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.