Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sacrament Meeting Talk on the Atonement

This post is adapted from a talk I gave a few months ago at church. Several people have asked for a copy of the talk, and I'm finally getting around to writing it up. When I do public speaking, I never write my remarks out verbatim. Instead, I write notes of the main points I want to cover and then speak extemporaneously. As a result, instead of the text of my talk, what follows is an essay based on the same notes I used to give the talk. It will be similar but not identical.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Finding God Alone in the Desert

Fifteen months ago, I moved to Phoenix from the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn't know anyone when I moved, and I didn't have a job. I had a few hundred dollars to my name. It was kind of scary, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

When I arrived, I settled in to my apartment and began to unpack. The first Sunday I was there was General Conference, so I didn't get a chance to go to my new ward yet.

The second Sunday, I checked the church website for the location and meeting time of my ward. I showed up at the appointed hour only to find out that I was 45 minutes late because my ward's meeting time had been changed and the site hadn't been updated yet.

The third Sunday, things started to settle in to the new normal.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Mission - 10 Years Later

Ten years ago today I returned home from my mission. While I had some great experiences on my mission, and I don’t really regret doing it all that much, it wasn’t the “best year and a half of my life” that it was billed as. They say that missions are hard, but words can’t quite convey exactly how hard, and 19 to 21 year olds aren’t likely to listen anyway.

I joined the church shortly before my 13th birthday, and through my teenage years, I decided that when I was old enough, I was going to serve a mission. I didn’t really know what missionaries did all day, and I was painfully shy, but I figured that if the guys were expected to do it, I shouldn’t be exempted based on something as irrelevant as my chromosomal makeup.

People tried to talk me out of it, saying that I should get married instead. I thought that was kind of silly, since by the time I was a legal adult, I wasn’t in a serious relationship. It’s not like I could dial 1-800-Find-a-husband and be wed by the next month. There was a guy I sort of had kind of an on-again-off-again thing going on with, but he was totally supportive of me serving a mission.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Your Sons and Your Daughters Shall Prophesy

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
Joel 2:28-29
This is one of my favorite verses of scripture because it describes a wonderful outpouring of revelation that is to exist in the last days. This revelation is to be poured out on both young and old and without regard to gender or social class. It's a realization of Moses's wish that all of God's people should be prophets.
Would God that all the LORD'S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!
Numbers 11:29
These are supposed to be the last days. Where are our prophesying sons and daughters?

Then it hit me. Throughout time, what have people done when confronted with prophets? At best, they ignore them, and at worst, they stone them.

At least in the western world, it is rare for someone to be subject to physical violence for prophesying. However, it leaves me wondering. Are we ignoring or metaphorically stoning our prophesying sons and daughters?

Prophets throughout time have called on people and institutions to repent. Are we stoning them because we don't like what they're saying? Are we persecuting and reviling them because they shine an uncomfortable light on our flaws? Do we feel safe in dismissing them because their only authority comes from the hard truth of their words and not from any high place in an institution?
But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
Mark 6:4
Who of our own kin, and in our own house are we dishonoring? What good fruits are we rejecting because they come from an unexpected tree?

Let us not be the people Jesus laments when he says:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Matthew 23: 37

For if we stone our prophesying sons and daughters, this is the reward we will reap:
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
Matthew 23:38

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Parable of the Bad Shepherd

There was a shepherd who had 100 sheep in a fenced in pasture. The shepherd fed the sheep and did his best to keep them inside the fence. A few of the sheep began to question whether the boundaries of the fence could be expanded, and some even thought they would be better off without the fence altogether.

A black sheep in the flock spoke with the questioning sheep and said that the fence, while imperfect, was overall good. She said that the architectural plans for the farm included the possibility of expansion in the future, but that for now, the sheep should stay in the fold.

The bad shepherd caught wind of this discussion and said that the pasture was perfect and that the design was unalterable. He took the black sheep, threw her outside the fence, and she was devoured by wolves.

When the other sheep expressed sorrow and concern at the fate of the black sheep, the shepherd said, "Yea, verily, the black sheep chose to leave the safety of the sheep fold of her own free will and is reaping her just reward."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What Battlestar Galactica Teaches Us About Faith and Prophecy

I love science fiction. It’s rich in allegory and can teach us many truths about life. In a way, I think that it can be our modern-day parables. I recently finished watching the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica (hereafter abbreviated as BSG). It’s a television show filled with deep and rich commentary on matters of spirituality, the human condition, forgiveness, diversity, politics, life, death, and the mysterious workings of the divine. One major religious refrain that is repeated throughout the show is “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.”

Today I’m going to talk about what BSG teaches us about the nature of faith and prophecy. In order to make this post comprehensible to someone who hasn’t seen the show, I’m going to be giving a great deal of background and detail. There will be spoilers in this post, but I’ve contained them all to after the jump.

I. Summary

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, 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."