Friday, December 30, 2016

Why Is the Gospel Sometimes So Hard to Find?

A friend of mine who has struggled mightily to figure out what the Gospel means to him asked the title question a few years ago, and I have thought about it occasionally since then. I have tried to come up with as concise an answer as possible, and the following is my current response:

Because we, as humans, tend to build hedges about it - often in our deep need for safety and security.

Walking the pure Gospel line can be dangerous, in real ways, so we tend to gravitate away from that danger and substitute the pure Gospel for a safer model - a good rather than a best, if you will. In practical terms, we become modern versions of the ancient Israelites - but we don't recognize that similarity, given all of our differences with them.

Also, as another friend once said, maybe it's because we each have to find it for ourselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Partnership Is More Important than Rigid Roles

“The Church has nothing to fear from the strength of women. On the contrary, it desperately needs women--and men, too--who are not trapped in dysfunctional roles that involve playing out scripts that don’t really work. Partnership is a mutually supportive relationship that recognizes and honors both the differences and similarities between men and women, that draws deeply on the strengths of both, that focuses on working toward mutually decided goals, and that celebrates the contributions of both in the home, in the community, and in the church and kingdom of God. Help both men and women to work for partnership and to move away from the limitations of rigid roles.” 

- Chieko Okazaki, "Boundaries", p. 16

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Danger of Living in the Past: A Principle for Personal Consideration

I was watching a TV show with one of my daughters a while ago, and the following was a line that I want to share. It has a lot of applications to faith (too many to try to list here), and it highlights one aspect of my own philosophy that is important to me:

When you live in the past, you lose the present.

It's not easy - not at all - to let go of many aspects of the past (and the bitterness that accompanies some of those aspects), since they contributed to the present in real and tangible ways - and it's not healthy to let go of the past in lots of ways, but it's really important not to live in or obsess about the past (whether that is one's own past or a communal past). All we have is the present, and the only healthy objective is to make the best on-going present possible. Living in the past is perhaps the best way to not allow that to happen - to limit in a very real way the growth that is possible by letting go of the past.

Again, this is applicable to lots of aspects of life, and I am not going to try to make a list. How it applies will vary from person to person, so, as the title says, this simply is something to consider.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

It Is Important to Be Interested in Many Things - and to Understand Many Perspectives

"Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof either that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live. What is true in this trivial instance is equally true in more important matters. ...

The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another. Life is too short to be interested in everything, but it is good to be interested in as many things as are necessary to fill our days." 
- Bertrand Russell

I think this is true of perspectives, as well. Understanding the same thing in as many ways as possible does the same thing as being interested in as many things as possible.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Samaritans in Our Lives: Some Might Be Surprising

I gave a talk in a ward years ago about charity in which I asked the congregation to consider, very seriously, what their first reaction would be, internally, if they were in the middle of the administration of the sacrament and any of the following people walked into the chapel:

- a drunk man, reeking of alcohol and cigarette smoke
- a teenage girl with multiple tattoos and body piercings, wearing a mini skirt, tank top, fishnet stocking and combat boots
- two adult men holding hands and obviously a couple

I told them that they could understand their level of charity through that simple reaction as much as perhaps through any other way - and I told them that I hoped, eventually, every one of them would react immediately by thinking, "Thank God they found us," and by standing up and asking the person or couple to sit next to them for the rest of the meeting.

Yes, we have Samaritans, publicans, sinners and lepers in our lives, and we ought to think long and hard about who they are.

Maybe, for some people who are different than the stereotypical norm and/or who are struggling in some way with their faith, those "others" are the traditional, orthodox members in their lives; maybe, for some people who are the stereotypical, orthodox members who are rock solid in their faith, those "others" include active but different members in their lives.

That's worth considering, at least.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Ideal Is to Live in Your Own Best Way

“How . . . do we put the Savior first without putting down other people or their religions? We don’t have to insist on being right all the time. When my parents drank tea, I sat with them and drank hot water. Make compromises. Find ways to serve. Minimize the areas of conflict. Don’t retaliate. After all, you want your family to see that you’re a better, happier person as a result of belonging to the Church.

Be spiritually independent enough that your relationship with the Savior doesn't depend on your circumstances or on what other people say and do. Have the spiritual independence to be a Mormon--the best Mormon you can--in your own way. Not the bishop's way. Not the Relief Society president's way. Your way.” 

- Chieko Okazaki, "Lighten Up", p. 98-99

Friday, December 2, 2016

Now Is the Only Important Time in Our Eternal Lives

I believe strongly that now is the only important time in our lives, since every other time is nothing more than a continuation of now, even as I try to consider all future possibilities when I make decisions that will affect my future.

I see the past as "previous nows" and the future as "future nows", which means that the present is all we really ever have - so I love the concept that time is measured only by humans and that everything is present to the Lord. I understand the philosophical arguments against that view, but I like the idea that dealing in the present is critical because, "Sufficient unto tomorrow is the evil thereof" - or whatever the exact quote is.

The Buddhist concept of karma is wonderful in this regard - and it is badly misunderstood by most people.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Beauty through Suffering

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. 
- Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Friday, November 25, 2016

Personal Revelation Can Be Powerful Even When It Is Not Unique

I want to share something that I learned a while ago that has meant a lot to me since then.

There is a phrase in my Patriarchal Blessing that has meant a lot to me over the years, since it applied so amazingly to my life in a way that couldn't have been seen when I got the blessing. In talking with my siblings over the weekend of my father's funeral, I found out that one of my brothers has the exact same phrase in his blessing - given by the same Patriarch. That phrasing might have been unique to us, but it might be a stock phrase he used in lots of blessings.

What hit me when I heard my brother mention the phrase relative to his life (after the initial surprise wore off), and when he talked about how important it is now in his unique situation, is that I don't care if it is unique to us or part of thousands of other blessings. It doesn't lessen what it has meant to me in the past either way, and it would be stupid of me to throw away real meaning and power simply because it might not be unique wording. The "revelation" (understanding) I have received from contemplating that wording has been special - far more special than the wording itself.
I don't believe the heavens part and the Patriarch always speaks, comprehensively, exact words dictated by the Holy Ghost. I do believe, however, having had some really good discussions with Patriarchs whom I respect and admire, that they often get impressions of things they then put into whatever words make sense to them - exactly as has happened to me occasionally when I'm giving Priesthood blessings. Sometimes those impressions are somewhat ambiguous, but sometimes they are so clear and different that I have been surprised to hear what I'm saying. Thus, I see a Patriarchal Blessing as the best approximation of revelation possible given the avenue / conduit / speaker involved.

It's a lot like I see scripture - not infallible, often wrong and sometimes filtered almost completely through personal prisms that hide nearly all of the pure message, but meaningful and inspired to various degrees.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We Too Often Confuse Belief with Truth

The “truths” we cling to shape the quality of our societies as well as our individual characters. All too often these “truths” are based on incomplete and inaccurate evidence, and at times they serve very selfish motives.

Part of the reason for poor judgment comes from the tendency of mankind to blur the line between belief and truth. We too often confuse belief with truth, thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it - because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.

When the opinions or “truths” of others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that the other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.

Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives - from sports to family relationships and from religion to politics. 
- Pres. Uchtdorf, CES Devotional, Jan. 2013

Friday, November 18, 2016

Testimonies Don't Have to Be Provable - or Even Accurate - to Be Valid

Testimony has the same root as testament and testify - which are legal terms for an official record and to make an official statement. Thus, a testimony can be about absolutely anything and is nothing more than saying, writing, or doing something in an official manner that reflects whatever is said. "I know" - "I believe" - I feel" - "I saw (witnessed)" - "I assume" - etc. all are legitimate forms of testimony - and the only false testimonies are ones that are not consistent with the belief of the person providing it  - or, to say it more clearly, the ones that the testifier knows to be inaccurate.

For example, if a witness in a trial says, "I know . . ." that person is unable to be charged with perjury even if it turns out that they are wrong (meaning they didn't know what they claimed to know), as long as it is believed that they were sincere in their expression of knowledge.

Thus, spiritual experiences are a perfectly acceptable foundation for religious testimonies, whether what is believed is true or not, objectively - or, in many cases, inadequate to prove accuracy in an objective way. After all, most people base what they believe or believe they know on what they feel, to one degree or another.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's about Loving People, Not Solving Problems

Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. 
- Thomas S. Monson, "Finding Joy in the Journey"

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Only Way I Can See Life As a Test

I have no problem with the idea that life is a test - but I define "life" as "eternal life" or "existence", and I define "test" as "learning process" or "growth experience".

 In that sense, I'm okay with seeing the events in our lives as tests - but I do so more in terms of "evaluation-providing (for correction and growth)" rather than "grade-producing (for final status)".

As an educator, I don't like the traditional model of instruct, test, assign grade, move on. I prefer the newer model of evaluate, design instruction based on evaluation, re-evaluate, modify instruction (if necessary), continue process until mastery is reached.

That version is how I see eternal life, and I think it continues until each person reaches their highest level of mastery possible.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

People Are More Important than Problems

Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. 
- Thomas S. Monson, "Finding Joy in the Journey"

Friday, November 4, 2016

Spirituality and Spiritual Health, Like Physicality and Physical Health, Varies for Each Individual

Wisdom is to know when to take which kind of treatment. There is no one pill for all situations or all people.

I saw this quote regarding the various ways to treat similar ailments, but it applies to faith, as well. 

Using this analogy, I would say that my faith is all kinds of substances: entrees, appetizers, desserts, snacks, liquids, painkillers, antidotes, vitamins, nutritional supplements, some junk foods, some fast foods, etc. - and, at different times, I need each of those things, to varying degrees. "Man shall not live by bread alone" has application to faith, as well.

Just like my physical health and what I eat, the key to my spiritual health is finding the balanced faith that produces the healthiest outcome for me - while understanding that different diets work for different people. In general, however, it's as simple as ingesting more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff, then making sure I burn as much as I consume.

It's when things get out of whack and imbalanced, whatever that looks like for each individual, that things get wonky and unhealthy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Rainbow Is Better than an All-White Wall

“Diversity is a strength, not a division. 

I attend a lot of meetings where I’m the only woman. And I attend many, many meetings where I’m the only Oriental woman. You can perhaps imagine how that feels. Have you ever had the feeling that you’re the odd one, the different one? Maybe even too odd or different for this church? The truth is that you’re not odd; you’re special. 

When white light falls on a wall, it makes a white wall. But when it passes through a prism, that same light makes a rainbow on the wall.”

-Chieko Okazaki, "Lighten Up", p. 4

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Just Some Mormon Halloween Humor

Scary movies with a Mormon twist (Not all mine; a group of friends got together and brainstormed them.)

Pet Seminary
Rosemary's Baby Blessing
Personal Priesthood Interview with a Vampire
Come Ye Children of the Corn
I Looked Out the Window and What Did I See?
Dawn of the Dead: Early Morning Seminary
So I Was Sealed to an Ax Murderer
Israel, Israel, God is Calling from the Basement

Here are some Halloween movies that almost sound like they could be referring to vicarious work for the dead if someone doesn't understand what happens in temples:

House of 1000 Corpses
Return of the Living Dead
Corpse Bride

This one that sounds like Mormon slang to avoid swearing:

Jeepers Creepers

Any additional titles would be appreciated.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Knowing a God Whose Ways Are Not Our Ways

I have thought periodically about the tension between the idea that life eternal is to know God and the statement that God's ways are not our ways - as well as the complete and obvious lack of objectivity when it comes to human perceptions and conceptions of the divine.

I have been asked, in one way or another, about how I view God given this paradox, and I have struggled to answer that question concisely - as everyone who knows me will understand.

The following is my attempt to explain how I view God, given my recognition of the competing statements within our canonized scriptures:

I have solved the central dilemma for myself simply by acknowledging that I don't really know God objectively and avoiding any kind of dogmatic definition in the first place. Thus, I am free to take whatever I like from any and all views - even if that means I have conflicting, paradoxical "definitions" operating simultaneously.

It's really liberating to be able to say,

"I love the concept of God being my Father, but I also can see great value in Voltaire's absentee clockmaker God - and that God condescended to become human to know us at the most basic, intimate level - and that God is a condition that allows all of us to be gods - and that god is collective unity - and that God is the spiritual unifying essence of the universe - and that God is a conceptual ideal for which we can strive - etc."

I really don't have "a definition" - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I accept and embrace an unrestrained definition that allows for alteration through addition as I encounter new views from which I can take something that resonates with me. I tend to reject the either/or constructs and accept instead a both/and framework.

For what it's worth, that is my basic approach to pretty much everything that I can't prove conclusively. It eliminates a lot of angst and adds wonderful surprises to my life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Labels Are an Excuse to Mistreat or Ignore

Elder John K. Carmack had a wonderful article published in the March 1991 Ensign titled "Unity in Diversity. He wrote: 

"Labeling a fellow Church member an intellectual, a less-active member, a feminist, a South African, and Armenian, a Utah Mormon, or a Mexican, for example, seemingly provides an excuse to mistreat or ignore that person. . . . Each of us should be fair to everyone, especially the victims of discrimination, isolation, and exclusion. Let us be careful not to snicker at jokes that demean and belittle others because of religious, cultural, racial, national, or gender differences. All are alike unto God. We should walk away or face up to the problem when confronted with these common and unworthy practices.

Quoted by Chieko Okazaki, "Lighten Up", pg. 22

Friday, October 21, 2016

We Sometimes Take Important Things for Granted

I have a friend who once responded to a question about his favorite aspects of the LDS Church, and his reply reminded me of how often we who have been raised in the Church (particularly those whose membership is multi-generational) take some basic, important things for granted and lose sight of how rare and special they can be to others without our background.

I am bolding the part that hit me the hardest:

1) The sense of belonging.

Being part of a "club" or family where everyone is accepted.

As an introvert, being involved in social activities, like pot-luck dinners, that I wouldn't be involved with otherwise. Knowing that I can disappear to the kitchen and do the cleaning or cooking, etc and it is encouraged and not seen as weird..

Knowing you can walk into any ward and feel at home.

2) The health code.

I come from a background of generational alcoholics, it is a pleasure to be able to go to events and know that I will not be sneered at for not drinking, knowing I will not be involved in an alcoholic fight, there will be no violence and my children will not be subjected to that. Knowing I can take my kids to church/events and my son is not at risk of an asthma attack from 2nd hand smoke.

The hope that with church teachings as back up, my children will continue my lead and break the cycle of generational dysfunction.

3) The moral grounding.

My children are seeing wholesome values in action, and it is normal behaviour (not just mum and dad saying so).

They also are taught and shown clear boundaries and limits of what is acceptable.

The focus on families in a world where they have very few school friends with both parents in the home.

I realize that none of these reasons are specifically Christ-centered, but, as a convert with a faith crisis right now, these are the things that I want to stay for. The people are kind, good and honest - and I don't want to lose that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Avoiding the "Too Syndrome"

“Sometimes we have what I call the Too Syndrome. We feel that there are some people we can’t really extend full acceptance to because they are too something--too old, too young, too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too rigid in religious observances, too lax. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, if the traveler who fell among thieves was like other Jews of his time, he felt that Samaritans were too ethnically impure to worship in the temple; I don’t think he felt that the wine and the oil poured on his wounds were too Samaritan, do you?

- Chieko Okazaki, "Aloha," p. 98-99

Friday, October 14, 2016

History Tells Us All Extraordinary Leaders Were Flawed

I have studied enough history to know that pretty much every extraordinary person who changed history in a significant way was deeply flawed in some way - or can be dismissed easily by someone who doesn't want to accept him or her as what s/he claimed to be.

Seriously, from a non-Christian perspective, without the Savior and Redeemer reinterpretation of the promised Messiah's mission, Jesus of Nazareth was an abject failure - just one of multiple rabble-rousers and would-be-reformers killed by the Romans in that era. I'm not saying he failed or that he was just another guy who got lucky by having Saul/Paul spread his message; I'm saying it is the easiest thing in the world to look at his life and laugh at the claims about him. They simply aren't supported by "the facts" - but I still have no problem believing he actually could have been God's chosen representative to save and exalt His children. I can take that literally or figuratively - or both. I love what he taught, so I accept it came from God - even as I understand the intellectual questions that can't be answered satisfactorily.

Moses was an escaped murderer; Samson's sexual obsession with an untrustworthy person led to his capture, blindness, and eventual death; David's lust caused him to conspire to murder his desire's husband and eventually led to civil strife and the death of his son; Noah got dead drunk and fathered his own grandchild; Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to his god (which is seen only as acceptable because future generations saw a Christ-type in the story); Gandhi had some weird issues; Winston Churchill was a mean drunk; etc. 

I admire Joseph Smith, overall, even as I don't accept some of the things he did as being of God but rather being a result of his natural man. I like that he described himself as a rough stone rolling and that he was the most chastised person, by far, in the D&C.

I just wish we all accepted his self-evaluation in those times of candor. It would allow us to accept him for the person he really was, not the caricature we have created in his place.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Education: The Great Conversion Process

We must not limit the scope of our education. We must seek learning out of the best books, no matter their source. 

What a miracle is the human mind. Think of its power to assimilate knowledge, to analyze and synthesize. What a remarkable thing is learning, the process whereby the accumulated knowledge of the centuries has been summarized and filtered so that in a brief period we can learn what was first learned only through long exercises of research and trial and error.

Education is the great conversion process under which abstract knowledge becomes useful and productive activity. It is something that need never stop. No matter how old we grow, we can acquire knowledge and use it. We can gather wisdom and profit from it. We can be entertained through the miracle of reading and exposure to the arts and add to the blessing and fulfillment of living. The older I grow, the more I enjoy the words of thoughtful writers, ancient and modern, and the savoring of that which they have written.

Under a divinely given mandate, we are to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118.) And “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” (D&C 130:18.) 

- Pres. Hinckley, "I Believe", August 1992 Ensign

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Nature of Judgmentalism as Opposed to Charity

Judgmentalism carries a connotation that is completely negative (never used in a positive way), so it must be different than making necessary judgments in our lives.

I think judgmentalism is making judgments without understanding all the factors that contribute to what is being judged and, thus, judging incorrectly to one degree or another. When it comes to judging people themselves (as opposed to their actions), we rarely or never understand all of the factors completely, so we are commanded not to judge them (assign them an eternal reward or punishment).

I think judgmentalism is a pretty good way to phrase the opposite of charity, although most people don't compare them directly.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Judgmentalism does none of that.

Unfortunately, however, it is one of the single biggest "natural" instincts we have.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

On Expecting Miracles to Occur Regularly

“The very purpose for which the world was created, and man introduced to live upon it, requires that the laws of nature operate in cold disregard for human feelings. We must work out our salvation without expecting the laws of nature to be exempted for us. Natural law is, on rare occasions, suspended in a miracle. But mostly…like the lame man at the pool of Bethesda, (we) wait endlessly for the moving of the water.” 
- Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Moving of the Water”

Monday, October 3, 2016

Competing Messages during General Conference

I had one particular thought from General Conference that I want to share here. It isn't new to me, but I think it is important at a time when different views often cause strife and bitterness: 
As often is the case, there were two talks about God and his love that showed the different views of individual leaders. One was closer to universal, long-suffering love, grace, and mercy, while the other was closer to conditional love leading to judgment dependent on obedience. (Those are broad approximations, so please don't nitpick them.) 
I know it drives some people nuts to have such different perspectives taught at General Conference, but I WANT differing views preached by the leadership, specifically because it illustrates that differing views among the membership are okay. In this case, I can focus on one and set aside the other - and the person sitting in front of me in church can do the same thing but focus on the talk I set aside. That is a good thing.  
Seriously, I LOVE the fact that not all the talks contain similar messages and that some simply don't move me - or even that some teach things with which I disagree. 
I hope none of my friends want total uniformity and homogeneity in the Church, since there is a richness in full orchestral music that is absent strictly in a melody, so we shouldn't pine for it in these talks. We should celebrate the simple fact that even our top leaders see some foundational things differently, be thankful some of them resonate more deeply within us than others, and be happy that there can be something for everyone at some point in the meetings.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why I Don't Want Full-time, Paid Bishops (or Other Local Leaders)

If Bishops were paid, they could devote their time to being a full-time Bishop.
I have a friend who said the above a few years ago, while we were talking about the stipends for full-time service at higher levels in the LDS Church. This post is a brief response to his statement - not full and complete, but enough to provide a decent outline of my feelings about this issue.

Personally, I don't want full-time Bishops working in that position as a career - and it would have to be as a career, since it would be cruel to ask someone to quit a job, work for 5 years or so as a Bishop, and then make them try to return to the work they did when they quit to become a Bishop. (Their service wouldn't be valued by most employers outside the Inter-Mountain West Mormon corridor, and it actually would hurt their employment opportunities in some geographic areas.) I don't want career ministers, even though there are some wonderful benefits in lots of cases. Part of my reason is philosophical, but part of it is practical.

First, I oppose making people get college degrees to qualify as ministers, and there would have to be some way to "qualify" Bishops and Stake Presidents if they were paid as full-time employees. The debt alone it wrong, in my opinion, for the purpose - as is the elitism I have viewed in many situations, including while taking a few classes at the Harvard Divinity School.

Second, I've seen too many examples of abuse, conceit, extravagance, etc. in congregations of non-Mormon friends to want it happening in the LDS Church (when the leader feels unaccountable to the membership), and I also have seen wholesale abandonment of doctrine in other cases (where the leader feels beholden to preach only what the majority of the membership - or even only a few highly influential members and families - want to hear).

Third, if we decided to pay our Bishops and Stake Presidents, what about their counselors - and the Relief Society Presidents, Elders Quorum Presidents, High Priests Group Leaders, Ward Mission Leaders, Young Women and Men Presidents, High Council, etc? Some of them put in almost as much time as Stake Presidents and Bishops, especially the ones who are retired. How do we determine who gets paid and how much they receive?

Fourth, paying local leaders would lead inevitably, I believe, to larger and larger congregations, in order to reduce payroll expenses - and I am not a fan at all of a mega-church model.

(If we ever decide to pay local leaders, I would favor a small stipend - perhaps the equivalent of minimum wage for 10-20 hours/week, although I haven't thought through that. Seriously, I haven't thought about it in depth, so take it with a huge grain of salt.)

Finally, I can hear critics (inside and outside the Church) wailing about how that money should have been spent helping the poor and for humanitarian aid - and I think it would be a legitimate discussion, at least.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What about Doubts and Questions?

Now, the next issue. What about doubts and questions in principle? How do you find out that the gospel is true? Is it all right to have questions about the Church or its doctrine?

My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people. We have always been, because we know that inquiry leads to truth. That is how the Church got its start, from a young man who had questions. In fact, I’m not sure how one can discover truth without asking questions. In the scriptures you will rarely discover a revelation that didn’t come in response to a question.

Whenever a question arose and Joseph Smith wasn’t sure of the answer he approached the Lord. And the results are the wonderful revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often the knowledge Joseph received extended far beyond the original question. That is because not only can the Lord answer the questions we ask, but even more importantly, He can give us answers to questions we should have asked.

Let us listen to those answers. The missionary effort of the Church is founded upon honest investigators asking heartfelt questions. Inquiry is the birth place of testimony.

Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a precursor of growth.

God commands us to seek answers to our questions and asks only that we seek with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ. When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifest to us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Fear not. Ask questions. Be curious. 
- Pres. Uchtdorf, "The Reflection in the Water", CES Fireside, Nov. 1, 2009

Friday, September 23, 2016

When God Is Our Only Physician

I know a man who is from South America. He and most of the people he knew growing up were truly, objectively poor.

I was amazed once when he told me about all of the healing blessings in which he had participated throughout his life. A few were jaw-dropping in their nature and result, but many were for conditions that are commonplace to us - things for which we wouldn't think of asking for a blessing. Initially, I was a bit bemused and almost dismissive of how "commonly" they relied on blessings, and I asked him why it was so commonplace and not more special.

His response humbled me, but it also opened my eyes to my own assumptions and what I take for granted. He said:

"You can take some aspirin or go to a doctor and get a prescription. Your health insurance makes it cost next to nothing. We didn't have that option. God was our only physician, so we went to him."

I will never stop using the resources I have available to me, but I also will not ridicule or even question people who go / went to God in their lack of things I take for granted. I hope I can take advantage of ALL of my resources, and I hope that never stops including God - even if that varies in degree from others on either side of the spectrum from me. 

I also think there is a powerful message in this story about those things which medication (and even faith) cannot heal. Sometimes, even in abundance, God might be our only physician.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Measure of our Christian Conversion: How We Treat Others

At this time of extreme contention and lack of civility, particularly in our political and religious discourse, I find the following quote enlightening and the final paragraph important to consider:

It seems interesting that the first principles the Lord Jesus Christ chose to teach His newly called Apostles were those that center around the way we treat each other. And then, what did He emphasize during the brief period He spent with the Nephites on this continent? Basically the same message. Could this be because the way we treat each other is the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ?  
During an informal fireside address held with a group of adult Latter-day Saints, the leader directing the discussion invited participation by asking the question: “How can you tell if someone is converted to Jesus Christ?” For forty-five minutes those in attendance made numerous suggestions in response to this question, and the leader carefully wrote down each answer on a large blackboard. All of the comments were thoughtful and appropriate. But after a time, this great teacher erased everything he had written. Then, acknowledging that all of the comments had been worthwhile and appreciated, he taught a vital principle: “The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.”  
Would you consider this idea for a moment—that the way we treat the members of our families, our friends, those with whom we work each day is as important as are some of the more noticeable gospel principles we sometimes emphasize.  
- Marvin J. Ashton (The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword) 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Prison of Other People's Opinions

A friend with whom I graduated from high school is Buddhist, and he posts regularly on Facebook about thigns for which he is grateful. I enjoy those posts greatly. 

Recently, he posted a link to a short article about being constrained by other people's opinions. It is beautiful, and I am sharing the link, without commentary, in the hope that it will resonate with those who read it and, hopefully, help someone break free from this particular prison. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Letting Go of "Should"

At some point, you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening. - Anonymous 

I love this, because you can live fully in what is happening and still work to change what you can, where you can. In Buddhist terms, it is called being fully present - not wallowing in the past and not obsessing about the future. One can be aware of both past and future, and use that awareness to guide the present, but, in the end, now is all that is real and true for each individual.

I love the concepts I learned in my youth that all is present unto God and that time is measured only unto mankind. A huge part of my peace has come through allowing myself to live in what is happening, not in the future or the past.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Friend Just Baptized Jesus: An Astounding, Beautiful Reflection on the Atonement

I wrote something once that addressed how much I love having paradoxes in life, which included the following statement: 

Living in and embracing a world of paradox is hard work. I believe, however, it is worth the effort - especially since our theology teaches such an embrace is a necessary, fundamental aspect of becoming like a Father-God who allows and values such paradox. It is the only way I know to walk one's one way within the Church and allow others the same privilege, let them walk however they may.

A friend responded with one of the most beautiful, touching treatise on grace and the Atonement I have ever read. I get tears in my eyes every time I read it. I hope it touches everyone who reads it the same way it touches me. 

He said: 

I agree with you.  A paradox can be a great opportunity for discovery.  
A few weeks ago, I was able to baptize my daughter.  I moved into a new ward in May, and I've been working with my new bishop with the goal of baptizing her.  He knows fully that I don't believe fully in the doctrines of temples, polygamy, "the one true church", the restoration, the Book of Mormon, etc.  He's a lawyer and knows how to ask questions! But, I've been grateful for the way that he probes in our discussions, because it has given him a very clear picture of where I stand with the church.  
I told him that I'd like to baptize my daughter, but I also would feel like a bit of a hypocrite baptizing her into a church that I don't fully support.  I do believe in the doctrine of baptism, so my goal was really to provide that baptism, but with the mindset that she's baptized as Christ was, to fulfill all righteousness, and not because it's a required ritual to join our church.  
The bishop has been very understanding and supportive.  He said that I probably wouldn't be able to give her the gift of the Holy Ghost (which I was okay with), but that I could stand in the circle when that was done, but he encouraged me to baptize my daughter.  Knowing where I stand, and that it's been a long time since I've taken the sacrament (my decision), worn garments, studied the Book of Moron, etc., he still encouraged me to baptize her.  
So, on the day of her baptism, I found myself in the font, with this sweet little innocent 8 year old stepping down into the font to join me, a flawed and imperfect scoundrel, who was now supposed to perform this baptism.  It made me think of how John the Baptist must have been feeling when Christ came to him to get baptized, and he felt like Christ should be the one baptizing him.  
That little paradox helped me get a little glimpse of the mercy that the real gospel offers. An imperfect person, like myself, is allowed to have flaws and faults.  But, as long as I'm trying to be the best person that I can be, I could still join my innocent little girl in that ordinance.  Pretty cool stuff.  
It's really easy to get weighed down with all of the policies and practices that have been implemented by the church.  But when we strip away 'the church,' and just focus on the gospel, the simplicity and beauty of it really is incredible.  Hey, there's another paradox...the church and the gospel.  They are supposed to go hand-in-hand, but it often feels like they're at odds with each other.
That's okay, too.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Self-Respect Is Manifested Individually

Today's Vocabulary Lesson: 
Self-respect means acting in a way that allows you to respect yourself. It has been expressed in religious terms as living "according to the dictates of (your) own conscience". 
Self-respect does not mean acting in a way that allows others to respect you - or that conforms to others' view of self-respect. It has not been termed as living "according to the dictates of (others') conscience". 
Too many people mistake their own view of self-respect with a universal definition. If there is anything obvious in even a cursory understanding of history, it is that there is no universal norm that represents an objective manifestation through actions of self-respect upon which everyone will agree. 
Hence, the term is SELF-respect.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

My Favorite View of the Garden of Eden Narrative

I love the idea that the garden narrative is an allegorical telling of the pre-existent war in heaven between Jehovah and Lucifer. I know that is a very Mormon reading of it that probably is not consistent with the original purpose of its recording, but I don't mind, since I like the concept of likening all things unto ourselves.

The very short summary:

God's children had to choose between remaining in a state of never-ending stagnation, luxury, and ease (Eden) or leaving God's presence (as couples, not individually) by following Satan into a world of turmoil, strife, hard work, sin . . . and eternal progression.

In this view, the competing commandments were nothing more than the only options: commandments simply because they had to choose one or the other. They weren't commanded to to both; they were commanded to choose one or the other.

I also think it is fascinating and instructive that, in the garden narrative, they had to be tricked into choosing the right one (and that Adam only agreed in the end because he knew that staying with his wife was more important than staying alone with God) - that their "nature" (and prior experiences) leaned toward ease and unchallenging bliss. There is a deep lesson in that part of the narrative.

I love the Garden of Eden story - but only if I take it completely as an allegory / grand creation myth from which I can draw conceptual meaning. I don't believe at all that it is historically accurate.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pornography: My Personal Story; A Plea to Change the Conversation

I was exposed to pornography for the first time when I was a young teenager. 

It was minor, in comparison to what it could have been, but it is important to understand what happened and what I have learned from it.

I am sharing more details in this post than I have shared with anyone previously, since all of the people involved back then have passed away - and because I want my children and their children to understand why I despise three things regarding pornography: the industry itself, what it produces, and, just as importantly, how badly we have messed up our conversations regarding it within our religious culture. 

Of these three things, I am focusing most in this post on the final one: the way we converse about and deal with it in our culture. This post is an attempt to explain why, without writing the novel that would be required to address all three. It is not an attempt to be comprehensive, as I am not dedicating weeks to the task of writing this post. 

With that introductory explanation: 

My first "real job" (not delivering newspapers or doing manual labor tasks for a few dollars) was at an elementary school in the neighboring town helping the custodian over the summer. My father, a custodian at another elementary school in that town, arranged for me to get the job. For someone raised in poverty, it was a blessing.

The custodian with whom I worked was an extremely good man - a Stake President with a family he loved dearly and a rock solid, genuine testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He also was a regular consumer of pornography. It wasn't visual, as far as I knew, although it might have included magazines and/or movies of which I could not have been aware. 

My first exposure occurred one day when I was ready for my break, went into his office to clock out for that break, and saw a partially covered book on his desk. I liked stock western books, especially Louis L'Amour (even though I knew they were formulaic brain candy), but I didn't know the author of the book I saw. It obviously was a western, so I picked it up and started reading it. It took only a few pages to realize it wasn't like L'Amour's books, and my curiosity (and hormones, I am sure in retrospect) got the better of me and propelled me to keep reading - that book and the others he brought to work throughout the summer. 

That custodian really was a good man, and I am convinced he would have been mortified if he had known I was reading those books - that he had been my introduction to pornography. Looking back, I am sure he was ashamed of his habit, and especially the hypocrisy of his actions and what he had to preach in his church calling. 

It has been roughly 35 years since I picked up that book, but, occasionally, when I am not thinking actively of other things, one memorable scene from the book will flash across my mind - and I will wonder, once again, at the ability of pornography to embed itself into our neurons and refuse to be deleted. Since then, I have been exposed to pornography at various times (to differing degrees, through multiple media sources), and, with me, the same issue exists across the spectrum: my physiological tendency to have images appear unbidden that I would prefer remain unseen or, ideally, deleted. 

From decades of experience, education, conversation, and introspection, I have come to a few conclusions that I feel the need to share now regarding our treatment of this issue within our religious dialogue. I will start with a few comments about our warped cultural view of all things sexual and end with a summary comment about the nature of the porn industry and its impact on society. I hope nobody reads this post as a defense of pornography or the industry that produces it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

1) Nudity is not pornographic by nature, and we fail miserably when we make that overly-simplistic and damaging connection. There is nothing - absolutely nothing - pornographic or shameful in nudity in and of itself, even in nudity that is depicted through the written word or visually. Conflating the two causes deep, destructive, nearly innumerable issues. We need to stop doing so. Full stop.

2) Repeat the last paragraph, inserting "sex" and "sexual activity" for "nudity". (Seriously, re-read the paragraph that way, please, before continuing.) Even visual images of fully nude sexual activity are not automatically pornographic. It is critical to understand that fundamental concept in order to deal with true pornography in a constructive way and stop perpetuating incorrect and debilitating misunderstanding among us.

3) One of the reasons I have not shared my own experiences more often and in greater detail is the culture of shame in which I was raised. When I realized as a teenager that I was acting, in practical terms, like an addict (creating isolation in order to read the books, hiding my actions from everyone else, acting on a compulsion, etc.), shame was the primary reason I kept it a secret - and that shame robbed me of the only chance I had to get the support and help I needed to stop reading them. I questioned my morality, my self-control, my righteousness, my very nature - specifically because what I was doing was described as an ultimate evil - not the natural curiosity and hormonal reaction it actually was. 

4) We need to stop demonizing people who are struggling with occasional (or even regular) engagement with pornography.We can demonize the industry and what it produces, and rightly so, without condemning those who are exposed to it and even engage with it. Simply allowing them to admit engagement, especially early in the process, without any form of discipline or punishment, would go a long way toward eliminating the binding shame that too often accompanies even simple exposure. 

(I need to add a specific note at this point: I am not talking here about users who then act on what they see with people in their lives. I also am not talking about all categories of pornography. There is a proper place for formal discipline and punishment relative to the use of pornography, but we tend to make that place far too broad and inclusive than it should be.)

5) We need to focus on the practical reasons why pornography is so evil as much as the spiritual dangers - and we need to discuss those reasons openly and without shame. We need to be open about how natural it is to be stimulated by nudity, sex, and pornography - and the differences between them. We need to stress that sexual arousal is not a sin. To emphasize that point, we need to stress that sexual arousal is not a sin. We need to incorporate real sex education into our practices, at the very least by supporting it in our schools. Just like educating people about the practical and physical health dangers of smoking and drinking is more effective for many people than focusing on addiction as a spiritual loss of agency, educating people about the evils of the pornography industry itself can provide a powerful motivation to discuss usage openly and constructively - as long as we balance such discussions with a rejection of the personal shaming that has been such a core part of our culture for so long. 

I no longer am ashamed of my reading that summer, since I now understand much better the physiological foundation of why I continued to read those books, but I reflect on my experiences throughout my life and wish someone had talked and would talk now more openly and scientifically about pornography and its allure - and also about the damage it does in practical terms, not just in spiritual terms. I wish the dialogue surrounding pornography had not been so extreme and condemning of the people who read (and viewed) pornographic materials, even as I believe the industry itself is one of the best examples in our world of the evil that exists in the hearts of conspiring humans. It dehumanizes people, both men and women; it degrades people, both men and women; it drives much of the sex slave industry that is vile and depraved to an extent that is beyond my ability to express. 

Ironically, the way we approach pornography actually inhibits our ability to fight the industry that produces it, since that approach drives its use among us underground - which deepens the debilitating shame (and fear of punishment and communal rejection) that keeps it underground - which silences productive discussions about it - which aids and abets its continued production and use. 

Compassion and real charity toward people is the key. We simply have to separate in our rhetoric and in our hearts the consumer from the producer, particularly the good people who are so different from the evil people who are striving to enslave them.  We need a loving understanding of that Stake President so many years ago who unwittingly introduced me to pornography, not a culture of judgmentalism, punishment, shame, and scorn. 

Currently, we are adding chains to their lives, instead of helping to free them. Shame on us. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Disrespecting Jesus of Nazareth by How We Treat Others

There are no qualifications, limitations, or disclaimers on the commandment to love others. 
"Inasmuch as ye have done it . . . " means, literally, if I call someone a mocking or demeaning name, I have called Jesus of Nazareth that same name. It means if I won't try to listen respectfully to someone, no matter what they are saying, I am refusing to listen respectfully to Jesus of Nazareth. 
The commandment to "do good" to people includes those who curse, persecute, and spitefully use us. We are commanded to be "perfect" in this love - and, in the original, that means being "complete; whole; fully developed" in love. It means, in practical terms: 
There are no qualifications, limitations, or disclaimers on this commandment.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Political Memes: Flaxen Cords and Itching Ears

When we allow ourselves to become outraged over little things, we lose our ability to recognize, appreciate, and respond to truly outrageous things. 
When we allow ourselves to become outraged over manufactured, fabricated things, we lose our agency in a fundamental way - and we give it to people who intentionally are conspiring to take it. 
Political memes can be as addicting and damaging as alcohol and cigarettes, appealing to what has been called "itching ears". Prohibition isn't the answer, but using restraint and at least an attempt at simple fact-checking are good ways to retain one's integrity and agency. Ignoring such measures is a guaranteed way to tighten the flaxen cords that enrich conspiring men and women and harm everyone else in real and lasting ways.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Easy Outrage: When Hearts Grow Cold

We live in a society where people get outraged far too easily. Some things truly are worthy of outrage, but when outrage is the foundational orientation . . . 
Honestly, I think this outrage-orientation is one of the most insidious and alarming aspects of our society (fueled by one-sided, 24/7 media programs (on both - or multiple - sides of every issue that are focused on stoking outrage for ratings and the attendant profit) - and I think it is a manifestation of the concept of hearts growing cold and real charity being lost. When we don't even try to listen to those whose views are different than ours, with real intent to understand and respect (even when we still don't agree), we lose an important part of our humanity. 
I could have gained a quality education from professors at a lot of institutions, but the students at Harvard gave me a deep respect for people who saw the world differently than I did - and a deep respect for their views, even when understanding and respect didn't create agreement. In a real way, they gave me the world. 
I try hard not to fall into that trap, but I have not been entirely successful lately while posting on Facebook - not so much in what I post, since there truly hasn't been real outrage for me in those posts, but rather in how I have reacted a few times to respondents who appear outraged and derail the posts completely. I have committed to practice better what I preach - so if all someone wants to do is argue, with no attempt at understanding and respect, please understand if I ignore their comments and/ or simply don't continue to engage. 
Hopefully, that won't happen often; hopefully, we can converse civilly and respectfully. However, if that is not possible, I will try harder to respect everyone by not perpetuating and fostering increased outrage.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Beautiful Brokenness

Kintsugi: The Japanese art of finding beauty in broken things 

(The link above shows examples of this art.)

The following is from a friend. I hope it touches and enlightens others as it did me.


I didn't know for sure if I could let go of perfectionism, and accept my life, my family, and my faith will never be what I thought it should be.

Then...I found my dear sweet wife.  She went through divorce like I did. She was broken like me.  She was perfect for me...not because I could try to compromise my views and just deal with it...

...but in all reality, for me...she was perfect precisely because of what she went through and how she could see me in a light others could not.

And I came across this term in my readings:

kintsukuroi - n. "to repair with gold"; the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

It is not simply any mended object automatically increases its appreciation but…that the gap between the vanity of pristine or perfect appearance and the fractured manifestation of mortal fate is precisely what deepens its appeal.

In other words, the proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.

In every sense of the words, my wife is simply more beautiful to me because she is who she is today over and above anyone else who might have had a perfect life with no suffering ever.

This can directly apply to our testimonies of the gospel.  They can be broken. Not because we are weak. Not because we don't have enough faith.  Sometimes it is because God wants us to see that it can be mended, and afterwards never be the same...

...but better.  Precisely because we have been broken, we are better.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Jesus Showed All Lives Matter by Focusing His Ministry on Specific Lives

This post is not a defense of Black Lives Matter. Seriously, it isn't, so please don't make it about that. It is a broad statement about the stupid meme that is going around Facebook saying Jesus made the definitive statement about all lives mattering when he died on the cross for everyone. 
Yes, he died for everyone. That is a fundamental tenet of Chrisitanity, and, ironically, Mormon theology affirms it even kore than most Protestant theologies. However, he did that by explicitly focusing his mortal ministry on the marginalized and rejected in his society. In other words, he showed that all lives matter specifically by highlighting and working to change the inequities of his culture that made some lives NOT matter - or, at least, not matter nearly as much. He made all lives matter eternally when they didn't matter equally within their politic and socio-economic system - but he also worked tirelessly to convince the religious and political authorities (and the citizenship, by extension) to change the views and practices that disproportionately disadvantaged and harmed specific people. He beleived it so strongly that he died for it.
That is indisputable in the Gospels, and it boggles my mind how some people don't understand it. BLM being a good or bad organization doesn't change Jesus' ministry at all. He showed all lives matter by valuing publicans' lives - and lepers' lives - and sinners' lives - and adulterers' lives - and, importantly, Samaritans' lives. 
Truly beleiving all lives matter, as a Chrisitan, means doing everything possible to make all lives as equally valuable and sacred and protected and honored and loved and served in every way as possible.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Sacrament: Honoring the Literal or Metaphor through Symbol

In a Gospel Principles lesson recently, I mentioned the Catholic idea of trans-substantiation, wherein the people literally ingest the body and blood of Christ. I said I know we view the sacrament symbolically but that the idea of "partaking of Christ" in a way that changes us is powerful and beautiful.

In that light, I love the idea of the sacrament table as Jesus' self-sacrificial altar (and as his final step in the process of perfection - "It is finished.") and the congregation as partakers in that sacrifice and similar pathwaybtonperfection - even though that image is grossly archaic and barbaric to our modern society. It's okay for me, specifically because I view the Garden and Golgatha suffering as representatively symbolic to begin with, so extending the former literal or metaphorical to a current simile doesn't bother me.

I can honor the literal view while not adopting it myself.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

When Jesus Said, "Love Your Neighbor"

When Jesus said, "Love you neighbor," he knew your neighbor would act, look, believe, and love differently than you do. That's the whole point. 

Love should have no boundaries, even when we disagree with others' choices, opinions, beliefs, actions, etc. 

We can't say we love everyone if we regularly speak in strident, aggressive, attacking words and tones - if we constantly talk in us vs. them language - if we wouldn't sit down with them over a meal or go on a double date or put our arms around them - if we refuse to respect them and their differing opinions - if we ridicule and criticize and assume stupidity - if we won't shut up and simply listen with a heart that is trying to understand. 

Want to show your Christ-like love - or develop such love? Seek out someone you naturally would shun and get to know them well enough to gain a friend - not by changing them but by really getting to know and respect amd accept them for who they are.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Learning to Hit the Curve Balls

Life is interesting, with opposition in all things.

Much of my life can be encapsulated as learning to hit the curve balls. As I have said in the past, the grandiose dreams of my adolescence and early adulthood lie shattered on the floor around me - but the mosaic we have created from the shards is beautiful and glorious to behold.

I have hit the curve balls adequately thus far, I believe - but I would like a fastball right down the middle this time, if that would provide the ultimate result that would be best.

Perhaps, however, fastballs right down the middle aren't what I need. Perhaps a steady diet of curve balls is my destiny. If so, I am okay with that - as long as what they produce continues to be wonderful and visible in retrospect, as is the case thus far.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Be a Light Others Want to Understand

We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.  
- Madeleine L'Engle 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Don't Avoid Life's Scars

"Maybe life isn't about avoiding the bruises. Maybe it's about collecting the scars to prove we showed up."
I came across the quote above today and immediately thought of the temple. Overall, I can say I enjoy serving in the temple greatly, but I recognize that there are bruises and scars for many who attend. 
My favorite aspect of the endowment is that you don't have to say or do anything from memory. Even if you forget everything completely, there always is someone to help you complete the play and enter the presence of the Lord. If you start and stay, you succeed. Every.Time.No.Exceptions. 
I admire those who collect scars and continue to show up, whether that is in the temple or any other aspect of life. I admire them more than they generally know, and I want to say that clearly and directly to so many of you whom I am blessed to call friends. 
God bless you for your perseverance as you collect your scars.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Tribute to My Wife during a Difficult Time for Her

I posted this originally a few years ago, and I came across it again today, while looking for something else.

The past three weeks have been hard on my wife, and I felt like I should share, once again, my gratitude for the amazing woman she is and the grace that brought us together so long ago.

We met – unplanned, unanticipated, unbidden – no idea what lay ahead. 

16 and 15 – too young and immature, right?  

Quick connection – recognized more instantly by me than her.

That piano bench, just a glance – future recognition of endless past.

Two years to dance, two years not so, then twenty-six years more –

College, children, heartache, joy – peace throughout it all. 

Where she starts – where I end – what is her – what me?

Looking forward toward unknown, enough simply to be.   

We Never Said Good-Bye

The program lasted twelve days; I dreaded its end for eleven days and twenty-three hours.  

We didn’t touch the entire two weeks.  We talked.  Oh, how we talked – hour after hour, minute upon minute, inseparable, the focus of whispered questions and gossip – sharing dreams for the future and experiences from the past.  She told me about her frustrations, her family, past crushes, a former boyfriend; I listened a lot and spoke a bit, content to be with her and moved by her.  I missed the dance – my only chance to hold her.  

We walked, side-by-side, still not touching, not talking about why we were going where we were going.  We ignored it – not intentionally, but completely, nonetheless. 
Her dad was waiting when we arrived.  I said hello, introduced myself, shook hands, exchanged brief small talk. He said they needed to leave to stay on schedule.  They walked away. So did I, not wanting to see her disappear. 
I learned later she turned and looked back.  I wasn’t there. She realized at that moment she really did love me. 
Thirty years and six children later, while writing about that moment, I suddenly realize we never said good-bye.  

We never said good-bye.  

The moment I dreaded never arrived. 
I will share this with her when I return home tonight and touch her for the hundred millionth time.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Star Wars and Church Membership: Balance and Opposition

There is an interesting element of the Star Wars theology, if you will, that parallels one of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon - and constitutes a non-doctrinal reason I am as active as I am (completely, including being a temple worker and coordinator). Interestingly, both the Star Wars element and the Book of Mormon verse tend to be simplified by most fans / members with whom I have spoken.

In Star Wars, there is a dark side and a light side - and there are subtle points when it is clear that the duality within each person is central to "balancing the force". In a real way, without the dark side there would be no true light side - and the light side eventually would become the dark side.

There is a Book of Mormon verse that says there has to be opposition in all things, but few people consider that enough to realize the implications of that all-encompassing wording. "All" things includes each person - and it also includes the LDS Church (and every other religion) itself. There MUST NEEDS be opposition in the LDS Church.

I stay, in one way, to provide balance to the LDS force - to provide opposition in all things - to keep my people diverse. However, I try to do so in a way that truly constitutes a balance - moderation - unity despite difference - charity - etc. I am NOT trying to be the one true voice that corrects and contradicts and, in the ideal end, converts and, in practical terms, silences opposing views; I am not convinced I understand everything well enough to be confident I am right and others are wrong in many cases, and I don't want my view to become the new, exclusive orthodoxy.

I just know balance and opposition in all things are harmed when I (and every other individual) is absent and/or silent - so I stay partly to help others feel comfortable expressing their own views, as well, even when I disagree with them.