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.