Friday, September 28, 2012

I Now am Writing "with Real Intent"

I just want to let everyone know of a new group blog where I have been asked to write as a contributing author.  It is called "with Real Intent", and I have enjoyed the thoughts of many of the other authors on their own blogs and in their comments here and elsewhere for some time now. 

I comment regularly at sites I enjoy and still read others where I no longer comment, and I am an admin at a site for members who are struggling with crises of faith for various reasons, but I agreed to participate actively at "with Real Intent" in order to be able to write posts from a traditionally "faithful" perspective for people with all kinds of personal views and beliefs.  I hope to be abe to contribute something on a regular basis, even as my overall blogging time has been reduced in the last year due to my new job responsibilities. 

I hope everyone who reads my blog regularly will check it out and see what you think.  I'd love any feedback you want to give. 

How Many Activities Does Someone Have to Attend to Be "Active"?

I decided early on in life that I would participate in all the church activities I could - without sacrificing something more important. That works wonderfully for me - and I am confident that God understands and loves me for the desire of my heart.

For example, before our latest move I lived just over 30 minutes from church - but, more importantly, I was on a strict budget. I started a new career a few years ago, and I had to do so at the bottom end of the ladder. Therefore, I still am not making much money - with three children in college and three daughters still at home. 
This means that my family simply couldn't afford to go to most of the church activities that are held on days other than Sunday and Wednesday - and that we couldn't make it to the ones that occur on Sunday evenings.

Furthermore, since I was serving as a High Councilor and needed to drive pretty significant distances for my speaking assignments and stake meetings, some of the things we might have attended previously were not possible at that point.

Fine. We didn't attend them.

We do what we can, and I don't stress about not doing what we can't. My family comes first, and I use my own situation regularly to teach others that we can't judge others at all, in any way, by how active they are in non-essential activities. For example, I've mentioned in Stake Leadership Meetings that I don't attend the temple as regularly as I would like because my and my wife's work schedules don't match, and it's hard to afford extra trips to the temple right now.

Summary: I am comfortable doing what I can, when I can, to the extent I can. Period. If that's good enough for others, fine; if it's not, fine. Period. It's what they are going to get, and once they realize that they are fine with it. (with a few exceptions, but there are people like that everywhere in life)

God loves me, and that really is enough in the end - although I've found that people generally love and accept me when they know I genuinely love and accept them and am willing to worship with them as much as I possibly can.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Do So Many Young People Leave the LDS Church?

I don’t mean to dismiss the central question of the post title in any way, since retention of single youth (16-30) is a serious issues in the Church (70% inactivity among young men prior to missions is a pretty good estimate), but just a few things to consider for historical context: 

1) This has been a serious issue since the beginning of time – and has relatively little to do with the apparent “righteousness” of the parents. IF we take the scriptures literally, Heavenly Father lost 33% of his youngsters – and Lehi lost 50% of his kids who weren’t born in isolation – and Israel never could keep those darned rising generations in line – and Alma’s and Mosiah’s sons were radical sinners for a time – and pretty much every generation who lived a near-Zion state lost it to a new generation – and the activity rate overall in the Church was far worse a hundred years ago than it is now – and the same issue is worse in most Christian churches now than in the LDS Church.

2) Those who leave home tend to stretch and test the boundaries anyway – and those who go to college where there is not a church within easy walking distance or an active, engaging Institute program slip into inactivity almost naturally.

3) It’s hard to gain a truly personal testimony while remaining in the presence of one’s parents and childhood leaders – and our pre-mortal life narrative acknowledges that fully. Thus, it’s rare that a young person really has a rock solid, personal testimony. That kind of faith needs to be grown and gained on one’s own – at the very time when the challenges are the greatest.

4) Most of the “issues” everyone mentions simply are the vehicles our current youth drive on their way out the door. Other times had other vehicles.

I don’t have any easy answers – but my main suggestion would be to give our youth the responsibilities and power they are supposed to have within the YM & YW programs. See them and treat them as young MEN and WOMEN from the age of 12 – which really doesn’t happen very much, in my experience. Our society has infanticized the teenage years to a shocking degree – and we buy into it too much, despite (not because of) the Church.

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Bearing False Witness" Is Not the Same Thing As "Lying"

The commandment is to not bear false witness.  It isn't to not lie, ever.  There is an important difference between the two - and an important reason to make that difference clear. 

To "witness" means to:
"testify to; give or afford evidence of"

A "witness" is an:
"individual who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness"

Therefore, "bearing false witness" means:
"testifying falsely to something that one has seen or perceived"

The key is that this is a legal definition - where someone is "testifying/witnessing" for or against someone else. In that setting, the reason for the "witness" is to establish a punishment or lack thereof for someone else - to judge as guilty, innocent or not guilty of something. Thus, bearing false witness causes an injustice to occur - either by removing a penalty that should be enforced or imposing a penalty that should not be enforced. In modern verbiage, it is perjury - and perjury is a crime specifically because of the effect it might cause on others and on society as a whole. It really is a serious action to subvert justice in a legal setting - either by assisting in the punishment of someone who is not guilty or the escape from punishment of someone who is.

A "lie", on the other hand, simply is a statement that is known to be false by the person making it. It can have nothing whatsoever to do with justice. It might be telling someone their hair or dress or shoes look fine - which might or might not be a good idea, depending on the person and the situation. It might be saying you are fine when someone asks - even if you feel lousy. It might be protecting someone from unnecessary harm, torture or death - which I can't see as a bad thing. It even might be a social convention that is understood to be meaningless by everyone who hears it.

I agree totally with the injunction that forbids bearing false witness; I try to avoid lying whenever possible, even if I have to be a bit evasive or ambiguous in some cases to not lie; I am totally fine with some lies. That's why I always answer, "I try my hardest," when I am asked the question in the temple recommend interview about being honest.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What Should I Do When I'm Not Sure What to Do?

Do you picture a God who is just or merciful - or a combination of both?

I heard a wonderful little statement a while ago that I really like - more for it's shock value than anything else, since it really made me stop and think. It says:

I asked God to give me what I deserve - so he slapped me and sent me to Hell.

What I really love about "pure Mormonism" is that it posits that, in the end, there really is nothing that is required except your best effort to live according to the dictates of your own conscience and understanding - that mistakes are fine, as long as they are made in sincerity. (There's a lesson in there for how we view our leaders - past and present - at all levels.) If that's true of those who never heard the Gospel, it's true of those who did.

So, my answer to the title question is simple, but not easy:

I go with what seems like the right thing to me personally and trust that God will accept my best effort.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why Many Truths Are Not Self-Evident

I don't think it's strange that growing causes growing pains. The old saying, "No pain; no gain," really is true.

If you look at it from one angle, the War In Heaven and Garden of Eden narratives draw two distinct alternatives: struggle vs. ease. I see the verse that says, "There must needs be opposition in all things," as much more literal and comprehensive than many people - that when it says "all things", it means ALL things.

So, I would say that truths are not self-evident simply because they aren't - and they can't be if we are here to grow and become on an individual basis.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Why Do People Join the LDS Church: or, Why Do Religions Exist?

Very few adult converts join the LDS Church out of fear and/or guilt. Most of them join because something about the teachings resonates with them - and the LDS approach to "preaching the Gospel" is FAR less fear and guilt infused than that of most other denominations. There is a big difference between why people JOIN a religion and why multiple-generation members stay - and it points to the need for those generational members to experience an individual conversion of some sort to replace the natural reason to stay without such experiences.

My own take is that religion is so popular because people really are spiritual beings having a mortal experience. There just is something inside most people that makes them want to believe in a God of some kind. It's the need to work out the details that creates religions.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Testifying of That Which I Don't Know

When I speak or bear my testimony, I sometimes include something along the lines of:
"There are a lot of things I can't say I know or understand very well yet, but I do know (or "but I believe strongly that" or "I have faith that"). . ."

I've found that pretty much everyone understands that sentiment - and only a few people complain if I testify of something I can't say I "know".

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Each of Us is a "Defective Child" of God

Mothering Bean - Tracy M (Dandelion Mama)

This is one of the most poignant and profound posts I've ever read. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

So What if Jesus Drank Wine?

I don't mean this to be flippant in any way, so please understand what I'm going to say:

As a devout Jew, Jesus drank wine ("real" wine, not just pure grape juice) - but he also abstained from things we eat regularly now. Personally, I think those who struggle to accept the Word of Wisdom because Jesus and Joseph Smith drank in their time make WAY too much out of the fact that the Word of Wisdom went from a suggestion to a command and that former prophets (and Jesus) didn't follow it. Lots of things go from suggestions or cultural practices to commands - but lots of things also go from commands to suggestions, cultural practices or even rejected absurdities.

This is going to sound paradoxical, I'm sure, but I am totally fine with the Word of Wisdom primarily because I see it as such a little thing for most but such a HUGE thing for some - not as a health code, but as an addiction avoider and debt controller. It goes back to the benefits of following versus the benefits of indulging argument - focused on the weakest of the weak.

If I'm strong enough to indulge without disaster, I should be strong enough to abstain without disaster. Therefore, for the strong, it simply isn't worth making it an issue, in my opinion. (and I use the word "worth" carefully and intentionally) However, if I'm NOT strong enough to indulge without disaster (and that applies to SO many people, even if a minority), I need an environment in which I can abstain without pressure or stigma or negative consequence. I'm willing to give up my "right to drink" (really, with no negative consequences of high value) if it contributes to even one person not becoming a drunk or raped at a party or a weapon behind the steering wheel . . . - and I know it contributes to that end for far more than one person.

At heart, it's a simple cost/benefit analysis for me - and I actually see the revelation itself as framed in that way. (not the individual ideal, but adapted for the weak to be a substitute communal ideal) I think the problem is that too many members interpret and treat it as a health code or individual ideal it never was intended or revealed to be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Thoughts: Mercy for Those Who Don't Deserve It

Mercy for Those Who Don't Deserve It - Patty (I Believe in Christ)

On the anniversary of the airplane bombing of the World Trade Center, I want to share a beautiful, thought-provoking post about mercy and those who commit horrible acts.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Seeing God in this Life

I think whether or not we see God in this life depends largely on how we define God - and, when talking about an actual visitation of some sort, if there is a specific reason God wants to be seen.

"Yes are gods" and "children of the most high God" and "the kingdom of God is within (and among) you" mean something special and distinct - and I am glad Mormonism does not posit an unbridgeable gap between the nature of God and of humans. 

I don't expect to see HF or Jesus any time soon in an actual visitation, but I believe I've seen God more than once - and I am certain (no doubts whatsoever) I have heard God's voice.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Simple Truths that Resonate with Me

Every single person who ever has been born is of divine importance and worth - so much so that God cries even over those that look him in the eye and swing their fists.

My own best effort is good enough.

We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

God will speak peace to my soul. (spirit and body)

Little children are alive in Christ.
What are some simple truths that resonate with you? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The God of Mormonism Is Not a Kindly, Bearded Old Man

If there's a God it seems to me it's got to be something else and not just a kindly bearded elderly man above and apart from earth where He sees all and knows all.

I saw the quote above on a group blog.  The following is my response:

I actually agree with that, and that is not a description of the God I choose to worship.

Frankly, within Christianity, Mormonism is perhaps the only denomination with enough elasticity in the overall theology to have God be more complex than just a figure like what the sentence above describes. Having said that, even the description above is more complex than the Calvinist puppet master who saves or damns us according to his exclusive and arbitrary will - and more complex than Voltaire's watch maker who initiates creation and sits back to watch it tick/tock through time - but there is a place for a MUCH more complex view of Godhood in Mormonism, since the very concept of Godhood and creation and spiritual evolution within Mormonism is one of the core reasons we are labeled as non-Christian by so many.

I mean that seriously. Where else but in Mormonism would it be even conceivable for someone to speak of a belief in a council of Gods who collectively collaborate to create spirit children (whatever that means)? Where else but in Mormonism would it even be conceivable for someone to speak of sealing God's children into such a collaborative work - where participation in eternal creation in a state of "Godhood" is a possibility (whatever that means)? Where else but in Mormonism would it be even conceivable to posit us as inheritors of godly glory - as "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ"? That last description is taken straight from the Bible, but where else but in Mormonism is it taken seriously as an indication of our relationship to divinity?

Mormon theology doesn't describe God as a "kindly bearded elderly man" - even if the visual image we have in the temple suggests that. Mormon theology describes a damner of the most wicked - and a rewarded of obedience - and a loving Father - and a just judge - and a refiner through fire - and a weeping creator. It describes a very complex "personage" who is "perfect" (meaning complete, whole and fully developed - the embodiment of ALL emotions, for example, in their fullness) - in ways that no other Christian theology even comes close to approximating.

We catch a glimpse of that even in the temple when we see God interacting with Lucifer, but we see it much more clearly throughout the entirety of our canon, in my opinion.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Spirituality vs. Emotionalism: Manipulation or Manifestation

A belief in "spirituality" assumes the existence of something outside ourselves into which we can tap (or that can communicate with us in some way), while sentimentalism is nothing more than the manipulation of emotions that are common to all - except psychopaths who are the exception that prove the rule. Another term that is used interchangeably by many for sentimentalism is emotionalism. The difficulty in religion is that the latter (emotionalism) can be used (intentionally OR unintentionally, with good OR evil intentions, toward positive OR negative goals, with wonderful OR terrible results, etc.) to approximate the former (spirituality). It happens in the LDS Church, but not one bit more than in any other religion - and far less than many.

Perhaps the best example is the idea among lots of people that tears are a result of an encounter with the Spirit - or, to be more precise, that if you cry in church it is because you have "felt the Spirit". I'm not rejecting that as a real manifestation of real spiritual experiences for many people; I'm saying it's easy for someone who knows how to do so to cause tears, as evidenced by Hollywood and the music industry. For me, the distinction between spiritualism and sentimentalism in those cases when tears are flowing is less about the tears and more about the cause of the tears - and the lesson learned through the experience.

I don't like to draw a bright line between the two and label one as bad and the other as good, since I don't think it's easy (or even possible for lots of people, including myself) to understand perfectly what is a result of exposure to an outside "spirit" and what is completely internal. I also am not convinced that something that is entirely internal must be sentimental and not spiritual. Personally, I think nearly all of the grand visions of our scriptural canon might have been completely internal (visions, not visitations) - but I am totally fine with them being spiritual and not merely sentimental. I say that mostly because of my own experiences.

I've had a few experiences that I personally believe to have been "pure spiritualism" generated by a contact with something outside myself (not just natural reactions totally from within or caused by other people), but, by and large, the vast majority of my spiritual experiences really could be analyzed by someone else and deemed to be nothing more than my natural emotions being magnified or manipulated in some way that is not "spiritual". I believe there is a "Spirit of God" (whatever that means), and I believe there is a God (whom I describe as a Father), so I choose to believe that I have had spiritual experiences - even as I recognize that some of them might have been nothing more than emotional reactions to powerful stimuli. In fact, one of the most powerful "spiritual" experiences of my life came about through a series of events that I know many others (including some here) would see as nothing more than contrived manipulation (NOT by the Church) - but I believe it was spiritual not sentimental more because of what it taught me (the lesson I took away from it) than because of the exact nature of the experience.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Scripture: What Does It Mean? - or, I Love the Ambiguity within Mormonism

[First, this has been an interesting year for my New Year's Resolution focus.  I did extremely well over a four year period writing a post almost every Saturday, but I have not been successful over the past few months in doing so - and I have felt frustrated about that.  I understand why it has happened, as I have moved into an unexpected professional position that requires extensive work to shift the entire culture and structure of the area I now am directing - and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so, but I have missed emotionally the chance to  reflect and write and share.  I am trying tonight to get back to my resolution, and the topic this month is "scripture".

To most people in the world, "scripture" is a fairly simple thing conceptually.  There are different views about it, of course, but, in nearly all cases, those views are quite straightforward and not truly complex.  For example:

1) At the most basic level, "scripture" is defined as:

"a sacred, solemn or authoritative book or piece of writing"

In strictly Christian terms, this can be shortened to "the word of God" - but the core definition can apply to any religion, denomination or even, in popular reference, organization.  In Christian cultures, this can be seen when people call something the "________ Bible" - meaning, simply, "the most authoritative writing about _________".  (like the missionary  handbook being called the missionary Bible, or a football playbook being called the team Bible.) 

2) "Sola scriptura" means "scripture alone" and is a description of how many Protestants view the Bible as the singular, solitary authority of God - that God's authority is not vested in humans in any way but rather is vested in "the word".

In breaking away from Catholicism and its claim to exclusive authority vested in the Pope and the Priesthood line of authority, and knowing they personally had not been "ordained" by God or anyone outside the Catholic line of authority, the Protestant reformers had little choice but to vest God's authority in what they had available - the words attributed to God in the Bible.  (The irony, of course, is that those words were considered authoritative when included in the compilation of the Bible specifically because of the assumed and accepted "authority" of those to whom they were attributed.  That irony is lost on most people who believe in "sola scriptura".)  Thus, in contrast to the Catholic Priesthood of clergy, Protestantism generally came to accept a priesthood of believers. 

There are complex arguments that can be made about "sola scripture", its "legitimacy" and its impact on Christianity, but the concept itself is straightforward and simple.

2) Obviously, the counter-example was the Catholic Church's claim that scripture included not only the Bible but also all official proclamations from the Pope as God's modern mouthpiece.  This fits the first definition, since it simply adds "authoritative" sources to the creation of scripture.

Mormonism is a unique amalgamation of these interpretations, and I love the ambiguity that mixing creates.  The LDS Church, organizationally, functions much like the Catholic Church (and there have been leaders and times of leadership that moved more toward the Catholic view of authority and scripture, with the effects of those times still lingering in the Church), with an obvious Priesthood authority structure - but, when it comes to scripture, the LDS Church combines the Catholic and Protestant views and "opens" the meaning of scripture as widely as is possible.

Let me explain what I mean by that, starting with the definition found in the LDS Bible Dictionary:

The word scripture means a writing, and is used to denote a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired. It is so applied to the books of the O.T. by the writers of the N.T. (Matt. 22:29; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15). For an account of the process by which the books of the O.T. and N.T. came to be recognized as scripture, see Canon. Latter-day revelation identifies scripture as that which is spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68:1–4). 

It is the last sentence in the definition above (that I have bolded) that is uniquely Mormon - and it is that sentence that makes "scripture" within Mormonism so ambiguous and difficult to confine.   Since we believe that  all baptized members of the LDS Church have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and since we believe all people who have been born have the opportunity to be inspired and taught by the Holy Ghost (that the Holy Ghost can speak to anyone), we literally believe in the most comprehensive, all-encompassing, universal definition of scripture in all of  religion - or, at least, I believe we should.

This definition allows scripture to be uttered by leaders and members of other Christian denominations, leaders and members of non-Christian religions, atheists, children, the mentally ill, the righteous and unrighteous (theoretically), and any other categorization imaginable.  It includes me, and it includes every person reading this post - regardless of any identifying aspect of their existence.  It "frees" scripture from mortal constraints and puts it squarely into the hands of "God" - where, as "the word of God", I believe it should be. 

I hope to examine the implications of that view in other Saturday posts this month, but it is the breadth of the definition itself that I love to much - and the ambiguity it creates is one of my favorite elements of "pure Mormonism".  I know it frustrates many people, and I know many members don't see it as expansively as I do, but it truly is "delicious" to me.