Friday, January 30, 2015

"Many Questions Must Await a Future Answer": The Case of Homosexuality

I don't believe that all people who end up in homosexual relationships are hard-wired biologically for that. I understand enough about the research on human sexuality and know too many homosexuals who had traumatic experiences that influenced greatly their choices and/or actions to believe sexual orientation is predestined at birth for all. Boys who are sexually abused in their childhood by a male are more likely to be abusers of other boys when they are adults; women who are abused by men are more likely to turn to other women for comfort, support and sexual fulfillment; etc. I understand those "environmental" forces and their effects on sexuality.

However, I also know WAY too many homosexual people who lived completely normal lives without any trauma, "indoctrination" (which I really don't like using regarding a topic like this, since it's a standard charge that means, in practical terms, "teaching something to children that I don't believe") or other environmental influences. I've known too many people who have known only sexual attraction to those of the same sex from the days of their earliest awareness of sexual attraction - and many who have tried to change that aspect of themselves without any success whatsoever. For them, like for me, trying to change their sexual attraction from one sex to another is useless; it simply can't be done.

Thus, I believe the following statements in the Church's latest pamphlet about same-sex attraction ("God Loveth His Children":

Many questions, however, including some related to same-gender attractions, must await a future answer, even in the next life.

However, the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life
Same-gender attractions include deep emotional, social, and physical feelings.

It also is interesting that the pamphlet does not use the word "repent" or "sin" once when dealing with homosexual attraction. Rather, it talks about such attraction often lasting throughout one's entire life and speaks of "self-mastery" - not "change". That is a critical word choice.  It is obvious that the Church no longer views homosexual attraction itself as sin, which translates into the belief that homosexual attraction is not a conscious choice in many cases.

All other issues aside, I believe that foundational understanding is key. Yes, there are environmental forces at work in many cases, but there are genetic forces at work in many others. I have come to this understanding partly through the research, but a more important part of my understanding was gained by talking openly and deeply with those about whom this post is addressed - and the ultimate realization came from multiple people who asked me, point-blank, if I could change my own sexual orientation if I tried hard enough - if I "only had more faith". I couldn't, and the very assertion that I should evokes a powerful oppositional reaction within me. In that sense, I "get it" - and I understand why many people hear someone say that they weren't "born that way" and feel like such statements are a direct attack on them and their honesty and sincerity. It is very much like saying, "That's not true. You are lying - or deceived." They aren't lying, and they aren't deceived. They simply are being honest about what they feel and, in many cases, always have felt.

So, for me, the "solution" to this type of discussion is to recognize the truth of the Church's first statement I excerpted and posted above:

Many questions, however, including some related to same-gender attractions, must await a future answer, even in the next life.

I'm fine with doing my best to understand what I can in this life while admitting openly that many questions must await future answers. 

Having said all of that, I also need to make it clear that there are parts of the pamphlet I have excerpted and parts of the general view of homosexuality within the LDS Church with which I do not agree.  I also need to make it clear that we do NOT need to await further light and knowledge regarding this topic only "in the next life" - that we are learning much in this life and must be open to continuing that learning, both religiously AND scientifically. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lehi & Nephi: The Power of Scriptural Stories Gets Lost if We View Prophets as Objective Historians

I believe the power of the stories in our scriptures gets lost when family dynamics and other practical, real-life factors are ignored - when "the prophets" are viewed as next to perfect and their narratives are viewed as objective history. I understand that considering these things often moves the reader into a realm of speculation, to varying degrees, but I believe it is important to accept the need to speculate a bit when reading such stories. 

For example, I believe any effort to understand Nephi's narrative in the Book of Mormon as fully as possible must include consideration of Lehi's vision and his sudden conversion at the beginning of the Book of Mormon - and I believe understanding that vision and conversion more fully must include an attempt to consider multiple possibilities for Lehi's life prior to that vision and conversion, since his prior life had to have influenced the family dynamic and Nephi's subsequent narrative.

There is NO indication Lehi was a religious man before his vision - and there is evidence that he was an absentee father, to some degree, during Laman and Lemuel's early years. I read Nephi's family narrative as similar to the one involving Israel and his son, Joseph - the favored younger son and the anger of the older brothers, right down to "birthright / ruler" issues.

In other words, I see a very complicated, very dysfunctional situation.

In this post, I am going to focus on only one aspect of that dysfunctionality - the possibility that Lehi was an absentee father, to some degree, and the impact that simple fact might have had on the narrative we have.  

1) Lehi had the ability to pack his entire family and leave at a moment's notice - for an extended journey.  That would not have been common if he had been a "city dweller" (thus, "at" Jerusalem and not "in" Jerusalem).  Such readiness implies a background of ready mobility, which, in that time, likely means an occupation that required regular travel. 

2) Lehi followed a route through a forbidding, dangerous, nearly barren area that, despite hardship along the way, ended at a habitable area.  It might have been accidental or revealed divinely, but it also might have been due at least partly to previous travel through some of that area and/or areas like it. 

3) Lehi obviously was a wealthy man, based on Nephi's description of their attempts to get the plates.  I like Nibley's suggestion that the most likely occupation was merchant trader, and that he probably traveled to Egypt as part of that trade.  It would explain a lot of other things in the narrative, especially his understanding of written Egyptian.  It also would make him, of necessity, an absentee father, to some degree, especially in the earliest years of Laman's and Lemuel's childhood. 

4) Lehi appears to have favored Nephi more than Laman and Lemuel.  That could have been for any number of reasons, but the most likely are:

a) He had more than one wife in this lifetime (two, for sake of ease in discussion), and Nephi (and possibly Sam) were from his second wife.

There is nothing whatsoever in the record to tell us Sariah's genetic heritage.  That isn't a surprise, necessarily, given the male-centric nature of most record keeping back then - but the lack leaves interesting doors open. Lehi wasn't Jewish, and, based on his lack of knowledge of his own ancestry (finding out only by reading the plates), he wasn't a religious man in the traditional, orthodox sense of the time.  Being a man who was open to visions doesn't mean he was a religiously devoted or "actively religious" man.  There is no way to know with certainty about his background prior to his vision, which opens all kinds of possibilities outside the social, insider norm.  His married life easily could have been a bit complicated and/or unorthodox, as well. 

b) He was entering a retirement or management stage in his life a few years prior to his vision (which would make sense, psychologically, since extra time for contemplation could lead to such an experience).  If Nephi had been born as or after Lehi was entering that retirement or management stage in his life, Lehi would have doted on Nephi more than the older children who were establishing their own lives as emerging adults.  That would be doubly true if Nephi was the only son of the new wife of a wealthy, older man.

c) It also appears that Nephi's personality was much closer to Lehi's personality at the time of the vision than was true of Laman and Lemuel - and, being even more speculative, I think Laman and Lemuel might have been closer to how Lehi used to be prior to his vision.  They appear to have been more focused on wealth and the lure of the city, probably having begun to establish their own ties and their own future careers - perhaps in their father's business and perhaps as sons of luxury.  If they had been helping run the family business while their father was traveling . . . and if they were concerned about losing position and possible inherited wealth as their younger brother got more and more attention from their father . . . and if their father suddenly announced he was abandoning his (their future) business and wealth . . . and if their father asked them to abandon what they had been building for themselves to join him in the wilderness. . . and if their younger brother positioned himself as their father's confidant against them . . . and if their younger brother gave away their wealth for a history book (meaning they couldn't go back at any point and reclaim it when their father's foolish impulse ran its course) and then killed a prominent man to get that same history book (meaning they couldn't return even without their former wealth) . . .

All of that leads me to believe Lehi might have been an absentee father to some degree in his life. 

I don't know if what I just described is accurate, but I think it would explain a LOT about the narrative and how it unfolds - and I think it is a good foundation for charity in the way Laman and Lemuel are viewed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Depression: A Personal Explanation from One Who Suffers

I have a friend who has struggled with depression for many years.  We were talking about the effects of depression on many members for whom it (and other similar issues) are difficult to control.  He shared the following and gave me permission to share it here.  (the bolding is mine; the underlining his)  I hope it helps someone, somehow, in some way: 

One of the issues that I think can stand some scrutiny is the issue of what happens to worldview with a mental illness. All my life I was taught "The light of Christ is given to all men so they can know good from evil. If you do what's right, you will be blessed (always with the caveat that it may be in the next life that you are blessed, leaving you holding the bag in this life)." This is a great principle. It sounds like a law of physics or a mathematical equation - when you do x, y will happen. You pray, you get a feeling someone is listening. You serve others, you get a warm fuzzy feeling inside. So what happens when it doesn't work for you? Did I just fall out of the human race/all men category?

We like rules to be comprehensive and without exception so we can count on them. Without rules that follow accepted patterns, the apple cart is upended and the whole world around you goes into flux. "I don't know what I can count on anymore when life itself seems to change on a daily basis." This way of thinking could end tomorrow, or it could go on for decades or until the end of my life. It is a shame that we mentally ill folk are so complicated ("Doc, what do I do?" "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." "Bishop, I don't feel things anymore. How do I feel the spirit?" "Just pray, and it will come to you.") The 2 + 2 equation breaks down like light around the event horizon of a black hole (perhaps a more apt analogy than I intended!) Thus, it is not unreasonable to conclude that for some members or non-, just doing the "prescribed" church standard answers will not necessarily result in an invariably positive result. Ergo: faith crisis that may or may not have a resolution subject to missionary discussion-level prescriptions for "finding the truth."
I am not looking for anyone to diagnose or try to treat me or my issues. I have shared what I have shared simply to put forth the idea for discussion that there are people in the faith community of the LDS Church for whom the normal rules do not appear (I chose that word carefully) to work the same as they do for many others, or even themselves earlier in their lives. This is not a necessary consequence resulting from sin, lack of faith, apostasy, or not "doing the right things." I invite you to comment on this as you see fit.

If I could speak for others who may feel like me, I would want to say "we just want to know that we are not excluded (by biology, by genetics, by disease, by spiritual state, by nature) from what other faith-holding saints are able to feel and recall on a daily basis that guides them on their walk through life." But I have to admit, I do feel like God has made an exception for us and struggle to believe that what happens in my life and my heart are evidence of a "loving" Father in Heaven.

It is possible to feel alone standing in a room crowded with people - depending on if you feel excluded (not even necessarily by them but from them). It is extremely difficult when you feel the same way about God.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"I know tenderness and I know its opposite, and I know tenderness is better."

Cherish One Another - Cathy Stokes (The Mormon Women Project)

This interview with Sister Stokes is incredible. 

Blessed, honored (modern day) pioneer, indeed. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Of Parenthood and Pedestals

Part of being a parent (except for the really bad ones) is being put on a pedestal. Part of being a parent (even for the really good ones) is being taken off that pedestal to some degree. Part of being a good parent is allowing yourself to be knocked off the pedestal and actually encouraging children to be able to think about and see things differently than you do.

I've tried to do that with my kids from a pretty early age. I've shared different perspectives with them, and I've talked openly about how I like and respect many different views and beliefs. I've told them that I want them to study in college whatever they want to study - and I've told them it's fine to change their mind. I've told them what I think when they've asked, but I try to follow that up with, "What do you think?" (or, ideally, that process in reverse, asking them first what they think - then validating their opinion - then offering my own - then reiterating that I just want them to figure out what they believe) I've shown them that I can support and sustain church leaders even when I disagree with them - and that I can do so at all levels of leadership.

Joseph Smith once said:

Many persons think a prophet must be a great deal better than anybody else . . . I love that man better who swears a stream as long as my arm yet deals justice to his neighbors and mercifully deals his substance to the poor, than the long, smooth-faced hypocrite . . . I do not want you to think that I am righteous, for I am not . . . I am like a huge, rough stone rolling . . . History of the Church, v5 p401

I like admiration, respect and deference; I don't like pedestals - at least not for myself and fellow humans. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Did 1/3 of God's Children Reject His Plan? Implications for Eternity

I have addressed that question in a previous post, but I want to expand just a little on it in this one. 

No, I believe it is not an exact, numerical percent.  Three was a powerful number in that society, and 1/3 is the equivalent of saying "the minority" (or "a smaller part"), while 2/3 is the equivalent of saying "the majority" (or "the larger part").  So, I take it to mean that some people reject God, but most follow God - when faced with a choice between good and evil.

I think that fits our theology very well, and it also informs how I view the three degrees of glory.  Many members assume that only a relatively few select, righteous people will inherit the Celestial Kingdom, with most ending up in the Terrestrial Kingdom and a large number being in the Telestial Kingdom (and a very small number being cast out into Outer Darkness as Sons of Perdition).  I look at it quite differently.  I believe the majority / the larger part / two-thirds will accept God and his plan in the end and wind up in the Celestial Kingdom, and I lean toward a very large majority as the final figure.  I see our kingdom theology as symbolic of stages of progression rather than merely final, ultimate destinations - so, while I do believe that some people will not progress to the ultimate desired end, I believe God's long-suffering charity allows for a much more extended growth period than we tend to envision in the limitations of mortality. 

So, in the end, like our pre-mortal experience, I believe the large majority will "keep their second estate" and have glory added forever and ever while a small minority will not. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teaching Youth the Word of Wisdom When They Have Heard about It for Years

I have been asked on more than one occasion about how I teach the Word of Wisdom to youth in the Church who have had lessons about the Word of Wisdom for years - about how to make it new, fresh or enlightening in any way. 

I teach it in that situation by focusing on two things:

1) The first few verses about "why" - that it was given in warning of addiction peddling in the future. I mention lots of other things that now are addictive and ought to receive the same scrutiny - and let them come up with a list, since that makes it personal for them and allows me to distinguish for them the difference between addictions and occasional actions.

2) The "what" - and I do that by talking about how dietary and health codes have changed over time, from the ancient Hebrew / Jewish code to what Jesus followed (differently than John, the Baptist, for example) to what we had with D&C 89 when it was counsel to what we have now (when addiction peddlers are running rampant) as a standard for temple attendance. 

How would you respond to such a question? 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why I Believe DNA and the Book of Mormon Is a Non-Issue

I think the Book of Mormon DNA issue is very easy to reconcile intellectually, IF the only conclusions are drawn from the actual book itself and not from what members (including leaders) assumed for a long time that it says. I'll try to be concise, but here is the way I read the book itself, relative to DNA:

Three groups are detailed, to some degree, in the book. In order of longevity and size:

1) The Jaredites - This group is described as being large at the beginning of their migration - mulitple familes, perhaps an entire "tribe". If we assume the standard Old Testament chronology, which I don't assume to be accurate but can use for this purpose, they left their home probably no later than 3,000 BC - which means they were in the "promised land" for roughly 3,000 years when the other two groups arrived. The Book of Ether is quite clear that it covers ONLY the people who remained at or near the government center - and basic population demographics pretty much guarantee that they would have spread widely across whatever land they inhabited. Thus the total annihilation described at the end of the Book of Ether logically could have been only the people who lived close enough to be gathered, leaving many people still spread out elsewhere - and the area they inhabited easily could have been massive.

In looking at the society described, as a former History Teacher, I would place their origin in the Northeast Asian steppe region, meaning their DNA would be consistent with the current research. Thus, it is very plausible that they would be the "principal (largest and/or original) ancestors" of the Native American Indians - that the primary DNA still extent 2,000 years after the destruction of their government would be Asian.

2) The people of Mulek - This group was relatively small and occupied a very limited area (one city and perhaps its surrounding area) when discovered by 3) the Nephites. As small as they were, they were "more numerous" than the Nephites - the smallest group. Interestingly, both groups combined were FAR smaller than the Lamanites, which only makes sense if the Lamanites had combined with a more numerous, indigenous people - and if that indigenous people were of Asian descent (some of the non-killed Jaredites), it would explain perfectly the "apostate" designation and dark skin stigma attached by the Nephites to the Lamanites.

The population and distance clues in the book itself are convincing to me of a limited geography model - and I reached that conclusion on my own long before I read any modern arguments for them (and long before I read any DNA research showing Asian origins for the Native American peoples). Thus, I see a very limited geography and a relatively small population of Nephites (just over a couple of million, tops, and perhaps significantly less) destroyed, while a much larger population dominated genetically by "Asians" continued to spread widely (perhaps even inter-continentally) for a total of at least 5,000 years.

That's what I see when I read the book itself and focus only on what I think it actually says. That means two very simple things to me:

1) The latest DNA research doesn't invalidate the claims of the actual book about origins.

2) The latest research shows that the assumptions about the overall demographics in the book (particularly what "principal ancestors" meant) held by the people who believed in the book (the early Mormons, including Joseph Smith and other leaders) were wrong.  

I'm OK with the second conclusion.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Few Things "I am" Relative to the LDS Church

I am the controlling agent in my relationship with the LDS Church, so I am able to get the good out of it without being subject to the cultural bad (or most of it).

I am an "agent unto myself", as the Book of Mormon says I am supposed to be.

I act and don't allow myself (usually) to be acted upon.

I am the subject in the relationship, not the object.

I don't belong to the Church; it belongs to me; it is mine.

I am Mormon to the core - but the primary focus is on "I am" not "Mormon"

I am interested in hearing others' input into what they are in this regard. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Leadership in Zion: Helping Create an Ideal Balance

I believe:

1) Communal sociality is a process of filtering back and forth what is best for the individual and what is best for the society.

2) Social leadership is, by definition, the position of determining where groups draw the line between the pursuit of those two ideals in very practical ways.

3) "Zion" is the idea that there is an ideal balance between the two - a condition of community (communal unity) that serves both ideals properly - where unity exists despite differences.

4) My role in creating Zion is to strive to find the type of individual balance between the two general ideals in my own, internal life and work to help others find that type of individual balance in their own, internal lives. If I am a "leader" of some sort, obviously I have more potential to help more people, but I don't see my role as "attacking" or "changing" anyone; rather, I see it as being a "helper" or "servant" of anyone and everyone.

5) Thus, all I can do is "offer" - consistently, humbly and without expectation. I can't "demand" or "command". I also must be willing to learn from everyone I'm trying to serve - and, in practical terms, sometimes that is the hardest aspect of Zion of all.