Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Like Wearing White Shirts to Administer the Sacrament, but Not "The Uniform of the Priesthood"

I LOVE the idea of making the sacrament more tied to baptism in a visual way, so I have no problem with the desire to have the young men who administer the sacrament dress in white (and only a shirt is less restrictive than fully white attire). I have a friend who used to think that there was no doctrinal basis for asking those who administer the sacrament to wear a white shirt, but she understood better when I referenced the General Conference talk in which that advice was given and talked a bit about the intended symbolism from that talk.

The doctrinal basis is obvious to anyone who accepts the possibility of continuing revelation, changing symbolism and/or apostolic/leadership authority to make a doctrinal basis for new practices. The case of requesting white shirts be worn in the administration of the sacrament is far less radical a change than going from circumcision to baptism as a sign of accepting God and joining "his people".  People might not agree with the doctrinal basis for a practice, but there absolutely is one - and a very solid one in the case of white shirts and the sacrament.

Having said all of that, I really dislike the idea that there is a "uniform of the Priesthood". I believe linking the sacrament and baptism through visual symbolism is awesome; extending and distorting that link by applying it to everything imaginable (even simple church attendance) is planting so many hedges that the principle gets obscured completely - and, given how few members even remember the apostolic injunction against extending it to other things and not making it mandatory even for the sacrament, I would argue the "uniform of the Priesthood" angle actually has killed the original beauty of the General Conference explanation of why white shirts should be worn to administer the sacrament. For too many members, it has become about the shirt instead of the symbolic union of ordinances.

As I said in my response to Anonymous' comment below, I believe we have taken it to such an extreme that we have lost, almost completely, the deep meaning of wearing white for specific things - like *changing* into white for temple ordinances and baptism and wearing white to administer the sacrament.  Putting on ("donning") white for those particular things adds symbolic meaning; wearing white all the time for everything church-related lessens that meaning, sometimes to the point of obscuring it completely.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Lord Created a Human Orchestra to Hear and Value ALL the Instruments, Not Just One Kind

Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole...

Some are lost because they are weary. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With all the pressures and demands on our time and the stress we face each day, it’s little wonder we get tired. Many feel discouraged because they have not measured up to their potential. Others simply feel too weak to contribute. And so, as the flock moves on, gradually, almost imperceptibly, some fall behind.

Everyone has felt tired and weary at one time or another. I seem to feel more so now than I did when I was younger. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, even Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be tired. I do not wish to underestimate the weight that members of the Church bear upon their shoulders, nor do I minimize the emotional and spiritual trials they face. These can be heavy and often difficult to bear.

Joseph B. Wirthlin (April 2008 General Conference, "Concern for the One")

Monday, August 25, 2014

Almost Everything Can Be Interpreted Legitimately in More than One Way

I like to consider everything, and I mean everything, in as many ways as possible - literal, symbolic, figurative, allegorical, etc.

I find if I don't close off any possible meaning - if I least consider all possible meanings, I generally can accept more than one interpretation as enlightening and inspiring.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Practical Ways to Strengthen Marriage and Family

We focused today on practical things that we can do to strengthen marriage and family in our own lives. Most of the kids in my class have two parents at home, and today all of the ones in attendance have traditional families, so I structured the lesson around a series of reflective questions and input from the students. Also, the Sunday School President attended the class, as did my wife. (She was called today to teach the younger class and wasn't prepared with a lesson, so we combined the two classes.)

I asked each question, gave them about a minute to think about it, and got their answers - talking about each one, if further discussion seemed appropriate. The following are the questions and the answers that were given:

1) What do your parents do to strengthen their marriage?

They help each other with the small tasks around the house.
They communicate with each other / talk about everything before making big decisions.
They work things out without arguing with each other.
They look for things to do together.
They still do silly, romantic things - like dancing in the kitchen while the food is cooking.
They go on regular dates.
They talk nicely to each other.
My dad made it clear he loves us but loves my mom more - that she is his top priority and he won't let us disrespect her.

2) What do your parents do to strengthen your family?

They make sure we read the scriptures as a family at least a couple of times each week and have family prayers most nights. (I loved the focus on regularly when "daily" just didn't work, especially since these parents are ward leaders and wold be classified as "TBM" by everyone here.)
They try their best to put up with the kids.
They make sure we eat dinner together, even though my dad works 12 hour days.
They do fun family activities, including my favorite: rides after church on Sunday.
They had fun Family Home Evenings, including things like basketball in the backyard, tag, hikes, etc.
My mom helps everyone. She takes us to all of our activities and volunteers to help others, also - even though that leaves her little time for herself.
They spend as much time together as possible and work hard to have good relationships with us.
They show appreciation for us and compliment us more than they criticize us.

3) What sacrifices have your parents made to help their marriages and their families?

My dad took care of me when I was little and my mom was bedridden with her degenerative disease.
My mom got a job to help support our family, even though she wanted to stay home with us.
My dad started a new job during the day while trying to keep his business open. He would spend hours with us each evening, then, when we would go to bed, he would spend hours each night trying to save his business. We didn't know what he was doing until after his business closed, since he didn't want us to feel bad about the time he spent with us.
My mom gets stressed out easily. She tried to take medication for it, but it made her feel like a zombie, and she couldn't help us while she was on it. She gave up the medication and is trying to find other ways to cope with her stress, even though it's really hard on her. She told us she would rather struggle to be part of our lives than not struggle and not be part of our lives.

I used the responses to that question to reiterate again how we tend to talk about an ideal when we talk about marriage, but I pointed out (by asking the questions directly) that all of them know single, adult members of the ward - and divorced or widowed members of the ward - or members who are married to non-members and attend church without a spouse - etc. I told them that what we were talking about is important no matter what their individual adult lives end up being like - that it's much like in October when we will talk about "Becoming More Christlike".

I finished with one last question, and I told them I would NOT ask for their answers. I told them that it was something to consider now but also over time - and that it might be one thing or twenty-seven things or any number of things. I first reiterated the core definition of "repent" (which they all know by now is simply "change") and told them that this is a great example of a way to approach proactive repentance (making changes NOT because of mistakes / sins of the past but in order to grow moving forward).

4) What do you need to change about yourself in order to be a better husband / wife or mother / father when you are ready to get married and have a family of your own?

Finally, I told them not to try to find "the perfect spouse". I told them, for example, that the apostles and their wives weren't apostles and apostles' wives when they met, fell in love and got married. I told them if they are with someone who makes them feel worse about themselves when they are together to run away from that person and find someone who makes them feel better about themselves when they are together. I told them to find someone who will make them the top priority - who will be willing to sacrifice in some way to support them and to keep a strong marriage.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Individual Adaptation within Collective Norms

 I have a friend who has struggled with body acceptance issues for a long time.  She is working on coping mechanisms to help her overcome this difficulty, but wearing garments exacerbates seriously her struggles.  I can't understand those struggles fully, since I have never experienced them personally, but they are real and, at times, can be damaging and even dangerous.

With reference to the garment, she said something to me once that I thought at the time was very powerful - and I have thought about it off and on since then.  She said:

It's difficult for me to see how a loving Heavenly Father could require something that makes us feel this way.

I had the chance to communicate with her again a while ago, and the topic arose one more time.  Having thought about it since she first shared her frustration, I answered her in the following way:

I don't believe he requires us to do things that make us feel that way - but, if you accept his existence and the foundation of communal rules in any way, he does require some people to do things that aren't "ideal" for those people. There's no way to have communal laws, rules, regulations, suggestions, cultural practices, etc. that are going to be "right" for everyone. They are approximations of what works generally for the good of the collective group.

That's an important, even critical, distinction - and I believe it's vital to understand. "We" don't get everything that would be "ideal" for "us" when we agree to be part of any group. An essential part of learning charity - true charity - is acceptance of that fact. The key is to step back a bit, see the benefit for the collective group, make whatever sacrifices are possible for the group, make individual adjustments and adaptations that are important to you personally and find peace in that balance between serving the collective good and honoring what is vital to yourself.

It's not easy - this embrace of paradox and complexity. Simple extremes are easier - but they also are more destructive. Worship according to the dictates of your own conscience, but find a way to do it within the community you choose as your own. It might take a while, but it's worth it in the end - since the faith you carve out will be your own, and it will allow you to continue being an active part of your own tribe, so to speak. 

In the specific case of the garment and her body issues, I have NO problem with her not wearing the garment in the same way most Mormons who wear it do so.  The Church Handbook of Instruction actually leaves how she does so in her hands, and I love that policy.  If adapting in healthy ways means wearing it only for specific things (like when she attends the temple) - or only for a short period of time each day and/or night - or only one day per week or month - or even not until she has a better handle on her body acceptance issues, so be it.  I would rather have her be working on getting to the point that she can wear it without real damage than be damaged in a very real way on a regular basis.  The key, I believe, is not to wear or not wear but rather to face the issue head-on and strive to find a way to do whatever is possible in the present while working on making the future better.

I think that is a good outline for most things in life. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Deciding How to Calculate and Pay Tithing Is Up to Each Individual

Do I pay tithing on my income before taxes are taken out or on what I receive after taxes?

The First Presidency has answered this question in this way: “The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement than this” (First Presidency letter, Mar. 19, 1970).

In other words, the way you define your income, and consequently your tithing, is a matter between you and the Lord. Prayerfully seek the Lord’s guidance on issues like taxes, gifts, scholarships, and other matters to determine what qualifies as a full tithe. 

New Era, February 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Many of God's Children Followed Lucifer?

We are told in scriptures that 1/3 of the host of heaven followed Lucifer in the pre-mortal war in heaven.  That generally is believed to be a literal 33%, but there is another view that resonates more with me.  

There is an interpretation of ancient numerology that believes 1/3 is more accurately translated as "a third part" and means "an unspecified minority" - and 2/3 means "an unspecified majority". Along those lines, "none" and "all" would be written as 0/3 and 3/3 (although they are never stated that way).

That changes the whole math of salvation dramatically - and in a way that is very important and foundational for my view of eternity. In that light, 1/3 can mean a few billion, but it also can mean a dozen or so and anything between - and I FAR prefer that ambiguity to the assumption of a literal 33%.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Be One Who Nutures and Who Builds. Leave People Better than You Found Them.

"Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone's differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn't handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another's weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other. 
Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them."

Marvin J. Ashton (April 1992 General Conference)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: D&C 1:30 - "The Only True and Living Church"

First, here is verse 29:
And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.

Now verse 30:

“And also those to whom these commandments were given”

Joseph was mentioned in v.29 in relation to the translation of the Book of Mormon, but this verse references others – also those to whom “collectively” the commandments within the subsequent D&C were addressed.

“might have power to lay the foundation of this church,”

Lay the foundation does NOT mean or even imply the entire construction, only the setting of the foundation; thus, there is a solid implication that others “to whom these commandments were [NOT] given [yet]” would continue the construction upon the foundation built by these first people.

“and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness

I think “obscurity” is self-explanatory – and the Church certainly was obscured back then. In many ways, that only recently has been completed; in many ways, it still is being accomplished. I read “darkness” as describing the spiritual darkness of an apostate world – a light shining from the darkness to be set on a hill outside of that darkness, if you will. The fascinating aspect is that those who would “bring it forth out of obscurity and darkness” aren’t limited necessarily to the first group but appears to include those who later would build on the original foundation. I wonder how much of that removal process was figurative and how much was fulfilled by the literal exodus to Utah.


I always have read this verse as if it had a dash instead of a comma. It simply makes more linguistic and grammatical sense that way.

“the only true AND living church upon the face of the whole earth,”

of all the possible meanings for “true”, I like the following – as it relates to an organization: of the right kind; such as it should be; proper: to arrange things in their true order.” That changes the concept in very real and, I believe, important ways from what generally is assumed. In that light, I like the following definition for “living”: pertaining to, suitable for, or sufficient for existence or subsistence – which implies feeding in such a way that life can continue – meaning life-giving or regenerating – as in “living” water. Therefore, an altered translation might be something like, the only proper, correctly arranged/ordered and eternal-life-giving church . . .”

Also, the use of true “and” living can imply that there are other churches that are either true “or” living, but none that are both. I don’t know for sure, but I do think there is a powerful possibility of an implicit suggestion that some other churches might be partly true (not fully false) and lack, more than anything else, the grander vision that would make them “come alive”. I’m not sure that is what was meant, but it is a conclusion with which I agree – and which can be supported by the text.

“with which I, the Lord, am well pleased,” 

From a scriptural basis, this simply means “very pleased” – as opposed to merely pleased. It draws an implicit distinction between being “well” pleased and simply being pleased. More on that later.

“speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” 

The Church as an organization is well-pleasing unto the Lord, even though any number of individuals, with no respect to position [even the Prophet himself], may not be “well-pleasing” at any given moment.  I think this is supported by the number of times Joseph Smith was chastised and called to repentance in the Doctrine & Covenants. 

I favor a period at the end of this verse. The dash, in context, makes vs.20-30 a parenthetical comment and ties v.31 to v.19 – and I simply don’t see that as the proper connection. It just doesn’t make sense.

When we look at this verse, there are three separate and distinct classifications used to describe the “church” – which, taken together, appear to constitute the full meaning of the word “church” in God’s eyes. “The foundation of this church” and “the true church” appear to refer to the basic organizational structure and essential offices (which are properly ordered and arranged), while “the living church” appears to refer to the Restored Gospel it teaches (especially the concept of eternal life that follows faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost). On the other hand, “the church collectively and not individually” appears to refer to the membership. It’s fascinating for me to think of this as one more example of the use of a “trinity” construct to describe perfection.

Shifting gears a little, when I look at what I think the verse actually says, I am left to discount what I believe it does not say – even what has been assumed by many but simply isn’t there. The following are a few of the things I believe are incorrect assumptions – things the verse simply does NOT say:

False Assumption #1) The Church’s structure was restored exactly as existed in the time of the ancient apostles. Any deviation from the ancient structure invalidates its “true” structure, and every part of the current organization was in place in the ancient Church.

Hogwash. It just doesn’t say that. We do believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, but it clearly was only the foundation that was laid at the time of the Restoration. Furthermore, the relevant Article of Faith (#6) follows the “same organization” statement with a listing of essential responsibilities/offices, not the entire structure. Also, architecturally, since we are dealing with a “foundation” upon which a structure will be built, similar or equivalent structures can contain radically different internal components and still be the same shape or structure. This idea is bolstered by the increasing complexity of the organizational Church as it grows numerically and geographically – changing the outward appearance and internal structure, but not affecting the foundation in the slightest – as well as the differences that appear to have existed among the various congregations within the ancient Church.

False Assumption #2) All other Churches are bad or abominable.

That simply not said – here or in JSH 1:19, which I analyzed a couple of weeks ago. They might not be “of the right kind; such as [they] should be; proper: [arranged] in their true order,” but it does not say they are evil or bad. They might not make the Lord “well pleased”, but there is nothing that says the Lord isn’t “pleased” with them in some or many ways. In fact, the usage of a qualifier ["well"] generally implies that the same term without the qualifier ["pleased"] applies to the entities being compared. I know it is a radically different interpretation than the standard one, but I believe the words of the verse itself state that the Lord is not displeased with all religions other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – that at least some others do please Him to some degree.

False Assumption #3) Other churches (and members of those other churches) are spiritually dead.

That assumption is stupid, in my opinion. Their churches might not be living in the sense that they provide eternal growth [“eternal life giving"] – since they don’t even teach life eternal, as we understand it – but there is no statement saying the other churches cause their members to be separated from godliness, which is the orthodox definition of spiritual death within Mormonism. At worst, if other Christians accept their churches’ teachings fully and reject Mormonism completely, the vast majority of them still will live immortally in the presence of The God they worship – Jesus, the Christ. Nothing in verse 30 says otherwise.

False Assumption #4) Our leaders are “true” (infallible) and will never teach things that are not 100% true.

The verse itself says the Lord is NOT well-pleased with individuals in the Church, and it is followed by the numerous rebukes of Joseph, Oliver and others in the “commandments” it prefaces. The Church as a whole is well-pleasing and will continue to provide life to its members, but individual members, no matter their standing, still can incur the Lord’s displeasure.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

We Can't Preach the Gospel in Antagonistic Ways and Truly Love Others

We have two competing commandments - or at least it appears that way on the surface. 

The greatest one is, “Love God and love thy neighbor as thyself,” “Love one another,” or any number of ways to phrase it. The other one is, “Preach the Gospel.” Christ said that the world would hate those who represent him, but he didn’t say that meant we should preach in such a way as to alienate automatically by our own words and actions. He generally didn’t do that (except when condemning hypocrites and the Pharisees, primarily), and neither should we. 

We can fulfill the command to preach the Gospel as well as the command to love others, but we can't do both if we approach preaching with an antagonistic spirit.  In that light, I believe strongly that we need to stop framing so much of our discourse in battle terms - us vs. others, generally, and, more specifically, us vs. "the world".  We need to stop blaming others for issues for which they are not responsible (like, for example, blaming the homosexual population for the deterioration of traditional marriage, which is the fault of the heterosexual population). 

We need to preach what we believe (including real repentance), but we need to do so from a position of love - and we can't say we "love the sinner" while using language that is not conducive to love (or in language that, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, essentially judges others for sinning differently than we do).  We can't preach repentance exclusively to others, particularly in detail; we need to preach the Gospel (including the correct principle of repentance) to ALL, including and especially to ourselves. 

At the most basic level, it's not us vs. them; rather, it's me vs. me - and us WITH them.  We can work to build up the kingdom of God on Earth, but it won't happen (won't really be the kingdom of God) if we aren't working in such a way that we simultaneously are establishing Zion - and Zion is based on a foundation of real charity.