Monday, 14 November 2016

A Recent Sacrament Meeting Talk on Sheep

Good morning Brothers and Sisters.  It is good to be with you today.  In fact it is always good to be with the Saints on Sunday in Sacrament meeting.

Before I begin my talk I need to tell you something about me so that you can put my remarks in context.  Prior to retiring I worked in Human Resources and my degree is in psychology.  This means that I tend to act and think like a psychologist.

While studying for my degree I found that not all psychological theories held the same interest to me.  I would like to tell you about one of the most controversial ones.  It is called Nero Linguistic Programming or NLP for short and it was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, two psychologists at the University of California.  One of the theories of NLP is a communication technique called layering whereby the author or speaker embeds a story in a story.  In some examples multiple stories are embedded.  The Book of Mormon is a classic example of this technique.

Part of the development of NLP was based on communication theories.  I used some of what I learned about NLP years ago when I was gave a talk in Sacrament.  I would like to tell you about what I said in this talk and the reaction I got.

In my talk I borrowed a story from one of the first books Dr. Grinder published on NLP.  In his book John told about a talk he gave to a group of therapist who were interested in learning NLP.  He told them of a visit he made to a friend of his who was a sheep rancher.  In the course of their visit John asked the man how he came to be a sheep rancher.  The rancher then told him how when he was a young boy he met a transfer student from Israel named Eli who inspired him to go into sheep ranching.  John asked what was it about Eli that meeting him had such a profound impact on this life.  The rancher said that Eli's life on a kibbutz in Israel, which was a communal farm where they raised sheep sounded so romantic that he knew that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  One of the most important things Eli told the rancher was something he learned from an old shepherd who taught this young boy all about herding and tending sheep.  Eli said that the old shepherd said that the two most important things he learned about tending sheep were that sheep are very lovable.  The second was that sheep were tipesh which is Hebrew for idiots.

As I reflected on this story I couldn't help but think of how often the Savior referred to us as his sheep.  So I went to my wife and asked "When the Savior says that we are His sheep does that mean that He thinks we are lovable idiots?"  She laughed and said, "Of course, take you for example!" She then proceeded to pull out a three ring binder full of all the idiotic things I had ever done in my life to prove her point.  Somewhat crest fallen I slunk away to lick my wounds.  As I was commiserating by myself I decided to phone a good friend hoping he would cheer me up.  And what he said made me feel a little better.

While he agreed with my wife because we are all idiots in one way or another, he explained that what my wife was calling an idiot was only one definition.  He said what my wife was referring to is all the little things we do in life that for the most part are an unavoidable part of life, things like forgetting your wife's birthday or your wedding anniversary.  These things, he said, don't make one an idiot in the strictest sense.  He said a real idiot is somewhat different and asked me if I wanted to know how he defined the word idiot.  I replied yes.

He said that idiots come in four degrees each progressively worse that the proceeding one.

A first degree idiot, he said, is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't.

A second degree idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't and acts accordingly.

A third degree idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't, acts accordingly and then shares his or her option with others.

A fourth level idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't, acts accordingly, shares his or her option with others, and does all this in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

After my talk a few of people came up to me and asked a number of questions.  One person asked what I thought was the most critical question of all.  He said, "It seems like you have set an impossible task for yourself because if you think something is true, how do you know it isn't?

I said that what I did to ensure that I wasn't an idiot was to cultivate the habit of looking for disconfirming evidence.  To explain what I meant by that I shared the following example from the Scriptures.  It is in Moroni chapter 10 verse 4.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I then asked them, what is the best question you can come up with that follows this injunction exactly.  This is the question they came up with.  "Is the Book of Mormon not true?"

We then discussed the difference between this question and the one that I'm sure most missionaries would recommend which is, "Is the Book of Mormon true?"

The first thing I pointed out to them was that both questions are logically equivalent.  In other words they mean the same thing.  And if they mean the same thing then it doesn't matter which you use.  Either way you will get a correct answer.

The next thing I mentioned is that while both questions are logically the same there is a huge difference in the long term use of a question with negation.  The most critical difference is that you can ask and re-ask a question with negation because it indicates that you admit to yourself that you might be wrong, even on things that you strongly believe in.  We call this trait humility.

I then mentioned the fact that the Lord uses negation a lot in the Book of Mormon.  Here is a good example from 2 Nephi 27:23.

23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

I explained that this type of syntax makes reading the Scriptures much more difficult than if the negation was omitted but that I believe that this wouldn't be as effective because negation leads to the process of looking for disconfirming evidence.

I then shared an experience Elder Holland had with disconfirming evidence.

He and his seven year old son were on a day trip to explore some the country where Elder Holland grew up as a boy.  As they were returning they came to a fork in the road and Elder Holland didn't know which fork to take so he and his son prayed.  They both received the same answer and took the fork to the right.  Ten minutes later they came to a dead end.  They then turned around, went back to the fork, and took the other turn which lead them safely home.  As soon as it was evident that they were on the right road Elder Holland's son asked, "Why would the answer to our prayers send us down the wrong road?"

Elder Holland explained that if they had taken the left turn on a road, which was unknown to him, his doubts would have eventual got the best of him and he would have turned around, gone back to the fork in the road and by then it would have so dark that getting home safely would have been an issue.  Going down the wrong road was the quickest and surest way to ensure they returned home safely.

By then it was time for us to hustle off to Sunday school so let me end my story here but there is another chapter to this story if anyone is interested.

Brother and Sisters I believe that as we come to understand the techniques God uses in his communications with us we will come to know Him and His son better.  And as we understand the techniques He uses we will come to better understand the content of His messages and how they pertain to our lives.  And as we do these things we will become better servants in His hands.  Looking for dis-confirming evidence is one of those techniques.  It leads to life long learning.  If you learn to apply this technique it will bless your life.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Young Adults Leaving the Church

According to one of the leaked Church videos, which showed a presentation before the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the most serious issues facing the Church today is the retention rate of young adults.  In the US and Canada this rate is 30%.  This means that 70% of our young adults are leaving the Church. Overseas this rate is 80%.  While we could argue why this is happening the shear number of members who are leaving the Church seems almost mind numbing.  If the Church was a business, having a 70% failure rate would be fatal.

I read a book the other day that offered up both a unique and controversial solution to this problem.  In it the author argues that of all the issues affecting members in a negative way at the heart of them all is a misunderstanding of our true human nature, especially human sexuality.  Drawing on evolutionary psychology the book has two parts.  In part one is  the story or a young girl named Tiny Cloud who lived in our pre-history among a group of hunter/gathers.  Part two of the book is a number of essays written by the author which explains in detail the theories used to create the fictional part of the book.  The goal of the book is to provide couples and young adults with a tool to solve some of the more troubling aspects of human sexuality.

I have used some of the ideas from the book with my clients.  I highly recommend it to anyone in the Church who has, without any success, been looking for someone or something to help with sexuality related issues.

The name of the book is "The Secret of Tiny Cloud" and it is available at Amazon in both print and e-book versions.  Here is a link.  The Secret of Tiny Cloud

Monday, 5 October 2015

How to Read the Scriptures

I have on my computer a copy of the Scriptures.  I also have a copy on my iPad as well as a printed copy that sits on my shelf gathering dust.  I assume that you have access to a copy as well.  My question is how do you use them? While I'm waiting for you to send me an e-mail with your answer let me tell you how I use my Scriptures.

I will read them as part of lessons I'm attending or teaching.  I also read them on a regular basis.  For example I just finished reading all of the words of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.  I also read all the scriptures on a yearly basis.  But this isn't the only way I use the Scriptures.  I also study them topically.  This is where I get most of my understanding of the principles of the Gospel.  But I don't ignore my reading because I need this reading to understand the context.  I find this two part approach to be very enlightening.

Another approach I use is to have a meta-principle in mind as I'm reading or studying.  I want to share one such principle with you.  I call this meta-principle behaviorism which I define this way.  I believe that we are three dimensional beings and that these three dimensions are Affect, Behaviour and Cognition.  Affect is everything you feel.  Behaviour is everything you do.  And Cognition is everything you think.  Behaviorism suggests that of the three the most important dimension and the one that takes precedence over the other two is what you do or in other words Behavior.  This is how I apply this principle to my study of the Scriptures.  It is a two step process.

Step number one I ask this question.  What the meaning of what I'm reading?

Step number two I ask.  How does what I'm reading, if it is true, affect my behaviour.

I believe that Jesus is concerned with two types of behaviour.  The first is sin and transgression.  I believe that He wants me to avoid doing either.  The second is being proactive in a positive way. For example if I'm serving in a calling then I believe that He wants me to perform at my best in my calling.  Let me give you an example that I hope will make this process perfectly clear.

Take this scripture in the Book of Mormon.

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Alma 7:11-12

Some people think that the word succor in the second verse means that Jesus will make us feel better by taking upon Him some of our infirmities.  I believe this interpretation is wrong because I have tried feel better by thinking He is bearing some of my burden and I failed every time.  And the reason I have failed is because neither I nor any other person can measure how they feel.  Our feelings are far too ephemeral to be measured.  Your experience may mirror mine.  If it has then apply my technique and see what happens.

When I apply my two-step process here is how I understand this scripture.

I believe that this scripture is explaining to us that Jesus suffered pains, affliction and temptations of every kind and that He remained sin and transgression free.  As well He also completed His mission regardless of His personal feelings.  So if we are ever in pain, or suffering an affliction, or being tempted then we can know that we can endure successfully by remaining sin and transgression free, and we can complete our mission because He did.

Another example of this in His life is what He said while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane.

"And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." Matthew 26:39

The key is to focus on our behaviour.  And the test of whether our understanding of this scripture is true is how our understanding affects our behaviour.  If our understanding doesn't help us to remain sin and transgression free or if our understanding doesn't help you with your mission then there maybe something wrong with your understanding.  If that is the case then you need to go back to square one and look for another meaning in the scripture and then put this new meaning to the test.  Repeat this cycle until you are sin and transgression free, and you are successfully completing your mission.  If you can do this then your understanding is true.  In other words, the truth has set you free.

And that in a nutshell is how I read and study the Scriptures.

As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

There are no absolutes!

In this months post I return to my parable of Adam and Eve focusing on how God communicated with them.  What I'm going to do is show that typically when God speaks to us He does so using a specific pattern and once you know what this pattern is you will find in His messages new insight.

The pattern is the essence of simplicity.  It consists of two parts.  In the first part God typically makes a statement which can be classified as an absolute.  Then He follows this with an exception.  Take the Ten Commandments as examples.  There are five commandments that would seem to argue for the position that there are absolutes.  Take the sin of murder.  It would appear that this is an absolute.  Yet take the example of Nephi slaying Laban.  If the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" was an absolute where would Nephi be?  So in this instance we have an example of an "absolute" with an exception.  And there is always an exception.  Elder Oaks explained it this way in a fireside talk reported in the Ensign of May 2006.

"As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord."

Even the next commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery", has its exceptions.  We find this exception in the Doctrine and Covenants section 132, verse 41.  If a man be with a woman and she be with another man she has committed adultery unless she was appointed unto her by the holy anointing.  So again we have the exception.

Now returning to my parable of Adam and Eve where is the exception in this story?  And when we reread the scriptures it is clear that God said that Adam could eat of all the fruit of the garden except that of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Again we have an "absolute" followed by an exception.

One final example should suffice to prove my point and we can turn to my first post and the use of the phrase "save it be".  If you go back and read each verse where this phrase and its companion phrases, "save it were", "save it was" and "save it is" are what you will find is the same pattern where the Lord states an "absolute" then He follows it up with an exception.

The question we might ask is why does God do this?  I'm going to suggest that the reason why He does this is because He wants us to focus on the exception and not the general "absolute".  Once you understand why He does this then this gives a whole different perspective to God's communications to us His children.

You can find more examples in the talks given by general authorities at General Conference.  Almost every talk uses this same pattern.  Joseph called the use of this speech pattern "the mysteries of Godliness".  In D&C 19 verse 6-12 God explained it this way.  He said that while the term "eternal damnation" might be understood as being endless actually what is meant by the use of the word "endless" is that it is one of God's names.  So while it might appear to mean endless damnation it isn't.  God just lets us believe it is endless because it might work upon the hearts of the children of men.  In other words it might scare us into being good.  A lot of what passes across the pulpit in General Conference follows this pattern.  It is meant to scare some of us who need this extra incentive to be good.  For the rest of us it means we can safely ignore this extreme rhetoric.  Unfortunately some of us are troubled by this speech and I'm hoping those who find and read this article will find solace in my words.

As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Pornography, is it a sin and why?

For a lot of members of the Church I'm sure the first question would be an unmitigated yes, but I'm equally sure that most would have no idea as to why.  An even better question might be exactly what do we mean when we say that pornography is a sin?  Isn't pornography a thing?  And if pornography is a thing then how can it sin?  Isn't sin something that an individual does that God has commanded us not to do?  So how can pornography be a sin?

This line of questioning, points out an inherent problem with the issue of pornography in the Church.  The problem is that in our discourse we don't have or use an easy to understand definition for the word pornography.  In fact it took me some time to find this definition on the Church web site.

"Pornography is any material depicting or describing the human body or sexual conduct in a way that arouses sexual feelings."

If this is what we in the Church are using to define pornography then there are four issues I have with this definition.  One issue is that it is so broad as to be almost meaningless.  One could argue that garbage bags are pornographic if they are shaped like the human body and if they arouse sexual feelings.  I can't imagine a world without garbage bags.

But whimsy aside, an even more troubling aspect of this definition is with the last phrase, "…arouse sexual feelings."  Who is to say if something arouses sexual feelings or not?  The conditional aspect of this definition is so subjective that it makes it impossible, for someone other than the individual themselves, to determining what is and isn't pornographic.  The question is, how does an individual know if they are aroused or not? As far as I can tell no one is born with an arousal meter that tells them when their arousal rating creeps into the red zone.  And without some way of measuring arousal we are left with everything is arousing, or nothing is arousing, or we are somewhere in the middle and we don't have a clue where we are.

The third issue I have with this definition of pornography is that two individuals can be looking at the same thing and one will be aroused and the other won't.  A subjective definition of pornography is the very antithesis of the belief that God is no respecter of persons.

My fourth issue with this definition is that it conflicts with the Church's stance on same sex attraction (SSA).  For example compare the definition of pornography just discussed with this quote from a letter published by the Church and read in Church on July 5th or 12th of this year.

"While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. If members feel same gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior… …These members may receive Church callings. …they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances” (Handbook 2, 21.4.6)."

In this case there is a very discrete line between desire and behaviour.  And when it comes to sexual desire in the context of SSA, having this desire doesn't disqualify one from a Temple recommend and participating in temple ordinances according to this letter.

Now compare this with those who have a sexual desire towards a member of the opposite sex.  If you find yourself sexually aroused by abstract objects like garbage bags you might be denied a Temple recommend.  Yet on the other hand if you find yourself sexually arouse by a member of your own sex obtaining a Temple recommend isn't a problem.  When you compare the consequences of these two desires you end up with only one conclusion.  There is an unfair difference in the consequence between those who have same sex desire and those who have opposite sex desire.  These two positions are therefore mutually exclusive.

Another troubling aspect, that this comparison demonstrates, is in the nature of the two acts being discussed.  On the one hand, homosexual behaviour is a sin.  While on the other hand, heterosexual behaviour isn't a sin as long as it is in a marital relationship.  Yet in the former any desire for a same sex relationship is okay but any desire for an opposite sex relationship is a sin if you are doing so while looking at someone of the opposite sex.  This doesn't make sense.  Why do those who have same sex attraction get a free pass to the Temple when it comes to desire?  And isn't the sole purpose of this life is to have a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex? 

Logical inconsistencies and subjective definitions like this need to be resolved or the consequences of these issues will play out in ways that are not always positive for the individual, or the Church.

Comments and questions are welcome

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The Story of Adam and Eve - Part Three

How do we define what Adam Did?  In this next part of my parable of Adam and Eve I want to focus on what Adam did to contribute to Eve's transgression.  And again like last month you need to know the parable to make sense of this post.

The clue to understanding what he did can be found by searching the scriptures for every verse where these three words occur: transgression, sin, and iniquity.  When you do this you will discover the following three facts.

First all transgressions, sins and iniquities are behaviours.  In other words what you are thinking or what you are feeling may lead to any of these three behaviours but thinking and feeling are not a transgression nor a sin nor an iniquity.  A lot of people think because all behaviour for the most part is caused by what they think and feel then this means that all thinking and all feeling causes behaviour.  This is clearly wrong.  There are lots of times when thinking and feeling don't cause any behaviour or else how would things like planning take place?

The second thing is that these three behaviours all involve someone breaking a commandment from God.

The third and key fact is that the difference between these three behaviours has to do with the numbers of people involved.  For example the first of the Ten Commandments are all transgressions.  You can prove this is true by asking this question.  Who else, beside the person committing the transgression, is effected by the behaviour of the person who is breaking the commandment?  While there may be other people mentioned in the first five commandments, it is only the person who is breaking the commandment who suffers the consequences of their behaviour.

Sin differs in that there is at least one other person involved.  We can compare the first and last five commandments to see this difference.  In the first we are commanded to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  If we break this commandment the only person affected by our behaviour is ourselves.  When we break any of the last five commandments, for example the commandment not to kill, we are obviously affecting at least one other person.

The last of the trio of behaviour we are to refrain from doing is committing iniquity.  Iniquity is like sin in that it involves two or more people only in this case the person is trying to influence someone else to break a commandment.  This is the worse of the three behaviours and suggests that a sin is therefore worse than a transgression.  This graduated view of the commandments can be quite enlightening but it is a subject for another post.

Now with this understanding let us revisit the parable of Adam and Eve.  If we assume that when Adam added the extra caution to the commandment given him from God he was motivated by his love for Eve.  When he did this what commandment was he breaking?  If we go thru the five commandments from the Ten Commandments that are sins we might be able to answer this question.

The first is not to kill and it should be obvious that this isn't what Adam did.

The second is to not commit adultery and this also doesn't apply.

The third is not to steal and again there was no stealing.

The last sin is to not covet and this clearly isn't true in this case.

This leaves the fourth commandment which is not to bear false witness and this seems to fit the behaviour.  What Adam did was that he told Eve a lie and while he might have had good intentions this still doesn’t mitigate his responsibility.  We could continue this analysis of the parable by applying the definitions of transgression, sin and iniquity to the actions of all the three participates.

For example Satan was clearly breaking a commandment because he was trying to influence Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit.  His behaviour was an iniquity which is why he received the severest punishment.  Adam lied to Eve while what Eve did in eating of the fruit was only a transgression.

What looking at this aspect of the parable does is that it provides an good example of the difference between transgression, sin and iniquity, and this understanding would seem to be a good thing if we are to avoid transgression, sin or iniquity in our own live.

As always, comments are welcome.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The Story of Adam and Eve - Part Two

You need to read my previous post to make sense of this second post.

There are eight lessons we learn from my parable of Adam and Eve.  I propose to spend some time on each of them in the coming months.  This first lesson is directed at those who have authority over others.  This lesson is all about unrighteous dominion.
The prophet Joseph Smith was told in section 121 of the D&C that unrighteous dominion is pervasive and that "…no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."  What Joseph didn't do is explain exactly what unrighteous dominion is.  I will use the parable of Adam and Eve I presented previously to explain exactly what unrighteous dominion is so that we can easily recognize it and take steps to counteract it.

To recap, in the parable of Adam and Eve what Adam did, when he added an extra commandment to that given him from God, was unrighteous dominion.  I'm sure that Adam's intentions were pure but his reasoning was faulty.  To make sense of what Adam did we need to assume two things.  The first is that his behaviour wasn't malicious.  The second is that he was so worried that Eve wouldn't be able to resist partaking of the forbidden fruit unless he added an extra step.  Unfortunately what he didn't do was respect Eve's agency and this failure is at the root of Adam's sin and in fact all unrighteous dominion.

For example I was in my High Priests meeting the other day and a former Bishop said he had great success in using this question. "When was the last time you used pornography?" to trick young people to confess.  Yet it is clearly stated in the Church Handbook of Instruction not to do this.  In this example of unrighteous dominion this former Bishop felt that he needed to add a little extra just like Adam did with Eve.  I had heard of this before but never first hand and I was shocked that this former Bishop would even consider using this technique let alone use it and then boast about it.  I even found a website where a group of Bishops expounded on the merits of using this and other questions like it.  And the reason why they use these types of questions is because for the most part they always work, especially with young people.  And because they work they get used a lot.

The only problem is that those who use these types of question are exercising unrighteous dominion and unrighteous dominion was what Lucifer was proposing.  Lucifer intention was to force everyone to be good so when a Church leader uses this type of interview question to force someone into confessing they are doing the very thing that Lucifer proposed.

Not only is this an example of unrighteous dominion there is a related problem and it happens as soon as the word gets out that the Bishop will try and trick you into confessing.  When the members of his ward learn of his underhanded method the pipeline of naive young people will quickly dry up.  But even more significant is that once someone is burned by this trick they become jaded about Church leadership just like in the case of Adam and Eve.  When Eve found fault with the commandment as given by Adam she wasn't able to resist partaking of the forbidden fruit.  This same thing happens with those young people who are unfortunate to have a Bishop that thinks tricking them into confessing is a good idea.  And just like Eve when these young people are tempted the deceitful actions of their leaders gives them an excuse at the very instant they need support from the Church.  I'm aware of a number of studies done at BYU that suggest that the combination of deceitful leaders and raging hormones is the single most significant factor in the high rate of inactivity and apostasy in the Church in the age group from 18 to 25.

I could go on and on listing examples because as Joseph suggested unrighteous dominion is ubiquitous.  And things need to change.  If you are in leadership in the Church and you are using these types of question then you need to recognize that doing so is a sin and stop immediately.  If you have been subject this type of abuse then you need to forgive those who committed this sin because ultimately you will be held accountable for your part in any sin that you might commit regardless of whether there are extenuating factors.  And if you are a lay member of the Church your obligation is to speak out if you see an example of unrighteous dominion.  And lastly everyone needs to share this message.