Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: "Following the Counsel Given by Priesthood Leaders"

Last Sunday, the lesson title was:

"Why is it important to follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders?"

I wrote that title on the board and then wrote the following on the leftt side of the board, under the title:

1) Follow vs. Obey
2) Counsel vs. Command
3) Sustain & Support
4) Group vs. Individual

I asked everyone for the first thing that came into their minds when I read the lesson title - whether that was an answer to the question or any other thought or comment. The responses were all answers to the title question, and I was impressed by how thoughtful and, in a couple of cases, nuanced they were. Among the responses were:

"Because they are older than we are and have years of experience."
"Because they are good people who only want the best for us."
"Because there has to be order in the Church, not chaos."
"Because they usually try to know what God wants and share it with us."
"Because they care about us, and what they say usually is good."

I agreed with all of those reasons, and I asked them how they would react if I changed the title to the following:

"Why is it important to obey the commands given by priesthood leaders?"

All of them immediately got the difference and expressed concern over that wording, so we moved into a discussion of the numbered list above. I won't got through all of it here, but it was a very good conversation that lasted about 15 minutes. (It helped that we had covered revelation and Priesthood & priesthood extensively over the past couple of months.)

We then read and discussed the following scriptures, which all were in the official lesson outline:

1) Ephesians 4:11-14 - We talked about some of the "purposes" for the offices listed (most of them) were institutional, while a few ("perfecting of the saints", "coming to a knowledge of the son of God") relate to personal growth - just as the reasons they had given at the beginning of the class were split between institutional and personal reasons. We talked about why it's important to distinguish between those purposes when determining whether or not to "follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders" - and I mentioned again the example I used of a High Priests Group Leader and spheres of revelation and stewardship in the lesson about Priesthood vs. priesthood.

2) D&C 1:38 - I asked them what the standard, easy interpretation of that verse might be. They agreed among themselves that it seems to say that church leaders speak for God. I told them that I was about to share my personal opinion, as I always do when that happens, and I told them that this verse is a perfect example of why I read scriptures very carefully, word-by-word, to see what meaning seems most likely and "true" to me.

We went phrase by phrase:

"What I, the Lord, have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself;"

This means that the Lord doesn't rescind anything he has said - that he doesn't "make excuses" for things he's said in order to get out of responsibility for saying it. In other words, "I stand by whatever I've said."

"and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my words shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled,"

This means that everything God has said will happen, even if it is after this earth is gone.

"whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

I asked them if they believe that everything a church leader says, even apostles and prophets, is the pure word of God. They all said no. We talked about things that have been taught in the past that we no longer teach or believe - like Paul's statements about women being silent in church and Brigham Young's Adam-God Theory. (They hadn't heard about that, so I gave them a very short, very simple summary.) I asked them if that makes Paul and Brigham disqualified as prophets, and they all said that it doesn't. I asked them if that was the case, what D&C 1:38 could mean.

That stumped them, so I broke down the last phrase and showed them that God's voice is singular - and so is the "voice" of (plural) servants. I told them that I read that verse to say that when something has been taught throughout our history by all of our prophets and apostles (when their "voice" is united), with no variation or disagreement, it's a very good bet that it is "what the Lord hath spoken". I told them that the list of those things is relatively small, like: there is a God, we are his children, love is important, Jesus is the Christ and our Savior and Redeemer, we need to repent, etc.

3) D&C 21:4-5 - We did the same reading exercise, and the students immediately recognized the importance of "as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me". We talked about those disclaimers, and I used the example, which I emphasized happens very, very rarely but does happen, of a Bishop whom they know is having an affair. That type of egregious sin invalidates the charge to "give heed to ALL his words" - even though we still ought to consider those words and give heed to those we can accept as coming from God while he serves in that office.

4) D&C 124:45-46 - They saw that the wording in this passage is phrased exactly like D&C 1:38 - with "voice" being singular.

I told them that we will be reading Elder Oaks' "Two Lines of Communication" and focusing again, like when we talked about institutional and personal revelation last month, on the need to balance both "lines of communication" Elder Oaks describes in that talk. I told them that 90+% of my time in the Church, I have been able to "follow the counsel given by priesthood leaders" - but that there have been quite a few times when I felt I had to speak up and express my disagreement with something or propose a different course. Whenever I felt that the final decision was not so damaging as to violate my core conscience, I have accepted that decision - especially when the decision was focused on the institution, not individuals. Whenever I felt the decision simply was something I couldn't do or support in good conscience, I said so and refused to "preach it", even if I still sustained and supported the leader whose decision it was. I also told them about the time I quit a job, with four kids and no job lined up, because I was asked to do something I couldn't do in good conscience.

I told them that I believe each of them, at least once in their life, will be in a situation where they have to make that type of decision, even if it might not be that extreme - and that I hope they are able to follow their own conscience in that situation.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Wonderful Quote about Sharing Sunshine

James Matthew Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, said something that I really love, and I thought I would share it with everyone here: 
"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

An Incredible Post about the Practical Nature of True Forgiveness

The following post is written by someone whose native language is not English, but the message is stunningly profound.  It should be required reading for every member of the Church - and everyone who claims to be a Christian:

SO many experiences I need to write about - Gwen (back and then . . .)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Teaching Children to Question without Losing Faith

For me and my kids, the most important thing isn't the questioning; it's the attitude behind the questioning. I question to learn, and I try to teach my children to question to learn.

I draw a distinction between "doubt" and "uncertainty" specifically because I want my children to embrace the idea that it's ok to be uncertain - but I don't want them to have a "doubting spirit". In other words, I want them to be open to changes in their understanding - of everything - as they learn more, but I don't want their primary orientation to be one of disbelief. I want them to be willing to explore anything and come to believe whatever makes sense to them - but that is different than not being willing to explore some things because their primary orientation is negative and unbelieving.

I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I think the biggest dis-service parents do for their kids in this regard (based on my years of observing parents who preach questioning and "debate" to their kids) is that they do so in a way that encourages their kids to disbelieve - rather than encouraging them to believe.

I try to teach my children to question with the intent of discovering what they can believe (what they can accept as "true" at that time), not with the intent of discovering what they can't believe. It's the focus that matters most - the "direction of the objective", if you will.

Let me use a specific example:

I know someone who was raised to question everything - but it was done in a spirit of debate in which arguing and trying to convince others was the focus. This friend became very good at debating things - seeing both sides of something and making a particular argument well enough to win. He became a lawyer and was very successful - but, in the meantime, he lost his ability to really believe anything in particular. Whichever position could be argued most effectively was the position that was "right" or "true" for him. Hence, he ended up with an orientation geared toward justification, which led to all kinds of destructive beahvior, divorce and other complications in his current life. Right now, he can't shut down his "justification orientation" - and he does whatever he wants to do, since, subconsciously at best or automatically at worst, he can justify whatever he chooses to do in some way. He also can argue about it until anyone who questions him gives up and walks away, further re-inforcing in his own mind that he hasn't done anything wrong.

His problem, as I see it, isn't that he started out with a disbelieving, justifying orientation (although that might be correct); rather, it's that he was tuaght that orientation and it was re-inforced throughout his childhood in the name of objectivity and rationality and open-mindedness. It wasn't a questioning orientation; it was something much more hard to quantify and name - perhaps a "win-at-all-costs" or "pride" or "purely intellectual" orientation.

It's a fine distinction, I know - but it's a very important distinction to me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

No LDS Member Should Grind the Faces of His Own Biological Poor

The following post, by Aaron R. at By Common Consent, ought to be required reading for all Bishops, Stake Presidents and average members.  Truly, the temple shouldn't be a place for those who grind the faces of their own biological poor.

Child support and the Temple Recommend interview: Oppressing the precariate

Monday, June 24, 2013

Painting a "True" Picture Is a Communal Process: or, It Takes a Village

I said in a thread over at Mormanity a while ago that I really don't care about how different people choose to frame their understandings of various concepts - that we often say the same general things in different words. I also believe that this happens a lot in religious discussions that get acrimonious and heated - that the people often agree to a larger degree than they disagree, but the way they interpret the other person's words gets in the way of understanding.

With that in mind, there is a post entitled "Many Perspectives; One Truth" over on Silver Rain's blog from a couple of years ago that includes the following thought:

One such moment was in art class. We often sketched still lifes of styrofoam, fruit, random office supplies, etc. After one such session, the instructor had us put all of our sketches up side by side to compare and critique. After we were done, he pointed out that all of the sketches were completely different, though the arrangement we sketched was the same. Even if all of our skills in sketching had been equal, some sketches showed parts of the arrangement that others couldn't see. In some sketches, entire elements of the arrangement were missing because they could not see them. He compared it to truth, and our search for truth.
There is an old saying I've heard in many variations, "There are always three sides: yours, mine, and the truth." When I was going through counseling to start me on the path to recovery, it was pointed out to me a that my perspective was not any less accurate than another. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn.
But, I have begun to see that although there are many perspectives on any given situation (whether you are talking about describing an event or about religious truths), there is only one truth. And while I may not be completely accurate in describing that truth, neither is anyone else. I don't have to take their perspective as somehow more true than my own.

One of my core beliefs is that we have the right and opportunity to find the perspective that makes the most sense to us as individuals - that what works for us can be "true" for us, even if it isn't full and complete "Truth" yet. Sometimes we struggle, as Silver Rain indicates, to accept that "(our) perspective is not any less accurate than another" - but sometimes we struggle just as much to accept that "(another's) perspective is not any less accurate than (ours)."

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a believer in extreme relativism.  However, I believe that the details of our differing perspectives often are less important than the picture we are trying to paint - and that painting a "True" picture is a communal process for three main reasons:

1) I can learn to see that picture more comprehensively AND in greater detail through understanding other perspectives than I can on my own;

2) Others can learn to see that picture more comprehensively AND in greater details through understanding my perspective than they can on their own.

3) The process of learning is an ever cycling evolution of understanding, in which the vision of each and of all is reinforced and strengthened and sharpened continually as individual AND communal perspectives are changed (line upon line, precept upon precept) by the constant interaction of differing paradigms.

Remove me from the group, and I suffer - but no less so than the group suffers from my departure. The sum of the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts, individually AND communally - and I love to see and help others see more clearly and comprehensively.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Councils - Men and Women with Equal Voices

The lesson last Sunday was about councils, so I cleared it with my Bishop to do a mock Ward Council with the youth, but to make it as real as possible - including discussing real issues and solutions.

First, we talked for a few minutes about what a council is and how it is supposed to be conducted. We defined a council as a group of people who discuss things and try to reach consensus about what they discuss, generally with the idea of understanding things and coming up with solutions to problems.

I mentioned that in the November 2010 World-Wide Training session, Elder Bednar or Elder Holland (I couldn't remember which one) said that Bishops should NOT share their opinion first and then ask the council members what they thought - since the answer generally would be, "I agree with you." He then paused and said, "Duh!" He said that the person who is presiding should solicit input from everyone first and then make a decision.

I started the mock council by asking each student to think of something they believed would help improve the ward in some way, with one of the students taking notes, so I could share the final suggestions from the class with the Bishop. I gave them about two minutes of silence to think about it and then went around the room and asked each of them for one suggestion. The suggestions were:

1) Have more opportunities for the youth to attend the temple, not just the two or three times each year as a substitute for YW/YM activities that week.

2) Fix the heating and A/C in the building, so it isn't so cold in the winter and hot in the summer in the YW room.

3) Increase the "worship" aspect of Sacrament Meeting.

4) Stop flooding people who have problems with service for a few weeks and then moving on to someone else (a feast or famine approach to service).

5) Start YM/YW activities earlier, since the students sometimes aren't getting home until 9:00 or later - especially during the school year. With Seminary the next morning, this is a real problem.

I told them that we wouldn't talk about the heating and A/C issue in this council meeting, since I would have to talk with someone who understands that issue better to know if it is something that can be changed or fixed. Rather, we would focus on the other issues - and, since #3 above (Sacrament Meeting) was my issue, I put it last on my list (and never got to it).

I then asked for input on each issue, one at a time, and we talked about it until we had something to present to the Bishop as a concrete suggestion:

1) For the temple attendance issue, we will find out from the temple what days and times are available during the summer to bring a group of youth, talk with the youth to see how many could attend on those days at those times and, if necessary, talk with another ward in town to see if they would like to combine with us in order to have enough youth and adults to make it work.

2) For the issue of more even, regular fellowship, we will suggest a more active ward activity schedule - so everyone has a chance to get to know each other better. We also will suggest regular service activities - things focused strictly on unconditional outreach, with no activity or baptism strings attached. The students thought this would give everyone a chance to get to know each other better, so any outreach in a time of crisis would be more natural and seem more genuine than lots of simultaneous attention all at once that ends suddenly after a few weeks.

3) For the issue of the YW/YM activities ending so late, we talked about all of the implications of that situation and exactly what the issue(s) were. After talking extensively about it, we decided that there are two main issues:

a) There is a lot of socializing when opening exercises are supposed to be happening - which means opening exercises often are taking over a half-hour - which means the lessons and activities are starting late and then running late - which is followed by more socializing after the lesson ends.

b) Since the start time is set at 7:00, this means that the regular end time can be as late as 9:00 - and many families have multiple children of varying ages at the building, with each class / group ending at different times (the YW generally going the longest).

We will suggest to the Bishop and the YW & YM Presidents that the arrival time be changed to 6:30 - with 30 minutes designated as time to socialize. Any earlier time would be hard for athletes, musicians, actors, etc. who have extra-curricular activities that keep them from getting home before 6:00-6:30. From 6:30-7:00, the youth could talk, eat food they could bring rather than trying to eat at home, etc - so that their normal schedule could start at 7:00 sharp and end at 8:00. Then, anyone who wanted to stay could do so, but anyone who needed to leave could do so without feeling like they had missed a chance to socialize. Also, we will suggest that all meetings and activities have the same start and end times, so families aren't waiting for children in different settings and can know exactly what time their children will be done. As part of this, the bell will be rung just like in Sunday School, as a reminder of the need to honor the scheduled times.

I ended the lesson by stressing three things:

1) Not all things that are proposed in council meetings like this can be done, especially immediately. I told them that I would pass along the results of our council, but that our Bishop (whom they all love) is the person who has to decide how or whether to proceed with any of them.

2) I explained that PEC used to be the primary council at the ward level but that Ward Council has taken its place in that regard. I explained that one of the main reasons this was done back in November 2010 was that the Church leadership recognized that men had been the only voices in the lead council for too long and that we had sucked at listening to the women and ensuring they had an equal voice in the top council in the ward. I told them as they get older and are involved in Ward Councils (and other leadership meetings) to remember that the women's input is supposed to be part of any decision that impacts the ward as a whole - and to insist that their voices be heard.

3) I talked very briefly about how the Church leadership has been stressing lately a new model of presiding - particularly that I have heard multiple references lately to "co-presiding" in the home and that single mothers are being recognized as the presiders in their homes, even if they have sons who hold the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood. In a home with a single parent, she presides - not a son, not the Bishop, not a Home Teacher, not any man. She presides. Period. I also stressed that, at the class level, the youth presidencies preside in the YM/YW organization, not the adult leaders and advisers. When it comes to the final decisions about what should happen in those organizations, they shouldn't give up that right and responsibility - that they need to take ownership and accountability.

I really enjoyed this lesson, and it illustrated how much our youth can contribute if we let them - especially since most of them had not been in attendance last week and had not had time to think about what they would suggest for our discussion.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Why I Stay Actively Involved in and "Faithful" to the LDS Church

Someone who was struggling mightily to stay involved in the LDS Church once asked me why I remain an active, "believing" member.  The following is my response - a short, bullet-point summary that doesn't do full justice to the question but hits some highlights:
I am LDS:

because I absolutely love the theology and "cosmology";

because it's the truest thing for me I've found - and it's not close;

because I don't really care all that much about what people think of me;

because I've carved out a place from which my heterodoxy doesn't matter and isn't a threat at all to the Church and the rest of the membership;

because I really love the people in my ward (even those with whom I tend to disagree quite strongly);

because my wife and kids also absolutely love the Church;

because plenty of other people outside the Church envy the peace and happiness I've found in "my faith" and have been helped in real and lasting ways by it;

because I don't want to make a major change to something else with which I will agree less (especially at the "pure" theoretical level);

because I've learned to let most of the cultural crap with which I don't agree roll off my back;

because I can talk about those things with which I disagree that people say at church with my wife and kids without them being threatened by my disagreement, even when they don't agree with me;

because I have a deep and abiding "testimony" of what I perceive to be the core principles of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ;

because I'm Mormon at heart.

I am LDS largely because it's part of who I am (because my own "I AM" is LDS) - and because of some very intense, very personal, very powerful experiences that also simply are part of ME.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Original Meaning vs. "Liken All Things Unto Ourselves"

This probably is going to sound a bit strange coming from someone who is a hardcore parser in so many instances, but I have heard some people argue against the practice of likening all things unto ourselves, based on the idea that changing what people meant originally does violence to their understanding and twists meaning to fit whatever we want it to be.  I understand and appreciate that concern (especially given how strongly I feel about parsing), and I've written here about my issue with how parables often are distorted beyond recognition, but . . .

"They become agents unto themselves, to act rather than to be acted upon."

This pretty much sums up my philosophy when it comes to life and these things. I care deeply about what quotes meant originally to those who said them. However, IF there's a better way for me personally to take them with regard to my own life and circumstances, I can recognize and accept what I perceive to be the appropriate meaning for me now without having to agree with the original meaning of the speaker - even in cases where the original speaker was a prophet and apostle.

In that sense, I intentionally choose to act rather than be acted upon. It's a fine line, but it's an important one to me.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How Should Forgiveness and Repentance Be Taught?

Often, we group forgiveness and repentance together in lessons and teach about them as one combined lesson.  I don't like that approach. 

I have no problem with teaching forgiveness and repentance on back-to-back Sundays and emphasizing that they are related in a very real way, but I think we do a grave disservice to both principles if we lump them together - both ideologically and in practical, time-allotment terms. They each deserve a full lesson, at the very least.

I have no problem with linking the two and showing their closeness and inter-dependence. I just think each one is important enough and unique enough in and of itself that trying to teach them both together within the teaching structure currently available to us at church (30-40 minutes, max, at any given time) ends up shorting the attention we should pay to each of them. That's why I would favor teaching them in separate but concurrent lessons - or together in a fireside format where there is well over an hour to address them.
I also have no problem with a lesson where the focus is on not judging - and forgiveness and repentance are among multiple things mentioned that are part of learning not to judge. However, if forgiveness is the central topic, and if we only have 30-40 minutes to teach about it . . .

Finally, a friend of mine once said the following:

Personally I don't believe that anyone really deserves to be forgiven. Sure they can stop doing whatever is perceived to be wrong, apologize, etc. but it's not like they can go back in time and undo whatever mistakes they have already made (and the effects of those mistakes). That's why I see forgiveness as more of a gift from God (and the person who is hurt) rather than something we really earn. As far as forgiving others, I think it is just part of being a charitable person to not continue to hold a grudge over something in the past that you can't really change now.

I really like that - since it is both profound and simple.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Will Change the World

My family took our second daughter to her college orientation last week, so I didn't teach Sunday School.  In place of my normal Saturday recap of the previous lesson, I am posting something from our youngest daughter who is almost 11 and just finished 5th Grade - graduating from elementary school on her way to young adulthood.  She wrote the following poem this year in her Language Arts class, and I read it for the first time last week.  It is an example of why she was given the award for outstanding performance in Language Arts at her school. 

I am proud of her - not just for her ability as a writer but, more importantly, for what this poem says about her and her vision:

We may be children and teens,
But we can be reigning queens. 
They say we can't help;
They think we will melt,
But we are solid.
We have knowledge.
If you join me,
We can flee
So many times of war.
Join me form door to door.

I will change the world.
No one can stop me.
I will feed the poor.
If you follow through,
Then we can win
and rule the population.
Though we must wait,
It's very fine;
We wait for a reason,
And that reason is
That we don't have the power . . . yet. 

But when we do,
I hope we will
Change the world.
Maybe you could
Just speak up.
You could help by
Making Earth cleaner,
Safer, kinder, and a
Better place to live.

We have a great amount
Of stingy people
Who just won't share.
Why do so many people
Leave their families
When they could be happy?
If only we weren't
So proud of ourselves,
So many more families
Could be happy.

Why not just make peace
Between other countries.
Ambassadors, Presidents,
Children, Adults -
What's the difference
When we are all human?
So many people think
They are better than another.
Is that really necessary?
Is that why there is
So much name calling?

Why do we title
Everyone else and point out
So many small problems?
Help to stop all
Of this horrible behavior.
Help stop pollution;
So many animals
Have to suffer,
Because we throw
Our trash in rivers, woods
And other different places. 

So, stop smoking,
And start spreading
Joy instead of grief.
Stop hurting children;
Take care of them.
Stop using drugs.
Please join me
And change our lives. 

I will change the world. 
Will you help me? 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Home and Visiting Teaching: Focusing on People Is Harder than Focusing on Numbers

Some people want to be contacted regularly by Home and/or Visiting Teachers, and they get upset that people don't visit enough; other people are more independent, want to be left alone and get upset that people keep trying to visit them. The "proper" solution varies by individual (to visit or not visit - and how often to visit), but that's almost impossible to analyze quickly, so the "easy" way is to lump everyone together into one category - the "must-be-visited-exactly-once-a-month group".

The proper solution, ironically, already exists in the Church - Personal Priesthood Interviews (PPI's) and the Relief Society version. (I prefer "Personal Stewardship Interviews" - since that term can apply to anyone, male or female.)  When done correctly, they don't focus on numbers but rather actual people - and HT and VT can be adjusted and adapted accordingly.
That's just much harder to do than focusing on the numbers.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Don't Let Certainty Destroy Empathy

A Platitude of Attitude - Kyle M (By Common Consent)

The discussion thread has some important additions to this excellent post. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Balancing Obedience and Grace: Is It Objective in Any Way?

I can’t see the actual abilities of anyone, including myself to a degree, so I have no problem believing there are no “objective” measures of obedience. We believe there are people who are not accountable at all (for anything they do), but I think we fail to accept that each and every one of us is not accountable to some degree in some ways – and that the Atonement covers that degree completely. 

That might be the only objective measure of obedience in which I believe – that we are saved and redeemed from those things that are outside of our control, and that those things probably are far more extensive than most of us realize, so we are asked to do our best while holding onto hope and faith that our effort will be acceptable in the end. 

One of the reasons I believe in the most expansive view of “Judge not, that ye be not judged” is that I believe seeking objective standards of obedience denies the Atonement in a real way – by assuming we can see as God sees and make judgments God has reserved solely for Himself. 

I know some might say that we can be judged against our past - by how much we improve over time.  I agree with that, generally speaking, but I would add the caveat that we all might have personal “thorns of the flesh” that never leave us and "ceilings" beyond which we can't progress in mortality. We can’t become discouraged and give up in those situations because of how we measure up to our past - or our desired future.

I think that’s the heart of the message of 2 Nephi 4 – and if people like Paul and Nephi can struggle with something (whatever it was for each of them), I am prone to cut myself and others a little slack as long as we keep trying.

One of the reasons I admire my own wife so much is that she keeps struggling valiantly to improve in a couple of areas that are brutally hard for her – when it would be so easy to throw her hands in the air and just say, “This is who I am. God made me this way. I’m going to quit trying to change, since I know he loves me regardless.”

The following can be and has been abused throughout history with regard to some things, but I believe the idea that, in some cases, we don’t need to measure ourselves against either our past or our hopes and expectations for the future is a wonderful principle of the Gospel and aspect of the Atonement.

My own standard is, “trying to do the best I can to recognize what I should do and then trying the best I can to do it – knowing I’m not even sure what really is in my own control but trusting that the Lord has paid for my transgressions and will forgive me of my sins as I strive to overcome them”. That’s not objective at all, but it’s how I try to measure my own efforts.

Monday, June 10, 2013

To Rock the Boat or Not to Rock the Boat

Rocking the boat is great - IF it is "successful" and accomplishes good in the end. However, rocking the boat sucks for most people in real time, since most people get seasick and even fall overboard if the rocking is vigorous enough. Thus, rocking the boat generally is seen as a bad thing. 

This is one of the central paradoxes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, since not harming others is important - but so is not stagnating by resisting necessary change (particularly through continuing revelation).  Jesus of Nazareth certainly rocked the Jewish boat during his ministry; Martin Luther rocked the Catholic boat vigorously; Joseph Smith rocked the Protestant boat just as vigorously; the examples go on and on and on. 

So, in summary:

"Rock the boat; don't rock the boat, baby. Rock the boat; don't tip the boat over (or cause undue, dangerous sickness to those in the boat)."

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: "P"riesthood and "p"riesthood - Power, Authority and Keys

Last Sunday was the first lesson about the Priesthood and Priesthood Keys.  I used the lesson to go into detail about what the Priesthood is and isn't and the difference between the Priesthood, the priesthood, power, authority and keys.  It was titled, "Priesthood and priesthood" - and I wrote each term above on the chalkboard, with definitions or descriptions under each one added as the lesson progressed. 

1) We started by reading from D&C Section 121.  I mentioned that we nearly always read the first part (Joseph's plea to the Lord) as completely separate from the last part (how to use the Priesthood) but that they are the beginning and end of the same section and, I believe, important to understand together.  I had them read verses 1-6, and I described what was happening in Joseph's life - that he was in the Liberty Jail for months under extreme duress as he heard about all the terrible things that were happening to his people.  I told them that I view this as the moment he finally "broke".  We read the verses and translated them into wording teenagers might use.

"Where are you, God?  Where are you hiding? How long will you watch and listen to your people suffer without helping them?  God, come out of hiding.  Let you anger and fury loose and wipe out our enemies!  If you remember us, we will praise you forever." 

Their translation of God's response was:

"My son, chill out.  Be at peace." 

God then went on to teach Joseph why the request had been an attempt to have God use the Priesthood unrighteously (the use of compulsion through the authority of the Priesthood - verses 36-37) - and he told Joseph how to use it righteously (verses 41-44). 

2) We read from the Bible Dictionary, in which "Priesthood" is not included, but "Priests" is.  It says that OT priests acted as mediators between God and the people - that they were able to "draw nigh to God" but the people weren't.  I pointed out that this structure was the same as the Catholic Church throughout the Middle Ages - and that it extended to the people being illiterate and not being able to read the Bible for themselves, relying totally on the Priests to tell them what it said and meant.  That changed dramatically with the Gutenberg Bible and the people being able to read and interpret on their own - and the subsequent rejection of the "Priesthood" being embodied in men and, instead, the "priesthood (of believers)" not requiring mediators between God and the people. 

I asked the students which model we have in the LDS Church, and they recognized that we have both "The Priesthood" and "the priesthood" - since we accept communication from God to church leaders but also personal revelation.  I told them that this structure is more complicated and can be messier than only having one of the models, but that I see it as an aspect of the "Restoration of ALL Things".  This means that the LDS Church has designated Priests, but it also allows everyone, male and female, to be priests.  (I will get into Priests and Priestesses and how this plays out in the temple in a later lesson.) 

2) I asked the students to define "Priesthood".  One of them said it is "the power of God" - so I wrote that on the board.  Another one said it is "the authority to act in the name of God" - so I wrote that also.  I then added that it is "an obligation to serve" and wrote that on the board, telling them I would talk about that later. 

3) Given those definitions and what we had discussed up to that point, I asked them what the difference is between "Priesthood" and "priesthood".  That stumped them, so I added "to perform ordinances" under Priesthood and "to hear and share God's word and do his work" under priesthood.  I called Priesthood the "administrative, formal" Priesthood and priesthood the "informal" priesthood. 

We talked about how every person ever born has the light of Christ and can receive revelation from the Holy Ghost - how every baptized member has committed to take the Lord's name upon them and renews that commitment each Sunday through the sacrament - how every temple endowed member makes covenants and receives promises relative to the priesthood (more detail in a future lesson), etc.  I mentioned that men are the only ones in the Church right now who can administer Priesthood ordinances outside the temple, but every member can speak and act in God's name and, therefore, every member (men, women and children) has that type of priesthood. 

4) We defined "authority" as "permission or right, given by someone to someone else".  Thus, young men in the Aaronic Priesthood have differing things they are authorized to do.  They have the same general authority, but they are authorized to do different things. 

5) We defined "power" as strength or ability, and we talked about how someone can have authority but no power - either due to general unworthiness or, going back to D&;C 121, by trying to compel someone to do what they say "by virtue of the priesthood" (lower case, interestingly).  I used them as examples, looking at one of the young women and mentioning that if she received personal revelation and tried to compel me to follow it, she would be using her priesthood authority unrighteously and, thus, would lose her priesthood power. 

6) I asked them what the purpose of Priesthood ordinances is.  That got some blank looks at first, so I asked them whom the "target" of the ordinances is - the people performing them or the people receiving them.  They got that distinction as we used baptism, the sacrament and healing blessings as examples.  I asked about vicarious temple ordinances - and I pointed out that those ordinances are a bit different in that we can receive the blessings of humility and having our hearts turn to our ancestors - that I don't see temple ordinances in quite the same way as non-temple ordinances, since I see just as much benefit to the "performer" as for the "recipient".

Thus, each and every one of them, male and female, regardless of the type of P/priesthood they hold, only can magnify that divinely representative power and authority righteously by serving others in the way that D&C 121:41-44 describe.  The performance of ordinances, notwithstanding, and the way those responsibilities have been assigned differently over time, in the way they are required to exercise what they have been given there is no difference between them; they all progress individually in exactly the same way.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Integrity: What Does It Mean?

To me, integrity is only about being true to yourself and what you believe to be the ultimate Truth / Good / whatever. I don't believe for a moment someone has to be totally open about that process and all the nuances of that perspective to all those around them, since part of my view of "ultimate good" includes (to the highest degree possible) doing no harm.

So, to me, integrity is a constant balancing act between pursuing great light and knowledge about ultimate Truth and not harming others in the process that shifts at the practical level as one's perspective shifts. Once the balancing act ceases, I believe integrity (at least for mortals) has died.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating extreme situational ethics, where nothing is constant and immutable. I believe in immutable principles and absolute Truth; I just believe I have to be open to a continually evolving understanding of what they are.
I would love to hear how those who read this post view integrity.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Truly Stunning Post: "A Sacrament Talk for Young Women"

The following post is to one of the most amazing sacrament meeting talks I've ever read.  I immediately had my daughters read it when I first read it, and I want to pass it on to everyone who reads my blog.  It really is stunning.

A Sacrament Talk for Young Women - Vinniecat (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

An Amazing Conversion Story Related First-Hand to Me: Gold Plates

The following experience was related to me and a few other people first-hand by a good friend a few years ago.  I came across it again and want to record it so it isn't lost:
I might not believe this story if it had not happened to me. I am not telling a story that I heard from someone. This was a strange encounter I personally had while teaching as a missionary in Germany back in 1988-1990.

Germany has a lot of political refugees from all over the world. By treaty (after WWII), they are required to accept and protect political refugees who seek asylum from any country Germany invaded during WWII (that was what I was told when I lived there). Anyway, we contacted a family from Turkey, but they were ethnic Kurds. Kurdistan used to be a country, but it was split up between Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. The Kurds still live there, but tend to be a highly oppressed minority in their new countries.

So we were invited in to teach this family. The husband called in his brother to translate for us. I can't remember which language we were speaking, but the brother translated from English or German into Kurdish for the rest of the family. They could also read Arabic. We brought them an Arabic Book of Mormon. So, I'm teaching the First Discussion which at that time went over the First Vision and the story of Joseph translating the BoM. I'm thinking to myself "Right, these people aren't even Christian. They are probably just being polite." But they kept nodding their heads like -- sure, JS talked to some angles. Yup. No problem. Gold plates and ancient scriptures buried for a later date? Of course, how else is it done? That sounds perfectly normal. Prophets lead people. Yup. No problem.

So finally, I just had to stop. I bluntly asked them "Don't you guys have any questions or problems with this? Why does this all seem normal to you?" (kind of funny thinking back on that now). So they start telling me this story about their people. The husband in the family was talking, and his brother translated into German/English for us.

He told us that he doesn't know a lot about their native religion, but the old men in his village growing up passed along the Kurdish culture and traditions (including their pre-Islamic religion which they partially maintain). They told stories of how a long time ago, nobody knows anymore how long, the Kurdish people were lead by a prophet that talked to angels. Angels commanded him where to lead the people. This prophet wrote down the words of the angels, and the record of their religion on metal plates and buried them for safe keeping, but now nobody knows where they are. They have mostly forgotten what their prophet taught, and they look forward someday to having these plates returned. 

True story. Dead serious. The whole family joined the Church, and so did the brother. I baptized the husband. It was the oddest case of investigators being "golden."

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Different Way to Look at the Morning and Afternoon of the First Resurrection

I believe the "days" of creation are better understood as "(radically differing in length) periods of time" - and that any one of the days, for example, could have been millions of years in length.

With that background, the morning and afternoon of the first resurrection might last millions of years - or even stretch into the (plural) eternities.

We have SUCH a limited grasp of time that I'm am certain these terms are symbolic and nearly unknowable for now.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Unique Concepts of the Restoration

Last Sunday was the last lesson on Revelation and Prophets. We had a purely discussion-oriented conversation about the following concepts that I believe are some of the more central, important, unique aspects of the Restoration. I wrote them on the board and told the students we would talk about any of them they wanted to discuss or about which they had questions, without a formal lesson structure.

In order of discussion:

1) Heavenly Parents: One of the students asked why we don't have much written about Heavenly Mother. I asked them what they think, figuring they probably would repeat some of the common answers I don't accept. Two of them mentioned the idea of shielding her from blasphemy and (another idea I can't remember right now). I stressed that we don't have anything official recorded in our scriptures, so any answer is speculative in nature - the best people can do to think of something that makes sense to them. I told them that I think the biggest reason is that our scriptures were written by men - and that those men related well to Heavenly Father and didn't have any motivation to even think about a Heavenly Mother.

We then talked about what we do have that teaches explicitly about Heavenly Mother and about what our reasoning is for that belief. We read the 3rd and 4th verses of "Oh, My Father". They saw that Eliza R. Snow's wording says, essentially, that she learned to use the term "Heavenly Father" before she joined the Church but didn't know why until she gained further light and knowledge - and that it was "reason" that testifies of Heavenly Mother. We talked about our overall theology of men and women being sealed and sharing the same potential - how "marital sealing" is the foundation for this belief.

I told them that there are some really interesting beliefs about Heavenly Mother within the church membership, but the lesson wasn't the right place to get into those unorthodox beliefs. 

2) The scope of the Atonement: A student asked what I meant by that. We talked about how everyone (except a few Sons of Perdition who are the exception that proves the rule) is "saved" and everyone has the chance for exaltation - and how radically different that is than the dominant philosophies within Protestantism and many other religions.

3) Prophets and Apostles: One of the students asked if there have ever been more than one prophet on the earth at the same time. We talked about the difference between a "Prophet" (the head prophet in an organization) and a "prophet" (anyone who speaks the word of God, especially about consequences of actions). They zeroed in on the example of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon following the death of Jesus - of Peter and Nephi living simultaneously in different parts of the world as "The Prophet" of their people; we also talked about the wise men at the time of Jesus' birth and how they easily might have been "Prophets" or "prophets" - giving us at least three simultaneous locations. We talked about Lehi being a prophet but not a "Prophet" and how there were multiple prophets at various times in the Old Testament.

4) Eternal Progression: We talked about what it means to progress eternally - to become like God. We talked about how our perception of God is very different than within other Christian denominations. We talked again a little about how godhood includes pain and long-suffering and watching one's "children" hurt and kill each other. I mentioned at the end how I believe we must emphasize the importance of this life so we take it seriously and actually focus on personal growth and repentance, but I told them I believe "eternal progression" is exactly that - growth throughout all eternity until we are "perfect" (complete, whole, fully developed), which, as Joseph Smith said means we will be learning and growing and progressing long after we die. I told them that I see the judgment as occurring whenever we are done growing - that our reward will be whatever type of person we become (telestial, terrestrial or celestial) - no matter when that completion happens.

We didn't get to pre-mortal life or the nature of the Godhead vs. the Trinity.

This was the first time I have used that specific format (completely discussion-based, according to what the students wanted to discuss), and I loved it. Now that they are used to it, I hope it will affect future lessons - both the more traditional ones and more like this one.