Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Mormon Experience in One Night

I watched the first two hours of the four hour PBS broadcast production entitled, The Mormons. I had a couple of reasons for wanting to watch the show; in some regard I wanted to see how a non-church production would present the early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days. I wanted to be prepared to answer questions from my non-Mormon associations, many of whom have little if any solid awareness of what I believe or why I hold to those beliefs in the face of a steady stream of often contentious argument against my beliefs. (link provided in title bar)

I should also add that my evening was tempered to some degree with an additional treat; another PBS presentation which followed, “The Mormons”; an accounting of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies attempts to reach the Salt Lake valley. I had, in my studies of the history of the Church, read many accounts of the hardships encountered by those who were overtaken by an early winter storm, unprepared in nearly every way with the exception of their faith in God, their testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel and that regardless of their success or failure to reach the Salt Lake valley their eternal progression could not be halted. I will speak more on this topic later; all the while explaining that my evening television viewing was well rewarded.

“The Mormons”, as presented seemed to be preoccupied with two distractions, which while true historically, were given an inordinate amount of presentation time in relation to the other historical elements of the Church which I feel would have given those who took the time to view this work. I refer to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the topic of Polygamy. In a two hour production intended to offer strangers to the history of the Church, the Mountain Meadows Massacre was allotted nearly twenty minutes of air time and the subject of Polygamy closer to thirty minutes.

I had a cursory knowledge of the Mountain Meadows incident prior to having watched this evening’s explanation of the issues leading up to massacre along with journal entries by those survivors, children under the age of eight years who were spared. I have no way of knowing what sparked this violence, the destruction of human life by members of the Church any more than those who speculated and then created this section of the docudrama as best they could. I found it fell within the boundaries of believable, no less a tragedy and deplorable as would be eyed by any civilized human being.

I’m not sure at all that the provocation which led to this incident was given its proper place, ignoring, as I have been informed by members with a better historical background, that certain of those targeted had been members of the “mob” and had been suspected of poisoning water holes, which in turn poisoned the livestock and led to the deaths of many native Indians. While this particular time in American history has many events associated with violence, the fact remains that the members of the Church had been living in what I would consider a state of war, sometimes declared as in the Extermination Order in Missouri; but mostly as an undeclared state of being outcasts from the secular surroundings in the formative and frontier setting of the times. While the incident exposed to the world that members of the Church had offended the laws of the land, my regret would be that so many other areas of Church history could have filled those twenty minutes, items which would have more accurately explained the “Mormon Experience”.

Polygamy was examined and given a spotlight, one which indeed does cause members of the Church to bristle and assume a defensive position. I found it enlightening, distancing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that being the official title of the church to which I am a member, and the fact that a goodly portion of the time extended in this PBS production was “shared” with so called splinter groups which continue to practice polygamy to this day. I’m not sure how to discuss the topic as it was presented other than to make a clarification to one aspect of Church doctrine which is, in my humble opinion, a very meaningful part of the restored Gospel, Celestial Marriage which exists because of a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It seems unfortunate that this same revelation is associated, at least by those detractors of my church, purely with polygamy.

I will explain as best I am able, the importance of understanding the eternal aspects of entering a Celestial Marriage. Most folks are familiar with the common marriage ceremony which concludes with the preacher explaining that the vows taken are serious commitments that in the eyes of all witnesses before God, that these two, a husband and wife, are to be married until death. I refer to the vows as “common”, not to detract from their importance; only to identify that the limited commitment has a higher order, one that is Celestial in its nature and therefore not “common”. I am speaking of a bond which is ordained of God that will take a husband and a wife past the boundaries of mortality, based on their desires to be obedient to the mind and will of God as expressed through their actions while here in mortality, and through all time and throughout all eternity.

I ask you to contemplate such a glorious possibility, speaking to those who may not have considered marriage in such parameters. My recollection of tonight’s PBS presentation only mentioned Celestial Marriage briefly, possibly a blink so to speak; not giving the viewer anything with which to ponder such a grand commitment and the blessing which are availed the children of our Heavenly Father, heirs to all that He has in a literal sense.

It is one of the most basic beliefs in the Church that God and His Son, Jesus Christ exist in individual bodies of perfected flesh and bones. Joseph Smith testified that upon praying in a grove of trees that he was granted a special witness of this fact. The age old speculations of the “Godhead”, the lack of understanding as outlined in the Nicene Creed, that our Father in Heaven has a body which is separate and distinctly apart from that of His Son, Jesus Christ is of paramount importance to understanding our individual relationship to these, our Heavenly progenitors.

Many outside the Church consider such a statement as blasphemy or utterly ridiculous based on the false teachings which have been passed down through either the Catholic or the splintered and various other Protestant reformers. It is my assertion, rather than contention, that Joseph Smith did indeed record for all mankind this most important piece of information, information which when inculcated will permit the human spirit to also understand that our eternal progression is assured, that the resurrection of our older brother Jesus Christ and His Atonement are real, that we are indeed made in the image of our Father in Heaven and that the promises made to each of us are in place today as they have been since before the foundation of the world. If you come away with nothing else from the PBS production, The Mormons, know that our lives are more than the short and unpredictable experiences gained or heaped upon us while in this frail and breakable mortal body. We are intended to live our lives in such a way as to always be focused on our eternal nature so that we may be blessed for time and all eternity by that God who continues to care about us individually and personally.

I look forward to the second two hour installment of The Mormons which will air tomorrow evening. According to the information provided during the ending credits, the next show will attempt to explain how current day members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints fit into with the rest of the World, these United States of America and, hopefully, some explanation of the promises of our individual eternal progression through eternity. I’m not sure that any of this will be included and so I await with some degree of anticipation with the stated hope that my non-member friends and acquaintances will be offered at least some glimpse of those sacred issues which have had such a wonderful bearing on my own life.

I may have used up your attention span with all that I have recorded; all the same I would like to share at least a little of the emotional roller coaster which I experienced this evening by having watched the one hour production on the Willie and Martin Handcart segment which is part of Mormon history. I had watched, with some feeling of disappointment as you may have noticed from my writings above, two hours of historical data and yet spiritually lacking in most regards. I had hoped for more and yet am willing to accept that the information was offered through a venue which was not Church sponsored and so was not a missionary tool intended to gain membership into the waters of baptism.

The portrayal of immigrants from Europe, recent converts to the Church who were intent on making their way to the Salt Lake Valley at any cost, to include their lives if necessary, was an emotional investment which I took in with the assistance of many pieces of tissue to wipe away tears. The most important aspect of the demanding and often time tragic journey was their testimony that the Gospel truths which are found in the Book of Mormon and which witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ are true. If it were not for such a testimony the trip would have been impossible and each loss would have been nothing more than a reminder to them of how poorly prepared these individuals were for starting out on such an ordeal. The journal entries which were shared were only a small part of the presentation offered in this one hour show.

I would like to share something which was not shared, something which would give a little more significance to the testimonies of the truthfulness of the Gospel which gave strength and meaning to those members of the Willie and Martin Handcart individuals who lived and who often times were asked why they did not complain about the lack of planning which cost so many lives.

One survivor, I apologize for not having his name available at this time, while sitting in a meeting in which the leaders of the Church were being openly criticized and ridiculed for permitting such a tragedy to occur, a tragedy which took the lives of so many innocent members and which, according to those speaking out against the leaders of the Church, should never have been permitted to happen. This one surviving member stood up and stopped the onslaught of accusations and bore his testimony. He silenced any criticism of Church leaders and thanked God for the refiner’s fire and ordeal which solidified his testimony that the Church was true, that nothing he had gone through could have detained him from his goal of reaching the Salt Lake Valley and his desire to be among the Saints. Such strong emotions cannot begin to express my appreciation for those who have forged the way for my membership in this Church. I am grateful for the history of this Church, the good and the bad, as it reminds me of the resolve necessary to build character, something which in today’s world may seem a thing of naught.

I leave my testimony with you that the Book of Mormon is true, that God and His Son, Jesus Christ Live, that They have bodies of flesh and bone and that we are children who are heirs to all the blessings promised in the scriptures. May we live in such a way as to be deserving of those blessings; I leave this short testimony in the name of our Savior, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Edited May 1, 2007 11:00am

This portion of my thoughts was added the following morning after I’d had a chance to review the recorded program. I’m still in awe of the technology which provides such an opportunity, the crystal clear image and sound quality to match; as my grandmother would have said, “Remarkable, truly remarkable!”

I’d missed the first few minutes of the program and so I didn’t hear some of the opening dialogue. There was one line in particular that caught my ear. The narrator was attempting to explain how the members of our Church feel about the Prophet Joseph Smith. I was highly disappointed in his choice of words as he described Joseph Smith as the “Alpha and Omega” of our church. The term Alpha and Omega is reserved for God and no other. Most viewers would be familiar with such a comparison and I could feel my own resentment; how much more then would be the feelings of displeasure from someone who is not a member of my church, someone who is taking this in as an attempt to understand what we believe? If it had been me, prior to my investigation of the Church and prior to my becoming a member, I would have turned off the show or, at the very least, discounted anything which followed as being pure blasphemy.

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