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. :)"