Sunday, 15 January 2017

What is opinion but influenced thought?

In a recent facebook exchange of verbal jousting, opinions were shared without concentration about spiritual matters. These opinions were about as opposite as black and white. At the end of the day, we may agree to disagree, knowing that each of us are different characters with varying modes of thought and capacity for understanding.

Opinion can be a beautiful thing, but at the same time, highly dangerous.

I feel we sometimes get a little too deeply entrenched in the easy way out of saying: "well, that's just my opinion," or "we all have different opinions and they are all equally important." These little phrases sound pleasant and friendly, but what are they really saying?

They are saying that we can come to different conclusions based on the exact same body of evidence. 

In a sporting example, I'm a die-hard fan of Roger Federer. His statistics and body of work compared to other players leave me with no doubt that he is the greatest player of all time. Novak Djokovic supporters will ardently disagree with me, however, based on the exact same statistics.

It is a similar situation with the Mormon church. Faithful Mormons testify that the church is true while others, referring to the same facts and history, proclaim it a fraud.


What is opinion but influenced thought?


Does opinion matter? Is it even relevant? What is opinion but influenced thought?


While thinking deeply about these things, in the bathroom, as I often do, I began the usual method of talking to myself in my head. I find that the greatest discussions, the most analytical thoughts I have ever had have occurred in the chambers of my own mind. 

And so I began thinking. What is opinion but influenced thought?

But what do I really think about God? About life? About the prospect of eternity? 

I soon realised that all of my thoughts on these topics were highly, no, completely influenced by religion. Everything I think about these things come from what I have learned from religion.

What if I could make religion disappear? What if I could put it to one side and see what I thought, independent of all other influencing factors. If I could just float in empty thoughts in a kind of meditative state where there was nothing but me. 

What would I believe? What would I think?

It is a potentially powerful, empowering, or yet destructive scenario to imagine. It deals with who we are. Where did we come from? What is the origin of the human soul?

It revolves around the idea of an absolute truth. One source of truth that is consistent through all space and time. Whether it is the natural order of the universe, an unimaginable intelligence, or a god-like figure of supreme knowledge, we are continually looking upwards for something. We are truth-seekers. Telling the truth is prized higher than gold. Some of us seek to hide and obscure truth; some seek to uncover and expose truth. We all have different opinions on what the truth entails.

The problem, I have come to consider, is when we forcefully wage our opinion as the ultimate truth, unwilling to examine an alternative trail of thought. I have unfortunately been guilty of this at times and I am straining with great effort to open up my own horizons to new perspectives. 

I am trying to figure out what I actually believe independent of all other influences, including the religious influence that has so strongly permeated my life.

It seems to be the quest of a lifetime.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Why I'm proud of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and President Donald Trump

It has been a fascinating and turbulent American election season featuring two candidates with larger-than-desired low approval ratings but with huge support from their own followers. 

Donald Trump's win was unexpected and played down by the mainstream media despite its historic proportions. Fault-finding of the businessman has been incessant but he has turned the tables on his critics in every instance. His past has been dug up, false allegations have been spread like wildfire, and he has issued an apology for previous conduct while calling out and exposing the corruption which has cankered American government for years.

And now the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (MOTAB) has agreed to perform at President Trump's inauguration at the swearing-in ceremony.

A lot of Mormons have expressed outrage, disappointment, shock, concern and disapproval of both the MOTAB and the Church itself. Facebook posts have been littered with comments with both positive slants and negative rants.

My message to my fellow-LDS is this: Get over yourselves! 

This is what I posted on the LDS Living facebook post concerning the MOTAB's agreement to perform at the inauguration:


The MOTAB have performed at several past presidential inaugurals and are continuing this trend. As a Church, we support and respect the high position of authority of the President of the United States of America. We sustain and pray for our world leaders, instead of voice disregard for the person occupying the role. (Imagine if a church member we weren't too keen on received abuse and disdain simply because they held a certain responsibility/calling in the church!)

Another reason I support the MOTAB is because they are FANTASTIC! Their music and vocals are second to none and they always invite strong spiritual and positive feelings, good vibes that I hope will unite America behind its democratically-elected leader. I hope that the MOTAB brings a lasting element of peace to the inauguration which can reflect Mr. Trump's position of having constructive and healing dialogue with leaders of the world instead of stubborn standoffs as politicians of the past have done.

What many people look over is the fact that Donald Trump is a good man who prefers staying in with his family and who is a generous giver of charity and jobs. A lot of people base their judgements of Mr. Trump solely on the last 18 months since he announced his intention to run for President. The truth is, that time frame produces extremely poor and clouded views of who exactly he is. Do a bit of reasearch. Learn about him. See the good in him. He is going to be an excellent President.

We all say and do things behind closed doors and out in the open, that we regret and are not proud of. God, in His infinite mercy and love, grants us endless second chances.

It's time President Trump was extended the same prayers, support and hope. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

"What, if anything, could the Mormon Church do right now to make it more favourable in your sight, or in the sight of others who view it unfavourably?" - A Survey

*The 'Mormon Church', 'the church' and 'organisation' are used in this article in reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


With a lot of issues that have sprung up in recent times regarding the Church's policy or stance on topics such as the church essays, seer stones, sexual orientation, females and the priesthood etc. I have compiled a set of responses to the question outlined in the title of this post.

The question was open to interpretation regarding whether one thinks the church has a necessary obligation to make certain changes to accommodate others, whether it would even be possible for the church to do just that, or whether it is people who need to change and align themselves with the church. As such, the question was answered in a number of different ways.

We cannot simply ignore the way this organisation has made people linked to it, feel. It is my urge that we have to seek for every opportunity to build bridges between active, less-active and ex-members. That the qualities of compassion, empathy and love manifested by Jesus Christ be the standard on both sides.

Building bridges may include listening to others instead of responding with a retort, demonstrating sincere empathy. Showing the Saviour's love for each and every soul may take precedence over attempting to prove that you are right in a doctrinal/historical/policy back and forth.

And now to the survey itself.

I do not personally agree with every comment made in this report. The comments of other individuals do not necessarily reflect my position on issues. However, I feel it absolutely necessary to publish everyone's comments exactly as they were given, with zero alterations. The comments contained herein were given from real people whom I contacted privately and separately through facebook messenger.

This survey is neither an attempt to slander the church or renounce my faith in it, nor an effort to narcissistically extol myself or the church. I am merely genuinely interested and intrigued by the people who have contributed their opinions, their method of thinking, and their vivid ideas and feelings.

The following messages contain candid and honest opinions both in favour of, and in opposition to the church. Please decide for yourself whether you wish to proceed in reading this survey after this point.



"WHAT, IF ANYTHING, COULD THE MORMON CHURCH DO RIGHT NOW TO MAKE IT MORE FAVOURABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, OR IN THE SIGHT OF OTHERS WHO VIEW IT UNFAVOURABLY?"

(This question was originally worded as "What, if anything, could the Mormon church do right now to appease you and make it more favourable in your sight?")



I will kick things off with Greg Rattey, who I became acquainted with in a conversation on facebook:




I met Henry Lions in the same facebook thread, and these are his comments:





Next up are some comments from a Graham:





Jolyon Folkett shared his views as such:



Gareth Horne offered up his response to the question as follows:




Sarah Fuller indulged me with her comments:




Hilary Presbury shared her comments here:



These are Eric Spaans' comments:



Next are Mitch Hilburn's comments:


Joanna Horne shared her thoughts about this question:



Finally, we turn to the remarks of Nephi Hatcher:




While the entries here in this survey are raw and candid, I have found that we don't have to share the same opinions in order to be agreeable. We don't have to agree on common beliefs to be respectful. And we don't have to see eye-to-eye regarding our concept of truth in order to attempt an empathetic response. It is these such traits or qualities - agreeable, respectful, empathetic - which provide a foundation to build bridges. Their exact opposites create chasms.

We cannot attempt to demonstrate these attributes without first listening to and understanding the different viewpoints and feelings of both members and ex-members. Whichever side we are on, we have all been affected by the church in one way or another.

Of course, I always welcome sincere comments but I really hope that such comments don't isolate individuals who contributed, castigate them, ridicule their opinions, or cast them in a negative light. We are all humans and we all have strong feelings. Let us treat each other with kindness as we all try to be civil and respect each other's right to worship how we may and our right to an opinion and a voice.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The dreaded DISCOURAGE word and what it means

Ah, the word 'discourage' when spoken by general authorities of the church. I hate it when I hear them utter this word. I find myself exhaling in a 'here we go again' fashion.

Quite obviously, if a warning, directive or piece of advice is coming straight from the Lord through the revelation of the Spirit, there is no room for 'discourage.'

However, when a person has a personal opinion on something which they feel others should comply with, they will 'discouarge' the object.

The following link provides the latest apostolic discouragement:


Now, I sustain the apostolic leadership of the church, which means I know of no indiscretion that would prevent them from serving in their callings. What it doesn't mean is that I agree with every word they speak in various settings and to differing audiences.

This very issue draws into focus the question of when an apostle is speaking on behalf of the Lord Himself, and when he is merely offering an opinion. It has become challenging for some to differentiate between the two scenarios.

Is the general church membership deemed so spiritually immature as to be unable to decide what is too much? When to start and when to stop something? To be so dull to personal spirituality as to allow Pokemon Go to destroy their lives? 

Elder Ballard self-admittedly doesn't understand Pokemon Go but has discouraged us from playing it. Why would he do that? Perhaps he has our best interests at heart? He wants us to focus on more spiritual things? 

John Taylor, the third President of the Church, reported:“Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’”3

Quite obviously, Pokemon Go has nothing to do with the principles of Christianity as contained in the Mormon Church. Extreme at worst, unwise at best, I think all that Elder Ballard was trying to say was that we need to exercise moderation while playing this game, just as we do in all other things. We don't want to get so consumed in video games, the internet, TV, unhealthy eating habits, that we stop finding time for family, the scriptures and other spiritual  matters.

The delivery of this discouragement has raised a few eyebrows as not everything he described as effects of the game, are true. People do go outdoors playing this game and do see more of the world, sights and nature. It has actually brought some families together and been very educational.


Instead of discouraging members from things, I wonder if it would be more effective to encourage members to do good?

Monday, 5 September 2016

I thought of Enos

Looking for role models from the Book of Mormon who are applicable and relevant today can be very hard. Most of the characters have either waged war on their enemies or killed someone, neither of which is an advisable way to live.

Everyone has their favourite person in the Book of Mormon.

Mine is Enos.

Enos is the real man.

I think of Enos a lot.

Nephi beheaded another human. Ammon cut off other humans' arms. Captain Moroni executed the death penalty on otherwise innocent humans. Teancum murdered another human in act of revenge.

There were also many good points about these people, and their darkest moments I mentioned above may be rationalised away by many with decent arguments. Yet the point remains: how is beheading someone relevant to me? Chopping off limbs? Supporting the death penalty? Being filled with revenge and anger? 

And then there was Enos.

Here's a picture of Enos praying

What do we learn about Enos from the Book of Mormon?

We learn that he valued his parents' teachings so much that the memory of their words were able to suddenly and vividly come to his mind. We learn that he was an imperfect person who was magnified and emboldened by the power of prayer. He had gone off into the forest hunting beasts, which we may assume was a very normal activity in his life, and ended up having a profound spiritual experience. We learn that his energy and motivations in prayer was for people - for his own welfare and the welfare of ALL others. 

Enos also possessed a reverence and respect for the written record and requested for divine assurances that the record of his people might be preserved. The Book of Mormon on my dining table today is that very record that Enos was so concerned about around 2,500 years ago. 

We also learn that Enos understood that the Lamanites had something against the Nephites but that he lived amongst a people who tried to resolve conflicts and plead their innocence of false assumptions by peaceful means.

Enos is my role model. I too strive for peaceful resolutions to conflicts. I can relate to having spiritual experiences in the often normal and mundane tasks of the day. I am imperfect like him and stand in need of repentance like him. I understand the 'struggle' of prayer, of spending long minutes in quiet but pained thought and determined frustration to say what I want to say and not what I've been conditioned to say. To pray for people; myself, friends, enemies, local and world leaders, church leaders, all who have a need. That these are often the most fulfilling and meaningful prayers.

So when I was wondering where on earth to read in the Book of Mormon the other day, I thought of who I judged to be a good character and who I totally admired in the record. I thought of my role model. 

I thought of Enos. 

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!