Do we deserve our trials?

Don - October 26, 2004

How do we determine why we are “suffering” the trials we are going through?

A very smart Bishop (Fox) once told me that there are 3 reasons we suffer trials. #1 S*#t happens (my words not his). The rain falls on everyone. It is just part of this life, some get more than others just as a matter of being here.

#2. As a direct consequence of our own actions.

#3. God gives us certain trials to strengthen us, prepare us, and help us to grow to our full potential.

My problem is the difficulty I have many times in sorting out whether I’m suffering from 1, 2, or 3. Maybe it doesn’t matter, maybe I should just “suffer”…grow, and be thankful for it. I find that I do better at “suffering” if I know the why.

It’s much easier to “suffer” the consequences of my own actions if I know for sure that my actions brought about the “suffering”. It’s harder when I don’t know if God is trying me, or if it’s a #1.

Is there any way to tell? Does it matter? Should I just put up and shut up?

How important is earth life really?!

Don - October 21, 2004

We all have spent literally thousands of years in the premortal existence, maybe more. There we were taught, we had associations with others, interactions, discussions etc. We developed enough that God knew what we “deserved”, “earned”, “qualified for” when coming to this earth.

How much of our personality, how much of the “real” me was formed there? I think a lot. More than we would normally think or give credit to.

We are taught that we come to this earth to gain a body and to be tested. I think gaining the body is the important issue here.

If that weren’t so then what about all the infant deaths, the deaths before accountability how are they tested by this earth life? What’s the test for them? We hear that they were so good in the pre-mortal life they don’t have to go thru the trials here. That’s my very point.

As for the rest of us….well, I guess we all fell short and have to go thru the trials. But what are these trials really for? They certainly aren’t to “prove” to God that I can qualify to live with Him. So that must mean that they are to prove to me that I can qualify.

Here’s my twist, from my twisted mind: If I accepted God as God in the pre-mortal life, and accepted that He knows everything about me, then why not accept that whatever kingdom He assigns me to is right and skip all the suffering, trials etc. found here? The infants who die accept that.

I don’t think this earth life is going to change who I really am, and who I really am has more to do with my pre-mortal life than it does my mortal life…in my opinion.

Redeem the Dead? What’s the Rush?

Don -

Two Sundays ago I listened to a talk on temple work and I took another look at this question again that I have pondered for a few years now. Why are we in such a hurry to redeem the dead? I mean, I understand the importance of the work and of going to the temple as often as possible; at least for ourselves. I just do not understand why we are told to hurry up and get as many names done as possible, now. It is almost as if you better hurry or it will be too late.

I make this case for two reasons: One, the dead dwell in a place where time does not necessarily travel at the same rate as the living, so it’s not like they are really waiting 400 years or whatever to get their ordinances done. Second, every persons ordinances will be done. Nobody is going to be left out. Their temple work will get done sometime either now or during the millennium.

I don’t mean at all to sound cynical. It is just a curious thing in the church since we know the reasons to do genealogical work and such…But why the urgency when it comes to performing the work?

Teenage Apathy: What Can I Do?

Rusty - October 19, 2004

I teach seminary here in the Park Slope ward in Brooklyn. There are four students that come regularly. Soon there will be three (one family moves to Florida in a few weeks). That leaves me with two from one family and one from another. These are good kids and are well supported by their solid families. It makes me very grateful for the support that I had as a teenager.

Here’s the problem: there is one that doesn’t care much to be there and I don’t know what to do.

This student hasn’t attended in almost two weeks and just told me tonight on the phone that what s/he objects to is getting up so early to talk about God. S/he’s not into it. I can dig that. What teenager is excited to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to talk about religion? A few people that I’ve told (outside of our religion) about seminary, think they are crazy? “…these are TEENAGERS that are doing this?” is what I hear. I know, it’s crazy. So I can understand his/her feelings.

I haven’t worked very much with the youth, so I haven’t mastered the art of the cool-and-inspiring-leader role. I work terribly hard at making each lesson interesting and I think I do a pretty decent job (especially considering I work part time and am doing grad school full time). They remaining students have told me how much more they have learned this year than in past years. But even with that good feedback, I still wonder if I’m doing everything I can.

Enter readers of this blog.

This is a plea for your help. If any of you have any experiences or any insight that might help me, please speak. I would appreciate it more than you may know.

Porn vs. Nudity vs. Lack-of-clothing

Rusty - October 15, 2004

It appears that pornography is rapidly ascending to the top of the list of problems within the Church. I fully expect them to add it to the list of questions for obtaining a temple recommend, followed by countless hours in Sunday School and on the blogs discussing what exactly “pornography” really is.

Not one to back out of an unpetitioned discussion, the following are my thoughts on the topic.

First of all, it’s impossible to have this discussion without Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” Lust is the key ingredient here. Let’s be clear, lust is not an action, it’s a feeling. Yes, it leads to action, but Christ is specifying the feeling as the sin (and presumably the action if it follows). That’s a pretty good litmus test I’d say. If you feel lust inside of you, it’s a sin. If you don’t, it’s not.

I offer three distinctions: Pornography: nudity with the intent to arouse (Playboy, porn sites, porn movies, etc.). Nudity: lack-of-clothing with the intent to display beauty, non-beauty, or nature (Manet, Rodin, fine art photography, etc.). Lack-of-clothing: no clothing with no intent except utilitarian purposes (breast feeding, showering, sex, etc.). My belief is that the first is never beneficial. The second sometimes can be beneficial, other times detrimental and many times neither. The last is almost always beneficial and rarely detrimental, but usually not for reasons of lust. (I know these are generalities and that there are many gray areas such as porn with clothing, or nakedness for sex is to arouse, etc., but stick with me.)

There are justifications and condemnations of all three by members of the Church. I am in both camps.

I’m an artist by birth, a designer by trade. Nudity is as much a part of art and it’s history as being offended is to a Mormon. You CAN’T study art/design without encountering it in one/any of it’s forms. Figure drawing in basic art classes (not at BYU of course, but EVERYWHERE else in the world). There isn’t a chapter in art history without images of nudity. I am constantly reviewing photographer’s portfolios that contain nudes. Almost every design annual contains at least a few images of nudity. Being in a creative field (fine art, design, photography, theater, film, even literature) one will always have contact with these things.

I am reminded of a certain controversy at BYU a few years ago in which the school had originally scheduled to have an exhibit of Rodin sculptures. It turned out to be quite a heated debate of art vs. porn. Naturally, I fell on the side of art. Sadly, BYU caved to the lustful students (that didn’t have to go see the exhibition if they didn’t want).

One justification for viewing nudity is that, “I’m married, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” I initially giggle at the silliness of that statement because it’s exactly something I haven’t seen before, being not my wife. I wonder if that is why so many married men in the Church are addicted to seeing these things they haven’t seen before.

In Europe, the attitude toward nudity is a little more lax than it is here. Topless beaches are the norm and ads with breasts are not uncommon. In my first sacrament meeting in Guatemala (on my mission) I saw more boobs than I ever had before (open breastfeeding), and it continued for two years. I think an interesting way to see it: The United States = Pornography, Europe = Nudity, Guatemala = Lack-of-clothing.

Lust is almost always the result of porn. Lust is often the result of nudity. Lust is rarely the result of lack-of-clothes. Viewer’s lust may transcend all three categories. Nothing beneficial can be gained from porn. Much inspiration and joy can be gained from nudity (think Michaelangelo, Rodin). Naturally almost everything that results from lack-of-clothes is beneficial.

We need to be honest with ourselves regarding nudity. What is the intent of the creator? When do our feeling truly cross the line from admiration to lust? From utilitarian to lust? Am I justified in condemning one person for watching a movie with nakedness in it because I personally have issues with that? Can we truly condemn Europeans as sinners because they have breasts on commercials that would arouse us? Should I ask the photographers to remove their pictures of naked women before they send me their portfolios?

The problem is what we do when we begin to lust. So if you feel lust inside of you when you see a Rodin sculpture, by all means, don’t view it. But please don’t assume everyone has the same feelings.

The Manipulation Pattern…A Mormon’s Favorite Tool

Don - October 13, 2004

Rusty’s post on a Bishop with a questionable leadership move got me thinking about this whole thing we call the “commitment Pattern.” It has been taught to us since we entered the YM/YW program and then had it drilled into our lives as missionaries. Even those who haven’t served recognize how it works. It is a simple pattern that anyone can follow to get others to take action.

Normally, we try to use this pattern in order to bring someone closer to God, but where do we cross the line in doing so from commitment to manipulation? Usually our intents are pure but our actions are not (and at other times our intents are not pure!). Over the past week or so I have been struggling with how to best present this idea. I asked a lot of people their opinions on the matter and failed to reach a consensus.

So, maybe the best way is to ask…WHAT is the manipulation pattern? How does it compare to the real commitment pattern? Finally, (and most importantly) how do we avoid falling into the trap of using manipulation? It is an important question because it happens all the time. We have all seen it happen.

Here is what I came up with at present. We start to commit people using the right reasons, but then bring in reasons that are irrelevant and attempt to force them into commitment.

For example, a missionary is attempting to commit an investigator to baptism. To try and persuade the individual, the missionary uses reasons that will pull at the person’s heart-strings. They will say “You love us, right? So why wouldn’t you want to be baptized?” instead of letting the Lord convince them through the power of the Holy Ghost and the doctrines of the church. They try to befriend them into the church.

This of course, is not isolated to missionary work. Everyone knows a story of a young man getting revelation that he should marry a certain young woman and tries pressuring her into the commitment even though she may have doubts.

I would venture to say that commitment is something that has already happened inside a person and we are just there to confirm and voice their feelings. Manipulation happens when we attempt to force people into something they have not prepared themselves to do. Are there times when people do not know they are ready for a commitment when in fact they really are? Sure, but I would consider that the exception that happens rarely and must be faced with much thought and prayer.

Prayer stances

Don - October 12, 2004

In SS this week we talked about prayer, where, how, vain repetitions etc. I have since thought more about my own prayer and manerisms.

A few years ago while visiting the Church Museum in SLC I noticed a picture of a sacrament meeting. The brother blessing the Sacrament is kneeling behind the table with both his arms raised to the square while praying. I thought how curious.

In different settings I have referred to this and that I have adopted this prayer position on different occasions. I rarely use it, but when I do, I find my consentration goes up…my arms get heavy and it helps add “something” for me.

In writing this blog I’ve now decided I’m going to try a new “position”. I’ve never prayed laying flat on the floor, I’m going to try it.

Something I’ve thought about doing but haven’t yet is raising my hands in a particular way as demonstrated in the Temple and using the words used there. If it is ok for Adam to pray that way and it’s used in the Endowment then does that make it ok for me to use in my personal prayers?

I’m not trying to be weird about prayer. I just find kneeling, slumped over/onto my bed sometimes doesn’t give me the effect I’m needing.

Expensive Fish

Don - October 9, 2004

Here’s part of an article I just ran across.

“While we all want to save endangered fish, there is a lot of waste in the fish program. A good example: In August, Bonneville Power Administration was forced to spill water at the upper Columbia River dams for fish. Since this water was spilled it could not be used for power generation. The approximate cost of this spill was $38,000,000 to Northwest ratepayers. It resulted in an extimated 5 endangered Snake River Chinook being saved (costing $3,500,000 per fish), and 2,400 non-listed upper Columbia fall Chinook, a stock that will be harvested at a 50% rate when returning (at $15,000 per fish).”

Living in the NW this effects me directly, for the rest of you it may not effect you at all.

I wonder sometimes if our costly “save the whatever” is worth it. Species have come and gone over the ages. Some of these have been caused by man, but so what, are we really so much worse off because we don’t have the doodoo bird or the passinger pigeon? Where is the balance between good use of “our” money and saving a spotted owl?

Closed Sundays

Don - October 8, 2004

There are two businesses selling virtually the same products, one located 1/2 mile from my home and one located 2 miles from my home. The one that is located 2 miles from my home is closed on Sundays, the other is open 7 days a week. Otherwise they are virtually the same.

As a “good Mormon” should I go out of my way to shop at the store 2 miles away? Since it is closer and I can walk there, should I go to the closest store? Does it really matter? Would the answers be the same if the 2 mile location’s prices were higher…5%, 10%, 15% higher? (the store open 6 days has to do a little over 15% more business or have 15% higher prices to do the same in gross sales as the 7 day store…assuming equal sales everyday).

I think when it comes to living our religion we are much better at it with our lips than with our wallets!

Absolute Truths…There are only 7!

Don - October 6, 2004

In the church we often talk about light and truth and how to obtain it. During this time we occasionally attempt to differentiate the truths of God from the philosophies of men. The intent here is to distinguish truth from truth. Specifically, which truths are “absolute” and which ones are “relevant?”

A whole discussion could be made on how those two terms should be defined. However, for our purposes here we will define “relevant truth” as found in Doctrine and Covenants 93:30 where it states, “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” So, relevant truths are in specific places and/or specific times. I am bound by the truth that I will be breaking the honor code if I grow a beard while attending BYU-Idaho, but after I leave it no longer applies. I’m subject to all the laws of physics and thermodynamics while dwelling on this earth but they may not apply where God dwells. “Absolute truth” can defined as everything outside of that. Anything that has been and always will be at all times and in all places.

So, how many “absolute” truths are there? We recently discussed this in my Western Religions class in relation to Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. The only thing we could come up with is that “God lives.” I honestly don’t know if there are more or less then 7. (That was just meant to grab your attention:) Are there any more then that? Maybe there are a whole lot more. I’m not sure.

Maybe I need to redefine my terms!

Just Because It’s A Commitment, Doesn’t Make It Right

Rusty - October 5, 2004

I’m distracted. And a bit peeved.

I’ve been working on a post for some time now. It has great spiritual significance to me and have been formulating it in a way that I hope makes sense for those who might read it.

However, tonight something has come up.

It has almost zero spiritual significance to me (and most members for that matter) and I am barely going to spell check this thing before posting it. Why would I post this one over the other? Because I’m so bothered I can no longer concentrate on that other post, no longer concentrate on school, not on work, not on seminary, I don’t even remember my wife’s name!

I found out tonight that the bishop of a close friend of ours has committed all the men in the ward to two things: 1) To never watch an R-rated movie ever again. Also, to never watch a PG-13 rated movie without his wife’s permission. 2) To use the internet (at home presumably) only with his wife’s permission (by assigning a password on the computer that only the wife knows).

I vehemently object to A) the bishop committing members of his ward to the living of a non-commandment, non-church policy, non-doctrinal, non-recently-mentioned-in-an-official-setting-to-establish-it-as-anything-remotely-like-a-commandment,-church-policy,-or-doctrine. B) The bishop suggesting that these guys are so pathetic that they have to ask their wife’s permission to do ANYTHING!!!! (note: I’m not saying these guys are pathetic, I’m saying that the bishop is suggesting they are by making them ask their wife’s permission)

When did “no R-rated movies” become church doctrine, policy, or commandment? I know this question has been asked a million times and would refer you to two posts by Bob Caswell here and here for my exact opinion, well articulated by Bob.

Now, regarding the internet, I fully understand the bishop’s intentions, especially in light of President Hinckley’s talk during priesthood. However, why not commit those who have problems with it rather than a broad sweep? Also, what kind of a message does that send to either spouse that the wife cannot trust her husband and that the husband has no self-control? Or that the two can’t work something out between themselves? Or ANYTHING else?

(this reminds me of another thing a RS president suggested in their ward back in Utah: that the wife light a candle (which represented the sexual desire) before her husband came home. When he gets home if he is not in the mood, he just blows the candle out. If he is in the mood, then he takes the next step. WHAT?!!! Is THAT the sort of communication I am supposed to have with my wife?)

My biggest objection to this whole charade is why didn’t the bishop commit them to something that could actually increase their spirituality rather than trying to help them avoid becoming “more bad”? Why not, “will you commit to finding someone to talk with the missionaries within two months?” or “will you commit to going to the temple once a month for the next six months?” or “will you commit to studying your scriptures every day for the next month?”

Nope. He had to commit them to asking their wife if they could blog late into the night.