Under the Banner of Heaven

A colleague from work read this book – Under the Banner of Heaven by John Krakauer – and had some questions for me about my faith in the LDS church.  I agreed to read it despite its misrepresentations of our church. 
Here is my response which is merely based upon my own experience and perhaps polar opposite bias as a devout member of the LDS church.  For the official church response to the book, you can look here.  First, John Krakauer is a very talented story teller, and he told a very tragic story of two brothers, Dan and Ron Lafferty, (excommunicated members of the LDS church), who ultimately tried to carry out Ron Lafferty’s "revelations" to murder a set of people that Ron held a grudge against.  They ended up horrificly murdering their sister in-law and her toddler daughter.  The story was compelling in all its tragedy.  Where I thought Mr. Krakauer did his readers a disservice was presenting selective facts to lead the reader to the following conclusion:
1.  You can not communicate with God.
2.  If you do, you are likely crazy or at the very least unreasonable.  Look at what happened to the Lafferty brothers.  There is certainly an implication that people that claim to receive revelation put themselves above law and commit unthinkable violence.  This is a theme that is reinforced over and over through very selective facts.
3.  The LDS church members holds dearly to the belief that each individual can communicate with God and receive answers, therefore the LDS church members innately have this disposition to commit unthinkable acts.  There is an extension of this conclusion to denominations of the mainstream Christian church that also believes that they may receive answers from God.

Mr. Krakauer at the end of the book, fully admits that he is a skeptic.  He believes quite strongly that we can not communicate with God.   To be honest, I can understand his skepticism.  Many people feel that it is impossible to communicate with God.  Many people feel that it is impossible to know God.  And many people will look at facts and issues through their own special filters and blinders to justify their own beliefs.  I only say that I understand, because I was once a very convinced atheist.  I had contempt for those that claimed that they "knew" God existed and that they saw God’s hand in their lives. I felt sorry for those that turned coincidences into divine intervention.  Our brains are quite good at recognizing patterns and also making up patterns among random data when none exists.  Indeed, I have once walked in Mr. Krakauer’s shoes believing that religion was for the feeble minded, and annoyed by what seemed like exaggerated testimonies.

However, because I was often surrounded by men and women that were religious, I was always curious and remained open minded to the small probability that there could be something more.  Now and then, I would demand defiantly of God to prove himself.  Show me that He existed.  If He’ll do that, then I’ll believe.  Not surprisingly, He never answered my demands.

Then one day, in one of my most humbled hours, I asked – not demanded.  I asked to know if He was up there.  I asked him to save me from my predicament, because I was broken-hearted.  I was in a business situation that clearly seemed like I could not save myself.  He didn’t save me from my financial troubles, but He did answer me.  He has answered me over many years through powerful experiences that seared into my heart that I could never forget, nor ever deny.  These experiences I’m happy to relate in person.  No, He did not save me from my business troubles, but He did save my life.  Through His promptings, through His teachings, through the studying of scripture, my life was reprioritized.  I found my father’s love that I have never known just years before he passed away, and served him to the best of my ability in those last years.  I was blessed with an incredible wife with whom by any measure I have a stellar relationship with.   We are blessed with a wonderful family, my most treasured assets.  Could this all be a coincidence?  Possibly, but I know it’s highly improbable, because I know who I was before God answered me.  I know what my priorities were, and how I have changed to be prepared and appreciate the blessing I have received.

So, this is my answer to Mr. Krakauer’s book.
As for the demeanor of our church members, there are almost 13 million members in the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints.  Mr. Krakauer chose to represent this church through
a handful of excommunicated members, dissidents, apostate fundamentalist groups,
quotes from leaders of the church without historical context or context
of their quote in order to justify his thesis – his own beliefs.  The
most intellectually insulting aspect of the book was that it takes the
most sensationalist people and events, and poses them as
representative of the church.  Dan and Ron Lafferty are about as
representative of our church (or any Christian church) as Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao Zedong are of atheists.  Although it may make for an attention getting, controversial book, neither are true.  I wish there was a book that catalogued the millions of lives that our church has saved from despair, millions of families that are strengthened.  This is the church that I know, and the effect of a Christian life that I’ve experienced. 

More importantly, Mr. Krakauer poses a very important question – Can I know that God exists?  And does He talk to us?  These are indeed fair questions.  Mr. Krakauer certainly seems to think it is impossible. 

To Mr. Krakauer, other skeptics, and those who might be wondering – Can I know?  I am compelled to answer, Yes you can.  As surely as you can know that Antarctica exists (assuming you’ve never seen it), you can know.  The more relevant question becomes, "Do you really want to know?"  Because if you do, and if you ask in sincerity, He will answer.  Many people for much of their lives, may not care, or often don’t want to know.  I think this is ok.  Inevitably however, there comes a point in every person’s life, where they are confronted with a broken-heart – with a situation that they feel they can not endure by themselves.  When this time comes, I urge you to ask.  He will answer, as a doting Father does for his beloved child. 

This is merely my experience and my testimony.  I hope and pray that you, the reader, will one day remember these comments and take up the challenge when the time comes, so that you too may have your own spiritual experiences and a testimony of His divine love and plan for each one of us.

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Caleb’s First Talk in Church

Caleb gave his first talk today at Church.  We were all excited last Sunday when he received the assignment.  On Monday night, we prepared a 7 sentence talk about the sustaining of our new Church President, President Monson.  Some of the words like "General Conference" and "raise our hands" were too big, and we used pictures to aid him.  Our plan was to rehearse the talk every night  until Sunday in preparation.  We set up the piano bench as the podium and took our seat on the couch.  To our amazement, on Monday night he was able to whip through the talk without any assistance.  We didn’t quite get around to rehearsing every night, but he had a chance to go over the talk 3 or 4 times over the week.  Tenille and I had a discussion about whether or not one of us should stand up there with him.  He seemed like he could and wanted to do it by himself, but at the same time, we were afraid that he might freeze up with the pressure of the entire class looking at him.
Sunday morning, we decided we would let him do it by himself.  Worst case, one of us would run up to the front and help him finish.  Tenille and I both sat at the back of the class, and I was holding Andrew, so any change in plans would have to be executed by Tenille.  After prayer and scripture were given by the other kids, it was finally Caleb’s turn.  Caleb made his way up to the podium with his piece of paper.  Sister Hartley, who just helped the other two kids with the prayer and scripture shot a glance at Tenille and it seemed like there was a moment of confusion.  Although Sister Hartley usually helps with the scripture and prayer, I think the usual protocol is that the parent of the child helps with the talk.  Sister Hartley gave a polite gesture asking if she should help Caleb, and Tenille whispered, "I think he should be okay." 
There are probably some parents out there who expect much from their children – perhaps too much.  They put their kids in impossible situations and show disappointment when their kids can’t measure up to their overzealous aspirations.  They do not have a well-grounded sense of their children’s limitations.  At the moment Tenille whispered to Sister Hartley, "I think he should okay," it felt like we were on the brink of proving to that small classroom, that we could very well be those parents of ill repute.  
I was nervous and excited for Caleb as he grabbed the microphone and put it to his mouth.  There was an expectant silence as Caleb looked out into the classroom.  From the stare on his face, I couldn’t figure out if he was nervous or if he was just ready to rip through it as he had at home.  I smiled at him, wondering inside if this was too much for him.  Half of me wanted to prod Tenille up to the front to help him, but there was another half quietly waiting and expecting him to just get started.  The silence grew to a point where it seemed like someone needed to intervene.  Keeping his eyes locked on the classroom, Caleb started in on his talk.   At home, sometimes he would rush through so quickly that you couldn’t even understand him.  But up on that podium, he said his words slowly and deliberately.  About half way through the talk, Caleb stopped.  He had yet to look at his paper.  I wondered if he had forgotten that he had the piece of paper to help him with the talk.  The pause grew longer and longer.  I tried to smile encouragingly from the back, hoping that he remembers that his paper had the talk written on it.  It seemed like he froze.  We were bad parents.  Tenille stood up and took a step toward the podium, when Caleb started back up again. 
Without ever looking at his piece of paper, he finished his talk – slowly and deliberately – just as he had started.  Perhaps, they were just memorized words rolling out of his mouth.  But, the way he said them gave the effect that he knew what he was saying and meant every word.  "I am thankful for a prophet.  I love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
Caleb received many compliments and several ladies from Primary commented that the talk was very special…..and not necessarily because he gave a memorized talk without assistance.  We were moved by the Spirit he brought into the room as he expressed with his pure 3 year old voice the faith and love of Christ, our Savior.

Jam-Packed Saturday

What a Saturday!  Tenille gave me most of the day to play and do "man" things.  I woke up in the morning, and got Caleb started for the day (which typically involves yogurt and Sesame Street.)  I headed over to Norm Smith’s house to play a few hours of paintball.  It was Norm and Brian Peay (the two most sneakiest paintball players I’ve ever seen), vs. Karlin, Trent, Michael (Brian’s nephew), and myself.  Brian introduced Michael as an ex-con, which at first I thought was a joke, but indeed he had done some time in various correctional facilities around Washington.  He seemed like a decent guy, and it reminded me that all of us make various mistakes of one kind or another.  Although honestly, I expected him to be a bit better at paintball…. Don’t get me wrong, he was good, and perhaps the best on our team… but there’s something about having served time where you just expect them to just tear it up on a paintball field… I suppose at the end of the day, he did score our only two wins by grabbing the flag (in capture the flag).
After paintball, I mowed the lawn which was my one chore promised to Tenille…   Admittedly, I was about a month overdue on this chore…
Then I rode my bike in to Seattle from Sammamish River Park.  It was about 20 mile ride into Fremont that took a bit over 1 hour.  What a spectacular ride.  I caught myself thinking I wish my boys were older so I could do this ride with them.  Most of the route is along the Lake Washington waterfront.  The sun was out and the temperature seemed like it was flirting with 70 degrees.  There were so many people out riding, walking, and running.  I managed to keep up most of the way with a Team in Training group of about 10 bikes that were doing about 16 mph.  When I saw downtown Seattle rise into view, it was a great feeling of accomplishment. 
Caleb attended Karma’s birthday party, and Tenille picked him up and met me in Fremont.  We went to the Seattle Center to watch the robot competition.  Caleb seemed to enjoy it again.  It wasn’t quite as good this time, because we missed the first round, where most of the robots were broken in one way or another…
Afterwards, we met my mom on the Ferry to Bainbridge Island.  We took a quick trip to Poulsbo where she was scoping out an apartment complex for her real estate business.  Poulsbo seemed like a lovely town.  We were only there for about an hour, but I’d love to return there over the summer and walk around in their little waterfront village.
Finally, we went to my uncle’s house on Bainbridge Island because it was his birthday.  The weird part was that my uncle wasn’t there. Apparently, he went out early with his friend to have a special fun guy’s day.  So, we ended up having dinner with my aunt.  The dinner was terrific… but I suppose a bit weird, since it was supposed to be a birthday dinner, and the birthday person didn’t attend. 
The boys crashed on the way home in the ferry, and my body started exacting its revenge upon me for the bike ride as our day came to a close.  It’s difficult to pack in more in a day than that… although having lived with Tenille, I know it’s possible…  

Jeffrey Sachs visits Microsoft

Last Thursday, I had a chance to listen to Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor from Columbia.  I happened upon it by chance, as I’ve never heard of the man.  He gave some startling statistics about extreme poverty.  Here’s a website with some stats that he cited.  http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/resources/fastfacts_e.htm
 
Just the single statistic that 6M children (under the age of 5) die every year due to malnutrition is disturbing.  It’s difficult to fathom the number of broken hearted parents and siblings.  This would be my worst nightmare happening to millions of families every year, and the most regrettable part is that malnutrition is preventable.
 
Professor Sachs preached hope that this is a problem that is not only solvable, but solvable within our life time.  Whether you believe him or not, it’s difficult to ignore our responsibility as part of the "wealthy".  Or, our responsibility as Christians.
 
Admittedly, our family’s charitable giving since we’ve started our charity budget has been somewhat unfocused.  This talk certainly grabbed my attention, and we’ll likely be reviewing our policies to focus on the highest priority needs moving forward.  Any ideas or suggestions are welcome.  Over the next year, I’m hoping to pick up Professor Sachs book: End of Poverty.  The problem seems overwhelming and it’s difficult to know where to start… but that doesn’t seem a sufficient excuse to ignore the problem.