Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We Aren't As Elect As We Think We Are

I personally don't believe in a "Judgment Day" - where each person stands before a judge in a court room and hears a verdict about their life. I believe "The Final Judgment" is nothing more than the natural end of our progression and growth - that point where we no longer learn and grow. I also believe that point is FAR further out into the future than most people assume, and I think FAR more people reach "godhood" or "perfection" (a state of wholeness, completion and full development) than most people assume.

I think God's grace, mercy and charity (long-suffering patience, especially) are as universal and expansive as is possible, and I think lots of people will be shocked in the end as they look around and finally realize they aren't as "elect" as they thought they were.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"WWJD" and the Word of Wisdom

"What would Jesus do?" is a stupid question in lots of situations.

Jesus drank wine, and so did the early Mormon leaders, but that is irrelevant to whether or not we should do so now.

I believe Jesus also wouldn't have voted Republican or Democrat, probably even if either option had been available to him. I have no doubt Jesus would have drunk tea if it had been available to him - unless he didn't like the taste or smell - but I don't know if he would have drunk coffee, for multiple reasons. I can't stand the smell of coffee, and, my religion aside, I would never have started drinking it due to how horribly I react to the smell alone.

"Strong drinks" have been ramped up significantly in the last century or so. Wine and beer both are good examples of this, as are energy drinks. In and of themselves, I don't think drinking wine and beer in moderation is objective and eternal sin (and mild barley drinks were allowed in the original revelation), but "conspiring men" certainly have done a number in the area of strong drinks in our modern times. There is no doubt in my mind that addiction peddling has been expanded in ways that were unimaginable to most people hundreds of years ago and more. I see the beginning verses in D&C 89 as absolutely prophetic in that regard, regardless of what Jesus and Joseph Smith drank.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Some Complaints about the Book of Mormon Are Stupid

The following is perhaps the best example of how far some people will go to criticize the Book of Mormon: 

"The Book of Mormon is made up because Joseph Smith wrote that Jesus was born in Jerusalem."  

The early books in the Book of Mormon talk of "the land of Jerusalem". Likewise, I lived in a suburb of Cincinnati for years, but we often told people we lived in Cincinnati. I was raised 20 miles south of Provo and 60 miles south of SLC, but I often told people in college that was born and raised "in the Salt Lake City area" - and I often tell people I lived in Boston while I attended college there, even though I lived in Medford, Somerville and Woburn (and actually attended college in Cambridge). If someone is speaking to a group of people who have never been to the region being described, it is totally natural for them to use a nearby, well-known city as an approximate substitute.

Joseph Smith knew that Jesus was supposed to have been born in Bethlehem, so there is no logical reason for him to have written Jerusalem if it meant within the actual city limits.

This is one case where I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with the passage in question, and I actually believe it bolsters authenticity more than it decreases authenticity (or, at least, is completely neutral). In other words, I would expect a record like the Book of Mormon reference Jesus' birth being "the land of Jerusalem" in that way. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Going Beyond the Church Handbook of Instructions

I want to make a simple, short point in this post, after talking with a friend whose Bishop imposed his own view and interpretation in a temple recommend interview (dealing with caffeinated sodas) and, as a result, my friend lost his recommend when he was fully worthy to have one.

There are lots of instances where problems would disappear if local leaders simply understood what the handbook says and didn't enforce personal rules that are stricter than the handbook. I'm not saying the handbook is perfect, but, at the very least, we shouldn't impose stricter standards than it contains. 

Note: I updated the information above as a result of the first comment below. This was not a case of a violation of the Word of Wisdom; it was a case of a leader imposing a stricter standard than what the Church itself requires - both in the handbook and in official statements issued recently about the exact issue in question.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Parable of the Unjust Steward: A Profound Message that Gets Butchered Often

The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-8) is one that many people have a hard time understanding and accepting.  I've heard lots of arguments over the decades trying to explain why Jesus  couldn't have said it - that it just has to be something that was written into the record by someone else - or that there has to be some deeper symbolism that isn't obvious in the parable itself.  I don't agree with those arguments, since I think it's a pretty straightforward story with a fairly simple meaning.  In the spirit of parsing, to which everyone knows I'm inclined, here is how I see this parable:

1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

The "steward" is a manager - someone who has stewardship over (responsibility for) something. This manager had been given control over the handling of some of the rich man's goods - and had failed miserably. In fact, it appears he had lost everything with which he had been entrusted - since the goods had been "wasted".

2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

In other words, the rich man said, "Tell me what you've done with my goods. You're in danger of being fired."

3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.

This wasn't a "poor man" naturally; he wasn't even necessarily a poor man until he was threatened with being fired. (It appears he had no other marketable skill and relatively little physical strength - and he also was a proud man. It also is implied that he knew there was no way he could keep his job, since he knew "my lord taketh away from me the stewardship".)

4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.

He said, essentially, "There is no doubt I will be fired, so I better ingratiate myself into the good graces of those who owed money to the rich man while I can (before I am fired officially and still have the authority to make a deal)."

5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?

6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.

7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.

These verses simply say that he cut deals with the debtors, so they would appreciate him and be more likely to hire him when we was fired.

8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

There is nothing in this verse whatsoever that even implies the man kept his job with the rich man. There is nothing in this verse that says anything the steward did was "right" or "good" from a moral standpoint. There is nothing in this verse that says the rich man approved of the steward himself (since he still called him "unjust") or that the rich man kept the steward on as an employee (that isn't stated anywhere). All it says is that the rich man "commended" the "unjust" steward for doing wisely - BUT it doesn't say toward what the commendation for doing wisely was directed. In other words, it doesn't say WHY the rich man commended the steward, other than that there was something "wise" about his actions.

My take is quite simple - though not short (*grin*):

When he heard about the wasted goods, the rich man knew what kind of man the steward was. He also knew that, given the way the steward had "wasted" the goods, he was unlikely to get much, if anything, from his debtors once the steward was fired. (Again, "wasted" carries that connotation - that there appeared to be no getting anything of worth out of them.) So, even as the rich man fired the steward he commended him for at least getting as much as possible out of an otherwise wasted situation - for minimizing his losses and putting himself in a position to get work once he left the rich man's service, even if such an approach was "unjust" - which simply means "not in accord with a normal understanding of what is right or lawful". In other words, the unjust steward didn't demand justice, but rather, in order to get what he could, he extended mercy - thus getting more by being merciful than he could have by sticking strictly to the letter of the law.

(Contrast this parable to the one where the man who owed his master money threw people in jail who couldn't pay him what they owed him in order to get out of his own debt. That man was condemned for being totally "just" - while this "unjust steward" was commended for not adhering strictly to the demands he could have made. Those "just" demands would have put others in jail, not done the rich man any good in the process and reduced the steward himself to death - since he had no other option, given his unwillingness to beg.)

The steward apparently learned an important lesson from his previous failure and successfully carried out a plan to minimize the damage to both himself and his "lord". He started to turn his life around (by being merciful, getting the most out of a bad situation and positioning himself to have another shot at it with someone else) and gave himself an opportunity to do somewhere else what he had been tasked to do in the first place.

I don't think there's a "higher" moral to this story than the obvious one - that it's better to tackle mistakes and bad judgments head-on and try to change your future in the here and now than to leave yourself unable to function in the world as a result of past mistakes (or to rely on the mercy of someone whose "goods" you've wasted). I think the point is simply:

Do the best you can to make the past and the future right - even if you've wasted your stewardship up to this point. Get out of the clutches of those who have claims over you and start fresh with a clean slate - and do a better job with your second chance than you did with the first.


Repent and be merciful toward others, and God will commend you for your efforts.

I don't have to believe this parable actually was taught (although I do believe that), and I don't have to believe it's message is divine in some way. However, I think there are lessons that can be taken from it without "wresting" it in any way.

I think there are two main issues that have to be addressed in order to do so:

1) I think we modern people get hung up on the word "unjust" - and I don't see the steward's actions in the parable as "unethical" in any way. The dictionary definitions of "unjust" are:

a) not just; lacking in justice or fairness;

b) unfaithful or dishonest.

I found this definition enlightening, when viewed in the context of this parable:

not in accordance with accepted standards of fairness or justice

In this parable, one person paid 50% of what he owed, while the second person paid 80% of what he owed. (My guess is the difference was due to the ability of each person to repay the debt immediately - that the steward got as much from each person as was possible in a lump sum at the time.) The steward wasn't being "fair" - since he wasn't applying the same terms of repayment - or "just" or "faithful" - since he wasn't collecting for his boss what was owed to the boss - but he also wasn't being "dishonest" in any way. (See point #2 below for more about that.)

That's smart money management, IF the purpose is to get as much NOW as possible - for whatever reason. That was the steward's objective. Lenders do it all the time, now and all throughout history. If they have lent money and face the real probability that the borrower won't be able to pay it back in full, they work out a compromise, partial payment - and the terms often are "everything you can pay". It's not "unethical" at all - but, technically, it is "unjust". We don't bat an eye at the "unjustness" of it (especially if we are the beneficiaries) - and we generally commend the lenders who understand and try to work out alternate payment options. On the other hand, we generally castigate lenders who don't even try to understand exceptional circumstances and work with borrowers who need to rework their debt payments.

2) It's easy to forget that the steward still was responsible for the distribution of the rich man's goods and the payments for them. That was his job. He did a lousy job of it, but it still was his job. He hadn't been fired yet at the time the parable relates. He had the authority to do whatever he wanted to collect his lord's debts - and he chose to exercise that authority in an "unjust" but totally "ethical" way. He got the rich man as much as could be expected before he was fired, so the rich man understandably commended him for that - even though (I think) he still was fired for wasting his lord's goods.

I don't know exactly what the original point was for this parable, but I can see very good lessons that can be taken from it about repentance and duty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Exaltation Is a Core Biblical Teaching

Exaltation is the Mormon equivalent of theosis, and the core of theosis is ancient and exists within and beyond Christianity.

It is the same general concept as the Eastern idea of the final state of being after a complete reincarnative existence. In Christianity, it is centered in the Biblical verses and passages that say we can become one with God - and I see that theme running from Genesis through Revelations. It was championed by early church leaders, and it still is taught in the Eastern Orthodox Church - which is my favorite Christian religion outside of Mormonism, for what that's worth. As I mentioned in the post last Thursday about what constitutes "the Gospel", I see Jesus of Nazareth as having preached the concept of theosis as central to his "good news" - and it is found in passages throughout nearly all of the epistles of the New Testament. The Intercessory prayer in John 17 is perhaps the best example.

Frankly, if anyone reads the Bible without theological preconceptions, I think it is very hard not to reach the conclusion that becoming like God is a major thread running through the entire compilation (although it isn't as explicit in the Old Testament as in the New Testament) - and, interestingly, it is not a thread at all in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith came to believe it passionately (and even radically, I would say), but that belief developed as he focused on his Bible translation efforts, not before or during the publication of the Book of Mormon. I think that's one of the strongest reasons he once said that the main difference between Mormons and other Christians is that we believe the Bible, and they don't. (not "in the Bible", but what the Bible actually teaches)

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Atonement: Sin, Transgression and Accountability

I tend to define sin as conscious choices that pull me away from God in some way and for which I am responsible - and I tend to categorize those things as acting against my own conscience. I tend to define transgression as unintentionally acting in a way that would pull me away from God in some way and for which I am not accountable - and I tend to categorize those things as the gap between my conscience and God's will.

I really love the distinction between sin and transgression in Mormon theology, and I tend to place more things in the realm of transgression and fewer things in the realm of sin than most members.

I believe there is absolute good and absolute bad - but I like James' definition of sin in his epistle: knowing to do good and not doing it.

The reason I distinguish so explicitly between sin and transgression is that I believe in the concept of "atonement" that doesn't punish people for transgressions - those things that are wrong in an objective sense but are not understood to be wrong by the people who do them. I link "sin" to "judgment" and "guilt" - so I define it as acting in opposition to one's understanding and conscience.

I also see a big difference between "wrong" and "sin" - and, like transgression, the central difference is intent and/or understanding.

I think the best example in our theology (and law) is the case of diminished capacity, especially with clear cases of mental disability. I think all of us are "disabled" in ways we don't understand fully, so I think "sin" occurs less often than we tend to believe.

Don't get me wrong: I support defining "sin" and "crime" communally and making general standards to ensure safety and stability. However, I believe in recognizing them as generalized communal standards and not eternal absolutes that apply equally to every person - and even the law recognizes that the same action isn't the same thing and shouldn't incur the same penalty when something about the circumstances surrounding the actions is different.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Is There Really Life After Death?

I believe so, but I have never had an experience that allows me to say I know.

I choose to believe in some kind of continued existence simply because I don't want to accept the alternative.

I choose to believe in the concept and principle of exaltation (eternal progression) simply because it's super cool and I want it to be true.  It represents the hope of something I have not seen. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What Aspects of Our Religion Are Included in "The Gospel"?

At the most fundamental level, I see "the Gospel" as nothing more than the Book of Mormon description: faith (in the Lord, Jesus Christ), repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end - with divine parental love as the underlying principle on which it all hangs.

I see the Gospel in its simplest definition as the "good news" Jesus preached - and that good news is centered on one concept:

I am a child of God.

I believe every truly unique doctrine within Mormonism, especially compared with Protestantism, derives from that concept, and I believe the zenith of that teaching of the good news is the Intercessory Prayer in John 17 - that all of us can become one with GOD, the Father (and Mother), and God, the Son, in the same way they are one. For me, everything else is variable detail - pieces of various puzzles that people use to attempt to fill the same framework or images on mosaics that we create in order to become a "true and living" replica of God.

I see the good news as the idea that such efforts to become godly replicas are not pointless or in vain - that these mortal caterpillar exteriors we inhabit really will be shed at some point, and we will emerge as the butterflies we were created to be. That requires faith, since, like caterpillars, we don't get to see the process of metamorphosis that makes us what we aren't currently (the cocoon process occurring for us after death - theologically phrased as "the spirit world" prior to becoming new, "resurrected" beings), but I believe it is that belief and hope in the unseen (that "faith") that is the foundation of the gospel Jesus preached - and it is the central "power of godliness" that is mentioned in JSH 1:19 that was denied within the Protestant creeds of Joseph's time (and still is now).

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Building on", Not "Contradicting"

There have been a lot of times in my life when someone has said something at church that is different in some way than I see it.  (To be fair, I'm positive that many other people could say the same thing about lots of things I've said at church.)  In some of those situations, I've felt it was necessary to explain to my children why I didn't agree with what was said, but I don't try to contradict them.  I like "building on" rather than "contradicting", since I rarely tell my children that I am right and the other person is wrong.  There are times, however, when I have contradicted something that someone else has said in a meeting or class of some kind. I've tried to do it with humor and a specific reinforcement that I love the person who said it, but I've done it, nonetheless.

I mentioned in a post a while ago an example of a former church leader who said from the pulpit how proud he was that his son chose to date only other members. This was in "the mission field", and my teenage daughters at the time were the only active members in the entire town in which we lived. There were no Mormon young men in their high school - or within a 20 miles radius of their house. My daughters were incredulous, so we talked about the impractical nature of that personal opinion on our way home from the meeting.  I stressed how much I loved and respected the person who made the statement - and I was completely sincere in those statements. He is a wonderful man, and I learned a lot from my time associating with him.

I'm my kids' parent, and, more than anything else, I want them to learn to think for themselves, to wean themselves from needing to borrow my light (or that of anyone else) and to construct their own faith. I hope deeply it is within Mormonism and the LDS Church, but if it isn't, so be it. I'm trying to train them to be adults, and part of that is crafting their own beliefs and perspectives while not ridiculing and rejecting those who craft differently than they do.

I'd rather they start that process early, in their natural "developmental" stage when things still are being molded, than have to help them pick up the pieces when a less mature, more rigid paradigm shatters later in life. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mormonism Does Not Teach That We Work Our Way into Heaven

I think it is incorrect to say that Mormonism teaches that we work our way into heaven, even though too many members (including leaders) see and talk about it that way. Mormonism teaches that faith and works are a balance - that works alone won't exalt anyone, but neither will work-less faith. Mormonism teaches that faith is a belief that motivates action - in the purest sense, the Biblical concept of bearing fruit by being connected to the vine. Mormonism also teaches that works would be absolutely pointless without the Atonement - that they would be "dead works". I think that last point is such an assumed given that it doesn't get addressed nearly enough, but it absolutely is there in spades.

As is the case with most things, the extremes are easier, so too many people gravitate to faith without works or works without faith - but I think most members understand and would agree with what I just wrote, especially if I had a chance to explain it to them in more detail.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Should Tithing Be Paid Even If Basic Necessities Can't Be Met?

I have been asked multiple times in my life about whether someone should pay tithing if they can't meet the basic needs of their family at the time - and by "basic needs" I mean things like food, utilities, modest housing, etc.  These are people who are living within a careful budget - whose difficulties are not due to ignorance or extravagance.

I have been out of work multiple times in my life and been in a situation where I was in the situation I just described.  Some people have experienced miraculous financial help when they have needed it; I have not - and my experience over decades of my own life and watching others testifies to me that miraculous help is not a matter of someone's level of faith.  I have paid tithing in those situations, but I have received fast offering assistance at the same time.  I have no problem with the advice to pay tithing first if, and only if, the Church then turns around and helps the person / family through fast offerings make the payments they skipped in order to pay tithing. That sort of advice demands a true partnership, in my opinion - at least until circumstances change and help no longer is needed.

If reciprocal help is not being offered in the situations I described above, I believe food and other absolute necessities come first. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

All Truth Claims Are Arrogant to Someone Who Disagrees with Them

I have heard quite a few people over the years describe Mormonism as arrogant because of its claim of exclusive truth and authority.  Whenever I hear that, I can't help but laugh inside - because every person who has ever lived has believed, in some way, about something, that they were right and others were wrong.  

I was on an agnostic discussion board a couple of years ago trying to explain how Mormons view baptisms for the dead to people who hated the very thought of it. I told them all upfront that I understand it sounds arrogant to those who don't accept and believe in it, but I wanted them to understand why most Mormons don't see it as arrogant - and I also pointed out that it isn't any more arrogant for Mormons to believe they are right and others are wrong than for others to believe they are right and Mormons are wrong.

That's worth considering, imo - and I think it's important to remember when talking with people who disagree with me.

Let me phrase it this way:

At the extremes, a "liberal / progressive" position is no different than a "conservative / fundamentalist" position - in that both are based on inclusion vs. exclusion and both are absolutes. The conservative / fundamentalist position says, "I am right to hang onto tradition, and everyone who disagrees with me is wrong." The liberal / progressive position says, "Nobody is wrong / everything is relative - unless you disagree with me." The circles each position draws are smaller or larger than the other, but the core position is the exact same:

"I'm right; you're wrong."

An individual perspective is hard specifically because it requires rejection of easy extremes, and "the natural (wo)man" gravitates toward easy extremes. Biterness also pushes toward easy extremes, which is why I intentionally try to avoid cancerous activities and associations to the greatest extent possible. I have no desire to frequent anti-Mormon sites and engage in conversation with the admins and commenters there.  Been there; done that; learned better; don't need or want it at this point in my life.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Grace Is the Core of Our Temple Theology

Grace is the core of our temple theology - that every person will be judged charitably and based only on their effort to live according to the dictates of their own conscience and their own ability. If any man or woman did the best s/he could, s/he will inherit the Celestial Kingdom according to our theology - no matter the details of life.

That's easier to accept for most members in the case of non-members and those who died without hearing about Jesus, the Christ, but it's true even of members - active and inactive. There is no objective, measurable standard (that we mortals can see and understand) for the judgment, as much as we tend to want one. God, alone, is the judge - and we are told He judges based on the condition and intent of the heart.

It's one of the central paradoxes of Mormon theology - the balance between motivating in this life and recognizing the complete lack of objective criteria when dealing with the dead. We do the best we can to encourage each other to do the best we can - but we acknowledge it's all in God's hands in the end.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I Don't Like "Faith-Promoting Stories" of Miraculous Saving when Others Die

The worst part of many "faith-promoting stories" when someone avoids death is the implication of unrighteousness or unworthiness of those who weren't saved from death.

For example, when the towers fell on 9/11, stories circulated about people who had been delayed getting to work or didn't take their scheduled flight for some reason - and many of those stories expressed thanks that God had saved them from death as a result. I appreciate those people's faith, but I also understand the subtle message that God did NOT intervene for the many people who died in that horrific event.

In nearly all cases, the stories are not malicious or intentional; it's just a case of not thinking through the implications - and not recognizing the prideful foundation (the Rameumpton) on which the stories are built. The irony is that most people who feel protected and tell the stories are coming from a place they see as humbly recognizing God's presence in their lives, but the way the stories are framed is not grounded in humility.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Is Having a Church Calling a Divine Commandment?

I don't see having and magnifying a church calling as a divine commandment, in and of itself, but I do believe it is a commandment to be involved in helping others - and helping staff and run the Church can be a way to do that for lots and lots of people. Therefore, I believe serving in the Church can be a way to fulfill a divine command. 

I don't think anyone who doesn't serve in some way in a church organization is "breaking the commandments" - but I do think anyone who doesn't get involved in some organization dedicated to helping others (or doesn't do that personally, outside an organization) is ignoring the two great commandments in a real way.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Mormon Celestial Kingdom Is Not the Protestant Heaven but with Families

When (the collective) we think of eternal families, and we tend to envision the perfect ideal of our imagination. In practical terms, that means we have adopted, in our own uniquely Mormon way, the Protestant idea of rest and peace and grapes and harps – only with our children gathered around us in an ideal Family Home Evening that lasts forever.

The problem is, that’s not life – either in the here and now or how we read of God’s life. Jacob 5 tells of the Lord of the vineyard getting into the muck and the dung in order to try to save the trees – and not succeeding a lot of the time. Moses 6-7 shows a God who weeps for the iniquity he sees among his children – and eternity shakes while the devil laughs. That image can be shattering emotionally, without a belief that charity really is LONG-suffering and God really does have “all eternity” at their disposal to accomplish their work and glory – but it is the most complete picture we have of what it will be like to be Heavenly Parents. It won’t be rosy in the short term; in fact, it will be painful – but it will be worth it in the end.

In our vision of eternity, my mortal children won’t be sitting around me listening to a lesson; they will be somewhere overseeing, in some way, the growth and development of other spirit children engaged in their own eternal progression. I am a bit heterodox in the sense that I believe in a Council of the Gods arrangement that models how I read the first chapters of Genesis and the PofGP (and that, as part of that creative council, I will work with my mortal children, their spouses and other gods in the eternal Plan of Salvation), but, with or without that paradigm, I will NOT live with my mortal children forever as their actively involved parent, but it is the most common view in the LDS Church, I think. At least, that is the way it is presented most often.

This is deep stuff, but the key for me is quite simple:

Families are important and, in some vital way, eternal.

I believe that with all my heart.

Friday, June 5, 2015

How to Help People Who Have Been Hurt at Church

A friend of mine has had some really bad experiences at church.  It has been difficult for him to continue to attend in the midst of those experiences, and he spent quite a while being angry about them.  He asked me once what I would suggest to local leaders if I had the chance to talk with them about situations like his.

The following is what I said or would say to them: 

Let them be angry - but don't do anything to encourage continued anger - and do everything possible to soothe the anger - and don't seem condescending to those who are angry - but don't appear unfeeling either - and make our history accessible in all its messiness - but don't apologize for everything, since many things need understanding not apologies - but apologize for those things that really were beyond the pail with no reasonable excuse - and distinguish between those things clearly enough for people to realize you aren't trying to justify or hide but sincerely trying to strike the right balance - etc., etc., etc.

I don't mean that to be snarky, but I do mean to make a point that is important to me:

This is not an easy task, and the person who has been harmed can make it much harder by demanding detailed actions that are exactly what he would love to see - and demanding that they happen all at once - and not seeing or respecting what is being done or the sincere efforts extended on his behalf.

My summary request would be quite simple:

Recognize what has caused and is causing pain, including listening carefully to the concerns and complaints of those who have been hurt, and try to act in a way that lessens and/or eliminates that pain.

Frankly, I see that happening at the topmost level recently on a regular basis and in multiple ways. Yes, there are plenty of areas that remain to be addressed, but our part of the request is patience - and recognizing and accepting the current sincere efforts, and extending the attitude we request.

Unfortunately, it will take time for the water to get to the end of all the local rows - and that is the most painful aspect for many people.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Un-Christian" Too Often Is a Cover for Prejudice and Ignorance

A simple but important word of caution: 

We need to be extremely hesitant to label someone as un-Christian based on disagreements over opinions, beliefs and even, in some cases, actions. We, as Mormons, are called un-Christian by lots of people for those exact reasons.  Such a charge too often is a cover for prejudice and ignorance, whether it is leveled against or by us.

Also, just as importantly, there is a HUGE difference between being un-Christian and non-Christian - and, while we generally understand that difference when we think about it, we tend to be more charitable toward those who are non-Christian in regard to whether or not we see them as un-Christian - since our expectations of them are lower in that regard.  

Every one of us, inside and outside the LDS Church, is un-Christian by individual definition in someone's eyes - no exceptions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Comparisons Can Be Useful, Even if They Appear Hyperbolic at First Glance

I think lots of people who have a large-scale impact on other people are "remotely similar" to each other - and, in many cases, not so remotely. For example, I might compare someone to Joseph Smith who doesn't appear to be like Joseph, but I would be careful to focus only on the fact that the person has or had a large-scale impact on a large number of people. Joseph fits within that category at a higher level than most people with whom I would compare him, but the comparison can be useful, nonetheless.  

For what it's worth, I have compared Joseph Smith to Jesus, of Nazareth, on more than one occasion - but I also have compared Hitler to Jesus. When I make comparisons, especially comparisons that might cause some people to react emotionally, I always try to be very precise in those comparisons - and I absolutely see some people (like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, Jr.) and Joseph Smith as being similar in the fact that influenced many people in a deep and lasting way. There are degrees of similarity in every comparison, and I didn't equate these as being the same - but I definitely see a similarity and don't shy away from making the comparison, even, again, in extreme cases like comparing Jesus to Hitler.  .

I could make lots of comparisons involving people who comment here and other places online.  All of us tend to be much more complicated than other people (and often we) realize - and all of tend to be capable of both good and bad. Thus, all of us tend to be potential choices for comparisons. 

I think we need to be careful of not being so wary of comparisons to "idols" (and I use that term only to mean "people whom we put on an extreme pedestal - either good or bad") that we can't make legitimate and instructive points about common traits. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Word of Wisdom: Both Letter and Spirit of the Law

I think it is fascinating and instructive that the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) contains things that are accepted and enforced in our time as commandments, and that are included in the requirements of temple attendance, as well as things that are accepted generally in the same spirit in which the original revelation is worded - as "words of wisdom" but not clearly definable prohibitions.  

When this is discussed my members, the conversation often turns to meat consumption, but I see the question about meat as the same as a discussion about grains and fruits (and sleep, although that is not addressed in the Word of Wisdom). Healthy practices vary person to person and simply cannot be codified properly into one common standard that can be measured for temple attendance or even simple obedience. As a people, we can be Nazis about too many things already; the last thing I want is for a local leader to be able to start keeping charts on each member’s Body Mass Index, meat consumption, seasonal fruit decisions, etc.

In other words, I am fine with some portions of Section 89 being measured according to the letter of the law and others being left up to us as individuals to live according to the spirit of the law. After all, we aren’t supposed to be commanded in all things and, rather, are supposed to be agents unto ourselves – and I think the Word of Wisdom is perhaps the best practical example of how we can be commanded in some things and not in others, even in the same general area.

Monday, June 1, 2015

LDS Church History is a Microcosm of Judeo-Christian History

For quite a while I have viewed the history of the Church as a modern reenactment of "The Restoration of All Things" - meaning that I have seen something akin to an evolutionary process as the Church has progressed that models religious history.

A sort of spiritual explosion (Big Bang) started it all - taking chaos and starting to organize it into a habitable formation; an Old Testament-like isolation and "kingdom building" (the establishment of a new "people") followed; next came a long integration into "the world"; finally, a New Testament-like shift in emphasis to principles over form occurred as the composition of "the chosen people" morphed to include "others".

I see the Church as being in the early but not beginning stages of that New Testament shift and expansion.