Friday, March 21, 2014

# 36: I Felt the Spirit When I Did My Home Teaching

Maybe I'm strange, but I really enjoy home teaching.  I like going to visit people I wouldn't ordinarily visit, I like chatting with them, and I like sharing a spiritual message and saying a prayer with the people that I home teach.

Right now I home teach a lady with a lot of problems.  I won't use her real name.  I'll just call her Sister Crazy.  She's a convert, she's got 4 children from 4 different men, she recently got knee replacement surgery, she used to be addicted to cocaine, and her kids have pretty bad emotional and psychological problems.  Last time I was there, her 7 year old son said to her, "I hate you, Mom."

It's a bad situation, but I'm there to help, in whatever small way I can.  I think just showing up once a month and showing that she's loved by her church community makes a difference.  And Sister Crazy is better off with the Church in her life than without it.

Usually, on my drive home from home teaching, as I think about what I've done, I feel the Spirit.  And when I get home, I'm usually do a little bit better as a husband and as a father.  I'm a little more kind and compassionate and helpful and happy.

My home teaching companion and I treat Sister Crazy with respect and show her the love of Jesus Christ, and I read the message from the First Presidency out of the Ensign magazine.  And the messages are always wonderful.  They're about love, prayer, faith, charity, service, and other righteous principles.

Our visits with her usually last an hour, and most of the time she's telling us about her problems, and most of the time she ends up crying.  She's the type of person who most people would want to get away from and forget about.

But Jesus has not forgotten about her.  In a mysterious way that we can't comprehend, Jesus understands her problems.  In fact, she's probably the type of person that Jesus would have hung out with.  Remember when the hyper-religous Jews criticized Jesus for hanging out with publicans and sinners?  And remember what Jesus said?  Jesus said, "the whole need not a physician, but them that are sick."

I'm not doing as good of a job as a home teacher as Jesus would have.  I wish Jesus himself could be this lady's home teacher.  I wish Jesus could be my home teacher.  But God has set up this life to be the way it is, and we can only catch glimmers of God here and there.

It is our privilege and our responsibility as home teachers to stand in the place of Jesus when we go visit people.  I hope that we act like Jesus, and treat people the way that Jesus would.

Who cares if Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and married the 14 year old Helen Mar Kimball?  It's really not that big of a deal.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

# 35: The Bible Isn't a Literal Book of History, Either

Once you find out that the Book of Mormon is not a literal book of history, you might feel like leaving the Church.  That's understandable.  But please don't leave so quickly.  Take your time.  Leaving a religion could be the biggest decision of your life.  Consider your options.  In my mind, the best option for most people who lose their traditional testimonies in the Church is to stay LDS.

We've all heard this advice: don't quit your job until you've found another job.  I think the same principle applies to quitting a religion.  Don't leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints until you've found another religion to convert to.

When I had my faith crisis two years ago, I looked around at other religions.  I attended a few Christian churches.  None of them felt like home.

I also read the accounts of other people who left the LDS Church.  Very rarely did I find ex-Mormons genuinely converting to another religion and finding the peace, comfort, community and identity that they once had in the LDS Church.  It seemed like most ex-Mormons became agnostic or atheist, and I think that's very sad.  The exception I saw was Mitz Nelson who appears to have successfully transferred to a good non-LDS Christian Church.  Another exception I've found is the Wilder family.  They've all become born-again Christians.

But most of the ex-Mormons I've encountered have gone agnostic or atheist.  And then there's the example of the first openly bi-sexual and agnostic U.S. Representative from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema.  She's an ex-Mormon. That breaks my heart.  I wish ex-Mormons could find more faith in Jesus.  But God loves everyone, and he understands the struggles of his children in this complicated modern age.

If you believe in a literal Bible, you believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old.  I believed that until my faith crisis.  I had heard all the scientists and archeologists explain how the human species is millions of years old, but I thought they were all wrong.  I thought that Doctrine and Covenants 77:6 trumped every opinion of every scientist.   After all, I thought that the Doctrine and Covenants the infallible word of God, even more pure than the Bible.  I also read and believed just about everything in Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, and in that book, McConkie asserts that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

But probably the hardest Bible story for me to believe in these days is the Tower of Babel.  It seems like a myth that explains where the languages of the Earth came from.  And it seems crazy that a group of people really thought they could build a tower to get to heaven, that they could really attain salvation by increasing their altitude.

So, I don't believe that the Bible is a literal book of history anymore.  But I still regard it as scripture.

Mormons shouldn't have a rough time swallowing the fact that the Bible is not a literal book of scripture.  Their whole life they've been taught "We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated correctly."  And they've been taught that the great and abomidable Church purposely took things out and added in false stuff just to confuse people.  So, I feel like whenever Mormons have read the Bible and come across a story that's hard to believe, they just say, "well, maybe this is a mistranslation, or an interpolation by uninspired men."  Such stories include the blind and elderly Isaac being tricked into giving his birthright to Jacob instead of Esau, in Genesis chapter 27, and Saul consulting a witch of En-dor to summon up the spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 28.  In Sunday School and seminary, it seems like these stories are either ignored or cleverly explained away.

If you convert to a fundamentalist Christian religion, you'll have to listen to pastors claim that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, that it's a literal book of history, and that everything in that book really happened in actual reality.  Can you make yourself believe that?  I don't think I can.

So I think there's a danger in taking the Bible completely literally.  But there's more danger for the person who disregards the Bible in its entirety.  There are some "Christians" at the other end of the spectrum who don't take any scripture literally, even the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  These "Christians" often find their home in the Unitarian Universalist church.  But that Church has a lot of problems of its own.

How should we approach scripture study, when we no longer regard the scriptures as 100% literal or historical?  That's a good question, one that I think Elder D Todd Christofferson addresses here:

Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave the following insights about how we should study the scriptures:

“You should care more about the amount of time you spend in the scriptures than about the amount you read in that time. I see you sometimes reading a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more. Studying in this way, you may not read a lot of chapters or verses in a half hour, but you will be giving place in your heart for the word of God, and He will be speaking to you”(in Conference Report, Apr. 2004, 9-10; or Ensign, May 2004, 11).

Elder Christofferson emphasizes that Scriptures are a vehicle to communing with God.  They're not meant to be historical.

For more information on how to use scriptures in your worship of God and in your life, even though don't accept their infallibility or literalness, read these nine affirmations from the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I think the Community of Christ has a good attitude about what scripture is all about.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

# 34: Brazilian Saints Have Never Heard of Polygamy

I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that members of the LDS Church in Brazil have never heard of polygamy.  The bad news is that members of the LDS Church in Brazil have never heard of polygamy.

(I've got a little brother serving a mission there right now, and he told me that none of the members he had talked with down there had heard of the Church practicing polygamy.  As my mother used to say, I heard it from the horse's mouth.)

Why is that good news?  Because polygamy is terrible.  It was a failed experiment, like the law of consecration.  It's better that Mormons don't practice it.  We've moved passed that.  We don't need to talk about it anymore, and so maybe it's a good thing that converts never hear about it, except through forbidden sources.  Maybe it's a good thing that members tend to not teach their kids about it.  Members of the LDS Church don't practice it anymore, so why do we need to talk about it?  Let's just move on.

And why is this bad news?  Because it's anti-historical.  When Brazilian Saints are ignorant of polygamy, they do not have an accurate picture of Church history.  Plus, there's always a chance that they'll get on the Internet and go to the wives of Joseph Smith or some other website and find out that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff and so many others were polygamists.  If they find out, they might be shocked.  Maybe they'll think, "What else don't I know about Church history?" and then they'll keep clicking and clicking, and their traditional testimony will start withering and withering.

So, I'm kind of torn.

One one hand, I think when the missionaries talk to potential converts, they should at least mention polygamy.  It's a real part of our history.  We should confront it, discuss it, and accept it.  The prophets, seers and revelators should clear up doctrinal questions surrounding polygamy, as best they can.  We shouldn't sweep it under the rug and pretend it never happened.

Plus, it's technically still doctrine.  We still have D & C 132 in our canon.  And it's technically still practiced.  Members of the LDS Church don't practice it in mortality, but a widower can get sealed to another woman.  So members of the Church believe that polygamy is practiced in the Celestal Kingdom.   So shouldn't we be teaching it?

(But if you want my opinion, polygamy was a terrible idea from the start, and it will not be practiced in the hereafter.)

On the other hand, Mormonism is a better religion without polygamy.  I'm glad we've moved on, thanks to pressure from the U.S. Government in the late 1800's, and thanks to divine guidance.  And maybe on the issue of polygamy, ignorance is bliss.

So... if we don't really do it anymore, and if we want to move on, why bring up the ugly, ugly past?  A missionary telling Brazilian Saints about polygamy kind of feels like a wife bringing up ex-girlfriends.

You should stay LDS because we no longer engage in the horrible practice of polygamy.  And as the years go by, fewer and fewer Saints- at least the Saints in developing countries- will even know it was practiced at all.  Of course, there is a push by both apologists and critics of the Church to get polygamy more openly taught in Church.  So maybe as the years go by, more Saints actually will learn about it.  Time will tell.

But my point here is that if we don't do polygamy anymore, and we don't talk about it anymore, and it's not affecting your life in any way, why leave the Church over it?

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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

# 33: Alma 1:26

One of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon is Alma 1: 26.

And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God.  And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.

A long time ago I wrote in the margin by that verse, "The way life ought to be."  And I still feel that way.

The way life ought to be is this: everybody works, according to their ability, Monday through Friday.  Saturday is a day to play.  Sunday is the sabbath day, the day everybody should go to Church.  Repeat that for your whole life, and I think you'll be happy.  And if everybody lives the way that's prescribed in Alma 1: 26, we'll have strong communities.

Mormonism has evolved a lot over its nearly two hundred years of existence, but one thing that hasn't changed is the practice that the Church has an unpaid local clergy.  There are some jobs, like mission presidents, General Authorities, Institute teachers, that get compensated monetarily.  Plus there are lawyers and accountants and public relations people and other people that get paid.  These people work for the Church over 40 hours a week, so they can't hold normal jobs, so they deserve a modest pay for their efforts.

Most everybody that the average church member deals with, however, - bishops, relief society presidents, stake presidents, high councilors- volunteer.  And to get to the paid positions, you typically have to work for years and years in unpaid positions.  I doubt many people would be willing to work their way up the corporate LDS ladder, so to speak, just for the money.  

So, by and large, the Church still lives by the beautiful principles taught in Alma 1:26.

Another way that the Church expresses equality between the preacher and the hearer is by holding fast and testimony meetings.  In these meetings, anybody in the congregation is welcome to get up and start preaching.  So, in a way, everybody is a preacher and everybody is a hearer.  We take turns preaching and we take turns hearing.

In other churches, there is usually one paid minister, and he preaches every Sunday.  The people in the congregation don't get much of a chance to speak.  But in our Church, the LDS Church, everybody has a chance to preach, and everybody is expected to preach.

Another way we express equality among preachers and hearers is by all wearing white in the temples.

Of course, if you look for ranks in the Church, you'll find them.  If you look for prideful preachers, you'll find them.  Even in the temple, when the bishop is wearing the same white outfit that you are, you still know he's the bishop, and you treat him accordingly.

And in fast and testimony meetings, even though everyone is welcome to speak, we all know who is in charge.  We know that the bishop presides over the meeting, and that if somebody goes too far off script while bearing their testimony, the bishop has the responsibility to correct any false doctrine that may be preached.

But you have to have ranks in an organization.  There's no getting around that.

All things considered, the Church is doing a pretty good job of living out Alma 1: 26.   And even if the Church doesn't live up to the ideals spelled out in the Book of Mormon, at least it has those ideals.  It's better to have ideals and fall short of them than it is to have no ideals at all.

Oh, and another thing:  You might find it odd that I quote the Book of Mormon as scripture, and as an authoritative source of inspiration, when I don't believe it's a literal historical record.

I find that odd too.  Ha ha ha.  The world is odd.

For about a year after my faith crisis, I could hardly stand to pick up the Book of Mormon.  For my whole life I thought that it was the infallible Word of God, even more pure and trustworthy than the Bible.  I thought it was the most correct book on earth, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.   I read the Book of Mormon slowly, closely, carefully, over and over and over.  I took notes.  I took Institute classes on it.  I used literary analysis techniques to try to discover its secrets.

Once I found out the truth about the authorship of the Book of Mormon, I felt betrayed, and I just couldn't even read the book at all anymore.

To be clear, I don't think that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical record of ancient inhabitants of North or South America.  I think Joseph Smith wrote it.  Most of the material came from the Bible.    Some of it came from Joseph Smith's imagination.  For more information on how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, read An Insider's View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer.

But just because Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, that doesn't mean it's not inspired, and that doesn't mean it's not inspiring.  I believe that it's both inspired and inspiring.

Now, about two years after my faith crisis, I pick up the Book of Mormon every day.  I love that book.  I loved it as a child, I loved it as a missionary, and now that I'm in my thirties, I still love it.  I read it a little differently now, but I still love the book.

Everyday, I read the Book of Mormon out loud with my wife and two daughters for scripture study.  The book has some great stories in it, but what I look for mostly now in its pages is wisdom.  And you don't have to dig very deeply to find wisdom in the Book of Mormon.  Just flip it open to any page, and I think you'll find something of value.  I no longer take the Book of Mormon narrative literally, but I take it seriously.

If you stay LDS, you'll unite yourself with a community of believers who regularly study the Book of Mormon and use its principles to run the Church and order their lives.  In the wise words of Martha Stewart, "it's a good thing."

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# 32: I Felt the Spirit When I Prayed in Church

A few Sundays ago, I got to Church really early.  Sacrament meeting started at 9 and I got there at 8:15.  My wife is the choir director and she had a rehearsal before Church because they were performing that day.  So I sat in the pews, taking care of our two little daughters while the choir rehearsed.

I looked up at the choir, and they looked so comfortable, so happy, so secure in their testimonies.  I can't really know what's going on in their hearts and minds, but I did feel that I was a different person than they were, because I believed differently about Joseph Smith and the Restoration.  When I'm at Church, I often think, "These people don't want to hear from me," and "I don't really belong here."

A few minutes before sacrament meeting started, the Bishop came up to me and asked if I would say the opening prayer.  I said sure.

So I gave the opening prayer.  I said the stuff you ordinarily hear in an opening prayer.  I asked Heavenly Father to send the Spirit to the speakers and singers, and I thanked him for allowing us to worship as we pleased in this free country, and I thanked him for all the people who made this sacrament meeting possible. After I said amen, and after I sat back down in my pew, I felt the Spirit.

That may sound like a boring story, but it was very meaningful to me.  It was meaningful to me because two different sources, one earthly and one heavenly, were confirming to me that I should stay LDS.  The earthly source was my bishop.  He knows about my testimony situation.  He's not only told me that I should stay LDS, but he's given me a calling, and he asked me to pray in Church.  My bishop is the representative of the official Church.  It's his job not only to protect the sheep in his flock, but to protect the official interests of the Church.  So, it means a lot to me when a guy like that asks me to pray in sacrament meeting.

The heavenly source that confirmed to me that I should stay LDS was the Holy Ghost.  It was a feeling of peace and calmness, a feeling of warmth in my chest.  Even though I don't have a traditional testimony, I still feel the Spirit from time to time.

When I went through my faith crisis, I felt like the Church didn't want me and my dangerous ideas at Church anymore.  I thought I wasn't welcome.  I felt like I should be kept away from the youth, so I wouldn't poison their minds with tales of seer stones and polyandry and the Adam-God theory.

For example, I didn't do my home teaching for a while, because I was looking for a way out of the Church, but then when I was ready to start participating again, I asked the Elder's Quorum President for my home teaching assignment.  I didn't even know what it was.  He said he'd get back to me, and then about a month passed by,  and I still didn't have a home teaching assignment.  In my imagination, they were talking about me in Priesthood Executive Committee, saying  "He's an apostate!  Misterfake371 is to receive no callings or assignments.  When you approach him, hum 'I am a Child of God' in your mind, and rub your CTR ring, to prevent his poison from seeping into your soul!"

So when the Elder's Quorum President didn't give me a home teaching assignment, I took that as a sign that the powers that be didn't want me participating.  But I wanted to be sure, so I went to the Bishop, who knew about my lack of testimony, and I said, "Do you want me to home teach?"  And he said, "That'd be great.  Our home teaching numbers are terrible, so we need all the help we can get."

So that very Sunday on which I asked the Bishop, I got a call from a nice brother in the ward who said, "Guess what, Misterfake371, looks like we're home teaching companions!"

And I said "Great!"

And he said, "Great!"

And now we've been home teaching companions for about a year now and things are going just great.

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