This has nothing to do with the main theme of this blog. It is purely self-promotion (but since this is my blog, then no harm, no foul, right?)
Like many people, when I was in school, I had a hobby that I didn’t keep up very well with. For me, I studied music. I wasn’t all that good at it, for a number of reasons (I don’t know when people are supposed to learn music theory, but I definitely wasn’t). One thing I regret is that when my instructors told me, “Wow, you’re pretty good. You should get private lessons,” I was young, and dumb, and didn’t interpret it the right way. I thought that they were just trying to be polite while meaning something like, “You’re not very good, so you should get private lessons.”
Over time, I have come to realize that that’s not why people recommend private lessons. Rather, when people recognize some kind of raw talent that is being squandered through bad habits, that’s when they recommend private lessons.
I quit playing the sax later in high school, mostly because I didn’t want to do marching band anymore, mostly because I hated my sound and tone, but also, because I wanted perfect GPAs for the rest of my high school career, and band didn’t get that honors GPA boost. (Man, to be a dumb, naïve high schooler! [P.S., it didn't work anyway, because I kept getting Bs in math class.]).
So that was that.
Every time I’ve visited my parents, I’ve noticed my sax sitting in the corner of my old room, collecting dust from within its case. A few times during a vacation, I’ve pulled it out to practice a few pieces. Each time, I’ve put it back away.
Of course, my sound hasn’t gotten any better without practice.
The last time I visited my parents, I decided that I would take my old sax back with me and start practicing again. But how would I stay motivated? I bought a new mouthpiece, some new reeds, and some etude study materials. And I started practicing. Intermittently.
Part of the problem is that I didn’t (and don’t) like my sound. Much like with my art or writing, whenever I regard it, I am aware that it’s not as good as what I know it should be. But, to make things worse, the practice pieces weren’t all that fun (although I do like going through the pieces that I painstakingly studied for the all-region tryouts.)
When I was younger, I had the same problems. But I thought that my poor sound was because I had a poor instrument. Fortunately, I read enough online to learn that the instrument isn’t as big of a factor as one’s embouchure. And that a lot of technique could only be developed through time. I didn’t know what that could possibly mean when I was in school (and I certainly wasn’t the kind of person who would practice for even an hour each day, much less dedicate time to scales and long notes), and since I didn’t have a tutor, no one was telling me explicitly.
Now, hopefully, I’m a little more mature, so I’ve scoured the internet for links on embouchure, YouTube videos, and so on. The one thing I regret is that most videos don’t really show “before and after” approaches, so I can’t really tell which concept I’m not getting.
…still, slowly but surely, I think my sound is getting a little better (although I still can’t buzz a full scale on my mouthpiece, and if it weren’t for the YouTube videos, I would think that idea would be witchcraft). And, on top of it all, I’m more motivated to practice far more regularly. Why?
I’ve changed what I’m playing.
If you are reading this post, I want you to do something for me. Read the following quote that an evangelical Christian friend posted on Facebook, and then — without reading the rest of this post — think about how it makes you feel. What are your reactions? Here’s the quote:
To my secular friends: I understand that the beliefs of religious people can be bothersome, unpredictable and seemingly irrational. So I truly appreciate your tolerance of us and your ability to make accommodations around us so that we can maintain our personal integrity and live out our convictions. It’s not always easy, but your ability to live with people who see the world differently is appreciated. We can learn a lot from your example.
The reason I want you to think about your thoughts (perhaps even post them in a comment?) is because I want to know if I’m just overreacting. Reading more into this than I actually should be.
If all (or most) of you say, “This is a great comment!” then I’ll just stifle my negativity.
But…before then, let me post that I find something about this statement very troubling, and although I can’t quite figure out why, I think I have an analogy. Read more…
In my last blog post, I engaged with Jeff G’s post at New Cool Thang that attributes the deterioration and loss of so many Mormons’ testimonies to the adoption of the alternative ideology of “liberal democracy.” There, I wrote:
I think a lot of causes of disaffection are precisely because we live, learn, and work in a society with profoundly different values than the church espouses and the church’s values can’t keep up in competition.
It’s absolutely not a neutral matter. And for that reason, all the values systems don’t appear as equally interchangeable. But most folks are increasingly steeped in modern values and since the church cannot pull people out of external society, it’s an uphill battle.
For example, we increasingly live in a society (and absolutely prefer such a society) where women have equal participation and autonomy in school, work, etc., so the fact that the church doesn’t operate in step with feminist ideas puts it vastly in conflict with what we enjoy and appreciate in the rest of our lives.
It’s absolutely a values mismatch. But the church has to show why its values should be taken over the outside society’s.
I think that last line quoted is particularly important. Because today, an earlier (I didn’t even notice the article was from October of 2013 until I double checked) post by Jeff G at Millennial Star started circulating through many of the progressive and liberal Mormon Facebook hangouts. This post talks about the trojan horses of Mormon intellectuals. Whereas Jeff now speaks about the dangerous of the ideology of “liberal democracy,” Jeff’s earlier post relied upon the intellectuals’ adoption of a “culture of critical discourse” (or “CCD”).
In the post, Jeff details the aspects of CCD that he finds to be incompatible with Mormonism, and also details four manifestations (the “trojan horses”) where these incompatibilities are instantiated. Per Jeff, the CCD/intellectualism is incompatible with Mormonism because of Mormonism’s stance of priesthood, which Jeff defines as being “a tool which is specifically aimed at stifling criticism by certain people against certain people about certain things.” (To the contrary, the culture of critical discourse rejects the idea that “certain people” or “certain things” can be protected from criticism.)
(For whatever it’s worth, Jeff states that the CCD is not just incompatible with Mormonism on this point, but on any system where some folks (the “authorities”) have the “last word” while others do not, such as the military, court rooms, most work environments, and traditional church organizations.)
According to Jeff, the specific trojan horses by which intellectuals mask their incompatibility with Mormon orthodoxy are the overemphasis of personal revelation, the overemphasis of explicit revelation-tagging statements like “thus saith the Lord”, the overemphasis of the importance of church history, and the overemphasis of the fallibility of prophets.
Most of the liberal and progressive folks online responded negatively to Jeff’s thoughts, but as with the NCT post I covered earlier, I do not think I would disagree with Jeff. Instead, the issue I raised earlier remains ever relevant: why should the church’s values be taken over any other ideology’s?
Over at New Cool Thang, Jeff G has written a post detailing how views on how members of the LDS church can lose their testimony. He bases his comments on his own personal experience leaving the church. In one paragraph he writes:
With hindsight, I can say with absolute conviction that one does not simply lose one’s testimony, even if it genuinely feels as if that is what is happening. Rather, one actively – albeit uncritically – beats down and erodes one’s testimony. Through training and practice, we gradually chip away at our testimonies with the hammer of the liberal democratic values we are taught in school, on t.v. and in internet forums. As we choose to evaluate and navigate the world around us by the tools of liberal democracy rather than those of the gospel, the latter not only atrophy from disuse, but are purposefully displaced by the former in their relentless take-over and re-programming of our minds. I cannot say it emphatically enough: the tradition of liberal democracy is not neutral, passive or benign when it comes to our religious convictions or any other set of competing values. It is a god which is no less jealous or hungry for the souls of men (or women) than any other.
Although I would probably disagree on the details of what to call the value system of secular societies, I do not disagree with Jeff that many faith crises occur because of a values mismatch.
But I think that the church has an increasingly uphill battle in trying to inculcate its values in the membership.
Dan Wotherspoon has his latest two episodes of Mormon Matters up, and this time, the episodes are dedicated to James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. Dan holds the stages of faith extremely highly (as is evidenced by the fact that I have listened to several Mormon Stories podcast episodes where they have come up), but I think this might be the first time they have been brought up on Mormon Matters.
One thing that Dan (and co-participant Marybeth Raynes) raised several times in the episode was that the Stages of Faith are not about belief content. Consequently, the stages of faith don’t just apply to Mormonism or Christianity or any one religion, but are broadly applicable.
…at the same time, the common understanding — especially within an LDS context — does assume certain things about the stages.
Certainly, the Wikipedia won’t do justice (and I have yet to read the source book), but I’ll link to the wikipedia instead of trying to rehash the relevant stages. As far as Mormonism is concerned, however, online Mormonism is full of the narratives of those moving from Stage 3 faith to Stage 4 faith. The so-called “faith crisis” of Mormonism feels exactly as it is named — like a great crisis. And yet, in the stages of faith, Stage 4 doesn’t represent the end of faith, but merely a shift from a faith that conforms to religious authority to a faith in which an individual takes ownership for his or her own beliefs.
As I listened to the podcast and thought about my experience with Mormon disaffection online, this raised a question in my mind:
Could it be that many cases of disaffection aren’t actually a complete shift to stage 4?
A few article ago, I wrote about faith as loyalty, commitment, or an attitudinal stance. I mentioned that what I found intriguing about this world of approaches is that it separates beliefs from faith.
Today, someone linked me to an article on Exploring Sainthood provocatively titled A True-Believing Atheist Mormon.
The first thought that went into my head when I saw that title was — how could any atheist claim to be a true believing Mormon?
But the author, Mike B, quickly explains that his approach is to separate belief from faith, and he brings in thoughts from Adam Miller’s Letter to a Young Mormon in support of this:
For you, the existence of God is so unlikely and runs so counter to common sense that even an earnest kind of wishful thinking is more than you can credibly muster. God is just not given to you as part of how things are. . . . Though this common sense godlessness can make things harder, it too can open a path to faith. – Adam Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon
The interesting part of the article is to illustrate that the choice of faith can be like the choice of mathematical axioms. As he writes:
Mathematical systems are built on a handful of what are called axioms, i.e. unproved assumptions that provide the starting point for reasoning. Most mathematical truths (e.g. 2+2=4) are not axioms, but the logically implied results of the founding axioms. A common misunderstanding is the idea that axioms must be self-evident. While many axioms happen to be self-evident (e.g. x=x), some aren’t. A statement becomes an axiom simply by our arbitrarily choosing it as such. No proof or self-evidence is required.
For illustration, let’s consider the continuum hypothesis. If you tried enumerating all the counting numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.) you would of course never finish because the set of counting numbers is infinite. The set of real numbers, which includes the counting numbers and other things like the square root of two, isn’t just infinite; it’s infinitely larger than the already infinitely large set of counting numbers; there are bigger infinities still. The continuum hypothesis speculates that while there are many infinities bigger than the real numbers, there is none smaller, except the counting numbers. There’s nothing between the two.
What’s interesting is mathematicians have discovered that the continuum hypothesis is both impossible to prove and to disprove, given our current axioms. The consequence—and what proved so relevant to my posture within Mormonism—is that we are left with a pure choice. With no compelling reason to declare the continuum hypothesis true or false, the question is what mathematicians call undecidable. But it is precisely this undecidability that allows us to make a pure, insupportable, axiomatic decision. The continuum hypothesis will be true, or won’t be, as we choose, and neither choice will be inconsistent with current axioms. At present, the mathematics community is still split on this decision.
This was an intriguing analogy, and I think you should read the rest of the article.
I had a dream that I just woke up from. Rather than writing it down in the text file that I’ve written interesting dreams in (when I can remember to [which is usually not]), I’m writing it here.
In the dream, I had met several folks. I was happy to meet them, because they were friendly to me, and I thought that we were quickly becoming friends. We spent the entire day together, well into the night.
As I went home, I received the distinct impression that all was not as it seemed. That there was something unsavory about the people. They did not have my best interests in mind and they were plotting something against me.
This was alluded to at priesthood meeting at church (which apparently, I had gone to [and no one seemed to do any double-takes at that].) The church meeting was about deception and betrayal, but with a twist. It featured a fantastic re-enactment of what I think was supposed to be a historical event in Mormonism (here you will learn how ignorant I am of church history [although that apparently doesn't stop my brain from running with certain terms]). I imagine it was supposed to be Mountain Meadows Massacre or something in the early Utah days, but the dream contents were nothing much like it. There was some guy who had come in the community, and he had made friends with everyone, but then the prophet had received revelation that this guy was up to no good, so it was decided that the Danites (hmm, I don’t know if they were contemporary/present at MMM, but whatever) should take him out preemptively.
But the weird thing was that even though we had advanced revelation that this guy was up to no good, and we had a large number of troops, the ambush on this ne’er-do-well was really executed terribly. I remember people jumping from the rafters (and the classroom suddenly turned into this outdoorsy saloon type environment for the play reenactment.) And the “narrator” of the play reported that historically, the day was won very narrowly…pretty much only because the church had a bicycle and this one, sole man, did not.
Anyway, there was a shootout, and I hid underneath a picnic table, using church metal foldout chairs to protect myself from bullet ricochet. The man eventually was killed, but at heavy casualties.
The casualties on the church side were explained due to several things: some people were loyal to fear, and so they fought less effectively. Some people were loyal to avoiding death, so they fought less effectively. And some people were loyal to (some other thing), but the important thing was they had not been loyal to God. (Hmm, and I was hiding under a table, using chairs for protection…and yet I seem to have made it out well enough.)
I guess that was a pretty poor “allusion” to my life circumstance, considering the roles appeared to be switched all up. Or maybe not?
One of my favorite vantage points to read about in online Mormon discourse is a stream of thought that distinguishes belief from faith. It might just be because this approach is strange, foreign, and a little novel to me, but I have to say that I am bored with the contrasting approach — the approach that bases the validity or invalidity of Mormonism (or any other religion, for that matter), solely or primarily on the factual claims it makes about history, science, or whatever else.
You can see the latter approach in something like, say, Letter to a CES Director. This darling of the disaffected Mormon community presents a series of “issues” that the author faced that were why, as he subtitles, he lost his testimony.
But as you look through the PDF book, you will note that it’s just a laundry list of areas where the factual claims of the LDS church can be cast into doubt by some other fact claim or another.
This is all well and good, but the other thing to note is that, with very few exceptions, these fact claims are utterly irrelevant to day-to-day lived experience. John Dehlin of Mormon Stories is planning to host an interview with author Jeremy Runnells of the Letter to a CES Director, and I think one of the questions an audience member raised is telling:
Why did you ignore LGBT issues?
Why do the Kinderhook Plates even matter? And why do they matter more than what is happening today?
I suspect that many disaffected folks prioritize these historical/factual claims issues for a number of reasons (which I might go into detail in a different post), but I just summarize this to say that I’m not that interested in those sorts of things. (And, to that extent, I’m not interested in apologists who want to go that route either.)
Instead, I want to go back to the approach from the beginning of this article. I think there are several people who have jumped on board of this, and there are several podcast episodes that go into this (especially on Mormon Matters, which is why I really like that podcast.) One recent podcast was a Mormon Matters podcast with Adam Miller and Stephen Carter on stories.
Earlier this week, I was linked to a project to create patent applications from literary or philosophical texts. I thought little of actually using it, but I chuckled at some of the results. For example, from The Communist Manifesto, one gets A method and device for comprehending, theoretically, the historical movement.
As I said, I thought little of actually using it, but then someone suggested putting The Family: A Proclamation to the World, through it, and I realized…this is something that HAD to be done.
In trying to use this, I realized quickly that there were no executables for this program. Instead, it was a series of python scripts.
I then learned quickly that python does not come natively with Windows, so I went and got Python 3.4.
I then learned that not every app has compatibility with python 3, so I got an older version.
Then, I encountered that no matter what, the app wouldn’t process my text file containing the text of The Family. I reached out to the creator of the script on twitter, and within a day of looking at the text (I’m sure he must have been so weirded out that I was trying to patent such a document…), he said that it wouldn’t be possible to run the patent generator on this document, and that I should try something longer.
I thought that if length was a concern, I could just duplicate the text a few times so that the file would be longer, but it didn’t work.
So, that ended everything, didn’t it?
Not so fast! There are certainly other fan favorite church talks and publications!
Let me just post you one that did work, and you can guess what the talk is:
A device and method for becoming a man
“ls increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage really linked to moral decline?” John Gustav-Wrathall asked yesterday at No More Strangers.
According to Wikipedia, “Betteridge’s Law of headlines is an adage that states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”
Sorry to spoil you on his article, but he complied with Betteridge: his answer is no.
In this article, I am taking a second look…but spoiler: I am also complying with Betteridge.