Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dealing with Our Personal Dissent

For many Latter-day Saints, there will be times when we disagree with a Church leader or even with a Church policy. First, we must understand that this is natural and is an inherent consequence of allowing mortals into the Church. We do not believe in the infallibility of anybody or anything other than God, so even inspired prophets chosen by God are prone to mistakes, as are the rest of us in the Church who sometimes find that our own views and opinions are (surprise!) much superior to those of the Brethren or anyone else who disagrees with us. In fact, those who disagree with the Church on some issue may be right. They may understand something better and have more scholarly insights and more progressive views than those in charge. They real question is what to do next.

The natural man in us is always anxious to criticize and proclaim our moral superiority. After all, to bring about needed change, don't we need to create awareness and public pressure to help enlighten the Church? Aren't we doing God and the Church a favor by turning up the heat on human error, including antiquated perspectives and aging doctrines that need to be refreshed? Isn't it all about spreading Truth?

I offer my experience that those who begin to publicly criticize the Church, even with good intentions, in many cases swiftly find themselves caught up in currents of hostility. They develop a mindset, enhanced with abundant social reinforcement, that increasingly looks down on the Church and its leaders. As they become more vocal in criticizing its leaders, past or present, the beauty and power of the Gospel becomes a faint echo drowned out by louder voices or, in some cases, war drums.

Step back and consider this: If the Restoration really took place, if God really did authorize living but fallible prophets in our day, what attitude would He expect us to take in light of apparent mortal error from His servants? Can there be any doubt that He would expect us to be patient, forgiving, lenient, and still supportive? Could He possibly be the inspiration behind snide remarks, name calling, anger, and public denouncements? Ponder the impact of our criticisms on those investigating the Church or on those struggling with the Gospel or, perhaps, on our own family members, especially children. Ponder the impact of campaigns of criticism on our own relationship with God. Is what we are doing really what He would ask of us? Is it the humble, loving, Christlike thing to do?

Consider the problematic case of Abraham. Yes, a great prophet, but also a mortal man with mortal issues. There are many unanswered questions and some moments that seem to justify harsh criticism, such as sending his concubine and child out into the desert without adequate supplies and other symptoms of the challenges of polygamy. Yet when his name comes up in the New Testament, it is with respect and deference. James writes that Abraham was called "the friend of God" (James 2:23). Christ speaks of him with respect. His problems are left between him and God and not made the subject of harsh criticism. Perhaps the same kind of respect, in spite of knowing of his mortal weaknesses, is something we should have for the Prophet Joseph Smith and others, including our own Thomas S. Monson, an amazing man but still a mortal. We might disagree with the Church and its current or past leaders on one or more issues important to us, but may we be very careful in how we express that criticism, if at all, that we may be acting the way God would have us act in building up His kingdom and advancing His purposes, and not our own proud will. I think each of us needs to be aware of the dangers of taking our differences too far and being too confident in our own wisdom, too sure of our own agenda, and too harsh or unforgiving in our attitudes when we think others have erred. Faith and patience may be more important in the long run than boldness and activism, even when we are right, and also when we, due to our own mortal weaknesses, are not.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Details, Details

One of my pet peeves in religion is that many wonderful stories of miracles and spiritual experiences that people share are bereft of details, stripped of information that could be used to verify or falsify the story, leaving little more than blurry hearsay. Part of the problem is that some stories really are bogus, perhaps with a grain of truth when first told but retold, dressed up, and repeatedly mangled over the years into faith promoting error and fluff. Yet another problem is when those who experienced the miracle or blessing fail to record details--keep a journal, people! They then share the story from distant memory, obscuring their confusion by leaving out details, and then others share it from their memory, without anyone bothering to write down the little details that matter when we wonder about the accuracy and reliability of a story.

Well, it's nice to have some examples with abundant details. The miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon has such detail: a specific hill, exact dates, tangible plates with numerous named individuals and their lifelong witness of the reality of the plates, and, of course, a very specific and tangible text published for all to read. An example of a far less dramatic but still interesting spiritual experience is given by President Thomas S. Monson is his October 2011 General Conference talk, "Stand in Holy Places." He shares an example of following a specific spiritual impression that defied logic and yet proved to accurate and correct in a surprising way. Specific places, dates, events, and individuals are named. He must have recorded this information, allowing it to be kept fresh and available for sharing much later. I think this is a good example for all of us to follow in our own spiritual journeys. Here is his story from a 1987 temple dedication, involving the surprise appearance of Brother Peter Mourik from Holland:

One rather dramatic experience took place in August of 1987 during the dedication of the Frankfurt Germany Temple. President Ezra Taft Benson had been with us for the first day or two of the dedication but had returned home, and so it became my opportunity to conduct the remaining sessions.

On Saturday we had a session for our Dutch members who were in the Frankfurt Temple district. I was well acquainted with one of our outstanding leaders from the Netherlands, Brother Peter Mourik. Just prior to the session, I had the distinct impression that Brother Mourik should be called upon to speak to his fellow Dutch members during the session and that, in fact, he should be the first speaker. Not having seen him in the temple that morning, I passed a note to Elder Carlos E. Asay, our Area President, asking whether Peter Mourik was in attendance at the session. Just prior to standing up to begin the session, I received a note back from Elder Asay indicating that Brother Mourik was actually not in attendance, that he was involved elsewhere, and that he was planning to attend the dedicatory session in the temple the following day with the servicemen stakes.

As I stood at the pulpit to welcome the people and to outline the program, I received unmistakable inspiration once again that I was to announce Peter Mourik as the first speaker. This was counter to all my instincts, for I had just heard from Elder Asay that Brother Mourik was definitely not in the temple. Trusting in the inspiration, however, I announced the choir presentation and the prayer and then indicated that our first speaker would be Brother Peter Mourik.

As I returned to my seat, I glanced toward Elder Asay; I saw on his face a look of alarm. He later told me that when I had announced Brother Mourik as the first speaker, he couldn’t believe his ears. He said he knew that I had received his note and that I indeed had read it, and he couldn’t fathom why I would then announce Brother Mourik as a speaker, knowing he wasn’t anywhere in the temple.

During the time all of this was taking place, Peter Mourik was in a meeting at the area offices in Porthstrasse. As his meeting was going forward, he suddenly turned to Elder Thomas A. Hawkes Jr., who was then the regional representative, and asked, “How fast can you get me to the temple?”

Elder Hawkes, who was known to drive rather rapidly in his small sports car, answered, “I can have you there in 10 minutes! But why do you need to go to the temple?”

Brother Mourik admitted he did not know why he needed to go to the temple but that he knew he had to get there. The two of them set out for the temple immediately.

During the magnificent choir number, I glanced around, thinking that at any moment I would see Peter Mourik. I did not. Remarkably, however, I felt no alarm. I had a sweet, undeniable assurance that all would be well.

Brother Mourik entered the front door of the temple just as the opening prayer was concluding, still not knowing why he was there. As he hurried down the hall, he saw my image on the monitor and heard me announce, “We will now hear from Brother Peter Mourik.”

To the astonishment of Elder Asay, Peter Mourik immediately walked into the room and took his place at the podium.

Following the session, Brother Mourik and I discussed that which had taken place prior to his opportunity to speak. I have pondered the inspiration which came that day not only to me but also to Peter Mourik. That remarkable experience has provided an undeniable witness to me of the importance of being worthy to receive such inspiration and then trusting it—and following it—when it comes. I know without question that the Lord intended for those who were present at that session of the Frankfurt Temple dedication to hear the powerful, touching testimony of His servant Brother Peter Mourik.

Nice. A very small miracle,, but significant in preparing President Monson to listen and respond to the promptings of the spirit and in preparing him for the sacred office he now bears today.

While on the topic of details, could you help me in searching for the details from a more recent talk by President Monson? In the latest General Conference, he tells the touching story reported by a non-LDS journalist in a Hawaiian newspaper of seeing a wounded LDS soldier give a priesthood blessing to another man who should have died, and miraculously survived. His talk has a footnote for the story, but it's an LDS book, not the reference is to an LDS book, not the original newspaper article. I hope the book had the story right! Do any of you know the reference for the original non-LDS source of the story?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter: How Can We Forget the Physical, Tangible Reality of Christ's Resurrection?

Easter greetings! What a wonderful time to contemplate the reality, the shear physical, tangible reality of Christ's Resurrection. Ponder what it means not just that the tomb was empty, which is where much of Christianity seems to stop, but that the body of Christ was once again alive, now glorious and immortal, but so real and tangible that it could not just be seen, but be handled, and could not just speak words, but chew and swallow food.

Was Christ trying to deceive or rather, to teach a powerful lesson, when he appeared to His disciples in Luke 24 and allowed them to see and touch Him, and then watch Him eat? Here is an excerpt from that marvelous chapter of scripture with so many lessons for us:
33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,

34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.

35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?

39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.

40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.

41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?

42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.

43 And he took it, and did eat before them.

44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.

45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Some will say that our worship of this physically real Jesus, with a tangible body of flesh and bone and not spirit only, in Whose image man was created, and Who is the express image of His equally real Father in heaven, makes us non-Christian, for that real and living Resurrected Jesus whom we worship, lacks the metaphysical attributes required by the Neoplatonic philosophers who gave us the official creeds of the 4th and 5th centuries. If that means we worship a different Jesus--and that's exactly what it means to some of our most vocal critics who put the traditions of the creeds ahead of the living Word of revelation from God--then so be it, for the Jesus whom we worship is the Jesus of the Bible, and we invite all men everywhere to follow Him, to repent of their sins, and be baptized in His name to enter into a covenant of joy.

Though we differ in our understanding of the Resurrection and in the nature of Jesus, rejecting some portions of the creeds of philosophers, we do not deny the Christianity of others who believe in Jesus, however wrong they may be about their understanding of Him and His Resurrection. But we encourage them to learn the truth, to learn more, and to add a greater fullness to the precious truths they may already have. Come and learn of Him, be baptized in His name, and receive the priceless gift of the Holy Ghost by those who are divinely authorized to do so in His church.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Dreams About Money

Last week's LDS General Conference is just being watched this weekend in Asia in place of regular Sunday services. One of the many little ironies of life in China is that by being 14 hours ahead of Utah, we get conference a week late--recorded conference, played off a DVD. There are much bigger ironies that I want to talk about sometime, including some issues in which the West gets so many things about China completely backwards. Resisting the urge to diverge, I'd like to mention that Elder Scott's talk on receiving personal revelation was an especially meaningful part of conference to me. One part that intrigued me was his call to pay more attention to the efforts of the Lord to teach us in dreams:
Revelation can also be given in a dream when there is an almost imperceptible transition from sleep to wakefulness. If you strive to capture the content immediately, you can record great detail, but otherwise it fades rapidly. Inspired communication in the night is generally accompanied by a sacred feeling for the entire experience. The Lord uses individuals for whom we have great respect to teach us truths in a dream because we trust them and will listen to their counsel. It is the Lord doing the teaching through the Holy Ghost. However, He may in a dream make it both easier to understand and more likely to touch our hearts by teaching us through someone we love and respect.

When it is for the Lord’s purposes, He can bring anything to our remembrance. That should not weaken our determination to record impressions of the Spirit. Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. Recording will also enhance our ability to recall revelation. Such recording of direction of the Spirit should be protected from loss or intrusion by others.
Now dreams can be crazy, random, and troubling, especially when we have been filling our minds with troubling thoughts and images. In recalling some of the disturbing and ugly dreams that have bothered me over the years, I think that many of these can be traced to my mind dealing with troubling images and scenes of violence from movies and sometimes a video game. Yes, I have wasted a handful of hours during my mortal journey on video games. Curse you, Donkey Kong! And how much psychotherapy will it take to ease the trauma of that recurring dream, trying to escape the huge yellow teeth of Pac Man?

My experience, though, has been that when I'm trying to be focused on things that are good, dreams can be remarkable tools to change my perspective, better recognize my weaknesses, understand a decision more clearly, or sense and feel the love of God. Since the theme of overcoming materialism and helping those in need has been prominent in this Conference (haven't seen it all yet), starting with President Packer's touching accounts of dealing with beggars and the poor, I'd like to share a couple of very recent dreams I had on the topic of dealing with money.

In my first dream of a few days ago, I had just filled up my wallet with cash. It was thick. As I walked past a food court in a busy public place, I saw delicious ice cream being offered. Someone called out the price, and I said, "No trouble, I've got plenty of money." I ordered an ice cream cone and began eating it as I took out my wallet with my free hand. I brought the wallet up to my other hand to take out some money and accidentally wiped the wallet with the ice cream cone. A thick layer of soft ice cream was now on my wallet. No problem, I just stood there and began licking the wallet. Ah, delicious. Delicious, delicious money, delicious wallet. And then I awoke, disgusted and embarrassed. Could that have been me? Um, yeah, that was me in the dream, misled by the temptations of money and food.

Then the other night, another poignant dream. I was standing at an overlook of some kind, a beautiful place. A little green LED light went off on a computer behind me indicating that I had just received mail from a particular relative whom we had just sent flowers. Without opening her email, I knew what it would say and knew how the flowers would be helpful to her at a difficult time. I felt really good about the simple, easy act of giving the flowers. As I turned and looked out from the beautiful, flower-covered balcony I was standing on, there was a warm, gentle voice: "It is better to give than to receive." It filled my soul with delight and crystallized that teaching. It was suddenly so obvious, so laughably, delightfully obvious that I marveled how anybody could have missed this, how I could not have fully grasped that for so long. And then I awoke, resolving to give more and seek the Lord's inspiration more in knowing how to give wisely.

I hope by blogging about these experiences and recording them in my journal, I will be better able to retain the perspectives these dreams provided. The temptations of mortality never let up, even here in China, so it's important to renew and refresh our memory regularly. That can be aided by daily prayer and scripture study, weekly attending Church and partaking the sacrament, and, yes, regular, sound sleep so we have a chance to get meaningful dreams as part of the many ways the Lord can teach us.

By the way, both dreams were triggered by actual events. The night before the wallet dream I had extracted a thick stack of Chinese cash from an ATM and put it in my wallet. And the night of the giving flowers dream, I had gone online and sent flowers to a couple of special people in our lives. Now I recognize that dreams are a natural phenomenon (a brilliantly designed feature of the miraculous human brain--sorry, Richard Dawkins, you're not even coming close to explaining the brain as the natural outcome of random mutations and natural selection). But it's a phenomenon that I believe is open to external tweaking, to the operations of God when, perhaps only rarely, there is an appropriate opportunity to teach us something of great value. I would love to know the physics and neurochemistry behind the external tweaking: what actually has to happen for God to intervene and influence a dream or give us a thought in our sleep (or any other time)? I think no discussion here will make any sense or have any value until we understand what spirit is and what are spirits are. Some kind of matter, yes, that Joseph Smith said was "finer" than the visible matter we see. As we begin learning about matter, the concept of finer matter makes a lot of sense today. Physicists already know that we are immersed in streams of neutrinos that interact only weakly with regular matter, and have evidence suggesting that much of the universe is composed of "dark matter" and "dark energy" that we can't yet see. Is that part of the answer? There is so much, so very much, that we don't understand. Some things we think we have figured out may be ridiculously wrong when the big picture of the universe finally becomes clear. Until then, we must remain as children in our attitudes, recognizing the need for faith in God and not trust in the arm of flesh, much less the sticky wallet of flesh. Ah, there, it happened again, falling into the temptation to diverge. I suspect there's going to be a dream about that tonight.