My brother-in-law called me last week to get my advice about a tithing question, in part, I think, because I have an accounting degree. He had inherited his parent’s home, and needed to pay tithing on it. But it would take time to sell the home, if he decided to do that, and the value of the home might change between the inheritance and when it sells. How should he decide what the home is worth in order to calculate how much tithing he should pay? I know that this type of question has been asked a lot—my brother-in-law is far from the first to ask what the rules are. And actually, he isn’t the first to ask ME about what the rules of tithing. And the Bloggernacle is full of post after post addressing tithing and what the rules are.
When we talk about the plan of salvation, as Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith lesson #3 does, we focus on several key elements: the pre-existence, the fall, the atonement, the resurrection and the judgment. That’s a lot of ground to cover—and often our lesson manuals cover each of those elements separately. Likewise, it is difficult to come up with a single poem that covers all of this territory. But Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, seemed to love writing poetry about the gospel and the plan of salvation, producing several works that covered this same territory.
How thin is the veil? Might we remember bits of our experience there? Could a melody we heard there be familiar to us here? (assuming we even heard melodies there). The idea of the pre-existence and of the other elements of the plan of salvation, discussed in D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 19, are a source of endless wonder and speculation. We just don’t know much about what our existence before and after this life was and will be like. But, perhaps nothing says more about our belief in the plan of salvation than our fascination with speculating about what the life before this one was like, and what the life after this one will be like.
Without meaning to, this story (you can read it, but it is better to listen to it–it’s only a minute or so long) does a better job of explaining the nature of our relationship with God than almost anything else I have encountered.
For those interested in the BYU summer seminar, I’ve revised the post, adding the titles of and abstracts for the papers.
The annual summer symposium, this year “Joseph Smith and His Times,” will be held on Thursday, August 9, 2007. The symposium will feature papers by twelve summer seminar fellows on the theme “Mormon Thinkers, 1890-1930,” covering topics ranging from the influence of Herbert Spencer on Mormon thought to Mormonism and Modernity.
Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the gift of the Holy Ghost. In one sense, nothing profound has come from that thinking. I’ve felt that my thinking has been worth the effort it took. I have enjoyed the spirit I felt while thinking about it and feel better prepared to received the Holy Ghost, but my thinking hasn’t something that can be reproduced in an essay.
In the noble tradition of literary hacks who never miss an opportunity to recycle old material, here are the interesting bits of a sacrament meeting talk I delivered in church today. Repentance is, at its simplest, a turning away from sin and a returning to God.
When Samuel anointed Saul, he anointed a man of kingly stature, handsome and tall, but who thought of himself as the least important man of Israel. Saul said, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel?
Thank you, Adam, for the intro, and T&S for the guest-spot. It’s a sacrifice for my other little blog, but I can really use the extra income. Today i’m thinking about my job and what it’s doing to me. I work on the tenth floor of a not very big building in downtown Salt Lake. My office is small but comfortable, and in the back corner of the building, where no one ever wanders by.
Not long ago, I sat in an emergency room with a friend who had been musing about suicide. My experiences with such matters are limited, but I wasn’t taking any chances. This man had lost his job and was being evicted from his apartment. He was at risk of losing custody of his children to his former wife. And he has a history of depression and bi-polar disorder. He claimed not to be suicidal, but I was worried for him.
All of the discussion about The Passion has prompted thoughts about the importance of the physical in the Atonement. This topic has been touched briefly in some of the comments below, with Melora opining that “Christ’s atonement did not need to be violent and bloody,” and Matt responding, “but the atonement was preordained to parallel the violent and bloody slaughters of the sacrificial lamb.” I am interested in the unspoken premise of these arguments, namely, that the physical pain and death endured by Jesus was part of the Atonement. In my view, the physical pain the Jesus experienced at the end of his life may have been an important part of Jesus’ personal development, but it was, at most, a small part of the Atonement.
What first caught my attention with respect to the Gospel was the sheer size of it. For my first ten or fifteen years of consciousness, growing up in a semi-active part-LDS home, the Church, to me, represented boring meetings, lackluster hymn-singing, and little more. Other things in 1960s California seemed much more exciting, and, frankly, there was little home pressure to think otherwise.
In some circles, just asking this question requires some serious chutzpah. The “man is nothing” crowd would find the mere suggestion that God needs us offensive. Nevertheless, we have several indications in Mormon doctrine that God needs His children. Perhaps most important is Moses 1:39: “this is my work and my glory — to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The notion of mutual interdependence is pervasive in the Gospel. For example, we believe that individuals (families) are bound together in the eternities, and that “[t]he dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them.” (Joseph F. Smith) All of this suggests to me that God is not a solitary being. To press the point even further, He cannot be a solitary being; that is, the very definition of God implies community. I am not sure that all of this matters very much, but it seems to cast my relationships with family and friends in a slightly different light.
I recently had a conversation with a self-described Christian, who was eager to teach me about the doctrine of grace. When I quoted 2 Nephi 25:23 (“We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”), my companion scoffed. He said this was similar to saying, “We fly from India to the United States on an airplane, after all we can do.” In other words, Jesus does so much and we do so little that our part is not worth mentioning.
At http://timesandseasons.org/archives/000213.html#001150 Nate refers to an ancient blog entry he wrote: http://goodoman.blogspot.com/2002_12_08_goodoman_archive.html#85894696. Though the discussion in question was baptism for the dead and some objections by non-LDS to the practice, Nate made a very good point in passing: we don’t really believe in damnation except for those who are LDS.
I just fulfilled a longstanding promise to myself: I finally read the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I have had many false starts on this project over the years. Asimov was not a great stylist, though he had many interesting ideas. The Foundation books are animated by one such idea: psychohistory. For those who haven’t read the books, I would describe psychohistory as the use of history, psychology, sociology, and mathematics to examine the behavior of large groups of people. While individual behavior cannot be predicted, psychohistory can (more or less) accurately predict the fate of millions. Is this how God works?
This morning I had the privilege of participating in a youth temple trip to Chicago. My job was to act as a witness in baptisms for the dead. While many Mormons revere this ordinance, people outside the Church often take offense. In fact, a story in tomorrow’s New York Times describes how the Church is under fire again for baptizing Jews.
In Institute we wondered why God would give contradictory commandments: Adam and Eve were told to multiply and replenish the earth, and they were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. These commandments, the scriptures plainly state, contradict each other. See 2 Nephi 2:22-23.
In my course on Business Organizations, I teach the law of principals and agents. Under this body of law, the notion of “free agency” is nonsensical, since a person becomes an “agent” only by attaching himself to a principal, at which point the person is no longer free. By contrast, in religious studies, the term “free agency” (or just “agency”) connotes free will, which is a complex and deeply interesting topic, though not the topic of this post. In this post, I want to use the law of agency to propose a different way of thinking about ourselves as agents.