how shall I know it?

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness… I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?–Joseph Smith at age fourteen

Years ago,I submitted an essay to a well-known flash nonfiction site. The editor wrote back praising the piece, but before he sent it off to the final rounds, he had to know: Is it true?

He could not have known it, but that essay was the first time I ever had the guts to write about sexual abuse at the hands of an older brother.

He could not have known that he sounded just like the truth gatekeepers of years past: Department of Human Service child abuse investigators, psychologists, family.

It was not so much that he wanted to verify the essay as nonfiction. I get that. It was more his tone, how he asked it. I could almost picture him licking his lips as he leaned across an interrogation table. For him, it was more establishing himself as a gatekeeper of truth than establishing the truth of my piece.

The piece ultimately was rejected, although kindly and with compliments. I was fine with the rejection, but that question–Is it true?— triggered me, and I stopped submitting work for a couple of years. Not until the sudden, unexpected death of that brother did I start submitting again in earnest.

Since then, that question is always lurking in the shadows when I write, except it has morphed: What is true? What is truth? 

The Mormon missionaries tell me I will feel it in my chest, that I cannot know it any other way–not through science or evidence or documents or words. Only a feeling. A burning in the bosom.

Forensic ink analysis tells me I will know it by the composition of the inks.

My neurologist told me he could see it in the electrical currents of my brain.

Graphologists claim they can see it in the loops, t-bars, and slant of my cursive letters.

Prosecutors say they expose it at trial.

For years, I believed I could find truth through forensic science as a metaphor for understanding the world, a metaphor for art. An epistemology. When my oldest brother died, I lost faith in that notion for a long time.

Ever since moving to Salt Lake City and immersing myself in Mormon culture, I have been wrestling with questions of faith vs. truth. I have found myself attracted to a magical worldview, studying Agrippa, creating Tarot decks, and wearing amulets.

Over time, I regained my faith in forensic science, too. And now I am constantly in a mediation between the two.

What does it mean if I feel, really feel, the burning in my bosom when I am on Temple Square, and yet, I am still a gentile, a non-believer, a heathen even?

This video uses the words of fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith in a modern setting. It accurately reflects the intensity of my experience here:

As a result, I often call myself a gentile Mormon, meaning I embrace certain aspects of a Mormon worldview, but I am not Mormon.

This blog is called “a true testimony” because most of my work explores notions of truth. It is my testimony, and it is true.

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