Monday, June 30, 2014

When Someone Comes Home Early from a Full-Time Mission

I have a friend online whose son returned home from a full-time mission as a result of anxiety attacks he thought were under control prior to beginning his mission.  She asked me for my advice about how to try to lessen the possible negative impact of that situation on her son, and I came across what I told her and decided to post it here. 
One of my very close friends growing up came home early from his mission, entirely because he didn't feel right telling people they could have experiences he hadn't had. He asked for the release, and he was given an honorable release by a good Mission President who understood. I admired my friend immensely for that, and even more so when his girlfriend broke up with him because, in her words, she only wanted to marry a "real" RM. (I really loathe that attitude, and I choose that word intentionally.)  He faced some judgment from others when he returned home, but his parents were very supportive - and he has a strong testimony of compassion, love and charity as a result of his experiences.

I would share with your son the details of Pres. George Albert Smith's life - of his constant physical trials and his struggles with depression throughout his life. I would explain that Pres. Smith was one of the most loving, humble, charitable leaders we have had in the Church - and I believe his struggles were a large part of reinforcing his natural tendencies in that regard. If a President of the Church struggled as much as he did, there is NO shame or guilt whatsoever in your son's situation.

I also would have him read 2 Nephi 4 from the perspective of a clinical evaluation of Nephi. I believe there is a very good chance Nephi would have been diagnosed with depression, bi-polar disorder or something similar, based on the symptoms in that chapter. That chapter is one of the reasons he is one of my favorite prophets - not because of his recorded visions. I appreciate the struggle described in that chapter FAR more than any sanitized accounts of other prophets.

More than anything else, I simply pray for him and your family. May you be able to rise above the pettiness that you might face and be the example for others they should be for you - amid your struggles, not without them.

One of the most oft quoted verses in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 25:23. It says:

"we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."

I'm NOT going to go into the different ways that verse can be interpreted right now, but I think it might help your son in his current situation to understand that, no matter what others think about him and his release (even the leaders of your ward and stake, perhaps), and no matter how the verse above is interpreted, it says in crystal clear terms that your son has been saved by the grace of God in the specific instance of his missionary service.

Saved from what? I think it is fair to say from every negative aspect of his release. Period.

Isaiah 53:4-5 says:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows . . . the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

The parts I skipped don't apply to your son's situation, but the parts above do. I hope he can recognize what is taught in these three verses and accept that, in God's eyes, his service was enough - since it was "all (he) can do".

Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks: Part 4

Last Sunday, we covered the last five paragraphs of Elder Oaks' talk - with paragraph defined loosely.

I close with some truths about the blessings of the priesthood. Unlike priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations, the blessings of the priesthood are available to women and to men on the same terms.

I mentioned that Elder Oaks said this, with different words, multiple times throughout the talk (including in the upcoming paragraphs) - but that he was about to use two specific examples that rarely have been discussed in those terms in the past.

The gift of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the temple are familiar illustrations of this truth.

We defined "the priesthood" one more time (the power of God) and I asked the students if they could list times / events in life when we could say we represent God in some way. The obvious responses were ordination for the young men and baptism, so we talked about those and others.

1) We believe we all are children of God, so, in a very real way, if we believe that, we also believe we can represent him as his children. That is emphasized in our theology by our belief in the light of Christ, which we equate with our consciences. Everyone, with a few exceptions, represents God in this way.

2) When we are baptized, we covenant to take the name of Jesus upon us - to become "Christian". That is a direct commitment to do what Jesus would do and represent him.

3) When we are confirmed, we are told to receive the Holy Ghost - which we equate to striving to understand and do the will of God.

4) We talk of the Priesthood in terms of service - which, phrased differently, is participating in the work and glory of God.

5) When members are endowed in the temple, every ordinance men experience, women also experience - and women perform almost all of them. We talked about each ordinance - what it is meant to convey, what blessings are promised, what covenants are made, what symbolism is used, etc. I told them that there are two primary wording differences for men and women in the endowment and the sealing - and that I personally see them as cultural remnants of our earlier history that don't match a lot of what has been taught in numerous talks over the last couple of decades and the last part of what we discussed last week from Elder Oaks' talk. (the description of marriage as a full partnership of equals)

All of these things are "exercising the authority and power of the Priesthood" - and all of them are available, according to Elder Oaks, to men and women alike. Currently, the only exceptions are, in his words, "priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations" - and those can change if the top leadership receives revelation that would change the historical "pattern" they see right now and not if they don't. 

In his insightful talk at BYU Education Week last summer, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave these teachings:

“Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other . . . When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power . . . Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.”

This is another reiteration of one of Elder Oaks' central themes - but it is one of the first times I have heard two apostles say unequivocally that women are endowed with priesthood power when they attend the temple. As was the case with his words earlier in the talk, Elder Oaks did NOT frame this as women having access to the priesthood power men are given; rather, once again, he framed it explicitly as women having / being given the same power men are given - that the priesthood power they exercise is their own power, endowed directly and personally to them.

We talked about the temple garment - the "garment of the holy priesthood". I explained that both men and women wear symbolic clothing ("robes") in the temple that represent the ceremonial clothing temple priests wore in the Old Testament time. Thus, in the temple, men dress as priests and women dress as priestesses. We talked about how men AND women leave the temple "clothed in the garment of the holy priesthood" - which means, in a tangible way, BOTH men and women "hold the priesthood" when they leave the temple. In other words, when women wear the garment, they are "putting on the priesthood" once again, symbolically - and that the garment is the tangible representation of their priestess robes outside the temple. Again, with that in mind, when women do the Lord's work outside the temple, they are doing it as priestesses through the priesthood power with which they were endowed when they first went through the temple.

I testify of the power and blessings of the priesthood of God, available for His sons and daughters alike. I testify of the authority of the priesthood, which functions throughout all of the offices and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify of the divinely directed function of the keys of the priesthood, held and exercised in their fulness by our prophet/president, Thomas S. Monson. Finally and most important, I testify of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose priesthood this is and whose servants we are, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

I told the students that if they wanted an interesting experience they should go through the talk again, in its entirety, and count the number of times Elder Oaks said that men and women both have access to the power and authority of God and exercise it in everything they do in the Church. I asked why he would have to repeat it so many time, and, after we talked about that, I told them that I think it's because members who are close to my age and older need to have it repeated that many times to have it register and to understand and accept it. I asked them to be patient when they heard members repeat the former framing - to understand how hard it can be to let go of things that were learned when those people were teenagers and early adults - but to commit to make sure they helped change the Church into more of what Elder Oaks described than it currently is.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nakedness is Not Shameful

I see the story of Adam and Eve, as presented in the temple endowment, as Lucifer positioning himself as the "God of this world" by inserting himself between Adam & Eve and God, "commanding them" and convincing them to hide from God. In other words, Lucifer pointed out their nakedness and then used that nakedness as a wedge to separate them from God. 

Having said that, I don't take it literally, so I don't believe things actually happened as I just described. I'm talking about the meaning taken from the story within the endowment - and I really like that meaning, since it includes shame and guilt over simple nakedness as being introduced by the "father of lies". The idea that nakedness is shameful in and of itself is a horrible lie, in my opinion - and I appreciate a story that attributes that shame to "the devil".

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We Ought to Serve with Charity and No Expectation of Conversion

I gratefully follow up on anyone’s interest in learning about the Church, but I also know that we Latter-day Saints take Jesus’s charge seriously to love our neighbor, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned (see Matthew 25:34–36) without expecting the conversion of the recipient or those who serve with us. Sincere and respectful interfaith engagement never requires any group, including ours, to disavow its beliefs. Rather, it encourages participants to “contend against no church” (D&C 18:20) and “clothe [themselves] with the bond of charity” (D&C 88:125). (Betsy Vandenberghe, December 2013 Ensign)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jesus, the Christ, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Redeeming We Misfit Toys

The Island of Misfit Toys, with all its issues, still was a haven for the toys there - and their collective charity and acceptance of another misfit eventually set them free.

Jesus was a true misfit in many, many ways - and he spent his life serving his own "kingdom of nobodies" - on an Island of Misfit Toys he intentionally and purposefully created during his ministry. Who cares if we are blind? He healed the blind. So what if we feel "dead" sometimes. He raised the dead. Who cares if we are rejected and despised by the "mainstream" religious culture of our time?  He walked and talked and healed those outside the mainstream.  What does it matter if we are sick or tired or different? He loved and blessed the sick and the tired and the different in a very special way.

I believe we are doing God's work here in mortality, in a very real and important way, when we interact with and love those who are suffering and struggling in some way - and I think if Jesus were to spend any time with members of the LDS Church in a second ministry, it would be with those who struggle the most in the Church. I really think he would spend more time outside our meetinghouses than in our Sacrament Meetings, if his first mortal ministry is any indication - and I am not disparaging our meetinghouses and Sacrament Meetings in any way by saying that. I wish badly that more of our congregations and activities were gatherings of misfits much more obviously than currently is the case. 

I really love the idea of looking for and loving those who live on their own Island of Misfit Toys (and realizing that all of us, in a real and important way, are Misfit Toys) - and my teary eyes as I type this are a testimony to that feeling. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Atonement Is Not Meant to Make Us All the Same

But while the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold - that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities. It also contradicts the intent and purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ, which acknowledges and protects the moral agency - with all its far-reaching consequences - of each and every one of God’s children. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are united in our testimony of the restored gospel and our commitment to keep God’s commandments. But we are diverse in our cultural, social, and political preferences. 
(Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2013 General Conference, "Four Titles") 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Does God Let Us Come to Earth, if He Knows What We Are Going to Do?

I have a friend whose 13-year-old daughter asked him the following question long ago:

"Why does God let us come to earth when he already knows what we are going to do (beyond getting a physical body)?"

He asked me how I would answer that question, and I have thought about it off and on ever since then.  The following is my answer as of today:
To a non-13-year-old (or a very intelligent 13-year-old), I probably would answer:

I'm not so sure he does know every single thing we will do - and I'm not so sure it matters in the long run, since I think we have much, much longer to reach our ultimate destination than we realize, no matter what we do in every single instance.

Then, obviously, I might have to explain in greater detail - but I might not.

To an "average" teenager, I probably would answer:

Because it's not about God; it's about you and me and everyone else.

Then, obviously, I might have to explain in greater detail - but I might not.

Having said all that, I hope my very first response would be:

I don't know for sure. What do you think? 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks: Part 3

This lesson covered the next seven paragraphs in Elder Oaks' talk.  (To read the summaries of the first two lessons about his talk, read here and here.)

We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.

We talked about this as being a rephrasing of what we had discussed in the first week's lesson - that everyone who acts under the direction of the presiding Priesthood keys does so with the authority and power of God - the classic definition of the Priesthood. We talked about how traditionally young men serving missions has been considered a Priesthood duty but young women have been told they can serve missions or not, whatever they want, without any pressure to do so - since "preaching the Gospel" has been considered a Priesthood duty. We talked about how the lowering of the minimum age for young women goes hand-in-hand with seeing women as working with Priesthood authority and power, as well. Therefore, serving a mission is a good example for Elder Oaks to use when talking about how we need to start seeing Priesthood authority and power differently than in the past.

Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities. That is a principle needed in society at large. The famous Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is quoted as saying, “It is time … to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.” Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities

This could have been tricky, but I focused on the concept that Elder Oaks already had said that everyone can exercise Priesthood authority and power, so, with that foundation (not talking about Priesthood offices and the performance of ordinances but only exercising Priesthood authority), it really is more important to talk about what is done with that authority (one's responsibilities) than focusing on a right we all have anyway. I mentioned explicitly that this paragraph has nothing whatsoever to do with civil rights. We also talked about how different Mormon theology is with regard to responsibilities relative to exaltation than Protestant theology relative to the right to salvation merely by confessing the name of Jesus.

The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood. But, as various Church leaders have emphasized, men are not “the priesthood.” Men hold the priesthood, with a sacred duty to use it for the blessing of all of the children of God.

I repeated from last week's lesson that the leadership sees a historical pattern of a male-only Priesthood office structure, but, as we discussed in a previous lesson about the sacrament, "the priesthood" is not the men who hold offices and preform ordinances outside the temple. We then talked again about how easy it is to slip into the vocabulary of our formative years, like even Elder Oaks did when he said "men hold the priesthood" - after he had made it clear throughout the talk that what he had to mean is that men are ordained to offices in the priesthood and administer ordinances outside the temple. I emphasized that most people will continue to use the term "hold the priesthood" when what they mean, usually without realizing it, is "be ordained to offices in the priesthood and administer ordinances outside the temple".

Prior to reading the next few paragraphs, I emphasized that Elder Oaks now was starting to talk about a new topic - and that he was NOT repeating the oft-stated idea that priesthood is the male counterpart to motherhood. That is easy to misunderstand with a quick reading only, but that former comparison makes no sense in light of the entire talk. I also told them explicitly that the next paragraphs contain good examples of cultural assumptions that are hard to release, even in a talk as paradigm-altering as this one.

The greatest power God has given to His sons cannot be exercised without the companionship of one of His daughters, because only to His daughters has God given the power “to be a creator of bodies … so that God’s design and the Great Plan might meet fruition.” Those are the words of President J. Reuben Clark.

It makes no sense to read "the greatest power God has given to His sons" as being the Priesthood, since men can exercise the Priesthood without the companionship of women - and, according to Elder Oaks in this talk, women can exercise the Priesthood, as well. The ONLY logical meaning of that "greatest power" is the ability to have kids - or "procreation" in Mormon-speak. I simply added that this is kind of a "Duh!" statement and that Pres. Clark, whom I really respected and admired, was wrong in a way - since a woman is NOT "a creator of bodies" all by herself. I grinned and said that a man has to be involved, as well - that they both are creators of bodies.

He continued: “This is the place of our wives and of our mothers in the Eternal Plan. They are not bearers of the Priesthood; they are not charged with carrying out the duties and functions of the Priesthood; nor are they laden with its responsibilities; they are builders and organizers under its power, and partakers of its blessings, possessing the complement of the Priesthood powers and possessing a function as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.”

I pointed out that, all by themselves, these sentences make little sense when compared with the rest of Elder Oaks' talk - that the rest of this talk up to this point actually changes many of the assumptions in Pres. Clark's words. Either Elder Oaks was using the quote because it was quoted often over the years or he is talking about something else. The next sentence shows he is talking about something else.

In those inspired words, President Clark was speaking of the family.

Thus, Elder Oaks used Pres. Clark's quote not to discuss Priesthood authority and power but to discuss family and marriage structure and responsibility.

As stated in the family proclamation, the father presides in the family and he and the mother have separate responsibilities, but they are “obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

I simply mentioned how frustrating it is for me to hear members cite the Proclamation to insist that men and women have to adhere to the traditional roles described as "primary responsibilities" in the Proclamation - since the part about helping each other as equal partners says it applies to "these responsibilities" inclusively and then goes on to talk about how each couple needs to make adaptations that work for them. Given this wording, just like the distinction between rights and responsibilities in exercising the authority and power of the Priesthood, it's not about who does what (rights) but simply that everything that is supposed to happen actually happens (responsibilities). Thus, I know stay-at-home dads who are married to full-time working moms - which now is said to be completely fine if decided mutually by those spouses.

I also mentioned that "preside" now means something very different than it did when I was their age, as emphasized in the next thing Elder Oaks quoted.

Some years before the family proclamation, President Spencer W. Kimball gave this inspired explanation: “When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.”

I pointed out that this quote was a pre-cursor to the Proclamation and that it fundamentally changes the way we ought to talk about marriage. We talked about "full partnerships" by discussing joint checking accounts - that my wife and I each don't have access to half of our money but that each of us has access to all of it. It's not 50/50; it's 100/100. Likewise, a full marriage partnership means each spouse has equal access to everything done in the marriage - that there isn't one who is the final decision maker or ultimately the boss. Too many older members, especially, still see it that way, but it's not consistent with Pres. Kimball's quote or this talk.

In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.

We ended the lesson by talking more about what it means to be equal but have different responsibilities - and that how the determination of how those responsibilities are divided among men and women is up to spouses in the family and "key holders" in the Church - and that changes to how responsibilities in the Church currently are allocated is up to the leadership, subject to revelation that may change the current division of responsibilities and the composition of the leadership.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Not All Questions Require Answers - but Some Do: That Decision Is Up to Individuals

The ability to consider multiple possibilities is a wonderful thing to me - as is an understanding that most, if not all, answers merely give rise to more questions.

Some questions require answers - at the very least, temporary ones; some questions don't require answers but serve more to open doors to other questions.

Having said that, many people need answers - and I'm not about to disparage them for that need. In some things, I like (nearly) immutable answers.

Each of us has to determine for ourselves what questions require answers for us and what questions don't - and we have to fight the tendency to deny that right to others whose conclusions are different than ours.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

God Is Merciful to Us, His Toddlers

We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not. . . . Compared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him. . . .  I do not believe in a God who would set up rules and commandments only to wait for us to fail so He could punish us. I believe in a Heavenly Father who is loving and caring and who rejoices in our every effort to stand tall and walk toward Him. Even when we stumble, He urges us not to be discouraged - never to give up or flee our allotted field of service - but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2013 General Conference, "Four Titles")

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The First Vision Is NOT the Keystone of Our Religion: Using the Book of Mormon as It Was Intended to Be Used

I feel strongly that we miss much when we fail to realize how the First Vision and the Book of Mormon were used in the early days of the Church within missionary work. 

When the Book of Mormon was used as the launching pad, as the catalyst in and of itself for an initial spiritual experience ("Here's Moroni's promise. Read this book from cover to cover with that promise in mind. Follow that promise. THEN, when you've done that, we'll start teaching doctrine."), missionary work flourished the most. When we started using the Book of Mormon as a doctrinal proof-text and started focusing on teaching doctrine over converting spiritual experience, missionary work flourished the least.

The structure of the Book of Mormon (especially Moroni 10:3-5 - all three verses, not just the last two, which now are used as the Seminary scripture mastery passage) is laid out in such a way to inspire people who read it to believe that God can and will speak to them (let them know the truth of all things) - and to have such a recognition subsequently allow them to read the Bible and understand and believe what it really says (primarily about God, their relationship to God and what the "power of godliness" really entails). Iow, the Book of Mormon allows people to read the Bible with "new spiritual eyes" through which the "mists of darkness" caused by centuries of bad Christian doctrine and apologetics can be overcome and people can understand who they really are.

I love the way Preach My Gospel is structured, and I love the flexibility it is supposed to provide for the teaching of doctrine, but I think we miss the mark when we don't use the Book of Mormon in the way that I believe it was intended to be used - when we make the First Vision the keystone of our religion. (I don't want to dismiss the First Vision in any way, but it's important to understand that everyone and their dog were having spiritual experiences during that time period in that geographic area; the Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is unique.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

We Must Respect the Agency of Those Who Choose to Leave the LDS Church

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2013 General Conference, "Come, Join with Us")

This is one of my favorite quotes of all time, from any apostle. If we say we grant all people the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of their own consciences, we need to accept it for "our own", as well as for "others" - and that also applies to those who stay in the LDS Church but have different views than ours.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Actually Sympathize with Nehor and Amlici a Little: or, Not Everything is as Simple as We Think

We tend to take the summary, abridged descriptions in the Book of Mormon at face value and, often, don't step back a bit and remember that what we have is presented as not even 1/100th of what could have been included - or that it was recorded by very few individuals from their own perspectives.  We can accept them as prophets and good people without sacrificing our acknowledgment that they also were humans with personal biases and motives that influenced their writings - especially in the case of Mormon, who, like any historian with space and time constraints, had to pick and choose what to share and what to exclude.

For example, when I read the chapters about Mosiah's actions near the end of his life regarding the future governmental structure of his people, something jumps out at me that is easy to overlook:
1) Mosiah had taken leadership of a people more numerous than the Nephites. That simple fact opens all kinds of issues relative to his government-altering actions before he died. 

2) If one of his sons wasn't going to take his place, there was a good chance that one of the people of Mulek who already was influential and popular would do so - especially if the kingship was determined by popular vote. Again, it is stated clearly in the text that the people of Mulek greatly outnumbered the descendants of Nephi in that area.  In fact, the moment Mosiah's sons rejected the throne (and Alma the Younger also did), those other influential Mulekite contenders might have started agitating for the position very quickly.

3) Nehor is described as being another King Noah, in philosophy and intent. Amalici was one of his disciples. They are said to have gained a following FAR too quickly to have started a grass-roots campaign from scratch at the end of Mosiah's life.

4) If Mosiah knew either of them was likely to become the king, it would have provided the best possible motivation to change the system.

5) If you think about it, the best possible reason for Nehor, and then Amlici, to be extremely upset and demand what they had assumed they would attain would have been what they would have seen as an attempt to perpetuate the minority rule of the Nephites over them. Consider the situation in some Islamic countries even today; there are striking parallels. 

6) It's easy to condemn Nehor and Amlici, given the descriptions we have of them, and I'm not trying to endorse them in any way - but it's harder to realize that they might have had a very compelling legal argument and an incredibly strong emotional appeal to a majority people ruled by those of the minority.

Many things are less clear than we tend to assume in hindsight - and many things in the Book of Mormon are pretty amazing when looked upon a bit more expansively than we tend to do.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks: Part 2

Priesthood and Priesthood Keys: Elder Oaks' General Conference talk - Part 2

We had three students in class today who weren't in attendance last week, so I took about ten minutes for a quick review of last week's lesson (the first six paragraphs of Elder Oaks' talk). It was good for the others to hear it again. (If anyone wants to review that lesson before reading this one, it is the post from last Saturday.)

Today, we covered the next six paragraphs. Like I did with last week's summary, I am going to quote the parts we discussed and provide a summary of the discussions:

Ultimately, all keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used. We are accustomed to thinking that all keys of the priesthood were conferred on Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple, but the scripture states that all that was conferred there were “the keys of this dispensation” (D&C 110:16). At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection.

We talked about what this means about possible changes in the future - that it is another reminder that the way we do things currently is not necessarily unchangeable, eternal doctrine - and that we have to be open to radical changes if they occur.

The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures - matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.

We discussed the difference between "administration" and "the priesthood". We defined "administer" as "oversee; supervise; direct". We discussed what that means in terms of the sacrament. We talked about why it is incorrect to say, "The sacrament will be administered and passed by the Priesthood." First, I simply pointed out that the Priesthood is different than the people who do things with Priesthood authority and power - as has been stated numerous times by apostles recently.  I asked who administers the sacrament and who passes it. Their first responses were the Priests, Teachers and Deacons, so we dug further into what happens with that ordinance.

The Bishop (or Branch President or presiding key holder), as the presiding Priest, administers the sacrament, as do the Priests. The other offices in the Aaronic Priesthood (the Deacons and the Teachers) have been authorized to "help" the Bishop and the Priests - not actually to administer but to assist in an official way - and every single person in the congregation passes the sacrament among themselves.  (As pointed out by a commenter on this post, D&C 20:58 explicitly says that Teachers and Deacons are NOT authorized to administer the sacrament.)  This means that "administer" and "prepare and pass" MUST be different things, while "bless" (pronounce the prayer) is part of the administration.  Administering (including blessing) is a responsibility specific to a Priesthood office (Priest), while the others are assignments made by the presiding Priest to help / assist - NOT to administer. 

We talked about how the exact method or pattern of distributing the sacrament is different from congregation to congregation, based on the size and demographics of the congregation. We mentioned various ways the sacrament could be "passed" - from a tiny unit where everyone goes up to the sacrament table and takes it directly from the person who blesses it (with nobody "passing" it) to a larger branch in another part of the world where there are dozens of members but only one man who is ordained to an office in the priesthood and the women (young and old) pass the sacrament throughout the congregation completely on their own - including practical applications that look much like what we see regularly with AP young men. [I know of situations where that happens in some countries.] We talked about the fact that HOW it happens is determined by the person who holds the keys to "direct, control and govern" it - and how nearly every aspect about it is "cultural", when it comes right down to it, since nearly every aspect can change depending on the unique congregational situations. (Outside of the prayer wording and the current restriction on who can voice the prayer [since voicing the prayer is part of the administering], there might be nothing else that couldn't be adapted by a Bishop, Branch President or Area Authority.)

We re-read the last sentence in that paragraph, and I simply pointed out that, as far as we know, women have not been ordained to offices in the priesthood at any point in our scriptural history - so our current leadership does not see that as a matter of practice or policy. Rather, they see it as a "pattern". Therefore, just as was the case prior to OD2 and the lifting of the race-based ban, they don't feel "authorized" to change it without direct revelation from God. I told the students that I hope such a revelation will be received at some point, but I understand why it can't change without revelation to the church leadership. I told them that, lacking such revelation, we need to work on everything else laid out in this talk - that, maybe, this is a case of learning and changing line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept.

I come now to the subject of priesthood authority. I begin with the three principles just discussed: (1) priesthood is the power of God delegated to man to act for the salvation of the human family, (2) priesthood authority is governed by priesthood holders who hold priesthood keys, and (3) since the scriptures state that “all other authorities [and] offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood” (D&C 107:5), all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.

I pointed out that Elder Oaks' use of "man" in the first point MUST mean the generic "mankind" or "humanity", given everything he had said up to that point in the talk. We talked about how often we fall back on the language with which we are familiar, even when we are teaching new understandings. I told them that we can accept that and be charitable, or we can get upset and take offense - but that we ought not "make a (person) an offender for a word" and not focus on one word and let it negate everything else the person has said.

We talked about what "appendages" means: "a subordinate part attached to something; an auxiliary part; addition". I pointed out that Elder Oaks said that "ALL authorities and offices in the church" are auxiliary to the priesthood itself - which means that even the "office" of apostle is an appendage, governed by keys just like any other calling or office. We talked about the concept that Paul taught about all parts of the body being necessary and no more important than any other body part - that "appendages" are of equal importance when, as Elder Oaks said in the first paragraph of the talk, there is no "up and down" in the Church structure. We talked about the idea that, if ALL is subordinate to the priesthood itself and ALL is done with priesthood authority (and priesthood power), then appendages are complementary - especially when at the same organizational level within the Church. Thus, the Young Men quorums are the male equivalent of the Young Women classes (as complementary appendages), and the Relief Society is the female equivalent of the MP quorums. All of them are, based on Elder Oaks' reframing, "priesthood" groups - meaning they can act with priesthood authority and exercise priesthood power. He addresses this further in the following paragraph.

We also talked about what Priesthood "offices" means. I asked them what the word "office" means outside a discussion of the Priesthood. We agreed that offices are rooms (or spaces) where people do certain things that are assigned to them or that are their responsibilities. That basic definition works for Priesthood offices, as well - figurative locations that are "unlocked" (by keys) to allow people to do certain things therein. Using the AP offices, the Deacons are given access to one room where certain things are authorized to be done - and Teachers are given access to that room and one more, where other things are authorized to be done - and Priests are given access to those rooms and one more - etc. The "office" is nothing more than the authorization to do specific things - to be allowed into that room of the overall Priesthood house, per se.

How does this apply to women? In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.”

I pointed out that, linguistically, President Smith had modified the first phrase ("While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood') to clarify what he meant ("it has not been conferred upon them [through ordination to an office])" - and how that is an important distinction, since it supports the concept that women DO have priesthood authority and can exercise priesthood power. He then said that women can do things that are "binding" AND "necessary for salvation" - that are just as "binding" as what men who have been ordained to offices in the Priesthood do. We talked about how the priesthood itself is the same no matter who uses it, which also means the admonitions in D&C 121 about unrighteous dominion apply equally to men and women. We talked about how "binding" and "sealing" mean, in practical terms, the exact same thing - and how women perform "sealing" ordinances in the temple, just like men. Again, the only restrictions in place right now are ordinance-specific - meaning men are authorized to do some things women currently can't do.

In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, “You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.

We talked about how women have authority within themselves - that Priesthood keys don't let women use a man's priesthood but rather allow women to use the priesthood authority and power that the Lord has placed upon them (particularly in the temple, when they are endowed). Thus, the young women in the class don't use the Bishop's authority and power in their callings; they use their own.

He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.” And, of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. Thus, speaking of the Relief Society, President Smith explained, “[The Lord] has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the directions of the bishops of the wards … , looking after the interest of our people both spiritually and temporally.”

Thus, it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood.

We finished with me explaining a "soapbox" issue - a pet peeve - of mine. I told them that I hope as they perform their callings in leadership positions, they never let their organizations be just classes and social clubs - that they treat them like Priesthood groups who have responsibilities to serve and bless people - that they never defer to others to tell them what to do but rather embrace their own authority and power to make decisions and receive personal revelation. I mentioned specifically Relief Society and Young Women, but I told the young men what I was saying applied to them, as well. I stressed that the adults in the youth organizations are not supposed to be the "leaders" or "decision makers" - that those roles are supposed to belong to the youth presidencies. I begged the young women to remember that when they move into Relief Society - that they are supposed to run that organization and report to the Bishop, not ask for permission in everything they do, and, particularly, not let it become just a class and a social club. I told them that there is tremendous potential for life-changing service in the Relief Society and that they need to lead the necessary change to make it what it can be.

I ended with the concept of new wine and old bottles, and I told them that a lot of members my age and older simply can't understand and accept the changes outlined in Elder Oaks' talk very easily, if at all - that the youth are the new bottles that can handle the new wine without bursting and that I hope they step up and help lead the older folks to where we need to go.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Becoming Like God: God is Not Mundane; Rather, We May Be Made Glorious

“We see through a glass, darkly.”  

I see the difference (the ontological gap - the difference in natures) between myself and God very clearly – or, stated differently, I don’t see an obvious connection between God’s full goodness and the natural man I study throughout history. When I really study people ontologically, I see smart animals. I see a gap that seems unbridgeable.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

I don’t want that gap to be eternal. I want to be a child of God in an evolutionary sense – something created with a self-perpetuating purpose in mind. I don’t hope just to return to God; I hope to progress to godhood. I can catch glimpses of that possibility, but the evidence is of a nature I can’t see fully. It’s in the things I feel and envision as possible – the things for which I hope.

“Having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

To me, the good news of the Gospel is that what Jesus of Nazareth is reported to have taught actually can happen – somehow, even though I can’t grasp or fathom how it is possible. It’s accepting that what actually IS an ontological gap can be overcome somehow – that the gap can be closed and we truly can be “at-one” with God, our Father.

That, to me, is the “power of godliness” – that God really can to the unimaginable (the seemingly impossible), including closing a very real ontological gap and creating a way for me to be and become what otherwise is impossible.

I don’t see our theology as making God mundane like us; I see it as believing God can make us glorious like Him – partly by accepting that He could condescend to experience our mundane-ness for a time (whether that be literally, figuratively or representatively). That’s a very different orientation, and it’s important to me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

All of Us Have Felt Inadequate, Discouraged or Weary

Today I would like to speak to those who have ever felt inadequate, discouraged, or weary; in short, I would like to speak to all of us.

We know that sometimes it can be difficult to keep our heads above water. In fact, in our world of change, challenges, and checklists, sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to avoid feeling overwhelmed by emotions of suffering and sorrow.

I am not suggesting that we can simply flip a switch and stop the negative feelings that distress us. This isn’t a pep talk or an attempt to encourage those sinking in quicksand to imagine instead they are relaxing on a beach. I recognize that in all of our lives there are real concerns. I know there are hearts here today that harbor deep sorrows. Others wrestle with fears that trouble the soul. For some, loneliness is their secret trial.

These things are not insignificant.

However, I would like to speak about two principles that may help you find a path to peace, hope, and joy - even during times of trial and distress. I want to speak about God’s happiness and how each one of us can taste of it in spite of the burdens that beset us. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2008 General Conference, "Happiness, Your Heritage")

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Nature of Proper Decision-Making in Councils

A friend of mine was talking a while ago about learning from others.  He shared the following example:

It reminds me of "The Shaman Exercise" -- an exercise a coworker told me about once. When someone has a problem, they stand in the middle of the circle and present the problem to the circle. The circle is composed of people from all walks of life and status in the world. Each person in the outer circle gives their analysis of the problem and a proposed solution, while the person in the center listens.
At the end, there is no resolution expected from the person in the center -- but that person walks away with far more information, a broader view of the world, and far more perspectives and angles than they could generate on their own. And ultimately decides on the answer that is right -- for them. And it may be none of the answers given in the circle. But the circle had influence.... 

In theory, that is exactly how councils in the LDS Church should function with regard to many decisions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Judge of All the Earth Will Do Right, Unlike We Would Do

The great designs of God in relation to the salvation of the human family, are very little understood by the professedly wise and intelligent generation in which we live. Various and conflicting are the opinions of men concerning the plan of salvation, the requisitions of the Almighty, the necessary preparations for heaven, the state and condition of departed spirits, and the happiness or misery that is consequent upon the practice of righteousness and iniquity according to their several notions of virtue and vice. 
But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of man", causes "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, "according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil," or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, "not according to what they have not, but according to what they have," those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will by judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right. (Joseph Smith: Times & Seasons editorial, Recorded in History of the Church 4, Chapter 35, p. 595)

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Key to Internal Peace and Joy: A Short Thought

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the promptings / will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

Understanding and living by those simple principles, according to the dictates of our own individual consciences, really is the key to internal peace and joy. 

When that is coupled with a collective acceptance that ALL people have that same privilege to craft their own internal peace and joy (subject to minimal restrictions, based on the fundamental principle of love), again, even if they view many things differently - in those cases, "Zion" truly exists.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks

The topic this month is "Priesthood and Priesthood Keys".

I explained to the students that the lesson outlines had been written before Elder Oaks gave his talk in the April General Conference about the authority and power of the Priesthood, and we were going to go through his talk sentence-by-sentence and discuss what he said and how it changes the way we should talk about priesthood, keys, authority, power, offices and ordination from how we did so when I was their age.

For the purposes of this summary, I will quote the sentences we discussed and give a synopsis of the discussions. We only managed to discuss the first six paragraphs, so we will continue next week - and the following week, if necessary.

1) "We do not “step down” when we are released, and we do not “step up” when we are called. There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward,”

I asked them if we really believe this, since it goes against everything about our natural person view of "positions and responsibilities". We talked about a corporate or college President being asked to become a secretary and how many would accept that change. We talked about members of the Church going from Bishop or Stake President to Nursery Leader.

2) While addressing a women’s conference, Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton said, “We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood.” [Said Elder Oaks,] That need applies to all of us

The direct implication is that "all of us" don't understand the Priesthood well enough - that we all need to accept that our understanding needs to change and grow - that what we have believed in the past wasn't full and isn't good enough / adequate anymore. Thus, what Elder Oaks said after this point constitutes "new understanding" that needs to replace our old understanding.

priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men.

I asked them how many of them had heard someone say in the past that priesthood authority pertains to women. None of them had heard that. I told them that Elder Oaks explained that change in the next few paragraphs, and that it is important to start thinking about women using Priesthood authority from now on.

President Joseph F. Smith described the priesthood as “the power of God" [to do lots of things].

So, at heart, "priesthood" can be defined as "power" - most specifically "power to do God's work" (to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man[kind]). Jesus is taught to have accomplished the immortality part (living forever as resurrected beings), so our work falls within the eternal life part (being / becoming like God).

“Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.”

We discussed the concept that, given this wording, changes to how priesthood authority and power are used is up to people who have keys to direct, control and govern - and, as we will read further on in the talk, ultimately we teach that Jesus has the final word. So, what happens in a ward is up to the Bishop, within some limitations directed by those who hold more keys (like the Stake Presidents and Apostles) and "confer" Bishop-specific keys on the Bishop (give them to him and authorize him to use them). Thus, at the local level, leaders with keys can do things differently in many ways than others at that same level but in different locations, subject to restrictions put in place by those with more keys.

As Elder M. Russell Ballard has explained, “Those who have priesthood keys … literally make it possible for all who serve faithfully under their direction to exercise priesthood authority and have access to priesthood power.”

We spent more time on this statement than any other one. I asked the students who, according to this sentence, can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power. It took a little time, but they came to see that ALL means all - so all who are set apart in any calling or who accept any assignment from someone having keys can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power. Focusing on the ward, that means it's not just men and young men who can exercise priesthood authority and access priesthood power, but it also is the YW class presidencies, the Primary and Relief Society Presidency, the Ward Chorister, the Librarians, the Primary and Sunday School teachers, etc. I asked them how often they had heard about any of those people exercising priesthood authority and accessing priesthood power - and none of them had heard that previously. I reiterated that this is something that they are going to have to accept and understand, even if older people like me struggle to do so from decades of hearing it explained differently.

In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits. It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred. For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another unless authorized by one who holds the keys. Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid. This explains why a priesthood holder - regardless of office - cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.

We talked about two things from this paragraph:

1) The limits on who will be given authority, hold office and receive rights and powers are set by the people who hold the keys - at whatever level they are. Thus, the enlarging also is in their hands - subject, of course, to what they perceive to be the will of the Lord. That can change, as was the case with OD2 and the lifting of the race-based Priesthood ban. People who previously had been unable to hold Priesthood office, perform Priesthood ordinances, attend the temple, etc. were authorized to do so from that point forward - because those holding the keys to direct, control and govern those things "enlarged" the former boundaries to include people who had been "limited" previously.

2) Even an apostle can't baptize his own grandchildren without the authorization of the Bishop, since that key (directing, controlling and governing right) is given to the Bishop to use.

With the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple under the keys held by the temple president, which I will describe hereafter, only one who holds a priesthood office can officiate in a priesthood ordinance.

I asked if women can perform Priesthood ordinances in the Church, and their initial reaction was, "No." When I told them to re-read that sentence and then asked them the same question again, they all said, "Yes, but only in the temple." I asked them WHY women can perform Priesthood ordinances in the temple, and they saw that it is because Temple Presidents have been authorized to use their keys (that allow them to direct, control and govern what happens in the temple) to allow women to perform those ordinances there - even without "holding a priesthood office". (We will talk more about what Priesthood "offices" mean next week.) So, looking at that sentence, outside the temple, the distinction is that women currently can't hold priesthood offices. That "limitation" hasn't been removed, so an "enlargement" hasn't occurred like it did with OD2. I asked them if there was anything in the talk so far that said women never will be able perform priesthood ordinances outside the temple, and they saw that there isn't.  (I told them that we would talk about that topic next week as we continued to read more from the talk.) 

We ran out of time at that point, so we will pick up with the next paragraph next week.

Friday, June 6, 2014

After What Do I Hunger and Thirst - and Why?

I view the purpose of this life as becoming like Jesus was in His mortal life - and the purpose of the next life as becoming like Christ is now in His post-mortal life. Everything else (specific doctrine, intellectual understanding, nuanced discussions of exegesis, whatever) is secondary to that.

The core Josephism to which I cling is: "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." "Principles" is not equivalent to "doctrines" or "intellectual understandings". That's important to me.

When it comes down to it, I base my core principles on three main statements of Jesus:

"Be ye therefore perfect," (Matt. 5:48) - "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matt. 7:20) - "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21) -- (basically, the entire Sermon on the Mount, but especially those three verses)

When push comes to shove, I don't give a rat's hairy hindquarters exactly what someone says they believe - only what they do and what they are becoming. If they teach Buddhism or if they claim atheism - whatever their background - I don't care one bit. I really don't, as long as they are trying to do the will of the Father (the God in which they believe or their conscience) and become perfected (whole and complete) - and not doing so in a highly destructive way or exercising serious unrighteous dominion and compulsion.

Why do I share that in this context? I believe in the Restored Gospel deeply and passionately, and I enjoy the intellectual stimulation I find on various blogs. However, my intellectual efforts do not define my discipleship. That is defined by my realization that no matter how my brain constructs my doctrinal understanding, it's much more important what I do than what I say - what I am becoming than how convincing my arguments are. My understanding might be different than another's, but if we both are working to become the same thing (complete and whole and "right"eous), our journey can be one of mutual respect and camaraderie and joy.

I engage in internet conversations specifically to find ways to hone my discipleship - to plumb the depths of others' understanding to find new ways to bring me closer to my Father. That's what I long for in the discussions in which I engage - a place of refuge and rest, where I can drink deeply from the cup of perspective and insight - no matter the theological or denominational affiliation of those with whom I converse. I don't want to fight and argue over minute points of doctrinal interpretation, although I will challenge statements that I think are hyperbolic and mean-spirited. I want to share and sup. That is the sustenance for which I hunger and thirst - the soothing sips of insight that restore and reaffirm my resolve for righteousness. I don't hunger and thirst after insight for itself; I hunger and thirst after insight that leads me to greater *righteousness* - to be filled with the Holy Ghost - to do the will of my Father - to bring forth fruits meet for repentance - to become therefore perfected (whole and complete).

Everything else is meaningless if it isn't involved in getting there and helping others get there.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

All Who Seek God Are Enttitled to Further Light and Knowledge

Mormonism, so-called, is a world religion, not simply because its members are now found throughout the world, but chiefly because it has a comprehensive and inclusive message based upon the acceptance of all truth, restored to meet the needs of all mankind.

We believe there is a spiritual influence that emanates from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space. (See D&C 88:12.) All men share an inheritance of divine light. God operates among his children in all nations, and those who seek God are entitled to further light and knowledge, regardless of their race, nationality, or cultural traditions. (Howard W. Hunter: "The Gospel - A Global Faith")

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Learning to Count Your Blessings in the Moments They Occur

My wife has been keeping a blessing journal on her blog for the past few years. (Mama De Hotel) Each weekend, she reflects on the week and writes about the blessings she received during that time. It’s been amazing and inspiring to see how doing that regularly actually has changed her outlook and perspective DURING the week – since she is thinking about and recognizing blessings AS they happen, not just in hindsight. She is gaining a “blessed disposition” (a "blessings orientation", if you will).

Until her experience, I’d never realized fully how counting your blessings in retrospect as a practice leads to counting your blessings as a habit, which leads to seeing your blessings in real time as an orientation / disposition.  I highly recommend my wife's path for anyone who struggles to recognize blessings as they occur.  It didn't happen overnight for her, but it is happening as she continues to endure to the end - and it has begun to change the very definition of "endure" for her.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Joseph Smith Could Not Escape His Own Skin in Translating the Book of Mormon

B. H. Roberts was preoccupied with Joseph Smith’s role as translator. One reason was that critics turned Joseph’s phrase “by the gift and power of God” into a claim he never made, that of verbal inerrancy. Roberts wrote a whole treatise on these issues, concluding that Joseph Smith could not escape his own skin. Joseph’s vocabulary and grammar are as clearly imposed on the book as are fingerprints on a coin. When Harold Glen Clark asked President Roberts if the Book of Mormon would read differently had it been translated by someone else, B. H. Roberts replied, “Of course, not in substance and basic message but in modes of expression." Although Joseph Smith affirmed he used a Urim and Thummim, the instrument did not do everything and the Prophet nothing. Roberts insisted that the translation process was neither so simple nor so easy a thing as has been supposed by both advocates and critics of the Prophet. On the contrary, “brain sweat” was required, and preparation, and labor. Further, as an illustration that exact word-for-word translation of one language into another is impossible, Roberts presented examples from the Greek New Testament showing that the word Master used in the authorized version is a translation of six different Greek words all having different shades of meaning. Judgment stands for eight different Greek words. He concluded, “Let us rid ourselves of the reproach of charging error, even though it be of forms of expression, unto God.” Elder Roberts hoped for the day when the President of the Church would authorize that the Book of Mormon be “made a classic in English . . . without changing the shade of a single idea or statement.” He did not live to see it become a classic in other translations. (Truman G. Madsen: "B. H. Roberts and the Book of Mormon")

Monday, June 2, 2014

How the Word of God Can Be Infallible and Simultaneously Fallible

I believe God communicates to people “in their own language” (meaning using words and concepts they can understand / with which they are familiar), “according to their understanding” (meaning he won’t tell them things they have no chance of grasping). Therefore, I believe the word of God can be different to different people at different times and still be the true word of God – but I also believe much of what people have thought of and do think of as the “pure, eternal, unchanging word of God” really is nothing more than their own best comprehension of the actual pure, eternal, unchanging word of God. In other words, the word of God is honest and infallible – but how we receive and process it, even when totally honest and sincere, is partial and “fallible” in a real sense.

I believe that applies to all of our recorded scriptures and all of the statements of church leaders at all levels, as well as to those things that are defined as personal revelation among us as lay members - to ALL of God's communication to ALL of His children.  In scriptural terms:

"We see through a glass, darkly." 

Within Mormonism, I think this is best summed up in three concepts:

1) The 13th Article of Faith (which says we need to “seek after” lots of things that we don't have currently) and Joseph Smith’s explicit statement that we will accept truth no matter its source when we find it (meaning there is truth outside of Mormonism and the LDS Church).

2) The practice of vicarious ordinances for the dead, which rests on the foundational conviction that God will save and wants to exalt ALL of His children – regardless of what they knew and did based on that knowledge in this life.

3) To become is better than merely to believe.