Friday, May 22, 2015

Why I Love the Temple in Less than 100 Words

I believe strongly the temple is meant to be for the living to internalize a connection to all humanity (to have our hearts sealed to all of God's children) and not primarily for the salvation of the dead. That will happen at some point, if it has to happen.

I find great meaning in and love the temple and its symbolism, even though I don't believe in any literal saving through the ordinances themselves.

I also like a place of peace where I can let my mind roam without any distractions - and, having attended for almost 30 years, I include the play itself in that description of distraction most of the time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Do Committees in the Church Often Fail to Make a Difference?

God so loved the world that He did not send a committee. 

I was asked once to lead the Melchizedek Priesthood Missionary Committee in my ward, and I accepted only after telling the leaders that they would have to accept my unorthodox view on the committees and my unorthodox approach.

In the first meeting (the last 15 minutes of the third hour meeting), I started by saying to everyone:

Why are these committees generally such a failure?

After getting the initial stunned looks and a few comments, I told them that I thought it was because we didn't spend enough time on them (because we didn't have enough time in the first place), we tried to tackle too many things (given how busy everyone was with other responsibilities), we came up with grandiose plans (or, in the case of the Missionary Committee, we simply acted as a wing of the Ward Mission and ended up doing administrative things for the Ward Mission Leader) and we didn't establish any unique things to do that were simple enough to accomplish. Therefore, my focus would be on nothing but community service, not for the sake of conversion, but simply for the sake of service. I told them the Ward Mission Leader could focus on "missionary work"; we would be focusing on sharing the Gospel - that he could build the kingdom of God and we could work to establish Zion. Service was something we could do without any angst, without a huge time commitment and without feeling like failures.

Volunteers generally want to do something fairly simple that makes them happy without creating more burdens and responsibilities in their already busy lives. Conversely, many leaders want to change the world or, at least, have a major, visible impact - and it isn't always ego-driven or a bad thing in any way. They just have a bigger vision, if you will, and more confidence in their ability to enact a bigger vision, than the other people do. They also tend to forget that worker bees still need to fly all over the place for most of their available time to gather the honey they need to survive.

My advice when it comes to a leader working within a volunteer organization is not complex:

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Take longer to do what you envision doing.

Respect volunteers as volunteers.  
Find tasks can be done and, through being done well, provide feelings and experiences of success.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can Conflicting Impressions Both Be Inspired?

I've served in enough callings that include impressions about who to ask to do things to understand that there can be equally valid but competing impressions that can be inspired and appropriate.  

1) When I was serving in a Stake Mission Presidency many years ago, I had a very strong impression to talk with a particular person about being the Ward Mission Leader. I didn't know anyone in the ward, so I said a prayer, looked through the ward directly and couldn't move my eyes past one particular name. Interestingly, his last name was one I actually did recognize, but I didn't know him at all.

When I sat down in his home to talk with him about the potential calling, he told me there was no way he could accept it - since he was completely inactive at the time. He then said that he had been thinking about returning to church activity but hadn't been able to do it, largely because he was sure there wasn't a place for him anymore. He said that he knew he had the ability to function in the calling and that he interpreted my impression as God telling him that there was a place for him - as soon as he got his act together and felt he could accept a calling like that. He thanked me for talking with him about it and politely declined the calling due to his own "competing impression".

My question had been, "Whom should I ask to accept this calling?" I believe the answer I got was inspired, even though he didn't accept the calling due to equally valid personal inspiration.

2) When my wife was in the Primary Presidency, they prayed about who to ask for in a teaching position - asking who would be best for that particular class. I was in the Bishopric at the time, if I remember correctly (or maybe I just gave her some input from my previous times in Bishoprics), and their request wasn't approved by the Bishop. He ended up asking the person to serve somewhere else in the ward.

Both my wife (and the presidency) and the Bishop were certain their answers to prayer had been inspired - and I believe both competing answers were valid and appropriate. The Primary Presidency received an answer that was correct concerning who would be the best person to suggest, while the Bishop received an answer that was correct concerning which calling would be best use of that person for the ward as a whole. Two correct but competing impressions.

3) My parents submitted mission papers based on an answer to prayer that they should serve at Cove Fort in Utah. Their Bishop prayed about it and agreed. Their papers were sent to SLC with explicit reasons why Cove Fort would be an appropriate call and why a regular mission would not be possible. They were called on a regular mission to South Carolina - an impossibility at the time. They accepted the assignment and left home to drive to South Carolina, knowing it would be impossible to complete the assignment. They completed the assignment, and it was one of the highlights of their lives. Two competing answers and impressions - both valid and appropriate.

 (If you want to read the fuller account, it is in the following post: "Exercising Faith and Seeing the Hand of God".)

I know it might seem paradoxical, but I've seen and experienced correct but contrasting impressions happen so many times that I have to accept it as inspiration, even when it is not understood at the time - or even when it causes consternation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What's Wrong with Being #2 (or lower)?

I really dislike ranking people in most respects, for lots of reasons.  Primary among those reasons is that in order for there to be a #1 there simply must be a #2 - and every number lower.  

Second, many times the true #1 in a field is an absolute SOB and incredibly egomaniacal. For example, I once worked with a woman who had first-hand knowledge of Michael Jordan's view of beautiful women - and, to put it mildly, it was disgusting. Seriously, it was simply appalling.  Being #1 (or, more accurately, striving to be seen as #1) can be a very damaging mindset. 

On a more personal note, this question is near to my heart, since I have twin sisters, one year younger than I, who struggled in school to get their B's and C's - and an occasional A. They were average students who worked hard to succeed, but they had more than one teacher who accused them of being lazy - since the other six kids in the family all had A's with only an occasional B. In academic terms, they were #'s 7 & 8 out of 8 in my family - and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing. It wasn't their actual rank that mattered; it was their accomplishments relative to their ability.

By that measure, they probably were ahead of me (since they worked a whole lot harder than I usually did) - but I was the one who was seen as #1 by everyone who ranked us, consciously or subconsciously.

It isn't right, and it's a natural tendency against which we ought to fight.

Monday, May 18, 2015

We Are Adolescent Gods

I see "God" as a condition of perfection (being whole, complete, fully developed) - "godhood", to say it in Mormon terms. I don't see God as one entity, apart from his children.  Thus, the "condition of being" we call "godhood" is being everything it is possible to be.

More importantly, I also believe we are gods / godly when we are everything we can be at any given moment (as perfect as we can be) - and I believe we understand both our strengths so poorly and our natural limitations so clearly that we have a hard time realizing we really are gods in a powerful and important way even with our weaknesses and imperfect states. As I've said in previous posts, we see our caterpillar selves and fail to realize those caterpillars are developing butterflies.  Butterflies and caterpillars are NOT different species, anymore than a kitten is a different species than an adult cat.  A butterfly simply is an adult caterpillar; a caterpillar simply is an adolescent butterfly. 

I believe we are "adolescent gods" much more than "future gods".

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Leaders are Not Infallible, and We Don't Need to Believe They Are

I have heard too many members talk as if our prophets and apostles are infallible.  They admit imperfection when asked about it, but, in practical terms, they act as if everything our leaders say should be accepted and followed unquestioningly as if it was God's own voice - and some of them extend that down to the local level, as well.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, in our scriptures or any statement by any prophet or apostle ever recorded says that - even the ones that people often cite when making the claim.  

If people who don't believe in prophetic infallibility had to stop attending the temple, there would be relatively few people in the temples - and never any of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency.  They know better than anyone else that they aren't infallible. 

Just saying.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Joseph Smith Was Not a Uniquely Egregious Sinner

Over the years, I have heard a lot of critics of the LDS Church say that Joseph Smith was a uniquely egregious sinner - that his actions make it obvious he wasn't a prophet of God.  I understand how someone could look at only his weaknesses and reach that last conclusion, but I also understand that calling him a uniquely egregious sinner and, thus, not a prophet generally displays either a lack of understanding of history or, at the very least, a complete rejection of the concept of prophets. 

There is no indication that Joseph sinned more than any other prophet throughout history - or even sinned in uniquely egregious ways. Assuming our ancient scriptures are accurate, just for the sake of comparison, and removing justifications of divine command, there are multiple murderers / death-enablers who are accepted as prophets (Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Paul, etc.); Joshua committed genocide; Samson had incontrovertible proof that Delilah was trying to betray and get him captured (more than once), and he still allowed her to make it happen - either because he loved her or because the sex was so good; Hosea got a woman pregnant who wasn't his wife; Jonah tried to run away from the Lord, openly defying him, and then grieved when people repented; Gandhi was a deeply flawed man, with multiple serious issues; Martin Luther King, Jr. was a serial adulterer; Jesus of Nazareth was killed for blasphemy - and all we have of his life are records that were written explicitly by believers to place him in the position of the [theologically revamped] Messiah when, by all objective, non-believing standards of the day, he simply was another failed Messiah figure; and the list continues. (and, it's important to point out that David never was a prophet - but his "fall with one woman" was the result of arranging the murder of her husband)

I'm not trying to hold up Joseph as a model of perfectly virtuous behavior (since I don't see him that way), but I am saying the standard we (collectively) tend to demand of our prophets and apostles (particularly in the case of Joseph, who can be seen, I believe, more in the role of an Old Testament prophet than any other type) simply is not consistent with history and our own scriptural canon. The majority of exceedingly extraordinary people throughout history have carried baggage on the other side of their "greatness", as well. I don't see the disconnect between who they were and how we tend to view them as their fault (even as I see their actions as their fault); I see that disconnect as our fault, and I include leadership in that statement just as much as general membership - since some leaders have condoned and even encouraged that unrealistic view.

As I've said in other posts here and elsewhere, I don't see how anyone who accepts the Biblical prophets can reject Joseph as a prophet based on his weaknesses and mistakes. I can see how that person can reject him for other reasons, but to say his actions disqualify him . . . I just don't see it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Assumptions about Scriptural Stories: Teaching Children to Think for Themselves

When I got home from work a few years ago, my second daughter immediately called me in to where she was studying for Seminary and asked me to help her understand something. In Seminary that morning, they watched a little video clip about John 4 - the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and my daughter was confused about something in it. Before the video clip played, the students were asked to look for what the scene said about the woman's sin, but my daughter didn't see anything about sin in the clip - or in the chapter itself when she read it again tonight to see what she missed. She assumed the sin they were supposed to see was adultery, but she just couldn't see that as being said in the story.

She asked me two things:

1) if there was sin implied in the story;

2) if not, why the video would ask them to look for it.

I told her, not for the first time, that we tend to read into things (not just scriptures) whatever fits our own perspective and assumptions - that, in a story about a woman who had five previous husbands and currently lives with a man who is not her husband, we assume adultery without reading carefully. We talked about how it would be easy for this woman not to be an adulteress - that, perhaps, she was an older woman who simply had had five husbands die and didn't want to have that happen again with the man with whom she lived at the time. Maybe there was no sex involved at all, especially if they both were old enough to be near the end of their lives. Jesus didn't "call her to repentance" in anything he said, and adultery never was mentioned in any way. Furthermore, even if there was sex involved in the current relationship, that probably would have been fornication, not adultery - given only what is in the story itself.

She asked if the sin might be lying about her situation, but when I pointed out that the woman had answered simply, directly and honestly, she saw that immediately. ("Go get your husband." "I have no husband." "You are telling the truth, since you have had five husbands in the past and aren't married to the man with whom you live now.")

I told her the people who made the video simply accepted their assumptions and the implications that made sense to them - that they didn't think about it critically and credit multiple possibilities.

Before I had time to leave the room, she looked up at me and said:

"Wait, dad. After this, she went to everyone and told them what had happened - and they believed her and went to Jesus to be taught by him. They wouldn't have done that if she had been an adulterer, would they - especially with five marriages?" 

I congratulated her on seeing that possibility, and she said, before I could say it:

"I know. Don't take verses all by themselves. Read the context before you decide what they mean."

I then told my third daughter to get to bed. She asked if she could finish reading the scriptures for the night, and I said fine - as long as she was in bed in five minutes. She looked me in the eye, grinned, and said:

"I can't read the scriptures in five minutes if I'm actually trying to understand them. I need to read and think about each sentence, don't I?"

I love my kids. 

It isn't easy, but it's important to teach our kids how to deal with things that don't make sense to them - and how to think about and try to understand for themselves what they read and hear.

The daughters about whom I am talking were 17 and 14 at the time - and they didn't get this way overnight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We Need Holes in Our Hearts

We teach of the need to have hearts that are open to being filled. 

Hearts without holes can't be filled.

"The whole need not a physician, but the sick."

I thank God regularly that I have not had many trials that I know others have had, but I am grateful that my heart has had holes that needed to be filled and that God (and others, as His hands) has tended to those holes, in various ways.

My primary purpose in much of my interaction with others is an attempt simply to help fill holes in other hearts.  I might not be able to be a curer in most cases, but I can try to be a healer. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Priesthood Keys: A Chain Holding Copies of One Master Key that Unlocks Multiple Views

Morgan wrote a post on By Common Consent last year entitled "Keys" - about the place of that word and concept in Mormon vocabulary.  I recommend it highly.

My comment in that thread is below: 

It's interesting how such a simple concept as a key can be so profound to different people in different ways, as evidenced by its relevance today in ways that would have been unimaginable to the ancient people who wrote about keys. 

I like the framework of opening and closing, but I also like the purpose of most openings.  It's one thing to talk about opening a door (or gate) in order to enter a room (or restricted area), but it's another thing entirely to talk about opening a door or gate with the purpose of seeing / experiencing what is inside the room or restricted area.  In other words, keys, primarily, aren't about getting into a locked space; rather, at the core, they are about access to something of value - whether that be gold or an elite group or solitude or safety or increased light and knowledge.  It's not the room that is the focal point of having keys; it's what is inside the room and the benefit of what's inside the room. 

That's easy to forget that in the myopia of "getting into the Celestial kingdom" - or any other location.  In Mormon theology, the ultimate destination is a condition - and the key generally gets someone on the path and allows her to walk along the proper path - having her condition changed as she walks.  I believe, therefore, that life's journey is comprised of a series of keys - and, in a real way, I believe the final destination has no key and no entrance,  Rather, it is where someone ends up after all the gates have been opened and the veils parted and the realization hits that she was "there" all along.  Thus, theoretically, there is one key chain holding copies of the same master key. 

At least, that view works for me right now.