Wednesday, November 20, 2013

# 8: They'll Fix Your Sink

And they'll fix your car, and they'll help you move, and they'll lend you tools, and they'll bring you casserole when you have a baby, and they'll give you a ride somewhere, and they'll let you borrow a truck, and they'll babysit your kids... all for free!  And by "they" I mean the friendly members of your local ward.

If you form friendships with the people you go to church with, and you politely ask them to help you with things around the house, they will most likely say yes and do all sorts of nice things for you.  Who doesn't like having nice things done for them?

In every ward, there are usually people with knowledge of electricity, plumbing, auto mechanics, and etc.  If you make friends with them, you can have them help you out.  Generally speaking, Mormons are helpful, friendly, honest people who are eager to offer service.  Take advantage of this community you're a part of by letting people help you.

Think of your ward list as a list of nice people who will do stuff for you.  Contact your home teachers first.  Remember, they usually end their visits with, "Is there anything we can do for you?" Why not let them serve you?  Try not to bug the Bishop about little things you want help with, though.  Bishops are really busy.

Now, I am not advocating that you exploit Church relationships for free labor.  You'll quickly run out of friends if all you do is ask them to do stuff for you.  As a rule of thumb, pay for any labor that takes more than an hour. But even if you pay ward members for service, at least you know you're dealing with honest people.  If you pick up the phone book or do an Internet search for "plumber" or "handyman," and hire a random person, who knows what kind of riffraff you'll be letting into your home and into your wallet?

Doesn't it feel good to get free stuff from caring fellow church-goers?  Allow them to serve you.  Be grateful for their help.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

# 7: The Church is Right About Abortion

One of the major issues of our day is abortion.  And where does the Church stand on this issue?  The LDS Church is staunchly pro-life.  The Church has always preached that abortion is sinful.  Thank goodness!  For surely abortion is sinful.

Yes, the Church has done some bad things.  Yes, the Church is currently doing some bad things.

(The Church, after all, is led by humans doing the best they can to lead the way Christ would.  I wish Christ was here Himself to personally administer the Church, but that's just not the way things are.)

But one of the things that the Church is doing right is lovingly preaching the truth about abortion. 

In 2008, in the U.S., there were 1.21 million abortions40 million abortions are performed worldwide, every year.  The numbers are staggering, but each number represents a little baby who has been killed.  Each death is a tragedy.

When confronted with these awful realities of abortion, my issues with the Church fades into insignificance.  When I think about how the Church is doing its best to stem the tide of abortions, I get less worked up about problems with Church history or doctrine.  So maybe the Church isn't 100 % true.  I assert that it's 95 % good.  And that's good enough for me.

I assert that, by and large, God smiles upon the doings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.   

We belong to a wonderful Christian church that protects the sanctity of life and celebrates babies.  Isn't it heartwarming to belong to such a community?  We Mormons welcome babies into our lives.  We don't kill them.  The Church is doing its best to reach out to those women, Mormon and non-Mormon alike, who find themselves in unplanned pregnancies.  Truly the people who operate LDS Family Services are angelic.

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# 6: The Church is Right About Marriage

We live in a world of shifting values and attitudes.  As recently as a generation ago, marriage was commonly understood to be a union between one man and one woman.  Now, more and more states in the United States are legalizing gay marriage.  I feel blessed to belong to a Church that still preaches the truth that marriage between a man and woman is sacred and ordained of God. 

Of course, the world inside the LDS Church is one of shifting attitudes and values, as well.  Once the Church preached that polygamy was superior to monogamy, and now the Church excommunicates polygamists.  Once the Church preached against interracial marriage.  Now it’s fine. 

But just because the Church has been wrong on a few things doesn’t mean it was wrong about everything.  And just because the Church has been wrong on some things doesn’t mean it’s not right on some things right now.  And one thing the Church is right about is marriage.  The official position of the Church is spelled out in the inspired document called The Family: A Proclamation to the World.

There are such things as moral absolutes.  There is a God who determines what is right and what is wrong, and God has revealed that homosexual acts are sinful. 

How has God revealed this teaching on homosexuality?  God has revealed this truth through scripture, tradition, ecclesiastical authority, and the Holy Spirit.  I would elaborate further, but that’s outside the scope of this blog.  

Not only are the members of the Church doing a great job preaching the truth about traditional marriage, but they're doing a great job practicing this truth.  If you stay in the Church, you will find yourself in a community that preserves and celebrates traditional marriage.  

It is possible that the Church will change its doctrines and practices in relation to marriage in the next few decades?  I think so.  Is it possible that Latter-Day Saints will one day embrace gay marriage?  Yes.   

If that day arrives, what should we do?  I don't know.  Let's cross that bridge when we get there.  For now, let's continue saying our prayers, baking whole wheat bread, and doing our home teaching.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

# 5: The Conversion of Parley P. Pratt

The following is taken from the Autobiography of Parley P Pratt, revised and enhanced edition, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, page 31 and 32.  Parley P. Pratt writes about how he found the Book of Mormon and how he felt when he read it.

We visited an old Baptist deacon by the name of Hamlin.  After hearing of our appointment for evening, he began to tell of a book, a strange book, a very strange book! in his possession, which had been just published.  This book, he said, purported to have been originally written on plates either of gold or brass, by a branch of the tribes of Israel; and to have been discovered and translated by a young man near Palmyra, in the state of New York, by the aid of visions, or the ministry of angels… I felt a strange interest in the book.  [The] next morning… for the first time, my eyes beheld the “Book of Mormon”- that book of books – that record which reveals the antiquities of the “New World” back to the remotest ages, and which unfolds the destiny of its people and the world for all time to come; - that Book which contains the fullness of the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer; - that Book which reveals a lost remnant of Joseph, and which was the principal means, in the hands of God, of directing the entire course of my future life.

I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page.  I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated.  After this I commenced its contents by course.  I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

As I read, the Spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists.  My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices, and toils of my life.

Can anyone read the preceding passage and doubt the sincerity of Parley P. Pratt’s conversion?  I suppose some could.  But when you consider his life, and read his sermons, and read all the poems he wrote about God and the Restoration, the only rational conclusion is this: Parley P. Pratt really believed in Mormonism.

Why is this a reason you should stay LDS?  Because you need to remember that the founders of the Church were not con-men.  There are so many reasons to be proud of our heritage.  There are so many reasons to be proud of the men and women who brought this Church to what it is today.  Were some lies told?  Yes.  Did some leaders practice unrighteous dominion?  Yes.  But overall, the founders of the LDS church were sincere people seeking after the will of God.

Like Parley P. Pratt, I have also felt joy when reading the Book of Mormon.  Though I no longer view it as a literal historical record, I still appreciate its warmth and goodness.  The Book is beautiful.  It has a proven track record of facilitating communication between humans and God. 

God works in mysterious ways.  I think God had an interest in getting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints started, so that people like me nearly two hundred years later could get close to God through living the Mormon lifestyle, and so that people in the Philippines could be given some relief after the devastating typhoon Haiyan.  And to get the Church started, God led men like Parley P. Pratt to Joseph Smith.

What Pratt felt and thought when he first encountered Mormonism was neither neurosis nor wishful thinking.  He wasn’t being duped or brainwashed.  He was converting to a legitimate, albeit colorful, Christian denomination.  The Spirit of God was moving in his life.

The Spirit of God leads people today to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I’ve witnessed a few people convert to our religion.  When they do, often they give up bad habits, become happier, pray more frequently and earnestly, and find more meaning and purpose in their lives.  Surely the hand of God is in this Church. 

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

# 4: Al Fox

If you haven't heard, there's a new convert to Mormonism named Al Fox.  She's young, she's hip, she's pretty, and she's from the most fashionable state in America, New York.  Actually her name is Al Carraway now, because she got married a few months ago.  But she got famous as Al Fox, so I'll call her Al Fox. 

And she's on Facebook!

And she's on Twitter!

And she's on You-Tube!

And she may be coming to a youth fireside near you!

She's definitely an extroverted, charismatic young lady.  One thing that is not typically Mormon about her, though, is that she has lots and lots of tattoos.  She got them before she joined the Church.  She's talked about how sometimes members of the Church have unrighteously judged her because of her tattoos, but she chooses to not get offended and she just smiles a lot and bears her testimony a lot.  I mean, she just keeps bearing her testimony over and over and she just keeps saying all these wonderful positive things over and over, like, "God is real.  God loves you.  He wants you to move forward.  You're wonderful." 

Seriously, who's going to tell this young lady that Joseph Smith used a seer-stone in a hat to "translate" the Book of Mormon?  Not me.  Who's going to tell her that the Book of Abraham wasn't really written by Abraham?  Not me.  Who's going to use his or her precious time tearing down the Church, the organization that brings Al Fox so much joy and happiness?  Not me. 

Here's what I think:  I think there really is a God, and He is mysterious, and He is loving, and He is merciful.  And God really is working through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and God really is working through Al Fox to make the Church become a little more in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Each time someone converts to the LDS religion, the religion changes, just a little bit.  A new life is breathed into the Church.  Al Fox is a breath of fresh air. 

The Church is getting better.  Stick around.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

# 3: My Sister's Dream

I grew up in a conservative LDS household. My parents did their best to instill in their children Mormon teachings and Mormon values.  Nevertheless, one of my sisters, when she was a teenager, went astray.  She experimented with drugs and sex, and she became a vegetarian and dressed like a hippie.  She told everyone she didn't really believe in the Church anymore, becuase there were so many religions out there, and what are the chances that the Mormon Church was the right one? 

All the while she was away from the church, which was about 7 years, she was still a good person with a loving heart and an accepting attitude.  She married outside the faith and had a son.  Then she started having a dream.

In the dream, she was lost inside of a big building, crowded with people.  The lighting was bad, and she couldn't find a way out.  She felt distressed, and she wanted to leave, and everyone was wandering around aimlessely, and all these strangers weren't communicating with each other.  It was a bad, dark feeling, and she wanted desperately to get out.  But she couldn't.  And that's where the dream ended.

A few months went by, and she had the dream again.

A few more months went by, and she had the dream again.

My sister said she had this recurring dream every few weeks or months for a year or more.  Each time, she woke up with a bad, bewildered feeling.

Gradually, things began to change in her life.  Maybe it was having a son that got her thinking about eternal, weighty matters.  Maybe it was the people or situations that came into her life. Maybe it was the Holy Ghost.  Whatever it was, my sister decided to go back to church.

On the night of the first day she went back to church, she had the same dream again.  Only this time, it ended differently.

This time, she found a door, and the door opened.  Warm light emanated from the doorway.  The light felt welcoming, soothing, and wonderful.  My sister went inside the light, left the dark crowded building, and that was the last time she ever had that dream. 

I believe that God communicates to us in mysterious ways.  I believe that God communicated to my sister through a dream.  I believe that God guided my sister back to the church that she was raised in, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 

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# 2: Yoga

When I lost my traditional LDS testimony about two years ago, I started investigating other religions.  I visited other churches, I read books about different faith traditions, and on my commute to work, I would listen to various Christian radio stations, including a Catholic radio station.  These radio stations introduced to me so many wonderful sermons and songs and ideas about God.  I was exposed to a lot of uplifting, faithful perspectives on Jesus Christ.

On a couple of occasions, though, hosts and callers on a Catholic Radio program explained why good Catholics should never practice yoga.  They said doing yoga invites evil spirits into your life.  They said that ultimately you can't separate the physical postures and movements of yoga from the philosophy/religion/worldview that underlies yoga.  The Catholics on the radio claimed that those who practice yoga are indeed practicing Hinduism, even if they are unaware of it.  In short, listeners to the program were given the impression that yoga should never be part of a Christian's life.

So, if you decide to become a Catholic, realize that orthodox Catholics will tell you that you should never do yoga.

And Catholics aren't the only ones who denounce yoga.  Other Christians have developed "Praise Moves" a Christian alternative to yoga.  

But how do Mormons, even strictly orthodox Mormons, feel about yoga?  Admittedly, some of the old-timers might be a little apprehensive about yoga, especially if there is incense or chanting involved, which there rarely is.  But the vast majority of Mormons feel just fine about yoga!  I know of quite of few faithful, active Latter-day Saint women who practice yoga.  One group even got permission from the bishop to practice yoga in the cultural hall of the church.  Also, a Young Women's activity that I personally know of taught introduced yoga to the young girls.

As if this anecdotal evidence weren't enough, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint's official radio station, the Mormon Channel, recently devoted a whole radio show to yoga!  Here's a link to it.  The description of the radio show says, "Yoga requires not only strength, flexibility, and balance, but a focused heart and mind. Ali Mills, a certified yoga instructor, teaches us about the many benefits of yoga. Ali shares how yoga not only helped her physical ailments, but increased her understanding of the gospel." If you listen to that radio program, you'll see that Mormonism really is a bigger tent than most people give it credit for.        
For most of my life I've been ambivalent towards yoga.  I just never really did it or cared about it.  But recently I started doing it, and you know what?  I really like it.  It makes me happy.  It soothes me.  It brings peace to my heart.  Yoga challenges me, it makes me more flexible, it makes me stronger, and I do feel, as does Ali Mills, that it brings me closer to God.

Mormons believe in the 13th article of faith, which states in part, "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."  Notice it does not say that we only believe in seeking after these things if they come from the LDS Church.  It's not like good Mormons are expected to only have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Osmonds on our iPods.  As Mormons, we are supposed to seek after truth, beauty and goodness wherever these qualities exist.

So yoga has Hindu origins.  Big deal.  A lot of good things have come out of Hinduism, like yoga, and a lot of bad things have come out of Hinduism, like suttee.  Why can't we take the great things out of Hinduism, incorporate them into our lives, and discard the bad things?  Remember, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

This is an important concept for those of us who choose to stay LDS, despite having a non-literal understanding of the Restoration.  We can keep the good things from Mormonism, like Family Home Evening and developing Christ-like love, and we can discard the bad things, like polygamy and a Pharisee-like devotion to the letter of the law.  We can honor all the good things that have come from the complicated mind of Joseph Smith, like the sermons and stories taught in the Book of Mormon, and we can decry all the bad things that Joseph Smith has done, like marrying the 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball.

Isn't it good to know that you can stay in the Church, be a faithful member in good standing, and still practice yoga?

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# 1: The Word of Wisdom

Living the Word of Wisdom is a good idea.  Even though you may no longer believe in everything the LDS Church teaches, why not just go along with the healthy habits you've developed over a lifetime of Mormonism?  

As you know, the Word of Wisdom forbids drinking alcohol, using tobacco, or doing harmful drugs.  It also says you should eat healthy food and take care of your body.  What good advice this is!  Living a clean, sober life helps you think clearly, use time wisely, and save money.

You surely know that hard drugs like cocaine, meth-amphetamines, and heroin do devastating things to people's lives.  When your TBM (True-Believing Mormon) testimony crumbles, I don't think you'll be tempted to use any of these types of drugs.  But you may be tempted to try alcohol or tobacco.  Please resist these temptations.

Why?  Because whether or not Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 is divinely revealed, alcohol and tobacco are still harmful, addictive substances.  They're expensive, they're habit-forming, they cloud your thinking, and they damage your health.

Alcohol is especially dangerous.  People do a lot of stupid things when they're drunk.  Some can handle alcohol just fine, like Jesus did, but too many do not use it responsibly.  They get drunk and get in fights or drive a car or end up cheating on their spouse.  It's better to not take the chance.  It's better to refrain from alcohol.

And tobacco is bad for you, too.  Here's a website that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put together that details how harmful cigarette-smoking is. And smoking's expensive.  Have you seen how much a pack of cigarettes costs these days?  It's about 5 or 6 bucks.  If you smoke a pack a day, that's about 150 dollars a month! You could be using that money more responsibly.  You could spend it on things like food, housing, transportation, education, entertainment, paying off debts, investing, or donating to charity.

You may be tempted to take up the habit of drinking coffee or tea.  You probably don't consider them to be sinful anymore.  Honestly, I don't know if drinking coffee or tea is sinful either.  Coffee and tea aren't that harmful to your health, if they're harmful at all.  But don't drink coffee and tea anyway.

Why not?  Because taking up the habit of drinking coffee or tea will brand you as one who is outside the mainstream of the LDS community.  Even if you drink it secretly, it will take you further and further away from your Mormon identity. With every sip, you will consider yourself less and less Mormon.  This blog argues that, for the vast majority of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints who lose their traditional testimonies, the best route is to stay active in the Church and to continue living the modern LDS lifestyle.

Also, much of religious devotion is expressed symbolically, and many symbols are arbitrary.  For example, does it really matter if we go to Church on Saturday or Sunday, or on any other day of the week?  Traditional Seventh Day Adventists would argue, yes, it does matter.  They say that God clearly designated one day, Saturday, to be the Sabbath day. And some Christians argue that Sunday is definitely the one day out of the week that God designated as the Sabbath day, and that to hold church services or administer the sacrament on another day is wrong.  But here's my response to the Saturday vs. Sunday debate:  To quote Jesus, "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." 

In my opinion, it doesn't matter what day of the week the Sabbath is.  All that matters is that we have a Sabbath day.  All that matters is that one day of the week we go to church and focus our attention away from worldly things and toward heavenly things.  Sunday seems to be working out well for most people, so how about we just keep the Sabbath on Sunday?  Sound good?

In a similar way, the Church reccomends that we have Family Home Evening on Monday nights.  But let's say a father has to work late on Mondays.  Could Family Home Evening be moved to Tuesdays?  Of course it could!  The precise time of the week for Family Home Evening is unimportant.  The really important thing is that a family sets aside a certain time of the week to gather, pray, sing hymns, and teach eachother about God.

So, abstaining from coffee and tea is one of the many things that Mormons do to show their devotion to God.  So what if coffee and tea aren't harmful to your health?  When a Mormon does not drink coffee and tea for religious reasons, God honors and supports his or her expression of faith and devotion.

It doesn't matter so much that we refrain from those particular drink.  The Word of Wisdom could just as well forbid chocolate milk, or any green-colored liquid.  The important thing is that the Word of Wisdom forbids us from consuming something. 

Here's another example that shows what I'm talking about.  (I'll risk being repetitive in the hopes of being clear.)  When Catholics and other Christians observe Lent, it doesn't matter so much what they give up, what really matters is that they give something up.  Usually they give up something that's harmful, like chocolate or screaming at their kids, but often they give up things that are perfectly fine, like eating toast, or playing with a yo-yo.  As Mormons, we sacrifice coffee and tea for God.  We don't merely refrain from coffee and tea for 40 days, we do it for our whole lives.  I know it doesn't make 100% sense, but just do it anyway.  God will approve of your sacrifice.

Yes, Joseph Smith routinely broke the Word of Wisdom, and so did Brigham Young, and so did a lot of other early Church leaders.  And yes, tea and coffee aren't really that bad for you.  But just go ahead and keep the Word of Wisdom anyway.  It'll be good for you.

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