Thursday, December 17, 2009

Once Again, my Fast is Too Slow

I believe that the law of the fast is one of the most misunderstood, underappreciated, underutilized, and undervalued practices of the church.

Come out swinging, that's what I say.

To those of you who are reading this column who do not know either a) what a "fast" is in general or b) what it is to members of the LDS church specifically, a short(ish) explanation is in order.

We believe that the Lord has commanded us to fast once a month. That means no food or drink of any kind (contrast to many other religions' views of a fast, where food is forbidden but water is all right). The fast occurs once a month, on the first Sunday of the month. Members are commanded to fast for the period of two meals, which most members interpret to be a 24 hour period beginning after dinner on Saturday, skipping breakfast and lunch on Sunday, and ending with dinner on Sunday night.

In addition to merely skipping meals, however (which is what LDS people refer to as "dieting"), there is more to the fast. First of all, the money that is not spent on nourishment for those meals is supposed to be donated to the Church for the benefit of the poor and needy. And I can personally attest that that is where it does go, having been a beneficiary of the Church's assistance, both as a child when our family was in dire financial straits, and as an adult when similar situations arose. Additionally, having served in the Church in a capacity that led me to be in charge of processing those fast offerings, I can say with firsthand certainty how seriously the Church organization takes those offerings. I used to tell people that the two quickest ways to get kicked out of the Church were to practice polygamy or to steal fast offerings. The money is viewed as sacred - as something offered up to the Lord - and so is kept and used with that sanctity in mind.

Beyond that, however, there are also spiritual purposes behind the fast. An obvious one is that, by refusing to give in to our bodies' need for food and drink because the Lord has commanded it, we are learning to place His needs above ours, and to subjugate the imperfections of our carnal bodies to the perfections of the Lord's demands. We thus become closer to the Lord, and for that reason many members of the Church also view this as a special time to ask the Lord for special blessings, or to show special thanks. Members will also at times fast at different times during the month when in special need, again because they feel that the fast makes for a "clearer communication link" if you will, between them and the Lord, and thus makes it more likely that they will receive aid/answers for their difficulties and tribulations.

All that is well and good, but I would like to posit here another blessing of the fast: I believe that it may, more than any other practice of the Church, teach us how to be like Christ.

Now first of all note that I say may. As always, I have to reiterate that I am not an official - or even unofficial - spokesperson for the Church. Merely a member hoping to share some good things with others. So once more we swim out into waters of some uncertainty, given that they originate from me, rather than from the prophet or from one of the canonical works of scripture.

Nonetheless, I think my viewpoint has merit.

Many would take immediate umbrage, and say that Temple work is the thing that most closely approximates us to doing the work of Christ: after all, there we are performing saving ordinances, becoming "Saviors on Mount Zion" as we perform the rites and rituals necessary for the passing into Heaven on behalf of those who have gone before. And I do not dispute that there are incredible analogues between Temple work and the work of Christ.

But think about the fast for a moment. What are we doing? We are subjugating our own body to our spirit. Is that not exactly what Christ did in Gethsemane? Indeed, his body anguished to the point where he sweat as it were great drops of blood - a sure sign of mortal danger if not impending death. And what do we do when we fast? We intentionally put ourselves into a state of discomfort - albeit on a much smaller scale - in order to accomplish certain things.

What were the things Christ was trying to accomplish on Gethsemane (and later on the cross)? Simply put, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). In other words, He was - through his suffering which was accomplished by an act of spiritual willpower overcoming physical weaknesses - seeking to perfect the physical and spiritual state of all God's children.

Now, what do we do when we fast? Again, we put ourselves intentionally into a state of mortal discomfort (if not peril - nowhere will I claim that we even remotely approach Christ's sacrifices and works), in order to bring to pass the physical safety (the analog to the immortality Christ sought) and conjunctive spiritual well-being (analogous to eternal life) of our fellows here on earth.

This last bit bears a bit of amplification. How is the spiritual well-being of a person helped by providing him or her with bread to eat? some may ask. And the answer is actually quite simple, and its necessity shown by the Savior's own actions. The answer is that it is very difficult to think on the Kingdom of God when one is starving. It is very hard to serve others when you cannot lift your head for want of food. It is well-nigh impossible to branch out to think of one's neighbors when one's immediate family is starving. In sum, our ability to serve God is directly linked to our health and ability to secure for ourselves at least the basic necessities of human existence: food, shelter, water... all things that fast offerings provide access to for countless thousands across the world.

And how did Christ show that He Himself understood this principle? Why, by feeding the multitudes. He understood that they were weary, yet wished to hear more of His teaching. He could have continued teaching them without regard to their physical needs - after all, He had walked the desert without food or drink for 40 days and 40 nights without food or water, so surely He could have gone on without stopping for a snack.

But I suspect He knew that His listeners could not. They would listen better with food in their bellies. They would understand more if they could devote more attention to Him and less to the gnawing at the pit of their guts (not to mention the children whining about wanting to go home).

Further, the fast is one of the few things that we do where we are providing a service that the recipients absolutely cannot provide for themselves. Someone has lost a job and cannot make ends meet. Someone has been tragically injured and cannot meet the demands of the hospital bills. On a larger scale, a nation is devastated by a hurricane or a tsunami and cannot heal themselves without outside intervention and assistance. Is this not almost exactly descriptive of the state that we all find ourselves in with respect to our ability to enter into the Kingdom of God? It is something we simply cannot do on our own: we need someone else's help. And so again the fast shows itself ever more to be akin to Christ's atonement in a way that few if any other practices are.

It seems to me that many of us as Church members seem to focus on fast day as a) something of a pain, something to be endured rather than savored (guilty); and b) something that is meant primarily for us. And I suppose in a way it is primarily for us, because if we learn to fast - to truly fast, as fasting is meant to be practiced - we will become more like Christ. Not merely for the standard reasoning - because we have subjected our flesh to our spirit, because we have communed with God, because we have purified our hearts - but because we will have taken active part in his work and his glory. We cannot bring to pass man's immortality and eternal life, of course, but then, everything we do on this earth is preparatory. So rather than immortality and eternal life, earned for others by sweating drops of blood, we achieve health and well-being, earned for others by missing a few meals.

The fast. I am constantly shamed by how I belittle it in my own practice of it. Because I suspect that, should I ever truly practice it as it is meant to be practice, I would already have one foot in Heaven.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Secret to Missionary Work - aka The Disneyland Principle

So many of us are afraid of missionary work. I went on a mission to Paraguay for two years. The people were great, but I have to admit that the physical conditions were, shall we say, less than adequate. Still, I had great successes: numerous people whom I taught chose to join the church, and many of them continued on to receive Temple blessings, and to hold important callings in their wards, stakes, districts, and branches. One place in particular stands out as a congregation I was assigned to literally doubled in size during my time there, and another area of success was when a zone I was working in experienced a 300% increase in baptisms.

Now, over a decade later, looking at my missionary journal, I see that I recorded mostly the "physical" stuff: the time(s) I went to the hospital, the time I was bitten by a dog, the many many many times I suffered gastrointestinal embarrassments (if you don't know what that last one means, ask any missionary who's been to South America). And I have to ask myself... why?

Why did I record only silly temporal moments when my missionary experience was a cornucopia of spiritual occurrences. I saw miracles happen: both the more mundane kind where someone is healed instantly of a sickness, and the more powerful kind where someone's heart is changed forever and he or she becomes a true disciple of Christ.

So why did I record mostly the silly pranks and pratfalls that occurred, the physical, the whimsical? The mundane bits of everyday life?

And in asking that question, I am drawn to think of the parables of Christ. He was, of course, the Master missionary. He had a perfect command both of the doctrine of salvation and how best to administer it to his audience. And one of the best examples of this are his parables: the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the sower, the parable of the unjust steward, and on and on and on.

As I think of these things, I notice something about them: none of them are about miracles. They are about mundane things; things that everyone listening had experienced or seen firsthand in their lives as simple or rich, bond or free, man or woman.

There are, of course, reasons for this. One of them is that he was speaking in such a way that only those who were prepared to hear his lessons would understand the deeper meanings couched in the seemingly innocuous stories about farming, about trees and seeds, about searching for lost coins. Thus, the righteous could be brought closer to Him, and the wicked could be spared further damnation, for they would not be judged against the measuring stick of those lessons which they did not understand.

Another reason he spoke in such a way in his parables was that he wanted them to be accessible to everyone. He did not come to teach "higher" theology to the learned among the scribes and Pharisees; He came to teach the core principles of the Gospel to all who would hear it. So He chose parables that would reflect everyday life of those who listened, and that they therefore would be able to relate to.

These first two reasons have been pointed out by many as reasons for Jesus' "everyday" manner of speaking in his parables. However, I would suggest another reason for Jesus' use of the mundane, of the everyday, of the normal things of the world in his parables:

Jesus lived in a mundane, everday, normal world.

By this I mean to say that, even though He was known as "Joseph, the carpenter's son," and likely had his share of work as a carpenter and probably as a fisherman as well, He never lost sight of the kingdom of God. I can easily imagine Jesus planing a piece of wood, evening it out, working conscientiously in his worldly trade before beginning His three-year ministry. I can easily imagine Him thinking as he did so, "The People of Israel are like this wood: they must be planed, they must be straightened. The parts that are out of line must be removed, so that what is left will be a masterwork fit to enter into the Kingdom of God."

In other words, I think Jesus did not always think up a parable ahead of time, tailoring it to his audience ("Let's see, we have a bunch of planters scheduled to meet me at noon, I better come up with something about sowing seeds"). Rather, I believe it more likely that Jesus understood that He was the Son of God all the time. He was working for His Father all the time. He was aware of his place in the Kingdom of Heaven, and further that the Kingdom of Heaven would be made not by preachers, not by scribes, not by Pharisees (though of course some of them might make it there, too); but rather by businessmen, by planters, by farmers, by potters, by (in our day) bankers, lawyers, mechanics, housewives, etc., etc., etc., all of whom remembered that they were a part of the Kingdom of God not just on Sunday, but at every moment of every day.

The Kingdom of God on earth is like this pile of towels I'm folding: it must be done properly so as to avoid falling.

The Kingdom of God on earth is like my work as a lawyer: I must work my hardest, and be honest in all that I do, in order to be worthy of my place of trust and responsibility.

The Kingdom of God is like... and here is where you fill in your own parable.

Because preparing for the Kingdom of God is not a part-time job. Jesus knew that, and so He was able to liken the "normal" parts of his life to all that was holiest and best, because He had already realized that the only thing separating us from the Kingdom of the Lord... is ourselves.

Which brings me full circle to my original premise: the Disneyland theorem of missionary work.

As I've labored to show you up to this point, the work of God is 24/7. We are missionaries 24/7. We have no choice in this matter, for we are observed and our actions are judged by others whether we want them to be or not. Our only choice is what kind of missionaries we will be.

At this point many people "turn off." They say that they don't want to do missionary work, or they don't have time, or they've already tried everyone they know, and no one wants it.

And what they're really saying, without exception, is "I am afraid."

And not without reason: rejection is always a fearful prospect.

Or is it?

Let me provide you with a hypothetical: you have just won an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland. Transportation, hotel, everything is covered. Not only that, but you can bring along anyone you want. There is NO limit on the number of people you bring.

Now, would you be afraid to invite your neighbor? Your boss? Those people you hardly know who live down the street? Of course not.

Why, then, are we so afraid to invite people to live the Gospel, to visit our Church, to see what the Kingdom of Heaven on earth consists of? And here I'm about to reverse myself on my previous opinion. Perhaps it isn't really fear. Perhaps it's really because we don't love the Gospel enough ourselves to want to share it in the same way we would want to share a trip to Disneyland. Maybe we don't believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ has as much to offer our fellows as an amusement part.

Personally, I know I'm not perfect. But I also know that everyone - everyone - I work with or spend more than 20 minutes with knows that I am a Latter-day Saint. That I love my religion and my God. And I never fear to talk to them about the Church. I've talked to all my friends about it at some point or other, and have never lost a friend over these discussions, even when serious disagreements came up.

But do I fear these conversations, or the opportunities to introduce others into the wonderful world of blessing and love that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I do not. Because I know that the Kingdom of Heaven is much more than an amusement park. It contains the sum of all that is good and holy, and therefore is the most desirable of all treasures.

And once convinced of that, how can I help but want to share such a treasure with my fellows, especially knowing as I do that this is not a normal treasure: sharing does not mean less for me, it means more, as their glory is added to mine, which in turn is added to the Father's.

The Gospel is 24/7. We should all be living our lives in such a way that, in an instant, we could come up with a parable - an example, a simile, a metaphor, a story - to tell a friend or someone asking questions about the church or the Gospel that would simplify and clarify the concepts therein. We should all be living our lives in such a way that the Gospel permeates and intertwines with every aspect of not just our Sundays, but every breath we take.

We should all live our lives in such a way that, in the most mundane moments - as those recorded in my missionary journal - we can find inspiration; we can find God.

And in so doing, we will come to love the Gospel. And we will believe it of far greater joy and worth than any Disneyland trip.

And suddenly, sharing it won't seem so bad.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A House in Order

I would like to tell a story.

In this story, a man was very ill. On his death bed, he whispered for his family to draw near. Through barely-heard whispered words, they heard what he wanted most of all in this, his final hour.

They were surprised at the request. But, wishing to honor it, they made a phone call. A man in an expensive suit was summoned. He, too, put his ear to the old man's lips.

Upon hearing the old man's request, the well-dressed man straightened up and laughed out loud. "I know you're dying, but you must be crazy, too!" he said to the old man. "You think I'm going to issue you life insurance?" And he walked away, still laughing, and the old man died uninsured.

What a ridiculous story, you might be saying at this point. And you would be right. Yet, at the same time, how many of us approach our spiritual preparations in just this manner?

Doctrine & Covenants 93:43 says very clearly that we must set our houses in order if we wish to be delivered. This is a commandment that is both spiritual and physical. We see an example of physical deliverance - the blessing that comes with following this example - in the story of Lehi. In the case of his family, obedience wrought preparation (1 Nephi 2:1-4). And thus they were able to make their preparations and take flight from Jerusalem, evade those who would pursue them, and survive years in the desert before at last being brought to the promised land that would be their inheritance.

But how do we set our house in order spiritually? Joseph Smith had this to say:

"All men who become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ will have to receive the fullness of the ordinances of his kingdom; and those who will not receive all the ordinances will come short of the fullness of that glory, if they do not lose the whole."

- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith

(Deseret Book Co. 1989) p. 309

And there you have it: the way to put our houses in order spiritually is to receive "the fullness of the ordinances of [God's] kingdom." And what are these ordinances? There are five which every man and woman must receive in order to enter into God's kingdom:

1. Baptism (John 3:5)

2. Gift of the Holy Ghost (John 3:5)

3. Priesthood Ordination (D&C 84:42; D&C 121:36; D&C 76:50, 57)

4. Temple Endowment (D&C 124:39, 46)

5. Eternal Marriage (D&C 131:1-4)

There are a few words that need to be said in particular about Nos. 3 and 5. First, No. 3:

Yes, this applies to everyone. One of the major guffs that I have encountered in my discussions and interactions with others not of our faith is that women have "lesser" roles in the Church. Of course, at this point in my life I can just laugh and point at my wife and say "You think I'm in charge?"

It's a pretty compelling argument.

But for those who are not convinced, they may then say, "But only men get to hold and exercise the Priesthood in your church," which I have found to mean that they erroneously equate Priesthood with "ruling." To this there are two responses:

1) The Priesthood cannot be used for one's own benefit. I am a Priesthood holder. I ordain people, I have the power to baptize and to bless. I am instructed - commanded - to use this power to benefit all humanity. But there is one person I cannot bless, one person I cannot ordain, one person I cannot give anything to through my Priesthood: myself. The Priesthood is designed to serve others, and has a built-in mechanism to both void and avoid any would-be acts of self-service.

2) Those who think that the Priesthood is a "men's only" affair (many of whom are, sadly, members of our own church) have not taken the time to study the doctrines we have received from our leaders. An example:

"Priesthood is not chauvinistic. The priesthood is 'without father, without mother,... having neither beginning of days, nor end of life' (Heb. 7:30), nor maleness nor femaleness. It is head to them both. Male and female alike come under it and must understand their true relationship to it, one to serve as priest within it, the other eventually as a priestess. Men here are given the priesthood power, but both man and woman must bring themselves into submission unto it, rather than she unto him [the man] as a person. The man must assume the same relationship of honor and obedience to priesthood truths and doctrines that the woman does. That is, it precedes them both."

Gib Kocherhans, "The Name 'Melchizedek': Some

Thoughts on Its Meaning and the Priesthood It

Represents," Ensign, Sept. 1980, p. 19

[italics in original; boldface added]

The other issue to be raised is, of course, that of No. 5: the necessity of entering into eternal marriage as a prerequisite to entering into the highest of glories and greatest of kingdoms. For it is true that there are those who, through no fault of their own, will not ever find someone who will take them to the Holy Temple and participate with them in this act. But, as with all things, God is just and merciful. And so it is not so much that He says we must achieve all five of these in our lifetimes, but only that we must receive them eventually. It is for that very reason that the work for the dead is performed in the temples that now cover the face of the world.

However, in our lifetimes it is true that we must be moving forward. These five saving ordinances are like rungs on a ladder to the top of a building. We must climb to the top to receive the prize. We may fall. We will fall. But we get up. We endure. It is not that we are required to reach the prize on our own - no one has the strength to do that - it is enough that we "endure to the end" (3 Nephi 15:9). It is enough that, when we fall or falter, we look up and reach to the next rung, whichever that rung may be.

And when the end finally comes, when our strength falters for the last time and we feel ourselves falling for that last time, this time never to have strength to climb again, we will find that a strong hand has grasped ours. We will find that someone who has been broken by our fall now has strength to lift us up.

We will have climbed as best we could.

And in so doing, we will have earned the prize.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On a Woman's Responsibility to Obey her Husband

22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

I can think of fewer scriptures that have caused more problems for Christianity than these. When I was dating in high school, I remember having a conversation with my girlfriend's mother. She was interested in what I believed as a Latter-day Saint (this being my first and only foray into the world of dating those not of my faith). We talked, and I was shocked to find out that the big hurdle to her believing what I believed was not Joseph Smith, it was not the Word of Wisdom, it was not believing that the Book of Mormon was the word of God.

It was believing that the Bible was.

More specifically, she had heard these verses when younger and could not believe in any group that would denigrate and subjugate women in such a fashion. Nor was she the only person I heard this from. Throughout my mission and thereafter it came up fairly regularly: how can the Bible be true if it says such a rotten, scurrilous thing about the roles of men and women?

I did my best to answer honestly and truthfully, but could tell that my answers never really satisfied the questioner. She (usually, for obvious reasons, the person bringing this up was a woman) would usually go away content that I didn't think she was anything but equal in the eyes of God... but still.

I was finally forced to face this issue not only head-on, but in depth when I became engaged to my wife: a self-labeled feminist.

Now, to be clear, I am not talking about someone who is out burning bras and screaming about everything. Just a person who had a deep conviction about the equality of man and woman, and a deep concern about both this scripture and (since we were soon to be married) about what her role would be in a marriage that was guided by such a scripture.

At first, I pulled out the easy answer: the one that I had been using (albeit unsuccessfully) throughout my life: Doctrine and Covenants 121:37-41. This is the section which says (in effect) that any person who seeks to rule over another on a "just because I say so" platform will automatically have his power revoked by God Himself.

This went over more or less as it always had: badly. And, talking to my smart, able, and passionate wife, I came to understand the root reason of why so many equally smart, able, and passionate women (and also some men) had such disdain for this scripture: they felt insulted by it. After all, the man is called out as "the head." And in our culture, being "the head" of something means "being in charge." This is rooted in the Old English term "heafod," which meant (among other things) the chief person, or ruler.

But Old English was not the original language that Paul was writing in when he wrote to the Ephesians. Further, the following verses point to a different meaning entirely than that which is commonly (mis)understood about these verses:

25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

There was an obvious answer to the problem in the 25th verse: even if God hadslated man to be "in charge" over women, what righteous woman would mind being ruled over by someone who loved her as much as Christ loved the church? What woman would mind being lead by someone who had her best interests at heart?

But that still leaves open a problem: there is no such man: only Christ Himself possessed all the attributes necessary to properly, righteously, and rightfully rule over others. And so we seem back where we are started: with woman relegated to a submissive position in a relationship, subject to an imperfect man who will "rule" over her in a way that is necessarily flawed - for so all men are flawed, being not Christ.

But then verse 29 came to me again as we talked:

29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

And with that thought, another scripture came to mind, one written by the same author:

11 Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:11).

And another scripture, this time in Genesis 2:24:

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Looking at these scriptures in conjunction, it is easy to see that the Lord has returned to this theme over and over through the ages: man and woman, one flesh. And at that point it dawned on me. I turned to my fiancee and said (essentially) "So what if I'm the head? What does that leave you to be? Just the heart that shows the way when the reasoning is clouded, just the hands that are capable of doing the work, just the legs that can walk the path of the Lord for us."

I believe that when the Lord was speaking (through Paul) of man as "head," he did not mean it in a tribal, Old English way. He meant it in a way that recognizes two things:

1) Man and woman are different. They are equal in the eyes of God in the sense that they have equal value, but they are different. A twelve million dollar diamond and a twelve million dollar ruby are equal in value, but they have distinct characteristics that make them valuable in different ways. And years of social research have backed up this fact: men and women are different, each gender having (as a general rule) strong and weak points, as well as different facets of strength which the other may have in lesser measure.

2) They cannot exist well apart. I have yet to see a head that could get along without a body, or a body without a head. Thus, man and woman become "one flesh," with certain distinct characteristics they bring to each other, to a family, and to the Lord. They become interdependent, and cannot - should not - be apart. For, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).

In the end, then, is man "the head" in the body that man and woman become when joined by the power and authority of God? Certainly. But I have never seen a head that could get very far without the permission and cooperation of the rest of the body, just as I have never seen a hand or foot do its job properly without the cooperation of the head. Man and woman, together, should function as one. This leaves no room for doubt that they are, once again, equal in value before the Lord. They each bring different attributes to a marriage or to a family unit, with those attributes complimenting each other in such a way as to bring to pass the best possible outcomes.

A humorous (though mostly true) example: in our home, if it were solely up to my wife, the kids would probably be either a) taken to the ER every time they said something hurt or they had a boo-boo, or b) covered head to toe in bubble wrap to make boo-boos impossible. On the other hand, if it were solely up to me, I would probably be telling my children to "shake it off" after being hit by a car, or tell them "it's probably nothing - just go to bed and it'll feel better in the morning" after they come out of their rooms with their eyes bleeding.

Neither of these is a good outcome. Too extreme, too impractical, but hard-wired into us. And so when a boo-boo comes, we compromise, and we generally end up somewhere in the middle: in a place we can both live with, and which generally results in a child who is both being taken care of and learning how to deal with boo-boos appropriately.

In this example, I am definitely "the head": cold and calculating, trying to show my child how to survive in a world that has far too much pain in it. And my wife is definitely the heart: trying to comfort with compassion, no matter the cost.

Neither works well without the other. Just as grace and works come together and intertwine to allow for salvation (see, e.g. James 2:17, Ephesians 2:5, 8 ), so the "head" of man and the "body" of woman come together and intertwine to create one complete person.

Ultimately, it matters not which part of the complete person each one is, because they are joined of God, and they will stand together before Him in the hereafter, for together they will lead and guide each other. Together, as man and wife, I and my sweetheart will go forward, she at times leading me, I at times leading her, but always linked, always holding hands, always striving to move forward with the other, to that ultimate goal: that of further Oneness with God, as we enter - together - into His rest.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

On Being "Mormon"

What it is to be a “Mormon.” I thought I would talk about that for a bit today. I'm at home, dealing with various sick people, and so wanted to take this time to write my feelings about the church and about what it means - for me - to be a member of the church. I also thought that I would write this so that anyone could understand it, not just members of my church.

First of all, I would like to say straight off the bat that I am not an official spokesman for my church. Nor am I perfect. So please bear that in mind as you read this. Anyone looking for the “official” stances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints* is probably best-served by doing one of three things:

1) Go to on the web. This is a website run by the church that is designed primarily to answer basic questions about the church by those who are not already members.

2) Go to on the web. This is another website run by the church. It is geared toward the members of the church, but can be freely searched by anyone, and carries within it virtually all of the major writings of the church’s leaders and its theology.

3) Invite a pair of missionaries to talk to you. These are the young men you will occasionally see biking around town, dressed (always) in a white shirt, tie, slacks, and wearing a black name tag. Or perhaps you will have seen sister missionaries: young ladies with ankle-length skirts, nice blouses, and also wearing black name tags. This is perhaps the best way to find out the church’s official beliefs because a) they are the church’s designated spokespeople in charge of preaching to those not of our faith, and b) it’s a bit more “personal” than a webpage.

Having bored you to death, I’ll now talk about what it is to be LDS, and more specifically, what it is to me to be LDS.

First, a short history:

Like the majority of the world, we believe in a Supreme Being, whom we call God. We believe that God is our creator and our father. We believe that He loves us. Because of this love, He designed a plan that would allow us to return to Him when we die – to be reunited as an Eternal Family.

However, God knew that a) He was perfect and without sin, b) no being with sin could live with Him, and c) in our time here on earth, we as his Children would make choices contrary to His commandments.

And so He sent His son, Jesus Christ, whose mission was to bridge the gap between us and Heaven by making it possible for us to be cleansed from our sins and stand pure before God and thus return to His bosom.

After Christ’s mortal ministry, He continued to speak through prophets and those duly authorized by Him to preach His gospel. Many of the words of the prophets of Jerusalem are collected in the Bible, which we believe to be the word of God.

However, there were also others in the world, specifically those people who were living on the American continents, and we believe that just as He spoke to prophets in Jerusalem, so also God called prophets to preach His word among the American peoples. These words were collected by an historian prophet named Mormon and then entrusted to his son, Moroni, who finished the compilation. Unfortunately, the people at that time were so wicked that they were killing all those who would not deny belief in Christ. This, we believe, happened around 600 a.d.

At the command of God, Moroni hid the sacred record, and for many years it was lost to those who had turned their backs on God by refusing to live by His word.

As most people know, following the death of Christ’s apostles in Israel and its surrounding nations, the church that Christ had founded split into many different factions and sects. Luther, Calvin, and other reformers proposed changes to the established Bible-based churches of their times, as did others. As a result, many different churches were established, guided by the precepts of the Bible as best understood by the people at that time.

In the 19th century, a young man named Joseph Smith was concerned for his immortal well-being, and wished to unite with a church. His own family was a church-going one, but even within the immediate family there was disagreement as to which church best represented God’s will and Christ’s teachings.

Joseph – at this time only 14 years of age – was convinced that Christ had founded a church, and that he must unite himself with Christ’s church, whichever that church might be, in order to be able to secure salvation.

But the many different sects and religions offered such diverse points and teachings that he was hopelessly confused. They could not all be true, he reasoned, since each had points of practice and belief in which they disagreed.

About the only thing they all seemed to agree on was that the Bible was the word of God, and so it was to the Bible that Joseph turned for answers. One night, he read a passage in the book of James, which stated “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Young Joseph took these words to heart. He entered a grove of trees near his home, knelt down, and prayed to ask which of the churches was the true church of Christ. In response to this simple prayer of faith, he received the actual, physical visitation of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The Father spoke to Joseph, calling him by name, and then said, pointing to the other Heavenly Visitor, “This is my beloved son. Hear Him.”

The resurrected Christ then informed Joseph that he must join none of the churches, for none of them held the entirety of Christ’s gospel, which had been lost when the early apostles and most of the faithful disciples of Christ were killed for their beliefs. This mass murder deprived the early church of the leaders authorized to act in Christ’s name and left behind leaders of churches who, good-intentioned and righteous though they might be, did not have the required authority to act in Christ’s name and perform necessary ordinances required to enter into the kingdom of Heaven. This power was called the Priesthood, a necessary power to perform holy ordinances with validity and the power to seal both on earth and in Heaven.

Joseph was instructed further at a later time that there was a record of the peoples of the American continent and Christ’s dealings with them. Eventually Joseph was led to this record – the same record which Moroni had hidden up centuries before. Joseph translated the record through the power of God, and because of the great work the prophet Mormon did in compiling the records of the American prophets, the book was called The Book of Mormon, and like the Bible, it stands as a testament of Jesus Christ and His teachings.

Later, Joseph received further divine revelations and visitors. He was visited by the resurrected John the Baptist – the man who had baptized Christ himself – and was given the Priesthood authority to baptize. Thereafter, he was visited by Peter, James, and John, the three men who presided over the church after Christ’s crucifixion, and was given by them further Priesthood powers.

With the Priesthood restored to the earth, and with direct communications with God once again open, the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to organize and restore the Church of Christ. This occurred in April 1830.

The name of the church was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The Church of Jesus Christ” because it was not the product of man-made thought or invention, but rather a restoration of the actual church Christ founded in His time on earth; and “of Latter-day Saints” to distinguish the two eras.

This new – or rather, old – church was well-received by some, and grew quickly. Unfortunately, this rapid growth was seen by many as a threat – either to their political or theological power – and so persecution of the church began early and grew in intensity, with the “Mormonites” or “Mormons” as they were called by their enemies being driven from place to place. Eventually they settled for a time in Missouri, their numbers now large enough to found one of the largest cities in the state. However, this political clout antagonized the people in the surrounding areas enough that they complained to both the state and federal leaders that the Mormons were killers, rapists, and insurrectionists.

Once again, the Mormons were driven out of the lands they themselves had purchased, developed, and built up. This time, the governor of Missouri even wrote an extermination order – a document which essentially called the Mormons enemies of the state and authorized any and all people to expel them from Missouri, even if it meant killing them.

Through the course of this persecution, Joseph Smith himself was murdered with his brother while under “protective custody” – something of a joke since the jail they were being held in was run by anti-Mormon sympathizers who allowed the murderers free access to the jail – and the church members themselves were driven completely out of the United States, settling in the area of the Great Salt Lake, which is now known as Utah.

However, the church continued and endured. Before he was martyred, Joseph Smith called and ordained twelve apostles, just as Christ had done in the ancient church. After Joseph was martyred, one of these apostles was called and succeeded Joseph as the prophet and president of the church.

And this has continued through today. Though the church continued to know privation, tribulation, and persecution, at this time there are approximately 13 million members worldwide. It is one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, and one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States.

Additionally, because of the many threats to their safekeeping in the early years of the church, it developed a sophisticated welfare program. This means that in the event of natural disasters almost anywhere in the world, LDS members are usually either first or among the first relief responders.

Now, all this is to give an introduction into the history of the LDS church, because in so doing one catches a glimpse of its culture. It is God-centered. It is durable. It is willing (as a whole) to sacrifice everything – home, well-being, life itself – to follow the commandments of God. It is family-centered, for God has revealed that families can be an eternal unit, and so we value family above all save God Himself.

And knowing this, is to know much of what it means to me to be “Mormon.” Among my ancestors was the prophet who succeeded Joseph Smith. Among my ancestors were numerous who had their homes burned down or were forced from them at gunpoint. One of my ancestors died because he carried several hundred women and children over a half-frozen river in the dead of winter (the Missourians agreed to give the Mormons until spring to get out, but in reality the mob-killings and forced expulsion began that winter).

And me?

Nothing so grand as that, perhaps. I served as an unpaid missionary in Paraguay for two years. I did nothing but proselytize, speaking to anyone and everyone who would listen to me about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I worked between 60 and 100 hours a week, every week, for two years on this endeavor. I was hospitalized several times, nearly dying more than once. I was threatened by brutal people who tried to hurt me physically. I was attacked and bitten by a dog that I later discovered had been specifically trained to attack LDS missionaries.

I also met more friendly people than I ever knew existed. I saw the depths of joy at marriages and births. One family named their first son after me. I saw sorrowing families draw together at the death of a loved one, mourning the loss but rejoicing in the knowledge that they would see their loved one again. I saw many people choose to join the LDS church, and saw their lives change forever in ways that I cannot even attempt to describe here.

After my mission, I continued to serve the church. This is not unusual. In the church, we have no paid clergy, so all worthy members (and by worthy I don’t mean that they have studied extensively, but rather that they can affirm that they are following the commandments) are expected to serve in whatever capacity they are called to.

As a result, I have been in charge of all of the men in a congregation (we call our congregations “wards”). I have taught 8-, 11-, and 12-year-old boys and girls in Sunday School. I have been in the bishopric of a ward, serving as one of the three men who preside over the entire ward and oversee the spiritual and physical well-being of its members. I have been called at two in the morning to minister to a person who is ill and has requested a Priesthood blessing. I have been called out of work to go see a person who is going to die and who has asked for someone to provide words of comfort and friendship.

I have been married to a beautiful woman whom I met in church, and who has given me three beautiful children. Two still live with us. One has gone ahead to prepare a home for us in Heaven. Losing her was terrible, but again, was wonderful because of the security both my wife and I held at knowing we would see our little Grace again. The two other children did not ever know her, but we take them to her gravesite from time to time, and teach them about Jesus, and about God, and about how they want families to be together forever, so if we are all good and do what Heavenly Father says, we will all get to see Grace again, and they will be able to play with their big sister.

I have been lead away from certain jobs, and lead to others, because of my religion. I am a lawyer by trade – a profession that many know is demanding in terms of time and emotional and mental strain – and have at every job interview I ever went to told the people that I would not work Sundays. This has lost me many high-paying jobs, and lead me to jobs that pay less but allow me to come home if my wife or child is sick. A better way of life, I think, than grinding away for 80 hours a week for a paycheck that will not cover the cost of things sacrificed for that job.

In every aspect of my life, my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has informed and enlightened my choices. It has given me opportunities to meet people I never would have chosen to interact with on my own – and my life has been brighter for it. It has given me a security in knowing that, no matter what happens or where life takes me, I have only to find an LDS church building on a Sunday to know that I am home and among friends.

Above all, it has given me hope to see through the darkness that can sometimes cloud our lives, a ray of light to pierce the darkness of everyday living, a road to walk which is difficult but which leads to a place well worth the work.

I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the one true church of God on the earth. I say this not with pride, in an “I’m better because I’m right sense,” but rather with humility, because if I believe that, it means that I must act at all times in a way that will glorify God and give Him credit for teaching me well: the pupil’s actions will always cast a reflection – for good or ill – on the teacher. I also believe it is my duty to live in a way that will show people that the way I live can bring them, too, happiness and joy. In saying I believe I belong to “the true church,” I am saying that I believe it is my duty, my responsibility, and my privilege to help those around me, so that together we may all draw closer to God.

For if I believe the LDS church to be the true church, then I must believe its teachings. And it teaches, above all else, that we have a Father in Heaven who loves us, and that everything He does is with an eye single to seeing that as many of us return to His presence as possible. And so to follow Him I also must concern myself with my fellows – my brothers and sisters (all 6 billion-plus of them) – and see that I do all I can to help my Heavenly Father in His work to glorify and perfect His children.

I am a “Mormon.” I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Everything I have and everything I am flows from that.

And with this fact, I am well pleased.

*The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints is the official name of the “Mormon” church. Referring to someone as a “Mormon” was originally intended to be an insult, but in a good example of “rewriting your own script,” the church members adopted it as their unofficial name. Members of the church will also call themselves “Latter-day Saints” or LDS for short.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Testimony of Salvation

D&C 62:3:

"Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you." [emphasis added]

In this section, Joseph Smith was speaking to "a group of elders." These men were later identified by Reynolds Cahoon as being Hyrum Smith, John Murdock, Harvey Whitlock, and David Whitmer.

Not a bad group to meet up with. Men who left their mark on the early church, with Hyrum being a co-sealer of the truth of the Gospel when he was martyred on the same day as his brother. So is it any surprise, really, that the Prophet Joseph should inform them that God had forgiven their sins?

And yet, once more, I have to apply this to myself as well (after all, why bother giving us scripture if we were not to use them? God would be a bit of a ninny if that were the case). And in so doing, I have to think that this is probably one of the most joyous of all the scriptures we have in our possession today.

Think of it... to have the angels of heaven "rejoice over you." To have your words recorded there perhaps for all your progenitors to view throughout the eternities, a monument to your following of the Savior.

For, you see, this is contingent upon bearing testimony. And a testimony cannot be borne which is false. That is to say, these men to whom the Prophet was speaking, they had borne real testimonies.

And what is a testimony? Ask yourself that question...

Seriously, ask yourself. And put the answer in your mind.

Got it?






It is something that we know.

That's it. It is something that we have experienced for ourselves, and can then describe to others. No more, no less.

Thus, in a courtroom, it is not generally permitted to say what someone told you about someone else (though there are exceptions), but your testimony is generally confined to those things you saw, heard, tasted, touched... or felt.

And so these men were given this great blessing from the Lord through the Prophet: for the bearing of their testimonies - for telling others what they knew about the Gospel - the angels rejoiced and their sins were forgiven them.

This, then brings up an interesting question. To wit: what exactly did they know? By this I do not mean to inquire into the depth of these men's souls. But rather, I again apply this scripture to myself. Would I like the angels to rejoice over me? Most certainly. Would I like my words to be recorded in heaven? Of course.

Would I like my sins forgiven? Yes, yes, most indisbutably yes!

So what must I do? Bear testimony, it would seem. The Prophet did not confine these blessings to only these men, and I must therefore assume (reasonably, I think), that if I then bear testimony as they did, I too will reap the benefits they received. It is as easy (and as difficult) as that.

But we do not have to bear testimony that we have seen Christ or that we have witnessed a burning bush in order to receive these blessings - I find nowhere in scripture that confines the blessings of bearing testimony to those who bear it on that scale.

But we are asked to share what we know. What we know can be great as the First Vision - there are those in this dispensation who have seen the Father and the Son.

But it can also be something as simple and sincere as being able to say to someone, "I know the Gospel is true because when I read the Book of Mormon it makes me feel good." This is a true testimony: it is a factual declaration backed up by personal experience. It is the same with something like, "I know that tithing is a true principle because as long as I have paid tithing, I have never wanted for my daily bread." Ditto something like, "I know this is the true Church because, even though I argue with Brother So-and-so, and even though I find Sister Thus-and-such to be a tad on the irritating side, still I love them, and they are my family, and I would die for them if push came to shove."

All of these are testimonies.

How about this one: "I know the Church is true because when I do what the prophets say to do I am happier than when I do not follow them."

A testimony does not have to include an angel. It does not have to be a travelogue. It might not even be a story.

But it must be true. It must be something you know. It must be from your own experience. And then it must be shared.

For in the sharing, the angels rejoice.

In the sharing, our words are recorded for eternity, and will serve us well at the judgment bar of God.

In the sharing, we find salvation.

In the sharing, we are free.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Judgment of God

It's a very popular section: section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which the Lord talks (through Joseph Smith) to Oliver Cowdery. It's most "famous," if you will, for verse 23, but the whole of the section is a wealth of information regarding how our Father in Heaven deals with us, and speaks to us the things that we need to hear.

In among the verses is this one:

"16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart."

Of course, in this instance, God was speaking directly to Oliver about his testimony, and was in effect giving Oliver proofs that He knew Oliver inside and out, preparatory to his explaining (after establishing that he knew Oliver's thoughts) that certain of those thoughts were indeed a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. So verse 16 has a specific purpose, and a specific meaning within the context of this section.

Still, I can't help but look at other meanings; other applications of scripture. And it occurred to me that, if only God can know the thoughts and intents of Oliver's heart, then the same probably holds true to me, and to you, and to every other person on the planet.

Actions are visible, and something that we can judge for effect - e.g., you punch me in the nose, I am aware and positive of the blood streaming from my nose. But motivations and intents - i.e., the reason you punched me in the nose - are forever closed to us in our role as mere humans.

The only exception to this, of course, is if the Lord directly reveals to us what someone's motivations or intents are, through the spirit of revelation and prophecy. This is generally confined to the bishops, who are called to be the "judge in Israel" (see, e.g., D&C 58:17; 64:40). And rightfully so, it would seem, especially since even when functioning under the spirit of the Lord, we also continue on with our human limitations and inabilities. So rendering judgment of any kind is a dangerous proposition, especially since we have been told that we will be judged as we judge others (see, e.g., JST Matt. 7:1).

Does this - our inherent ignorance, coupled with the threat of reciprocal action by the Lord - not then counsel strongly in favor of our being lenient with others, with refraining from judging their motives and thoughts, and if we do find ourselves judging, taking every effort to be as lenient and forgiving as possible?

I don't know about everyone else, but it seems to me, reading these scriptures, that refraining from judging others is not only proper - for this is the province of God alone as the only one who can make perfect judgment - but essential to our salvation. A "Get out of Jail Free" card of sorts. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to face the Lord at the judgment bar, confident that he is going to "go easy" on us, because we have "gone easy" on others?

Now, I also note that, again, though only the Lord can know our thoughts, nowhere does he say we must seek out or even accept physical or mental abuse. But it is more than possible in most cases to remove ourselves from the sphere of influence of someone who is harming us, and simply say that judgment is God's. In other words, someone punches me in the nose, I have a right and duty to protect myself... but I have never heard of a situation where someone protected themselves simply by judging the internal thoughts and desires of another.

Of course, this is the reason we have jails and courts, and as a lawyer I can say that the system is designed to rely as little as possible on what someone may or may not have been feeling or thinking, and instead on what they actually did or did not do. And this is right, for we simply do not have the capability to fully understand the infinite vagaries and idiosyncracies of human thought and motivation.

Only the Lord can do that.
And what a relief. Because now I don't have to worry about why I am being bothered or annoyed. Once I can expunge from myself the need to judge my fellow brothers and sisters, I am free to simply live my life, instead of being burdened with living theirs'. Only one person in all of recorded history successfully managed to do that, and it caused him to sweat great drops of blood.

Judgment is the Lord's. This is a blessing, not a reservation. And thanks be to God for it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Art of Advocacy

"Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him..." (D&C 45:3).

I love this verse. I love it because of many reasons, first and foremost being the fact that it places the Savior squarely in my corner come judgment. And we all know (or should know) that: one of Christ's main responsibilities will be to serve as our advocate to the Father.

But even though many of us know that, I think many of us misconstrue the meaning of one of the words in this verse, and completely miss another.

The word that is misconstrued is "advocate." I think that when most of us say or hear the word advocate, what springs to mind is a lawyer - someone who is in our employ, and who is paid to fight for us.

But an interesting thing about lawyers is that they are legally required to do the best they can by their clients... even if they don't believe their clients are in the right.* They may resign because they have a moral problem with representing the client, and they may not knowingly put forth false evidence under the law, but even if the client says, "I am absolutely guilty and should be given the maximum penalty for my crime," the lawyer's job is to fight for that guilty party, and (if possible) to get him/her off with no penalty whatsoever.

This, however, is not the Savior's role in advocating for us before the Father.

Which brings us to the next part: the word most people miss... or at least mis-read.

And that word is "cause." I think most people think that the Savior is going to plead our case. After all, that's what lawyers (again, what most of us think of when we think of advocates) do: they plead their client's case before the judge; again, casting the client in the best possible light to get the lightest possible sentence, guilty or no.

But, again, that is not what the Savior will do. He will not argue our case, for our case, if argued, would lead inevitably to our downfall and damnation. Our case, which would have to be argued truthfully before the great bar of the Lord, would include our sins and our shortcomings, our errors and our failures of heart. This would then automatically disqualify us from receiving Celestial glory, for "no unclean thing can dwell with God..."

Thankfully, however, the Savior will not argue our case... he will argue our cause. He will argue our cause.

The word cause has many definitions. One of them that I think particularly apt in this context is the following: "the welfare of a person or group, seen as a subject of concern." I like this. I like this because it converts the impossible idea of the Savior pleading successfully that we to be in the Celestial kingdom to the more workable principle and idea of him pleading for our welfare before the Father.

Of course, how is he going to do that? The answer lies (as it so often does) in reading the entirety of the thought, not just an excerpt:

"3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him -
"4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
"5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."

The Savior will plead our cause - He will plead for our welfare, for our best interest, for the best possible avenue to happiness that will lie open to us.

And He will also plead a case. But instead of arguing like a lawyer in a court of law, who says, "Judge, this man is innocent," thus pleading the case of his client, the Savior will look to that great Judge of all and will say, "Father, this man [you and me] is guilty, but I am innocent, and have suffered that my friend might come unto me, and through me unto you."

In other words, the case that the Savior will argue will be His own: "I suffered, Father, and will You make My suffering vain?"

Of course, the Father would not, for such would not be just. And so we see justice and mercy merging and becoming, not two separate attributes, but one joint means of salvation and exaltation.

* This is a simplification, but it is essentially correct. And how do I know this? Because I am a lawyer. But don't hate me too much for that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thinking About the Links...

I was thinking about the book of Abraham and the facsimiles in it. Fascinating things, those. We know that not the hundredth part made it into the Book of Mormon - Heavenly Father's and the prophets' polite way of telling us to pay attention, because every word is important. I wonder if the same is also true of the Book of Abraham. I suspect it is so, considering how wild Joseph Smith went over its discovery.

The importance of the book of Abraham is clear from the beginning, actually. If nothing else, it gives us incredible detail about Abraham's lineage, culture, and learning.

And then out of nowhere, there are these images. Facsimile Nos. 1 and 2. Pictured here is Facsimile No. 2, and if you're reading this you might want to pull it out so you can see what I'm talking about as I go.

There are several items in this image for which explanations have been provided. Figure 1, (dead center of the circle) for example, is "Kolob, signifying the first creation..." Figure 2 (located near the top) "Stands next to Kolob... [and] is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides..."

This Figure 2 always catches my eye, because it is the only place in the facsimile where there is an overlap between two areas. In all other instances, the symbols are blocked off from one another in boxes or rectangles which are clearly delineated by double lines. The only exception to the "double line rule" is the outer ring, which is separated from the inner panels by a circle comprised of only one line.

These two things - the overlap of Figure 2 from the inner portion of the image to the outer ring - and the outer ring itself being separated from the rest of the images by only a thin line make me wonder what meaning there could be. We know that this image tells a story - all doctrine is told in stories, if by no other than the grand story of Jesus' life and the atonement, from which all Gospel tenets spring - so what story or teachings do these strange juxtapositions teach us?

I have some opinions. Again, bear in mind that I am not a spokesman for the Church. Just someone who likes to think, and share those thoughts. So take this with a grain of salt, and if there is anything "of good report, or praiseworthy" about the following, use it. If not, chuck it.

Okay, here we go.

Outer circle, at almost exactly the 9:00 position, there is an image of what appears to be a person, legs bent, arms over their head. Next to that is a thing that looks like three straight lines: two short and the long one in the middle, the long one looking like an arrow. This is a symbol that has been translated to mean "the holy place."

So we have a person in the outer ring, which is separated from the inner portions by a thin line, supplicating at the holy place.

Of course, as Latter-day Saints, our most holy place is the temple, and so for me it is no huge jump to wonder if this is a symbology representing worship at the temple. This would make it even more interesting that there is a single place where the "wall" between sections of the Abrahamic facsimile is punctured: a place where, if one comes in proper supplication to the holy place, perhaps the line between this kingdom and the next may be pierced, and thereby perhaps may the holiest of things be glimpsed.

There is precedent, of course, for this happening. The prophet Joseph Smith's vision of Christ standing before him which occurred in the Kirtland Temple, after he and Oliver Cowdery shut themselves away and prayed to the Lord (the full account of this is in Doctrine and Covenants Section 110).

In effect, the holier realms came through the single line that separates us from them when we are in the temple - the holy place - and provided edification and glimpses of glory that can be had in no other way and at no other place.

Again, I am not an official spokesman for the Church, or a prophet (other than inasmuch as I have a testimony of Jesus Christ - see, e.g., Numbers 11:25-29 and Revelation 19:10). So what do I know?

Not much, I suppose, but I do suspect that one of the primary reasons we are instructed to visit the temple is because that will be the entry point from which things will flow when the Earth is at last reclaimed by Christ and He takes its place as its rightful king. If we are known at the Temple, we will be known in the kingdom of Heaven, for we will have pierced the wall between Heaven and earth in the place that it is thinnest. We shall have seen the things of God, and been seen by them in turn.

Why do we go to the temple (assuming we do). To save the souls of the dead? Certainly. To participate as saviors in Zion. Of course.

But I propose that it is also a question of familiarity. In the parables of the New Testament, those seeking entry into the feast or the wedding party - the kingdom of heaven - we can see examples of the master refusing entrance to someone because he "knows them not" (see Matthew 25:1-12).

So have I gone to the temple often enough and recently enough that, should Christ come to the earth today, I would know and be known by him?

Have you?

Sobering thoughts.

Thank you, father Abraham.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Partnerships with the Godhead

There are a total of two ordinances in which all members of the Godhead are invoked.

The first is baptism. This makes sense: we are casting off the old person we once were and creating a new one, one that is not only representative of our own best hopes and dreams, but actually representative of the fact that we now stand as agents of the Godhead.

Because I am a lawyer, I view a lot of the Gospel through a legal lens. And while reflecting on this fact of the Godhead being invoked at baptism, it occurred to me that this is much like a partnership being created. In a partnership, each of the partners has the ability to act for and on behalf of the others, inasmuch as they are furthering the general interests of the partnership. And this follows with the Gospel, too: we are promised that we will receive power so that "whatsoever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (see D&C 128:8; Matthew 16:19), meaning that, as new partners with the Lord, we will receive power to act in His name, on His behalf.
Not only that, but we are promised that if we continue to receive Him, all that the Father has shall be given unto us (D&C 84:38). Full partners, if you will.

Now, this brings us to an interesting fact about partnerships: when one of the partners dies (at least in the jurisdiction where I practice law), the partnership dissolves automatically. The properties are divvied up, the moneys are parsed out, but there is NO more partnership. It ceases to exist.

Why is this interesting for purposes of this little thought? It brings us to the next ordinance in which the entire Godhead is invoked: the sealing ordinance. In this, once more, the Godhead is invoked in full, each of them individually named as being the creators of the new unit. And where the previous unit consisted of four (the three members of the Godhead plus the baptized member of the church), this new unit consists of five: the three members of the Godhead, plus the husband, plus the wife. This, the "crowning ordinance" of the Gospel creates a new partnership. And THE OLD PARTNERSHIP DISSOLVES. There is no more simply "The Godhead and I," it is now "The Godhead and I and my spouse," each co-equal in the sense that we are all equally important to achieve the grace and salvation of the mortal "junior partners."

After all, can I graduate to the Celestial Kingdom without my Father permitting me entry? Can I go without the saving Grace offered by Jesus Christ? Can I attain salvation without the whispering words and cleansing fire of the Holy Ghost? NO.

Can I go without my spouse, if I do not treat her in full measure as an equal in our partnership, as someone whom God loves as much as He loves me, and as someone upon whom I utterly depend for my salvation?

Divorce in the world trends ever upward. Sadly, it seems, the church divorce rates are doing the same, moving up and up. Perhaps not as quickly as they are doing in the rest of the world, but moving up nonetheless...

That this is tragic is clear, because with the divorce comes the dissolution not just of the marriage, but of the partnership that had been created between spouses and the Godhead... and there is no new post-divorce ordinance offered to help us regain our previous status with the Godhead.

Now, heed me here, I am NOT saying that all divorces are wrong, or that all divorcees are evil, or even that ANY divorcee will suffer a withdrawing of the Lord's spirit. Indeed, the very purpose of the Sacrament that we take each week is to renew our covenants, including the ones we made at baptism, thus re-instituting our original partnership, this time back to a four-person partnership.

All this was inspired by a random comment made in Sunday School last week. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't know how much good it will do anyone (though hopefully it will do no ill).

But I AM glad I wrote it out, because it makes me ask these questions to you, the readers:

1) Do you who are not married treat yourselves as representatives of a full partnership between you and the Godhead? Are you aware that you are, not only sons and daughters of God, but princes and princesses - and therefore necessarily kings and queens to be? If you will always remember this status you have, you will never sin... for who would give up the univers of all God's possessions for the trifles that any sin can offer?

2) Do you who ARE married treat yourselves as representatives of a full partnership between you and the Godhead? And do you treat your spouse as a partner in equal measure, with equal rights and privileges before the Lord? Do you remember that you are a prince or a princess, and your spouse is equally endowed with a heritage of most high Royalty?

Let us go our way, and not merely sin no more, but anxiously seek to do good. Let us bind the Lord in Heaven, for we are His agents, his partners, his sons and daughters today and co-heirs with Christ in the hereafter.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bridging the Gap Between Heaven and Hell

It has been said that there is an Eternal divide between the sinners and the righteous in the afterlife. Specifically, there is a division between the Sons of Perdition - those cast into outer darkness - and the righteous ones of the Celestial Kingdom.

The question that arises in my head is this: is the division between those two groups one of choice, or one of immutable law, or one of inherent necessity.

I think a bit of all three.

I think that those who find themselves in Outer Darkness, the ultimate and most radical example of Spiritual Death, have no recourse but to remain in that awful place where there is "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Mosiah 16:12). Of COURSE they cannot leave in any sense:

1) MENTAL - they have trained themselves to be this way by the choices made in their lives.

2) EMOTIONAL - per Joseph Smith, they could not emotionally abide the fiery glory of the kingdom of God.

3) PHYSICAL - they simply do not have the power to walk "up the mountain" as it were. They are physically restrained to the actual, geographical LOCATION to which they are damned. They can no more leave their place of final judgment than can a lobster in a trap.

But what, then, of the righteous? Are they RESTRAINED from going to Outer Darkness? After all, those in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). This means they either ARE as God is (as we know that Abraham and several other prophets have attained to this status), or are training to become such. God, we know, is all-powerful: if it is possible, God can do it.* So would it not stand to reason that those in the Celestial Kingdom could, if they wished, travel to Outer Darkness? After all, we know that those in the terrestrial kingdom receive the personal ministrations of Jesus Christ, and those in the telestial kingdom are ministered unto by the Holy Ghost, so we clearly see that there MUST be SOME kind of "vertical" mobility - a movement between the different classes of glory and ignominy.

However, in that answer, we have the answer to our greater question. We have already seen that the Sons of Perdition are confined without recourse - they have no power to leave their assigned state or location.

And the righteous of the Celestial Kingdom? They most certainly have the POWER: God organized the kingdoms, and having done so, He certainly must have the power to visit. But having the power to do so does not mean it will ever happen.

The damned cannot visit the upper kingdoms of Grace, for they have decided not to, and sealed their fates by the choices made in their lives.

And the Glorious, the Saved, those who have tasted of Christ's Atonement and received His Grace... they have the power to travel where they will. So to say that they do not go to the planes of perdition is not to say that they canNOT do it.

It is simply saying that, like all righteous, they are anxiously engaged in good works. There are no good works in Outer Darkness, and so the Saved do not travel to Hell, not because the canNOT, but simply because there are always better things for them to do.

* There is a statement that is commonly batted about in Christendom that with God, nothing is impossible. This brings up a whole host of OTHER discussions, and will be the subject of another post.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The First Principles and Ordinances...

"We believe the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immerion for the remission of sins; fourth; Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Pearl of Great Price
Fourth Article of Faith

I was thinking about this today during Sunday School, and it struck me that implicit in the language of this verse is the idea that there are LATER principles and ordinances of the Gospel.

Following close on that thought came another: if this is an appropriate unit of principles and ordinances (i.e., these four things are the "first" group), is there a second unit? A third?

Of course, almost immediately I realized that the "second" unit of principles and ordinances would be those taught and practiced in the holy temple. There, we learn more of God's plan for us and of the grand possibilities that lay before us, as well as being able to participate in further covenants that more closely bind us to His path.

Then, I asked myself, what - if any - would the next "unit" of principles and ordinances be?

Well, we believe in eternal progression... so are the temple principles and ordinances the last that we will ever participate in? The answer seems like it must be no. There must be more. After this mortal life, those who HAVE done what they should, have followed the Lord's path and taken advantage of the blessings of the Atonement (critical), will be permitted to take advantage of further ordinances and learn greater principles in the Celestial Kingdom.

This is, of course, not doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just my own thoughts on the subject. But I rather like it: we begin with faith and baptism, we progress to the actual learning portion of our progression at the temple, and then we finally practice what we have learned in the hereafter, when (if we are faithful) we are made joint heirs with Christ and given all that He has: learning ever-greater principles, participating in ever-holier ordinances, and finally coming to the finality of Grace and the Perfection that Jesus has commanded us to attain.