Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Bad to be True to Yourself?

I'm sure many good people have used the phrase, "be true to yourself." Reading a talk by Terry Warner put the phrase in a different light for me. He said he'd twisted the goal of being "true" into the goal of being "true to me." The gospel invites us to look beyond ourselves as the only way to become like our Father. Anytime we focus on ourselves, we risk goofing up our priorities in the ultimate sense. Thought provoking. Here is the quote in context. You can read the whole talk here.

The problem did not lie in my objectives. My objectives were lofty--never stooping to dishonesty, not compromising my principles, standing forward to defend the right and make corrections when things didn't go as they should. The problem was that pursuing these objectives was a project too much in behalf of myself. I could not see it then, but in a very subtle way my quest continued the very preoccupation with myself I was trying to overcome. And it twisted my goal of being true into the goal of being true to me, and being true to me, for my sake, often came before the interests and needs of others. Perhaps my way of pursuing my quest was like that of the prodigal son's elder brother, outwardly ever faithful in his duty but inwardly resentful when his brother received the public honor he thought should be his. My way showed itself as I responded in a hurried manner to a student's question in the hall--because, after all, I had important things to do; and in a conversation with a colleague, thinking of what I would say next instead of listening appreciatively; and in becoming inwardly indignant about a brother's false doctrine in priesthood meeting. No matter how rigorous, a quest to be true when undertaken on one's own behalf can never put to silence the disquieting voice that says, "You're not honest, simple, solid, and true. You're still in it for yourself. It's your own agenda that you care most about." Stubbornly setting out to be true cannot be glorious if I do not lift my focus higher than myself.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Elder Oaks on speaking privately versus speaking to the world

Sheri Dew asked Elder Dallin H. Oaks what it was like talking publicly in a world where you can finish a talk and in moments your words can be spread around the globe. The question is at 47 minutes into this broadcast interview. His words made me think differently about the appropriateness of reporting the words that you hear someone speak in a smaller setting.

Oaks: In the last 12 months, I never stand before an audience at a stake conference--these are in small audiences where you don't anticipate that it will be broadcast--without confronting the possibility that someone there is putting it on some electronic transmission, or would make notes and then go send an email to family members...

Dew: Or a blog.

Oaks: Or a blog... which they would press a key and send that to 150 people and so on. So when I want to speak very candidly to a particular audience, I have begun saying before I begin to speak to this audience of a 100 priesthood or auxiliary leaders, "I would like to know whether I am speaking to 100 people or whether I'm potentially speaking to the world. Because it is going to affect the talk that I will give. Now if I can understand that I'm just speaking to you and that you won't appoint yourself as an agent to transmit my words to the world, I'll speak one way. But if I can't have that commitment from all of you,  I'll speak differently. Because I simply have to speak differently if I'm speaking to people unseen. And generally they get the message and I've not been disappointed by the outcome.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Conversations on the Bus

Sitting on the bus today, I heard two women sitting very close to me. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but there was no avoiding it. They were strangers to each other, but both started speaking candidly about their lives. About the men who had mistreated them. About the ache of being alone and missing someone to share life with.

Both women spoke fervently about the role that alcohol and, to some extent drugs, had played in the destruction of their happiness. The men didn't know when to, or couldn't, stop drinking. Yelling led to hitting and verbal and emotional abuse. The women, too, were in the vice grip of the drink. One of them joked that she wished she could want exercise as much as she wanted to drink.

They were near tear by the time of of them had to get off the bus. Clearly, they had lived through a lot and were in a rebuilding phase of life. Trying to put back together the pieces of their shattered dreams.

Now it was quieter on the bus, and I was only a few stops from home. Without the two women talking next to me, I could hear some young people, probably high school aged, talking in the back of the bus. They, too, sounded like strangers just getting to know each other. Their conversation was different.

Mostly, I could hear one fresh sounding voice above the rest. You know what I mean when I say "fresh"? I can't think of a better adjective. He sounded young, and naive. He sounded full of optimism. There wasn't a lot of braggadocio in his voice, nor any of the world-weariness that creeps into the voices of people who've seen really hard times.

I didn't catch a lot of what he was saying. But the snatches that I heard were things like, "Yeah, they try to scare you so much about alcohol." "Have you tried vodka?" Laughter.

I wished I could yank the pull-cord and stop the bus and run back to the woman who had just disembarked and bring her back to talk to these kids.

I suppose there is no teacher like experience. I wish it didn't have to be that way.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

New Christ-centered Documentary

I'm giddy with anticipation. The first episode will air this Sunday. I'm wondering if any of our fingerprints will still be legible on a project touched by so many able hands.

I'm talking about the new BYU documentary, "Messiah: Behold the Lamb of God." There was an excellent write-up about the birth of the documentary at the Mormon Times. My favorite paragraphs were these two.
Not long after this decision, [BYU Professor S. Kent] Brown is introduced to Matt Whitaker, who wrote the screenplays for the second and third "Work and the Glory" feature films. Brown, Whitaker and Thomas Lefler, the associate chair of BYU's department of theater and media arts, hatch an idea to create a class at BYU called "Jesus Christ in Media." The class begins October 2001 with a dozen students. The next semester, winter 2002, the students develop scripts. The documentary is beginning to take shape.

For the next three years the project goes through several scripts -- each refining and building upon the last. But no matter how good the scripts, it will never be made without approval and funding.

I was a student in that first class and my wife joined me in the class the second semester. I hardly expect anything of those early scripts to have survived. When Brother Brown nixed my inclusion of material about the sacrifice of the red heifer, it become a running joke with Brother Whitaker that we could use a red heifer for the icon in the bottom right corner of the screen that directs people to the companion website.

Whatever comes out on Sunday, I'm sure it will be fact-filled and testimony enriching. The books that these scholars have been producing leave me with no doubt about their grasp of the issues. I can tell you, based on my personal interactions with a few of them, that they are fully aware of the complexity of issues that surround the scriptural history.

Someone once observed to me that we didn't need to know all the things a famous scholar knows about the gospel and about the history that has transferred the gospel down to the present day. We only need to know that they know it. Just knowing that answers to tough questions exist, even if we don't yet know them personally, is reassuring. With this documentary, we will be able to see that they do indeed "know it." And perhaps we'll also come to know a bit more and strengthen the buttresses of our own testimonies all the more by watching. While you watch, keep an eye out for that heifer.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Second Selection

Elder Richard G. Scott lost his wife to cancer in 1995. In the ensuing years, he has chosen not to remarry. I was surprised to learn (about 21 minutes into the interview) that this was not merely the result of not "finding the right one" but rather, was a conscious decision. He noted that some men might have that need, and he respects that decision, but that he does not. He and his wife did everything they could to be prepared for the time that one or the other of them would pass through the veil.

Elder Scott's daughter commented that her father, since the passing of her mother, now spends even more time ministering to people individually. Where he was once drawn home at the end of the day, now he will drop by the hospital or see to other affairs of the personal ministry.

When asked to reflect on his wife's effect on his life (around 1 hour 10 minutes into the interview), he noted that she'd touched every element of his life. He then said (emphasis added to try to capture the effect of his speaking), "I don't believe that the temple ordinance guarantees that we'll be together forever. There will be a time, before that sealing of the Holy Spirit of Promise makes it eternal, where we'll be in the presence of the Savior as individuals. And there will be a choice whether we continue with the sealing or not. And I want to do everything in my power to qualify, so that she'll choose for the sealing to be eternal."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mary to Hyrum in Liberty

Hyrum Smith, confined to Liberty jail, began to wonder whether his wife has abandoned him. Apparently, he hadn't heard from her in quite some time. Melanie Hinton recounts the episode and Mary's response in a church podcast. (Around 31 minutes in.)

The letter that Mary wrote on April 11, 1839, didn't reach him while in the jail. She addressed his concern head on. Don't you wish people still wrote so beautifully today?

"I cannot bear the thought of you having any such suspicion. Surely you had not. If so, you are yet unacquainted with the principles of my heart. What? Should I forsake a friend and a bosom friend in the time of adversity and affliction? When all the sympathy and affection I am capable of feeling is called for to soothe and comfort as far as possible under such circumstances as you are placed in? No. Reason, religion, and honor and every feeling of my heart forbid such a thought to enter there."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Students Vote: A Teacher's Guide

Elder Lund is reported to have said that there are different ways that students tell the teacher if they are interested. He was speaking in the context of the Church Educational System.

Seminary kids vote with their mouths. When they are bored with the teacher, they start to talk to a neighbor. Institute students will vote with their feet. If a teacher is boring, the enrollment in his classes starts to drop off. Adults in Sunday School vote with their heads. When the speaker is boring, they fall asleep.

The antidote, says Elder Lund, is to tell stories. That sounds about right to me. If you are interested in good church stories, you'll love the podcast produced by the Church called "Stories from General Conference" which is a collection of stories told by speakers in General Conference on a particular topic. Hello, talk preparation!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The End of a Project: Jesus the Christ

I've finally recorded the last chapter of a favorite book, Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage. The book was written long enough ago that it is no longer under copyright and I was able to make my own audio recording of the book to make it available on the web for free. You can find it here: http://jesusthechristbook.blogspot.com/

The recording is good, but it isn't up to the professional level that you'd find for a commercial recording. I didn't want to take the time to eliminate every yawn or lip smack or mispronunciation. It would have taken forever to get it done! Even so, I hope that you can join the many people that are already enjoying the recording.

As of this writing, chapters have been downloaded more than 30,000 times by iTunes users. I hope that many more people can come to a greater understanding of the life of Christ through this great work. While some of the scholarship in the book is out of date, the testimony of this great apostle is timeless.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Truman Madsen Memories

Truman Madsen passed away this morning, and as I have read some of the remembrances others are writing of him, I thought of my own experiences with this amazing man.

I first encountered him as a freshman at BYU. Second semester, I took "Writings of Isaiah", a religion course taught by Ann Madsen, his wife. What an amazing class that was! It was a rare class when I did not feel touched by the Spirit, and I learned so much. For the final exam, we met at the Madsens' home north of the football stadium and read short essays we had written about Isaiah's teaching. Their home was welcoming; as host and hostess the Madsens were gracious. My father had told me he was a big fan of Truman Madsen's lectures on Joseph Smith, so I was so excited to shake Brother Madsen's hand and tell him that. (I bet he got that a lot.)

My next experience with the Madsens was two years later, when I moved into the student stake where Brother Madsen was stake president. What an amazing year that was! In June of that year, our stake held an amazing fireside in the Provo Tabernacle celebrating the life of Joseph Smith. I was picked to be one of the ushers, and the stake actually rented pioneer-style costumes for us to wear. We sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" to the older tune that Joseph would have known, and listened to President Madsen talk about the prophet's life. Wow!

On Easter Sunday, instead of normal church we had a morningside at the Provo Tabernacle. A stake choir had been formed, and the music and talks about the Savior truly made the day a celebration of Christ. Watching the stained glass windows brighten with the dawn while listening to the choir singing praises will always be a treasured memory.

These are but a few of the things that come to mind when I think about Truman Madsen. Thank you for touching my life, Brother Madsen. Go with God.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mormons in Journalistic History

For fun, I read an old New York Times piece from 1890 about the announcement of the end of polygamy among the Mormons.

I was struck by a couple of things. First, the report was pretty straightforward and gave the Mormon people a lot of credit for being true to their word. The reporter didn't seem the doubt in the slightest the actual intent of the Mormons in abandoning polygamy.

I was also struck by the commentary that was sprinkled throughout a "news" story. It was a different age in journalism. Here are some fun quotes from the piece.

"There is really no room for doubt that hereafter polygamy will be discountenanced as much by the Mormons as by the Gentiles. There are a very considerable number of Mormon women polygamously married in Utah already, in whose cases it would be cruel and inhuman to execute the law that would turn them out upon the world as beggars, and the Mormons who have married them would be less than men if they consented to abandon them to such a fate. It is neither likely nor desirable that the law shall be strictly enforced ex post facto, provided it is obeyed in the future, and provided polygamy really and in good faith given up."

"Moreover, they were already beset by Gentile politicians of the same character as Territorial politicians in general, that is to say, by characterless and conscienceless vagabonds who had cast covetous eyes upon the Mormon possessions and marked them for their own."

"As Utah fills up with Gentiles, the Mormons will surely envy these their liberty, and sooner or later will attain it for themselves. That will be the end of Mormonism as a temoral power. What becomes of it as a queer religious denomination is a question not very important, except to the history of religious imposture, to which the Church of the Latter-Day Saints has already furnished one of the most striking chapters."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Music and BYU students

My fourth child was born the day after election day, Wednesday November 5. He is currently in the NICU, being treated for severe jaundice and other blood-related problems. That's the bad news; the good news is that his levels are going down, he's responding well to treatment, he's not in any pain, and although we don't get to take him home for several more days, once he is released we don't have to worry about these problems again--it's a one time thing.

Still, it's been a bit of a bummer. With number three (my son with spina bifida), I was completely geared up to spend tons of time at the hospital, and emotionally (more) ready to do so. With this baby, it has been a surprise, which is always a little harder for me to deal with. My three kids at home aren't happy with my absence, especially the youngest--at almost 2, with a giant cast on his left leg because of recent surgery related to his spina bifida, he has been a bear with Grandma, and sometimes even with Daddy. Add to that the general exhaustion and hormonal shifts that follow childbirth, it's not a wonder that I am a little shaky and sad, prone to tears and frustration.

So what does this have to do with my post's title, "Music and BYU Students"? Simply this. It's Sunday night, I'm in the lobby of the main hospital in Utah Valley, which is very near BYU campus. I'm waiting until it's time to feed my little son again, and the lobby is quiet and peaceful. Various people walk by, most still dressed in their Sunday best, going to visit friends, family, or ward members. When a group of college-age people stop at the Information desk, I pay little attention to them until they begin singing.

It is one of my favorite hymns, "I Need Thee Every Hour", but oddly my first reaction is irritation at the intrusion into the silence. But then I feel my eyes begin to sting, and I look closer at the group. They are not singing loudly, nor are they facing out into the lobby--they are mostly singing for the elderly volunteer manning the front desk. They are not the most accomplished singers I have ever heard, but they are on-key and have some harmony. As I continue to listen, the words sink into my heart, and I have to blink rapidly to stop from crying.
I need thee every hour
Stay thou nearby
Temptations lose their power
When thou are nigh
I need thee!
O I need thee
Every hour I need thee
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come unto thee
When I was in college, I didn't usually participate in the hospital or nursing home singing visits. My general feeling was that a bunch of young, healthy kids barging into the hospital for an hour was an intrusion, generally unwelcome. And (like most activities in college) impressing the opposite sex was a large part of the draw, and I felt weird doing "service" with that end in mind.

But I may have to change my opinion now. For a few moments, unexpectedly, on a day that most decidedly does not feel like Sunday, I was privileged to feel the Spirit. I could hear the love those students have for singing, for the Savior, for others. I was reminded of all my good fortune, the tangible and real blessing of having the Gospel in my life--of having Christ in my life. I am comforted.

Thank you, singers. Whoever you are, whatever your motives, thank you for singing in the lobby of Utah Valley Regional Medical Center tonight. You brought peace to my heart.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Primary Sacrament Meeting

Tomorrow is the Primary Sacrament Meeting--in other words, the best sacrament meeting of the year. For everybody except the Primary Presidency--hee hee. (I've done my time, and will doubtless do time again.) This is my second year of being the Primary chorister (for both Junior and Senior Primary), and I have to admit being very excited for tomorrow. We've been working hard all year on learning the songs, and while none of them will be anything like the Primary choir at conference this year, you should hear my kids sing "Called to Serve". They love that song, especially the chorus, and can belt it out with great enthusiasm (if not always on tune. Senior Primary is mostly boys, and let's just say that they aren't all pitch-perfect).

My oldest's birthday is tomorrow; he will be five. He was chosen from his CTR 5 class to give the talk--the rest will participate in a recited piece together. My boy is so excited about his talk--he's not one for stage fright. (It's far more likely that he will get carried away by the sheer thrill of talking in sacrament meeting and add some...embellishments, shall we say?...to his talk. It's out of my hands now, though. He's got his testimony/talk about the Savior memorized, and only forgets the close "In the name..." about 50% of the time.

Although I wrote his talk, we talked about everything he wanted to say, and I distilled it down for him. He knows Jesus loves him, and he knows that Jesus died on the cross. He chose his own favorite story about the Savior, and patiently added the part I wanted about what that story teaches us.

He's almost five, and yet he constantly amazes me with his understanding of the Savior's love. He will sleep on the floor next to his little brother, and when brother wakes up sad, he'll soothe and sing and comfort. He hugs and loves and shares (sometimes); he'll remind me when I'm angry that "Jesus wants us to love each other"; he loves to pray for everything (including the ants that crawl outside).

Primary has taught him a lot--he has trouble sitting still, and not talking out of turn, but he truly loves his teacher and loves to sing. He comes home from class and tells us the stories he's learned--it's hilarious to hear gospel stories through a pre-school filter. And tomorrow he gets to tell everyone in our ward about how "Jesus fell asleep on a boat during a storm. His friends were scared, but Jesus woke up and said, "Peace! Be still!" and the storm stopped. I know that Jesus can help us feel peaceful too."

I just hope he keeps the (rather extravagant) arms gestures to a minimum.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Joseph Smith: A Mostly New Bottle

And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles. (Mark 2:22)

It seems to me that Jesus is explaining in this passage why he didn't use the existing Jewish establishment to spread his message when he came to earth in the meridian of time. Instead, he started with those whom others considered ignorant and unlearned.

Speaking of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, Spencer W. Kimball said, "This budding prophet had no preconceived false notions and beliefs. He was not steeped in the traditions and legends and superstitions and fables of the centuries. He had nothing to unlearn."

President Kimball is obviously seeking to draw our minds back to the Savior and his work by his description of the boy prophet. It is ironic, however, that it was during the tenure of Spencer Kimball as a leader in the church that we learned that his description of Joseph is hyperbolic. It appears that Joseph was very much a product of his environment, soaking up the legends and superstitions of his time. Mark Hofmann with his forgeries, shocked the Mormon world with stories of salamanders and spirits. But his forgeries about Joseph and magic and treasure digging were believable precisely because they fit in with the things that were being unearthed at the time he forged them.

Joseph wasn't, it turns out, an entirely new bottle. Are we wrong then, to draw such images as President Kimball did? We're in company with the Savior when we do so. Jesus himself seemed to describe his followers as new bottles even though they too had soaked up false beliefs about religion and about the coming Messiah. Those sincere ancient apostle, like Joseph in modern times, had things to unlearn. But Kimball is right on the larger point. Joseph was the instrument that the Lord needed to move the work forward, and we're all grateful he was available and fit for the job.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Appreciating is Hard to Do

I worked a lot of hours, along with a dedicated team of student employees (who had much more fun things to be doing) to get some computer systems ready for the first day of school at the university.

In spite of my best efforts, late nights, early mornings, and much running around the campus, we had a high profile system fail to perform properly in a few classrooms during the first two weeks of school.

The CIO, Academic Vice President, and others in my up line got an angry email. The professor complained in effect, "Why can't the IT shop respect the hard work of the professors and make an effort to have working systems for them. Don't they know we're relying on these systems to teach?"


I was frustrated that my colleague had chosen to criticize us for our failure. Didn't he know how much work we'd put in? Didn't he recognize the huge majority of things that worked right?

Yes, apparently he did. He sent a nice thank you note later, reconsidering his earlier remarks.


[One day later.]

Tonight was the stake roadshow. Our ward has been pretty scattered in getting our performance together. Rehearsals ended up taking more time from my family than I would have liked during an already very busy time. Somehow, we managed to make it to the opening night.

The stake had set up really fancy lights, had boys manning the curtain ropes, people manning the sound system, microphones hung. A stage manager explained to our ward, who was first up, that we'd have reserved seats in the audience to sit in after our performance to watch the other wards perform.

Things didn't go perfectly. The sound system wasn't loud enough. The curtain boys didn't pull it at the right moments. Fans on the stage were too loud to allow the performers to hear the audience much. After our performance, our seats had been taken. We could stand in the back with three restless kids. We left early, in a bit of frustration, without watching the other performances.

Walking out to the car, I rattled off a list of the things that the stake people had failed to do to make the plays a success. Why didn't they make the microphones louder? Why didn't they police our reserved seats a little better? Why didn't the curtain boys follow along on the script?

Then I realized what I was doing.

I was so wrapped up in my ability to perform--so centered on ME--that I failed to appreciate all the hard work by others that had gone into supporting my performance. I had made the same mistake as the grumbling professor. I followed his example and repented quickly.

Hopefully, I can be more appreciate in the future of all the hard work that goes into making the ordinary things around us.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CrossTalk Attacks

[The following post was written back in December 2007. I decided not to publish it at that time since I didn't want to mix too much religion and politics. Now that Romney is out of the running, I thought this would be a good time to put it out there since the main point transcends any political race.]

Using Mitt Romney as a launching point, the radio show CrossTalk (a religious program) decided to "explain" the teachings of the Mormon church to their listeners. The thing that astonished me about the program wasn't the anti-Mormonism. That is pretty standard stuff for a lot of "christian" ministries. The amusing thing was how self-destructive their arguments against Mormonism are.

By self-destructive, I mean that most of the arguments they employee against the Church to make it look silly or evil apply just as well to Christianity as a whole. An atheist could talk the transcript of the program, replace "Mormon" with "Christian" and be ready to publish their own anti-Christian rant.

Ironically, I found that their attack on Mormonism served to illustrate how well the Mormon faith fits into the larger Christian tradition. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. All quotes are from Rocky Hulse, the guest being interviewed on the show.

"Mormonism is so all inclusive that a lot of people, once they are -- they are so indoctrinated. They are so embedded in the Mormon doctrine and its teachings--that it is the only true church on the earth. Period."

For Christianity to be meaningful, it must permeate every aspect of our lives and inform all our decisions. Any loving parent is going to attempt to inculcate values into their children that they believe will lead to happiness. Evangelical Christians and Mormon Christians both do this. Anything else would be neglect. All Christians I know believe that Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life." This is, by definition, exclusive of any other path. Naturally, then, Mormons join all other Christians in echoing the ancient apostles that there is only one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

"...found out the foundations, origins, teachings, doctrines of Mormonism have been altered, deleted, falsified, all those things"

Hulse thinks Mormons will be horrified to learn that every detail of Mormon history isn't presented in Sunday School. Do you think that any other church presents every known detail of Christian history to the parishioners? Would that even be possible, let alone beneficial?

If you are a non-Mormon Christian and you don't have Sunday School lessons about the frailties of early leaders of your denomination, perhaps you should confront your preacher and angrily ask why the church is hiding things from you. For example, I'm certain that there were never any Baptist leaders involved in lychings in the South, right? Right? For the Mormon-haters, the expectation seems to be that Mormons are supposed to have been perfect all along while everyone else is given plenty of latitude.

Hulse goes on to drive at his primary thesis: Mormons can't be trusted in public office because they have sworn an allegiance to the church. The argument boils down to this: Mormons can't be public servants because they will always do what they think God wants.

Isn't this a kind of obvious point for a religious person, Mormon or otherwise? What is the point of faith if it doesn't inform your actions? Should non-Mormon Christian politicians renounce their allegiance to God before they are permitted to swear allegiance to the Constitution?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mysteriously Important Bodies

There's something very important about having bodies that I don't fully comprehend, but a couple of items recently have given me reason to consider anew the importance of physical bodies in Mormon theology.

First, a quote from Joseph Smith.

So plain was the vision, that I actually saw men, before they had ascended from the tomb, as though they were getting up slowly. They took each other by the hand and said to each other, ‘My father, my son, my mother, my daughter, my brother, my sister.’ And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.

The "first joy" is to "meet my father" and other relatives? We believe that the the spirit world has a similar social structure to this world. If that is the case, we will have just come from being with our righteous fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. Why then would the resurrection be a time of singular rejoicing? I can only imagine that the thrill of an embrace--a physical embrace--will be something we've been longing for since the separation of our bodies and spirits.

The second point of emphasis for bodies is the work we do in temples for the dead. Let's take baptism for the dead as our example. Baptism is a time to make a covenant. God has specified a particular ritual we must go through to enter into a covenant with Him. We must have an authorized priesthood holder immerse us in water.

I suppose that God could have easily chosen any other act to consummate this covenant. He might have insisted that we all speak a particular phrase, or that we wave our hands in the air, or that we lie on our backs very still for several minutes. For a number of good reasons, he chose the symbol-rich ordinance of baptism.

So now consider those people who didn't have an opportunity to be baptized in mortality. What is so special about the physical-body part of the ordinance that God requires it for all people, even if it must be done by proxy? For the life of me, I can't image why he couldn't have them perform some similar body-free ordinance in the spirit world. But they apparently need water baptism just as mortals do. I don't understand it, but it seems to be saying something very important about bodies.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We Do Not Mourn As Those Without Hope

My friend, who uses the pseudonym Artemis online, lost her baby girl in a premature birth on Saturday. My tears flow freely for her grief.

Even though we know the plan of salvation, the death of one so innocent and helpless is wrenching to the core of our souls. Today in our priesthood meeting, the lesson from the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith was appropriately timed yet painful to hear.

“… The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope.”

Even with our knowledge of the plan of salvation, we can't expect that the momentary pain of loss will be any less. Our solace comes in knowing that the sting of that death need not be eternal.

We pray for you, Artemis and family, and hope the hole in your heart will always be a little window back to heaven.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama Embraces a Heresy

Traditional Christians have been trapped in an uncomfortable box for quite some time. They insist that the only people who can be saved are those who have accepted Jesus in this life. According to this line of thinking, it doesn't matter how wonderful a life is lived; sins were still committed and without Jesus there will be eternal consignment to hell.

Think of all of the people who have lived and never heard the name of Jesus. Can you honestly believe they are all eternally damned? This, I believe, is a depressing lie based on an incomplete truth. Yes, Christ is the only way to salvation, but his grace is so much broader than the traditional Christians will admit.

God's plan, as taught by the Mormons, includes a provision for those who don't have an opportunity to accept Jesus in this life: They will have an opportunity to receive him in the next life. They will be judged for the life that they lived in relation to their understanding. This is a merciful theology. Mormons are accused of being non-Christian for exactly this sort of heretical belief.

Barack Obama, presidential candidate, has raised the eyebrows of some Christian leaders because he seems to believe the way I do on this issue. Here's how it was reported in Newsweek.

When Franklin Graham asked Obama recently how, as a Christian, he could reconcile New Testament claims that salvation was attainable only through Christ with a campaign that embraces pluralism and diversity, Obama tells NEWSWEEK he said: "It is a precept of my Christian faith that my redemption comes through Christ, but I am also a big believer in the Golden Rule, which I think is an essential pillar not only of my faith but of my values and my ideals and my experience here on Earth. I've said this before, and I know this raises questions in the minds of some evangelicals. I do not believe that my mother, who never formally embraced Christianity as far as I know … I do not believe she went to hell." Graham, he said, was very gracious in reply. Should Obama beat John McCain, he has history on his side. Presidents such as Lincoln and Jefferson were unorthodox Christians; and, according to a Pew Forum survey, 70 percent of Americans agree with the statement that "many religions can lead to eternal life." "My particular set of beliefs," Obama says, "may not be perfectly consistent with the beliefs of other Christians."

Welcome to the heretics club, senator.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

God's Great Gifts

I set about this evening to write a post about the folly of the "Prosperity Gospel" that is preached in some chapels across the country. I was so bothered by the false God that is set up by those preachers and how they set people up for disappointment.

As I was looking for the articles I'd read on the subject of Dollar, Osteen, and Warren (three prominent preachers of the prosperity gospel) I got bored of the subject.

I started looking for an unrelated story that I remembered hearing at a recent BYU devotional. I couldn't find the story, but as I was browsing through the BYU Speeches site, I found two articles that really touched my heart. They turn out to be the positive version of the message I wanted to share in this post, rather than the negative cast I had started with.

First, I read Ardeth G. Kapp's talk from Women's Conference 2004. The title phrase, "Pray Not for Light Burdens but for Strong Backs," immediately evoked strong emotions for me. I've been pondering recently about the plight of so many poor people in the world, including those here in my own community.

Why does life have to be so hard for them?

Sister Kapp quotes Elder Maxwell,
We can say: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17.)

There have been and will be times in each of our lives when such faith must be the bottom line: We don’t know what is happening to us or around us, but we know that God loves us, and knowing that, for the moment, is enough. [Not My Will, But Thine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 119]
After reading Sister Kapp's beautiful talk, I read a talk from Elder Featherstone (given before I was born.) His sermons have always touched me when I've read them in a reverent mood. He shared the story of a stuttering boy who overcame his obstacle, of a woman who overcame great trials and then lost and regained her faith in God, and of his own very difficult boyhood where he dealt with poverty and a difficult father.
What I am saying is that if the Lord will take a scroungy little kid like that, who had to wear nurses' shoes to church and had to go and beg for groceries, and if he will make him a high councilor or a stake president or the second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, can you believe what he would do for you? Many of you are covenant children. Your parents were married in the temple, and so you are born in the covenant. The rest of you are going to this great institution, BYU, where the greatest learning process in the world can take place. God bless each one of you that you'll feel your sense of worth, that you'll understand who you really are. You are a royal generation. You have a great deal to offer. I don't care what the handicaps are that you think are so severe; you can overcome them. God bless each one of you, I pray from the depths of my soul as I ask a blessing upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The final conclusion for me? God does want us to prosper. He does want wonderful things for us. He won't always give them to us immediately (the pitfall of the proponents of the prosperity gospel), but he will give them; and the rewards will be greater than we can presently comprehend. God is great. I invite you to share my journey by reading the two talks I've linked above when you have a quiet moment.

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