Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Feeling Like an Alien at Church

Elder Wirthlin said in his wonderful talk, "Concern for the One", that some people leave the Church because they feel different - that they don't fit in and can't be accepted.  As I have worked with those who are struggling with some kind of crisis of faith, his words have resonated deeply with me.  The following is something that hit me recently as I was discussing this very topic with a group of friends:
Feeling like an alien is hardest for those who didn't feel like an alien for most of their lives. For someone who has spent years feeling comfortable and accepted and "normal" within the Church, it's extremely hard to go through a crisis of faith and suddenly feel like they don't belong anymore - and that is magnified and exacerbated when those around them downplay or criticize them for their change in perspective. What could have been a wonderful opportunity to grow a more mature and personal faith turns into a "conflict" that drives them away - and much of the responsibility for which way they go rests with those around them and how they react. 

I have an advantage in a real way, since I've felt like an alien pretty much my entire life - and my "alien-ness" is related directly to how I view and interpret history, doctrine, scripture, etc. One of the reasons I can view myself as orthodox even though I have a number of heterodox beliefs is that I've been dealing with that paradox (being a peculiar person in an already peculiar group) for so long that it now simply is part of how I view my own condition of "I am".

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Music in Heaven

Guitars and pianos and piccolos and violins are great, but it won't be heaven without saxophones and bagpipes.

Also, there will be NOBODY learning to play the bagpipes in heaven. That will happen in Hell - learning to play the bagpipes without ever learning to play the bagpipes well.
Just sayin'.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sometimes We Ask Too Many Questions

Sometimes we simply ask WAY too many questions.

What I mean by that is that sometimes we ask questions of leaders - and they feel like they have to provide an answer - and that answer isn't something we like or want to hear - and we could have avoided the whole situation if we simply hadn't asked the question in the first place and just gone ahead and done what we believed was right.

Let me give an example from the world-wide Church Handbook of Instructions training from November 2010.

Pres. Beck talked about a RS President who was standing outside a home, pacing back and forth, concerned that she hadn't heard back yet from the Bishop about what she could do to help the sister and family in the home. She had left a message for him asking him what she could do.

Pres. Beck related that her advice to this sister was, to the best of my recollection: 
You have authority in your position as a President. Do what you feel impressed to do - and then go to the Bishop and tell him what you did.

I know that the culture of the Church in the past hasn't supported that advice in many cases, but it was said more than once in the training that organizational presidencies in the Church need to be empowered to seek and act on their own inspiration for their own stewardships - that they need to "ask less" and "do more". It also was said that the Bishop (and everyone else) needs to realize that the Bishop will not receive all the revelation for the ward - that all who have official responsibilities within the ward may receive revelation for their organizations (and families, in the case of parents) and provide honest, open, candid input in any councils in which they participate. Again, a statement that, in some important ways, we need to ask less and do more.

Again, sometimes we ask too many questions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Temple Sealing as a Shadow of Practical Sealing

I absolutely love the concept of eternal marriage and the sealing of the family of God - and I also love the concept that everyone can be part of that, regardless of their religious affiliation in this life. I understand the emphasis on temple marriage and sealings, but I also believe God will not "put assunder" ANY couple that truly becomes one in this life - that the sealing ordinances are important symbolically but only shadows of what I would call true practical sealing.

A couple can be "temple sealed" without being "truly sealed" - and a couple can be "truly sealed" without being "temple sealed". Frankly, that actually is taught and understood in the Church (even if not as explicitly as I would like), so it doesn't cause me any real angst. Also, frankly, that concept is not taught explicitly in any other Christian denomination (at least, not in the same way as in the LDS Church) - and it's an ideal I believe desperately needs to be taught and internalized by humanity.

Finally, there is a power in taking a symbol and "actualizing" it through a physical performance that includes BOTH body and spirit. The same is true of something like baptism, where there is a tangible event that is "recorded in the body", if you will. I want eternal marriage to be something "embodied" in an ordinance - even as I would like the rhetoric ratcheted down a notch with regard to non-temple marriages (especially of non-Mormons) and the concept divorced more directly from the other temple requirements. (pun intended)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why I Don't Mind Correlation in the Church

Some people complain about the Church's correlation effort - that the lessons and manuals are too restrictive and bland.  My response is very simple:

I have had some absolutely wonderful classes even with the correlated material.

If a lesson is read word-for-word or limited to "yes/no" responses, it's hellish; if it's used as a jumping off point for serious discussion, it's totally fine and can be incredibly enlightening and edifying. I've experienced both, so I know it's not all the fault of correlation.

Also, there were some really wacky things being preached and taught in the Church prior to correlation - when instruction basically was set at the local level. Correlation was the attempt to stop most of that wackiness and focus on the principles of the Gospel.

Serious question for contemplation:

Would you prefer the current material be used to focus on discussion of the concepts and principles in the manuals - or would you prefer having the local leaders in your wards or branches deciding what gets taught each Sunday in all classes?

If you tend to complain about correlation, consider the alternative - and how much the "craziness" of the past might bother you. (and, if you tend to downplay that craziness - or haven't experienced it like I have, think of the person in your ward, branch or stake whose views seem a bit "off" to you - and picture them controlling the instruction) 
I will take correlation and the possibility of focused discussions about the core principles of the Gospel, every day and twice on Sunday - and that is true especially now with the new youth curriculum and "revelations in context" online materials. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Church Needs Tithing - and Fast Offerings - and a Corporate Component

There has never been a "successful" organization of ANY kind in the history of the world that wasn't successful at raising enough money to continue its existence. There has never been a successful church that didn't "fund raise" in some manner. With any organization that has philanthropic giving as part of its mission, cash influx must be greater than cash outflow in order to be successful in carrying out its mission to give.

I have no problem with disagreements about "how" the Church uses its money, but I can't complain about it having a corporate component - especially if that corporate component allows it to use its members' donations to fund meetinghouses, temples, colleges, missionary work, etc. and to feed, clothe, house and otherwise bless the poor and suffering. Frankly, and this is just me being me, I also want its corporate component to be profitable - specifically so it doesn't have to tap into its donations during difficult financial times simply to survive.

One last thing just for perspective:

Many people use the failed bank attempt of Joseph's day as "proof" that he wasn't really a prophet (since they believe God would have helped a real prophet know how to invest the Church's money successfully), while many of those same people use the Church's current financial success as "proof" that our current leaders aren't really prophets (since God would use the Church's financial success differently or not allow it to be so successful financially in the first place). In this case, the issue isn't the Church's financial condition; it's the outlook of the people evaluating it.

That alone is worth recognizing and considering.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Understanding the LDS Church as the Product of Revolution

Organizational creation is messy - period, pretty much regardless of size. The only exceptions are when a very strong leader is almost dictatorial and ruthless, and even then it often isn't clean and precise at the beginning.

This is true especially of "revolutions" - where "recruitment" of others from existing organizations occurs. Everyone brings their own ideas and biases and perspectives to the table, and it takes a lot to work out how the organization should be built and function. Strong leaders want their own ideas implemented, and things are a bit chaotic until a consensus is reached.

The LDS Church is one of the best examples of this in existence, frankly.

When you look closely at all of the elements that existed (and they are legion) - and the overall philosophy Joseph employed (correct principles and self-governance encapsulated in a Zionist organizational philosophy that reacted only to extremes, essentially) - and his willingness to try just about anything (literal speculation and experimentation almost without limit) - and the compilation of the early church membership as exclusively convert-based (with all of the differing beliefs even the leaders brought to the new church) there really isn't any other result that makes sense than free-flowing messiness and on-going conflict. That only stopped when a more authoritarian leader like Brigham Young took the reins in geographic isolation.

For those who can't "see it" at the macro-organizational level, look at marriages. Often, the first few months or years consist of trying to figure it out and make it work, while those that last for over 5-7 years often settle into a comfortable pattern - which then becomes an issue after about 20 years, when one of the partners begins to want some of the excitement that existed at the beginning. It's a natural, human pattern no matter the size of the "organization".

Finally, read Jacob 5 with this issue in mind. It's quite direct in its description of the inevitability of "pruning wild fruit" being a historical constant.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Advice on How to Share the Gospel with Others

1) Quit viewing sharing the Gospel as "missionary work" and just look at it as sharing the Gospel - which centers on sharing yourself and your life. "Missionary work" implies doing something different than living your life - and it implies preaching, when sharing the Gospel sometimes doesn't include preaching at all. 

2) Invite people into your full life - no strings attached regarding baptism. Become their friends - then stay friends no matter the eventual outcome. Don't rush any particular outcome.

3) Invite people to church activities and services - no strings attached regarding baptism - simply because it's an important part of your life. If it's not "missionary work" but just sharing your life, it becomes much more natural.  Be willing to attend other activities and services if friends attend yours.

4) Tell the full-time missionaries quietly and privately that you will introduce them to anyone who is with you, but only in the same way you introduce everyone else. Introduce them in the middle of other introductions and move on immediately to regular members. Ask others to meet with the missionaries to be taught the discussions whenever the time is right - not earlier.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Short, Funny Joke about Heaven and Hell

If heat rises, won't Heaven be WAY hotter than Hell?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Private Interpretation of Scripture

2 Pet. 1: 20 says:

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

This verse has been used by many people to argue that Mormonism's unique teachings are wrong - in that they claim those teachings are "private interpretations" of scripture.  The following is my view of this verse, focused strictly on a) understanding what the verse actually says (parsing the words for the most straightforward meaning) and b) looking at the historical context of the Bible and the verse itself. 

1) Joseph Smith took care of it by changing it - to "no prophecy of the scriptures is given of any private will of man." So, he interpreted it privately. (*grin*)  I actually like his change a lot.

2) If you take a look at our canonized scriptures (and even just the Bible) there are plenty of things that are "scripture" but not "prophecy" and many other things that are not "scripture" in the purest sense of the word (God's word to man).  There are very good questions regarding Biblical authorship and arguments to believe that prophets weren't (and aren't) infallible. Thus, it is important to point out that 2 Peter 2:10 does not apply to the entire Bible but, instead, only to "prophecy of the scripture" therein. 

3) The parser in me focuses on the words and points out that the verse as written in the KJV doesn't rule out the readers interpreting scriptures; rather, it says scriptural prophecy isn't "OF" (generated by) personal interpretation. So, the most straightforward parsing means:

"Anything that is true prophecy recorded in the scriptures doesn't come from the individual; rather, it comes from God."

4) It's also important to realize that what Peter saw as "scripture" might have differed radically from what we have as "canonized scripture" now, especially since the Bible wasn't organized and canonized for hundreds of years after his death.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Everyone Can Be a Prophet

The idea that everyone can be a prophet is central to all of our ancient scripture .

1) The Bible Dictionary indicates (and Joseph Smith taught) that prophecy is anything that comes from God, especially through the influence of the Holy Ghost. 

2) Many Old Testament prophets came from nowhere and suddenly were preaching to the people and the kings. Lehi is a great example of someone who had a vision and preached to the people of Jerusalem - who probably rejected him just as much for his lack of institutional standing as for his doom and gloom, repent or be destroyed message. Samuel, the Lamanite: How was he called?

3) When there is an established "church" (New Testament and Doctrine & Covenants, for example), "prophet" seems to become seen as a position or calling; when there is not such a "church", prophet is a description of one's activities and words.

4) Prophet isn't an official position or office in the LDS Church (like apostle is) - and I think that strengthens my point that all of us can be prophets, at least in some way and to some degree.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Revelations in Context" - Awesome New Online D&C Resources

Ardis Parshall at Keepapitchin just posted an announcement about new resources that are being linked online to the Gospel Doctrine manual. The project is called "Revelations in Context" and was undertaken by the historians who compiled the Joseph Smith Papers. It includes extensive footnoting - really an amazing amount of footnoting, based on what I saw. Ardis' post describes the project and the resources, and it is exciting to me.

Here is the link to Ardis' post:

Revelations in Context: The Unveiling

One of the biggest reasons this is exciting to me is the way the resources have been produced. They include actual images of original source material and were written by trained, professional historians. They also talk openly about some of the odd / unique / formerly ignored elements of our history.

For example, the first comment in the thread provides a link to an article that describes the situation around Oliver Cowdery becoming Joseph Smith's scribe. In that article, Oliver's use of a divining rod is mentioned openly, along with the context of using divining rods in that time period. Further, a big part of Joseph's method of receiving revelation is described - and there is an interesting and little known example of it highlighted.

The following are the two quotes that stand out the most to me in the article:

Sometime that same month, the two men were discussing the fate of the apostle John—a topic of interest at the time. Joseph’s history records they differed in their opinions and “mutually agreed to settle [it] by the Urim and Thummim.” The answer came in a vision of a parchment that Joseph translated, which is now Doctrine and Covenants 7.

D&C 7 was the result of Joseph seeing a parchment in a vision. That simple statement and acknowledgment has SO many implications, and it's hard to explain how glad I am that it's in an article being linked to the online Gospel Doctrine manual.

Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as an instrument for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.

The Lord recognized Oliver’s ability to use a rod: “thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the rod.” Confirming the divinity of this gift, the revelation stated: “Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands for it is the work of God.”

The link to that article is: Oliver Cowdery's Gift

I just want to share this with everyone, since it was announced yesterday morning and you might not be aware of it yet. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jump in with Both Feet, but Don't Feel Like You Have to Swim at the Deep End Immediately

I sent the following message to a friend who is returning to activity in the Church after an extended absence.  He had expressed concerns about being overwhelmed and "flooded" by everything that can be asked of someone who is active in the Church - and having almost to re-learn many principles he has forgotten in his time away. 

I remember a few years ago watching the Chilean miners who had been underground so long being rescued. One thing struck me as I watched.  
The miners were all given sunglasses to wear as they emerged from the tunnel - since they had been over 2,000 feet underground and away from sunlight for over two months. If they had come out of the ground without eye protection, the increased light would have been very damaging - and they needed to wear the sunglasses for a while until their eyes adjusted. It was important not to rush the process - to take whatever time was necessary to avoid overexposure.
That reminded me of Pres. Uchtdorf's amazing talk in General Conference a few years ago about turbulence and the need to slow down while experiencing turbulence. (It might have been around the same time that the miners were rescued, which might be why thinking about one triggered memories of the other.)
The common message is that when new views hurt old eyes, it's important to slow down, wear protective eye gear AS LONG AS NECESSARY and gradually adjust to the increased light and truth.
So, take your time.  Jump in with both feet, but don't feel like you have to swim at the deep end immediately.  Enjoy getting acclimated to the water once again - at whatever depth is comfortable for you as you develop your swimming muscles again.