Monday, January 31, 2011

Advice for Missionaries - and All Members


Study "Preach My Gospel" diligently and carefully. It really is amazing - so different than what I had when I served that it's like a doctoral dissertation versus a kindergarten primer. I'm not sure everyone is aware of how radically the training of missionaries and teaching of investigators has changed in the last decade.

The missionaries are not sent out to teach church history or former teachings or anything but the principles of the Gospel as outlined in the materials they are given. The simple fact is that many members (baptized, confirmed and endowed members) struggle with exactly how to understand and present certain aspects of our history and theology - and to separate what is legitimate from the incorrect traditions of our fathers. To expect missionaries to be able to deviate from the core principles and basic narrative - to actually discuss and "teach" and correct those types of concerns - is unrealistic and unfair (to both the missionary and the investigator). Those conversations are important to those for whom they are important, but they should be addressed with a regular member - not the missionaries - leading the discussion. (That also helps the missionaries learn, and I have never had a missionary object to that request.)

Finally, no matter what kind of statistical measures and pressures are used (which is contrary to the instructions of the book itself) or the personality of the Mission President and leaders, the key is to stay focused on the people and the message. Not everyone will have the same numerical results, even if their levels of faith and dedication are identical - and that is emphasized in "Preach My Gospel" multiple times. Do your best; stay focused on your actual "mission"; love the people with whom you serve and associate; don't compare your own efforts to anyone else's - and know "Preach My Gospel" backward and forward.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Tremendous Charity that I Believe All LDS Stakes Should Consider Supporting

As I have written this month, my New Year's Resolution for this month is to exercise a little more faith in the redemption of Jesus Christ.  I have been thinking about that topic all month, and I read a post that crystalized for me an aspect of "redemption" that I have not pondered enough in my life.   

As I was thinking about how to introduce the post I have linked below, it struck me that one of the most important aspects of exercising faith in the redemption of Jesus is to accept His life as my example and do for others what He did for me - to believe that He can "redeem" me from my "natural" desires and make me into something that I would not become on my own and, through that belief, extend that same belief to others.

One of the most striking things about Jesus' ministry is that he served it among the poor, despised and rejected.  As a friend online once phrased it, he created a "kingdom of nobodies".  Sometimes we forget that part of the "redemption" he offered was very practical - "redeeming" IN THIS LIFE those whom others had discarded. 

In that light, I am linking the following post that appeared only two days ago on By Common Consent.  Reading it has had a profound impact on me, and it is going to take some time to digest exactly what that impact will mean - but, in the meantime, I want to share it with everyone who reads my blog. 


Approaching Zion: Solving the Problem of Malnutrition - nmiles (By Common Consent) 

If I can do nothing else to assist, at least I can share it with my own Stake leaders and those with whom I have a small degree of influence.  If you are touched as I am, please consider sharing it with your own stake or ward/branch leaders. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Topical Trolls

Just a general comment for everyone, to be ignored, I'm sure, by most:


Some people are very passionate about certain topics. It might be gay marriage, or abortion, or feminism, or children - or something totally combustible like homeschooling. Whenever that particular topic is discussed in the Bloggernacle, these people come out of the woodwork and comment on blogs they don't give a large rodent's hairy hindquarters about on a daily basis. They don't participate regularly, so they don't know everyone who does - so their diatribes are based solely on assumptions about regulars.


My unrequested advice:


Understand that these people are topic-shoppers, so don't take their comments personally. They believe what they believe, and they don't comment on any other threads. Let them launch their broadsides; let them not even try to understand you; let them live in their own world - and don't begrudge them their passion, whether or not you agree.


They probably aren't trolls in real life - only when it comes to their particular passion. They don't participate to become part of a community; they swing their swords in defense of truth and right - and they do so from both sides of each issue. Understand their topical trollishness, and just endure to the end. This too shall pass.

End of sermon - Stepping down from the pulpit.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Incorrect Definition of a Christian: Confessing His Name Is Not Enough

There is a classic line that many people know: 

"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to the garage makes you a car." - Laurence Peter 

I would like to add something similar, in direct refutation of one of the major doctrines of many Protestant denominations:

"Saying you accept Jesus (confessing His name) doesn't make you an actual disciple of Christ any more than saying you accept a doctor actually cures you of anything."- Papa D

At some point, you have to do what they tell you to do in order to be serious about your acceptance of them and be healed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Should the Church Change Sunday Meetings to Two Hours Instead of Three?


People kill me sometimes.

All around the Bloggernacle, I read complaints that the Church doesn't do enough in the roughly 72 hours/year available (48 classes x 45 minutes each in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society/Young Women/Young Men) to teach its members every little aspect of church history that possibly might shake someone's faith at some point down the road. Many ex-members and disaffected members blame exactly this for their struggles (that they weren't taught everything possible in church). Then, they turn around and claim that the Church needs to "eliminate Sunday School" or "consolidate Sunday meetings to only 2 hours".

Which is it? A) Teach us more!; or B) Don't teach us as much!

Personally, I wouldn't mind if the 3-hour block became a 2-hour block - with PH/RS/YW/YM and SS alternating each week.
I can say that and remain consistent, however, since I don't expect the Church to inoculate me against every possible challenge to my faith. However, I would rather tackle the quality of the instruction in our meetings first, since if we raised the spiritual and intellectual quality of our classroom and sacrament meeting instruction few members would want those meetings eliminated. I love being in church for three hours each Sunday, since the instruction in my current ward generally is exceptional. That's the ideal, in my opinion - not eliminating opportunities by shortening our Sunday meetings even further. (Minimizing other meetings is a whole new topic.)

Too many people want the best of both worlds, and this is one case where you have to pick an option in order to be consistent.
Whining about one (too much time in church each Sunday) while pining for the other (more instruction covering more aspects of our religion)? 


Wow. Just, wow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

We Must Eradicate Even Subtly Racist Messages


I have a couple of black sons, and much of my reaction to the issue of racism is influenced by my experiences when they lived with us. I know a single, black mother who attends church regularly and has shared some of her concerns with me. I hope, somehow, some of this will help explain why we need to be aware of even subtle racial messages - especially when they appear among us:

1) When you are the only black face in a congregation of white faces, you already feel isolated and alone in a very real way. You already are hyper-aware of and sensitive to racial issues. After all, some well-meaning members automatically start playing match-maker every, single time there is a black man with the missionaries on Sunday - (without fail and without exception).

2) Being "color-blind" is an illusion when the 6'7" young man sitting amid the short, pale, white family is dark black. As my son says, "You don't see color, you blind."

3) When you see a good young man cringe and reflexively look for an escape route every time he hears a police siren - simply because he has spent his entire life from the age of ten being targeted as a potential trouble maker as a large, black man . . .

4) When you hear a school teacher say, the very first time he meets you, not to worry about your son in his classroom - because, "I know how to handle these kids" . . .

5) It is eye-opening when you realize how you would react if someone told you that being white is fine for this life, since righteous white people will be black in the hereafter.

I could go on and on for hours - and my repertoire of examples comes primarily from only 18 months of raising a black teenager.
I understand that racism is charged in instances where it doesn't exist, and I also understand that it is very possible to be overly-sensitive to possible racist statements, but I just don't accept any statement at all that says we don't need to do all we can to be aware of and eliminate anything that would cause reasonable people of any color to be offended by something that has racist undertones - intentional or not. I believe the tone we take must be civil and meek to be most effective, but this is one area where I believe we owe it to our children and others to eradicate one of the worst results of the Fall - the judging and belittling of our brothers and sisters based solely on race - even if we need to be vocal and confrontational to do so.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Accepting the Seemingly Irredeemable as Redeemable

Last week, in my New Year's Resolution post entitled, "Exercising Faith in Jesus as Redeemer: God Will Save Us, As Well', I wrote the following:

I believe exercising faith in Jesus as Redeemer is more about living the type of life I believe he lived and wants me to live than about exact understanding of doctrine or philosophy or theology - as much as I absolutely love the study of those things.  To me, exercising faith in Jesus as Redeemer means becoming like him - and the biggest aspect of that, perhaps, is nothing more than learning to see every person around me as valuable, important, worthy of love and, in the best sense of the ideal, a sibling and a fellow child of God.  

I have been thinking about that idea as part of the concept of "redemption" - that, at the most fundamental level, redemption simply isn't "godly" and "infinite" if it doesn't include those who appear to us to be irredeemable.  It has been particularly piercing this week, since I have been dealing with both a situation and a person for whom and in which I have been struggling to feel compassion - struggling to feel as if the person and the situation are irredeemable.  I have been frustrated not only by this person and this situation (which, for the sake of clarity and full disclosure, are distinctly separate and not related in any way) but also with myself for not being able to deal with each properly. 

The only thing I want to share tonight in this New Year's Resolution post is an epiphany I had this week as I struggled to reconcile my attempt to understand the redemption of Jesus Christ and how I can exercise faith in it with the deep frustration I was feeling in these two aspects of my own life.  That epiphany is two-fold:

1) In the case of the person, it struck me that much if not all of my difficulty in seeing redeemable worth is the result of a very strong, very negative first impression.  This person said some things quite a while ago that for me were extremely inflammatory.  They were stereotypical broadsides - attacks on much of what I hold dear to my heart in what I perceived to be an uninformed, mean-spirited, sweeping, condescending, contemptuous way.  I didn't bother trying to get to know this person; I simply took offense and, uncharacteristically, swung back.  Since that time, whenever I was in a situation to interact with this person, my immediate reaction was negative - assuming the worst of what I was about to experience. 

That initial reaction, based solely on one interaction and lacking ANY real depth of understanding at the personal level, kept me from seeing any redeeming qualities in someone I labeled an "adversary".  Hence, right up until this evening, my hackles rose in this person's figurative presence - and I simply couldn't see that, in a very real way, I was denying the power of the redemption of Jesus Christ as it applies to all.  I was making an exception at the practical, personal level - even though my brain would have said that, of course, I believed this person could be redeemed. 

I am sorry that it took so long for me to realize this, but it has been a real eye-opener for me.  I realized very clearly that I need to change MYSELF - not the other person or the circumstances in which we interact. 

2) Conversely, I have come to realize that the difficult situation with which I have been struggling just might be fundamentally irredeemable for me - that I actually might have to remove myself from it in order for it to be resolved.  This realization has brought its own kind of angst and concern, but what struck me hard this week, in relation to my New Year's Resolution, is that there is a HUGE difference between an inter-personal conflict and a situational conflict that merely involves other people

I have no right to judge a person as irredeemable, even with people who might be much worse than my initial perception of the person I described above.  However, in some situations, even as I cannot judge the person to be irredeemable, I can (and sometimes must) be willing and able to judge a situation as irredeemable.  In those cases, even as I refuse to condemn the person (leaving that judgment to the one who truly can see the ability of the soul and the intent of the heart), I must separate myself from the situational aspects that cause it to be irredeemable. 

In summary, although I can and should "give up on" some situations, I can never "give up on" people - at least from an eternal perspective.  I learned this evening the folly of doing that, since I discovered the person I had been writing off really isn't nearly as bad as I had assumed - and certainly not irredeemable. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

"That's Not My Experience, So It's Not Real"

James Fowler's Stages of Faith development is the foundation for many people who struggle with or reject religion - or, at least, the idea of organized, institutional religion. There are various ways to define this theory, from the straightforward and simple (Wikipedia explanation) to the ludicrously complex, academic and nearly indecipherable (Women's Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development). This idea is very helpful for many, and I appreciate its impact for good in the lives of those whom it helps.


My biggest issue with Fowler's theory, however, is the idea many take from it that the stages are linear, absolute and universal. In other words, there is a tendency to think that everyone has to go from belief in / acceptance of / activity within a religion to some kind of shattering doubt that leaves them feeling lost and bewildered (or even angry) to a new awareness of the lack of any absolute Truth. Even without Fowler's stages of faith, this idea of spiritual progression as totally linear leads dedicated members to devalue others whom they see as "not progressed enough to understand the Restored Gospel" - but it also leads disaffected members to devalue others whom they see as "not progressed enough to understand the problems with the Restored Gospel".


I know enough faithful members who embrace ambiguity and uncertainty to question the assumptions many disaffected members make about faithful, dedicated, fully active members - that, somehow, being a "true believing member" automatically means one has not been enlightened like those who become disaffected. It's possible to pass through Fowler's stages and never leave activity in the Church - and actually to qualify as a true believing member in every way that really matters. I understand that many members who have never doubted might have qualifications for faithfulness that I don't accept, so I realize that "what really matters" is as subjective as anything else, but making life stages so linear only validates "those who agree with me" while invalidating "those who disagree with me".


I think there is great benefit for many in Fowler's stages, but I think there is great danger in assuming that experiencing the basic parameters articulated in them must be accomplished in one way. It is much like the idea common in our schools (and many professional development groups) right now that all students are benefited by doing "projects" that engage each and every one of them in all learning modalities. I can't tell you how many times I've been involved in activities that ask the participants to "visualize and draw" something relative to a concept. That's fine and dandy for those who are visual and can draw with any degree of ability; for those like me, however, who can't draw stick figures, this type of activity is a frustrating, total waste of time and mental energy. It might be wonderful and even necessary for those who have been left out of traditional teaching methods, but it does nothing whatsoever for me.


In summary, I just don't like people insisting that other people learn and grow and experience exactly as they do - whether that be teachers, bosses, faithful members or disaffected and ex-members. There's too much judging of others in this life as it is, and it generally boils down to, "That's not my experience, so it's not real."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mormonism is Uniquely Inclusive


If you ask many Protestants whether or not Buddhists and Muslims and Jews can be saved and dwell with God, the vast majority will say, "No." On the other hand, if you ask that same question to nearly all Mormons, they will say, "Yes," - and they will say it about evangelicals, as well, who are rabidly condemning them (as Mormons) to Hell. The only other "major" Christian denomination that is as inclusive as Mormonism perhaps is the Unitarian Universalists. The fact that most Protestants who oppose the Mormon Church do so partially because they think WE teach that only Mormons will be saved (as opposed to their own beliefs that only Christians will be saved) simply highlights how people can take any teaching and twist it beyond recognition.

Mormonism can be interpreted to be as exclusionary as one wants to make it - and as inclusive as someone else wants to make it. That is true of those outside the Church, but it also is as true of those inside it. Hence, the ability of someone like Elder Corbridge to give a talk a couple of years ago that is way too exclusionary for my liking - and the ability of someone like Elder Wirthlin to address the same general topic in a way that resonates deep in my soul. Personally, I like the fact that such diversity is available in the Church, even as I cringe slightly when I hear and read the words of those whose phraseology I question.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Finding Balance: Doing the Worst Job at Everything

Someone once said they have so many responsibilities as a Mormon that they feel they are doing the worst job at everything they do. I can relate to the "worse job at everything" sentiment - as long as it's kept in perspective. "Finding a balance" implies that something has to give in some or all areas to achieve that balance.


Doing a "worse job at everything" simply means to me that you would do better at each thing if you spent more time doing it. I agree with that completely. If the object of my existence was to find one thing and do it the absolute best way possible, I either would be single or unemployed - agnostic/atheist or a monk - etc. I wouldn't try to "find a balance" - but, rather, I would find my "one true calling in life".

That's not how I view the object of my existence, however. It was made very clear to me early on in my life as a husband and father that my life and the important choices in that life weren't about me anymore. They were about us - my family. That was an important epiphany. My family is my one true calling, and I am fine with that.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Exercising Faith in Jesus as Redeemer: God Will Save Us, as Well

As I contemplated the comments from my last New Year's Resolution post ("Request for Thoughts about the Redemption of Jesus Christ"), my mind was drawn to perhaps the group in all of our scriptures who exemplified best a belief in their Redeemer.  I am speaking of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis - and I want to use the record we have of them to illustrate the core of what I have come to believe about how we can exercise faith in Jesus Christ as a "Redeemer".  I have written of them previously on this blog, but I want to focus more intently now on how I believe they saw "redemption" - differently, perhaps, than is taught typically. 

In Alma 56:47-48, all we are told is that the mothers of the Stripling Warriors (the "sons of Helaman") “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 from death 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. I believe it is important that they appear to have accepted the possibility that they might die in combat.  Given that, it is legitimate to look at the rest of the context and realize that there might be other legitimate meanings for the promise that, “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 and completely obedient 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 my reading of this account 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. This is because "deliver" has much the same meaning as "redeem" - especially in the context of a story like the Sons of Helaman. 

In a nutshell, this is my own testimony of exercising faith in Jesus Christ as Redeemer - that I try to live my life in such a way that it might be said of me, "God will deliver him."  I believe that has much more to do with how well I follow my conscience, my mind and my heart than how well I live a checklist of do's and don'ts - even as I believe deeply in having a core list of fundamental do's and don'ts.  I believe most, if not all, of the list focus is swallowed up in the attitude of giving one's heart to love God - and others as one's self, and that striving to do those things allows all the laws and the prophets to hang comfortably on my heart. 

I believe exercising faith in Jesus as Redeemer is more about living the type of life I believe he lived and wants me to live than about exact understanding of doctrine or philosophy or theology - as much as I absolutely love the study of those things.  To me, exercising faith in Jesus as Redeemer means becoming like him - and the biggest aspect of that, perhaps, is nothing more than learning to see every person around me as valuable, important, worthy of love and, in the best sense of the ideal, a sibling and a fellow child of God. 

At it's most awe-inspiring, it is believing him and his father when he says that they can take the weak, flawed, corrupted ME and turn me into a strong, flawless, incorruptible ME - that he loves me now just as much as he will love me then - that he sees me as redeemable and will, in actuality, "purchase" and "save" me. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

Appreciating Painful Paradoxes

I wish I knew better how to balance a call to strive for perfection (wholeness and full development) with an acknowledgment that we can't be unrealistic perfectionists - a desire to maintain the highest personal standards with a love of all no matter their own current standards - a craving for reverence with an appreciation of sociality and friendly chatter - a love of deep symbolism with a desire for plainness - a sense of community with a yearning for individual expression - an appreciation of the sacred with an openness to the secular - ad infinitum.

One of the things I love most about the Church and the Gospel is that they are so complex and expansive, but that also is one of the things that causes such difficulty and heartache for many.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why I Don't Support "Hate Crimes" Legislation: Individual Worth


We live in a system that has said we can't be punished for what we think and believe, only for what we do. Hate crime legislation punishes people differently based on what they think and believe - for WHY they do what they do. It is that simple to me, so I don't support hate crime legislation.

If my wife or daughter is raped or killed, I don't want a white perpetrator to get a lighter sentence than a black man who was shouting racial slurs because my wife or daughter is a white woman. I also don't want a Baptist perpetrator shouting religious bigotry to be punished more harshly just because my wife or daughter is Mormon.

There is a MUCH deeper reason, however, that I am appalled by hate crimes legislation - and I choose the word "appalled" carefully and consciously.  

I want a lesbian, drug-addicted prostitute of any race or ethnicity to be viewed under the law exactly in the same manner as my wife or daughter - and I want someone who murders that prostitute in order to steal her money punished exactly the same as someone who murders her because she is lesbian or a different race or drug-addicted. None of those things makes her life less valuable or important, and the absence of those things doesn't makes my wife's or daughter's life more valuable or important, either. 
   

I believe they are equal in the eyes of God and should be treated as equal under the law, as well - no matter WHY the perpetrator of a crime did what he did.


(I also should note explicitly that I chose the above characterizations strictly because of the way they are viewed by many people in society.  I am NOT equating being lesbian with being a drug addict or with being a prostitute.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Evil Spirits in Our Modern World

I believe there is a lot of good that can come of understanding one's self more fully. It's the heart of repentance, and much of what we do to help people understand themselves is no more than helping people see and understand and address the core aspects of their inherited tendencies and finding coping and/or change mechanisms. I believe in that type of effort deeply, so I applaud any work to acquire this type of "internal understanding".


However, I cringe mightily when physical and emotional disabilities appear to be credited to evil spirits. I have no problem with the overall doctrine of evil spirits, but I also believe strongly that much of our terminology in this arena is symbolic - and I am wary of people who present things in ways that can confuse the issue and frame everything in black-and-white, mortals v. spirits terms.


Also, the framing of the idea that children can be subjected to evil spirits because of their ancestors sounds like just another way to say that they inherited certain characteristics and tendencies as a result of the Fall. I would rather phrase it the way the Church currently phrases it (inherited characteristics from the Fall) than do so the way it was phrased 2000 years ago (evil spirits) - even if I accept that the way it was phrased 2000 years ago was the proper way to phrase it then.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Request for Thoughts about the Redemption of Jesus Christ

My resolution for this month is to "exercise more faith in the redemption of Jesus Christ".  (Alma 5:15-18)

As I thought about this resolution, I was preparing an introductory post similar to what I normally do at the beginning of each month - a look at the actual definition of the term and a description of my initial thoughts concerning that definition, but as I sat down to write this post I had a strong feeling to take a totally different approach tonight.  So . . .

As a launching pad for the rest of my posts this month, I simply would like to ask those who read this post to share their thoughts about "the redemption".  I don't want to put ANY parameters or restrictions on the input.  I don't mind orthodox, heterodox or even non-Mormon and non-Christian perspectives.  I just want input on what "the redemption of Jesus Christ" means to you. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

White Shirts and the Sacrament


I honestly was surprised at how I felt about Elder Oaks' talk about the sacrament a few years ago. It actually shocked me. I always had argued against a "white shirt to administer the sacrament" mentality, especially since I had served in a small Asian branch where the best the kids had was clean jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I had been fairly vocal about it, so I was stunned by how his talk resonated for me.

First, I heard him say "where possible" -
which is an extremely important exception to me.

Second, I have never heard the sacrament positioned that clearly and directly as a sacred ordinance linking baptism to the temple in the way Elder Oaks did. I understand and appreciate the link from baptism to the sacrament, but I had never envisioned the deacons and teachers and priests as they administer and pass the sacrament as similar to the person who stands in the font during a baptism dressed in white to symbolize purity and cleanliness and the initiation of a new, covenant life. I don't know why I had never made that connection, but I hadn't.

When Elder Oaks said we are living in an age where more and more people are losing a sense of the sacredness of saving ordinances, it really hit me that he wasn't just talking about others -
that, in this instance, he was talking about me. It's been a long time since I felt that type of insight - that I had allowed something deeply sacred to become a bit mundane. It shook me, and it made me look at the symbolism of a white shirt to administer and pass the sacrament in a different light than I had previously. As I said in a comment at an LDS group blog, it hit me that I really do believe it is more important to embed the sacredness of the ordinance more deeply into the hearts and eyes of our young men (and other members) than to take a more "lenient" approach to it. While he was speaking, I realized that my new vision of the ordinance itself was changing my perspective on the issue itself. Finally, it hit me that wearing a white shirt is not a "problem" at all, in and of itself. It struck me that wearing white to baptize and perform temple ordinances isn't a "problem", so why would it be a problem to have it applied to the sacrament - especially since Elder Oaks added the disclaimer "where possible"? It's not a problem unless I make it one, and I no longer want to make it one.

I truly was surprised by my reaction. I mean that. It had been a long, long time since a talk literally changed my perspective almost completely while it was being given. There have been a few that had a major impact, immediately and over time, but I can't remember the last time it happened like this.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Finally, peace and clarity

The link I posted this morning is not working currently.  Here is a beautiful post for today.  

Of sons and fathers - J. Stapley (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Natural / Primary" Gender Responsibilities in Marriage


I think it is safe to say that men's and women's "natural / primary" roles throughout history in most societies can be described as "provider" and "nurturer" quite accurately - even though the vast majority of women throughout history also have worked "outside the home". (The idea that women traditionally have stayed home and raised the kids while the men worked outside the home simply isn't supportable.  Not working for compensation of some kind is a luxury, and most women throughout history have not had the luxury of even considering not working.)  Defining "primary" or "natural" roles  is not a comment on anything other the historical result of differing biology, since men generally have been bigger, stronger, faster, etc. than women - and women always have been vulnerable due to the effects of pregnancy and childbirth.

Given that reality, it is understandable to frame the "natural / primary" responsibilities given to men and women ("by God" or "by nature" - whichever you prefer) in that light. The interesting thing about the Proclamation to the World, in my opinion, is that it appears to lay out this "natural" distinction and then say, in effect,

"Regardless of these natural responsibilities we inherit due strictly to biology and culture, the ideal marriage is one where such distinctions are erased - where each partner shares the other's responsibilities to some degree and acts as an equal with the other overall."

I understand completely how hard it is to accept that reading based on all the previous statements by leaders over the years, and the fact that "presiding over" still is used in various quotes, but the actual wording of the Proclamation says just that.  In essence, it says that the "ideal" is whatever works best for the individual couple - understanding that the "primary roles" are to provide and nurture.  

I view this as similar to the statement,
"All men are created equal." First, it is the best they could do in their time (not including women in it); second, it articulated an ideal the society itself wasn't living (slavery) and couldn't live (and still doesn't live). However, just as it was important to have the ideal written into a foundational government document, I think it's important to try to live and accept the ideal of the Proclamation, even though our society (inside and outside the Church) isn't living and can't live it yet. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Hope for My Wife and Daughters (and All Women) in Relief Society

One of the things I hope my wife and daughters get out of Relief Society is the recognition that every person needs a group where they are acknowledged, understood and loved for who they are - not for whom people want them to be.

I know a lady who grew up in a home where she was the stereotypical overlooked and under-appreciated child. She was a peacemaker, naturally faithful, a great student, etc. Her parents, however, took that for granted and held her up as an example to everyone - imposing unrealistic expectations that reinforced her natural guilt complex and made her desire to disappear and escape those expectations. We still communicate occasionally, and every once in a while she still mentions feeling lost even while in a group - because she grew up being overlooked, not because she was absent physically.

I hope Relief Society functions as a real community of sisters where all are valued and recognized and acknowledged and known and involved. I know that is idealistic, but it still is my hope - and I am sorry (truly apologetic) if describing that hope causes pain for anyone in a different situation. I only can pray that it will change, through the efforts of the women in each Relief Society group.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolution - 2011

For the past three years, I have focused on the Sermon on the Mount and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (charity) as the center of my New Years' Resolutions. The posts introducing why I have done so and detailing my actual resolutions can be found at the following links: New Year's Resolution , New Year's Resolution - 2009 and New Year's Resolution: 2010.  This year, I am keeping the same basic resolution (to become more Christ-like) but changing the scriptural focus of my effort.

My focus this year will be on some of the specific things Alma mentions in Alma 5 as leading to being spiritually born of God.  Since I can't paste the entire chapter in the space available here, I instead will quote from the introductory overview in Verse 14 and summarize my resolution for each month - with the appropriate verse citation for those resolutions.

Verse 14 reads:

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

There are thirty-three distinct questions asked in this chapter that deal directly with the outcomes listed in Verse 14 - three of which are in Verse 6, three of which are in Verse 14 and twenty-seven of which are in the verses following Verse 14 (some of which are re-statements of the root questions - like the multiple questions in Verses 15-18). Since I view the first three questions as preparatory to the central questions asked in Verse 14 and the questions following Verse 14 as the blueprint outlines to achieving the condition described in Verse 14, I am going to organize my resolutions for 2011 the same way I have for the previous three years - one per month throughout the year - focusing on the questions asked in Verses 15-59.

Thus, my resolution for this year will be:

January:  Exercise more faith in the redemption of Christ. (Verses 15-18)
February: Have a purer heart and cleaner hands, and project more the image of God. (Verses 19-25)
March: Feel more deeply to sing the song of redeeming love. (Verse 26)
April: Walk more blamelessly before God. (Verse 27)
May: Be more humble and less proud. (Verses 27-28)
June: Be less envious. (Verse 29)
July:Be less mocking of others. (Verses 30-33)
August: Set my heart less upon the things of the world. (Verse 53)
September: Recognize more fully that I am not better than others. (Verse 54)
October: Persecute other less. (Verse 54)
November: Recognize the needs of the poor more and share more readily with them. (Verse 55)
December: Watch over the flock more diligently. (Verse 59)

Just as I have for the past three years, I will post about this resolution each Saturday throughout the year.

Any thoughts at the beginning, before I start writing my weekly posts, would be appreciated.