Saturday, July 30, 2005 

something must break

I have two close friends who have gone beyond the point of no return. The first one, I remember talking to him years ago, way before he crossed the line. I hadn’t seen him in a while and then when I did see him, he was just different. The energy was gone, the creativity was still there but it was desperate and dark. And not Joy Division dark, not a fun dark like that. We were having this playful conversation and I wanted to know what happened? How did he come to that? I didn’t come out and use those words but that’s what we danced around and he told me, more or less, that given the hand that he was dealt, there was no other reason for him to be anything else. Surely, the hand he was dealt was not a good one; when I first became friends with him he was trying to leave it behind. Maybe it was too tough, who knows, but one day he just gave up. Since then, the way he decided to be and things that just happened have left him without the capacity to function in society. The medication, I don’t even want to know with what they’re loading him but his mind is lost and no amount of medication will bring it back.

The other friend… In her post this week Kaycee mentioned psychopaths. This other friend, I wonder, was he always a psychopath? Is he really a psychopath? (I want him to be a psychopath; it’s more comforting to think that he’s always been mentally ill.) Currently I’m thinking he isn’t a psychopath, at least, not organically. Anything worth having in life takes work and he never wanted to do the work. The fantasy and the spectacle and the quick fun, he could never shake a sincere desire for them. I don’t know when he decided to trade it all in— could have been that he had everyone fooled for years (a likely possibility) or maybe one day after years of fighting he threw in the towel. At any rate, for a while there he was a true villain, and would still be but even a successful villain has to work at it; and his life has become truly so pathetic that there few left who can’t see through the ruse.

These two friends, they aren’t drug addicts, or alcoholics, their minds aren’t clouded from illegal substances; they aren’t thieves or criminals, they just didn’t want to do the work it takes to be a decent human being or even a half-decent human being or even 1/16 of a decent human being. I think the point of no return, it isn’t murder or adultery or any other sin like that; sometime after you decide to stop trying, one way or the other you permanently lose strength and control and clarity and that’s when there is no going back.

Enough dreariness. I’m going to get back to listening to The Best of OMD. That album is awesome!

Friday, July 29, 2005 

Whale stories

Okay, just one. Moby Dick. I finally got around to reading Moby Dick in college (it wasn't even for a class; I just went through a period when I figured that I ought to read "important works of literature"). (spoilers (?) ahead)

One of the interesting things about Moby Dick is that there are no heroes. The most sympathetic characters are Ishmael and the Harpooners (a great band name), but they are all passive observers in the story, literally tossed about by weather and maelstrom. Then there is Starbuck, the nice guy, whose inability to ultimately stand up for what he believes makes him an innocent bystander in his own death. Starbuck's death (and the sinking of the Pequod) barely register as we wrestle our way through the final chapter.

The most compelling two characters are Ahab and Moby Dick. Let's just call the whale evil or chaos and leave it at that. We don't have to give it human motivations in order to make the story comprehensible, so we don't bother. Slap a label on the whale (hopefully, it won't anger him) and move on.

Ahab, however, denies easy labeling. His motivation, like all great passions, is interesting to us. We are entertained and, sometimes, inspired by people who diligently and determinedly follow their dreams, even if their dreams are somewhat lacking morally (I really must have my revenge on that whale).

Ahab is held up for most of the book as an example of imminent competence. He seems entirely capable of killing that whale and we may even be surprised that he didn't manage it the first time. We may not even get this impression from Ahab himself (if I recall correctly, Ahab isn't around that much on deck), but we get the impression from the men whom he has chosen and the efficient, skilled manner in which they go about their work. There is never any doubt about who will win in the cetacean/sapien contest until we approach the end of the book.

Moby Dick is a force, but not one to be reckoned with. At the appearance of the White Whale the appropriate response seems to genuinely be flight. Like the great epics of early civilizations, the deep is a source of life, but it is also a chaotic, destructive force that is beyond human comprehension. In both Job and Genesis, whales appear as examples of God's creative power, because these are things to which it is futile to compare humans. We're not even on the same scale. The existence of whales is used to acknowledge that some things are simply beyond us.

But Ahab will not understand this. The rational captain may understand it. The whale is too deadly. One could live a long, profitable life with that pretty wife left back in Nantucket if one simply gave up on that whale. But Ahab will not. There is nothing in life that can defeat Ahab and he is determined to prove it. He must have his revenge; he must kill this whale or his life will have been useless, meaningless. Like Harry Potter and Voldemort, if one lives the other cannot (at least, that is how Ahab sees it).

Why must we tackle the whales ourselves? Jacob, in 2nd Nephi 9:19, compares death and hell (meaning physical and spiritual death) to monsters. Dan Belnap (whom you don't know, but I do) has pointed out that Death and Hell are monsters associated with the sea in the Ugaritic Baal cycle. Baal, like Ahab, sets out to defeat the monsters and, like Ahab, he is killed. The truth is that there are some monsters that simply are beyond our power to defeat. We find most of these monsters in ourselves (as self-destructive behaviors, favorite sins, etc.).

Baal was brought back from the monster, Death, by the intervention of divine mediation (his sister and his mother fought for his release). Ahab is a bit different because he ultimately refuses the help of others. He must put the harpoon in Moby Dick himself. He will have no intermediary, he must conquer, must control the situation himself or it will have been fruitless for him.

I think that everyone at some point finds themselves facing that whale. Are we willing to do what we must to defeat it (ie. getting outside help) or are we so stuck on ourselves that we make our defeat certain by assuming the certainty of our success? I believe that it is possible to make the wrong decision here (heck, I do it all the time), but I keep attempting to make the right decision, too. Ahab, seeing the right decision as weak, as belittling, refuses it. It is so important that he kill the whale himself, that he kills himself on the whale.

The point of no return is a state of mind. As long as we steadfastly refuse God, we are there. The vast majority of people will reach this point in their life (there only being one exception, I believe). Most people will understand the futility of the position and back down from this unrealistic, self-destructive, "morally superior" stance, repenting their way back to God. But then there is Ahab. It is within the realm of conceptual possibility that some won't, so the possibility must be considered. Ultimately, will God make us do something that we don't want to do? Can he? Apparently not.

Everyone dies spiritually (if we understand it to mean separation from God). Even Christ did. Those who refuse to live again spiritually will not be forced to. It seems to go against the nature of our relationship to God. However, it seems to me that the vast majority of the people of the earth will realize the futility of jousting with the whale themselves and will come to a welcoming, loving, whale-obliterating Father for help and I thank God for that.

Thursday, July 28, 2005 

Another One Bites the Dust

So...I'm on vacation all week and assumed (foolishly) that I would have PLENTY of time to write an intelligent post for this week's topic.

Did I mention how foolish I am?

I have barfy children as of 2 am this morning. There has been no completion of any such intelligent post. I will do so as soon as Mommily possible...

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 

A point of no return?

A "point of no return?" Does such a thing exist in the Christian faith? I don't think it does.

Just look at Saul/Paul. He was obviously an enemy to Christianity--doing everything in his power to stop people from accepting Christ. No doubt he committed other sins along the way, and yet he became one of the most powerful prophets in the Christian faith.

But maybe what we're talking about here is people who believe in Christ and turn away. From personal experience, I would hazard the guess that if you really actually believed in Christ, then you wouldn't turn away. I don't think people who have real faith can turn their backs on their religions.

One of the things that always irked me when I heard it was that there were only two sins that were nearly unforgivable... mortal sins. They were murder and adultery. I think murder and adultery can have a similar emotional affect on thier victims. Yet people "find God" after committing these sins all of the time.

I think that just leaves us with the sociopaths. Basically the people whose anti-social disorder leaves them entirely uncaring about society and the people in it. (This might just be too many episodes of Law & Order talking.) But... if it's a disorder, then is it really their fault?

Basically, I think Christianity's got a lot of loopholes... ways to allow people to come to Christ. This may have come off as cynical and negative, but my point is that the strength of Christianity is that there isn't a point of no return. Christ will always love you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005 

I Was Blind, But Now I See

I honestly can't tell you how difficult it is to follow Carrie Ann every week. The woman is AMAZING and knows her stuff. But, more often than not we share a lot of opinions. Because of this, I usually end up telling you about my own personal experiances with our chosen topic of the week. This week it's spiritual death, and yeah, I've been there and done that. It's no fun.

As I have shared in the past, I have had my share of trials, and made more than my share of bad choices. If there is one thing I know, it's that you can't feel the Spirit very well when you're doing stuff you shouldn't be doing. The other thing I learned, is that I have yet to do anything that pushes me into some place where I can't return to my Heavenly Father. I have had moments where I really believed I was too far gone, where I had done more than was at all forgiveable. Amazingly enough though, when I was ready, and talked with my Heavenly Father (and as appropriate, priesthood leaders) it was amazing how quickly the Spirit was again a presance in my life. It took work, it took prayer, it took determination to give up the things that were keeping me from the presance of my Heavenly Father. But I knew what was important to me. So... I did those things that were required of me to return. I have a testimony of the atonement because I have been dead and live again. I have lived in darkness, and can tell you, the light is much better. Heavenly Father is just waiting on us to apply the atonement, to turn away from behaviors that keep us from him, and live with the Spirit in our lives.

Monday, July 25, 2005 

Welcome to the Spiritual Gymnasium...Take a Towel

"Spiritual Death: What is the Point of No Return?"

If you are new to VSoM and have not already witnessed it: we are a non-judgmental forum. We have, hopefully, overcome our paranoia that we are being judged by others, and have found a place where we can discuss, opine, relate, learn, and appreciate. This is a place where you can state what you personally know to be true, and be treated respectfully. Your voice will be heard here, it may not be agreed with, but you will be heard and you will be treated with respect, and we ask that you do the same for others.

As is my practice on the first day of a new topic, I will lay out the official “Mormon” doctrine on the subject (so that we all begin on the same page) before I explore one small part of the topic and expound my PERSONAL views.

Jesus Christ overcame two major obstacles that keep us from returning to Heavenly Father’s presence: physical death & spiritual death.

1. Physical Death: this exists because we are immortal spirits born into mortal bodies. Our bodies are only created to last temporarily. In this mortal state, we are subject to malfunctions, deformities, disease, illness, and death which all occur naturally based on the laws of biology, physics, heredity, etc. (laws which God himself set in place). Death causes our bodies to cease functioning altogether, and commences breaking our carbon based vessels down into the very elements we are created from. It is altogether a stinky process. But our immortal spirits live on.

Jesus Christ overcame physical death when he gave up his life on the cross, was dead, buried, and resurrected three days later. Resurrection is the reuniting of the body and the spirit in an immortal and perfect state. Christ rose from the grave, he has a body, his spirit cannot be separated from his body again, and his body will not die. We, too, will be resurrected one day. Our bodies and spirits will be reunited in a perfect and immortal state.

2. Spiritual Death: this means separation from God. This state exists because Adam and Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge thereby transgressing the law which Heavenly Father gave them: do not to eat the fruit of that tree. This is a whole other interesting discussion for another time, but this was all part of the great plan. A transgression needed to occur, the precedence of sin and repentance, so that man might be, that the law of obedience and sacrifice could be put into place, so that we would have need of a Savior who could again bring us into the presence of God.

Jesus Christ overcame spiritual death, or suffered for our sins so that if we repent, we may be forgiven and in that forgiven (spiritually clean) state, may enter the presence of God. We call the process of overcoming the obstacle of spiritual death, The Atonement. While resurrection is a “freebie” meaning that EVERYONE will resurrected no matter what…forgiveness is conditional to our effort, obedience, and endurance until we die and our “testing period” is over.

So here’s where the official doctrine stops and Carrie Ann’s theory on spiritual death, or as I like to call it “spiritual health” begins. I had this big long analogy about how spiritual health is like physical health…how I can’t focus on one thing (food control) and be healthy, how I can’t choose one thing I really like (nachos) and create a health plan out of it…I really can’t pick and choose what makes me spiritually healthy any more than I can pick and choose what makes me physically healthy.

I don’t think anyone is going to write this week who has overcome all the obstacles of spiritual health that they want to. I haven’t purged all my various spiritual diseases, but I know the sweet relief of forgiveness, the discipline of forsaking comforts or preferences, the struggle feels good when I succeed, just like endorphins kicking in after a good workout… I am so grateful to know that Christ is on my side. It’s not God against me…although sometimes it’s me against God.

I can’t be made clean with out the miracle of the Atonement. No one can become clean on their own. They can stop the behavior, but without turning to the Lord and becoming humble and asking to be forgiven, the Atonement has no effect.

The place I fear the most is the place where I can’t remember what the Spirit feels like. I can’t hear him. It’s when I have spent too many days and nights as a glutton for unhealthy diversions or I when I haven’t been “exercising”…going to bed too late to want to pray, making excuses instead of obeying, etc. One of my most insidious justifications is that “I can handle it”…”I’ve got a fast spiritual metabolism”…

One thing I fear for my friends and family (as well as myself) is losing spiritual tone. Case in point, I had a conversation recently with one of my husband’s friends in which I was trying to recruit him to guest write for us here at VSoM. He was raised Mormon and he even came out to BYU, but has not been practicing for many years now. He is a very intelligent individual, but as we got on the topic of “what is a sin” his logic was circular and incomplete. I assumed that he would remember the doctrine from his Mormon days, but he didn’t, so we weren’t even really discussing the same point. If you keep yourself away from spiritual things, or if you don’t allow yourself to feel spiritual things, you will forget them. Knowledge is a gift that is given by the Spirit and can be taken away. Having a testimony of truth, yea even this whole religion, was NEVER based upon book smarts…

Heaven knows I go through my ups and downs of spiritual flabbiness; which is one reason that I like this forum so much. It gives me the opportunity to study subjects that are interesting, and to study them with interesting people. I’ve made it a part of my weekly workout, and hope that it has become part of your routine, too.

Saturday, July 23, 2005 

You just haven’t earned it yet, baby

They say we are the True Church, God’s Chosen People; we have The Fullness of the Gospel. Even if all that is true, does it really mean anything? Does membership in the church necessarily bring one closer to perfection? When I was much younger, I thought it should. What’s the point of being God’s Chosen Person if it doesn’t get you anywhere? Later, when I lived in a predominantly Mormon community, I got a different taste of Mormonism. All the same stuff went on in that city as goes on anywhere else, but this time, it was all being done by the Mormons. It was the active Mormons excluding Non-mormons, sinners and “less-actives” from events and activities; Mormon teachers sleeping with the cheerleaders, ranking Mormon officials embezzling money, lying, cheating and getting away with it. A chosen people indeed.

These shining examples contributed to my wanting to get away from the Mormon church forever. Eventually I realized that the people weren’t the church, the church wasn’t even the church, and that I shouldn’t judge everything on the basis of a few wacky apples and other common foibles bound to arise from a culture that constantly reminds itself that it is God’s Chosen Culture. I still expect too much from the church. Some of that comes from my career, which has weeded out the knuckleheads so effectively that I spend the day around people who are generally very capable, responsible, and charitable. Sure they have their imperfections, but they aren’t claiming any moral high ground, either. And I often find myself looking to their examples but I can’t help thinking, “I’m kind of a lazy knucklehead. Shouldn’t I be looking to the Mormons instead of a bunch of drunken atheists?”

And that’s why I just can’t expect perfection from anyone. It invites judgments that shouldn’t be made, disappointment, division, pride and all that. It’s a miserable life to give too much weight to imperfection. In truth, in every ward I’ve been in I’ve encountered one or two couples that are just excellent examples in all aspects of life and I suppose that I need to stop wishing that the rest of us (that’s including myself) would handle things as well as they do. And I’m stopping here, as here is where I was about to repeat what my fellow VSoMers have written this week.

Friday, July 22, 2005 

Impossible possibilities and other what-not

The ontological argument for the existence of God is based wholly in the idea of perfection in an imperfect world. Succinctly, the fact that we can conceive of a perfect being at all, when that goes contrary to all of our experience, may prove that such a being must exist. This particular argument doesn't fly particularly well in the world of Mormondom because we seem to prefer the realm of the actual to the potential. I can conceive that there are millions of dollars in my bank account, but it would be foolish in the extreme for me to act as if conception meant realization.

That said, the frustration with mortal existence that lies beneath the ontological argument speaks powerfully to Mormon experience. We are terribly aware of the fallen status of the world and, specifically, of ourselves. In Primary and Seminary we are told over and over again that we are all sinners, that there was only one sinless human, and that human was Christ. The need for an infinite atonement is plain when one considers the nearly infinite amount of sin that humans have engaged in. Add to that the failings of mortal bodies, the impermanence of mortal substance, the fleeting nature of our lives, homes, memories, and natures and we can understand the longing for perfection that led the medieval Catholics to make the ontological argument.

At the heart of the ontological argument (and most arguments about the nature of perfection) is the desire for stability, for order. Why is a perfect God unchanging (the same yesterday, today, and forever)? Why is God's course one eternal round? Why are all concepts of God caught up in this idea of eternity? It raises God above time and the reality of time, more than anything else, keeps mortality from perfection. The awareness of the passage of time reminds us of our own mortality. Our mortality causes us to divide up and parcel out our time to those projects that interest us most. If we had infinite time at our disposal, we would never have to choose (or, at least, make hard choices) because there would always be time to do whatever you wanted to put off. But such is not the case. We have limited time (the exact limit, no human really knows) and we even spend a third of it asleep. God's perfection may even be the result of infinite time. But his eternal status keeps him firmly out of our understanding.

So, when we discuss perfection, we look at what we think perfection might be and we tie it into infinity. If I had infinite time, I could learn everything that there is to know; I could exercise and eat right until my body was perfect; I could create an infinite number of children and use the infinite knowledge gained by infinite study to raise them perfectly. Obviously, there is more to God than infinity, but what that would be is, by definition, beyond our comprehension, so why bother with it?

Here is the thing. We are not sent to earth to become perfect people (at least, not in the way Christ was). We don't have enough time. We are too willful, too flighty, too mortal, and too sleepy to really do it in the time alloted to us. Occasionally, we may have good moments, but, as President Hinckley has said, life is mostly smoke and bumps. We don't have a good idea of what we are about most of the time. We don't even have a good definition of what perfection is. Any definition is necessarily limited by our own experience which is another reason why the ontological argument doesn't work; recognizing that we are less than some arbitrary standard does not mean that we have gotten the standard right, all it means is that we are not as good as we think we ought to be. This makes self-satisfaction the equivalent of perfection, which I am fairly certain misses the point.

Now I could go on about the nature of grace and the combination of faith and works, but others have done it better and it's probably a subject for another day in any case. My point is this, the world is not designed to produce perfect people. Time and mortality in all things work against this and they are excellent foils. We are all damned to imperfection, no matter what. So, why ask us for perfection? That's the paradox at the heart of our interaction with God. Only by asking us for perfection can God cause us to realize how inadequate we are to the task. Having realized that, we can turn to Him who perfects us via His grace. Thus the commandment is kept when we realize that we can't keep it without God.

So, whatever perfection is (I again assert that we don't have a helpful definition), we know that we aren't it and that God is. So it is only via union with God that it is achievable. This union is only possible through the mediation of Christ and his atonement, in other words, it is there for the asking.

Why should we not care that we fail to be perfect? Because it is an impossible task. It's like beating yourself up for failing to fly by merely flapping your arms. We need help to soar.

ps. After writing all of this, I realized that everything I wanted to say had been said in the comments to Carrie Ann's post. So, happy repitition to you all.

Thursday, July 21, 2005 

Because Being Human is Part of the Problem

About a month ago, Kaycee’s post on Individuality brought on some very interesting comments about PERFECTION. The comment I made back then is very much how I saw myself writing this post for this topic:

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, right?”

I truly believe that we were sent to this earth with the same goals (destination, if you will) in life but VERY different roads to travel by. Each of us, with our different personalities and strengths, were sent to this earth to be tested so that we could eventually (er…hopefully) grow into the beings we have the potential to become. Our goal of becoming like Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Parents would then, yes, be a goal of perfection but each of us has very different approaches to that very same goal.

“As someone who struggles with the whole ‘perfection’ thing (personally) I think that the beauty of an individual’s faith (and through the atonement of Christ) each of our differences makes us who we are.”

I am very hard on myself…I always have been. I am very much a perfectionist about certain areas of my life…and it is a struggle for me. The words “If I can’t do it right (perfect) than I’m not going to do it at all” crosses my mind often. I prevent myself from whatever learning God had intended for me because I didn’t even want to try the task…or I didn’t learn the lesson because I was too wrapped up in doing it PERFECTLY. If I had more faith in the plan for my life, perhaps I would rely more on Heavenly Father to help me see things in a different light.

“Every day, I take my little Franklin Planner and plan out my day the best that I can. Some days I get everything done...most days I don't. But every day I have a PLAN...A FOCUS, if you will. HF has a plan for all of us. He has set the example and given us tools to follow through with that plan knowing full well that we will not be perfect and that we will each have our own way of doing things.”

I think we were all created in such a way that we would compliment each other’s differences so that we might work together to achieve our GOAL of perfection. Heavenly Father designed The Plan so that we could have that all important FOCUS in our life and know what we need to do. He knows how human we all are. He knows that we will fail. He knows that we will not be perfect in this life…but that we should be working diligently to try and become so. I believe that the journey to perfection is much of the point of our life’s plan and that the Atonement is key to that journey.

I still keep my good ol’ Franklin Planner and I still plan each of my days in hopes that I really will complete everything on that task list knowing full well that I won’t always be able to. But at the end of each day, I look at what I accomplished and reflect on what I’ve been able to do. I also realize that I can only do what I can do…and the tasks that weren’t completed move to the next day. The GOAL is still there…I just have to keep working at it and not give up.

“Striving for perfection is not the same thing as BEING perfect.”

Monday, July 18, 2005 

I Care, But I Don't Compare...

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48

The idea of perfection overwhelms A LOT of people. Many people reject the idea that perfection is even attainable, and therefore cease to strive for it altogether.

Justification for not striving for perfection might run along the lines of “it is wholly unattainable in this life”, “I am not perfect today, therefore I never will be”, or “where do I even begin?”

Let me ask you…did anything wholly satisfying and worthwhile ever come easily (besides winning the lottery…)? What are you most proud of? Was it handed to you on a platter? What excruciating experience made you stronger and wiser? Was is a pleasant one?

In our world of ease and convenience, we have lost sight of the struggle. In the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of people were striving for the enlightened state, and making an effort at it. People traveled thousands of miles, denied themselves food and water, walked many miles, and gave up lives of convenience to seek something higher. Sure they were called hippies, crackpots, and Beatles, but can you see the effort put into it?...the sacrafices and effort put into gaining something more?

I think it helps us feel better to focus on the fact that nobody’s perfect. It slightly relieves us in our efforts to look around and say, “Phew, THEY are CERTAINLY not perfect, so I’m OK.”

This isn’t a competition. Heavenly Father isn’t going to compare me to my neighbor to determine my eligibility for heaven. He won’t say, “Well, for a white woman who lived in Provo for XX years, she did OK considering her demographics, age of death, etc…”

Perfection is not relative. However, perfection IS somewhat vague. If you want the hardcore on perfection read what Bruce R. McConkie has to say about it in “Mormon Doctrine” (pgs 567-568). If you want a more digestible version, read Spencer W. Kimball’s take in “The Miracle of Forgiveness” (pgs 208-210).

I love that President Kimball puts it this way:

“Perfection really comes through overcoming. The Lord Revealed through John: ‘To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21)”

So ask yourself: What do I (personally, not relatively) need to overcome to be perfect?

Maybe word it this way: What do I need to “give up”? What is stopping me, or to be evangelical, "damning" my progression. What will keep me from the prize that is rightfully mine? What small (or large thing) will be the “duh” moment at the Judgment? What little more could I have done?

I care about all y’all, but I’m not comparing myself to you. I can’t worry about your sins making my sins look “not so bad after all.” You gotta take care of your own stuff. Knowing that you’re not perfect does not help me one bit. Knowing that I’m not perfect and that there’s something I can do about it keeps me going.

Does worrying about being perfect keep me up at night? Occasionally. Is the occasional sleepless night good for my salvation? Probably. Where we meant to worry about this subject a little? Heavens, yes!

I just tell myself to suck it up…if I accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ I accept the idea of striving for perfection….IN THIS LIFE. However, honestly, you will worry a TON about it unnecessarily if you don’t seek out the meaning of perfection in this life. So do some homework…it made me feel TONS better… Seriously, go read what President Kimball said about it…

Friday, July 15, 2005 

What do I care?

I am of two minds regarding this week's topic. I could have (and probably should have) gotten out appropriate reference materials and given you the long history of the church's approach to evolution. But it's been a busy week and much of that material is currently being hashed out, for better or for worse, at places like No Death Before the Fall and Mormons and Evolution and, much like my co-bloggers, I don't really see what all the fuss is about. We're here and God seems to favor us over other earthly creatures. What else is there really to know?

This is actually the aspect of the debate that most interests me. What is at stake if we say evolution is God's method of developing us or if we say 6 days is pretty unambiguous? Neither of these options would ultimately affect our reading of scripture to any great extent. Whatever effects there would be, would come as we reinterpreted old scripture in light of new information. The church would continue to be true in either case.

So, what is at stake? Is it our unique place in the universe? Possibly. True application of Darwin's theories do not give humans much cause to point to themselves as the apex of evolution. Generally, the LDS who have partially accepted evolution as a means for God to create us seem to me to believe in a guided evolution. That God has tweaked the genes or the environment over time so that human body developed and could accept human souls. This is alien to Darwin's understanding and to modern applications of the evolutionary theory. The only guides for Darwin are death and reproduction, no supernatural invisible hands necessary.

Darwin wasn't hesitant to separate humans from animals though. One of the most important separators is the moral sense that humans possess that animals, apparently, do not. I talk about this with my students in terms of the shark (one of the more evolutionarily successful creatures ever). If we ignore human aesthetics, how do we distinguish between a good shark and a bad shark? Do sharks ever fail to live up to their moral potential? Is any shark (that reproduces) a failure? It is ridiculous to apply these categories to sharks (or other animals), but we readily do the same to humans. We are, in our minds if nowhere else, a different breed.

Some people have theorized that all of that moral handwringing and overanalyzation gives us an evolutionary advantage, which explains our place at the top of the food chain. Perhaps, but it hardly explains our sense of our own worth. We seem to feel ourselves apart from the rest of the natural world, but a greater likelihood to reproduce is hardly enough to give us this sense of superiority (or even the power to have this sense).

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who cling to a kind of Biblical inerrancy in describing metaphorical events and symbolic actions. This also leads us to a sure knowledge of our place in the universe. We are the chosen because God has chosen us and who are we to argue. We have a divine mandate to rule the earth, subdue it, and fulfill our destiny. We are the children of God and that conveys a status upon us that is unimpeachable.

The way we use both approaches leads us inexorably to the conclusion that we are special, which is not something that evolution proper actually does. Ultimately, I think this is why the Church has traditionally looked askance at the theological implications of evolution. I don't believe the prophets care at all if God took 6 days, 6,000 years, or 60,000,000 to develop us. They are understandably less willing to leave our development to the trial and error of natural selection. I don't think the Brethren it matters whether we came from hominids or other planets. But I do think that they believe that it matters whether God himself was involved in our development and in our lives today.

Ultimately, I have to reject evolution because it doesn't square with my understanding of a loving, involved God. Evolution is its own form of Deism. Darwin discovered the rules in charge, that God left the rest of the world to run by. But our success is not determined solely by whether or not we reproduce and God seems to be unwilling to let random chance and change be the sole determiner of how we become. So the standard evolutionary theory doesn't accurately explain my spiritual experiences and, ultimately, that is the only evidence that is convincing to me.

Thursday, July 14, 2005 

More On What We Don't Know

It would appear that this week’s them is not so much about Creationism or Evolution. No, I would have to say that this week’s topic covers a lot of “I DON’T KNOW.” And I’m really not sure that I will change that theme.

My opinion (or belief) of the topic is simple. I do believe that God created this earth. I also believe that the earth today is not exactly the same earth that was first created. I would even go as far to say that this world has EVOLVED. The specifics of it all are totally lost on me. But let’s face it, I’m an accountant…not a scientist.

When I was younger, I thought A LOT about the creation of this earth. Me and my friend Jaimee would get into these DEEP topics of life…of how this earth came to be…how Heavenly Father “came to be” (if you will) and other such mind boggling topics that only two 12 year olds could completely confuse themselves with. I often wondered if the creation of this earth was a trial and error type of thing. That Heavenly Father might’ve had the drawing board of what humans should look like…and then changed his mind…and then maybe created them to evolve to see what worked best. But again, I do not know the answer to any of these questions. It’s just something that people think about…it keeps the mind boggled for sure.

I am a curious person by nature and so these Unsolved Mysteries keep my interest…because there is a part of me that wants to know. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m not going to spend hours of each day researching the topic looking for the slightest of answers because I’ll learn the answers in full someday. I’m pretty content with that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005 

What the Heck Do We Know?

I always respected the Agnostics. Strict Creationists (believing that the world and everything in it was created in EXACTLY 6 days) drove me crazy because scientific evidence disproved them. Anyone who said they "believed" in evolution drove me nuts, too. Evolution is just a scientific theory, not a belief system. I used to like the view that Carrie Ann explained-a God-planned evolution.

These days I'm most comfortable admitting that I just don't know. I can't figure out how life got created out of non-life. I can't figure out how to reconcile evolution with creation. I just say that I don't know.

And really... what's wrong with not knowing? Is knowing how the human life came to be going to affect anything I do or the way I think? Probably not. I still have the same life, either way. Absolutely nothing in my day to day life or my long term goals is going to change if I suddenly learn with certainty that I'm the super-great-granddaughter of a primate or if God's existance and role in the creation of Earth is proved to me absolutely.

Frankly... I just don't need to know.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005 

It Took A Long Time To Become You

I have always kind of giggled at people who are extreme fundamentalists about ANYTHING. I giggle at them because they are so 100% sure they are 100% correct that they leave no room for any other thought, any other way it might be. To me, that is just plain silly and quite worthy of a giggle.

The debate between the creationism and the Evolutionists has always made me chuckle out loud. People get hugely fired up about this, and to be honest I have never really understood why. Like Carrie Ann, I have a foot in both the creationism and the evolutionary ring. I believe that the earth, and all of us were created by Deity and that we were created in His image. I also believe that human beings have significantly evolved since our initial creation. I think that is obvious that we are groaning, that we are pushing forward. Looking at the art people are creating, the books people are writing, and you can see that we're changing, we're evolving.

I know, in the 26 years I have been here on this planet I have evolved physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have grown and changed, I have had my limits pushed, and learned that it is really all about survival of the fittest. You have to be able to handle the things life throws at you, you have to survive the experience you're having. You often have to adapt to a situation or a circumstance. When creationism scream about evolution not being of God I let out a little laugh. It's so obvious that the Lord intended us to change, demanded it of us even. We were commanded to become more like Him, to strive for perfection. We can't do those things if we stagnant. There must be change. There must be adaptation. We must evolve.

For me, I believe that God created each of us, and all the things on this earth. I also believe we as a species we have evolved and changed profoundly from our beginnings. I believe that is the way it was intended to be. So, when I hear people carrying on about how only their way is the right way, I give them a smile, chuckle to myself and wish them luck with their own evolution.

Monday, July 11, 2005 

I Am Not a Monkey...Although My Husband Begs to Differ

Scopes Monkey
My initial “issue” with this topic is that religious people who call in to defend “creationism” on the radio don’t come off sounding like the most intelligent people.

In any case, for this timely topic I went straight to the ultimate source on Mormon information: my mom. No seriously, she’s amazing. I asked her a question about “would you feel weird if I said this online….?” and she came back at me with nine other sources that said what I wanted to say…and this is with her internet being down. Kudos to Mo.

As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the in/famous “Scopes Monkey Trial”, we can reflect on how far we’ve come on this topic, which is to say…not so far.

We are still battling this issue in Arkansas and Kansas where parent organizations are demanding that stickers be put on science text books that say :

“This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”

Only to be countered with disclaimer stickers that say :

“This book mentions Creationism, New Creationism, Scientific Creationism, or Intelligent Design. All of these beliefs rely on the action of a supernatural entity to explain life on earth. Scientists rejected supernatural explanations for life in the 1800’s, and still do today.”

But back to the monkey trial…

If you weren’t already barraged by one million radio shows on this last week check out NPR’s coverage of the trial including interviews with people who were present. This story is relevant because back in 1925, it sparked a HUGE national debate. By this time, however, the First Presidency of the Church had already published a statement declaring the Church’s official doctrine on the matter. It was first published in 1909 and was titled “The Origin of Man”. It was republished in the Ensign in 2002.

If you don’t feel like reading the article yourself here are the basics…

1. Everything (and I mean everything) was created spiritually before it was created physically.

2. And speaking of the word “created”… officially, the modern-day prophets have preferred the word “organized” to describe the act of creation. God organized us (and everything) out of existing matter. He did not conjure us out of thin air…in a vacuum…

3. While the Bible uses the word “day” to delineate the different tasks God “organized”, modern-day prophets prefer the words “creative period”. Good old Brother Brigham says that “we are not authorized” to say how long those periods were, and he coyly insinuates that no one can calculate or prove that these creative periods were of equal length!

4. God made provisions for our species, and all species, to multiply and replenish “in their own sphere”. He merely set all of this in motion and created us so that we could adapt to changing climates, extremes in geography, humidity, altitude, sunlight, etc. He “organized” this earth to be quite extraordinary.

So my personal view is to not take either side quite so literally. I don’t believe in the creationist view that God created the earth in six days, nor do I subscribe to the thought that our existence, that all intelligent existence here, was set in motion by pure freak-of-nature chance. I think the theory of evolution is fascinating and should not be shunned in the halls of learning, but I also know that science is not done with the subject yet. Really, thank goodness for modern revelation, or else I might be one of those people who call in to talk shows…oh wait…

And check out the 1960's movie "Inherit the Wind" which told the story of the famous, and ill-named "Scopes Monkey Trial".

Inherit the Wind movie poster

Saturday, July 09, 2005 

singing is torture

I’m okay singing in the car with nobody around. And there are a few songs that I can handle decently, a precious few rock songs I’ve heard a million times and are just suited to my voice. Most everything else, I’m lost. I’m sure Kaycee is on the money, if I had a heavy dose of ignorance I wouldn’t know or care that I can’t sing. But I played violin for a number of years, got to the point where I wasn’t terrible at it but I never had a feel for the instrument or the music. I watched other kids advance and handle the instrument as if it was part of them. The instrument and the music, after years of playing, were still a foreign object and foreign language.

Some hymns, it doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, they don’t need to be sung well; they just need people to sing them. Many, however, need passable singing; such hymns, trying to sing them is monstrous unpleasant, the entire time knowing I’m off-key and not knowing how to sing it right. So I don’t care for singing in church. I try to sing the hymns to set an example for the kids. The example usually turns into singing in a goofy voice and catching a quick elbow to the gut from VL for not taking things seriously. At the very least, I get a good chuckle out of it.

Friday, July 08, 2005 

One voice

I am a mediocre singer at best. I am something of a baritone (meaning that I can neither hit the high notes or the lows). I was a drama geek in high school, so I can sing loud, but usually I don't.

My ward is very musically blessed. Almost every week we have a musical number of some sort. They range in quality from the two women who got up recently and sang like muppets to the various BYU music majors who blast us out with their operatic chops. My in-laws are all very musical. They are always game for impromptu sing-alongs (with harmony). I am nowhere near their league (you probably find me near the muppet women).

But I love the hymns. When I was a kid, I didn't. I hated the things. Too slow; too sleepy; too minor. Sacrament hymns in particular were torture. Our ward organist understood what the sacrament was celebrating to be important, so she played each hymn as if it were a dirge. There were occasionally upbeat hymns (question: can a hymn be upbeat? Discuss), but most were played in a solemn, dignified, undead manner.

I should restate, it's not that I love the hymns now (although I do), its that I enjoy singing them in the congregation. You have no idea how well life in the church prepares you musically. The new members in my mission simply had no singing experience prior to church. Most were off-key, off-beat, and off somewhere else. The Russians were not used to singing in public or in unison and it was easy to tell.

Every week, you are in a great big ward choir (assuming that you are in church). You sing relatively near the right note and relatively on beat. Nobody listening would necessarily know what you were saying, but you do because it is right there in front of you in the book. And what are you singing?
D&C 25:12
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.
Apparently, we are praying when we are singing. We are communicating, as a congregation, our need for God, our love of Him, our worship. And we do it as one (usually).

I do believe that singing in church is for everyone. Our unified voices drown out the individual vocal weaknesses in the same way that Christ's love can overwhelm our individual shortcomings. We sing in unison because we are trying to be one in Him and in our devotion. So, that's where you'll find me each week, sitting somewhere near the muppet ladies, wrestling with a kid, singing with my whole heart.

In conclusion, my favorite hymn (a sacrament hymn, no less):
#171 With Humble Heart

With humble heart, I bow my head
And think of thee, O Savior, Lord.
I take the water and the bread
To show remembrance of thy word.

Help me remember, I implore,
Thou gav’st thy life on Calvary,
That I might live forevermore
And grow, dear Lord, to be like thee.

To be like thee! I lift my eyes
From earth below toward heav’n above,
That I may learn from vaulted skies
How I my worthiness can prove.

As I walk daily here on earth,
Give me thy Spirit as I seek
A change of heart, another birth,
And grow, dear Lord, to be like thee.

Thursday, July 07, 2005 

Sing….Sing a Song

You know…I’ve been trying to write this all morning. Yes…I should’ve started earlier, but what can I say? Only that I DID NOT start earlier. But here’s the thing: I can’t think much about singing while I’m sick to my stomach with worry.

Two people that I care about (plus their families) travel the paths in London that were hit with hatred and destruction this morning. I’m not sure if they are okay. I’m not sure when I will know. My friend Erin and her husband recently moved back to London from Germany and are staying with her in-laws. Our friend Aidan commutes by bus and tube everyday to get to work. I pray for their safety and also for all the people who’ve been affected.

I also pray that we all can find something to sing about. And as cheesy at it is…the Carpenters (and Sesame Street) had some damn good advice:

Sing, sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things, not bad
Sing of happy, not sad.
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple
To last your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not good enough
for anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.

I understand if you all hate me now…I’ve accepted this. I’ve come to terms with this. I’ve even laughed a little at many of you having this song stuck in your head. But it was necessary.

Next week I promise not to post any more cheesy songs that will probably get stuck in your head.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005 

Ignorance is Music to My Ears

When I was in Young Women's, I got involved with the Stake Youth Choir. It was an interesting move on my part because I'm not tone deaf, but I can't exactly carry a tune, either. That's the worst because that's when you KNOW you don't sing too well.

But I didn't want to give up... it was a great reason to hang out on Sunday nights and possibly meet new boys. This was actually a key component.

See, unlike most young ladies who sing in the alto or soprano ranges, I sang tenor. I enjoyed the benefits of sitting with the young men, but kept glancing to my right the whole time, intercepting evil glances (or were they mocking?) from the ladies' side of the choir.

I decided that the benefits of hanging out with the boys outweighed whatever embarrassment I felt... but I should probably state that I would never have stayed in the choir if I was singing with the girls. It was never about the singing.

In fact, for a while, I gave up singing in church altogether. If I couldn't figure out what scale to sing a song on and I ended up jumping between the tenor notes and the melody, and sometimes singing the melody an octive lower and not being able to hit low enough or high enough... well... eventually, it was just too much.

My personal experiences have led me to a few conclusions. I think that everyone should sing in church. But I also think it is probably better that they don't learn how so that they become self-conscious about it.

I think that the time you spend singing is a wonderful opportunity for reflection and pondering of the words and spirit of the song. However, it is nearly impossible to do this when thinking about technique, (being off an octive) etc. When it comes to Joe and Jane Average in the LDS Church, lessons on singing should be avoided at all costs to avoid this type of confusion. Maybe Joe or Jane won't ever be the soloist on Fast Sunday, but at least they won't be thinking about how they sound and whether they're in harmony instead of thinking about the words of a song.

Everyone should sing and they shouldn't worry about learning how to do it right.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005 

Sing It Loud, Sing It Strong

I am my ward's choir director. I say that with a fair amount of shame and a healthy dose of embarressment. When I was given the calling, I looked at the bishopric member who was asking me and actally said out loud "Do you WANT me to go inactive?" Nonetheless, I accepted the calling and led the choir. The bishopric requested we have a song prepared for ward conference and since the theme was missionary work I chose "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" as our hymn of choice. It's a pretty simple straight forward hymn. Nothing that any normal singer couldn't handel. I wasn't looking for this to be a mini-MoTab's, I was just looking for us to not skwak out the tune. I had faith in my singers. But what shocked me the most was that my singers who VOLENTEERED to be in the choir had no faith in themselves or thier singing ability. They were a rather disheartening lot, let me just tell you. I had arranged the hymn so some of the lines would be sung as a solo in the various foreign languages the peeps in my ward are fluent in. Getting people to committ to singing a solo was similar to getting people to give up their first born child. It was nearly impossible. I asked what the deal was, and finally one of the hesitant choir members said, "Well... it's embarrassing." I was flabbergasted. You are IN a CHOIR. You are singing IN FRONT OF THE WHOLE CONGRAGATION ANYWAY! What the heck is the big deal? But apparently, it IS a big deal. So I came up with a motto for my choir... a motto that I told them to live by. IF YOU CAN'T SING GOOD - SING LOUD.

I've threatened to make t-shirts that say this very thing, but I doubt that will come to fruition. Nonetheless, it's something I believe in. I believe in singing, I believe that a song really is a prayer of the heart, I belive that it doesn't matter one bit if you're the worlds greatest singer or squak like Skuttle, what matters is that you allow your heart to be touched, and allow others to be touched. There are times I'm sitting in sacrament meeting, having had a horrible morning, a horrible week, a horrible month and the words of the hymn that was randomly chosen by someone will move me, touch me so deeply that I can't help but weep. My advise to any and all is to forget what you sound like, stop worrying if you're hitting the right note or not, and just sing... sing and MEAN IT. It can change you. I know it has changed me.

Monday, July 04, 2005 

I've Got the Chutzpah...But Not the Talent

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! I really hope that you are not indoors reading this blog, but are outside DOING something fun and semi-patriotic….

I have had a guilty feeling for most of my life…I love to sing, but I won’t sing in church. If I am asked, I say no. Sometimes I am guilted into saying yes and the experience is humiliating and awkward.

I will sing in a choir on the stand, I will sing with the congregation in the chapel, I will sing with the young women in a classroom….all with gusto. But a solo?...not so much…

Here’s why and then why I feel guilty…

While I own a karaoke machine and an extensive collection of tunes, my singing is for me and me alone. Heavenly Father obviously planned it that way. That’s why he made my karaoke machine come with only one microphone… I sound AWESOME in my TV room belting away, but my voice LITERALLY changes when anyone besides my sister Abby is in the room. I can’t even sing in front of Todd. My voice goes all weird and stuff. Besides, there’s no good material outside of the traditional hymns and then classical stuff which is just plain out of my league. If there was a religious Broadway genre, I’d be all over it…

I feel guilty because I’ve had way too many “let your light so shine” talks in Young Women’s. Seriously, I think they plan those lessons to encourage shy teenagers to come out of their shells, but it’s bunk. It does NO ONE any good to suffer through your bad, cheesy song in sacrament meeting. Let’s face it, it’s awkward for everyone.

I don’t know why HF didn’t bless me with the pipes or the guts to belt out a good ballad…I sure have the chutzpah…but I guess there is a time and a place…it is not currently the right time for me to replace Barbara Streisand…she’s still alive and kicking…

I have been blessed in my life with different talents at different times. Looking back, I can see the purpose of doing certain things and the good that might have come by that. For example, I played the cello for 10 years and was never that good, but the people I knew and played with and the experiences I had playing then, where for my benefit and the benefit of others. I don’t have that talent right now, nor the realistic opportunity to pursue it, but that’s OK, that talent has served its purpose. I’m on to something else.

I don’t believe that we have to share our bad talents, or even our mediocre talents. We can if we want, but we don’t HAVE to. I think that if I ever want to share my solidly mediocre singing with the ward, I will have them make a note in the program:

“Sister Carrie Ann will be singing ‘Ave Maria’. She knows that her performance will be humiliating and slightly awkward for the ward audience, but she tells us that she has something to prove, so we’re letting her do this. Please smile at her encouragingly, and kindly hold the pity applause. Thank you.”

Saturday, July 02, 2005 

that's why they call it money

My mum and dad always taught us to pay tithing first, everything else second. After I got my Mormon on and decided that I needed to be paying tithing, that’s what I tried to do. When things were tight, VL and I received great monetary blessings in the form of student loans, so paying tithing was never too much of a burden. Maybe we received actual monetary blessings but I don’t know; it’s taken years for VL and I to get on the same page regarding what we need and what we don’t need, what expenditures we can cut. Only we’re not on the same page. We’re barely in the same book and believe me, it’s a large book. And we both have a page in that book says that when you come across a really good pair of pants, you absolutely must buy them immediately, no question.

The discussion this week has me wondering, do I even know, what is a blessing? Are blessings Divine aid or natural consequences? Following the Word of Wisdom, does that bring health simply because it’s a healthy lifestyle or does it bring supernatural blessings of strength and long life? Wonder-Twin powers, activate! And tithing, if paying tithing weakens the allure of material wealth and causes me to focus a little more on spirituality and immaterial riches, is that a blessing or just a natural consequence of throwing my money away? (yes, I know the money goes to build up The Kingdom, save puppies, all that sort of thing but from my perspective, I’m just kind of tossing that cash out the window.)

So I suppose I don’t look to tithing to receive financial blessings. Oh, I want financial blessings, but I look to tithing to break me of caring about financial blessings, to remind me where my heart lies, or where I want it to lie. But maybe I should care about financial blessings. I once heard a televangelist say, “To have Faith is to remain focused on your financial goals! It is impossible to have Faith and not have money!” I believe! I believe!

Friday, July 01, 2005 

These are the yokes, folks

Is tithing a burden or a blessing? I am not sure that I really know. As someone who has never held down a real job and who continues to rely on the kindness of my family and friends (at least until I get the darn degree done) I have never really had any money to be concerned with. I've always paid tithing on what money I've earned myself, but the majority of the money has come in the forms of student and personal loans of late so it ain't exactly increase.

Tithing has never been something that I have had to think about because (blessedly) I have always had enough money to pay it. Perhaps it helps that I pay sooner rather than later in the paycheck cycle. More likely, it helps that I live in my in-laws' basement.

That said, one thing tithing isn't is an outward show of faith. Assuming that your bishop isn't your accountant, no-one but you knows if you are a full-tithe payer. You could probably even go through the show of putting empty envelopes into a bishopric member's hand and I kinda think they would put up with it for a time. Ultimately, it is the sort of covenant that you can easily keep track of but that is also deeply personal.

I have been dreading writing this post because tithing is one of those things that you either accept or you don't. You may be a part-tithe payer, but, my guess is, that if you pay any tithing at all you wish it was a full tithe. If you make a policy of not paying tithing, you simply don't think about it (except when you're out on your boat).

So, to my mind, tithing is a sacrifice that we only engage in if we want to and the status of our engagement is known, ultimately, only by ourselves and God. Can this be called a burden?

Yes it can.
Matthew 11:28-30
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

It's not like the person that matters believes that tithing is never hard (yokes are yokes after all). It's that He believes that the benefits you accrue will make the burden of paying tithing lighter (the same can be said for any of the other commandments that we have trouble with). Or, if nothing else, you won't feel guilty about it.

This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

Various Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates