Struggling with Joseph Smith

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SilentDawning
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SilentDawning » 12 Jan 2015, 18:13

SunbeltRed wrote:How are others of you able to hold on to the idea of JS's prophetic mantle and if so do you still value him as prophetic for the world or as another adding more to the rich fabric of our existential struggle?
I think he really believed he was a prophet. And that confidence led others to believe in him as a prophet.

If I can draw an analogy. When I was a missionary, everyone believed that if you were to teach with the spirit, you would have to be righteous. Your thoughts needed to at least achieve a certain threshold of cleanliness, or if not, you had to be in a pretty good state of humility and repentance.

But we had this missionary who was always making lewd comments about girls, mean to people (he was my companion) and generally not what I would consider to be full of character. But he could teach with the Spirit very well. I asked one missionary, who I respected, how this guy managed to teach with the Spirit. This missionary, who I asked this question replied "I think it's all up here" [pointing to his forehead].

This missionary believed that as long as you had the faith you could do it, or believed you were somehow inspired or prophetic, you could carry that belief into the hearts of other people. I think Joseph believed it somehow. And he was able to convince a lot of people that he was a prophet.

Me, I'm agnostic about it now. I don't know. Perhaps when I die I will find out.
"It doesn't have to be about the Church (church) all the time!" -- SD

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

A man asked Jesus "do all roads lead to you?" Jesus responds,”most roads don’t lead anywhere, but I will travel any road to find you.” Adapted from The Shack, William Young

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SunbeltRed
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SunbeltRed » 13 Jan 2015, 06:47

Ann wrote:
Years ago I read that in Nauvoo Joseph would sometimes go down to the docks, dressed in the worst clothes he could find, to meet newly arriving members. Without introducing himself, he would ask them what they thought about this Joseph Smith. To one man who had just expressed faith, he replied, “I am the prophet, but I have worn these rough clothes to let you know that if you expect me to be anything other than a man, that you should get back on that boat and go back to England.”[3] At the time I first read this I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear those same words.

I’ve finally had that conversation with him. I’ve conceded and will play the ball as it lies. I’ve become more interested in discovering who he was than deciding who he was. Some things still make me uncomfortable, but from my reading of scripture I’m not sure the gospel is as much about being comfortable as I wish it were. I’m not going to waste any more time insisting Joseph be different. God is trying to show me something. He’s trying to split my mind wide open and show me what he can do with the weak things of the world.

Joseph is that crumbly old rock dug out of the ground which, if we are observant and careful, will reveal the life of an ancient sea bed a million years old or give us clues about the age of the earth. He is a stone like many others, but he’s one that I believe God has touched and caused to provide light for our dark journey to the Promised Land. We would do well to remember that while this stone is a revelatory tool, it’s also still a rock and if we set it on the tablecloth it will leave a smudge. If we throw it away because of it behaving like a rock, well, if only the gift of prophecy guaranteed a well-behaved prophet. Prophets are people. That is all they ever have been and all they ever will be. In fact, it seems sometimes the gift of prophecy comes despite behavior rather than because of it.

As far as joseph’s work goes, I’ve read critiques of the Book of Mormon pegging it as a fictional work of obvious nineteenth-century American origin with its anti-Catholic or anti-Masonic themes. I’ve read how the Book of Abraham bears no resemblance to what modern translators see in the available source text or facsimiles. And so on and so on. And these aren’t silly arguments as some apologists would make them out to be. I can’t resolve them, yet I still believe. The Mormon historian Richard Bushman, when confronted by a Christian friend about the problems of the Book of Mormon, replied saying, “Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity [in scripture]? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work? We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journals to find out if the book is still true. We stick with it because we find God in its pages- or inspiration, or comfort, or scope. That is what religion is about in my opinion, and it is why I believe the Book of Mormon.”[4]

The poet, Alex Caldiero, when asked about his faith in Joseph Smith as a kind of coyote figure or trickster on one hand and a prophet on the other, said that to him Joseph was a “true charlatan of God.” He continued saying, “my testimony… is based on that connection…. Picasso once said that ‘art is the lie that tells the truth,’ and Joseph Smith for me is that kind of person, as Picasso would be. He’s the liar that tells the truth. Now some people have a problem trying to encapsulate those two ideas and make them coexist…, but for me it’s a natural.”[5] I like this description because sometimes I see in Joseph what seems like a propensity to get caught up in telling stories. It’s like he has a kind of uninhibited creativity. Maybe Joseph would be a good example of what Paul called being “fool’s for Christ’s sake.”[6] Maybe it was these very aspects of Joseph’s character, the ones that make us uncomfortable, that God was using as a channel of revelation, like Joseph’s flare for the dramatic or propensity to tell stories. Should it surprise us that God might take some mortal, or even broken, part of us and repurpose it or even redeem it?[7] Is this not what restoration is? This is, after all, what Joseph did with masonry. He took it and repurposed it for the temple.
I appreciate the effort in this, but it gets back to my original point. To me it seems that only a Mormon would take this approach, one who is attempting to hang on to their faith in JS. I guess I'm not much interested in lugging around a rock that gets the tablecloth dirty. I think instead of being a foundation piece its dragging me down. I'm going to set it down for a while, and perhaps one day I will circle back and it will feel lighter in my backpack. But right now, I'm not much interested in carrying it around.

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SunbeltRed
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by SunbeltRed » 13 Jan 2015, 07:08

SilentDawning wrote:
I think he really believed he was a prophet. And that confidence led others to believe in him as a prophet.

I think this is probably true. It's the most plausible explanation for me without attributing malice, and I don't get the sense that JS was at his heart a mean and malicious person. But again, it gets back to my original point, that I don't feel a need or desire to privilege JS above other interesting spiritual experimenters or thinkers from history.

I think this is getting to Roy's point as well. I think it is the church itself, it dogmaticness, its insistence that JS was a perfect conduit, that everything he said is pure doctrine that really bothers me and makes me want to travel somewhere else for a while. If I were able to think about JS like Confucius or Plato I don't think I would have as hard a time with it. It's all the baggage of the church and the distortions and inaccuracies that all drag behind the issue that are hard to deal with and hard for me to separate.

Thank you all for helping me think about this in a more thoughtful way. I may decide to discard everything about JS, its an option, and one that I appreciate having now. I'm still undecided, and in fact I may never come to a conclusion, but I think that is part of the journey.

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Heber13
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Heber13 » 13 Jan 2015, 09:34

mom3 wrote:For me Joseph Smith moved into the category of a mystic. My first hero who was visionary was Joan of Arc. This allowed me a lot of room to determine my new Joseph Smith.
+1. This is what I think also.

It took me a while to kind of unravel the legendary pedestal I had been taught to put Joseph on, and then realize what mystics and prophets really are, and what they are not, and then revisit Joseph with my new set of eyes to accept him as a prophet.

We've had over a hundred years of telling stories about the man and some wonderful things he accomplished. Knowing humans, we embellish. Like Gandalf told Bilbo...some stories deserve to be embellished.

I like RSR to bring the stories back to real life. And to help me remember God works with imperfect mortals. Maybe even me. I don't have to think Joseph is something he is not. I accept what he is, what he has done, and live my life knowing I can be OK trying to do what Joseph did in trying to make sense of this crazy life, based on how i see things through a glass darkly.

I admire Joseph as a prophet. And the story is way more interesting when it is not clean and neat. The conflict, paradox, difficult teachings, and questionable activities make it a true romantic story full of conflict and victory and hope and disappointment. It's all in there with JS.

My advice...embrace it all. Just don't dismiss all the good just because of the repellent or repulsive also exists. Embrace paradox.
Luke: "Why didn't you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father."
Obi-Wan: "Your father... was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view."
Luke: "A certain point of view?"
Obi-Wan: "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to...depend greatly on our point of view."

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MockingJay
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by MockingJay » 13 Jan 2015, 10:58

My attempt to make sense of JS has been going on for many years, and I've finally come to the following conclusion: As others have said here, JS was a visionary man who truly believed his visions. I believe he had some sort of profound experience early in life and was able to parley that into a religious movement. Many of his ideas were revolutionary for his day, for good and bad, while others were absolute products of his day. At present, I lump him in with many other visionary leaders in history, no better, no worse. I'm comfortable and at peace with these conclusions.

The problem comes in trying to communicate these conclusions to any orthodox members. From where I stand, the ideas being expressed in this thread alone are so far removed from not only what is taught on Sunday, but what almost all of my friends and family members believe. I can't speak for the rest of you, but if I were to say these things in SS or RS, I would be met with looks of shock and silence, and I'd be getting a call from the SP later that afternoon. It isn't just about what's in the correlated materials, it's about what the vast majority of members deeply believe. For that reason, I hide these feelings and keep my mouth shut.

In fact, one Sunday during the study of the D&C church history in SS, a member said that we need to remember that JS was only a man and was he was always one of the first ones to say that, and that we have to be careful not to deify him (the discussion had been heading in that direction.) I thought that was a very true and reasonable thing to say, but our SP was in class that day, and he jumped right in and said that we need to remember that JS was THE prophet of the restoration and revere him for that, and that he's second only to Jesus Christ. He said more, but that was the gist. Everyone nodded their heads and the teacher just moved on after that. I groaned inwardly.

I cherish the free and open exchange of ideas here about JS (and many other topics), but at least in my neck of the woods, there is a huge divide between this and what happens at church on Sunday. I don't see that divide narrowing anytime soon.

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mom3
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by mom3 » 13 Jan 2015, 11:52

Mockingjay wrote
I cherish the free and open exchange of ideas here about JS (and many other topics), but at least in my neck of the woods, there is a huge divide between this and what happens at church on Sunday. I don't see that divide narrowing anytime soon.
I agree. I also believe in a few short years that will change.

We all may be in our twilight years when that happens, but the breadth of people who are shifting paradigms isn't shrinking it's growing. We are anomaly's in our present ward and time, but as I watch Millenials I think the church is going to be forced to open it's view point, otherwise they are going to be so small as an institution they will be forced to fix the damage.

For me as I listen to those discussions, I have decided to quit fighting, I was TBM once, too. It wasn't that long ago and I remember the feelings and convictions. My best solution is to bring reading material or Angry birds to church.

When I do discuss Joseph I highlight the teachings of his that get less attention, but to me are more gospel centered. I do that for two reasons to build bridges and protect others. I hated my religious transition. It wasn't a faith transition. The faith transition began when I started to build. I really have no desire to drag anyone down that road. If someone has concerns, worries, questions I will be there. I watch and listen for it. But I don't want to impose a crisis on some one. Likewise, rebuilding is tough, it's a human tsunami and hurts like the dickens. If I can plant seeds of gentle hope in people with less intense quotes, I think they can weather the storm better, have oil in their lamp, maybe even skip out on the bottomless pit pain that seems to accompany the change.

The divide is huge. We alone can't bridge it, but we can help, we can support others, judge less, reach out more. And we can wait. Waiting is helping in it's own way.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

Ann
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Ann » 13 Jan 2015, 13:31

SunbeltRed wrote:
Ann wrote:
Joseph is that crumbly old rock dug out of the ground which, if we are observant and careful, will reveal the life of an ancient sea bed a million years old or give us clues about the age of the earth. He is a stone like many others, but he’s one that I believe God has touched and caused to provide light for our dark journey to the Promised Land. We would do well to remember that while this stone is a revelatory tool, it’s also still a rock and if we set it on the tablecloth it will leave a smudge. If we throw it away because of it behaving like a rock, well, if only the gift of prophecy guaranteed a well-behaved prophet. Prophets are people. That is all they ever have been and all they ever will be. In fact, it seems sometimes the gift of prophecy comes despite behavior rather than because of it.
I appreciate the effort in this, but it gets back to my original point. To me it seems that only a Mormon would take this approach, one who is attempting to hang on to their faith in JS. I guess I'm not much interested in lugging around a rock that gets the tablecloth dirty. I think instead of being a foundation piece its dragging me down. I'm going to set it down for a while, and perhaps one day I will circle back and it will feel lighter in my backpack. But right now, I'm not much interested in carrying it around.
All I can say is, boy, do I know how you feel.
"Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery." - Joseph Campbell

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

"Therefore they said unto him, How were thine eyes opened? He answered and said unto them, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes...." - John 9:10-11

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Holy Cow
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by Holy Cow » 13 Jan 2015, 15:58

Sunbelt,
I'm right there with you. After years of studying JS, and trying to grab onto every excuse I could find that still supported him as a prophet, I finally grew tired of making excuses for JS and decided to take an honest look at him for what history shows him to be. Like others, I believe he really did believe that he was a prophet. But that doesn't mean he WAS one. I believe he began with good intentions and had some real courage to take what churches were teaching at the time and to start asking honest questions about what he felt was truth. As he started to come up with answers, I believe he really did believe that he was being led by God, and wasn't doing anything maliciously. However, as time went on, I believe he did become driven more by a desire for power and authority, and less by a drive to seek truth. I think he started to use 'revelations' as a way to rule with unquestioned authority. I've grown tired of hearing people say that we shouldn't worry about what happened then, because the prophets of today take precedence. I think that's a convenient way to overlook way too much that shouldn't have happened. As a church that claims that the truth was taken from the earth after Christ's death because of unrighteousness, then we'd better be prepared to hold our leaders to a higher standard than we would hold those early Christian leaders to. And I don't see JS's behavior as being much different from many of those early corrupt popes and bishops. To say that he was a prophet who made human mistakes is fine. It's the magnitude of those human mistakes that bothers me. We are held to higher standards as members of the church than we hold the founder to. If I lived my life the way Joseph lived his, I'd be excommunicated in a heartbeat. I simply can't believe that he was being commanded by God to marry other men's wives, destroy a printing press, start a militia and name himself Lieutenant General, run for President, etc., etc.... There comes a point when I have to say, "Okay, that's enough. This guy's gone way overboard, and I can't keep giving him a pass on things that I wouldn't get a pass on just because I'm human and I make mistakes.
I don't give JS any kind of prophet status or mantle, which also means I don't accept his teachings as prophetic. That has required me to drop everything, as you've contemplated, and start picking up the pieces that I believe are beneficial even if I don't believe they are necessary for salvation. For example, I believe that we can be reunited with our families again in the next life, but I don't believe we have to go through the temple ceremonies to get there. So, for me personally, my search has become one of finding what I believe Jesus Christ wanted us to do, and not what Joseph Smith wanted us to do.
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startpoor
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by startpoor » 13 Jan 2015, 18:11

I apologize for not reading the other comments in this thread before posting. My response to your opening question is: after reading RSR I realized that JS, whatever inspiration he may have had, started a movement that was heavily influenced by the world around him and included Calvinism, restoration doctrines from campbellism, folk magic, masonry and others. The other prophets of the world did the same thing. Buddhism and Sikhism grew out of Hinduism. Christianity and Islam grew out of Judaism. All these prophets have blessed the earth and speak wisdom and truth through their own culture. I encourage you to read broadly and discover their truths. Someday, years from now, come back to the book of Abraham or Moses and read it without the lens of a historical, literal document, but as scripture written by a prophet, who like a man, had the hubris to believe his writing was a translation of historical fact. Then you will find new meaning in it.


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FaithfulSkeptic
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Re: Struggling with Joseph Smith

Post by FaithfulSkeptic » 17 Jan 2015, 03:45

Holy Cow wrote:Sunbelt,
I'm right there with you.
Me too! I'm enjoying this thread because I'm thinking/struggling with a lot of the same issues. It's so hard for me to avoid black/white thinking. If JS was really not inspired of God, then the Book of Mormon and the Church are not "true", and everything I've based my faith on is a sham, etc. This is really the crux of my faith crisis.

But is it possible that JS could have been inspired of God (at least some of the time) in spite of all his faults? I suppose this is possible, but Holy Cow nailed my sentiments with this:
Holy Cow wrote: To say that he was a prophet who made human mistakes is fine. It's the magnitude of those human mistakes that bothers me. We are held to higher standards as members of the church than we hold the founder to. If I lived my life the way Joseph lived his, I'd be excommunicated in a heartbeat. I simply can't believe that he was being commanded by God to marry other men's wives, destroy a printing press, start a militia and name himself Lieutenant General, run for President, etc., etc.... There comes a point when I have to say, "Okay, that's enough. This guy's gone way overboard, and I can't keep giving him a pass on things that I wouldn't get a pass on just because I'm human and I make mistakes.
To me, it seems much more likely that JS was deluded (although I believe he was sincere). But there is no doubt there was something to him to be able to attract so many followers. Some remained loyal to him in spite of his faults, while others could not accept his faults and turned against him, or considered him a fallen prophet.

I'm not sure what I think or believe now. I'm not even sure I believe in God anymore. All of this makes it so hard for me to stay LDS. If it weren't for my DW and kids, I don't think I would. Somehow I have to figure out how to make this work for me.

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