Can you feel it? The biting chill air; the crisp crunch of frozen crystal white snow. Can you smell it? the strong, heady, cinnamon and pine scents. Do you hear it? The jingling of sleigh bells. Do you see them? the bright flashing multi-colored lights! That’s right, Christmas is just around the corner, and it is in the spirit of this season that I write today’s entry.
You see, this year’s “Happy Holidays!” is a little bit different for me. After giving almost 30 years of my life to the LDS church, it was to my great shock when I stumbled into and read several essays published on LDS.org (fully endorsed by the LDS Prophet and Apostles, highest mormon leadership) which admitted to many ugly facts about mormon church history which I had been taught growing up were anti-mormon lies. This ultimately led to what I have come to view as my awakening and journey of enlightenment. (The whole story can be read in more detail in my book of memoirs titled Truth in Reason).
I am now on a much happier path after leaving mormonism, and am enjoying the mysteries and wonders this world has to offer, instead of hunkering down in my previously extremely limited cave. Exploring my feelings since my worldview was completely flipped around earlier this year has been, although sometimes difficult, oft times quite rewarding.
Christmas has a special place in most of our hearts. It is a time of joy and giving. Many of us have wonderful memories of sledding with friends and siblings, of warm cups of cocoa with marshmallows slowly melting in the chocolaty goodness and heating up frigidly cold toes and fingers in front of the heater, of frustrating Christmas house-lights hanging moments, and dinner with family around a large table piled high with a holiday ham and traditional christmasy foods.
And speaking of tradition, Christmas is certainly a time when we honor traditions the most.
One such tradition is that jolly old saint Nick.
I would like to talk about our good friend in red and white from the North pole. His is a fitting analogy for helping explain some of my thoughts I have come upon on my journey of enlightenment. You see, growing up as a mormon I was taught to rely heavily on my feelings whenever I had a question or needed to make a decision, regardless of how big or small; To pray to God, to ponder, and to seek the answer to my question or make my decision based on how I felt afterwards.
Looking back, with the knowledge I have now, it is so easy to see that this is such a poor indicator of truth, and a very unreliable way to conduct ones life. Playing a passive role in the identification of thoughts and feelings as they arise to your conscious mind, and then acting solely on that? This is no way to find truth.
So what does that have to do with Santa?
This year, the next time you are at the mall and happen upon the section of the mall cordoned off for getting pictures of your child taken on Santa’s lap, pause for a moment and reflect on this while you observe the scene.
First, you will see the babies and toddlers who, being too young to fully understand the context of the situation, will likely be crying and screaming in fear. Although you and I know that this costumed character means the children no harm, this rather large bearded man is a stranger and their instincts default to “danger!”
Second, among the crowd of young ones will be a slightly more mature group of kids, ages 5 – 10. This age group knows, that although this man is a stranger in some sense, they understand the context now, and may even believe him to be the real deal. Some may be shy, but many will be eager and animated at the prospect of sitting on his lap and letting him know their Christmas wishes. Likely they have done this in the past, at the prodding of their parents, and know the tradition matters. Furthermore, after telling Santa what they wanted, they likely received the very same gift on Christmas morn, encouraging them through experience.
Lastly, is the rest of them: bored older siblings, teenagers, and the parents. They aren’t excited to go and sit on Santas lap like the children (and it’s not because they fear him like the babies and toddlers) but it’s because they understand that it’s all make believe. The truth is… Santa, although a long time honored Christmas tradition with a few little gimmicks like “Elf on the shelf” “naughty and nice list” etc., in his pocket, isn’t real. No matter how good the jolly old elf makes you feel inside because of his association with a Holiday that makes you feel good inside, he is only make believe.
Hopefully this analogy will help demonstrate how feelings, regardless of data and context, aren’t reliable spotlights that “burn through the darkness”. Our feelings may simply reflect our current understanding of a topic or interpretation of a situation. To progress and grow we must allow our interpretation (and thus our feelings) to change as we get more data.
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow, and if we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy
Now here’s a flowchart because I love flowcharts!
And WHO DOESN’T WANT TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE UNIVERSE!?
This is why people leave the LDS church. They keep getting more data that suggests it isn’t true, and soon their interpretation about what’s going on in the church changes, and those warm happy feelings they used to have there go away as they see the real truth: Mormonism’s claims to be “The Lord’s restored Gospel and God’s only true and living church on the Earth” are false.
This is one of the reasons why I left the LDS church.
But does that mean I’m going to leave the wonderful joys and traditions of Christmas? Of course not! Bring on Santa! Bring on elf on the shelf! bring on the Grinch! Bring on the stockings and decorated tree! Bring on all the good fun, and the laughter, and the joy of the season. Spread the happiness and cheer! Give the gift of giving! For that’s what Christmas is all about!
Jesus taught: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Outdo yourselves in honoring one another.” – Romans 12:10
And I think that is great advice for how to spend your Christmas!