Tuesday, July 24, 2012



My people were Mormon pioneers.
Is the blood still good?
They stood in awe as truth
Flew by like a dove
And dropped a feather in the West.
Where truth flies you follow
If you are a pioneer.

I have searched the skies
And now and then
Another feather has fallen.
I have packed the handcart again
Packed it with the precious things
And thrown away the rest.

I will sing by the fires at night
Out there on uncharted ground
Where I am my own captain of tens
Where I blow the bugle
Bring myself to morning prayer
Map out the miles
And never know when or where
Or if at all I will finally say,
“This is the place,”

I face the plains
On a good day for walking.
The sun rises
And the mist clears.
I will be all right:
My people were Mormon Pioneers.

––Carol Lynn Pearson

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Harshness and Fear: Not My Thing

I was reading Enos in the Book of Mormon, and he had me the whole time, all the way until verse 23 when he said there was nothing but "exceeding harshness" and severe preaching that could keep people in line.  That's where he lost me.  I guess I'm sensitive to that kind of thing, because I know of certain ecclesiastical leaders who have used harshness and think it's the right thing, only to find out later how much ecclesiastical abuse it caused later.

To his credit, I've had a bishop who (even when perhaps harshness could have been justified, and apparently there's scriptural precedent there) chose to resist the initial urge to harshness, and instead waited some time and decided to do things the Lord's way--patiently and lovingly asking what he could do to help the "offenders".

I'm also not a fan of rhetoric like "going down speedily to destruction" (also verse 23)--at least to me in 2012 it sounds a little over the top.  Maybe I'm just comfortable navigating this world we live in, but that's not the worldview with which I live my life.  I'm a fan of the Marie Curie quote: "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood".

I don't really go for much of the "battle" rhetoric we hear so much of either.  I do, however, think there's a lesson for us in Alma 43:45 that we must inspire and/or be "inspired to a better cause" if we want to truly motivate people to stay in the fold.  But fear isn't my ideal motivation.  Many people misinterpret those "fear the Lord" passages to mean "be afraid, be very afraid" rather than "respect the Lord".  Unfeigned love is a much better motivator.  And even if it doesn't motivate 100%, it at least allows you to be at peace with whatever happens.

"There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18.)  Now that's some good rhetoric.

Monday, April 30, 2012

True Christians

As I sat in church yesterday I started looking around at all the people who by their own doing have given so much and blessed our family, especially at this time of the birth of our new little boy and girl.

The older gospel singer sister who showed up at our door and proceeded to vacuum before holding the babies and generally just being a joy to visit with.  The young couple who serves in the nursery and gave us their beautiful but used crib--even drilling holes so that we could raise the mattress higher to make it easier to reach newborn babies.  The primary pianist and ward chorister whose generosity and friendship has meant so much to us.  The sister who lives just up the hill across the street who stopped at a yard sale when she saw two matching rocking chairs for newborns, bought them, and gave them to us as a surprise gift.  The family--particularly the dad who personifies "service"--who have become such good friends--whose service has blessed not only our family in meaningful and lasting ways but the lives of so many others.  Those who have brought us dinner in recent days, or given so many other helpful items (ie: diapers and baby clothes).  So many thoughtful acts of love.

I was overcome.  And I had an epiphany as I sat there among ward "family".  If Christ said that the first and greatest commandment was to love God and the second was to love our neighbor, then I really was surrounded by true disciples of Jesus Christ.  I also better understood grace, because I feel so undeserving of all that love, and yet it is so generously and freely offered.  "I stand all amazed" in more ways than one at such love.  These angels are Saints to me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fascinating Discussion on Mormonism and Politics

Back in 2007 we had a fascinating discussion on Mormonism and Politics involving the media and Richard Bushman.  Now in 2012, the next election cycle, Boston College has sponsored a fascinating panel discussion involving Kristine Haglund (editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and blogger at By Common Consent.  Parenthetically, one of my "favorite posts from other blogs" listed on my right sidebar is her "The Liturgy of Jello").  Both she and religion professor Stephen Prothero participate in an insightful discussion on Mormonism and politics.  The hour watching this on C-SPAN is an hour well spent.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Pruning Our Bitter Fruit (And a Lesson From the Osmonds)

Some of my favorite insights have come from fellow bloggers, and Ray/Papa D once shared what I believe to be a significant insight in #3 of the following summary: 

1) God works with prophets in their own limitations all throughout history
2) The Restoration is a process not an event
3) The "Dispensation of the Fullness of Times" refers to the condition at the end of the dispensation--that the Jacob 5 concept of pruning will be accomplished fully only at the end. (There will be "bitter fruit" in the Church even after the Restoration – fruit that could be pruned only according to the strength of the root.  I don’t think that bitter fruit has been purged completely yet).

Just as Mormonism does not have a monopoly on truth, Mormonism also does not have an absence of error.  Naturally we taste bitter fruit whenever there is racism (such as the priesthood/temple ban and lingering folklore), inequality (women in the Church), or simply bigoted people who make it awfully hard to establish Zion (lack of compassion for our gay brothers and sisters comes to mind).

The goal of establishing a Zion community is a worthy goal, even if we must occasionally taste the bitter in order to know the sweet.  John Adams' July 3rd 1776 letter to his wife Abigail can be adapted to our day as well: "Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not."  

We must be charitable and patient as the strength of the root grows so that bad fruit can be pruned and more good fruit can come forth.  Sometimes our "labor in the vineyard" may even seem more monotonous than joyful--something like what Jenkins Lloyd Jones wrote and which President Hinckley liked to share:

"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise… Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."

I also suspect that another trick is to appreciate the good fruit without letting the bitter fruit make us bitter ourselves.  I take comfort in knowing, as we prune the bitter fruit, that one bad apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch.  

Related videos (on a more lighthearted note):  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Standing Ovation and an Amen

[Update]  In addition to Brad's BCC post, I'm also wanting to applaud a beautiful guest post by Paul Reeve at Juvenile Instructor: "Professor Bott, Elijah Abel, and a Plea from the Past", Jana Riess' "Flunking Sainthood" post: "How Far Will the LDS Church Go in Cracking Down on Racism?", and finally Gabriel Gomes Fidalgo's powerful and moving personal story.

From Brad's post: Pride, Gross Iniquity, And Suffering For One's Sins:

"The question we should be asking ourselves is not why the ban was right until 1978, but rather why God permitted us to persist in doing something so obviously wrong until 1978. Part of the answer is that we insisted on it. We demanded it and refused to consider otherwise. We were defensive and obstinate and self-assured and prideful and utterly unwilling to consider that we were wrong, that what we were doing was wrong. Some of us were willing, but their very marginalization only marks them as exceptions that prove the general rule of our being very and prolongedly guilty of the above forms of unrepentance...

...The Kingdom’s growth and, by extension, the people of the world are paying a price for our unwillingness to publicly confess our sin, which we instead hide under a cloak of un-Christian folklore and false-doctrine and proud insistence that it wasn’t our fault, it was really God’s. When you have committed a great evil, and when you persisted in committing it for an extended period and at incalculable human cost, anything short of fully acknowledging it for what it truly is, and of anguished, broken-hearted contrition for having done it is not full repentance. And without full repentance, full redemption is not possible, but instead one must continue to suffer for one’s iniquities."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Beautiful Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me bring love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

[And all for Thy mercy’s sake.]

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.

-St. Francis of Assisi


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

As Droves Out Our Windows

Reuters published a fascinating and timely article yesterday, and the opening four paragraphs reminded me of a favorite Richard Bushman quote: "To be credible we must be candid".  After learning about a forthcoming program called "The Rescue" (more on that here), I was heartened the Church may finally be recognizing (at least publicly) the crisis at hand.  An excerpt from the article (which you can read in full here) below:
A religious studies class late last year at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, was unusual for two reasons. The small group of students, faculty and faithful there to hear Mormon Elder Marlin Jensen were openly troubled about the future of their church, asking hard questions. And Jensen was uncharacteristically frank in acknowledging their concerns.
Did the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that members are "leaving in droves?" a woman asked.

"We are aware," said Jensen, according to a tape recording of his unscripted remarks. "And I'm speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care," he said.

"My own daughter," he then added, "has come to me and said, 'Dad, why didn't you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?'" For the younger generation, Jensen acknowledged, "Everything's out there for them to consume if they want to Google it." The manuals used to teach the young church doctrine, meanwhile, are "severely outdated."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some Muddled Thoughts on Mormonism

In a recent GOP debate, Mitt Romney was asked what he would do as president if he found out Fidel Castro had died.  Romney said he'd "thank heavens" that Castro had "returned to his maker".  I immediately thought of Alma 40:11 ("the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to the God that gave them life") and wondered how much that factored into Romney's reply.  Gingrich (and others) assumed Romney was speaking about a final resting place (even though in Mormon scripture, final judgement comes later on), and made it clear he believed Castro was "going to the other place".

I'm really not interested in talking politics, Fidel Castro, or even the semantics of someone who doesn't believe in creation ex nihilo using the word "maker".  But I did wonder for a brief second about whether the Mormon understanding of the plan of salvation would become public fodder for presidential debates.  As far as I can tell (thankfully), it hasn't.  Nevertheless, it didn't stop me from reflecting on one of the things I like most about Mormonism--a very generous and quite inclusive version of salvation. 

I really don't care where Fidel Castro ends up.  In fact, I may be unusual among Mormons because I really don't even think about post-earth life very much anymore, nor the "degrees" of heaven.  In a way, I almost feel as though I've personally adopted an atheist perspective in the sense that what matters most to me, regardless of what comes after, is making the most of the here and now.  These precious moments of life become all the more precious when you don't take for granted anything "after".   

Nevertheless, I can still participate in the discussion, and we had a good one in a recent church lesson on the plan of salvation.  The teacher took the opening few minutes to draw out an impressive visual on a white board mapping the entire plan from our pre-earth life all the way through the three degrees of glory, because you know, we "know" that's how it goes (wink).  The focus of the lesson happened to be on the final judgement, and another scripture from Alma came up: "Our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; . . . and our thoughts will also condemn us" (Alma 12:14). 

I raised two points: 1.  If this scripture were taken out of context, then it would be very easy to despair because we'd all be screwed.  And 2. The necessary context (and the only thing which happened to be missing on the impressive map/visual display) was actually the most important, but missing elephant in the room--hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  (He immediately added "ATONEMENT" to the display in capital letters). 

Some Christians accuse Mormons of being universalists, since Mormons believe that ultimately most of God's children will end up in some kind of heaven.  The traditional Calvinist idea of God is one in which God predestines some of his children to heaven and some of them to hell.  I can't fathom a more unloving or more un-Christian idea.  I'm much more at peace with the idea of a generous and more inclusive afterlife.  It makes no sense to me that a God could eternally condemn His own children for something done here on earth when our understanding is so imperfect.

Of course the true Mormon view lies somewhere in between the two extremes of universalism and the injustices of the traditional heaven-hell theology.  On the one hand we Mormons have before us the Book of Mormon, which argues against universal salvation, and then on the other hand we have a later revelation through Joseph Smith (“The Vision”, or section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants), which leans more towards universal salvation—to a degree.

I would assume that Universalists believe that eventually all mankind will get to live with God in heaven. However, under LDS doctrine, the truth is that some (a small minority) of God’s children will never permanently live with Him again.  But Mormons believe that a far more generous amount of people will eventually end up in a place they'll most likely feel perfectly comfortable with--"heaven".  And even though I don't worry too much about all that "future" stuff and try not to take post-earth life for granted (because my life now is all I've got), this is one of the things I love most about Mormonism.

I really like how Richard Bushman frames the issue in his classic biography “Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling” (p. 198-200), so I'll conclude my muddled thoughts by quoting at length his very articulate ones:

“Building on Paul, “The Vision” made the three resurrected glories of sun, moon, and stars into three heavenly realms…[Joseph Smith was not alone in believing thinking that] the sharp division of the afterlife into heaven and hell underestimated God’s desire to bless his children…Joseph later taught that there were three “heavens or degrees” within the celestial kingdom, further dividing the economy of God. 
“The most radical departure of “The Vision” was not the tripartite heaven but the contraction of hell. In Joseph[‘s] economy of God, the sinners ordinarily sent to hell forever remained there only until “Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet”. Then they are redeemed from the devil in the last resurrection to find a place in the telestial kingdom. Only those rare souls who know God’s power and reject it suffer everlasting punishment. God redeems all save these sons of perdition, “the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power”. 
“The doctrine recast life after death. The traditional division of heaven and hell made religious life arbitrary. One received grace or one went to hell. In Joseph’s afterlife, the issue was degrees of glory. A permanent hell threatened very few. The question was not escape from hell but closeness to God. God scaled the rewards to each person’s capacity. Even the telestial glory, the lowest of the three, “surpasses all understanding”. 
“A later revelation further softened divine judgment. In December 1832 the elders were told that glory was granted according to the law each person could “abide”, whether celestial, terrestrial, or telestial. One’s glory, it was implied, was tailored to one’s capacity. “He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom, cannot abide a celestial glory.” The glory one received was the glory on found tolerable. “For what doth it profit a man,” the section concluded, “if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold he rejoices not in that which is given him.” One’s place in heaven reflected more one’s preference than a judgment. “Intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth”. The last judgment matched affinities. 
“The three degrees doctrine resembled the Universalists’ belief that Christ’s atonement was sufficient to redeem everyone, or, alternately, that a benevolent God would not eternally punish his own children. No sinners were beyond salvation. The Universalists derived their name from the doctrine that salvation was as universal as Christ’s atoning sacrifice was powerful. Though sinners might be punished for a time as a form of discipline, Christ would ultimately save everyone. Joseph’s grandfather Asael Smith was among many small farmers and workers attracted to Universalist doctrine. In a sense, “The Vision” perpetuated Smith family doctrine.

“Strange to say, the Book of Mormon argued against universal salvation. A teacher of universalist doctrine, Nehor, was labeled a heretic in the Book of Mormon, and his followers, a band of rebellious priests called the Order of Nehor, disrupted Nephite society. Alma, a preeminent prophet, refuted universal salvation in a discourse to his son Corianton, and another prophet, Lehi, delivered an elaborate philosophical discourse to show that the law must impose punishment on transgressors or good and evil had no meaning. In opposition to universal salvation, the Book of Mormon envisioned the afterlife as heaven or hell. 
“In a perplexing reversal, a revelation received in the very month the Book of Mormon was published contradicted the book’s firm stand. The revelation said that the phrase “endless torment” did not mean no end to torment, but that “Endless” was a name of God, and “endless punishment” meant God’s punishment. Torment for sins would be temporary, just as the Universalists taught. In this tug-of-war between the Book of Mormon and the revelations, “The Vision” reinforced the Universalist tendency against the Book of Mormon’s anti-universalism.
“Where was Joseph Smith coming down on the question of universal salvation? Contradictory as they sound, the Universalist tendencies of the revelations and the anti-universalism of the Book of Mormon defined a middle ground where there were graded rewards in the afterlife, but few were damned. “The Vision” did not actually endorse universal salvation any more than the Book of Mormon did. It imposed permanent penalties for sinning, rewarded righteousness with higher degrees of glory, and assigned the sons of perdition to permanent outer darkness. But “The Vision” also eliminated the injustices of heaven-and-hell theology. The three degrees of glory doctrine lay somewhere between the two extremes.”

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Genuine Mormon Relationships

I can't say enough about the awesome experience I had attending the Mormon Stories Conference held in Houston this past weekend.  It was a close enough drive from San Antonio to attend, and my wife was gracious enough to encourage my attendance by taking care of the kids.

I didn't take notes, because I assumed most of the talks would be released as podcasts anyway, but I could have filled up a notebook.  There was so much honesty, benevolence, virtue, and "doing good to all men"--an article of faith truly worthy of seeking after--and I found myself longing for more of this in my own ward community.

The connections made and the people I met were truly, genuinely amazing.  Gay, straight, believer, unbelievers and all sorts of in between, the title of the conference really captured it well: "positive relationships through empathy and dialogue".  I loved hearing peoples "stories" and instantly feeling I had made a friend.  All I can say is "thank you"!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Did Thomas S. Monson echo Dolly Parton?

We can't direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails

While reading the First Presidency message this month ("Living the Abundant Life"), I read the above quote (seemingly from President Monson--it didn't have quotation marks around it) and really liked it.  But I googled it, and while I can't confirm it, it appears more often attributed to Dolly Parton.  (Several other names pop up too.)

Does there reach a point where a catchy phrase becomes common property?

Monday, January 9, 2012

"The litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend."

"...In fashioning this remarkably enduring document, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia made it absolutely clear that no religious test should ever be imposed to hold office...The litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend."

"Citizens as voters do well when they pause to reflect on our nation’s history and traditions. If an unbeliever such as Jefferson or non-churchman like Lincoln can serve brilliantly as president, then America should stand — in an intolerant world characterized all too frequently by religious persecution — as a stirring example of welcoming hospitality for highly qualified men and women of good will seeking the nation’s highest office. Life experience, personal qualities and policy views are the pivotal points to guide Americans as they go to the polls in 2012."  

"Can I vote for a Mormon?" by Ken Starr (President of Baylor University)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Great Example of Respectfully Agreeing to Disagree

Letter from Henry Eyring to Joseph Fielding Smith on page 94 here:
Dear President Smith:

Thanks for your letter of April 15, 1955.  I am happy that you read my letter, which you refer to, as it expresses accurately my point of view.  Considering the difference in training of the members of the Church, I never cease to marvel at the degree of agreement found among believing Latter-Day-Saints.  So far from being disturbed to find that Brother Talmage, Brother Widtsoe and yourself didn't always see scientific matters alike, this situation seems natural and as it should be.  It will be a sad day for the Church and its members when the degree of disagreement you brethren expressed is not allowed.

I am convinced that if the Lord required that His children understand His works before they could be saved that no one would be saved.  It seems to me that to struggle for agreement on scientific matters in view of the disparity in background which the members of the Church have is to put emphasis in the wrong place.  In my judgment there is room in the Church for people who think that the periods of creation were (a) 24 hours, (b) 1000 years, or (c) millions of years.  I think it is fine to discuss these questions and for each individual to try to convert the other to what he thinks is right, but in matters where apparently equally reliable authorities disagree, I prefer to make haste slowly.

Since we agree on so many things, I trust we can amicably disagree on a few.  I have never liked, for example, the idea that many of the horizontally lying layers with their fossils are wreckage from earlier worlds.  In any case, the Lord created the world and my faith does not hinge on the detailed procedures.  Thanks again for your kindly, thoughtful letter.

Sincerely your brother,
Henry Eyring

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

"I see through a glass darkly and I kinda like it"

Spotlighting a great post by Blair Hodges:  "I see through a glass darkly and I kinda like it" .  I think it pretty much sums up my feelings word for word.  One excerpt (but go read the whole post):

...The slippery slope goes like this: "If leaders in the past made mistakes (potentially the priesthood ban or something like it) then what about now?" I personally see the problem as part of a direct invitation to take more personal responsibility for our relationship to God. Sort of like when Nephi took things straight to God even though his dad had visions and so forth, and later when his dad "spoke as a man" leaving it up to Nephi to get some personal revelation on where to find some grub....