Religious Reads of June

I’ve been on a religious reading kick this past month. Here are three books – two being specific to Mormonism and one that is not – that were interesting to me and might be of interest to you.15895809311.jpg

1) Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffrey. Here’s a short, quick, fascinating dip into how the LDS Church has dealt with one of the most controversial topics among religious circles. Here, the authors have compiled statements by or approved by the First Presidency of the Church. Most of these statements are in the 1930’s (when controversy was particularly hot), but the Church’s position hasn’t changed much since then, hence why little has been said in the last 70 years by the Church leadership. The general consensus is that the Church of Jesus Christ is neither for or against evolution, and it isn’t relevant to a person’s salvation anyway.

mormonism1.jpg2) Mormonism for Dummies by Jana Riess, PhD and Christopher Kimball Bigelow. In the spirit of any For Dummies book, it’s both an informative and funny crash-course in Mormon theology, history, culture and anything in between. It does a good job of showing the official doctrine of the Church, as well as some of the oddities of some LDS members. While the Church of Jesus Christ may have the road map to salvation, that doesn’t keep some members and aspects of Mormon culture from being rather strange. A nice read for both Mormon and non-Mormon alike, proving very informative for anyone looking to learn about the Church of Jesus Christ more closely.

12069041.jpg3) I Was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality by Arthur Sutherland. This was my favorite of the three – probably because it addresses an important aspect of Christianity that might not be getting the stage time it deserves. Hospitality is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be Christian and so essential that Sutherland goes so far as to say that it determines whether the church (any Christian church, I’d say) stands or falls. This is a short read, but leaves us with a fresh perspective on our relationship to strangers and how to more properly view and care for those around us. You don’t have to be religious for the principle of hospitality to have relevance; it is a principle that goes beyond religious circles and is just plain decent living.

Values.

I’m not titling this post “family values” because that term has been misused by many to further political aspirations which have masked the true aspiration — power. E.J. Dionne writes an op-ed in Oct. 7 Washington Post talking specifically about not only the misuse of the phrase by so-called conservatives but also the avoidance of the phrase by liberals even though, as he says, “In my experience, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between my morally conservative friends and neighbors and me [a liberal] in our attitudes toward the obligations of parenthood.”

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to me all values are family values. My religious beliefs center around the family. Our faith teaches that families can be eternal in nature and that what we do here prepares us for an eternal life after this mortality. We also believe that the eternal family extends to all people, that we are all brothers and sisters in God’s eternal family. Therefore, all values are “family” values.

I cannot support the Republican Party’s adoption of the term as their own when I see the Democrat’s espousement of values just as strongly in the policies they propose and support. The Republican claim to ownership of the term is especially abhorrent to me when I see the recent hypocrisy of House leadership (Hastert) handling of the Foley-page episode.

How will voters react when they realize the truth of this whole sordid mess? Will they continue to blindly support the party who touts themselves as the “family values” party, albeit in word only? Or, hopefully, voters, the citizens of this nation, will return to the values themselves, not simply the words, and vote for people, for individuals who should be able to articulate how they will put real values into policy. We have a host of incumbents up for reelection who have a voting history to examine. How have they voted in the past? Does that vote reflect what the citizens truly desire? If not, why vote for them again? Incumbents are the easiest of all to study. Their voting record and their supporting connections, either verbal or financial, are there showing us how they really feel and what their true concerns are tied to.

My plea to the voters is to PLEASE study this out in your own minds. Do not follow or be led blindly. Act for yourself and for what you believe.

Being a Christian Perfectly

Most Christians at some point during their lives hear the familiar verse in Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount which goes: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” There has been and continues to be much discussion and debate in the Christian world about what this verse and others like it mean.

I do not intend to jump in on that discussion, but simply wanted to pass on some good input on the subject. What I’m posting here is simply a link to a Brigham Young University Devotional Speech by Dr. Joseph D. Parry entitled, ‘On Being a Christian Perfectly‘, which can be downloaded in text form or as an mp3. This is a wonderful talk on the subject and gives us some points to think about when it comes to how Christians can apply the teachings of Christ to their daily lives. Whether you’re religious or not, one can hardly say that the ideals and principles addressed in this talk are bad things. Check it out; you’ll like it.

Agency: A Gift for Doing Good

A famous chapter in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ helps to explain the importance of the gift of agency, which has been given to all people. We read in the book of 2 Nephi, chapter 2 of man becoming free to act for himself, also meant as being able to choose between good and evil. An often quoted phrase in the 26th verse is of mankind having the ability ‘to act for themselves and not be acted upon’. I have often heard people say how they ‘are free’, that they ‘have their free agency’ and ‘can do what they want’. All true statements, but when we pause and consider the words of the prophet Lehi in this chapter, we come to realize the immense responsibility that comes along with being a ‘free agent’.

Most people – religious and non-religious alike – I believe, are working to be good people and make good choices. From a religious – or more accurately, an LDS – standpoint, choice is seen as the governing factor in our personal growth and development as human beings, as well as spirit children of God.  Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in a General Conference address in April 2006 said, “How we choose to feel and think and act every day is the way we get on the [strait and narrow] path, and stay on it, until we reach our eternal destination.” Choice becomes then the defining factor of our character. We become who we are as a result of our daily decisions, be those great or small decisions. Those same choices which shape us potentially influence and shape those around us.

Seeing as our goal is to become better individuals through each days experiences, one can see how important it is to be moving in a constant forward or upward direction. The rate of forward/upward progress isn’t so much the issue as is simply making progress. This appears to be a daunting task, given the state of the world, but we cannot expect such excuses to hold up, when our goal is constant progression and the correct use of agency. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made the statement in a General Conference address in April 2003 that “Though ours is a time of conflict, quiet caring for ‘the life of the soul’ is still what matters most. Though events set up the defining moments which can evoke profiles in righteousness, outward commotions cannot excuse any failure of inward resolve, even if some seem to unravel so easily.” Our purpose must remain firm and true. To compromise our standards in times of trial and difficulty is said to be human, but are we here to settle for something less than the best we can do or be? Is our standard of excellence to be average or perhaps mediocre, or are we striving to become the very best that we can be and thus become masters of ourselves and a strength to those around us?

Now when I say ‘better’, I don’t mean that we are in competition with those around us.  We aren’t looking to be better than our neighbors.  It’s a quest for self improvement, where you have only yourself to compete with.  We all have a personal average within us and the object is to go beyond that to develop ourselves, not out do the people around us.

An examination of holy scripture shows the desired approach to life and choice to be one of action. We are to be pro-active in our daily doings and through that act rather than be acted upon. In the Holy Bible James speaks of us being ‘doers of the word, and not just hearers only’ (The General Epistle of James 1:22). He speaks further saying that a hearer of the word ‘forgetteth what manner of man he was’ (James 1:24). In the Book of Mormon we have the prophet Jacob say that the seeking of riches should be with ‘the intent to do good’ (Jacob 2:19). The prophet Nephi also explains that the words of Christ ‘teach all men that they should do good’ (2 Nephi 33:10). In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith we are told, ‘seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). It does appear that God expects us to be using our agency, this gift from Him, for the betterment of ourselves and others. Within each person lies the desire to do good – for that you don’t need a belief or faith in God. Yet we do see the message of holy scripture as one of reaching for something higher and grander than we now have.

Our choice to ‘seek’ to do good and make correct decisions can only build us up and be a means of bringing peace to an often troubled and tired world. Proper use of our agency has the power to mend and heal, in essence, create. With such possibilities, is it no wonder that this is such a precious gift.

For the complete address given by Elder Robert D. Hales, click here.

For the complete address given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, click here.