Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(Richard) Poll's (Faith) Pillars

The following is an excerpt of a talk by Richard Poll entitled "Pillars of my faith", which I transcribed while listening to it on Mormon Stories. I've become something of a fan of his lately. Yesterday when I joined the Mormon History Association I noticed his name as a former president, and I was reminded at how much I enjoyed these remarks:

For me faith is what an earlier Paul said it is. The substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. It transcends empirical knowledge. And because what humanity learns by reason and experience is both finite and fallible, it may even contradict such knowledge. [Where this happens,] I feel no compulsion to choose between them, unless it becomes necessary to act. [Many issues that have strained relationships between Latter-day Saints] do not require resolution. For pragmatic and doctrinal reasons I believe in suspending judgment in such cases.

I am, in short, a Latter-day Saint who believes the gospel is true, but who has an imperfect and evolving understanding of what the gospel is.

My testimony will, I suppose, be of most interest to people like me. People for whom neither dogmatic fundamentalism nor dogmatic humanism provides convincing answers to life’s most basic questions.

The pillars of my faith are two. Two articles of faith defined by the prophet and founder of my church and an interpretive principle provided by one of the founding fathers of my country….first: ”we believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost". The 9th article affirms “we believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God”

James Madison cautioned: “When the Almighty Himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, His meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”

Because I believe, with Madison, that everyone, including Paul and the other prophets, saw eternity, or sees eternity through a glass darkly, prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy, and unquestioning obedience are not elements in my faith.

I believe in Heavenly parents who care about me, but who will not, perhaps cannot, compel me to obey. I have hope in Christ. And I have drawn strength from the comforter of which he spoke.

I see history in terms of human strivings to discover divine realities and follow divine principles. Flashes of prophetic insight have elevated those efforts, and Jesus of Nazareth in his life, death, and resurrection uniquely embodied those realities.

Joseph Smith, a prophet like Moses, Peter, and Alma, gave inspiration and momentum to the gospel dispensation in which, as I've written earlier, I find answers to enough important questions to live purposefully without answers to the rest.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have found ideas, opportunities and challenges around which I have organized my life. Next to my family, my church is the most important component of that life. I am proud of its contributions to bettering the human condition and grateful to its contributions to my own. If I were in charge of the church I would make some changes. Since I am not, I must be patient, but I need not be passive.

As a historian, I know that changes have occurred and the 9th article of faith assures me that they will yet occur...

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Woman's Place

Once during a graduate class we got onto the topic of women having equal rights and opportunities as men. The professor said something to the affect that "if you believe they should, then you're a feminist". She then turned to all the men in the class and suggested that we should be feminists too. She needn't have. I already knew from her description that I clearly considered myself one.

Last year after Justice Souter announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, USA Today interviewed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At the time, Justice O'Conner had long retired leaving Ginsburg alone as the only woman on the court. In suggesting that the court needed another woman, I haven't forgotten what she said: "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I don't say (the split) should be 50-50. It could be 60% men, 40% women, or the other way around. It shouldn't be that women are the exception."

"Women belong in all places where decisions are being made". This rang true with me. I believe that. And it seems our current president did too. There are now three women on the court, along with six men.

There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect, however, when I juxtapose this conviction with the current organization of the Church. Positive changes are already being made, as evidenced by the recent Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast. Women are being given an expanded role, at least on the level of the ward council--a positive change for sure. (President Julie B. Beck of the Relief Society did a fantastic job during that broadcast, by the way). But I can't help but further wonder about a woman's place in the Church.

Just days ago the new was unveiled and I was immediately impressed with the improvement and even spent some time perusing the site. A prominent article featured on the homepage caught my eye: "Take Oath and Covenant Seriously, Elder L. Tom Perry Says". In the article and accompanying video, Elder Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke of the priesthood as the government of God: “It establishes policy, procedure, and has the authority to perform the sacred ordinances of our Father in Heaven’s kingdom. It has always existed and will always exist….The priesthood gives mankind the power to act as agents for the Lord on earth in performing His sacred ordinances, leading His Church.”

Justice Ginsburg’s words came to mind. “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” I thought to myself that women, too, ought to be involved in setting policy and procedure--however high or low. My feminist instinct kicked in further, and I thought: Is there any good reason why it must only be men who are given power to act as agents for the Lord in performing ordinances and leading the Church?

I, for one, do not believe so.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oregon On My Mind

I was 14 years old when my dad began taking me to Autzen Stadium to watch the Oregon Ducks. Division I college football in person--especially with the atmosphere at Autzen--was simply incomparable.

It was the 1994 season--a good year to become a Duck fan--because Oregon began a magical ride to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1950's. I've been hooked ever since. There's one play from that season which epitomizes the turning point of Oregon football. Known as the "The Pick", it's simply the most famous play in Oregon football history. The Ducks had only beat the Washington Huskies three times in the past 20 years, and now they had a 4 point lead on the 9th ranked Huskies. I was there for that game--in person--but not for the most famous play in Oregon football history.

Washington began driving down the field in the final minutes and they were getting closer and closer to the goal line and to scoring a touchdown. Dad, most likely assuming that the game was about to be lost since Washington was sure to score, decided that we might as well beat the traffic. If only I could go back in time and beg him to stay! Because the next thing I remember is that we made the trek back to the car and arrived just as we heard the entire stadium erupt in cheers. I quickly turned on the radio. Here's what we missed:

Kenny Wheaton returned that interception 97 yards for a touchdown to preserve the Oregon win. I've never left a game early ever since.

The Ducks then began their ascension of improvement, building a solid program with premier facilities (thanks in part to the generosity of Phil Night--founder of Nike and an Oregon alum). In 2001 Oregon should have played in the BCS National Championship game, but inexplicably got left out when a Nebraska team that failed to win their own conference was put in the title game with Miami. Oregon went on to finish that year #2 in the nation with a convincing win over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oregon came mighty close to getting to the National Championship game again in 2007. They were #2 in the nation, led by quarterback and Heisman favorite Dennis Dixon. Dixon's season ended abruptly with a torn ACL, and with no solid back-up, the wheels fell off. Oh what might have been.

Fast forward to 2010. Oregon finally did it. They won all 12 of their games, and most of them with flair. Head coach Chip Kelly kept the team focussed on "winning the day" and not looking ahead. They find themselves about to play in the National Championship game. Here's another special call of Jerry Allen, the same radio broadcaster who called "The Pick", as the final seconds ticked away on last Saturday's "Civil War" game:

Anything can happen against Auburn in the National Championship game. Auburn (aka Cam Newton) looks awfully good. But for now, like other Oregon fans, I'm simply excited by how far the Ducks have come. They've played hard and fast. Now we'll see if they can finish what has become a very magical ride.

Friday, December 3, 2010

On the Church and Being Lead "Astray"

One of the most interesting debates I had recently with a family member concerned our interpretations of the statement that "the prophet will never lead the Church astray."

I like the following from Julie Smith, which she wrote in response to J. Stapley's car analogy:

"I think your driving-the-car metaphor can help us with the meaning of 'astray' (which, as far as I know, has never been officially or adequately defined):

God will not let the car be driven into a ditch. He would remove the driver first.

But that doesn’t mean that the prophet can’t drive a longer-than-necessary route, take a detour, or swerve so hard I throw up out the window, etc.

I can rest assured that I should be in the car, but not that I will enjoy the ride. :)"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jesus Said Love Everyone

For whatever reason I've become a lot more sympathetic towards those who don't quite "fit the mold"--whatever that means. I also sympathize much more with those who no longer share in my faith, those of no faith, and those who choose a different lifestyle altogether.

Why is it that even our evolution into becoming less judgmental we are sometimes most critical towards our own people--those closest to us?

There are Latter-day Saints who are indeed Saints, and there are LDS who are judgmental bigots. I must remember that my job is to love them all. I must extend the grace Heaven knows I so desperately need.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The "Naughty" Church of Christ

A Trip Down Memory Lane...

Years ago the highway from Eugene, Oregon to the coast went straight through a little town called Noti (pronounced "NO-tie"). My younger brother, who was probably about 6 or 7 at the time, provided us all a memory we can continue to chuckle at after all these years. Upon seeing the sign for the Noti Church of Christ (and not realizing it was pronounced "no tie"), he had a surprised look on his face, and gleefully said: "Look! It's the Naughty Church of Christ!"
"Doug Priest"--what a great name for a Minister
Last summer as our family made a visit back to Oregon from Texas, I made sure to stop in Noti and take pictures just for memories sake. I still enjoy the thought of an innocent boy reflecting on the irony of the "naughty" Noti Church of Christ.
Potential for a little "naughtiness" in Noti?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On the Ethics of Faking an Injury

Feigning injury--clearly unsportsmanlike and unethical--is a tactic I've seen employed against the fast-paced Oregon Duck offense multiple times this year. Cal is taking the most heat since the score was actually close and they managed to slow down the Oregon offense. But just think about the ethical implications if, as reported by a source from inside the Cal program, faking injuries was actually "a big part" of their game plan. Judge for yourself:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Still Belong to the LDS Church

Spotlighting a post by SilverRain: Why I Still Belong to the LDS Church:

I hear so many accounts of people leaving the LDS Church because they found more spiritual growth outside of the Church, rather than inside with its "boring meetings", "dreadful art", "horrid music" and lack of spiritual stimulation. Other people leave because they can't reconcile the divinity of the Church with its mundane, careless, insulting people. Others leave because the Church asks too much, or too little, or gives too little or not the right way.

I had an experience recently where I was sitting in the foyer of someone else's ward building, waiting for the sacrament to be brought out. I felt very alone and unwelcome.

As I was sitting and fretting about my place in the Church and what others thought of me in it, I had one of those rare unmistakable messages from divinity enter my mind.

"This is not their Church, it is mine. And I say you have a place here."

I had forgotten.

Friday, November 12, 2010

True Dat

Not too long ago we had a High Councilor speak in our ward's sacrament meeting who asked: "Wouldn't it be wonderful if all [425, give or take, people who are on the records of our ward] were here in attendance every Sunday?" I couldn't help but think to myself "Wouldn't it be wonderful if every Sunday meeting was worth having them all attend?

Jana Riess minces no words in her assessment of dull meetings:

"LDS leaders often wonder why retention is low among new converts, and identify valid reasons for attrition: converts don't have enough of a social network in the ward, or they find it tricky to live the standards of the gospel, or they have logistical difficulties getting to church. All of these are true in my experience, but the elephant in the room is that what passes for worship in the Mormon Church is not feeding these new converts, not at all. And that's a tragedy, because great worship is exactly the transformative missing ingredient that could help them find their place, give them the strength to rise to new behavioral standards, and want to attend church more often. We need to stop giving them--and ourselves--stone for bread." (--Jana Riess at Flunking Sainthood)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Testimony That Resonates Deeply

Terryl Givens' testimony has been posted at Mormon Scholars Testify. His is so beautifully and eloquently expressed--it resonates deeply in me--so I'm posting it here in its entirety:

If I have a spiritual gift it is perhaps an immense capacity for doubt. I have long lived in the Mormon Diaspora, growing up in Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg, Virginia. My closest colleagues for twenty years have been a devout Catholic, an observant Jew, a seminary student turned Buddhist, and a born again Episcopalian. My wife Fiona is a lapsed Catholic, lover of the temple and all things beautiful, and fervent disciple of the weeping God of Enoch. I have, in other words, spent my life in intimate association with devout believers from myriad religious traditions; I hear my own professions of faith through their ears, and examine my own religious presuppositions with an eye to theirs.

In the course of my spiritual pilgrimage, my innate capacity for doubt led me to the insight that faith is a choice. That the call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true, and have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, for only in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is my heart truly free to choose belief or cynicism, faith or faithlessness. Under these conditions, what I choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who I am and what I love. I choose to affirm that truthfulness of the Restored Gospel for five principal reasons.

1. Joseph Smith revealed the God I am most irresistibly drawn to worship.
2. He gave the only account of moral agency that to my mind can justify the horrific costs of our mortal probation.
3. He provided a story of the soul’s origin and destiny that resonates with the truth and the appeal of cosmic poetry.
4. The fruits of the gospel are real and discernible.
5. The restoration is generous in its embrace.

My two literary heroes are Dostoevsky’s Ivan from The Brothers Karamazov, and Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Confronted with the God of their contemporaries, they chose to renounce the ticket rather than bow to the cruelty or the injustice of an omnipotent God.

I could never worship or adore a God who recoils in jealous insecurity because “man has become as one of us.” I could never desire to emulate the divine nature of a sovereign who does not save all of those who are in his power to save. And I could never love a God “without body, parts, or passions,” who does not himself feel love, or grief, or joy, or gladness. Christianity gave us the only God who was willing to die on behalf of his creation, as my wife has taught me. Joseph Smith added to that conception a God who intends our full participation in “the divine nature,” who will bestow upon every single one of his children all that they “are willing to receive,” and who made himself vulnerable enough to weep at our pain and misery. That is a God I am powerfully drawn to and gladly worship.

To say that without moral independence “there is no existence” is to make agency the essential constituent of our human identity. To my understanding, this means that God’s intervention in our personal and collective destiny is self-circumscribed by his reverence for that fact. And any gift he gives us which we do not choose to receive is an abrogation of that agency. This is the only theodicy or beginning to a theory of human salvation that makes any sense to me.

I sense, but do not know for certain, that the spiritual part of my being has an eternal past. As an explanatory paradigm, this view has awesome power. It provides a compelling reason for the intuitive sense of right and wrong, the familiar ring of myriad truths, friendships that erupt full-blown, hunger for a God we have not known in mortality, and a hundred moments of déjà vu in the presence of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. And I cannot begin to fathom what it means to “become like God,” but Enoch gave us a glimpse. It means to love with infinite cost, to have a heart that “swells wide as eternity” in order to be filled with joy and sorrow alike. It is a prospect that sobers more than excites, but it is a prospect nonetheless that the pilgrimage of parenthood affirms and foreshadows.

The gospel works. I have seen its power to transform human life. I can affirm, as Gerard Manley Hopkins did, that “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes, not his, to the Father, through the features of men’s faces.” New converts and returned missionaries, who in their testimonies unexpectedly speak “with the tongues of angels,” a simple eloquence not of their own resources. Parting words of a beloved friend near death, before whom the veil grew suddenly thin to transparency. Lives redirected and imbued with sudden beauty, to rival anything narrated by a Dickens or a Hugo (whose stories of redemption resonate with their own transcendent power and familiarity).

Finally, the restored gospel is a gospel of liberality and generosity. It took my former-Catholic wife Fiona to teach me that the church John saw did not disappear; it retreated into the wilderness. Joseph Smith saw the Restoration as a bringing of that church back out of the wilderness, a restoration of the “ancient palace” now reduced to ruins, a reassembling of all the good and beautiful in the world and in the Christian tradition, that had been lost or corrupted from Eden forward. The church I love has invisible borders, and reminds me of what was written of Spinoza, that “he rejected the orthodoxy of his day not because he believed less, but because he believed more.” Or as Joseph wrote, “it feels so good not to be trammeled.”

For myriad reasons, but these five principally, I choose and affirm this path in order better to live as what Elder Uchtdorf calls “a disciple of the gentle Christ.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Provocative Posts (and a negative experience with "protocol")

I appreciate thought-provoking posts, especially when they tap into topics I've personally been thinking about. Such was the case with Families, Eternal and Otherwise by Brad at By Common Consent, and also with The Irreconcilable Voices in D&C 132 by Caroline at The Exponent.

I told my wife after reading this last one that it stole my thunder. I'd been planning on posting about Section 132 and my concerns that the same tender Lord who tells the Saints earlier in the Doctrine and Covenants that he will lead them by the hand now transforms into the Old Testament voice and tells Emma Smith that she'll be "destroyed" if she didn't get on board with plural marriage.

I read another thought-provoking post yesterday by BIV at Wheat and Tares: Unveiling the 2010 Church Handbook of Instructions. I've been wondering if there had been some recent letter of instruction to bishoprics lately, but new instructions in a new handbook might shed some light on a trend I've been noticing lately. I shared my observations there:

I’ve had several personal experiences lately with being asked to present my temple recommend before participating in baby blessings, and it definitely rubs me the wrong way. (And for disclosure purposes, I have a temple recommend.) But it just kind of seemed wrong-headed to me; doesn’t feel “right”.

And since this recent emphasis (it’s only been in the past few months or so that I’ve noticed) I was also witness to a specific episode of rigid adherence to the letter of the law over the spirit of the law. Arriving 5 minutes late to a Sacrament Meeting one Sunday I overheard a bishop out in the foyer chewing out a young father for not notifying him of the father-in-law’s intention to join in the circle to bless his grand-baby in time to check the temple recommend.

Since the grandfather didn’t have it on him that morning (after traveling a long distance), the bishop had left the meeting to try to call grandfather’s bishop with no success, and when they went back in he chose not to allow the grandfather to stand in the circle.

I had a strong reaction to this. In fact I thought it was despicable. I wished that the bishop had followed the spirit of the law and let the grandfather participate and if there was a problem God would sort it out. (Personally I don’t think the temple recommend should be necessary anyway, and I even question the necessity of having a member of the bishopric present for a father to bless the baby, but that’s another issue. Yet while I’m on that tangent, I will say that I MUCH prefer to do a baby blessing at home with just family (and the member of the bishopric of course) rather than in front of the entire congregation. I’ve done both and it didn’t feel right to me to include all those people on the special family experience; it definitely distracted me from what should be an intimate moment.)

Anyway (and ironically), several weeks after I witnessed that bishop’s decision (and his brusque and uncharitable way of speaking to the young father) a visiting high council speaker shared a quote over the pulpit from an area authority who had counseled this high councilor when he was a young branch president. The money quote was: “Never let protocol or tradition get in the way of the Spirit. It is the Spirit that matters most.”

I love the quote, but I loved it even more that this bishop was in attendance and listening. I couldn’t help but wonder if he took that to heart.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Making Music In The Gallows

Despite having previously extolled the virtues of looking for the positive rather than constantly criticizing and seeing the negative, I'm worried that lately I've become something of a backslider. While I'm not generally pessimistic, I've definitely become more prone to skepticism, and sometimes I even find myself being somewhat of a (wait for it Geoff J) contrarian.

So it was refreshing, even (and maybe especially) for the skeptic in me, to be reminded of the power of looking on the bright side--the power of optimism--while watching this clip today. Alice Herz-Sommer is a spunky 106 year-old surviver of a Nazi concentration camp. Her life has been prolonged and enriched not only because of the power of music, but because of her refreshing optimism. View for yourself--and have a blessed day.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Climax Of My Calling

Several months ago our ward was split and a new ward was created. I can't say that everything about the change has been great, but I can say unequivocally that the calling I received in the new ward has turned out to be great. Although I must admit that initially it was a complete shock and I had my doubts (and admittedly I still miss some “grown up” thought-provoking conversations) it really has turned into a perfect fit—and not without its perks.

I was called as the ward primary music director. And I must say that I was (and am) impressed with the novelty of the choice made by the new bishopric. Yes, I'm male. In fact, when my wife was sustained as the gospel doctrine teacher and me as the primary music director, some people thought they had mixed up the callings! But it was quite easy to work through my initial doubts after feeling the Spirit confirm this as something I needed to do. Now I couldn't imagine a better calling! It requires a lot of energy, but it’s a complete blast.

Well, the climax of my calling came today when our ward put on the primary program in sacrament meeting. The kids did the best they'd ever done before, and I couldn't have been more pleased. As their director, I was also surprised by how much I felt like I was in "the zone." I appreciate that feeling both from a choir background and an athletic background (I was a first team all-conference offensive tackle back in high school when football was life.)

The theme of the primary program this year was "I Know My Savior Lives", and the program was completely Christ-centered. If anyone not of our faith had been in attendance, there would have been no doubt that we believe in Jesus Christ. Among the main songs we sang today were "I Know That My Savior Loves Me" (a new favorite), "He Sent His Son" (a longtime favorite), "Come Follow Me", "I'm Trying To Be Like Jesus" (a favorite ever since my mom--the primary director at the time--taught it to me when I was a kid in primary), and we concluded the meeting with both children and congregation singing "I Know That My Redeemer Lives".

Both the spoken parts and the music sung were a phenomenal testament of the faith we as Latter-day Saints have in Jesus Christ. And even better, this testimony was humbly expressed by the most pure in heart—the children. Because it is often too easy for me to sometimes focus on some of the things I don't necessarily care for about church, today was a wonderful reminder of all that is good; the best in Mormonism. Would that more Sundays could be like this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"We are to love one another. We are to treat each other with respect as brothers and sisters and fellow children of God, no matter how much we may differ from one another."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement through a spokesman following the delivery of a petition by the Human Rights Campaign:

My name is Michael Otterson. I am here representing the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the matter of the petition presented today by the Human Rights Campaign.

While we disagree with the Human Rights Campaign on many fundamentals, we also share some common ground. This past week we have all witnessed tragic deaths across the country as a result of bullying or intimidation of gay young men. We join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different – whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation or for any other reason. Such actions simply have no place in our society.

This Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history, when we were too few in numbers to adequately protect ourselves and when society’s leaders often seemed disinclined to help. Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment - to love one another.

As a church, our doctrinal position is clear: any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in His condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel. His interest was always to lift the individual, never to tear down.

Further, while the Church is strongly on the record as opposing same-sex marriage, it has openly supported other rights for gays and lesbians such as protections in housing or employment.

The Church’s doctrine is based on love. We believe that our purpose in life is to learn, grow and develop, and that God’s unreserved love enables each of us to reach our potential. None of us is limited by our feelings or inclinations. Ultimately, we are free to act for ourselves.

The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand and behavior on the other. It’s not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.

There is no question that this is difficult, but Church leaders and members are available to help lift, support and encourage fellow members who wish to follow Church doctrine. Their struggle is our struggle. Those in the Church who are attracted to someone of the same sex but stay faithful to the Church’s teachings can be happy during this life and perform meaningful service in the Church. They can enjoy full fellowship with other Church members, including attending and serving in temples, and ultimately receive all the blessings afforded to those who live the commandments of God.

Obviously, some will disagree with us. We hope that any disagreement will be based on a full understanding of our position and not on distortion or selective interpretation. The Church will continue to speak out to ensure its position is accurately understood.

God’s universal fatherhood and love charges each of us with an innate and reverent acknowledgement of our shared human dignity. We are to love one another. We are to treat each other with respect as brothers and sisters and fellow children of God, no matter how much we may differ from one another.

We hope and firmly believe that within this community, and in others, kindness, persuasion and goodwill can prevail.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's All About The Heart

I've gradually come to believe that God cares a lot less about the tangential things we mortals make such a big deal about and much more only about US--our hearts specifically.

Some take a very legalistic approach to living the gospel. I don't view God as this ultimate Lawgiver ready to take offense anytime we slip up. Rather, I look at God as one who simply wants our hearts--who loves us enough that He sent His Son to FREE us from the requirements of the law, and institute a new deal--a new covenant.

The legalism was only meant as training wheels to bring us to Christ. And then when that happens individually, the law is fulfilled.

"And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled."
--3 Nephi 12:19

Thus, I don't see God as one who takes offense very easily, because he is long-suffering with our endless mistakes. I'm also grateful my wife is long-suffering. She doesn't give up on me or take offense even though I surely give her plenty of opportunities. She still loves me and she's patient with me because she knows where my loyalties are--that I'm FAITHFUL--and my heart is with her and no one else. That's how I believe God is too--it's all about our heart.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Compact Conference Conglomerate of Contemplations

Okay, so forgive me for wanting to go overboard on the alliteration. I just miss Elder Maxwell. :)

It does seem sometimes like certain blog posts just tend to write themselves. But this isn't one of those posts, so read only at your own risk. Just wanting to add to the conversation, here's a very brief conglomeration of thoughts from this past weekends General Conference.

Two highlights:

Jeffrey R. Holland's talk was very touching, and one of my personal favorites. (Ditto that to Elder Juan Uceda's talk.)

Dieter F. Uchtdorf gives suburb talks, both in content and delivery--and to do it in a second language nonetheless! Here's one of my favorites.

Two low-lights:

*The repetition (twice) of the Fourteen Fundamentals talk. I've long had some misgivings about this speech and the way some things are interpreted (both by LDS and non-LDS). I'm not alone, of course, and even the prophet at the time (Spencer W. Kimball) had some misgivings about it--especially how it seemed to promote an almost unthinking "follow the leader" mentality. Despite the controversy it generated when it first appeared, it managed to slip into General Conference, now to be accepted uncritically by the masses since it came from the mouth of two witnesses--surely it's a sign from God! (Excuse the sarcasm.)

Parenthetical insertion: President Kimball’s reaction to Elder Benson’s 1980 BYU talk can be found in “Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball” by Edward L. Kimball (Deseret Book, 2005) pp. 160-161.)

*Boyd K. Packers talk concerned me on several levels. Thus, I also had some misgivings with some of his remarks. [**Relevant update: see "Departing the Text: Changes to Elder Packer’s Conference Talk"]

But all in all, speaking of the conference "collectively and not individually", I can say I was well pleased. Naturally, there was a lot of good stuff mixed throughout--too much to comment on in one short post. But of course one of the best parts about conference for me personally was spending more time together with my wife and kids (a rarity during the weekly block) and watching it comfortably from home.

Signing off with a favorite Brigham Young quote:

"You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind. . . . What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him.

"I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually"

-Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses. 9:150-151

Monday, October 4, 2010

Go Ducks! (aka: "The Quack Attack")

Well, as they say, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. So it's looking like I won't be posting much about my BYU Cougars this year. But I'm excited I still have my Ducks! Up to #3 in both major polls and about as exciting of a football team as you're going to see--seriously.

Here's to hoping for Alabama vs. Oregon in the National Championship game. Go Ducks! (For those that don't know, I'm from Eugene and grew up going to the Duck games in Autzen Stadium--so I bleed both blue (BYU) and green (Oregon.)

"I Love My Ducks (Return of the Quack)":

Oregon vs. Stanford Highlights:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To be or not to be? Public/Private Priesthood Session

So I know I'm not the first to ask this question, but desiring further knowledge, I'm asking anyway:

Why isn't the Priesthood session of General Conference broadcast over television (e.g. BYUTV) similar to the Relief Society general meeting and the other general sessions?

(Especially since they're all later published together publicly anyway....)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Inspiration to More Fully Live Charity

Spotlighting Papa D's post: "Charity Seeketh Not [Only] Her Own [People]: Those Who Hate You"

While the phrase "Be in the world but not of the world" is sometimes used as justification to avoid interacting with others who are different, Papa D reminds us that applying the Sermon on the Mount means we "must interact with others to do good to them."

Simply put, the "do good" clause knows no boundaries, even among those we might prefer to avoid:

"We can't become truly charitable in isolation, and we can't become truly charitable through only an intellectual understanding of it. At some point, we simply must LIVE it."

Also, an insight on "abstain from all appearance of evil":

"Perhaps one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the entire Bible. In its original usage, it does not mean to avoid anything that even looks like evil - that appears to be evil. Rather, it means something like the following: "Abstain from evil no matter its appearance - no matter how it looks."

"...The focus is not on avoiding anything that someone else might perceive to be bad, but rather to avoid that which truly is evil."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Gospel Principles"--An Instant Classic

A conversion story that inspires the soul:  Gospel Principles, by Tracy M.

Friday, September 17, 2010

In Honor of Constitution Day

For many weeks now I've been following (with great fascination) the journey of Ray Brown, a much beloved but recently retired U.S. history teacher. He's literally walking across the United States of America--in part to fulfill a personal dream, but also to raise public awareness of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and support for American history. So today, America's second "birthday" (September 17th, 1787), please allow me to introduce you to his blog--A Son of Liberty's Walk Across Ameria.

He updates the blog everytime he gets to a town and stays in a hotel. In between towns he camps in the tent he carries in his custom made "handcart" trailer. He began in June 2010 on the Oregon Coast (Florence, Oregon) and this morning he left the town of Ogallala, Nebraska. He'll end up by walking through Philadelphia (birthplace of the Declaration of Independence as well as our Constitution) before reaching the Atlantic Ocean near Atlantic City. He's now walked over 1600 miles, crossing the continental divide in Yellowstone National Park, and has distributed countless copies of the Bill of Rights along the way. I'm completely enthralled. I'm just surprised some major news network hasn't already picked up on his story.

Youtube interview:

Friday, September 10, 2010

My thoughts for now

I've had an extremely busy and wonderful summer. Before you know it, over a month goes by before a new blog post goes up. I have some thoughts on the back-burner. But I have much less time to write out those thoughts. I've also had much less time to read other peoples' thoughts. But I keep a Google Reader feature on my iGoogle homepage, and this post caught my eye today: Follow the Brethren and Never Fall.

For better or for worse, it sparked my first comment in weeks:

"Personally, I'm more comfortable with this scripture as a metaphor to follow Christ with exactness--'our prophet, priest and king'--marching onward as Christian soldiers.

"I'm generally less comfortable with an intense mantra of "follow the prophet" only because I don't believe that a fallible prophet is necessarily synonymous with following Christ. While there are obvious virtues for both, such a militant intensity of focus/zealousness to any mortal might actually lead to looking past the mark--or The Mark."

And those are my thoughts for now.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Christ is a great Savior

Sometimes I struggle to figure out what it is "I know" and what it is "I believe". But to paraphrase one of my favorite movies, Amazing Grace, there are two things I know for certain: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.

I have hope in Christ. I have hope he can even help me overcome myself. And that's a sincere testimony. There's a lot of truth to the saying that Christ's Church is not a museum of Saints, but rather a hospital for sinners.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What affect has blogging had on you?

After talking matters of faith with an elderly man and explaining (by his request) what a blog is and why I blog, he asked me an excellent question: "What affect has blogging had on you?" I had only a split second to think of a satisfactory answer.

Off the cuff I answered: "It has deepened my commitment to believe things that are true, and it has weakened my commitment to believe things that [I now feel] aren't true."

All in all, I actually feel pretty satisfied with that answer. While at the time I kind of felt like I was on trial, I still appreciate the question and I'm interested in hearing from others. In a non-interrogative way, what affect has blogging had on you?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Amen

Every once in a while I read a comment with which I so completely and heartily agree that I feel like shouting "amen". Here's my latest "amen":

"Like a few others here, I am troubled when other Latter-day Saints try to explain their speculative beliefs as “normative” LDS thought. I’m LDS by every definition but I do not endorse any idea of spirit womb gestation or any idea that Jesus ever was something less than God. I acknowledge that some Latter-day Saints hold these views, but I do not see them as normative. And I am grateful that we do not have an all-encompassing “normative” theology."

--ji, comment #35, on "Oh brother, where art thou?"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages"

The Prayer at Valley Forge

From the recent editorial, "Arnold Friberg — An enduring gift to the nation":

"President John Adams was famous for writing to his wife about Independence Day: 'It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.'

"Americans are fairly good about the second part. Across the nation this weekend, there will be parades, baseball games, outdoor concerts and fireworks displays. People will hang flags in front of their homes and get together with family and friends for barbecues.

"But the first part — the 'day of deliverance' for which Adams and other founders, not to mention a nation of people who had fought and suffered deprivations and loss, felt such deep appreciation — has been diluted through the years. Relative peace and a prosperity unimaginable 234 years ago have led to an attitude that things in this country are as they ought to be and that the current condition is as natural as the grass and trees.

"Friberg's 'The Prayer at Valley Forge' will stand forever as a poignant reminder that this is not so. Freedom and liberty came at a huge cost that must be renewed from time to time. Washington faced odds so enormous that faith became the biggest arrow in his quiver."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not So Clean Cut

Something has been bothering me for a number of weeks now. A good friend of mine was recently called into a bishopric after a ward split. (No controversy there; I'd sustain him in a heartbeat. I'm just a little perturbed by what followed.) After successfully being interviewed and sustained in sacrament meeting, the stake president's counselor pulled him aside and said that the stake president had requested that he shave his mustache. And that's it. That's what bothers me. Now some might make this a matter of obedience to authority. To that I say "horsefeathers". Of course, feel free to agree or disagree.

Now for some background. My friend had only shaved his mustache once since he started growing it as a teenager--and that was on accident. He's now a [very youthful] grandfather. I sympathize with him; it meant a lot for him to keep his mustache. Adding to the irony was the fact that his well-trimmed mustache was never an issue when he’d previously served in a bishopric, and it was never an issue with his employer--the LDS Church. Yet somehow it's a big enough deal in the eyes of LDS ecclesiastical leaders who’ve now called him to serve in the bishopric.

Deep down he was actually afraid that somebody, someday would ask him to shave it off. Apparently when [then] Elder Uchtdorf came around a few years ago, a local ecclesiastical leader asked him what he could do to improve and was given counsel to shave and remain clean shaven--I guess you could even say "clean cut". I see no problem with giving such counsel to an individual who asked for it. The problem I see is when such "counsel" is then interpreted as a requirement or a commandment, and requested perpetually of others, rather than let each individual choose how (or if) this will personally be applied.

I realize that some familiar with my blog name might find a small irony in the fact that I'm the one who is bringing this up. But while I personally choose to keep a clean-shaven face and a clean-cut haircut, I’d be the last person to suggest this has anything to do with personal worthiness. Quite simply, my wife suggested “Clean Cut with a Coke” and I liked the play on words and the alliteration. For the sake of simplicity I shortened the name, while also enjoying the irony of my apparently "orthodox" appearance belying my sometimes less than orthodox views. In reality, I despise rigid rules and legalistic, dogmatic approaches to the gospel.

To come clean on this issue that is anything but clean cut, I confess that in a previous life I may have judged more by appearances. (And to my brother-in-law, when I gave him a hard time for growing a goatee immediately after his mission, I say sorry. I'm a changed man. And to complete my repentance, I admit now that I was wrong to even make it a big deal.) I've long since become more liberal--and charitable--in my religious views.

While I don’t fully know or understand the rationale behind this specific request, I’d still prefer personal application of gospel principles and free agency. “In essentials let there be unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity”. Suffice it to say I believe this is a “non-essential”, and probably leans more towards “keeping up appearances”.

I'm quite a fan of Hugh Nibley's position. Nibley, who was simultaneously loyal and critical, has been described as being “bothered by what he saw as the unthinking, sometimes almost dogmatic application of some portions of BYU's honor code. Nibley had no objection to requirements of chastity or obeying the Word of Wisdom, but he thought the often intense scrutiny directed at grooming (hairstyles and clothing) was misguided.” In 1973, he said:

"The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism... the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances."

Without reservation I add a “clean cut” amen to Brother Nibley. I'm not sure how ubiquitous these kinds of requests are in the Church, but the whole situation seems all too pharisaical for my liking. The gospel is not a gospel of guilt, or rigid obedience to authority for that matter. After all, Jesus himself was quite the iconoclast. But I'm curious how others' see this. What would you have done (or said) in both the “counselor” and “counseled” roles? What other thoughts or insight might you have?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On Compassion And Potential For Mutual Understanding

From today's op-ed piece in the New York Times: "Many Faiths, One Truth", Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and most recently author of: “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together":

"Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions...

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion...strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us...

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Whose Spirit Are You Feeling?

Have you ever stopped to think about whose spirit you're feeling when you "feel the Spirit"? The question is if you're feeling the influence of our Heavenly Father's spirit, Christ's spirit, or the spirit of the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit. Since we maintain that they are physically separate we also maintain that they have separate spirits. Can we, or should we, even figure out whether we're feeling the unique influence of either of the three?

After posing this question and thinking about it for some time, I've decided that perhaps it's not wise to try and subdivide the influence of the Godhead. Perhaps us Mormons are already too guilty of trying to separate the Godhead too much whenever we emphasize their "threeness" more than their "oneness". They are infinitely more one than they are separate.

I'm content with the idea that I can feel the united and interconnected energy/influence/spirit of the one God/Godhead we worship. With that in mind, I now perceive the phrase "the Spirit of God" differently. I like thinking of it more as the Spirit of the one God/Godhead. By any means, it would be foolish to try and limit either of their influence on us.

During the sacrament prayer, in exchange for our promises to follow and remember Christ, we're “promised that his Spirit, meaning the Spirit of Christ, will always be with [us]. This is no small matter, because the Spirit of Christ is the Light that radiates from God to fill the immensity of space and uphold all of creation. It is the light that enlightens the eye and the light that enlightens the understanding. ‘The Glory of God is intelligence, another scripture says, and this great light—intelligence can flow into humble communicants through the covenant of the sacrament prayer (D&C 93:36)". (Richard Bushman, "A Very Short Introduction to Mormonism").

I also like how Blake Ostler described a loving interpenetration of freely cooperating wills. He once wrote: "I assert that both the Father and the Son are eternally divine. However, there is a priority of the Father in the sense that the Father offers his love to the Son, and in each moment of eternity the Son has freely chosen to fully return that love. They both offer their love to the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost has freely chosen in each moment of eternity to return that love. "It is in virtue of this loving interpenetration of freely cooperating wills that these three are one God and also have been eternally one God. Now they are inviting us into this same relationship."

So in short, the question of "whose spirit are your feeling?", while interesting, perhaps isn't as important as some might think. Instead of trying to understand which spirit we're feeling (whether that of the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost), we ought to recognize what our scriptures assert--that they're "one God". And perhaps we're never more "at one" with them than when we're filled their love.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Triumphalism is For the Birds

My grandma always used to say that "growing old is for the birds". Obviously she didn't think much of all her growing health issues. In that same spirit, I say that triumphalism is for the birds. Unfortunately, it came out strong at times with our early church leaders. Exhibit A:

"And this is the gospel which God has commanded us to preach to all people, once more, for the last time. And no other system of religion which is now organized among men is of any use; everything different from this, is a perverted gospel bringing a curse upon them that preach it, and upon them that hear it."
—Parley P. Pratt ("A Voice of Warning" 1838)

Find me someone who still believes that and I'll find you a fool. And this deeply offensive rhetoric certainly doesn't help our cause. Small consolation is the fact that it's out of step with the majority of modern-day Mormonism, not to mention our thirteenth Article of Faith.

The smugness of superiority, however, still comes out from time to time. Yesterday in our priesthood lesson it was implied that having a prophet clears up doctrinal confusion and chaos, as if the rest of Christianity finds itself in a doctrinal maze and yet Mormonism is crystal clear. Of course anyone who believes that is not only ignorant of traditional Christianity but oblivious to the concerns of Mormons and non-Mormons who find plenty of doctrinal uncertainties that the living prophet hasn't seemed to clear up much.

Just because "the morning breaks" isn't a guarantee that the rest of the the day contains a perfect forecast. Pinning down Mormon "doctrine" with any degree of certitude is still quite a challenge.

Richard Bushman has written: "Our covenant with God is to bless the people of the earth. That should be our motto. Establishing Zion does not mean sweeping vast masses of people onto our membership records but creating a people of God dedicated to blessing others. Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship, and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve."

That "new voice" is already strong and growing in today's Church. But it would certainly help if we can remember to not keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Spotlighting: The Trouble with Chicken Patriarchy

My summary in a nutshell:

Patriarchy (wives "submit" to husbands) + Egalitarianism ("husbands and wives are equal partners") = PATRIARCHAIC.

Patriarchy: "a form of social organization in which the father is the supreme authority in the family, clan, or tribe and descent is reckoned in the male line, with the children belonging to the father's clan or tribe."

Egalitarian: "asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, esp. in political, economic, or social life."

Archaic: "marked by the characteristics of an earlier period; antiquated"

Yes, I'm channeling my inner feminist. And yes, I think some change is called for.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another Reason I Appreciate Candor

On the back of Henry Eyring's quote I recently shared, here's one more reason I appreciate candor:

Richard Bushman:
"We put ourselves in a precarious position if we propagate a view of Joseph Smith that conceals part of the man. When a young graduate of BYU learns for the first time about Joseph's plural marriages or his temper, disillusion can set in. If all this was hidden from me in my religious courses, the graduate asks, can I trust what I have learned? To be credible we must be candid."

--From Bushman's Response to Nate Oman's post: "RSR: What Hath Bushman Wrought?"

Monday, April 19, 2010

Are Mormons Christian?

I know we ALL have seen our fair share of posts addressing that question, but here's one more worth reading: LDS Newsroom Blog: "Are Mormons Christian?" by Nate Nielson. Well done, Nate.