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March, 2012

  1. Does God play the accordion?

    March 28, 2012 by Ryan

    Does God play the accordion?

    No, really. I think it is a good question.

    People, with various assumed roles of authority, tell me that God can do everything. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, etc.

    I heard someone once hypothesize that God cannot give His earthly children talents which He Himself does not already possess.

    So I want to know if He plays the accordion?

    Going on the above theory, I would reason He must be good at it – better than the best earthly talents we have ever seen, or will ever see. Pietro Deiro, Pietro Frosini, Charles Magnante, Anthony Galla-Rini, Charles Nunzio, Guido Deiro, Daniel Desiderio, John Gart, Joe Biviano, Carmen Carrozza, Weird Al Yankovic, and J. Ryan Beardall – all are good, but God must be greater!

    I wonder if He plays “by ear” or uses sheet music? He must have good hearing – after all, the same theory would say that He can hear better than all of His creations. That would include the high noises that dogs can detect, as well as a pin dropping on the other side of the universe, right?

    Might I one day approach the heavenly throne, and hear “Lady of Spain” emanating from the divine light? “Just getting in some practice time,” He will explain as He unstraps the instrument.

    In my limited earthly understanding, to be that good means that He has practiced a lot. You don’t get to be that good just by picking it up and playing the first time.

    When He says He that feels like He has been playing the accordion for an eternity, might He actually mean it?

    Granted, these questions are perhaps not pertinent to my eternal salvation. The scriptures speak of “Hope, Faith, Repentance, Baptism, and Accordion Lessons” roughly in that order.

    This leads me to one other important question. What about football? Does the Almighty toss the pigskin? Seriously, does He don his shoulder pads and helmet and run the gridiron at spring training? If the prophet happens to ask for revelation in the right time and catches God in the right mood, might the response be a new proverb, “You can’t win the title in August but you can certainly lose it.”

    I think it only stands to reason. And since He plays football, He is going to need an accordionist to play in the band and cheer Him on!

    After all, He can’t play both at the same time, can He. . .?


  2. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

    March 18, 2012 by Ryan

    I enjoy Reverend Ken Klaus’ Lutheran Hour Ministries Daily Devotions, a 3 – 4 minute daily podcast (yes, a Mormon listens to the Lutheran Hour program. I figure it is OK because I’m certain that at least one Lutheran out there listens to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). Today, I thought I’d try to write something in the style of his program. It is not exactly my style, but I sometimes like to challenge myself to write in a way to imitate others.

    . . .

    The text for today’s devotion from the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, recorded in Mathew Chapter 6:

    “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

    . . .

    Visiting the Falkland Islands is a bit like stepping back in time. The approximately 3,000 Islanders who live 290 miles east of the coast of mainland South America the South Atlantic Ocean live a simple life. Most still heat their homes with peat stoves, grow their own vegetables, and raise chickens for their soft-boiled eggs. Modern life has not caught up with them yet, and the city fathers seem content with that.

    All of this is threatened to change, because they believe they have discovered bubblin’ crude.

    Black Gold.

    Texas Tea.

    Oil, that is!

    If the early exploration efforts prove correct, this island “may already be a winner” of an economic lottery.

    Rightfully, the long-timers are concerned.

    They recognize that the sudden influx of large sums of money, which they did not earn by the sweat of their brow, might have terrible consequences on the spirituality of the people.

    The love of money – and the comforts and false sense of security it can buy – can do things to people. It can divert their attention away from things which are truly important – the love of neighbor, the focus of family, and the worship of their God.

    Now don’t get me wrong… money itself is not the problem. It is possible to possess money and handle it responsibly. But as Paul warned Timothy, “the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

    Managing money is a temptation which many people have proven to be too hard to handle. Examples abound in the histories of the nations, in the Holy Word of scripture, and in the lives of individuals of those who have obtained riches, become a little bit comfortable in their riches; boasted a bit of their strength and prosperity; and forgotten to worship God. When the people become slow to remember their God, He sometimes returns the favor.

    We already should feel that we owe a debt of gratitude to Jesus for what He has done to rescue our souls from death and Hell. Let us be careful in the management of our lives and our finances to prioritize our desires and remember where true rewards are found.

    . . .

    We pray:

    May we be in tune with Thy precepts, and not let the things of the world crowd Thee out of our hearts and minds. May we manage our resources which Thou has blessed us with, wisely and with thankful hearts toward Thee. May we present a good example of a follower of Thee to all who observe our daily walk and conversation. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

    . . .

    Associated Press article:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ifuHTvMuaO3zGf6b9wT5bjEYVBUA?docId=26c329cbd29a492a96ee60048a5cda63


  3. What shall they do which are baptized for the dead?

    March 12, 2012 by Ryan

    There has been stories in the news recently saying how the Mormons have endeavored to perform baptisms in behalf of deceased holocaust victims or celebrities. Being a card-carrying, faith-filled member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’d like to give you an insider perspective on this story.

    Let me assure you that I’m disturbed by these reports as you are, and I think the vast majority of my fellow church members are as well. The way the reports sound make it appear as if all the members of the church are in a conspiracy to do this, and might even sound like we are attempting to lie and cover-up our actions.

    To help you better understand, think for a moment about people you know from all walks of life who have good intentions, but go about doing them in the wrong ways.  From people who send gifts to their favorite television characters on their fictional birthday; parents who corner you at work and relentlessly insist you donate to their daughters girl-scout troop; people with political or religious pamphlets who don’t know when to stop shoving them into your face; or someone who has a message to share and emails everyone in an address book multiple times. People often have good intentions and sometimes get carried away in their actions. Those misfires often hurt their cause by tarnishing its image.

    I believe something similar is happening in this situation. One bad apple is making the entire barrel look bad.

    The process of performing baptisms for the dead begins far outside of the temples. Individuals are encouraged to research and discover their own personal family ancestry. It begins with individuals who scour all sorts of public records – birth, marriage, and death certificates, census records, emigration rolls, parish records; baptism certificates and cemetery maps. As people learn of their heritage, they are invited to contribute that information to a massive genealogical database. By sharing who your parents  and grandparents were, a distant cousin may locate you, and together you might share information and help each other discover more. Professional and amateur researchers alike find it incredibly fun to learn and document more of their own personal history.

    Optionally, those conducting this research can contribute the names and basic information about the people they find to the temple records. There are rules about name submission – primarily that you must be related to the individual, or have some direct personal connection. If you are not personally related, it is part of the requirements (and just plain good common sense) to seek permission from the living family members, where that is possible, before sending the names to the temple’s general file.

    Once those names arrive at the temple, they print up a 3″ x 5″ card for each person. The individual’s name, birthday, and birthplace are printed on blue or pink cards, for men or women respectively. When known, the parents or spouses names may also be printed on the card in smaller font, to help identify the individual better. Those cards arrive at the baptismal font.

    Now if you attend a typical baptism ceremony in most any religion you expect a few things. Prayers will be offered, perhaps a speech or two made, and general pomp, circumstance, and celebration surrounding the rite and the individual experiencing this life event. This is often true when a living person is baptized in the Mormon church too. Without knowing any differently, you might expect that Mormons are lighting candles and making a big production when they perform a baptism for someone who is deceased.

    Temple baptisms for the dead, however, have a bit more industrial feeling. The officiator and the person being baptized (the proxy) stand in the baptismal font. The officiator says a prayer similar to the very short prayer offered when a living Mormon receives baptism, with the added phrase “I baptize you for…” and then he reads the name on the card. After the “amen,” he then immerses the living proxy underwater. The proxy stands back up. Two witnesses seated font-side nod that everything happened according to proper procedure. They pick up the next 3″ by 5″ card with another name printed on it, and they do it again. This happens very quickly – imagine about 4 or 5 times a minute in rapid succession (spending about 12 to 15 seconds for each name). The proxy might repeat this for 10, 20, 30, or 40 deceased individuals in a row, depending on how many people are waiting in line to have a turn.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. Though it moves somewhat mechanically, I don’t want you to think that it is a meaningless performance. The feeling of the Holy Spirit is there. So why would they want to do that? To the minds of the Mormons, that ordinance of baptism is being provided for someone who cannot physically receive it. They are emulating an aspect of what the Savior did when he took upon Him the sins of each of us, who were unable to do so for ourselves. A checkmark is placed next to their name in the database so that it is known that the ordinance has been performed, and need not be repeated. Once that act has been performed, Mormons believe that in the world where spirits dwell after this life, that personage will be informed that this work has been performed in their behalf, and they will have the opportunity to accept or reject it of their own choosing. The choice will be theirs, just as they will have the opportunity to accept or reject the atoning sacrifice made in their behalf by the Savior Jesus Christ.

    Drawing back to make my main point: In this fast moving environment at the temple, the people in the font probably don’t know the person they are representing, whether it be a celebrity, holocaust victim, king or politician, or otherwise. The proxy is probably more concerned with breathing in-between submersions. Sometimes the person who comes to the font to be baptized brings her or his own researched names, but usually not. More often they just accept a stack of 3″ by 5″ cards with names and birthdates printed on them, which have been submitted to the “general file” by church members who enjoy doing genealogical research.

    When a famous identity is given the rites of baptism in the temple, there is probably no ill-intent happening at the baptismal font. Most likely there is not even a realization that it happened. No, if there is any intention to put names forward which are contrary to common sense or established guidelines, it is taking place in the process of research and name submission.

    If you have followed the news stories, you may have heard that the church has taken steps to closer watch the names being submitted, and prevent them from entering the system improperly. This truly is the best place to put the effort. With millions of volunteers submitting names, however, it will be impossible to police them all. A few bad apples are going to submit names which may even get past the spam-filter. The checks and balances of the system will catch that, and suspend their activity, or even initiate disciplinary action toward their church membership when they are knowingly or willfully rebelling against the rules.

    That sort of thing happens here on earth. Those dead persons have lived here, and now on the other side hopefully understand that we can’t always control the overzealous few with good intentions. The deceased souls always have the option to say “Thanks but no thanks!” on the other side.

    So hopefully they won’t be offended there, and hopefully their family here won’t take offense either. It is a gift of our time offered in love, with no strings attached.

    – – –

    For a detailed discussion of the doctrine why these baptisms are performed, I’ve included below an excerpt from “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn” by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

    The Ministry of Elijah

    Elijah was an Old Testament prophet through whom mighty miracles were performed. He sealed the heavens, and no rain fell in ancient Israel for 3½ years. He multiplied a widow’s meal and oil. He raised a young boy from the dead, and he called down fire from heaven in a challenge to the prophets of Baal. (See 1 Kings 17–18.) At the conclusion of Elijah’s mortal ministry, he “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11) and was translated.

    “We learn from latter-day revelation that Elijah held the sealing power of the Melchizedek Priesthood and was the last prophet to do so before the time of Jesus Christ” (Bible Dictionary, “Elijah”). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained, “The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the … fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood … ; and to … obtain … all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 311; emphasis added). This sacred sealing authority is essential for priesthood ordinances to be valid and binding both on earth and in heaven.

    Elijah appeared with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:3) and conferred this authority upon Peter, James, and John. Elijah appeared again with Moses and others on April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple and conferred the same keys upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

    Scripture records that Elijah the prophet stood before Joseph and Oliver and said:

    “Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—

    “To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—

    “Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (D&C 110:14–16).

    The restoration of the sealing authority by Elijah in 1836 was necessary to prepare the world for the Savior’s Second Coming and initiated a greatly increased and worldwide interest in family history research.

    The Spirit and Work of Elijah

    The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead. … For it is necessary that the sealing power should be in our hands to seal our children and our dead for the fulness of the dispensation of times—a dispensation to meet the promises made by Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world for the salvation of man. … Hence, God said, ‘I will send you Elijah the prophet’” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 475).

    Joseph further explained:

    “But what is the object of [the coming of Elijah]? or how is it to be fulfilled? The keys are to be delivered, the spirit of Elijah is to come, the Gospel to be established, the Saints of God gathered, Zion built up, and the Saints to come up as saviors on Mount Zion [see Obadiah 1:21].

    “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples … and going forth and receiving all the ordinances … in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead … ; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 472–73).

    Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught that the Spirit of Elijah is “a manifestation of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the divine nature of the family” (“A New Harvest Time,” Ensign, May 1998, 34). This distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members—both past and present.

    The Spirit of Elijah affects people inside and outside of the Church. However, as members of Christ’s restored Church, we have the covenant responsibility to search out our ancestors and provide for them the saving ordinances of the gospel. “They without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40; see also Teachings: Joseph Smith, 475). And “neither can we without our dead be made perfect” (D&C 128:15).

    For these reasons we do family history research, build temples, and perform vicarious ordinances. For these reasons Elijah was sent to restore the sealing authority that binds on earth and in heaven. We are the Lord’s agents in the work of salvation and exaltation that will prevent “the whole earth [from being] smitten with a curse” (D&C 110:15) when He returns again. This is our duty and great blessing.


  4. I’m Not Weird . . . Just Extra Fruity

    March 4, 2012 by Ryan

    Before I begin, a quick note: If you read this and think that I am telling a story about you, please know that this story is not judging you . . . it’s about revealing my weakness of character. You are only the means I use to reveal much more about me. So relax and enjoy.

    Not long ago, and relatively not too far away, I was visiting the home of some fairly normal people. Before the visit, in fact, I thought they were actually very normal – well, I guess if I ignored the fact that they once lived in a city with a population of 100, 000 other normal people. Something happened though, and they chose to move to a city of 7,000. After a few years of drinking the water there, they decided to escape that bustling metropolis and move again to another town of 2,000 people. But other than that, they were really pretty mainstream.

    It was then that they told me that they had recently started buying a special fruit basket every other week. I think this was some sort of ‘farmer’s market’ variation where they order a basket of fruit and vegetables online, and show up at a designated parking lot on a certain day and time, and pick up their produce. Except that it doesn’t actually come with a basket – they have to bring a box or a trunk or a covered wagon or whatever they use in their tiny town to put their food into and transport it home. And the other thing – they really don’t know what they are going to get when they sign up. They find out when they show up to pick it up. Which brings up the other great feature of this program: they ended up with more variety and quantity of fruit and vegetables then they know what to do with.

    A quick aside: Does anyone know any good recipes for kohl rabi or mooli radish that I can pass along to them?

    Finally, they claimed that this was the best thing they had done in a long time. They were saving so much money on their food budget, and they were trying new things that they wouldn’t have otherwise and didn’t believe they would ever enjoy.

    The proud and haughty skeptic in me slowly turned off and tuned out with each testimonial they offered. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll just go to the grocery store and buy my salty, fatty, pre-packaged foods, thank you very much. This sounds like some far-fetched multi-level-marketing thing to me. I already signed up for the U-Check grocery store scam, and that didn’t exactly work out. I’m not signing on to go to a parking lot to meet a basket case with fruit.

    This, I hastily decided, was simply too bizarre and unbelievable.

    Some days later, with a calmer mind prevailing, I was thinking of this experience again. I even ventured to look at the website for a moment. Not that I was going to sign up for myself, mind you… so that I could, out of love and concern, research and understand what kind of crop-circle cult these good people I know where now part of. That’s when the little voice in my head that sometimes speaks inconvenient truths spoke to me: “Some people think that some of the things that I do are unconventional too.”

    “No!” I immediately argued back with myself – of which, I might call attention to, holding conversations with oneself is not eccentric. Then I found myself quoting Doctor Otto Scratchansniff of the Animaniacs: “That’s not normal! I know normal!” But the voice inside began citing examples anyway.

    First, I hit myself with the thought: “I wake up early on Sunday morning, and spend a good 8 or 9 hours at Church every Sunday.” Now, wait a minute – three of those hours are part of the regular worship service. Wait, three hours for the worship service? That’s not exactly normal for most people. The rest of the time is spent in volunteer service acting as the clerk for the congregation. Uh, huh, normal boy, keep talking… because everyone else in the nation gets up early on Sunday mornings to devote that kind of time on a volunteer basis. Once a quarter, I take a turn cleaning the Church too. Most recently I scrubbed the toilets and mopped floors while the rest of my family took care of cleaning windows and chalkboards, and vacuuming halls and floors. Odd!

    Alright, so I’m not winning the argument of normalcy with my church attendance patterns. What else have I got? The inner voice responded next by quoting lyrics from the great boy band “Sons of Provo”:

    “People tell me ‘That’s funny to give a tenth of all your money.’
    But I do it no regret, cause of all the blessings that I get.”

    Admittedly, the fact alone that I am singing songs to myself by Sons of Provo might earn me a label in the categories of both bizarre and creepy. But giving a tithe to the Lord makes perfect sense to me. He gave me everything anyway, and it is a simple test of my faith to see if I am willing to part with a portion of what is His anyway. That’s perfectly normal. Uh, huh. In your world, sure. But in that world of 100,000 people your friends used to live around, not so much.

    How much debt do you have, normal boy? Um, that’s kind of personal, don’t you think? We are the same person, aren’t we? True. So how much debt have you got? I’ve got the house payment, which we have been trying to pay down extra principle payments to take care of that as quickly as possible (maybe we can stay on track to even have our 30 year loan paid off in 15). The cars are paid for. The credit cards are zero. And there is a little bit of savings in the bank for an emergency. You call that normal? How many of your neighbors can claim that? I doubt very many of them. That’s what I thought, Mr. Dave Ramsey.

    What about your alcohol consumption? None. Tea? I once had some homemade peppermint tea that my dad brewed up. I see. Coffee?  Interesting that you should bring that up… on my visits to South Carolina with work, I carry around a cup of ice cubes to get going in the morning, while everyone else has coffee. I smiled and thought that was … amusing. (this time my inner voice didn’t say anything – just nodded and smiled as if I was proving his point for him).

    Alright, alright. So buying and eating healthy fruits and vegetables is normal and wonderful to them. I’ll admit it… it seemed unusual to my perspective, but it is not all that strange. Happy now?

    The voice didn’t respond. I think I was punishing myself with the silence.

    OK, I’ll apologize to them for rolling my eyes at the dinner table when they brought it up.

    Nothing.

    Fine! Where on this website do I enter my blasted credit card?