Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stop Being Polite

I recently read an interview that occurred at Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference. The interview was with a very prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Richard Bushman. The catalyst for them choosing Richard Bushman seems to be Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, and the fact that all these reporters wanted to get their questions concerning Mormonism answered. All types of questions were addressed like: Would Romney be obligated to take direction from the Church leaders in Salt Lake City? What’s the deal with Polygamy? Why are Mormons so secretive about the Temple? Bushman gave some good insight, and I feel like he represented the Church extremely well.

The conversation at one point turned to how there are so many misunderstandings in the world about our beliefs. Stereotypes and clichés about Mormons exist to the point that it is difficult for people to come to a real understanding about who we are and what we stand for. The reporter asked if members were looking at Mitt’s campaign as an opportunity to break those stereotypes down, or whether we were anxious about the publicity we would be receiving. Bushman responded:

I don't think it was Michael Paulson, but someone from The Boston Globe was writing a story about how the Mormon Church is going to be affected by the Romney campaign. Exactly the question you asked. I thought it was a good question. My own feeling is it's very good to air all of the inner feelings. Sally's question was very interesting to me. You've been really influenced by Martha Beck. This image of the church as secretly ominous and oppressive is common. I think those things need to get out in the open. Mormons need to hear it, and the people who voice those questions need to talk to Mormons about it. As long as we're all polite to one another, there isn't going to be true understanding.

When I was reading the transcript, the last line rang true with me. As a missionary I often taught people who believed the core doctrine but had a concern with a specific principle that led them to start trying to avoid the missionaries. Those people who would eventually share their concern with us, would get the answer, overcome their anxiety, concern or misunderstanding and be willing to follow what they had found to be true. Those who were unwilling to share their concern typically came up with a plethora of excuses to avoid meeting with us; which would begin a game of the missionaries trying to guess what the root of their concern was. If we guessed right, we were able to resolve it and the people were able to join the Church. If we did not, we often had to move on to people more willing to have honest, open conversations with us.

I do not think that Bushman meant for people to be rude, and accuse us of such and such, but I do think that he meant as long as people are unwilling to voice their concerns, their questions, true understanding will continue to elude us. As long as people who continue to associate us with the FLDS, or who believe that we have horns, or whatever, continue to keep those misguided beliefs about us to themselves, they will never come to know the truth. I can not speak for all members of the Church, but as for myself, I would be more than willing to engage with someone who wanted to know if we had horns on our heads (we do not), or why we do not talk about what occurs within the Temple, or if we practice polygamy (we do not). But in order for that to happen, people have to be willing to ask; to start the conversation.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Springboards of Faith

I am currently in the great city of San Francisco… actually a suburb outside of San Francisco called Walnut Creek. Sophie, my niece, is in bed and so the cute entertainment of the trip is gone until the morning. Seeing as I have a moment away from laughing at her little dances in the kitchen, I thought I would get on my first post of the month.

Jeff, my brother in law, is the deacon’s quorum adviser. So today at church, I decided instead of going to Elder’s quorum, I would sneak off to hear the wisdom that Jeff would be sharing with the 12 year old boys. For the lesson, he had each of them teach one section of the 2nd missionary lesson. After each boy taught his section, Jeff would give some feedback. One of the boys mentioned how it was a lot more difficult sharing the lesson in front of the class than he thought it was going to be. Jeff’s response fit nicely into some things that I have been thinking about lately.

Jeff talked about how as a missionary, there will be times when you are nervous sharing the message. You often feel inadequate: your language skills are insufficient, and even if they weren’t your teaching skills are probably less than stellar. However, you have been set apart to be a representative of Jesus Christ. You have been given the authority to act in His name, and as you begin your mission you are blessed with the powers of heaven to be able to accomplish your responsibilities in the mission field. He mentioned how to help you remember who you are representing and the special call that you have, you wear a name tag over your heart, stating that you are a missionary for Christ’s Church. I remember putting that tag on each morning. You feel different with it on. It’s a strong reminder of who is supporting you in your work on a daily basis.

I have recently been studying Exodus and how Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Much like many young missionaries today feel, Moses was unsure if he would be able to fulfill the calling the Lord had given him. He slowly came to understand what it meant to represent the Lord. What I find interesting is that during the process in which Moses was coming to understand his calling the Lord had him continue to use his staff. Could God have turned the water to blood without Moses putting his staff in the water? Could God have parted the Red Sea without Moses having the staff? Could he have used something other than the staff to turn into a serpent? Without a doubt, I believe that the miracles could have been performed without the staff.

Looking at a more modern example, in 1820, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to a 14 year old boy named Joseph Smith. Over the next few decades, Joseph Smith would be the tool through which Christ would restore His church, His authority, and His doctrine. One of the first responsibilities that Joseph had was to translate the records of some ancient American prophets. Joseph was unlearned and knew nothing of translation, so God provided him with some tools to begin the translation, the Urim and Thummin. During the first part of the translation, Joseph used the Urim and Thummin, however as time went on his need to use the Urim and Thummin grew less and less. He would eventually be able to translate and receive revelations without the help of the tools that God gave to him.

During the two years that I wore the missionary tag, I would expect miracles daily. I would see miracles daily. I no longer wear the tag, however, the God who provided the miracles is the same God who is looking out for me today. It would be silly for me to believe that just because the tag is gone, miracles would cease to exist in my life. Just like it would be silly for Moses to doubt the Lord if his staff broke, or Joseph to panic if his seer stones were taken. When I first noticed the pattern, the first thought that came to my mind was that those were almost crutches upon which we could begin to develop our faith. However, upon further thought I have decided that these things are more like springboards for our faith. As we begin to see the hand of the Lord in our lives, we begin to understand the type of relationship that we are to develop with Him, and we are able to dive in to continue our progression.

In fact, I think that there are many more examples of these types of springboards in our life. Parents, blessings, leaders, callings are all avenues through which we often see miracles. However, the ultimate source of those miracles is still God, and His grace. By recognizing the Lord’s hand in all things, our faith in the Lord will continue to develop.