Sunday, May 29, 2005

A More Sustainable and Inclusive Motherhood

This is the fifth installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
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Having discussed the divine role of mothers as creators, redeemers and saviors, and judges, I would now like to introduce a discussion of ways in which this role might be made more sustainable, and also more broad and inclusive.

Considering the sacrifices motherhood entails, it would not surprise me if the prospect of an eternal progeny as innumberable as the sands of the seashore seems, to some, more ominous than glorious. Historically, childbirth routinely claimed womens’ lives; thankfully, modern medical advances have ameliorated much of this danger. But also, it seems that motherhood has historically worn out many womens’ lives as well, taking not just a physical toll, but mental and emotional tolls as well---and I don’t know that as much progress has been made on this front. I suppose only those living and experiencing it could say. It's true that we don’t know in any detail what motherhood in eternity would be like; we may speculate that it is different than it is here in mortality, in ways that will make it more bearable. One might hope so, if it is a role that is to last forever!

But since we don't know for sure that the nature of celestial motherhood will be drastically different, perhaps we should "plan for the worst," so to speak. Regarding our own responsibility to make heaven heavenly, I like the following thought from Brigham Young regarding the heavenly city, described by John the Revelator as having streets paved with gold:
...we will have to go to work and get the gold out of the mountains to lay down, if we ever walk in streets paved with gold. The angels that now walk in their golden streets, and they have the tree of life within their paradise, had to obtain that gold and put it there. When we have streets paved with gold, we will have placed it there ourselves. When we enjoy a Zion in its beauty and glory, it will be when we have built it. If we enjoy the Zion that we now anticipate, it will be after we redeem and prepare it. If we live in the city of the New Jerusalem, it will be because we lay the foundation and build it. (JD 8:354-355)
Hence we should not simply presume that all will magically be different in eternity, and this includes motherhood: we should take responsibility in the here and now, to learn to do it in a way that would be sustainable throughout eternity if necessary.

There is necessarily sacrifice, a setting a portion of one’s life apart for this divine purpose instead of one’s own interests; but even the Savior received succor in the midst of his atoning sacrifice. Moreover, while infinitely deep, the Savior's distress was quite limited in space and time, and soon afterwards came the resurrection. By comparison the sacrifices of motherhood are, if not as deep, more sustained and extended in time. Ongoing succor, and some early installments of “resurrection,” or “new life,” in the midst of the sacrifice would, I imagine, be welcome.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

New Biological Evidence for Middle Easterners in the New World: The Smell Test

Jeff Lindsay and Clark Goble have brought the paper Human Lymphocyte Antigens: Apparent Afro-Asiatic, Southern Asian, & European HLAs in Indigenous American Populations to the attention of the Bloggernaccle. I am going to be lazy here and sound off without reading anything beyond a preface to the article, which I quote below.

Would that this had appeared in a peer-reviewed journal more directly related to microbiology. It doesn't sound like it was written or peer-reviewed by people with the relevant training and expertise in microbiology. Instead, it was written by someone with a "long interest" in microbiology, and published and publicized by outlets with an axe to grind on a subject (trans-oceanic cultural influence on the Americas) not directly related to microbiology. Here is the preface to the linked article:
In our pursuit of cultural and physical human diffusion around the globe, NEARA encourages research exploring "hard" scientific evidence. Over the years, Jim Guthrie has published numerous articles in the NEARA Journal on many subjects. Now, his long interest in micro-biology has culminated in a comprehensive article on human lymphocyte antigens and their dispersal into indigenous American populations, published in Pre-Columbiana, Volume 2, Number 2 & 3, December 2000 & June 2001. Pre-Columbiana, like the NEARA Journal has a limited circulation and the NEARA editorial team felt that this work is so important, that it must reach as wide an audience as possible, scientist and layman alike. In collaboration with Pre-Columbiana editor Stephen Jett and with permission, we are pleased to make this ground-breaking research available on through the internet.
This provenance smells funny to me; but of course, this alone doesn't mean it's wrong. It simply means it's hard for me to get excited about it until those with the relevant expertise weigh in. I hope to learn more about this as this occurs. But its initial impact (on me at least) would have been much stronger if the relevant microbiology had been published in a journal that peer-reviews microbiology; then the anthropological claims could follow later.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Three Not-So-Glorious Degrees

Thanks to Steve for mentioning a post of mine in his reliably witty Weekly Zeitgeist at Bloggernaccle Times.

Picking up on Steve's pun on "three degrees of glory," let me tell you about three not-so-glorious degrees I learned about from one of my grandfathers, Shirrel Young. Upon finishing my Ph.D., he looked me in the eye and said, "Christian, do you know the significance of a Ph.D.?" "Well, I'm glad to be done," I replied. "Yes, it's been a long road," he said. "First, you got a B.S., and we all know what that stands for. Then came the M.S.---More of the Same. But with a Ph.D.---well, now it's just Piled Higher and Deeper!

Both of my grandfathers were smart guys that accomplished more without college degrees than I imagine I ever will with degrees. Recording here the lore I remember off the top of my head, which may need some fact-checking: a fascination with airplanes got Shirrel Young working for an aeronautical company as a very young man, and he ended up having a career as an engineer ranging from work on the P-51 Mustang (a WWII fighter) to spy cameras on the SR-71 Blackbird (1970s high-altitude spy plane---not sure if they're still in use). My other grandfather, John Cardall, started a degree in chemistry at the University of Utah, but ended up marrying and settling down in the Los Angeles area before finishing. Setting up his own chemistry lab to do experiments, he developed a chemical pool cleaning company named PoolChlor that continues successfully to this day.

I love these men and the heritage they represent (which of course is much more than I can indicate here). I'm proud of them, in case you can't tell. Aspects of their lives were exasperating (and worse) to their families, something that weighs on me as I ponder the effects of my life on those close to me. But that doesn't diminish my affection for my grandfathers. I suppose distance makes that easy for me. I hope my descendents will be able to look back upon me with similar fondness.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Rollback of the Classical Mormon Perspective on Humanity's Origin and Destiny?

While the evidence is mixed, certain recent statements by President Gordon B. Hinckley can be read as hinting at a distancing of the current public stance of the Church from classical Mormon ideas on the origin and destiny of humanity. This hinges on an oft-underappreciated distinction between two very different ways of understanding God's role in the creation of human beings. And it may represent a humble and courageous willingness to open oneself beyond dogma.

By "the classical Mormon perspective on the origin and destiny of man," I mean notions of God as Literal Father. A comprehensive formulation of these ideas was articulated succinctly, and surprisingly recently, by a President of the Church in a formal setting. In the April 1977 General Conference, President Spencer W. Kimball gave a talk entitled Our Great Potential, which seemed to endorse each of the following ideas: self-existent, eternal intelligences; divine procreation of spirit bodies to clothe these intelligences; divine procreation of Adam and Eve; and the capacity to procreate both spirit and body as the destiny of the faithful in eternity. Here I mention three features of President Kimball's talk that illustrate some of these ideas. Quoting Brigham Young, President Kimball stated:
Millions of us have contributed toward the creation and the development of a spirit, but “the germ of this, God has placed within us. And when our spirits receive our bodies, and through our faithfulness we are worthy to be crowned, we will then receive authority to produce both spirit and body. But these keys we cannot receive in the flesh.” (JD, 15:137.)
In addition, President Lorenzo Snow's couplet “As man is, God once was; and as God is, man may become” was quoted in this talk---not once, but twice. To close the talk, President Kimball read the words to the hymn O My Father, penned by Eliza R. Snow (sister of President Snow), which refers to both a Father and a Mother in heaven.

Restricting themselves to metaphorical interpretations of the fatherhood of God, mainstream Christians are likely to conceptualize God's role in the creation of humanity in a very different way: God as Engineer. Perhaps Mormons have not always perceived an incompatibility here, but it doesn't take much reflection to see that procreation (what a literal "Father" does) and design (what an "Engineer" does) are distinct, mutually exclusive activities. One is the unleashing of an automatic biological process; the other is a more direct, deliberate, and ongoing "hands on" arrangement of raw materials into a desired form.

Perhaps surprisingly in light of classical Mormon ideas, some statements by President Hinckley seem to be more sympathetic to and compatible with the perspective of God as Engineer. In the following quote from a First Presidency Message in the Ensign (originally given as a student fireside at BYU), note the use of the word "design," as well as the phrase "eternal spirits," which may negate the notion that spirit bodies had a beginning (and hence a "birth"):
Look at your finger. The most skillful attempt to reproduce it mechanically has brought only a crude approximation. The next time you use your finger, look at it, and sense the wonder of it....

I believe the human body to be the creation of Divinity. George Gallup once observed, “I could prove God statistically. Take the human body alone—the chance that all the functions of the individual would just happen is a statistical monstrosity.” Our bodies were designed by our Eternal Father to be the tabernacle of our eternal spirits. (August 1992)
Regarding the Lorenzo Snow statement, it is reported that in three interviews in 1997, President Hinckley seemed to minimize its importance. (I'm not excited about linking this source, but the original news outlets probably don't have these quotations online.) He seems to hedge on the certainty with which we know it would entail something as specific as the divine procreation contemplated by the classical Mormon perspective; he prefers to refer instead to a more generic "eternal progression" whose nature is unspecified. Asked by the San Francisco Chronicle if God was once a man, he replied
I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.' Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about.... Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. (April 13)
On PBS, regarding the possibility of becoming gods in the afterlife:
Well, they can achieve to a godly status, yes, of course they can, eternal progression. We believe in the progression of the human soul. … We believe in the eternity and the infinity of the human soul, and its great possibilities. (July 18)
To Time, again regarding whether God was once a man:
I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it … I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it. (August 4)
To be sure, there are factors mitigating against a putative change in doctrinal direction. For example, sensitivity to audience and the vagaries of quote selection need to be taken into account in assessing these statements in the press, as President Hinckley himself observed in the November 1997 General Conference:
I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.
In addition, in a General Womens' Meeting in 1991 he noted (with a tone that possibly hints of reluctance) that as a matter of history the idea of a Mother in Heaven was "not corrected" by Joseph Smith, that her existence is suggested by "logic and reason," and that the doctrine "rests well" with him (even if prayer to her does not). One may ask, then, why he would think logic and reason suggest a Mother in Heaven if divine procreation were not part of the picture; are male and female needed to be "joint engineers" or something?

When it comes to the status of the classical Mormon view of divine procreation, what are we to make of this mixed bag?

Someone interested in a reconciliation with evolution might be tempted to make the following argument: God as Literal Father and God as Engineer are mutually exclusive; President Hinckley argued for God as Engineer in 1992; President Hinckley was not President of the Church in 1992, and as a counselor he would never dream of unilaterally overturning doctrine; therefore, God as Literal Father must never have been doctrine. (And as a corollary, because God as Literal Father was taught by President Kimball in General Conference, it must be that being taught by a President of the Church in Conference is not sufficient to make something doctrine.)

It may be that the truth is not yet clear, but the reality is likely to be much murkier than this clean argument suggests. For one thing, perhaps the argument is simply wrong: President Hinckley may not perceive an incompatibility between God as Literal Father and God as Engineer, either because he's smarter than me (not unlikely) or because he hasn't thought about it carefully in this way (not impossible).

But beyond this is the fact that all such simple arguments are at best simplifications of the complexities of the real world. One might marvel at the somewhat inchoate cluster of ideas represented by the above quotations in comparison with the relative clarity of the formulations of, say, President Kimball's talk cited above, or Elder McConkie's systematizations; perhaps it represents the growing pains associated with a desire to be less dogmatic, born of a sensitivity to the realities of data not previously given adequate consideration. We then witness the buffeting that results from a release of one's death-grip on dogma, arising from a challenging set of diverse circumstances with sometimes-conflicting requirements: a desire to motivate belief in an unbelieving world (August 1992); the public relations needs of a global missionary Church (April, July, August 1997); the need to assure members of doctrinal purity, consistency, and (perhaps most importantly) continuity (1991, November 1997); and the necessity of reigning in aberrant ideas and practices (1991). All this, in the presence of the overarching perennial problem: The lack of clear, unmistakable revelation on the nature of cosmic realities.

[This is cross-posted from Mormon Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation. Please go to the original post to comment.]

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Elder Oaks' Credential Touting

Seems like the Mother's Day talk could use an intermission.

Within the space of a week, I became aware of two recent talks by Elder Oaks---one at the Joseph Smith Conference at the Library of Congress, and the other to the J. Reuben Clark Law Society---in which he discussed his impressive legal credentials. Two things about this interested me. What purposes do such recitals serve? To what extent can such credentials really be considered a joint enterprise of husband and wife?

Elder Oaks' experience is impressive: after receiving a J.D. from the University of Chicago, he served as a clerk with Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court, as a lawyer in a Chicago firm, as a professor at the University of Chicago law school, as the president of BYU, and as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court. (Did I miss anything?)

The phenomenon of recounting one's own history seems a little strange---at least, I imagine that in a talk, as the focus of attention, I would feel self-conscious. (I also wonder about this when I hear President Monson recount his own personal experiences of service. Inspiring, yes, but how do we know when we've crossed the line to doing what Jesus forbad in the Sermon on the Mount? Superficially, the Sermon on the Mount seems contradictory on this point: "Let your light so shine" (Matthew 5:16) and so forth, but also "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Matthew 6:3) and so on.) On the other hand, I suppose it's not so uncommon, as the topic arises in conversation, to discuss one's own experience and accomplishments---for example, me, this morning. But what purpose does it serve? Is it appropriate to recite one's own resume as a model to others, or would it be better to do so with other peoples' lives, to avoid any appearance of bragging? In the case of General Authorities, do mortal credentials serve to increase faith in spiritual authority?

Elder Oaks' description of his decision to leave law practice and accept a position at the University of Chicago was interesting, as he cast it in the first person plural. After pondering and prayer with his wife, `We decided it would be a valuable preparation for us,' or something along those lines. (I think he said he wrote this in his journal at the time.) The context of the remarks may suggest he was thinking of preparation for service in the Church. Was this really a preparation for "us," or for "me"? Sacrifices made by women are often framed as sacrifices for children, but what portion of these sacrifices is actually in the service of a husband's ambition, whether professional or ecclesiastical? (I'm not saying a desire to do well at one's chosen vocation, or a desire to be of service, are bad things.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Mothers as Judges

This is the fourth installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
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Now for the third divine capacity, mothers as judges. It is a role many children experience early on. Many mothers have taken primary responsibility for managing a household, and as part of this they do a good deal of teaching, training, and disciplining. Like the mighty judges of ancient Israel (at least one of which---Deborah---was a woman), mothers are sort of like the legislative, executive, and judicial branches all rolled into one.

Mothers are often compassionate in this role. How many of us as children, when Father was apt to anger too quickly or react too harshly, saw Mother act as “an advocate with the Father”? Like the Savior as Judge, mothers tend to see their children through rose-colored glasses, accentuating every possible good, and taking into account every mitigating circumstance. (At least they do so when one step removed in time or space from daily frustrations!) As the saying goes, “A face only a mother could love”---and the same sometimes goes for personalities, and souls.

For all this forbearance, there is also a sense, even long after leaving home, of not wanting to let her down, of wanting her to be proud. The practical rhythms and skills of life we learn from our mothers serve us through the years, and echos of the wisdom and standards they teach linger with us as as a persistent influence. I seem to recall seeing more than once in war movies an invocation of Mother coming to a dying soldier's lips in his final moments, perhaps as an involuntary desperate plea for help; but also, in one’s final moments, a review of one’s life, and a hope that mother would be proud.

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This concludes Part I, "Descriptive."

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Mothers as Redeemers and Saviors

This is the third installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
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Next, consider mothers as redeemers and saviors. Is it blasphemous to compare any mortal role to the Savior’s atonement? It must not be, because we already do so, in connection with salvation for the dead. Drawing on a scriptural phrase, those performing ordinances for those beyond the veil are conceptualized as “saviors on mount Zion.”

The essence of the saving and redeeming aspect of temple work for the dead---as well as the saving and redeeming role of Jesus---is that it is vicarious service: Something is done for others that they cannot do for themselves.

Young children have much they cannot do for themselves: they cannot feed themselves, clothe themselves, bathe themselves, shelter themselves, comfort themselves, teach themselves---or clean up after themselves, at least at first. It's an exhausting list to read, let alone execute continually on a daily basis, without holidays or breaks on the weekends! Allow me the creative license to take the words of President J. Reuben Clark---who spoke of the relentlessness of interest on debt---and adapt it to parental responsibility:
[Responsibility for childrens' needs] never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; it never visits nor travels; it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours.... Once [a parent], [responsibility for your childrens' needs] is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you. (CR, April 1938)
Now, President Clark was speaking of debt, with consequent interest payments, as something to be avoided; in contrast, we are to seek the responsibility of parenthood, to "multiply and replenish the earth." It is a commandment that "remains in force," according to the Proclamation on the Family, which adds that "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." Indeed, there can be little question that historically it has been mothers that have borne the overwhelming majority of the responsibility for caring for children, sacrificing their individual time, and often their talents, interests, and dreams in the process.

There are senses in which the burden of motherhood is like the burden of Gethsemane. These sacrifices seem more portentous in light of the Proclamation's additional assertion that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." Like the sacrifice of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," the sacrifices of motherhood seem foreordained; there is no evasion, or getting around it; there is only "through." Drinking this sometimes-bitter cup not just once, but day in and day out, "Not my will, but thine, be done" becomes not only an isolated instance of submission to God, but a habitual response to the demands of family needs. And all too often, it is a wine-press trodden alone.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Mothers as Creators

This is the second installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
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Consider, first, mothers as creators. By giving us mortal life, our parents have in some sense given us all that we have. The capacity to create---particularly, to procreate---is, in our theology, a large part of what makes God a god. "Of all the titles [God] has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares," explains Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. "Creation is his watchword---especially human creation, creation in his image."

Elder Holland describes this capacity in terms of a sacrament. He explains that while we use this word to denote the partaking of the emblems of the Lord’s supper, it has a more general meaning. A sacrament in this more general sense is a
union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours….

Those special moments of union with God are sacramental moments--such as kneeling at a marriage altar, or blessing a newborn baby, or partaking of the emblems of the Lord's supper. This latter ordinance is the one we in the Church have come to associate most traditionally with the word sacrament, though it is technically only one of many such moments when we formally take the hand of God and feel his divine power….

[Human intimacy] is also, in its own profound way, a very real sacrament of the highest order, a union not only of a man and a woman but very much the union of that man and woman with God. Indeed, if our definition of sacrament is that act of claiming and sharing and exercising God's own inestimable power… I know of nothing so earth-shatteringly powerful…as the God-given power available in every one of us…to create a human body, that wonder of all wonders, a genetically and spiritually unique being never seen before in the history of the world and never to be duplicated again in all the ages of eternity---a child, your child---with eyes and ears and fingers and toes and a future of unspeakable grandeur….

And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. (emphasis in original)
This distinctive Latter-day Saint perspective on divinity---including our proximity to and potential for it---is not peculiar to Elder Holland, but derives from revelation to the prophet Joseph Smith:
...verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife…by the new and everlasting covenant,…[it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; …[they shall receive] their exaltation and glory in all things, …which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue. (D&C 132:19-20)
According to Joseph Smith, then, the capacity to extend and continue oneself through the creative capacity of fatherhood and motherhood is central to divinity.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Elements of a Divine Role

This is the first installment of a talk entitled The Divine Role of Mothers.
Overview | Next

Brothers and Sisters, the Bishropric has asked me to speak on a specific topic: “The Divine Role of Mothers.” I am at a decided disadvantage in comparison with the previous two speakers, because I have no actual experience as a mother. Moreover, I have made the task even more challenging for myself: I have set a personal goal to address this subject without once referring to either the “sons of Helaman” or their mothers.

The phrase “divine role” reminds me of a principle I taught as a missionary. [Holding up a copy of the missionary discussions] Here is a copy of the missionary discussions, as they were when I was out in the field. The principle I’m remembering came from the sixth discussion. This is Kimberly’s copy; I could not find mine. She had them bound together, but I had kept mine loose. In going out each morning and afternoon I would only put in my bag the discussions we planned to teach that day. This means that my copy of the sixth discussion was in much better shape than the first discussion, because it was used much more rarely---one gives many more first discussions than sixth discussions. Sixth discussions being comparatively rare, I’m surprised this principle came back to me after all these years.

Unlike mine, Kimberly’s copies of the discussions, being bound together, each appear equally heavily used. They’re still legible, but the fact that they’re legible doesn’t mean I’m going to read to you the principle I have in mind. Now, missionaries are taught to present the ideas in their own words as the Spirit directs, and not read directly from the lessons. But that’s not why I’m not going to read it to you. It’s also true that these six discussions have been superceded---the missionaries now teach from a different set of lessons. But that’s not the reason I’m not going to read it to you, either. I’m not going to read it to you because it’s in Spanish.

But I will translate for you, from Principle 1 of Discussion 6.
The Role of Jesus Christ in the Plan of Salvation.

Jesus Christ is the Creator. We have faith in Jesus Christ for many reasons. He is the Creator. In Mosiah 3:8 we read, “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” Under the direction of the Father, he created the earth and everything upon it, thus giving us all we have.

Our Redeemer and Savior. He is our Redeemer and Savior, and, through his sacrifice, we can return to live with him and with our Heavenly Father.

Our Judge. Jesus Christ will be our judge and, when we die, will judge us in accordance with our works and desires. He will be our advocate with the Father.
I remembered this principle in connection with my assigned topic not because the scripture it cites mentions Mary, the mother of Jesus, but because it was something I could latch on to in trying to understand what a “divine role” is. Jesus is a divine being; hence his capacities as Creator, Redeemer and Savior, and Judge constitute his "divine role." Now, these aspects of his role have been and will be exercised in the premortal, mortal, and postmortal phases of Jesus’ eternal existence, and they include tasks that only he could perform. Nevertheless, I think the capacities of Creator, Redeemer and Savior, and Judge provide a way to start thinking about what a mother’s “divine role” is.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Journal of Discourses: The Divine Role of Mothers

[UPDATE, 12 May: I changed the name of Part I to "Descriptive."]

[UPDATE, 10 May: I have added names to the two parts of the talk, and a bit of additional text at the bottom. Links to the various segments will be added as they are posted.]

Believe it or not, even knowing something of my Spinozist tendencies, the Bishopric of my ward asked me to give talk on Mother's Day. I was given a specific title: The Divine Role of Mothers. I spoke from rough notes; over the next several days I will flesh it out into prose and post it here in bite-sized pieces. Here is an overview.
The Divine Role of Mothers

Part I: Descriptive

Elements of a Divine Role
Mothers as Creators
Mothers as Redeemers and Saviors
Mothers as Judges

Part II: Prescriptive

A More Sustainable and Inclusive Motherhood
Judicious Use of a Precious Resource
A Shared Responsibility
More to Life
I would appreciate any constructive feedback---particularly from the sisters---for several reasons: to help me in my own interactions with women, to provide wisdom to pass along to our three daughters, and in case I should ever be called upon again to navigate the treacherous waters of a Mother's Day talk.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Schroedinger's Cat in the City of Angels

Los Angeles. The Angels. A brief visit gives the Spinozist a chance to reflect upon them.

Emerging from the elevator on the 18th floor of his Wilshire Boulevard hotel, the Spinozist is greeted with a spectacular view: the temple of Los Angeles, just blocks away, gloriously outshining the lesser city lights spread out in the distance like glittering diamonds scattered across a jewler's balck velvet display cloth. Atop the temple in brilliant gold stands the most remarkable angelic denizen of this City of Angels, standing defiantly with trumpet raised, high above the city streets, in the midst of heaven, so to speak,
having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,

Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
Musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly, the Spinozist notes that from this vantage point the herald angel's sound is somewhat muted; the heavenly ministrant faces a different direction, the sound of the trump is crowded out by the bustle of Babylon below.

The fleeting vision dissipates as the Spinozist turns away, when, in the midst of his meditation, the first vision is suddenly replaced by another. The Spinozist's assigned room is on the other side of the building; upon entry, the supplanting panorama greets him, an incarnation of a shopping list of iniquities detailed in the angelic minister's ancient record. Towering, luxurious apartment and office buildings on the other side of Wilshire reach towards heaven, latter-day ziggurats proclaiming man's wealth and power; behind them, a moat of costly Westwood residential real estate surrounds a fortress of humanity's creative and exploratory powers, where muddy bricks of Knowledge and Meaning are assembled into the spiritual Tower of Babel that animates the physical instantiations in the foreground.

This, spreading out in the shadows of the Everlasting Hills Hollywood and Beverly, is the Spinozist's destination: a modern university. On the morrow he will gather with its priestly inhabitants, famously "clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood," bustling about like diligent ants in their hive of learning. Briefly, he thinks also of the enclave's young supplicants, encountering the world of Charlotte Simmons. Tonight, like ancient Lamanite warriors imbibing their bounty before going to battle on the morrow, these apprentices check off their extracurricular shopping lists of iniquity in a bid for strength against the morning's engagement with the curricular requirement lists that will give them their permanent ticket to Babylon.
And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
Wanderlust of mind and spirit overcomes a tired body's aching for rest. By this time, so deep are the impressions made on the Spinozist's mind, that sleep has fled from his eyes, and he lays overwhelmed in astonishment at what he has both seen and heard; but what is his surprise when another vision presents itself to his mind, borrowed from another young man in another time, a commencement speaker named Alfred Kelley: a vision of another university, set in another valley, beneath another set of everlasting hills. Spreading from the then-bare Temple Hill presiding over a then-empty landscape, "temples of learning" fill the valley in the young man's mind.

It is a vision fulfilled in the Spinozist's day, complete with a temple proper crowned with another (actually, the same) golden messenger---a vision he once found sufficiently inspiring to feature in a commencement address of his own, but which now questions. The Spinozist wonders anew at the bold experiment, the philosophies of men mingled with scripture. He recalls its inhabitants, not ants clothed purely in black, but deseret in its beehive: busybodies with well-separated stripes of academic black and revelatory gold. He wonders at the mingling, and the separation, wondering what the final outcome will be. Engaging with the slow but persistent would-be revelatory solvent, will humanity's proud juggernaut of learning and wealthy competence be revealed as salt---not useless, but nevertheless ultimately to be dissolved and subsumed? Or is it oil, presently mixed in colloidal suspension by intentional shaking, only to rise inexorably to the top as the weight of empirical reality pulls the revelatory water to the bottom?

Seeking an instantaneous solution to this conundrum, and still having angels on his mind, the Spinozist recalls recently spoken words, and hopefully makes an instantaneous pilgirimage across cyberspace to consult the delphic sayings of the oracles. He ponders---weighs---the following:
The spiritual gifts described in the Book of Mormon are present in the Church today—promptings, impressions, revelations, dreams, visions, visitations, miracles. You can be sure that the Lord can, and at times does, manifest Himself with power and great glory. Miracles can occur.

Mormon said: "Has the day of miracles ceased?

"Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?

"Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought" (Moroni 7:35–37).

Pray always—alone and with your family. Answers will come in many ways.
He remembers the words recently spoken by another seer, illustrating one of these "many ways"---remembering also his own reflections upon it, and wondering if it's the most that can presently be offered. He next remembers the words recently spoken by The Seer. In spite of Joseph's promise that Jesus would visit from time to time, and even manifest the Father (TPJS p. 150-151, D&C 107:18-19), the Seer reports that Joseph's experience is the latest and greatest---nothing like it since.

The Spinozist remembers Joseph's endorsement of tactile witness, spoken in the context of a sermon on the temple:
No one can truly say he knows God until he has handled something and this can only be in the holiest of holies. (HC 4:608)
He marvels at the fact that we have no record of Joseph testifying of having such an experience. In making such statements, was Joseph looking forward with expectation to the future reception of this blessing in connection with the Fullness of the Priesthood, bestowed---along with the longevity and superhuman powers exhibited by antediluvian patriarchs---in a properly completed temple, which he did not live to see?

Returning full circle to the first seer quoted above, the Spinozist recognizes that promises about the Second Coming require an expansive definition of "this generation," one that effectively must encompass an entire dispensation---and that in spite of the inferences Church members commonly make based on testimony-by-dropped-hints, similar logic may apply to the cited promise of continued visitations: Perhaps the Brethren have an expansive definition of what occurs "today," or "at times"---expansive enough to include our founding generation---so that they may be satisfied with what they think they perceive through the Holy Ghost, and dreams.

The conundrum, therefore, remains unresolved. Even taking the Brethren to be sincere, the ambiguity and lack of detail of their statements preclude definitive, comprehensive evaluation of their intent and meaning.

Dueling cautions now enter the Spinozist's mind, telling him that Satan would try to tempt him to rationalize for the purpose of justifying sin, and that fear of annihilation would tempt him to cling to claims of immortality in a putative spiritual realm. He would fain forbid these motives, hoping he would have no other object in view in seeking truth but the benefit of humanity, and would not be influenced by any other motive than that of building better circumstances for himself and his fellows; otherwise he might not obtain it.

The Spinozist is left to ponder on the strangeness of what he has just experienced; when almost immediately following these concluding thoughts, the cock crows, and he finds that day is approaching, so that his musings must have occupied the whole of the night. Shortly he will arise from his bed, and, as usual, go to the necessary labors of the day.

Doubletree, reads the sign on the Spinozist's place of lodging, along with an image of two interlocked trees. On an upper floor high above the ground below, he feels unnaturally lifted up, precariously suspended between the holy temple on the one hand and secular temples of learning on the other, like an aerial tram terrifyingly stuck midway through its journey across a deep chasm. He imagines these two competing temples as referents of the two interlocked trees, the Tree of Life and and The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Caught between them in a baffling entanglement, he is Schroedinger's Cat, existing in a state of macroscopic quantum superposition, simultaneously and seemingly inconsistently heir to both eternal life and eternal death.

Given the limits of secular knowledge, and the limited nature of revealed testimony, he wonders if the measurement that will collapse this wavefunction will not come until his departure from this world. In one outcome of this definitive measurement, his immortal soul will survive the ordeal of death, and he will know the answer for himself. In the other, his brain and all its synaptic connections will crumble to the dust, never knowing it will wake no more---and never remembering it once thought to wonder.