Sunday, August 30, 2015

An Invitation to Actively Engage In the Sacrament

Note: A few weeks ago the bishopric asked if I would turn a priesthood lesson I had given into a sacrament meeting talk. They promised to give me extra time in the meeting. The following is the text of the talk that I developed. I gave the talk last Sunday. For me it was a powerful spiritual experience. A number of members of the congregation reported the same. We closed the meeting by singing I Know That My Redeemer Lives. I am told that there were many wet eyes.

The Savior and his apostles had gathered in an upper room for the Passover meal. Although none of those closest to him knew it, they were receiving the final messages the Savior of the World would give to them during the last evening of his mortal life. He expressed frustration that he was unable to give them more. In John 16:12 he said, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” They had no idea at the time how carefully the Savior crafted the messages he was giving them.

Among the extremely valuable and important things the Savior did that evening was the institution of a new ordinance. In Matthew 26:26-28 we read:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
The word testament in this context can also be translated as “covenant.” So on the last evening of his mortal life the Savior instigated a new covenant. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the symbol of that new covenant.

After the Savior’s resurrection and ascension into heaven, he visited the Nephites. One of the first things he did during this visit was to institute the sacrament. We can read about this in 3 Nephi 18:3-12. Jesus blessed and broke the bread. Then he passed it to his 12 Nephite disciples. They ate "and were filled." They then passed the bread to the multitude (about 2,500 people), who likewise ate "and were filled." In verses 6-7 Jesus explains this ordinance thus:
And this shall ye always observe to do, even as I have done, even as I have broken bread and blessed it and given it unto you. And this shall ye do in remembrance of my body, which I have shown unto you. And it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.
Then Jesus took wine, blessed it, and passed it to his disciples. They "did drink of it and were filled." They then passed the wine to the multitude, "and they did drink, and they were filled." Explaining this ordinance Jesus said in verses 10-12:
And when the disciples had done this, Jesus said unto them: Blessed are ye for this thing which ye have done, for this is fulfilling my commandments, and this doth witness unto the Father that ye are willing to do that which I have commanded you. And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name; and ye shall do it in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you. And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall do these things. And if ye shall always do these things blessed are ye, for ye are built upon my rock.
I don’t know how much bread and wine the Savior dealt out during that first sacramental service in the Americas. But when the scripture tells us that those that partook of it were filled, I feel that it was talking about something other than being physically filled. It was talking about being filled with the Holy Spirit (see 3 Nephi 20:9), as is promised in each of the sacramental prayers (see D&C 20:77, 79).

Performing this sacred ordinance once wasn’t enough. The next day the Savior again administered the sacrament to the Nephite multitude (see 3 Nephi 20:3-9). Moroni explains in Moroni 6:6 how this pattern continued among the faithful after that: "And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus."

Since the introduction of this sacred ordinance, Christians around the world have regularly observed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Most Christian churches call this ordinance communion, since they also call other ordinances sacraments. However, to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this ordinance is so sacred and important that we traditionally refer to it as The Sacrament, meaning that it holds a special holy place in our worship.

Ordinance and covenant
The sacrament is more than simply a reminder that Jesus has delivered us from being captives of the devil, although, this is how some Christians seem to view the ordinance. It is a covenant experience, a reminder and a renewal of the covenants the Lord has permitted us to enter into with Him.

In the April 2015 general conference, Elder David A. Bednar said:
Ordinances and covenants are the building blocks we use to construct our lives upon the foundation of Christ and His Atonement. We are connected securely to and with the Savior as we worthily receive ordinances and enter into covenants, faithfully remember and honor those sacred commitments, and do our best to live in accordance with the obligations we have accepted. And that bond is the source of spiritual strength and stability in all of the seasons of our lives.
While covenants offer power in this life, they are also the essential building blocks of eternity. Everything that exists in the Celestial Kingdom exists by covenant. All relationships that will exist beyond this life will exist by covenant (see D&C 132:7).

Amazingly, the Lord graciously offers to enter into eternally binding covenants with us here in this life. We are the only church on the face of the earth that understands the doctrine of divine covenants.

Sacrament symbolism
The Lord uses many methods to teach us. But when he enters into sacred covenants with us, he always does so through sacred ordinances that are rich in symbolism. We see this symbolism in the temple. But we should also recognize it in our weekly partaking of the sacrament. Let's consider some of the symbolism we might see in the sacrament.

Passover. The sacrament reminds us of the Passover, when the destroying angel passed over the Egyptian homes of the Children of Israel, after they marked their door posts with the blood of the sacrificial lamb (see Exodus 12:21-24).

Sacrificial lamb. The lamb that was sacrificed for the Passover was required to be unblemished, the firstling of the flock. Jesus Christ was the First Born of the Father, the unblemished Lamb of God. He was the the sacrifice given so that the destroyer might pass us over. Moreover, he was sacrificed at Passover, becoming the ultimate Passover sacrifice.

Sin offering. Anciently a sin offering was regularly made to compensate for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 4:31-35). As we take the sacrament each week, we should look to Jesus Christ as our sin offering.

Sacrament table. Throughout history, sacred covenants were made at altars reared up to the Lord. Sacrifice has always been part of the covenant process. Ancient prophets sacrificed at altars. Under Moses' direction the Children of Israel built an altar in conjunction with the tabernacle in the wilderness. Finally a more permanent altar was consecrated at the temple in Jerusalem.

All of the sacrifices and covenants made on these ancient altars before Jesus Christ carried out his all encompassing Atonement prefigured and looked forward to that Atonement.

The sacrament table at the front of our chapel may look nearly the same as the clerk’s table on the other side of the chapel. But when we have sacrament meeting, the sacrament table becomes a sacred altar where we make and renew covenants.

After the Savior carried out the Atonement, He commanded that his followers discontinue the practice of sacrificing animals. We are now commanded to offer up the sacrifice of "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:19-20) in order to gain access to His great sacrifice.

Torn bread. The torn bread represents the Savior’s body torn and sacrificed for us (see Matt 26:26, Luke 22:19). There was purpose to the tearing of Christ's body in his torturous death. We learn a little about what this cost Him as we read D&C 19:15-19:
Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
Our sacramental bread could be pre-cut into small squares or pressed into wafers. But we don’t do that in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every Sabbath the priests stand at the altar of the sacrament table and tear the bread apart with their hands for the whole congregation to see.

Through the very visual act of tearing the bread apart, we are supposed to understand something about the body of Jesus Christ. We are supposed to gain an understanding that he willingly allowed his body, the very body of God, to be torn apart to pay the price for our sins—for my sins, for your sins.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that we were “bought with a price.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “What an expensive price and what a merciful purchase!”

Wine (water). We now use water instead of wine to represent the blood that Jesus shed for us in Gethsemane and on the cross (see Luke 22:20, 44; Matt 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:26).

Cup. The small cup from which we drink the sacramental water is round. The circle has long been a symbol of eternity, since it has no beginning or end. We might think about the eternal nature of our covenant with Deity as we drink from the cup.

Partaking of emblems. The partaking of the emblems of the sacrament is the execution of the covenant. It is akin to signing a contract. The sacramental prayers (D&C 20:77, 79) outline the terms of the covenant.

We covenant to:
  • Be willing to take upon our selves the name of Christ—to act as His representatives.
  • Be willing to keep the commandments of God. (By the way, the word "willing" gives me a lot of hope.)
  • Always remember our Savior Jesus Christ.
God covenants to:
  • Grant His Spirit to always be with us. This is no trivial blessing. It is essentially God's acknowledgement that we are His and He has a place for us in His eternal kingdom.
The partaking of the emblems involves all of our physical senses—touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste—to strongly communicate to us that we are putting Christ inside of us. No other ordinance involves all of our senses. These physical should be symbolic of spiritual actions. As we perform these physical acts, we should be spiritually putting Christ within us.

White cloth covering emblems. I think there are different useful ways we can look at the symbol of the white linen cloth that covers the emblems of the sacrament. As we see the linen cloth covering the symbolic blood and body of our Savior, we might be reminded of the Savior's burial shroud, which covered his literal flesh and blood sacrificed for us.

As the priests fold back the linen cloth to uncover the emblems of the sacrament, we might be reminded of the Savior laying aside the burial shroud at his resurrection. As the emblems of the Savior's mortal remains rise up off the sacrament table when the priests hand the trays to the deacons, we might be reminded of the Savior's resurrected body rising from the slab in the tomb. We might remember that because of His sacrifice and resurrection, each of us will be resurrected in a glorified eternal body.

The linen cloth could also remind us of fire. Ancient sacrifices were always consumed by fire on the altar. Perhaps we could think of the sacrament trays being returned to the altar of the sacrament table as if they were carrying our sins, which are then laid on the altar. As the priests cover the trays, we might think of the fire of the Savior's Atonement consuming and carrying away our sins.

When we burn something on an altar, we do not expect to see it again. So it should be with the sins we sacrifice to the Lord. We should not expect to see them again. We shouldn't seek to retain or wallow in them. We shouldn't continue to punish ourselves for them. Christ has already paid that price so that we don't have to.

More. There is a great deal of additional symbolism in the sacred ordinance of the sacrament. I think the Lord wants us to make it our lifelong duty to search out and increasingly understand the significance of that symbolism. After all, we engage in this ordinance more often than any other ordinance in the church. Ponder about why that is.

Sacrament meeting
President Joseph Fielding Smith called sacrament meeting “the most sacred, the most holy of all the meetings in the church.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
Perhaps we do not always attach that kind of meaning to our weekly sacramental service. How “sacred” and how “holy” is it? Do we see it as our passover, remembrance of our safety and deliverance and redemption?
With so very much at stake, this ordinance commemorating our escape from the angel of darkness should be taken more seriously than it sometimes is. It should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment. It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions. As such it should not be rushed. It is not something to “get over” so that the real purpose of a sacrament meeting can be pursued. This is the real purpose of the meeting. And everything that is said or sung or prayed in those services should be consistent with the grandeur of this sacred ordinance.
Church leaders have recently reminded us that this ordinance should be the central feature of our Sabbath Day observance. Everything else we do in sacrament meeting—indeed, everything else we do on the Sabbath Day—is or should be merely an appendage to this ordinance.

So what can I do and what can you do to make this ordinance and this meeting as sacred as it should be? For starters, we need to understand that the sacrament is designed to be something we actively engage in physically, mentally, and spiritually. In the sacramental prayers we promise to remember. That’s an active thing. There are lots of things we can remember about the Savior and our relationship with Him.

In his masterful October 1995 general conference talk, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland provides a thought provoking (but not exhaustive) list of things we could remember as part of our covenant. I'm sure that with a little consideration, each of us could readily add to that list.

If we are just passively going through the motions of the sacrament, we’re doing it wrong. Our engagement in the sacrament needs to be intense and personal. We need to be engaged with the Spirit of the Lord. If you are out of the habit of this level of engagement, I invite you to repent.

I have been the father of small children, so I understand that some with young children might find it challenging to be as engaged in the sacrament as they would like to be. Do your best under the circumstances and I promise that you will be blessed. Those of us that aren’t wrangling small children might consider ways in which we can help parents of small children have the opportunity for spiritual engagement during this sacred ordinance.

We also ought to avoid activities that detract during sacrament meeting. In his April 2015 general conference talk, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:
If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward stony ground. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule.
In addition to the sacrament ordinance, everything we do in sacrament meeting needs to focus on Jesus Christ. Elder Quentin L. Cook recently asked us if we would give the sacrament meeting back to Jesus Christ, to whom the meeting should belong. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also said:
One request Christ made of his disciples on that night of deep anguish and grief was that they stand by him, stay with him in his hour of sorrow and pain. “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” he asked longingly (Matthew 26:40). I think he asks that again of us, every Sabbath day when the emblems of his life are broken and blessed and passed.
The talks we give in sacrament meeting should focus on Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Jesus should get more than a passing mention in the last five seconds of the talk before saying Amen. Our music should focus on the Savior. Our prayers should focus on the Savior and His gospel. Even our announcements should focus on the Savior. This is His meeting. He is graciously giving us an opportunity to partake of His Spirit in this meeting.

A couple of months ago a newer couple in our ward spoke in sacrament meeting. Their talks covered various topics, but those topics revolved around the Savior and His place in their lives. This family's example provides a wonderful model that each of us should follow each time we give a talk or bear a testimony in sacrament meeting.

Contrasting experiences
I wish to close by mentioning two different sacrament meeting experiences involving the same hymn. Many years ago in a sacrament meeting our congregation sang the hymn I Know That My Redeemer Lives. This hymn has a wonderful message, but it continuously repeats the phrase "He Lives" in order to make its main point.

Shortly into the song, a few of our Mutual boys began singing "He Lives" very loudly each time it appeared in the lyrics. Only they weren’t singing it in a manner of praise, but in a manner of mocking. They were soon joined by others, including boys and girls, until a somewhat large number of those that minutes earlier covenanted to take upon themselves the name of Christ were mocking Him in the very meeting that should have been dedicated to worshiping Him.

There was a lot of chuckling as this was occurring. I know that this experience can be chalked up to teenager hijinks. But to me it was a spiritually painful experience. It still wince in my spirit when I think about it. I am reminded of when Spencer W. Kimball corrected a hospital orderly that took the name of the Lord in vain by kindly saying, "Young man, please don't say that. He's my best friend. I love Him more than anything in this world."

On a different occasion, when I was in my early twenties, as the congregation sang I Know That My Redeemer Lives, the true message of the lyrics flowed into my spirit in a way that I cannot humanly describe. I truly knew with every fiber of my being that Jesus Christ lives and loves me to the end. It was a powerful, worshipful moment that still energizes me more than 30 years later.

Conclusion
Brothers and Sisters, will each of you join with me in recommitting yourself to make the ordinance of the sacrament a sacred and holy reminder of the Savior, His Atonement, and our covenants with Him each time we participate in the sacrament? Will you join with me in making Jesus Christ the central figure in everything we do in sacrament meeting and in our Sabbath worship? Will you open your heart to Him each Sabbath and let him in? Will you join with me in giving our sacrament meetings and our Sabbaths back to Jesus Christ?

I testify that as you do this, the Holy Ghost will be a closer companion to you, you will more fully receive the light that God wishes to pour into your soul, you will gain a closer relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and you will think and act more like Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The LDS Church Will Stick With the BSA

Late last month, the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America moved ahead with a vote to drop its ban on openly homosexual adult leaders; although, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had requested that the vote be delayed a bit. After the board overwhelmingly voted to drop the ban, the LDS Church issued a strongly worded statement suggesting that it was considering severing its century-plus relationship with the BSA. (See my 7/27 post and my 7/30 post.)

After the LDS Church released its statement, a poll found that a strong majority (63%) of "very active" LDS Church members felt that the church should probably (25%) or definitely (29%) leave the BSA (See Utah Policy Daily article.)

Today the LDS Church issued a statement saying that the church "will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA." The full text of the statement reads:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appreciates the positive contributions Scouting has made over the years to thousands of its young men and boys and to thousands of other youth. As leaders of the Church, we want the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country.
In the resolution adopted on July 27, 2015, and in subsequent verbal assurances to us, BSA has reiterated that it expects those who sponsor Scouting units (such as the Church) to appoint Scout leaders according to their religious and moral values “in word and deed and who will best inculcate the organization’s values through the Scouting program.” At this time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will go forward as a chartering organization of BSA, and as in the past, will appoint Scout leaders and volunteers who uphold and exemplify Church doctrine, values, and standards.
With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.
After rubbing shoulders with a few folks that have some insider knowledge of the situation, I have refined my take on the matter. My conclusions are based on some assumptions, so they may be inaccurate. But I now believe that the main concern of LDS Church leaders with respect to the 7/27 vote by the BSA National Executive Board was about the relationship between the church and the BSA.

The LDS Church has long enjoyed a fairly cozy relationship with the BSA. It has generally been able to get what it asked for from the BSA. After the BSA's 17-member executive board voted to drop the ban on gay adult leaders in mid-July and planned for a final vote by the 71-member National Executive Board on July 27, the LDS Church asked for a delay in the vote to give top church leaders time to confer about the matter. Uncharacteristically, the BSA turned down the church's modest request, signalling that the long-term tight relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA was over.

The New York Times openly puzzled about this, saying that the LDS Church had signaled after the mid-July vote that it could live with the new policy. This seems to indicate that it wasn't necessarily the policy itself that was the main issue, but the BSA's treatment of the church's request that was the chief factor behind the church's public statement about possibly leaving the BSA.

My sources have given me to understand that this statement was the church's way of telling the BSA brass that they had better work fast to repair some bridges or that the church would leave the BSA in a bad way. That tactic appears to have been successful. I have no idea what has gone on between LDS Church and BSA leadership over the past month. But it has been enough to ensure that the church will continue to register its 8-to-17-year-old boys in the US with the BSA.

For now, at least.

A careful reading of the final sentence of today's statement by the LDS Church makes it clear that the church may still leave the BSA behind at some future point. A more international church-based program, perhaps with less nationalistic flair may be coming. Some assume that it will be coming and that the only question is how soon it will come.

Regardless of what is said by church leaders going forward, this episode will necessarily diminish support for BSA programs among LDS Church membership. For some church members holding Scouting positions, this is all they needed to drop any semblance of support for the BSA. But even died-in-the-wool Scouters will be going forward tentatively, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Less effort will go into building long-term programs and those that carry out the programs will do so with far less enthusiasm. I expect church members to donate less to annual Friends of Scouting drives that help fund BSA programs.

As a lifelong Mormon and a long time Scouter, I'm grateful that church leaders didn't keep us waiting too long. Frankly, I'm a little surprised at today's announcement in support of BSA programs. I was prepared to hear that the church was done with the BSA, although, the Scouter in me hated that idea. Regardless of what the future holds for the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA, I will continue to fill my roles in the BSA as long as I have a BSA unit to belong to.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10: Some glitches and frustration, but it works now

Like everybody else that has a Windows 7 system, I got a new Windows 10 icon in the task bar of my computer a few months back promoting a free Windows 10 upgrade. (Yes, free. Because Windows 8 was disastrous for Microsoft and they have to do something to retain customers.) My family currently has 6 Windows machines, three each using Windows 7 and Windows 8. I thought that getting them all onto the latest Windows version without additional cost would make my life easier.

The Windows 10 upgrade was released at the end of July. But I have been pretty busy for the past few weeks. So I put it off until a few days ago. I finally clicked on the Windows 10 icon and clicked the button to get started. The update was downloaded in the background and I was promised a notification when the process finished. I came back a while later and clicked on the icon again to see what was happening. Although I had received no notification, the download was complete and the installation could begin. So away we went.

During the installation, which lasted well over an hour, the screen displayed the percent complete. When that part was finished, the screen displayed a series of messages letting me know that it was getting things ready. One even said that it was taking longer than expected, but to hang tight.

Privacy concerns
Finally I got to the login screen. Then there was a message saying that the new system would do all kinds of fancy things. All of these things are code for "You're about to give Microsoft permission to know everything about you and what you do on your computer, including keystrokes. Yeah, that means Microsoft gets your passwords, account numbers, browsing history, and everything else."
A tiny link at the bottom of this screen lets you customize these settings. I did so. This Polygon article and this Jonathan Porta blog post do a decent job of explaining what these options mean. Microsoft assures us that all of this data sharing will significantly enhance the user experience. So leave the options you're comfortable with turned on and turn the others off.

The Windows 10 screen says that you can change these settings at any time. And you can. But first you have to find where Microsoft has hidden them. Windows icon -> Settings -> Privacy. You can also just start typing privacy in the taskbar until you see a link to the privacy settings.

Disaster
So I finally finished the installation and I waited breathlessly as the main Windows screen resolved. My familiar desktop background and icons started to appear. A new taskbar partially appeared. And then the screen flashed off and on about once per second. And it just kept doing that. I searched on my phone for solutions and found several. Unfortunately, they all required keyboard strokes and/or mouse clicks, none of which worked at all.

So I did what any decent tech person would do; I hard booted the machine. (Hold down the power button for at least four seconds.) But when it booted back up, the results were the same. I again hard booted. But instead of logging into Windows, I held down the Shift key while clicking the Restart option. That brought me to a screen where I chose Advanced options. One of those options was to boot in safe mode.

Once in safe mode I tried to apply some of the various fixes I had found. But I couldn't make any of them work. So it was with a heavy heart that I went to the recovery screen and selected the option to revert to Windows 7.

I honestly expected my machine to be completely messed up at that point. In fact, a popup message almost promised as much. But everything worked just fine in Windows 7. I was pleased with that, but sad that I wasn't able to get Windows 10 to work.

Reinstalling Windows 10
Over the next day or so I did some online research. Lots of people have had the flashing screen problem. Lots of people have had the dysfunctional taskbar problem. There are lots of ideas on what to do about it.

One idea about fixing the flashing screen problem involved downloading an experimental Windows 10 driver for my graphics card, waiting until Windows 10 is installed, booting to safe mode, and installing the driver. One approach for fixing the taskbar problem involved entering commands to change Windows registry values in PowerShell. I'm a tech guy, so I felt comfortable doing this stuff. I wouldn't expect the average user to try this kind of thing.

Yesterday I decided to launch into it. I again clicked the Windows 10 icon and clicked the option to go ahead. After a few seconds of thinking the window disappeared. And then ... nothing. My computer didn't do anything. Windows 7 just worked like usual.

After futile attempts to get the update to function, I finally checked in Windows Update and found the Windows 10 notification there. I clicked the option to install it. It had to go through the whole download process and installation process again.

When that hour-plus activity was finished, I was ready to force Windows 10 to boot to safe mode, but something inside said to just try booting normally first. I did that. The main screen booted up without any problem. No flashing screens. The taskbar worked fine too. Go figure. Maybe Microsoft updated its software during the two-day interim.

I launched a variety of applications and tried various activities to see if the new operating system had broken anything. Everything I tried worked, including my VPN to the network at work. I had read something about some people needing to reinstall VPN and VM software. All of mine worked without reinstalling it.

Except for the audio. I had an error message telling me that the Dolby Advanced Audio software expected an old driver, while I had a newer driver installed. Moreover, when I played audio, the speakers sounded very quiet. The audio also had glitches: gargles, beeps, slowdowns, slurs. It was weird.

I searched for solutions to the audio problem. Some of them were quite technical. Some involved downloading drivers I couldn't find anywhere on the internet. It was frustrating. Finally I went into the device manager, clicked the button to delete the audio driver, checked the checkbox to delete related software, and then rebooted the machine, knowing that Windows would automatically reinstall the (hopefully correct) driver.

When Windows came up again, the audio worked just fine. The volume was normal and the glitches were gone. I listened to a variety of stuff to make sure it worked as expected.

So now I have Windows 10 up and running on my computer that had previously been running Windows 7. I think I will next upgrade one of the Windows 8 machines, probably the one the kids use in the living room. If all goes well, I will probably move on to the Windows 7 laptop. Then probably my wife's Windows 7 machine, if she lets me. (She once had an unfortunate Windows 8 upgrade attempt that left a sour taste in her mouth for operating system upgrades.)

Should you upgrade to Windows 10?
That's a question that's difficult to answer. You have to face the fact that Microsoft will eventually discontinue support for Windows 7 and Windows 8 operating systems. Going to Windows 10 will give your machine new life and make it more maintainable.

If you're comfortable doing the kind of technical research and work I have described here—or are able to get someone that is comfortable doing it to help you—then I think you should go ahead and make the switch. Many people have had very smooth experiences with upgrading to Windows 10. But don't expect yours to go that way. Expect trouble and prepare for it.

I can tell you that at this point, I am pleased with the results of upgrading, although, I had to spend a handful of hours on the task over several days. I'm hoping that now that I've acquired this experience, upgrading my other machines will be easier. Keep your fingers crossed.

Update 8/26/2015
Our family has now successfully installed the Windows 10 upgrade on an all-in-one, a desktop PC, and a laptop. The upgrade went without a hitch on the last two. In using Windows 10, we have encountered some pleasant surprises while experiencing a surprising lack of unpleasant surprises. Kudos to Microsoft.

I wanted to install the Windows 10 upgrade on one of our Windows 8.1 machines, but the system would only allow me to reserve it, so that Microsoft can roll out the product in waves. I suppose this helps the company manage its customer support. Several sites provide instructions for forcing your system to begin the download. I followed the steps provided, but the download did not begin. I guess I will just have to wait.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Experience Attending National Order of the Arrow Conference

Last week I attended the National Order of the Arrow Conference (NOAC) at Michigan State University with my two youngest sons. The Order of the Arrow is a service subdivision of the Boy Scouts, known as Scouting's national honor society. The organization's largest event, NOAC is held about every three or four years.
This NOAC was special, because it represented the centennial celebration of the founding of the OA. What started as a little program to honor campers at one Scout summer camp has expanded into an organization with about 165,000 members. 15,000 of those members were at MSU last week. The only reason there weren't a few thousand more in attendance was that there was simply no way that the venue could host more people and there was little chance of getting another venue that could.
I'm not big on attending conventions. I have arrived at a stage in life where large crowds aren't that appealing and where many large events are simply less personal extrapolations of smaller events. While larger events can take advantage of economies of scale, they almost always entail logistical drawbacks in exchange. Many people in my profession love going to information technology conferences. Me, not so much.

Planning to attend NOAC
Despite my dislike of large events, our family made a commitment and we started plunking down money more than a year ago for the boys and me to attend this function. The boys (especially Son #3) had a strong desire to attend.

Son #3 had attended NOAC in 2012, which was also held at MSU. Until last week, that NOAC had been the largest OA event ever, with 8,000 attendees. Son #4 was new to the OA last year, but he had the idea that he would like to attend the event. We figured that it was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to share an experience like this with the two boys.

I had an idea of what NOAC was all about, having attended the 1979 NOAC at Colorado State University (4,351 attendees) and the 1986 NOAC at Central Michigan University (3,700 attendees). Of course, that was a long time ago and the crowd sizes were orders of magnitude smaller.

By late autumn last year it became clear that there was far more interest in this NOAC than in past events. National asked lodges to limit the number of adult attendees so that more youth could attend. I squeaked by because I had two sons going, one of whom has special needs.

Getting to NOAC
After an entire year of coordination (mostly online, but bolstered with a number of in-person meetings), our lodge contingent of 49 people met at the airport early on a Saturday morning. After the obligatory waiting around, we flew to Detroit, where a chartered bus took us to a hotel. After getting settled in, the bus shuttled us to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Then it was back to the hotel for activities, swimming, relaxing, etc.

On Sunday we attended church. The LDS members of the contingent visited the Dearborn Ward, which was a long way from our hotel. I loved the diversity and feeling of the Spirit in that ward. The remainder of the contingent attended a nondenominational service led by a lay pastor from our group. During our travels, the freeway we were on passed through the infamous Detroit slums. Even from the walled freeway, the blight of what looked like an endless demilitarized zone was unavoidably apparent.
Very early Monday morning we were back on the bus, which took us to the east end of the MSU campus. The check in procedure seemed fairly well designed. We attended a couple of orientation events, had professional group photographs taken, and checked into our dorms. We ended up on the sixth floor of a large and seasoned dormitory that turned out to be a mile from most of the closest events. The large cafeteria served food that was ... well ... cafeteria food. Not terrible, but nothing to write home about. Oh well, somebody had to stay there.

One of the ways that OA members distinguish themselves is by wearing a white sash bearing an embroidered red arrow pointing over the right shoulder. (Bar and triangle devices denote membership/honor types.)
Each NOAC 2015 attendee was given a special centennial sash that has a white arrow with specialized devices (including NOAC 2015 token in the middle of the shaft) embroidered on a red background. Given the limited run, the sash has already become collector item. Although we were all asked to wear our red sashes throughout the week, some attendees refrained from taking theirs out of their wrappers. More on collecting later.
We spent Monday afternoon exploring campus and relaxing. We had arrived on campus before 8 am. Some groups were scheduled to arrive as late as 4 pm. So we counted our blessings.

NOAC shows
The conference began with an opening show at the jam-packed basketball arena on Monday night. In fact, the arena hosted big shows four nights of the conference. Unlike past conferences, everyone had assigned seats. This made getting into the arena much more pleasant.
Before each show they had a pre-show that was very much like pre-game events. They played loud music. Some of it was accompanied with lyrics displayed on the jumbo-tron to encourage singing along. I was surprised at how many of the boys lustily sang along to Neil Diamond's 1969 hit Sweet Caroline. The song was released before many of these boys' parents were born.

Boys also enthusiastically sang along with the 1975 Kiss song Rock and Roll All Nite, which likewise was released before some of these boys' parents entered this world. Although I grew up with these songs, I think that I had never really known what the lyrics said until I saw them scrolling down the big screen in the arena.

The song that took the house down was Let It Go from Disney's Frozen. It was hilarious to see thousands of boys loudly singing this song that they wouldn't be caught dead singing at home in front of their little sisters.

During each pre-show event they brought out this huge T-shirt flinging Gatling gun a couple of times. Each time they would shoot about 20 shirts into the audience. They also had single-shot T-shirt bazookas that fired T-shirts into the upper seats. Son #4 was one of the first ones to catch a T-shirt on Monday night. Then he complained at every subsequent show that they weren't shooting shirts into the area where we were sitting. By my count, he was one of fewer than 2% of attendees that got a shirt that way, so I told him to quit griping and be grateful.

Most of the shows were very Scout and OA based. One night centered around the Distinguished Service Award. Another night focused on how the OA has positively impacted lives. Tuesday was the most entertaining night. The show opened with Charles Peachock, who has an amazing juggling act. Unfortunately, the night concluded a country music act that featured two sopranos that were great at singing third intervals. But they were loud, very high pitched, and every song sounded like a slight variation of the same thing. I can best describe it as grating.

The final show on Friday night was my favorite. It featured a play about honoring the main principles and goals of Scouting even as the program morphs to fit the needs of a modern society. The story was about a Scout camp that was being modernized. Some characters felt that the plan destroyed too much valuable tradition. One character that was a wise old scoutmaster cautioned against making the trivial sacred while trivializing that which should be kept sacred. The main actor was our former lodge chief, who did an amazing job. In fact, all of the actors, both youth and adults, performed at professional levels.

After the Friday night show they had a fancy light, indoor firework, laser, video, music, and confetti display that lasted about 15 minutes. It was a lot of fun. But it was also very loud. I had thankfully brought some earplugs with me.
There were some things that I didn't like about the shows. The main thing was the talking. They sure had lots and lots of public speeches that went on and on. All of the presenters were pretty decent public speakers. But frankly, if you go more than three minutes in a large crowd of Boy Scouts, anything you say after that sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown. It doesn't matter how good your message is, they won't hear it. And they certainly won't remember it.

The first night the OA national vice chief spoke ... and spoke and spoke. I'm sure he's a great young man. And he is an accomplished public speaker. But, golly, he sure loves to hear himself talk. Mark my words, he'll be a professional politician someday. The national chief talked another night, but to me it seemed easier to listen to than the vice chief's talk. It was still too much. We also heard talks from BSA President Robert Gates (who has been a member of the OA since his youth) and BSA Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock. A couple of other large events also featured more than sufficient lecture.

Many said that there was far less talking and more informing through entertaining theatrical events at the 2012 NOAC. I tried to imagine the planning for the 2015 event. In my mind's eye I could see someone at a meeting saying, "I attended NOAC in 2012 and we had way, way too much fun stuff at the shows. What we didn't have enough of was talking and lecture. Because everyone knows that Boy Scouts love to hear people talk ad nauseum."

On Friday morning we had an event in the football stadium. While most logistical aspects of NOAC were exceptionally planned and executed, they dropped the ball on getting people into the stadium. We spent half an hour crowded in the stifling space under the stadium. Claustrophobics would have freaked out. The scent was awful. So much BO.

When we finally got to our seats, they announced that we were going to listen to a talk. The audience forgot all about a Scout being courteous they loudly emitted a mass groan. Fortunately, the key speaker was Creek Stewart, Eagle Scout and host of the popular Weather Channel show Fat Guys in the Woods. He was brief and inspiring.

#DareToDo
I still am rather displeased about the national chief's #DareToDo initiative. The good part is that he asked every member of the OA to make a difference in the lives of others by committing to perform one act of unselfish service each day for the next 100 days. I wholeheartedly support this. But then he asked everyone to post each day about their service on social media using the #daretodo hashtag. I disagree with this part of the initiative and I won't do it.

Posting on social media about the service you perform seems to run afoul of the Savior's admonition in Matthew 6:1-4. Those that do good works to impress others "have their reward" — a worldly reward. Jesus asked us to serve quietly, "and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." Maybe it would be good to post daily for 100 days about good acts you observe others carry out.

NOAC events and activities
Like any convention, NOAC offered a variety of classes, seminars, and activities. Participants had to sign up online for classes and certain activities weeks ahead of the conference. But there was also a plethora of formal and informal activities available — so many that there was no way an individual could participate in even half of them.

A friend of mine worked with others from around the nation to put up a very good museum called the GEO (Goodman Edson Observatory). I was very impressed by the museum. The effort that went into putting it together for less than a week astounds me. Everyone I know that visited the GEO, both youth and adults, found it impressive and informative.

A large city park, which was labeled The Hub for this event hosted hoards of outdoor activities and entertainment events. Some of these were under tents. Many were not. But the weather cooperated quite nicely throughout the week.
One of the premier activities was the OA Warrior Challenge, which was a long and broad ranging obstacle course that covered most of a city park.
Son #3 was interested in doing the challenge, but wasn't interested enough to wait in a line that was at least 45 minutes long. Despite his challenges, Son #4 did the challenge early one day when the line was short. Before long he was walking rather than running between stations. When he finally came across the finish line, he felt nauseous. Still, I was proud of him for finishing.

A fellow from our lodge that is an art teacher ran a T-shirt silk screening activity all week long at The Hub. Anyone could bring a blank T-shirt (or hoodie, or neckerchief, or anything else) and get the conference slogan "It starts with us" screened onto it. Our contingent spent a number of hours volunteering at this activity. We screened as many as 16 T-shirts at a time and had a pretty good process going.
There were indoor events around campus too. I spent a lot of time volunteering at the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) lab. Given my career, I was supposed to work at the software development exhibit. But the exhibit failed to show up. So I was assigned to work at the interactive liquid nitrogen exhibit. The real stuff at the exhibit was handled by chemistry PhD candidates from the school. One of the other volunteers was a career PhD chemist. Although I was the odd man out, once I put on a lab coat and safety glasses, people treated me like a chemist. Amazing how that works. We had lots of fun and it was great to watch the boys (and even the adults) enjoy the activity.

Collecting
One of the major informal activities that occurred all over campus was patch trading. Most that are familiar with Scouting know that patch trading and collecting has a deep hold in the Scouting culture. Outsiders probably have difficulty understanding this mania. Heck, I have trouble understanding it, since I'm not much of a collector. But thousands of youth and adults at NOAC engaged in patch trading. There were trader blankets set up on patches of grass all over the place and most nights the large field house filled with traders.
This is somebody else's collection
My two sons became deeply involved in the patch trading enthusiasm. Almost every night I had to drag them away and force them to return to the dormitory, getting us to bed way too late. Son #4 saw a patch he fancied, but he could find no one that would trade it away. Finally, he hunted down the dorm of the lodge the issued the patch. He camped out in the lobby, pestering passers by until he found a lodge member that would trade for the patch.

And people don't just trade patches. They trade money. Some rare patches sell for hundreds of dollars — which to me seems like an astronomical price, given that they are coughing up big dough for pieces of embroidered cloth. Ebay hosts a vibrant Scout patch trading market. There are even people that make their living at this.

Getting around campus
We had the misfortune of being housed in a dorm that was nearly two miles from most major activity centers. Conference organizers had arranged for buses to run in a continuous loop around campus. But even with all of the buses, it was sometimes quicker to walk than to wait. Plus there was plenty of walking to and from bus stops and at activities. Even with lots of bus riding, my phone tells me that I walked 7-10 miles every day that I was on campus. This is part of the logistical tradeoff of having a large number of conference attendees.

One day I took my boys to the MSU Dairy Store, which was reputed to have very high quality ice cream. We waited in line 40 minutes to see if it lived up to its reputation. The selection seemed meager for someone that is used to choosing flavors at Farr's Ice Cream. The ice cream was good, but it certainly wasn't superior to stuff that can be readily obtained locally. The only thing that made it worth waiting in line was being in line with lots of other people with whom we could socialize.

I take my hat off to the MSU staff that made the conference logistics work quite well. These people worked hard, mostly behind the scenes. MSU employees put in lots of extra hours. I felt sorry for the scoopers at the ice cream store, who worked very hard continuously throughout their shifts. On Thursday evening I overheard one cafeteria worker telling another that he had already put in 77 hours that week and that he still had to work on Friday and Saturday.

The mostly volunteer NOAC staff also did yeoman's work in pulling off the conference. And they paid their own way to do so, arriving as much as a week before the first day of the conference. That's serious dedication.

Connecting at NOAC
One of the main purposes of any conference is to connect with others. This time around, the OA employed PokenSPARK technology that has become quite popular at professional conferences. Each attendee completes an online profile, sharing as much data as they wish to share. Then each time they touch their SPARK to another, contact information is swapped as the devices light up. You can see contact info for everyone you "sparked" via a web page or via an app on your phone. And you get to take the device home with you.
Not everybody got into sparking. But many did. I sparked with about a thousand people from all over the country. Indeed, from all over the world (since some attendees were U.S. citizens living abroad). But my rank was close to #5,000, meaning that about a third of the attendees sparked with more people than I did. I didn't put a lot of effort into it, but I willingly sparked with anyone that held up their device in my vicinity. The app also included an interactive campus map that helped with navigation. Very ingenious.

Wrapping up NOAC
On Friday afternoon I was helping at The Hub as they held a major celebration. Near our station was a stage where we saw several live bands play and other entertainers perform. I felt badly for the final band of the day. Crowds were dispersing and everyone was working to dismantle the place while the band played. No one sat and watched them, although, they were arguably the best musical act of the entire conference.

Contingents had arrived in Michigan over a period of several days, some traveling by car or bus, and others traveling by air. But the staff worked to process everyone out over a 10-hour period. There simply aren't enough buses and airplanes in the area to make that process efficient. Our group was among the first to arrive, but we were also among the last to leave (by assignment, not by request).

The need to move buses around rapidly meant that we ended up in the Detroit airport for about seven hours waiting for our flight. It wasn't all that bad. The airport is large, but it is more like a shopping mall than a traditional airport. They even had a stage with live music and a water feature that was intriguing to watch. There are plenty of places to shop and eat (at high prices you would expect in an airport). And there is a very nice tram that you can ride around the place.
Our gate was in an area where international flights came and went. The thousands of people that passed by came in different shapes, sizes, colors. They came from diverse cultures and religions, spoke varied languages, dressed differently, etc. And yet as I sat there I had a spiritual experience, as I sensed the intense love God has for each one of these individuals.

Our flight home was uneventful. It was rather late on a Saturday night when we finally collected our bags and headed home. Each of my boys managed to anger their mother by losing a nice Tupperware water bottle somewhere at MSU. Neither bottle ever showed up in the lost and found.

My take on NOAC
NOAC was a grand experience. But it was grand mainly because I was with my kids. Without my own kids, I would have gone to the event if asked just to help other kids. That would not have happened this time around, given that there was a waiting list for others to go. I don't particularly like large gatherings and I could readily have gone happily on with life without having attended this event. But it was important to my two youngest sons. Watching their enjoyment of the event made it fulfilling for me.

I had mixed emotions throughout the event. Scouting has played a big role in my life since I was about four years old when my mom first served as a Cub Scout den leader. I have been a member of the OA for 41 years. It was great to meet together with OA Scouters from all over the place.

But overshadowing the whole thing was the recent row between the BSA and the LDS Church (see my 7/27 and 7/30 posts). The Church has played a bigger role in my life than Scouting and I wouldn't even be involved in Scouting were it not for the Church. Like other LDS Scouters, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop — to get direction from church leaders and see where the path leads. Could this NOAC end up being my last major Scouting event? Maybe.

Scouting is a great movement that accomplishes much good and is filled with good people. But it's far from perfect. Certainly the LDS Church has signaled that the BSA may now be too flawed for church purposes. The OA is imperfect too. For years people have questioned the Native American aspects of the OA. A handful of protesters occupied a street corner on the MSU campus one day during NOAC raising those questions once again.
Another problem I see with the OA is lack of diversity. It's not that there are no minority members of the OA, but at each gathering of the entire NOAC, I looked across that sea of 15,000 Scouts and Scouters to see nearly all white people. I have nothing against white people, being one myself (with some distant Native American ancestry). But quite frankly, NOAC looked like a white boys club seasoned with a few token nonwhites.

I don't know if NOAC attendees are closely representative of the broader OA membership. After all, it costs a chunk of change to attend NOAC, which likely eliminated a lot of people of all races, even if most boys were expected to help raise funds to defray conference expenses. But whether that expense level more heavily impacted nonwhite Scouts is anybody's guess. I'm just reporting what I observed.

The next NOAC is scheduled for 2018 at Indiana University Bloomington. I fully expect attendance to drop off dramatically, given that it's not a landmark anniversary like 2015. Also, BSA and OA membership have dropped fairly briskly in recent years. If that trend continues, there will be a much smaller pool of potential attendees. At this point I'm not planning on attending NOAC in 2018. We'll see where events lead over the next three years.

My boys and I were happy to sleep in our own beds after a week away, even though, the beds we slept in while away were comfortable enough. I'm glad that I accompanied my sons to NOAC. It was a once in a lifetime experience to do something like this with two of my sons. The way life runs, timing, finances, age ranges, and interests will likely never again align for something like that to occur. Regardless of what happens to my involvement with Scouting in the future, I will long cherish the week I spent with my boys at the 2015 NOAC.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Will the LDS Church Drop the BSA? (Part 2)

On Monday, July 27 I wrote this post about the response of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to end the BSA's blanket ban on gay adult leaders. Since then a variety of thought has emerged on this subject.
  • The LDS Church has publicly stated that it is "deeply troubled" by the vote in favor of the new policy. "Church leaders Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, General Young Men's President Stephen Owen and General Primary President Rosemary Wixom" were three of the 12 BSA National Executive Board members that voted against the new policy. (45 board members voted in favor of the policy change.) Church leaders will re-examine the church's involvement with the BSA, perhaps opting for an international program that will be uniform for young men throughout the church.
  • The National Catholic Committee on Scouting expresses "strong concern" about several aspects of the new policy, but in the end the committee recognizes "the increasing need for the Catholic Church to offer Scouting as a program of youth ministry."
  • Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said that the new policy will bring the cooling he has seen by Baptists toward the Scouts to a freeze. However, "Baptist churches are autonomous, so each church will decide for itself."
  • The Methodists seem to have no qualms with the new policy.
  • Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders have signaled a greater interest in sponsoring BSA units. Total numbers sponsored by these groups has always been small.
  • BSA assurances that the national organization will defend the rights of sponsoring churches to restrict unit level adult membership to those that sufficiently observe the religion's teachings comfort some but not others. LGBT advocacy groups have made it clear that they plan to barrage conservative churches that sponsor BSA units with lawsuits.
Many practicing Latter-day Saints with whom I have spoken are already nailing the lid on the coffin of the LDS Church's involvement with the BSA. Some gleefully so. This is admittedly not a scientific sampling. I feel that members should avoid speaking for the prophet before the prophet speaks. A Church spokesman told reporters, "In our church, the leaders don't make decisions on a 7-to-5 vote. They make decisions in unanimity...."

One LDS Newsroom statement does not make official church policy. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously do that. So, calm down. We know that the Church is miffed about the BSA's snubbing of the Church's request for a delay in the vote. After all, the Church has traditionally had a cozy relationship with the BSA and has been able to call on favors of that nature without problem. The BSA's snub clearly communicates that that kind of thing is over.

We also know that the Church has long worked on plans for a church-wide activity program for young men that would allow boys in all of the 170 countries with LDS Church units to be on the same page. This may be the time for that program to go forward.

Something that many outside the Church (and some inside the Church) don't quite understand is that Scouting has acted as an extension of the Aaronic Priesthood. The New York Times, for example, says that "Mormons use the Boy Scouts as their main nonreligious activity for boys...."

Being an activity program does not mean that it is not religious in nature. Church leaders have repeatedly called Scouting "the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood." LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has said that Scouting is "an activity program to apply the values and put into practice the principles they learn in their [Aaronic Priesthood] quorums."

While the Church maintains relationships with many organizations that have practices that the Church does not condone, these are not integrated with the Church's priesthood. This latest change in what some see as foundational principles of the BSA may simply mean that the program no longer aligns closely enough with purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood to retain its hallowed place in LDS theology. If it were simply a nonreligious activity program, the BSA's policy change wouldn't be as big of a deal.

Of course, all of this is speculation. After considering the matter as a fully body, LDS Church leaders might opt to stick with the BSA. I suspect that this would only happen if BSA leaders were to undertake some serious patch up work with the Church over the next few weeks. But what do I know? Top Church leaders will have the final say.

I am highly disappointed in Latter-day Saints that have taken to social media to gloat over what they assume will be the complete demise of the BSA. They assume that if the LDS Church leaves the BSA, all conservative churches will likewise defect, resulting in a 50% drop in membership. Some are openly glorying in the BSA declaring bankruptcy. Excuse me, but how is this any better than the hard edge LGBT activists that have engaged in this same kind of sentiment?

Actually, right now it looks like the Methodists (2nd largest BSA sponsor) and the Catholics (3rd largest BSA sponsor) are going to stay with the BSA. Baptists seem the next most likely to leave the BSA, but they sponsor only 5% of youth. And since they are independent, some Baptist churches will stay. The BSA also promises to bolster its flagging numbers by heavily recruiting sponsors among schools and other nonreligious organizations.

Still a 20%-25% drop in membership would be very painful for the BSA, especially after seeing a 13% decline in membership over the past two years. No organization that experiences that kind of business reduction can remain viable without major restructuring. This would necessarily involve layoffs and asset liquidation. While Utah and heavily Mormon areas of Idaho and Arizona would see the worst of it, BSA councils throughout the nation would be impacted.

On the other hand, one of the reasons the Church has stuck with the BSA for this long is that it has provided a platform for church members to develop relationships with people and organizations outside of the Church. Many missionary and public relations opportunities have ensued. If the Church retains its relationship with the BSA, this will be part of the reason for it.

Having been a longtime Scouter, I am seeing a variety of reactions among LDS Church members involved in Scouting. Some are tired of watching the BSA pull back from its moral stances. They are ready to let it go. Some aren't happy about the situation, but they're resigned to the Church disassociating itself from the BSA. Some are in denial. They just don't want to think about it. But one thing that is for certain is that overall enthusiasm for the program is way down among the Scouters I know. They will continue to do their duty for the sake of the boys. But the spark isn't there anymore.

I wonder what Church members will do if the Brethren say that the Church is sticking with the BSA. Will they wholeheartedly sustain the move, or will they receive the word with a doubtful heart?

Monday, July 27, 2015

BSA Allows Gay Leaders: Will the LDS Church Drop the BSA?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote this post asking whether the Boy Scouts of America would vote to drop its ban on gay Scout leaders. The 17-member BSA Executive Board had just voted unanimously to drop the ban. The board had then scheduled a final vote on the issue by its National Executive Board (reputed by have around 70 members) for just a couple of weeks later. That didn't leave much time for opponents of the vote to prepare their opposition.

The proposal called for removing sexual orientation as a factor in adult BSA membership, allowing religious organizations that sponsor Scouting units to retain the ban for religious purposes. This is an attempt to thread the needle of what has become a very sticky situation for the BSA. While conservative churches that sponsor most BSA units have generally been opposed to dropping the ban, I explained in my post how it has become socially and legally untenable for the BSA to retain the ban.

While this storm has been brewing for a couple of decades, the BSA has arrived at a state where keeping the ban would very likely result in the organization's demise from external and liberal internal pressures. But dropping the ban could also destroy the organization by way of internal conservative pressures.

As I thought would happen, the BSA National Executive Board today voted (45-12 — apparently some members of the board did not vote) to approve the proposal, thereby, dropping the ban on homosexual adult leaders, while promising to defend the right of churches to select local BSA unit leaders that conform to each church's religious standards (see KSL article).

Due to a statement released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which currently sponsors more BSA units and youth than any other organization — we now know that the LDS Church was snubbed by the BSA when it requested that the vote be delayed. The full statement reads:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is deeply troubled by today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America National Executive Board. In spite of a request to delay the vote, it was scheduled at a time in July when members of the Church’s governing councils are out of their offices and do not meet. When the leadership of the Church resumes its regular schedule of meetings in August, the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined. The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America.
"As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available. Those worldwide needs combined with this vote by the BSA National Executive Board will be carefully reviewed by the leaders of the Church in the weeks ahead."
In my earlier post I opined that the LDS Church would accept the new policy. It is now quite apparent that I was overconfident in that opinion. Some will say that it's a done deal. Maybe. But let's not get the cart before the horse. Let's wait and see what the prophets, seers, and revelators that guide the Church have to say on the matter after they reconvene next month. Once we have clarity we should move confidently ahead with the direction given, regardless of which way it turns out.

If the LDS Church drops its sponsorship of the BSA, roughly a quarter of the BSA's membership will evaporate. By my estimation, additional conservative sponsors that might separate from the BSA could add up to nearly that same number. So the BSA would likely lose somewhere between a third and a half of its membership over a fairly short time frame. Presumably the national board has done the math on this and they figure that this is the least painful path forward.

Membership losses like this would result in large layoffs among BSA employees and the liquidation of many BSA assets. I cannot see how any of the three Utah based BSA councils could survive. I'm guessing that the LDS Church would eventually acquire many of the camps currently run by these councils to facilitate the church's own program for its young men.

The LDS Church has a long history of forethought and planning. So I can't imagine that the church has no plan for what would happen if it dropped its relationship with the BSA. Although it's possible, I doubt that the church would drop its BSA sponsorship overnight. It would likely be set at a future date or a phased plan to allow transition time.

The LDS Church also has reasons to stick with the BSA. Doing so presents opportunities that otherwise would not exist to interface with members of other churches and organizations. But if the church retains its sponsorship of BSA units, the relationship between the church and the BSA will likely be somewhat strained. This would result in far less enthusiasm for Scouting among U.S. church members. Increasing numbers of church members would simply be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

From a personal perspective, it would be sad for me to see the LDS Church quit sponsoring BSA units. I have spent thousands of hours over decades volunteering in Scouting on both the LDS Church and BSA sides of the program. My life has been immeasurably enhanced through my lifelong relationships with both the LDS Church and the BSA. I have five full Scout uniforms hanging in my closet. (And I use them too.)

But to be quite honest, I would never have been involved in the BSA without the church's sponsorship of the program. It would be sad to see that go away. But times change and organizations change. Not everything that was can continue to be. If the church quits sponsoring BSA units, I imagine that my Scout uniforms, paraphernalia and memorabilia will be relegated to symbols of a cherished but bygone era and of promises made that have become part of who I am.

Until such a time comes, however, I will continue to proudly and energetically fulfill my Scouting obligations. I urge others to do the same.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My Mormon Pioneer Ancestors That I Didn't Know About

July 24 in Utah is Pioneer Day, an official state holiday that celebrates the 1847 entry of the first group of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley. For me it's pretty much just a normal work day.

For most of my life I thought that I didn't have any ancestors that came across the plains to Utah. As far as I was aware, the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my family line were my maternal grandmother on the one side and my father on the other. I have always revered these as my Mormon pioneers.

Somewhat recently I became aware that I actually do have Mormon pioneer ancestors that came to Utah in the mid-19th Century. My maternal grandmother's ancestor Archibald M. Wilsey joined the LDS Church in 1835. He held leadership positions in the church near Nauvoo, Illinois during the church's Nauvoo era. His wife Phebe Manchester died the same year that Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844.

Records indicate that at some point Archibald migrated to Utah with at least some of his children. We also have record that his son-in-law William Penn Hatch (also my maternal grandmother's ancestor) came to Utah with a wagon train at some point. So I do indeed have bona fide Mormon pioneers among my ancestry.

However, neither Archibald nor William, nor apparently any of their descendants (as far as I know at present) remained in Utah. I have no idea how long they stayed around the main body of Mormons, but at some point they returned to Illinois. Nor do I have any information about why they did so.

We do know that William served in the Union forces during the Civil War and that his grave marker says that he was a colonel. (I don't know whether he achieved that rank during or after the war.) He died in Quincy, Illinois (near Nauvoo) at the end of the 19th Century.

Back in Illinois Archibald became affiliated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ), where he served as one of the seven presidents of that church's First Council of Seventy. Archibald served several missions for the RLDS Church and was a faithful member and leader until the end of his life.

This explains why my grandmother was raised in the RLDS Church. Through this church she developed a fervent testimony of the Book of Mormon, which like the Bible, is revered as scripture by Mormons. Still, Grandma eventually developed questions about her RLDS faith. Failing to get satisfactory answers from those she knew, she wrote to the church's top leaders. Some of their responses are still in our family's possession. These letters failed to resolve Grandma's concerns.

Like many others of that era, Grandma and Grandpa moved westward with their expanding brood. They were farming in a remote spot in Nebraska when Grandma's sister wrote to her about the LDS Church, promising to send missionaries. Grandma wrote back saying that she was opposed to that plan.

But when the missionaries showed up they offered their labor on the farm in exchange for room, board, and preaching opportunities. They worked long hard days on the farm with Grandpa. In the evening after dinner they taught the family about the gospel before bedding down in the barn.

By and by, Grandma and the children that were old enough were baptized members of the LDS Church, although, there was no nearby branch of the church. Later when the family relocated to Wyoming (bouncing back and forth between Montana and Wyoming a couple of times), Grandpa was baptized; although, he never pursued the faith as seriously as Grandma did.

Grandma remained a stalwart member of the LDS Church through the end of her life. Grandma's youngest daughter moved to Salt Lake City after high school graduation. Several years later she had a remarkable experience (recounted in this 2011 post) that led her to serve as a missionary for the LDS Church in Germany for two years. Doubtless that would not have happened had Grandma not been a solid Mormon pioneer.

During her mission, Mom helped teach the gospel to a young German man. He was baptized just a few days before Mom left Germany. But they corresponded. Sometime later the young man emigrated to Colorado. When Dad had been a member of the LDS Church for a year, he and Mom were married and sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. This union worked out very well for me.

I don't know why my Mormon Pioneer ancestors Archibald Wilsey and William Penn Hatch left the LDS Church. But their involvement in the RLDS Church provided a platform for Grandma to join the LDS Church, for Mom to serve as a missionary in Germany, for Dad to join the LDS Church, for my parents to get married, and for me to be born.

Happy Pioneer Day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Will the BSA Drop Its Ban On Gay Adult Scout Leaders?

Just two years ago the Boy Scouts of America agreed to admit openly gay (but chaste) youth into its traditional programs. At the same time, the organization firmly maintained its ban on openly gay adult leaders. (See 5/23/2013 KSL articlemy 5/24/2013 post.) Although most members of the executive board and many members of the national executive board had wanted to drop the ban altogether, their studies revealed little support among sponsoring churches and Scouting families for permitting gay adult leaders.

What a difference two years makes. Since the policy change in 2013, acceptance of gays has grown dramatically among the general population. Prohibitions on same-sex marriage have systematically met their demise at the hands of courts, legislatures, and even voters. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that states and local governments must recognize gay marriage.

Quite frankly, top BSA leaders have been preparing for this situation since 2013. Just days after the Supreme Court issued its recent ruling, the BSA executive board voted to abolish its general ban on homosexual adult leaders (see KSL article, St-Ex article, BSA Newsroom Blog post). Most adult membership requirements will still be maintained at the national level, but questions regarding sexual orientation of adult leaders will now be shifted to local sponsoring organizations. More on this in a moment.

The new BSA document titled Why the BSA Must Reconsider the Adult Leader Standards does exactly what its title says. Here are some salient quotes:
  • "Over the last three years there has been a sea change in the law with respect to gay rights."
  • "The inescapable consensus in the legal community is that a protracted legal battle to defend the BSA’s current standard excluding gay adult leaders is unwinnable."
  • "[O]verly-broad court decisions could limit the BSA from maintaining any membership standard until an appellate court reaffirms the BSA’s and religious chartered organizations’ constitutional rights with respect to the duty to God."
"[I]nstead of leaving the matter for the courts or lawmakers to decide"—a process that has been increasingly unfriendly to moral objections to homosexuality—the executive board decided to take actions that would preserve the right of religious organizations that sponsor BSA units "to determine the standards for their Scout leaders."

Some warned in 2013 that the vote to drop the BSA's ban on gay youth members would eliminate the legal basis for maintaining any kind of ban on gay adult members. They were right. The BSA's own document states, "The BSA no longer has a policy stating that homosexuality is immoral and unclean, which was the basis for the BSA prevailing in Dale." Ergo, the BSA no longer has a legal basis for its ban on gay adult members. Some leaders that supported the policy change anticipated this development.

A second BSA document titled Effect of Changes In Adult Leader Standard On Religious Chartered Organizations offers a legal analysis of potential challenges to BSA unit sponsors that restrict gays from holding BSA adult leadership positions. Non-religious organizations that sponsor BSA units will have no legal protection if they attempt to restrict gays from holding leadership positions. The document mostly addresses churches.

A strong case for First Amendment and other legal protections allowing religious organizations to choose leaders for their BSA units is laid out. It assumes that churches will maintain pretty much the same rights they have for selecting ministers. The writers opine concerning two potential types of lawsuits, apparently unable or unwilling to imagine other approaches that will certainly be tried.

Some Scout camps, for example, are on property leased from the Forest Service or another government agency. What if the government creates a policy stating that organizations that discriminate against gays will not be permitted to use this property? It would be argued that this policy is not specifically directed at religious groups.

Under this scenario, the BSA could continue to operate the camps, but BSA units sponsored by churches that do not allow gay people to serve as leaders would be banned from attending those camps. Where would the courts come down on this issue? How certain is that outcome, especially given how courts have ruled recently? How much would the litigation cost?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors the largest number of BSA units, might be able to circumvent a problem like this, since it allows people with same-sex attraction to serve in all kinds of callings, as long as they keep the church's chastity code, which prohibits homosexual behavior (see MormonsAndGays.org).

Still, activists will undoubtedly step up to challenge any restriction on homosexual behavior. After all, churches argue that the Constitution protects religious behavior and not just religious belief. Activists will contend that the same is or ought to be true for sexual orientation.

While the BSA Executive Board paints its proposal as a best case scenario, it's clear that the envisioned bed of roses is fraught with many thorns. It seems clear to pretty much all observers that the Supreme Court's recent ruling will lead to many legal clashes involving religious freedom. The proposed BSA policy change will feed into that.

The BSA National Executive Board will vote on the executive board's proposal on July 27. There are somewhere around 77-81 members of the national board, including high ranking LDS Church officials Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Primary General President Rosemary M. Wixom, and Young Men General President Stephen W. Owen.

Apparently the national executive board's vote is the final word on the matter. I'm not sure why the the 1,400 member BSA National Council doesn't get to vote on it, as was the case with the last major membership policy change. But apparently leaders have found a way avoid that body—a body that might not go along with the proposal. But I would be surprised if the vote on the 27th failed to affirm the executive board's proposal.

In my own circles, I know more than a few that will be dissatisfied with the policy change, seeing the BSA as an organization that fails to stand for the principles it purports to espouse. People will withhold donations and will refrain from doing BSA volunteer work.

Some will be disappointed when the LDS Church fails to drop the Scouting program following the vote, perhaps to the point that it negatively impacts their testimony of the faith. Perhaps they would prefer to stand on their moral high ground while riding the old policy down to the legal destruction of the BSA.

Some that are called to serve in Scouting positions in the LDS Church will simply refuse to implement the BSA programs, substituting their own ideas instead. I admonish any that feel this way to follow the counsel of Mac McIntire from his 9/8/2014 LDS-BSA Relationships Blog post.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote on July 27th, Scouting will continue to offer valuable programs to young people. But to continue to exist, the BSA must operate in the legal and cultural environment of the day. I know of those that will disagree with this statement, but I say better some Scouting than none. It's not a perfect program, but I have seen it bless the lives of many people. May it continue to do so.