Author: Dane Laverty

Stopping the Flood When the Dams Burst

A friend of mine told a story from when she was a seminary student. As I recall it, one student, let’s call him Eusebius, had had perfect attendance for three years. The attendance policy allowed a fifteen-minute late window. The teacher would shut the door fifteen minutes after class started, and any students who came it after the door was shut weren’t counted in attendance for the day. Eusebius had been prompt to class for the first three years, but during his fourth year he showed up closer and closer to the fifteen-minute mark, until he finally missed it. This destroyed Eusebius’ interest in seminary; with his perfect record of attendance ruined, he didn’t feel any desire to attend and stopped coming. I’m sure we’ve all seen (or been) people like Eusebius. Missionaries are constantly meeting less active members who used to be bishops and branch presidents. Often they were faithful members who had lived up to the standards of the church for years. But once they slipped once, it’s like the dams of their souls were obliterated — their spiritual energy was drained in a single blow, and they didn’t know how to fill the reservoir back up. Perhaps this is the result of a fragile identity. For example, if I believe these two statements: “I’m a good Mormon,” and “Good Mormons don’t do bad things,” then what happens when I do do something bad? Depending on how tightly…

12 Walks to Zion

I’m not ready to leave my “building Zion” discussion just yet. Where does the New Jerusalem come from? If you asked my peers, parents, seminary teachers, and Sunday school instructors, you might receive visions like these:

Are We Mormon, or Are We Dancer?

In my previous job, I served as co-chair on the college diversity council. It was not a position I was qualified for, but one in which I learned a lot. While there, I noticed that “black” is a culturally acceptable word again. I’m interested in the words we use to describe races, ethnicities, and cultures. When I was little, “black” was the only word I knew, but I remember being taught in middle school to use “African American” instead. As a black-and-white (no pun intended) conservative teenage thinker, I was bothered by this shift. It seemed like a pointless debate — why did anyone even care? Then, a few years ago, I heard statements from church leaders encouraging us to use “latter-day saint” rather than “Mormon” to describe ourselves. Suddenly I became very aware of the words people used to describe me, and I was sensitive to my own response to the question, “What religion are you?” Thinking back to my middle-school introduction to race and ethnicity, I was especially bothered that some people were offended by one term, while others were offended by the other. I felt that it put me in a no-win situation, and as a result, race became a very uncomfortable topic for me to talk about. I wanted one “right” term, a term that would allow me to comfortably refer to a group of people without offending anyone in that group. The college diversity council…

The Why

Last night I was considering the “what” and “how” of Zion. After reading the comments from that post, I see that I’m skipping past the “why”. If I want to understand how Zion will work, I first need to understand why it exists — what it’s intended to achieve. The scriptures exhort us with eager anticipation for the prophesied Zion. They even go into some detail on visions of its dimensions and inhabitants. But they don’t say what it’s for, or why we should be excited about it. So what’s it for? And for whom? One key question to answer is, is Zion a means or and ends? In other words, is Zion intended to prepare its inhabitants for something greater, or is Zion the final reward of the righteous? If Zion is an ends, it will be more exclusive, but if its a means then it will be more inclusive. Another question: what is Zion supposed to offer its inhabitants? Is Zion intended to maximize their happiness? Their righteousness? Or are those the same things? Or is the goal to maximize something else: productivity, knowledge, fecundity? Like my previous post, all these questions are, of course, speculative. However, they’re important. Perhaps the purpose of Zion will be determined by conversations like these — perhaps sincere discussion and reflection will not merely uncover, but in fact create the vision of the Zion that one day I hope we build. Without…

What Does Zion Look Like?

Take a minute and review the tenth article of faith with me, if you will: We believe…that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent. What does this mean? How is this city different from any other city? I imagine that most church members picture this Zion as a magical, idyllic dwelling place, free from sin and suffering. But an image of what the city looks like doesn’t tell us how it came to be that way. If Zion is a utopia, what attributes and qualities does it possess that allows it to be one? I don’t pretend to know, but here are a few possible considerations: Physical Layout — Is Zion’s paradisiacal nature due to the genius of its physical planning: the architecture and design of its buildings, residences, and parks? Government — Or will it be the result of some superior form of government, some kind of organization unlike any we have seen before? That its laws will be just, merciful, and effective? Science — Perhaps our increased understanding of human nature, economics, and technology will allow us to provide for people’s needs so efficiently that there is no want. Society — Maybe the paradise of Zion will be the result of a city that encourages and facilitates social networks. Helping all residents to have friends, family, coworkers, clubs, and other organizations provides a social support network that allows needs to be met at a…

Discovering That What I Thought Was The Spirit Was Not

From my youth I’ve wanted to do right. A desire to follow the Holy Ghost occupied much of my spiritual reflection in my teens and early twenties. I made it a point to be aware of my feelings, and after a time I identified a few particular feelings that I identified as being the Spirit. The most powerful of those feelings was a compulsion to do or not do a thing. When I defied that compulsion I felt guilty and unworthy. I sought the Lord’s guidance in prayer on even very minute matters, and so I would feel compelled in things as small as which route to drive home or what color shirt wear. The summer after I got married, I took a construction job doing residential framing. One Friday afternoon as we were cleaning up, my boss told me that he would be working Saturday, and that I was welcome to join him if I wanted to get some extra hours in. I was looking forward to the weekend and had no desire to work, but I felt that familiar compulsion come upon me, the feeling that God wanted me to work those hours on Saturday. When Saturday morning came, I defied that compulsion and chose to stay home. And what happened? I spent the day with my wife and had one of the best Saturdays of my life. I don’t remember what we did — probably just went…

A Middle Path Toward Theology?

This discursive approach to church leadership certainly had its problems (most dramatically in the story being re-told by Daymon and Brad at BCC). It is more chaotic, less predictable, more likely to offend long-time members when long-held doctrines change. However, it is, perhaps, more responsive to the changing needs of church membership.

Mirth in Marriage

The other night as we were getting ready for bed, my wife said, “You know Dane, I really miss laughing. I don’t mean like little *he he he* laughs, I mean deep, cleansing laughter.” And she’s right. Between children, school, and the pressures of responsible adult life, laughter kind of got lost somewhere. I don’t really have any special insights on this one, but I’d love to hear the collective wisdom of the moms and dads out there: where do you and your spouse find carefree fun in your family?

Soul Work

Norbert at BCC recently shared this reminiscence about his wilder days at BYU. What struck me most was the conversation in the comments between Norbert and his friends and acquaintances from those days. I caught glimpses of magical people from a mystical (or mythical?) time.

A Thing to Grasp

Havelock Ellis said, “It is only the great men who are truly obscene. If they had not dared to be obscene, they could never have dared to be great.” I think the word “obscene” here denotes not mere prurience or crudeness, but more generally the will to defy social expectations. It is in this sense that the title character in Cool Hand Luke is obscene, with his Nietzschean will to power.

The Test

When asked why life is hard, the Sunday school teachers of my youth replied, “Life is a test. It’s supposed to be hard.” The scriptures support the life-as-test perspective — a “probationary state” where we “prove” ourselves. Of course, if life is a test, then that means it’s designed to prepare us for what comes next. We test medical students on anatomy (as opposed to, say, Russian grammar) because knowing anatomy will help them after they’ve graduated. So if I can be justified in taking the life-as-test perspective seriously, perhaps I can draw some inferences about the next life by our experiences in this life. What are we being tested on here? In other words, what kinds of hardships do we experience in life, and how can they prepare us for what is to come? Here are the major ones that come to mind for me, and the ways we address them: Want — managing limited resources to meet needs effectively Contention and Loneliness — building constructive relationships through kindness, patience, wisdom, love, and effective communication Pain — learning to avoid suffering through preparation and wise decision making Ignorance — planning for the unknown future by extrapolating based on our limited knowledge and experience Emptiness and Fruitlessness — finding meaning by coming to know God, engaging in rewarding work, and living in accordance with eternal principles Confusion — understanding the world through study, experience, reflection, and analysis So if want,…

Organizational Management in the Church

I’m sitting in my organizational management class right now. That (combined with having just finally finished Lengthen Your Stride, which opened my eyes to the challenge of managing a global organization) has got me thinking about why the church is structured the way it is. Many attributes of the church that we like to complain about here in the bloggernacle serve very useful purposes in maintaining cohesion across dozens of nations and millions of people. Here are some ponderings, none of which are grounded in anything other than my teacher’s lecturing and my own mental meanderings, so take them for what they’re worth. Why is the church conservative? I don’t mean politically conservative, but conservative in its sense of “resistant to change”. Change is risky, short-term loss with no guarantee of long-term gains. Members who disapprove of the change are more likely to leave that non-members who approve of the change are to join. It’s kind of like speaking in general conference — there’s nothing you can say that will get people to join the church, but there’s a lot you can say to get people to leave the church. In other words, people join a volunteer organization for what it is, not for what it’s not — and that means the current membership of an organization is going to tend to be satisfied with the way that organization is. (Of course, that ignores the issue of those who were…

Answering Nate

“Once upon a time, numberless spirits inhabited the vast chaos of space and unorganized matter. They exercised their minuscule powers to organize little creations, but these quickly vanished in the swirling chaos, like sand castles against the tide. Having spent an eternity without achieving any lasting accomplishments, these spirits mostly just despaired and drifted.

One of these spirits, however, discovered the skill (perhaps through ingenuity, or perhaps just through persistence and luck) to build works that could endure the chaos. So, with much effort and with limited power, he began to build a habitation from the unorganized matter around him. This new dwelling attracted the attention of the other spirits, who desired to take shelter from the constant chaos.

My God

I love my God. He loves me. Sometimes I suffer, and sometimes there is nothing He can do about it, and I love that. I love my God because He is limited, like me. He prepares my way to eternal joy, but He does not put me there. Why not? Is it because He chooses not to? How disgusting would that be? An almighty God who could obviate suffering by obviating the need for suffering, but who chooses not to? An almighty God who could save all His children, but allows some to burn in hell? What a horrible God is that. If my God does not save me, it is because He cannot. If He cries for my sins, it is because that is all He can do. He has prepared the way, but it is I who choose to walk the path. And so, when He reaches down to hold my hand, I reach up to hold His, and together we are comforted.

Suckers and Monsters

We human beings don’t handle technological progress very gracefully. Those of us who have spent years doing things “the hard way” can feel cheated when suddenly someone invents an easy way. Take, for example, the ballpoint pen. This little invention (and its immediate predecessors) essentially obsoleted centuries of tradition in penmanship, calligraphy, and pen care. And it’s not just pens. The same thing happened with the advent of painkillers. Or television. Or typewriters. This sort of change leads to all kinds of post hoc justifications for why the old way is better. We don’t like to feel like suckers. We don’t like to feel that our sufferings have been needless, and we especially don’t like to feel that skills we’ve obtained “the hard way” are suddenly invalid and irrelevant. So we create narratives whereby “the hard way” is recast as “the right way”. Problems come when we introduce this moral element of “rightness” to technological advances. These narratives discourage us from improving our situation by claiming that our suboptimal way is, in fact, the ideal way. That’s when we really become suckers. We’re not suckers for having gone through the hard way when the hard way was the only way. We’re suckers for sticking with the old hard way when we see there are better ways to be tread. Once we’ve become suckers by morally obligating “the hard way” to ourselves, we become monsters when we apply our self-defined lens…

Friendship is Unnatural

I love the interactive nature of blogging. I had planned to close this series with a post neatly tying everything together, but all of your contributions have challenged my premises and preconceptions to the point that I can’t do it. I started this series with some really good ideas, as well as some very naive ones. In a year or so, as I’ve been able to sort between the two, perhaps I’ll come back with a follow-up series. In the meantime, let me close this series by touching on friendship.

Building Your Own Green Hill

If you’re feeling moved upon to bring together a community of your own, here are some approaches you might consider. I’ve divided them into two sections: organic and venture.

Organic approaches to community building grow fairly naturally out of everyday living. They may sound mundane — you’re probably already doing some of them — but that doesn’t mean the resulting relationships are any less rewarding. In contrast, venture approaches to community building take significant planning, time, and money.


Programs and lifestyle are the main repositories of culture in a community. Programs are optional. Lifestyles are not. The person who declines to participate in a program still gets to sit in the audience at the awards ceremony. The person who declines to participate in a lifestyle is excluded from the flow of community life.

Space (How It Looks)

Could we make zion building into a hobby? Like scrapbooking, except that it requires a little more money. And instead of gathering memories in a binder, you would gather loved ones in a community. Anyway, here are some visual examples of intentional communities that exist here in the United States and Canada.


Lifestyle is about the flow of daily living. It is not about the grand mission and purpose of the community (that’s the program), but rather, it is the community’s values, norms, and expectations. A good demonstration of lifestyle (as opposed to program) can be seen in the cohousing movement.

About-ness and Communities That Last

My initial interest in building a green hill was just to live near my friends and family — something as simple as purchasing land, building houses, and inviting my loved ones to come on over. But, while that would be wonderful, I realized that my dream was about more than just building a “friends of Dane club”. I don’t want to be the linchpin that holds everyone together.

The Dream of the Green Hill

Green Hill Communities | Next About fifteen years ago, I had a dream. In my dream I saw a green hill with several people silhouetted against a cloudy sky. These figures were engaged together in various activities, some speaking, some playing or dancing, and some resting. The clouds in the sky moved quickly by, like in a fast-motion movie, which I understood to signify the passage of time. Then I woke up. Although the dream was brief, its images — the people, the hill, and the sky — have stayed with me. The attitude shared by the figures on the hill was one of deep peace and joy. Finding no greater happiness than in the company of my family and friends, I have been working to make the community of the green hill a literal gathering in my life. I am apparently not alone in my desire to live in a rewarding, purposeful community. Eco-friendly groups and religious fundamentalists have achieved a dramatic increase in intentional communities over the past two decades. A quick look at the Northwest Intentional Communities Association directory shows over 200 communities just here in my beloved Pacific northwest. However, I am struck by the absence of an LDS presence in the intentional community movement — this really seems like the sort of thing Mormons would do very well. What influences have acted to discourage the saints from building their own communities? First, we are looking…