Saturday, July 30, 2011


My brother moved last year and his new yard is just too small. So small that they had to give up their trampoline. We are now the proud owners of a trampoline. Thanks guys...

I'm sure it will case many accidents in the future, but it will also bring huge amounts of joy and burn so much kiddy energy. So here's to summer fun.

Oh, on a side note, Hannah's becoming and escape artist, so watch out.

Kenny's Birthday?

Yes it's been two months. Time to play catch up.

Kenny's birthday was June 2. It was a Thursday so to accommodate work schedules we had an early lunch party. Nothing spectacular or extra special just some friends and family. Gramma and Grampa made their special pizza dough at Kenny's request.

We followed pizza with presents. Here Kenny is opening the one Alex picked for him. A couple of laser guns that Alex loves a much as Kenny does.

And here he is after opening the one from Mom and Dad. Does he look excited to you?

For his cake this year I made some rich chocolate brownies to go in home made chocolate bowls. The brownies were a little heavy for the bowls but so delicious.

Hannah had just a little too much "fun" with her cake.

Then it was time to play with the new toys. Here's Kenny with his cousin/best friend Isaac playing with his new guns.

Kenny with cousins Lucy and Matea experimenting with his new game.

Kenny also got several learning activity book so when the party was over we cracked those open. He does so good and has almost complete them all. Good thing this one is reusable. If you expand the picture you can actually read what he's written.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why I'm Still a Mormon

Note: This is not intended to convince anyone to join or leave the Church.  This is simply me explaining to people (mostly my family) why I am still a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There are so many people in my life with varying opinions and associations in the Church, so I just want to make it known where I stand.

The first 18 years of my life went pretty much the way they did for most other LDS kids.  I was born to a couple who were married in the temple and who raised my brother and sisters to be active members of the Church.  We were taught to follow the commandments, to sustain Church leaders, to pay an honest tithe, and to follow the Word of Wisdom.  I had conservative ideals, starting even at a young age when I didn’t really follow politics.  Once I was old enough to vote, I’d vote for right-wing parties, and I’d hope that Republican candidates in the States were elected.  I didn’t swear (much), I didn’t drink or smoke, and impure thoughts filled me with guilt.  My one “flaw” as an adolescent Mormon would probably be that I didn’t graduate from seminary.
            I was 18 years old, just a few months out of high school, something happened in my home life that triggered my first spiritual crisis.  At the request of those involved, I won't go into any details, but I found myself, for the first time, asking myself  “What if the Church isn’t true?”  The two years after the end of high school were tough for me for a variety of reasons, and this on top of everything else sent me into a funk.  I still went to church, but unenthusiastically, and I decided that I wasn’t going to serve a mission.
            Gradually, as things in my personal life settled down, I once again became the same shy, laid-back, mostly happy person I’d always been.  This, coupled with the gentle yet tenacious promptings of Bishop Hirsche, led me to the decision to serve a mission after all.  I reported to the MTC when I was 20, and came home when I was 22.  I came home more conservative than ever.  I wasn’t a ranting, raving, Glen Beck-esque conservative like the ones you see on TV with their “God Hates Fags” placards.  Rather, I was like what I believe most conservatives are: calm, considerate, and with a strict black-and-white view of the world.  This isn’t really surprising.  I think the year or two after anyone serves a mission is when we’re all at our most conservative.  Most of us mellow.  Some more than others.
            I mellowed a lot.  In the 2000 Canadian Federal election (about a month after I came home from my mission), I voted for the Canadian Alliance.  The last few elections, I’ve voted for the New Democratic Party.  My political opinions have swung wildly to the left, and a lot of my religious beliefs were pulled with them.  There is no denying that the LDS church, like any other western Christian religion, is a predominantly right-wing institution.  I found myself in another spiritual crisis, this one much more serious than the last one.  Out of my family of nine, only three of us have anything to do with the Church, and several of my cousins have distanced themselves from it as well.  They left for a variety of different reasons, and they all have a variety of different beliefs now.  Not only was I looking at the Church from my new position as a liberal, but most of the people who were close to me had reasons—a lot of them valid concerns—for why they had left the Church.
            I’m writing this to let you know that the crisis is behind me.  I’m still a liberal, I still have issues with the Church, but I still believe that the Church is true and that being a member of it is the right thing for me to do.  I’ve found a balance, and it works for me.  For the remainder of this essay, I will describe my issues with the Church, why they’re points of concern for me, and why I’m still a Mormon.

My Definitions of the Core Doctrines of Mormonism

1. Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Savior of mankind.
            This one’s pretty basic, but it’s also the most important.  Christ wasn’t just a prophet, he wasn’t just a wise teacher, and he wasn’t just a man who achieved some sort of transcendence like a Christian version of Buddha.  He is literally God’s Son and, through the Atonement, paid the price for everyone’s sins.

2. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
            For Mormons, this one is almost as important as Christ’s role.  If Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet, there would be no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I don’t see how someone could claim to be LDS without believing that Joseph Smith saw Heavenly Father and Jesus in a vision, had the Priesthood restored through him, and translated the golden plates.  Yes, there are variations of the First Vision that differ from the official version found in Joseph Smith—History, and I struggled with that for a while, but I eventually realized that it isn’t all that important.  Also, Joseph Smith Jr. was in no way a perfect person.  Not even close.  But being perfect is not a prerequisite to being a prophet.

3. The Book of Mormon is scripture.
            This one goes hand-in-hand with believing that Joseph Smith is a prophet.  We all know enough about the Book of Mormon that I don’t really have anything to add that my main audience of this essay (my family) hasn’t heard already.  Suffice it to say that I believe in the Book of Mormon’s message even  if I don’t believe that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of Native Americans.  That is, to say, that I don’t take everything in it literally, and that has a lot to do with Joseph Smith being far from perfect.

4. Priesthood authority is necessary for essential ordinances.
            Ordinances such as baptism, confirmation, endowment, and marriage are sacred and shouldn’t be performed without proper God-given authority.

5. Families are eternal.
            This one doesn’t really need an explanation.  You all know about the Plan of Salvation, and how we’re married for time and eternity and sealed to our children.  It’s not a huge, complicated idea, but I think it is very significant to Mormons, and is one of the things that sets us apart from other Christian religions.

What I Struggled With

            I could go on about polygamy and black people being excluded from the priesthood prior to 1978, but those are things that we, as a Church, have remedied and put behind us, even if the rest of the world hasn’t.  Most of my issues with the Church deal with Mormonism as it exists today, especially Mormon culture (as opposed to doctrine).

1. The LDS stance on gay civil marriages.
            The Church shouldn't care what people outside of Mormonism are doing as long as we aren't being forced to do it ourselves. If someone who isn't a Mormon wants to marry someone of the same sex, why should the Church care? If it's a sin, that's between God and the individual. The Church should govern its members, not the rest of the world. If the Church is actively working to prevent homosexuals from getting married, why isn't it also actively working towards prohibition of alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and pornography? Yes, it preaches that these things are wrong, and tells the members not to use them, but what political steps have they taken to abolish them? In short, I'm saying that I don't have a problem with the Church not performing same-sex marriages. My problem is when they seek to prevent others who are not Mormon or even religious at all from having same-sex marriages.

2. Political and Economic Conservatism
            Look at the major right-wing political parties in North America today, especially Republicans.  Aside from espoused religious values, what are their political stances?  Capitalism, i.e. the accumulation of wealth.  Welfare is a bad idea; let the poor go out and get a job.  Public healthcare is a socialist, evil program.  Tax breaks for the wealthy.
            Look at what Christ taught.  “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and in fellowship...And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”  “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”  There was the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The story of the rich man who asked Jesus how to be saved, and was grieved when he was told to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor.
            I could go on.  What I’m getting at here is that Jesus was a socialist.  Mormons seem to have forgotten that sometime during the Cold War, and we don’t seem to be remembering it even though those godless Commie bastards in Russia aren’t there anymore.  Republicans (including the majority of Mormons) have attached the atheist Communist regime in the former Soviet Union to all of socialism.  I see pictures of protestors in the US holding up signs accusing Obama of being a socialist and a Nazi in the same breath.  That is how the right wing views socialism, and that is not what socialism is.  Look at the Law of Consecration and the United Order back in the days of Joseph Smith.  What is that, if not socialism?

3. Exclusion of others not of our faith
            When I say “exclusion of others” I’m talking mostly talking about groups rather than individuals.  I’m also talking about a more social exclusion. I’m not talking about people giving a Book of Mormon to somebody at work, or shaking hands with the visitor on Sunday.  There are members who are always giving out Books of Mormon and inviting non-members to church, and that’s great.  I once posted this list, without in-depth explanations, on a message board that I visit regularly, and someone replied with this comment: “I know that many members do this we are not to in fact we are to welcome them in the church. I know at times their can be difficulties in doing this. As members of the church if we truly love those of other religions we leave the door open for them always [sic].”  To which I replied: “I'm not talking about welcoming people ‘in the church.’ I'm talking about Mormons dealing with non-Mormons in a completely non-religious setting. I remember living in a small Mormon town when I was a teenager, it was common in fast and testimony meeting to have parents stand at the pulpit testifying about how glad they are to ‘live in Zion,’ how glad they are to be raising their children in a culturally homogenous little bubble. The minority of the population who weren't Mormon were looked upon with distrust. I grew up on the east coast of Canada where Mormons were a minority, and most of my friends, including my best friend, weren't members of the Church. I was only 12 years old living in Raymond, but even at that young age I was disgusted by the close-mindedness of a Mormon majority. That's the main reason why I avoid Utah like the plague.”

4. Literal interpretation of the Creation account in the scriptures
            We all know the account of the Creation and Adam and Eve as found in Genesis and the Peal of Great Price. People in the Church take it very literally. I believe the Creation occurred pretty much the way science says it did, but I acknowledge that it was guided by the hand of God. I believe there was a prophet named Adam married to a woman named Eve, but I think the account of their lives is not meant to be taken literally, but is instead largely symbolic. And without getting into details, I think the temple ceremony makes that glaringly clear, but people choose to ignore that for some reason.
            I believe in evolution.  Yes, even human evolution.  I view the account of Adam and Eve as God’s first dealings with the humans He created.  The humans He created using the process of evolution.  Don’t Mormons believe that members of the Church are considered members of one of the 12 tribes of Israel?  Do we believe that we are literal, genetic descendants of Abraham?  My Patriarchal Blessing says I’m from the tribe of Ephraim.  Does that mean that, if you follow my genealogy back far enough, you’ll find that my great-great-great-etc.-grandfather is Joseph?  No.  We say that we’ve been adopted into the Abrahamic Covenant.  So why can’t the same be said about Adam and Eve?  When it is said that we are their descendants, why can’t it mean that we are adopted into the covenant God made with Adam and Eve?

5. The modern Church's desire to affiliate itself with mainstream Christianity
            There are a lot of good Christians in the world.  I freely admit that.  But Christianity, as a whole, is one of the most close-minded, rigid, intolerant religions in the world.  And the modern Church seems to me to be trying to unofficially group itself under the blanket of mainstream Christianity.  Yes, we want people to look at us as people who follow Christ. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is the way we're doing it. We're doing it in a way that says, "Hey, look! We're just like you guys! Why not lets be friends?" Thing is, though, we are not much like mainstream Christianity. There are huge differences and contradictions in our core doctrines and their core doctrines. In trying to give ourselves a more protestant-friendly image, we gloss over a lot of the things that make us different and stress the things that are the same.

6. The Church is run like a business in a lot of ways
            I'm not knocking tithing. Tithing is important. It's more the governing structure and policies of the Church that reminds me of a corporation rather than a religion.  This isn’t a huge point of concern for me, but it does bother me sometimes. But don't get me started on how missionaries are treated, with that "Quiet Dignity" stuff.
            Actually, come to think of it, yeah, I’ll talk about missionaries.  I have a great respect for missionaries.  I’ve been in their shoes.  They work hard and have to put up with a lot of crap in the field.  In a lot of ways, though, they are trained to be identical cogs in a huge proselytizing machine rather than as the unique individuals I think they would be more effective as.  They dress the same.  They have the same basic haircut.  They use the same standardized teaching methods.  They are taught methods for “building a relationship of trust,” which, even when I was a missionary, often struck me as coming off as faking friendship in order to convert someone.  The Quiet Dignity that I mentioned earlier was basically a guideline of  how to act at all times.  Rules such as avoiding abbreviations (Doctrine & Covenants instead of D & C, District Leader instead of DL, etc.); don’t call each other by nicknames or “dude,” but rather call each other Elder or Sister at all times, even in private; and don’t joke around too much (this is a rule most missionaries break).  I understand that it is important to keep an appearance of professionalism and an attitude of reverence for the calling of a missionary, but sending out identical automatons (yes, that is an exaggeration) is not the best method.

7. Hypocrisy
            I'm not disputing that all people are sinners. Everyone has their vices. When I say hypocrisy, I'm actually referring, in large part, to things that I already listed as problems, things that affect the Church as a whole rather than as certain members as individuals. Political and economic conservatism being the major culprit. Social exclusion of those not of our faith being another big one. Countless members who live the Word of Wisdom perfectly, follow the Law of Chastity for the most part, go to Church every Sunday, pay an honest tithe, and then go screw someone over in a shady business deal at work on Monday.  This isn’t a huge deal, because it’s part of human nature, and can be found in any religion.

So Why Am I Still a Mormon?

            I just finished telling you some of my grievances with the Mormonism.  If you remember my introduction to this little essay, when I said the spiritual crisis is over and that I’ve found a balance, you might now be asking yourself why I’m still a Mormon.  Let me try to explain.
            The Church is an organization that exists in an imperfect world and is run by imperfect men.  The leaders of the Church are old, conservative Americans for the most part.  Of course they oppose gay marriage.  Of course they’re Creationists.  General authorities are usually retired professionals who were successful in their areas of expertise.  It’s not surprising that they run the non-ecclesiastical aspects of the Church like a business.  Excluding people who are different than you is a basic human instinct.  It’s an instinct that should be overcome, but it’s still there.  That’s why Mormons tend to identify more with other Mormons and seek out their friendship.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s there, and I think any social group, religious or otherwise, has those tendencies.
            The bottom line, though, is that the Holy Ghost keeps telling me that the Church is true.  It’s a feeling I can’t quite explain, but I’ve felt it numerous times.  I’ll be close to deciding that the Church isn’t true, and God will say, “Nope.  It’s true, Mike, and you know it.”  (That’s not how it literally happened, of course.)
            I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that he translated the Book of Mormon and restored Christ’s Church on the earth.
            I sustain Thomas S. Monson as President of the Church.
            The Book of Mormon is a wonderful book full of truth and valuable lessons.
            Most importantly, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
            That is why I’m still a Mormon.