I may choose to ignore anonymous comments. I consider this type of anonymity dishonest. Also, I don't post regularly. I post when I have something worth writing and something worth reading. I explain all this in: Don't Let Telling Tales Trip Up Your Truthfulness.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Boring Mormon 2010

Today's post is inspired by the Wall Street Journal article "Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation" and the work of The Boring Institute.

What would a conference for Mormon boredom offer? Perhaps the following:

Boring Mormon 2010

Keynote Address: Boredom Begins in Sunday School: How not preparing, not using any visual or teaching aids provided by the Church, writing too small on the chalkboard, not speaking loud enough, not seeking The Spirit when you teach, not caring how you present your material and not using the scriptures can bore your students to death.

Other Presentations:

General Authority Fashion: A Restrospective

Relief Society Table Decorations -- A Pictorial Essay

Jello Art

The Spiritual Potential of Urban Legends and Hoaxes

Male Baldness Patterns in High Priests

Scriptural and Political Distortions in the Works of W. Cleon Skousen [Note: We anticipate this to be an annual offering of multiple sessions of different presentations every year.]

Overexposed Clip Art in Primary

The Effect of Pagination on Gospel Learning

Pot Luck Preparation and Administration

Common Ways to Violate Copyright Laws and Expose the Church to Legal Liabilities

Lowering Your Spiritual I.Q. with Theological Twinkies

Evolution of Thomas S. Monsonesque Religious Blank Verse

Theoretical Foundations of Glenn Beck's Thought

Sponsored Workshops

How to allow your mind to wander in Church, while appearing to remain attentive.

How to impose the limitations of a paper-based information systems on the Church's new digital tools so that the digital tools fail.

How to fill up your home with religious kitsch so that it appears to everyone that you are a strong Church member, when you really aren't.

How to make your children feel that keeping the Sabbath is really just a form of sensory, intellectual and physical deprivation akin to torture.

The Most Boring Mormons of the Year:

1. The teacher who spent less than one hour preparing a lesson.

2. The person who prepared a Sacrament meeting talk the night before or the morning of.

3. The person who simply utters one mind-numbing cliché after another.  Examples: "I'm so grateful to be with you." "I'm so grateful to be here." "I've had some real trials and tribulations." "I love each and every one of you."

4. The local unit leader who never reads or follows the Handbook.

5. The person who doesn't bother to do any responsibilities associated with their calling, but constantly emphasizes their title to everyone.

6. The person who thinks problem solving means holding a meeting.

7. The Relief Society leader who spends 30 minutes or more conducting opening exercises, thus limiting the actual teacher to less than half the time she should have to present her lesson.

8. The local church leader who says the same thing at least three times in three different ways, very slowly without actually saying anything at all.

9. The person who spends enormous amounts of time personally collecting, and forcing others to collect, useless information and statistics that never leads to anything other than information collection.

10.  The person who thinks they are teaching when all they are doing is asking obvious, fact-based, or rhetorical questions. Example: Who built an ark? Why is it important to live the gospel?

Perhaps today's post can result in some substantive New Year's Resolutions you set for yourself.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sex, Research and BYU

BYU researchers released a study on Tuesday entitled "Compatibility or restraint? The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships" [doi:10.1037/a0021690] that concludes, amongst other things, that delaying sex until marriage makes for better relationships.
Mormon-funded sex research has about as much merit as the Pope's pick for best abortion provider.
The quote above is hardly surprising, but people should not make a habit of rejecting research just because they don't personally agree with it. Since the study is being published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology more than just BYU's affiliation with the Church is at issue here.

To deny the study out of hand just because BYU researchers conducted it is just as short-sighted as accepting it because they didn't.

The Journal of Family Psychology is a peer-reviewed journal from a respectable organization. This means that after the study was conducted several outside scholarly professionals examined it to see if the research quality met high enough standards to be published and presented to other professionals. Others, with professional credentials, have vetted it. The Journal and the APA are now on the hook so to speak.

In other words, more than just Mormons are involved here.

Others are reporting on it as well.

There is plenty of coverage in the Utah press:

Research is research. It can be examined and reviewed. You don't have to take anyone's word for anything if you have the skills to examine the research yourself. If you don't then, well, you are dependent on others' opinions of it.

Intellectually slavery can be just as limiting as physical slavery.

The glory of God is intelligence . . .

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Patriarchal Blessings: Mormon Fortune Telling

Fortune telling is a misnomer. I use it in the title simply because it is the only concept outside of Mormondom that comes close to describing patriarchal blessings. Personal revelation is a better descriptor but I don't think that will mean much to non-Mormons.

In a blog posting Mark Paredes explains patriarchal blessings to a Jewish audience. See "This Week’s Torah Portion: Patriarchs, Blessings, Tribes—and Mormons." It made me realize that those outside Mormondom may be uninformed so I'll explain it a little further.
Patriarchal blessings are given to worthy members of the Church by ordained patriarchs. Patriarchal blessings include a declaration of a person's lineage in the house of Israel and contain personal counsel from the Lord. As a person studies his or her patriarchal blessing and follows the counsel it contains, it will provide guidance, comfort, and protection. See Patriarchal Blessings.
Ordained Patriarchs are generally elderly men with long histories of church service. Being a patriarch is a church job or calling as it is normally referred to.

The blessing has two purposes. The first is to declare a person's lineage. The second is to give personal counsel.

This is direct revelation to a person about his or her life. The patriarch is merely the conduit the Lord uses to convey this information. The patriarch verbalizes what he is inspired to say to the individual. The blessings' content is transcribed and given to the person. Also, a copy is retained by the Church for its records.

A person's lineage is the tribe of Jacob the person belongs to either by bloodline or adoption. Paredes' blog makes clear that the tribe of "Ephraim" is responsible for the spiritual gathering of Israel. Paredes is from Ephraim as am I. Ephraim and Manasseh were Joseph's sons. Obviously, Paredes' Jewish readers would be interested in this aspect of patriarchal blessings.

Most people I know are of Ephraim. However, I have known of people from other tribes such as Manasseh, Benjamin, Dan and Levi. I'm only mentioning instances where I know for certain where someone is in one of these unusual tribes.There is a lot of hearsay and folk tales circulating.

Because each of us has many bloodlines running in us, two members of the same family may be declared as being of different tribes in Israel.
It does not matter if a person's lineage in the house of Israel is through bloodlines or by adoption. Church members are counted as a descendant of Abraham and an heir to all the promises and blessings contained in the Abrahamic covenant. See Patriarchal Blessings.
Personal counsel in a blessing takes on many forms. Sometimes a person is told specific things about their future spouse or children for example. Sometimes the information is very general. Sometimes a person is told to guard against certain behavior like selfishness. Sometimes a person is told very specific things about his or her future life. Again, sometimes it is very general.

In mine, I'm told about specific talents that I have. I think this is relatively common overall.

The blessing is intended to be a guide for us. Everything in a patriarchal blessing is conditional on personal worthiness. If you become wicked, you may not get some of the things you have been promised. 

Example 1:
Elder LeGrand Richards told the following story to illustrate this point.
“I was visiting a patriarch a while ago. He told about a blessing he gave to a woman who came to him from one of the missions. Among other things he told her that her progenitors had made a great contribution to the bringing forth of the gospel in these latter days. And after the blessing was given she said, ‘I’m afraid you made a mistake this time. I am a convert to the Church; I am the first one of my family to join the Church.’
“‘Well,’ the patriarch said, ‘I don’t know anything about it. All I know is that I felt prompted to say that to you.’ And when he told me the story, she had just been in the genealogical library and had found that some of her relatives—her grandparents or her great-grandparents—had made great sacrifices in the early days of the Church. … She found that she was descended from some of the early pioneers. The patriarch did not know of it himself. He had spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost” (“Patriarchal Blessings,” p. 6).
I hurried to my parents’ house and saw that my dad could hardly breathe; he had a tingling in his arm and a horrible pain in his chest. It was a heart attack! I urged my brother to take my father to the emergency room. . . . My father was dying on his way to the hospital, and I implored our Father in Heaven not to let him die that Christmas. In desperation I implored the Lord for forgiveness, and a voice whispered in my ear, “Read your patriarchal blessing!” How could I think about my patriarchal blessing at a time like this? But the prompting continued, strongly urging me to read the blessing.
I stood up, found a copy of my patriarchal blessing, and began to read it. And then something amazing happened. I realized that several times the blessing mentioned that I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Father and of my earthly parents and that if I honor my parents on earth, He will prolong their lives, they will have the opportunity to see my children grow, and they will rejoice with me in our posterity. 
As I read, an understanding came to me. My father hadn’t yet seen my unborn child, neither had he seen this child grow. He wouldn’t die at that moment, I realized. My blessing was my answer that day.
Example 3:

My patriarch gave a fine blessing, but I just did not feel that the experience was as great as everyone made it out to be. I admit that in a way I was even disappointed. I had expected so much, and it seemed that I did not receive what I had wanted. I questioned my own worthiness. Could it be my fault that I was not feeling anything spectacular?
After days of pondering, I knew I was at fault. I realized I needed to do some preparation in my own life to receive the personal witness that my patriarchal blessing was from God. 
For the next few weeks, I fasted, prayed, and sought forgiveness of any sins I had. I was changing slowly. I could not tell a great difference, but by the time my patriarchal blessing came to me in the mail, I was ready. 
I waited until Sunday evening to read it when all was quiet. Even as I opened the envelope, I could sense a different feeling come over me. I began to read. I had not read more than a few lines when amazing statements appeared. I could not believe this was my blessing! It seemed my whole blessing was full of material I had never heard before, and the things which I did remember began to have new meanings. A full-time mission, celestial marriage, eternal life—I now saw these expressions, that I had thought were trite, as the great promises they were. I had missed so much when I first received my patriarchal blessing. My “nice prayer” had turned into a personal revelation from God to me. 

Since the Church retains copies of blessings, you can get a copy of your own blessing as well as those you are directly descended from.

See Gospel Study: Study by Topic: Patriarchal Blessings for complete information and links to other quality resources on patriarchal blessings.

Note: Fortune telling falls under the "occult":

Church members should not engage in any form of Satan worship or affiliate in any way with the occult. “Such activities are among the works of darkness spoken of in the scriptures. They are designed to destroy one’s faith in Christ, and will jeopardize the salvation of those who knowingly promote this wickedness. These things should not be pursued as games, be topics in Church meetings, or be delved into in private, personal conversations” (First Presidency letter, Sept. 18, 1991).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Power Used Properly: Deuce Lutui

An extensive Mormon Times article tells the intriguing story of Deuce Lutui. Lutui is Tongan and joined the Church while here in the States.

His story is fascinating on many levels. I'm going to focus on only one. In "Deuce Lutui is a warrior for his team, family and faith" in Mormon Times it states how Lutui used his status as an NFL football player to attract attention to the Church and the Mesa pageant in particular.

A few months before his second year in the league in 2007, Lutui approached organizers of the annual Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant and offered his acting skills. He had attended the pageant as a boy and had always dreamed of playing the role of a Roman soldier. It turned out they needed one more soldier. Pageant director Nanci Wudel made Lutui promise he would use his celebrity status to help promote the pageant.
It was a deal, Lutui agreed.
"I thought it was a good opportunity to do some missionary work," he said.
When word leaked that the massive NFL lineman was on the cast, the news media swarmed to report the story. Lutui only granted interviews, however, if reporters went with him on a guided tour of the Mesa Temple visitors' center. The interview typically concluded with Lutui's testimony of the gospel. He invited his coaches and teammates to attend the pageant and offered to visit with young men from local wards and stakes after each rehearsal.

We hear a lot about how power can be abused and very little about how it can be used properly. This is an example of using it properly.

Instead of using his popularity to enrich himself or his status in some way, or even feed his ego, Lutui used his to assist the Church, build good public relations and increase understanding of the gospel. He could do this because he is a public figure.

As a professor, I realized that I had leverage with my students that even their parents didn't have. If parents told their kids they were smart, the kids blew them off. If I told the kids they were smart, they believed me.

For this reason I looked for opportunities to bestow praise. If I said it rather than just thought it to myself, it could have a positive impact. I was careful to make sure the praise was warranted though.

People I knew who applied for university jobs asked if they could list me as a reference. I generally said, "yes" because I knew the university probably wouldn't contact me but the people felt more confident having someone with the title "Ph.D." or "professor" endorsing them.

Naturally, the opposite of this is all true. I could do a lot of damage with my position and title. Deuce Lutui could do the Church a lot of damage with his.

Think of your own life. What power do you have? How can you use it properly? How can you use it righteously?

It is worth thinking about, and rethinking about.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Eli H. Peirce/Pierce: Not Your Typical Missionary

On December 15, 2010 Jerry Earl Johnston, a Deseret News/Mormon Times columnist wrote the article, "An unlikely missionary's experiences" chronicling a passage out of a missionary report in Eliza R. Snow's biography of her brother Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church

Johnston says:
I was thumbing through Eliza R. Snow's biography of her brother Lorenzo for a quote about Brigham City when I hit upon a 15-page missionary report filed in 1875 in Brigham City by Eli H. Pierce.
His report seems to come out of nowhere in the book. In fact, the only reason I can see for including it was because Eliza Snow was a big fan of interesting people and clever writing. It's as if she didn't want the thing to get lost in the dustbin of history.
Johnston related Pierce's own description of his activities when the call came to him. His description of smoking, drinking, billiards and otherwise living a life of dissipation is not good preparation for a mission. Yet, he cleaned up his act and served an honorable and interesting mission. Johnston is right in saying that Pierce was "one of a kind."

I think I know why Eliza R. Snow included this report in her brother's biography. Eli H. Peirce/Pierce (both spellings were used) married Lydia May Snow, Lorenzo Snow's daughter by Mary Elizabeth Houtz. That would make Peirce her niece's husband. Also, Eli's sister, Mary Barr Peirce married Oliver Goddard Snow, Lorenzo Snow's son by Mary Adaline Peirce giving them another family connection.

Eli's father was also "Eli H."  the first Bishop of Brigham City which suggests young Eli Jr. was raised right however much he strayed later. Jeffrey R. Holland, when President of Brigham Young University related the same story in 1980  that Johnston quoted in his column with an interesting addition. From, "For Times of Trouble"
During his missionary service, Brother Pierce was called in to administer to the infant child of a branch president whom he knew and loved. Unfortunately, the wife of the branch president had become embittered and now seriously objected to any religious activity within the home, including a blessing for this dying child. With the mother refusing to leave the bedside and the child too ill to move, this humble branch president with his missionary friend retired to a small upper room in the house to pray for the baby’s life. The mother, suspecting just such an act, sent one of the older children to observe and report back.
There in that secluded chamber the two knelt and prayed fervently until, in Brother Pierce’s own words, “we felt that the child would live and knew that our prayers had been heard.” Arising from their knees, they turned slowly only to see the young girl standing in the partially open doorway gazing intently into the room. She seemed, however, quite oblivious to the movements of the two men. She stood entranced for some seconds, her eyes immovable. Then she said, “Papa, who was that . . . man in there?”
Her father said, “That is Brother Pierce. You know him.”
“No,” she said, matter-of-factly, “I mean the other man.”
“There was no other, darling, except Brother Pierce and myself. We were praying for baby.”
“Oh, there was another man,” the child insisted, “for I saw him standing [above] you and Brother Pierce and he was dressed [all] in white.”
Now if God in his heavens will do that for a repentant old cigar-smoking, inactive, swearing pool player, don’t you think he’ll do it for you? He will if your resolve is as deep and permanent as Eli Pierce’s. In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility. (See Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, pp. 407–13.)
I'll simply close by reiterating the last line from President Holland's remarks:
In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holy Envy at Christmastime

Amongst other things, the late Krister Stendahl was the Lutheran Bishop of Stockholm when the Church built the Stockholm Sweden Temple. In a rather interesting story where he held a press conference at an LDS stake center he offered his support for the temple and presented what has become known as Stendahl's three rules of religious understanding. According to Wikipedia here they are:
(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.
(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)
One of the Christmas traditions my husband and I have established is attending as many Christmas programs as we can given by area churches. We've found these programs to help us focus on Christ as well as helping us retain the Christmas spirit throughout the holidays.

Our religion does not usually produce Christmas programs of this magnitude at the local level at Christmastime. Our Christmas programs tend to be smaller and part of our regular church services. There are numerous good reasons for this.

We've attended all denominations throughout the years including Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Assembly of God, Methodist, independent denominations and even midnight mass at Catholic churches. We have enjoyed them all.

So, now that Christmas has officially ended for this year, I thought I'd confess to a little "holy envy"

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jesus Christ was born April 6 but Mormons Celebrate His Birth on December 25

(12/25/10: See Update below)
The arise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April— (D&C 20:1)
With this modern day revelation guiding Joseph Smith to officially organize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the birthday of Jesus Christ was revealed to the world and established for Mormons. This has been reinforced by the comments of two subsequent prophets:

See Harold B. Lee in “Strengthen the Stakes of Zion,” Ensign, Jul 1973, 2:

This is the annual conference of the Church. April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith wrote this, preceding a revelation given at that same date:
“The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.” ( D&C 20:1.)
Traditionally since that time, the spring conferences of the Church are held on the days of each year which include April 6.

The name Jesus Christ and what it represents has been plowed deep into the history of the world, never to be uprooted. Christ was born on the sixth of April. Being one of the sons of God and His Only Begotten, his birth is of supreme importance. 
(See also the Institute Manual for the Doctrine & Covenants)

Mormons appear to celebrate it on December 25 for no other reason that it is now tradition. There is compelling scholarly evidence that spring is the most accurate time for Christ's birth:

Consider the words of the following commentators:

From Dr. Richard O. Cowan in Q&A: Questions and Answers", New Era, Dec. 1974, 10–13:
The Book of Mormon bears a similar testimony. The Nephites dated their calendars from the time of Christ’s birth. (See 3 Ne. 2:8.) Then, the sign of Christ’s crucifixion was given “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month.” (3 Ne. 8:5) This meant that Jesus Christ’s mortal life lasted almost exactly 33 years, and therefore his birth and crucifixion occurred in about the same season of the year. This would have been early spring because the New Testament indicates that Christ was crucified at Passover time, which falls in that part of the year.

Bible scholars generally agree that Jesus was not born in the winter.

“It could not … have fallen in January or December, since at this time of the year the flocks are not found in open fields during the night. … Moreover, a census which made traveling necessary, would not have been ordered at this season.”1
Dr. Cowan also explains how the Savior's birth was simply merged with pagan beliefs:
Pope Gregory (A.D. 590–604) instructed these missionaries: “Remember not to interfere with any traditional belief or religious observance that can be harmonized with Christianity.”2 Such instructions opened the door to many pagan ideas and practices being introduced into Christianity. The observance of Christmas provides several examples. 
December 25 was at the heart of the northern European mid-winter festival. There was a fearful superstition that as autumn days became shorter and shorter the sun might sometime completely disappear below the southern horizon and never return. Each year the coming of the winter solstice dispelled this fear, and the people rejoiced that the sun would again come back to warm their northern lands. Early Christian missionaries chose to link this important pagan celebration with the birth of Christ.
There is evidence that Joseph Smith approved of celebrating Christ's birth at Christmas time.

From Roger A. Hendrix in "I Have a Question", Ensign, Dec. 1992, 28–30:

. . . Despite Puritan attempts to ban Christmas celebrations in early New England, Christmas in Joseph Smith’s day continued to evolve from a time of “folksy conviviality”1 into a religious event. Although Nauvoo school records indicate that Latter-day Saint children there in the early 1840s went to school on December 25, by midcentury Christmas in America and in Europe had taken on a deeper meaning. 
For example, on 25 December 1843, the Prophet recorded that he had been awakened about 1:00 A.M. by carolers. The serenade of “heavenly music” caused him “a thrill of pleasure,” and he thanked God for the visit and “blessed them in the name of the Lord.”2 That evening, the Prophet enjoyed other festivities as well. His favorable response to Christmas celebrations suggests that he saw nothing objectionable about the holiday taking on religious significance.
Our current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, gave us this counsel in this season's First Presidency Christmas Devotional:

Brothers and sisters, this joyful season brings to all of us a measure of happiness that corresponds to the degree to which we have turned our minds, feelings, and actions to the Savior, whose birth we celebrate.
There is no better time than now, this very Christmas season, for all of us to rededicate ourselves to the principles taught by Jesus the Christ. 
Perhaps whatever refocuses our lives on Jesus Christ is good.

Update: The Deseret News on December 24, 2010 published "The real date of Jesus' birth" by Michael De Groote which upends some of what I posted above. It probably went live at the time I was composing my post although my post was published at 8 a.m. Christmas Day. See the BYU Studies article it references, "Dating the Birth of Christ" by Jeffrey R. Chadwick.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pain Makes Everyone Selfish

Pain makes everyone selfish to one degree or another by turning our attention to our own, rather than to others', pain and needs.
This is the crucial quote from, "Man under a train — reflecting on compassion and the pain of suicide" in Mormon Times.

So, is pain one of Satan's tools? It's certainly possible. I cannot imagine him foregoing such a useful tool to induce selfishness. 

I've always believed the Church and it's leaders to be inspired but I have trouble believing the chair-buying committee is. One look at the chairs in my new branch and I groaned. knew I was in for three hours of continual pain every Sunday. Do they think we are all midgets?

Often, all it takes for us to put our own pain into perspective, and instantly feel ashamed of ourselves, is to be reminded of others' pain.

One night when my husband was at the police academy, one of our two dogs figured out a way to escape our back yard enclosure. After enduring several hours of barking from the other one I groggily got up and was placing a bark collar on Baron, our male, when it occurred to me that Greta was nowhere to be seen.

It wouldn't do for the Police Chief's wife to get cited under a noise ordinance for barking dogs when the Chief was away from home. I knew I had to hunt Greta down and somehow corral her. I hurriedly dressed and apologized to Baron, I had somehow failed to recognize his distinctive, "She's escaped, come get her!" bark and gave him a treat for his obedience in staying in the yard and for trying to alert me.

She wasn't hard to find. It was clear from the tracks in the dirt that she frequently returned to our fence to taunt her brother. I'd noticed this behavior before from paw prints in the snow from other Houdini incidents.

I put her back in the yard and combed the fence for her escape route. I blocked what I thought she had used. At about 4 am I returned to my bed. At 7 am the entire process had to be repeated. I had had a miserable night by this time and slept until 9 am when I had to do it all over again. At 10:30 am I got a call from my husband at the police academy. I expected it because I knew it was break time and he usually placed a call to me then.

I was ready to lay a real pity party on him. Before I could speak he asked me if I was aware of the news. I said "No" as a preface to launching my prepared speech on dog misery when he said, "Terrorists have flown planes into the World Trade Center and both towers have collapsed. Thousands of people may be dead!"

I managed to eke out, "Oh, golly. I was going to complain about the dogs."

That put my pain into perspective very fast. . .

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Look Like a Mormon! The Glow Theory and Other Explanations

I can usually tell if someone is Mormon or not. People ask me how I do it and I can't tell them anything definitive. Apparently, this issue is now being scientifically studied:

The study entitled, "On the perception of religious group membership from faces" can be found on PubMed. From their abstract:

. . . We tested whether Mormons could be distinguished from non-Mormons and investigated the basis for this effect to gain insight to how subtle perceptual cues can support complex social categorizations.
Tom Rees comments on this and other studies in Epiphenom in a piece entitled, "Hey, good lookin'... you must be a Mormon!" Science and Religion Today publishes his piece as, "Can Mormons Be Distinguished by Their Faces?" Tufts Journal published, "Spotting the Faithful."

From Tufts Journal:
The Tufts study by Rule, Nalini Ambady, professor of psychology and Neubauer Faculty Fellow in the School of Arts and Sciences, and James V. Garrett found that both Mormon and non-Mormon subjects were able to identify who was a Mormon more often than would occur by chance. It was published Dec. 7 in PLoS One. [See this link]
Only headshots were used in the study and researchers eliminated each facial feature until they got down to skin texture. They concluded skin texture was the definitive clue and they tied it to health and the fact that Mormons are healthier than most.

Again from Tufts Journal:
Even when the researchers removed important features, such as the eyes or mouth, the subjects were able to identify Mormons more often than would occur by chance.
Rees contests this:
 . . .a study last year that showed that, in the United States, the religious were not rated as being healthier. In fact, it showed that although people thought they were picking out the religious based on their healthiness, in fact they were not. So, the complete opposite of this new study then. Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Rees is ignoring that Mormons ARE healthier than most people. I'm not including any links to this fact because I've read about studies all my life that confirm this. They are too numerous to list. This fact is well established.

I think the researchers established that people can tell but the reason why is still open:
Mormons themselves, Rule says, believe “God is present in different people and you can observe this just by looking at them. Mormons say it’s about the holy spirit emanating from someone,” which is how they are able to identify each other.
I'm not sure if this has received an official cultural label but I'll call it the "glow theory." A commenter, "Jon" on "Can Mormons Be Distinguished by Their Faces?" explains this:
I am a Mormon and I believe that “faithful” Mormons are easy to spot.
In fact, while overseas in South America I was able to pick out a couple and identify not only that they were American but also Mormon from across a crowded hotel restaurant. I didn’t hear them speak until I walked up to them and point blank asked 1 if they were American and 2 if they were Mormon. They were shocked that I could so easily identify them, but Mormons do “glow” spiritually.
I've usually heard Mormons, and even others, use the term "glow" to describe this phenomenon. It even works for non-Mormons. My Branch President and his wife told me of a tourist visit they made to Jerusalem. They were walking down the street when they heard a man yell, "Hey, you Mormons!" They looked around and a Jewish shop keeper was gesturing at them. They pointed at themselves in wonder and he said, "Yes, you Mormons, you come into my shop." They obeyed and discovered his shop contained a variety of Mormon kitsch and other items that would appeal to Mormons. They asked how he identified them. He said, "By the glow."

I think the most famous story is the following entitled, "The Light in Their Eyes" by Elder James E. Faust:
I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that nonproselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked, “Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?” He was referring to our students who were studying in Israel.
The researchers won't accept this explanation but it is probably what most Mormons believe. A commentator already posited the idea on a political science blog entitled Utah Data Points when reviewing the recent study.

I'll go even further. I can determine whether a Mormon has attended BYU. I was sitting in a institute class once and a guy walked in. I thought to myself, "He's so BYU he reeks." I discovered later he had just graduated from BYU.  Maybe I'll call this the "BYU Reeks Theory." 

Something tells me that label won't catch on.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

But It's Still Just a Plate!

The Provo Tabernacle went up in flames a few days ago. It is gutted. Investigating the source and cause of the blaze will take some time. The Church will not decide the building's fate until after it is completed. An original Minerva Teichert painting is missing. A picture of Christ all but burned except for His image. These facts are clear from the Church News article, "Provo Tabernacle fire update: Organ, woodwork and history destroyed."

The building was a treasure. See these pictures taken just days before all these treasures were destroyed. The last time I attended stake conference in the building I remember thinking, "If there was a fire, this place and all its wood would be history."

Those with a sense of history and artistic bent will lament its demise for years. Those of us with a more practical sense may point out that building a new facility elsewhere could provide much needed parking. Also, the tabernacle seemed a little misplaced on a busy street surrounded by other modern buildings.

I don't mean to belittle the loss. It IS a loss.

I remember sitting in a Relief Society meeting one Sunday while a sister tearfully related the history behind a treasured plate her mother, grandmother and perhaps others owned and used and was now hers. She said if she ever lost it she didn't know if she could survive the blow. I remember thinking, "But it's still just a plate!" 

The Provo Tabernacle was still just a building, a beautiful building I grant you, filled with art, craftsmanship and history. But, it was still just a building.

I remember the Church issuing a caution in the past in referring to unrelated events. To the best of my recollection this was the quote, "Property can be replaced, lives cannot."

It was still just a building . . .

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Entertainment Versus Something Else: Moral Decision Making in Mormondom #2

(This is an occasional series that discusses normative questions. Too often we do not consider the inferences and implications of what we do. In short, we fail to realize when a moral decision is necessary. This occasional series will do so. Readers are encouraged to pose their own questions and views in the comment forum.)

[The enforced hiatus of this blog due to extensive computer problems is now, hopefully, over.] 
"Let's not just entertain ourselves,"
There is nothing inherently wrong with having a unit Christmas party. However, is this the best use of our time and resources? A ward in Georgia decided it wasn't. See "Christmas charity: Georgia ward forgoes party for long day of service," in the LDS Church News.
At the monthly Webb Bridge Ward council meeting in Cumming, Ga., last July, the activities committee made a proposal that was a bit shocking to several of the leaders. They suggested that the ward members forego the annual Christmas party and find a service project to do.
This began one of the most expertly planned and finely executed church activities I have ever heard of, and it began in July. The level of all their plans is only hinted at in the article but is obvious when you read between the lines.
Roswell Georgia Stake President Vern Ernst said that the Webb Bridge Ward "dared to dream big" and then "went to work" and made their big dream become a reality.
Camp Twin Lakes — a year-round camp for children with disabilities, challenges and serious illnesses, tucked away in the beautiful woodlands near Rutledge, Ga., — became the beneficiary of more than 4,000 hours of service projects that included nearly every active member of the Webb Bridge Ward, many of their friends, co-workers and neighbors. . . . 280 people traveled an hour and a half outside ward boundaries and met at the local camp. Equipped with power tools, paint, wall-stencils, lumber, and—most important—a shared vision of what needed to be done in just eight hours, they went to work.
During the day of service, volunteers made improvements to all areas of the camp.
The Director of Camp Twin Lakes commented:
"this is by far the most meaningful, well-organized, professional event that has ever been done."
Even child sitting was expertly planned and executed:
A "Kid's Camp" accommodated all the children of Primary age, allowing parents to be free to paint and hammer without worrying about keeping a close watch on their children. All ward members rotated throughout the day, taking turns with the children, thereby allowing everyone to take part in this day of service and to share their unique talents with the various projects.
Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a unit Christmas party or any party for that matter. However, a service project that engages all the unit members and more AND gives them an opportunity to use their skills in creative and useful ways that will produce numerous benefits for years to come is clearly a better use of the unit's resources. In Dallin H. Oaks criteria of "Good, Better,Best" I would classify this as "Best."

We spend a tremendous amount of time sitting in meetings planning activities for ourselves. Do we really need more entertainment? Isn't this unit's activity a phenomenal example of what we should be doing?

Moral decision making involves asking normative questions. It suggests that instead of asking What can we do? or What are we going to do? it asks, What should we do? Clearly a service project of this magnitude is more Christlike than having a party for ourselves.

I think any Bishops or Branch Presidents would be thrilled out of their minds to have 280 people show up for anything Church related. This activity clearly engaged more people in a significant way than all the parties they could have held.

The Director of Twin Lakes summed it up best:
"the generosity, creativity, and caring that was shown through the labors of today have impacted many lives. God bless all of you … and Merry Christmas."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Albinos, Magic and Mormons

Since I read widely I've been aware of the plight of albinos in Africa for some time. But, a recent article "Utah woman working to save African albino children" highlights a way to help rather than just sympathize with their plight. Koins for Kenya is setting up special school for albino children where they can learn and grow in safety.

In short, some in Africa believe that albino body parts are magic. This results in an extensive black market. Although albino bodies are sometimes fully encased in concrete before burial to discourage pilfering their graves, it isn't just the dead who are at risk. Albinos are in constant danger of people murdering them for their body parts or even having them hacked off while still alive. Albino body parts are worth thousands. The article above suggests as much as $10,000 for an albino child. That is a staggering amount for anything on the African continent.

In addition, mothers who bear albino children are thought to have cheated on their husbands putting their own lives in danger as well as that of the children. They are generally divorced or abandoned in addition to being ostracized by others.

Albino skin is no protection against the African sun which brings sunburn and other miseries to those afflicted. So, sunscreen and other protections are crucial.

In the United States, one child out of 20,000 is born without pigmentation in his or her skin.
In Kenya, the number is much higher because it’s a recessive gene, and there’s much more intermarriage.

After witnessing the misery a Mormon woman, Jami Quesenberry, has devoted herself to alleviating their plight. A special school has been set up for albino children. Quesenberry is working with others including an Alpine (Utah) businessmen to support and equip the school.
Koins for Kenya officials are trying to find sponsors for the children, so they can afford to come to the school. (Many come with only an ear of corn for their lunch and nothing else.)
Bret Van Leeuwen, an Alpine businessman and founder of Koins for Kenya, said the school for albino children is purposefully located in a village that’s not easily accessible. He said when the school opens in January, he expects 80 children but is prepared for 100.
“We don’t know what the enrollment will be,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen.”
Quesenberry knew prayers would help but action was also needed. She has already experienced some satisfaction in knowing some of the despair she witnessed has been replaced with hope.
“I had gone on an expedition … to help build schools in Kenya for Koins for Kenya,” Quesenberry said. “We did that and had a great time when I noticed this woman with her albino child, sitting off to the side. Her face was full of despair. It just filled me with sorrow. The girl was white and covered with sores from exposure to the sun. Her skin was flaking off.” At that point, all Quesenberry felt she could do was to send up prayers in the woman and child’s behalf.
She later discovered: 
The woman, known as Mwanahamisi, had come to the school, stumbling in, hungry and afraid. Her husband had divorced her for bearing two albino children, and he was coming for the children with a machete.
He was stopped before he could harm them, secured within the walls of the private school. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Aslan and Mormons

Lewis created Aslan for the purpose of touching the love already in us. And you know, you do love that Lion as you read about him. With each new Chronicle the love and appreciation increase. You love him for his dignity, his wisdom, his pure goodness, his gentleness. Perhaps most of all you love him because he wants us to receive his love and to know him and to share his happiness.
S. Michael Wilcox makes this statement in "What can we learn from a lion? Lessons about Christ from Lewis' Aslan" published December 9 in Mormon Times. This appeared the day before the latest Narnia movie debuted "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader."

Mormons love Lewis' books and the movie will obviously do well with Mormon audiences. What is less clear is what C.S. Lewis thought about Mormons. He seems only vaguely aware of them. Mormons are aware of him. In an article entitled, "What C.S. Lewis thought about Mormons" we are told that General Authorities of the Church quote Lewis extensively:
The first to reference Lewis' words in a church publication, according to Richardson and Thackeray, was Elder Neal A. Maxwell. "Interestingly, although Elder Maxwell did quote Lewis more than any other apostle, he was followed closely by (Elders) Jeffrey R. Holland, James E. Faust, and Dallin H. Oaks," the authors write.
Richardson and Thackeray wrote that Lewis has been referenced about 100 times in church-sponsored publications — about one-third of which were during general conference addresses. He has been quoted thousands of times "throughout LDS writing."
"Even Shakespeare pales in comparison to the number of times C.S. Lewis has been quoted by Mormon authors, scholars, and General Authorities to illustrate or emphasize doctrinal truths," the authors write.
In official Mormon publications there is only one direct reference to Aslan. It comes from an address entitled, "The Quest for Spiritual Knowledge" by Robert S. Woods of the Seventy in 2007.

The opposite of this hungering and thirsting is what the prophets call “hardness of heart,” an inability to see what really is, to hear what is truly being said, and to feel with an openness of heart. C. S. Lewis, in his final volume of the Narnia tales, recounts how, after the forces of the White Witch have been defeated by Aslan the lion (a representation of Christ) and his followers, the prisons and chains with which she had bound so many disappeared. Within a prison stable, a group of dwarfs had been chained in a circle. Suddenly the stable and their chains disappeared and they were free. But they refused to believe their own liberation and stayed within their closed circle, not feeling the fresh air, seeing the sun, or smelling the flowers. Even as Aslan growled in their ears to arouse them, they mistook the growl for a machine or a trick.2 On another occasion Aslan observed, “Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good!”3
Aslan is Jesus Christ. In the end of the story, Aslan tells Lucy she will not be able to come back to Narnia. Perhaps Aslan's answer to Lucy not being able to come back to Narnia has many meanings. He assures her that he would be in her own world and perhaps it is also an analogy for our world and the next:
" . . . that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

(Also see a recent Meridian Magazine article, a Deseret Book DVD, an article in Dialogue and an online article for current and thorough handling of Aslan and Mormondom.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Corruption in Laie, Hawaii?

Though rough and basic, Google provides me with some statistics about this blog. I know what Google searches lead people to my site. Many people have entered "corruption, Laie" as search terms and discovered my site on "Church Leadership Corruption." A couple of people have commented and put in links to corruption in Laie such as blogs and news articles. Prior to this, I had no idea that anything was going on in Laie at all.

There is enough that I have decided to explore a little bit and comment in this blog. I spent a semester at BYU-Hawaii many years back and am familiar with Laie and the area.

From Mormon Wiki I learned that:
Hawaii Reserves, Inc. (HRI) is the managing company for many of the public works and retail operations around Laie, Hawaii. It is a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation and as such is completely owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church. As Laie was first being established by members of the Church as a city and location for the temple and college (Brigham Young University - Hawaii), as well as the Polynesian Cultural Center, the need arose to handle the necessary public works that a city would require. Hawaii Reserves was established for that purpose. Among the assets that HRI manages are Laie Shopping Center, Laie Park, Laie Cemetery, Hukilau Beach Park, Laie Water Company, and Laie Treatment Works.
It also includes this intriguing comment:

Laie Treatment Works runs a $20 million state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility constructed by HRI. Since its construction, the facility has run at an operating loss of approximately $1 million annually. An agreement between HRI and the City and County of Honolulu allows for the transfer of the facility to the city. 
So, not surprisingly, the Church had to build and operate its own infrastructure since there weren't any other options in the beginning.

Hawaii Reserves Inc. seems to be at the core of what some consider the corruption. In the "About Us" link the individuals leading the organization are profiled. The term "Esq" short for "Esquire" caught my attention. It can be applied to those with law degrees though it seems to be used on this site as an affectation in my humble opinion. I consider this a red flag. A little research confirmed my suspicion that using "Esq" or "Esquire" is NOT common for other attorneys in Hawaii.

In short, Hawaii Reserves Inc. and others including BYU-Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), feel the area needs to grow along with housing and commercial services as well as expand and update the infrastructure. The plan for doing so is called Envision Laie.

This is not inherently objectionable but the growth they envision will more than double the size of the community, in effect, creating an entirely new city. Eminent domain will probably play a part in all of this.
I found some news article to be helpful in understanding this situation:

Malaekahana-ville: BYUH and its partners want to build a new town outside Lā‘ie" published July 29, 2009 as the cover story in the Honolulu Weekly.

"City approves new town in Malaekahana: 'Envision La‘ie' proposal for housing, commercial development included in new city plan for Ko‘olau Loa" published October 6, 2010 also in the Honolulu Weekly.

"Meeting tonight on city’s plan to allow Turtle Bay, Malaekahana development" published December 7, 2010 in Kaaawa News.

Information from those alleging corruption can be found here:

Stop Corruption in Laie - a blog. See especially "Our Story" and Chronology of Events"

Independent Kamaaina - a blog.

I cannot judge a situation this complex, especially from afar, so my comments will be general.

There are many levels on which corruption could occur in a project of this magnitude such as (but not limited to):

What they are trying to do is illegal.
How they are trying to do this is illegal.
The people involved in trying to do this are doing something illegal.
A person involved in trying to do this is doing something illegal (privately benefit for example).

What they are trying to do is unethical.
How they are trying to do this is unethical.
The people involved in trying to do this are doing something unethical.
A person involved in trying to do this is doing something unethical (ends justify the means, for example)

What they are trying to do violates Mormon beliefs and/or practices.
How they are trying to do this violates Mormon beliefs and/or practices.
The people involved in trying to do this are violating Mormon beliefs and/or practices.
A person involved in trying to do this is doing something that violates Mormon beliefs and/or practices.

Do you get the picture?

It also could involve things that, although legal and ethical, offend our sense of justice or good sense. I'm betting that poor management practices also play a part. Good management can cost more and require more community outreach and take time. Many times this gets overlooked.

Outraged citizens also mess things up by failing to look past their own self-interest, not understanding basic management practices/realities and charging around with inferior and/or inadequate information.

So, I'm not going to pass judgment on corruption in Laie. However, I would encourage all those involved to manage themselves with maturity, good judgment, long suffering and selflessness.

Enough said, at least by me. Aloha.