Thursday, March 7, 2013

Leaf in the Wind

As the wind blows in the west
And trees grow up in a sunny glow
On dark paths, though I tread
I shall return to Thee, my Lord

                 Far off in the distant hills, where now travelers seldom journey, there grows a mighty oak tree, a pillar sticking out against its surroundings of grass and sage. A wash rolls next to the oak in early spring, but quietly disappears as the hot sun of summer dries the mostly exposed earth.
                Through some miracle of nature, one year when the rains and sun were just right, somehow the oak seed managed to take root in the wet soil while water was still abundant, and began its great journey of life, which began with no man recording it, and has lasted longer than for any man to note its end.
                One bright, glowing spring, the tree emerged from its winter slumber, with sprouts of green leafs coming forth at every angle and on every branch to soak in the warm bath of sunlight.
                They grew quickly in the idealistic conditions, all eager to enjoy the plenty the sun had to offer. They felt the glow and enjoyed the tingle of the wind rustling between them, with the companionship of hundreds of other leaves talking and moving around them. It truly was a bustling spring, with all sorts of life in the air, unfolding as a sublime dance in the sky and earth, tree, grass, and water.
                Yet there was one leaf which opened slowly and weak. When he finally emerged, he was curved and did not move easily in the wind like the others, but he kept growing and straightening. Soon, he stretched the tips of his green veins to their full length and could bath fully in the sunlight. He had missed some of the most radiant days of spring, but was determined to enjoy it no less. Perched near the top of the tree, he could see far the grasses making their wistful patterns in the evening wind, and the water tumbling in its dynamic formations. At his height the stronger winds allowed him to flip and flutter with more eagerness than all those around him.
                Leafs near enjoyed his company and good-nature, and they played and danced together. One leaf, that was slightly below and easily visible by him, particularly enjoyed his constant motion, and together they flickered sun towards each other in a golden dance of rays.
                Quickly though, the liveliness of spring swept into the dryness of summer, and some leaves wearied of the golden sun and windy dance. Some even fell quietly to the ground, leaving the sun and wind for the cooler, shade-filled ground.
                But not the leaf near the top of the tree. He still bathed in the sun and loved to dance. Some of his friends were gone, but most stayed. They did not dance as much as he, but once in a while, when the wind was just right, he could get them to. And the leaf just below, his favorite, still flickered back messages in the resplendent sun, and together they made music of light and green.
                The months rolled on and with each new summer day, more leaves dried and fell. When a rainstorm finally did come, it was not the exciting time as before, but a drudgery to be past. Except for a few, like the leaf at the top for the tree, who swayed gleefully with each new drop.
                But the rains grew colder and nights longer and leaves began to change color more and with each change of color, more drifted gracefully to join the others on the grassy ground. Soon most all his friends had left, and one day, even his friend just below made a last glimmer of her now yellow surface, then broke off, going back and forth in the air, as if waving an unwilling farewell to the friend above, and finally landing, joining old friends on the soft earth.
                He almost fell as well, in an attempt to catch that last joyous beam, to try and hold on to that brilliant glimpse which seemed so deeply burned into him. But he couldn’t. He didn’t. He held on, whirling in the wind.
                In the early evenings, though much colder, the wind spiraled around his now dry, and yellow-brown self, and for a moment he remembered those few spring days when the beautiful beams of the sun and moon glimmered and the warmth and light of life all around filled the grasses and the air completely.
                Then the wind would stop, night filled the atmosphere, and the chill air enveloped him. The memories of moments before would fade into the darkness of night.
                Shortly, snow fell and the few remaining leaves fell with it. Still the leaf near the top of the tree held on, the lone leaf, in a lone tree in a gray field of white. He saw his friends on the distant ground, including his golden friend, just before the snow comforter covered them.
                The snow piled high, and continued to stack up, yet the leaf held firm in the tree in the cold stale air.
                One day a traveler, rare as they are, walked over the small snow-covered hill where the oak tree stood. Looking up into the tree he thought to himself how curious that one leaf alone stood in the top of the tree. Though the man was tired, cold, and eager to return to his distant cabin, the peculiarity of the situation pushed him to take some snow in his hands, form it into a ball, and direct it toward the top of the tree.
                Flying just past the lone leaf, it made the stale air rush around him, and for a moment, the warmth and excitement of the event caused him to remember vague distant memories of sunbeams, dancing grasses, running water, and a leaf flickering back golden beams at him. The emotion and happiness of days gone by engulfed him as he broke from his perch and glided down onto the white plainness below. There he landed as one dark spot on the white background. All his friends feet below, he was alone, cold, and dead in a field of white.
                The traveler was about to trudge on to his cabin before night fell, but looked to the leaf and felt he could almost hear it mumbling a cry to itself, “I cannot ask you for anything, for what am I to you, but I am cold and alone, and impossibly distant from all I have ever known and loved sitting alone in this cold wasteland, because of my desire to dance in the wind.
                The traveler, half smiling, for hearing what perhaps was not there, turned quietly and moved meaningfully towards the lone dark dot. And though the air was getting colder, and the night was settling fast, the man pulled from his pack a small shovel, and began to dig into the pack of snow. Once his hole reached the earth, where grasses and leafs and water had already begun to melt together to create nutrients for new life, the man put the leaf quietly into his hands, looked at it with a smile that showed overwhelming covering sadness and disappointment, then dropped the leaf into the bottom of the hole. The hole was covered, and the traveler hurried on his way.
                The leaf in the wind now lay silently, under the white blanket, finally at peace.
                Standing quietly and firmly in the field, the oak tree still stands out from its surroundings of white, resilient despite sometimes harsh conditions, and grows from the nutrients of the leaves and grasses dancing together with earth and water, just beneath the snow. 

“To everything there is a season,
A time to every purpose under the heaven…
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
-Ecclesiastes 3: 1, 4

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The New Moon Rises, Dark and Stealth

Through the wind and hazy glaze
The New Moon rises dark and stealth
The world around is bleak and gray
With no ray to light the wanderer’s way

Away the sun, Away the moon
The New Moon rises dark and stealth
There is no light, no glory is seen
No hidden quality or golden beam

Yet it is the future, a deep black hope
While the New Moon rises dark and stealth
There is no fanfare, nor honor there
Simply the dark new moon,
                              an empty sky,
                                             and a future so near

The New Moon rises, dark and stealth.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ree Reh's Smile

There are few people who I have met that always have a smile on their face. Every time I see Ree Reh, he smiles, gives me a hug, and jokes with me. He will go up and talk to anyone and just start joking and smiling. His smile and good looks are contagious, and makes all those around him smile as well. The interesting thing about his jokes though is that I have never heard them. Ever.
Ree Reh is what I would call one of the ultimate minorities. Maybe he isn’t a Helen Keller, but close.

The Karenni are a minority group in Burma, about 1% of the population (reliable numbers are hard to find). They speak their own language, Karenni, and unlike their cousins the Karen, most of them don’t speak Burmese. They are about 90% Catholic. Burma is about 70% Burmese, and 90% Buddhist.

Because of their Christianity, among other things, they have been attacked, had their villages burned, and forced to flee from their homeland. Via refugee camps, a portion of those million or so Karenni people have made their way to the United States, and a portion of those to Utah. Here in Utah there are about 100 or so Karenni in a state of over 3 million, the only ones that speak their language. Ree Reh is one of them, but he is a small minority of those 100, he is deaf.

When Ree Reh came to America a few years ago he could not read or write any language. He was 14. He could limitedly communicate to his family through signs, who could in turn communicate with approximately 100 or so individuals who could speak Karenni. Needless to say, there was a communication barrier.
Fortunately, through the amazing efforts of people like my brother Andrew, Ree Reh can now read and write English. He can speak American Sign Language decently, and so communicate with an ever growing number of people. And this last Saturday, through holding up his hand next to my brother’s mouth to feel how the air comes out, Ree Reh triumphantly said “How are you?” to my family.

His is a story of optimism and cheerfulness in the face of all obstacles. I would find it difficult to be cheerful if I could not hear and not communicate with most anyone around me, I know this because when I arrived in Uruguay and couldn’t communicate well it was difficult to be cheerful. Ree Reh, however, never stops smiling.
Why someone would want to hurt someone like this, I will never know, and cannot imagine. But just that happened about a month ago, when two 18-20 year olds (who remain unidentified) took to punching Ree Reh in the face and back. One had brass knuckles. And after knocking him partially unconscious, they threw him in the Jordan River, on one of the coldest nights of the year. He had to climb through the snow and over fences, dripping blood along the way to get back to his apartment without running into the “men” (for how could they deserve such a title?). My brother interviewed him about the event and it is on his blog, here (the interview is about half way down, the whole article is interesting though).

The first time I saw Ree Reh, a while after the event, his face was still cut up and his back still had scars. He greeted me with a smile.
This photo was taken last saturday (you can see how quickly he has recovered, see Andrew's blog for pictures just after the incident). Here is messing around with my brother and some friends. He is in the middle in the white t-shirt with blue letters.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mormonism 21st Century: A Talk For Our Time

The year was 1837; just a few years ago the Mormon Saints in Kirtland Ohio had experienced what many had likened to the day of Pentecost (Grant 1844).  Many saw angels; others spoke in tongues (Smith 1978, 2: 378-436), and even felt inclined to say, “That day strikingly demonstrated that [Joseph Smith] was, indeed, a prophet of God raised up for the deliverance of Israel. (Grant 1844, 8,9)
                Yet somehow, just a few years later those same saints, who had seen angels, were calling Joseph Smith a fallen prophet (Smith 1978, 2:529).  No exact account of how many left the church is available, however estimates put it at about 13% of the church membership, including a third of the general authorities and all of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon (Backman 1989). Hundreds, particularly leaders, left the fledgling church they had been so supportive of just years before.
                Never in the history of the church has there been such an exodus of members, until now. On January 31 2012 Reuters reported on a discussion about the statistics of the church led by Marlin Jensen the LDS church historian.  According to the article a woman asked Jensen if the Church leadership was aware that people are “leaving in droves” from the church. To which Jensen replied, “We are aware and I'm speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church.”  He also said, “Not since a famous troublespot in Mormon history, the 1837 failure of a church bank in Kirtland, Ohio, have so many left the church.” This exodus has been highlighted by events such as the mass resignation which took place in Salt Lake City in June of 2012. Further evidence of the exodus is in the explosion of sites for former members such as and
Why the exodus? In many ways the reasons are similar to those of the Kirtland saints in 1937-38. Doubts about the legitimacy of Joseph Smith’s prophethood, secular and monetary pressures and lives not in accordance with church standards have likely all contributed now as then. Young members and some not so young have found out more of the truth behind the history of the church and felt deceived by the stories told them their whole lives. Joseph Smith’s wives, changes in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, details about the manuscript of the Book of Abraham, and more. Quickly they begin to doubt the faith they have grown up with, loved, lived in, and in many cases preached.  “Everything’s out there for them to consume if they want to Google it.” Marlin Jensen stated, “My own daughter has come to me and said, 'Dad, why didn't you ever tell me that Joseph Smith was a polygamist?’” 
Members and on-members alike have dug into church statistics and found some disturbing trends. Showing that not only is the church no longer the fastest growing religion, but in many ways is struggling to maintain its current membership, with fewer births per person, fewer baptisms per missionary, and more people leaving per congregation*.
And so where do we go from here? What is in the future? Perhaps looking back to the time of 1837 would be helpful. The apostasy of Kirtland was followed by one of the greatest explosions in doctrine and liberalization since the founding. The endowment, plural marriage, and the work for the dead all began to unfold in their fullness.
What do I expect from the church in the 21st century? One of the greatest expansions of doctrinal understanding in the history of the church, and nothing less. A talk given on a Sunday night to the youth is a clue. It was not coincidental that it was to the youth, as the future leaders of a less-dogmatic, more-open, and more-liberal church.
The talk entitled What Is Truth? is destined to become a classic. President Uchtdorf addressed the reasons many are leaving the church, pointing to the same ones I and others have seen, just giving different explanations behind them. Though he does rest some of the blame on “the advisory” for “[spreading] seeds of doubt” he also recognizes much of it is because of our own culture and deliberate attempts to not fully seek for truth and the whole truth.
A common accusation against the church is that members claim belief as knowledge. This has caused outsiders to criticize and some insiders to become outsiders. Uchtdorf acknowledged the error of this way of thinking. “We too often confuse belief with truth,” he said, “thinking that because something makes sense or is convenient, it must be true. Conversely, we sometimes don’t believe truth or reject it – because it would require us to change or admit that we were wrong. Often, truth is rejected because it doesn’t appear to be consistent with previous experiences.”
He continued “when the opinions or ‘truths’ of the others contradict our own, instead of considering the possibility that there could be information that might be helpful and augment or complement what we know, we often jump to conclusions or make assumptions that other person is misinformed, mentally challenged, or even intentionally trying to deceive.” This is counsel needed for Latter-day Saints.
Another common accusation against the church is that its members often accept what their leaders say on blind faith without ever questioning. This is, unfortunately, something characteristic of too many Latter-day Saints. President Uchtdorf acknowledges this and condemns it. “Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth.”
He used some classic quotes from early church leaders to support his argument about the importance of truth in Mormonism.  Quoting Brigham Young, “I am … afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. … Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates.” Most non-members would not believe that this quote comes from a Mormon prophet, many inside the church might ask “Is it really not part of our religion to blindly follow our leaders?”
Pres. Uchtdorf also used one of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith “Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or… being … prohibited by creeds superstitious notions of men.”
The idea that Mormons embrace truth from Hinduism, Buddhism, and even humanism seems so hipster, so liberal, so modern, so contrary to what people think about dogmatic Mormonism. Yet there it is as “The first and fundamental principal of our holy religion.”
Youth hearing this, will not readily forsake it. They will be leaders who seek truth in all its forms. What will we see in the 21st century church? Well I am no prophet, but I believe we will begin to get a glimpse of what Joseph Smith meant when he said, “truth without limitation.”
We will see liberalization in homosexual policy (as already being seen), on understanding and working with other faiths, on women in the priesthood, on our own history. Will women get the priesthood? I doubt it (but who knows!), however will women be able to give blessings again as they did during earlier times in the church, perhaps. Will we see a re-introduction of polygamy? I extremely doubt it. However I do expect a much more openness about the history of church involvement in the practice. Church history in general will become increasingly open (as we are starting to see in many ways) as will be necessary with an increasingly open world. This increased openness was seen when Gordon B. Hinckley recommended reading of Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman and will continue and accelerate.  Will some future prophet suggest we read D. Michael Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy? Maybe not. But the openness that allowed the creation of many of D. Michael Quinn’s books will be restored and even expanded. 
Perhaps we will finally get a few new additions to the Doctrine and Covenants, embracing those words of Joseph Smith that God “will yet reveal many great and important truths.”
I believe we are about to embark on an era of truth seeking akin to Joseph Smith’s original search for truth and perhaps even greater, where we will no longer rely on “the statements of Elders as much as we will the searching of our own heart and conscience.” There will be more questioning, more understanding, and more knowledge coming forth. To put it in a slightly more controversial terms, I believe the future will hold a lot more Holland and Uchtdorf.
The new generation will live the words of President Uchtdorf, “[by accepting] the responsibility to seek after truth with an open mind and a humble heart, you will become tolerant of others, more open to listen, more prepared to understand, more inclined to build up instead of tearing down, and more willing to go were the Lord wants you to go.” And that can only be a good thing for a church that is far too often too eager to ignore, too quick to judge, and too confident to question.
If you are one of those considering leaving, I would ask you to reconsider, as you may be missing a most interesting ride.

Works Cited

Backman, Milton V. Jr. "A Warning from Kirtland." Ensign, April 1989.
Grant, Jedediah M. Collection of Facts, Relative to the Course Taken by Elder Signey Rigdon in the States of Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Philidelphia: Bicking & Guilbert, 1844.8,9
Smith, Joseph. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2d. ed. rev., 7 vols. . Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. , 1978.
see also

Coltrin, Zebedee. Minutes of High Priest Meeting, Spanish Fork, Utah, February 5, 1870


*Church statistics are an interesting topic. This analysis by Joanna Brooks is far from sufficient. Others who actually know something about statics have done better analyses, however a more complete study would be extremely interesting and I believe beneficial for the church. I am guessing the church actually has most of these numbers, they just don’t release them to the general public.