Sunday, December 29, 2013

Family photo circa 1919

From left to right, June Ida Holmes, Ernest Eldredge Holmes, Mary Laurine Holmes, Ida (Eldredge) Holmes, Samuel Lamar Holmes, Ernest Samuel Holmes.

Mary Laurine Holmes, who was about 10 years old when this photo was taken, is my maternal grandmother.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's good and worthy and the answer is no.

I have a young, devout, female friend, who, when she approached the age at which she could apply to serve as a missionary, felt that it was likely that serving a mission would be the best thing that she could do and she was excited at the prospect.

Being devout, she took that decision to the Lord in prayer, and after much seeking, felt that the answer was no, she should not.  She was not particularly happy with that answer.  Friends of hers were departing for missions, it looked like good, praiseworthy, and exciting work to be engaged in.  She would have loved to have received a "yes".

It was also difficult for her because in her circles of friends, serving a mission was considered one of the most devoted and praiseworthy and positive decisions one could take.  Women who did so were admired and respected.  Why, if it were an option, and she was willing, would the Lord tell her no?

We live in a world where it is considered best to do as many good things as possible; that passing up opportunities to do a good thing is something that you will regret; or if you cannot do all the good options at least do the options that are perceived as the most noble and good, if you have to pick and choose.

But Jesus didn't say do as many good things as you can.  And he didn't say that the ones you think are be most noble and good are the ones you should do.  He said, do good, and the standard he held for that for himself in that regard was "doing the will of the Father".

Jesus could have done many good things in his lifetime that he did not do.  He focused on the one thing that the Father had indicated was most important for him to do, which, in his case, was making it possible for us to be "raised up at the last day".

John, chapter 6

That's a much bigger calling than any of us have, but the principle applies to all of his disciples.  Our best task or purpose at any given stage of our lives, in God's eyes, is the one he sets for us.  And that is not necessarily, every time, the one we assume would be the most noble or admirable.  

The goal is not to do the tasks we think are the most noble and good.  Nor is it to take advantage of every opportunity to do good. Rather it is to tackle the tasks He calls us to do.  And to celebrate when our sisters and brothers do theirs.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Teaching after 40 Days

Jesus' early teaching, as chronicled by Luke, was powerful.
"Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about."
"And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all."
"And all bare him witness and wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth."
"And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power."

It's interesting to me that these words fall hard on the heels of Jesus' 40 day fast and his encounter with Satan in the wilderness, in which Satan tried to persuade him to act contrary to the will of God.  Was Jesus reminded of what powerful teaching is and what it is not by that encounter?

Three temptations are chronicled in Luke, chapter 4: the temptation to turn stones into bread to assuage his hunger, the temptation to assume and enjoy worldly power, and the temptation to go careening off the pinnacle of the temple and be caught by angels.  Satan tries to persuade Jesus to his way of thinking by telling him that he won't have to be hungry if he does.  He tries to persuade Jesus to his way of thinking by telling him that he will not only be a powerful influence in the world but also one that others will listen to and obey and praise and give much wealth and prestige to if he does.  And he tries to entice him to his way of thinking by employing the allure of excitement and thrilling experiences.

And as you read Jesus further teaching in the rest of that chapter and over the next three years, he eschews all three methods of presenting his message.

He feeds people when they have traveled far to listen to him are far from food and helps them catch fish, but the only bread he ever promises they will have if they ally themselves to his gospel is "the bread of life."  Though there is work to be done to help feed those who are hungry in his life there is no promise of freedom from hunger in discipleship.

His sermons are clear that discipleship to him is a life of humility, meekness, forgiveness, turning the other cheek, being submissive to those in power, and serving one another.  There is no promise or increase of social, political or economic power or influence or respect coming to those who choose his way.

And there are no thrills.  There is a lot of walking on dusty roads, and stopping to talk and to help and a lot of prayer in his work.  But anything unusual, like a healing, is understated and usually wrapped up with the admonition to "tell no man".   And he expects his disciples to do the same.

And his teaching, accepted by some and soundly rejected by others, was powerful.

As I teach the gospel to young people, I think I should keep this in mind.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What might we aim for?

From Morgan's "Five Goals" (to teach young people) posted over at By Common Consent:

Receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost
Become a faithful home or visiting teacher
Make and keep temple covenants
Get a good education
Give back.

And learn to love like Jesus does.  (Marvin Ashton)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Testimony Meeting

Mennonite church meeting in the Canary Islands

"I sat in many testimony meetings as a child and still occasionally hear our pastor call for words from the congregation.  If I think I should speak, my palms still perspire and my knees tremble.  Will people think my ideas foolish?  Will they trust my experience? Is my life consistent enough that I dare open my mouth publicly?  What I have to say is nothing new anyway!

."..let's look at what a testimony meeting tries to do.  Such a meeting does not report how God acts or how people always respond.  It never assumes common experience--otherwise there would be no point at all in holding it..  A testimony meeting expects that God gives unique skills and experiences to people and communities, and that sharing stories will strengthen everyone who hears.  A testimony meeting believes in 'many gifts, one Spirit'." [1st Corinthians 12]
~Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More With Less, p. 31-32

Longacre was a devout Mennonite.  I have benefited from what she wrote and compiled over the years.  And this passage struck me today.  

I listened to a diverse array of testimonies in my congregation last Sunday.  Did you?

It's easy for me to sit there grading testimonies:  
"Makes sense."  
"Not a chance, Buster". 
"Still has much to learn."  
"Some truth there."   
"Uh oh.  La-la land".  
And then compare what I hear with my own understanding and faith and consider whether or not my testimony, if expressed, would be helpful at all to people who are listening the way I am.

Our testimony meetings are, I realize, better understood and more beneficial if we see them as an opportunity to listen to people talk about experiences and belief that they feel have been touched by the Spirit of God rather than only an opportunity to listen to others confirm, by the Spirit, what we in the congregation already know.  We should not see testimony meetings primarily as an opportunity for people to only talk, when spiritually moved to stand and speak, about aspects of commitment and faith that feel common to our mutual experience.  As I listen to a diversity of experiences I widen my understanding of how God is perceived to work in many different lives, and that gives me much to consider and softens my heart. 

When we listen to testimonies born that reflect experiences different from our own with a kind heart, it is a gift both to the speaker and to ourselves.  Of course we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and so not everyone will listen to you that way when you stand and speak.  I certainly slip into testimony critique mode easily and I assume that others do too.  And not everyone who bears testimony feels free to express, fully, what they feel in their heart.  So I acknowledge that what I am proposing may seem a bit daunting if you look at it from the point of view of a potential testimony bearer.  But I believe that the more of us who understand this way of listening to and bearing testimony, the more edifying our listening experiences will be.

Many Gifts, One Spirit  (a nice song to listen to)

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Blessed art thou

"And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb...And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.."

I think about the common use of the word "blessed".  And I think about Mary.

What was she facing? 

The gift of being called to bear and raise God's son.  

The challenge of carrying an unborn child that is God's son while betrothed to Joseph.  How must it have felt to carry that child when probably no one would believe your story of an angelic annunciation and divine conception and at at time when sexual infidelity meant fierce social ostracism at best and stoning at worst?

And the eventual experience of witnessing the crucifixion of her child.

Blessed means more that just things that give us new, glorious tasks, or make life more peaceful or help us solve our problems.  Sometimes being blessed by God means that, along with the peaceful things and hopeful things, our course will take us through experiences that will require absolutely every ounce of faith and courage and trust in God we can muster and will still be grievous to be born.

Blessedness can require much of us.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Principle of Modesty. Teaching Beyond the Rules

There are many discussions going on in my religious community about how NOT to teach modesty.  But if we are to throw out misleading or inadequate ways of teaching the principle we cannot just rail against the current approaches.  It is imperative that we create something with which to replace them.

I believe that the key is to help young people understand that modesty isn't just how you dress. It is actually an intricate combination of the divine attributes of confidence, humility, respect and charity in multiple aspects of our lives. Modesty in its most complete forms resides most predominantly in our spirits. Teaching that the definition of modesty is the way we dress is akin to telling someone that the definition of a solidly constructed house is the location of its doors and windows.  The principles of sound construction engineering in the construction of a house will influence the location of the doors and windows.  Similarly, principles of modesty that you put into practice in your life will influence the way you dress.  But locating the doors and windows in certain locations will not, by itself, create a sound structure.  And learning "modest" clothing practices will fail, by itself, to create the divine character of modesty in your soul.

If modesty is, in fact, a combination of different divine attributes, in other words the “divine nature” young women are reminded of each Sunday, perhaps one way to approach this would be to see if we can identify divine attributes in any of the following authoritative definitions of “modesty”.

mod·es·ty First known use of the word in English: 1531
noun, plural mod·es·ties.
1. freedom from vanity, boastfulness,etc.
2. Regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.
3. Simplicity; moderation.

It's worth noting that the the definition of modesty given on is clearly related to these definitions:

Do you see any of God's qualities in those definitions?

"Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to 'glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit'"

While looking at thesaurus lists of synonyms and antonyms, you may find further insights into the divine nature of modesty:
down-to-earthness, humbleness, lowliness, meekness, humility

arrogance, assumption, bumptiousness, conceit, egoism, egotism, haughtiness, hauteur, huffiness, imperiousness, loftiness, lordliness, peremptoriness, pomposity, pompousness, presumptuousness, pretense, pretension, pretentiousness, pride, pridefulness, superciliousness, superiority, toploftiness

Near Antonyms
aggressiveness, audaciousness, brashness, brassiness, cheek, cheekiness, cockiness, forwardness, overconfidence, swagger, swash, temerity, impertinence, impudence, insolence, nerve, sauciness, boastfulness, chest-thumping, self-applause, self-assumption, self-centeredness, self-complacency, self-conceit, self-glorification, self-importance, self-satisfaction, vaingloriousness, vanity, disdain, flamboyance, ostentation, ostentaciousness, showiness

Think about the nature of God as it relates to the above qualities (and their antonyms).  What can you add to your list of godly characteristics after reading through them?

 it is interesting to see how the list you have so far relates to what several church leaders of our church as well as other churches have said as they've tried to describe modesty.

Modesty is often talked of in terms of dress and appearance, but modesty encompasses much more than the outward appearance. It is a condition of the heart.” Ann Dalton

"Modesty is not just cultural. Modesty is a gospel principle that applies to people of all cultures and ages. In fact, modesty is fundamental to being worthy of the Spirit. To be modest is to be humble, and being humble invites the Spirit to be with us.” (Robert D. Hales, Modesty, Liahona, Aug 2008)

"Modesty is the virtue that presents goodness in its proper color: one of elegance rather than affluence, economy rather than extravagance, naturalness rather than ostentation. 'What a power has white simplicity,' as Keats has aptly remarked. Modesty is the virtue that allows one to focus on what is good without being distracted by irrelevant superficialities." ~Donald DeMarco, Catholic theologian

"Modesty is, as it were, the body's conscience. The modest person is not interested in displaying his talents and attainments for people to admire. He even shuns making himself the subject of conversation. He is more eager to know what he needs to know than to parade what he already knows. He has a healthy sense of himself as he is and is less concerned about how others view him...The modest person is aware of his limitations and retains the capacity to blush. A person blushes when he is suddenly the object of praise or attention. It catches him off guard at a moment when he is interested in something other than himself. The essence of modesty is self-forgetfulness." ~Donald Demarco,

In Doctrine and Covenants 4:6 there is a nice list of godly attributes:
"Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, dilgence"

Look at the list you are compiling.  Are there other godly attributes that you would add to this list to describe modesty?

(Important side note: virtue is another oft misunderstood word. The definition I'd assume here is the dictionary one of “moral excellence, goodness, righteousness, or conformity of one's life and conduct to moral and ethical principles, uprightness)

Now that you've read through the above descriptions of the nature of modesty and this list of divine qualities in Doc & Cov 4:6 and added a few of your own, you have, I believe, some keys to the major question I believe each of us needs to answer thoughtfully.

Which divine attributes of God, “divine nature”, are essential parts of the definition of modesty?

Write that down.

Once that list is compiled and written out, can you find those divine attributes that you've designated referenced in the following scriptures?

"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you," 1 Peter 5:5-6

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

It is interesting to to me to contemplate the “clothing” metaphors used here, and particularly in reference to this verse:

"For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s." 1st Corinthians 6:20

Consider: What does it mean to glorify God in your spirit, or to clothe your spirit in a way which glorifies God and expresses God's divine attributes that you've identified in this exercise?

What does it mean to glorify God in your body, or to clothe your body in a way which glorifies God and expresses God's divine attributes that you've identified?  

Here are a few quotes that express how some others have answered those questions:

To be gentle and kind, modest and truthful, to be full of faith and integrity, doing no wrong is of God; goodness sheds a halo of loveliness around every person who possesses it, making their countenances beam with light, and their society desirable because of its excellency. They are loved of God, of holy angels, and of all the good earth..” Brigham Young

1 Timothy 2:9-10 which says “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest [remember the definition of “modest” we've learned] apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;”

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4

And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely. Alma 1:27

Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.” Philippians 2:3

I believe that truly it is what's inside a person that counts, but that's what worries me. Casual dress at holy places and events is a message about what is inside that person. It may be pride or rebellion or something else, but at a minimum it says, 'I don't get it. I don't understand the difference between the sacred and the profane.'” D. Todd Christofferson

In 1869, Brigham Young told his daughters: "All Israel are looking to my family and watching the example set by my wives and children. For this reason I desire to organize my own family first into a society for the promotion of habits of order, thrift, industry, and charity; and above all things I desire them to retrench from their extravagance in dress, in eating and even in speech. I am weary of the manner in which our women seek to outdo each other in all the foolish fashions of the world. I want you to set your own fashions. Let your apparel be neat and comely, and the workmanship of your hands. I have long had it in my mind to organize the young ladies of Zion into an association so that they might assist the older members of the Church, their fathers and mothers, in propagating, teaching, and practicing the principles I have been so long teaching. I wish our girls to obtain a knowledge of the gospel for themselves."

The modest person is content with living well and performing good deeds without fanfare. For him, life is essential, rewards are superfluous. He believes that nature opens to a wider world, whereas ornamentation stifles. He is always averse to gilding the lily. He is confident without being demure, unpretentious without being self-defeating. He lets his actions and words speak for themselves.” ~Donald DeMarco

Among the real heroines in the world who will come into the Church are women who are more concerned with being righteous than with being selfish. These real heroines have true humility, which places a higher value on integrity than on visibility. Remember, it is as wrong to do things just to be seen of women as it is to do things to be seen of men.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Nov 1979)

The Greek translation of modesty (kosmios) means roughly "orderly" or "proper," and the word appears only once in Scripture, in Paul's first letter to Timothy: "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes …" (2:9).1 Peter 3:3-4 includes a similar message, that women should adorn themselves with a gentle spirit instead of fancy jewelry and clothing. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul also addresses head coverings, an important topic given first-century Mideast cultural attitudes about women's hair (the essence of female beauty, and thus primarily meant for husbands' viewing; some Christian women cover their heads today). But these verses suggest that modesty is not just about quelling sexual temptation. Modesty is also about viewing ourselves humbly and dressing accordingly, refraining from using clothing (or the lack thereof) to draw attention to ourselves and boost self-esteem.”
~Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today,

And finally:
This excellent essay on modesty by a young student, Geneva Wright, Princeton class of 2014 published in The Princeton Tory, November 2012  is well worth a read. I am impressed by her articulate discussion and to your perusal.

What are your thoughts after answering the questions I've posed? As we educate our daughters and our sons, our students and ourselves, how do we teach modesty as a complex and life shaping essential divine nature that comes from within and affects not just what we chose to wear but how we see ourselves and others and our understanding of the divine? How do we move from teaching the outward manifestations as the rule and instead teach the inner metamorphosis and enlightenment that changes our own selves in divine ways?

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I spent some time on a city walk this week. The walk passed by this chapel

CJCLDS chapel in Cambridge

and this cathedral

Old South Church

both open and both mostly empty.

I entered each, sat or stood a while looking up and, with the aid of the Spirit in a setting that reminds me of God's light and reality, let the various clamors and questions in my mind settle and prioritize themselves.  And then I walked out, knowing better what was most essential.

Sometimes it's a cathedral and sometimes it's just a front porch or the view out a window.  Either way, that's how meditation seems to work for me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ritual Washings Prior to Communion with God: Wudu', a Muslim Version of an Empowering Ordinance

Before every ritual prayer it was a requirement to wash certain parts of your body, not only for physical cleanliness but also for symbolic spiritual purification.  Each step had a prayer that accompanied it.  I washed my mouth: please put sweet words onto my lips.  I washed my face: let light shine from my face.  The words made me feel focused and uplifted.  I washed my arms between elbow and fingertips: let my hands do good, let them prevent bad deeds and injustice.  I ran my fingers lightly across the top of my head: when things get pressured let me stay calm. Finally, I wiped my feet: let them walk me to places where I can do good.

from Love in a Headscarf, by Shelina Janmohamed

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Home as a Haven

Today I listened to reports of the arrest of two middle school girls on charges of aggravated stalking due to bullying of a young woman named Rebecca Sedwick.  The story was that the bullying had started at a middle school.  When it continued, Rebecca's mother removed her from the middle school and home schooled her before transferring her to another middle school.  But the alleged bullies continued their hateful bullying via cell phone and facebook.  Rebecca eventually committed suicide.

As a middle school child I was one of my class's targets of bullying.  There were six of us who were deemed the obvious targets (two boys and four girls) and the bullying ranged from verbal to sexual to physical abuse.  Those were a rough three years.  When the abuse I was going through became egregious I finally got the courage to describe it to my mother who alerted the principal and one of my teachers and their intervention eliminated the sexual abuse, but not the rest of it.

During those years my home was my safe place.  Sure there were the usual squabbles between siblings, but it was the one place where my bullies were unable to reach me and my interactions were with family members and their friends who were fully present.  I am more grateful than I can describe for that sense of haven and person to person connection with people who were undistracted and mentally present and generally civil..

So, I have long been an advocate of a cell phones turned off and parked at the door policy for minors.  If their friends need to reach them they can call the land liine or a parental phone.

And I have long been an advocate of limited time online for pre-teens and teens too, simply because it is such a time sink and keeps kids from interacting with family members and focusing on whatever task is at hand.   And facebook?  Such a time sink and so trivial compared with real life and often inhabited by trolls?  Probably not a good idea for middle schoolers at all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Heaven. Beyond Comprehension

We think about heaven. And we think about it from a position so firmly entrenched in our earthly lives that we veer far wide of the mark, though not completely off the target.

Prophets who've seen it in vision have tried to describe it, but have only earthly terminology with which to explain what they've seen. And their hearers get mired in their earthly contexts when they envision what is described. They envision the best earthly version of beauty and glory they can come up with,

For example, T.P. Cameron was a poet and soldier in WWI, eventually killed in action at the age of 29, in March of 1918. His poem “Sportsman's Paradise” which describes a longing for heaven and celestial peace reads:

“They left the fury of the fight,
And they were tired.
The gates of heaven were open quite,
Unguarded and unwired.
There was no sound of any gun,
The land was still and green,
Wide hills lay silent in the sun,
Blue valleys slept between.
They saw far off a little wood
Stand up against the sky.
Knee deep in grass a great tree stood,
Some lazy cows went by.
There were some rooks sailed overhead,
And once a church bell pealed.
'God, but it's England!' someone said,
'And there's a cricket field'.”

There is wistful beauty in those words. And it is a good example of the human tendency to envision heaven in earthly terms of one's own treasured earthly experiences..

Another example is the notion of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”, phrases that John the Revelator used to describe what he saw in his vision of heaven (Revelation 21). A century ago and more ago, many people took those descriptions literally. It was the most glorious translation of what John saw that they could imagine.

However, there is a pitfall. If heaven is restricted to earthly parameters, it easily becomes ridiculous.

For example, look at the Sadducees at the time of Christ who thought that thought life after death was a foolish notion. Their famous question to Jesus was about the woman who was married seven times to successive brothers under Levirate law.   “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be?” wasn't a question about whether marriage can be a part of heaven.  It was a clear attempt to show how ridiculous the notion of life after death was. And life after death would be be an odd notion to wrap your head around if, in fact, marriage (and other) relationships in heaven are simply extensions of marriage relationships and their roles, practices, and divisions of labor as they are on earth, transplanted into a heavenly sphere.

Another example: As a teenager I had a conversation with a fellow Christian who believed in life after death, but not a physical resurrection. “You believe that people are resurrected with a physical body?” he asked incredulously. “You mean there are bathrooms in heaven???"

Or as one woman recently worried, the LDS concept of heaven sounds to her to be one of endlessly birthing new spirit children while her husband is off creating worlds.

 (All of the above, by the way, do not reflect the description of heaven in DC 76 either)

I believe its important to remember that we are just as prone to this limitation of understanding as we contemplate God and heaven as anybody else is. I believe that we stumble too much over that limitation in our need for and longing for a true vision of heaven. And sometimes we get mad or perplexed when those erroneous visions don't seem fair or right, and forget that they are simply erroneous, simply because we are, all of us, earthbound.

.I think Paul's words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:9), “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” is not just a “we Christians know something others don't know” message, but a reminder to the Corinthian Christians that they (and we) don't really fully comprehend how it really is either.

Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants also talk about this earthly limitation, and in terms that also promise the possibility of growing slowly closer to heavenly understanding by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to light and truth (76:1-10 and 50:24) until “the perfect day”. But it's clear that we are, none of us, there yet. This is not “the perfect day.” Those few who have seen heaven in vision say that the response when one does see heaven as it is, is, instantly, worship (Rev.22:8).

We have been taught principles and concepts that are at the core heavenly life: love, faith, being washed clean, unity, glory, light, truth, the power of God, sealing, eternity, divine intercession and atonement. These are of heaven. And they are of heaven in a way far more enlightened, far-reaching, fair, just, merciful and glorious than the very best of earthly experiences that we have or that we create with those principles here.

We need to remember that. Earth does not circumscribe heaven nor is heaven simply a lovely, light-filled perfect version of the very best on earth. Heaven and life there is far beyond our wildest, most joyful, peaceful, just, honest, charitable, equitable, loving, powerful and light-filled dreams on earth. It is better than anyone, divinely inspired or not, has been able to describe to you, including yourself

Saturday, October 05, 2013

I watched the priesthood session of General Conference this evening

It was not the first time.

I heard much that will be helpful now as well as in the future.  And I am inspired to a better vision of what I can do with the challenges I find in the work I am doing.

While watching and listening to the session the following passage came to mind.  It's from a talk, "All Are (Really) Alike Unto God", given by Marcus H. Martins.  Marcus is the son of Helvécio Martins who passed away in his home of São Paulo in 2005.  You can read the Genesis Group page about Helvécio here

Marcus said:
 "When my parents and I were baptized, I was thirteen years old. When I was sixteen my father instructed me to learn how to perform the ordinances that a priest in the Aaronic priesthood would have the right and the authority to do. Learn how to baptize people, learn how to administer the sacrament, learn how to ordain other priests. And of course, I being sixteen years old, told my father, "But why? I'm not going to be ordained a priest. Why should I do that?" And he said, "Well, just because you are sixteen years old, and that's what's expected of sixteen-year-olds in the Church. If you were ordained to the priesthood, you would be a priest now. But because you're not, doesn't mean you're not going to do as much as you can without the priesthood. 

"So, I undertook the task of learning those ordinances. When I turned eighteen, my father told me the same thing. Learn how to confirm people members of the Church, learn how to administer the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood, learn how to administer to the sick. And I did that, and about a year later, when the revelation extending the priesthood came, I was ready. Because of the faith of my father, I was ready." 

Marcus H. Martins

Rudá and Helvécio Martins

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The _____________ is true.

I think that if you asked people who use the phrase, “the church is true” what that means, you’d get a wide range of answers, as they tried to put into words what they meant when they said it. It’s a phrase that is used for a variety of meanings (as well as when one is standing at the podium and simply feels a need to close his remarks and is looking for a familiar ending). And this causes problems.

So it’s interesting to look at “true” in LDS scriptural parlance:

Ether:4:11, You can know that a thing is “true” if it persuades men to do good.
Moroni 4:1, if a thing is being done according to the commandments of Christ then we can know that the way it is being done is “true”.
Moroni 10:6, if a thing is good and does not deny Christ, it is “true”
3 Nephi 8:1, if a thing is carefully done by a just, good and repentant man of faith, it is “true”.

So, by this Book of Mormon definition, everything about the church (or for that matter, any other organization) that persuades men to do good, that is done according to the commandments of Jesus, that is done with integrity by people who, though imperfect, are just, good, full of faith and repentant, and that is simply good and acknowledges Christ, is “true”. And there is a lot of that both in the church and in the rest of the world.

All of those things about the church would also fall into the category of “good”. “True”, by this definition, is not distinct from good. It is a subset of good.

Conversely, everything about the church (or any other entity) that doesn’t fit the above description, whether it is good or bad or inbetween, does not fit this Book of Mormon definition of “true”. (And there’s a fair amount of that both in the church and in the rest of the world as well.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Comprehension, not conformity, in creating religious understanding and religous community

"If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.

'Until you understand why people of good sense, learning, mental health, and sound intelligence find a particular worldview convincing and worthy of allegiance … you haven’t really understood it. You don’t have to accept that other worldview, but, if you’re serious about understanding it, you really have to grasp it."

"What it means to “be” Mormon is a social construct that results from an interplay of definitions and practices, bandied about by different parties who have a stake in the definition of the term. While there is an official, institutional Church with more-or-less clear-cut doctrines and policies, the interpretation and inhabitation of these teachings and practices vary from individual to individual.

"In other words: While there is a literal Mormon Church, there is no such thing as “Mormonism” as an empirically homogeneous or monolithic experience. Instead, there are Mormonisms, as various as the individuals who embody them, but predicated on certain communal elements that they share with their faith of origin. Individuals understand their faith and their religion in temporally, generationally, and geographically situated and specific ways...

"To paraphrase Daniel Peterson:  Until you understand why people of good sense, learning, mental health, and sound intelligence find their particular interpretation and embodiment of Mormonism to be convincing and worthy of allegiance, you haven’t really understood it."

Friday, July 05, 2013

Grace and the Task at Hand

My mother once told me, “I used to think that when my children complained about how hard their tasks were and your father would respond by pitching in and helping them do them, that they would never learn how to work hard and follow through. But I was wrong. Instead, what they learned was how to pitch in and help others.”

Grace begets grace.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Book Review: "Women in Eternity, Women of Zion"

I have been slowly reading Alma Don Sorensen and Valerie Hudson Cassler's book "Women in Eternity, Women of Zion" with my friend, Fara, this past year.  Slowly because it is dense and because with this book I am reading every scripture reference cited and every endnote and making notes in margins and crossing out and rewriting as I go.  Which means that it has taken me over a year so far.

I have one last chapter to go.  It is a well written and thoughtful book.  Some things I found enlightening and helpful. Other things seemed simply a good attempt at understanding that I felt fell short or missed the mark.  So if you decide to read this book, which I  recommend, I'd suggest that you read it not expecting it to be a be-all and end-all source of answers, but rather as a vehicle for carefully sorting through the authors' take on the subjects they tackle and adding to your understanding the ones that you find enlightening and helpful.  That gleaning process has been well worth the time for me.  Though I certainly have not agreed with every idea the authors put forward,  every chapter has left me with at least a few valuable gems of insight and most have left me with many.

In particular I would say that chapter 2 on gender equality in eternal life offers a compelling analysis of Doctrine and Covenants descriptions of celestial glory that I found well worth researching and mulling and that chapter 7 on monogamy and polygamy contains the most articulate analysis of Doctrine and Covenants section 132 that I have read to date.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

On the below-mentioned comment thread Melodynew added her thoughts on teaching about priesthood as part of the youth Sunday school lessons this month.  I thought they were worth saving for future reference.  Here's my slightly enhanced version of what she wrote.

I taught these lessons last year to my 14 & 15 year-old Sunday school class consisting of both YM and YW. (Our stake was among those that piloted the program.) These are some of the points I brought into the discussion throughout the month.
1. The power of the priesthood is the power of God. The power of God is Love. The priesthood is God’s Love made manifest through human beings.
2. God and God's celestial glory can only exist as a man and woman righteously joined for eternity. So the power of God or priesthood power is by definition intrinsically connected to the celestial union of a man and woman. It comes from both, not just from men. It wouldn’t exist without God the Mother. (Jesus got his power from his parents in this model.)  Section 76:94-96 talks about that equality of power among celestial beings
3. Section 121 of D&C clearly articulates qualities that define appropriate use of priesthood or God’s power. All these qualities can easily be identified as “feminine” based on our current cultural/social model of what is masculine or feminine. (the YW loved this)
4. Men in this world are told that what it means to be a “man” is to be tough, strong, dominating, competitive. Priesthood power is none of these things. Jesus, the originator of our earthly version of priesthood power, showed us that in his life.
5. Many women possess qualities that help men learn what priesthood power should look like. (my feminist sisters might hate me for that, but this is when the girls started saying things like, “Yeah. Seriously.”)
6. We believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. We should all live worthy of bearing the priesthood of God and be prepared to do so.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

A Couple of Quotes

It is not uncommon these days to run into discussions, in my small minority religion, about inequality of responsibility and callings for women.  And a very pertinent subset of that discussion revolves around the question of whether or not that perceived inequality, or "lower in the hierarchy" status is an eternal expectation.  Is the inequality that is part of the order now one that is an eternal principle or one that is temporary?

I have commented earlier about the past inequalities in priesthood responsibility among God's children and how God has inspired his leaders to change that at various times over the centuries, and so I have long held that the current allocation of callings and responsibilities is not an indication of eternal status.  And there are certainly parts of temple ordinances that also indicate that we should be prepared for change in that regard.

Steve, over at CommonConsent, shared a couple of quotes that were new to me on the subject that, if you are aware of the above mentioned discussions and, particularly  if you are a temple attending member of the church, shed further light on the discussion.  So I'm saving them here.  At least until my house is back together and my boxes of notebooks unpacked.

1.  Joseph F. Smith - "Some of you will understand when I tell you that some of these good women who have passed beyond have actually been anointed queens and priestesses unto God and unto their husbands, to continue their work and to be the mothers of spirits in the world to come. The world does not understand this--they cannot receive it--they do not know what it means, and it is sometimes hard for those who ought to be thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the gospel--even for some of us, to comprehend, but it is true."  (Gospel Doctrine, p. 461)

I should remind the reader to never assume that the earthly hierarchy that our telestial world ascribes to the relationship between kings and queens or priests and priestesses is the same as that in the celestial world where all are "joint-heirs with Christ".  It is almost always wrong to assume that earthly manifestations of an institution or organization or life are clear reproductions of the way heavenly ones are.

2. Melvin J. Ballard (Quorum of the Twelve) - "Whatever disappointments may come, still be true to Him and I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that if not in time, in eternity, you shall have like honors and glory and privilege.  If you are faithful over a few things here, you shall be ruler over many things there, and become kings and priests unto God.  And you sisters who have dwelt in reflected glory will shine in your own light, queens and priestesses unto the Lord forever and ever."  (Conference Report, October, 1934, p. 121)

These two quotes are certainly not the be all and end all of the discussion.  But I think they are good additions to the position that what is now is not what will be.

Later...Brady added this comment and quote:  Hugh W. Nibley, "The purpose of such ordinances is to bridge the space between the world in which we now live, the telestial world, and that to which we aspire, the celestial world.  Therefore, the events of the temple were thought to take place in the terrestrial sphere."    You are saying, what has this got to do with priesthood?  In the temple women participate and even officiate in sacred priesthood ordinances IE Name issue and initiatory.  One of the, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful and sacred blessings in this world.  Then maybe in spheres above this one...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When Things Don't Come Together As Planned

Our lease is ending where we've been staying and cannot be renewed.  Our damaged home, which the contractor has been saying for MONTHS will be "surely done by the end of this month", is far from ready for occupation.  I arranged for another short-term rental but now our insurance company says they are betting that it will be done in the next 4 weeks and wants us in a motel for the duration.  I wouldn't bet on it being done by then, given the track record.  But I might be wrong. But it is what it is and I've been packing boxes which will be all put in storage for however much longer the work takes and packing suitcases to live out of for the next month.  Tomorrow we hand the keys back to the landlord.

L. asked me how I avoid feeling frustrated and annoyed by the continual promises of work being done that is not yet done and will likely be delayed.  I've thought about that.  I think it's due to three things.

First it has to do with being consciously grateful.  For a job, for a place to stay, for a table to sit at, a bed to sleep in, enough food to eat, for construction workers with skills, for a book to read.  Gratitude refocuses my view to include not only the challenges but also the blessings.  That fosters peace within me.

Second, it has to do with the old scout adage "be prepared".  I realize that I tend to almost always prepare contingency plans.  I tend to think about what I will do if such and such happens, or what we should do if things don't happen as planned.  And then I lay the groundwork for that as I continue to work towards what I hope will happen.  It isn't a negative expression of distrust or pessimism.  It's just that I know life and work doesn't always come together the way we want it too, and it's good to have prepared, in your back pocket, a constructive response to that when it happens.  Because in spite of everyone's best efforts, sometimes you need that helpful contingency plan.  Sometimes you need a whole string of them.  It's just part of life.

Third, it has to do with keeping the current challenge in perspective.  That's related to gratitude, but it has more to do with priorities and brotherhood.  My hope for my house to be made habitable is real and good, but in the prioritized list of hopes I see in the lives of people around me it is not way up on the list.  I am aware of the very real other hopes that are being addressed in my community, hopes for healing from injury and illness, hopes for reuniting of hearts in families, hope for help for those dealing with abuse, hope for help cleaning and rebuilding after the recent tornadoes, hope for shelter and hope and light, hope for young people just starting out in life, hope for people dealing with the challenges that come as one approaches the end of it, the list goes on and on.  This awareness does two things.  It makes me put my own current need in perspective.  And it gets me to work on helping others and their hopes and needs while I wait for mine to be fulfilled, which in turn reduces my focus on and impatience about my own situation.

I think these three things are things I heard about doing when I was young.  It's kind of interesting to me to realize that as an old person, they've become just another part of how I approach life.  I guess teaching young people good things that they only understand in theory when they are young can bring about good change down the road.  For those teachers and relatives who taught me, I am grateful.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Responses to Life's Sunsets

There are many things in my life that I can do.  But there are also in life some things that I wish I'd been able to do, for which the time on earth is past, and that I cannot go back and do.  Some of them are simply opportunities that did not ever present themselves or that life's vicissitudes prevented.  Some of them are opportunities that I chose to ignore in order to do something else that was good.  Some of them are opportunities that I had but did not recognize or was not prepared to take. And some are opportunities that I should have taken but didn't due to my own well-meaning or mistaken or immature errors of judgment.

And when I recall those they each, of course, bring with them a sense of regret or disappointment, some greater, some smaller, but all sad.

So the sentence below from an old novel jumped out at me yesterday.  It describes the response of an older character, a woman of faith, who is watching someone younger, that she loves, choose an opportunity that she knows is past for her personally in this life.

"Then into the eyes of Julia...there came a vision as comes to one who watching the glorious setting of the sun sees not the regretful closing of the day that is past, but the golden promise of the day that is to come."

The novel itself was not that great, but that sentence will stay with me.

And I think it is a much wiser and healthier response to regrets than the often quoted stanza by John Greenleaf Whittier about "the sad words of tongue or pen".

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Quote for the day

"At their root, most religious philosophies say do less harm, yes, but they also say do more good.  There is a limit to how much less harm I can do.  But my potential for good is unlimited.  All of our potentials for good are unlimited.
"The question becomes not whether we use resources but what we use them for.  Do we use them to improve lives?  Or do we waste them?  My life itself is a resource.  How shall I use it?"

~Colin Beavans, "No Impact Man", p. 205

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to Really Understand Someone Else's Point of View

From the Harvard Business Review, just for me to refer to as needed to help me listen better

The most influential people strive for genuine buy in and commitment — they don't rely on compliance techniques that only secure short-term persuasion. That was our conclusion after interviewing over 100 highly respected influences across many different industries and organizations for our recent book.
These high-impact influencers follow a pattern of four steps that all of us can put into action. In earlier pieces we covered Step 1: Go for great outcomes and Step 2: Listen past your blind spots. Later we'll cover Step 4: When you've done enough... do more. Here we cover Step 3: Engage others in "their there."
To understand why this step is so important, imagine that you're at one end of a shopping mall — say, the northeast corner, by a cafe. Next, imagine that a friend of yours is at the opposite end of the mall, next to a toy store. And imagine that you're telling that person how to get to where you are.
Now, picture yourself saying, "To get to where I am, start in the northeast corner by a cafe." That doesn't make sense, does it? Because that's where you are, not where the other person is.
Yet that's how we often try to convince others — on our terms, from our assumptions, and based on our experiences. We present our case from our point of view. There's a communication chasm between us and them, but we're acting as if they're already on our side of the gap.
Like in the shopping mall example, we make a mistake by starting with how we see things ("our here"). To help the other person move, we need to start with how they see things ("their there").
For real influence we need to go from our here to their there to engage others in three specific ways:
  1. Situational Awareness: Show that You Get "It." Show that you understand the opportunities and challenges your conversational counterpart is facing. Offer ideas that work in the person's there. When you've grasped their reality in a way that rings true, you'll hear comments like "You really get it!" or "You actually understand what I'm dealing with here."
  2. Personal Awareness: You Get "Them." Show that you understand his or her strengths, weaknesses, goals, hopes, priorities, needs, limitations, fears, and concerns. In addition, you demonstrate that you're willing to connect with them on a personal level. When you do this right, you'll hear people say things like "You really get me!" or "You actually understand where I'm coming from on this."
  3. Solution Awareness: You Get Their Path to Progress. Show people a positive path that enables them to make progress on their own terms. Give them options and alternatives that empower them. Based on your understanding of their situation and what's at stake for them personally, offer possibilities for making things better — and help them think more clearly, feel better, and act smarter. When you succeed, you'll hear comments like, "That could really work!" or "I see how that would help me."
One of our favorite examples involves Mike Critelli, former CEO of the extraordinarily successful company, Pitney Bowes. Mike was one of the highly prestigious Good to Great CEOs featured in the seminal book by Jim Collins on how the most successful businesses achieve their results.
One of Mike's many strengths is the ability to engage his team on their terms to achieve high levels of performance and motivation. When we asked him about this, he said, "Very often what motivates people are the little gestures, and a leader needs to listen for those. It's about picking up on other things that are most meaningful to people."
For example, one employee had a passing conversation with Mike about the challenges of adopting a child, pointing out that Pitney Bowes had an inadequate adoption benefit. A few weeks after that, he and his wife received a letter from Mike congratulating them on their new child — along with a check for the amount of the new adoption benefit the company had just started offering.
When he retired, the Pitney Bowes employees put together a video in which they expressed their appreciation for his positive influence over the years. They all talk about ways that Mike "got" them — personal connections and actions that have accumulated over time into a reputation that attracted great people to the organization and motivated them to stay.
It's a moving set of testimonials, and it's telling about Critelli's ability to "get" people on their own terms — to go to their there — that they openly express their appreciation permanently captured on video for open public viewing.
Remember, they did this after he was no longer in power.
Like Mike Critelli does, when you practice all three of these ways of "getting" others — situational, personal, and solution-oriented — you understand who people are, what they're facing, and what they need in order to move forward. This is a powerful way to achieve great results while strengthening your relationships.
When you're trying to influence, don't start by trying to pull others into your here. Instead, go to their there by to asking yourself:
  • Am I getting who this person is?
  • Am I getting this person's situation?
  • Am I offering options and alternatives that will help this person move forward?
  • Does this person get that I get it?
Mark Goulston and John Ullmen


Mark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a business psychiatrist, executive consultant, keynote speaker and co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. John Ullmen, Ph.D. oversees and teaches at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. They are co-authors of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In(Amacom, 2013).