Friday, December 19, 2014

A God of Love

I almost quite doing my blog last night.  All I wanted was to close the door to everything, curl up in a little ball and let the world pass me by.  I'm tired of religion, every aspect of it: tired of leaving mine, tired of talking to people about it, tired of hearing about theirs, tired of being asked questions, tired of thinking about it, tired, tired, tired.  Can I just say this has been a hard year.  Good-bye to 2014, the year from Hell.  Good-bye to you! 

So why am I sitting at my computer this morning?  ...why... because I can't let go of God.  And I frankly don't care who God is, male, female, a spirit, the trinity, three separate beings, I don't care, because until I die, I won't really know.  So, I'm just sticking with what I do know...God is love.  And when we miss that, we miss it all!  Who knew those four adorable mop heads with British accents held the answer all along..."all you need is love." 

There's something about God that I just can't give up on... and it's love.

That's my story and I sticking to it!  That's the God I know and that's the God I will defend.  Here's the kicker though, love isn't easy.   Like Christ said, its easy to love those that love you, but others it's a bit more difficult.  But, and here's the good part... when you know love is the answer, at least you know which direction you need to go, and that's half the battle!  The other half is actually doing it;  that's hard and God knows it, so this life gives us PLENTY of opportunities to learn it.  And when we fail because pride gets in the way, and we become miserable, we can turn to love and dig our way out of the mess that we created, and try again.  Always try again, and again, and again! 

Many years ago, I had this most adorable friend named Grace.  She was my next door neighbor and 30 years older then me.  I loved her; we had so much fun together!  Grace had the best sense of humor, we laugh and laugh, and Grace had style, let me tell you she had style.  She was just one of those rare gems that comes into your life and adds a spark that you cherish forever, and even though I moved a few miles away, we still remained good friends.

A couple of years into our friendship, Grace was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  We went to the doctors appointments together, I was by her side through chemo, she went into a short remission and then the end came.  My spark was gone, this adorable, full of life person was gone.

We had a neighbor named Natalie that was also our friend.  Sometimes we would have little luncheons at our houses.  One day, after Grace had passed away, Natalie stopped by my house.  I invited her in and we sat and talked about Grace.  Natalie seemed very emotional during our conversation and I wasn't quite getting what she was trying to tell to me.  (Oh...let me explain before I go on, Grace and I were both Mormons, and Natalie was a born again Christian, I don't remember which church she attended)  Natalie told me that she had vowed to herself that she wasn't going to let another of her Mormon friends go to Hell, and that she was here to warn me of the danger of me going to Hell.  Natalie had intended to warn Grace, but failed to do so and now Grace was in Hell and it tormented Natalie, so she vowed not to let that happen again and she was there to save me. 

I have to admit that at first I didn't grasp what she was saying.  But finally I did.  And I asked Natalie, I remember the exact words I used.  "You mean our darling Grace is in Hell?"  And when I realized that that was what she was telling me, I just said, "I don't know that God."  Let me just add here, that Natalie was not offending me at all.  I knew she was coming to me out of love and concern, and I respected that. I hugged her and told her I appreciated her coming, because I did.  But I also remember thinking to myself, I'm so glad I don't have to explain that God to anyone.  Really, more than anything else about our conversation, I was glad I didn't have to explain that God to anyone and that my concept of God did not send darling people like Grace to Hell.  You may recall in my last post that I said I don't believe in a pointless God and that in my opinion is a pointless God, it's the exact definition of a pointless God!

People confess God, say He is love...but sometimes miss the big picture.....GOD IS LOVE!  So anything unloving, like sending Grace to Hell just because she happens to be the wrong religion, isn't very loving is it?  Could it be that it's not God that isn't loving, but the religion that is proclaiming that Grace is going to Hell that isn't very loving?  You know the old joke... Christianity, isn't very Christian, or Gandhi's famous quote. "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  Don't get me wrong, I do like Christian's, I consider myself one, but Christianity has a lot of explaining to do, and so many of its beliefs do NOT follow what Christ taught.

We went out to dinner the other night with our friends who are very kind, good people; after we ordered and were sitting chatting at the table, the wife asked us, "what do your kids think about your leaving the church?"  They looked intensely interested in hearing our answer.  The question kind of threw me a bit, I wasn't expecting it.  So I sat there for a minute to gather my thoughts.  Well first of all, two of our kids are not active members, so it doesn't bother them any, and the other two are very independent thinkers, especially our son.  He loves to discuss religion and would never be swayed by anything we said.  Our daughter, it has been a bit harder on.  Those were the thoughts going through my head, but I don't think I explained that to them; I think we began to explain our current state of thinking if I remember right.  But while we were talking, I asked them what they believed about why we were here, what was this life for?  I was very interested to know what they believed, as they are, I would guess Evangelical.  They said that God created us because He wanted people to return to Him that choose to worship Him.  He said, "God created us because He wanted people to worship Him and that free agency was important because He wanted people who choose to worship Him, God could have created people to worship Him, but God wanted us to choose it because that was more meaningful to Him."

At this point, I can hardly put the words together to make a sentence.  "You mean to tell me that your God, created all these people knowing that some would not choose to worship Him and would be cast down to Hell as a result and suffer there, just so He can have a group of people who choose to worship Him live with Him in heaven, even though He could have created people to worship Him, He wanted those who chose it because it is more meaningful."  And if the cost of that meaningfulness is to send some, many actually, people to Hell, so be it, that's the cost.  Okay, I have heard this same scenario too many times to just say, "I don't know that God."  This night I had to defend my purposeful God, from this pointless God, and I said, "I would not worship that God."  Is that so bad?  I wouldn't worship that God.  I worship a God who loves all of His children and shows that love to us by creating a world and experiences for us to grow and learn to Love as He does.  I believe He's bringing us all back to Him.  What all that in tells I don't know, He's the one that's Omnipotent not me, and if Christ's atonement is necessary to do that, then I believe in that.  I have a hope in Christ.  But I have a bigger HOPE and trust in a purposeful God that has a bigger plan that includes our becoming like Him, meaning learning to love like Him.  And where that all leads to in the next life I don't know, I think that is where faith comes in, we don't have the whole plan, but I have faith in it. 

Let me pause here, to say, I really mean no offense to our friends, they mean well and that is their belief and I don't want to be disrespectful. I really don't!  That's why I don't like religion.  It divides people, it causes arguments, it destroys family and friend relationships.  I have no ill will towards anyone and their beliefs and to quote Mormon doctrine, "let them worship how, where, and what they may."  I really believe in that.  And I know the hearts of Christians are good, very good, as are the hearts of Mormons, who are Christians.  And I know that born again Christians would take exception to the way I explained their God, I'm sure there is a lot more purpose and meaning to their beliefs, but you should hear what it sounds like to an outsider, this really is what it sounds like.  So now that I have made a lot of enemies, let me again say I love you all, I simply choose to believe in a bigger God, or at least a bigger plan.  And if I'm wrong you can come visit Grace and I in Hell, I'm sure we will need ministering to.

So I guess for now, I'm sticking with the Beatles... all you need is love.  Hey why not, I like their music too!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Do You Believe Now?

I have a dear friend that joined the Church when she was in her late teens.  She was raised Jehovah's Witness, then joined the Mormon Church, then left it in her mid to late twenty's; I would call her Agnostic now, I think she would agree with that.  I contacted her the other day to tell her I too had left the Mormon Church.  She asked me some questions about what I believe now, and since I had been wanting to do a post on that I will include some of my answers to her here.  Not that what I believe is that important, but I think it's helpful to share with others our beliefs, even though beliefs are not a stagnant thing and they change as we grow and experience different things in life.  That's a good thing.  We don't want to become stagnant in our thinking.  So if you are in a stage that is difficult because your belief system has been challenged, just look around at all the gifts that is bringing you.  You are no longer stuck thinking a certain way, you are now free to experiment, to question, to challenge, to ask hard questions, to peek behind a curtain, uncover that stone.  You can now get down and dirty and fall of the pedestal that says, you own the truth; it's called humility, and it's a very powerful tool for learning, growing, loving, and finding happiness.  Don't ever be afraid of humility... it's God's best tool.  As hard and challenging as it is to admit to yourself that you have been viewing life through biased lenses, (and we all view life that way) and as grave and disturbing as it is to question one's faith or to lose that faith, the fears you will loose, the compassion you will gain, the joy of questioning, learning, seeking, experiencing life in new and exciting ways, far out way the price.  Just try it on, take it for a test drive, you will love it!  You might think, it's too dangerous, too frightening to question your views.  Let me just reply to that with:  it's very dangerous to stay stuck in a mindset that isn't correct, and no matter what your mindset is, I guarantee there are things in it that are not correct.  Why live life thinking that they are?  And as for it being frightening to exam your beliefs, I guarantee that you are frightened right now, about something.  There is something in your belief system that is frightening you: the government, society, your children's choices or potential choices, global warming, the Second Coming, Obama, terrorism, racism, the economy, the future, death, illness, salvation, or a million other fears. and the sad part is, we come to these fears with a biased mind, in which we have staked everything, and we let these fears play out in our mind and life for maybe no reason.  I read a book once called, Loving What Is, it's a great read, and the author says she puts anything that is out of her ability to control into "God's" category, even if you don't believe in God, she calls it that, just to remind herself that, "I have no control over that, and I will not waste anymore time worrying about it," I will leave that up to the powers that be.  But, if your belief system is so strong and you think you are so right, you will still buy into your fears, thinking that you are wiser and know more, I guarantee it, I have lived it.
Now to my friend's questions: she asked if I had lost faith in a Heavenly Father?  At first, I felt unsure about everything, which is a good thing, leaving the Church gives you so much compassion for others and their beliefs.  I totally get atheists now, I respect where they're coming from, and I don't think they are the evil people I grew up believing they were.  I get agnostic's, everyone, I respect them, even Mormon, especially Mormons,  I am a Mormon... I understand their beliefs and the commitment they have to them.  When people say that the Bible is not factual, I get that too, it falls apart under scrutiny, just like the Book of Mormon does, I agree with you when you say you don't have any confidence in organized religion, I agree with that, but I also see the  good it does, along with the bad, but the good out weighs the bad in my mind, but an argument can be made the other way too.  I do believe there is a God, and since my concept of who God is... is Heavenly Father, yeah I guess I stick with that.  Why switch that out for another God, since I don't really know for sure, why switch out the one I understand and have prayed to my entire life, and have a history with?  Did prayer get hard for me? Yeah, it did, but there is still that desire to thank God at the end of the day for all the wonderful things in my life, and gratitude is such an important facet of happiness, that I don't want to not have gratitude.  And if God, is really responsible for all the things in my life, which I think He is, I would hate to be ungrateful.

Let me just pause from my conversation with my friend for a moment here to add: I don't think we have a pointless God.. meaning that I think there is great purpose to our life. I believe in a God that has the same destination for all of us, and our life's purpose is to learn and grow.  It's called progression in the Mormon faith and I very much believe in it.  I don't believe in the Mormon idea of progression, if that means we will eventually end up in one of three  kingdoms and remain there for eternity.  Hey, but lets give Mormon's some credit, at least they aren't sending people to Hell to dwell forever just because they don't say a "sinner's pray" (that isn't biblical anyway) or they don't "confess"
Christ just the way some Evangelicals think they should.  Mormon's believe in Christ, and they love Him, they worship Him, and they are grateful for His atonement in their life, they view Christ's atonement as:  their means of salvation, what enables Christ to forgive our sins, and Christ's ability to change our nature.  They believe all of that in spite of their church's attempt to usurp Christ's authority, so that the Church speaks for Christ, the church is Christ, basically in a Mormon's eyes.    That's why Mormon's hold to the Church so strongly, the Church is Christ's gospel, they love Christ, so they of course love His Church, and reverence their leaders way too much, because it's one in the same to them. 

What do I think of Christ?  That question actually comes from Mormon scripture, "what think ye of Christ?"  Well... I have a hope in Him, I love his teachings, I think they are a good way to live your life.  I think the Biblical Christ is hard to prove, but I have a hope in Him, and in His saving ability, if that is necessary, which it might be, but I don't think the purpose of this life is salvation.  Was a Savior necessary for God to send us to this earth so we could progress and learn?  I have always been taught that, and for all I know it may be so, but, like I said, scriptures fall apart under scrutiny, so that just leaves you with faith, doesn't it?  And if that is what you are left with, then I have to give the person who wants to believe the Book of Mormon as scripture as much respect as the person who wants only to believe the Bible as scripture.  They are both a matter of faith in my mind, and cannot be proven as fact or historical.  That maybe where faith comes in, but not about KNOWING, like Mormons like to say they "know."  Mormon's don't "know" anything... anymore then Christians "know" things for sure.  It's all based on faith and teachings and your own personal experiences.  And I'm not slamming anyone's personal feelings, experiences, or faith, it's not my place to do so.  It was Christ that taught us not to judge. 

My friend asked if we felt betrayed by the Church?  I told her yeah, we do.  We feel like we were the faithful spouse, we were loyal, we did everything we were supposed to, we upheld our end of the bargain, and the Church played the harlot.  It lied, it wasn't faithful.  So you are constantly sorting your life out, the good, the bad, that came from spending your entire life in the Church.  I used to see everything good in my life, as a result of being a member, and that may be so, but there is a lot of bad too, mostly in attitudes and in the way you view things.
She asked if I thought Joseph Smith was mentally disturbed?  No, I think he was a brilliant con man, and self-aggrandizing womanizer.   But I could be wrong, and I hold that possibility out there.  Did he see God, and translate the Book of Mormon from gold plates?  The evidence strongly suggests that he didn't. Did he bring some truth and enlightenment to the world, yes I think so.  So that's where I give him a little possibility of being... what I don't know, a prophet? I would have to have a new definition for prophet to call him that.   But I certainly don't know all things, and I don't know how God works, remember, our ways are not His ways, and there are the mysteries of God. 
We just don't know exactly how God does things, do we?   It's kind of the mystery of it all that leads you right back to faith again, not knowledge.  I was listening to someone the other day and she was saying that she had to learn to live with uncertainty.  Uncertainty sounds a lot like faith, this life may be based on uncertainty, perhaps faith... why?  Why would God design it that way? I don't know but my thinking is that uncertainty gives you the ability to think, test, and grow, and to come to conclusions, rethink and come to new conclusions, test and grow.  All in all, not a bad plan after all.

Monday, November 17, 2014

No Stone Left Unturned - Part one

I have been watching Nazi Hunter's on Netflix, so when going to bed last night I had the Holocaust on my mind.  As the disturbing images swirled around in my head, my attitude was, how could a loving God let that horrific slaughter of a people happen, and if God would let something that awful happen, how can I suppose that God cares about my little life and insignificant problems? Why would God come to my aide and rescue and not come to theirs?  When I awoke this morning, tears filled my eyes as my attitude changed, thinking how hard it must have been for God to have watched that happen.  What was it that compelled God to do so?  What caused God to sit back and let the Holocaust happen?  What do others think about that, how do they explain it?   
So I googled, how do Christians explain the Holocaust?  Here's a sampling of the answers that I found, if you have better ones, please leave them in the comments section, because with answers like these, I'm really beginning to understand atheists better and better:

1) God allows bad things to happen, He gives us freedom, He loves and grieves with us in our pain when bad things happen.  Believe it or not, this is the best answer that I got, but it's glaringly incomplete.  Saying that "God allows bad things to happen," is not telling me why, it's just repeating my question. Try that one on a college test sometime,  just repeat the question back to the professor, that will land you an "F" every time. "He gives us freedom"...that's not a complete answer, you would have to tell me why he gives us freedom, now that would be an answer, and that freedom had better be worth dying for in a concentration camp!  Do you see that these answers are too shallow?  They lack understanding of what and who God is.  If I'm going to watch my child take his last breath in a gas chamber, I need a better answer then: "He loves and grieves with us in our pain." Again, without knowing why God is not intervening, knowing that God loves me and is grieving, doesn't help too much to ease the pain and suffering.  This answer makes a fair attempt, but comes up short.

2)  Someone said, "I'll assume you're not racing towards the Congo to help millions of innocent people from being murdered there"..."how indifferent are you to abortion? You understand your own indifference and faithlessness, right?  Look no further until your knees are grimy from kneeling, your indifference will be the answer to everything you cannot have without faith."  This person is attacking the questioner, that is just ridiculous!  The one asking the question, how could God allow such a thing, isn't God, they have no control over what's going on in the Congo, but because they haven't stopped what they have no control over, they are not allowed to ask a question about God who does have control?  That makes no sense to me.  That is really a poor answer, that's filled with accusations. 

3)  Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:  But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.  Also, Satan is the ruler of this world and has blinded the minds of them which believe not.  Deception has caused the masses to be cut off from God.  In essence, this person is using Isaiah 59 to say that the Holocaust was the Jews fault.  They had it coming, or at least God wasn't going to do anything because of their sins.  Well, that just doesn't fly on so many levels. First, you are not supposed to judge others, so where does this person get the audacity to level such a blanket judgment against a whole group of people, which includes children?  Second, who could respect and worship such a vindictive God, that would say to a group of people who were just living their lives and worshiping God as they saw fit, that they were deserving of such an outcome?  And would that be the freedom, that was alluded to in the first answer?   That's not freedom that's coercion.  What about the second answer above, in the Congo reference, it said innocent people.  Why use that example to defend your God's actions, unless the Jews were innocent too.  Don't you need to compare apples for apples. That person allowed that murder and genocide was taking place on innocent people, how does that stack up with Isaiah 59?  According to that scripture it's because of their sins.  And the explanation of Satan ruling this world and has blinded the minds of them that believe not, and deception has caused the masses to be cut off from God.  Does not seem like a good reason to allow genocide to a reasonable mind, does it? If a people have been deceived by someone as cunning as the Devil, surely God would be compassionate wouldn't He?  If your child had been deceived by a very cunning evil person, would you take it out on your child?  If you are going to use the argument that Satan rules this world and has blinded people, that would be a better explanation for the perpetrators actions wouldn't it, then the victims?  Weren't the Nazi's the blind ones: blinded by pride, greed, fear, self-centeredness, hate and anger?  Aren't those Satan's characteristics? 

What I find interesting about all three of these answers, is a lack of compassion for the Jews and the horrific genocide they endured.  These answers were all from "loving" Christian people, who seem to be full of judgment.  A know this sampling is in no way scientific it's only anecdotal, and these people are not officially speaking for their church's, but it is interesting, the absolute lack of compassion.  I think back to the things that I have been taught about the Holocaust, and there is that same sense of judgment.  I remember, in Seminary, learning that the Jewish leaders had previous to the Holocaust signed a paper or document, claiming they were not the chosen people of God, and this was given as the justification for the Holocaust.  Maybe not in those words exactly, but I'm 56, and I can still remember being taught that when I was a teenager, so it must have lodged some where in my brain as at least a partial reason. This of course too, is anecdotal and does not speak for the Church.  But I do think there is, or at least was, a sense that the Jews were still being punished for rejecting the Messiah, and it's blatant arrogance and stupidity that allows for thoughts like that.

Let's consider some other answers, and I'm not going to pretend to know the answer, but let's examine some answers from people who claim to know.  You can decide if you think their explanation is worth considering or not.

Howard Storm, an atheist who had a NDE, while in a hospital in Paris, says he asked God about the Holocaust. He saw the Jews being transported in the railway cars to the camps where they were killed.  He says he saw "piles of naked corpses being loaded into the ovens, and began to cry 'these are the people God loves'." Then an angel told him to look up and he saw, "rising out of the smoke of the chimneys, I saw hundreds of people, being met by thousands of angels taking them up into the sky.  There was great joy in the faces of the people, and there appeared to be no trace of a memory of the horrendous suffering they had just endured."  He asked how God could allow this to happen, he was told that "it was not God's will.  This was an abomination to God.  God wants this to never happen again.  This was the sacrifice of an innocent people to whom God had given the law to be an example, a light, to rest of the world.  This Holocaust was breaking God's heart..."  The angels told Howard that "God was very unhappy with the course of human history and was going intervene to change the world.  God had watched us sink to depths of depravity and cruelty at the very time that He was giving us the instruments to make the world a godlier world.  God had intervened in the world many times before, but his time God was going to change the course of human events."

Dr. Eban Alexander, a brain surgeon, had this to say about his NDE, "I saw the earth as a pale blue dot in the immense blackness of physical space.  I could see that earth was a place where good and evil mixed, and this constituted one of its unique features.  Even on earth there is much more good than evil, but earth is a place where evil is allowed to gain influence in a way that would be entirely impossible at higher levels of existence.  That evil could occasionally have the upper hand known and allowed by the Creator as a necessary consequence of giving the gift of free will to beings like us.  Small particles of evil were scattered through out the universe, but the sum total of all the evil was as a grain of sand on a vast beach compared to the goodness, abundance, hope, and unconditional love in which the universe was literally awash.  The very fabric of the alternate dimension is love and acceptance, and anything that does not have these qualities appears immediately and obviously out of place there."

What about the Jewish people, what do they think about God allowing the Holocaust to take place? One of their religious leaders, Rabbi Alan Lurie, has these thoughts on the subject:  ..."the very question of 'How could God allow the Holocaust?' represents a profound misunderstanding of the nature of God, creation, and the spiritual dimension, because it is based on very faulty assumptions.  It posits God as a being who is totally separate from us, who observes our behavior, preventing harm from coming to those who follow certain rules (usually written in books), and punishing those who do not.  And it sees humans as helpless children.  But God is much more than that, and we are much more than that.  This image of God and humans, frankly, is childish and primitive,...the purpose of creation is to be in a loving relationship with its Creator.  In order to have a true relationship, though, there must be absolute free will, because a programmed or coerced being cannot experience true love.  Free will, then is a universal constant, built in to the fabric of creation like gravity and the speed of light.  Free will to choose love means that there must be the possibility to choose not-love to choose indifference and hatred.  So while the world may seem unfair, it must be exactly as it is in order for consciousness to emerge, and I am in complete agreement with the 17th century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, who wrote that this is the best of all possible worlds...God deliberately does not interfere-not out of indifference, but out of great love.  God must "watch" in pain as we commit atrocities, because to interfere would negate free will, terminating the relationship and hence the very purpose of creation...This is the great gift of creation:  We can do something God cannot; we can elevate physicality by our choice to act in love."

Wow!!  Those are powerful answers, centered in an understanding of God's love for His creation and His gift of free will to us.  So yes, my initial attitude of, how can God be loving and allow such evil as the Holocaust to happen, was a shallow attitude and understanding of God.  My second attitude of, how hard that must have been for God to watch this horrific event take place, was a more enlightened, one, and makes me realize how important this gift is, and how important it is that I use it to be loving.  And I need to understand the sacrifice that the Jewish people went through for that gift of free will.   As Dr. Alexander says " and compassion are far more than the abstractions many of us believe them to be.  They are real.  They are concrete. And they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.  In order to return to that realm, we must once again become like that realm, even while we are stuck in, and plodding through, this one."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

None so blind...

Yesterday the NY Times ran an article about the Church's essay on Joseph Smith and his plural wives.  The essay has been out for a few weeks, but most members were entirely unaware of it.  Why, because the Church didn't announce the publishing of the essay or any of their essays, they just quietly put them buried on their website, but everyone knows about them now, thanks to the NY Times.  So what's the reaction?  Varied of course, for some it will be so shocking they will reject the church, for others it will be disturbing, but something they can live with, at least for the moment.  My guess is that for the vast majority of members, they will just shrug it off, they will tell themselves they already knew that, and many did know about his polygamy.  I did, but it's never mentioned, and I mean never mentioned, in lessons, in Conference talks, in the manuals, so you mostly forget.  But what I'm sure the vast majority didn't know before, was the polyandry, the fourteen year old girl, and the number of women he married.  So what's the reaction to this new information?  Blindness.  And I don't mean that in a negative way, but it is blindness.  You can't jump out and scare someone, and not expect them to scream and run, and that's exactly what happened.  The NY Times jumped out and scared Mormon's, figuratively speaking, and they will scream and run. They may not scream, well... maybe they will scream at you if you try to talk to them about it, but they will run.  But can you blame them?  They weren't looking to have their beloved prophet exposed on the front page of the NY times.  They weren't even aware of most of the issues that were plastered there, how can they defend them, when they weren't aware of them, and it's not really logical of anyone to expect them to, is it? 

I knew Joseph Smith was a polygamist.  I knew that.  But like I said, it's never talked about: polygamy really isn't talked about much.  All you ever see are pictures of Joseph with Emma, and the portrait that the Church paints of him, as a kind, obedient, humble servant of the Lord, and devoted husband to Emma.  That's all you ever hear and see, period! We sing, Praise to the Man, we praise that man, that prophet of God, that gave his life to bring forth the gospel of Christ, to bring forth the blessings of heaven.  "None did more for the salvation of man, save Jesus Christ, then him," our leaders tell us.  God anointed that prophet and seerer. This is the story that's taught in General Conference, in the manuals, and in our scripture.  So can you blame someone for being blind?  The only defensive move is to shrug it off.  It's just another attack on the Church, another test of faith, to which you have covenanted to be true to, Mormon's will tell themselves.  If there's one thing that Mormonism does better than most religions, is it ties everything in one package: your family, your social world, your God, your faith, your reason for existing, your future, the truth, your value system, your view of life, your view of others, did I mention family?  It's all tied up together.  Do I need to reemphasize the magnitude of all that?  Your family, your view of the world, your God, your salvation, your truth, EVERYTHING is tied up together.  What incentive could a person possible have in wanting to unravel that?  Do you even understand what it takes to unravel that?  You would put everything at risk, your family relationships, your friendships, your security system, your reputation, and possibly your salvation.  And  what if you're wrong?  Everyone will tell you you're wrong.  They will tell you how concerned they are for you, as they shut the door to your relationship with them.  Your opinion about anything will now be tainted with apostasy.  Your opinion will not matter in anyway, it won't even be allowed to be expressed for the most part, and you will be shut out.  So given all of that, blindness is a quick easy answer.  It's not even a conscious decision, it just kicks in automatically.  It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, determination to know the truth, and integrity to put all of the things mentioned above on the chopping block, and say "go at it, I can take it."  The truth is, most of us can't take it.  And I don't blame anyone that falls into that category.  But it would be nice, although not likely, if the blind ones could show a little respect for those who do ask the hard questions, to allow them the right to pursue truth as they see it.  To give everyone the free agency that this Church so loudly touts, to make their own decisions without judgment from those who are supposed to be full of charity, to not be so "concerned" about those who have chosen a harder path, who seek truth no matter the cost. 
Respect from both sides of the isle should be the goal.  People have to live together in this big beautiful world.  God wants us to love each other, more than anything else, and he puts us in these difficult situations to learn just that... love. If you think there is something bigger and better to learn in life, you may not know God as well as you think you do.  Do you really think God's main objective is to just see if you can blindly hold on to what you perceive as the truth or have been taught as the truth, or do you think Gd's bigger goal is for you to learn to love others who think and do differently then you think they should.  One beautiful thing about discovering that the Mormon church does not hold all the truth, and is in fact not all what it claims to be, is the ability to reject all your preconceived notions, and with this new discerning eye, look objectively at everything, no rock or stone is left unturned.  And what you discover is that there are no belief systems or religions that don't have their dark side, unbelievable truth claims, and/or problems with their history.  But, this gives you a never ending gift of compassion and tolerance and love for others in their life's journey.  You don't hold the key to the universe and you know that other's don't either.  But, you can certainly respect their life experiences and views, and faith that they hold, and if you're wise you will learn from them.  I think God likes that.  I think God planned it that way.  But if you don't believe in God and think he has a plan like that, hey I respect that too, and I understand where you're coming from.  I believe it's integrity that took you to that life view, and I know that you have not lost any of your morals as a result, and maybe have gained some, which that too, I can learn from.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A little history fun

Our daughter came to my husband and I last night wanting us to help her study for her history test.  It was mostly on the Reformation.  As she was trying to get the main events straight, I told her, "everything was about religion and power and keeping that power."  She said, "the Catholic Church sent out more missionaries," I said "yes, they were so concerned about everyone's salvation," with a smile on my face.  She turned to me and said, "they sent missionaries out to get more money," I said, "oh, that sounds familiar," my smile now turning into a chuckle, guess who's been listening to her mom and dad talk?  As we continued to go through the history, the parallels became fascinating! So let's have a little fun with history:

The Inquisition likened to The Mormon Reformation and The Strengthening the Members Committee

The Inquisition began as a legal way to contend with heretics. You know, those who spoke out about the Catholic Church wielding its controlling power over the helpless and innocent.  Its name comes from the Latin root word inquiro, which means, "to look into".  The inquisitors, those "looking into stuff" were accountable to only the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the earthly representative of God!   They exacted penalties, tortured, and killed, those who objected to or threatened the power of the Church, you know, only stuff that God would do if He were on the earth.  The direct result of the Inquisition was increased influence and power for the church and need I say, an increase in wealth.  The two things, power and wealth, that God hungers after and that man is able to handle so well.  I think I have that right.  Yeah, that's right; and it was kind of a big, maybe biggest, violation of human rights in history, but there was the Holocaust, so... it's a toss up.  

Okay, now let's compare the Inquisition to the Mormon Reformation.   Why the puzzled look?  Surely you've heard of the Mormon Reformation.  Remember... we studied that in Seminary, at the same time that we studied the Meadow Mountains Massacre.  No?  I guess you're right, we didn't study those did we? I was in my forties in college before I ever heard of the Meadow Mountains Massacre.  I just learned about the Mormon Reformation this year. It took place in 1856 and 1857. It was under the direction of President Brigham Young, our earthly representative of God, kind of like a Mormon Pope, the prophet, seer and revelator that speaks directly to God to get His will concerning His church.  Those overseeing the reformation, Young's counselors, were only accountable to him.  Though on a tiny, tinier scale then the Inquisition, there are similarities.  Like only being accountable to the head of the church, and wielding complete authority.   

The Mormon Reformation began with President Young's desire to increase spirituality within the church. He was unhappy with the worldliness of the saints, as they began to build up their own personal wealth.  The reformation began by strict rules being enforced over the congregants through intimidation, home surveillance through a new home missionary program, and preaching the need for repentance and change from the pulpit at General Conference and other meetings.  Young's two counselors, Heber C. Kimball and Jedediah Grant, went throughout the entire Utah Territory, encouraging members to reject sin and embrace all things spiritual.  

Polygamy had been secretly practiced for years by the leadership of the Church, but in 1852, Brigham Young announced it as a church practice and doctrine. Thus, opening it up as a possibility to everyone. It was taught that polygamy was a more righteous way to live, in fact there are plenty of quotes from Brigham Young and others proclaiming it necessary to receive exaltation. When you have that bizarre of a marriage arrangement going on, you are just asking for trouble when it comes to sexual conduct.  A monkey wrench was thrown into their entire moral culture, and as a result, men began marrying younger and younger girls, 13 and 14 years old was not uncommon.  Adultery and fornication must have been seen as a problem, at least in the eyes of Apostle Parley P Pratt, who in 1855 asked the legislature to assign the death penalty for such behavior.  In 1857 Heber C. Kimball spoke about adultery within the church and said that, those doing so, were "worthy of death, and they will get it."  

Mormon's during that time, never really lived the Word of Wisdom like we do today.  Many drank coffee, tea, and beer and smoked or chewed tobacco, Church leaders included.  There are numerous journal entries and other records that provide enough evidence that it's not really debatable that the Word of Wisdom was just that, words. Leonard Arrington, church historian, said that the current attitude we have now about these substances, began in 1867.   

By September 1856, the Utah Territory, had been suffering from a draught, there were increasingly more immigrants coming from Europe across the Great Plains.  The economy was a mess and people were suffering.  Mormon's really believed at that time, including their leaders, that they were on the brink of the Second Coming.  As this call for greater spirituality continued, almost everyone was rebaptized.  The prophet was preparing everyone to live "celestial law" in Utah.  He is quoted as saying:  "The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broadsword and ask, Are you for God?  And if you are not heartily on the Lord's side, you will be hewn down."  If you think that his choice of words, "hewn down" is a bit dramatic, then you haven't heard of his doctrine of Blood Atonement. He was not kidding around when he used phrases like that.  To enforce this new "spirituality" among the saints, there were secret committees set up called "destroying angels" or Danites. There's an account of one group of people who left the Church during this time period being murdered, though probably sanctioned on a local level. 

During October Conference 1856, 2nd Counselor Grant, called several presidents of the Seventy by name and accused them of adultery among other things, and he urged President Young to "cut them off and prune the trees around him".  Home missionaries were assigned to ward families from their local teachers quorum, these were men in those days not 14 to 16 year old boys as they are now, to check on their physical needs and their spiritual progress; they were to report back to Church leaders regarding this.  This reform was the genesis of home teaching.  It just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing that the home teaching program began as a home spying program, doesn't it?  Sorry, I don't mean to criticize  home teaching, it's a helpful service to many single mothers and widows, among others, today.

And hey, how about that Strengthening the Members Committee? You haven't heard about that either?  I know, I'd never heard of the fairly secretive committee either, until I saw Elder Holland asked about it in a BBC interview by Michael Sweeney.  (Can I just digress for one moment here to formally thank Elder Holland, if he had never agreed to interviews, I would have never known about this committee, or the fact that we don't know how we got the doctrine for the priesthood ban on the blacks, even though we were always taught it was a revelation from God, and I would have never known that the reasons for the ban are now referred to as "folklore" by our leaders.  Maybe Elder Holland really is doing God's work, because without his interviews how would we ever learn these things!)  Anyway, when Mr. Sweeney asked Elder Holland about the committee, Elder Holland acknowledged that it did and does still exist, ..."to protect against predatory practices of polygamists."  Sweeney asked, "It's there to defend the church against polygamists?"  "...that is still its principal task," answered Holland. When asked its subsidiary task, Holland said..."to be protective generally, just to watch and care for... any, err, insidious influence."   There appears to be two members of the Twelve Apostles on the committee, that reports directly to the First Presidency.  A spokesman for the church, Don LaFevre, said the committee "receives complaints from church members about other church members who have made statements that 'conceivably could do harm to the church', then the committee will pass the information along to the person's ecclesiastical leader."  Kind of sounds like the Nazi Germany's snitch system.  Problem is, nobody knows about the committee, so if you saw something you thought could be harmful to the church, you would have no idea that this committee exists, so how does that work?  Elder Oaks in 1993, described the committee as a "clipping service."  Well that about sums everything up; nothing more needs to be explained there.  Except, what the heck is a "clipping service?"   I looked it up, it's someone who cuts out coupons for you.  That's nice! They used to spy on members and now they are giving them coupons.  No... wait.  It's not coupons after all, it's speeches, writings and activities of those suspected of apostasy, that's what's clipped and passed on to church officials.  Isn't that a nice, harmless little committee, paid for by your tithing dollars no doubt. What happened to free agency, and turning the other cheek, and loving your neighbor and charity and all of that stuff? I wander if the disclosure of this committee is part of the missionary discussions? 

Martin Luther likened to The September Six

The Protestants have their hero, and we have ours too.  On Halloween day, three years from now, it will be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg.  His criticisms threatened the power of the Pope and the Catholic Church, causing his excommunication. Luther was a scholar who had studied Aristotle at the University of Efurt.  We have our scholars too, they also threatened the Church's power and were excommunicated. These church's have no sense of humor when it comes to their power, let's just say they are very protective of it, and your loss of salvation does not cause them to loose any sleep, if you threaten their power in any way. 

The September Six, who are they?  They were a group of prominent LDS Scholars that were excommunicated, one disfellowshipped, in September of 1993. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, that did an article on them 20 years later, they were "writers that were rebuked."  D. Michael Quinn, a historian and one of the Six said, ...The tragic reality is that there have been occasions when Church leaders, teachers, and writers have not told the truth they knew about difficulties of the Mormon past, but have offered to the Saints instead a mixture of platitudes, half-truths, omissions, and plausible denials... A so called "faith promoting" Church history which conceals controversies and difficulties of the Mormon past actually undermines the faith of the Latter-day Saints who eventually learn about the problems from other sources..."  This statement made back in 1981 by D. Michael Quinn is more prophetic then anything I have heard from any of our prophets from that time until the present.  This is literally happening on a daily basis now and people are leaving in droves. 

The German and English Bible likened to the Internet

This is such a fun comparison!  Control the message, control the masses.  That bears repeating, so one more time, control the message, control the masses.  Loose control of the message and... well bad things happen, like the Reformation or the Google apostasy.  Bad things to the institution that is, the people might say differently. We all know the effects of getting the bible into the hands of the people in a language they could read, right?  They were no longer reliant upon the institution to hand pick what they heard, and interpret it for them.  The people could read it all for themselves and decide. That's exactly what is going on right now in the Mormon Church.  The Church used to have control of the history, and the way it was presented to its members, and unless you were very curious and happened to have a key to the First Presidency vault, so you could view all the primary sources that contradict the white washed history, you would never know.  But there were a few people who did get a "key" and their information has been recorded; remember D. Michael Quinn, one of the September Six, he's one of the people who had this "key".  That was several decades ago, who knew right?  Well some people knew, but they were few and far between, and you still had to be looking and know where to look for that information.  Most Mormons are not curious, not because we are ignorant, we are actually a highly educated people.  BUT, we are not curious, because we have been taught to not be curious! Not in those words exactly, the Church leaders don't put a swinging pocket watch in front of our faces, telling are now getting sleepy, very very sleepy,  then tell us...don't be curious.   They just tell us that, anything that doesn't come from them is anti-Mormon and we should never look at that.  We don't want to be anti-Mormon and fall into a trap that might take away our testimony, thus our salvation, so we are not curious, super not curious.  Why would we be, for the most part, Mormons are very happy people, they have nice families and who wants to do anything that would tear at the root of all of that?  No thanks, we'll just pass on that, wouldn't you?   So even though this information was out there, it didn't look to be a problem for the Church.  All was well in Zion; but as you know, all good things come to an end, and Google was that end. 

There is so much information on the internet, good information, that is backed up by primary sources, double, triple backed up by primary sources, often the sources are the church's own publications from years past, or quotes from their own leaders, or doctrines that were once taught that have quietly disappeared with no explanation, like blood atonement.  It's so prolific and well documented, that if you happen to trip across it on the internet, well... Google apostasy.  What more can I say? 

Jesuits likened to 18 year old missionaries

The Jesuits played a very important role in the Counter-Reformation, when the Catholic Church tried to stop the bleeding from people joining with the Protestants.  The Jesuits were organized and committed, and were all in all a very impressive group of people, that did many good things. The Mormon Church has a missionary program that is also made up of a group of impressive people,  very organized, and very obedient.  About three years ago, desperate measures must have been needed, to stop the bleeding from the Google apostasy.  That's when President Monson made  the announcement that boys could now serve when they are 18, previously it has been 19, and girls can serve at 19, previously it was 21.  The Church anticipated that the announcement would significantly increase the number of missionaries, and it did. Unfortunately for the Church, the number of baptisms has not increased at the same rate as the increase of missionaries. So like the Jesuits, the increase in missionaries may help the bleeding, but like the Jesuits, who were not effective in stopping the Protestants, I'm afraid they will have little impact on the Google apostasy. 

Henry the VIII likened to Denver Snuffer

Here's another fun one.  Sometimes things just come out of left field.  Who would have ever thought that a King, Henry the VIII, would get it in his head to break away from the only church in the land and start his own church, which he would be the head of.  Kings are so busy anyway: feasts to attend, people to behead, countries to ravish, women to ravish, oh...I'm getting ahead of the story.  Well anyway, you get the idea, they are busy, busy, busy.  So why in heaven's name, pardon the pun, would you want to add, Popeship to your itinerary? Well it's just the oldest story in the book... pure love.  To get the woman of his dreams he would do anything!  Now image the shock and loss this was to the Papacy, the timing could not be worse.  Just when the Catholics thought those awful Protestants were causing havoc, image loosing an entire empire!  And the blasphemy of that wretched king proclaiming himself supreme head of the church of England. 

Now things are not looking great for the Mormon church either.  They're loosing members in bigger numbers then they'll admit to.  They tried to head off their plummeting numbers by pulling out the stops with their missionaries, lowering the age requirement, thus bringing in the biggest number of missionaries the Church has ever seen. Only to see their baptism rate increase by a mere four percent.  Enter, Denver Snuffer, forty year convert to the Church, who had been doing a lot of reading... a lot!  He read the scriptures, he read Church history, he started comparing the two, he came to conclusions that the Church was off track.  He wrote books about it, he blogged about it, he gained followers, he held seminars, he got excommunicated, his followers still follow him, they are leaving the Church, and being rebaptized.  Now, Denver is no King of England, and he didn't start a new movement over the love of a woman, but it was passion that moved him, passion for a gospel of Christ that he saw being usurped by men who are not receiving revelation from Christ, in his opinion.  And his followers hardly amount to a number to be noticed yet, but he's just in the beginning stages of his reform, so that remains to be seen.

The Council of Trent likened to the new Church Essays

Well, now we have come full circle.  Just like the Catholic Church, when they were first threatened by the Protestant movement, they tried to use force and hold firm to their doctrine and ways of doing things; and just like any other threatened institution when they discovered that they couldn't beat them, they decided to join them, to a small degree anyway.  The Council of Trent lasted for 18 years, but finally in the end, the Catholic Church did clean up some of its corruption, defined its doctrine, and made enough changes that it was able to carry on as an institution in a positive way.  The Mormon church is following suit.  It's leaders tried to clamp down, tighten their hold by excommunicating high profile dissenters, until that back fired on them, because of bad publicity.  They still are very active in excommunicating folks, but there are some that are just too high profile right now, that they have backed down from their threats of excommunication.  But if you're not well known enough to make too big of a media splash, watch out.  The Church essays appear to be an attempt to come clean about some of the sugarcoated history that its been doling out for generations.  Just as the Catholic Church had to admit in its reforms at the Council of Trent, that they had become corrupt in some areas, the Mormon Church is having to admit that they have been less than truthful and have not been forthcoming about its imperfections, which is many, and have had to admit that some of its doctrine was wrong and some of their scripture is not a translation from an ancient record, and that their founder may have not been exactly the near flawless person that they promote.  But you have to really read between the lines to find that.  They do protect his and their image to the best of their ability.  Remember their authority and divine commission, is directly related to Joseph Smith's commission being divine. 

So there you have it, a little history fun! Everything old is new again. 



Friday, October 17, 2014

The Church Essays in a Nutshell Part Two

     Let's look at two more Church essays called: Book of Mormon Translation and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.  I'm trying to keep my analysis of the Church's essays brief, but  there are excellent thorough analysis of them here and here and here and many other places. 

Translation of the Book of Mormon
     Growing up in the Church, and still to this day, as far as I know, we are taught that Joseph Smith translated the golden plates by the use of the "Urim and Thummin", which were two clear stones bound together with a metal rim.  I recall being taught in Seminary that there was a table with a curtain that divided it, and Joseph Smith sat behind the curtain on one side of the table, and the scribe sat on the other side of the table.  Joseph Smith had the golden plates on the table as he translated them out loud to the scribe who sat on the other side of the curtain, and wrote down what Joseph Smith said.  The curtain was to keep the scribe from seeing the golden plates, as they were not to be viewed by anyone else but Joseph Smith.  I was taught that it was a matter of faith and that's why the plates were not allowed to be seen by anyone.  And also that they were of great monetary value and needed to be kept hidden from others.  This same scenario is portrayed in various Church pictures that are in our books and in our chapels. You are taught the story and then the pictures are a visual confirmation of what you are taught.  Any small child in the Church could tell you this same story.

Seer Stone

     So what a surprise it is to learn from the Church's essays that, ..."Joseph Smith discovered in the ground years before he retrieved the gold plates, a small oval stone, or 'seer stone'.  As a young man during the 1820's, Joseph Smith, like others in his day, used a seer stone to look for lost and buried treasure.  As Joseph grew to understand his prophetic calling, he learned that he could use this stone for the higher purpose of translating scripture."  Excuse me, this is news to me!  When did this seer stone become part of the narrative?  When were we taught that Joseph Smith found a stone and used it to look for buried treasure?  Never, ever, never, that's when.  I was taught that people tried to accuse Joseph Smith of looking for buried treasure but they were just trying to slander his name,   that they were lying. Now the Church is saying he did hunt for buried treasure.  Did you know that our Prophet and founder of our church was a treasure hunter?  The same person that found the gold plates, was also a treasure hunter.  Boy, you just don't learn this stuff in Seminary, do you? 
     According to the essay, "Apparently for convenience, Joseph often translated with the single seer stone rather then the two stones bound together to form the interpreters.  These two instruments--the interpreters (Urim and Thummim) and the seer stone--were apparently interchangeable and worked in much the same way such that, in the course of time, Joseph Smith and his associates often used the term 'Urim and Thummim' to refer to the single stone as well as the interpreters."  Come on!  Are you kidding me?  This stone that Joseph found as a youth, which he used to look for treasures buried in the ground, is now going to be interchangeable with the Urim and Thummim that was carefully stored away and preserved by the Lord for 1,500 hundred years.  Fifteen hundred years, it sat waiting for the time of the restoration of Jesus Christ's gospel on the earth, and now for convenience sake, it will be interchangeable with a rock. Really?  This man who will be tarred and feathered and persecuted, and will know all kinds of hardships, can't be inconvenienced enough to use the Urim and Thummim, that was reserved specifically for the translation of the gold plates? 

Rock in a hat

     But here's the real kicker! ..."Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out the extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument."  Is that news to you?  I sure haven't seen any pictures in the chapel of Joseph Smith putting his head in a hat and reading from his rock that he found as a youth to translate the golden plates, have you?  The essay says Emma described, "Joseph 'sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us'."  What happened to the curtain? What happened to the gold plates? Why is Joseph burying his head in a hat and translating from a rock he found, when all the pictures show him with the gold plates open on a table and studiously translating from them?

Translation of the Book of Abraham

     This one should be short and sweet.  Well maybe not sweet, but short.  If you are new to all of these issues about the Church, as I was, you will not even know that there are any questions concerning the Book of Abraham.  But this one is huge, it's the issue that caused my husband to completely loose his testimony of the Church. Let's begin with what we were taught.  I learned that Joseph Smith had been shown some Egyptian mummies and papyri from a traveling salesman, of some kind.  As Joseph examined the hieroglyphics he realized that one of the rolls was the writings of Abraham.  The Church collected enough money to buy the ancient records and from them Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham.  It says in the introduction to the Book of Abraham, that it was "translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith" and that it is "the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."  
     The original papyri had been sold by Joseph Smith's family.  In 1967, the Church was given what is left of the remaining fragments of the papyri. According to the Church essay, "The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith's explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings...None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham's name of any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham.  Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham...Scholars have identified the papyrus as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies.  These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived." 
     And that's why this is going to be short, what more can I say?  The essay says it all.  The papyri were not written by Abraham; they are not about Abraham; they are not from the time period of Abraham.   They are common funerary texts and that's most likely why they were found along with mummies!  End of story.  Like I said short, but not sweet.

What we learn from the essays

     Joseph Smith used a seer stone, that he found in his youth to look for buried treasures, to translate the gold plates, by placing the stone in a hat. He often used the stone that he found, instead of the Urim and Thummim that had been preserved for that exact purpose.  Joseph Smith's translation of the papyri which constitutes our book of Abraham, which is part of our scriptures, does not match any of the fragments of the papyri.  The papyri are common funerary texts that were buried with a body.  We have the fragment with facsimile 1 on it,  which is shown in the Book of Abraham, along with Joseph Smith's explanation of it; but Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that characters on the fragment do not match the explanation.   These were not written in Abraham's hand as claimed by Joseph Smith, and they are not from Abraham's time period.

So in other words, everything we were taught about the translation of the Book of Mormon is different from the way it was actually translated, according to the Church's essay.  And in the Book of Abraham, which Joseph Smith was supposed to have translated from the papyri, none of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics match Joseph Smith translation,  He said they were about Abraham and written in his hand.  They turn out to be ordinary funerary texts.   

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Family funeral

Yesterday I went to my husband's Aunt Helen's funeral.  Helen lived to be 93 years old.  She was the only girl of nine children; she was the second oldest child, and my father-in-law is just younger than her.  They lived in a two bedroom farmhouse.  Helen got one bedroom and the parents got the other.  The eight boys had to sleep on the screened in front porch, summer, winter, spring and fall. To get to the only bathroom in the house, the boys had to go through Helen's bedroom. As my father-in-law told this story, I had visions of this poor girl never getting any sleep with eight brothers tromping through her room all night long.

Helen was raised LDS, her mother's side goes back into early pioneer stock and her father's side came from converts in Norway in the mid 1860's.  Helen married a nonmember and never attended the Church in her adults years, nor did several of her brothers; but her other brothers were active all their lives, including my father-in-law, who served as a bishop, in a stake presidency, and as a stake patriarch. 

It was a simple funeral, held at the funeral home. Helen has two daughters who asked my father-in-law to conduct and be in charge of the funeral program, which he has done many times because of the positions he has held. Dad, my father-in-law, is a kind gracious person who did a wonderful job.  Although, he did tell a story about Helen that she asked him not to tell... but brothers will be brothers, apparently even at your funeral!  But beside the story, of Helen throwing a pair of scissors at dad, which apparently landed in his thigh, he gave a beautiful account of her life and the kind of person she was.  Dad said that Helen is in heaven now with her mother and father, and her husband.  Very nice, nothing preachy and nothing that would be any different from a typical Christian funeral service. 

Then Helen's younger brother spoke.  He started out by saying he had been assigned to do the spiritual talk for the funeral.  He then rattled off the basic points of the "plan of salvation" including the war in heaven, the need for free agency, Satan's plan, our premortal life, why we are here, where we are going, etc.  He ended with leaving his testimony that all the things that he talked about were true.  As he spoke, I had so many thoughts go through my head. And my analysis is not meant to be a criticism of him, just an observation.

To begin with, the daughters are not members of the Church, and like I said, Helen hadn't gone her entire adult life.  So, for about 75 years, she had not attended the Mormon church; but somehow she got a Mormon funeral, even in the funeral home!  The most striking thing about this whole thing to me was the way the Church usurps the family.  This Church, that proclaims family is at the foundation of it's doctrine, comes in time after time and usurps the family, always placing itself before the family; or I should say we willingly put it before the family, thinking that putting the Church first is putting the family first.  But it's not, it's putting the Church first, at the expense of the family, relationship's, and people's feelings.  Take her younger brother's first remark, "I've been assigned to talk..". who talks like that?  Someone who has lost sight that he is actually speaking at his sister's funeral.  He forgot she has daughters that are not members, and they most likely had no idea about, nor cared about his, "plan of salvation".   Who says, "they have been assigned" at their sister's funeral?  Only someone who has let the protocol of the Church overtake their thinking, and they can't even relax at a service for their sister, and just talk about her, without having to hold a church meeting and do things the way the church instructs.  Namely assigning people to talk.  So when my father-in-law, asked him to speak at the funeral, he was incapable of seeing it as a brother asking another brother to speak at their sister's funeral.  He saw it as a Church assignment and proceeded to carry it out as one, all the time missing the fact that this was his sister's funeral and all that was needed was a personal remark from her brother.  She didn't need him to use her funeral as an opportunity to "spread the gospel" to a room of trapped people who were going to listen to the Mormon plan of salvation, whether they wanted to or not.  I just kept thinking how insensitive we are as members' of the Church, that we can't see two daughters that are at their mother's funeral and the last thing they probably wanted was a sermon on a belief system that they do not believe in. 

But people are for the most part gracious, and the daughters didn't say anything, they might not have even minded.  But why take the chance?  It's just not necessary to spread our beliefs around at every opportunity.  Especially at someone's mother's funeral.  I'm sure that all the members in attendance there thought it was just wonderful, and I'm sure for all the others in attendance, the message fell on deaf ears.

This is not the younger brother's fault.  He has been trained from his youth, to honor his Priesthood.  And sharing the gospel is an extension of that.  And if there is an opportunity to do that, it will be foremost in a priesthood holder's mind.  He thinks he's just doing what Jesus wants him to.  And doing what Jesus wants us to is a powerful thing!  So powerful, that we do things for him that he never asked us to, and we do all kinds of things in his name, that he never did. Mormons are certainly not the only ones guilty of that. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Church Essays in a Nutshell. Part One

If you're not familiar with the new church essays, that have been posted on the Church's official website for about a year now, they deal with church historical and doctrinal problems.  These problems have been the catalyst for many people's Mormon faith crisis.  Since my faith crisis centered on the priesthood ban on the blacks, I will start with that essay entitled, Race and the Priesthood. To see the essay click here .   For an in-depth analysis  of the essay, go to

Blacks were not banned from the priesthood in the beginning! (who knew, right?)

The Church's essay says, "as the Book of Mormon puts it, 'all are alike unto God'." So the first thing they point out, in essence is, that our doctrine contradicted our scriptures.  So, if "all are alike unto God" why did we have a priesthood ban on the blacks?  The essay goes on to state that, "during the first two decades of the Church's existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood.  In other words, for the first 22 years of the Church's existence, blacks were not banned from the priesthood.  Do I have to point out that, MOST MEMBERS HAVE NEVER BEEN AWARE OF THAT!  It was certainly news to me.  I'm in my fifties, I've been a member all my life, and I had never heard that before!  Why would blacks have the ability to receive the priesthood for 22 years, then have it taken away?   

Brigham Young or revelation behind the doctrine?

The essay says, "In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood..." The essay gives no explanation for Brigham Young's  announcement.  No angel with a sword came and threatened his life, like happened to Joseph Smith about polygamy.  Remember how Joseph Smith didn't want to have to carry out the commandment to marry other women, but his very life was threatened by a sword-bearing angel?  Brigham Young doesn't even seem remorseful about his new "doctrine".  No angel threatening his life if he didn't carry this out. Why did God change His mind on the blacks ability to receive the priesthood? Where's the revelation?  In this speech, that Brigham Young gives to the joint session of the Legislature on February 5, 1852, he unfolds this doctrine.  He basically says that he understands the "principle of slavery," and that the "Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the priesthood nor his seed...people that are more commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed...Now then in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has had the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood.."  He goes on to say, "It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants..." 

Yeah, you get the picture, no mention of a revelation from God, just a lot of Brigham Young hubris.  So there you go, that's the starting point for our doctrine banning blacks from the priesthood, proclaimed in a Joint Session of the Legislator of all places!  All the time, being taught from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in Seminary, that it was a revelation from God.  That blacks had the curse of Cain on them, that they were less valiant in the pre-existence and therefore were born into that linage, and we bought it hook, line, and sinker.  And the thing that bothers me the most and where the Church looses it's credibility in my eyes is when the leaders decided that, "none of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church" they didn't shout it from the roof tops; they didn't announce it over the pulpit; they didn't write it into their manuals; they didn't apologize to an entire race of people.  If they had, it would have been so much more bearable.  Instead we had to find out ourselves by chance, if we happened to catch a PBS interview with Elder Holland where he says that he doesn't know where this "doctrine" came from and the reasons given for it are "folklore."  Or we happen to run across a website like Mormonthink that spells it all out.  But still, 36 years later, the vast majority of members have no idea that the Church has admitted to such things.  And the truth is, most members don't even know about the essays.  I was in that group until recently myself.  My very good friend, who's husband is a stake president, hasn't even heard of the essays, I asked her a few days ago if she knew what they were and she didn't.  

Advancing the theories.

"Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions."  When the essay says Church leaders, it means all subsequent Prophets, who are supposed to be prophet's, seer's, and revelator's, continued on with this doctrine, and the reasons for it.  The essay refers to these reasons as 'theories', but they were never presented that way in church, I know, I was there, and so was anyone else who grew up in this church.  The reasons for the ban were not taught as theories, or folklore as Elder Holland likes to call them.

It's a small thing.

As shocking and unsettling as all of this is to discover 36 years after the "revelation" to remove the ban on blacks is, the emotional trauma to an entire race of people is immeasurable.  At least to anyone who was affiliated with the Church and just happened to have the curse of Cain on them.  Mormon's are so cautious to question the Church, and I understand that in a way, because we think that the Church is literally run by Jesus Christ, and to question it is to question God.  So I get the hesitancy to do so, but there comes a time when thinking just has to take over, or you really run the risk of becoming a dupe.  As I mentioned in another post, when I told our friend about this issue, he said it was a "small thing."  I don't think our friend is racist, I just think the natural reflex is to protect the Church, so it has to automatically become a "small thing."  But let's analyze it and see if it's a small thing.    

I'm 56 years old and my husband is 59.  We were married one year when the ban was lifted in 1978.  We were both born in the Church, we married in the temple and my husband served a two year mission, and both our parents are sealed in the temple.  Now, lets just say that the circumstance remain the same but our race is black; how would things be different?  Well, we both would have been raised in the Church, but our families would not have been sealed in the temple, my husband would not have served a mission because he could not become an Elder and go to the temple to receive his endowments.  When we got married in 1977, we would not have been sealed in the temple.  We would have been taught our entire growing up years, that we were of the lineage of Cain and therefore had a curse on us because we were less valiant in the pre-existence.  How would that play into your make up as a person I can only imagine.  And just because the ban was lifted in 1978, and we could then attend the temple and have our marriage sealed and our children sealed to us, there was no change in the doctrine, that we were less valiant in the pre-existence.  We would still have carried that burden with us and all the people at church would have learned the same thing, and you would wonder what they thought about you.  And there never has been an official end to that teaching, just because that teaching fell by the wayside, doesn't mean it was ended.  And I guess you just had to discover for yourself that the Church no longer advances those "theories."  See how damaging that is?  And really unchristian to NOT shout it from the roof tops that we were wrong, we meaning the leaders of the Church, were  wrong!!  Is that really so hard to say?  What are they so afraid of? That the illusion that they speak for God and receive revelation from God and that they are literally Jesus's Prophet and Apostles  may be broken or marred a bit?  They are willing to let people suffer, just so their image isn't tarnished.  I hate to keep repeating myself, but that's not Christ like. 

In a nutshell.

So in a nutshell what do we learn from the Church's essay on Blacks and the Priesthood?  First, that our doctrine contradicted our scriptures, but no one seemed to notice.  Second, for 22 years blacks were allowed to receive the priesthood, then our second Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Brigham Young announced a change in the Church's doctrine, at a Joint Session of the Legislature February 5th 1852.  He mentions no revelation, just gives his reasons for the blacks unworthiness to receive the priesthood.  There's no revelation canonized in our scripture, as had previously been done with revelations received for the Church, by the Prophet.  Third, we learn the reasons for this ban, that we were taught as doctrine, from the pulpit and in Sunday school and in Seminary are now described as "theories" instead of doctrine, and that none of these explanations are accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. Having said that, the Church has done nothing officially to make amends to an entire race of people for their slanderous doctrine that excluded an entire race of people from the priesthood blessings and temple sealing's that are central to our faith, and family blessings through eternity. How is this possibly from a Church that claims to speak for Christ?  Do any of these actions sound like something Jesus Christ would endorse?    

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Child of God

Sunday morning I listened to Shawn McCraney (of Born again Mormon fame) talk about being, a child of God.  Then at church, the Sacramento temple president spoke and he too talked about, being a child of God.  They both had different takes on it, I wonder if they could both be right?

Shawn told of his "born again" experience; he was listening to a preacher on the radio while driving to pick his daughters up. The preacher asked, "if you can make yourself righteous why haven't you done so"?  On his mission he had tried, through his callings he had tried, through strict obedience he had tried, by talking with his bishop he had tried.  Then the preacher said, "the reason that you haven't made yourself perfect and presentable before God is because you can't."  This made sense to Shawn because he thought, no matter what I do, what rites I perform, or how I dress, or clean shaven, nothing was going to change the inside of me, because I can't do it on my own.  The message from this preacher was that it was Jesus and His life and His righteousness and atonement, His suffering, and by having Him in your life you become a new person.  He pulled over and prayed to Heavenly Father, telling Him that he was a sinful man, and "I can't get over myself no matter what I have tried.  Will you forgive me of my sins through Jesus Christ.  Jesus will you come into my heart and take over my life from this time forward, I will do anything if you will do this.  I'll wait for you to do it." 

The temple president in his talk explained that there is a big difference between being a child of God as opposed to being a creation of God.  He said, when we are baptized our sins are washed away and the Holy Ghost is the companion to those who are faithful to their covenants and will have inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom. Without the ordinances there is no power of Celestial Glory.  Baptism and the Holy Ghost are the gateway to that.  There are three levels and the highest is exaltation.  Our ordinances lead to living the kind of life God lives.  The love of God is to return to him and live in his presence. 

Could they both be right?

I get what Shawn McCraney is saying, and I completely agree with him.  He's talking about a born again experience; and if you have never had that experience you don't know what he's talking about and if you have you know exactly that he's talking about.  Oh, let me finish explaining to you what he said.  He said he was willing to wait on Jesus in his prayer.  And when he finished his prayer, he hoped he would be a changed person, but he wasn't.  When he got to the gym, he was early, so while he waited, he remembered four instances in his life when people had testified to him about Jesus and his love.  By the time his daughters reached the car, he had a new heart.  I believe him, I have experienced this change of heart too.  It completely changes your thinking, you become a new creature in Christ.  Your nature has been changed.  Some may wonder how it comes so quickly, in reality it wasn't quick, it had been a lifetime of preparation, and when Shawn had suffered enough, and humbled himself and went to the right source, which is God, he was born again!   

Had the temple president experienced that? Probably not, he most likely would have talked a bit differently, not relied so heavily on the ordinances, talked more about Christ like he knew Him, and may have had a personal story to tell, like Shawn.  I know Shawn's story is true, it's a story of someone who is humble and confesses his sins to God and acknowledges that he needs Him, he tried but he can't change who he is on his own.  It's a beautiful story of how the Savior changed him,  And I agree with all of that. If you don't humble yourself before God and really give everything to Him, and know that you are nothing, you will never have this experience. And Mormon's do miss this a lot.  They have the tools to take them there, but seldom use them to get to Christ.  They get so caught up in the "tools" that they don't use them to find out what Christ can do, how He really can change them, really and truly be born again.  But it's a journey and no one is finished with their journey yet, even in the next world.  I don't think God worries about this, He knows this and allows us to grow at our own pace, learning as we go.  He is a very loving father and very understanding and patient.     

So, what was the temple president saying?  He said there was a big difference between being a creation of God and a child of God.   I agree with that.  A child of God is someone who has been born again.  He said when we are baptized our sins are washed away and the Holy Ghost is the companion of those who are faithful to their covenants.  Baptism is symbolic of a new creature that emerges when you are born again and Christ has saved you.  Saved you from what?  It's a good question.  Saved comes from the Greek word "sodzo" which means to be keep safe, to save a suffering one.  Could it be that Christ keeps you safe in His watchful care, in His kingdom, while he saves you from suffering for your sins?  That Christ on the cross, through his infinite atonement, by turning to Him and trusting in his ability to change you, clean you up, transform you into a new creature, saves you from having to suffer for your sins.  He did that for you, you don't have to suffer for your sins to pay the price of justice.  Justice is served through Christ.  That's His love for us, that's his gift.  We can live this life and learn as we go without being held to the justice that would require us to suffer for our sins.  If we don't accept His offer, we will suffer, not as a punishment per se but as a school teacher.  Our suffering becomes the school teacher.  We already live that principle, maybe not knowingly, but we do live it.  We either learn through our suffering, and change, or we continue to suffer.  If you give that some careful thought you will know that it's true. 

The temple president also said, without the ordinances, there is no power of Celestial Glory.  It can easily be argued, from the scriptures, that there is more than one heaven or at least levels to heaven.  From a Mormon's point of view, the Celestial Glory is the highest heaven or level of heaven.  I believe what he's saying is, that it's necessary to be faithful to the covenants that you make to be able to go to the Celestial Glory. Again, where I think most Mormon's miss the mark, is that they fall in love with the covenants and forget that they are tools.  They are not the saving device, they are a reminder of the saving device, which is Christ.  But Mormon's are a lot like the Jews at the time of Christ, they loved their law and forgot that it was a tool, not salvation in and of itself.  I believe that's why the temple president, loves the ordinances, believes in them, and hopes in them, but doesn't have a personal story to tell about how they led him to Christ, to be born again, because I think he's still on that journey.  Which by the way, I might add, he has every right to still be on that journey, as God patiently waits for him to figure it out. 

I take issue with that. 

Now, I do have to take issue with the mission president.  He says, "our ordinances lead to living the kind of life that God lives".  Well that's true, BUT only if we find Christ; and that's the problem, that's why Shawn McCraney was so miserable!  He kept thinking that living his ordinances were going to make him Christ like.  Which they don't do, unless we can gain ears to hear and eyes to see and learn that these ordinances are nothing in and of themselves, they are only symbolic and the real path to Christ is through humility, a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  The problem with ordinances today, is the same problem with ordinances in the past, living them requires a little sacrifice, so it's easy to think that your little sacrifice has value, and it's easy to become prideful of your sacrifice and the ordinances take over as your salvation.  Because in reality living those ordinances is easier then humbling yourself and finding Christ, so instead we fall in love with the ordinances.

Again, can they both be right?

Can they both be right?  I think so.  I think they both tell of paths they have traveled. One has a born again story to tell and the other has the hope of a born again story to tell, he just doesn't fully understand that yet. And I think God is very patient with us on our path.  Anyone that says, "I have the exact way", or "your Christ is a different Christ then the one in the Bible", I just reject that outright.  Who gave them the right to define that?  And who has the right to say, "our church is the only way, our ordinances are what you need to be saved."  But if you have found love and peace, and a tolerance for your fellowman, and are able to grasp the good in them and learn from others, then you are probably on the right path.  And may your life be filled with peace and love.