Friday, October 31, 2014

The Problem with Universal Shoulds

Some people benefit greatly from being asked (even pressured in some way) to do things, while others aren't benefited by such an approach and actually can be harmed by it. In terms of church callings, there is an inherent contradiction in both extremes - always accepting assignments and never accepting assignments that aren't appreciated or wanted. Many people benefit from each approach in different situations and different times of their lives.

The real conflict occurs when the word "should" enters the discussion - since we really should accept callings, except when we shouldn't. We really shouldn't put limitations on service, except when we should. We really shouldn't dictate the terms of our service, except when we should. Sacrifice really is a great principle, except when it isn't. We really should give until it hurts, except when it hurts too much.

We really should submit to the will of God (and, to a degree, to our mortal leaders) - but we should never stop being agents unto ourselves.

"Should" is a two-edged sword that is incredibly difficult to wield properly and helpfully, and most of our deepest disappointments are centered on expectations more than actual actions in and of themselves.  (If you don't understand what I mean by that, think about it a bit - and ask in a comment, if necessary.)  Thus, I generally try to avoid "should" and expectations.  Rather, I try to deal strictly with trying to choose desired consequences. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Applaud Pope Francis: Our Core Is the Same, Despite Our Differences

In a sermon last May, Pope Francis said the following:

"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: "Do good and do not do evil. All of us."

‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’

Yes, he can . . . The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 

‘Father, the atheists?’

Even the atheists. Everyone! . . .We must meet one another doing good. 

‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’

But do good: we will meet one another there.

That is core Mormon theology, embodied in our temple worship, and I applaud Pope Francis for saying it so directly and clearly. 

The full article I read is in the Huffington Post's religion section, if anyone wants to read it: 

Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts about Faith, Understanding, Change, Sharing the Gospel and Love

I allow myself to believe whatever I come to believe and try to live according to the dictates of my own conscience.

I don't try to force or convince others to believe as I believe. I try to help them figure out what they personally believe and then live according to the dictates of their own consciences.

I try to study and understand every conceivable view about something - to sort through them as carefully and thoughtfully as I can and then craft my own understanding.

I allow myself and others to change their minds about anything - to continue to believe and live according to the dictates of our own consciences, understanding that even our own consciences can change with time and experience.

I share what works for me, but I do so without any expectation or requirement that others agree and/or comply.

More than anything else, if I have to err, and I know I will err, I try always to err on the side of love.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One of Best, Most Poignant Comments about Modesty I Have Read

Someone who posted under the name "Mother-of-Three-Sons" wrote a comment in a thread on By Common Consent last year (to which I linked earlier) about modesty that touched me deeply.  It is a beautiful statement about our responsibility to teach modesty better than we typically do - to change the foundation of how we approach this topic in the LDS Church. 

I am sharing it here as a separate post, with some parts in bold, and I wish it could be read and discussed in every teenage, young adult and adult third-hour meeting the the Church:

As a mother of three sons, two of which are now married, I know the goal to help them respect women and themselves. Recently, my son finished a mission to Peru. His native companions from various parts of the country seemed to look passed half-dressed or ‘what we consider -to-be-immodestly-dressed-females’ and stay focused on their work as missionaries. The American, especially, Utah / Idaho natives serving missions there were in a constant state of anxiety and fear. The Peruvian native missionaries revealed their secret.

It is reverence and respect.

The body is a beautiful masterpiece. It is deserving of reverence and respect. It is most beautiful as it comes into the world, naked, newborn, fresh from Heaven.

Have reverence. Respect your feelings. To look, turn your head, and stare at anything God has created, because it is so beautiful, is healthy.

As a young teenager, at age 16, I was banned from the end of summer – Seminary Swim Party — unless I came wearing a thick, long t-shirt over my one piece bathing suit. My swimsuit was a very modest, racer back, high necked bathing suit made by Speedo. I was a surfer, and a gymnast, but had large breasts. The mother’s of the guys in my seminary class complained about the size of my breasts and how I was immodest in anything I would wear.

When I received the message from my seminary teacher, I cried. I loved to swim. The guys in my seminary class were all good friends. None of them ever made flirty or lascivious, or even remarked about the size of my breasts. They were respectful. They taught me to surf.

I went to the seminary party, but decided to wear a new dress I had bought for the coming school year. I sat at a table poolside and watched with incredible jealousy as other girls swam, played and had fun with all the guys.
That fall, my senior year, I was nominated and came in second place for ‘best figure’ among the girls in my class. I dreaded that title. I wished so badly, I had been voted, ‘most talented’ or ‘most likely to succeed’.
I am 50 years old now, and a grandmother of four. I hope to continue to teach reverence and respect. As an artist, my favorite study has been portrait and drawing of the human figure.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

And they were naked.

And not ashamed.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Revelation, Inspiration and Our Expectations of Prophets and Apostles

There were lots of lengthy time periods in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon without new revelations and periods during which the prophets only reiterated important truths and called people to repentance - and the entire New Testament fits that description with the exception of Paul's converting vision and John's Revelation.

We tend to conflate revelation and inspiration a lot. "To reveal" means to "uncover / make visible that which was covered / not visible". To reveal is to make known the previously unknown or unknowable. "To inspire" means to "provide new insight into something already known / visible". Those are two very different things. 

When you get right down to it, not a whole lot in our scriptures is "pure revelation". Most of it is inspiration to varying degrees - some to an amazing degree, but not truly revelatory at heart.

Ironically, that's one of the reasons why I can sustain the apostles as prophets, seers and revelators. I see that role as being able to prophecy, see and reveal IF such things are needed - NOT as being a constant or even regular (or perhaps even occasional) condition. I just see those things happening so rarely throughout our recorded religious history that I don't expect anyone to experience them much, if at all. I can sustain lots of people as possible conduits for prophecy, foresight and revelation, so I have no problem doing so with the Church's leadership or viewing them as conduits for special revelation and inspiration for the Church and even the world. That for which I hope is a higher degree of regular (not constant) inspiration than most, and I think there is a very good argument for that among the apostles.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Some Non-Traditional Reasons I Am at Peace

I make goals - but am willing to change or scrap them if life gives me different outcomes.

I have no expectations of myself and others - except effort, and even that can't be judged perfectly.

I don't seek anything from the Church except a place for me to gather, commune and help others grow. Everything else is gravy - and the primary responsibility for everything rests with me.

I try to live my life with a clear recognition that "I am" - so I deal with "this is" and trust life/God to lead me to what will be. An important part of "what is" for me occurs as a result of my church membership, and a huge part of who I am is a result of the paradigm I learned growing up in the LDS Church - but, as I've said more than once, I have been an oddball since as long as I can remember, so not fitting in totally and not being like everyone else isn't an issue for me. I am who I am, and I can testify of how liberating and empowering that is. I am not defined by others, including not being defined by opposition to others.

I simply am, and, for that reason, I am at peace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Temple: I Don't Have to Believe Literally in Order to Believe Deeply and Passionately

I love Mormonism's temple theology - but I love it for the symbolism of the sealing of all God's children in unity and for what it does to our own hearts to see others as just as loved and important to God as we are, even those who are radically different than we are. It is SO stunningly different than the theological basis of Protestantism that I believe strongly in its inspirational foundation - that is was revelation from God, even with the Masonic origin of some of its elements.

If I had to believe in the literalness of the exclusive saving power of the ordinances (that ordinances must be performed for every person who has lived in the history of the world or they will not be exalted), I would not accept it - since I would have to reject the symbolism that is so rich and powerful to me. Many people need literalness, and I have no problem whatsoever with people taking it literally, but I don't have to believe in it that way - since I personally believe the symbolic view is much more powerful than the literal view.

I also know the ordinances so well by now that I don't have to concentrate on them anymore - or, really, even pay attention much at all. I can spend almost two hours in a quiet place, have a prayer in my heart, let my mind wander and think about whatever hits me in the moment. That approach has been wonderful for me. It can happen for some people in nature (as President Uchtdorf stressed a couple of years or so ago), but it happens best for me in the temple.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't get hung up on the math at all (the question of how we can do ordinances for billions of people) - not one bit. Given the belief that it will be done in the Millennium by millions of people, it isn't daunting in the slightest (in fact it would happen quite quickly) - but, even without that framing, it doesn't matter to me in the slightest, since it has no relevance whatsoever to the symbolism I love so much. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Do You Remain United in the Body of Christ When A Leader Abuses Power?

I have a good friend who was hurt quite badly by a pastor who initiated a harmful program and insisted that my friend help him administer it.  When my friend refused, he faced serious consequences at the practical level within his church community.

That friend asked me, after the fact, the following - and my response follows his question, with a nod to Mormon-speak for this blog:

The reality is that church leaders are just regular people. As such, sometimes they abuse their power in their leadership positions. Generally this is minimal or not a problem - however sometimes it can be extreme and even abusive.

How do you deal with this? How do you reconcile it with the command to be united in the body of Christ?

1) by recognizing and admitting exactly what you just said. There's nothing "magical", in and of itself, that changes someone who is in a position of leadership in a church - man or woman. The only thing that changes automatically is the power and influence they are able to wield - the scope of their potential unrighteous dominion.

2) by recognizing that increased responsibility pushes "the natural (wo)man" toward increased unrighteous dominion. It pushes "the unnatural (wo)man" forward to greater at-one-ment. It pushes most people who live somewhere between those extremes either or both ways.

3) by defining "unity in the body of Christ" as "doing my best to help the entire community" - and realizing that sometimes the best help I can provide is a different perspective - or a simple refusal to do something.

4) by not being a jerk about it or refusing to do anything for the person but continuing to do everything I feel I can do in good conscience and balance.

5) by going above the person's head in extreme situations, if possible - always calmly and meekly and humbly, but clearly and precisely (and pointing out that I take my commitment to sustain God and the overall church community above my commitment to any one person).

Within the structure of my own religion, if I were to go to a Stake President, for example, about a Bishop, High Priest Group Leader, EQ President, etc., I would make it crystal clear that I am doing so out of genuine concern for the Stake President, the other person and the LDS Church itself - that I believe the problem I am trying to address is serious enough to be talking with the Stake President AFTER I've tried to talk with the other person. Again, as I say a lot, tone, attitude and appearance mean a lot in situations like this. I won't contribute to someone being stomped on, but I'm not doing any stomping on or punch throwing at any point in the process.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Dangerous View of Bishops, Stake Presidents and Leaders Generally

I know of a Stake President who once said the following to a member of his stake: 

"Your Bishop represents Christ. If people understood that they would be excited to talk to him and willing to do what he asks." 

If I was the Bishop about whom the Stake President was talking, I would have been VERY uncomfortable with the Stake President's statement - and all of the Bishops I've know personally would have been uncomfortable, as well - except one. Instructively, he was the worst Bishop I've known.

I have no problem with the idea that the Bishop represents Christ in a unique way - in some specific situations. However, in most situations, a Bishop does not represent Christ any more than any one of the members of his congregation does.  To say it differently, all of us represent Christ, but the Bishop has certain unique responsibilities in the way he represents Christ. It simply isn't one or the other; we aren't Catholic Priest of the Dark Ages and parishioners

"They would be excited to talk to him." 

Generally, that's a function of him as a person, not his office or calling. People usually like to talk to nice, good people; they usually don't like to talk to jerks or harsh people.  The vast majority of Bishops are nice, good, sincere, loving people - but whether or not most regular members are excited to talk to their Bishop has little to do with representing Christ. 

"They would be willing to do what he asks." 

This is where my biggest concern lies - and it is a HUGE concern. It's dangerous to put someone in a position where they can expect obedience just because of their position. It's too easy to fall for the allure of the power.  Our War in Heaven narrative and the explanation of unrighteous dominion in D&C 121 ought to eliminate our tendency to say things like the quote above, particularly without any qualifications whatsoever.

I wouldn't have a problem with,

"They would be willing to consider seriously what he asks."

but I cannot accept the quote as worded and the all-encompassing implication of someone giving up their individual agency and doing something just because a mortal leader asks them to do it.

I believe in "obeying" God; I believe in "sustaining and supporting" righteous leaders.

Those two beliefs are not the same thing, and we should NEVER confuse or equate them.  Any leader who does is on the path toward unrighteous dominion. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

God Is Not As Offended As We Tend to Think He Is

I sometimes think of Joseph's statement shortly before he died that his conscience was free of offense toward God and man. I know he offended people regularly, but I believe he was sincere in that statement. That used to puzzle me - greatly. What I have come to believe is that each of us only can answer to our own understanding of ourselves - to our effort to live the best we understand - to be whatever we believe we are supposed to be.

I know I also have offended people at times - sometimes through what I have written here on this blog. I've done things that I believe "should" be offensive to God, but I've come to believe that they might not be - that he might look down and sigh as he watches me muddle through my life, but that he also understands I'm doing the best I can do. I have come to believe he appreciates that, and I am grateful for the peace that belief brings me as I also try to accept my own weakness and understand that I am worthy specifically because he has deemed me to be so.

That perspective gives me peace, so I accept it and keep on keepin' on.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Becoming More Like Christ; or, Our Focus Should Be on Us, Not Others

The topic for this month is "Becoming More Like Christ". The lesson outline we discussed last Sunday was entitled "How Can I Help Others Be More Christlike?"

I started by asking the lesson title question. Some of the responses were:

Read the scriptures about Jesus with them.
Help them learn about prayer.
Show them that I love them, so they can begin to know that God loves them.
Invite them to come to church with me, so they can learn about Jesus there

I told them that those were good answers, but that, first, if we want to help others become like Jesus, we need to know Jesus ourselves - or, at least, know about him - and be striving to become more like him. The best way to teach someone else about becoming like Jesus is through example - showing them what it's like to become more like Jesus. They all understood that, so I then asked them how they can become more like Jesus.

After some discussion, we focused on gaining a better understanding of his actual life. I mentioned that there are other sources of information about him (particularly his pre- and post-mortal life), but I emphasized for the lesson the Gospels in the New Testament - since that is the only account we have of something that we can attempt to model in our own mortal lives. For the rest of the lesson, I had them open randomly to somewhere in the Gospels, read for a few minutes, then describe what they had read, one thing they took from those passages that taught them what Jesus was like and how they could become more like Jesus in that specific way.

What we discussed included:

Jesus taught that we need to be prepared for difficult times.
Jesus taught in parables and analogies.
Jesus blessed even people who were enemies of the Jews.
Jesus suffered in silence when it wouldn't have done any good to rail against people who were persecuting him. He had a lot of self-control.
Jesus grew and learned just like we need to grow and learn.
Jesus loved and helped outcasts in his society.

I told the students at the end of the lesson that we cannot become more like Jesus if we only study about him - that we have to take the things we learn about him and internalize them into our own lives. I told them it is better to know a little about Jesus and then actually live it than it is to know a whole lot about Jesus and not live any of it. I asked them to pick one thing about Jesus they admire and focus on getting better at that one thing - then, when they feel they have gotten better at that one thing to pick one more thing and repeat the process - and to do that for the rest of their lives. I told them that they can't become like Jesus overnight but that, if they work on it one thing at a time, relentlessly, that they will become as much like Jesus as it is possible for them to become by the time they die - and they will become a person who is becoming godly - and, given all eternity to learn and grow, they eventually will become like Jesus.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We Judge People Way Too Much, Even When We Try to Judge Righteously

I've always differentiated between judging people (making decisions about their individual worth here and where they will end up after death) and judging actions (what people do).

There is no way to get around judgment of actions - except for psychopaths, who don't have the capability to judge actions. That type of judgment is unavoidable. There also is no way to get around having those judgments influence our interaction with others, since, for example, if I know someone has sexually abused children, I simply must consider that fact at the very least if I have children the same general sex and age as those s/he abused. To not consider those actions and make a judgment about subsequent actions in such a situation is unthinkable.

However, "to judge someone" means, legally, to act like a judge and make a final determination about someone that determines official standing for that person - and which, in real terms, imposes or does not impose limits on that person. It is making a decision that literally affects someone else's agency in situations that don't involve the one making the judgment. I do not judge someone in this way by keeping my kids away from someone who has abused kids in the past - but I do judge someone in this way if I assume s/he will not and cannot change ever, assert that nobody who has done such a thing ever can repent and insist that Hell is the only possible outcome for all of "them".

Did Hitler do horrible things? Yes. Does a part of me assume he will end up in the Telestial Kingdom? Sure. Am I open to the possibility that there are things about his situation that I don't know and, therefore, that he might not end up in the Telestial Kingdom? Yes. Can Hitler be saved? I believe he has been, since I believe in the Biblical statement that all are saved by the Atonement of Jesus Christ in a very real and important way. Can he be exalted? As much as I want to be able to answer that question in black-and-white terms with a resounding, "Absolutely not!!" I just can't put myself in the position of his judge and make that call.

That is the judgment I try to avoid, especially when it comes to projected results after death. That's why, "Damn you!" is such a heinous curse in our scriptures - in that it puts someone in the place of God and pronounces final judgment on someone else.

I always try to remember that I have no freaking clue, really, why others act as they do. I have a hard enough time figuring out why I do what I do. Thus, while I can't avoid judging actions in a real way, I try very hard not to presume to know the motivation or cause of those actions - which leaves "final judgment" to God.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Can I Support a Gay Family Member or Friend?

The following are suggestions that were given in a thread in which I participated about how to support a gay member, focusing especially on the question of how to do so in the LDS Church.  I came across that thread again and want to share the suggestions, of which the first three are mine - and the last one comes from a friend who has struggled mightily to stay actively involved in the Church despite what he hears regularly in church from people who don't realize he is gay.  It's hard to express how much I admire and respect him:


1) Don't approach the member about it proactively, if that member has not told people that s/he is gay. The decision to share one's sexual orientation should be a personal one, and forcing it before someone is ready to deal with all of the reactions is cruel and simply wrong.  Don't take it upon yourself to ask the person about it, especially if you aren't 100% certain.

2) Talk in the person's presence about acceptance and unconditional love generally (not specific to homosexuality), regardless of whatever issues might exist, but don't be obsessive about it - and do it in other situations, as well, so it's not obvious you are targeting one person and/or family with that message.

3) If the person comes out, offer support immediately and openly - and charitably. Damn the consequences with other people in the moment; support the person. Having said that, do it in a way that doesn't alienate others simply as a result of how you respond - in support of the person, not by attacking anyone else.

4) Keep an open mind, and learn to deal with your own feelings before it becomes a problem - then be ready to help others. A person who is gay is just like the rest of us in every other way, looking for love and acceptance. If two humans love and respect each other, that is enough to overcome all differences.

5) Let the person know that there are people who love him and will support him no matter what. He needs to know that he will have somewhere to turn if he needs help.

6) Support people who are gay by just treating them like you treat all your family members and friends, with lots of love and respect. You don't have to do anything different, and they don't want anything different.

7) As a gay man myself, I think it's very important to stress that gay people will talk when they're ready, and not before. They also won't talk about it unless they either a) have felt out the situation/person well enough to feel it's safe, or b) have come to such a deep crisis that they either have to talk about it, come out, or self-destruct. The self-destruct part can take a couple of forms. One is the obvious--suicide attempts. Other ways of self-destructing include developing addictions to numb the pain, self-mutilation, participation in highly risky sexual behavior, and internalized self-hatred.

There is a great resource that you can download from a group called the "Family Acceptance Project" that might be helpful for you to read and keep in mind. Here is a link:


I also want to add the link to the Church's own website about this issue.  It is worth viewing, especially by any members who struggle to accept and love people who are homosexual for who they are:

Mormons and Gays (

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Describing How I See Things

I have been asked a number of times over the years how I have come to see things the way I see things.  That is true especially of people who have known me for some time and had a chance to see how impossible it is to stereotype my religious views adequately and, in some cases, know how I think about some topics - since I am all over the place on the conservative-liberal spectrum when it comes to lots of random, individual topics.

The shortest response I've been able to construct to describe how my brain operates is that I am a "thinker tinkerer".

My father and brothers are excellent mechanics - and one of my brothers loves working on computers. I have no desire to do any of that. I take things apart mentally and reconstruct them in my mind. That's just who I am. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Alternative to the Terrible Licked/Handled Cupcake / Chewed Gum / Nail in the Board Analogies for Sexual Purity

The Gold Coin: or, how we should teach our youth about their worth - Kaimi Wegner (Times & Seasons) 

In discussing this post, a friend shared the following: 

I collect coins so I plan to get out 5 coins that have personal meaning to me. I will show the coins and explain where the coin comes from and how it came to be in my possession (some my dad brought back from his voyages as a merchant marine, some I collected on my mission, some were inherited from my uncle's collection etc.)

I will ask the kids (7 and 5) to pick out their favorite coin. Then we will go outside and get the coins dirty. Then I am going to ask if we should throw the coins away now that they are dirty ("of course not!") The coins are just as valuable both in material worth and in sentimental value. Then I'll reveal that each coin represents a member of our family and that Our Heavenly Father knows and loves each of our unique attributes. His love will not wane because of a little dirt. Then, I'll explain that because HF loves us so much and wants us to shine like only we can shine – He sent Jesus to die for us so that we could become clean again and return to our Father in untarnished glory. We will clean the coins and show that the once dirty coins can be just as shiny and valuable as they were before they got dirty - that they can be spotless once again. 

In the thread following the post, the following was quoted from Elder Holland, including the link:

We learn that when repentance is complete we are born again and leave behind forever the self we once were. To me, none of the many approaches to teaching repentance falls more short than the well-intentioned suggestion that “although a nail may be removed from a wooden post, there will forever be a hole in that post.”

We know that repentance (the removal of that nail, if you will) can be a very long and painful and difficult task. Unfortunately, some will never have the incentive to undertake it. We even know that there are a very few sins for which no repentance is possible.

But where repentance is possible and its requirements are faithfully pursued and completed, there is no “hole left in the post” for the bold reason that it is no longer the same post. It is a new post. We can start again, utterly clean, with a new will and a new way of life.

Through repentance we are changed to what Alma calls “new creatures.” (Mosiah 27:26.) We are “born again; yea, born of God, changed from [our] carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (Mosiah 27:25; see also Mosiah 5:1–12.) Repentance and baptism allow Christ to purify our lives in the blood of the Lamb and we are clean again. What we were, we never have to be again, for God in his mercy has promised that “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42.)

May we, collectively, discard the horrible analogies we have used in the past and neither imply nor state that needing repentance is less desirable than not needing repentance in the first place - that it is better not to sin than it is to sin and repent.  After all, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, so repentance is a necessity for all.  There is no such thing as "not needing repentance in the first place", so we ought not teach it.  Period.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Does It Mean to "Sustain" Church Leaders?

The concept of "sustaining" is an important part of the LDS Church, but it is one that I believe generally has been weakened greatly from what it can be and is meant to be.  I believe it is much more powerful than often is understood, and I believe the gap between how it commonly is understand and what it is meant to be is extremely important.  I believe the full depth and power of the organizational structure of the Church is compromised when the membership fails to sustain the leadership in the fullest sense of the word.

The following are the definitions found in the Oxford English dictionary that have a person as a direct object: 

3a. To support the efforts or cause of; to give assistance to, back up; (in later use usually military) to support (other troops).
8. To keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from failing or giving way; to strengthen the spirits or resolution of; to give encouragement or psychological support to.
10a. To play the part of; to keep up (an assumed role) competently; to represent (a dramatic part or character) convincingly.
10b. To hold or be invested with (a title); to fulfill or discharge the functions and responsibilities associated with (a position).
11a. To endure (something painful, difficult, or unpleasant) without failing or giving way; to bear, withstand.
13a. To tolerate the existence or presence of; to permit, abide.
13b. To permit oneself or consent (to do or be something)

I believe there are all kinds of issues involved in the lay leadership structure of the Church. I've called it the genius and idiocy of the Church, and I've called it the best and worst thing about the Church. I've taught my children that they don't have to agree with or obey church leaders just because they are church leaders (that I'm just not into Lucifer's plan). My children know I don't agree with some things I hear in church - at all levels. I can't support every leader I've had or seen in every way they would like me to support them . . . but that's not what sustaining means.

There are enough definitions of sustain listed above to cover how I work with leaders at all levels and of all kinds, especially when "to give encouragement to; to endure (something painful, difficult, or unpleasant) without failing or giving way; to bear, withstand" is included in those definitions.

Therefore, I can and want to sustain church leaders whole-heartedly.

If I disagree with something a leader says on principle, according to the dictates of my own conscience, I am sustaining that leader in an important way if I let that leader know of my disagreement - and that can't happen if I withhold my complete sustaining. I want to hear that type of sustaining voice when I'm a leader, sustaining me by speaking up, so I provide that voice when I'm not a leader - privately, not publicly. I've disagreed verbally with leaders in the past, they have thanked me for it, and I'm sure I'll do it again - but that is not the same thing to me as not sustaining them. I have sustained them specifically because I have been willing to share my "counsel" with them when I see things differently than they do - and, again, they have appreciated it. 

I try to treat leaders (sustain them) how I want to be treated when I am in a leadership position (be sustained) - and that means I sustain them in every way listed above, including ones that too many people would see as negative.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Commandments - Measurable or Subjective; and, Changing Our Discourse about Modesty

While putting the finishing touches on my Sunday School lesson prep tonight, I realized that it has been a few weeks since I've posted a summary here. We had Stake Conference; my wife taught the following week; we had General Conference last week; I forgot to post the summary from the last time I taught the class. Here is a VERY abbreviated summary of that last lesson:

With the topic being "commandments", we talked about the difference between commandments that are fairly objective and easily measured and those that are more subjective and impossible to measure consistently or universally. Since the students had mentioned the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity in the first week's lesson, we focused on those commandments again - and added modesty as another discussion point.

First, I asked the students to list the things that are part of the Word of Wisdom. All of the first answers they gave were the things from which we abstain, with the things that are encouraged coming after the forbidden things. We talked about how easy it is to define and quantify the prohibitions in the Word of Wisdom - how they are easily enforced - and how that contributes to them being the focal point of most discussions about it. We talked about how impossible it would be (or how bad it would be) if local leaders had to try to enforce the more ambiguous aspects of meat, fruit, vegetable and grain consumption, for example.

We then talked about the Law of Chastity and how there are some things that clearly are forbidden for everyone, while there are other aspects that are more open to individual interpretation - and how local leaders often view and enforce the more subjective aspects differently, especially with respect to teenagers.

We spent most of our time talking about the principle of modesty and what it means in its fullest, purest sense - moderation, in all things. We talked about how we focus almost completely on how we dress when we talk about modesty- and how we focus inordinately on how women dress. Every student, male and female, understood that distinction and thought it was wrong without any need for convincing from me - and their conservative / liberal orientation didn't make any difference in that regard. We talked about how there is almost no way to "measure" modesty of dress universally and have a definition that everyone will accept and upon which they will agree. (As a simple example, I had the shortest and the tallest students stand and asked how long a modest skirt would be that both of them could wear. That caused some serious laughs, but we talked about how even anatomy-focused measurements [like covering the knee] are arbitrary standards that are culturally-based.) We talked about modesty in language - and in house size - and in car purchase - and in cost of clothing - and in any other way that deals with moderation as a principle.

I finished the lesson with a direct statement to all of them. I told them flat-out that we need to quit blaming women (of any age) for the thoughts of men (of any age). I told them that I believe in the principle of modesty, but that I do NOT believe in it as a way for one group to control the thoughts of another group. I told them that if a man lusts after a woman he is not justified in blaming the woman for it, no matter what she wears or how she acts. I told them the way we often talk in the Church seems to blame the women and/or put the responsibility on them to keep the men's thoughts in line - and that such statements are wrong, and the students need to help put a stop to it in their own spheres of influence.

Two of the young women in the group thanked me specifically after the class for that part of the lesson.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Restoration of the Gospel and the Restoration of the Church Are Different Things

I admire greatly the people (like anabaptists, my wife's Waldensian ancestors, etc.) who lived exemplary lives throughout history and, in my opinion, actually contributed to the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. I don't think the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ in its entirety (as I read it in the Bible, particularly) remained openly taught throughout the centuries leading up to the restoration of the Gospel; hence, the concept of a Great Apostasy and a Restoration. However, I believe deeply that the Protestant Reformation was the major, God-directed movement that allowed a restoration to occur (to continue, to be more precise) and continue to build to this day, with necessary pruning still happening as fast as the root can take it.

I don't see the Restoration of the Gospel as happening simultaneous to the restoration of the Church - or as the same thing. I see the restoration of the Gospel as starting LONG prior to Joseph Smith's birth (in the case of some of my wife's ancestors, as early as AD 1215 when they were declared heretics by the Catholic Church and persecuted, tortured and killed for nearly 700 years until her 5th great-grandfather was baptized by Mormon missionaries in 1851and left the homeland he and his people had vowed through blood-soaked centuries never to leave, all in order to heed the call of a man they believed to be a prophet) and continuing as I type this comment. I honor that terrible sacrifice of those dedicated "Christian heretics" as part of "the restoration of the Gospel" - independent of the establishment of the church those missionaries represented at the tail-end of those indescribable centuries of faithful dedication to the Gospel they understood in their hearts.

In other words, I see the restoration of the Gospel as a long process that extends backward and forward through time longer than most people consider, while the restoration of the Church was an event - even as the subsequent organizational growth of the Church continues still. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Faith and Science: God Is Not a Trickster

A friend and I were talking some time ago about faith and the part God plays in giving us trials of faith.  He said something that I appreciated greatly and want to share with everyone now: 

Personally, I think there's an obvious difference between taking a leap of faith into the unknown, in cases where it still makes some sense compared to the alternatives, versus stubbornly believing in something in spite of solid logic and evidence strongly suggesting that it is false (young earth creationism, a global flood, etc.).
It's hard for me to imagine why God would expect me to ignore or deny overwhelming reasons to doubt a specific belief simply to test my faith in a sneaky and deliberately confusing way. That would basically make God an unfair and illogical trickster. 

I agree with my friend.  There is enough ambiguity in our world that requires faith naturally without requiring that God plant dinosaur bones to test our faith, for example.  There isn't a conflict between faith and science, unless we choose to create one. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Don't Care How the Interviewer Understands the Temple Recommend Questions

I couldn't care less what the person asking the temple recommend questions thinks they mean - or how that person would answer the questions if required to write essays about them.  All I care about is the actual question being asked. I'm not being asked to agree with the questioner as to the details of the answers; I'm being asked to answer specific questions with a "Yes" or "No".

I have heard some people say that answering "Yes" or "No" to a question knowing the interviewer wouldn't understand a fuller, essay version is dishonest or disingenuous, and I couldn't disagree more strongly or passionately with that view.  Those same people have said that viewing the questions differently than other members is engaging in mental gymnastics - that there is something wrong with people reaching differing conclusions about why they can answer "Yes" or "No" when their essay answers would be different than the person asking the questions.

My response is simple and direct:

Why do you feel it is necessary to change the actual questions?  Why do feel like you have that authority? Why would you make it more complicated than it has to be? How in the world is answering the question as asked dishonest or disingenuous in any way, shape or form? 

To me, not answering the actual question as I understand it and instead answering a different question I think the other person would have asked if that person had written the question . . . That, in my opinion, is mental gymnastics, and I seriously don't get that stance at all. I wouldn't call it dishonest or disingenuous, but I certainly would call it unnecessary and, for some people, emotionally unhealthy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I Admire and Respect Faith, Even When I Abhor the Focus of That Faith

 Within the LDS Church, there is a wide spectrum of belief concerning lots of things.  Some members are "conservative" in their religious views; some are "liberal" in their religious views; some (more than most people realize, I'm sure) are moderate in their religious views.  Some are absolutely convinced that their views are the one and only true views - to the extent that some appear to believe they know everything there is to know about God and all things religious.  Most, among all groups, however, have not "seen" in such a way that it is possible to say, scientifically and objectively, that they are right and everyone else is wrong.

In practical, scientific terms, they have a very strong belief in that for which they hope - to the point where they see it as knowledge instead of hope.  

That strong belief in the hoped for but not seen is the classic definition of faith, which drives their actions - combining faith with works - proving that they really, really do really, really, really believe it and aren't just saying they believe it.

I can admire and respect that kind of faith, even if I disagree with the details - and even if I believe the details are harmful, like, at the extreme, the case of suicide bombers. Everything about the specifics of that exact faith is abhorrent to me - except its existence. I respect someone who lives their beliefs fully and without apology, even if I don't respect the actual beliefs - and even when I would celebrate if the actual beliefs disappeared from the earth completely - and even if I support jailing them for living according to the dictates of their own consciences - etc. It's not the existence of a faith I abhor; it's the foundation and focus of the faith - and I abhor very few beliefs within all faiths.

I see the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as I understand them but not as many others understand them, as "truly" pointing to the "good" end I want. Thus, since I can't and probably won't ever see factual evidence of that hopeful end, I am left with faith - hopefully strong enough to allow me to live according to the dictates of my own conscience.

In the end, I might or might not know if my faith was factually true - but my faith points me to where I want to go, and, therefore, is my own truth. If where I want to go changes, I will craft a new faith that will be my own truth as long as that new direction lasts. Faith won't change; only the foundation and/or focus will.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days?"

I believe this question might be the most misunderstood, misinterpreted temple recommend question of all of them when it comes to many members of the Church and how they view the temple recommend interview.

The question doesn't ask if we know the LDS Church is the same church that existed after Jesus died. It doesn't even mention the word "church" at all. It asks only about the restoration of the "gospel", and that is extremely important to me. 

Again, this question is not about the restoration of a church - or "the only true and living church". This question is about the restoration of the Gospel - nothing more.

I love the "Restored Gospel" as I understand it. To me, that is what I call "pure Mormonism". When "the Gospel" is described in the Book of Mormon, for example, it basically is focused on faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end and the role of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I see the temple recommend question as asking the following questions - and my answer follows each question:

Do I have a testimony of faith - as I understand faith? Absolutely.

Do I have a testimony of repentance - as I understand repentance? Absolutely.

Do I have a testimony of baptism - as I understand baptism? Absolutely.

Do I have a testimony of the gift of the Holy Ghost - as I understand the gift of the Holy Ghost? Absolutely.

Do I have a testimony of enduring to the end - as I understand enduring to the end? Absolutely.
There are elements of the role of Jesus Christ that are unique to Mormonism and the LDS Church, so I would add:

Do I have a testimony of Jesus Christ - as I understand him and his role?  Absolutely. 

That's it for this question, in my opinion. It doesn't ask about anything else, so I don't answer it as if it did.

Friday, October 3, 2014

God Showed Us How to Love the "gods" among Us

It's not just the idea of an Atonement that resonates within me.  It's the combination of the idea that we really are gods in a very powerful way - and that we suck at it - but that it's OK - because one of us (another God) showed us that it's possible to hurt the gods around us less and less each day. He showed us a path to freedom - to become more than our nature - to be godly - to be gods.

As much as I see the Atonement in other ways, I see the Atonement as the power that under-girds our morality and over-rides our natural mortality and teaches us that we really can be and become more than just smart animals. To me, in a very real way, it says:

It's OK if you aren't the fittest animal in the pack. It's OK if you suffer for innumerable reasons. It's OK if life's not fair and just and equitable. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. Peace I leave with you, my child.

I really don't care about the exact "nature" of the Atonement, but I care DEEPLY about the message I take from it.

There are lots of things in this life that suck, including me sometimes, but, in the end . . .

It's OK.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Racism in the Book of Mormon

Frankly, racism in the Book of Mormon isn't an issue for me when it comes to the question of whether or not it is an ancient record. 

1) It doesn't occur once after the record of Jesus' appearance (after everyone in the record had intermingled and then broken apart again).

2) There is the very clear statement in 1 Nephi (the very first section of the Book of Mormon) that all are alike to God, including black and white, explicitly.

3) Most importantly, as a former history teacher, nearly all historical records that deal with multiple races that are written by people at the time include racist statements - especially in relation to inter-racial marriage with darker-skinned native groups, which I believe is the demographic foundation of the Nephite-Lamanite situation described in the book itself.  We have blatantly racist statements in our own American writings, even from US Presidents, into the 20th Century. 

From a historical analysis perspective, it would be more troubling if there was no racism in the book, given what it purports to be. 

For a fuller explanation of how I see the dark and loathsome references, read the following post I wrote back in 2007:

"Reflections from a Mixed-Race Family" ( 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excommunication: Not an Easy Issue

Excommunication is an ancient practice, and it has taken many forms in various religious traditions. The Mormon foundation for it probably is the first few chapters in Alma. The Nephites had joined with the people of Mulek; many in the rising generation didn't believe what was established by the new Nephite leadership; the first recorded wave of excommunications occurred in the Book of Mormon - including Alma, the Younger, and the sons of Mosiah, if I am correct in how I read the story.

As I've mentioned previously in other posts, the word "doctrine" is a bit squishy - and I wouldn't frame excommunication as doctrine. I would call it a practice or policy - and the justifications / reasons for it have ebbed and flowed over time. It was wielded like a stick in the early days of the Church on some people for things that seem silly to us now - but it also was not used in some cases that seemed to have warranted it, especially in comparison to cases that did end in excommunication.

Generally, I see the move to add layers of discipline, so to speak, as an attempt to avoid excommunication in cases that aren't considered automatic and extreme. Unfortunately and unavoidably, given the practical nature of the administration of discipline, decisions vary radically among local leaders - with some using excommunication in situations where others would disfellowship or even use informal probation. That lack of consistency is the most difficult aspect of church discipline - along with the overuse I have seen in some areas and with certain issues.

Theoretically, I have no problem with the concept of excommunication, but the practical implementation gets really wonky when so much decision-making power is vested in local leaders who often have strongly individual views about its use. Even though I believe strongly that the vast majority of local leaders err on the side of compassion and impose the least degree of punishment whenever possible, when, ultimately, one person has that kind of power, things can tend to the extremes, unfortunately.