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.