Video Interview with Rhonda Lauritzen about Every Essential Element

Video Interview with Rhonda Lauritzen about Every Essential Element

Submitted by admin on Fri, 05/04/2012 – 07:57

Here is a new video interview discussing my new book Every Essential Element Rhonda Lauritzen Interview 
A big thanks to Like Rain Publishing for producing it and Ron Kusina, Executive Director of the Weber Economic Development Corporation for doing the interview.

Book Release Party



I can’t thank everyone enough for coming to celebrate the release of Every Essential Element. Over 100 people attended, and more than 70 were seated for a reading. My heart was full to have my mother, Gaye Anderson–subject of the book and in whose voice it is written–there to speak and sign books. She looked beautiful and I think she sparkled that night. My big brothers who opened their lives and allowed personal stories to be shared with the world joined with me in honoring her. I never feel safer than standing with my husband (ever behind the camera and not in front of it) and that group of fine men. The whole evening was one of those high points in life, a moment to relish that a book over four years in the making is finally out in the world. And can I also say how in love I am with Union Station’s grand lobby? It is where the opening scene of the book takes place and it echoes in almost reverent tones. The cathedral-height walls have Depression-era frescos of the transcontinental railroad’s construction which joined just west of here in 1869 and the wooden benches are beautifully worn from a hundred years of travelers. I wonder how many goodbyes and reunions took place there. How many people left for war and never came home? How many hearts burst with joy or broke forever in that hall? It is truly one of Ogden’s historic gems.

Inquisitive Part 13: Moderation in All Things

nquisitive Part 13: Moderation in All Things

Submitted by admin on Mon, 03/02/2015 – 07:17

The only thing in life that requires no moderation is pure love. Everything else needs restraint, which is the subject of today’s musings.

Ever notice how a person’s strengths usually have a flip side? Positives taken to extreme become weakness. This is painfully clear when I look inward. My work ethic can turn into unbridled ambition of the worst kind. My social nature can have me running around like a crazy woman or worse, morph me into an attention hound. Enthusiasm can be really obnoxious. An innate chattiness can talk right over people. Being optimistic has made me reckless at times. Afterward, I have berated myself for being so stupid and insensitive. My enjoyment of life can turn whatever is at hand addictive: sweets, caffeine and as mentioned earlier, attention. Anyway, this is the flavor of it.

Religion is sort of the same. Actually I think this is a truth in general so it’s not fair to single out religion. For this reason, it’s not hard to find clichés and proverbs along the lines of “Too much of a good thing,” or “Moderation in all things.” We humans just have a propensity toward extremes. Once we’ve tasted a little of what’s good, we want more until we’re sick from it.

This leads into another soapbox topic that anyone who knows me has heard (and we might as well get out of the way): the Word of Wisdom.

First, I have to say this: God doesn’t care if you drink some java in the morning. I am just sure of it. He doesn’t care if you have a glass of wine, or a nice cup of tea, green or otherwise. He’s not worried about those who like cold carbonated caffeine for breakfast or if you happen eat red meat. He doesn’t think you’re a better person for juicing.

What really isn’t cool, though, is judging anybody else over this stuff. I can’t speak for Jesus (of course that’s never stopped me from speculating) but I like to think he would come down here and smack us a little silly for getting all caught up in this minutiae. He might tell us that it reminds him of counting steps on the Sabbath or leaving your ox to die in the mire. He might tell us we are putting too much energy on the wrong things.

Yes, I imagine God is pleased when we live clean, obedient lives. That’s got to count for something, right? It must also make the great Creator feel appreciated when we cherish our miraculous bodies. Beyond that, I cross a line any time I get thinking I’m better than somebody else for being a better rule follower. He might remind me that all humans are sinners and that judging is a much worse sin than a cigarette.

Or maybe I’m just trying to justify how much I love coffee. In the spirit of disclosure, this is entirely possible.

It’s not that I don’t believe in the Word of Wisdom because I do. I think it’s great. I just believe it was meant as a guideline for a healthy, clean life. That’s it—sound advice. But we’re people and we take things to extremes. People don’t stop at two cups or at a single can of Coke. We go for the Big Gulp with daylong refills. The ambiguousness of it and the abundance of flagrant violations makes the rule followers a little crazy. So in an effort to clear things up, the advice gets codified and before you know it, you’ve got to have a conversation with your Bishop about whether you do or whether you don’t.

Did Jesus really mean for a Keurig on the counter to preclude admission into his house? Sure it’s a trivial thing to give up—I know, I gave it up cold turkey once to get my own admission ticket. But since it is, indeed trivial, I’m not sure it warrants the attention we give it. I remember being at one of those buffets with all the retired people and the self-serve ice cream machine. I was there with two of my eleven-year-old friends on a spring break outing and while my parents were occupied with their Salisbury steak, one girl joked about tasting the coffee. It was just sitting out there for the taking. The other one said, “But we’re underage!” like she expected the restaurant to have a coffee monitor to check IDs.

It also seems to me that the Word of Wisdom is another good example of scripture describing the best knowledge people had at a particular point in time. Diet Coke hadn’t been invented. The benefits of green tea were not yet established. I would like to propose that rules such as the WOW ought to be modified from time to time, but they seldom are.

What I’m getting at here is the idea of moderation. One cup of coffee is probably fine but a whole pot can’t be good. A little wine has health benefits but getting sloppy can lead to a heap of heartache. Two squares of chocolate can make a girl happy, but a whole bag is gluttony. Even exercise can be taken too far. Have you heard about people who die in marathons, not from the exertion but from from hyponatremia—basically getting overzealous with chugging water after their electrolytes were depleted?

I have been focusing on the Word of Wisdom here, but I don’t want to lose the bigger point. Moderation is necessary with all doctrines. Any true principle that is taken too far can become its own kind of sin.

When the religious masses level criticisms at non-believers they tend to focus on the worst offenders. Likewise, it’s not fair to label extremists and everyday churchgoers as in the same camp. Most people who go to church are good folks trying to do a little better all the time. Both religious and secular people are guilty of flinging judgments and in turn having unfair judgments flung at them. Just like people have a hard time showing restraint when anything feels good, we often make black-and-white disparagements that only apply to the fringes.

Humans don’t like ambiguity, and paradox is a difficult concept to grasp. Specifically, most principles house two extremes at once, being both good and bad depending on where on the spectrum you look. Wisdom is found in balance and happiness results from moderating our appetites. Is it possible that even Truth is relative?

(Note: In a future essay I’ll chew on this this idea of balance some more, namely that there is a sweet spot with any principle and life is a constant struggle to find it and hold it.)

Inquisitive Part 12: Love is True North (even if you’re gay)

Inquisitive Part 12: Love is True North (even if you’re gay)

Submitted by admin on Sat, 02/14/2015 – 07:16

Inquisitive, Valentines Day Edition: Love is True North
(even if you’re gay)

For people with such a rebellious streak, my parents still lived within the boundaries set by their religion. If they ever bumped into questions or doubts, they doubled down on what they knew most: Love. This was their true north. They loved each other—like crazy in love—on most days for 55 years. They made their family the priority. They also served others even if it sometimes seemed like folly, as in hiring contractors on the basis of who needed a hand rather than on references. I’d shake my head, but now I’m not so sure those were bad choices. They won’t regret not having loved others and then acting accordingly.

They helped their sheltered Utah kids be open to others by introducing us to people of all backgrounds. We had refugees from other countries live with us. We traveled and met all kinds of characters. People from other religions (or no religion) were around all the time. When I was an adult and they lived near the national parks, a group of us would stay at their house, including one of my gay friends and his partner. No biggie to them. I remember my dad helping another gay couple with their irrigation after they bought his mother’s home. I don’t think it occurred to him to be bothered by who was living there.

I imagine you know where I’m going with this—we’d get here sooner or later—so let’s dive in now.

As a young adult, I had friends start coming out of the closet and I had to examine my values for real. I still believed in the church, but a wave of gay-LDS suicides began hitting the news. I wept for the better part of an afternoon after reading an article about a young man who shot himself on a church lawn. It hit too close. A boy I had dated and who was still a friend came out, and not too long afterward he intentionally overdosed. At his funeral, his father spoke about how he had woken up in the hospital with a frightened look in his eyes and said, “I don’t want to die.” But he did die.

I loved my friends deeply and I felt their pain. I saw how for a boy growing up in a Mormon family in the early 90s, being gay was the last thing in the world he wanted. But he was. He didn’t want to break his parents’ hearts. He would have chosen anything else at the time. But he couldn’t choose.

I really came to believe that—that it wasn’t a choice—and I have held to that with mama bear ferocity, protective of people I love. I mean, I didn’t choose being straight. On the continuum of gay-bi-straight, I’m about as boy-loving as Barbie. I’ve liked ‘em as long as I remember—back to my first grade crush on the boy next door. I’ve got plenty of girlfrends but sorry guys, the pillow fight pics are totally staged. Those pajama parties don’t do anything for me except for what they might do or you. But I digress. What I’m getting at is this: Why would I think my gay friends made this choice?
I also couldn’t believe a God of love would have made my friends somehow broken—well, any more imperfect than anybody else. We are all beautiful without modification. I wouldn’t change anything about my friends except maybe to salve the self-doubt and isolation they felt before coming out. I wish I could go back and give them more support during their struggle, I just didn’t know what to do even when the signs were there. For the record, I am sorry I wasn’t there for you more.

Here’s something else I had to sort out. The church has its stance on sex outside marriage and all that. But what if my child were to come out someday? Would I tell her to live a life without love? Not in a million years. I’d plant my hands on her shoulders, look in her eyes and tell her to be brave enough to find love. Please, baby girl, don’t settle until your connection with another person is the real thing. Why? Because love is my true north. I love her and I want her to be loved.

Sorry Elder Packer. I’m not buying.

What I have accepted is that this one moment we’re each living is the only certainty. Everything else is speculation, faith if you will. Religions tell us how it’s all going to be after we die, and I’ve got nothing against believing. I believe a lot simply because I want to. Still, I’d like to propose a radical idea. Namely that the details drawn onto a chalkboard are hypotheses, not fact. These are someone’s ideas about how it all works and they have been canonized as Truth. That’s very tidy, but a thinking person has to consider the possibility that when we die, that’s it. Kaput. If you’re like me, I am not fond of that explanation so I consider other possibilities—a whole host of other possibilities. One idea I chew on is that there really is something more after we die, but that the specifics in scripture about how it’s all going work out could be completely and totally wrong.

And what if? It makes me wonder what it would feel like to forego a life filled with love (because you were gay and chose abstinence) only to find out you gave it up for nothing? What a ripoff! Thanks, I think I’d take my chances and create a family in this life. I would accept the responsibility for my own salvation and my own happiness.

This comes back to true north. For my life, I have decided to rely on the compass my parents gave me that reads “Love” for the “N.” Love is all I really know—the rest are details.

In closing today, I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s vibrant poem about life:

“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

(Take a minute to read the full poem at the Library of Congress website. You’ll be glad you did:

Inquisitive Pat 11 – YOU are the check/balance

Inquisitive Pat 11 – YOU are the check/balance

Submitted by admin on Sun, 02/01/2015 – 10:38

Inquisitive Part 11: YOU are the check/balance

I remember approaching my dad for advice, and he responded with anti-advice. “You are the one entitled to revelation about your life, and you are the only one entitled to it. I can’t tell you what you should do.” The closest he got to pointing me in a particular direction was to outline the process for personal revelation (to use the LDS term):
(1) Put real effort into thinking about it and then make a decision.
(2) Pray about whether your decision is best, trusting that the answer will come.
(3) Listen for the answer, especially noticing feelings of peace or uneasiness.
(4) Adjust, if necessary and then…go for it.

As a footnote, he would say to remember how you felt when you got your answer because you might need courage at some point. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of moving forward.

Someday I hope to share this advice with my daughter.

When the time is right I will also pass down another warning my parents leveled at me. I can hear my dad’s passion in these words, “Remember. You alone are responsible for your salvation. Don’t ever abdicate that to someone else. Do what you believe is right by your own conscience. You stand up for it. Got that?”

My folks walked the talk. They bucked the establishment as their business was a nuisance to the FDA and their line of work ran counter to norms of the day. People thought they were a little nuts. Later, my dad ran for political office with my mom by his side, on a platform of conviction. The party uppers did not embrace their ideas, and they used personal funds for the campaign. My parents were devout Mormons who genuinely believed, yet marched to their own drummer. They never held high office in the church, and I really can’t imagine it because my dad wouldn’t keep his trap shut.

Agree or disagree with their views, you’ve got to hand it to them; they lived their values. My dad confided to me once that he really did care what people thought about him, and these words caught me off guard. He seemed so self-assured and willing to stand alone, well, as long as my mom was in it too. I’m glad he opened up so I could see that everyone is vulnerable. We all want to fit in. It’s just that some people have enough guts to do what is right when others pooh-pooh it.

This is what it means to follow your own true north. Every functional human is endowed with a compass that tells us right from wrong. Parents and society at large help us calibrate that compass, especially while we’re children. I believe that a person’s true north can be ignored or suppressed, but if we dig deep it is always inside pointing the way.

When I went back to church, I discovered that this was an important idea in Mormonism. The doctrine of personal revelation was like a golden thread woven tight into the fabric of our religion. It gave me hope.

A picture emerged of a beautiful check-and-balance system. It was like how the founding fathers put a system of checks to keep government from running roughshod, with formal branches balancing each other. My last post presented the idea that anything powerful is also dangerous, and religion is both. Joseph Smith introduced the idea of balanced religion when he embraced personal revelation.

The beauty of the LDS Church is that it contains two important checks that fall upon individual members. The first check is a lay clergy where ordinary people serve at all levels, and local leadership rotates. People don’t hold lifetime positions in congregations, which means they can’t get too cozy in leadership. It also means we’re close enough to the humans in charge to understand that no one’s perfect. For this reason, we might question certain actions from time to time, respectfully of course. (Next year, we might have that job.)

The second and most important check is the notion of personal revelation mentioned earlier. You are entitled to know for yourself if any given doctrine or policy is right. Missionaries urge investigators to study the word and to pray for their own answers. The church is confident that you will receive the correct answer but I caution that it is your right and responsibility alone, whatever you come to.

It comes down to this: people are the ultimate check/balance against any institution. You, the individual, are the last line of defense against the evil empire. An institution is only a static structure and people at all levels become the living, breathing body. Even a church is only as good as the humans who collectively make it. Thus, there is a time to speak up and push back.

Before getting smug about how it’s all up to you, though, remember this. Church is also a balance against your potential folly. Structure is provided to keep any life within bounds and headed toward the light. This is the path of safety. Commandments and proverbs have withstood time and are remarkably consistent across cultures for a reason. It’s hard to argue the clean living prescribed within the church and if you follow the most basic version of the gospel, I doubt you’ll have much in the way of regrets. When it comes to personal decisions, if you receive revelation that you should break a big 10-rule, well, I suggest caution. But hey, it’s not my job to live your life. Only you are responsible for you. You cannot abdicate your salvation to anybody else, not even the church.

As a related note, if you’re not an organized religion kind of person, then just know that laws, rules of ethics and social mores serve basically the same purpose.

The important point is that none of this it is infallible. Whole societies can go awry, humans sometimes act with selfish intent, and institutions might wield unrighteous dominion over their members. Like with most truths, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, a balance between structure and your individual accountability. And whatever else, never ever squelch your own true north.

(Next up: when my personal conscience collided with the religion)

Inquisitive part 10: Anything Powerful is Also Dangerous

Inquisitive part 10: Anything Powerful is Also Dangerous

Submitted by admin on Fri, 01/30/2015 – 07:13

Inquisitive Part 10– Anything Powerful is Also Dangerous

Fire. Love. Money. Sunshine. Ambition. Medicine. Sex. Religion. “Anything powerful is also dangerous.” This idea came from a collection of NPR “This I believe” essays and I’ve tucked this truth away as a caveat that everything has a flip side. Here’s my take on it.

Spirituality has the power to inspire, compel us toward our potential and elevate our thoughts. Religion can collectively move us, remind us what matters, and yes, you’d better believe that anything with enough power to save your very soul—or that says it can—is also dangerous. Some checks and balances are in order. We’ll get to that soon enough, but for now let’s mull over this idea of powerful/dangerous.

The power to create is divine at its very essence. This is the Genesis story, the Bible’s headliner, and it shows the creative process at work in God’s hands. This story culminates with life itself. We humans yearn to create too and feel most alive when synching with these rhythms, building and expressing ourselves. Creation in all of its forms is divine, and destruction is the opposite. I’m not sure what spending hours on YouTube is. Anyway…

The power to create life is the godliest gift humans will experience in mortality. When I held my newborn, deep mystery and awe defied words and stirred the deepest part of me. This is the purest type of love.

Anything with that kind of power is also dangerous. Sex may be the most compelling biological and psychological drive we have. The desire to create life and transcend mortality even for the briefest of moment is an undulating need that courses through our bodies and overwhelms us with emotion. We can use this power to bond with our lovers and create families. All of this is sacred. We might take this power lightly, but abusing it comes with great consequence.

The religious experience also brings us into divine presence, even if in fleeting glimpses. The hope of feeling this again is why we keep our butts seated during the boring parts. This is why we come back week after week when Sunday relaxation beckons us elsewhere. At least, that’s why I hope we go and not out of routine obligation or worse, fear.

Spirituality inspires artists to depict this marvelous experience using every brush, chisel, musical note or piece of colored glass they can set their hands to work upon. Whenever I consume art like this with my hungry senses, I taste a bit of what the artist felt.

Church is a place where lost sheep and prodigal children may recover from life’s brutalities. Grace is another indescribable moment in which we feel the touch of God in the most personal way.

The collective nature of a congregation also lends itself to the magic that happens when the spirit moves a group. This shared experience can create a powerful bond and a strong memory.

These elements are, of course, what also make religion scary. The very fact that spirituality motivates people into action can be twisted into a driving force for war. Fear of salvation can manipulate humans into submission. Our desire to be fed by the word can give shysters a platform. Faith healing is a great prop for trickery. Humility is one among the great human virtues, but can leave the vulnerable prey to power mongers. Guilt and shame compel people toe the line. People’s very desire to be good can be channeled into funding evil.

Every human vice including greed, power, and even sex can be exploited in such an environment if checks are not in place. Hence, my next subject is a check-and-balance system.

Remember. Anything powerful is also dangerous.

Inquisitive Part 9: Will Science end up explaining spirituality?

Inquisitive Part 9: Will Science end up explaining spirituality?

Submitted by admin on Sun, 01/25/2015 – 15:10

Inquisitive Part 9- Will science end up explaining spirituality?

Comments from friends sparked fresh thoughts and I want to delve further into yesterday’s topic. While science and religion ask different questions and serve unique purposes, I like to think that someday science will explain/debunk spirituality. Anything that is capital-T True should ultimately be either proved or disproved, except perhaps the existence of God and the unknowable details of events long past.

Wouldn’t it be something if scientists end up giving religion the answers to how spirituality works? Just remember, my white-smock friends, that before this can happen we’ll have to acknowledge that the questions religions kept alive were important after all.

Here’s what I mean. Just because a particular aspect of our spirituality isn’t measurable right now, doesn’t mean it can’t be. Perhaps we simply haven’t figured out the right angle from which to approach the problem, or the right experiment. If we do conduct valid experiments, we’ll either settle on elegant and scientifically sound explanations for the mechanics of human spirituality, or else we’ll see that an element of what we believed was made up after all. Whatever we learn will allow paradigm shifts that will move humanity forward.

Here are some examples of past game-changing discoveries: gravity, electricity and bacteria. There are social technologies like democracy and free markets. I cite these examples because they are simple enough for me to grasp (read: I’m not smart enough to discuss relativity or the laws of thermodynamics). Like these discoveries that illuminated the world in new ways, I suspect there is more to spirituality than we currently understand. Someday we might figure out the questions to ask, which will lead us to the experiments, and we will finally see what had been hidden in front of us.

It reminds me of the opener to David Foster Wallace’s famous commence speech from 2005.

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and them and says, ‘Morning boys. How’s the water?’

“And the two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’” (1)

I’m talking about the discovery of water. I’m talking about learning how our spirituality works in a way that takes this core aspect of our humanity from woo-woo mumbo jumbo to a discipline that suddenly all makes sense. We’ve been immersed in it all along, we just didn’t have the language for it.

In my last post I referred to “spiritual technologies” and through my personal seeking, I have become intensely curious about them. The great spiritual disciplines have common threads and the best stuff gets passed—through religions, storytelling, and scripture—from generation to generation. The practices that have efficacy crop up across cultures and the sages (and novelists) of every era use new words to teach the same messages. Mind you, specific mythologies are all over the map, which is why I doubt the details.

Still, the basic technologies remain pretty consistent, beginning with practices like prayer and meditation. This list might grow to include: chanting, fasting, kindness, the act of confession, service, principles of humility, ceremony/ritual, scripture study, storytelling, revelation/premonition, sense of community, faith healing, individual contemplation and the habit of drawing upon the arts for worship. Transcending all other concepts for its sheer veracity is love.

Some of what’s at play might be obvious, like the fact that music and dance spark emotions which are intertwined (if not easily confused) with our spirituality. Still, I wouldn’t dismiss even this as simplistic. Is it possible that our emotions and spirit intertwine through creative expression and that the creative process is somehow connected to a higher source? The idea of creation certainly seems like a religious theme.

Beyond spiritual technologies, I wonder if other discoveries will open new windows into what it means to be human. Perhaps we will reveal some variation of a “sixth sense” that we’ve always had but didn’t have a frame of reference to explain. Could we someday understand the interconnectedness of all living things in a way that will finally help us transcend violence?

Here’s a present-day example that gives me hope. Scientists are just beginning to study the brain and meditation/mindfulness. I heard a podcast a while back in which brain scientists are studying Buddhist Monks, calling them the Olympic Athletes of the mind. (2)

The Dali Lama says that “Buddhism is more than a religion. It is a science of the mind.” In April of 2014 he participated in a conference in Japan entitled Mapping the Mind: A Dialogue between modern science and Buddhist science.”

I want to close with Carl Sagan. “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light‐years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

Could we be on the brink of something big?

(1) If you haven’t seen or read “This is Water, by David Foster Wallace, do it right this very minute. Here’s the YouTube link: Or buy the print version, audiobook, or whatever your fancy. On Amazon:….)

(2) Here’s a nice article in Scientific American about neuroscientists studying Buddhist Monks.… )

(3) The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan

Inquisitive Part 8 – What’s the purpose? (Science vs. Religion)

Inquisitive Part 8 – What’s the purpose? (Science vs. Religion)

Submitted by admin on Sat, 01/24/2015 – 16:07

Inquisitive Part 8 – What’s the purpose? (Science vs. Religion)

I had some topics slated to discuss next—my views on the Old Testament, the power of story, culture, and what grace/atonement mean to me—but some of my recent posts have touched nerves, both in the comments and in offline conversations. I love it actually, because it forces me to think and evaluate. Dialogue prompts me examine different perspectives, especially when points are as valid as the ones my friends raise (you know who you are). I also see that where people get passionate, it’s usually because of intensely personal experiences. Where people get angry, it’s usually because they’ve been hurt. In other words, we each come by it honestly.

So I’d like to shift gears and discuss why I think much of the science vs. religion debate is unnecessary.

Let’s start by saying what religion is NOT. Scripture isn’t a textbook, and I’m 83% confident that holy book scribes never set out to write one. Oral traditions might weave yarns about this or that in the natural world, but today we’d be fools to study Greek mythology for clues about the weather. Ancient ideas on medicine or mental health are not only dubious, but dangerous. Would you trust your child’s diagnoses to someone trained in the Roman Empire school of thought? Would you lean on a scholarly interpretation written in 1373? Why, then, are we relying official explanations voted upon a thousand years ago? It’s curious that modern people feel the need to entertain convoluted explanations, hoping they can force the Bible and science to jibe.

Any God I can believe in would say it’s okay to let go of inaccuracies. Perhaps the humans who wrote those books simply narrated the world as they knew it at the time. God gave us brains for a reason and as those brains grow, we need not cling to the ignorance of past millennia. Seriously.

It’s real simple folks. Science is not religion’s bailiwick. Science and religion serve entirely different purposes. So you pastors, pontiffs and prophets, just keep your noses out of it already. Whew, that felt good.

Science seeks to understand how the world works. Religion asks why. Science explores what can be measured. Religion asks what matters. Researchers advance physical technology, while religions are the keepers of spiritual technologies. Engineers study efficiency. Sages teach humility. Science advances ways to live longer while religion (should) help us live better. Universities advance progress. Chapels invite stillness. An MBA taught me how to administer. Church reminds me to minister. The scientific method reveals what can be proved. The golden rule guides what is right.

Each realm needs seekers, and the spheres need not be mutually exclusive.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

Evolution and Eternal Progression

Evolution and Eternal Progression

Submitted by admin on Mon, 01/19/2015 – 08:47

Inquisitive Part VII: Evolution and Eternal Progression

I might have been better off not taking seminary my senior year because I had assumed this was where you got questions answered. Perhaps, but the teacher that year made me want to squirm out of my skin. One particular class is vivid because it marked the point when I stopped asking out loud. At first I wasn’t being contrary—I really wanted to know. I raised my hand, “If our religion is true, why would God send billions of Chinese who will never hear a word about it?” The answer, “Everyone who lives without hearing the Gospel will get a chance after death.” I already knew that line, but on this day it felt like I had just noticed my hem coming loose and now couldn’t stop fiddling with the thread.

“If Earth life counts so much, why would so few people be given the Truth here?” He said, “You must have been a valiant spirit in the pre-existence to be born into the Gospel.”

That just pissed me off. Parents don’t play favorites. God didn’t love me any more than he loved his other children who were born elsewhere. I felt lucky to have my family, but had always thought of it like winning the parental lottery. I didn’t deserve my life any more than a starving child in Bangladesh deserved hers. The teacher added, “This gives you the special responsibility of sharing it with others.” I wanted to be sick.

I gave the thread another tug by asking, “What about the people who do hear it but reject the church because they are being faithful to the religion they’ve been taught?” I could relate because I wasn’t so excited about inviting the JW missionaries inside my house either.

I do not remember where the discussion went after that because I got nowhere. After that, I just went inside my own head, pulling at stitch after stitch. Taking stuff apart can be satisfying like popping bubble wrap, except now your skirt’s half dragging. By springtime I just ditched class a lot, justifying that at least I wasn’t squandering my youth in that seat.

Skipping seminary did not mean I stopped thinking about these questions, though. I probably worked on them even more. Around that time, two things happened that illuminated my perspective, and they began to precipitate a life philosophy.

The first was that I spent time around an elderly woman. You might expect me to share the wisdom I got from her, but it ended up being a sort of warning about what not to do. I understood that she had never been all that happy, always looking for something else to come along and fix everything. It struck me as so sad to look for something on the outside when the answer was inside you all along. In retrospect I’d think I was a pretty smart 18-year old, except that I was pretty dumb in other ways.

At any rate, I began to wonder what happens when someone dies before learning life’s paramount lessons. It also occurred to me that it’s near impossible for a human to glean everything we’re supposed to pick up in one lifetime. We each have physical limitations plus experiences and disposition that keep us from figuring stuff out. It’s so different for everybody, and how do you account for it? The idea that we would be judged and sent to heaven or hell based on this life struck me as patently unfair. I couldn’t believe in a God like that.

The second thing that happened was I opened a dialogue with my parents and they surprised me by listening and understanding. They shared that they believed in eternal progression. When you die, God isn’t interested in judging you as much as in helping you continue to grow. You would be given every opportunity needed to keep progressing forever, little by little. Whatever lessons you didn’t pick up here would get their due. They referred to the idea of “one eternal round” and said they didn’t know the mechanics, but the point was that we’d each cycle through trial and error until we eventually got there.

Degrees of glory were less about heaven and hell, and more about giving people the chance to inch up the scale of understanding. It would probably take eons because most of us are slow learners, but we’d have eons.

I realized this mindset allowed their laid-back view of raising teenagers. They weren’t worried that every little mistake could spell doom for a kid’s salvation. They viewed life as a big classroom and we would each do it our own way and in our own time. We’d figure it out eventually.

They also added that eternal progression is a good news/bad news scenario. The bad news is that we would be destined to encounter the same problems again until it sunk in. When we die, we would begin exactly where we left off in our growth cycle. There would be no easy way out and no magic wand to erase our shortcomings. We would each have to face our crap eventually, so might as well use the time we’ve got while alive wisely. And for Pete’s sake, try to learn the first time.

This singular idea gave place for so much that had troubled me. It meant that injustices of this life would have time to be made right. It meant that privileges or suffering endured here would not favor or punish anyone comparatively. Whatever limitations, abuse or hunger a person had, could be offset by the opportunity for joy and abundance.

Also, eternal progression takes judgment out of the equation. The God of our faith loves us and only wants us to reach our potential. Every experience of mortality serves that purpose. Perhaps God doesn’t even need to judge, we simply are what we are at any point. In this framework, heaven and hell might not be glories or prisons we are placed into, but perhaps they are inherently carried with us. Perhaps we choose them by direct consequence rather than by decree. They are a matter of understanding rather than of place. As soon as we are ready to become better beings, we’ll have more heaven. As long as we choose to remain stuck in hell-like patterns, hey, it’s a free country. Humans may continue growing as long as we choose to keep trying.

In short, that is the hypothesis of eternal progression. Now, does it sound just a little like evolution?

Inquisitive Part VI: Asking “What else?” An end to the killing

Inquisitive Part VI: Asking “What else?” An end to the killing

Submitted by admin on Sat, 01/17/2015 – 15:40

Inquisitive Part VI: Asking, “what else?” An end to the killing.

Lately I have been asking another question that falls in the “what else” category, as in, “what are we missing?” I thought it was a benign question, all Miss America about peace love and understanding. I honestly expected dialogue, but what I am getting is blank looks. Well, that and disagreement with a particular brand of ferocity I had not anticipated. It later dawned on me that the disconnect is not around the idea of world peace—who wouldn’t want that?—but maybe it needles at another more controversial topic. Maybe it centers on whether a person subscribes to a rather idealistic view of, well, evolution. Bear with me a minute, though, because this isn’t going where you think.

Before we move on, let’s get one point out of the way. Species evolve. This is an established fact that is not up for debate here. Species evolve all the time, and it is an incredibly wonderful, efficient mechanism for survival and growth. The human species has evolved too. Next.

So here is my evolution question, the one getting blank stares: “Is it possible for humanity to break through all the war and killing? What will it take for us to evolve into more peaceful beings? Can we learn better ways?”

I ask this because I’m a glass half-full girl and I believe society has made great strides in kindness and equality. The opportunities I have been so lucky to receive are what give me this perspective. Not that long ago, women could not have dreamt of the education, encouragement, and professional job I enjoy. I even have a stay-at-home husband. People once did not believe women had the physical/mental capability to do a job like mine. Women probably did not believe men could be good homemakers either. (Admittedly, mine does giggle at this checkbox for his occupation, so we’re not past that yet.)

I also point to the fact that we no longer collectively accept hate and discrimination as normal. We still have plenty of work to do, but we have come a long way even since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When was the last time you heard of a lynching?

Have our attitudes not evolved?

Consider another example that relates to my original question about peace. Can you name the country with the highest percent of female elected representatives? Rwanda. Here is what one Rwandan public servant said, “Just under 20 years ago, my country was in ruins. We had emerged from one of the worst genocides in modern history in which one million Rwandans died. The genocide was the result of a divisive and destructive culture that had pervaded our society. In rebuilding our nation, we made a conscious decision to put inclusiveness and equality at the heart of the reconstruction process…Women took the lead in healing the deep wounds in our society.” (1)

I have wondered what the world would look like if, for the next twenty years, the only people allowed in public office worldwide were those who’d endured the crushing heartbreak of losing a child (at any age) to war. True, some people might default to retaliation, but perhaps others would band together and say, “Enough!” Maybe they would look for a root-cause change in philosophy. They might listen to what the great spiritual teachers have said all along: “Those who live by the sword will die by it. Killing brings more killing.” Could they bring together the best teachers, healers, and spiritual guides to help move our consciousness higher?

Something that gives me hope is a phenomenon I have noticed in America after individuals are affected by tragedy. They often channel their grief—even sometimes their anger—into making a difference. Many parents who have lost a child establish charities to raise awareness or money. Two amazing women I’ve come to know this year changed my perspective on personal tragedy, exemplifying what some people do with cards they are dealt. After Elaine Runyan’s daughter, Rachael, was murdered, Elaine became a tireless champion for victim rights. She helped ensure that Utah had the earliest/best Amber Alert system in the country. Kristina Anderson was shot three times at Virginia Tech and went on to establish a foundation to help campuses prevent violence. These remarkable women warrant more than this brief note, but in summary they show me what people are capable of. They showed me how the light in your eyes can still shine.

Consider this contrast. Did humans have the infrastructure or the mindset to start charities in the Middle Ages? Did peasant families raise awareness so others would not have to suffer so much? Today, our collective mindset, norms, and societal infrastructure all support better ways. I think this is a form of evolution. If we can come this far, how much better could we become someday?

But here’s what gets me going. When I ask what it will take for humanity to change, people look at me like I just proposed wearing pyramid hats. Too far out, delusional really. When I have asked what it would take for us to move forward, here is a sampling of answers. “The second coming. Nothing will change until Jesus returns.” Or, “It’s not possible as long as Satan is free to roam the Earth.” Or “People have been killing each other since Cain and Abel. It’s just the way of things,” and finally, “The world is only destined to get worse.”

What if this mindset is what is holding us back? People who wholly expect a foreordained ending might be less motivated to look for game changers. It worries me when folks are so certain that a second coming is imminent. If they believe Jesus is on his way any minute now, they might—even subconsciously—believe he will right what is wrong in the world. This relieves us of that responsibility. Thus, a self-fulfilling-prophesy is created. I believe it limits us to believe that the human condition is only capable of so much.

I prefer the idea that humans evolve. I’m going with that. And in my next post I’ll say why I think that can be compatible with a Mormon view, albeit a radical one.

Juliana Kantengwa is a member of the Rwandan parliament and vice-president of the Pan-African parliament