Monday, October 12, 2009

I tag-team teach Sunday School (Gospel Doctrine) with two other teachers. I had my turn this past Sunday. The lesson was number 37 in the Doctrine and Covenants manual. The topic was "We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet." I was impressed with the timing of the lesson being only one week since General Conference (GC). Evidence again of a master plan.

I was looking around for stories, quotes, or anything else by or about Thomas S. Monson. What I found, among other things, was a blog attacking the credibility of a talk he gave in GC years ago. The blogger was pretty clear with his opinion that President Monson was a fraud, a liar, and one worthy of our disdain and not our praise. There was a tremendous amount of vitriol aimed at our beloved leader. Others had found this blog as well and defended President Monson with their faith in hand. The testimonies were heartfelt, and the desire to set the record straight regarding our living prophet was an apparent catalyst for their responses. The blogger was not to be outdone by these "stupid" latter-day saints and his additional responses revealed a deep resentment towards a church and a people he considered evil, and even Satan (I wish it wasn't appropriate to capitalize his name) inspired.

He used all the typical arguments regarding the authenticity of the restoration. For example: Joseph Smith (JS) had twenty plus accounts of the first vision, the only church "accepted" one being given in 1838, some eighteen years since the alleged event (giving JS time to adjust and distort his experience to fit his needs while the church expanded). He also quoted Brigham Young (BY) making statements that seemingly contradicted the restored gospel as it is understood today, etc, etc.

This blogger was driven, and seemed angry. He was determined to paint the picture that every faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had been and was currently being duped by evil and designing men, bent on the manipulation of their followers. I was a bit sickened. I wrestled with my own desire to launch a retribution worthy of posting, but I decided not to. (The thread had been dead for a few months, I decided it was pointless.)

I found the strength of his arguments rested on the notion many in the church mistakenly share, specifically, a prophet must somehow be perfect in order to be a mouthpiece for God. This is backed up by other seemingly faithful assumptions such as:

"God will not let his prophet say or do anything that could embarrass or otherwise mislead the church." (An egregious misquote of the promise that God will not permit his prophet to lead us astray.)

"A true Prophet would never believe or preach a doctrinal point that wasn't one hundred percent in compliance with the will of the Lord."

"Prophets are not capable of making mistakes in thinking, speech, thought or deed."

"Everything uttered by the prophet has to be gospel and directed by the mind and will of the Lord."

"If a so-called prophet gives improper advice, makes a doctrinal assumption that is later contradicted by his own words, or misspells a person's name in a revelation from God, then he is clearly unworthy of his post, and the church that leaves him in it is therefore of Satan, patently evil, and a bane to the existence of every Christian in the nation."

Why do we allow ourselves to think this way?

It seems ironic to me there are those who would assign traits of Satan to their Father in Heaven. Satan's plan was to leave himself in complete and total control over all the rest of God's children. He wanted to force the mind of man, in every way possible and at all times. What we forget is that God is the exact opposite. He will never force the mind of any man, let alone his prophets, not even His own Son upon whom rested the full weight of responsibility for the rest of us.

The bible is replete with examples of the prophets making fools of themselves with God. This has nothing to do with what God will allow and will not allow, for He "allows" everything.

We needed a school in which to learn the differences between righteousness and evil, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, and progress or regression. We needed free reign in the classroom to decide the pace and nature of our own progress while allowing everyone else the same privilege. He knew we would fail to figure out the experience without mistake or injury to ourselves and others, and so he provided a Savior (who, strangely enough, had to figure out his own way to). He sent prophets who had to figure out their own way as well while at the same time being given the task of guiding us along the right path. There is a pattern here. God will never force the mind of man. It would be of no profit to the experience of his children to have provided us with a fool-proof church with leaders of impeccable minds, hearts, and talents.

Why would it be his plan to control any of his children here on earth be they idiot, savant, pseudo-intellectual, genius, layman, clergy, prophet, or even his only begotten Son? Inspire? Invite? Bless? Yes. Control? Guarantee? Force? Coerce? Manipulate? Never.

What would be the point? In fact, were he to actively "interfere" for our benefit, then he would destroy the purpose of our experience. It would not be our own, but rather His. Progression would be impossible. He would have acted simply to ease his own sorrow while destroying all of our hopes to be like him.

There are those who cannot contemplate a life without guarantees and safety nets. They suppose that if God were loving he would control the outcomes of man's choices (at least in his church, so his children would have a safe place to play and interact with others). Others take the opposite approach of "How can you say God loves us when he allows such great suffering to occur?" They seek or are unwilling to accept anything but a system which can promise desired benefits if they simply follow the rules. "If I do this then I can expect this. If I am obedient neither I nor any member of my family will suffer. When people have to suffer in life it is probably because they were not obedient or had enough faith. I am unworthy of God's love because of my disobedience, my blemishes are too great to ever be accepted by the Father again." Absolutes can be an addiction.

What is not typically understood is the very un-guaranteed nature of life and the tremendous faith it took for us to agree to this "experiment" and to place our trust in our Father's eldest Son to take care of the details of our salvation. I wonder if we ever uttered words of doubt like, "What if he doesn't go through with it?" or "What if we never get to come back?" or "Why would Father leave so much to chance, isn't that dangerous and uncaring of him, I mean does he actually want us to be exposed to heartache, pain, and sorrow when he clearly has the power to keep it from happening? What if it hurts too much?"

Even if only for a second.

To one third of us, it seems, the notion of a guaranteed outcome was more appealing than leaving it up to forces beyond their control. It therefore makes perfect sense to have some of us engaged in the same philosophical struggle here on earth. In fact it makes perfect sense for all of us, at some point or another, to question why there is so much room given for us to be idiots.

How fortunate are we? Throughout the history of our church, we have had valiant men, who are very often above reproach, to lead guide and direct the Kingdom of God on earth. If you seek blemishes, you will find them. If they become your focus, the beauty of all else will pale, until finally you have only ugly to contemplate.

There is simply too much beauty and truth upon which to gaze and I am personally grateful for all the room God gave his children to grow.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fake Plates

I read a response to a post ( in the Bloggernacle (Tabernacle + Blog + Desire to be considered clever) that caught my attention and inspired my response. It appears there exists a theory; Joseph Smith (JS) actually created fake gold plates to solicit the testimony of the 11 witnesses. (See the actual testimony of the three witness and the separate testimony of eight additional witnesses 8+3=11)

At first glance this could be a semi-probable hypothesis for the 8 who were given access to touch the plates directly by JS, but it doesn't quite explain the three who also claim an angel (Moroni himself - resurrected prophet, final engraver, and concealer) showed the plates to them and testified of the truthfulness of JS's calling and his translation of the sacred record. (Unless you also throw in the administration of hallucinatory drugs and the power of suggestion by some freak-of-nature, ego-maniacal, 23 year-old genius.)

In my response I am not sure that I came across as gentle or too sarcastic. (Feel free to interject.) I use sarcasm to make a basic point; the theory seems ridiculous to me. Perhaps I am therefore guilty of using ridicule in my reaction. It was thoughtless and unfeeling of me I am sure.

The point driven home to my head is this: The question of authenticity is, by design, incapable of any certainty. This is why faith is required of those fortunate enough to posses a copy of the Book of Mormon (BOM) and it is also the reason that so many are flummoxed when they desire to dismiss the book as patently false. Desperation rears its ugly head, and the claims for falsehood are just as fantastic as the author's claim for divine origination. Some say it was forged, or plagiarized, it came from Satan, it came from visiting aliens, a good friend, who was much smarter, wrote it, or JS was, in fact, some kind of religious prodigy with a thing for the phrase "and it came to pass." This is the first time I have heard of anyone claiming Joseph was, as his last name suggests, a smith. Who would have thunk it? The thought makes reason stare, but at least the theorist should get props for originality.

In the end, no matter the intelligence, whit, or study of the commentator regarding the contents of the BOM, (all due respect to Hugh Nibley, et al) each individual must do as instructed by Moroni. He must read the words for himself, ponder the meaning and import of its message, and take his feelings to God in prayer for the truth. The promise from the author is an answer that can change their life.

It has mine.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A good friend of mine in high school, and a few of the years following, was Catholic by birth, tradition, and practice (at least at Christmas and Easter.) For a few years in a row I would attend his parish's midnight mass with him. I watched the pageantry of a Catholic Christmas with genuine interest. I enjoyed the beautiful singing, the colors, and the smells. It was fast becoming a tradition of my own. I used to joke that all I would have to do is attend the Easter Mass, and then I would be just as Catholic as he was.

I thought then as I do now, the religious path you choose is a personal decision, even if it is heavily influenced by those you love and that surround you. If you are going to be a Catholic, then be a good one. There is no sense in doing anything, unless you strive to do it right. If you are going to claim allegiance to the Baptist church, then be all means live by its principles, learn its doctrine, and otherwise fully immerse (pun intended) yourself in the experience.

When the time came to serve as a missionary for my own church, I threw myself into the experience with all the zeal I could muster. I was absent from the lives of those I associated with for two years. When I returned, I looked up my friend. He decided to become an active participant in the Catholic church. He was attending weekly mass, and trying to live his religion. I was happy for him and I could tell he was a happier person driven with genuine faith.

I have a peer today. For years we worked in similar trades. He was raised by good Mormon "Stock" (related to pioneers of the 1800's, etc.) For someone who is only slightly older than myself, he comes across as well seasoned and wise. When he talks I listen. One day he asked me if I was a Mormon or a Latter-Day Saint. I had never been posed such an introspective question. The answer I stumbled out half jokingly was probably, "I'm only good enough to be called a Mormon who wants to be a Latter-Day Saint." Not that I hadn't noticed my shortcomings long before our conversation, but his question helped me to refocus my attention on areas in need of repair. It was apparent to me, and still is, that I needed to be more "immersed" in my religion.

My point, and I do have one around here somewhere, is to state my intentions to use this venue to better define my religious environment and to fine tune my thinking as it pertains to any issue that dovetails with my beliefs, philosophy, and faith. Personally I want to embrace the journey to be a Latter Day Saint, and not just a Mormon. I have no idea what other service my monologues will offer to the world outside, but I'm game for the experience. To coin a phrase so often visible on our own meeting houses, "VISITORS WELCOME."