Monday, January 30, 2012

Remebering the One Bad Over the Seven Good: or, Impeding Practical Charity

In psychology, an accepted truism is that it takes only one bad experience to outweigh about seven good experiences in the typical human memory. It's important to keep that in mind - that I, you, a bishop, a RS Pres, a Prophet, an apostle, whoever might make only one "mistake" in every eight things s/he does and says, but it is that one mistake that tends to be remembered as the example of the person or organization.

In my experiences, there aren't very many people who make only one mistake every eight things they say or do. I know I say things not quite the way I wish I would have more often than that. All I can do is hope that others are charitable and try to understand my heart - and make sure I offer that same attitude to others. It's the only way to lasting happiness I have found - real charity, not the mutated type that most people understand.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Change at Which I Hinted Last Weekend: or, A New Adventure Begins

Everything is official and public now, so I can explain my post last Saturday in more detail here.

For the past two-and-a-half years, I have been an Admission Counselor at Culver-Stockton College - a wonderful, small, liberal arts college in Missouri.  My main responsibility has been recruiting students, but I also have functioned officially this past year as the Student Admission Assistants Supervisor, the Fine Arts Liaison, the e-communications Coordinator and the office's Lead Editor / Writer.  I essentially took over the duties of our former Associate Director of Admission when he left almost exactly a year ago, as well as those I had been performing previously.

I began looking for another job in earnest a few months ago, due to circumstances beyond my control.  There were a few positions that looked promising, but slightly more than a month ago I came across one that really jumped out at me - one that felt "right" from the moment I saw the listing and then communicated for the first time with the Director of Admissions.  I went through the application and interview process, and, a week ago yesterday, I was offered the job.  My last day in the office here at Culver-Stockton College will be two weeks from yesterday (Feb. 10th) - and I officially will start as the new Assistant Director of Admissions at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nevada on Feb. 20th.  (Incline Village is on the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe.  I know: Poor me!  lol)  We will live in Carson City - about 25 miles from the campus. 

Sierra Nevada College is another small, liberal arts college - a little smaller than C-SC, actually.  It has two athletic teams - national championship level Skiing and Snowboarding.  It was founded in 1969 - quite recently compared to the colleges where I have attended and worked.  (Harvard has been around for-freaking-ever, and C-SC was established in 1853.)  I am excited to help SNC continue to grow and figure out exactly how to do so.  I love organizational change management, and I honestly hope I have found a place where I can drop roots and work until I retire.  Obviously, there are no guarantees, but I am looking forward very much to this new opportunity.

I have loved my work, and I am so glad I made the career change that put me in college admissions.  I am grateful to Culver-Stockton College for allowing it to happen.  I am more than just grateful for the reasons we can see in hindsight for being here.  Our second son met his fiance specifically because of this move.  (Serendipitously, she was the first student I recruited who committed to attend C-SC, and I couldn't have imagined at the time that they would end up together.)  Our oldest son transferred to C-SC this past fall, and he absolutely loves the English & Theater Education programs and the friends he has made.  We met some incredible friends, and we were able to hold Seminary in our home - which has been a tremendous blessing for our daughters and the friend who attended, as well.  We have made wonderful friends, and I will be grateful always to C-SC for making it all happen.  Leaving is bittersweet in some ways, but I know we are supposed to be in Carson City as soon as the school year ends in a few months.

Due to the move and beginning a new job, my blogging time will be more limited than it has been over the past couple of years.  I am working to make sure I have the daily posts written and scheduled in such a way that they will continue to appear daily, but, as I said last week, my weekend resolution posts might suffer occasionally - or even more than occasionally for a while.

I want to end this post by thanking everyone who reads this blog and those who comment regularly and occasionally.  It has meant the world to me, and I just need to say that publicly and formally.

So, thank you - from the bottom of my heart. If any of you are in the Lake Tahoe area at any point, remember that our house has been know as Hotel DeGraw for a long time.  It always will be open to anyone who wants to spend a night or two (or those who need to spend a month or twelve - *wink*). 

God truly is good and mindful of our existence.  I don't believe He directs every aspect of our lives, but I know he is willing to put choices in our paths that can lead to great happiness and growth.  I believe it is up to us to strive to recognize them when they appear in our paths, and I am thankful for the times when I believe we have been able to do so in our own lives.  I have no idea how many times I have not recognized them, but I don't worry or dwell on that - since I am content and happy with my life as it is now.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Principles vs. Details: The Difference is Important, Especially When Teaching Children

Consider this from Joseph Smith:

I teach them correct PRINCIPLES, and they govern themselves.

Obviously, kids at various ages are more or less able to "govern themselves" properly, but the point is that he said "principles" - NOT "details" or "facts".

When I talk with my kids, I let them know that I am willing to accept as possible LOTS of different details or facts or perspectives - as long as they don't violate basic principles in which I believe passionately. I have found no real issues where I have a major problem with the PRINCIPLES that I believe form the actual core of "Mormonism" / "The Restored Gospel". It's the extrapolated details and opinions and perspectives with which I sometimes disagree.
That's fine, but I make sure I try to embed the idea of distinguishing between principles and details with my kids - since it is the confusing of the two that I believe causes so much heartache and so many problems for people and for the Church.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Synagogue" - Apparent Anachronisms Aren't Always Anachronisms

I have heard people state that the use of certain words in the Book of Mormon are anachronistic and, therefore, proof that the book isn't what Joseph claimed it to be.  One of those words is "synagogue" - since that particular word was not coined until after the time period discussed in the Book of Mormon. 

Nearly all of these charges are non-starters for me, for a very simple reason - and I will use "synagogue" as my primary example in this post:

"Synagogue" was the word Joseph knew to use for a place where Jews met to worship. It's probably the only word in his vocabulary that corresponded to that concept. In other words, there probably wasn't any other choice for him.
Given his own description of the translation / transmission process, when his available vocabulary is taken into consideration, many of these issues disappear for me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

There Is No "Law of Justice"

A friend of mine once wrote the following incredibly profound comment in a discussion of Love, Justice and Mercy:

There is no law of justice.

This is a misnomer that does not appear in the text of scriptures anywhere. There are rights of mercy and demands of justice. God must respect the demands of justice or He would cease to be God. The rights of mercy must be claimed by one who can exercise them to overpower justice.

So, the real questions are:

a) Who demands justice?

b) Who claims mercy?

c) How does mercy overpower but not rob justice?

The answers to those questions are written throughout the scriptures and even more plainly in the writings of Joseph Smith.

a) Satan, the accuser of his brethren (Revelations) and each of us when we refuse to forgive those who've offended us and when we refuse to forgive ourselves

b) Christ (Moroni 7:27)

c) Consider the account of the woman taken in adultery. A sinless intermediary pleads for mercy on behalf of the guilty. Because this intermediary willingly bore the infinite and eternal anguish of injustice for us, we who have a right to demand justice are shamed by His gracious and merciful forgiveness into laying down our own stones. We refuse to accuse our brethren and the breach between us is healed through the pure love of Christ. We are reconciled to each other and it changes our nature such that we can become reconciled to God. This is why only the merciful can receive mercy.

Joseph Smith taught that "if we do not accuse each other, God will not accuse [us]" and that "if a man has no accusers he will enter heaven".

Longer answer:

All of this becomes clear when you remember that God is primarily the great parent of the universe. Would your children continue to honor you, respect you, and love you if you treated them with favoritism and injustice? You would cease to have an uncompelled dominion (d&c121) - they would not choose to follow after you. You must respect their need for justice. If one comes to you with a complaint against another, you must address it fairly.

Now imagine that your oldest child willingly accepts the punishment for your second child every time that second child misbehaves. The second child comes to you with a complaint against the third child. Your oldest comes between the two younger children and implores the second child, for whom he has willingly and selflessly suffered, to forgive the younger child. Your second child, seeing that his older brother loves the youngest child also, and feeling the love his older brother has shown him already, albeit undeserved, relinquishes his right to just recompense in favor of saving the youngest child.

Justice can't be robbed. It must be willingly abdicated.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Communal Salvation and "Restoration" of What Never Has Been

I believe passionately in the concept of communal salvation - that they without us and we without them cannot be made perfect (whole, complete, fully developed). I really dislike the idea that our eternal end is purely a personal pursuit. It justifies WAY too much arrogance and condescension and neglect - and even blatant abuse and disregard.

I believe in organized religion, since I believe in interpersonal sociality and cooperative progression. I believe ALL organizations must be open to modification and reformation and periodic restoration - but I also believe "restoration" is just as much about forward-looking growth and building as it is about backward-looking re-institutionalization. I believe in "restoring" wholeness and harmony - even if that wholeness and harmony never really existed in acutal mortal history.

I like the use of "restored" in Alma when referring to the resurrection, since, if you think about it, that "restoration" is to a state in which we've never lived previously. It really is a paradigm shift, but I think it's an important one.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

God is Good - and Life Is a Fascinating Roller Coaster

I am not writing my regular New Year's Resolution post tonight.  I have been contemplating the topic I intended to address all week, but my life just took a sudden and dramatic turn - and I am going to be scrambling for the next few weeks to get everything in order.  Thus, while I will continue to write my regular weekday posts and, hopefully, my New Year's Resolution posts as frequently as possible, I might end up being a bit sporadic with those weekend posts for a little while. 

I will share more details soon, but, for now, it will have to suffice to say simply that God is good, mindful of our existence and aware of the overall paths of our lives.  I am blessed - far more than I deserve (and I mean that seriously), and, in the general spirit of contemplating God for my New Year's Resolution, I simply will acknowledge my faith in his love and grace as my life takes this particular turn. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

How I Now Approach the Temple Endowment

I've gone to the temple and experienced the endowment enough that I rarely pay close attention anymore to the words. Rather, I wait for a thought to strike me and then contemplate it for as long as it takes to feel satisfied. I then repeat that until the time runs out.

I've had some AMAZING experiences in the temple, but most of them have come from letting the communal ceremony happen around me and letting my own thoughts "be still" and contemplate the whisperings of the Spirit to ME as an individual. My body is there, symbolically with the group, but my mind is wandering the heavens, if you will.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Will Settle Into a Kingdom When I Am Done Growing

One of my favorite concepts is summed up in the following line:

I will settle into a kingdom when I'm done growing - when I am as complete, whole and fully developed as is possible for me to be.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Real Difference Between Men and Women: Truly Hilarious

"If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life -- without even considering if there are men on base." - Dave Barry

Monday, January 16, 2012

Church Manuals Can Lead to Very Meaty, Filling Lessons

I hear somewhat frequently online complaints that it's next to impossible to teach a "meaty" lesson from the Church manuals - that it's all milk. 

I taught 1 Nephi 1 & 2 in Seminary years ago, and the majority of the time ended up being spent on how the people who are not the extremes (those in the middle) generally get ignored. They are viewed as the "followers" by those who write the histories, and the leaders rarely want to talk about the followers. This was a result of the questions and comments from the students. 

We also talked about how none of Lehi's kids initially believed him on their own - that Laman and Lemuel rebelled, Nephi asked the Lord and Sam believed Nephi. We then discussed how Sam seems to have been a good, sincere, righteous person - who perhaps never "knew" but rather "believed". He was not a "leader" - so his personal story wasn't deemed worthy of taking up space on the plates.

I really enjoyed the lesson, and the kids walked away from it thinking about where they fit in those categories - and understanding that it's OK to be "just" a believer who never gets mentioned in official histories.

All of that was taught from the verses suggested in the manual.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"God" in Judaism: What Can I Learn from a Cursory Look?

I decided when I chose my New Year's Resolution topics this year to keep things simple (in order to try to make it accessible to as many people as possible who might read these posts), so, knowing full well the pitfalls of that choice, I am looking at what I as a Mormon can learn from the Jewish perception of "God" - but I am doing so quite shallowly.  (For example, I am using the term "God" in place of how Jews would reference God.)  I think it's important that I admit that upfront, and I would LOVE any deeper input readers can offer. 

With that introduction, the following are the most interesting points I found about how Judaism describes God (recorded in quotation marks simply to highlight and separate, not used in the classic way to show exact words of others, since the summaries are my own) - with my own commentary on each point:

1) Strict Monotheism

God is above all and incomprehensible.  The idea that there are no other Gods before him would be explained best as saying that no other Gods existed before him, but it also means that no other Gods ought to be worshiped first (before God).  In other words, there are no other Gods.  He alone is God.  He is "the Existent One".  He is "I AM".  Period.  

(Obviously, there is a conflict here between the Jewish conception of God and the Mormon idea of eternal progression and "godhood" being a condition that can be attained / bestowed to multiple people and held by multiple Beings - as well as the idea of a Heavenly Mother, a Son-God and a spirit God who all are distinct entities.  However, there is divergent thought within Mormonism about the idea that "as man is, God once was" - so it is not totally inconsistent with some Mormons' beliefs to agree that there is no other God before "our God" - in either sense of the phrase outlined above.  There also is the idea that FOR US, in practical terms, there is no other God before God, the Eternal Father - and, in that sense, he is "our only God" and ever "before / above" us - he is "the Existent One" in every way that matters, as even God, the Son, worships him. 

Applying that to me personally, I take the message that I need to be humble and worshipful in my view of God, no matter what potential I might believe is ahead of me (us).  I can't let the "potential to become like God" that is inherent in Mormon theology blind me to the foundation of "grace that so fully he proffers me".  I can't begin to think I deserve to achieve the object of my faith.  I need to remember always and forever that "Our Heavenly Father" allows us to "be one, even as we are one" - not because we deserve it, but simply because it was his creation that enables it.  Therefore, what I take primarily from the Jewish perception of God is the need for humility - abject humility, even as I cling to the New Testament "Good News" preached by Jesus of Nazareth.) 

2) "The Godhead"

In Kabbalah (a form of Jewish mysticism), "the Godhead" refers to the concept of "Ein Sof" - which is what lies beyond the consideration of the mortal mind.  In simple terms, it is the unknowable.

(I find it fascinating that this can be compared in Mormon theology to the "veil of forgetfulness" that separates mortals from their pre-mortal existence.  If we stop and think about it in those terms, there is very, very little we teach about the time before our mortal birth.  We believe we existed as individuals, created from "intelligences" - but we have no idea whatsoever about how that creation occurred.  We refer to the God(s) who created our spirits as our Heavenly Parents, but there is no indication of precisely how that parentage was formed - other than the act of accomplishing a creation.  As I have said in at least two posts on this blog, we were NOT formed into individuals who shared our parents' specific physical characteristics, since one of the key elements of birth into mortality was the acquisition of a physical body that eventually would be resurrected and "glorified".  Thus, there was a fundamental difference between our "first creation" by "parents" and our "second estate" into which we were "born" in the same form as our mortal parents.  Therefore, I believe it is safe to say, in Mormon terms, that much of what it really means to believe in a "Godhead" still is hidden from us - still lying outside the consideration of our mortal minds.

In this way, although we do not share the monotheistic view of the term, I think it is safe to say that, at the most fundamental level, we share a belief that the "Godhead" still is mysterious and unrevealed to mankind - at least in general and perhaps even for prophets [based on the limitations articulated in the Pearl of Great Price].

What do I take from this personally?  For me, this also emphasizes the need for humility in how I think of God - that I continue to hold as one of my "personal creeds" [to use Pres. GA Smith's phrasing] the principle that, "I see through a glass, darkly.") 

This has been a very simplistic treatment of Judaism's view of God, but I am glad I took the time to ponder it this week.  There is an element of Mormon theology that, when left to the "natural man", can lead to a degree of egotism and "unrighteous dominion".  The humility that lies at the heart of Judaism (despite its own "chosen people" outlook) is something I need to remember and internalize even more than is natural for me.

As will be the case throughout this year, I welcome any input provided by those who read these posts.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It's Up to Us Not to Alienate Those Among Us Who Feel Different

There always will be tension between individuality and community in any organization that grows. Every exceptional orchestra, to hearken to Elder Wirthlin's wonderful analogy, simply must have piccolos AND oboes AND trumpets AND clarinets AND percussion . . . I think his talk in General Conference a few years ago, "Concern for the One", was a direct and open acknowledgment that one strident voice can dominate a discussion - and that such a situation is not good. It says we NEED to have those who feel different among us not being alienated any longer simply because they are different. 

Frankly, I've heard a lot of similar messages from multiple apostles lately. I am fairly certain Elder Anderson will carry that torch. I know personally that one of the other higher ranking apostles wants deeply to see the tent broaden, and I'm sure that feeling is shared by others. It's just SO hard to get that message understood and applied at the individual ward level.

I try to think well, but I also try to think well of the organization and its members. It really isn't all that hard when I refuse to take things personally and try to just love them. Some try to rock the boat (which, really, is stupid if you think seriously about that image and how people who feel frightened of drowning naturally react); I simply try to help point out ways to avoid the rocks I think I see, without insisting on grabbing the wheel or the oars. I'm not fighting ANYTHING or ANYONE, so (almost) nobody takes what I say as an assault or a complaint.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why I "Know" There Is a God Who Watches Over and Knows Us Individually

One of the most powerful experiences of my life, especially in hindsight, involved the blessing of my second son. He was born three weeks early, but, other than being very small, there was no sign of any physical problem. He left the hospital on schedule and grew normally until this day - nearly 22 years later. Nothing remarkable, until you consider:

When he was blessed, I heard myself tell him that none of the physical trials he would experience in this life would have the power to divert him from the mission God had given him. I was surprised, as was my wife.

1) Five years later, we held him back in Headstart for a year to get additional help with a speech articulation issue. A nationally known speech therapist worked with him at no cost, because I was teaching two of her children in school - a job I felt prompted to take even though I wanted a different one.

2) Ten years ago, his appendix burst - apparently after leaking for about a week. The doctor told us it was the worst case he'd ever seen where the patient lived. He was in surgery for about eight hours.

3) Six years ago he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes - perhaps because the poison from his appendix bursting had affected his pancreas. We don't know for sure, but there is no history of Type I diabetes in our families, so . . . (Our children have a long-standing pool focused on which of his organs will fail next.)

4) He is the only one of our six children who has extreme, nearly constant allergies.

5) All of us wear glasses, but his eyesight is the worst of the bunch.

6) He is the most naturally caring and spiritual kid I think I've ever met in my entire life. People are drawn to him immediately because he simply radiates joy and goodness and love and gentility. He has been an inspiration and help to more people in more ways than I can begin to elaborate. He just shines - and people flock to feel his light.

I believe deeply in the concept of blessings being a conduit of God's will in those situations where God has something He really needs to communicate - and I feel just as deeply that I was the instrument through which He cradled and blessed my son over 21 years ago. If that was the only experience with the divine I had ever had, it would be enough to convince me that there is a "God" who watches and knows us by name - and who knows the natural stuff we will experience as a result of mortality.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Preparing Our Kids for the Hard Stuff

I believe the best spiritual inoculation method for children simply is creating an open environment where they feel comfortable asking anything - and teaching them what you consider to be correct principles - and being willing to entertain unique perspectives from them.

When your children ask a question, do you give them an answer - or do you ask them what they think? When they tell you what they think, do you "correct" them or merely validate their still immature understanding - or do you try to build on their understanding and help them see multiple perspectives? Do you encourage them to think for themselves - or merely to memorize your or others' answers?

When you read the scriptures with them, do you just read as much as you can cover - or do you discuss every verse and/or passage to make sure they have a chance to understand what it says (and, in some cases, differing opinions on what it says)?

I could go on, but the key is pretty simple. I just wish, sometimes, it was easy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What Titles for "God" Resonate with Your Soul?

My New Year's resolution for this month is to look at the 1st Article of Faith and consider how understanding it more fully, from both a Mormon perspective and from the perspectives of other religions, can help me be more Christ-like in the here and now.  I will focus on Buddhism, Islam and Judaism in subsequent posts this month, but I want first to consider the various ways God is described within Christianity - specifically by looking at some of the titles used to describe God in the Bible.  For the purposes of this post, with its focus on Christianity, I am not going to distinguish between Old Testament and New Testament titles - nor am I going to distinguish between titles Mormons might apply differently than other Christians (like those we might apply to God, the Father, and not necessarily to God, the Son - or, more often, vice-versa).  As I do so, I will provide what I believe is the best concise definition and a very short summary of my own affinity for and thoughts about each title.    

1) God 

the sole supreme Being, eternal, spiritual, and transcendent, who is the Creator and ruler of all and is infinitein all attributes; the object of worship in monotheistic religions  

I have no problem believing in "God" in this manner.  I understand the idea of creating and ruling, as well as the concept of possessing all attributes.  I also have no problem with the concept of worshiping such a Being, since "to worship" means "to reverence; honor; give homage".  Finally, I have no problem accepting the existence of a sole supreme Being who will my "ruler" and the object of my worship eternally.  There is nothing, in my opinion, within Mormonism that requires a different view of God - even the idea that we can become like God, as it doesn't necessitate any eventual cessation of our worship of GOD as our God.  

2) Father  

"a male parent; a person who has originated or established something"  

This one gets a bit tricky, since there are multiple interpretations in Christianity about exactly what this title means, as highlighted by the two definitions above I took straight from the dictionary.  Some Christians take the first definition very seriously, believing that God is a "literal" parent in every sense of the word as it generally is interpreted in mortality.  The extreme end of the spectrum is the belief by some Mormons that "God" refers to Heavenly "Parents" (not just a Heavenly Father") and that Heavenly Mother "gave birth to" spirit children in the same kind of gestational way that babies are born here on Earth to human women.  The other extreme is the general view throughout the rest of Christianity that God is our "father" by virtue of his being our "creator" - which reflects the second definition above.  The first view, taken to the extreme, posits that God and his children are the same species, while the second view posits a chasm or "gap" between God and his creations.  

My own view is sort of a combination of the two.  I see "God" as a title describing development, applied to "fathers and mothers".  In the pre-mortal existence of mankind, their bodies were fundamentally different than their "children" in one important way, since their "bodies" were "perfected" and their children's were not.  Thus, their children had to go through a transformative process to gain bodies that were fully like theirs  Thus, I see them as the "Parents as Creators" of our spirits through some unknown process - but I also see them as the "Parents as Ultimate Development Model" through another unknown process.  In other words, I have a very orthodox view of our relationship to our Heavenly Parents in the nature of our potential to become like them, but I do not believe that they are our parents in the sense that they "birthed" us in some way that is similar to the way we are born here on Earth.  That connection simply doesn't make sense to me on any level.  

3) Lord / Master / King - There are subtle differences among the definitions of the words listed above, but they are close enough for the purpose of this post.

"a person who has authority, controlor power over others" 

This is similar, in my mind, to the way "God" is used, but it carries a "legal" position that is absent in the use of "God".  Generally speaking, there is no substantive difference in interpretation of these titles within Christianity - at least not anything that can be articulated properly in a post of this size without turning it into a dissertation.  

I have no problem with these titles, with the exception of the use of the word "control".  Given the Mormon belief in personal accountability and agency, which I will discuss next month, I do not believe in a God who exercises "control" over mortals - although I do believe in God having the power to do so.  I believe part of the "perfection" of God is the ability to control unlimited power - and I believe D&C 121 (read in its entirety as one integrated lesson) is perhaps the best explication of this concept that exists in our recorded scriptural canon.  

4) Shepherd  

"a person who herds, tends, and guards sheep; a person who protects, guides, or watches over a person or group of people.."  

This title is seen essentially in the same way among all Christian denominations, but there is an important difference concerning the role / responsibilities of the sheep.  The extreme Calvinsitic view is of sheep being nothing more than animals who respond or do not respond to the voice of the Shepherd based on prior programming on the part of the Shepherd - meaning the "following sheep" have no real choice and certainly deserve no credit for their actions, and the "non-following" sheep also have no real choice.  The opposite extreme is believed by some Mormons who see the sheep as having full choice in how they respond to the Shepherd's voice - meaning the "following sheep" truly deserve the credit for their actions, while the "non-following" sheep truly deserve the blame for theirs.  

My own view, not surprisingly to many who read this blog regularly, is a combination of the two views above.  I believe in personal agency - which means I believe that the sheep collectively do have the ability to choose how they respond to the Shepherd and that, to some degree, they are responsible for those collective choices.  However, I also believe that there are many limitations, of varying kinds and to greatly varying degrees, on each sheep that makes that sheep, as an individual entity, more or less "deserving" and "to blame" for its actions than other sheep.  I also believe that it is next to impossible, if not impossible, to understand exactly how much control over its actions any particular sheep has - so it is next to impossible, if not impossible, to determine exactly how "deserving" and "to blame" that sheep is in the end.  

Thus, I like the story of the shepherd who doesn't shrug his shoulders and blame the sheep who has strayed but leaves the "safe ninety and nine" to find the "lost one".  I think, when looking at our general assumptions about the population percentages of the various kingdoms of glory, it is interesting to look at that story and realize Jesus was said to have left the ninety and nine who were not lost to seek the one who was.  Sometimes, I think we see different percentages in our clouded, imperfect judgments of others.  I certainly think it's worth considering, at least, as we strive to emulate the Good Shepherd.  

I have listed only four titles for God that are used in the Bible.  There are many more.  I would appreciate any thoughts on what I have written above, but I also would LOVE to hear which other titles resonate the most strongly / purely to those who read this post.  

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Primary Purpose of the Book of Mormon is Not to Be Used as a Doctrinal Proof Text

Content-wise, not much of our unique doctrine and theology come from the Book of Mormon; most of it is found in the Bible.

One of the primary reasons for the Book of Mormon, according to the book itself, is to testify of the Bible - and to open our minds and hearts to the possibility of communing directly with God. I think the Book of Mormon acts as a catalyst to force someone to humble himself/herself to approach God with a sincere heart and ask for personal revelation. Those who receive a "witness" begin a journey of openness to the Spirit, which is symbolized (and sometimes actualized) in the Gift of the Holy Ghost. That process (companionship) opens the mind to read the Bible with new eyes, through which the truly unique doctrines of the Restoration are suddenly understood.

It also opens a conduit to seek personal revelation in personal areas - at the individual level, which, when you think about it, is what keeps many people who struggle with their faith active in the Church. They received a personal witness of some strength when they opened their heart to the possibility of communing directly with God, and the Book of Mormon played a huge role in that for many.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Few Thoughts About Church Disciplinary Councils and Disfellowshipment

I learned a long time ago that nearly everything is subjective, and in the case of disciplinary councils, I believe rightly so, the public only hears the individual's side of the situation. We are not supposed to hear the other side (the institutional side) - and I think that is appropriate. Those who participate in these councils pledge to not talk about the details, and that is an important and valuable thing with which I agree totally. What it does, however, is allow those who are displeased with the decision to be the only public voice - and memories and perspectives while under stress are incredibly tricky things.

Reaching a "proper" decision becomes especially difficult whenever mental or emotional issues are present, since it's almost impossible to trust completely that the person who has such issues will be able to control them in a way that allows them to avoid repeat offenses. Add to that the automatic confidence of many that they won't sin again, even if there isn't evidence of that ability, and disfellowshipment becomes a reasonable "probationary" measure for many instances - a chance to delay a more extreme action (in either direction) and allow the person to prove themselves (one way or the other).

In my experience, disfellowshipment often is the most merciful decision possible - especially when the offense truly is serious and remorse seems real. Just like a time out or grounding or removal of privilege for a child can impress on him the seriousness of something done, without having to resort to extreme measures, disfellowshipment can do the same in tricky or complex situations where the council wants to believe the person but can't have full confidence yet.

In the end, I try not to judge anyone involved in a disciplinary council (in any position in that council), since I know I never will have the full story - sometimes even when I'm involved in it personally.

Having said that, and knowing how often excommunications result in long-term or permanent separation from the Church, one of the most amazing spiritual experiences of my life was a council where someone was cleared to be re-baptized after being excommunicated. I will NEVER forget that glorious experience. When conducted as intended, for the truly penitent, these councils are an amazing thing.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Difference Between Seminary and Sunday School

I was one of those precocious kids who didn't hear anything new in Sunday School for years. That was OK, since I knew there were other kids in my classes who had no (or little) instruction at home and desperately needed the milk. I supplemented my own learning at home with Sunday School, not the other way around. (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for helping me look at it that way - and to Church leaders who have said that is the ideal for decades.)

An analogy that I believe works for all kids:

Tall trees get knocked down by strong winds if the roots branch out instead of down. 

My fear with how teaching occurs in church classes is that not enough water will be used in classes that should provide "deep" instruction and/or too much water will be used in classes that should provide basic instruction. I view Seminary as the place for the meat and Sunday School as the place for the milk (relatively speaking). (If all kids who attend Sunday School can handle meat, I say go for it and teach more deeply. Just be sure none of them are choking. Otherwise, provide them with greatly enhanced milk.) My primary concern is that so few kids in many places are attending Seminary - and that Seminary sometimes isn't digging deeply enough and teaching students to digest meat.