Chat With a Mormon Online
I am a retired Software Engineer with original training in Physics. My wife Pam and I have four children, one deceased, by my first marriage. I am disabled, suffering from major headaches, a follow-on to a motorcycle accident back in 1977. I like: Software Engineering, Genealogy, Astrophysics, Physics, Mathematics, Teaching, Reading (especially Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mysteries, and of course the Scriptures,) and especially working at the Church's Temple in our area as an Ordinance Worker and as the Temple's unofficial, local, computer support person.
The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. As a very young man growing up in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA, I was introduced to the gospel by a Friend, took the series of Missionary Discussions, was touched by the Spirit of God, and decided that it was something I wanted, needed, and in fact, felt obligated to do. To explain this I will have to explain how I was converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But be warned; it is a little long. When I was a teenager, my Methodist Church held a weeklong Church Camp. During it, we had a class about the basic beliefs of the Methodist Church. The minister used as his text, a small black leather book which contained all the fundamental beliefs and practices of Methodists, a sort of small minister’s handbook. We spent almost all of the time discussing the Apostles’ Creed. That was not all that difficult in and of itself, except that he got into the Nicene Creed and then into the Athanasian Creed, all trying to explain the concept of Trinity as taught by the Methodist Church. (See www.wikipedia.org for good discussions of all three creeds and the generally held concept of the Trinity as espoused by most Christian Churches.) The concept of the three-in-one God left me reeling. Though I tired, I could not get my logical mind around what seemed like a self-contradictory statement. To my objections, and the objections of others, he wanted us to accept the contradiction on “faith” as a “mystery.” Not a good idea to tell to a budding scientist. After that, I slipped away from my Methodist Church, and became essentially an agnostic on the matters of God and Religion. But, I had one fundamental realization during that period. I realized that even though I had ended up agnostic, the training I had received as a Methodist made it easy for me to see both sides of the issues. Some of my friends who had grown up with no religious training seemed never able to get their minds around these ideas and see the alternatives. So I decided that if/when I married, I would see to it that my children received as much instruction as I had. During the next few years, I visited some of my friend's Churches, read about a number of other religions, and kept looking for this home to raise my children in. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately in the long run, all of them seemed either like copies of my Methodist Church or ones full of their own impossible-to-understand ideas. I kept looking. So in a few years, I found myself doing a Bachelors of Science in Physics at West Virginia University in my home town of Morgantown, West Virginia, USA. I was on partial scholarship and worked part time as a computer programmer, back in the days when a computer filled a room and had a fraction of the power of my current desktop PC. Another fellow John, who worked there was a Mormon. As these things happen, evening talks finally turned to religion. He told me about his church and its doctrines and it was all interesting, especially when it tended to make sense of a number of ideas that had given me mental indigestion as a Methodist. Did I follow up on it? No. Life was too busy. But we continued to be friends and the religion discussions continued. He invited me to a Church New Year’s Eve party. The people were really nice and lots of fun. Finally he sent the Missionaries from his Branch over to see me. Of course I let them in. He was a good friend after all. So started my investigation of the Church. Apparently, I was very hard for the Missionaries to teach, or so they later told me. I would not yield on any point they would try to make. Rather, I would parrot back to them the logic of their ideas. If such-and-such-and-such were true, then of course it would follow that such-and-such-and-such were true also. In spite of all of this, I was listening very closely. Nothing slipped by me. So I thought: if this Book of Mormon were really a true history of an ancient American people, maybe there were some indicators in Archeology. So I solved the problem the way I always did—I went to the library. I worked through the stacks in American Archeology. Now you have to understand, I was a physicist, which means that I looked down on all other sciences as inferior as a matter of course. It was not a science unless it was a hard science. Chemistry-OK; Biology-not so OK—too un-provable; anything, like Archeology, which I classed as a “social” science was a science in name only. I was rather opinionated back then. Most Archeology books were worthless for what I was looking for, but two caught my eye. I thought one made a rather good argument connecting certain South American Indian tribe cultures back to the old world, specifically the Medes culture in the Middle East, especially linguistic evidence. (Time for Wikipedia again.) Not exactly Lehi in Jerusalem from the Book of Mormon, but still a clue. The other did a similar job on a Central American Indian tribe culture connecting it with early Hebrew culture. Neither were written by Mormons trying to support their cultural bias, but by well-established Archeologists. Did all this then convince me that what the Missionaries were teaching was true—No Way! But it did start chipping away at my inherent aversion to what they had to say. The whole thing perplexed me. I did not say a word to the Missionaries about what I had found. I was too much of the debater than to compromise my position, after all. A couple of discussions later, my main Missionary, Elder Judy had a different companion with him for the day, Elder Strickland. Elder Strickland gave what, I was later to learn, was almost THE standard LDS Missionary’s prayer, “Please grant Ed Thy Spirit that he may know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration,” or words essentially to that effect. Finally my perplexities overwhelmed me, my barriers came down, and I said in my mind and in my heart, “Yes. I really want to know if it’s true.” What happened is hard for me to describe to you, not out of not wanting to, but because we probably lack common words that can carry the meaning. Latter-day Saints talk to each other about things like this all the time, but we can because we have common referents—our words make sense to each of us because we all have been through similar experiences. As best as I can describe it, I felt a warm spot begin to grow on the top of my head. Then it was like an egg that exploded and washed over me from head to foot. I was wall-to-wall goose flesh. Fourth-of-July fireworks, but on the inside. And of course, this convinced me to become a Latter-day Saint? Again—No Way! As all of this subsided, I thought to myself, “Now that was interesting.” I said nothing to the Missionaries. We went through the lesson and they left. I had some hard thinking to do. This was something new. I had never felt it before. Well, not quite true. I remembered two times feeling something similar. Neither was in my Methodist Church or attached to anything I thought of as religious. Rather, both were at occasions celebrating Memorial Day and Independence Day. Later I learn how much the Lord respects the founding of America as a place free enough to restore the Gospel—thus, later I understood. Even here in America, the land of Free Speech and Religious Freedom, the Church was nearly destroyed by its enemies. But the basic America rights of freedom prevailed. Our early Church history is interesting (read grisly) to learn about. So in basic scientific style, I spent the next two weeks, experimenting with this new phenomenon. If my little statement in my mind, hardly even a prayer in form, could illicit such a response, then maybe some real praying ought to do something. And it did. Was this feeling trying to tell me that what the Missionaries were teaching me was true? That was the gist of my not-so-formal prayer. So I spent the weeks praying. I prayed about things that I knew were true; I prayed about things I knew were false; I prayed about things that I did not know either way, but thought I had a change of finding out some way or other. And I compared all the feelings just like a good physics experimenter. Did that finally convince me. No, the findings were inconclusive! Drat. So what was I to do. To say that I was frustrated was an understatement. One day, I was sitting pondering all that had happened and had another, very different kind of experience. No fireworks this time. Rather, I sat and looked inward: Who was I? Where was I going? What did I want out of life? Did any of it really matter? It was as though I was walking around down deep within myself looking at all my insides, the mental as well as the physical. There I saw something that startled me. Describing it metaphorically, it was as though someone had, in breathtaking detail, inscribed the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on my insides. That the Book of Mormon was true—yes that was there. That Joseph Smith truly was a Prophet--that too. I knew, without knowing how I knew, that all this was true. And so that convinced me to be a Latter-day Saint? If you think so, then you do not understand how I really am. No Way-Still not enough! If anything, this experiment frightened me. The un-understandable, incomprehensible component was too strong to make me comfortable. Even so, it was one more data point to add to the set, all of which seemed to extrapolate the graph forward so that I could conclude that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught the Truth. You have to understand. Truth with a capital-T is a hard concept for scientists to get their arms around. We spend our lives with theories. And the best you ever get with theories are statements that you conclude are more-or-less true depending on the details of the theory and all the various experiments that you have run. Or if you like to think in statistics: Something is true to the 90th-Percentile, or it is true to 3 Standard Deviations. (For some of you, try Wikipedia again.) Things never get to be Absolutely True. (Not withstanding any impression you might get from Science popularizers. Carl Sagan, years ago on Nova on PBS, used to scandalize me all the time. He often made out that our currently accepted scientific theories were Absolute Truth, which they can never be.) So what was I to do? Like any good scientist, I came up with a plan for an experiment to disprove the theory. Again an aside about science: All experiments ever do is give you one more way to show that a theory is false—never that it is true. After lots and lots and lots of experiments that don’t prove that the theory is false, you start believing that the theory is probably good for something, not that it is "True." (Sometimes you are still left with a few experiments that do not fit. But you keep those and ponder them later, as long as there are not many of them. Albert Einstein did that with the less than a-half-dozen observations of Celestial Mechanics that were not properly explained by Isaac Newton’s Theory of Gravitation and Mechanics and came up with General Relativity which explained all of them. So by experiment, Einstein’s theory is truer than Newton’s, so to speak.) I decided that there was nothing to do but continue the experiment and I was only going to have enough data if I did the experiment from the inside, where there would be lots of data to examine. It was time to join the Church. I concluded that the best that could happen was that I would finally answer my question; the worst was that I would waste a lot of time, but at least it would be doing things that were not harmful in any way. At the next discussion with the Missionaries, Elder Judy had a new companion, Elder Pratt, who he had just picked up from the bus station. It was the first day on his Mission. Elder Judy primed him with all of my history, with my being a bit hard to deal with, but even so he still felt confident. They no sooner sat down when I blurted out, “When can I be baptized?” Elder Pratt’s mouth fell open and I swear that I could count all of his teeth. Actually, you can ask any LDS Missionary how often you go to your first appointment on your Mission and have the investigator want to be baptized. It just does not happen often. I was very open with the Elder at my baptism interview. I leaned on my introspective moment which told me that the Gospel was true, which seemed to be the kind of knowledge he was looking for. I remember his asking me if I knew that David O. McKay, the then President of the Church, was a Prophet. I told him frankly, that it made good logical sense from other things that I knew to be true, but that I did not have an independent witness that it was true. It did not bother him in the slightest. I learned that it is OK to take time to get all your ducks lined up. So I immediately started to work to figure it all out. And so like any other time, again I went to the library. This time it was not the University Library—they did not have what I needed. Rather it was the Institute of Religion library at West Virginia University. You have to understand, our Church builds big buildings on college campuses to house our Institutes of Religion. They often serve hundreds of students. We were 10 students with a Political Science professor as our part-time instructor, who was also the Branch President. Our library, for our size, was huge and nearly filled a locker in the Biology building at West Virginia University. I read every book. I read every other book I could borrow or afford to buy. I kept a list. By the end of two years, I had read 66 volumes: our four books of scripture that we call our Standard Works, of course; writings by and about Joseph Smith; the writings of all the Prophets since; histories; biographies; books on doctrine; you name it. Most people, I have observed, do not approach the problem quite the way I did. And I have a very good memory for concepts. I very quickly learned a lot about the Gospel and the Church. So as for my experiment, how did it come out? In one sense it is not finished, and may never be. I was heartened to read that the Lord approves of experiments to find out if the Gospel is true. Read the 32nd chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon and see. But what happened is that I developed what we call a Testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is another one of those things that is hard to describe to someone who has never experienced one. My testimony is built on 41 years of experiences (and experiments) that are in the end glued together by the Spirit of the Lord, which we get in a special form after we are baptized and which we call the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Alma in the Book of Mormon talks about planting a seed as an experiment. I planted mine back in West Virginia. I have been dutifully caring for it all of those 41 years and it has grown into a very strong, substantial tree. Lehi in the Book of Mormon talks about the Tree of Life. This is mine. It is alive and well and living here at home along with the rest of me. Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ True? Of course. My Testimony whispers to me every day that it is True. And I will run more experiments tomorrow, next week, next year and my tree will continue to grow. And I will know even more strongly then that all of this is true. Try it. It works.
It originally gave me a new hope. It was proof that God was still interested in me today, as much as he was in times past. That the heavens were open again, not shut up as I had been taught in my years as a Methodist. Line-upon-line, the Book of Mormon has explained my questions, strengthened my faith, and been some place to go back to when things get hard.
The general feeling by most people about prophets is that they are easier to deal with the farther away they are in either space or time. Few have trouble with Moses or Isaiah. For some, even Jesus Christ is easy with his mortal life being 2000 years away. Prophets more recently, as little as 200 years ago for Joseph Smith, are correspondingly harder to accept. One living in your own time and place is even harder. God's Prophets have always been ones to tell people what they need to hear, rather than what they want to hear, and, of course, most people do not like that. When I was investigating the Church, quite frankly, the members seemed to be great people. But, the business of the angel and gold plates was really hard to swallow. Many people investigating seem to come to the same conclusion initially. I was physics trained and the supernatural implications for me were difficult to accept. Then the Spirit of the Lord hit me and wiped out all the doubts. That gave me my initial glimmer that Joseph Smith was all that he and others claimed him to be: a true Prophet of God in all the same ways as Moses and Isaiah. Over the years, I have read his writings, have read the writings of others about him, and have come to know him quite personally: his strengths, his weaknesses, his personality, his legacy, and his heart. If he were alive today, I would follow him without question and be his friend, and hope that he would be mine. In the same way I have gained a testimony of our current President and Prophet, Thomas S. Monson. When I joined the Church in 1969, he was the next to most junior Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve. I have watched him all of those years. Him too can I follow without reserve. Actually, in the end, it is easy to follow when the Spirit of the Lord testifies to your heart that he speaks the words of Christ, exactly the words that Christ would want you to hear if he were here himself.
The gospel generally has helped me be understanding, patient, loving, accepting, and thoughtful. This is opposed to the opposite that it has helped me to eschew: anger, bullheadedness, apathy, and selfishness. Practically speaking, Family Home Evening is a glorious program, one in which we meet together as members of the family once a week, designed to teach us and bind us together.
I was the first member of the Church in my family. For example, my grandfather that I dearly loved never had the opportunity to hear the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can hardly express that overwhelming feeling that I had to see to it that he was baptized, fully under the authority of the Priesthood of God, able to have all the blessings I had received. I have lots of relatives, most I don't know personally. But again, it can be almost overwhelming to stand in for them in proxy and be baptized, doing for them what they can no longer do for themselves: come into the family of Christ by the front door. I have a database of over 63,000 individuals all who are relatives: ancestors, aunts, uncles, and distant cousins and their spouses. Most of them have not received the ordinances of the gospel. I plan to be very busy for the next few years. Can you understand why I do genealogy?
What can I say. The Gospel is addictive, one of the few addictions that the Lord sanctions! The more we listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the more we change--the more things we do right. That leads to a higher density of promptings, more change still and the more we become like Christ in our actions. It is a cycle of progression that has, happily, no end.
Everyday, all the time. That's the only way it works. More practically speaking I have four church callings: - I lead the music in the Sunday men's meeting. - I also teach the men over 40 in that meeting, together with another brother, in rotation. - I am an auditor, who goes around semi-annually and checks that local leaders and financial clerks are following generally accepted accounting practices in handling Church funds. - I donate my time at the Detroit Temple of the Church, as I mentioned above. - Also, I am a Home Teacher and as such have a handful of families that I am assigned to watch over.