Last Updated on June 24, 2022 by Jason Harris
The Phoenix is a mythical animal of rebirth present in many cultures. The myth may have first originated in ancient Egypt. According to some myths, it dies in a combustion of flames to then be reborn from its ashes. A cycle of eternal life or regeneration. Early Christians were just one of the cultures who borrowed this mythology, for them representing Christ and Resurrection.
Yet I believe it is a pattern of the universe that lemonade is constantly made from lemons. That new flowers grow from old degenerated wastes (fertilizer or “shit”). So often that which is “beautiful” and “good” grows forth from that which is “ugly” and “bad.”
To honestly and completely embrace that which is beautiful is to also fully accept the chain of events that led to it. Everything in life is constantly changing, a seemingly eternal stream of events and causalities.
We see this everywhere in the universe. The deaths of older stars give birth to new and more complex elements and also newer stars (which paves the way for creations such as us). Species evolve and new life forms emerge out of the pressures of the destruction and competition of natural selection/death. The moon can wax only because it has waned. The sun can rise only because it has set. Forest fires clear growth and provide nutrients to the forest floor, making way for new growth and the renewal of life.
Each of us are walking and living examples of this cycle, the “circle of life” and can’t be separated from it. Much of the matter that makes up me was previously other living organisms. I extend back as part of a system of endless cycles of death and rebirth. Waning and waxing. Setting and rising.
I am in fact a small part of a much larger seemingly never-ending system than myself. A child of God. I cannot be separated from the endless chain of causes that led to my creation today.
A Magic Time Machine
Let’s imagine for a moment I had a time machine and could go back and change or impact events of the past. Would I do so? Certainly, we have each fantasized about things we would do differently in our own lives if we could do it over again, knowing what we know now. I very well might be (strongly) tempted to do so if it was just my own immediate life… but what if I take it back even further?
Let’s take for instance Joseph Smith and the founding of the Mormon faith. Knowing what I know now, if I lived at the time of Smith, would I do what I could to expose him to those he was influencing? Would I share that portions of the Joseph Smith translation of the Bible are in fact copied from the Adam Clarke biblical commentary? Would I share the evidence that shows large portions of Isaiah that Nephi quotes in the Book of Mormon were actually written 100 years after the time of Nephi (and thus can’t possibly be what it claims to be)? Would I share the overwhelming evidence that Native Americans descended from East Asians (not middle Easterners) and thousands of years sooner than any Biblical or Book of Mormon timelines? Would I share the evidence that source documents of the Book of Abraham are not from Abraham at all (and thus the racist doctrines of the Mormon priesthood that stem from the Book of Abraham also can be discarded as works of fiction)? Would I do what I could to expose Smith’s marital and sexual involvement with girls as young as 14, foster daughters, mother-daughter pairs and other men’s wives?
I would like to think that if I lived in Joseph’s time, knowing what I know now, the answer to each of these questions would be yes. After all, I am doing this now on this very website. I tend not to post “faith destroying” things on my facebook page that would (involuntarily) pop up on people’s feeds… and potentially help lead to a chain of very painful events in people’s lives not seeking this on their own. Yet I also have published this openly on the internet so those who are really seeking to understand where I am coming from (and others like me), and why, can. For me, it’s a balance that seems to work. Even though this is a difficult tight rope to walk at times.
I have also openly published these things to try to help others on a similar journey as me.
But let’s say I could go back in time and do everything I’ve mentioned above. Would I do so? Would I try to have conversations about this with my Great-great-great-grandfather Martin Harris, and others? What would be the consequences of this? Let’s pretend I COULD go back and influence past events in a way more in alignment my values of integrity, honesty and compassion as I interpret these. Would I? Should I? Would this be compassionate?
Radical Grace, Radical Acceptance
The pattern of life is that new and beautiful life is often created out of that which is not so “beautiful” and “good.” As Friar Richard Rohr says, accepting and embracing this is in line with “radical grace” and “radical acceptance.” This is at the very heart of the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ (in more ways than one). (This is also a large part of what “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” is about).
This is NOT to say that the foundation of that which is beautiful and good always has to be “ugly” or destructive… or that abusive or harmful actions should be excused away. Only an acknowledgement that new and beautiful life often seems to find a way to grow and renew… even out of past painful and traumatic events.
Back to the Time Machine
So let’s say I could go back and change the events of the early days of the Mormon faith by “graciously” imparting my perspective of today… by convincing the early Latter-day Saints that my perspective today aligns more with reality (and that they are being duped). What would be the result?
Well, for one thing if I was highly “successful” I then wouldn’t exist. Neither would so many of my friends and family and those of others I love. A society of people that love and care for each other in the intermountain west wouldn’t exist. I and other Mormons descended from ancestors practicing polygamy as believed in the early LDS faith.
I consider myself a “beautiful fruit.” And others as well. Would it be right for me to go back in history to “set right” everything that happened in the past, KNOWING doing so would eliminate many of the beautiful and good fruits that have sprung out of this flawed and imperfect, even in some ways evil past? To fight against these forces living at the time I think would make sense… but now that it has happened, I WOULDN’T go back and change these past events if I could. In trying to eliminate past harm, I would also cause tremendous harm to much of the present goodness that exists.
Is this analogous to going back in time to prevent a forest fire? Or to going back in time to prevent the fertlization of a field with “disgusting” animal excrement?
This is not to say abusive behaviors, lies and deceptions should be excused or embraced as good. Only that when they have already happened, doing what we can to limit these moving forward and recognizing these for what they are, but also recognizing there are in fact wonderful fruits that have grown out of these piles of fertilizer (shit) as well… Well… I believe this type of perspective can be very healing. (Again, I note that beautiful fruits can also grow out of that which is NOT harmful… I am not excusing abusive behavior).
If I wouldn’t change the past events of Mormon history from the vantage point I am at now… why dwell on how destructive and wrong many of these were? Sure, it is beneficial to do so as a learning mechanism to not repeat the same mistakes in the future. But if this is keeping me anchored into a past that I wouldn’t in fact change if I could… (I like who I am, I like who many others are…) at a certain point, forgiveness must come into play after the grief cycle has played.
This doesn’t mean excusing the abuser or abusive behavior. Not at all. Rather, I think in line with what one of my recent friends shared, it means letting go of all hope for a better past.
Forgiveness is letting go of all hope for a better past.Buddhist Saying (as recently shared by my friend Anthony Miller)
And I would also add… it also implies fully and compassionately embracing the present moment with a continued sense of compassionate curiosity.
I have had a conversation now with two different gay friends that reflects immediately upon this. They are both happily married to their respective husbands and are kind, loving, compassionate, healthy and well-adjusted individuals.
I served a mission with one of these friends but only found out a few years ago he is gay. He made a statement I will never forget. He talked about how his experience in the Mormon faith helped shape him into who he is today, and he LIKES who he is today. He also talks about how his prior marriage (from trying to fill the roles given him by the Mormon faith) which ended in divorce also granted him his children today as well. I asked him if he could change anything in his own past Mormon life if he could. He said NO because that would then change who he is today, and the people who are in his life today. And he likes and loves all of these.
Just a few days ago, I had another conversation with another friend who is also gay (and happily married to his husband as noted above). He grew up staunch Catholic. He no longer views the Catholic faith through literal lenses, but is grateful for many of the values, etc. he learned in the Catholic faith. He embraces it as part of his past (and thus who he is today) without necessarily condoning many of its stances and positions today.
Both of these friends I think have discovered and embraced incredible self-compassion, self-love and self-acceptance. Made possible by an incredible degree of grace and forgiveness. For both of them, it seems embracing forgiveness in ways shared above has been key. Neither of them would change their past. As painful as it has been. They have embraced all of it with understanding and compassion, part of fully accepting themselves.
Radical grace. Radical acceptance.
Rising out of Ashes.
Beauty Out of Ashes
I personally believe this in fact is the central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message I still believe in. I am getting to experience this on an entirely new level now in my life. Honestly, the biggest thing impairing my continued healing at this point is judgment. Castigation and disgust over past events. This is normal and OK… but can so much of the beauty that exists around and in me today exist without the excrement it stemmed from? If I am being honest, it is in fact all connected.
I think it would be wrong for me to go back and change or influence the events of early Mormon history if I could. Because doing so would cause tremendous harm to much of the current (beautiful) present.
Instead, I believe what is needed is to graciously accept and embrace these events, recognizing them for what they are, and the deep and flawed even harmful nature of many of these events. Learn from them, try to do better in the future, but also accept them as the fertilizer of a beautiful present in my own life, and also a future to look forward to. The present, “good” or “bad” “right or wrong” is always the fertilizer for future events.
Sometimes events just ARE.
Perpetually rising out of the Ashes.
Jason Harris lived as an orthodox Mormon for forty years. He writes about his experiences leaving the Mormon Church and reconstructing a new World-View. He believes all religions and scripture are man-made, potentially helpful and harmful. He believes there is Divinity in all of them and everywhere.