Monday, April 07, 2014

On being a Jazz fan

Despite their failure at being good at basketball, I am still--and will probably be until the day I die--a loyal and loving fan of the Utah Jazz. This does not mean that I won't call out their mistakes, wish for roster changes, throw my hands in the air at terrible plays and missed layups, or hope for a change in the coaching staff.

It means that I have a hope--a sometimes very slim hope--they can again achieve their imperfect but nevertheless enjoyable days of glory.

Some say it will never happen, but right now I choose to believe in miracles.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Modern 'Modern Revelation' in 5 Easy Steps

1. Adopt cultural practices (the World).

2. Confuse these practices with 'Eternal Doctrine.'

3. When cultural attitudes change, claim that 'Eternal Doctrine' divinely stands against 'The World.'

4. When 'Eternal Doctrine' is obviously antiquated/bigoted/absurd in comparison to societal progress, quietly rename 'Eternal Doctrine' to cultural practice.

5. Repeat.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Here is matter unorganized...

If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? There are a few different ways to answer this elementary question. First, one could say that the sound of a tree falling is simply vibrations in the air caused by the tree interacting with other trees and the ground, and thus it makes a sound regardless of whether or not someone is there to hear it.

A second answer to this is to say that sounds are not the vibrations in the air, but are rather the phenomenological experiences that results from those vibrations interacting with complicated structures of the inner ears and traveling to the brain as nerve signals where those signals are transformed into what our minds experience as sounds. Thus, without any ears and brains to receive and transform those vibrations in there air, there are no sounds resulting from the falling tree.

A third answer builds on the second, but instead focuses on the sound of a falling tree. Even if an ear and brain are present to receive and transform those vibrations to a phenomenological experience, there still remains the ability for the sounds of a falling tree to be heard as such. This requires both distinguishing and identifying the sound. The forest contains a blend of vibrations from rustling leaves and branches, chirping birds, rushing rivers, animal calls, wind, etc. Together these bombard the ear and brain as a chaotic mess of vibrations. It is only through time and experience that our brains begin to distinguish one set of vibrations from another (which begins in the womb). Furthermore, as time and experience enable the vibrations to be distinguished, more experience and and instructions (both self-taught and from others) enable us to identify the sounds we are hearing. What entered our ears as unorganized/chaotic vibrations are able to be experienced as organized and ordered sounds. In the forest we can hear, not just sounds, but the sound of a falling tree, the sounds of rustling leaves, the roar of the river, and the chirping of individual birds as if they were each happening in isolation.

This brings me to divine creation and the purpose of this post. In early and even contemporary Mormonism, certain Mormon thinkers criticized and mocked the notion of creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing, calling the creation of something out of nothing to be nonsensical--and they did so with the odd assumption that it made more sense to understand God as creating the world with chaotic stuff by speaking to rocks that listen and obey, or angels manufacturing the objects of the world with their knowledge of chemistry. To be honest, I find theories like the Big Bang and natural selection to be far superior and adequate at explaining the existence of objects in the universe and world. In fact, I feel confident in saying that if someone rejects those theories they can only do so out of ignorance or harmful religious fundamentalism.

Many religious scientists who accept cosmological explanations of the universe or evolutionary explanations of life do so with the caveat that those are tools by which God created those things. Such a view, however, is unnecessary and should be rejected, simply because one of the key explanatory values of these theories is that they do not require any deity or higher-being to operate. They are self-sufficient in explaining the existence of the physical state of things in a purely atheistic universe.

Does that mean that I am saying that God did not create the universe? No. Those of you who have followed my philosophical/theological pondering know that part of my project has been to rethink religious language about the divine, understanding them more in terms of divinity than in term of anthropomorphism. For example, eternal life is a type of life, not just more of it; and God's power is a type of power (specifically, love), and not just abilities of a Supersupersuperman. Similarly, I believe we should understand God's creative ability as a type of creation, and not just the creative abilities of a steroid-induced artisan. In other words, God's creative act is not analogous to a potter working unorganized clay into a new physical thing, but is instead His imbuing purpose and meaning into an already existing universe of things.

Just as the forest without distinguishing and identifying brains contains a chaotic and seemingly incongruous mess of vibrations in the air, the physical universe--as it presently is--is chaotic and unorganized in itself. The physical universe does not distinguish rock, from mountain, from ant, from ice, from star, from human baby, from good, from bad. Those are things that we do (as well as other brained-animals to a certain extent). Using the tools of experience and science we organize the world by distinguishing and identifying those things that we distinguish. Without humans and god, the world of things would still exist. There just wouldn't be anybody around to point at it, saying, "This is a rock," "This is ice," and "This is a baby."

This type of creation by organizing that which is inherently unorganized is similar to, but not wholly analogous to, God's creative act (even though one could read this into the Genesis 1 account of creation). Rather than simply organizing the unorganized product of cosmology and natural selection by distinguishing and identifying its parts, God's creative act is a type of organization that only God can do. His act was to imbue the whole with purpose and meaning.

To talk about God creating the universe should not be a discourse on the origin of things (including Homo sapiens), but the recognition of the purpose of the universe. At its religious heart, to say that God created the universe is not to say that the universe of things would not exist if there were no God, but is to evoke the purpose and meaning that the universe and ourselves have been given.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

New Kofford Books site


Spent much of the last week putting together a new site to replace the bland one that had been up for a few years. For the rest of the month you can use the discount code MORMONSTUDIES to get 20% off your order.

Go buy some books at and help me feed my children.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Failing the 1

I am so thankful for all of the support I have been receiving the past few weeks. This has certainly been a challenge, and I do not think I would have been able to handle it in the way that I have without the dozens of emails, messages, phone calls, comments, etc that I have received.

However, along with that support so many people have shared similar painful experiences that they have either experiences or are experiencing today. In some ways, reading these accounts have been more painful than what I have been going through myself. Too many friends, family, and acquaintances--too many good and faithful saints--are suffering because of the (usually) well-meaning but ignorant actions of local leaders. It has been a comfort for me to know I'm not alone, and I know it has been a comfort to others to know that they are not alone either.

The problem is that I should be alone in this. This (or similar acts) should not be a recurring problem in the Church. I should be alone in facing the hurtful acts of a rogue local leader, but I am not. I wish I could just cast the blame at my local leaders (and my own naivete), but I cannot. This is not to say that the corporate leadership of the Church is behind the actions (which I do not think they are), but rather that the bureaucratic organization of Church leadership, the cultural perception of an infallible Church, and the failure of leading Church authorities to address these problems are the root causes of these acts.

I'm so torn between my love for the Church and for the potential that I see in it, and my exhausted desire to just walk away from it.

Last night I received an e-mail from someone who is having her own challenges with a well meaning bishop, and I hope she is fine with me sharing her words:

"I work so hard at trying to stay in the Church. Really hard. More often than not I feel like I don't fit. This just feels like I am being pushed out. I am tired of fighting, of trying to be careful to say the right thing in the right way so that my voice is heard but I am not rocking the boat too hard, and I am so tempted to walk away from a community that frustrates me yet that I love.
"I am trying to reframe this and I am having a hard time with it. It isn't just this one incident. It's like this has been building for so long and I have been trying so hard and this is the breaking point. Right now I feel like I can't be who I am, and believe how I believe, and still try to be a part of the Church. I have spent the last two months reading and studying the words of Christ in the four gospels. I don't understand how I have been teaching anything different than what I have been reading about in the scriptures.
"I keep trying to adjust my perspective but some of the things I am most passionate about are being smashed . . . my emotions are screaming at me because of the way I am being treated.
"My heart aches."

Rereading this is bringing tears to my eyes as I type (largely caused by a sobbing gene that I inherited). I could have written this myself, as could so many good, faithful saints. My heart is aching so much, not just for myself, but for so many that are hurting so much right now--especially for so many out there who do not have this enormous circle of support that I have found.

In it's desire to love the 99, the Church is utterly failing the 1.

Monday, September 09, 2013

On my temple recommend

I've done some thinking the past couple days about why having a temple recommend is important to me. I'll be honest, I don't attend the temple often. I used to, but eventually it started to feel like tedious and boring work. I did not just have almost every single word of the entire endowment memorized, but I anticipated the length of every pause, each intonation, and every note of music. I eventually discovered that I could enjoy going to the temple far more the less frequently I went, and especially when I was seeking that extra boost of peace and inspiration that less-frequent attendance seemed to grant me. I realize that this is certainly not how most Latter-day Saints experience the temple, but it was worked best for me.

Far more than the ability to attend the temple, a recommend for me was a validation of my experience and disposition as a Mormon. It let me know that despite my sometimes different understanding of the gospel, I was still an accepted part of the community. It was for this reason that every time I went for a recommend I was totally honest with my bishops and stake presidents on my views related to the TR questions, even though I had no need to be. I wanted to know that I was accepted for who I was and with what I believed. And for every bishop and stake president I have had up until recently, they would say they saw no problem and gladly. For each of these previous leaders, the Church was big enough for even me.

This is why my TR's cancelation has been particularly difficult for me. While I try to remind myself that these are just two particular leaders out of many, and that there are many others who would accept me, it is still difficult to not feel like this is a rejection of me--a way of saying that I am not really welcome into the community of saints. And while there are many (and perhaps most) leaders who would accept me, this is a reminder that there are still many out there who would not. I have to be honest with reality. These leaders who have rejected me are not as much of an aberration as I wish they were. And there are, of course, many strong believing Latter-day Saints who share many of my views and would no longer be fully accepted into the community if leaders like these have their way--and in their wards and stakes, they can and do have their way.

However, not being fully accepted into the Church community involves more than just a sense of not being welcomed. Because the highest form of communal worship and relationship building happens within the walls of the temple, not having a recommend can cut a believing saint--can cut me--out of the events of the persons in my community that I love. Without a recommend, I am not able to participate in the weddings and sealings of friends and family. I am told that I belong outside the walls of the temples, with those who are explicitly not part of the community of saints.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

My testimony

How I would describe my testimony is probably different than how many of you would.

I don't have a testimony of Joseph Smith, but I believe that as a teen the young Prophet Joseph Smith wanted to know his place in the gospel of Jesus Christ and where he could find it. I believe that in response to his prayer he experienced the presence of God.

I don't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, but I believe that this book of scripture contains the gospel of Jesus Christ--a gospel that is perhaps best exemplified by a young prince named Ammon who believed and showed that an act of love and service could heal warring nations.

I don't have a testimony of the Church, but I believe that this church was divinely organized in 1830 to be a vehicle by which the Kingdom of God can be established on the earth. I believe that this community of brothers and sisters can be an example of the gospel of Jesus Christ to others.

I don't have a testimony of ordinances such as baptism and the temple, but I believe, as Joseph Smith taught, that heaven is a continuation of the relationships that we establish today. i believe that through making covenants with each other and with the Lord we can establish relationships that can embody the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don't have a testimony of Church leaders, but I believe that the leaders of this church are trying earnestly to be inspired as they try to help us follow the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know this can be difficult. If they are anything like me they struggle with trying to understand what the Gospel of Jesus Christ asks of us.

I don't have a testimony of perfect obedience, but I believe in perfect love. When Jesus told us to be perfect the word he used meant that he wanted us to be complete, and the completeness he spoke of was what he was referring to just a few sentences earlier: the complete love where we love both our friends and our enemies. Obedience is easy. Obedience doesn't require agency. Obedience is just doing what someone else tells us to do. Love is far more difficult, because love actually requires agency. We can't love someone just because someone told us to. And loving our enemies is the most difficult. Love must come from within ourselves and be active choice that we are making in our hearts. I believe that complete love lies at the center of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a testimony that the Gospel can not only heal warring nations but it can heal warring relationships. It is what can bring us together. It is or should underlie all that we do. It is what begs us to love one another.

I have a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and this is the testimony that I leave with you.