Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I'd Like Another Offspring. I Don't Want Another Child.

First of all, don't panic, Janelle.  Everything I'm about to write is something you've heard me say before.

I recently read some thoughts from an anonymous internet user contemplating whether he should have another child.  As I got to thinking about what he wrote, I decided that airing why I have chosen not to have more children might be amusing.  At least to some.  Undoubtedly, some of you will find it horrifying.

I have two of the most precious and adorable daughters you are ever going to meet.  I say that completely objectively.  Really.  Stop rolling your eyes.

My older daughter, Bug, is just over five and a half years old, and Byrd is just about to turn two.  I can honestly say that the past four years of my life have been the most fun and exciting years I have ever lived.

Are you doing the math?  I can hear some of you thinking.  "Wait a minute?  His daughter is five years old and he only counts the last four as the most exciting years of his life?"  Yeah.  News flash: the first year and a half isn't all that exciting.

So let me be perfectly candid.  Bug and Byrd are the first two children in my life that I have ever really liked.  Most other children I merely tolerate.  I just don't really care for children.  They're fun in small doses, and it's nice that they exist.  But I want them to be someone else's problem--I don't want to spend any significant amount of time with children1.

That starts to change about the time that they turn 13.  Hopefully, none of my young scouts will read this, because I don't really even enjoy the 11 and 12 year olds.  They're still too child like.  But about the time they hit that first growth spurt, develop real physical strength, and begin to explore the world through the eyes of a budding young adult--that's exciting!  I love being around for that.

But I'm only willing to endure so much of children in order to experience their lives as teenagers and adults.  Which is a big reason I'm not having more children.  And now, for your enjoyment, a list of the four biggest reasons I have given to my wife for why I will not have any more children (don't worry, we're in agreement on this topic--unless she's changed her mind in the past couple of weeks, in which case, things will be really awkward at home tonight).
  1. I refuse to deal with another newborn.  After Byrd was born, Janelle ended up taking a trip to California to visit family.  She took the then three-week-old Byrd with her and was gone for about 10 days or so.  Up to that point, I thought I was adapting to having a newborn in the house pretty well.  I had at one point thought to myself, "I must be an awesome parent.  I don't feel all that phased by this whole new-baby thing."  After they left, I felt like a completely different person.  I had energy and motivation.  I felt alive.  Then, after 10 days of solid sleep, Janelle and Byrd came home and for the next three weeks I felt like crap.  I'm not putting myself through that again.
  2. I only marginally enjoy the first 18 months.  Byrd is about to turn two.  It's only been the past six months that I've had much interest in her, or even seen her as a person.  The way I feel about her now is an entirely different universe compared to how I felt about her 8 months ago.  I don't think I have the will to endure another 18 months of only obligingly caring about the food processor bundled up in the blanket.  
  3. I don't want another daughter.  I repeat, I do not want another daughter.  I might be able to convince myself to overcome items 1 and 2 on this list if I could be guaranteed a boy. But I know the probability is still 0.50 and if I were to have a third daughter, it would just be a child I didn't want.  That's extremely unfair to the child2.
  4. I feel like I'm at the limit of what I can handle emotionally.  At least with children.  I could probably take on three teenagers without a problem.  But this childhood stuff is hard on me. I just don't enjoy it enough to do it with a third. 
There are a number of other reasons I could list, but they are far more personal than I'm willing to share.  

1 Though I say this, the past few months, whenever I've dropped Byrd off at the nursery in church, I've stayed to help when there are more screaming children than there are adults in the room. And I rather enjoy helping calm the children and encouraging them to play instead of wailing for mom and dad. But that's probably the difference between meaningful service and living with the brat [there has been some concern raised that my casual and irreverent humor doesn't come across well in my use of the word 'brat' here.  It's nothing personal; and is meant to reflect the difference in attitudes we feel between our own children and other people's children].

2 Yes, I know I'd get over that once the kid was actually born. But this isn't about what life would be like then. It's about how I feel now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sixty Stripling Warriors

I only expect those with a keen interest in Book of Mormon trivia would catch this reference.  More people are familiar with the Two Thousand Stripling Warriors1. The Sixty Warriors may very well be much more interesting than the Two Thousand.  And that's saying something, because the Two Thousand are a pretty interesting case of manipulative teenage behavior gone right.

Yeah, you want me to explain that one.  Well, keep reading.


The whole things starts with the People of Ammon (or the people ruled by King Lamoni, or the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, or the....I don't think anyone ever really decided what they should be called).  The short story is that there was a group of people who were affiliated with the antagonists in the Book of Mormon that, through a series of events, converted to Christianity.  Their fellow antagonsists didn't like this very much, so they declared war on the People of Ammon.  The People of Ammon, having discovered an unprecedented level of shame and guilt over their war campaigns against the Book of Mormon's protagonists, declared themselves pacifists.  They made a covenant never to go to war again, going so far as to bury their weapons and prostrate themselves before their attackers with hope of receiving mercy.

A grotesque slaughter ensued.  The antagonists went so far as killing 1,005 of the People of Ammon before they got bored (Alma 24: 22).  Apparently there's no sport in killing pacifists.  In fact, many of the aggressors were so overcome with guilt from the slaughter that they joined the People of Ammon and took up the vow of pacifism (Alma 24:24-25).  Soon after, the People of Ammon concluded they were not safe living near the antagonists and procured an invitation to join the protagonists.  They were accepted as refugees, given land, and offered protection (Alma 27:22-24).

If you think that sounds like a happy ending, you'd be wrong.  It would get worse for the People of Ammon.  They took up their residence, and built a happy existence for themselves for about 13 years.  About 8 years into that period, war broke out again, and the People of Ammon busied themselves in growing food and making supplies for their allies who were fighting on their behalf.  But they were good hearted people, and to hear of the massive numbers of men being killed in war--men who would not go home to their families again, and whose children would be raised fatherless--it was burdensome.  The cold irony of being someone who abhors killing others is that it is equally abhorrent to know that others are dying to protect you from doing that which you abhor. Add to that the fact that they seemed to be losing the war, and the People of Ammon were on the verge of making a choice to break their vow of pacifism.

The leader of the Christian church, Helaman, got wind of the rumors, and he rushed out to meet the People of Ammon (Alma 56:7-8). The Book of Mormon is pretty vague on the details of how this came about, but I have an idea of what took place.

While Helaman was busying himself to convince the People of Ammon not to break their oath, their sons developed a plan to save them.

"Mom, Dad, let us go to war.  We didn't make that oath.  We didn't promise God that we wouldn't fight.  Let us go fight the war, and you stay home and keep your vows."

These young men could have ranged from 13 to 28.  I would wager there were more of them close to the age of 20 than anything else.  And I doubt that their plan was well received.  "It's too dangerous.  It's too horrific."  The older generation had sworn off war because of the guilt they felt over killing other humans.  I'm sure they weren't fond of the idea of exposing their children to that same horror.  And I'm certain that they told their sons "No."

Unfortunately for them, they had raised faithful, god-fearing sons that also knew which buttons to push to convince their parents.  "It'll be okay, mom and dad.  We're going to ask Helaman to be our leader."

And their parents said, "Oh, well in that case, go ahead.  Why didn't you lead with that?"

Okay, maybe it took a little more persuading, but in the end, the sons prevailed.  They appealed to their parents' conviction that the prophets of God hadn't led them astray thus far, and so they felt they could put their faith in Helaman now.  And I doubt there was anyone else in the world to whom they would trust their children.

Together, the parents and the sons would have had to convince Helaman.  I'm sure he was terrified of leading these boys into battle.  Afterall, he had no military experience to speak of.  Taking this assignment was probably a bigger leap of faith for him than it was for the People of Ammon.  And so Helaman gathered his Two Thousand warriors, and took them off to war.

Where do the other Sixty come into this, you ask?  They came later (Alma 57:6).  Some of these would have been boys that had come of age, but I'm convinced there were some whose parents forbade them go at first.  And I don't blame them.

To put this in more modern terms, how would you respond if your kids came to you and said, "Mom, dad, I'm going to follow Thomas S. Monson into war."  I even asked my Sunday School class yesterday if they'd follow President Monson into war.  They unanimously said "no."  In the words of one young man, "I'm not going to war with him.  He's old!"  I wouldn't let my kids go either.  And Monson even has military experience.

The parents of the Sixty, for whatever reason, doubted that sending their sons to war with a prophet was going to ensure their safety.  They had to be persuaded first.  Getting the reports back from the other Two Thousand--and seeing that not one of them was killed--probably helped build the case for sending the Sixty.  With time, they developed the faith that was necessary to trust their sons to Helaman and to God.

What makes the parents of these Sixty so interesting is that they had doubts.  And they still had firm convictions.  These were parents who, although they doubted that doubling a prophet as a general would protect their sons, still chose not to break their vow of pacifism.  You can't convince me their faith in Christ was any less than was those who sent their sons the first time.  But with more evidence--and more importantly--more time for the Spirit of God to persuade them on their own terms, they did reach that point in their faith.

And their faith was rewarded.  It's not like they sent their sons late in the game, and then their sons happened to get killed as a consequence of their initial doubt.  All of their sons survived the war.

As with all things in the scriptures, they can be interpreted many ways. I imagine the more orthodox mormons would take this story and spin to to say, "See, there was no need for them to doubt.  They should have just sent their sons to begin with.  Their doubt was in vain."

But such an interpretation, I think, doesn't follow in the spirit of the scriptures.  Those Sixty young men were received with joy.  There was celebration that day.  Celebration of the faith that parents exhibited, not criticism of the faith they didn't have earlier.  Let us not forget that every parent of those initial Two Thousand had to come to terms with the possibility that their sons would not return.  It seems cruel to criticize another parent for not yet being able to live with that possibility.

The story of the Sixty struck me profoundly this time around.  I keep reading about words from General Conference.  "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith."  And I keep hearing them used to argue that we should put our doubts aside because they challenge our faith.  I hear this quote in that context and it infuriates me, because it completely ignores the paragraph that preceded the quote.
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding...even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty.
The parents of the Sixty cultivated their acorns into great oaks.  They did so in sandy soil.  They didn't do it alone.  They did it with the love and support of friends and neighbors.  They did it with fellow church members who gradually helped nurse that acorn by replacing the sand with rich soil.  One shovel at a time.

Instead, I feel like we tell a lot of acorns to get out of the sand.

You can't pressure an oak tree to grow.  You can't force it to grow over night.  Growth requires time, patience, and nurturing.  It requires friendship without boundaries, without judgment, and sometimes without completely understanding someone's doubts.

The parents of the Sixty live among us.  Let's grow the forest with them.

1 When talking about the two thousand stripling warriors in Sunday school yesterday, some of the boys teased one person in the room for having once said the "two thousand stripping warriors." However, we decided that based on the picture shown, maybe his description wasn't too far off.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An Epidemic of Loneliness

The day I heard that the Church was going to broadcast the Priesthood Session of General Conference over the usual broadcast and internet channels, I made a quip on Facebook: "This will be the death of the only Elders Quorum activity in our ward that has any draw."  I say I quipped, but I was dead serious, too.

While scanning some blogs today, I came across a post by Rebecca at By Common Consent in which she laments the loss of one of her husband's1 favorite traditions: the Priesthood Session after party.  She then puts in this nugget, which I have observed before and completely agree with.
It’s harder than you might think to coax adult Mormon men into attending a guys’ night out; many of them feel obligated to go straight home and “spend time with their families” or whatever.
This is absolutely true.  The men in the Church almost never get together.  The only successful Elders Quorum activity in my ward2 is the ice cream social where you show up to the chapel and get an ice cream sandwich before the Priesthood Session that you were going to anyway.  But everyone is dressed in their Sunday dress and no one actually interacts on a level any less superficial than the way they interact at the usual Sunday meetings.

And now, this little tradition may be dead.

But why?  Why shouldn't the men continue to go to the chapel for Priesthood session?  Probably because "many of them feel obligated to go straight home and 'spend time with their families'."  Or whatever.

The fact of the matter is that we've developed some notion that any second a man takes away from home life that isn't absolutely necessary is a disservice to and neglect of his family.  I suspect that if the Elders Quorum planned a quorum activity once every 2-3 months (the usual frequency for Relief Society activities) and had a statement made over the pulpit that "Women are asked to babysit3 their children so that their husbands may attend"--well, I envision a pretty big uproar.  How dare we take the husbands and fathers away from their families so often?

I think a lot of that reaction is rooted in stereotype.  Men get to socialize and interact with people all day at work while women are stuck home with their kids.....blah blah blah4.  What we need to understand is that, while yes, we get to interact with other adults at work, interacting with adults at work is not equivalent to making deep, lasting bonds of friendship.

So this is where I'm going to air some dirty laundry from my ward.

A couple of months ago, we had what I thought was a very interesting lesson in Elders Quorum.  I don't remember the topic (and I'm too lazy to look it up), but the instructor was comparing the level of sociality of friendship in the Relief Society to the level of sociality and friendship in the Elders Quorum.  What caught me off guard was that he started crying when he stated that he was envious of his wife who has so much more opportunity in the Church to build deep and lasting friendships with her peers.

Such a show of emotion is rare in Elders Quorums meetings.  We're too caught up in the stoic, testosterone fueled bullsh--er, stereotypes--to allow our vulnerabilities to show (which is precisely why priesthood lessons suck a lot of the time).  But this display was telling.  I had sometimes suspected, and left this lesson convinced, that there is an epidemic of loneliness among our men.  And we're too cowardly to admit it.

My home teachers came over that afternoon (I love my home teachers by the way.  If the Elders Quorum presidency ever assigns me someone else, I may start refusing home teachers.  Joe and Brandon have been absolute lifelines of sanity for me, though I doubt they know it--I'm too cowardly to admit it).  One of them is in the Elders Quorum presidency, and I shared my thoughts with him and made a case that we need more Elders Quorum activities.  We talked about LAN parties, board game groups (Dungeons and Dragons anyone?), encouraging the book group, hiking days, to name a few.

Not much has happened yet.  I hope something does soon, though.

Perhaps I should be more proactive and just set some things up myself.  Maybe I still will.  I definitely think something needs to happen, and I'd be more comfortable just doing it if I knew I had buy-in from the Elders Quorum presidency.

But before I really start agitating for this, let me ask some questions and sincerely request some feedback.

To the men:
  • What activities would you be interested in attending? 
  • Would you be more interested in whole-quorum activities or localized groups?
  • How comfortable would you be having an activity once every 2-3 months and being asked to attend an activity at least once a quarter?
To the women:
  • Do you recognize this as a need?
  • How burdensome would it be for you to help make arrangements for you men to attend?
  • Do you believe that strengthening your husband's friendships outside the family would benefit the relationships within your family?

1 Not to be confused with - one of her husbands' favorite traditions
2 Thanks to the diligent efforts of one brother, there is a gathering at a restaurant before the meeting that is probably more socially productive than the ice cream, but I think it gets limited attendance.  (Full disclosure: I rarely attend this as I'm very often on a trip with the scouts.  If I'm not on a trip, I've taken to skipping based on that fact that I haven't stayed awake through a session of Conference in over 5 years, even at the meetinghouse)
3 Don't get me started on the impossibility of babysitting your own children; but for some reason we say this to our men all the time.
4 Please don't interpret this as dismissal of the strain and frustration stay-at-home parents experience. I just don't want to rehash all the details that are so broadly known and think that what has been said is sufficient.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Saving Ordinances

A new bishop was called in my ward just over a week ago (9 days to be exact).  This is the fourth bishop called in six years, but that's an issue for another day.  The fact that I have a new bishop is relevant because, well, I don't believe in cautiously easing your way into these callings and trying to find your feet.  So, I'm going to do my part to welcome my bishop into his new role with a bit of a head turner.

Having said that, please understand that I'm not about to write a bunch of stuff I don't actually believe just for the sake of provoking a reaction.  I've been thinking about this topic for a little bit and I genuinely mean everything I'm about to say.  The fact that it could cause some head scratching is just a bonus.

While washing the dishes one night, I was absently thinking about ordinances and trying to identify where the scriptural background may be.  As my line of thought evolved, I began trying to identify the scriptural background for what the Church defines as the "saving ordinances."  More than that, I was trying to figure out what scriptural background there was for denoting those ordinances as necessary for salvation.

The Church stated in The Church Handbook of Instructions, "The ordinances of baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the temple endowment, and temple sealing are required for exaltation for all accountable persons. These are called the saving ordinances" (Handbook 2, 20.1).  Usually, the Handbooks are pretty good about showing the scriptural background for statements such as these, so I'm a little surprised that there aren't any references for delineating these ordinances as saving ordinances.  No matter, I think we can easily find these on our own.
  1. Baptism -- John 3:5
  2. Confirmation --  John 3:5; D&C 20:41
  3. Melchizedek Priesthood ordination -- (??)
  4. Endowment -- "Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels" (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1971], page 416, quoted in Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple).
  5. Sealing -- D&C 131:2
So, a couple of observations.  First, there is no strictly scriptural foundation to include the Endowment as a saving ordinance.  I'm willing to take Brigham Young's statement as a foundation, however, since it is included in the introduction to the endowment itself.  And considering the Doctrine and Covenants is really only a small collection of the revelations received, I'm willing to give a little leeway here.

The second observation I make is that there is no scriptural foundation for ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood as a saving ordinance.  It's tempting to sweep this under the same rug under which I swept the justification for the Endowment.  However, I don't know of any statements regarding the Priesthood that don't assume that the Priesthood is required (for men) because it is required to enter the temple for the Endowment.  In fact, the best justification I can come up with is Doctrine and Covenants 105:3, "Verily I say unto you, it is expedient in me that the first elders of my church should receive their endowment from on high in my house...."  That's fairly weak evidence, if you ask me--and I don't imagine anyone would use that as justification for calling ordination a saving ordinance.

So here's the question: Is ordination a doctrinal requirement for exaltation? or is it a procedural requirement for exaltation?

Fill me in if I'm missing something.  But from what I can see, I think it's a procedural requirement.  Which has me wondering--could we drop the requirement that men hold the Melchizedek priesthood in order to enter the temple?  Could we allow men to be sealed to their wives without requiring them to hold the priesthood?  How would such a policy change affect the way we read and interpret our scriptures and doctrine?  Is the Melchizedek priesthood truly the essential to government of families?

I'm not so sure any more.

I'll probably have more to say about that later, but first, I'll give a chance to people smarter than me to point out if I've missed the scriptural basis for ordination as a saving ordinance.

Oh, and Bishop [new guy], have fun.  You're going to be great1!

1 And with any luck, you'll be great long enough that we don't see 5 bishops in 7 years.