Zen@Church: How We Make It Worse

By: shenpa warrior
February 8, 2012

We naturally try to avoid pain—sometimes at great cost. Perhaps in a misapplication of scripture, we Mormons even try to avoid the appearance of pain, having perfected the art of “turning it off” and hiding our pain from each other. We may be told over and over that, “the church is a hospital for sinners – not a museum for saints,” but many don’t believe it. I once spoke with a woman who had worked in an office where everyone else was Mormon. She really admired how friendly everyone was. Getting to know some of them better, she also began to notice how skilled they were at hiding their pain.

Are we surrounded by people who are hiding? With pure intentions in raising our children to smile their frowns away, are we subtly telling them that frowns are not allowed?

I once worked with a young man who would wake up every morning depressed and in tears. If he couldn’t reach anyone by phone he would pray and ask God “Why?!?” I asked the young man if he got an answer to his pleading for the depression to stop and to the “Why!?” He said no. Like most of us, myself included, he wanted to be rescued from his pain. This is an absolutely valid response. The apostle Paul pleaded with the Lord three times for his temptation to leave him. Even The Savior asked to have the bitter cup taken from him. Yet, the young man’s pain remained, as did Paul’s, and of course—most significantly—so did the Savior’s.

When we’re faced with uncertainty, or suffering, we often take “false refuge” in things that ultimately do not satisfy, and often make things worse. Many people use the church as a false refuge – for status, pride, certainty, or a false sense that we won’t suffer… even though we are told that it rains on everyone.

What are some common “false refuges” in Mormonism?

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29 Responses to Zen@Church: How We Make It Worse

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 8, 2012 at 6:59 AM

    The “I am right, you are wrong” refuge — with the concomitant stance that “you are sinful, I am righteous” and “all pain comes from sin.”

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  2. Elianna Mae on February 8, 2012 at 6:59 AM

    I think we use blessings the same way. Dealing with depression and pain is difficult and it is wonderful that we would think that the Lord would just miraculously “heal” or take away the pain. The thing is, I think the pain is one of the necessary parts of life that refines us and prepares us to meet our Savior. Over the years I have struggled to learn this concept. It is good for us to assume that we can be healed, it proves we carry a lot of faith in our Savior. The problem is, without the pain we just continue through life without learning humility, forgiveness and grace among other many important gospel principals.

    I guess all I am saying is that misery must be a necessary part of our salvation, or we all would be happy all of the time. I wonder if it is God’s way of teaching us to lean on one another for emotional support.

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  3. mh on February 8, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    men are that they might have joy.

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  4. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    The gospel sets a high standard, Christ is our example but we are not Him. The path to becoming like Him is enlightenment NOT sin avoidance. Remember that Christ brought us the beatitudes not the Ten Commandments they are Old Testament law. Sin avoidance is simply an early step on the path to enlightenment it teaches discipline and will power.

    Mormonism is still stuck in sin avoidance while members desire, profess, pretend or fake living the gospel standard and the church standard and because they are not enlightened enough to transcend the natural man they are destined to repeat certain sins until they have overcome the urge to commit these sins through will power. This falling short and even this overcoming creates dissonance it may manifest itself in depression, in physical illness, in denial, in hypocrisy and in other coping mechanisms and psychological defenses. Some of this will be experienced as suffering and/or pain but it’s source, one’s attempt to live the gospel through sin avoidance will not often be recognized.

    Enlightenment is actually an opposite path it is the removal of psychological and spiritual dissonance leading to becoming centered at peace and one with God.

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  5. mh on February 8, 2012 at 8:03 AM

    the plan of happiness

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  6. whizzbang on February 8, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    addictions. Adam and Eve had fig leaves they tried to hide behind but fig leaves always wilt and so you need it again and again but God sees through all that and offers his hand to us. I see Christ as a realist in the sense that he wants us to bring him everything, all the crap, depression, mistakes, sins and transgressions and it is my experience that he does help

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  7. Will on February 8, 2012 at 9:20 AM


    This is a great post and is so true. The quest for perfection in the church juxtaposed with the fact that all of us are human creates this ego in some members – in a lot of members. They don’t know how liberating it is to admit they are wrong, or they have done wrong. I think this is why confession, which embodies acknowledgement and thus honesty, is THE most important aspect of forgiveness. The only way we are going to be clean is to acknowledge our weakness and confess it to someone who can help us, which is not necessarily the Bishop.

    This comes out on the current political stage, where we see Romney not willing to acknowledge any mistakes he made in the past. Him defending the compulsory mandate, for instance, while governor could cost him the GOP nomination (go Santorum or Paul – the honest ones). He has no credibility if he did it as Governor and then points the finger at Obama for the very same thing – it presents the ego discussed above. The more he tries to defend it, the more credibility he looses. If he just admitted it was a mistake he would be so much better off. I see this with a lot of church leaders that I know. I know of their faults as I have known them for so long, but they are a different person when I see them in action as a Bishop or Stake President. I think the church has set the tone in the regard with the illusion leaders are somehow super saints, or are not subject to mistakes. The reality is some of them are called for their leadership abilities and not necessarily due to their spirituality. As members, we just need to keep this in mind.

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  8. Michael on February 8, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    No success can compensate for failure in the home.

    If you are a faithful parent, even if your children stray they will return to the fold.

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  9. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    #4: Howard,
    (IMO),the reason the “The Age of Enlightenment ” was called the age Enlightenment, is because the thinkers of that Age agreed, in general, what was ” Enlightenment”.
    Enlightenment was to move to an Age of Reason,From an Age of God or Religionism. Man would rule himself by Science and Logic. There would be no “Sin”, only Humanity acting badly.

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  10. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    I’m not talking about The Age of Enlightenment I’m using enlightenment in the Eastern sense a concept that has been passed down for thousands of years.

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  11. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    #10: Howard,
    It’s the same: enlightenment comes from Man’s thinking__not a revelation from God.

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  12. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    That is just one interpretation there are others that include the divine.

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  13. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 10:18 AM

    #12: Howard,
    Are we not talking about Zen?
    Why do you use “the divine” and not God?
    I guess I am challenging Zen@Church than I am your thoughts.
    I do not see Zen and Mormonism as a good or possible match.

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  14. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    I’m not arguing Zen which is a form of Buddhism. God is fine the divine is generally broader and when talking about enlightenment I use it to try to avoid entanglements that detract from the main point.

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  15. Paul on February 8, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    #7, Will, I’m sorry your experience with bishops and stake presidents has left you wanting. My experience has been that those I’ve know have been pretty open about their humanness and their flaws.

    SW, great post and great question. I think how an individual ward or branch may look in this respect may depend on how diverse the congregation is and how many new converts there are. Where we get to see lots of new people come into the church, we tend to be more tolerant of (and supportive of) that learning curve. I would suspect where all ward members live within a few blocks of one another in an upper middle class neighborhood that rarely changes, it would be harder to practice that tolerance.

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  16. Heber13 on February 8, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    From the Proclamation:
    “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. ”

    The “false refuge” can be in misunderstanding these, and thinking that if I’m not happy, it must be because I’m not praying enough, or being faithful enough. Or if my marriage is struggling, it must be because my spouse isn’t worthy to bring these blessings into the family. The ward family sometimes puts pressure to display and share in testimonies how happy we are, and then the individual with full knowledge of all the personal weaknesses and struggles and times of unhappiness, feels like they must not measure up to all the other saints that seem to have it figured out.

    The risk is, although we say it rains on the just and unjust as mentioned in the OP, some can set expectations that unhappiness is directly correlated to spiritual weakness.

    When we don’t know what else to do, smile and “fake it til you make it”.

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  17. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    #14: Howard,
    But the post in named “Zen@church”.
    Enlightenment comes from the inside in Zen, It comes from the inside in the “Age of Enlightenment”. It comes from Human thinking (Meditation).
    In Mormonism, enlightenment is not the path. The “Path” is God, revelations, visions, the “Spirit”, or the Holy Ghost. All thing that reject Human thinking.

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  18. Paul on February 8, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    #16 Heber, I think you’ve nailed it. The issue is not so much that the gospel teaches us the wrong path to happiness, but that we assume that WE are the sole influence on our own happiness. (If I’m not happy, I must be doing something wrong!)

    It’s complicated by the fact that sometimes when we are unhappy it is precisely because we’ve done something wrong.

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  19. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    …feels like they must not measure up to all the other saints that seem to have it figured out… I wonder if they do have it figured out.

    You seem to be assigning Zen to me even though I’ve stated I am not talking about Zen and you’re insisting it comes from inside even though there are other choices. The source of enlightenment I am talking is divine the source of Joseph’s enlightenment was divine.

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  20. Heber13 on February 8, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    Paul, I agree, and we focus on teaching the inspiring part, that we can be more happy if we avoid mistakes, that happiness is a “choice” and if we are actively engaged depending on the Spirit to guide us…but it seems awkward to try and explain that sometimes no matter what you do you’ll have times of being unhappy, and it is unrealistic to think you’ll never be unhappy. Why can’t we acknowledge that is OK? We can’t know happiness if we can’t know sadness…it is just the realistic order of opposition in all things. So being unhappy is OK.

    We don’t seem to be so open about that, because I think people feel it is a sign of weakness. Expectations are a big part of this discussion, which vary greatly by person.

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  21. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    #20: Heber13,
    I believe the Greeks thought “Balance” brought happiness, not “opposition”(?)

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  22. jmb275 on February 8, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Thanks for a great post shenpa. Really great!

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  23. Bob on February 8, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    #19: Howard,
    No, I just feel you are misusing the terms “enlightenment” and Zen. I can’t of many times that Joseph Smith and enlightenment have been used by the Church in the same sentence. But “enlightenment’ It has been used in Zen for thousands of years.
    I have noted you are using the terms in your own way which you are free to do.

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  24. Howard on February 8, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    This is getting tedious the only thing I’ve said about Zen besides pointing out that I am not talking about Zen is it is a form of Buddhism which it is so I strongly doubt that I am misusing the term.

    I’m referring to spiritual enlightenment the possible sources include coming from within or without from the collective consciousness or the divine. For the purposes of my comments here I assume a divine source as already stated.

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  25. Heber13 on February 8, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    #21 Bob, “Greeks thought “balance” brought happiness”

    Perhaps so, I always thought Greeks really valued Hellenistic graceful life philosophies, which were focused on enlightenment and knowledge as highest values. Perhaps balance is part of that enlightenment?

    The metaphor of being lost in the forest and viewing religion as trying to rescue the lost and bring lost souls safely to the village, whereas graceful life philosophies asked…maybe we should stop trying to find the village and just enjoy the forest, pick the blueberries, and sit under a tree and be happy being in the forest?

    Christianity seems to push for results. We’ll be judged. We’ll be assigned to Heaven or Hell. Mormonism adds pressure that we can’t just be good, we must be valiant if we want the CK, and then steadfast and diligent ALWAYS if we want the highest degree of the CK. The BOM teaches pride and sin lead to misery.

    We must always lengthen our stride, with constant examples of the saints who make ultimate sacrifices for good. Pres Hinckley said: “In this world so filled with problems, so constantly threatened by dark and evil challenges, you can and must rise above mediocrity” (Brigham Young University devotional, Marriott Center, 17 Sept. 1996).

    I think the Western World, and Mormonism, we value optimal performance, above balance. It causes stress.

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  26. NewlyHousewife on February 8, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Reminds me of what my husband says in regards to women’s clothing: You dress up to one-up each other; not to feel good about yourself.

    I know at least within my experience in RS, we spend more of our time making sure our family looks good on Sundays than preparing for our lessons. I suspect this whole “hid your problems” is more of a female issue than a male issue because females tend to discuss feelings rather than ideas in group settings.

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  27. Justin on February 8, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    In the spirit of:

    I know at least within my experience in RS, we spend more of our time making sure our family looks good on Sundays than preparing for our lessons.

    My wife attended a RS meeting where, during the lesson, a woman made a tear-filled comment about her husband wanting to leave the church and get a divorce. The teacher went right back to discussing the lesson topic — so my wife interrupted to say that since it seemed she just wanted to go on with the lesson and ignore that this woman needed some love and attention, that they should all stay after the class was over to give her some support.

    *Class ended* Everyone got up and left except for my wife and this woman.

    A couple more bad stories after that — and she just stopped attending.

    So I see Newly’s point — it seems like the purpose of classes and meetings is just to put on a good stage-play or an act — except no one’s having fun or doing it for actual play.

    You can just observe where our energies and attention are devoted. For example, I’ve noticed as I watch where the attention gets devoted during sacrament meetings — the purpose of the meeting would appear to be to give the congregation material to make kids have to sit through.

    The purpose of talks would be two-fold:
    (1) To give the person assigned the talk a reason to have to study the Conference talk, scripture, or general topic that was assigned.
    (2) To give the congregation something to have to make their kids to sit quietly through.

    The LDS activity rate is quite dismal — and it’s because people can only “do” something as long as they have the energy to “work” at it.

    Where there is Joy, where there is the Spirit — “activity” flows out of the person spontaneously or naturally.

    Yet the current approach to to keep ‘em coming to church — as a way to make ‘em feel the Spirit. It’s backwards.

    People aren’t stupid — it doesn’t take long for an interested investigator to realize that the happiness they would feel in the spontaneous meetings with missionaries is lacking in our church meetings. The Spirit that manifests while studying the gospel in a more intimate setting with missionaries is not repeated in the meetinghouse.

    So — I think “Zen@Church” means to quit trying to “do” church, to quit trying to have the religious experience be something that’s brokered by this all-male merchant-class who deal in religion and religious paraphernalia.

    It’s all image and no Life — because the Life’s been suffocated by the Box we’ve put Her in.

    I think our current practice of assigning everything before church meetings for example [the songs, sermons, etc.] is based on the doctrines and commandments of men, which is why there is no one prophesying or healing or speaking in tongues, etc. during our meetings. The commandments of men are not accompanied by manifestations of power.

    To get back to a reliance on the Spirit, in which it is the Spirit that directs and guides the conducting of our meetings [and not any man or group of men], I think we need that room for spontaneity — because that’s how She works.

    Nobody should be selected beforehand to say prayers, or prepare talks, or prepare musical numbers, or be given sermon topics, or be given material from which to base a sermon on, etc. Because the scriptures say that if the Spirit is not given to you, then you should not speak. And the scriptures say that everything must be done at the moment, spontaneously, as the Spirit directs.

    We have no “spiritual gravity” drawing converts together — keeping them gathered in a body of the church of God.

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  28. ?????? on February 8, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Enjoyed the post. Thanks.

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  29. shenpa warrior on February 8, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Thank you for the comments – I wish I had time today to respond more. Some really great points that I’d like to think about. I love the idea of letting go of trying to “do” so much at church and how that makes everything be “work.” I know I’ve never gotten much out of hometeaching, or say, temple attendance when I was “doing” the job or checking the box. On the other hand, the most meaningful experiences I have had with both of those things have been when I allowed myself to be, and experience, and to trust, rather than to grasp.

    The only comment I have re: Zen and “the inside” is that I think Mormonism teaches that we are already divine (or as in some forms of Buddhism, people are already enlightened, it’s just a matter of recognizing it, or removing the layers) – Growth comes from within, as well as from without (e.g. from trusting in God, the Atonement, etc.). That’s for Zen@ Part 3 though. :)

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