Update: Todd Coontz Is “Shocked” to Find He Spent a Lot of Money on Himself

January 17, 2018

While I was away, I missed some important developments in the saga of “Dr.” Todd Coontz, the South Carolina-based televangelist I have written about previously. I put the “Dr.” in quotations because, although Mr. Coontz uses the honorific, there is no evidence he has a doctorate in any subject–he has an MS in Agriculture from Texas A&M University (Gig ’em, Aggies!).

The preacher lived a life of luxury. But the feds just indicted him on tax fraud.

In case you don’t remember “Dr.” Todd:

Coontz was the minister of Rock Wealth International Ministries from 2010 to 2014, according to the indictment. He authored numerous books on faith and finances, also including “Breaking the Spirit of Debt” and “7 Most Common Money Mistakes   and How To Avoid Them.”

He also operated the for-profit companies Legacy Media and Coontz Investments and Insurance, according to the indictment.

Specifically, “the indictment charges the 50-year-old Coontz with three counts of failure to pay taxes [perhaps that’s the triple favor] and four counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false tax returns.”

I hadn’t realized he stopped being the “minister” at Rock Wealth in 2014. It seems he has relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he runs the Dominion Family Worship Center. As far as I can tell, he’s still running Rock Wealth, but apparently his title there has changed. But I digress.

Some interesting details in the indictment:

William Todd Coontz enjoyed a life of luxury, federal prosecutors contend, by claiming as business expenses the $1.5 million condo he and his family lived in as their parsonage and the luxury vehicles they drove, including three BMWs, two Ferraris, a Maserati and a Land Rover.

He also claimed a Regal 2500 boat, 400 charges at movie theaters, $228,000 in clothing purchases and $140,000 in meals and other entertainment as business expenses with no proof the expenses were for business, according to a federal criminal bill of indictment returned by a grand jury in Charlotte on Thursday.

He spent $21,000 at designer jewelry store David Yurman and $14,000 at Diamonds Direct jewelry store, the indictment said. …

“This is a classic example of ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ ” U.S. Attorney Jill Rose said in announcing the charges. “As a minister, Coontz preached about receiving and managing wealth, yet he failed to keep his own finances in order. Coontz will now receive a first-hand lesson in ‘rendering unto Caesar’ that which is due.”

I recognize that prosecutors often employ some rhetorical flourishes when announcing indictments, but I have to disagree with Ms. Rose: As I have noted in previous posts, “Dr.” Todd has been pretty open about why he wants your money and what he’s going to do with it. Despite a few throwaway lines about giving to missionary funds, he basically promises to take your money and pray for you in return. Here’s what you get for a $1,000 donation:

As a treasured Partner, you also share in the anointing and financial mantle on Dr. Todd’s life as he agrees to faithfully pray for you, your family, and your finances on a daily basis.

Again, he gets $1,000 to further his “anointing and financial mantle, which apparently involves cars, boats, jewelry, clothing, and a lot of dinners and movies. You get prayers. One would hope he has enough integrity to say a half-hearted “bless my donors” prayer once in a while, but that might be too much to ask for.

Of course, the good preacher denies any wrongdoing:

Coontz “unequivocally asserts his innocence … and will vigorously defend himself against these charges,” his lawyer, Mark Foster of Charlotte, said in a statement. “Todd Coontz has always endeavored to follow the law and to be a good citizen, father, and minister. He trusted others to manage his finances and taxes for him and was shocked to find out he was under criminal investigation by the IRS.

Blaming the accountants is a time-honored tactic when facing tax-evasion charges, but it doesn’t square with the facts of the case:

The indictment accuses Coontz of a check-cashing scheme involving travel reimbursements for speaking appearances and for book sales.

Coontz regularly traveled to speak at various ministries that generally paid him a speaking fee and his travel expenses. The indictment said Coontz hid income from the IRS by claiming the travel as a business expense while using reimbursements as personal income.

To conceal the payments, Coontz told his travel assistant to have the ministries make the reimbursement checks payable to “Todd Coontz” and to send the checks to his personal address. Coontz then cashed the checks, the indictment said.

Coontz also told his travel assistant to bill the churches for a full fare first-class ticket, although the tickets cost “substantially less,” the indictment said.

He is accused of concealing and cashing 102 checks from 2010 through 2013 for travel reimbursements, speeches and books and other products totaling about $252,000. In 2014, he cashed 32 checks totaling about $105,500 that also were not reflected in his accounting records, the indictment said.

Basically, Coontz was double-dipping: claiming business expenses as a deduction at the same time he was being reimbursed–at an inflated rate–for those same expenses; he then deposited the reimbursement checks in his personal accounts without declaring them as income. Sorry, but he can’t claim to be an expert in finance and investing and then say he’s shocked at illegal activities because “trusted others to manage his finances and taxes for him.”

I’m not shocked, nor should anyone familiar with this smarmy leech. He’ll have his day in court, and he must be presumed innocent by the judge and jury, but if the government has a paper trail for the charges, he may have to live with “the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of others” from a prison cell.

 

 

 

 

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Please, Like Me

January 10, 2018

I’m told that there are “explosive” revelations in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, but so far I haven’t seen anything I didn’t already know. Leaving aside the book’s many inaccuracies and typos, we’ve heard this story before. Since even before Trump’s inauguration, his staff and advisers at all levels have been telling the same tale of an ignorant, undisciplined, narcissistic, petty, and easily bored man who is now arguably the most powerful man in the world. No one should be surprised that Trump has no coherent set of political beliefs, long-term strategies, or goals. It should also be obvious by now that he doesn’t understand government or his role in it, let alone the responsibility for governing the most heavily armed nation in the history of the world. He is, as my brother-in-law put it, a buffoon.

That said, one passage, quoted by Ezra Klein, reminded me of something I had noticed long ago:

“It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked,” says Wolff. “He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.”

Trump’s staffers confirm the characterization. “The president fundamentally wants to be liked,” Walsh says in the book. “He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly.”

Either I’m projecting or I’ve just noticed this because of my struggles with this same issue, which I have described in the past as a “pathological need to be liked.” I used to believe that everything would be OK if I could just make everyone my friend, which led me to some rather disastrous interactions with people who clearly were not and were never going to be my friends.

One of the ways people like me try to get everyone to like them involves self-denial and self-sacrifice. I was taught, as Mormon scripture says,

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God (Mosiah 2:17).

Service is a good thing, and people serve others for a lot of different reasons. For me, a primary motivation was that I just wanted to be liked, maybe even loved.

People who need desperately to be liked will do and say just about anything for that impossible goal. When you’re with someone, your immediate goal is approval and acceptance, so you change your attitude and opinion to fit the moment. Even your most deeply held beliefs can be sacrificed to the god of approbation. My wife told me many years ago that, when we were missionaries, one of her companions told her, “I don’t like Elder Williams. He seems to be a different person depending on who he’s around.” I was horrified, first to know that she didn’t like me, but second because I knew she was right. The scary thing is that it wasn’t conscious. Like Zelig or one of those reptilians who live in the tunnels under Salt Lake City, I was a shape-shifter mentally, if not physically (full disclosure: I’ve been in the tunnels, and they are, literally and figuratively, quite pedestrian). We see some of this self-malleability in White House staff observations that Mr. Trump tends to make decisions based on the last person who talked to him.

In a strange but real way, such constant recalibration of the psyche is a profoundly narcissistic behavior, even if it manifests itself as extreme self-abnegation. Nothing is as important as being liked, so your focus is on satisfying your own ego even as you obliterate it. One predictable consequence of such a morphing self is that, eventually, you can’t remember what is actually you and what is just a tactic for being liked. In the drive to build up your ego, you end up whittling away at it until there’s not much left.

I lived that way for far too long in this pattern of narcissistic self-effacement until I encountered people who not only took advantage of my imagined generosity and returned scorn and hatred. I’m not being facetious when I say that I’m grateful for a few people who treated me with disdain and cruelty. I think I’d already begun to come out of these patterns of narcissism, albeit slowly, when I became aware that people I’d tried to help or befriend considered me beneath contempt. I’ll give one example.

At the encouragement of a couple of friends (real ones, mind you), I wrote a series of posts on postmodernism and how it had been appropriated by some defenders Mormonism. I spent a lot of time discussing what I meant by postmodernism and exactly how and why it had been applied to the religion of my birth. Going into it, my goal wasn’t to argue for or against anything but simply to review the interesting ways people had merged seemingly incompatible ideas about truth and religion. One person began asking me questions in an online forum, and I tried my best to explain the concepts I was discussing, but it was slow going because my correspondent didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about and instead wanted to talk about Pragmatism and William James, which were outside of the topic I had covered. I tried my best to be patient and kind, but the discussion never seemed to get anywhere. As I had so many times before, I had perhaps unconsciously started to make my primary goal not to explain my arguments but for this person to like me. As frustrating as the direction of the conversation was, I felt like I was making a friend.

Then another friend shared with me a private discussion the Pragmatist was having with his friends elsewhere, boasting of how much fun he was having in exposing my stupidity and “mopping the floor” with me in the debate we were having. And here I never thought we were having a debate at all. I reacted with hurt and anger and vented both at this guy and his beliefs. I suppose I wanted him to understand how hurt I was, which again was quite narcissistic. It was all about me, wasn’t it? For quite a while, I returned all the nastiness he sent to me (openly, at this point). Previously, when someone had treated me like that, I just walked away and licked my emotional wounds. But this time, I couldn’t let go, and I continued an acrimonious interaction with this guy for a few years. (Just writing years is kind of horrifying when I think of it.)

With one phrase he finally broke the cycle: he wrote, sarcastically, that we “love each other like brothers,” and brothers fight. I’m not sure why that struck me, but I finally realized I was the only one of us who cared at all about our relationship, such as it was. For me, the relationship produced nothing but hurt and anger, which I still longed to overcome; for him, it meant nothing at all.

That’s when I realized just how stupid it was to care what someone like him thought of me (he’s not a bad person, but I magnified everything in my quest to nurse my bruised ego). Or anyone else, for that matter. I have friends who like me because of who I am, not because I’m desperate for them to like me. If you have to work hard to get someone to like you, chances are they don’t like you. And the truth beneath the need to be liked by others is that we don’t like ourselves. Perhaps the whittling away of the self is intentional in that there will be nothing left to dislike when it’s gone.

I had to get to a place where I wasn’t consumed by what other people thought of me. Obviously, I’m not advocating living a life with no regard for the feelings of others, in which case I’d be a sociopath. What I have learned is to live so that I like myself and what I do. If I do something good or kind, it’s because I want to be good and kind, not because I’m looking for approval.

I’m not entirely free of this disabling neediness (exhibit A being this rather self-absorbed post), but I’m working on it.

But getting back to Trump:

Trump doesn’t care about policy or politics or ideology or coalitions. He cares about Trump. His dream was to put his name on buildings and in tabloids, and now he has put his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet the coverage he gets, outside of a few conservative outlets, is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He cannot perform his job well enough to be liked or respected, but he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like and respect him — and he is being driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt.

Imagine being Donald Trump. Imagine reading about yourself every day and knowing these awful things are being said by your friends, your aides, your allies, perhaps even your family. Imagine knowing you can’t trust anyone around you, suspecting they’re badmouthing you constantly, raising their social status by diminishing yours.

Imagine seeing your stability questioned, your patriotism impugned, your intellect dismissed. Imagine doing the impossible — winning the presidency! — only to be treated as a national embarrassment.

This isn’t what Trump wanted. And it’s not clear it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would, by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or given up on getting the response they crave. But Trump appears to exist in an unhappy middle ground, rage-tweeting through his mornings, retreating to his golf club on weekends, searching for the validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox & Friends but never getting it from the elite tastemakers he’s always sought to impress.

It took me a long time to get over it, but I have “given up on getting the response [I] crave.” I can’t imagine being 71 and still feeling and behaving that way, much less being the President of the United States.


Fund for Matt and Mary

August 30, 2017

flood2

My daughter and son-in-law were flooded out by Hurricane Harvey over the weekend. My wife is with them because my daughter had foot surgery last week, so she needed help with the baby. They were evacuated by kayak on Saturday but are safe and sound, staying with friends.

At its peak, the water was 4 feet deep in their home. With help from their church, they were able to move the furniture upstairs before the house flooded. But their washer/dryer, refrigerator, oven, kitchen cabinets, carpets, flooring, and car are all total losses. and a lot of the drywall will have to be replaced. The photos attached are from yesterday, as the water had started to recede.

They do not have flood insurance, so most of the flood damage will not be covered. We’ve set up a fund for people to donate and help them get back into their home. Please help if you can.

Thank you!

Fund for Matt and Mary

ETA: If I can get a total of $500 from readers of this blog, I promise to start writing regularly (at least once a week) again.


Happiness

October 28, 2016

Apparently I come across to some people as being unhappy. As near as I can tell, the consensus in some circles is that I spend my days obsessed with blaming my misery on the religion I no longer practice, when I should just realize that I’m unhappy because I have problems.

Of course, all of this relies on the assumption that I’m unhappy.

I am not.

I’ve probably written about this before, but as I’ve grown older, my conception of happiness has changed, and I realize that being happy means being comfortable and at peace with who you are. For a variety of reasons (some related to Mormonism, but that was just a part of it), I was never satisfied with where I was in life, and I never felt like I was good enough; if anything, my obsession was with self-improvement, with proving to myself, God, and whomever else, that I was good enough, smart enough, and–doggone it–people liked me. On the inside, however, I was filled with self-loathing; I remember feeling that if people knew the “real me” inside, they would be horrified. So, I looked outside myself for validation, and as I noted recently, when I went through my crisis of faith, I was overly concerned with getting that validation from other people.

I don’t think life got any better until I finally realized that I didn’t need approval, understanding, or validation from other people. I just needed to be OK with myself. In the immortal words of the poet Edgar A. Guest:

But here in this struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.

And I do like myself. The person I am–the natural man, if you will–is not a bad person or unworthy, let alone an enemy to God. It’s just me, and I’m happy with me.

It’s a good place to be. I’m a new grandparent, and life could not be better.

ETA: Now this song is stuck in my head.


Why This Election is Rigged

October 17, 2016

It’s been interesting watching the Trump campaign in the last couple of weeks. The Access Hollywood tape has caused the candidates and his surrogates to flail wildly to find something to distract attention from what probably was a mortal wound.

But really, this campaign has been over for weeks, and I’m certain the Trump campaign folks know it, but I really can’t tell if the reality of the situation has permeated Donald Trump thicket of carbon-fiber hair and into his brain. One hint that he does understand what’s going on is the resurrection of one word: rigged.

Trump began talking about a “rigged” system in April, calling it a “a rigged, disgusting, dirty system,” after Ted Cruz won some GOP delegates with superior organizing and planning.

We didn’t hear much about a rigged system until August, when Trump was again languishing in the polls after a poorly staged convention (and a much better-presented Democratic convention): “And I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” he said.  Another spike in his use of “rigged” came, unsurprisingly, after the first presidential debate, which pretty much everyone agrees did not go well for Mr. Trump. Publicly, Trump tried to put the best face on it, retweeting online polls showing an overwhelming victory, but that one word, “rigged,” once again showed he knew he had lost.

The pattern is pretty obvious: when Trump is doing well, it’s his own doing. No one should be surprised that in a disastrous couple of weeks of casting about for someone to blame–SNL? seriously?–Trump’s speeches have been peppered with that word again and with dark suggestions that there will be massive and widespread voter fraud, particularly in precincts with high African-American demographics.

Could there be some attempts at voter fraud? Sure, but it would require a massive conspiracy in both parties and across multiple states, making it highly unlikely. And even if there were such a massive conspiracy, it would matter only in a close election–and require millions of fake votes.

But this election isn’t close. Trump had one task only in this election: win the states that Romney won and pick up a number of swing states that had voted for Obama. The way to do this, of course, was to attempt to appeal to moderate and undecided voters. That shouldn’t have been a difficult task, as Hillary Clinton is perhaps the second-most disliked major-party candidate in memory–second only to Mr. Trump.

What he needed to do was try to attract college-educated whites, women, and persuadable minorities.And indeed, his campaign kept telling us that was what he was going to do. But what we got instead was classic Trump: an appeal to African-Americans that traded in racist stereotypes (they all live in poor, violent, inner cities, and they need help from the government (him, actually) because they can’t take care of themselves). His appeal to women consisted of trotting out women who accused Bill Clinton sexual assault and then denying he’d ever done what he had bragged about to Billy Bush. Of course, the denials just opened the floodgates, and women are rushing forward to tell the same story about Trump. At this point, no one gives a damn about Bill Clinton’s past because Trump’s behavior just makes him look hypocritical.

Is it any wonder that the operative word this week–in almost all of Trump’s tweets and speeches–is “rigged.” Others have written about how irresponsible and, frankly, unpatriotric and un-American it is for Trump to call into question the sanctity of our electoral process, and I won’t go into that other than to say that, if violence does result from unhappy Trumpistas after the election, we know whom to blame.

As for me, I’m content to know that, finally, inevitably, Trump knows he’s lost. Roland Barthes once wrote that expressing love to another is an “affirmation of extreme solitude.” We tell other people we love them because we understand we are alone, and we hope that they will love us in return and rid us of our loneliness. In the same way, Trump’s assertions that he would be winning, save for a “rigged” system, is a pathetic acknowledgement that he’s lost, and he knows it.

Expect to hear “rigged” even more often over the new few weeks, as the scope of Trump’s loss sinks in. I’ll smile every time I hear it.

 

 


Come on in, the water’s fine

October 4, 2016

A number of years ago, a Mormon guy told me I was “the worst kind of anti-Mormon there is.” Why? Because I pretended to be reasonable, fair, and well-intentioned (apparently, I’m none of those things) in an effort to tear the LDS church down, one member at a time. He continued, “You’re basically someone standing in a pool full of sharks saying, ‘Come on in, the water’s fine!'”

At the time that really bothered me because I have never intended to draw anyone out of the LDS church. Looking back on the heartache I went through when I went through my “crisis of faith,” I think my main concern was that I wanted someone–anyone, really–to understand what I was going through and why, and to tell me I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t just “looking for excuses to leave.” Really, I wanted validation, and of course, that kind of validation is impossible to obtain from believing church members. Predictably, I received quite a lot of negative responses, and the only validation I got was from people who had been through the experience before me.

I didn’t watch LDS general conference this last weekend, but I see that a lot of people are talking about a talk from M. Russell Ballard wherein he discussed the safety and spiritual benefit of staying in the church compared to the lack of these things “the world” offers. I don’t have the transcript of the talk, so I’ll just quote from the Deseret News summary:

To these members, Elder Ballard asked, like Peter, “To whom shall [you] go?” The decision to leave the Church can have a long-term impact that can’t be seen at the moment.

He said, “If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light on an issue. Remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold.”

Elder Ballard urged members, “Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.”

Before making the spiritually perilous choice to leave, Elder Ballard encouraged members “to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the first place. Stop and think about what you have felt here and why you felt it. Think about the times when the Holy Ghost has born witness to you of eternal truth.”

The organization, doctrine and teachings found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be found in no other place, Elder Ballard said.

Accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging, as it has always been. Elder Ballard said, “Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace.” Not every hiker needs to stop, and there is nothing wrong with doing so if circumstances require a break. The danger comes when someone decides to leave the trail entirely.

If I had read that back when I was going through the turmoil of collapsing faith, I probably would have been hurt and angry. Indeed, back at that time I wrote a parable about those who were telling me I had to “get with the program” and go back to church, despite what I knew:

There once was a boy who lived all his life with a cardboard box over his head. His parents taught him that he should never take the box off, for doing so was dangerous and foolish. The box protected him from the scary world outside of it.

On the inside of the box, he could make out some letters, and he could see the outlines of the box around him. His world was brown cardboard. His parents taught him to study the inside of the box carefully, for in it it was all the wisdom he needed to navigate life. Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.

Some of his friends told him that they had taken off the box and life was much better, but he didn’t believe them. His parents made sure he stayed away from these people, who clearly wanted only to hurt their boy.

But as he grew older, he found that he kept bumping into sharp and painful objects that he couldn’t see because of the box. His parents told him that those things weren’t real, that he was safest and happiest inside the box. But each day brought more injury as he seemed to constantly run into painful things.

“Just take the box off so you can see where you’re going,” said his friends.

“No! You can’t! You’ll hurt yourself, and you might even die!” warned his parents.

After too many painful days, he made up his mind to see what was out there on the other side of the box. The light hurt his eyes briefly, but after a moment, he could see colors and trees and sky. It was more beautiful than anything he had ever imagined.

He looked around and saw his friends, who smiled at him and welcomed him to a better world. And then he saw them. His parents and friends came groping toward him, boxes on their heads.

He called out to them, “Take the boxes off! You’ll see that there’s so much more out here! Trust me!”

But his parents told him sadly, “We have failed as parents. All we ever wanted was for you to be happy, and now you’ve rejected us and everything we hold dear. Please, son. Put the box back on, for us. You’ll see that we know what’s best.”

“But Mom, Dad. It’s so beautiful out here, and the world is full of possibilities. Can’t you just lift the box, if only for a moment? You’ll see that I’m telling you the truth.”

His parents turned sadly and told their friends, “We have lost our son. Let this be a lesson to you. This is what happens when you take off the box.”

And they groped their way slowly away from the shining sun.

But these days, the pain has long passed, and I don’t worry about what people say about me. I don’t often think about the differences in my life after leaving the church, but it strikes me that, as I wrote in the parable, I have a much broader perspective about life and my place in it.

As a church member, I always viewed life as “us” (members of the church) and “them” (the world outside the safe environs of God’s kingdom). I was taught all my life that life outside the church was rudderless, morality-free, and scary. If I didn’t have the church, what would become of me? I still shake my head at those who have told me that, without the gospel in their lives, they are sure they would be drug addicts or sex addicts or in prison, or something. Maybe we were taught that who we are deep inside–the natural man–is evil, an enemy to God. I certainly internalized that.

I will say that leaving the church left me feeling pretty vulnerable, without what I call the superstructure of the church, its practices and worldview, through which to frame and experience life. But this ended up being a good thing. I was forced to dig deep inside and figure out who I am and what I believe (hint: what I found isn’t evil or an enemy to God). I was forced to deal with people as people, not as members and non-members. It never occurred to me until I left the church that I had put up walls between myself and non-members; it wasn’t that I was shutting them out, but I always saw my relationships with them in terms of their possible interest in the church. (How crazy is it that for about 2 years, I found myself thinking “that guy would really benefit from joining the church”?)

And I’ve discussed elsewhere my battle with depression (and a suicide attempt) in the wake of my faith crisis, but even that turned out to be a real “blessing,” if I’m allowed to use that word. As a church member, I had spent my whole life telling myself how happy I was because of the church. Happiness was keeping the commandments, and I was keeping the commandments. Therefore, I was happy, end of story. But I learned subsequently that I’d been clinically depressed for many years, but it was impossible to admit that because I was so focused on telling myself how happy I was.

So, yes, it’s been an interesting journey, one filled equally with pain and joy, but I wouldn’t trade it for what Elder Ballard is offering. Not a chance. Mormonism works for some people, I get that. But, unfortunately, it’s a one-size-fits-all lifestyle, and nothing fits everyone properly. (Of course, it doesn’t help that the foundational claims of the church do not hold up to minimal scrutiny.)

You see, the life I had before was the life Elder Ballard and his fellows had prescribed for me. I was following their script, not mine. And it didn’t work. But rather than rebel against it, I had just denied who I was and tried to become the character in the play they had written for me. But who I was slowly faded into the background, and I sometimes wonder if there would have been anything left that was “me” had I stayed on that path.

While I was going through the turmoil of those days, I found an excellent therapist in Utah who understood what I was going through. She told me something that changed my life: “You have to get to the point where living a happy and authentic life is more important than any relationship.” This was completely opposite of what I had been taught all my life: put everyone else first, not least the church and God; subordinate your will to God and His prophets. Authenticity means being true to yourself, but the gospel is about denying yourself.

So, to whom shall we go when we leave the church? Does it matter? We go where our heart, our brain, our conscience takes us, and we find a happy and authentic life. Elder Ballard seems to be suggesting, as my mother would about people breaking the Sabbath, that people who leave only “look happy” but aren’t really happy.

But we are. I am, anyway.

So, yes, come on in, the water’s fine!


No Way Out?

September 1, 2016

I was thinking this morning about my long struggle with depression. For most of my life, I just lived with it, undiagnosed and untreated, and I’m convinced a lot of that had to do with my belief that being a member of the LDS church and keeping the commandments made one “happy.” I was doing what I was supposed to do and trying to nurture a relationship with God, so I told myself I was happy because happiness naturally follows the kind of life I was living. On the rare occasions I admitted how bad things were, I just blamed myself for not being faithful enough and not being content with my blessings.

I was miserable. Sometimes I hated myself so much I contemplated suicide. Ironically, what kept me from making the attempt was my belief that, even if I killed myself, it wouldn’t be the end. I’d just be sitting there in the spirit world, as unhappy and self-loathing as ever. So, what would have been the point?

Obviously, the reality of my life didn’t match what the church told me my life should be. I just accepted that my life was as good as it was going to get, and that meant I was happy. Perhaps, I thought, this was what happiness was, and people who weren’t living like that must be even worse off than I was. Essentially, I didn’t know what happiness was because I hadn’t experienced it.

I’ve said before that it wasn’t until after my loss of faith that I was able to acknowledge and treat my depression. Of course, it took a suicide attempt to get there. I stopped telling myself I was happy, and it was easy to recognize that the words had always been empty. I found a good therapist and got on the right mix of medications.

I finally decided that happiness is being comfortable in your own skin, enjoying your life without constantly feeling you need to do better. Self-improvement is a worthy goal, but I think we were caught in the trap of never stepping back to appreciate how far we’d come. There was always some other imperfection or failing we had to address. And I guess by “we” I mean “me.”

Life is good.

Sorry I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten back to the novel, but I will. I promise.