Author: Dane Laverty

3 C’s and 1 S

When I arrived in Japan as a missionary, my trainer was Elder Wynder. The most important thing he taught me was the “Three C’s”. Maybe the rest of you learned these as kids (it seems like the kind of thing you’d hear in Primary), but I’d never heard them before.

Resolving Disharmony in the Church

NOM = “new order Mormon” — a general term for people who self-identify as Mormon, yet maintain unorthodox beliefs or practices. I mention this because there’s a bit of drama going on right now with John Dehlin. John is one of the most well-known church members associated with the NOM world (he does the Mormon Stories podcasts) [update: to clarify, John doesn’t self-identify as a NOM — he says, “over the past year I’ve distanced myself from any particular model, and instead just want to help people find joy wherever they feel led.”]. Apparently he’s been called in by his stake president, and the two of them are working out whether or not his beliefs call for church discipline. John’s approach to this conversation has been to present his work as a positive contribution to the church, showing how he reaches out to members who feel alone and unsupported by the regular church structures. In a sense, John is working to…

Prove Me Wrong

I’m still not satisfied with how my two posts on doctrine and policy have wrapped up, so let me come back to that for one more minute. In those posts, I said that when members attempt to define doctrine, they essentially end up with “doctrine” meaning “things I agree with”. My attempt to get around that was to define doctrine as broadly as possible — anything taught by church members counts as doctrine. Most of the responses said that my definition was too broad, and put limitations on it like: if a general authority says something, we pray and ponder about, and the answer we get is that it is the doctrine of God or In order for church doctrine to be true it must be revelation. Revelation can be found in the standard works or the words of a sitting President of the church. or it does not become a doctrine of the church until it is affirmed and repeated…

Tasteful Nudity

In one of the strangest Fast Sunday testimonies I recall from my youth, a member of the ward spoke about his recent trip to Las Vegas (or was it Reno?) He’d gone down there with some other church members, and they had seen one of the shows. He went into the show somewhat naively, and was surprised to suddenly be confronted with on-stage nudity. The only part of the testimony I remember was him justifying staying through the show with something along the lines of, “…but it was tastefully done. And besides, the stake patriarch stayed and watched too!” (I wish I could go back and hear the whole testimony again, if only to understand why he felt the need to insert that particular story there…) Up to that point in my life, nudity and pornography were synonymous to me. The idea that nudity could be “tasteful” or “acceptable” was a foreign concept and — as a teenage boy — a…

Increasing Agency, and the Healer

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Does winning the lottery increase your agency? In my “Forms of Agency” post, I said yes. After all, the lottery winner suddenly has more resources, which leads to more choices, and isn’t agency about choice? But now that I’ve thought on it some more, I’d like to give a more nuanced response. Imagine that you are cool dude or dudette (which shouldn’t take too much imagination, since most T&S readers are, in fact, cool dudettes and dudes). You’re witty, well-dressed, and totally hot (as I’m sure you are), and people like you. Now say you win the lottery — suddenly you have several new options available to expand your jet-setting lifestyle! You can get your pilot’s license and an airplane to go with it. Or you can build a theme park in your backyard. Or you can get an all-Prada wardrobe. Each of these options represents a significant exercise of agency, but they all lead to the same end: increasing…

Barrack Obama, Osama bin Laden, and the Kids Eat Corn Pops

I’m sure you’ve heard the news — Osama bin Laden has been killed, and his body is held in the United States. I’m not someone who can speak insightfully to the political, military, or diplomatic facets here. I’m just a guy who was on the phone with his wife when she said, “Hey, it looks like bin Laden is dead. They say the president will be speaking in a few minutes.” I’m visiting my parents tonight, so we turned on the TV to ABC News and waited for about half an hour. During the wait, ABC showed video footage of bin Laden while the commentators talked about what this means. My first emotional response was when I realized that he was just a guy too, walking through the mountains, hugging his friends, sitting in a room, etc. That’s not to say that he wasn’t a terrorist mass murderer. He killed thousands of innocent people. I have no sympathy for him…

“Policy” and “Doctrine”, This Time with Venn Diagrams!

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Here’s the circle that represents everything taught by church members, from the uncontroversial (like faith and repentance) to the bizarre  (“King Arthur lost the priesthood for not listening to Merlin”): Now let’s add another circle for things taught by General Authorities. Every GA is a member of the church, so this circle is entirely encompassed by the first: Now another circle for things taught in General Conference. Most conference talks are given by General Authorities, but some are not (e.g. talks given by auxiliary leaders): Now let’s add one more circle for the words of the prophet (he’s always a General Authority, and some of his words are delivered in General Conference): We could add many more circles — one for apostles, one for scriptural teachings, one for things taught recently, one for things taught repeatedly. But most importantly, we can add one more big circle to identify the parts of each which are true: Some things taught by church…

On the Proper Usage of “Policy” and “Doctrine”

We’ve enjoyed (or endured) countless discussions about which church teachings are “doctrines” and which are merely “policies”. Here’s my two cents: “policy” and “doctrine” aren’t opposites — they’re not even on the same axis. Doctrines are beliefs that are taught (in fact, the word “doctrine” comes from the Latin for “teachings”, suggesting that any belief taught in the church is, at some level, doctrine). Policies are organizational practices. Some doctrines are policies, some policies are doctrines, some are both, and some are neither. Determining that a particular teaching is policy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not also a doctrine. Both Doctrine and Policy: Baptism by authority. It is both taught and practiced. Neither Doctrine nor Policy: Raisin Bran is the best cereal ever! Doctrine but not Policy: The 10th Article of Faith. It is taught and believed in the church, but we have no organizational practices associated with the teachings contained in it. Policy but not Doctrine: …hmm…now that I…

Forms of Agency

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Agency is closely linked to power. Without power, we cannot make choices, and without choices we have no agency. It is by our power to help, to learn, to build that we exercise agency. Each of these — helping, learning, building — are forms of agency. (Agency is also closely linked to work and value, but I’ll come back to those later.) I’m fascinated by the idea of “forms of agency”. Most of us tend to exercise agency in only a very few forms, limited by our ignorance of the options available. For example, if you decided to bake muffins, you could exercise your agency to choose between several “forms of muffins”: blueberry, bran, orange, etc. But how about pepperoni muffins? Even if you had all the ingredients for pepperoni muffins in your kitchen, you could not have exercised your agency to bake them; the thought wouldn’t have entered your mind (at least not until you’d read about them here.…

What’s the Scripturefulness Level of Conference?

A few weeks ago, our ward’s Relief Society did a lesson on the fourteen fundamentals of following the prophet. As a result, I now have a copy of them hanging on my refrigerator. Putting away the leftover cheesecake after last night’s games of Magic, my eyes caught on #3: “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” With General Conference (is that supposed to be capitalized?) nigh at hand, I got to wondering how we treat the words of the living prophets as compared to those of the dead prophets. So here’s my informal survey for y’all: Would you count reading conference talks as “scripture study”? Do you read regularly read conference talks as part of your scripture study?

The Mormon Twitternacle

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After years of ignoring/making fun of it, I’ve finally gotten into Twitter. It lets me keep up with the people that I’m not close enough to to friend on Facebook. It also has cool feeds for things I’m interested in, but wouldn’t follow otherwise (like the new MESSENGER probe to Mercury and Cassini on Saturn. I love getting updates from our exploratory spacecraft! ). Once I got into it, I started looking for my bloggernacle friends and idols. I discovered (a) that it’s not easy to find people on Twitter, and (b) that in spite of the great Mormon blog presence, I’m not seeing a Mormon Twitter presence. So I’m putting this post up as a “bloggernacle Twitter directory”. If you have a Twitter account and you want to let people know about it, put it in the comments below.

Sharing the Gospel with Human Beings

(These are the notes for the talk I gave in sacrament yesterday.) Amanda When I returned from my mission in Japan, I was fired up about sharing the gospel. I wanted to be an effective member missionary. Back then, us missionaries had these big blue sheets of paper that we would use to plan our weeks. One side had a weekly schedule — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday… The other side had spaces for keeping track of the people you were teaching. On that side of the blue planner, you would keep a record of your progress in teaching each person — which lessons you had taught, whether they had attended church, that sort of thing. I mention these blue planners, because, like I said, when I got home from my mission I wanted to continue sharing the gospel, and I decided it would be a good idea to keep using these blue planners. So each Sunday night I would get together…

Measures of Excellence, Gospel Hobbies, and Civilization 3

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A “measure of excellence” is a metric of comparison. Measures of excellence are what we use to say that one person is “better” than another. Money is another measure of excellence. In fact, beauty (for women) and money (for men) are the two historically dominant measures of excellence (at least, that’s the case in the history we tell each other today). In ancient times (1991, that is) there was a popular computer game called Civilization. You, the player, guided a civilization from 4000 BC to AD 2020. In the game there were two paths to victory. The first was to destroy all of the other civilizations and become the ruler of the world. This is a typical victory condition in gaming — defeat all your opponents and you win. The second path to victory was to be the first civilization to build a spaceship and colonize another planet. This was pretty innovative — in the combat-dominated gaming ecosystem of the…

Two Quick Comments

One: A “biblically-based cratering theory”? Aaaaauuuugh!! Two: The phrase “biblically based”. Whenever I meet a person who’s part of a new Christian church (now that I think about it, it’s kind of funny that this happens often enough for me to talk about it), they say that their church is unique because it’s “based on the teachings of the bible” — you know, as opposed to all of those other Christian churches out there, which are apparently using some other set of scriptures. Snark aside, I’m not aware of any mainstream Christian churches that don’t claim to be biblically based, so I’m not sure that calling your church “biblically based” really distinguishes you in any way. That’s all.

“It’s been scientifically proven…”

I remember an argument I had with an acquaintance in high school. I don’t remember the topic anymore (capital punishment? abortion? gay marriage? I’m sure it must have been one of those perennial high school kid debates). A friend had recently told me something that bolstered my side of the argument. I knew the information was correct, because he told me that “it had been scientifically proven.” So I went confidently into the argument, and when the climax came I pulled out my trump card with a, “And it’s a scientifically proven fact!” Yet somehow my opponent failed to see the genius of my argument, responding with, “Yeah? Show me.” Suddenly I was left empty handed and defeated. I’d based my whole argument on my friend’s claim and never sought to understand it myself. Fortunately, however, the debate woke the spark of critical inquiry in me. I learned that authority is useless unless founded on substance. The church equivalent of…

Why Do We Need So Many Gods?

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The idea of a godhead fascinates me. If a god is omnipotent, then why do we need three of them (or more, depending on your interpretation)? Here’s my entirely-speculative take on it. (Now including advice on how to raise your kids, too! I know, I know, it’s hard to find people who are willing to offer unsolicited parenting advice. You can thank me later.) One of the hardest parts of being a parent is figuring out when to be strict and when to be lenient. When your child throws a temper tantrum over something trivial, do you snuggle him and say, “I bet you’re tired and hungry. Here, let me make you some soup and read you a story,” or do you say, “This is unacceptable behavior,” and put him in time out? Kids need both, but we can only do one of them at a time. Over time, our kids develop an expectation of how each parent is likely…

Are the Arts Selfish?

In a previous ward, a high council speaker told the congregation that pursuing a degree in the arts is a selfish decision, and he counseled the youth and young adults to pursue a useful, financially secure discipline instead. My recollection is that is point was that an artist can’t provide a spouse and children with a decent, stable lifestyle. I’d love to hear from those of you who majored in the arts, and from those who wanted to major in the arts but ultimately decided not to. In retrospect, how do you feel about your choice?

Moral Authority

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A friend of mine posted this on Facebook a few days ago: Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right. It’s a great bumper-sticker quote — short, emotionally charged, and completely one-sided. Usually I see these, chuckle, and move on, but this is one that my mind keeps coming back to, to chew on some more. What does the church do well? How does the church justify its own existence? (As an aside, if your answer to this question is, “The church doesn’t need to justify itself through helping people be happy here on earth. The blessings of obedience to the church are waiting for us in heaven,” then please feel free to ignore this post entirely. All I can say is that reserve the right to judge my church by its fruits.) No organization is great at everything. That’s why we have governments,…

Correlation and Computers

Here are two lines of computer code: int myNumber; myNumber = someOtherNumber + 3; If you’re not familiar with programming, the first line says, “Here is an integer (int) called ‘myNumber’.” The second line says, “Set the value of myNumber to someOtherNumber plus 3.” So what if I want to know the value of myNumber? I’ve got two options. Either I can tell the program to display the value, like this: out.print(myNumber); or I can look back through the code to find the value of someOtherNumber and mentally add 3 to it: int someOtherNumber = 8; So now I know that myNumber is 11. —– My point is, how do we interpret unclear statements in scripture? BCC’s Friday Firestorm this week gives a great example of why this matters. Is D&C 82:7 despair inducing, or is it motivating? It depends on what “unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return” means. out.print(untoThatSoulWhoSinnethShallTheFormerSinsReturn); That approach isn’t an option, unless…

Wab, Hm-Ntr, and Hm-Ka

Egypt-Hieroglyphs

A couple years ago I was reading up on Egyptian hieroglyphics just for fun. Okay, so it was just one book, and I’m in no way qualified to write anything about hieroglyphics, but I’m not going to let that stop me! :) The book I was studying from identified three different Egyptian words for priest: wab, hm-ntr, and hm-ka. They kind of translate to pure-person, god-person, and spirit-person, respectively. The book didn’t go into any detail about the relative roles of the three, but the names got my imagination rolling. In modern America, I suppose that our archetypal image of a priest is some combination of these — a pure person who communicates with God and has an understanding of the spiritual nature of things. However, I think that in particular belief systems, one of these aspects is usually dominant over the others. In non-evangelical Protestant Christianity, it seems that the priest is closest to the “wab”, or pure-person. He…

Ward Diversity Specialist

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I’ve been thinking about Papa D’s recent post about responding to subtle racism in the church. How about creating a “ward diversity specialist” calling? Points in favor of a ward diversity specialist: Every calling in the ward has a natural nemesis–except for the ward preparedness specialist. You know, like the natural enmity between elders quorum president and ward clerk, or between the Relief Society president and the high priests group leader. The diversity specialist would provide a natural foil to the ward preparedness specialist. Problem solved. Two-thirds of the 3-fold mission have corresponding obnoxious specialist callings that no one listens to. This would complete the missing third! It gets lonely waiting around to ring the class bell. A ward diversity specialist could provide friendship to the second counselor in the Sunday school presidency while he waits to perform the duties of his calling. It’s a perfect fit for the ostracized ward liberal. To be fair, I guess I should consider…

Claiming the Promised Land

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I went walking today, in the hills between Rocklin and Lincoln: I spent hours out there. It’s been a long time since I just made off into the hills like that, to spend a whole afternoon there with no concern about needing to get back for work or some other obligation. I’m looking for a word. As a kid, my friends and I spent our afternoons and weekends walking through the hills at the edges of our neighborhood in Cameron Park. We called it “exploring”, but it after the dozenth (or hundredth) time it’s hard to justify that name — since you know all the trails, the rocks, the trees, you’re not really “exploring” anymore. Other words — “hiking”, “adventuring” — also don’t feel right. Hiking implies something more strenuous — a journey, a start and a finish. We weren’t hiking so much as just wandering. We had named the tree groves and boulder formations after the cities from our…

The Bloggernacle in a New Decade

To me, ldsblogs.org is the bloggernacle. When I have a spare minute, I usually head over there to see what’s new at FPR, FMH, Keepa, The Exponent, or any of my other favorite Mormon blog spots. I know a lot of your names, and though I haven’t met any of my fellow bloggernaclers in person, I feel comfortable here with you. It’s that comfortableness that got me thinking about how the bloggernacle has grown and developed, and what it’s future trajectory is. I’m comfortable here because I know the people here, and whenever I get comfortable I have to ask, “Is growth still happening?” As far as I can tell, the bloggernacle serves five great purposes: Social connections for church members who don’t feel connected to the members in their own branch or ward (and even for the members who do feel connected locally). Amazing articles that offer quality insights on interesting gospel topics that aren’t often discussed in church.…

Book of Mormon (Politically Correct?) Stories

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I was recently called to teach the 10 & 11 year olds in Primary. They’re a great class — smart kids and good energy. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy listening to (and singing) the Primary songs. Last week we sang every kid’s favorite Primary standby, “Book of Mormon Stories” (well, it’s either that, “Popcorn Popping”, or “The Oxcart”…I think we sang “The Oxcart” as our opening song for every FHE for eight years straight). Everyone was doing the hand motions, but when we got to, “are about the Lamanites in ancient history,” I noticed that only about half the teachers and students did the old “Indian feathers” two fingers behind the head. Now, I know that there are plenty of good reasons not to do the feathers, and I expect they’ll be culturally phased out in the next decade or so, so I was wondering if this change is a local or global…

Improptu

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It’s approaching a year since I started writing here at Times & Seasons, back on January 20th. That, combined with Christmas, house hunting, and the inexorable New Year, has me reflective. Where am I going, and how am I doing in getting thither? I started my stint here writing about building Zion — specifically, how we can intentionally build communities that bring people together in ways that are rewarding for each member of the community. I wrote about communities and Zion through April, and thought that would be my ongoing theme. That hasn’t turned out to be the case. Since April, my writing has been approximately equally divided between posts on gender roles, complaints on specific church-related issues, and discussing my little theo-philosophical models. Not bad, but not remarkable. In a sense, I suppose those topics are the bloggernacle in a nutshell. My life has paralleled that pattern. I’m a passionate dreamer. I love being involved in the arts and…

Dreams

I’ve got dreams on my mind today. Years ago, while perusing the History of the Church books, I was surprised to discover an account of a strange dream from Joseph Smith (via Wilford Woodruff). I find it fascinating and I’ve never heard anyone refer to it, so I share it here: “I was standing on a peninsula, in the midst of a vast body of water, where there appeared to be a large harbour or pier built out for boats to come into. I was surrounded by my friends, and while looking at this harbour I saw a steamboat approaching the harbour. There were bridges on the pier for persons to cross, and there came up a wind and drove the steamboat under one of the bridges and upset it. “I ran up to the boat, expecting the persons would all drown; and wishing to do something to assist them, I put my hand against the side of the boat,…

Transhuman

Why is the concept of holiness so closely related to self-denial? This isn’t just a Mormon thing, or even a Christian one. We see it in the Buddhist monastic tradition, the yogis of India, and the shamans of many cultures. The holiest people are the ones who can undergo the longest tests of endurance. Most of us are more familiar with what holiness isn’t than what it is. For us, the essence of holiness is “not me”. I would guess that this is the reason we associate “holiness” with the ability to endure trials — we expect to find holiness in something greater, stronger, or more powerful than ourselves. When we find a person who demonstrates great longsuffering, we don’t understand that person, but we instinctively revere her or him. I think that this instinctive divide between “me” and “holy” is the root of the professional clergy class. From ancient times, the priests or shamans of a society have set…

Jesus at the Dance

So, Jesus has returned. He’s living in your single adult ward and there’s a dance this Friday night. Tell me, girls and guys, do you attend the dance? If so, how does it make a difference that He’s there? Would you try to hang out with Him? How do you expect He would look/act? How would you look/act? On the other hand, if you’d give it a miss, why?

Great Mormon Business Ideas, #1

So…stay-at-home moms. Utah’s got lots of them. And I bet you’re a market demographic excitedly waiting to hear what I (an admittedly non-stay-at-home dad) am about to propose to bring joy, peace, time, and every other wonderful thing to your day. Well, wait no more, the first of the Great Mormon Business Ideas is here for you today! So far as I can tell, the three banes of the SAHM are: (1) laundry, (2) cleaning, and (3) taking care of kids. But none of these are really so bad on its own; it’s the fact that all three simultaneously demand attention that makes them a drag. So what I suggest is…<drum roll>…the Family Home Drudgery Sharing Program! Okay, so naming things isn’t one of my strong points. But wait! It’s still a great idea. Here’s how it works: four moms organize in a group. One is in charge of laundry, one is in charge of cleaning, and two are in…

Resigning

I started this semester as a seminary teacher. Two months in, I realized that it wasn’t going to work. I was tired and miserable, useless to my family, and unproductive at work. So, for the first time in my life, I asked to be released from a calling. No, that’s not quite accurate. I didn’t really ask; I informed them that I could manage for about two more weeks and then I’d be done. Now it’s been a week since I stopped teaching, and I have no doubt it was the right choice. The entire experience of teaching seminary was humbling. It’s a calling I had wanted — in fact, when we moved into this ward, the bishopric asked me what calling I’d like to serve in, and I told them that it’s always been my dream to teach seminary. (Contrary to popular belief, I’ve found that telling your leaders what calling you want to serve in is usually a…