The Lost Sheep

Luke 15:4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

This story begins with the pharisees and the scribes accusing Jesus of eating with undesirables and sinners. He responds with the parable of the lost sheep. If a shepherd loses just one of his sheep, he immediately leaves the ninety and nine and goes after that which is lost until the sheep is found.

This story is used often in religious settings in a boundary setting kind of way. Those who are found are those in the pews on Sunday, taking the sacrament, attending the meetings, doing home/visiting teaching, paying tithing. Those who are lost are not at church, or perhaps attending the wrong church. Especially so, if they were once attending church and have since stopped.  Are those who have never part of the flock really lost?

But I’m not sure this makes sense to me. It proves alienating to those close to me who have left Mormonism, some who appear far more found than I often feel. And that gets to the heart of it for me. Can someone be lost who actually attends church every Sunday? Can someone be perfectly found who never does? I offer that the answer can be yes to both questions.

Given that, let me put forth an alternative interpretation that perhaps interprets these verses a bit more literally: perhaps we are found, when we are found. Perhaps we are lost when we are lost. In this sense, the act of finding the lost sheep is perhaps both more difficult but also more straight forward. If someone is not truly lost, but we assume they are, the act of trying to rescue that person can cause conflict, confusion, misunderstanding and damaged relationships. If someone is truly lost, the act of rescue will be lifesaving.

Some examples. I have loved ones who have left Mormonism. But I don’t see them as lost at all. I talk to them frequently. We have a close relationship. We visit each other. They aren’t lost. I know exactly where they are. More importantly, they are well connected. They have friends, safety nets, careers, they serve in their community, they are striving in various ways, they are filled with love in their hearts, and they have a relationship with God and with others.

When I think of a category of people who are lost, I think of the lonely and forgotten elderly who are in the last years of their lives, often homebound, not visited enough. Now, there is a phase of life at then end, where this is not a lost state at all. You can be alone and perfectly found. I worry about those who are alone and lonely, sad, and scared. They are among the lost sheep and some of them sit in the pews next to me at church.

Network Theology

I have a soft spot in my heart for Adam Miller. He’s easy to like, a Mormon celebrity of sorts. In his book, Future Mormon, he has a chapter on network theology, where truth and essence is found in processes emergent in networks that exist in our global existence.  If we find God in our network, in our connections, than, it seems to be, we lose religion to the degree that we have become disconnected.

From Future Mormon

In network theology, an understanding of grace as an external, sovereign intervention is out of place. The model of a transcendent, sovereign power would be apt only if God were a king perched at the top of a cosmic hierarchy rather than a servant whose power resides in his solidarity with the poor and the outcast. What, then, might be an immanent notion of grace appropriate to a flat network cosmology?

Here grace can be understood as a systemic excess produced by the complexity of a network’s ongoing, local interactions. In other words, grace in an emergent property of a self-organizing system. Or, again: it is the unintended remainder of an unbalanced equation. This kind of ‘free,’ emergent excess – an excess that cannot be wholly accounted for by any individual relations or locally intended consequences – is essential to the success of any truth. Truths over-write banked knowledge by bringing into play the excess of a grace. By tracing novel pathways in light of a grace, truths open new network connections and new possibilities for productive interaction. It is the essentially productive aspect of any truth that ties truth to grace and grace to the promise of life (and renewed life) that is the heart of the Christian proclamation.

In this sense, then, what we should be striving for is not just individual development, but more importantly interdependent connections. Finding the lost sheep in this sense is to plug isolated individuals back into relationships and communities. Building up the gospel of Christ means connecting both religious (all religious) communities together in mutually beneficial relationships. It also means connecting secular communities into our networks as well. It means binding ourselves to each other both because of shared commitments but possibly more important because of our unique and individual differences and complementary gifts and perspectives.

Sin, in this sense is a move toward isolation. Think of any sin and consider that its effects are isolating. When I’ve been hurt I want to withdraw. Addictions usually happen in private or with strangers. A move to repentance is a move toward connection – we confess, forsake and seek restitution and where possible help others who similarly struggle.

But isolation just doesn’t happen individually. It can happen in our groups as well. Echo chambers happen within disconnected, closed networks of individuals in total agreement. Churches too happen worship in isolation, thankful that they have been separated from their brethren; believing that they have been elected God’s holy children.

For Christians, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Meaning, his life, his example is the way toward salvation. And Christ spent much of his ministry with the disconnected, the rejected. Christ’s mission was to build networks. I think this is the Christian mission as well.


Sodom and Gomorrah


Some Background First

First a few thoughts on Abraham as a historical person inspired exclusively from Introduction to the Hebrew Bible Second Edition.

“In fact, the stories of Genesis do not lend themselves easily to historical analysis. As Hermann Gunkel saw clearly, at the end of the nineteenth century, they belong not to the genre of historiography but to that of legend.”  pp. 89

Regardless of their historical value, the tales of the patriarchs remain powerful as stories. In large part this is because like all good folklore, they touch on perennial issues, such as jealousy between a woman and her rival (Sarah and Hagar) or rivalry between brothers (Jacob and Essau). Many of the stories are entertaining – Abraham’s ability to outwit the pharaoh or the gentle story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. Others are tales of terror, in the phrase of Phyllis Trible – the command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, or Lot’s willingness to to sacrifice his daughter’s to the men of Sodom. When the stories read as Scripture, they become more problematic because of a common but ill-founded assumption that all Scripture should be edifying. The stories of Genesis are often challenging and stimulating, but they seldom if ever propose simple models to be imitated. pp. 93

The stories of Genesis are old. Legend has it that Moses was the author, but scholars now believe this isn’t the case. Rather there have been several sources producing multiple stories. These stories originated orally, passed down over a long period of time before they were eventually recorded, intertwining much of these stories into the one we have recorded today.  I’ll leave it at that.

I prefer to read these as folklore. I prefer to read them as stories about ancient views of God rather than about God directly.  I know there is real evil in the world, but I think we often miss context and I hold onto the view that we would view individual circumstances with a lot more compassion if we really knew the full story. For example, I’m not sure any city deserves genocidal destruction as is described in this story.

Abraham and Lot

In addition to the commentary mentioned above, I’m also using the Jewish Study Bible, which has some amazing commentary that really enriches the reading of this story. From that, I’ll quote extensively.

In Genesis 13, Abraham and Lot travel out of Egypt into Negeb. They were both rich, having a lot of “flocks and herds and tents” and so the land they occupied could not sustain them both. In their interaction, time and time again, Abraham shows himself to be the more generous, tolerant and forward looking of the pair. Abraham offers Lot the choice of the land, and Abraham would make do with second best.

From the commentary on page 30:

Abram is characteristically generous and conciliatory, offering Lot the first choice of land. Lot, by contrast, is self-interested and immediately selects what he mistakenly takes to be the best. The narrator’s comparison of his portion to the garden of the Lord, a place of disobedience and curse, and to Egypt, a place of exile and oppression, suggests the short-sightedness of Lot’s choice. His settling near the archetypal sinners of Sodom contrasts with Abram, who faithfully remained in the land of Canaan.

Immediately after selecting the land near Sodom, the land is engulfed in war and Lot is imprisoned. Abraham immediately rescues him.  Which immediately shows Lot’s choice to be the riskier, but Abraham rescues his nephew as an act of courage and compassion.

In Genesis 18 and 19, both Abraham and Lot are visited in succession by visitors from the Lord. In Abraham’s case, the experience ends up with Abraham being told that Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. Abraham, again with grace, compassion and an extreme amount of gumption, negotiates with God pleading for passion and mercy, eventually getting God to agree to save the cities if ten righteous people could be found there.

In Genesis 19, the messengers visit Lot. The commentary:

19.1-3, The contrast between Abraham and Lot (discussed above, on ch 13) continues. Whereas Abraham sees the Lord (18.1), Lot sees only His two angelic attendants (19.1). Whereas Abraham runs to greet his visitors (18.2), Lot only rises (19.1). Whereas Abraham offers a sumptuous feast (18.6-8), Lot offers unleavened bread (19.3)


10. Lot’s passivity is patent and contrasts with Abraham’s daring challenge to God’s justice in the previous chapter (18.22-33). Gen. 19.29 will make it explicit that Lot’s escape is owing not to his own deeply irresolute character, but to God’s reliable commitment to Abraham. 14. Wherease Abraham, taking the impending destruction with the utmost seriousness, functions prophetically in hopes of averting the catastrophe, Lot is taken for a buffoon even by his own sons-in-law and cannot save them.

Lot’s weakness and inconstancy would have done him in, had it not been for the Lord’s mercy on him (v.16). His weakness and self-interest, however result in the sparing of one town. (v18-22), whereas Abraham’s audacious and principled intervention (18.22-33) proved unable to save anyone.

Final Thoughts

So, as we all know, God eventually destroys the region, Lot’s wife is turned to salt, Lot’s daughters bear sons from his father (believing the world had ended with them as the lone survivors).

Lot’s heart I think is good, but he is weak and self-interested. Abraham acts with more depth, graciousness and compassion. When there is conflict over land, Abraham offers Lot the first choice. Lot chooses superficially, seeing the natural beauty and resources, but missing the risks of trying to live in a  hotly-contested, occupied land rich in natural resources. He is almost immediately captured in war. And then eventually loses everything when the entire region is destroyed because of the wickedness of the people there.

Abraham, by contrast, remains in the land promised him by God. He is quick to recognize God’s messengers. Quick in hospitality. Quick to think and act compassionately, trying to prevent destruction.

I’m not sure this story is really about obedience. Rather, it’s about kindness, compassion, wisdom, and understanding. Lessons that are learned over a lifetime of struggle, study, searching and growth.

I’m wondering if it would have been possible to save Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m wondering how the story would have been different if Lot had chosen to remain in Canaan forcing Abraham to find another place. Would Abraham have chosen Jordan? Would he have done better in finding ten righteous people?

City Tempe Council Debate Live Blogging

Well not live… I’m behind the curve. Here’s the video:

First of all there six candidates vying for three seats. I’m not going to summarize their resumes here. They each have a website that does a better job of that.

Lauren Kuby, Robin Arredendo-Savage,Justin StewartGenevieve Vega, Sarah Kader, Jennifer Adams


Apparently, long-time, multiple generational Tempe residents seems to be the most valued attribute here. I don’t know how much that matters. I do like to see years of experience serving and working on Tempe issues and most of the candidates seem to have this.

The Questions

Are you a good person? The first question isn’t great. Given examples of local officials with personal failings, how can we be assured you are a good person. Predictably, every person responds that they are great, with great character.

Transparency Issues in City Government? Incumbents say we are transparent, contenders say we need more of it. I’m guessing most city residents have no idea and spend precious little time trying wondering what the city is doing.
Genevieve had a good response to this question. The issue isn’t transparency directly, but more communication. Getting information out to residents so they can take advantage of services. I wish I knew what she thought would be effective in accomplishing this.

Traffic? Justin Stewart advocates spreading out development? Which eh… I think there are advantages of density. Multiple people are advocating multi-modal transportation. Jennifer Adams would like to try to encourage employers to stagger start/stop time? I’m wondering how effective this could be.  A few people advocate bridges and overpasses. I’m wondering how disruptive and costly these could be? Lauren Kuby advocates no fatalities. How do you do that? Sarah Kader talks about insufficient data gathering when growth explodes. Not sure what she means here.

Tempe Business Success?  I hate using tax incentives to attract businesses which gives them an unfair advantage over those who don’t get it. See the latest example here. I think these things should never happen. Justin Stewart had a decent answer to this but needs to give a stronger opposition. Lauren Kuby defends her vote for this tax incentive, rather weakly in my opinion. Robin Arredendo-Savage defends her vote for it and defends the Tempe marketplace tax incentives. I think Tempe has enough advantages in terms of location, ASU, etc. so I believe businesses will come here without the tax incentives. Sarah Kader seems to be against it. The outsiders have the best answers here, but I wish they came out against this more forcefully.

Quality of Life in Tempe? Lauren Kuby wants to increase Tempe shade. I agree this is a good focus given our heat, made worse by pavement.  Sarah Kader believes growth is not benefiting local residents enough. Justin Stewart wants to improve quality through open and continuous communication between the community and the council. But can’t seem to point out specific examples of this. He does point out rising rents but does this come from a lack of communication? Jennifer Adams points out how unsafe Tempe is, relatively speaking as well as rising water rates. Genevieve Vegas talks about how Tempeans lack access to healthcare. But I’m not sure how to really fix it, and she didn’t really offer a solution. Robin Arredendo-Savage describes her satisfaction surveys and gives specific examples how they responded to complaints like bulk trash.

Pre-K sustainability? Apparently, the city of Tempe did a limited pilot program to fund pre-k for Tempe residents. Jennifer Adams believes this should be turned over to the schools. Lauren Kuby says the city took this on because the state hasn’t, given that Tempe is a blue-ish city in a red state, I guess these are the things to be done. Sarah Kader believes the city should be doing this and is committed to continuing this. Justin Stewart supports it. Robin Arredendo-Savage I believe supports it but worries about the transparency of the program and long-term funding of it.  Genevieve Vega supports it, but believes the voters need to approve its expansion and funding.

High density inner-city development concerns? Robin Arredendo-Savage is concerned with density, wants to include residents (NIMBY) in growth and expansion to preserve character neighborhoods (NIMBY). Genevieve Vega believes also growth should be approved and communicated through neighborhoods. The process isn’t already followed today. Jennifer Adams also believes development should be passed through neighborhoods and explicitly mentioned NIMBY style development. Lauren Kuby is worried about historical preservation (me too). Sarah Kader said that high density housing can also mean affordable housing. What is Tempe doing to provide affordable housing? I think she has the best answer. Justin Stewart really advocates the 20/40 plan and we should stop granting approvals to developers. The housings that are being built are $450,000 condos. Families are not moving in. I like Justin’s answer, but again, what does he plan on doing about it?

The problem with community approved development is they really don’t factor in those who don’t yet live here but would like to, and tends to prioritize home owners over renters.

Enhanced preservation in downtown Tempe?  Sarah Kader supports it. Justin Stewart advocates village planning committees to manage development. Robin Arredendo-Savage wants to hold onto the history and the historical buildings in Tempe. Genevieve Vega is a fan of adaptive re-use. Jennifer Adams was a facility manager for the city and has experience managing historical houses in Tempe. Loves history. Laura Kuby sites specific examples of preservation needs. Adaptive reuse has been put to good use.

They all seem to be really close on this position.

How many use the transit system? The public transit system is inadequate. Do you support the kind of density to support public transportation.

Justin Stewart advocates a smart density plan before we can put in more light rail. We need to connect north and south Tempe. Can we get smart density that is affordable? We aren’t getting it. Robin Arredendo-Savage wants to do a traffic study that includes bikes, pedestrian and bus routes. This is new. Urban core traffic study. Short & long term goals partnering with ASU to change. Jennifer Adams uses light rail regularly. We need more transportation. Extend orbit down to south Tempe. Lauren Kuby is seeing an increased use of electric bikes. Increase neighborhood circulator. Density is context specific. Belongs in the downtown. Walk completely in shade because shade is a transportation issue. Genevieve Vega wants to use IoT (Internet of Things), use a mobile app to display bus and orbit locations. She supports urban forestry. Sarah Kader knows that transportation issues disproportionately affects the poor. We can’t tie transportation to high density. We need to reduce wait time.

Again, I didn’t see a ton of differences in these answers.

Top 1 or 2 Economic Development Goals:

Genevieve Vega is a small business order. She wants to focus on local first, making it easier to start and run a business. She emphasizes human services – free tax prep as one example. Jennifer Adams loves small businesses, the heart of the community. We need to take care of small businesses, easier to get permits. Economic professional in the city that can focus on small businesses. Lauren Kuby agrees Genevieve Vega in terms of local first (by why the tax incentives???). She wants to move toward solar and alternative transportation modes. ASU is the leading university in entrepreneurship. Justin Stewart wants to embrace a more reliable, faster speed internet in Tempe. In 2005, 2006 tried to offer free wifi. How can Tempe embrace the internet. This will help everyone. Sara Kader wants to reduce the number of Tempe families living in poverty. 2040 goals doesn’t use the term “poverty” once. Increasing job training, reducing costs for families. Bring back the humanity in homelessness. Find the root cause of this issue. I think Sarah Kader won my vote with this answer. Robin Arredondo-Savage talks about her tax incentives have done good luring in big businesses, but they need to do more with small businesses. Permitting, customer service? Develop a youth workforce.

Many people own historic properties, would you support a capital improvement program to help with improvements. If so how?

Lauren Kuby would support this program through restricted land use resources. The flipping of the State Farm land sale, they get $2million for this. Genevieve Vega supports this type of program. Growth in our community through development allows reinvestment. We need to keep these designations on these types of properties. Robin Arredondo-Savage describes that in a lot of historical homes are not lived in by the owners. Jennifer Adams wants a line-item in our budget for sustainability. Provide a special fund for historical building preservation. Sarah Kader wants to support our history through incentives and a historic fund. Justin Stewart loves this idea. He has a friend who has purchased an old rail-road house. The home could have been demolished. But his friend cleaned it up.

How would you connect with ASU students

Robin Arredondo-Savage sees the value of building relationships with ASU students. Has plan to talk to ASU student government to bridge communication channels. Sarah Kader wants to do some voter engagement with ASU students. A lot of students are registered to vote elsewhere although are affected by Tempe issues. Jennifer Adams has experience partnering with ASU to help get students experience with the city. Lauren Kuby has been mentoring ASU student for over 20 years. Daily, she talks to ASU students with ideas. One idea was to develop humble houses, sustainable houses for low-income.  Justin Stewart advocates include renters, get them involved, get them to know other neighbors. Genieve Varga has worked with ASU students in various capacities, and city council should be engaged and talking with ASU students. Involve them in projects with the city.

Climate Change – Tempe is a desert city, what have you done about water management

Jennifer Adams has been involved in sustainability studies with each new construction project. Our infrastructure needs to be built differently… Eh. Why didn’t you do this right the first time? Robin Arredondo-Savage talks about her experience on the council to manage parks at our golf courses and watering parks. Incentives for smart sprinklers, low-flow toilet rebates, xeroscaping. Give them the tools to do the right thing. Justin Stewart appreciates the number of rebates city of Tempe gives for water conservation. Genevieve Vegas advocates urban forests. Incentivize conservation. Smart meters. Lauren Kuby says that cities are responsible for 70% of global emissions. Start with the cities for the global climate. Maple-Ash is 12 degrees cooler than other parts of the valley – trees!. Sarah Kader shares the concern of temperature and water. Tempe is great.






Lesson 2: Abraham and Foreordination

35852_all_004_001-preexistenceBeing raised deeply within Mormonism there are some concepts that have become the water I’ve swam in. Certain bits of theology and specific verses I’ve heard read over and over again, embedding themselves deep within my consciousness. I accepted them as truth before I was even old enough to scrutinize them.  I’ve aged. And I’ve studied. In recent years, I’ve wandered into theology, pulling bits and pieces from various sources. Along the way, I’ve encountered ideas and insights that have resonated and that seem to solve problems that my life demanded solutions for. None of these ideas at the time seem to conflict or contradict my childhood Mormon lessons. But I’ve brought them in, planted them like seeds in my heart, and have enjoyed the wonderful fruits of peace, expansiveness, and grace that I have in real ways experienced.

But as my faith foundation has shifted along the way, there have been times, going through my Mormonism as I do, in the weekly correlated Sunday School lessons for example, when I’m confronted with these life-long, deeply recognizable verses that force me to reckon with the contradictions that have built up over the years – the very real tensions that exist between Mormon theology and the theology of making my life work.

This week is one example:

Abraham 3:

22 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

and in D&C 138

53 The Prophet Joseph Smith, and my father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work,

54 Including the building of the temples and the performance of ordinances therein for the redemption of the dead, were also in the spirit world.

55 I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.

Coming at these verses again with new eyes, I find them deeply uncomfortable. For one thing, I know first hand this theology was used by some to justify the church’s priesthood ban to black people, which has been discredited officially by the modern church. For another, what of those of us who haven’t been called into major leadership positions within the church? What of women who aren’t given this opportunity, and what of the countless billions of people inhabiting the earth throughout its history, some in the most humble of circumstances? Finally what of my mom, who has had trouble just leaving her house for pretty much her entire life?

Taking even a cursory scan of the world, it’s pretty easy to see the incredible injustices and inequality. I’m still haunted by the scene in the beautifully haunting book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, of the trash collector, hit by a car, and ignored for hours as he dies on the street, and then disposed of without attempts to find loved ones to notify of his death. One way to deal with this, I suppose, is to point to a forgotten pre-existent world and assume those born into difficulty, weakness and limitations deserved it for their lack of pre-existent valiancy.

Maybe my mother was not valiant enough to be born free from the mental illnesses and afflictions that bothered her, her entire life? What did I do in my pre-earth life to deserve my social anxieties? Or my father’s mother who struggled with mental illness?

I reject this kind of thinking. I think we all were called into weakness, limitations and suffering. I think we are weak to help us learn humility, I think we have injustice and inequality in this world, to remind us to have compassion, concern, and grace for each of those around us, especially those whose suffering exceeds are own.

Perhaps, these verses are just too narrow. Perhaps there could have been another pre-existent scene in which God gathers another group pre-existent spirits and saw their goodness, virtue and humility to exceed even those of the first and then proclaimed:

“And God saw these souls and wept, seeing that they were pure, lovely and good and proclaimed, these I will call into suffering, greater than most. Some will be born into poverty, some will suffer severe limitations of body, mind or spirit, some will be prone to addiction, some will suffer abuse. Most will be neglected and forgotten. But these are my truly chosen ones.”

And really, I think this is true for each of us. We all have gifts and weaknesses. We are born limited. We are born to suffer. But also, I think some of us really, truly are born to shine. And we ought to appreciate and revere the truly remarkable gifts some of us bring to this earth and send out as gifts to the world. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legendary orations and leadership in a time of American need. Or our prophets and leaders who organize, bless and uplift. Or our musicians and poets and artists who labor tirelessly in isolation on their craft, coming out just long enough to make this world a little more beautiful for the rest of us.

And let me pause on this point. My wife is a beautiful pianist, but she hasn’t been able to practice since getting married and having kids like she once was able to. To really make inspiring music requires a lifetime of sacrifice. Really, to pull together a single piece, requires hours of dedicated practice, isolated, alone and then to come up out of this isolation to put this sound out there into space for a brief moment.

I think someone has to be called into something like this. Maybe there was something pre-existency for artists and musicians just like those leaders mentioned in that verse above.

I hope we can apply these verses more universally. We were all chosen. We were all among the noble and great ones. It’s just up to us to figure out what we were chosen for. What we were called for. And then, along with that, to appreciate those around us, magnifying their callings in the most expansive ways possible.

Lesson 1: Moses Chapter 1



Did I say that this year was on the Old Testament? Well, we can’t start there, instead we detour into our own scriptures first, today Moses 1 in the Pearl of Great Price.  Joseph Smith spent a lot of time in the Bible and he took the liberty to come up with some extraordinary re-translations and expansions of Old Testament. The Book of Mose came out of this.

By the way, I have purchased a couple of books to help guide my way through the Old Testament, but they are en route, and we haven’t really started the Old Testament, so what follows is purely my ideas, and I’m taking a lot of liberties here.

A couple of pre-conditions. I’m reading it to optimize its applicability to my own life. I doubt I will ever encounter God face to face as Moses does here, so doesn’t seem relevant to me. I’m assuming a world as I encounter it now.

Re-reading Moses 1, to me it reads like poetry. Some specifics:

Verse 1: Mountains

God speaks to Moses when he “was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain,”

First of all, how did Moses get to the mountain? I’m imagining it wasn’t planned. Maybe he needed time alone, maybe he was trying to find solace or comfort. But whatever the circumstances he was in a situation where his mind was elevated beyond the daily concerns that tend to overwhelm our day. In other words, he was ready to step into deep time.

Verse 4: Eternity

“my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” God’s words never cease. Most of what we do does end, including and especially our words, the sounds and the music. Daniel Barenboim in his beautiful book on music, talks about the impermanence of sound here:

Sound does not remain, sound has a tendency to drop into silence. Therefore, sound has with silence is the equivalent of life and death. I think the fact that sound is drawn to silence, therefore sound has a tendency to die, that means that every note that you play or sing has a tendency to die puts you in direct contact with the feeling of death more than anything I can think of because its not in your imagination only because its physically in front of you whether you are playing or listening.

But there’s also sometime permanent about it as well here:

Sound is extraordinary because it doesn’t live in this world. Whoever makes a sound, he is literally bringing this sound into the world. And yet when it comes to this world, it suddenly acquires a human dimension, it acquires a dimension that makes humans move. I know know of no other phenomenon that is a purely physical phenomenon that takes another dimension.

If God’s works and words never cease, what specifically does that mean? I can think of experiences and emotions in my life, both good and bad, that etch deep within me. They become part of me and if I’m eternal, and if God’s words can embed within me, they become eternal as well.

Verse 6: Grace and Truth

Let me assume this is the primary substance of God, grace and truth. This is what constitutes divinity, grace and truth. In that sense, God knows us, inside and out, all parts of us, our good and our bad, our darkest secrets and our most proud, public achievements, and most importantly, the broad context of our lives. If this is true, God’s grace means, we are loved anyway. I think this is how we should all aspire to be. To know things as they really are as fully and completely as possible, and then to approach the world with as much compassion and grace we can muster.

Verse 6: All things are Present For I know them all

Imagine that all things are now, present. We’re perfectly aware of everything around us. We ignore nothing. How often do I sleepwalk through my day. Ignore real suffering and especially how often do I miss a problem I’m in a position to solve. Are there people or things calling for my attention that I purposely cast aside?

I’m not sure I’m capable to be in a constant state of presence and awareness. But this is a divine attribute and something I should strive for.

Verse 20: The bitterness of hell

God leaves Moses and he is left alone. In this moment, Satan visits him and demands Moses worship. Moses refuses and in the exchange Satan expresses frustration causing Moses to feel the “bitterness of hell”.

There are two possibilities each of us must reckon with. We can either find connection and solidarity with each other in love and equality and concern. Become present and aware. Or we can withdraw within and demand others to pay attention to us. In other words, we can make everything about ourselves or we can be more concerned with our relationships and our connection.

I have had experiences with both and at times I’ve sought for and received attention and praise. And it’s incredible and fulfilling but temporary and fleeting. There have been times when I’ve wanted it but didn’t get it and I’ve fallen into the bitterness of rejection.

I think God here shows us the better way.

Verse 34: Adam, which is many

“And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.” Ok, this is weird. Adam which is many? This, for me, gives room for Adam as an archetype and not a real person and theological room for evolution – of which Mormonism is officially neutral.


I’m Going All in on the Old Testament This Year

downloadYou know by now, I’m Mormon, right? As a Mormon, we have these really intense Sunday services, three hours worth, the second hour of which is Sunday School. The Mormon church has an extended scriptural cannon that goes beyond the Bible and for the purposes of Sunday School, we spend a year on each one. Getting through all of them in four years – the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and Church History – primarily the Doctrine and Covenants. This year is the Old Testament. These lessons then repeat every four years.  As a lifelong member, I have now sat through these lessons multiple times, and did I say they repeat?

The church organizes Sunday School in a very particular and perfectly valid way. We are a church of hierarchy, revelations and prophets. Much of this, then, is driven from the top down and much of it began in the 1960’s correlation headed up by then apostle, Harold B. Lee. The result of this is that Mormon Sunday School, is a very directed walk through the scriptures as organized and informed within modern Mormon interpretations and prophetic revelation frameworks.. We are informed by the scripture, but more often the scripture is used to firm-up these more modern frameworks and understandings.

I’m fine with this approach, but this year, in my personal journey through the Sunday School curriculum, I’m going to pull from other sources. Most importantly, I’m going to try to drink as deeply as I possibly can from the scriptures themselves and give less heed to the manual prompts. This will likely mean I will get different kinds of lessons than the ones intended from church correlation. Which I think is the whole point of personal scripture study.

There are a couple of potential consequences to this approach. I’ll be a little more disconnected from the flow of the in-class discussion. I don’t want to disrupt this flow. I’ll try to participate still, but I’ll have to find moments of overlap, some Sundays, perhaps I won’t find them. And it’s a large class, even when I have a comment to share, there’s not always an opportunity. But at a minimum I’ll try to listen this year, I promise.

But because I will likely trudge down slightly (or significantly) different paths through the Old Testament than the class, I’m going to use this blog to express whatever insights I find.

This is not a New Year’s resolution. I may completely flame out. We’ll see. I’ll do it, time, energy and interest permitting. I’m hoping for weekly, but we’ll see.

A couple of thoughts about the Bible and the Old Testament specifically:

First of all, one of my reference books which has been highly recommended from multiple of people I know, written by a BYU professor and Mormon scholar, David Bokovoy, is “Authoring the Old Testament”.  He wrote a nice introductory article recently, entitled 5 Things to Know Before Studying the Old Testament.  His basic suggestion is to avoid treating the Old Testament as a single book. It’s not, obviously. It’s a vast, complicated library of perspectives and genres over a thousand year history. As such, it’s full of contradictions and tensions and is easy to misinterpret. His basic recommendation is to recognize this, have fun with it, recognize its antiquity, feel free to re-apply its lessons to our own circumstances, but don’t get carried away. It really wasn’t written for our day and don’t try to force it too much.

I think this should be exciting. I hope it is. Again, I may flame out. We’ll see.

My Prayer for the New Year

I pray that I can enjoy each moment of the year as it passes, to be fully present, to take care of each breadth, to make more room for myself and for others. I pray that I can strive a little bit less and forget myself a little bit more. I pray that I will have patience with myself in the forgetting. I pray that I can allow myself to grow in the ways I was meant to grow, through nurture, care, love and concern and in turn do the same for others. Rather than fall into the traps of expectations, manipulations and self-will, trying to move down preconceived paths I was never meant to go down. I pray that I can make my own little garden a little more nutrient and conducive for natural growth, bearing more abundant fruits to both enjoy and share with others. My prayer is in a little more surrender, a little more peace and as the serenity prayer suggests, a little more wisdom and courage.