Lowering the Age and Raising the Bar

Standard

I wanted to share a few thoughts about the lowering of the age requirements for LDS missionaries, which was announced on Saturday morning by Pres. Thomas S. Monson. Young men can serve at 18 if they are done with high school (or its equivalent) and young women can serve at 19 if they are done with high school (or its equivalent).

First about numbers: Church leaders are expecting a significant increase in the number of missionaries serving. I think it will have a greater effect initially on the number of women serving than the number of men, although it will affect both. We currently have 58,000 missionaries serving. Back in the 90s it was usually at 60,000 but was down to around 52,000 in recent years with a higher trend recently. The trend will continue upward after this announcement.

Second, this point should not be ignored: “Elder Holland also explained that missionaries will be asked to enhance their pre-mission preparation prior to entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and that time spent in the MTC will be reduced by approximately one-third for all missionaries. That change will help accommodate an overall increase in missionaries.” Missionaries called to missions in their own language typically only spend 20 days in the MTC so this will be reduced to around 14 days. The best education about the process of being a missionary occurs in the field. On the job training is more effective than any in the classroom training that occurs in the MTC. What the MTC does is get missionaries used to the missionary schedule (typically 6:30 AM – 10:30 PM). Missionaries who are learning a new language spend around 9 weeks in the MTC(s) with the extra time spent learning the language (or at least thinking you are learning the language). Again, most of the language learning occurs in the field. With a reduction of about 33%, the stay is reduced from 9 weeks to 6 weeks. As Elder Holland stated, this reduction in MTC time is to accommodate more missionaries (it can be assumed that the Church is expecting up to a 33% increase in missionaries, although this increase likely will occur over the course of a decade – I’m predicting {and I could be wrong – hopefully I am} an increase of about 15,000 within 10 years).

Third point. Where are the missionaries prepared now if not as much in the MTC? Where they always were supposed to be prepared – in the home and at church: “Elder Holland said parents need to help their children prepare for missionary service.” Back in 2003 Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley raised the bar for missionaries by raising the standard for the preparation of missionaries. The Lord wanted better-prepared servants who were ready to hit the ground running. Part of this change required revamping the missionary discussions (near the end of my mission new discussions were starting to be piloted in the adjacent mission to mine in Washington). These updated discussions emphasized the role of prophets more but more significantly and substantially relied on missionaries receiving revelation concerning the needs of those whom they were teaching. This greater emphasis of reliance on the Spirit meant that missionaries needed to be better prepared.

All of this implies that preparation need to occur in the homes. Parents have a greater responsibility to make sure that their children areprepared. With the recent age change and subsequent shortening of stays in MTCs, this puts even greater responsibility on parents to prepare their children. Young men and women should be intimately familiar with Preach My Gospel (notice: PDF link of the book) before they get to the MTC. Making it a regular part of gospel study is encouraged. Going on a mission is like jumping into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim. Missionaries have to rely on the Spirit to buoy them up because they are in over their heads (I can’t take credit for this analogy, it comes to me second hand from one of my ward mission leaders who met regularly with some of the Apostles to discuss church technology plans – he learned it from them). Learning to recognize the Spirit and act on those promptings best happens in the home. This means that parents have to be more conscientious about teaching their children and helping their children learn to recognize the Spirit. Youth need to know the doctrine, recognize the Spirit, and live the gospel. This has always been the case but it is imperative now that the youth are prepared before they are set apart as missionaries. Having served with the youth for the past 6 years, I can say that many are that prepared.

Overall, this was an exciting announcement from the prophet. I don’t know if I would have gone at 18 if I had the choice. I thoroughly enjoyed the year I had at Brigham Young University before my mission. I learned much that year, a lot that helped me prepare further to serve as a missionary. I could have gone at 18 but I value the experiences and friends I had at BYU as a freshman. On the other hand, if I went at 18, I might have modified my career trajectory earlier (I essentially figured out what I wanted to do when I was a missionary; my freshman year was spent in classes that were for a major that I no longer wanted to do. I don’t want to say that the whole year was a waste, it was valuable in many ways and it was a year I hold dear to my heart, but most of my classes were major-specific and thus not helpful when I changed my major to psychology). If I had gone on a mission right after high school maybe I would have figured out my new major before I spent a year on classes that in the end did not matter (although they were still great learning experiences). This is a lot of ifs and hypotheticals and is in the end a moot discussion because going earlier was not an option.

My point in belaboring this point is that the decision is not an easy one. The Church is not expecting every young man to go at 18. They do not even expect every young man to go at 19. The hope is that every able young man will be able to serve a mission but there are extenuating circumstances that contraindicate missions for some individuals. What is important is to make the decision of when to go with the inspiration of God and with input from parents and church leaders. What the Lord wants are missionaries who are willing and worthy to serve and who are prepared to act as instruments in His hands as full-time missionaries and throughout their lives.

Behold Thy Mother

Standard

Yesterday I picked up 7 dozen roses that we (the young men and leaders) distributed today to the women in the ward after Sacrament Meeting. The cashier, when I brought up all those roses asked, “How many mothers do you have?” I replied, “A lot.” I also overheard the woman in line behind me make a comment about the lucky mom getting all those roses. While it would have been great to give my mother 7 dozen roses, most of the women and mothers in our ward only got a single rose.

After the question yesterday – “How many mothers do you have?” – I started wondering, “How many mothers do I have?” The correct answer is “a lot.” Not only do I have my own wonderful mother, I have a mother-in-law, I have older sisters who have been like mothers to me in their own ways, I have generations of mothers on back for thousands of years (see this post for some of my mothers back a few generations).

In addition to specific mothers, there are general and stereotypical mothers. In 1973, then Elder Thomas S. Monson gave an address in General Conference entitled Behold Thy Mother. He tells of four such general mothers:

  1. Mother forgotten
  2. Mother remembered
  3. Mother blessed
  4. Mother loved

He said, “‘Mother forgotten’ is observed all too frequently. The nursing homes are crowded, the hospital beds are full, the days come and go—often the weeks and months pass—but mother is not visited. Can we not appreciate the pangs of loneliness, the yearnings of mother’s heart when hour after hour, alone in her age, she gazes out the window for the loved one who does not visit, the letter the postman does not bring. She listens for the knock that does not sound, the telephone that does not ring, the voice she does not hear. How does such a mother feel when her neighbor welcomes gladly the smile of a son, the hug of a daughter, the glad exclamation of a child, ‘Hello, Grandmother.’

“There are yet other ways we forget mother. Whenever we fall, whenever we do less than we ought, in a very real way we forget mother.”

May we have no forgotten mothers in our lives! Maybe we don’t forget our own mothers or our grandmothers but do we forget our great-grandmothers on back through the generations? Are there mothers waiting for us to remember them or to find them? Do we have mothers waiting for us to perform the necessary gospel ordinances in the temple? Or, are there mothers around us – neighbors, friends, church members, strangers – who have been forgotten. Do we reach out of our comfort zones and seek out the lonely? Do we seek to remember these forgotten mothers?

Of mother remembered Elder Monson said,

“As a boy, I well remember Sunday School on Mother’s Day. We would hand to each mother present a small potted plant and sit in silent reverie as Melvin Watson, a blind member, would stand by the piano and sing, ‘That Wonderful Mother of Mine.’ This was the first time I saw a blind man cry. Even today, in memory, I can see the moist tears move from those sightless eyes, then form tiny rivulets and course down his cheeks, falling finally upon the lapel of the suit he had never seen. In boyhood puzzlement I wondered why all of the grown men were silent, why so many handkerchiefs came forth. Now I know. You see, mother was remembered. Each boy, every girl, all fathers and husbands seemed to make a silent pledge: ‘I will remember that wonderful mother of mine.'”

Remembering our mothers can bring solace and peace. In dark moments or in times of temptation or in the good and happy times of our lives, remembering our mothers can bring us comfort. There are mothers who are absent, there are mothers who are abusive, there are mothers who might even best be forgotten, but I think most mothers are best remembered. Mothers are not perfect, mothers do make mistakes, but motherhood is a divine calling and blessing that comes with the blessings of the Lord. The Lord can make up for shortcomings. There are hard days and sleepless nights; there are rings around rosies and rings under eyes; there are baths and diapers and vomit and tears; there are hugs and kisses and giggles and tickles; there are songs and swings and dances and strings; there are little hands clasped in steadying mother’s hands; there are skips and jumps and laughs and loves. These are things that build memories in both mother and child. It is that foundation that gives such strength and comfort to those who have their own mother remembered.

I’ll quote at length for the next mother – mother blessed.

Now that we have considered ‘mother remembered,’ let us turn to ‘mother blessed.’ For one of the most beautiful and reverent examples, I refer to the holy scriptures.

In the New Testament of our Lord, perhaps we have no more moving account of ‘mother blessed’ than the tender regard of the Master for the grieving widow at Nain.

‘And it came to pass … that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

‘Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

‘And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

‘And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

‘And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.’ (Luke 7:11–15.)

What power, what tenderness, what compassion did our Master and exemplar thus demonstrate. We, too, can bless if we will but follow his noble example. Opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight, ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart. Yes, and a soul filled with compassion that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear, but in the majestic style of the Savior, even heart to heart. Then every mother everywhere will be ‘mother blessed.’

We have great opportunities to bless the lives of mothers everywhere. We can do it by honoring our own mothers. We can bless others by blessing as mothers would. We can go out of our way to do good to all around us, particularly mothers and particularly widowed mothers. There have been few people I think, who have cared about widows as much as Pres. Monson does.

Now for the final of then Elder Monson’s mothers – mother loved.

The holy scriptures, the pages of history are replete with tender, moving, convincing accounts of ‘mother loved.’ One, however, stands out supreme, above and beyond any other. The place is Jerusalem, the period known as the Meridian of Time. Assembled is a throng of Roman soldiers. Their helmets signify their loyalty to Caesar, their shields bear his emblem, their spears are crowned by Roman eagles. Assembled also are natives to the land of Jerusalem. Faded into the still night, and gone forever are the militant and rowdy cries, ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’

The hour has come. The personal earthly ministry of the Son of God moves swiftly to its dramatic conclusion. A certain loneliness is here. Nowhere to be found are the lame beggars who, because of this man, walk; the deaf who, because of this man, hear; the blind who, because of this man, see; the dead who, because of this man, live.

There remained yet a few faithful followers. From his tortured position on the cruel cross, he sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by. He speaks: ‘… woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! …’ (John 19:26–27.)

From that awful night when time stood still, when the earth did quake and great mountains were brought down—yes, through the annals of history, over the centuries of years and beyond the span of time, there echoes his simple yet divine words, ‘Behold thy mother!’

I echo Elder Monson’s words as he echos the Savior: “Behold thy mother!” Whether our mothers are living or deceased, may we take more time to behold, to remember, bless, and love our mothers. May we never forget our mothers and may we remember the mothers who have been forgotten. I’m grateful for my own wonderful mother. She is a woman strengthened by her faith in God, a faith she helped pass on to me. This is a legacy of faith that I am striving to pass on to my own children with the help of my beautiful wife, the mother of our children.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Standard

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.

Is the Bible Infallible?

Standard

While doing a search online to see what people say about whether or not the wise men visited the infant Jesus in the manger (they didn’t), I came across a comment about the Bible that I’ve heard numerous times – namely, that the Bible is literally God’s word given directly to man. In other words, there are those who believe that the Bible needs to be taken strictly literally. It is God’s completely infallible and perfect word. While that is a nice sentiment, it is not the case. The Bible was written by inspired men but men nonetheless. However, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon, if there are flaws in the Bible, they are the flaws of men.

So if we take the Bible literally in everything, we do get wise men who visited the young child Jesus in a house. They didn’t find the mother and infant in a manger. Jesus was as old as almost three by the time the wise men found Him. But this isn’t really the purpose of this post. I want to continue on with the topic of the literality of the Bible.

There are those who take everything in the Bible as strictly literal. They also usually take it as God’s perfect, unblemished word. These same people also balk at the LDS article of faith that states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). “How could the Bible be anything less than perfect?” they argue. I’ve heard this many times from different people. We as Latter-day Saints don’t even claim perfection from the Book of Mormon. We believe it was translated correctly but it is not without error. But again, those errors are the works of men (and are very, very minor). God uses imperfect humans to do His work (at least on this side of the veil).

So, is the Bible perfect? Should we take it completely literally? Since I referred to the wise men previously, let’s continue on in Matthew 2. After Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned from Egypt, they moved to Nazareth: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23). With the slaughter of the children and infants in Bethlehem, a prophecy was fulfilled (see Matt. 2:17-18). With Joseph and family moving to Nazareth, another prophecy was fulfilled. The trouble is that this other prophecy is not found elsewhere in the Bible. There existed a prophecy stating that the Messiah would be from Nazareth but this is not included anywhere in the Old Testament. Clearly then, there are prophecies that are not in the Bible. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from this. So is the Bible complete and perfect? Maybe that particular prophecy wasn’t meant to be in the Bible. But then why was it quoted in Matthew? Maybe the Bible isn’t complete. Maybe it isn’t perfect and infallible.

There are a number of other examples similar to this that can be found in the Bible. There are even times when writers/translators of the Bible seems to contradict one another. I won’t point out any specifics but they exist. There are numerous sites that document contradictions, some from a view of faith and others from a view of anti-faith. There are even sites that seek to point out contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, which might scare some away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but are all non-issues for the believer. I’ve found that the Bible is only clarified by the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelation; any other contradictions are due to errors in the Bible (which is something that I demonstrated is possible) – the doctrines in the Book of Mormon are pure, even if the grammar or particular choice of words in some cases isn’t always perfect; that’s one of the difficulties in translation and in writing down the translation in a time before there were wide consistencies in grammar and spelling.

My point in pointing out that the Bible is not infallible is not to weaken faith, rather it is to highlight that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ more than in the Bible. Truth comes from Christ; what is in the Bible are multiple translations of that Truth. The great teacher Truman Madsen taught about faith, testimony, and prophets in this manner:

“What about witness? That leads us both to the question of authority and the question of our own testimony. Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith] again, ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’?

“Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.'” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).

His point and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s point is that you need concurrent revelation. If we look throughout the Bible, the teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent out His apostles after His resurrection to do that. If we put all of this together, we can conclude that not only is the Bible not perfect, it is also not complete. Yes, I am biased because I believe that we have a living prophet upon the earth – Thomas S. Monson at this time – but I’ve found no evidence in the Bible that the Bible is complete and perfect. It wasn’t even put together in its present form for many years after the deaths of the original apostles. What we have in the LDS Church are Christ’s prophets who speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know.

Now I’m going to shift gears back to talking about whether or not we take the Bible literally. It seems that if we do, we realize that the Bible is neither complete nor perfect. However, if we don’t take it literally then we ignore a lot of important doctrines (such as the literal and physical resurrection of the Savior). Another doctrine we might miss if we don’t take the Bible literally is that of baptism for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for thedead?” (1 Cor. 15:29). Well, maybe we get to pick and choose what to take literally from the Bible. That way we can say it is something just figurative. Well, who gets to make the judgment call on what is literal or not? It sounds like something a prophet would do.

I think other Christians would find (if they give LDS Church members a chance) that we take the Bible very literally; I think to an extent that few other Christians do. There are things that we don’t take literally though (e.g., the Creation story is one because we know that the 7 days were 7 time periods of unspecified length – millions to billions of years, most likely. I’m not saying that we do not believe in the Creation, I’m just saying that LDS Church doctrine specifies that the earth was not created in 6/7 24 hour days).

So, taking the Bible literally is a two-edged sword. On it’s [the Bible’s] own, it is difficult to know what to take literally or not. This is where having the witness of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and modern-day prophets is so important; it allows us to discern what is literal and what is not. Those without this knowledge are in a bind – if the Bible is 100% infallible, why are there missing passages? Why are there some contradictions? Why is there a need for multiple translations of the Bible? Why do the Catholics have a different Canon than most of the Protestants? Further, if the Bible is taken literally, how do you account for teachings that contradict doctrines of many Christian religions? How can you pick and choose what to accept?

I know some of the things I wrote about are not entirely this simple, but I wanted to respond to those who take the Bible as “GOD’S PERFECT WORD” (again, that’s a description of the Bible I read and hear frequently). The Bible forms the foundation of the LDS canon of scriptures, we place it first in our scripture sets, we love the Bible and follow its doctrines. However, we are not limited to the Bible. We have the Book of Mormon and other scriptures; we have living prophets and modern revelation. Our canon is not fixed and closed, it is open and expanding. God speaks to us today, just as He did in Biblical times.