Thursday, July 28, 2005

Too much personal revelation...

I think the concept of "personal revelation" is quickly wearing out its welcome in the Flanders' home. Everywhere I go in the bloggernacle, all I hear about is personal revelation. Apparently, if I want to drink a Coke or watch Schindler's List or jay-walk, I have to receive personal revelation that it's alright.

If I want to deviate from the Proclamation of the Family and stay at home with the kids or have my wife wear pants, we'd better start praying to secure our exemption from this draconian document.

I for one say, NO MORE! No more personal revelation about cooking with wine! No more asking about career choices. Do it or don't. Stop bothering God! He doesn't care! I just don't understand the compulsion to clear every single decision we make in this life with the Almighty. We've been taught correct principles (hopefully), now let's govern ourselves, people! Seriously.

It probably won't shock anyone that I'm not a huge Bruce R. McConkie fan. The excerpts I've read from Mormon Doctrine sometimes make my blood boil. That's why I was surprised to read about the following talk Bruce gave once at BYU:

...[E]xamples of what [McConkie] called "extremism" among both students and ecclesiastical leaders which he counseled avoiding: giving excessively burdensome callings...; prohibiting students from studying on Sunday; allowing students to seek "special blessings" ("These tend to... encourage undue reliance upon divine intervention in mundane matters"); praying on dates; choosing a marriage partner (he encouraged using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation"); making no long-term goals in the mistaken belief that the second coming of Christ is imminent; lacking discretion in ecclesiastical interviews...; and avoiding "a witchhunting attitude when discussing which sins should be confessed to a bishop." (source)

What's this? A talk by Bruce R. that feels like a breath of fresh air? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

If something as important as choosing a marriage partner should be decided using "personal judgment, not requiring a heavenly revelation" then why are we pestering the Lord about things much less momentous?

Dear Prudence...

I don't know who is behind Prudence McPrude, but let me just say in true Bloggernacle fashion, I *heart* Prudie.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Calling all lawyers...

After three grueling years in law school, my beloved wife Maude is taking the bar in less than twenty-four hours. Since attorneys make up roughly 85% of the bloggernacle, I was hoping to solicit any last-minute advice you could give her.

Please note that any advice given becomes property of Ned Flanders, Inc., and donors will not be monetarily compensated.

So, counselors, how did you pass the bar?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Protecting our Sister Missionaries

If I ever have children, I am not letting them out of the house. It's just too dangerous out there. I guess I'll eventually let them go to school and so forth (I'll probably be sick of being cooped up in the house with them for five years by that point) but even that's a maybe.

One thing I'd never let my daughters do is serve a mission. If they insist, I will carefully screen where they go. New York City South? Next. Colombia Baranquilla? Surely you jest. France Bordeaux? I'll think about it.

It is quite amazing that sister missionaries still serve. It is a dangerous world out there and missionaries are particularly vulnerable. They are out late (till 9:30) in unfamiliar neighborhoods and often without any particular destination in mind. Being North American (in the majority of cases) can also draw unwanted attention, depending on the area.

The sisters in my mission didn't complain about harassment, but if you walked anywhere with them, you couldn't help noticing the catcalls and unwanted attention. It was a private joke among them that you were considered a greenie sister missionary until someone had flashed you.

Am I over-reacting, or do we need to do more to protect the sister missionaries? Are there certain countries they should not be called to? Am I sexist because I don't have similar concerns about Elders?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Proof that the bloggernacle is evil

Tess, in a comment on Is Church Embarrassing?, asks why I have started going back to church. I'm not really sure that I know the answer to that. It may be that the explanations I tell myself are wishful thinking; the reasons seem to change as I try to figure them out.

I had been attending the Episcopal church with my wife occasionally and I liked the feeling of going to a church, any church. I found the bloggernacle in December, left my first comment in January, and started blogging in March. I don't think it was a coincidence that four weeks later, I attended church for the first time since 1998. Would I have attended church without the bloggernacle? Probably not.

I used to think of the church as a monolith: I imagined scads of members with highly correlated testimonies. It's tempting to fall into the either/or mindset as a Mormon. Either the church is true or it isn't. Either you have a testimony or you don't. You are a faithful member or you aren't. When everything is in black-and-white, it's hard to see where you fit in. This virtual community of bloggers reminded me that there is incredible variety within the church. Some people with views very near my own are active, faithful members. This threw me for a loop; maybe I wasn't as far outside the mainstream as I had imagined.

Back when I was lurking on Times & Seasons, I saw a comment that said, "I pretty much disregard everything that some people, like Boyd K. Packer, say." I was shocked to see my own feelings reflected in a Bloggernacle stalwart, but pleasantly surprised that a believing Mormon could think this. I found the commentator's own blog, a website called Nine Moons (you may have heard of it), and this was the first blog I visited regularly besides T&S. So, in a way, you could say that Rusty's personal apostasy contributed to my partial reactivation.

Being part of the bloggernacle made me want to check out church, just to see what I was missing. So why do I keep going (well, not next week; it's ward conference)? I don't know. I don't take the sacrament, I don't get a lot out of the talks, and I don't actually talk to anyone. I don't think God cares whether I go or not. I guess I go to remind myself that there might be something else out there, something that is very imperfectly reflected in the noisy congregation of saints gathered each week.

Could I get the same feeling at another church? Probably. But I guess I'll stick with this one until they start bothering me at home.

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A moment for ward business...

As you have probably noticed, Rusty was kind enough to invite me over to Nine Moons to do a few guest-posts. Blogging on someone else's turf is a lot more stressful than I imagined. The night-sweats, the compulsive hand-wringing, and the dizzy spells are bad enough; I also have to come up with decent posts. Well, it's not really that bad, but I definitely feel the pressure.

In less momentous news, I have added a few blogs to the blogroll. I have to admit that I was very skeptical of the Mormon Open Forum, but it already has some interesting stuff posted on it. It's certainly an interesting experiment in open content. Who would have thought that the odd couple of Steve FSF and Kurt could come together and manage a blog? I tend to think only good things can come from more open conversation in the bloggernacle. Let's hope it lasts.

Missionary Philistinism

Nineteen-year-old males aren't paragons of learning and wisdom. Sequestering them with other nineteen-year-olds probably isn't a recipe for much improvement. Despite these serious handicaps, they are the primary representatives of our church. (I am setting aside the sister missionaries for a moment, since they are much more mature, educated, and scarce.)

Unfortunately, we but ill-prepare these boys for their service. Sure, we shovel a lot of language and scripture-sharing into them, but we don't provide any cultural background for the place they'll be living for two years. The sum total of the Argentine culture I was exposed to in the MTC was a three-page fact sheet about exports and demographics and one "culture night." During culture night, returned missionaries showed us slides of their mission, passed around a soccer jersey, and taught us a supposedly Argentine song. (We all learned it fastidiously, and then never heard it again.) That's it.

We hit Argentina knowing the name of the President, and that we should never, under any circumstances, bring up the Falkland Islands in conversation. Is it any surprise then that many Elders don't learn much more than that during their mission? I had to wait until I was back at the university to read any Spanish-language literature or learn about Argentine history. When I was finally exposed to these things, I realized that I had been missing out on whole levels of understanding. It felt like I had squandered a chance to fully experience the Argentine culture.

Why can't the church assign one short work of the native culture as a reading assignment? It would help missionaries' language skills immensely to read something NOT translated directly from the English Correlated Mormonese. It would provide insights into the culture that they will soon be immersed in and would give them a common reference point to draw on when interacting with people. Half the fun would be deciding what story or novella to assign for each country.

As it stands now, I lived in Argentina for two years, and returned without ever having read anything by Borges. That just doesn't make sense. And I can't even remember how many old men we met who wanted to talk to us about the gaucho classic Martin Fierro.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with well-rounded missionaries.

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Is Church Embarrassing?

I continued my unprecedented streak of church attendance Sunday, making it three weeks in a row. If anyone had actually noticed me showing up, I would count as a "re-activated male." I don't know if they still do that statistic, but during my mission we had to report every week how many men were reactivated (sorry, ladies, I guess you don't count). To count, these men had to attend for three straight weeks, so I assume three straight weeks of non-attendance would officially make one inactive. I could keep coming three weeks on and three weeks off to help the local missionaries bolster their stats.

I am happy to report that one of the sister missionaries gave the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting. I think the First Presidency should send out a letter instructing bishops to have women do the invocations for a couple of weeks, just so everyone can get over that silly tradition.

Anyway, as I was sitting all the way in the back during Sacrament Meeting (feeling a little silly because the cultural hall was nearly empty), I realized that each week I've been analyzing the meeting to see how my wife would react. Maude and I occasionally attend the Episcopalian Church together but she has never been to a Mormon meeting. She thinks she'll be stared at for not conforming to the dress code, even though I assured her we could hide out in the back pew. I don't really care if she goes or not, but I'd like her to come at least once so she can see that we're not really that crazy.

Each meeting I've been trying to notice the things she'd notice and analyze if she'd be offended or not. I was glad I didn't take her to April's Fast Sunday, which featured a paean to the greatness of John Paul II (she's not a fan). The Father's Day meeting was fine but had a really terrible High Council talk. It sounded like he was winging it, and it featured a long, rambling explanation about how elephant herds fall apart without bull elephants. Yeah, great stuff.

This Sunday's meeting was almost ideal: there was a confirmation of a convert baptism, highly visible minority priesthood-holders, and a nice (if overly long) musical number (classical music, not a cheesy Michael McLean number). Other churches don't have the same problem that we do with widely varying Sunday meetings. They might change the reading from the scriptures, but it's still the same priests giving the sermons. They have the entire Mass scripted; after the sacrament, ours is more of a potluck.

I think my best bet is to take her on a Fast Sunday. It's risky, I know, but the testimonies in this ward have been pretty safe in the past. I think the open format would be much more interesting than last week's three dull talks on the Fifth Article of Faith (it can barely sustain one talk, let alone three).

Am I setting myself up here for the wackiest testimony meeting ever? Do you ever envy the consistent, traditional masses of other churches? Am I over-thinking this whole thing?

Cross-posted at Nine Moons. Please comment there.