Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gratitude for Generosity

We just returned from our vacation trip to Ohio, where we lived for 12 years prior to moving to Missouri for my current job.  It was wonderful to see old friends (and those that aren't so old - *grin*), but I want to mention publicly my gratitude for the generosity that is so common among LDS Church members - and others

Whenever we have visited Ohio in the past, we have stayed with a particular family.  They have more children than we do and enough room in their house to put us up without too much strain - but they were out of town this past week, so their house was unavailable.  We didn't realize that would be the case until fairly late in the planning process, and we realized it would be impossible for us to make the trip this year if we had to stay in hotel rooms the entire time.  It simply would have been too expensive. 

So, we called the former Relief Society President of our old ward and explained our dilemma - asking if she knew of anyone who would have enough room for us (nine people, all together) to spend a couple of nights to lower our overall cost.  (We were planning on being in town for five nights total.)  She suggested three possibilities - two of whom we had considered on our own and the other whom we hadn't considered. 

There were unusual, practical reasons last week why we didn't try one of the couples we had considered, and the other couple wasn't home when we called - so we called the third couple.  We explained the situation, and these good people not only told us we could stay for a couple of nights but insisted we stay with them the entire week.  They are a retired couple, and I'm sure housing seven kids (our six plus one) and two parents wasn't something that had been on their radar - but they gladly opened their home to us and insisted we spend our entire time in Ohio using their house as our base.  Their generosity allowed us to do FAR more than we could have done otherwise, and all of us are grateful for that. 

Thank you, Brother and Sister Gardner!  

This was an obvious example of generosity, but I also want to pay tribute today to all those who do things that are not required strictly out of love for others.  In some ways, examples like ours last week are "easier" than other, less obvious, seemingly smaller things.  Many people respond in a time of obvious need, but many also respond in less obvious times - and many people help others in situations where those others don't even ask. 

In that light:

Thank you, Brother and Sister Moellmann! 

Your generosity in seeing a need and making an extraordinary offer of help will be appreciated eternally by Mama and me - and Ryan.  Your kindness went WAY beyond any expectation; it was nearly unimaginable to us when you made your offer.  It is an example we cherish - and I will reference it, I'm sure, in talks and trainings and other situations for years to come.  What makes it even more selfless is that I am positive you would be embarrassed to have it shared publicly, so, when I do describe it more fully, I will share it only as a wonderful example of dear friends. 

May God bless all the good people in this world who reach out and help others - both when asked and, even more importantly, when a need is seen and met without being asked. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Accepting Those Who Believe but Can't Say They Know

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.

If something as basic as a knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God is not available universally, then I think there isn't much that is available universally - and that we should be totally accepting of those to whom it is given to believe (to whatever small or large degree they are given to believe). I also think we need to be just as accepting of those who only can desire to believe - who live as faithfully as they can in relative darkness.

I believe in the grand scheme of things, those who can't say they know but continue to believe or strive to believe have lived every bit as "valiantly" (if not more so) than those who have been given to know and live according to that knowledge.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Evolving Church and the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times

A friend of mine once said the following:

The way I approach these difficult topics is to look at the church as a evolving system and allow it the right to refine its teachings over time.

I really like this.

I believe strongly that the term "Dispensation of the Fullness of Times" refers to the condition at the end of the dispensation, not the beginning. There are way too many scriptural passages and prophetic statements teaching that principle for me to believe otherwise - and it also is the only construct that makes sense for me personally. I also believe that the term "Restoration" refers to a process, not an event. Finally, I believe one of the central purposes of both is removing the natural elements of apostasy from the Church that exist through the simple fact that it is made up of people who bring and pass on their own "incorrect traditions" within the organization.

The early history of the Church was incredibly messy on many levels, not least of which was the need to sort through all of the assumptions early leaders (including Joseph himself) would make about the impressions and visions and revelations they were receiving in such a rapid-fire way. It's like they were riding a tidal wave of spiritualism and trying to figure out where it was taking them - trying to establish a firm foundation from everything that was swirling around them.

Personally, I don't fault those that couldn't take it and left - just as I don't fault those now who yearn for rock-solid, never-changing stability and leave for the exact same reason. I don't agree with them, and I wish they could "endure to the end" - but I don't condemn or fault them.

On-going revelation means on-going change - and that change often is radical and unsettling.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Am Not a Spirit and a Body: I Am an Evolving Soul

More Than a Hand in a Glove: Spirit and Body (and Memory) - Steve P (By Common Consent)

You might have to read this post multiple times to get the full depth of what Steve is saying in it, but it is one of the most profound posts I've read in the Bloggernacle.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Is a Spiritual Experience?

When I consider what the phrase "spiritual experience" means, I end up answering that question in a bit of a round-about way. Please bear with me while I get there.

I realize that I can construct a reasonable, intellectual argument for or against anything. I mean that fully. If I decide to construct an argument that casts the Church negatively, I can do so; if I want to cast the Church positively, no matter the issue, I can do so. Therefore, I have made a conscious decision to look actively and passionately for a way to reconcile difficulties and remain faithful.

In college, as part of my research on Manifest Destiny, I read just about every anti-Mormon writing of the 19th Century. I took some classes at the Harvard Divinity School - not exactly a bastion of extreme conservatism or champion of Mormonism. After graduation, I lived in the Deep South for a few years. I am probably as well-versed in anti-Mormon rhetoric as most, so my statement in the last paragraph is not stated carelessly. I also, however, understand that I can learn MUCH about the Gospel of Jesus Christ even from classic anti-Mormon preachers and denominations. A few of the most profound spiritual insights I have received have come by hearing something I already believed phrased differently by someone who believes I am headed straight for Hell and would dance in the streets if Mormonism was eliminated completely - simply by hearing it from a different perspective I had never considered previously.

That, in my mind, is the key - truly internalizing and trying to live the Articles of Faith and the core principles of the Gospel, especially by developing the characteristics of godliness outlined as the pathway to perfection in the Sermon on the Mount. I have had more truly spiritual experiences in the last few years, as I have intentionally and purposefully pursued that objective, than I had in the previous twenty years of my life - including in the various leadership callings I have had in the Church.

So, what is a spiritual experience?

It is an experience that makes my spirit grow - that brings me closer to the Father and the Son by making me more like them.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Next Week's Posts

I am leaving on vacation today and have been sick much of the week, so I have not written a New Year's Resolution post for today.  However, I did write and schedule posts for next week.  I will try to check in periodically, but if you comment and I don't respond, understand that it simply is because I am not going to be as active online for the week as normal. 

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.  I'll be back in full swing next Saturday. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

This is My Church.

My father said something once when I was very young that burned into my soul:

This is my church. Nobody and nothing can take it away from me. It's mine.

He was not an educated man by any stretch of the imagination, but he was a very wise, good man.

I only will add one thing:

Nobody can take away my personal understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what I call "pure Mormonism". It grows and changes as I learn and receive increased light and knowledge, but it is mine.

I hope this blog strengthens those feelings in all who participate here, even as I address some difficult issues with which not everyone will agree.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Fascinating Look at Job 19:25-26 and the Resurrection

I know that my Redeemer liveth - Kevin Barney (By Common Consent)

Ronan's comment #15 is particular insightful, but the thread overall is very stimulating.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bill Cosby on Marriage: A Church Application

In his book, "Love and Marriage", Bill Cosby wrote the following:
"Where are you going?" I say to her as she gets up from a dinner table and starts to leave people I am entertaining.
"To anyplace," she softly says to me, "where I don't have to hear this story for the ninety-seventh time.
This moment reveals the ultimate challenge for a woman in a marriage: to accept it for the re-run it is but keep herself from canceling the show.

I read this quote and immediately thought about how often I hear people complain that they hear the same things over and over again at church. I guess my only response is that I look for newness on my own; I look for familiarity and insight when I'm with others. There is a difference between newness and insight, and it's too easy to confuse the two.

At this point in my marriage, I don't get much newness from my wife - and she doesn't get much newness from me. I do get lots and lots of insight from her - probably more than she gets from me.

That's true, probably, about those with whom I attend church. They don't get much newness from me, but I hope they get some insight - and I am positive I get more insight from their collective whole than they get from singular me.

I know my marriage and my church consist mostly of re-runs at this point in my life, and I do want to get up sometimes and avoid hearing that particular story for the 97th time, but I love the show and don't want to cancel it. I guess church for me is a lot like M*A*S*H *- a great show I like watching no matter how many times I've seen it before. It makes me laugh; it makes me cry; it makes me shake my head; it makes me nod my head; it makes me cringe; it makes my soul expand. I love it for its complexity - especially for the times I hear something for the 98th time and realize I never really understood it until then.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Understanding and Combatting Unrighteous Dominion

When discussing unrighteous dominion, I believe the key verse is D&C 121:39. This verse is fascinating, and it often gets overlooked in order to focus on the other verses.

D&C 121:39 says:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

Let me highlight a few phrases and explore their implications for us today.

We have learned by sad experience

This was written toward the end of the D&C, after multiple examples of people who had exercised unrighteous dominion within the Church - and even been chastised in the records that formed the D&C. This wasn’t theoretical or focused on “outsiders” and “Gentiles”. It included “saints” and leaders. It even included Joseph Smith, especially when it is viewed as the culmination of the section that starts with Joseph begging God to wipe out all those who had been persecuting the Saints. That aspect is ignored almost completely in most discussions about unrighteous dominion, but I believe it is critical in order to understand what this verse really says.  Hence . . .

it is the nature and disposition of almost all men . . . immediately begin

The Lord couldn’t be clearer in using the words “almost ALL” and “immediately begin”. The temptation and tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion is nearly omnipresent within humanity and manifests itself immediately when authority is given or assumed.

get a little authority, as they suppose

There is a natural supposition about what “getting authority” means that lies at the heart of this issue - a misunderstanding of what it means to have godly authority and to what that authority is directed. The whole passage makes it clear that the authority is not directed toward control, but control is the central focus of authority for “the natural (wo)man”. Authority is supposed to mean something different in the Church (within the Gospel’s good news) than it does in the natural world. Almost all men, however, don’t make that distinction; therefore, they abuse Priesthood authority and lose the power that can be gained by becoming “unnatural” in this regard.

That fundamental misunderstanding is the heart of this issue - misunderstanding the principle that Priesthood authority only applies to performing ordinances and preaching the Gospel (according to Article of Faith #5) - not controlling others. (and, I would add, that this tendency exists in "almost all" women, as well - that "men" is used in D&C 121 due to the focus on formal offices within the Priesthood, but that the principle applies to almost all men and women - that this tendency can be seen in many, many ways and not just within the Church)

I believe the problem is that in order to avoid this natural tendency, the principle (the antidote) needs to be taught in the formative years before boys and girls become men and women - when they can learn to make the distinction and internalize the ideal. Much of the failing we see in this regard in the Church is because the sins of the fathers and mothers are visited upon the heads of the children - in this case, by passing on the tendency toward unrighteous dominion to their children.

The only antidote of which I am aware to the natural tendency toward unrighteous dominion is a relentless teaching of the principle of Priesthood as servant leadership within the Church, equally-partnered co-presiding in the home and “authority” as relating only to what is stated in the 5th Article of Faith. All of that is grounded in charity, so I also would suggest a steady dose of the Sermon on the Mount (especially the Beatitudes), 1 Corinthians 13 and D&C 121. If a young man or woman “gets it” when s/he studies those passages, especially, s/he can blunt the natural tendency to gravitate toward unrighteous dominion. It’s not quick, and it’s not easy, but it can and does work - and it’s critical. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Resolution FAIL

This has been a very tough week for me when it comes to my New Year's Resolution for the month - to not make a mock of others. 

It's not that I actively have been mocking others on a grand scale this week, but I have been distracted for much of the week and have succumbed to a few situations where I could have been much kinder and less mocking. 

If there has been one lesson for me this week, it is a reiteration that the type of progress I am seeking does not come automatically - without conscious thought and effort

As a side note:

Next weekend will be extremely chaotic for me, as I will be preparing for a large group visit at the college where I work and then leaving immediately to join my family for a vacation to Ohio, where we lived for 12 years prior to moving to MO.  I am looking forward to that opportunity, and we are grateful for family and friends who are making it possible financially for us to do so.  (One family has offered to let us stay with them to reduce greatly the total cost - which is no small offer, if you know how many people we will have with us.)  I will try to write a resolution post next week, but if I am unable to do so, I will post something else within the general topic of not making a mock of others. 

So, I hope everyone has a great weekend and is able to a better job with whatever you are trying to accomplish than I did this past week.  All I can do is refocus and try to do a little better this week, which is the heart of my resolution structure anyway. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Be Still, and Let the Butterflies Come to You

One of my favorite scriptures says very simply:

"Be still, and know that I am God."

I don't know who said the following initially, but I really like the principle it teaches:

"You can chase a butterfly all over the field and never catch it, but if you sit still in the grass it will come to you and rest on your shoulder."

Sometimes we really do need to quit chasing the butterflies and let them come to us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Church Isn't Supposed to Be Real Life

Ann's comment from the post I highlighted two days ago is excellent - and it stands by itself as a separate "topic" from the post enough that I want to highlight it exclusive of that post, with the bolding being my own emphasis of key points.

She said:

There’s Sunday for three hours, and then there’s the rest of your life. The faithful have real lives, with aerobics and cycling and obsessive internet surfing and eating too much and employment and cleaning the toilet and practical jokes and music and dancing and Big Brother on television.

People come to church and see everybody all proper and in their Sunday best and solemn and think, “I don’t fit in. I’m not like those people.” Well, those people aren’t like those people either! They’re putting on their Sunday clothes and Sunday manners and turning their attention away from the rest of their lives and toward the Lord. That’s a GOOD thing. But it isn’t real life. It isn’t supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mormonism & Learning to Love Those Who Disagree with Us

A good online friend (MikeinWeHo) once asked the following question in a thread about agency:

“Is it some core aspect of human nature that we really only want to tolerate people who agree with us?” (Comment #101)

My response was:

Unfortunately, yes, Mike. If it were not so, the Sermon on the Mount wouldn’t be much of a challenge. It is so easy to perceive disagreement as attack, and it is so hard not to attack when an attack is perceived.
I agree with the idea that we really want to believe in agency, but that we also are scared to death of the ramifications of agency. That’s why we need a vibrant Savior who promises to make up the difference between who we are and who we want to be – but also kicks us in the butt and demands obedience to commands.

Mormonism (at least what I view as pure Mormonism) embraces paradox and the need for opposition in ALL things more than any other -ism I know – and I’ve gained peace personally about a lot of things only by embracing that need and trying very hard not to condemn or belittle those who provide it for me. I fail miserably at that sometimes, but I’m trying to honor the way others choose to exercise their freedom / agency even when I disagree with them – and even when my disagreement with them might affect their ability to practice what they believe or restrict others from practicing what those others believe.

Sometimes we forget that we can disagree strongly with someone else and still love them – mostly because we often feel unloved and rejected when someone else disagrees with us. Yes, it is natural to tolerate only those on our side – and even to create sides when none need exist in order to feed that natural tendency. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sometimes, We (Mormons) Are Our Own Worst Enemies

With Friends Like These - Sunny (By Common Consent) 

The comments are a mixed bag, unless you want to see a good example of the point of the post in some of the comments. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

"My back was to Christ, and all I could see was the person who had hurt me."

I was part of a group a while ago that was discussing the book, "The Peacegiver" - by James L. Farrell.  One of my friends in that group made the following comment, and when I came across it again today I was moved as much as I had been when she first shared it.  I hope it touches someone else as much as it touched me:
I wasn't a fan of the way this book was written (the narrative voice).


The most significant thing I learned came from the retelling of the story of David, Nabal, and Abigail. Abigail becomes a type of Christ in this story, interceding on behalf of Nabal but also saving David from sinning in anger. What occurred to me as I read the vivid description of this account was the physical placement of each of these characters.

Abigail was physically in between Nabal and David. For years, I had tried to forgive others without complete success because I had the characters in the wrong place. It was like my offender was before me and Christ was behind me. I received mercy from Christ so I would turn and offer it to my offender. With this positioning the weight of forgiveness rested on my shoulders alone. As I turned to forgive my offender, my back was to Christ and all I could see was the person who had hurt me.

The story of Abigail put Christ between me and my offender, so that I had to look at Christ instead of the one who'd hurt me. There in front of me, arms outstretched and exuding unconditional love, was my Savior saying "upon me let this iniquity be". I could see the love He had for my offender as well as the love He had for me, and I couldn't even look at my offender without seeing the face of the Lord. Only after applying this principle to all my relationships was I able to completely experience a change of heart toward all my fellowmen.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Son Is Back from His Mission: When Fruit Grows in Uncultivated Ground

Rather than write a New Year's resolution post this weekend, I just want to thank the Lord that my son has returned from his mission safely.  He probably won't be with us long, since he needs to enroll in college somewhere within the next month, but it is wonderful to have him here for a short time. 

One of the best things about my current church calling is that I was able to hear him report on his mission in that official capacity.  It was amazing to listen to him and realize how much his faith and understanding of the central principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ have grown over the past two years.  He focused on seeing people as God sees them - as beloved sons and daughters - as our spiritual brothers and sisters. 

I loved one analogy he used in talking about Jacob 5.  He mentioned that the Lord had cultivated fruit in the worst part of the vineyard - the least desirable land available.  He then talked about how amazing it was to see people whose lives had been extremely difficult accept the Gospel and make mighty changes as the seed took root and grew in what appeared to be terrible soil.  It reminded me once again that we simply MUST NOT make judgments about who is ready and who is not.  Rather, we need to be willing to talk with everyone  - truly talk with and love them, not preach at them.  Those we naturally would overlook and not approach often are those who would accept it most passionately and fervently - no matter the apparent condition of their internal soil. 

I love you, Ryan - and I am so glad to see the man you have become.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Version of Lucifer's Plan I've Heard Some LDS Members Advocate

Someone I admire greatly said something in a thread a while ago that really bothered me. It is something I've heard stated previously, and I simply couldn't disagree more. He said:

If a church leader in authority over you asks you to do something, even if you question it (and you can certainly question them or someone "higher up"), you should just do it.

My response was:

No way.

That, in a nutshell, is Lucifer's plan. ("They will do exactly what I tell them to do, and they won't be punished in any way because they just are doing what they are told to do.") It also is in direct opposition to what our own apostles and prophets tell us regularly - **especially in the temple wording to wives and in D&C 121 with regard to unrighteous dominion**.

Let me explain that as clearly as I can:

Women in the temple are told quite clearly that they have NO obligation to hearken to their husbands simply because they are their husbands - that their husbands can be wrong, and, in those cases, they are not required to agree with or accept their opinions. Men are told explicitly in D&C 121 that their authority is gone when they try to rule on the basis of "because I said so".

Now, to be just as clear, I generally accept and do what is asked of me by church leaders, even when I disagree - but I can't support an extreme "just do it no matter what it is" stance. Leaders can fall, and leaders can give terrible advice - and, at the heart, I just don't support Lucifer's plan.

One more thing:

We hear all the time, and rightly so, that little transgressions can lead to little sins and to bigger sins - until, eventually, one can be excommunicated for serious sins. I accept that fully. Conversely, I believe the same applies to imposing meaningless restrictions. The acceptance of arbitrary and relatively unimportant restrictions can lead to an acceptance of more specific and damaging restrictions - until, eventually, freedom is lost and we are enslaved. Again, the fulfillment of this idea is Lucifer's plan.

The real irony of this is that those who advocate most vociferously for total obedience regardless in church generally are the same people who argue most vociferously AGAINST such a standard in politics. Take the quote I excerpted and apply it to political leaders . . .

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Can't Sister Missionaries Serve in Leadership Positions?

Female Leadership in LDS Missions - Aaron R. (By Common Consent) 

As is the case in many comment threads, not all of the comments in this thread are worth reading - but some are insightful.  Read the comment thread or not, but I think the central question of the post and the way it is structured are worth reading and considering.  I've had the same general thought as I've served in missionary leadership positions in my life. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Joseph Smith History 1:19 - Summarizing and Quoting Deity

As a natural parser, I have looked closely (minutely, with dictionary in hand) at JSH 1:19 to try to understand what it actually says, and I can say with confidence that I have never read a more concise yet comprehensive description of the apostasy and its practical effects than that verse. Contrary to what many have claimed, both inside and outside the Church, it is quite measured and focused - and brilliantly precise. I have read lengthy treatises on the topic, by Mormon scholars and by Protestant theologians (though the Protestant theologians obviously didn't use the word "apostasy"), and in all their writings I have not once read as powerful and comprehensive a treatise as I see in that one small verse.

He who wrote it was an intelligent and articulate but not classically educated man, so I choose to believe he was summarizing and quoting deity.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Monday, July 4, 2011

Who Gave Birth to God's Spirit Children?

The following is a question I received from someone who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My answer follows: 

Question: Who gave birth to God's spirit children, and if it wasn’t God, the Father, where did the women come from?

Answer: "Gave birth to" is something we don't say with regard to spirit children, since it is not taught that way in any of our scriptures. In my decades as a Mormon, I have never once heard it phrased that way; rather, we speak of spirit children being "created". We have no idea whatsoever how we were created as spirit children, again since that is not explained to us in any detail, at all.

"Created" does not necessarily mean anything remotely related to "giving birth" - and there is no official doctrine of sexual relationships (in the way that they occur here in mortality) in heaven - either prior to the creation of this world or after the resurrection. Unfortunately, that is a common misapplication - among some members (including prior leaders) and nearly all critics, but it is not doctrine. There is no doctrine whatsoever on the process of spiritual creation. This is one case where the proper answer, in my mind, is, "We don't know."

Having said that, I will speculate here.  (*grin*)

Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." We aren't told what that means or how God created male and female in "His" image. Given the totality of the imagery and the familial terminology that is used throughout the Bible to describe our relationships (before our birth, during mortality and after death), we speak of a Heavenly Mother - but there is no obvious, canonized scriptural, unmistakable basis for that belief. (For example, the hymn, "Oh, My Father", includes the following statement: "Truth is reason; truth eternal tells me I've a mother there.")

Personally, I believe that women are created in the image of God, the Mother (my own phrasing and not a title I've heard used in the LDS Church - ever), mostly because of what the Bible says about marriage and our intended end as "one" - as well as statements by our prophets and apostles. Frankly, I believe it is the only way to stay within the Biblical concept of heavenly family and validate women as women - to believe that sex / gender identity has eternal meaning and that women are not simply bastardized, sub-standard men (as has been implied or stated blatantly in many statements by Christian leaders throughout history and as is the natural interpretation of many when the only reference to God is in masculine form). However, I personally do not believe that Heavenly Mother "gave birth" to spirit children, and I personally do not believe that the creation of spirit children involves anything like pregnancy and gestation - in ANY way, shape or form as we know it here on earth. 

So, in summary, my own response is that I believe nobody "gave birth to God's spirit children" - that our Heavenly Parents created us in some way, but that it was not in the way children are created here on earth.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

To Be Less Mocking of Others

My New Year's Resolution for this month is to be less mocking of others, taken from Alma 5:30-31 - which says: 

And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved! 

As I generally do, I want to define "make a mock" and "heapeth upon him persecutions" - especially since I am struck by the peculiar phrasing of both of these statements. When we consider the word "mock", we always use it as a verb - as in "to mock" I'm not sure I have heard, ever, it used as a noun in the way it is used in this verse - to "make a mock".  Also, I think few people consider mocking someone to be such a heinous action that it risks one's very salvation.  Thus, I turn to the dictionary first - and, interestingly, there are three definitions that are slightly different but apply to the usage of the verse. I want to discuss each one separately to begin my resolution posts this month.  

1) a contemptuous or derisive imitative action or speech; mockery or derision 

One way to "make a mock" of someone is to imitate that person in a contemptuous or derisive manner.  This is the most obvious way, since the tone and visual expression used is blatant and undeniable.  However, it is the mocker who uses this action - who expresses mockery or derision toward someone else; this definition does not equate precisely to "making a mock" of another.  This first and most common definition - the one that everyone understands instinctively - does lead to the second definition, and the second definition fits more fully the scriptural usage in Alma 5:30. 

2) something mocked or derided; an object of derision

Actively mocking or deriding someone turns them into an "object of derision", which leads to the third and most interesting definition in the dictionary - one I honestly have not considered prior to my contemplation this week. 

3) an imitation; counterfeit; fake 
The thought that struck me is that turning someone into an "object" robs them of their individual worth - and it also robs them, in a real way, of their ability to act and not be acted upon.  Thus, making someone "a mock" turns a real person into a caricature - and it's always easier to deride an imitation, a counterfeit or a fake than it is to deride a fully complex person.  Turning someone into an object, therefore, is the first step to dehumanizing him - and dehumanization is perhaps the worst thing that can be done to someone, since taking away one's divinely given individuality and turning them into merely an "object" (and, specifically, an "object of derision") denies the very purpose of creation, the Fall and the Atonement.  It also provides justification for "heap(ing) upon him persecutions".  
Thus, the warning: 

Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved! 

As I contemplate this new definition, I realize I am not immune to the tendency to mock - and I immediately think of at least two situations where I have overlooked the complexity of someone's situation, reduced each of these people to a caricature and used that simplification to complain about them in such a way that I have made a mock of them and heaped persecution upon them.  I have allowed my frustration about certain circumstances to move me to something of which I need to repent, so much of my focus for the upcoming week will be on seeing, admitting and acknowledging the complexity of the people and their circumstances and, thus, fully humanizing them once again in my own sight. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Concealing vs. Choosing: Applying Mormon's Standard to the Mormon Church

Some people accuse the Church of concealing or even hiding certain aspects of its history. Sometimes they point to our scriptures as an example of how even embarrassing and controversial things should be included in any records of religious history. I just don't buy it.

For example, how in the world can we assert that Nephi, Mormon and Moroni included all potentially embarrassing or problematic historical facts in the Book of Mormon? No matter how we view it, Mormon probably viewed the headless Laban as a good thing, but it was Nephi who included the story - and, in many ways, he was the most introspective and open of all the prophets. I don't see much "critical introspection" on the personal level from the other prophets; usually, they were too busy pointing out the sins and failures (and successes) of the people. They were chronicling the broad effects of societal trends and communal faithfulness, so rarely do we get a glimpse of the individual weaknesses of the prophets. In fact, from Jacob to Mosiah we get almost no look at the entire civilization - essentially just, "I'm not a prophet like Nephi was," "I know of no other prophecies," and "We fought a lot and killed Lamanites." I'm 100% positive that the Book of Mormon could have looked much more like the D&C and our church histories than it does if Mormon had felt like compiling a "nuanced abridgment" instead of an inspirational tool to bring souls to Christ. To use him as an example of "not concealing" just isn't defensible, imo.

After all, he continually stated that not one-hundredth part of what was available was included in his final record. If that is the case, he simply had to have chosen what to include - meaning he chose what to "conceal" (or not disclose). It is exactly this dilemma that faces the Church every time it publishes a manual of any kind.

One of the biggest problems with many members' perception of the modern church's warts is that they don't have an ancient record that details many of the ancient warts - except the Old Testament, and it gets ignored far too much. Ironically, and directly opposed to the view of institutional concealment, the D&C is packed full of chastisements and recorded failures and weaknesses and humanity at its most basic and natural. It is our modern Old Testament - chronicling a time full of warts and wars and grandiose pronouncements and hellfire and damnation and all the stuff that makes the Old Testament such a blast to read.

We don't accuse modern Christians of "concealing" the Old Testament simply because many of them don't read or teach it - or, in some cases, even bother including it with the New Testment in the versions of the Bible that they use regularly; we understand they simply prioritize the New Testament (and generally the Pauline Epistles) to the exclusion of the Old Testament - that they just don't see it as important enough to spend time studying. As a lover of history, I disagree with that approach; however, I don't assign nefarious motivations to those who ignore the messy stuff to focus on the simple and inspirational when they really believe the simple and inspirational - especially in an organization that is being accused of concealment specifically because it has done such a good job of publishing and preserving the messy stuff.