Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Parable of the Truck Driver (or Stage Coach)

There's a parable I've heard in multiple forms and just heard again today. It goes like this - you want to hire a truck driver to deliver goods for your company. Some versions of the story involve a Stage Coach, but the premise is the same - you hire some sort of vehicle that delivers some sort of precious goods. The path between your place and the destination involves perilous roads with cliffs on one side, where you can easily fall off the edge.

As you interview the drivers of the vehicle, the first one comes to you and says they can drive as fast as they can, getting as close to the edge, "so close that I can get half my tire off the edge and still make it through the road." The second driver says they will go as fast as they can, but stay in the middle of the road the entire way. The third says they'll stay as far away from the edge as they can and go as slow as possible. Then the question is asked, "which driver would you choose?"

The expected answer is always the last one, because the supposedly the safest approach is always the one furthest from taking a person into darkness. Then, it is compared to one's faith, or standards (or maybe even overcoming an addiction) in some way, teaching people to stay as far away from sin as possible, just like the last truck driver. I understand why people tell the story - it makes sense, only to an extent.

I want to suggest the parable is wrong though. I would choose the first driver.

The first driver, because he can "tow the line", has likely been through the experiences needed to get one through tight situations, and when they come, he can get you out of harms way. The part of the story that is not mentioned is that roads aren't always straight and wide. They are windy, get very narrow at some points, and are quite dangerous at others.

I love the History Channel show "Deadliest Roads." In this show, very experienced truckers deliver goods from one place to another, taking the challenge of getting those goods across some of the most dangerous roads in the world. The roads are wide, and easy to drive on many spots, and when the drivers drive those roads, they stay as far away from the edge as possible, just like that third driver.

However, most of these roads have very harrowing, thinning roads, some with slippery surfaces on them where the truck could slide over the side of the road down the cliffs at any moment. These experienced truckers know their trucks though, and they had the experience to get through those roads, some times with their tires half-way off the road. When delivering my goods, these are the truckers I want to hire to get my stuff to its destination safely!

In life, our roads are the same. They're not always straight and wide where we can stay as far away from the edge as possible. Those smart, experienced people will, but we still need to strengthen our foundations, and prepare ourselves for when those roads become thin, and slippery. We can do this through scripture study, learning our Church History, studying our Family Histories, and building standards for ourselves that we can vow never to change. While the roads are wide and secure, this is the time to learn, study , and be prepared.

Then, when we hit those thin and slippery spots, we'll have the preparedness and experience necessary to make it through those trying times. Those that are prepared. "The Experts", are the ones that will make it across those "slippery situations" and continue along the road unscathed. Should we always "tow the line"? Of course not - we should stay as far away as possible. But, we need to still be prepared when "as far as possible" is only a few inches away from us.

It's this latter story I wish we would teach more in our meetings and amongst our friends and family. This is the best way to raise a family. Otherwise, we're just training amateurs who won't know what to do when they approach the edge of a cliff.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

You Don't Have to be Mormon (or Christian) to Experience Pure Joy

Perhaps I'm breaking the cardinal rule of "what happens in Relief Society, stays in Relief Society" (Relief Society is the service organization for women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but I'm going to share anyway.

My wife shared with me the story of an experience she had at a recent "women's night out" through our local LDS congregation. At the event, a woman who had recently left the LDS Church and become Atheist had come to partake of the fellowship of her neighbors and friends as well. In some of the conversation of the night, one woman there asked her, "so, why did you leave the Church?" Reluctantly, but perhaps also grateful they were genuinely interested, she answered that she had decided she didn't believe in God any more, and had become Atheist.

I'm not sure if the resulting conversation happened with her, or outside of her presence, but it shocked me a bit to hear my wife talk about what they said (to my wife's credit, she was defending this lady). She said some of the ladies there couldn't believe that this nice lady could really experience "true joy" and still be Atheist. They didn't believe she was genuine, and some even insinuated she might be lying to herself about the joy she was experiencing. This mentality needs to stop!

I don't believe pure joy is limited to Mormons. In fact, I don't believe it's limited to just Christians, or Muslims, or Bhuddists or any one religion. I've been around enough non-Mormons and even ex-Mormons and non-Christians to know that there is joy everywhere, and some even experience more than I have in this lifetime. If this were not the case, did Ghandi not experience joy in bringing peaceful freedom to his people? Are my fellow Mormons prideful enough to suggest they have experienced more joy than Mother Teresa? The fact is, it is not the prideful, but the meek that shall inherit the earth, and every Mormon and Christian out there knows this.

I'm reminded of the Christian story of The Good Samaritan (which Mormons believe as well). In it, a man was beat and left to die on the side of the road. He was passed by a Priest and a Levite, neither wanting to touch a man that was as defiled as possibly dead. Yet, the Samaritan, of a group quite hated by the Jews, was the one who stopped and brought back to heal back to good health. It was regarding this man that Jesus Christ said to "go and do likewise."

Christ Himself said, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." It is not by believing in God that one serves and receives joy. It is by serving and receiving joy that one comes to know God. The "God part" is not required to receive joy!

I'm troubled that there are many of my fellow Mormons and Christians out there that believe joy cannot exist without a belief in God, or an active participation in His Church. Joy exists in service. It exists in loving one another, and being willing to lay down our lives for our friends, no matter who they are and what their faith (or lack of) is! I have no doubt that this innocent lady, who actively participates and serves in her community regardless of who her fellow man is or believes, experiences more joy than perhaps many of those that were judging her after-the-fact.

May we all follow in her example.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mormons Should be Proud of Their History

As you can tell, history is on the top of my mind lately. Orson Pratt and Heber C. Kimball (2 of the original 12 apostles under Joseph Smith), and one of Joseph Smith's wives are great-great-great-great grandparents of mine so for me it's personal. For me Church History is also Family History, and I feel I have an obligation to learn as much as I can. The funny thing is, the more I learn, the more I realize we still don't know a lot!

I posted this in a conversation earlier today. It was in response to a great article by McKay Coppins on Buzz Feed. Some were disagreeing that accurate LDS Church history needs to be taught more in Church, but instead should focus on the Savior and the Priesthood, as my previous article yesterday stated. The thing is, the two aren't mutually exclusive! Here was my response, and I wanted to record it for posterity:

"I've been thinking a lot about this today, and, to respond to some of those saying this (history) shouldn't be taught (in Sunday School), I think really we should stop being afraid of our history. Our history is filled with the message of the savior. It is filled with messages of the atonement, the imperfections of the saints, and how the Savior still played a central role in it all. Our history teaches that keys to the Priesthood are critical in who leads this Church. We have a beautiful history filled with the Savior and keys to the Priesthood that this Church holds, and even topics like polygamy (which we still believe in, after death BTW) teach us that.

I think the mistake we keep falling into is we think our history has taken out the Savior and a focus on the keys that our Church holds, when in reality it's our present that has done so. I think we should embrace our history, teach it from the housetops, and in turn, they'll learn what we, as Saints, truly believe. I'm really worried that because many have lost our history, we've also lost who we really are."

You name one problem in the Church's history, and I can tell you how the role of the Savior, and the keys of the Priesthood play a role in it. God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preaches this, as the same Church that existed in primitive times. Why can't we be the same church that existed in Joseph Smith's times? The thing is we are - the scriptures haven't changed - many of our members have just forgotten about it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The History of the Church Doesn't Matter. Conversion Does.

From the early days of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, history has always been a plague. Could a flood really encapsulate the entire earth? Did God really create Eve out of the rib of Adam? Moses saw himself as imperfect. Tom doubted. Peter denied his Savior 3 times. And Judas completely betrayed his Savior he once believed, served with his heart and soul and saw in the flesh. Of course, we all know what happened with Jonah and the whale!

The fact is there are a million different interpretations to all of these. That's the beauty of religion - beautiful scripture that teaches service, compassion, love, and ways to become better people, and despite any history that accompanies it we believe because of the beautiful experiences it brings into our lives by following. The truth is, scripture is a personal experience, one for us to learn on our own, by what I believe to be the Spirit of God, how to become a better person and grow a better life.

That's why I don't get the focus on history, especially in terms of my own faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By all means, share the history - all of it. In fact, that's what the Church is doing in droves on The fact is, as people learn history, even if it shakes their testimony, they are put through a process that leads to conversion.

The fundamentals of a true testimony should focus on the experiences I mention. It should focus on how the Spirit of God has led us through our lives, and the undeniable experiences that confirm why we believe in God. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is one more fundamental that testimony needs to come to - not that Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Thomas S. Monson were perfect people and always said the right things (even in the Bible, I can't name a prophet that always said the right things), or that the Church has always had a perfect culture. Instead, our testimony must be founded on that where we believe that this is the only Church that has the keys to exercise God's Priesthood, or if that can belong to any Church at all.

While that may be hard, it is one of only 2 very simple things we all must come to. Once one comes to that conclusion, nothing else matters. I don't care if Joseph Smith fooled everyone (I don't believe that's the case). I don't care if The Book of Mormon has inaccuracies, or even has influences from other books (I also don't believe that's the case - too much evidence otherwise, but does it matter?). In the end, I know, because of the experiences I've had personally, that despite the flaws of man, this is the Church God bestowed His keys and where His Priesthood resides. It's really that simple!

So if you "discover" history - I don't care who you are or what your position in the Church - good for you! You're now going down the path that even Peter, and Thomas, Moses, Jonah, and I'd argue even Judas went through to learn of what they truly believe. Hopefully you've already had these experiences and can turn to them to know of these 2 factors that matter most. If not, this is the beginning of a journey, if you're willing to open your heart, to discover what really matters most. Focus on that, and nothing else - all else is just a waste of time.

In the end, it's about 2 things - Does the Church have the keys to administer God's Priesthood on earth today (and is that necessary?), and what Spiritual experiences have led you towards that understanding and belief in God in the first place?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Marriage Debate - Mormons Have Been Here Before [BOOK REVIEW]

This is not your typical book review. In fact, it's probably not your usual way to frame the gay-marriage debate. Instead, I wanted to use my recent study of the book, "More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910", to help you understand a little more on why Mormons are so defensive of marriage. The fact is we've been here before. Our ancestors have been here before. And our Government has taken away Mormons' rights before surrounding our belief in eternal families and marriage. While I am certainly not defending polygamy with this review (I think it was perhaps necessary for a time, but not currently), this book, more than any I've read does a deep-dive into that, why the Mormons practiced it, and the gradual intrusion by the US Government in taking away their religious rights to practice such.

Mormons stopped the practice of Polygamy over a hundred years ago. What isn't always told however is that Mormons were forced by the US Government to discontinue the practice. The Church's assets were seized. The Church's incorporation was discontinued. Many men and leaders were arrested in the process. My own ancestors were tarred and feathered, and driven out of their lands because they stood by their religious beliefs in a genuine conviction towards the good of humanity through these beliefs. This book covers the history and evolution of the process that led to that, the foundations of polygamy in a rooted belief in eternal marriage and families, and the learning process in understanding the revelations that were received. More than anything though, I feel this book is a story of what could happen if religion were to be taken from the public square.

I see over and over the debate that marriage doesn't belong in the public square. Many want to take it out of government altogether. Understanding its history however I think puts a little more context into why those that want to defend its place in the public square, as a religious institution, are so convicted in keeping it as such. The fact is, and this book confirms such, marriage has always been in the public square. It has been very slowly removing its place as such though.

What I learned from the book is that it was when government started taking away the religious liberties of religions like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what people said would never happen, happened. Members of the Church were forced to stop practicing what they believed in, and before we knew it the very rights enabling free exercise of religion by the 1st amendment of the US constitution were being prohibited by the very government that was supposed to be protecting that right.

I hear over and over that if the US government allows gay marriage, religions will not be threatened or forced to practice such. I'm sorry, but history just doesn't show that's true. Our government has forced its ways on religion before, and it will continue to do so. My ancestors were tarred and feathered as a result of my own government's blatant violation of our 1st amendment rights. I have no doubt that will happen again, and my own religion's belief in eternal marriage and families is being threatened as a result.

I love my LGBT brothers and sisters. I sympathize with the way they want to live their lives, whether you call them trials or not (I only say that because I know even amongst many of my LGBT friends, many call them trials - I have no ill intentions in the way this was framed). I want equal rights for them. However, my right to practice my religion and believe in marriage between a man and a woman for eternity applies to me as well as it does them to believe otherwise. I am not willing to risk that right for what our government has already shown it cannot be trusted to protect. We can seek other options to protect rights for LGBTs, but let's leave the definition of marriage (as it has been since practically the beginning of time in Judeo-Christian beliefs), and its place in the public square alone!

The book, "More Wives Than One", while it doesn't address any of today's modern marriage issues, to me shows that the gay marriage debate truly is a legal issue as a result of history. It's one about survival of my right and freedom of religion, based on previous experience. Until all can come to terms with that, we cannot come to equal ground. While I don't believe or agree with polygamy at the moment, and while I do want equal rights for all, I will always protect the rights of any religion to believe as they may, so long as others aren't harmed in the process. The 1st amendment of the US constitution shows that religion, and government can, and should co-exist. It's the first of all the amendments for a reason.

If you really want to come to an understanding of why Mormons are so passionate about this, I think you'll find this book fascinating. Go get it at Amazon.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Spirit Leads the Mormon Church

Many critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like to reiterate over and over the faults of the Church. The imperfections of its leaders, the bureaucracy of Church Headquarters, and I won't (as a non-critic) be the first to suggest that, as a former employee of the Church it had its share of red tape. This comes with any large organization led and employed by imperfect people. To the critics I can't help but ask, "is this really anything new?"

That said, hindsight is 20-20. I absolutely without a doubt, cannot deny the Spirit I felt as I walked into Church Headquarters my first day, and that lead me as I performed my day-to-day duties. It's something you really have to experience firsthand by working there to understand. And any that suggest it's not there either haven't experienced it, have forgot, are going in with the wrong heart, or are denying what they felt. It's a presence of light and knowledge I just can't explain. I was reminded this again today as I talked to another person recently employed by the Church that noticed the same thing. There are countless others that have experienced what I did while working there.

It was this Spirit that guided my everyday actions while there. It's clear that something supernatural is leading the Church, and that light penetrates and guides the imperfections of every single person that works there. To me, it was clear this was the Lord's Church, and He was the one in control of the end result of our actions. Were our actions always perfect? No. But the Spirit continued to guide, and it was that Spirit that grew my testimony and belief in the Church in ways it had never done before.

If you are ever in Utah, stop by, take a visit to Temple Square. Get a tour from the Missionaries there. Take a visit to the lobby of the Church Office Building (the big building in the middle), and get a tour from the missionaries there. Pay attention to the feelings you have. Come with a prayer in your heart, and notice the light and knowledge you feel as you are there.

It truly is a different feeling you can't explain - I don't know how to explain it. I just know it's there, and I know the entire Church is led by it, from the ground up. I hope all members, and non-members of the Church can be comforted by that - after my 3 years working at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my testimony is stronger than ever that the Church is led by God, and I feel stronger than ever that it is everyone's responsibility to learn that for themselves, and then support that once they do. I say that as "an insider", and will never deny it.

I just hope you can experience this too.