Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is Rememberance Day. It commemerates the armistice signed between the Allied powers and Germany to end hostilities on the Western front of the First World War. The armistice came into effect on "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" and so, each year at that time we (in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) observe two minutes of silence to remember those who have died in war.

From November 1 to November 11, many of us will wear a poppy as part of our rememberance. This tradition comes from a poem, written by a Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, entitled "In Flanders Fields". The flowers grow there in fields that saw many of the worst battles of the First World War and their blood-red colour makes them an apt symbol of rememberance for those who have fallen. In Canada, this poem is always read during our Rememberance Day services, such as those I attended on occasion at the Legion Hall back in my home town. It is a powerful and touching poem.

The poem became even more powerful to me when I learned, as a teenager, that my great-uncle, my paternal grandfather's older brother, died in Flanders fields. My grandfather immigrated to Canada from Germany between the two wars and my great-uncle died in Flanders fields fighting in the German Imperial Army.

Learning this was the first time that the reality of war truly hit home. Not because I knew my great-uncle (obviously), but because it is so easy, when we think of wars, to think of our forces as "the good guys" and the enemies' forces as "the bad guys". But was my great-uncle a "bad guy"? I did not know him, but I knew his brother - my grandfather - perhaps one of the greatest, and humblest, men I have ever been priviledge to know.

When I learned this story, it taught me to remember something bigger on Rememberance Day than those who have died for my country. Rather, to remember the noble tragedy that is war. That those who died did so while fighting their brothers. That whenever we go to war, even when our cause is just, we go to war against our brothers and sisters. Protecting our brothers and sisters in our country is noble and we must remember those who gave their lives to do so. But their is no escaping the tragic reality that they are protecting us from people who are also our brothers, and killing and being killed to do so.

Soldiers from my country are currently killing and being killed in Afghanistan. Soldiers from my wife's country are there too, as well as in Iraq. We should stand by them, and for those who fall we must always remember them.
But as we shed our tears for them, let us also shed a tear for those, our brothers and sisters, who fall in fields without poppies or poems, who are now our "enemies", but are still our family.

Let us remember.


In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Lt.-Col. John McCrae

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Tonight was mine and Jennifer's eleventh wedding anniversary. Part of our anniversary celebration was to go to U23D, a 3-D movie of a U2 concert held in Buenos Aries. One of the sets they did was one of my favourites, Sunday Bloody Sunday. During the prior set, Bono had put on a headband that had a crescent moon, a Star of David, and a cross, symbols of the three Abrahamic faiths. Between the moon and the star were the letters "o" and "e" and between the star and the cross were the letters "i" and "s", turning the three symbols into the word "Coexist".

During a segment of the song, Bono sang words addressing Father Abraham, asking "what have we done?", reflecting the blood shed by members of each faith warring against, amongst, and between themselves. And then the call for "No More!"

I was profoundly moved by the song - not a call for the end of religions, but a call for coexistence, for peace, and for love. Literally moved to tears.

I reflected upon the words of our earlier prophets, particularly Brigham Young, that in the millenium there would still be people of all faiths on the earth. The difference would be that we would be at peace with each other, that there would be no bloodshed, strife, or contention.

I look forward in hope for such a better world.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The God I Worship, Part II

The day after my last post, I was teaching Sunday School. The lesson covered Mosiah 1-3, which includes King Benjamin's initial sermon to his people on the occasion of him passing the crown to his son, Mosiah. In this sermon, he says, "..that with power, the Lord Omnipotent, who reigneth... ".

I was, of course, aware of this verse before, but it is good to see that not only does the Lord has an ironic sense of humour, but His timing is spot on as well. ;-)

My wife told me that the last post seemed a little too lob-sided, and that the ending insufficient to balance it back. Lincoln's comment online seemed to reconfirm this. Hence the Part II.

First, I believe God to be powerful. I believe God to be the Creator of Heaven and Earth. I believe God to be powerful enough to both organize and govern the universe and comfort the distraught heart of a single soul. I believe there is nothing more powerful than God.
So why did I post with such emphasis on God's limitations?

Frankly, because we don't like to admit that He has any, despite the fact that God's limitations are important - important to our salvation.

In the Council in Heaven, Christ and Lucifer offered to become our Saviours - our God. God our Father chose Christ. Lucifer refused to cede the debate, rebelled, and was cast from Heaven. We chose to follow Christ. Many chose to follow Lucifer.

In Moses Chapter 4, the Lord quotes Satan as offering to save all mankind - that not one soul should be lost. It’s clear that this is the selling point of Satan’s plan and thus equally clear that inherent in God’s plan is that some will be lost.

So let’s be serious. On the face of it, how is this not the better offer? Plan A – some are lost. Plan B – none are lost. A third of the hosts of heaven sided with this idea. So why did God (and the other two-thirds of us) disagree.

Now, God doesn't give us the details of Satan's plan – but He does give us the two reasons why He cast Satan down – why his plan was rejected.

One reason is because Satan sought to destroy the agency of man. The other reason was rebellion – rebellion in that Satan said that since his plan would save everyone (and God’s plan doesn't), that God should give him his throne.

We learn three things from this. First, God is willing to share his power, but not give it up. That sounds almost petty at first glance – I mean, if Satan’s plan were better, wouldn’t ceding the throne be the right thing to do? Clearly, not or God would have done so. So why not?
Option one is that the part of Satan’s plan that entails destroying mankind’s’ agency is not doable. That God and/or Satan literally cannot take away mankind’s agency. Essentially, nice idea Satan, but we really can’t do it. And then Satan just doesn’t believe him and rebels anyway. In this case, of course, God is limited. Limited, that is, by His inability to actually accept Satan’s plan.

Option two is that the agency destruction is entirely possible (which is more strongly attested to when God says “the agency that I gave him”). Ah, so God is not so limited after all…

But not so fast, because He still didn’t choose Satan’s plan. He didn’t want to. He chose not to. He made a value judgment and decided that His plan, including some being lost, has an end result that is more valuable than Satan’s plan in which none are lost. As Mormons we are all familiar with the agency thing - the idea expressed repeatedly in scripture in different ways (I think most eloquently in 2 Nephi 2 and D&C 121), that we are to experience opposition and to grow and learn, and that this things we suffer will both be for our good and our exaltation if we bear them well; that we need to learn for ourselves and choose the good and reject the evil. The end result of the process being our progression and eventually our exaltation. It also means He still has a big limitation.

Put another way, God either a) couldn’t choose Satan’s plan because it was no within His power to do so, b) didn’t choose Satan’s plan because it was incompatible with His desires.

Either way God is limited because the one thing that is clear is He couldn’t choose to both exalt his children and save all of them.

I return to where I ended my last post, I believe God is mighty to save.

This is the power of God that I care about the most. I believe in the mighty powers of a marvellous God, but I also experience a world in which many people do not. They don’t for a variety of reasons, often involving the suffering and pain in the world, the death and destruction, and/or the God’s hiding – the fact that God is not evident in the same way tangible things like the sun, the moon, mountains, etc.

To say that God chooses not to do something about those things to me is equivalent as saying God cannot do something about them. Whether He lacks the power or chooses not to because He has other ends in mind is not the point, because clearly He cannot bring about His ends AND resolve all of our pain, sorrow, suffering, etc. The only other option is that He could do so and just doesn’t care enough about it to worry about it.

As I taught in the aforementioned Sunday School class, King Benjamin teaches us quite clearly that God does care. He was willing to come down, make flesh his tabernacle, and suffer the pains of this life to save us. To have his reaching out to us in love be responded to with hate. I believe He would only do so because He both loves us and because doing so was a necessary part of His desired ends.

As I said hinted at last time, I believe that in part it is because we have a co-eternal core – our intelligence - that God is seeking to empower and assist to progress. And that progress is something God can only bring about via our own choices, individually and collectively. Becoming one of us, so that we can become one with Him.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The God I Worship

I don't like the omnis. Not omni-present, not omni-scient, and least of all, omni-potent. I don't believe God to be any of those things - at least not in any traditional sort of way (and possibily not even in untraditional ways). I believe in a God that, while eternal, is also finite, or limited.

The key scripture for my dislike is Doctrine and Covenants 93:29, which reads "Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be." The idea behind this verse was also taught more explicitly in the King Follett discourse where, in discussing the eternal nature of our souls, Joseph said we were "co-equal" with God. "Co-equal" in the sense that neither we nor God were created, at least in the sense of "from nothing".

I believe that you, me, and everyone else have always existed. And that existence has always included some degree of freedom and choice. Now, a freedom and choice that could and can be oppressed and controlled, but nevertheless, at our core we are eternal beings and God respects that. In fact, the verse says that God can't do anything about it, at least in the sense that God cannot make us. Cannot. So much for omni-potent.

If you, me, and everyone else have always existed and have always had and still have some degree of freedom, of power of choice, than God is not omni-potent. God does not have all power, because you, me, and everyone else has some power. Either you have power or you don't. The power you have is power that God doesn't have. Put the other way, if God truly has all power, than you have none.

Omni-scient I dislike because I fall into the "If God already knows what I'm going to do, I have no choice not to do it" understanding of agency. That's probably best saved for a separate post sometime. But the idea is the same. If I have choice, if a point I really can choose A or B and it is not already determined by my background, upbringing, past choices, etc. - if, for example, I really can choose to repent (or not repent), I really can't see how God can know in advance. I've heard the arguments, I just don't buy them. That and I believe God is progressing. And that I think eternal existence would be profoundly boring if I knew everything. But for another post.

Omni-present is the easiest. I believe that God has a body (either flesh and bone or spirit, depending on what member of the Godhead we are talking about), but either way, a body. Which means quite simply if God is here he is not there. Ironically, this is also the one I am most comfortably understanding in non-traditional ways. Doctrine and Covenants 88 talks about the light that radiates from God to fill the immensity of space. I don't take issue with God having impact, influence, awareness, etc., thoughout the universe. I just think if we, as Mormons, are going to believe God has a body we should keep terms like "everywhere present". God is present where God is.

At its core, I believe God is part of the universe. While I believe in God as the Creator, I do not believe God to be the creator of the universe. Not in the "ex nihilo" fashion, from nothing. Me, you, God, matter, spirit, etc., have always existed. As Joseph phrased it once, "God, finding himself among...". God found himself in a universe. God then set about "creating it". Organizing the chaos. I happen to believe that the "ex nihilo" doctrine is one of the worse doctrines ever developed; an idea ripe with destructive potential. God is a great craftsman. An artist. He is working with us to make the universe, including us, a better place. He calls us to be craftsmen an artists with Him.

I do not believe that He is all-powerful, but I do believe, as the scriptures phrase it, that He is mighty to save (D&C 133:47).

And that, in the end, is what is important to me.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ramblings on Faith and Christ

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the First Principle of the Gospel. I'm glad Joseph wrote it that way. In fact, its one of those things that I am truly glad it is written the way it is, because it is not written the way I sometimes wish it was.

Sometimes I wish it was just written, "Faith in Christ", rather than "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Hopefully it will be clear, by the end, why I sometimes which it was written the former way, and also why I am glad it is written the latter way. But just to be clear, as perhaps the title implies, this post is many about the former.

What is the difference, you ask? Two words - "Lord Jesus". The difference is the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm greatful for Jesus. He challenges me. He challenges particularly the me who might otherwise be tempted, as many have before me, to mythologize him away. To make him all symbol, and not really a man.

I say this as someone who, in my times of existential thought and pondering, have considered the possibility that there is no God, as well as the possibility not just that Jesus was not the Son of God, but that there was no Jesus. That the man Jesus was simply a story - a person made up to tell the story of the Christ, the Son of God, in a more understandable way. But that he was no more real (and some would say no less) than Zeus, or Apollo, or Mithras, etc. Oh, I've let myself think the thoughts. And ironically, what I found was not what I expected.

I can, if I try hard enough, doubt the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's experiences. I can doubt not just the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth, but even the historical existence of Jesus. I can doubt the existence of God. Now, I'm not saying I do. Indeed, I choose not to doubt them and choose to accept the spiritual witnesses that I have received of those things.

But I know not only enough people who have had similar experiences and denied them, but also enough about the difference between those experiences and the more, tangible say, ones of getting dressed in the morning or stubbing my toe. I recognize the potential in me - the potential in all of us, to turn from faith to doubt.

But I can't doubt the Christ. Indeed, I think that should I ever get to a place where I could doubt the Christ, I should be very near lost. In fact, I can only think of one time in my life, as a freshman in college, when I had a particularly "dark night of the soul" where I think I could say I came close to doubting the Christ. And I was filled with Christ's light that night.

Why can't I doubt Christ? I can't doubt Christ because as a dear friend of mine would put it (though he does so with the word 'God'), Christ is posited, not proven. I can't doubt Christ because, to put it bluntly, I'm not a good enough skeptic to doubt my own or the rest of humanities existence. And I see Christ in us.

In a sense, I might say I have greater faith in Christ than I do in God. I'm not sure that's true, but it might be. You see, let's take the stereotype atheistic science is everything materialist outlook (ironically, of course, Mormonism is a very materialistic faith). Everything just came into being. Now, if the world is totally deterministic than this all kind of falls apart to me as well I must admit. Or, at the very least, becomes entirely uninteresting. But taking two ideas - one, we humans exist in this universe and two, we have some degree of choice, then I believe in Christ. Christ is my choice for how I view the world. And with Christ comes God, and with both, to me, come Mormonism.

Regardless of anything else (i.e. - even if there is no God {now}) if we exist and have choice than Christ is, because at least some of us choose to believe in him. And our belief leads us to be his disciples and to do his work. To become him.

The story of Christ is that God (i.e. at most extreme, the universe) became flesh, suffered with and for us, and made us at one.

And that is something I believe in. We humans should and can love each other. We can suffer together. We can build each other up. And perhaps, just perhaps, we can find a way to overcome death and hell and become the Gods that we have faith in.

Let's take the other extreme, to perhaps make things clear(er). Let's imagine a world with God but without Christ.

This is one I do not have faith in. Seriously. Without the story of Christ, without both God becoming one of us, and asking us to become one with him, I'm not sure why I should care a great deal about God. I would not make a good Muslim perhaps. Though if I understand their theology at all, I wouldn't make much of a fundamentalist/Calvinist Christian either.

Nor do I have faith in determinism (nor, if determinims is true, does it matter); in fact, definitionally I can't have faith in determinism. Faith, as Joseph taught, is a belief leading to action.

Anyway, the point I don't think I've made clearly is that the story - the myth - of Christ is powerful to me. I have faith in it, even if nothing else about the gospel were true. I believe the story that much, that we would be able to make it true. It is a story that inspires faith in us - inspires us to action.

But this is also where this line of thought kind of all falls apart.

I believe it because it "tastes good". Because as I both reflect on my experience and observe the world around me, the universe seems to respond to my faith - to our faith. I have faith that the story of Christ would come true because I beleive that the universe simply is that way.

I acknowledge, I guess, that I could stop having faith in Christ. But it would entail a lose of faith in either my ability to choose or in my own existence.

But I do believe in myself. I do believe I have choice. And so I believe in Christ. And so I believe not only in Christ, but in God. I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, even when I'm not certain what that al entails. And I believe not only that Christ is a powerful myth, but I believe that Christ lives - again, even without knowing what that really means.

Which is why I'm grateful Joseph wrote those two extra words, "Lord Jesus".

They challenge my inner skeptic. They challenge that part of my that risks allegorizing the concrete away and spiritualizing it all. That would rest content in the "spiritual power" that I truly feel in the powerful stories that are told and perhaps let myself drift into those who do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Son of God or that he rose again the third day.

It is, in the scientific sense, unknowable. It is, in the scientific sense, profoundly implausible, impossible even. I hold my beliefs tentative - I do not know with certainty what things were, nor what things are.

But I have faith. First and foremost, I have faith in Christ - and I am grateful, each week as I take the sacrament, that that includes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ too.

Plain and Precious Truths: The Council of the Gods

One aspect of the restoration was expressed by Nephi in his vision, in which he describes many plain and precious truths that will be lost during the ages. If one looks at Joseph's teachings, there is one, I would argue, that stands out most clearly as such a restoration. It is one we talk about but don't emphasize too much. Ironically enough, it is not one that Nephi, nor the entire Book of Mormon even addresses. But as a testament, not only of Jesus Christ, but of Joseph's mission as prophet, seer, and revelator, the Book still sets the stage.

I am referring, of course, to the restoration of the plurality of Gods. Of all Joseph's teachings, this remains perhaps one of the most radical. It is also one of the most outstanding, in that it preceeded any significant research on the subject of the Israelites ancient beliefs by over one hundred years. It doesn't take too much digging to find the wide swath of historians who will agree (there are, of course, those who do not) that the ancient Israelites were not the monotheists of lore, but polytheists. Polytheists who believed in a pantheon of gods, a Council in Heavan, so to speak, overseen by a Most High God. Some even argue that the development of Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God) was a merging of two Gods, a Father and Son, and that the merger was not complete in some segments until even after Jesus Christ, with some holding a view that Yahweh Elohim was God and that he was served by the Angel of the Lord, a sort of secondary deity. This is perhaps what allowed Jesus to be accept so readily (by a least a portion); there was many who could see in Jesus' messiahship this very aspect of the "Other God", so to speak. Of course, the other part of this pantheon is the female deities, the Goddess wives of the God husbands, the most well known name wise being Asherah, the Queen of Heaven. An idea, of course, which Joseph also restored in laying the foundation for discussion (what little we have) of our Mother in Heaven.

What I find particularly interesting about this particular branch of the restoration is that, as I said above (and would say better, with footnotes and whatnot, were I not so lazy) is that this is perhaps the clearest example of Joseph restoring a clearly ancient idea without any real preceding foundation. There is not equivalent to Swedenbourg's three heavens, or to the Masons' ceremony, or even the Kabbalists Tree of Life (I'm not saying necessary arguing this things were the source of even the inspiration for Joseph, only that they had a potential role). I think you would be hard pressed to find any meaningful source for the Council of the Gods in Joseph's environment. And certainly, as I mentioned, not scholar who would be talking about it for another century. Yet there it is, from as early as Section 76 in the D&C, and finally so bold put forward in Joseph's last sermons, the King Follett discourse and the Sermon in the Grove. I'm not saying "and this proves Joseph was a prophet". No testimony should be based on such ideas. Nevertheless, there it is, begging to be explained, how his relatively uneducated man came forward with such a bold and blasphemous idea. Even more, how he could be so right.

It does to me emphasize the importance of a prophet, however. All these scholars have written all these books about it. Yet not one is able to step forward and say "And this is the truth about God(s)!". Yet Joseph was, and did.

The other irony, of course, is how little we appreciate it. How little we do with it. Joseph taught it so boldly, so defiantly, and it impacted Mormonism quite significantly early on. Not so much now. Of course, of itself that isn't a problem and it certainly isn't my place to say what should and shouldn't be emphasized, and there are all the easy arguments, and all the good ones too, about why we choose not to. But the irony remains - if we are going to make such a big deal about the restoration, not just of authority, but of plain and precious truths as well, that we wouldn't make more of one of the clearest restorations of such truths Joseph gave us.

Some scriptures of note
Deut. 10:17
D&C 76:58 (incidentally, while this verse specifically refers to sons of God, I think the context obviously implies daughters as well, particularly verse 24)
D&C 121:28
D&C 121:32
D&C 132:20
Abraham 4

In the end, it seems to me that we are, as a whole, very uncomfortable with the idea of the plurality of gods. Perhaps it makes us feel too "outside the mainstream". But the discomfort is obvious. I just can't quite grasp why...