Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Seeing Perfection

Had a moment of "perfect" the other day.  It wasn't anything out of the ordinary and nothing that would have drawn any interest from anyone else.  But for me it was a moment that didn't have anything about it I would have changed even if I could have.

The details are not important and might only be distracting so I don't share hardly any.  Basically I was chatting with my wife after our kids had gone to sleep.  The challenges of life, a lot of young kids, two of them having arrived together was weighing on me.  The conversation was full of mutual caring, love, and seemed almost timeless.  She said a few things that created a balance so perfect it brought a slice of heaven into the room.  The way she viewed the world and the way I was viewing the world were very different but when both were side by side the universe came to a momentary balance point so thin had there been any slight distractions it would have passed by unnoticed. 

In that thin slice of perfection it was clear only God could have orchestrated a balance of personality between she and I, and a set of circumstances that allowed His hand to be clearly visible. Only God could bring actual harmony amidst the seeming lack of harmony of life.  I found peace. God's hand seems invisible sometimes but yet we are told in scripture it permeates everything.  I accept that as an accurate description of the hidden reality.  The extraordinary really is in the ordinary.

It was a perfect moment, and in that moment things were perfect. I lack the words to describe it.  I guess it's what an eastern philosophy might say: "There's perfection in the seeming imperfection." I guess like imperfect looking or colored threads can be crafted into a beautiful tapestry.  And I'm not talking about anything cheesy or sentimental.  It's instead substance, it's intelligence, it's light.  It’s love unlike anything else.  But I'm not able to express it.

No wonder God warns against idolatry.  It's in our best interest not to do that stuff but instead find and follow Him and His voice wherever found.

The intelligence and love reflected in that slice of perfection was humbling.  If that's a slice of heaven then no wonder mankind and scripture speak of it as a place of love and intelligence far beyond anything we find here on this earth.  And yet, a portion can enter this world.  That moment was proof.  At least for me.

In that perfect moment I had to admit that it has not been God who has failed to furnish evidence or answers.  It has been me that failed to see them, unable to see His perfection amidst the imperfection.

I stand all amazed.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How the Scriptures lived (Journal Entry)

Journal entry.

The past few weeks have involved some deep dives into scriptures.  Connecting scripture to other scripture and attempting to identify what even qualifies as scripture, and various ways to tell.

In that search I found some real gems of understanding.  Something I noticed when going through a bunch of scriptures a few posts ago about the heart and understanding, is there's a degree of cohesion within our scriptures. They all seem to work together and have numerous interrelated connections to help us form a picture. It's as if all the authors shared some sort of underlying understanding.  It's one they seem to want the readers to see too.

When the A&C (herehere)  first came out there was a question involved asking if the hearer believed and knew the content came from God. Believing is one thing, knowing is another.  The question included both. 

Knowledge for me does not always come overnight. At the time, (Sept 2017) I recognized a good seed and had a conviction and swelling motions in my heart from studying it.  So I knew the seed was good to the best of my limited understanding and capability.  Not a mature plant, but a sprouting seedling that brought light.  It's taken some time, experience, and careful pondering and comparison to other scriptures to begin to gather evidence for my mind.  And there are a lot of possible comparisons one can make.  It's still a work in progress.

If I were asked "Why is ____ scripture to you?" I want to be able to answer that with knowledge and understanding, not just  "Because I feel _____". 

How easily are feelings manipulated? Or how often do the feelings we like not stay forever even though we want them to?  One of the difficulties (at least for me) in Mormonism is that the Holy Ghost is almost universally taught as a feeling a person has. I find that terribly incomplete and often misleading.  It gets too easily confused with sentimentalism and often doesn't edify nor communicate any message other than good feelings.  I've learned instead to take time and effort to look for pure intelligence, light and truth, rather than just feelings alone.

In my experience comprehension and understanding are different in nature and degree from feelings. The sine qua non of the Gospel to me, is not a feeling although growing up I thought it was.  I now view it as an experience, light, truth, comprehension, the Glory of God.  Feelings of course go along with it but I've noticed intelligence endures past when the feelings subside.  There's more lasting fulfillment in the added light.   

My acceptance of traditional LDS scripture as from God originated in my upbringing.  I was just always told the Bible and Book of Mormon were from God as well as the D&C and Pearl of Great Price (but of course only the never-identified parts of the bible translated correctly vs incorrectly). Growing up with a tradition is a far cry and a poor shallow substitute for actual conversion.  Had I been raised in some other culture on the other side of the world I'd likely have just accepted that religion, and that cannon of scripture same as I did my own.  So how then to tell what scripture is actual scripture when it's really difficult to separate out your upbringing and traditions?

For me I had to leave the (geographic region) place where the upbringing and traditions occurred.  Such began my own search.  I suspect we all just accept part of what we grew up with until the soul hungers.  Then, no matter who you are, where you are, or what your traditions are, you begin to search.  I think a person searches differently when that hunger motivates the search rather than something based on religious culture or tradition.     

In some ways being a lifelong member of the LDS church was an advantage, but in some ways a disadvantage.  They tell you to get a testimony of thing they value but when you've always been surrounded by it, that can be somewhat tricky.  You have to distinguish communal feelings from actual Gospel conversion, and distinguish all of that from social pressure, and from cultural pressure to come to the "right" conclusions on all the important topics.  And all that so you can remain in harmony with those of your religious tribe.  They can all get mixed up if you are a life long member.  At least they did for me until age 26.

My parents did a good job of teaching me about scripture.  We always had family night, would usually read scriptures, and my mom made it a point to read the Book of Mormon with me.  I have a deep appreciation for my parents teaching me about scriptures.  Although scriptures remained a bit uninteresting for a lot of years, I sensed there was deep value in them.  People who "loved" scripture came across to me as a special kind of religious "nerd". I remember some seminary teachers or various people who behaved this way.  A religious nerd was below any other form of nerd I could then conceive of.  Some folks I remember would gush at how amazing scripture were and it used to make me say ewww.  It was not appealing.

I read scripture growing up because everyone told me I had/needed to, and often repeated how special they were.  The scriptures seemed to occupy a greater place of importance during General Conference than they do in 2019.  The local leaders at various times had me do these youth scripture reading marathons lasting all weekend long so I just did what everyone else did and shared in the communal feelings and post emotional testimony meetings/donuts that always seemed to follow. “Getting through" the scriptures, memorizing out of context verses, and getting a testimony quickly always seemed to be a high priority from my LDS local leaders and young men's leaders.  Comprehension and application were usually limited to a strictly LDS context.

So my relationship with scripture started off very mixed.  What turned the lights on was a book years ago that a former mission companion called me and told me I had to get.  This former companion had proven his recommendations worthwhile so the sound of a newly published book with a title such as this one had struck me as noteworthy.  I ordered it on Amazon but it got lost in the mail.  The former mission companion followed up a few weeks later wondering what I thought so I had to track down the order and work out getting a new one.

I saw the cover and it was one of those moments where something came with force into my heart.  Never before had I sensed a presence so appealing, nor such a deep respectful, humble intelligence anywhere thus far in my life.  There was no going back. Once I read the content of the book that initial impression while gazing at the cover now had a logical explanation and substance for my mind to lay hold on.  The cover and the book still brings back that same impression.

Anyway, that book talked about Joseph Smith and a lot about the Book of Mormon.  Suddenly things began to change.  The setting in which I found myself reading this book was after having taken what for me was a very large leap of faith to leave Provo Utah, where I was a student at BYU at the time.  I had a prompting to leave the state and move to California.  I had been teaching at the MTC at the time and would often tell the Elder's and Sisters about following promptings from God even if you can't see all the details beforehand.  I had to live the truth I had just dispensed.

The moment came when I had an unmistakable prompting, and despite how crazy it looked I determined that if God could solve 3 overwhelming (to me) obstacles I would go.  God solved my 3 problems, to my satisfaction, so I packed up what would fit in the backseat of the car, dropped my classes, said bye to the Elders and Sisters and set off on a journey.

So it was in that context, out on my own, away from friends, family, and familiarity that I first read this book. Of all the things available to do out on my own this had an appeal that exceeded any of that other stuff.  Once I read the book, and began trying to do what it said now the Book of Mormon was a different book. This one was interesting. Not sure what that other Book of Mormon was growing up but this new one was very different.  This one had application to my life and church that was intriguing.  Things began to happen to me and inside of me.  It brought unmistakable never before seen fruit into my life.  It opened my eyes and heart and ears and taught me about God. God really does speak to people.  This was all post mission, after having grown up in the Church and having read the book 3-4 times already but having gained little from it all those years.

The Book of Mormon didn't stay permanently in the new light. I found a lot of difficulty in slipping back into previous dull, lifeless readings of the Book of Mormon.  But it came to life enough that I knew I had to work to preserve the new life I saw it had.  Traditions are sometimes hard to get rid of.

Looking back, many of the same folks who used to gush over scriptures still do, and curiously it still rubs me wrong.  When I engage them on a discussion of meaning or application they are often not interested.  They seem to default to "instructor" mode and insist on teaching rather than discussing.  Not tolerating anything other than what they say is the correct and singular meaning.  "End of discussion" kind of thing.  This dynamic has puzzled me for a long time. Someone can love something so much, even memorize extensive passages, but not enjoy a discussion or application of them or want to consider alternate meanings.  Especially if any suggestion goes contrary to the religious traditions of the day.  It still puzzles me.  But that's an aside.

This new "testimony" was almost a stark contrast to anything I had previously thought about the book.  And so too was the stark contrast in the reactions I'd get from people if I talked much about it.  I got accused of "wresting" the scriptures one time after trying to engage someone close to me about a few scriptural passages.  That rattled me pretty bad.  I remember the scene with clarity.  I was so excited about the new light and understanding but the people I most expected to welcome it, to my surprise did the opposite.  Part of this has likely been my approach. So I've had to really rethink what scriptures mean to others and how to speak about such things in a way that matches the message found inside the scriptures themselves.

I’ve come across folks who wanted to discredit the Book of Mormon or talk about the lack of historical evidence.  That however never bothered me as it never felt personal. It seems like God's problem to explain such things.  It's His book after all.  It was His gift that provided the translation.

In all of this I don't know how someone can understand scriptures without adopting the mind of a student and a learner, regardless of their age or years of experience in religion.  There is so much to learn.  History, context, meaning, culture, doctrine.  The Gospel isn't a fluffy fairy-tale soundbite that fits into a meme.  I hope in the next 10 years to understand substantially more than I do now.  It seems pretty clear that to have the Gospel be part of you, one needs to become as a little child and constantly seek light and truth.  There's no time to loose.  If we can get more light and truth in this life, we're taught it will rise with us into the next.

The scriptures came alive as God breathed life into them.  I thank God for this and hope to continue to receive the light He offers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Note: Check Value Before Discarding

Some personal thoughts weighing on me today.  It would be very unusual to discards something you know is valuable.  But far more common to discard something you think is not.

I remember a few horror stories of people who had collected sometimes extremely valuable baseball cards or something like that, and upon returning home from a mission discover that it got thrown out while they were gone. The person discarding the item did not think them valuable and therefore concluded there was nothing to be lost in tossing it.  The stories I've heard were often innocent mistakes due to a degree of ignorance.  Had the person known, they never would have done it.     

On the other end of the spectrum are those TV shows about hoarding. Where someone thinks everything is valuable and therefore is unable, for whatever reason, to part with it. This too is a problem. Holding on to too much of the wrong stuff can destroy a person's life, both physically, emotionally, and socially.   

How are we ever to know if something is valuable if we don't understand it?  It's hard.  Which is why the Gospel invites us to continually seek light and truth from God.  Some things like ceremony, scripture, and ordinances are things we know are valuable even if there is a general lack of understanding about the specifics.  So when those change I believe we should stop and take careful note.

In terms of religion and truth my experience is sometimes when people experience a faith crisis the baby goes out with the bath water.  Or so the saying goes.  When emotions and hurt are high, it's more difficult to stop and consider what ought be discarded and what definitely shouldn't.  In that stressful state a person is very vulnerable to accepting false whispers about how the entire basis for faith, scripture, God, etc etc was all wrong or was a deception and that's when truth can get tossed.

People can loose faith not just in their tradition, but faith in God all together as they sort through the disorientation. The bad taste can be so bad its ruinous to the person’s life. There is great risk discarding things of value if we don't stop and gain our bearings when confronted by something like this.

I've seen a few moments of regret on peoples faces who inadvertently tossed too much.  Thankfully we can all repent and accept truth, so there's hope.  But it's just not good when truth is discarded.  It can be far more costly than some baseball cards. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about acquiring truth, preserving it, and helping it endure, never discarding it under the guise of revelation.

This was on my mind today after contemplating recent temple changes the LDS church has made.  It reminded me of a lesson I want to remember. Which is to check the value of something before discarding it. Just because you don't know the value of something does not mean it has none.  And because someone you view as having authority implies something has no value doesn't mean it really has none.  How many very valuable items sit rotting in a landfill somewhere because someone asked someone else if it was valuable and was told no?  Then that was the end of it.  It's often impossible to recover at that point. 

As most people know the LDS church recently discarded a number of things from the temple ceremony.  I've not attended to see for myself, I'm only going off validated reports. It's my understanding no explanation was given for the removals.  Things were simply changed and things removed.  Some common assumptions attending this is that the things discarded had little value, or were sufficiently pointless, out of date, or redundant so as to be removed without explanation.

Participants are asked not to discuss the changes and that restriction now extends to not discussing the ordinances at all.  So since no discussion should take place regarding it, it keeps people in a state of perpetual ignorance with only distractions offered to pacify.

It's a good reminder to check value before you discard something.  Even if religion discards things that had value, we individually don’t need to.  After enough discarding a lot of people may get fed up with it and then the risk of everything getting tossed grows. So people will need a place to land. A place that preserved truth.  I hope to work towards such a place.  Where truth is valued and understanding sought for.

I think Joseph Smith spoke with Godly wisdom and intelligence when he said time and experience and careful solemn and ponderous thoughts are how to find out the things of God. Once you find it out, it then takes effort to preserve it as it gets sometimes aggressively discarded by those who have lost any view of it's value.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Tea and Coffee

Last week at a holiday party family was discussing and speculating on changes the LDS church could make in light of President Nelson's recent comments.  Some of the forecasts turned out to be fairly close.  Just in the last day or two LDS Church makes quite a number of changes to the Temple Ceremony.  Link.

Some changes aren't overly difficult to predict as very often you can get an idea based on what social, political, legal, and economic pressure is being applied to the Church.  Gender equality, Women's issues, sexism, abuse etc... have been a big one in recent years (Ordain Women #Metoo)  and now the temple ceremony has changed. 

Below are a few screenshots from the LDS Church handbook 2 regarding the Word of Wisdom including the official interpretation of Hot drinks as Tea and Coffee.

Here are some interesting clips from missionary manuals.  Investigators MUST obey this before and after baptism per the manual.  The 1988 Missionary training manual had the below question as part of the baptismal interview questions on pages 234-235:  link.  Screenshot below because who knows how long links stay alive.

"g. What is your understanding of the Word of Wisdom? Will you live 
this law by abstaining from tea, coffee, alcohol, tobacco [or other 
harmful drugs]? 

That part about tea, coffee is no longer present in the current day baptism interview questions. Distance from tea and coffee started a long time ago.  And that distance may grow. 

There was an interesting poll reported on by the SLTRIB.  More than a thousand Mormons, millennials differed from their parents' generation about the nature of Word of Wisdom obedience.

More than 75% of baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1964) and the older, so-called silent generation viewed not drinking alcohol as essential to being "a good Mormon," while 40 percent of millennials (1980 and 1998) saw it that way.  Here come the millenials.

As to how tea and coffee affect being a good Mormon, both numbers were lower and the gap was closer — 51 percent of boomers/silents vs. 31 percent for millennials.

Members of Generation X (1965 and 1979) fall between the boomers/silents on whether no alcohol is essential — 51 percent. On coffee and tea abstinence, respondents in this category came in similar to millennials — 31.8 percent.

So, only 31.8 % of younger folks think coffee and tea abstinence as essential to being a good Mormon and 51% of the older folks.  The season appears to be approaching for a change.  Unless the Church wants to loose the next generation, they are going to have to be more tolerant.

For a number of years, the "hot drinks" was about the caffeine. Caffeine surely was the culprit.  Or so thought many Church leaders.  Which is why BYU didn't carry caffeinated beverages for a number of years.  But during Mitt Romney’s 2012 U.S. presidential campaign the LDS church issued a statement that “the revelation spelling out health practices … does not mention the use of caffeine”. 

The revelation also doesn't mention tea and coffee.  So if that is the logic then it paves the way for other changes.  Perhaps "hot" drinks really always did mean "hot" as in temperature. The World Health Organization would support that. Link.  Years after that statement in 2012, finally in 2017 BYU did start selling caffeinated beverages.  It just takes time for the prior traditions to end and new ones to form.  The question is, have enough years passed on the tea and coffee and is there a Church president willing to change things up?

If you live in South America this is a big deal.  Having lived there for 2 years I know their Mate is a big deal and various varieties of it get regional approval as it would be very hard to restrict them from something vital to their culture.  I can only imagine the difficulties Europe and Asia have with tea.  Trying to figure out which tea is ok and which isn't is very complicated as no one knows whether it's the caffeine or some other substance, stimulant, or addictive property that has never been specified by the Church.

A look into Church history, post Word of Wisdom (Section 89), shows that not only did the Pioneers bring tea and coffee with them across the plains, it was one of the important items on the bill of particulars of what to bring.  This can be found in the Nauvoo Neighbor, Link.

Also found here in the Joseph Smith papers.  https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/council-of-fifty-minutes-march-1844-january-1846-volume-3-6-may-1845-13-january-1846/78#full-transcript

(Also of note if you go to the JSP link it says: 1 Keg of Alcohol "Brandy or Gin" of 5 Gallons for each 2 families.  But that's a side note).   

So tea and coffee were commonplace and expected to be brought across the plains (along with coffee pot and tea kettle least anyone think these items were not going to be consumed).  Interestingly consuming it now it will prevent a temple recommend.  The whole picture starts to look quite interesting.

All this together makes the official interpretations look either out of date or just sort of random and changeable depending on opinions or preferences of who ever the leaders are.

 "Hot" apparently didn't mean temperature over the past century, and it wasn't about caffeine. So then what was it about?  When there's no reasonable answer to give millenials, at some point that will result in more and more pressure to explain things or else change the policy.  Church spokesmen need only hint at words like "revelation" it could change without resistance. 

Therefore, I suspect the Church will distance itself from rigid tea and coffee restrictions or be more tolerant. The focus could easily shift to overall health and consuming things that are good for you. Moderation. Imagine a President of the Church who's also an MD re focusing the Word of Wisdom on overall health and wellness and slowly discarding the tea and coffee thing. Seems not only fitting but plausible.

Many members avoid tea and coffee but ignore other parts of the Word of Wisdom.  The Church has to be well aware of this lopsided interpretation that’s all too common and stems from the church’s own lopsided focus.  It prevents obtaining a temple recommend but quickly starts to look odd when given some thought.  Many millennials have no issue with an Iced Coffee since it clearly isn't a "Hot" drink.

Then we have the energy drink industry, and the monster drinks the younger generations are into which in some cases have effects more detrimental to the body than coffee not to mention the folks who self admit to being addicted to various sodas (or broadly "coke" if you live in the south).  Both tea and coffee are not all that far removed from their respective plants and herbs found on earth. Unlike some of the other man engineered substances which plague people in our day.  But back to the tea and coffee as the official interpretation of hot drinks.  The early interpretations don't really fit for a global Church model they are headed towards.  They make even less sense when we look at the history of Mormon Pioneers bringing tea and coffee with them across the plains.

Based on recent changes made by the LDS church, one trend is to take what a good chunk of members are already doing and paint a target around that thing. (Guys will understand this if they stop to consider their own "home teaching" practices and how well the new ministering program conveniently puts a bulls-eye on what most males were already doing. Such as once in a while visits, stop and chat in the street etc etc..)  Putting a target on what people were already doing seems to ensure a good response to the initiative.  Guess we'll see if that pattern continues. I haven't talked with anyone with any inside information, nor heard rumors of possible future changes.  These are just my own musings.

And here is a graph of the frequency of the phrase "word of wisdom" in General Conference since the 1850's.  The modern day trend is interesting.

I give it a few short years and the screen shot below may no longer be found in handbook 2, nor be grounds to prevent someone from obtaining a temple recommend.  It may just slowly slip away.  But who knows.  What I do know is you'll get a very puzzled look from pretty much any LDS ward member if you ask them whether or not the Word of Wisdom is a commandment.

If the person happens to have read the first verses of section 89 that say it's "Not by way of commandment" asking them when it changed from a greeting to a commandment will get an even more puzzled look.  Therefore, it just seems perfectly situated to undergo a modern change.  Only a matter of time.  At minimum we should see an increased tolerance of coffee and tea consumption since the millennial are already doing that, and they will eventually fill leadership positions.

This would certainly increase popularity.  It would almost light up the Church with a certain buzz.  With so much changing so fast, it makes it seem like just about anything could change.  I don't really care one way or the other on this as I'm not a coffee fan.  But I'm interested in what changes inside Mormonism and why.

Handbook 2:


Word of Wisdom

The only official interpretation of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term “hot drinks” means tea and coffee.
Members should not use any substance that contains illegal drugs. Nor should members use harmful or habit-forming substances except under the care of a competent physician.