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

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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

A Question to my Pitiless Friend

Evolution, my pitiless, pragmatic friend, I have a question.

They say you favor the strong and most able. Beauty you permit only if it gains you something. The fleeting Flower is acceptable because it attracts the Bee. The bright color of the Monarch would be objectionable but for its utility in deterring the Predator. Never deviating from your course, you dispassionately consume the weak and spare the fit, fecund, and resilient.

I don’t take this personally. Your dominion is impressive. It reaches the ends of the earth and the depths of the sea. Surely you could not retain all of this under your control without a Law, and steadfast obedience to it.

To my question, though. The Tree is surely under your dominion and yet it seems to defy your Law. As the sunset leaves the heart glad at the onset of night, as the rainbow heralds the return of Light after the oppressive gray of the storm, the Tree transform its leaf into a beautiful rainbow before casting it upon the ground at the end of Summer. It’s as if, in imitation of the Sun, it wishes to cheer my heart before the onset of Winter.

They say there is only one Law in Nature and that is survival and perpetuation. Anything else, if it does not contribute to these, is superfluous, trivial, and should be discarded. So, why does the Tree transform its Autumn leaf into a rainbow just before casting it to the ground? Why go to the trouble when it appears to confer no advantage upon its own survival or the survival of its kind?

If I did not know better, I would think this an act of civil disobedience. Subtle, but pointed, it would suggest the Tree’s loyalty actually lies elsewhere, somewhere outside, even above your realm. The Tree, in this merciful, altruistic act, seems to obey another law altogether. One that gives without thought of reward or benefit for self. Like the light of the Sun, with its array of resplendent effects, the Tree makes its own meager offering, as if to declare it does not belong to you at all, but to the same Light that lights the whole earth.

Autumnal Park. Autumn Trees and Leaves. Fall

Attribution for the picture: https://www.lifeinminnesota.com/20-best-places-to-see-fall-colors-in-minnesota

02. Jehovah’s Witnesses

As I walk back out to my car, there’s still almost an hour before the Jehovah’s Witness meeting begins. The service at Covenant Presbyterian Church, which started at 10:30 AM, lasted about an hour and a half. While satisfied at having just attended my first non-LDS church service in over 20 years, I can’t help wondering if I should be heading home now to spend time with my family. After a quick text home to my wife to see how things are going, the kid report comes back as “grumpy” but manageable, since they probably just need lunch. With that, I decide to stick to the original plan and head over to the Kingdom Hall on the other side of town.

In rather striking contrast to how I felt just before arriving at Covenant Presbyterian, I feel much more at ease, even confident, this time as I drive into another unknown. Could it be because I’ve already attended a Jehovah’s Witness meeting before? This seems unlikely since that was a lifetime ago, as a 20-year-old Mormon missionary. Is it because I managed to survive my experience at Covenant Presbyterian? Perhaps. Surely it must help that my appearance won’t be entirely unexpected, at least for the two Witnesses that invited me here a month or two ago.

But there also seems to be something more visceral. For one thing, I suspect that in contrast to the service I just attended, I’m not going to be the only one in a white shirt and tie this time. That at least eliminates one source of anxiety that was, however silly it seems, a significant theme of my last experience. But, there’s more to it. As much as members of either denomination would probably not like to admit it, I believe that Mormons and Witnesses share a similar religious psychology. They are equally sure of their own rightness and everyone else’s wrongness. For both, it’s not “my” or “our” church, but “The Church”.

While this would seem to make the experience more intimidating and more onerous, I feel like I’m stepping into my own world, just at a different venue. These are not my enemies, but my brothers and sisters. And I’m not here to argue. I’m here to learn, observe and absorb. Will I be seen by some as a project? A prospect? Probably. But, I just don’t care. Why should I expect someone to be willing to come to an LDS meeting when I’m not willing to be subjected to the same? So, I’m here to be prospected. I’m here to give them the floor. I’m here to hear them out. And perhaps I’m even here to make a friend or two, if that’s possible between a Mormon and a Witness. Continue reading

Ideological Boxes

In the last few years, I have become increasingly averse to and rebellious against attempts to define religious and political orthodoxies that draw ideological and philosophical lines, dividing the world into ever smaller, dogmatic boxes of mutual incompatibility.

As a case in point, I did this interesting Belief-o-Matic quiz to see how I line up with different religions. On some questions, I wanted to select more than one answer, others I didn’t like any of the answers. Still others, I thought, if I could only revise the wording on some of these, I’d feel good selecting them.

This reinforces my philosophy that we must not allow ourselves to be stuffed into distinct categories and forced to fit into a specific ideology. We have to think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions and follow what *we* believe. No one should *ever* dictate what we should and should not believe.

Not long ago, I attempted to articulate my broad, unifying view of religion: Seeking One Faith.

Anyway, here are the top 12 religions that I aligned with: Continue reading

“Mountain” Church

In a recent text exchange with a friend, I got on the topic of my plans to visit 29 local churches over the next several months. He more or less left the LDS church about 8 years ago, but around this time, he visited a number of other churches as he was trying to sort out his feelings about religion. Here’s a smattering of what I wrote to my friend over the course of this exchange:

I actually went to almost 5 hours of church on September 2. I left after our own sacrament meeting… went to Covenant Presbyterian… Then I went to a Jehovah’s Witness meeting…. I’m going to start visiting different churches every so often just to broaden my perspective. I really want to see what it’s like out there in that wilderness of other churches. I put together a list of 29 churches… and I’m going to gradually visit all of them. I’ve got 2 down now, 27 to go….

“…I’m going to spread it out…. I’m kind of looking to just have my mind stretched a bit. You know, break down the prejudices or preconceived notions I might have about other churches…. I’d also like to diversify and try out Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist…. I took this ‘Belief-o-matic’ religion test to see what I align with and Hinduism was my top one. Mormon was 3rd…. I’ll let you know how the other experiences go. I’m just going to let the experiences kind of wash over me and see what kinds of impressions they leave on me. I think it should be a valuable experience.”

At some point, my friend commented that one “church” he enjoys is mountains. At first I didn’t catch on to what he was saying: Continue reading

01. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Part 3

[This is a continuation of 01. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Part 2 and probably the last part in this series of posts. Subsequent posts about my church-visiting project will be numbered 02, 03, etc. for each new church that I visit. This is a long-term project and my plan is to document every experience, narrating each in the present tense, as though it’s happening right now.]

Walking out to the parking lot after sacrament meeting today (September 2, 2018) is not out of the ordinary. I always put our backpack of kid stuff in the car after the first hour of church so I don’t have to carry it around for the next two hours. What’s unusual about today is that it’s not a round trip out to the car and back into the church. This time, I get in, start the car and make my way out of the parking lot, all the while glancing around to see if anyone will see me leaving church early.

It’s definitely not the end of the world if anyone sees me. There are a dozen acceptable reasons why I might be leaving church early (I’m not feeling well, I have company in town, I’m going home to check on one of my older kids who is home sick, etc.). But, knowing none of these are true and that I’m actually going to visit another church (not an LDS one), I’m a bit more mindful of who might see me. I’m taking the long view of things. If I’m going to be doing this on a regular basis – perhaps once a month, perhaps every other week – how long can I go before people start noticing the routine? Today, I’m glad no one is outside the church to see me drive off. Even if one early departure would likely not register appreciably on anyone’s radar, I figure the longer it goes unnoticed, the better.

Out of the parking lot, now, and safely out of view, I cruise comfortably down the lushly tree-lined road toward my destination. I didn’t get to the car as quickly as planned, but I think there’s still time to get to Covenant Presbyterian Church around 10:30 AM, give or take a few minutes. It feels oddly liberating as I drive, like the relief and utter calm you feel after finals for school, or after you’ve finished a stressful project for work. During this brief euphoria, I notice, as if for the first time in years, just how beautiful this area is. And I’m filled with gratitude to God for the gift of this place. I pass a church and think to myself, cheerfully, almost whimsically, “yeah, I’ll visit that one too at some point.” It feels good to be doing something on my terms. My thoughts turn to God, almost prayer-like. In that moment it feels as though the full intention of my heart is laid bare to God. And I don’t feel ashamed. In fact, for the first time in a while, it feels as though God and I are on the same page – almost like he’s been waiting patiently for me to catch up.

Continue reading

01. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Part 2

[This is a continuation of 01. Covenant Presbyterian Church, Part 1. I’ve started a project to visit churches in the area. I grew up Mormon/LDS and still attend an LDS congregation weekly. But, my plan is to periodically skip out on part of my own church meetings (which last from 9:00 AM to noon) so that I can drop in on worship services of other churches. I’m taking my time describing this first church-visiting experience, because there is background information I want to provide for context. As I get further into the project, I expect there will be less need of background information and more focus on the church visits.]

Today is “fast Sunday” in the LDS church, the first Sunday of the month (September 2, 2018), which gives members of the congregation the chance to get up, as they feel the desire, and share special experiences and statements of personal belief or conviction. One man tells of the struggles of a son who, at a young age, started down a path that led him out of the church and even got him in trouble with the law. For years, his son followed this wayward path until a young woman he was involved with took an interest in the church and wanted to be baptized. The two of them eventually married in an LDS temple, the ultimate symbol of righteous living and activity in the church. It was a classic “prodigal son” type story, in which one who had been lost was found again.

In our church, such stories are a witness to us that this is God’s true church and that all who humble themselves and truly seek the Lord will be led here to receive baptism and other saving ordinances offered by God to man through His church. As I listen this morning, feeling grateful that this man’s son found faith and peace in God, I wonder to myself if the LDS church is indeed the only one that offers a path back to God’s presence. This is a question I grapple with regularly these days – almost weekly, in fact. A lot has changed in my views of the church over the last 5 – 10 years. I’m no longer convinced that God even needs a church in the sense that we typically think about a church – that is to say, an organization legally established according to man’s laws.

Actually, I could put it more bluntly. The idea that God offers one path to salvation by way of a man-made organization sounds rather ridiculous to me now, particularly when that organization spends a great deal on building projects to beautify downtown Salt Lake City, publicity campaigns, glossy pictures of attractive, perfectly-groomed people on magazine covers, and so forth. There seems to be an inordinate attention to outward detail. In our general conferences, men are in full suits, women in beautiful Sunday best, both women and men well-coiffed, well-practiced in delivering prepared talks, which have been reviewed by employees of the church to ensure that nothing unacceptable or embarrassing makes its way into a message that is going to be heard by a worldwide LDS audience (and surely an appreciable non-LDS population that has been invited by LDS friends to tune into conference). Continue reading