Mar 24, 2010

The Faithful Dissident's 2nd Anniversary: A Year In Review

Hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I've been very busy lately and have had lots to think about, but thought that my readers might like to hear what I've been up to and what's been going through my mind lately. So here is a summary!

We had some great discussions here over the course of the year. Some of the highlights included:

The lowest point of the year was probably when I discovered the LDS Church hunting preserves, which sent me a little over the edge. I did some more research into the matter and did a report on it for Mormon Matters, which from what I gather, seems to be the most detailed and up-to-date information about the current situation of these hunting preserves run by the Church.

The matter of the hunting preserves propelled me into a very cynical period and so I decided to pull a Martin Luther of sorts and nail my own "95 theses" on the door of the Church, so to speak. The result was a long blog post in which I outlined about 7 main criticisms, but managed to say plenty nice about the Church as well. :) I decided that I should take a sabbatical from blogging, which was short-lived, but was a turning point in the direction that I wanted to take The Faithful Dissident. From there, I decided to just write when I really felt inspired to do so, and to focus on using the blog as a forum for some of the many great Mormon bloggers out there.

In other news, The Faithful Dissident was nominated for "Best Solo Blog" in the Niblet Awards and got second place. This was a pleasant surprise to me and I thank all those who voted for me!

I know that many of my readers are on a similar journey to mine, and so some of you are probably wondering about where I am at this point in my religious journey. I guess the easiest way to sum it up is that I'm not really anywhere. Not that there was ever much going on in my small branch to begin with, but going to church at all remains a real battle for the most part. I've found that if I force myself to go when I don't really feel like it, it only makes it harder to go back the next time. But on the other hand, sometimes I really want to go to sacrament and so I go. Sometimes I feel spiritually-charged, but other times it really sucks, to be brutally honest.

If you were to ask me what I believe, the only honest way for me to answer that question is to say that I have no idea. I wouldn't say that I don't believe any aspect of Mormonism anymore, because my idea of God is still very Mormon and it's my religious culture and heritage. As well, it's the basis of reference when I'm exploring other faiths because it's still "mine." But my religious convictions are on a leave of absence and I don't know if or when they're coming back.

This past year, I've had the privilege of meeting and talking to some interesting people, but there are two very special individuals who have made a huge impact in my life and have become very relevant in my personal spiritual journey.

The first person is mormongandhi, whose blog I featured here a few months ago. It's not every day that I meet gay feminist non-violent vegetarian Mormon bloggers in Norway, so it's hard to believe that it's mere coincidence that mormongandhi and The Faithful Dissident should meet. I'm so happy to have met him and to have gotten a glimpse of his world, his views, ideas, and faith. It's rare that I've clicked so well with someone instantly, but if there's any truth to the doctrine of pre-existence, I'd like to think that mormongandhi and I planned to cross paths long before we found each other in the Bloggernaccle. I've learned a lot from him about the peace movement, which has inspired and motivated me to care more about these issues and examine them from a new angle. (You rock, mormongandhi! :)

And these issues of war and peace lead up to the next special individual that has crossed my path in life...

In my town here in Norway, there is a refugee centre that was re-opened a little over a year ago which houses about 125 people from around 18 different nations who are seeking political asylum in Norway. Under the current system, the process can easily take years and depending on what status is assigned to their case, some of these refugees are not entitled to much more than a place to sleep, basic health care, and barely enough money to buy food and essentials. Some are entitled to go to school to learn Norwegian, but many are not. So, for most of these refugees, the days are long and lonely, and the waiting and uncertainty of their future can be as harrowing as the journey many of them had to make to get here. The language barrier, cultural and religious differences, the current political climate where immigration is concerned, general apathy, and skepticism tend to make it very difficult to bridge the gap between refugees and the local Norwegian population. The result is that people generally keep to themselves. I read in the local newspaper recently that although the locals are good at donating material goods to these refugees, what they need most is "folkevenner" (friends of the people) to actually spend time with them. So I decided to get in touch with the centre. And I have to say that getting involved and reaching out to these refugees has absolutely been one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Not only was I later offered a paid temp job as a result of my volunteer work (which was a nice change from my usual job with dementia patients), but what this experience has meant to me personally is perhaps most significant.

On my first day of visiting the centre, I met several wonderful people who overwhelmed me with their warmth and friendliness. But one of these people really stood out and made a big impression on me and my husband. I will call him Hassan: a young Hazara man from Afghanistan (if you've read or seen The Kite Runner, you will perhaps remember the Hazara servant boy also named Hassan, pictured left).

Hassan is an incredibly bright, intelligent, well-read and informed young man who has seen and experienced more in his 24 years than most of us ever will in an entire lifetime. On top of speaking excellent English, he seems to have natural leadership skills and I know that many of the other refugees look up to him and respect him. He's also been a big help to me in my job, stepping in as a contact person and translator when needed.

You all know how much I like to discuss social and political issues, so it's been interesting to hear about Hassan's life in Afghanistan and how it has impacted his views on things like feminist issues, social equality, civil rights, secular government, and religion. I know he's really appreciated getting to know me and my husband, and the appreciation is completely mutual.

Since I started working with these refugees, I've been happier and feel like my life has more of a purpose. In the past, I've often felt frustrated by my desire to do more to help people in need without knowing what I could really do from my cushy, first-world Norwegian existence. With this experience, I feel like I can be proactive -- which is very important to me.

Although I'm just as frustrated with religion as I ever was and most of my issues remain unresolved, I find myself fretting about it a lot less. I can just relax and put religion on the shelf while I serve others and, assuming he exists, serve God through serving his children. And in the process, I've acquired a new family of sorts. Hassan and I are both far away from our families (in my case, the circumstances are much more favourable, of course), and so I think that we both feel like we've found a surrogate family in each other. He's my brother and I'm his sister.

As a foreiger in Norway myself -- but one who feels pretty well-integrated into Norwegian society -- I think that my perspective is valuable to both sides. I have a decent idea of the challenges and obstacles that immigrants face (I'm learning more about it every day), and yet I understand the Norwegian perspective as well. I still don't know exactly what I can do or how I can do it, but if we can even just help to bridge the gap between people and motivate them to actually care about the plight of these refugees enough to generate a political force for good -- one person at a time -- maybe we can make a difference. I told Hassan about The Starfish Story, which has inspired me in my animal welfare activities, but my hope is that we can do more for people in his situation. We have a dream for peace. A dream that the Norwegian government will see fit to give Hassan the opportunity to fulfill his endless potential as a human being and to use his unique experience and perspective to effect positive change in this world.

Insh'allah.

A young Somalian refugee in the English class that I teach has lent me a book in English about the Quran, which I'm now reading. Some of the parallels to Mormonism are fascinating and I'm grateful to get a more nuanced view of Islam from these people, as opposed to what we see in the news on a daily basis.

So, I want to send out a big thanks to all of my readers who have been following me throughout this journey the past couple of years and I hope that I'll be able to continue sharing my insights with you into my third year as The Faithful Dissident. I have no idea where I'll be religiously and spriritually a year from now, and I know this may sound arrogant to some of you, but I'm not really concerned about it for a couple of reasons:

1.) "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the
service of your God."

-Mosiah 2:17

2.) "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service
of others."

-Mahatma Gandhi

37 comments:

mormongandhi said...

lovely! Amazing how many ideas Gandhi and King Benjamin had in common. Thank you for a wonderful sum up of your ideas and of the past year. It's been marvelous to accompany you on this journey for the last couple of months. I certainly would like to believe that, if there is something to this pre-existence thing, that you and I certainly "fought" on the same side - for peace! I look forward to many more encounters...

Mormon Heretic said...

Fantastic post FD! I really admire your compassion, and it's a trait I need to embrace. Your service to these refugees is a service to God, and I commend you for your warm heart.

It's been wonderful to follow your journey over the past 2 years. I hope you will continue to be close to God as you struggle with the paradoxes of religion.

Sanforfd said...

I perpetually ponder my ongoing relationship with Mormonism,especially when I am regularly asked why I stick with the Church. I am a regular attender but accept almost none of the givens that my fellow ward members seem to accept so readily. Yet I return week after week. I think Mormonism is the lens through which I see the world. It's not the object of my view, but because of my upbringing, background and experience, I must acknowledge that it largely shapes my vision.

Have you read Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali? She is a refugee from Somalia who immigrated/ran away to Denmark, sought asylum, became a member of Parliament, and left Islam in the process as she adopted more western values. It provides a very harsh critique of Islam. I have to say I see Mormonism in a new light after reading of her experience leaving such a controlling ideology and way of life. I noted similarities with Mormonism. I have wondered how Scandanavians feel about her and her book. Good to hear from you and good luck blogging this next year.

Sanford said...

Oops - make that the Netherlands and not Denmark.

Hassan said...

You may imagine how it would be lovely, when you have feeling of realizing your dreams by meeting the one, who light the dark side of your life. A unique opportunity to submit the warmest thanks to my great sister FD for her kindness, helping me find myself once again on the destroyed road of life. Your one year achievements deeply impressed me and gave me hope toward forming some peace and humanitarian movements. I am in a situation that can’t believe Islam, neither Christianity nor Jewish or Hinduism, etc, but at the same time I am a Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc. I think we have reached the time to run ultra religions and pick up all the best from different religions to change our planet to a better place based on humanity. None of the religions are bad, all of them have the same nice message for all human beings, that all of you are equal and try to live in a friendly and peaceful manner. The only important thing for me is not to behave as fundamentalist that can cause problems. I really enjoyed reading this blog that has some significant sign of illumination and I hope we can read the third anniversary’s evaluation as well, with more success and achievements  Long life sister!!

thefirestillburning said...

Happy blogging birthday, FD.

God leads people to the places where they belong, and that's where they find Him.

FireTag

The Faithful Dissident said...

Wow, thanks everyone, for your lovely comments! Nice to hear from Hassan, who didn't think his comment was good enough and wanted me to delete it, but I said no way because I liked it too much. :) But he did want to make a correction, as what he meant by "ultra religions" was, in fact, "universal religions."

Hassan, you comment reminds me of a quote by Gandhi, when he said:

"I am a Muslim, and a Hindu, and a Christian, and a Jew, and so are all of you."

I'm a Mormon, but I also sometimes feel like all of the above, plus agnostic. :)

I think most of my favourite blogging buddies have commented here. I always enjoy hearing from you. I love you guys! :) Sanford and MH, you have been with me since the beginning of this blogging journey, so it means a lot to me that you've visited me regularly over the past couple of years.

Sanford, I've heard of that book but have not read it. I'll have to make a note of it. And I'd like to hear more of your thoughts in regards to Mormonism after you read it.

Mormon Heretic said...

Sanford, I find it odd that you are regularly asked why you stick with the church. You seem to be a bit more orthodox than I am when we talk, yet I never get asked why I stick with the church. Why do you think you get asked that question when I don't?

Oh, I got released from teaching priesthood--I guess my 2 lessons were a bit too spicy. My wife has read Infidel, but it is on my "to read" list. My father-in-law loaned me a book on the search for Bin Ladin, and I'm trying to get to that book as well. I'm still trying to finish Juanita Brooks book on MMM, and I'm trying to put together a Passover post next week too. I don't think I'll ever run out of ideas to blog on....

Hassan, I enjoyed your comments. I wish you well in your life, and I'm glad to have made your acquaintance through FD. As sons and daughters of Abraham, it would be nice if we all got along much better.

Hassan said...

Thanks dear sister, first for your kindly comment and secondly for buying me those lovely books. I can believe that there is a power backing the nature that we can call it God. I will pray for you and am sure that you are blessed, the way you treat the people.
A bundle of thanks to MH, for the nice comment, and I am glad of knowing you lovely guys through FD. I wish you all best of luck :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

The pleasure is all mine, Hassan, and I thank you for your prayers. You are in mine as well. :) I hope you enjoy reading.

(I gave Hassan a Book of Mormon in Persian, as well as a Bible in Persian. Apparently the Persian translation of the BofM is written in a difficult style. He just got the Bible today. Hassan said that to have a Bible in Afghanistan can be an offense punishable by death. Sort of hard for us westerners to imagine, who aren't used to having the books we read be censored or subject to punishment.)

Sometime in the near future, I hope to feature Hassan's website here on my blog. I'm currently helping him to edit his articles, but it's an interesting source of information on Afghanistan, its complex problems, and the dream for peace that Hassan and other Afghans like him share.

MH, you got released after just 2 lessons? Sounds like you're too hot to handle for your ward. What were the lessons about?

K.O. said...

I'm surprised to learn that you're in Norway, it's good to know there is at least one other member here who hasn't had too many sips of the koolaid. :)

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, I posted my lessons at Mormon Matters. The first was on Elder Eyring's Conference talk from October and the second was from the Gospel Principles manual on the PreMortal Life.

I'd be curious to see what you think.

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, interesting choice of words that Eyring made regarding those verses in Moroni, characterizing them as "a revelation given by God to the Prophet Joseph Smith." Are we moving towards characterizing it as a "revelation" as opposed to "translation?" I think this would disturb the literalists in the Church, and yet perhaps in the future, as more and more Mormons discover the real Mormon history and it becomes "common knowledge," as well as the tendency from current generations to move away from literalistic beliefs (in any religion), a more mystical -- as opposed to literal -- approach to the BofM will actually be more helpful in the long run. Perhaps?

Anyways, I thank you for mentioning Moroni 7 in your post about Eyring's talk. It's probably one of the best passages about charity found in any of the scriptures that I can think of:

"45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true bfollowers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen."

The Faithful Dissident said...

In your other post, you asked:

"So what do you think of this theological innovation of Mormonism? Are you comfortable with the idea that we can actually become “like God”, or is this a real heresy of the LDS church?"

Even though I'm not personally uncomfortable with this idea, I can sort of see why other religions regard it as a Mormon heresy. An "idea" is exactly what it is and perhaps some Mormons have a tendency to dwell on it too much. It certainly makes sense to me that God would be a perfect and divine version of me and you, in every way (physically, intellectually, etc.), and that we all have the potential to become like that in the eternities, but I guess I'm much less comfortable with the assumption that we really know exactly what he wants us to do and how to do it. I know that Mormons, and other people in their respective faiths, have had powerful spiritual experiences that have confirmed personal truths to them, but this creates a huge paradox in my mind. Sometimes I feel like everything makes sense and nothing makes sense. Everything is believable, and nothing is believable. Mormonism made perfect sense to me until I discovered more about religion and the world. I'm sure it's the same case with most of the other religions out there.

If we, as human beings, were all born into the same country, culture and language, and were all presented with all the same religious choices, would we all choose the same of our own free will? Part of me wants to say yes, but I look at my own family, where the children were all raised in the same religion, but emerged with different ideas and beliefs, influenced by their unique personalities and experiences. Religiously-speaking, I'm the black sheep of my family. :) Whereas some of my more orthodox family members would perhaps be inclined to believe that I've strayed from my orthodox faith as a result of pride or weakness (realizing, of course, that I myself could have easily made such a judgment even just a few years ago), the truth is that my own religious journey has been just as powerful as theirs. They've just produced different results.

But as great as the paradox of faith is to me, the paradox of unfaith is perhaps even greater. And I mean no disrespect to all the atheists out there because my journey has taken me to some low points where I have honestly developed a great respect and empathy for those who believe this life is all there is. I've even been able to develop an admiration for those who see no reason to believe in a god, nor compelled to do anything for others since there will be no reward in heaven for them, and yet continue to work hard to make this world a better place. Some of the most charitable, compassionate people I know are non-believers and I appreciate the challenges they bring to those who are believers, yet seem largely unconcerned by the state of this world and its inhabitants. But being able to adopt an atheistic view is, for me, at least -- if not more -- problematic than adopting a believer's view.

Like I said, everything makes sense and nothing makes sense. :)

The Faithful Dissident said...

K.O., it seems that all the Norwegian bloggers have been coming out of the closet lately. We're not alone, mormongandhi. :)

Mormon Heretic said...

"Are we moving towards characterizing it as a "revelation" as opposed to "translation?"

I really think it was more of a slip of the tongue by Elder Eyring. Still, I'm a bit surprised it hasn't made more news on the bloggernacle.

So, FD, am I just too radical to teach Priesthood lessons?

I had to laugh today at Priesthood. They guy they replace me with got up and gave his first lesson today. He said he hadn't taught in 15 years, and teaching is a real struggle for him. He said he went inactive in order to get released from teaching last time. Everybody laughed, but these calls are all inspired, right?

He did ask a really thought provoking question though. Our lesson was on the Fall of Adam, and he asked, (paraphrasing) "Since if God gave Adam 2 conflicting commandments, was Adam set up to fail?"

I thought it was a really interesting question, and something I would have gotten released over.... After he asked the question, he was satisfied that God did not set up Adam to fail, but I couldn't really tell why he was satisfied with the answer--it didn't make any sense to me.

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, I have to admit, as I was reading your posts, I was thinking to myself, "OK, so what was it here that got him released from his teaching calling?" Did you ever get any sort of explanation as to why they released you? Or maybe my tolerance for provocative questions is simply just too high? :)

I've often wondered about Adam and Eve being set up to fail. Sometimes it seems that certain people are set up to fail in this life because of the huge trials and challenges they are given, without sufficient tools and resources on how to deal with them. But on the other hand, if we look at the Mormon interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, maybe there isn't always a "wrong" or "right" decision in everything. If Adam and Eve had obeyed the Lord and stayed away from the fruit, how could God have blamed them for their obedience, even if it thwarted his plan to carry on humanity? They would have only been doing what he told them to do. :)

Carl said...

"It certainly makes sense to me that God would be a perfect and divine version of me and you, in every way (physically, intellectually, etc.), and that we all have the potential to become like that in the eternities, but I guess I'm much less comfortable with the assumption that we really know exactly what he wants us to do and how to do it."

I think that part of the problem may be our conception of God. Joseph Smith said, "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves." I think that this should probably be taken more literally.

The classical absolutist conception of God is so alien from our human experience that it is easy to see why many religionists call deification heresy. It is also easy to see how an absolutist god might increase worshippers' awe yet also increase their distance from god and their consequent view of man as depraved and hopelessly corrupt.

JS' descriptions of god are at once touching and disturbing. They bring god much closer to our human understanding and experience, but they don't stop there. They also threaten the God of the absolutists, dethroning him from his position as the creator not only of the universe but of law and truth itself, and demoting him to a being who is, if not confined to our universe, at least confined to some universe somewhere in somebody's frame of reference, who emerged from earlier antecedents in an infinite regression of human/gods god/humans (take your pick).

For me, the idea of a finitist god who is much more human than we would like to admit in our more austere moments is actually refreshing and comforting. It both helps us to cut him some slack for some of the otherwise unexplained suffering in the universe but also increases our discomfort as we recognize our own potential and responsibility as free agents who are ultimately in a plight very similar to his/hers.

Nietzsche described the anxiety of this kind of discovery in the words of the prophet Zarathustra:

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"

He understood the challenge faced by a humanity for which the dead gods of past eras were no longer sufficiently compelling. He oscillated between grief at the loss and joy at the new opportunities that it presented. For me, the new human god introduced by Joseph Smith and others was a response to the dead gods of Christendom.

It's important that we recognize these different conceptions when we consider the doctrine of deification/exaltation/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

Carl Youngblood said...

I should proofread my posts better. "Earlier antecedents" is redundant. "Simpler antecedents" would be better.

Mormon Heretic said...

FD, I think my problem with teaching has to do with the fact that I ask thought-provoking questions, and I don't feel bad if people squirm in their seats a little bit. When the teacher spoke Sunday, he asked the thought-provoking question about the Fall, and then didn't really answer it except to follow the church line, "No God doesn't set us up to fail, and I'm satisfied with that." Well, like you FD, I don't follow the company line there, and I think there are times where he sets us up to fail, and I do think that he set up Adam to fail. For doesn't 2 Nephi say there should there be an opposition in all things, or the plans of God would be frustrated?

This is one of those paradoxes of religion that people just aren't comfortable dealing with at church. I make people uncomfortable at church, and my leaders and many members don't like it. On the other hand, some people really enjoy taking a deeper look, so it's not that everyone hates my lessons. This may make me sound arrogant, but I think that less educated people don't like my lessons because the questions I ask are threatening to their testimony. My old bishop told me that I do cause some people to lost faith, so maybe there is some truth to that, but I think these people have testimonies built of sand anyway, but the church doesn't want me to create any wind causing them to blow away.

Carl, I agree with you completely. I highlighted the conception of God in that priesthood lesson, but once again, I think it made people uncomfortable. I will say that as a missionary, I always felt the details of exaltation/deification were just too hard for people to accept. Now I think it's a topic that should be dealt with frankly , openly, and honestly.

Carl Youngblood said...

Mormon Heretic, I believe it all boils down to effectiveness as a teacher. The best teachers are somehow able to provide the planks of support necessary for their learners to cross the chasm of discovery without falling into the pit. Of course, some will refuse to cross, and there are always going to be some subjects that people won't be ready to hear, but I have been blessed in my life to have met some teachers who were able to share extremely profound topics in ways that did not threaten people's faith but helped them to really see things differently.

I wish that I were better at this. I would suggest that you avoid being too dismissive of the criticisms lodged against you by your bishop and other ward members and see how you might be able to develop the kind of style that would allow you to reach more hearts and minds.

I went through this same struggle in my last ward. It might have been entirely my own imagination, but I kept feeling that people were avoiding asking me to teach, even though they knew that I really loved to do it, because they thought that my comments were a little too edgy for them. I was really frustrated by it. But I also recognized my propensity to be a little too eager to share information without being sensitive to my audience.

In some cases I think it's necessary to make a new start of things in a new ward where people don't have preconceived notions about your style.

One book that I was surprised to see so much good advice in was the Teaching: No Greater Call book. It has some pretty thoughtful commentary about the task of teaching.

Mormon Heretic said...

Carl, perhaps I am just too young and impetuous. Perhaps with maturity, I'll learn these communication skills you have. As for a new ward, well the house has been up for sale for about 6 months, and no takers, so it looks like I'm stuck. If we don't sell it in the spring, I think we'll remodel, get a bigger kitchen, and make some improvements. Ward hopping was fine when I was single, but it was a bit hard to get callings. Now that I'm married with kids, I don't think ward hopping is a viable option.

Carl Youngblood said...

Mormon Heretic, I hear you about changing wards. It becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. I'm mostly just saying take full advantage of the opportunity when it arises to recalibrate your technique :-)

Your comments remind me of some interesting observations related to Fowler's Stages of Faith. I honestly can't remember if some friends and I developed these ideas during one of our discussions or if I heard them somewhere else, but the basic idea is that it is difficult or impossible for people in adjacent stages to help each other. In other words, a stage four disillusioned person is not going to be be very helpful to a stage three devotee. Only a stage five can start to have the wisdom necessary to help people in stages 1-3. A stage five is going to be hard-pressed to convince a jaded stage four that the problems he's concerned about aren't quite as important as he thinks they are, etc.

I'm not necessarily trying to categorize you specifically as a stage four. It's just that your comments reminded me of these observations and I thought they might be interesting to add to the discussion.

Mormon Heretic said...

Carl, I don't know if you read those lessons I posted in the links above. I'd be curious to see if you think I sound disillusioned. I wouldn't call myself disillusioned at all--I'm a very faithful, devoted member. I'm curious if you could give me some advice on my technique.

Carl Youngblood said...

Sure, I'll check them out. In the mean time, though, I just wanted to say that I don't presume to really know much about your situation. I was just kind of commenting about something that the whole subject reminded me of. I'll definitely take a look at the lessons.

Carl Youngblood said...

OK, MH I read your lessons. Overall I think they were quite good. Please forgive me if my response doesn't take enough time to really cover all the details.

One thing I felt was that the intro with history about the calendar system and the practices of other religions was great for an online audience but probably too long and insufficiently relevant for a church setting. It might serve only to make people think that you were trying to impress people with your knowledge of history (which was impressive, I must say). That is not to say that facts like this should be excluded altogether, but perhaps could be abbreviated a little more.

The only other minor critique I would have is that sometimes the questions seemed a little bit tangential and unnecessarily contrarian, or else questions that are less likely to provoke thoughtful commentary.

For example, "I admit that I often don’t do resolutions, and perhaps I fit into this category. Are there any others willing to admit this?" Of course, I'm not sure if you asked this directly in your lesson. I'm just going off what you have written there. But this kind of question can be answered with a yes or no. It is thought-provoking, but I think that an even better setup would be something like:

Sometimes we fail to keep our new's years resolutions so often that we forego making them altogether. Have you ever felt like this? What do you do?

Carl Youngblood said...

This kind of a question is more direct and makes for a less awkward transition towards audience participation. It also acknowledges personal weakness without overly emphasizing it, something that I have found Mormons to be quite uncomfortable with.

I sometimes wish we were a little more honest and willing to confess our private struggles but this is something that needs to be done in baby steps for most members, who are often very keen to maintain their veneer of got-it-all-togetherness. When I teach I try to soften people to the point where they feel comfortable sharing their struggles but not pushing too hard for raw confessions or making it seem like a confession constitutes a serious and weighty public acknowledgement. I try to do as much as I can to keep the tone optimistic without ignoring real difficulties.

Here is an example of an unnecessarily contrarian question IMO: "The next paragraph, Eyring seems to have misplaced the setting of a scripture, calling it a revelation to Joseph Smith at first. That seems like a bit of a mis-characterization to me. Rather than a revelation to Joseph, isn’t this a sermon/exhortation from the prophet Mormon?"

I'm not sure if you shared this in your lesson, but I don't see Eyring's characterization of this passage as a revelation to JS as being outside of Mormon orthodoxy. What exactly is a revelation? It is basically anything that God reveals to humanity. In that sense, the entire BoM was revealed to JS by God, regardless of the translation process or who is speaking during a given passage.

Furthermore, I don't see why it was necessary to interrupt the flow of the lesson with this specific question, which doesn't seem to relate very closely with the subject. It also seems to be a little bit nit-picky. Like I said, if this was for your blog post only, I see no problem in these questions, but if you used them in class I would say they probably were unnecessary.

Another question like this: "Wait a minute–aren’t Mormons depressed because they’re trying too hard to be like Jesus, or is it true the Mormons live in the happiest State in the Nation? Which side do you pick?"

Carl Youngblood said...

I actually think this is an important topic to cover, but perhaps the way the question is worded could be seen as a challenge to those of the pollyanna persuasion. How about something like this:

As Mormons we are often encouraged to "accentuate the positive" and do our best to emulate the Savior in all that we do. But sometimes our efforts to do this seem almost to bring starker contrast the tremendous gap between us and Him. Some people even experience severe depression. In fact, a recent survey indicated that X percent of Mormons are being professionally treated for depression and that use of medication for depression is higher in this state than in others. What do you think is a healthy way of addressing our inadequacies? What can we do to make our efforts to improve more lastingly successful?

Another question: "Ok, I guess we all have need of New Years Resolutions…. How far do we take this analogy to be like Jesus? Can we take it to exaltation/theosis?"

Instead of questioning our ability or willingness to take the analogy far enough, why not ask leading questions that get people there without implying their unwillingness to do so? For example:

Ask someone to read Moses 1:39. Then perhaps a direct question like: Where do you think these efforts towards improvement and progression are ultimately leading us?

Overall, I would say your questions seem to imply a role that is just a little too adversarial for my tastes. I look at the role of teacher as more of a guy who confesses his own intimate feelings and challenges and thereby makes it easier for other people to share theirs. I'm not saying that you're not doing this, but that there is just a teeny bit too much of an adversarial implication in some of your questions.

After saying all this, let me apologize for a few things. First, I'm sorry for the off-topic comment. Second, I want to re-emphasize that the lessons were still quite good overall and these comments are my own minor nit-picks. The lengths I took in discussing them should not be construed as proportional to their seriousness.

BTW I broke this up into three comments to get it through blogger, which limited my post size.

Kaylanamars said...

Beautiful, FD. I've really enjoyed getting to know you. You write fascinating and interesting topics on your blog. They make me think and for that I'll always be grateful! I feel that through this "crisis of faith" that I'm starting to find out who I really am and can be. I feel more freedom to be me. My DH and I are sitting down and really trying to see how we can become more active in our communities and around the world to serve. You inspire me! Thanks again and I look forward to another great year.

Mormon Heretic said...

Thanks Carl, I appreciate your critique. I do believe that my ward has a bit of a "pollyanna persuasion." I live in a farming community, and ultra-conservative (political as well as religious) area. I think my questions are better tolerated in some other more urban, educated wards that I have been in.

I am reminded that church is supposed to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. I do believe that Jesus afflicted the comfortable, but there does seem to be a vocal segment in my ward that likes to keep their comfort level undisturbed.

I suppose I have always had a contrarian streak in me. Most of the comments you referenced I either downplayed or omitted from my lesson (such as the Eyring comment about revelation). Frankly, I had much less time to teach than I did to blog, so I did need to cut quite a bit. I did ask the depression question though, and I'm sure it made a few people squirm.

I have a co-worker that once remarked that he thought I was a little wild, but as he got to know me, he realized I was one of the straightest arrows out there. I'll admit that I don't know my fellow ward members as well as I should. Perhaps as they get to know me better, they'll change their opinion of me as this co-worker did.

I will say I feel my new bishop is very uncomfortable speaking with me. On the one hand, my bishop is really impressed with me for helping a very mentally ill ward member come to church last Sunday (see this post for more info), but I also get the impression that he doesn't quite know how to take me as a person.

Carl Youngblood said...

So whereabouts are you MH? I assume somewhere in Utah, right? As far as the adage about afflicting the comfortable, it ultimately boils down to effectiveness.

If you attempt to bring about a greater level of understanding than you have power to achieve, you might soon find yourself transferred to a calling in which your leaders think you will do the least amount of damage.

But if you reduce your goal to a more achievable one, then you might slowly convince others of the value of your contribution. A parable comes to mind here: "Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou are in the way with him, lest he send thee to prison..." If you bite off more than you can chew and turn your lesson into a chance to straighten out your ward members (even if your intention is to help them), then you will quickly be removed from a position where you can have any influence on them.

On the other hand, if you count it a success just to help them think a little differently about one small subject, and otherwise feed them simple teachings that are easy to digest, then you might stand a chance of succeeding.

It all depends on the level your audience is at. This is a tremendously difficult task and one that I fail at regularly.

Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

The Faithful Dissident said...

MH, I remember that post of yours about the mentally ill man. I'm amazed that he managed to come to church! Do tell! :)

Mormon Heretic said...

Carl, I'm here in the heart of ultra-conservatism: Utah County.

FD, he's been really friendly since I started coming. He got rear-ended just after Christmas and has had some neck pain and headaches. He texted me and asked for a blessing last week, and then said he wanted to come to church. I did try to discourage him a bit, telling him that I didn't think it would be very comfortable for someone with a pinched neck to sit through church, but he insisted. I offered to give him a ride, but he said he preferred to walk.

I went to the church on my way home, and told the bishop that he would come. The bishop told me that the man started coming when he first moved in a few years ago, but fell inactive. The Bishop said he hadn't caused any problems, and didn't expect any. I didn't actually see him at church, but I talked to the bishop after Sacrament meeting, and he said the man snuck in the back of the gym (remember our wards are VERY large), and then snuck out after the sacrament. I actually got a text message in sacrament meeting telling me that his neck was hurting and he was walking home.

So, I guess it's a good thing. He scares me quite a bit, but the bishop seems to think he's more harmless than his stories seem to indicate.

Carl Youngblood said...

MH, I grew up in Provo and loved it. Wheareabouts in Utah County are you?

Mormon Heretic said...

Carl, I grew up in Weber and Davis Counties. I do feel a bit of a culture difference down here. There's things I like and don't like here. The ward is ok, but not my favorite.

I'm trying to maintain a bit of anonymity, so let me just say I live north of Provo. (You never know when one of these ultra-conservatives will try to track me down for heresy, ya know....)

Carl Youngblood said...

I found the difference between South Jordan, where we recently lived, and Grandview Hill, Provo, where i grew up, to be quite stark. My Provo ward had quite a bit more variety because it was an older neighborhood with a wider spectrum of circumstances and socioeconomic status.

I gave up anonymity a long time ago. My current motto is, if I don't feel comfortable saying it to everyone I know, then I won't say it. On the flip side, I also have the goal of trying to be courageous enough to say things that I feel are important, even if they disagree with other opinions. It's a balancing act.

mormongandhi said...

hey Faithful Dissident! So now I am celebrating my first year anniversary: check my update at http://mormongandhi.com :) Love and Peace. Can't wait to see you tomorrow and finally get to meet ├ůsmund...