Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Working on a rough draft


There have been four changes in the Church in the last fifty years that seem to have altered the shape of the modern church and its direction.  They are:
  1. A move from the Church as a single tribe "the blood of Israel" or a large family to a collection of super families or affiliated tribal groups.
  2. A move from blue collar ethos to white collar professional standards (with a change in image and expenditures that make sense to white collar professionals and that alienate blue collar members).
  3. A loss of Church centered social organizations and programs -- so that if your family organization or tribe does not provide them, the Church offers no social connection for you (which also works to drive members who are not part of a tribe away from the Church).
  4. A move from being mostly Democrats to mostly Republican.

The Blood of Israel
In the 1960s and 1970s, as Dr. Shipps has noted, the Church acted like an ethnic group or tribe you could join rather than be born into. Every where you went you had people who treated you and acted like extended family.  They shared culture and background and, honestly, often generational roots and ethnic heritage.
Now it is much more important to be part of a large family in the Church.  People are often told that as converts they are not really suitable as marriage candidates.  General authorities as a class come from a group of elite family groups.
Many Church employees and Church related businesses (e.g. Temple Clothing, etc.) are tied into the kinship groups.  In many places (though not all) the Church is not so much one extended family as a collection of tribes or clans with outliers no longer able to join just by joining the Church.

The Blue Collar Divide
The Church also had a working class, blue collar ethos and was proud of it. Under David O. McKay, with the financial issues, general authorities served a great financial sacrifice. The Church presented as being run by a lay clergy and volunteers and the lack of compensation and frugality was part of the ethos and public presentation of the Church.
People could drive by President Kimball's small plaster house. It looked like a 1200 square foot three bedroom, one car garage home.
Now, the image of the Church is tied to that of white collar professionals -- successful white collar professionals.  We look at Romney and Cannon for our role models.  
Mission Presidents are expected to present as successful professionals.  Mission homes are residences suitable for professionals to live in (and, honestly, testing has shown that presenting to the public this way has a positive impact on missionary work).  They have allowances for decoration to both improve the presentation and to give comfort to the families living in them.

Loss of Community
It used to be that a "Mormon Church" was a community center.  A common by-word was that you could tell the LDS chapel because it was in constant use every night of the week.  Members expected the road shows and dance festivals and athletic leagues and steady dinners and other activities to provide a community core that embraced them.
That has ceased.  Social needs are no longer expected to be met by the Church (with the goal that members by going out into the community will bring the community back to the Church).
Thus rather than the Church being a community -- one that met social and emotional needs -- it has gone to a Church that serves a basic, simplified ration of religious training, and encourages the members to find service opportunities on their own.  To find social opportunities on their own.  To study and learn the gospel on their own.

Political Change
David O. McKay and his sons were all Democrats.  Utah governors were always Democrats.  That has really changed.  The Church has gone from a more liberal Church in many ways to one that is more conservative politically.

Taken Together
The changes can be seen in many places. Rather than general authorities flying coach (as they did in an era when there were no frequent flyer miles at all), they now fly enough that they generally get free upgrades for all their flights (like just about any professional who flies a lot). No one is surprised to see them in first class.
Rather than staying in member's homes and eating with them, they stay at hotels and buy meals (and are much healthier in spite of being older -- this has been a major health improvement for general authorities). Not only do they stay at hotels, they stay at hotels that have the marker "white collar successful" and they dress not as "blue collar, Sunday go to meeting clothes" but as "successful white collar professional dress."
White collar members take pride in this.  Many blue collar members are alienated by this change. 
Church families are broken down into groups of extended kinship groups (which often works to exclude those who do not have large families). That is also reflected in who is called as a general authority and who serves on the general boards of the Church. It impacts who interacts with general authorities (as they no longer stay in homes and have a social circle created by family and friends, not their local ward).
Inclusive social events like road shows, relief society dinners, dance festival and the like are all distant memories (and now the domain of Mega Churches) -- making the extended tribes even more important.  More and more people who leave the Church do so without any social ties to bring them back.

Counter Forces
There are counter forces. The new service to refugees under the direction of the Relief Society may well grow into something serious. Like the Pope, the LDS Church is now seen as successful enough that voluntary financial restraint by leaders may well become a marker for service and sacrifice that will not alienate the target group the Church is aligned with.  In fact, a move towards austerity may well be the sort of thing that creates a positive image.
Instead of staying at Motel 6 being seen as proof of failure, it edges on becoming a marker of humility and proof of the humanity of leaders.
While there does not seem to be an inclusiveness in leadership (to the extent that there has been too much in the way of judgmental scorn heaped on some people over their appearance), that may change as well.

All of these shifts mark changes that are slowly spreading out from the center. In parts of the world where the church is inclusive and brings everyone in, with charity and kindness it is still an extended family much like an ethnic group and not devolved into tribalism. In places where it is becoming a playground for quasi-elites (people who want a better quality of member and who socially exclude those who are too poor or otherwise socially lacking), there is a lot of exclusion -- and the church is shedding half of its members or more because that many are rejected. (Pro tip.  50% of any group will be in the bottom half).
In similar fashion, because historically when the Church has mission presidents who share the local poverty, missionary success falls and when the mission presidents present as white collar professionals, missionary success increases there are changes which are reflected in the stipends and the allowances for things such as clothing and decorating and cars that create a gap with many who do not share a white collar professional ethos. The Church's image has improved enough that it may well be able to endure a more fiscally conservative approach (or it may not -- I don't know).

Bottom Line
Those elements all reflect the changes that have come over the Church in the last 40-50 years:
1. A move from one large family to affiliated super family, clan or tribal groups.
2. A move from blue collar ethos to white collar professional standards (with a change in expenditures that make sense to white collar professionals and that alienate blue collar members).
3. A loss of social organizations and programs -- so that if your family organization or tribe does not provide them, the Church offers no social connection for you (which also works to drive members who are not part of a tribe away from the Church).
4. A change in the political flavor of the prevalent members of the Church.
Those are the changes the Church has undergone. Who knows which changes it will face in the future.

The big question

  • What do you think?
  • What have I missed?
  • Where do you think the Church will go in the next 30-40 or even 50 years?

And, what do you think I can do to make this rough draft better?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lesson Eight -- Overcoming the Walls of our Minds.

“The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order,” he said.

        When you think about church on Sunday, what do you expect out of your meetings?

In the message of the gospel, the entire human race is one family descended from a single God. All men and women have not only a physical lineage leading back to Adam and Eve, their first earthly parents, but also a spiritual heritage leading back to God the Eternal Father. Thus, all persons on earth are literally brothers and sisters in the family of God.

          How often do you feel like you are with family at church?  How often do you feel like you are with family with other people?

This is a message of life and love that strikes squarely against all stifling traditions based on race, language, economic or political standing, educational rank, or cultural background, for we are all of the same spiritual descent. We have a divine pedigree; every person is a spiritual child of God.

          What does that mean?
          Does that change anything about how you feel you should deal with other people?

In this gospel view there is no room for a contracted, narrow, or prejudicial view. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race”

          What does that make you think?
          When you hear of earthquakes or storms or tragedy or war, what does this mean we should think or do?

“Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father”

As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another. …

          Is it hard to not think of ourselves as better and more special than anyone else?
          What can we do to be free from that mindset?

Do you imagine our Heavenly Father loving one nationality of his offspring more exclusively than others? As members of the Church, we need to be reminded of Nephi’s challenging question: “Know ye not that there are more nations than one?”

          How do we bring ourselves to think this way?

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the people of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind. …

Any time we experience the blessings of the Atonement in our lives, we cannot help but have a concern for the welfare of [others].

          How does the message of the gospel relate to the Atonement?
          How does the Atonement teach us to have the love of Christ that extends to all others?

“As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
“Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
          Did you think of being baptized this way?
          What about when you were ordained?
          Can you think of others in this ward who you feel would morn with you?
          Can you think of others you would morn with?  That you have comforted?
          What else can you do for others?

May the Lord bless us that the walls of our minds may not obstruct us from the blessings that can be ours.

          This is the core of this lesson.
          That God can overcome the walls of our minds so that we can share the love of Christ with others.
          What walls prevent you from helping others?

          Group Discussion:

          What barriers do you see to your being able to help others?

          What ways do you think you can overcome those?

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Memory, Simplification and Lies

I realized recently that by the standards of some people who insist that all simplification is a lie that I am a gross fraud and liar.

After all, I have said many times that my wife and I buried three children in a five year span.  That is a lie.  It was really four and a half years.  That isn't even true.  It was from January 26, 1993 to August 31, 1997. Which isn't accurate. It was late at night on the 26th, early in the morning on the 31st.

Which isn't even accurate, since the funerals followed the deaths and I don't really have strong memories of when the funerals were by date.  Except by the time Robin died, we didn't have a funeral, we just had a grave-side service, we couldn't take a funeral.

And though I've been asked to write on the topic, I've not included all the details.  Like what it felt to attempt CPR on someone too dead for it to have any effect.  Or the autopsy they did on Robin that was so botched a police officer launched a desecration of a human corpse investigation.


I obviously disagree that all simplification is a lie.  Sometimes we simplify because the details are not ones that add to the discussion.  Sometimes because the message is enough from the simplification. Sometimes because the details are enough.


And when we get to memory, memory is about lessons learned, rather than facts, and for most people it is a matter of labels rather than pictures (all the more for me since I lack visual memory for the most part).
  • Every time you use a memory, it changes.
    • Turns out your memory is a lot like the telephone game, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study. Every time you remember an event from the past, your brain networks change in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. Thus, the next time you remember it, you might recall not the original event but what you remembered the previous time. 
    • The Northwestern study is the first to show this. “A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event -- it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the paper on the study recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.” 
  • Memories are edited every time we share them.
    • One implication of Schiller’s work is that memory isn’t like a file in our brain but more like a story that is edited every time we tell it. To each re-telling there are attached emotional details. 
    • So when the story is altered feelings are also reshaped. Schiller says, “My conclusion is that memory is what you are now. Not in pictures, not in recordings. Your memory is who you are now.” So if we tell our stories differently, the emotions that are elicited will also differ. An altered story is also an altered interior life.
  • Memories are physical as well as mental.

A simplified memory may be more accurate, especially if it is a label used to avoid recalling and editing the detailed memory in order to preserve that memory unaltered.

Or a simplified story might be as much as an audience really has time or energy to hear -- or more importantly, since memory is the lesson learned and not the fact -- it may capture the lesson better than other things would.

But it is not necessarily a lie to simplify a story or to limit the details shared about it.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Rough Draft Interview of Jerilyn Hassell Pool

Welcome to the interview series Ms. Jerilyn Hassell Pool. You are famous in some circles and others haven’t ever heard of you. Can you give our readers a quick thumbnail of how you came to be LDS (your short family history) and how that affected where you are now?
I was born to a Mormon father and a former Catholic mother who converted to Mormonism a couple of years before I was born. I’m the oldest of 8 kids. I was baptized at the age of 8. My father was a CES employee until his retirement a couple of years ago, so my family has alway been very deeply committed to the Mormon church. I grew up with a nuanced view of the church, I believe. My father, being a CES man, knew a lot of the church history that people now find so troubling, and so I grew up knowing a lot of it, which I think has helped me remain a believing, active member.
I did, however, marry a convert who has always been sort of a hellion and who breaks every Mormon male norm possible. We did not get married in the temple, and that was scandalous to a lot of people. From that point on, I gained a growing understood what it was like to be marginalized in the Mormon church and since then, I have worked to raise awareness to many of the issues that marginalize people in the church. Oh, and that hellion I married? We just celebrated 25 years of marriage.
Tell us about your recent projects that have involved you in the Bloggernacle and other areas.
After the terrific work of Stephanie Lauritzen, I took over Wear Pants to Church Day with Nancy Ross, so every December, I start bugging every Mormon I know to wear pants to church as a sign of inclusion for marginalized people.
I’m a sometimes blogger for Feminist Mormon Housewives and Rational Faiths. I moderate the Facebook groups for FMH and for The Mormon Hub. I do comedy presentations for Sunstone (Mormon Food and the upcoming Mormon Internet Habits).
Most recently, I planned and executed a family Christmas retreat for LGBTQ Mormons and I am currently working on more than 400 care packages for even more.
I am devoted to learning about what I can do to eliminate systems of oppression and sometimes I post things online that make a lot of white, straight cishet people cry their white, straight cishet tears. No regrets.
How did those projects grab your attention?
I have a brother who is gay, and who has also recently resigned from the church. A lot of what I do now is the kinds of things I wish had been done for him many years ago. I don’t fault him for leaving the church, especially after the Exclusion Policy announcement, but I wonder what his relationship with the church would look like now if he had found affirming Mormons who wished for his health and well-being instead of a commitment to extreme celibacy.
As my circle of friends widens, I have become increasingly aware of the intersections between the oppression of women, the oppression of the LGBTQ community and the oppression of people of color and those have informed my course of study and activism.
In another interview [link] you mention your testimony of the gospel and Joseph Smith. Could you share that with our readers?
I am one of those weirdo Progressive Mormons who loves Joseph Smith. I don’t think he was perfect—I actually revel in his imperfections. If I believe he was a prophet of God (and I do) then I also love hearing about all the weird things he did, because I am also greatly flawed. If God could work with someone who was as flawed as Joseph, then there is hope for me, too. I’m not saying I aspire to be a Prophet, but I am prayerful about the kind of activism with which I get involved and I believe God uses my willingness to serve marginalized people as a conduit for His/Her love.
I love the plain truths of the gospel. I try to stick to the basics and avoid all of the things we can’t possibly know. Fiona Givens once told me that instead of thinking of putting things on a shelf that can be broken, put them on a target. Determine what is at the center of your target (which for me is Jesus Christ) and then as other things come to my attention, I can move them closer and farther away from my target. However, one day, God and Jesus and Joseph Smith and I will have a chat and I’ll ask them to explain a lot of stuff on my target.
I also love the scriptures. They’re so weird and fun and angry and dramatic. I love reading about all the times God chastised the prophets for their mistakes. I work hard to love those 15 white dudes in Salt Lake City, and I really want to believe are doing the best they can. I think they miss the mark sometimes, but even the disciples who legit hung out with Jesus himself made some mistakes. I wish we had a record of the current leadership having a Come to Jesus Meeting with, uh, Jesus.
What is the question that you wish interviewers would ask that you haven’t been asked yet?
My address, so they can send me money and Cheetos.
What is next for you?
I have over 400 care packages to send to LGBTQ Mormons. One hundred of them are needed immediately. There is so much triage that has to be done. There is more info on how to sign up to get a care package and how to donate to the cause on the website I hastily built, It is my hope to expand what we're doing to include a safeXmas 2.0, a safeReunion for anyone who wants an old-fashioned yet affirming family reunion this summer, and also materials for people who are wiling to take to their bishops/stake presidents that works to create safeSpaces in our wards and stakes.
I can’t make the Exclusion Policy go away, but I can put all of my effort into making sure there are pockets and spaces in Mormonism where LGBTQ Mormons who wish to remain involved can feel loved and supported just as they are.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Finding Faith in Jesus Christ -- January 10th lesson

When you think about how Howard W. Hunter lost his job about seven months after getting married and then how and his wife buried a child early on in their marriage, how he graduated third in his class from law school but still could not get full time work for five years and the other hardships he went through, what does this statement mean to you?

 “If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.”


A prominent theme in President Howard W. Hunter’s teachings is that true peace, healing, and happiness come only as a person strives to know and follow Jesus Christ. President Hunter taught that:
“Christ’s way is not only the right way, but ultimately the only way to hope and joy.”  
 “As an ordained Apostle and special witness of Christ, I give to you my solemn witness that Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God,” he declared. “He is the Messiah prophetically anticipated by Old Testament prophets. He is the Hope of Israel, for whose coming the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had prayed during the long centuries of prescribed worship. …  
“It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. I know also that the Holy Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of my witness in the hearts of all those who listen with an ear of faith. 

  • What did he mean here?


 … How often do we think of the Savior? How deeply and how gratefully and how adoringly do we reflect on his life? How central to our lives do we know him to be? For example, how much of a normal day, a working week, or a fleeting month is devoted to “Jesus, the very thought of thee”? 
Perhaps for some of us, not enough. Unless we pay more attention to the thoughts of our hearts, I wonder what hope we have to claim that greater joy, that sweeter prize: someday his loving “face to see / And in [his] presence rest.” 

  •  How do we pay more attention to Christ? 
  •  What can we do to remember to remember Christ and to reflect on Christ in our lives?


 Contrition is costly—it costs us our pride and our insensitivity, but it especially costs us our sins. For, as King Lamoni’s father knew twenty centuries ago, this is the price of true hope. “O God,” he cried, “wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee … that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.” (Alma 22:18.) When we, too, are willing to give away all our sins to know him and follow him, we, too, will be filled with the joy of eternal life. 

  • What is contrition? 
  • How can we give our sins away?


 And what of the meek? In a world too preoccupied with winning through intimidation and seeking to be number one, no large crowd of folk is standing in line to buy books that call for mere meekness. 

  • What is meekness? 
  • How do we find meekness? 
  • How do we make that part of our lives? 
  • Why isn’t meekness easier?


gentleness is better than brutality, that kindness is greater than coercion, that the soft voice turneth away wrath. In the end, and sooner than that whenever possible, we must be more like him. … 

  • How hard is it to be gentle? 
  • How hard is it to not attempt to coerce and control others? 
  • How easy is it to think that we are gentle when we are not? 
  • How easy is it to think that we are kind when we are really just trying to control others? 
  • How much control do we really have, other than the control over our own lives to choose to follow Christ?


… May we be more devoted and disciplined followers of Christ. May we cherish him in our thoughts and speak his name with love. May we kneel before him with meekness and mercy. May we bless and serve others that they may do the same. 

  •  How do we do that?


We are in a world where there is at the same time both a growing hunger to hear more of Jesus Christ and a continued drift by many into what is referred to as a post-religious or post-Christian world. In addressing both, President Hunter said:

 In great simplicity the Master taught the principles of life eternal and lessons that bring happiness to those with the faith to believe. It doesn’t seem reasonable to assume the necessity of modernizing these teachings of the Master. 
His message concerned principles that are eternal. In this age, as in every age before us and in every age that will follow, the greatest need in all the world is an active and sincere faith in the basic teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God. Because many reject those teachings, that is all the more reason why sincere believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ should proclaim its truth and show by example the power and peace of a righteous, gentle life. …
How are we supposed to act when we are offended, misunderstood, unfairly or unkindly treated, or sinned against? What are we supposed to do if we are hurt by those we love, or passed over for promotion, or are falsely accused, or have our motives unfairly assailed? 

  • So, how do we proclaim the truth by the way we act?


Strive to build a personal testimony of Jesus Christ and the atonement. A study of the life of Christ and a testimony of his reality is something each of us should seek. As we come to understand his mission, and the atonement which he wrought, we will desire to live more like him. 

  • How do we do this? 
  • Feel free to ask the person next to you what has worked for them in building a testimony of Jesus Christ and of the atonement or to share what has worked for you – or to do both.


There is a serious application to this lesson. All of us have seen some sudden storms in our lives. A few of them … can be violent and frightening and potentially destructive. As individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, even as a church, we have had sudden squalls arise which have made us ask one way or another, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” [Mark 4:38.] And one way or another we always hear in the stillness after the storm, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?” [Mark 4:40.] 
 None of us would like to think we have no faith, but I suppose the Lord’s gentle rebuke here is largely deserved. 
We will all have some adversity in our lives. I think we can be reasonably sure of that. Some of it will have the potential to be violent and damaging and destructive. Some of it may even strain our faith in a loving God who has the power to administer relief in our behalf. 

  • Are we ever surprised by adversity? 
  • How does Christ help us in our adversity?


 Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33.) Sure, there are plenty of things to worry about—some of them very serious things—but that is why we speak in gospel terms of faith, and hope, and charity. 
As Latter-day Saints, ours is “the abundant life,” and we try to emphasize our blessings and opportunities while we minimize our disappointments and worries. “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing,” the scripture says, “and all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). I want to remind you of that promise. …  
 Please remember this one thing. If our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right. …  
We all struggle with health problems occasionally—others do so constantly. Illness and disease are part of the burden of mortality. Have faith and be positive. The power of the priesthood is real, and there is so much that is good in life, even if we struggle physically. It is a joy to know that there will be no injury or disease in the Resurrection.


 Some of our concerns may come in the form of temptations. Others may be difficult decisions pertaining to education or career or money or marriage. Whatever your burden is, you will find the strength you need in Christ. Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega, literally the beginning and the end. He is with us from start to finish, and as such is more than a spectator in our lives. … If the yoke under which we struggle is sin itself, the message is the same. 
Christ knows the full weight of our sins, for he carried it first. If our burden is not sin nor temptation, but illness or poverty or rejection, it’s the same. He knows. … He suffered so much more than our sins. He whom Isaiah called the “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3; Mosiah 14:3) knows perfectly every problem through which we pass because he chose to bear the full weight of all our troubles and our pains. …  
 Brothers and sisters, you have and will have worries and challenges of many kinds, but embrace life joyfully and full of faith. Study the scriptures regularly. Pray fervently. Obey the voice of the Spirit and the prophets. Do all that you can to help others. You will find great happiness in such a course. Some glorious day all your worries will be turned to joys.


 As Joseph Smith wrote to the struggling Saints from his cell in Liberty Jail: 
Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed [D&C 123:17; emphasis added]. 
[In the words of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith:] Fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. … Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven [D&C 6:34–37]. 

  • What is in our power? 
  • What can we do?


  • What do you think we can do to turn more to Christ and to feel the peace of his message in our hearts in times of trouble?


Sunday, January 03, 2016

On the passing of my father-in-law

In the end it comes to three things.

Did we accept that we needed a Savior?

Did we believe the things Jesus told us?

Did we act on those tools he gave us to encompass godliness?

Many people think they have accepted the need for a savior, but really have not.  While Christ came to save and redeem all of us, those people believe that they are among those who “need no repentance.”  They believe that repentance, change and redemption are for other people.

To accept that you need a savior is to accept that repentance, change and redemption are for you first, something you need rather than something you need to throw in other people’s direction.  To do otherwise you become one with those who have rejected Christ in their hearts and have rejected belief in a savior for all humanity. 

If you have accepted that you need Jesus Christ (rather than believe that the savior is for others who lack your superior virtue), then do you believe what God said.

For, as Isaiah prophesied (in Isaiah Chapter 55):

1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

 2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

 3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

 4 Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people.

 5 Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.

 6 ¶Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

 8 ¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

 11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

 12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Do you believe God when he states that the salvation of Christ is promised “without money and without price?” Do you believe that it is not only something you need, but something you can obtain, that the burden is light?

Or, as Nephi said in 2 Nephi 26:

24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.

 25 Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.

 26 Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.

 27 Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.

 28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.

The world tells us that it is difficult if not impossible for us to meet the requirements that God has set for us.  The world teaches that salvation is not for everyone, and that many are forbidden.  To the contrary, Nephi pointed out that salvation is free for all men. And Christ said in the eleventh Chapter of Matthew:

28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

          I was inspired to write this because of George Wallace, my father-in-law, who believed in Christ.  He believed that repentance, a need for change and a need for redemption applied to all men and to himself.

          He accepted that he was weak and that he needed salvation.

          And in Christ he had  hope, and in Christ’s grace.

          Though he has died, as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf preached in April conference:

Because of the sacrifice of our beloved Redeemer, death has no sting, the grave has no victory, Satan has no lasting power, and we are “begotten … again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

President Uchtdorf went on to say:

I marvel to think that the Son of God would condescend to save us, as imperfect, impure, mistake-prone, and ungrateful as we often are. I have tried to understand the Savior’s Atonement with my finite mind, and the only explanation I can come up with is this: God loves us deeply, perfectly, and everlastingly. I cannot even begin to estimate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height … [of] the love of Christ.”

A powerful expression of that love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of “truth and light, until [we are] glorified in truth and [know] all things.”
Salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience; it is purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Thinking that we can trade our good works for salvation is like buying a plane ticket and then supposing we own the airline. Or thinking that after paying rent for our home, we now hold title to the entire planet earth.

As I remember George Wallace, I also remember that he believed in his need for a Christ and that he believed in the words of Christ.  I remember that he understood his own need for the salvation of God, the condescension of God that is Christ, and that he understood and believed that the salvation of Christ came without money and without price.

Finally, I come to the third point, acting to embrace godliness.  Or, as the Apostle Peter put it, to partake of the divine nature.

As Peter (and Ezra Taft Benson) both said:

“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

“And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

“And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5–7).

To quote President Ezra Taft Benson speaking on Peter’s words:

To our temperance we are to add patience. …Patience is another form of self-control. It is the ability to postpone gratification and to bridle one’s passions. … A patient man is understanding of others’ faults.

A patient man also waits on the Lord. We sometimes read or hear of people who seek a blessing from the Lord, then grow impatient when it does not come swiftly. Part of the divine nature is to trust in the Lord enough to “be still and know that [he is] God” (D&C 101:16).

A [person] who is patient will be tolerant of the mistakes and failings of his loved ones. Because he loves them, he will not find fault nor criticize nor blame.

Another attribute mentioned by Peter is kindness. … One who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others. He is considerate of others’ feelings and courteous in his behavior. He has a helpful nature. Kindness pardons others’ weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all—to the aged and the young, to animals, to those low of station as well as the high

These three things:
·        accepting that we need a savior,
·        believing in God’s promises that Jesus Christ can save us, and;
·        being able to partake in the divine nature in this life by being kind, patient and tolerant,

Those three things allow us to find charity; that we are not left without consolation or comfort.  For Christ promised us that “I will not leave you comfortless. …”

The comfort we are promised will allow us to believe int, recognize and accept Christ in our lives that we may find joy, with brother Wallace, in the resurrection and salvation of our Lord.

This is my prayer and my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why didn't anyone tell me -- about literal interpretation vs. allegory

Many people claim to believe "literally" in the Bible.  More or less.  They read it as God speaking to them.

But if we start with the creation story, it turns out no one literally believes in the Bible.

After all, the literal story in the Bible is that God separated the primal waters so that half are below the world (which floats on them) and half are above the great vault of the sky (and where rain occurs when God opens the windows of the heavens to let water fall on the earth).

Using the New English Translation (a scholarly work by evangelicals, well regarded), Genesis, Chapter 1 (the relevant footnotes following the text):

1:2 Now  the earth  was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. 1:3 God said, Let there be light.”And there was light! 1:4 God saw that the light was good, so God separated the light from the darkness1:5 God called  the light “day” and the darkness night.” There was eveningand there was morningmarking the first day. 
1:6 God said“Let there be an expanse 23  in the midst of the waters and let it separate water 24  from water. 1:7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. 25  It was so. 1:8God called the expanse “sky.” 27  There was eveningand there was morninga second day.
23 tn The Hebrew word refers to an expanse of air pressure between the surface of the sea and the clouds, separating water below from water above. In v. 8 it is called “sky.”

sn An expanse. In the poetic texts the writers envision, among other things, something rather strong and shiny, no doubt influencing the traditional translation “firmament” (cf. NRSV “dome”). Job 37:18 refers to the skies poured out like a molten mirror. Dan 12:3 and Ezek 1:22 portray it as shiny. The sky or atmosphere may have seemed like a glass dome. For a detailed study of the Hebrew conception of the heavens and sky, see L. I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew Conception of the World (AnBib), 37-60.

24 tn Heb “the waters from the waters.”

25 tn Heb “the expanse.”

1:14 God said“Let there be lights 34  in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the nightand let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, 
34 sn Let there be lights. Light itself was created before the light-bearers. The order would not seem strange to the ancient Hebrew mind that did not automatically link daylight with the sun (note that dawn and dusk appear to have light without the sun).

That is, in the initial creation the literal story is  that God separated the primal waters so that half are below the world (which floats on them) and half are above the great vault of the sky (and where rain occurs when God opens the windows of the heavens to let water fall on the earth).

I could go on.  No one, even the most literal of believers, thinks that the world consists of an island floating on endless waters with a solid firmament above that has water on the other side (where we would think of outer space beginning), light independent of the sun radiating it, and the sun and the moon moving across the solid dome of the heavens.

[Note that game designers do create worlds just like that -- I even worked on a project with such a world in the 1970s].

Once you realize that you can't get anyone who believes in a literal translation of the Bible through the first 10-20 verses, but that they re-interpret the Bible into their own understanding and in some ways as an allegory or as a figurative understanding. With that you start to realize that the Bible cannot be taken literally, but rather as a communication limited by language, context, intent and understanding.

At that point, other things begin to make sense.

The genocides in Exodus that did not happen (since the same people who are recorded as completely exterminated are still around in the book of Kings -- I've written about that elsewhere).  The flood occurred, and didn't cover the entire earth (since the Nephilim are recorded as predating the flood, missing the Ark, and showing up later).


Numbers 13:33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.
In the Bible, the universal language was shared by all men, yet Noah's family, while he was still alive, divides the land with other peoples, according to their languages -- they encountered humans who spoke different languages than they did and reached treaties with them, well before the Tower of Babel.

To quote about Genesis 10:25:

Rather, it is more likely referring to the human population of the Earth. Contextual indicators point to this latter conclusion. 
First, the Hebrew term for “Earth” (‘erets) may be used figuratively to refer to the Earth’s inhabitants. In fact, two separate figures of speech employ this use: “synecdoche of the whole” and “metonymy of the subject” (Bullinger, 1968, pp. 578,638). A sampling of Old Testament verses where the figure of speech occurs just within Genesis include Genesis 6:11; 9:19; 11:1; 18:25; 19:31; 41:30,57 (Gesenius, 1979, p. 81; Bullinger, p. 578). 
Second, verses both before and after Genesis 10:25 provide furtherindication that Moses was referring to a linguistic/political/human division rather than a physical division of the land mass. Earlier in the same chapter, he alluded to a separation of the peoples— “everyone according to his own language, according to their families, into their nations” (Genesis 10:5, emp. added). Later in the same chapter, Moses referred to the generational divisions of Noah’s descendants “in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32, emp. added).  
I know.

Someone should have told you that even the most literal of readers of the Bible can't make it past the first chapter without treating it as something other than the literal words, and that the further you get, the more everyone has to acknowledge that they are either going to re-read the Bible to say something else than what it says or to expand it into a re-translation or an allegory or treat it differently?

So what to do with allegory?  Great question.  We will have to talk about that sometime.

Until then, let me mostly quote from a developmental analysis (borrowed from a recent book by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie [link]):

"Because adult development has been so poorly understood until recently, many of us have  naturally assumed that if others don’t see the world as we do, it was because they were missing crucial information, critical pieces of the puzzle. Provide them with all the puzzle pieces, the thinking goes, and they will snap together the same picture that the rest of us are looking at. 
We know now that this reasoning is folly.  We have learned from looking at children
Children make meaning according to capacities in their own awareness—meaning that is logical and consistent within itself. In other words, it’s not just an erroneous view of the “real world” that children offer in their speech, behavior, and play. It’s a perfect representation of their own world, the world their minds construct

"As it turns out, we adults are still doing the exact thing we did as children. At the end of childhood and adolescence we do not graduate, cap and gown, into a perfectly accurate, “adult” view of the world. How we perceive and make meaning of the world continue to develop throughout our lifespan.
That is, the language used, and the descriptions used in the Bible are a communication in the construct of the awareness of the listeners.  To understand we need to go beyond to the message that construct was intended to convey.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite Brigham Young quotes:  

"When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities…. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation."
There is a lot more to the discussion.  But the takeaway is that a literal reading is probably a wrong reading -- and no one gets even twenty verses into the scriptures without moving away from a literal reading.  And, perhaps, someone should have told you that.