|Up For Vote||My Vote||Arizona Republic’s Choice||Commentary||Debate|
|US President||Hillary Clinton||Hillary Clinton||The Arizona Republic gives a nice summary on why they support Hillary Clinton. This reflects my basic feelings as well.||I refuse to give you the actual link, enjoy this parody instead.|
|US Senator||Ann Kirkpatrick||John McCain||John McCain is old, 80. He still seems in good health and engaged, working hard. Kirkpatrick is probably too liberal to represent the state. I’m concerned that McCain will be effective the entire 6 year term.
Kirkpatrick is certainly credentialed and experienced, though she wasn’t great in the debate.
John McCain has just recently said he’ll forever fillibuster a democrats supreme court nominees – for that alone he should go.
|Arizona Senate Debate|
|US Congressional District #9||Kyrsten Sinema||Kyrsten Sinema||The AZ Republic hasn’t officially endorsed this race yet – at least I can’t find it. But the Republican field is weak and they haven’t really seriously contended for this seat in a while. Meanwhile Sinema is a force who has moderated her political views over the years. Basically a no brainer.|
|State Senate District LD26||Juan Mendez||Unopposed|
|State House District LD26||Isela Blanc, Athena Salman||Unknown||There is one very young Republican contender with very little information to be found about him. Our state legislature needs all the democrats they can get.|
|AZ Corporation Commissioner||Bob Burns, Tom Chabin, Bill Mundell||Haven’t found it||Watching the debate and reading commentary, this election comes down to conflict of interest and transparency issues. A lot is at stake right now in terms of energy innovation and transformation toward renewables. The traditional utility companies have a state regulated monopoly and the corporation commission is the regulated body to keep them in check. We have opportunities to supply energy in a distribute manner. Networked solar panels on everyone’s house among other solutions. I trust the Democrats here (and Bob Burns).||Corporation Commission|
|Board of Superverisors||Denny Barney||Negative Op Ed on Denny Barney||Matthew Cerra seems to be token opposition with very limited political or work experience. The encumbent deserves to stay. An easy decision.|
|County Assessor||Paul Peterson||Unnopposed|
|Maricopa County Attorney||Leaning Diego Rodriguez||Unknown||Bill Montgomery is an improvement over his predecessor, he’s really conservative and has some black marks. Diego Rodriguez is formidable and an outspoken critic. Still reasearching.
A decent summary of what’s at stake is here.
|County Recorder||Adrian Fontes||All the ways Hellen Purcell has mucked up recent elections, she needs to be replaced.|
|County School Superintendent||Leaning Michelle Robertson||Nice Summary of the Candidates||Both candidates seem equally credentialed and qualified. Michelle Robertson is the democrat whose views align a bit more closely with mine. I could be talked out of her with more information though.|
|Sheriff||Paul Penzone||Paul Penzone||Please, please, please finally replace Sherrif Joe.|
|County Treasurer||Leaning Joe Downs||Just one Op-Ed so far||Need more information. Royce Flora is the more experienced and was selected by the previous treasure to take his place. He is perhaps too ideological in ways I don’t like to earn my vote.|
|Central AZ Water Conservation District|
|Maricopa County Special Health Care District 1|
|Maricopa County Community College At-Large|
|Maricopa County Community College District 1|
|High School Governing Board Member Tempe Union No. 213|
|Sale, Lease or Exchange of Real Property for Tempe Union High School|
|School Governing Board Member Tempe Elem 3|
|Justices and Judges|
|Proposition 205||No||No||My church has come out against this proposition. I don’t like the way we’ve prosecuted marijuana crimes in the past, but I think we’ve eased up and could and should ease up more. But there’s other options than decriminalization and those options should be pursued instead.|
|Proposition 206||Yes||We haven’t raised the minimum wage in a looong time. A lot of low-wage work is being automated out of existence and more will be done the further in the future we go. I sympathize with low-skilled teen-age kids getting less than minimum wage, but these aren’t jobs that really enhance skill. I think a living wage is more important than a bad non-livable wage job for everyone.
On the whole, I think our economy can afford to pay those on the bottom a little more.
|Tempe City Bonds||Yes|
The core message of Christianity is that every single person is precious, valuable and of infinite worth. Christ taught and showed by example care for the individual, no matter who they were, be it a child, a crippled, someone seriously diseased, a sinner, a beggar. I’m sure this isn’t unique to Christianity, it is or should be at the core of every world religion. And it’s certainly found within Mormonism. Joseph Smith wrote in the Doctrine and Covenants:
10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.
12 And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.
13 And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!
The implications of this teaching, though is radical. In the beatitudes, Jesus taught that rather than an “eye for an eye”, we should turn the other cheek, and that we should love our enemies, doing good to those that hate us and strive to do unto others what we would like them to do to us.
So, yes, we have an obligation to show concern and to help the sick, the elderly, the young, the marginalized, those who can’t meaningfully care for themselves, despite the inefficiencies and the inconveniences doing so imposes upon us. There’s something beautiful when a young person takes a moment out of their lives to make room for an elderly person suffering from dementia – to give with no hope of receiving anything in return.
But we should also care for, nurture and make space for all those who have something to contribute, who might have something insightful to say. This isn’t just for Christian purposes, there is an important economic lesson here as well. We optimize our economic output and improve our ability to innovate when we allow everyone an opportunity to give all they can give into the economy. But we fall far short here as well, suffering as we have and as we still do, with all sort of ways society prevents certain types of people from having full access to the economy – whether it be racism, sexism or classism. Prejudice and bigotry in all its forms hurts the economy because it prevents those affected from reaching their potential and making the kinds of contributions into society that they otherwise might.
If we blend these two ideas together – that society and individuals have an obligation to care for those most vulnerable, and that society has an economic incentive to ensure all have full participation in the economy. These two ideas are at the core of both my politics and my theology, even if I don’t often live up to the ideal. I support policies and politicians that strive to provide opportunities for all, and support and help those in need.
I hope these principles are not controversial but their application to specific policies can be complicated. Both major political parties in the United States have a legitimate argument that their policies do live up to these ideals. And there are certainly many ways to get there. Saying that I believe we should love one another is the jumping off point toward a fruitful debate not the end of one.
Bigotry and Prejudice
But I immediately and summarily dismiss any politician or policy that specifically and intentionally stands in opposition of this general idea. I reject bigotry in all its forms. I reject any policy that harms or limits Muslims, immigrants from any country, women, and LGBTQ. Again, there are no straight forward answers here, but I tend to lean toward more open-ended immigration policies, I believe in the virtues of commerce and free-trade, I believe in broad access to health care and education, I believe we need to work harder to make sure talented, poor kids have access to the same opportunities that rich kids have. I think universities should be universally accessible, but I also believe those without college degrees should have pathways toward meaningful careers. I believe the benefits of automation and globalization need to be shared broadly even if it means a smart wealth redistribution.
Crime and Justice
I also believe that our judicial system should be run with an eye toward both compassion and justice and that justice works both ways. A just system makes sure punishments are not excessive, that not every criminal needs to be incarcerated. And we need to make sure there are ways to re-integrate back into society with a restoration of basic rights. For example, I believe convicted felons should have the right to vote. I would like to see more resources put into our prisons to make sure adequate access to health care, psychiatric counseling and education.
I also believe that the victims lives should be respected as well. If a women is sexually assaulted, they have the right to be listened to, taken seriously and believed. And that the perpetrators, no matter what standing they hold in society, no matter how privileged or respected or powerful they may be, should be made to account for their crimes. While incarceration is not a just punishment for every crime, it’s more than appropriate to separate those from society who are a danger to others, who have harmed another and may harm again, giving the criminal space and resources to think about what they’ve done and if possible make restitution for the damages they’ve incurred.
Soccer vs. Basketball Problems
In Malcom Gladwell’s sixth episode of his Revisionist History podcast, My Little 100 million, he differentiates between basketball problems and soccer problems. You win basketball games by having the best star. The fifth or sixth best player is not nearly as important as your first or second best player. The reason is because, in basketball, it’s really easy to get your best player the ball. The star has the option, in this sport to dominate the action, take the majority of the shots and control most of the game.
Soccer is not that way. It’s a sport where one mistake can prove costly, and it’s a sport where the best player is much more dependent on the worst player. In soccer, it’s more important to make sure every single player on the field is good than it is to have the absolute best player in your team.
Most real-world problems are soccer problems, but most of our politics assume we’re playing basketball. In this particular podcast, Gladwell excoriates those donors who have millions of dollars to elite universities, schools that already have huge endowments and serve a tiny fraction of the world’s most elite students. Innovation is hard and solutions can and should come from everywhere. We need a nation of tinkerers, not just coming up with the ideas, but trying them out, improving on them, find ways to fit them into our lives. We’re playing soccer, but our superstars are getting all of the resources.
Finland has one of the best educational systems in the world in terms of test scores. They got there because rather than focusing on making sure some of their schools are world class, rather they made sure every single student had access to quality education.
Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.
Finland is playing soccer, while we keep trying to play basketball. They don’t worry about constant testing, becoming a teacher is difficult, teacher training programs are highly selective, they are paid well and given a lot of autonomy and responsibility. They make sure education is free, of high quality to every student.
Right now, our two oldest kids are in school system, one is attending Tempe Prep, the other Aspire at Academy within Connolly. Aspire is a gifted school within a school that you have to test into to attend. Tempe Prep is a charter school that in theory take everyone, but it’s fairly inconvenient to attend and extremely difficult to thrive. Tempe Prep has six classes, all of which give regular homework which can easily require 2 to 3 hours of homework on most nights. We support her, check her homework, she has her own desk and an environment for quiet, focused study. But even with these advantages, she’s still getting C’s in a few classes that we hope she can pull up into B’s.
What I’m saying is that neither school is diverse. Only children with supportive families need apply. It’s difficult as a parent not to want to send my kids to the best possible school, and in fact, if they couldn’t get access to these or other schools, I would feel slighted. The opportunities my kids are getting at both of these schools should be broadly available.
As a parent, I obviously love my kids and I believe they are pretty smart and special. Most parents think so. In the book Matilda, Roald Dahl said as much:
In any event, parents never underestimated the abilities of their own children. Quite the reverse. Sometimes it was well nigh impossible for a teacher to convince the proud father or mother that their beloved offspring was a complete nitwit.
But you know, I’m not wrong and despite what Dahl says here, every kid is gifted, smart and special. We all have God-given gifts. It’s our challenge as a society to make sure every child is given every opportunity to thrive and develop these gifts.
And it’s our obligation to treat every person we encounter as someone of value – the immigrant, the homeless, the weird, even the criminal. Everyone.
Last Friday evening my wife and I attended a seminar, Loving Without Limits, a discussion and practice on meditation led by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie. McConkie is a shining star among liberal mormons because for one, his back-story is so interesting. He’s the grandson of the formal apostle Joseph B. Wirthlin, and grand-nephew to another former apostle Bruce R. McConkie. His family is deeply entrenched within the Mormon elite. But at 13, he couldn’t take it anymore and stopped going to church. This was not handled well within his family and in their attempts to intervene, they created deep wounds that drove him even further from both his family and the church. Some time after high school, feeling isolated and hurt by his family, he found Buddhism and eventually fled to China to pursue an immersion in this tradition. In his mid-thirties, he felt inspired to come back, both to his family in Utah and to Mormonism, bringing his Buddhism with him. Now he’s a fully active, re-connected, non-traditional Mormon with a very deep footing in meditation and mindfulness and he’s bring this into the Mormon community.
I love McConkie. I’ve heard him speak a few times now, on a podcast and twice in person. He has a calm voice and a balanced, centered outlook on life that is both deeply positive and connecting. Not only that, he has this uncanny ability to remember everyone’s name. I have his book, but have not yet finished it. This is the person my wife and I spent a couple of hours with on a Friday evening.
One idea that came up during his presentation was an idea that I’ve already been pondering a lot lately, the idea that we need to find a way to be at peace within our pain and discomfort. And that as we learn to do so, we can find peace and even joy. This idea that pain can lead to joy is at the core of Christianity in fact. It’s central to the mission of Jesus Christ – that he was willing to suffer excruciating pain – willingly taking on the burdens and agonies of the world’s sins in what is known as the atonement of Christ. And that it’s through suffering we find redemption from our sins and a return back to peace and rest with God. In our session, we practiced in our meditation to notice our pains, discomforts, everything our body was feeling and to sit still in it. It was a serene, beautiful experience.
I’m terrible with pain. I hate being uncomfortable. For anyone that has known me over the years, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve gained some weight. I’ve never been good with food.When I was young my parents were poor, food was scarce and my mom wasn’t really great in the kitchen. Our meals were usually meager. A real childhood treat was the fairly regular church activity pot-lucks. Our contributions were embarrassing usually, but I salivated over what others brought, waiting impatiently for the opening prayer to end and the lines to form. I’d pile my plate high with all of this food that I would normally not have the opportunity to eat otherwise.
Another food related highlight of my early life was going with my mom to the “day-old” bakery to get bread. There would always be a rack of hostess goodies and I would beg and eventually get my pick at these. I developed a taste for one of the worse for you snacks imaginable, hostess ding-dongs, twinkies, fruit pies, and zingers.
Leaving for college for the first time food was a source of comfort when I was lonely and I was often lonely, especially pre-mission years. I would walk over to the circle k and get a box of chocolate donuts and eat the entire box. Fortunately, I was blessed with a good metabolism, a healthy love for sports and a bike I would ride around quite a bit. I’m sure I gained weight in college, but I was able to stay skinny.
But all of this catches up to you eventually. I’ve aged, my metabolism has slown down, I have a desk job and I’ve added layers of stress as my responsibilities and pressures have grown. One particularly difficult time in my life happened five years ago, when my dad suffered a stroke, was hospitalized and eventually transitioned to a group home. My mom and her aspergers did not handle this well and neither did I. I ate my way through that difficult experience.
So, I’ve gained weight and I want to lose it. I want to be healthier and slimmer, but most importantly I want a healthier relationship with food. This is difficult and not just because of my own inability to cope with my life. The food industry has conspired against me and the rest of us, to make managing our eating difficult.
Here’s the insight that I’m hoping will help me to do this – that life is full of pain and I just need to get over myself and face it, head on. I’ve been hearing this message from multiple sources. Adam Miller in the introduction to his paraphrase of Ecclesiastes says it this way:
In Ecclesiastes, this hopelessness takes a number of forms. Satisfaction, for one, is hopeless. Satiety is a mirage. The world is inadequate to our immoderate desires. The book’s narrator has, he insists, tried everything. Solomonic, he has reigned as a king, accumulated all wisdom, achieved all forms of worldly success, and exhausted every form of pleasure. Wealth, sex, drugs, beauty, skill, power, knowledge – he has drained all these cups to the dregs. And what did he find? He found nothing that endures, nothing that is substantial, nothing that could satisfy. At the bottom of every cup he found the same thing: life insatiable and time inexorable. Hunger is eternal. This truth is hard to concede but, having seen it, he wants to show it. Satisfaction is a lure and any life caught on this hopeful hook will be filled with frustration and disappointment. Lives lived in hope of satisfaction inevitably unfold as a kind of death, as a kind of half-life in which people never quite start living – always waiting, always hoping, forever suspended between what they want and what they don’t have. This is spiritual death.
And the philosopher Alain de Botton says something similar quite beautifully here:
The wisdom of the melancholy attitude (as opposed to the bitter or angry one) lies in the understanding that the sorrow isn’t just about you, that you have not been singled out, that your suffering belongs to humanity in general. So often our sorrows are egocentric. We see them as special misfortunes which have come our way. Melancholy rejects this. It has a wider, much less personal take. Much of what is painful and sorrowful in our lives can be traced to general things about life: its brevity; the fact that we cannot avoid missing opportunities, the contradictions of desire and self-management. These apply to everyone. So melancholy is generous. You feel this sorrow for others too, for ‘us’. You feel pity for the human condition.
This idea that meloncholy, sadness, loss, regret, none of this is unique to me. It’s what we were born to experience. Our lives are so short, are bodies are changing and growing old and breaking down and simply we are forced to decide. We begin life with an infinite number of possibilities, with each passing day, our possibilities narrow. Our hopes and dreams are tampered down until our lives end and we literally lose everything. The key thing here is can we take it.
Now back to food. What I’m trying to do is to learn to live with my hunger. Part of my problem with food is that I’m not good at being hungry. At the first sign of hunger, I try to suppress it. I’m also not good with food. If there’s food available, I’ll eat it even when I’m not hungry. Now I want to deliberately bring myself to hunger multiple times a day. I want to go to bed hungry. I want to be hungry before each meal. And at my meals, I don’t want to necessarily replace my hunger with feeling completely full. I want to eat to meet that hunger, hopefully slowly, mindfully and with appreciation. And I want this to be a habit for me the rest of my life.
I’m not sure this will lead to weight loss, I’m not even sure I’ll succeed. I’m sure I’ll have good days and bad. But I’m hoping over the long-run it will lead to fewer calories consumed and an over-all healthier life.
A Simplified Overview
This past summer, my 11 year old son spent a week with his cousin. One afternoon, they were shooting hoops talking religion when my son took this chance to explain the Mormon’s plan of salvation, shown below. In a nutshell, we believe that we lived as spirits before we were born; that we came to earth to gain a body and life experience and then after death, wait in the spirit world for the resurrection, reuniting our spirit with our physical body. At that time we will experience final judgment confined for eternity,in one of four places: the celestial kingdom where God dwells, the terrestrial kingdom, where good but not quite good enough people go, the telestial kingdom, where pretty bad people go, or to outer darkness where satan and his followers are banished.
This is basically the story I grew up with. There is one reference in Corinthians 15:40-41, that makes a somewhat vague reference to it:
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
And another reference to the many mansions in God’s house in John 14:2.
But this doctrine does not come from a few verses in the bible. Rather, Joseph Smith received revelation and recorded it as scripture in our Doctrine and Covenants while studying and pondering the New Testament with Sidney Rigdon, So, we do believe in hell, but for only the very worst of us, those rare few who have known and tasted of Christ’s fulness, knowing without a doubt the right path but choosing to turn in open rebellion against it anyways. All of the rest of us are destined toward something wonderful and beautiful, varying only in degrees of glory. I have long cherished this doctrine as a more compassionate, expansive alternative to the traditional Christian view of heaven and hell.
Another Way of Looking at It
But I think there is another, deeper, more meaningful way to look at this piece of Mormon theology. Adam Miller in the chapter on Eternal Life in his book Letters to a Young Mormon, makes an another interesting point inspired from some verses in D&C 19:10-12:
10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—
11 Eternal punishment is God’s punishment.
12 Endless punishment is God’s punishment.
I think the problem with our traditional understanding of the plan of salvation is that we are trying to understand something other-worldly and infinite with our finite, time-bound, this-life brain. Adam Miller puts it this way:
If eternal punishment is God’s kind of punishment then we might, as others have, try this same reading of eternal life. Eternal life is God’s kind of life. Rather than just checking a life span, “eternal” names a certain way of being alive, a certain way of holding life as it passes from one moment to the next. Life itself involves the passage of time and, in order to be faithful to it, we must bless rather than dam that flow.
Rather than trying to overlay our plan of salvation on linear time, perhaps it’s better to think of it as an on-going, ever-present effort to develop and grow until one day we are perfectly in tune with God. In other words, the final judgment may not necessarily be something that happens later, but something that can happen again and again, right here in this life as we learn to live a more abundant, Christ-filled life.
In this way, we do not have to wait for a final judgment to come some time after death. We are instead, various parts of of us and various times in our lives are experiencing all the glories described in this revelation right here, right now and hopefully in moments too rare to speak of, we’ve even felt the pain of total darkness as well. Really, none of us really knows what it will be like after death, but we can know what it means to be alive. Perhaps striving toward celestial glory is something we don’t have to wait for.
Adam Miller in his book Future Mormon, describes what he calls early-onset post-mortality as a way to bring on that judgment now, every single day. This, in his mind, is what repentance is all about:
Repentance—regular, average, everyday repentance—is the practice of early onset postmortality. When you repent, you confess your disobedience. You embrace the law and stop running from it. You step into rather than away from its embrace. Repenting, you submit a request for a speedy verdict and ask for judgment now rather than later. But stepping into the law, your relationship to the law’s demands shift. Rather than living as if your life were given for the sake of the law, you discover that the law was given for the sake of life. You were not made for the Sabbath, the Sabbath was made for you (cf. Mark 2:27). And the law, rather than working as an instrument of condemnation, is rendered inoperative by an excess of grace that both suspends and fulfills it.
The Three Degrees as Spiritual Developmental Stages
With that in mind, I’m going to re-interpret the three degrees of glory as spiritual developmental stages.
Living Life Telestially
Living a telestial life means living a life bound to this earth. Living telestially is our ongoing effort to survive and thrive in a world that can be difficult and painful. It’s living inwardly, caring for our physical needs most of all – feeding, clothing, housing ourselves. At its best, it’s here we learn independence, self-sufficiency, and individualism. We learn what we’re capable of. At its worse, we become selfish, criminal, indulgent, and glutinous. This is a necessary spiritual stage, we all must learn to survive and thrive. We must learn independence before we can truly help others.
People in this spiritual stage may be concerned with law and obedience, but these laws are as earth-bound as they are. Obedience comes as a way to achieve earth-bound goals, to get ahead, to find security. Obedience to law is a means to an end.
Joseph Smith describes it as having the glory of the stars, here we shine a self- generating light, but its dim, enough light to shine in a sea of other lights. It’s a necessary first step. And one we may never fully grow out of in this life. There are some things I’m still striving to learn – how to keep my house clean, how to stay organized, how to get things turned in on time. These are telestial concerns. Important, necessary, but only a first step.
As we gain self sufficiency, we start to get a little confidence, acquire a bit of a surplus, we have room to let others in. We take to heart our responsibilities for others, obviously, those we love, but even those we hardly know and even some we have trouble with. We want to be good, we want to do good. We want to fix the world. Our motives may not always be pure, maybe we want others to notice us, to feel a bit of respect, to feel meaningful. This is is also an earth-bound effort, though I think we also begin to think about what comes next, but often in ways that compel us to “work out our salvation”.
Spiritual laws start to have greater meaning in our lives. We strive to be sexually pure because we love our spouses and our family and cherish and want to hold onto them. We pay tithing because we feel devotion to our church. We keep the Lord’s sabbath and worship because we’ve been asked to by leaders we trust.
At its worst, living terrestially can be stressful and a guilt-filled experience. Because no matter how hard we try, we will always at times succumb to our telestial impulses. And the burdens of the world are too big for our puny arms to carry. We will never accomplish as much as we set out to, no matter how hard we try. We risk falling into depression or cynicism. We risk falling back into a more tellestial life-style.
Joseph Smith describes those in the terrestial as having the glory of the moon. It’s a brighter light, but it’s a reflected one. We begin to shine in ways that are helpful and good, but not nearly bright enough to turn the night into day.
A celestial life is a God-filled life, one sanctified by grace and motivated with love. As we are able to transition into a celestial life, it’s here we start to fulfill the law. In Future Mormon in the chapter “A General Theory of Grace”, Adam Miller puts it this way:
Our love must be practiced with a kind of disregard for the law. A perfect love is lawless in the way that God’s love is lawless: a perfect love loves its enemies. Like God’s love, this love isn’t partial or divided or intermittent. It doesn’t play favorites. God’s love is, rather, impartial: it is whole or complete or perfect (teleios). It doesn’t cease to give itself. It doesn’t circumscribe its field. This love is like the sun: it shines on the evil and on the good. This love is like the rain: it rains on the just and unjust. This love is, as John indicates, fearless. And, because it is fearless, this love becomes capable of grace.
In this stage, we complete the law by practicing love. We are consumed by grace, or rather grace consumes us and we no longer think or care about justice. We love our enemies, we lose our fear and we engage with the world as it is with perfect love. James Fowler would refer to this as someone entering a stage 6 faith.
I’m not quite sure how to get into a celestial spiritual stage, but I have a feeling it comes as a gift of the spirit only after one yearns, seeks and strives for it. I think you can only get into the celestial through the terrestial. It takes both personal effort, sacrifice and a sanctifying unity with God. It’s where we truly experience atonement as we fully become one with God in our lives.
This spiritual stage is the glory of the sun. It’s here, finally, when we can turn the night into day, provide warmth to those around us. It’s here, truly, where we really begin to radiate light and warmth that can truly, deeply bless another.
A Couple of Examples
Someone with a telestial relationship with food, might become obsessed with diet or they might use food to cope with stress. After a transition into terrestial, the individual might start thinking of others, fast offerings might be paid, they might donate to a food-bank. Celestial eaters learn to love food, they eat mindfully, they avoid junk food, not because they are afraid of gaining weight, they just prefer and cherish food that nourishes their body and spirit. They suffer with others who hunger and with love strive to end hunger.
A telestial relationship with sex would seek after sex for pleasure and enjoyment for themselves primarily and perhaps to have children to expand their progenity. Terrestial sex begins to be relational and rule-based. No sex outside of their marriage, sex to have children, sex to express closeness with a spouse. Celestial sex is pure intimacy, an act and an expression of deep love for one’s partner.
I think as Mormons, we live a life of rules and checklists. Believing if we can only be Mormon more perfectly we can find peace now in eternal life in the next. Sometimes we do this selfishly, yearning to move up Mormon authority positions or sincerely, believing in the utility of the church to help others. Mostly, we get caught up in Mormondom as salvation. If we live can check-off every item on our list and we do it successfully enough, we believe we can finally end our lives having fought the good fight and to be welcome back into God’s rest in celestial glory. But I think there’s a better way. We don’t have to wait. A celestial life is a life consumed with love and real sanctification. Love transcends the law, obedience becomes both inoperable and unnecessary.
But First, Black America
Over the last several years, I’ve been interested in the plight of the urban, black poor. I’ve read two books, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander who argues that mass incarceration by virtue of its disproportionate enforcement of drug laws on black neighborhoods has effectively imposed a third wave of Jim Crow laws on this population – taking away their right to vote, access to welfare, affordable housing and most importantly jobs. The second book, Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward, a black woman who grew up in a small town in Mississippi describes the death of five of her male relatives, ranging from a drug overdose, a car accident to a suicide. She blames a system of aggressive societal neglect that in different ways lead to each of these deaths. I’m also a huge fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates although I have yet to read his book, but his writing in The Atlantic consistently portrays an America still struggling with deep and persistent white supremacy.
Why Barak Obama?
It’s hard to correlate the rise of Barak Obama with the fatalistic writings of these black writers and thinkers. Obama had to be almost perfect to win the presidency. His biggest scandals, at the time of his first run amounted to where he went to church, where he might have been born and what he smoked in high school. But as a presidential candidate, he was perfect. He never lost his temper and he rarely ever mentioned race. He has the perfect family: a beautiful, accomplished, talented wife, two perfect daughters, and no scandal. He grew up in Hawaii, his mixed heritage, a white mother from the midwest and a black father from Kenya, did not link him to the urban inner city. His political stardom rose not on racial issues but on a speech calling for unity in an increasingly polarized country . But his race, his skin color was a factor. He knew and had felt racism and in these ways, black America put their political hopes in him. His path to the Democratic nomination was won in the same way Hillary’s, through the black voting block of the south east electorate which gave him just enough cushion to weather a strong push from Hillary Clinton.
Why Hillary Clinton?
Despite what Bernie Sander’s supporters otherwise believe, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for two reasons, she had almost universal support from the Democratic establishment, but more importantly and in the same ways Obama had previously beat her, she won because of her overwhelming support from black America. The segment of our society that has incurred the most damage from our country and its institutions over our history went overwhelmingly for the most establishment candidate in the race. Hillary Clinton owes her presidential nomination and likely her presidency to black America.
Why Donald Trump?
Meanwhile, on the right, a different story has played out. Donald Trump ran an insurgent, populist race, playing by different rules, powered by his celebrity, television charisma, and his willing to say literally anything. His candidacy was light on substance but heavy on personality fueled with fiery anger. The polls show that the support for Donald Trump come mostly from those who are white, without a college degree who feel they no longer have a voice in national politics. Donald Trump is the only politician from either party willing to give an unapologetic voice to the anger brewing from this demographic. Yesterday, I happened upon an interview from the author of the book Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance, whose family heritage link him to Kentucky poor. In it, he captures the deep societal ills that plague working class whites especially those with connections to Appalachia.
What many don’t understand is how truly desperate these places are, and we’re not talking about small enclaves or a few towns–we’re talking about multiple states where a significant chunk of the white working class struggles to get by. Heroin addiction is rampant. In my medium-sized Ohio county last year, deaths from drug addiction outnumbered deaths from natural causes. The average kid will live in multiple homes over the course of her life, experience a constant cycle of growing close to a “stepdad” only to see him walk out on the family, know multiple drug users personally, maybe live in a foster home for a bit (or at least in the home of an unofficial foster like an aunt or grandparent), watch friends and family get arrested, and on and on. And on top of that is the economic struggle, from the factories shuttering their doors to the Main Streets with nothing but cash-for-gold stores and pawn shops.
And when Donald Trump entered the presidential race he gave a voice to this part of America, one that has largely been looked down upon, scorned and ignored. Donald Trump speaks their language.
The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades. From the Left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues, a la Thomas Frank (more on that below). Maybe they get a few handouts, but many don’t want handouts to begin with.
From the Right, they’ve gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth. Whatever the merits of better tax policy and growth (and I believe there are many), the simple fact is that these policies have done little to address a very real social crisis. More importantly, these policies are culturally tone deaf: nobody from southern Ohio wants to hear about the nobility of the factory owner who just fired their brother.
Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears. He criticizes the factories shipping jobs overseas. His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground. He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.
The last point I’ll make about Trump is this: these people, his voters, are proud. A big chunk of the white working class has deep roots in Appalachia, and the Scots-Irish honor culture is alive and well. We were taught to raise our fists to anyone who insulted our mother. I probably got in a half dozen fights when I was six years old. Unsurprisingly, southern, rural whites enlist in the military at a disproportionate rate. Can you imagine the humiliation these people feel at the successive failures of Bush/Obama foreign policy? My military service is the thing I’m most proud of, but when I think of everything happening in the Middle East, I can’t help but tell myself: I wish we would have achieved some sort of lasting victory. No one touched that subject before Trump, especially not in the Republican Party.
This explains the violence that occasionally erupts at Trump rallies, it also explains the apocalyptical angst, the pessimism and the anger.
I bought his book last night and I’m already through the first five chapters. I went on a mission in Alabama serving two years working with both the black and white communities in this region. I can’t say I totally understand it. I’m white, I grew up poor but I grew up in a far more functioning community than what this book describes. My parents were largely disconnected from their family, but I’m Mormon and the heritage of Mormonism, with its work ethic, conservative values, fervent religiosity provided a framework of support that was lifesaving for me. There was never a doubt I would attend college. My entire family attended. None of us fell into a drug addiction trap, and none of us were ever prone to violence nor were victims of it. Our childhood experience with poverty did not prevent us from clawing our way into an adult middle class.
So, I’m not in a position to fully answer this question, but I’m going to try anyway. Why did black and brown Americans overwhelmingly support the prototypical establishment candidate while white, desperately poor and suffering America support the angry populist?
I think at its root is that black Americans are a lot more hopeful and optimistic about America and its institutions. They feel that perhaps, they are finally getting a voice and that policies are beginning to actually help them. The plight of black America and the injustices of mass incarceration is getting much deserved attention even from conservative politicians, notably Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, though we have yet to live up to our rhetoric. The national conversation on police brutality toward our blacks can be seen as progress. These issues are getting attention, those from these vulnerable populations are getting a voice. Their opinions are being heard.
But perhaps more importantly, their history has been one of deprivation and suppression, from one generation to another. It’s hard to feel sustained anger for missing out on something you’ve never had. Rather I think there’s a sense of hope that black America can finally heal itself and finally get a claim on the American dream.
Contrast that with white Appalachia, those entering adulthood today, many grew up in the last vestiges of middle class. These states, from northern Alabama to southern Ohio, benefitted disproportionately from manufacturing and mining jobs. These jobs offered a route to the middle class without requiring college education to a population used to poverty. For decades, they began to climb the ladder into the middle class helped by a combination of white privilege and a country that dominated global manufacturing – thanks to the decimation of global competition from our two world wars.
The last couple of decades have changed this reality. A combination of globalization and automation have eliminated these jobs. And the cultural weaknesses of this region – the violence and tribalism deprived them of the right social capital to facilitate a pivot to the new economy. Meanwhile, the political class has not only ignored this demographic, they’ve outright mocked and disparaged it.
In contrast to black America, the white working poor is experiencing a loss. Decades of upward mobility have been yanked away from them and as a result, they are suffering. From endemic poverty, manifesting itself in unstable families, premature parenthood, and addiction. Having something and then losing it, can, for many, be more painful then never having it at all.
Trump is Playing a Con
I believe working class grievances are real. There are serious problems in our economy that privileges the elite and their children, making it increasingly difficult for a child to pull themselves up and into a higher economic class. Acceptance into elite university increasingly require credentials that are simply difficult for poorer students to achieve. Rich and middle income kids have access to SAT tutors, family support to shepherd them from activity to activity, help and support with homework, and a stable functioning home-life. Many children in poor neighborhoods have access to none of these.
Globalization and immigration increase competition for jobs of all sorts but especially those that requiring no college credentials. As Europe and Asia have rebuilt and as other previously third world countries have developed, more of their population have been able to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Finally automation has eliminated most low-skill jobs. Jobs that don’t require specialized knowledge are also jobs that with increasingly sophisticated technology can be done by robots.
These are global realities and there is nothing any one politician can do about it. “Making America Great Again” as Trump seems to define it, is simply not a possibility. No wall, no matter how high or thick is going to bring back manufacturing jobs. Repealing NAFTA is not going to do it either.
Trump’s presidential campaign seems, from my perspective, more about Trump than about working America. His candidacy seems more focused on keeping the news cycle focused on him rather than showing any willingness to defend and explain how his policies might help.
There are likely policies and programs that can help, but part of the solution has to be cultural and they have to come from within these regions. I’m not sure an outsider is going to be able to do it. Appalachia needs Appalachian leaders to truly identify and make sense of the problems. And the solutions need to be a combination of bottom up, hopeful striving within the communities themselves and policies from above that can provide enough infrastructural support to make their strivings successful.
JD Vance says it best here:
Here is where the rhetoric of modern conservatives (and I say this as one of them) fails to meet the real challenges of their biggest constituents. Instead of encouraging engagement, conservatives increasingly forment the kind of detachment that has sapped the ambition of so many of my peers. I have watched some friends blossom into successful adults and others fall victim to the worst of Middletown’s temptations – premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration. What separates the successful form the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s falut.
My dad, for example, has never disparaged hard work, but he mistrusts some of the most obvious paths to upward mobility. When he found out that I had decided to go to Yale Law, he asked whether, on my applications, I had “pretended to be black or liberal.” This is how low the cultural expectations of working-class white Americans have fallen. We should hardly be surprised that as attitudes like this one spread, the number of people willing to work for a better life diminishes.
I’ve already provided a bit of an introduction to James Fowler’s book, “Stages of Faith”. In that post, I attempted to define faith in hopes of getting to a better understanding of something almost undefinable. I want to re-emphasize here that faith is more structurally sound when it focuses on things “which are true”. I’m not going into a deep dive here on each of the six faith stages, you can find summaries elsewhere. And I will readily admit that I have not yet fully absorbed the faith stages. I find faith to be difficult and abstract and Fowler’s book is definitely both of these, but it’s also academic, using language that’s better understood by someone with a psychology background, something I do not have. I’m still trying to make sense of it. But I have a few insights I would like to share here.
Faith in Children – Stages 0 through 2
Fowler’s early faith stages mirror Piaget’s childhood development stages pretty closely. What does it mean for a baby to have faith? I think in the most rudimentary way, babies and young children feel connected, almost embodied with their mother first and foremost but also with their immediate family. As they feel loved and cared for, their faith in a loving, compassionate world filled with grace can take root – providing a fertile soil for a mature faith to grow later in life. To the degree that this doesn’t happen, later faith development becomes more difficult.
I think all of my kids are in these early faith stages. They take the stories we share with them literally and unquestionably as they grow and develop in a world they experiencing for the first time. I think it’s why Christmas is so magical but I also believe it’s why my children are also scared of the dark. It’s wonderful and frightening, for adults, but especially for children.
Teenage and Young Adult Faith – Stage 3
My oldest daughter is almost 14 and I think slowly making the transition into stage 3. She’s starting to absorb some of the lessons taught to her by young women’s leaders, by us and by other authority figures in her life. She’s starting to ask questions, turning previously learned stories upside down, trying to make sense of them. They aren’t just literal stories to be accepted at face value but she’s starting to have to trust this faith as something she’ll have to stake her young life on.
Her world is getting larger, she’s pulling in ideas from outside of her family and being informed and influenced by teachers at school, friends – some (but not enough) from other faiths, and church leaders. She will, perhaps eventually, offer a real testimony for the first time. She’ll learn to say her prayers with meaning for the first time – if she hasn’t already done so – pleading for help to overcome problems and concerns seeping into her young mind. This developing faith will be highly dependent on the faith community she was brought up in.
Stage 4 Faith – Broken Shelves and Dark Nights of the Soul
This can be especially difficult faith stage for Mormons. It’s here the person begins to critically and seriously examine the stories, traditions and beliefs likely for the first time in ways that can feel de-stabilizing. This often happens in a person’s twenties, leaving home for the first time, attending college, rubbing shoulders with people from other faith traditions, it’s here they may encounter ideas that contradict and challenge their faith. It’s also here they may meet others, triving in other faith traditions. They are like fish who learn to walk and see a world larger than the river they were previously swimming in.
It can also happen when a person runs up against the limits, boundaries and weaknesses of their stage 3 faith. Perhaps their stage 3 faith community rejects them in some way or imposes or implies demands that become untenable.
This faith stage can be difficult because it can be misinterpreted as an act of apostasy, as someone falling out of their faith rather than growing into a more mature one. It’s here when someone takes ownership of their faith story in a deep way. Their faith is scrutinized from top to bottom.
As a reminder, if faith’s foundation is always based in “things which are true”, from the child’s first inkling of a faith in a loving mother to the very real power of a mature, thriving faith community in stage 3, mature stage 4 faith allows a person to walk toward an independent, mature faith firmly held, tried and tested through the crucible of necessary doubt. It’s here rough edges can be shaved away, false prejudices and bad ideas of earlier years can be cast aside. The danger here is the possibility of “throwing out the baby with the bath water”, stepping away from the gifts of earlier years.
Stage 5 Faith – Articles of Faith 13
I find stage 5 faith beautiful and I think Articles of Faith 13 basically summarizes someone deeply living stage 5.
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Or I love this quote from the book:
“Conjuctive faith, therefore, is ready for significant encounters with other traditions than its own, expecting that truth has disclosed and will disclose itself in those traditions in ways that may complement or correct its own. Krister Stendahl is fond of saying that no interfaith conversation is genuinely ecumenical unless the quality of mutual sharing and receptivity is such that each party makes him- or herself vulnerable to conversion to the other’s truth. This would be Stage 5 ecumenism.”
Here a person begins to re-appreciate faith traditions – perhaps their own stage 3 tradition assuming it was a healthy one, and all of the others around them. Here, there is a appreciation for paradox, mystery, and a recognition of our limitations and earth, God and truth’s complexity is developed. Goodness, beauty, truth. I think stage 5 is big, expansive and beautiful. Stage 5 faith is also not all that common.
Stage 6 Faith – Jesus
Precious few people really reach stage 6 faith. This is a universalizing faith where one’s life is fully wrapped up on the service of others. Many people who reach stage 6 faith are killed because they lose all fear because it gets completely wrapped up in love of others. The scriptures point us toward stage 6 faith in 1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
I don’t think this perfectly captures faith development. It’s a model and like all models, it’s a poor mirror of the actual. But I think it’s useful nonetheless. I don’t believe on faith stage is inherently superior to another. A person can live a full, fulfilling, service-filled life deeply enmeshed in a stage 2 or 3 faith. I’m not sure any of us really stand fully in one faith stage completely. On our best days, some of us experience stage 6 faith, at other times we cling to stage 2.
I think it helps though in that it can help us have understanding and compassion for both ourselves and for others who are struggle in a deep, complicated and difficult world.
I’m currently plowing my way through the surprisingly dense book, Stages of Faith by James Fowler. This site is a a pretty good summary of the stages but I’d like to add my own commentary as I try to dig into this way of thinking.
I think there’s something helpful in quantifying a faith journey into stages, but I don’t think we should rely too heavily on them. We’re each on our own journey. We’ll each bring our own personality, perspectives, gifts and experiences into it. It’s far more complicated than can be easily quantified. But I think it’s helpful to have this language, perhaps as guideposts for us in our journey and as a tool to make our travel a little easier, with fewer bumps. And ideally, to help others in their journey with more compassion and understanding and less judgment.
James Fowler leans on Jean Piaget’s developmental stages, Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and Erik Erikson‘s life stages. In fact his first two faith stages are taken almost verbatim from Piaget. The point is he’s not the first to quantify developmental stages, but he is the first to do it within the context of faith. Fowler came up with the stages after interviewing hundreds of people from different backgrounds and ages on their faith journey. Based on the way they described their growing faith, and leaning heavily on the language and processes of developmental stages, he quantified the common themes. I believe he offers something helpful here that can help us understand ourselves and each other.
Before we can describe faith stages, we must understand what it means to have faith. To really understand faith from scripture is vague and circular.
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
From Alma in the Book of Mormon:
21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
Circular because according to this logic, you can only really have faith in something which is true, without evidence that it is. The problem comes, obviously, with how do you really know that what you’ve placed your faith in, is actually true. Fowler makes it clear that even a newborn child, by necessity leans on faith as we enter and are forced to navigate this world within the environment we have been born into.
For Fowler, he needed a faith definition that would work universally and for people of all ages, from birth to end of life, to describe a baby’s dependence on a parent as well as the faith Jesus exemplified in his life.
For Fowler, faith is the means by which we find meaning in our lives and by which we place our center of value. In this sense it’s not exclusively religious and it is definitely universal. We all have faith and as parents we all are in the process of influencing the faith developing in our children. Some important thoughts on faith using quotes from the book.
Chapter 1: Human Faith:
Faith is a person’s or group’s way of moving into the force field of life. It is our way of finding coherence in and giving meaning to the multiple forces and relations that make up our lives. Faith is a person’s way of seeing him- or herself in relation to others against a background of shared meaning and purpose.
Chapter 2: Faith, Religion, and Belief:
Faith, rather than belief or religion, is the most fundamental category in the human quest for relation to transcendence. Faith, it appears, is generic, a universal feature of human living, recognizably similar everywhere despite the remarkable variety of forms and contents of religious practice and belief.
Chapter 3: Faith and Relationship
Faith is a relational enterprise, triadic or covenantal in shape.
The centers of value and power that have god value for us, therefore, are those that confer meaning and worth on us and promise to sustain us in a dangerous world of power.
Real idolatry, in the Jewish and Christian traditions, does not have to do with the worship of statutes or pagan altars. Idolatry is rather the profoundly serious business of committing oneself or betting one’s life on finite centers of value and power as the source of one’s (or one’s group’s) confirmation of worth and meaning, and as the guarantor of survival with quality.
Chapter 4: Faith as Imagination
Part of what we mean when we say that humankind – Homo poeta – lives by meaning is that from the beginning of our lives we are faced with the challenge of finding or composing some kind of order, unity and coherence in the force fields of our lives. We might say that faith is our way of discerning and committing ourselves to centers of value and power that exert ordering and force in our lives. Faith, as imagination, grasps the ultimate conditions of our conditions, unifying them into a comprehensive image in light of which we shape our responses and initiatives, our actions.
Chapter 5. On Seeing Faith Whole
But as we look at the data of lives of faith, our own and those of others, we are struck by the recognition that faith is response to action and being that precedes and transcends us and our kind; faith if the forming of images o and relation to that which exerts qualitatively different initiatives in our lives than those that occur in strictly human relations. While this ‘X-factor’ in faith is not ou rprimary focus, it continues to impinge upon our work and to keep us modestly aware that we are encompassed in mystery.
In the book, he spends these first five chapters diving deep into faith. He transitions from there to summarize the developmental stages of those he builds from, and then finishes with transposing faith development as developmental stages. I hope by scattering a few quotes from the book in this post, I can convey the complexity and hard to pin down nature of faith. It’s not a simple concept and one that takes study, prayer and pondering to really understand. I don’t think we should over-simplify this effort.
And then returning, for a moment, to the scriptural definitions of faith. The reason for their vagueness and circularity I believe is that they definitionally do not describe something you acquire quickly or in a moment. Rather, I think to get to a faith that leads one to hope for something that is true without evidence for its truthfulness, requires a lifetime of effort and evolution, as we learn through our mistakes and experiences, to lean more firmly on transcendent truth. As we go through life trusting and building our lives on foundations that are not exactly true, we evolve and learn until finally we come to a true, foundational, eternal understanding of a transcendent ordering of our lives.
In this post, I’ve tried to explain faith. In the next post, I’ll dive into the faith stages.