An example of how to treat refugees from the Book of Mormon

As my health permits, I am one of the teachers for a class of 10 year olds each Sunday. We tend to have only 3-4 students, all boys, almost all with some sort of disability that makes it difficult for them to sit and learn. I can sympathize with them, as my own uniqueness makes it difficult to either sit still or pay attention to things around me. Anyway, last weeks lesson was on the people in the Book of Mormon called the “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”. It’s a mouthful of a name, but the people wanted a name that reflected their commitment to the gospel and their forefathers who came out of Jerusalem several hundred years earlier.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehis were Lamanites who had converted to Christ and wanted to disavow themselves of all of the violence and sin that had previously been a part of their culture. They went so far as to bury their weapons of war. When the Lamanites came to kill them, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis simply bowed down and let themselves be slaughtered. (In this instance, the attackers stopped the slaughter and were also converted, more joining the Anti-Nephi-Lehis than were killed.) To stop further potential massacres, the Nephites offered the land of Jershon, well within the borders of the Nephite lands, and vowed to protect these people with their armies.

This got me to wondering. Would this be a possible way to help at least a portion of the many refugees we have created in the world? Could we find a place somewhere in our vast country to put these people and let them build a community of their own? If they would be willing to be subject to the State and National laws, why could we not give them a place where they could govern and build themselves up? I’m not saying they would need to convert to some form of Christianity, as it should be the Spirit that guides them, not compulsion by support. I am also not saying there wouldn’t be many, many logistical and political issues that would need to be dealt with, as there will be many.

What I’m asking is, what would it take to give up a small portion of our vast lands and resources to help some hundred thousand people escape from a war torn land, a place where they face starvation, death, and many other privations through no fault of their own? I know it goes against the very American idea that the people should just buckle down and fix the place where they are, but that is nearly impossible when your children are starving and there are no safe places to work, much less start a business, if there were any money to do so.

What do you think? Can we take this example of charity in the Book of Mormon and apply it to our own times?

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Different ways to mourn — remembering my dad

My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.

My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.

He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.

Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.

My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.

That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.

My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.

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On dreams and the interpretations thereof

Many years ago, in the time between the end of my first marriage and meeting my second wife, I had a dream. I was feeling particularly down and had asked in my prayers for a dream of the future. I wanted to know there was hope when I’d not been able to see it. The dream I had I have rarely shared, but what bothered me most is in being unable to interpret what the dream might mean.

You see, in the LDS Church, we believe in many “gifts of the Spirit”. These are mentioned in the New Testament(1 Corinthians 12) and Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:8-18), and are more specifically listed in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 46). They include many different types of miracles, including healing, the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, wisdom, discerning of spirits, knowledge, and prophecy. These had been much more evident in the early Church than appear now, likely because we tend not to talk about such sacred things. How does one gain such things? The scriptures say it is by the Spirit of God. We’re also told in scripture that we should seek after these good gifts and to use them for the benefit of the children of God in the name of Christ.

We don’t seem to pursue them much anymore, perhaps from unbelief. We have a hard time believing that such miracles could be for us, even when we see or hear of them in the lives of others. But still, we are told to pursue them to help build the kingdom of God. I’ve always wanted “interpretation of tongues” myself, though I have a hard time learning languages. Others would be amazing to have, but how do you prepare or practice such things?

In any case, back to my dream. In my dream, I was returning home after attempting to catch someone at the bus station who was returning to us. I opened the door and to my left were my parents, easily recognizable but obviously much older. On a couch to the left was a young looking woman (perhaps a teen) excitedly jumping and two young boys. The excitement of everyone was electric. Then the woman who I’d gone to pick up entered.

At the time, I’d believed this would take place in the millennial era, when Christ would reign and the dead would be resurrected. The people there could be fit to those I knew of at the time; my parents, my younger sister and her then two sons, my older sister who had died before I was even born. As time has gone on (being 16 years ago now), I realized the roles could be different; my parents, my younger daughter and two sons, my wife.

It could also be that it was all “just a dream”, and I’ve been projecting my hopes on it. My father, who is in his mid eighties and has now been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, may soon die. I know of no one who has the gift of interpreting dreams like those of the Old Testament, Joseph and Daniel. If it was the future, could I not even know the people in the dream in present time?

Prophecy is a tricky thing. We could be shown things we have no words adequate to describe, like John in the book of Revelations, we can have no idea of the time frames involved, yet still for some reason they are given. There must be something about them that is needed at the time they are given, possibly even for times afterward. For me, my dream has given me hope, even when I’ve not been able to see a way for it to happen. It confirms my knowledge that our family will be together forever someday, no matter what separates us.

And that day will be gloriously happy for us all.

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Temple Casting part 2 – what I should not have missed

Today I went to the temple to do some of the work for my grandfather who passed away last year. And, during the presentation of the Endowment, it came to me that I missed some things I really should have put into that last post. So here they are, in no order of importance.

Lucifer: France.

It could be from my belief that he is completely unnecessary in the beginnings of a world, but I managed to all together forget this character existed in the presentation when I wrote the last post. We’ve had all kinds, from almost operatic to smarmy to truly icky. The method of acting doesn’t bother me too much (though the icky one just seems wrong), but this was a really difficult decision on how to cast from a nationality. How to you pick one without feeding into stereotypical views on how “evil” a particular nationality can be? This would matter less as more versions are made, but for the first, this is my choice.

Heavenly Mother: Ukraine

Yes, I know this is not a part in the current endowment presentation. The Church has recently affirmed Her as part of our doctrine, and in making use of the word Elohim (meaning Gods, not necessarily a single person) I think we should add this role, giving her half of the lines given for Heavenly Father. Which lines would not matter as they would all be coming from God. There could even be given different lines from presentation to presentation. It would be important in teaching that the Two are truly One, as we believe out Heavenly Parents to be.

Music: China, Kenya, and Ireland

People rarely think of the music used as background in these films. Part of it I think has to do with the rut we’ve gotten ourselves into with regards to music that conveys “spirituality”. It really hasn’t changed much since the media used in the 1980’s. A lot of chords in high strings with some keening solo by an oboe or french horn. A lot of suspensions resolving into major chords. It’s become practically Pavlovian, giving the signal that what is being shown is something spiritual. Surely we can add to the presentation without overwhelming it using music from other traditions.

The Temple is such an important part of our religion. We have heard many time about how we should learn something every time we go. I think one of the best ways to do this is to increase the diversity in the presentation made. Let’s wake up those who can go through it just marking time and give better opportunities for the Spirit to teach what they need to know.

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Casting my own version of the Temple Endowment

For those who do not know, “The Endowment” is one of the rituals LDS have in the Temple where we make covenants with God. It involves ritual clothing (which the Church has make a handy video about) and a depiction of the creation of the world (which I’ve written about before). In some Temples, this depiction is done by live performers who are rarely trained actors and not “cast” in their parts as actors would be. These are simply volunteer workers in the Temple who have been assigned to this particular task, with no regard to age or physical appearance.

In most temples a film is used. There have been five versions of this film made thus far, each using the actors and film technologies of their time, the creators of it bringing their best to the Temple. In every version, the actors (and single actress) have been Americans of distinctly Northern European descent. I think that we, being a worldwide Church, should have films distributed that show the wide variety of people in the world. This would help us imagine themselves in those positions (as we are instructed to), but would also help us to see that these varieties aren’t an aberration but part of the wondrous palette used by God in His creation.

We do not have a standard belief of how everyone will look in the afterlife. We do, however, have a lot of folk doctrine floating around that everyone will automatically be Anglo, insinuating that other forms are lesser or undesirable. This would be a way to help abolish that folk doctrine. There are, of course, many iterations that can be used, but this is one I’d like to see:

God, the Father: Mexico
Jesus, the Christ: India
Adam: Japan
Eve: The Democratic Republic of the Congo
Peter: Peru
James: Samoa
John: United States

There is so much variety to choose from, and so few parts. Even in these particular Countries, there is so much variety. Why not take advantage of that variety and look beyond what we’ve limited ourselves to in the expediency of using films rather than live actors? Technologies and talents have come such a long way from the days of the first films, where talent and locations were limited to what was local to Salt Lake City.

Why not go even further than this and let some actors use their own language, which would have to be dubbed into English?

The possibilities are just amazing.

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The trouble with being less argumentative

I’ve found I’m not very good at arguing concepts and ideas with others. I love reading a good argument, and it’s not uncommon for such arguments to make some change on how I think about something, but I don’t seem to be very good at making arguments for positions I have or things I believe. I’m not so bad at just stating something I believe. Blog posts and interactions with people tend to be taken as pretty concrete. I don’t understand what about me seems to be authoritative when talking to someone in person, but I’ve learned to be careful what I say.

Yesterday I got into a bit of a conversation with another member of my church about politics. Mormons in my area tend to be more conservative than I, and this particular person even more so. I disagreed with a number of his points, most notably with his assertion that the US is on a “slow march to Socialism”, but even being a supporter of Sanders (a self proclaimed Democratic Socialist) for President, I didn’t want to start arguing the merits of some socialist programs (Medicare, Social Security, State healthcare) with someone with such strong views. It just wouldn’t have been very productive, and would likely have caused some dissention between us.

The internet, the world of Blogs and Groups, seems to be nothing but people with strong opinions. It seems to encourage people to take extreme, absolute views and spew them out to the ether.

I think talking about issues is a good thing. We need to have more discourse about what we believe in and why we believe it. I just wish I knew of better ways to actually talk about things without bringing in antagonism toward the person arguing. The most difficult times for me in presenting an argument are when it feels like the person just isn’t seeing my point as even worth considering. That can get frustrating very quickly.

People should be allowed to have different opinions on things and be able to express them to others who will listen. But if you’re not controversial or argumentative, how do you get anyone to listen?

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On the giving of Tithes

Every year, toward the end of the year, the Bishop of each ward meets with each family in that ward to make an accounting of the donations given to the Church. No in depth questions, just asking if you’re a full tithe payer. (I tend to use it as an opportunity to make sure my records match what the Church has recorded.) As a challenge, our Bishop asked us to write something on social media about Tithing.

I recall that rather early on my parents let me see some of what they did each month when my dad got paid, and they used that opportunity to talk about how they paid Tithing and what it was for. Tithing was always the first thing paid, no matter how tight the month was going to be. There were also many times my family was in need, when dad was out of work or some other emergency happened. I got to see (and make use of) the use of the Bishop’s Storehouse, where the Bishop had available food to help families in need. Tithing was just something you did.

As I started making money for myself, tithing suddenly became a burden. I felt like I hardly had enough as it was, so how could I just give some of it away. I’ll freely admit that I’d not yet had an appreciation of what I’d earned, only seeing that I had some money and a lot of things I wanted to spend it on. It took ’til I did some growing up and having to be responsible for my own living expenses that it came back into being “just something you did”.

To me, Tithing is a lesser form of Consecration. Basically, Consecration is the idea that all we have belongs to God, no matter how much or in what manner we currently have it. Everything we have ultimately belongs to God, so giving a Tithe now is not a burden. I think something that helped change how I see Tithing is when I stopped worrying about how much I was earning for a specific amount of time working. I remember a time when I was so miserable at my job that I spent time working out how much time had passed and how much money that meant I earned. I’d hoped that it would cheer me up or give me some sense of accomplishment to work out the math, but instead I was just more miserable. I prefer now to just ask the simple question, “is what I earn enough for our needs”, and make adjustments if it’s not.

Some people spend a lot of time arguing which is the “proper” way to Tithe. The most popular options are “net”, “gross”, and “surplus”. “Net” is Tithing on your pay after taxes and other deductions, “gross” is Tithing on your pay before taxes, and “surplus” is Tithing on whatever you have left after all your expenses. Much of the arguments revolve around “you’re doing it wrong” (if the argument is not just against Tithing at all). I personally pay on gross, as it’s what I’ve felt is the best option for me and my family and have gotten confirmation through prayer that it is the best option for us. I will not ever say what is the best option for someone else, as the decision on what they Tithe is between them and God.

I may not be able to point to specific blessings that have come from Tithing, but I do know that it is a true principle.

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