Thursday, December 31, 2009

Apology - and a Happy New Year Wish

I returned much later from our family's vacation than I anticipated, so I was not able to write a New Year's Resolution post yet. I know what I want to write, but I am exhausted - so I will write the New Year's Resolution post Saturday.

I hope everyone has a wonderful time tonight celebrating the arrival of a new year - and that everyone can draw closer to God and each other throughout that year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pres. Hinckley's Interview with Mike Wallace: He Never Lied

(Thanks to one of the readers who pointed out to me that I have conflated two interviews with Pres. Hinckley. The quote I remembered and referenced here is from an interview with TIME Magazine - not the Mike Wallace interview. Just shows that age is a terrible taskmaster - and that I'm not as mentally spry as Pres. Hinckley was at a much more advanced age - although, in my defense, I did remember it word-for-word. lol)

In an interview published in TIME Magazine a few years ago, President Hinckley said something that others have classified as a lie. Pres. Hinckley was an incredibly intelligent man (as everyone who interviewed him attested - including Mike Wallace), so even those who don't accept him as a prophet have to consider his answers as carefully constructed - even if they don't accept them as inspired.

I will quote the response, sentence by sentence, with commentary. First, however, I need to highlight something about the question Pres. Hinckley was asked:

The interviewer asked,

"Is this [as man is, God once was"] the teaching of **the church** today . . .?"

This does NOT ask if many or most members believe it; it asks only if "the church" teaches it TODAY. That is a critical distinction.

With that background, here is my response to those who accuse President Hinckley of having lied:

"I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know."

First, I was raised in Utah. My own father and father-in-law are from the same basic generation as Pres. Hinckley, as were many of my teachers when I was a youth - most of whom were raised in Utah. I heard almost all of them use the phrase "I don't know that . . ." my entire life as a child and adolescent. Sometimes it meant "I'm not sure that . . .", but it also meant "I wouldn't say it that way." It was a "polite" way of disagreeing - a way to do so without saying, "No, you are wrong." I literally heard it at least hundreds of times in my youth.

(For example, my dad often said, "I don't know that your mother said that" - meaning, "I'm not sure that your mother said that." Another example: "I don't know that Grandma is stubborn" - meaning, "I wouldn't say that Grandma is stubborn." He never told me that Grandma wasn't stubborn [because she was], but he told me more than once that he wouldn't call Grandma stubborn - that he wouldn't say it that way.)

When I heard Pres. Hinckley's interview, I automatically heard what I had heard constantly growing up and understood his words in that usage with that meaning. So, the quote can be rendered more accurately for those unfamiliar with that particular usage thus:

"I wouldn't say that we ("the church") *teach* it. I wouldn't say that we *EMPHASIZE* it."

(In the actual interview, Pres. Hinckley paused slightly then added "EMPHASIZE it". It was very clear, and he actually emphasized the word "emphasize". He said the concept isn't "taught" by "the church", then he defined that even more specifically by saying the concept isn't "emphasized" by "the church".)

"I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse."

(I personally have never heard it discussed in "public discourse" by "the Church" - and rarely in private discourse. Pres. Hinckley had, but he hadn't for "a long time" - at least from before my memory.)

"I wouldn't say it that way."


"I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made."

(None of us do. The only transcripts we have are from records of four members who heard it, and what we have is the summary combination of their records. We know very little about the background of the sermon - the "circumstances under which [it] was made", since they were never recorded and Joseph never addressed it. It literally came out of the blue and was truly unique in many ways.)

"I understand the philosophical background behind it."

(True for many of us.)

"But I don’t know a lot about it"

(Joseph never elaborated on it, since he died only two months after giving the speech.)

"and I wouldn't say that others know a lot about it.”

(Perfectly accurate statement, given how debated it has been over the years.)

Finally, the concept is included in the Joseph Smith manual **as one sentence in a 7 page lesson**. Further, not one of the follow-up questions at the end addresses that sentence. There is absolutely no "teaching of it" and certainly no "EMPHASIS on it" in the lesson, while other things are emphasized.

What Pres. Hinckley actually said is perfectly consistent with the way the concept is handled by "the Church" (as an institution) - included in materials (not hidden) as something Joseph Smith said, but not emphasized in any way. Individual teachers might emphasize it over other things in the lesson that "the church" emphasizes, but "the church" certainly doesn't emphasize it - not even close.

There is no lie in this quote - none whatsoever.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Christmas Wish

May this day be one that is devoid of contention, anger, hard feelings and condemnation. May we commit to make it such within our own spheres of influence.

May love fill our hearts to overflowing this day. May we commit to allow it to be so on other days.

May our differences matter less than our common status as children of God. May we commit to see it as so no matter with whom we associate.

May all of us appreciate and respect those with whom we disagree - in word as well as in deed. May we commit to so speak and do, even with those who persecute and spitefully use us.

In all our deepest desires, may there be a road before us - and may we allow others to walk their own individual roads without throwing stones and placing unnecessary obstacles in their way. May we commit to walk thus, no matter how often our roads intersect.

May the example of those whose lives we use as our guide be ever before our eyes - and be honored in the way we live with and treat others. May we commit to remember to look back as we move forward.

May we see each other as God sees us. May we commit to be God's love for others.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Celestial Surprise

I do not equate practicing a religion other than Mormonism - or, more broadly, Christianity - as being punishable sin. At its very worst, I see it perhaps as a Fall-induced transgression (since it will lead people to "break God's spiritual law" in some way or another) - but our Articles of Faith say that we will not be punished for those.

Years ago, I heard Elder Michelson say that he believes many members will be surprised in the end how many people receive a higher reward (including exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom) than those members imagine. He said that we tend to over-estimate our own worthiness and under-estimate the worthiness of others (but for some, especially women, it is the opposite) - and, in so doing, create divisions that simply won’t exist when our natural minds see more fully the glory of God. He said that when we try to figure out which kingdom will be the most populous in the eternities, we are exhibiting our fallen tendency to judge others without knowing them well enough to do so.

Due to my experience, that statement resonated with me when he said it - and it resonates still. I agree with what he said, but I will add the explicit caveat that I believe what he said applies every bit as much to any Mormon as it does to any Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, Jew, atheist or any other individual child of God. I believe all of these groups of people will be represented much more widely than many people believe in higher kingdoms than that to which we naturally would assign them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

End-Time Prophecies Aren't Simple Things

Many people struggle with the concept of end-time prophecies - especially those that appear to have occurred already in a day and time that was not "the end of the world". There are two important things to consider with these prophecies.

1) Many end-time prophecies simply are prophecies of the end-time for that particular culture and /or people. In other words, a prophecy that the end is near and the world will be destroyed doesn't have to have global application for it to be inspired and accurate. The Jews were destroyed from time to time in a very real way, even though each time was not the "final" end - or the final destruction, for that matter. If all one's known world is destroyed, it is as if "the whole world" has been destroyed.

2) If someone believes the original (or initial) meaning of the prophecy has been fulfilled, but there is a modern application of that prophecy that can be made (or that was included in an original dual meaning), does it really matter what the “fulfilled” meaning was? It’s past and done. What matters now is the “new” or “second” meaning.

There are many examples of end-time prophecies that have been fulfilled in one way or another already - but that still can be seen as awaiting fulfillment or as waiting for fulfillment again. It doesn't have to be a one-time-only thing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Often, It's Our Own Expectations That Are to Blame

One of the most compelling aspects of the foundational theology of Mormonism is the allowance for the exaltation of those outside the faith throughout all time - and that's pretty easy for nearly all members to accept, since they don't see and live and deal with those people's weaknesses on a daily basis. They have no expectations of those who are unknown to them. Our theology also allows for the exaltation of those inside the faith despite nearly ALL issues and weaknesses, but it's harder for many members to accept that - since we tend to judge most and most harshly those whose weaknesses we see most clearly (ourselves often at the top of that list).

Perhaps the greatest test of real charity inside the Church is how we deal with those "of our own" who have let us down - who can't live up to our expectations. Think about that, please, in relation not just to how those in your family and/or your friends who disagree with you see you but how you see those in your family and/or friends whose beliefs you think are wrong. Perhaps they can't seem to understand and accept and value you fully for who you are - judging you as being "less (fill in the blank)" than they are.

Are you doing the same thing to them?

It's hard to claim to love others unconditionally when acceptance is tied up in expectations.

Likewise, it's much easier to SAY we love people whose actions we reject than to SHOW true love for them. Overall, I think the histories of mankind, Christianity and Mormonism all show our difficulty living what we teach as the ideal in that regard.

In John Grisham's "A Time to Kill", the White lawyer tells the Black man he is defending that they are friends. The Black man's response is, essentially, "We're not friends. You've never been to my house. Your daughter doesn't play with mine. You say you see me as equal under the law, but you don't treat me as equal outside this courthouse."

In summary, it's hard to claim love for someone whom you never serve - whose house you never visit and whose children (or friends) don't play / associate with your children (or friends). With respect to this thread, I think it's hard to say you "hate the sin, but love the sinner" if you don't embrace and spend time with the sinner. In my mind, that's a fairly bright line - especially given that pesky Golden Rule and the fact that all of us are sinners in some way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thanking God in Retrospect

Happy Anniversary, Babe!

Thomas Parkin: Trusting God (Part 2)

A couple years ago we bought a restaurant, left downtown Seattle where we’d lived for about ten years, and moved into the boondocks. This was maybe two years - give or take - after I returned to the church, that after about thirteen years away. I wanted to know if buying the business was the right thing to do, so I took it to the temple. I got one of those clear as a bell answers: “This will be a blessing in the lives of your employees, business partners, and family.” I recall thinking “nothing for me” at the time. But, in general, I thought this answer meant that we were going to be very successful, and that the Lord was now going to bless us materially for the changes I’d made in my spiritual life.

Time forward about eighteen months. We have bled money, lost just about everything we have, have put family money in jeopardy, and I have worked myself into total spiritual and emotional exhaustion. I’m constantly wondering ‘is this what the Lord had in mind, or have I screwed up somewhere.’ To say things had been trying and stressful would be an understatement. For several months I got less than three hours of sleep a night, not knowing how I was going to pay the thousands of dollars in bills we had coming in constantly above and beyond our revenue stream. And things just kept breaking. Throughout I would get the comfort that comes from the companionship of the Holy Ghost, but nothing in terms of direction that I earnestly and constantly sought. We sold the business, and this year dealt with the aftermath.

All along I’m thinking, surely things will not get worse than they are now. Surely something will come along to save the day. Then about June - now we are in danger of losing the place we lived - I got an answer that said “things are going to get worse, you should find your strength in service in the church.” And boy have things gotten worse … but now I expected it. I began to see myself in a new way. I began wondering what I was when all the trappings are stripped away. When I’ve got no peg to hang my ego on. Who am I when I have to basically beg for help. I never turned away from my rather stressful and time consuming church calling, however much I had lost confidence in my own ability to act the leader. And I began to see myself without any of the worldly trappings we use to define ourselves - and that has been an amazing blessing.

As for the answer to the earlier prayer, that has become so apparent. I’m in frequent communication with several of my old employees. They ask for advice, sound me out about things, tell me their news. One young girl tells me that they call the days when I owned the restaurant the “Golden Age of Tom.” I can’t think about that conversation without weeping, if I’m alone. About how good it was, and what she learned about working and life. That thrills me, makes me so happy - certainly not the blessing I had expected, but one that maybe runs deeper than the financial success I’d hoped for. Now I’m living in the basement of a former partner, saving money so we can get back into the mix. And that may turn out to be a blessing for him and for us, too.

One of the things that has nearly broken through this is my marriage. My wife is not a member. Very much not a member. She averts her eyes when we drive past a meeting house. We met when I was at my farthest point away from the church. She is an extremely bright, very unique woman. We’ve been friends, and have a lot of similar ways of viewing things, But as I’ve given up slowly on my old ways of living, some gaps have obviously emerged between us. And this year+ has certainly taken its toll on her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pleaded with the Lord, what to say to help my wife, what to say to help my marriage. Never any answer. Pure silence. Why, I ask, can I so easily get answers to my prayers when I’m preparing to teach a lesson, but when it comes to this most important thing, silence?

About a month ago we had a fight about prop 8, and (I think) about how our attitudes and ideas about sex had changed over the last few years. And she didn’t speak to me for almost three weeks. Literally, didn’t speak to me. Except when absolutely needed, and to let me know she had no idea what “an awful person you’ve become.” I’m vacillating between rage and acquiescence, trying to be kind followed by returning hurt for hurt. Then, I’m driving to work, praying and thinking, and an idea, a sure idea comes into my head, about my wife, who she is and some of things that make life difficult for her. I can’t tell it, because this is a public forum. But it caused me to rethink our whole relationship, from day one, and to see her as so much more wonderful than what I’d seen before. I don’t know if I’d have been open to this answer a year ago. But now I can see my way clearly. And yesterday we had a really great conversation, looking back over old ground with new eyes - and I feel like I’m her friend again, which is the absolute only thing that I care about.

Anyway, the whole thing can be hard. What we want and what God wants for us are rarely the same. Usually they aren’t even in the same vicinity. He wants us to give up the world, and we want everything in the candy jar. We do not know where following His advice will lead us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Satan as a Sincere Agent of Choice

(The following is an interesting take - one with which I don't agree totally, but one that is thought-provoking, nonetheless:)

I agree that Satan was a key player in the early stages of the Great Plan. In it, he seems to have realized that God’s plan had too much risk and pain involved, and so he devised changes that would ensure safety and security, in exchange for two things: some agency, and God’s throne. Agency and security cannot co-exist easily. In a realm where we would live in security and little agency, we cannot become as God is, and so we would require a replacement for Elohim that we could emulate. Lucifer becomes the example to follow in this instance.

Lucifer took with him those that feared risk, failure and pain. With the right press, God could be made to look like an evil rich guy running a sweat shop in Nicaragua.

Satan doesn’t push sins on us. He pushes choices upon us. Opposition. He provided the opposition and choice in the Great Council, and he does so now. The temptations and evils are already in place in the world without him. He just uses them as a catalyst to get people to follow his lead.

I truly believe that Satan, as with any of us who commits sinful and/or evil acts, has what he thinks are good intentions. He is trying to save us from a bad plan that promises to punish and enslave many (at least in his view). And if in attempting to save us (by drawing us away from God and towards him) we suffer some, it is God’s fault.

Comment #40 by Rameumpton on Mormonism's Satan and the Tree of Life, Part 1 - Ronan (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

More on Disabilities and the Fall

We teach that the Atonement and God's grace that underlies it have the power to save all, regardless of their individual "disabilities". We also teach that all will, at some point in their eternal existence, have the opportunity to be judged on their own individual merit. When we construct speculations that are extrapolated to many from what was given to a few, we necessarily exclude others who struggle with disabilities that are just as real and difficult for them. In effect, like the Oliver Cowdery example of feeling a burning in the bosom or a stupor of thought, we end up setting conditions and expectations that might or might not apply to each individual - and we risk incredible harm in doing so.

Personally, I know of WAY too many investigators who felt the Spirit, believed we had the truth and had a desire to join the Church but waited because they were told by the missionaries that they could feel "an overwhelming burning in their bosom" - and who took the absence of such a burning as a stupor, thus never joining the Church. In very real terms, they were placed into a "disabled" category that never should have been applied - that was flawed in its very composition, since, like me, they simply don't receive answers in that way. I believe they paid a heavy price for being held to an incorrect standard.

Where does it stop? Why do we exclude some and not others? What makes someone with DS or MS or a form or mental retardation or schizophrenia different than someone who is bi-polar or suffers from chronic depression or is deaf, mute and/or dumb (or blind) or any number of other inherited manifestations of the effects of the Fall? What about someone who is raised in extreme bigotry and succumbs to that bigotry through no conscious choice of their own? How do we define what is an individual exercise of agency and what is not - thus defining what is covered by the Atonement and what is not? More importantly, why do we need to make that determination? Why can't we simply accept that Jesus will make that decision for us and treat everyone the same way within the limitations of their own disabilities?

All of us are disabled in one way or another. Why do we need to label some and not others when it comes to spiritual things, separating them from us in a very real way, when all of us are in the same boat from God's perspective? Why do we need to imply that all in one category are better or worse than others in different categories? I simply prefer to say, in all cases, "I don't know; I won't judge."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Emotional & Spiritual Disabilities and The Fall

We are taught that the Atonement saves us from Adam's transgression, but I think too often we fail to see that this must logically include the effects of the Fall - which include the random physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, etc. "disabilities" with which we each are born. Some people are born with emotional disabilities that, for them, are just as debilitating as any physical or mental disabilities are for others - but we have never said they were more righteous in the pre-existence. By making a special case of someone else's disability, we are, in effect, denying (not making allowances for) our own - and that is a scary, dangerous path.

In my opinion, we simply need to stop separating people based on biological attributes that are beyond their control (and that we are told are covered by the Atonement) and start seeing and treating them all as equals (because of the power of the Atonement). This means we stop elevating some and not elevating others - that we accept all as fundamentally flawed in some way, but possessing the same eternal potential. That is not a "natural" reaction, and it is not easy, but it's what I believe the Gospel teaches.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Someone Needs You Every Single Day

(With my focus on serving others this month, I want to begin by re-posting something that was shared with me by a dear friend - someone whom I respect greatly):

About a dozen years ago, a student working for me came to my office and asked if she could talk to me. When I told her she certainly could, she added that it wasn't about work, but was personal.

She was an excellent employee; a returned missionary; a gifted poet who could churn out vivid poetry about as fast as kids nowadays can text each other; and a (college) senior.

She reminded me that the previous April she had moved to another apartment and thus to another ward. She'd been the Relief Society president in her former ward.

She commented that she'd now been in her new ward some seven months - and hadn't even been asked to serve as a visiting teacher yet. She hastened to add that she didn't need to be president or anything, but that since almost all of the women in her new ward were freshmen or sophomores, she felt she could contribute something to the ward.

And that brought her to the question she wanted to ask me: "Do you think it would be wrong for me to say something to my bishop about it?"

I remember leaning forward in my chair, ready to say that it wouldn't be at all wrong, especially if she told him the way she'd told me - in full humility.

But the Spirit stopped me before I could even open my mouth, saying that I was to tell her what He wanted her to hear.

So I told her that there would be nothing wrong with her discussing it with her bishop, especially if she did so as she'd mentioned it to me. But then I added, "But let me share with you another option, and you can decide which you want to do.

"When you were Relief Society president in your former ward, what were you thinking about each week as you arrived for meetings?"

She looked a little perplexed, not having considered that thought before. So I added, "Let me take a guess. I've been in presidencies before, so I'd guess that as you came into the room you were probably looking around to be sure the day's teacher was there; the music people were there; the person in charge of getting the tablecloth over the table or desk or podium in the room so it looked more like RS than a classroom; the person responsible for the flowers; and so on."

She grinned and agreed.

As prompted, I then added: "Let me make you this promise. If just before you leave for meetings each Sunday, you kneel down by your bed, alone, and ask Father to help you discern who NEEDS you that day, there will never be a single Sunday on which at least one person won't need you. And often it will be several different people. Sometimes the "need" will only be for a smile or handshake, but sometimes they will need a visit - or a series of visits. I promise you that if you do this, you will find it as fulfilling as was your mission."

I repeated again that it wouldn't be wrong to talk with her bishop.

She said nothing more about it until the next April.

She came to my office again and said she didn't want to move without telling me what had happened.

She paused meaningfully and then added, with great emotion, "I had no idea there were so many with needs. You were right; there has never been a single Sunday on which at least one person didn't need me, and almost always it was several. Some needed just a little encouragement, but some needed many visits."

She paused again and then added, "It has been even better than my mission!"

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Danger of All-Encompassing Absolutism

I would like to see some survey data, but one common denominator of most of the people I have known who have left the Church after being dedicated members for multiple years is an all-encompassing, black-and-white, absolutist view. I have seen it in kids with parents who fit this description and with converts who come into the Church with this perspective. I think it’s much more complicated that just that, but I think inflexibility will lead to either incredibly difficult struggles or a refusal to even consider different perspectives. In my experience, what it produces is either anti-Mormon fodder or simplistic generalizations, stereotypes and denial by members, since it essentially leads one to not be able to accept what one can’t understand - which is, at the core, a loss of faith.

This belief that everything is black-and-white (that everything can be "known" in the here and now) is what I see as a lack of faith among many members - what I see as the opposite side of the bitter, ex-Mormon coin. One refuses to accept gray areas and leaves; the other refuses even to consider gray areas and stays. In both cases, it is faith that is lost - or never gained in the first place.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Danger of Religious Speculation

Speculation within religious discussions is fun and intellectually stimulating, but it also can be very dangerous. By "speculation" I simply mean guessing about something (or putting forward one's personal belief) when there is no clear revelation - when the "speculation" is merely an interpretation of something else.

For example, in the past, Brigham Young's and Bruce R. McConkie's conclusions about why the Priesthood should not be conferred upon Black men in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times was not backed by any explicit revelation stating so. Rather, they were founded on cultural perspectives and scriptural interpretations. Although Elder McConkie repudiated all former justifications of the ban after the revelation (OD2) was received (30 years ago), and even though modern Prophets and apostles have spoken forcefully about perpetuating the former justifications, the result is that some members still hold to that former speculation. That is both frightening and instructive.

The idea that we can become like God is, I believe, a central thread that runs throughout the entire Bible. It isn't addressed much, if at all, in the Book of Mormon, but it is foundational to the Bible. Thus, "As God is, man may become" is not "speculation", in my mind. "As man is, God once was" is based on an interpretation of one biblical verse, however, and is not a concept that is supported by our body of scripture generally - including our modern scriptures. It might or might not be true, but it's not grounded in multiple scriptural passages. In many ways, it's like taking Oliver Cowdery's answer as to how **he** would feel the Holy Ghost (burning and stupor) and extrapolating that to all - essentially telling all members and investigators, for example, that they too can have that same burning and stupor. There simply isn't anything in the body of scripture that justifies that extrapolation - that speculation.

The Church's statement "Approaching Mormon Doctrine" (published in 2007) makes the point that the isolated statements of individual apostles (or even a number of them) should NOT be taken automatically as "official doctrine". I believe that is true retroactively, as well, and applicable even to scripture. If one prophet said it, take it with a grain of salt - and especially be careful of stretching it beyond what actually was said by that prophet - of "speculating" past the initial words. If such a statement is not supported by an extended body of scripture, it might be valid and true - but it also might fit the former jusitifcations for the Priesthood ban. It might be nothing more than the natural inclination to guess or rely on one's own best understanding to make sense of the unknown.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Have No Clue, but I Am Grateful

Today is my wife's birthday, and I want to write about something on a personal level of which I have NO clue whatsoever on a broader level. Please pardon my deviation from the normal focus of this blog while I do so.

I believe strongly that my wife and I knew each other prior to meeting in mortality. I believe that God had a hand in arranging for us to meet here on this earth.

I do NOT believe that is the case for all - that we are predestined to meet the only person with whom we are meant to spend eternity. I accept fully the idea that we can be happy with many potential partners and reach unity with more than one person. I do not believe Mama and I are "special" in any way. I just believe we knew each other prior to this life and we met through the direction of the Spirit, at the very least.

I am aware of the complications that belief creates for many. I am aware of the pain our situation might cause those who can't say the same of their own companion(s) - and those who have not found a companion in this life. I am aware of how unfair it seems or unbelievable it is for some.

In the end, however, all I have is my own experiences with Mama - my own immediate and unequivocal reaction - my own feeling (deep in my heart and conscious to my mind) that I was not making a new acquaintance but rather renewing a relationship with my best friend - my own assurance within days of meeting her that I had found the person I would marry eventually (and her un-admitted realization of the same thing) - my own total lack of temptation to do anything that would jeopardize an eternal relationship, while yearning deeply for a full and totally united relationship.

It would be easy to say that I don't have a clue why our lives played out as they did and we ended up meeting each other at such a relatively young age. I can trace the events that led to our meeting, but, relying purely on my intellect, I don't have a clue why those events occurred exactly as they did.

All I know is that I am convinced to my core that I met my ancient split-apart - the other half of my eternal whole - my best eternal friend from whom I had been separated at birth - that summer morning 27 years ago. On this day, her birthday, I want to thank God for that meeting - and acknowledge my personal conviction that He played a hand in making it happen.

I love you, Babe.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Judging and Charity

All of us have our own blind spots. The problem is that we are blind to them.

We should treat others' blind spots as we want them to treat ours.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Introducing and Teaching "The Apostasy"

I have taught our ward's Priesthood Preparation class in the past, and one of the lessons in that class is "The Apostasy". I think that designation is a bit misleading, as I believe "The Apostasy" was not a one-time event that lasted for hundreds of years.

When I discuss "The Apostasy", I try to address the foundation concept of apostasy as a historical process and condition of every culture since Adam, then position "The Great Christian Apostasy" as just one of many throughout time. If I'm talking to a Priesthood Prep class, for example, I start with the Great Spirit Apostasy (the War in Heaven), move to the Edenic Apostasy (The Fall), discuss the First Great Mortal Apostasy (from the early patriarchs to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and detail at length the Great Jewish Apostasy of the extended silent heavens (Malachi to John, the Baptist) - before even beginning to address the Great Christian Apostasy. I then move to the concept of "short term apostasy" so prevalent in the Book of Mormon and individual apostasy that always is current - and talk about how easily such "individual and institutional apostasy" can rear its head even in the Restored Church. I point out that the Book of Mormon explicitly describes the on-going effects of apostasy (both the lingering effects of the "incorrect traditions of our fathers" and of the doctrinal misunderstandings new converts bring with them when they are baptized) within the LDS Church itself in the final stages of the allegory of the Lord's vineyard in Jacob 5.

I think this approach is the best way to frame apostasy for those outside our church, since Protestants and Catholics and those of other religions usually understand the basic, historical concept - even if they don't accept our specific view or the solution of The Restoration.

(*Note*: The names of specific historical apostasies are mine and intended only to make broad distinctions. I don't worry in a setting like that about trying to find "the perfect title" for each example of apostasy.)

Also, it is fascinating to compare the criticisms leveled against Jesus and his followers by the Jewish leadership and the criticisms leveled against Joseph Smith and his followers by modern Protestants. The similarities in criticism are incredible - from a closed canon, to blasphemy, to exclusive predestination, to cult charges, to political fears, etc. That foundation (the Jewish reaction to Jesus) provides another good launching pad from which to discuss "The Great Christian Apostasy".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mormonism Requires Comprehensive Change

I have said multiple times that the greatest weakness of the LDS organizational church is that it is run at the ground level by a bunch of untrained amateurs - with all the problems that includes; I also have said multiple times that the greatest genius of the LDS organizational church is that it is run at the ground level by a bunch of untrained amateurs - with all the amazing growth and passion and fellowship that entails. I understand completely the challenges that structure creates, but I wouldn’t change it for the world when I look around and see the people it produces that no other process produces in such high numbers.

The Mormon Church is not a place for those who want to continue the relatively stationary religious observance embodied in most of the rest of Christianity; it is a commitment that requires a radical change in action and perspective - a change in mind and body and eye - and it simply doesn’t “stick” for many who initially respond to the message - or, too often, the messengers. Part of that is directly the fault of the membership who fail to live the Gospel they try to accept, including those who lose sight of the people in the numbers, and part of that is a natural result of asking people to make such a radical change on little more than simple faith.

I wouldn't change that challenge if I could, but I can't condemn those who are unable to make such a comprehensive change. All I can hope is that those who stay live the core principles of the Gospel better and love everyone, inside AND outside the LDS Church, a little more fully and Christ-like.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Unrealistic Expectations: Chastity

There was a family near me growing up in which the father preached against immorality in such a way that the message was, "All boys have raging hormones and need to suppress their sinful inclinations." I know for a fact that this father faced this particular temptation (without ever succumbing to it), so it is "understandable" that he would think this way, but his sons ended up seeing their very natural urges as sinful, instead of natural effects of the Fall. Therefore, they were wracked as teenagers with feelings of inadequacy and failure and guilt every time they saw a girl and even thought, "Wow, she's hot!" At least two of them ended up convinced that they could never be good enough - and they couldn't based on their Law of Moses definition of perfection.

Recognizing that having such a thought is not actually a sin - that at its very worst it is a transgression caused by our fallen state and at its best solid evidence of heterosexual tendencies (*grin*) - and turning to the Lord for help to see even beautiful girls and women as He sees them - could have removed a tremendous burden from their shoulders and freed them to focus on something else instead. It would have allowed those boys to realize that they didn't need to beat themselves up for being human. Rather than their painful and impossible efforts to become "less human" - which led to almost giving up completely for one and terrible decisions for the other, they could have accepted their humanity as having been redeemed already and simply focused their efforts on managing their natural inclinations properly.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

There is a Real Power in Fasting and Prayer

Nothing about which I have been fasting and praying this month has been reconciled completely yet, but I have gained a much deeper appreciation of the power that is available through fasting and prayer.

I have experienced a wonderful clarity of vision this month about some things that have been bothering me for some time, and I can chalk that up to my effort to focus time and effort on contemplation, fasting and prayer. Some might attribute everything to the contemplation, and perhaps the most profound aspect of fasting is in the intense focus it allows us to bring to those things about which we are fasting, but I have felt an opening of the heavens and inspiration this month that has been of great comfort and worth to me.

For that, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Difference Between Sin and Transgression is Critical

I always have understood "sin" to be different than "transgression". "Transgression" is the broad, umbrella category of "going beyond or overstepping some boundary or limit" - in religious terms, of breaking a commandment. "Sin", otoh, is a subset of transgression where one understands a commandment and consciously chooses to break it. Therefore, a young child can transgress without sinning; a Catholic can transgress the Word of Wisdom without sinning; my retarded cousin can transgress without sinning; etc.

At the most basic level, every person transgresses and every person who is capable of understanding the validity of a limit / law / commandment sins. We all do things we know we shouldn't do, and we all don't do things we know we should do. The trick, imo, is knowing what things we really are capable of doing - so we know what constitutes sin for ourselves as individuals.

The best example, again, is my retarded cousin - or someone with severe dementia. Some things that are sin for me are transgressions for him. However, most (if not all) of us are not fully aware of our own "hidden disabilities" - so we are not fully aware of what actually is within our control and what is not. Therefore, all we can do is our best to understand ourselves and strive to develop the characteristics of godliness that will eliminate our weaknesses that cause our sins and transgressions.

We have been told that we will not be punished for the natural transgressions we commit simply as a result of the Fall (our actions we don't consciously choose, like the words my friend utters in the throes of her bi-polar disorder or my mom's actions when her "sleeping pills" no longer worked), as a reward for the pre-existent choice we made to accept Jehovah as our Lord and Savior and Redeemer. (Iow, we won't end up worse off as a result of our birth than we would have if we had never been born.) We also are told that our sins (incorrect *choices*) can be forgiven *as long as we accept the Lord's redemption and strive to become like Him and our Father*. The promised forgiveness of our transgressions gave us access to a degree of glory; the offered forgiveness of our sins gives us hope for a fullness of glory. The first (forgiveness of transgression) places us above Lucifer and his followers; the second (forgiveness of sin) opens the possibility of being a joint-heir with Christ.

I believe the Restored Gospel we currently teach broadens the gray and shrinks the black and white dramatically - particularly compared to most Protestant denominations. The black and white still exist, but most of us live and learn and struggle in the gray - forever fighting to see and understand and live correctly whatever constitutes the "true" black and white. I believe our church more clearly defines the ultimate objective FAR better than any other of which I am aware and gives us access to more light and knowledge than any other of which I am aware, but I also believe we still "see through a [grayish] glass darkly" - much more than many "black-and-white-ists" believe.

My concern over the distinction comes from seeing so many people who feel "guilty" for their naturally inherited weakness - the things that lead them to transgress - as if they were sinning simply because they couldn't overcome totally that inherited weakness. They have been told so often that "any mistake is sin" that they beat themselves up continually over what amounts simply to being human. They can't recognize that Jesus already has paid that price for them - that "the truth will make you free" in that particular way - that they can "cast those burdens at His feet" and simply look for ways to change without debilitating guilt over how hard it is and how long it takes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful

I am thankful for the opportunity to do what I want and love to do.

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for the Gospel and church members who love and support each other.

I am thankful for a forum where I can express my feelings - and for people who care enough to read them.

I am thankful for much - FAR more than I can express here in the short time I have to do so.

In short, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rethinking Our Assumptions of the Book of Mormon

There are many assumptions about the Book of Mormon that simply aren't supported by the record itself. Unfortunately, many members buy into these assumptions, and some of them were believed by our early leaders. The following are only a few obvious examples:

1) The Book of Mormon itself never claims to be a record of the entire inhabitants of the entire Americas - or, frankly, of even one entire continent. In fact, it mentions multiple times that many others will be led to the Americas by the hand of God - and it never tells when or where those migrations will occur. For all we know, some of them might have been concurrent with the history to which we have access. I have written extensively about the problems with the assumptions that early Mormons made about the Book of Mormon, and Nibley wrote some incredibly compelling analyses of the internal claims. I can’t begin to summarize this in a post here, but I will try to hit a few highlights - again, focusing strictly on what the book actually says, not what others read into it or assumed about it given the general societal assumptions of their day.

2) We have a very spotty record of one family, its descendants and those with whom a portion of that family came in contact. There is almost nothing that gives any information about others who might have lived on the continents - except an even spottier record that followed the Jaredite royal line (or, more probably, those who remained close enough to the “capital” to remain under the control of that royal line). When you read the Book of Ether, it is obvious that it does not even try to keep track of all the descendants of the initial group. It focuses almost exclusively on the kings and what happens to them, only including the people around them as fodder for the tales of warfare and intrigue. In other words, after the initial explanation of the founding journey of Jared and his brother, almost the entire book is a politico-military treatise - not primarily even a religious or spiritual history of an entire people.

3) “All the land” is a common term used in ancient scripture to mean “all the known land” or “all the land under centralized rule”. Noah’s flood is seen by many Biblical scholars as having been a catastrophic local flood that wiped out everyone and everything that inhabited Noah’s world - one that was later generalized to universal status since every culture has a similar flood narrative - since nearly all large civilizations anciently were centered near and around water. (Also, a careful reading of the chapters immediately following the flood make it crystal clear that there were other human survivors of the flood outside the flood area.)

To highlight this tendency, Caesar’s edict that “all the world should be taxed” is obvious hyperbole; it simply meant “all his world” - since he was well aware of areas that were not under his control and, therefore, would not be taxed. Even just the Jaredite descendants who stayed close to the capital city easily could have numbered in the millions; they easily could have had cities that stretched from “sea to sea” (especially if the central government was located somewhere - anywhere - where "sea to sea" could have meant "huge body of water to huge body of water"); and those millions that lived in that area easily could have been rounded up and destroyed in a final, massive battle - all the while not coming close to wiping out every living human on the face of the American continents other than the Nephites and Lamanites and Mulekites of the time.

Again, this is based on what the Book of Mormon actually says about them, not culturally-based assumptions made by those who read it after it was published. Coriantumr easily could have been the sole survivor of that centrally controlled empire, while millions of other descendants of the ancient Jaredite group could have been living outside the control and knowledge of the royal family. Basic population and demographic standards almost dictate that such would have been the case after what probably was well over 2,000 years. [In fact, the incontrovertible fact that the Jaredites were unaware of the Nephite/Lamanite/Mulekite populations living relatively close to them (at least within walking distance for Coriantumr at the time of the great and final battle) argues that they had no clue whatsoever if “all” the people had been gathered, but rather gathered only those of whom they were aware.]

4) If the descendants of Lehi were a localized group, covering a relatively small area (compared to the entire continents), and if the “Lamanites” assimilated other, larger groups not specified in the Book of Mormon - like the Nephites assimilated the more numerous Mulekites (which appears almost certain, given the population descriptions included in the Book of Mormon), then their genetic footprint easily could have been diluted very, very early on.

5) Furthermore, we have no idea whatsoever what the maternal lineage was for Lehi’s children, since we have no idea whatsoever of Sariah’s lineage. Lehi appears to have been a traveling man who was outside the accepted authority structure of Jerusalem. He was not a Jew, but a descendant of Joseph - as was Ishmael. Lehi knew Egyptian fluently. It is doubtful, but Sariah could have been Egyptian - with an Israelite adopted name, as would not have been rare for that time. There is so much ambiguity as to both Lehi’s and Sariah’s origins that there simply is no way to tell what DNA testing would show for the family.

In summary, there are so many assumptions that underlie our beliefs about the Book of Mormon that sorting out what the book actually says from things that simply are assumptions ("incorrect traditions of our fathers") is vitally important in this modern day of discovery. I have found that the more I understand what it actually says, the less I am bothered by new discoveries - and the more I am amazed at the accuracy of the book itself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Playing with the Peas - and the Piccolos

A good family friend who is a RS Pres. shared the following with my wife recently. While it's not an original analogy, I appreciate it - and want to add a little commentary to it:

A friend in our ward talked to our bishop about a problem. He told her that her problem is that she's focusing too much on the peas. She has a wide variety of food available, but she's only putting peas on her plate. [b]It doesn't matter how much you like peas; if that's all you're eating, you're going to get sick of peas![/b] He told her to broaden her palate and try some chicken and some pasta and some fruit, and then the peas will be in their proper perspective again.

There's nothing wrong with peas, in and of themselves. It's just that when they become an obsession that overshadows all the other food available . . .

It's like Elder Wirthlin's wonderful orchestra analogy:

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

If all we hear is those incessant piccolos, we miss the beauty of the full orchestra - and, sometimes, fail even to realize that there are lots of other instruments in the orchestra around us. Those of us who don't play the piccolo need to listen carefully for others who also don't play the piccolo - while continuing to appreciate what the piccolos contribute.

I would add that it's MUCH easier to appreciate the orchestra and the other instruments (not just hear the piccolos) when I am playing my own instrument and contributing my own harmony to the overall music being played.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Thy Will Be Done"

I have had an epiphany this week about why it is so hard for me to pray in a "formal" manner privately, but I need to think about it some more before I post about it - if I do. Suffice it to say for now, it revolves around my acceptance of "Thy will be done" and how I view asking for intervention to influence what I naturally want to happen in my life.

Instead of a normal resolutions post, I am going to post something I wrote recently about the need to value each other and the unique voice and view we can bring as individuals to the orchestra that should be the Church. It was written to address the question of how those who struggle to accept something about the Church or the Restored Gospel can overcome their tendency to want to break free from what they initially see as the cause of their struggle:

I know this is simplistic, but it really is about learning to be comfortable with yourself enough that you are willing to sacrifice some things for the group - even some things that seemed important when it was all about you. I'm NOT saying it is "wrong" to be in the stage when it is all about you. That's a pretty good definition of the initial reaction to things that challenge one's faith, and it simply is inevitable for those who run headfirst into a wall at some point in their lives.

The key, in my opinion, is to stop trying to get around or over the wall, so you can be on the other side. The key, in my opinion, is to learn to take apart the wall so there no longer is anything separating you - no "sides" to cause competition and clash, if you will.

Elder Wirthlin spoke of valuing all instruments in the orchestra, not just the piccolos. Joseph Smith said that we "claim the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow ALL men (and women) everywhere the same privilege, let them worship how, when or what they may." It's easy to forget that "all" and "everywhere" includes those who struggle and worship differently than the "norm" inside the LDS Church just as much as it includes those outside the LDS Church. Of course, there are certain lines that can't be crossed without causing someone to be excluded from official designation of "member", but the natural (wo)man tends to draw those lines far too narrowly and ends up excluding the trumpets and bassoons and bagpipes that otherwise would add beautiful harmony to the orchestra if allowed to stay and play with the piccolos.

In these matters, too, I believe we need to be willing to say, "Thy will be done."

Friday, November 20, 2009

One Average Member Can Change an Entire Ward

Often, wards and branches take on the personality of the Bishop or Branch President. Auxiliaries often do the same thing in modeling their individual presidents. This can be alleviated by a visible counselor who has a different personality, but leadership style and personality are strong indicators of the type of vibe within a ward. That cuts both ways, unfortunately.

Having said this, I have witnessed one ward where an out-going, loving, smiling sister with no major calling almost single-handedly changed the spirit in a ward. It was impossible to be anything but happy around her -
and she was "around" everyone all the time. It is hard to describe how her spirit of joy and love affected the other members of that ward; it's hard to understand how pervasively her influence was felt. Thanks, Sis. A.

My advice:
Be the change you want to see and pray that others will follow your lead. (Just don't get judgmental about it.) Oh, and smile as you put yourself around people as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Explaining the Illogical: The Case for Faith in a Physical Resurrection

One of the things I like most about Mormonism is the almost extreme reliance on “explaining” rather than “convincing”. I don’t go into any of the discussions in which I participate in the Bloggernacle trying to “convince” anyone; I really don’t. I have no expectation that my words will be so eloquent that a reader will be compelled by my genius to acknowledge that Mormonism really is the kingdom of God on earth. (That was intentional hyperbole.) All I want to do is explain my own beliefs and perspectives - and often point out the double standard we often face in these types of discussions.

Honestly, that’s all. It’s not my job to try to “convert” or “convince” anyone; I understand clearly that there are smarter people than I who can create more intellectually powerful justifications than I. If intellectualism is the standard, then Christianity as a whole is doomed, since much of what it teaches is illogical and impossible to defend intellectually.

Frankly, that is true of all Christianity, but I believe it is true more for Mormons than it is for those who believe strictly in a spiritual state in the afterlife. The ultimate, illogical claim of Christ was not that he, as the Son of God and God incarnate, could forgive sins. After all, the Jews whom he taught believed in a method of forgiveness by God already. The most illogical claim of all was that his actual, physical body rose from the tomb, joined his immortal spirit and transformed into a tangible, immortal soul - and that, in this as with everything, He was and remains the express image of His Father and the example of what we also may become. His most illogical statement might very well have been, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24: 39) After all, the Jews whom he taught had no previous experience whatsoever with such a claim. To them, it was impossible - largely because it was outside the law and, therefore, illogical. The extension of that statement expressed by John, the Beloved, in his Intercessory Prayer to include all who would accept Jesus AND His Father was not accepted by the Jews then, and it simply is unfathomable to most Christians now.

Further proof of this is the denial of it by Christianity for centuries. Creedal statements and ministers have attacked the physicality of the resurrection that provides for us a way to become like God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, in direct and unequivocal terms - even though other statements like the Westminster Confession of Faith are worded in such a way as to allow for a physical resurrection similar to Mormon doctrine. However, by denying this possibility these statements unintentionally, I believe, undermine the very foundation of the "Good News" that constitutes the need for faith inherent in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul based his great sermon on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 on the reality of that event - that it was and is fundamentally different than anything that had occurred previously in the history of the world, but that it was only the first such event in a LONG line of future, similar events for all God's children.

Denying that uniqueness by making the ultimate result of Jesus' resurrection for us "just another continuation of spiritual life" - disconnected from becoming like God - in all practical terms erases completely the uniqueness of our Christian faith - and that is a serious result, indeed.