Friday, May 31, 2013

"All Eternity" and "the Eternities"

Just for consideration:

If "perfect" is defined as "whole, complete, fully developed" (see the footnote in Matthew 5:48), and if reaching that condition (rather than a place) is our "destination" . . .

I like the idea that we have an indeterminate length of time (eternity) to reach that destination. In that light, I also love the idea expressed in the term "all eternity" (not just some of it but all of it). I also like the fact that we can speak of "the eternities" - even if I have no real clue exactly what that means. That one "eternity" might come to a close when I reach a certain manifestation of perfection (where I am as whole, complete and fully developed as it is possible for me to become in that "sphere") and another "eternity" might begin at that point for me (where I repeat my pursuit of perfection once more, only at a higher level of completeness) - that idea excites my mind and my heart.

I know it doesn't carry that same excitement for some others, but I absolutely love it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eternal Progression: Possibilities of Meaning and What We Choose to Become

What we do affects who we become - or, our attitude affects what we do, which, in turn, affects who we become.

There's a difference in believing in eternal progression as I describe in the sentence above and in believing every single person who ever lives in mortality will reach the highest reward imaginable. I believe the former; I don't believe the latter. I think the quote above describes the general concept - but the extreme toward which each person drifts or runs full-speed is up to them. I just think more people will end up on the same path eventually than many other people think will be the case.

When I say:

What we do affects who we become - or, our attitude affects what we do, which, in turn, affects who we become.

I mean it to apply to movement in any and all directions. It could be argued that "everything is one eternal round" means we all end up circling back to the beginning in the end - or it could mean that the "round" is an ever climbing spiral - or it could mean that in the end we are "restored" to whatever character we were in the beginning - or it could mean everything exists in one giant arena for us to discover - or it could mean that what comes around goes around - or it could mean lots of other things.

I personally think it hints at truly eternal progression, which I personally like to characterize as the ability to progress toward whatever "godhood" to which we orient ourselves - the "godhood" of good or the "godhood" of bad. We tend to spiral toward whatever eventual end we choose - and I also believe that eventual end has very, very little to do with our publicly stated theology and our official religious affiliation. I believe God's grace and the Atonement of Christ are far more powerful than most people understand. There are saintly Mormons and devilish Mormons - as is true of every other religion in existence. I just happen to really love the officially stated direction Mormonism encourages we choose as the intended path of our spirals.

To say it differently, it's not the car you drive, and it's not even necessarily how well you drive it; rather, it's the direction you choose to drive and your determination to continue to drive until the very end of your journey. I might have said the direction in which we drive determines where we end up, with the extension that one can end up on either side of the cosmos (think a sphere cut in equal parts, not a line with two rays leaving the center point) or stall in the middle and simply refuse to drive at all (which would be three ultimate destinations as possibilities, I guess).

What I'm saying fundamentally is that I believe if we get in and drive in the right direction, we eventually will arrive at the right destination - even if that destination simply is a never-ending ride in that direction.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I Cannot Account for Our Different Outcomes (Views, Beliefs, Standards, etc.), Only My Own

Learning Our History - Paul (A Latter-day Voice) 

I love this post, but the part of Paul's story that I appreciated most was his description of a friend who went on a mission and left after six months because he couldn't testify that he knew Joseph Smith was a true prophet:

"I am still impressed with his integrity, and I cannot account for our different outcomes, only my own."

Amen. I wish we all could say that - honestly and sincerely. We have this verse about not judging that we not be judged . . . I wish we collectively valued others' commitment to live according to the dictates of their own consciences, however that is manifested, more than we collectively do. 

I know this is a bit of a tangent, but, in the end, when all is said and done, I personally believe that the vast majority of "issues" that drive some people from the Church are manifestations of one very basic thing: unrealistic expectations - of God, of self and of others. That, in my opinion, is why all the law and the prophets hang on the first and great commandments - and why charity (as described in 1 Corinthians 13) is the foundation that supports and maintains faith and testimony.

Monday, May 27, 2013

There Really Isn't a Final Judgment, in the Classic Sense of the Term

I think there really isn't a final judgment, in the classic sense of the term, with every individual standing in front of a judge in a courtroom waiting to hear what will happen.

I think we become whoever we become and that our "judgment" (our reward or punishment) is who we are when we are done growing and progressing - and that we have time and all eternity to get there.

I understand why it's hard to preach that (given the examples of "easy grace" and "confess His name and be saved" - and how lazy people tend to get when they believe they've made it), but it certainly is taught within Mormonism - and the Plan of Salvation already has multiple "stages of development" that we teach now.

I don't believe in classic Buddhist reincarnation or multiple mortal probations, but I do accept the idea of multiple "existences / stages" throughout eternity until we all become fully "godly". That general idea exists already within Mormon theology - since I can count at least five distinct stages / physical conditions we teach regularly in the classic Plan of Salvation. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Prophecy and Revelation - Instutional and Individual

We talked first about what an institution is: an officially recognized, formal organization granted a high degree of legitimacy and power within a society.  We talked about the practical difference between an institution and an organization from a societal standpoint - an organization being anything that is organized (including our individual bodies, from purely a scientific perspective) but an institution being a larger organization of social importance.  Institutions tend to be universities, churches, governments, prisons, hospitals, etc.  Someone mentioned the family, so we talked about marriage and family being institutions only when we give them extra importance and "honor" them in the same way as the other institutions we mentioned. 

We then talked briefly about what an individual is, and I focused primarily on the fact that individuals exist almost always within the larger scope of society - that an individual is a part of multiple organizations and institutions. 

I gave them a very general summary of the issue of authority and institutional revelation relative to Catholicism and Protestantism, stating clearly that it was a bit stereotypical in its simplicity.  I emphasized the Catholic emphasis on institutional revelation to all through the Pope (whom I labeled the "Presiding Cardinal" to make a comparison to our structure) and the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of believers and the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to all. 

I told them that Mormonism is a composite of Catholicism and Protestantism in regard to revelation.  We looked again at the Bible Dictionary description of revelation, emphasizing that we believe in BOTH institutional revelation for all (including for the Church as a whole, presiding over by the President of the Church) AND individual, personal revelation to each member.  I wrote "Prophet" and "prophet" on the board and talked about the significance of the capitalization within Mormonism: "Prophet" being the presiding prophet among the Twelve Apostles and "prophet" being anyone who speaks the word of God under the influence of the Holy Ghost. (I also pointed out how, in those terms, Lehi was a prophet without being "The Prophet".)  We talked about a High Priest Group Leader and his responsibility concerning revelation - that he communicates revelation (and other stuff) as a representative of the Stake President (the presiding High Priest in the area), receives revelation for his local group (but not the individuals in the group), his family (with his wife, as an equal partner and participant) and himself. 

When we talked about the HPGL and his responsibility to receive revelation for his own family, I emphasized that he had no more authority or responsibility for that kind of revelation than his wife - that, ideally, they two act as one and receive revelation jointly, honoring each other in that process.  We read directly from the Proclamation to the World, and I emphasized that each sentence about primary responsibilities would read very differently if either was the only relative sentence.  I read the sentence about each parent being "obligated" to help in "these" sacred responsibilities as "equal partners" and the open-ended, non-restrictive "other circumstances" that require "individual adaptation".  We talked about how lots of members think the only righteous model for providing a living is a father working outside the home and a stay-at-home mother but that the Proclamation leaves it entirely up to each couple to make the decision about how they will provide and nurture.  It was interesting to see that they all understood that without any difficulty (even the ones with parents in the traditional model) - and it reinforced my belief that this generation will change the Church naturally and radically.   

We focused the last ten minutes on the inherent tension between institutional and individual revelation.  I used Nephi and his beheading of Laban as an extreme example - and I worded it that way, as an extreme.  I asked them if Nephi followed immediately and gladly what he perceived to be revelation from the Lord to kill Laban.  After their responses, I asked them why Nephi struggled to accept it - and how he came to accept it.  I pointed out that Nephi eventually had acted in the way that he believed was consistent with what God was asking him to do - and that, whether or not I would have done what Nephi did, the point is that Nephi had to own his decision and act according to the dictates of his own conscience. 

I shared the example of when I lived in Missouri and had to commute 40 minutes each way to church, while starting over again in my new career and being quite poor.  We attended church almost every Sunday and youth activities most Wednesdays - but we attended almost no other church activities.  It was a choice my wife and I had to make, even though other members might have decided differently and might have judged or criticized us for it - claiming we weren't faithful enough.  I told them explicitly that I have said "no" to some requests from leaders and spoken up in some meetings and privately when I felt like something that was being said was too incorrect and/or damaging to remain silent.

I told them that I almost could guarantee that each and every one of them would face something, at some point, in their lives when the direction they get from a leader ("institutional revelation" in at least someone's eyes) would conflict with their own personal beliefs ("individual revelation" in their own mind) - and that, in the end, even if hopefully it never rose to the level of Nephi's situation in any way, they also would have to decide between the dictates of their own consciences and the organizational / institutional rules.  I told them that, as my default, I accept institutional rules - but that, ultimately, I honor personal revelation whenever the conflict is such that I feel I must do so in order to look God in the eye and say:

"I did my best to do what I believed you wanted me to do and any revelation I believe I received from you."

Friday, May 24, 2013

I Favor Some Simple Adaptations to the Blessing of the Sacrament

I have been asked more than once how I view situations where someone is blessing the sacrament and struggling to say the prayer correctly, so I decided to put my thoughts in writing.  I'm sure that won't surprise anyone who knows me even only a little.  I would appreciate any thoughts about this from those who read this post (especially other suggestions of things you would favor), and especially actual cases of things you've seen

In cases where there is concern about multiple attempts, or after the first instance of an incorrect attempt, I favor having the priest / administrator who is not saying the prayer place his hand on the shoulder of the person saying the prayer, and squeezing the instant the person makes a mistake. That way, the person can repeat only what was said incorrectly, without having to start all over again - and, sometimes, without the congregation even noticing what has happened. Technically, this approach could eliminate every instance of having to repeat the prayer from the beginning. 

I favor going as slowly as is needed to not make mistakes - no matter how slowly that is. There is a young man in my current ward who has to pronounce every word clearly and separately in order to ensure he says it correctly, and it is wonderful to hear him take it that seriously. 

I favor coaching people who are saying it for the first time - prior to the actual ordinance occurring.

I favor letting small mistakes go, if they don't change the meaning of the prayer in any way.

I favor having someone whisper the prayer to someone who can't read and/or can't memorize the words - one word at a time, if necessary, so that being able to read or memorize is not a prerequisite for blessing the sacrament.

I favor teaching the congregation sign language and allowing them to keep their eyes open if there is someone who cannot speak who could bless the sacrament using sign language.  I visited a ward recently where one of the priests signed the prayers for a deaf member while other priests read the prayers.  It was wonderful - but I wouldn't mind occasionally if signing was the only language used and the congregation was taught to understand it. 

I favor allowing a member whose native language is not English (or the dominant language of the congregation) to bless the sacrament in the native language - but first teaching the congregation the prayer in that language and/or preparing a card for the Bishop or presiding authority, with the foreign words spelled out in the alphabet of the Bishop or presiding authority, in order to allow him to ensure it is said correctly.  

Just like with baptism, one mistake happens. Even two mistakes happen. Three is a failure of planning and/or leadership, in one way or another - as is failure to allow someone to bless the sacrament simply because of any issues that can be addressed in simple ways. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Church Callings: Inspiration or Desperation? Issuing vs. Extending?

I have been in various positions in the LDS Church where I was responsible for "issuing a calling" - but I always have preferred the concept of "extending a calling".  The difference can be subtle, but I believe it is important. 

"Issuing" implies something being given as a matter of course that cannot be refused, while "extending" implies offering something that can be "retracted" if the person to whom the offer is being made doesn't accept it.  Since I don't believe callings must be accepted (either reflexively or even after contemplation), but rather that everyone has the right and responsibility to ascertain whether or not they should accept any particular calling, it is important to me to choose words that allow the person to not feel obligated to accept.  At the most fundamental level, I am wary of any phrasing that, even if only in theory or subtly, abrigates personal agency and pressures others to accept decisions I (and/or a presidency in which I am serving) have made regarding them. 

Also, I never claim inspiration when I issue a calling - except in cases where I believe I have been inspired in very obvious and unmistakable ways, and those cases have occurred. In some cases, the genesis of the calling has been powerful revelation.  Generally, however, I simply say something like, "I would like to talk with you about ______," I usually do this even in those cases where I believe the decision to extend the calling truly was inspirational or revelatory - although I have deviated from this general rule occasionally, when I have felt prompted to do so. 

Likewise, I have heard far more leaders say, "We would like to extend this calling to you," than, "The Lord would like you to serve in this calling." I've heard the latter only rarely. I know there are leaders who phrase the extension of callings that way as a general practice, and I think they generally believe it, but I believe my own approach happens more often than claiming all callings are the result of undeniable revelation.

Monday, May 20, 2013

What Is Sin?: The Case of the 9/11/2001 World Trade Center Bombers

My own definition of sin is, basically, the definition in James 4:17.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

In other words, it's not doing something I "know" I should do. Just to be clear, ALL things can be phrased this way. Murdering someone is not doing something I feel I should do - the "something" being abstaining from murder - or, from a more "enlightened" perspective, not loving someone enough or controlling my temper enough to avoid murdering them.

I believe this mostly because I accept the idea of being judged by how I live according to my conscience - which I believe is the "pure Mormonism" definition of how we are judged.

We really aren't judged against a universal standard that is easily defined and exactly the same in all particulars. If I go out and blow up a building, killing people in the process, it absolutely is sin to me - and I believe I will be judged accordingly. However, I can't be certain every person who was involved in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11/2001 will be judged as I would be if I had done that - since I can't say they acted contrary to their consciences and the indoctrination they received in their formative years.  In other words, I can't say for certain that they "knew to do good" in that regard and acted against such knowledge. 
I understand the potential problems with such a definition, but I also believe the distinction between "transgression" (the broad category of things that are contrary to the will of God - or "all things that are wrong") and "sin" (the sub-set of transgressions that we choose consciously to do - meaning we have to see them as wrong) is central to the concept of an Atonement - since we are told we will be punished only for our unforsaken sins and not for Adam's transgressions (which I interpret to mean the mistakes we make in ignorance as a result of what we inherit through being born into mortality).

Hence, again:
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Proud Parent Brag

Mama and I are in Canton, MO this weekend, attending the college graduation of our second son, Jeff.  Jeff graduates summa cum laude with a 3.9283 GPA, has been the president of his fraternity and will be missed at Culver-Stockton College.  He is graduating on his birthday. 

C-SC is affiliated with the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, and the Humanities Division (which includes the Religion Department) gives an award each year to the student who most promotes Christianity on campus.  It is not an award for evangelizing but more of an award for promoting Christian values and Christian faith - for being the best example of Christianity.  Jeff won the award this year. 

I am proud of my son and the man he is - an example of being comfortable with his faith, unconditionally loving of everyone and, at the core, just a good person.  He is loved by all, and that is the best tribute I could give him. 

Love you, Jeff.  Happy Birthday! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

I Am Grateful for the Thorns in My Flesh

I love D&C 137:9. It says:

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

This says to me that it isn't our works, in and of themselves, that will be used to judge us but rather the desire of our hearts that produces those works.  That is a great comfort to me, and it allows me to be more charitable toward others who act in a way that is contrary to how I would act (who perform "works" that I would not perform). 

I also love 2 Nephi 4, especially for the glimpse it gives into the soul of a conflicted prophet, but my favorite verse in regard to the benefit of recognizing our weakness is 2 Corinthians 12.

Verse 7 says:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

I think that message is consistent with the others, since I believe "I should be exalted above measure" refers to how Paul would tend to see himself without his weaknesses. Verses 5 and 6 say, in part:
yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory

As much as I don't like my own "thorns in the flesh", they do keep me humble, since I, too, would tend to glory of myself without them.  For that reason, I am grateful for them

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Learning to Receive with Gratitude

Being unemployed three times in my life has beaten the pride out of me when it comes to receiving help from others.

Our oldest son served a mission because our former ward supported him fully - paying all the costs of his mission. The Bishop came to us, even though he knew we would be moving soon after my son left for the MTC, and said that multiple members had asked him if they could pay for our son's mission. Technically, our son wasn't a member of that ward for even one day after he left the MTC - but those ward members supported him, anyway.

Some time ago, a member of our Bishopric handed my wife an envelope on Sunday saying simply, "I was told to give this to you." It had a card ("Have yourself a merry little shopping spree.") and a fairly significant amount of cash in it.

The thing is, we weren't on church assistance at the time - and hadn't been for over a year, but some people knew how tight our finances were. It might have been easy in the past (before my periods of unemployment)to have my pride hurt and to argue or be offended somehow by the envelope - but life's kicked that crap out of me.
Now, I'm just touched and grateful for the gesture and the expression of love behind it.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Purest and Simplest Way to Make Sacrament Meeting a True Worship Service and a Revelatory Experience

I have read quite a few comments from people decrying a lack of emphasis on Christ in our Sacrament Meetings.  They acknowledge the prayers in his name and the sacrament itself, but they are concerend about how often the talks are not focused on Jesus or Heavenly Father in an obvious (or even implied) way. 

I have been in such Sacrament Meetings, and I understand that concern.  I even agree with it to the extent that it happens, which, I agree, is too often.  My response is pretty straightforward, since I believe the "solution" is quite simple. 

The central issue is not at "The Church" level. It's an issue in individual wards and branches, since the Branch Presidents and Bishops are the ones who are responsible for the topics assigned as Sacrament Meeting talks. Too many of them still don't understand fully what it means to have a meeting set aside as a worship service - and too many of them still assign topics for Sacrament Meeting that will be addressed in Sunday School and/or should be reserved for the third hour in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, but when they catch that vision and "get it" with regard to Sacrament Meeting, it's wonderful. I've lived in wards where that happened, and I've visited wards and branches where that happens, and there is a marked difference in those congregations that spills over into other areas, as well.

For the last few years, I have had the good fortune of being in a position from which I can mention that to local leaders and be taken seriously, and I have done so and will continue to do so. It sounds simplistic, but I believe making Sacrament Meeting a true worship service (a "revelatory experience" - as Elder Bednar said in the recent CHI training) can do more for a ward than just about anything else - and it certainly is the simplest and purest of the options.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sunday School Lesson: Prophecy, Seership & Revelation are Not the Same Thing

Last Sunday, we did a bridge lesson between Apostasy & Restoration and Prophets & Revelation.

I drew a simple timeline on the chalkboard from Adam & Eve to today. I asked everyone to list where in our scriptures we have extended periods of no recorded revelations. We identified four gaps of at least 200 years (and explicitly left out most of the Old Testament and Ether, since they covered thousands of years and were written largely as sweeping genealogical statements rather than careful histories): the end of the Old Testament (roughly 400BC - Jesus' birth); Omni (with its "stuff happened and I gave the plates to the next guy" summary); 4 Nephi (four generations of righteousness); the end of the New Testament to the Doctrine & Covenants. I mentioned the Dead Sea Scrolls and what I consider to be revelation to others outside our scriptural canon as exceptions to theses periods of silence, but we focused on our Standard Works.

We talked about how the Jews at the time of Christ were divided in many ways, just like the Christians at the time of Joseph were divided in many ways - but that one of the few things they all agreed on was that "scriptures" had stopped. Interpretations continued, but God no longer gave scripture. Thus, there were two clear instances of "Great Apostasy" in our Judeo-Christian history: the Jewish apostasy from Malachi to Jesus and the Christian apostasy that started when the Bible was canonized.

We then focused on the definitions of "prophet", "seer" and "revelator". I mentioned that we tend to roll them together into one practical word - "prophetseerandrevelator" - without distinguishing the unique meanings of each term. We talked about how prophecy in ancient times was reading the signs of the times and predicting the results of continued or changed actions; seership is seeing things in ways that cannot be seen naturally, particularly with the help of divine tools; revelation is the uncovering / revealing of things that have been hidden. At that point, the lesson took an interesting turn.

One of the students asked how OD 2 (lifting the Priesthood ban) fits into this - if it was a revelation based on the definition we had discussed. (The student who asked is very bright.)  I told the class that I had promised them when I was called as their teacher that I always would be honest with them about how I see things personally. I grinned and said that I was about to tell them the Gospel According to Ray, then I told them that I see OD 2 precisely as revelation in that context, since it uncovered the fact that the ban had been instituted without revelation - that the ban originally had not been based on revelation but that foundation had been obscured and lost over time as the ban continued. I mentioned that Pres. McKay stated later that the ban was policy not doctrine and that OD 2 "revealed" that flawed foundation officially. I then used OD 1 (the Manifesto) as an example of prophecy, as opposed to revelation, since Wilford Woodruff said explicitly that he had seen a vision of what would happen to the Church if polygamy continued ("reading the signs of the times and predicting the results of continued actions").

They all seemed to understand that distinction, and I was glad the question was asked, since I hadn't thought to use the declarations as an example.

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Wonderful Sacrament Meeting Experience: God Bless Truly Humble and Selfless Saints

The following experience happened some time ago, but it came to mind tonight - so I thought I would write a post about it.  I hope it touches someone and is an answer to prayer in some way:

I normally like to arrive at least 30 minutes early when I am visiting a ward or branch as part of my calling, but, due to circumstances I don't need to detail here, I arrived at the branch I was visiting with only about 5 minutes to spare. When I walked in and spoke with the Branch President, he told me that they had just realized as the young men were preparing the sacrament this morning that they were out of cups for the water. They were discussing what to do as a result.

They had decided to shift the sacrament to the end of the meeting, so the Branch President could drive home and bring a bunch of small drinking cups from his house. It would be a bit awkward and difficult to manage, but it was the only solution that came to mind. I suggested they go ahead and follow that plan, but that I would call someone in my home ward (which met at the exact same time as the branch) and see if they had any extra sacrament cups - and ask if anyone in that ward would be willing to miss their own meetings and attend the branch that day in order to allow the branch to use regular cups for the sacrament at the end of their meeting. The Branch President left to go home to get his cups, and I called a few numbers I had on my cell phone until I reached the High Priests Group Leader.

He stepped out of the chapel to take my call just as my ward was singing the opening hymn. He then went back into the chapel, spoke with someone in the Young Men's Presidency, called me back and told me he would bring four sleeves of cups to the branch right away - enough that they could use them again for a couple of weeks if they were unable to get more of their own right away. This good man told his wife and sons what was going on, left Sacrament Meeting before the sacrament was passed, drove 40 minutes to the branch, handed me the cups, then turned around and drove back to his ward without taking the sacrament in the branch - because he had to get back in time to teach the lesson during the last hour to his own high priests.

I took the cups to the priests at the sacrament table in the middle of the final talk, and they finished preparing the trays and the table just as the final special musical number was ending - an absolutely gorgeous solo about the birth of Jesus. They literally were lowering the covering on the sacrament as the final note was ending.

There's something amazing about hearing the sacrament prayer said immediately following a beautiful musical number - when the Spirit is so strong you can feel it almost tangibly. There's also something truly touching about listening to that prayer ("are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son") while picturing the good man who made it all possible driving alone for another 40 minutes back to his own building, having missed participating himself so that he could make it happen for others and still perform the very mundane tasks of his calling.

I know it's a "small thing" in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly brought to my mind the verse:

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Difficulties and Benefits of Online Congregations

A friend of mine who participates quite actively online at one particular Mormon-themed blog asked me a couple of years ago how I felt about the possibility of the LDS Church establashing online wards and/or branches.  The following was my response to him (again, a couple of years ago, so the initial information is a bit dated by now):

It is happening now in some areas with Seminary for those who can't attend the traditional early morning classes. Our stake is part of the pilot program, and I have been impressed overall - even though I was skeptical a bit at first, given my background in education and instructional software. In a couple of years, when the Church has gone through the entire four-year cycle of classes and has time to work out system bug issues, I can see it being rolled out broadly for all students who have been doing home-study Seminary. It is not designed as a replacement for traditional Seminary, but it is a wonderful program and effort.

I agree totally with the recent statement in General Conference about the danger of losing tangible, physical contact in the temptation to interact more and more online, but I also believe strongly in the power of online interaction - obviously, given my rather prolific participation in the Bloggernacle. There is great potential for something like that to be a positive force, but there also is great potential for negative influences in a setting like that. Can you imagine a testimony meeting (or any meeting, really) in a setting where concerted hacking is a possibility?

There are issues that would have to be reconciled (like how to handle things like the sacrament), but if the sacrament is not being taken anyway (since the people aren't attending anyway) . . . [Note: My friend suggested mailing congregants a packet of pre-blessed bread and water that could be used at the appropriate time.  There are plenty of factors about that suggestions that concern me, but I don't rule it out automatically.]

Overall, I really like and would support the idea if it could be limited to those who are in locations and situations where they simply can't attend. I wouldn't want it to be a substitute for physical attendance with people who are capable of attending the traditional services. To me, a HUGE part of charity and true Zionist community is learning to interact with, serve and actually love those with whom I disagree, even passionately about some things - and I'm not sure a virtual ward would be able to provide that in quite the same way as a traditional ward can.

Rather than seeing it as virtual ward (with all of the callings associated with the traditional organization), I can see the basic format of the Sunday Meetings being broadcast live - with talks, prayers, classes, etc. provided by a core group of members. Again, however, it probably would need to be "restricted" to members identified by their Branch Presidents, Mission Presidents and Bishops as not being able to attend the traditional services - through a user name and password like is in place to access's stake and ward directories section.

That was my initial reaction. I certainly am open to other views and suggestions.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Concept of Marriages Being "Sealed" Is Beautiful and Powerful, but It's Not Automatic

I think the ideal of eternally sealed marraiges needs to be articulated AND "embodied" - to be accepted "publicly" as an open statement of intent. There's a degree of that in "'til death do us part" (since it articulates staying together until the end in many people's eyes) - but I really want the ideal to be forever. Symbolizing that eternal commitment truly to start with a distinct "two" and become an inseperable "one" means a lot to me, and I think it should be "embodied" in an actual, physical, participatory ordinance / ceremony.  Therefore, I absolutely love temple sealings. 

Personal opinion time:

Is there anything magic or automatic in it? Absolutely not.

When it comes down to it, will it make a bad marriage good or a decent marirage excellent, in and of itself?

Absolutely not.

Will it automatically make two become one? Absolutely not.

Will the lack thereof keep two who truly have become one through life from continuing as one after death?

Absolutely not.

So, why bother?

Ideals should be taught and embodied in symbolic action as much as possible, imo - since that really does mean something to the vast majority of those involved, and since there truly is great Beauty and Power in such an ideal.  I believe in that ideal deeply and passionately, and having a way to make it "tangible" and "recorded in my soul" means a lot to me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Children to Build a Faith that Will Last: Disagreeing with Something Said at Church

I teach my kids what I believe - and that it's what I, personally, believe - and that others believe some of those things differently than I do - and that it's ok. I teach them that they can believe what makes sense to them - and that it's their responsibility to figure out what makes sense to them so they can be agents unto themselves.

My kids know when I don't agree with something that was said at church - because I mention it and we talk about why I don't agree. I don't go into great detail quite often, but when things are said that I see differently . . .they know about it.

However, they also know how much I like and love and sustain whoever said it. That is a critical aspect of any discussion I have with them, since I also want them to know that I will like and love and sustain and respect THEM when I learn about ways that their beliefs end up differing a bit from mine.  

I hope and pray my children love the Restored Gospel as much as I do, and I hope all of die as active members of the LDS Church - but I also hope and pray they do so because of a deep, personal understanding of the Gospel and the Church that will sustain them when I am gone.  Part of that, I believe, is learning to disagree but still love and sustain those with whom they disagree.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Church Meetings, Libraries and Personal Enlightenment: It's Hard to Serve Both Explorers and Settlers

Communities of ANY kind survive ONLY when the majority (and a fairly large majority) are focused on building them - putting in the "labor hours" and capital to make them stable. The explorers don't want to be constrained by the rules of the community, but they almost always want the support of the community when they are injured, or can't find game to kill for their own food, or just want to hear someone else's voice - or dance and sing - etc. every once in a while.

Community leadership, therefore, simply must create a society in which the settlers stay and receive what they need (stability and order and security) - understanding that the wanderers will stay only if they are tied emotionally (spiritually) to the community in some way. They know they can't GIVE the explorers what they need inside the community; those explorers have to FIND it on their own - inside or outside the community.  That's just how explorers are wired. 

Explorers need to find their joy and not ask others to give it to them - and they shouldn't begrudge the organization and leaders who do "give" so many what they want and need just because what the settlers want and need is different than what they, as explorers, want and need.  The explorers need to be grateful that the settlers can and will build a community in which those explorers can participate (which can be the home base for their explorations, if you will) even thought they seek much of their understanding from outside sources, as well.

On the other hand, the settlers need to allow the explorers to explore.  Our own Doctrine & Covenants says, after all, that we are to seek learning out of the best books - without any specific qualifiers as to what those books are and where they can be found.  If someone can find all the sources they need and want in their own local library, that is wonderful - as it works for them; if someone else needs to travel far and wide to find books in other libraries, as well as the ones that are in their own local library, that is wonderful, as well.