Wall of Differences

Something I recently posted in a discussion group composed of LDS and non-LDS Christians:

When I first discovered this group, I was excited, because I thought (based on the group name) that it would be a place where LDS and non-LDS Christians had agreed to build on common beliefs, to love and respect each other, and to seek to understand each other better. Perhaps that’s an accurate description of the silent majority. But it’s certainly not the mantra of the vocal minority that I see posting here.

This creates an atmosphere where I don’t know how we can feel the influence of God and grow together into a unity of faith. In the early days of the LDS church, there was a lot of talk about “Zion”, a condition like what existed among the inhabitants of the city of Enoch. In an 1834 revelation to the LDS church, the Lord said: “...Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom…”. Elsewhere in LDS scripture, it says: “…the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”

It seems this group is used as a place for both sides to advertise complaints they have about the others’ beliefs. Joseph Smith once said the following: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine…. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.”

If this group were composed of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. in addition to Christians, I’d say the same thing. The same spark of divinity runs through all of us and we have the same access to the spirit of God. This is confirmed to me in all the goodness and purity I see in people of every sort and religious profession. Continue reading

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One Body

Here’s a talk I gave at church on 2018-04-29:

From 1835 to 1921, our Doctrine and Covenants contained a series of seven doctrinal expositions on faith. In the culminating 7th part, it says this concerning Christ: “…Where is the prototype? or Where is the saved being? … there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation…. he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings: And… to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed: and on this hinge turns the door of salvation.” (7.8,14)

As impossible as it may seem, to become like Christ, we should take God at His word. If his entire work and glory is our exaltation (Moses 1.39), and this is what he labors for constantly (2 Nep 26.24), it can’t be an entirely futile effort. As impossible as it seems, it must be possible.

But, we need to be in it for the long haul. Joseph Smith explained: “...it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned [all the principles of exaltation]. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” (History of the Church, 6.306-7). In other words, the labor extends well beyond this blink-of-an-eye moment of our existence.

This is why I take Christ as the ideal of what I want to strive for, even if I see how woefully distant this appears. Sometimes I grow discouraged at how far short of this ideal I fall. But, this is always momentary and then I resume the pursuit with faith and hope. I think that keeping Christ as our constant goal is what he meant when he said: “...I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” (3 Nep. 12.48)

So, over the course of this talk, I’m going to speak in terms of ideals. I’m going to speak as though these things are possible because “…with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1.37) All things are present before his eyes (D&C 38.2), he sees the end from the beginning (Isa. 46.10). He sees us not as we are right now, but what he intends us to become.

This breathes life into me. This causes my spirit, like Mary’s, to rejoice in God my Savior (Luke 1.47) and my soul to magnify Him (Luke 1.46). This makes me want to strive to stand as a witness of Him at all times and in all places (Mosiah 18.9).

This is how I see the world – in terms of ideals, in terms of the impossible, even if the hard reality of the gulf separating me from this ideal (1 Nep. 15.26-30; Hel. 3.29-30) stares me constantly in the face. What is faith if not to show in every word and deed that I believe the impossible to be possible? To me, this is the definition of faith. (Heb. 11; Ether 12)

So, what is the supreme ideal as it concerns the way we treat and interact with each other? What is the most foolish and impossible goal? To me, it’s Zion. It’s described in the book of Acts when the converts “had all things common” (Acts 2.44) and “…sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2.45). It’s described in 4 Nephi where “…there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Nep. 1.15)

It’s seen in the people of Enoch who Continue reading

Distraction

I might just as well have named this post ‘Idolatry’. Sometime in the last 2 or 3 years, I made a comment at church expressing my feelings about Jesus after which I felt a strong resolve never to say anything in a lesson or personal testimony that was not squarely focused on the Lord. In my mind, that was the only thing truly worth talking about in church.

To the Nephites, the Lord said: “...hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up...”. (3 Nep 18.24)

Lest there be any confusion about what the Lord was saying here, he is the light that we should hold up. We should not set ourselves up as a light (2 Nep 26.29). No man should draw attention away from God and toward himself. And we should not promote this kind of idolatry by focusing our lessons, discussions, talks, etc. at church on mere men.

This is on my mind because of a discussion we had today at church. We talked about Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness. We talked about the manna and meat that God provided. We talked about the brazen serpent that was raised up on the end of a staff in the wilderness when poisonous snakes had come among the people.

The title of the lesson was “Look unto God and Live“. This is an excellent topic. But that’s not what we talked about. Here’s what we discussed: Continue reading

Christ Built No Building

[Source: Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Christian Reformation, Lecture 2] “Unlike the institutional Christianity of the 1500s, early Christians were called the ekklesia, meaning a congregation or an assembly. But early Christians were not institutional and certainly not hierarchical. The first century of Christianity had no formal organization and no central control. Christians met informally in small groups and worshipped together in homes or public places. In this earliest form, small groups led by both men and women who are called diakonos, a word that’s translated into English as either deacon or deaconess. That Greek word means servant. It was in these home meetings where original Christians worshipped and learned of Christ in Christianity.

Original Christians had no professional clergy. They operated in a way akin to a method described in the Book of Mormon:

” ‘And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God, they all returned again diligently unto their labors. And the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner. And thus they were all equal and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor and the needy and the sick and the afflicted.’ [Alma 1.26-27]

This is how I believe Christianity ought to be practiced today, without a professional clergy diverting tithes and offerings that ought to be used to help the poor, needy, sick and afflicted. We need to and can return to those early days of Christianity. Justin Martyr lived from 110 to 165 AD and he wrote in the sub-apostalic age. His writings give us a glimpse into how Christianity functioned in its earliest days. In his first apology, he describes Christian worship. They met in homes having no church buildings. Before being considered a Christian, a candidate was baptized in the name of God the Father and the Lord of the universe and our Savior Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit. Meetings began with a prayer and saluting one another with a kiss. Then sacrament was prepared and administered using a cup of wine mixed with water and bread, which is blessed by giving praise and glory to the father of the universe, through the name of the son and of the Holy Ghost and offers thanks at considerable [length?] for our being counted worthy to receive these things at his hands. Continue reading

Seeking One Faith

There is a dismally small readership for this blog, but I will put this out there anyway. I wrote the following in a private Facebook message to someone who belongs to the Baha’i faith. What I’m seeking isn’t really stated until toward the end. If you take the time to read this, I would love to know if you know of any religious groups, Facebook groups, discussion groups, websites or other resources that could help me in my pursuit!

Back sometime in 1997 when I was a missionary for the LDS church, I met a Baha’i family who was very friendly and invited us into their home. I was drawn to the idea that the Baha’i faith, in a sense, incorporates other religions and sees their founders as legitimate messengers. For some time, I’ve considered that Muhammad and other founders could have been prophets, called of God.

More recently, I’ve been making a more conscientious effort to learn about the origins and the beliefs of other religions. For the last 10 years, I’ve believed that several of the world’s religions could have had divine origins and could represent dispensations of light to various peoples of the earth at different times. I believe that the Book of Mormon, if it doesn’t outright make an explicit case for it, at the very least leaves things wide open for the possibility that God has called prophets throughout the world in all the various ages (not just the prophets recognized by Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

With all of this said, I was initially under the impression that the Baha’i faith is more of a loose ideology that makes an effort to unify the various religions into one (making it very unique among religions). But having read in more detail now (I’ve joined a couple of Baha’i Facebook groups that are meant for people with an interest in learning more), I see that it has a much more formal set of professions and practices than I had thought.

I’m afraid that what I’m looking for is a tall order. The LDS church, as many other religions, has placed bounds on what ideas are still up for question. It’s one of the things we find comfort in within our religions that they teach us things that are ‘certain’. But my experience in the LDS church has made me feel that we’ve closed off too many doors, too many possibilities in favor of ‘certainty’. Continue reading

2017-04-04: Disposition of the Soul

In another lifetime, I was quite shame-prone. As explained in my last post (2017-03-30: Amazing Grace), this wreaked havoc on me during my mission. Thankfully, I gradually shed those fears and accepted that God is willing to take me as I am. The thing that gives me confidence is he knows the diligence with which I have sought him over the last 12 years. What more can he ask of me than the most earnest desires of my heart? He knows I grasp for anything he will give me, any portion of light, the crumbs that fall from the master’s table (Matt. 15:22-28). A couple of years ago, I wrote the following to a friend:

…It’s not in our having shed the weakness of the flesh that the Lord finds his pleasure in us. He knows we’re subject to the flesh. …what pleases the Lord are the desires of our heart. We have to walk with him…. What matters is what our struggles lead us to do and desire…. my struggles have led me repeatedly to feel after the Lord…. Even if it takes years for [our life] to be set in order as we wish it could be, the sweet peace and comfort comes DURING the journey… And it’s *worth pursuing*, even if it comes in degrees over a long period of time. It will yoke you…to the Lord…. He will PROVE to you that he loves you and that he is NOT ashamed of you. He will pour out blessings even if you don’t think you deserve them….

I wrote that not really having in mind any explicit scriptural basis for it. Rather, it was a conclusion I had come to as a result of my own experiences. But here’s something I now offer as a scriptural basis. Or should I call it an ex-scriptural basis? It comes from the lectures on faith, which were in the front of the Doctrine and Covenants from 1835 until 1921. My wife recently shared this with me, from the third lecture, verse 20: Continue reading

2017-03-30: Amazing Grace

Spring is here and I’ve been thinking a lot about where I was 20 years ago today. I’ve been rummaging around trying to find a peculiar item, a leaf I picked off of a tree in Nyon, Switzerland when I was a missionary there. It was a whimsical, carefree moment when I reached up and plucked the leaf by the stem. I remember deciding right then to take it home with me at the end of my mission as a reminder of that place and this wonderful and terribly difficult two years of my life.

To my disappointment, I have not been able to find this leaf as I’ve looked for it over the last few weeks. But I’m certain I had it at some point several years after returning home. It seemed to have hardly changed. Rather than finding it dry and brittle, I was surprised to find it still fairly flexible and nearly as green as when I first picked it. Or so my memory tells me. As much as I wanted to include a picture of it here, I have to settle for this screenshot (from Google Maps) that I took of Rue de la Colombière, the street I lived on for five months. It was one of those three trees on the right from which I picked my leaf.

Rue de la Colombiere 2

But the story of this leaf is not the one I want to tell. Well, maybe it’s part of the story. Perhaps it’s a crucial part of it, inasmuch as it conveys how much my mission experience meant to me (and still does). But my mission was also a monumentally trying time for me. For that part of the story, I need to go back to the beginning. I’ll try to make this as short as possible. Continue reading

2017-03-13: Bubble Trouble

This blog post contains a full transcript of Mormon Stories podcast #700, “How the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles Think – Enemies List and ‘Area Business Weekends'” (a PDF version can be downloaded from this location). I never intended to transcribe all of it, but one thing led to the next and I found myself doing the whole thing. And it was far more work than I ever anticipated. It was like making grape juice by hand, squeezing one measly grape at a time until I had this 15000+ word transcript. I’ll think twice before doing something like this again. But, I did learn this one interesting tidbit. The word “bubble” (or “bubbles”) is said 65 times over the course of this 84 minute podcast.

The following description of the episode is from the Mormon Stories page:

In this episode, an all-star panel reviews a recently leaked presentation created by the quorum of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The presentation is entitled “Area Business Weekends,” is dated December 8, 2015, and lays out the process for local LDS stakes and areas to request special training meetings from the LDS quorum of the 12 (e.g., Boise Rescue, Elder Ballard’s Young Single Adult stake in Utah County).

Within the presentation the LDS Q12 reveals its view on the external causes for people leaving the LDS church, which explicitly name individuals such as John Dehlin, Denver Snuffer, and Robert Norman, along with other broader trends, movements, and ideas such as secularism, Ordain Women, support for same-sex marriage (entitled “Disagree with current policies”), chastity, pornography, lack of commitment, failure to observe the sabbath, those fascinated with the “last days/end of world” (i.e., Preppers/Julie Rowe), “false prophets,” and anyone who feels they need “something more” from the church.

My initial interest in this episode was the fact that Denver Snuffer was discussed, and actually in a fair amount of detail. For him to get this much discussion time and to have even made the bubble trouble top 17 was surprising to me. It gives me the impression that his impact on the LDS population, at least in the western United States, has been more significant than I suspected.

So here you have it, below. I’ve broken it into six sections, each with its own summary. Times are included to make it easy to find corresponding locations in the recording (available at the link above). Continue reading

2016-12-19: Joseph’s Ruse

This isn’t meant, necessarily, to be persuasive and to prove or disprove anything. I’ll just say it finally articulates some personal views about the Book of Mormon (and really the Bible, PGP, D&C and JSH) that I’ve wanted to put into words. This FB thread was just a mechanism for doing this. Note that on weekdays, I get up at 5:00 AM with my daughter to make sure she gets up and out the door for seminary. After she leaves around 5:50, I lay back down for 35 or 40 minutes before I have to get my son up for school. Today, I got distracted by this FB discussion and this is how I ended up spending my “nap” time (it was well worth it, though): Continue reading

2016-12-11: The Lord’s Deliverance

During the years from 2005 to 2009, I had an idol that captured my devotion. School itself had been an idol during my undergraduate years and into the first year or two of my PhD program. But the nature of it changed during those first couple of years. I traded one idol for another. And the second was far more insidious than the first. The second was enrobed in a vestment that appeared as light to me. In 2005, I knew that school had become an idol. And I didn’t want it to remain such. So in a written prayer on March 23, 2005, I petitioned God (the following may sound a bit dramatic, but this was a sincere expression of my feelings):

How am I to proceed in my academic education without some greater purpose? This learning is dead and of no value to me and I have no desire to pursue it further if it cannot be made to serve some higher purpose…. Please, Father, make me to see the higher purpose of my academic education for without such a vision, I feel no desire to stay here, to remain in school. I desire spiritual learning and am loath to turn my attention to academic pursuits if I cannot find there the same enlightenment and edification…. Please make me to see why I am pursuing higher education if not for some truly higher purpose of more eternal importance. My family suffers and sacrifices [as a result] of my education…. Please, Father, may I see it? Or if it does not exist, then tell me what Thou wouldst have me do, I pray…

This provides some background for what I experienced during my qualifying exam as described here: 2016-09-20: Sure Provisions. In a later post, 2016-10-17: A Parable, I included the following excerpt from a 2007 email to a friend: Continue reading