Does it Work?

Mormonism has been a central influence in my life. My Mormon heritage goes way back almost to the church’s beginning on both sides of my genealogical line. On my father’s side, Turley’s settled Arizona as the Mormon church headed south from Utah. On my mom’s side, they were the earliest Mormon immigrants from Sweden.

But more importantly to me, Mormonism meant everything to my parents. Their whole world was wrapped up in it and as such their worldview became mine.

So, as I was forced to make my way in the world trying to reach my own personal goals while overcoming my own inhibitions and weaknesses, I’ve leaned on my faith and my faith community to provide the necessary guidance and support. This came at an early age and here there were plenty of influential people – youth advisors, seminary teachers. None of them were necessarily skilled in human development or psychology, but they cared, deeply and I felt their concern and that was significant for me.

Serving a two year mission was also transformative. It was structured and focused and allowed me to pour myself into a church and faith centered two year ministry. I learned how to not be afraid to talk to strangers on the street. I gained confidence there.

As I’ve aged, I’ve also taken on more complexity and greater responsibility, in my career and in my family. I found someone who said yes to my marriage proposal, we have four kids with their own individual needs. The challenging have gotten bigger. In my interactions with my kids, colleagues, work and other settings, I’ve felt the pain as my limitations have kept me from achieving and experiencing greater peace.

But looking back I would say Mormonism has largely worked for me. It has not been perfect. Most significantly, I’ve felt too much inappropriate shame within a religious setting. Admittedly, much of this was self-applied but at times it came from the gospel inartfuly rendered by unskilled and untrained religious leaders. We have a lay leadership and at times this can be a flaw every much as it has been a feature.

As a result and gratefully, my horizons have expanded. I’ve read other books, I’ve had other mentors. I’ve leaned on friends and resources outside of the church in various and important ways that have provided balance, allowing me to fill the gaps. With more maturity I’ve been able to absorb Mormonism with more gracefulness and compassion.

In Galatians 5:22, it says:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

This scripture is often quoted within Mormonism. We lean on this concept heavily. This is our pursuit as we seek for goodness, kindness and good works. I have felt powerful feelings of peace as I’ve read the Book of Mormon and as I’ve attended church. The Spirit of love is there nearly every week, especially as I’ve been open to it.

But I think at times Mormonism can lean too heavily on empirical evidence. We want to prove our historical truth claims and have probably spent too much of our time and resources trying to do so. But for me, the more important question, the essential question actually is, does it work? Does it make my life better? Can I achieve my goals in the world with the help and support of my religion? Am I able to find transcendence and peace with and through my religion.

These questions are not straight forward and much of this requires my own effort. I need to spend more time in meditation and prayer. I need to seek for better balance. I love this essay.

Sometimes I meet Mormons who believe that a quality life is defined exclusively by Mormon milestones. “My kids all went on missions, married in the temple, and produced lots of grandchildren,” they might say. But those characteristics don’t necessarily indicate a quality life. Going on a mission, marrying in the temple, and having kids—all these milestones have the veneer of success but not necessarily the substance.

A better measure of a quality life is whether we’re pursuing a balanced approach to truth, beauty, and goodness. That measure works inside or outside of any belief system.

I agree with this. For me, the measure of whether something is good is whether it works and whether I can make it work. Is it making my life better, my relationships richer, my life more balanced. Let me fix that, nothing can really do that for me. But within the framework of Mormonism, am I able to do that for myself? If not, then it’s a sign, perhaps that something needs to change, adjustments need to be made. If so, I’m on a good path.

And for me in my life, Mormonism has been good and in that sense true. But my life is not yet over. I want to keep digging, keep reading. I want to deepen my faith, I want to live my life with more peace, more balance. And my challenges are going to change. I’m going to keep getting older and as I age, more of my life is going to get taken away from me. Can I accept this with grace and gratitude? Life is going to get excruciating at times. Challenges are still ahead of me. I hope I’m up for it.  I hope my faith is too.

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Paying for College

My oldest daughter is getting close to high school which means that now is the time to think about how will she get it funded. We’ve actually been thinking about this for a while but the urgency has now elevated. Because what she does in high school will set her up for the next stage in life.

This is crucial because since I went to school all those years ago, college has gotten a lot more competitive and a lot more expensive to attend. Competitive because more people are going to college now – both in the US and from international locations. A college degree has become almost a requirement for a larger percentage of the professions out there, it’s become the new high school degree. As a result, a much higher percentage of college aged people are trying to attend. Additionally, as other countries have developed, a much larger number of international students are coming to our universities. Furthermore, while the demand has grown, the supply hasn’t necessarily kept up, especially among elite universities. The elite universities that existed when I was applying are largely the same elite universities that exist today, but are now significantly more difficult to get into.

And college has gotten more expensive. Blame it on the 2008 recession and state governments unwillingness to subsidize tuition at the same rates. This obsessive drive to  to keep cutting taxes has cut available state funds and schools have taken the brunt of this. The state simply does not subsidize tuition nearly as generous as they once did. For me individually, paying for college was trivial. My parents made barely anything, I was among the top of my graduating class. I was able to pay for everything – tuition, board, entertainment, everything, through scholarships and grants and graduated with no debt.

I’m not sure what kind of student my kids will be. My daughter has been home-schooled up until basically now. We just enrolled her. She has shown discipline and a willingness to work. She has academic strengths and weaknesses. I have no real interest in pushing any of my kids in the race to the top. I hope that we can encourage but that hopefully they will be self-driven. But unless something drastic happens between now and their college years, they will not have the benefit of poverty to get them access to the same kind of generous aid I enjoyed.

But I expect my kids to be college bound, I just don’t have a good sense yet at what level is going to be appropriate for them.

With all of that as background, here is my basic strategy:

1) Our retirement is more important. We have to be able to pay for our old age. I’m willing and want to work as long as I possibly can, but at some point I just won’t be able to. At that point, whatever we’ve been able to save has got to last until me and my wife die.

2) We will save as much as we can in ways that are flexible. We have Roth’s, we have stocks, we have a 401k. All of this money can be used for our retirement, but a portion can be used for our children’s college education.

3) We have kicked off a 529 plan which will be money reserved only for children’s education. Considering retirement comes first, we’ll see how big this fund can grow.

4) Financial Aid

We expect our kids to take ownership of their education. I really want them to attend a university that wants them and proves it through scholarship offerings.If my kids want to pursue a university, especially an expensive one, I don’t expect that I (or they) will have to foot the entire, expensive bill. Otherwise, they simply don’t want my kids badly enough.

And I want this desire to be authentic. My goal as a parent for my kids in their high school years is to help instill in them a passion that can be nurtured and developed in college. If they have that and if they find an incredible situation at a university, they should have no problem expressing that passion to an enrollment board. That should be enough, I would hope, to get them in with financial aid.

So, this means starting as a freshman in high school, their grades will matter, their extra-curricular activities will matter. They will need to build up a “resume” to show that they have what it takes to make a significant contribution to the college they attend. They will then have to show this in a competitive environment and hopefully find a school willing to help get them there.

5) The Option to Start Slow and Experiment

Now, I’m not counting on this happening. I hope I can do whatever it takes to increase the odds, but it may not happen. My kids likely will end up like most kids and not yet have a clear idea of what they’d like to study coming out of high school. If that’s the case, an expensive school is likely not a fit. They can always explore and experiment by taking a year off or by taking classes at a junior college or they will always be able to live at home and attend the local state university only a few blocks from our house.

6) The Option to Take Student Loans

I believe student loans are a viable option to bridge the gap. The amount of debt my children take on should be directly proportional to the amount of income the degree will eventually generate once they graduate. And they should only take out loans to any significant degree once they have a clear path in front of them and should do whatever they can to minimize the burden.

In summary, my strategy is multi-faceted. I will encourage them, educate them, give them every opportunity to explore and learn and develop themselves into college bound students and help them market themselves in a way to maximize their opportunity to get whatever financial aid is available to them. Beyond that, I hope to save as much as I can. We live near a university, and hopefully will be when they begin attending a university, and we’d love to have them with us as they attend college. Finally, they will have to take ownership of their educational future.

Unfortunately, our government has not prioritized education to a high enough level to make it broadly affordable. Additionally, the wealth in our country sits in the bank accounts of a very small percentage of the country’s population. The rich have no trouble, no matter the price, to pay for college tuition. But I still believe anyone who wants to go to college can, it just takes a bit of additional planning and flexibility.

Please note, I’m not an expert on this subject, these are just my collection of thoughts based on conversations and reading over the years.

A Bible, A Bible

In 2 Nephi 29, The Book of Mormon is almost, “speaking from the dust”, justifying its own existence to those who reject any additional Christian Biblical scripture, right here:

And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people.

Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

I think these verses make two distinct arguments, the first is an accusation. Those who claim the Bible often don’t appreciate it, its heritage or the people who produced it. The second is to point out how limiting a closed canon can be, that God works with and through all of his children, all over the world and as such we should expect books of scripture to spring forth from all across the globe. In fact this multi-ethnic witness of Christ and goodness essentially shows God’s unconditional love for all of us no matter where we live. Inspired Muslims, Hindus, Christians of all denominations, and even scientists, secularists and atheists, teach us that God is willing to speak to us in the language we understand the best – God speaks science, secularism, Hindi, Muslim and Christian.

This idea of an open cannon, of continued revelation, of a God who speaks to and through all of us is a gift that Mormonism has given to the world. If the Book of Mormon had come out of the Muslim tradition, I could imagine the Book of Mormon changed to say: “A Kuran, a Kuran, we have got the Kuran.”

What I’m afraid of, though, is that Mormons often reject this very idea and are in danger of making the same mistake, assuming an only slightly more open God and cannon to include scriptures given to us from Joseph Smith and from Salt Lake. For some of us, perhaps we are in danger of falling into the same trap and might be tempted to say… “A Book of Mormon, A Book of Mormon, we have got a Book of Mormon.” I hope not. Deeply embedded within Mormonism is a wonderful paradox. We claim to have the fullness of the everlasting gospel, but we also have a theological humility and openness littered throughout our theology. In the Articles of Faith 9 & 13:

 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.

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

In D&C 88:118:

 118 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teachone another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the bestbooks words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

I believe revelation comes from everywhere, from all sources and we should be open, both heart, hand and mind to receive it. And receive it we must. The Book of Mormon gives us this warning – quoting Isaiah in 2 Nephi 15:20

20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Here I believe we have been called to be sophisticated consumers of goodness. Not only shouldn’t we accuse another who is aspiring to goodness evil, but I think we should embrace, work with, learn from, and appreciate goodness and light wherever we find it. And light is shining from more sources than we realize.