Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Keep Your Politics out of My Religious Organization

People who take their religion seriously often find that their political views are informed by their religious convictions. I get that. I respect that. I have no problem with that. My politics are informed by my religious views. However, it annoys me when people try to bring their politics into church settings. Church is about worshiping God. It should be a vacation from politics. Good people can differ about the wisest political course to take, and politics can serve to divide instead of unite.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Food Storage Public Service Announcement

A few years ago, when my first attempt at law school blew up in my face, I found myself broke, unemployed (since I had previously been a university employee whose employment was contingent on continued enrollment), and facing large student loan payments. All of my money went to my rent and my student loan payments, leaving me with nothing else. Fortunately, I had heeded a prompting to get started on my food storage before all of this happened.

I opened my sealed #10 cans, and I had my own personal loaves and fishes miracle. My food storage sustained me abundantly for two years. Since I was on a budget, all I could afford to store the food in once I had opened the cans was dollar store plastic containers. My most recent move has made money a little tight again, so I decided to get back into my food storage to free up some other dollars until my bonus at work comes through next month. (I've been rotating it anyway, but some of the stuff like dried fruit only gets used in times of need. I like fresh fruit so much better.) Yesterday, I opened my container of raspberries to make muffins. I was greeted with a foul stench that can only be created by fermented fruit.

Apparently, the storage containers weren't as airtight as I had thought, and moisture had gotten in, causing my food to spoil. I checked the rest of my stuff, and I also lost apples, strawberries, bell peppers, powdered eggs, powdered milk, and freeze dried cheese to spoilage. The stuff I stored in good containers borrowed from my mom is in good condition, and I'm assuming the stuff that's still in sealed #10 cans is fine, but I'm not going to open it to check. (That sort of defeats the purpose.)

I guess the moral of the story is when you buy dollar store cheap Tupperware knock-offs, you get what you pay for.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thoughts on the Word of Wisdom

Over at The Narrow Gate, C.J. has an interesting post about the Word of Wisdom. She asks, among other things, what people think of cooking with alcohol or serving alcohol to guests. I started to leave a comment, but my comment was longer than the original post, so I decided to bring it over here instead.

I don't cook with alcohol. My aunt is an alcoholic, and I saw the devastation it brought on her life and the lives of those around her. I decided when I was 5 years old, before I ever heard of the Word of Wisdom, that I would never touch the stuff. (There's enough evidence that there's some genetic component to alcoholism that I don't want to even chance it with cooking. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't all cook out.) That said, I don't have an opinion on whether it would be a violation of the word of wisdom to cook with it. (I know members who do, and members who don't.) I can see good arguments either way. On the one hand, D&C 89:7 says "strong drinks are not for the belly," with the exception of homemade wine for use in the Sacrament. On the other hand, strong drink isn't defined. Does it refer to all alcohol, or only a specific type? I'm not sure; I've never needed to find out.

I also don't serve alcohol, for the same reasons that I don't cook with it. I don't think LDS hosts should feel expected to serve alcohol to guests. After all, if I go to the home of a Jewish friend, I don't expect to be served pork. I don't think it would be wrong to serve alcohol to non-LDS guests, however. I don't see the Word of Wisdom as a universal commandment (after all, Jesus drank wine). I see it, rather, as a community marker that God has commanded for His people in this dispensation. People who have not made those covenants aren't bound by the Word of Wisdom.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Personal Revelation and the "Ideal"

I've been mulling this one over for a while, and now that I have a few moments, I decided to sit down and write it. Since most of my writing these days has consisted of law review articles, you're going to end up with footnotes. It's an occupational hazard. [1]

I find the rhetoric used in the church to describe the "ideal" to be off-putting. It's usually trotted out in the context of family relations, but it can apply in other situations as well. It goes something like this: The "ideal" is a man and a woman who married in the temple in their early 20's (after the man served an honorable full-time mission), upon which the woman got pregnant within a year or two, quit her job, and became a full-time homemaker. [2] Any other situation is "less-than-ideal" and is something that the parties to the situation should feel at least slightly bad about. We can't acknowledge these situations with more than a few off-hand comments in talks because if we focus too much on them, then the "ideal" will be compromised.

In addition to causing heartache and pain to members whose lives have, for whatever reason, taken a different path, this notion of the "ideal" is in direct contradiction to our belief in personal revelation. Personal revelation comes through the Holy Spirit, a member of the Godhead. How could following instruction from God be less than ideal?

If someone receives personal revelation on a subject that differs from the "ideal", that doesn't make acting on that revelation not ideal. That revelation creates, for that person, a different ideal. For example, I have a good friend who became very close friends with a man not of our faith. As they got closer, she prayed about it and received a prompting to marry him. She was quite surprised by this, and she asked again to make sure she had understood correctly. She had. They've been married for 10 years, and they have a wonderful marriage and family. Marrying him became her ideal.

Personal revelation can serve to liberalize, as in the above instance of marrying a nonmember, but it can also serve to make things stricter for a given individual. For example, men are expected to serve a mission, and women are not. [3] When I reached the age where I was making the decision of whether or not to serve a mission, I received a witness that I should go. This revelation, which came from God, made my personal obligation to serve equal to the obligation of any man. Serving a mission became my ideal, and I would have been disobedient to God if I had chosen not to serve.

Instead of using the term "ideal" to describe the default position, I propose we use a different term which can avoid the baggage of value judgments. Perhaps something like "general rule", "default", or another suitable synonym. Basically, the idea is "do this unless you have revelation to do it differently". This phrasing is consistent with how Elder Oaks frames the issue. He has said:
As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. . . . But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this same thing in another way. When he was asked how he governed such a diverse group of Saints, he said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” In what I have just said, I am simply teaching correct principles and inviting each one of you to act upon these principles by governing yourself. [4]

As a people who believe in personal revelation, we need to make our speech consistent with our doctrine.

[1] I once wrote a 7 word sentence that was followed by an 87 word footnote.
[2] In talking about the rhetoric of the "ideal", I don't mean to imply that there's anything wrong with marrying young or being a full-time homemaker.
[3] See e.g. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service", October 1997 General Conference, reprinted in November 1997 Ensign p. 49. Available here. (Accessed April 7, 2010). ("I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. ... We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. ... Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.)
[4] Dallin H. Oaks, "Dating versus Hanging Out", CES Fireside May 1, 2005. Available here. (Accessed April 7, 2010).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some Administrative Business

I've been absent from my blog for a few weeks because of the move and because of school. I have comment moderation turned on for posts older than two weeks in order to cut down on comment spam. Unfortunately, for some reason, Blogger neglected to e-mail me to let me know I had comments awaiting moderation, and I didn't discover them until today. I've now cleared the moderation backlog, and I apologize for the delay. All comments were legitimate, and they have now been posted.

Happy (belated) Easter!

I was going to write up an Easter post yesterday, but my grandparents surprised me with a visit. (Well, technically, they visited my parents, but I took the opportunity to drive the 45 minutes to my parents' place to spend the weekend with them.) So, Happy Easter, a day late.

Easter was great! General Conference was mostly good, too. I especially liked President Uchtdorf's talk on Sunday morning. I also liked Elder Andersen's talk on Sunday afternoon, reminding us that we should focus more on Christ. I appreciate that the audio from the priesthood session is available for download so that I don't have to wait for the transcripts to find out what the men were told in my absence. I loaded the talks onto my iPod to listen to them while I commute.