Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Random Marriage Advice

Do whatever it takes to laugh as much as possible together - not at each other.

Practice Lamaze outside of pregnancy. Deep and slow breathing actually works as a relaxation technique and helps you avoid saying things in stressful situations that shouldn’t be said.

Never raise your voice in anger at each other. Walk away for long enough to let the emotions cool before tackling an issue of dispute or disagreement. Then, if neither party can accept the other’s wishes fully, practice acceptable compromise - or postponement of resolution. Remember, not everything has to be resolved right now.

Oh, and if a sauna isn't an option, a shower or bathtub works just fine - individually or together.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Becoming a More Forgiving Person

As I come to the end of this month, I look back on my resolution and realize I have not gained any new and deep insights that are earth-shattering and incredibly profound. However, I have gained a much deeper understanding of the concept, and I am grateful for the experience.

Having said that, I had an interesting epiphany as I was preparing to write this post, and I want to share it as my summary about forgiveness:

In order to need to forgive when forgiveness is difficult, one must be harmed in a way that the person feels as unwarranted and/or intentional - or not understandable. When pain or harm is seen as warranted and/or unintentional, when it is relatively easy to understand why the other person did what they did, it is much easier to forgive.

As I pondered this epiphany, it struck me HARD that learning to see others as God sees them - learning to be charitable in our expectations of others - learning to not be offended by the words and actions of others - becoming meek and merciful - this is the single most powerful way to be able to forgive. It also is a way to avoid the need to forgive in many of the more "minor" cases of harm - since a meek and merciful person will be less inclined to be offended and less likely to feel the need to forgive in the first place.

In summary, becoming a forgiving person BEFORE major pain and harm occurs is key.

Friday, March 27, 2009

When Culture Is Seen As Command

Culture becomes habit; habit becomes seen as command.

Just a few examples relative to the sacrament - with the understanding that there are numerous other examples not related to the sacrament:

1) I actually have heard someone claim that the sacrament is a "right hand ordinance". Does anyone really want to suggest that someone whose right arm has been amputated can't partake of the sacrament correctly - that his situation is allowable as an "alternative" to the "right way"?

2) In our ward, the deacons uniformly walk and stand with their left hand tucked behind their backs. Does anyone really want to suggest that God watches us and gets upset when I pass the sacrament without tucking my left hand behind my back?

3) Do we really think he cares exactly how the deacons line up at the sacrament table? Would he be happier if they lined up in order of height or by age or coordinated by hair color? That last question was obviously stupid, but how is it any different than the left arm tuck rule? It's not.

My general rule of thumb:

If a practice appears to have no other motivation beside conformity - no spiritual benefit or symbolic significance - it nearly always, if not always, is cultural and not doctrinal. If it really is vital for our salvation, it will be recorded. In the case of commandments, "unwritten order" means multiplicity of interpretations - just like the game where you go around the circle and what is said at the beginning is completely different by the time it gets all the way around that circle.

If it ain't written, it ain't real and shouldn't be enforced universally, in my opinion.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Restoration Challenges to the Reformation

When I teach the apostasy and restoration aspects of the Melchizedek Priesthood prep class, I focus on some of the foundation Gospel principles of the restoration that were direct refutations of the current religious beliefs that dominated the Protestant Reformation.

The most fundamental example of a challenge to the very foundation of the Reformation was Joseph’s insistence that, although Catholicism had screwed it up over the years, divine authority actually was meant to reside with mankind. Protestant reformers knew that they did not have “divine authority” (and said so explicitly), and they recognized clearly that the Catholic Church had lost that authority. Their only “logical” conclusion, given the lack of divine authority vested in men, was to shift such authority to “the Word of God” - since they knew they couldn’t claim it for themselves. That “Word of God” was the Bible - all that they had that everyone agreed represented His words to man - and that investiture almost required that inerrancy become the standard, since any errors would destroy all sense of God’s authority existing at all on the earth. Finally, if the authority of God was invested in the Word of God, the only authority available to man was through a deeper and fuller understanding of that Word - which opened the door for Divinity Schools and Masters of Theology degrees - and their lay counterpart, the individual preacher who could quote the Word in a charismatic and inspiring way.

Joseph Smith shook the very foundation of their claims to divine authority - not just by claiming to have been called as a prophet, thus restoring divine authority to man, but also by introducing an additional source of God’s word (The Book of Mormon), thus removing the exclusivity of the Bible. In essence, he said, “Well, you did the best you could with what you had, but the old system you rejected is back in place with new materials - so accept a system your very foundation rejected or run along and play your human games.”

Many members have a basic understanding of this conflict, but I think not nearly enough really understand why the conflict produces such intense and vitriolic reactions. Given what Joseph taught, and what it means about the very core creeds of Protestantism, the reaction doesn’t surprise me one bit - then or now.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Thorns of Our Flesh

The assertion that “wanting to repent of it” is all that is required to be able to change one's weaknesses and repent fully is problematic for those who struggle to overcome deeply ingrained inclinations and never totally conquer them in this life. For example, I know quite a few people who want badly to react differently to their children in stressful situations but can’t conquer their current reactions totally - and I would never claim that their desire to repent simply isn’t strong enough. Some things are thorns that will go away only in the resurrection.

That is not a blanket excuse for any action that the Church deems to be sin. It merely points out the danger in blaming one’s inability to control perfectly one’s deeply ingrained impulses and inclinations on an inadequate desire to change. The beauty of the Atonement, in my opinion, is not just that we can receive strength to change in the here and now, but also that we can receive grace for our efforts even when we cannot change in the here and now.

I think that points to the need for those who simply feel they cannot live a command completely at least to strive to live as close to the ideal as possible. It might not be the ideal, but all of us are commanded to live as closely to the ideal as we individually are able - trusting that the Lord in His infinite wisdom will understand our hearts and make up the difference. I’m not going to be judged against any other individual, and I’m not going to be judged against a universal, Mosaic Law-like standard; I’m going to be judged against myself - what I did with what I was given. Since I have no idea the exact extent of any other person’s struggle to deal with his/her own thorns, I try to preach the ideal, recognize that not all can live that ideal, and encourage them to do the best they can to live as close to it as is possible for them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mission Introduction Humor: Blogging Insight

I just told my son that I have heard from two other bloggers who know missionaries going to his mission starting the same day. He laughed and said:

Every time I transfer to a new area, I'm going to have to make sure my introduction includes the fact that I'm the son of the blogger known as "Ray" and "Papa D". I'm going to have built-in family friends on my mission.

I really like the Bloggernacle. It really makes a big world a little bit smaller.

Forget Forgiveness

Sorry, that title is just a way to say that I'm too excited about my son's mission call to write about forgiveness this weekend. So, for this weekend, at least, I am forgetting about forgiveness. *grin*

Washington, Everett Mission!!

My oldest is old enough to be going on a mission.

I'm now officially old.

**Shakes it off.**

Washington, Everett Mission!!

Can you tell I'm excited?

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Son's Mission Announcement!!

EDITED @ 5:00PM EST:

My oldest son received a large envelope from SLC a few minutes ago. Any guesses where he will be going before I post the details?

drum roll . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the

Washington, Everett Mission (Northwest Washington State) - reporting on June 24th

(Aileen, I almost had a heart attack when he started by saying, "Washington". Almost.)

Non-Members and the Sacrament

It is our responsibility to explain the promises we make when we partake of the sacrament to those who are visiting. It is their decision whether or not to partake, based on their willingness to make those commitments.


We sometimes forget that, while the sacrament is a renewal of our baptismal covenants, it also is accessible to those who have not been baptized (like our children) - and, therefore, for them it is not a renewal. For our children, it functions more as a preparatory promise. The sacrament is not limited to our unbaptized, as if it was something only for the "righteous children's club". It is a sign of commitment, for us, to baptismal covenants already made, and for others, non-baptismal promises already made or willing to be made. If I allow my 5-year-old to partake and not my devout, adult, Christian friends, I think that says more about me than about them.


Should non-members partake? Let me ask a different question:


If they are willing to make the promises inherent in the sacrament prayer, and if they are living their best to the extent of their knowledge, why should they not partake?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Need Thee Every Hour

I Come to Thee - ED (Personal Change in the Gospel of Jesus Christ)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Visiting Eden

I believe the account of Eden is figurative and might refer more to the War in Heaven than to events on this earth. (Sorry, no explanation here; maybe later.) Due largely to that perspective, I absolutely love the Garden account. I love even more Joseph Smith’s repositioning of the Garden narrative to his own life - in the Missouri revelation and even more so in the temple endowment. I love that the Garden of Eden now symbolically is less than two hours from my house (in TWO locations: Columbus, OH and Louisville, KY) - and that I can leave the lone and dreary world and visit Eden on a regular basis in my journey back to God.

It's one of my favorite concepts within Mormonism.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Celestial Polygamy

I probably should make it clear that I view the post below as a great satire - just so there's no misunderstanding about my view.

It's Raining Men: Celestial Demographics (again) - Steven P. (By Common Consent)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Overlooked Heart of the Restoration

Even with the aid of the Restoration, we still “see through a glass, darkly” - but I personally believe we see a lot more clearly because of “The Restoration” (about so many more things than most people realize) than if it had not occurred. I see “The Restoration” as much more a re-introduction of the ability to continue to progress in our understanding than as a clear and comprehensive knowledge of all absolute truth - as a change from hardcore, creedal absolutism and dogmatism to an openness and willingness to learn from all inspired sources and embrace continuing revelation no matter the catalyst for that revelation - as the shattering of the calcified, apostate ideologies that had stopped spiritual progression and eliminated eternal progression as a possibility that could motivate and edify mankind both during mortality and on into the afterlife.

We would be much poorer without that foundational concept, and we are much richer even if that is the only benefit of the Restoration. I don't believe it is, but even that alone would be glorious.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Healing Victims During Their Suffering

I am going to do something unusual for me in a resolution post like this.

As I have thought about how to approach forgiveness (particularly forgiving more immediately and completely), I was struck by something Silver Rain said in a comment from last week's resolution post - To Forgive Is Better Than to Forget. Her comment was:

"Even further, for a victim, healing through the atonement can come while the sin is still being committed. It is unimaginable, but it is true."

I really LOVE that statement, and I would like to get reactions and responses from everyone about that concept specifically.

Friday, March 13, 2009

One of the Best Comments on the Atonement I Have Ever Read

First, Christ suffered for our sins - hangnails and lost school elections are not sins. I am not 100% bound to the idea that Christ “experienced” every moment of my life in Gethsemane, and I don’t see a need for Him to do so at that particular moment in time either. I believe that He can see the daily events of my life or yours now anytime He needs to, so I agree that it makes no sense to conclude that Christ “lived” every single moment of our individual lives on the last day of His mortality.

Dread, sadness, pain, suffering, loneliness, hunger, shame, rejection, sorrow…all of those emotions Christ suffered before and after Gethsemane…He knows them all intimately - and on a deeper level than any of us ever could. I don’t need Him to feel “MY” sadness, pain, hunger etc to believe that He understands my pain. His personal experiences trump all of mine and I am humbled and in awe that He would still come to my aid and comfort when He endured so much more than I am required to.

Second, the gospel tells us that murderers do not receive forgiveness in this world, nor the world to come. Did Christ suffer for murderers? There’s no way to know. I see absolutely no justice in requiring our perfect and innocent Lord to suffer for those who will later suffer again for the same sins.

To me, the idea of “descending below them all” means no matter what I may suffer in this life, He has endured the deepest pain possible, the fiercest hunger that exists, the darkest evil etc. If I personally experience a trial that is unique to only me and thus no one else has ever felt that way, then He experienced that too.

I also had another thought. “Restitution and/or restoration” are a part of forgiveness (look it up) and there are so many sins that we commit that we are powerless to fully restore or make restitution for. I believe that part of the agony He suffered during the Atonement was absorbing the physical and emotional scars of those we injure through sin. Christ alone can “heal” us all, make us whole again-He takes our burdens and the wounds in our bodies and souls and fills them up again. He makes repairs what was damaged. He restores what existed before.

When we say “He suffered for our sins” - we often think in terms of “Action X= Punishment Z”.
Or in other words…if I commit action “X”, then I deserve punishment “Z” - and we imagine that Christ suffered “punishment Z” for me, so that if I repent, I wouldn’t have to. But what if we’re looking at it wrong? What if “Action X=damage Z” instead? Bare with me here…putting it into words is proving more difficult than I’d hoped.

Let’s say I abuse a child. (Not that I have or ever would, but rather than pointing at another, I will make myself the example here.) Action X (the abuse)= damage Z - emotional wreckage, physical pain, fear, bitterness etc. I fervently and completely repent for my actions to the best of my ability, but I am POWERLESS to restore that child’s emotional health, erase the physical pain, fear, and bitterness that my actions caused. I simply cannot do it. But Christ CAN. At some point in time, Christ can and will “heal” that child (and later adult) that I wounded. (Forgiveness on the part of my victim enters the picture here too, but this discussion is deep enough!)

So…when we say that “Christ suffered for my sins (of child abuse)” it could also mean that in Gethsemane He felt what that child felt during my abuse, so He would know exactly and specifically how to heal that child. He is able to make a full restitution that I am incapable of making, and while I am made to feel guilty and horrible and agonize over my actions during the process of mortal repentance, at some point in the future, that child/person will be made whole and what I damaged will be restored.

For me, this idea opened up a whole new view of the Atonement for me and makes perfect sense if it is accurate. The victim of my actions really WOULD be able to find comfort in the Savior’s atonement because He really would have suffered exactly what they had endured and have a perfect knowledge of their suffering. But, it also means that my Savior might not just have felt “pain” or “punishment” because of my sins (Punishment Z). He might have suffered “Damage Z” (the effects and feelings and sensations of child abuse) because of me.

Maybe these thoughts are old news to you and others, and maybe I’m not expressing them very well in this venue, but rather than trivializing the Atonement (as you suggested) by insinuating that Christ endured my every stubbed toe and hangnail in order for his Atonement to be “personal and individual” to me, it made the Atonement humbling and horrific and amazingly personal to imagine causing my Lord and Savior to suffer as if I had committed my sins TO Him and ON Him and TOWARDS Him instead of myself and others…

Comment #50 by quin - The Totality of Mortality (Times & Seasons)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

As Far As It Is Translated Correctly

Even in this day and age, many people take what they understand and assume it is applicable to all - or would be if only everyone else were as enlightened as they. Also, our scriptures are full of hyperbolic statements that either express the perspective of the ones who utter them or are exaggerated to make a point. Perhaps the easiest example of this is the idea that Caesar sent out a proclamation that “all the world” should be taxed. I have to assume that he (or the Biblical authors who quoted the decree) might have been egotistical enough to think that his decree was going out to all the world, but I doubt it; I believe he knew there were parts of the world that would not hear his decree. Nonetheless, it is worded as it is worded for practical and political reasons - probably to reinforce his official status of ruler of the entire world to his subjects who had no idea of the greater world around them. Iow, there are lots of statements in our scriptures that are not "religious" or "inspired" but rather political or scientific or biological ad infinitum. Those statements, not being necessarily "of God", can be problematic - and, I believe, are a part of the reason we need the caveat, "as far as it is translated correctly".

For example, “all the world” can be interpreted consistently as “all the known world” or “all the land” (the world as it is known). People who reject such an interpretation usually do so because of what they have been told the scriptures mean, not necessarily by what those scriptures actually might be saying - or said in their original, untranslated form. No matter what interpretation earlier prophets held, it is reasonable to me to allow for different interpretations in light of new scientific information and modern perspectives - especially for a Church that believes the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly.” For us to insist that a literal reading of the Bible is the only option completely defeats the message of that Article of Faith - and that is coming from a hardcore parser in instances where we can be sure we have exactly what the person actually said.

In our own modern times, scientists and other secular professionals are tasked with explaining what happens and how things happen in this world. I believe totally that whenever we ask non-scientists and non-secular-professionals to give us the “how” and the "what" instead of the “why” and the “so what” we open ourselves up to the possibility of interpretation and error - even from those who are legitimate prophets and oracles of God. Prophets are called as special witnesses of Christ, not as biologists or geologists or astronomers or as any other kind of secular professional. I believe we need to recognize that and stop expecting from them what they have not been called to provide.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

True Marriage Preparation

The Church doesn’t insist on formal marriage classes, although it does offer Marriage Prep classes that can be exceptional, but instead it focuses on teaching principles from 18-month-old nursery onward that can make Christian disciples of its members - and that process creates people who can have happy, successful marriages.

According to the most recent research available, the general divorce rate among Christians varies from about 20-27%. The overall divorce rate for Mormons who marry outside of the temple is roughly the same. (For those who marry outside the faith, the divroce rate leaps to about 44%, below only those who live together prior to marriage - about 49%.) However, the divorce rate for Mormons who marry in the temple and remain active drops to about 6%-10%. Whether or not individual wards and stakes do enough to retain their youth can be debated separately, but for those who “complete” what the Church offers, the marriage preparation is exceptionally effective.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

To Forgive Is Better Than to Forget

Matthew 6:14-15 says:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

My resolution this month is to forgive more fully and immediately. Honestly, I have never had a hard time forgiving, in general, and letting go of anger and disappointment, in particular, but something really struck me as I contemplated this resolution this week.

There is a HUGE difference between being able to "forgive" and being able to "forget" - and forgiveness is MUCH harder when forgetting is impossible. In my own life, the easiest example of this is an experience I had with a job - actually two jobs with similar examples.

1) I once worked as a Training Manager, and one of my primary responsibilities was to lead a certification process that was critical to the success of the company. Part of that process was compiling and systematizing all of the training records. Long story short, I had to resign from my job when I discovered some improper practices with regard to training records required for large contract bids and was told to ignore them.

2) I once worked as a Director at a company for a very short time. I was fired without warning, and the justifications I was given were ludicrous - they simply didn't make any sense, at all, at the time. I found out afterward that the person most intimately responsible for my evaluation had applied for my position before I was hired, and once I was gone she was given my position. Suddenly, it made sense.

What struck me as I thought about forgiveness this month is that there is no way for me to forget these situations and what they did to me. If it simply was a case of letting go, it wouldn't be all that hard for me - but, in each case, I had to find another job. In that process, I had to explain my short employment term in each case - over and over and over again. Literally, there is no way for me to forget - and what initially was quite easy for me to forgive has become less easy to let go, simply because it has been an unavoidable part of trying to find work again.

My only point for now is that we all need to be very careful about judging other people's ability to forgive - particularly based on the assumption that they should be able to forget. I really believe I have forgiven each person who was responsible for each situation, but I realized this week how easy it would be to believe I had forgiven simply by forgetting - then realize I had not when circumstances brought it to memory again.

I think we mix up the order way too much. I think forgetting is NOT the higher law; I would rather forgive and not forget than to forget but not forgive.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Glorifying "The Good Old Days"

I think it's fascinating to watch people justify their angst over prophets by pointing out all the "weird" stuff about which prophets used to speculate, then turn around and criticize the current church leaders for being "boring" because they won't speculate any more. I also think it's fascinating that most of the people who long for "the good old days" rarely mention that those "good old days" included INTENSE persecution, death and incredible hardship - or that the "bad new days" include explosive growth and much more of a "rolling stone" appearance than the "good old days".

Personally, I'll take my life over Brigham Young's any day and twice on Sunday - when they used to meet all day, and our entire three-hour block of meetings would have been the opening exercises. Nostalgia is easy - especially for those who never lived in the times for which they are nostalgic. It allows them to criticize (often harshly) those early leaders while pining for the time in which they lived.

No thanks.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Heart-Wrenching

Home - Kathryn Lynard Soper (Times & Seasons)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Religious Foundation of Chastity

I have two sons and four daughters. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to teach chastity that will form a foundation that will last is to highlight the principle that the central goal of mortality is to become complete and whole (perfectly united with another person - physically and emotionally), and that such a goal is only possible as a unified couple. Part of that principle is that, at the most fundamental level, sex is meant to accomplish two objectives: 1) be an integral part of truly becoming one (which is the ultimate objective of marriage) and 2) be the process of replicating yourself.

I teach my children there are very effective ways to circumvent #2, but there is no way to accomplish #1 without sex - and that “full, undivided” unity (physical and emotional) cannot be accomplished if you are sharing yourself with more than one person outside of a committed relationship.

I think, in our modern world, we simply have to remove children from the equation when we discuss chastity. If sex is only (or even primarily) about kids, and not fundamentally about the joining of our entire souls (body and spirit), then we have turned a religious principle into a scientific issue - and we lose in this day and age of readily available birth control.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Danger of Safe Contention

One thing that internet communication has done is to make vitriolic, hyperbolic language less dangerous to the user than it used to be.

When you risk angering someone who is standing in front of you and might take physical action against you (or call their friends to do so), there is a degree of external constraint that is absent when such a physical threat is not visible and imminent. Trolling, especially, is less dangerous than it used to be when the words needed to be spoken, since there is no chance of the group mob mentality taking over and ending up in a life-threatening assault - especially with the availability of anonymity and pseudonyms.

Since it is much safer to “stir up the hearts of men to anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:30) from the safety of a computer, exacerbated by anonymity, I believe we are more prone to “safe contention” now than perhaps ever before. Not being able to see the tears and anguish and rage and consternation caused by our words makes it more tempting to focus less on being sensitive in our communications.

I see a polarization and insensitivity in so much of the current public communication that simply wasn’t there to that degree even less than 20 years ago. I know I have crossed that line more than I would have if someone was standing in front of me as I expressed myself. I believe we, as disciples of Jesus, are obligated to pay more attention to that tendency and concentrate more explicitly on avoiding it.