Friday, November 30, 2012

I Wish the Word of Wisdom Was Not a Requirement of Baptism

I'm on record in multiple places saying I wish the Word of Wisdom was not a requirement of baptism and membership, especially since it's such a huge cultural issue in many places and because I believe everyone ought to have the same "grace period" the early saints had when it was given initially - and also because we (correctly, in my opinion) don't excommunicate members for not living the Word of Wisdom. If we allow members to remain members as they struggle with the Word of Wisdom, we shouldn't deny others membership for the exact same struggles.

Addictions are brutally hard for many to reject, and I think that is lost for some people who are from ancestry where church membership has not forced them to confront the addictions addressed in the Word of Wisdom. They get it intellectually, but they don't really understand.

I feel strongly about that, even as I have no problem with Word of Wisdom compliance being part of the temple recommend interview.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Is Mormonism a Cult? A Profound Article about What a Cult Really Is

The following post gives a stark, graphic picture of what a real cult is - and the concluding paragraph is one of the best summary definitions I've ever read.  It's worth reading, particularly as we hear so many people throwing around the word "cult" to mean nothing more than "those who believe differently than I do".   

Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Survivor Remembers - Jennie Rothenberg Gritz (the Atlantic)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fear As a Motivational Technique

Fear is the lowest form of motivation that can be used for self-aware beings.  Unfortunately, it also is one of the most often used in religion - starting with fear of God and eternal punishment, visualized most vividly with the image of a fiery pit.  Thankfully, Mormon theology removes the most blatant fear-mongering aspects of traditional Christianity, but there are plenty of people even within Mormonism who use fear as the primary motivational technique. 

Why is that so - especially with regard to good, caring people? 

1) Some people just aren't "people persons" - and fear is the easy way to deal with people when you are uncomfortable doing so intimately. (For that matter, "because I'm the leader and I said so," fits that category, as well.)

2) Some people have never had "love" modeled as a form of motivation. Even when someone "knows better", it's really hard to implement a model they have never seen modeled actively - especially during their formative years. That's one reason why those who been abused tend to abuse so much - the lack of a different response mechanism even as they hate the fact that they do what they abhorred in the abuser.

Recognizing that such approaches (motivation through fear) in the Church usually are the result of either "dealing with people" weakness or being the only model that a person knows helps tremendously to be charitable AND not succumb to the tactics.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

When Someone Says, "The Church is perfect, but the members aren't."

"Perfect" is defined in Matthew 5:48 as "complete, whole, fully developed".

Based on that definition, the Church isn't perfect, since it isn't "complete, whole, fully developed". At the most fundamental level, our Articles of Faith say as much ("He will yet reveal MANY great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.") - and the organizational development continues to evolve.

To me that's so basic and obvious that I just have to laugh inside when I hear someone say that the Church is perfect but the members aren't. I don't dispute it much publicly, but I do address it whenever the situation makes it possible to be productive and not seen as threatening.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Daughter Just Opened Her Mission Call

Following the announcement during General Conference of the age change for sister missionaries, my oldest daughter who is in college called me. She gave me permission to share the following: 

She had been feeling strongly for a few months prior to General Conference that she needed to prepare to serve a mission. Given her age (barely 20) and place her education (just a few months into a program), she assumed that meant she should leave as soon as her program was complete - when she would be 21.  In the temple the week just prior to General Conference (to do baptisms for the dead), she got an overwhelming impression that she should prepare to go “immediately”. She told me it was one of the strongest, clearest impressions she has had in her entire life.  Again, she assumed that meant she needed to step up the preparation for when she would leave next year.

She was in tears when she told me she had contacted her Bishop that day and asked to start the process of leaving “immediately”. It was an amazing confirmation to all of us that He knows us individually. 

That was approximately one-and-a-half months ago.  It has been a blur.  She opened the envelope containing her call a few hours ago, with my wife and our other daughters participating via Skype.  Her older brothers are in college in Missouri, so they had to wait to hear about it via Facebook.  (I love technology and social media!!) 

She reports to the MTC on February 6th, 2013 - exactly 4 months after the announcement in General Conference - on her way to her mission in . . .

Germany, Berlin!!!!

At the risk of embarrassing her (which she will expect, knowing me as she does):

She has a strong, personal, genuine testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but she is a unique young lady.  She has her father's wicked sense of humor and her mother's heart.  She told me recently that she was in a bad enough mood to punch someone in the face - and "not just because I'm in Utah". (That was following a conversation in which she told a friend she had voted for President Obama and heard the response, "Are you serious? I'm not sure if you really did or are just stirring the post, like you like to do."  lol) Her wardrobe is not risque or inappropriate in any reasonable way, but she certainly is going to have to do some shopping to leave for the MTC. She is a bit of a fashion hound. She also is going to have to stop using some of her favorite expressions when upset - and even when not upset. (She once told a male friend to "grow a pair" when he was hesitating to do something that needed to be done.)

She will love the German people, and she is going to teach more than one companion the need for tolerance, I'm sure, and the true meaning of unity. In the imagery of Elder Wirthlin (another reference that won't surprise her or anyone else who knows me), she plays the saxophone and piano, but she can be a metaphorical kazoo at times. She certainly will add her own unique sound to the orchestra in that area. 

Congratulations, Sarah.  I love you and am proud of you.  You will be an excellent missionary.  Be yourself - your best self, but yourself, nonetheless.  You were called to that mission to reach someone, and only you (the real, full, authentic you) can reach that someone. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Some Interesting Facts about the Mormon Aposltes

After the 2010 April General Conference, I thought it would be interesting to compile some not-well-known information about the apostles at that time - some things that might surprise some of you now.  At that time:

1) The First Presidency hadn't had someone who was an undergraduate at BYU in over ten years.

2) Only five of the 15 apostles had undergraduate degrees from BYU.

3) Harvard was the second most frequently attended college or university for some level of degree.

4) Pres. Uchtdorf is a convert (as everyone knows); Elder Scott's father was a convert.

5) The First Presidency averaged 3.67 children; the six senior apostles not in the First Presidency averaged 7.5 chlidren - and Elder Perry was the only one with less than seven; the six junior apostles averaged 3.3 children - and none of them had more than five).  

6) There were more apostles who were educators than any other occupation; there were only three former lawyers and two former business executives; the other occupations were: publishing, pilot (two others were pilots in the military), accountant, doctor, salesman and nuclear engineer. 

7) SIX of the apostles did not serve a mission (mostly due to wartime military service), and, of the other nine, only one served in the United States; the other eight all served in a foreign country. 

and a bonus "fact" - although I haven't checked it, so it might just be a classic Mormon myth:

The first "bleep" of a swear word over the radio on any program was J. Golden Kimball in his talk on the first radio broadcast session of General Conference. [I just LOVE the irony, if that is true!]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Deeply Profound Post (and Comments) about Repentance and What Keeps It from Happening

Repentance and Conflicts of Interest - Scott B (By Common Consent) 

On this Thanksgiving Day, I felt impressed to share a non-traditional Thanksgiving post.  I don't know why, but I hope it touches someone today and helps in some way. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Depression: Prayer, Study & Obedience Alone Are Not the Proper Answers

Depression and other complications of mortality can wreck havoc on one's ability to repent (change) and have joy - and they can lead to crushing guilt that can be seen at the extremes of self-criticism and self-hatred.

Praying harder, studying more, "obeying" more intently, etc. are not the proper initial or all-encompassing answer for people struggling with these types of issues. Finding good medication and/or coping techniques must be the foundation, since such problems won't disappear or become manageable until the imbalances that are causing the issue(s) are controlled to whatever degree possible.

The same can be said of almost anyone and any issue (that proper coping techniques are vital), but actual physiological issues must be approached differently and openly and without guilt or shame being added by others when traditional answers just don't work.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Church Orchestra Plays a Beautiful Sound - but Only if All the Instruments Are Appreciated

Piccolos are the highest pitched, shrillest instruments - and I think that's probably why Elder Wirthlin chose them to use as the example of the instrument God doesn't just value in His orchestra. ("Concern for the One")

It's important to have piccolos in the orchestra if you want the full range of sounds, since nothing else emits that particular sound, but it's just as important to hear the other instruments playing. The fullness of the Gospel isn't understood, in my opinion, unless all the instruments are playing together and in tune - and I see "unity" as a fullness of harmonic sound, not everyone playing the same melody. It's up to those who play the instrument that is in the largest section and tends to dominate in volume to allow all the other instruments to play, be heard and feel appreciated. 
I've heard the full harmony played in a ward in which I lived, and it's a gorgeous sound.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Embracing the Truth All Around Us - No Matter Where We Find It

One of the central principles of what I call "pure Mormonism" is that God gives revelation regardless of religion or denominational affiliation. It's the "bring it with you" concept - that if someone understands truth in a different way (or even an unknown truth to the Church at large), it's accepted simply because it's truth. Hence, "seek learning out of the best books", "even by study and also by faith", etc. Truth is all around us, if we only have eyes to see it and hearts to understand.

As organizations grow, they tend to minimize this, however. There tends to be an idea that we now have it all - even if that isn't supported (and even if it is rejected) in our canonized scriptures. It's just natural calcification, and it just makes change harder and slower than when the organization was smaller. It's a security trade-off for the free-wheeling discovery mode of the early time. It just is what it is.

The last books of the small plates of Nephi are interesting in this regard. Space on the plates was running out, and, paraphrasing the words of one of the writers,
"It's all been said. I don't know anything new. I'm just signing this to show that I took my duty seriously." 

Our plates aren't full.  We have plenty of available space. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

God will work with what we give him. We could do worse.

The following post is a very thought-provoking look at God and politics in our scriptures: 

God does not particularly care about your civil liberties - John C. (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pruning the Church Together

According to Jacob 5, the Church is going to continue to need pruning by the servants right up until the end.
I can assist in that pruning if I stay in the vineyard and help wield a precise, careful scalpel - especially if those on my own tree aren't scared of the instrument I yield. I can't do it if I wield a machete wildly - or if I leave the vineyard altogether.

I'm not saying everyone has to stay and help in the pruning process. Only those who are willing to prune cautiously and with direction can do so properly. I'm just saying the Church needs help in that process from as many "servants" as possible. If someone can't do it now (or ever), I understand and am not going to condemn them. However, if someone can do it now (or at some point in the future), I'll join hands and share the task.
I'm going to do it regardless of how many others are helping (because it's my tree), but I'm going to be grateful for those who want to try to work with me - even if they are operating on different branches in different parts of the vineyard in different ways with different instruments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Interesting Perspective: What Kind of Buddhist-Mormon Are You?

Are You A Theravada or Mahayana Mormon? - Mike S. (Wheat & Tares)

I really like the comment thread, as well.  There are some truly thought-provoking responses.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dealing with Religious Indigestion

I believe there is an element of learning to digest some food that seems foreign or even a bit "yucky" upon first taste - a process of acclimation where we develop a taste for some things that are good for us but not necessarily "tasty" initially. I learned that lesson on my mission to Japan - and now I absolutely love sushi.  However, when that idea is used to insist that we dull our sensitivities and ingest things that, in that moment, with our current digestive systems, would make us sick or possibly even poison us - that is when I have to insist that I follow the dictates of my own conscience and take responsibility for the results of my choices. I learned that lesson on my mission to Japan - and I flat-out refuse to eat natto.  (Look it up; you'll understand why.) 

I believe in the concept that there is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven - but I'm not convinced that the concept includes as many applications as many people assume. I believe that pure laws are more like large umbrellas that cover many potential applications (like categories of food), and that there are fewer of those large umbrellas than most people believe. As long as I am eating a balanced diet (obeying the broad laws), there are many individual entrees, appetizers, beverages, desserts, etc. from which I can choose (more narrow rules that fit me individually) without harming myself or becoming sick. That also means, as Paul pointed out in the New Testament, that I am free to choose to NOT eat certain things that would put a stumbling block in front of those around me - even if, in isolation, those foods would not harm me in any significant way.

I believe deeply that we will not be punished for striving to understand and follow the dictates of our own consciences and trying to live as closely to Him as we are capable of doing - even as we get indigestion sometimes as we try to figure out the spiritual diet that will work for us. I think God will forgive indigestion in a sincere attempt to taste the full fruit of the Gospel far more readily than He will reward limiting ourselves to only what is easy to digest but never causes growth and enhanced health. However, I also don't think he appreciates it when we assume out of pride that we can handle anything we want to eat at any portion size.

Indigestion is not always cause to quit eating. It only means we need to adjust our diet - and, to me, pure Mormonism provides incredible flexibility to do so.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Change through Consensus

I think the rate of change in the Church is rooted in the principle that the tree only can be pruned according to the strength of the root. Traumatic surgery kills as often as it saves - especially if minor surgery is enough for the moment. I think the church's global leadership believes this and uses consensus as a means of not endangering the tree as a whole.

To use a different analogy, the band can continue to play on an ocean liner that is turning continually, but when a speedboat switches direction suddenly, passengers can get thrown around violently and even go overboard quite easily. I think there is an important purpose behind changing course only with consensus, and it is rooted in a concern for the safety of the passengers and not risking the boat capsizing.

Our history supports this position, frankly. Sure, Joseph's time was free-wheeling and exciting - but it also had the most schisms and most active, violent, dangerous persecution. It might appear to be exciting and appealing as we look back upon it, but people generally sank or swam - or died in the process. There is a time for explosiveness and sudden change in a young, evolving organization, but if such radical and constant change continues, those organizations tend never to mature - or they die. I understand the allure, and I would love to see more radical change in some areas, but I understand that it can't happen too quickly.
I think the world-wide training when the latest Church Handbook of Instructions was released is a great example of significant change accomplished gradually through consensus.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Most Correct Book Doesn't Have to Be Totally Accurate

In the early stages of the Book of Mormon, Nephi says that is record is 'true', primarily because he wrote it with his own hand and was being honest in his recording.  Joseph Smith also said it was a "correct" book, but he didn't explain what he meant by that. 

I make that point largely because the authors of the Book of Mormon mention in multiple places that there are mistakes in it - and because it is, at the most basic level, a religio-biographical record written and compiled years after the fact.  Thus, it can be both "true" and "correct" (even "most correct") without having to be mistake-free.  That is true both of what it says and what we tend to read into it, and it is true of the conclusions and descriptions it presents - especially those that deal with people other than the authors and abridgers themselves. 

Just to illustrate that final point:

I think there are far more Lamans and Lemuels in the world than Nephis - at least in the sense that "God maketh no such things (panoramic visions of eternity) known unto [them]". Nephi comes across as a wonderful person who also probably was a spoiled youngest son in his early years, at least - and perhaps even bi-polar or prone to depression, based on 2 Nephi 4. I'm not sure Laman and Lemuel weren't normal, decent blokes in their pre-flight lives - who probably were consumed by jealousy of a favored younger brother. We accept that easily enough with regard to Joseph of Egypt and his coat of many colors, and we might not have the full story about Nephi and his family's internal tensions. 

I also see Lehi a bit differently than many people, and I think I understand Laman's and Lemuel's reaction toward Nephi as much more natural and perhaps unavoidable than most people do. In other words, I don't condemn them for how they reacted in their own situation. I don't "relate" to them, necessarily, but I am inclined to be very charitable toward them - especially since stories told in retrospect, explicitly to explain and justify separation and warfare, tend to be exaggerated, even if unintentionally. (For example, if they really did want to kill Nephi, they had tons of opportunities and were really bad at it.)

Hindsight actually isn't 20/20 - especially when quite a lot of time has passed. Our memories tend to construct what we want to remember - which is why even a "most correct" book doesn't have to be unbiased and totally "accurate"

Monday, November 5, 2012

God Is Bound - but I Don't Bind Him

When I teach about covenants, I generally set the stage by talking about the ultimate objective of convenants - becoming godly. I discuss the idea that we "bind" God by our promises - and that I disagree with the way that idea gets interpreted too often. I mention that I have NO problem with the idea that God has promised to bless us and help us become like Him, but the actual "binding" passage in the D&C makes it clear that God binds himself - that he promises absolutely to keep his word. We aren't binding him in any way.

That might be seen as hair-splitting by some, but it's an important distinction to me. I don't control God. Period. Full stop. My covenanting (promising to accept what he has asked of me) simply opens the doors for him to help me - or, to phrase it differently, simply is an acknowledgment that I have committed to do everything I am capable of doing to tackle "becoming" as the ultimate object of my existence and "endure to the end" in that commitment.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Mormonism: Eternal Arrogance and Eternal Separatism

I have had numerous people over the years claim that Mormonism is arrogant in the way it claims faithful people can become gods while non-faithful people can't.  This often is included with a total misunderstanding of Mormon doctrine - with claims that we believe only Mormons will receive the greatest reward.  Other than to state the obvious for most members and point out how incorrect that complaint is, I want to address in this post the general idea of rewards and punishments in the post-mortal existence and how Mormonism is decidedly NOT arrogant or "separatist" - particularly in comparison to the rest of Christianity. 

Our ultimate theology posits that almost all will be saved and resurrected and receive a degree of glory.  In my own words, only those who look God in the eye and swing their fists receive no reward and, instead, are punished.  Thus, in Mormonism, nobody really gets "punished" for being born - made worse in the end than if they hadn't been born. That is opposed diametrically to the traditional concept of Hell and God as the eternal roast master. 

Finally, the specific reward isn't tied to clear, objective rules - since God, the Father, who alone sees the heart, is the ultimate Judge and Assigner - and each person is represented in counsel, if you will, by God, the Son, who argues for mercy to whatever extent possible. Thus, in the end, religious affiliation in mortality doens't mean a thing - not even a little thing - in the determination of reward and punishment.  In Mormon theology, truly all are alike unto God. 

The distinction within Mormonism is between the level of the blessed state, if you will, but it is tied to individual judgment by God based on individual effort and integrity - unlike pretty much every other Christian construct and most theological constructs.