Tuesday, October 08, 2013

October 2013 General Conference, Controversy and Compassion

General Conference has always been a time of great controversy.  It seems that everyone who has a beef with the church or wants to push their own agenda onto it kinda comes out of the woodwork to make their statement.

 I’m not surprised, either.  It makes sense.  This is where the saints are gathered, with the authorities, and the media.  You’ve got the Ordain Women movement, and the Gay and Lesbian movement and the Mormons Are All Going to Hell movement, and they all have a place in the great wide “Supermercado de Dios” (“God’s Supermarket” - a phrase I learned in Honduras).

 This time, there were two talks that spoke directly to my own agendas, in very powerful and reaffirming ways.  They calmed the controversies that had been brewing for a long time in my soul, and left me feeling quite weightless at the end.  I wish I could find transcripts this soon after the event, but I haven’t been able to find them.

 The first, and probably the biggest (for me) was Elder Uctdorf’s talk on Saturday morning.  I was driving home from a book signing, and listening to it on the radio.  I ended up in tears.  Let me set it up for you.

 For a long time, as I’ve interacted with many different people who have many different ideas about the church, I’ve encountered many with negative things to say about the church.  Frankly, there’s a lot of material to draw from:  Polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Missouri wars, the Adam/God theory, the ERA, the Salamander letters, the political involvement by the church in many issues, including California’s Proposition 8, and even, on a small scale, the expansion of the Provo MTC.

 In my own mind, I had come to be (pretty much) at peace with most of these issues by arriving at a personal understanding that the leaders of the church (historical and current) are humans, and that God allows his human representativess to make choices.  Sometimes, those choices are good and wise, and other times, not so much.  In other words, I truly believe that God leads this church, but that sometimes we humans get in the way, and He allows that as a part of our growth.

 One thing that has consistently bothered me about these things is the way the church has handled the dissent.  Either they’ve ignored it, shouted it down, or simply excommunicated those that were dissenting.

 The tone of the talk by President Uctdorf was finally one with openness, compassion, reconciliation, and forgiveness.  And by “forgiveness”, I mean both extending it, and asking for it.  A member of our highest governing body (the First Presidency) stood up in General Conference and admitted that we have, now and in the past, made mistakes.  That was HUGE.  It confirmed all that I had been feeling, yet wondering about, for so long.  A massive weight was lifted from me. My spirit and mind are both still reeling from the lightness I’m feeling, even days later.

 Then, if that wasn’t enough, in the afternoon session, Elder Holland talked about mental illness, particularly depression.  He talked about how important it is to recognize it and to treat it, even with contemporary professional methods.  He said we wouldn’t send someone with appendicitis home to “study and pray”, but we’d send them to the hospital for an operation.  He called on everyone to treat those with mental health issues with compassion and support.

 While I don’t really know if I would be diagnosed with an actual clinical depression, I’ve been through long periods of “down” throughout my life.  I’ve gotten therapy from time to time and dealt with a lot of my issues.

 It was very nice to hear from that grand pulpit that I’m OK.  That I can be healed, and that I can take steps to be healed.  Another weight lifted.

So, say what you wish about the controversies and the agendas, my two big problems felt, if not resolved, at least at peace.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

More Thoughts on Revelation

As I re-read the article I mentioned in my last post, about Joseph Smith's first vision, a couple of paragraphs stuck with me.  These were where he talked about how communication works with humans.  

"In any communication there is an encoder that sends the signal and a decoder that receives it. Always there is noise between the sender and the receiver of the signal and it limits and hinders perfect transmission and reception. In terms of communication, noise is not only audible. Sound or physical noise can interrupt a signal, but other kinds of noise hinder communication too. Semantic noise happens when the encoder sends signals that the receiver lacks the power to decipher. Psychological noise happens when a receiver’s assumptions or prejudices or preconceived notions or emotions prevent an accurate interpretation of the signal.

"God may reveal flawless signals, but no mortal, including the youthful Joseph Smith, receives communication flawlessly. There is always noise. And in this case the process of communication will be doubly difficult since Joseph’s best efforts to re-communicate his experience to us are also compromised by communication noise.So rather than assume that I could know all about the vision by reading Joseph’s accounts, I expected only to understand some of what Joseph experienced and only as it came through his memory and the limits of communication.

These thoughts reminded of a blog post I did here in Mo'Boy a while back.  Something sparked my mind and I got to thinking and writing about how revelation works with us.  I think that all too often we take the simplest possible explanations, and realize that more often than not, the simplest is not the right one, nor even the most "realistic".  Revelation and scripture is a good example of this.  

Too often we just assume that our scriptures were handed to us, complete, and uneditable, like a great holy pdf attachment.  I think even some of us believe that the priniting layout was divinely mandated.  We forget that our scriptures are collections of human writings, documenting thousands and thousands of years of communication from God to humans.

When trying to understand the scriptures, it's valuable to consider them on all of these levels.  First, of course, is what it means to me, the reader, at face value.  What is it saying to me?  Second, it's good to try and figure out who wrote it and when, and what they were going through and who they were writing it to.  Finally, it's good to try and figure out what we think is the message God is trying to send to all of us.

This is true of ancient scripture, like the five books of Moses, or modern scripture, like the Joseph Smith story.

First, I try and get into my own mind and heart, then the mind and heart of the writer/revelator, and finally, to try and figure out the mind and heart of God.  Then, I'm finally in a position to really understand a scripture.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The "First Vision" of the "Mormon Prophet"

Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I recently read a fascinating article over at Meridian Magazine about the historical perspectives of Joseph Smith’s Theophany, or what we in Mormon parlance refer to as “The First Vision”.

For my non-mormon friends, here’s the story in a nutshell:

Joseph Smith, when he was a teen, was very confused about religion.  There were a lot of churches and preachers contending with each other and he couldn’t figure it all out.  One by one, his family members joined one sect or another, or stayed away from them all completely.

He read in James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God...”, and decided to pray about it.

He went to a secluded grove of trees, knelt down and prayed.  At first he was surrounded by darkness, and after struggling against that, was surrounded by light.  He was visited by to glorious “personages” who he identified as God the Father, and Jesus Christ. They told him to wait, and that the truth would soon be restored.

You can read the accepted, canonized version of this story here: http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng

But, therein lies the trouble.  Because there are not one, but several different versions of the story, all of which are purported to be written by or spoken by Joseph Smith himself.  Many detractors from the church like to use that as the crux of proof that Joseph was a fraud and a liar.  The author of the Meridian article, Steven C Harper, studies the variations of accounts and sees a more affirming point of view.

Was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I kinda think the whole thing is fascinating.  I mean, really, it all comes down to faith, doesn’t it?  None of us were there in the grove, and none of us actually saw what happened.  Just like we weren’t there outside the tomb when the resurrected Jesus appeared to Mary.  None of us were there when Moses parted the red sea, either, at least not in our mortal forms.

On a more micro-viewed level, none of us were there when each of those accounts was written or spoken, either.  We don’t always know who the audience was, nor what the purpose of the discussion. Atheist scholars for many years have said that the four Gospels prove that Jesus wasn’t the son of God because they all disagree, and they don’t tell the same story.  Believing scholars say that each Gospel was written to a unique audience, and for a unique purpose.  Both cite valid academic and historical arguments.

So, was Joseph Smith a prophet?

I, myself, believe.  I have seen many historical arguments that show me he was a complex, flawed human, just like the rest of us.  But I believe him when he said, “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God.”  D&C 76:22-23


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Update on The Mormon Malian

A lot of folks are talking about the troubles in Mali and Algeria these days.  It seems that Northern and Saharan Africa are the next big trouble spots, taking their places alongside the Middle East, and Afghanistan.

Not long ago, as I was listening to the news about the hostages and the attacks against the kidnappers, my thoughts drifted back.  “Wasn’t there some report once about a Mormon that was running for president of Mali?”  At first, I wasn’t sure if I had confused Mali with some other country there on western Africa.  There are a lot of countries there that I’m vaguely aware of, but unable to properly identify on a map.

I looked it up, and, sure enough, that was the report.  I’m not quite sure of the details, but apparently the election was interrupted by a military coup.  Yeah Samake (the Mormon in question) has been still pressing the current government to step down and to allow the civilian election to proceed.

You gotta believe, though, that if he somehow manages to get into the top spot there, he will have inherited a pretty big mess.  In the meantime, he’s still the Mayor of the community where he started, and is still advocating for his country.  I also found it interesting that although he's the only documented Mormon in his country, a nation that's 90% Islamic, he says he's not been persecuted for his faith.  The most recent thing I was able to find on his story was this interview dated Dec 5, 2012.  

You know, I wish him well.  It will be really interesting to see what opportunities for national service come to him in the current crisis.  I haven't met him, so who knows what he's like up close and in person.  But reading his words makes me think a bit about King Benjamin, and his political treatise in Mosiah...  Time will, tell, and I know I’ll be paying attention.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his Dutch Oven blog.


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