Submitted by John Dehlin
Most of you won’t know me. I used to blog/podcast back in the day, but was never really part of the official Bloggernacle community (as defined by those invested in the term). I was (and am) a ‘Nacle Wannabe. :)
A big thanks to Rusty for the invitation to write. He’s always been really cool to me. Same w/ Ronan, JNS, SV, ECS, Kaimi, KH, BIV, DKL, Kiskilili, Hamer, Danithew, Ann, Aaron Brown — and a few other mainstream ‘nacle friends I’m forgetting right now. I’ll never forget the kindness of those who reached out to me in my tougher times — even during the times when I was being an a@$, which were legion.
One or two of you may know that I’m starting a PhD program this Fall in Clinical/Counseling Psychology. Upon reflection, my interest in psychology sprung out of my somewhat embarrassing, quasi-entrance into the bloggernacle back in 2004/2005. What a disaster. :)
When I started Mormon Stories, I felt this sincere, deep-seeded, almost overwhelming concern for those I considered to be marginalized within Mormonism. I spent a few years, at an almost frenetic pace, trying to create web sites and podcasts to reach out to those struggling. Gays. Feminists. Intellectuals. Doubters. The mentally ill. Even the disaffected. Godaddy probably considered me a premier client.
After a few years of reaching out to anyone and everyone I could — it began to feel like I was holding an umbrella during a tsunami. So much pain out there, it seemed. So little support. I was also struggling through my own crisis of faith at the time — and this clearly distorted my perception. Thankfully, I found the sunlight again — and could not be more happy with my activity in the church. I feel incredibly blessed.
But even though I’ve largely hung up my cyber-sneakers, I continue to be contacted by ~3 people a week — suffering in some significant way within the church.
• A gay BYU student in the closet….scared to come out for fear of being kicked out of school.
• An acting bishop who has lost his faith only 2 years into his 5 year term. Unsure how to proceed.
• A missionary, in the field, who doesn’t know how to continue his mission now that he’s discovered the discrepancy between his church education, and the actual historical record.
• A wife who is beside herself at her husband’s recent disaffection from the church…mourning the loss of her eternal family.
• A divorced dad who has lost access (for the most part) to his own children over church-related faith issues.
• A white collar professional secretly addicted to porn.
An average of 3 a week for almost 5 years now. Over 1,000 people personally counseled (in one way or another). And counting.
I used to blame the church for all this pain — but not any more. In my experience — most of this pain is born more out of the human condition than it is anyone’s fault (per se). Life is just tough. There is significant joy and pain both inside and outside of Mormonism. Each of us must pick our pain package…so to speak. And it’s pretty much always a mixed bag — church or no church. I’ve found that I’m much, much happier within the church — but that’s just me. I know others that claim to be much happier since leaving…and I applaud anyone for finding increased joy amidst the pain of this life.
Still — my heart has not stopped feeling for the struggling within Mormonism. I continually puzzle at how hard it is for some folks to constructively work through their pain (myself included). I don’t minimize the complexity of the issues. I just wish that healing was somehow easier within this particular body of Christ…which I happen to love immensely.
As I think about the role the Bloggernacle has played in all of this — I am convinced that overall, it has been a tremendously positive force for good within Mormonism. In reality, my small efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what you all have been able to do collectively. There are so many thoughtful, yet faithful members of the ‘Nacle (Kevin Barney, Margaret Young, DMI Dave, Angela Clayton, Brian Johnston, FMHLisa, etc.) that provide healthy examples of how to know all of the tough stuff — and yet believe. Just providing a place for the discussion of tough issues can be a godsend to so many who are suffering in silence. Sometime knowing you are not alone is 80% of the battle. So kudos to all of you for opening up the conversation, providing places to share, and most of all — for providing a crucial “community of support within a community of support”. Even if unintentional.
As I close, here are 5 questions I leave for all of us…myself included:
1) What can we, within the Mormon internet writ large, do to better support those in pain? I know we are doing a lot. But can we do more?
2) How can we extend the reach of the Mormon Internet — to make more and more people feel welcome and not excluded (without diluting the wonderful community you/we have built)?
3) What can we do to better augment the written word with the human touch, and with the physical eyes of understanding that only face-to-face interactions allow? Could an annual bloggernacle conference, or even more audio/visual resources (such as podcasts, videocasts, interviews, etc.) supplement the incredible text-based communities that are clearly flourishing?
4) How might we aggregate the “best of the Bloggernacle” into a centralized resource that provides more directed support to those in need?
5) Most importantly, how do we support positive growth in the institutional church in ways that do not simultaneously weaken this incredible force for good in the world?
These are my 5 questions for the Bloggernacle, and for myself, as I reflect upon the past 5 years, and look ahead to graduate school. I hope to develop some solutions to these problems with some of you in the years ahead. Even if only as an outsider. Regardless, thanks to all of you for blessing my life in innumerable ways.