Friday, November 28, 2014

The LDS Church Was a Cult but Isn't Now, Just Like Every Other Major Religion

The most historically-based definition of "cult" is a movement where a charismatic leader draws followers away from "the established religion(s)" of the time. In other words, those who lose members define what is a cult, based often on the amount of success of the charismatic founder. Thus, Jesus was seen as a cultist who was drawing away followers from the synagogues - and, even worse, gaining the attention of the Romans who didn't appreciate rabble-rousing, apocalyptic, Messianic preachers who might lead a political revolt.

Mormonism absolutely started as a cult by the first, traditional, broad definition; pretty much every successful religion and denomination started as a cult, based on the standard definition. Even the word "culture" gives a nod to that simple fact.  Frankly, we collectively overuse the term "cult" so much in our modern society that many people have lost the ability to distinguish between the definition above and the more sinister definition that includes explicit mind-control, brainwashing and coercion.

Having said all of that, it is possible for individuals within any organization to lean toward the more sinister definition of culthood.  Thus, my favorite introspective response ever to the question of whether the LDS Church is a cult is:

"Lord, is it I?"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The LDS Church Does Not Teach "Fake It 'til You Make It" or "Lying for the Lord"

I have heard over and over again in my life the charge that the LDS Church believes in the concept of "Fake it 'til you make it" and also that "lying for the Lord" is okay.

That is not true, and members of the Church, especially, should not perpetuate that false charge. 

I have searched long and hard, and there has never been any official statement from any leader I have ever found that uses the term "fake it 'til you make it" or encourages, in any way, "lying for the Lord" - or even implies that message. The first is a phrase that an anti-Mormon group coined to describe the idea that expressing a testimony helps build a testimony - and those two concepts are radically different from each other. Seriously, they are radically different concepts. The second actually is a phrase I have heard justified by Protestants when I lived in the Deep South - and from a man who was distributing pamphlets outside a Seminary building that included blatantly doctored "quotes" from the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's translation of the Bible and other Mormon scriptures.  He was called on it and said, as a justification for such obvious dishonesty, that we was lying for the Lord - that the ends (tricking people to lead them away from the LDS Church) justified the means.

Both of those charges are false with regard to the LDS Church, and, at the very least, members of the LDS Church should recognize that simple fact.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Believe in the Principle of Modesty, but Not in the Way It Is Interpreted By Some

I have some communal responsibility for the messages I send through the actions I choose.

I have no argument whatsoever with that principle.

I alone am responsible, ultimately, for what I think and how I act - no matter what messages are being sent by others.

I have no argument whatsoever with that principle.

"Modesty" is a concept that embraces both of the principles above - an attempt to create a reasonable "middle ground" that doesn't emphasize the communal OR the individual above the other. Modesty is not about being "true" or "right"; it's about being "moderate", "reasonable" and "charitable".

Once moderation, reason and charity leave the equation, modesty no longer exists - and modesty can be very different things in very different cultures. It's not the exact line that is drawn that is important; it's if that middle ground line works for reasonable men and women within their community.

Overall, I have little passionate argument with the general idea of how modesty of dress is approached within the official standards of the LDS Church - meaning that I accept as a reasonable balance attire that covers garments for general, non-specific, public appearance by church members as the standard for adults. That leaves exceptions for differing activities where deviations from that norm make sense, while it also allows for those who want more restrictive guidelines for themselves to be able to dress as conservatively as they want.

Where my passionate argument exists is when the general, non-specific, church member, public appearance norm is applied to non-adults, non-LDS members and to situations outside that norm - and when the more strict norm becomes a de facto norm by dint of majority insistence. I also object to how it is almost exclusively women who bear the brunt of the responsibility - when male communal input outweighs communal female input, and women become walking pornography but men never hear about their effect on and responsibility toward women. I also object when women who actually are dressed "modestly" are seen as walking pornography, since that situation is a problem with the men who see them in ways they need not be seen.

For example, "more modest" really is being "immodest" - being out-of-balance. That's a great example of what I mean when I say that we collectively don't understand what modesty really means.

We are so steeped in a Victorian view of sex that we collectively see lots of things as wrong and pornographic that are only wrong and pornographic because we make them so. Nudity is not the same as pornography - but we are close to the point where we are collectively equating the two. That, to me, is the heart of the issue - and decoupling the two is the most important, effective "first step" I know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Temple Garment Is Sacred - but So Are We

I was involved in a long conversation online quite a while ago focused on how the temple garment affects some people with severe psychological issues relative to body image and self-acceptance.  It was a fascinating conversation, and I am grateful I was able to participate in it and learn from so many different people.

Near the end of the conversation, one person referenced Jesus' statement about the Sabbath being made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  He said that he views the temple garment in the same way - that, while it is sacred in his eyes and important symbolically, it should not become more important than the person wearing it and that person's spiritual connection with God.

Someone else responded with the most concise, profound summary I have ever heard, and I want to pass it on to everyone who reads my blog.  She said:

I don't object (when people say) that the garment is sacred and should be treated with respect, but so are we. 

I wear the temple garment day and night, since I have no issues with it and am completely comfortable by now in doing so.  However, I believe, deeply, that anyone for whom wearing the garment all day and all night, every day and every night, with the only exceptions being as outlined in the general guidelines of the Church Handbook of Instructions, constitutes a true hardship and is damaging in some real way (and I believe there are more people, especially women, in that situation than most members realize) - that anyone in that situation should be given the respect to make reasonable adaptations to their practice of wearing the garment in an effort to lessen or eliminate the harm maximum wear creates.  If that means they wear the garment for a certain amount of time each day and night - or remove it for more activities than generally is accepted - or wear sizes outside the standard norm - or any other adaptation that doesn't violate the symbolism, then so be it.

Interestingly, the Church Handbook of Instructions validates this stance, as it states clearly, after all the general guidelines are listed, that each individual has the right and responsibility to make the final decisions as to how to wear the garment.  

After all, the garment was made for wo/man, not wo/man for the garment - and the person wearing it really is just as sacred (more so, I believe) as the garment being worn. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

In Some Ways, I Prefer Our Modern Prophets to Joseph Smith - Even As I Love Joseph

I really do believe that Joseph was a prophet who received revelation from God - and I really do believe he was sincere in believing he was a prophet who received revelation from God. However, I also believe he would be diagnosed and medicated if he lived now - that he wouldn't be accepted in our own day and age as a prophet specifically because we categorize what allowed him to see visions and hear voices as disabilities.

I know that view puts me on the precipice of a very high cliff, since there is a fine line between being able to tap into something extraordinary and wonderful and being off-one's-rocker, certifiably nuts. I understand that, but we strive so hard to eliminate the extremes now that we end up with widespread mediocrity. Yes, we're eliminating the negative extremes, but we also are eliminating the positive extremes - often within the same person.

In saying that, I'm not saying we shouldn't be trying to eliminate the negative extremes. I don't want my mom (and everyone around her) to have to deal with the negative extremes of her schizophrenia. I don't want her to have horrible, vicious hallucinations. I want her to be able to have the benefits of her medication in order to be the spiritual person I knew growing up, even if those medications blunt some of the natural spiritual insights that are the flip-side of her "disability".

I don't see Joseph Smith as schizophrenic - but I do believe he probably had some condition we would diagnose clinically and try to eliminate now. In many ways, that's too bad on an individual basis - but, in other ways, it's good on a group, communal basis. It creates mich more communal, institutional stability - as it stifles the type of individual, personal "out-there-ness" that is the root cause of almost all radical revolution. Make no mistake about it: Joseph Smith was a radical revolutionary in the truest sense of that term. Radical revolutionaries simply must be borderline nuts to have the visions they have, and, given our rejection of radical revolution, we now have stable, inspired guides instead.

All in all, I'll take that - since I don't know how I personally would deal with the incredible chaos, messiness and suffering inherent in radical revolution.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recaps: There Is No Reward in Thoughtless Obedience

This month, the topic is "Temporal and Spiritual Self-Reliance". Thus far, we have talked about the following:

D&C 58: 26-28 - "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

We talked about needing to make our own decisions and choose what we believe about lots of things - that being told everything to think, believe and do is, essentially, Lucifer's plan, which is why those who do only what they are told to do receive "no reward". They don't grow; rather, they stagnate and never develop any degree of godliness.

We talked about "anxiously" meaning "with fervor and excitement - and how being "engaged" means being "committed and in a close relationship", not just casually doing something occasionally. We talked about how "good cause" is singular, while "many things" is plural - that we should do lots of good things, but that it's better to choose a good cause into which we can pour ourselves than to do multiple things only shallowly.

We talked about how "(wo)men do good" isn't confined to any one area (not even church), so anyone who does good, no matter what that is, will be rewarded.

Alma 37:37 - "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good."

We discussed how "counsel" means "discuss among equals - that it doesn't mean to do only what you're told or commanded to do. That ties in really well with doing much good of one's own free will. We also discussed how "direct thee for good" does not mean "tell you what to do" - that it's much more like pointing in a general direction and away from the opposite direction. Another way to say it is that God will point us toward a good outcome, but he won't tell us exactly how to get there.

D&C 9: 7-8 - "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind;"

We talked about the background for this passage and then focused on the need to "study" things prior to asking for answers - and how it is important to do so "in your (own) mind" and not just rely on or accept what others think, no matter who those others are.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Varying Valiance in the Pre-Mortal Life: An Abominable Remnant of Apostasy

I started thinking about it because the premise that this life is a continuation of the pre-mortal life and that the state we are born into is a result of our valiance and effort in the last life.

I believe in a pre-mortal existence, but I think the idea that the state into which we are born into mortality is a result of valiance and effort in that existence stems from a faulty foundation and is a mutation that stemmed from the earlier attempts to justify the Priesthood ban and on-going attempts to claim that we in the LDS Church are special. I see both of those justification motivations as the result of pride, even as I understand how deeply attractive they are to the natural (wo)man.

I believe more in the concept of, "There but for the grace of God go I," than in the idea of, "There but for my superior diligence and righteousness go I.

Those are two very different premises, and they address belief in a pre-mortal existence and rewards for varying levels of righteousness. The first one (a continuation of life from a previous existence) in no way depends on the second one (some kind of valiance determinant), and the second one is only stated directly in our scriptures about "the noble and great ones" (in Abraham). It can be read as implied about others in places like Jeremiah 1, Alma 13 and D&C 138, but it is not an automatic and obvious implication unless that belief is held prior to reading those passages.

There is no indication whatsoever anywhere in our scriptures to support the idea that someone born into poverty or with a disability of some kind was less valiant in the pre-existence than someone born into wealth or full health - or, just as importantly, vice-versa. In fact, in the one case where disability is mentioned in the same passage as a pre-mortal life, Jesus said the blind man was born that way to manifest the power and glory of God. (and that passage is crystal clear in its portrayal of Jesus' followers believing in a pre-mortal existence and Jesus not contradicting that belief)

So, even if we take the scriptural accounts literally, which I generally don't do, the idea of varying degrees of valiance in a pre-mortal life affecting birth into mortality for the vast majority of people who have lived and now live just isn't there. I believe that we, as a people, needed a justification to deny black people access to the temple (not just a Priesthood ban), so our former leaders bought into the whole curse of Cain nonsense that was being preached in the Protestant congregations of their upbringings (since they all were converts originally) and used that to develop a uniquely Mormon version that expanded the apostate belief to include valiance in the pre-mortal life. We also wanted a reason to claim special status as individuals (as pretty much all religionists have done since the beginning of time), so we took the Protestant idea of pre-destination and the general idea of the noble and great ones being fore-ordained and morphed that into the idea that every person who is born or baptized into the LDS Church was fore-ordained because of pre-mortal valiance.

In short, I believe in a pre-mortal life, but I don't believe in varying degrees of valiance in that life that are exhibited in this life. I don't believe there were fence-sitters in the War in Heaven.  I think our temple theology annihilates the idea of varying valiance (or, at the very least, that, if it did exist, it matters in any way whatsoever after this life), and I also like Bruce R. McConkie's statement after the Priesthood ban was lifted that said we need to forget every justification that was uttered by anyone, no matter who they were, to explain the ban - that "we" spoke from "limited light and knowledge". For me, that includes the idea that pre-mortal valiance played / plays any part in the objectively quantifiable circumstances of our mortal birth.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Teaching Our Children When We Disagree with Something that is Said at Church

I try to be honest with my kids about my own views whenever there's a conflict with what's taught or said by someone at school or church. They know I don't agree with everything that's said, but they also know I genuinely love the people who say the things with which I disagree.

We just disagree; no big deal.

I'm going to disagree with lots of things lots of people say in my life, in every organization of which I'm a part. I know it's really hard to take the emotional reaction out of the picture, especially when it deals with a dad or mom or sibling or other loved one, but it is a skill my children are going to have to learn at some point, no matter what, if they are to be happy.

That's the central message I try to convey to my kids - that's it's fine to disagree, but it's not fine to reject or disparage.  It's fine to disagree, but it's not fine to let disagreement void love.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Simply Put, I Just Don't Like Protestantism's View of Eternity

For the record, the traditional Protestant view of immortality just doesn't do it for me. I really do think I'd rather stop existing than to sit around forever telling someone how great they are, while stagnating eternally, just to avoid roasting in a lake of fire and brimstone (which, for what it's worth, is how we describe Lucifer's plan, in a nutshell).

For me, the difference in how Mormonism envisions eternity and how eternity is described in so many other denominations is the single, biggest difference imaginable. I want to believe in the Mormon vision; I have no desire whatsoever to believe the other view. To me, Protestant Heaven is a perfect description of damnation - and, frankly, the view held by too many Mormons that the Celestial Kingdom will be a place for people who, essentially, are copies of each other is one more way I would describe Hell.

I like the laboratory view - even though I don't like studying science all that much, comparatively. I'll be one of the gods reading jokes to everyone and playing a musical instrument to lessen the stress as they work out the physical creation stuff - one of the ones who breaks up potential fights when things get tense and someone is tempted to blow up someone else's experiment.

That's who I am now, and that's who I want to be then. I like who I have become over the decades learning how to be authentically me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sometimes We Just Need to Shut Up and Stop Asking for Answers

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.  (Doctrine & Covenants 58:26) 

I am positive that many of the "rules" that have developed over the years in the LDS Church have been given because someone insisted on getting instructions about something that should have been left up to that person's agency to decide.  I think many are cases where the leadership threw their hands in the air and said:

"Fine, we will give you an answer, since you won't shut up and stop asking - even though you shouldn't need to get instructions from us about this." 

It's like the flight attendant who shows everyone how to use the seat belt before the plane takes off.


If you don't know how to use a seat belt, you shouldn't be flying.

As a close friend said once, at some point we need to grow up and become adults of God.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Want to Be a Mormon Christian, Not a Christian Mormon

If you look closely at multiple General Conference talks and statements over the years, I think it's obvious that the top leadership of the Church believes there is a difference between church membership and Christian discipleship. In fact, at least twice in my memory during General Conference, it was said in crystal clear terms that activity in church doesn't guarantee Christian discipleship. The issue is that many talks appear to illustrate a belief that it's hard for most people to live a Christ-centered life without also having a church-centered life - and, frankly, they probably are correct in most cases.

Christianity and church affiliation are so intertwined now, as much outside the LDS Church as inside it, that it's really hard for people of pretty much any denomination (or even "non-denominational" congregations) to separate the two - and, given the communal nature of the New Testament focus, I'm not sure the two actually can be separated properly. In a very practical way, it really is difficult to divorce being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth from being part of a religious community - a group "following", if you will. In Jesus' ministry, it wasn't a formal "church", per se - but people absolutely left family and friends to follow him around as he preached. They formed a religious community, even if they didn't build and gather in meetinghouses of their own.

Furthermore, as I have said in other posts here, the Mormon conception of the next life is not focused on individual salvation but rather communal exaltation. 

The difficulty here, in my opinion, is not that we need to separate the two affiliations totally and make it Christian discipleship vs. church membership; rather, we need to balance the two and prioritize them so that we live Christ-centered lives within the LDS Church - not that we live church-centered lives that include Christ.

In other words, we should be Mormon Christians - not Christian Mormons.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Church Activity Rates: Not Great, but Not As Bad As Often Portrayed

I've done some research in the past about activity rates, and two things surprised me - although they probably shouldn't have:

1) Our activity rate in the LDS Church generally is at least as high as and often higher than that of most other Christian denominations. Seriously, we are ahead of most denominations in that area in measurable, important ways - and that should be acknowledged, even while understanding the issues we still face to increase the activity rate.

2) Our activity rate is higher right now than it has been at pretty much any time earlier in our history - even as it's not as high as I want it to be, is WAY too low with certain sub-groups and all certainly is not well in Zion. Furthermore, if you remove the effects of the baseball baptisms and other shoddy missionary practices of especially the late 70's and early-mid 80's, the activity rate is much closer to the top end of the standard estimates than the bottom end. We lost close to a generation of new converts in some countries and are battling the consequences of those inappropriate baptisms into the next generation now - but the activity rate without those obvious, serious cases is higher than most members realize, especially in comparison to other religions.

Again, I'm not claiming all is well in Zion by writing this post, but, especially for those who are struggling with some kind of faith crisis, it's important not to ignore stuff that actually can be "testimony building" or just help balance the force.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Girls as "Guardians of Virtue": We Need to Eliminate That Phrase and Mentality from Our Vocabulary and Culture

I have heard the following concept expressed multiple times over the decades I have been involved in the Church, and I can't express forcefully enough how much I loathe it - and how badly I wish we could remove it completely from our discourse:

Girls should be guardians of virtue for boys.  

This is something about which I feel passionately, largely because I have two sons and four daughters - and I believe deeply that such a concept is insidious and dangerous, both for girls and for boys.  It is wrong on multiple levels, but I want to highlight in this post three reasons I abhor it so strongly:

1) It completely misrepresents virtue and what it is meant to and can be. 

Virtue is not another word for chastity.  Virtue, in its archaic form, meant " an effective, active, or inherent power or force; the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness" (from It actually derives from the Old French word for "maleness" and is found in words that begin with "vir" - like "virility".  Thus, "a virtuous woman" is not always a virgin; she is a strong, effective, active, powerful, moral, righteous woman.  A virgin simply is one manifestation of a virtuous woman, and not being a virgin does not negate virtue.  For example, rape does not diminish or rob a woman of her virtue, and equating virginity with virtue distorts virtue and causes emotional damage to further complicate an already traumatic event. 

Proverbs 31:10 ("Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.") is quoted often with regard to the worth of a virtuous woman, but the next 20 verses generally are ignored - and those verses explain what verse 10 means. I highly recommend reading them.  Due solely to length concerns, I will not include the entire passage, but I will summarize them and what they say about a virtuous woman - bolding the things that might surprise some people and setting the description in quotes to stress the highlighting.  (I also want to stress that I believe a virtuous woman doesn't have to do everything in the following list - that these things are examples of what a virtuous woman does.

A virtuous woman is trustworthy, treats her husband (if married) well, works with her hands, rises early, feeds her household, purchases land, plants food, becomes physically strong, serves the poor, makes clothing and other materials, sells merchandise, is strong (again) and honorable, speaks wisely and kindly, is active, is praised, fears the Lord, is blessed.  

A virtuous woman is a strong, active, independent, honored person - not a virgin who simply must guard her virginity for the benefit of men.  Women no longer are considered the property of men, and we need to eliminate any hint of that former structure from our vocabulary, even if we generally are unaware of the connotations.  We need to educate our girls and boys about this ancient foundation and teach them to let go of the "guardian of virtue for men" idea once and for all. 

2) Virtue is not "guarded"; it is "exercised"and "developed" and "strengthened".  

That is important, and being merely a guardian of virginity robs girls of developing into the strong, active, independent, honored women they are meant to be.  

3) Both virtue and chastity should be the responsibility of the individuals who possess them.  

Boys and girls together, mutually, should protect their own chastity and exercise / develop / strengthen their own virtue (and help others do the same) - so that, ultimately, virtuous women can marry virtuous men and raise virtuous children to become virtuous adults, in a never-ending cycle of eternal virtue and progression.  Telling girls to guard virtue for boys does more than rob those girls; it also robs those boys in a very real and powerful way. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Objective of Our Religious Ordinances

I believe we bind ourselves to each other, that we separate ourselves from each other and that the concept of eternal sealing as embodied in the temple is a wonderful, profound, necessary thing. I love the concept, even if I don't put any power into the ordinance in, of and by itself.

I am confident every apostle in the LDS Church agrees with that last sentence, since every one of them will say that people who are sealed in the temple won't stay sealed automatically just because of that ceremonial sealing. An abusive jerk won't be able to abuse his wife and kids eternally just because he lied to get into the temple and participate in a sealing ordinance - but a righteous, loving spouse who truly becomes bound to his or her spouse in this life will gratefully accept the continuation of that sealed relationship in the next life, regardless of whether they were part of a ceremonial sealing in this life.

The object of our ordinances isn't to go through them; it is to have their symbolic meaning spread throughout us.  The object of our ordinances is to be changed by them - to become what they are intended to convey to us it is possible to become.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Are We Meant to Outgrow the Need for God?

A good friend of mine once wrote the following and asked for my input.  I am including below the original message and my response: 

This is something I've been pondering as I'm making the transition from viewing myself as someone's son to someone's father. The greatest success of a parent is that their children go out and be successful on their own. That they become functional, independent, well-adjusted human beings. I think God wants us to be functional, independent, well-adjusted eternal beings.

I really like the concept that this life is a time for us to learn to choose right from wrong without constant intervention from God. And I like the idea that we are trying to become like God. What I'm going to say next probably would sound like heresy to many but I'll just say it. God is God because he chooses right because it is right. He doesn't act because of fear of punishment or duty or any other such human motivation. He just does right. I think that's why it is important we are here and cut off. We need to learn to do right without constant direct influence from God...and here's the possible heresy: I feel that ironically our goal is to learn to act entirely independent from God. The more we progress, the less we need him. We simply begin to choose right because it is right and not out of duty or fear or any other such motivation. We just do right. We just are. Just as God said "I AM".

So something I've been pondering is that ultimately is it our destiny to outgrow the need for God? Not outgrow him in the sense that we are more powerful or never want to see him again but that we become completely independent of him. This idea actually makes me love my God more. The gift of eternal self-determination seems much greater than the gift of eternal subservience. I would be grateful to my parents for my life if I was expected to serve them my whole life. But I'm infinitely more grateful that they raised me and sent me out in the world to experience it and now to raise my own family.

I have trouble putting these thoughts in words. But this makes sense that just as I have left my father's house and gone into the world as an independent adult, I hope my new son will someday leave and lead a happy life. For me it follows that my eternal father would want this same thing. Not want me to come back to his house and sing praises to him forever. I don't want my son to worship me, I want him to be grateful for the way I will raise him and then to go on and raise his own family.

That's why the idea of eternal progression is so amazing to me and so much better than any other concept of heaven I've ever read about.  

I agree that we are meant to outgrow our need for God - in the sense my friend describes.

I don't need my parents for much of anything at this point in my life - but I still want them. I think that is a better, more mature relationship.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Peace without Understanding

An online friend shared the following experience with me a couple of years ago, and I came across it as I was trying to decide what to post tonight.  I hope it touches someone else somehow, as it touched me when I first read it.  

Many years ago as I was entering my crisis stage, I decided I needed to go to the temple to help sort things out. Though I was living in Salt Lake City, I went to the Manti temple, because I wanted a much lower key place than Salt Lake could provide. As I was going through an endowment session, I was particularly troubled with the signs and tokens. In the midst of this, I felt a very specific voice telling me:

"Don't knock it. I don't understand it, either. But someday you will be glad you didn't reject it". 

I was fully aware of the illogic, the paradox, and implausibility of that message. Nevertheless, the anxiety and frustration I was feeling about it simply went away.

Some several months later I went inactive, and didn't attend Church for 17 years, but when I did, I was glad that I could without carrying any negative feelings about the signs and tokens. I still don't pretend to understand them, but it's no big deal. And it has allowed me to have some very warm, comfortable feelings about my temple experiences. The biggest message I have gotten from the temple is a sense of peace, purity and power that I have felt there.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"Differences and Dignity" - One of the Best LDS Newsroom Statements I Have Ever Read

Differences and Dignity - LDS Newsroom (October 24, 2014)

My favorite paragraph:

Since no particular group has a monopoly on all that is wise, beautiful and just, everyone can learn from everyone else. Our experiences have gaps that need to be bridged, and our perspectives have blind spots that need to be filled. We find meaning in human connection when we climb out of ourselves and discover the dignity of others, even if we disagree. And no one should have to give up their identities.  

The entire statement is phenomenal. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Exercising Faith When Church Attendance Hurts in Some Way

I was asked to speak once in a ward I was visiting - last minute, since the assigned speaker was sick. The topic was faith and how to exercise it.

As I sat on the stand thinking and praying about what to say, I felt a very strong impression to share with the congregation the examples of two people - my mother (who is schizophrenic) and a good friend from a previous ward (who suffers from depression and is bi-polar). I did so at the very beginning of my talk, with the explicit statement that I agreed with the previous speaker with regard to most members, but that I wanted to talk to anyone in the congregation who felt overwhelmed and guilty every time someone spoke about faith and how life is so much better if we only exercise more faith. I then went ahead and talked about how faith really is enduring to the end in the face of not knowing or experiencing confirmation - that, for some people, simply getting out of bed and attending church knowing they would hear messages that worked for others but would hurt them was the supreme act of faith.

I won't share the rest of this story in this post, but I will never forget the rest of that day and the confirmation I received that my impression really was pure revelation (the uncovering of something I had no way of knowing on my own). I will thank God for that revelation for the rest of my life.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Catholicism and Mormonism: Past Mistakes Should Not Be Held Against Current Leaders

The LDS Church's historical issues absolutely pale in comparison to the Catholic Church's.

That's not a slam on Catholicism (even though I have no problem with labeling much of what was done in its name throughout history as greatly abominable); it just points out that things aren't as bad in Mormon history as members often think in the difficulty of an emotional faith crisis. Pope Francis has said some things that deserve sincere praise, as I highlighted last week. Given his church's history and the actions of so many of his predecessors, there should be plenty of hope and praise for our current LDS Church leadership, even from our critics.

It's also interesting that we recognize that we shouldn't hold the historical words and actions of previous Popes against Pope Francis and what is happening now in his denomination. There is a lesson in that for us.  

Historically, we still are where the Catholic Church was before it was the Catholic Church of the Holy Roman Empire - when it was a whipping post of that empire. I'm encouraged that we've come as far as we have as quickly as we have, when I look at history and make comparisons.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

God, Judgment Day and the Temple Recommend Questions

If I die tomorrow and am asked by God himself the exact same questions that are asked currently in the temple recommend interview, I believe I would look him in the eye and answer exactly the same way I answer now.

If God looked at me and said, "Tell me more about how you interpret the questions" - and if I explained - and if God said, "That's not what I meant by those questions," I believe and hope I would grin and say,

"Then you should have made sure I knew that before now." 

I believe God would smile back at me and say,

"You answered according to the dictates of your conscience all your life. No harm; no foul. That's what I kept saying the Atonement is all about, right?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Checklist Approach to Gaining Eternal Life: Losing in an Effort to Find

A friend of mine once wrote the following, which I believe is profound and empowering:

It came like a flood over me the other day, and I don't have adequate words to express it. The idea is centered around Matthew 10:39:

He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

Think about our efforts to complete our "checklist" and gain for ourselves eternal life as our efforts to find our life.

Ponder the question, "What is Christ's sake?" How could we "lose" our life (or desire for our personal reward) for this purpose that Jesus was promoting?

My major concept around this idea is that when we get caught up in the idea of a literal, physical (not exclusively mortal) reward we become largely self-centered and lose the "greater than ourselves" focus. It's like finally staking our claim on a cottage in the ideal community where our efforts to obtain our prize came at the expense of that ideal community as a whole. What we are effectively left with is a nice little cottage in the middle of a ghost town. It is only when we honestly don't care about earning a reward that we can focus with effectiveness on the important task at hand of Christ's purpose.
Is our desire to "earn" an eternal life in effect putting our reward or "life" ahead of Christ's purpose?

I don't believe there is any simple answer that can encompass the whole purpose of Christ; it is about our opportunity to continually gain ground in becoming more Godly, more loving, more selfless -- yet "selfless" is a complex topic in itself. Sometimes an action that looks self-serving can in fact be for the greater good of others. Self-sufficiency for example reduces the burden on others to provide for the poor. However, I do believe that when we focus on charity (the great commandment) and becoming more selfless in general, we find our way toward righteousness and becoming more Godly.

Where it all comes together for me is in the thought that the essence of selflessness has nothing to do with physical/material stuff. Selflessness is a spiritual ideal. Physical paths lead to physical rewards; spiritual paths lead to spiritual rewards. Of course, as mortals we exist in a physical world, so physical actions will play a part in everything we do. The key question is what are we seeking. If we are looking for some tangible reward at the end of our path we may be "finding" our life in the way where it is ultimately lost. If we can rise above the primary desire for personal gain (even eternal life), maybe we can make some progress toward divine love. 
After all isn't love the ultimate reward? Love isn't something that we can gain by seeking it, divorced from everything else. The only way to gain more love is first to share it.

I gave up years ago trying to build a life I wanted for myself as an individual. I have sacrificed a lot over the years for my wife and kids - and other pursuits that are not rewarding to me in any way other than my belief that I am a better person when I forget about myself a bit and focus on helping others.

The people I respect the most aren't the ones who accomplished some great individual achievement, even though I respect many of those achievements greatly. My heroes are the people who spend their lives helping others. To me, that is Gospel greatness.

For example, I love Mother Teresa - and my favorite modern prophet might be Thomas Monson. There are some things I wouldn't emulate about either of them, honestly, but I love both of their constant, untiring, unyielding focus on the poor, the lonely, the neglected. President Monson has been criticized by some members for his stories that can appear to be the same old, same old conference after conference after conference. Some people want the poetry of Neal A. Maxwell (which I loved and miss) or the theological proclamations of Bruce R. McConkie (which I liked or disliked, depending on the sermon), but I love President Monson's willingness to preach constantly the one thing that I believe is the absolute heart of the Gospel and not worry about being a mighty orator or theologian.

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's OK to Be a Caretaker in a Church Calling

More than once I've expressed concerns about a possible calling and asked the person asking me about a calling they want me to accept to go back and pray about it. I've told the person that I will accept it if they need me, but that I probably wouldn't be very good at it or would be nothing more than a caretaker in practical terms. Once I was asked to accept it anyway; once I was not approached afterward; once it was put on hold while other things in my life at that time got resolved (my employment).

If I honestly thought I wouldn't do a very good job but was willing to do what I could, and if they knew upfront that I would be doing a mediocre job, I was willing to do it without unrealistic expectations. That way, if anyone complained in any way or tried to guilt me into doing more, I could look them in the eye and say, honestly,

"I told you if you asked me you'd be getting me - and that I probably couldn't do what you thought would be ideal. I'm a caretaker doing the best I can given my circumstances; if that's not enough, release me. There won't be any hard feelings on my part."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Modeling the Titles of Jesus in Our Own Lives

Last Sunday, we talked about the titles we attribute to Jesus and how we can model many of those titles in our own lives. We used the Topical Guide from the Bible to identify titles, since that was the most handy, traditional source to use. The list included the following, with a brief example of the conversations we had about each title:

Bread of Life - We can nourish people in need (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) by understanding them well enough to give them the nourishment they actually need - and by not drowning them if they are suffering extreme thirst.

Creator - We can develop our creative talents, whatever they are, and use them to help others.

Advocate - We can look for people who need support of some kind, especially those who are being hurt in some way by others.

Exemplar - We can be examples, focusing especially on loving charity.

Good Shepherd - We can help gather, protect and feed people in dangerous situations - and we can avoid driving people away who would gather with us if not driven away.

Mediator - We can defend the defenseless and speak for those who can't speak for themselves.

Second Comforter - We can comfort those who need comfort.

Son of Man - We can honor parents - even with bad ones for whom honoring means nothing more than passing on a better life to our own children and "redeeming" our family name.