Sunday, October 30, 2011

Worshiping in the temple

I've held a current temple recommend for most of the last decade but I haven't always made use of it.

I recently returned to the temple after an absence of a few years. I'm very grateful to a wonderful friend who invited me to join her. A lot of things went through my mind as I sat through that session. The thought that concerned me the most was that I didn't feel as close to God as I had hoped I would but I was also keenly aware that experiencing that special communion in the temple is something that must be achieved through regular attendance. I know that in order to feel closer to my Heavenly Father, I need to go back–often.

It was interesting to compare the experience of worshipping in the temple to worshipping at church on Sunday. The temple experience is largely consistent. Changes made to the endowment for the purpose of making the work more efficient over the years notwithstanding, one can count on their session in the temple to be outwardly identical to every other session they attend. Unlike Sunday school, Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, no one is invited to discuss or expound on what is being taught; thus there are no opportunities for members to try and shoehorn their favorite man-made philosophies into the lesson. No one trying to squeeze their favorite Cleon Skousen quote into the discussion; no spontaneous veneration of capitalism as a treasured gift from God that needs to be revered and protected. It is said that the temple is "The house of the Lord." A little piece of heaven on earth. It makes sense that earthly matters are expected to be left at the door and I am so grateful for that. And a little confused at how the chapels we enter every Sunday are also referred to as God's house and yet, we often fail to leave our earthly concerns and philosophies at home when we go into them. I imagine it's probably because Church is a much more social experience than the temple is.

This recent visit to the temple was the first time I had watched the endowment film since 2005 when I took in a session at the Atlanta Temple after my late mother's passing–for several years I attended the Manti Temple where the endowment is live. Every time I witness a live endowment, it's difficult for me to turn off my inner critic/producer/casting director. I know that the people presenting the endowment are temple workers and not actors but I'm just so hyper aware of the latter fact. I also can't help but think, "If I ever become a temple worker and do a live endowment, I want to play Lucifer." The bad guys are always the more interesting characters to play. ;-) For reference, the endowment session has often been compared to "passion plays" which means there's some acting involved–or at least recitation of written dialogue.

I love watching the endowment film. Being a filmmaker, I guess that makes sense. I remember reflecting on something I had thought as I attended a small film festival in 2010; The times that I have felt the most at peace and uplifted by the spirit have been in the company of others while watching a well-produced film. I felt it while watching the endowment film at the temple, I felt it at public screenings of independent films and documentaries, I've felt it at film festivals. It reminded me of Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Granted, not all attendees of film festivals and screenings are necessarily gathering in the name of Christ; but I certainly do feel a special connection to the people that I am with at those events. I feel genuine love for them as my spiritual brothers and sisters and that's what Christ wants us to feel all the time. Being in tune with the Spirit can make that happen, where ever you are, no matter who you are with.

I remember going home from a trip to the temple one day and visiting a friend as he attended a recovery meeting. I felt the Holy Spirit as strongly in that little room–among a group of people gathered together for the sole purpose of keeping each other sober–as I have in the Celestial room of the temple. One of the recovering addicts even quoted Matthew 18:20 in reference to the importance of the work they were doing.

As my first session in years came to a close, I stood before the veil for the last part of the endowment. We are instructed to be quite while we are in the temple and if we need to communicate, to do so by whispering. I tend to project my voice when I speak normally–I'm an actor–so I try to be very aware of the volume of my voice when I'm in the temple. I guess I was being too quiet because I was asked to repeat myself a couple of times. When the temple worker representing the Lord took my hand and brought me through the veil, he said to me, "Speak a little louder next time, brother."

That admonition really kinda threw me off as I entered the Celestial room. All of a sudden I was very self conscious at a time when I was trying to let go of myself so I could feel the spirit. It took several minutes but I eventually got over that distraction. In hindsight, I actually found the experience very amusing. I was reminded–even while I was in the temple–of the Proust Questionnaire. The version shared by James Lipton on "Inside the Actors Studio" ends with the question, "If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?"

I want to hear, "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

I seriously doubt that the Lord would say, "Speak up next time." :-)

Monday, September 12, 2011

On doubt, skepticism and faith

(Revised October 15, 2011)

There was an interesting post on the Mormon.org Facebook page that read:
"Today I will _________ to strengthen my faith."
Subscribers to the page were invited to fill in the blank in the comments beneath the post. Many of the comments were pretty conventional; "pray," "sing," "study the scriptures," etc. I usually just read these remarks, this day I felt that I should contribute—but I'm anything but conventional. I filled in the blank with something I had been pondering for a while now: "accept my doubt and skepticism as a necessary part of faith."

One person "Liked" my comment with a click of the mouse. However, there was another person who commented after I did with what appeared–to me at least–to be a rebuttal.
"ignore the skepticism from others and focus on the truth of what I have felt, and continue to feel, and have always felt in my life regarding the teachings of Jesus Christ and His church. I know it and I know He knows I know it so I will strengthen my faith by loving those that hate, but ignoring their hateful/misunderstandings of who they 'think' we are"
It's completely possible that this individual was not responding to me or what I had written but they did choose to use a word that was a key part of my comment: "skepticism."

This person did more than just use the word, they refuted it. They are choosing to "ignore the skepticism from others" as if skepticism is antithetical to faith. And I can't help but wonder if by referencing "those that hate," they might be referring to me and my so-called "hateful/misunderstandings..." Obviously, my own neuroses are shining through and I may be reading more into this person's comments than what's actually there.

So, I will do my best to disconnect from it and respond to what was said that resonates with me and not take it personally.

I honestly don't think that it's possible to have faith without some element of doubt and skepticism. We often hear the phrase, "Taking a leap of faith." Consider what that means: Choosing to accept something that is intangible–even unprovable for all practical purposes–as true without empirical evidence. The leap is what's key. The leap is from a place of doubt and skepticism to a place of acceptance and faith. This doesn't mean that doubt and skepticism are bad or "hateful." They are–in fact–a necessary step toward having faith. One cannot take a leap from nothingness. One must leap from a place of uncertainty because if you have no doubt, if you are not skeptical, then there is no need to take a leap of any kind at all.

Ignoring doubt and skepticism will not strengthen one's faith, it will merely supplant it with blind acceptance–and blind acceptance is not the same thing as faith. God does not want blind followers. God gave all of His children the capacity to think. Why would He do that if He expected us not to use it.

Labeling the doubt and skepticism of others as "hateful" does a grave disservice to those who are sincerely in search of meaning and faith. Often they are simply tired of being skeptics and having doubt but they don't think of themselves as being "hateful" so we shouldn't assume that they are. They just want some assurance and that's what faith can provide. To use Paul's words, "...faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” -Hebrews 11:1

One of my favorite verses of scripture is from the Book of Mormon.
"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." -Alma 32:27 (emphasis added)
"...arouse your faculties..." in other words: Think. I love that Alma uses the word "experiment." Experimentation is key to seeking truth, whether its applied scientifically or theologically. This verse challenges individuals to not just accept what is being taught to them but to put it to a test. To be empirical in the application of Gospel principles–to observe the effect they can have on our lives, to experience their truth through their praxis. And it doesn't require one to fully believe from the beginning, only to "exercise a particle of faith"–not a leap–something that even the most hardened skeptic should be able to muster, even if the best that they can do is to just have the "desire to believe." And if the result of this is just belief in "a portion" of what has been presented, so be it. I highly recommend reading that chapter in its entirety.

Where does the hostility–expressed by that Facebook user and others–toward doubt and skepticism come from? Some might argue that it comes from Christ Himself who said, "...blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." -John 20:29

Of course, it's a popular practice in any religious culture to pick and choose what verses–or parts of verses–one quotes to reinforce a particular point of view. Me? I'm all about context.

Christ was speaking to the apostle Thomas–also known as "Doubting Thomas"–who had said, after he was told of Christ's resurrection, "...Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." -John 20:25

A lot of people look at Christ's statement in verse 29 as a clear rebuke of Thomas' skepticism but–when we read more–we see that Christ himself invited Thomas to "...Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing." (emphasis added) I find it quite intriguing that even after inviting Thomas to see and feel for himself the physical presence of the resurrected Christ, He speaks of this evidence as a reason to "be not faithless, but believing." Even when one is presented with undeniable proof, we aren't supposed to abandon having faith any more than we are supposed to abandon our ability to think critically. The scriptures don't actually say that Thomas took Christ up on his offer as depicted in Caravaggio's The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Only that he answered, "My Lord and my God." -John 20:28. We can however infer that he did because Christ invited all of the apostles to "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." -Luke 24:39 (emphasis added)

I don't think Thomas was rebuked. Christ's statement was simple, it was in praise of those who are willing to take that leap of faith. But His invitation to His apostles to touch Him and experience for themselves the reality of His existence and the truth of His resurrection shows the value He places on evidence and witnesses who can testify through their own observations and sensory perceptions the truth of all things. It is no different than the methodology used by scientists to gather evidence through observation and experimentation and it is validated through repetition. If it is true, it can be replicated. That is the scientific witness of truth. And it all starts by asking questions which leads to discussion, doubt, skepticism, theories, hypotheses (which some might call a kind of faith), experimentation and an arrival at some matter of truth.

Many people of faith have carried out their own experiments on the word based on the spiritual experiences of others–past and present–and have replicated the results for themselves. I find it intriguing how the word "theology"–defined as "the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially the study of God and of God's relation to the world"–shares the suffix "-logy" with words used to describe scientific fields of inquiry–biology, geology, paleontology, physiology, technology, etc.–and yet, despite this common etymological structure and the way its principles, theories and hypotheses are applied, it's not discussed with the same... reverence (if you will) as other analytical disciplines.

It's interesting when one considers how many ordinary people will say that they rely on science for their truth–that they are indifferent or even suspicious of anyone's claims of spiritual enlightenment–and yet they themselves are not scientists. They did not conduct the scientific experiments or try to replicate them. They are simply taking the scientific community at its word–accepting their testimony–because scientists have done the work and validated it amongst themselves. How is that different from a group of people exploring their spirituality, putting to the test the principles they have learned–"experimenting on the word"–and sharing their experiences with others.

A lot of Mormons like to say that they "know the church is true." It's a common statement in the church and the culture and it can often sound presumptuous, especially to non-Mormons. As if what they are really saying is, "I know, therefore you don't. I have the fullness of the gospel therefore you have nothing." It can be easily perceived by others that Mormons think that they are the sole possessors of all truth–despite the fact that the doctrine and their leadership acknowledge time and again that "the Church does not hold a monopoly on truth;" that there is truth to be found everywhere, including other faiths, philosophies and, of course, science.

The commenter above said of the "truth" of what they had "felt," "I know it and I know [Christ] knows I know it..." This is a variation on what Joseph Smith said in response to his critics who tried their hardest to get him to deny his claims of a personal visitation from God and Jesus Christ. "...I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it..." -Joseph Smith–History 25

I'm glad that they specifically spoke of their feelings. I imagine that many Mormons want to have an experience like Joseph Smith's. They want that "perfect knowledge" and that statement from the Prophet is so straight forward and powerful it would be difficult not to want to emulate it, so they do when bearing their testimonies in Church or in the mission fields, by saying the words, "I know."

But the use of the word "know"–as opposed to saying, "I believe" or "I have faith that..."–carries with it certain expectations on the part of the listener. Not everyone is going to understand that the knowledge being referred to is related to feelings and the personal witness of the Holy Spirit which is ultimately a subjective experience. So, this statement of "knowledge" is often dismissed because it implies–albeit subtly–that their statement has been independently verified in such a way that there is no room for doubt and/or that the testifier has transcended the need for faith because their knowledge is perfect. But how many Mormons actually know these things? What does such knowledge entail? If it's direct, real observation on par with Joseph Smith's and other prophets' communions with God and Christ then I think that number is pretty small.

I prefer to say that I know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true because it's a concept that I have personally embraced, experimented with and received a personal, subjective knowledge of. I don't know to what degree others share this knowledge. It's the sort of thing that can't be independently verified by a non-biased third party. I can only take others at their word and my God-given faculties for thought and deduction, my direct experience with other human beings and just living my life causes me to be skeptical–even of those with whom I share an identical belief. That's when I choose to take a leap of faith. I also have the testimony of individuals who do have a perfect knowledge, who have had personal experiences that were shared with others–testifying witnesses of those events–and I take a leap of faith to believe that they are telling the truth.

One doesn't abandon all doubt at once. You can take a leap of faith on one matter and still be skeptical and have doubts about another. We are not expected to accept everything we're told at face value. We are specifically counseled to question and pray about all new knowledge that we acquire–even when the source is a Prophet of God–and to take time to develop and nurture our faith because it cannot and should not be rushed. That's why Alma, when speaking of "experimenting on the word," uses the analogy of a seed that not only has to be planted but nurtured over time.

Our doubts and skepticism are the soil in which we plant that seed of faith. They are what prompt us to ask questions and seek out the truth and those inquiries are the very nourishment that our faith needs to grow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Moneychangers at the pulpit?

Revised: September 5 & 19, 2011

Some friends offered some insights into the original versions of this post that I hadn't considered before so I've chosen to revise it. -JLP

A man got up to speak in a church meeting. The topic was supposed to be "The Law of the Harvest." The speaker then went on to talk about his personal business ventures. He sounded as though he was basically reciting his resume to the congregation. I quickly lost interest in what he was saying. I waited to hear him segue into a gospel topic but by the time he said anything related to doctrinal matters, I was so distracted by a plug I could just as easily have read on LinkedIn that I just couldn't follow along anymore.

So, I posted the following comment onto the Flippin' Utah Mormons Facebook page:

I'm asked to come to church to be edified... So why am I expected to sit through a "talk" where someone basically recites their business resume and somehow divine some nugget of Gospel truth from it?

I continued my thoughts in a comment:

I deal with business people all week. I do my best to not bring my earthly business with me to Church where I want to learn of celestial things.

This sparked some interesting comments from the forum. First there was speculation that the speaker was asked to talk about "this subject"–ostensibly referring to his business. I explained that the subject was "The Law of the Harvest" and while the principles of work are certainly integral to discussing that topic, it's not a green light to start talking about one's business dealings.

A key component to being a successful businessperson is to take advantage of opportunities to promote oneself and one's business. However, there is a time and a place for everything. I don't feel that a talk in a church meeting is an appropriate place to promote one's means of acquiring wealth, especially if it is happening at the expense of edifying one's brothers and sisters in the Gospel. The speaker lost both my interest and my respect by treating a house of worship as if it was his own personal trade show. I mentioned this to a friend who helped me put it into some perspective and I realized that saying that I lost my respect for this person probably wasn't the right thing to say. I honestly don't know him very well and respect is something that should be earned before it can be lost. I didn't give this man a chance to earn my respect so it really wouldn't be fair to withhold it just because he committed–in my opinion–a faux pas that he might not even be aware of.

One Facebook follower inferred that I was calling this speaker out as a sinner for what he did. I clarified that I didn't think that he sinned, only that such behavior raised some ethical concerns. Another thought that I was not being fair for broadcasting someone's failing and that I might be crossing an ethical boundary myself for talking about this person on the internet and possibly embarrassing him.

I never shared this man's name–which would have been unethical–so he had nothing to be embarrassed about. I honestly doubt that this person is even aware of me, my blog or the Facebook page that's associated with it. I did not intend for anyone to take offense at my observation.

The point of Flippin' Utah Mormons is to make observations–often in an admittedly stream of consciousness style–about a culture that at times is glaringly inconsistent with the faith it claims to embody. Mormon culture–as distinct from Mormon theology–is not always synonymous with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

So, why would someone feel that talking about their personal business endeavors was appropriate for church?

A traditional symbol of Mormonism is the beehive. It's considered to be a symbol of "industry." But industry is not necessarily the same thing as entrepreneurialism. And there's something to be said about the optimism of Mormons and their business endeavors, which brings me to the cliché of Mormons and their fondness (or is it susceptibility?) for "multilevel marketing"–née pyramid schemes that espouse in their recruitment tactics the idea of maximum return for minimal effort (a direct contradiction to the law of the harvest). It has become a cliche because so many Mormons have fallen victim to them. It's not unheard of for some Mormons to make use of their ward directory in order to recruit sales people–despite clear instructions that the directory is to be used only for Church business. I have personally experienced the Mormon MLM sales-pitch: "I know it's multi-level marketing and a lot of people are nervous about that but everyone that I know who's involved with this is a member of the Church in good standing." As if being a Mormon makes one immune from scams, greed or greedy scams.

Perhaps some of the Facebook followers who commented felt I was being unfairly judgmental of the sacrament speaker. I admit that I do make a fair amount of judgments in this blog but I try my hardest to weigh those judgments against basic gospel principles. Many people are fond of quoting Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Mormons have the added benefit of the Joseph Smith Translation of the bible which reveals some key points that have been lost through the ages: "Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment." It's simply impossible to go through life without making judgments. God knows this. So he counsels us to be careful in the way we go about it.

I try very hard to make sure that I am making righteous judgments and I feel that the judgment I've made in this matter is a righteous one because I have turned to the example Christ Himself set when He came face-to-face with men conducting earthly business in a House of the Lord. "...Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, 'It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.'" (Matthew 21:12-13)

Frankly, I think that my response was pretty tame compared to Christ's.

Christ Himself made His feelings about mixing business and religion very clear when He chased the moneychangers out of the temple and caused quite a ruckus when doing so. Were those business people embarrassed? Probably. I imagined they were pretty pissed off as well, some stranger causing a huge mess in their place of business--of course it didn't matter to them that it was the House of the Lord, they followed profits, not prophets. This, I've observed, is true of a lot of Mormons as well. Their priorities are earthly, not celestial. They look upon the wealthy and say, "They are so blessed." This puts pressure on them to do everything they can to amass their own "blessings" so that they can show others how "blessed" they are while completely ignoring Christ's admonition to "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth... But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)

They might very well quote the Book of Mormon as justification for their entrepreneurialism: "...after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them..." (Jacob 2:19) Of course, that's where many wealthy Mormons that I know stop reading the Book of Mormon and start quoting Ayn Rand to find a moral justification for their own selfishness–they either are not aware of Rand's atheism and hostility toward religion or they simply choose to ignore it, the same way that they choose to ignore the rest of Jacob's teachings: "...and ye will seek [riches] for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted."

This experience was just another example of something being said in Church that caused my eyes to roll but also gave me reason to pause, think and–more importantly–ask, "Why would they say something like that?" I know a lot of "former" Mormons who left the Church because they strained their eyes rolling them at ridiculous things that "devout" Mormons say that have no basis in doctrine, scripture or just plain common sense but they recite them in Sacrament talks, Sunday school, priesthood and Relief Society meetings as if they brought them down from Mt. Sinai themselves. I confess, that in those first moments of hearing some stupid remarks relating to anything from homosexuality to politics to economics spouted from the pulpit or in the classroom and "mingled with scripture" to give it an air of divine legitimacy, I have to restrain myself from taking offense or dragging those people out of the chapel or classroom by their ears and pointing out every scripture that contradicts whatever earthly ideology they hold to be true, but I don't. Most of the time I just sit quietly and roll my eyes, sometimes I will step out of the room and maybe vent to the Bishop who is very understanding about these things and after those feelings cool down, I'll ask the question, "Why would they say something like that?" And that's basically how I got started writing this blog. This allows me to put the silliness of the culture into a gospel perspective and keep going to church–because despite the few stupid things I hear, most of what I get from the experience of attending church is uplifting and enlightening.

I'm very grateful for the differing comments that I read on the Facebook page I created for this blog. I'm glad that it is a forum for discussion and respectful debate and not just an echo chamber where everyone agrees on everything that's posted. To paraphrase the late journalist Walter Lippmann, "Where everyone thinks alike, very little thinking is done at all." Having and expressing differing views and opinions is a hallmark of Christ's Gospel–if not Mormon culture–and getting people to come out of their shells, to not be afraid to speak up when they see a disparity between Mormon practices and Mormon teachings will help make it possible to foment positive change in the culture.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sabbath service

The following is excerpted from my personal journal:


From time to time I avoid going to church. Mainly when I know there's going to be a crowd. It was stake conference weekend, so [today] I skipped.

I've decided that on such days, I should not just lounge around the apartment--which I have done in the past--instead, I should make myself available. I should be of service to others. Today I continued my work helping [my friends] Sandy and Peter in their garden. I also got to do some more work on their chicken coop.

This evening, Sandy asked me to tally up how many hours I worked this weekend because they offered me a wage to help pay for a vacation I've been invited to go on with them... I figured I worked maybe three hours yesterday but I wasn't going to count the hours I worked today because it's Sunday and helping them was the service I offered in lieu of going to Church. I suppose one can call it a sacrament of sorts. Sacrament is defined in part "...an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace..." I don't know how divine or gracious working in a garden is. I just needed to know that I was doing something unselfish to make up for what might be perceived as a selfish act of avoiding church for the sake of my own anxieties about crowds.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Work, responsibility, disability and idleness.

The Melchizedek priesthood and Relief Society use the same manual for their class lessons. However, having the same manual doesn't mean that the same lesson is taught. The most recent lesson I sat in on was about work and personal responsibility. I delivered a talk on this very topic in 2006 and drew upon it in my comments in class.

I attend a singles ward and lessons--even Sacrament talks--are inevitably (though often inappropriately) steered to how one squares doctrine and the teachings of General Authorities to address the needs of the Church's single members, completely ignoring the fact that the Gospel is NOT just for married people and that correct principles are universal and needn't be tailored to a particular demographic that is only defined by its marital status.

Of course, for a lesson about "work and personal responsibility," the question--which probably didn't appear in the lesson manual--was asked, "Who here can support a family?" Which is a lousy question to ask a bunch of single guys in the middle of a recession. This brought up questions about supporting spouses and who pays for dates and a whole lot of other superficial and petty comments that have less to do with one's eternal salvation than trying to just get laid--even if it's "within the covenant"; Mormon's troll for tail and cock-block like everybody else, they just want to put a ring on a girl's finger before getting her into the sack. The degree of adolescent-like behavior within the LDS singles community can be suffocating.

Unfortunately, there were some other comments made that I found to be somewhat insensitive. In particular one remark that strongly implied that a person's testimony of the gospel is meaningless if that person "didn't work."

Such a statement begs the question, "What is work?"

I don't recall Jesus Christ drawing a salary. He was doing His Father's work and I don't think any sort of benefit package was associated with it--nothing temporal anyway. Missionaries in the primitive church weren't expected to carry money with them, they were supposed to rely on the charity of others for food and housing--a bunch of couch-surfing freeloaders by today's economic standards.

I've come to understand that work, according to the teachings of the Gospel, includes being of service to others. It certainly takes a great deal of effort and we aren't even supposed to expect anything in return for it--at least not in this life. We just need to understand that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17)

Unfortunately, the attitude that I find with a lot of Mormons--especially Mormon men--is that work is only defined by a paycheck and not just by a paycheck but by where that paycheck comes from. Within our priesthood class, this inevitably lead to criticism of people who accept unemployment compensation--ignoring the fact that it's basically wage insurance that people pay for when they have work to help them if they lose their jobs; one wouldn't criticize a person for making a claim on their car insurance if they got into an accident or their home owners insurance if their house burned down, but if you file for unemployment--that you paid into--when you get laid off, you're obviously a loser and someone who's morals, ethics and worthiness should be seriously questioned, not to mention your suitability as a potential spouse. This attitude has more to do with Mormon-Politics than doctrine or culture but that's a topic I'm covering in a different writing project.

This line of discussion really struck a nerve with me because I do not have a regular job. I've been on disability since 2006. Like people filing for unemployment, I paid into the system with the understanding that should I ever be unable to maintain regular employment, I wouldn't be left homeless and starving; and through a long, drawn-out, stressful and humiliating process, it was determined that I qualified for a tiny stipend that ensured that I wouldn't go cold or hungry and that's it. It's not a comfortably living but it keeps a roof over my head and food on the table while enabling me to engage in part-time work that will accommodate my disability and gives me time to volunteer my skills and services elsewhere so that I can still be a contributing member of society.

I knew that when I no longer had to worry about being homeless that I had an opportunity--even an obligation--to find ways to be of service to others. Indeed, that's what I wanted more than anything else--the last thing that I want is to be accused of being lazy or idle--and when all is said and done, when I consider the value of the volunteer service that I provide compared to the puny stipend I receive every month from the government, I'd say the American people (including nearly half the membership of the LDS Church) is getting more than it's money's worth out of me. But Mormons who embrace a largely secular culture at the expense of the Celestial principles of the Gospel choose to pay no attention to what's in my heart or what service I provide to others and instead choose to focus on where the money I spend on housing and utilities comes from and make superficial and petty judgments against me and others like me for it. Add to that the pressure placed on single Mormon men to be sole-breadwinners in an economy that makes such goals nearly impossible for most people and I'm pretty much screwed in their eyes. I'm not a man, not worthy of being a husband and certainly not eligible for Celestial glory.

Thankfully, my relationship with my Heavenly Father assures me that I am indeed no less of a man than anyone else, that I am worthy of being a husband and that as long as I stay on the correct path, I can enjoy Celestial glory with my partner, whoever and wherever she may be.

It is experiences like this that help me to understand why otherwise worthy and wonderful members of the Church become inactive. Because they have to put up with jerks who look at the world--and the Gospel!--with a culture bias that ultimately works against them and compromises their ability to make true eternal progress. The most frustrating thing about these people is the fact that the only time I have to deal with them is at church, on Sunday. And I'm just the type of guy who's going to keep showing up because I know that I annoy them probably more than they annoy me. The challenge that I face is to not to allow their short-sightedness, arrogance, pettiness and cultural myopia to affect my testimony. Frankly, creating this blog has seriously helped. :)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

White shirts are not mandatory

An interesting topic came up in a conversation with a friend about the the way people are supposed to dress for Church. I stated that outside of the temple and mission field, there is no formal dress code for church attendance beyond being being clean and modest. My friend said something about having to wear white shirts to pass the sacrament: one of my favorite misunderstandings in Mormon culture. I explained that there is no such rule. What does exist is a guideline in the Church's administrative handbook that reads:

"Ties and white shirts are recommended because they add to the dignity of the ordinance. However, they should not be required as a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate. Nor should it be required that all be alike in dress and appearance." (emphasis added)

I then expressed my opinion that far too much emphasis is being placed on superficialities like clothing to the detriment of the ordinance. "All across this Church people are making sacrament assignments and asking 'Who has a white shirt' when they should be asking, 'Who's a worthy priesthood holder?'"

I don't wear white shirts to church, only to the Temple. I'm not trying to avoid any assignments, I simply feel that there are some drawbacks to blind conformity, one of which is losing sight of the higher purpose of the Gospel. If I'm wasting my time sweating over whether or not I have a white shirt to wear to church then I can potentially miss out on the more important reasons for going.

I made the following point in a talk once:

"Be honest, have you ever asked someone why they aren't wearing a white shirt or the 'right' kind of dress? How do you think it makes a person feel when they're criticized for coming to church wearing the 'wrong' thing? As if it's a measure of a person's spirituality or character. What if that person is coming back to church after a long absence? The first thing that comes out of our mouths should be that we're glad to see them, not criticize their wardrobe. You do not lift someone up by talking down to them. Such criticism is shallow and it is not Christlike. We all know that. But so many of us insist on doing it anyway."