Friday, May 29, 2015

A Beautful, Powerful, Instructive Confession

A friend of mine once shared the following with me, and when I found it after all this time I immediately realized I wanted to share it here on my blog.  The highlighting and parenthetical comments are mine.  I hope it touches and teaches someone else like it did me when I first read it: 

I had a woman tell me I was an idiot. The entire mess landed all of us in the Bishop's office. It got kind of ugly. I think that's why tip-toeing happens. If I squeal or correct someone - I'm the one considered in the wrong - especially when it's a leader. We have this superiority / ranking system (in the Church sometimes), that covers for the "good" guy and discards the "bad" guy.

I've seen it with high councils, in Bishoprics, in wards (with who is "in" or considered "in"). It is another massive human failing. So it's not so much tip-toeing as deciding what course you want to take. 

In my case I had been arrogant. The woman who had a gripe was right. I didn't do anything blatantly wrong - like steal or hit, but I said somethings with an attitude that cut some people deep. But popularity was on my side. I was the Young Women President and beloved. Because of my image and calling I sort of out ranked her. Her comments were seen as undermining and so on. In the court of LDS appeal I was acquitted and sanctified. I really believed those judgements were true and that she was a woman with a jealous gripe. Then one day when the incident was far gone I witnessed another similar event - and suddenly as an outside observer I realized I had been just what she saw. Maybe I hadn't meant it, maybe she was overly sensitive - or maybe I was a jerk and idiot.

I don't to this day know how many people I have done similar things to over the years. I imagine more than I would like to count. I can be very zealous when I have a cause I believe in. I can be very animated, dramatic and effective. In those heady moments I am so self focused it's amazing. And if people like my energy and presentation they grant me miles of forgiveness - even are blind to my errors. They are on my side and it really helps in a war of hurt hearts. I've been there; I know. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It Is Better to Be Godly than to Be Merely Religious

I think one of the central messages of the New Testament is that it's better to be godly (spiritual, in the best sense) than to be religious, if it has to be one or the other. I think the ideal is both, but the foundation needs to be the condition of one's soul, not just the actions of one's body. Without the spiritual foundation, what we do is nothing more than "dead works".

I also think this is reflected in the emphasis in the LDS Church on "becoming" over "doing" over the last decade or so.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sustaining and Supporting Does Not Mean Submitting to Everything

A friend of mine once told me: 

I think I understand that sustaining and supporting means submitting.

I would say that "full" support and sustaining, theoretically, "involves" an element of submission, absolutely, but I disagree completely that it "means" submitting.

I have offered my honest input in every calling in which I have served in my life, even when I disagreed with something that was being said or proposed. I remember distinctly one occasion where I mentioned to my Bishop after Sacrament Meeting a concern I had as a result of something one of the speakers had said in a talk (a relatively minor thing, but something that is important to me). He thanked me sincerely, because it hadn't registered that what was said might be interpreted the way I saw it potentially being interpreted by some people.

I went to him and told him my concern specifically because I "support and sustain" him - and I view sharing what I shared as critical to my effort to do so. Withholding something of importance is not sustaining or supporting, in my opinion; in fact, I see it as the opposite of sustaining and supporting - or only sustaining and supporting in a watered down way.

I always try to express disagreement humbly and meekly, and every leader I have had has been grateful for my honest input and the way I have given it.

On the other hand, the idea that we have to accept and follow leaders' demands even when we feel they are wrong is one of the most repellent ideas I have encountered in the Church - and lots of other places, as well. It's Lucifer's plan, in a nutshell, and I abhor it.

I am fine with accepting a leader's decision with which I disagree if I feel it isn't causing extreme harm (after stating my opinion in the most appropriate setting), but I have no problem with opposing something I feel is wrong and causing serious harm. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Setting Is as Important as the Words We Say: Two Specific Examples

I can say lots of things without negative effect that others couldn't say, largely because I have learned over nearly forty years how to do so in a way that is absolutely non-threatening - and because I respect deeply the limits of setting.

For example, if I was to address the quote in the Doctrine and Covenants about Joseph Smith being second to Jesus in terms of impact on humanity, I could say that I love Joseph and understand such a statement in a eulogy by a grieving friend (and in the context of restoring sealing ordinances for the dead), but I also could add that I look at Abraham, Moses, Paul, etc. as people who, thus far, have had a broader impact on the living than Joseph did. I also could say that I know how others can hear that quote and think we worship Joseph, so I personally don't use it outside of the internal discussions with other members when talking about the restoration of temple ordinances.

I've said that in church meetings, and people have understood and not objected - but it has been because they know me and aren't threatened by the way I say things. Again, I've spent decades refining how I talk about things, so I have an advantage that will come to many others only by "enduring to the end", if you will.

A personal example of the importance of setting: 

I was in a small group setting some time ago, including a local leader and a couple who had served in many local leadership callings in their lives - including multiple missionary experiences. Every person in that group was a fully active, dedicated, long-time, leadership-level, believing member of the LDS Church.

At one point, one of the women mentioned that she had a son who simply couldn't accept polygamy - and he also said, "Mom, Brigham Young was a racist!" She mentioned that she has never struggled with polygamy and made a joke about it that I can't remember accurately. However, she said she had never been able to understand or accept the Priesthood Ban and was overjoyed when it was lifted. The local leader said, "Your son isn't the first person to struggle with polygamy. I know I could never live it." I told her, "Brigham Young was racist, but that doesn't mean automatically that he wasn't a prophet. All of the prophets who have lived have believed, taught or done something we don't accept."

The conversation continued normally after that, and it didn't come up again in any conversation I had with any of them afterward. I certainly wouldn't have said what I did in a lot of different settings, and neither would the others who commented, even though there was nothing wrong with anything that was said in that conversation.

The setting was just as important (and, really, even more important) than the words themselves.

Monday, May 25, 2015

My Favorite Definition of Religion

Religion is a structured imposition of what can be comprehended and/or imagined on top of the unknowable and mysterious.

In other words, religion is our best understanding of what cannot be understood fully.

In other words, we see through a glass, darkly - and religion is our attempt to explain what we see, darkly.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

My Sacrament Meeting Talk on Grace

Here is the summary of my talk last Sunday. The assigned topic was "Saving Grace".

1) "I Stand All Amazed":

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me - confused by the grace that so FULLY he profers me.

I love that line, because I am a History teacher by original profession, a social scientist by nature and a lover of comparative religion. Grace has been a debated topic for thousands of years, and it truly has caused much confusion throughout history. In our own church history, I am old enough to have seen a time when we didn't talk about grace very much - and I am glad we talk about it more now than in the past. Today, I am not going to try to give a discourse about that debate over time; rather, I am going to talk specifically about the place of grace within Mormon theology and why I believe the Mormon concept of grace is even more powerful than we tend to realize.

2) Definition of grace:

Grace means favor - as in being seen as favorable / worthy of being favored. It also connotes giving something without requirement, as in bestowing a favor on someone. In this light, it is a gift that does not require a matching gift in return. It is NOT a loan, since it cannot be paid back.

2) Overview of the pre-existence and its foundational relationship to Mormonism's unique view of grace:

We had two choices: to accept HF's plan and suffer many things in mortality, including a fall from grace (favored status of parent-child relationship) and an atonement (a return to a higher favored status of equality) or to accept Lucifer's alternate plan, which was no fall from grace, no atonement and return in the same condition as we had prior to mortality. The first plan included pain and suffering and anguish and grief and weakness and transgression and sin and guilt and disability and everything else we experience in this life that allows us to learn and grow; the second plan was pain-free and growth-less.

We teach that the atonement was promised to all who would accept HF's plan. In essence, HF said to all of us:

[quote]Trust me. I will not fail you. If you choose to accept what I am offering, my grace will cover everything you experience as a result of mortality, and you will be saved from the natural consequences of that life.[/quote]

So, when I am asked by a friend if and when I have been saved, I answer:

[quote]Yes, I have been saved - before I was born by my acceptance of Jesus as my Savior and Redeemer. So have you - and so has every other child of God. Paul said, "For as in Adam ALL die, so in Christ shall ALL be made alive." I believe him.[/quote]

Brothers and sisters, we have been saved by the grace of God already - so why is it so hard for us to accept that?

3) Before I talk about the biggest reason I think we struggle to accept that, I want to highlight one of the most fascinating and least understood verses in the Bible, then add an interesting insight from the Doctrine & Covenants.

Luke 2 tells of Jesus' life from birth until the age of 12. The last verse in that chapter (verse 52) gives a summary of the next 18 years. It says:

[quote]And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.[/quote]

Remember, grace means to be favored, so, in a real way, this verse says that Jesus increased in grace. D&C 93:13 puts it this way:

[quote]And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness.[/quote]

This places grace, in its fullest sense, as the empowerment that moves us through a process of growth - and it frames grace in terms of growth and progression, rather than in terms of a one-time offering. In other words, as my son said, we are not saved from something; rather, we are saved continually to or toward something. Yes, we have been saved - but we also are being saved. If even Jesus, of Nazareth, went through this process, why do we tend to insist that we be perfect now?

4) The Gospel and life are full of paradoxes, and perhaps the most central paradox of all is that we are acceptable to God just as we are but we also are commanded to be perfect, as Matthew 5:48 says. Our teaching of this need for perfection, I believe, is the biggest stumbling block to an acceptance of the grace that so fully he profers us - not that we believe in perfection but that we don't teach it the way it was meant by Jesus in that verse. We tend to accept the Mosaic Law view of perfection - a view that equates perfection with being mistake-free (like a test that requires 100% to be given a passing grade). For that reason, whenever we make a mistake, large or small, we feel guilty and worthless and unworthy and not acceptable to God. Often, this occurs even when our mistakes are the direct result of things we inherited from just being born.

However, the footnote for Matthew 5:48 frames perfection very differently. It says that to be perfect is to be "complete, whole, fully developed" - and, interestingly, that Jesus was NOT an example of that when it was given. Notice that ONLY Heavenly Father is listed as an example of perfection in that verse.

It also is difficult to accept grace when we are focused on not letting others see our weaknesses and struggles. Pres. Uchtdorf also compared the church to a showroom for cars and a repair shop. He said church meetings aren't supposed to be a showroom; they are supposed to be a repair shop. My father used to say that warts only can be healed if they are exposed and treated - if we let other people see them. I believe in wearing nice clothing to church to show respect, but when we put on our Sunday best and carefully apply makeup before we go, others only see us as if we were in a showroom - and they never see our warts - and they think they are the only people in church who have warts - and they feel guilty and worthless - and the perfection cycle continues.

5) This brings me to the way we tend to explain things in terms of parables. In "Believing Christ", Stephen Robinson gives the parable of the bicycle - in which a girl asks her dad if she can have a bike. He tells her that she can have a bike if she saves every penny she earns until she can afford one. She returns after some time with 61 cents and says she has saved all of her money and asks, again, if she can have a bike. Her father takes pity on her and buys the bike for her, even though her money doesn't not come close to covering the actual cost.

I appreciate the point Brother Robinson makes that God will give us the bike even if we can't pay for it on our own, but I like a different parable. I believe he provided a vehicle for us (a way to go where he wants us to go) in his first plan before we were born and simply asks us to accept it and do our best to learn to operate it - to try to drive where he wants to take us. The vehicle is free, as is the license to drive it; all that is required of us is to get behind the wheel and drive. When we get into an accident, he asks us to learn from the experience, get back behind the wheel and continue to drive. He doesn't care how many accidents we have (or, even, as the parable of the workers says, when we start driving); he only cares that we accept the gift of the vehicle and drive. I believe he will let us drive until we reach our final destination, no matter how long that takes. After all, he has time and all eternity to be patient and extend his love.

Truly, even after all we can do, it still is by grace that we are saved.

6) I want to spend the last few minutes talking about how, in order to be full participants in divine grace, we need to extend to others the same grace we receive from HF and Jesus.

We are invited to become like God, and being gracious is perhaps the ultimate goal in that process. I am concerned that we are not as accepting and loving toward others as God is toward us. If he offers his grace to ALL of his children, and if Jesus spent his ministry serving the people who were rejected and shunned by the religious people of his day, I am convinced we should be more like him and less like the leaders who avoided the sinners and the sick and the despised. If we are full of grace, we will not turn anyone away; we will embrace all and love them actively and fervently, no matter what mistakes we believe they are making; we will help them on our collective journey through life; we will ride with them, together, side-by-side. If someone stumbles into our Sacrament Meeting, reeking of alcohol - or wearing what we deem to be totally inappropriate clothing - or holding hands with someone we think they should not love in that way - or any other image that comes naturally to our minds when we picture a sinner- in those situations, I pray we can be grace-filled and thank God they found us rather than ask why they are here. We judge too much, too quickly, too harshly and too stereotypically - and I believe Jesus would say, simply:

I loved and served them when nobody else would. Why won't you do the same? They have my grace; why can't they have yours? Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Brothers and sisters, may we be gracious to all around us, as God is gracious to us, is my prayer.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Why I Love the Temple in Less than 100 Words

I believe strongly the temple is meant to be for the living to internalize a connection to all humanity (to have our hearts sealed to all of God's children) and not primarily for the salvation of the dead. That will happen at some point, if it has to happen.

I find great meaning in and love the temple and its symbolism, even though I don't believe in any literal saving through the ordinances themselves.

I also like a place of peace where I can let my mind roam without any distractions - and, having attended for almost 30 years, I include the play itself in that description of distraction most of the time.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why Do Committees in the Church Often Fail to Make a Difference?

God so loved the world that He did not send a committee. 

I was asked once to lead the Melchizedek Priesthood Missionary Committee in my ward, and I accepted only after telling the leaders that they would have to accept my unorthodox view on the committees and my unorthodox approach.

In the first meeting (the last 15 minutes of the third hour meeting), I started by saying to everyone:

Why are these committees generally such a failure?

After getting the initial stunned looks and a few comments, I told them that I thought it was because we didn't spend enough time on them (because we didn't have enough time in the first place), we tried to tackle too many things (given how busy everyone was with other responsibilities), we came up with grandiose plans (or, in the case of the Missionary Committee, we simply acted as a wing of the Ward Mission and ended up doing administrative things for the Ward Mission Leader) and we didn't establish any unique things to do that were simple enough to accomplish. Therefore, my focus would be on nothing but community service, not for the sake of conversion, but simply for the sake of service. I told them the Ward Mission Leader could focus on "missionary work"; we would be focusing on sharing the Gospel - that he could build the kingdom of God and we could work to establish Zion. Service was something we could do without any angst, without a huge time commitment and without feeling like failures.

Volunteers generally want to do something fairly simple that makes them happy without creating more burdens and responsibilities in their already busy lives. Conversely, many leaders want to change the world or, at least, have a major, visible impact - and it isn't always ego-driven or a bad thing in any way. They just have a bigger vision, if you will, and more confidence in their ability to enact a bigger vision, than the other people do. They also tend to forget that worker bees still need to fly all over the place for most of their available time to gather the honey they need to survive.

My advice when it comes to a leader working within a volunteer organization is not complex:

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Take longer to do what you envision doing.

Respect volunteers as volunteers.  
Find tasks can be done and, through being done well, provide feelings and experiences of success.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Can Conflicting Impressions Both Be Inspired?

I've served in enough callings that include impressions about who to ask to do things to understand that there can be equally valid but competing impressions that can be inspired and appropriate.  

1) When I was serving in a Stake Mission Presidency many years ago, I had a very strong impression to talk with a particular person about being the Ward Mission Leader. I didn't know anyone in the ward, so I said a prayer, looked through the ward directly and couldn't move my eyes past one particular name. Interestingly, his last name was one I actually did recognize, but I didn't know him at all.

When I sat down in his home to talk with him about the potential calling, he told me there was no way he could accept it - since he was completely inactive at the time. He then said that he had been thinking about returning to church activity but hadn't been able to do it, largely because he was sure there wasn't a place for him anymore. He said that he knew he had the ability to function in the calling and that he interpreted my impression as God telling him that there was a place for him - as soon as he got his act together and felt he could accept a calling like that. He thanked me for talking with him about it and politely declined the calling due to his own "competing impression".

My question had been, "Whom should I ask to accept this calling?" I believe the answer I got was inspired, even though he didn't accept the calling due to equally valid personal inspiration.

2) When my wife was in the Primary Presidency, they prayed about who to ask for in a teaching position - asking who would be best for that particular class. I was in the Bishopric at the time, if I remember correctly (or maybe I just gave her some input from my previous times in Bishoprics), and their request wasn't approved by the Bishop. He ended up asking the person to serve somewhere else in the ward.

Both my wife (and the presidency) and the Bishop were certain their answers to prayer had been inspired - and I believe both competing answers were valid and appropriate. The Primary Presidency received an answer that was correct concerning who would be the best person to suggest, while the Bishop received an answer that was correct concerning which calling would be best use of that person for the ward as a whole. Two correct but competing impressions.

3) My parents submitted mission papers based on an answer to prayer that they should serve at Cove Fort in Utah. Their Bishop prayed about it and agreed. Their papers were sent to SLC with explicit reasons why Cove Fort would be an appropriate call and why a regular mission would not be possible. They were called on a regular mission to South Carolina - an impossibility at the time. They accepted the assignment and left home to drive to South Carolina, knowing it would be impossible to complete the assignment. They completed the assignment, and it was one of the highlights of their lives. Two competing answers and impressions - both valid and appropriate.

 (If you want to read the fuller account, it is in the following post: "Exercising Faith and Seeing the Hand of God".)

I know it might seem paradoxical, but I've seen and experienced correct but contrasting impressions happen so many times that I have to accept it as inspiration, even when it is not understood at the time - or even when it causes consternation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What's Wrong with Being #2 (or lower)?

I really dislike ranking people in most respects, for lots of reasons.  Primary among those reasons is that in order for there to be a #1 there simply must be a #2 - and every number lower.  

Second, many times the true #1 in a field is an absolute SOB and incredibly egomaniacal. For example, I once worked with a woman who had first-hand knowledge of Michael Jordan's view of beautiful women - and, to put it mildly, it was disgusting. Seriously, it was simply appalling.  Being #1 (or, more accurately, striving to be seen as #1) can be a very damaging mindset. 

On a more personal note, this question is near to my heart, since I have twin sisters, one year younger than I, who struggled in school to get their B's and C's - and an occasional A. They were average students who worked hard to succeed, but they had more than one teacher who accused them of being lazy - since the other six kids in the family all had A's with only an occasional B. In academic terms, they were #'s 7 & 8 out of 8 in my family - and there was absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing. It wasn't their actual rank that mattered; it was their accomplishments relative to their ability.

By that measure, they probably were ahead of me (since they worked a whole lot harder than I usually did) - but I was the one who was seen as #1 by everyone who ranked us, consciously or subconsciously.

It isn't right, and it's a natural tendency against which we ought to fight.

Monday, May 18, 2015

We Are Adolescent Gods

I see "God" as a condition of perfection (being whole, complete, fully developed) - "godhood", to say it in Mormon terms. I don't see God as one entity, apart from his children.  Thus, the "condition of being" we call "godhood" is being everything it is possible to be.

More importantly, I also believe we are gods / godly when we are everything we can be at any given moment (as perfect as we can be) - and I believe we understand both our strengths so poorly and our natural limitations so clearly that we have a hard time realizing we really are gods in a powerful and important way even with our weaknesses and imperfect states. As I've said in previous posts, we see our caterpillar selves and fail to realize those caterpillars are developing butterflies.  Butterflies and caterpillars are NOT different species, anymore than a kitten is a different species than an adult cat.  A butterfly simply is an adult caterpillar; a caterpillar simply is an adolescent butterfly. 

I believe we are "adolescent gods" much more than "future gods".

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our Leaders are Not Infallible, and We Don't Need to Believe They Are

I have heard too many members talk as if our prophets and apostles are infallible.  They admit imperfection when asked about it, but, in practical terms, they act as if everything our leaders say should be accepted and followed unquestioningly as if it was God's own voice - and some of them extend that down to the local level, as well.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, in our scriptures or any statement by any prophet or apostle ever recorded says that - even the ones that people often cite when making the claim.  

If people who don't believe in prophetic infallibility had to stop attending the temple, there would be relatively few people in the temples - and never any of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency.  They know better than anyone else that they aren't infallible. 

Just saying.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Joseph Smith Was Not a Uniquely Egregious Sinner

Over the years, I have heard a lot of critics of the LDS Church say that Joseph Smith was a uniquely egregious sinner - that his actions make it obvious he wasn't a prophet of God.  I understand how someone could look at only his weaknesses and reach that last conclusion, but I also understand that calling him a uniquely egregious sinner and, thus, not a prophet generally displays either a lack of understanding of history or, at the very least, a complete rejection of the concept of prophets. 

There is no indication that Joseph sinned more than any other prophet throughout history - or even sinned in uniquely egregious ways. Assuming our ancient scriptures are accurate, just for the sake of comparison, and removing justifications of divine command, there are multiple murderers / death-enablers who are accepted as prophets (Moses, Elijah, Nephi, Paul, etc.); Joshua committed genocide; Samson had incontrovertible proof that Delilah was trying to betray and get him captured (more than once), and he still allowed her to make it happen - either because he loved her or because the sex was so good; Hosea got a woman pregnant who wasn't his wife; Jonah tried to run away from the Lord, openly defying him, and then grieved when people repented; Gandhi was a deeply flawed man, with multiple serious issues; Martin Luther King, Jr. was a serial adulterer; Jesus of Nazareth was killed for blasphemy - and all we have of his life are records that were written explicitly by believers to place him in the position of the [theologically revamped] Messiah when, by all objective, non-believing standards of the day, he simply was another failed Messiah figure; and the list continues. (and, it's important to point out that David never was a prophet - but his "fall with one woman" was the result of arranging the murder of her husband)

I'm not trying to hold up Joseph as a model of perfectly virtuous behavior (since I don't see him that way), but I am saying the standard we (collectively) tend to demand of our prophets and apostles (particularly in the case of Joseph, who can be seen, I believe, more in the role of an Old Testament prophet than any other type) simply is not consistent with history and our own scriptural canon. The majority of exceedingly extraordinary people throughout history have carried baggage on the other side of their "greatness", as well. I don't see the disconnect between who they were and how we tend to view them as their fault (even as I see their actions as their fault); I see that disconnect as our fault, and I include leadership in that statement just as much as general membership - since some leaders have condoned and even encouraged that unrealistic view.

As I've said in other posts here and elsewhere, I don't see how anyone who accepts the Biblical prophets can reject Joseph as a prophet based on his weaknesses and mistakes. I can see how that person can reject him for other reasons, but to say his actions disqualify him . . . I just don't see it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Assumptions about Scriptural Stories: Teaching Children to Think for Themselves

When I got home from work a few years ago, my second daughter immediately called me in to where she was studying for Seminary and asked me to help her understand something. In Seminary that morning, they watched a little video clip about John 4 - the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, and my daughter was confused about something in it. Before the video clip played, the students were asked to look for what the scene said about the woman's sin, but my daughter didn't see anything about sin in the clip - or in the chapter itself when she read it again tonight to see what she missed. She assumed the sin they were supposed to see was adultery, but she just couldn't see that as being said in the story.

She asked me two things:

1) if there was sin implied in the story;

2) if not, why the video would ask them to look for it.

I told her, not for the first time, that we tend to read into things (not just scriptures) whatever fits our own perspective and assumptions - that, in a story about a woman who had five previous husbands and currently lives with a man who is not her husband, we assume adultery without reading carefully. We talked about how it would be easy for this woman not to be an adulteress - that, perhaps, she was an older woman who simply had had five husbands die and didn't want to have that happen again with the man with whom she lived at the time. Maybe there was no sex involved at all, especially if they both were old enough to be near the end of their lives. Jesus didn't "call her to repentance" in anything he said, and adultery never was mentioned in any way. Furthermore, even if there was sex involved in the current relationship, that probably would have been fornication, not adultery - given only what is in the story itself.

She asked if the sin might be lying about her situation, but when I pointed out that the woman had answered simply, directly and honestly, she saw that immediately. ("Go get your husband." "I have no husband." "You are telling the truth, since you have had five husbands in the past and aren't married to the man with whom you live now.")

I told her the people who made the video simply accepted their assumptions and the implications that made sense to them - that they didn't think about it critically and credit multiple possibilities.

Before I had time to leave the room, she looked up at me and said:

"Wait, dad. After this, she went to everyone and told them what had happened - and they believed her and went to Jesus to be taught by him. They wouldn't have done that if she had been an adulterer, would they - especially with five marriages?" 

I congratulated her on seeing that possibility, and she said, before I could say it:

"I know. Don't take verses all by themselves. Read the context before you decide what they mean."

I then told my third daughter to get to bed. She asked if she could finish reading the scriptures for the night, and I said fine - as long as she was in bed in five minutes. She looked me in the eye, grinned, and said:

"I can't read the scriptures in five minutes if I'm actually trying to understand them. I need to read and think about each sentence, don't I?"

I love my kids. 

It isn't easy, but it's important to teach our kids how to deal with things that don't make sense to them - and how to think about and try to understand for themselves what they read and hear.

The daughters about whom I am talking were 17 and 14 at the time - and they didn't get this way overnight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We Need Holes in Our Hearts

We teach of the need to have hearts that are open to being filled. 

Hearts without holes can't be filled.

"The whole need not a physician, but the sick."

I thank God regularly that I have not had many trials that I know others have had, but I am grateful that my heart has had holes that needed to be filled and that God (and others, as His hands) has tended to those holes, in various ways.

My primary purpose in much of my interaction with others is an attempt simply to help fill holes in other hearts.  I might not be able to be a curer in most cases, but I can try to be a healer. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Priesthood Keys: A Chain Holding Copies of One Master Key that Unlocks Multiple Views

Morgan wrote a post on By Common Consent last year entitled "Keys" - about the place of that word and concept in Mormon vocabulary.  I recommend it highly.

My comment in that thread is below: 

It's interesting how such a simple concept as a key can be so profound to different people in different ways, as evidenced by its relevance today in ways that would have been unimaginable to the ancient people who wrote about keys. 

I like the framework of opening and closing, but I also like the purpose of most openings.  It's one thing to talk about opening a door (or gate) in order to enter a room (or restricted area), but it's another thing entirely to talk about opening a door or gate with the purpose of seeing / experiencing what is inside the room or restricted area.  In other words, keys, primarily, aren't about getting into a locked space; rather, at the core, they are about access to something of value - whether that be gold or an elite group or solitude or safety or increased light and knowledge.  It's not the room that is the focal point of having keys; it's what is inside the room and the benefit of what's inside the room. 

That's easy to forget that in the myopia of "getting into the Celestial kingdom" - or any other location.  In Mormon theology, the ultimate destination is a condition - and the key generally gets someone on the path and allows her to walk along the proper path - having her condition changed as she walks.  I believe, therefore, that life's journey is comprised of a series of keys - and, in a real way, I believe the final destination has no key and no entrance,  Rather, it is where someone ends up after all the gates have been opened and the veils parted and the realization hits that she was "there" all along.  Thus, theoretically, there is one key chain holding copies of the same master key. 

At least, that view works for me right now. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Response to "Children Cant' Dress Immodestly"

At By Common Consent, Matthew wrote a post in 2012 entitled, "Children Can't Dress Immodestly".  I disagreed strongly with his premise and the post itself, so I wrote the following comment:

Modesty is based on the concept of moderation – in all things. While I agree with much of what is said in the OP, it is more than just a bit ironic to attack one version of modesty in an completely immodest manner. Using one inaccurate extreme (“Children can’t dress immodestly.”) to attack another inaccurate extreme (“Children who expose their shoulders are sluts.”) is no more modest than the extreme being attacked. It simply is the other extreme of the immodesty coin.  
Again, I agree with the concern about how modesty is taught in our culture, especially the obsession over narrowing it exclusively to clothing and females, but this post is no more modest than what it attacks. I would love to read a modest response to such an important issue.

Matthew responded with the following comment:

You’ve created a false equivalency rather than responding to the argument and I know you can do better because I’ve seen you do better. If you want to explain with examples why you believe children can be immodest, you are welcome to do so. If you want to explain why you believe my statement is extreme you should do it.

At the time, I felt I would need to write an entire counter-post in order to explain why I believed the post was extreme, so I didn't respond in a comment.  I thought of writing an official response for a while but never got around to it.  Two weeks later, Paul wrote a responding post on "Real Intent" - and it expressed my concerns very well. 

I came across that discussion again recently and decided today to post the link to Paul's article as my own official response to the idea that children can't be immodest, even though it has been three years since the original post.  It is a bit lazy of me, but Paul's post said almost everything I would have said in a post of my own. 

With that LONG introduction, here is the link:

In Defense of "The Orange Shirt"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Book of Mormon As a Catalyst for an Acceptance of Personal Revelation

Someone asked me in a more private setting about what I've written regarding the way the Book of Mormon opens the door for people to accept and experience personal revelation - and why that is so important.  The following is the specific question he asked and my response to it: 

I do have a question about one specific line in one of your posts: "It [the Book of Mormon] also opens a conduit to seek personal revelation in personal areas." How have you found that works, exactly? Again, I would assume that revelation would not come directly from the words of the book itself, since oftentimes we're seeking personal revelation about topics that the Book of Mormon simply doesn't address. So what's the connection between the Book of Mormon and that conduit of personal revelation?

Most people are not taught to ask God for specific answers to specific questions, so teaching people to ponder God's mercy throughout history and then to pray for a specific answer to a specific question ("Are these things true?") opens the door for them to continue to ask God for answers to questions once they feel He has answered them the first time. It's not just a one-time thing. In our theology, it leads to the concept of on-going and personal revelation - and praying about the Book of Mormon often is the first step in that process for many people.

It's not exactly how it worked for me, since I grew up with an acceptance of the principles of on-going and personal revelation and didn't need that catalyst personally, but I have seen it work that way for lots of other people.

You might want to consider that aspect - that, if someone grows up with an acceptance of something, "gaining a witness of it" can be very different than having an extraordinary experience that teaches it for the first time. I think we teach many things as happening for everyone in the exact same way, and, in doing so, miss the complexity of humanity and the idea that God speaks to us in our own language, according to our own understanding. I'd rather teach a principle and let people experience things themselves.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Input about the Apostles from Someone Who Knows

I happened to fall into a conversation within the past eighteen months, in person (face-to-face), with someone who has had the opportunity to talk directly with the top leadership of the Church about issues of instruction and ministry. I didn't know this about the person when we started to talk. (I'm being intentionally vague, so as to not give away any detail about this person or their situation. I don't want any particular detail to influence anyone's judgment of what was said, since I believe what was said was completely accurate and the speaker totally trustworthy - but more detail might bias some people. I simply will say that this person is not a "church leader" of any kind.)

I want to share a few things I was told in our conversation:

1) The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency understand that their words in General Conference normally are generalized and not new - or profound in a new way, speaking generally. This is because they do not want to be misunderstood - as much by the membership of the Church as by non-members. They are aware of how much their words tend to be heard subjectively and how much they tend to get distorted once they leave their mouths - again, by people inside and outside the Church.

2) They almost all value an ecumenical approach to religion and religious conversation over a confrontational approach - even though they almost all believe what they believe very strongly. They all believe there is good, and even great outside the LDS Church - and even things that are unique and worthy of emulation and adoption, outside the LDS Church - and they all lament the lack of charity in the way many members speak to and about other people. Some of their most recent talks have been a direct address to this concern - but they tend to value teaching and testifying over pronouncements of command from the pulpit (again, given how many members tend to turn even non-command into command).

3) They almost all want multiple voices to be heard in church, as long as those voices are respectful and not disruptive or harmful. They don't all share similar views about many things; they are open with each other and in council about those differences; they practice the council model and wish the membership would listen more when they ask them to practice that model, as well. (in a nutshell, listening to others before reaching decisions and conclusions)

4) A lower percentage of 70's understand all of the above, and that rule extends naturally down the leadership chain.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

How the Book of Mormon Works for and Speaks to Me

I find it fascinating to see how the Book of Mormon was used in the early days of the Church - and it is interesting that it was used exactly like a friend once said he saw it "work" on his mission. ("So when people read the Book of Mormon for the first time (those that didn't reject it outright because it was outside of the Bible), it did kind of open the door to additional scripture, personal revelation, and the rest of the gospel.")

I love the Book of Mormon for a number of reasons, but I've never had a burning in the bosom feeling about it. I've prayer for that type of experience, back when I was younger and didn't realize that's now how God speaks to me, personally.  I just love what it teaches and the feeling of attachment I have to it. I also am intrigued by what some key passages say about its purpose - and those passages don't say what we emphasize so much right now in the Church.

1) It was written to help people believe the Bible. That is stated directly as the primary purpose in Mormon 7 - especially verses 8-9. In other words, it is a second witness - not a first witness - and it was used in the early church to help them understand and believe the Bible better and more fully, not as the primary witness of Jesus or the central scriptural canon of our theology that tends to be our focus now. (It's interesting to note that nearly all of our truly unique doctrines are from the Bible, not the Book of Mormon.)

2) It was written to help people accept that God will be merciful to them personally - by remembering His mercy throughout history to others. This is the central message of Moroni 10:3-5 - and we tend to cut the heart out of that passage when we breeze past verse 3 in order to get to verses 4-5. We literally change Moroni's admonition when we make it nothing more than, "Pray about the Book of Mormon and ask if it is true." That's not what the passage actually asks people to do - at least, not everything it asks them to do.

That's how I see the Book of Mormon, and it works for me - even though, again, I've never had a distinctly powerful manifestation of it being a factual, historical record (even as I accept it as such as my default view but am fine with it being inspired fiction, if you will).  My connection is intellectual (really studying slowly and carefully what is written in it), emotional (many of the stories and how I feel while reading it), observational (seeing the effect it has had on others), spiritual (the insights and theological framework it has given me), etc.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Our Bodies Are Temples: Dealing with Mental and Emotional Illnesses and Issues

I believe deeply in the concept of our bodies being temples and, thus, that we need to take care of them in every way possible.  I recognize that I have not followed this counsel well at certain times in my life, since I have been overweight for extended periods of time since graduating from college many years ago, but I do believe in it.

As evidenced by the number of posts I've written here about various mental and emotional issues, I believe just as deeply that treating our bodies as temples includes taking care of chemical imbalances, which means, in many cases, for people with depression and other similar issues, using proper medication - even as medication might not be needed for others or needed long-term.

Some people still attribute mental and emotional issues to evil spirits.  I can agree that there might be evil spirits at work in some cases and not have a problem with suggestions for prayer and Priesthood blessings - but only as long as the type of comprehensive, balanced approach being advocated by phrases like "taking care of your body" includes professional counseling, medication, diet, etc. in an attempt to pinpoint exactly what the issues are for each individual.

If any approach discourages trying counseling, medication, diet, etc. and focuses exclusively on "spiritual causes", I reject it without hesitation.

For that reason, I was ecstatic to hear Elder Holland speak in General Conference so directly and clearly about depression and the need to do more than just try harder or just exercise more faith.  God bless him for addressing such a common ailment in the way that he did. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

How I See Joseph Smith in Relation to Plural Marriage

I have been asked about Joseph's practice of plural marriage many times in my life, and most people who asked wanted the answer to be simple and concise.  I have not been able to give them that kind of answer, as I believe it was complicated, evolving and impossible to stereotype or describe in simple terms.  The following is my attempt to summarize my view as succinctly as possible - acknowledging that it only scratches the surface of how I view this issue: 

1) Joseph instituted and practiced "plural marriage". The LDS Church states that openly in its manuals, and the evidence is over-whelming.

2) Joseph didn't institute or practice polygamy as it was lived under Brigham Young and as it is understood by almost everyone today when that word is used, and that also is indisputable. He didn't live with multiple women, splitting his time with them. He didn't have traditional marriages with them, in which children were born and supported. There are allegations that he might have fathered as many as three children with women other than Emma, but there is no proof of that - and some of the previous allegations have been dismissed. It's an open question still, but so is just about any other unprovable allegation, so I don't see it as a productive discussion, personally. He was sealed to already married women. He allowed women to be sealed to multiple men. At the last stages of his life, he seemed to be focused exclusively on dynastic and communal sealings, rather than the earliest moves into polygamy.

3) Joseph experimented with multiple forms of marriage / sealing arrangements. That also is indisputable. Emma denied everything until the day she died, but Joseph absolutely wasn't constrained by the social morals of his time with regard to marriage arrangements. Personally, I believe he saw the next life very differently than his followers and others and was trying to approximate his view in this life - and I also believe he was a highly physical, charismatic man who liked and was attracted to women.

4) Joseph was sealed to a very few young teenagers (only three under the age of 17), and they receive the focus of most discussions, but he also was sealed to far more older women who were not "temptations" in a physical way (with three being over 50). His "marriages" defy typical patterns, and I believe they reflect his evolving view of marriage and, even more importantly, sealing much more than anything else.

5) There is no evidence that there was a sexual component with any particular type of woman to whom he was sealed - but there is evidence that such a component was more prevalent in the earlier sealings than in the later ones. I also see that as a manifestation of his evolving views.

6) I believe Brigham Young didn't share Joseph's personality or "vision" of the next life in ways that are specific to plural marriage and community sealing, so he instituted the model he understood - the traditional structure of classic polygamy.

7) I loathe coercion of just about any variety, and that feeling is most intense when sex is part of it. I don't like the angel-with-a-sword accounts, whether Joseph believed them or not (and I'm not convinced at all that he made them up, since I can believe he believed them without believing they came from God). I don't believe all "visions" are good or of God, and I believe the issues surrounding all of this might be one major reason he was told that his name would be had for good and evil.

8) I love Joseph and admire him greatly, but I don't believe he was infallible - and I believe when he made mistakes, they tended to mirror his great achievements.

9) I believe people can love multiple spouses deeply and equally, and that simple fact alone keeps me from dismissing or rejecting the concept of some kind of plural marriage arrangements in this life and the next - for those people who would choose such arrangements. I also know enough of history to know of situations where catastrophe decimated male populations and gave rise to polygamy - and, while that is NOT the case in our modern Mormon history, those situations also keep me from condemning plural marriage arrangements in totality.

That's my short version.