Temples and testimony

Temples and testimony

I spent Easter Sunday in Jerusalem and thus I have many spiritual insights to draw upon. One of the highlights of my trip was getting to visit and pray in front of the western wall/Kotel.

Jews believe that this wall as the last remnant of the temple hold in perpetuity the presence or Shenkinah of the Lord. Once the temple is fully restored when the messiah comes the lord’s presence will be restored to its fullness and glory as sacrifices and temple work will resume.

The feeling of spiritual connection that I felt while visiting the Western Wall today was quite similar to that I experience as I stand and pray outside the temple. I felt a sharp sense of presence and a powerful spirit. Certainly, this was a sanctified place and the presence of the lord shone brightly.

Yet, this experience made me more fully appreciate the amazing blessing of restoration we have been given. For almost a year, the outside of the temple was all that I could get. I traveled to the temple for comfort and solace as I traveled the long and difficult road towards my eventual baptism. I still tend to go to the temple grounds for prayer and comfort. Thus, the temple mount is truly a blessing to the Jewish people and the people of Israel altogether. Being able to stand outside of the house of the lord is an unspeakable blessing!

Yet, I am also so thankful that we are able to go in to the temple and perform sacred ordinances. We are truly priests of the most high god and therefore capable of going into his house. I am thrilled to be able to perform work in the temple and not merely stand outside it as a passive observer. Because Jesus Christ is the high priest, I have access in a way that I never otherwise would have.

Paralleling this incredible experience, I found out that a really good friend of mine has left the church precisely in large part because of her experience as a temple worker. This has been a real shock to me because she is someone that was a spiritual mentor to me at times when I studied abroad in London. I have a sense of guilt because I got her involved in some of the apologetic discussions that I had with some friends I met in London and wonder whether that contributed to her disenchantment.

This experience really scared me because my friend had gone through the temple for her endowment years ago and had not been disenchanted by the ceremony as some are. Instead, it was her work as a temple worker that led her to view the temple as a exclusive social club and a pyramid scheme ( In her own words). She would not go into detail because she still views the covenants she made as sacred which I was pretty happy to see. I am worried that I will go through the temple, serve a mission, disenchant and upset all of my family only to return and find some secret that makes me lose my faith. Do any of my readers have any advice either for talking to my friend or any clue what could be so disillusioning about the process.

( I know of some minor alleged complaints such as the recycling of baptismal names or the usage of the same name for everyone going through the endowment on a given day but these things do not for me seem to be enough to shatter someone’s faith.)


Stories in General Conference and in their context

I spent the day in Jerusalem today. I will have a lot of spiritual reflections about my experience but I am now watching the sunday morning general conference session and during Elder Uchtdorf’s talk I came upon the story of the two brothers sharing the harvest and desiring to give the other a little bit more. This struck out at me because I heard this very story in a very different context today.

I took a free tour in the old city today and at the end of the tour after we’d explored all four areas of the city and seen the complex ethnic and religious tensions told us the very same story as a story of hope. This story is told as one of the origin stories for the temple mount. The two brothers meet halfway on their fields and drop their grain in an enormous pile thus leading to the formation of a mount. The story is meant to illustrate that the temple was formed on the basis of brotherly love and sharing rather than hatred or vitriol.

I found it so interesting and jarring to listen to the same story in very different contexts. Of course, in different contexts different details are emphasized. This leads me to reflect on the nature of the First Vision among others things Different stories are told in different ways to deliver different moral messages.

Live Blog General Conference Saturday PM Session

I am actually currently in Israel and so was not around to watch the AM session of conference. I am currently watching the PM session live and so I thought that I might try to live blog. I doubt that anyone will be reading this blog but this also will help me concentrate on the talks I am listening to. I will be blogging with the times here in Israel just because I don’t feel like converting all of it into Mountain Time. Please feel free to offer any comments thoughts or feedback. I’d love to get to know more of you blogosphere readers.

11:15 Pm- Elder Uchtdorf is calling for the sustaining votes of the general authorities. Even though I know this is pro forma I still feel the spirit powerfully as I raise my hand to sustain our Prophet and Apostles.

11:20 Pm- I am loving the variety of names being called. It really shows that the church is quite diverse and multinational today!

11:24 Pm-It seems rather pointless to read a report merely stating that auditing practices are up to date. I wish they could give us a bit more information.

11:25 Nearly 14 Million members! 280,106 members baptized! That’s pretty incredible.


Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

11:28–That photograph was kind of cute.

As a convert I always feel rather ambiguous when I hear about ‘goodly parents.’ Neither of my parents were members of the church and yet I was given a strong moral education. Certainly, there are things that are very different. I was encouraged to engage in pre-martial sex and given alcohol from a young age, for instance, but overall I think that the values that were instilled within me are quite similar to those of the church. I always feel on the defensive when this phrase is used because it seems to imply that my parents are less ‘goodly’ because they are not members.

11:32 pm :This reminds me that my mother used to bring books with her in the car and stop to read to me at red lights. She cultivated in me a love of reading that has continued till this day. I contrast this with my nephew that I have been spending much of the past week with. He has no interest in books whatsoever. I never got the feeling that reading was especially encouraged in his household which is quite disappointing. I am so glad that my parents taught me to focus on learning and a desire for knowledge.

11:35- “The most important kind of learning happens at home.” Reminds me of a post that I wrote a . few months ago

11:36 pm- Elder Perry is talking about how it’s vital that we teach children so that they can understand the importance of baptism. I just had a discussion today with my father and his girlfriend today about how the age of eight was too young to truly understand the important of baptism. They argued that children at that age merely want to follow along with their parents. Does teaching the gospel in the home encourage introspection or blind obedience?

11:39- Elder Perry is Reading from the proclamation of the family. I think we focus too much on the parts that deal with sexuality and do not spend enough time on the beautiful words for parents. It’s nice to have Elder Perry read from it.

11:40- I am sure that the bloggers at FMH are going to have a field day with the comments about femininity. What about households where the mother has to primarily work?

11:40- Interesting wording about deep roots needed to overcome the storms of the modern world. I really like the metaphor

Elder Christoferson

11:42: I love the use of the story of Tyndale. As a history major these kinds of stories always excite me. I also like that Tyndale is a protestant hero and that we feel confident enough as a church to quote reformers so lovingly from the pulpit.

11:45 I always love when lists include Mormon and Joseph Smith along with the prophets in the old testament. I sometimes place the LDS scriptures in a separate mental category and its nice to be reminded that all of them were prophets and spiritual leaders.

11:46: This is a very protestantesque talk thus far….

11:47: Scriptures “penetrate the heart”. I love that visual image. I have a scripture application on my iphone and love to use that, but I’ve actually noticed a difference when I actually hold the word of God in my hand and read. There’s something powerful about the physical presence of the scriptures.

11:49: Korihor is certainly a timely figure given the philosophies of today. I love the use of scriptures as a bastion of truth and a way to rebut falsehood. How do we deal with parts of the bible that are questionable in their morality though? If morality is absolute then how is it possible that God could order the binding of isaac or the slaughter of enemy people? Does that not force us to question the moral authority of the text?

11:51: An attack on a social justice view of God. It seems to me that there’s room for both in the LDS tradition. God guides us, but human agency and action is also central to our church. I recently read this post on Faith Promoting Rumor which was thought provoking. “Mormon Times: Social Justice in the Book of Mormon”

11:55: This is a much more LDS view of scripture as a tool to guide us towards our own personal revelation. I am much more comfortable with talking about scripture in this way as a tool to guide us towards Gods will for us.

11:56: This seems a bit radical…EVERY word uttered in conference is scripture? Wow!

11:57 “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet”

12:01 am: I didn’t catch the name of the current speaker or his position.

12:02 am: More talk about the humanitarian work. There really seems to have been a big focus on this thus far.

12:03 am: As a convert I love hearing stories about the conversion of others.

12:04 am: There really is something powerful about missionaries. It’s hard to imagine 19 year olds being so successful without the power of the lord.

12:05 am: This is a pretty powerful story. It encourages me to be more open to promptings of the spirit to write and speak to others. As a home teacher I have several inactive teachees that I need to work to connect with if I can.

12:06 am: I love that this speaker talks about how he experienced a second and more powerful conversion well after he had already been baptized. We can always receive that confirmation and reconfirmation of the Holy Ghost.

12:10 am: I fail at catching names. I see people reading this…If you can give me the names of the past two speakers that would be appreciated…

Edit– Elder Bruce Carlson of the Seventy

12:11 am: That was a pretty cute story to get to the idea that there ‘are no shortcuts’ in our path towards salvation.

12:13 am: Oh boy this talk is going to be blog fodder for a while it seems. There are three reasons we do not keep commandments including a lack of faith, lack of understanding why the commandment is important. and belief that the commandment is too difficult.

12:14 am: An elaborate old testament story…You don’t hear these all too often. I like it quite a bit. I love the focus on how a small change in the spiritual practices of a nation leads to devastation.

12:15 am: This story of Naman on the other hand is one I’ve heard in several sacrament talks. It is a very useful story about how pride blocks us from spiritual growth and the lords promises.

12:17 am: This speaker is really good at using stories to illustrate examples…I think he’s gone through six or seven different stories already.

12:18 am: “When the lord commands…Do It.” Joseph Smith…Anyone know where this quote might come from…? I’m not sure i’ve heard it before.

12:19 am: Elder Bednar of the Quroum of the Twelve. I tend to really like his talks and speaking style. I hope he gets a better topic than last time!

12:21 am: When I was a child I had an experience with prophetic warning that saved the live of my parents and myself. I can really relate to the power of the lord.

12:22 am: Another talk about education of children? As a young single adult it’s hard for me to get too much from these talks right now.

12:23 am: Three early warning signs. 1) Readng and discussing the scriptures. The scriptures are useful because of the plain truths they offer us.

12:25 am: What would an infant responding to the Book of Mormon look like?

12:25 am: I wish that my nephew or niece had more of a spiritual background in their childhood. They do not seem to have any concept of God in their lives.

12:26 am: 2) Bear testimony spontaneously. Spontenaity really does seem to be important. I’ve noticed that when spiritual things come up naturally that its much more meaningful than when god is forced into a conversation.

12:29 am: I like that he encourages parents to be willing to listen as well as to share. That’s pretty vital

12:30 am 3) Inviting children to act.
“A child is never to young to participate in gospel learning.” I like that…I was worried this talk would focus only on what parents must do rather than what they must encourage. I’m glad he went on this direction.

12:32 am: Best FHE are not the results of preprogramed packets of information. Now, this I like!

12:33 am: Being anxiously engaged in asking seeking and knocking! Yes please!

12:36 am : Yay Elder Holland! He is my favorite apostle. Is it bad to have favorites? Probably…

12:37 am: Did they really give him the pornography talk? I guess we can see what he can make of it.

12:38 am: We are assaulted by negative content all around. That’s pretty true. I’ve been thinking about how much garbage we take in on a day to day basis.

12:39 am:Adversary is extending his coverage to cell phones and video games. I don’t really like that figure of speech because it implies that those making such products are agents of the devil

12:40 am: Talking about lust is more like it. Most deadly of seven sins.

12:41 am: True love must include permanence but lust is temporary. I like that except that lust can also endure for quite a while.

12:42 am : I like that Elder Holland talks about how love is about giving while lust is about taking.

12:43 am : Faith in those we love is second to faith in God! That’s beautiful!

12:44 am: Pull of temptation can be deadly. This is quite true.

12:46 am: Picture those who love you and would be disappointed if you let them down! That’s a pretty powerful tool to stop us from sinning.

12:48 am: Every time we transgress we hurt the savior. Wow that thought really strikes me as powerful and rather painful

12:49 am: I am glad he is now talking about the atonement and salvation.

12:50 am: You can feel the tender love in his voice. I really don’t think anyone could give a better talk on this topic than the one we just heard!

Thanks to everyone that read this blog! I will be spending Easter Sunday in Jerusalem so will not be live blogging but look forward to hearing the sessions of conference tomorrow.

Moses and the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young

Moses and the lives of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young

I recently bought Moses: A Life; By  Jonathan Kirsch on an impulse purchase at a local used book store. I found some of the books assumptions to be quite frustrating although it was a very interesting read. The book presented theories by biblical scholarship that seemed hung on the flimsiest sort of evidence possible. For instance, the absence of a mention of Moses in the Song of Miriam is taken as evidence that perhaps Miriam and Aaron were true life ancient figures and that Moses was invented. If this is what biblical scholarship rests upon, then it is clear that we are dealing with little more than supposition and hypothesis. It is hard to take this kind of theorizing seriously. The book is also filled to the brim with the authors own grating sermonizing. It’s a shame, because the book is also a well-researched compilation of secular and religious secondary sources on the life of Moses and otherwise quite interesting.

Yet, one thing struck out to me as especially interesting. Almost every criticism that scholars have leveled against Moses reminded me almost directly of criticism leveled at Joseph Smith or Brigham Young,

“Moses is shown to act in timid and even cowardly ways, throw temper tantrums, dabble in magic, carry out purges and inquisitions and conduct wars of extermination, and talk back to God” (Moses: A Life p.2).”

For instance, one of the most striking things that scholars have surmised about the life of Moses ( Once they get through denying his existence) is that he likely was trained in the magic of the Midianites before his theophonic encounter with God. Moses continues to use magical objects such as his staff or the healing snake made out of bronze even as he takes on the mantle of liberator and prophet. It struck me how similar this was to the use of seer stones by Joseph Smith and the continued criticism of this ‘pagan’ element. It seems obvious that God uses our background and our strengths to lead us to him. Moses understood and accessed the power of God through the lens of the tradition that he knew best.

Likewise, I began to think about Brigham Young’s leadership style as I read chapters relating to Moses and his leadership in the desert. Like Brigham, Moses is accused of being a ruthless and cruel dictator. Likewise, Moses is accused of unjustly ordering the Massacure of innocent women and children. Moses is absolutely fierce in putting down rivals to power and claims the authority of God to punish dissent. Kirsch views these acts as barbaric and terrifying. Yet,  as Latter Day Saints I think that the similarities between Prophets of God is what is perhaps most striking. Moses and Brigham both dealt with constant apostasy and with leading a rebellious people through the wilderness. They both were instrumental in the survival of a people. In that sense, Brigham Young truly earns his mantle as the American Moses.