Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LDS Lesson #6

Today was quite a laid-back meeting, and I don't have too much to relate about it. After arriving at the church, I met with Admetus, Creon, and Orestes as they were standing close together talking about something in the main room on the third floor. At first I didn't go in because I suspected they might be having a pre-meeting prayer, but it didn't take me long to realize that they were just conversing to pass the time, and so I went in. The first thing they all wanted to know about was my recent trip to the Peloponnese; I got back to Attica last night. I told them, of course, of the wonders of Corinth; Creon had visited it earlier in his mission, and Admetus was actually there just a couple days after I was. The best scenery, however, would probably have to be the view from Mycenae, though the spectacular landscape around Corinth as viewed from the Acrocorinth was pretty great as well, and I loved the sunrise from the mountaintop chapel at Andritsaina.

And it came to pass after an opening prayer that Creon suggested that we tackle the lesson first and turn to questions afterwards. I'd actually been thinking the same thing, and so I allowed them to begin the fourth missionary discussion. For once I actually hadn't had a chance to read the sections of Scripture that they'd recommended, but I was already quite familiar with all of them. The first thing we went through was the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Dealing with someone else, they'd learned a series of hand gestures to illustrate the ten commandments according to their number, and with the exception of the seventh commandment - can't remember the gesture from that - I will probably remember these for a long, long time. They explained their church's stance on various points of the commandments, particularly the way they expand the strict meaning of the third commandment to prohibit swearing in general, and so forth. On the whole, though, nothing in the discussion of the Ten Commandments was really that controversial. Admetus, in connection with the fourth commandment, though, related that after they had moved to Colorado Springs, which had become a very conservative town, his daughter had applied for a job at a mall store, and they had said that the pay for an assistant manager was a significant raise. The reason? That position requires working on Sundays, and in that town, the business just can't find anyone willing to do so.

And it came to pass that, after the Ten Commandments discussion, Admetus asked me my opinion of the court cases in the USA regarding the Ten Commandments in parks and courtrooms, and the ACLU's role in all of it. As I put it, I generally find that the ACLU occasionally does the right thing; however, it seems to almost stumble into it by accident while trying to do the wrong thing. Now, my opinion of Decalogue displays in courts or parks is that, first of all, I would much rather prefer a religiously diverse public sphere than an artificially secularized public sphere, because the irrational censorship of religion qua religion seems to be rooted in a perverse understanding of separation of church and state and a bizarre quest to insulate oneself from religion whatsoever. Personally, I think it would be great for a courtroom to install a series of monuments/paintings/whatever that would represent the history of jurisprudence, and it would be absurd to exclude the Ten Commandments, since they represent the quintessence of the broad Judeo-Christian contribution to Western jurisprudence, which has been undeniably vast. And, as said before, I think a world in which all religions can freely act in the public sphere is immeasurably superior to a world in which all are restricted from doing so, simply because they're religious. But, I digress. At any rate, Admetus said that the moment I gave my assessment of the ACLU, his opinion of me skyrocketed even higher.

And it came to pass after we'd discussed that for a while that we turned to the Word of Wisdom given in Doctrine and Covenants 89; Creon read select portions of it that adequately sum up the teaching. Originally, they said, the Word of Wisdom had been a recommendation rather than a commandment, to allow Latter-day Saints some time to adjust. The Word of Wisdom is basically a health code of sorts that forbids the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and "hot drinks", which their church currently interprets as meaning coffee and non-herbal teas. Interestingly, Latter-day Saints are divided as to whether caffeine in other drinks is acceptable; Creon is among those who thinks it is, although he tries to avoid soda these days for his own health. The Word of Wisdom also recommends eating meat sparingly, though these days the LDS Church sort of blunts the original force of this by glossing the command in general as exhorting a balanced diet. The 'revelation' ends with a promise that obedience to it will produce health, wisdom, knowledge, and the reception of God's mercy. And it came to pass that Orestes told a story about how he'd once climbed a mountain with some friends, and was ready to give up after 15 minutes, but it occurred to him that he kept the Word of Wisdom, so he prayed to God for those blessings, and thereafter was able to finish the rest of the five-hour climb.

After a challenge to try living the Word of Wisdom for a while, I didn't really have any questions to ask. Personally, this was among the least controversial lessons that we'd had. That's because it chiefly centers around morality and practice, and that's one area in which conservative evangelicals and Latter-day Saints typically have a great deal of overlap, especially when it comes to the Ten Commandments. As for the Word of Wisdom, I could probably follow it without much adjustment if I liked, save that I'd have to tone down my meat intake. (I am a thoroughgoing carnivore.) I've always despised coffee and tea, save for Turkish apple tea; I drink alcohol only on occasions, and then generally in small doses; and tobacco and other drugs simply have no real appeal for me.

In lieu of asking them any of the questions I'd prepared, I decided to postpone them until our next meeting, which will be tomorrow at 3 μμ. And it came to pass that I gave some thoughts on the books I'd recently finished and returned, Truman Madsen's Five Classics and Joseph Smith's Lectures on Faith. None of them had read all of Madsen, and Creon hadn't even heard of Smith's Lectures on Faith before, though a good quote from it about sacrificing all in the course of faith was a popular LDS quote. I told them that I enjoyed Madsen's work. His material on love reminded me a lot of C. S. Lewis at times, and so Creon and I discussed C. S. Lewis for a while; Creon had seen the second Narnia movie shortly before coming on his mission, and earlier in my stay in Greece, I finished a large collection of Lewis' works, though my particular fondness is for The Great Divorce. As for Smith's Lectures on Faith, it was mostly uncontroversial, if rather soporific, although Smith did have some statements near the beginning that were remarkably akin to Word of Faith teaching, particularly with respect to 'faith' being the force by which God made the universe, and so forth.

Finally, the meeting ended with me explaining why I hadn't eaten much in the past few days (I was temporarily flat-broke, thanks to my bank's security upgrade blocking my access to my online banking account), as well as some genealogical research I'd done earlier today. Seems that it's quite probable that I'm a distant cousin of Joseph Smith himself. I was working on Joseph Smith's genealogy, and I found a few ancestors of his grandfather Asael Smith with the last name French. Curious, I kept pressing back to Jacob French and Susan Warren. On a lark, I Googled my own ancestor, William French (1605-1681), and found that although his parents are unknown, he may have been a grandson of Jacob French, and a DNA project has found a very high correspondence between William French's descendants and the descendants of Jacob French's son Thomas, an ancestor of Joseph Smith. So, it seems quite likely that Joseph Smith is a distant cousin of mine at least on that line, and I haven't yet delved further into his heritage.

After the meeting, it came to pass that I picked up a couple books from Admetus' office: Gordon B. Hinckley's Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes and a volume containing both Gordon Hinckley's Truth Restored and the full text of Gospel Principles, a classic manual in the LDS Church. Following that, I spent some time on the first floor chatting with Creon and Orestes, and then also with two other elders I'd initially met at the fireside chat, after they finished teaching a Greek class. Finally, Creon and Orestes and I departed from the church building, and we walked together for a long time. I showed them the place I attend classes, as well as my apartment building, and they met a few of my friends, as well as one of my roommates.

I can't quite recall how long it was until we parted ways, but I enjoyed the night. I really do enjoy spending time with Creon and Orestes, whether we're talking about deep spiritual things or simply relating stories, spending time in ordinary chatter, etc.

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