Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Talk Last Sunday: Testimony and Conversion

Here is the outline of my talk last Sunday.

I added my commentary to each numbered element.  If you have any questions about any element, let me know.


Testimony and Conversion 

1) "Testimony" means "witness" - which means something seen or experienced, felt or believed, certain or hoped. It does NOT mean "known intellectually". (Use court room example, then examples of spiritual witnesses: in church, in nature, in the temple, burning in the bosom, great peace or calm or love, sudden clarity, stroke of pure intelligence, etc.) Some people never have experiences they feel comfortable saying they can accept as proof of things others feel they know. Given this disparity of experience, I love the following verses:

2) D&C 46: 13-14

"To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful."

"The CofJCofLDS is a place for people with all kinds of testimonies. There are some members of the church whose testimonies are sure and burn brightly within them. Others are still striving to know for themselves. The church is a home for all to come together, regardless of the depth or the height of their testimonies. I know of no sign on the door of our meeting houses that says, "Your testimony must be this tall to enter." - Pres. Uchtdorf, October 2014 General Conference (Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth)

Brothers and sisters, how true that is here in our ward depends on us and how completely we accept it.

3) James 1:22

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only."

"In contrast to the organizations of the world, which teach us to know something, the Gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something." - Elder Oaks, October 2000 General Conference (The Challenge to Become)

4) "I Am a Child of God" - The wording was changed from, "Teach me all that I must know," to, "Teach me all that I must do." I would love to see it changed once more, this time to, "Teach me all that I must BE."  (A friend suggested, "Teach me all that I CAN be."  I love that suggestion.)

5) "Conversion" means "change" - as does "repent". Thus, one repents (acts / does) in order to become converted (be). In other words, one changes in order to become changed - or to be born and raised and grown up again - or to become a new creature in Christ - or to become Christ-like.

6) Discuss reactive repentance and proactive repentance. (For reference here, the following is a lesson outline from my Sunday School class last summer that dealt with reactive and proactive repentance:

Repentance: A Deeper, Fresh View

In conclusion:

"Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair." - Gilbert Chesterton 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dealing with Other People's Expectations

I have reached the point in my life where others' expectations just don't concern me much anymore.

At the most basic level, I care only about my own expectations of myself (and I have to evaluate even those on a regular basis, to make sure I'm not being too hard on myself or too lazy), what my wife expects of me (since she is half of my own whole) and what I perceive to be God's expectations of me - but, since I am more of a grace / Atonement kid of guy than a strict obedience / damnation kind of guy, I don't tend to worry as much as some people do.

Planning is important; anticipation of possibilities is important; worry is harmful; unrealistic expectations can be damaging and even damning.

I've come to accept that my best effort is all I can give, so that's all that I can expect myself to give - and that means, sometimes, letting go of something or even taking a nap to revitalize is all I can give.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Judging Others Who Think and Act Differently than We Do

People tend to think God thinks the same way they think or, at least, approves of the way they think (no matter how they think and no matter their religious affiliation) - even with the clear statement:

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."  (Isaiah 55:8-9) 

That, alone, ought to give us pause and allow charity and grace more room in our hearts and minds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

No Way in Hell: The Beauty and Power of Temple Theology

One of the core aspects of my testimony is that "God" is a father and mother who flat-out, no-way-in-Hell are going to condemn any of their children to roast forever just because they didn't place them in a situation where they would know of them and Jesus in this life. That would be sadistic to the highest degree, and I simply don't believe in that kind of God.

If there really is a God, and especially if there really are Heavenly Parents, the Mormon concept of all-encompassing grace and vicarious temple ordinances is an amazing concept - and it is powerful even if it only is figurative. I choose to take it literally because it fills, touches and enlarges my heart in a way I like - and it just feels good and true.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Do Things because I Want to Do Things, for Whatever Reasons Make Sense to Me

I follow the rules / keep the commandments according to the dictates of my own conscience and for my own, personal reasons.

For example:

I do not pay tithing as fire insurance or as a measure / token of righteousness; I pay it to help fund the Church.

I do not attend church to be blessed in the next life; I attend church to be blessed (sometimes) and to bless others (always).

I do not attend the temple to hold any particular calling or to get to the Celestial Kingdom; I attend the temple to commune with God in a quiet, reverent place and to remember to seal my heart to all of God's children.

I do not wear the garment for physical protection (or, really, even for spiritual protection); I wear it to remind myself of my relationship to God and because I love the symbols they include - and, frankly, because I've worn it so long it's a habit.

I could go on and on, but the point is that I do things because I want to do things - for whatever reasons make sense to me. I really don't care if others agree with my reasons; I care that others find reasons that make sense for them - for whatever they do, even if their actions are different than mine.

If I ask others to respect my right to make my own decisions, and to be accountable for my own choices, I simply must "allow them the same privilege", regardless of whether or not I agree with the choices they make. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Faith Crisis and Rediscovery: When Clarity Disappears and Unexpected Murkiness Surrounds

In a discussion once about Pres. Hinckley's statement that everything will work out in the end, someone said the following: 

“The worst that can happen is you die.”

Actually, in extreme situations, the worst that can happen is you live.

I love President Hinckley, and I think I understand and agree, ultimately, with what he was saying, but I also understand that much of what we believe we believe from a position of relative luxury and grace. Our theology encompasses the extremes, but (the collective) we seldom experiences those extremes – so we speak in platitudes that fit our non-extreme lives.

Often, those platitudes hurt people at or near the extremes, and, often, we can’t fathom why. Thus, faith trials and crises often arise when our general platitudes smack up against unexpected life and lose. Re-evaluating things we took for granted can be difficult – and, often, the most difficult situations are those where the former assumptions were believed the most passionately and deeply.

When clarity disappears and unexpected murkiness surrounds, faith is necessary – and, sometimes, it’s not so much losing faith as losing previous sight and having to discover pure faith (hope in the unseen) for the first time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Participating in the Mundane Enough to Experience the Miraculous

Two years ago, the Sunday School manual focused on the teachings of Pres. Lorenzo Snow.  In one of the lessons, an experience was shared about Pres. Snow raising a child from the dead.  In a subsequent conversation about that story,  someone asked what our expectations of our leaders and ourselves ought to be with regard to the miraculous.

I have participated in hundreds of blessings over the course of my years in the Church. Most have been nice but forgettable; a few have been somewhat revelatory; a handful have been . . . powerfully connective to the divine.

My expectation of leaders and myself boils down to a willingness to put ourselves in enough situations where the revelatory and powerfully connective might happen, even though my experiences teach me that most of the time it will be nice but forgettable - that we will be there when God needs to reach down in a miraculous fashion and, figuratively, show us his hand.

My takeaway from the lesson is that Pres. Snow did that – participated enough in the mundane that he was there for the miraculous.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Two Hilarious Jokes about Men & Women

The first "cup" in hockey was used in 1874. The first helmet was used in 1974.

This means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brains are important, too. 

If a woman is upset, hold her and tell her how beautiful she is.

If she starts to growl, retreat to a safe distance and throw chocolate at her.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Children and Testimonies in Sacrament Meeting

I love the beauty and purity of a child's heartfelt testimony.

I don't like Sacrament Meeting as the time and place for most such testimonies, but I have known and know some very mature children whose testimonies are not rote or coached and are just as valid as mine. I love hearing those testimonies in Sacrament Meeting. 

My youngest daughter is twelve, and a couple of years ago she had been telling us she wanted to bear her testimony for a few months. We simply told her that when she knew what she wanted to say and really wanted to say it, we would support her - but that she had to do it completely on her own and that we wouldn't tell her what to say or suggest anything to her.

She bore her testimony one month, and it was simple, sweet, sincere and moving - and very much a reflection of her and who she is. There was nothing that was rote or formulaic, largely, I believe, because that's not how her mother and I talk when we bear our testimonies and because we've never "practiced" bearing testimony with our children or coached them about what to say.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Long-Suffering: How Our Heavenly Parents Must Feel When We Finally "Get It"

When a young man who lived with us for a year (about eight years ago) sent me a message years later saying he finally understood what I had modeled for him about what it really means to be a father, I sat and bawled like a baby. When he left our house, mad at me for not being a man because I wouldn't beat him when I was upset, the only hope I had was that we had saved his life and that it would last. To read what he wrote to me so long after the fact . . .

I got a tiny glimpse of how our Heavenly Parents must feel as they watch us struggle, wanting deeply to make us see but needing to let us learn on our own, and then, seemingly miraculously, suddenly "get it".

 It was a moment I will cherish forever.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I Don't Care about "Plainer" Translations of Scriptures

I view scriptures as records of how people from the past viewed God and his relationship to them - and not much else, when it gets right down to it.

That's really important to me, but it doesn't say much about how WE view God and his relationship to US. Absolutely, it can and should influence us, but I believe in an evolutionary model of understanding that includes religious understanding - that "further light and knowledge" and "ongoing revelation" are FAR superior to past pronouncements of scripture, with the exception of the words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth.

I think that is axiomatic to Mormonism.

Thus, while I value scripture highly (from all faith traditions), I don't really care much about spending time trying to translate them more plainly - since, in the end, I believe translations reveal much, much more about the worldviews of the translators than they do about the worldview and intent of the original authors, scribes and abridgers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why I Don't Believe in Eternal Gestational Birth

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a post titled, "Who Gave Birth to God's Spirit Children?"  I had occasion recently to revisit a post on "Real Intent" titled, "Does Exaltation Mean Polygamy?" - and I added a clarifying comment in that thread to an earlier comment in which I said I was "appalled" by the idea of immortal pregnancy.  I am copying that comment here, along with links to the two posts I mentioned, in the hope that it will help someone understand why I feel so strongly about the belief in eternal gestational birth. 


It's not the idea that we will be creating life eternally that is appalling; in fact, I love that idea. That concept is one of my favorite in all of Mormon theology.  Eternal motherhood and fatherhood is beautiful and sublime - and, within Christianity, so unique.  To me, it is the very heart of the Restoration - the resurrection, if you will, of a murdered Divine Father and Mother (theologically)

It's the idea that creating life after mortality will be exactly like it has been for thousands of years on earth that is appalling to me (although understandable, given the inability of people in the past to imagine any other way that life could be created) - and a large part of the revulsion I feel for that idea is the wink, wink way men often talk about only having one child if we had to go through mortal pregnancy and delivery.  We joke about it, but we mean it.  We (men) glamorize it but absolutely don't want to HAVE to go through it, so we are fine and dandy, thank you very much, if they (women) are the ones who GET to go through it there and here.  (Notice the difference in the bolded words; they are instructive to me.) 

I just don't see the creation of immortal spirits as an internal, gestational process that involves "birth" in the way we understand that word here on earth.  It's that concept (eternal, internal conception, gestation and birth) that I find appalling - especially since, generally speaking, men are deeply grateful we don't have to be involved in that process beyond the conception stage.  The fun without the pain vs. (ideally, but not always) the fun and the pain. 

Yeah, I can understand why many men might tend to be totally OK with women giving birth like that forever, but I disagree - passionately.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sweet Bliss: The Importance of Innocence and Child-Like Faith

My second son, Jeff, wrote a poem in high school a few years ago about which I had forgotten, until my mother e-mailed it to me and my siblings.

I talk a lot here about leaving behind childish views and becoming "adults of God" - but this poem is a reminder to me that part of spiritual maturity is regaining a bit of the unobstructed wonder and acceptance of childhood we almost always lose when we move into a world that demands more than just a bit of cynicism and self-protection - that we can't be childish, but we must return to being child-like. I really like the examples Jeff used, since I think they have fascinating symbolic meaning, especially with a religious application.


Childhood is being afraid of the dark . . .
and believing a night light will scare away the monsters.

Childhood is bringing home a wild animal . . .
and asking if you can keep it.

Childhood is digging for worms and fossils . . .
in the playground at school.

Childhood is chasing down the ice cream truck on a hot summer day . . .
no matter how far you have to run to catch it.

Childhood is playing with anyone . . .
and not caring about origin or orientation.

Childhood is . . .
sweet bliss.  

I want to extrapolate a bit on the poem from my own life's perspective:

I am not afraid of the dark . . .
because I have constructed a night light that scares away the monsters.

I am able to entertain thoughts that others see as "wild animals" . . .
because I have had so much practice handling them in a controlled environment and now can handle them on my own.

I like digging for worms (common things) and fossils (hidden things) . . .
even in the most common places where others play without realizing what is all around but unseen by them.

I enjoy chasing down fulfilling things (especially thoughts and concepts), even when it's hot . . .
no matter how far I have to run to catch them.

I find great joy in interacting with and learning from anyone . . .
and not caring about origin, orientation or perspective.

My life is . . .
sweet bliss (because it is uniquely mine).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

If You Want to Be a Force for Good at Church: First, Don't Blame Those Who Struggle

There was a discussion in a leadership meeting I attended once that centered on the question of why members left the Church and what we could do about it. I knew how it probably would go naturally, so I piped up right at the beginning and said that most of the people who have left with whom I have talked personally mention being bored and feeling unfed at church - and that the best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to make our services and classes and meetings at all levels and of all kinds more spiritual and more spiritually filling.

Of course, there was an initial, immediate reflection of that onto the people who don't come prepared to feel the Spirit (as if it's their own fault for not feeling fed and feeling bored), but the conversation eventually ended up focusing on the "standard" idea that everyone needs a friend, something to do and nourishment with the good word of God. I agreed and simply pointed out that it is up to the leadership of each ward and branch to set the example of nourishing with the good word of God and insist that the membership do that, as well, to the best of their ability.

This is one issue where I agree completely with the "standard Sunday School answer". Everyone needs a friend (someone with whom s/he can talk honestly and openly without being judged or condemned), something to do (to not feel like a nobody and to serve others) and spiritual nourishment. One is social; the next is active personal; the last is spiritual.

If all three of these things were provided to every member, there still would be issues - but they would be much fewer, far between and less serious. So, my advice to everyone:

If you want to be a force for good at church, be a real friend to someone at church, find something to do at church that is important and meaningful to you (whether that is an official calling or not) and provide nourishment of the good word of God to those who need it (including yourself, if you aren't getting it directly at church as much and as often as you'd like).

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why I Can Say I Know Things I Don't Know Intellectually

I believe in gods, and my absolute favorite aspect of Mormon theology is the concept that "I (and every other person) am a child of God" - that I can be godly - that I can be and become a god.

I believe in God, because I want to believe in God. I believe in Heavenly Parents, because I want to believe in Heavenly Parents.

Do I "know" intellectually that they exist and that what I believe is accurate?


Do I feel deeply that there is great power in the concept and principle and that I have experienced something outside my rational comprehension that I choose to accept and call "God"?


Thus, do I feel comfortable in a group of members using the accepted vernacular and saying that, based on my own experiences, I know God lives and loves us?


I am comfortable saying it in that setting, even though I explain it differently (more comprehensively) on a site like this where I try to flesh things out and explain in more detail.

I'm fine using shorthand when shorthand is appropriate.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Gospel Is Simple; Life in a Community Is Not

The Gospel really is simple - not easy, but simple: 

Jesus is the personification of the will of God to allow for the ultimate growth of His children (Atonement); hope for, believe in and act on the promises of the Lord, even if you can't see the results at the time (faith); try to change - both reactively to mistakes you make and proactively to become who you want to become (repent); symbolically participate in a spiritual cleansing ritual (be baptized); "receive" comfort and guidance from God (the gift of the Holy Ghost); rinse and repeat your entire life (endure to the end).

On the other hand, living life amid the necessary rules and regulations of communal living is neither simple nor easy, especially, in the imagery of Joseph B. Wirthlin, for those who play a different instrument than most others in the community and/or hear a counter-melody or harmony most others don't hear. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Broken-Down Cars. Broken-Down Bodies. Broken-Down Faith.

A friend of mine who was going through a faith reconstruction shared the following with me.  Although it happened in the temple, it is a great reminder that we gather in "wards" because that term describes the geographic nature of our congregations (based on 19th Century political wards), but it also can describe the healing and supporting nature of the work that we are supposed to do (by creating, in practical terms, our own hospital wards at church).

I hope my friend's words help someone, somewhere, who feels, in some way, broken-down.

I went to the temple today. We started almost fifteen minutes late because of some car trouble in a family group. Other people came into the room with walkers, labored breathing and obvious problems moving around. I was thinking, "Great, this is going to go really slowly."
But suddenly it was perfect, all of us there together. Broken-down cars, broken-down bodies, and me with my broken-down faith.

Truly, that is a description of Zion.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to Enjoy Church and Grow Personally When You Don't Learn Much while There

I have been asked by more than one person what they can do to enjoy church and feel like they are progressing spiritually at church when they don't feel like they are learning anything new by attending.  

My general advice is:

When you go to church, lay down your life for that short time period and step into Jesus' ministry. Start going primarily to find ways to serve people, not to be instructed. You can get the instruction you need outside of church, so whatever you get in church will be an unexpected bonus. I promise, there are lots of people who need to be served at any given time - at least as many, I'm certain, as need to be taught.

Focus on being the servant first (a savior to others) and be the student whenever that happens naturally.

It really can change the life you lay down when you leave your house each Sunday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Inclusion vs. Exclusion: Some Things Make Me Want to Scream

I have a friend who told me recently that her Bishop has decided that anyone who is not in the chapel during the administration of the sacrament will not have the sacrament taken to them - that the sacrament will be passed only to people who are in the chapel. 

Some. Things. Make. Me. Want. to. Scream!

My rule for all interaction with anyone is to choose, consciously, to err on the side of charity and inclusion and not on the side of judging and exclusion.  I know I will make mistakes in how I interact with people (and that I will fail to follow my own rule on occasion), and I know others will do the same.  I know that others will make mistakes in how they interact with me.  I accept the simple fact that none of us are infallible - that all will "come short of the glory of God" in this life, and that social, interpersonal relationships are a prime example of how we all fall short.  

However, I also believe deeply that tenderness always is a better reaction than harshness - even when harshness is warranted and even, ultimately, unavoidable.  I believe strongly that it is better - much better - to include rather than exclude.  Sometimes, exclusion becomes necessary - but I believe we tend to exclude too quickly.  I believe that excluding reflexively, broadly and/or collectively, instead of carefully, thoughtfully and/or individually is a natural (wo)man tendency and flat-out wrong - and it is contrary to everything I understand about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Generally, I can see reasons why Bishops and other church leaders might make decisions with which I personally don't agree, and, generally, I can support those leaders even when I disagree with their decisions.  However, denying the sacrament to someone who has made the effort to attend church but is not sitting in the chapel crosses a line that I cannot accept or support.  Not only is it in direct opposition to the standard practice throughout the LDS Church, but it simply is wrong at the most basic, fundamental level. 

I hope my friend's Bishop, who probably is a good, sincere person trying to do the best he can, recognizes the error of his decision and changes this particular decision - and I hope others do not make the same mistake. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why Do We Lack Charismatics Like Joseph Smith Now?

I think it's a simple matter of relatively few people being able to be a combination of visionary, charismatic, inspiring and truly innovative theologically (or truly innovative in most other areas). There's a reason there are no other Apples and Microsofts out there in the world. It's also a simple matter of those who are that combination of characteristics generally burning brightly for a time and then being extinguished by those who can't handle the glare and/or flaming out for various reasons.

Think about it for a minute:

How many people who fit that description lived to be old? How many ended up diving completely off the deep end into the dark side? How many were killed just as they were entering chronological maturity?

People generally work hard to contain raging fires - both physical and spiritual / religious. It's just too threatening and unstable for most people to let them burn, and they often use up all the oxygen and fuel available and extinguish themselves.