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.

Monday, February 28, 2011

"Hi Moms!" Oh, for Heaven's Sake, Not THAT Again!

In describing the scene at the recent BYU-San Diego basketball games, consider the following statements from news articles in the New York Times and the Salt Lake Tribune:
Students began camping out Tuesday for tickets, and many of them dressed up in white shirts, ties and bike helmets to tweak the attire of Mormon missionaries.
The fans held up oversized cardboard cutouts of, among other things, the face of Fredette’s girlfriend, a B.Y.U. cheerleader.
They dressed like LDS missionaries ... well, LDS missionaries who might have sneaked away to Mardi Gras, or gone off on a five-day bender. They held up signs that had all sorts of messages, some of them actually publishable in a family newspaper, though still edgy, including: “You Need More White Dudes,” and “Jimmer Fredette Is a False Idol,” and “Hi, Moms.”
I drew a blank on the "Hi Moms." Finally, it occurred to me that it was an allusion to polygamy. In trying to ape Mormon dress, demeanor and behavior, it alluded to the notion that the BYU players, or their Mormon fans, might have more than one mother.

What this suggests is that people tend to define Mormons by polygamy but this is not how we define ourselves.

My husband has developed his own version of this silly misconception. You've heard of people creating imaginary friends, he has created imaginary polygamous wives. If I'm too tired to do something he'll say something like, "Well, maybe #33 would be up for it, or maybe #27."

These imaginary wives have no other identity, other than their numbers. He invokes no other numbers other than #33 and #27. Occasionally, he forgets which numbers he's assigned and I have to supply him with them.

Some people I've encountered refuse to believe there aren't closeted Mormons with more than one wife, however much I try to argue otherwise.

So, I will rehearse it one more time, hopefully in a way that can penetrate past the stereotypes.
The “authority” to marry a man to one wife is not the same as the “authority” to marry a man to more than one wife. No Mormon since the 1890 change has had the authority to marry any man to more than one woman. So, in the Mormon view, none of these so-called polygamist marriages are valid, religiously or legally. None of these “polygamists” are Mormons.
Membership in the L.D.S. Church is not a vague identification or feeling of alliance; it is an actual membership record. You either have a membership record or you do not. You either are a Mormon or you are not. There is no gray area. If you try to practice polygamy your membership is canceled and you are kicked out of the Church (excommunicated).
From what I can determine, most of the current polygamist groups in existence today claim that the "authority" to conduct polygamist marriages was secretly given to an early leader and this "authority" has been passed down to a current generation of polygamists.
Any "authority" to do anything in the L.D.S. (Mormon) Church is NEVER given secretly. It is ALWAYS issued through open public channels or it is not valid. So, if these polygamists' so-called "authority" to conduct polygamist marriages was given to them secretly, it is not valid because it must be conveyed through open and proper channels.
Authority is either properly conveyed or it is not valid. So, polygamists’ claim to "authority" cannot possibly be valid. Once again, Mormons can only conclude that these polygamists are engaged in immoral behavior.
Polygamists are not Mormons period. Since their marriages are neither valid nor legal, real Mormons consider the polygamist lifestyle not only illegal but immoral as well. 
Now, can we PLEASE talk about something else?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What If The Mormon Pioneers Had Used Camels?

This idea is not as strange it may seem at first.  First, I'll explain about camels then I will evaluate them for Mormon Pioneer purposes.

Camels were brought to the United States as part of an experiment in the 1850s. The U. S. Camel Corps was an attempt to see if they would perform better than horses and mules in traversing the harsh southwest for military purposes. Congress finally decided to fund the idea and about 75 camels were bought in the Middle East and transported to Texas. One big problem was that the camels didn't speak English. So, they imported some camel drivers as well. Hi Jolly was the most famous. See also "Arizona's Camel Military Corps and Hi Jolly."

The imported camel drivers knew how to handle camels and the camels could understand their commands, like cushing. To see a live camel cushing, view the video below where Gil Riegler demonstrates with one of his camels from the Oasis Camel Dairy in Ramona, California. Gil and his wife Nancy operate the only camel milk dairy in the United States.

Camels are so big, you have to have them lower themselves in order to ascend, descend or to put packs on them. It can be tricky as the video below illustrates.
The camel experiment was a success but the Civil War and official indifference put an end to it. In addition, horses, mules and men were frightened of the animals and their stench. The camels were eventually sold to private individuals, circuses and some roamed free. Naturally, reports of feral camels lingered into the 1900s. See links below for more resources:

The U.S. Camel Corps: An Army Experiment by Odie B. Faulk
THE US ARMY CAMEL CORPS from Drum BarracksThe Camel Experiment from Texas Bob

Chris Emmett and Odie B. Faulk, "CAMELS," Handbook of Texas Online

Camels demonstrated their usefulness in traveling over hostile terrain with little water, heavy packs and punishing conditions as the following illustrate:
In 1857, a former Navy lieutenant, Edward Beale, set out from Texas in command of the U.S. Camel Corps and seventy-five of the animals. Beale's experiment proved camels could pack a ton of goods--four times as much as a prime mule--cover forty miles a day and go ten days without water. They swam across the Colorado River and plowed through three feet of snow. Their drivers boasted that "camels would get fat where a jackass would starve to death." Despite Beale's success and then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis' hope that camel cavalry would frighten violent Apaches into submission, the Civil War put the Camel Corps out of business.
It was found that three camels could carry as much as six mules could draw in a wagon over that country, and could travel twice as fast as the mules. They could, upon occasion, for a day or two at a time, carry burdens of eight hundred to a thousand pounds. (p. 355) 
It was during the transfer to San Antonio that Major Wayne overheard a number of grizzled Texans comment with some cynicism on the camels; allowing that they would have a bleak future in the United States. They "walked funny" and didn't look as if they could tote much. Wayne ordered a kneeling dromedary to be loaded with two bales of hay, each weighing 300 pounds--more than triple what a prime mule could pack. The onlookers murmured in disbelief. "That hoss will never stand with that load." At the major's signal, two additional bales were cinched to the beast's pack saddle--the total: 1,256 pounds! "Impossible! Not a chance in h---!. Cain't be done!" . . . .Wayne nudged the camel, which obediently lurched upright and strode off with the load. The crowd broke into cheers. The dromedaries had won their first supporters. When the grand experiment was over, Beale would prove camels could carry enormous loads--some up to a ton--walk forty miles in a day for as many as eight to ten days without water over barren country. They could swim--and did, across the Colorado--and function in sand or snow. Their drivers swore "camels would get fat where a jackass would starve to death."

More importantly, the camels proved their mettle when the expedition became lost and its water supplies dwindled. Only the camels were fit to go on. They found a river 20 miles from camp, and led the expedition to it, then looked on with indifference as men, mules, and horses gulped the water they were desperate for. Triumphantly, the Camel Corps pushed on to the Colorado River, its mission a success. The camels had won over the skeptics among the party. There were others in Washington however, who had not seen the beasts in action, and who remained unconvinced of their worth.
Some of what I've read suggested the camels did fine in rocky terrain. However, the one hump dromedaries (Arabian) camel do not have a true hoof. Their foot spreads out to allow them to float on the sand. Two-humped Bactrians are better suited to rocky terrain and intense cold. This is why they do well in the Gobi desert.

It would appear than a small number of bactrian females were brought over to breed with the dromedaries which produced a type of camel mule, so to speak. They are the largest camels and the interbreeding would have produced a camel well-suited to the conditions faced by Mormon pioneers. (Hybrid camels aren't sterile, unlike mules.)

However, camels still frightened people, horses, mules and probably oxen although I can't find any evidence of that. Camels are remarkably versatile provided they are well-managed. Also, If you aren't used to the stench it would have been difficult to endure them.

Some military people complained the camels would spit at and hold grudges against those who mistreated them. (I guess other livestock accepts mistreatment more easily.) Camels aren't afraid of anything or anybody. Nothing rivals them in strength, size, tenacity or any other trait you want to think of. They really are gentle giants considering what they are capable of.

Camels could easily have held up on the trail since they can carry heavy packs, walk easily on rough terrain, carry people as well as cargo and go without water for long periods of time.

Camels have all the characteristics and traits the pioneers needed but I'm forced to conclude that simple unfamiliarity would have doomed any effort to utilize them.

If Arab converts had brought them with them then I am certain they would have been a phenomenal success. But primarily English and Scandinavian converts wouldn't have been able to utilize them properly.

We simply didn't convert enough Arabs, or perhaps . . .  any Arabs?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Roasting Roaches: Missionary Letter from Uganda

Another of my finds from doing the posting on missionaries in Uganda is a letter I found from an Elder Jeremey Kohler who should be home by now. The letter was dated October 8, 2008.

It misspells cockroach four times amongst other things. But, it also provides a personal glance into daily missionary life in Uganda. Here are some snippets:

On cockroaches:
So mom i swear i have sent you pictures of our apartment, its not bad, for here in uganda, I mean we dont have that many cocroatches running around. But i like the cockroatches, me and krugs bought these sparkler birthday candles and whenever we see a cockroatch (which is pretty often) we light one of those babys up and go to town just roasting all the cockroatches we can get ha.
On doing laundry and sleeping:
But anyways mom that is how everyone does laundry out here is in buckets, we usually hire someone but on that day she wasnt able to make it so we had to do out own landry. And yes mom we do sleep on these nasty foam pads that are so uncomfortable im going to need physcial therpay on my back and neck when i get home ha.
 On transfers and the size of the mission:
So there are many unanswered questions about this next transfer, like if they will open up any new country or new area in uganda. I mean its kind of sad, The Uganda mission is so small if you look on the map there are only missionarys from entebbe, (thats where is am) up to jinja proabably only and 80 mile stretch of land. But the work is growing big time out here, i figure a lot more missionarys will be getting there calls to africa, i hope steve comes to uganda ha.
On Uganda Mormons and Others:
Anyways so about sudan, president just went up there and established a branch, i guess there were like 4,000 beleivers meeting together and they were teaching correct doctrine out of the book of mormon, but i guess they were singing really loud and dancing, chanting, banging on drums, doing all that weird stuff. no one really knows what that is really like back in utah but man you wouldnt believe it here, people stay up all night in this church near our flat singing PRAISE GOD all night its really great ha ha serioulsy its annyoing. I have muslims mosks that wake me up everymorning and SAVED BORN AGAIN CHRISTIANS that keep me up so i cant sleep at night. UGANDA IS GREAT HA HA Anyways love you all

Friday, February 25, 2011

Clean Up That Mess You Made in Masaka!

From putting yesterday's blog posting together on Mormon missionaries in Uganda, I discovered the Barlow's blog. They are a service missionary couple. Their most recent assignment has been a water project to create a clean water source for the Masaka community in Uganda.

From the blog:
 The Masaka water project finished in 4 months and we held the Turnover Ceremony" for the water project. Because we had so many inquiries about the church during the project we had the missionaries come to the ceremony to to be available to explain to the people what the church was about. The four elders had a great time as they talked to many people, handing out 100 Book of Mormon and 100s of pamphlets. They stayed two days in Masaka teaching and sharing the gospel. .
The other day Pres. Jackson informed us he was extending Elder Davis' and Elder Deal's mission for 6 weeks so he could send them down to Masaka to clean up the mess we made. Seems that since the Elders attended the ceremony and gave out the Book of Mormon that they were now getting several calls a day to return and teach more about the church. Pres. Jackson had not intended to send missionaries to Masaka at this time but now it seemed he had no choice.
Many people are used to the seemingly ubiquitous Mormon missionary elders, boys of 19-21, running around in suits, backpacks and often with bikes, but are unaware that senior sisters and elderly missionary couples also serve.

Missionary service often baffles people. I once once asked by someone referring to the missions, "Who pays for that?" Well, those serving missions pay for the opportunity to serve.

Believe it or not, those boys pay for the opportunity to be insulted, ignored, rejected and have doors slammed in their faces. Although, I'm not sure if doors can be slammed in African huts. There must be an African rejection alternative to this western phenomenon. Obviously, not everyone in Africa lives in huts so I suspect there are plenty of slammed doors.

Young boys often save for years to help pay for their missions. Usually, they need some financial help from parents or others. Senior missionary couples, senior sisters, and service missionaries cover the cost of their own missions. They often do so after retirement from their occupations. See the links above for more information.

Since those boys in Masaka had to extend for six weeks, that will be an extra six weeks of costs they will have to pay. They will undoubtedly consider it worth it. They always do. Otherwise, who on earth would be crazy enough to serve?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Forget the Musical: Meet Some REAL Missionaries to Uganda

"The Book of Mormon: The Musical" profiles two Mormon missionaries in Uganda. It debuts in New York tonight. I doubt either Parker or Stone ever met a real Mormon Missionary that served in Uganda, but you can.

Mormon.org: Profiles of Uganda Missionaries:
(See Also: Dan's Brother and Leah's Son)

Profiles on Other Sites:
Uganda, Kampala Mission Alumni (There are 48 currently listed)
Uganda, Kampala Mission on Facebook (All content is public.)
Uganda Return Missionaries Rms

YouTube: LDS in Uganda: You gave me water

Also see article, "Utah LDS missionaries bring water to a thirsty Africa"
Barlows in Uganda (blog)

Other Blogs:
Bean Mission Blog
GLENNS IN AFRICA .................................. Humanitarian Service Mission 2008-2010
Lynette & Rick in Africa

Elder Bradley Benson's Mission Site
Elder Samuel Chet Combs' Mission Site
Elder Scott Daly's Mission Site
Elder Matthew Deal's Mission Site
Elder Mehluli Dube's Mission Site
Elder John Green's Mission Site
Elder And Sister Steven Himle's Mission Site
Elder Jared Keeley's Mission Site
Elder Jeremey Kohler's Mission Site
Elder Tyler Krueger's Mission Site
Sister Brittni McDonald's Mission Site
Elder Bryce McRae's Mission Site
Elder Blake prier's Mission Site
Elder Kenny Scoresby's Mission Site
Elder Johnny Shuping's Mission Site
Elder Lane Eric Stevens' Mission Site
Elder Anthony Valois' Mission Site
Elder Jesse Welsh's Mission Site
Elder And Sister Brad and Karen Wilkes' Mission Site
Elder Zachary Wright's Mission Site

You can meet and talk with REAL Mormon Missionaries too. This link can tell you how. Or, if that is a little intimidating to you, talk with a Mormon who lives near you.

See Information and News about the Church in Uganda:
Country Information: Uganda
Uganda Kampala Mission

Mormon.org: Mormons who have lived in or are involved in work/service in Uganda:
Andrew Lovell
Carrie Eliza

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can Your Religion Take a Joke?

I've written a little bit about the Book of Mormon musical. Set to debut soon, it has prompted a spate of articles including this one in USA Today, "Mormons may have last laugh at 'South Park'-like Broadway show."
In the article it asks, "THINK ABOUT IT: Can your religion take a joke?
So, what do we find newsworthy emanating from Church news sources these days? Well, tons and tons of articles about the Church in Africa and Uganda specifically.

In case you aren't aware the BOM musical is based around two missionaries in Uganda. Is all of this coverage a little suspicious? I think so. It looks to me like the Church is cashing in on all the free publicity the BOM musical provides. Good for them!

Check out the offerings:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Good News! Mormons Are Like Fruit Flies

Usually it is just Mormons researching Mormondom, but this study comes from Indiana, my recently adopted home state:
Polygamy practiced by some 19th century Mormon men had the curious effect of suppressing the overall offspring numbers of Mormon women in plural marriages, say scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and three other institutions in the March 2011 issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.
The article comes from Indiana University and is quite explicit on what the researchers studied and what they think their research means. Their results reflect the "Bateman gradient" which was also observed in fruit flies.

I don't pretend to understand all of this and I am not sure I want to. But, I am happy that the researchers confirmed their hypotheses and are pleased with the results.

Researching is frustrating but rewarding when you feel you have good data with demonstrable results that support theories you are attempting to evaluate and apply.

Hats off to the researchers. I can certainly appreciate how this may help them with tenure and promotion.

Besides, if Mormons are worth researching that certainly means something too . . .

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reflections on Presidents' Day: Abraham Lincoln

A Mormon Times article entitled, "Abraham Lincoln's life is meaningful to Mormons" resonated with me today. Given this late posting, I just want to extract a quote I found particularly inspiring.
Of Abraham Lincoln, John Wesley Hill concludes, "Perhaps no American, save the prophets only, has put such implicit trust in God as did the Great Emancipator. Out of his personal experiences he testified he was as certain that God acts directly upon human affairs as he was of a fact apparent to the senses, such as that he was in the room where he was then speaking. He said: 'I have had so many evidences of His direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will, that I cannot doubt that this power comes from above. I frequently see my way clear to a decision when I am conscious that I have not sufficient facts upon which to found it. But I cannot recall one instance in which I have followed my own judgment founded upon such a decision, where the results were unsatisfactory; whereas, in almost every instance where I have yielded to the views of others I have had occasion to regret it.'"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Counting Members of the Church

I don't know how other Church's count their members, so I cannot comment on whether I think their numbers are accurate. However, I can comment on how the Church counts members and I know they can be relied on.

National numbers for the United States and Canada are compiled by the National Council of Churches' in their 2011 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Their newest numbers were just released on February 14, 2011. The Deseret News evaluates their numbers in an article entitled, "LDS Church among largest, growing U.S. churches."

In academia, numbers that are self-reported are always suspect. There always seems to be differences in how people count and what criteria they use and a tendency to inflate numbers for whatever reason. Standardized counting is so difficult. Consider how hard it is to determine if someone is Caucasian or black or if they are a mixture like President Obama. Reasonable people can disagree on the classification.

Also, modern problems in counting can emerge. For example, before car-jacking was a separate category, it was sometimes counted as auto theft, or robbery, and sometimes both. Finally, the separate category was created to address all its facets.

However, membership in the Church is a lot like citizenship in the United States. The definition is well-defined, centrally controlled and verifiable.

Being a Mormon is not a vague feeling of identification or association. Also, you don't inherit membership. Membership is an actual membership record centrally controlled in Salt Lake City. You either are a Mormon or you are not. There is no gray area.  You either have a membership record or you don't.

People cannot be baptized into the Church willy nilly by anyone. The person baptizing you has to have the power and authority to do so. The Church centrally controls who can and cannot baptize and who actually performs the baptism. Records of all baptisms are centrally controlled and kept.

For example, I was baptized when I was eight years old by my father. I have an actual membership record number. That can be consulted to determine that my father had the priesthood authority to baptize me, that the baptism was conducted in Ogden, Utah, under the leadership of a particular Bishop and at a particular authorized place. Paperwork establishing and verifying all of this, including authorized witnesses, is on file in Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. I am a member, no doubt about it.

If you have been baptized into the Church you are a member. If you are excommunicated from the Church, or formally ask to have your membership removed, then you are no longer Mormon.

So, that leaves people to either die or disappear. Does the Church count them? How does it keep track?

You would not believe the time, money and resources that are expended to keep track of all the members. In every congregation there is a "membership clerk" whose job it is to manage all of this stuff. For example, when we moved into a new congregation in a new state, one of the Church members who helped us move in was the membership clerk. When we went to Church the next Sunday he asked us for some identifying information to look up our records. All he needed was our names, former addresses, and the name of our former congregation. Whatever he did, our memberships had been transferred and our membership formally established in the new congregation by midday Monday.

Theoretically, every member gets visited at least once a month by members of the congregation assigned to do so. For example, my husband is formally assigned to visit five families every month and to keep track of them. He made contact with one last night. She says she doesn't remember being baptized and doesn't think she is a member. So my husband conveyed this to his leader yesterday and the leader will check her records today at Church. My husband will then convey to her the circumstances and authority of her baptism -- where it occurred, by whom, etc. Somehow this persons membership status will be resolved, by her and by the Church.

What if someone disappears from their home and no one knows where they've gone? Answer, volunteers will track 'em down. I had to be tracked down once. I had moved so often in college that the Church lost track of me. Volunteers called my mom and my sister, asking for information about me. Naturally, they gave it. My address was established and my membership records were sent to my congregation. The membership clerk handled things from there. My husband had a relative who got lost in the system twice and we got calls asking for information about this person. Same process occurred.

In sum, it is very hard to disappear in Mormondom. If this sounds strange to you perhaps you ought to read Luke, chapter 15 again.

Sometimes people don't want to be found. Sometimes they don't want to be a member anymore. They are told how to expunge their membership. But, it is something they have to do. It cannot be done by someone else for them.

However, you can be excommunicated (membership expunged) against your will. There is a specific process for this as well, all duly witnessed, authorized, executed and recorded. Excommunication comes as a result of sin: like adultery, apostasy, etc. If you establish your own church, then you will be excommunicated by the Mormons.

What I find really puzzling are the people who don't want to come to Church, don't want to have contact with the Church; but don't want their membership record expunged either. Naturally, we respect their wishes; but why don't they want to obliterate their membership? Strange.

So, given the lengths the Church goes to to establish, count and verify its Church membership, I think the numbers can be trusted.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Power Used Properly: Brandon Osmond

Previously, I highlighted Deuce Lutui, an NFL player, for using his power as a sports figure to assist the Church in Arizona. Brandon Osmond, son of Donny Osmond made the news in Scotland recently because of his mission there several years ago. Why? Because his influence is still being felt in the area.

The news article entitled, "Mormons to build place of worship at Mintlaw: Osmond son helped swell ranks of followers in area"
The Mormon Church is opening a new base in the north-east after the Osmond family proved they still have the power to draw a crowd.
Brandon Osmond, the son of 1970s pop sensation Donny, helped fuel a major expansion in the north-east congregation when he visited the area several years ago.
Now, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as it is officially known, has won permission to create a new place of worship at Mintlaw. . . . It won outline planning permission six years ago when Mr Osmond was working in Elgin as part of his missionary training.
Not everyone can be famous and not everyone wants to be. Who can deny that having a famous surname resulted in increased interest in the Church in this little piece of Scotland?

As I pointed out in the Lutui posting, Osmond could have damaged the Church also.

I'm not suggesting Osmond did all this single-handedly. Church growth is always a group effort. I imagine his famous surname has caused him some unique problems.

You can find out more about Brandon Osmond in this Mormon Times article and his other online sites.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mormonese and News Coverage

English wasn't my first language, Mormonese was. Mormonese is the language that Mormons use amongst themselves that is largely incomprehensible to everyone else. It includes words and concepts unique to Mormondom with a healthy dose of common words that mean something entirely different to most others.

We take Mormonese for granted because other Mormons understand us. Regular people don't. This causes no end of confusion especially in news coverage.

So, it is refreshing when some news writer goes to the trouble to truly understand us AND to explain us in terms understandable to others.

Kudos to Geoffrey Walter of the Mineola Patch for doing just that. His article, "Mormon Church Proposed at Old Salvation Army Building: LDS Church purchased site in October to house congregation" is a gem.

He accurately explains how we use our meetinghouses, what neighbors can expect, etc. If more writers attempted to be accurate in their coverage of Mormons we'd have less confusion in the world.

I'd like to extend my personal thanks to Mr. Walter for doing his homework. Now, if only the rest could follow his example.

Conversely, Mormons could do a better job of explaining themselves to others in terms that most people can understand. We need to do our homework too. Mormon writer, Orson Scott Card, probably isn't going to update his Mormon dictionary, "Saintspeak" anytime soon. We're on our own.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Saints & Scoundrels

Keith Brown, the father of The 5 Browns has been charged with sexually abusing his three daughters when they were children. This comes on the heels of a serious auto accident that leaves both Brown and his wife hospitalized. Mostly local news right now, the AP has picked up the story and it will likely spread.

It will probably spawn expose articles alleging sex abuse is rampant in Mormondom. This is nonsense, but nonsense spreads on the 'Net.

It has me thinking about John C. Bennett. Why? No particular reason except that he seems to embody the epitome of someone imbued with both tremendous good and tremendous bad. A biography of him entitled, "The Saintly Scoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John Cook Bennett" inspired today's posting title. Bennett achieved some significant things but he also engaged in some pretty spectacular evil shenanigans.

People seem most comfortable with those who are all bad or all good. Although, we do try and locate flaws in the saintly we seem discomfited by the good displayed in the truly evil.

But, what do you do when the two extremes are obviously evident in the same person? I don't know, but it troubles me. . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roses and Thorns, But Only Roses Today: A Story from Springfield, Missouri

The News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri publishes a column of letters entitled Roses & Thorns. I would assume the thorns are complaints because the roses are compliments. There were only roses on February 14, 2011. The following was one of them:
A ROSE: To three young men. We live next door to the LDS (Mormon) church. We have a long drive. Today, there were three young men with snow shovels cleaning our drive. These young men are from that church, seeing a need and filling it. We deeply appreciate this help.
- Harry Hankins, Springfield
Service is always a dish best served -- anonymously and voluntarily. Kudos to the young men and everyone, everywhere, who see a need . . . and fill it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I will go and do . . . as long as it doesn't require using a computer.

. . .  I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3: 7)
This classic scripture has been indelibly imprinted on the minds of all Mormons since their first association with the Church be it at birth or at conversion. However, my efforts to encourage fellow members to utilize the Church's digital tools largely meet with failure.

"I don't know how to turn on the computer and I don't want to know."

"I don't use the computer."

"I don't want to use the computer."

I don't want to learn the computer."

"I don't know how to use the unit web site."

I'll bet Nephi didn't want to learn how to build a ship.

In a prior unit I was in there was an investigator that no one knew what to do with. Finally, he was just dropped and ignored. Sounds drastic doesn't it. What was the problem? The problem was him. He wanted to learn about the Church. He wanted to explore Mormondom. He wanted to consider being a member. HOWEVER, he refused to read, study, listen to, be taught from or otherwise utilize The Book of Mormon. He would do anything he was asked regarding the Bible, just not The Book of Mormon. That book had to be excluded or else he wouldn't do anything.

I realize that in this blog environment I am preaching to the choir. If you weren't willing to learn and utilize digital tools you wouldn't be reading this blog entry. For that reason, I feel I can make some strong statements. Here they are:

We have been instructed to take the gospel to the world. Obviously, Heavenly Father will prepare a way for us to do so. It is logical to assume that would include digital tools. If we refuse to use them we are refusing to "go and do."

It is not our right to place restrictions on how the Lord's work will be accomplished. If he provides us with the tools we need to succeed then it is our responsibility to learn how to use them. And, we have the right to expect divine assistance in doing so.

As members, we have made solemn covenants to do all we can to accomplish the Lord's purposes. We should not be turning up our nose at the way he has "prepared" for us.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Burger King Religion: Have it Any Way You Want It!

Another title for today's post would be "Religion À la Carte" I like the Burger King stuff though. It's more provocative.

I often pick people's brains about religion. I like knowing what they believe and why. Most people share their beliefs, if they have them.

Obviously, not everyone I talk to belongs to a particular religion. Some have a generalized faith where they believe in God, for example, but do not attend services. Some declare their repugnance for any organized religion. Still others, consider themselves faithful and devout adherents but have a few issues with their Church on which they don't see eye-to-eye.

I have noticed a recurring  theme in what people tell me that I find disturbing. When people pick and choose their religious beliefs from a menu you can always be sure of two things:

1. Their belief system allows them the full range of religious benefits.


2. Their belief system doesn't require anything of them.

They get all the positives of religion but they don't have to do suffer any of the negatives. Their particular collection of religious menu items allows them to have all the religious benefits with none of the religious responsibilities.

This whole system strikes me as enormously convenient. If I  were to structure my own religious faith I would definitely follow this example. Just think, you could attain the highest status in whatever this, or the next life, has to offer and not even break a sweat.

I could spare myself the uncomfortable realities of the following: 
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated -- 
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. (See D&C 130:20-21)
There is something about the terms "law," "irrevocably decreed" "all blessings are predicated" and "obedience" that suggests we aren't being giving a menu from which to pick. What's more, this harsh pronouncement isn't followed by a list of any exceptions.

Interesting . . .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Theological Cheap Shots"

I continue to read Mark Paredes' blog "Jews and Mormons." Recently he suggested that with two viable Mormon presidential candidates the "theological cheap shots" will continue to occur in media coverage.

To head some of this off and answer anticipated questions, especially for his Jewish audience, Paredes held a question and answer session on his blog. I like all of his answers. Some are worth repeating here though not in their entirety.
Question: Do Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers? 
Answer:  . . . .we believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers just as we believe that Adolf Hitler and Elie Wiesel are brothers since they are both children of God.
Paredes also addresses the polygamy question but notes, "As a frustrated bachelor, I am personally grateful that I am only asked to find one wife, not several." I heard Sheri Dew once remark that if polygamy existed in the Church she would undoubtedly have a husband by now.*

Whenever I try to anticipate questions and think through possible answers ahead of time, so I'll be ready for anything, I always fail. Why? Because I cannot seem to anticipate all the bizarre connections, associations and assumptions people make. They really are "theological cheap shots."

I have prepared answers to the logical, reasonable reactions to my beliefs. I simply cannot anticipate all the illogical, unreasonable ones. What's even more frustrating is that in order to answer some questions I have to think hard about what sort of fundamental underlying assumptions produced the bizarre question in the first place. That takes time.

A dear friend, and fellow professor, once asked for help in sorting out a comment on how Mormons view Christian fundamentalism. Unlike so many others, he wanted a thoughtful answer to something he was sincerely trying to understand. He asked me in confidence with no apparent malice. I struggled to respond and then realized that what he meant by "fundamentalism" was different to him than what it meant to me.

I told him, "To Mormons, "fundamentalism" means one thing and one thing only, polygamy." He responded with, "Ah, that explains it."

This illustrates a common problem for people attempting to judge Mormons, or even understand them. We have a lot of unique terms in Mormondom but many of the words we share with other faiths often mean something very different to Mormons.

The term "Bishop" for example connotes a higher ecclesiastical position in Catholicism than it does in Mormonism. To Mormons a Bishop is the lay leader of a congregation, nothing more.

When people ask why women cannot hold the priesthood in Mormondom, or why Blacks were not allowed to for years, I have to explain the word priesthood.

Nobody trains to be a church leader. No one gets paid to be clergy. No one in a leadership position gets paid to head a congregation. It is not a full time occupation or even an occupation at all. These are all part-time volunteer positions. So, do people even understand what they are trying to criticize? No, but that doesn't stop them.

I agree with Paredes, the "theological cheap shots" will probably heat up with presidential campaign. Grrr . . .

*The address took place in 2001 in Garden City, Kansas at a chapel close to where Dew grew up.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jane Austen Abominations

In Salt Lake City a new version of Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, a Family Record is outselling other cities by a ratio of 8 to 1. Obviously something is going on.

It's not hard to jump to the conclusion that it has something to do with Mormons.

In order to solve this mystery, the book's editor, Howard F. Clarke, contacted Aspen Anderson
the Utah Regional Director of JASNA--the Jane Austen Society of North America. He gave Clarke several reasons why Austen resonates with Utah Mormons including morality, witty, romantic prose and no smut. What I found intriguing was the following:
“There is also a great focus on early marriage (there has to be, with the doctrine of abstinence), which means that the stalwart men of our church (who are far outnumbered by the amazing women, sadly) tend to marry young, leaving a lot of fantastic women to be single and pressured by their parents to get married. This is a cultural rather than a doctrinal principle, but it tends to leave a lot of women feeling wistful, and they turn to the romance of Jane Austen.”
I've never closely examined my own reasons for being a Jane Austen fan. However, identifying with the pressure to get married probably did play a part.

Everyone in my family is an Austen fan and that goes for my brothers too. Young or old, male or female, Pride and Prejudice is our perennial favorite.

My husband likes Jane Austen too and happily watches all the various versions of Austen novel adaptations with me. Keeping them straight, however, isn't his strong point. For a meticulous man with a phenomenal memory for detail, this baffles me. Consider the following:

- As we were settling in to watch a version of Pride and Prejudice for the gazillionth time he asked me, "Does Elizabeth marry Mr. Bingley?"

- We'd been watching an adaptation for a while when he commented, "I like this Mr. Knightley." I responded with "That's wonderful, dear, but we are watching Persuasion, not Emma."

I call these his Jane Austen Abominations.

I don't consider these missteps a serious malady, just an indication he needs to view an action flick.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If a Mormon can be . . .

From: "Surely a Mormon can be president" by Jordan Sekulow in the Washington Post. Mr. Sekulow is the Director of Policy and International Operations at the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ):
If a Mormon can be the governor of Massachusetts - neither a Mormon nor conservative stronghold - and a Mormon can be majority leader of the US Senate, surely a Mormon can be president.
He makes an excellent point. In fact, one has to wonder why this hubbub about Mitt Romney's religion doesn't carry over into hubbub about Harry Reid's religion. I think there are two reasons why.

1. Reid's a liberal Democrat.

2. Few people understand what the Majority Leader of the Senate actually does or what the position implies.

Overall, I think the second reason explains as much as the first.

I don't think Romney's religion would garner a headline if the national news media ignored it. Their artificial enlargement of issues finally end up affecting public opinion. Their irrational coverage of Obama's supposed support of Islam certainly has. Beck didn't help matters, despite his being Mormon himself.

They have to grasp at something whether it is Romney's religion, Quayle's gaffes, Ford's stumbles, Simon's bow tie or something else. It is irrational and idiotic especially when you consider Ford was a versatile athlete and college football star. Instead, he got painted as uncoordinated and clumsy. What could be more inaccurate than that?

Prominent Mormons have invaded every other occupation. It is about time for one to become President.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Something Is Wrong, But I Don't Know What . . .

I read an article entitled, "Sealed Fate Page 1: A burning in Ida Smith’s bosom leads her to Christopher Nemelka’s new spiritual order" in the Salt Lake City Weekly by Stephen Dark after reading the commentary on it in the Standard-Examiner entitled, "Is there an after-the-age-of-reason limit for very old LDS church members?" by Doug Gibson. Don't miss the Grondahl cartoon that accompanies the article. It is hilarious. 

I don't know Ida Smith personally but I knew of her while I was attending BYU. For that matter, I think I knew Doug Gibson as well. If he is who I think he is, he was a year ahead of me at my high school.

Anyway, back to Ida. She has apostatized from the Church and is now a believer in Nemelka and his claims. He says Joseph Smith delivered the gold plates to him and he translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. The sealed portion is available for downloading online apparently.

Ida has been formally excommunicated.

The first time I encountered her was at my Freshman Orientation when I began attending BYU. She headed the Women's Office at the time. She gave an address that largely consisted of some very depressing statistics. All the statistics had to do with how many female BYU students actually end up getting married, getting married before they graduate, actually graduate, get married after they graduate, etc. I couldn't argue with her numbers but boy it was depressing. I felt ready to cry when it was all over. I had a negative reaction to her personally as well.

I thought there was something wrong with her.

All the optimism and excitement I experienced in starting school was dashed rather quickly after listening to her. I hadn't gone to BYU with the sole intent of getting married. I wanted to learn. But, I thought there was a chance I might meet somebody in that vast field of single Mormon men at the Y. I remember her address so vividly because it was such a downer.

The last time I saw her was about seven or eight years later as I was finishing up my first Master's degree. I was walking with my mentor on campus and Ida passed us. My mentor said hello and called her by her first name. She responded by saying hello and using his nickname. She looked just as embittered as I remembered her. I can't remember if I told my mentor about my initial experience with her. I seem to remember his acknowledging that he thought she seemed embittered too but my memory is a bit vague on that point.

I still thought there was something wrong with her.

Fast forward to 2011 and I find out Ida is really off the deep end. Gibson provides a thought provoking question on just what should we do with people who may be a little too old for their own good. Dementia is a reality many of us will have to face, probably with members of our own family or in our responsibilities in local leadership positions.

There was a lady in one of my wards with dementia. She couldn't remember if she was a Mormon or not. She thought maybe she had been "sprinkled" but she wasn't sure. Sprinkled?! Oh my. . .

I still think there is something wrong with Ida Smith. It is now simply more evident than it was back in 1980 when the idea first occurred to me.

The people I know who have apostatized or been excommunicated have all done so gradually. There were always signs that something wasn't right in their lives, often for years before their formal break with the Church.

 I don't think it ever happens abruptly. Satan's too careful for that.