Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Than Just Preaching Against Addictions: Inspiring Success from the LDS Addiction Recovery Program

Every now and then the Church comes out with something that is just really cool. That's how I felt with the announcement of the Perpetual Education Fund and the 1978 revelation on the Priesthood, for example. More recently, something that I find cool, inspiring, and successful is the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, which is quietly bringing real hope and change to people who were once trapped with addictions. I've been learning about this program from some people who are involved in various aspects of it, and I'm deeply impressed. There is a need for more people to get involved in order to help themselves or others in our lives. There is a need for more bishops and branch presidents to be aware of this program and send more members there to gain help and to offer support.

The LDS Addiction Recovery Program is a great example of the Church drawing upon inspiration given to people outside our ranks. This remarkable 12-step program is taken from Alcoholics Anonymous with steps very close to the original 12 steps of AA. It's sort of like "open innovation" applied to religion, and I'm all for it.

The outstanding manual, A Guide to Addiction Recovery, is available in many languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, Mongolian, Norwegian, Swedish, and Ukranian. (If your language isn't listed, maybe it's because your culture doesn't have much of an addiction problem, eh? Congratulations, Hindi speakers!)

The meetings are intended to preserve confidentiality of the participants. In my stake, they are scheduled one evening a week and other organizations are asked to stay out of the church buildings if possible on that night or at least stay away from the area where the meetings are being held to help reduce the risk of embarrassment for meeting participants. But there's no reason to feel embarrassed about attending. We all have our problems, and even for the more perfected among us, we probably all have people in our lives who are struggling with addictions, or perhaps we've overcome addictions and have something to share to help others. There is strength in numbers and higher attendance can really enhance the meetings.

One of the group leaders I spoke to was just ecstatic about the power of the program. By helping people to turn to the Savior for strength and by creating support for one another in the groups that meet, great progress can be achieved.

The Church is devoting a lot of resources to making this program be available to bless the lives of its members. Preaching against the vices of addiction has its value, but adding this dimension is a welcome addition in a world where addictions are increasingly harming lives and damaging families.

By the way, guess what one of the most common addictions is that afflicts participants? This is according to a program leader in Madison, Wisconsin. I was surprised when he told me that video game addictions are the leading problem that brings people in for help. That's not to say that it's the most common or most serious addiction by any means, but it could the one where affected LDS people are most motivated and willing to come forward for help, at least in Madison. Interesting. The 12-step program could help - but there's quicker one-step fix: replace video games with blogging. Blogging, of course, isn't an addiction--it's a noble pursuit that takes almost as much time and can be just as impressive to your significant other, all without ever running the risk of completing the game and finally being done. See, wasn't that easy? Take up blogging instead, people! And you can do it even on a lame machine--for free!

Hey, check out the Addiction Recovery Program and ask your bishop or branch president for more information on how you can help and participate, either for your benefit or so you can help others. It's something we all need to take seriously.

Update, July 4, 2010: There are some reports arguing that the empirical success rate for the AA 12-step program is not impressive. I'm still digging into the details and will report more later. Will the Church's version do better than AA? I hope so. Perhaps a major part of the value will come before people ever step foot in the sessions, when LDS leaders help people with addictions admit they have a problem and resolve to change. The 12-step program may then be a trigger to help them decide to change. I certainly need to learn more.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Parents, Be Cautious about Media and Gadgets

I've watched a few families face painful problems that might have some roots in young children's easy access to the Internet. A too-common scenario is a young girl or boy with unmonitored, wide-open access to the Internet, sometimes on their own computer, soon exposed to pornography sent from new "friends" met in chat rooms. (Sadly, this can happen even when parents try to monitor things and establish rules, but I think it's much more likely when the monitoring and controls are lax.) This can lead to unwholesome remote relationships with extensive damage done before parents realized anything was going on. The damage, in my opinion, includes grotesque misinformation about human sexuality and romantic relationships, setting children up for all kinds of problems later. Those problems include promiscuous behavior that is likely to lead to unwanted pregnancy, disease, heartbreak, and numerous missed opportunities for happiness and success in life.

The world we live in has become so foul in some areas that a few minutes of unmonitored access to some regions can cause lasting spiritual and psychological harm, just as a brief moment of using harmful drugs can permanently harm an individual. There are good reasons why our leaders in the Church repeatedly warn us to avoid pornography, a vice which can be like an addictive drug, one that alters how we view the world and tragically misinforms us, damaging relationships and making our souls more callous and insensitive to the things of God.

Parents, it is vital that you do all you can to keep this plague out of your home and to protect your children from exposure. Be careful about the access children have via computers, cell phones, and television. Talk with them and warn them about the dangers out there and what to do if they encounter something vile. Stay close to them and help them learn how to navigate the dangerous currents of our era.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brazil, Take a Bow!

Brazil, take a bow! That's what went through my head when I looked at this photo I just took while in Brazil last week with my wife. This egret was on top of a pole near the Zoological Garden not far from the world's largest soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro. To me, it symbolizes the grace and beauty I found among the amazing people and landscapes of Brazil. It's a country where almost anything can grow and be nurtured, including the Gospel. The Church is growing rapidly, temples are being built, and many of Brazil's tolerant and warm people are finding the joy that the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ adds to their lives.

Moments later, I stomped my foot and cleared my throat, not too loudly, but enough to send my subject soaring to a new perch. I'm sure that's symbolic of something, too. I was just happy to get the shot. Many creatures are most beautiful when in motion.

I was there for several purposes: primarily to attend my sister's wedding in Taubaté and meet the rich bounty of new family I now have in southern Brazil (real family - such warm, loving people!), but also to spend time with another great friend and his family further north and inland in Brasília (the man is a truly inspiring leader), and more generally to spend some vacation time with my wife. Overall, we spent time in three major regions, Taubaté (including Campos do Jordão) in the São Paulo area, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília. We loved all three places, including the people, the food, and the scenery. The language also is one of the most beautiful I've heard. I definitely yearn to go back.

Here are some scenes from parts of our trip apart the wedding and family visits (might add those later). Click to enlarge.

A genuine need and a prayer was answered when we ran into LDS missionaries at a bus station in Brasília. This would not have happened if things hadn't "gone wrong" for us earlier that morning, causing us to barely miss one destination in order to surprisingly catch something much more important. This team of four missionaries deeply impressed us - three Brazilians and one North American. Great examples, sweet Christians, and very kind and obedient young men sacrificing their time and money to make the world a better place. They made our little world a lot better that day. Thank you, Elders! We were also happy to receive permission to take them to lunch at a nice shopping mall. A very memorable lunch. Thank you to the parents and to all parents who have sent missionaries to this nation!

The people of Brazil taught us over and over that relationships are what really matter. With that in mind, I was intrigued by the message in the photo below, a scene from a wall in Rio near the soccer stadium. In this wild city of wealth and poverty, of beauty and sorrow, someone has wisely asked, "WHAT IS REAL?"

The illusions of wealth, pleasure, and power will all fade. What will last? What endures? What is actually real? The answers are found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches the importance of relationships, eternal relationships, rooted in that which is most real and lasting, true charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, sealed and made eternal, everlastingly real, with the power of His Atonement. Thhis is something we should all ponder.

Do you have what is real? Are your relationships with others ones that can receive the gracious blessings of God and be made to last eternally? Have you sought to have the miraculous gift of charity in your life? We must seek these blessings, and charity in particular, with all our being. Some of Moroni's final words in Moroni chapter 7 in the Book of Mormon remind us of this:
[46] Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail --

[47] But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

[48] Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.

That is the path to help us find what is truly real. Not necessarily truly Rio, but truly real. But Rio sure seemed like heaven (especially now in the midst of Brazil's winter, when one can actually enjoy the beaches without too much unwanted scenery).

Well, I can't wait to go back, especially now that I have a large group of family members and friends who treat me like their long lost son and brother. We have a lot to learn about warm, loving relationships from Brazil. Take a bow, Brazil! (E talvez a Copa do Mundo!)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Add Some Spice to Your Vacation: Go to Church

When on vacation, I'd like to recommend that you make it a practice to attend church. I understand it's not always possible and may not work for a number of reasons, but if you can do, I think you might be surprised at what it adds to your experience. There are some good reasons to make church part of your vacation experience. Beyond the basic sermon that you can already imagine -- it's the Sabbath day, we need to put the Lord first, He expects us to worship regularly, their are spiritual and other blessings that come through sacrificing our own desires to worship the Lord -- I'd like to suggest that attending church is also a wonderful way to experience an intriguing aspect of the local region and its people. In a foreign country, meeting with fellow Latter-day Saints can be especially meaningful, even if you don't understand the language. Simply showing up at a church service has resulted in some of my favorite moments of international trips, resulting in experiences and memories far more valuable that waiting in line to see some overhyped attraction.

On a trip to a foreign country once, at least one LDS person in a small group was surprised at my desire to catch a local church service on Sunday morning. "Why would anybody want to go to church on vacation?" they wondered. They had limited time in an exotic place and had not yet seen a major attraction in the area and Sunday was their last chance to see something, so they embarked on a trip to a cool resort town instead. I wasn't in a position to put my foot down, so I felt, and went along with the group. We spent much of that day stuck in traffic due to some kind of holiday while my fellow travelers became stressed about the risk of missing their flight back to the US (they barely made it back to the airport in time). Due to the traffic problem, we were able to spend very little time enjoying the destination. It was a nice place to see, yes, and I'd love to go there again, but I think it would have been more enjoyable to spend the morning in church. I fully understand the desire to do something else with limited time in a foreign country, but sometimes the Lord surprises us and we find that the boring detour becomes the real prime destination after all.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Preserving Freedom: Hard to Do in Ignorance

For decades, Americans have skated though what we call education without basic information about the founding of this nation and the principles of liberty that our Founding Fathers taught. We are vastly more familiar with the shallow thoughts and embarrassing deeds of Hollywood celebrities and athletes than we are with those inspired geniuses who gave us unprecedented liberty. It is painfully sad to watch this nation reach a point where we think that it progress when we surrender personal liberty to allow a massive and nearly bankrupt government pretend to take care of us. What happened to the fundamental ideals and principles that made America great? Where is the shock at the thought of a government eroding its currency by creating money out of thin air? Where is the concern when vast new powers to control and destroy are appropriated without explicit Constitutional authority? Where is the horror at the thought of forcing someone else to work for us, or at the thought of forcing others to turn over their goods for our comfort? When we believe that a vote of a majority justifies taking anything from or doing anything to a minority or that a majority vote allows the winner to do whatever the majority supposedly wants, we have utterly abandoned the principles of the Republic that was given to us at such great cost.

If you doubt the widespread ignorance behind the apathy I refer to, walk into a crowd of college graduates and ask them to explain the difference between a republic and a democracy. Ask them what the source of rights and government authority is in the eyes of our Founding Fathers. Ask them why the rights protected in the 2nd Amendment mattered to them. Ask them what grave dangers were in their mind when they gave us the cumbersome checks and balances in the Constitution. Ask them what the 10th Amendment means. Ask them when the last time was, if ever, that they had a class where the details of the Constitution were read and studied. Ask them if they have read it.

We live in such ignorance that modern journalists and "thought leaders" like the highly celebrated Thomas Friedman can openly wish we could be a dictatorship for a day, giving government unlimited power to just do what needs to be done, without being seriously challenged by their peers. We live in a day when government officials can openly declare that they support the principles of communism or Marxism without being challenged by the mainstream media and without being thrown out of office. We live in a day when citizens would rather have bread and circuses than freedom, when politicians of both parties can work to enrich themselves and spend us into oblivion in crass violation of the Constitution without much of a peep of protest. We live in a day when we have forgotten that the spirit of freedom led early Americans to reject the tyranny of Big Government and elitists rulers, and demand that government be small, accountable, and strictly limited.

We live in a day much like those in the Book of Mormon before the First Coming of Jesus Christ, when Kingmen tolerate or collaborate with external enemies to pull down liberty and amass power for themselves. When was the last time you had a healthy discussion about the lessons of the Kingmen threat in Book of Mormomn times, or the role or pervasive "combinations" in eroding liberty? We tend to treat the Book of Mormon far too superficially.

These are dangerous time - they have been for many years. We need to remember the captivity of our fathers - one of the biggest themes of the Book of Mormon. We need to return to the principles of liberty and throw of our ignorance of our history. We must review and internalize the lessons of history from the founding of this Republic and the lessons of liberty in the Book of Mormon, especially those in the books of Mosiah, Alma, Helaman, and 3rd Nephi, in the amazing era before the First Coming of Jesus Christ.

These are not matters to take lightly. When liberty is eroded, and we've been losing it gradually for some time now, you reach a point where you don't just go back and fix things with an election. We need to throw off our ignorance now and preserve liberty while we still have as much as we do. When you become Cuba for a day, it will be a very long day indeed.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Memorial Day

This photo from Appleton's Memorial Day Parade reminds me of the gratitude we owe to those who have served in our armed forces and to those who are now serving. So many paid the ultimate price to be loyal to their nation and to protect us. I am pained at the hostility some brave and good men men face when they return to civilian life, where some treat them as if they are the problem behind the tragedy of war.

I am even more pained at the senseless destruction and chaos caused by politicians who push us into wars for purposes other than defending our borders and our people. May we understand the lessons of the Book of Mormon on defense. May we have leaders with the wisdom of Captain Moroni who share his humanity and desire to avoid unnecessary shedding of blood. And may we honor those who have served honorably and those who have fallen, regardless of the wisdom of our leaders.

We are in for many wars ahead, based on my reading of scriptures and the news of the day. May we prepare wisely, and never fall into the trap of endless vengeance or bloodthirstiness that can occur as societies decay.