Archive for May, 2011

Atonement Parable: Push-ups and donuts

May 26, 2011

This parable was found at the LDS.org facebook group called General Conference. I feel that it is a marvelous parable, and I’ve removed some of the extra words making it more streamlined. Now of course, all parables fall apart, but I’m very grateful for the changes President Benson made in the Church (outlined here) to have more of a focus on the Book of Mormon and less “folklore-ish” doctrines. That makes it possible for parables like this to get published on the Churches Facebook page.

DON’T LEAVE IT ON THE DESK

Dr. Christianson was a Professor of Religion at a small college who taught a required survey course on Christianity. Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the Christian gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously. One year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve who was studying to go to seminary to enter the ministry. Steve was popular, well liked, and was very physically fit, being the starting center on the football team. He was also the best student in the professor’s class.

One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him. “How many push-ups can you do?”
Steve said, “I do about 200 every night.”
“200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” Dr. Christianson said. “Do you think you could do 300?”
Steve replied, “I don’t know…. I’ve never done 300 at a time”
“Do you think you could?” again asked Dr. Christianson.
“Well, I can try,” said Steve.
“Can you do 300 in sets of 10?
I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it,” said the professor.
Steve said, “Well… I think I can…yeah, I can do it.”
Dr. Christianson said, “Good! I need you to do this on Friday.. Let me explain what I have in mind.”

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. No, these weren’t the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr. Christianson’s class.

Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?”
Cynthia said, “Yes.”
Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”
“Sure!” Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?”
Joe said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”
Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten push-ups for every person before they got their donut.
Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship..
When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?”
Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own push-ups?”
Dr. Christianson said, “No, Steve has to do them.”
Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
Dr… Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?”
With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten push-ups.
Scott said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!”
Dr.. Christianson said, “Look! This is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow.
Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Dr.. Christianson asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”
Sternly, Jenny said, “No.”
Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten….
Jenny got a donut.
By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say, “No!” and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks..
Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these push-ups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.
Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten push-ups in a set because he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for all of those uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert count the set and watch Steve closely.
Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row.. During his class, however, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
Dr. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.
Steve asked Dr. Christianson, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?”
Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, “Well, they’re your push-ups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way that you want.” And Dr. Christianson went on.
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!”
Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, “No, let him come.”
Professor Christianson said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten push-ups for him?”
Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.”
Dr. Christianson said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”
Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.”
“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?”
Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
Dr Christianson finished the fourth row, and then started on those visitors seated by the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. By this time sweat was profusely dropping off of his face, there was no sound except his heavybreathing; there was not a dry eye in the room..
The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?”
Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”
Professor Christianson quietly asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?”
Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda.
Then Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. “Susan, do you want a donut?”
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Dr. Christianson, why can’t I help him?”
Dr Christianson, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone; I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not.. When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked at my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push-ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”
“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?”
As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said, “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten. ”
Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile. ”
Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding, “Not all sermons are preached in words.”
Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not His Only Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price has been paid.”
“Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?”

The Parable of the Mirror

May 26, 2011

My late Grandmother enjoyed using seashells to decorate mirrors. She would collect the seashells from the beaches of Oregon and Hawaii, and glue them onto mirrors and give them as gifts. My parents received one such decorated mirror.

Now I present a fictitious event. Let’s say someone were to gift you such a mirror. You unwrap it and are very happy to see the beautiful shells, varied in color and shape. You pull it out an look closer at the mirror, and marvel at how the light bounces off giving you a reflection of yourself. You look even closer at the mirror and notice a fingerprint near the edge of the mirror, not in the center, not incredibly large, but not indiscernible either.

At this point you have two options.

You could assume that the person who made mirror was a perfect designer, one who can’t make mistakes, one who isn’t fallible. You must then assume, that since the mirror-maker can’t make mistakes, the fingerprint must be intended, otherwise the mirror maker wouldn’t be perfect.

You then have a couple of options.

You could pretend that the fingerprint doesn’t exist.
You could tell yourself that there’s nothing wrong with the fingerprint.
You could make up an “artsy” reason for it existing, “Just as this fingerprint blurs the reflection of myself, so too do I recognize that this mirror-maker has touched my life and their imprint on my life is just as visible as the fingerprint.”
You could listen to others who tell you that you’re not allowed to point out fingerprints, you know, because some people “may be harmed” by you pointing out the fingerprint.
You could fret about whether or not your overstepping your authority by cleaning the mirror.

Or you could just grab some Windex.

Guess what I’d do.

The Problem with “Praise to the Man”

May 23, 2011

I recognize a few things that others like about this song as being positive. I just also recognize lots of problems with it as well, and feel that there are more problems with it than there is good that comes from it. I would not feel comfortable promulgating this song in any setting, by playing piano or organ, or leading the music. Maybe it’s just because I had an MTC teacher who liked singing “Praise to the Man” and disliked singing the Doxology. I think I quipped, “If we’re allowed to sing “Praise to the Man” we should also be allowed to sing “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

My mother-in-law explained to me that she likes the song because it teaches a respect and love for Joseph Smith and his mission. I agree that we should love and respect the prophet Joseph Smith for his faithfulness to Christ, his obedience to God, and everything he did to serve as an instrument in God’s hand to restore the Gospel and Priesthood to this church. I just simply don’t feel that this song does it well. And I think the problem is emphasis.

I’ve placed all of the text into categories, only one of which is positive, in my view.

Doctrinal Truths:
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.

I believe that there are scriptures that teach that Joseph Smith “opened the last dispensation”, that his name “should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues,” 1 and that Parley Pratt taught that he received a revelation from God that “Joseph still holds the keys of my kingdom in this dispensation.” 2 And I think that we should teach each other and our children, as Elder Eyring taught3

…Jesus is the Christ and that He lives and leads His Church. We must also know for ourselves that the Lord restored His Church and the priesthood keys through the Prophet Joseph Smith. And we must have an assurance through the Holy Ghost, refreshed often, that those keys have been passed without interruption to the living prophet and that the Lord blesses and directs His people through the line of priesthood keys which reaches down … to us, wherever we are and no matter how far from the prophet and the apostles.

However, I feel the rest of the song just has the emphasis wrong. I feel that it is riddled by un-doctrinal statements, statements which are easily misunderstood by even the most sincere saints, and statements which are unnecessary and even in some cases unhealthy.

Un-doctrinal Statements:
I can find no scriptural statements which directly correspond to these statements…
Jesus annointed that Prophet and Seer.
While I believe that Joseph was chosen by Jesus, there is no scripture that teaches that Jesus anointed him. I can find no scriptural statements which directly correspond to this statement… I think it’s meant to be poetic rather than “true” and for my purposes, the poetry here does not justify the artistic license of teaching our saints “doctrine.”
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
While I certainly believe that Joseph will be exalted, we have no scripture that states that he has been, or even that he is currently meeting with the Godhead and “planning for his brethren.” I believe he’s at work, but again, this feels more like poetry that doesn’t teach scripturally based principles.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
While I certainly believe that Joseph will have great glory given to him through the Savior’s atonement, and that he holds an endless priesthood, I do not feel it proper to call it “his” priesthood any more than it is “his” or President Monson’s church, or that the Urbana Ward is “Bishop Johnson’s ward.” It all belongs to God. And while everyone will shake their heads and say, “Well of course, we all KNOW that!” I ask, “Why can’t our hymns reflect what we ALL know?”
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
While I recognize there are scriptures that talk about the earth calling unto the heavens for vengeance4 on behalf of the faithful martyrs, I know of none that teaches that the earth itself has to atone for Joseph’s blood. Too much of this phrase sounds too familiar to statements from the Journal of Discourses encouraging a belief in mortal “blood atonement” which the Church has officially denounced5 as doctrine. Too much of this phrase sounds too familiar to the “Oath of Vengeance” formerly included as part of the endowment ceremony: wherein members covenanted to pray for God to “avenge the blood of the prophets upon” the United States, and that they would teach the “same to your children and to your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.”6 I’ve never made that promise, and I feel no obligation to continue any form of that teaching. I want to follow the example of Heber J Grant who had the oath removed in 1927.

Easily Misunderstood:
I feel that this statement is too easily misunderstood, by members and by non-members…
Faithful and true he will enter his kingdom,
I believe that Joseph Smith was faithful and true to Jesus and His gospel. However, the song isn’t clear in teaching whose kingdom he will enter into. The whole song is about Joseph Smith. If the lyrics were at least, “the kingdom” or “Christ’s kingdom.” this phrase would work. As it stands it is just too ambiguous. Again, while everyone will shake their heads and say, “Well of course, we all KNOW that!” I ask, “Why can’t our hymns reflect what we ALL know?”

Unnecessary:
I feel that these statements are just unnecessary.
Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!

Unhealthy:
I feel that these statements are unhealthy.
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assasins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again.

My wife wants me to recognize the song as a specific type of literature, namely the genre of eulogy and hyperbole. I can understand the emotional connection the saints who had lost their beloved Prophet would have felt to this poem. I wouldn’t be too terribly upset if they had used the poem and the song as part of their grieving. My problem is that the song has endured far past its usefulness. The focus is incorrectly on the wrong person (as most eulogies are). Facts are hard to come by and emotionally charged and laden language is used. My life would have been better without this poem as part of my religious upbringing, and I do not feel the spirit when it is sung. I do not doubt the spirituality of those who do feel the spirit when it is sung. However, I would feel incredibly dishonest if I were to contribute in any way to this song being learned, performed, or even enjoyed.

I personally believe, that if the song’s focus were on the Savior, and if it more written more in line with Alma 26, I’d be OK with it… but as it is, I am not.

I have included the lyrics, and color coded the references to persons within the song. I believe it makes it easier to determine if the emphasis in this song is on the correct person. Jesus. Joseph. Others.

Text of “Praise to the Man”

Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus annointed that Prophet and Seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.

Chorus
Hail to the Prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vain.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.

Praise to his mem’ry, he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assasins,
Plead unto heav’n while the earth lauds his fame.
Chorus

Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Chorus

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for the conflict of justice.
Millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again.
Chorus

An analysis of these references in the lyrics show that 6% of the lyrics refer to Jesus, 62% refer to Joseph Smith, and 36% refer to other persons. A similar analysis of even “O How Lovely Was the Morning” shows that 67% of the references are to a member of the Godhead and only 33% refer to Joseph Smith. So it’s not like we’re incapable of writing songs with Joseph Smith that have the right emphasis, but rather Praise to the Man is just an incorrectly included “hymn”.

According to the preface of the 1985 LDS hymnal, hymns are meant to:

[I]nvite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.

By my estimation, the hymn “Praise to the Man” fails to adequately invite the Spirit of the Lord, create reverence for God, or offer praises to God. Some may argue that the song “unif[ies] members, inspire[s] to testimony, and inspire[s] us to endure to the end.” but it is at best a mixed bag. As far as I’m concerned, my conscious requires me to not participate in this song, either as a musician or a congregant. And I intend to give this document to every person who ever calls me to a music calling, from the primary to the stake. Because I just think that’s the right thing to do.

Notes:
[1] JS-H 1:33
[2] Quoted by Robert D Hales in ” A testimony of Prophets” Fireside at BYU June 5, 1994.
[3] Faith and Keys, Elder Henry B Eyring, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
[4] Genesis 4:10; Alma 1:13; 2 Nephi 26:3.
[5] “However, so-called “blood atonement,” by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people.” Deseret News.
[6] text Dialogue.