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Nine Moons : 2005 : March » 2005 » March

Homeless Smomeless: Show Me Some Real Suffering

Rusty - March 31, 2005

Every day on my walk to the subway through my Brooklyn neighborhood I pass no less than three homeless people asking for money. On my way home I pass at least three as well (usually a different three). This doesn’t count the ones I run into when I’m in Manhattan.

This bothers me.

A true disciple of Christ might be bothered by this situation because there is a child of God who is suffering. A true believer in the teachings of Jesus might abhor the situation because of the dramatic imbalance of opportunity and means in our society. A true Christian might not be bothered at all, she’d just love these people.

Not me.

I’m bothered because they make me feel bad six times a day, NO MATTER WHAT I DO, whether I give or withhold. Why do they make me feel bad? Because I struggle with those teachings of Jesus we all know that are about giving to the poor. Because I once read Approaching Zion which suggested we need to give without judgment of those asking. Because I would never want to be in that situation and if I were I’d only hope someone would treat me with kindness.

But here’s the problem: it’s a career for some of these guys, it’s their full-time job. These are the same guys that have been asking me for money since I moved into the neighborhood two years ago. I know a few of their names. Everyone in the neighborhood knows their names. They are a Park Slope institution. In fact, a local magazine did an editorial on one of them where we learn all about him and how he gets along (answer: fine).

While I appreciate the fact that they aren’t sitting around a welfare-funded apartment living off my taxes, I have a hard time getting past the fact that the service they offer to society is a weight on our conscience. Payment? Our spare change. There are high school teachers in my hometown that make less than these guys, the only difference being the standard of living between New York and Spokane.

Don’t get me wrong, I often give them my change (when I have some in my pocket) but most of the time I don’t. And I hate walking past them acting as if I don’t see them. But it’s just as bad to look at them and give the shoulder-raise, squint my eyes and quietly say, “sorry, I don’t have any.” But I do have some. I could go to the bank and get money out. I could take them to the deli and buy them breakfast with my debit card. I could let them sleep on my couch for the night.

But is this fixing the problem? Isn’t this just buying them fish (rather than teaching them how to fish)? Yet, who am I to teach them a lesson? Shouldn’t I just have compassion and leave it at that? I know Christ (and King Benjamin and Paul and…) said we should give to the poor. Are these guys poor? They have no home, no job, no resources, no loved ones to count on. Are their new sneakers a gnat I’m straining at to justify my selfishness? Or is it just a matter of common sense to not encourage a dependence on other people’s charity?

Premortal Cain, Lucifer agreement?

Don - March 25, 2005

I was wondering if Cain and Lucifer could have had some kind of agreement in the premortal life?

Cain because he received a body gets to rule over Satan in the end. I can understand that prinicple but is it only Cain, or do all those who “follow” Satan get to rule over him because they will have bodies? If only Cain then why? You’re the first bad guy, so you get rewarded for being bad by being a ruler….isn’t that what Cain and Satan both want…is to rule, to have power over others?

If it is only Cain, did Lucifer cut a deal with Cain in the premortal life when the war was going on? You know, something like Lucifer says: “We’re pals, I’m going to lose this battle so why don’t you slip over to the other side go to earth and get your body. I’ll contact you then, we’ll re-new our friendship and in the end you can rule over me…everything is cool.”

I know that really doesn’t make much sense, but it just interests me on why did Cain get what he got?

The Temple and Fig Leaves

Don - March 24, 2005

Again by preparing to teach the PofGP I have come across a question that has popped up in my mind before. Satan told Adam and Eve to use fig leaves to cover themselves, which they did. Later God makes coats of skins to cover them.

The symbolism I’ve understood here is that the fig leaves represent our own attempt to cover our own sins. (Isn’t it interesting that the fig tree was the only thing Christ cursed during His mortal ministry) The coats of skins represent the atonement and God’s way of covering our sins. It took the sacrifice of animals to make the coats. The coats and the sacrifice represent the sacrifice of Christ for our sins.

If that symbolism is correct then why do we use fig leaves in the temple as we do? And why do they stay with us thru the entire endowment? (Hopefully I have made that vague enough not to offend anyone about talking about temple things)

Funny Video

Rusty - March 23, 2005

For those of you who missed this SNL sketch, I bring it to you commercial-free. I hope you enjoy it.

To shoot down or not to shoot down

Don - March 20, 2005

I have a question that I have struggled with at times since my mission. All of us have gone to Sunday School or Priesthood or Relief Society and heard something we know is not true, or is not correct doctrine. This most often comes through comments or responses to questions asked by the teacher. Sometimes it comes directly from the teacher and on rare occasions it comes from a member of the bishopric who, ironically enough, is trying to clarify a point of doctrine!
My question is how are we, as humble members of the church, to gently correct these situations? Is there a right or wrong way? Does it depend on the situation and if so, how do we know which situation is which and know which reaction is the best to use? Is there a way to do so without offending anyone or should we just not worry about that because it is inevitable?
An example: Today in Sunday School the teacher was wrapping up her lesson on Emma Smith and section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants when she made the comment that she had recently learned that Joseph and Emma had their calling and election made sure. This came as a great surprise to me considering all the controversy and early church leader quotes (which may or may not have actually been spoken) I have heard dealing with this very topic. She quickly ended with her testimony and we closed and I felt I should have said something but wasn’t sure what or how without sounding proud and make her look like a fool.
How do we make sure correct doctrine and truth are taught without creating more damage by speaking up?

A Reintroduction To Outer Boroughs

Rusty - March 17, 2005

Recently added to the Mormon Archipelago is Outer Boroughs, a blog published by none other than my very own bishop, Chris Williams. Having been on somewhat of a hiatus, he now promises to enter once more into the fold and post more often. His most recent post is a nice piece on being a convert. Another one of my favorites is Is God A Musky? Good stuff.

(Okay Chris, this fulfills my half of our trade. Now forget about the beer and sign my recommend!)

Being In The World, But Not In The World

Rusty - March 14, 2005

Last week between seminary, work, homework, class, homework, seeing our best friends leave New York forever, homework, and homework, I’ve been following an interesting post at Millennial Star about parenting and media. Geoff B makes some interesting points as he lays out his children’s television-viewing schedule (none hours a week). There have been some interesting comments as the post is still moving forward. In one comment Geoff defended his techniques using the Mormon favorite, “Aren’t we supposed to be in the world but not of the world?”

Now, I don’t know who originally penned this silly saying, but it’s not from the scriptures. I suspect it is a modern-day translation/interpretation of John 17:14-16 though I can’t imagine that Christ meant it in the same way in which we express it. It seems that most members interpret “in this world” to mean “on this earth”. In other words, we should live on this earth, but we shouldn’t participate in “worldly” things. I agree we shouldn’t participate in “worldly” things (though that definition is up for debate as well, but that’s a topic for another post) but why do we have to limit ourselves to just being on this earth? Can we not be among the wicked? Shouldn’t a faithful member seek out a job in television so that he can have influence on the industry for good, rather than completely avoid television? Shouldn’t we live in the “mission field” so we may have influence over those in need of a good example, rather than live in Provo?

In verse 15 Christ says, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” I don’t think Christ is telling his Father not to remove us from the earth. I think He’s specifically asking Heavenly Father to not remove us from the wickedness around us, only to help us not be susceptible to it.

Mormon Scholarship, is it lacking?

Don - March 11, 2005

Is it me, or am I just not looking in the right places?

The Old Testament is one of my favorite scriptures. I’m teaching a PofGP class and slowly going through Moses / Genesis right now. I’ve found from the reading I’m doing that there isn’t the in depth verse by verse commentary of the O.T. by any competent (or incompetent – for that matter) L.D.S. scholars. I’m not talking about the “normal” stuff found in the BYU Religon syllabus. What I mean is the more in depth, interesting connections etc. found in other christian writer’s works.

A couple of examples: Lucifier the meaning of his name and what he was doing in the garden. LDS scholars fail to cross referrence Ezek. 28:9-11 which helps clarify.

Or that the meaning of the names in the genealogy to Noah specifically spell out what we could call the plan of salvation.

Or the significance of Abraham’s servant’s name, it what he does.

Or where was Isaac when Abraham came off the mountain and went home, and why is he left out of the record?

I find more interesting tid bits from non-LDS sources than from within the writtings by church scholars. My conclusion: I’m too familiar with the LDS sources and what they try to teach us, or the things I learn from non-LDS are of little consequence or value so they aren’t included in LDS sources, or the non-LDS sources are wrong – speculative – unfounded, or we lack some of the in depth knowledge our Christian friends have. Which and why is that?

Time to laugh at our culture

Don - March 10, 2005

The second area of Nine-moons is to laugh at Mormon culture….

My wife is big on the “Color Code”. There are reds – strong, always need to be right, seek for status people, Blue – self righteous, detailed oriented people, Yellow – self centered party, have fun people, people, and White – laid back easy going, peace at any price people.

I’m a classic red, my wife is a classic blue. That combination in a relationship is by far and away the most difficult of all combinations.

I understand that Mormons, especially ones in Utah (according to what my son who lives there tells me) are really into this too.

I have a couple of questions….maybe they aren’t funny….maybe we can laugh at this!? Have any of you found defining yourself and others with these colors has helped your relationships? Any suggestions on helping a red / blue relationship?

A final question, what color is always right? I ask that because I’ve found it doesn’t matter what color you are you always see things from your perspective and that’s the right perspective, so you are always right….from your point of view, which of course is the right point of view or you’d be a different color…and then that point of view would be right, but then you’d be different so you’d still be right…right?

If Our Doctrine is Green, Why Isn’t Our Culture?

Rusty - March 9, 2005

Having grown up in a conservative Mormon home, my perspective on the environment was as follows: don’t smoke, don’t litter, global warming is a left-wing conspiracy, and there is plenty on this earth to spare. Whenever anyone suggested that our generation is depleting the ozone or that we were using up the earth’s resources, I’d smugly laugh it off and think, “They don’t know God’s feelings on it. He says that there is plenty to spare (D&C 104:17) and that everything on the earth is made for my benefit (D&C 59:18-19).” Silly, silly liberals, don’t they read the scriptures?

(I didn’t know it then, but I was playing that great religion game Quoting-Only-The-Scriptures-That-Support-My-Argument. It’s a Bloggernacle favorite!)

So, after years of being smarter than everyone else, I continued reading:

“Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward; for it is the free gift of the Lord thy God, and thou art his steward.” (D&C 136:27)

“For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.” (D&C 104:13)

“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion” (D&C 59:20)

Okay now, let me get this straight, God gave us this earth, BUT WE HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE WITH IT!!!! Whatever! If God didn’t want me to drill for oil, He wouldn’t have put it there! Sure, DDT was bad, but these new chemicals are much safer, the company said so! Factory farming? Great! That means cheaper Cheetos!

Please tell me that these are not our best solutions. Please tell me there are no Mormons working at Monsanto, whose very business is excess and extortion. Please tell me Bush knows that the acronym EPA has the word “Protection” in it. Please tell me that saving fifty cents on milk is not paramount.

It seems our doctrine regarding the environment is quite progressive, yet our cultural interpretation is lacking. Hugh Nibley opined, “We have taught our children by precept and example that every living thing exists to be converted into cash, and that whatever would not yield a return should be quickly exterminated to make way for creatures that do.”

A phrase which tends to pop up in these conversations is “fill the measure of its creation, that it may have joy therein.” Are we assisting God in this effort? Are we enabling the animals and plants to fill the measure of their creation? Is it even possible to do this AND take what we need from the earth? I can’t imagine a better way to do this than through the principles of sustainability.

Why are there not more Mormons embracing these principles? This is not a Luddite mentality I’m talking about. Sustainability is a cradle to cradle, eco-effective model of thinking about how we make things, how we consume things, how we use these resources our Heavenly Father has given us. It’s also a fine way to make money. Two amazing books about these principles are Cradle to Cradle and Natural Capitalism. Best money you’ll spend this month. Disappointingly, these books should have been written by Mormons.

The Church owns the 205,000-acre Deseret ranch on the Utah/Wyoming border. A few years ago they purchased the desert land (right next to identical government land) and gave two directives: make a profit, improve the resource. They began implementing sustainable land management principles. I’ve since visited the ranch and it changed my life. It changed my perception and understanding of this earth and our relationship with it. The land is green (while the neighboring land is still brown). It’s now Utah’s largest bird sanctuary (that means it has a healthy ecosystem). The water level is rising. The cows graze naturally (being the major catalyst in the improvement of the ecosystem) and is considered some of the best beef in the world. Oh, and it’s quite profitable.

Since I originally wrote this post I found out that the Church has given a new directive for the ranch: within a certain timeframe figure out how to run the ranch sans fossil fuels and implement those changes. Hmmm… now why would the Church want to figure out how to do that?

In our little Mormon blogging community, we don’t discuss this very much (the last time Times and Seasons blogged about environmentalism was in 2003). Why? And why is our Church culture not adopting these principles that our doctrine seems to embrace?

The temple and the Aaronic Priesthood

Don -

My wife and I attended the temple last night. Considering my previous post and the comments I listened more carefully than usual.

A question arose in my mind as we were proceeding with the endowment. When Adam was given the first token of the Aaronic Priesthood, in the Garden, why was it called that? It makes more sense to call it the “First token of the priesthood”, since the Aaronic Priesthood didn’t even exist then. The priesthood was a patriarchal priesthood named after Christ. Later the name was changed to Melchezedek. The Aaronic wasn’t introduced until Moses had problems with the children of Israel.

If you were Adam, wouldn’t you wonder what’s the deal with this name, who’s Aaron, why his priesthood?

Have there always been two priesthoods, a lessor and a greater? One part of the other and just never used until it’s needed? And then D&C 13 indicates that the Aaronic priesthood won’t be around again after the sons of Levi offer an offering in righteousness. So what’s the deal?

Switch Adam and Eve

Don - March 8, 2005

Last night while teaching the P of GP to the single adult group one of the sisters asked a question I have pondered before. She asked what would have happened if Adam had partaken of the fruit first?

First, would Eve have been “smart” enough to realize the situation and partaken also?

Second, would Adam and Eve’s consequences for partaking been different? Would Adam have been put in subjection to Eve, and Eve ruled over him? (Actually as all us men know they do now anyway!) (I’ve learned that I always get the last word in our house…it’s “yes dear”)

This sister was actually quite upset that the consequence Eve got was being subject to her husband. She wanted to know why Adam didn’t partake first, if he was so “smart” that he knew the consequences / benefits then why didn’t he?

Interesting questions.

Archipelang’n it!

Rusty - March 3, 2005

Okay, the Great and Marvelous Mormon Archipelago is up and cookin’. To make your life easier, we have created this page for quick access to some of the best Mormon blogs in the ‘nacle. Enjoy!

Is all scripture really scripture?

Don -

Is all scripture really scripture? Do we or should we put the same value on all scripture?
I guess by definition scripture is scripture, but I have a hard time giving the same value to different scripture. For example, Psalms (written by an adulterous king – not a prophet), Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (written by another king – not a prophet), Esther – nice story, Joseph Smith history – fantastic story, modern day conference talks – Thomas Monson included – good stories.

Do the sayings, advice and stories have the same value as the “Thus saith the Lords”? Not to me. If they don’t all have the same value then which or what is scripture to me? Can I pick and choose? I don’t think so. If I can’t then what or which am I accountable for? Should I be held accountable for Solomon’s advice: “Beat your kid with a rod, he won’t die” or Monson’s story of visiting the sick in the hospital on Christmas?

Brainwashing our Children

Don - March 1, 2005

I have often wondered the difference between what we do to our children and what we would call radical religious sects do to theirs.

When I think of radical religious sects I think of the Branch Davidians (David Koresh) and the People’s Temple (Jim Jones). Their members were so caught up in following their leader that they were willing to die with and or for them. The children in these groups were taught just like we do ours. They had Sunday School classes, they taught them to pray, they taught them to sing songs, they taught them to be obedient.

I taught Primary for several years, our family had fairly regular Family Home Evenings, we read the scriptures together and prayed together. I look at all that and wonder if we are/were brainwashing our kids. I think we are!

I think we justify the brainwashing by saying we are right, we have the truth, our leaders tell us we should do these things. These religious cults justify it the same way.

I’m not saying we are wrong, or shouldn’t do it, it just makes me pause….and not judge these others so much….even my J.W. friends.