Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching the Law of Chastity: We Simply Must Be More Open about How Great Sex Can Be

I love teaching the Law of Chastity in adult classes in the Church - but I'm weird that way. I teach it very, very differently than most people, and I like to see people's reactions.

We had a lesson about the Law of Chastity in High Priests Group a couple of years ago (yeah, with men who generally are grandfathers), and the teacher (whom I love) started the lesson with a joke he heard personally at a conference in Utah for LDS marriage counselors. Vaughn J. Featherstone was the one who told it, so I'm just passing on the words of a General Authority (*grin*):

A man walked up to his wife with his hands cupped in front of him and said, "If you can guess what's in my hands, we'll have sex." She smiled and responded, "an elephant." He opened his hands, revealing nothing there, and said, "Close enough!!"

The teacher then talked about "the elephant in the room" with regard to the Law of Chastity - that almost everyone wants sex, and that it's a WONDERFUL thing. When we focus only on the "bad" use, we end up re-enforcing the idea that sex itself is vulgar or "dirty" or shameful in some way - which feeds right into many pornographic presentations and other harmful depictions.

When homosexuality was discussed, one of the men in the group immediately said, "We have to be VERY careful we don't end up judging people when we talk about this." I mentioned how glad I am that the Church has moved away from the mistaken idea that homosexual attraction is "unnatural" - that we are beginning to realize how complicated human sexuality is and write policy accordingly.

It was a great lesson.

We talked about the Law of Chastity in a High Council training later that week, largely because one of the Stake Presidency members attended the High Priests Group class and was impressed by the lesson. Near the end, when we talked about how to teach the Law of Chastity to our children, youth and young adults, I mentioned that we simply MUST start by making sure they know sex is great (generally) and that we like it. I mentioned that all of my children know my wife and I have sex and that we enjoy it greatly - and it is from that foundation that we teach about it and why we believe in limiting it to marriage. Some of the people there were a bit shocked, I think, that I was so open about it, but not one of them objected in any way - and I was the youngest person there.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Dimensions of the Cross are Not Important

Jacob censured the "stiffnecked" Jews for "looking beyond the mark" (Jacob 4:14). We are looking beyond the mark today, for example, if we are more interested in the physical dimensions of the cross than in what Jesus achieved thereon; or when we neglect Alma's words on faith because we are too fascinated by the light-shielding hat reportedly used by Joseph Smith during some of the translating of the Book of Mormon. To neglect substance while focusing on process is another form of unsubmissively looking beyond the mark.  (Maxwell, Neal A. (1988), Not My Will, But Thine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, p. 26)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Our Leaders are Always Right - and They Are Always Wrong

Many people have to be told they must do their best and try their hardest. Anything else leads to laziness for too many people - and abuse of all sorts.

Many people have to be told they can't make it on their own, no matter their best efforts. Anything else leads to pride for too many people - and abuse of all sorts.

People generally respond best to whichever approach matches (or doesn't match, in some cases) their fundamental nature - whichever is the best motivator for each of us as individuals - whichever is the one we want to hear.

Good leaders have no clue which message will ring true with which individual, unless they can get to know each individual, so they have to teach both perspectives in any organization that is too large to know everyone individually.

Thus, good leaders of groups ALWAYS are wrong - while simultaneously ALWAYS being right. The only alternative is exclusion of a huge portion of those they try to lead.

So, my practical advice to Mormons is to pick the leaders (both globally and locally) who teach using the approach that is best for you.  Gain what you can from the others, but focus on those who speak more directly to your own soul.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We Have a Right to Embrace All Truth, No Matter Where We Find It

Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth.

We seek for truth wherever we may find it. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”

Yes, we do have the fulness of the everlasting gospel, but that does not mean that we know everything. In fact, one principle of the restored gospel is our belief that God “will yet reveal many great and important things.”

So we continually seek truth from all good books and other wholesome sources. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” In this manner we can resist the deceit of the evil one. In this manner we learn the truth “precept upon precept; line upon line.” And we will learn that intelligence cleaves unto intelligence, and wisdom receives wisdom, and truth embraces truth.  (Dieter F. Uchtdorf - selected excerpts from "What Is Truth?")

Monday, January 27, 2014

Some People Who Don't Pay Tithing Can Hold a Temple Recommend

A friend of mine once told me that her Bishop refused to sign a temple recommend for her, since she didn't pay any tithing.  This good sister was married to someone who was not LDS, and she didn't work outside the home; thus, she had no personal income.  She asked me how I felt about her Bishop's decision to refuse her a temple recommend based solely on her non-payment of tithing.  The following is my response to that question: 
10% of nothing is nothing.

Let me repeat that, mathematically:

0 x .10 = 0

So, someone who has no income and pays no tithing is a full tithe payer. Period. End of discussion. No gray area. 

Seriously, if you have no income, you can answer "Yes" to the tithing question without hesitation. You are a full tithe payer. You don't need to explain anything, but if you are questioned, simply say that 10% of nothing is nothing - so you are a full tithe payer. (The best example of this are youth who don't work, don't pay tithing but still have recommends to do baptisms for the dead in the temple.

Furthermore, there is no expectation of any kind of receiving tithing from non-members. Holding one person responsible for the actions of another person in this regard is against the teachings of the Church - even if the spouse is a member. In other words, if a spouse has no income but would pay tithing if an income existed and the other spouse does have an income but refuses to pay tithing, what I said above applies - even if the spouse with an income who refuses to pay tithing is LDS.

As a similar example, even if one spouse is excommunicated, the other spouse can remain a fully active member - and even attend the temple. Things like this are supposed to be evaluated individually.

The particular example of a non-tithe-paying member spouse is not understood by some members and local leaders, but if my wife wasn't working and I didn't pay tithing, she should not be kept from the temple for my non-payment. Period. End of discussion. I believe most members and leaders would agree with me if I had a chance to talk with them about it (and I believe the vast majority of Bishops and Stake Presidents understand it this way) - and I am certain nothing would be said to me by 99% of the local leadership if I discussed it in a Stake Leadership Meeting. It's getting the ones who don't understand to think about it that is the issue in most cases - and having it presented by someone they view as an "authority" of some kind helps, unfortunately.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why is Temple Marriage Important (or Even Necessary) in This Life?

"Temple marriage" is all about the concept of "sealing" - which is a really, really powerful concept, in and of itself. It also is an incredibly needed concept throughout the world, especially when the "big picture" (neither is the man nor the woman without the other) is understood. So, at the most fundamental level, there is a HUGE difference between the concept of eternal sealing (e.g., the responsibilities inherent in the need for two truly to become one) and the concept of "til death do us part" - or God as strictly a male construct - or unrighteous dominion in marriage - ad infinitum.

It's instructive that MANY people whose religious theologies really don't allow for a continuation of their marriage after death still believe in marriage after death. The concept of "being sealed" (becoming unbreakable and eternally combined) is there, even when the theology and "official terminology" is not. So, it's really important that those who understand that others can become one eternally even without "being sealed" in mortality not jettison the ceremony that actually articulates that ideal and makes it "physical" in a very real way - that they not devalue the concept of sealing that happens in the temple. The concept needs to be preached and "embodied" not just believed - or it eventually becomes lost to many people who need a visual, physical representation to keep it real.

It would be easy to focus so much on the problem of practical exclusivity with regard to the temple (that is real and difficult in many families) that we miss the amazing, fundamental foundation of near universal inclusiveness outside this little part of our eternal existence. Rather than decry that only a few people ever get married in a temple, maybe we should honor the idea it represents and then work to spread that idea (sans temple) to those who won't be married in a temple during mortality but still can be sealed in a very real way as a result of how they bond with their spouse. Why not preach the big picture ideal to all and acknowledge, wherever possible, the beauty of the Mormon embodiment of it?

That general concept (seeing the universal, theoretical ideal AND the problems inherent in our limited application capacity, then working within conflicting societies to empower and enlighten and lift and support all to whatever degree possible) is one that is dear to me. I'm not an island, and there is NOTHING that can force me to abandon EITHER my fellow congregants OR my fellow non-congregants and swim off on my own - even if I have to alter how I talk with and explain things to them, based on what makes sense to them. For my fellow Mormons, I encourage a reverence for the concept and practice of temple sealing (and a better understanding, if possible, of the implications of our vicarious work for others and the charity it should engender); for my fellow non-Mormons, I encourage a reverence for the concept of sealing even if I am unable to mention the temple in any way.

Thus, for me, there is no inherent conflict between loving temple marriage and "ideal" non-temple marriage - and that is an incredibly empowering, liberating condition.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

We Cannot Comprehend the Power of the Gospel

"Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants. And the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend."  (Orson F. Whitney - General Conference April 1924)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Purposes of Our Sunday Meetings: Some Things Aren't Appropriate for Sacrament Meeting

I have spoken with quite a few people over the course of my life about why our Sunday meetings sometimes aren't nearly as spiritually delicious as they should be - why, when you look around the chapel, so many people seem disinterested.  There are some reasons I wouldn't change (like hearing from average members in Sacrament Meeting who are not good public speakers or who are not well-prepared), but there is one fundamental change I would make church-wide, if I could.  I would make sure every member understood the specific purposes of our meetings, starting with those who preside and set the tone.

In my opinion, the primary purposes of our Sunday meetings are as follows: 

1) Sacrament Meeting: Worship

2) Sunday School: Doctrinal instruction

3) PH & RS: Community building (including "fellowshipping" activities and temporal matters)

There is room for some overlap, but only within the parameters of the purposes. For example:

1) It's OK to provide doctrinal instruction in Sacrament Meeting, but that instruction should be about worship-focused things. Grace, charity, meekness, forgiveness and any other godly characteristic is fine as a topic for a talk, as long as they are presented as aspects of true emulative worship - but tithing, food storage, HT & VT, etc. are not appropriate Sacrament Meeting topics. Anything can be related tangentially to worship by a good speaker, but it should not be necessary for a speaker to take a non-worship-focused topic and bend it into an appropriate topic. 

2) Sunday School should be a school - and I prefer the group discussion model for ALL classes comprised of members who've been attending long enough to have a fairly solid doctrinal foundation. I want real meat in Gospel Doctrine, for example - with those members occasionally cycling through Gospel Essentials (maybe once every five years or so), just to make sure the foundation milk doesn't get sour.

3) PH & RS should be about people - defining and planning service, discussing HT & VT, discussing how to find and reach and inspire others, lessons on those things that really aren't worship-focused but community-centered (like tithing, food storage, emergency preparedness, fast offerings, even temple attendance, etc.), basic get-to-know-you activities, learning from the life experiences of others, genealogy, etc.

Sacrament Meeting should be "spiritual" in nature; Sunday School should be "educational"; Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings should be "social".  I am most concerned about keeping Sacrament Meeting spiritual and worshipful in nature and focus, since there can be spiritual moments within education and sociality.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other."

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst; and they will do it before the millennium can be ushered in and Christ takes possession of His kingdom. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:499)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Spirituality and a Weird Manifestation of Humility

I absolutely believe there is a spiritual dimension of life, but I believe people are "sensitive" to the Spirit to widely varying degrees.  I also believe that, for many people, there's very little they can do to tap into it "on their own" more than they are inclined naturally to do without it morphing into pure emotionalism - and I don't like anything that substitutes pure emotionalism for spirituality.

That's the rub, in my opinion - that those who are more sensitive assume their sensitivity level is the norm and available to all, and, thus, there must be something "wrong" with someone (or in someone's life) if that person isn't as sensitive. It's not the fault of the spiritually sensitive person, and, in most cases, they aren't being arrogant.  They simply don't understand others who feel and experience things differently, so they often think:

If someone as weak and unworthy as I am can feel this, surely everyone can feel it just as well.

It's a weird manifestation of humility in those cases, and it's more common than most people understand, I think.  I can't get upset at them, even though I believe that perspective can harm those toward whom it is focused. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Evolution of Judeo-Christian Views of God

Last Sunday we went through a condensed overview of how God has been seen throughout Judeo-Christian history, with a focus on how our view of God, within that tradition, has evolved over time. We read from and discussed the following passages:

1) Genesis 1 and the other chapters describe God exclusively in terms of being the Creator. Thus, the earliest records have no real detail about God - certainly not the kind of detail we now preach. I also told the students that, although I almost never talk about scientific or political stuff in class, I believe it is important to realize that there is absolutely nothing in our scriptural accounts of the creation that would force us to believe God literally created the earth in six days as we measure days now - that "days" don't even get mentioned until the third day - that the Pearl of Great Price talks instead about creative periods (that could have lasted for millions of years or more each) - that there is absolutely no reason why we need to fight or reject scientific discoveries about the age of the earth and insist that it was created in six thousand years (or, for example, that God put dinosaur bones on earth as a test to see if we would have faith despite that type of evidence, as I've heard some evangelical friends claim) - etc. I told them that putting limits like that on God is silly when our theology explicitly says God has "all eternity" to accomplish His work. They all got it, and we moved on

2) Genesis 28 describes Jacob's journey during which he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven, with angels descending and ascending, and with God talking to him. We read the verse that relates how surprised Jacob was that God would be in that place and that God would promise to be with him wherever he went, and we discussed the traditional view of that time of territorial, warring Gods (somewhat similar in that regard to the gods of Greek mythology, but tied to specific locations and peoples).

3) We read in Alma 18 the account of Ammon teaching King Lamoni - with a focus on how Ammon approached teaching about God and what their view was at the time. We talked about asking first what others believe and about using their terminology, whenever appropriate, to highlight similarities and shared beliefs. We talked about the time frame of the discussion (about 90BC) and how that would be considered the Old Testament period if it was in the Bible (although it was in the time of silence between Malachi and Matthew). Within Mormon theology, that would mean the God they were discussing was Jehovah (the pre-mortal Jesus), so "the Great Spirit" would be a perfectly accurate description of their God at that time.

4) We read the verses in Luke 24 that describe Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to his apostles and talked about how this was the first time in our religious heritage that God having a physical, tangible body enters the picture. We talked about the story of Jesus' walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and I mentioned the explanation I have heard from other Christian friends that says Jesus merely took a physical body temporarily so his disciples could see him - and how that view doesn't work for me, given how much care Jesus took in Luke 24 to say he wasn't a spirit and then to prove it to them. I mentioned that the belief that Heavenly Father has a tangible body is derived from the account in Luke 24, since Jesus said he was and would be the express image of his father - meaning that if Jesus' resurrected body was tangible and capable of eating with his disciples, Heavenly Father's body must be tangible, as well. There really isn't any account in all of our scriptures that demonstrates Heavenly Father having a tangible, physical body without the connection to Jesus and the resurrection.

5) I then asked the students when in our modern Mormon history we can point to an event that showed us Heavenly Father and Jesus have physical bodies, "as tangible as man's". I was proud of them for not saying the First Vision (and I mentioned specifically that there was nothing physical about that vision). Instead, they mentioned the Priesthood ordinations by John, the Baptist, and by Peter, James and John - since a "laying on of hands" was recorded as part of that process. Again, the inference is that if Jesus, John (the Baptist), Peter, James and John had physical, tangible bodies, so must Heavenly Father.

[As an aside, the Priesthood lesson included a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith about how the Fist Vision teaches us that God, the Father, and Jesus have physical, tangible bodies. I didn't challenge that openly, but I did mention it in a whisper to the man sitting next to me(who is a wonderful scriptural scholar), and we both kind of shrugged and smiled at that assertion.]

Tomorrow,  we will be talking about Jesus and his status as part of the Godhead.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Temple Preparation: We Often Do a Lousy Job

I think we do a grave disservice to members by our refusal to talk about the temple much more openly.

Seriously, just about everything is available to the public now - and most of it has been explained in "faithful" writings. On top of that, there really isn't very much that is forbidden to be discussed, especially among "the faithful", in the actual temple wording. When you listen carefully and don't credit all the things that individual members say, the only things that are forbidden specifically deal with one very narrow aspect - and I understand not talking about that aspect.

There is NOTHING that forbids me from explaining the entire endowment to my children - or anyone else - in great detail, as long as I am careful not to cross the line I mentioned above and as long as I only share what the other person is able to understand. I can explain that it is a play or movie, depending on the location - a presentation of the creation of the universe - of the creation of humans (figuratively) - of the conflict between following God or Lucifer - of the introduction of religion and the need to search for people who speak for Heavenly Father - of the things we need to accept and try to do in order to become like God - of our admission into the presence of God. I can explain that I view it all as symbolic - and why. I can talk about the covenants and how I interpret them. etc., etc., etc.

I can go into lots of detail - and I believe strongly that our Temple Prep classes should do so. There is no solid reason, in my opinion, that anyone should go to the temple for the first time and be surprised or shocked - and I believe that deeply and passionately. I believe it is one of our greatest failures in the Church - and it is completely unnecessary, given what actually is said in the temple itself.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Being Endowed While Still in High School

Since the minimum age to go on a mission was lowered for young men to 18, I have been asked at least twice about how I view high school students going through the temple in preparation for leaving on a mission.  Obviously, this applies to the ones who are 18 before they graduate and are trying to leave as soon after graduation as possible. 

In general, I don't like the idea for young men in the United States, but I'm willing to accept exceptions. It's not so much the age factor as it is their place and role in the society in which we live while in high school. I also believe that there is time, no matter the circumstances, for young men to graduate from high school and then attend the temple prior to leaving on a mission.  I don't see any need to rush that process for almost every individual preparing for a mission. 

Having said that, we had neighbors growing up who were best friends of my parents. They were wonderful people and great parents. They got married in the temple when he was 23 and she was 16. She dropped out of high school to get married in the temple.

Without knowing that particular couple, I would have opposed that situation passionately - and, in general, I do oppose it. Knowing them, however, I am open to exceptions.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

We Need to Experience Misery in Order to Serve Properly

I used to work with some non-profit, charitable organizations. Someone I like very much said, to the best of my memory:

Misery hurts only when it’s experienced. The challenge of charity is to experience misery on a regular basis without becoming desensitized to it – since nobody desires to experience it. Nobody wants to feel pain and despair and grief that they do not need to feel. Since we naturally shy from misery and pain, if we are not careful, we will insulate ourselves from those we say we serve and begin to value the process of giving over the receiver of that giving – and that is a dangerous result.

One of the worst effects of not searching actively for and serving those in pain and misery is the type of insulation it breeds.  I believe "knowing God" often occurs in direct proportion to how well we come to know His children - especially those like the ones Jesus served with such single-minded intensity during his mortal ministry.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Only Religious Constant in Scripture Is Change

Although God is the same yesterday, today and forever, the structural, moral, social and symbolic has changed multiple times throughout scripture. Baptism replaced circumcision; animal sacrifice was discontinued; genocide no longer is seen as the will of God; the Jewish dietary system was modified in the early Christian Church; women in one society were told to remain silent, but almost no Christian denomination still follows that prior constraint; Paul dictated comparative hair length (again, at least in one society), and that has been abandoned in our day; polygamy was practiced by many Old Testament prophets but not by later societies; understanding of the very nature of God has evolved over time. The list goes on and on and on.  Eternal principles (which I believe are far fewer than most people assume) might not change, but the practical lives believers have led throughout time have changed in nearly innumerable ways. 

I understand the difficulty of many in accepting the changes that mark the history of Mormonism, but I am struck by the double standard this imposes on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every other Christian denomination that has been around for as long as our church has some aspect of its current practice and belief that is different than when it was founded - and different than what is described in the Bible. The fact that change occurred (even major change) is not the issue; whether or not we are open to change, even radical change, is. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Non-Mormons Sometimes Can Teach Us Much about the LDS Church

A friend of mine read an article a while ago by a non-Mormon theologian that addressed what he saw as the genius of Mormonism.  The article was profound, and my friend asked me an insightful question:

Why does it sometimes take a non-member to remind us of why we stay LDS?
The following was my answer to that question:

Because a non-member can admire "pure Mormonism" from afar without having to work in the trenches amid the tension between the ideal and the real.

He can be an observer. We are the farmers - working in the mud and the muck and the manure trying to grow something beautiful and sweet. We need the observers, but we need the farmers just as much, if not more. Without the farmers, the observers would have nothing to observe.

I also loved the focus on "pure Mormonism" in the article. Yes, it gets messy in the trenches, when "The Church" (the collective "We actually are", at the most fundamental level) doesn't match the ideal for which we long - but the underlying grandeur and mind-blowing expansiveness of the core, pure theology shines through our pitiful attempts to understand and live it when the light hits the diamonds just right, so to speak. Even after all these years, I stil get blinded by the light when I step back a bit and let it shine.

To change analogies, it's even more brilliant when the full orchestral sound washes around me and penetrates my soul (body and spirit combined) - when I experience those moments of communal harmony that make my heart-strings hum and vibrate in tune with it all.

I wish so badly that the entire Church was like that - even if only somewhat regularly. I wish each ward and branch and stake had those moments on a regular basis - when Zion emerges and flows inward and outward - when the concept and the principle of the City of Enoch (another grand allegory and symbol, imo) comes into focus a bit more clearly and I actually can understand what it might be like to be caught up into heaven with people I love and who love me. I know it's not like that fully, even in my own ward that really is wonderful in so many ways - and I understand why others get disheartened when they rarely or never experience it week after soul-numbing week - but I've seen it and I can see it and I know it's possible - and the theological foundation of "pure Mormonism" is why I have seen it and can see it and know it's possible. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Having a Form of Godliness but Denying the Power Thereof

The topic for this month is "The Godhead", so I am focusing on the members of the Godhead in the order in which they are listed in the first article of faith: The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Last Sunday, I asked the students what they believe is the single most important aspect of the Gospel - not allowing anyone to repeat what someone else said previously. The list ended up including love, the Atonement, prayer, Priesthood, obeying the commandments, missionary work / sharing the Gospel, etc. I then asked them what they believe the most critical thing is that was "lost" as a result of the Great Apostasy, and they struggled a little more to come up with answers quickly to that question. I explained that the difference between the ease with which they answered those questions is due mostly to their better understanding of what we believe, in isolation, than what we believe that is unique - and especially what we believe now that is taught in the Bible as included in what Jesus taught but not taught, generally, in the rest of Christianity.

I told them that I personally believe the most important difference that Jesus taught but was "lost" over time is the nature of Godhood: both the nature of God, the Father, and the existence of God, the Mother. I told them that understanding that difference is important, so we turned to JSH 1:19 to see what Joseph was told (and what he wasn't told) about WHY he shouldn't join any other sect.

Rather than have to spend a lot of time reconstructing that discussion, I am linking to a post I wrote back in 2008 on Mormon Matters in which I laid out almost exactly what we discussed. Please read that post, then return here for the end of the lesson summary.

Common Scriptures in Review: JSH 1:19

We then talked about what it means to "have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof". We talked about how there is no power in having spirits sit on clouds and praise you forever - that real power is taking something that is not godlike and making it godlike - of bridging the "unbridgeable gap", to put it in Protestant terms. Thus, when I speak of the central truth lost in the Great Apostasy, I focus on the idea that "I am a child of God" in a very real, evolutionary way - that we have heavenly parents and can become like them. Thus, throughout the entire year, we will be talking about everything within that framework - how every topic and every lesson relates to becoming like God. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

What Is the Truth That Shall Make Us Free? A Book of Mormon Answer

John 8:31-32 says:

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
What is the truth that shall make us free? 

In the LDS Church, we quote 2 Nephi 2:25 all the time ("Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."), but I believe we don’t quote 2 Nephi 2:26 nearly enough. This verse is beautiful and so central to the lesson taught thoughout the chapter.  (I have described verse 25 as a "bridge" from what comes before it to the most important message in the entire chapter - verse 26.)  Verse 26 says (emphasis mine):
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
I read verse 26 as saying that it is the redemption that constitutes the truth that makes us free – that “justifies” the Fall (our separation from God) and gives us the insight to know good from evil. In other words, I don’t believe we know good from evil because we were removed from God’s presence (“fell”); I believe we know good from evil because a God agreed to redeem us from that separation and allowed us to be taught “truth”.

What truth?

That we actually are children of God who actually can become heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ. That Jesus meant what he said, in so many places in the Bible, literally.  That simple “good news” makes us free to act upon hopes we can’t see (faith), act to change our very nature (repent), act to be cleansed symbolically (baptism) and act in an attempt to know God’s will (receive the Holy Ghost). It’s an acceptance of the Atonement / redemption in all its marvelous glory (not “denying the power thereof”) that constitutes the truth that makes us free to act and not be acted upon. 

Verse 26 says all of that, in my opinion – and I continually am blown away by how concisely it does so.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"We must preserve the freedom of the mind in the church."

The Abundant Life: The Memoirs of Hugh B. Brown

“I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent – if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression. . . This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. . . . We must preserve the freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Danger and Damning Nature of Cheap Forgiveness

I believe strongly that “cheap forgiveness” is very much like “cheap grace” – and every bit as damaging.

By that, I mean that those who have not been hurt by someone specific have absolutely NO right to talk about having forgiven that person. Only those who have been wronged can forgive – and when someone who has not been wronged talks of having forgiven someone, it only serves to condemn the inability of those who were harmed to “forgive” as easily. What is misunderstood so often is that the one who thinks he has forgiven really hasn’t. Nothing has been done to him, personally, that requires forgiveness – so his forgiveness is a cheap counterfeit.

Someone could argue that every bad action harms lots of people to varying degrees – and I won’t argue against that. However, it’s patently obvious that all harm is not equal and, likewise, that all recovery is not equal. Thus, not all “forgiveness” is equal – since the deeper the damage, the harder the healing and the forgiveness.

If I could teach one thing to those who are harmed only tangentially, moderately shallowly or not at all it would be the realization that those who seem to be unable to forgive cannot, and I mean absolutely cannot, be judged by we who can’t see their hearts and their wounds perfectly. It is the concept that forgiveness of deep wounds that takes a lifetime means more in the grand scheme of things than forgiveness of paper cuts that take an hour. Jesus is the ultimate example not because of the quickness of his forgiveness but because of the depth of the pain and the wounds he forgave – and it interesting to ponder the source of that pain. Yes, he suffered for us – but it is just as real to say that the pain was inflicted BY his Father as it is to say it was inflicted because of us.

Thus, in a very real and very powerful way, he forgave his Father for asking him to become our scapegoat – for placing him in the position to suffer so greatly – to cast him out in a way that is very similar in practical terms to what Janusz’s wife did to him in the 1954 book "The Long Walk" by Slavomir Rawicz. (The book is written as non-fiction, but it might be creative non-fiction - or historical non-fiction, depending on the term used"The Way Back" is a film adaptation of this memoir.  Reactions to the movie vary widely.)

There’s a lesson in there about the pain and suffering each of us endures simply as a result of Adam’s transgression and our faithful step into mortality – and our own need to “forgive God” for asking us to endure it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Mormons Can View Things Differently - Even Things as Important as the Book of Mormon

Elder Holland, 2007, PBS interview for 'The Mormons':

PBS: [You say] there are stark choices in beliefs about the origins of the book. Explain why there's no middle way.

Elder Holland: ... If someone can find something in the Book of Mormon, anything that they love or respond to or find dear, I applaud that and say more power to you. That's what I find, too. And that should not in any way discount somebody's liking a passage here or a passage there or the whole idea of the book, but not agreeing to its origin, its divinity. ...

I think you'd be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we're not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. ... We would say: "This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I'm going forward. If I can help you work toward that I'd be glad to, but I don't love you less; I don't distance you more; I don't say you're unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can't make that step or move to the beat of that drum."

Friday, January 3, 2014

I Have a Complex View of Joseph Smith: An Important Lesson I Think We Miss from D&C 121

With what I am about to say, I probably should start with an explicit statement that I accept Joseph Smith as a prophet and am amazed at what he was able to accomplish. I love him largely because he wasn’t the caricature everyone (his defenders AND his critics) tends to paint.

With that said, I find D&C 121 to be absolutely fascinating as it relates to "US", not just as it relates to "THEM". I believe we water down its message greatly when we read it in context of "others" and fail to read more closely and critically in order to see how it relates just as meaningfully (actually, more meaningfully) to ourselves and those with whom we worship. 

D&C 121 starts, in my opinion, with Joseph finally losing it and demanding that God come down and wipe out the enemies of the Church. In a very real way, I think he “broke” finally - and fully gave in to his natural tendencies, if you will.

When you read the first part of D&C 121, in essence, Joseph begged God to be the Old Testament protector / destroyer God – not the long-suffering God of the New Testament that he largely had been up to that point. (That also fits with how I see Joseph’s prophetic role – MUCH more as a classic OT prophet than as a classic NT apostle – and I’m fine with that, since he obviously believed in a restoration of all things that was founded in OT theology in many ways.)

D&C 121 then follows his plea with a reassurance from God that basically tells Joseph to chill out and continue to endure – in a very real way, although couched in gentle, loving terms, telling him he had crossed the line and asked for that which couldn’t be granted. For what had he asked? A demonstration of divine power that would prove Joseph’s claims once and for all - which, in and of itself, might not have been such a bad thing, but, in context of killing numerous people, was a very radical demand. (I have used the word "demand" twice so far in this post, and I really do read it as a demand - not a simple, humble request.

The middle part of the section then outlines the nature of the Priesthood and the responsibilities of those who hold it – and the section ends with what I see as a deeply reflective, humbling admission and/or divine admonition. It says (with the EMPHASIS mine):

v. 37 – “when WE undertake to cover OUR sins, or to gratify OUR pride, OUR vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in ANY degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”

v. 39 – “WE have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of ALMOST ALL men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

Personally, I think one of the reasons Joseph received this revelation was to teach him (and we who read it) that even prophets (as part of almost all men) not only could cross but actually had crossed the line into unrighteous dominion – and, in doing so, could lose the protection of God they had enjoyed previously.

In a very real way, I see Joseph, not Brigham, as the modern Moses (and Brigham as the modern Joshua) – a very complex man who did great and marvelous things but who, in the end, was kept from leading his people into the promised land because his ego got the best of him and let his power go to his head. I absolutely love Joseph, from what I have read and felt about him – but he was a man, not a God, and I believe his death, while not justified in any way, absolutely was influenced greatly by his actions toward the end of his life.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Struggles with a Joy-Focused Church: The Plan of Salvation vs. The Plan of Happiness

I wondered a long time ago if people who have some sort of disorder (like depression of any kind, bi-polar disorder, social anxiety, etc.) are more prone to difficulty in a church that teaches, "Men are that they might have joy," and is such a social, "life-style" religion. I have come to believe that they do, and, to paraphrase Jesus, those who do NOT face those sort of things probably are the "whole" who need not a physician - and who struggle to be a physician in practical terms. 

As an additional note, this is another reason I don't want people who struggle in some way because they are different to leave the Church. Many of them are the very people who could serve the sick who need a physician - and educate the whole about minimizing their contributions to worsening the sickness of others.

In that light, I have noticed a movement over the last few years to replace "The Plan of Salvation" with "The Plan of Happiness".  I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind that new focus, but I also understand that such a change constitutes a two-edged sword.  For those who are inclined to be able to feel happiness more readily than others - or those for whom the concept of a salvation doesn't resonate all that deeply, due to the relative goodness of their lives - the idea of God granting them happiness if they pursue it can be a powerful motivation and an empowering goal.  For those who are prone to depression, lack of self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, tendencies toward feeling overwhelmed, destructive perfectionism, etc., however, happiness can seem elusive (and, in too many cases, even guilt-inducing and burdensome) - while the concept of being saved from grief, pain, sorrow, struggle, etc. can be powerful and empowering. 

I like each phrasing, in a proper setting and with proper application, so I prefer the use of both descriptions rather than exclusive reliance on either one.  I think there is even greater power and empowerment in combining the two and emphasizing both when talking publicly, and I believe doing so can help those who naturally would gravitate to one over the other appreciate and gain strength occasionally from the one that does not resonate most naturally for them. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Resolution Post: 2014

For the last few years, I have structured my New Year's Resolutions around scriptural passages that talk about how to be more Christlike.  (If you want to review the previous posts, go to the timeline on the homepage and look up each January 1st.)  I have loved this focus and what I have learned and become (even if only a little bit more) as a result, but, as a Sunday School teacher for the past year, my Saturday posts have consisted of summaries of those lessons.  This year, I will continue to post those lesson summaries, but I am taking a different approach to my New Year's Resolution this year.  (If I stop teaching Sunday School, I will write posts each Saturday about this year's resolution.

My resolution this year is simple - not easy, but simple:

I resolve to be more active in providing real service to people who need it the most.  I resolve to step outside my mind and myself and serve the same type of people Jesus served during his ministry

The whole need not a physician, but the sick.  

I've spent too much of my life among the whole (at least, relatively whole) and not enough of my life among the obviously sick.  Granted, I've spent a ton of time working with people who are in the midst of faith crises of some kind, and I have loved doing so - but I have felt a constant and forceful pull to do more than that.  I still will use my mind to minister to others, but I need to use my hands much more, as well. 

I don't know yet exactly how that will work, since I haven't decided yet exactly who and how to do so, but I am resolved to find a way to do so.