RE: Spiritual Watering Holes Part 1. Rational Faiths.

I was listening to a Rational Faiths podcast about spiritual watering holes, and one guest said she relates the last two lines of a poem by Emily Dickinson (full quote at end):

narcotics cannot still the tooth
that nibbles at the soul –

REF

Once something is learned, it cannot be unlearned. Like grooves on a record, information is permanent. More information can be added to correct, to clarify, or to add information, but the original information will always be there. In the Faith Crisis Era, it seems like certain bits of Mormon history that get grooved into our records have a lot of sway over all the previous grooves. Whatever the issue, those experiencing a faith crisis feel that nibbling in their soul by the tooth of new information.

When reaching out to their TBM friends, the only help given in to “read scriptures, pray, fast, attend the temple.” As it is often the case, those experiencing a faith crisis are already doing those to an extent. This information is not new. However, Emily Dickinson exposes the reason WHY those activities have lost their efficacy: narcotics can’t silence the itch of the soul.

“Religion is the opium of the masses [or people, depending on your German]” said Karl Marx. Could it be that the daily to-do list is our daily dose of opium? But if so, how could a faith crisis make us immune to the effects of our daily opium intake? Does the new information learned during a faith crisis make one immune to it or do we inhibit our ability to feel the effects because of one’s loss of faith?

Whatever the reason, I feel that nibbling, and/but the opium isn’t cutting it anymore.

This World Is Not Conclusion

by Emily Dickinson

this world is not conclusion
a species stands beyond –
invisible, as music –
but positive as sound –

it beckons, and it baffles
philosophy – don’t know –
and through a riddle, at the last –
sagacity must go –

to guess it, puzzles scholars –
to gain it, men have borne
contempt of generations
and crucifixion, shown –

faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
blushes, if any see –
plucks at a twig of evidence –
and asks a vane, the way –

much gesture, from the pulpit –
strong hallelujahs roll –
narcotics cannot still the tooth
that nibbles at the soul –

REF

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“One True Church” is not proprietary

Why do Mormon’s lean so heavily on the phrases “One True Church” or “THE True Church” or “The Church is TRUE”? Whether or not you believe this statement to be true, there are a few points to consider:

⊗ This appeal to authority is automatically diminishing of all other organizations. If I were to walk in a room of strangers and say, “I am the most beautiful person in this room. Who would like to compare their beauty with mine?” I’m sure I wouldn’t get too many takers.

⊗ The Book of Mormon clearly states that God is managing more than one group at once.

3 Nephi 16:1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister. (REF)

God is running several civilizations at once, so before Mormons go Sid Meier on the rest of the world, Mormons ought to be careful in considering themselves the only ones.

⊗ Adam Miller, the brightest mind in Mormon Thinkdom, knows this concept is silly:

The gospel is not a proprietary system. It’s open sourced and many of the ideas and practices that are most decisive in living a joyful life are shared broadly across the world’s traditions and cultures. (REF)

So let’s drop the vernacular of a one, true church, and let’s start living like we deserve to be called disciples of Christ.

Thoughts sparked while reading Times & Seasons.

Sifting: Reason and Revelation

Revelation: It’s so vague it’s hard to say if I’ve experienced it. I can’t think of a single instance in receiving “a still, small voice” in reply to a question. I can think of a couple of journal entries during my mission where I had abnormal experiences. I’d argue then it was revelation, but now I’m not so sure. That’s what makes this topic difficult for me. Was my dabbling in receiving spiritual information an illusion created by the need to bridge my spiritual dissonance, or did I really experience what I said I experienced?

A friend of mine sent me a BYU-H devotional featuring Kerry Muhlestein, Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture, that had some interesting points:

We must sift our learning through the gospel rather than sift the gospel through our learning…Those who deride revelation do so because they have not had experience with it, and thus, it makes no sense to them. As Paul taught, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). However, we cannot let the world’s views on the validity of our revelatory experiences cause us to abandon that most reliable way of learning and knowing. As Paul goes on to say, “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1 Corinthians 2:15).

Sometimes I feel like because I have embraced my ‘natural man’ I have lost my ability to discern spiritual things, and now it has become foolishness to me. I feel like I am being cautioned against the very feeling I am having.

The devotional goes on to point out the validity of the source of where we put our trust: man or God:

Work hard to discern between man’s ideas and God’s. Trust in what you learn through revelation. If something you learn from the world seems to contradict what you have learned through revelation, carefully question all your assumptions, but never forget the validity of what God has taught you through revelation. Remember that “unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto the world it is not given to know them” (D&C 42:65).

This is fantastic, but I don’t feel like I am privy to revelation. Whether it’s my natural man or my naturally skeptic POV, it just doesn’t come. So as powerful as this statement is, what is its worth if it is out of my reach? Upon what source of truth do I depend? Others who receive it for me? If you’ve ever sat through a testimony meeting (nice YouTube parody), I trust someone else’s revelations as much as I trust a used car salesman.

But the invitation is still appealing. It’s a call for reason and revelation.

Go out and do everything you can to learn about them using every kind of ability you have, but when you do so, remember the limitations of your own mind and the limitations of the academic process, and contrast that with the trustworthy and unvarying nature of that God who speaks to you through the Holy Ghost. Because He does not vary, you can always trust what He tells you.

I like the content, but the phrasing, “limitations of your own mind” jumps out at me. I again refer to a typical testimony meeting. “Trustworthy” and “Unvarying” are not present when listening to a few Mormon whacks tell about how the received revelation to do something like call a friend who was depressed or how they felt the Holy Ghost so much during nursery. If I can’t trust everyone else’s interpretation of the Holy Ghost, how am I to trust mine? If I learn to trust mine, how can I minimize the promptings of others. It’l a lose-lose. UNLESS I acknowledge the all the crazies and their wacky revelations. I am too skeptical to accept that.

It boils down to “trust in your feelings as long as they correlate with what we’ve said is OK.”

How do you get revelation?

Revelations: Foundational vs Directional

I’d like to share a letter I asked a good friend of mine. I’ll share the response in the comments later. How would you respond to my email?

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You describe Joseph Smith’s revelations as foundational and subsequent revelations a directional. Here’s my question:

How did the 20th century prophets ask and not get an answer about blacks/priesthood? David McKay asked and didn’t get any revelation to correct the situation. Yet, Joseph Smith asked questions all the time and got answers even to seemingly unimportant questions like in section D&C 40, which are pretty much pointless but nevertheless God offered a timely response. Why can’t modern prophets get that kind of turnaround with God?

Even the method seems so different.

David McKay’s biography says, “In 1954 President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared for change.” (ref)

The committee method is much different than Joseph Smith’s direct method asking himself and getting a response.

I’ve heard a comparison to the Children of Israel having the lower law due to their unpreparedness/rejection of the higher law. However, this was neither a law nor a supported doctrine. It was not implemented by God and then removed by Him like the law of consecration and polygamy.

Even if the priesthood ban was secretly implemented by God through a secret revelation to BY, there would still be problems with the “unprepared” argument. My internal counter argument is that the saints weren’t prepared for either Law of Consecration or polygamy but those got thrust on the saints regardless. So the “lower law” line of thinking is not consistent historically.

The point is this: when I hear foundational vs directional revelation arguments, I find it directional revelation more likely to be social pressure vs revelation. Polygamy was not socially convenient, so it seems more like a revelation. Disavowing it seemed socially convenient. Instituting a ban on blacks/priesthood was socially convenient due to the political climate in Utah. It was the only territory that allowed black slaves (ref). Disavowing previous positions regarding blacks/priesthood seems socially convenient in post civil rights America.

But my own counter argument is that sometimes the Lord lets his people do what is socially convenient, like having a king instead of judges like in 1 Samuel 8. If so, the selective nature of God’s blessings comes back into play.

In other words, I am enamored by the thought of prophetic leadership but am clouded in my understanding of modern prophetic leadership examples. I get that God has a history of being exclusive, and there are plenty of biblical examples, especially Christ’s limited ministry to the Jew and then lifting of the preaching ban to include all Gentiles. But none of that came from parallel social pressure from what I can tell. Maybe I’m wrong.

So as I prepare for this talk about prophets, and I consider the role of modern prophets, I am just trying to come to grips with a concept that I have struggled with for some time. I suppose you may not have the magic answer, but it’s something that I just don’t get.

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Lamp Oil & Consciousness: a response to “Growing Consciousness: Drops Of Oil” by The Exponent

The Exponent author, Jenny, penned a fantastic interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins relating to consciousness and Christianity in the post, “Growing Consciousness: Drops Of Oil.” Common Mormon interpretation (as per the General Conference talk referenced above) is that the Bridegroom is the Second Coming of Christ and that the Oil is a person’s testimony. Jenny’s take on the parable are based on Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now“…

He compared the oil in the lamps to consciousness and the bridegroom feast to enlightenment. I love that idea of the oil being consciousness, rather than testimony. The problem with the Mormon idea of testimony is that we want to make it into an unshakable certainty that we have the exact truth, yet we are so afraid of losing our testimonies in a moment of carelessness. This doesn’t feel like God’s way of giving light that grows “brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” Consciousness on the other hand is continual progress. It is the process of waking up, of receiving line upon line, of seeing beyond your own experience and understanding. Consciousness means that you are beginning to see things from the perspective of “the other.”

The Bridegroom is really our daily interactions with other individuals. Our Oil comes from how our interactions bring us closer to or alienate that consciousness.

Modern Mormon mentality would suggest the parable had a different tune:

1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their clamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

3 They that were foolish had more than one ear piercing, tattoos, and their shoulders were naked:

4 But the wise wore long shorts, high necklines, and never spoke of sex.

5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; we are better than you, and you are not like us. Go away, for we are a peculiar people.

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that lived the Young Women Values went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

If God’s purpose really is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (ref),” then I don’t believe He’s eager to shut the door on His children. Our consciousness is a direct reflection of the second great commandment to love one another. By focusing less on absolutes (Defending Mormonism as the one, true church), on opportunistic missionary work (Let’s be friends so I can convert you), and on intra-member shaming (Tattoos, piercings, and bears; oh, my!) we open ourselves to endless opportunities to practice Christian values beyond the limited score of correlated Mormonism.

Response to “Where’d Everybody Go?” by Pure Mormonism

Rock Waterman, author of the blog Pure Mormonism, is a name to be had for good and bad in the greater Mormon community. (His positions have been summarized nicely by John Dehlin here.) I can’t say I agree with Rock on everything, but he does make some points that are sound and resonate with me. Rock nailed a few points that require response in his latest article “Where’d Everybody Go?”:

I hear from members who are being threatened with discipline all the time, whether it’s a young mother admitting to giving her own child a blessing in her own home; or someone asking a simple question such as, “if the current President of the Church is said to be a prophet, seer, and revelator the same as Joseph Smith, why doesn’t he ever present revelations to the church the way Joseph Smith did?” (ref.)

To avoid repetition from my previous comments on prophecyless-prophets, let me focus on this point from Rock: the Mormon Church has set its heavy hand of top-down authority on its members, and through recent excommunication/discipline events (here, here, and here), it has established that variation from correlation is a bulls-eye for shaming and punishment. I believe this is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith had in mind, in Volume 5 of the History of the Church, when he said:

I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine. (ref)

How can Mormons in good conscious sit by and let their brothers and sisters get punished for that which Joseph Smith himself declared to be something which should not be done? Another reminder from Joseph Smith, this time from the Doctrine & Covenants:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the natureand disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (ref)

Enough with this. Priesthood leaders have overstepped their boundaries. And the D&C is very clear what happens when Priesthood leader cross the line:

…but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (ref.; emphasis added)

YSA Wards – Single Segregation Syndrome

As I read The Great Divide on The Exponent, many memories of young single adult (YSA) wards came to mind. I found the YSA wards to be a social melting pot ripe with opportunities to attend fun events, to make sporting connections, and, of course, to meet girls to date. These were all great benefits of the ward, but at what cost did they come? Jess R. rattles off many costs. I’d argue there’s one more that’s the Big One.

I’m no behavioral psychologist, but I understand certain aspects of human behavior. For example, it’s not hard to imagine what happens when you put a group of teenagers in a room with no supervision. On the flip side, it’s equally as easy to predict what happens if you mix in one adult for five teenagers, then one adult for every teenager, then five adults for every teenager. Behavior changes with the pH balance of maturity and youth.

Peter Pan Syndrome is a term usually tagged to Mormon young men who “refuse to grow up.” In Mormon lingo, growing up means getting married. [[Begin tangent: this association of marriage and maturity is evidenced not only the rejection and labeling of young men as Peter Pan but also in young women who, like in Jess R.’s situation, get asked awkward and inappropriate questions. This pressure to marry, mission, or get initiated in the temple seem to thrust young adults into a narrative they may not want but then feel obligated to fulfill because of their covenants with God, familial pressure, and spousal expectations. This pressure begins when parents force their children to get baptized at the age of video games and barbies instead of waiting for the person to develop and decide for themselves if that is the right step. Initiating vulnerable children and young adults on pressures them into living a life they may not want to live. End tangent]]

I would argue the Church is responsible for Peter Pan Syndrome, or, to be fair to the ladies, Single Segregation Syndrome. By segregating the YSA, we buy them a one-way ticket to Never Never Land to live among the Lost Boys. Then we blame them when they don’t want to return to real life. YSA need spiritual guides in life, adults to help shape and challenge their view, and instruction that you don’t find at YSA ward.

I call for an end to the YSA wards as we know them, and the the implementations of integrating the youth back in with the adults. Sure, keep YSA activities, Sunday evening firesides, weekly activities, but get them out of Never Never Land and back on Earth.