Monday, July 24, 2017

Pioneer Day: New Frontiers of Faith

Minerva Teichert's "Get Ye Up Into the High Mountain, O Zion" - Image from LDS.org

I love Pioneer Day. I admit that to outsiders it may seem a weird kind of holiday, peculiar to church members living mainly in the Intermountain West. When I was young and in Primary, we celebrated it with a small parade in the town of Raymond, Alberta. I remember dressing up in clothes my ancestors never would have worn—a woman's beige blouse and a Navajo belt tied around my head like some kind of bandana, trying to look remotely pioneer-ish—and walking hot and tired down the streets. After that, we all sat down on the church lawn and ate ice cream while being taught about the pioneers, including the ones that built my town and made it a place where I could grow up happy in the gospel. 

That is only part of what I celebrate.

Who exactly are we celebrating every July 24th? Who gets to be called a pioneer? We often point out that as the Church grows worldwide, converts are like pioneers, some starting faraway branches and leading new wards. But in the end, modern day pioneers are everywhere. There are pioneers, some born and raised in the church, living among us in the heart of "Zion", doing amazing things and settling new lands in our Church's landscape of belief. They often work quietly, with little to no fanfare, and most would be surprised to be honored as “pioneer."

In general, each of us is a pioneer when we listen to the prophet's call and move forward with faith into the unknown. Each of us is still settling new and unknown territories of our personal faith. For those like me who live in a land already settled, planted, and ploughed by pioneers over a hundred years ago, we can still find many places in the gospel that are unsettled and unsettling. These places call for a new generation of pioneers.  When we stop to look outwards and beyond the borders of our own personal Utah Valleys, we will see that there are new frontiers of faith that are in desperate need of settling.

What are some of these unsettled territories in the Latter-day Saint landscape today?

Today the dry and sparsely settled landscapes we must settle could include the territories of mental illness, understanding and loving church members with same-sex attraction, or trying to stay in the gospel in spite of doubts, to name just a few. Like the early pioneers, there are places today where the Latter-day Saints face deserts of lack of understanding and lack of belonging. But just as the early saints looked long and hard at those deserts and saw Zion, we are a people seized upon by incredible visions of hope. We are a people who know how to make a desert blossom as the rose. We know how to pray up the seagulls when swarms of crickets come to destroy our harvest. We are a people who can irrigate our dried up gardens with water that flows down from the mountains. We are a people who can fight for a place in a hostile land so future Saints can find a safe place dwell. Indeed, the unsettled landscapes I mention are already beginning to rise up with pioneers that move forward in the gospel with great faith.

My ancestors were once called to settle the desert. They were called to Arizona, Southern Utah, Salt Lake City, and finally Cardston and the outlying towns in Southern Alberta. My great grandfather as late as the 1930s was called by the church to sell his home on a prosperous farm in Southern Alberta, pack his bags, and move his family to raise up Zion in the podunk, dried up little town of Rosemary, Alberta. My ancestors, through great sacrifice and inconvenience, were faithful to their prophet's call to settle uninhabited and inhospitable lands. They stuck it out in spite of great adversity to build up Zion. So must we.

Some of us are on the road to Zion in glorious summer, singing hymns and sitting high and comfortable in a covered wagon full of supplies and pulled by oxen. Others may limp along in a blizzard, half frozen and half starved, pulling handcarts with loose wheels. But however we go, we all go together to Zion laden with heavy burdens and the ever-present sting of sacrifice, and none of us have arrived there yet. Where is Zion? It is a place where we are all united, all pure in heart, and where there are no poor among us (Moses 7:18, D&C 97:21). We have a long way to go yet, but there is no doubt that we will get there.

As always, this Church moves forward into some unknown and difficult territories. We all have to grapple with our faith as we do so, but I am certain that future Saints, especially our own children and grandchildren, will be blessed for it. Today as we are called to expand into the new frontier, we are learning to thrive in places that the world pronounces uninhabitable. The world may say to us the same things it said to our Mormon pioneers headed to Utah, "You can't live there! It is an inhospitable place!" Likewise, the world today says, "It is too dangerous in your church for a member with same-sex attraction." "The climate is too dry in your church for a person who doubts." "The gospel is too barren for a person with mental illness." And as in days past, members of the church will grit their teeth and exercise faith and follow the call of the prophets to found new outposts in Zion, learning to irrigate the dry parts by keeping sacred covenants and, above all, learning to support and love and strengthen one another all along the way. We will make the desert blossom as the rose again and again, because miracles follow those who believe. It is happening. It will continue to happen.


Happy Pioneer Day.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Greenhouse

I dreamed I was a plant growing in a large greenhouse, placed among many other plants. There were unlimited species and varieties of plants, and it was all so lush and very beautiful. However, I soon grew tired and frustrated being a plant stuck in the ground. I was not free to move around the greenhouse. Most of all, I longed to experience life outside the greenhouse. I gazed out the glass windows with longing at the world, but I could not go out there, because I was planted in the ground.

My children were growing off me, and they were hanging off my branches like ripening fruit. I looked out the windows and imagined that one day they could escape the greenhouse and be free to run around in the fields outside. I shook my branches and the children fell down, and I was about to tell them to run out the open door and be free, because outside there were all kinds of plants doing all kinds of fun things.

Just then the gardener came and spoke to us. He said that any of us were free to leave, that we had a choice, but he warned us that we were special plants that needed a greenhouse to survive. We were all tropical imports that did not belong in this land and in this climate. If we left the greenhouse, we could live for a time, but we would eventually shrivel up in the sun and die.

Instead, he invited us to put down our roots in the rich soil of the greenhouse and live forever. He told us that in this way we could give fruit, nourished by the good soil he provided, and protected within the safety of the greenhouse. He told us we would have joy and eventually transform into something much more than a plant.

I noticed then that some children ignored the gardener and left the greenhouse, and out the windows I saw that they laughed and danced and lived for a time playing out in the fields of the world, but eventually they lost nourishment, dried up in the unprotected world outside the greenhouse, and died. Others put down their roots near me, and together we continued to grow.

I couldn’t help noticing that the greenhouse was growing. It expanded further and further out into the field, as more and more plants put down their roots into the soil. The gardener was very busy pruning and planting and watering and fertilizing the lush garden that was growing up in the greenhouse, and it seemed that the more he worked the faster the greenhouse grew. I asked the gardener about the greenhouse’s size. He told me it would continue growing forever, until all the uninhabitable fields of the world were covered by his lush greenhouse gardens, and until he had gathered up all of his chosen plants and transplanted them inside the greenhouse, and until the whole earth was transformed and the garden of Eden was made new.

I settled into my place in the garden, full of love and gratitude for my gardener that gave me nourishment and light. Sometimes he pruned me and removed my dead parts, which was painful and difficult, but all that pruning helped me produce more and more fruit. The gardener commanded me to help encourage other plants to settle down in his greenhouse, to warn them about drying up outside in the world, and to teach other plants to submit to the gardener’s pruning, feeding, and watering routines.

As I grew stronger and larger, I absorbed more and more sunlight and deepened my roots. To my great surprise, one day I found myself detaching from the ground.  At that moment the gardener came up to me and embraced me. “This is death,” he told me. “Your work as a plant is finished.” I looked down and was surprised to see that I was no longer a plant, but that I had become like him, that I had legs and arms and hands. I was now a man. 

The gardener took me by the hand and introduced me to another piece of arid land. He taught me how to make my own greenhouse, how to prune and water it and help it give fruit. He taught me to become a gardener like him, and as I continued the work he started, I had joy and fulfillment for eternity.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Historical Mormonism

I was listening to a podcast today about LDS issues and this statement struck me:
“We on the whole, Mormons, don’t do theology really. We don’t have theologians. We have historians. That’s where our issues are fought out.”1
That is a fascinating statement to me.

History can be a dangerous and complicated place for a religion to fight a battle. It is a particularly vulnerable place for a religion as new as ours is. It is our insistence on (quite recent) actual events, actual visions, and actual miracles that makes our religion peculiar, often laughable to other peoples. But fighting the battle of historical miracles gives power to our claims.

For example, our church teaches that the cornerstone of our religion is the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture translated from golden plates—plates that we claim were actually hefted out of a hillside and given to a boy prophet by an angel, and then handled and looked at by a dozen plus witnesses. Each witness swore their name to a document, claiming that they saw with their eyes and “handled with their hands”2 and turned the pages of very literal plates of gold. These were gold plates that were plausible enough that local enemies of the prophet certainly believed in them; at least they went through great lengths to try and steal them from the prophet. These were gold plates that were hidden in a tree stump, in a barrel of grain, under a bed, up in a barn. This is all a matter of historical record. One can dispute the record if they wish. It could, after all, be an elaborate hoax involving dozens of people. But we latter-day saints, much to the consternation of some critics, believe in the historicity of actual gold plates.

Not to mention the history found on the plates themselves—not just a straightforward little story, but one that is extremely complex, far beyond the education level of our little 24 year old hayseed prophet—one that includes at least three groups of people that all lived in the Americas during a thousand year plus historical time-frame, making for a wonderfully complicated story. Besides the depth of doctrine and incredible clarity of teaching, we also have accounts of ancient government systems, compelling family dynamics, ancient warfare tactics, a system of coinage, political treatises, and much more. There is no shortage of historical claims found there that can be examined, disputed, and engaged with, and while it contains the “fullness of the gospel of Christ,” it is clear that The Book of Mormon is not a mere theological treatise. It is a historical record preserved with incredible detail and force, with remarkable spiritual weight heavier than the gold it was written on, and it is meant to convince us all, “Jew and Gentile, that Jesus is the Christ.” It is extraordinarily compelling evidence to me at least. Those that treat it lightly, reject it, or ignore it; I believe they do so at their own spiritual peril.

Latter-day saints also believe in a historical God, one that came down to Joseph Smith with an actual body in the Spring of 1820—that He had hands, eyes, ears, hair, toenails, and all the rest—and didn’t just poof around like a magical mystery force in the universe, but actually pointed to His Son with a real finger, calling a teenage farmboy by his name to answer his prayer. Imagine! For us it is a remarkably real and historical event.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, we also believe that real, tangible, actual angels came down from heaven and put their actual hands on Joseph Smith’s head to restore the priesthood. The Latter-day Saint claim to authority is not a mere abstraction. It was a historical event in the same way that Moses spoke to God in the burning bush, that Israelites actually walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, and that Christ was actually resurrected and appeared to his disciples. The story of the restoration by the prophet Joseph Smith is so simple that my young children can tell the story. That is powerful stuff to me.

Did God really appear to Joseph Smith in New York? Did he see an angel named Moroni in his bedroom? Did the eleven witnesses really see and handle plates? These are the questions that rise from the history claims, not theology.

“Sure,” a person may say, “But there is no real proof.”

Well, this is history, not science. No one can prove history, but what we can do is look at the evidence to more accurately inform our understanding. While our faith issues are fought out in history, historical proof is not the basis of our faith. Proof is not how God works. We have a God who took back the gold plates. Why? Because He expects us to live by faith, which is frustrating to some, but learning faith is precisely why we came to earth. We already had proof when we lived in heaven.

In the restoration narrative, yes, there are certain questions that are raised. Everyone should grapple with those questions in some way. Questions and doubts are a necessary catalyst for exercising faith. For example, Why are there multiple and contradictory accounts of the First Vision? Why did Joseph dig for gold as a youth? Why did he fail in his business endeavors? And what about polygamy, for heaven’s sake! No easy answers there. The history is complicated enough, perhaps by design, to demand a humble prayer, a wrestle of some sort for all seekers of truth, rather than be led gently down the road of easy, passive belief.

So we are back at the basics. If our issues are historical, not theological, then we must study the historical evidence to formulate our spiritual questions, most crucially by studying the Book of Mormon, and we do so with sincerity, humility and faith,3 and then we ask God.
__________________________________
1. Daniel Peterson in “Tough Questions about Mormon Polygamy.” Retrieved from http://www.ldsperspectives.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/37LDSP-Tough-Questions-about-Mormon-Polygamy.pdf

2. The Testimony of Eight Witnesses.

3. Moroni 10:3-5

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day Talk

How does a person speak about Mother’s Day? I have been asking myself that question all week.

Mother’s Day is a tricky kind of day. It is tricky because not everyone feels all the time the joy of motherhood that is usually taught over the pulpit. Some women absolutely love it! They adore waking up before church and getting breakfast spilled on them in bed, and they love receiving home-made cards from tiny hands covered in glitter, and they feel peace, fulfillment and purpose as they consider their magnificent role as a mother in Zion. That is truly commendable, and I do not want to diminish at all their experience.
But I also know that this is not the experience of every woman here. Some wonderful women in my life have told me that too often the talks, the platitudes, the rhapsody about the glory of motherhood makes them feel small and inadequate, sometimes overwhelmed. I believe that every one of us here is a mix of sinner and saint, and the classic platitudes don’t always explain what it means to be a mother well enough.

There are women who don’t have children or are not married, for many different reasons, and some have told me that sometimes this day, Mother’s Day, is more than they can bear. And for some, Mother’s Day may remind people of a mother that maybe was a little more sinner than saint, and it doesn’t match the ideal that is being talked about over the pulpit.

In the end, all of this talk about the ideals of motherhood can be a hard thing, because not a single one of us here quite measures up to the perfect ideal on our own.

However, I do have a testimony of motherhood, that it is a key part of God’s plan. I want to celebrate with you the wonderful women here that are building up God’s work through their unique and personal talents and special gifts that God has given them.
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I have been surrounded and outnumbered by women my whole life, beginning with my five sisters. I am currently studying to be a registered nurse, so I know that being outnumbered won’t change anytime soon. When I graduated in English with a minor in Women’s Studies at BYU, I was the only male at the time in the Women’s Studies program! I know, I am slightly weird, as anyone who knows me well enough soon finds out. In school I learned quickly that few women like to be put on a pedestal. Talking about women as if they are some kind of ethereal angel objects works well in Tennyson and Shakespeare, but actually works out terrible in real life. I learned that women generally want to be treated like the complex and diverse people they are, not angels in the house.

For example, no mother I have ever met doesn’t occasionally hide in the bathroom from her children, sometimes with a jar of Nutella and a spoon. I have not met a mother who has not felt her blood pressure rise as her children yell and hit each other in the back of a car. No grandmother I know doesn’t fret and worry sometimes about how to help a struggling or wayward adult child or grandchild, or worry about how to say the right thing in a difficult situation. No woman I know, whether she is a mother or not, has not had a moment where they wonder how they are going to do it—how they can rise up to the impossible demands placed on them as a daughter of God.

Elder Ballard said the following at a Women’s Conference 2 years ago:

“When you join with other women of covenant in unity and harmony, there is no limit to your influence for good. Your contributions…are immeasurable. I am particularly impressed by your ability to nurture…This is a gift from God and is an important part of your divine endowment from a loving Heavenly Father. [Nurturing] is a Christlike attribute—a blessing to a world that desperately is in need of nurturing.”

Do we have the vision of what women, all women, can do in this church?

As a missionary, I served for a time as a branch president in a small village in Honduras. The branch was almost all women, with only one active priesthood holder besides the missionaries:  one teenage boy who blessed and passed the sacrament each week. The church was less than a few years old, and these tough, valiant women of grit and perseverance dragged their children, single and alone, to raise up Zion in that little rented house. I will never forget their power as I, a ridiculous sunburnt Gringo teenager, tried to let them do their thing without getting in their way. Now ten years later, that branch is large and thriving and full of good men and families. They all owe it all to those incredible women that basically ran that branch and built it to what it is. Elder Ballard is right when he says that the world is in need of more women like these.

I am living proof of the influence of good women. The most obvious, of course, being my own mother, who created for me this body, and then went on to put up with me for over 30 years. She has nurtured me through tantrums about matching jogging pants, and been there for me during personal struggles as a young adult, and she has really made me who I am today. And I am also here because of the nurturing influence of countless other women: aunts, primary teachers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, music leaders, and of course my wife, all of whom invest their energy and patience into putting up with me and loving me in spite of me.

We learn a lot about womanhood in the scriptures. Eve was our first mother, and the restoration gives us marvelous insights about her and her foresight in the plan of salvation.

Eve was given a difficult choice in the garden of Eden. She could have remained in the garden, never experiencing the inconvenience, pain and sorry of mortality and childbirth. Or she could partake of the fruit and put in motion the great plan of salvation. Our religion is the only one I know of that teaches so clearly the wisdom of Eve, that she was valiant and thoughtful, she caught the vision of the plan certainly before Adam did, and that she made the right choice. “Adam [and Eve] fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy.”

So the purpose of mortality is to have joy, yes. But why then did God say to Eve in Genesis, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…”?

Why would God multiply sorrow for her valiant choice? As a husband and father, I share to a lesser extent in that sorrow that is parenting, and at times have to ask, “Is all this sorrow really necessary?” Right now I am in the stage of life where that sorrow includes nailpolish in the carpet, sudden dirty diapers when we are already running late, bullying at school, and where on earth did you leave your shoes! I am sure that sorrow will continue to multiply as my 4 children grow into rebellious and moody teenagers, leading to late nights waiting up for them to come home, or addressing difficult questions I don’t know how to answer. As I grow as a father, I am sure that “sorrow” will continue to multiply into worries over grandchildren.

For those here who are not parents, that “sorrow” given to mother Eve and her posterity may be particularly difficult, because it includes the heartache of not having children. It may mean a failed marriage, a wayward child, or trying to fit in as a single person in a family-centered church. Again, if the purpose of mortality is to have joy, why is there all this sorrow?

Eve explains it better than anyone. “It is better for us to pass through sorrow, that we may know the good from the evil.”

No woman or man can experience the joy of motherhood or fatherhood without passing through sorrow in some way or another.

Each of us chose to come down to earth to have a mortal experience, to be tried and tested, and to know for ourselves what opposition and suffering are like. I would even go so far that Heavenly Father designed this life to be hard on purpose—imagine, on purpose!—so that we could learn and grow by having difficult experiences. That same divine being who created beautiful fields and mountains, wildflowers and sunsets to give us joy, also went on to create mosquitoes, sunburns, hail, wind, and ferocious bears that may just eat you while you try and enjoy the scenery.

Lehi talked to his son Jacob, saying,

“And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my firstborn in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren…
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.”

Here Lehi is explaining why Jacob has had to suffer so much in the wilderness. Well, I also can’t help but think of Jacob’s mother, Sariah, the formerly posh housewife of a well-to-do man in the Jerusalem suburbs. Picture her, living on raw meat, riding pregnant, stricken with morning-sickness on a camel in a desert, giving birth in a tent, all while trying to sort out some sons that keep trying to kill each other. Why all this sorrow in her journey to the promised land?

Well even Sariah, valiant as she was, had to pass through the wilderness, to journey through the lone and dreary world to get to the promised land. She and each of us have to learn, to grow, and to experience sorrow in order to appreciate the good, and to learn to choose good over evil.

So is that all motherhood is? A “vail of tears”? I could end the talk here and all of us could feel pretty rotten about it.

“Men are that we might have joy.” I have a testimony that there is a Savior, Jesus Christ, who is central to this plan, As Paul taught “if in this life alone we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.” But our hope is not in this world, but in Christ, who is the source of all lasting joy and peace. Our vision of what we are doing in our families is eternal, and we have been given a Savior to redeem us from our sins, to bear us up in our weakness, and as Alma taught us in the Book of Mormon, “he will succor us in our infirmities.”

Elder Holland spoke recently about mothers in his talk “Behold Thy Mother.” He said,
Today I declare from this pulpit what has been said here before: that no love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.”
As Elder Holland said, Motherhood is not just an act of sorrow, but it is also an act of love, and that love is what gives purpose and lasting joy to the sorrow of our lives.

“Faith, hope, and charity” said Paul, “but the greatest of these is charity…for charity never faileth.”

Christ taught us how to love. None of us loves as perfectly as he did, and all of us struggle to love each other, and that may include a mother trying to love a fidgety toddler who doesn’t listen. Because parenting is truly an impossible task on our own, we need help.

Seven years ago this month exactly, my wife was expecting a baby. I also had a 2 year old. I had just graduated from university and I was back at my parent’s house with no real prospects at a job. It dawned on me, “What have I done!” I remember driving to Lethbridge for a long-shot job interview as a health care aide. Certainly not the glamorous job I imagined after my degree, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why would they hire an English degree to take care of Seniors. What on earth am I doing?” But I was a little desperate, and I knew I had to put Becky through nursing school somehow, so there I was. I was overwhelmed by my responsibility as a father and provider, and I felt inadequate. Two children and no job.

As I was driving, crying a little, there suddenly came over me an overwhelming feeling from the Holy Ghost that I was not alone as a father. The scripture that came searing into my mind that rainy day was from Doctrine and Covenants, “That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”

The weak and the simple! That’s it! I already knew that I was weak and simple, but I felt in my mind the realization that it was okay, that those were precisely the Lord’s qualifications to do his work. I knew I was not alone, and that if I relied on my Savior, he would help me grow into the Father my children need.

As parents, each of are expected to feel insufficient, weak and simple. Motherhood is daunting, as is fatherhood. However, if we each turn to Christ for help, taking his yoke upon us and becoming his disciples, he will “succor us in our infirmities, according to the flesh.” I think of succor as a nurturing word, the way a mother succors her child, feeds it, encourages it, holds it, pats its back when it cries, and gives it comfort when it is afraid or tired or overwhelmed. Like infants, that’s what Christ does for us.

As parents and as disciples, Christ bears with us our infirmities and weaknesses, just like our own mothers bore us for nine long and uncomfortable months. Both our mothers and Christ continue to bear with us as they raise us, teach us, nurture us, and support us. And finally, just as our mothers gave birth to us into mortal life, our Savior will lead us through and bear us into eternal life.

What is the price for this work?

When Christ appeared to his disciples, and also to the Nephites, he invited them to come and feel the wounds in his hands and feet and side. I have often pondered why. Obviously, the people could see it was Jesus. The Nephites had just seen him come down from heaven in light. They had heard and felt the voice saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.” There could not be any doubt about who he was.

And yet he invited all—the whole multitude—and it must have taken quite some time, to come and feel the wounds for themselves. And when they did, they, all of the multitude, did fall at his feet and worshiped him.
Christ connects with us through his wounds. Though he has all power, he did not show off and create for the multitude a planet, not even a single flower. He showed his disciples the things that made him vulnerable and relatable, the wounds of his suffering for our sins and weaknesses.

Each of us, including I am sure, the mothers here, carry wounds, sometimes we sing it as “sorrow that the eye can’t see.” Is it any wonder that if we try to connect with each other over Instagram through photoshopped pictures of perfect kids, perfect meals, perfect lives, broadcasting our successes broadcasted over social media, that at the end of the day we may all feel a little hollow? This is something I struggle with personally—I don’t want to be weak and vulnerable! And yet if we are to “mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort” and have “hearts knit together in unity and love” we have to share our burdens—our struggles as mothers, as fathers, single members, childless members, and as disciples of Christ.

Christ’s saving act of love for us came with wounds. If motherhood comes closest to that love, maybe it should follow that motherhood (or the lack thereof) comes with its own set of wounds.

Child-birth is a very physical and visceral experience, and there are very real physical wounds left:  scars and stretch marks and varicose veins and all the rest. I have been around women enough to know that they love to talk about their birth stories. “My first pregnancy was terrible, I was sick every day!” or “I pushed for four hours!” and so forth. It is a great way mothers connect—through the physical wounds of childbirth. However, I believe there are emotional wounds as well, ones that continue well after that child has arrived. That kind of love—when a woman creates a human being, a soul, a child of God, and commits herself to that child, bearing the sorrows of raising it to adulthood and beyond—that kind of love leaves marks. I also believe there are wounds of women who yearn for that blessing but do not receive it in mortality. As disciples of Christ, it is okay—even necessary—to share those burdens and wounds in appropriate ways. To speak up and say, “I feel alone. I need your help.” As we bear one another’s burdens, we are better able to point ourselves to the Savior and follow his call to come unto him, so that he may bear us together.

Christ on the cross said unto John, like he says to each of us, “Behold thy mother.” I believe that means beholding and recognizing the wounds, the sacrifices, and their endless work in bearing and nurturing a new generation.

In Matthew 25, Christ says,
Then shall the King say… Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee naked, and clothed thee? or in prison, and came unto thee?  
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
I can think of no more obvious way that a disciple can clothe the naked and feed the hungry than what a mother does, and they do it day after day. Sometimes clothing the naked means wrestling a 3 year old into his clothes as he squirms out of your arms and tries to run away. Sometimes feeding the hungry means sighing heavily as you get down that bowl of cereal for your picky six year old because he won’t touch that healthy casserole you worked hard to make. Sometimes visiting those in prison means supporting and loving unconditionally a wayward child that may have left the church, or finds themselves in a prison of sin or addiction.

Whatever your calling as a woman in Zion, I testify that if you do these things to “one of the least of these”which certainly snot-nosed kids fit the bill—whether you are a mother in this life or not, you will hear those words, “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

In closing, I want to share a story about my own great great grandmother, Eva Leota Hochstrasser Hansen. She was a pioneer woman and midwife in Aetna outside of Cardston. She was pregnant with her eleventh child when her husband died. Back then there was no social assistance, no welfare, or subsidized income. They were in the boonies and alone. She struggled with minimal income for some time to provide for her numerous children. One day, the family sat down for dinner, except there was none. There was no food left in the house. Eva said the blessing on the food, saying, “Lord, we have no more food in the house. I have done everything I can.” Suddenly the prayer was interrupted by a knock on the door. Brother Joseph Ellison was at the door with bag of flour and some pork. He said simply that he had been impressed that there was a need in the Hansen home, and then he left.

I am so grateful for mothers and women of faith that mete out their sometimes meagre substance to their children. Sometimes a mother’s flour runs low, sometimes it’s their patience, or their faith; and at some time, I imagine all of us may find ourselves like my Great great grandmother, sitting at an empty table, our resources and energy spent, and surrounded by hungry mouths, or hungry souls.

I know that because of the atonement, Christ will provide a way to sustain all of us, especially mothers, in our calling to nurture and provide for the children of God.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

O That I Were An Angel

Me Blustering on my Trumpet
I have graduated from Ammon this week and been reading in Alma 29. I read it a year ago and wrote out some thoughts before, but this time I felt like I was rediscovering it, so went through and changed some of my notes from before. It starts out in verse 1:
"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with a voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be sorrow upon all the face of the earth."

Like I talked about in my last post about Ammon, I have been troubled by this gospel sharing stuff in my life, so The Book of Mormon is on a roll here. What is my role in other people's lives, and how am I supposed to help them in the gospel? Are not members of the Church supposed to "wear out our lives" preaching repentance? Are we not our brother's keeper? What are we supposed to do, how far are we supposed to go in our efforts? Is there a limit to how far to push? When do we live and let live? What is the formula?

So Alma's story is terribly unfair. He went around like a rotten twerp trying to mess up the church his Father worked so hard to establish. And then what happened? He got the elite angel treatment to get him back on the straight and narrow. And then he was High Priest and prophet. Yes, it was a "harrowing" experience he had to go through first, and of course he had to repent and try and undo the damage he had done. But he had the miracle, the angel, the divine intervention that saved his soul.

In that poignant verse, I feel and can relate to his frustration. "O that I were an angel!" an angel like the multitude of angels that have saved me in my life. So often I see where I have ended up, based on divine interventions and miraculous displays from my own angels: parents and leaders and teachers and friends I didn't deserve, and I shrink at the injustice of it. I see others who keep on sinning and approaching misery and I think "Why not intervene for them? And if you won't send an angel, then for heaven's sake let me go be that angel to smarten these people up! They would have to repent with my thundering voice. It worked for me!"

Verse 3:
"Nevertheless I do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted me."
SIN? Sin sin sin sin sin! Well, there's another one. But why on earth would it be a sin to wish to cry repentance! Well it's not, except for how you do it. What are my motives for sharing the gospel? When I am honest with myself, I have to admit that often for me, pride is a major motivator, and I hate that. Sometimes I do things because I want to feel like I am good enough somehow. Sometimes I want my own glory.

So my methods sound a bit like Satan's plan. My own glory, plus incorporating Satan's idea of coercion and force as a means to an end. Geez Louise. But on the other hand, just imagine if Satan's sophistry, urging, and manipulative argument were used for good! We'd have Zion well established in no time. 

Remember Gandalf? "Don't tempt me Frodo! Understand that I would use this Ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." (Haha, LOTR references are da best.) Like Gandalf once considered, as Frodo held out Sauron's ring of power, what if I could use a voice of thunder and coercion to do good! What a happy, righteous world I could make with Satan's tools!

Alma continues,

"I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea I know that he allotteth unto men, yea he decreeth unto them the decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction."

God's ways are different. Alma acknowledges this frustrating and marvelous truth:  God gives us what we want. "He granteth unto men according to their desires" whether unto life or death. No righteous man, not even the prophet Alma, can meddle with that.

How is that for models of parenting:  "You want it? You want to eat that stick of butter that will make you throw up later? Are you sure? OK, here you go kids!"

Well not really like that, I guess. It does say for "him that knoweth good and evil," he lets us have it. For example, I don't ask Lucia whether she would like a diaper change or not. 

But here on earth, each of us have, in a sense grown up enough in heaven and we have all moved out of Mom and Dad's house and we are making our own choices and following our own desires. If I am a grown man and choose to play video games all day instead of get a job, for example, Dad can try and persuade me to be responsible and grow up, send messengers, awesome CEOs to the house with intriguing job opportunities to tempt me out of unemployment, but he can't force me. I am my own man, now. Yes, God gave me my body, this earth, my stuff, but in a remarkable manifestation of love and respect, he gives me the chance to choose what to do with it. Use it, abuse it, waste it, or invest in it for eternal reward, it's up to me. He respects my right to choose in this exciting new world of agency and choices.

So why did Alma get an angel? I guess we are told actually:  because of the prayers of his righteous parents and other church members. Prayer matters. Quite often it is all we can do. He hears our pleadings for our wayward friends, siblings, children, parents. So going back to Alma and my question. What do I do for someone who is making a wrong choice? Well, there's prayer. Is that all? Well, if I have stewardship over someone either as a parent, a family member, or friend, I guess I can try to teach them, share with them my experience and testimony. How? Well, certainly not with the thundering trumpeting voice of an angel, maybe because the voice of an angel coming through me, a struggling sinner, would sound like a self-righteous, hypocritical whine. Less like a trumpet and more like a squeaky bagpipe full of hot air.

So going back to my original question:  how does someone as imperfect as me teach the gospel? What is the solution? How far do I go? What is the formula?

The formula is love. It has only ever been love. Perfect love is the only intervention. Only Christ has that ability because only he loves perfectly, but he gives us some of his love when we ask for it. Then He gives us opportunities to serve and develop that charity by reaching out to each other. Not with our own motives or agendas. But with His love and in his way. It happens, not as often as it should, but when it does, it is a miracle. Like when a home teacher who, with love unfeigned, serves a family and invites them back. Or a mother who never stops praying every night, for years, that one day her child will return to the gospel path. Or when someone forgives a terrible betrayal of trust. Or a friend who continues to love and support and be there for someone, in spite of their wrong choices.

Act and teach and persuade with as much love as you feel, and if you need more, pray for more of it, and Christ will give it to you. If you are not doing it out of love, stop doing what you are doing and pray for some. Pray with "all energy of soul, that you might be filled with that love." It is that part for me that takes great effort, "all energy of soul" and incredible selflessness and patience to obtain, which I usually don't have on hand. Sometimes it's too hard and I end up blustering at people to get their act together, sometimes just in my head. That's not helpful. I know it's not. It is love, only love, that can permanently change people's hearts, and when we have it, we can be guided to know what to do by the gentle, still small voice of the Holy Ghost.

In conclusion:  in my desire to do good, it is perfect love that makes miracles. And unfortunately for me, it is there that I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Quiet Ammon

Alma 17-20

I have been reading those chapters this week. They tell the story of Ammon. Ammon the missionary, the arm-chopping, service-oriented, falling-to-the-ground-unconscious-with-joy guy. It is quite a bizarre story, really, but with some great lessons.

I have always felt a lot of anxiety about missionary work. I love the gospel a lot. It has absolutely changed my life. I want to share it. I am excited about the truths I am discovering and how they change my life and give me hope. I would be a poop if I didn't try to share it somehow.

But how do I share it? Well, surprisingly, one of the things I learned in these chapters is to just be quiet.

When when I left on my mission, Dad gave me a Father's blessing and told me to study Ammon. I always remembered that. In past readings, I took it to mean that the key part of missionary work is service and love, which it absolutely is.  Before Ammon even opened his mouth about the gospel, he offered to be Lamoni's servant, and he served with enthusiasm.
"Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for he doth remember all my commandments to execute them."
Executed all his commandments indeed, and then executed a bunch of people too. Oh, Ammon. What a guy.

And maybe Ammon might have been a sneaky twerp at first and just wanted to serve him to convert him. I don't really know. But doesn't love come after serving someone anyway? Maybe we all kind of fake it at first. When we first get that Home or Visiting teaching assignment do we really love those people on a slip of paper? Some might, but I don't usually. Does that mean we sit around and wait for that love before we serve/visit them? No. When we really serve someone, after time that love grows and it gets real. We learn in later chapters that the love that Ammon developed for the King was so strong and real, to the point where he would risk death defending Lamoni from his Father who tried to kill him on the road. Then it says that the King of the Lamanites, Lamoni's father was so moved by Ammon because he saw that love, and ended up being converted also.
"And when he saw that Ammon had no desire to destroy him, and when he also saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly..."
Love. Service. Miracles. Good stuff there, and something I am fumbling with and working on. As always, without charity we are nothing but sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.

However, what impressed me this time reading these chapters was how Ammon also knew how to be quiet. After cutting off the arms and being a hero, saving his flocks, and then remembering to prepare Lamoni's horses as an impressive bonus, he asked,
"What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king? And the king answered him not for the space of an hour."
An hour is a long time to just sit there staring at each other. It would be awkward. I don't like that kind of silence. I can't help but think that if I were Ammon, I would be rattling off some lesson or principle or testimony after five minutes of an awkward pause. I am there to convert the Lamanites! Let's get this party started! Why didn't Ammon do that? Why did he wait for so long?

Well, first maybe he let Lamoni sort out his thoughts. If you have shared or served or done something for someone, let them think about it on their own. People should not be told what to think. Maybe people need time to come to their own conclusions. Have faith that the Spirit can work on them in the Lord's time. Secondly, I'm sure Ammon wasn't just staring and thinking about his hangnail in that hour. He probably prayed that the Lord would do his thing. And he probably prayed hard that he would have the spirit to know what to say.  In that "hour" or month or year period of time, maybe we can just be quiet and pray: pray for the right words, and pray that God will go ahead of us to prepare hearts with the Holy Ghost, which is something we can never do alone. Ultimately, this is not our work. Christ is the Good Shepherd. It's his job to look after his sheep. At best, we are mediocre shepherds, and that's only if we do our best.

Another point is that Ammon's acts did the talking in this instance. He chopped off arms and saved the day, and then was humble enough to do a simple act of service like preparing the horses for the King. Let our actions speak. Talk is cheap. Oh, how I need that lesson sometimes.

In the words of President Uchtdorf:
"You and I may speak most eloquently of spiritual things. We may impress people with our keen intellectual interpretation of religious topics. We may rhapsodize about religion and "dream of [our] mansion above." But if our faith does not change the way we live--if our beliefs do not influence our daily decision--our religion is vain." (He will Place You on His Shoulders and Carry You Home, April 2016)
I remember Grandpa Matkin, specifically with parenting but it goes broader than that too, saying, "There are only three ways to teach the gospel. The first is example. The second is example. If that doesn't work, then try example." Nicely put.

After that awkward hour, King Lamoni was finally ready to listen, and Ammon "being filled with the Spirit of God" was ready to teach. That was when the miracle of conversion happened. In Joseph Smith's words, "he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together" (D&C 50:22).

That doesn't happen with eager little interjections at any hint of interest, pouncing like a crouching cheetah, with words like "I know exactly the answer!" and other zealous words. Even if you are right, seldom will you go away edified and rejoicing together that way. Yes, this is something I am terrible at doing. You have all probably been victim to this, for which I apologize. My blog post itself might fit this category. Again, sorry.

So based on the story here is my summary for how to share the gospel.
The Ammon Missionary Method
1. Prepare through prayer and fasting and scripture study. (Oh, that is in the backstory I didn't mention. Alma 17:3 Kind of important.)
2. Serve! Develop love!
3. Live the gospel in such a way that people notice your mad skills at cutting off arms (or some other related activity.)
4. Be Quiet. At least an hour. Let God do his thing, preparing both you and the individual.
5. Teach according to "the spirit of prophesy." Not with your own words or clever understanding of the gospel, but with the Holy Ghost.
Basically, my lesson to myself, which may be different from your lesson, is to quit skipping ahead to step 5. Steps 1-4 allow the Lord to be more fully involved in the process. It invites the Holy Ghost. For me, I need to learn to be quiet.

Does this mean I will be quiet and end my scripture study blog posts? Oh, probably not, but one can always hope.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Little Stones that Shine

I had a hard week--nothing terrible, just weary and a few things didn't work out the way I wanted them to. As we all do, I guess, I wondered yet again why things don't seem to work out. I have nothing if not good intentions, but I usually come up short in the end. So last Friday as I lay pondering my apparent failures and lackluster attempts at life, I thought about the Brother of Jared and his journey to the promised land in dark suffocating barges. I re-read the story this weekend, focusing on Ether 2-3. Read it.

First off, who on earth would get get in those little pitch dark, suffocating, "tight like unto a dish" barges, with no steering, no air, and only hope they would get blown across the ocean to the right spot in a new land thousands of miles away, and manage to crawl out alive?

And yet here we. As spirits we willingly boarded our frail, darkened, suffocating, mortal vessels, and came to earth to receive a body and be tested. We somehow had enough faith that the Lord would steer us home to the promised land, across the overwhelming ocean of a fallen world, and back to God. It's a trope that shows up more than a few times in the scriptures. I can picture and identify well with the Brother of Jared staring hard at those little barges on the beach, gazing out at the endless ocean horizon, seeing the crashing waves, and probably feeling a fair bit of panic: 

Ether 2:18-19
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying:  O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me. And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
In other words, "Um, Lord? These barges you designed? There is no light, no way to steer, and no air. We are all going to die."

Of course, the Lord provided the answer for the steering and for the air. First, I'll blow you where I want you to go. Second, go cut a breathing hole in the top and bottom of your "tight like a dish" barges, and just seal it up if the ocean pours in on your head, quick, before it sinks you. (Not all that comforting, but sure.)

Then comes the Brother of Jared's piercing question that has resonated with me so much this week.

Ether 2:22
"O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"
There are many times when I feel like I am sailing in the dark. The Lord's response brought me great comfort, and then a challenge:

Ether 2:23-25
What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
And behold I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? 
Whatever "mountain waves shall dash upon [me] and whatever depths of the sea swallow me up, the Lord has "prepared me against these things." Because of the Lord, I can be "as a whale in the midst of the sea." I can make it through hard times. Because of the atonement and resurrection, we all can pass through the gulf of death and sin and arrive on the shores of the promised land, eternal life. Because of Christ, I am "prepared against theses things."

But when it comes to lighting, there is this challenge: "What do you want me to do?" He puts some of that responsibility on us.

We know the story. The Brother of Jared gets to work making clear white stones out of molten rock. This must have involved no small effort to melt down and refine rock until it was clear glass. Incredible heat, pressure, and time to make these sixteen little stones. Then he took these stones that still did not give off any light by themselves, made the trip to climb the mountain, and asked:
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.
Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.
 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.
And then the Lord puts forth his finger, touches those lackluster rocks, and makes them shine.

I love that dialogue and the faith to ask the Lord to touch his lackluster rocks and make them shine. As I consider my little stones of effort as a Dad, as a husband, as a missionary, as a friend, as a brother, in my church callings; as I think about all the things I try to do on my own and the many ways things don't work out, all my good intentions that sit there like rocks in the dark, I am reminded how important it is that we to go back to the Savior and ask him in faith to put forth his finger and bless our attempts. In the words of the sacrament hymn, "Bless our efforts day by day." (Hymn 170 God Our Father, Hear Us Pray

And like the Brother of Jared said, I also have found that more often than not, the miracles and light of Christ shines in great power in ways that "look small unto the understanding of men." It is by small and simple things, not grand manifestations, that God does his work.

Christ is the light of the world. He is the only one who can help us cross the deep not in darkness, but in light. There is significant temple imagery in this story that is worth pointing out. As we make the effort to attend the temple, ascending the mountain so to speak, in our own way we can present to God our little stones of discipleship and ask the Lord to make them shine. He is willing to put forth his hand to accept our offering, and like Moses we can descend back to the world with our countenances illuminated, and our daily work ready to shine with his light. As we serve each other and keep our covenants, our daily efforts that may be dull and lackluster can shine if we remember to rely on Christ. His light, through us, can illuminate the way for those that we share space with on our voyage in our terrifying little barges of mortality.

I was reminded studying this profound little story this weekend how much I need to stop making my stones shine on my own. I was reminded how I need to increase my faith in the Savior, turn to him with my efforts, and let him stretch forth his hand, letting him shine his light and do his work through me.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Noah revisited

Noah’s story has some similarities to today.

Genesis 6:11-12:
“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”
The world we live in is a corrupt place, but it is not quite as bad as Noah’s day. There is much good. Zion is being built, and it is gathering goodness, and that goodness is growing both inside and outside the church. What exciting, wonderful things are happening! But anyone can see that the flood of worldliness and wickedness is also rising at an alarming pace.

Genesis 6:18:
“But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.”
Like Noah, God has established his covenant with me, and with each one of us who is baptized. There is a reason the flood is often referred to as a baptism of the earth. Our own baptismal covenant by water ushers us into the ark. The ark? Yes, because the ark is a great metaphor for the Church.

The ark was a common symbol used often to represent the church in ancient Christianity. Sometimes they would actually build their churches to resemble ships. In many churches, people still call the main chapel area the “nave” which is the Latin word for ship. Noah's ark was a common painting in early Christian churches and religious structures in the first several centuries after Jesus’ death. The idea is that the church is like the ark. You board the ship, quite literally at least once a week, to stay above the rising flood of worldliness and sin, or else you drown.

Since the restoration, Brigham Young brought the boat symbol back to the Church when he talked about “The Old Ship Zion":
“We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “Ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean!’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion,’ let us stay in it.” (As quoted by Elder M. Russell Ballard in Stay in the Boat and Hold On!)
The ship is solid. It is a true ship. It is guided by our captain, Jesus Christ. Just like when the apostles went sailing with Christ and they thought they would perish in the storm, and wondered why on earth their Master seems to be just sleeping, we collectively face stormy waves and wonder why it is such a rough voyage. It is helpful to reread the words of the hymn “Master the Tempest is Raging” in that context. The church, founded by Christ and bearing his name, is unsinkable. “No waters can swallow the ship where lies / The Master of ocean and earth and skies.” (Sorry I pounded this song on the piano too loud when growing up, Hayley!)

Of course, we can leap off the ship whenever we want. Lots of people seem to be doing fine floating around attached to little buoys of truth, and staying afloat without the fancy schmancy ship of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But leaving the ship will result in some kind of spiritual drowning. You just get waterlogged with worldly philosophies, and when the waves get big enough, anyone’s lungs may eventually choke with the incorrect doctrine and sinful practices that engulf them. Most importantly, leaving the ship of Christ means spiritual death because you are separating yourself from the only captain, Jesus Christ who can sail you safely home. Keeping our covenants by staying aboard binds us to him.

It is possible to not always see eye to eye with fellow members of the ship’s crew. If you disagree with God’s first mate or a member of his crew, either the apostles or your bishop or your Relief Society president, fine. But stay aboard, have faith, wait it out, work it out with God with humility and prayer, and for heaven’s sake don’t go leaping into the wild blue deep over it. (Again, see Elder Ballard’s talk Stayin the Boat and Hold On! 

For more reasons on why the Church matters and why we can’t just sail to heaven alone on our little rafts of personal understanding, Elder Christofferson offers some great breakdown here: “Why the Church?” 

What role did the ark/church play in Noah’s journey? Was it just an aimless vessel, floating around until the flood dried up? We read the ark had a specific destination. For Noah, the ark sailed out through the worldly flood and landed itself on top of old Mount Ararat.

Genesis 8:4:
"And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat."
To me, that is significant. This is where Joseph Smith’s restored truths get so exciting to me. Just like the ark guided Noah and his family to a mountain where he offered sacrifices and made covenants with God, the church brings us to the temple. Just like the ark started with the baptism of the earth, we start with our own baptism, the ticket that gets us on board, and then we get to ride out the storms of our lives, staying aboard the ship, until we get to the temple and make more covenants. Then, like Noah's family, we descend from that mount and build a godly society, multiplying and replenishing however we can, and remembering the covenants we have made.

In the gospel, family is a key part of both our church and temple experience.

Genesis 7:7-9:
"And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him, into the ark, because of the waters of the flood. Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth,there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah."
It gets almost painfully repetitious in the verses in Genesis. Male and female, all the animals, all the people, two by two.

The Church is an organization with the goal of creating eternal families. “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.” I believe that. I believe that is true, because I believe it is the pattern of God—my Heavenly Father as well as my Heavenly Mother—to have an eternal family. God want us to enjoy the same blessings they have got. Family is not easy, as we can all attest, and even God himself weeps and pains over us, but it is also wonderful and beautiful when it centers on love. I also believe firmly that Jesus Christ and his gospel is the only way to make our families eternal, and he has given those keys and the sealing power to our current prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

I know a bit about the difficulty this doctrine of family causes for those whose life doesn't fit the mold, having experienced some of the confusion of not fitting the ideal myself. There are many who feel they are alone and single on an ark full of 2 by 2-ers. Obviously not everyone in this church has the ideal situation of a happy, 2 by 2 marriage with children, but the promises of posterity and family are available to any and all who accept the gospel, thanks to the Savior and his atonement and His power to heal. While we board the ark two by two, the Lord always blesses us one by one.

I believe in prophets today. Not because it is easy for me, or because I always like what they have to say, or because it is convenient. I like having a prophet because they make me stretch in painful, wonderful ways, and then after the stretch comes peace, confirmation, and the Holy Ghost. That spirit makes me feel safe in this tumultuous world.

I believe in prophets because their words are like an ark to me that keep me afloat, buoying me up in this flooded world.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Idol Words

The Adoration of the Golden Calf, Nicolas Poussin.
Once upon a time there was a narrative, comfortable and easy to wrap our minds around, Sunday School tried, tested, and approved, that a liberal agenda was going to destroy freedom and morality in society and the world.

Cue 2017. That neat and facile little story should be dead now.

Fact: We have rampant moral decay in our society today. Fact: This rampant moral decay is not confined to one political party. No matter how many paintings Jon McNaugton puts out, Jesus is not, and never will be, a registered Republican. There is no shortage of complex issues in our world. These issues are tricky, deserve nuance and maturity, and can't be pegged into some sort of ideological hole, some schema of Liberal vs Conservative. These are grown-up issues and it's time for us all, myself included, to grow up.

I have seen good, reasonable Latter-day Saints reject scriptures, modern prophets, and Christian decency to side on an issue simply because it was taught like gospel by their favorite political party.

First of all, let's end this ridiculous binary. We believe in the gospel of Christ, not the philosophies of men. As Hugh Nibley said about the "Gentile Dilemma,"

"I have been...much too easily drawn into what I call the Gentile Dilemma. That is, when I find myself called upon to stand up and be counted, to declare myself on one side or the other; which do I prefer—gin or rum, cigarettes or cigars, tea of coffee, heroin or LSD...Republican or Democrat, black power or white power, land pirates or sea pirates, commissars or corporations, capitalism or communism.
The devilish neatness and simplicity of the thing is the easy illusion that I am choosing between good and evil, when in reality two or more evils by their rivalry distract my attention from the real issue."  (How Firm a Foundation!" CWHN 9:163) 
Somehow, we are too easily decoyed away from the great truths we have, hoodwinked by the exciting and titillating squabbles that flood the airwaves of Babylon.

Second, let's just stop demonizing each other as if the person who voted for another party is a minion of Satan just for seeing a complex political issue differently than you do. At times, we can and MUST engage with ideas we don't agree with, but we must do so with respect and humility, not with inflammatory rhetoric, unkind jeers and taunts that break down healthy dialogue.

In 2012, I walked into a General Conference Priesthood meeting with a good, intelligent friend and his teenage sons, and the dad pointed to a man in the back row and whispered, "See that man over there? He voted for Obama!" Followed by gasps, boos, and one chilling comment by his Aaronic Priesthood son, "What is he even doing here?" 

This kind of divisive rhetoric is troubling. Not surprisingly, it is also happening today.

Israel has a long and sordid history of adopting the gods of whatever nation they dwelt in. We believe we are modern day Israel and we seem to have inherited the same appetites and follies. We must let go of the local political gods we worship, rise above the squabbles of Babylon, and get building Zion together, for heaven's sake.