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Years ago, I remember hearing about studies that sought to scientifically determine whether the “soul,” or what we Mormons more commonly refer to as “spirit,” actually exists.  I was intrigued by that idea, but it made sense to me in light of Joseph Smith’s statement in the Doctrine and Covenants:

There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes (D&C 131: 7)

This week, I’ve come across a couple of pieces that report findings/claims by researchers at pretty prestigious institutions–including Southampton University in England, SUNY, Cambridge, Princeton, and the Max Plank Institute in Germany–that seem to point towards empirical evidence of the soul/consciousness that exists independently of the body.


Image by geralt from Pixabay, public domain

It may seem odd to think that meta-analysis, technology, and quantum physics could constitute a kind of “purer eyes,” but the fact is that we can now measure, contemplate, and debate phenomena that could hardly be dreamed of or intuited in the 1800s and that actually constitutes a sharper/deeper form of vision.  My belief in the doctrine of the soul does not hinge on these studies/claims and I have not looked at the primary documents or at follow up studies that may confirm or contradict them…and frankly, I don’t have technical knowledge to really appraise them for myself.  I could probably muddle through the introduction, review of literature, and conclusions of the papers, but would likely be totally lost in the methods and discussions of the data.  Additionally, these studies would not serve as proof of religious concepts or doctrine.  Still, it does seem rather cool to think that such matters of faith can be looked at in a material sense.

The pieces I saw this week include the following:

Knapton, S.  (2014, Oct. 7).  First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study.  The Telegraph.  Retrieved from

Tracey, J.  (2014, June 17).   Physicists claim that consciousness lives in quantum state after death.  Retrieved from


Why Do I Stay?, part 1

Last week I had a very thought-provoking conversation with someone who left the LDS church within the last year.  This person was raised in the church, is a returned missionary, and was married in the temple.  By “external markers” (s)he should be “good Mormon.”  Yet things have happened in this person’s experience that have brought him/her to the conclusion that (s)he cannot stay with the church [yes, I’m taking great pains to protect this person’s identity] not because (s)he has committed great sin, but because things in the church have become so painful that staying is no longer tenable.  I will point out here, that November’s handbook policy change is what drove this person to resign from the church.  This person echoed a pervasive complaint: How can the church make a policy that will exclude a whole class of persons (children) when the scriptures clearly state that the saints are not supposed to prevent those who want to come to Christ from coming to Him?  There were other concerns, but this one was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back.

I expressed that the policy had bothered me deeply as well and that I had taken comfort in the fact that even members of bishoprics and stake presidencies had also expressed similar sentiments–I have a friend in a bishopric who told his wife that he really wondered whether he out to have his name removed from the records.

This person asked me how it is that I keep going to church.


Contemplation by Simon Powell from Flickr, CC BY

That is an excellent question!

This week I’ve taken some time to think about that.  As those who have paid attention to my blog can attest to, I am not a run-of-the-mill Mormon and yet from the outside, I think I look like one, to a great degree.  I have short hair, try to be tidy in my appearance, was married in the temple, have four children, am middle-class (for what that’s worth, nowadays), am a BYU graduate, hold a ward calling, etc.  But, in other ways, I am outside of expectations.  I do believe that same-sex marriage is a legal, civil right–it is, after all, a legal arrangement.  In the US, we are so used to the idea that marriage and sealing happen at the same time, but in many countries around the world the sealing is a religious ceremony that happens after the legal marriage.  I am against war and am not particularly patriotic…OK…I’m not really patriotic at all in the sense that patriotism is currently conceived of and marketed (yes, patriotism is big business)–one of my favorite bumper stickers reads God bless everywhere, no exceptions.  I don’t believe that “the market” is miraculous or even wise–and if people would bother to read Adam Smith, they would not that the “father” of capitalism was also not convinced that the market worked for the best of every one…but let’s stay on task.

I think over the next little while, I’ll explore this person’s excellent, and significant question in various ways.  Actually, now that I think about it, most of my posts really engage this very core question.  In this post let me address a couple of points that are important to generic American Mormon identity.  [Let me just point out here that Mormonism has variations.  There is the Wasatch Front version of Mormonism, but anyone who has been a Mormon outside of that strip if I-15 can tell you that ain’t the entire church.  Actually, I enjoy reading Gina Colvin’s blog, called KiwiMormon, a perspective of a part-Maori Mormon woman in Christchurch, New Zealand.]


I pay tithing because I agree with this reasoning given on the church’s website:

By paying tithing, Church members show their gratitude to God for their blessings and their resolve to trust in the Lord rather than in material things. They also help further the work of the Lord in the earth, blessing others of God’s children with the opportunity to learn of Him and grow in the gospel.

I have struggled with this principle, like many Mormons, but I find that when I think of it as a form of expressing gratitude, I find it easier to live with 90% and I think I have learned a bit more to trust in the Lord’s goodness and grace an not the material things of this world.  I am not perfect, but I feel I’m inching closer and closer to where I want to be.  There have been times where financial concerns were crushing, and there will be more in the future, but I trust that as I keep this principle I might find (bmp, bmp) I get what I need (to consciously and ironically paraphrase the Rolling Stones).

Word of Wisdom

I follow this because I do not believe in the Cartesian body/mind (soul) bifurcation of the self.  Through my body I experience God.  Through my mind I experience God.  Taking care of my body is one way I connect with God.  This is codified in Mormon theology and I find it works in my life.

Church Participation

This one is tricky.  If you have been a “misfit” for whatever reason in a ward–and some of us experience far more than the occasional I feel like they just don’t get me blues–you know how difficult life in church can be.  I have known women who have not gotten married until late in life or who have never married who have talked to me about what a foreign place the church is for singles of “marrying age.”  Really, in some ways it is a brutalizing experience.  I know persons in the church who are asexual (yes…it’s a real thing: for whom church is excruciating–especially young women’s classes and activities.  As a non-conservative American Mormon, believe me, there are many times where I would just rather be somewhere else (ESPECIALLY around July 4, Memorial Day, and election years).

Personally, I go to church for a couple reasons:

  • On a simple level, the church is my “tribe.”  It’s what I was raised with, what I know, and where my family (for the most part) is.  That being said, I mean tribe in its most positive sense: a source of identity, wisdom, and comfort in times of distress.  It is not my tribe to the extent that I will kill for it, either literally or figuratively.  I do not believe myself to be better than anyone of another tribe simply because I am a member of this one.  It pains me to hear people at church talk down about others because they are not Mormon.  Yes, it happens.  And far too often.
  • The church has helped me become a better person.  In his book, Planted: Being and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, Patrick Q. Mason gives an extended quote from eminent Mormon historian Richard Bushman who reported that he told a colleague, a Catholic theologian, who asked him why he believed in Joseph Smith (and by extension why he remained a Mormon), “…when I [live] the Mormon way I [become] the man I [want] to be.” [1].  I appreciate this response.  I am well aware of the demons in me and the church gives me tools to keep them at bay (sometimes more, sometimes less).  Mason adds, however, a very, very significant extension of this point:

Creeds, confessions, articles of faith, and other elements of orthodoxy, or right belief, are significant only insofar as they orient our minds and hearts towards orthopraxis, or right living. [2]

  • I go to church because it offers me opportunities to get out of myself, a key tenant of almost all religious systems–I only say “almost” because I don’t know about all religious systems, but everyone that I know of contains some sense of connecting to a wider sense of the universe/cosmos beyond the self.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a classic book on communal living called Gemeinsames Leben (the English translation I have renders the title as Living Together [3]) in which he argues that to overcome the prison of the self, we have to connect with and struggle with others who do not think or feel the same way we do.  God is found in our interactions with others.  To seek God only in ourselves would be to shape God in our image, to risk mistaking our “selves” for God [4].  In this conception, going to church entails a certain amount of productive struggle.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer from the Bundesarchiv, CC BY-SA


I know these reasons will not satisfy everyone’s concerns and questions.  In a very real way, that is a good thing.  Each of us must find our way to God.  It is a significant, productive paradox, considering my last point: our finding God is both highly individual and necessarily involves interactions with others.  What I have come to hope is that others will find God and find peace.  Period.


  1. Mason, P.Q. (2015). Planted: Being and belonging in an age of doubt.  Salt Lake: Deseret Book. p. 137.
  2. Ibid. p. 138, my italics
  3. If I were to do a translation of the book (and I probably won’t), I would actually stick with Bonhoeffer’s grammatical structure: Communal Living.  “Living together” could just as easily apply to a dyadic relationship, but the smallest group the author even mentions is the family, but feels that real, sincere Christian engagement must include broader contact.  It must include what Georg Simmel would call non-organic affiliations; i.e. it must include people we did not grow up with, people with different worldviews.
  4. I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t find my copy to quote from.  Really…go get the book and read it for yourself!  It is very stimulating.


Divine Iconoclasm

I’ve been reading an interesting book by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun from Pennsylvania, called The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict, which offers a short monthly narrative from Benedict’s life and then a brief meditation for each day of the month.


The general theme for the month of July is an interesting conception of prophesy, summed up by her observation:

The idols of life must be overturned.

Change is hard and change is slow but there can be no change at all until people are confronted with a new vision. [p. 69]

I like this concept of prophesy: a tool to see things differently.

Today’s reading (July 25) reads:

Women all over the world are taking axes to the idols of the patriarchy–in homes, in offices, in churches, in government. Someday people will realize why and, like the villagers of Monte Cassino [site of the first Benedictine monastery], begin to understand what Christianity really looks like as a result. [p. 76]

The phrase “what Christianity really looks like” is particularly poignant.  I immediately thought about the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to enter heaven.  After quizzing him about keeping the commandments, Christ told him to sell everything he had and give to the poor.  The young man, the scriptures tell us, went away dejected because he couldn’t part with his riches.  To turn Sister Chittister’s phrase, the young man’s problem was that he did not understand what salvation really looks like.  It involved letting go of what he had accepted as “really” important.  Christ’s point was that the kingdom of God is different than what we might be inclined to expect.  The young man needed to learn radical generosity, a radical displacement of  Self with concern for the Other.


So…what images of God’s kingdom do we have to lose in our journey?  My hope is that we learn to cherish the unfolding of refinement that is inherent in the process of sainthood more than we value our necessarily limited snapshots of it.

For several years now, I have been uncomfortable with the idea that faith is the absence of doubt.  That is sort of like saying that courage is the absence of fear.  Bull crap.  Courage is persistence in the face of fear.  By the same token, faith is persistence on the basis of trust not certainty, “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

If an opposite or alternative does not exist, then a proposition does not have much meaning.  Let me illustrate.  Years ago, when I taught high school, our administration made t-shirts for our students around the time of the big state tests that read, “Failure is not an option.”  An astute student pointed out the absurdity of the shirt.  “Mr. Moffat,” she said, “if I can’t fail then succeeding doesn’t really mean anything, right?  I mean…if I can only succeed, then my success is nothing special since I have no other option.”  (I can’t remember her exact words, but this is the gist.)  This student intuited a logical proof: If A does not equal B, then the mere presence of B does not necessarily negate the existence of A.

Failure Not An Option.

A theological example was given by German pastor Dietrich Bohnhoeffer:

If Christ had proved Himself by miracles, we would have believed in the visible theophany [a temporal/physical manifestation] of deity, but that would not have been faith in Christ pro me [in and of itself]. It would not have been inner conversion, but simply acknowledgement…When I acknowledge a miracle, nothing happens to me. But faith is there when a man so surrenders himself to the humiliated God-Man [Christ] that he bets his life on him, even when this seems against all sense. Faith is when the search for certainty out of visible evidence has given up. Then it is faith in God and not in the world.  (The Martyred Christian: 160 Readings.  Ed. Joan Winmill Brown.  New York: Collier.  p. 35; italics in original)

Bohnhoeffer’s statement fleshes out James 2:19: “Thou believest that there is one God; though doest well, the devils also believe, and tremble.”  The devils believe, but tremble because their “belief” has not created a change in them.  Their belief is mere acknowledgement, not conversion.  The smart aleck in me can just hear Saint Jacob [James is the English rendition of the name] quipping, “Oh…so you say you believe?  Big Deal!  It hasn’t done much for you or to you now, has it?”  Mormon scripture contains a variation on this theme in the Book of Mormon when Nephi chides his brothers for their unbelief:

.Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words… (1 Nephi 17: 45)

Recently, I’ve started reading the Qur’on in an effort to try and better understand (if only to a limited extent) my Muslim brothers and sisters and the clash of multiple cultures they experience.  As part of that, this morning I decided to watch some TED talks that dealt with topics or aspects of Islam.  I watched this very enlightening video from Lesley Hazelton, a self-professed agnostic Jew who wrote a biography of the prophet Muhammad, in which she talks about a fascinating aspect of the dance between faith and doubt:

I think we need to start thinking about doubt as a possible contributor to our faith instead of an antithesis.  The presence of doubt creates a space in which we rely less on ourselves and our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) and open ourselves up to the Spirit, to wisdom other than our own.  A space in which God can be revealed, rather than simply acknowledged.

Viva los weirdos!

Reposting a piece from Exponent II.  Mormon society has become so efficient, streamlined, slick, correlated, chrome-shiny, procedure-devoted (and yes…remember that devoted comes from devout), lock-stock-and-barrell, strateically-planned, corporatized, brass-buttoned, single-file, color-in-the-lines that we seem to have forgotten that weirdos give life.  That Jesus was
a weirdo.  Great column from Jess R:

On Being Strange

I cringed when she said it, the young sister missionary exuding “greenness” who stood up in my son’s singles branch and bore her testimony that our church is the “only” one that really knows about Jesus Christ.  Her language hurt.  It embodied what Terryl and Fiona Givens referred to in The Crucible of Doubt as the”notion that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth…”1

I immediately thought of the number of people I know who are not Mormons, but who are clearly and, in some cases, emphatically Christian.  I thought one of my coworkers, Father Peter, University Archivist and Campus Chaplain at Saint Martin’s University and monk at the Saint Martin’s Abbey.  Father Peter has a caring and enthusiastic heart motivated by his belief in Christ.  Students, faculty, and staff seem to recognize the goodness of his heart.  I thought of Sister Laura, a lecturer in Religious Studies at Saint Martin’s University and former prioress of the Saint Placid Priory.  I have gotten to know Sister Laura through working with her and actually plan on taking a class from her sometime soon.  I have been inspired in my faith by her recent book on the Beguines, a long-standing affiliation of Catholic lay women all across Europe who

…courageously spoke to power and corruption, never despairing of God’s compassion for humanity,” who “used their business acumen to establish and support ministries that offered education, health care, and other social services to the vulnerable,” and preached “of a loving God who desired a relationship with each individual person while they criticized those who used God’s name for personal gain.2

In reading her book I sometimes wished I could travel back in time and get to know some of the remarkable women she wrote about.  I thought of Dr. John D. Roth, a Mennonite professor of history at Goshen College whom I met six and a half years ago at an NEH seminar on the Reformation.  He wrote about Christian non-violence, noting

In a world filled with violence, the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ cannot help but bring us face to with Christ’s clear and consistent teachings on love, a love that extends even to the enemy.3

I thought about Jennifer Stadler, a math teacher at the high school where I taught.  She made no bones about her faith in Christ and I sometimes referred to her as my “Jesus buddy.”  Even though we may not totally see eye-to-eye theologically, each of these people and probably hundreds of others I have met have great trust and faith in the Savior.  They not only know about Jesus, they know him as well and I feel blessed by having my path meet up with theirs.

It occurred to me that there is a connection between some Mormons monopolistic truth claims and the ethic that John the Baptist railed against on the shore of the Jordan River:

And do not think you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.”  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children of Abraham.4

His words were, of course directed at the Pharisses and Sadducees who claimed righteousness and moral superiority by right of their heritage.  Their claims to be saved (to use contemporary language) because of their lineage constituted a repugnant ethnocentrism, a kind of cultural arrogance.

I have to admit that I felt a bit of discomfort over over my reaction to the missionary’s comments.  After all, I do claim Mormonism as my faith community (as uncomfortable as that can sometimes be), which itself makes large truth claims.  I had to ask myself whether I was somehow being “unfaithful” to my religious community.  Essentially, by connecting this young woman’s statement and John the Baptist’s, I accuse my own community of a kind of institutional arrogance.  Mormons may have subtly different beliefs about Christ from other other denominations, but that does not justify a claim that other conceptions have no significance or validity.  On the contrary, other religious communities have a good deal to say to us about Christ, I have long felt.

I was thankful to find a validation of my discomfort in Givens’ book.  They note that such claims of exclusivity are rather problematic:

…both the Lord and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have emphatically indicated a contrary perspective.  In other words, the idea of Mormonism’s monopoly and God’s inaction during the pre-Restoration centuries would strike Joseph Smith and the likes of John Taylor as absurd…5

John Taylor, speaking of earlier ages, said

There were men [and women] in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world…There were men [and women] who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world.  If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.6

Mormons, they observed, “do not have a monopoly on righteousness, truth, or God’s approbation.”7  As a matter of fact, such a conception actually denies a fundamental truth about God, what they call God’s “cosmic generosity.”8

As a mighty God, our Heavenly Father has the capacity to save us all.  As a fond Father, He has the desire to do so.  That is why, as Joseph taught,”God hath made a provision  that every spirit can be ferretted out in that world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death.  The idea is certainly a generous one, and it flows naturally from the weeping God of Enoch, the God who has set his heart upon us.9

They quote several other more recent church authorities who taught the same concept.  Unfortunately, in the early days of the church, there were members who could not accept this generous view of God.

Brigham Young recorded that “when God revealed to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon that there was a place prepared for all, according to the light they had received and their rejection evil and practice of good, it was a great trial to many, and some apostatized because God was not going to send to everlasting punishment heathens and infants, but had a place of salvation, in due time, for all.”10

There seem to be such Mormons around today, who seem to look forward to watching others burn, but a common concept of Mormonism holds that God is perfectly loving.  If we truly believe this, then we cannot claim exclusive understanding of Christ.  To do so would be to draw a circle around God no larger than our own limited view of the eternities.


  1. Givens, T. & Givens, F. (2014).  The crucible of doubt: Reflections on the quest for faith.  Salt Lake: Deseret Book, p.87.
  2. Swan, L. (2014).  The wisdom of the Beguines: The forgotten story of a Medieval women’s movement.  Katonah, NY: BlueBridge,  pp. 8-9.
  3. Roth, J. D.  (2002).  Choosing against war: A Christian view: “A love stronger than our fears.”  Intercourse, PA: Good Books,  p. 10.
  4. Matthew 3: 9 (New International Version)
  5. The crucible of doubt, pp. 87-88.
  6. Ibid. pp. 90-91; Sister Laura’s work clearly illustrates this.
  7. Ibid. p. 91.
  8. Ibid. p. 93.
  9. Ibid. p. 92., italics in original.
  10. Ibid. p. 93.

I was once asked what my “greatest hope for salvation” is.  Two things came to mind quickly, almost simultaneously as I remember.  One was a passage from the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon in which the prophet Alma is speaking to his son Corianton whose poor example had made the spreading of the message of Christ terribly difficult where he had been working as a missionary.  According to his father, he has been boastful and slept with a well-known prostitute.  Being a wise father, Alma decided to deal with his son by teaching him more about the future life and mission of Christ, in the hopes that strengthening his son’s faith might help him become a better follower of Christ and example of the Good News.  As part of his lesson, he taught his son “that which ye do send out shall return unto you again” and admonished him to

…see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.  (Alma 41: 14-15)

In effect, Alma wanted his son to understand that his standing with God depends to a great deal on how he treated his fellow sojourners on Earth.  The present and future are inextricably tied to each other.

The other thought that came to mind was my favorite story of Jesus, that of the woman taken in adultery.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery*

Whenever I read this story or see depictions of it, I cannot help but see myself in the shoes of the adulteress.  I have not been unfaithful to my spouse like her, but I have been unfaithful to the Lord in that I am a sinner despite my best efforts to be better than that.  Whenever I read Christ’s invitation to the woman’s accusers, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8: 4; NIV), I cannot help but feel some sense of fear.  Like her, I too am vulnerable before the Law.  Not surprisingly, not one of them casts a stone, all being pricked in their conscience so much so that all walk away.  When just the two of them were left,

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v. 10-11)

This story has taught me a great deal about how I need to deal with others, about what I “send out” in the world.  The Great Exemplar, the Son of God, had every right, according to the Law, to denounce the woman and pronounce punishment on her, but He did not.  Instead, He showed mercy and admonished her to abandon her sin.  Whenever I read this, I feel a great sense of relief!  I feel a sense of escape from what the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob called the “awful monster…death and hell” (2 Nephi 9: 10).  I feel deep gratitude to the Lord.

However, Alma’s teaching tells me that that is not enough.  Gratitude to the Lord is, of course, appropriate, but I also need to extend that graciousness to others.  If I want the Lord to tell me that He does not condemn me, then I must not condemn others.  I must treat them with the compassion, patience, and grace He showed the woman and I must be very liberal in this attitude; in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says that He will “forgive whom [He] will forgive, but of [us] it is required to forgive all” (D&C 64:10; italics mine).

This Christmas, I have been thinking about this.  To be sure, I am concerned about how much more I have to do to become “good” at this.  I have to learn to have compassion and forgive not only those that I love who are close to me (which can be quite a task in and of itself), but those I do not know, those whose lives affect me only in distant and abstract ways.  Sometimes I even find that I am the one most in need of forgiveness.  A humbling realization.  The glad tidings, though, are that I can keep striving, that the Lord will forgive.  For that, I thank the woman taken in adultery.**

* From the workshop of Guillaume Lambert in Lyon, France, late 1400s.   Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.
** I must say here, that I am bothered that we do not know her name.  It bothers me that I only know her by the sin she committed.

Good Debt

I had an interesting experience this afternoon in Portland.  I’ve been attending a library conference and afterwards, my friend, Michael, and I walked around the city center.  It was a wonderful walk!  He and I first met when we were serving our missions in Germany.  Afterwards, we were roommates at BYU.  We got married to our respective wives around the same time–in fact he met and started dating his wife while Julie and I were on our honeymoon and proposed to her very quickly after we returned to Provo.

Today, while walking around the Saturday Market, we were approached by a woman who was soliciting funds for a community kitchen.  Since I had no cash on me, I could not make a donation; my friend, however, did have some on him and put in $10.  The woman, who vaguely reminded me of Jane Goodall for some reason, thanked him and said, “That makes $5 for each of you.”  She then turned to me and said, “That means you owe him $5.”

In thinking back on that experience, I can see that I actually owe him far more than that.  I owe him for 25 years of friendship, for games of pool and listening to Billy Joel on the Jukebox.  I owe him for many times when I needed a dollar or two or three or five at the store.  I owe him for his reserved manner, judgment, and wisdom.  I owe him for planting the seed of becoming a librarian in my mind, a step that was so obvious to others that when I finally decided to go to library school many responded with a resounding “duh.”  I owe him for good advice while I was in library school and for good advice in helping me learn the profession now that I have a position.  I owe him for the Rush ticket for the concert coming up in July (I’lll get that paid for sure). 

Heaven knows what I’ve put into the relationship.

As I thought about it, for almost every person dear to me, I feel like I owe him or her something.  A kind of spiritual/psychological/emotional etc. debt.  It’s a good debt, though.  It’s the kind of debt that draws us to each other, that makes us loyal to each other.  To take it one step further, these good debts are analogous to the good debt we owe the Savior.  We, of course, can never repay that debt and he does not expect us to fully pay it off.  He asks that we make payments of “following” him and trying to be like him to whatever degree we can: “What manner of men ought ye to be?…even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).  We will always fall short, but the efforts will always raise us to some degree.

It does seem a bit odd to hear the emphasis on “self-reliance” in much of the communication from the Church, nowadays.  While I understand and accept that rhetoric to a degree, I think it also significant to recognize the good debt we owe to family members, friends, and fellow congregants.  These good debts are a significant part of our lives and communities.  And, the more we owe, the stronger our love for our “creditors.” 

Isn’t this one lesson of the story of Christ and the sinful woman?  If you will recall, when he entered the house of a Pharisee, she came in after him and cried, washing his feet with her tears and kisses, drying them with her hair, and then perfuming them; the Pharisee questioned his patience with the sinful woman, but the Savior responded with the parable of the forgiven debtors, the one owing 50 denars, the other owing 500.  Since neither debtor could pay, the creditor canceled both debts.  Christ then asked, “Which of them will love [the creditor] more?” (Luke 7: 42; NIV).  The Pharisee replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled”; and the Savior responded, “You have judged correctly” (v. 43).

This parable is rightly spoken of in terms of forgiving and having mercy, of offering grace to others as the Lord offers grace to us.  But, I think that its aspect of the debtor loving the kind creditor is just as salient.  We are indebted to those who offer us the grace of love and constructive attention and it is our privilege to offer the same grace to others.

Unlimited Fish and Grace

I just read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and saw it in a subtler light than I have seen it in the past (Luke 9: 10-17; I am currently reading the NIV).  It occurred to me that Christ performed this miracle as much or more for the Apostles’ sake as for the crowds’.  When the Savior told his followers to feed the crowed, they answered, incredulously, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish” (v. 13).  They responded phenomenologically; the phenomenon, or the “experience” or “fact,” of such limited quantities shaped their reading of the situation.

But Christ needed to teach them to see “beyond the phenomena,” if I may put it that way.  He needed them to learn to take that Kierkegaardian step into the darkness, the leap of faith.  This story shows that “material” limits are not constraining to the Lord. 

What occurred to me tonight, however, was the fact that we sometimes respond like the Apostles when it comes to grace.  I remember being told as a child to not contribute to Christ’s pain through my own sins and transgressions (I’m still not clear on what the distinction there is all about).  But, the thing is, that statement seems to treat Christ’s grace as a kind of finite resource.  This is not true.  Christ’s grace is infinite.  His grace has already covered our sins and the sins of everyone, if we will turn ourselves to him.  This, of course, is a well-known concept.  What struck me tonight, though, is that this miracle may have been performed as a deliberate material manifestation of this concept.  God’s grace cannot be limited by our phenomenological experience of the world.

Today in Sunday school, we looked at the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 and a number of thoughts came to mind. 

1)  We talked about the concept of nurturing, noting that sometimes our soil isn’t always receptive just as others’ soil is not always receptive.  We often/always need to nurture soils–ours and others’.  As we talked about this, I made a linguistic connection: in German, the verbs for planting and nurturing have a common root.  One  verb form of to plant is pflanzen, while one verb form of to nurture is pflegen.  It seems to me that just as there is a linguistic connection between these two concepts, there is a strong connection between nurturing others with the Word and helping to plant the Word.  In fact, it seems that we are often doing both at the same time.

2)  It occurred to me that the concept of “wayside” is perhaps more crucial than we often times may recognize.  The wayside is the part of a path that is not part of our goal, it’s what at the side of the road, so to speak.  The sower in this parable manages to sow in the wayside, meaning he sowed where he did not “mean” to sow.  It struck me that one of the way to read this is as a reminder that our actions and words are the action of sowing, even when we don’t intend to do so.  Are our words and actions spreading the Word?  There’s a kind of philosophical distinction between “acting” and “being”that comes into play here.  Action is the surface, while being is much deeper.  One can act compassionately, without being compassionate; but, if one is compassionate, then they can only act compassionately.  If we are always sowing, through our actions and words, then we must ask ourselves whether we are merely acting like disciples of Christ or are we disciples of Christ in essence.  If we are essential disciples, then we will sow good seeds.  If we merely act the part, then the quality of our seeds may be wanting.

3)  I think sometimes we read the parable in a kind of “one-shot” fashion.  The Word was sown and “they” either accepted it or did not.  The action of sowing, however, is cyclical.  A farmer has to sow a number of times if he/she is going to remain a farmer.  Similarly, we, as sowers of the Word, must sow over and over again.  One implication of this is that we need to think of sowing, or sharing the Gospel, as a process, rather than an event. 

4)  Related to the preceding observation, the element of the soil is perhaps more complex than I had appreciated earlier.  Soils change over time.  Good soil can be made barren, while barren soil can improve.  In the parable, several different types of soils are named, but there is nothing to say that these kinds of soils could not change.  The discussion made me think of my grandfather who had been born in Salt Lake City and raised in the church, but had an “uneasy” relationship with it throughout his life.  However, over time, he became a rather solid member of the church who received a remarkable patriarchal blessing rather late in life in which he was basically told that he would be received of the Lord because he had never given up and would end his life faithfully.  His soil needed to be pflegt, or nurtured, for many years before the seed finally took root.

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