Saturday, December 10, 2011

Philadelphia Temple

I love the temple.  I don't want anyone to think otherwise.  Some of my most profound and spiritual experiences have been in the halls of the House of the Lord.  That said, I don't always like the uniform designs that are used.  I know the costs are great, but I wish that each temple had a unique architectural style. One that fit the local environment and tradition.

Because of this, I was ecstatic when I saw the design of the Philadelphia Temple.  Ultimately, this temple  design may not be unique to Philly, but it is very befitting the city.  I hope that the Church will do something similar for the upcoming Rome and Paris temples.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NPR, APM, PRI...These are some of my favorite things

Krista Tippet hosted a show called "Speaking of Faith" on American Public Media.  She now hosts "Being"; I think the old name was better.  Either way the show is how I imagine religious discourse should be: it's honest, non-judgmental, and often compelling. 

Her recent show with feminist-Mormon scholar Joanna Brooks is fantastic.  In it, Brooks describes the difficulty of being a heterodox believer in a tradition that puts a premium on orthodoxy.  Take a listen when you get a chance.  I think it exemplifies the individual relationship with deity that we all must forge.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Church within a Church

So our Sunday School teacher did something fantastic about a year ago. He dared to suggest that the gospel carries with it contradictions. Quite the day for the stake Sunday School president to attend. Our teacher followed this bold statement by saying that there are things within the church with which we neither understand nor agree that can challenge our faith if we're not rooted in the spirit. He mentioned political issues, abortion, and gay rights specifically. I'll give him credit for sheer chutzpah. I certainly wouldn't have dared to say anything of the sort, mostly because I don't like when other people disagree with the obvious rightness of my arguments. In thinking about this incident recently I began to wonder, are we approaching a point where we have a church within a church?

I do not mean that we will have a schismatic event resulting in separate organizations or separate dogmas.  Rather, I wonder if the conflict between those who read the scriptures with a literal approach, and those who do not, can co-exist.  Is this a sign of maturity in the Church, or is it merely an attempt to divide us by the adversary?  Another way to frame this question is this, how much dissent is allowed in Zion?

I think the answer is that there is not only a church within the Church, but that there are multitudes of churches within the Church.  This is not a bad thing, nor should it undermine anyone's faith.  Every person carries an individual experience to the altar of Christ.  Each of these burdens is atoned for uniquely and completely.  As such, the atonement is infinitely variable in what it atones for.  It only makes sense then that how we approach that atonement is also infinitely variable.  I do not intend to say that the priesthood or ordinances are unnecessary, quite the contrary.

I do see us at a cross-roads as a Church regarding how we teach the Gospel.  On the one hand, we have Preach my Gospel and all the implications that go therewith.  This singular manual turns us from generations of rote learning, indoctrination, and inculcation toward an approach that is individual and Spirit-based.  On the other hand, we have our Sunday School and institute manuals that embody a rigid formulaic teaching.  Personally, I think that both approaches have their benefits. But  if we are truly to achieve our prophesied potential, then we must tend toward the idea that one-size no longer fits all.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Family Home Evening

This past Sunday I had the chance to teach a combined Priesthood/Relief Society lesson, along with the other counselor in the bishopric and some ward members we recruited to participate. The topic we decided to pursue came from stake conference in June, when we were asked to put greater emphasis on the messages from General Conference, in particular by making them a central part of Family Home Evening. Our goal then was to share best practices for FHE, with examples representing single adults, young married couples, parents of small children, and parents of teenagers.

We began by reading from Handbook 2: "Latter-day prophets have counseled parents to hold a weekly family home evening to teach their children the gospel, bear testimony of its truthfulness, and strengthen family unity.Family home evening may include family prayer, gospel instruction, testimony sharing, hymns and Primary songs, and wholesome recreational activities. Family home evening is sacred, private family time under the direction of the parents. Priesthood leaders should not give directions as to what families should do during this time."

I then shared my recent experience with FHE for one; Summer and the kids were out of town for two consecutive Mondays, and both times I decided to hold FHE by myself. I chose a General Conference address, listening to the audio while reading along in the Ensign and looking up scriptures referenced by the speaker. In both cases I had a great experience, and from that I learned two things:

First, we are blessed when we hold FHE, regardless of the circumstances. It's not the number of people involved or the elaborateness of the event; it's the act of doing it that matters. And secondly, the words of living prophets will always inspire you if you're listening carefully. The first week I listened to Elder Perry's talk, and the second week it was Elder Holland's. Both touched on different things I needed to hear and specific things I need to do differently in my life.

I then shared with the ward members some thoughts from Elder Holland's address, defining General Conference and explaining what we can get from it. I bore testimony of the great blessing it is to be led by prophets, and how a continual and thorough study of their words can bless our lives.

After I sat down, we heard from our four participants, whose messages covered the important facets of consistency, simplicity, flexibility, and adaptability. The message was pretty basic: try your hardest, hold FHE weekly, involve your children at their level, and adapt to the circumstances of your family. And I think everyone heard something they needed to hear.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

D&C 59

Recently, I was reading the April 2011 General Conference address by L Tom Perry, in which he discusses the importance of Sunday worship and partaking of the sacrament, in his talk, Elder Perry refers to D&C 59, so I spent some time in that section this morning and found some interesting ideas and themes about the sabbath and God's commandments.

First is the audience for this section is very clearly the members of the Church (as opposed to other sections directed to the world as a whole): “blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel” (verse 3). And immediately they are given the promise that they shall receive “the good things of the earth.” The tone for the beginning of the section is a positive one of encouragement for righteous living.

These blessings are continued in verse 4, with a very peculiar promise: “And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few.” The idea of commandments being a blessing is rather contrary to the typical view of commandments as a list of verboten acts, the “thou shalt not”-type commandments. But clearly the Lord is recasting the idea of what a commandment is—a means whereby His children can receive the eternal blessings He has in store for them.

Starting in verse 5 we get some of the specific commandments being emphasized. First, love God with all your being. Next, love your fellow men, which includes not harming them through theft, adultery, murder, or “anything like unto it.” It is this last phrase, which has been interpreted in some very fundamentalist ways that interests me here. Obviously, things like stealing include lying, cheating, and committing fraud, areas where we can easily justify ourselves if we let self-interest win out over our love for others.

But I see in the idea of things like adultery and murder a clear injunction about the kinds of entertainment we seek. Pornography is the easy one here, as adultery is made virtual through the vicarious participation in sexuality. But even more benign depictions of sex—even things that might have been permissible a generation ago (I'm thinking specifically of the innuendo of sitcoms I watched regularly as a teenager)—place us in a position of fantasizing, objectifying, and escaping the realities of life and our relationships with other people.

I see a lot of my students whose ability to interact with other people in positive and meaningful ways has been stunted by warped and selfish portrayals of human sexuality. The men objectify the women, and the women strive to find self-worth through physical appearance alone. It can result in a very shallow existence.

The same is true of violence, especially in gaming situations where the first-person player has to fight off enemies. Even if it doesn't lead to real-world violence, it makes us insensitive to real human suffering, making war more palatable and violence in our own relationships more common.

The next two commandments we receive have to do with acknowledging the Lord's hand in our lives. In verse 7 we are commanded to thank the Lord in all things, and in verse 8 to sacrifice, the sacrifice we are asked to make being humility. Knowing from whence come the good things in our lives leads us then to the humility needed to become more worthy of those blessings.

And finally, as we come to love and serve God and other people and humble ourselves in gratitude, we are to keep ourselves clean by partaking of the sacrament. A clear continuation of the command to be humble, sabbath worship requires us to recognize that however good we may be, we will inevitably fall into selfishness and sinfulness if we do not constantly renew our connection with God through the sacrament.

I find this pattern to be both inspiring and challenging. I know I can do this because I can start where I am and work on the next step. But I also know that I cannot afford to stagnate, to backslide, to let up. And if I find that more is asked of me, then I know that I'm at least moving in the right direction and receiving the blessing of commandments not a few.”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Alma 58

Last Sunday we sang "When Faith Endures" in sacrament meeting, and while the hymn itself didn't resonate much (I think it's kind of a mediocre hymn, to be honest), but in scanning over the scriptures referenced at the bottom of the page, Icam across two verses that have, over the past few days, come to mean a lot to me.

In Alma 58:10-11, we read of how the people of Nephi responded to a serious threat form their enemies: "we did pour out our souls in prayer to God, that he would strengthen us and deliver us."

We then learn what happened because of their faith: "the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him."

I'm impressed here with two things. First, the response to difficult experiences was based on hope, not despair. The people had learned to trust in God, and so they turned to Him.

And secondly, their hope came before their deliverance. their prayers were not answered with an immediate and miraculous event, but with the gift of increased faith.

As is often the case in our lives, the best response to challenges is to increase our faith, but that increased faith does not guarantee the end of the trial. but if our faith is sincere, we can find greater hope and assurance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Affliction

This past Sunday we had two speakers who focused on talks from this past General Conference that focused on the role of affliction and chastening in our lives. Both talks forced my thoughts to the story of Alma and his people in bondage after their conversion and the establishment of the church in the wilderness.

This account has always impressed me, in part because it is the most powerful realization of the promise given in 1 Nephi 1:20. Here we have a people chosen by their faith and ultimately delivered by God's mercy.

But today I was struck by the pattern in verse 14-16. First, the people are told that they will be strengthened, and why this is happening--so that they will know that God is there for them in the midst of their afflictions.

The promise is then fulfilled in verse 15, as the burdens are made light and the people are made strong. In all of this they demonstrate their faith and patience, which is precisely the thing that makes us able to bear our burdens. The trials are not removed immediately, but we grow and can handle them more capably.

And then we find the fulfillment of the promise as the Lord delivers the people. As is repeated 120 years later, in 3 Nephi 1:13, the Lord tells the prophet to be of good cheer, that their patience and faith are rewarded and they are freed from their bondage.

The same process works for each of us, as we are in bondage to any number of weaknesses, addictions, sins, and fears. To be delivered, we must be patient, humble, and faithful, and in all of this we find strength, comfort, and ultimate freedom through the atonement of Christ.