I’ll Never Tell You to Choose to Believe

Oct 15, 15 I’ll Never Tell You to Choose to Believe

Posted by in Agency, Atonement, Faith, Featured, Revelation

In college I lived down the hall from a very serious Christian. He worked hard to encourage others to be more active and outspoken about their Christianity. He was antagonistic to my Mormonism, considering it as non-Christian and me as having been led astray. We still got along well enough, but we weren’t close. One day I happened upon a scripture study he was holding with a few other students in one of the common rooms. As I recall, they invited me to share the space and eventually we began a conversation about religion. Somehow (these conversations never seem predictable), we turned to the topic of belief. While I held up Moroni’s promise as the central truth-process claim of Mormonism, he dismissed this, declaring that the Bible had replaced all such revelation. Honestly astounded by this position, I asked, “Then how do you know the Bible is true?” His response was that he just did. His position, as best I could understand it, was that one should read the Bible and simply accept it as truth. And if you didn’t? Well, then you were going to hell. There was no gray area. But there was also no revelation to buttress belief. It was just a matter of either unconscious decision (best, easiest) or conscious decision (a necessary but difficult step if you weren’t able to believe automatically). I couldn’t accept that then and I still can’t. Insisting that someone believe what they don’t, without divine help, strikes me as an unreasonable demand. I can’t imagine that being the basis for salvation. I believe because I’ve felt the spiritual confirmation that Moroni promised. I believe because, as a primary child, I felt a powerful spiritual witness while singing the song “The Spirit of God” and knew that personal revelation was real. I believe because the Book of Mormon continues to enlighten my mind as I devote myself to diligent study. I believe because I have seen the truths of the gospel reach people’s hearts and...

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Of Pride and Prophets

People like me get called prideful all the time by our fellow Mormons. It gets old, to say the least. This accusation came up again in the discussion of a blog post titled “How to stay Mormon when you’re tired of Mormons,” which has been making the rounds on the interwebs over the past few days. It is a sincere and well thought-out post by someone who has clearly thought and prayed a lot about this issue. Blogger “ldsphilosopher” over at Millennial Star, another who has clearly thought/prayed a lot about this same issue, posted a response a few days later. In it, the author argues that the “How to stay Mormon” blog post takes on the issue from the wrong angle: I appreciate that the author of the original post didn’t spend it opining about the faults of the Church, but focusing on what we can do instead. That is a good approach. I just felt that the suggestions given focused way more attention on the self, how we can take care of the self, how we can be true to ourselves, etc., and not enough attention on God and His will. If you ask me, this is a fair critique and an accurate summary of what the original post was trying to do. And I think ldsphilosopher is on to something—we’re missing the point of church entirely if all we think about is ourselves and what we can “get out of” the Church, particularly when it comes at the expense of focusing on our relationship with our fellow humans and our Heavenly Parents. At the same time, though, ldsphilosopher glosses over the fact that one of the central points of any organized religion is to form a community (Zion, if you will), and that there are community-level problems that cannot always be fixed by indidvual-level solutions. In this light, I’d like to focus on one of ldsphilosopher’s argument that strikes me as divisively judgmental and has a similar effect on others like me:...

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The Woman Taken in Adultery in History and the Gospel of John

The question of what is original and what is not to the earliest version of any book of scripture can be a very sensitive subject. This is compounded when you are discussing a section of one of the Christian gospels that deals specifically with a well-known story in the life of Jesus. The reason it can be controversial is because the conclusion has implications for how a faith community might approach or even think (or believe) about a certain text. The narrative that I will briefly discuss is found in John 7:53-8:11, which is the story of the woman “who had been caught in adultery.”[1] This pericope has long fascinated readers, and only over the last few centuries was its originality to the gospel of John put into question. The field of textual criticism and the New Testament has opened a new view to these verses that cannot be ignored. This view should be appropriated in any understanding of the gospel of John even if only because scholars are at a consensus in understanding the non-originality to the gospel of these verses. Scholarship and faith can work in tandem, and do not need to be at odds with one another. Although this is a controversial subject for many it is indisputable that John 7:53-8:11 is not original to the gospel of John. There are several evidences for this position that need to be mentioned.[2] First, the story is not found in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospel of John or in the earliest verse-by-verse commentaries on the gospel by the church fathers.[3] Second, these verses intrude on the surrounding narrative, in both context and style, that would have originally connected John 7:52 to 8:12, even if one might argue that it connects well with 8:15, 46a. Third, there are several manuscripts that place this pericope after Luke 21:38 rather than in the gospel of John. This fits a little better with the context in Luke (i.e. cunning questions presented to Jesus),...

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Faith, Doubt, AND CONTEXT

Mar 17, 15 Faith, Doubt, AND CONTEXT

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Truth

Members of the LDS church will frequently use different definitions, or versions, of the words faith and doubt. The two most common versions are what I call “truth-oriented” and “objective”. It’s important to realize that many, if not most, of the debates we have on the topics of faith and doubt are due to conflating the two versions. We think we’re using the terms in the same way but we actually aren’t. The secret to overcoming this disjoin of meaning, which should cultivate general agreement, is the context. The context will reveal the different meanings.   Truth-oriented Version Faith = Believing or even knowing true (good) things. Doubt = Disbelief of true (good) things. A more orthodox church member will generally use the term faith to mean a belief in something that they perceive as a universal reality. The term doubt is used to denote a disbelief in these perceived truths. So when they hear the term doubt used in conversation they automatically assume the doubter is disbelieving an obvious and universal good principle or truth. From this perspective faith and doubt are always used in relation to what they perceive as the TRUTH. Objective Version Faith = Believing in something. Doubt = Disbelief in something. Less orthodox members generally use the term faith to mean a general belief in something that seems to be true or good – independent of source and independent of the ramification. The term doubt is used to denote something that from an objective approach does not appear to have enough evidence to be believed (faith). They see the world as more nuanced and see different degrees of truth and error. From this perspective faith and doubt are used in relation to any concept, with the acknowledgement that faith and doubt can each be associated with true and false ideas. Misinterpretation Misinterpretation between people in a conversation is easy. For example, someone says a simple phrase, “Doubt is bad, and causes spiritual weakness.” The truth-oriented interpretation is “Not believing...

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American Temples

Feb 25, 15 American Temples

Posted by in art, Book Reviews, Featured, Mormonism, Reviews, Temple

American Temples by Scott Jarvie is a beautiful tribute to LDS Temples built in the United States. Scott spent more than a year living on the road out of an Airstream, traveling more than 40,000 miles from the west coast to the east and back again five times, photographing each LDS temple as he went. Some people might him crazy at worse and ambitious at best; both might apply to Scott, though. He’s spent the past 10 years photographing mainly weddings. He’s not only traveled the United States extensively as a wedding photographer, but also Europe. His inspiration to travel the U.S. and photograph every temple was, in fact, inspiration. In the introduction to the book, he explains: In March of 2013, I went on a road trip to photograph the American Southwest, and somewhere between the Grand Canyon and the Utah border I had “one of those days.” The kind of day that takes a crazy turn. The kind of day where one minute everything is peachy, you haven’t got a care in the world, and you’re content with life – and the next minute something has changed. It’s as if God says, “I see you’re satisfied… don’t be!” I didn’t take off on that two-week road trip for the purpose of self reflection or to figure things out, but simply to fulfill the itch of photography and see new places. I was happy, my career was going well, but inside my heart was placed a seed of desire to do more, and I suddenly sensed a big hole in my life… when a little idea began to creep in… Something that had even been suggested by a friend previously but that I had rejected as an impossibility: What about making a temple book? Each temple features an “Interesting Facts” section, which talks about things like square footage, announcement date, completion date, dedication, and short stories or facts about it.  For example, did you know that the Portland temple sits on land originally purchased in the...

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Be ye therefore emotional

I was asked to do an “emotional kick off” for my relief society this week. I’d had my own emotional meltdown the night before giving my 20 minute workshop so I figured that made me a perfect candidate for teaching the concepts that I needed to use. And I felt a little bit like a hypocrite at the same time. So, as introverted as I’m learning myself to be, I walked myself through my words and my shame and my guilt and my thoughts about my feelings. I noticed that we have really strange feelings and beliefs about strong, overwhelming, emotions – in the LDS Church and humanity in general.  We treat them with distance and only agree to engage them when it’s “most proper” – especially when they are sad or weak emotions…. angry emotions too.  It’s like we feel that we aren’t supposed to be too                                    ,  whatever word(s) might fill that blank. We’re supposed to be happy on the balance of life. More happy than not and more often than not. As I continued to walk my way through me, I saw that of course, as always, in His eternal and ever understanding way, it was in my greatest moment of need that I was given myriad inspiration from my Father that I was able to share with my sisters. That felt good. — ”Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:25 This was the scripture of the day from my favorite “get your scriptures in today” widget on the day that I gave my workshop.  I thought alot about joy because it’s an emotion.  A quick LDS.org search says that there are 95 references to joy in the Old Testamant, 61 in the New Testament, 120 in the Book of Mormon, 33 in the Doctrine and Covenants, and 7 in the Pearl of Great Price.  Joy takes on renditions like joy-ful and re-joice. It is consistently paired with fullness, too!...

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Seeking Liberation

Dec 17, 14 Seeking Liberation

Posted by in Featured

A Gospel of Liberation. A Gospel about liberation. That’s what I need. That’s what I seek. That’s why Church is hard for me sometimes. It can be so individualistic in ways that feel imprisoning to me. I need a gospel that is collective… in voice and in action. I need a collectively liberating Gospel after the tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. I need a gospel that is active in liberating people from captivity, and most importantly, allowing people to name their captors. Especially if I am one of them or complicit in their captivity. Liberation is not comfortable when you are part of the captors. Naming captors is a key element in naming pain, shame, and finding the freedom necessary to be. To move into and through transformative change – conversion, if you will – a chance to be whole. There are times that it feels splitting to be at Church. But, I come. And I stay. And I listen. And I continue to seek glimmers of freedom. Shimmers of liberation. I am not liberated by holding another captive by my ill-informed judgments, believing that it is righteous for me to judge any person beyond myself or those within my stewardship. I am not liberated by having my integrity challenged. I am not liberated by siblings in the gospel who promote fear over family or family bound by conditions. “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say…” He has said, “Love one another…” He has said, “Preach nothing but repentance….” I’ve often wondered what was there to repent about in the 1830s and 40s, of American and British Culture? What was so widespread that everybody needed to be involved in repentance whenever a missionary approached? We hadn’t fully hit industrialization because our industry was still slavery. Imagine God asking for repentance during times of chattel slavery and indentured servitude?  It’s never happened in my Sunday school lessons, and these days, if it isn’t correlated, it isn’t preached, it seems. “But when...

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Christmas Wishing

As a new father, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how my daughter will experience Christmas. My own family was pretty light on holiday traditions. Honestly, there were a few years the lights never went up on the house and we didn’t get around to doing a tree. One year the lights just stayed on the house for the whole year. We just sort of went with the flow. Sometimes people were just too busy to do things, and that never really bothered me. But of course, you want your own children to experience some of the “magic of Christmas” and have all of those warm, soul-filling feelings about the season that you remember fondly. So we fill our homes with the scents of evergreen and cinnamon and peppermint. We make gingerbread and hot chocolate. We prepare meals that make our taste buds dance. We listen to Tchaikovsky and Bing Crosby and the Chipmunks… maybe some Mariah Carrey, in moderation. But how do you make the story of our Savior’s birth come alive for young minds? It’s not a sensory thing. It’s more than good storytelling. Why do hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I read the angels’ words, “Hosannah to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”? It has something to do with conditioning, no doubt. I am sure there are people for whom the Christmas narrative produces none of these feelings. Even knowing that the scriptural record of Christ’s birth is not only contradictory, but in large part, fabricated to fit the purpose of the writers of Luke and Matthew… Nothing can diminish the magic of the telling. Is that the Holy Spirit? Is it that small piece of the supernatural that survives intellectual deconstruction? If so, I want my little girl to feel the Holy Spirit. I want the extra-sensory to have a deeper and more significant impact, than all of the sensory trimmings of Christmas. I guess that’s what I crave from the...

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Permanently Changed but Not Broken

Sep 29, 14 Permanently Changed but Not Broken

Posted by in Featured, Individuality

After my mission I did a lot of fun stuff all at once. I started running a lot and I was in good enough shape that I could bust out 8 miles or so just for fun. The most I ever ran was about 15 miles up the Bonneville Shoreline Trail below Mount Ogden. I took mountain biking seriously and found all sorts of trails around me. I snowboarded for the first time and really liked it. When I ran out of money for lift tickets, I strapped on my snowshoes, threw my board on my back, hiked right up Mount Ogden, and slid down it (not as graceful as I’d hoped, but it was fun). I continued to backpack in the Uinta and Wind River Ranges but that wasn’t anything new. Then I discovered rock climbing, the most thrilling adventure sport yet. I can remember the first time going to a rock climbing gym and feeling my forearms pumped full of blood and utterly fatigued after only a few laps up the wall. I loved it. I knew this would be a source of challenge and adventure for a long time. I immediately bought equipment and made plans. I got good real quick too. A middle weight body type, a decent mental tenacity and a love for pushing the edge made me a good fit for this sport. I’ve never felt the same level of fear and accomplishment as I have while leading a sport route for the first time. The problem with rock climbing is it has great risk. You learn to feel safe with a good belayer but there is always risk. Equipment can fail, you or your partner can lose focus and eventually, you will fall. The question is how far did you fall and how hard did you land? One day I fell. I took my brother and some friends to a new and challenging route. We made it up to the approach and looked at the route deemed...

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Book Review: Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty

Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty is the gripping account of author Heather Young’s tumultuous childhood at the abusive hands of those into whose care she was entrusted, both her foster and Latter-day Saint adoptive parents. With remarkable courage, wit, and honesty, Heather tells of how she and her special-needs older brother, Rex, spent their earliest years in foster care, making only weekend visits to their biological parents, who were fraught with mental health challenges. Moving from one environment of neglect and abuse to another, the two siblings were abruptly taken from their foster home by Oregon’s Children’s Services Division and placed in the care of their profoundly dysfunctional adoptive family, never again to return to the care of their biological parents. There Heather and Rex endured years of exploitation and denigration by those who were supposed to be their protectors and advocates, forced to live with unrelenting, draconian demands, physical beatings, verbal lashings, and deprivation of food and proper medical care. The purpose of their existence in their adoptive home was to enable the ease and comfort of their guardians who, meanwhile, took great care to project outward appearances of compassion and generosity to all beyond the walls of their home. Heather and Rex would at last be free only when Rex’s developmental challenges culminated in their disowning him, expelling him from the home alone, defenseless, and without a way to fend for himself, and Heather escaping at her first opportunity, the very weekend she turned 18. This is only the first part of the story, though, and Heather and Rex’s lives each go on and later intertwine not only with each other, but other figures of their past, in unexpected and inspiring ways. In spite of the incessant crush of abuse, there were glimmers of light and hope along the way. These came in the forms of a trusted school librarian, classmates who came to be close friends, gracious members of their LDS ward, a particularly inspired bishop, and Rob,...

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