Conservationism and LDS Meetinghouses

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One of my favorite temporal/practical things the LDS Church is doing recently is making more energy-efficient buildings. This is not a new philosophy or theology or practice of the Church, we just are living in a time when it is starting to be cost-effective to have energy efficiency as a goal in architecture. “H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church, said, ‘For decades we have looked for innovative ways to use natural resources in our meetinghouses that reflect our commitment as wise stewards of God’s creations.'” A new meetinghouse was recently built in Mesa, Arizona that includes an array of solar panels on its roof to help offset energy costs. Not only that but it also includes a number of other features that reduce electricity use, water use, and waste. It’s a combination of technology, conservationism, and religion.

Just like all we’ve been given by our Father, we are asked to be wise stewards – to take care of, nourish, and nurture – of the earth. Just like we would not abuse other people, ourselves, or animals, we should not abuse the earth. It is God’s creation and we are not to treat it lightly. This does not mean that we cannot use it, it is for our benefit, but we need to be wise in our use of the earth and its resources. This transcends political ideology. Church spokesmen are talking about reducing carbon emissions or “footprint”, which often is a politically-charged term but using that term or worrying about carbon footprint does not change the underlying principles of these energy efficient meetinghouses. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to use resources more effectively while taking care of the earth.

Some of the other improvements of the new meetinghouse include:

  • Energy efficient windows
  • Improved insulation
  • High efficiency furnaces
  • More efficient lighting
  • Automatic light switches that turn off when rooms are not occupied
  • Landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants and automated irrigation sensors

Will these meetinghouses be built en masse? It’s possible if they turn out to be viable solutions in certain areas. While solar panels will not work in all locations, there are other principles of conservation that will work in many locations. While touring the Atlanta Temple last week, we saw some of the enhanced efficiencies of the temple, including efficient laundry appliances. These are all wonderful steps in improving our use of the earth.

We have been commanded to be wise stewards: “All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:18-20).

The Saints have been promised an inheritance of the earth if they are righteous: “And I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it. And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh; And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts. And this shall be my covenant with you, ye shall have it for the land of your inheritance, and for the inheritance of your children forever, while the earth shall stand, and ye shall possess it again in eternity, no more to pass away.” (D&C 38:17-20). If the earth is the Lord’s footstool, we should treat it well. We should not abuse it. Even if the earth shall be renewed at a future date (see D&C 29:23, for example), we do not have free reign to use with excess.

How do we do this? Do we limit human population as many propose? No. As Pres. Packer said recently, “And the Gods said: ‘We will bless them. And … we will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.This commandment has never been rescinded.” (Oct. 2010 General Conference). There are enough resources for everyone. “For the earth is full [of resources], and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” But we need to share with others and not horde or abuse what we have: “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (D&C 104:17-18).

How we treat the earth, I believe, is reflective of our faith in Christ. Does this mean if you hunt or run a mining company or use resources, you somehow have less faith in Christ? No. What I mean is that our faith in Christ can help us be more aware that the earth is His creation and that we should treat it well. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to leave a smaller footprint on the Lord’s footstool so that there are adequate resources for everyone and so that we are better able to keep the earth beautiful so that it might “please the eye and gladden the heart.”

Ring Out, Wild Bells

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After finding the words to the poem Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson I started playing the Wikipedia game of following linked to pages. I was led, obviously, to the page about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and then down to the section of the titles of some of his works. One of his other poems is called Crossing the Bar, which has been cited by various LDS Church leaders in Conference talks and church magazine articles. That led me to an article by Pres. Thomas S. Monson from the Ensign in 1992 (not directly, I jumped to lds.org to search for citations of the poem). His article is entitled The Long Line of the Lonely. I knew it was going to be good with a lovely alliterative title like that! Pres. Monson did not disappoint – he never does. The article is focused mainly on caring for the widows, something few people do as well or as consistently as Pres. Monson does.

In the article Pres. Monson quotes the Tennyson poem in a touching exchange with a widow:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me,
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea. …
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

The old year is dying, a new one is born. As we cross the bar into the new year, are we ready to spiritually and proverbially “see [our] Pilot face to face”? Do we face each year with a renewed resolve to be a little better and do a little more good? Are we resolved to serve others more and focus more on the poor and needy, as Pres. Monson encourages in his article? I urge you to read Pres. Monson’s article and then put into practice what he counsels.

One story was particularly touching. Each Christmas season, Pres. Monson would make the time to go visit the widows from the ward he was a bishop over in his 20s. Of one such visit he recalled:

At a nursing home on First South, we might interrupt, as I did a few years ago [from 1992], a professional football game. There, before the TV, were seated two widows. They were warmly and beautifully dressed—and absorbed in the game. I asked, “Who’s winning?” They responded, “We don’t even know who’s playing, but at least it’s company.” I sat between those two angels and explained the game of football. I enjoyed the best contest I can remember. I may have missed a meeting, but I harvested a memory.

Widows, whose only company was each other, the commentators, and the players, were comforted by the visit of Pres. Monson. He was warmed by the experience as well. Pres. Monson closes his article with the following statement:

Today wise men still look heavenward and again see a bright, particular star. It will guide you and me to our opportunities. The burden of the downtrodden will be lifted, the cry of the hungry will be stilled, the lonely heart will be comforted—and souls will be saved. Yours, theirs, and mine. If we truly listen, we may hear that voice from far away say to us, as it spoke to another, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21.)

There will be many opportunities this coming year to lift the burdened and comfort the lonely. In light of a tragic death just a couple months ago, I’d like to include another quote from Pres. Monson’s article.

“The ranks of those in special need grow larger day by day. Note the obituary page of your newspaper. Here the drama of life unfolds to view. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and it often hushes the laughter of little children.

“After the funeral flowers fade, the well-wishes of friends become memories, and the prayers offered and the words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind, those who grieve frequently join that vast throng I shall entitle ‘The Long Line of the Lonely.’ Missed are the laughter of children, the commotion of teenagers, and the tender, loving concern of a departed companion. The clock ticks more loudly, time passes more slowly, and four walls do indeed a prison make.

“Hopefully, all of us may again hear the echo of words spoken by the Master: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.’ (Matt. 25:40.)

As we resolve to minister more diligently to those in need, let us remember to include our children in these learning lessons of life.”

There are many who need our love and comfort, even if we might be members of that lonely line ourselves.

And now to the poem that started all this – Ring Out, Wild Bells:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

As we approach the new year, we should ring in the Christ that is and that is to be.

The Church Marches On

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A couple Sundays ago I was teaching the lesson to our Priest (we only have one) when I made a comment about us leaders in the Church being easily replaceable. I meant the comment to be somewhat self-deprecating but honest. Our bishop started to disagree with me so I amended my statement by saying, “Some of us are easily replaceable.” Then we went on with the lesson. My point in making that statement was not to minimize myself or any particular individual; the point I was trying to make is that we are called to positions within the Church. We do not aspire to positions. We are set apart and/or ordained to positions and then released at some point (although there are callings that last for life but those are relatively few). Mainly the point I was making is that we leaders train others to take our place at some point in the future. Maybe not our particular calling but we want to teach the youth how to be leaders. I think a leader is best when the leader becomes largely expendable. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that a leader should be able to train others to replace him or her.

I am not minimizing the talents and particular callings of each individual nor am I neglecting fore-ordination; what I am doing is all church leaders are replaced at some point (it might be through death in some instances but we are all replaced). What this means is that we as leaders need to make sure that we help train others to be leaders. None of the operations of the Church are about specific church members (and yet, the Church is all about specific church members). What I mean is this: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Jesus’ church. He is its head. He is its Ultimate Leader. The prophets and apostles and all other leaders are called as was Aaron of old – by prophecy and by the laying on of hands. They do not call themselves to the ministry, they are chosen. That’s how all church positions are filled – by prophecy. Okay, I know that’s not always the case but for the most part it is the case that church positions are filled by direct revelation. I also know that sometimes people volunteer for positions but in such instances they do not call themselves. This reminds me of what happened following the death of Joseph Smith.

While the early years of the Church were tumultuous in general, the death of Joseph Smith sent shockwaves though the membership. Some left the Church but most remained. Outsiders prophesied that the Church would die – cut off the head of a snake and the snake dies. But that’s obviously not what happened. It would have happened should some of the church leaders and members gotten their way. A meeting was called where the general membership were invited to hear “arguments” from Brigham Young (who was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve) and Sidney Rigdon (and others) over who would be the next leader of the Church. Brigham stated that Joseph taught that the authority remained with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Sidney Rigdon claimed that he, as the sole surviving member of the First Presidency should be the next Church President. Notice the difference – Brigham Young wasn’t claiming he should be the President, he claimed the authority rested with the Quorum of the Twelve. Sidney was seeking the honor for himself. Yes, Brigham would eventually be the President of the Church (in part because he was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) but his argument was that the authority was with the Twelve and not an individual.

Put all of this together and you have a church that is run by a lay ministry; people who volunteer their time to build up the Kingdom of God. Church leaders are called by those in authority over them through revelation. They do not call themselves, which is doctrine that is not only Biblical (see Hebrews 5:4) but was also solidified in the months following Joseph Smith’s death. This is why I stated that we as leaders are easily replaceable – we are called into positions for a while and then released. The Church moves onward with nary a blip. A bishop is release, a new one sustained, and the Church marches on. A Relief Society president is released, a new one called, and the Church marches on. A prophet dies, a new one is ordained, and the Church marches on. We are just part of God’s great work; it will go forward with or without us so it is up to us to choose whether or not we will help it along as best as we can..