Monday, April 27, 2009

Priesthood Blessings, Words vs Ideas

One aspect of the LDS church that is quite unique is that of a lay priesthood. Having average guys holding the authority to acti in the name of diety seems quite unusual. Actually, I quite like it. I've seen many great blessings (read: positive happenings) come from priesthood blessings (i.e. the ordinance that is performed). I do not doubt their power. I have felt the spirit confirming what was said, both in receiving and giving them.
But talking about blessings (the ordinance) with my wife and others has led me to believe that I have a very different feeling about how the revelation/inspiration occurs. To illustrate, I'll give a couple brief examples:

Story #1 - A friend of mine had two sons. Then he had a daughter. Along came another son. At the baby blessing for the youngest son, the father blessed him that he would be "a good example to his brothers and sisters."
Story #2 - My wife and I have shared our patriarchal blessings with each other. There is actually very little that they have in common. However, there is one difference that really struck out to her as we read them together the first time. Mine makes reference to me coming forth in the morning of the first resurrection, (assuming I live my life faithfully) whereas hers does not.

So, what's the fuss about? My friends wife (from #1) pointed out to us that this statement of "sisters" must mean that they were supposed to have another child... so they did. It was a boy. So they tried again, and got a girl. Now son #3 (child #4) could really be a good example to both his brothers and sisters.

My wife, noting the difference in our blessings, went on to explain to me that she was quite sure that the second coming will happen within her lifetime, because of the lack of this clause. Note, this is not something that she just concluded on her own. Apparently this was a common thing in her stake... the youth of the church are now receiving blessings without telling them when they'll be resurrected. This means that, obviously, they won't be... they'll be changed at His coming.

I don't want to sound antagonistic, or superior, but am I the only one who doesn't view blessings (the ordinance) as scripts given by the Lord to the individual? Am I the only one who doesn't think the exact wording is necessarily inspired? Havind two more kids because of an "s"?!? Not expecting death, because a phrase was not mentioned in your Patriarchal blessing?

From my experiences with giving priesthood blessings, here's how I see things. My guess is, my wife had a new Patriarch appointed, who tended not to say anything about the resurrection in his blessings (my wife's was not an isolated case... apparently this has been taught in church/seminary where she grew up). I think my friend was expressing a righteous desire in blessing his child, with faith that it would come to pass. He wasn't given certain quantites of siblings to include in the sentence.

I've given numerous blessings (ordinance, and hopefully at least occasionally been involved in the positive happenings of their lives :-) ) and I can say that, for me at least, the words spoken are frequently my own. I feel guided in what I should tell a person, what council I might give, etc., but for me, I would describe this process of being inspired with feelings. I feel the love that God has for his children. I "feel" what he wants to tell them. Then I try and get it out in language.

Am I alone here? How do you think of Priesthood blessings. Are the words that important?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spiritual Diabetic Neuropathy

The last few posts have gotten a bit long, so I'll try and keep this a bit shorter. I was just reviewing my notes from Conference and thought I'd share some thoughts I had from Pres. Eyring's Priesthood talk. He spoke about the responsibility we have to look after others. This struck me because (well, mainly because I'm nerdy) I'd just attended a conference on diabetic neuropathy (see, I told you), which has some interesting parellels. Then, during the talk, he kind of drew them even closer together for me.

After reccounting the story from "Black Hawk Down," he said, "Such a feeling of responsibility for others is at the heart of faithful priesthood service. Our comrades are being wounded in the spiritual conflict around us. So are the people we are called to serve and protect from harm. Spiritual wounds are not easily visible, except with inspired eyes."

So what does this have to do with diabetes? One of the complications of diabetes, long term, is that it causes problems with your nerves, frequently in the hands and feet. When you start to lose sensation in your toes, you can't tell when your shoes are uncumfortable, or if there's a rock in your shoe, or even if you step on a thumb tack. This leads to infection. Also, the nerves that should control your sweat glands die off too, so now you have ultra dry skin, which cracks, and leads to opportunities for infection even without any particular trauma. Even normal feet generally have a relatively poor blood supply, which is how you fight off infections, so this adds up for a perfect storm, leading to a lot of lower limb amputations.

What's the solution? Well, one of the best things you can do for your feet is to examine them twice a day, and stop going around barefoot (ever) once you have lost/poor sensation. However, one of the things they stressed in the conference was the benefit of having someone else to help you. Having you husband/wife check your feet (even if it's every few days) can have a tremendous impact on the health outcomes for patients. The problems are detected early, before they start to take over and kill off a lot of tissue.

Same with the gospel. That's why the Church exists at all (or one reason anyway). Not be be each others master, but to check our feet for us. (Sometimes it's hard to see in some spots)

Pres. Erying said, "Only an authorized judge in Israel is given the power and the responsibility to verify that there is a serious wound, to explore it, and then, under inspiration from God, to prescribe the necessary treatment for healing to begin. Yet you are under covenant to go to a spiritually wounded child of God. You are responsible to be brave enough and bold enough not to turn away."

and, "I would never put off such an impression because I had learned that the wounds of sin are often not felt at first by the one being hurt. Satan seems sometimes to inject something to deaden the spiritual pain while inflicting the wound. Unless something happens soon to begin repentance, the wound can worsen and widen."

That's just the way sin works. Often, we don't feel its effects (peripheral nerve damage happens first). But others around us can notice small changes, if they look. If they don't, and we don't, soon a larger sin enters in, and begins to take over. Once inside, the results can be devastating (even more so with sin than with the loss of a limb)

Sorry, that wasn't so short after all...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Modesty, Garments, & Nudity? - Part 2

To not be lost, catch the first part of the discussion of modesty in Part 1.
(My apologies, it's a bit late for coherent writing, but I wanted to finish this before time gets away from me.)
So, back to modesty. What is it really all about? I think it's about avoiding pride. If we look at it this way, the admonition to be be modest in our dress has more to do with dressing so as not to intentionally draw undue attention to ourselves, being "free from conceit or vanity." Wearing a swimsuit to church would be immodest, because it would serve to draw attention to myself. Going swimming in tuxedo would likely have the same result. It seems that it is all about our attitude in the clothing choices we make. The outcome we desire has an impact on the correctness of an action.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Modesty, Garments, & Nudity? Part 1

Wow... after reading over at MormonMatters about the mormon nudists, I've been doing a lot of thinking. I've also been scanning the bloggernacle for older posts having to do with modesty, nudity, and the garment. I have to say my thinking has undergone some interesting shifts over the last couple of weeks.
So what exactly is modesty? It's really interesting, considering the emphasis in the current church, that I wasn't really able to find anything in the scriptures on the subject. A quick search of the scriptures led to a single use of the word modest, in 1 Timothy, Ch 2. Here, the use seems to fall in line with the traditional definition of modesty, which has nothing to do with dress per say. It's about being humble. About avoiding what the Book of Mormon calls fine twined linens and costly apparel. About not being prideful.
Looking through the scriptures, I find lots of negative comments about clothing generally, and some neutral ones like admonitions not to worry about it. When it's not mentioned negatively, any positive views are often talked about only in reference to clothing the naked. Here, it seems, it's more about providing something to someone who is poor, no different than providing housing to the homeless.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Teaching Ideals

Another interesting tidbit that kind of jumped out at me during conference:
The other day I was reading on another blog (I'll post a link if I can find it again) a discussion about the way the church always teaches to the ideal. There was a great deal of fus and debate in the comments, about whether the Church is right or wrong in teaching ideals -- like children have the right to a 2 parent, married in the temple, father working, mother staying at home kind of childhood -- and it was generally taken for granted by everyone that in fact the church does this. The main line of discussion seemed to be whether that was proper or not, whether that neglected those who couldn't meet those standards etc.
During the Priesthood session, Bishop Edgley had this to say:
Bishops, the sisters have a role in this effort. Because of the economy, many mothers are finding it necessary to make budget and other living adjustments. Some are even finding it necessary to leave the home to find work. The Relief Society sisters, with their specially endowed, compassionate hearts, can help. They can help identify the needy. They can teach. They can babysit, console, comfort, and encourage. They can make a difference.
I found this quite refreshing. He was explicitly telling the members of the church how they can help those who find themselves in circumstances that don't permit them to provide the "ideal." Telling the sisters to provide babysitting, so that mothers can work... what an awesome move that would be in the Church. If we can get around this whole idea of judging each other. Sure, it might not be the ideal, but maybe I should do all I can to make it more ideal.
Just a thought. I think it's interesting that sometimes we can get really caught up in arguing about whether something the Church is doing is the best or not... even when sometimes that may not be what they are doing at all.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Are We Too Reverent?

There's a scene in Monty Python & The Search for the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his knights see God in a vision. They, keeling and bowing before him, are told that He's tired of everyone groveling all the time. Now, I don't think that's how God feels at all, and I think we should do all we can do show proper reverence and respect to him.
However, I do sometime feel that we take reverence to an innappropriate extreme... or rather, in the wrong direction. Frequently (ok, maybe occasionally is more correct) we get counseled in conference (most recently, this weekend by Elder Nelson, if I remember correctly) about the proper form of prayer. (Maybe I'll update this with some quotes once the transcripts are available) He talked about the importance of using the respectful words of Thee, Thy, and Thou in place of You and Your.
Now I'm sure this is something that's been pointed out around the Blogernacle before, but I don't get it. In every other language I'm aware of, prayer is done in the familiar, not formal conjugations of verbs. We don't teach the Spanish-speaking members to pray in Usted. And my understanding is that Thee, Thy, and Thou were once to the English language what "tu" is to Spanish. We English-speakers started praying that way because that's how everyone prayed. Now, the familiar conjugation is virtually absent in English, so it has come to seem very old-fashioned, which we moderns seem to interpret as formal. But it's not. The reason for saying Thee and Thou should be to develop a closer relationship with Diety... not create distance.
The question is further complicated by the fact that 99.999% of english speakers haven't the foggiest idea how to conjugate their verbs appropriately to use Thee/Thy properly. Even in the church (myself included) we don't know how to do it with the exception of a few common verbs (didst, wouldst, hast, doest, etc). So how is that showing respect to use a gramatically innappropriate (and familiar) pronoun for the verb I'm using, or even switching between Thou and You in the same sentence? It's partly because of this that for me, years after my mission, I still do all my private prayer in my mission language... it's more intimate, and I can just talk, without thinking about the proper way to say "you wanted" in thou (thou wantedest?)
In another talk this weekend, we heard from Sister Liffert(?) of the Primary General Presidency. She encouraged us to teach are children proper respect by teaching them to call the members "Brother Smith" and "Sister Anderson" rather than Jack and Jill. Again, we miss the point of the titles brother and sister. They are intended (or iriginally did) to put us on the same level... not to put them on a pedestal of respect. So what do I call Dr. Smith, MD, DDS, MD, JD, PhD? I call him Brother Smith. What do I call Mr. Anderson, with no formal schooling past 3rd grade. Brother Anderson. It's not about respect. It's about the opposite of respect. That's why we read of the Saints talking of Brother Joseph, or Brigham... because they weren't demanding respect.
They were trying to be one... Sure, I'm the prophet, but that doesn't mean I'm better than everyone. Which brings up the question as to why do we Mormons tend to get a bit cranky when someone decides to call one of the Brethren by something other than the full name with middle initial. Why can't we say Gordon Hinkley, or Brother Monson? It just sounds so strange. (the one exception is to include only their title and last name... i.e. Pres. Hinkley) But since when was calling someone by their given name "evil speaking of the Lord's annointed"? Or is there some other reason we do that?
Basically, I think reverence and awe have their place. That place is Deity, not each other. And even then, I think we need to be careful that we're not creating artificial barriers, or creatin new distance between us and God by our "reverence," worrying too much about the words of our prayers, than our prayers themselves.