Thursday, August 20, 2015

A book review of Fresh Courage Take

fresh courage take
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell--
All is well! All is well!
What this is
This is my book review of Fresh Courage Take, edited by Jamie Zvirzdin.

Bottom Line
I'm going to buy 10-15 copies to give away as Christmas presents (depending on the price points for bulk purchases) and one for myself as my review copy suffered from airplane movement as I underlined and marked sections.

Longer Review
Twelve authors write about their lives, the false gods they have worshiped and what the Gospel does or can mean to them as women from a wide spectrum of positions, life experiences, and places in the Church.  Much of it is finding reasons for hope and courage for those who do not feel like they fit the mold or do not belong or that parts of the Church do not belong to them.

There is wide variety and the editor does not fear to let contributors take vastly different positions from her own.

Which is only fair, since the book is about freedom to stop mimicking who women feel constrained to be and is an exploration of who they want to be, to find God's purpose for each individual.

Vaguely feminist (feminist in the sense that it promotes egalitarianism and the value of each individual) it is about taking courage to define yourself as God sees you, with love and compassion and a realization that you are valuable and that God gave you gifts to use and to delight in, not to hide under a bushel while you try to worship a false god(dess) of cultural norms rooted in the 1950s.

Example

I'm going to discuss an example from the book, since it approaches an LDS practice from dramatically different perspectives and shows how the editor and the authors (in this case, the keynote author) felt free to radically disagree with each other -- and it illustrates issues that our modern culture fails to deal with.

Both authors discuss (as a minor point) plural marriage.  One checklists every defect and harm that the practice had in the Utah territory and sees it only as a plague and a failure of grace.  The other points out that it broke cultural boundaries and resulted in married women owning property (where they were under coverature or  unable to own property in their own names any where else in the United States), voting (well before suffrage, and how the federal government took that right away), running for office (and, I should note, the first woman noted beat her husband in the general election for the position of state senator -- so not only running, but running against her husband -- and beating him), forming educational cooperatives, and being praised as attorneys (where they were not allowed to practice law in the states), doctors, artists and shopkeepers.

This example struck me because in today's church, I do not see an acknowledgement of the down side (or why it was definitely necessary for polygamy to be ended) or the up side (because I don't think many in the modern church would encourage their daughters to become attorneys, doctors, business women or store owners -- and do not value female education to the point that they would consider educating their daughters more important than educating their sons as Brigham Young did).  Those who want a return of plural marriage want it for the factors that consist of its down side, and fail to realize that the benefits (which many outside the church now take for granted) can be easily accessed in today's culture.

Nothing stops modern members of the LDS Church from encouraging their daughters to become lawyers (other than the job market), doctors, accountants, business owners and business women.  While we somehow have embraced women in the crafts, we really have not embraced them in the arts.

But
This book offers encouragement, perspectives and an invitation to take fresh courage, embrace what God has told us, to find the truth and realize that "Our God will never us forsake."
I was very pleased to have had the chance to read the book and to review it.

Next
I will try to think of something to write for a critical review.  I just came up empty the first time around.




Sunday, August 09, 2015

Mitch Mayne Interview, rough draft (goes live on Wheat & Tares Thursday morning)


Mitch, you’ve become well known because of how you’ve interacted with the Church, but can you tell us how you found the Church (or how it found you)? 



 My parents converted to Mormonism when I was really young. I grew up in Idaho, so the culture was already heavily influenced by the Mormon faith.  My Mom was always a pretty spiritual woman and she found the missionaries or they found her, I’m not sure which. I grew up inside the Mormon faith despite not being born in the covenant.

When I came out, I left the faith for a while. It wasn’t a friendly or supportive place for me at the time and in retrospect it was the right move for me. Still, being Mormon was a part of who I was, and was certainly part of my family and my cultural heritage.

I tried living life as a gay man without being Mormon, and I was miserable. I tried living life as a Mormon man without being gay, and I was equally miserable. I returned to the church in my mid 20s knowing I would someday have to reconcile the notion that I seemed to be a man with a foot in two worlds, yet belonged in neither.

Over time, I’ve come to recognize that yes—I am indeed a man with a foot in two worlds—and I belong in both.

Spiritual success and happiness for me don’t come from denying one part of myself at the expense of another. Success and happiness come from integrating both my orientation and my faith.  That is how I've found my current balance.

When did you develop your current relationship with the Church?

One of the foundational elements of our faith is one of eternal progression—and that applies to how I understand myself in the context of Mormonism and certainly with my Savior. So my relationship with both continues to evolve and I think that’s a good thing.

I’ve been very active and held callings for a number of years, including the several years I was in a committed relationship with my partner (also male). I think being involved with Mormonism in a ward and stake where my orientation was secondary to the fact that I was a brother to every other member made a huge difference for me.

In my ward everyone knew I was gay—I wore a wedding band, most people knew my partner, and it didn’t make any difference. I was completely integrated into the Mormon community and loved not in spite of the fact I was gay, but really I think because I was gay.

 I remember once an older couple running up to me in Sacrament Meeting one Sunday. Their excitement was contagious—they told me the night before they’d gone to see a really amazing play. “What was it about?” I asked. “Gay Mormons!” they both said in unison. I remember feeling a flash of shame in the moment and thinking to myself, “Does everyone here know I’m gay?” The more I thought about it the more I realized yes, they do—and it doesn’t matter.

Being part of a Mormon community where my orientation wasn’t scorned but was actually celebrated as part of the diversity of our Savior’s plan was an amazing experience. In fact, looking back on those years, they were a profound blessing from my Savior—I believe I had the kind of Mormon life many straight Mormon couples have in towns like Provo. My ward was not just my community—they became my family.

Our love and respect for one another wasn’t pinned to ethnicity, gender, orientation, or any of the other labels we put on others to mark them “different from us.” I was loved just because I was me.

What is the core of the gospel for you in your life?

 There are two things central to me and very closely related—I don’t think I can separate them. The common thread that binds them is love.

The first thing central to me is the atonement. I often think about this in my quiet moments alone, and admittedly, I still grapple with genuinely understanding it. It’s soul-stretching to me to think that my Savior took upon Himself every potential misstep I could make so that I could return home to my Heavenly Parents.

The depth of that kind of sacrifice and love—it’s hard for me to grasp in my human state. Linked in with this is the notion of how intimately personal it is for each of us, and it ties directly to my concept of self-worth.

The atonement means that my Savior already knows my defects—the most ugly, shameful, selfish and embarrassing parts of me—yet He still loved me enough to die for me. I matter that much to Him—and every single one of us does, too. And if I matter that much, maybe I don’t have to be so hard on myself and can quiet the voice inside me that so often wants to catalog all the ways I’ve failed to measure up. After all, my Savior sees me as worth working for—shouldn’t I strive to do the same?

The second element that is central to me is building a personal relationship with my Savior. Granted, this might not be a formal tenet of the gospel, but it’s certainly the pathway toward opening my life to the gospel and applying it to myself and those around me.

When it comes to my personal relationship with my Savior, the atonement helps give me context. Atoning for me required not only an immense amount of love for me, but also intimate knowledge of who I am. And, it means my Savior actively made the choice to atone for me with complete and perfect knowledge of every single defect I have. So when I approach Him, He meets me where I am.

I don’t have to conjure up some manufactured version of false perfection before I can reach out in prayer and meditation. Sure, I can talk to Him when I’m at my best, but I can also approach Him (and probably should) when I’m at my absolute worst—when I’m angry, selfish, full of pride and resentment. When I put my relationship with Him in the context of the atonement, I recognize that I don’t have to hide a single part of myself from Him. That means I can pull him into the most intimate and personal areas of my life—areas that we as Mormons often consider too taboo to bring to God.

These two concepts are critically important to me because they help me begin to grasp what unconditional love is all about. When I realized my Savior loves me unconditionally—warts and all—I begin to understand that’s the same kind of love I’m supposed to offer myself. It doesn’t mean I slack on my path to being a better disciple, and it doesn’t give me an excuse to make the same mistake repeatedly and purposefully.

It does mean I don’t have to waste time berating myself for imperfections and missteps because they’ve already been accounted for. My job, instead, is to dust myself off when I stumble, reach out and take my Savior’s hand, treat myself gently, and continue to walk my path.

Only when I get this right for myself, am I in any kind of position to offer unconditional love to my fellows.  

If you had to pick a commandment or a guideline as the most important for where you are in your life’s journey right now, what would it be?

It would be our Savior’s second great commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In fact, I’d venture to say that’s always been one of my fundamentals and probably will be as long as I walk this path. You see, I think it’s easy for us as humans to remind ourselves to “love thy neighbor.” But we tend to forget the second part of that commandment: “as ourselves.”

Following this commandment can be an incredibly challenging thing to do as a gay Mormon—or as anyone inside our faith who has been made to feel like ‘the other.’ I think the conservative rhetoric around marriage equality and the recent BSA announcement are good examples of how I strive to put this commandment into action.

There were a lot of hurtful comments both from Church leaders and from my conservative fellow Mormons on social media around both issues, and it was very easy to get triggered by those words and actions—but if I allowed myself to pause for a moment and try to look at what was really happening, I began to understand what I was hearing was fear. And I know that fear is the opposite of faith.

This enabled me to have empathy and compassion—because as a gay Mormon, I know what it’s like to live in fear. I know what it’s like to feel like the world (and maybe God Himself) is standing against me. That is a terrifying place to be spiritually and emotionally—and it’s when I’m most disconnected from my Savior.

Just because my fellows are hurling angry, hostile words my way doesn’t mean I’m exempt from my Savior’s commandment to love others as myself. I don’t get to practice this commandment only when it’s convenient for me. In fact, I think the true test of my capacity to offer unconditional love to my fellows is if I can do it when it’s most inconvenient.

Just because my fellows are hurling angry, hostile words my way doesn’t mean I’m exempt from my Savior’s commandment to love others as myself. I don’t get to practice this commandment only when it’s convenient for me. In fact, I think the true test of my capacity to offer unconditional love to my fellows is if I can do it when it’s most inconvenient

Anger is our human response. Love, however, is always our Savior's. And I think it's most important we show the love, compassion, and kindness we wish to have shown to us--even (and maybe especially) to those who seem unable to give those qualities in return.

I cannot ask for inclusion, kindness, unconditional love and understanding if I am not among the first to grant them to others.

Where do you see your relationship with the Church headed in the next five to ten years?

 I’m always going to be a Mormon—which to me, means actively engaged in my religion in some capacity. One of the things I like best about being Mormon is our idea of continuing revelation as outlined in the ninth Article of Faith. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t get to predict our future as a religion, but I do see the hand of our Savior at work inside this Church.

We’re undergoing significant cultural change when it comes to LGBT individuals with some wards and stakes coming out publicly to welcome LGBT members back to Church exactly as they are—the Bay Area, Seattle, Boston, just to name a few. I suspect that will continue, since the great thing about continuing revelation is it’s not always a top-down experience. Sometimes it comes from the bottom up.

The game belongs to the players who stay on the field—and I have every intention of staying on the field.

What current projects or causes are you engaged in?

 I’m definitely one of those people who has a difficult time sitting still, so I tend to be involved in a lot of different activities. In addition to my day job, I also sit on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission LGBT Advisory Council. On that commission we look at a broad spectrum of human rights causes across the city and the world, from larger scale issues like the BSA movement towards more inclusivity to local initiatives to help LGBT families who are displaced because of skyrocketing real estate prices in the city.

From the Mormon side, my emphasis has shifted a bit from working exclusively with LGBT members and their families (in large part to the growing groundswell of informed groups on social media) to working more with Bishops and Stake Presidents around the country on the LGBT topic.

Many of them have an interest in shifting the culture of their local wards and stakes to something similar to what we’ve done in the Bay Area and Seattle—formally opening the doors for all members who want to be part of the ward family, without fear of excommunication and regardless of where they are in their personal lives.

I had a gay co-worker who had an interest in the Church and wanted to read something. I gave him a copy of Believing Christ by Robinson. If you were asked the same question what book would you suggest? 

 I face this situation quite often—in fact, I’m working with a potential convert from the east coast right now. I think the book you suggest is a good one to get an understanding of what the core of the gospel is supposed to be, and how it’s supposed to be practiced.

 But for potential LGBT members it’s really important to hear the experience of other LGBT members, their families, friends, and allies. Usually I suggest they join a few select private Facebook groups—that way, they get a broad brush look at how many Mormons deal with LGBT issues even if they don’t have supportive leadership.

The groups provide a dose of “real life” mixed with our traditional Mormon optimism—and hearing the stories of others and how diverse our experiences can be gives potential members a level of insight (and often new friendships) that can help them make a much more informed decision about joining the Church.

If you had one piece of advice for our readers when it comes to understanding LGBT individuals, what would it be?

 Abandon the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy. And not just for LGBT individuals who cross your path—with everyone. I don’t think we as humans ever do a really good job of separating actions from personalities. Meaning, we aren’t particularly successful at “hating” parts of people—invariably, we end up just not liking them based on the parts we don’t care for. More important, “love the sinner, hate the sin” puts us in the judgement seat—that’s not our job. In fact, our Savior was pretty adamant about not judging others.

A much better philosophy would be something like, “love the sinner, because you’re one too.” Then remember we do a lot better as disciples of our Savior when we focus a little more on our own salvation, and a little bit less on everyone else’s sins.

Abandon the “love the sinner, hate the sin” philosophy.

A much better philosophy would be something like, “love the sinner, because you’re one too.” 

You’ve had a fair amount of press contact, and a fair amount of publicity. What is the one question you wish you had been asked, and what is the answer you would have liked to have given.

There’s one question I don’t think I’m asked frequently enough—and that is how to keep Mormon LGBT youth safer from serious health and mental health risk, like depression and suicide.

There’s a thriving debate over the extent to which we lose our LGBT Mormon youth to suicide. Compounding our lack of clarity is the fact that Utah does not collect data on religion or orientation when an individual commits suicide—so exact data on the extent of LGBT youth suicide inside the Mormon community is impossible to uncover. However, those of us who work with and have contact with these families know the risk and the problem is very real—and very pervasive.

Many parents misunderstand our Church teachings on how to respond to LGBT children, and reject their child—and often feel like they must choose between their Church and their child. But that isn’t what we teach inside our faith.

Rejecting your LGBT child is the exact opposite of the counsel we get from our leaders, most recently on www.mormonsandgays.org. There, we learn that orientation is not a choice, it cannot be changed—and we should keep our families together.

Yet, we still see rejection of LGBT youth in Mormon homes across the country—due in large part to the fact that we’ve missed the opportunity on this site to teach parents how to support their child, rather than simply advise not to reject them.

I would ask our Church to formally adopt and make available the research done by the Family Acceptance Project [http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/], specifically the LDS version of their research booklet http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/publications]. You can download it there for no cost.

This research provides the missing link for parents. It helps parents understand what reactions help keep their child safe and close to the family, and which ones hurt and put them at risk. The research also tells us that LGBT kids who experience high levels of rejection are:

  • More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide;
  • Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression;
  • More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs;
  • More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STIs 
I think one of the things I like best about the research, though, is it teaches parents how they can support their child and avoid these kinds of outcomes—while still staying true to the best parts of our Mormon faith.

Supporting our Mormon LGBT children doesn’t require we change or abandon our doctrine. It simply requires that we live it. 

Supporting our Mormon LGBT children doesn’t require we change or abandon our doctrine. It simply requires that we live it.

Today's Lesson

I'm following our schedule in our local ward, and teaching the high priests, so my focus and lesson elements may be different than yours, as well as your schedule, depending on how your stake conference, etc. play in.

But here is today's lesson (which, by putting on-line, I can have on my smart phone when teaching the class instead of using notes).

 “Nurture your children with love and the admonitions of the Lord,” he said. “God holds parents responsible for their stewardship in rearing their family. It is a most sacred responsibility.”

    •    How easy is that to do?
    •    What did he mean (see below)?
        •    Ask three people what this really means.
        •            Add your own thoughts.
       
   
From D&C 121

     39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
   
    41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
   
     42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
   
     43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
   
     44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
   
     45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.


    •    Pick a class member and ask each one of these questions:
        •    How easy is it to just not be parents and not interact with our children?
        •    What does this scripture mean to you?
        •    Is failure to discipline a form of unrighteous dominion?
        •    Does one approach fit every situation?
    •    What was the hardest thing for you to do with your children?

“Mother had more faith than any woman I’ve ever known. … I’ve never seen more praying in my life. At the drop of a hat she’d be on her knees, praying for the children, whether it was about a test or a fight on the school grounds, it didn’t matter. She and Dad both had that simple faith.”

    •    Remember our lesson about seeking the Spirit?
    •    How does recourse to prayer as a first response fit with seeking the Spirit?
    •    Have you ever found yourself praying about something and wished you had prayed about it sooner?


He maintained regular contact with them through phone calls and letters. When he was home, he spent as much time with them as possible. He often cited the story of “a busy father who explained the hours he spent playing ball with his son by saying, ‘I’d sooner have a backache now than a heartache later.’”

He also spent extended time individually with his children. Mark recalled his father taking him to Salt Lake City, Utah, to see a medical specialist: “How fun it was to be with Dad, just him and me! We talked about anything I wanted to talk about. Even as a boy, I knew Dad loved me, because he was with me and helping me get better.

    •    Do children take time?
    •    Do grandchildren take time?


Our pattern, or model, for fatherhood is our Heavenly Father. How does He work with His children? Well, in order to know that, of course, [fathers] will need to know something about the gospel, the great plan of the Lord

    •    What is the greatest calling? (If you need help, read the next paragraph in the lesson manual).
    •    How do we address God? (“our Father who art in heaven”)

    These may seem like simple questions, but they are the heart of the gospel and of what the kingdom of heaven is about.  Exaltation is the call to be a parent and to care for children.  Everything else is just temporary ephemera. 

The father must hunger and thirst and yearn to bless his family, go to the Lord, ponder the words of the Lord, and live by the Spirit to know the mind and will of the Lord and what he must do to lead his family.

•    Why?
•    How?

Ezra Taft Benson gave ten suggestions for the “how”

    1. Give father’s blessings to your children. Baptize and confirm your children. Ordain your sons to the priesthood. These will become spiritual highlights in the lives of your children.
   
    2. Personally direct family prayers, daily scripture reading, and weekly family home evenings. Your personal involvement will show your children how important these activities really are.
   
    3. Whenever possible, attend Church meetings together as a family. Family worship under your leadership is vital to your children’s spiritual welfare.
   
    4. Go on daddy-daughter dates and father-and-sons’ outings with your children. …
   
    5. Build traditions of family vacations and trips and outings. These memories will never be forgotten by your children.
   
    6. Have regular one-on-one visits with your children. Let them talk about what they would like to. Teach them gospel principles. Teach them true values. Tell them you love them. Personal time with your children tells them where Dad puts his priorities.
   
    7. Teach your children to work, and show them the value of working toward a worthy goal. …
   
    8. Encourage good music and art and literature in your homes. Homes that have a spirit of refinement and beauty will bless the lives of your children forever.
   
    9. As distances allow, regularly attend the temple with your wife. Your children will then better understand the importance of temple marriage and temple vows and the eternal family unit.
   
    10. Have your children see your joy and satisfaction in service to the Church. This can become contagious to them, so they, too, will want to serve in the Church and will love the kingdom.

We sometimes hear accounts of men, even in the Church, who think that being head of the home somehow puts them in a superior role and allows them to dictate and make demands upon their family.

The Apostle Paul points out that “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23; italics added). That is the model we are to follow in our role of presiding in the home. We do not find the Savior leading the Church with a harsh or unkind hand. We do not find the Savior treating His Church with disrespect or neglect. We do not find the Savior using force or coercion to accomplish His purposes. Nowhere do we find the Savior doing anything but that which edifies, uplifts, comforts, and exalts the Church. Brethren, I say to you with all soberness, He is the model we must follow as we take the spiritual lead in our families.

    •    How does that fit with the Doctrine and Covenants quote above?
    •    Do we wash the feet of those we serve or do we expect them to wash our feet?
    •    Did Christ die for us or did he expect us to die in his place?
    •    How hard is it for us to be like Christ in this way?


God help us to support one another. May it start in the home as we support our families. May there be a spirit of loyalty, unity, love, and mutual respect. May husbands be loyal to their wives, true to them, love them, strive to ease their burdens, and share the responsibility for the care, training, and the rearing of the children. May mothers and wives show a spirit of helpfulness to their husbands, uphold and sustain them in their priesthood duties, and be loyal and true to the calls that come to them from the priesthood of God

    •    How do we teach children to be loyal to each other by being loyal to our wives?
    •    How do we teach children to help each other by helping and sharing responsibility with our wives?


    •    What are some blessings that come to a home when parents are unified in their responsibilities?
    •    What can fathers and mothers do to be more unified?
    •    In what ways can single parents receive the strength they need to fulfill these responsibilities?







   

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Lesson on the Family


“God intended the family to be eternal. With all my soul, I testify to the truth of that declaration. May He bless us to strengthen our homes and the lives of each family member so that in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there—father, mother, sister, brother, all who hold each other dear. Each chair is filled. We are all back home.”

    •    How does the temple fit into bring us all back home?
    •    Why are we sealed together in a chain that follows the celestial law that it is only as weak as its strongest link, rather than the telestial law that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link?


    •    How do we deal with single people in a family oriented church?
    •    How do we make them feel part of the family of God?
    •    How do we acknowledge their struggles and pain without belittling it?
For President and Sister Benson, the effort to strengthen their family started with nurturing their marriage. They were loving and devoted, loyal and true. Although they were not inclined to quarrel, they often had frank discussions. They shared an absolute trust in each other, which they felt was one of the great strengths of their marriage. “I have never, never had any question about Flora’s loyalty,” President Benson said.

President and Sister Benson supported and strengthened each other. “Flora has had more vision for me and my potential than anyone else in my life. Her faith and support have been a great blessing,” President Benson said. Often, when he felt inadequate in his demanding responsibilities, Sister Benson would wipe away his tears and comfort him.  She sought the Lord’s help in sustaining him, and she rallied the children to do the same. “There was a lot of praying and fasting for daddy,” daughter Barbara said.

    •    How does loyalty promote frank discussions?
    •    Why are frank discussions part of being loyal and supportive?
    •    How do we sustain each other?
   


“Our parents instilled deep feelings of loyalty and love among us children,” son Mark said. “I don’t think that kind of atmosphere is generated naturally in a home, but is encouraged and promoted by a concerned and loving mother and father.”

    •    Why is it important for children to be loyal to each other?
    •    How do we support our children’s loyalty as siblings?
    •    What do people do that inhibits their children being loyal and supportive of each other rather than competitive and resentful of each other?
   


 They worked to create a home where love prevailed, where children learned and developed, and where they had fun. The Bensons wanted their home to be a sanctuary from the world. “That doesn’t mean we didn’t have struggles,” son Reed said. “We didn’t always get along. We didn’t always do our chores. We tested Mother’s patience to the limit at times. But, undergirding it all, was a sense of family unity that we were trying to pull together.”  Sister Benson acknowledged: “No one is perfect. In our family it is not our objective to magnify each other’s shortcomings, but to encourage one another to improve.”

    •    How do we work so that love prevails first over other things.
    •    How do we focus on improving rather than on our shortcomings?
    •    How does loyalty between children work to support family unity?
   


The counsel from the Apostle Paul is most beautiful and to the point. He said simply, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25).

In latter-day revelation the Lord speaks again of this obligation. He said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22). To my knowledge there is only one other thing in all scripture that we are commanded to love with all our hearts, and that is God Himself. Think what that means!

    •    What does it mean to love someone like Christ loved the church?
    •    What does it mean to love with all your heart?
    •    How much sacrifice and service does love include?



    •    As you read the following, think of examples and feel free to stop and interrupt your reading with examples or thoughts that fit with President Benson’s comments.

This kind of love can be shown for your wives in so many ways. First and foremost, nothing except God Himself takes priority over your wife in your life—not work, not recreation, not hobbies. Your wife is your precious, eternal helpmate—your companion.

What does it mean to love someone with all your heart? It means to love with all your emotional feelings and with all your devotion. Surely when you love your wife with all your heart, you cannot demean her, criticize her, find fault with her, or abuse her by words, sullen behavior, or actions.

What does it mean to “cleave unto her”? It means to stay close to her, to be loyal and faithful to her, to communicate with her, and to express your love for her.

Husbands and wives who love each other will find that love and loyalty are reciprocated. This love will provide a nurturing atmosphere for the emotional growth of children. Family life should be a time of happiness and joy that children can look back on with fond memories and associations.

    •    Does love have to be stuffy?


One great thing the Lord requires of each of us is to provide a home where a happy, positive influence for good exists. In future years the costliness of home furnishings or the number of bathrooms will not matter much, but what will matter significantly is whether our children felt love and acceptance in the home. It will greatly matter whether there was happiness and laughter, or bickering and contention.

    •    How hard is it to avoid being harsh and judgmental with children?
    •    How hard is it to make children truly feel accepted?
    •    How hard is it to avoid contention?


Every family has problems and challenges. But successful families try to work together toward solutions instead of resorting to criticism and contention. They pray for each other, discuss, and give encouragement. Occasionally these families fast together in support of one of the family members.

    •    Is a strong family a matter of talent or practice?
    •    How much practice does it take to learn to be a good parent?
    •    Is overcoming problems a matter of talent or taking the time to work through them?


Successful parents have found that it is not easy to rear children in an environment polluted with evil. Therefore, they take deliberate steps to provide the best of wholesome influences. Moral principles are taught. Good books are made available and read. Television watching is controlled. Good and uplifting music is provided. But most importantly, the scriptures are read and discussed as a means to help develop spiritual-mindedness.

    •    How much is a matter of rigidly controlling our children so that they do not have the free agency to decide for themselves and make mistakes?
    •    How much is a matter of making things available in a supportive environment?
    •    How much Laissez-faire, the policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering is really just abandonment?
    •    How do we balance free agency with the duties of a parent?
    •    Is it easy?


Children must be taught to pray, to rely on the Lord for guidance, and to express appreciation for the blessings that are theirs. I recall kneeling at the bedsides of our young children, helping them with their prayers.

Children must be taught right from wrong. They can and must learn the commandments of God. They must be taught that it is wrong to steal, lie, cheat, or covet what others have.

Children must be taught to work at home. They should learn there that honest labor develops dignity and self-respect. They should learn the pleasure of work, of doing a job well.

The leisure time of children must be constructively directed to wholesome, positive pursuits.3

    •    How do we do these things?
    •    Especially, how do we direct leisure time without making it into non-leisure time and just more work?



The love we know here is not a fleeting shadow, but the very substance that binds families together for time and eternity.

It was through Joseph Smith that the God of Heaven revealed the truth that the family may endure beyond the grave—that our sympathies, affections, and love for each other may exist forever.

No sacrifice is too great to have the blessings of an eternal marriage. To most of us, a temple is easily accessible, perhaps so conveniently that the blessing is taken too casually. As with other matters of faithfulness in gospel living, being married the Lord’s way takes a willingness to deny yourself ungodliness—worldliness—and a determination to do our Father’s will. By this act of faith, we show our love to God and our regard for a posterity yet unborn. As our family is our greatest source of joy in this life, so it may well be in the eternity.


    •    President Benson taught, “In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair” (section 1). What does this mean to you? What can family members do for each other’s salvation?    
    •    How do we make our families a place, a people, that we want to be with eternally?
    •    How is our church family a family as well?  What does that mean?




Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Down at the [Y]MIA ...


For the last twenty-thirty years the Church has explored alternatives to scouting.  One of the problems is that those who have been tasked with approaching the concept end up just creating boy scout clones, with the bottom line that they give up and suggest just sticking with the boy scouts.

My thought is that they are working with too narrow of a frame.

They need to think of a program for both the boys and the girls and provides a modern replacement for the theme park that paramilitary training (the original boy scouts) has evolved into.

I'd suggest the following:

  1. Practical skills: Suzette Haden Elgin's Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense.
  2. Practical skills:  tool use (everyone should have a basic Ikea set of tools and the knowledge of how to use them).
  3. Employment skills:  resumes, job interviews, presentation.
  4. Employment skills:  college tracks, professions and employment trees.  The same for boys and girls, since the statistics are that 80% or more of the girls are going to end up having to support themselves and a family.
  5. Life skills:  cooking, recipe planning, group dinners, and how to plan so that the left overs from one meal flow over into the next.
  6. Life skills:  basic housekeeping skills.  Boys who go on missions need to know these.
  7. Spiritual skills:  how anger is used to manipulate people, how spiritual strength is built by time and repetition, just like physical strength.
  8. Spiritual skills:  the value of personal prayer, study and a connection to Christ.
  9. Physical skills:  basic exercise principles and lifetime exercise skills.
  10. Social skills: proper social mores and approaches.  For example, how to turn down coffee without insulting someone.
  11. Societal skills:  the ways people dress in different countries and different social strata.
  12. Societal skills:  the roles various cultures give people.
Additionally, one or two week long adventure projects.  Could be real camping (with camp skills taught) or travel, but a project that takes them out of the mundane (and at least 100 miles from home).

Boys and girls get the same budgets.

Each set would run for two months, two weeks a month.  The sets would overlap.  With twelve steps, each taking 1/2 a month x2 you have twelve months worth of material.  If you put it together with two different sets of modules, you would go two years without duplication of material.

I would suggest that learning things at 12 and then learning them again at 14 is an entirely different proposition.

You just need a similar set to take kids from 16 to 18.

But if I were replacing scouting, that is what I would look for.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rough Draft of Nick Literski Interview

Nick Literski was a blogger at Mormon Matters, ran a site on LDS Temples and was married with five girls.  He came out of the closet, was divorced, and has gone through many other transitions, though he often comments at Wheat & Tares.  This is his story. 
 

I understand you used to be involved in the study of LDS Church History, what can you tell us about that time in your life and what insights you gained from studying history?

Initially, my study of Mormon history was really motivated by a strong desire to know as much as possible of the teachings and practices of early Mormon leaders.  That desire was insatiable.  I was determined to know as much as possible about the doctrines of the restoration.  I also grew to love the history itself, more and more.   

Oddly, that became a time of great contradictions.  My studies raised as many questions as they did answers.  My faith in early Mormonism increased, but I also increasingly saw distinctions between early Mormonism and the modern LDS church.  I became somewhat of a fundamentalist----not in the “go join the FLDS and marry more wives” kind of way that we talk about Mormon Fundamentalists, but rather in a broad sense of dissatisfaction with many changes.  I increasingly saw how early doctrines and practices had been abandoned or transformed.  

 This became the beginning of my disaffection, though for many years I remained firmly committed to the LDS church.

Eventually, I took on an intense study of the influence of Freemasonry on early Mormonism.  That project honestly began as a testimony-builder.  I initially saw Freemasonry as something of a “prophecy” of Joseph Smith’s ministry, and wanted to really examine that fully.  Over the next four years of research, I came to a different conclusion, which ultimately led to my resignation from the LDS church.  


You were also a blogger at Mormon Matters What was that like?

In all honesty, I volunteered to blog at Mormon Matters entirely too early after my resignation from the LDS church.  I wasn’t ready to engage topics in a way that was fair and open.  Like many who find themselves needing to resign from the LDS church (whether due to doctrine, being LGBT, historical concerns, social justice concerns, etc.), I had a level of anger.   

Couple that with inexperience in generating blog posts that would really lead to worthwhile discussions, and my participation wasn’t very effective at the time.  By the time Wheat and Tares was created, I had gone “inactive” as a blogger at Mormon Matters. 

What do you believe religion and the gospel (with a small or a large "g") should be?

I am impressed that “gospel” literally means “good news.”  I believe that spirituality---in whatever form we practice it---should bring us joy.  I do not believe that spirituality should cause suffering, even with the promise of some future relief.  I do not touch a hot stove in order to enjoy some future time when the burn stops hurting.  In saying this, I believe we have to acknowledge that what brings one person joy may bring another person pain, and vice versa.  

As a Mormon, I once believed that I possessed objective truth, without which nobody could have joy.  In the decade since I resigned my membership in the LDS church, I have become far less concerned with discovering some absolutist “truth” (with a capital “t” and a trademark symbol), and far more concerned with discovering what works.  

 In my work with helping others discover and deepen their own spirituality, I’ve realized that I have no reason to concern myself with whether a person’s religious beliefs or practices are “true.”  Instead, my concern is how those beliefs and practices actually function in a person’s life.   

If the LDS church brings someone joy in their life, that’s a wonderful thing!  If the LDS church brings pain and suffering in a person’s life (as it often does, for example, for LGBT individuals), then find some other way to engage with the Divine!

I understand you've moved on to other endeavors and just had a Master's Thesis that was successfully defended.  Could you share what your thesis is about and what you are doing now?

My thesis was entitled, “Dance Your Own Dance:  Spiritual Guidance as a Support for Gay Men in Creating an Affirming, Sustaining Spirituality.”  I examined how gay men (really all LGBT folk, but a master’s thesis is narrowly focused, out of necessity) from non-affirming religious backgrounds typically experience conflict between their religious and sexual identities, which may result in significant emotional turmoil.  

For many years, researchers have adopted a model for resolving this conflict which centers on four strategies:  rejecting religious identity, rejecting LGBT identity, compartmentalization, and integration.  Unfortunately, this model was developed through examination of a gay-affirming Christian church, and is entirely Christianity-centric in its outlook.  Even the original scholar who proposed the model has acknowledged this fact.   

In my thesis, I showed how none of these four strategies truly “resolved” anything at all.  I then identified spiritual bricolage---a process of drawing elements from multiple traditions to create a unique personal spirituality---as a fifth strategy for resolution.  Through individual interviews, I showed how gay men had engaged in this process to create an affirming personal spirituality which addressed their unique spiritual needs.

At this time, I am beginning to build my professional spiritual guidance practice.  Spiritual guidance is really about being a companion and witness on the client’s spiritual journey, whatever that journey may be.  In my practice, I am not attached to any particular tradition, but instead meet my clients where they are, asking questions and helping them to discover and deepen their own relationship with the Divine.  It’s a wonderful experience, and ultimately a spiritual exercise for me, as I see each client as an individual face of the Divine in this world.

In October, I will begin a combined MA/PhD program in Depth Psychology, with emphasis in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute.  My master’s program in spiritual guidance provided me with a good introduction to Jung, and I am eager to delve much further into his work, along with that of the brilliant men and women who came after him.  


Do you have any other major projects or ideas?

I’m interested in expanding my research on spirituality within the LGBT community.  In particular, I look forward to gathering more personal narratives.  Interviewing men about their spiritual journeys for my thesis turned out to be one of the most sacred experiences of my life.  I am also interested in examining how our culture’s experience of LGBT people is affecting spirituality on a larger scale. 

 How is our increased understanding impacting matters of faith?  What archetypal roles do LGBT people play within our culture, and what needs do they serve?  How can LGBT people contribute more fully to our larger culture, and bring about more joy?

What rule or commandment do you think is important for everyone to consider?

While I am no longer a Christian, I believe Jesus taught the most important lesson any of us could learn.  He taught us to love.  He taught us to love the Divine, to love ourselves, and to love others. 

Aside from that, when I came out of the closet a decade ago, I replaced Mormonism’s elaborate system of commandments with three basic values:  (1)  I would never again hide who I am, (2) I would not harm others intentionally, and (3) I would try to do good in the world.  While I’m far from perfect, I’ve continued to try and live up to those values. 

If you could give one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?

As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.”  Some might consider me naïve, but I truly believe that each of us is good at our core.  To the degree that we are authentic to who we truly are, we will be a blessing to ourselves and to others.

Anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for inviting me to participate! 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lesson Thirteen -- The Temple as a reflection of people who love each other


        President Benson said that a temple is “a symbol of all we hold dear,” and he identified some truths that temples symbolize. What do temples represent for you?

“It is in the temples that we obtain God’s greatest blessings pertaining to eternal life. Temples are really the gateways to heaven.”

“I am grateful to the Lord that my temple memories extend back—even to young boyhood,” said President Ezra Taft Benson. “I remember so well, as a little boy, coming in from the field and approaching the old farm house in Whitney, Idaho. I could hear my mother singing ‘Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?’ (Hymns, no. 58.)

“I can still see her in my mind’s eye bending over the ironing board with newspapers on the floor, ironing long strips of white cloth, with beads of perspiration on her forehead. When I asked her what she was doing, she said, ‘These are temple robes, my son. Your father and I are going to the temple. …’

“Then she put the old flatiron on the stove, drew a chair close to mine, and told me about temple work—how important it is to be able to go to the temple and participate in the sacred ordinances performed there. She also expressed her fervent hope that some day her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have the opportunity to enjoy these priceless blessings.

“These sweet memories about the spirit of temple work were a blessing in our farm home. … These memories have returned as I have performed the marriage of each of our children and grandchildren, my mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, under the influence of the Spirit in the house of the Lord.


        How do we choose what we learn from the temple and what we teach of it to our children?

The temple is the nearest place to heaven on mortal earth.

[The] temple will be a light to all in [the] area—a symbol of all we hold dear.

The temple is an ever-present reminder that God intends the family to be eternal.

        How is a rejection of the temple a rejection of family?
   
        How is the use of the temple an affirmation of love and support for our family?

[The temple is] a constant, visible symbol that God has not left man to grope in darkness. It is a place of revelation. Though we live in a fallen world—a wicked world—holy places are set apart and consecrated so that worthy men and women can learn the order of heaven and obey God’s will.

        How is a temple a place to refresh your spiritual connection to God?
   
        How do people go astray and follow false Gods when they avoid the temple?
   
[The temple is] a standing witness that the power of God can stay the powers of evil in our midst. Many parents, in and out of the Church, are concerned about protection against a cascading avalanche of wickedness which threatens to engulf Christian principles. I find myself in complete accord with a statement made by President Harold B. Lee during World War II. Said he: “We talk about security in this day, and yet we fail to understand that … we have standing the holy temple wherein we may find the symbols by which power might be generated that will save this nation from destruction.”


        How does the temple provide us with the spiritual strength we need that we can endure whatever comes upon us, as individuals, families or a nation?


We need temple ordinances and covenants in order to enter into the fulness of the priesthood and prepare to regain God’s presence.

When our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God.

To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.

Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, “Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moses 6:67.)   

        How does the temple bring us closer to Christ, and how may a testimony of Christ falter without the temple?

Three years before Adam’s death, a great event occurred. He took his son Seth, his grandson Enos, and other high priests who were his direct-line descendants, with others of his righteous posterity, into a valley called Adam-ondi-Ahman. There Adam gave to these righteous descendants his last blessing.

The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son. But this order is otherwise described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.

If a couple are true to their covenants, they are entitled to the blessing of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. These covenants today can only be entered into by going to the House of the Lord.

Adam followed this order and brought his posterity into the presence of God. …

… This order of priesthood can only be entered into when we comply with all the commandments of God and seek the blessings of the fathers as did Abraham [see Abraham 1:1–3] by going to our Father’s house. They are received in no other place on this earth!

… Go to the temple—our Father’s house—to receive the blessings of your fathers that you may be entitled to the highest blessings of the priesthood. “For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84:22.)

        How does the temple bring both men and women closer to God, and how does it bring them into the priesthood and its fullness?

The blessings of the house of the Lord are eternal. They are of the highest importance to us because it is in the temples that we obtain God’s greatest blessings pertaining to eternal life. Temples are really the gateways to heaven.

        How do temples function as the gateway to heaven, so to speak?

The Lord’s desire is for every adult man and woman in the Church to receive the ordinances of the temple. This means that they are to be endowed and that all married couples are to be sealed for eternity. These ordinances provide a protection and blessing to their marriage. Their children also are blessed to be born in the covenant. Birth in the covenant entitles those children to a birthright blessing which guarantees them eternal parentage regardless of what happens to the parents, so long as the children remain worthy of the blessings.


        How do temples unite us with each other and our kindred dead?
   
        How do we connect with our children and our parents more deeply through the temple?

The temple ceremony was given by a wise Heavenly Father to help us become more Christlike.

We will not be able to dwell in the company of celestial beings unless we are pure and holy. The laws and ordinances which cause men and women to come out of the world and become sanctified are administered only in these holy places. They were given by revelation and are comprehended by revelation. It is for this reason that one of the Brethren has referred to the temple as the “university of the Lord.”

No member of the Church can be perfected without the ordinances of the temple. We have a mission to assist those who do not have these blessings to receive them.

        How does the temple bring us closer to Christ?  How does it lead us to help others become closer to Christ?
Children and youth need to learn about the blessings that await them in the temple.

The temple is a sacred place, and the ordinances in the temple are of a sacred character. Because of its sacredness we are sometimes reluctant to say anything about the temple to our children and grandchildren.

As a consequence, many do not develop a real desire to go to the temple, or when they go there, they do so without much background to prepare them for the obligations and covenants they enter into.

I believe a proper understanding or background will immeasurably help prepare our youth for the temple. This understanding, I believe, will foster within them a desire to seek their priesthood blessings just as Abraham sought his [see Abraham 1:1–4].

When your children ask why we marry in the temple, you should teach them that temples are the only places on the earth where certain ordinances may be performed. You should also share with your children your personal feelings as you knelt together before the sacred altar and took upon yourselves covenants which made it possible for them to be sealed to you forever.

        How do those who are close to God and who are in tune with the Holy Ghost nourish themselves and their children by a proper message about the temple?

“God bless us to teach our children and our grandchildren what great blessings await them by going to the temple.”

How fitting it is for mothers and fathers to point to the temple and say to their children, “That is the place where we were married for eternity.” By so doing, the ideal of temple marriage can be instilled within the minds and hearts of your children while they are very young.

        How do those who love each other show that their love is real through temple attendance and worship?

We should share with our families our love of our forebears and our gratitude to be able to help them receive the saving ordinances, as my parents did with me. As we do so, increased bonds of appreciation and affection will develop within our families.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Increased temple attendance leads to increased personal revelation.

I make it a practice, whenever I perform a marriage, to suggest to the young couple that they return to the temple as soon as they can and go through the temple again as husband and wife. It isn’t possible for them to understand fully the meaning of the holy endowment or the sealings with one trip through the temple, but as they repeat their visits to the temple, the beauty, the significance, and the importance of it all will be emphasized upon them. I have later had letters from some of these young couples expressing appreciation because that item was emphasized particularly. As they repeat their visits to the temple, their love for each other tends to increase and their marriage tends to be strengthened.

In the course of our visits to the temple, we are given insights into the meaning of the eternal journey of man. We see beautiful and impressive symbolisms of the most important events—past, present, and future—symbolizing man’s mission in relationship to God. We are reminded of our obligations as we make solemn covenants pertaining to obedience, consecration, sacrifice, and dedicated service to our Heavenly Father.

        How do those who truly love each other become strengthened by the temple?  How does the temple function to increase personal revelation and how does avoiding the temple lead to our not having the personal revelation from God that we might otherwise have?


In the peace of these lovely temples, sometimes we find solutions to the serious problems of life. Under the influence of the Spirit, sometimes pure knowledge flows to us there. Temples are places of personal revelation. When I have been weighed down by a problem or a difficulty, I have gone to the House of the Lord with a prayer in my heart for answers. These answers have come in clear and unmistakable ways.

Do we return to the temple often to receive the personal blessings that come from regular temple worship? Prayers are answered, revelation occurs, and instruction by the Spirit takes place in the holy temples of the Lord.

        How has the temple blessed your life?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Reflections on my life

I'm 59 years old.  Since I was about 14 or so I've known and interacted with a constant stream of people who became disaffected with the Church and who self-destructed and then returned.  Some where not members of my church and returned to their own, others were LDS and returned there.

It hit me recently that the people I've been the closest to the entire time, and the reality of my experience, has been people returning to the gospel.  Over and over again I dealt with people who were on the healing end, the returning end.

I've never really dealt with people on the outgoing side, other than from a distance.

I've realized that has skewed my perspective of the entire process of people losing faith or questioning God and the Church.

I don't have any answers.  All I've ever really seen or interacted with people after they had crashed and burned and had been touched and were returning and being renewed.  I don't know about those who don't return or much about the downward trajectory.  The only tools I have are patience and love and I suspect those are not enough for every situation, so I am without advice to give or share.