Friday, April 29, 2005

Happy (Real) Good Friday

No, there is nothing wrong with the dates on my blog; today is in fact Good Friday... for the Eastern Orthodox, anyway.
Orthodox Easter is usually later than Western Easter, though it coincides every couple of years (it was the same last year and will be again in 2007). My wife Maude (who is Eastern Orthodox) claims their dating method is superior as it ensures that Easter is always after Passover. I have to admit that it is a little silly to celebrate Easter three weeks before the Last Supper would have taken place.

The traditional greeting for Ortho-Easter is, "Christ has risen!" to which you respond, "Indeed, he has risen!" but usually in the native language of whichever church you are visiting. Arwyn had a post about this back on Fake Easter (as my wife calls it). I like this tradition, as it focuses our attention on the miracle of the resurrection.

So to all of you, Christ has risen!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Is serving a mission a right or a rite?

Over at Times & Seasons, the thread about "raising the bar" for mission worthiness has taken a nasty turn. It seems to me that people are a little to quick to condemn their fellow saints as unworthy for missionary service.

One commenter makes the point that serving a mission is not a right. Obviously, this is true. But given the social importance of missions in our tightly-knit religious community, I think we're fooling ourselves if we don't acknowledge the stigma attached to non-mission servers.

Lest it be thought that I do protest too much, let me say that I would have qualified under the new standards when I went on my mission. Which is, really, part of the problem. At certain times of my mission, I was probably the exact kind of elder these people want to purge, but I had no previous transgressions making me act that way.
Even though I have ambivalent feelings about my mission, I am still glad that I went, and I think that I did some good while I was there. I wasn't always convinced I was doing the right thing, but I think it would be a shame to deprive thousands of young men of this irreplaceable growth opportunity.

Dear Julie from the Real World (pt. 2)

I didn't want this to become an extended correspondence. I thought I had made my feelings clear earlier. But you just didn't listen, did you? I know, I know, I don't have to watch the Real World/Road Rules Challenge: Inferno II on MTV at 10/9 central. But I want to; so sue me.

Let's look at your performance from last night's episode (paraphrased, of course): when they hooked you up to the zip line, you said, "I like being up high, closer to God." I had to rewind my Tivo twice. Surely she didn't say that. But you did.
When you were attempting to pull yourself up the zip line, a strenuous task I'm sure, you started grunting, "Dear Lord, help me win the Ion Lifesaver. Dear Lord, help me win the Ion Lifesaver." Over and over again.

Julie, have you considered any of the other major religions? They’re all pretty much the same. We can really do without you.


Monday, April 25, 2005

It's a complicated gray area

This couple attempts to destroy all stereotypes about kissing cousins. (Washington Post registration may or may not be required.)
Best lines of the article:

And don't ask her about eating groundhog.
"It smells like a pork chop frying. Tastes like chicken," he said, helpfully.
Six years ago, he proposed to her at the jewelry case in Wal-Mart after they spied a pair of wedding bands on sale.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Double-Edged Sword of Mormon Anti-Intellectualism

During a recent exchange with Steve over at By Common Consent, it emerged that I was completely ignorant concerning a certain point in Mormon history. This incident revealed to me just how little I do know about church history, despite being raised in the church, attending four years of seminary and going on a mission. As Dave points out in an interesting post at Dave's Mormon Inquiry, the official church histories continue to shrink. This is, I think, indicative of the larger Mormon distrust of history and intellectualism in general.
Anti-intellectualism is ingrained into the Book of Mormon, especially 2nd Nephi:

"O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!" 2 Nephi 28:15

There are numerous other scriptures with the same basic message: knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

I think that this prevailing attitude has both positive and negative consequences. First of all, it does an incredible job of leveling the playing field between members. Having a (mostly) lay clergy means that few members are able to study the gospel as a full time job, and those that do usually don't have positions of local authority in the church. Thus it is difficult for a bishop, for example, to claim insights into the church that aren't available to other members. Generally, there is nothing to gain from trying to delve into the mysteries of the church. This makes the church a very democratic institution, which I feel is a good thing.
Secondly, favoring the spiritual over the intellectual stresses the simplicity and spirituality of the church. Epiphanies are to be spiritual in nature and result from prayer and fasting, not intellectual ones resulting from years of study. This can help the church focus on its core doctrines instead of straying too far into speculative theology.

The negative aspects are fairly obvious. We have a large percentage of members, almost certainly a majority, who are ignorant of most church history. This causes problems when they learn of some of the more troubling and ambiguous aspects of the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. It also robs them of a better understanding that knowing these events would provide.
Not just history but even current church scholarship is stigmatized. In my home growing up, Sunstone was regarded as a basically anti-Mormon publication. Sanitized histories are available but not more frank ones. I have never seen or owned copies of The King Follet Sermon and the Journals of Discourses; they are often quoted but rarely read.

I think that these attitudes limit us a two-dimensional view of our church, when we could be enjoying a richer (if more unsettling) three-dimensional panorama.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Am I fundamentally unsuited for Mormonism?

As I was reading randomly around the bloggernacle, I came upon a very interesting post talking about the author holds a mini-devotional every morning with the whole family. Hymns are sung; prayers are offered.

This reminded me of something that has always bothered me: everyone else seems to like church and church-related things a whole lot more than me. As a kid, I never enjoyed going to church. I think this was supposed to change once I went on a mission, but in reality, it only exacerbated the problem. A mission is like two years of church every day; some companions demanded having a mini-devotional every morning. Now I find out that some people actually like this, and do it of their own free will.

This makes me think that I am constitutionally unsuited for Mormonism. I do not like hymns, I don't particularly like sitting in church or listening to General Conference. I find the history and the doctrine endlessly interesting but somehow not the practice. I would much rather read about a sermon than actually have to sit through it.

If I haven't ever enjoyed church, even when I was a faithful member, why should I believe I ever could?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Manifest Destiny

Pris, Mike, Arwyn and D-Train have a new group blog, Unofficial Manifesto. If their individual blogs are any indication, it promises to be good stuff.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Does the Idaho legislature really have this much free time?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Orthodox blues

As I may have mentioned before, my wife (let's call her Maude) belongs to one of the Eastern Orthodox churches. For her, church is inextricably tied in with her ethnicity, which I suspect is the case for most people outside of America. This makes the whole idea of changing religions much more problematic. For her, I suspect it would be like losing a part of her identity.

This notwithstanding, she is shopping around for other denominations. Why? Because her church does not recognize our marriage. Even though we were married in an Orthodox church, it was done by an unorthodox priest (ironically) who didn't require me to get rebaptized. As far as the official church is concerned, we are living in sin, and all basically because they don't consider me a Christian.

I have no problem with them not recognizing my baptism as valid. We, after all, don't consider theirs to be valid either. But it boggles the mind that a Church would refuse to recognize a marriage solemnized in one of their sister churches. (To be fair, there are a million different permutations of Eastern Orthodoxy, and we were married in a different branch than that to which my wife belongs.)

It seems odd to me that they don't recognize any marriages except those between Mainstream Christians to be valid. As more and more people inter-marry outside their ethnicity, this seems like a good way to lose members fast.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

How to comment pseudonymously on Blogger

I have no problem with people posting comments anonymously (indeed, I probably wouldn't get any comments otherwise), but things like this thread are getting out of control. You can post anonymously on Blogger by selecting "Other" and you can put any name you'd like. You do not, I repeat, DO NOT have to put an email address. If you'd just give yourself a letter or number or even a character, we could keep who is saying what straight.

The democracy of the adjustable pulpit

One of the things that struck me in my recent visits to church is the oddness of the our pulpit. The bishop controls the height with a switch near his seat (at least in large American churches). I think this would be very strange to a visiting non-member.
I like how the pulpit in our church is not reserved for just the bishop, but is in fact open to anyone (once a month at least) in the congregation. The fact that it is adjustable means that we are not just accepting this, but actively encouraging full participation. This is one of the many democratic features of our church that I like (and I'm not just saying this to stave off Nate's criticism of whining in the bloggernacle).
However (you knew this was coming), I don't really think that primary children should be encouraged to bear their testimonies during fast & testimony meeting. Sure, it's cute, and they seem to enjoy it, but what's the point? Do they really have testimonies? Is repeating what your parent whispers in your ear faith-promoting? I find it a bit creepy.
But that's the price you pay when you live in an open society (so to speak). I guess all having free access to the pulpit is worth a few kids drooling on the mike.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Politics from the pulpit

The pile of laundry in my home is reaching Mt. Trashmore proportions, so I planned on spending my Sunday running up and down the stairs ferrying my clothes to the machines in the basement of our apartment building. Unfortunately, my wife took the laundry card with her so I was stuck with nothing to do. I decided on a whim to check out my ward this Sunday (as I had inadvertently attended a different ward two weeks ago).
After quickly showering and some VERY un-Christ-like driving, I reached the church with about 8 minutes to spare. As I got closer and closer to church, I thought I should stop honking and swerving around people just in case someone saw me pull into the church parking lot. Once there, I opened the program and saw mostly white space; I remembered with a sinking feeling that this week was testimony meeting because of General Conference. Well, at least it would probably be more interesting than a High Council talk.
The bishop, who seemed like a genuinely nice guy, ended up giving the only cringe-worthy testimony. He started out paying respects to the pope, and then told us how there are 110 million Catholics in the United States and how we are only a fraction of that. Thanks, bish! Now I'm depressed. (This didn't sound right to me, so I checked the Almanac when I got home; there are actually only 63 million Catholics in the U.S.) Then he started talking about how the Catholic and Mormon churches were the only ones standing up on issues like abortion and "marriage between a man and a woman" and women in the priesthood. I started fidgeting with my collar. He said he was watching a news program where a Catholic cardinal was being interviewed and he was asked if the Catholics could withstand social pressures to admit women to the priesthood. The cardinal apparently responded (according to the bishop's summary) that Christ taught the Golden rule and should we change that too? What? That makes no sense, and is more than a little offensive in my opinion.
The bishop also mentioned that the LDS scouts in Canada may have to end their affiliation with the Boy Scouts of Canada because of the homosexuality issue. Well, banning homosexuals didn't seem to help the American Boy Scouts with that creep who just plead guilty last week.

Maybe I'm out of touch, but I don't think politics should have a place at the pulpit, and especially not during fast and testimony meeting. The Bishop's testimony seemed to confirm something I suspected last week: some Mormons are enamored with John Paul II because of his extremely conservative political positions. As the bishop extolled the goodness of the pope's political views, I couldn't help thinking that condemning birth control was probably his most famous. Fortunately, our church don't share such a reactionary worldview, but it seemed like the bishop was trying to gloss over the differences between our churches.
Some people are so eager to embrace their political allies, that they overlook some disturbing facts. If you want to adopt reactionary Catholic political views, fine, but don't ask me to join you from the pulpit.

I managed to leave the meeting without speaking to anyone, and as I walked to my car, I noticed a Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker on a car in the parking lot. I strongly dislike both Kerry and Edwards, but somehow this bumper sticker gave me hope.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Let's talk about... er, you know what

You can tell it's spring because the bloggernacle has turned to thoughts of, um, love. The General Conference thread at BCC has mutated into an referendum on Elder Oaks' infamous, infelicitous phrase. The discussion (242 comments and counting) has finally metastasized to the other copy-cat blogs (hey, Steve put me on the blogroll, I have to return the love).
As usual, I find myself outside the orthodox position on this issue. First of all, in an attempt to keep this discussion, as Seinfeld would say, sophisticated, I will employ various euphemisms. Many people seem to use the word "pr0n" but this always sounds like "prawn" to me; therefore, I will refer to the consumption of that particular media as "eating shrimp." And what goes hand-in-hand with this seafood? That's right, marination. Now that I've defined the terms, let's begin.
It seems weird to me that the General Authorities are always harping on shrimp consumption, but never seem to mention marination. Are they too embarrassed? I doubt it; they have been rather graphic at times. But they miss the main issue: the whole point of eating shrimp is the marination. No one eats shrimp because it's aesthetically pleasing. It's solely done to enhance the food preparation. So let's put the shrimp to the side for a moment, as it's ancillary to the real problem.
The real problem is that nearly every male in modern times marinates or has marinated at some time. For some people, that might be enough evidence to deem it natural or at least unavoidable. So what is the church's reaction to this omnipresent activity? It condemns it, of course, as part and parcel of the second-most serious sin possible. Innumerable local priesthood meetings are held to discuss it, innumerable man-hours are spent confessing to local leaders, and innumerable young men torment themselves over it. And all for what? For something that most people won't be able to control until marriage, if even then. In my opinion, this is just making people feel bad for no reason. I think you'll find a much healthier attitude outside of the church. It's something that is done and that's it; there's no need to dwell on it and let it consume our lives and destroy our marriages. As long as it's done in moderation, it doesn't seem to be a big problem.
However, when you make it strictly verboten, that's when even minor transgressions can flare up into addictions. Everyone is walking around all bottled up, like ticking time bombs. This is when the seafood comes into play. You catch the unmistakable scent of the ocean, and it's suddenly all you can think about. Since you are going to hell anyway for marinating, it's not that big of deal to add some shrimp on the barbie. You gorge yourself on shrimp since you know you are going to try never to eat it again after this meal. This is an unhealthy way to eat, and it's an unhealthy way to live. Young men get sucked into shame spirals that would not exist if they were only allowed to marinate like every other human on the planet. They would not want to gorge themselves on shrimp if they could simply eat a less pernicious form of seafood.
I think it is safe to say that soft shrimp (as defined by G.A.s, e.g. catalogues, certain Sports magazines, Maxim) hurts almost no one in its production, while hard shrimp hurts just about everyone. If we could only adjust our standards to be more realistic, we could go after some stuff that is truly ugly in this world. But as it is, we cast our nets too wide and they break with fish too small to fry.
This is just a plea for some understanding. Men will always have a taste for seafood. It's unavoidable. The church seems to think the best way to keep them from eating the poisonous fish is starving them. And then making them feel bad for being hungry. Isn't moderation in all things a healthier way to live?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Some marketing advice

Our church has a long name. One of the first things you notice in other countries is just how unwieldy it is. We have been hearing TheChurchofJesusChristofLatter-daySaints so often that the individual words don't really register anymore. I took a sign-language class during my college years (I was trying to expand my dating opportunities (don't ask)) and it taught me that you don't read by seeing each individual letter, you just recognize the shape of the word (this is how you can spell so fast in ASL and still be understood).
In foreign languages, you are back to struggling with individual words. And this is how I came to realize that we have a marketing problem with the name of our church in other languages. In Spanish, it is La Iglesia de Jesucristo de los Santos de los Ultimos Dias, or translated literally, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints of the Last Days. Sounds a little ominous, no? What if your friend told you he had just joined a great group called the Saints of the Last Days? You'd better start saving up for a de-programmer or at least start practicing what you'll say to CNN.
In English, "latter-day" means simply later days, or the present. So why do we translate this to "last days" in other languages? I agree that "Modern-day Saints" or "Present-day Saints" might sound a little weird but either is surely better than the doom and gloom of the "Last Days Saints." We might have more success attracting Spanish-speaking converts with a less apocalyptic name.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A Popish people

I have to admit that I am a bit mystified by the bloggernacle's reaction to the death of the Pope. Times & Seasons refers to him as a prophet, and a member of the Mormon Archipelago affectionately refers to him as "my Pope."
Don't get me wrong; it is nice to see such inter-faith amity. I like it a lot more than some of the anti-Catholic garbage I saw on my mission. But isn't there some middle ground?
It disturbs me how once someone dies, there can be no objective discussion of their life (see also, Ronald Reagan). The Pope certainly seemed like a nice guy, but it's not all butterflies and rainbows. He stood up against one of the evils of the 20th century, but seems to have been less vigilant against some of the subtler ones (see also, AIDS, priest scandals). By all means, let's celebrate his life, but can't we do it objectively, warts and all?
Mormons have the exact same problem; we want to celebrate Joseph Smith's birthday, but we want to remember our sanitized version of him, not the real man. I found American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith in a used bookstore and purchased it because it looked interesting. The book makes no mention at all of polygamy and (as I discovered later) is published by an imprint of Deseret Book.
I just wish we could have frank discussions about sensitive topics, instead of always trying to put the best face on things.