Dec 30, 2008

Gender: A State Of Mind

I sort of touched on this subject several months ago in an earlier post, but I wanted to revisit it because I've had some new thoughts and ideas on the topic. I was reminded about it after catching an old episode of Oprah a few weeks ago. Those of you in North America probably saw it months ago, since Oprah is delayed by a couple of months here because they need to add subtitles.

The guests on Oprah were young transgenders, who underwent hormone therapy and/or a sex change operation because they felt they had been born into the wrong body. One had been born a boy, but was living as a woman. The other had been born a girl and was now living as a man.

The more that I witness the personal stories of such people, the harder it is for me (or anyone, in my opinion) to deny that what they feel is extremely real and often devastating, depending on the support -- or lack of it -- that they receive from their loved ones.

I found the story of the young girl-to-man especially compelling. It was interesting to see old pictures of when he was a little girl. You could see the unhappiness and, more than anything, the awkwardness. I don't meant to be mean, but she was a very homely girl. Why? Because she looked like a boy in a wig and dress. Now that "she" has become a "he," he looks normal. His mother described the living hell that their family went through when this young girl was suicidal because of her mental and emotional agony. As soon as she began with hormone therapy and started on the road to becoming a man, he became a happy person, the depression and the suicidal feelings disappeared. Being Mormon, I tried to imagine being in the position of that mother, who wasn't Mormon. If she had followed Church policy on gender -- which, from what I understand includes excommunication for those who undergo transgender operations -- and pushed for her daughter to continue living as a girl, the daughter very likely would have taken her life or at least remained terribly depressed her entire life. Talk about feeling torn.

One thing that really puzzles me whenever I try to reconcile Church doctrine on gender and sexuality with such personal accounts from real people is the fact that almost all of them report feeling either that they were gay or were born the wrong gender from a very early age -- before the age of accountability. We are taught that Satan has no power on those under the age of 8. To me, that means that if a child is feeling a homosexual attraction or gender confusion at age 5, for example, then it can't be a temptation coming from Satan. So where does it come from? God?

Another thing I've thought about is the perplexing question of those people who are born intersex.

"Intersexuality is the state of a living thing of a gonochoristic species whose sex chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female. An intersex organism may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes. Intersexuality is the term adopted by medicine during the 20th century applied to human beings who cannot be classified as either male or female." (Wikepedia)

In "The Family: A Proclamation To The World," the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles stated:

"All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."

Where does this leave intersex people? They're neither one nor the other. Do they have to choose? Is their gender determined by how they feel or is it determined purely by biology and whether or not they have a Y chromosome?

I've tried to imagine what it would be like if someone said to me, "FD, you are a man, so you just need to accept it. You need to start thinking, acting, walking, talking, and dressing like a man. And therefore you should be attracted to women."

Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to convince yourself that you were actually the opposite sex that you think and feel you are?

I agree with the the "Proclamation On The Family" that "(G)ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." I believe that our gender is eternal and that Heavenly Father didn't just leave it up randomly to our DNA to decide whether we would be one gender or the other.

But...

I'm thinking more and more that gender really is a state of mind and spirit: one that is as much a part of us as all the other aspects of our spirit and intelligence. I am female because I feel and act female. If I were sitting in a male body at this very moment but with the same mind that I have now, would I consider myself to not be female?

Heavenly Father can and does allow some of us to be born into bodies that are defective or imperfect, for reasons that are often a mystery to us. The physical state of such individuals does not change their spirit. Could it not also be the same case with physical gender? Could he not have allowed certain individuals to be born into the "wrong" physical body, which then causes a conflict with their spirit, which is of a different gender?

We are taught in Mormonism that our physical bodies are imperfect, subject to disease and defect, and that our spirits and intelligences are eternal. Why, then, should our gender be defined solely by our physical bodies? Should not the mind/spirit take precedence over the body?

This is just a theory that has got me thinking a lot. I'm sure many would say that I'm wrong and they may be correct, but to me personally, it's the only way that I can reconcile the Church's teachings on gender with the compelling personal accounts of those who are intersex, transgender, or struggling with the feeling of being in the wrong body. It's the only thing that makes sense to me.

Dec 26, 2008

When The Word Of Wisdom Leaves You Lacking In Wisdom

As I said in a previous post, I have no problem living the Word of Wisdom.

Or rather, I have no problem living the Word of Wisdom when I understand exactly what the Word of Wisdom includes.

I've come to realize that there are a lot of Word of Wisdom grey areas, or certain parts about it that we're all a little fuzzy on. Sometimes I've had friends ask me, "Can you eat/drink this?" And I have to say, "Uh... I don't know, so I guess I better not just to be safe." That happened to me many years ago when I was out with a Chinese friend and was served green tea, which, silly me, thought was soup. It was in a little bowl and looked like soup and I was about to try it, but when he said it was green tea, I had to decline. Later on I discovered that it's black tea that's included in the Word of Wisdom. And green tea isn't black.

Ah, but it's because of the caffeine. That's what makes green tea off limits, right?

Tell that to all the Mormons who drink Coke and still get a temple recommend.

So caffeine isn't what makes something OK or not OK. Right?

Depends on who you ask.

I'm going to list some Word of Wisdom questions that I've had but have never really found a concrete answer to. Maybe some of you know better than I do, or are also confused:
  • I grew up believing that ANY tea that wasn't herbal was bad. I believed this until, ironically, I happened to sit in on the missionary discussions when I was in Germany. This was before "Preach My Gospel" and The Elders had those flip-cards with phrases and pictures. Under the Word of Wisdom section, it listed the usual alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and "schwarzer tee," or "black tea." OK, so what does that mean? I worked in the food section of Wal-Mart once and I use to peruse all the different kids of tea. The English "Earl Grey" teas did say "black tea" on the label, so it was clear that those would be out. But then there were all these yummy-smelling other teas that looked red, yellow, green, but were not considered "black tea," nor "herbal tea." Now, if I were a German investigator, I would assume that any tea that wasn't black would be OK -- such as green tea, for example. But green tea has caffeine. Does that make it bad? If so, then decaffeinated green tea must be OK, right? Ah, but it's not herbal tea. However, it's not black. Confused? Me too.
  • Browsing through recipes for chocolate cake in various magazines here, I discovered that almost all of them call for a small amount of coffee. I make my own cake and it's fine without it, but what happens when you get invited to someone's house, they serve you a piece of cake, which you know probably contains coffee? When I did my temple prep classes, the brother teaching them seemed to say that something like coffee in baked goods is not something we should worry about too much and that we shouldn't obsess over the Word of Wisdom. And yet I've heard of some Mormons not even using vanilla in cookie batter.
  • Speaking of coffee, is decaf OK? I remember my parents' home teacher, who was a temple worker at the time, mentioning how he had stopped by the local donut shop to get his cup of decaf. I remember being surprised that decaf was OK because I had understood all coffee -- decaf or not -- to be a no-no. I still find it hard to believe that decaf is OK, but maybe it is?
  • Are there any rules about cooking with alcohol (i.e. wine)? I knew an Italian brother in my home ward who cooked authentic Italian food and used wine because, according to him, the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process. I've heard others say this, but I've also heard that it doesn't evaporate completely. So what do you do when you discover that a delicious cream sauce or an Italian soup contains wine? Should you get rid of it or not worry about it? Just the other day, I was in a hurry and picked up a microwavable meal that was discounted because it was about to expire. When I got home, I noticed that the label said it contained white wine. When I checked the list of ingredients it said "white wine powder." I felt torn for a few seconds but then I thought, "Dang it, I'm not going to throw out a perfectly good meal just because of that."
  • Red wine vinegar. Do you/would you use it?
  • And then there is "alcohol free" beer and wine. I've never tried any of these products, first of all because I don't think I'd like them (at least not the beer), and second of all because most of them aren't entirely alcohol-free. With a few exceptions, they usually contain trace amounts of alcohol, around 0.5%. My dad used to tell me about something called "Texas Pride," near-beer which contained 0% alcohol and was brought to the Church picnic by a member who later went on to become an Area Authority. As far as I know, no one had a problem with it.
On the one hand, it's not like I'm dying to consume any of these things. But on the other hand, when it's served to me, it would be nice to know whether it's worth disappointing my host or drawing strange looks by declining something if I don't have to decline it. It would certainly be nice to say with confidence, "Yes, I can drink green tea," or "Actually, I don't drink any kind of tea. Sorry."

By the way, the picture above is of "Munkholm" alcohol-free beer which I've seen some members of the Church drink here in Norway. It was even served at a Mormon wedding that I attended. It's got 0% alcohol and if I thought I'd like it, I wouldn't have a problem drinking it.

What about "the appearance of evil?" If you were out at a restaurant with a bunch of friends, would you feel strange holding a bottle that looks like that?

Dec 17, 2008

'Tis The Season For Making Amends

I often like to think back to what I was doing a year ago at the same time. With Christmas approaching, I've been thinking back to a year ago when I was going through some major stress, trying to clean up a family conflict of gargantuan proportions.

In my previous post entitled "1932," we discussed the importance of not letting religious dogmas come at the expense of individuals. Anyone who follows my blog knows that this is a common theme, that I do a lot of preaching about tolerance within the Church and without. I know the importance of justice, but I prefer mercy. I know the importance of having high moral standards, but I try not to judge people for their weaknesses. Karene, a commenter from the "1932" post, said:

"My intolerance has almost always been directed at members of the Church...at those I think should "know better", whereas I've cut a lot of slack to a nonmember..."

Although I think I'm pretty good at cutting big long pieces of slack to non-members and even fellow members who struggle with an array of challenges that make it difficult for them to live the Gospel as a "good Mormon" should, I have to admit that, unfortunately, I haven't been so generous with slack distribution among members of my own family. And I've been feeling bad about it for quite some time.

To make a very long story short, I'm the oldest of five kids and the only girl. My parents and all of my brothers are active in the Church -- with the exception of one. He's the middle child and I'll call him "Georgie," simply because it was one of his many nicknames as a kid. Georgie is the type of guy that everyone loves. I don't think he's ever had an enemy. Even the crusty old neighbours, who are skeptical of anyone darker than their pasty shade of white, love him -- his deep brown complexion and all. When he worked at Wal-Mart as a student, he was the favourite among co-workers. But like me, I think he likes to push the envelope -- although perhaps in different ways than I do.

Georgie went through some difficult times the past couple of years in his marriage (which thankfully seems to be back on track). Through a sequence of events, we discovered -- to our shock -- that he had begun drinking and partying during a rough time. I and the other siblings were angry and felt betrayed by Georgie. When I confronted him about it, he assured me it was a one-time thing and I took his word for it. When I later discovered that wasn't true, I was furious. Even an ocean away, I really let him have it and for a while it looked like maybe he wouldn't have contact with me or any of our siblings anymore.

I think that perhaps it's difficult for us to understand how others can struggle with something that comes so easily to ourselves. In a way, those who struggle with the Word of Wisdom are at a disadvantage because it's harder for them to hide their weaknesses than for those of us who struggle with other things. It's hard to cover-up clothing that reeks of smoke, dilated pupils, or breath that stinks of alcohol. On the other hand, someone who struggles with a porn addiction can easily delete their internet browser history, switch off their computer, and chances are that no one except God will know. How many of us watch something we know we probably shouldn't be watching or listen to music that is raunchy but so dang catchy? Mea culpa.

When it comes to the Word of Wisdom, I'm a rock. It's perhaps one of the few aspects of the Gospel that I can say I live without any problem or hesitation. Nothing about alcohol, coffee, tea, or tobacco has ever been the least bit tempting to me, so it's hard to me to appreciate the temptation that it is to others. A couple of years ago I cut out meat, which you could also say is a part of the Word of Wisdom that is often ignored or rationalized by most Mormons, and no matter how good a turkey or hot dog may smell, I'm happy with my soy and never feel tempted to cheat. Perhaps I inherited the willpower of my stubborn old English great-grandfather, who quit cold turkey after smoking for many years, even with the pack of cigarettes laying on the table, staring him in the face. I'd like to think that I have the willpower to give up any food or drink if I made my mind up to do it. My biggest challenge would be chocolate, but I gave it up completely for 40 days once and did alright.

So even though I'm a Word of Wisdom wizz, it's painfully evident to anyone that reads this blog that I'm not much of a wizz in a lot of the other important areas of the Gospel. For all I know, Georgie is more of a spiritual wizz than I am -- drinking and all -- but I spent more time focusing on the beer in his hand instead of on the fact that he expressed a testimony of the Gospel, despite his shortcomings. Since that time, all my many flaws, weaknesses, and doubts have seemed to have been amplified and I can find myself wishing that I "only" had Word of Wisdom problems to deal with. I have often thought that it perhaps isn't just a coincidence that I entered this spiritual hurricane after my conflict with Georgie. It's amazing that I was even able to see the mote in his eye for the huge beam in mine.

Things between Georgie and me are good now. We both apologized to each other for a lot of things and things feel more like the way they were before. I know nothing of his current spiritual state or way of living and have no reason to ask. I do, however, have one major regret that I still have not resolved. I haven't really apologized for chastising him so harshly for his drinking or actually said that my love for him as a sister is not dependent on whether or not he drinks or does whatever else. Although it wouldn't be entirely true for me to say that I don't care whether he drinks or not, I do want him to know that even if his drinking should put Larry Hagman to shame, our brother-sister relationship should never be dependent on whether or not he breaks the Word of Wisdom. And to his credit, I have to say that he took a beating from me in written form when I confronted him about his behaviour, but he just took it and never reacted with the same anger or harshness that I dished out.

This past Sunday in Relief Society, I arrived just in time to hear a sister read a short story from a small book which I think was entitled "Finding Christ." I thought this story was so great, I asked her for a copy of it, knowing that I just had to share it on my blog. Luckily, it was already in English, so it saves me from having to translate. The story was in a chapter called "Giving Him Everything -- Misunderstanding Grace."

{So what does it mean to give him everything? Some of us simply have more ability, more talents, than others. Yet according to the parable, those with only one talent or only two talents are not expected to earn five. Only the one with five talents is expected to earn five.

L
et me illustrate with an example. Many years ago I came into contact with a woman who was, initially at least, one of the roughest persons I have ever known. Abused as a child, she had run away from home and had lived on the streets for years. As a young woman, she traveled around the country with a motorcycle gang. In late middle age, her beauty gone, she spent most of her time in a pub, where some missionaries met her when they went in to get change for a pay phone outside. When she was baptized, many of the members worried that her conversion wouldn’t last, and there were good reasons to suspect it might not.

For a long time after her baptism, this sister still swore like a trooper, even in Church, and never quite lived the Word of Wisdom one hundred percent. On one occasion during her first year in the Church, she lost her temper during a Relief Society meeting and punched out one of the other sisters. Her ex-husband is an alcoholic, and her children have all spent time in jail. Now the question before us is whether someone like this can seriously expect to be saved. What hope does a person like this, with all her faults and weaknesses, really have? With her background and problems, why bother coming to Church at all?

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” God does not lie. Whoever will come, may come. All are invited, none is excluded. Though this sister had further to travel than most, the same covenant was offered to her: “Do all you can. I will do the rest while you learn how.” And she was as faithful as she could be under her circumstances. She never said, “No, I won’t,” or “Get off my back,” or “Why talk to me? Talk to him, he started it.” She always said, “I know; I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.” Then she would try to do better. Often she would fail, but little by little over the years, she improved a great deal. First she gave up coffee, tea, and alcohol. Then she stopped swearing. Later she overcame smoking and got her temper somewhat under control. Finally, after she’d been in the Church many years, she was ready to go to the temple. Can such a person really expect to inherit the kingdom of God? Of course.

But now the harder question. At what point did this sister become a candidate for the kingdom? Was it when she finally gave up her cigarettes, or when she got her language and temper under control? Or was it when she finally qualified for a temple recommend? No. It was none of these, though they were all important landmarks in her progress. She was justified through her faith in Jesus Christ on the day that she repented of her sins, was baptized, and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, for she entered into that covenant in good faith and in all sincerity. She believed in Christ, and she believed Christ. Like the widow with her mite, she gave all she had and held nothing back. It may not have been much, but it was everything.

Every week she took the sacrament, having repented of her mistakes and resolving again to eliminate them. Some things took years to overcome. Other things perhaps haven’t been overcome yet, but she still tries, and she won’t give up. And as long as she won’t give up but endure to the end in the gospel harness, pulling towards the kingdom, her reward is sure. God knows our circumstances, and he judges us accordingly. He knows who is standing in a hole and who is standing on a chair, and he does not just measure height – he measures growth.

Each of us operates at a different level of performance within the covenant boundaries. The percentages vary both from person to person and, even for the same person, over a period of time. In my case, my efforts might take me twenty percent of the way to perfection. The Savior covers the other eighty percent. In your case, your efforts might take you fifty percent – or two percent – of the way. The Savior still covers the difference. But in every case the sum of the joint effort is the same – anyone’s best efforts, however great or small, plus the atonement of Christ will equal 100 percent of what is needed to enter God’s kingdom.}

I think that only we ourselves know just what percentage we are personally capable of contributing towards Christ's atonement. But perhaps even we aren't always able to give an exact figure. Some of us are maybe a little too optimstic, while others think that they can sail along comfortably at 1-2% when they are, in fact, capable of much more. Although I think that we can and should encourage others to reach a higher percentage point, we should never make them feel that they have to get an A+ to justify their activity and participation in the Church and in the Gospel.
I've been musing about whether or not I should tell Georgie about my blog. We seem to share a sense of humour, so he might actually enjoy it. Part of me worries that some of the subject matter here is too "heavy" for him, but then again most of this stuff is only a couple clicks away from anyone who googles "Mormons." He could be struggling with the same things that I do, for all I know. Maybe it would help him to discover that there are plenty of Mormon Misfits out there who fall miserably short of perfection and get ticked off with things, still knowing that there is something good enough about it that makes us want to stick around. And yes, there is, otherwise I know that most of us would have been gone long ago.

So maybe this Christmas season we we can try to make amends with someone in our lives that perhaps deserves more slack than they've gotten from us.

If all else fails, you always have your shoe.

Dec 10, 2008

Should I Pray Or Should I Save My Breath? - Epilogue

Several months ago I wrote a post about prayer. We ended up having a really good discussion and it was one of my most successful posts in regards to the number of comments I got. In that discussion, I talked a bit about our moving dilemma. Now that we've just moved into a new house, I thought I should do a follow-up post since a lot has happened since then.

Almost 2 years ago we bought a piece of land from the locak gov't "cheap(er)" than market value to build a home. It was in a beautiful area close to town and we had plans to build a small home. There was no time to get a final price estimate before applying for the lot, so we did a bit of investigating and then entered this lot lottery, not being overly confident that we would get a lot since interest was huge. I prayed that we would ONLY get it IF it was right for us, because it wasn't like we were set on building new if it wasn't right for us.

So, long story short (you can read the details in the last post if you wish), my prayer was answered, just not in the way that we planned. We had to be really patient -- and believe me, there were times that I was going out of my mind and we wanted to move SO badly, but there was nothing interesting on the market. But suddenly in early November the perfect house for us came up for sale in an area even closer to town and a neighbourhood where we think we'll be very happy. The home is only 10 years old, yet still looks and feels brand new, is bigger than the one we had planned on building, and has more than we could have afforded to build ourselves. If we had bought this house even a year ago, I expect we would have paid around $50,000 USD more than we did now, since the financial crisis has brought the housing market to a standstill. And compared to the modest house we were planning to build, I figure we saved at least $100,000, meaning we now have a much more comfortable mortgage. Now, what about that piece of land we bought that we were seemingly stuck with at a hefty loss? The local gov't originally said they would refund most of the money, since they were partially at fault for everyone suddenly backing out, but we were expecting to lose about $8000 USD in non-refundable fees. But recently we got word from them that they are going to refund 100% of what we paid for it.

I still can't say that I'm getting promptings or burning bosoms when I pray. I still feel that "stupor of thought" and I still struggle to pray because of that. However, this ordeal was a lesson that the Lord still hears and answers my prayers, even if I don't feel anything. And in this case, the Lord saved us a ton of money, so it'd be pretty ungrateful for me to not acknowledge His hand in that.

Now if my cats will just get along and if we can just get our internet hooked up at home, it'll be a very Merry Christmas indeed. :)

Dec 3, 2008

1932

First of all, I'd like to thank Lisa from The Liberal Mormon That Could for bringing this Sunstone article to my attention. This is an address from Elder Stephen L. Richards at the 102nd Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 9, 1932. When you read it, it's actually quite surprising that it was a conference talk, since it's pretty bold in some ways. I dare say that some conservative Mormons may have gone away from it feeling offended.

I wish to just highlight some of the talk, add a bit of personal commentary, and then let you all comment on what you got out of it.

{"I want to say something to promote better understanding in the Church. In so doing, my chief fear is that I myself may be misunderstood. I have never felt more the need for the aid of our Father's Spirit and the faith and sympathy of my brethren and sisters. I pray that I may have them.

As a preface to the specific things I wish to mention, I desire to set forth some fundamental principles as I conceive them. I interpret the gospel in terms of life. It was brought to humanity; it is our duty to bring humanity to the Gospel. Election, not compulsion is the genius of Christian philosophy. Ridicule and ostracism often amount to compulsion. I deplore their existence. I fear arrogant dogmatism. It is a tyrant guilty of more havoc to human-kind than the despot ruling over many kingdoms. I have pity for the disobedient, not hatred. They deprive themselves of blessings. The disobedient punish themselves."}

"Ridicule and ostracism"... "arrogant dogmatism"... a guilty "tyrant"... these are pretty strong words. Since he was addressing members of the Church, I assume he was addressing problems that existed in the Church. What specific things do you think he was referring to?

{"I believe that the dignity of the Church should be maintained, and the purity of gospel truth preserved without dilution. But man, after all, is the object of God's work. "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." The Church is God's established agency to this high purpose. No man lives or has lived whose judgment is perfect and not subject to error. To accept the doctrine of human infallibility is to betray gross ignorance of the divine plan of human life-the fall, mortal probation, repentance, and final election. There could be no election with perfect knowledge, omniscience. We walk by faith in mortality and by faith we exercise our agency.

{"In the absence of direct communication from heaven, however, the Church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given and the wisdom and inspiration of its leadership. I have great confidence in the wisdom of the presiding authorities in all departments of church service, first, because they hold the Holy Priesthood, and second, because I know them to be good men. There is virtue in the endowment of the Priesthood. It brings to men who receive
it and appreciate it an enlarged conception of life and and altruism that is Christlike in character. It brings spiritual knowledge and power, and the judgment of a presiding officer holding the Priesthood is generally an inspired judgment. It is the product of noble motive and fervent prayer."}

I think it's interesting that he points out the "absence of direct communication from heaven." I take that to mean that we still lack a lot of specifics, which is perhaps why I often feel like there has to be "more to the story" in some of the most perplexing parts of the Gospel. In that case, we simply have to rely on what we do have, because "the Church and its people must be guided by the revelations already given."

{"In matters of church government and discipline, and judgment of presiding officers is mandatory and controlling. In matters of individual guidance to members, their counsel is directory and persuasive only. In the interpretation of scripture and doctrine, they are dependent on their knowledge and experience and inspiration. I make this frank avowal of my own personal understanding of these fundamental principles as a premise to certain observations and conclusions I desire to present. Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience."}

We're often told to not "lean unto (our) own understanding," to "trust the prophet in all things," etc, etc, but Elder Richards makes a pretty strong case here for varied "personal understanding" which is based on our individual "knowledge and experience and inspiration." Do you think that such a statement is contradictory?

{"First, I hold that it is entirely compatible with the genius of the Church to change its procedure and interpretations as changes in thought, education and environment of people from time to time seem to warrant, provided, of course, that no violence is done to the elemental concepts of truth which lie at the basis of our work. I would not discard a practice merely because it is old. Indeed, I believe that one of the tests of worth is the test of time. But on the other hand, I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better informed world. Old conceptions and traditional interpretations must be influenced by newly discovered evidence. Not that ultimate fact and law change, but our understanding varies with our education and experience."}

I've often heard people say how our Church doesn't change with the times. Usually, they mean it in a way that is flattering to our Church, pointing fingers at all the churches who "change with the times" and suddenly start allowing things such as female priests and gay marriage ceremonies. I don't like the thought of our Church being wishy-washy and changing things on a whim, but those Mormons who claim that we never change are wrong. In fact, as Elder Richards seems to say, we shouldn't be so resistant to change if it really is for the better. When he says, "I would not hang on to a practice or conception after it has outlived its usefulness in a new and ever-changing and better informed world," I think it's interesting that this statement is from 1932, which was before the world saw some of the most dramatic and sweeping changes politically, socially, scientifically, and technologically speaking. Would he have still dared to say it if he could have seen what was to come? I think about feminism and liberalism, both of which have their resistance in the LDS Church.

{"One man sees the meaning of a scripture so clearly and definitely that he exclaims with comtemptible deprecation of a contender's view, "
Why, it's as plain as the nose on your face," and the other replies, "It is silly and foolish." Both are sincere. Who is right? What position does the Church take? Generally, I think, the Church takes no official position and ought not to, in the large majority of mooted questions. Men are permitted to hold individual views and express them with freedom so long as they are not seditious to the basic doctrines, practices, and establishments of the Church. When men lose their regard for the Church, of course, they are no longer entitled to place and influence in it."}

That paragraph should be printed out, laminated, and hung on every wall of every RS and Priesthood wall in the Church.

{"I believe it to be a generally accepted proposition in our church that no man's standing is affected by the views which he may honestly hold with reference to the beginning of man's life on the earth and the organization of the universe, or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible. Personally, I find more peace of mind and comfort in what may seem a rather lazy disposition to attempt no explanation of these seemingly inexplicable matters. But if anyone holds views and gets satisfaction from them, I say let him have them, and for one I won't abuse him for them. I do think, however, that one who has real affection for the church and regard for its members will never urge views which may tend to undermine the faith of members, particularly the young, in the fundamentals."}

Can our "standing" be affected by the views we may "honestly hold" with reference to things other than "the beginning of man's life on the earth and the organization of the universe, or the processes employed in the working of the miracles of the Bible?"

{"But even more important than change of conception, form and procedure in our church as in any society, is change of attitude. How do we feel about things? Have more education, more knowledge, and wider experience broadened our sympathies or contracted them? In application of this question, I must mention some delicate matters. I call them delicate because I run a great hazard of being misunderstood when I discuss them. Take smoking for instance. Is there more or less tolerance for the user of tobacco by the Church, as represented by its officials and the faithful membership, than there was twenty-five or fifty years ago? I cannot say. I have no way of knowing. We feel that it is wrong and we inveigh against it. Men often construe the Word of Wisdom as a commandment against it and invest the practice of it with the stigma of sin. I think my own preaching against it may be so construed. Am I right? Are all of us right? Have not some of our people failed to distinguish between the offense and the offender? I do not mean to say that I doubt the wisdom of the Word of Wisdom. I know that it contains God's wishes and direction for the welfare of His children, and I am sure that those who fail to heed the teaching of it will lose blessings of great worth, but I am not sure that we have not estranged many from the Church or at least contributed to their estragement by attributing to violation of our standards of health, harmful as it may be, a moral turpitude and sinful magnitude out of proportion of the real seriousness of the offense. Maybe I am wrong. I do not claim that my analysis is correct, but I think it worthy of your attention. I am sure that many young people feel themselves ostracized from the Church by reason of the emphasis and the somewhat intolerant attitude some of us have shown toward the user, not the use, of tobacco. I believe there are some good people in the Church to whom the use of tobacco is so repugnant and who are so offended by those who use it that they may actually develop a feeling akin to hatred toward the smoker. This state of mind, to my thinking is regrettable and dangerous -- dangerous to the individual who harbors such thoughts because it tends to make him illiberal and intolerant, dangerous to the unfortunate who succumbs to a bad practice in that he instinctively sets up a resistance to the man who dislikes him, and dangerous to the church because such people characterize it with a reputation for dogmatic intolerance that weakens its influence with its members and in the world. "}

I like the example he gives of tobacco and the danger of cigarettes in themselves vs. how we react to it. I dare say that sometimes our reaction drives people into making unwise choices. It's true that the decision and consequences thereof are theirs alone, but when we're feeling frustrated with people, our rebellious natures have an easier time of persuading us into letting our guard down.

{"Now, some may see in the position I have taken an undue
liberality, a retraction of long-established rules, and a letting down of standards. I have no intention to lower standards. I want only better understandings. The more sympathy and mutual helpfulness; the more true spirit of the Gospel we have, the more we approach the attitude of the Master. Jesus in his ministry forgave transgressors even of the major sins-lying and unchastity. Shall we be intolerant of those guilty of infractions of our counsel?

I want us to continue to lay emphasis on good, clean, wholesome living, but not in such a way as to in any manner obscure the primary objective of our work, which is to open the doors of the Celestial Kingdom to the children of our Father. We do not know how manv will enter. We how for all. For my part I desire to deny none entrance for weaknesses of the flesh if the spirit is willing. Yet I do not believe in indulgences. I believe that the new and everlasting covenant is inclusive of all the laws of the Gospel and that no one can be broken with impunity. Everyone who does wrong in any degree will forfeit a blessing. But God is our judge, and as I expect mercy, I want to give it.

I have been filled with trepidation as I have delivered these words, fearing that I might be misunderstood, but my resolution has been fortified by my conviction that my heart and purpose are right. I believe I do not need to protest my fealty and love for this cause among my brethren and sisters here assembled. I have borne my humble testimony throughout the Church for many years. I believe that you know that I know that this is God's work and that Joseph Smith is his prophet, and that the governing priesthood is now held by worthy successors.

I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion. Fanaticism and bigotry have been the deadly enemies of true religion in the long past. They have made it forbidding, shut it up in cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery, out of the sunlight and fragrance of the growing world. They have garbed it in black and then in white, when in truth it is neither black nor white, any more than life is black or white, for religion is life abundant, glowing life, with all its shades, colors and hues, as the children of men reflect in the patterns of their lives the radiance of the Holy Spirit in varying degrees."}

I can't help but think of Bruce R. McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine" when he says, "I have said these things because I fear dictatorial dogmatism, rigidity of procedure and intolerance even more than I fear cigarettes, cards, and other devices the adversary may use to nullify faith and kill religion."

He uses strong words such as "fanaticism and bigotry" in what I interpret to be as a pretty blunt shot at the Catholic Church, referring to the "cold grey walls of monastery and nunnery." I personally don't like such condescending references to other churches, at least in a very public conference talk, because I think that they will inevitably come back to haunt us. One may ask what we were doing in a coalition in California in 2008 with a Church that is guilty of such "fanaticism and bigotry." It sort of reminds me of politics. Those who are rivals and enemies often find themselves kissing up to each other someday. I did, however, like what Elder Richards had to say about life being religion, and religion being anything but black and white.

Since Elder Richards admitted that he was "filled with trepidation... fearing that (I) might be misunderstood," I can only hope that I have managed to capture a bit of what he was saying in the spirit of how he was saying it without offending him. But alas, it is left up to my own understanding.

Nov 28, 2008

Shotgun Weddings

Continuing along in my "Dummies" series, I'm currently reading "Catholicism for Dummies." There's a lot that I love about Catholicism and a lot that makes me glad that I'm not Catholic. This book has helped clear up some of the misconceptions I had about Catholicism, whether it's the issues of celibacy or marriage annulments, and it's also helped me appreciate a lot about the faith.

In the chapter about Catholic marriage, it says:

{In most dioceses, Catholics who want to marry are asked to meet with a priest or a deacon at least 9 to 12 months before the wedding. This period is called Pre-Cana after the name of the town, Cana, where Jesus and his mother, Mary, went to a wedding feast, and Jesus changed water into wine. During the Pre-Cana period, the priest offers practical financial and emotional advice to the couple, as well as instructions on the spiritual nature of marriage and Natural Family Planning (NFP), which, by the way, is not the old, forsaken Rhythm Method. Because the Catholic Church forbids all artificial contraception, regulating birth and planning the size of a family must be based on morally allowable means, such as NFP.

Why is so much time spent in preparation? Why can't weddings be spontaneous? Because the Sacrament of Matrimony is a vocation for life. The Catholic Church wants to prevent impulsive, shotgun weddings, or anything done in haste, rashness, or imprudence.}

If there's any religious group of people who knows "spontaneous" weddings, it's Mormons. I've known Mormons who met someone at BYU, got married, and had two kids in the same amount of time it took me to decide whether or not to get married. How many really wait 9-12 months? Some may not even wait 3 months. We all got a laugh out of the impulsive engagements and weddings in "The Singles Ward," but it's perhaps not all that far off from reality. We've all seen it, haven't we? I'm the result of a pretty spontaneous international engagement myself, even though my dad wasn't Mormon at the time of their marriage, and they beat the odds by staying together. It's surprising, actually, just how many do beat the odds, but I've seen quite a few who didn't. I've seen those who feel pressured into getting married ASAP and having as many kids as possible ASAP and they sometimes end up miserable and divorced with several kids. It's not nice.

OK, so most of us would probably not want to discuss the details of "family planning" with our bishop. I know I wouldn't. But is there not anything we can learn from our Catholic neighbours? I know that the bishop and stake president probably give young couples a "talk" when they have their recommend interviews, but should it be more? The Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony is for life and therefore they think it's wise to not rush things and give the couple plenty of counsel. Mormon temple marriage is for eternity.

So why the rush?

Nov 22, 2008

My Prop 8 Manifesto

This post is also currently being featured at Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Although I’m usually able to write a post fairly spontaneously as the thoughts come to me, this is one that I’ve been procrastinating for several weeks because it requires so much thought and tact in order for it to be effective instead of offensive.

Another reason why I’d been procrastinating writing this post is that I know that most of us are sick to death of the Prop 8 debate and wish it would just go away. I sort of dread bringing it up again, I still don’t know exactly where I stand on gay marriage, and I’ve communicated with other Mormons who are in the same boat. The purpose of this post, however, is not to debate whether Prop 8 was right or wrong, but to focus on the future.

Even though I’m thousands of miles away from the drama of Prop 8, I feel very impacted by the whole issue. Lately I’ve been debating with myself about whether I should make a personal statement, a sort of “Prop 8 manifesto” about where I stand on the issue, and post it on my personal network of friends (some of whom are gay) in order to “clear the air,” or just remain silent and hope that it blows over. Perhaps it’s also a way for me to finally find some sort of inner peace in the matter.

First of all, who would my manifesto be directed to? Well, I guess it would be directed at the two groups that I feel like I’m standing in between: my gay friends (as well as gays in general) and the Church that I consider to be my spiritual home. I don’t entirely agree with either side, neither do I entirely disagree with either side. But I’m afraid that both sides may misinterpret my silence as meaning that I’m OK with how things unfolded.

So, here it goes:

To my friends who are gay or supported gay marriage:

First of all, I wish to issue an apology to those of you who have found yourselves to be the victims of true hatred and bigotry. I know that certain members of my faith and other religious persuasions have treated you unkindly, unfairly, and in a way that no Christian person should be able to legitimately justify. I have encountered comments by certain Mormons that make me cringe and I am sometimes ashamed to have to call them fellow members of my church.

I simply ask that you carefully consider how you apply the labels of “bigot” or “hate.” I have seen indications of these words being thrown around as ignorantly and as indiscriminately as those who label gay people as “perverts” or “sinners.”

Please understand that my religion is just as personal to me and as defining of who I am as your sexuality is to you. Although it is true that I am free to leave my religion if I please, physically leaving it would not mean that I would be able to just deny my faith, just as you would not able to deny your attraction towards the same sex. In many ways, I don’t feel that I chose my religion – it chose me, just as I’m sure you probably feel about your sexuality. If you have not experienced what it feels like to have a personal relationship with God, then you cannot understand exactly how it is – just as I cannot understand exactly what it’s like to be gay. In order for you to suggest that I am using my religion as a crutch or an excuse to hate homosexuals is just as unfair as it would be if I were to suggest that you chose to be gay or that you could be heterosexual if you really wanted to.

I wish to be honest. I personally believe that marriage is something that we do not need to redefine. I am perhaps too much of a traditionalist in this regard for those who disagree with me. But it is how I feel and it would quite possibly be enough to affect how I would vote on an issue such as Prop 8. However, I do not regard my personal views as a nullification of yours. I acknowledge that my personal belief is simply that: my personal belief and ideal. I have mine and you have yours.

I have given a great deal of thought to the issue of Prop 8 and I sympathize greatly with both sides. Obviously, I was not eligible to vote on Prop 8, but if I had been, I would most likely have refrained from voting on it. To be honest, YES and NO felt neither entirely right nor entirely wrong to me. I wish that there could have been some middle ground, but there wasn’t. I wish to state for the record that I personally oppose the explicit appeal to support Prop 8 by the leadership of my Church and its involvement in the YES on 8 campaign. I feel that it violated our policy of political neutrality and it troubles me greatly. However, this does not mean that I oppose Mormons campaigning as individuals or voting according to their personal conscience and convictions – even if this means that they voted YES.

I cannot apologize for our right as a church to teach and uphold the values that we believe in. Although I oppose the Church’s involvement in the Prop 8 campaign, I do not oppose our right to uphold the traditional definition of marriage as individuals. Contrary to what you may believe, we are not told to hate homosexuals. Neither do we teach that being homosexual is a choice, even though a few ignorant Mormons may attempt to spread this false belief. If what we teach in our churches translates into an influx of Mormons voting YES on 8, or others propositions like it, then this must be respected as it is how democracy works. People need to be allowed to vote their conscience and for most of us, our conscience is heavily influenced by our individual religious and spiritual experiences — just as your own conscience is heavily influenced by your own unique life experiences and even religious beliefs. You may feel that we defeated gay marriage, but in reality we have probably done nothing more than delay it. Out of respect for the democratic process, you are free to continue to campaign on behalf of your cause and to persuade more people to support gay marriage the next time another such referendum is organized.

To my friends who are Mormon, supported Prop 8, or who oppose gay marriage:

First of all, you need to understand that my opposition to the Church’s political involvement in the YES on 8 campaign does not automatically make me an apostate. I’ve struggled to understand the reasons why the LDS Church opposes gay civil marriage so adamantly and yet is silent on other “moral issues” that have such a huge impact on society, families and children. I’ve read the official statement from the Church and I’ve read countless arguments from supporters of Prop 8 as to why it was so important that gay marriage not become legal. Many of these “reasons” were not morally-based, but rather founded in the fear of legal implications gay marriage would have on the separation of church and state, our tax exempt status as a church, our right to perform marriages as a church, and how Mormons would be allowed to continue to practice freedom of religion. Most of these have been disputed by lawyers – even Mormon ones – and so these “reasons” appear to me to be at best speculation and at worst pure scare tactics by the YES on 8 side. Supporters of gay marriage have some very compelling reasons for why they believe that gay marriage should be legal and I sympathize with many of them. There is, however, one reason I have not been able to hop on the gay marriage bandwagon: although marriage has evolved over time, it has never been redefined in the sense that it has been between members of the same sex. Gay marriage is still in relative infancy in the few places on earth that it’s legal. We simply don’t know how or whether it will affect the traditional family long term. It may, or it may not, depending on who you believe. Both sides have “evidence” to defend their views.

In an official release, the Church leadership stated:

Before it accepted the invitation to join broad-based coalitions for the amendments, the Church knew that some of its members would choose not to support its position. Voting choices by Latter-day Saints, like all other people, are influenced by their own unique experiences and circumstances. As we move forward from the election, Church and work together for a better society.”

Notice that they said that “members need to be understanding and accepting of each other,” not that “members need to pressure and guilt-trip each other into agreeing with the Church’s official position.” We must remember that although the Church took an official position on Prop 8, an “official position” does not equal “official doctrine.” Although our official doctrine opposes any sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman, many Mormons are able to uphold the Church’s teaching on homosexuality while still opposing a constitutional ban on gay marriage. We also need to remember our history. Although the Church did not take an official stance, many Mormons – including General Authorities at the time – opposed the black civil rights movement in the 1960’s. To say that black civil rights and gay marriage are exactly the same thing is debatable. But to say that there are absolutely no parallels is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Some members during the 1960’s disagreed with Church leadership, the most prominent being George Romney, who was pressured by General Authorities to cease his involvement in the civil rights movement. Romney ignored this pressure and continued to be involved in the movement in a manner that did not jeopardize his membership in the Church. And now that we look back, it’s not difficult to see who was on the right side of history. To be fair, I need to mention that some of those Church leaders who opposed black civil rights later admitted that they were mistaken.

The First Presidency has also stated that:

“The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not affect Church members’ Christian obligations of love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “

Unfortunately, a few Mormons have mistakingly believed that they fulfilled their “Christian obligations” by critcizing and cutting down homosexuals or members of the Church that sympathize with their cause, instead of by showing “love, kindness and humanity toward all people. “ I believe that these Mormons do not represent the majority, but it saddens me that there were any who participated in such behaviour. Sometimes, an insignificant number of people can do a significant amount of damage.

The Church urged that “(a)s Church members decide their own appropriate level of involvement in protecting marriage between a man and a woman, they should approach this issue with respect for others, understanding, honesty, and civility.”

We need to ask ourselves whether we’ve really approached this issue with the utmost “respect for others” that should be expected of a people that often feels disrespected by the world and even fellow Christians. Have we, as individuals, taken the time to see things — as best we can — from the perspective of those we oppose, in order to have as much “understanding” as we possibly can, or have we quickly dismissed them? Have we been 100% “honest” in the way that we have run the Prop 8 campaign, or have we engaged in exagerration and scare tactics? Have we managed to treat those we disagree with – and even those who persecute and hate us – with “civility,” or do we hold to the “eye for an eye” philosophy?

Prop 8 has been voted on, it passed, and gay marriage was defeated in California, as well as in other states. Whether it’s deserved or not, we are getting the “credit” for the victorious YES on 8 campaign. As Mormons, we perhaps think that we have done our duty and can now relax, when in fact our job is just beginning. Now it’s time for damage control and focusing on building bridges.

Whether we are right or wrong on the issue of gay marriage is really quite irrelevant. Many people are very angry at us and things may get uglier, the persecution more intense, and the temptation to retaliate even stronger.

The question is: what are we going to do about it?

Nov 16, 2008

Make Some Room!

This post is currently being featured on Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you're interested, you can follow the discussion here:

I mentioned in my intro last week on Feminist Mormon Housewives that I consider myself to be a social democrat. I have been through several rounds of “the socialism question” around the Bloggernacle and it has been exhausting. Although this is a non-issue to most of us Mormons who live in social democracies, such as I do here in Norway, I have come to realize that it is a different story among American Mormons. It seems that I represent a small minority in the Church, at least among those I have corresponded with online, and I have felt on several occasions that there is no room for my belief. Comments have varied between support and downright disdain, with “communist” and “Satan’s plan” sometimes surfacing. The purpose of this post, however, is not to begin another round of the socialism debate, but to discuss being able to claim the place in the Church that is legitimately ours.

I was chatting to a good friend recently about how difficult it is to claim your place in a church where you feel so outnumbered. He commented how confusing it can be when different scriptures seem to contradict each other. The same can be said from teaching and quotes from General Authorities. The reality is that in many cases, I can read a scripture and receive a totally different answer or impression than another person who reads the same scripture. Is there really only one truth to everything? This of course doesn’t give us a license to rationalize things that we know are right or wrong, but could it be that there is singular “truth” than we believe? Could it be that finding “truth” in something does not require us to automatically exclude other possible “truths?” In other words, that we can have differing views on the same thing and both be right, depending on the time, place, and circumstances? Perhaps there is more leeway in our personal beliefs on a lot of issues than many assume.

I know that many will disagree with me, but I have a hunch that Joseph Smith was, in many ways, a liberal. Although some of his actions trouble me, I find more liberty and openness in many of his teachings than I do in other prophets. Ironically, some of his most fascinating teachings are to be found among his teachings of polygamy, but I think there is wisdom to be found in them in regards to other circumstances that we find ourselves in today. In a letter to Miss Nancy Rigdon from 11 April 1842, he writes:

“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.

“God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added.”

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He will be inquired of by His children. He says: “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find;” but, if you will take that which is not your own, or which I have not given you, you shall be rewarded according to your deeds; but no good thing will I withhold from them who walk uprightly before me, and do my will in all things—who will listen to my voice and to the voice of my servant whom I have sent; for I delight in those who seek diligently to know my precepts, and abide by the law of my kingdom; for all things shall be made known unto them in mine own due time, and in the end they shall have joy.” ( Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136, See also “The Letter of the Prophet, Joseph Smith to Miss Nancy Rigdon,” Joseph Smith Collection, LDS archives)

One of the reasons why I enjoy blogging so much is that in the Bloggernacle, I get the liberal Mormon perspective that would be very hard to get in church. A non-Mormon whose only exposure to Mormonism is the Bloggernacle could be led to believe that the majority of us are fairly liberal, but I think that this is actually very disproportionate to reality. Let’s face it, liberal Mormons are grossly outnumbered in the church. I think that conservatives sometimes feel threatened by liberals and want to quash liberal thinking and ideas, perhaps going as far as to practically chase them out of the Church, while liberals sometimes feel they’re at war with their own fellow members and then end up leaving the Church when they conclude that it has no room for them and they start feeling sorry for themselves.

What I’m about to say may be a hard pill to swallow for both liberals and conservatives.

I believe that we need each other. That’s right, all of you conservatives out there who sometimes drive me nuts with your ideas need to be there for me. And yes, perhaps to your chagrin, that means that you need me too.

I believe that God created us liberal and conservative for much the same reason that He created us male and female. We need each other to survive, to maintain balance and to draw from the strengths of each other. Although our levels of liberalness vs. conservativeness may fluctuate over the course of our lives (mine certainly have), I don’t believe that leaning more towards one side has to come at the expense of the other. In fact, it shouldn’t.

I’m now going to take the liberty of over-generalizing what it means to be liberal or conservative. Of course, there are many, many grey areas, so please don’t accuse me of not seeing them. Most of us (hopefully) maintain a healthy balance of the two. However, as a general rule of thumb, liberals bring the following assets to the table of Mormonism:

  • Open-mindedness and willingness to accept multi-interpretations of the same Gospel.
  • Compassion and understanding for those who don’t fit the mold.
  • Willingness and sometimes even eagerness to change when change is needed.

On the other side of things, conservatives are generally stronger in the following areas:

  • Dedication and loyalty to the faith.
  • Unwavering testimony even during times of intense doubt.
  • Protecting the Church from undue or negative change and influence.

Some of these strengths can also be weaknesses, depending on how we apply them. For example, conservatives may be so concerned about tradition and literal interpretation, that they fail to see the need for change when it’s needed. Were it not so, the priesthood ban would have either never happened or would have probably ended much sooner. On the other hand, the unwavering faith and loyalty to the prophets on the part of conservative members was the glue that kept the Church together during incredibly difficult times in our history such as polygamy and the pioneer journey west. Bottom line: liberals give wings to the Church when it needs to fly, while conservatives keep it grounded when the skies are too stormy to make it safe.

What I’m not asking for is for the Church or the prophet to sanction my personal ideas and opinions. What I am asking for is for fellow members to acknowledge that I can legitimately maintain my beliefs without necessarily being guilty of apostasy, heresy, or spreading false doctrine. I may even be correct in my seemingly wacky views. No one is required to agree with me, but I am required to follow my personal truths as I believe that God has revealed them to me. And when this is done within the frame of reason and acceptability that the Church has deemed appropriate – which allows for more dispute and variation than most members even realize – then I think we need to respect the liberal views of our fellow brothers and sisters: views that may be too liberal for us, but perhaps not so for our Heavenly Father.

So, my conservative brothers and sisters, make some room for us on the teeter totter.

And to my fellow liberals: don’t get off or it’s just going to come crashing down on all of us.

Nov 12, 2008

Telling Satan Where To Go

This may sound like an odd question, but do you ever talk to Satan? Not like in a "Tuesdays with Morrie" or a taunting "Come and get me!" type of way, but more like, "Satan, go to Hell!" (which I guess is pretty convenient for him.)

My mom was out jogging a few days ago. It had been a stressful few weeks with some tension in the family and all the mental and physical stress of getting my younger brother ready to go on his mission to Argentina (he just left yesterday). Things are better now, but at the moment she was out running, she was mentally praying for the strength that she needed to get through these difficult weeks. As well, she had a bit of a freaky encounter that was a reminder of what we're all up against.

Although she would never pray to Satan or have a conversation with him, she certainly tells him off. Basically, she said something along the lines of "I know you're out there and you're not gonna get me or my family! So get lost!" And just as she rounded the bend at that moment, a big snake was sprawled out right in the middle of the trail. The freaky part is that first of all, snakes aren't usually out in November in Canada, especially on this particularly cold day. Second of all, the snake she saw wasn't one of those common garter snakes that we all run into occasionally. Based on her description, I think it was a northern water snake, which I've rarely seen, and whenever I have they've been during the summer in the water. Thirdly, snakes are usually freaked out by people, but this one just looked at her and twitched a bit, almost tauntingly. Strangely, my mom didn't freak out, but remained calm and simply stepped over the snake, not daring to look back.

So, just a coincidence to the skeptic, perhaps. But I take it to be more of a reminder of a reality that most of us prefer not to think about.

Has anyone else had any freaky encounters of this sort?

Nov 5, 2008

Mr. President

Well, today I feel like I have jet lag after pulling an all-nighter, but it was all worth it.

Just as "Where were you when Kennedy got shot?" is the question of my parents' generation, hopefully for my own generation, the question will be, "Where were you when Obama was elected?" I wonder if we can really fathom right now just how huge this is -- not just for America, but for the world. If a black man can get elected in America, then he can get elected anywhere. I think that one of the most impressive things about the night was seeing the reaction, not just of blacks and other minorities, but of whites. The fact that they got emotional and jumped for joy over the election of a black president spoke volumes.

Just as the election of Obama will hopefully be the catalyst to truly healing the wounds caused by racism in America, I can't help but wonder whether we, as a Church, will ever be able to fully recover from the wounds of our own racist past.

So, when will we see the first black Mormon prophet?

I can't help but wonder if I will ever see that in my lifetime.

Nov 2, 2008

Why Are You Still Here?

This week I had a bit of a spiritual meltdown. Sometimes the things about the Church that trouble me get to be so overwhelming that it feels like a spiritual panic attack: like the walls are closing in and you just can't take it anymore and need to get out.

So after I let out my frustrations, which I need to do periodically whenever they build up, I started thinking about why I'm still here.

I came to a conclusion: it all boils down to Jesus.

Life in the Church is a constant struggle for me because my spirituality is like a roller coaster ride that I can't get off. Roller coasters can be scary and yet most people love them. Even if they vomit afterwards, the ride itself was fun enough that chances are they will want another ride someday. Right now, I'm in the vomiting period, for lack of a better analogy. But I'm not getting off the roller coaster because even though I have no guarantee, I'm hoping that Jesus will be waiting for me when the ride is over.

I'd like to say that I will be able to just tune out all the painful aspects of Mormonism whenever I hear or read them. I'd like to say that I'll be strong enough to not let them get me down or make me angry. I'd like to say that I will able to focus only on the things that make me happy about life as a Mormon, and not the things that make me sad. I'd like to say that whenever I question or disagree with something in the Church, that I will be able to keep it entirely to myself and never voice my opinion. But I know I'll never be able to do any of these things entirely. Still, though, it somehow doesn't matter so much to me as long as I focus solely on Christ and my personal belief -- not in the Church, but in Him.

Today in church I had an opportunity to get back to basics. For the first time ever in my branch (at least for the past 6 six years I've attended it), we held Young Women's. An inactive sister has recently decided to come back and has been bringing along her 2 daughters, aged 11 ad 13. Another young sister who was visiting our branch decided to hold YW and asked me to come along for class. The two girls seem very sweet, innocent, and genuinely interested in the Church. They seemed to enjoy the class and the opportunity to have their own class with teachers who are not senior citizens, like most of the rest of the branch. So we had a nice, simple lesson about how we can be a positive influence on others. We touched on topics such as bullying at school and standing up for what is right. As I sat there and looked at these girls, I thought about how they were at such a vulnerable age and how most kids would never have this unique opportunity to sit down and talk about morals and values. I thought to myself that this is good; this is what I love about the Church. This is how I grew up, it's what I was taught, and it's what shaped me into the person I am today. With all my faults, I am adamant about the need for more compassion and mercy in this world. I'm fiercely opposed to racism, bigotry, and injustice. Although I'm far from perfect, I try to avoid hypocrisy like the plague and I'm afraid of being corrupted by my personal pride. All of these things I learned from my parents and from the Church. I think that is what Jesus would want. And that, as Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

I know that some of you out there are going through the same sort of struggles as I am. Perhaps you're tired of having to constantly defend your personal political convictions to other Mormons. Perhaps you've had it up to here with the whole Prop 8 issue. Perhaps you are tired of trying to convince fellow Mormons that Barack Obama is not the Antichrist. Perhaps you are feeling really disillusioned by the hypocrisy of Mormons. Perhaps you are gay. Perhaps you are married to a non-member. Or perhaps you are a Mormon misfit, for whatever reason, and feel like the Church doesn't have a place for someone like you. And yet, if you're reading this right now, there is a reason why you've decided to stick around. For me, it's all about Jesus; the simplicity and the purity of His message. And while it's not my place to demand change from the Church in the areas that I would perhaps like to see it, I take comfort in the following quote, which was provided by a great friend of mine:

"I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually." -Brigham Young

I think that we sometimes make the mistake of believing that this is an "all or nothing" church. Either you believe it all, or you believe nothing. But I no longer think it has to be this way.

So, I ask all of you who struggle to stay active in this church or have considered leaving to take a step back, breathe, put things into perspective, and think. Why are you still here?

Oct 30, 2008

Ezra Taft Benson vs. Democratic Socialism

As someone who is living happy under democratic socialism, I'm really starting to get sick of this "distribution of wealth" = socialism = communism stuff. I consider myself to be someone who is generally quick to anger. Now I'm starting to get angry. Not because people disagree with socialism, but because they are twisting the facts and using them as scare tactics -- particularly when they start bringing God into the picture.

I just came across this video from Ezra Taft Benson speaking out against socialism on April 12, 1977. Now, I'm not trying to demonize President Benson here. I understand that his views were his own and this was from a different time. He was a staunch Republican, adamantly opposed to communism (which I am too!) and he was entitled to his Republican views. However, what bothers me is that by using a blanket label such as "socialism" Mormons today are using this as a means to demonize the modern, DEMOCRATIC version of socialism, which we see in most of the countries of the world that have the best standard of living: Canada, Scandinavia, and much of western Europe. And, by doing so, Mormons are now finding yet another thing to add to the column of "Satan's plan." In Norway, and Europe in general, we have less poverty, less crime, less homelessness, less class distinctions, and everyone has health care. A quick summary? Life here is friggin' good!!! And we have freedom to boot!!! So quit using God's name to spread messages built on half-truths and misrepresentations!! I don't claim democratic socialism to be "God's will," so please don't tell me that what's going on in America right now is "God's will." Maybe God's blood pressure is as high as mine right now.

For the love of Pete, President Benson, SOCIALISM DOES NOT EQUAL COMMUNISM!!! Every single country of the world -- including the USA -- that collects taxes from its people and uses it to pay for the stuff that a society needs is, essentially, "redistributing the wealth." So my government "takes" my money through taxes and gives me health care and loads of other things that I need. I'm perfectly happy with this arrangement and so is virtually every other Canadian and European.

The thing that makes me burning mad is not that individual members have their political opinions. I don't even mind that people who really understand democratic socialism disagree with it. Everyone should be entitled to have their own political beliefs, just as everyone should be entitled to have their own religious and moral beliefs. That's a good thing and I don't believe there is a perfect system. What I don't appreciate is seeing LDS leaders use the pulpit as a means to further their personal political agendas and using God's name to misrepresent something that is essentially good for me and my fellow human beings.

President Benson says in that clip:

{Americans have always been committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed. Charity must be voluntary if is to be charity. Compulsory benevolence is not charity. Today's socialists, who call themselves egalitarians, are using the federal government to redistribute wealth in our society not as a matter of voluntary charity, but as a so-called matter of right. One HEW official said recently, "in this country, welfare is not longer charity; it is a right. More and more Americans feel their government owes them something."}

I don't know what things were like back in 1977, but in 2008, Americans are NOT "committed to taking care of the poor, aged, and unemployed." Benson is absolutely right when he says that "compulsory benevolence is not charity." But I'm not looking for charitable people to pay my medical bills or provide me with sick leave. No individual can take upon themselves that financial burden for everyone who needs it, no matter how charitable they are. I'm looking for the most efficient system, operated by the people for the people. And so far, if we are going to use peace, prosperity, stability, and safety of human beings as an indication of success, then the system under which I live is doing a better job than whatever system Benson had in mind. And to me, welfare is a right. Whether I'm a crack junkie or simply someone who is out of a job, I am entitled to have a roof over my head, food on the table, and access to medical help when I need it. To say otherwise goes against the fundamental principles that every Christian professes to believe in. So yes, my hard-earned tax dollars go towards helping the junkies on the street corners of Oslo and the dysfunctional single mother of three living in government-subsidized housing who can't hold down a job. And guess what: I'm happy about it. Why? Because I and any one of us are always just a heartbeat away from being one of "those people."

The way I look at it, people should be able to do what they want with their paycheques -- after taxes. They should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to donate their earnings to a charity or go on a shopping spree at Louis Vuitton. But a socialist system -- the modern, democratic form that we see being implemented in Canada and Europe today and NOT the USSR or North Korea -- is the best way to ensure that my fellow countrymen's greed won't have the power to take away my right -- yes, my right -- to see a doctor or have a roof over my head if I become disabled -- among other things.

PS: Since everyone is so caught up with this "distribution of wealth" term, it's interesting to look back in time to July 1875 when the First Presidency released "A Proclamation on the Economy:"

To The Latter-day Saints -

The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice.

To read the rest, please click here.