Thursday, February 26, 2009

What is a Mormon "Institute"?

If you're a college student or young adult interested in learning about Mormons or meeting some Mormon friends, you can visit your local LDS Institute of Religion.

"Institute", as members commonly call it, refers to both a physical location and a set of religious courses. Mormon students meet at the institute to supplement their secular education with classes about the scriptures, church history, and other related topics. Institutes are often also a place where students can study, socialize, and participate in organized activites. Institute is often held at a local chapel or a separate building purchased by the Church.

The Church has an online locator that can help you find the nearest Institute. You're welcome to participate in the activities whether you're a member of the Church or not. This can be a good way to make new friends and familiarize yourself with Mormon beliefs and lifestyle. An institute might also be a good place to find a roommate if you are looking for someone else who wants to avoid alcohol, sex, or profanity in your living quarters.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The Kid" returns to Seattle!

As a die-hard Mariners fan, today -- for the first time in a long while --I have something to smile about. Forget the 101 losses. Forget Ichiro staying in his own hotels on road trips. Forget that this is supposed to be a painful rebuilding year. "The Kid" is back in Seattle.

Ken Griffey, Junior was every aspiring Little Leaguer's hero in the central Washington town where I grew up. In that era he gave Dave Niehaus some of his only reasons to say "My oh my!" He was the reason the M's broke .500 for the first time. For Seattle fans, Griffey brought hope in proportions Barack Obama would be proud of.

When you ripped open a new pack of baseball cards fresh from the grocery store, Junior's was the one that you wanted to find. I remember pining over whether I could afford to shell out $7 for his Donruss rookie. I was certain I could eventually put my kids through college with it. (Guess it's okay that it's only worth $28 today because in the end it was more than my ten-year-old budget could handle.)

But card value aside, The Kid in a Mariners uniform again is priceless. Thank you Seattle and Griffey for making this happen. I'll see you at Safeco this year!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teaching about tithing

My wife and I pay 10 percent of our income to the LDS Church as "tithing". A 10 percent tithe is taught in the Bible and is a principle Mormons are asked to adhere to.

We believe that by giving to the Lord, we show the faith that He'll provide a way for us to have the shelter, food, clothing, and other things we need. During my full-time mission in Argentina I often saw this to be true. The country was experiencing a period of great financial devastation and unemployment was through the roof. I knew several Church members who had to personally live the following scripture, putting the Lord to the test:

"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10)

I was amazed in particular about how one old man, a Chilean immigrant, always seemed to find odd jobs to put food on the table. He was well past his prime years for manual labor and had limited education. However, I saw that he paid his tithing and did his best to serve in the Church however he was asked. His faith opened the "windows of heaven" and although his circumstances were humble, they were always adequate for his needs.

I want my children to understand why we pay tithing, so tonight for Family Home Evening we endeavored to teach our three year old son about it. We gave him ten pennies. We explained that this represented the blessings that Heavenly Father gives us. For each coin we gave him, he cheerfully replied "Thank you!"

We then asked him to return one of the pennies. He was happy to do so knowing that he could keep the other nine.

We then repeated this exercise with dimes and with quarters. Although I don't expect our son to know fractions at his age, hopefully he got something of the "one out of ten" principle.

In the end, we had 36 cents of tithing. He enjoyed putting it in the envelope and watching me fill out the donation slip. We showed him the Bishop's name on the envelope and explained to our son that he can give the envelope to the Bishop on Sunday.

After the lesson we had to run an errand, so at the store our son used his money to buy a treat. He picked "Dots" and we shared a few before bed (and before brushing teeth).

God's blessings are indeed sweet.

To read a Mormon church leader's talk on tithing, which includes some information about how the money is used, see Elder Robert D. Hales' Tithing: A Test of Faith with Eternal Blessings.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Catholics, Mormons on the same page with New Media

I recently learned that both the Mormon and Catholic churches have launched their own channels on YouTube. The LDS channel, Mormon Messages was recently showcased on the Church's website. The Vatican's channel was introduced by Pope Benedict XVI last month.

The Pope's message introducing the channel was titled New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect. This speech is comfortingly similar to LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard's widely-circulated 2007 talk Using New Media to Promote the Work of the Church. I've chosen just a few examples that show just how closely these Mormon and Catholic leaders view our changing media environment:

Pope Benedict: "The new digital technologies are, indeed, bringing about fundamental shifts in patterns of communication and human relationships. These changes are particularly evident among those young people who have grown up with the new technologies and are at home in a digital world that often seems quite foreign to those of us who, as adults, have had to learn to understand and appreciate the opportunities it has to offer for communications."

Elder Ballard: "How different your world is today. If you read newspapers, the chances are you read them on the Internet. Yours is the world of cyberspace, cell phones that capture video, video downloads and iTunes, social networks like Facebook, text messaging and blogs, hand-helds and podcasts. As many in my generation are just getting onto email, that’s already becoming old hat to most of you. "

* * *

Pope Benedict: "If the new technologies are to serve the good of individuals and of society, all users will avoid the sharing of words and images that are degrading of human beings, that promote hatred and intolerance, that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality or that exploit the weak and vulnerable."

Elder Ballard: "Satan is always quick to exploit the negative power of new inventions, to spoil and to degrade and to neutralize any effect for good. Make sure that the choices you make in the use of new media are choices that expand your mind, increase your opportunities, and feed your soul."

* * *

Pope Benedict: "Dear Brothers and Sisters, I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives."

Elder Ballard: "Talk honestly and sincerely about the impact the gospel has had in your life, how has it helped you overcome weaknesses or challenges, and helped define your values."

* * *

Pope Benedict: "It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development."

No comparable quote from Elder Ballard on this one but this Mormon-produced YouTube video pretty much says the same thing:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Testimony of Elmira Pond Miller

Browsing through some family history files my Grandpa gave me on a CD, I found this account of Elmira Pond Miller written by herself in 1890. This history is unique because it contains not only a chronology of her life, but also her religious feelings that led her to convert to Mormonism in the early days of the Church. She recounts:

"Father did not belong to any church. My mother was a Methodist, also my two sisters and one brother. I was religiously inclined. In my young days I read the New Testament often, and many times wished that I had lived in the days of Christ and His apostles and often wondered why the same gifts and blessings were not in any of the churches. We were told that they were no longer needed. That seemed a mystery to me. My desire was so great to prepare for a future state that I made up my mind to unite with the Methodist Church. That was in the year of 1827. In 1829, we moved to Adams County, Illinois. From that time I was not a member of the Methodist Church. I found that I could not believe as they did. I did not believe in shouting or in calling out amen before a prayer was finished. I believed that God was a person as I had read in the New Testament, that Christ was in the exact image of the Father. I had a great anxiety to find something that would satisfy my mind. I was sometimes impressed with the hope that greater light would come, and it was my sincere prayer that I would be prepared to believe it.

"On the 19th of June 1831, I was married to Henry William Miller. He was not religiously inclined, but I believed that he was the one for me, for I loved him the first time that I met him."

. . .

"In 1839, I heard the first true Gospel sermon I had ever heard in my life. It was delivered by Elder Able Lamb. I could not help but express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for sparing my life, and giving me the opportunity of hearing the same gospel taught by Christ and His Apostles. . . . Brother Lamb held meetings at our house. After having a few meetings he gave an invitation for baptism. I was one of the first to accept. He said he did not like to baptize me, as my husband was not then at home. He wanted me to wait until the next meeting which would be held in two weeks, and he promised me that my husband would be ready to be baptized at that time. I did not like to wait, but did as he desired, and the promise that he made me was fulfilled, as we were both baptized at the next meeting. This was about the middle of September 1839. The Gospel was so plain that I could not believe that my relatives would reject it, but only three of my sisters believed. One of them did not join the church because her husband refused to let her be baptized."

. . .

"I feel to bear my testimony to this work. I know it is the true church, the only one the Lord has on earth, and whatever I may have to pass through I never can doubt it. This knowledge I received not only by those appointed to lead, but by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost which is a sure guide. I have many testimonies to bear. I have seen the sick healed by the laying on of hands and prayer of faith. I have been healed myself and so have my children."

Elmira's loyalty to her faith was put to the test, as several years after joining the Church she was forced out of her home in Illinois and eventually walked across the Great Plains to settle with the Mormons in the Salt Lake Valley. Although I have not had to do anything like this, the reasons she gave for believing are the same ones that I feel. I find it thrilling to belong to a Church that believes that God is literally a person, a father, just as it says in the scriptures. To me it makes so much sense that Christ's church would be directed by him, and would have apostles, prophets, and miracles, just as in the Bible. I think many people believe these things deep inside, and that Mormonism resonates in the soul of people who study it with a sincere intent to find God's will for them.