Two travelers in a company drive horse-drawn carts. One cart is green and the other is blue. The drivers are each making a journey that is important to them, and are taking special care of their cargo.
The driver of the blue cart has a vast load of packages. Each is carefully wrapped and thoughtfully placed to be as safe as possible. It is all tied down with a webbing of rope. As the company passes over rough terrain, this cart is often rocked side to side, jostling a package loose. The driver is careful to stop whenever a package is in danger of falling out to secure it. He also takes time to reposition any loose packages every night. The journey goes on.
The driver of the green cart also carries a heavy, treasured load. Secured with tightly wound rope and tarp, his cargo rises like a small mountain in the back of his cart. Every piece of cargo is fitted perfectly with the rest, as if it were a giant jigsaw puzzle. As the company passes over rough terrain the green cart rocks side to side ponderously, but nothing shakes loose. Everything was positioned so perfectly and bound so tightly there is no room for escape. The driver does not often check his load, for it is always as it should be. The journey goes on.
One day the company reaches a treacherous mountain road. They had heard of this road before, but never confronted it themselves. At its worst, the road passes along side a deep chasm. And, while the road is wide enough, it is pitched at a steep angle. Anything too top-heavy may tumble swiftly into oblivion. The captain of the company tells them there will be many obstacles like this before the end of their journey. The company warily passes through one by one.
The drivers of the two carts watch as people pass through the most difficult part. Rocks and rubble make for severe jostling and sliding. Some wagons and carts with small loads seem to pass by almost as if their inexperienced drivers don’t even see the danger. Others stare into the abyss the entire time, almost in panic. A wagon not far in front of them attempts the crossing but it’s too top-heavy and tumbles almost soundlessly into the darkness. The company weeps, but continues forward.
Considering their options, the two drivers stop to examine their loads. The driver of the green cart looks at his monolith of cargo. All is tightly wound together. “I will be fine,” he says. “I see that I am top-heavy but the weight of my load will give me greater grip on the path. My cargo is perfectly positioned and I will not give up any of it.”
The driver of the blue cart looks at his load, perhaps even larger than that of the green cart. It is lovingly cared for, and he knows every package, but it has never all fit together perfectly and he knows that he doesn’t have the skill to make it fit. He knows going over such a steeply tilted path could not only cause some valuable things to fall out, but it could throw his entire cart into the chasm. With much soul searching, he unties his ropes and begins sorting his goods. He unloads his cart completely and then tries again. Loading in first the most important items – the most valuable and treasured possessions. He surrounds those with other required packages, and evaluates every item with a loving but honest eye. With a bit of time the driver of the blue cart realizes that some things he took for granted as important aren’t really essential. He finds that some things he thought were treasures are just not important. Bit by bit, he begins leaving unnecessary cargo by the wayside.
The driver of the green cart is shocked to see this. “How can you get rid of that?” he asks. “That’s essential.” He points at other items on the cart, “you can’t have that without taking those! You need all of this! It’s all or nothing!”
“I don’t need everything,” the driver of the blue cart replies, pulling the ropes tight on a much smaller load. “I only need to make it to the end of the journey.” Nevertheless his heart aches and he feels himself filled with doubt and second guessing as they pull away from the pile of his abandoned goods.
The blue cart is first across the slanted path. The driver feels the wind howling and sees the depth of the chasm. He feels the rocks slide under his wheels as his trusted horse strains with her might. The packages shift slightly, but are not lost. The driver focuses all his energy on the goal – the level path just ahead, and before he knows it he is through. He is overwhelmed with relief and a certain kind of sad peace that is hard to describe. Knowing he had to leave some treasures behind hurts him and makes him wonder if perhaps he’s worse off, but also knowing he could only make it through that part by focusing on keeping only what was most important. He turns to anxiously watch his friend try the hazard.
The green cart is wobbling wildly. With the ropes and chains binding the cargo tightly to the cart, it’s as if the cart and its load are one single object. A small bump at the wheels is magnified by the height of the pile of cargo, and the gusts from the chasm catch its wide surface. The horse strains and pulls and the driver feels the sideways slipping motion. In a moment of clarity he knows the cart is going over, and he chooses to cling to it. When he said, “It’s all or nothing,” he meant it. He is overwhelmed by the rocks, the wind, and the darkness, turning his eyes from side to side and seeing only danger. The green cart slides into the abyss.
Why’d I Tell That Story?
Patrick Mason said:
One of the problems we have in Mormonism is that we have loaded too much into the Truth Cart. And then when anything in the cart starts to rot a bit, or look unseemly upon further inspection, some have a tendency to overturn the entire cart or seek a refund for the whole lot. We have loaded so much into the Truth Cart largely because we have wanted to have the same kind of certainty about our religious claims—down to rather obscure doctrinal issues—as we do about scientific claims. . . .
Over the years the church leadership and laity have also done our religion no favors by putting more in the cart than the cart could possibly bear. . . . Many of the things which trouble people are things that we probably should never have been all that dogmatic about in the first place. I find that a little humility about our doctrine, especially given the contingencies of its historical development, goes a long way in remaining satisfied with the whole. . . .
[anti-mormon hit pieces are] emblematic of this all-or-nothing approach to religion.
It is valuable to note that many ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons can’t resist opportunities to tell believers what their faith “really teaches.” Hear an ex-Mormon start a sentence with “did you know” and you can almost be certain he or she is about to try and educate you on an esoteric and negatively framed artifact from our religious history. Of course, this is nonsensical, since what is a person’s faith if not what they believe? Why then, do most anti-Mormon texts seek to inform us about the “real” religion?
There Is No “Mormonism” (Sorta)
Our idea of what “Mormonism” really is, is almost certainly wrong. Since our faith is built on our individual journeys with revelation and truth, my Mormonism is going to be different from yours. Thus, when I say “The church is true” I am almost certainly talking about a different church than yours. I’m talking about the Mormonism which includes all the knowledge I have gained. Because your knowledge is different from mine, I can’t be talking about your faith.
Antagonists of our faith never seem to have a silver bullet that will destroy the faith of anybody who reads it. However, they always seem to have one thing in common: They insist you must believe EVERYTHING ever said or speculated by any leader, ever (and especially the most negative interpretation of those things) or you believe NOTHING.
In essence, these people believed that Mormonism must not only be everything that is true or thought to be true by yourself, but that you must load your cart high with everything ever said by an authority, throw a net over everything in your cart and bind it tightly down – allowing none of it to escape. You must place everything ever taught into that cart from the obscure history to the forgotten speculation of leaders past; not just the things you personally know to be true. This hurts you in two terrible ways: it makes you easier to “tip” and it makes you stop moving forward as you focus on loading your cart ever higher.
This is not helped by our Mormon culture’s tendency to be dogmatic about things about which we should not have been dogmatic, and defensiveness about previous generation’s views on church history. Those are things which we must repent of, and for which we are now repenting and suffering. But the cure is the same as it has always been: Unload the cart and focus on individual knowledge and experience, and keep moving forward.
This is not an attempt to get you to plug your ears, hum a tune, and ignore anything you find disagreeable. Quite the opposite. I find that there is tremendous joy and value in adding to our truth carts as we travel our path. But those satisfying and valuable answers begin to appear in our carts as we travel forward. We don’t need to load them ourselves.
What Should Our Focus Be?
Adam Miller wisely said “Mormonism is not about Mormonism.” As an analogy he describes a person who is consumed with concern over his own life. “Am I happy? Is my faith true? Am I doing the right thing?” These kinds of questions drive the person to unhappiness. The more this person focuses on his own happiness the more fraudulent he feels. The more he focuses on learning “the truth ABOUT Mormonism” the less it comes into focus. I don’t know about you, but I have been that person.
Miller suggests that “Mormonism comes into focus as true and living only when we aim our attention at Christ. This is not a dodge or an attempt to avoid the tough questions. It is a key that leads to the only kind of satisfying answers we can get: answers directly from God.”
To put it another way: “Mormonism is an arrow in flight.”
If you want to find out if it’s true, the secret isn’t to aim at the arrow, trying to snatch it out of the air to examine it, it’s to aim at what Mormonism itself is aiming at.
As we aim ourselves at Christlike service and love, we will discover that Mormonism begins to make sense. As we approach our target together, we get closer to each other. The arrow in flight comes into greater and greater focus, and things that were unclear become clear without any effort on our part to make it so. As we focus our attention outward – on living and serving as Christ did – we will find that Mormonism becomes the best tool to reach that goal, bringing us closer to Christ, blessing our families, and delivering peace and joy as promised in the gospel.