Sunday, March 15, 2009
Walt Disney’s "The Absent-Minded Professor" left quite an impression on ten-year-old me. Fred MacMurray’s invention of a rubbery anti-gravity substance that could power a car and be ironed onto the soles of shoes inspired me to want to become a scientist and inventor myself. When I grew up, the first thing I was going to do was get my own lab and invent Flubber. (Hasn’t happened yet -I’ll let you know.)
My love for all things Disney continued into my twenties, along with a fascination with the early history of the LDS church, particularly the Nauvoo period. One historian of that period whose books I read was Samuel W. Taylor, the grandson of third church president John Taylor. By happy coincidence, I learned one day that this very Samuel Taylor was the author of the stories upon which the flubber movies were based. The real Son of Flubber was a member of my church!
In 1992 this same Samuel Taylor wrote a short fantasy in which Joseph Smith shows up and accompanies Taylor to Sacrament meeting incognito. Surprisingly, rather than feel at home in the church he had founded, The Prophet expresses bewilderment at how differently we do things than in his day. He recognizes very little that goes on, and is baffled by the changes. It was as if he had entered into "another dimension... a land between shadow and substance". As if he’d "just crossed over into..... the Twilight Zone"!
CLICK HERE to read that story... submitted for your approval.
Taylor’s fanciful tale got me thinking about some other changes in the modern church, many of which are rooted more in whim and tradition than divine revelation. For a people who claim every dogma we practice comes directly from heaven, we sure keep to a lot of customs that God never expressed an opinion on one way or the other. Some of them are benign; others...not so much. Just off the top of my head, here’s a short list of unwritten traditions we hold onto as religiously as if they were formal tenets:
1. All deacons must wear a white shirt and tie in order to pass the sacrament.
In my former ward there were always the requisite number of deacons present, but often somebody would show up without a tie, or, heaven forbid, wearing a pastel, striped, or checkered shirt. Out he went, replaced by an older priest or teacher with matching habiliments. If there weren’t enough white shirts among the Aaronic priesthood, an Elder might be asked to fill in. As a Melchizedek priesthood holder in my forties, I was recruited many times to help pass the sacrament when there were plenty of deacons around who could have done it, but their shirts didn’t match.
2. We don’t applaud in the chapel for fear it will “break the spirit”.
I’d really like to know who thought this one up. I can find no warning in scripture to imply that the sound of unexpected applause in church will send the Holy Ghost running from the building.
The more likely reason for this tradition is that the early church drew many of it’s members from staid New England congregations such as the Methodists whose manner of worship was more pious and "proper" than that of the raucous Baptists further south. Add to that the large influx of reserved Swedish converts with the genetic proclivities of the residents of Lake Wobegon, and you have a congregation more comfortable sitting on their hands than embarrassing themselves by clapping for joy.
3. The only musical instruments allowed in church are the piano or organ, and occasionally a violin.
Never mind that the bible directs us to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord", listing such instruments as horns, trumpets, tambourines, flutes, lutes, zithers, and gongs as appropriate for worship. The real reason for this rule, which was promulgated in the 1960's, is to keep out guitars and drums, instruments associated with the dreaded hippies. I don’t know who came up with this rule, but ten bucks says it was an old guy.
4. We don’t shout out “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” in church.
I don’t know why not. We should. Our church may have additional scripture, but we don’t feel as much joy in our weekly meetings as I've felt in those of other faiths. While those at some other churches stand blissfully basking in the spirit with their faces skyward and their arms outstretched, we teach our children to keep their eyes squeezed shut, scrunch their heads down, and fold their arms so tightly across their chests that the Holy Ghost would have to pry them open to get inside their hearts.
Wouldn’t it cause a wonderful stir if somebody stood up in sacrament meeting and shouted hallelujah like they used to do in old Nauvoo? Maybe you can be the first.
Don’t look at me. You do it.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
The thing I want you to know up front is that I’m a conservative Republican. I’m compelled to preface my remarks this way because what I say tends to lead some to conclude that I’m a political liberal, which I’m not. I disdain modern liberalism.
But I find the need to further qualify: I’m a conservative in the tradition of the founding fathers, a rare thing in a day when the conservative label has been hijacked by state-worshiping Trotskyites typified more by their goal of creating an empire than on defense of the Republic.
I’ve long considered a Conservative to be a person who believes in “conserving” the constitution, but all it took was the events of 9-11 to show how thin that tether was for most Republicans. What really caught me up short, though, was what I read in the paper the morning after the 2008 Republican primaries: an overwhelming majority of Latter Day Saint Republicans not only don’t believe in traditional conservative principles; they apparently no longer believe in their own religion.
How else to interpret the primary election results? Nearly 90 percent of Utah Republicans -most of them LDS- favored Mitt Romney, a poor excuse for a Mormon whose public positions stand in open defiance of the teachings of Christ. How someone so antithetical to the doctrines of the restoration ever attained stature as a leading Latter-day Saint is a topic I’ll address another time, but the fact that so many active Mormons went all googly over him has to be cause for concern among the remaining faithful. Ron Paul, the only Constitutionist on the ballot and a man whose values are so aligned with Mormon teachings that people often ask if he’s LDS, pulled less than three percent of the Utah vote.
I’ve had many conversations with a goodly number of my fellow saints who seem to have found the gospel of Jesus Christ an insufficient balm for these uncertain times. They appear to have traded it in for the gospel of Toby Keith.
Toby Keith, of course, is the country music singer famous for the angry post 9/11 anthem “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”, which contains such Christ-centered lyrics as “we’ll put a boot up your ass -it’s the American way”.
So that’s what’s meant by “The American Way”. I was never quite sure. Thanks, Toby!
As a young child watching “The Adventures of Superman” on TV, I was familiar with Superman’s never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and The American Way, although the meaning of that phrase was a little hazy to my little five year old brain.
When I grew up I discovered that The American Way was the embodiment of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the charters that establish the rules of law that prevent any person or group of people from infringing on the life, liberty, or property of others. When our lives or freedoms are breached, the rules of due process require specific steps to follow to make sure that we punish the right people. We don’t just "kill ‘em all and let God sort 'em out".
Before Americans go to war, the Constitution requires specific steps to be followed so as to not put all power in the hands of one man who may want to manipulate the hot-heads among us to plant a Doc Marten in somebody's dumper.
Toby Keith Mormons, however, no longer hold valid the scriptures that declare these Constitutional principles to have been established by Jesus Christ himself (D&C 101:80), or that He has declared any deviation from the Constitution to be rooted in evil (D&C 98:7).
And heaven forbid anybody remembers that God’s people are absolutely forbidden to go to battle on foreign soil unless He Himself commands it (D&C 98:33). For Toby Keith Mormons, turning the other cheek is not nearly as attractive as a shoe up the poop-chute.
This boot-up-the-ass arrogance is precisely what was responsible for the final destruction of the entire Nephite nation, and if the final warning of the Book of Mormon is to be believed, it could very well prove the cause of our own collapse. The prophet Mormon warns us of this in an aside so subtle you may have missed it. It’s in Mormon 4:4.
It was after the last great battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The entire Nephite civilization had been completely wiped out. Almost nobody is left. Mormon informs us that this apocalypse was a tragedy that could have been prevented; it was the direct result of one stupid, arrogant choice the Nephites had made ten years earlier.
They had decided to go and kick some Lamanite butt.
The situation was like this: A large Lamanite army had crossed into Nephite lands bent on conquering. The Nephites were successful in driving the enemy back, and after whooping it up in an orgy of self-congratulation, the Nephites concluded that the thing to do now was to keep this momentum going and head into the lands of the Lamanites and wipe them all out. Settle this thing once and for all. Let’s Go And Kick Some Major Butt!
As a teenager reading the Book of Mormon for the first time, this plan of attack made perfect sense to me, so I was surprised by Mormon’s reaction. Immediately upon getting wind of the plan, Mormon became so angry that he quit his commission as General of the Nephites and refused to have anything more to do with them.
Mormon understood something that I didn’t. When you’re defending your own lands and loved ones from invaders, you’re in the right. But the moment you take the battle into the borders of another nation, you are the aggressor. The Nephites were now no different than the Lamanites, responsible for the deaths of women, children, and other innocents who had not personally come against them. God told Mormon that vengeance was not something they had a right to. God had delivered them from a close call, but because of their pride He was now turning His back on His own people, leaving them to their fate.
Naturally, after the Nephites invaded the Lamanites, the latter returned with greater resolve and increasing violence. The killing continued back and forth between both nations for ten years, and in the end the bad guys won and the good guys were wiped off the face of the earth forever.
The lesson here is that when the good guys invade a sovereign country, they’re no longer the good guys. That makes them the bad guys.
Of course, all that’s just the gospel according to Christ. Mitt Romney Mormons and Toby Keith Mormons have a different gospel, a gospel rooted in pride and self-aggrandizement. We’re number one! Yay, our team! U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A!
These people will tell you that our military incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan will open the way for the introduction of the gospel; that once we've liberated their lands the church will be able to move in and open missions there.
I can’t think of a more deluded and arrogant belief than that Jesus Christ would approve the murder of thousands of fathers and mothers so that we can come in and present any remaining orphans with a message of peace. Have you noticed the phenomenal growth of the church in Vietnam and Cambodia? Yeah, me neither.
Latter-Day Saints who profess Christ while proclaiming war are taking the name of the Lord in vain, and certainly acting contrary to their religion. People like that deserve a boot in the ass.