Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Who is Joseph Smith?

 I know a lot of people might answer that question a lot of different ways; here's the Jeopardy "answer" from Dec. 20th last week.  (Category was "Prophets")

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Heretical Beliefs and Feeling Welcome in the Church

There is a great story on pages 55-56 in “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” in which Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee were moving to excommunicate Sterling McMurrin for his unorthodox beliefs. When President McKay heard about it, he phoned McMurrin and asked for a private meeting.  In that meeting, McKay was never critical nor disapproving. He told McMurrin: “They cannot do this to you! They cannot put you on trial!” and that if they did, he (the President of the Church) would be McMurrin’s “first witness”.

McMurrin said: “I should have been censured for being such a heretic, and here President McKay wasn’t even interested in raising a single question about my beliefs, but simply insisted that a man in this Church had a right to believe as he pleased. And he stressed that in several ways… It was really a quite remarkable experience, to have the President of the Church talking in such genuinely liberal terms.”

I love that story. It makes me really love and respect President McKay. Would that we could have more members like him today.

Author Greg Prince later elaborated on that experience on a Mormon Stories podcast.  He said that during that same visit with Sterling McMurrin, President McKay asked a series of rhetorical questions such as “What is it that a man must believe to be a member of the church? Or what is it that a man is not allowed to believe to stay a member of the Church?”  

He didn’t answer either question, but they’re good rhetorical questions. This was in 1954 when McMurrin told McKay that it looked like they were going to try to throw him out of the Church. McKay said that if they do “I will be the first witness in your defense”, and when word of this got out the excommunication charges were dropped.  That’s some serious compassion from the President of the Church. And apparently he was as tolerant of those on the far conservative side as he was of those, like McMurrin, on the liberal side. Very cool example of pitching a big tent and welcoming everyone in.

"BYU blew it"

From the Eugene Register-Guard's "Ask a Duck: Mark Asper":
Q: As a Mormon, how did you end up at Oregon rather than BYU? — @c_drew 
A: BYU blew it. They dropped the ball. (Laughs) At first they didn’t offer me a scholarship until somebody else did. They were like, “Ah, you’re a big LDS kid, you’ll just walk on.” As soon as Oregon and some other schools showed interest, they were like, “Hey, yeah, we want you too!” Then they said they needed to know right away, but I said I hadn’t figured it all out yet, and so they said they were going to give the scholarship to somebody else. Then they called me back, and visited my high school the next day, and basically told me I’d be a bad Mormon if I didn’t go to BYU. I was like, “Jeez, great, that really makes me want to come!” They just blew it. They did a terrible job of recruiting me. And Oregon didn’t. Oregon did a great job.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Unrelated (but still really great!) Thoughts

I glanced this week at the new Teachings manual for George Albert Smith we'll "study" next year.  My knowledge about the man is probably superficial, although I do know and find it notable that he was the first non-polygamist president of the Church.  (I doubt that's mentioned in the actual manual.)  Crazy that the run of polygamist presidents didn't end until 1945 (although by the time Heber J. Grant actually became church president I think he was by then down to just one wife--but once a polygamist always a polygamist!)

Speaking of Heber J. Grant, I read just a few short months ago a great little piece of historical writing by Ronald Walker about Emily Wells, Grant's second wife ("A Mormon 'Widow' in Colorado: The Exile of Emily Wells Grant").  Fascinating history, but like Annie Clark Tanner's autobiography ("A Mormon Mother") it made me grateful to not have polygamy a part of my life.  (Although I guess it's still kinda a part of my life in the sense that it's a part of our Mormon history and also in the sense that I enjoy watching "Sister Wives").  :)

This week I also related to a post by jmb275 called "Reining in the Analyst".  In many ways it describes my church experience in the past couple of years:
...Life seemed simpler before the events in my life caused me to question everything. Going to church was something I anticipated, and it felt like welcome relief. General Conference was a charging of my spiritual batteries, and I derived great comfort from things like the Ensign. It’s not so much that I was ignorant of the problems in the church, nor did I understand or believe every aspect of the Gospel.  There were doctrinal struggles, even then. But I derived happiness from my certainty, from my feeling, from my intuition, or from the Spirit (whatever that might mean). It’s also not that I now constantly bicker with church leaders, or criticize each talk and lesson when I go to church. Indeed, at church I usually don’t say much, but listen carefully to try and learn. It’s really about what’s going on in my mind, the nagging voice that feels the urge to constantly correct, analyze, and thoroughly dissect each idea, sentence, and thought. 
In short, I no longer feel when I go to church, I only think. And that, I’m afraid, sums up the problem when the analyst is the only one who shows up. And yet, I really do want to go to church and so I continue to go and slog through the analysis. I know what is possible there. I remember the feelings, the certainty, the truth. And still, even though I know (and don’t want) that certainty anymore, even though I’m happy with my outlook on life now, I believe I can allow myself to experience the feelings that were there if I can remind myself what it’s like to feel rather than analyze them....

I'm learning I "feel" best at church when I focus on what I call "edifying engagement"--and Sunday teachers seem to mean it when they keep telling me how much they appreciate my questions/comments which help spark that engagement.  Naturally, thinking and feeling are not mutually exclusive, so his post resonated with me as one trying to maintain balance.

Reading more of his posts led me to some other thoughts I can relate to, such as his (and my) desire to treat each other first and foremost as an individual rather than labeling and lumping someone into a group.  Although one label he and I don't mind embracing is "buffet Mormon"; jmb275 writes:  "I am a 100%, dyed in the wool, Buffet Mormon. Yep, I pick and choose what I like, and what I don’t like. I have separated my spiritual growth from the LDS church, and view the LDS church as a tool to help me obtain that growth."

BCC's Mark Brown once pointed out that to some degree every Mormon's a cafeteria Mormon and Dave put it this way: "We're All Middle-Way Mormons".

That's all for now.