Tuesday, February 9, 2010


There was only one thing on the wall in the priesthood room of our suburban California chapel. A large poster proclaimed "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood" in bold black letters, with a bullet point for each Purpose to succinctly impress the minds of our young men.

I was still a visitor during my first opening exercises in the new ward when the priesthood brethren arose in unison to recite the Purposes. There we were, young men, new men (who still lived in apartments), and real men alike, all of us pretending not to read off the poster as we recited each way station in the ideal young Mormon man's life. Education, mission, marriage, fatherhood ... an admonition to treat women and children with respect tacked on at the end, rather oddly.

Our bland priesthood room witnessed this little ritual every week, high priests and elders pulling and hoisting up the young men with invisible ropes to the sheltered ledges of BYU, leadership in the mission field, and temple marriage, lest they stray and fall into the abyss. One could imagine that each of the men who had passed at least some of these milestones could, by standing with the young men and giving voice to their Purposes, assure them that these abstract ideals would someday harden into reality and, when they did, difficult decisions would need to be made. A preparatory priesthood, indeed.

The priesthood room hosted gospel doctrine class during the second hour. Once a bedrock sister raised her hand with a comment. "We emphasize education too much to our youth; there's such a thing as too much education with all of these eternal students wasting their time." Surely she couldn't have known that from my seat her outstretched fingertips were silhouetted on the poster just under the sixth Purpose - "OBTAIN as much education as possible."

Our combined priesthood always recited one extra word in addition to what was written on the poster. "The Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood include:" - include. A hint of ambiguity or perhaps uncertainty. Were these bullet points just a transient power point slide from the church office building, or were they really the living essence of the Aaronic priesthood?

I went out of town for a week and when I came back the little ritual was already gone. At first I thought maybe it was an oversight, but no deacon since then has stood up to lead us in reciting the Purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. I asked another quorum member what had happened. It seems a member of the Stake Presidency had come through and, apparently, that's just not the way we do things in the church. The poster remains, but the Purposes are silent now.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Temple Apartments

I know that within church any sort of ascetics should generally remain firmly grounded within the normal routines of work and family life - but there is a case to made that we do allow for a voluntarily cloistered lifestyle.

The Los Angeles temple patrons' apartments seems to be converted from a 50s era cinderblock motel - but with new carpet, a piano in every room and gospel art kit pictures on the walls, there is something of a monastic quality about place. It is part of a larger compound with the temple, visitor's center and mission offices, so that food, accomodations, activities, instruction, and religous services can be had entirely on-site. Although theoretically members traveling to the temple can reserve apartments by the night, they are mostly filled with retirees who live there permanently while working in shifts at the temple. It is a place where everyday members can go to renew their dedication to the work by living simpler lives on higher planes.

There is also something sort of lonely about the temple apartments. I recently found myself in one of the unoccupied units, where twilight filtering through yellowed curtains revealed a single bed, a small bookshelf, bare kitchenette with a table for one, and precious little space for clothes or other wordly possessions. An old family friend, "Grandpa" Lewis, has lived in one of these apartments for the past 6 or 7 years, primarily because he simply has no other place to go. He's in his late 80s now and has long been missing most of his teeth, but every morning he wakes at 4:00 to make the short walk past the LA mission office to the temple to prepare for the first sessions of the day. There are a few other activities available to him - he can spend some of his off time volunteering in the family history center ("training every Tuesday night, no experience necessary") and sometimes there are theme nights and socials in the common room, but his early schedule mandates an 8:00 bedtime. During my last visit with him the sound of someone else's grandkids running through the courtyard only heightened the loneliness - Grandpa Lewis doesn't have any of his own.

Once, when the temple closed for extended renovations I almost heard panic in his voice as he pleaded, "What am I going to do?"

They come from all over, though - many of them are more recently retired couples with grandkids who visit, and there is even a luxury motorhome parked in one of the alleyways with a satellite dish perched on top. Still, I wonder how many are just like Grandpa Lewis - giving themselves completely to God because there is noone left on earth to give themselves to.

I'm not sure how this life differs in any meaningful way from other monastic traditions - a regimented schedule, simple meals, careful attention to the divine liturgy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Best of the Bloggernacle vol. 3

1. Nate Oman's post on Christian ethics rings true.

2. Falling Leaves on BCC was a really fun read.

3. J. Nelson Seawright's latest Sunday School lesson takedown has an especially entertaining comment section. I'm with JNS all the way - some of these lessons need to be called out for bizarre filler material that is completely untethered from the point of the underlying scripture assignment. Nevertheless, it is amazing the lengths some will go to to justify this sloppiness.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Where there's a right there's a left

It's amazing that I have put myself through reading so many blog posts and like on the whole Prop 8 issue. It's even more amazing how disappointingly polarizing and absolutist most of the articles and comments really are.

One thing that strikes me throughout is how much like George W. Bush some of the gay activists really are in their absolutism. In the sad case of Margie Christoffersen, for instance, most of the rhetoric from the Left focuses on how she really hates gays, in spite of significant evidence to the contrary, and deserves to suffer for the rest of her life because of a $100 donation to the Yes on 8 campaign. How is this any different from Bush's "you're either with us or against us" and "Axis of Evil" absolutism?

The gay marriage debate should have been a great opportunity for an intelligent discussion about the differences between constitutional rights and other kinds of rights, the meaning of marriage in society, and the respective roles of the judiciary and voter initiative processes. I blame both campaigns for abandoning civility and ignoring these core issues in the quest for the least common denominator. But I am especially disappointed in the activists who have nothing more intelligent to offer than advocating the personal destruction of people who simply disagree with them on one nuance of this particularly thorny issue. These people occupy the same mindspace for me as George W. Bush - blabbering fools who need to take a basic civics class before being allowed anywhere near the nuclear launch codes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Best of Bloggernacle vol. 2

As a wannabe biblical scholar (I must of missed another one of my callings in life), I really enjoy posts on biblical criticism. I especially want to point out these two from FPR, another one on the Documentary Hypothesis, and this part of a series on biblical criticism in general.

And then there is Kevin Barney's series on the Magi. Awesome!

And I read Advent Day 1 and the spirited comments that followed over at FMH on the same day my wife and I had a small argument about how much religious guilt we should feel over Christmas. The comments were perfect at contextualizing our discussion. I tend to come on the side of certainly celebrating Christ's birth at Christmas, but let's just do away with any guilt or angst about whether we are sufficiently Christ-like on that day to have celebrated it properly.

Heresy of the Week No. 1

Nobody showed up to teach gospel doctrine. Everyone chatted among themselves for a few minutes and then a priesthood leader stood up to ask if anyone was prepared to teach. A good brother raised his hand and said he would do it on the fly - everyone was relieved.

He quickly made clear that he would teach a prepared lesson on Alma 32 even though the text for the week was somewhere in Mormon. Fair enough.

Halfway through the lesson he started on a long story repeated from an EFY he attended some 20-odd years ago (fertile ground for a heresy of the week, I might add). The originally storyteller was a missionary in Denmark where, apparently, a significant part of his mission was spent going around by train to present a play called "It Could Happen to You" in the various branches. The story was supposed to be about how the missionary had a sore throat but, through an act of faithful prayer, had his voice restored in time to reprise the key role in the play. OK so far?

Our ad-hoc teacher went on to describe what the play was all about, though. It was the sordid tale of a member of the church, the father of a family, who went down a really bad road of drinking alcohol and skipping church a couple of times. While driving to a forbidden NFL game in a drunken stupor one Sunday, he caused a car accident, died, and went to the spirit prison. He patiently waited many years for the rest of his family to die, which they eventually all did together in another convenient car accident, and plaintively asked the angel assigned to him when he could be reunited with them. The angel told him to sit down because he had to talk about that with him (never a good sign). Because he had made some very poor choices in his life, his wife and children had "been assigned" to another worthy priesthood holder. He would never see them again. At this pithy moment the curtain closes and the audience returns home with renewed dedication to living more perfect lives.

So, I ask, is the idea that the wife and children of an unworthy LDS father are simply reassigned to a worthy priesthood holder in the afterlife doctrine? Or heresy?

Never mind for now the troubling chattel-like passivity of the phrase "been assigned." And I am fully aware that pinning down LDS doctrine is more of an art than a science. So, which is it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Last Word on Prop 8

What a mess. I just wanted to point out Nate Oman's post over at T&S, which gets it about right in my book. I said a few similar things much more crudely a few posts down.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best of the Bloggernacle vol. 1

Great posts from the past week:

Conversion Happens at the Darndest Times. Tracy M at BCC. I love narratives where the mundane course of life is suddenly interrupted by the ethereal. Almost had me in tears in the middle of my law office. Had to stop reading.

Proposition 8. Jonathan Green at T&S. One of the more insightful Prop 8 posts out there.

PBR #9. Steve Evans at BCC. One of the funniest ones yet.

12 Questions for the LDS Newsroom. Dave Banack at T&S. T&S scores a great scoop, but the answers seemed a little...muddled?

Why I support Prop 8

Quite simply, the judges got it wrong.

In exercising all sorts of legal jujitsu to conclude that there is a fundamental, constitutional right to homosexual marriage, the majority's 127 page opinion can be summarized as follows:

Existing constitutional right to marriage + Social acceptance of homosexual relationships = Constitutional right to homosexual marriage.

The problem with this is that new rights shouldn't be discovered in the Constitution by judges just because society accepts certain arrangements at certain points in time, unless society's approval has been expressed through the legislative or voter initiative process. In contrast, the California legislature enacted a liberal domestic partnership law but purposely stopped short of calling such arrangements "marriage." Similarly, in 2000, the voters of California (although a minority of Californians) approved a ballot initiative defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. Right or wrong, the legislative and voter initiative processes in California have both rebuffed expanding the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions.

In fact, the controlling law in California states that fundamental, constitutional rights are those "which are, objectively, deeply rooted in this [society's] history and tradition [and] implicit in the concept of ordered liberty such that neither liberty not justice could exist if it were sacrificed." (Washington v. Glucksburg (1997) 521 U.S. 702, 720-721, as cited approvingly in various California cases).

There are no grounds to assert that a right to homosexual marriage has been deeply rooted in our society's history and traditions.

This is established much more eloquently in Justice Baxter's dissenting opinion in the In re Marriage cases, which can be read here, starting on page 128:

In re Marriage

Unfortunately, the majority's imprimatur on this decision has mainstreamed the idea that the gay marriage debate is about constitutional rights (although even the plaintiff's briefs were too afraid to go as far as asking for a new right, the majority went ahead and did this for them). Once this happened, the No on 8 campaign obtained a sort of faux-moral high ground by gaining the ability to label traditional marriage advocates as haters who want to take away fundamental rights. This is all symptomatic of the fact that we haven't developed a good way talk about what rights we as a society deem to be fundamental as a separate issue from whether rights are being taken away or not.

Uninformed No on 8 partisans will misunderstand what I am saying here, so the following paragraph is for them:

It may very well be that the time has come to expand the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions. But, if that is to happen, it needs to happen by the people of California expressing their opinion on this subject through the legislative process. To date, the people of California have actually rejected the idea. Circumventing this process by having the courts suddenly find that your cause has actually been a fundamental right all along does lasting damage to the constitution and democratic process. And claiming that the newly invented right to homosexual marriage is actually an ancient and fundamental right, and then using this as a brush to paint all Prop 8 supporters as haters and bigots, is beyond the pale.

If you don't believe me, Barack Obama pretty much said the same thing in his now famous 2001 radio interview where he explained where civil rights advocates went wrong in relying on the litigation process to broaden the definition of rights.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Redistribution of Wealth

Bryce Hammond's post here:

Wealth Redistribution

is off-target enough that I wanted to link it and add a few comments here. Since I think he shut down comments on his blog, feel free to continue the conversation here.

A few points-

1. Obama's now famous 2001 interview clearly shows that, as a constitutional law professor, he is critiquing the civil rights movement for relying too much on litigation and the court system in pursuit of civil rights, rather than building consensus through the legislative process. He gives the example that civil rights leaders were never able to get the distributive justice they wanted through the courts, and points out that the legislative process is the more appropriate way to do something like that. This is the overwhelmingly conservative position to take.

2. All six of the countries ranked above the U.S. in the most recent UN standard of living survey have more socialist policies than the U.S. (Sweden, Norway, etc.) So the argument that socialism is doomed to fail no matter what seems untenable without some kind of metric or substantiation.