Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"A day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"

Short History Lesson

In 1620, 102 settlers set sail on the Mayflower from England. The "Saints", as they called themselves, had secured a charter to Virginia. After a long, stormy journey across the ocean, the settlers were blown off course and decided to settle near present-day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They arrived in December 1620 and did not have time to build shelters. Most lived in sod houses. Some lived in holes in the ground covered by tents. Nearly half of the settlers died during the first winter.

In the Spring, the 53 surviving Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset walked into their village and greeted them in English (learned from explorers along New England Coast). Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to Massasoit, the sachem of the Wampanoag Indians. They made a peace treaty and even agreed to defend each other against enemies. But the Indian who helped the Pilgrims the most was a Patuxet tribe member named Tisquantum (Squanto).

Squanto had lost his family to disease, so he decided to live with the Pilgrims and teach them how to survive. He also spoke more English than probably any other Native American alive. (He had been captured and taken to England where he learned English before eventually returning to America). Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant seeds for corn, beans, and pumpkins, how to fish for eels, how to use manure as fertilizer, different cooking methods, and he also acted as a guide and interpreter. The settlers believed that God had sent Squanto to them. If not for Squanto, it is likely that most of the Pilgrims would not have survived another year.

First Thanksgiving

With the help of Squanto, the Pilgrims had a great harvest in 1621 and invited Massasoit and his immediate family to a Thanksgiving Dinner. Massasoit brought 90 braves with him. The Pilgrims were not prepared for such a large group. Massasoit sent some of his braves back and they returned with five deer and many other wild game. The feast lasted for 3 straight days.

Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by President George Washington, months after his inauguration as president in 1789. It stated in part,

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

But It was not until 1863, that Thanksgiving became an official holiday.

Abraham Lincoln signed an Executive Order after the Battle of Gettysburg making Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November. (Franklin Roosevelt later changed it to the 4th Thursday of each year.) Lincoln's Executive Order stated in part,

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Her Soapbox: Twilight and True Love

My wife gets on her soapbox about Twilight here. Regardless of your feelings (or lack thereof) concerning the series, this is a commentary from a deeply charitable and intelligent Young Women's president that's worth the read...

An excerpt:
"Some women have said that the hidden (yet stimulating) sexual innuendos came as a welcomed surprise for their husbands. That they had an extra little spark (if you know what I mean) in their marriage. A positive outcome for such a reader. But what happens for our young people who may get such a spark of provoked (even as slightly as it may be) sexual feelings? To what degree do we allow ourselves the entertainment of sexual thought? Although sexual abstinence before marriage is heavenly commanded and to be highly commended, isn't our virtue more than just refrainment? Is not our virtue the very measure of our thoughts and desires of our heart?"

...Believe me, I am not embarrassed to speak about the joys of sexual intimacy within marriage. I want all the youth to know how awesome it is and that it should be appropriately anticipated. Sometimes there is an unhealthy silence about this subject than can lead to curious premarital exploration or guilty conscience complex in a marriage. While sexual intimacy is exciting and an important part in supporting love in a marriage, I hope they know that it is not the greatest, strongest, or most needed part of a lasting marriage. (Oh' how I hate the world for trying to tell them differently.) An eternal relationship is so different and so much more than that of Edward and Bellas'. Real love is formed on trust, honesty, mutual respect, understanding, communication, service, self worth, and sacrifice. And-Yes, there is exhilarating chemistry! Yes, there is exciting attraction! Yes, there is crucial longing for each other! Heavenly Father made us to be together, to need each other...But not in a desperate, uncontrollable, I'm nothing without you kind of way. But rather in a bridled, eternal, charitable, kind, strengthening, selfless, rest of forever, pure joy way.

Now why can't there be a book about that."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Mormon Trinity

In contemplating the theology of the Restoration, I've enjoyed learning more about our similarities and differences with historical Christianity's concept of the Trinity. It's been an enlightening religious education! Suffice it to say, I think LDS Christians would greatly benefit from a concerted effort in thinking and teaching about the nature of God in terms that would be more understandable to non-Mormon Christians.

After all, Elder Bruce D. Porter in this recent interview made it clear that the only part of the Nicene Creed that Mormons would not agree with would be the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of "one substance".

So with that in mind, I'd like to recommend reading a recent post at Mormon Matters entitled The Mormon Trinity.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jewish family makes peace with LDS baptism/Baptism for the Dead

I was a little surprised to read on this morning a headline that says: "Holocaust survivors to Mormons: Stop baptisms of dead Jews". I wonder how many people are going to get the wrong impression of the doctrine of baptism for the dead because of this. Certainly their curiosity about what Mormons believe will be piqued--but will they understand it the way we understand it? Elder Lance B. Wickman was properly quoted in the article explaining that "if our work for the dead is properly understood ... it should not be a source of friction to anyone. It's merely a freewill offering."

Since this is bound to become a topic of conversation across America today, I thought I'd provide the link to a wonderful article:

Jewish family makes peace with LDS baptism

As well as an interesting blog post:

Why Your Ancestors May Want You to Be Pro-Choice

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Living History & Proud To Be An American

I went to vote early last week still not really sold on either of the two major candidates. I still felt undecided even after I had voted. After watching the historic moment last night, I was surprised by how happy and proud I felt for my country. Historically speaking, this is truly an amazing and great moment in our American story. To think how far we have come since slaves worked to build the White House, through the Civil War, through the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspirational "I Have A Dream" speech, to Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights legislation and the Voting Rights Act, and now to electing Barack Obama as President of the United States--it's quite a story to proud of, no matter who you voted for in this election.

I'm pleasantly surprised at my renewed sense of optimism in the last 24 hours. And I'm so pleased by my satisfaction for so many millions of Americans who perhaps have felt disenfranchised and who now feel such happiness and hope because of this. I sincerely hope that President-elect Obama can capitalize on this newly generated worldwide goodwill and do great things for our country. I sincerely hope he turns out to be a truly great President. We certainly need one. There's no doubt that he has some incredible attributes; I hope he's up to the task for some incredibly hard challenges ahead. He'll need our prayers. I wish my new President the best. I don't know how long it will be before Americans get back to bickering like they so often do, but at this historic moment in our nations history I just want to publicly state that I am so proud to be an American.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thinking for Yourself and/or Following the Bretheren--A Dichotomy?

Recent events bring up the apparent dichotomy of thinking for oneself versus following the Bretheren--an issue worthy of discussion. Obviously this tension has been highlighted by the recent political events in California, but the issue isn't new, and it's always nice to learn from other people's perspectives. Anti-Mormons love to bring up the "when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done" quote, but usually fail to include George Albert Smith's clarification to that statement.

In response to a letter of concern, President Smith said that "the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts. The Lord Himself does not attempt coercion in His desire and effort to give peace and salvation to His children. He gives the principles of life and true progress, but leaves every person free to choose or to reject His teachings. This plan the Authorities of the Church try to follow.

The Prophet Joseph Smith once said: "I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." This liberty he and his successors in the leadership of the Church have granted to every other member thereof.

On one occasion in answer to the question by a prominent visitor how he governed his people, the Prophet answered: "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."

Again, as recorded in the History of the Church (Volume 5, page 498 [499] Joseph Smith said further: "If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way."

I cite these few quotations, from many that might be given, merely to confirm your good and true opinion that the Church gives to every man his free agency, and admonishes him always to use the reason and good judgment with which God has blessed him.

In the advocacy of this principle leaders of the Church not only join congregations in singing but quote frequently the following:

"Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be,
For this eternal truth is given
That God will force no man to heaven."

I suppose Steve Young, along with Joseph Smith, would also say: ""I want liberty of thinking and believing as I please." After all, it is very stereotypical to suggest that all Mormons think alike. Steve Young's great, great, great grandfather, Brigham Young once said: "There is too much of a sameness in this community. . . . I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint and do not believe in the doctrine . . . away with stereotyped 'Mormons'!" (JD 13:153, 55, as quoted by Hugh Nibley).

I’ve found that I personally resist being categorized as one type of person or another. I’m really hesitant to apply labels to myself and to others. I’m not sure if I can articulate all the reasons why. I suppose sometimes they’re actually helpful, but I hate feeling that I’m being pigeon-holed or cornered into being or thinking a certain way along with a certain group. It’s more liberating to be open minded to the wisdom of all, no matter where it is found, and to apply it. In other words, I’m open to good ideas no matter who presents them or where they come from. I might disagree with what one person thinks is a good idea, but I’ll hesitate to label that person out of respect for the fact that people can change.

Likewise, it bugs me when some people treat politics as if our faithfulness is contingent on which party we belong to, how we vote, or act as if the "other side" is evil. I seek out a more reasonable, moderate, middle ground. Our own eleventh Article of Faith has so many implications: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

My hope here is to get people to think, and ideally to respectfully share their thoughts, so that I can benefit from a more enlightened and diverse conversation than that which would take place between me and myself. My open question for any visitor here is how do you understand/reconcile the issue of "thinking for yourself" and being "obedient" by "following the Prophet"?