Mormons Are a Submissive People


Jesus-Rich-Young-RulerI’ve noticed a constant theme over the past few years as I have written about those who have been excommunicated from our church. I don’t know if it’s just coincidence the subject has come up so many times or if I have sought it out. I’d like to explore the idea of submissiveness with you in this post and get your opinion as to what the right attitude should be towards this.

Opposite of Arrogance and Rebellion

I’ve told you I pray about my posts. I’ve also mentioned to specific individuals privately this post was coming. These good people are worried about me. I know they love me and have expressed concern I’ve been dealing in territory they say causes them discomfort. Rebellion and arrogance are the opposite of submissiveness. I’ve had experience with both as a young lad.

Remember Them Which Rule Over You

I’m not going to address the scripture in Ephesians 5:22 of wives submitting themselves to their husbands. I’ll leave that to others. I prefer to center my remarks on the scripture in Hebrews 13:7, which reads, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”

Obey Counsel of Priesthood Leaders

I note in the Topical guide the word remember is replaced with the word Obey. If I recall correctly the Topical guide was compiled by Elder McConkie and Elder Packer. I believe we can safely surmise the word obey can be used in the place of the word remember, at least in this case. In short, we are to remember and obey the word of our priesthood leaders who preside over us.

Blind obedience not encouraged

That’s probably the crux of the matter. Some of my readers find it troublesome to think anyone could or should come between us and our relationship with our Heavenly Father. They can quote scripture and words from the Brethren – so can I – indicating how important it is to confirm all we receive from our priesthood leaders for ourselves. In other words, avoid blind obedience.

Examples from Disciplinary Councils

Put another way, we are to submit to their counsel, especially when it is given in love with concern for the salvation of our souls. Perhaps I can best illustrate with a few examples from disciplinary councils in which I have participated over the years. Don’t worry, I’ll provide no specifics; mention no names nor identify anyone in any way so you may think you know them.

Restoration of Full Fellowship

I have been blessed that the majority of these disciplinary counsels have been convened to consider bringing the member back into full fellowship after a period of disfellowshipment or excommunication or. I am pleased to report that most of these councils have resulted in positive outcomes. Tears and hugs all around have usually been expressed at the end of the proceedings.

A Willing and Contrite Spirit

In discussing as a bishopric or High Council what is different in the second council, it invariably comes down to a matter of attitude. We note the contrite spirit, the willingness to do as advised, the demonstration they have done as counseled over the year or years – I hate to see a disciplined member go more than a year without sacrament and temple blessings. They are different people.

Submissiveness Natural Result of Repentance

In other words, they have learned to be submissive. I have specifically heard penitent individuals express words to the effect of, “Bishop (or President), what would you have me do? I will do whatever you ask, anything you say to get my membership back or to be considered a member in full standing again.” There is no pride, no thought for self, only a desire to please their leaders.

The Lord Forgives, So Should We

Of course we ask them to relate their feelings about the Lord. We ask about their prayers. We ask if they feel forgiven. We ask if they feel the Love of their Savior. We ask about their efforts of restitution, if they have asked forgiveness of those they have harmed, used or abused (often a hard thing to do). We ask about their scripture reading, their gospel study and other habits.

Don’t Dwell on the Sin

If you have never gone through a disciplinary council, you may think this intrusive. We don’t dwell on the sin. We don’t rehash details of the sin. We focus on their efforts of repentance. I think my first disciplinary council was in 1989 as an executive secretary. Ordinarily the clerk attends but he was unavailable so I was asked to take notes and write up the report to Salt Lake.

Bishop’s Counsel is Recorded

I can only recall one council in which we decided the individual was not yet ready to be returned to full membership status. They obviously had not taken the bishops counsel seriously. We always provide a written record of what the bishop feels inspired to ask of them as evidence of their willingness to repent. That is his right and responsibility as a sustained common judge in Israel.

Counselors Provide Input for the Bishop

Having sat on the side of the table in which my duty is to provide counsel to the Bishop or Stake President, I have noted their response. With some leaders, it’s just a poll to see what we think, especially if it’s a cut and dry case. With others, the priesthood leader is genuinely interested in what we have to say. I have always appreciated that, especially when I was a new in the calling.

High Council Disciplinary Format Different

Remember, in a Stake Disciplinary council half of the High Council is to speak on behalf of the member. The member is allowed to have witnesses speak on his behalf and if I’m not mistaken, to have members of his family present to be at the proceedings, as long as they are reverent. The format is given by revelation. You can read about in in section 102 of the Doctrine & Covenants.

Submissiveness Shows Respect

Now, let’s return back to the idea of submissiveness and respect. I’ve always struggled with the habit we have in our church of standing when a General Authority of higher authority comes into a meeting. To me, this smacks of hierarchy worship. That’s not to say I don’t follow it. I do. When I conducted sacrament meetings and a member of the Stake Presidency entered, I stood.

The Unwritten Order of Things

When sitting in Bishopric training meeting or High Council or Stake PEC, I note that we always deferred to the presiding authority as the last to speak and having the final ward. We usually expressed our opinion from youngest to eldest. It’s just the unwritten order of things that Elder Packer discussed in his talk offered so long ago on the subject, which many said they disliked.

I’m a First Generation Mormon

I suppose it’s the natural man in me, the rebel of a first-generation Mormon. I come from a long line of Baptist preachers and Presbyterian ministers. I attended the Presbyterian Church with my mother until I was five years old and still remember the pomp and formality of the worship service. Dad was a lapsed Baptist. I have many living relatives I love who are ministers today.

Apostasy not same as Moral Transgression

I want to conclude with a short discussion of the difference between a disciplinary council convened for moral transgression as opposed to one convened for apostasy. I’m alarmed we have seen more of these apostasy councils lately. It wasn’t that way as I was growing up in the church in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Apostasy usually brings up visions of rebellion, arrogance and pride.

Apostasy Usually Decided At The Top

However, in cases I have investigated first hand, I found none of these were present on the part of the individual who was excommunicated. Of course I wasn’t there so I can’t say for certain, but I have interviewed them or read their account of the proceedings and their letter of appeal. I sense a difference in the actions of the presiding authorities – their minds made up in advance.

Stake President Carrying Out Assignment

This was clear in the account of Denver Snuffer. There is no doubt his stake president was told by members of the SCMC in Salt Lake what needed to be done with no room for negotiation. In other words, the decision was made. The stake president was simply under orders to carry out the formalities of discipline. I feel the same thing happened with Mel Fish and with Brent Larsen.

Even Good Men Can Err in Doctrine

This quote from Joseph reminds me of my friend Paul Toscano: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (HC 5:340)

The Sanctity of Dissent

Paul wrote a book explaining his side of things, “The Sanctity of Dissent.” The more I think about it the more I agree with Paul. I believe we have a right to disagree with the interpretations of scriptures and doctrines as offered by our General Authorities. I believe we should be able to share that on our private blogs without fear of reprisal or punishment from church officers.

Blogs are For Exploring New Ideas

Of course, as I have written many times, I would not dream of teaching my personal ideas or interpretations from the pulpit or in the classroom. I sustain the Brethren and their right to declare what should be taught uniformly throughout the church – but NOT to censor what we write in private or semi-public, such as a blog. Our blogs are not official word of the church.

Blogging is Following Counsel of Elder Ballard

That’s why I wrote in my previous post how it troubles me when we are punished for trying to follow the counsel of Elder Ballard to be involved in the online dialog about the church and our doctrines. We want people to understand us, even if we differ somewhat from the standard or orthodox interpretation of the official doctrines that are presented by teachers in our classrooms.

Seeking to Remain Informed

For those who have expressed concerned I have gone apostate because I enjoy reading, writing about and discussing the writings of certain individuals such as Denver Snuffer, Max Skousen, D. Michael Quinn, David John Beurger or just about anything from Signature Books, please don’t think this affects my testimony of the fundamentals of this church. My testimony is intact.

Many Prophets In Addition to Joseph

I revere Joseph Smith as a prophet of God. In spite of his flaws, he was a prophet of the Lord in these latter days. But don’t take away from me my right to call Denver Snuffer a prophet as well. I accept the Book of Mormon as the Word of God, intended to be a warning for our day. Again, please don’t take away my right to read and discuss the writings of Denver Snuffer on my blog.

Seek Guidance From God in What to Study

As I’ve written many times, I love this church and love the people in it. I love to serve in the small capacity in which I am asked, be it as a home teacher or in my current calling as the Stake Financial Clerk. I seek the guidance and direction of the Lord each day in what I should read and study in addition to the scriptures. I feel lead and am grateful for that still small voice to my soul.

Submissiveness to Local Priesthood Leaders

I like to think I am a submissive individual. I try not to take any offense when corrected by my priesthood leaders. I try to welcome it with a cheerful attitude. I know they love me and have my best interests at heart. As I’ve always said, I would remove my blog in a heartbeat if they said it caused people trouble or caused them to doubt their own testimonies of God and of our Savior.

Expressed Willingness to Remove my Blog

I wonder if the day will come when that changes. This is probably getting repetitious to my regular readers. I am growing. I am learning. I am seeking the face of the Lord. I do not feel this blog is being written by commandment of the Lord but by suggestion and a desire to follow the counsel of prophets and apostles. God bless them, especially those who suffer effects of old age.

Seek Learning by Study and by Faith

God bless you my brothers and sisters. May you seek learning by study and also by faith. I strive to do both. I will not leave my eternal salvation to what I hear taught each week in the three hour block of meetings. It is simply not enough. It is my personality and learning method that I must write and share as I read. Otherwise I do not feel a commitment or internalization of what I read.

Keys to My Participation in Ordinances

Please, rest assured, I intend to be and remain submissive to the direction of my priesthood leaders. Unless the Lord tells me otherwise, I will do as they direct. I sustain them and grant them authority over me. At this point in my life, the spirit directs I should do so. I want and need the sacrament and the temple. These brethren hold the keys of those blessing in my behalf.

Broken Things to Mend – Part One


Genealogy 002

These are my mother’s family history worksheets – her life’s work. Each book (and there are a couple dozen) contains hundreds of family history worksheets all filled out by hand or on her special typewriter with the wide carriage. What a labor of love.

This is not a review of Elder Holland’s excellent book, but I have borrowed the title. This is a journal entry that may or may not be of any interest to you. It’s about mental illness in an LDS family – mine. Some may feel it is too personal to share on a public blog. Tough. Don’t read it. I’m not asking for feedback. It’s just my formal preparation to meet with a few doctors over the next two weeks. It consists of two parts I’m trying to fix – 1) The influence of a mother with mental illness and 2) the influence of the 60’s and 70’s drug culture which was so prevalent in my life at one time.

Mental Illness in the LDS Church

A few years ago on this blog, I wrote an article about mental illness (Nov 3, 2007 – Psychiatric Disorders in Mormon Theology). It was based on an Ensign article from Elder Alexander Morrison, who, if I remember correctly has a daughter who suffers from mental illness. It was entitled, “Myths About Mental Illness.” He also published a 2003 book on the subject: Valley of Sorrow: A Layman’s Guide to Understanding Mental Illness for Latter-day Saints.

Like a Broken Vessel

I mentioned in a recent post here on this blog how pleased I was to see, hear and read a discourse in our last General Conference on the same subject from Elder Holland, entitled, “Like a Broken Vessel.” Many of you know Elder Holland has published a book entitled “Broken Things to Mend (Deseret Book, 2008). If we didn’t know it before, we know now the depth of Elder Holland’s feelings towards those who suffer from mental illness and especially from depression.

The Savior Wants to Heal Us

I cried as I watched and listened to his words. For the first time since Elder Morrison’s address ten years ago, a General Authority addressed what must surely be one of the Savior’s most heart-felt desires – to heal those who suffer from the effects of this mortality. If you have not yet read both talks, I highly recommend you do so. Elder Morrison teaches us some basics we all need to know and Elder Holland helps us understand how much this malady still concerns our Savior.

Personal Confessions in a Personal Blog

May I get personal for a moment? “Well, of course, Tim, it’s your blog, please, go right ahead.” I suffer from mental illness. I don’t think I’ve made a secret of it before but I have not been as direct as I am going to be in this post. Let me make it clear I am not looking for sympathy or pity, but do want it bring it to the attention of my readers in a personal way as never before. I am simply asking for your patience as I lay some groundwork that perhaps you may recognize. In sharing this, I am not confessing some great sin, but I’ll tell you what I’m doing about it today.

Part One – The Influence of a Loving Mother

Mother was a schoolteacher. Anybody who has read my background or has been with me for any length of time on my blog knows this. I adored my mother. She was smart. She was competent. She always seemed to know what to do and she could teach the gospel better than anybody I had ever heard, and I mean anybody. I loved to sit in her classes. I got kicked out of my own school district many times specifically because I knew I would get to spend a week in my mother’s fourth grade class on California history. I loved her stories of Romona and of the Rancheros. Mother made life exciting for this student who hates lecture and learns best through kinesthetic means. In other words, I have to do something with my hands before I can say I understand it.

Mother’s Advice Made a Lasting Impression

One Sunday, an incompetent high counselor was bumbling through his talk – basically reading it out of the Ensign. Mother quietly asked me to promise if I was ever called as a High Counselor I would practice to be a better sacrament speaker. She made me promise to prepare well, present well and make sure the congregation was fed by the spirit of the Lord. When I was called as a High Counselor, I tried to keep that promise. How I prayed each time for the gift of feeding the Lord’s sheep. Except for one thing, mother would have made a great priesthood leader if she hadn’t been a woman: Although she tried to keep it from us, mother also suffered from mental illness.

Mental Illness Seen as a Weakness

She didn’t share it with us – all the psychiatric visits, the uncontrollable crying spells alone in her room or the deep, dark depression hanging over her some weeks affecting our entire household. My older sisters did not see it as much as my youngest sister and I saw and felt it in our teenage years. How I felt for my mother, wishing there was something I could do for her, wanting to know what to say, anything, that would cheer her up and help her through this miserable time in her life. Later I discovered that just talking to her helped. She and I had many, many talks about the gospel and about life in general. How I loved and appreciated my mother and her wisdom. I learned so much from her about church history, the life of the Savior and the Bible in general.

A Short Bio and Learning to Read

You can read more about her in a post I wrote shortly after her death but it doesn’t do justice to the intellectual power of this woman who carried nine children, seven to full term. She devoted her life to teaching California school children the joys of learning literature and reading. That was her specialty and oh, she was good at it. I’ve related before how I learned to read the Book of Mormon at my mother’s knee at the age of five. This is one of my most sacred memories that made me the man I am today. I love that book because we read it together when I was so young.

Book Stores are Special Places

I love books because of my mother. She used to take us to all the exotic bookstores in Southern California and allow us to pick out anything we wanted. How I loved Vromans in Pasadena, because every time we went, I got to pick out another Peter Rabbit book and figurine. The Bodhi Tree Bookstore in Hollywood is closed now but holds precious memories of hours looking for books. We mostly went to the local libraries – a lot cheaper of course – but bookstores were a special occasion – someone’s birthday or holiday to be remembered with a special gift – a book.

An Early Love of Science Fiction

Most of the books I received as gifts were on the Caldecott and Newbery lists. I won’t bore you with the names of some of those classics from the 60’s when I was growing up but I will tell you that mother was so willing to help me keep my reading habit that when I turned to science fiction in high school, she continued to fund my purchases. How I wish I still had those classics today: Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Michael Crichton, H.G. Wells, and especially J.R.R Tolkien. She knew I loved Tolkien and I knew she loved me.

20,000 Ordinances performed

When mother became an older convert at age 35, two things dominated the rest of her life as far as I was concerned. First was her love of genealogy or family history. I’ve included a picture of the dozens of old family history books she compiled over forty plus years. I inherited her library and much of her correspondence. My sister has an equal amount and is a professional librarian / researcher. Mother knew more about how the family history department worked in Salt Lake then some specialists did. When she moved there she would teach classes. Sadly, her legacy of more than 20,000 names researched with each of the ordinances performed is only appreciated today by me and my two active sisters. Well, I suppose those for whom the ordinances were performed also appreciate it, at least I hope they do.

A Love of History – Religious and Secular

The other thing that dominated my mother’s life was studying the history of the church and sharing it with her children, at least her two youngest children who would listen. Her library of church books was huge. She would get so excited about learning some new facet of our history she would call just to tell me about it. This was long after I was married and moved out. While I served my mission in 1976-1978, she took it upon herself to graduate from institute. She made me promise to never share her papers but the older I get the more I feel she would approve of publishing what she learned through the CES program about the Book or Mormon, the Life of Christ, details of the history of Joseph Smith I have never read elsewhere and so many other papers she composed. She would even go to the Huntington Library to research early Mormon California history. I’ve always said it and I’ll always be grateful to be the son of an intellectual giant. Mother blessed me so much.

A Sliver of Darkness Amidst the Light

Why is it that so many of those who are blessed with the ability to construct wonderful research papers, or great works of art or inventions that bless and serve mankind, are considered eccentric, lacking in people skills or suffer from depression, mental illness or some other mental malady? I won’t share details, but mother could ruin a family get together quicker than anyone I have ever known with a single word or phrase, followed by sulking in her room until someone would come get her and help her understand she had not been personally insulted or that nobody had tried to embarrass her on purpose. How can such an intellectual giant be so emotionally sensitive?

Living With a Perfectionist

Mother’s mental illness was somehow related to self-consciousness. She was a perfectionist, oh, how she was a perfectionist. She would express her frustration on anyone who happened to be around her, usually my dad, but sometimes me, and we would encourage her to start again on whatever project which she was currently working. It usually had something to do with her Gospel Doctrine lesson. The Bishop took a real chance in calling her to that position, but as long as I can remember she either taught Gospel Doctrine or Family History during the years she and dad were active. As I related in her life story, she didn’t last long in Utah, meaning she could not relate to farmers and ranchers who served in priesthood leadership positions. She didn’t get that. Please don’t take offense. Mother thought a priesthood leader should be trained in the ministry.

A Mother Who Loved Doctrine

OK, enough about mother. I hope you get the impression I have deep and grateful feelings for my mother. I was the youngest child who was both spoiled and ignored, if you know what I mean. I’m afraid I also inherited whatever ran in mother’s family. I too am a perfectionist, although I hope and believe I have learned to deal with it better by watching her example of how not to respond. Like my mother, I love to teach. I love to study church history. I would prefer to attend a seminar on the life of some historical character or the influence of some organization on the development of a city or community than just about anything else. I love history, especially as it relates to our church. My bookcase is filled with biographies and doctrine. If you can believe it, mother also loved doctrine. We went to Education Weeks and Know Your Religion.

Utah Culture Was a Shock to Mother

Something happened to mother when she moved to Utah. She and Dad went there to work full time on family history after they retired. It didn’t work out. They stayed less than ten years then came back to California to spend the rest of their days in a city mainly known for retirement. Once they got to Hemet, they stopped going to church. Well, actually, I think they stopped going to church before they left Utah. Let’s just say that Mother’s feelings about Utah culture were the cause of their leaving the church. There was nobody in particular that caused them to leave. They did not lose their testimonies really, especially of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. But I can tell you there was something about the way Utah folks taught church history that rankled my mother. I won’t get into it. It’s not important to the story I’m trying to tell here. She was still involved in family history research, but she no longer attended church or the temple. I had so many conversations with her trying to convince her at least go and partake of the sacrament.

Dealing with Evil Spirits – a Little More Background

OK, now it’s my turn. This is my blog, and this is another personal blog entry, not meant to be a doctrinal dissertation or religious thesis. But I’m hoping maybe it will do someone some good. I have suffered migraines for seven months now. I’m not sure if the migraines are a result of the anxiety and panic attacks that started then or the other way around. I suspect the latter. I’ll let the doctors decide. I think my body, my mind, my spirit, my intelligence or whatever you want to say directs the body, has caused my migraines and the associated pain treatment. The body is pretty smart. I think my subconscious is doing whatever it needs to do to keep me from going through the panic and anxiety attacks I went through back on that night last February that sent me to the hospital twice in the same week for being out of control mentally and emotionally. If you don’t know to what I’m referring, email me and I’ll send you the document (see below).

Getting Professional Help is OK

Believe it or not, I have five appointments with five different psychiatrists and psychologists over the next two weeks. I’ve got to get my story down so I can tell it without coming across with a psychotic or neurotic outlook on life. Actually, I don’t care. Psychotic means a loss of contact with reality while neurotic, although no longer really in use, means fearful or worried about something – tending to worry in a way that is not healthy or reasonable. Let me see if I can give an example that will help. A psychotic is someone who sees evil spirits. OK, you can put that label on me. I’ve related it in several posts. If you haven’t read the document I wrote up to describe the events that sent me to the hospital back in February, I’m happy to share it. Just email me at tmalonemcse @ gmail.com. I sincerely think I fit more into the neurotic category: I am worried or anxious I will have an encounter with an evil spirit if I do not keep myself sedated, which I have done for the last seven months with the doctor’s help – lots of kinds of prescription medicine. That’s not such a good idea. We really need to face our fears, not hide from them.

Choose a Doctor Who Can Help You

By the way, the five different appointments are to see which one I like best. That’s the beauty of the American way: we have a choice, at least for now. Of course, I could decide not to bring up the real story of why I think I’m having these migraines. One of the first things I was asked by one of the doctors was if I was looking to go on disability. I can’t believe how easy it is. Maybe it’s just California. I’m not sure how long it lasts. All I’m trying to do is figure out what’s wrong with me, get it fixed and get the joy back in my life that I once felt before this thing happened. Maybe I do need to go on disability while I figure this out with these psychiatric visits (or to the psychologist as the case may be). Do you know the difference? Psychiatrists can prescribe drugs. Anyway, one could be on disability for many months while they figure things out and get fixed.

A Few Last Words About Mother’s Mental Illness

Can we ever really be fixed from the influence of the adversary? To her dying day, members of our family would not bring up certain events around our mother for fear of “setting her off” into one of her episodes. Even through gentle probing she would deny them in later years, I am an eye-witness to her attempted suicides, which all seemed to occur just before my mission. I know it was a coincidence but 1976 was both the best year and the worst year for mother. This is the year we went to many Know Your Religion and BYU Education Week Seminars as well as the same year she tried to commit suicide by overdose and by sticking her head in an unlit oven. I’m sorry to be so graphic. I remember one passionate discussion about confession that set her off. We had just come from a KYR lecture on the subject of repentance. I could tell something was wrong. She exploded when we got home exclaiming we should never tell a priesthood leader about something we had done involving the law of chastity, obviously a sensitive subject for her. I tried to discuss with her what we had just learned in KYR but it was not a good experience. I think that’s the occasion she said “the priesthood is just the men’s club of the church.” She was obviously distressed at the time.

Long Discussions With a Struggling Mother

As the youngest, I had a great desire to please my mother and make her proud of me. I did my best to serve a good mission, especially since my parents paid my expense. Central America was probably the least expensive mission in the world. We lived on less than $200 a month, but I knew my dad came off disability and got a job again just so he could support me on my mission. I was grateful they allowed me to continue to live at home while at school after my mission but by this time my mother’s episodes became so dramatic I had to move out. I saw and heard things my brother and sisters never heard since they were all married or in my brother’s case, in the military. Mother had a love / hate affair with the church that seemed to set her off into these difficult and very deep gospel discussions way over my father’s head. I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful, but things that bothered my mother were simply not an issue for my easy-going father. So it was usually she and I that hashed things out, sometimes until early morning hours.

Mother Was Inactive when she Died – So What?

Not having grown up with a father or brothers, mother was still trying to come to grips with the idea of priesthood hierarchy. She was an intelligent, competent school teacher with a Master’s degree who had a real problem with men telling her how to teach a Sunday school class. I have her childhood journal in which she discusses helping her own mother teach Sunday school all during her teenage years. Trust me, mother knew how to teach, how to control a class and how to keep the class interested. They would ask her to teach the in-service lessons we later called the teacher improvement classes. To her dying day, I think what kept mother away was anger or disappointment at the men of this church who tried to tell her how to do a job for which she was eminently qualified. Humility -if only mother had learned humility. She always said that was her downfall in this life.

Part Two deals with the influence of the drug culture of the 60’s and 70’s (This will be a link when it is posted)

Overcoming the Label of Addict


AddictionRecoveryProgramNote: To those waiting for my promised analysis of the 45-page Daymon Smith paper on the Atonement I wrote about in my previous post, please be patient. It is on the way, but is more involved and complex than I had anticipated. The idea of the sacrifice of the Savior being a penal substitute for our sins is, to me, the heart of the atonement and one that I appreciate profoundly.

I’ve stated many times that the reason I blog is to motivate me to study the gospel. I like to share new viewpoints I discover on various doctrinal subjects. I’ve also discovered that this is an area in which we need to be very careful. There are some really smart people out there who write and teach extremely well, but only the spirit can tell us if what they are trying to teach is the truth.

Advice for a Repentant Sinner

Recently, I shared a series of posts here on my blog that focused on the Atonement. I wrote about sin, repentance and forgiveness. I used some youthful examples which were painful but helpful to get to the heart of the matter. I want my religion to help me feel better, spiritually speaking, and to give me hope for a better life in the next world. In other words, I want to feel forgiveness.

I don’t know if you’re like me in that you can understand something intellectually and yet not have it sink down into your heart so that it changes your life. It’s a mortal weakness that I don’t think is unique to me. In any event, I solicited and received advice on how to make the power of the atonement more real in my life. I received a lot of personal emails but one really stood out.

A unique paper on the Atonement

I asked for and received permission to share some highlights from this amazing document, which I’ll link to at the end of this post. The author, Greg was 19 years old at the time he wrote it. I’m 56 and thought I pretty well understood this doctrine, but I learned more in four hours as I read the dozen pages he shared than I have in studying a myriad of books on the subject in my library.

I suppose it’s because the focus of his paper was from the point of view of an addict. Now this is where it gets a little tricky, because the whole argument of his essay is that we should not label ourselves as addicts. He goes to great lengths to explain why. I think that has been my issue all along. I have always considered myself to be an addict – a recovered addict – but still, an addict.

The Consummate Power of the Atonement

Among other synonyms, consummate means perfect, supreme, absolute and complete. In other words, there is nothing held back in the power of the atonement. Up until I first received my temple recommend and asked my bishop about healing after repentance, I always believed that healing meant healing, complete, whole and perfect. I thought we taught that in the LDS church.

But as I shared in that post, my poor bishop seemed absolutely distraught when he shared with me that the best I could hope for was to endure to the end and hope I was worthy when I died. I thought I was at the end of my problems. But as the wise mother said to the new bride, I simply did not know at which end I found myself. That day was the beginning of my many troubles.

Family Services Addiction Recovery Program

In our church we conduct an addiction recovery program. I have written about this before. The fault I find with the program is that it is based on the 12-step AA program, which unfortunately, contains some false doctrine. The main problem I have with the program, and which is the key to Greg’s paper, is simply the use of the label ‘addict’ in describing one who has sinned habitually.

The scriptures never make a single distinction between someone with an addiction and anyone else. Do you realize how powerful that statement is? In other words, there is not, or should not have to be any special kind of program to help someone overcome an addiction other than what we already have in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To add to the doctrine of Christ is evil (3 Ne 11:40).

Behold, This is My Doctrine

To call yourself or others an addict or even a recovering addict is adding to the doctrine of Christ and is therefore evil. It implies that you are moving away from something, always trying to avoid something. That is not what the Savior taught. He commanded us to come unto him. We are to do all within our power to move toward Christ. We are on a sandy foundation to teach otherwise.

I have always believed in the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This is a part of the doctrine of Christ. It is something for which we should all strive. We should be seeking this baptism with all our hearts. If we focus on coming unto Christ and receiving Him, we will not need to focus on avoiding the mists of darkness. We will then be holding onto the rod of iron in our eternal quest.

Healing Means Complete Healing

The Savior says He can heal us. I believe Him. In spite of what my bishop said at age 19, I have always been seeking this healing and sanctifying power of the Savior in my life. I have always believed that He and only He can take away that addiction or attraction to sin. When we come unto Christ completely, we are consumed in his love. The desire for sin is removed from us.

For 37 years I have struggled with the worry and fear that because I was once an addict, I might someday slip back into that addictive behavior. And you know what? I did – many times – all because I had labeled myself as an addict. I had convinced myself that “once an addict, always an addict” applied to me. This is a false doctrine and a teaching of the devil meant to ensnare us.

Recovering from False Labels

I do not believe we should ever consider ourselves addicts. I also do not believe we should call ourselves “recovering addicts.” I now believe that even “recovered addict,” as I have always referred to myself, is wrong. There is not or should not be a special class of individual who is coming unto Christ. We need no additional labels. We are all sinners. We are all repenting.

If we call ourselves an addict or even a recovering addict, we imply that we are trying to avoid something, or move away from something we fear. This approach will always fail because it is fear-based and we all know the source of fear. Let us resolve here and now to remove this false label from ourselves. We are simply children of God, coming unto Christ through His doctrine.

A Few Gems from Greg’s Paper

We are commanded to change the way we are. We are commanded to change who we are. Elder Holland said, “All the counseling or cognitive therapy in the world will not break a pornography addiction without the Savior.” Elder Holland said we can never use the excuse, “that’s just the way I am. I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and call it psychology.”

“What if someone shoves porn in your face after years of sobriety? The porn is not the problem. The problem is lust. If that person has truly changed then lust will have been rooted out of their heart and no outside influence could override their agency and make it return.” The only way to remove lust from one’s heart is to come unto Christ and to be filled with the pure love He offers.

Coming Unto Christ is the Answer

“There is no way to lighten our own burdens. If you’re wearing a heavy backpack there is nothing you can do to make it lighter on you. No matter what position you try and no matter how you twist and contort your body you will never be able to change the weight of the backpack. Someone has to help you. Someone else on different ground has to help you with the weight.”

That someone is Christ. The other option, succumbing to Satan, is inevitable if you never accept Christ’s strength. If in the end you have not chosen Christ, it will not matter who you have chosen. You either repent now, change now, humble yourself now, or remain in sin and denial of Christ forever. There is no tomorrow. In sin our tomorrow is unchangeably filled with pain.

Stop Using the Word Addict

A better phrase would be “once a mortal, always a mortal,” even if it’s only true for a season. People struggling with pornography have an acute awareness of their weakness. One mother was upset over her son looking at pornography. “Why can’t he just stop?” She asked. Yet when she was asked why she couldn’t just stop overeating, she had no answer. See, we are all sinners.

Temptation falls under the category of weakness. The only thing that makes a temptation a temptation is because the natural man actually wants to do it. Just because someone that has been addicted in years past continues to feel temptations doesn’t mean they are still addicted. It means they are still human and therefore must rely on Christ for strength. Stop calling them an addict.

Complete the Last Step

Perhaps the reason some people continue to use the phase “recovering addict” or “recovered addict” is because they feel they have gone as far into the recovery / repentance process that that possibly can. There is one more step to complete which is to come unto Christ and be healed. Perhaps they are afraid of that last step. They would rather stay in a continual state of recovery.

The thought of having to do a bit more and reach a little further into themselves is daunting and discouraging. Perhaps they are afraid that if they are fully recovered or healed then they will no longer have the kind of fraternity found in a recovery group. This need can be filled with a strong ward family and reaching out to others to help them complete that last step to come unto Christ.

It’s Easier Than it Seems

Could it be this simple? Is it true that all we must do is continually focus on the Savior and come unto Him in all we think, say and do? Yes, it is that easy. It is work, but it is easy. We must forget man-made programs, science and psychology, look to the Savior to live. Does that sound too good to be true? It does, but it is nevertheless, the only way – to come unto Christ and live.

The healing power of the Atonement is real, but one must seek it and ask for it. Forgiveness is easy. We can know we are forgiven simply by repenting and asking the Lord to forgive us. But there is more to be done after that if we want the change to be permanent. We must ask to be healed. We must do whatever He requires of us to receive this gift and blessing, but it is real.

Always Move Towards Christ

It is not enough to stay away from the great and spacious building because surrounding it is an exceedingly great mist of darkness. The point is not to avoid the great and spacious building. It is to hold to the iron rod and to go toward the tree of life. There are no fences around the great and spacious building. We must cling to the iron rod and keep our eyes fixed on the tree of life.

The point is not to defeat Satan. We could never do that. We must instead embrace Christ. He has already conquered. An attitude of recovery is good. It moves us away from sin. Eventually something must take that place, for there will be space and unless we fill it with Christ, sin and relapse are sure to return. We must become fully recovered by filling that space with Christ.

The Change Can Be Instantaneous

This may be the hardest thing to accept, especially if you have been hanging onto the false label of recovering or recovered addict for many years. I know if was for me. According to science it may take months and years for the brain to change. But according to the gospel we believe, it can happen instantaneously. Elder Holland said, “You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast.

“It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, ‘I’ll change’- and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to be made. You may well spend – indeed you had better spend – the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come for you as instantaneously as for Alma and the sons of Mosiah.”

The Lord’s Healing is Complete

No one is strong enough to overcome addiction on their own. By living a Christ-centered life, we qualify for His strength. But when the Lord heals, it is without reservation or limit. Christ is 100% trustworthy and will, through our humility, maintain our purity. The Savior can effectively break the chains of addiction in a lasting way – with permanence and without scars.

The Lord will give us a new heart and a new spirit. We will no longer desire evil. Our struggle will cease. He can and will free the addicted individual from their bondage but they must come unto Him with full completeness of heart, nothing held back, no reservations. We must truly desire it and be willing to do whatever the Lord requires of us to obtain the gift of healing.

We Must Become Great

The only way to truly overcome addiction is to become great. The person who gives up addiction and turns to Christ can never return to a normal life. They can no longer be a normal person, because the normal person gives in to temptation. Instead, they must become great. They must become a disciple, a true follower of Jesus Christ with an eye single to the glory of God.

We can’t just give Him our addiction, we must give Him everything. Addictions can be erased. The effects of addictions, even long-held addictions can he healed. We can be restored to perfect spiritual health, but it comes at a price. We must complete the steps the Lord outlined when He taught His gospel. We must be baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost. We must receive the Lord.

To Contact the Author

Greg Nelson is the author of the paper I have reviewed in this blog post. The contact information listed at the end of the paper states that he resides in Providence Utah and can be reached via his email at itstimetopowerup @ gmail.com. If you click on this link, you can open the paper in Google Docs and find his information if you wish to contact him. He was very amenable with me.

As I noted he was 19 when he wrote this paper. He is now 22. I think you can tell I am obviously impressed with what he wrote. As I told Greg, his paper was an answer to my many years of prayer. He said he felt compelled to share it with me after spending a few hours on my blog. I will be forever grateful for the insight he has added to my understanding of complete repentance.

Books about the Savior in my Library

Come, Let Us Adore Him by Denver Snuffer (2009) – recently read this
The Second Comforter by Denver Snuffer (2006) – Have read this several times
Trusting Jesus by Jeffrey R. Holland (2003)
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister (2000)
The Redeemer – Reflections of the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ, compilation (2000)
Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King by Duane S. Crowther (1999)
Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence by John M Pontius (1997)
Following Christ by Stephen E. Robinson (1995)
Believing Christ by Stephen E. Robinson (1992)
Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation by Gerald Lund (1991)
In the Arms of His Love by Steven A. Cramer (1991)
I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Deseret Book compilation (1990)
Life in Christ – Discovering the transforming power of the Savior by Robert L. Millet (1990)
Come Unto Christ by President Ezra Taft Benson (1983)
What it Means to Know Christ by George W. Pace (1981)
The Mortal Messiah series by Bruce R. McConkie (1979)
Come Unto Christ by Duane S. Crowther ( 1971)
Jesus the Christ by James Talmage (1915) – read this back on my mission

False Understanding of the Atonement


JesusInGardenI have some special feelings in my heart about the Savior. I have been taught all my life about Jesus Christ and have come to look to Him as one who will save me. From what, you ask? Well, the answers are obvious for those raised in the church – from death and hell. Those are Book of Mormon phrases. I have had some experience with both and frankly, I find them frightening.

I have documented my experience with death in several previous essays, but most clearly in my post on Dealing with Evil and Unclean Spirits written 6 Aug 2012. I suppose that is also the post that most clearly documents my experiences with evil as well. Since that time, I have had more recent experiences that caused me to feel the closeness of death and hell in my life once more.

My point is, like most men as they age, I think more and more about what the next life will be like and if I will enjoy it. My encounters with evil and feelings of death in this life convince me that there are parts of the next life – the spirit world – of which I do not want to be associated. In other words, I am a prime candidate for one of the purposes of religion – to prepare to meet God.

Spiritual Counsel from My Youth

In a recent post here on my blog, I wrote about some advice I was given by my Bishop as a youth nearly thirty-seven years ago as I prepared for my mission. I confessed sins common to many young men and hinted that perhaps the advice given by my bishop may have been unsound, or at least less than perfect. I shared that any mention of this particular sin continues to bother me.

In other words, I was expressing that I was perhaps not yet fully healed from youthful mistakes and wondered if any of my readers might have some advice for me to bring me greater peace. In particular, I discussed the process of being born of the spirit, of a book I had read on the subject that greatly influenced me and then included some troubling quotes from Miracle of Forgiveness.

Frankly, I was both delighted and surprised by the number and type of answers I received, both public and private. Some brethren expressed their gratitude that I had said something publically that they also felt – the ongoing sense of guilt when priesthood leaders mention the need to be free from this common indiscretion of youth, confess the sin to get counsel on how to proceed.

Duty to Call Others to Repent

I’ve never been a Bishop or Stake President, but I know I would say the same thing were I in their position. I’ve worked closely with such men over the past twenty-five years and sat in many disciplinary councils where I have seen the results of sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our members. Many of the brethren, and one sister, noted their problems began with pornography.

My point is I’m not finding fault with the over-the-pulpit call from the Stake President to the brethren of the priesthood to free themselves from these sins (pornography and masturbation). The point of my essay was how to deal with the twinge of guilt that one feels if one has been a past participant in such sins but has now repented and should feel clean and forgiven by God.

I’d like to offer some additional thoughts on the subject that I hope will be more uplifting and helpful to those who find themselves in a similar situation. I think I was under the mistaken impression that I was supposed to be perfect in regards to this particular sin once I had taken care of it with the Bishop of my youth. This was confirmed by many of you in the advice you offered.

Best advice – Lighten up

The most common advice I received was “Lighten up. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect.” Right next to that was the point made that even after being born of the spirit or for that matter, having one’s calling and election sure, man is going to sin, just because he is mortal. I guess I knew that intellectually but I think it has now sunk much deeper into my hard heart.

By hard heart – I mean towards myself. I was being overly tough on myself. I’ve related on this blog how I’ve had some wonderful spiritual experiences. I have felt like Nephi, “Oh wretched man that I am. When I want to rejoice, I remember my sins. (I’m paraphrasing).” The idea that a man can reach spiritual heights then fall back into weakness was a difficult one for me to accept.

Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that one go indulging in all kinds of lasciviousness, but if one, in a moment of melancholy or loneliness, engages in this sin, the idea is to not beat yourself up about it to the point of becoming discouraged and losing hope. That’s what Satan wants. The idea is to pick yourself up (repent), ask for forgiveness, take the sacrament and try, try again.

Still Seeking Baptism of Fire

I know this is common sense and something I should understand and have dealt with long time ago. After all, I’ve been a member of this church for most of my 56 years, but for some reason, I have been laboring under the impression that one must be perfectly clean and pure in order to feel the spirit of the Lord. No so. One must simply be humble and willing to make greater effort.

Yes, I mean make a greater effort. We grow line upon line. Each time we pick ourselves up from some sin – and we all have sin – we must commit ourselves to dig a little deeper into the gospel, to understand it better. We must be willing to pray with more intensity and heartfelt sincerity, and find the strength the Lord has promised to those who turn unto him in spite of a sinful nature.

I am still on a quest. This blog will continue to document that journey. I intend to either receive the baptism of fire – perhaps I already have and don’t know it – or receive an audience with the Lord. I intend to receive angels, be taught what I must do to prepare for this interview and then to go and do. I readily confess I am deeply influenced by the writings of Denver Snuffer here.

Scholarly Approach to the Gospel

Now I’d like to move on the real point of this post. One good brother who responded to my previous post invited me to engage in a private dialog on the doctrine of the atonement. He indicated that I do not really understand the atonement and because of that, I am laboring under a false impression about the nature of sin, how repentance works and what the atonement is all about.

In order to educate me, he has proposed that I read a private document on the subject authored by Daymon M. Smith. You may be familiar with the man. He self-published a humorous book a few years back about working in the Church Office Building called The Book of Mammon. I thought about purchasing and reading it but reviews indicated my conservative side might not enjoy it.

I’ve read some of Daymon’s blog and frankly, he is way over my head. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy, but I’m no PhD. Put me in a room full of Microsoft networking equipment and I’m right at home. Ask me to write a scholarly paper that contributes a greater understanding to the commonly accepted literature on a subject like the atonement and I’m out of my league.

False Understanding of Atonement

However, I promised I would accept his challenge so I have committed to read this 45-page paper and write my response. My point is that the Book of Mormon teaches that God offered His Son as a sacrifice for sin. We call that the atonement. He contends that this is a false teaching called penal substitution that comes from Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell and Calvinites.

He says it is a teaching of the Great and Abominable Church and that it binds men down and brings them into captivity with a yoke of iron. He indicates that this false teaching needs to be purged in order to see clearly and understand the mission of Jesus Christ. I told him I could offer quite a few Book of Mormon scriptures that teach Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us.

Perhaps I can share a few of them here as a start to my gospel study this week but it just seems a little ludicrous. I’ve been teaching the doctrine of the Atonement since I was seventeen years old and was first called to teach a Sunday school class. So I’ve been teaching false doctrine for the past forty years? Maybe you can join in and tell me what you think of a few of these scriptures.

A Few Scriptures on Sacrifice

2 Ne 2:7 – “Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” OK, this doesn’t say the Father offered the Son. It says the Son offered Himself. Score one for Daymon and my unnamed friend. This is only the first scripture that came to mine.

Jacob 4:5 – “…it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.” OK, this one to me seems pretty clear. It says Abraham offering Isaac is a similitude of God offering his Son. I believe the point should go to me on that one. What say ye?

Alma 34:10 – “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.” Score two for Daymon. This scripture does not specifically say that the Father shall offer the son as a sacrifice for sin as I thought.

Alma 34:14 – “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” This one is debatable. It refers to the Son of God being the great and last sacrifice, but doesn’t specifically say that it is the Father that sacrifices the son. So I’ll call this one a draw.

Melvin J Ballard on Father’s sacrifice

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son.

Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer.

Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.

Source: New Era Jan 76 Classic Discourses, Sacramental Covenant

Penal Substitution is the Difficulty

I’m not quite sure what my friend is trying to teach me or why he wanted to point out that my / our understanding of the atonement is wrong or false doctrine. I will read Daymon’s essay on the atonement and see what points I can derive that will help draw me closer to my Savior. I desire a true understanding of what He has done for me and what exactly it is that He requires of me.

From our email dialog I think he is trying to say that the Atonement has nothing to do with paying a debt, but that did not enter into the dialog from my side. I wanted to focus on the idea of the Atonement being a sacrifice – both on the part of the Son and from the Father. That’s why I included Elder Ballard’s classic talk on the feelings of the Father as he watched His son’s death.

The paper seems to focus on the idea of penal substitution. Yes, I get that. It seems to be part of our doctrine that Christ paid for our sins. In other words he suffered things such as guilt and shame so we would not have to. For some reason, if I understand the paper correctly from a quick review, this is supposedly a false doctrine. I’ll write my summary when I complete it.

By the way, I’ve been asked if this 45-page PDF draft paper is available for sharing. My source has indicated that it will be published later this year but asked that I not share it for now. Sorry about that..

Progress Report on Denver Snuffer


DenverSnufferPagesI apologize for the misleading title. This is not about Denver Snuffer. This is about my progress in reading and digesting what Denver Snuffer has written. If you’ll recall, about a month ago I ordered, received and wrote about Denver’s latest publications. I just finished reading volume one of Remembering the Covenant and want to share a few things I learned from that volume.

Remembering the Covenant is a reprint of Denver’s blog. Volume one covered approximately the first five months, from 1 February 2010 to 7 June 2010. It is about 435 printed pages. I took my time reading it because I had several other reading projects going on at the same time. I read each entry twice, highlighting with a different colored marker on each pass, pondering as I read.

This is still a solo project. Carol is not interested in what I am reading, although I do share a few quotes with her on occasion. She usually likes to point out that if the Lord wanted me to know what Denver had to say, the Brethren would have told us to read his books. Sigh. Carol’s not big on doctrine. The social aspects of the church are more important to her. We balance each other.

Careful, Ponderous and Solemn Thought

Many of the entries were familiar to me, having read them at one time or another on his blog. I was also impressed that a lot of content was shared here the first time in this volume and found full expression in his book, Passing the Heavenly Gift. It’s obvious the ideas found in PtHG were developed a long time before they were put together so powerfully in that controversial book.

My objective in the methodical and deep reading of Remembering the Covenant is obviously tied to my desire to obtain what Denver has written about in his first book, The Second Comforter. No, I have not yet obtained an audience with the Lord, but then, I’ve only been asking seriously for the last year or so. I started asking in earnest after my first reading of The Second Comforter.

Maybe my approach is all wrong, but what I’m trying to accomplish here is prove one way or another that a regular member of the church can have the same experience Denver Snuffer says we all can and should have – to receive a promise from the Lord of Eternal Life. And yes, that means a personal visit from the resurrected Lord, and to receive that promise from his own lips.

Why I Haven’t Received the Promise Yet

I found many helpful entries to explain why I haven’t had that sacred experience yet. One of them is found on page 261. You can read the entry on his blog dated 27 April 2010 – God is No Respecter of Persons. About halfway through the post he discusses what alienates us from the Lord. He makes an interesting point that it is not our sins per se, but the way we offend Christ.

Specifically he says, “He is offended when we are forgiven by Him, and then return to the same sin. This shows a lack of gratitude for His forgiveness.” Denver acknowledges that some struggle with addictions, compulsions and weaknesses for years, even decades. That’s me. He then offers what I found to be a sad commentary. It made me think that I must still have a long ways to go.

He writes, “When at last, because of age or infirmity, a troubling weakness is at last overcome, He will readily accept your repentance and let you move forward, clean, whole and forgiven.” This makes me sad because it causes me to feel that those who struggle with addiction will not be accepted by the Lord until the biological temptations of the body go away due to old age.”

I Sin Differently Than You

Perhaps you can help me out in my thinking here. Maybe some of you know what I am talking about. I’m going to be frank. They say confession is good for the soul. I’ve written about this before on my blog and got a lot of positive feedback from folks who said it helped them to be so open and honest about such a sensitive subject. You may think less of me after reading this.

Mental illness runs in my family. So does addiction. I’ll bet they go hand-in-hand. I recall a line used by President Uchtdorf in a recent General Conference address (April 2012). I believe he said it came from a bumper sticker. It read, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” In my previous blog post on the subject I wrote I was exposed to Internet pornography in 1995.

However, that wasn’t my first exposure to pornography. It seems the adversary knew what my weakness was before I ever understood. I struggled with pornography from the time I was eight years old, long before the Internet. I find it interesting that this temptation came into my life right after I was baptized. It has been a constant battle with many ups and downs for nearly fifty years.

A Common but Serious Weakness

I have never confessed this in a public forum before. I am pleased to say that I am a recovered addict and have been clean for many years, but like an alcoholic, it can come back in a second. My state of mind is something about which I have to be constantly wary. I must always be careful about what I look at, what ads I see, what TV shows I watch, what web pages I visit.

This is not a secret from Carol. We have worked on this together over the years. I am amazed at how kind, patient, loving and accepting she has always been. This is an intimate part of our lives but human sexuality is a big part of the mortal experience so it has eternal ramifications. For me, the biggest part of this struggle has always been feelings of guilt and of disappointing the Lord.

The last time I tried to confess this sin to a bishop, I also tried to turn in my temple recommend. This was many years ago, early in my married life. He pushed the temple recommend back at me and said, “I want you to go to the temple more frequently and I want you to stop confessing this. This weakness is between you, your wife and the Lord. You work it out among yourselves.”

Broken Souls Are Loved by the Lord

I came away from reading Denver’s entry that God is No Respecter of Persons thinking that I will not be worthy or qualified for a visit from the Lord to obtain the promise of Eternal Life for many more years, probably just before I am ready to leave this life. Perhaps someone who struggles with an addiction is a special case, who can’t be trusted until they’re almost dead.

I found some consolation in reading his entry on Broken Souls on page 387 which can be found on his blog dated 25 May 2010. In it Denver describes his work with and love for those who find it difficult to associate with other members of the church because they struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression caused by addictions. I could immediately relate this to my life-long hurt.

He writes that he has close friends who struggle with addictions so haunting and so terrible a force in their lives that rising each day to face the coming fight takes greater courage than he could imagine. “They are acting in faith at every waking breath, as they fight against a foe that I do not comprehend and could not face.” Yep, that pretty much describes my daily walk in life.

Forgiveness for a Former Addict

Hope came as I read there, “I marveled at how very much these broken souls, these discouraged people … are the very ones with whom I feel the Lord’s presence and love as I have the honor of meeting and talking with them about the gospel. These are the ones He loves the most. These are the ones with whom he associated during His ministry. He associates there, still.” I like that.

I made a decision a long time ago to continue to follow the gospel path, to attend my meetings each week, to accept and faithfully serve in callings when asked, to attend the temple and to do all within my power to prove to the Lord that I loved Him and wanted His forgiveness. But I also accepted the fact that I would never really feel that I belonged, that I was not worthy of the Lord.

All this, because as a former addict, I did not feel I could be trusted. I could and would do all that we are supposed to do, including prayer and gospel study, but deep down, I knew my weakness and it terrified me that I was capable of such betrayal. I had known the Lord’s forgiveness early in my life, but my constant struggle over the years caused me to feel I had offended the Lord.

You Deserve Your Insecurities

On page 408, in the post entitled Developing Your Faith dated 30 May 2010, Denver writes, “Insecurities are a result of a lack of faith. You deserve them. You have not acquired knowledge yet. You have them as a gift, as a warning that you have not yet received what you need. Nor have you developed faith yet.” He then admonishes us to go and re-read Lectures on Faith Six.

Of course, that lecture is about offering sacrifice to obtain sufficient faith to be saved. In this lecture is found the famous quote that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” I have thought and pondered about this for at least twenty years. I have yet to figure out what more I can sacrifice.

According to Denver, it is my fears and insecurities that I must sacrifice. It is my lack of trust in myself that comes from years of being a former addict that I must sacrifice. I know the Lord has forgiven me. That’s a given. I have asked and know that He has forgiven me. There has never been a hesitation when I have asked for forgiveness. But does he trust me enough to visit me?

Timing for the Visit From the Lord

I suppose the real question is, “Do I trust myself enough to let the Lord visit me?” Of course, we do not set the timing of the Lord’s visit. So the mechanics of how this works puzzles me. Let’s say I finally figure out in my mind at last a way to give up that lack of trust that I put there so long ago as I began my recovery from my addiction. I give up the fear that I can’t be trusted.

Well, that’s nice. That is, it’s nice to be able to say to myself that the Lord trusts me, but unless I hear the Lord say it to me personally, perhaps it’s just self-deception. The Lord has commanded us to drop doubts and fears from our hearts. I am willing to do so. For non-addicts I assume it’s a simple thing. You simply say to yourself, “I trust myself that I will not participate in sin again.”

I’m sure I’m over-analyzing this and making it way more complicated than the Lord intended. The gospel is supposed to be so simple that even a child can understand it. We are supposed to become child-like in our trust and faith in the Lord. I know I can trust the Lord, but I am not certain I can trust myself, even after all these years. There simply are no guarantees, are there?

Invitation to Dialog

For any other Snuffer readers out there, what do you think? Am I going about this wrong? Denver reports on page 421 in “Be Still and Know That I Am God” (2 June 2010), “Study what I’ve written carefully and anyone will find it is all there. Several people have done so, and have received the promised results.” That’s nice to know. I believe Denver and am happy for them.

I’m still pondering the approach I need to take to accomplish this work that only I can do for myself. One approach is to hang onto the belief that because I am a former addict who has offended Christ by returning to my sins after having been forgiven, that I must wait patiently until my life is nearly over before the Lord will visit me to proclaim I have Eternal Life.

The other approach is to give up all doubts and fears left over from years of sin, trust the Lord implicitly that He is willing to come to me now and ask all the more sincerely for that blessing. Perhaps I have missed something in The Second Comforter and need to go back and re-read it yet one more time, asking the Lord to show me what steps I missed the first few times I read it.

All are Invited to the Feast


OlympicCompetitionThe Great Competition is the ninth of Denver Snuffer’s Ten Parables. It is short, one of the shorter parables in the book, at only seven pages. Yet it is the one I have pondered the most over the past year. I have shared it with Carol, offered my opinion, asked hers. We are not in agreement. I have not seen much discussion of the parable on the Internet. I don’t think it has been widely read or discussed.

When I wrote about this before, I was rather orthodox in my interpretation. I offer it here for comparison, but this is no longer how I view this parable. If you haven’t read the original parable, you really must purchase the book and do so. It begins, “There was a King who loved his people. He also loved the competition of games.” It’s $12.99 at Amazon - $5 Kindle edition.

An Early Interpretation of the Parable

Here’s what I wrote last year after the first reading: “This one is about the plan of salvation, told from a very long-range view, including the great battle at the end of the world between the forces of good and evil. Denver has drawn some profound implications of what happens at that great event because those who chose not to come to compete were invited to the great feast at the end.

“The focus is on loyalty. Who would remain true to the king in spite of the seeming unfairness of the competition designed to cause a great division among the people? I would love to share this one in a Sacrament talk or Sunday school lesson, but of course, you and I know that one cannot quote from unorthodox sources in church.” Like the parable, my analysis was short and sweet.

When Good Men Are Excommunicated

A lot has happened to me in the past year, mainly through my study of the gospel, my writings and the responses of many of you to my essays. One particularly eventful episode was my interview and subsequent report on what happened to Mel Fish, a man who searched deeply for truth, believed he found it and was excommunicated when he tried to share it with others.

Mel’s excommunication affected me deeply. I confess I was incensed. As I wrote before, I only know one side of the story and will never know the other side. What happened to Mel caused me to deeply rethink my understanding of the purpose of life, the purpose of what we do in this church and the purpose of tests – the kind of tests that, if we’re not careful, tear a family apart.

Denver Snuffer Disciplinary Action

For those who don’t know, Denver Snuffer is going through the same process in our church. He is being investigated for disciplinary action. This is no secret. He has made it clear through the writings of his own blog. Like many of you, I have plenty of contacts at Church Headquarters. I am not privy to any inside information. But I do know his investigation is soon coming to a head.

In the church we’re taught that disciplinary action for apostasy is only taken when one has been openly or deliberately disobedient to direction from priesthood leaders to cease from teaching certain things they find offensive or to be, in effect, false doctrine. Once you have published a book, or written an essay on a blog, how can you take back what you have caused to be written?

Stand Up for What you Believe

I suppose you could simply write something new, disavowing all the things you have previously written, but that seems so disingenuous, as if you are just doing that to stave off inevitable action. To each man, there comes a time when he must stand by what he has studied and thought about, prayed about and decided to be true. Else what is the purpose of intellectual pursuit?

If you can’t be true to what you feel the Lord has led you to understand, then of what use are you to the Lord? Either stand up for what you feel the Lord gave you to share, then share it and teach it, especially if you know it can benefit and bless those who believe. The Lord gives passion to men for a reason – so that others will pay attention when they proclaim something is important.

We are in the Great Competition Now

In the parable of the Great Competition, we learn that not all were blessed with the same gifts or talents. Some would never be able to compete in the area of physical strength, musical talent, intellectual or academic excellence, patience or a myriad of other virtues to improve the health and vigor of the people. We could all watch and could all compete as we felt endowed to do so.

Some refused to compete and left the playing field in anger. They claimed the competition was not fair and said they would do all they could to disrupt the games. And they did. They offered no support of those trying to excel. In fact, they discouraged them, whispering in their ears that the competition was unfair, unwise and a waste of time and effort. They were well organized.

Evil Spirits Who Followed Lucifer

So far, I’m confident nobody could miss the implications of this parable. Those who opposed the competition were those who followed Lucifer. They did not believe it possible to succeed. They believed Satan who said the competition wasn’t fair. They did not listen closely when the King explained the competition was designed to test loyalty as well as improve the lives of the people.

“After the days of the competition ended, a great feast was called. For the feast, the King invited not only those citizens who participated in the games, but also those who had fled the city rather than participate. Those who had remained loyal and participated in the games were troubled by this. … Many of those who participated resented the presence of those who had fled.” (Page 87)

All Are Invited to the Feast

And that is what I would like to focus on for just a moment. I don’t know if the feast Denver has presented here in this parable is the same as the wedding feast found in Matthew 22. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the animosity felt by some that others were invited who they considered unworthy or unacceptable. The great feast turned into a great argument over who was worthy.

In the end, those who opposed the king’s decision were cast out. Only those who remained were able to live in peace. The fairness or unfairness of what they may have encountered in life did not bother them. They were at peace. They were loyal to the King and his plan. It did not bother them that some had not participated in the competition as they had. The King loved and accepted those who opposed him at first just as he had loved and accepted those who were loyal all along.

The Doctrine of Repentance

I want to now apply this to current events in my life. I have recently found at least three sources or individuals who teach a doctrine that I have always disagreed with because of the fairness principle involved. It has to do with forgiveness of those who rebelled against the Lord at the beginning. I suspect that teaching of this doctrine may be grounds for excommunication. I am not teaching it. I am simply explaining it as I have come to understand it. You decide its truth.

Here is the doctrine: Some evil spirits can repent. Some evil spirits can change sides. Some evil spirits can choose to do good things with their agency. Therefore, some evil spirits have not yet forfeited their agency. By definition, they are no longer evil spirits but simply spirits who have never been and never will have a mortal experience. These are not the same as unclean spirits.

How False Doctrine Comes About

Of course one must ask, “Why would evil spirits have any desire to turn from promoting Satan and his works to encouraging others to follow the Savior and his teachings? What benefit could they possibly derive from such a course of action, assuming it was even possible? And of course the second but possibly more important question: “Is it really possible for evil spirits to change?”

One theologian posted in clear and unmistakable terms that there is neither the desire nor the ability of evil spirits to repent. He proposed that the idea is a foolish thought. He rejected the notion that a fallen, rebellious spirit would have any desire to pursue salvation, especially when none is offered. The sin against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable. Rebellious spirits would have nothing to gain by turning from darkness to light. Therefore there is no reason to do so.

An Example From Real Life

And yet, read this from Mel Fish, then tell me if you think he was deceived. Mel is not the first to have shared something like this, but this example is one of the most profound I have discovered. It is found in his book, Healing the Inner Self, pages 121 through 123. My wife and I also heard him tell this story and have it recorded. It is a powerful story with a real teaching moment.

—– Beginning of Quote —–

One day a woman came to me. She had been attacked by a legion of devils. She was in intense pain and paralyzed on one side of her body. As I worked with this woman, I had several others with me, helping me. I sought help because there were so many of those spirits present. We needed all the power and faith that we as a group could exert.

As we worked with these spirits, teaching and commanding, they left one or two at a time. After two hours of struggle, there were only two spirits left. At that time these spirits took control of this woman and began speaking to us through her voice.

“Go away and leave us alone,” they said. “We are far too powerful for you to control. You could never send us away.”

“What makes you think you are so powerful?”

“In Satan’s kingdom there are many levels of authority and power. The two of us stand next to him in authority, and therefore there is no one more powerful than we are, except for Satan himself.”

At this point I said a silent prayer, asking the Lord what I should do. The answer came into my mind very clearly, “Send them to the Light.”

I argued with the Lord saying, “I can’t send them to the light. They are the wicked ones that are to be cast out into outer darkness at the time of the final judgment.”

“No, send them to the Light.” The answer came again. “I still love them.”

I spent the next hour trying to teach these two spirits and convince them that it was possible for them to go to the Light. They argued and insisted that they were too wicked and evil, and that there was no way that the Lord would accept them.

Finally, I asked, “How long have you been fighting against Christ?”

“For millions of years.”

“What has been your goal in all of that struggle?”

“To lead people away from Christ into the fold of Satan, and we have been very successful.”

“You know that there is opposition in all things. If one can leave Christ and embrace Satan, you can leave Satan and embrace Christ.” Just look up. He is there with outstretched arms waiting for you.”

Suddenly this woman fell to the floor and contorted in a way that I have never before witnessed. The expression on her face and her body language communicated the greatest degree of sadness I have ever witnessed. At this point the spirits began to weep saying, “He lied. He lied. He told us that if we would follow him he would force us to do good, and we would automatically go to the highest heavens. All he has done is force us to do evil and we hate it. He has us trapped. We have to do everything he says or he will punish us.”

“Your day of deliverance has come,” I said. “Turn to Christ. Give your burdens to him. He will forgive you. He will take all your darkness and replace it with light. He will then take you into a world of light where you can finish the healing process and resume your eternal progression.”

“If we did that, we would lose our great power.”

“What you perceive to be great power is only the power to destroy. Anyone can destroy. Real power is the power to create. Your only hope of getting that real power is to embrace the Light, accept the healing that comes from Christ, and allow him to take you to that realm of light.”

At this point, this woman relaxed. Calmness spread throughout her body and throughout the entire room. It was evident that they were gone. This wonderful woman was completely recovered from her paralysis.

—– End of Quote ——

Well, that’s enough to illustrate the point. I can provide many other examples but will refrain. My purpose is not sensationalism, but discussion of doctrine. Who is correct – the well-published theologian or the humble, but now excommunicated man, Mel Fish, who has helped hundreds, if not thousands of people, rid themselves of the influence of evil and unclean spirits? Teach me.

Difference Between Evil and Unclean Spirits

Remember, there is a difference between evil spirits and unclean spirits. Evil spirits have never been born into this mortal existence. Unclean spirits have been born and died but have not gone to the light. They still hang around, bound by the pull of the flesh – an addiction or some other mortal temptation that they continue to seek by momentarily inhabiting the body of another.

And just to wrap this up into the parable offered by Denver Snuffer, is it possible that these evil spirits represent those who will be invited to the great feast at the end of the competition? In fact, aren’t all invited and aren’t all welcome at the King’s table, both those who have been mortal and those who not only didn’t participate but discouraged others from doing so successfully?

Only a Theological Exercise

But then, it’s just a parable – food for thought. What do you think? Can evil spirits repent? Or is Mel Fish simply trying to say that God will do with them as he sees fit. Perhaps he is not really teaching that they can repent, only that they can choose to go to the light if they have a reason. If you invite an evil spirit to go to the light and you think they have gone, have you been deceived?

Disclaimer: Please don’t accuse me of teaching false doctrine. This is only a theological exercise. If this sort of writing offends you or causes you concern, please don’t read it or give it a second thought. And please don’t complain to the Strengthening Church Members Committee that Brother Malone needs to be talked to by his Stake President. This is just a blog in which I review books.

Note 1: If you want to read more of this kind of stuff online: Go to Unclean Spirits Blog. I don’t know the author. I have communicated with him by email but he wishes to remain anonymous.

Note 2: I have added a link to a three-page PDF of the full copy of the theological argument against evil spirits having any desire or motivation to repent. Let me know if think you know the author. I would like to give him credit. It is quoted in Doug Mendenhall’s book: Conquering Spiritual Evil.

The Encouragement Talk


This is a talk I prepared a long time ago for an occasion just like this. It’s a talk I’ve always wanted to hear from the pulpit and one I hope is helpful. It has to do with encouragement.

Paul said, “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” I’ve thought often about this statement and wondered why Paul suggested it. Perhaps it’s because he knew we all need to be encouraged from time to time.

Do you ever get discouraged? I do. I’m older than some of you and younger than others but I’ve had enough experience in life to discover there’s not always someone there to cheer you up or help you on your way when things get tough.

Or is there? I’ll address that in a little bit.

Sources of Help

I learned very early in life that my parents didn’t have all the answers when it came to dealing with difficulties. I saw them struggle sometimes just like I did. I watched them make mistakes, lose their patience or give bad advice to others.

It was a little disconcerting at first, especially since I loved them so much and wanted them to be perfect. I’m grateful that over time, the Lord helped me to see my parents as good people trying to do their best but occasionally, no, often, failing. This realization only increased my love for them.

There comes a time in most of our lives, especially when we are young, when we turn to friends for guidance and direction. Maybe we don’t specifically ask them in words like “Hey, can you help me figure this out?” but we nonetheless look to them for help in dealing with things that concern us.

Unfortunately, friends can disappoint. Even though they may be well-meaning, they can sometimes be less than encouraging, mainly because they have no clue themselves what to do in our situation. It’s good to have friends, especially those who are patient and kind, but friends with good answers are rare.

We’re all Sinners

So what do you do when you get discouraged? You’re a good person, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But you make mistakes. We all do. I do. The scripture usually cited to back this up is 1 John 1:8 – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Don’t be upset if this is the first time you’ve been called a sinner. We’re all sinners. If I were to pause right now and ask everyone here to think about some sin or weakness that is bothering you, everyone here would be able to bring something to mind, even if it’s the mistaken thought that you have no sins.

In fact, I think I will. I’m going to pause for just a few seconds. I promise you the Holy Ghost will help you think of something that bothers you, something you can improve or something that you know is displeasing to the Lord.

OK, that’s long enough. The thought or image that came to your mind was probably not very pleasant, was it? The memory of my weakness causes me to feel like a failure. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. I’m not going to tell you what it is and I don’t want to know what your weakness is.

Hope and Gratitude

Now I want to talk about hope. For me, hope is tied closely to gratitude. I’m grateful I’ve been taught all my life that we can overcome our weaknesses. It gives me hope to remember the reason I’m here on earth is to learn from my mistakes. That means I will make mistakes when I try to accomplish good things in life.

Just remembering that thought is very comforting to me. One of the biggest results of discouragement is that we stop trying to do new things or stop trying to do better in ways we know we should. For example, I know I should study the gospel more and read the scriptures every day. I don’t do as well as I should.

Every time I come to church and hear someone share something they discovered in their gospel study, I am encouraged and filled with hope. I then feel I can and will do better myself in my efforts to study the gospel during the week. I am especially encouraged by good teachers who are prepared to lead our classes.

God Gives Us Weaknesses

I just finished reading the Book of Mormon again. As I came to the twelfth chapter of Ether, I once again read these words with joy, “… if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble … if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I have decided I will confess my weakness unto you after all. In James 5:16, we read, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” I ask for your prayers in my behalf. Even though I’ve already been talking about it, to be very specific, my fault, my weakness is discouragement.

Now you may say, “Discouragement is no sin. We all experience it.” Yes, I know, but it can be debilitating, especially when it’s used by the adversary. When I get discouraged, I have a hard time remembering all the good things the Lord has done for me. I forget promises I have made about doing better each day.

I have made every effort to come unto the Lord as he has asked us to do in the scriptures. The Lord has not only shown me my weaknesses, he has also shown me how the adversary uses them as stumbling blocks to keep me from reaching my full potential in this life. Discouragement causes me to feel overwhelmed.

When I get overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. I refuse to take on new tasks or try new things. Do you ever get that way? When I get overwhelmed, I have a hard time deciding what among all the good things before me I should do with the limited amount of time I have been given. So I do nothing. That’s not good. Or worse, I waste my time with things that are not worthy of me.

Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths

I want that promise in Ether to be fulfilled. I want my weak things to be made strong. I also remember that the Lord gave me my weaknesses. Since my weakness is discouragement, can I accept that the Lord gave me that weakness? I can, especially because I know he wants to help me turn that into a strength.

Gratefully, this scripture teaches the secret to have our weak things turned into strengths. It is to humble ourselves before the Lord and to have faith in Him. In other words, we need to believe His promises and act upon them. He promises to help us become strong. I believe Him. That gives me hope.

I don’t know exactly how he does it. At this point in my progression, it’s still a miracle to me, something I don’t fully understand. I accept it on faith. I know that the Lord loves me and I know that he wants to help me. He has proven that to me many times in the past. I’m encouraged by the hope this scripture brings.

Working a Plan

So I pray unto the Lord, and even though I know He already knows, I tell Him I’m discouraged. I tell Him I’m overwhelmed. I tell Him I don’t know which of all the demands on my time I should address first. I tell him I’m tempted to do nothing for fear of masking a mistake or wasting my time.

Because He loves me, He doesn’t always tell me what to do. In fact, He is rarely specific. But He does remind me I have agency, encourages me to make a decision on a course of action and then present it to Him for confirmation. So I make a list, order the tasks in the way I think they should be done and then return to him in prayer with my list and a few ideas on how to accomplish them.

Invariably, the Lord says, “OK, sounds good. Go ahead. Looks like you’ve thought it out. Let’s see where that takes you.” Never have I heard, “No, that’s not a good idea. That would be a waste of your time.” The Lord always honors my agency and encourages me to try things to see what results I get. Occasionally, He even shows me the results in my mind’s eye in advance so I can plan better.

Doing the Work

Sometimes I discover after starting on my task that it did not produce the results for which I was hoping. That’s OK. At least I tried it. I then go on to the next item on my list and the next until I can return to the Lord and report I have tried everything I could think of to fix the problem. I know that pleases Him.

In the process I discover I have accomplished a lot of good things I might not have done had I not been trying to solve this problem, to fix this weakness, to overcome this sin or this temptation. People compliment me on how organized and efficient I am or that I get a lot done. Trust me, it’s only because I’m trying to do everything in my power to eliminate stress from my life.

In the end I know I can’t fix myself anyway, only the Lord can do that. I keep asking and keep pleading to be healed, but know that it will be on his timetable after I have learned whatever it is I am supposed to learn from the process of overcoming. Perhaps what I am learning most is patience with myself.

Thorn in the Side

I feel like Paul when he said that he had asked the Lord three times to remove a thorn in his side. We may never know in this life what he was talking about. Many scholars have assumed it was some sort of physical weakness or frailty. I don’t view it that way. Paul called it a messenger of Satan. I think it was temptation of some sort. He said it kept him from being overly exalted.

He also said he received an abundance of revelations. I’m not going to make a claim like Paul’s, but I will say I have felt the Lord give me answers to prayers and guide me in my thoughts as I turn to him for help in solving my problems. I have no doubt the Lord knows me and is willing to help me through this life. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost that seems to grow stronger each day.

As a people, I think we tend to be overly hard on ourselves. We’re prone to expect perfection sooner than we are ready for it. The word perfect has interesting connotations. In one sense, it means complete. We remind ourselves that in this life we cannot be perfect, but in the same breath, we say we must be perfect because we are commanded to be so. I think the Lord was simply telling us to finish the race, to endure to the end and to pass though all we are supposed to before we die.

Finish the Race

In other words, don’t quit, don’t give up before our days are through. I think most of know someone who has fought cancer or some other illness that, in the end, took the life of our friend or family member. I am constantly amazed by the faith of those passing through such illnesses. They believe they are going to get better. Their courage is a source of inspiration to all those around them.

But then they die. All of us must die. We don’t like to think about it. Sometimes we act like mortality will go on forever, especially when we’re young. “I have time to finish that self-improvement project,” we say to ourselves. When I graduate from college, once I get married, when the kids are grown, when I retire. The list goes on and on. But today is the day to do the work we are here to do.

Alma 34:34 – “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.”

In other words, our eternity is what we make of it here. How can we become something we are not? The purpose of this life is to prepare for eternity, to be the person we want to be in the life to come. If we are happy when we depart this life, we will be happy when we enter the spirit world and when we’re resurrected.

I’m not teaching anything new here. This is all standard doctrine found in the scriptures. What I am trying to do is to help us step back and take another look at the big picture just for a moment. In the context of encouraging us to do those things that we know are hard to do, remember that this life is short and the whole purpose is to do those hard things, not to relax, take it easy or be entertained.

Constant Companionship

At the beginning of this talk I said that there’s not always someone there to cheer you up with you get discouraged. But then I questioned that statement. I’d like to clarify. If there’s one thing of which I am a witness, meaning I know from personal, first-hand experience, it’s that we are not alone. We are never alone. We have been given the promise of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion.

I read a lot about this idea, even from General Authorities, who teach that there are times when we will be left alone to work things out on our own. While I agree with them in principle, I still feel that we have the right to ask the Lord to send his spirit to help us through our trials and difficulties. When we are in agony, we can do as the Savior did and pray even more earnestly.

We are taught that in the end, the Savior was left on his own while on the cross to be able to claim the full power of the atonement as His. I can understand and do support that teaching. Like I’m sure you have, I have passed through some terrible moments when I fell entirely alone. I knew I was being tested to see how I would respond. I have prayed with great earnestness that perhaps my cup, my trial could be taken from me. I also prayed that the will of the Father be done.

Help from Angels

Even when I have felt that nobody could take the pain or sorrow from me, I have always felt that the Lord has constantly been there and very much aware of what and how I’m doing. When I have felt anger at having to suffer, or despair at the loss I knew I was about to experience, still, I knew the Lord or His Angels were watching me. Even when I did not have the comfort of the Holy Ghost, I felt the presence of someone watching over me. Always. All my life. Every day.

I don’t think I’m special or any different from any of you. I am tempted and tried. I make mistakes. I fail. I commit sins. I often do less than my best. But as far as I know, I have not had to pass through the feeling of being left totally alone that the Savior suffered in those last few moments on the cross. I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Light of Christ and the presence of angels to watch over me and bear me up. Because of this, I know my Father in Heaven loves me.

He wants me to do better. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to overcome and master the flesh. He understands that I am weak but continues to encourage me to be strong, get up and try again. If there’s anything I can say to help anyone here today who is discouraged, it would be just that. Get up, try again. God knows your struggle. He is cheering you on. I am too.

The Power of the Sacrament


I wrote an essay several years ago on my old blog that still gets a lot of hits even though I retired that blog and transferred everything over here. I’m glad I kept the old blog up because occasionally I get a comment there that inspires me to write something profound. Well, I think it’s at least inspired and uplifting. I felt impressed to share it here. It starts with the comment from Samantha:

Hello,

I recently started meeting with my Bishop to repent for other sins that I had committed. I was almost ready to get my Temple Recommend when Satan came at me with full-force. I began to engage in watching pornography and masturbation.

My Bishop is a wonderful man, but I am far too scared to tell him of the addiction that I am faced with. It is not a daily habit, but it is still a problem. I have prayed, and I have come to realize I cannot overcome this on my own.

I feel so awful and depressed after engaging in these behaviors. I want to be clean; I want to go to the temple.

Is there anything else that I can do that would be sufficient for the repentance process? I don’t want to tell my bishop, at all. I do want to overcome this addiction immediately though. Or at least be able to refrain from such atrocities.

Please help.

And my response:

Hi Samantha,

Much love your way. Thanks for reading and adding your comment. I commend you for your desire to increase your self-mastery. That’s a big deal. Some people are not bothered by viewing porn or masturbating. “It’s normal,” they say. In fact, we’re looked upon as being weird because we want to adhere to a higher moral standard commanded by the Lord and his servants.

I recommend visiting the sites I linked to at the end of the original essay. There is a lot of good advice to be found in those pages. Most of the comments I have added here over the years are intended to give hope and encouragement. I want to continue that in responding to your plea for help. I think I wrote this previously but I’ll share it again. This trial can bring you to the Lord.

I feel impressed to share something that may or may not be applicable to you. Perhaps it will be helpful to future readers. It has to do with responsibility and accountability. Going to the temple is a big deal. The temple is a place of revelation. When I go there I always come away knowing more about myself, what I really want out of life and what I want to do with my free time.

I’ll bet like most people who have written me about this problem, you’re fine as long as you keep yourself busy. If you’ve got a regular schedule of work or school or both, you do well in that structure. The difficulty usually comes when there are no pressing demands on your time and nobody waiting for you to do something for them – a teacher, a co-worker or a family member.

That’s usually when your thoughts turn to yourself and what you want. Those are the defining moments of life. Satan knows that, which is why temptation seems to strike hardest when you are pondering something like going to the temple. We grow and advance in our lives when we go to the temple. We come closer to fulfilling our purpose in life as we attend the temple regularly.

The best advice I can offer is to partake of the sacrament and ponder the promises found in the sacramental prayers. The key phrases are “always remember him” and “have his spirit to be with them.” I know you’ve probably heard this in every public prayer and perhaps you offer it your own private prayers – to have his spirit. But do we focus as much on “always remember him?”

There’s something special and wonderful in the Sacrament that even after more than fifty years I still don’t fully understand. No, it’s not magic. We don’t believe in that. But it is powerful and it is real. I feel hopeful after partaking of the sacrament with real intent. I want it to work in my life and because I want that, believe that it can, it does. My power is strengthened by the Sacrament.

At the end of every Sabbath day I feel empowered, partly through offering service but mostly because I have partaken of the sacrament and have pondered how I can better remember the Savior during the week. I think ahead to the moments when I know I will have down time and think what I can do to show the Lord that I do remember him and want his spirit to be with me.

For me, there is something of a miracle that takes place in those quiet moments. Because I have asked, the Lord reveals to me what I will be doing during those quiet moments during the week. I can see myself working on some writing project or some other activity that will be helpful to me and to others. No, it’s not guaranteed that I will do exactly that, but it’s clear that it can be so.

My desire to do good things and be good is strengthened. I am in a partnership with the Lord to make something special out of my life. It is in the quiet moments that my life really develops. But it doesn’t work unless I make the effort to remember the Lord. Every time I do, he gives me special sacred feelings that encourage me and help me feel like I can do all I’m asked to do.

I hope this helps. There is no easy answer. It’s not like you can turn off a switch. Sorry. You’ve got hormones and that’s a good thing. Without them you’ve have no drive or ambition in life. Well, I’m speaking from a man’s point of view. For a woman I suppose that without hormones you would have no desire to nurture and strengthen relationships. I thank God for the sex drive.

Please don’t be so hard on yourself. I have a theory about why we feel depressed or hopeless when participating in pornography or masturbation. I’ve shared it elsewhere. It has to do with the influence of unclean spirits – those who have no hope or light of Christ in their lives. It’s just a natural result of allowing them to use you, even for just a moment. You feel what they feel.

Of course if you don’t believe in the existence of evil or unclean spirits you’re going to think this is crazy. That’s OK. As I wrote at the beginning of my essay, I’m not writing this to those who are unbelievers. My experience in life has settled the question for me. They are real and I know of their existence through experiences too sacred to share. But let’s not dwell on that aspect.

Focus on the Savior. Focus on building hope. Believe that you can eventually master yourself. Be happy that you even want to. God bless you in your efforts. Nobody can do this for you. In the temple we learn all ordinances are personal, performed one at a time for each individual. No answer fits everyone, but I have found this plan has met with success time after time in others.

Good luck and God bless. You can do it.

My Interview with Mormon.org


On this Pioneer day, I decided to answer all the personal questions that you are asked when you fill out the profile on Mormon.org.  There are a whole lot more under the FAQ section (about 80) but that will have to wait for another day when I have more time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process of answering these questions and felt like I was being interviewed, thus the title of this blog post.

01. Please explain the part prayer plays in your life?

Having grown up with daily prayer, I can’t imagine a day go by in which I don’t communicate with my Heavenly Father in prayer.  We start the day in prayer as a family asking for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we work.  We end the day in prayer the same way, usually kneeling by the bed, reporting our activities to God and thanking him for his help.  We give thanks for the food we eat at mealtimes and participate in public prayers in our weekly worship service.  It is through prayer and reading scriptures that I feel close to God and directed in my life.

02. Which of the Savior’s teachings have influenced you in your life?

The most powerful admonition of the Lord that has helped me find happiness in this life is his commandment that we love one another.  I remember this whenever I feel that I have been misunderstood or hurt by someone else, either intentionally or not.  It is so easy to take offense in this world but the end result is that we only hurt ourselves when we do that.  To love others is to trust in the Lord that he will help make everything all right, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first.  He also requires us to forgive others since we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. We show our love by forgiving.

03. Please share your feelings/testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel.

Even though I grew up hearing the Joseph Smith story I am still amazed as an adult to realize just how powerful his history really is.  Think about it!  Angels, gold plates, visits from God, Jesus Christ and ancient apostles and prophets – these are all miraculous events that we just don’t hear about everyday.  It is truly a marvelous thing to learn all that the Lord did through Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God.  I am especially grateful for revealed doctrines that clarified and corrected the errors of man in the many religions of the world.

04. Please share your feelings/testimony of Joseph Smith.

I have read at least a dozen biographies of the life of Joseph Smith, and continue to be amazed that the Lord was able to accomplish so much through this one man.  He was a prophet in every sense of the word in that the Lord revealed his will for us through him and continues to do so through the prophets that have followed.  But it was Joseph who paid so dearly with his life even though he did what the Lord told him to do in bringing forth the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I hold Joseph Smith in high regard and look forward to meeting him in the world to come.  I want to thank him for his faithfulness in translating the Book of Mormon.

05. Why do Mormons go on missions?

I went on a mission because I watched a video of the prophet asking all worthy young men to serve the Lord as missionaries.  As he shared his vision of how the gospel would go to all the world, I deeply felt a desire stirring within my soul to be a part of that great army of missionaries.  It was a major sacrifice for me to leave my studies and spend two years in Central America seeking out those who would respond to the Lord’s invitation to come unto him through baptism.  I loved my mission experience and found joy in testifying to the world that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  We go on missions because we are commanded to share the gospel and feel the desire to seek out and bring the message of the truth to all who will receive it.

06. Why do Mormons do family history or genealogy work?

Besides being a commandment to seek out our ancestors, we do family history research because we feel a desire to know and appreciate the story of those to whom we are indebted for our very lives.  I am a product of all those who came before me.  My parents were influenced by their parents and they were who they were because of their parents and so on back as far as we can discover.  Once we have the basic facts of their lives such as names and dates, we are privileged to go to the temple and perform proxy ordinances for them so that they too may meet the commandments of the Lord to be baptized and enter into covenants of exaltation.  We do family history work so we can be saviors on Mt Zion (Obadiah 1:21).

07. How has attending Church services helped you?

One of the highlights of my week is to attend church services each Sunday.  I serve in a leadership capacity in my church, and attend a few more meetings besides the regular three-hour block of Sacrament, Sunday school and Priesthood meetings.  I love the interaction with others who believe as I do and feel as I do about trying to follow the teachings of the Savior.  I say try because nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes each week.  That’s another reason why I love to go to church each Sunday – I get to renew my baptism covenants by taking the Sacrament each week.  I learn more of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these church services and feel a unity with God and with my fellow saints as we worship God and Jesus Christ together.

08. What has helped develop greater harmony in your home?

Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of argument and disharmony in my home which leave me feeling frustrated, resentful, hurt or angry.  I do not like such feelings, especially in my home where I want to relax and feel happy, safe and secure.  So over the years, I have made a greater effort each day to promote harmony and unity by not arguing and not finding fault with my family members.  I was not very good at this as a youth and so I appreciate the blessings that have come to me as an adult as I try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to love others, especially members of my own family, who need and deserve my love the most.  We can have a harmonious home by practicing kindness and forgiveness.

09. What have you done successfully to shield your family from unwanted influences?

Of all the teachings of the church about family, this idea of keeping out the world has been the most difficult but the most rewarding.  Television and the Internet are two of the most challenging types of media to monitor and control.  We believe in freedom so we encourage each other to seek after virtuous and uplifting material.  So the shield we put into place is not anything controlling such as “thou shalt not!”  It is more of making sure that we understand the differences that certain material, music or entertainment can produce, compared to the results of worthy content.  We seek out and support worthy entertainment and uplifting media content and pray constantly that we will each desire such material over the worldly offerings.

10. Could you talk about your baptism?

I was eight years old when I was baptized and for me, that is a long time ago.  My father, who was a recent convert, had to work the evening of my baptism, so he was unable to perform the ordinance.  I was baptized by a young man who was preparing to serve a mission.  My father was able to confirm me a member of the church the next day and I remember the special feelings that came to me as he conferred upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost.  I remember my primary teacher was there and gave me a picture of the Savior mounted on a small piece of wood.  I still treasure that memento and the words of encouragement that she penned on the back.  I’m sure I did not understand all the implications of the covenants I was making at eight years old, but I have come to appreciate the blessings of this ordinance more and more each Sunday as I take the Sacrament and remember what the Savior miraculously did for me in taking upon himself the effects of my sins upon conditions of repentance.  It is baptism that makes my repentance possible.

11. Why/How do you share the gospel with your friends?

I am not a very outgoing person so I believe that the best way I can share the gospel with others is through providing a good example of following the teachings of the Savior.  I have been amazed over the years as I see the influence that my behavior has on others.  I feel it brings respect and a kind of trust that can come in no other way.  I am sometimes surprised that people, including co-workers, will unsolicited confide in me details of problems they are working out and seek my advice and opinion.  I am then able to share my beliefs that following the teachings of Jesus Christ can and does help me deal with problems and that it can help them too.  Because I am shy, I find great comfort in sharing my feelings about the gospel online and am an active LDS blogger.  I also use modern technology like Facebook and Twitter to share my life.  The gospel comes up in the natural course of sharing things online and results in online dialogs in non-threatening and informative way.

12. How does making right choices help us make more right choices?

When we choose the right even when it is hard to do, we strengthen our character and develop integrity.  Deciding to do the right thing one time makes it easier to do the right thing the next time.  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the added advantage of the gift of the Holy Ghost.  This gift helps us understand what the right thing to do is in difficult situations.  When we decide to follow the impressions of the Holy Ghost in making life’s choices, we show God that we value and appreciate this gift.  The impressions of the spirit will then become stronger or easier to recognize and we can grow in always making right choices.  Of course, being mortal, we will all make mistakes.  The Holy Ghost can also help us repent and make better choices in the future.

13. In what ways have your prayers been answered?

There are so many countless examples over the years that it is hard to share just one or two.  Perhaps the most dramatic for me was on the day that I proposed to my wife.  After I returned home from my mission, I had been praying for quite some time to find a woman who believed as I did and with whom I could be happy.  I was dating my wife’s best friend but the chemistry was just not there.  One day my wife invited me to a ball game and I told her about my troubles getting her friend to like me.  I could see that her feelings were hurt. The next day I visited her in her home and had a long conversation about life and marriage and family.  I had some very powerful spiritual feelings as I was talking to her that I knew were an answer to my prayers.  I proposed on the spot and we were married a few months later.  The Lord helped me with one of the most important decisions of my life.

14. What are you doing to help strengthen your family and make it successful?

My role in the family is to provide security and stability – both financial and spiritual.  I enjoy my responsibility to work and earn the money that we need to have a home, food, clothing and other necessities of life.  But more importantly, I enjoy my responsibility to provide spiritual direction for my family.  We are strengthened by attending church together, by praying and reading the scriptures together and by pursuing worthwhile family goals.  For example, my wife and I take classes at the local community college in the evenings in an effort to improve ourselves and keep our minds active.  We are strengthened as we work together as a family to accomplish good things with our lives and to provide service in our church and our community.  The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us in this endeavor.

15. How has your knowledge of the Plan of Happiness changed/benefited your life?

Sometimes this life can be a drag on the spirit because of all the disappointments and setbacks that come as a natural part of living in this world.  Understanding the Plan of Happiness helps me to realize that such setbacks are temporary.  I remain convinced that the Lord is very involved in my life and wants to help me through my journey until I am ready to return to his presence in the life to come.  Knowing that I lived before I came to this world to experience mortality helps me to have a bigger picture of things.  Knowing that I will live in the world to come and that I will someday be resurrected with a glorious and eternal body give me hope that goes beyond the drudgery and dullness that this life can sometimes be.  The Plan of Happiness is just that – a plan for me to find and achieve happiness through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and enduring to the end of mortality true to what I know.

16. What is hope and what do you hope for?

Hope is the belief and conviction that there is purpose and meaning to this life.  Hope is the understanding that even though we pass through trials and troubles, we can have the assurance that our experiences are for our good and will cause us to grow.  I hope for a glorious resurrection.  I know that this is dependant upon my personal righteousness and my works of faith in this life.  Yes, the resurrection is a free gift to all men, but we believe that the quality of our lives in the hereafter is very much dependant on our actions here.  This life is a time of testing and proving and we can hope that our efforts in struggling against opposition in this world will be rewarded by a just and merciful God who wants to bless and help us through it.

17. How has the Book of Mormon helped you understand the purpose of life?

In the Book of Mormon we read that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).  I can’t think of any more concise and explicit scriptural reference that helps us understand the purpose of life.  Of course, the Book of Mormon provides a lot more insight into how we go about finding that joy and even helps us to understand what true joy is.  One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Lehi’s dream about the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8).  In his dream he partakes of the fruit of the tree which is desirable to make one happy and is sweet above all that he had ever before tasted.  Eating of the fruit fills our soul with exceedingly great joy.  The fruit of course is the love of God and we obtain it by holding fast to the Word of God that is represented by the Rod of Iron in Lehi’s dream.  What a great story!

18. How has the Holy Ghost helped you?

I consider the Gift of the Holy Ghost one of the greatest blessings in my life.  There have been so many instances in which I have been helped by the Holy Ghost that it is hard to imagine getting through this life without this wonderful gift.  The Holy Ghost inspires me and encourages me to do things that are hard to do but that result in happiness for me and for others in my life.  The Holy Ghost has warned me of danger many times, prompting me to stay away from certain things and places.  The Holy Ghost has helped me by prompting me to a certain course of action that I otherwise might not have considered.  The Holy Ghost has been my constant companion in my work, helping me to remember things that, if forgotten, could have been the cause of much distress or pain.  The Holy Ghost has comforted me in times of sorrow and distress, helping me to feel the love of my Heavenly Father and my Savior even when I do not feel worthy of their love.

19. What blessings have come through your faith in Jesus Christ?

It is because of my faith in Jesus Christ that I am able to get through some of the more difficult aspects of my life.  For example, it is hard for me to do things in a public setting.  But I have been taught and believe that it will be for my good.  The Lord has promised me through the scriptures that he will help me through these difficult circumstances as I exercise faith in him.  And like everyone in this world, I am no stranger to making mistakes and poor choices, even when I know better.  It is through my faith in Jesus Christ that I put into practice one of my favorite little sayings that helps me keep going: “Success is not in never falling, but in getting up each and every time we fall.”  I know that I can be a better person than my fallen human nature would dictate, and it is through faith in Jesus Christ that I am willing to make greater effort each day to be the man that I know he would have me be.

20. How can we develop greater harmony in our homes?

One of the best ways I know of to live in harmony as a family is to do all within our power to avoid criticism, cutting remarks or any attempt to make another family member feel less than loved.  We do this by sharing the same ideals and goals – to seek happiness in living the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Where some family members may not have fully accepted the vision of the gospel, we can provide an example of tolerance and patience with them, just as our Heavenly Father and our Savior do with us.  Fighting, arguing, bickering and contemptuous behavior toward any family member is not the way to have peace and harmony in our homes.  Thus, we pray each day that such undesirable activities are mitigated by expressing love and kindness in all that we do.  We are each at differing levels of maturity in our understanding of this concept, so it is up to those who do, to live it better each day.

21. Can you think of a specific challenge in your family that Gospel Principles helped overcome?

Like most families, we have experienced our share of challenges that have tested our faith and caused us to lean deeply on our understanding of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome.  For example, my wife and I have both lost parents to death, have had our share of serious health problems, including cancer, and have suffered through multiple seasons of financial stress due to unexpected unemployment.  In addition, we have been pained as not all family members have accepted our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  But it is because of the teachings of Christ that we are encouraged to be patient, that we are comforted when discouraged, that we are inspired when distressed and that we are given strength when we feel weak.  We go on and we press forward, believing that it will all work out for our good, either in this life or in the life to come.  We meet those challenges with strength knowing that we are not alone and that God has promised to help us through them if we will but exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and remain true and faithful to him.

22. How can your talents and gifts bless others?

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God gives gifts to each member for the purpose of blessing and supporting each other in this life.  Some of those gifts and talents are more obvious, such as singing, musical ability, acting, performing or even a talent to be able to speak with confidence in front of the congregation (trust me, not all members have this talent).  But the scriptures teach that God gives some gift or talent to every member.  Perhaps one is blessed with the ability to be a good listener, another to share heart-felt testimony of how they know the church to be true, others with the gift of teaching children or even just the talent of being able to live peacefully among their neighbors.  When we share our talents and gifts with others, God blesses us and we are “magnified” or made more effective so that others can receive the same benefits that we enjoy.

23. Think about your everyday activities. What are things you act upon each day where you cannot see the end results? How does faith move you to action?

A very simple everyday activity for me that is an act of faith is prayer.  I have never seen an angel or heard a voice in response to my prayers, but I continue to pray each day, believing that God does hear and answer my prayers.  And indeed he has – by sending the comforting feelings of the Holy Ghost to bless and confirm to me that he loves me and wants me to know the truth for myself.  My faith in God and my trust in the words of his prophets as found in the scriptures causes me to continue to pray both as an individual, with my family, in my congregation and in the homes of other members of the church that I visit.  The end results of my prayers are not always evident right way but are just as certain as if I had seen the effects at the time of the prayer.  I am confident; yes I can say that I know, that God hears and answers our prayers that are offered in faith and with real intent.

24. How has the Book of Mormon brought you closer to God?

I first read the Book of Mormon when I was very young – probably 5 or 6 years old.  I read it out loud with my mother, who was a schoolteacher.  Our family had recently joined the Mormon Church so this was also my mother’s first time reading the Book of Mormon.  I remember the special feelings I had as we read it together.  I felt a warm and comforting spirit as I read. I have read the Book of Mormon many times in the many years since I first read it.  In fact, there is not a year that goes by in which we do not read from it either individually or as a family.  No matter how many times we read the same passages, we always seem to learn something new or have our faith in the truthfulness of the book reaffirmed.  The same warm feelings always return. But it is by following the principles of the gospel that are written in the Book of Mormon that we draw closer to God.  It is in the pages of the Book of Mormon that we learn more about the purpose of life and God’s plan of happiness for us.  The Book of Mormon teaches us to study things out and to pray about them that we may know of their truthfulness for ourselves.

25. Can you talk about the missions of the Church and your participation in them?

Up until recently, we as members of church recited the mission of the church as follows: to preach the gospel, redeem the dead and to perfect the saints.  Within the past year, a fourth mission has been added: to care for the poor and the needy.  We now call these four areas of focus simply the purposes of the church.  In my life, I have participated in each of these areas by serving a mission and continuing to share the gospel, by doing family history or genealogy work and by magnifying my callings to serve in the church as a teacher, leader or whatever I’m asked to do.  I’m grateful to be able to assist in caring for the poor and the needy by contributing money to the fast offering funds of the church and by volunteering to serve food at the local homeless shelter on a regular basis.  These missions or purposes of the church help me as an individual member focus on what is really important to our Heavenly Father – to save his children, both temporally and spiritually.

The Personal Power of Hester Prynne


As created by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, the character of Hester Prynne is a powerful woman.  She interacts impressively with those around her in the epoch that the story takes place – Puritan America of the 1640’s.  If she had lived in the days of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864) it is certain that she would also be looked upon as an influential woman of that time.  In fact, if she had lived in our day, there is no doubt that she would be a leader among women in our society.

The source of Hester’s power is her moral integrity.  Now, that may be a fantastic claim for the main character of a novel that addresses adultery.  But I am confident that you will at least understand the thesis, if not agree with it, once the evidence is presented and considered.

We will first review the social structure that prevailed in Puritan America, including the roles of men and women.  We will observe how Hester related to the male hierarchy and especially how she dealt with the austere consequences of her choice that were thrust upon her.  The strength of Hester’s moral character will become apparent as she remains true to promises made to other key characters in the story.  Her power will clearly be made manifest in a few final scenes in which it is obvious that she is the real pillar of the most important relationships in her life.

Hester Prynne rises above the events that mold her life, and demonstrates how embracing her identity and especially her sexuality allow her to be a powerful influence for good among all those who know her.  Through Hester, Hawthorne helps us see the personal power of a woman, in this case a woman of deep passion who is forced by a cold society to subdue and master that passion, which is so evident in her youth, beauty and spirit.

Hester Makes Her Appearance

We are introduced to Hester as she comes out of the jail where she had been incarcerated ostensibly for adultery and presumably where she gave birth to her daughter, Pearl a few months previously.  She had come to this land ahead of a husband, who was apparently lost at sea.  We are not certain if she is a member of the Puritan faith, but it is certain that she now lives among their society.  Looking for direction in her time of recent loss, she seeks guidance and comfort from the local minister.  Comfort turns to passion and the result is now borne in her arms.

She emerges to “a people amongst whom religion and law are almost identical” (Hawthorne, 45).  The crime of adultery could have been punished by death or by public flogging, but in this case, Hester is required to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her bosom as a sign to all of her crime.  Being good with the needle, she has made it into a beautiful emblem, and embroidered it with a gold thread.

Some of the people are surprised, but show no sympathy.  “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead,” (Hawthorne 47), proclaims one of the women in the market-place where Hester is brought forth for public ridicule.  “This woman has brought shame upon us all and ought to die.  Is there not a law for it?  Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book” (Hawthorne 47).

The magistrates of the community are no more compassionate than the gaggle of gossiping women as they interrogate her publically and once again ask her to reveal the father of the child.  They even have the Reverend Dimmesdale implore her with passionate speech to name her lover.  Looking directly into his eyes, she refuses and expresses the desire that she “might endure his agony, as well as mine” (Hawthorne 63).  This is a clear indication of the moral strength of this woman.  She knows what it will do to the minister if she names him.  But she is willing to sacrifice herself that he might continue on in his office.  That is impressive!  But he cannot hide from the torment of his own guilt and shame.

The Long-Lost Husband Appears

A major character in the story makes his appearance in the market place and witnesses what is taking place without revealing who he really is – Hester’s long lost husband who had been delayed by both shipwreck and falling among savages.  Hester had recognized him but they did not speak until later when he comes to visit her and the child in the jail.  He is a scholar and a chemist and treats the distraught pair that they may be at peace.  A conversation ensues in which we come to know that theirs was a loveless marriage.  He also asks her to name her lover but she continues to refuse.

He then swears her to secrecy regarding his identity.  “I will keep thy secret, as I have his,” (Hawthorne 71) said Hester.  And she took the oath. Once again, we see that Hester is a woman of moral integrity as she never reveals who he is until much later in the story and only then after getting his permission.  She wonders what his purpose is at the time but it becomes obvious later that he is out for revenge.  He promises that he will discover her lover and destroy him, which he proceeds to do by becoming close to him over time.

Hester Learns From Her Punishment

Hester accepts her punishment, wears the scarlet “A,” becomes an outcast from society and yet finds a way to provide for herself and Pearl by her skills with the needle as a seamstress. At one point, hearing talk that the magistrates are considering her fitness as a mother, she goes to the governor to deliver a pair of gloves and to discuss with him the welfare of the child. She is told that she may not see his worship now.  “Nevertheless, I will enter,” (Hawthorne 96) she answered as she pushes past the servant and makes her way into the house to find the governor.  By this one simple action we sense the dignity and power of this woman.  She cannot be deterred when she has a mission to perform.

She has heard aright, they have been considering the child’s welfare and ask her mother what she can do for her.  “I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this,” (Hawthorne 102) and lays her finger on the scarlet letter.  She has obviously already become a wiser woman as she emphasizes the lessons are for Pearl’s good.  They address Pearl directly and ask her who made her, hoping to determine if she has learned from her mother some basic Christian doctrine.  Pearl replies that she has been plucked by her mother off the wild rose bushes that grew by the prison door.

Hester Defends Herself With Passion

It doesn’t look good for Hester but she passionately defends herself by proclaiming, “God gave me the child!  He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness—she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first!” (Hawthorne 104) Wow!  What passion!

She then turns to Reverend Dimmesdale and says, “Speak thou for me! Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest—for thou hast sympathies which these men lack—thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s rights, and how much the stronger they are when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!” (Hawthorne 105)

She knows what she is doing.  Here is the father and she knows that he must defend her rights as the mother or risk exposure himself.  Once again, the moral courage of Hester shines forth as she courageously defends herself by virtue of her position as a woman and mother, in spite of the control of the male-dominated system.  Her influence upon Dimmesdale is obviously very powerful as he is able to convince the governor that Pearl should remain with Hester, for both their sakes.  The mission for which Pearl was born has not yet been fulfilled.

Hester gets Permission to Break Her Oath

Space does not permit numerous other examples that demonstrate the power of this woman so we will consider the two most obvious.  Let us skip forward to the forest scene where the Reverend Dimmsdale is returning from a visit to a friend.  It is Hester’s intention to reveal to her lover the true identity of the man who is seeking to destroy him.  As was noted earlier, she obtained permission to break her oath after confronting her husband and demanding that he release her from her bond.

She can no longer stand what her husband has been doing to her lover with his slow torture, both emotional and probably chemical.  She convinces the old man with her eloquent and passionate speech that the Reverend needs to know the truth.  Relenting to her persuasion, he says “It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now, go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man” (Hawthorne 163).

The Famous Forest Encounter

She waits for the Reverend on the forest path.  She calls his name and they begin their first private conversation in seven years since the night of their passion.  His pain is almost palpable to Hester.  He is so miserable because of the lie he has been living for so long.  She reveals the true identity of the doctor; that he was once her husband and that he has been taking his revenge out on the Reverend for all these years.  She begs his forgiveness.  He refuses.

“Oh, Hester Prynne, thou little, little knowest all the horror of this thing! And the shame!—the indelicacy!—the horrible ugliness of this exposure of a sick and guilty heart to the very eye that would gloat over it! Woman, woman, thou art accountable for this!—I cannot forgive thee!” (Hawthorne 183)  And then, with the power that only a woman has, and in what is arguably the best scene in the book,

…with sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom, little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter. He would have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free, lest he should look her sternly in the face. All the world had frowned on her—for seven long years had it frowned upon this lonely woman—and still she bore it all, nor ever once turned away her firm, sad eyes. Heaven, likewise, had frowned upon her, and she had not died. But the frown of this pale, weak, sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester could not bear, and live! (Hawthorne 183)

The Power of a Passionate Woman

He cannot resist the power of this passionate embrace and so forgives her and asks God to forgive them both. Now for only a brief moment in the forest, we are privileged to witness once again the awesome power of this woman as they make plans to leave and go away together to England.  “If this be the path to a better life, as Hester would persuade me, I surely give up no fairer prospect by pursuing it! Neither can I any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to sustain—so tender to soothe!” (Hawthorne 190) Hester then

undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the withered leaves. The mystic token alighted on the hither verge of the stream … The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom! By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair, and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her features. There played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood. A crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale. Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past, and clustered themselves with her maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour (Hawthorne 191).

This scene is so powerful because it illustrates the influence of one woman upon a man whom she loves.  Such was “the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly-born, or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world. Had the forest still kept its gloom, it would have been bright in Hester’s eyes, and bright in Arthur Dimmesdale’s!” (Hawthorne 192)  Trite as it may seem, and overused as the phrase may be, Hester’s personal power was the power of love – a love that heals and that binds two souls together.  And Hester was blessed with an overabundance of this powerful gift.

Concluding Scenes

We must conclude this essay demonstrating the power of this woman by considering the last scene.  After delivering an emotional election-day speech, the minister comes forth from the church and goes to where Hester and Pearl have been waiting for him at the scaffold, the same place where she was publically ridiculed for her crime seven years earlier.  He has resolved that he is too sick to live much longer and decides that running away is not the best thing to do.  He extended his hand to the woman of the scarlet letter.

“Hester Prynne … in the name of Him, so terrible and so merciful, who gives me grace, at this last moment, to do what—for my own heavy sin and miserable agony—I withheld myself from doing seven years ago, come hither now, and twine thy strength about me! Thy strength, Hester; but let it be guided by the will which God hath granted me! … Come, Hester—come! Support me up yonder scaffold” (Hawthorne 237).

Drawing obvious strength from Hester as she supports him with her arm about him, he makes public confession of his part in the crime of passion that brought forth little Pearl.  Speaking in the third person, “He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! (Hawthorne 240) Baring his breast, he shows the multitude the he too bears the mark of his sin, even though it is not described in detail.

“Then, down he sank upon the scaffold!  Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom.” (Hawthorne 240).  He acknowledges Pearl as his child and she kisses him.  She has been waiting for this day for so long.  At last, her earthly father has acknowledged her as his.  “A spell was broken … Towards her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was fulfilled” (Hawthorne 240).  The minister dies after his confession, now believing that his soul is saved and attributing it to the torture of Hester’s husband and the ignominy of his confession before the people of his crime and in hiding his sin all those years.

Analysis

Although it seems such a sad and unfulfilling ending, think about what has just happened, all because Hester Prynne endured her punishment with courage and strength of character.  She did not give up.  She loved Pearl and raised her as best she could.  She turned a deplorable and unfair situation into a triumph because of her determination to see that things were set right in the end.  She suffered public humiliation and ignominy for seven years while it appeared that the man who was her partner in crime got away, adored by others.

And yet, because of her love for this man, she was able to cause him to confess his crime, acknowledge his child and perhaps, even help to redeem his soul.  “Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe!” (Hawthorne 241) Nathaniel Hawthorne left us with the dying words of the Reverend expressing doubt that he and Hester could ever be together in the hereafter.  “I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God—when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul—it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion” (Hawthorne 241).

But love knows no bounds, including time and space.  Who is to say, if these were real characters, that they couldn’t be together in the world to come, bound by the power of the love demonstrated by Hester Prynne?  Hester lived on, quietly, and became something of a legend in the community of Boston.  The scarlet letter made her what she became, and, in the end, she grew stronger and more at peace because of her suffering.  She continued to wear the scarlet letter to the end of her days, but she wore it as a symbol of her power.  This is a power that no man could ever wield.  Such a power belonged only to a woman with the courage and strength of moral character like that of Hester Prynne.

Source: Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  The Scarlet Letter.  1850.
New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.

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