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.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Elder Oaks, U2, and D&C 4

I appreciated Elder Oaks' talk in this past conference ("Desire"), not least of all because I like old-school U2, and I had that song running through my mind from the moment--about 15 seconds into the talk--when he announced the topic of his remarks.

(As a side note, Elder Oaks is a funny man. He seems so formal in General Conference, but when he visited our stake a few years ago, he was making jokes and having a grand old time. It was kind of surreal, to be honest.)

Back to my topic. The talk was good, and the idea that our challenge in life is to align our desires with God's to train ourselves to want what is truly important and significant impressed me greatly.

Yesterday I noticed something interesting during High Priest group meeting. We were discussing missionary work, and as part of the lesson, we looked closely at D&C 4. One of the things that was emphasized was verse 3: "If ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work."

It's not our ability or talent that qualify us to serve; it's our desire. And, to paraphrase Neal Maxwell, once we prove our willingness to serve, showing the depth of our desire, we are magnified to become what God wants of us. We grow to meet the demands of the thing we desire to do.

In relationship to Elder Oaks' talk then, I am beginning to see how if we want to serve God, He lets us because He knows that this will allow us to overcome our natural desires, learn to sacrifice, and, in time, desire what is best for ourselves and others.

Bonus reading--Alma 30:9

Friday, May 6, 2011

D&C 58

Recently I have been thinking a lot about the idea of obedience. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised to hear that this has never been one of my strong points. My tendency to be rebellious and independent has historically counteracted my efforts to obey with exactness. But over the past few weeks this idea has been on my mind a lot.

I've noticed it the last few times I've been to the temple; this may be the area I am in the most need to improve. And now I am finding this theme in my scripture study.

In reading D&C 58, I was struck by not just the theme of obedience, but the context. The main thrust here comes in verse 6: "For this cause I have sent you--that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come."

The context then comes in to plays in examining the verses leading up to this one. Here, then, are some thoughts from throughout these opening verses.

1) Here the Lord tells us to "learn of me what I will concerning you," to be open to being taught.

2) The first of several promises: "Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments." This promise is explained in more detailed later on. This is also where we find the first of several references to being tried and tested.

3) Building on both of these ideas, the Lord refers here to "the glory which shall follow after much tribulation." As an aside, I have also been focusing on this idea a lot recently, and the term "much tribultion" stands out to me. My life has been pretty smooth, and recent trials have opened my eyes to the reality that God will test us, often in our weakest areas. Knowing that there will be a lot of this kind of thing is pretty sobering.

4) Continuing with the theme, and getting more specific in terms of the blessings, here the Lord tells us that "after much tribulation come the blessings." One of the most powerful and profound statements in scripture.

5) "Remember this...that you may...receive that which is to follow." As it is so easy to forget what God has promised--especially when we find ourselves in the midst of the trial--we need to remember--remember to pray fervently, remember to trust in those promises, remember to be obedient to the commandments associated with the blessings we seek.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Moroni 10

After posting my thoughts on Moroni chapter 10 the other day--and in particular, reading Stew's comment about verse 32—I would like today to delve a bit deeper into the end of the chapter, starting with verse 30 and Moroni's final exhortation: "come unto Christ."

This isn't actually the entire statement, as, grammatically speaking, what we have here is a compound predicate, stretching into verse 31: "come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift...and awake, and arise from the dust...and put on thy beautiful garments...and strengthen thy stakes, and enlarge thy borders forever."

This command comes with a wonderful promise, that if we do this, "the covenants of the Eternal Father, which he hath made...may be fulfilled." I see in all of this echos of the covenants of the temple, with the emphasis on the covenants God has made with His children throughout history, the need to shun evil and cling to virtue, and the overarching theme of coming to the Lord.

This same pattern recurs in verses 32-33: "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness...and love God with all your might, mind, and strength...that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ...[and] then are ye sanctified..that ye become holy."

We often speak of Moroni 10:3-5 as the promise of the Book of Mormon, but, if you ask me, this is the real promise, that through the grace of Christ and His atonement, we can become better, ultimately becoming as our Savior is.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Moroni 10 Reexamined

I've blogged before about chapter 10 of Moroni--and, I've spoken about it in sacrament meeting and put it to the test a dozen times. I feel very strongly about the closing chapter of the Book of Mormon. But this past week I decided to do something new; I decided to trace out some themes I had been thinking about. Here's part of what I have found.

First, I noticed that Moroni seems to have gotten hooked on the word "exhort," because he uses it seven times in this chapter, in verses 3, 4, 8, 18, 19, 27, and 30. And I am drawn to the verb that follows each instance of this term, the things Moroni is asking us to do. They are remember (four times), ask, deny not, and come unto Christ.

As I look more closely, I see a pattern here. The first two references to being exhorted to do something deal with the past--remembering what God has done for His children throughout history (verse 3), and asking if the account of the descendants of Lehi found in the Book of Mormon is not true( verse 4). These injunctions deal with understanding and appreciating the ways in which God has interacted with people in the past, which provides a basis for our faith.

The next two exhortations deal with understanding that this same pattern of divine intervention in our lives operates today. In verse 8 we are commanded to recognize the operation of the gifts of God in our lives, followed by a list of those gifts. Then, in verse 18, we are taught the source of these gifts.

From this point we are ready to look to the future, which is what verses 19 and 27 do, as we project this pattern of God's involvement in the lives of men and women in all ages into the future, looking forward ultimately to the moment when we will be called on to account for our acceptance or rejection of Moroni's testimony.

This future tense culminates in verse 30, where we are invited to apply this personally and individually come unto Christ. I'd like to go into more depth on this part of the chapter later, but for now I am impressed with and inspired by how Moroni is teaching us here and what he is telling us about the Lord's involvement in our lives.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Enos 1:18

I decided to read the book of Enos this morning, but I only got to verse 12, where I lingered a while:

"And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith."

This reminded of the address Elder Oaks gave at the most recent General Conference, as well as the thesis statement of the Book of Mormon. But there are several key components to this verse. The combination of prayer and work strikes me as being crucial. Likewise, the blending of desire and faith marks an important synergy. We have to want something, have faith in God's promises, and then act on that desire.

Monday, April 4, 2011

General Conference Notes

I probably say this every six months, but I really enjoyed and benefited from this General Conference. We're doing a lot of praying for very specific blessings these days, and it seemed that many of the messages applied very directly to our family and what we need to do as we seek for these things.

It was also a good conference in terms of our engagement. We went to a nearby chapel for one session each day, and we listened to the other general sessions online. And I found myself taking notes, something I haven't done with General Conference in a long time. It was very helpful in terms of focusing on specific things to do and study.

And in that spirit I wanted to share the typed version of my notes. In transferring my handwriting to the computer I left out some things that seemed unnecessary or redundant, and I added a few things that seemed to stand out after the fact. But most of these notes reflect what I was thinking and writing throughout the different sessions of conference.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pioneer Trek

Yesterday I had the chance to speak in sacrament meeting and introduce the stake pioneer trek to the ward. I feel that my thoughts were a bit unorganized, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try to express them again here in writing.

My main idea is that there are four defining actions of pioneers both historical and contemporary, and that these four actions align with the purpose of the trek. these are conversion, sacrifice, consecration, and gathering.

As the first principle of the gospel is faith, it is here, by hearing and acting on the word of God, that the process begins. As we give place in our hearts for the gospel and find that it bears fruit, we gain a testimony. And as we act on that testimony, entering into a covenant, we begin the process of conversion.

This conversion requires sacrifices, whether through obvious things like crossing the plains or quitting a habit that violates the Word of Wisdom, or through smaller things like attending three hours of church every week or choosing to not watch certain movies or listen to certain songs. We give up some things to continue and deepen our conversion, and through sacrifice we are brought closer to God.

As we find ourselves coming to know the Lord, we desire to be more like Him, consecrating our lives to Him. For Latter-day Saints, an important part of this process is the building of and worship in holy temples. The temple ordinances bestow on us God's greatest blessings and a sense of our potential.

And by learning who we are as God's children and who we may become as His heirs, we desire to share that message. Early Saints would leave their homes and travel to distant and often unfriendly places to preach the gospel. Today we send our young men--barely out of high school--across the globe as official representatives of the Church, to share what they know to be true. In so doing, they gather Israel into wards and stakes.

The trek then is meant to replicate this process for our youth, to help them become more fully converted to the gospel, to give them the opportunity to sacrifice and find joy in that sacrifice, to consecrate themselves and thereby prepare for the blessings of the temple, and to gather together in preparation for full-time missionary work.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Humility and Other Stuff

I've blogged before about what I consider to be the main theme of the Book of Mormon, and it seems that every few pages there is something that hearkens back to the theme of deliverance as a result of faith. Two such passages caught my attention today.

The first came as I was looking over Alma 5, that opus of a chapter in which we learn of the conditions of salvation and conversion. In verses 10-13 Alma explains that the people who were baptized after hearing his father's preaching embodied this process, that their faith led to a change of heart, from which came humility. And due to this humility they were delivered. It's a tidy encapsulation of the process by which we can be freed of that which holds us in bondage.

A second reference came from our family scripture reading tonight. We were finishing Mosiah, and the discussion of installing judges to govern the people of Nephi. Here, in reference to the people under King Noah, Mosiah explains that they had fallen into iniquity and ultimately captivity.

Then in Mosiah 29:20 we read these words: "He did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him."

Again we find the same steps--faith leads to repentance, which leads to humility and then deliverance. I had not seen this third step before, and I am intrigued by the role humility plays in this process. The broken heart must preceed the freedom, the sorrow must anticipate the joy, much like Alma says to his sons later in his ministry, in speaking of his own deliverance from a life of rebelliousness and sin.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts on Reactivation and Baptism

Roy recently wrote a great blog post about reactivation. I intended this to be a comment on that post but realized how asinine it was to write such a long comment when it could be a post in and of itself. So here we go.

I wonder, and I've expressed this before, whether or not the people the missionaries baptized into the church are people who can stay active. We're as a rule a highly articulate and educated church. We have our own jargon, derived from traditional Christianity, but with very unique meanings. We place a high value on academic achievement. Our leaders tend to be highly successful in their fields.

This does not describe--I'm speaking in general terms here--the type of people that the missionaries have access to. Now that's not to say that missionaries don't baptize people who become stalwarts in the faith. They do we've all seen it. But of their many baptisms what percent stays active? I think church wide our activity rate is somewhere in the 30%-50% range. I don't think this is all because of disaffection with dogma, I think a lot of inactivity starts with a failure to find a niche in a ward or branch and subsequent failure to learn our liturgical language.

This is why I see reactivation and missionary work as a highly cultural part of our church existence. With new converts we need to befriend them and acculturate them. We cannot simply assign a home teacher and call it a day. Conversion requires new members to become fluent in a new language and to learn a new standard of expectations.

Now the language part is hard for many Mormons because by and large we are not bilingual. I mean to say we don't speak Catholic, Muslim, or Evangelical very well. We struggle to realize that "sacrament" to us is "communion" to others and their "sacraments" are our "ordinances". We forget that the term Grace as it is used in much of the Christian world is what we think of as mercy (rough translation, there are nuances that don't come through). Perhaps most important in the conversion and conversation with new members (and non-members) is that what we mean by "works" is really nothing more than the idea that the power of the Grace of Christ changes the hearts of men to do good continually.

Without starting this process of linguistic acculturation at the beginning of a conversion we are fighting an uphill battle when we reactivate.

I believe that this is why Prez. Hinckley was so adamant about not only having a calling for new converts, but also teaching them the gospel and befriending them. Without friendship and the ability to openly dialogue about doctrine, those we baptize are at a disadvantage at "becoming Mormon" and all of the cultural baggage that this entails.

Additionally without the ability to actually discuss the gospel beyond the superficial "seminary" analysis of Sunday School, I think we fail to realize the potential of living in a community of Christ. The insights that can be gleaned through dialoguing with others and admitting to them that there are aspects of the gospel you a. struggle to understand or b. have a hard time believing, can be tremendously edifying and uplifting. If we undertake to start this process with every convert and reach out to our friends in a similar manner we can as a people fulfill the promise of the School of the Prophets and "all be edified together."


Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts in the Temple Part 1

By moving to Buffalo, C and I now live closer to a temple than we have in years. It is a short 1 hour 45 minute jaunt to the temple. Given our schedule this means we only go every four to six weeks but that's still more often than we've been since our years as temple workers. Of course the fact that it is the Palmyra temple we attend only adds to the spirituality (can I quote Animal Farm in connection with temples? I better not.).

In any case while there this past weekend I was reading through 1 Nephi 19 and I came upon a passage that I don't think I've ever fully appreciated before. v. 7
For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet but I would speak in other words--they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

Now this scripture is set in context the prophesies of Zenos and Zenock in relation to the coming of Christ, and so could easily be read as an indictment of those who outwardly reject the Savior. I couldn't help but read it as an indictment of those of us who belong to the Church.

I think each of us have pet subjects that we choose to follow more closely than those things that make us uncomfortable. For me I tend to focus on the temple and its place as the center of our worship. Yet I do this without presenting it as part of my life to my non-Mormon friends, something that would be a great missionary tool. I tend to accept the words of Joseph and Brigham that we shouldn't follow the prophets blindly without realizing that means that sometimes things I disagree with on a personal level are given to us from the prophet acting as a prophet. The list can go on and on.

It is appropriate that such an insight would come in the temple. For it teaches us that gospel itself is not merely a single part or aspect of doctrine, but that it all ties together in a great whole. To do missionary work is to do genealogy, for none of us exists independent of our kindred dead. To home teach is to do missionary work, for no dead stands in a vacuum. To go to the temple is to perfect ourselves, to preach to tie generations past and yet to come together in the great web of salvation.

In the end the principles of the gospel are like this. No doctrine is independent and to treat some with more deference than others is to set at naught the words of Christ.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Activation Efforts

As a follow-up to my earlier post about my 2011 personal goals, I wanted to explore the third resolution in more detail. At ward council this week, our Relief Society president referred to section 5.3 in Handbook 2, which discusses activation efforts.

In this section we have a reference to 3 Nephi 18:32, where the Savior commands the people of His church to accept sinners among them, ministering to them with faith that they may accept the truth of the gospel message.

As we work with a huge ward with immense numbers of inactive, estranged, and incompletely converted members, this commands rings true, and it is a powerful final message from the Relief Society president who, shortly after the meeting, was released from her calling of over five years.

But even more powerful than the idea of continuing to minister is the promise. We may be the means of bringing salvation through this faithful persistence. It's true of temple work; perhaps many of those for whom we do proxy work will not accept the gospel, but those who do will love us for acting in their behalf. Children sealed to us may turn from the gospel, but our love can in the end help them find their way back.

As so, as I seek to minister with more power and more love, this verse speaks volumes to me. I must not shrink just because I don't see results. My getting-things-done mentality needs to cede to a longer-term view of conversion. And I need to minister more fully, more completely.

Monday, January 3, 2011


One of the best parts of having several weeks off around Christmas is that it gives me the chance to reflect on the previous year and set some goals for the new one. With four weeks between semesters, I find I can step back from the minute details of my life and really focus on what I want to do differently. I also get to sleep in a lot, which helps too.

But over the last few years I've done a lousy job of this, and my goals have been kind of prosaic--stuff like "lay sod in the back yard," an admirable goal for 2010 that, unfortunately, didn't come to fruition. And even worse, even if it had, I don't think it would have made a profound improvement in my character or life.

So this year I am making what I hope will be deep goals, things that are rooted in my core values and that have the potential to truly transform what I do as husband, father, Latter-day Saint, and member of my community. Following what was a successful approach as a missionary, each goal is tied to a scriptural phrase as part of the process of making that goal bigger than just a to-do list. And, because blogging something makes it more real for me, here are my three main goals for 2011:

Feast on the words of Christ. My scripture study habits have become soft over time, and I simply need to be more consistent. We've done it with family scripture study; now I need to do it with personal scripture study.

Seek learning by study and by faith. In addition to reading the scriptures daily, I need to broaden and deepen my learning. This applies to my dissertation, my gospel study, and my leisure reading. Across the board, I need to be both more selective and more voracious in finding, consuming, and internalizing valuable ideas.

Minister with power. The best experiences I have had this past year have been in one-on-one settings. Whether with members of the ward, co-workers, my kids, or my wife, opportunities to stop what I'm doing and listen to another person, to share a moment of connection and compassion have made the biggest difference. These moments make my work, my church service, and my life richer and more meaningful. As a hard-core introvert, this is not my natural state, so I need to strive for these kinds of opportunities. Like scripture study, it's too important to leave to chance. Rather, I need to actively create time for these sorts of interactions.

Here then are some specific actions I want to focus on for each of these goals.

Feast on the words of Christ. The real challenge here is to find the right time of day for scripture study. Mornings seem like an obvious time, since I tend to wake up early. But I also tend to have a lot to do early in the morning--grading essays, housework, emailing, etc. The commute to work might be a good time, as might lunch time. Either way will require disciple, which is definitely something I need more of in my life.

Seek learning by study and by faith. The main focus here must be my dissertation. I've had some serious obstacles over the past few years, but I need to stop making excuses and start working more consistently. That means writing every day, meeting with my adviser more often, and really developing an end-game strategy. Simply stated, I need to finish this year.

Minister with power. The thing I admire most about people with whom I serve in the Church is their ability to connect with people on an individual basis and make them feel valuable and loved. This is something I don't do well; my emphasis on getting things done often results in a hurried life devoid of personal connection or the kind of warmth that really makes a difference in people's lives.

Over the next few days I will make some additional observations about each of these goals, getting specific in terms of how I see myself doing these things and how this will improve my life. And maybe even get me out of laying sod.