Chat With a Mormon Online
I program computers for a living. I started out in computer graphics in 1976 when it was not a household word. Originally I wanted to do computer graphic movies but that was about 19 years before Pixar made their first feature film so I ended up doing flight simulation instead. Later I got into analyzing computer programs and generating web pages from them. Now I'm using supercomputers to analyze data for the US government. I married a woman with three half grown kids. I adopted them and then we had three more together. That really helped cement the family together as the older kids loved being big brothers and sisters to the little ones. My wife died when our youngest was 18. I remarried and acquired three step children in their thirties and 10 now 12 step grand children. Two of my children now have children as well. One of my daughters is now like a sister to the step-daughter who introduced me to her mother. I love choral singing. I served in the Mormon Tabernacle choir for 4 years 1987-1991 when I lived in Salt Lake City. My wife and I now sing with the Mormon Choir of Washington DC.
I was raised Methodist. My parents were very devout, very involved in service to those around them. I gained my knowledge of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ by reading a 10-volume children's Bible but rejected religion by the time I went off to college because it seemed to bear little resemblence to what I had read in the Bible. After I received my master's degree, I moved to Salt Lake City to take a job with a computer graphics company. My mother told me to "watch out for those Mormons." I joked that I was going to become one. After several years, I started attending a Unitarian Church because I felt like I needed something to do on Sunday. Then I married a woman who had been a Mormon but had dropped out because of her divorce and was now attending the Episcopal Church. My parents first words to her when I introduced her over the phone were, "You are the answer to our prayers." We were married in the Episcopal Church and my wife persuaded me to join the choir. I found myself singing a lot of the same anthems my parents had sung in the Methodist Church choir. I began to be touched by them. A year later on Christmas morning, a month before I adopted my wife's children, the oldest girl had gotten into a spat with her mother and had been sent to her room. Her brothers were really put out with her for "ruining Christmas". Out of the blue I said, "Well today we are celebrating Christ coming into the world to forgive us our sins, so I think we ought to forgive her." They looked at me as if to say, "What planet are you from?" but shortly afterwards, their sister apologized and we had a wonderful Christmas. Over the next several months I felt something growing inside of me that I'd never felt before to the point that I finally felt I should stand up and be counted and got confirmed a member of the Episcopal Church. Three months later, that same girl, who was now 16, decided she wanted to be a Mormon again. My wife admitted that she did too, that she knew within two months of marrying me that she wanted to be back in the Church but didn't have the nerve to tell me for fear of scaring me off. I asked, "What kind of a hold do THESE PEOPLE have on you after four years outside the Church?" She explained that every week when she got up to do the lay reading in the Episcopal Church and saw the blank looks on the faces in the congregation, she realized that many of them didn't have a clue. She said she understood the Scriptures as a Mormon, not as an Episcopalian. We talked for hours. I didn't see how I could ever be a Mormon but she asked if I'd at least read a book on the subject, called "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder" It explained the doctrines of the Mormon Church so well that within a week I was ready to be baptized. Although my parents did not fully understand my decision, they always attended church with us when they came to visit and were very impressed. Shortly before my mother died, 5 years after I joined the church, she said to me, "If this church is true, I want to be baptized." A few months after my mother died, I was accepted into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
I pray with my wife before I leave for work in the morning. We pray over the meals. Even in a restaurant, we will hold each others hands, say a silent or quiet prayer and then squeeze hands when we are finished. We pray together as we get ready to go to bed. We will also silently pray separately as we feel the need. Although I find myself repeating myself quite frequently, I find comfort in taking the time to offer prayers. Often the answer is, "you already know what you need to do." When I moved my family from Salt Lake City to Washington DC many years ago, it seemed as though everything was going wrong during that first week. The loan for the people buying our house in Salt Lake was in trouble. The loan for the house we were buying here was in trouble. The moving truck with the furniture was also behind schedule. We had four of our six children as well as two cats and a dog with us and nowhere to go. We had to temporarily move in with the mother of a former college roommate who had helped me get the job. I seemed to see my whole life flash before me. As a family we prayed harder than any other time in our lives. By the end of that week, everything was resolved.
I must admit that when I first tried to read the Book of Mormon, I was rather put off by it. Mark Twain once said that if you took out all the "It came to pass that's" it would be a pamphlet rather than a book but he was being very unfair. When I went back and re-read it, I was astonished how much I missed just in the first few pages. I'm still astonished as I go back and re-read different parts of it over and over again and discover new things I never noticed before. My mother once asked me, "Do you believe the Bible is the only word of God?" I answered, "No. Are you telling me that God is not omnipotent and couldn't give us more scripture if He wanted." She answered, "Well, I wouldn't say that." I then explained how the original Church established by Jesus Christ fell into apostacy as evidenced by the abuses of the Catholic Church that triggered the Protestant Reformation. There are now so many sects, all claiming to have the correct interpretation of the scriptures and all arguing from the same Bible and all claiming there can't be any more revelation from God. Somehow, the Book of Mormon has helped to illuminate the Bible in a way that all the centuries of philosophical discussion were never able to do. In fact, after joining the Church, as I would re-read the Bible, all sorts of passages seemed to just leap right off the pages at me.
Christ said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you." : Matthew 5:43-45. He said we should forgive not once but seventy times seven times: Matthew 18:22. I have always been willing to admit when I have been in the wrong and to forgive those who have wronged me. If my wife and I had a disagreement about something, we might lay there in bed feeling upset but usually one or the other of us would say something to break the ice and then we would talk about it and kiss and make up before we went to sleep.
Four weeks before my baptism, I not the least bit interested in the Church. Then my wife informed me that my adopted daughter wanted to go back to the Church and that she too really wanted to be back in the Church. So I had to find out what the big deal was. After reading a book about the Church, I too was ready to join. A few minutes after making a firm decision with my wife that I was going to join the Church, I received a long distance phone call from someone I hadn't heard from in a year, who began berating me almost immediately, saying "You call yourself a Christian, you're nothing but a hypocrite." I was reminded of CS Lewis' THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS and could almost hear Screwtape saying, "Wormwood, you better get on Ben's case immediately. You're about to lose him." I got other phone calls and chance encounters over the next several weeks that gave me the impression of all Hell breaking loose over the fact that I was about to join the Church. On the other hand, on the way back from a business trip, I found myself seated between two Mormons, one about to serve a mission, the other being the brother of a guy I worked with. Both were ready to cheer me on when I told them of my plan to be baptized. A week before my baptism, one of my best friends called me collect really depressed because he had just lost his job and had been ripped off by the latest in a series of roommates. At one point in the conversation, I told him that perhaps part of his problem was that he had very definite ideas about how people should behave towards each other but that he didn't associate with anyone who believed that way. For example, he was Jewish but hadn't attended synagogue in many years. He retorted, "Oh Ben, you're so naive, it's all the fault of living in Utah around all those damned Mormons." I told him I had just decided to become one and it was like I'd pushed a button and he started blathering away about every bad thing he'd ever hear about the Church. He said, "I've been trying to wean you way from this Christian BS for the last 10 years." Towards the end of the conversation, he said, "You know what your problem is, you see things in black and white while I like to remain in the gray areas of life!" I walked into the office of one of my co-workers and told him that I'd decided to join the Church. Without missing a beat, he asked me, "What took you so long?" Shortly after that, I asked him to baptize me and he said he would be honored. My baptism was very well attended. Many of my neighbors and co-workers came out of the woodwork to welcome me into the Church but I had never once felt any pressure to join before that time. We had a party over at my house afterwards and I felt tremendous love from the many people that attended.
In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks very plainly about how we should help our fellow man: He said, "I was naked and you clothed me, hungry and you fed me, ... and inasmuch as you did this to the least of my brethren you did it unto me." My parents were always very dedicated to doing good for other people and I have found many opportunities to do likewise. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37, and several other incidents: Luke 17:11-18, John 4:5-42, Jesus holds up Samaritans as examples of those who did the right thing when the occasion demanded it. Samaritans were despised for being a mixture of Israelite and pagan peoples. In other words, they didn't believe the "correct" things but still did that which was right in the sight of God. I point this out to people who don't think Mormons have the "correct" beliefs yet acknowledge that Mormons seem to be doing the right things. I also think that this gives great hope of salvation to good people who lived and died in non-Christian cultures. People should not assume that just because they belong to the "right" religion, they are automatically going to Heaven while those that don't are going to Hell. In John 7:17, Jesus says, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." This strongly suggests to me that it is by trying to do God's will, particularly when we are trying to fulfill our callings in the Church, that we come to know Him, not merely by professing a belief.
I find great comfort in attending Church regularly and getting to know other members of the Church. The prophet Joseph Smith told us to "teach one another the doctrines of the kingdom" and that is what happens in Church. Those who are called upon to give talks in sacrament meeting or to teach lessons in Sunday School, Priesthood, or Relief Society often report that their testimony has grown tremendously just by preparing talks or lessons. Some people say they don't believe in organized religion, as if that were to get in the way somehow of experiencing the reality of God. But it is thanks to organization that we have the Scriptures, get touched by music, and get pulled out of our comfort zones to deal with fellow believers and bear one another's burdens. I might think that I know everything I need to know about the Gospel and don't hear anything new at Church but if that is the case, I ought to be in Church helping those less advanced in the Gospel to understand their faith.
I know this Church is true, that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. There are many wonderful people outside of the Church who nonetheless believe in Jesus Christ and will be saved at the last day. There are many who do not know Christ who will come to know Him, if not in this life, then in the next, because their hearts are in the right place. This is not to say that all churches are equally true but rather that many churches have some of the truth, which will help them recognize the true church, if not in this life, then in the next.
I served as a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for four years, 1987-1991. Choir members are set apart as musical missionaries for the Church. Music deeply touches the lives of people and the baptism rate for the Church goes up wherever the Tabernacle Choir performs. I was able to participate in two major tours with the Choir: In 1988 we went to Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. In 1991 we went to Russia and Eastern Europe. I felt the spirit very strongly as we sang in these places. Four of my six children have served missions for the Church. It was a great blessing to receive letters from them as they served and talked about the influence of the Gospel in the lives of the people they taught.
Mormons research their ancestry so that those who have died without the Church may be baptized and sealed in the Temples of the Church. We believe this is in fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6, which said that God would "send Elijah the prophet beofre the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord and ... turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers." The resurrected Elijah visited the prophet Joseph Smith in 1836 to give him the keys to commence this work. I had the wonderful experience of having the Temple work done for my father and mother after they died. My wife and I stood as proxies for my parents in the Temple as they were sealed for Time and Eternity and I saw my mother's face as clear as day in the face of my wife.
Faith is something I live every day. I pray in the morning and evening and over meals. I treat all people with respect because they are all sons and daughters of God, even those who don't know that they are. I have accepted numerous callings in the Church, such as Boy Scout leader, printer, computer specialist, counselor to the Bishop. They have all been wonderful opportunities to step outside of myself and deal with people I might not otherwise have been interested in. For example, as a scout leader, I dealt with boys I would have avoided when I was their age just because their interests were so different from mine. Everywhere that I have lived or visited, I've sought out the nearest Mormon Church and found immediate acceptance. I've continued to read many books by members of the Church, which have strengthened my testimony and I often look for opportunties to tell others about the Church. I've also done much volunteer work outside of the Church, following in my parents footsteps.