Archive for October, 2007

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Voistinnye Voskresye

October 31, 2007

by John C.

It is always dark in Russian cathedrals and churches. They don’t go much for interior lighting. That said, there are plenty of candles, so you don’t stumble over other people. There are also no chairs. The devoted stand, the less-devoted leave mass early. Finally, all singing is a capella. It is also all beautiful, often sung by a choir standing in the back of the nave, usually wearing a grubby collection of their everyday clothes.

I went to a Russian church for a midnight mass once. I went with a group of elders and sisters from my mission. One of them was from St. Petersburg and she assured us that she would keep us out of trouble. We got permission from our mission president, in a sort of roundabout way, and we gathered together in two apartments, one for elders and one for sisters, in order to prepare for the event.

This was to be a no talking, no tag, non-proselyting excursion. We just wanted to be with a bunch of Russian worshiping the resurrection of Christ. I had never been to a mass before and I haven’t been to one since. We gathered in the nave, huddled together, tried to look like we fit in, failed, and enjoyed the music and the incense. Candles were everywhere; it was the brightest I had ever seen the interior of a Russian Orthodox Church. The priest and the various other religious functionaries ran through their parts. The priest seemed a little bored. The choir seemed tired (though the music was still beautiful). It was an interesting experience. One of the elders joined the congregants on one of the seven perambulations about the church, holding a candle and scandalizing the Russian sister. None of that is the primary reason that I remember that mass.

The Russians have a tradition. I don’t know where it went while Communism ruled, but it was back when I returned to Russia. On Easter, instead of saying Hello to people, you say, “Christ is Resurrected” (Christos Voskres), to which the person you said it to responds, “Truly Resurrected” (Voistinnye Voskresye). It’s pretty cool. At the mass, this call and response were repeated several times throughout the night. One of the deacons in particular had the duty of calling out the response. He was a huge man, probably 6’4″ and over 250 lbs. He had a great graying beard down to the middle of his chest that stood out against the black robes he wore. His head was uncovered and his gray hair fell down to the middle of his neck. His eyes shine and his mouth was permanently in a wide, ecstatic grin. He held the big ball of incense and swung it as he walked. Whenever the priest would announce “Christ is Resurrected,” this deacon would respond “Voistinnye Voskresye.” He got happier each time he said it.

I don’t know this man, I don’t know his life, I don’t know if he is alive or dead. I do know this: He knew Christ. He loved Christ. There was nothing on this earth that he wanted to do more than to sing Christ’s praises. As I watched him that night, the joy that he clearly felt in shouting Christ’s resurrection infused me, too. No-one who saw him that night could fail to believe, I think. His testimony, shouted over and over again (Voistinnye Voskresye), lingers with me still. Whenever I picture true belief, it is his face I picture. That is a man who knew God. Sometime I hope to shout Voistinnye Voskresye with the same sincerity, integrity, and intensity of belief that he displayed. In the meantime, I shall muddle through in my own way, but he will remain to me a model of simple, humble, exultant, and electric faith.

Christos Voskres. Voistinnye Voskresye. Amen.

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Come on Rise Up…

October 30, 2007

November 4, 2002. Houston, Texas. Compaq Arena. I was attending a concert with my adult daughter, who was 22 at the time. I was 42 myself – the answer to the ultimate question (life, the universe and everything).

The singer started a song I had not heard before: Read the rest of this entry ?

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Feeling the Spirit at Movies 8

October 29, 2007

This week’s topic: Spiritual Experiences Outside of Mormonism

by carrie ann

This has been an interesting topic for me to think about. I have had many, many spiritual experiences outside of church or churchy things, but I have wondered if any of my experiences were outside the realm of the influence of the Holy Ghost. Even in my most hippie-ish, good-vibe-seeking/being-open-to-the-wonders-of-the-universe moments, it was still the Holy Ghost I was feeling. So are we talking about those kinds of spiritual experiences? I am going to, because that’s all I know. (Is there some level of spiritualism that I am missing out on? Should I be wearing more crystals?)

Here are just a couple of those experiences, silly as they may be:

High On a Mountain Top:

During a really rough time in college after breaking up with a serious boyfriend, I felt the need to go on a hike. I am more want to hike out of frustration, not pleasure. When I am upset or depressed, I need exertion and heavy breathing to get it out of my system. So I drove up as close to the mountain as I could (in Provo, Utah) and I hiked up to the bench trail, but instead of following the trail north to Rock Canyon, I decided to go straight up. After an hour or so I made it to a rocky outcropping. I was nowhere near a trail, and high, high above civilization. I decided to shed myself of any worldly thing (representative of my woes), and I took my clothes off. It felt wonderful to sit there in the early summer sun and feel naked, small, and unencumbered. It was definitely spiritual and symbolic. Luckily, I had my camera so I took a picture (from the shoulders up, of course, although this was the age before digital cameras so I was taking a huge chance of someone at the photo booth getting a shock…). I still have that photo on the fridge as a reminder of that feeling.

Spiritualism at the Movies:

Another experience that came immediately to mind is rather embarrassing to share. It occurred at Provo’s dollar theater, Movies 8. This is the world’s worst theater. They don’t even have surround sound. The shows are packed with noisy students and poor young families with screaming babies. Not the most ideal setting for movie watching let alone spiritual experiences. But while watching the movie “Contact” in said theater, I had an interesting experience that has stayed with me. I can’t even remember really what part it was (it was near the end), but I had the distinct impression that there was some bit of truth we were experiencing, and I don’t think I was alone. The audience was completely silent, no, REVERANT. I looked around at my neighbors and all the strangers and felt that they were feeling the same thing as me. So weird.

Mostly, though, I can feel spiritual outside of churchy things when I feel grateful. I can feel gratitude often, and for various things. Nature inspires gratitude, so does spending time with my family, eating good food, working in the garden, and lying in my comfy bed in my safe home next to my wonderful husband. Even the most banal daily routines can be laced with the spiritual when one feels gratitude for blessings given by our Father in Heaven. At least, that’s how it works for me.

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What harm are we doing?: A guest-post by fMhLisa

October 28, 2007

by fMhLisa

When I look at the way the church is organized and the way priesthood authority is implemented in the modern church (as discussed by Steve on Friday) it seems to me miraculous that our church isn’t a cesspool of corruption and unrighteous dominion. Lots of power in the hands of a few men, few checks, no transparency. And members constantly beaten over the head with lessons on obedience (but never ethical disobedience).

But the fact remains that in my experience, it actually works out pretty well.

Racking my brain at the moment, I can’t think of one personal example of butting up against unrighteous dominion. I could tell you other people’s stories, some silly, others deeply disturbing. Friends and relatives who’ve been lucky enough to have their spiritual welfare in the hands of the clueless, the selfish, the proud, the hypocrite, the idiot. But I personally have had predominantly good experiences with the priesthood and those who exercise it. Further, I think my experience is a common one. For every one unrighteous dominion story, there are likely hundreds of righteous dominion ones.

Now I do understand the temptation to look at this system and say, this makes no sense but it seems to work anyway, it must be the hand of God. And on one level I do agree with that. I mean how could this system work, without a powerful force for good at work in the lives of the men who exercise priesthood power and authority? I honestly don’t think it could. These are good men, who exercise the power of God with faith, wisdom, mercy, and love.

On the other hand, in my opinion,things work out despite the system rather than because of it. The gospel inspires these men to be good, the system tempts them with power. I think most men to varying degrees resist these temptations. But how much stronger could we be, if both the gospel and the system supported them? And further how do we measure the harmful effects of these constant temptations? It is easy to point at the egregious examples of unrighteous dominion and condemn. It is far harder to understand the subtle effects on good men who try to resist. I believe most men fight the good fight, with the cards stacked against them, but I also believe that it’s a rare owner of authority who does not in many subtle ways “immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” How many men swell with false pride under the (false) status of their (real) authority? Most of them probably. How many can *always* put their personal desires and opinions completely aside to see clearly the inspired needs of their family/dominion? Very few, probably.

And with much power, few checks, no transparency, and with followers intent on obedience, with so much temptation to cave-in to authority’s quiet corrosive power, what harm are we doing to men’s souls?

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Do we encourage unrighteous dominion?

October 26, 2007

By Steve M

Doctrine and Covenants, Section 121 may be one of the most often quoted, yet most seldom heeded, scriptures in Mormondom. I believe that, were we to pay more attention to the implications of this section, we would probably take a different approach to priesthood leadership.

Verse 39 warns that it is the natural tendency of “almost all men” to exercise unrighteous dominion the instant they get “a little authority.” Notice that Joseph Smith doesn’t say almost all non-members, inactives, luke-warms, or liberal Mormons, but “almost all men.” Although this passage specifically addresses the priesthood, and so Joseph may have been speaking primarily of and to the brethren, I would suspect that his assertion regarding people’s natural tendency to abuse authority applies to both men and women. According to this scripture, even active, faithful Latter-day Saints are prone to exercise unrighteous dominion.

This unfortunate reality should have a bearing on Church polity and policy. Our power structure, policies, and so on, should be designed to deter those with authority from abusing it, and provide incentives to act in accordance with the principles prescribed in Section 121. There should be stops and checks in place that steer people away from unrighteous dominion, and encourage them to act “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; [b]y kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (vv. 41-42). In other words, it’s not enough to tell people not to abuse their authority, especially given their apparent tendency to do just that. We must ensure that we are not facilitating or incenting that behavior, but are discouraging it.

Yet this is where I see us frequently failing. All too often, it appears to me that our leadership practices and expectations make unrighteous dominion especially likely to occur.

For instance, there is often little transparency when it comes to how leadership decisions are made. Members take it for granted that their leaders are praying and fasting over their decisions, that they are thinking things over and discussing them with their counselors, and are thus meriting the inspiration of heaven to which their positions entitle them. For instance, I often hear members describe as revelation counsel and decisions that the leaders themselves have not described as such. Members frequently only have a vague idea of how things operate or whether their leaders are making decisions in a satisfactory manner.

The fact that many Church policies aren’t revealed to the general membership, but are confined to handbooks that are only given to those in authority, also contributes to this lack of transparency. This unilateral knowledge makes for an unequal relationship between member and leader, and puts the members in a position of necessary dependency. For instance, in order to know the current policy regarding, say, vasectomies, the lay member must consult his bishop or other priesthood leader. Rather than having independent access to the policy, which would facilitate an autonomous decision, the lay member must necessarily involve his priesthood leaders in order to ensure that he is acting in accordance with Church policy.

Additionally, this imbalance denies members a standard by which to determine whether their leaders are acting in accordance with policy. This provides a disincentive for top-down accountability. A bishop is accountable to his superiors for following the Handbook, but not directly to the members of his ward, simply because so few of them are in a position to properly assess his performance. Other factors contribute to this lack of downward accountability. Aside from periodic sustaining votes at ward, stake, or general conferences (which are arguably more of a formality than an actual invitation for feedback), lay members don’t have many established channels for voicing concerns or grievances. In fact, they are actively discouraged from questioning their leaders, and a heavy emphasis is placed on faithful obedience to those in authority. While a lay member is technically justified in voicing concerns regarding his bishop’s conduct to his stake president, in the absence of evidence that the bishop is unworthy or is acting in direct violation of an established rule (which, as discussed, the member may not be aware of), this is likely to be of little avail. Authorities are usually given a high degree of deference.

The Church’s saving grace in this area is its insistence that leaders rely on prayer, fasting, meditation, and spiritual promptings in conducting their ecclesiastical affairs and executing their duties. I do believe that if leaders really employ these methods and make an effort to abide by the counsel given in D&C 121, many abuses will be avoided. It is probably for these reasons that serious abuses aren’t rampant and the Church bureaucracy functions rather smoothly, for the most part. However, as authority is not an absolute guarantee against error, limitations, ignorance, short-sightedness, or downright abuse, but (according to D&C 121) tends to have a corrupting influence on its possessors, I think there are compelling reasons to reevaluate our organizational and cultural approaches to priesthood leadership.

Edited to add: Of course, my views are based on my own limited experience as a lay member, not as a leader. If anyone is aware of leadership practices or policies that go to the ideals I have described in this post, then please share. I would also like to add that I view most of the problems we face in this area as pertaining to LDS culture, practice, and policy, rather than doctrine. I believe that the doctrines of the Church and the Priesthood hierarchy, as outlined in scripture, are compatible with a more democratic approach to leadership.

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Power in Humility

October 25, 2007

This week’s theme has me thinking about something that has been on my brain for months — the relationship between priesthood/patriarchy/presiding and partnership. But John’s post got me thinking about something else as well, so I am going to attempt to sort through all of these thoughts a bit here.
Whenever I hear someone (particularly a woman) express concern about priesthood, or patriarchy, or the man’s role to preside, I think of the verses at the end of Doctrine and Covenants 121. The verses, in my mind, describe how priesthood, patriarchy and presiding are supposed to be, and they bring me a lot of comfort and perspective about what these three things are about. If a man exercises unrighteous dominion, he is not presiding, exercising priesthood, or fulfilling a role as patriarch in the way God intended. In fact, true presiding in my mind is about Christlike, inclusive, others-focused, and service-oriented behavior. There is no reason to fear True Presiding because it is based in love and selflessness and the Greater Good. Some think presiding/priesthood/patriarchy are incompatible with partnership, but I think they are inextricably connected, at least as the Lord has prescribed them.

If my husband is a True Presider, by definition, he will seek to counsel with me in all our doings. He will treat me as a complete equal. He will serve and love. There is no threat to partnership in a marriage like that. Of course, no husband will ever be perfect in this way. But any man worth his salt should be striving to be that kind of presider.

In a similar way, in the ideal, there is no threat to true partnership in a Church that runs with that kind of leadership. There are exceptions, but I think we should assume that leaders are striving to be this kind of leader.

The Lord is the perfect example of servant-leadership. He also has what I think is the underlying characteristic that makes presiding, priesthood and patriarchy work: humility. He never focused on self. In large part because of His perfect humility, He was given power, because God knew He could be trusted with it. The Savior always — always — used that power to benefit others and to bring glory to God. He never sought to pursue His own course or put Himself before others or God.

D&C 121 teaches that priesthood holders will never fully tap into the powers of heaven without Christlike humility. There should be no motive whatsoever directed at personal gain, praise, position, control, or any other self-focused behavior.
John pointed out yesterday that, “The one called had best go about creating an atmosphere where they can be trusted, or they will not be able to fulfill their sacred responsibilities.” We know that the Lord can be trusted because, “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24). What an example! What humility!

But I can’t believe it’s all on the priesthood holders’ shoulders to harness the power of God through their righteousness for the good of the members of their congregations or families. All individuals have great responsibility both for their own access to heavenly power and also to help leaders fulfill their duties so that the power of heaven can be available to the congregation or family (or Church) as a whole.

President Packer recently reminded us that we all have available to us the power of testimony and the power of revelation — some of the power of heaven! I believe the promises of D&C 121 apply to all of us. I believe as we come to be more Christlike, more worthy of the Spirit, more filled with charity, more unceasingly virtuous in thought and action, we will find that the powers of heaven will flow into our lives. But the flip side is also true for all of us. If we violate principles of righteousness, we can cut ourselves off from the power of heaven.

I want to take this one step further. I think the fullest potential for manifestation of power that God has and wants to give us comes only as leaders and followers work together in unity, and particularly with humility. Pride and selfishness can come from the top down, but also from the bottom up. (President Benson talked about this in his famous talk on pride.) Any sort of pride can hinder the power available to the group. This puts a great deal of responsibility not only on the leaders to lead according to the counsel in D&C 121, but also for followers to practice the principles taught therein.

We are taught in this section that it’s “the nature and disposition of all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” True humility could change that. True humility is essential if a leader wants to tap into the powers of heaven.

But I think it’s also often the nature and disposition of people to resist someone else’s authority in pride. I think it’s possible for us to also “cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion” as followers, or as partners, of those who preside. How easy it is to blame a leader for a choice to leave the Church, or to blame a spouse as we run for the divorce papers [NOT that this isn’t justified in some seriously abusive situations, but too often, it’s not). Or, on a smaller scale, how easy it is to hold grudges, or to withhold loyalty and support for or to undermine (or try to compete with) the authority of someone who may not be the perfect leader. How easy also to try to manipulate or use other subtle (or not-so-subtle!) control tactics to get a leader to accept one’s point of view.

I just can’t help but wonder if sometimes we could step things up a notch in our following as much or not more than leaders could improve their leadership. Does every flaw need to be pointed out? Does every wrong opinion need to be fought? Couldn’t we all let go and forgive and move forward and work together just a bit more?

We can remember that the Savior was not only the perfect leader; He was the perfect follower. He never worried about his station in life. He didn’t seek for power or position. He wasn’t concerned about glory or praise of men. His whole purpose was to glorify the Father. What about us?

The Spirit will be grieved and heaven will withdraw from any of us who choose to let pride, selfishness, sin, or other unrighteousness drive our actions. Imagine what would happen if we all sought and prayed for more Christlike humility, whether leader or follower! For the Lord’s work to work, it takes everyone willingly and humbly filling their roles, seeking only God’s glory and not our own. In fact, I think a key purpose of the order of things (in the family and in the Church) is to teach all of us humility.

Of course, things never work perfectly, because we are all imperfect people, but I have caught a glimpse of what happens when people work together in a spirit of faith, unity and humility. There is power, peace and progress when people truly put aside their selfish goals, concerns, desires and insecurities, and seek to be instruments in God’s hands — whether program-passer-outer or presiding authority.

President Packer reminded us that, “There is the natural tendency to look at those who are sustained to presiding positions, to consider them to be higher and of more value in the Church or to their families than an ordinary member. Somehow we feel they are worth more to the Lord than are we. It just does not work that way!”

We can recognize that all the Father has is available to every one of us, regardless of our roles, position, or gender. Whatever our particular stewardships are, all the Lord asks is that we fulfill those roles in faith and humility, with all of our hearts. If we do this, I believe He will bless us with His power, individually and collectively.

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Ladies and Gentlemen…The President

October 24, 2007

by John C.

I suppose that if one is going to discuss unrighteous dominion, one had better also describe righteous dominion. What on earth might that be? We are, in our western democratic mindset, unfamiliar with whatever that might be. Dominion, when held, must be maintained by coercion, whether physical or psychic. Therefore, it is always unrighteous, always unjust. Nonetheless, the idea is there, implicit in scripture. It must mean something and we, apparently, should understand it.

Often, our discussions of this topic revolve around the potential meanings of the term “to preside.” That term, forever memorialized in the Proclamation on the Family, is what the father is supposed to do in the home, alongside protecting and providing. This is meant to give the father some guidance regarding how to behave in the family and what the Lord expects of him in that setting. Plenty of ink has been spilled (or digitally reproduced) in the effort to determine the limits of preside. This post is yet another attempt, but I am approaching the idea from a new angle (for me). While in the past, I have tried to define “presiding” by what it cannot be (based on how our leaders describe the ideal husband/wife/father/mother/parent/child relationship), I am going to turn to other contemporary uses of “presiding” in order to look for clues.

That’s right, today we are talking politics.

The President of the United States of America is, one might assume, presiding over all American citizens. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, so there is your protecting. He gives the federal budget to Congress, so there is your providing. So what exactly else does his presiding consist of?

To quote our current President, “Leadership,” which we all know he provides in spades. What on earth might that be? I think that it is reasonable to argue that it means that the presider provides goals and ideas about how the nation should view itself moreso than anything else. The finest presidential moments are not wars, nor are they budgets: they are speeches. Those presidents that linger in memory are generally those that had a way with words (Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Nixon, and Reagan). Of course, others are more famous for their policies than their rhetoric, but they tend to be the exception. They aren’t generally turned to when we are trying to assess where we are as a nation (the one possible exception is Truman, but his notoriety is aided by a recent, well-written biography). The Presidents that really matter to us are those that gave us our idea of ourselves. Even President Bush’s finest moment is a rhetorical one; a man talking to rescue workers through a bullhorn, telling them we will make it. At that moment, we all believed in George W. Bush, because we wanted to.

And that’s the thing: presidents preside by persuading. When Bush failed to live up to that moment with the bullhorn, a strong Democrat presence was voted into the legislature. When any president fails to convince the people that he genuinely has their best interest at heart, opposition parties are voted into power (or enough power) to thwart his own. The only exceptions to this are dictatorships, where the opposition is shot. I hope we can all agree that is a bad model for family and church relations and just move on.
In families, the same basic principles hold true. If the family feels like the president is overstepping his power, they revolt. An opposition party may take over. They may just make the president a lame duck, ignoring every presidential proclamation. The truth of the matter is that there will always be a president, but there is no reason to assume that it will be the father. The father often abdicates his authority, seeking to escape it in work, addiction, or indifference. Presidents preside because the people ask them to, which makes the people the ultimate arbiters of presidential power.

We don’t like this sort of talk in the church. Men have the priesthood because God gave it to them. Bishops and Stake Presidents are meant to be top-down representatives of the church to the people, not vice versa. If we are to understand presiding as a primarily administrative endeavor, the importance of popular support is all the more important. It is the easiest thing in the world to render the power of an unrighteous bishop useless: stop attending church. The vast majority who leave the church have discovered this great truth. A bishop without the support of his congregation is a bad bishop, whether or not the institutional church continues to support him.

Look at it this way. We believe that, in some form, the bishop is responsible for the people in his area. I have even been told that the bishop is responsible for the non-members in his area, not just those affiliated with the church. If a person is meant to be responsible, in part, for your welfare, is there any more effective way to render his responsibility moot as regards you than to simply and resolutely ignore everything that they have to say to you? Those who preside, preside at the behest of their constituents. It is never the other way around. This is where the principle of “by common consent” is applicable. When we raise our hand to sustain that calling, we are saying that we will support that soul in that calling, whether over us or not. Without our support, the calling is rendered moot. The one called had best go about creating an atmosphere where they can be trusted, or they will not be able to fulfill their sacred responsibilities.

Ultimately, the reason, I believe, that any dominion becomes unrighteous is linked to the reason why the Lord permitted the persecution of the Saints in Missouri. If you believe deference is your due, but you don’t live the sort of life wherein people would want to defer to you, leaning of your chosen status will not get you very far. People will vote with their feet, their guns, or their divorce papers. Presidents work at the will of the people and so do leaders in the church.