Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hit and chat with BART police, then run

BART Police questioned the driver and then let him go; no arrests were made. Not sure how someone doing this gets to drive away.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported,
The incident happened when the driver was heading south on 11th and was blocked by streams of marchers walking along Broadway, witnesses said. He had a green light, but could not get through. The driver “got frustrated and hit the gas,” said Nick Lucas, 25, of Berkeley. “He was getting pissed.”
The San Jose Mercury News reported,
The man who is on the ground now hit the car, and then the driver pushed on the gas,” said Ayzia Robinson of Benicia.
The car was then surrounded by a mob of demonstrators as medics arrived on the scene. The guy who got hit by the car hit the hood of the car, and then the driver hit the gas,” said a witness who gave her name as Kareena. “This is a situation where you have two people with bad decision making skills.”
Here are some photos from the Bay Area News Group:

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mormon Halloween

So who am I kidding? This blog has become a mormon blog. As such, here are some quotes from past Mormon General Conferences on a Halloween theme. From funny to scary, from serious to fairy-tale, here are a few samples:

Apparently quite serious:
Some people do not believe that there are any devils. There are thousands of evil spirits that are just as ugly as evil can make them. The wicked die, and their spirits remain not far from where their tabernacles are. When I was in England, twenty-eight years ago next June, I saw more devils than there are persons here to-day; they came upon me with an intention to destroy me; they are the spirits of wicked men who, while in the flesh, were opposed to God and his purposes. I saw them with what we call the spiritual eyes 
-Heber C Kimball 1865

This one also serious and referring to rappers in the 19th century:
Let the Rappers go ahead, then, for it is not possible for them to deceive the elect of God; and let the witch of Endor, and all other witches and wizards, with the prince and power of the air at their head, do their best, if we keep the commandments of God we shall continually soar far above their power and influence. 
-Jebediah M Grant 1854

A home-teaching joke:
I remember a question someone once asked at a stake conference. A man said, " Brother Howard, do you know why we can never get more than 83 percent home teaching in the Church? " I said, " No, why? " He said, " Because no one wants to go on Halloween and New Year's Eve. " 
-F Burton Howard 1996

Seemingly harsh and real story:
In the bishops' meeting last evening in this hall, Bishop M. O. Ashton told two stories that deeply impressed me. Each story was about a bishop and some boys. In the first one, a group of boys engaged in some Halloween pranks of a rather serious, provocative nature. The bishop secured the names of the boys and charged them to come to the sacrament meeting and publicly ask forgiveness for engaging in the pranks committed, on pain of excommunication for failure to do so. In consequence there are in that community today a number of families that grew up outside of the Church.
-Joseph F Merill 1945

Scary that this was said straight faced in general conference:
To look upon a man who is deformed or maimed for life, -- a dislocated jaw, a broken nose or an eye knocked out -- is naturally revolting. How unsightly and ugly! 
-Rulon S Wells 1929*

Scary cautionary tales:
We ourselves are the creators, in a large measure, of our troubles. Once, so the old story goes, a medical student determined to build a monster out of the cemetery and dissecting rooms. He did so, and the thing assumed life. This horrible monster killed the student's bride and strangled his best friend. Is there a lesson in this for us? 
-Charles A Callis 1935
Robert Louis Stevenson captured this constant struggle between good and evil in the classic novel about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The story tells us that in the beginning " Dr. Jekyll is a highly respected London physician, a good and kindly man, who in his youth had showed inclinations toward evil which, however, he succeeded in suppressing. Interested in drugs, the doctor now chances upon one which enables him to change his external form to that of a repulsive dwarf, the very embodiment of evil, whom he calls Mr. Hyde. A similar dose permits him to return to the form and personality of the benevolent doctor. Many times the doctor becomes Mr. Hyde, thereby giving this side of his nature more and more power. Jekyll finds it increasingly difficult to regain his virtuous entity and also finds himself occasionally becoming Hyde without the use of the drug... " 
-James E Faust 2000

And finally, a calming tale on Halloween:
I want to tell you a story. I call it " Night and Shadows. " " Once upon a time, a little girl wandered through a dense forest on her way home. It was very dark. She was frightened and began to cry. The tears rolled down her face, as she timidly crept along. Suddenly an elf appeared before her.' Are you frightened' asked the elf.' Yes, I'm scared,' answered the little girl, glad to show her fear,' Ain't you?' "' Not a bit,' answered the elf. "' Well then you don't see the ghosts and goblins running around the trees, and the funny looking eyes up there in the branches, and the bats and ugly things flying through the air, and the scary noises, can't you hear them?' " And the elf said:' I don't blame you for being scared, I'd be scared too if I saw all those ugly things. You see that when little girls have tears in their eyes, they can't see things as they really are.' "' Just let the tears dry in your eyes, and then we shall take a good look at these ghosts and goblins, and ugly things. See those terrible eyes in the branches of the trees? Why they are just the stars trying to light up your pathway so that you can find your way home; and the big moon is trying to help them. And those big things aren't ghosts, they are just the shadows of the trees. And what you thought were ugly bats and ugly things are just the leaves falling on your pathway, making the path soft for your tired feet. And the noises. Why, that's the wind blowing through the branches, and the trees are trying to sing a song to make you happy as you go along'. 
-Levi Edgar Young 1932

Happy Halloween!

* Here's the quote in context (not that it helps):
But says one: I have no faith in God and no hope in a future life. How unnatural! How such a one must have resisted every natural impulse of the heart to have fallen into such an abnormal state of mind! No faith, no hope. Spiritual deformities. To look upon a man who is deformed or maimed for life, -- a dislocated jaw, a broken nose or an eye knocked out -- is naturally revolting. How unsightly and ugly! But not half so hideous or so repulsive is he who is thus physically deformed as he who is spiritually deformed, wanting in these Christian qualities so inherent and natural to all mankind. No faith: he does not ask and hence does not receive; he does not seek and hence he does not find; he does not knock an therefore the door is not opened unto him. No hope. How unnatural! -Rulon S Wells 1929

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mormons #OccupyWallStreet. #occupy

"THE EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND has shown that the
people of communities and nations among whom wealth
is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree
of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression
and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice... One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both state and national, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin." -Brigham Young, the First Presidency of the Church, and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, July 1875 (click here for a fun compilation of quotes from this circular)

Although that quote from an apostolic circular in 1875 was talking about the vital importance of the mormons' participation in ZCMI, the statement rings just as true today. In the past few decades we've seen much of this statement occur before our very eyes. I chose this to start a series of posts on #OccupyWallStreet, with particular focus on what Mormonism has to say about the concepts and ideas behind the movement.

Maybe it's just me and my ADD, but it seems to me that the ideal format of a blogpost is short and sweet. I plan on addressing several things later on in this series:

  • What is and isn't #OccupyWallStreet all about?
  • What virtues does the left see in the movement, and what virtues does the right see? (Can both sides come together?)
  • What aspects of Mormonism back the views of the Left and the Right in this movement?
  • Could the venom between the Left and Right blind us to greater problems?

PS: As fate would have it, as I was looking for a nice picture to use for this post, I found this excellent post at the Mormon Worker, which addresses several of these items and had some awesome graphics, one of which I'm using above. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Digital Humanities and Mormon Studies

Well, researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed an algorithm to detect differences in writing style to detect different authorship, specifically in the Torah. I'm sure many of you have heard of the documentary hypothesis. In summary it is a theory that based on content and word choice, one can see four distinct "authors" or earlier sources which were compiled into the Torah. These have been sorted almost exclusively by content. This digital humanities approach will look at grammar sorted by the algorithm. From the press release:
[T]he software searches for and compares details that human scholars might have difficulty detecting, such as the frequency of the use of "function" words and synonyms. Such details have little bearing on the meaning of the text itself, but each author or source often has his own style. This could be as innocuous as an author's preference for using the word "said" versus "spoke."
To test the validity of their method, the researchers randomly mixed passages from the two Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and asked the computer to separate them. By searching for and categorizing chapters by synonym preference, and then looking at usage of common words, the computer program was able to separate the passages with 99 percent accuracy. The software was also able to distinguish between "priestly" materials -- those dealing with issues such as religious ritual -- and "non-priestly" material in the Torah, a categorization that is widely used by Bible scholars.
While the algorithm is not yet advanced enough to give the researchers a precise number of probable authors involved in the writing of the individual books of the Bible, Prof. Dershowitz says that it can help to identify transition points within the text where a source changes, potentially shedding new light on age-old debates.
I'm extremely excited to see what comes from the research. I'm also intrigued by the idea of applying such an algorithm on the Book of Mormon. It would also be quite interesting. The Book of Mormon itself claims that it was compiled by one editor from several sources. It would be interesting to see the similarities and differences, particularly to see how closely it matches the content/author changes. Is anyone in any Mormon Studies programs pursuing a digital humanities approach to Book of Mormon analysis?

Saturday, October 8, 2011


There has been a wide array of opinions within Mormon thought on the size/extent of people who will be saved/exalted. I find myself more and more on the universalist end of the spectrum. In that vein, here is a portion of a talk from President Lorenzo Snow given in General Conference, the morning of October 6th, 1893.
God has fulfilled His promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time, for every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sisters -- the sons and daughters of God -- would be gathered in, with but few exceptions -- those who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world. God will have His own way in His own time, and He will accomplish His purposes in the salvation of His sons and daughters. 
So to those of you who feel you're not doing enough, you're not good enough, or you're losing hope, I'll close with the words of William Clayton:
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
    Our God will never us forsake;
And soon well have this tale to tell-
    All is well! All is well!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chosen Generation

After my post on the "true and living church" I had a close friend mention that it would be interesting to see how the use of the phrase "chosen generation" had changed in general conference over the years. He remembered hearing it a lot growing up, but not as often now. So I started by simply looking at the number of times that phrase was used. It quickly became apparent that different people interpreted 1st Peter 2:9 in different ways. So first I went through each reference in all the talks which said "chosen generation" and tried to put them in categories. I ended up these categories:

1. Merit - This was a category for those who felt that this phrase was a special distinction for those who followed Christ's teachings sufficiently to be considered part of a "chosen generation." For example, Joseph Fielding Smith said the following in 1971:
If we will walk in paths of virtue and holiness, the Lord will pour out his blessings upon us to a degree we have never supposed possible. We shall be in very deed, as Peter expressed it, " a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."

2. Membership - Many used this phrase and scripture in 1st Peter to refer to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One example is from Russel M Nelson in 1995:
When we embrace the gospel and are baptized, we are born again and take upon ourselves the sacred name of Jesus Christ. We are adopted as his sons and daughters and are known as brothers and sisters. He is the Father of our new life. We become joint heirs to promises given by the Lord to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their posterity. Peter used uplifting terms in a prophecy regarding our day. He identified members of the Church as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."

3. Priesthood - Several used this phrase and passage to refer specifically to the priesthood. Thomas S Monson (who has only ever used this phrase when referring to priesthood) said in 1996 Priesthood session:
What a vast audience is attending this general priesthood meeting this evening. The Apostle Peter aptly described you: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."

4. Inherent - Starting particularly in 1970, and becoming a more frequently used interpretation, the phrase was used to refer to the youth of the church and the fact that they were strong spirits, reserved through the eternities to come forth in this particular day and age. Frequently this usage of the phrase abandons a direct reference to the passage in 1st Peter. Joseph Fielding Smith in 1970:
Our young people are among the most blessed and favored of our Father's children. They are the nobility of heaven, a choice and chosen generation who have a divine destiny. Their spirits have been reserved to come forth in this day when the gospel is on earth, and when the Lord needs valiant servants to carry on his great latter-day work."

Those four categories seemed sufficient for categorizing most of the uses in general conference. There were several however which could fit equally in two of the categories. One example of this is seen in the graph above, where a quote could be seen as meaning either that one must live in a way that qualifies them to be worthy of the term, while also implying that it is tied to membership, one such example is the following from Rufus K Hardy in 1939:
Let me read to you what the Apostle Peter said, because I believe we can apply it to ourselves: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. I think we are doing that as best we can, but I believe we can do better if we try just a little harder.
It should also be acknowledged that this categorization is a subjective process and others likely could have categorized things differently. However, I believe that while this is the case, the general trends shown and described here would hold true regardless.

While reading the various texts from general conference talks, I noticed that occasionally a similar phrase would be used to describe the same concept as the "chosen generation." So I started looking for other phrases referring to the same concept. They were:
Royal Generation
Finest Generation
Greatest Generation
Best Generation
Finer Generation
Strongest Generation
Capable Generation
Marked Generation

One can see how including these affects the graph:

Again, if one wants to find problems with this, it is easy to do so. I didn't include every instance of the word "generation" in this list. There are references to a "wicked generation," "rising generation" and many others. However because my focus is on the rhetoric of the "chosen generation" of youth who were reserved to come forth at this time because they were "noble spirits," I was primarily looking for general conference talks which either perpetuated that idea,  or which showed historic use of the phrase "chosen generation."

As is evident in the graphs, the phrase "chosen generation" has been used in several ways over time. The  most interesting thing to note is the sudden and dramatic rise in the use of the phrase to refer to the youth as special spirits of a superlative nature. Based on my readings of all the general conference talks with the phrase "chosen generation" it seems that this new use began in 1970 by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith.
Our young people are among the most blessed and favored of our Father's children. They are the nobility of heaven, a choice and chosen generation who have a divine destiny. Their spirits have been reserved to come forth in this day when the gospel is on earth, and when the Lord needs valiant servants to carry on his great latter-day work.
The next year Theodore M. Burton used the phrase "chosen generation" in a similar way, which implied that the youth at that time were inherently special and unique. Two years after that, David B. Haight used it in this same manner. However there were members of the quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency who were less likely to make statements without some qualifiers. Theodore M. Burton prefaced quoting from 1st Peter by saying "I feel." The year before President Smith's comment, President Hugh B Brown said the following after quoting from 1st Peter:
Whether or not all will agree that these characterizations are applicable to the Saints of this day, I am sure most will at least agree that we are a peculiar people -- not in any unkind way, but perhaps most would say we are a different people.
I find such phrasing (the acknowledgment of a variety of interpretations) very refreshing. I'm going to continue a bit of this detour to note several of the interesting uses I found for the phrase "chosen generation." In the 1940's Oscar A Kirkham used the phrase "greatest generation" in referring to the youth and (as Burton and Brown above) couched the phrase with "I feel in my heart" and "In my humble opinion." In 1947 Milton R. Hunter used the term "chosen generation" to refer to the early mormon pioneers who crossed the oceans and plains. In 1999 President Hinkley used the passage in 1st Peter to refer to all the members of the church in this last dispensation. In 2006 Paul B Pieper gave a specific interpretation of the phrase "chosen generation" to refer to the first generation of a family to join the church; that first member to join becomes the chosen generation through which past and future generations are blessed.

In any case, as can be seen from the above graphs, the frequency of this "chosen generation" = 'the current youth are royal/special' continues. This has reached epic proportions too because mormonism makes for an incredible game of telephone. Most don't bother looking up or citing sources. As a result, when I was in seminary I put a piece of paper in my scriptures which had a fake quote on it. Times and Seasons had a post which talked all about it (comment #36 is particularly applicable to this current post). People took this idea and went crazy with it. Here is a site which considers most of the quotes to be gospel truth, but noted the mistaken quote. This is the only site I've found which hunted down the origin of the quote. The false quote was popularized by Brad Wilcox (famed EFY speaker) but apparently originated with Jack Marshall (an institute director in Pasadena, CA).

As many of the comments on the Times and Seasons post noted, this is likely a harmless faith-promoting story to help encourage the youth. On the other hand, I've had individuals point out that simply giving praise to someone (especially children/teens) for their inherent abilities as opposed to abilities which they work to develop can be detrimental. Just check out this psychology study. If you look up the original paper, there were two groups of students. Each was given a simple test and all the students performed well. One group was praised for their innate ability (you're so smart), while the other was praised for their work (you worked so hard at it). The students were then given a very difficult test. None of the students performed well. A third test was administered which was moderately difficult and the group praised for their efforts vastly outperformed the group praised for their innate ability. The conclusion drawn was that when the students had the very difficult test those who had been told they were inherently smart began to question that fact and felt that they must not be smart. However, the other group (which had been told they had worked hard for the previous test) simply assumed that they must not have worked hard enough for the difficult test and exerted even more effort in studying for the 3rd.

How much can/does this apply to the topic of the "chosen generation?" I see many parallels. I see all of these comments as an effort to encourage, help, and strengthen the rising generation. I see nothing but the best of intentions with all of them. Perhaps if we can focus more on the effort the youth exert in being good and overcoming obstacles we can better empower them for future struggles. Many quotes did just this. When discussing this topic with some, one person seemed irritated that President Smith ever said the original quote after seeing the life the idea gained from it. I pointed out to him that President Smith didn't ever beat on that point repeatedly. In fact, the very next year after his original quote, he said this (emphasis added):
If we will walk in paths of virtue and holiness, the Lord will pour out his blessings upon us to a degree we have never supposed possible. We shall be in very deed, as Peter expressed it, " a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. " (1 Pet. 2:9.)
It doesn't appear at all that President Smith was confined to one interpretation of the phrase or passage.

As an interesting afterthought, it is fun to see who used the phrase "chosen generation" in a consistant manner. To do this, I first only selected those who used the phrase multiple times within multiple conference talks. Then based on each use of the phrase within each talk I placed each onto a spectrum:

You'll notice I place President Smith outside of the chart. He was the first I could find to indicate that our youth are an inherently chosen generation, yet he also used it as a status we merit through our choices, as well as referring to the general membership. He truly spanned the spectrum in how he used the phrase. President Hinkley really loved expressing his love for the youth and how much respect he had for them. As a result many of his statements reflected the "inherently chosen" variety. In fact, most living people on the chart are noticeably on the far right in the "inherently chosen" or a mixture of that and 'chosen = membership.' The notable exception is President Monson. It appears that he's only ever mentioned this phrase in the context of quoting 1st Peter and always in Priesthood session. Below is the number of talks in which each person used the phrase "chosen generation":

Unfortunately I don't do well at getting things organized so this post is jumps around quite a bit, but rather than delay it another 3 months awaiting time to work on it, I'm just posting it. So what are your thoughts? How did you understand the use of "chosen generation" before? What trends did you notice? Did I get anything wrong? Why do you think this idea of an inherently chosen generation took off so quickly?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Am I my brother's keeper?

If the link isn't working: click here.

As much as I hate Ron Paul's delusional Randian pipe-dream, the cries from the audience are what really delivered a severe blow to my faith in humanity. Have we so lost touch with our interconnected nature as humans? Regardless of the view you want to take, isn't it generally accepted that helping each other out is vital to our collective survival?

From an evolutionary biologist's perspective, our drive to empathize with others and work for the good of the community is what has allowed us as a species to have such vast success.

From a biblical perspective, the injunction to care for others is much more explicit. Certainly one of the messages received in the story of Cain and Abel is that we should be our "brother's keeper." The Hebrew word which the King James Version translates as "keeper" is שָׁמַר (shamar), which is most frequently used in the Old Testament when discussing the importance/need/command to "keep" the commandments/covenants. That in Genesis, God would have us care for each other and use the same word as with being a "commandment keeper" is fitting given that Jesus later pointed out that there is no greater commandment.

Often the assumption is made (thanks to years of tradition) that Sodom and Gomorra were so evil that they deserved to be destroyed because they were gay. However, if one bothers reading more of the old testament than simply the Torah, we read the prophet Ezekiel's explanation (which Elder Burton calls their "even greater evil"). They were prideful and they refused to share their abundant food with the poor. Elder Maxwell once used this same reference in Ezekiel to describe Sodom's lack of care for the poor when he said:
There are too many scriptures condemning members in all dispensations for ignoring the poor to require repetition here. I do turn to an example that summarizes some of the errors of the culture in Sodom. [Ezekial 16:49] Add to this observation the powerful verse 20 in the 49th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and we see that there is a clear connection between economic disparity and sin.
If one trusts the pseudoepigraphic "Book of Jasher" (which many early mormon leaders did) you can read more graphic accounts of the people of Sodom and Gomorra abusing immigrants for their money (or labor) and allowing people to die in the streets.

This is (as Elder Maxwell pointed out) a significant theme throughout the Old Testament. Prophets calling the political leadership to repentance for "grinding the face" of the poor.

Now I'm sure that some feel justified in condemning this hypothetical 30-year-old to death because of his own foolish decisions. Perhaps some can live with such rationalization, but mormons have virtually no wiggle room on this point:
And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
[Mosiah 4:16-19]
I understand that many have the view that Ron Paul voiced, namely that churches should be the ones to care for the poor. I have some issues with this approach as I see it being incredibly ineffective, incoherent, and insufficient at dealing with the systemic problems in our society. (FWIW I see the government approach to the problem to be moderately ineffective, incoherent, and insufficient at dealing with the systemic problems in our society; I feel that regardless of the macro-level approach individuals need to each seek out those in need) But at least a view such as Ron Paul's does not extinguish the imperative to care for those in need. At least such a view doesn't scream "YEAH! Let him die!"

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rebuilding our 'soul' as a people

President Thomas S. Monson wrote a piece in the Washington Post as part of a series in which religious leaders were asked:
What have we learned about religion in the past 10 years? 
What was the spiritual impact of 9/11?
I loved his response. He indicated that the tragedy caused most to "rediscover God" and there was a renewed sense of spirituality. He noted how this has waned in the years since.

I loved this passage:
Our Father’s commitment to us, His children, is unwavering. Indeed He softens the winters of our lives, but He also brightens our summers. Whether it is the best of times or the worst, He is with us. He has promised us that this will never change.

But we are less faithful than He is. By nature we are vain, frail, and foolish. We sometimes neglect God. Sometimes we fail to keep the commandments that He gives us to make us happy. Sometimes we fail to commune with Him in prayer. Sometimes we forget to succor the poor and the downtrodden who are also His children. And our forgetfulness is very much to our detriment.
I love his usual Monsonesque poetic phrasing. The most important commandments given of course are to love God and love our neighbor, which he notes "will make us happy." I also love that he specifically highlighted the newest "purpose of the church" which is caring for the poor and needy. I can't express how grateful I am that my church is putting greater focus on pure religion.

The other passage which really resonated with me was this passage:
The way to be with God in every season is to strive to be near Him every week and each day. We truly “need Him every hour,” not just in hours of devastation. We must speak to Him, listen to Him, and serve Him. If we wish to serve Him, we should serve our fellow men. We will mourn the lives we lose, but we should also fix the lives that can be mended and heal the hearts that may yet be healed.
The concept of expressing gratitude to the divine, seeking a greater sense of awareness of how to help those around you, following those promptings, learning to seek out those who are in need, and helping others is what it's all about. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mormon: Who owns the word?

The LDS news room just released the following:

"We have also seen some confusion over use of the term “Mormon.” The fact is, when people hear the word “Mormon,” they think of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mormon pioneers, and Mormon missionaries—all associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To identify polygamist groups or individuals like Jeffs as “Mormon” confuses people and leaves the impression that there is a connection between these small groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We hope this distinction will always be made clear."

This brings up a paradox, at least in my mind.

If we want to say that the FLDS and the dozens and dozens of other Mormon splinter groups can't be called "Mormon" because of doctrinal differences (even though they use the Book of Mormon) or because we're the largest Mormon church (as was implied in the release), does that mean that we're ok with not being allowed to be called Christians because of our doctrinal differences and being smaller than the "Christian" churches?

"To identify polygamist groups or individuals like Jeffs as “Mormon” confuses people and leaves the impression that there is a connection between these small groups and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

There is a connection. It's a shared history and an extremely large percentage of shared doctrines.

I am all for journalists noting that these "fundamentalist mormons" are a separate and unique groups distinct from the more commonly known Mormon church (Brighamite mormons, or SLC mormons), but discouraging using the word 'Mormon' to describe any other church which believes in and uses the Book of Mormon seems ironic when we want to be called Christians by those who would exclude us for our doctrinal differences.

Am I wrong?

UPDATE: Some in response to the blog are saying that this is different because everyone perceives "Mormon" to refer to just one church while it's generally accepted that Christian refers to many different churches. Here's how I'd respond:

We should absolutely distinguish the various "sects" of Mormonism, but I don't think we get to say that they can't be called Mormon. In a different country (say India or China) people might equate "Christian" with "Catholic." Does that mean that the Catholic church should discourage media in those countries from calling any other Christian church "Christian?"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Immigration and Mormons

A few months ago, Bishop Burton of the LDS church spoke out in favor of Utah's Immigration bill which set up a guest worker program (or the dirty word "amnesty"). Many conservatives took issue with Burton's presence. Arturo Morales-LLan, head of Legal Immigrants for Immigration Law Enforcement said “David Burton has a right to be present or to be involved in any affairs concerning the faith, but he does not speak for the First Presidency.” He added that he won’t believe that the church supports these reform efforts until he sees an official statement from the LDS First Presidency itself. (see here)

Well, today the church released an official statement on immigration (see here) which included passages such as these:
The history of mass expulsion or mistreatment of individuals or families is cause for concern especially where race, culture, or religion are involved. This should give pause to any policy that contemplates targeting any one group, particularly if that group comes mostly from one heritage.

this issue is one that must ultimately be resolved by the federal government

The Church supports an approach where undocumented immigrants are allowed to square themselves with the law and continue to work without this necessarily leading to citizenship.

In summary: the church acknowledged and denounced the racial component to the immigration debate, the church noted that immigration is not some 10th amendment item (aka states rights) but is a federal issue, and the church came out in support of amnesty (ie. no deportation). It sounds like the church supports allowing illegals to join a guest worker program or to be on a path to Legal Permanent Resident status, and are open to the idea of a path to citizenship (just not necessarily to citizenship).

I'd love to hear from mormons who feel this is at odds with your beliefs. I'd like to hear your thoughts and how you're dealing with this.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Freestyle Rowing - New Olympic Sport?

Just imagine it. I want to see couples rowing, where each couple is in their own canoe.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Russian Profanity Part 1

I had a few people tell me how much they love the story of the missionary trying to say "Job" and inadvertently dropping the F-Bomb in a discussion. It reminded me of a certain lesson I taught for the language lesson in district meetings at the end of my mission. It was a lesson on profanity. I knew so many missionaries who had accidentally profaned on several occasions that it seemed a lesson dedicated to it would be useful. It pretty much amounted to me telling these stories.

A young missionary was trying to teach about prophets. He said: "God speaks to prophets and He says: 'Blah blah blah blah blah' and then the prophets say that to the people." He said this all in Russian except the "blah's." Everyone's eyes got really large. Turns out that blah sounds almost identical to profanity that is analogous to using the F-word as an interjection.

Another missionary friend was trying to say that we baptize people in water. In Russian water is 'voda' but to say 'in water' you say 'vo vodye.' The end of the word changes depending on the case and preposition. The missionary in attempting to say this added the incorrect ending and said 'vodu' or 'v adu' which means "in hell." Yes, he said 'we baptize people in hell.' (I guess as Mormons it's not too far off)

Often in Russian before people leave to go somewhere they say "we went." This once led to inadvertent profanity. In Russian there's no real syntax. Every word is "declined" much like verbs are conjugated. As a result, syntax is largely unnecessary. This means that you can speak like Yoda all the time and it's totally normal. If someone is leaving you might say "you went" to them. In russian that's ты пошел. If you decide to mix it up, it's still technically correct, but turns out that in russian that means F@$% you. Google translate actually does this translation correctly. Once when I gave this story in the profanity lesson one of the female missionaries got this shocked and offended look and said "That's what that guy said!" Apparently she'd been wondering why the guy slamming the door in her face told her that she'd left.

In Ukraine I picked up one of the Harry Potter books to read in Russian. In Russian he's known as "Garry Potter." This is because Harry is a bad word. It's an adjective form of a swear word for the male anatomy. It was always funny hearing new missionaries screw this one up.

Once after some people showed us some of their favorite cartoons growing up, we mentioned some of our favorite cartoons from our childhood. One missionary mentioned the names of the lovable cartoon ducks Huey Duey and Louie. Saying those names with a Russian accent is a bad idea. I don't believe Louie means anything. Duey sounds like saying "blow," (specifically saying 'blow' in command form). Huey is profanity meaning part of the male anatomy, but it's offensiveness is on par with our F-bomb.

This isn't even half of such stories, more to come later...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bill Maher on Christians

Bill Maher recently had a rant on his show about Christians. While I take exception to a couple things he said, I think his main point is on the mark. I'd urge all Christians to listen to what he said, take it to heart, and consider how we're individually doing. Be warned for some strong language (I !$%#-ify the language, but I thought I'd give the warning anyway) :
....And finally, new rule: If you're a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why can't every Sunday be like this?

I'm guilty of complaining about how church meetings go. Obviously I feel justified (at least at the time) for doing so. It's a little depressing when during 3 hours of church I only hear Jesus mentioned once in a hymn before the sacrament (in mormon lingo sacrament = "the Lord's Supper," Communion, or the eucharist). Granted that is more rare, but frequently we talk about concepts and fail to show how it's related to Christ and/or his mortal ministry. Today was great. Christ and his message of loving and serving on another permeated the meetings.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Junior and Senior companions (But mostly Senior)

I heard this song recently and it brought back several memories from my mission.  I thought I'd share the song and some funny mission stories.

You and Me (But Mostly Me)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poop: A Russian Fairy Tale

We're working on potty training our 3-year-old. She has informed us that unlike people, animals and princesses don't poop. We thought the classic Everyone Poops could help. This reminded me of one of my favorite Russian Fairy tales. Pooping plays a very critical part in the plot. So today I'd like to share it with you. So take an intriguing gaze into the Russian psyche and enjoy the random craziness of a favorite:

King Bear

Monday, May 16, 2011

Charity: Atheists can go to heaven?

I recently was talking to someone about the 12-step recovery program. They mentioned that the Mormon church now offers a 12-step program specifically designed for its members. I'm glad for that. The 12-step program has adapted over time to try and accomodate people from a variety of backgrounds. While I'm glad it's so inclusive, sometimes it's better to get help within a setting which is better catered or customized to you. I mentioned that I had a good friend, Thom, who is an atheist who was seeking a good recovery program. The 12-step program doesn't work for an atheist given that the core idea is relying on God/gods/higher-power to aid you in your recovery. He has found a group (SMART) which offers such aid. It's a recovery program built on science-based, proven methods and is open to everyone (believers and non-believers). The person I was talking to about this then immediately proceeded to tell a stupid joke about atheists. It really annoyed me and reminded me of a lesson I recently taught in church about Charity and I thought I'd toss out some thoughts and insights I had while preparing for it. While the lesson was primarily drawing from the teachings of Christ, I hope that in sharing I can find areas which everyone from Mormons to Buddhists, Muslims to Evangelicals, Jews to Secular Humanists can find as common ground.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Who gives more?

Last week I had a progressive friend bring up Arthur Brooks book Who Really Cares to show that conservatives actually give more than liberals. This work had a lot of coverage with people from the left and right sides of the aisle simply accepting Brooks implications that conservatives give more than liberals and that it's because of the inherent difference in ideologies. I wanted to see the details of his stats because I wasn't buying it at face value. A little digging brought up this important information:

Conservatives don't give more than Liberals

...well, at least that's not how it should be described. It's actually a divide between religious people and non-religious. Currently the right is comprised of more religious people than the left, so for that reason alone conservatives give more than liberals. Brooks came clean about this in a long article with Heritage Foundation.  Brooks himself said:
Is that because of politics? The answer is no. I have found no evidence that conservatives are inherently more generous than liberals.
He probably should have told his publicist this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Epic quest for political tolerance in the Mormon Church

This post is going to be epic. As far as blogs go, it will be epic in length at least. 

I've been barraged by political posts and comments the past week and I was reminded of the importance of political understanding and tolerance especially within the church. A friend posted a talk from President Brown in which he said:
"Strive to develop a maturity of mind and emotion and a depth of spirit which enables you to differ with others on matters of politics without calling into question the integrity of those with whom you differ. Allow within the bounds of your definition of religious orthodoxy variation of political belief. Do not have the temerity to dogmatize on issues where the Lord has seen fit to be silent.”
This all reminded me of an email correspondence I had with a friend. The healthcare issue was hot at the time and he was very much against "Obamacare." After he was in a long debate with someone over it on a church outing, I tried to mediate in part by noting that in some ways the interface of my religious/political beliefs were articulated by President John Taylor. His stance was basically that all governments fall short and are sub-par compared to the Kingdom of God and we just need to make due. I sent him these links (here and here) to show him what I was talking about. What follows is the correspondence that developed as I sought to develop more political tolerance within a mormon theological framework:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Richard Bushman

Tonight my wife and I were able to listen to Richard Bushman speak about Joseph and Emma. It was a good fireside and so I thought I'd share. I edited out a couple questions because you couldn't hear the person asking the question at all. Bushman repeated the question for the first one I cut, so you don't miss it; the second however was more of a 3-minute speech that most people couldn't hear and that Bushman didn't even bother trying to repeat or address. Enjoy:

Bushman-fireside-5-6-11 by user1465434

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Missionary Discussions

Last week was pretty crazy. In 3 days we had a funeral, graduation, wedding, birthday, and Easter. The funeral was for my grandfather. It was in many ways a happy event. His health had been so poor for so long that death was a sweet relief.

While reflecting on my grandfather's life, I was looking at some books he had given me a few years ago. Inside I found a treasure trove of little notes and booklets.

From fam history

That's a letter he received while on his mission. He served in the "Western States Mission." I like the $0.03 stamp, and the fact that in the town of Fruita a name is sufficient to send someone a letter.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Family History Analysis

So for the last 6 weeks I've been in a family history class for Sunday School at church. For the most part we learned how to find ancestors and what documentation to look for. This is what most people need to learn about in order to do geneology. As I was born in northern Utah to 5th or 6th generation mormons I will never need to find new people. No really. I'm serious. Let me put it this way, I have to go back 7 generations to reach a point where someone is missing, and even then it's 8 people missing out of 128 people. Not to mention that frankly I don't believe that I'm actually related to anyone in my family history once it goes back beyond the 1600's. Most of my ancestors have had LDS temple work done for them at least a few dozen times, so I guess I get to clean up that clerical mess.

In the meantime, I decided to look at my more immediate ancestry to see what kind of information I could get from it. Because I'm a nerd I like to play with numbers, and here are the results:

Plot of lifespan by year of birth:
From fam history