Friday, December 13, 2013

Job: Repentant Pharisee

If you grew up with a lot of Bible stories, you're probably very familiar with half of the story of Job. He's a righteous man, he loses everything but refuses to complain, his three friends tell him he's obviously sinned instead of being supportive, and in the end Job gets everything back plus more.

You probably skipped the part where God gives Job a tongue-lashing.

You see, most of the book of Job is him and his three friends going back and forth, where they say God wouldn't give him so much sorrow unless he'd sinned somehow, and Job responds with confidence in his own righteousness:

Not for any injustice in mine hands: also my prayer is pure... Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high. My friends scorn me: but mine eye poureth out tears unto God.
Job 16:17, 19-20

I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.
Job 29:14-17

Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.
Job 31:6

Job acknowledges that if he had sinned, he would deserve a punishment, but he's very confident that he hasn't done anything wrong. After twenty-nine chapters of debate, Job's three friends gave up:

So these three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.
Job 32:1

Enter Elihu, the fourth friend.

Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu... against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God... For Job hath said, I am righteous: and God hath taken away my judgment.
Job 32:2, 34:5

Have we ever been like that? Have you or I ever been quicker to justify ourselves in the law, instead of the God who wrote the law?

Surely it is meet to be said unto God, I have borne chastisement, I will not offend any more: That which I see not teach thou me: if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.
Job 34:31-32

In his self-justification, Job was missing out on learning opportunities. Have you or I ever neglected our relationship with God because we were "already righteous enough?" Have we assumed we understood all his expectations for us already, or have we ignored possible flaws in our desire to be perfect, right now? If so, Jesus had something to say about our actions:

And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat. And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.

And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.

And he saith, Master, say on.

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.

And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. 

And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.

Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.

And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven... Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
Luke 7:36-50

If that isn't enough to shake our desire to be justified now, to be perfect of ourselves, without grace, then perhaps the next section of the book of Job will give us pause. After Elihu's words, "the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind," and spent four entire chapters telling him how stupid he was.

 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job 38:2-7

If you or I felt too confident in our own righteousness, we might ask, Have I searched the deepest recesses of my heart? Do I ever feel happy about being a good person now, being Okay already, and not feeling obligated to improve any further? Could I really say, with confidence, that I have been forgiven of all sin and would never sin again, through God's grace? Am I more interested in my own righteousness or in what I can learn from God? Do I really believe that my good works are a manifestation of God's grace, that without him I am nothing?

Job must have asked himself some of these questions, and it sounds like the answers must have been painful:

I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not... Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job 42:3, 6

It wasn't until Job repented, and became like the woman who anointed Jesus' feet instead of like Simon the Pharisee, that we get our happy ending. Job prayed for his friends and said to God,

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
Job 42:5

And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.

So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning...

And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.

After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations.

So Job died, being old and full of days.
Job 42:10-12, 15-17

Friday, November 29, 2013

An Eye Single to...

The mind may choose one goal to rule them all,
A chief aim, a highest ambition, before which lesser desires must bow,
The light of the body, the heart's treasure.
If you choose such a focus, it will enlighten your mind or shroud you in darkness,
So choose well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taking Charge of Our Destinies

It's so easy to let life drift by, surviving.
Surfing the web instead of writing your book,
Talking to whoever and ignoring real friends.

It's easy to survive, but it's hard to thrive.
Putting first things first--first people first
Creating, and seeking, and searching, and striving

Like climbing a mountain or building a masterpiece
Our fears go to war with our faith
And we wonder: who am I to take this leap?

We worry and we fear, and we never call that friend,
Never knowing that they, too, are alone
Sitting by that phone, and working up courage

As if to call a friend or create beauty
Was to face a lion! Or to calm a hurricane!
As if failure was a basilisk, a chimera, an unconquerable enemy.

To become famous, to make millions, to go down in history--
Yes, perfection may be needed. But to make a friend?
You are good enough, just as you are. And so am I.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Motivating Power of Hope

I recently quoted Elder Perry’s beautiful description of how the picture in a recipe book motivates us to cook, much like our hope of the celestial kingdom motivates us to move towards it. Ether’s statement on the topic is worth repeating.

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
Ether 12:6

The stronger your hope is, for whatever it is you want, the less it matters what you’re scared of. In the words of Bill Cosby,

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.

This principle is most applicable when we are keeping one of God’s commandments or fulfilling our end of a covenant with him, because we are entitled to his help. The more faith and hope we have, the easier it is to get that help.

So, how do we develop such confidence in God’s promises? How can we get the surety that will let us call down the powers of heaven when we’re in God’s service, as Jacob describes?

Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. 
Jacob 4:6

I think Jacob gives us a pretty good description of how he became that kind of man. Ammon’s father was promised that Ammon would be safe while he taught among the Lamanites, and it was Ammon’s faith in that promise that led him to face down an entire band of robbers, single-handedly. His good friend Alma described him much the same way:

They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.

Alma 17:2-3

“Read the scriptures, fast, and pray? But Michael, those are just the Sunday School answers! I already do that!”

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about a quick prayer every morning and night. I’m not talking about perusing the scriptures for a few minutes before you start your day. Those are good habits, and they can help you stay close to God. But I’m talking about going to the temple and needing an answer so badly that you won’t leave until you get it. I’m talking about searching the scriptures to find out what you can count on God to do, once you have sufficient faith. I’m talking about expecting God to change your life, and being willing to sacrifice in order to develop that faith. In the words of King Lamoni’s father:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
Alma 22:15

Whenever I have asked God anything, over and over, without giving up, I have gotten a clear answer. With some questions, it takes longer than others, and I get a little at a time, “line upon line, precept on precept.” Some of the quickest answers come when I ask about what I can sacrifice in order to develop my faith or be worthy of a blessing, because I’m trying to bring my will closer to God’s.

Monday, July 1, 2013

America: The First Benevolent World Empire

I learned in History class about all kinds of empires, and the motives that were said to drive them--British colonialism and trading, Chinese nationalism, the Spanish quest for gold. Some of these empires were more harsh, and some were kinder, but none were said to conquer other nations primarily for their own good. All were selfish.

America? We've done terrible things, too, as we've gone from isolationist Republic with a lot of farmland to worldwide empire with territory around the globe. We now have hundreds of overseas military bases, with a military presence of more than 1,000 soldiers in over a dozen countries, and we spend more on our military than the next ten countries combined. Some say that blowback from our involvement in the Cold War has led to resentment in countries where our forceful anti-Communist policies made life worse for people--particularly in Afghanistan.

But the fact is, when our leaders sent soldiers into Iraq and Afghanistan, our leaders spoke of liberating the people from oppressive leaders. They spoke of leaving voluntarily as soon as a legitimate authority could keep the peace, as soon as the country was no longer a threat to our security. And then they got criticized when they didn't leave fast enough.

Machiavelli is rolling in his grave. Doesn't America know that the proper thing is to conquer other countries permanently, to add them to the ever-growing power of the greatest country on earth? (I'm being sarcastic.) We're very different from the imperialism of earlier empires.

Of course, it'd be nice to go back to George Washington's advice to not get entangled in stupid wars at all. I'd like that. But I have to admit, America has been more respectful and less selfish than any other world power in history.

And that is something to be proud of.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Courts, DOMA, and Prop 8

Today the Supreme Court overruled DOMA, a federal law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. They refused to rule on Prop 8, a California State constitutional amendment that would have done something similar, and which was overruled by a lower federal judge.

For this post, I'm going to set aside the issues of whether homosexual relationships should be included in marriage, whether they should be normalized, and whether the government has the right to define marriage at all. Instead, I'd like to focus on the role of the courts in our American democratic republic--our country where the people rule, and they select representatives to do the day-to-day work of governance.

Our government is filled with checks and balances to keep these representatives from abusing their powers. It is commonly accepted that the Supreme Court has the final say on interpreting the Constitution. While the Constitution itself makes no reference to this power, generally called "judicial review," Alexander Hamilton is quoted as saying that their job is to interpret the law and reconcile any contradictions between laws, with the Constitution as the highest law of the land:

There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.

If it be said that the legislative body are themselves the constitutional judges of their own powers, and that the construction they put upon them is conclusive upon the other departments, it may be answered, that this cannot be the natural presumption, where it is not to be collected from any particular provisions in the Constitution. It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to enable the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their constituents. It is far more rational to suppose, that the courts were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature, in order, among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their authority. The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.

Note that Alexander Hamilton sees the Constitution as the ultimate representation of the will of the people. As long as we follow the Constitution, we're a democratic republic. That works fine for the court's overturning of DOMA, which was passed by Congress. I don't see the right to define family structure in Congress's list of powers, and I appreciate their allowing states to define marriage differently from each other.

The trouble is that the Supreme Court allowed a lower judge to overturn Prop 8, which was voted in not by the legislative branch of California, but by the voice of the people. It was a narrow majority, sure, but we now have a case where the courts have gone against the voice of the people in order to maintain their interpretation of the Constitution.

According to Alexander Hamilton, that defeats the whole goal of the system. I'm not saying it's good or bad--the courts could overrule a popular vote for good or for evil--but it is definitely undemocratic.

And I happen to like my democracy.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Love of a Friend

Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of "Mormonism; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers.
Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Collector's Ed. (Joseph Fielding Smith, ed.) p. 249, from DHC 5:516-518

When I was about 15 years old, I heard somebody mocking expensive dates between adolescents. They said, "Why would you spend so much money on someone who's probably just going to marry someone else anyway?" I thought about that for a while. I mean, I agreed that most dates should be inexpensive, but what about special occasions?

I finally decided how I would respond, if someone accused me of spending too much money on a date: "I'm not spending all that money on someone else's wife. I'm spending it on my friend."

We celebrate romantic love in our music and movies, but that isn't the only kind of love that can change your life. Moroni treasured his father's teachings about love:

And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Moroni 7:45-47

In fact, without what the world calls true friendship and what the Lord calls the pure love of Christ, how can any marriage possibly succeed?

When we love someone freely and purely, something changes, both in the relationship and in the heart. Perfect love is endless!

Perfect love casteth out all fear.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.
D&C 121:41-42

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
D&C 121:45-46

Such love also changes the recipient:

And lastly, but not less important to the exercise of faith in God, is the idea that he is love; for with all the other excellencies in his character, without this one to influence them, they could not have such powerful dominion over the minds of men; but when the idea is planted in the mind that he is love, who cannot see the just ground that men of every nation, kindred and tongue, have to exercise faith in God so as to obtain eternal life?
Lectures on Faith 3:24

But how does the Atonement motivate, invite, and draw all men unto the Savior? [see 3 Ne. 27:15 and James 4:10] What causes this gravitational pull--this spiritual tug? There is a certain compelling power that flows from righteous suffering--not indiscriminate suffering, not needless suffering, but righteous, voluntary suffering for another. Such suffering for another is the highest and purest form of motivation we can offer to those we love.
Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, pg. 213

The more someone loves you, the more it motivates and changes you. And infinite love is eternally powerful. For me, nothing else compares to the experience of your eternal companion loving you freely and deeply, empowered by the Savior to do so.

Monday, May 6, 2013

What It Means to Be a Saint

I recently read an article about partisanship in Mormon perspectives on female leadership. Like in many issues, I pride myself on taking a creative middle ground that, I believe, combines the best elements of both sides. I believe that women do need more leadership, using the power they've already been given by God, as mothers and through the endowment. Much if this leadership will come in the community, but outside the Church.

I believe that with all my heart, but that's not what it means to be a Saint.

A Saint is someone who gives their life to God. Therefore, as required by him, they must recognize the gifts, knowledge, and wisdom he provides through their friends and neighbors. In the words of Paul:

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

 2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.

 3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

 4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.

 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;

 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;

 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:

 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

 14 For the body is not one member, but many.

 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?

 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.

 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

 23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

 24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

 25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

 27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?

 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?

 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Of course, the "more excellent way" is charity, the pure love of Christ, which endures forever and overcomes all things. It is this love that motivates the members of the body of Christ to be respectful of each others' gifts. I spoke of this in another post, where I wrote:
One hundred eighty-two years ago this Spring, a child of God knelt in sincere prayer to ask God a simple question, intending to do whatever he was commanded.

And Satan went berserk. That boy wrote: "immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak." Satan did everything he could to silence the boy whose testimony would enlighten tens of thousands in his lifetime. Millions have now grown because of Joseph Smith's testimony.

But God delivered Joseph! He gave the boy prophet protection from Satan, work to do, and power to do it. Soon, under the new Prophet's direction, other children of God began to be called to serve:
And your whole labor shall be in Zion, with all your soul, from henceforth; yea, you shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen.

The Lord never intended for one child to do his whole work. Jesus Christ leads the work and ensures that all our mistakes are made up, sooner or later. He promises that everyone can be a part of what he is doing:

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

Every person has a gift. Your gifts may include the ability to share knowledge, or to share wisdom, or to be comforting. The scriptures guarantee that you have at least one. The Lord used astronomy as a metaphor in D&C 88 and in the book of Abraham. D&C 88:44 could be describing how our gifts all complement each other in God's work:

They give light to each other in their times and in their seasons.

We all benefit from each other in different ways. I believe that some promptings are more likely to come to men, while others are more likely to come to women. The poor seem to get more revelation about taking care of each other, while the rich seem to have more light on spending their money efficiently. And the scriptures are clear that our own interests and questions have a huge impact on what revelations we get:

Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Like with Joseph Smith, Satan wants to silence each of us. Of course the light we have is incomplete, there's no way we're going to save the world on our own, but Satan wants us to believe that our gifts, ideas, and interests are irrelevant. He wants us to close our mouths. He will tell us whatever lies are necessary: that women can't be leaders, that men can't be loving, that children can't be wise. Even well-meaning people may believe some of Satan's lies and tell you to be silent. But could the Lord be any clearer?

Open your mouths and they shall be filled, and you shall become even as Nephi of old, who journeyed from Jerusalem in the wilderness.

Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.

Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Again, most of us know we all have limitations on our authority over others. We don't have the right to declare new commandments, to judge others' worthiness, or to become angry. We do, however, have the right to speak as we are guided by the Holy Ghost. We all have the right to ask hard questions of others, to point out important deficits in what the Lord has revealed so far, and to propose possible solutions until the Lord reveals more on the subject. We can pray with all our hearts for revelation, and we can receive it.

If we open our mouths, we can literally become like Nephi. His father, the authoritative Prophet in the story, saw a vision of a tree and an iron rod leading to it. After Lehi explained the vision to his family, Nephi desired to see the same vision.

And he did.

Nephi learned some different things from the same vision, things more applicable to his own perspective and needs. And when his brethren were arguing about what the vision meant, Nephi could explain with confidence.

I plead with you, don't wait for someone else to be Nephi (who could explain the vision so clearly), or Esther (who saved Israel by lifting up her voice), or Emma (who got us the Word of Wisdom by objecting to church leaders' tobacco use). Don't let anyone tell you that your gifts are worthless. Their light does not invalidate yours.

After all, you are a child of heavenly parents. Is there anything you can't do, if they are behind you?

One of the most sacred and powerful pieces of writing I've found recently was by Melissa Inouye, who wrote about her experiences with the recent Mormon feminist movement. Motivated by a desire to be spiritual equals with men, a minority of Mormon women have begun pushing for wider leadership and recognition. They have sponsored the "Wear Pants to Church Day," the "Let Women Pray" petition, and have written many blogs.

But it's possible for this push to go too far. I consider myself a feminist, and as such, I believe God will hold me responsible for whether I continue to be respectful of traditional female roles. Some of those traditional roles--namely, the ones in "The Family: A Proclamation to the World"--are divinely ordained.

I believe that all truth is contained and wrapped together in our Lord, Jesus Christ, as it is in our heavenly parents. Therefore, we can rely on them and on their word. We can expect the Prophet to receive any revelation necessary for what is truly right. We can exercise our faith and see miracles.

So why push someone into believing? In the stories, the greatest dragons knew that a wise tongue was more powerful than breath or claw. And we have more than wisdom: we have an Advocate in the heavens.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Power of Passion

Going back through my Goodreads book list, I was surprised to discover that the first book I marked as "read" was none other than Twilight. I immediately thought, "I liked Twilight, but I'm not a fanatic! I'm not one of THOSE people!" As proof, I pointed out to myself that I only gave it 4/5 stars.

But why should I be ashamed of liking Twilight? People have justly criticized using Bella and Edward as role models, because of how obsessive they are. They have few interests outside of each other. But in spite of that--which, by the way, is common in romantic stories--I found Twilight's ultimate message to be inspiring.

The main message of Twilight is about the nature of passion. Unbridled passion makes us into monsters, but so many people fear that they are monsters even as they bridle their passions. Bella and Edward balance each other--she's a little too unbridled, and he's a little too controlled. He fears being a monster, and she fears losing what she values most.

This is the reason for one of the major plot points of the series: Edward's refusal to turn Bella into a vampire. He doesn't want her to have to share in his curse, which makes life more vivid and comes with stronger emotions and a passion for blood. (The non-monsters bridle this passion and drink animal blood.)

His control over his passion for her is another way this message is taught, particularly in the first book. Her smell, her personality--everything has a powerful effect on him, but he controls himself.

I believe that, consciously or unconsciously, Stephanie Meyer took this concept from our religion's scripture:

And also see that ye bridle all your passions, that you may be filled with love.
Alma 38:12

And that is why I'm proud to have enjoyed Twilight.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Inhabitants of Zion are Terrible

And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion.

And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.

And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.

And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.

If you're like me, you may have wondered how the Lord will make Zion so terrifying to the wicked warlords of the world. I've imagined some kind of spectacular divine intervention, with fire from heaven and such power and confidence in the faces of the people of Zion that wicked people lose their courage at the mere sight of them. I've pictured miracles like those Enoch did, through his faith in our Savior:

And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

But maybe Zion's terribleness will include something more natural, as well. Over the past year, I've seen story after story where Latter-day Saints made the news by playing hero.

Erica Castrillo was in her living room on Monday night at 200 South and 500 West in Provo when she heard a noise outside and saw a man taking her husband's bike.

"I ran out the door barefoot and started chasing him down the street," she said. "I ran about a block and a half then I saw a girl stopped at stop light and I asked her if she would help me. She was super kind and let me in and we followed him and chased him down."

Provo police Officer Chris Chambers said... "Partnerships between police and community are essential to stopping crime... there is no better asset we can have to fighting crime."

The whole essence of Zion is how the love of God affects our relationships with each other.

And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

If we really believe that a Zion society is possible, shouldn't we expect miracles, both simple and spectacular?

Fighting crime isn't something most young members of the LDS church ever expect to do while on their mission. But a pair of Mormon missionaries came to the rescue, busting a pair of suspected would-be burglars...

"I really believe that God is working through all of us and nothing is a coincidence, it all happens for a reason," says [Elder] Brown.

With the love of God in our hearts, we're willing to help. With the power of the Holy Ghost, we're inspired to be in the right place at the right time. Small and simple miracles. But if the Lord needs something more showy, he seems to be fine with that as well:

[Mormon Bishop] Kent Hendrix woke up Tuesday to his teenage son pounding on his bedroom door and telling him somebody was being mugged in front of their house. The 47-year-old father of six rushed out the door and grabbed the weapon closest to him— a 29-inch high carbon steel Samurai sword.

He came upon what he describes as a melee between a woman and a man. His son stayed inside to call 911 while he approached the man along with other neighbors who came to help. The martial arts instructor didn't hesitate in drawing the sword and yelling at him to get on the ground.

"His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back," Hendrix said by phone Tuesday afternoon. "He's probably never had anyone draw a sword on him before."

The man ran away down the street toward his car with the barefoot Hendrix and others in pursuit. Hendrix said he couldn't catch Eggersten before he fled in his car, but he picked up chapstick that the man dropped and memorized his license plate.

"I yelled at him, 'I've got your DNA and I've got your license plate: You are so done,'" Hendrix said.

Eggersten turned himself in to police an hour later, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.

So, we're already capable of this. What will we be capable of when we have greater faith, in the future, when we're being held accountable for living the law of consecration?

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God.
Lectures on Faith 6:7

I look forward to finding out what Zion will do.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Dialectic of Work and Play

Play and work, work and play,
I bask in all life's joys today.
Work and play, play and work,
Else all my joys in shadows lurk.

Like sun and moon, or moon and sun,
Seasons come, and seasons go.
The world says to change it up;
Our Father tells us all to fast.

Then fast from joy, however great,
To find in it another day.
Learn to rest, and learn to pray,
And work again at morning's gate.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Clear and True Picture of Eternal Life

Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve said,

“In many cookbooks there are pictures of the perfect dishes that recipes make—the fulness of the joy of cooking. These pictures are important because they help us envision the outcome if we strictly follow the directions as given in the recipe. It is important to begin with the end in mind, but the end represented by pictures in cookbooks is an end that is only possible if everything is done right. If directions are not followed or an ingredient is left out or miscalculated, the desired taste and appearance are seldom attained. The picture of a perfect dish, however, can serve as motivation to try again to create something that is both delicious and beautiful.”

When we think of eternal life, what is the picture that comes to mind? I believe that if we could create in our minds a clear and true picture of eternal life, we would start behaving differently. We would not need to be prodded to do the many things involved with enduring to the end, like doing our home teaching or visiting teaching, attending our meetings, going to the temple, living moral lives, saying our prayers, or reading the scriptures. We would want to do all these things and more because we realize they will prepare us to go somewhere we yearn to go.”
April 2008 General Conference

The prophet Ether said something similar:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
Ether 12:6

To that end, I’ve decided to compile a series of scriptures about heaven, along with pictures of what that might look like. If I’ve credited any image of yours improperly, please let me know, and I’ll remove it or credit it appropriately.

I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;


Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son… I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept;


I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold. D&C 137:2-5


The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth;

But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.

The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.

This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
D&C 130:6-9


And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.
D&C 130:2

…united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom.
D&C 105:4

premortal life

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away…
I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
Revelation 21:3-7


In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
D&C 131:1-2

…which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. D&C 132:19-20

parents holding baby

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory.

For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.

But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.

This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law.
D&C 132:21-24


For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
D&C 88:22

For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.
D&C 78:7

See also