My Patron “Saints”

So, I haven’t posted in a while and figured I should, so here’s a short post I’ve been putting off writing.

Coming from a Catholic background, I love patron saints, those people in heaven who you identify with, who you strive to be like as you try to live the Gospel. So I ask myself, who are my Mormon patron saints, or better stated, who are my patron “Saints”. After much thought, I decided on two patron “Saints” that I love and identify with.

George Albert Smith

We all hate to admit it, but there is a President of the Church that each of us gravitates to. I’m not sure if I’d call it a favorite prophet, but one who we identify with or stands out to us more than the others. For me, George Albert Smith is one of those.

My first encounter with the Prophet George Albert Smith was at the Temple Square Visitor’s Center. There is a quote on display from President Smith that reads: “It is not what we receive that enriches our lives, it is what we give.” From that moment I knew I loved George Albert Smith.

Then came the moment of Elder Holland’s October General Conference talk where he said that President Smith battled depression. As someone who has battled depression, and sometimes still, that really touched me. A prophet of God, a leader of God’s Church on earth, struggled with depression. I mean, that says something right there. You can have that struggle and yet find solace and strength in the gospel. Can you imagine the strength our Heavenly Father must have given him to fulfill that vocation? It really did make me realize that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. What a merciful God.

It makes me pray daily for the same strength and comfort given to President Smith. And you know what, if a prophet of God had this same cross, I am in good company and can overcome it too!

Leonard Arrington

OK, I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about this patron, but from what I do know about Leonard Arrington makes me believe that he was a great Latter-day Saint. But why pick him? Arrington was a lover of history, especially Church history, and had made it a personal mission to open up Church records and be honest about Church history. For me personally, history is important and it is important to be honest about Church history. You know, I know a decent amount of Church history for somebody who has only been a member for a year, and you know what? I’m still here. It is possible to know Church history, love Church history and still be a believing Latter-day Saint. Leonard Arrington makes me want to do what he did, research our history, be honest about it, and have it help our faith. If the Church is true, which I believe it is, then nothing can stop it, including its history, skeletons and all.

So, these are my Latter-day Patron Saints! Believe it or not, I’m leaving out quite a few honorable and admirable people we can add to this list.

Avoid the Temple?

When I was in the seventh grade, my English teacher lent me a copy of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. While the book is critically acclaimed and while I remember enjoying it at the time, years later there is only one thing from the book I remember. In one scene the protagonist is talking to an old man about visiting Mecca. The old man says that all Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. However, the man said, he will most likely never go to Mecca. Why? The one thing he wants to do, the one thing he looks forward to, is this pilgrimage. If he does make the pilgrimage, this one thing he has been looking forward to would have been completed and he would have nothing else to look forward to.

This scene came to mind while reading part of President Boyd K. Packer’s The Holy Temple. The first chapter of the book describes why we should come to the temple and he often repeats the phrase: “Come to the temple.” He then goes on to discuss how the temple is a place of learning, how we are educated in the temple when we go, especially for own own endowments.

My mind immediately went to the old man in The Alchemist who wanted to see Mecca but decided to have that as something to look forward to. I thought of how much I really want to go to the temple, to receive my endowments. But I kept going back to how President Packer stresses the education aspect of the temple, how special going to the temple is, and how wonderful your first time there is. And I thought: Could I ever go? Would I ever be able to fully realize how special the temple is? What if I miss something? What if I don’t get much out of it the first time? What if I miss something?

What if…

What if…

What if…

So many What ifs passed by me that I thought it’s probably best to postpone my temple attendance until I can fully understand everything. But can I? Can I ever know enough so that I can enter the temple and learn everything the first time? Or is it one of those line upon line, precept upon precept type things? Is it one of those things where I go now, learn a little now and when I return next time I will learn and take away even more from the experience?

That would easily prevent boredom. And it’s a how we learn. We don’t read the scriptures in one go and put them on the shelf. We’re asked to go through them often because no matter how familiar we are with them, we will always keep on learning from them.

Is it the same with the temple?

If it is, I don’t think I’d have to worry about not getting everything the first time. Maybe then all I’ll need to worry about is letting go of preconceived notions and just think “This is where I am supposed to be. Relax.”

I hope so. I want my first temple experience to be positive. I want it to be a holy experience for me. I also don’t want to blow it. I don’t want to ruin it.

And honestly, now that I’ve worked it out in this post, I am starting to echo the words of President Packer, “Come to the Temple!”

Our Search for Truth

I am obliged, as a Latter-day Saint, to believe whatever is true, regardless of the source.” -Henry Eyring

http://www.the-exponent.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/260-Joseph-F-Smith-cover.jpgLast Sunday our Elder’s Quorum went through chapter 10 of the Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual called Our Search for Truth. And during the discussion, someone brought up the false dichotomy between religious truth and scientific truth making it seem as if the latter can’t be trusted. The only truth that mattered, after all, is religious truth.

Here’s the thing, to God, to the creator of the Earth, there is no distinction between religious truth and scientific truth. As a friend of mine once told me, “All truth is God’s truth.” I don’t think God differentiates and says, “This truth is religious truth, this one is scientific truth, this is philosophically truth.” Yes, these are valid categories, but I think they apply for humans, not God.

If we want to learn about how the human body works, we go to a biologist. If we want to learn about what is reality, we go to a metaphysicist. If we go to a metaphysicist and ask about how cells work, he’ll tell us to go to a biologist. Why? Because that is the expert for that information. We classify all these areas of knowledge for our own benefit.

God doesn’t need this classification. To Him, Truth is Truth whether is is part of the sciences or part of theology.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/49/HenryEyring1951.jpg/220px-HenryEyring1951.jpg

Chemist and Latter-day Saint, Henry Eyring

I heard recently that when Henry Eyring (President Eyring’s father) went to school his mother would tell him, “Remember that anything you learn that is true is part of the Gospel.” Why is that? Because the Gospel is about Truth. The Gospel encompasses all that is True and of God.

So instead of saying “The sciences or religion” why don’t we take a both/and approach. That is, both the sciences and religion. Why does there have to be a divide? After all, God created that which scientists are studying. Through the sciences are are discovering how God’s creation works. It’s a totally different question than what religion tries to answer. Where science asks how, religion seeks to answer why. Why were we created, why are we here? The sciences are complimentary to religion because it points to that which God has created.

The celebrity astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has a quote I found recently that said, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” There are a few problems with this quote. First, science is a method of gaining knowledge and you know what, science has been wrong sometimes (as this clip from It’s Always Sunny proves, science is a liar…sometimes). Also, replace the word science with anything that is true. The statement “The good thing about Christianity is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it” is a true statement and not believing in Christianity doesn’t make it less true. Anything that is true is true whether or not a person believes in it. That includes the sciences and religion and anything else that’s true.

My favorite Article of Faith is the twelfth: “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, must search for all things that are True. The Prophet Joseph said we seek after these things. We must seek after Beauty. We must seek after Truth.

After all, Truth leads us to Truth and there is no greater Truth than God Himself and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

George Albert Smith’s Creed of Kindness

One of the more inspiring leaders of the Church for me is the Prophet George Albert Smith, a great leader who had faith and trust in God despite health problems and bouts of depression. At the age of 34, George Albert Smith wrote a “Creed of Kindness”, 11 resolutions to live by.

1. I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.

2. I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.

3. I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind.

4. I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and a happy life.

5. I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.

6. I would live with the masses and help to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.

7. I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.

8. I would not knowingly wound the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.

9. I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the successes of all the children of my Heavenly Father.

10. I would not be an enemy to any living soul.

11. Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter, I feel it not only a duty but also a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.

How wonderful it would be if we all made this a personal creed!

Why I Joined the Church

It’s a question familiar to most converts: Why did you join the Church?

Sometimes it’s an easy one to answer, sometimes the answer is not so easy.

When I first got asked this question (which is often for a new convert), I would give my entire conversion story because I felt it was necessary so that my answer didn’t seem superficial. I gave the long version because I still hadn’t worked out the simple answer. Sure, I had a short answer, but I didn’t like it. It seemed insincere and I knew there was something more.

I’ll get it out of the way. The simple answer to the question was that I joined as a result of a Pascal’s Wager type deal. I told myself to try the LDS Church for a year. If after a year I discovered I didn’t like it or that it was a sham, all I’ve lost was a year, but if I liked it and found out after a year that this is where I belong, I’d gain so much.

That was essentially my answer.

But there had to be something more. I knew that that answer wasn’t sufficient. I knew that there was more to my conversion than Pascal’s Wager. It’s just taken eight months for me to fully realize it.

I can now say, with confidence, that what led me to this Church was what led the early Saints to it: the Spirit.

The missionaries, rightfully, put a big emphasis on the Book of Mormon. After all, if the Book of Mormon is really what it claims to be, it follows Joseph Smith was a prophet which would lead the investigator to conclude that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church. The thing is, the Book of Mormon wasn’t the deciding factor for me. Sure, it played a role. I had problems with it. But it wasn’t a case of having a testimony of the Book of Mormon and being baptized. I didn’t even have a complete testimony of the Book of Mormon until months later (see my post from February). The baptism questions say nothing of the Book of Mormon.

As I have been learning more about Church history, that is something I have found. The early Saints didn’t join the Church because they believed in the Book of Mormon. They joined because of what the Spirit was doing. They met Joseph Smith, attended meetings and found that the Spirit was alive there. The Saints were on fire. Seeing that fire, they joined the Prophet Joseph and the Church.

Looking back and reflecting on last summer as I was considering joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what I keep on coming back to was the Spirit. Church services could be slow and boring at times, but I knew the Spirit was alive. It was moving. Like the early Saints, I saw the Spirit working in the people and in the community. I wanted to be a part of it.

Am I flip-flopping? Am I just coming up with a more appealing reason just so that it sounds better? I don’t think so. Pascal’s Wager was what made me comfortable with making the decision (I felt better telling myself if I didn’t like it, I could leave in a year), but deep down inside, there was a desire for what I found in the Latter-day Saints. The Spirit was moving and I wanted to be a part of it.

Today, I am.

First Time I Heard the Word “Mormon”

As my regular readers may or may not know, I was born and raised as a Catholic. Growing up in Miami while going to Catholic school, you rarely hear rare about other religions. My grandmother’s best friend and her family are Jewish, and growing up I thought you were either Catholic or Jewish. I didn’t know what a protestant was until I was given a copy of the NIV New Testament at the Miami-Dade County Fair. A sticker on the book had the name of a local Baptist church. Is a Baptist church where they baptize people? I didn’t know.

Now that I am a member of a church that isn’t the Catholic Church, and in fact a church that not many people are familiar with, I couldn’t help but think of the first time I became aware of the Mormons. Sure I would go summer camp at the local community college and right across the street was a church building for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the same building I’d eventually be baptized in) but I didn’t connect that church with the “Mormons”.

Now that I think of it, the first time I’d heard the word “Mormon” came soon after my first holy communion when I was 8. My godfather had given me a VHS (remember those?) of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice about Joseph of Genesis (the first book in the Bible, not the band). I was watching it for about the tenth time (or was it eleventh?) with my mom and in the middle of Donny Osmond, who played Joseph, singing “Close Every Door to Me” (without a shirt, the reason my mother was watching), I asked her, “Is Donny Osmond Catholic?” She responded, “He’s Mormon.” Not knowing what that meant by Mormon, I continued watching the movie.

Twelve years later, not only do I know the word, but embrace it for myself. It is me.

 

If you have never seen the movie, here is the soundtrack to this amazing technicolor musical:

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

It’s no secret, I haven’t been reading my scriptures as often as I should be. Mark Twain quipped, “It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle—keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.” And I’m sorry, sometimes I can’t help but think Twain was telling the truth about this. There are times, I’ll admit, that I find the Book of Mormon slow. But then again, the Bible has those parts too (don’t we all feel that way once in a while).

Ezra Taft Benson, a former prophet and president of the Church, gave a popular General Conference talk called The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion.I’m not going to get into all of Benson’s talk, as I probably wouldn’t be able to do it justice, but there are a few points in there that have helped me gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the Book of Mormon. One point in particular stands out: It was written for our day.

The Book of Mormon, Benson says, was written for us. After all, Mormon, the prophet who put the writings together, lived during the end of the Nephite civilization. The Book of Mormon writers were writing for a future generation. Us. God knew that the book was meant for those living after the Restoration. He knew fully well who would be the audience of this book long before Lehi and his family left the Old World. The Book of Mormon was written with this in mind.

Since it was written for us, we should look to see what it is trying to tell us specifically. For that answer, we don’t need to look any further than the cover:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e5/Mormon-book.jpg

You see it? It’s right there!

Mormon-book

That’s it. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. Just like the Bible!

The difference is, that while both sacred texts were written by ancient prophets though revelation, the Book of Mormon was written for us now while the Bible was written for ancient Jews and early Christians as well. But there is something about having a text meant specifically for us.

When I read the Book of Mormon, I’m amazed by how much I learn, how much I am inspired, and how much I grow closer to Christ. It’s hard to put into words, but it has helped me come closer to the Savior and His Church.

Through the Book of Mormon, our Heavenly Father reveals His Son to us. He reveals all that is necessary for our salvation.

You know, there was a time when I wasn’t totally convinced that the Book of Mormon. I would say that I believed it as Scripture, but in my heart, I wasn’t convinced. Then when I went to Salt Lake for the October 2013 General Conference, at the insistence of two sister missionaries (they told me if I had any doubts, any questions, go, like Joseph did, to our own Sacred Grove and ask God), I sat in front of the Christus statue in the North Visitor Center. I prayed, “Let me see the Book of Mormon as scripture.”

I opened up to Mosiah 2, where I had left off in my reading. All of a sudden, this verse jumped out at me:

And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them

One part of that verse really stood out to me. Can you guess what it is? Here it is: …every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple.

All of a sudden, all the imaginary of having our tent facing the temple and what that means in terms of both literal temples and figurative temples (Jesus). Not to mention, temples lead to Christ. All of this came to me at once. Then the realization (or revelation) came to me: “This book is holy. It wasn’t written by Joseph Smith but by ancient prophets.”

Since that day in Temple Square, I haven’t looked back. My testimony of the Book of Mormon is strong. It was written for me, to draw me to Christ. Why wouldn’t I love that?

Mosiah 2:6 will always have a special place in my heart as the verse that convinced me of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity.

What verse did it for you?

Why I Do Family History

800px-LDS_genealogy_library_slc_utah-1One of the great curiosities about Mormonism is their fascination with family history. Genealogy is the one area where the Church is almost universally known as a leader in. They even run a genealogy site, FamilySearch. When I went to Salt Lake for my first ever General Conference as a member, I made a visit to the Church’s Family History Library where anyone, member and non-member alike, could go and do research to discover their ancestors.

This praise does come with criticism. The claim is made that all this family history work is done only so that we can bring these names to the temple and that they are nothing more than just names. This isn’t the post to discuss or defend temple ordinances which I do believe are holy. I just wanted to point out that there is this criticism.

To be honest, when I first started doing family history work, I just wanted to bring names to the temple. It was a pride thing: Look how many names I got! Now I do recognize that that is the totally wrong way to go about both family history work and temple work. It diminishes the value of both these noble and beautiful things.

Since all my ancestors came to the United States from Cuba in the 1960’s, there aren’t a lot of US records for my ancestors. The ones that there are records for, I already know about (though finding their records give a good indication of when they passed away or when they were born which is interesting). There aren’t any online sources to go to to find the parents of my great-grandfather, for example. That I all have to do manually. So right now, I’m sort of stuck in my the family history search.

The other day while I was on FamilySearch stuck in my “investigation”, I couldn’t help but think of how great genealogy is. It must be great to be able to pull out a map and say this is my history. This is where I came from. Really, that’s all it is. Family history work is a way of exploring who we are and how we got here.

Mormons place such a high priority on families because we believe that families continue on in the next life. We will be with our family, our loved ones, in eternity. Searching for your family history is one of the ways we prepare for that. It’s essentially us discovering who we will be with for all eternity.

Unfortunately, right now they may only be a name. There may not be a lot of information about them. Though that may be true now, we can only hope that some day, if not now then in the next life, be able to discover who they were and hear their own journey.

Every person has a story. Family history work is our way of finding the stories of our ancestors and revealing in some way a little of our own.

 

photo of the Family History Library in Salt Lake courtesy of Ricardo630, Wikimedia Commons

Why the Scriptures Matter

Two of the standard works of the LDS Church are the Bible and the Book of Mormon that tell how God worked through His people in the Middle East and in the Americas.
photo courtesy of the More Good Fuondation

What book more so than any other book has had the greatest impact on world history?

What book has been called “the most correct of any book on Earth” and would get a man nearer to God than by any other book?

If for question number one you answered The Bible, you would be correct.

If for the second question you said the Book of Mormon,you would be correct again.

So we have these two influential books that continue to be important around the world. The Bible is the best selling book of all time. According to the CIA World Factbook, 31.59% of the world’s population is Christian and adheres the teachings of the Bible. That’s 2.2 billion Christians.And President Thomas S. Monson announced at the 2013 October General Conference that the membership of the Church has reached 15 million members (I’m proud to be part of that growth since the last announcement). This means that 15 million people worldwide consider the Bible and the Book of Mormon scripture and central to their lives.

These are no small numbers.

Despite the fact that so many find these books influential (or perhaps, because they do) we ask ourselves: Why are books that were written centuries ago in ancient civilizations in languages we don’t speak (and in the case of the Book of Mormon, a language that is no longer spoken) important to us today?

(Ahh, yes, my favorite argument…It’s old!!! It has no use for us today! We’ve progressed! We’re much more civilized and much smarter than those old uneducated religious cooks!)

Unfortunately, I have heard a Latter-day Saint (ok, it’s only one person, but it still troubled me when I heard it) make the argument that besides telling us to come unto Christ, these books written in ancient languages have no purpose for us today and instead we should concentrate on modern revelation through our modern prophets.

First off lets get this straight, I agree that the words of modern prophets are important. All you have to do is look up their Conference talks on YouTube if you don’t believe me. Their words are inspiring and are a blessing to those of us listening.

However, there is something special about the Bible and the Book of Mormon. These books do testify of Jesus Christ and tell us to come unto him, but they also do something more. In these books of scripture God reveals Himself to us. I’m one of those people who believe that we can’t know God entirely but we can know at least some things about Him.We cannot grasp God in His entirety but what we can grasp, we should seek for.

How do we do this?

The Scriptures.

The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants all reveal God to us. These four sets of scriptures (known as the standard works) combined reveal to us the fullness of the Restored Godspell (Sorry, I mean Gospel, though technically, godspell is correct in an Anglo-Saxon way). Through reading the Scriptures, we find the fullness of the Gospel. We also find God.

God reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures. In these texts He is waiting to tell us about Himself. All we need to do is open us the Scriptures and read. By doing this He will make Himself known to us.

I love having the standard works because if we read them carefully, keeping in mind there is one God, one Savior, and one Gospel, we can and will get the most complete understanding of our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures are God’s gift to His children, inviting us to communio with Him.

Take Him up on it.

Mosiah 12: We Stubborn Creatures

“When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:8

It happens to all of us. We sin. It’s natural. The problem comes when we become prisoners to our sin, when we no longer see sin as sin. Instead, we see it as something good (After all, C.S. Lewis described sin as spoiled goodness). That is when we need to watch out because that is when (as we naturally do as humans) begin to reject anyone who tells us we’re wrong (we’re stubborn creatures).

This why we have a prophet in the first place! (To guide us in these latter-days) We stray and God calls us back to him. But do we listen? Or instead are we like the people of Lehi-Nephi who rejected the prophet Abinadi and turned him over to the king while declaring their own sinlessness?

“O king, behold,
we are guiltless,
and thou, O king,
hast not sinned.”
Really?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=7rqhG2yT-58