Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I did this weekend

Ok, ok, so there's not a brand new opus on hermeneutics, heresy, and orthodoxy occupying this space. Let me explain why.

I have a 9-80 schedule, so every other Friday is free. This weekend was an off Friday, so Sarah and I decided to go get the dining set we've been dreaming of. To do this, we drove out to a warehouse east of I-25, about half an hour away. We found a great oval table, counter height, with white and blue tile for $100. It had a little crack in one tile and a new base, but hardly anything to worry about. Certainly worth a $150 discount. We got bar stools that swiveled to go with it, rented a truck to drop it all off at our house, then drove home, ready to enjoy the rest of the day and the weekend together.

Or so we thought.

It turned out, when we sat at this so-called counter-height table, that it was just a few inches short of standard. Unfortunately, those were the few inches between the bottom of the table and the tops of my legs. We hadn't found this out before, because we bought the chairs from the showroom area and the table from the clearance area. We have since resolved to measure all our furniture to avoid these kinds of problems.

We agonized over what to do, and eventually we decided that the best course of action was to return this furniture, then spend more for an uncracked version of the table at normal height. So we had to rent another truck, this time from the local Home Depot, to take back the old furniture and to bring home the new furniture. Finally, when I got back, we had no trouble returning the furniture, but every one of our alternate tables was out of stock, even though it was on the floor. It took a few phone calls to get to the table we agreed on. Finally, I got everything back to the Home Depot, crammed it into my car, covered the open trunk with a comforter and wrapped the whole thing up in a shiny pink rope, and drove home.

That was Saturday. I've now driven enough Ford trucks to know that I would prefer not to own one. My stepfather-in-law's Honda Ridgeline totally blew away the F-250 and F-350. Strangely, the F-250 was worse than the F-350. As far as I can tell, it had no shock absorbers at all. In both trucks, I noticed that I had very poor instincts for my speed on the road. I was constantly looking down at the speedometer and going about 15 mph faster than I thought. I think it has something to do with being so much higher off the ground than in my Corolla, learned parallax or something. I didn't hit anyone, only got lost once, and only ran a toll booth once (I paid later).

Today I got us lost on the way back from a park and my whole family trudged along a busy street. Sarah asked me if I was lost. In response, I kept repeating the cross streets where I had parked the car, even though for most of our walk, said streets were not visible. Also, I clogged the garbage disposal with potato skins and had to take apart the tubes under the sink to get it out, soaking the kitchen in the process.

Plus, the last two days included the Colorado Scottish Festival and a Rockies game, neither of which I got to go to.


On the plus side, the potato dish was pretty good. It was Italian potato pie, which basically means baking mashed potatoes for half an hour in the oven. There were a lot of leftovers.

In other news, we started Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci books, with Charmed Life. The front of the paperback says, "If you're mad about Harry, try Diana." There are a lot of echoes of the beginning of Harry Potter in these books: the protagonists lose their parents, one seems to be extra-talented at magic, the other has no talent, both receive portentous fortunes, they ride a train to a castle where an extremely powerful wizard has adopted them... Sarah said to me, this sounds a lot like Harry Potter. And I said, "That's funny. Of course, this was written in 1977."

We also listened to a few of Neil Gaiman's children's stories: "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish", "The Wolves in the Walls", "Cinnamon", and "Crazy Hair". He's one of my favorite authors, so I was glad to finally get around to these.

Back to religion, here's an interesting thought experiment that bounced around in my head the last few years of living in Utah, related to the topic I am mulling over. It requires a little background information.

The Mormons have a highly-organized church structure. One of the things they believe is special about their Christian revelation is the organization of the church, which is, if memory serves, laid out by Jesus himself in the progress of the narrative of the Book of Mormon. At the top of the pyramid is the church President, currently Gordon B. Hinckley. There have been several church Presidents; Joseph Smith was the first one. Next to the President are two close advisers; these three are collectively known as the First Presidency. Next down are the council of apostles, twelve in number. Down the chain it goes, with numbers and roles. I think next are the Seventies, but we're beyond my expertise.

Belonging to a church that contains God's representative on earth in the President, Mormons expect the continuing, progressive revelation of God from the President. This was a practice begun in earnest by Joseph Smith, who received at least dozens (hundreds, maybe) of personal revelations from God. These revelations, and subsequent additions by other church Presidents, are collected in another book in the Mormon scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants. I don't know if the D&C contains anything else.

The process of revelation continues to this day. In 1978, there was a big deal because a new revelation came out declaring blacks eligible for the priesthood, which is basically like church membership in Protestant circles; being barred from the priesthood was basically second-class worshiper status. To find out more about this, Google . For another interesting case study in revelation, learn more about the Mormon stances on polygamy.

To an outsider like myself, this whole thing feels like 1984, and the entrance to Mos Eisley. We have always been at war with Eastasia, polygamy is wrong, blacks aren't the cursed descendants of Cain, these aren't the droids you're looking for. And so on. But it raises interesting questions about the boundaries of heresy and orthodoxy in the Mormon religion. On the one hand, there is established doctrine that can be used as a standard to excommunicate non-conforming members. On the other hand, that doctrine is subject to sudden, violent change.

So, here is that thought experiment, perhaps most relevant to those who have been living in Utah. Is there any revelation that the Mormon President cannot make? Can he (and they are are all old white men) reveal that there are no more revelations from God? Can he reveal that the Book of Mormon is not true or that Joseph Smith was a liar? Can he tell the church that they are all Catholics now? In the balance, which will win: the received doctrine, or the progressive revelation? Could the Mormon President ever be a heretic?


Vince54 said...

One of the brilliant things about the first Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, is his innovative thinking about society.

He was an abolitionist who ran for president of the U.S. on the abolistionist ticket. He design presented wonderful community planning directives to the Mormon community. He taught on healthy living.

These moral and community-oriented religious directives to the Mormon community have largely been put aside other than the healthy living. Don't smoke, don't drink alcohol remains, but the planned communities for the common good are a thing of the past. Support for community planning is lost to a culture of greedy individualism. Community planning is now just a communist plot in most Mormon minds.

vince54 said...

So as to your question -- Does progressive revelation or received doctrine win?

There are a bunch of Fundamentalist Mormons who still practice polygamy and are excommunicated from the mainline LDS church. Perhaps both win (lose) and the church divides.

Is there some new revelation that would be unthinkable and denied as heresy? Hmmm. President Hinckley saying "Vote for Hillary".

jonathan said...

In answer to your last question Dan, The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints, is the supposed mouthpiece of the Lord revealing God's ever progressing law for mankind. By definition he could never be a heretic nor could he proclaim anything heretical. Those members who follow him would be the "true" saints all else would become the heretics.

As Vince all ready mentioned the members that do not get on board with the new revelation are excommunicated and often form their own re-organized groups. The polygamists in Utah still believe that it is God's law to practice plural marriage and are one such group.

There is no revelation outside of his jurisdiction nor topic that he could not receive new revelation for. It is my opinion that the conservative nature of the Mormon faith that few new revelations would be revealed to dramatically change the course of their church. The new method is for the president to issue proclamations to the world to reinforce the current doctrine.

It is theoretical that the President could proclaim the Book of Mormon to be a hoax or Joseph Smith a liar, but unlikely because it would undermine his own current authority. The president is infallible even more than the pope. It has been taught that the president would never lead the church astray and that the Lord would strike any president dead who attempted to.

The revealed words from a current president carry more weight than the written scripture, although most would say that his words only help to clarify or interpret the original scripture and help apply it to the modern age.

This is only a brief explanation from a former member and I, too now gaze from the outside looking in and find some minor changes in the organization of Mormon church government and some of it is just as perplexing to me as it is to you.

Dan Lewis said...

That is very interesting, guys, thanks. I am curious about whether there is perhaps some unwritten orthodoxy in the Mormon religion. When Jonathan says that no doctrine is off-limits for future revelation, my head starts to spin a little bit... but then, I suppose the mid-1800s Mormons thought polygamy was forever too. Again I am reminded of Winston Smith's department in Minitrue rewriting books. In Mormonism, I guess rewriting books is the new normal, even if they try to keep it to a minimum.