08 December 2007


I've been writing letters to friends lately. This one connected with a conflict one of my buddies is having with one of his three daughters over she and her husband becoming Mormons.

He didn't raise her within any church or to embrace any belief system other than what he'd probably call "compassionate humanism" ... and yet now he's struggling with her decision to follow a path different than the road he is not traveling. I thought that some of the things I shared with him might be helpful to others who are trying to salvage important relationships that are in the midst of crisis. Godspeed.




Dear old friend,

I've read and re-read the emails you sent me. Family dynamics are complicated realities. Triangle relationships seldom bring us the unity we long for, because what is shared between two tips of the triangle is then left unshared with the third tip, all parties are left feeling superior, excluded, judged or untrusted.

But, regardless of what you "believe" about what your daughter and her husband "believe", you now have a choice to make. And the choice begins with asking answering the following question: Do I want to have a relationship with my daughter and her family?

If you do, then you must set up simple boundary of "not sharing/discussing your religious beliefs, or your lack-thereof with one another -- and this must happen both directions -- from her to you, and from you to her". For this to work the focus of your connection, your conversation, your life-together must remain on children, jobs, hopes, dreams, memories of days gone by, and hopes for the future.

It may be hard for your daughter and her husband to honor this request (or for you, for that matter, you blabber-mouth!), but with time you will learn to live within these boundaries in ways that honor one another's beliefs without leaving your relationship more superficial than real.

Challenges abound for sure. But if you want a relationship with your daughter you must walk down this road. Period. Her church may woo her away from family members who mock and frustrate them in living out their religious beliefs. But in my experience, they will seldom if ever ask their members to go down this road of "shunning" with family members who remain neutral and/or non-judgement toward their beliefs.

Granted, this may be because they're acting on the belief that your neutrality on the topic implies an ongoing openness to one day converting. But there is nothing you can do about this possible motivation or response ... other than to head it off at the pass by saying at the very beginning of your own Salt II Treaty discussions that you will never convert ... but then you must also not bring this up again as ammunition when and if the communication road gets rocky.

If the answer to the question at the end of paragraph 1 is that you do not want a relationship with your daughter, her family, and to a very real extent the rest of your daughters (as they will more than likely stand in solidarity with her than with you -- perhaps not theologically, but at the least relationally) then the option you've chosen is both simpler and more complicated in ways obvious and unavoidable.

It is simpler in that you throw the relationship away much like junk mail or a fleshly captured booger. Tossed, flicked, dismissed, chucked, forgotten.

But it is more complicated in that to do away with our own children is neither natural or civil -- nor does it produce the long-term benefits we think it might. Like capital punishment's failure to be a deterrent to capital crimes, living as though one of our children is important or alive is like going to banquet, wolfing down all the food on the table, and then finding out that what you wolfed down was yourself.

Our DNA and not just our minds, are loaded with memory. And so a thought, a sight, a sound, a smell, the tenderness of a touch, a word ... all these things can bring to the forefront of our minds not only the gross injustice of a loved one cast aside, but of the cancer this act has become to your very soul. And even non-religious people like you believe in souls.

In poetry, music, essay, literature, and sacred writings, the soul is most often defined in triune terminology -- made up in equal parts by our mind (what we think), our will (what we d ecide and then act upon), and our emotion (what we feel). To shun your daughter for what she believes (even if Mormonism appears to you to be barbaric, uncivilized, untruthful, and whatever more dahmeresque terms your have floating around in your gray matter) will damage your soul.

And even if you don't believe in an afterlife, abusing our own souls is micro-managed, baby-stepped suicide ... and a self-centered choice that ultimately has very little to do with "standing for truth" in the public forum of a family discussion, and much to do with ego and control. Don't do it bro. You may not have had the greatest life-long relationship with your daughters, but don't give up. Don't burn the bridge to try and save the integrity of the transport system it represents. They and their children need a grandfather who will love them and step into their lives in ways intentional and kind.

Please don't be upset at me for writing this note and these words to you. You asked me for my advice, and so here it is. I don't want to argue with you about the individual points of what I've written, because the individual points are only as important as their relationship with the question I challenged you to ask yourself at the end of the first paragraph: Do I want to have a relationship with my daughter and her family?

If you want to talk about the question, then fire away. But I will only discuss this further with you within the boundaries of this question. You might come up with different answers than me, but nothing your mind can conceive will be more mission-critical to finding your way through this muck than answering that question.

On a side--but-related-note. While reading your words and looking at some things online I found a link at www.youtube.com that I thought you might enjoy watching. It's part of a bigger conversation at www.fora.tv, a URL that if you're not familiar with, I believe you might find engaging.

I have a headache, so I'm going to go lay down. I'm glad you are my friend -- and you didn't give me the headache, even though I'd love to blame you, or someone else for it. Why is this situation with your daughter happening right now, at this chapter of your life? I don't know. But maybe, just maybe, it's to teach you things about yourself that up until now you've been hesitant or unwilling to explore.


Please give your precious bride a hug for me ... I can't believe it was over 25 years ago now that we first met. And if you come to Oregon and don't visit us I'll have to have you killed. I'll let your bride live of course, and will talk her into quickly opening an account at www.eharmony.com. Godspeed and good night to you dear one.



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