Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Something to provide a different perspective:
Perhaps most of the vocal opposition to Mormonism is produced by those who sincerely feel like we are stealing something. From this perspective, we steal members (and their attendant money) away from ministers and congregations, but we also steal souls away from Christ or tradition or family.
I interviewed many years ago for a position of teacher at a Quaker school. The principal told me directly that he would have to defend my hiring to one board member who had “lost a daughter to the Mormons.” Money had nothing to do with that father’s emotion; he truly felt his daughter’s spiritual life was in danger.
Likewise, one of my missionary companions was a native Japanese elder. He was the oldest son of the oldest son of the town’s Buddhist priest - going back about 16 generations. When he joined the Church, his father performed a death ceremony for him - in Christian terms, letting go of a damned soul.
Finally, early converts didn’t join and stay in their home towns with their families. They joined and moved thousands of miles away to live among the saints. They said, in essence, “I would rather be with Joseph Smith and the Mormons than with you, my family.” I know that is consistent with statements in the New Testament, but it still is a brutal message to hear as a parent or sibling.
In each of these cases, these people believed deeply that joining the Mormon Church was tantamount to abandoning family and friends and jumping into the flames of Hell. They felt that the Mormon Church stole their children’s eternal salvation/soul/destiny. That underlying feeling of being robbed in one way or another can’t be ignored - and for those of us who are parents, it should be understood better. We should be much more charitable in our reaction to opposition - understanding how we would feel if we "lost a child" to something in which we didn't believe and which we felt would harm her eternally.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Yesterday, I posted something Jami wrote last week: "Nobody can fix me quite as well as he who created me." To build on that thought, I want to post an excerpt from something I wrote last Fall. Here is it:
It is a basic medical truism that you cannot be cured of most illnesses unless you receive treatment for it – usually by going to someone who can heal you. In order to be healed, you need to expose the problem that is troubling you to someone who can recognize it and offer assistance that will alleviate your suffering and cure the issue.
In spiritual terms, we accept God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the ultimate healers, but I have come to believe that relatively few members understand fully the promises we make when we agree to take His name upon us. We often translate this as "being Christians," but "Christ" was only one of his titles - only one of the names by which He is known. It is a title, not necessarily a communicable name. There is not room here to discuss the full implications of this promise, but there is one name that we can assume - no matter our circumstances or limitations. It is Healer.
We promise to assume his role of Healer specifically when we promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Just like any doctor, however, we simply cannot do this unless we are "open" to the sick and afflicted (either to their visits or through our own house calls) - unless we are aware of someone else’s pain and suffering – unless we know why they mourn and what comfort they need - unless we are able to see their warts. We might “fellowship” with each other on Sunday, but if we only see each other at our Sunday best - disabilities covered by white shirts and ties and warts carefully hidden beneath well-placed mascara - we completely miss the opportunity for the depth of full fellowship that allows us to act in the place of Jesus and heal in His stead.
I am struck by how Jesus healed. He didn't say, "Lock yourselves in your rooms and ask to be healed." Rather, He said, "Come unto me." Healing was not an impersonal event; it was full of touching and blessing and communicating and real physicality.
Think about it: To whom do you feel closest in life - and in your ward or branch? Is it because you know their joys and their pain - and they know yours? Is it because you have seen their warts, and they have seen yours? Perhaps, is it because you share a common type of wart - because you have shed a tear together or held each other as life seemed to shake around you? Is it because you have held their hand, embraced them and touched their lives in real and practical and powerful ways?
Truly, nobody can fix me quite as well as he who created me, but I can't help but believe that He can fix His children more fully if we are willing to be a medicinal or surgical tool in His hands.
Friday, September 26, 2008
"Nobody can fix me quite as well as he who created me."
Thanks, Jami. I'm not sure I have ever read anything, anywhere, that is more profound than this.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
In a PEC last year, I heard this exchange - and I think it illustrates the need to let people govern themselves:
Missionaries: Bro. New Convert needs a calling.
High Priests Group Leader: He told me he is getting overwhelmed by everything he is being asked to do and needs to move at his own pace. He feels like he is being asked to do something every meeting he attends (say a prayer, read a scripture, give input on the lesson, etc.), and he isn't comfortable with that type of public action yet.
Bishop: That’s fine. Ask him to attend the New Member Lessons Brother Whatever is teaching, but tell him we will not push him to move faster than he is comfortable moving. Tell him to let you know when he feels ready for a calling.
Bishop to other attendees: Don’t ask Brother New Convert to do anything, including prayers, unless you talk with HP Group Leader first and he clears it with me. We will never try to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do.
I love that bishop.
Monday, September 22, 2008
In the dictionary, joy actually is a subset of happiness; it is the extreme end of the happiness spectrum. (Happiness: "a state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy" - Joy: "intense and especially ecstatic happiness") These definitions make it clear that, technically, one can feel happiness without experiencing joy, but one cannot experience joy without being happy.
That having been said, in order to understand a word I look for the nuances of actual usage. Generally, we say that we "feel happy", while we "have joy". Likewise, we say we "are happy", but we "are joyful". Finally, we don't "happy" as a verb, but we do "joy". (The dictionary lists joy as a verb.) That's the distinction I draw. Happy is a feeling that comes and goes; joy is something that we have or possess, something that causes us to do - to "joy".
I know the limitations of this analogy, but it is much like the distinction we draw between belief and faith – a distinction many others don’t make. Belief is something our mind and/or heart feels; faith a belief that is so strong that it drives our actions - a belief so strong that it motivates us to do. Likewise, the Bible draws a clear line between the type of love that is "felt" and the type of love that is "expressed through action" - a love so strong it will cause us to act upon our feelings - to "love someone" as a verb. Paul makes that distinction explicit in his discourse on charity.
It's good to feel, but it's better to act on those feelings.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I believe the professor was wrong on at least one fundamental level - his application of the whoredom discussion in the second chapter of Jacob to petting and kissing. However, I believe he was correct in his statement that the Lord doesn't care if fornication is homo- or hetero-sexual -- that the sin is the same. Let me address that point from two angles.
First, petting and kissing (of any kind) are not condemned in any of the canonized scriptures of which I am aware. Those records condemn the categories of sexual activity known as fornication and adultery. This broad categorization includes pre-marital and extra-marital sexual activity - or activity of a sexual nature.
We do have a written prohibition against these same types of activities in what we accept as the words of modern prophets and apostles - the "For Strength of Youth" pamphlet. Among other things, it says to abstain from petting, "passionate kissing" and any other activity that arouses sexual desire. It doesn't distinguish between hetero- and homo-sexual activity; it prohibits both equally.
In this case, I see a very clear and simple "why." Petting, passionate kissing (NOT kissing, but "passionate" kissing) and other similar activities (including, in my mind, anything that simulates intercourse) arouse sexual desire. Sexual desire can be very hard to control once initiated. Hence, the counsel to avoid any activity that might logically lead to a losing battle with escalating desire for more stimulating activity. "You can't finish what you don't start" is a truism.
I see the smoking and drinking prohibitions in the Word of Wisdom in exactly the same light. If I make it a scientific issue, I lose. There is much evidence that alcohol used in moderation has positive results for many people. I just read this week an article that described the positive aspects of caffeine consumption - one of the richest sources of antioxidants. Yet we are asked to abstain. Why?
Because of evil designs of conspiring men. (Which applies perfectly to those who seek to stimulate sexual desire, as well.) These substances are addictive, and the consequences of over-indulgence can be disastrous -- especially for a drunken woman. The article I mentioned in the last paragraph skipped blithely over a statement that heavy coffee drinkers are much more likely to be heavy users of alcohol and cigarettes. It is impossible for each individual to know, with certainty, what his or her limit is prior to reaching it. Because it is not always easy to know those who are weak and prone to misuse, the prohibition has been "adapted to the weakest of the weak who are and can be called saints."
In other words, if I am strong and not likely to have a problem, then it should be easy for me to abstain; if I have a problem abstaining and find myself fighting the restriction, then I probably am weak in that area and benefit from the prohibition more than others might. (That, in and of itself, is a fascinating concept - that the areas where I need repentance and outside guidance the most are exactly the areas where I want it the least and work to justify my rejection of it the most. Often our biggest weaknesses are most apparent by our claims that we are strong enough to not need outside prohibition or counsel.)
As an additional rant, I have a HUGE problem with those who rail against homosexual activity but are quick to forgive and excuse heterosexual fornication and adultery. I have always said that punishing homosexual activity in any way without doing the same thing for heterosexual fornication and adultery is hypocritical and narrow-minded. That's why, although I oppose redefining marriage to include homosexual relationships, I have no problem, within the context of our heterosexually lenient society, with creating a legally recognized way to allow homosexual partners to live in a committed relationship without fear of legal punishment. Again, the alternative is hypocrisy.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Everyone who has met my mother sees her as a spiritual giant, perhaps the closest things to pure love incarnate they have met. That was true for nearly forty years as she raised 8 children, specifically because my father took on all of the "normal" responsibilities of both parents so that his wife could "be herself". My mother literally goes crazy if she worries about things that she can't control, so my father shouldered the burden of EVERYTHING to shield her from that worry. (I wrote more extensively about this in the post "My Niece Died This Morning".)
I realize now that my father was the spiritual equal of my mother - and that what he taught me about forgiveness and acceptance and withholding judgment (my formative paradigm) was influenced immeasurably by the insight he gained from loving someone who was such a combination of extremes. My "who cares about the peripheral issues" and "focus on the basics" mindset comes from his reconciliation of the divinely sweet woman he married and the monster she became after the birth of my twin sisters - her first breakdown.
This world is full of good and bad, and each of us, as a part of this world, is complicit in that condition. What matters is not that the combination exists; what matters is the "medication" we take to suppress or eliminate the bad and let the good shine. If that means ignoring the bad completely for some, then so be it. Far be it for me to dredge it up and force them to consider what might destroy their peace of mind and cause a breakdown. If it means deep and difficult contemplation and reconciliation, then so be it. Far be it for me to take away that potential path of resolution. If it means actual, pharmaceutical medication, legally prescribed, then so be it. Far be it for me to discourage that kind of resolution by stigmatizing its use. The best thing I can do for someone is to allow them to reconcile what they see as difficult in whatever way works for them; the worst thing I can do is insist that my way is the right way for everyone.
The first comment asks for input and help dealing with a family member who has been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Anyone who reads this and has experience with bi-polar disorder (or schizophrenia or any other condition that might fit her description), please share any advice you can provide.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Let others howl that our respect for Joseph Smith borders on worship. Hogwash!! A great but flawed man lived a flawed but great life - and we should never hesitate to make that point clear. What I love most about Joseph is precisely the constant beatings he took (from man, but, more importantly, from God) - and that he recorded those beatings for all of us to see.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I decided to make my resolution for the month "Become More Chaste in Thought and Deed" specifically because I believe the godly characteristic of chastity is the one highlighted in this passage. Rather than being hyper-sensitive to any and all possibilities for sexual stimulation and avoiding all such exposure, I believe the godly way to avoid the type of temptation embodied in "looking upon a woman to lust after her" is found in an expansive definition of "chastity" - one that goes beyond the more limited definition of avoiding sexual activity.
One definition for "chaste" that fits this construct is:
Pure in thought and act; innocent; free from lewdness and obscenity, or indecency in act or speech; modest (as, a chaste mind; chaste eyes).
The interesting association in this definition is the use of the word "modest" - which in context is defined as: "limited or moderate in amount, extent, etc." In other words, taking both of these definitions in the context of the admonition in Matthew, the underlying characteristic that Jesus appears to be addressing is "moderation" - being able to see and appreciate physical beauty without going to any extreme, without including "lewdness, obscenity, indecency, lust, etc." This is a much more comprehensive and fundamentally empowering / liberating view of "chastity" than a simple abstinence from proscribed activities. Also, and this is critical, the definition highlights being "chaste" as something primarily within the individual.
I am reminded of a story I heard once. I don't know if it is historically accurate, but it illustrates this characteristic in a very simple and direct way. According to this story, a woman notorious for traveling in the nude (Lady Godiva, perhaps) was passing a group of religious leaders (the Pope and some Cardinals, perhaps). One of the Cardinals told everyone to cover their eyes and look away, but the Pope did not do so. The woman saw the reaction her passing had created, including the fact that the Pope did not look away - and she asked him why he did not do so. His response was something like:
You are a daughter of God, and he has blessed you with great beauty. I appreciate that gift God has given and praise him for his gracious gift.
I believe it is important to remember that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness only after Satan pointed out that they were naked and that others would see it. I mention this simply to stress that the typical restrictions we employ as a part of this mortal existence are in place NOT because physicality and sexuality are bad things, but because we do not want to place undue temptation and stimulation in the path of others. However, if all were "chaste" in their thoughts and deeds, such restrictions would not be necessary. In other words, we seek "modesty" (moderation) in dress as an attempt to strike a proper balance between the ideal and the practical - between where we wish we were and where we are.
True "chastity," therefore, includes not only conforming to the societal constraints intended to avoid placing temptation in the path of others but also having our hearts changed to not be tempted no matter our surroundings - to not "lust after her" even when "looking upon a woman" cannot be avoided. I don't have a simple solution or suggestion for each person. I know it is neither the extreme conservatism of the Taliban in Afghanistan nor the extreme liberalism of South Beach, Florida - but I know that I must be able to walk in either world and be free of "lust" in order to fulfill the standard Jesus holds up in these verses.
In summary, my being chaste in thought and deed is MY responsibility. I can't blame the environment around me - or those whose appearance "naturally" might tempt me - or claim the devil made me do it. I must change myself ultimately, even as I change my exposure and environment and actions until I reach the point where they no longer matter. I can't dive into tempting situations in order to test my control, but rather I can change my thoughts and actions until I can face such situations without temptation. If I never reach that ultimate objective, I must continue to structure my environment to reduce temptation, but eliminating all possible temptation can never be the default. In the passage being discussed, the woman is NOT at fault for her beauty; the man is at fault for how he reacts to it. At its most fundamental level, "chastity" is NOT imposed externally; it is developed internally.
The Taliban is not correct in its interpretation of chastity; Jesus is.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Matthew 5: 43-47 says:
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?"
I have been struck by the fact that the Mountain Meadows Massacre and to the
As we pray for the victims of 9/11/01 and their families, I wonder how many of us think to pray sincerely for those who perpetrated that attack (and their families) - not having the advantage of seeing why they did what they did and not sharing a faith we can use to “understand” their terrible action. I wonder how many of us pray that the casualties among the insurgents and terrorists will be minimized - and that the war will end, even if no one formally wins. I wonder which we value more - loving our enemies and praying for God to protect them or winning, even if means many of them are killed and maimed.
If these two events had to happen, I appreciate that they happened on the same day - if only to remind us that we shouldn’t seek to understand "our own" while simultaneously refusing to seek to understand those who "only" are our own in spirit.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I believe that the major reason polygamy was revealed, taught and practiced by Joseph Smith was to solidify the foundation concept of eternal families early in the Church's history. Almost everything Joseph Smith taught focused on and developed our current understanding of eternal life and eternal marriage - and the universal application of the Atonement that provides the possibility for all to be joined (sealed) as part of a great, heavenly family. It is perhaps the single most unique aspect of the restored - that we can be sealed to our spouse for time and all eternity - that family ties can last forever through the power of the , embodied in a marriage ceremony and embedded in an ever-expanding family of equals.
Part of why I have not struggled personally to accept polygamy is that I have read journals written by my (and my wife's) ancestors and others who practiced it - journals that are full of both struggle to accept it and great manifestations of God to them as they did so. Some of the most powerful things I have read were recored in response to their own "furnace of affliction" that was polygamy. These journals also gave me a concept of what they envisioned by its practice - the embedding of the concept of universal, familial, communal sealing of a people (the symbolic tying of all into one large family of God and body of Christ) that we have a hard time understanding in our own modern, monogamous society.
It is conceivable that a group of people could believe in the concept of eternal marriage that includes ties beyond just a marriage and immediate family without practicing it here on earth, but the practice of polygamy and the persecution that followed embedded the concept of eternal family deeply into the souls of the earliest members in a way that could not have happened by listening to a Sunday School lesson or General Conference talk. They lived it and were persecuted and killed for it, so they KNEW it - painfully and deeply and undeniably. It literally was carved into their souls.
Having grown up in a small, Utah town where I was related in easily traceable ways to at least 20% of the town, I also got a taste of this communal sealing - and it can be powerful in practical ways. That over-arching concept of literal, expansive and all-encompassing FAMILY that makes all of us brothers and sisters is one of the beauties of Mormon theology to me. I don't think it could have been engraved in our cosmology without polygamy in quite the same way - just as I will never understand a nicotine addiction quite like someone who has smoked heavily and then quit. I'm glad I can't understand either through personal experience, but I'm grateful for those from whom I have learned polygamy's symbolic power vicariously.
Monday, September 8, 2008
My point? Prophets have been rejected for all kinds of subjective reasons throughout history - and most, if not all, of the ancient prophets would be rejected now for something or another, including in most cases for things they taught that we no longer teach.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
"Become more chaste in thought and deed." It is taken from Matthew 5:27-28, which read thus:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.I shortened my resolution and worded it as "becoming more chaste in thought AND deed" due to the framing in these verses of "adultery" as something that can be committed both physically AND mentally - and because of the underlying foundation of chastity inherent in avoiding adultery.
As I contemplate these verses, the first thing that jumps out at me is that Jesus appears to be doing two things in this statement. First, he is reinforcing the general prohibition against adultery included in the ancient Ten Commandments. Second, however, he is laying out the concept that we (as "living souls" - Moses 6:9) truly are a combination of body and spirit - that something that affects one has a corresponding effect on the other. For those who think of our spirit as something incorporeal and formless, this might be confusing, but for those who envision our spirits as possessing real form and substance (of being "material" in some way) it makes sense to speak of influences on our spirits in the same manner that we understand influences on our physical bodies. It makes sense to speak of addictions to our spirit in the same way we speak of addictions to our physical bodies. Likewise, it makes sense to think of there being a real effect of "visualizing sexual activity", just as there is a real effect of being involved "physically" with sexual activity.
In fact, I believe these verses go beyond a simple "analogy" or "comparison" between the two. I believe that Jesus is teaching in this passage the core concept that "spiritual activity" is actual "physical activity" - again, since our spirits are comprised of "real, actual" matter that simply is too "fine" to be discerned by our mortal eyes. (See D&C 131:7) I believe that Jesus is doing more than merely saying, "Don't even look with lust, because that might lead to adultery in the flesh." Rather, he is saying, "There is adultery of the flesh, and there is adultery of the spirit. BOTH are adultery in a truly "physical" way; both have real, physical effects; don't commit either."
There are three main ways in which I could "look upon a woman to lust after her" in this day and age. The first is in my own direct interactions with those I meet in person. The second is through representations outside my direct interactions, comprised through and presented by visual media of various sorts. The third is one that is not considered nearly as often, but one that is just as important - through the envisioning or replaying of lustful activities within my own mind, independent of exterior stimuli. Each is a challenge for many, but the second is much more easily available in our modern day and society - and the third is common throughout all eras, regardless of available technology. (I will deal more specifically with that aspect and its implications in an upcoming post.)
So, my initial focus with regard to this resolution will be to:
1)become more aware of any situation in my own direct interactions where I might be likely to be tempted to lust - and avoid that temptation in some constructive and intentional way;
2) avoid visual representations (like, at the extreme, pornography) that would do the same thing;
3) either focus all images like those in question in my mind on my wife (with whom "adultery" is impossible for me) or stop such images by substituting something else.
Again, I will post more on each of these focal points in subsequent posts, after dealing with the core concept of chastity.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
I believe a HUGE part of the disconnect in many discussions about unity and will is the general assumption that “doing the will of God” somehow means “having God dictate one’s every action” - essentially allowing Him to act in a Calvinistic puppeteer role. When you change the paradigm and focus on the will of God being a very broad accomplishment (growth toward eventual perfection / complete wholeness - or bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man) as opposed to an obsession over minute details - such a difference in perspective completely changes the discussion. It goes from an OT checklist of actions (where unity means robotic sameness) to a NT change of heart and refinement of effort - which allows me to “give my will to God” in my own unique way while gaining perfection for my own unique soul.
Due to my view of God's will, I have no problem with an injunction to submit my will to His.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
My mother used to be one of Pres. McKay’s secretary’s, and she can tell some fascinating stories of how the First Presdency at the time interacted. My wife and I are close to opposite personalities in many ways - which makes us perfect for each other as we try to become whole and complete as one. I also have commented actively on various group blogs in the Bloggernacle (the umbrella term for Mormon-themed blogs) and been intrigued by the group dynamics that keep such groups generally more civil than most other sites I've visited.
I view unity based on these experiences, but also based on the Sermon on the Mount - where “perfect” is defined as “complete” or “whole” - not as mistake free. In all seriousness, I believe there is an inherent conflict in the way that too many members view unity as an ideal. I prefer to think of it in terms that I think are taught in the Gospels and that formed the foundation of Joseph Smith’s efforts - by talking of communal unity [“community”] (a societal completeness and wholeness of unique but united individuals) as opposed to the “sameness” of most worldly definitions.
Monday, September 1, 2008
The following hung on our wall growing up - and my mother (with 8 children) truly believed and lived it:
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow,
for babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow.
So, quiet down cobwebs; dust go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep.
A couple of years ago, our family was rushing about frantically - trying to get six kids and two parents to every activity we could cram into a schedule for at least five over-achievers (my oldest son and I don't always fit that description). My wife and I made the conscious decision to slow down, let go of everything except the one thing that each child wanted to do most and have more time to spend together as a family.
It was one of the best decisions we have ever made.