Monday, November 28, 2005

More resources

I just want everyone to know that I will be updating my Brigham Young blog. I started it, took forever to work on it, and finally churned out a rather weak piece of work. I put a lot of pride into my submissions, so I feel I need to update it. I brought several books to college from home this past Thanksgiving weekend, so my resources have greatly expanded. Look forward to a better version of that, and also hopefully I can become more involved. School has been eating me alive lately.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Great Circumcision Debate

Reading over a past post on Splendid Sun, I'm reminded of the controversy surrounding my own son's birth. There was a bit of conversation between my wife and me about how to handle the delicate decision of lopping off a bit of our child, if it was born a boy. At that point, we did not know what we would have. The ultrasound told us little, because he (as it turned out) was shy and actively hid himself. So, our conversations were along the lines of:

"If it's a girl, we can name her Allison. But if it's a boy, I don't like the names you've chosen."
"I don't want the names you want either."
"Well, if it's a boy, I think we should circumcise him, because you are."
"I don't want my son to be cut up. My son won't have any spare parts."

That became my mantra. My son has no spare parts.

My wife and I attended a parenting/birthing class, which was a good preparation for us. The teacher had an approach I appreciated. She didn't tell us one way of doing things was good or bad. She just informed us and let us make up our own minds. One night, we watched a video of a newborn boy getting clipped, and I tell you what. My decision was confirmed, and Kari's mind was changed. No circumcision. I think it cruel and unnecessary.

So, out comes a boy and we do nothing to his little member, but resolve to keep it clean to avoid any infections. End of story.

Except we found that everyone had an opinion about my son's penis. People were excited to hear I was a father, to hear I had a boy. And nine out of ten times, they felt it was their business to ask if he was circumcised. "No," I would tell them.

"Are you crazy? He could get infected (get cancer, lose his sex drive, whatever) if you don't."

I got pretty good at avoiding debates. But the fact of the matter is, with all the research I put into it, there was no good reason to clip the little guy. All the health reasons cited were all maybe's. Sure, he might get infected. So keep it clean. Duh! Or he might get cancer. Well *cue the sarcasm* cut it all off, then! I mean, maybe I'll get appendicitis, so let's go ahead and do an appendectomy on me. Or let's push this to the extreme. Maybe, I'll get lung cancer, so let's just remove my left lung. But what if we removed the wrong one? *end the sarcasm* Uh, yeah. People! You keep it clean and things will be OK. If there is a medical reason to remove it later, do it later. It will be OK.

Social reasons . . . what a horrible reason to mutilate one's genitalia. I don't plan on raising my son in Utah for much longer, especially not in Utah valley, where everyone damages their sons. But even if we stayed here (God forbid), my son would just have to deal with the fact that his penis was different from the mutilated boys around him. And what is up with Mormons doing this to their baby boys? Mormons do believe the law of Moses was done away, right? I mean, there was a big debate about this very topic in the period of the apostles, some time after Christ's resurrection (see the Acts 15:1-31). As I recall, the decision was to not continue the barbaric practice. The law was and is fulfilled in Christ. It's over, through! We are now to be circumcised of heart. Why, oh why do Mormons keep hurting their sons in this cruel manner?

Making him match his father? Why do I want him to match me? That's a dumb reason if I've ever heard one. If he asks, I will have a discussion with him about it.

Newborns don't have developed pain sensors. What kind of idiotic statement is that? At the very least, they don't like being strapped down. At the very least, they just came out of a nice, warm, safe womb, to be subjected to legalized torture. But maybe, just maybe, their sensors are different from an older baby. He still doesn't deserve that kind of treatment. It used to be done without anesthetic. How cruel is that?

Reasons to not do it. As already stated, it is mean. They don't like having it done. It diminishes sexual feeling. It is unnecessary. God doesn't even expect us to do it. People, let us stop hurting our little boys!

Thankfully, I don't get the questions about my son's penis any more. People I didn't know made it their business. But what gave these perfect strangers the right to ask (and force their opinions upon me) in the first place? This is a rather personal matter. And now I am a hypocrite for blogging about it. But at least it's my son I'm talking about.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Brigham, the man and the prophet

There are issues where I stand differently from others I know. One in particular is my defense of Church leaders. It may sound like nothing that different, but one thing that I have observed is that there are generally two camps: those who acknowledge the leaders and see them as near-faultless, and those who see their faults and look down upon them for it. I fall into what I believe to be a rather small third party. I note the faults in Church leaders, past and present, and I grow to love them all the more for it. I refer the reader to some of Mathoni's blogs on this matter (the beauty of the humanity of our leaders), as they are very poignant and deal with the matter very well.

I wish here to take up a little defense of the second president of our Church, President Brigham Young. I will not go into any real depth, but I do wish to show a few of his virtues. He was a man of faults, and is often criticized by any anti-Mormon and even a good many Mormons for those faults. He finds in this post, however, his praise, as he was the man called by the Lord to lead the Church of Christ.

First, I will give a couple of his references of his loyalty to Joseph Smith.

"Of the Twelve Apostles chosen in Kirtland, and ordained under the hands of Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and myself, there have been but two but what have lifted their heel against me -- namely Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball." (May 28, 1843. DHC 5:412.)

As the Mormon movement grew, Smith became larger than life, but he also ended up with a mixture of friends and foes - with difficulty knowing who was who. Many of those who denounced Smith were his closest friends, who referred to him not as a "false prophet" but as a "fallen prophet." Smith became so troubled by this that he frequently tested the people around him...On one occasion, he vigorously chastized Brigham Young - accusing the latter of something he had never done in what was clearly a harsh, cruel, unfair manner. As Brigham said, 'Joseph, what would you have me do?' - Smith broke down in tears and hugged him. 'Brigham,' he said, 'I was testing you and you have passed.' " (Joseph Smith, The Prophet. Truman G. Madsen)

Brigham Young claimed he had never tried to usurp authority (as many schismatics would be pleased to accuse). I believe the first quote also makes this evident, as well as his own words here:

"For the first time in my life, for the first time in your lives, for the first time in the kingdom of God, in the nineteenth century, without a prophet at our head, do I step forth to act in my calling in connection with the quorum of the Twelve, as Apostles of Jesus Christ unto this generation—Apostles whom God has called by revelation through the prophet Joseph, who are ordained and anointed to bear off the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world." (Succession in the Presidency of the Church. B.H. Roberts, emphasis added)

It appears to me that Brigham was not one to reach for more authority than was his, but was not afraid to accept the mantles placed upon him.

As Brother Brigham slipped from this world into the next, the final words to hang on his lips were, "Joseph, Joseph, Joseph."

The truth is I could scarcely do justice of this spiritual titan. I feel ill-eqipped to handle the matter well. I do know however, that despite the bad light that is often cast on him, if we take a moment to reorient ourselves, we may see that he was a man of God in all respects. He was the one called to succeed Joseph Smith. He was the one called to ensure the continual rolling of the Kingdom of God.

I would recommend this site to the reader, particularly the essay by Hugh Nibley:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Bearing testimony

This post has a story, some sarcasm and some seriousness. Despite it jumping around, I truly have a point to make.

Two days ago, in Fast and Testimony meeting, my three-year-old son asked why people were crying.

"Is she sad?" he asked as the third woman in a row got up and immediately lost control.
"No, son. Sometimes, people cry when they are happy. She is talking about how much she loves Jesus," I patiently explained, as his attention already drifted from what I was saying to something else more interesting to a three-year-old mind
"I want to go up there!"

How could I say no to those big, brown eyes?
I told him no. In so doing, I tried to explain why.

"You need to practice what you will say," or " It will be scary up there," or "Go ask your mother to take you up there." None of these convinced him to stay with us in the audience.

Why did I resist? I did not feel in a particularly spiritual mood. Not anything bad, or of spiritual concern. I just didn't feel moved to go talk in front of the ward. Heck, I rarely talk up in class. I am just a reserved person. I did not want to go up there this particular Sunday.

My son went to his mother and told her he wanted to go up front. She, too, did not want to go. "Go ask Daddy to take you."

To a believing Mormon, this might sound like a horrible story. We should always be ready to testify, and we robbed our son of a valuable opportunity (in the church, everything is an "opportunity," just listen to every public prayer or talk and count how many times that word is used) to learn about testimonies. What are we doing wrong so that we didn't feel spiritual ready to go up there? I will justify our decision in a few moments.

One proactive thing I did was to leave the meeting, enter the halls and talk to my son. I asked him what he would say if he were up there. I really wanted to know if I was making a mistake in resisting.

"Disneyland!" he proudly exclaimed.
Hoo, boy! I swallowed and dove in. "That's a good thing to talk about, but in church, we don't talk about Disneyland." I could see his disappointment, but persisted, hoping his attention-span (measured in milliseconds) would last. "Here in church, we talk about Jesus. What would you say about Jesus if you were up there?"
He thought for a moment, then answered, "He's not very nice!"
Hmmm. That's his phrase for anytime someone does something he doesn't like, such as not talking about Disneyland. I don't think you are ready to go up there, son.

I made a promise that we would practice bearing testimony in Family Home Evening. He was not going up there yesterday, that's for sure. We went back into the meeting. He kept asking/begging for us to let him go up, even started going by himself at one point, but my wife and I were firm. He eventually gave up and the meeting ended, but not before I took him out of the chapel for another three-year-old offense, making excessive noise.

I have since thought a great deal about this incident. Are there times when it is not appropriate to bear your testimony in sacrament meeting? Sure, we should stand as witnesses of Christ and Joseph Smith. Sure, we gain forgiveness of our sins when we bear our testimonies. We are also serving others with our testimony. But I still say yes, there are times. If a testimony is insincere for any reason, it is better left unsaid. Here are some other possible reasons not to, which can be used as guidelines, all from off the top of my head:

When the time remaining does not permit, don't get up. "Oh, there are two minutes left! That's just enough time for me to blab for 10 minutes about nothing important." Um, no. You should have gone up there much earlier. If the spirit has been prompting you for a half hour, why did you wait? It's not really fair to keep an already long meeting longer, especially for people with children. Yes, those extra ten minutes are torture. We would rather poke our eyes with sharp crayons than stay another ten in that meeting when our children are acting up.

When you have nothing to say, don't get up. Inane ramblings do not justify your being up on the stand. We hear enough "thankamonies" ("I'd like to thank my roommates and my home teachers, and the bishop, and . . . ") and "cryamonies" ("I'd like to . . . boo hoo . . . I'm not normally like this . . . ") and "travelmonies" ("When I was traveling in Israel for the thirteenth time, I learned . . . "). They might be interesting, but most often, they are not. I want to hear testimonies. Don't just get up and ramble the first thing that comes into your head, either. That is not the guidance of the spirit, it is abusing an open forum in a club.

When you have an axe to grind, don't get up. That's not to say you can't bear testimony about a particular subject that has been on your mind, because that seems fine to me. But if you are standing there to tell the ward how wrong they are for not caring enough for the lonely or the poor (or whatever), sit down. Unless you are the bishop or stake president, most likely, you are not authorized to reprimand your ward.

Politics do not belong on the stand. Sit down. I don't care if you want to talk about our "spiritual" president. Do not tell everyone how righteous a particular war is. Not everyone will agree, and the chapel is not the place to talk about such things. Don't do it. If you want to profess how wonderful you are or condemn other people, what are you doing in this church? I mean, really! After hurricane Katrina ripped through the South, I can't tell you how many "testimonies" I heard saying how the people there should have been more prepared, and they are getting retribution for being so wicked. Excuse me? Last I heard, the Lord is our judge, not pompous "I-live-in-Utah-so-I'm-more-holy-than-thou" members of the church. When this happened in my ward, my wife very calmly and politely got up and bore her testimony and slipped in that this could happen to anyone (natural disasters) and that she has family from that area. Thankfully, that changed the tone of that meeting. She actually bore her testimony and did not condemn, and though she may have had an axe to grind, she resisted preaching or censuring the ward. She stated her love for the people of New Orleans and her sadness that these things happened, as well as her testimony of the gospel. Her comments were therefore appropriate and helped change the ugly tone of pride coming from the ward. And she was prompted by the spirit.

If you are not prompted by the spirit, you may still have good reason to bear your testimony. Evaluate those reasons and see if they are selfish ("I want people to think I am spiritual"). Evaluate those reasons and see if they are going to edify those around you. Remember that "opening up the meeting" (the words often used by the bishopric at the beginning of the meeting) is not an invitation to work on your own agenda.

If you don't feel the spirit with any kind of clarity, avoid getting up. I say this one tentatively, because there are people who go to the stand and talk so they can learn how to bear testimony and those who want to feel the spirit and go up for that reason. These are valid reasons, in my mind, as long as the other guidelines I set forth are observed. But if you are angry, distracted, not really thinking about the gospel, or whatever else might interfere with the spirit, you may want to sit this one out, because it is too easy to give in to the temptation to vent or ramble or moralize or censure. There is always next month. Not getting up is not a reflection on your worthiness, but can be a courtesy to the other members who are trying to feel the spirit, when you are not really ready to follow the spirit.

If you have a story that will take ten minutes to tell, don't. This is courtesy to others who wish to speak, as well as to the audience. Most audience members check out after five minutes, so if you are still talking, the spirit better be very strong. And other members of the ward want to get up and talk, many of whom are shy and reserved and less likely to get up, because they feel they don't have as much to say.

We are there in church to edify and uplift one another. We are there to worship our God and Savior. We are there to renew our covenants and feel the spirit and serve others. Testimonies should be stated in a way that aims toward those goals, with as much brevity as possible. If more people remember these guidelines, maybe, those who are less inclined to speak will be given the time to also get up and profess their love of the gospel.

You will note that I said nothing of children bearing their testimonies. That's a whole other issue. I'm not going to touch that one today.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

My Father, My God part I.

The purpose of this short essay is to enlighten myself. I am attempting to better define my relationship with my Heavenly Father, as well as His relationship with the whole human family. As the Prophet has said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves” (King Follett Discourse). I wish to better understand myself as I truly am—a son of God. Due to my struggle with self-esteem, I have had to come to a realization of a great secret: I am of the same race as my Father. This means that I cannot belittle my own value without belittling His as well. Since I love and worship and adore my God, I could never resort to lessening His value. Therefore, I must raise my views of myself, thus summing again the ultimate purpose for writing this essay.

So to start, who am I?

I am a child of God
And He has sent me here
Has given me and earthly home
With parents kind and dear
Lead me, guide me
Walk beside me
Help me find the way
Teach me all that I must do
To live with Him someday

A simple Primary song that I’ve known as long as I can remember. I have sung its words countless times. How long has it taken me to realize the depth of such a teaching? On my mission I became a great lover of Church doctrine. I remember teaching it to others, hoping they would get a glimpse of the significance of that doctrine, but in truth I believe I have spent all of my life missing the greater depth to it. The whole time I’ve simply been stuck on what a fascinating truth that it is, not the actual application of that truth in my life. Let’s explore that truth.

Heavenly Father is my Father. I am His son. I am not a mere creation. I am not simply one of His many projects. I am His work and His Glory (Moses 1:39). In addition to the trillions of His other children, He is concerned with me and doing what He can to allow me to return to His presence. I am created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27, Moses 2:26-27, Abraham 4:26-27). This isn’t merely a mental image, as some have conjectured. We aren’t only projections of His ethical and moral image. He didn’t simply want us to be able to choose between right and wrong as He is able (as some have defined “His image” to be). No, we are created after Him in very form. I was created in the image of His body (Moses 6:8-9).

Now there’s a thought! God has a body. His body is like mine, only in a glorified and immortal state (D&C 130:22). Since Christ is just like his Father, even sharing His express image (Hebrews 1:3, while we are merely in His image), being like Him in thought, word, and appearance, we can assume the same traits applying to the Son apply to the Father as well. Luke 24:36-39 teaches us that the resurrected and glorified Messiah has a body of flesh and bones. By comparison, that easily teaches us that the Father has a body as well.

God has physical offspring. He sired the entire human race upon Adam’s formation (Luke 3:38). But more importantly, God is the Father of our Spirits. This is clearly indicated through several scriptures. I could first point to Acts 17. Paul is preaching to the Athenians, chastising them for their ignorant worship. Then, using their own poetry as a teaching tool, he confirms that we are the “offspring of God” (v. 28-29). He is very clearly speaking in all literal senses. Again, we could turn to Hebrews 12:9, where it is made clear that we should subject ourselves to the Father of spirits, a parenthood compared to the literal parenthood of our fathers of flesh. And another: John 10:34-36 (with the parallel Psalms 82:6). Jesus states that yes, indeed we are children of the God of gods.

All these verses are taken from the Bible, but modern scripture continues to reveal and open further the doors of truth. D&C 76:24 teaches us that all of us are “begotten sons and daughters unto God.” Abraham 3:22 also illustrates our creation as spirits by our God. The Family: A Proclamation to the World states, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.” And we continue to be taught that he is our Father, and we his children. What a beautiful truth to know.

But really, what does that mean? What does it matter? We shall see.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Blog note

Based on feedback and a discussion I had with my brother, I have edited the Weakness of the Leaders essay, organized it better and filled out the argument more fully. It was originally posted on Oct 30, 2005, and was revised on Nov. 4, 2005. Hopefully, it flows in a more natural manner.