Confirming Our Hope

After mulling this over for quite some time (perhaps the last 2 or 3 years, off and on), I’ve decided to share the following on my blog. Almost nobody visits the blog anyway, but knowing it’s in the public domain and accessible to anyone has been enough for me to consider this carefully. In the end, it seems there’s no way to fully own my story and what I’ve come to believe without being willing to share this.

We recently celebrated my youngest child’s 8th birthday. He’ll be baptized in the LDS church in another month or so. My wife and I and our children have been raised in the LDS church and, as I mentioned in my last post, this has provided my first lessons in spiritual and eternal things. Despite many awkward and uncomfortable aspects of this upbringing, I am profoundly grateful for my spiritual heritage and I’m happy to have my children baptized in this church.

Twenty-one years ago next month, my wife and I were married in the LDS temple in Los Angeles, a city that is near and dear to my heart. It’s where my wife was raised and it’s where I met my second family. When we were married, I had only been off my mission for about 7 months. Those few years from 1995 to 1998 were the most transformative of my life, spiritually – that is until 14 years ago this month, which I’ve already discussed in my last post (Spiking the Heavenly Gift) and in previous posts. This was April of 2005 and I was a graduate student at the University of Washington. God touched my life by means I wouldn’t have expected. This revitalized and expanded my faith in a way that was dramatic to me, even if unremarkable from the vantage point of outside observers.

Still 7 years later, in April 2012, the pattern repeated itself. This, too, I mentioned in Spiking the Heavenly Gift and other posts on this blog. I won’t elaborate on this other than to emphasize that the Spring and Summer of 2012 fundamentally and irreversibly changed my views of the LDS church. In short, I do not believe that the religion of Joseph Smith survived the presidency of Brigham Young. Sure, the LDS church has retained artifacts and heirlooms of the original religion, so to speak, in that it still teaches from the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants. But, the rich doctrine of the original religion, as taught by Joseph Smith, has been strained and filtered to the point that, effectively, I don’t see the LDS church as being substantially different than any of the major Christian denominations.

So, with that preface, I arrive at what I wanted to share. Seven years has been long enough to realize that this isn’t going away. April 2012 and subsequent investigations have proved not to be a whimsical and transient foray into counter-orthodox ideas, but rather an incremental gathering of light and insight that’s far more savory and satisfying to my spiritual appetites than anything I’ve encountered within LDS orthodoxy.

On January 8, 2013, I had a dream that provides a good summary of what I think is the current state of affairs in the LDS church. This account of the dream is unfiltered, as it’s exactly what I wrote when I woke up. There is at least one conspicuous idiosyncrasy in how I have described the experience and this is the repetitive emphasis on the fact that this was not what I consider a true vision, but merely a ‘vision’ inside of a dream. It seems I had to make sure that anyone reading this at some future time would not come away from it with the impression I was claiming it as a legitimate vision of the Bible sort. The dream was actually my reality and the ‘vision’ was only a vision within that dream state. I believe that a true vision is something that happens while you are awake.

In any case, here are some preliminary notes about what I think the portions of the ‘vision’ within my dream represent: Continue reading

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Spiking the Heavenly Gift

Spike, verb (used with object), spiked, spik·ing. To make ineffective; frustrate or thwart; In journalistic parlance, spiking refers to withholding a story from publication for reasons pertaining to its veracity (whether or not it conforms to the facts) or for political reasons.

Recently, I learned the term above when I came across this article about Fox news spiking the Stormy Daniels story before the election that put Trump in the White House. When I was in elementary school (or maybe it was middle school and/or high school), when we learned new vocabulary words, we had to write the words in a sentence. Well, here’s my sentence for ‘spike’.

The church formerly known as LDS (or Mormon) attempted to buy the copyright to ‘Passing the Heavenly Gift‘, a controversial book on LDS church history, so that it could spike (i.e. bury forever) the book.

This book is an important part of my history. I discovered it sometime in the Spring of 2012 and then read it in late Summer of the same year. Roughly a year after that, in September 2013, the author was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His excommunication was due solely to his authorship and publication of ‘Passing the Heavenly Gift‘. In his own words:

I was given the ultimatum that I either had to take that book out of print, or I would be excommunicated. For a whole host of reasons, including the fact that I have a publisher, I have a contract with the publisher, I went to the publisher and said, ‘I’m being given an ultimatum, it needs to be taken off.’ He said, ‘Well if the church is opposed to it, it’s a good book to keep in print. So no, we’re going to keep this book in print.’ So then I was told that since the publisher was interested in keeping it in print, they would be willing to purchase the copyright to the book. And so I went back to the publisher, and I said, ‘What would it take to buy the copyright from you for this book?’ And the fellow’s reaction was, ‘You are sh***ing me!’ (I mean, I’m quoting him, so don’t fault me for his language.) He said, ‘If they’re that interested in buying and getting it out, this book has to stay in print! This is Martin Luther, this is Galileo, this is historic! We have to keep this— No. No amount of money!’ I said, ‘Well, okay. I don’t want to be in the middle of a lawsuit, but….‘” Continue reading

Mormonism Mashup

Every once in a while, I get to talk about something that truly interests me. Here’s one of those times – an exchange I had with a friend. We had been discussing (in person) the concept of Truth and how (in my opinion) it exists outside of church, religion, or science and embraces the so-called “spiritual” and the so-called “physical”. I titled this post Mormonism Mashup, because much of this is infused with ideas I’ve picked up from Mormonism. Joseph Smith said:

“…Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter Day Saints, is truth… the first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another...” [1]

Anyway, here’s the online exchange that followed our in-person conversation. Numbers in square brackets indicate there is a corresponding footnote at the end of this post.

Friend:If God transcends physics, doesn’t that imply that God transcends truth?

Me:In other words, God can make his/her/its own Truth? Well, my thinking is that the only way God became God was by a gradual process over eons that involved conforming him/her/itself (or themselves) to transcendent Truths that exist outside of time. That’s derived from my Buddhist/Hindu perspective. But, throughout the eons of cycles and stages of progression [2], every being that’s achieved a perfected, refined state had to get there through the help of a Mediator/Redeemer. That’s my Christian perspective coming through. But, then, there had to be a first, right? How did the whole process get primed/bootstrapped/sparked? I can’t figure that one out. There had to be a beginning. But this whole perspective is one without beginning or end. It requires the concept of Eternity. But, then again, doesn’t any worldview have to grapple with a beginning? If there was an infinitely dense point in space that exploded and provided all the material we see around us, how did the infinitely dense point get there and where is the source of energy that compressed it into an infinitely dense mass? The idea of no beginning and no end bothered me as a kid. And it still kind of does.” Continue reading

Brene Brown-ing

You may think that Brene Brown is a person, but in our house, she has become a verb (we’re ‘Brene Browning’ right now), adjective (very ‘Brene Brownian’), and a common noun (that was a good ‘Brene Brown’). Recently, my wife shared with me something from a Brene Brown book about the values that govern our actions, our thoughts and ideas, the way we approach life. One page in the book lists at least 100 values and the exercise is to select only the two most important that you feel define you and the way you live life. There could be several others that resonate with you, but she (Brene) explains that these ‘second tier’ values are more or less derived from your two primary values.

So, channeling the mojo of Brene Brown, I took this introspective challenge and came up with these two primary values for myself: Curiosity and Growth. I agree, that all of my ‘second tier’ values seem to be related to or subject to these two primary values. Every other good thing, for me, is connected to or springs out of them – Truth, Knowledge, Community, Altruism, Learning, Making a Difference, Understanding, Wisdom, Vision. Continue reading

Lennon’s Dream

Imagine… no religion.

I like to throw around statements such as this. They can evoke strong reactions, as some are inclined to read their own interpretations into them, assume they know what you’re trying to say, and then proceed to set up straw men they can mercilessly put to death.

Perhaps they’ll even throw in an attack on your character for good measure to ensure that anyone listening in on the conversation comes away from it thinking you’re an idiot. This immediately ends debate, shuts down intelligent discussion, and makes clear that the case is closed.

The perfect reaction to this is to say: “Well, I’m glad we’re in agreement about that! Now, can we discuss what I was actually saying?

I honestly believe that this phenomenon fuels much of the debate, conflict, disagreement, anger, indignation, criticism, personal attacks, and political gridlock we seem to be immersed in.

So, I want to go through an exercise right now to see if it might provide an illustration of how we can all still go on living in relative peace and civility with each other, despite seemingly drastic differences in perspective, opinion, and ideology. Continue reading

Upon What Foundation?

I’m excited about a new “calling” I recently received in my LDS ward, teaching a youth Sunday school class with another fellow that I have a lot of respect for. He taught the class two weeks ago and it was very engaging and focused on the core of the Gospel. Specifically, we went through a portion of the Lord’s “Sermon on the Mount”.

In preparation for this week’s lesson, I’ve been slowly making my way through the readings from the New Testament that are scheduled for this lesson. I was inspired by this interaction (recorded in Luke 7) that Jesus had with a Pharisee and a woman, who the former regarded as a sinner and unworthy of the Lord’s attention:

“…behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:37-39)

The Lord proceeds to tell a parable of sorts, asking the Pharisee, which debtor, one who owes 500 pence, or one who owes 50 pence, having been forgiven of the debt, will love God most? The Pharisee rightly answers, the one who owed most. Then, Jesus continues: Continue reading

One Axiom to Rule Them All

Here’s a post that I originally published almost 2 years ago on this blog and then later decided to make private. I’ve decided once again that I would like this to be public.

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.**

This comes from one of my favorite stories, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Whatever Tolkien meant to convey in this story, I consider it much more than an entertaining fantasy tale. For me, it is full of profound allegorical elements that are a reflection of the times we live in and times we are yet to experience before the return of Christ, the Lord of Lord’s.

As an example, Tolkien’s choice of the diminutive hobbits as the one race with sufficient strength of will to resist evil and bear the One Ring of power to a place where it could be destroyed mirrors scriptural prophecies of power descending upon the “weak things of the world” (D&C 1:19-23), enabling them to overcome the evil pervasive in the earth when all is in commotion (D&C 45:26) and there are none save those in Zion who are not at war one with another (D&C 45:68-69).

The rings of power are the means by which Sauron aims to bring the people of all races – elves, dwarves and men – under his influence and control. The rings are imbued with magic that essentially preys on the weakness and ambitions of the possessors (envy, jealousy, covetousness) until they are consumed and corrupted by it. The purpose of the “One Ring to rule them all“, which Sauron seeks to reclaim, is described in this poem: Continue reading

04. Mary Queen of Peace

The first church-going experience today has been a success. The boys are contentedly, even boisterously, playing on the little playground outside the community center where we just attended the Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ service. It seems they have made some new friends here. However, it’s about time to head back home before going to my second church service, so I start rounding up the boys. There’s plenty of time to spare, but I might as well get them settled at home and spend some time with my wife.

On the way home, my 10-year-old asks if, sometime, we can visit Mary Queen of Peace, a Catholic church we pass often, because it’s right by the public library. It’s also where my youngest boy attended preschool, so the church feels familiar to us. I’m thrilled to hear my son wants to visit with me and I tell him we’ll for sure do it sometime. But, today, my plan is to attend a different Catholic mass by myself on the other side of town. As pleased as I am to find my son’s first church-going experience has apparently whet his appetite for more, I want the boys to have a decent lunch.

Back home, I tell my wife all about the experience at Spirit of Peace and how well the boys ended up doing. She suggests taking them to Mary Queen of Peace and I mention they need to have lunch. However, after some deliberation, we decide they’ll probably be fine because of the three rice krispies treats and four granola bars they just consumed. The 11:30 AM start time at Mary Queen of Peace is perfect, so we start collecting our stuff together to get out the door soon. I grab the usual bag of distractions we take to our own church for the boys in case they get bored.

Moments later, as we drive into the massive parking lot of the Catholic church, we could almost be pulling up to an LDS meeting with how natural it feels. We’ve been here so many times for preschool and also parked here to walk over to events next to the public library. Walking in here is not like our earlier experience at Spirit of Peace. For one thing, the boys don’t seem fazed at all this time. It’s familiar to them. As for me, I take comfort in knowing that this will be a much larger congregation, which means we’ll be able to blend in, largely unnoticed by anyone.

Getting out of the car and making the fairly long walk through the parking lot to the front doors, my older boy notices a friend from school who is leaving the service that just ended. As we come in the outer doors, a woman helpfully notes to me that the holy water has been moved to a different location just behind me, by the front doors. Uncertain what to say, I simply respond, “oh, okay“. Then, I decide to ask the obvious question: “So, what’s that used for?Continue reading

A Cold and Broken Hallelujah

I thought I posted this here, but I guess not. Other than this, I’ve never arranged (or composed) anything, but I would like to do more of this sort of thing, particularly with the piano, violin, and cello (these three were meant to be played together).

My arrangement of Hallelujah, a song that I can’t tell is tragic or hopeful as it recounts the fall of the great and wise King David from his exalted place and also references Samson, who was betrayed and stripped of his strength.

My thoughts are on the former as I listen to this song. The violin and cello seem to intercede for the king, petitioning for God’s grace, first in turn, then together, in harmony.

Surely a subject of long Christian debate, whether the Lord’s salvation is broad and deep enough to save even David, guilty of adultery and responsible for the death of Uriah, the lyricist of this song concludes “...love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

The king composed beautiful and prophetic verses (see Ps. 22) concerning the man who would make his abode among the ordinary and broken – those rejected, even despised by society – and who would bring hope and salvation to these lowly and humble. Continue reading

03. Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ

This morning, as I lie in bed, I feel restless thinking about the church visits I want to make today. It’s Sunday morning, October 7. Usually we have our regular church service at 9:00 AM, but it’s general conference weekend, when we get to stay home and essentially watch church on TV. We’re hearing from the leaders of the church from Salt Lake, something that happens twice a year in April and October. We’ve just had the first day of conference yesterday, in which we heard the momentous announcement that, effective January 2019, the duration of church services will be reduced from three hours to two. According to the announcement, this will offer us more opportunity to be home with our families to teach and discuss the gospel in a way that’s tailored to our own unique needs.

This is a great new development in my opinion, something I had heard rumors of, but never believed would happen anytime soon. I’m daunted by the idea of figuring out how to engage my kids in productive Sabbath-day gospel conversations – particularly given their differing ages and the added challenge of having three restless boys – but, this is a change that I welcome. Home worship is an appealing concept to me. In fact, I wouldn’t mind getting together with other families to study the scriptures and talk about the gospel. On this particular weekend, however, there’s another aspect of my enthusiasm about this change that’s at the forefront of my mind. Perhaps two-hour church will make it easier for me to squeeze in visits to other churches. And if I only go to sacrament meeting – well, even that has been reduced from 70 minutes to 60. It’s not much, but it could give me a jump on getting to another service.

There’s one complicating factor, however, another recent development. Last Sunday, the Bishop asked me if I can start helping out for an hour each week in the nursery. For some months now, I’ve been without a responsibility at church, what we refer to as a “calling”. I admit, I’ve enjoyed the freedom, including the flexibility it offers me to go to another church if I want to. On the other hand, I must say I was a bit relieved to have this calling extended to me. I accepted it immediately, because the nursery – where I get to hang out with 18-month to 3-year olds – is a nice, low-stress place to hide out. There are many other things I could be asked to do in the church that would demand much more time, and I’m not ready to sacrifice personal projects I’m working on. Everyone in the church is supposed to have a calling. And if I’m going to have a calling, this is the sort that I want to have. And besides, once we go to two-hour church, I’ll only be needed in the nursery every other week. So, all of this is a net positive for me.

Anyway, on this morning, I’m thinking more about how I might squeeze two church visits in, taking advantage of not having our regular service. And rather than leave my wife with all the kids so that I can go off and attend other churches, I’ve decided the best of all worlds would be to take one or two of the kids with me. This way, they get some exposure to other churches and my wife doesn’t have single-parent duty with all four kids. So, I’m thrilled when not only my 10-year-old, but also my 7-year-old both want to go on church visits with me. I’ve settled on Spirit of Peace United Church of Christ at 9:30 AM, since it’s close and the relatively early meeting time will leave some breathing room for me to get to another meeting afterward. Spirit of Peace is a humble congregation that meets in a nearby community center. It seems kid-oriented, a place that might serve as a good first non-LDS church-going experience for my boys, and also has this to say about itself:

“…there’s no stained glass. There are no pews. No formal clothes being worn. There’s nothing fancy or flashy at all. We’re a small, vibrant faith community. It’s kind of like how it was when Jesus and the people who followed him gathered together. We come as we are and trust that is more than good enough for God and for each other.”

Continue reading