Saturday, 30 April 2016

Zion



This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


Zion can mean a lot of things:

- a place in Jerusalem
- heaven
- a city of God to be built
- the church
- the pure in heart

Zion is referred to in the scriptures and hymns as the ideal of beauty and perfection. It is both a place, an organisation, and an attitude. To me it seems that it's an ideal way of living that will prepare us to live in the presence of Deity in a future existence.

But can my family build Zion in the wilderness of Kuantan?

I believe we can.

As with all worthwhile spiritual endeavours, it is developed slowly, step by step, through consistent little efforts. It starts with the home. We build, establish and beautify our home. We build it by reverencing God; we establish it by avoiding anything that would tarnish it; and we beautify it by learning and living the gospel of Jesus Christ and searching out truth.

These things produce a Zion-like place of refuge and state of mind.

While we don't regularly gather with other church members, we gather as a family in our home in the wilderness, and for us, this is our little piece of Zion.


Where is your Zion? How do you create a Zion-like existence? What is your understanding of the concept of Zion?

Friday, 29 April 2016

Youth Program



This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


The Mormon Church runs two tremendous youth programs for 12-18 year olds, known as Young Mens and Young Womens. I now look back on my time spent in this program with great fondness.

In addition to having classes together at church, we also enjoyed activities on Wednesday nights which were mostly sport-related. On occasion, the young men would join with the young women for activities supervised by youth leaders.

I guess I was fortunate to have a lot of great friends at church and we developed extremely close friendships. We all loved football and spent many happy hours and days doing exactly what we loved. It also kept us in church on a Sunday as we checked the fantasy football scores and tables to see how our teams were doing.

Those in the church youth program became my closest circle of friends, much more exciting, meaningful and deep than my school circle. We would hang out as often as possible, whatever the time, whatever the weather, and my teenage years are filled with hilarious memories of these times and other crazy adventures we embarked on together.

Some experiences include: long summer afternoons at the park playing football and tennis, hitting golf balls on the field, cycling together, walking into town to play pool and buy 50p football socks, hanging around at someone's home (usually the Bayliss'), sleepovers, blowing up aerosol cans, throwing berries at house windows, and the list goes on.

We now have a (slightly) more mature relationship and it was awesome to see my best mates last year on my trip back to England where we reminisced about all of these memories!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

eX-Mormons



This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


Ex-Mormons can be generous, kind, loving, family-oriented, opinionated, idiotic, stubborn, vengeful.

Mormons can be generous, kind, loving, family-oriented, opinionated, idiotic, stubborn, vengeful.

Hope that clears it up.


This is a post stemming from my very first posting here on open-minded-mormon titled Building bridges in interesting times. It's worth reading that post as a little background to this one.

Ex-Mormons, if treated in the right way, can open some valid and insightful discussions and questions regarding the church, its history, and policies. And it's not even left to ex-Mormons to do deep digging. Church members, most notably Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, was excommunicated from the church for preaching her viewpoints which the church perceived to be in opposition to its own stances. Sometimes it takes people like Kate Kelly to cause us to think deeper, to cause changes for the better in the church. Ex-Mormons have quite different perspectives on the church from the typical comfortable member.

While it may be impossible to agree with each other's opinions, we can at least be agreeable in our understanding of and empathy for one another.

Ex-Mormons usually make a firm point of how happy they are after leaving the church, which is probably correct. But it doesn't mean that the happiness I feel in the church is in any way less than theirs.


I don't have to renounce my faith to be happy.

I don't have to leave the church in order to see other perspectives.

I don't have to forfeit my spiritual convictions in order to be open-minded.

I don't have to abandon my beliefs in order to acknowledge and consider mistakes of past or current church leaders.

I don't have to fight against the church collectively just because one person offended me.


From my observation, a lot of ex-Mormons are not necessarily bad people, they have just been perhaps treated harshly or unfairly by certain people in the church; they have been offended by one person's lack of empathy or unkind words or bad example; they have been overburdened with callings and responsibilities; they feel cheated by the church when they learn of proposed mistakes or contradictions in early church leaders or on points of doctrine or practise; they have differing personal opinions to church policy which leaves them marginalized and criticized by the majority.

I think we can show empathy, defend the faith, and do so with increased kindness so that we can build bridges instead of erect walls.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Women and the priesthood



This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


We need to get away from the thinking that holding the priesthood is the be-all and end-all of membership in the Mormon church. That somehow it is advantageous now and in the hereafter to be a priesthood holder.

It is not.

While the priesthood is important in administering the ordinances of the gospel, it cannot serve itself. It can only benefit and bless the recipients of the ordinances it authorises. It has no bearing on ability to receive spiritual convictions concerning the doctrine of Christ. Every man, woman or child in the church may receive personal revelation for themselves or their families. Such spiritual messages are not dependent on bearing the priesthood.

As a man, it is a duty that I didn't choose, but one that was willingly thrust upon me. I honour the priesthood I hold as it enables me to serve the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to my family each Sunday in the wilderness of Kuantan. It blesses me and my three girls in equal measure. We are all able to partake of the same emblems and associated covenants because of it.

The priesthood also serves a man and a woman in a temple by pronouncing the exact same covenants and eternal blessings on both of them at the marriage altar, representing the highest gospel ordinance available to Mormons, received equally by both sexes.

The woman is in no way disadvantaged by the use of the priesthood or the blessings it prescribes.

The "Ordain Women" movement could be looked upon as a landmark turning point in gender equality, or an ill-advised and misunderstood concept of church organisation. The day came when black males were informed they too could receive the priesthood. We may live to see the day where females are informed they can receive the priesthood. As with most policy changes in the church, it has to be at the right time and according to shifting circumstances, which we are certainly seeing now with the Ordain Women movement.

However, there is an order to how the church is arranged as it currently stands, and that order is connected to the allocation of priesthood responsibility to the males, and predominantly family responsibility to the females. The church has been taking steps to involve women more in previously all-male general church councils, which is definitely an exploratory step in the direction of ordination for women.

It's hard to imagine what would happen should these gender-defined responsibilities suddenly cease to be segregated by sex. Perhaps the order in the church would turn to chaos. Women would be seeking men's roles and vice versa. Roles which each may not be best-suited to as compared to the opposite gender. For example, a man may receive a calling in primary being alone in a room full of small children. A woman may not enjoy leading a sometimes rowdy bunch of teenage boys, neither might it be appropriate for a man to take charge of a group of adolescent young women. Suddenly, a baptism in the family would turn into an agonising decision as to whether the husband or the wife performs the baptism. Would revelation for the entire church flow as smoothly and reach unanimous decisions if the general leadership was a mixed bag of both women and men? 

I asked my wife about these issues to get a female perspective on women and the priesthood. And believe me, I pressed her on it! Among other things, I asked her if she felt marginalised in the church as every major decision is made by men. Was she satisfied with the perceived lack of equality between the genders? I was a little surprised to hear her rebuke me and inform me that she has so many other things going on in her life with family duties that she would have no time or effort left to hold the priesthood, attend meetings, fulfill callings that would then become possible as a priesthood holder. She left me in no uncertain terms that she is perfectly happy with how the church is ordered now, that she feels fine with letting the men get on with the church business. She ended by saying she wouldn't even want to receive the priesthood!

Time will tell what direction the church takes, how it responds to the changing circumstances, and whether by divine decree, women are instated to the priesthood here on earth.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Vicissitudes of life

This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


The vicissitudes of life describes the constant state of change we encounter. Changes in age, health and career happen to all of us. The vicissitudes I will talk of here are church-related.

The Mormon church has changed a lot since its beginnings in 1830. These vicissitudes are worthy of analysis, sincere questioning and an effort to understand.

Some of the vicissitudes of Mormon history include the implementation of polygamy and its later cessation, the priesthood being extended to men of all races and colours, the method of succession to the Presidency, as mentioned in "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles", age for full-time missionaries, and the essays released on the church website, www.lds.org, albeit hidden away, representing the church's publicizing of previously 'dark' information.

On lds.org, you have to click "Scriptures and Study" ---> "Gospel Topics" ---> "Explore the essays" to locate the newly released essays providing detailed information on issues such as Book of Mormon translation, polygamy and Race & the Priesthood
While such changes may well have received some sort of divine command, it is apparent that they were not wholly decided upon by revelation. Many of these vicissitudes came as a result of fierce opposition by non-Mormons, fellow members and governments, with revelation merely confirming the need to change according to different circumstances.

The fact that the Mormon church is a changing church may demonstrate two opposing sides of a pendulum - to some it shows deceit, bending to the will of the world and its increasing worldliness, and a string of losses to outside influences suggesting a church that is not being led by God, but by imperfect men - on the other side, and to the more rational thinkers, we may note the church's adaptability to changing times and different circumstances, awareness of outside concerns, and willingness to change for the better.

To be honest, an organisation like the 15 million-strong Mormon church would find it nigh impossible to remain stagnant in policy and organisation from the 19th through 21st centuries. Any company would crash if it didn't change and adapt.

As an example, my English company has already adjusted policy a few times in just four years, in response to suit our clients' needs and adapt to our growing size. Without such changes, it would be easy to rapidly become irrelevant and inconvenient.

The Mormon church runs on principles of continuing revelation and inspiration making it reasonable and frankly necessary for changes in policy or stances to occur. Obviously, 19th century stances on race, slavery and equality are entirely different from those of the 21st century, for example.

These church-related vicissitudes often facilitate the increase of light and knowledge on certain issues and provide great learning opportunities.

Sometimes, the changes might be that specific issues are spoken of with more frequency, for example the recent increase in discussions on homosexuality and gay marriage and the church's definition of marriage. The church has a tricky balancing act as it can only change on policy within the parameters of God's standards of living which it declares. For example, the church can acknowledge that people have homosexual tendencies, but it cannot allow such people to be married in its churches or temples as the doctrine of the organisation states that marriage is between a man and a woman. Such couples may freely find an organisation with standards that allow such marriages.

Living in the wilderness, we are away from the hubbub that sensitive topics which have become embraced by the world, generate. Granted, social media brings some of that commotion to us, but it's certainly nice to be away from the crowds of church members where I can formulate more easily my own thoughts and opinions on these important vicissitudes without them being concentrated by popular Mormon cliche.


Monday, 25 April 2016

Underperforming?

This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


Am I underperforming spiritually?

This is a question which regularly crops up in my mind and one I asked myself after listening to some Christian friends in the back of my car discuss their study of the Old Testament. They talked about 1Kings and I probably couldn't have joined the conversation right there.

Am I underperforming spiritually?

It's a question you may have asked yourself before.



Sometimes when we hear others speak of the scriptures with an obvious certain level of knowledge, we begin to question ourselves.

Am I underperforming spiritually?

We often tie this question and the accompanying feelings to comparisons with others. But is the acquiring of spiritual knowledge really a competition between people? Do we compete with others to see who has the highest level of scripture mastery?

The answer should always be 'No.' Simply because we cannot force spiritual things the same way we can force children to memorise academic information. Regurgitating scriptures is one thing, but real spiritual wisdom comes from application of spiritual principles outlined therein. It also comes from careful slow study, meaningful lengthy consideration, and diligent speedy recording of thoughts, feelings and impressions garnered from a study of the Word.

There are people of faith everywhere who are at different levels of spiritual knowledge. We are all progressing at our own pace. Our common Father in heaven has no regard for how intelligent I am compared to you. We were never placed here to learn of God as some sort of contest to prove ourselves against others.

What matters is that we are proving ourselves to God. What matters is that we are a little better today than we were yesterday. What matters is that today we bite our tongue and hold our peace when yesterday we emitted a vocal act of impatience. What matters is that we are humble enough to listen and learn from the Spirit when it acts upon us through our study, prayer, pondering or listening to others.


Our relationship with God is intensely personal. Nobody else's spirituality, knowledge or intelligence, however great and mighty, can actually save us. We are all working for our own salvation. Only our very own prayer, study, meditation, faith, knowledge and works can ultimately prepare us for spiritual safety here and in the life to come.

So, am I underperforming spiritually?

When we view this question as a personal, relationship-with-God goal, and not a competitive fear, we will be able to set aside inadequate worries, learn freely at our own pace, and make plans for healthy self-improvement.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

Testimony

This is one post in an A-Z series of 26 where I am writing about living as a Mormon in the wilderness of Kuantan


In many a discussion with non-member friends, we have come to a crossroads over "testimony" and Mormons' oft-repeated declaration of "I know" when sharing about spiritual feelings. How can one bear testimony of Joseph Smith and his role as an authorised prophet when we haven't even physically seen him, nor possess any sort of personal physical evidence that such a person actually existed? How can we say "I know God lives" when it's near enough physically impossible to see God? And they are fair points which I took on board and pondered. I came to wonder what exactly is my testimony.

A testimony is described using words such as 'witness', 'evidence' and 'proof', which physically speaking makes our familiar declarations of God, Jesus and Joseph Smith somewhat inaccurate.



What I think we really mean by sharing our testimony is 1. making a statement of what we believe to be true, and 2. declaring what we know to be true after obtaining such information by personal spiritual means, for example through the gift of the Holy Ghost or by the spirit of Christ, and not necessarily by physical means.

And we are all able to receive that type of conviction according to our desires.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained it succinctly:

"When we know spiritual truths by spiritual means, we can be just as sure of that knowledge as scholars and scientists are of the different kinds of knowledge they have acquired by different methods." (General Conference, April 2008)

As Mormons, we term this set of beliefs as "testimony" - I prefer to label it as "spiritual convictions."

In the Book of Mormon, a man named Alma used a tree as an analogy in testing the word of God to gain spiritual convictions. At one point he said:

"And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand."
(Alma 32:34)

In bearing testimony, or sharing spiritual convictions, of the truths of the restoration, it's not that we saw Joseph Smith receive the visitation of God and Christ, not that we saw the golden plates upon which lay the ancient writings that he translated with a seer stone, nor that we saw the angel Moroni visit Joseph Smith on numerous occasions, delivering and later collecting those plates, but that through studying and considering these things in the scriptures and accounts provided, we have noticed the change for better in ourselves. We have become a better person and developed Christlike attributes. We know for certain that the word has swelled our souls. 

Therefore, a Mormon testimony, as it is called, becomes more of a witness of ourselves - of the positive change which has taken place in ourselves because of the words of God. It's like saying,

"Look what the restoration has done for me. Look what the doctrine delivered from Christ to Joseph Smith and Joseph Smith to me has done for me. It has made me better, enlightened my mind, expanded my thoughts and increased my spiritual convictions. Therefore 'I know' that the Book of Mormon, the source of this increased spirituality, is true and that Joseph Smith served as a prophet of God."


We bear testimony or share spiritual convictions of the truth of the restoration and the divinity and works of Jesus, and we do so because of the visible, tangible impact they have had on us.