created cherished memories together on a regular basis – block parties, Pioneer Day fireworks, Christmas programs, Bishops Youth Firesides, and field days. We knew each other’s secrets, shoveled each other’s driveways, supported one another financially, raised each other’s children, and buried our dead.

The governing leadership of the church was a natural extension of my ward family as well.  We had a prophet and twelve apostles.  We would memorize their names and order of seniority in Primary. We would hear romantic stories about their childhood among their own ward families, and how their experiences shaped them into the great men they had become.  President Hinckley exhibited all of the characteristics of my own grandfather and local leaders. And I loved him that way. Hinckley was an important figure in my life for two decades, and I grieved when he passed away.

My treasured moments continued to pile up – going on a mission (the ultimate rite of passage), and dedicating every last ounce of effort to the Lord for two years.  More friendships, more human connections, more intimacy.  Then back home to BYU. More testimony meetings, more firesides, ward prayer nights. And then marriage and children, baby blessings, primary programs . . . more connections, more love, more “crying mess” moments, all within the Mormon framework, all 100% authentic.

What an absolutely wonderful, idyllic life.  

And It begs the question. Why would I ever desire to leave this life behind?  Why would I want anything other than this for my children?  

And the answer is perfectly obvious.  I don’t want to abandon it.  I don’t want my children to experience anything less.  The thought fills me with anguish, to the point that all I can do is close my eyes and take myself back to that quiet night in the Uintah mountains sitting in front of a warm flame, listening to Nate talk about how much he loves his boy scout troop.

In my youth, belonging to the Church was easy. I did not trifle with its teachings. They seemed to be natural expressions of my rich experiences–forever families and brotherhoods are lovely ideas. But as I ventured from my Sandy home to other strange places where I did not share a common heritage with my neighbors, friends, and professors, I noticed something peculiar. I experienced moments not unlike that fireside moment with Nate that were outside of the Mormon world. These moments occurred on my mission with good people who nevertheless rejected our messages. And at happy hours in Austin with my law school classmates. These interactions were equally rich and meaningful.

One particular example stands out to me as I write this. Liz and I attended the wedding of a close friend this summer. The groom’s parents immigrated to Florida from Pakistan 20 or so years ago, and the bride came from a Golden Gopher hockey-loving family in Minnesota. As we watched our odd-couple friends pledge their loyalty to one another at the feet of a female minister in the name of nothing more than love and virtue, I was overwhelmed by the power of the ritual, in all of its simplicity, absent of any appeal to a higher authority. I noticed the groom’s mother, dressed in her sari, a little weepy. She seemed to worry over the loss of the religious tradition and culture represented by this moment, as her son, thousands of miles from her Pakistan home, made his wedding vows dressed in a gray suit and wingtips. 

Her inner conflict seemed to escalate as the dancing began, to the sound of an excellent hip hop cover band. Dear mother was a fish out of water, it seemed. But about an hour in, I noticed our bride and groom were missing from the dance floor. And a moment later I looked up to see my friends descending the Racquet Club staircase, dressed head to toe in elegant  traditional Hindu robes, turbin and all. And I held back tears as I watched my dear friend dance with his weeping mother. It was an image I will never forget – a mother and son, who seemed to be drifting apart on two different ships traveling in opposite directions, coming together and recognizing that heritage is much more than culture or beliefs. It goes much deeper than that.

This sort of revelation probably confuses my Mormon readers. Something so simple and obvious shouldn’t shake one’s testimony. “We only add to the truth and goodness that is already out there,” they will say. But I can’t accept this any longer. I’ve come to believe that revelation does not come to us in 1s and 0s, like a switch. It is not just a universe of information streaming to us on spiritual wavelengths. No, to me revelation is like a scenic view. There is nothing to be added to it. It is something to be cherished exactly for what it is. 

Moments like this have awakened me over time, as I have discovered that life’s meaning comes from these small intimate moments, rather than from my faith in the foundational teachings of Mormonism. I began to value my membership more for the personal relationships I was able to build at church, rather than for the Church’s teachings. And to be honest, I found it increasingly difficult to support a complicated belief system of golden plates, ex post facto priesthood restoration narratives, conflicting accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, illegitimate papyrus translations, underaged plural wives, and blood oaths. For a few years, I did my best to plug the holes with dubious explanations or even the possibility of mythic truth. But eventually, I discovered that, for me, there was no point in trying to justify this entire balancing act. True or not, prophets and the Book of Mormon don’t tell me anything my conscience doesn’t already reveal about how to live a good life. True or not, Joseph Smith’s revelations, detailed as they may be, don’t give me any hope for happiness in the afterlife other than what I have already found in my personal relationships. For me, the only real utility those beliefs provided was to support the Church’s claims of divine authority to proclaim teachings that did not sit well with my conscience.

I hope you won’t think me bitter or small minded for saying what I’m about to say.  As good as the Church may be, as lovely as its fruits may be from time to time–the Mormon Messages, the primary programs, the endearing conference talks, and the family values–the reality, for me, is that it is not what it claims to be. I don’t believe in a god who sends down angels with golden books about a civilization that never existed. I don’t believe in a god who arranges plural marriages by order of an angel with a flaming sword. And I don’t believe in a god who reveals truth and understanding through a single man or group of men in Salt Lake City.

Truth is found in a much more humble place, hidden in the small, everyday moments we have as we go about interacting with one another. It’s found in bedtime rituals, text message conversations, at the dinner table, in the bleachers at the local high school football game, and in the checkout line at the grocery store. In these little moments, our interactions produce friction and heat, which rises up into the atmosphere where condensation occurs. Then, almost without notice, truth distills and percolates upon our souls. It is so delicate that it cannot be spoken in words, or written in a book. To try to do so would be careless. The best we can do is describe these little moments to one another and hope that others will feel what we felt.

Love, compassion, understanding, grace. These are the building blocks of truth, and they are used in church and boy scout camps, but also in a thousand other places. What more can be said about living a full, authentic life, than this? What more can we say about the afterlife other than that from our little interactions, relationships emerge that would seem to endure forever? In my opinion, nothing more can be said. Any talk of heaven or hell, and the various kingdoms in between, of eternal families and ministering angels, and judgement. To me, all of this is mere speculation, masquerading as truth, which may be harmless to a degree. But eventually, our loyalty to these ideas will be to the exclusion of a much richer and broader understanding too valuable and delicate to be canonized.

Heritage is a precious thing. The most difficult part of setting out on my own is finding a way to preserve my heritage for my children.  I often feel like the way I expect my pioneer ancestors felt as they packed their handcarts, trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. (An image I discovered courtesy of Carol Lynn Pearson.)   


Heritage, not doctrine, provides a foundation for my children.

Speaking of heritage, I penned the following poem a few weeks ago while on a plane. To me, the subtle, insignificant ways in which God reveals her majesty, is one of life’s most fascinating paradoxes. Life is absolutely beautiful.


My neighbor’s garden, green and fair,
Is something to behold.
Weeded, trenched, and mulched with care,
With drip lines down the rows.

Tomato vines grow to the north
With peppers to the south,
The rhubarb lies there tucked away
Where it won’t be crowded out.

Some find peace in rows and fences,
There’s solace in the shade.

But beyond the hedge a broad, green hillside waits,
Where the smells of mint and milkweed rise unbridled.

There, the senses yearn to grow,
Taking root in sunlight as it glances off the stream,
And in the timid sound of a thrush stirring in the trees.

The scratch of scrub oak on my thigh.
The sharp stench of spruce sap on my hand.

There, by accident, something percolates.
And extempore, it beckons.
As order yields to inspiration.


PS, I’m not committing virtual suicide as much as I am converting to a more fitting medium. I will be continuing my virtual life via Instagram, where you are welcome to follow me. You may also check in on me here at my blog from time to time, or email me at  Much love.


The Stone Cut With Hands

I grew up in Sandy, Utah (named for its sandy soil), at the southern end of the Salt Lake valley.  My family on my mother’s side has lived in Sandy going back six generations.  The town prospered in the beet farming industry, and also supported the local miners, who ored silver, zinc, and other minerals from the nearby Wasatch mountains.

My second great grandfather owned a dairy farm on the bench of the Wasatch mountain range.  His sons, including my first great grandfather, Orren, would lead the cows up into the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon every day for grazing.

I discovered nature in the same canyon, exploring trails and streams every chance I got.  There is something powerful that comes from being associated with a particular landscape for multiple generations.  Space, and the memories associated with it, transcends time, and has the ability to create a living history like a journal that can be trodden and breathed.

I grew up listening to tales that reinforced the nostalgia of the valley, like that of my mom and her brothers riding their bikes up 94th to Bell Canyon Reservoir.  There was no need to bring a towell, since by the time they raced their bikes down the two-mile hill, their backs would be bone dry.  I cannot describe the feeling that swelled inside me as a 14-year-old boy, when I experienced the same phenomenon, on the very same hill after swimming in the very same reservoir, an entire generation later.  1365864

Little Cottonwood Canyon has become a physical part of the Mormon Church’s history as well.  The granite stone cut out of that mountain was hauled by cart 12 miles north to Salt Lake City, as material for the Salt Lake Temple.  You can still hike the quarry trail and observe the scattered granite boulders, stark lines running through their open faces where quarry workers split the rock.

After my first year at BYU, I returned to Sandy for the summer to work for my Uncle Todd, and from time to time, I would make my way up the canyons.  On one occasion, while hiking Catherine’s Pass (at the upper end of the canyon), I happened upon a pile of cleaved granite, with those familiar lines running through the fragments.  Certain that these were relics of the temple quarry, I did not hesitate to grab a 20lb rock as a memento of my Sandy-Mormon heritage.

Half way back down the trail, I crossed paths with an older man with his two young grandsons.  I did my best to hide my rock, as if I were absconding with an ancient artifact, but the man noticed my straining arms and asked me what I had found.  I nonchalantly showed him the rock, and began to tell him about my exciting discovery.  But before I could finish, the man erupted with a disheartening laugh.  He explained that he was a geology professor at BYU, and he took his students up this trail each semester to core samples from the loose granite.  My rock was not a Mormon relic, but a byproduct of a freshman geology experiment.

I can’t recall how we finished our conversation, but I remember hurling that rock with contempt into the brush beyond the trail as soon as I was out of sight from the esteemed professor, whose laughs still echoed through the canyon. I suspect that man used our encounter as fodder for comic relief in his classroom for the semesters that followed.

Eleven years have passed since I had that experience.  The event has taken on its own significance for me as I reflect on the feelings that a simple rock aroused in me.  If I had not crossed paths with the old professor, that impostor rock would be sitting on my mantle today, inspiring all who looked upon it.

While I have ventured away from my Sandy home, I still return from time to time to walk and breathe my dairy-farming, beet-topping, hammer-swinging heritage.  The soil may be sandy, but the foundations are as firm as ever.

I wish I had kept that rock.


Publicans and Sinners

It has been quite some time since I have fired up this blog, but stay tuned!  I have accumulated quite a list of topics and essays that I hope to share in the coming weeks and months.  Unfortunately, this subject is not one that I had planned to write about.

A couple of weeks ago I learned about a young man in my former LDS stake (the Austin, Texas Stake) who has been summoned for a disciplinary council.  Kyle went to his singles ward twice when he moved to Austin in 2012.  Two years later his bishop, whom he had not met previously, texted him asking him to come in for an interview.  In Kyle’s words, this is what followed:

“He asked me why I wasn’t coming to church, I told him it was difficult going to church as a gay man, and he asked if I had broken covenants. I told him I had (I’ve been dating my boyfriend for 2 years) and he started talking about a disciplinary council. This was all within 10 or 15 minutes of meeting him.  I met with that bishop twice for a total of 1 hour, and I met with the stake president once for 30 minutes. That’s all the contact they’ve had with me.”

I expect that this blog entry will be mostly read by a small community of my friends and family, most of whom are faithful members of the LDS Church. I do not wish to debate the validity of the Church’s views on homosexuality here.  All I will say on that subject is that it is anything but simple for Mormons, and current teachings require us to walk a very fine line when it comes to responding to these issues as they arise in our personal lives.

My hope is that other members of my faith can agree with me that disciplinary action is not a first step.  It is a last resort that cannot be properly exercised unless all other efforts to help someone have been made.  Unfortunately, I do not believe this to be the case with Kyle.

I have written the following email to my friends in the Austin Stake presidency and high council.  Kyle’s disciplinary council is scheduled to occur this Sunday, May 31.  The question of justice and mercy is a vexing one.  My belief is that when in doubt, we should err on the side of mercy.  Email below.

Dear friends,

I am writing you this email after having recently learned about the pending disciplinary council to be held for Kyle [______].  Kyle is openly gay, and has not attended church for some time.

As I have struggled to find the words to write, my mind keeps returning to the following scripture from the fifth chapter of Luke.  The scripture recounts a moment when Jesus was challenged for his association with publicans and sinners.

“And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.  I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I have sometimes heard it said at Church that the atonement of Christ is beyond our mortal comprehension. In some ways, it certainly is when we ponder its infinite power.  However, the manner in which the atonement works in our lives is no secret:

“For behold, my beloved bretheren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.  He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. . . .”  2 Ne. 26:23-24.

The atonement was not a work of darkness.  His infinite power is the simple power of perfect love, and may be comprehended by anyone who has felt love.  The Savior’s love draws us to Him.

But the thing about love is that it must be expressed. Indeed, like faith, love does not exist where it is not expressed.  And to express love, we must know someone. We must spend time with them and make them a part of our lives.

Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of terrible darkness.  For me, these moments have come when I have felt that God was displeased with me and would not associate with me because of my sins. Imagine the light and warmth I felt when I came to understand that God really does love sinners.  He seeks their company.  He eats with them.  He stays at their homes.  As the “Son of Man,” he seeks to be counted among them.

I hope that you will consider other alternatives to excommunication for Kyle.  I hope you will instead consider inviting him to church as a member of the flock.  I hope you will consider taking the time to get to know him and associate with him.  I hope you will act in such a way that Kyle will feel “drawn” to you and the members of the [________] ward.  I hope your actions will reflect those of the Savior in Palestine, which caused the Pharisees and scribes to ask, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?

With love and regard,



To the Moon and Back

You will not meet a more delightful person than Grandma Lloyd.  I remember President Hinckley once said that sarcasm was an insulting form of humor.  Obviously, he had never met Grandma.  Her gracious sense of humor made my world turn at times, and always kept me on my toes.

In my younger years, she lived just across the street, and we would stop in to visit almost daily.  She always had a homemade chocolate cake on a platter in the kitchen.  But it was not the cake that drew us there.  She was magnetic.  She understood children so well, and she made us feel completely safe.  My fondest memories are of watching her tap dance as she would sing some old tune.  She would hold her hands out daintily and look intently at us, smiling broadly, as she tapped back and forth across the entry way tile, unfazed by our embarrassed giggles.

She was a worrier, and hated the thought of us crossing busy 9400 South.  We would ignore her pleas to cross at the traffic light down the street.  If ever we would come by in the morning, she would scurry out in her mumu (she loved those things), and guide us across the busy road amid her worried screams.

I also loved to watch Grandma interact with her three sons.  The three of them were keenly aware of Grandma’s anxious manner, which would cause her to sometimes disregard common sense.  My uncles had a playful way of preying on her naievete.  This ritual seemed to be their way of reminding each other just how deeply (and blindly) Grandma loved them.

Grandma had her signature ways of expressing her love, marked, of course, by hyperbole.  She would always call me “Jeffer”, and say to us, “I love your guts,” or “I love you to the moon and back.”

She passed away last Sunday morning.  I flew in to Salt Lake just in time to spend a treasured Saturday with her.  I will not forget the way she locked her eyes on me as soon as I entered her bedroom.  It was a look I had seen a thousand times before.  Notwithstanding her physical limitations, the day was full of precious exchanges–trademark expressions that I had taken for granted so many dozens of times before that day.  Every moment was utterly delightful.  But hidden among those lovely smiles, I would see from time to time a muted glance or a furrowed brow, and it made me wonder just how much she was enduring in that frail little body of hers.  The doctors had sent her home with morphine, but she knew that while it would help with the pain, it would also compromise her ability to engage.  When we asked how she was doing, she would respond with a simple, “I’m okay,” as if to say, “this is worth it.”

I am richly blessed with countless delightful memories of Grandma Lloyd.  But none will sink as deeply as those last moments at Grandma’s bedside.  Love is easy to express most of the time.  Love expressed in sacrifice convicts the conscience.

To the Moon and Back

Dimly through the glass, I see her lying bravely there.
Each smirk a costly gem, each smile a priceless token.
Meekly now, I clasp her hand, and as her eyes meet mine,
I read the verses never penned, the sermons never spoken.

In a subtle flash I sense the strain that assails her little frame.
But from her cup she did not shrink, nor did her will contend.
Deeply now, her love abides, and there it will endure;
In agony she sealed me hers, to the moon and back again.


Love and Virtue

In a timid thought by chance I traced
A faint and fleeting path.
Like a rabbit trail it seemed too shy
To promise much to any traveler.
And more than once, I lost sight of it among my gadding thoughts.
But as a nerve would spurn against the body’s foes,
So my senses seemed to meekly guide me there.
And once resigned to hope, I trod that road
Beyond the thoroughfares of strife.


His Own Smiles

Last night my son went to bed upset.  As the oldest child and the only boy, he gets picked on by his mom and dad more than he should.  He also gets left out by his two younger sisters, who tend to be more interested in pretending to be puppies than in building with Legos.  The details are unimportant, but it was these circumstances that caused him to be so upset last night.

After I put the girls to bed, I returned to Jackson’s room, where I made a half-hearted attempt to cheer him up.  (Inwardly, I felt no sympathy for him since I felt he was being irrational—a common mistake of mine when responding to others’ problems.)  He would not shake off his own discontent, so I ended the ritual quite abruptly with a terse “goodnight” and left the room, hoping to teach him a silent lesson about “attitude”.

A few minutes later I had already settled into bed with a book, when Liz came in and asked how bedtime went.  Feeling a twinge of guilt, but not wanting to swallow my own pride, I told Liz that Jackson was still upset, and that he might like a visit from her.  Minutes later, Jackson entered my room with this peace offering (unsolicited by Liz):


I’m still trying to dissect my emotions, but the feeling that seems to overshadow them all is pure awe.  Here, Jackson, a real person who feels stress, anxiety, hope, love, disappointment, and anger, just like me (I tend to forget this fact about my children), bravely set aside all of his frustrations with his own marginalized family situation, out of concern for my own emotional welfare.

I believe that parenthood is a sacred relationship that is designed to teach us about our relationship with our heavenly parents.  As I have cared for my children, I have felt that quiet assurance that my heavenly parents love me the same way I love my kids.   Frankly, while nevertheless special, I expected to have these experiences.  What I did not expect, however, is the converse experience of having that same humbling feeling at times when my child expresses his or her love for me, as Jackson did last night—yes, God loves me as I love my children, but God also loves me as my children love me.

Now this picture, drawn by a forlorn seven-year-old, 30 minutes past his bedtime with only a night light to aid him, means much more.  It represents the way God, a real person who feels marginalized by those He loves, whose sole desire is our acceptance, sets aside His own feelings of hurt, sadness, and frustration, to express His love for us notwithstanding our own callousness.

This humbling thought reminds me of some stanzas from a poem by William Blake:

Sweet babe in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like thee,
Thy maker lay and wept for me,

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee,

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are His own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.



Who doesn’t love a good snapshot? They remind us of the best of times. One of my favorites is readily available on Facebook . It’s a picture of my friend Levi pounding my face into the sand at Newport Beach, California.

This was taken 14 years ago. We had just graduated high school. I remember the exact moment, and exactly what I called him after I finally got out of the headlock. So does he, and probably Shane (who took the picture). This photo, while endearing, happens to be quite uncharacteristic of my relationship with Levi. We don’t pick on each other or joke around much. In fact, a lot of our conversations are quite serious now, but I still like this photo because it reminds me of what our relationship was like when life was much less complicated.

picHere’s another.  This is a picture of my dad with my daughter, Harper, taken at Disneyland.  Harper is wearing Dad’s “Indiana Jones” hat.  This photo is much more characteristic of its subjects.  Harper has her usual happy glow, and Dad is displaying his defining meek and gentle manner.  Years from now, Harper will treasure this photo, as it represents her grandfather’s unqualified love for her.

I once heard one of my professors at BYU define literature as those works to which we often return.  I think this approach is worth giving some consideration, although it can’t be taken too literally, or else all of our reading assignments in high school English class would be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.  Literature in my view is a library of works that defines a culture’s values and/or captures society’s sentiments during significant cultural events.  Think of how Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein represents the values of the Romantic Period with her harrowing descriptions of nature in all of her merciless, sublime power.  Or how Steinbeck painted a perfect picture of the disenchanting realities of capitalism and industry in The Grapes of Wrath.  Both of these examples provide snapshots, brief but accurate glimpses, into a single question or conflict that shaped a cultural identity.  And for that reason, we return to them often, perhaps to make sense of how we got where we are today.

In real life, we tend to collect those photos that remind us of the happiest times–a day at the beach or a vacation with Grandma and Grandpa.  But like a Harry Potter novel, these moments form only a small sliver of our personal identity and history.  William Blake and Flannery O’Connor may not have written the most uplifting or entertaining literature, but their writings have become very important signposts as we attepmt to retrospectively map the development of Western culture.

I have come to believe that this mapping exercise (recalling those experiences that teach us about who we are) is vitally important to our personal development.  In fact, we acknowledge the power of self-awareness all the time in popular culture.  Think of your favorite non-tragic protagonist in a recent movie or novel.  (I won’t use this example, but I could!)  Either your hero is a John Wayne type, whose unwaivering confidence enables him/her to overcome any obstacle, and the plot is only about documenting his/her path to victory.  Or, your hero is a Bruce Wayne, who keeps hitting road blocks until he/she finally identifies and embraces his/her true identity, at which time (climax!), he/she becomes unstopable.  Either way, our heroes always know exactly who they are–strengths and weaknesses, what is important to them, what is not. Conversely, think of your favorite tragedy.  Here your protagonist fails to identify or accept his/her tragic flaw until it is too late.

I believe that part of life’s unfairness comes because we fail to notice the subtle course corrections that we should be making from time to time.  One small indiscretionary moment leads to another, until our life (or perhaps just an aspect of it) has become a classic tragedy.  In my experience, I fail to make these corrections when I have a distorted self-view.  I might see myself as Bruce Wayne the wasteful billionaire playboy, Peter Parker the vengeful nephew, or most commonly for me, Jesse Pinkman, the guilt-ridden drug addict.  Whatever self-view I would like to (or tend to) adopt, the pattern is clear: distortion leads to sadness.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe anyone’s life plays out like a Spiderman movie.  As real human beings we cycle through periods of self-awareness and self-distortion.  But I suspect that by regularly returning to and reflecting on life’s defining moments, these cycles may become more evolutionary than seasonal.  This all may sound very theoretical, so let me give an example of a defining moment that I often return to, and explain how it guides me.

I was once asked to give a priesthood blessing to a person who was going through some personal struggles.  (Those non-Mormons reading are probably aware of the idea of priesthood, but as a quick summary, priesthood essentially is authority formally granted to worthy male members of the Church to act in God’s name in appropriate ways.)  I had known this person very well, and cared for them very much.  But when I placed my hands on this person’s head, I experienced feelings for that person that I had never felt before.  It was a feeling of love that was much deeper than my own love for that person.  I had a sense of this person’s defining characteristics that I had never before noticed.  To me, it was as if God was allowing me to feel how He felt about that person.

I return to this experience often.  I wrote it down.  I treasure it.  Each time I think back on it, I am filled with hope for my own future.  I feel that if God knows and loves that person so well, He must feel the same way about me, individually, intimately.  It reminds me that in spite of the lingering questions that trouble me about my faith, that God is very present in my religious practices.  This experience educates my self-view.  It encourages decision making that will help me to have more experiences like it.  It gives me a desire to be kind to everyone around me.

Other moments of mine are not so uplifting; some are rather dark.  But they all have a guiding influence.

Today we have libraries where we carefully catalogue the works of Shelly, Blake, O’Connor, and Steinbeck.  Think of how meaningful life would be if we all had a personal library of our defining moments (not just the Harry Potters) carefully catalogued and readily accessible on a regular basis.  Climax!  We would be unstoppable.