Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Extraordinary People Do Extraordinary Things - on Both Sides of the Line

I believe much of the wonder of humanity is found at the extremes (both good and bad), and I believe we miss much of the extraordinary in our attempts to suppress "disorders" and normalize everyone. My mom is schizophrenic, so I'm not saying medication for disorders is bad in any way - but I believe strongly there is wonder and beauty that we miss when we stigmatize and reject experiences outside the norm.

I also believe people who are willing to live and think outside the box are more likely to receive revelation, inspiration, insight, etc. than those who are locked more tightly into a logic box alone - even as I value logic highly and want it to balance the illogical. Look at Nephi as presented in 2 Nephi 4 - and Joseph Smith's mercurial relationships - and impetuous Peter - and Moses being kept from entering the promised land - and Winston Chuchill's famous sarcasm and issues with intoxication - and Gandhi's and Martin Luther King's sexual dalliances - and on and on and on.   

I understand the dangers and excesses that occur at the extremes, and I support fully efforts to shield people from much of what is experienced at the extremes, but I also cannot reject anyone simply because their reality included or includes some extreme elements.  Most people are not defined by the extremes in their lives, even when those extremes are magnified by scope and public observation, unless they give in to those extremes and start seeing themselves as exceptional - which is a very different thing than being extraordinary. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Did We Choose Our Mortal Trials in the Pre-Existence?

I have a friend who said once:

"We are all put in the right place for the best possible outcome."  

I have thought about that idea off and on for a long time, and I both agree and disagree with it.  My main concern, however, isn't in the wording but rather in the extrapolations that are so common from it.  I hope the following makes sense as a summary of why I am conflicted about the quote above. 

Given our belief in a "veil of forgetfulness", the pre-existence is where Mormon theology gets a bit squishy, but within Mormon theology there are some things that point toward the wording above. Two of those things are:

1) In the case of a crack baby (or a child born into terrible abuse) who dies early, if we accept the idea that all children who die before being accountable inherit the Celestial Kingdom (which my heart loves, but by head has a hard time accepting due to my dislike of predestination), that baby gets the best possible reward for what s/he suffers in this life.

2) Our temple work does not require anyone to accept God or Jesus or Mormonism or the LDS Church or anything else in this life - and it leaves the final judgment completely in the hands of God. The standard really is what type of person each individual becomes, relative only to their personal effort and circumstances - and, again, that judgment is God's alone.

My problem with the quote above, as worded, also is with the phrase "in the right place" and how it can be interpreted. I have heard it used way too often in my life to justify a condescending attitude toward "the other" - that their specific situations in this life (and, by extension, our own situations) are a direct result of something about their former life, usually worthiness or valiance.  Thus, I believe the idea that every person is born into the best circumstance for that person can be viewed in such a way that it functions as a conceit of luxury. It's a way to justify one's own privileged position and rationalize others' horrible circumstances.

It's also one of the reasons I am open to the idea of multiple probationary experiences, even though I don't preach it or believe it passionately. Rather, I lean toward a structure of eternal progression that is WAY more expansive and extended than a limited focus on mortality allows. I do believe that this life is the most important stage in our eternal progression at this moment, but I also believe our previous stages were the most important at those times and that our future stages will be the most important at those times. I believe all is present unto God in the sense that the past is gone and the future will be whatever the present makes it be.

I think all we can see is the here and now, so we do the best we can to understand the stark differences all around us - and, because we see through a glass, darkly, we each end up with partial views that make sense to each of us. That's why I try to understand the best I can and allow others the same privilege, let them understand how and what they may.

I simply would say,

All who are born will receive the best possible outcome, according to the wisdom, grace and love of God. All who "keeps their first estate" will be rewarded for it to the greatest extent possible.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Conversation We Have Far Too Infrequently in the LDS Church

"As I have loved you, love one another."

Jesus actively spent his time serving (loving) the people in his society whom everyone else rejected and judged. ("the least of these" - the leper, the sinner, the publican, etc.)

Identify the people in our own society who are the outcasts and those rejected and judged by people - and especially by us as Mormons. (the poor, the immigrant, the gay, the unwed mother, etc.) 

Now, ask yourself, based on the account we have in the Gospels:

What would Jesus do?

That can open a conversation that we have far too infrequently in the Church.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Evaluating the Book of Mormon: The Power of 1 Nephi and Ether

I believe that the best evaluation of the Book of Mormon has to include a careful analysis of 1 Nephi and Ether - that those two books are the only parts that can be evaluated objectively to any degree.  I say that for the following reasons:

I think 1 Nephi shouldn't be dismissed reflexively, given how well it fits what it is supposed to be in lots of instances. It's also the only part of the book where there is a clear, unambiguous location associated with the account itself - and the descriptions of that location and the flight from it to the sea is more than merely plausible. The cultural references also are striking and remarkably accurate, if the account is viewed as nothing more than fiction. 

As for Ether, it is a radical departure from the rest of the record, in multiple ways - and it also fits well what I believe it purports to be. I might be wrong about the original location (the Northern Asia steppes), but it fits extremely well the general culture of where I think it occurred. Without preconceptions based on what others have said about it, it really is a remarkable part of the Book of Mormon.

To illustrate this further, one of the most common reasons people have dismissed the Book of Mormon as being completely the creation of Joseph Smith is the mention of elephants in Ether.  For a long time, the assumption was that horses and elephants (and other animals) became extinct in the American continents sometime around 12,000-8,000 BC.

Two things:

1) The assumed chronology of Ether is based on the assumed chronology of the Old Testament, putting the time of the Jaredite migration around 2,500 BC or so. That chronology, however, assumes a literal acceptance of the ages and experiences described in the Old Testament, which I personally don't accept. Without that foundation, there is absolutely no way to say when the Jaredite migration is supposed to have happened - especially given the fact that the word "descendant" (not "son") is used multiple times in the genealogical chronology in Ether. That listing literally skips any number of generations, so there is no way to determine, with any authority, when the record would have started and how many years it covers.

2) There is lots of evidence now that elephants and similar animals existed on the continents well after oral traditions started that were active into the 1900's. There also is at least one archaeological discovery that shows an animal that would fit the "horse" classification around 100 BC - and that designation wasn't given by a Mormon. Coupled with the Native American Indian practice of calling the horses the Spaniards brought with them "deer", "elk" or even "dogs" and ""elk-dogs" (meaning that any of those terms could have been translated adequately as "horse" later, especially if brevity was paramount), a whole level of translation possibilities gets opened. 

I'm not saying those verses don't constitute possible anachronisms or that the most recent information proves the Book of Mormon to be historically accurate, but they certainly aren't the smoking gun that critics have claimed they are ever since the book was published.

It's hard enough to pull off a record of one ancient culture, but to embed another record of a radically different culture is even harder. That is what happens with 1 Nephi and Ether.  As a history teacher by inclination and original training, those two books are really hard to dismiss out-of-hand - and the more closely I studied the actual narratives in them, the more I became convinced that the Book of Mormon was recorded by the gift and power of God - however that phrase is interpreted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When a Missionary Returns Home Early: So This Is What Zion Is Like

A friend of mine shared the following experience with me.  I wish it was true in every case, but it is a standard for which we ought to strive:

I have always felt fortunate to be in a good ward filled with imperfect but basically good people. To illustrate:

A few months ago, a young man in my ward returned early from his mission after only a few months. I don't know the details surrounding his early departure except that it wasn't a worthiness issue. It probably had more to do with the stress associated with the mission experience. He was so ashamed that he didn't come to church for the first two weeks he was home and after that only to sacrament meeting for several weeks. Finally, he started attending the other meetings as well, sitting in the back as unobtrusively as he could. So many young men who come home early struggle with remaining active, I wondered what would happen to him. I found out last Sunday.

At the end of fast and testimony meeting, this same young man walked up to the podium. You could have heard a pin drop. Haltingly, he explained that he'd come home early from his mission. He briefly described the shame he had felt and how he had not wanted to come to church for a long time. With tears in his eyes, he thanked the ward for being so kind to him when he did return. He thanked the bishopric and his parents as well for their support during this difficult time. It was not the most eloquent testimony I ever heard but definitely one of the most sincere. I listened with tears in my own eyes and thought to myself:
"No recriminations or speculations. No awkwardness or judgment. Just good people concerned for the welfare of one of their own. So this is what Zion is like."

Monday, March 23, 2015

People Will Flow to Zion: Service Should Be Unconditional, Not a Means to Conversion

I believe the greatest "missionary work" we can do is to devote more time and effort to service, but I believe we can't do so with the idea or goal of increasing church membership.  I believe we need to "share the Gospel" of Jesus Christ more by modeling Jesus' actions than by preaching what he taught - as important as it is to share what he taught.  I think if the overall membership stopped trying to “do missionary work” and started serving others more actively (not just each other, like so many “service projects” are focused on doing) – with no conversion focus but simply for the love of other people – we would end up with a situation where the full-time missionaries would be teaching much more than they currently can. I believe if we truly worked to establish Zion, people would “flow unto it” – and “missionary work” would be available for the full-time missionaries without their having to seek it nearly as much. 

I am talking about service by regular members like me, given in the communities in which we live. Those opportunities are abundant and nearly overwhelming in many communities, and everywhere I’ve seen it approached humbly and meekly (“How can we help, no strings attached?”) the local government and community leaders have been grateful. In areas like where I was raised, where over 90% of the citizens are members, it would be a bit different, but if we stopped serving with an agenda and simply looked for those who need help (and provided whatever they need, not what we want to give), things would be radically different even in areas like where I was raised.

Serving in soup kitchens and shelters of all kinds – conducting parenting courses for young parents – mentoring and tutoring students (of all ages) – sitting with hospital patients and nursing home residents who have no family who visit – volunteering in schools – delivering Meals on Wheels – providing temporary shelter for abused women and their children – teaching budgeting and nutrition skills – cleaning senior citizens enters – helping Habitat for Humanity – volunteering at the local Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – cleaning and beautifying cemeteries – clearing land that poses a fire hazard – providing childcare for welfare recipients attending classes – helping with military veteran rehabilitation – organizing or participating in drives to gather food, clothing, school supplies, etc. for needy children and families.

The list is endless – and I believe that it would take a paradigm shift to allow members to spend less time at the church building and more time in the community. With the advent of modern technology, there is so much we could do administratively without having to have traditional meetings – and we could substitute service of this type once a month for some of our secondary meetings (even the second and/or third hour of our Sunday meetings). It’s just a matter of decoupling culture and tradition from Gospel, in many cases – and I use “just” knowing it’s not easy.

The issue is sustained effort and commitment, even if no baptisms result immediately. It really does have to be for nothing more than love of others. If nothing else, it would turn us into better Christians and not just better Mormons – but I really do believe a lot of the misconceptions and stereotypes (many of them deserved, unfortunately) would break down and interested people would find us as a result of more exposure and our own internal change.

As I’ve said previously, we tend to focus so much on not being of the world that we forget to be fully in the world – and that, I believe, is our biggest challenge to both building the kingdom of God on earth and to establishing Zion. So, while I believe that how missionaries serve is an important issue (and that it can’t be the same way they served previously as itinerant preachers), I believe the solution in our own time lies in how we (the membership) serve, first and foremost.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Importance of Trying to Understand People in the Scriptures as Real People

Too often, I have heard people in our scriptures described almost as caricatures, with little or no thought given to analyzing and understanding the "little details" in the stories about them.  I believe strongly that his tendency is not good - that it covers wonderful lessons that are available through a more thorough examination of the records and even through a willingness to speculate a bit and make educated guesses.

Take Lehi and his family as an example:

I have said in multiple places that I feel for Laman and Lemuel and how they are portrayed by Nephi. I read a lot between the lines in Nephi's account, and I think the situation was way more complicated than most members assume.

First, I think Lehi's sudden conversion has to be factored when dealing with the family dynamic. 

There is no indication he was a religious man (in the classic sense of that term for Jews of his time) before his vision - and there is evidence that he was an absentee father, to some degree, during Laman and Lemuel's early years. I read Nephi's family narrative as describing a situation similar to that involving Jacob and Joseph - the favored younger son and the anger of the older brothers, right down to "birthright / ruler" issues. 

To take the vision situation further, as a prophet-type Lehi was an "outsider" to the people in Jerusalem - much like Samuel, the Lamanite, preaching repentance to the Nephites. Lehi wasn't a Jew, so preaching repentance to the Jews would be a lot like someone from a Mormon offshoot group preaching repentance to the LDS in SLC - or LDS missionaries preaching in the Deep South. It's no wonder he was rejected, from a psycho-social standpoint. They had a hard enough time accepting Jewish prophets calling them to repentance, much less someone who lived in the general area and probably was considered a rich foreigner, to a degree. The condemnation of "the Jews" by Nephi is natural, given his own outsider status and his relative youth and probable lack of age and social maturity. 

As another example, based on the general tone of his writings, and especially 2 Nephi 4, I believe Nephi might have been bi-polar or subject to depression of some kind - and I think, if that is true, that it's an important aspect that influences my reading of his narrative greatly.

I see a very complicated, very dysfunctional situation, and I believe the power of the stories gets lost when the family dynamics are ignored - when "the prophets" are viewed as next to perfect and their narratives are viewed as objective.

For what it's worth, I also think Alma, Jr. was influenced greatly by Alma, Sr. - and the fact that Old Alma had been a bit of a Sith Lord in his earlier days probably had a lot to do with how he worked with Young Alma during his dark force time before his vision and conversion.  I also believe those rebellious years and his guilt for them haunted Little Alma until his death and played a huge role in how he spoke to Corianton when he screwed up on his mission. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"The Church" Is Different Things to Different People - and to the Same Person at Different Times

I think it's important to determine (at any given time) what "The Church" is to each of us - but also be open to the idea that "The Church" actually is different and often competing (or even opposite) things for different people - or for us at different times. "The Church" really is an amoeba in many ways.

For example:

"The Church" is global - but, in a very real way, "The Church" is local even more so than global for many people. Some people leave "The Church" due to things that happen at the local level much more than over things that are taught at the global level - and they make claims about "The Church" that mystify members who have not experienced those things in their own local "The Church". The difference in many cases is so extreme that each person, attending "the same church", speaks about "The Church" in radically different ways.

To be more focused, for some people, "The Church" is the hypocritical Bishop or Relief Society President who preaches love and respect from the pulpit and attends the temple regularly but abuses spouse and kids in the privacy of their home - while, for others, "The Church" is the Christlike Bishop or Relief Society President whom they love and revere. For some people, "The Church" is the overly-strict and controlling parent, while for others, "The Church" is the mean drunk who changed his life completely after conversion and became the astounding parent who is an example of redemption and repentance. For some people, "The Church" is the judgmental neighbors who refused to let their children play with the non-member children in the neighborhood, while for others, "The Church" is the family who befriended and loved those who were very different.

Most of us have no power to have a significant impact on the global LDS Church, but we have enormous potential to impact (positively or negatively) our own local LDS Church - both in how we view it and in how others perceive it.  May we be good examples of the believers, even as we struggle to overcome our own weaknesses and limitations.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Conversion Is an Individual Experience We Should Never Limit Based on Our Own Experiences

I believe strongly that God speaks to each of us in our own language and according to our own understanding. Therefore, I believe we make a critical mistake when we try to tell someone else how God will speak with her and how conversion will occur for her. I have seen enough different examples in my life that I am loathe ever to say, “This is how it will happen in your life.”

There is a long missionary lesson in that belief, and I think it is critical to change the way we approach some things in that field, but, for the purpose of this post, I simply will say that conversion happens differently for different people – and the key, in my opinion, is to be open to just about any conversion method (or time table) God might use for any particular individual.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Violating One's Conscience

I draw a distinction between something that is in opposition to my conscience and to something that I don’t want to do. After all, one of our core articles of faith is that we allow everyone to worship according to the dictates of individual conscience. We don’t honor that as well as we should, especially among ourselves within the Church, but that is the foundation of our standards and theology in this sort of discussion.

If I have a thought or feeling that says I should do something that violates my conscience, I am very wary of doing so – and I have to take a long, serious look at why it might be okay to do it. There are multiple reasons why I still might do it, but I would have to study it out in my mind, find a reason I could accept and then re-examine it in my heart before I would do it – and that is true no matter the source. I believe doing something that violates my conscience without such soul searching is relinquishing my agency in a very real way. If I make a mistake in that arena, I would rather err on the side of my conscience than on the side of violating it.

If, however, I consider something that I simply don’t want to do, the consideration becomes much easier – based on whether it would violate my conscience to do so and what the impact of my action would be on others.

In a nutshell, I try to base my actions in these situations on how I believe those actions would “hang” under the two great commandments – and it takes a truly extraordinary situation and what I consider to be indisputable, extraordinary revelation to make me go against those two commandments and/or my conscience (and how I view the two great commandments might be a good definition of my conscience). 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Paying "Back Tithing": Why I Don't Believe in It

I have known of quite a few situations where someone has not paid tithing for a while, for multiple reasons, and then decided to return to paying it.  In one case, an active member thought she had set up an automatic payment process, so she hadn't focused on it for a few months and only realized belatedly that the process had not been activated and, therefore, she actually hadn't made the payments.  There was no way for her to pay the entire amount that would have constituted a full tithe for that period, and she was distraught about it - going so far as to consider giving her Bishop her temple recommend for a period of time.

This friend asked me for my advice, and the following is a summary of what I told her:

1) Honest mistakes are honest mistakes. There is no need whatsoever to "make up" payments that can't be paid.

Think of a convert who is baptized in September. No reasonable person would insist that she pay tithing for the first eight months of the year. You are in the same situation, in principle. If I was your Bishop, there is no way I would tell you that you are "behind in your tithing". Some would; many wouldn't; I absolutely would not.

3) Honest mistakes are not sins and, thus, do not require confession or repentance in the same way that intentional actions do - and there is nothing in our theology that says people are punished by God for honest mistakes. Read our 2nd Article of Faith. It says we are punished only for our own sins - and your situation is not sin in any way I would define that word.

4) Since honest mistakes do not require confession, there is no absolute need to see a Bishop about this situation, unless you feel you need to do so. Now that you are aware of this, it is fine if you start paying tithing again and leave it at that. I can't say that strongly enough. You do not need to "confess" this or speak with your Bishop about it, unless it is important to you that you do so. Realize that if you do talk with him, there is a chance he will take a hardline stance.  Most Bishops will not; yours might.  His reaction is out of your control. 

5) My most personal advice: BREATHE! Take a long, slow, deep breath and use this as a learning experience to understand grace better and feel the power of our construction of the Atonement. You didn't do anything wrong, and you aren't going to be punished by God for an honest mistake.  Even if it had been a conscious decision, there is nothing in our theology or the Church Handbook of Instructions that dictates payment of "back tithing" if you are unable to do so. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Approach to Analyzing the Book of Mormon

I have been asked multiple times over the years about how I analyze the Book of Mormon, particularly given how many different views there are of it.  

If I had to be as concise as possible, I would say that I read the actual record (trying not to let previous assumptions influence my reading) and look at how it is said to have been compiled. I think it works really well when it's judged only by what it says and what it claims to be.

Looking at Mormon and trying to understand him as an individual also answers pretty much all of the contextual complaints I've heard, again if the only standard is what it actually says about who wrote it and why it was written. Trying to understand Mormon, the man, certainly answers the war-obsession slant - and the extreme focus on secret combinations and their activities is interesting when you look, again, at the stated purpose of the book and the rise of modern-day terrorism.

I did an analysis once of the narrative voices in the Book of Mormon - not necessarily a thematic analysis, but looking closely at where Mormon interjects commentary into the record, what is pure abridgment and what is attributed directly to other authors in quoted material. I didn't write anything formal about that exercise, but it was fascinating and instructive - and it illustrated how complex and internally consistent the entire book is.

I'm open to other interpretations, but the historical one resonates best with me - with a nod toward midrash in the translation / transmission process. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Just Because Truly Inspirational Stories Ought to Be Shared

The following link is to a story about a woman who lost both of her arms at the age of two but now competes in top-level fitness routine competitions.  She is an amazing woman, and her story ought to be told.

"Armless Body Builder Inspires Fitness World with Her Ability" - Susan Donaldson James (Good Morning America)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"How to See a Woman": A Great Blog Post from a Protestant Pastor

The Deseret News reprinted a blog post back in September 2013 from an Indiana pastor at Christ's Community Church (Nate Pyle) entitled, "How to see a woman: A conversation between a father and son". I love the post, but I also love that the Deseret News reprinted it.  (From sad experience, I never read the comments on newspaper articles, especially with Utah newspapers.  There are too many extremists on both ends of any discussion.) 

I recommend the article highly - and I am excerpting a couple of quotes just to show the general tone and view expressed in it:

"I know why you did. I get it. But we have to talk about it because how you look at a woman matters."

"It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing. You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing — or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim."

"There are two views regarding a woman’s dress code that you will be pressured to buy into. One view will say that women need to dress to get the attention of men. The other view will say women need to dress to protect men from themselves. Son, you are better than both of these."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Beautiful Testimony: Puzzles and Mosaics

A friend of mine once shared the following.  I understand why the puzzle idea he describes works for lots of people, but I love the idea of the mosaic.
I remember reading an article in the BYU alumni magazine that showed a gap between two points. Overlaid over this, were some puzzle pieces of a suspension bridge, but considerable portions of the puzzle were missing. Where the missing pieces had been there was a pencil drawing of the bridge.

The moral of the story is that even if I am can't fit all the pieces together right now, I can be confident that there is a "plan" that does fit all the pieces together.

I was unable to re-find the exact article but here is a similar description:
A Puzzle
Maybe another metaphor will help—that of an old jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the box is a broad, or holistic, view of some reality given by revelation; but the picture on our box is incomplete (see Article of Faith 9) and unclear in spots (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Moreover, we are also missing several pieces of the puzzle, and we are not even sure how many are gone. Some of the pieces in our box do not appear to belong to our puzzle at first, and others quite definitely are strays. The picture on the box becomes clearer to us, however, with greater study of its details. The more closely we examine the available pieces and the more use we make of our minds, the more we are able to put together a few pieces of solid truth here and there. We may, of course, put some of the pieces in the wrong place initially, but as other pieces are put into position and as we continually refer to the picture on the lid, we are able to correct those errors. As our understanding of both the picture and the pieces progresses, we gain greater respect for what we know, for how it all fits together, and for what we yet do not know. http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publica ... &chapid=60

There is a similar metaphor of a tapestry that is sometimes used to explain adversity. The idea is that, from where we sit the jumbled, chaotic, and painful experiences are as the loose threads hanging on the underside of the tapestry. If we could but see from the Master’s perspective we would see how each thread fits into the master plan.  (The Hugh B. Brown illustration of the currant bush is a famous LDS equivalent.)

These ideas seem to indicate that there are not only plans for humanity as a whole but also individualized plans for each of us. When tragedy struck me, I pondered whether this was part of a grand design for my life based on this understanding. Was such a horrible event fated to bring about the maximum divine potential for everyone involved?

This idea did not resonate with my internal compass and I had to discard it. It didn’t seem to make sense that God would smash my beautiful glass and steel structure only to say, “You’ll thank me later.”

A Mosaic is different than a puzzle. A mosaic is a work of art. It may be from pieces of broken glass. It may be of puzzle pieces that were never intended to go together.

Elder Maxwell used the metaphor of a mosaic in one of his talks:

The finished mosaic of the history of the Restoration will be larger and more varied as more pieces of tile emerge, adjusting a sequence here or enlarging there a sector of our understanding. 
The fundamental outline is in place now, however. But history deals with imperfect people in process of time, whose imperfections produce refractions as the pure light of the gospel plays upon them. There may even be a few pieces of tile which, for the moment, do not seem to fit. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/ ... y?lang=eng

But it seems to me that he is still using them as puzzle pieces - that there is a master plan and eventually we will see clearly what now we can only see the outline of. He seems to use the refractions of gospel light through the "imperfect" pieces as a degradation of the "pure light of the gospel." I guess in his context he was talking of being tolerant of imperfection in our leaders – that there is beauty in divine diversity.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave some years ago.
I can’t speak with any degree of certainty about others, but as I analyze my testimony. I see that the fabric of it is literally made up of thousands of experiences that combine together to form a “witness.” I may not be able to remember most of the moments that have shaped my testimony. Still, all of these instances have left their mark and contributed to the whole. (see also Testimony as a Process, Elder Carlos Godoy November 2008) I am left with a tapestry in progress, adding line upon line and thread upon thread, to discover as Jesus said in the Pearl of Great Price – that all things testify of Him (Moses 6:63) Each little strand in its own way and the whole mosaic together bear record that He is the Christ.

Because our individual testimonies come through varied experiences and at different stages, it is to be expected that there should be some variation and nuance in how each of us experience the Restored Gospel. (See also Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004) Elder Uchdorf says, “A testimony is very personal and may be a little different for each of us, because everyone is a unique person.” [The Power of a Personal Testimony (Oct 2006)]

I feel like I am constructing a mosaic and not a puzzle. I am putting pieces together not because this is where they must fit but because how they look together “speaks to me.” What I'm building is not a map to "what's out there", it is a reflection of what is inside me.

I like the idea of “refractions.” I can imagine divine light shining through my personal mosaic. What a glorious sight. Mine is unique and special but it is still a valid expression of divine light. Sometimes I feel like a mosaic person in a puzzle church. Sometimes I feel like others are not comfortable with me because I might "color outside the lines" or put my pieces together in non-traditional ways. It doesn't matter that my mosaic doesn't look the same as someone else's.

I do not believe that God planned out the early death of our daughter. But I do believe that he came to me there, amidst my internal pile of crumpled metal and shattered glass to offer comfort. I believe that He is encouraging me to rebuild as a mosaic. This new structure has no architectural drawing and must be grown organically with heart and mind and spirit. I make no claim that my internal structure is perfect or that I will ever be done building it. I believe that God is willing to bless my mosaic and breathe into my imperfect structure His breath of life. God can work with the imperfections and fill the whole of it with the “pure light” of his immeasurable love. Like light flowing through a stain glass window, the human and the divine come together. This has become my chapel.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Evolving, Generational Understanding of Modesty: I am Glad Views are Changing

Some time ago, I was reading an online thread in response to a post about modesty, and one commenter shared an experience where the young men at a church activity were not concerned about how she was dressed but, instead, it was their mothers who objected and made this young woman feel attacked and rejected.  She stressed that she was dressed modestly by any normal standard - but her breasts were larger than the other girls', and she couldn't hide her figure.  I was saddened that someone dressed properly, even by a standard that is more conservative than what I would advocate would be judged and made to feel bad in a situation like that - but what I found interesting is that it wasn't the young men who were concerned; it was their mothers.

This experience happened decades ago, but it reinforces one thing that is encouraging:

Youth tend to be more open and less dogmatic than adults.

I think we all know that, but the encouraging thing to me is that our youth right now (and I am including young adults in that category) simply see the world differently than their parents and grandparents and are moving into "adult" roles in the Church at an earlier age than previously - especially the young women. I really like that movement, because I believe it will change the way we talk about things like modesty.

One simple yet important example of that is missionary attire for young women. My oldest daughter served a mission in 2013-2014.  She sent pictures regularly, and her mission had a mission blog where pictures were posted regularly. What the young women were wearing in those pictures was modest, by the best definition of that word - but much of what they were wearing would not have been allowed back when I served my mission. The colors, the way the clothes fit, the styles - almost everything about their clothing was different than when I served, and that is a very, very good thing. Seriously, my daughter was able to wear a stylish pencil skirt and blouse combination that didn't hide her figure in any way, and she was seen as modest - as she is. My daughter didn't have to worry about the reactions of "the mothers", even while she was serving a mission.

If such attire now is approved for missionaries, it won't be taken away when they return. Most of them won't allow that, and the young men who serve missions with them will be used to seeing them dressed that way.

It seems like a little thing, but when it comes to culture, it's not as little as it seems.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Vocabulary Choices in Translations: The Book of Mormon

I was involved in a discussion once about possible challenges to faith in the Book of Mormon, and one of the people mentioned how it was ridiculous that the name Jesus was in it - since that wasn't the actual Hebrew name of the person we know as Jesus, of Nazareth.  This person said using that name was proof that Joseph didn't really translate the Book of Mormon - that he made it up.

Someone else mentioned other translators of other books and said, simply: 

It is more likely the translators used the names that would be familiar with their readers.

That's exactly how I view quite a few things in the Book of Mormon, including the names Jesus and Mary, "Christ" and "Jews" - as well as "synagogue".

It even applies to more commonly discussed things that have been considered anachronisms for a long time.  "Steel" could have been steel as we know it now - but the original word might have meant nothing more than "the hardest iron we were capable of making, which is extremely hard to make and break" - and when you are pressed for space, according to the wording in the actual book, one word makes more sense than sixteen words and the meaning still is clear to the readers. Steel easily could have been the best choice in the 19th Century to convey the intended meaning. 

That happens all the time in translations. Just look at translations of the Bible, especially those that take a translation in English already and change it for modern or younger readers. There are so many examples that I don't worry at all about the words in any translation being "exact". They are approximations in many cases whenever a change from one language to another occurs - or there is a change in audience. The exact words aren't treated as sacred; the important part is the message / meaning the translator reads from the text and then tries to convey. The key objective is putting that meaning and message into words that make sense to the reader.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Book of Mormon, and the one that I believe is one of the best evidences of some kind of inspired translation / transmission process, is the inclusion of untranslated words. The monetary references aren't part of that, since everyone understands that monetary systems have radically different names from people to people, but there are cases where words are left untranslated - where an obviously foreign word is left in the record. In the Book of Mormon, "adieu" is a wonderful example of that, and I have written in detail about why I love that word choice in a different post.  "Elephant" might have meant "elephant" as we know it, but it might have meant "a huge animal with tusks" (like the mammoths that appear in many Native American Indian oral traditions) - but "cureloms and cumoms" might not have had an appropriate counterpart in Joseph's vocabulary (or might have referred to animals that had become extinct by the time of the translation), which would explain why they were left untranslated.

Lest anyone dismiss that idea, we do it all the time when we adopt a word from another language without translating it. English has many examples of this, but they have become such a regular part of our language that many people don't even realize they are untranslated, foreign words. Japanese even uses a distinct alphabet for untranslated foreign words, so the reader immediately understands that the words are not native Japanese words. There are quite a few English words that are now part of Japanese vocabulary, modified in many cases to match the sounds in their language when the English word simply can't be pronounced properly and sometimes shortened for ease of pronunciation. (For example, Japanese has no "v" or "l" sound, so "television" is pronounced "terebi" - and Japanese people are surprised when an American understands everything they say except the only "English" word in the sentence.)

Anyway, vocabulary in the Book of Mormon simply isn't a big deal to me, since it's all so subjective anyway. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Sacrament Is Not Just about Me; It Is about Us

Thoughts on the sacrament, part 2: The meal and the garden - Aaron R. (By Common Consent)

The final two paragraphs are especially meaningful and profound. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Religion, Theology and Faith are Very Different Things

The ideal is to be self-sufficient - but groups are organized to deal with those who are not self-sufficient. I believe the following is vital to understand:

Religions, by their very nature as organizations, are designed to focus on helping the non-self-sufficient.

Thus, as individuals become more self-sufficient, they lose more and more their former need for the group that cared for them prior to their emerging self-sufficiency. Their only "need" is if they transfer that former need and help others become self-sufficient, also - if they trade places with those who helped them become self-sufficient and help others become what they've become. Otherwise, the group loses its former potency and benefit and becomes something that limits and restricts, instead.

How do I deal with that?

I separate "religion" from "theology" and "faith".

I attend a religion to be a help to those who once helped me (and still help me, in many ways), and I move "theology" and "faith" into my own, individual sphere.

I attend a religion (in which I "belong"); I construct a theology (that engages my mind and heart - my "whole soul"); I practice my faith (that looks forward to the ultimate end I desire).