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Modern Day Supervillians – Who Will Fight Them?

In a recent BYU Commencement address, Elder William Clayton of the Seventy gave this advice to the saints:

“One does not need to listen to assertive apostates for long to see the parallels between them and the Korihors, Nehors and Sherems of the Book of Mormon,” Clayton said. “We should disconnect, immediately and completely, from listening to the proselytizing efforts of those who have lost their faith, and instead reconnect promptly with the Holy Spirit.”

Daily Herald

 

As a lifelong LDS and student of the scriptures, this counsel seems odd.  Not odd from a practical sense, but odd from a scriptural and doctrinal sense.

Generally speaking, in a situation where an LDS is talking with an “assertive apostate”, there are only two realistic outcomes.  The faith of the LDS is unchanged or slightly diminished, or the faith of the LDS is fundamentally altered for the worse (or even destroyed).  Elder Clayton is simply acknowledging that the odds of the average LDS making a positive impact on hardened atheists is almost nil, so the most prudent course for faith preservation is to cut your losses.

But more interestingly, Elder Clayton invokes the stories of Sherem and Korihor  as a reason to “disconnect”, as if the average LDS hearing his talk should understand these stories as warning us of the dangers of crafty apostates to believers.  But that’s not what these stories teach!  In both cases, Sherem and Korihor are confronted by strong, faithful believers who use their faith and priesthood to work miracles and defeat these enemies!  There is no indication that the Lord’s preferred method is to disengage when faced by such enemies.

If modern day proselytizing “people who have lost their faith” are the equivalent of Sherem and Korihor, than we can only conclude that these modern day enemies are actually far more powerful than Sherem or Korihor was, or that the modern day defenders are weaker than Jacob and Alma were.  Either way, we’re screwed, and the counsel to “disconnect” is a sad, weak attempt to deal with something that they are otherwise totally incapable of dealing with.

So any chance we could get Elder Clayton to clarify which he thinks is the case?  Are modern enemies of Church mega-Sherems and Mega-Korihors?  Or is the capacity of modern LDS diminished to the point that we can’t deal with them in the way that believers used to (curse with priesthood power, confound with wisdom from God etc.) Because if it’s the latter, it might be good to know what happened, and to find more analogous stories in which the faith and priesthood of the Saints isn’t up to the task of facing those who would argue against the Church, lest the wrong message be sent.

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Two Kinds of Money

There have been a lot of significant events in the history of LDS Church finances, but I think one of the great unsung heroes of Church history has to be the guy who came up with the idea that a Church can have money that isn’t “tithing”.

The most amazing thing about this principle is that, like the Church itself, I was surprised to discover that I myself had money that wasn’t “tithing funds”.  It turns out that some of my income was specified for non-tithing purposes, such as real estate investments, commercial spending, and other undisclosed uses.

Of course, I have other parts of my income that are designated as “tithing funds”, and I pay an honest and complete 10% tithe on all of these funds.  So don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that anyone not pay a complete tithe.

It’s just critically important that we recognize the different kinds of money, and that the Lord recognizes and understands their different purposes on this Earth.

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In Case of Emergency…

It occurs to me that if things were to change in regard to “women and the Priesthood” in the future, there may be a few LDS Church members (and leaders) who experience a bit of a crisis of congruity, especially if they have made strong arguments against such a change being needed or even doctrinally possible.

Were that to be the case, I would want these Church members and leaders to be at peace, and to be able to reconcile the change with their past statements and arguments.  To that end, I have prepared the following statement for them to use.  If you are now arguing against the doctrinal suitability of women receiving the priesthood, please feel free to cut-and-paste this statement and save it for future use in talks, Church newsletters, and online use including blogs and message boards.

There are statements in our literature by the Brethren and others which we have interpreted to mean that women would not receive the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood. I have said the same things, and people write me emails and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what D. Kelly Ogden said, or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

No attribution necessary.  Use it freely as needed.

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Beards

Can someone explain to me where an aversion to beards might have originated?

Usually, when the Church issues a guideline on appearance, its meaning is obvious from the culture at large.

For example, long hair (for men) was associated with hippies in the 60’s. Tattoos and too many earrings (and any earrings for men) are associated with counter-culture attitudes and rebellion against authority. Modesty stems from obvious attitudes about the importance of covering certain parts of the body, and the ungodly feelings of “lust” that can be stirred by inappropriate clothing.

But I’ve never, ever heard of any negative cultural attitudes towards beards. As long as the beard is well kept, I’ve never heard of anyone being looked down on, or thought badly of. I’ve never heard that the skin of a man’s face is supposed to be shown to the world and not covered by hair.

Styles and trends come and go, and beards seem to be in less fashion these days than in times past, but this is true for many things and the Church seems able to not formulate policies based on such whims of culture.

If the Church had no policy on beards and you were to go to the Temple and saw one male officiator with a beard and one male officiator without, would you think any less or differently of the one with the beard? If not, what possible reason could there be for a Church policy on the issue?

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They’re mad as heck, and they’re not going to take it anymore!

Last weekend in General Conference, Elder Packer gave a talk that apparently was meant to speak to the Church’s position on an issue having something to do with Same Sex Marraige.  That seems to be what a lot of people got from the talk, but we can’t be sure because President Packer never actually used the words “gay”, “homosexual” or “same sex marriage”.

Here’s a SLT article that reports on the controversy:

Mormons Divided on LDS Apostle’s Speech On Gays

Honestly, I’m starting to feel sorry for the Church on the whole “Same Sex Attraction” issue.  It’s becoming obvious that the Church leaders just don’t know what the heck to do.  They have no solution to the problem, and they know it.

For decades (and centuries), they were able to tell gay LDS to either become heterosexual, or just totally control their homosexual desires.  And that worked as long as gay LDS accepted that counsel and kept quiet.

But it seems those days may be coming to an end.  Acting (or becoming) heterosexual hasn’t proven to be a good option, and it seems maybe gay LDS don’t want to live without the joy and companionship that can come from living a life (including sharing sex) with someone they love.

And the analogies that LDS draw between gay LDS and single heterosexual LDS don’t seem to be providing the comfort they once did (if they ever did), especially once they realize that single heterosexual LDS have the benefit of hoping they could meet the right person at any time, and the knowledge that their desires for intimacy are God-given and God-approved, if only they could meet the right person.

The sad truth about Elder Packer’s talk is that for years, gay LDS seem to have been asking if this is really the best God’s Prophet’s and Apostles can do when it comes to dealing with the situation, if this is really everything God has to offer when it comes to their place in the Plan of Salvation. And Elder Packer has definitively answered “Yes.  Yes it is.”

Frankly, I wouldn’t wish being a gay LDS on my worst enemy.

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FARMS: The Musical

[INTERIOR STUDY – NIGHT]

It’s a small room, with bookshelves along every wall. A small desk sits in the middle, with a middle aged man hunched over a book. A small light illuminates him.

JW: (singing)

Day after day, night after night
Searching…

Verse after verse, one more time
Reading…

The words on the page…beautiful!
The story they tell…wonderful!

(Beautiful, wonderful…)

Chiasmus!
I see you on the page
Chiasmus!
It will soon be all the rage
How could Joseph have done it…?
He didn’t!
Was it ancient Nephi…?
Yes, he did!

[DP enters from stage right]

DP: (speaking) John, it’s late. You need rest.
JW: (speaking excitedly) No Daniel. I’ve got it! Look at the words. It’s a pattern of reiteration, found in ancient Hebrew! And it’s in the Book of Mormon! It’s everywhere!
DP: Really, could it be…?
JW: YES!

DP and JW (in unison): Chiasmus!
DP: …and secret combinations…
DP and JW (in harmony): Chiasmus!
DP: …metal plates in Babylos…
DP and JW (big finish): Chiasmus!

[CAFETERIA- DAY]

It’s crowded at every table, mostly with college-age students. Everyone is white, and dressed in J Crew or Lands End.

A middle aged man, probably a teacher, sits at the end of a bench. He has some maps, and books, open in front of him. He is JG.

JG: (singing) The pieces of the puzzle…
in front of me.

How do they go together?
It tortures me!

(The ghost of Moroni appears on the balcony. No one can see him.)

Moroni: (singing softly) Cumorah….

JG: (still singing) Meso-america…and New York.
How was it done…it doesn’t work!
So many plates, could they be all gone.
Oliver said so, could he have been wrong?

Moroni: (even softer) Two…Cumorah’s.

JG: (Looks up, as if inspiration has come from nowhere…yelling) I’ve got it! Two Cumorah’s!

(All the students are stunned. Silence as they freeze and look at him)

JG: (singing energetically) One…two… Cumorah’s!
Student1: ..What did he say?…
JG: (standing on the table, singing louder) One…two…Cumorah’s!!!
Student2: …how can the be?…
JG: (running down the table, singing to the students) It’s all so easy, it all makes perfect sense.
One Cumorah, for Mormon, the other, where Joseph went…

Moroni: HE’S GOT IT!

(All the students turn and look at him. Moroni covers his mouth and looks embarrassed)

All students, dancing and singing: One…two…Cumorah’s!

Jews…like…menorah’s!

(A student in a 50’s style nebbish shirt and tie wanders in from stage right, carrying an armful of books. All others stop their wild dancing and turn to him. Spotlight…)

Nebbish: (singing softly) In the light of revelation, and the face of evidence…
from the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and common sense…
we cannot say…
in any way…
that the Hill we call Cumorah

All students: Yes!??

Nebbish: (Louder)That this hill we call Cumorah…

All students: What…!???

Nebbish: (yelling, with conviction and confidence) We cannot say this hill we call Cumorah…is in Central America!

(Silence. The students turn back to JG. JG pauses shrugs his shoulders, makes a funny face and yells…)

JG: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

(Students laugh)

JG:(Singing)And one day, you’ll be gone, but the FARMS work goes on!!
Your thinking is limited, your vision obsolete…
You made your mind up long ago, and set it in concrete.

You need to expand…your outlook.
It’s so easy, it’s all right there…it’s in the Book!
You’ll never make it in the world with ideas like that.
Scripture can be misinterpreted, hey…the Bible says Earth’s flat!

Students: (laughing and singing) The Bible says Earth’s flat…

JG: (continues) You lap up old ideas, like a bird from a bird feeder.
Stay away from talking scholarship, especially if you become a Church leader.

(Nebbish shakes his fist in anger. Moroni and Students laugh.)

(Festive music starts…everyone dances. Moroni is doing the charleston.)

Students…JG and Moroni: One…two…Cumorah’s!

(Nebbish looks resigned, and walks off stage. Festive dancing continues for until big finish.)

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The Eternal Win/Win

Just think, if humans could have babies before the age of accountability, and some sort of virus was introduced that limited the lifespan of every human to die before the age of accountability, then everyone could be saved according to God’s plan (see D&C 137:10)

I believe Stephen Covey calls that a “Win/Win”!

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“Book of Mormon Obstacle Course” Now Available For Primary Activities

Sandy, UT –

Since 1997, “Inflatable Creations” of Sandy Utah has provided inflatable “bounce houses” and other activities for birthday parties and community events.  Seeking to expand into the lucrative LDS market, owner Sam Steed recently announced a new line of inflatable fun:
“We’ve noticed a huge fall-off in our business on Sunday afternoons as the majority of our clients go to Church and stay at home.  So we put our heads together to come up with some Sabbath-appropriate infaltables.”
The first in their line of “Sunday Fun-nies” is the “Book of More-fun”, an 8 foot tall inflatable Book of Mormon.  Already available for rent or purchase, Ward Primaries and YM/YW classes all over the Sandy area having great fun using them to teach about the Book of Mormon.

“I was teaching my Deacons a lesson the Book of Mormon, and I used a quote from Elder Holland’s awesome talk about the Book of Mormon, especially the part about people leaving the Church and having to go over or around it” says Deacon’s Quorum adviser Mel Monson.  “It was especially fun to be able to take my boys out to the lawn and let them really find out what it’s like to have to crawl ‘over, under or around’ the Book of Mormon.”  13-year-old Alex Binder agrees.

“When Brother Monson told us how people leaving the Church had to go like over or around or under the Book of Mormon, it didn’t really sound that hard.  It’s not very big.  I thought maybe they had a huge pile of them somewhere that they made them use.  But trust me, I just tried going over it that huge one, and it was impossible.  I guess when someone tries to leave the Church, the Bishop must bring them out here and make them do this.”

Madilyn Cramer of the Activity Committee for the Beaver, UT Stake reported on the popularity of the “Book of More-fun” at their last Stake Softball Tournament.

“We really had a lot of people trying out the obstacle course, and there really isn’t an easy way to go over, around or under the Book of Mormon, as Elder Holland said.  Unfortunately, we found that many people just chose to ignore that part of the obstacle course, and found something else to do with their time instead of trying to struggle over that big balloon.  Which I guess is how things can go in real life too.”

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Why we can’t pay for our own sins

At some point, it may occur to Christians (and potential Christians) that the whole deal might be a bit easier if we could just pay for our own sins.  Come judgement day, we are told all the bad stuff we did, and told how much we have to suffer in order to gain exaltation.  We suffer until the price is paid, and then go on to exaltation (or whichever kingdom we’re interested in).

If you discuss this with any Christian, the simple answer must be “No,  we can’t pay for our own sins, because if we could, we wouldn’t need Jesus and the whole gospel is pointless.”  Since the whole selling point of Christianity is the idea that  “You need Jesus”, considering other options is just bad salesmanship.

But since I’m not on my mission anymore, I’m not worried so much about salesmanship.  So let’s think about this.

What if, theoretically, it might be possible for someone to “pay” for their “sins”?  And what in the universe makes us think it isn’t possible?

First, the Plan of Salvation requires that there be some universal “entity” that is more powerful than God, and keeping God from just forgiving us of our sins outright.   One of the fundamental ideas of the Plan of Salvation is that God would love for us to return to live with Him, but there’s something more powerful than Him that keeps Him from forgiving us our sins.

For some reason, this entity (I’ll call it “Justyce”) determines whether or not someone is allowed to become God-like (and receive Celestial Glory).  Justyce has a set of universally applied rules for humans that want to progress and become more god-like.  If a humanoid spirit breaks any of these rules, Justyce will not allow God to exalt them.

Justyce has communicated these rules to God somehow, so God is able to communicate the rules to humans living on Earth.  Presumably, if any human were able to live their entire lives without breaking a single rule, they would be allowed by Justyce to receive exaltation, and everything would be great.

But for some reason, Justyce’s rules happen to include a few things that are common in the human experience.  Even without knowing them, everyone, everywhere is able to figure out how to break the rules and make themselves unworthy for exaltation.  The only exception appears to be young children and the mentally disabled; Justyce understands that some people break the rules but don’t understand what they’re doing, so it’s OK.  But people who break the rules as adults are still held accountable, even if they were never told the rules.

So, with Justyce’s rules, we would have a 0% success rate for exaltation for eligible persons.

Luckily, there is a loophole that allows people to have broken Justyce’s rules, but still achieve exaltation.  And luckily, Justyce has told God about this loophole.  For some reason, people are allowed to become exalted, even if they have broken Justyce’s rules, if a perfectly sinless human can be found, and he undergoes a terrific amount of suffering.  If that can happen, Justyce will allow people who have sinned to be exalted by God.

Another part of the deal is that God then gets to make up his own set of rules for the people who have sinned but want to become exalted.  Once the sinless human has “suffered” for all the sinners, then the sinners only get to be exalted if they follow these new rules set forth by God.  As instituted by the God of Earth, these rules involve things such as baptism and Temple Ordinances.  I’m not sure if Justyce cares about these things.

Which brings us to the point of the thread:

Why can’t sinners “pay” for their own sins, so Justyce will allow them to be directly exalted without needing someone else to suffer for them?

Based on our knowledge of the atonement, “paying for sins” seems to involve two factors: the degree of suffering, and the period of time.

Presumably, there is a universal algorithm such that some degree of total suffering is sufficient to pay for a certain degree of sins.  And once the sins have been “paid” for, the suffering stops (were this not the case, Jesus would be suffering for an infinite amount of time).  Based on my knowledge of pain and suffering, I suspect the algorithm looks like this:

Total suffering = (degree of pain)*(length of pain)

We understand that Christ was able to complete the suffering for every sin ever committed by every human by suffering a severe degree of pain (say, on a scale of 1-10, a “9.5”), for a few hours of Earth time (say, 600 minutes of Earth time).  Thus, Christ’s suffering would be the equivalent of “5700 degrees” of pain.

Considering that these 5700 degrees was sufficient for the billions and billions of people who ever lived on Earth, we can guess that the individual penalty for every person would be a small fraction of the pain suffered by Jesus.

Thus, we might ask why Justyce can’t let us suffer [i]that[/i] degree of pain.  At the end of our life (and judgement day), we are given an accounting of every one of Justyce’s rules that we broke, and we are told what degree of suffering is necessary to pay the price for these infractions if we want to be exalted.

Additionally, we could even be given the choice to vary the degree of pain and the length of suffering, so that we could take our medicine all at once, or stretch out lesser pain (say, a mild toothache) over millions of Earth years.  As infinite beings, there is no limit to the length of suffering we could endure in the afterlife.

(Additional note:  Some may argue that there is no super-god entity that is calling the shots, and that God learned about the plan of salvation and the “Atonement” option some other way.  But how?  Unless something told him about it, the only other way to figure out that the suffering of a sinless human would make it possible for sinful humans to get exalted would be trial and error.  Thus, there would be infinite cycles of creation-human experience-death-judgment where they would try different things to figure out what it takes for sinful humans to be able to somehow get around their sinful nature.)

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Thoughts on the recent First Vision Video (2005)

In 2005, the Church released a “new” video telling the story of the First Vision, meant to replace the film from the 1970’s that has been seen thousands of times by anyone growing up in the Church at that time.  If anyone hasn’t seen the two, here were my notes:

I think the best summary of the DVD is that it presents Joseph Smith’s family and situation as the Church wishes it had been. Or, as it would have been if they had lived as a good LDS family in Utah in the 1950’s. Or, as it would have been if produced by the Hallmark channel, or the guys who make Kodak film commercials. Take your pick.

I thought these were the most intersting points:

-No pre-vision visit from Satan. This has been left out of the first discussion for years, and now it doesn’t warrant a mention in the video.

-We don’t actually see the floating bodies of God and Jesus. It’s just a bright light in the trees. This is much more ambiguous; while the narration mentions the personages, the visual stamp isn’t quite as memorable.

-Joseph only mentions that when he asked God which Church to join, he was told to “join none of them”. But that’s it. No mention about abomidable creeds, corrupt professors (all of them), and near lips but far hearts.

-After the experience, Joseph calls to his mother from afar, as if he was going to excitedly tell her of his vision. Verse 20 of the Joseph Smith History has him giving less than full disclosure to his mother’s inquiries.

-We see a conversation Joseph has with the local minister. I couldn’t help but wonder how an LDS Bishop or Stake President would react if a 14 year old teacher revealed that God and Jesus had appeared, and told him the LDS Church was corrupt, and that his family should leave. I’m sure he’d get a very warm reception, up to and including a Disciplinary Court.

The story of the First Vision is a story of any rebel struggle against the status quo, and now that the Church is entrenched in its mindset and efforts of self-preservation, drastic “revelations” from outside the power structure would be just as unwelcome as they were in Joseph Smith’s day.

-And finally, we see Joseph in the process of translating the Book of Mormon. It shows Joseph sitting at a table, studying the plates without the aid of a Urim and Thummim or seer stone, while the scribe sits across from him taking it all down. Maybe if we wish hard enough, we can convince people that that was the way it really happened.

My wife and I both agree that the 1970’s First Vision film was superior, if only because it seemed much more sincere. And the low budget made it grittier and more realistic. And because it appears so old, we can tell our kids it’s actual footage from the early 1800’s.

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