For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

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For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by Daeruin » 13 Jan 2014, 23:38

I just discovered this book today and have only read a few chapters. Who else has read it, and what did you think?

The fourth edition is available for free here:

I also found a Kindle version on Amazon for $0.99.
"Not all those who wander are lost" —Tolkien

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Re: For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by GodisLove » 20 Jan 2014, 15:15

This was the first thing I read when faced with my husband's FC. I really liked it. I haven't read it in over a year, but I felt assurance and relief that he wasn't the only one. I also had struggled with explanations of different doctrines and hadn't done enough research to "decide" for myself. I need to reread it with my newer perspective but I thought it was good. A great thing to give a spouse if they are willing.
Not one Sparrow is forgotten
E'en the raven God will feed
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need

Then shall I not trust Thee, Father
In Thy mercy have a share?
And through faith and prayer, my Mother
Merit Thy protecting care?
Shaker Hymnal 1908

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Re: For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by Daeruin » 20 Jan 2014, 16:39

Thanks for your perspective! I am working my way through it right now. I'm going to try to post some thoughts about it when I'm done.
"Not all those who wander are lost" —Tolkien

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Re: For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by DarkJedi » 20 Jan 2014, 21:09

I have to finish The God Who Weeps, first! It's on my list, thanks.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

My Introduction

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Re: For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by Daeruin » 29 Jan 2014, 23:03

Alright, I finally finished this book and figured I'd share some of my thoughts about it. Obviously this is just my opinion and is colored heavily by my biases and situation.

The foreword is only two pages. The author identifies four ways of knowing: (1) thinking, or rationalism; (2) experience, or empiricism; (3) revelation from Diety; (4) intuition. Revelation can sometimes come as a form of intuition. He mentions that when conflict develops between a person's thinking and their faith, they tend to choose one over the other. The author suggests that you can still value both types of knowing.

This is a single page. It briefly talks about different versions of the book. It identifies the target audience, which is supposed to be both questioning Mormons and friends/relatives of questioning Mormons. It mentions that 5 to 10 percent of active members actually disbelieve important tenets of Mormonism, and another 25 to 30 percent have quiet but persistent doubts, questions, and insecurities. Even firm believers have trials of faith from time to time. The book is meant to serve as consolation and encouragement to continue as a member while still asking questions. The book is meant to be consumed piecemeal, not necessarily from cover to cover.

Chapter 1: Helping Those with Religious Questions and Doubts
This chapter points out that the ideal member has had a strong confirmation of the church and is untroubled by doubts, and that members who have unresolved doubts live with agonizing emotional conflict. The chapter presents 11 perspectives and misconceptions that may help those who wonder. I'm going to list these out because I found them really interesting and helpful.
  • The LDS culture and society assign different meanings to the words faith and belief. Watch out for cases of miscommunication.
  • Doubting is not necessarily a rejection of God or the church. Doubt is not the same as distrust or disloyalty.
  • Some are given to know; others, to believe. One way to think of this is that it's actually a gift not to know.
  • "It is not permitted to know everything." The word "know" is used differently in Mormon culture; be aware of the difference.
  • Most LDS people wonder about religious things. There are many common questions that LDS people run into. Questions are not caused by Satan. Wondering is natural and not a sin.
  • Everyone is a believer to some degree; our uncertainties vary in strength. Everyone varies in their convictions on individual issues.
  • Properly approached, questioning is a vital part of the learning process. Mormonism has always celebrated intelligence as the glory of God. Sincere inquiry cannot harm the truth. There are ways of presenting questions and doubts that show your sincerity and avoid conflict.
  • The blessings of the gospel come through faithfulness and obedience; particular beliefs may vary within certain bounds. Quotes Joseph Smith and Joseph F. Smith on how variance in beliefs are allowed.
  • Not all information is correct; no one source of information is complete. Historical studies have limitations and are always interpreted by the author. Don't jump to conclusions too quickly.
  • An individual can control his or her personal responses to questions and doubts. The local community and those around you do not have to control your feelings.
  • Religion has a spiritual component that is essential to the process of learning spiritual truths. The spiritual component is sometimes called supernatural or metaphysical and isn't covered by empirical ways of knowing. Spiritual experiences require good works, faith, and a sincere heart—but there are still no guarantees (some are given not to know).
Chapter 2: Wonderful Wondering: Understanding Faith and Belief, Reason and Revelation
This chapter presents a few historical points of view on how to know or learn things about the world, then talks about how to define the following terms: belief, knowledge, doubt, faith, and reason. He talks about their common meanings and other ways they can used and be misunderstood. There are lots of good points in this chapter. He ends by saying that evidence is always imperfect, and faith allows us to bridge the gap.

Chapter 3: Biblographic Essay: What Some Great Thinkers Have Said
This is a long chapter where the author discusses a long list of writers and thinkers all along the spectrum of faith and knowledge—from athiests to agnostics to believers. He starts with Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, and a few other early member of the church, then moves on to Bertrand Russell, James W. Fowler, and a number of other important thinkers. I admit that I skimmed parts of this chapter and skipped most of it. It just wasn't that interesting to me from a pragmatic point of view. If I ever pick up the book again, I'll probably read through this chapter. His discussion of these various people seemed pretty well balanced and would normally interest me when I feel like I have time.

Chapter 4: Personal Beliefs and Church Activity: A Self-Assessment
This entire chapter is just a long quiz you're supposed to take. I took the whole quiz and got my results—it classifies you along a spectrum of true believer to doubter, active to non-active, and so forth. There was no discussion of what significance the results have, and I was really annoyed that I took this huge quiz, and it gave me no insight into anything.

Chapter 5: The Mouth of Dark Canyon
Here we get the first of several fictional stories by the author. I enjoyed this story quite a bit, partly because I could really identify with the main character and the setting. The character is hiking a desert canyon in Colorado near the border of Utah and has an interesting spiritual/sensory experience. The story is basically a parable, but I also felt it was quite enjoyable on its own merits.

Chapter 6: The Phenomenon of the Faithful Doubter
This chapter talks about those who doubt or even disbelieve yet still stay in the church. (He's basically talking about us on!) He talks about different motivations for staying in the church after a crisis of faith, and strategies for sticking it out (keep your interpretations hidden, speak truthfully but discreetly, etc.). He talks about whether it's sustainable and what the future might hold for this kind of member. He also presents several "profiles" of such members.

Chapter 7: How to Manage the Loss of Belief
In this chapter the author again mentions the statistic that 5 to 10 percent of active LDS people actually disbelieve unique tenets of the church, and 30 to 40 percent have some doubts and questions. He talks about different kinds of loss, and how the loss of faith compares. He goes into the classic psychological stages of loss and how a crisis of faith fits that model. He also talks about how belief can be lost slowly and suddenly, and how to cope with both types. His coping suggestions fall into three basic ideas: be honest, work on goals, and find outside help.

Chapter 8: A 2020 Call
This is the second fictional story in the book. It's about a man who is asked to an interview with the president of the church in the year 2020. He's expecting to be called as a General Authority of some kind, but things don't go quite as he planned, and he has to deal with his disappointment. I didn't relate and didn't enjoy this story very much. It didn't seem to fit with the theme of the book quite as well, and I got the feeling it was there as a way for the author to highlight the award he had received for the story in another venue. Maybe I'm just not the target audience for this story.

Chapter 9: Developing a Church-Compatible Model for Living
This chapter presents some of the author's thoughts on how to stay in the church despite doubts or lack of belief. He presents this chapter with an extended metaphor, comparing the church to a house, where each part of the house represents certain teachings of the church. The foundation is Christ, the frame is the church organization itself, etc. He presents several basic options for developing a model of living that's compatible with the church: re-accept the house as it is; make do; try to change the other occupants of the house; find a new home where we can feel comfortable; leave and never find a new home; stay but redecorate the house. He advocates for this last approach and talks pretty extensively about ways you can do it—by cherry picking your beliefs (essentially cafeteria mormonism), altering certain beliefs, etc. He presents a sample model for a personal religion that's compatible with the church without taking everything whole cloth. I found this part really interesting, and I intend to take this rough outline and construct my own model as I progress through my own faith transition. Finally, the author talks about motivation and how you must find your own personal motivations for staying in the church for this to work.

Chapter 10: The Evidence of Things Not Seen
(The following four chapters are mislabeled in the text of the book, although they are correct in the table of contents.) This chapter is another fictional story. It's set in an alternate future where the church has decided to deal with historical problems by sealing up all church and historical records in a vault that only a select few are allowed to see. A group of trained historians are allowed into the vault for the sole purpose of conducting research for the general authorities. The main character is a young historian who finds a bit of information that rocks him to the core and leaves him reeling. On the surface, the story seems to offer a criticism of the way the church has ignored or concealed certain historical facts. Yet it also suggests another interpretation that you'll have to read to see what you think about it.

Chapter 11: All the News Fit to Print
This is another fictional story, this time presented as a series of newspaper clippings. It's reminiscent of the real incident of the Salamander Letter and Hoffman forgeries, but it was written several years before. I skipped this chapter.

Chapter 12: Life in the Borderlands
The author talks about the high attrition rate of the church and what it means to be an acceptable member of the church. He posits that those in "the borderlands" need to do their part to be acceptable members, at the same time as the bounds of acceptability need to be broadened. He talks about a number of strategies for expanding your acceptance in your local ward or branch.

Chapter 13: For Those Troubled by Church Program and Policies: One Way to Respond
In this chapter, the author addresses those who have issues with church programs and policies. He does this by relating a personal experience, which he says is the one and only spiritual manifestation he has ever experienced. He talks about some of his doubts about the experience, and how he has interpreted the experience. He suggests that those who are troubled by church policies let the proper authority know what you think in an honest but tactful way, let time and care work, and have faith that right will eventually prevail.

Chapter 14: Believing for Dollars
This chapter is another fictional story, this time about a man who takes some bad investing advice from his bishop. It's fairly short and kind of humorous, and makes a much-needed point for those who tend to be over-trusting of their leaders.

Chapter 15: First Impressions of a Salt Lake Landmark
In this fictional story, the main character is seated on a plane between two brothers who have just visited Salt Lake. They have apparently just been through the temple for the first time, but they spend the flight talking about their visit to the Great Salt Lake and what they thought of it. One brother, a strong swimmer, was disappointed with the lake, while the other was pleasantly surprised. Their discussion of the lake is an obvious allegory for how people react to the endowment ceremony in the temple. Perception colors everything. I didn't really get much out of this one, but it might be helpful for some.

Chapter 16: The Issue of Honesty
This chapter tackles the problem of how to be honest when your beliefs aren't orthodox, and how members can be intolerant of unorthodox beliefs. The author talks about how honesty has lots of different meanings and shades of meaning depending on context and intent. He suggests some ways to convey your beliefs tactfully, in ways that won't trouble more orthodox members.

And that's it. My overall impression of the book is that it lacks focus. The a la carte approach didn't appeal to me, and it bothered me that so many chapters were completely skippable (for me)—although some chapters were very meaty and helpful. Some of the fictional stories were interesting and insightful, but others just felt like a waste of space to me. I think there is probably something useful for just about everyone, although your mileage may vary considerably. I hope this overview of the book is helpful. I would be interested in hearing others' opinions of the book.
"Not all those who wander are lost" —Tolkien

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Re: For Those Who Wonder by D. Jeff Burton

Post by bridget_night » 30 Jan 2014, 13:38

Interestingly, I found this little book in a lds book store many years ago right after my husband and I had attended the Chicago temple. I had so many questions and doubts at the time and I believe God led me to this book. It really helped me and I wrote Jeff Burton years later about my experiences leaving the church the first time which you can read about in my introduction title God works in mysterious ways." Burton was very interesting in my story and asked if he could use it in future books.

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