Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In THESE sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. (Emphasis added) Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)
In this paragraph, I believe that the Proclamation fundamentally changes the discussion of "presiding" in the home - making that definition of "preside" different than the definition of "preside" that a Bishop does. I am fine with that, since we have multiple meanings for nearly all of our words in English - depending on the context. If we can have multiple meanings of many words, why can't that be valid for this word? When the Proclamation says that a man and wife are to be "equal partners", working together in their primary roles, I take that to mean exactly that - and I see it as an explicit change from the past.
I understand former statements (and even contemporary ones from individual leaders); I just don't give them the same weight as the signed statement of our modern, combined Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and First Presidency.
I take final responsibility for what my wife and I decide, but I NEVER play the "I preside, so this is how it is" card. It never crosses my mind - mostly because I like breathing and the attendant joys of true marital unity. (*grin*)
For example, when I say I take final responsibility, I simply mean that I am the one who usually says to our children, "Your mother and I have reached this decision, so I don't want to hear you whining about it, anymore, especially to her." They know that when WE reach the decision and I tell it to them (generally with Mama right next to me - and sometimes coming from her if I am not there to be with her), it is final - since we have spoken as one. If either of us has spoken independently, it isn't a final decision - even though they are expected to do what either of us says independently until we talk about it and address it together if they have a concern about what one of us has said. When we speak as one, it is final.
So, I "preside" - but it has no strength or power or efficacy without Mama's equal participation and partnership. It is very much a title of responsibility with little or no practical meaning in isolation. In other words, my presiding is a sub-set and function of our equality - something that is granted freely by my wife's participation and "help" every bit as much as it is a divine investiture - and that is of critical importance to me. We truly are equals, and my presiding doesn't change that one single bit.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families." ("The Family: A Proclamation to the World")
We tend to apply these statements to our narrow view of our own world - or at least our Mormon world. Remember, this is a proclamation “to the world” - not narrowly to the Church.
Why would the FP & Q12 phrase it in this way in a message “to the world”? Frankly, I see why all around me - both in our relatively stable town and in my work over the last 10 years focused on the "economically underprivileged" and "educationally at-risk". My children have friends who spend hours (sometimes literally days and months) at our house specifically because their fathers (both biological and non-biological) don’t provide and protect. The inner-cities are imploding and exploding across
Given the state of the family all around me, I don’t read this as anything other than a reprimand and challenge to the men of the world to take responsibility for their actions and serve their families in righteousness (preside). The world needs it so badly, and the young men of the world need it even more.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I always stress parsing what actually is said in written text or by someone we hear to understand what we can assert as definitive - and then considering the entire context to see if there are possible implications from whatever simply is a given (what is indisputable). For example, in Alma 56:47-48, all we are told is that the mothers “taught” their sons that “if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” From what, we are not told. We only assume it was from physical death in war because of the situation (war and their preservation in it) that caused them to relate it to Helaman. However, the first two-thirds of verse 47 make it clear that they were willing to die. Given that, it is legitimate to look at the rest of the context and realize that there might be other legitimate meanings for “God would deliver them.”
First, "they had been taught” - which might have been a one time occurrence as they were leaving home. However, it seems like these young men "had been taught” dedication and obedience and exactness all their lives. Individuals can change in an instant, but it is unlikely that 2,000 young men suddenly would become super-righteous overnight. It is much more likely that they "had been taught” that God would deliver them from anything that might threaten their spiritual, eternal well-being than that their mothers simply pulled them aside on the way out the door and promised them they wouldn’t be killed in the war.
Remember, those mothers had seen many of their friends (and perhaps some fathers and sons and husbands) slaughtered by other Lamanites - killed in the act of calling upon God even though they did not “doubt God”. They knew full well that God didn’t always deliver His faithful people from physical death, but they were convinced that He could deliver them from their natural, fallen, sinful and lost state - from spiritual death. (Alma 24:27 - “thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people.”)
Alma 53: 20-21 makes it obvious that these young men had been taught all their lives the reward for perfect faithfulness, obedience and dedication - the same reward their own “pioneers” had received, even those who had been killed for their faith, valor and lack of doubt. I think it’s fairly safe to guess, as a parent myself, that their mothers reiterated what they had been taught all their lives as they were heading off to war (that, if they did not doubt and obeyed every command with exactness, God would deliver them - no matter the physical outcome.)
Remember, this was Helaman who was reporting about these young men. He was as close to them as any Nephite - ever. Yet, apparently, he did not know the specifics about what their mothers had taught them until they told him about it. He had been there when the parents had decided to fight; he was the one who had talked them out of it by invoking their sacred promise; he had been chosen as their sons’ military leader, because they trusted him as a religious leader. He was intimately involved in the decision of their sons to fight in place of their parents.
Perhaps “taught” simply can mean “told” - but I tend to believe that Helaman would have been there for the great send off when all the mothers collectively told all the sons that they would not die in battle - that he would have known about it and not have to be told after the fact.
Having said all that, I do not discount the idea that the Lord promised the parents that He would preserve their sons in battle like He had promised Mosiah and Alma to preserve their sons on their missions to convert these very parents (a promise of which Helaman would have heard from his own father and understood intimately) - that is was couched in terms of “You’ve sacrificed enough lives to follow me. I won’t require that you sacrifice your children.” Even if that really is all it was, that’s enough for me, since it makes it an incredibly powerful story of the rewards of deep and difficult sacrifice and dedication.I am not saying that this is the correct view of the statement, "God would deliver them." It simply might have been, “Stay valiant and none of you will be killed.” All I’m saying is that when you parse the text, there is more than one possible meaning for that phrase (”God would deliver them.”) - and, to me, the more comprehensive one I describe here is much more powerful and moving and inspiring in its applicability to me and my own battles.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I think we place too much emphasis on membership to the unfortunate exclusion of simple fellowship. Too many of us seem to think that only those who are members or "progressing investigators" should be with us as we worship. In my view, although we could create dozens of more narrow categories, we have four general options for attendance in our meetings:
1) "Fully committed members" - holding temple recommends and striving to live every aspect of the Gospel to the best of their ability.
2) "Partially committed members" - sporadic or regular attendees (often not holding temple recommends) struggling or unable to live some basic standards expected of fully committed members
3) "Progressing investigators" - people who are serious about their efforts to decide on future membership and exhibit that commitment by attending church regularly and meeting basic expectations of membership
4) "Committed non-members" - those who want to worship with us but have no intention of becoming "members in good standing and future temple recommend holders".
I see this final category as the ultimate test of our acceptance of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wish we were willing to love and worship with anyone who is willing to be with us and let them work out their own issues as we strive to work out ours. In a nutshell, I wish we could separate fellowship from membership - and fellowship everyone.
How willing are we to accept a habitual drunk as our pew mate? How willing are we to embrace a homosexual couple in our meetings - understanding that they will hear the Law of Chastity preached in our meetings and might never be baptized and join our membership ranks? How willing are we to tolerate the smell of tobacco from the pew in front of us? How willing are we to have a Baptist or a Methodist or a Catholic or a Jew or a Muslim worship at our side if they are open about their unwillingness to be baptized? How willing are we, sinners in our own way, to worship alongside sinners in a different way - understanding that they might never enter category #1, but willing to love and serve them even as they remain in category #4?
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
There is a valuable lesson in there, I believe.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
What struck me is that all of us, when we become members of the Church, covenant to take certain responsibilities. We promise to comfort those who stand in need of comfort and mourn with those that mourn. We agree to the sacramental covenants, then Priesthood or YW's covenants, then temple covenants - as well as various callings within the Church's organizational structure. Although these things are meant to bring us growth and understanding and joy, in a very real sense they are "burdens" we agree to carry.
Psalms 55:22 says, in part: "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee."
Ether 12:27 says: "And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them."
Matthew 11:28-30 says, in part: "Take my yoke upon you."
Here is what I learned: The concepts in these three verses constitute a complete solution; without the first and second, the third is impossible.
In simple terms, the Lord wants us to cast our own burdens at His feet and pick up those that He knows will give us strength and bring eternal life. Please take a moment to create that mental picture. Envision yourself removing a pack from your back or shoulders, setting it aside, then picking up a new pack to carry instead. If we fail to leave our own natural burdens with Him, then all we do when we assume the responsibilities of membership in His kingdom is to pick up a second pack and increase a load we already are unable to bear alone.
Each of us needs to figure out what this means in our own lives, with our own personalities and struggles, but, at a minimum, we need to accept His atoning grace and quit beating ourselves up over our natural weaknesses and tendencies - those things for which He has paid the price already. We need to recognize and accept the forgiveness He has offered already. We need to believe Him and what He has promised us.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by guilt or inadequacy or the burdens of your life, may I suggest a simple solution - not an easy one and not one that always will happen completely and all at once, but the only one of which I know that truly will work. Find a quiet place, where you can kneel totally alone and unable to hear anything else, and pour out your soul to your Heavenly Father - able to approach Him directly because of the grace of His Son. Tell Him of your anxieties, your fears, your weakness, your pain - then ask Him to take the burden from you and help you walk away from it. Repeat that request (something like, "I gave it to you; please help me leave it at your feet.") whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed - even if it means you have to do so sometimes in the middle of the confusion and chaos of your daily life. Take a deep breath, close your eyes if you can, and ask Him to intercede once more and keep you from picking up your natural load.
I have a deep and abiding testimony that if you cast your burdens upon the Lord, He truly will sustain you as you shoulder His yoke and begin to carry the burden He has chosen to make your weakness become strength.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
My wife's 5th-great-grandfather was the first native Italian convert to join the Church in
His ancestors had been religious dissenters for hundreds of years. They had been killed and driven from their homes by the Catholic Church numerous times, and each time they waited until their ancestral valley was unoccupied and quietly "moved back home". Due to this intense persecution, their writings are full of sacred oaths to never leave that valley and settle permanently somewhere else.
When this particular man joined the Church, he had no idea he would not die in that valley. When the call was made to join the Saints in America, he packed his belongings without a word of complaint, said good-bye to his extended family and left his sacred valley for good - simply because a man whom he had never met but whom he believed to be a prophet of God asked him to do so. ("For the Strength of the Hills" was written not only about the
I stand in awe of that kind of testimony and conviction and dedication.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
In my various callings, I have told the full-time missionaries in my wards and stakes for the past 15 years to stop telling people exactly how they will receive an answer to a prayer or a testimony. I also have told everyone who will listen to stop telling people they can "know" whatever they want to know. Those two claims simply don't match our scriptures.
First, just like teachers tend to teach with their own learning modality, members and missionaries tend to think everyone will feel and experience the same way they do. To complicate it further, we tend to think if one person was told they will feel the Spirit in a certain way (e.g., Oliver Cowdery's burning in the bosom and stupor of thought), then everyone should be able to feel it in the same way. We need to recognize that the "fruits of the Spirit" are wide and varied, and any one of them can signal an answer to prayer or a spiritual impression. What makes it "real" to the askers is their own recognition of it, which is the tricky part.
Second, "To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful." (D&C 46:13-14)
We really need to acknowledge this belief and not hold investigators to a standard to which God does not hold us even as baptized members of the Church.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Matthew 5:33-37 says,
33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
1) To "forswear thyself" means to "break your oath, or perjure yourself". I understood "perjury" to mean lying under oath, but I am not a lawyer, so I looked up "perjure" in the dictionary. It means, "to make (oneself) guilty of perjury by deliberately testifying falsely under oath." Therefore, the charge to "not forswear thyself" means literally to not say things "under oath" that you know are not true.
2) The charge to not forswear thyself is followed immediately by a follow-up charge to "perform unto the Lord thine oaths." It is this charge that I have misunderstood until now. I used to think it meant that we are supposed to hold our oaths (promises) sacred and perform them as if they were oaths made to the Lord, but, in the context of these verses, I've changed my mind in a significant way. I now read it as saying that when I make an oath (promise or covenant) with the Lord, I need to make sure I am able to "perform" that oath "unto (Him)". In other words, I can't forswear myself in my covenants with Him.
3) Verses 34-36 provide examples of ways that promises and covenants can be established on illegitimate foundations, then verse 27 lays out the new foundation for covenants and promises. Ultimately, this passage says that I am held accountable for my own actions - that I can't blame God (or the Devil) for anything I do.
4) Finally, my word should be good enough. If someone asks me to do something, I should be able to say, "Yes," or "No," and have that be enough.
That is a goal worth pursuing.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I think we need to thank God every day that He doesn't give us what we deserve.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
My mother's PB is incredibly short (hardly any advice or counsel at all), and this was from a man who was known for his long blessings. My mom is too humble to admit it, but, looking back at her life, she really didn't need much counsel or advice. However, the two things that were said were absolutely spot-on and described a mental condition that was undiagnosed until almost 10 years after the blessing and unknown at the time by her family.
Looking back on my wife's life thus far, her PB identifies every single one of her major issues - those with which she struggles continually. It's not self-fulfilling prophecy, but rather real insight into many issues of her upbringing and natural tendencies. One fascinating aspect of both of our blessings is that the focus in each section dealing with marriage is her. (She is the focus in hers, and she is the focus in mine.)I believe the concept of Patriarchal Blessings is powerful and inspired, but I believe that they are only as infallible as the individual who gives them - meaning that none of them are completely infallible. I also believe that very few of them are inevitable. My mother's experience is an exception that proves the rule, I believe, since she herself is an exception that proves the rule. The process and the event are an amazing part of my own testimony of the Restoration, but what I make of my Patriarchal Blessing still depends on me.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
My parents care about the appearance they project, but my father has gone into a bar, in his small
I believe in acting of my own volition without having to be commanded in all things. I believe Jesus, through the life he lived, taught that people are more important than appearances - as important as appearances can be. Remember, the only people He condemned were the hypocrites who projected an appearance of righteousness while living lives full of corruption. If worrying about maintaining a good appearance keeps us from accomplishing a good action, then I think we are in danger of acting like those hypocrites.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Keep my promises more diligently; make them a simple "Yes" or "No".
In many ways, it seems almost trivial compared to the obviously fundamental characteristics listed in this chapter. The Beatitudes are transcendent in their simplicity and power, while these verses seem to be almost menial and pedestrian at first glance. They aren't.
Initially, I am going to depart from my normal approach of addressing the definitions of the key words and discussing the mechanics of the actual resolution. For this post, I am going to address both what it means and what it does NOT mean.
The following is something I wrote for Mormon Momma this past April entitled "Swearing and Cursing":
The Bible provides the following admonitions regarding swearing:
“Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” (Deut. 6:13)
“He that sweareth in the earth shall swear by the God of truth.” (Isaiah 65:16)
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all;” (Matthew 5:34)
Also, our scriptures include the following references to cursing:
“And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17)
“His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.” (Psalms 10:7)
“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:9)
There are dozens of other references to swearing and cursing, and all of them deal with swearing as a way of making a solemn promise (including taking the Lord’s name in vain) and cursing as pronouncing punishment. I chose the verses quoted above because they provide an interesting insight into the way that the original, scriptural meaning of these words has mutated radically since the initial pronouncements - coming to mean something now that simply was not included or intended in the scriptural admonitions.
It is interesting that neither term ("swear" or "curse") is defined in the Bible Dictionary. Given that situation, the following definitions come straight from the dictionary:
“to swear” = “to make a solemn declaration or affirmation by some sacred being or object, as a deity or the Bible - to bind oneself by oath.” (There are 10 definitions; 9 fit this general meaning.)
“to swear” = “to use profane oaths or language” (This is the only exception to the general rule.)
“to curse” = “to express a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a person, group, etc. - to invoke a formula or charm intended to cause such misfortune to another.” (again, the majority of definitions)
“to curse” = “to use a profane oath or curse word; to swear at” (one definition)
It is interesting and instructive to note that the second definitions (profane language and profane oaths) do NOT appear in our scriptures. Every instance of “swearing” and “cursing” throughout our canon involves the first definitions. What does this mean?
First, it is apparent that “swearing” means making a solemn oath or promise. ("I swear it shall be done.") In the OT, as a token of their status as The Chosen People, Israel was allowed (even encouraged) to make these sacred promises in the name of God - to swear by His name. However, one of the aspects of the Law of Moses that was fulfilled by Jesus was this practice. In its place, Jesus commanded to "swear not at all".
Obviously, He did not command that we stop making solemn promises, since His new admonition was the following:
“But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:37)
By ending the Old Testament practice of swearing by God, and by shifting the responsibility to us - an individuals - to restrict our promises to “Yea, yea; Nay, nay”, He put the responsibility for keeping those promises squarely on us - as individuals. There no longer was the excuse that, “God just didn’t do it;” it was replaced by the only possible statement, “I just didn’t do it.” I see this move as one more example of the move from institutional responsibility to personal responsibility. Jesus said, essentially, “It’s up to you, so don’t even imply that it was someone else’s decision or is someone else’s responsibility.”
So, how did we get from the original pronouncements of Jesus - the great societal paradigm shift - to where we are now? The Puritan and Victorian societies of the past few hundred years simply took this basic shift and rejected it - returning to the old Law of Moses mentality and expanding the meaning of “swear” and “curse” even beyond where it had been anciently. Just as the ancient Jewish leaders expanded the original commandments by adding many prohibitions not included in the original law, modern Christians added layers of meaning to these ancient prohibitions and turned them into restrictions they never were intended to be.
Now, in our society, people have returned to “swearing by some sacred being or object”, but they also have created a completely new definition and category of swearing. Now, it includes “using unacceptable words” - words defined by the educated elite to distinguish those who are cultured and those who are not. They have changed the original meaning from “making promises for God” to "saying words that show you are more ignorant than we". That is a radical and divisive change.
These same people have taken “cursing” from a statement of malicious intent and desire to cause harm to the same generic “saying bad words” - also a radical and prideful change.
Here are just a couple of examples, using the most tame words I feel comfortable using here:
“Hell” is a proper noun that designates a location and/or condition. It is used in our scriptures hundreds of times, at least. It is sung in our hymns of worship. When used as a proper noun (”come hell or high water”), and not within a true curse, there is absolutely nothing bad or wrong with the word itself. Yet, “hell” is forbidden by many people as a “swear word”.
“Damn” is a noun meaning “something of little value”. A good example of this is, “That isn’t worth a damn” - meaning it is worthless. Otoh, “to damn” means to enact a curse - to cause someone to become of no worth, figuratively casting someone to Hell (the place where they are of no worth). Therefore, “Damn you,” is exactly what is forbidden in scriptures, for two reasons:
1) It incorrectly places the one who “curses” another in the place of God, the only one who can be the Judge and validly make such a pronouncement; and
2) it invokes that status in opposition to Jesus’ command to “swear not at all” - since invoking such a curse is, in effect, stating one’s authority to “promise in the name of God” that it will happen.
There are some examples that never were part of religion, but only came to be seen that way as a result of the elite division I mentioned earlier. Rich, educated, elite people found other ways of saying the same thing in an acceptable manner. That is an incredibly important point, but it is not understood by the vast majority of people when considering “swear words”. (What’s the difference between a one syllable word and a five syllable word if they mean exactly the same thing? Why is one forbidden and one allowed?)
Please understand, I do not advocate “swearing and cursing” as they are defined in our day and age. I try to avoid placing intentional offense in front of people, even when I feel that such offense is misguided and somewhat immature. I teach my children that “swearing and cursing”, as defined in our modern times, are not violations of religious command but, rather, violations of societal expectations - but I also advise them to follow that expectation. In this case, not putting a stumblingblock in front of others is more important than doing something just because it’s not wrong. It is a personal sacrifice for the overall harmony of the community, exactly as someone who would never abuse alcohol abstains anyway in order to help those who might. I teach them that the proper definition of “using bad words” in our time should be “using certain words out of original meaning as expletives (or words with no inherent meaning as used in the new context).” In this context, it is perfectly acceptable to use an alternate term for manure, as long as you are referring to manure, but NOT within the expression, “Oh, ____!”
I just wish people would stop telling other people they will be damned to Hell for swearing and cursing according to our modern interpretation. That simply isn’t scriptural. Remember, it is God Himself and His prophets who use the words “damn” and "hell" in our scriptures exponentially more than anyone else.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Knowing good beats looking good. Always.
Doing good trumps knowing good. Period.
Being good encompasses knowing and doing good - but is so much more.
Becoming better is the object of mortality.
Ultimately, becoming fully good is the object of eternal existence.
Truly, God is good.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
For example, I would assert that the core of this experiential conviction is summarized perfectly in the foundational missionary verse we too often overlook while quoting those that follow. We speak constantly of the "challenge" written in Moroni 10:4-5, but when I attended Seminary so long ago, the verses we memorized included Moroni 10:3. In that verse, we are told to "remember" *before* we ponder and pray. We aren't told to read, ponder and pray; we are told to read, *remember*, ponder and pray - and we are told explicitly to remember how merciful the Lord has been throughout history. In effect, we are told to "experience" vicariously His grace and mercy toward others - that He has spoken to people for thousands of years - and use their experiences to help us come to believe that we can have a similar experience. Their experiences serve as the foundation for our faith in the possibility of our own.
I think we do a terrible disservice to our religion and its missionary effort when we preach "read, ponder and pray" apart from our collective, experiential memory - when we make gaining a testimony an intellectual, or even strictly prayerful, process void of contemplation and reflection on previous experience (both our own and others'). So, the next time you are sharing a "missionary moment" with someone, please remember to help them "remember" by sharing how merciful the Lord has been to you and others before you ask them to read, ponder and pray - or even attend Church with you. Testify of His grace and mercy first; of the things that He has taught you second; of the fact that He can do the same for them last. Too often we short-circuit that process and deprive both ourselves and others of an amazing experience.