I am the Bread

This past Sunday, our stake high council speaker said something that struck me as interesting. I should be clear that I am not a high council speaker basher and therefore I will not point out that this is a rare enough occurance to warrant its own post.

Instead, I will focus on what he said, sort of. In the course of his sermon, he brought up the miracle of feeding the multitude. Generally, when people talk about this miracle, they talk about how many people were fed. This speaker chose to emphasize the small amount of food.

Consider at how little food there was. A few loaves of bread and a couple fish. The implication of the miracle is that the people ate their fill and, explicitly, that there was plenty leftover. In the Gospel of John, this incident precedes Christ’s declaration that He is the bread, that we must eat his flesh and blood.

Going Synoptic, we are the leaven. We spread through the dough, raising it (or filling it with hot air). The scriptures consistently teach that the church in the last days will be small, but widespread. The truth we bear (or that we embody) will be spread to the ends of the earth. Like bread in a crowd.

Some people have argued that the threefold mission of the church is impossible. We are too few to spread the gospel to all the world or to teach it to every creature. We are too few to even get everyone baptized who needs it. They are probably right. But we have a precedent. Few, in the hands of Christ, become more powerful than many.

Welcome to the crowd.

Historical Mormon Smackdown! [edited]

Inspired mostly by your comments on my Emma post, but also because I am curious to see if this will be the runaway win that I think it will be I offer you:

HISTORICAL MORMON SMACKDOWN!

This week’s contestants: Emma Hale Smith and Eliza Snow Smith. Which of Joseph’s two most prominent wives do you think is the most important historical figure in Mormonism?

Emma, first wife of Joseph, subject of D&C 25, mentioned a few other times in the D&C, struggled with and eventually denied the revelation on plural marriage, first president of Relief Society, stayed in Nauvoo and eventually encouraged Joseph Smith III to participate in the founding of the RLDS (Community of Christ).

Eliza, a plural-wife of Joseph (I don’t know the order), wrote poetry and hymns, sister of a prophet, eventually a (sorta) general Relief Society president (first Relief Society secretary), apparently was cool with plural marriage and Brigham, gave blessings and generally acted in a manner that would not be smiled upon today.

Please vote and help us decide this most important question.

Is there anything wrong with cheap sentiment?

In the past I have heard people complaining about “Theological Twinkies,” several of which I am sure you are familiar with. The idea being that these stories are beneath us in some way because they don’t come directly from the scriptures or because they are overused. For some reason, people who use these things to help themselves feel the spirit or understand the gospel are to be condescended to because they don’t understand just how useless these stories are.

While I appreciate the concern, especially when the twinkies are teaching something that ain’t doctrinal, I am somewhat disturbed about the dismissal with which we treat people who like these stories. There is an us and them tendancy here that I don’t like. Sure, we may be able to see the holes in whatever version of the “Bridge” story we are hearing for the twelth time, But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t spiritually moving for the person who is sharing the story. Sure, Pres. Monson might tell the same stories over and over again. But that doesn’t mean that “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” can’t inspire someone lost in sin to repent.

I suppose what most people find offensive about twinkies is that they seem to dismiss the complexity of the gospel. God had no choice because the train was headed for the broken bridge. If it seems tough, don’t worry it will be worth it. These answers have some explanatory power, but they can also some across as cheap sentiment; a way to convey an emotion without actually experiencing it. I am sure that when undergoing some trial, the last thing I would like to be told is that it will be worth it.

I am a big believer in 2 Nephi 31:3:

For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.

As I see it, God recognizes that there are many different people and many different understandings of spirituality. What works for me, wouldn’t work for someone else and vice versa. Therefore, God can and will use twinkies to help those it whom it will help. I don’t think anyone argues with that.

Instead, my question is: does the identification and categorization of twinkies do anything but fan the flames of our own pride? While writing this I caught myself falling into the same “twinkie” them vs. “real-gospel” us idea that I have been complaining about. How do we account for people who approach God and the Spirit in ways that are foreign to us, in ways that we may consider beneath us? If nothing else, it certainly indicates that I (who cop to having this attitude occasionally) have got a lot to learn.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I do like the occasional Michael McClean song (just to further establish my own hypocrisy in all this(and occasional poor taste)).

So, according to Ezra Taft Benson…

I don’t have a Benson quote for this post (although I did read Beware of Pride this morning and felt a bit like I do when I read Alma 5 (chastened)). Instead I have a concern regarding the usefulness of past prophets?

Why do we feel like we can set aside the counsel of past prophets? Admittedly, we don’t ususally look at things this way, but we tend to get so caught up in the interests/inspired counsel of the current prophet that we just don’t seem to ponder the former prophets like we used to.

Does continuing revelation make us a denomination that will forever be living in the now? Possibly.

And please, don’t talk to me about the “Presidents of the Church” manuals. I appreciate them (heck, I may actually love the things)). But the powers that be have sifted through all the prophetic material in order to find the stuff that the current president (and the guy in charge) think is important. I don’t think that we are always getting a representative sample of the actual concerns of the past president (which is fine, we shouldn’t necessarily expect the beliefs and problems of 40 to 150 years ago to match ours).

So, we get the following: President Benson’s concerns were (perhaps) inspired by a much more literal reading of the Bible than President Hinckley’s. President Benson’s rhetoric is therefore much more millenarian thatn President Hinckley’s. President Hinckley never explicitly says (nor implicitely implies) that President Benson was a wacko John Bircher (at least on the millenarian front). Yet, because President Hinckley’s emphases are elsewhere, we feel like we can safely ignore what President Benson had to say (or, at least, set it aside). So, we’re no longer millenarian (also, there’s the cold war thing).

Is this a fair description of the process? Is this appropriate? If not, what can we do about it?

The philosophies of men…

Is there anything we do in an average Block meeting that isn’t to some degree the spreading of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture? (Certainly that is what we are engaged in here on the ‘nacle).

I think that the sacrament doesn’t fit this category and in many cases prayer doesn’t either. Is there anything else?

Should something be done about this? If so, what could be done about this? Also, is this why people say that the sacrament is the real reason why me meet on Sunday?

The slow, lingering death of modern millenarianism [edited]

Is millenarianism dying the slow death in LDS culture? Jeff’s comment here stung me a bit, because I thought that I was just as millenarian as the next end-of-time freak. I admit to taking both a literal and an abstract approach to the Second Coming in part because, rhetoric aside, I am not terribly convinced that the end is all that near. But then, I read quotes like the following (from Pres. Benson, natch):

I testify that as the forces of evil increase under Lucifer’s leadership and as the forces of good increase under the leadership of Jesus Christ, there will be growing battles between the two until the final confrontation. As the issues become clearer and more obvious, all mankind will eventually be required to align themselves either for the kingdom of God or for the kingdom of the devil. As these conflicts rage, either secretly or openly, the righteous will be tested. God’s wrath will soon shake the nations of the earth and will be poured out on the wicked without measure. But God will provide strength for the righteous and the means of escape; and eventually and finally truth will triumph. (“I Testify“, October Conf, 1988)

Am I just clueless? Am I marrying and giving away in marriage? Is my lamp low on oil? Am I procrastinating the day of my (food storing/72-hour kit preparing/gold hoarding) until it is everlastingly too late?

Does it seem like the the Brethren have given up on this front? Sure there are usually one or two talks in conference that reference the Second Coming, but it sure seems like there was more emphasis back in the 70’s and 80’s.

Which brings me to my point: was modern millenarianism an LDS (or generally Christian) way of dealing with the Cold War? I am not saying that the Second Coming ain’t coming, but rather did the ratcheting up of political tension during the Cold War lead us to believe it was coming sooner rather than later. Hence the urgency that we had then, as opposed to the lack thereof today.

Would this explain why it doesn’t seem so important today, in spite of the popularity of Left Behind and such?

Or is this merely a matter of us having been duped into complacency by the International Jewish Conspiracy?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an American Religion

There has been some discussion of late, prompted by Douglas Davies’s paper at the Joseph Smith Conference, regarding the status of the church as a world religion. On my mission, one of the common detractions potential investigators would make was that revolved around the idea that Mormonism is an “American” religion. In other words, Russians ought to believe in Russian religion and Americans ought to believe in American religions, so why proselyte in foreign countries?

While I don’t agree with the conclusion that these particular investigators drew, I think that their jumping off point may have some merit. The LDS faith is and will likely always be an American religion.

Let’s start with (what else) a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:

I testify that America is a choice land. God raised up the founding fathers of the United States of America and established the inspired Constitution. This was the required prologue for the restoration of the gospel. America will be a blessed land unto the righteous forever and is the base from which God will continue to direct the worldwide latter-day operations of His kingdom. (“I Testify“, October Conference, 1988)

We seem to believe that God has taken a direct interest in the formation of the US (Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America seem to be on their own). Additionally, He seems to have a keen interest in maintaining a hand in American politics. There is the “hanging by a thread” prophecy. There is the 10th Article of Faith (which seems at least willing to acknowledge the rest of the continent). There is the current church leadership, driving innocent German Families apart (see the first paragraph).

I know there have been recent efforts for more representation of the newer areas of the church in general leadership. I know that the move to send Elders Oaks and Holland into the mission field were possibly inspired by similar concerns. We do not appear to be a church that is much interested in spreading Americanism throughout the globe per se. Monolithic church culture may be a different issue (if such a thing can survive internationalism).

But America is always going to be central to our ideas. After all, the New Zion is in Missouri, not Brazil, Congo, or Uzbekistan. And, I would assume, that the next two or three generations of leaders will also be primarily American, due to language issues and due to training issues. Correct me if I am wrong but hasn’t the boom in South America taken place primarily in the latter half of the 20th century? This would seem to indicate that the Third World representation we would all like to see probably won’t happen for a while, since we are waiting for people to grow up in a church culture in a foreign land (just think how long it is taking the Catholics).

So, for the time being, we are an American church. But since we are all fellow citizens in Christ, perhaps we make too much of this.