Thursday, November 20, 2014

Teaching Our Children When We Disagree with Something that is Said at Church

I try to be honest with my kids about my own views whenever there's a conflict with what's taught or said by someone at school or church. They know I don't agree with everything that's said, but they also know I genuinely love the people who say the things with which I disagree.

We just disagree; no big deal.

I'm going to disagree with lots of things lots of people say in my life, in every organization of which I'm a part. I know it's really hard to take the emotional reaction out of the picture, especially when it deals with a dad or mom or sibling or other loved one, but it is a skill my children are going to have to learn at some point, no matter what, if they are to be happy.

That's the central message I try to convey to my kids - that's it's fine to disagree, but it's not fine to reject or disparage.  It's fine to disagree, but it's not fine to let disagreement void love.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Simply Put, I Just Don't Like Protestantism's View of Eternity

For the record, the traditional Protestant view of immortality just doesn't do it for me. I really do think I'd rather stop existing than to sit around forever telling someone how great they are, while stagnating eternally, just to avoid roasting in a lake of fire and brimstone (which, for what it's worth, is how we describe Lucifer's plan, in a nutshell).

For me, the difference in how Mormonism envisions eternity and how eternity is described in so many other denominations is the single, biggest difference imaginable. I want to believe in the Mormon vision; I have no desire whatsoever to believe the other view. To me, Protestant Heaven is a perfect description of damnation - and, frankly, the view held by too many Mormons that the Celestial Kingdom will be a place for people who, essentially, are copies of each other is one more way I would describe Hell.

I like the laboratory view - even though I don't like studying science all that much, comparatively. I'll be one of the gods reading jokes to everyone and playing a musical instrument to lessen the stress as they work out the physical creation stuff - one of the ones who breaks up potential fights when things get tense and someone is tempted to blow up someone else's experiment.

That's who I am now, and that's who I want to be then. I like who I have become over the decades learning how to be authentically me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sometimes We Just Need to Shut Up and Stop Asking for Answers

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.  (Doctrine & Covenants 58:26) 

I am positive that many of the "rules" that have developed over the years in the LDS Church have been given because someone insisted on getting instructions about something that should have been left up to that person's agency to decide.  I think many are cases where the leadership threw their hands in the air and said:

"Fine, we will give you an answer, since you won't shut up and stop asking - even though you shouldn't need to get instructions from us about this." 

It's like the flight attendant who shows everyone how to use the seat belt before the plane takes off.


If you don't know how to use a seat belt, you shouldn't be flying.

As a close friend said once, at some point we need to grow up and become adults of God.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Want to Be a Mormon Christian, Not a Christian Mormon

If you look closely at multiple General Conference talks and statements over the years, I think it's obvious that the top leadership of the Church believes there is a difference between church membership and Christian discipleship. In fact, at least twice in my memory during General Conference, it was said in crystal clear terms that activity in church doesn't guarantee Christian discipleship. The issue is that many talks appear to illustrate a belief that it's hard for most people to live a Christ-centered life without also having a church-centered life - and, frankly, they probably are correct in most cases.

Christianity and church affiliation are so intertwined now, as much outside the LDS Church as inside it, that it's really hard for people of pretty much any denomination (or even "non-denominational" congregations) to separate the two - and, given the communal nature of the New Testament focus, I'm not sure the two actually can be separated properly. In a very practical way, it really is difficult to divorce being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth from being part of a religious community - a group "following", if you will. In Jesus' ministry, it wasn't a formal "church", per se - but people absolutely left family and friends to follow him around as he preached. They formed a religious community, even if they didn't build and gather in meetinghouses of their own.

Furthermore, as I have said in other posts here, the Mormon conception of the next life is not focused on individual salvation but rather communal exaltation. 

The difficulty here, in my opinion, is not that we need to separate the two affiliations totally and make it Christian discipleship vs. church membership; rather, we need to balance the two and prioritize them so that we live Christ-centered lives within the LDS Church - not that we live church-centered lives that include Christ.

In other words, we should be Mormon Christians - not Christian Mormons.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Church Activity Rates: Not Great, but Not As Bad As Often Portrayed

I've done some research in the past about activity rates, and two things surprised me - although they probably shouldn't have:

1) Our activity rate in the LDS Church generally is at least as high as and often higher than that of most other Christian denominations. Seriously, we are ahead of most denominations in that area in measurable, important ways - and that should be acknowledged, even while understanding the issues we still face to increase the activity rate.

2) Our activity rate is higher right now than it has been at pretty much any time earlier in our history - even as it's not as high as I want it to be, is WAY too low with certain sub-groups and all certainly is not well in Zion. Furthermore, if you remove the effects of the baseball baptisms and other shoddy missionary practices of especially the late 70's and early-mid 80's, the activity rate is much closer to the top end of the standard estimates than the bottom end. We lost close to a generation of new converts in some countries and are battling the consequences of those inappropriate baptisms into the next generation now - but the activity rate without those obvious, serious cases is higher than most members realize, especially in comparison to other religions.

Again, I'm not claiming all is well in Zion by writing this post, but, especially for those who are struggling with some kind of faith crisis, it's important not to ignore stuff that actually can be "testimony building" or just help balance the force.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Girls as "Guardians of Virtue": We Need to Eliminate That Phrase and Mentality from Our Vocabulary and Culture

I have heard the following concept expressed multiple times over the decades I have been involved in the Church, and I can't express forcefully enough how much I loathe it - and how badly I wish we could remove it completely from our discourse:

Girls should be guardians of virtue for boys.  

This is something about which I feel passionately, largely because I have two sons and four daughters - and I believe deeply that such a concept is insidious and dangerous, both for girls and for boys.  It is wrong on multiple levels, but I want to highlight in this post three reasons I abhor it so strongly:

1) It completely misrepresents virtue and what it is meant to and can be. 

Virtue is not another word for chastity.  Virtue, in its archaic form, meant " an effective, active, or inherent power or force; the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness" (from It actually derives from the Old French word for "maleness" and is found in words that begin with "vir" - like "virility".  Thus, "a virtuous woman" is not always a virgin; she is a strong, effective, active, powerful, moral, righteous woman.  A virgin simply is one manifestation of a virtuous woman, and not being a virgin does not negate virtue.  For example, rape does not diminish or rob a woman of her virtue, and equating virginity with virtue distorts virtue and causes emotional damage to further complicate an already traumatic event. 

Proverbs 31:10 ("Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.") is quoted often with regard to the worth of a virtuous woman, but the next 20 verses generally are ignored - and those verses explain what verse 10 means. I highly recommend reading them.  Due solely to length concerns, I will not include the entire passage, but I will summarize them and what they say about a virtuous woman - bolding the things that might surprise some people and setting the description in quotes to stress the highlighting.  (I also want to stress that I believe a virtuous woman doesn't have to do everything in the following list - that these things are examples of what a virtuous woman does.

A virtuous woman is trustworthy, treats her husband (if married) well, works with her hands, rises early, feeds her household, purchases land, plants food, becomes physically strong, serves the poor, makes clothing and other materials, sells merchandise, is strong (again) and honorable, speaks wisely and kindly, is active, is praised, fears the Lord, is blessed.  

A virtuous woman is a strong, active, independent, honored person - not a virgin who simply must guard her virginity for the benefit of men.  Women no longer are considered the property of men, and we need to eliminate any hint of that former structure from our vocabulary, even if we generally are unaware of the connotations.  We need to educate our girls and boys about this ancient foundation and teach them to let go of the "guardian of virtue for men" idea once and for all. 

2) Virtue is not "guarded"; it is "exercised"and "developed" and "strengthened".  

That is important, and being merely a guardian of virginity robs girls of developing into the strong, active, independent, honored women they are meant to be.  

3) Both virtue and chastity should be the responsibility of the individuals who possess them.  

Boys and girls together, mutually, should protect their own chastity and exercise / develop / strengthen their own virtue (and help others do the same) - so that, ultimately, virtuous women can marry virtuous men and raise virtuous children to become virtuous adults, in a never-ending cycle of eternal virtue and progression.  Telling girls to guard virtue for boys does more than rob those girls; it also robs those boys in a very real and powerful way. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Objective of Our Religious Ordinances

I believe we bind ourselves to each other, that we separate ourselves from each other and that the concept of eternal sealing as embodied in the temple is a wonderful, profound, necessary thing. I love the concept, even if I don't put any power into the ordinance in, of and by itself.

I am confident every apostle in the LDS Church agrees with that last sentence, since every one of them will say that people who are sealed in the temple won't stay sealed automatically just because of that ceremonial sealing. An abusive jerk won't be able to abuse his wife and kids eternally just because he lied to get into the temple and participate in a sealing ordinance - but a righteous, loving spouse who truly becomes bound to his or her spouse in this life will gratefully accept the continuation of that sealed relationship in the next life, regardless of whether they were part of a ceremonial sealing in this life.

The object of our ordinances isn't to go through them; it is to have their symbolic meaning spread throughout us.  The object of our ordinances is to be changed by them - to become what they are intended to convey to us it is possible to become.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are We Meant to Outgrow the Need for God?

A good friend of mine once wrote the following and asked for my input.  I am including below the original message and my response: 

This is something I've been pondering as I'm making the transition from viewing myself as someone's son to someone's father. The greatest success of a parent is that their children go out and be successful on their own. That they become functional, independent, well-adjusted human beings. I think God wants us to be functional, independent, well-adjusted eternal beings.

I really like the concept that this life is a time for us to learn to choose right from wrong without constant intervention from God. And I like the idea that we are trying to become like God. What I'm going to say next probably would sound like heresy to many but I'll just say it. God is God because he chooses right because it is right. He doesn't act because of fear of punishment or duty or any other such human motivation. He just does right. I think that's why it is important we are here and cut off. We need to learn to do right without constant direct influence from God...and here's the possible heresy: I feel that ironically our goal is to learn to act entirely independent from God. The more we progress, the less we need him. We simply begin to choose right because it is right and not out of duty or fear or any other such motivation. We just do right. We just are. Just as God said "I AM".

So something I've been pondering is that ultimately is it our destiny to outgrow the need for God? Not outgrow him in the sense that we are more powerful or never want to see him again but that we become completely independent of him. This idea actually makes me love my God more. The gift of eternal self-determination seems much greater than the gift of eternal subservience. I would be grateful to my parents for my life if I was expected to serve them my whole life. But I'm infinitely more grateful that they raised me and sent me out in the world to experience it and now to raise my own family.

I have trouble putting these thoughts in words. But this makes sense that just as I have left my father's house and gone into the world as an independent adult, I hope my new son will someday leave and lead a happy life. For me it follows that my eternal father would want this same thing. Not want me to come back to his house and sing praises to him forever. I don't want my son to worship me, I want him to be grateful for the way I will raise him and then to go on and raise his own family.

That's why the idea of eternal progression is so amazing to me and so much better than any other concept of heaven I've ever read about.  

I agree that we are meant to outgrow our need for God - in the sense my friend describes.

I don't need my parents for much of anything at this point in my life - but I still want them. I think that is a better, more mature relationship.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Peace without Understanding

An online friend shared the following experience with me a couple of years ago, and I came across it as I was trying to decide what to post tonight.  I hope it touches someone else somehow, as it touched me when I first read it.  

Many years ago as I was entering my crisis stage, I decided I needed to go to the temple to help sort things out. Though I was living in Salt Lake City, I went to the Manti temple, because I wanted a much lower key place than Salt Lake could provide. As I was going through an endowment session, I was particularly troubled with the signs and tokens. In the midst of this, I felt a very specific voice telling me:

"Don't knock it. I don't understand it, either. But someday you will be glad you didn't reject it". 

I was fully aware of the illogic, the paradox, and implausibility of that message. Nevertheless, the anxiety and frustration I was feeling about it simply went away.

Some several months later I went inactive, and didn't attend Church for 17 years, but when I did, I was glad that I could without carrying any negative feelings about the signs and tokens. I still don't pretend to understand them, but it's no big deal. And it has allowed me to have some very warm, comfortable feelings about my temple experiences. The biggest message I have gotten from the temple is a sense of peace, purity and power that I have felt there.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Differences and Dignity" - One of the Best LDS Newsroom Statements I Have Ever Read

Differences and Dignity - LDS Newsroom (October 24, 2014)

My favorite paragraph:

Since no particular group has a monopoly on all that is wise, beautiful and just, everyone can learn from everyone else. Our experiences have gaps that need to be bridged, and our perspectives have blind spots that need to be filled. We find meaning in human connection when we climb out of ourselves and discover the dignity of others, even if we disagree. And no one should have to give up their identities.  

The entire statement is phenomenal.