Monday, February 13, 2017

Time to take a stand against facism

Goebbels said, A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.  Stephen Miller said, "I am prepared to go on any show, anytime, anywhere, and repeat it.

I've tried.  I've really, honestly tried.  Yes, I voted for Hillary Clinton, and am damn proud of it.  Yet as a citizen, I realize that "The President" is not just the republican president, but rather, the President of the United States.  So, I have tried, since the election in November, to think of Donald Trump as my president.

I can't do it any longer.  Yesterday, the Trump administration's official spokesman made clear that this presidency is repeating history in the worst possible way.  One simple statement says it all:
“The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
 The context of this quote is Stephen Miller's objection to the judicial decision to put a halt on the ban on travel from seven countries into the United States, yet the implications of the statement are much broader.  In specific, the term "protect our country" has been used to refer to a number of intended actions by this administration, including their pretended outrage over three to five million illegal votes cast in the previous election.

This administration lies without restriction...about everything.  Yet this lying isn't benign.  It has an intent, spawned by people like Miller and Bannon, to overthrow the institutions of democracy.  When a presidential spokesman speaks of "our opponents, the media", he is representing no the President of the United States, but rather, the President of something else.  The media, and the "opponents" within this country are not separate from the "United States", but rather, an integral part of it. The same goes with the Judiciary.

This President, and his spokesman, have made it clear that this administration does not in any way represent the majority of the United States, but in fact, is dividing it.

It's time to take a stand.  It is not an exaggeration that this President is on the road to fascism.  In fact, as of February 12, 2017, we have arrived.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Parable of the River Master

For a moment, let's embark on a journey, following the flow of a mighty river through a canyon gorge. The person commanding our raft is a River Master, who knows the river so well he seems to command the very flow of the river.  He appears to us to be all powerful, all knowing, and completely good.

As we board the raft, things seem to go very well for a time.  Life on the raft is beautiful, pleasant, the new scenery captures our senses.

Then the rapids come.  The raft is in turmoil as we try to hold on amidst the rocks and waves.  Being novices at rafting, our first inclination is to ask the Master to intervene: in our fears, we want him to calm the raging the flow of the river. We want a miracle, but our “miracle” is what WE want–a supernatural intervention. We beg and plead with Master for our miracle. And he doesn’t. We become frustrated, We develop motion sickness.

The master smiles.  All the way along, the Master calmly shows us the way, guiding us as to what to do.  The Master doesn't really use words--he shows us by example, he expresses his instructions by intuition.  He helps us learn to observe--to learn through our own experience to discern the flow of the river.  

But we aren't listening, observing, contemplating what was going on.  The master encourages us to do things to help steer, paddle, or move in order to better balance the raft. They’re little, mundane things--natural, intuitive, and unmiraculous.  Yet, because we are intent on demanding the miracle, we don’t listen to the Master. We think we know what is best, and we continue our one-way telling the Master what we want.

Because the Master does not seem to be helping us, we are faced with a choice, either we can keep complaining and do nothing, resulting in catastrophe, or we can start taking the initiative and doing something. Most of us decide the Master is incompetent, so we ignore him or her and start paddling as hard as we can on our own. A few of us realize this is futile — it’s too hard work.

At some point after many frustrating trials, we realize that the Master actually knows the river and how to navigate it. So we seek the Master’s advice, by observing what is going on, and by asking questions — not demanding — but rather, seeking to learn from the Master. We listen to the master’s coaching, and by observing the flow of the river, are able to better command the raft.

As we learn from the Master, we become actively involved in managing the raft and journey. Because we started to naturally observe the flow and follow it, learning through our own experience and working in harmony as a team, we move down the river, navigating the rapids and smooth places without incident. By becoming one with each other, the raft, and the river, we have become one with the flow, it becomes as natural to us as breathing.

After a while, we notice the Master is no longer there. Some question whether the Master was ever there at all: “aren’t we navigating this raft by ourselves?” Others of us become arrogant, saying that there is no need of a Master. Yet as we contemplate what really happened, we realize that the Master was deeply real, a fellow human traveler along the Way, but now the Master is us, emerging from deep within ourselves, as we observe, listen, and work together in harmony and love.

On Friendship with God

What we think about god matters a very great deal.  It affects our relationship not only with god, but it affects how we act towards others.

I think to almost all religion, God is the infinite “other” -- superior in every way to humanity.  To suggest that mankind is in any way equal to god is the ultimate in blasphemy.  There is always a difference between fallen mankind and the all-powerful, all-knowing, and in every way good god.

How can I relate to that?

Our LDS faith helps us a little in this.  We think of God not as the “infinite other”, but rather, as an exalted human being -- a Heavenly Father and Mother.  This is not a metaphor to Mormons.  Like many things in Mormonism, we are literal in our beliefs.  Joseph Smith proclaimed most adamantly, “God who sits in yonder heavens is a man like us.  That is the great secret” (King Follett Discourse).

Yet in our same LDS beliefs, we distance ourselves from this radical definition.  We preserve the hierarchal relationship of us to God: God is the Parent, we are the Child.  God is the Master, we are the obedient Servant.  God is creator, we are creature.  God is infinite, we are finite.  God is exalted, we are fallen.

We believe, from our Christian background, that God created a perfect world, a literal garden of eden, and based upon mankind’s disobedience, things are fallen.  Yet, in believing this, we create a kind of nostalgia inherent to most religion.  God, and our first prophets, always get it right, and we screw things up -- we apostatize from the true faith, and thus god needs to come back through his prophets to restore things again.  This justifies our worldview that the world is inherently evil and fallen, and we should go back to the good old days when God revealed the truth to his prophet in perfect, pristine form.

Because we are so fallen, so depraved, our only hope is to obey god through his earthly servants the prophets.  Everything in our relationship with God is hierarchical, and in consequence, our earthly religions, based upon this hierarchical relationship, are also hierarchical. “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same”.

I have come to realize, in my faith journey, that this definition of god -- that of an infinite superior -- is a human creation, and harmful doctrine.  By creating a distance between us and God, we create distances between each other.  By thinking of God as infinite creator in the beginning who got everything right, we deny our own journey of eternal progression.  By preserving a master-slave relationship between God and us, we preserve master-slave relationships in this world, creating inequalities and injustice.

I think that if there is any value to the First Vision and to Joseph Smith’s last major “King Follett” discourse, it is to fully humanize god.  To almost unanimous rejection by theologians and mainstream Christians, I believe that Joseph was on to something more important than any other of his doctrines.  To define the identity of god as an exalted man has devastating implications to Christian theology, but more than that -- this is not an exercise in theology.  To think outside the traditional god box has deep implications for how we relate to one another, how we view the Church and its male priesthood hierarchy, how we address science and knowledge, and how we assess all things we do.

Yes, who we think god is has that much impact in our lives -- it’s a total impact.  This impact comes down to four questions, which are simply answered in our doctrine, if we look for them:

1. Who is God?
A: God is an exalted person.

The moment we suggest that God is an exalted person, every aspect of the traditional god definition must be set aside.  While we speak of the power of god as being everywhere, God the person is in place and time.  God is a person!  What a glorious thought.  And not only that, God is not just one person, but many -- any person who is exalted is god.

To many, this is mumbo-jumbo.  God cannot be a person because…. ….because we have already defined god as the infinite other.  We must lose any preconceived notion of god as infinite other if we are to believe that God is an exalted person.  We take this definition of God as an exalted person as THE DEFINITION of the word “God”.

2. Who are we?
A: We are unexalted gods.

The moment we suggest that mankind is co-eternal with God, every aspect of the Fall becomes irrelevant.  ALL Christian theology disappears -- the gulf of separation between god and mankind is eliminated.  There can be no pristine former condition that we return to. Instead, we recognize that we are on a journey of eternal progression -- the process of discovery to become gods -- not in the sense of becoming “infinite others”, but rather, exalted people in every way we can be.

3. What is the difference?
A: Atonement -- oneness.

Our current doctrine suggests that exaltation is a future “point in time” event, that occurs as a result of resurrection and final judgment.  At that point, we become gods, to rule and reign over worlds without end. I am going to suggest that this definition of exaltation is only one way to look at it, and one which defers the idea of exaltation to a later date.  As well, it proposes that once we’re “perfect” as it were, then we no longer progress.  In his talk “Seven Deadly Heresies”, Bruce R. McConkie condemned any notion that God is progressing.  McConkie was thus tied to the “infinite other” definition of god, and thus creates a logical impossibility: God cannot have once been man, and also be unchanging from everlasting to everlasting.

I personally reject the notion that the only valid definition of God is that of an “infinite other”.  So, what, then, is “exaltation”?   What does it mean to be an exalted person?  What does it mean to be “perfect”?  Surprisingly the answers are in our scriptures: it means to be One -- united in love and purpose with each other, with god (however we define god), and with all that is.  Scripture after scripture, particularly in the Gospel of John, describe how humans, acting in the place of god in loving and blessing others are Gods, even if they die like people in this life.

4. What is our relationship?
A: Friends.

Consider Jesus’ last commandment in John 15:
9. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
How often we misquote these verses!  We think they are a justification of the hierarchal model of God and Church, that “Obedience is the First Law of Heaven”, and that we must obey those who are Called and Ordained.  Context is everything.  His commandment is love.  You are to obey *THAT* commandment.  He’s saying, “keep my commandment.  And this is my commandment: that ye love one another as I have loved you.”

Yet what kind of Love is this?  Is this the kind of love between Master and Servant?  Absolutely NOT.  He is telling us, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.”  Of all the kinds of relationship in this world, friendship is the only one that is not hierarchical.

The love of a master to a servant, a parent to a child, a king to a subject is one of condescension not friendship.  In return, the servant, child, or subject is loyal and obedient, love is expressed as adoration and worship.  I suppose there is nothing wrong with this kind of love, but unfortunately, it’s neither friendship, nor is it immune from abuse.  There is always a power dynamic at play, restricting the freedom of the servant, and empowering the abuse by the master.  While we may suppose that an “infinitely other” god is immune to such abuse, mankind is not.  Thus, in our religion, if we adopt the hierarchal model of relationship, we result the an inherently abusive situation found in all religion today.

Instead, the Love Jesus commands is that of perfectly equal friendship -- something completely impossible when we think of God is any kind of “infinite other”.  This unequal relationship extends to our Mormon definition of God as Heavenly Father.  Yes, I understand the ideas behind the thought, but a relationship between father and son is not friendship, although later in life it can be to an extent.

I am suggesting that when we think of God as an exalted person, and ourselves as unexalted gods, then what makes the difference is equal love, one for another.  When we look at another person as being an enemy to god, but we are God’s friends, then we justify our dehumanization of others. When we realize that God is fully human and we are fully gods, then our relationship between each other demands respect, equality, and friendship to all.

To be a friend to god is to be friend to others.  To  love god is to love others, to see the divine within each person and fundamentally change our relationships from unequal hierarchies to mutual respect and empowerment.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On Being Mormon Amid Injustice

To me, the historical and doctrinal issues of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) pale in comparison to its acts of injustice.  Our beliefs in religion are often the result of culture, and things cultural are kind of a shared mythology.  It may be just me, but the mythology is not a shelf breaker.

From my perspective, the church has been profoundly unjust on a number of issues in my life: Blacks, ERA, Birth Control, Feminism, Marriage Equality, Male-only Ordination, CES brainwashing, Missionary Manipulation, Worthiness Manipulation, Tithing, All-things-sexuality, Excommunications, the November 2015 Policy, Religious exclusion and bigotry in the name of "Religious freedom"...  the list is endless, really.

As I wandered in the borderlands for many years, I developed an immunity to the historical and doctrinal issues, and could somewhat ignore all the issues of injustice, because, for the most part, they didn't affect me personally.  Or so I thought.  Then, two things happened: my daughter came out as a lesbian, and a couple of years later, proposition 8 happened.

I remember distinctly when and where I first articulated the complete collapse of my shelf.  I was talking to a non-LDS colleague and said that as a result of the underhanded manipulation by the Church with respect to Prop 8, I can no longer morally, ethically, and financially sustain my church.  It was in November 2008.  I was Ward Mission Leader at the time, paying tens of thousands of dollars per year in Tithing, thus supporting oppression of those, like my daughter, who were committing suicide as a result of LDS policies.

A while later, I took an assignment in India as a way to gracefully exit regular church activity.  It worked!  I preserved all my LDS connections among family and friends while not being present at church.  I always had the India travel excuse…

But did I do right?  No.

Ginetta Sagan of Amnesty International said, “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor."

I did not speak up.  I just disappeared.  And, to my disappointment, I found the same injustice pervades all organized religions and cultures.  And, I yearned for home, for tribe.  Add to that, the travel was having deleterious effects on my family.  So I came back to activity.

The first Sunday back, amid a discussion about the bogus signs of the times, I ceased to be silent.  I called a rabble-rouser named John Dehlin​ that afternoon, and as a result, I have chosen to stay active in the LDS Church.  It’s been an interesting ride.  I have learned a lot.

I am passionate about this choice.  We can choose to leave, and for many that is right choice. It’s a way of voting with our feet.   Another choice is to to stay and be silent, yet in my experience, it killed me inside and leaves me complicit in the injustice.  Or we can choose to influence change.  And that is largely a quest for Don Quixote de La Mancha -- typically nothing short of insane.

Yet I relate to Don Quixote.  So here is my quest:

We need people in the church who can affect change, if for no other reason but to prevent injustice and change hearts.

But how can we *effectively* affect change and prevent injustice?  That is the real challenge!   That's why I emphasized the word *effectively*.  We can speak out all the time, but if we choose this route, will we be effective?

Recently I saw a video of an LDS couple asking if they would be welcome in the Church if they advocate for praying to Heavenly Mother or openly point out doctrinal issues, such as how the Book of Mormon’s definition of God incarnating as Christ.  They want to be accepted and welcome in the church while advocating for doctrinal positions *against* the mainstream cultural narrative.  Is this going to be effective?  I think not.

First of all, they're picking the wrong battles: the nature of god is the ultimate unknowable--no one can say for sure who or what god is.  To strongly argue one position over another simply leads to disagreements, and when someone is openly fighting against the comfortable cultural narrative, they are going to be rejected.

And once rejected in our advocacy, we become the "other", the "apostate", the out-group, the "enemy".  Instead of changing hearts and preventing injustice, such "fighting" and advocacy hardens hearts and strengthens the resolve of the oppressors.

How then do we affect change and prevent injustice?  First we need to understand why there is injustice.

Injustice is an identity strategy that dehumanizes others in order to strengthen in-group identity.  Bullying, hypocrisy, name-calling, boundary management, white-and-black thinking, demands for loyalty to the in-group--these are all part of this same identity strategy dynamic.

So, when we openly position ourselves as advocates, we are playing into the current church's identity strategy. We become the enemy -- the Apostate -- giving a focus for the church to strengthen the identity of the True Believing Mormon.

So open, militant advocacy is precisely the opposite of being an *effective* voice for change and thus preventing injustice.

What changes hearts and eliminates injustice is only one thing: Love.  This isn't an abstract strategy.  It is impossible to be unjust to someone you truly love.  In using this word, I mean "agape" (non-condescending Godly love) and not "eros" (sexual love) or philios (familial love).

The concrete example I can best give is when someone I deeply love -- my daughter -- came out to me as gay, I could no longer maintain any aspect of injustice towards my LGBT brothers and sisters.  As long as I thought of LGBT as "the other", even if I condescendingly though that they were children of god in error, I was dehumanizing them.  My heart had to change.

In the case of blacks, the way I was changed was to work in an environment where my black brothers and sisters were equals.  Then, one day, a black colleague and I were on a curb flagging a cab in DC, and the cab passed by my black friend and picked me up first.  I became a witness to injustice, subtle as it was, but only possible because a black was my friend, my equal, and hence, I could feel what he felt.

The answer to how we affect change is clearly before us in our religious narrative.  Jesus Christ was not a passive pushover--he was a revolutionary anti-establishment change agent.  He spoke forcefully against injustice, and he was crucified for it: the ultimate in injustice and dehumanization.

While he chose the route of militant advocacy, he taught his disciples the Way of non-violence: they were to remain "righteous" in exactly the way church leaders of their time defined "righteous".  And most of all, they were to be loving, both to each other and to their enemies.

These aren't abstract strategies.  We must have our own identity strategy if we are to be effective: we must present our identity as "faithful mormon" by authentically being "faithful Mormon".  We must not "other" our Mormon brothers and sisters, but rather, find deep and powerful ways to serve them, to wash their feet in humble service.

You may object to this as being acquiescing to their game.  You may think that we are pretending--and you would be right in a very important way: if we pretend, we fail.

No, to affect change we must actually BE Mormons: true blue, through and through.  We must have our own identity strategy as to what IS a Mormon, in a way with which our unjust Mormon brothers and sisters can *identify*.

Jesus said, love your enemies.  Do good to them the despitefully abuse you.  Walk the second mile.  That you may BE (identified as) children of god.   Jesus laid out the ultimate identity strategy to affect change one heart at a time.  You cannot hate a child of God.

So how do we identify as a true Mormon yet stand as witness against oppression?  We adopt the first and only definition of "Mormon" in Mosiah 18:

A Mormon is one who is willing to lift one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as witness of God's unconditional love at all times and in all places they may be.

This definition of Mormon is one I can subscribe to with all my heart and soul.

Our identity strategy will affect change:

1.  We lift each other's burdens:  this is the Ammon principle: you don't change hearts and minds by first telling that they are wrong--you first demonstrate committed service.  When we are viewed as helping out in our wards, as being willing to home teach, serve in a calling, clean the chapel, help people move--they cannot reject us.  By serving with them, we develop mutual love and respect.

2.  We mourn with those who mourn.  Empathy.  We really listen with our souls, not only to those we agree with, not only with those who just have experienced tragedy but we spend time really listening to our fearful brothers and sisters who are ignorantly (or not so ignorantly) committing injustice. Their injustice is often the result of their fears and anger -- they, too, are mourning through their acts of fear and anger.  While we may not agree with them, we need to fully understand them without pushing our agenda.  We need them to embrace with their whole heart that we understand their fears and can share moments of deep connection in love.

3.  We comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  There are many victims of LDS injustice.  Our true Mormon identity is one who heals injustice by providing a safe refuge to those victimized by injustice.  We befriend the broken-hearted.  We become peer/equal friends to the outcasts.  We reach out to defend in loving ways, those who have been brutalized by malignant leaders.

4.  We stand as witnesses.  Once we have developed a mutual, loving relationship, and have demonstrated our enduring love through service, we have the moral authority to witness of an unconditionally loving god in the face of injustice.  By framing our spoken statement of opposition in the frame of our personal witness of a loving God, we become effective agents of change.

But what do we change?  If we seek to change the Church and culture, we're going to be disappointed.  It not only is an impossible task, but it is profoundly wearying and frustrating to tilt at such large windmills.

I think we need to lower expectations. Putting things in perspective: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, could not change the corporate leaders of the church of his day. How on earth do we expect to change ours?

We can't.

But we can touch those in our very small sphere of influence, lifting burdens, mourning, comforting, and bearing witness.

None of that need result in change of the system of oppression in which we are found. It never does.

But what it does do is two things. One, we have not been silent, and therefore are not complicit in the abuse. Two, we save lives. Literally. Spiritually, in every way possible.

We may find ourselves, like Jesus and his followers did, cast out of the corporate church. They can take away our membership. They can make us unwelcome in the building. But they can NEVER take away our Mormon Identity!

That is why we embrace who we truly are: We're Mormons, true, blue, through and through, and in the face of injustice, we will lift each other's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those standing in need of comfort, and we will stand as witnesses of God, as Jesus Christ did, in loving, open defiance against injustice at all times, and in all places we may find it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Which Commandments, Again?

"Obedience is the first law of heaven".

Where did this phrase come from?  Is obedience really the first law of heaven?  If I recall correctly, Jesus was asked what was the "first commandment", and it wasn't obedience.  In fact, Jesus' first, second, and "new commandment", the last one he gave prior to his crucifixion, was to love.  So, I'm a confused, wayfaring fool who doesn't quite understand this.

Doing a little digging, I found the first instance of this quote in Mormon church doctrine.  In 1874, in an attempt to encourage wives to be obedient to their polygamous husbands, Joseph F. Smith said,
So sisters, do not flatter yourselves that you have nothing to answer for so long as you may have a good husband. You must be obedient. Obedience is the first law of heaven. (Journal of Discourses, 6:24) 
Now I know that the provenance and doctrinal validity of Journal of Discourses is suspect -- after all, we don't practice polygamy any more.  And, gee, I cannot think of a less politically correct statement than requiring that wives must be obedient to their husbands.  But this doctrine didn't stop there.  It continued.  Scrolling forward 75 years, the doctrine was repeated by Bruce R. McConkie in his seminal volume "Mormon Doctrine":
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands." (P 539) 
From that point onward, the explicit statement "Obedience is the first law of heaven" can be found throughout LDS doctrine.  It can be found in the bulk of LDS standard teaching materials, and in April 2013, LDS Prophet Thomas S. Monson proclaimed the session in general conference.  In fact, there are over 150 references to this statement within current church materials.  In that "doctrine" is "what is taught" by the Church, it's pretty clear that Obedience is not only the first law of heaven, but it is also LDS Church Doctrine.

But how does this square with Jesus' rather explicit statement of the first, second, and his last mortally-delivered commandment to Love.  The answer might come quickly, for in same chapter of John (14) where Jesus gave the "New Commandment" to love one another, he also said,
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
So, ok, I got it.  We show our love for god by keeping his commandments.  Yet, as I read this text, the imperative nature of "Keep my commandments" is questionable -- to me, it is a statement of fact: when we love Christ, then we keep his commandments.  We don't obey in order to prove or demonstrate love, but rather, because we love, we obey as a result: love, and the Grace of Christ, impel us to obey, not the other way around.

But I digress.  Regardless of how the idea of "Keeping commandments" or "obedience" became of primary importance in the LDS church, I have to ask a fundamental question:

Which Commandments?

When Moses went to the mountain of the Lord, he came down with the tables of the law, ten commandments.  Jews celebrate the gift of these commandments as God clearing up what mankind should do to live in peace, harmony, and prosperity.

Yet even as Moses was speaking with God, the people demanded that Aaron construct a "golden calf" -- symbol of Ba'al -- to rule them and to whom they would pay homage.  Ba'al means "master".

The contrast is stunning.  Moses receives from God the Law, but mankind prefers to have masters rule them.  Moses, coming down from the mountain casts the tablets of the law against the idolatrous symbol of rule by masters, demonstrating that the rule of law is superior to the arbitrary rule by masters.

But which law?   Which Commandments, Again?

At first, the people of the israel lived in peace to a point under "judges".  They tried the ten simple rules.  But simple laws are too simple for mankind.  What does it mean to not kill?  what about war?  What does it mean to not commit adultery, does it include polygamy?  homosexuality?  what?  People get confused at these laws.  IN the chaos that evolved under the Judges, when there was no king in israel, people did as they pleased, interpreting the Law to their own fashion.  This led to the destruction of a tribe in israel in the incident at Gibeah, and people demanded a solution.  They demanded a King.  Ba'al arose again in the form of Kings, bad kings all.

Years later, a humble prophet Hosea laments the history of Israel since the Incident at Gibeah. By choosing kings over god's simple law, the people had rejected god and become "not his people" and "without mercy".  Hosea attempted to restore the simple law.

But it didn't work.  People still got confused.  They needed more instructions as to what to do.

The evolution of the Torah shows that the priests after Hosea weren't satisfied with ten simple rules, so they expanded the rules to make rules to prevent people from breaking rules.  And who made up all these rules?  The priests did.  The masters of the law expanded the law.  Aaron and his sons created a new kind of golden calf: Ba'al in the form of man's laws worshiped as if they were from god.  613 commandments that to this day, orthodox jews attempt to follow the the very jot and tittle of the law.

It got to the point that the very rigorous law of rabbinical judaism had created an impossible situation for people -- they became rule-bound rather than embracing god's simple laws.

In this environment, Jesus was born and lived.  He noted that the Church leaders of his day "teach for doctrine the commandments of men".  (A quote ironically present in the 1838 version of the First Vision)

One of the scribes -- lawyers of rabbinical Judaism -- asked him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"  Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mark 12:28-31).  Upon these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).

God revealed through Jesus the Divine Law:
1.  "Hear O Israel, I AM Our Gods, I AM ONE"
2.  "Love the Lord the God with all thy heart"
3.  "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

Simple.  Easy.  Once again, the commandments are reduced to Love: of God, of others, of self.  Not possessive love that tries to own and control others.  Not preferential love that is "partial" to those of our family and culture.  No.  Godly love.  Unconditional, liberating, abiding love.

More, when Jesus taught of leadership, he categorically rejected Ba'al -- the idea of earthly masters.  "Call no-one Father, for there is only one Father in Heaven".  In fact, Jesus only reprimand or condemnation were those who put themselves into Moses seat -- the Ba'als of his day -- the leaders of the church who washed themselves in elite separation from the blood and sins of that generation.

In demonstrating how to lead, he removed his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist -- dressing like the lowest of slaves, and performed the most menial service of washing the feet of his disciples.  This wasn't anything like what the LDS church embraces as a "second anointing".  It was a model of how to lead, the exact opposite of a kingly anointing.  He even washed the feet of the Son of Perdition.

The simple Gospel of Jesus Christ was based upon recognizing the divine in all of us (I AM Our Gods), and to love that God as expressed in our daily walk of love and compassion towards all. Those who, out of necessity, are called to lead and teach, must recognize that they are servants, not "Masters" (Ba'alim).  Yes, there must be order and leadership, stewardship and accountability, but those entrusted with these responsibilities must never become Ba'alim either in their own minds, or in the minds of those they serve.

What happened?  Where did that go?  On one hand, Catholicism re-instituted a lot of rules and regulations -- doctrines, catechisms and behaviors that controlled the people.  This likely arose out of the need of the Roman emperors to have a new State Religion that could control the minds and hearts of the people.  Constantine was brilliant, and the Bishops at Niceae willingly complied.

They meant well.  It wasn't the "Great Apostasy" we talk about in our religion.  It was more of a creeping gradualism to re-institute legalism and Ba'alim/earthly masters.  It's simply a human tendency to favor strong leaders, worship them, and in response, strong, narcissistic leaders arise to meet the human need.  And these Ba'alim, these "leaders", these "King-men", establish their rules as the law people must follow.

For me, the biggest challenge in being a Mormon is realizing how much this dynamic plays out in our church.  Instead of Godly Love being our first law, we teach that "Obedience is the first Law of Heaven."  This unfortunate untruth was first laid out in the context of Polygamy, then resurrected in "Mormon Doctrine" -- arguably one of the worst things ever to be published (right along side of Miracle of Forgiveness); but then has been preached consistently ever since.

In preaching this abortive doctrine, we are never told "obedience to WHAT or WHOM", yet our children are drilled in their heads:
- Follow the Prophet...he knows the way, and cannot lead you astray.
- If I obey, I'll be happy all day.

As adults, we are commanded to have uncompromising loyalty to the Church and its prophetic leaders.  If they pronounce something, then we are to obey it -- no questions asked.  This is what our coded-language calls a "Committed disciple of Jesus Christ".

I once was leading the music in a stake priesthood leadership meeting where Boyd K Packer was to attend.  We were ordered to be in our seats, dead silent, for fifteen minutes prior to the meeting.  As BKP and the other stake leaders entered in order of hierarchical precedence, we were to silently stand.  I was seated on the stand directly  in BKP's line of sight -- I looked him in the eyes and politely nodded, yet he had no response whatsoever, nothing. It was as if a dead shark were staring back at me.

In that moment, I had a complete understanding of what a golden calf -- the representation of Ba'al is all about.  It is without life, love, or humanity.
- Instead of realizing we are all One in God, it creates an elitest separation of the anointed ones from the blood and sins of the rest of us.
- instead of Love for God felt in our mind and heart, we are to reverence these men as if they are God.
- instead of Love of neighbor, we favor only those who are worthy of our exalted love.
and most of all, we obey these men.  Obedience is the First Law of Heaven in the LDS Church.  And Obedience means one thing only: to whatever our Masters tell us to do.

This blurring of the line between what are god's laws versus the commandments of men creates a deliberate confusion in the mind of the believer: because we teach for doctrine the commandments of men, we have instituted arbitrary human rules as if they are equal to God's simple commandments: we are thus manipulated to obey men with exactness instead of following god's laws.  We are like Aaron's followers worshiping the golden substitute for God's laws.

This is idolatry.  This is to follow king-men.  this is the precise behavior Jesus condemned with all of his might and soul.

Yet in response, Jesus did not advocate leaving Judaism.  In like manner, having way-fared through various faith traditions, this human nature to worship Ba'alim is everywhere.  I recognize that by leaving, moving, or trying to change the church is not going to help me return to that simplicity of Love.

No, I need a different strategy.  Between the extremes of Ba'alim of our Church Leader-Worship idolatry and the legalistic, high-demand of our rigid, correlated rules, there must be a Middle Way, something Centered on Jesus actual teachings and the pattern of his life.  I have a choice.  I do not need to leave.  I do not need to argue.  I do not need to evangelize the Simpler Way.  I can live it.  I can BE it.

I can stop being angry and resentful of the past, or dreading of the future, by Centering myself in this moment, finding the Way I can Love others -- and myself -- instead of focusing on all the defects I can easily find everywhere.

If I take Love seriously, I need to find the Way to love my church and culture, even if it has been abusive.  This isn't to condone or embrace the abuse -- let alone participate in it -- but rather, to stand as witnesses of a more excellent Way.  If we follow Jesus, we can be vocal about the abuse, but we need to do so in a loving way, to be witnesses of god (Love) in all times and in all places we may be.

We witness by being loving.  Jesus said that if we love god, we keep his commandments.

And...Which Commandments, again?