Monday, March 17, 2014

For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you

I have gone on record explaining that the scriptures promise priesthood ordination to all followers of Christ, both male and female. God has promised that He will yet reveal "many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" [1], and I firmly believe that extending the priesthood to all worthy members of the church is one of them. The restoration of the Gospel, which began in a grove of trees and is still ongoing, will not be complete until we have our latter-day Phoebes and our latter-day Junias. With that said, I have not at this point in time chosen to align myself with Ordain Women, mostly because my style is more to skip the middleman and go straight to the source - petitioning God directly.

I have many friends who have joined with Ordain Women, and their stories are heartbreaking. People, both to their face and anonymously on the internet, are calling them vile names, telling them that they are not welcome among God's people, and in some cases, even threatening them with physical harm. All because my friends, by bearing their testimony of the vision of equality the Holy Spirit has granted them, are obeying their baptismal covenant to "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [they] may be in" [2]. My friends are mourning that reality does not yet match this vision, and instead of their opponents obeying their baptismal covenant to "mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" [3], they are persecuting my friends in the most un-Christlike manner. My friends are responding by turning the other cheek and showing grace in the face of adversity.

We learn in scripture that in the last days, our daughters shall prophesy. [4] We also learn that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [5] and that we will be able to determine the validity of someone's actions by the fruits that those actions bear.[6]

Let's look at the fruits: My friends are following the scriptural tradition of the daughters of Zelophehad [7] by asking the prophets to seek revelation from God. They are being patient and kind even to those who mock and scorn them. My friends' opponents are following the scriptural tradition of persecuting the meek and humble followers of Christ [8] and are trying to cast my friends out of their worship spaces.

My friends' actions are the ones bearing good fruit. They are the ones demonstrating a testimony of Jesus by showing love.[9] Since their actions demonstrate their testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, I would like to cheer them with these words spoken by our Savior when He preached the sermon on the mount:
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.[10]
May God soften the hearts of your persecutors, and may God rain down revelation on us all.

--
[1] 9th Article of Faith
[2] Mosiah 18:9
[3] Ibid.
[4] Joel 2:28
[5] Revelation 19:10
[6] Matthew 7:20
[7] See Numbers 27
[8] See Alma 32:1-3 for a description of the Zoramite persecutors casting the meek and humble out of the houses of worship.
[9] John 13:35
[10] Matthew 5:10-12

Thursday, January 30, 2014

No manner of -ites

At baptism, we covenant to “mourn with those who mourn”, not “make people who mourn go away so they don’t make us uncomfortable”.

Sadly, my friends were mourning this week, and some of our fellow saints refused to mourn with us. It started out innocently enough, when someone carelessly implied that all Mormon women were married. After hearing the hurt this caused several single women, this person eventually apologized, but not before a huge dustup occurred where several of my friends were told by others (not the original person) that they were unwelcome because they were single. We were told that our pain at being excluded from our religious community was illegitimate and made-up, and that we should go and find a different place to be, so that they wouldn’t have to hear our pain.

This is not how we build Zion.

After Christ appeared to the surviving Nephites and Lamanites, they built Zion. The distinguishing characteristic of their society is that there were not “any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” 4 Nephi 1:17 This doesn’t mean that everyone was suddenly the same. It means that despite their different backgrounds, they were united. The stratifications that exist in the world should not exist in Zion.

Our community has too many -ites.

How do we overcome our natural tendency to stratify? Chapter 1 of 4 Nephi describes a righteous and happy society. Verse 12 says that they met together often. Verse 15 says that there was love in the hearts of the people.

If we want a Zion society, we need to get out of our bubbles and listen to the lived experiences of those who are different. We can’t just dismiss them. The next time you’re at church, talk to someone who isn’t like you. And then listen.

Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on the commandment to love. This is the center of a Christian life. If we develop love in our hearts, we will develop a Zion society. Jesus also said that whatever we do to the least of society, we have done to Him. When we ostracize entire demographics, we are kicking Jesus out of Zion.

While the catalyst for this post was the exclusion and marginalization of the unmarried, those who aren’t married are not the only -ites. We have -ites of various racial or ethnic minorities, infertile-ites,  and the list goes on and on. In Zion, there will still be people of various races and ethnicities, people of varying family compositions, and people from all walks of life. But let’s not turn them into “the other”. We should have no manner of -ites among us.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Improving Grace?

Sometimes I'll catch myself singing hymns without spending too much time actually thinking about the words. Today at church, we sang hymn 240, Know This, That Every Soul Is Free. As I got to verse 4, I noticed a phrase that struck me as a bit odd.

Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.
What does it mean to improve the grace of God? I've always viewed God's grace as perfect.

I did a search in the scripture section of lds.org, where I typed the phrase "improve grace" into the search box. I didn't get any results.

The only thing I can think of is in the context of real estate. A piece of empty land is said to be "improved" when a structure is built on it. So maybe what the hymn means is that when we have God's grace in our life, we should do something with it.

That's all I've got. Any other thoughts on what it could mean?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Logical Fallacies and the 9th Commandment

The most valuable course I took in my entire education was Introduction to Informal Logic. I took the class my second quarter of college simply because it fit in my schedule and didn't look horribly boring. I loved that class so much that I changed my minor to philosophy and almost decided to go on for a PhD in the subject.

When I taught freshman composition, I made sure to introduce my students to the logical fallacies so that they could identify and guard against them. They're pernicious and tend to crop up everywhere.While there are several logical fallacies, there is one in particular that I'm going to discuss today that is unbecoming a Christian.

That fallacy is the straw man fallacy. The straw man fallacy is where someone argues not against their opponents' position, but against a ridiculous, false, or weak characterization of their opponents' position. Wikipedia summarizes it nicely:
To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and to refute it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged, emotional issues. In those cases the false victory is often loudly or conspicuously celebrated.
Here is an example from real life:

True position: Feminists believe that men and women deserve an equal opportunity to develop and use their talents and gifts both inside and outside the home.
Straw man position: Feminists hate babies and want to become men.

See how they're not even remotely similar? But many people skip right over the true position and go knock down the straw man because addressing the true position is harder than defeating an argument that you made up yourself and that nobody actually subscribes to. It's bad logic.

It is also a sin.

The ninth commandment states "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Exodus 20:16. Going around misrepresenting your opponents' arguments in order to make them look bad is the very definition of bearing false witness. So, in the words of President Utchdorf, "Stop it."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I'm a lawyer now

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

I started law school in January 2005, fresh off my mission, with $77 in my bank account. Since I had no money and no job, I lived with my parents in San Jose. I was going to school in San Francisco. My daily commute was 2 hours each way. My dad dropped me off at the train station at 6:30 in the morning on his way into work, and he picked me up at the train station around 5:30 in the evening on his way home from work. It was thoroughly exhausting.

I kept that up for a year before I was fed up enough with the commute that I moved out. I ended up in Fremont, which was still a 45 minute train ride away, but it was much better. A few months later, my law school education was unceremoneously interrupted due to a whole bunch of bureaucratic nonsense that was out of my control. The day that I found that out, I also lost my job.

I spent the next two years working and trying to figure out what to do with my life, and then I went back to law school somewhere else. (At a school that was far better run and treated the students as respected colleagues instead of as obstacles.) Then I graduated.

Then I took the California bar - and failed it - three times. (Seriously, if someone reasonably intelligent with a law degree can't pass the [expletive deleted] test after three attempts, maybe there's something wrong with the test!) Then I decided that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So I took the Arizona bar in February. I found out in May that I passed it. In fact, I knocked it out of the park. It really was California and not me.

I've been waiting for my background check to clear, and I found out yesterday that it did. Most law schools have big ceremonies a few weeks after exam results are released where all of the alumni who passed the bar are sworn in en masse. Since I'm being admitted to the bar in a different state, and I'm being admitted off schedule, I don't get that.

I went to the UPS store on my lunch break today to get sworn in. So, nearly eight years of toil and effort was culminated by signing a piece of paper in front of a notary and dropping it in the mail. I'm practically allergic to ceremony, but it still felt a little anticlimactic.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Prison Chaplain - Part 2

I have part 2 of a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives today. It's a series of FAQs about what it's like to be a chaplain at San Quentin Prison, and I've reproduced it below.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Beating my sword into a plowshare

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. . .and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Micah 4:1-3

During law school, I took a temporary job as the receptionist at a software company. I was very quickly promoted into a role in the HR department, and I continued to develop professionally until I was second only to the vice president. Around this time, the company was acquired by a defense contractor.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prayer

A singles' ward in a neighboring stake has small FHE groups for the ward members. Back in October, one of my friends invited me to come to her FHE group so that I could meet more people. I decided to come, and I made some new friends.

In April, the groups got changed up, so I started going to a new group, but I still kept in touch with people from the old group. Yesterday, I went back to the old group because the group leader for the new group is on vacation for the next few weeks, so FHE got canceled.

At the end of the meeting, the person giving the closing prayer asked if there was anything in particular that we would like for her to pray for. One guy said he needed help finding a job. I said that I needed help with my toe healing.

On Thursday, I was at the beach, and I stubbed my toe on a rock. On Friday, it was still hurting, so I went to the clinic, and the doctor told me it was broken. He taped my toe and gave me a walking boot and told me to wear it for 4-6 weeks.

During the closing prayer, the person giving the prayer prayed for my toe, and for my friend's job. I got a call from the radiologist this morning, and it turns out it was a false alarm. My toe isn't broken. It's just bruised. I should be good as new in about 2 weeks.

Now I just need to wait to hear that my friend found an awesome job.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Surely He Has Borne Our Joy?

One of the most beautiful truths of the Gospel is that Jesus carried our pains and sorrows.

The prophet Isaiah penned the familiar words "Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." [1] Many composers have put these words to music, probably most famously G.F. Handel as part of the oratorio Messiah.

This sentiment is also beautifully expressed by the prophet Alma. 
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. [2]
I've been thinking recently about whether the converse is true as well. If He carried our pain and sorrows, does He carry our joy as well?

I think He does. I went searching in the scriptures for support for this idea, and I didn't find anything directly on point. I found several passages that refer to God's joy over repentant sinners, but nothing about joy over our joys.

But I still think it's true. Jesus loves us and wants us to be happy. When people I love are happy, I feel happy, too. If I, as an imperfect person, feel that way, then how much more would our perfect and loving Savior feel?

The scriptures teach that joy is the purpose of our existence. [3] So I think when we achieve that, we make God happy.

----
[1] Isaiah 53:3
[2] Alma 7:11-12
[3] See e.g. 2 Nephi 2:25

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guest Post at Feminist Mormon Housewives

I was asked to write a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives about my work at San Quentin Prison. It's going to be in three parts, and part 1 (the background section) was posted today. I've reprinted it below the jump, but please feel free to join in the conversation over there.