Many years ago I bought a new computer — a 386SX-16running MS-Dos5, with a user interface called GeoWorks that had client software for this upstart on-line service that thought some day it could challenge the big-boys (Compuserve and GEnie) called America On-line. It had a free trial number of hours, and I looked around and around (it was a long-distance call to the only access number in my area, and things didn’t move fast on my 2400 baud modem), and, at the very end, I found a listing for Hatrack River Town Meeting, which rung bells from a book I had just bought by Orson Scott Card — there was a little blurb at the end of the book. So I went there, and met Scott and a bunch of people. After a while I was invited to come to a private area called Nauvoo, and there I met Robert Woolley. He was one of the more insightful folks in that space, but it was pretty low-key and happy for the most part. Continue reading Disagreement: The path to real learning. (Life is tough, brother. Get a helmet.)
19 December 2009
Well, Merry Christmas! Time for the State of the Blain again.
Continue reading 2009 Christmas Letter
This is an excerpt of a comment I made to a friend who is having a tough time with the church she recently left:
No matter what you do, churches are made of people, and people fail. I don’t have much experience with a pastor-based church, but it seems that what you’re alluding to is an unfortunately common experience. Great pastors being followed by inadequate interim pastors who are unwilling to be replaced by more competent pastors, resulting in schism and exodus. I don’t have a solution for that — it seems inherent in the system to me.
But, without churches, there isn’t anybody to teach us about important things. Yeah, I know, we can go directly to God, but our ability to do so on our own isn’t always that good, and it’s very easy to teach ourselves the Gospel according to Me, which includes all our pet doctrines and gospel hobbies, and avoids anything we don’t want to think about very much.
Churches, scriptures, and the witness/testimony of others are windows through which we can perceive things of God. They are helpful, good and useful, but they aren’t God, and worshiping them is a much easier idolatry than worshiping God is. If we accept them in their limitation, and seek to transcend those limitations with God’s help, as we try to transcend our own limitations with that same help, over the long run, we will get what we most need. If we set our sights on them, and succumb to the temptation to worship them at the expense of the God they teach, then we will fail, sooner or later, but badly.
I have just received an email that tells me that you might be getting some one-word contacts with the word “Gadianton.” While I have many points of disagreement with you (only about political issues as far as I can tell), I disagree much more strongly with people trying to beat you up with the Book of Mormon.
So, if you wanted to start involving Republicans in the crafting of the Health Care bill, and keeping the President’s campaign promise that it would be drafted by Republicans and Democrats under C-SPAN cameras, I’d be very good with that. But, whether you do this or not, please let this one conservative Mormon Republican voice stand against the wing-nuts and nut-job Mormons who don’t understand that political disagreement doesn’t make you evil.
This is what some of them would like to say to you, but don’t necessarily know how:
Thank you for your concerns about me and my family. I know you have the best of intentions for us, and want to do what you can to help keep my family intact. I love that you want to do this for us.
You can’t do this for us. We’ve already tried every available option, looked under ever rock, and prayed as much as we can. We will be divorcing. That isn’t a question. We don’t know what the future holds beyond that. I don’t yet know when or if I will be married again. This is a very difficult time for me, and I’m none too sure what I will be doing tomorrow. I might just cry a lot.
When I say things like “We just grew apart,” or “We’re not in love anymore,” or just generally don’t tell you anything bad about my marriage or my spouse, this is my attempt to tactfully tell you that what you’re asking about isn’t your business. I’m not going to tell you why we’re divorcing, and you should be grateful that I won’t. There are any number of things that may or may not have led into my decision that you don’t want to hear about: emotional, physical or sexual abuse of me, my children or both, addiction, mental illness, infidelity, and a great deal of pain. I don’t want you to think of or treat my ex badly, and I really don’t want to talk about any of this with you. And I really do want you to drop the questions about what we’ve done or not done, or tried and not tried. As I’ve said, this is a very, very difficult time, and your well intentioned inquiries just poke at emotional wounds that haven’t had the time to become scars yet. It feels a lot like getting kicked when you’re down, and this is why many people leave the Church after they divorce.
I have a support system that’s working for me right now. I appreciate your willingness to be a part of it, but right now isn’t the time for that. Perhaps later.
While I was writing this post, I found this tidbit of information on the front page of LDS.org:
The Gospel Principles manual contains information on 47 core principles of the gospel for personal study and teaching. In 2010 and 2011, this manual will be used in Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society classes, as well as the Gospel Principles class for investigators and new members. The manual is available online in multiple media formats.
This excites me quite a bit. One of my biggest concerns in the Church is the problem of doctrine. Mainstream Christianity has a relatively stable, if disputed, and quite elaborate set of doctrines which answer essential theological questions, but Mormonism has a much smaller set of core, essential doctrines and a large and robust set of speculative doctrines. Mainstream Christianity also has a large body of professional clergy who learn these sets of doctrines and the chatecisms, confessions and creeds from which they are derived to carry these doctrines to individuals to strive to keep their belief orthodox. Mormonism, by contrast, has no paid clergy, and is based in revealed truth that extends beyond, and sometimes contrasts with, the chatechisms, confessions and creeds of mainstream Christianity. We believe that many things will yet be revealed pertaining to the Kingdom of God. And we have, and have had, a large group of leaders that we believe can speak, through inspiration, the word of God, just as scriptures hold the word of God.
The profundity, and, from some perspectives, audacity of this claim is hard to overestimate. And it brings some major consequences to Mormonism, as nobody speaks through inspiration all the time. Over time, these leaders have explored doctrinal ideas, and shared those explorations, without always being clear that these explorations were their own personal understanding — what I call speculative doctrines. Speculative doctrines are things which might be true, and are contrasted with essential doctrines which must be true. Speculative doctrines can appeal to people for a variety of reasons, some of which are good, because they are true, and some of which are not so good, because they are false, but they can be handled reasonably well when people understand that they are speculative, and not essential. Think of these as doctrinal urban legends, and you’ll have the right idea.
Occasionally, someone will take a speculative doctrine and, with the best of intentions, extend it far enough that it actually becomes a false doctrine. And it can appeal to other people, and spread. This is a problem. The most striking example I can think of of a false doctrine is the doctrine of Salvation by Works, where the importance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is minimized in the misguided attempt to point to the requirement that we do work both to live and to accept the influece of the Savior in our lives. There is no scripture of which I am aware that tells us of anything that can save us but the grace and love of God manifest in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But, because we don’t want to be seen as accepting the notion that one can proclaim Jesus with their lips, and do nothing to follow the commandments he gave, and be saved, far too many over-react and over-estimate the importance of our own efforts.
So I am excited to see that this course of study is going to reach all the adults in the Church over the next two years. This course will cover the essential doctrines of the Church in their most basic form. Anything not found in this course, or in the temple ceremonies, is not an essential doctrine. Speculative doctrines are fine, so long as they are understood and spoken of as being speculative. I am hopeful that this will help clarify this distinction.
This is primarily for my Facebook friends, particularly those who have not hidden everything I post there (I post quite a lot of stuff, and can understand if it gets a little overwhelming sometimes). I post quite a few things having to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism and Mormon life, and I want to add this to make clear why I do this, and, at least importantly, what I don’t expect anybody to do about it.
I am Mormon. I was born in Mesa, Arizona, which was founded by Mormons, and was strongly Mormon when I lived there (and still is, although there has been quite a migration of Mormons to Gilbert and then further east in the Valley). I call Mesa the southern end of the Jello Belt, which extends north through Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, and up to Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. It is made up of the many communities colonized by Mormons under the direction of Brigham Young, and was once known as the territory of Deseret, before it was brutally gerymandered to form the smallest possible area that would be politically controlled by Mormons in the form of the modern state of Utah. Unlike many Mesa Mormons I grew up with, I was a second-generation member, since both my parents joined the Church as adults (Dad wasn’t baptized until after I was married), and I was the first in my family to be blessed as an infant and baptized at age 8 (the usual Mormon childhood ordinances). When we moved from Mesa when I was 13, I left the Jello Belt, and haven’t lived there since.
It was several years after this that I actually read the Book of Mormon and, in the process, was converted to the gospel taught by the Church. Although my life has had ups and downs in pretty much every way possible since then, I have never lost the certitude of the truth in that gospel. I have not been a terribly mainstream Mormon for quite some time, and gave up some time ago the notion that I have a responsibility to persuade anybody to believe anything in particular that I believe. I will discuss things Mormon with anybody who is willing to have a respectful conversation free of attempts to persuade anyone of anything within the constraints of reality. I am quite certain that nothing anybody can say will make me want the Church to not be true any more than I already have wanted it to be, and that wanting has not been able to change my certitude that it is true, so I can’t imagine that’s going to change under any circumstances.
I post things from a Mormon perspective here primarily for my friends who are Mormon or interested in Mormonism to any degree. Facebook does not give me the power to limit my postings to any of the groups of friends I’ve created, and I would be happy to restrict my posting of Mormon things to one if they did. However, I don’t know which of my non-Mormon friends are interested in Mormon things to any degree, so I just post things, and leave it to you to decide if you want to look at it. Some of the things I post are likely to make some of my Mormon friends less than comfortable — as I said, I left the mainstream of the Church a long time ago — but I don’t post things that I don’t find interesting or important. I do not intend to convert anybody through these things, whether it be converting them to join the Church, or to join me outside the mainstream, or, for some, to join me in my place which might be closer to the mainstream than they are. I do not believe I have the power to change anyone’s mind, and I make no effort to do so. As with most of the things in my life, I share what I find interesting and important for the benefit of those who find benefit in it.
So, I apologize to those who might find these things uninteresting or unimportant, and absent any benefit for them. I am not trying to annoy people (it’s a talent I was born with — I don’t even have to try). I appreciate the patience of those who have chosen not to complain at me for having annoyed them with any of this. I remain willing to talk to anybody about any part of this on a respectful and non-persuasive basis, and I return you to your life, already in progress.
I’ve been perking up to some near-conclusions about avoiding divorce.
One is that there is really no ground to be gained by perpetuating the myth of divorces in the Church caused by silly people who decide that divorce is no big deal, or that they should quit when marriage is hard. Those people represent a very small portion of Mormons who experience divorce, and they’re dumb enough not to recognize themselves in that description. This straw-man needs to be left alone. Continue reading Some ideas on avoiding divorce.
These aren’t really rules in the sense that I enforce them, or that there’s some artificial penalty to breaking them. They are really more suggestions, or guidelines. Rather than fight over what they say, I’d prefer people think about the principles and reasons behind them.
The New Divorce Rule
No dating nor flirting of any kind for at least a year after a divorce is final. You need that year to heal and explore your own contribution to the divorce. You didn’t end up with a failed marriage because you were too perfect, and you’re not going to get better without time, effort and help. Take as much time as you need to get your head straight. Get used to standing on your own two feet, without depending on someone else. Wait until your fear of dating is greater than your fear of not dating, at the very least. Single life isn’t terrible, so find and enjoy the good parts of single life. This protects you from the rebound marriage and the consequent next divorce. Continue reading Blain’s Dating Rules
I realize this is a bit “already in progress” but it’s been an interesting day.
Being a work day, my day started at midnight, as my swing shift turned into my graveyard shift. I usually take it a bit easy across that time, catching up on my online things a bit, and see what’s on History Channel. When it came time to start on the paperwork for the new month, I went to the office computer and set up the med sheets for the month (they just needed some minor adjustments), and then sent them to the printer. Nothing happened. So I checked the printer queue, and found my file sitting there, right next to three copies of a job the case manager had sent to it, none of which was going anywhere.
Some brain-fuel burnt later and I figured out that what seems to be going on is a network problem. Last week, as I was leaving, the Comcast guy was there changing us from DSL to Cable internet, and my coworkers were complaining about having trouble getting on the internet, so I think there’s a problem in the network, probably the router. I think the IPs might have gotten assigned differently than they were configured, and now things aren’t talking to each other the right way. I tried resetting the router a couple of times, and powering down the computer and the printer and the router, but it wasn’t working. There’s a network device in there for filtering things that might be messing with stuff, and I don’t have admin privileges on anything, so I can’t do much more than that.
So I couldn’t print out new med sheets for the month, and had to have a place to track the meds for the day, so I squeezed them into empty spaces on the February sheets, and I’ll probably have to do that tonight, and try to get it worked out in the morning when the case manager gets there, in the midst of all the other chaos of the morning. It’s going to be a rough sleep time — I’m behind on sleep heading into the night, and I’m going to have to stay to get that laid out at least, and then I’m going to have to go to the Lynnwood Parks and Rec department to pick up my hat (I left it there after the pottery class Friday — in a year, it’s the first time I’ve forgot that hat anywhere — much better than my record with baseball caps, but very annoying), and I’m still left with only a few hours to sleep before I have to pack up and head to my afternoon job.
All of this time spent on getting the printer to not work came out of the time I had other things to get done, so I was behind. And, being tired from a bad sleeping day yesterday (yes, this is becoming a pattern), other problems arose. There are three sets of keys for the house, and, Friday night, the other two staff that finished the swing-shift took the set they were carrying with them, so we’ve been working with the set of keys I had that night ever since. And I lost them for about half an hour, right in the middle of becoming more frantic about trying to get everything done that I needed to in the time I had remaining. In a faith-promoting moment, I had a short, frantic, direct standing prayer of “I could use some help here, please,” and I walked to the place where I’d placed some papers on top of the keys and there they were. It was helpful — it’s nice when God puts up with my mouthiness when I really need it.
And then the 0700 staff called to say she’d be 15 minutes late (which wasn’t too big of a deal). By that point, I was in pretty good shape — I just had three baskets of laundry to fold. So I folded laundry while she dealt with kids that were bored in their rooms, but can’t come out until 0900 (other than bathroom things). One of the two 0800 staff that are to relieve me didn’t get there until almost 0840, so I had time to finish folding the laundry and got some of it put away before I left.
The problem with leaving that late was that I was trying to get to Church by 0900, and the ward I tried this week is about 40 minutes away. So, I was about 20 minutes late when I got there. I picked this ward because some friends of mine that I haven’t seen in a few years live there (for those in the know, it was Jay and Audrey), and it would be good to share space with them on the weeks I can’t be at home (and I can’t do the Sunday trip home more than a time or two a month — it just about kills me). Being late, I sat in the back and scanned the crowd to see if I could find them. I found their older son first, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t him — it would be too convenient if the first boy I saw about the right age and size just happened to be him. But the older lady playing with him looked familiar, and then the short-haired guy in front of her turned his head and it was Jay, and then I realized that next to him was Audrey. That was cool. But then I looked and noticed that, next to Jay was Audrey’s brother, my former home teaching companion. I had no idea he would be there — I thought maybe his family had moved into this area as well, and that would just be weird in a good way. But I couldn’t remember his name, and it bugged me — a lot. I’m not good with names in general, and I was just not even thinking about him, and there he was. I couldn’t remember his wife’s name either, but I could remember their older daughter’s name — she used to think I was about the best thing around, and would follow me around, but, not too long before they moved away, she got some taste and decided that she’d at least play a little coy with me (she was like 18 months at that point).
So I sat at the back of the room, staring at these people, trying to remember their names, paying attention to what the speakers were saying for the most part, and having the spiritual experience, while tipping my uncomfortable metal chair back to reduce the muscle spasms in my ribs (which are still there) so I can keep breathing. I closed my eyes at some point in this and started dozing off — making a very unsettling moment when I came awake and realized that I had almost tipped my chair over backwards. At some point, Jay got up and carried out a rather small looking baby, so I figured they’d had another one. Not a huge surprise — it’s been a few years since their second.
After the meeting, I wandered over behind their seats, and the best moment came when Audrey glanced back and saw me, because, when she recognized me, she smiled. See, I’ve been running into people I haven’t seen for a long time on Facebook, but it doesn’t allow you to see what their process is when they get the friend request. It’s hard to tell if they’re at all pleased with the prospect, or if they’re just approving the request to be polite. But there was nothing in the polite or forced in that smile, and that meant a lot. She told Jay that I was there, and it took him a second to think about what Blain she was talking about and then to look over and “Oh.” But they were both glad to see me, and I got to meet the new baby girl, who is only six weeks old. The reason they had all the family there was that they had blessed her this morning, and Jay reminded me that Audrey’s brother’s name is Spencer (I remembered Brooke’s name while driving out of Marysville on the way back afterwards). I told them what’s going on, a little bit, and then they needed to leave, because all the family was there and had seen what they came to see. But they said they hoped I’d come again, and meant it. Again, very nice.
The rest of the meetings went reasonably well. The Sunday School teacher this week (the rotate between two) is someone I know as well, although we weren’t particularly close, and I’m not sure he recognized me. I’ll talk with him next time, when I’ll hopefully be a little earlier getting there — maybe even before the meetings started. Sunday School went well, and that was good — a bad Sunday School experience is enough to not come back, since I have quite a few wards to choose from. So I will be back, at least a time or two.
Sleeping this afternoon didn’t go very well. I woke up for good just before 2000, and now I need to get ready for work — I need to leave in about 40 minutes. And, when I go on-shift at 0000, it will be another interesting day.