Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Passing the test

Lately I've been learning tons about what life was like for previous generations hundreds of years back.  For example, today I learned about Christopher Wren, the architect who designed St. Paul's Cathedral in London.  He lived to the age of 91 in a time (18th century) where most people lived to be 30 or 40.  He was fortunate enough to come from a family that wasn't working class.

I mention this because of how unfair it is to expect people who live wretched, short lives to "pass" this "test" of life.  It's easy for people in church in a first-world country in the twenty-first century to talk about life being a test where we must stand up to temptation and endure to the end.  What if you're a child in a developing nation who can fall ill ridiculously easy?  What if you're a child who worked in the mines, standing in the pitch darkness all day to every so often open a door for the miners (where you also couldn't have food because it would attract rats).  I suppose  some people throughout history would at least be able to attend church on Sundays (especially as a reprieve to their hard labor).  But the church they would attend isn't even the 'true' church, apparently, and the 'true' church wasn't apparently on the earth.  How is that fair?

This is the time where someone could say that we all have our lots in life and that our life was designed to help us where we need it.  That's a little dismissive of people's hardships, in my opinion.  It's easy for you to sit in your air-conditioned home and say that living in a slum is just what that person needed.

The Plan of Salvation seems applicable to church members in developed nations from the Restoration onward, but I don't know how much sense it makes for the rest of humankind.  There was a time when the Bible was only in Latin and you could be burned at the stake for trying to publish it in English.  How in the world are the people who lived in that time supposed to know the truth and "pass" this "test"?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Will aspartame kill us? We want to know!

Two talks I heard last week in a branch I was visiting are today’s topic.  One was given by the branch president, and the other was given by his wife.

Sister Branch President (SBP) opened with a quote that at first sounded hopeful but which eventually filled my heart with despair.  By the way, SBP—poor dear—is headed for a nervous breakdown: I recognize so many qualities that I had that lead to my unraveling. 

I've searched in vain for the exact quote, but it started out by asking why we should be ashamed to be ignorant of the gospel of Christ?  Then it told us why we should be ashamed and asked why we would devote more time to reading the fantasies of men than the word of God.

At first I thought the quote was going to be about how it’s OK to ask questions, which would be reassuring to me, since I seem to ask them possibly annoyingly frequently.  But no: it was about how there is no excuse to not know the answer to a question because you should devote a massive amount of time to studying the scriptures.  This could be extrapolated to be saying that you shouldn’t read anything for pleasure other than the scriptures because it would just be a waste of time (I know that’s an extreme, but it’s also an implication).  The part about the fantasies of men particularly seems to imply this.

I have an answer: because the "fantasies of men" are entertaining to read.  Also, I believe you can get as much out of a novel as you can from out of the scriptures—really.  You can observe human nature and true principles.  You can learn about yourself by reading about others, even if those others aren’t prophets.  Books can take you on an emotional journey and touch your heart.  (Also, novels can include many more women as characters!) 

Anyway, the talk that followed was earnest and well meaning, but ultimately more of the you-should-be-doing-better stuff I hate.  It was about how we’re lacking and how we’re wrong.  She mentioned a missionary experience where she shared with a friend that the church has a living prophet through whom god speaks.  Luckily, she said, the friend didn’t ask her for any specific examples of what the prophet had said recently because she wouldn’t have known!  (This is the second time I’ve heard of this situation in a sacrament-meeting talk: not knowing the contents of the Ensign in the context of a missionary experience.)  She said that after this ‘chastisement’ from the lord (ugh) that she was sure to go home and read the church magazine.

Well, maybe if the prophet had something that was really interesting or groundbreaking to say then she would have remembered it.  If there had been a conference talk about how we have to evacuate Mississippi or how aspartame definitely causes cancer for example, then she could have shared that with her friend because it would have actually been memorable.  I’m pretty sure the basic gospel principles are the subject of most talks, so she could have shared  those with her friend had the question come up.  I say this not to chide her, but to point out that she was being too hard on herself for not remembering the sparkling wisdom that had recently been shared.

A bright spot in the talk was when she mentioned the counsel to slow down and not over-schedule.  She mentioned that when she hears the moms of her son’s class mates talk about what extracurricular activities their children are involved in, she feels that she needs to provide all of those opportunities to her one child.  At least she realized that this was unrealistic...I think.  (That kind of thinking though is an indication that a nervous breakdown might come sooner or later.)

Brother Branch President gave a talk summarizing Joseph Smith’s King Follet discourse, definitely a meaty subject.  I was actually pleased that the sermon was being talked about and that BBP quoted extensively from it.  It made me think about how I wish that certain beliefs were talked about more and not ignored. 

The King Follet discourse talks about how god was once a man and how man’s destiny is to become like god.  It asserts that god was a savior for another world before becoming our father.  As you can see, it’s pretty significant stuff (and the source of the ‘Mormons gets their own planets’ hearsay).  I thought it was great that BBP was sharing it—the church has for whatever reason dropped the discussion about these topics.  In fact, in an interview in 1997 with Time, Gordon B. Hinckley, when asked, "Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?" he responded, “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.”  (By the way, I got the quote from FAIR, which I mentioned in this post.)

BBP taught Sunday School too, and it was apparently customary to open the hour with a call for questions of any kind on any topic.  Inspired by his talk, I asked , “If god had a father god, and that god had a father, and so on, then where did it all begin?”  There wasn’t a satisfactory answer for that question (I didn’t really expect one).  I also asked for clarification about whether the discourse indeed said that god was a savior for another world, and when BBP said that it indeed suggested that, I asked if that meant that Jesus would next become a Father?  The answer was that probably yes.

What stuff!  What deep, significant ideas!  Why don’t we talk about this more?  Because it’s all hearsay, philosophizing, speculation.  But I feel that it’s important.  I feel that you could find an answer to these questions and that discussion would help.  A better question than ‘Why don’t we talk about this more?’ is: Why don’t general authorities clear up doctrines like this in General Conference?  Surely these are important things to know.  Maybe the beginning of time is a difficult concept to grasp, but surely the principle that Jesus will next become God for another world is worth knowing and talking about!   It regards the nature of God!   (And Jesus!)

The lesson was on chapters in Alma, but we did get into a discussion about the pre-existence because of a verse about being foreordained to a calling.  We talked about the meaning of foreordination and it was a great discussion.  We talked about what kind of decisions you could have made in the pre-existence and if you could have had the ability to sin.  I was worried that it might veer into the “some people were less righteous in the pre-existence and they are punished for it by their situation on earth,” but the fear was unwarranted.  I’m just wary of that explanation because it was used to justify blacks not having the priesthood and, more innocuously (?), why some people are killed en masse by god (think the flood). We could have gotten into determinism, fate, etc.  I think it was a good example of what Sunday School should be like.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A car miracle

Sometime my devil’s advocate thinking is going to get me in trouble with someone.  Someone will be offended that I contradicted them or that I diminished the importance of their story.  I hope this doesn’t happen, but it might.  I would never intentionally hurt someone's feelings, and I've been contradicted before and it was fine—it didn't hurt me at all: I mentioned how I in the past had thought that I had received a prompting, which was apparently nonsensical, but I ‘trusted’ that it was indeed a prompting because, after all, god’s thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways not my ways (i.e. his logic is incomprehensible to me).  But, after later reflection, I realized that it wasn’t a prompting but rather my brain being crazy; it used to be common that when I had to make a decision, I actually assumed that I would get a prompting that would either confirm the decision or, more often, tell me to do something else.  This extended to stupid little decisions, about which I nevertheless expected promptings , thinking that somehow a small and simple occurrence would have far-reaching (eternal) consequences.  
Anyway, my point with this comment was that if a prompting doesn’t make sense, it may not actually be a prompting—in other words, use your head and don’t just assume that you don’t understand the prompting yet.  Right after I said that, a guy raised his hand and shared a mission story that I’ve already described in this post.  Even today, I still think that the prompting that he received on his mission was not a prompting at all, but I of course can’t really know that, and I know it’s presumptive to think that I can.

When I criticize people, or at least contradict them, I do believe that I’m more criticizing the idea and not the person as a whole.  It really is the idea I’m attacking—not the person.  So when I share stories that include comments I don’t like, please keep in mind that I’m not just dismissing anything this person could say.  With that said, this Sunday during fast and testimony meeting, a lady shared a story about a recent miracle.  Her car had been shaking, and she was worried that it was going to break down.  She couldn’t afford at this time to buy a new one and being without a car would be a hardship for her.  She did admit that really, she could make do without it—but it would of course really complicate things.  Well, she got an email from the bishop telling her about a couple several hundred miles away who was going to move out of the country and needed to give their car to someone; this couple was going to visit family in this particular lady’s town as a last stop and so would have to drop it off in that town.  She got in touch and agreed to take their car.  She was extremely grateful and couldn’t believe how well it was going to turn out. 

The lady ended by saying that she was especially thankful because, really, the car was a want and not a need.  She said that when we try hard and obey god will provide us with what we need, but this case was special because she also got what she wanted.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this car situation was as perfect as the lady thought it was: what if there was someone else in the area/ward who actually needed the car more?  Who had a real need of it?  Hopefully, the bishop would know who in the ward was in need, but I can imagine it’d be very easy to not know that someone was in want of a car if that person didn’t mention it, perhaps out of embarrassment.  I just couldn’t help but think that maybe there was a family in that congregation wishing that it was they who had gotten the car; but in what context would that be appropriate to speak up and say something to the lady afterwards?  I guess if the other person was really in need, they could talk to the lady about possibly buying the car from her?  It just seems like such an imposition to make. 

Maybe that lady was the one who was most in need for the car—but what if she really wasn’t?  How does the person who deserved it more feel—like god doesn’t love them, or perhaps they weren’t obedient enough?  The lady just made it sound like god knew exactly who needed the car and it worked out perfectly in her favor.

This is all speculation on my part.  If there is some accuracy in it though, there is someone out there who is confused that they didn't receive the blessing they needed.  But, from what I've observed, if that's the case they'll find something positive from the experience and eventually find a solution, for which they will be grateful and praise god.