Friday, January 30, 2015

A short thought for a friend, Rock Waterman

I have learned that a close friend and fellow wayfarer is in the hospital suffering from pneumonia.  Rock Waterman is one of the most authentic people I know, what ancient daoists would call a "real person".

His blog is at "Pure Mormonism".

Realizing that few people visit this part of the bloggersphere/bloggernacle, I just want to express my love and admiration to Rock, and hope and pray for a speedy, full recovery.

Bless you Rock.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

John Dehlin: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

The narrative that John Dehlin is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", and thus should be cast out of the flock, is a misuse of scripture, and taking a scripture out of context.

The scripture is from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus said in
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-16) 
Without equivocation, John Dehlin has never claimed he is a prophet, and I doubt anyone here or elsewhere believes that he is.  This isn't just a semantic difference: we proclaim that "prophets" are those called to be such in the Church.

Let me take a believing point of view of Church History to determine what constituted a "wolf in sheep's clothing" in the past.  Joseph was not always the best judge of character.  When John C. Bennett came to him with radical ideas, Joseph gave them due consideration.  Among all things Bennett encouraged was "spiritual wifery", and Bennett performed abortions to take care of "celestial consequences".  I will leave aside whether Joseph Smith participated in any of these, but I think we can all agree that Bennett was indeed a very bad man at the time, and preached doctrines that ultimately had very bad fruits.  Because Joseph empowered Bennett as a Counselor in the First Presidency, Bennett was indeed a "prophet" by our modern definition (although I don't think that was clear then).

Bennett fully complies with the concept Jesus laid out as a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  He was appointed in a position we now consider a prophet, his fruits where heinous, and in his role as a member of the First Presidency, he wolf behavior was shrouded in holiness -- "sheep's clothing".

In what way does John Dehlin qualify for this distinction?

  1. Is he in any way a "prophet"?  No.  He has never held a position of leadership in the church, let alone those with the distinction of "prophet, seer, and revelator".  No. 
  2. Does he teach false doctrine?  No.  He doesn't teach doctrine at all.  He doubts it.  Disbelieves it, but does not teach it, nor does he advocate any doctrine (that is "what is taught") as being official doctrine of the Church.  It's clear to anyone that John Dehlin does not represent his views as being the doctrine of the church.
  3. Are his fruits evil?  From my vantage point, he has saved lives.  I went through years on suicide watch for a daughter who faithfully went through four years of seminary and four years of BYU suppressing her same sex attraction, trying to make the LDS church work for her.  I lost her to the church entirely as a result, but thank God she is still alive and no longer suicidal.  I didn't have the tools 10-15 years ago that we have now, largely thanks to John Dehlin and others who have given voice to those struggling with both LDS beliefs and LBTGQ issues.  

The argument by the Mormon Apologists that have branded Dehlin with this label is simple: They claim that John leads people out of the church with his comments and online entities.  He destroys testimony.  Therefore like Korihor, he is a filthy apostate.  Like Corianton, he has committed the "Sin next to murder" of destroying testimony (read Micheal Ash).

Has he?  Let's look at the defining statement he made in his press release -- one that gave me incredible heartburn -- "It is my intent to provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy."  The reason it gives me heartburn is not what it says, but what you might take away if you do a quick reading and make a snap judgment, like we all do at times.

The terms "transitioning away from orthodoxy" implies "leaving the church" to most people. Supporting Mormons who are doing so sounds to the emotional mind like "Helping them do so".  So, its an easy leap in the mind from what it says to "Leading Mormons away from the Church".  It's unfortunate language.

I'm not dispelling the idea that as bitter as John is at this point, he certainly may, in the future, become more active in leading people out of the church if the church pushes him out.  I would. I certainly would.  But the reality for now is that until this point, he has not been "leading people away from the church" but rather, supporting and helping those who are already in a process of moving away from orthodoxy, and many that are already out.

To be clear, I don't support in any way anything that "leads people out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  Not my mission.  Not my purpose.  I'm "IN" the church as a heretic, and as much as possible, a faithful non-believer.  Many have found my position untenable, but I'm good with it and really don't care what others think at this point.  But John knows my position fully, and he supports me and I support him.

So, is John Dehlin a "wolf in sheep's clothing".  Not in the least, to my way of seeing it.  Instead, he has been the guy at the very border of the flock, watching the lambs leaving the flock and shouting out about the wolves in among the flock.  He has tried to give a voice to the stray lambs.  And for this, he will be cast out.

Who are those wolves?  We are.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Gita as a guide to these interesting times.

I'm in a particularly contemplative mood this morning about various ongoing things.  Life is full of surprises and changes.  One verse that gives me incredible peace at these "interesting times" is from the Bhagavad Gita,

"You have the right (agency) to act,
but no right at all to the fruits (outcomes) of your actions.
Do not set your heart on the fruits of action (outcomes, rewards)
nor become attached to inaction.

With Oneness of mind (l"yoga"), do what needs to be done,
Renouncing attachments, Dhanamjaya!  (another name for Arjuna)
Success or non-success become the same,
And that sameness is called, "Oneness".

The performance of action is but a step
toward enlightened Oneness, Dhanamjaya!
Find your refuge in this enlightenment,
sad are they who set their heart on rewards.

Endowed with enlightened Oneness,
cast aside concepts of "good" and "evil".
Devote yourself to Oneness,
Oneness is found in natural action."
(Bhagavad Gita 2:47-50, my translation.)

These verses inform me of an idea, an approach towards things in front of me, be them work related, faith transition, or even personal challenges.  The bottom line is this idea that "detached action" leads to Unity of mind, the idea that the poles and opposites we perceive in our reality are all part of a single divine continuum, and that we are part of something much bigger, the unity of all that is.

But in wrapping my mind around the "unity of all that is", the here and now, the present next thing I need to do, often seems so mundane, so distracting.  Events happen, or are pending happening, creating a sense of anxiety, a sense that something has to be DONE to make for better outcomes...


If I have learned anything that helps me in "these interesting times" is accepting the serenity of being able to focus on the next right thing, and as Gandhi said, "leave the rest to god."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why I stay LDS - short-form

I've wandered a bit through many faith traditions...maybe I'm a bit of an interfaith tourist.  Not necessarily a good thing, and not necessarily as an adherent of the various faiths, for I never really fully left Mormonism.

After Proposition 8, I thought it was morally reprehensible to continue to claim to be "Mormon" or to sustain the brethren when they, in my assessment, were oppressing a very needy minority, which happens to include family members.

So, I took a job in India.  I preferred China, due to my experience in Taoism, but I also respected Hinduism, and my narrow specialty around identity was more applicable to India.  I spent two years there, immersing myself in Hinduism, Vedanta, Advaita, and other aspects of the culture and found myself on a very deep spiritual quest.  Part of my job, as well, was to provide identity to  the poor of India, so I had a chance to immerse myself very deeply in Indian culture and politics.

At the peak of all this, I went on a pilgrimage to Arunachala, the holy Shaivite temple revered by adherents to Advaita as the pilgrimage site of Ramana Maharshi.  I spent time at his ashram.  I participated in the most sacred rite of fire/lingam worship in a puja in the most holy place of the temple at Arunachala.

At the moment that my Indian sponsor and his family found most sacred, I had exactly the opposite impression.  Out of respect for Hinduism, I won't express what I thought or felt, but it was neither appropriate nor did it harmonize with the sacredness of the ceremony.  I found the whole thing completely and totally absurd.  Yet afterwards, my sponsor told me of how deeply spiritual and sacred that experience was to him, and how much he appreciated that I suggested this pilgrimage.

Later, having lunch with a Brahman priest and a very good friend, I was expressing some of my lessons learned by learning the Sanskrit texts in Hindu scripture.  I told him that my learning of Sanskrit had given me a lot more insight into the meaning behind the words.  He told me that I was on the wrong track.  The words didn't matter, only that they were pronounced correctly...which was, of course, impossible for me to do as a non-Indian old guy.

At the end of my India experience, I came to a conclusion.  Religion isn't a global absolute.  Instead, it is a cultural paradigm, arising from our evolutionary need to unite as a tribe and community for protection, guidance, sustenance, and life.  This is both good and bad.  Good, because it truly is life-sustaining, probably why our evolutionary ancestors, even back 100,000 years ago, had religion, and evolution favored those who did, because they survived as a group.  It's also bad, because we have allowed our religious exclusivity to go overboard and reject new communities arising from our global identities.  We are evolving, and in like manner, religion needs to evolve.

But the more important conclusion I made as a result of India was that the reason Hinduism failed to resonate with me was because it was not my tribal religion.  My tribe is Mormonism, my rituals are Mormon rituals, my faith language is Mormon-speak, and my family, friends, and tribe members use these symbols, rituals, and language to communicate and share eternal principles important to me and that go beyond words.  They are "true" for me, and in embracing them, and being an active part of my Mormon community, I can find life.

There is no such thing as "one true church" for all tribes.  There is definitely a "true church" for *my* tribe, and in that sense, I embrace Mormonism without regrets whatsoever.  Yet, the fact that it is my tribe doesn't mean that I need to accept it as normatively imperative for me, and especially not for anyone else in the world.  I need to own my Mormonism, to not only embrace it, but be the type of member of the type of church in which I want to have faith.

As for whether I'm right or wrong when I die?  I see little risk in that.  If I'm right, cool.  If I'm wrong and the're some other god out there, I am pretty sure that a more enlightened mind out there will appreciate a thoughtful faith more so than a blind one.  And if I'm wrong and there is nothing else, I pretty sure I'll never figure that out...