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.