Loving the temple-Is it idolatry?

This past week I had to make a relatively significant career choice. I did what I usually do when I have a significant decision to make: I went to pray at the temple. Living only minutes from the temple has been an immense blessing as I’ve received pure insight and revelation from my visits. I actually tend to get more spiritually out of my unplanned prayer trips than when I go with a group and perform baptisms for the dead. I am able to commune powerfully and directly with God and get inspired answers to my questions

Yet, this latest trip to the temple has got my wondering if I am guilty of a minor form of idol worship in my practice. By focusing my spiritual locus on a physical location I wonder if I am shortchanging my self spiritually. The benefit of the companionship of the holy ghost is that I an entitled to receive such revelation and insight on a day to day basis. Yet, My regular prayer and scripture reading does not yield the same quality of insight.

A few weeks ago as I canvassed in Arlington catching a glimpse of the temple was a beacon of light in a cold dreary day. Yet, as a Christian shouldn’t that light be at my very core? As I looked at the mighty bricks of the temple, I was reminded of the western wall in Jerusalem. Millions of petitionary notes are slipped into that walls cracks by those longing for a connection to God. Yet, the first vision powerfully shows that God does not need walls, notes or tabernacles in order to communicate with us.

It is interesting to think about how we as a church navigate this spiritual paradox. As a church instituted around sacred covenants yet obsessed with personal revelation and spiritual answers, we navigate a pretty fine line. If Gordon B. Hinckley’s presidency will be remembered as the great temple building era, then perhaps all of the talks in this past conference about personal revelation and prayer are an attempt to recapture the other side of the equation.

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Some spite and a Coke

This was a pretty unusual weekend. I debated at a tournament at Bates College up in Lewiston Maine. Many of the people on the circuit know that I am LDS. I was debating with EJ whom is a friend of mine and a gay Catholic theology student at Providence College. We have had some pretty interesting conversations about the nature of God and whether or not there was an Apostasy. He has read the Book of Mormon which he considers to be the best work of ‘fan fiction’ he has ever read. This weekend I actually gave him a copy of Ted Callister’s The Inevitable Apostasy and Promised Restoration which I had around. He said he would take a look at it though he was not sure exactly when he would have the time. Our conversations were fascinating because I realized how different metaphysical conceptions of God actually lead to very radically different conclusions. I gained an appreciation for Joseph Smith’s declaration that to be saved a man must have the proper conception of whom God is.

I was talking to EJ and some of my other friends from the PC, Smith and BU teams and the LDS church came up in the conversation. One girl that I was acquainted with but not exactly close to got absolutely furious. She began insulting Mormons and claiming that they were all awful people. I mentioned to her that I was LDS and she freaked out. It turns out that she was a very very very bitter ex-Mormon. For the next two days she absolutely took pleasure in bashing the church every opportunity she possibly had. Some of what she said had merit: Questions about the Book of Abraham or criticism of the fact that some members of the church disown gay family members, for instance. Other criticisms were absurd: When someone asked me whether I was allowed to eat chocolate because of the caffeine, she asserted that in the 1960’s the church had bought a majority share in Coca-Cola and therefore had lifted its ban on Cola. Aside from the fact that David O. Mckay drank Coca- Cola while modern day prophet Gordon B. Hinckley was one of its strongest opponents, this rumor had absolutely no basis in truth. I was pretty shocked by how willing she was to mix fantasy and reality in order to smear the church. I have never felt such a negative spiritual vibe or pure animosity coming from a single person.

Her parents are converts from Catholicism and apparently her father no longer speaks to her for whatever reason. It’s so unfortunate that people have negative experiences with the church and such an experience so fully clouds their world view and blocks the spirit. I want to weep when I think about the incredible wickedness caused by the actions of some. In the judgment day I think we will perhaps be judged less for our selves than on the impact our actions had on other. If the salvation of one soul means such great joy for the two of us in the kingdom of heaven, what does the damnation of a soul mean for our selves? Will we be wrecked with the knowledge of every person we could have brought to light but failed. Will every person we disillusioned stand against us at the bar of God as witnesses for the prosecution?

A Lengthy Stride—One of my favorite things about the church

A Lengthy Stride—One of my favorite things about the church

For the past two weeks I have been canvassing door to door for Amnesty International. I am likely to be quitting this job soon and moving onto something more rewarding, but I have certainly had worthy experiences and made many observations about the generosity and compassion shown by strangers. My heart has been warmed as people with nothing reach into their wallet and give to a worthy cause. Yet, I have also had slurs hurled at me and doors slammed violently in my face. Some people have flat out told me they could care less about the rest of the world or violence against women. This lack of care for the world is something we all suffer from at times.

Yet, I noticed one trend in my two weeks of canvassing that was particularly striking. The desire to find out more and to get involved tends to be inversely proportional to age. Those that are over the age of 65 will almost never open the door, show interest or speak to you. I raised over 1,000 dollars and not one penny came from an elderly individual.

As I was canvassing yesterday in Arlington in the shadow of the Boston LDS temple, I was struck by the contrast between the world and our church.. I was filled with joy as I thought about the thousands of elderly couple missionaries engaged in service of the lord across the world. I thought about our beloved prophet quite recently declared the most powerful octogenarian in the world. It truly is glorious to be a part of a church that encourages the service and leadership of older individuals and does not condemn them to obscurity.

In a sense, the church’s strong focus on family and veneration for elders seems to reverse a trend in western society towards dissolution of ancestral bonds. Years ago, in an Introductory Anthropology Class, I read a book that one of my professors had written entitled “White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender and Body in North India” which spoke about Indian rituals and views towards aging and how things have changed since the westernization of the nation. Elders were formally venerated and aging integrated into the rituals of the community. A journey of discovery was a traditional part of the aging process as well. Today, instead, many are sent to old age homes or even left to wander the streets alone.

I did a bit of research about studies of religiosity and aging (Religiosity and Life Satisfaction Across the Life Course, James E. Peacock and Margaret M. Poloma, 1998) and not surprisingly found that most studies find a positive correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction.

Last night I went to an institute lesson taught by two CES missionaries. I think we are so used to having elderly couples serving missions that we fail to realize just how striking this is and how outside of the norm of ‘retirement’ in our society.

As Elder Holland put it in a talk on missionary service

“Those who can, put away your golf clubs, don’t worry about the stock market, realize that your grandchildren will still be your grandchildren when you return—and go! (Abide in Me, 2003)”

I’ve seen anti-mormon websites calling the practice of sending out senior missionaries to be exploitive, but I have felt the spirit that these elderly couples bring to their callings and therefore know that they benefit as much from it as do those they serve. They avoid becoming bitter and angry through their service. It is a beautiful and meaningful endeavor.

You Can’t Be Neutral On a Moving Train-Dawkins and the Labeling of Children

Dawkins, Humanism and the Labeling of Children

The British Humanist Association is following up its highly visible “Atheist Bus Campaign” with a new Atheist Billboard Campaignthat I think is quite fascinating.

Children Billboard

The focus of this campaign is to point out that children do not inherently belong to a specific denomination. The page I link to above has an extensive quote from Dawkins as he talks about shuddering when he hears mention of a “Jewish child” or a “Catholic Child.”

To one degree I actually find myself nodding my head in agreement. After all, our church is very emphatic in its belief that infants do not need baptism and are pure in the eyes of God. Moroni 8 is especially strong in this regard.

14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
17 And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.

Thus, we hold that the idea that Children need repentance is an abomination. All children are alike and loved by God with a perfect love. They are all saved. In this regard the saints and Dawkins are in agreement.

Yet, the goal of such a humanist campaign is not merely to criticize labels. Its agenda is broader arguing that parents should not raise their children in one particular faith or another. Latter Day Saints, with out strong focus on primary education as well as church centered activities such as scouting, would passionately disagree in this regard.

The humanist fallacy here is the notion that a child can be raised in a ‘neutral’ household and then allowed to make an unbiased choice. The logic suggests that a child exposed to religion will be biased while one in a secular environment will be very to make a truly educated decision.

Indeed, we have had wise prophetic counsel speaking out against this fallacy

It is clear that faith is something that must be cultivated from childhood. Marion G. Romney spoke beautifully about the impact of scripture reading on a family

“I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1980, 88, 90; or Ensign, May 1980, 66–67 ).

Elder Bednar recently described this process as one of small brushstrokes on a canvas.

Elder John C. Carmack of the Seventy  points out that we do not live in a world where choices are consequence free and can be made in a vacuum. Children face temptation and need proper gospel teachings to endure.

“This is not a neutral world. Good and evil bombard us and our children. Teaching our children correct principles allows them to make informed choices. But when children make choices contrary to gospel teachings, they always suffer the consequences, some of which are serious.”

This is perhaps the most important fallacy in the humanist argument. The world is not a neutral place but one where Satan stands ready to tempt us. Famed historian Howard Zinn titled a film ‘You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving train’ and I think this certainly applies to child rearing.

Satan, Moses 1 and temptation to excess

Today in Sunday school, we began study of the Old Testament by reading Moses 1. Aside from the strangeness of starting to study the Old Testament by looking at another scripture, this was a fantastic lesson focused on how we are Children of God and the focus on this universe. While reading the story of Satan’s temptation of Moses, however, I noticed something that I had not seen before.

In verses 10 and 11, the God has withdrawn from the presence of Moses after a grant and personal revelation. Moses is left weakened and fragile. In this state, Moses reflects on the nature of man and emerges with a valuable sense of humility.

“10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

11 But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.”

Moses realized that compared to God we are nothing. He has just discovered that God is an infinite being of power whose presence he can but hardly endure.

The realization that I had was how linked this utterance of Moses is to what comes next

“ 12 And it came to pass that when Moses had said these words, behold, Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me.”

As soon as Moses makes his statement of humility and realizes his insignificance in comparison to God, Satan comes to appeal to this sense and insignificance and demand worship.  To me, this reveals something pretty striking about the way Satan works. Satan is a being that loves to encourage extremes. Moses has declared that he is nothing, and so Satan comes and calls him Son of Man and demands worship. Moses has come to this profound epiphany and here comes Satan trying to pervert it to his gain.

Satan does not care very much towards what vice he is able to tempt you. You can be sure, that if by contrast Moses had been exalting his stature as a Son of God after his encounter, that Satan would have played off of these feelings encouraging Moses to embrace his own divine nature just as he does when tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden (“ye shall be as gods”; Genesis 3: 5). Satan would have encouraged Moses’s pride and his arrogance just as fully as he presses his subservience and lowliness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this in regard to how Satan manages to pervert our understanding of the atonement. Satan is a master of encouraging us to take extreme views: Either we do not need the atonement because we can do it on our own, or we cannot accept it because our sins and mistakes are too great. We must learn to find middle ground and to see ourselves as valuable without seeing ourselves as self-sufficient.

Indeed, I am quite convinced that finding this type of balance is one of the most important things we can master on the pathway to becoming like our father in heaven. Jewish thought often conceives of God as being driven by two competing attributes  Justice and Mercy. God cannot let either of these dominate to the exclusion of the other. He must extract justice and yet is also the God that Enoch sees weeping (Moses 7: 28). He has mastered the balancing act between these extremes. We too must come to avoid temptation to excess in our emotions and our attitudes.

All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies?

All that is virtuous and of good report- R Rated Movies?

As a new convert, one of the things that I’ve struggled with as I’ve gained a stronger presence of the Holy Ghost is figuring out exactly what media content is or is not spiritually conducive. Some decisions are very clear cut; for instance, a couple of months ago I went through the very cathartic process of deleting hundreds of satanic death metal songs that I used to adore. On the other hand, especially with movies, I have found some decisions very difficult. As with music, sometimes the decision is very simple; Hostel is not likely to be a spiritually enlightening experience. Yet, for many of the most powerful, poignant and well-designed films a correct path is much less clear.  There is prophetic advice to not watch R rated movies, but I have also found so many good, and meaningful films with this rating.  Ultimately, I have to say that I am conflicted and unable to figure out what is right for me.

Today I went and I saw Up In the Air which perfectly exemplifies my dilemma. On the one hand, profanity was pretty common and sexual humor and innuendo rampant. Yet, the film also had a profound and timely message about the value of human connections and family in particular. The acting and dialogue was sharp and left a profound impact. It was clearly a well-done film, but more importantly it was also a film with an ultimately positive value filled spirit.  Likewise, a few weeks back I saw the movie Precious that was also R rated and also an absolutely stunning affirmation of life. I left that movie feeling more sure of my conviction that we are all sons and daughters of our heavenly father. Up In The Air leaves me feeling confident in my conviction that is ultimately our relationships rather than our assets that make our life meaningful. I recently wrote two posts about the lessons I learned from watching Schindler’s List.  These are worthy lessons and I worry about missing out on them if I limit my viewing experiences too selectively.

I realized while watching this film that perhaps it is this spirit that is the most important facet of a film. Some films encourage a spirit of materialism, nihilism and moral relativism while others are values filled and wholesome. This spirit is related to but not directly correlated with the content. A film that revels in violence and sex will not likely have a good spirit, but one that does not will not necessarily either. Some movies can be technically proficient but negative in values. For me, a good example of this was last years No Country For Old Men. This film was critically acclaimed and technically well done. Yet, the overall philosophy was rooted in a blind chaotic nihilism that was vapid in my eyes.

The problem is knowing what kind of ‘spirit’ a film will have. The other question is whether some of the more negative imagery or dialogue one hears has a worse impact than any positive one a film can have. Does hearing profanity negate the good of a film—unlikely. What about glorification of promiscuous sex—much likely so. The problem with not setting hard and fast guidelines such as no R rated movies is that I have to make difficult decisions and may end up seeing movies that are spiritually bad for me.

Would I just be better off with a hard and fast rule against R rated films? Readers, what have you done for yourself or for your families? Your advice would be very helpful.