Saturday, February 25, 2006

Teaching sacrifice to an eight-year-old

In my family, when we turned eight and became official members of the church, we were expected to start fasting on Fast Sunday (although we started slow--just skipping breakfast for the first couple of times, and then lunch, too, etc). Having watched my two older sisters go through this process, I was a little dubious of the benefit of skipping meals. Needless to say, at that young age, I didn't understand the "why" of fasting.

Just before my eighth birthday, my father took me for a walk around our block, just him and me. We talked briefly about my upcoming baptism and confirmation, and then he started to explain about fasting. I don't remember all that he said, but I know that he tried to help me understand the conflict between what my body likes (the natural man) and what God wants me to do (the light of Christ). I seem to remember talking about the body and the spirit, my father using a glove and his hand to help me understand the two parts. He explained that by denying our body certain things (like food), we strengthened our spirit, and made it easier to hear the Holy Ghost. And I remember feeling very grown-up, that my daddy was explaining doctrine to me, and I totallyunderstood it. (Ha!)

I feel pretty certain that this talk was the result of my upcoming baptism and uncertainty regarding fasting, but the help it gave me during my teenage years is immeasurable. Even today, as I contemplate my natural desires (especially laziness and pride), that early lesson still comes back to me. It isn't always logical to deny yourself food, or naps, or entertainments. What works for some people doesn't for others. But I firmly believe that a little sacrifice on our part brings disproportionately large blessings. And I'm grateful to my father for trying to explain this eternal principle to an almost-eight-year-old. Thanks, daddy!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Which Temple is the Busiest?

In a family conversation, I heard a rumor about the busyness of Utah temples. I wanted to know which temple was the busiest. So I turned to Google. I did a search: "busiest temple" mormon. The results?

Salt Lake
Mount Timpanogos (from LDS.org, so we'll have to weight that more heavily)

I'm still not sure of what the current answer is.

This reminds me of an experience I had in a beautiful masonic temple in Oklahoma. They claimed to have the second biggest pipe organ West of the Mississippi. I suspect that fact was once true, but there isn't any way for me to know if it is still true. How often to you think the tour guides at that temple check the status of the superlative claims that they make? (I think they also claim the largest rug in the United States.) I guess that's why we have Guiness.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Western Academia vs. "Spirit-does-all laziness"

Ronan expressed frustration with an attitude that many people have in the church that they don't need to study the gospel. The Spirit can manifest the truth to them and they are satisfied. Or even, they believe their parents or leaders know and so it sufficient for them to simply have faith in the testimony of people that they love.

Ronan was actually recommending the reading of Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling, even for a person who has a testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith, "simply because I despise this kind of Spirit-does-all laziness." Because of a post I wrote yesterday on our other blog, I saw this comment in the light of colonialism in Africa.

The European colonialists believed that they had a better way of life than the primitive natives and so they imposed much of their society upon the indigenous peoples of that continent. For example, the concept of a nation-state was overlaid on a society deeply ingrained in tribal philosophy. Trying to gather many, often enmity-ridden, tribes together into a single nation proved to be a very difficult and bloody affair that still remains unsettled to this day.

As problems in Africa worsened, the solution seemed obvious to Westerners: education. However, according to an article by Theodore Dalrymple, the addition of education to the culture has failed to permeate the previously held culture of tribalism. Instead it gave people a vehicle to get to positions of power where they could exploit other members of their nation for the benefit of their tribe. The underlying culture was too deeply ingrained for education in a single generation to have the desired (by Westerners) effect.

The intention was noble and benevolent, but the effect was surprising to the colonialists because they were working from a different set of assumptions that didn't hold up in this new world.

Would we make the same mistake in Mormonism? Would we seek to impose the life of the mind on those with a pure belief of the heart? I was about to write "pure and simple belief," but thought that might sound condescending. But then, that only shows my own bias toward learning that I should fear that the word "simple" would be understood as pejorative.

In spite of all the language and urging of Joseph Smith on the importance of intelligence and knowledge in coming to God, I am wondering if such a path might be inappropriate for many people on the earth today because of the cultural history they carry with them. To be sure, I believe that all must eventually come to knowledge, but I suspect that it is entirely acceptable if we come to that knowledge in the next life because we were unable to do so in this life.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Knowing Your Neighbors" as Social Capital

Again from David Tufte's excellent blog, we get this anecdote comparing how well he knew his neighbors in New Orleans versus how well he knows his neighbors in Utah.
We did not move to Utah for the people or the culture. But in our sample of one, we found that we were invited to people's homes more in the first month of living here than in our total time in either Alabama or Louisiana. Just counting off the top of my head, I have 25 neighbors I know well enough to converse with within the 40 homes closest to me. I'd be hard pressed to for the first names of 25 people in Louisiana I ever met outside of work.
Tufte's experience seems to be at least one counter-example to an often heard claim that Mormons in Utah are cliquish, especially toward non-Mormons (such as Tufte). His real point is about "social capital" and how it is useful and how the lack of it in the South will hinder the reconstruction efforts in New Orleans. His observations certainly go against the stereotypes I've always heard about Southern Hospitality, but since I've never lived down there I'm certainly not qualified to comment.

Mormon Membership Numbers

David Tufte, an economics professor at Southern Utah University, commented on membership statistics for the LDS Church. He points out (while commenting on an AP story that makes the same observation) that Latter-day Saints have a looser standard for counting members than many other denominations.
In contrast, other denominations often use substantially stricter rules. For example, many Protestant churches only count as adherents those who are both baptized and who attend at least once a year on a "normal" Sunday (i.e., one that does not have special religious significance). Baptists only count as members those who were both baptized as adults of their own free will, and who regularly attend services - children are adherents and are removed from those rolls if they do not choose to be baptized upon their majority. Catholics baptize at a younger age, but shift people from the memberhsip rolls to the adherent rolls if they stop attending regularly.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Mormons and DNA

Jonah Goldberg asks a scientific Mormon question on National Review Online's group blog, the Corner:
While sitting around LAX waiting for my plane, I found this interesting story in the LA Times. DNA testing is causing major problems for Mormon theology since it turns out that Native Americans aren't Jewish (I'll leave it to John Pod to come up with some "funny, but they look Jewish" jokes). It's more complicated than that, and this is probably not a new story to lots of Mormons. But I think it's pretty interesting nonetheless. It could also be the sort of thing that creates headaches for Mitt Romney. How does he answer the question: Do you believe science or the Book of Mormon?

This is what I emailed to him:
You are right; this really isn't a new issue for most of us Mormons. Mitt Romney could easily answer your question: "Do you believe science or the Book of Mormon?" with a simple "Yes." Many things are said (even by church leaders) that are not considered doctrine. We do believe that God speaks to the prophet in matters important to our salvation, but He also reveals truth through other processes--including science. Our knowledge is constantly increased in many ways.

Although there have been statements made in the past about the ancestry of Native American Indians being directly (and at least by inference, completely) descended from Israelites, there is nothing in the official doctrine of the church that requires us to believe that the ONLY (or even major) ancestors of Native Americans are Jewish.

The LATimes article is not too bad, although it really relies on Southerton's interpretation of LDS doctrine, and doesn't give a lot of time to those who have accepted this information without losing faith. The only real "fallout" I can see coming from this particular situation is a reinforcement of the notion that Mormons are anti-science. And we REALLY don't need more of that, but oh well.

Monday, February 13, 2006

An excellent point (and some Mommy blog love)

LeeAnn from "Tales from the Crib" makes some excellent points about motherhood, careers, and reality. The beginning paragraph makes an EXCELLENT point:
Just because we're women does not mean we must have it all. I think a big mistake women in western culture make is to think that we should have a career and motherhood both, without sacrificing some part of one or the other. Men don't get to do that, so why do we think we deserve more "rights"? Why should I expect others to pay for me to have it both ways?
The whole thing is very worth reading.

And since I'm linking to an excellent motherhood blog, I ought to link to a few others--some of my favorite Mormon mommy blogs that help me feel better about myself AND help me want to be better. Tracy M. at Dandelion Mama; Heather O. and the Wiz and others (including Tracy M.) at Mormon Mommy Wars; Kathryn at Daring Young Mom (which blog made me laugh until I cried); and Mom on a Wire.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

We Need Preachers

Mega-Churches thrive. What is it about going to church in a stadium that gets people so motivated to attend? I think the answer is that they like to hear a good sermon. They like the preacher. (The fact that they don't have a lot of responsibilities is probably a nice bonus in a busy world.)

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don't make much use of professional preachers. We have conference twice each year where we hear from our full-time church leaders. The rest of the time we are led and taught by amateurs. As my inclusion of the previous link will attest, I don't think amateurism is a bad thing necessarily. But some people have struggled with the three-hour block of church presented by people who aren't great orators. Even those who, perhaps like me, don't struggle with boredom at church have noticed the problem.

Clark Goble, in a comment at Millennial Star said, "I do think that the biggest issue the Church faces right now are lessons and even its Sacrament service. I'm not sure it is recognized as such. But I think a lack of interest by most members makes church more of a chore than it should be. Of course I honestly can't think of a whole lot that can be done significantly to improve the issue given the structural requirements we face."

Perhaps one of the most influential Conference talks I can remember for me personally was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, A Teacher Come From God. In that talk, he says, "Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church—at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition."

I have one college roommate who believed that we ought to have a calling in the church of "Sacrament Meeting Speaker." This would be someone in the ward (if such could be found in every ward) that was an engaging speaker that would be called to speak regularly in sacrament meeting. In each sacrament meeting we would hear a talk from one of these expert speakers. They would be called for their existing ability for speaking, not as a tool to nuture them in their growth in the church.

I think a proposal like this has merits. While we surely need opportunities for everyone to learn and stretch in teaching callings in the church, we need to be sure that no three hour block goes by without at least 20 minutes of high quality instruction.

Farewell to the Ream's Turtle: A Provo Landmark

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the turtle shaped building in Provo that was once a grocery store called Ream's. I'd heard stories about how that building was constructed by making a pile of dirt, pouring cement on top, and then digging out the dirt. I didn't really believe it, but the story turns out to be true. As they demolish the building to make way for more student housing for BYU, an article appeared in the Daily Herald outlining the history of the building. Perhaps you'll enjoy the memory.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

God's will and genetics

In the Deseret Morning News this morning, there is a story about a fairly brutal genetic disease becoming less rare in the twin FLDS cities of Hildale and Colorado City.:
Until a few years ago, scientists knew of only 13 cases of Fumarase Deficiency in the entire world. [Arizona state doctor]Tarby said he's now aware of 20 more victims, all within a few blocks of each other on the Utah-Arizona border.
The children live in the polygamist community once known as Short Creek that is now incorporated as the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Tarby believes the recessive gene for Fumarase Deficiency was introduced to the community by one of its early polygamist founders...
...Tarby said the early founder who brought the recessive gene into the community had numerous children, so copies of the gene were passed on to children and grandchildren. When cousins or other close relatives marry, two copies of the gene can be passed on to a single child, triggering the disease.

Apparently the marriage of relatives is common in the FLDS church. Because of the religious environment, this isn't likely to change. The families of those afflicted with Fumarase Deficiency are very patient and caring:
..."I've seen some children that can talk and communicate a little," Wyler [Former FLDS member, related to some of the victims of the disease] said. "And I've seen others that are totally laid out. They have no movement. They can't do anything by themselves. Literally, if they're 8 years old, it's like taking care of a baby."
...Tarby said children suffering from Fumarase Deficiency have unusual facial features and frequent "grand mal" epileptic seizures. The children require constant care from parents and close relatives. "In some ways, they are really kind of remarkable people," Tarby said. "They do treat these kids pretty well."
Wyler agreed that the parents and close relatives are loving caregivers. He said it's partly because they believe it's a calling from God. "They would just assume they've been given a test and they need to pass this test," Wyler said. "And it's their lot in life to take care of a child like this. And they'll give it everything they've got. And they'll do a good job. Very good job."

One of my nightmares right now is having a severely disabled child--I know there is a lot of heartache associated with that. And the amount of patience and faith it takes to "do a good job" in that situation--it has to be huge. Accepting God's will in matters of health is something I'm dealing with in my own family, on a much smaller and less tragic scale. I truly admire those who have worked through those issues and come through with their faith intact.

And yet I am concerned. I realize that if it was God's will, the recessive genes that create this disease could be "disable", or not linked up so that they are both in the child's DNA. However, aren't we required to do all that we can to help ourselves as well as asking God to help us? I wonder if marrying your cousin or aunt or niece or whatever is a little like rejecting medical help when your child has pneumonia. Yes, God could cure the pneumonia, and without doctors. But it seems to me the more knowledge we have been given (and have access to) the more responsibility rests on us. We can't always expect God to fix our "mistakes"* when we have the ability to fix them, or at least not risk them in the first place.

*I am not calling these sick children a mistake. However, now that it is known that the risk exists, if you have reason to believe that you have this recessive gene, and the person you marry has much the same ancestry, then I think it at least a great risk, and possibly a mistake, to blithely procreate without considering the hazards.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tattoos vs. Hot Fudge Sundaes

In February's Friend (the children's magazine published by the LDS Church), there is a story that illustrates (literally, because it is a comic-style story) the blind spots many of us have in regards to honoring our bodies. The message is good--follow the prophet, honor our physical bodies--until the very last sentence, where for me at least the story became more ironic than inspirational.

In Matt and Mandy, Mandy has a friend who is getting a tattoo. The friend asks if Mandy wants to get one at the same time. Mandy asks the friend if the tattoo artist is the best artist in the whole world. The friend doesn't think so. Mandy says that her body was created by the most talented artist anywhere (God), and she doesn't want to let anyone paint over His work. The friend agrees, and then offers to buy a few hot fudge sundaes with some of the tattoo money to share with Mandy--to which Mandy readily agrees.


Now, I know that a few hot fudge sundaes aren't the worst things in the world. They aren't specifically proscribed in the Word of Wisdom. They aren't counseled against by the prophet or the Twelve. In moderation, they aren't even bad (although I'm a cookies- and brownies-type girl myself). And it is a whole lot easier to have hot fudge sundaes every once in a while than it is to have a tattoo only once in a while.

But in a story specifically written to emphasize respect for one of God's greatest creations, our bodies, it is more than a little ironic that the story advocates another (slightly) unhealthy action to replace the tattoo-getting. And it would seem to me that the writers and editors at the Friend are completely unaware of the tension between the moral of their story and the conclusion of it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

When to Form an Opinion

From Hugh Nibley:
At what point does one have "a right to an opinion"? I have never reached that point yet, and yet I go right on having opinions. I have been having them ever since I was a child and knew nothing at all; and I still go right on having them now that I am old and know nothing at all. The ideal thing would be to withhold opinions until all the returns are in, but as Karl Popper reminds us, that day will never come. So there is nothing for it but to go ahead and have our premature opinions, gratefully selecting in support of such the evidence we like best.... What is not permitted is to make one's choice on the authority of someone else. If you are not concerned in the matter, don't bother to take a position; but once you have decided to be concerned, you must make your own decision, no matter how limited your knowledge. All of us have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, not just the Authorities, and each is accountable for his own decisions: you cannot delegate free agency even for a moment. You may go to the expert for information, and that is what he is good for, but not for a final opinion. ("Of All Things" p. 221, a Hugh Nibley quote book edited by Gary Gillum, 2nd edition.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Buster and the Mormons

The PBS kids show "Postcards from Buster" is about a bunny-kid who travels around the country with his Dad and visits different people--so you learn about what kids do in Chinatown, in North Dakota, in Florida, etc. Today's "Postcards from Buster", Buster visited Utah. He hung out with a Mormon family, visited Dinosaur National Monument, and...went to Family Night!

Buster goes sledding with the Hershey family, with six kids. A lot of the show is taken up by the fact that the family is big and they all have to get along and help out to make things work. When Buster is shown the "work chart" on the refrigerator, there is a picture of Christ next to it. You can also recognize the "Work and the Glory" series on their bookshelves in the background.

The Hershey kids are fairly close in age, but not unusually so (especially for Mormons!). They apparently only have one bathroom, but I don't really believe that. It's too big of a house for only one bathroom, in my opinion. Maybe the kids aren't allowed to use the master bathroom.

Buster asks why the family does FHE, and Clark Hershey (the Mormon dad) says, "It is what our pro...our church leaders have asked us to do." They have an opening prayer, a musical number, and then they make cookies to take to their neighbors.

Anyway, it was a pretty darn good episode (for Postcards from Buster, that it), and showed the Mormon family in a really friendly light. Not bad!

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