Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LDS Church Members Strongly Support Church Staying With the BSA

One of the big news items this past summer in the circles I travel in was the kerfuffle between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America. After the BSA denied the LDS Church's request to briefly delay a vote on dropping the BSA's general ban on gay adult leaders, the Church issued a strongly worded statement suggesting that it would consider other options when top leaders reconvened following their July recess. (See my 7/27 post and my 7/30 post.)

This was a big deal because the LDS Church provides significant membership, support, and income to the BSA. It is the BSA's largest single sponsor.

Near the end of August the Church issued a statement saying that it would continue to sponsor BSA units "at this time," but that it would "continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs." (See my 8/26 post.)

In past posts I opined that the major issue between the LDS Church and the BSA was likely the nature of the relationship between the two entities rather than the resolution about gay leaders — a warning that the BSA needed to engage in some relationship improvement with the Church. A friend of mine who is a lifelong Scouter disagrees with this assessment. He doubts that the church would "be so petty" and feels that the Church's statement was sincere.

During the interim between the Church's original dour statement and its later statement that the Church would continue its relationship with the BSA, I noted that "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)." UPD writes (in this 9/22 article), "Apparently, church leaders didn’t follow the wishes of most of their active Utah members in deciding to stay in the Boy Scouts, at least for now."

UPD has released the results of a new poll that was taken a few weeks after the LDS Church decided to stick with the BSA. The poll "finds that “very active” Mormons say – following their leaders’ decision – their church should stay in the scouting program – 81 percent in favor, 17 percent opposed, 2 percent don’t know."

UPD bluntly states, "When the Brethren speak, loyal Mormons listen – which we knew all along." For the uninitiated, "the Brethren" is cultural code referring to top LDS Church leaders. It is a well documented fact that church members look to top leadership for, well, leadership on issues like this when forming their own opinions.

When the Church's official statement seemed to put the BSA in a negative light, nearly two-thirds of active members were ready to throw the BSA on the trash heap. As soon as Church leaders said they were sticking with the BSA, members strongly sustained the action.

Still, not all active or very active Mormons are happy that the LDS Church will continue to sponsor BSA units. This time around pollsters asked why.
  • 9 percent said it was too costly financially.
  • 47 percent said their church could devise a better program than scouting that would teach young males character, leadership, proper morals and other church-related ideals.
  • 0 percent said scouting was unfair because LDS girls don’t have a similar strong program within the church.
  • 22 percent said recent Boy Scouts national decisions – including the gay leader board vote – no longer reflect the values of the LDS Church.
  • 11 percent said “all of the above” were reasons they want their church out of the Boy Scouts.
  • 11 percent mentioned some other reasons.
  • And 0 percent didn’t have an opinion on why they wanted their church out of scouting.
So church members that want out of Scouting have a variety of reasons for their opinion. But since more than three-quarters of those that consider themselves at least nominally Mormon support the church's continuing relationship with the BSA, it is uncertain how much sway anti-Scouting opinions will have in the church.

People can say what they want. The real proof of how Church members feel about the Church sticking with the BSA will be in how well they support the decision by their actions. More than a few will refrain from wholehearted engagement, constantly expecting the Church's "at this time" statement to reach it's expiration date before long.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Revelation, Authority, and Popular Prepper Prophets

I recently had a rather disturbing conversation with a friend. Through people in his LDS ward, he has begun listening to and reading material of an alarming nature regarding cataclysmic events that are prophesied to occur in the very near future. Prophesied by whom? In the answer to that question lies the rub.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a long history of being guided by divine revelation. The church's earliest origins lie in revelation. Today revelatory experience is encouraged and is to be relied upon at every level in the church from the youngest Primary child to the president of the church.

This central feature of the church, however, comes with a qualifier. It is not simply revelation that is important. It is authoritative revelation that is the church's guiding principle. In D&C 132:8 the Lord said that His house (i.e. church) "is a house of order ... and not a house of confusion." Accordingly, church members are authorized to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom they have authoritative stewardship, but not for others. Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
Revelation continues in the Church: the prophet receiving it for the Church; the president for his stake, his mission, or his quorum; the bishop for his ward; the father for his family; the individual for himself.
Of course, revelation doesn't just come to men. Last year Pres. Henry B. Eyring explained how his mother received revelation for her family. A few days ago I listened as a ward Relief Society president described revelation she had received for those for whom she has responsibility.

My friend finds some of the people to whom he has been listening to be very convincing as they describe their revelations and give their interpretations of those revelations. I do not doubt that these people have received revelations. But I do question their sources and their insistence on broadly publishing their experiences.

Joseph Smith had to tackle the problem of well meaning church members teaching unauthorized revelations when the Church was less than half a year old. The Lord revealed how this was to be handled in D&C 28 (consider especially verses 2-3, 6-7, 11-13). Joseph Smith taught (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 21):
[I]t is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one [else], to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.
Later in D&C 42:11 the Lord said:
Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
My friend is quick to point out that the prophets he has been listening to — he didn't call them prophets, but they fit the definition of a prophet — admonish church members to listen to their priesthood leaders. They say they are only telling people to get their emergency kits and food/clothing storage ready, just as church leaders have admonished for decades.

Oh, and "listen to me and buy my stuff." Even if fortune is not involved, fame surely is. I doubt my friend would countenance my crass take on the matter, insisting that these people only want to use the gifts the Lord has given them to help others. But there is a name for setting oneself up as a light outside of the authorized pattern. It is called priestcraft.

Elder Boyd K. Packer also warned, "Know this: There are counterfeit revelations which, we are warned, “if possible … shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (JS-M 1:22)"

Over the years I have seen many popular but unauthorized prophets come and go. Frequently they have forecast dire events in the near future, often right after the next general conference. I think the first time I listened to one of these people was in the late 1970s. This person interpreted their visions in the framework of the Cold War, insisting that it would become a hot war that would doom all but the few that were prepared. It worked out differently.

In the 1980s I became aware of several of these prophets that foresaw the rapid demise of the US monetary system. When Black Monday 1987 shook up investment markets, followers of these prophets were certain that the prophecies were coming true. I watched one man destroy his retirement savings in an attempt to ensure that his family could weather the coming storm. He achieved the exact opposite of what he intended.

These prophets sometimes suggest that the church is undertaking unusual emergency preparations. From time to time Church spokespeople have denied that the church was doing anything other than what it has always prudently done. But this does not stop the popular prepper prophets from regularly popping up and drawing a following, often preaching to standing-room-only crowds. It seems that Paul was right about church members turning away from "sound doctrine" to those that they think can scratch their "itching ears" (1 Tim 2:3-4).

Church leaders have made it clear that even when people do receive revelations that seem to be useful to others for whom they have no official stewardship, it is incumbent on them to keep it confidential within their stewardship. Some may have grand and glorious visions, but these are generally given for the private enrichment and perhaps for close family members.

Those that receive such revelations open themselves and others up to Satan's deception when they publish these private experiences. At any rate, we ought to see red warning flags anytime we see somebody violating this principle. One church leader has suggested that "God does not reveal himself to blabbermouths."

FAIRMormon has a good page that deals with this topic. Among the quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith listed on the page are the following:
  • If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself.
  • Now, these stories of revelation, that are being circulated around, are of no consequence, except for rumor and silly talk by persons who have no authority.
  • There have been individuals, from time to time, who have been invited to go into the wards, in the sacrament meetings, priesthood classes, Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement organizations, and at times, for their special benefit, cottage meetings have been held where they might come and relate remarkable visions or revelations claimed by these individuals to have been given to them. All this is wrong.
One of the reasons that personal revelations are private is that telestial beings are rarely qualified to interpret them for others. It has been helpful for me to think of our telestial faculties as existing in a two-dimensional realm, compared to celestial beings that exist in a three-dimensional realm. Yeah, I know that's a very imperfect analogy, but bear with me here. After all, I am dealing with a telestial brain.

When God grants a revelation to a human, it's as if that 2D person is granted a limited glance into a 3D space. Not only does their 2D mind have difficulty comprehending it, they lack the 3D vocabulary to adequately describe it. Even prophets have challenges with this. That's why Lehi and Alma II said said, "... methought I saw ..." when describing their visions (see 1 Nephi 8:4Alma 36:32). Some revelations were crystal clear to Joseph Smith, yet our finest scholars still don't understand parts of them. Joseph puzzled about other revelations for years. Some he never recorded or spoke of to others.

When I received my patriarchal blessing (a revelation for my personal benefit), the patriarch explained that no one other than me — with divine aid — was qualified to interpret the words of the blessing. That included him (the patriarch), my bishop, my parents, and even the prophet himself. The same is true of other revelations given for personal use.

Nor do revelations that seem crystal clear always mean exactly what the prophet sees. A quick read of the Revelation of John ought to sufficiently reinforce this concept. John Taylor recorded an apocalyptic 1877 vision that certainly was never fulfilled as he clearly saw it. The Lord often communicates in symbols, analogies, and metaphors. Just as the patriarch was not qualified to interpret the blessing he gave me, those receiving private visions are likely unqualified to interpret their visions for others.

I can't say that the people my friend is listening to have it all wrong. Maybe the world will go down the tube right after October general conference. At any rate, it doesn't hurt anyone to prudently put together emergency plans and supplies as church leaders have long taught. Unless they are acting out of fear rather than faith.

But even if these people are right, I still have a problem with listening to them and giving them credence, because their pattern goes against the order of God's Kingdom on earth. Satan has a lot of practice leading people astray with large doses of truth promoted in the wrong way.

These popular prepper prophets may have the best of intentions. I can't see into their hearts. But I can say that their methods are problematic. My counsel to my friend is to leave the unauthorized prophets alone and cling to those the Spirit has confirmed to him to be the real thing.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Increasingly Public Personal Life Fraught With Challenges

Many examples of generational shift are quite apparent to my generation. Not all of it is bad. Some of it seems to be tightly tied to technology. As in, my generation would have done the same thing had today's technology been available. That's why it's hard for me to take seriously some of the generational condescension spewed by my generation.

One thing that has intrigued me is the rise of the "promposal." That's where teens go all out just to ask a date to a school dance. Last spring Main St reported that teens now spend an average of $324 just to ask a date to prom. Many dates spend an equivalent amount responding to the invitation. It has become very common for these promposals to appear on YouTube, where teens hope that their video will go viral.

The total cost of going to prom reportedly hovers around $1,000 "per household," give or take $100 or so, depending on where you live. That appears to include the cost of the promposal. As I understand it, this means that a couple attending prom spends somewhere around $2,000 for one date.

It shouldn't be surprising that the generation that has grown up with this paradigm is following the same pattern when it comes to marriage proposals and wedding receptions. Proposals are becoming increasingly public and expensive. I'm not the only one that thinks there are some issues with this trend. Studio C has a satirical sketch about an attempt to produce a viral wedding proposal video.
I couldn't find data on the average cost of a wedding proposal. But I suppose it can be presumed that the trend is similar to that of promposals. Wedding receptions are going that direction too, currently running around $25,200 for a party that lasts a few hours.

There are likely many reasons for these trends. Some speculate that as marriage rates decline, those marrying feel that it's increasingly important to make a grander statement about their commitment to each other. Others think that all of these grandiose displays are attempts to compensate for the declining rate of marital commitment, which increases the risk of marital failure. We turn the whole thing into a three-ring circus in a vain attempt to recapture the level of couple commitment that has been lost in the wake of increasing personal freedom.

I'm grateful that my generation didn't have to deal with the social media landscape that developing relationships today must navigate. Not only can everyone find out all kinds of things about prospective dates, it would be irresponsible not to do so. But those public personas available on social media can say things about us that may portray an unbalanced picture of who we are.

Recently, friends and family of a young couple celebrated as the couple's courtship advanced to the point of a marriage proposal. The proposal itself was a huge event with many friends and family members in attendance (along with elements you might see at a circus).

The couple went through all of the normal wedding arrangements. Then just as they were preparing to mail out formal wedding announcements, one partner backed out. Not only was the party off, housing arrangements were thrown into disarray. The couple remains friendly with each other, but the sheer fact of the matter is that the defunct romance shared by this couple is now public record on social media that any future prospective date will be see.

It will be easy for these people's future partners to compare themselves with the partner that didn't work out. I suppose that happened in the days before social media. Only now the new partners will have access to the romantic photos, videos, and love notes from the failed relationship for the rest of their lives.

While it would be easy to grouse about the younger generation, all of this is simply part of the culture in which they live. It's the culture that my kids are swimming in. Each generation faces a unique set of problems and this is among the problems of today's younger generation. I wish my kids well. While I will gladly to what I can to help them navigate the world where they live, they will face many things that are beyond my capacity to help with.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Neighbor Passes Away and Almost Nobody Notices

Many years ago we built a house in a developing subdivision. Over the next several years we were joined by a number of new neighbors. The days of newly installed yards are long gone and nowadays the neighborhood is flush with mature trees, seasoned fences, and cracked driveways. Some of the original homeowners (including us) still live in the neighborhood. G was one of those original inhabitants — until recently, when she made the final move from this world.

G and her best friend T came into our lives when they moved into a home near us, along with T's adopted twin daughters. Although not particularly religious, T had tried to talk a pregnant young woman out of aborting her baby. The young woman finally agreed, on the condition that T would adopt the baby — something that had not been on T's list of things she planned to do in life. But she felt strongly enough about choosing life for the child that she agreed to the adoption.

A short time later it was discovered that the young mother was carrying twins. T was suddenly going to be saddled with two children instead of one. T called her lifelong friend G asking what she was going to do. Eventually the two formulated a plan where they would buy a home together and work together to raise the girls.

At the time that T and G moved in, the girls were a year or so older than our oldest child. There were approximately a thousand kids under age 10 in the neighborhood back in those days. Or at least it seemed that way. Toddlers roamed the subdivision in packs. G always exercised great concern about the neighborhood kids. If you heard a kid nearby bawling, maybe from scraping a knee, you could be sure that G would be one of the first adults to attend to the child. Our kids were frequent visitors to T's and G's place and the twins were frequent visitors to our place.

As the girls got older, T and G advanced in their respective careers. When the girls were in high school, finances were such that T could afford to move to her own home. G bought out T's part of the home in our neighborhood. The girls split their time between T's and G's places, but continued to attend the local high school until they graduated. As the girls advanced into adulthood and started forays into living on their own, we saw less and less of them.

Despite her concern for children, G could be somewhat abrasive. More than one neighbor had run-ins with G. But she always treated our family like gold. When G's health began to fail a few years ago, our family started clearing snow from her driveway and walks. In fact, we kind of took over that chore, an activity for which G frequently expressed gratitude. G had a riding lawn mower that allowed her to continue to care for her lawn during the warmer months.

Eventually G took a medical retirement because she simply couldn't do her job effectively anymore. As G's health issues worsened, she mostly confined herself to her house, so we saw less and less of her. Her sister and brother-in-law frequently helped. But since they lived a few miles away, G always felt comfortable calling us and relying on us for assistance.

A few weeks ago, my wife returned from a visit to G, saying that G was in pretty bad shape. One of the neighbors and I soon paid a visit. Although she was not Mormon, she asked us to give her a priesthood blessing. We gladly obliged. The main thing I felt inspired to say was that she would soon get some relief from her challenges.

A couple of days later, I noticed that my wife was making a batch of cheesy potatoes. Around here the dish is commonly called funeral potatoes. I guess this stems from the fact that the dish is frequently served at family gatherings following funerals. Although this is a beloved dish in our family, we don't make it very often — usually only for holidays or funerals.

When I queried my wife as to why she was making funeral potatoes, she said that G had mentioned to her how much she would like to have some. The thought that she ought to make a batch kept coming to her over the next couple of days until she suddenly had a sense of urgency about it.

G's sister answered the door when my wife took the potato dish over to G's. The sister later reported that, although, G hadn't had much of an appetite, she got a fork and ate some right then while it was hot. The following morning while she was chatting with a family friend, G put her head down as if she needed to rest and then breathed her final breath.

We were among the first alerted by G's sister, who expressed gratitude for all of the years we had been good neighbors to G. But the sister explained that, in accordance with G's wishes, there would be no obituary or funeral. A few days before passing, G had even asked my wife to keep her death quiet in the neighborhood when it happened. She didn't want to burden anyone.

Many neighbors have no idea that G is no longer with us. Her home looks the same for now. She had rarely been seen outside during the past few months anyway. And yet, every time I look at the house, I feel a sense of loss. I'm glad that G's years of pain and physical challenges are over. But I still feel like something is missing.

While my wife promised not to broadcast G's death, I made no such promise. It seems somehow wrong for a neighbor to pass away while the rest of us in the neighborhood go on about our lives as if nothing has happened — as if her life didn't mean anything. She might not have been the easiest person in the world to associate with, but G still played a valuable role in the lives of my family members. She was among the ingredients that made up the recipe for our neighborhood — a recipe that will now be forever changed.

Although not religiously observant, G was a woman of faith. I wish her well in her new surroundings.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.