Thursday, July 31, 2014

Have Mercy On One Another

"The power and glory of godliness is spread out on a broad principle to throw out the mantle of charity. God does not look on sin with allowance, but when men have sinned, there must be allowance made for them.

"All the religious world is boasting of righteousness: it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. My talk is intended for all this society; if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another...

"We are full of selfishness; the devil flatters us that we are very righteous, when we are feeding on the faults of others. We can only live by worshiping our God; all must do it for themselves; none can do it for another. How mild the Savior dealt with Peter, saying, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." At another time, He said to him, "Lovest thou me?" and having received Peter's reply, He said, "Feed my sheep." If the sisters loved the Lord, let them feed the sheep, and not destroy them. How oft have wise men and women sought to dictate [to...] by saying, "O, if I were [...], I would do this and that;" but if they were in [...]'s shoes they would find that men or women could not be compelled into the kingdom of God, but must be dealt with in long-suffering, and at last we shall save them. The way to keep all the Saints together, and keep the work rolling, is to wait with all long-suffering, till God shall bring such characters to justice. There should be no license for sin, but mercy should go hand in hand with reproof."

~Joseph Smith in an address to the Relief Society, The History of the Church, Vol 5, pp 23-24

(I think you can put anyone's name in those ellipses.)

"Self-righteousness is a form of egotism that breeds intolerance and impatience. Lack of empathy is its major symptom. Since self-righteousness is an unhealthy inner pride, the cure for it is honest humility. Jesus, the most righteous of all, was the perfect example of humility. He said, 'I am meek and lowly in heart.' (Matt. 11:29.)"

~Richard Lloyd Anderson, "Parables of Mercy"

I believe this is something it is vital that I be aware of, whichever side of whatever religious or ecclesiastical issue I am on.  And I believe that we all tend to quickly recognize failure to do this on the part of those who disagree with us or who fail to do what we hope they will do, but that most of us, including me, have a harder time seeing it in ourselves or in those with whom we agree.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: Joseph Smith History 1:19 - "They Were All Wrong"

Today I found this at a blog I follow.

I think it's an excellent parsing of the verse and worth the read.

Perhaps the most reviled verse among non-Mormon Christians in the entire Mormon scriptural canon is Joseph Smith History 1:19 – the words of Jesus to Joseph Smith at the beginning of the First Vision regarding why he should not join any church. This single verse encapsulates the reason why many call Mormonism arrogant and offensive and blind – and the misinterpretations of this verse by Mormons themselves only add fuel to this fire. So, in this post I am breaking out my parser’s pen and dissecting what Jesus actually said and did not say: word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, concept-by-concept. It was a fascinating endeavor when I first undertook it, and it changed my perspective on The Restoration greatly.

First, the actual question Joesph asked (in verse 18) is:
I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join.

The entire passage (in verse 19) says:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

Now, let’s break this down concept-by-concept and focus on the key words in each concept, focusing on what the words themselves actually mean AT THEIR MOST BASIC LEVEL – rather than secondary definitions and other interpretations that have been postulated (both within and without the LDS Church):

“I was answered that I (Joseph) must join none of them,”

Joseph prayed explicitly about the Protestant sects of his area and which one HE should join. Perhaps this appears to be a minor point, but I believe it is important to put the prayer in context. Joseph was working from the core assumption that he should join a Protestant sect, and, looking back, it is clear from a faithful Mormon perspective that Joseph had a specific mission to perform in mortality within Christianity. Other religions weren’t a part of the equation, at all – and neither was Catholicism, according to his own writings. I wonder what response a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would get with that exact same prayer – or if others might have specific missions to perform in mortality and receive different answers that will help them fulfill those missions, perhaps like Mother Teresa performing a wonderful work among the poor of Calcutta that would have been impossible as a Mormon. I don’t know, but parsing the text leads to interesting questions like these.

“for they were all wrong;”

At its most basic level, “wrong” simply means “not right” / “not correct” – or “out of order; awry; amiss”. Also, like with school tests, it often applies to answers that contain one or more elements that are not correct – even when most elements are correct. Thus “wrong” can mean 100% wrong or 1% wrong – or everything between those extremes. What “wrong” DOES NOT mean is “bad, evil, terrible, worthy of scorn, useless, etc.”

“and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds”

A “creed” is “an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief.” The most common creeds referenced by those discussing this verse are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, but these creeds essentially were the Catholic Creeds of the early centuries. The Athanasian Creed had a strong impact on much of the Protestant theology that existed in Joseph Smith’s time, but there were other “Protestant creeds” (like the Westminster Confession of Faith) that rarely are considered in the context of this verse – and those Protestant creeds are every bit as relevant as the early Catholic Creeds. (I believe, more so) [The closest thing in Mormonism to "creeds" are The Articles of Faith.] What “creeds” DOES NOT mean is “general teachings, statements, beliefs, general principles, etc.” This means that much of what actually is taught in other sects is not addressed in this verse, only “their creeds”.

“were an abomination in his sight”

Abomination means “anything greatly disliked, abhorred or loathed”. It is this word that is most “abominable, abhorred or loathed” by other Christians. However, when focused on the “creeds” [particularly in statements like the Westminster Confession], it is much easier to understand. Just a few examples are: hardcore Calvinist pre-destination that eliminates agency in all practical ways, the complete elimination of the Father as a separate being from Jesus, the incorporeal nature of God that led to a real and harmful loathing of the body and all things physical, the loss of all concept of eternal progression and exaltation, etc. There are more examples of creeds that truly would be abominable when viewed by Jesus ["in his sight"]. What this DOES NOT say is that everything taught by the other sects was an abomination. It leaves the door wide open for truth and beauty and goodness to be taught.

[Just as an aside, I find it fascinating to watch mainstream Protestantism move inexorably away from many of these creeds that were so strongly taught in Joseph's day toward what is taught in Mormonism - and the natural tendency of some Mormons to want creedal certainty.]

“that THOSE professors”

“Professors” means “those who profess” – nothing more and nothing less. “Profess” means “claim, allege, purport, avow” – and there is a strong association with making claims as part of a “profession” from a position of authority. The critical distinction in this verse, however, is that “professors” is tied directly to the “creeds” – NOT even implicitly to other teachings that are not creedal. What this means is that “those professors” DOES NOT mean ALL “ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, members, believers, etc.” Rather, it means anyone who “professes those creeds” – who teaches the creeds from a position of authority – who teaches things that are abominations in Jesus’ sight – who teaches them as “creeds” [as unalterable, immutable, unquestionable]. It places as much weight on the intractability of the profession as it does on what is being professed – meaning it focuses on those who are closed to continuing revelation and stuck on abominable creeds of the past.

[In a very real way, but not exactly analogous due to not being "creeds", it is like those who continue to espouse views from past Mormon leaders that have been abandoned or refuted by current leaders - like the justifications for the Priesthood ban that were repudiated by Elder McConkie shortly after the 1978 revelation lifting the ban or the continued practice of polygamy in the 21st Century.]

“were all corrupt;”

At its most basic level, corrupt simply means “tainted; not pure”. If someone professes abominable creeds, those creeds inevitably will taint those who profess them. To me, this is perhaps the most logical assertion of all the statements in this verse. What this DOES NOT say is that these people are “evil, bad, insincere, conniving, manipulative, worthy of scorn, etc.” It actually says nothing about their motivation or desires; it only addresses the inherent stain of abominable creeds.


The following statements are the only ones that are attributed as a quote directly to Jesus – rather than Joseph’s summary in the first part of the verse.

“they draw near to me with their lips,”

“They” refers back to the “professors of the creeds”, who speak of Jesus. There is no other implication and no insult, condemnation or criticism inherent in this phrase.

“but their hearts are far from me,”

This is a painful statement for many, but “heart” in this case does not mean the actual physical organ – and it does not have to mean “intent or desire”. The “heart” in this context is defined as the “vital or essential part” of something – what lies at the very core. In other words, the “essential part” of the “professors of the creeds” is far from Jesus. For example, the essential parts of the creeds melds Jesus into the Father, prays to Jesus (instead of to the Father in the name of the Son), refuses to accept His oft-repeated request to show their love through their acceptance of His commandments (“by their fruits”) and rejects individual agency and will by preaching predestination, etc. In summary, they use and preach his name but don’t promulgate his teachings. What this DOES NOT say is that ALL Christians fit this description. It is pointed ONLY at those who profess the creeds, and it is pointed only at their “hearts” [what they believe deep down as bedrock doctrine], not their lips [much of what they say and teach].

“they teach for doctrines the commandments of men,”

This phrase equates those who profess the creeds with those who substitute human commands for doctrine. It DOES NOT apply to regular members of other sects, at all – OR to ministers, preachers, pastors or priests who teach doctrine from the scriptures themselves and don’t preach the creeds.

“having a form of godliness,”

“Form” means “structure, appearance, shape, etc.” Thus, those who profess the creeds teach something that is shaped like and appears to be godly.

“but they deny the power thereof.”

This is the clinching argument against the creeds – that they reject the power of godliness. That phrase alone deserves its own post, but suffice it to say here that the creed professors are not accused of denying Jesus; rather, they are accused of denying His power – what He, through his Atonement, is capable of doing. They are accused of claiming that He can’t do what He has said He will do, which is the most basic abomination of all.

In summary, JSH 1:19 is a direct attack on the creeds of Joseph’s day (more so the newer Protestant ones than the older Catholic ones), defining the primary reason why he was told not to join any of them as being their profession of those creeds. The only people who are mentioned directly in any way are those who profess those creeds, and even these people are only described in terms of their acceptance of those creeds by which they are tainted. It says absolutely nothing about anyone or anything else, and it says nothing about the salvation of even the professors whose creeds it condemns.

At the most basic level, this verse has one message and only one message:

“The Protestant CREEDS are an abomination, and they taint all those who profess them.”

That certainly is harsh to those who profess the creeds, but it also says much, much, less than too many Mormons (and others) assume.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Planning With a Purpose

The How Report,” an independent study that LRN conducted with the Boston Research Group and Research Data Technology found that CEOs are six times more likely than "average workers" to believe they work in a company where people are inspired.  Employees said they were primarily coerced (84%) or motivated (12%) by carrots and stickes at work rather than inspired by values and a commitment to a mission and purpose (4%).

I remember how challenging it was, as a YW leader, to help our YW presidency and our class presidencies to get out of the "carrot" mode and into the "principle based purpose" mode.  It was also a challenge to move to thinking about principles beyond the handy color-coded YW values (though they are a fine in and of themselves).

On there is a series of short-lesson resources for YW leaders to use to help young women catch the vision of their calling.  It's described as a tool to help class presidencies figure out their responsibilities and how to carry them out, but they are excellent for every young woman to know and it is easier to include them in a regular Sunday discussion than it is to try to incorporate them into class presidency meetings.  And by teaching them to all young women you prepare those who will be called to leadership in the future (in other words, all of them).

There's a link to those short lesson resources HERE

The second lesson listed, "Planning Activities with Gospel Purposes in Mind"  is the lesson resource that introduces the idea of planning with a purpose.

THIS web page as some good explanations of how to plan with a purpose and some excellent worksheets to facilitate that.

The author, who learned these methods as a student at BYU, uses the worksheets as she works with 8-11 year old girls, but they can be used with good results for any group effort.  You can look at those worksheets and print them off from that page.

I personally found that a vital part of this process of planning with a purpose is the final step of reviewing the activity after it had happened.  Actually taking time on the Sunday following the activity to discuss what worked and what didn't and what they'd do differently next time was empowering and instructive.  And, true to the truth that "I remember most what I have said", articulating what they'd do differently next time helped them to remember to actually do that the next time.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Young Men, Young Women, Leadership and the Great Outdoors

I have served as a Young Women president as a Young Women's adviser and as a stake camp director. I am firmly converted to the notion that time away from civilization can be profoundly good for the soul. I have raised a son through the Young Men's program and my husband has served for the past 6 years as a Varsity Team (14-15 year old boys) coach in our ward. This is what I have learned about young men and young women in the church, leadership and their time in the great outdoors.
I do not live in the Intermountain West, so I cannot speak specifically to how those programs are run there. My experiences are from the East Coast and the Great Plains. But the handbooks we work with are the same.
Who Does What
The handbooks for leaders of both young women and young men of all ages are clear. Scouts and Young Men are supposed to be “boy led” programs that help young men prepare to become men of God. Both quorum work and scout work are supposed to be united together in that purpose, not run as a duality with different young men in different organizational leadership as they so often are. Young men, actively involved in scouting or not, are supposed to be the ones who come up with the weekly activities in counsel with their adult YM leaders, plan how to do them and carry them out. Their ability to do so and the breadth of their responsibilities in relationship to those of their adult leaders increases as they move from boy scouts to varsity team to venture crew, from deacon, to teacher to priest quorums.
The handbooks also are clear that the purpose of the young women program is to prepare young women to become women of God. As part of that process they are supposed to be the ones who envision their activities, and plan and carry them out in council with their adult leaders. And likewise, the breadth of their responsibilities and projects are designed to increase as they move from Beehive, to Mia Maid and Laurel.
However, in both Young Men and in Young Women programs, it is rare that it works that way. Why? For the same reason that many parents of young children on family camping trips do the dishes themselves: it is easier and takes less time and is more thorough to do the work yourself than to teach a young person how to do it. It is hard to make the time to do that leadership training. It is easier to just run a program than it is to work with girls to help them create ways to transform their lives. And so way too many leaders simply do the planning themselves, and then hand out tasks. And, even worse, when some young man or young woman comes up with a very grand idea, instead of taking the time to help that young person learn how to make it happen, they decide that it's too big a project and discourage the idea. This happens in both young men and young women programs.
Scout Camp and Girls Camp
Time out of doors is good for the soul. Scout camp, if it's done right, sometimes works fairly well for 12-13 year old boys. A few 14 year olds who have not yet started high school may sometimes attend as well, but by the time a boy is 15 there is no way he's interested in scout camp. Girls camp, if done right, can also work well. It is a little more flexible in its structure and has activities that are designed to increase in complexity with each year, so though attrition does occur, 15 year olds are still in attendance. But the 16-17 year old attendance can be counted on one hand.
Some wards or stakes fight this downward trend of young men involvement in the outdoors by organizing “High Adventure” activities for the young men. Again, it is often organized by adults, with the young men being handed assignments to bring stuff. If an adult didn't think of High Adventure as something that needed to be done, it wouldn't happen. And no young men volunteer to organize it. They generally assume that it's part of the program that the adults will make happen.
The Junior Leader program at Girls Camp was originally created as a leadership program for 16 and 17 year old young women. However, nowadays, in a far-flung stake, it rarely is put together on a stake basis in a way that meets those goals, and the young women sense that and vote with their feet.
Some Ways Some People Have Changed Things
I have lived in two wards and watched two more where individuals have been able to make effective and promising changes to the above scenarios. It takes work, it takes vision, and it takes paying attention to the handbooks and it's exciting to watch. Here is what I've seen:
One stake invited a member of the church YM presidency to come speak about scouting. The young men leaders in attendance laughed out loud when he stated that scouting should be “a neighborhood organization” due to the fact that most boys in the stake traveled many miles to attend scout meetings, but a couple of the wards caught the vision the unity of purpose of boy led scouting, quorum work, and leadership. They called varsity scout coaches and, if they could manage it, a venture crew leader too, and worked to teach them how to run a boy led program that dovetailed well with the boys priesthood quorum objectives. Mutual nights changed gradually from one where the 12-13 year olds were in scout meetings, the 14-15 year olds tried to avoid them, and the 16 year olds who showed up played basketball, to programs and activities that were created and carried out (with good adult support) by young men in distinct age groups regardless of their interest or disinterest in scouting advancement. And high adventure was planned and carried out on a ward level under the direction of young teachers and priests.
One ward had a Young Women presidency who recognized that Girls Camp was not filling the needs of their older girls and started talking to them about what they thought would be better. The girls floated the idea of a week long canoe trip and so the idea began to take shape. The adult leaders spent countless hours helping young women to figure out how to make it happen. The Mia Maids and Beehives wanted in too and so the ward let me (the stake camp director) know that they wouldn't be at Girls Camp that year because they'd be canoeing instead. That was fine with me (though I had to persuade the Stake YW president that this was perfectly fine...people sometimes feel let down when someone doesn't come to something they've put a lot of effort into.)
Another ward had a well organized scout troop that went to Philmont one year and came back awed and inspired by their experience. A number of young women expressed jealousy and a wish to do so as well. Their adult leaders and parents heard them and instead of saying “no we can't” said “why not”? They got the girls to research Venture scouting, a program that would enable them to register as scouts and organize a Philmont trip. The girls figured out what needed to be done, and with the support and resources of their leaders, figured out a way to do that and spent the rest of the next year and a half learning and participating in regional scout activities as part of their Personal Progress projects, culminating in their own Philmont trek two years after they started planning (reserving a Philmont trek needs to be reserved long in advance). It was the girls inspired idea and the leaders and parents assisted them.
Making Changes
My experiences have led me to believe that it is not the programs of the church that need to change, it is the the minds and vision and dedicated time of ward and branch youth leaders and parents. The handbooks teach the principle of programs that teach and encourage the development of character, spiritual awareness and understanding of God's work and the skills required to help, envisioned and carried out by young people, supported by adults. Our problem is that we adults (parents, teachers, scout leaders, advisers, presidencies) do not have the vision of training young people as leaders who are on their way to becoming men and women of God, nor do we feel like we can make the time to do that. So we create adult run programs. We run programs instead of opportunities to practice, in a supportive environment, early learning about what it means to be prepared to lead and act in the service of God and your fellow beings. The handbooks could change and make both the young women and young men programs exactly the same in structure and the problems found in both would still persist.
This situation is, in reality, one that will only change as we dedicated adult women change, volunteer to assist, and tell a YW president we would be happy to help a girl create something that that inspired girl feels needs to happen, instead of just getting upset when a YW president or adviser feels too overwhelmed to tackle it along with everything else she feels she's supposed to do. We can open the eyes of our daughters about how they can use Personal Progress projects in ways that support their good dreams instead of just doing what they've seen others do. We can teach young women how to determine needs, seek inspiration and then create, lead and carry out plans to do good whether or not they have a specific leadership calling. And then can we lend the support they need as they struggle to learn how to do that.
It will only change when men catch the vision and work as Quorum Advisers, Assistant Scoutmasters, Varsity Scout coaches and Venture Crew leaders, take seriously the training the church has about how scouting can be employed as a way to further the objectives the boys have developed in their quorums, and then, with parents, put the time and effort to teach boys how to make YM/scouting work the way they are supposed to: led by boys who are mentored by men of God.
Though changes in existing programs as outlined in the handbooks might be interesting to consider or marginally helpful, I do not believe that is the the answer to our youth program challenges. One could make a world of changes to the programs in the handbooks and still the obstacles to youth leadership and youth-led programs and young people envisioning and creating and leading good experiences would exist. I believe that the key answer is a change in us adults who have our boots on the ground in our wards and branches.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Speculating about Heaven, Trusting the Nature of the Creator

"[Jesus] said we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth. Life there will be quite different because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity and not a little heartbreak if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left things to the love of God."

~William Barclay, "The Gospel of Luke", p. 250-251

And this is life eternal:  to know God.

To really know, sense, feel and stand in awe of the reality and magnitude of Being and Love.