Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Axe Amos Found

Note: The following story was written by Carlen Smith. I found it well written and thought provoking, so I'm sharing it here, with his permission.


The following is a work of fiction, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

Some time ago, a young man named Amos was walking across a clearing in the woods behind his father's farm when a glint of sunlight on the ground ahead caught his eye, something sparkling out of the tall grass. Interested, Amos drew near and found an axe, its shining head gleaming in the light of the sun overhead and its handle all but lost in the wild spring growth of the clearing. Parting the green grass curtain, Amos grabbed the handle and picked up the axe. It was heavy. The handle felt rough but sturdy in his hands. Though the axe certainly wasn't new—both handle and head showed clear signs of having been put to good use in the past—the head was free of rust and the edge looked sharp as a sword. It seemed a fine tool, and Amos resolved to take it home and put it to use, happy to hand it over to its rightful owner should anybody come along looking for it.


Over the next few weeks, Amos became quite impressed with the axe. There was already another axe at the farm, a nice new one with a sleek look to it, but Amos found the axe from the woods to be clearly the superior implement. Though heavy, it was perfectly balanced. Though the handle was rough, it offered an unyielding grip, not slipping in his hands even with the strongest swings. In spite of the apparent age of the haft, it showed no signs of breaking. The head, though marred on the sides with scratches from past use, possessed such a keen edge and ideal angles that it made pleasant work of every task, dividing asunder hard knots in dry oak firewood with the same ease with which it bit into the trunks of soft cedars to be felled. The metal was of such a quality that it required little time at the grindstone to maintain its edge. Surely an experienced master of the craft had made this fine axe.

Amos began to look forward to any task which would allow him to put the axe to use. What a skilled violinist feels toward the prized violin at his shoulder, Amos began to feel toward the axe. The tune of his chopping grew ever more beautiful in his ears as he improved his art, whether the simple rhythms of splitting firewood or the crashing chorus of clearing timber for expansions to the farm. When his father needed a new shed built, Amos jumped at the chance to take on a project that would allow him not only to fell trees, but to then notch and link them to sculpt a log construction that would fulfill its expected function while pleasing the eye. The result was a sound structure that left Amos's father quite pleased with his son's work and grateful to have such talent and enthusiasm supporting the farm.

Years passed, and the time came for Amos to leave his father's farm and begin a family of his own. It was only natural that in building a home for his future, Amos should put the old axe to work. Using little more than his axe and the inspiration that seemed to flow whenever he held that proven instrument, Amos brought high trees low and built them up again anew in arrangements of such order and beauty that to call them buildings ignores the magnificence of the fruits of his labors. It's not that the house or the surrounding structures on this new farm were incredibly large or particularly elaborate. It was more a combined effect of exactness of angle, clarity of cut, and overall purity of form that made Amos's farm such a sight to behold. Though made from simple and even common components, Amos's works gave a sense of majesty to his family as they lived out their life in this kingdom of a family farm.

Amos's farm came to be something of a local attraction. It wasn't uncommon for residents of the nearby town to stop by to admire the handsome log cabin where Amos's family lived and to see the logwork barn, shed, and corrals on the property. Even the outhouse made of logs brought compliments, seeming an impressive throne indeed to visitors. Amos would always let his guests hold his axe, feeling for themselves the weight of the axe head and the roughness of the handle. They were always fascinated to experience the actual instrument used in the creation of the farm's edifices.

Eventually, Amos grew old and died, and one of his sons inherited both axe and farm. The axe seemed no worse for wear, even after the passage of decades, but Amos's son decided the axe would probably be improved by replacing the old, rough handle with a smoother and newer one. The balance of head and handle was a bit hampered by this change and the new handle didn't offer the sure grip of the old one, but to Amos's son, who wasn't the axe virtuoso his father had been, this minor change seemed a major improvement to the tool. He left the old handle in a storage shed and moved forward with this better evolution of the axe Amos found. If visitors happened to stop by the farm while he was out chopping firewood, he would proudly show them the axe and explain that it was the very axe his father had used in clearing the land and crafting the impressive buildings of the farm. The new handle on the axe did eventually break as Amos's son was splitting firewood one day, but he quickly replaced the handle with another smooth new one, and all was well.

After several years, Amos's son decided to move away from the farm, and he in turn left the axe and farm to one of his own sons, just as his father had passed them on to him. Amos's grandson was happy to take on this proud heritage and honored that such a noble birthright had come to him. He was always eager to show visitors around the place—improved now by the addition of electric lighting and modern plumbing, of course. Log cabins were becoming ever more a thing of the past as years rolled on, so the notoriety of Amos's farm steadily grew. Fewer and fewer log cabins remained in the area, and Amos's farm came to be known as the very pinnacle of a now dead art. When visitors came, Amos's grandson would be sure to show them Amos's axe, careful to preserve the tradition. The axe didn't get any actual use anymore, but Amos's grandson always kept it readily available for visitors to see.

When Amos's grandson grew old, he willed the farm and all its contents, axe included, to his own son, the fourth generation to possess this heirloom land. Amos's great grandson had his own modern home in the nearby town and decided that this big old farm was no place for an accountant and his wife to live, especially with no kids of their own to run around the farm, but we was glad to take over the role of steward of the property. Historically minded visitors to the state continued to make pilgrimages to this log shrine, and Amos's great grandson obliged them with brief weekend tours, pleased that the world continued to recognize the significance of this legacy in logs—and equally pleased that he was able to make some money from tour admissions. Sure, in the past his forefathers had shown people around the place with no fees involved, but with the number of tourists coming around these days, an admission price was certainly justifiable, if not absolutely necessary. He had a parking lot put in on the property, replacing an old corral, and he brought in a couple of elaborately detailed rugs to cover the bare dirt floors of the cabin. These additions made for a more convenient and visually appealing tour of the farm.

Amos's great grandson always saved the axe for the last bit of the tour, relishing the moment when he could show visitors the very axe that had built all this marvelous work. The axe was now kept in a glass display case in the main room of the old log cabin, and for extra safety, he had replaced the sharp-edged head of the axe with a dull old axe head he found in a shed on the property; in case anybody should remove the glass case and actually touch the axe, it simply wouldn't do to have them accidentally cutting themselves on the edge of the axe and then landing him in the middle of a lawsuit. Amos's great grandson reasoned that the handle, at least, was the original (not knowing any better himself), so it was no great deception to replace the axe head on this antiquated tool. Tourists certainly didn't know any better, and they always came away with a sense of profound awe after seeing this venerable relic. How great to see not only the great farm itself, but also the very instrument of its creation, original head and handle still intact after all these years! Tourists ate it up, and Amos's great grandson made a fair amount of money from these weekend tours. He often thought hopefully of even selling the property altogether someday—maybe the state would buy the property and turn it into a state monument or something.

Amos's great grandson decided what these tours were missing was a gift shop. He resolved to clear out all the old junk in the logwork storage shed near the parking lot and convert the space into a little shop. He'd sell postcards with pictures of the cabin or of Amos's axe. There would be little toy log building sets—kids would love those! There would be T-shirts and keychains, framed pictures of the property—maybe he could even pay somebody to put together a nice film about the history of Amos's farm and sell that as well, a feel-good family feature, full of nostalgia and old-fashioned charm. The first thing, though, was to get rid of all the useless old clutter in the shed. He cleared out the shed and left its worthless contents in a pile near the parking lot. He'd come back with a truck and haul the stuff off to the dump when he got the chance.

One day, a young man named Jeremiah was there for the tour at Amos's farm. He was new to the nearby town, and this was already his third time taking the tour. He was just so fascinated by this marvelous old farm and the grand and simple life it represented! The log structures were so sturdy and elegant! The genuine effort and artistry that went into the creation of it all, and then the sense of satisfaction that Amos's family must have felt to live in this beautiful homestead Amos had made himself! Jeremiah felt a real longing for that old way of life, so different from the workings of modern society.

As Jeremiah made his way back to the parking lot after the tour, he noticed an old axe haft sticking out of a pile of farm tools and assorted odds and ends from a bygone era. He walked closer and saw also a battered old axe head lying on a torn burlap bag and reflecting sunlight up at him. He drew the rough handle from the antiquated rubble and then picked up the heavy axe head, warm to his touch from the sun shining overhead. They looked like a good fit for each other, and though they clearly weren't new, they seemed to be in good shape. As he admired this abandoned axe, Amos's great grandson came walking over to the nearby storage shed, carrying a cash register. Jeremiah called out to him and asked if this pile of old things was meant to be thrown away. When Amos's great grandson replied that this was indeed the case, Jeremiah asked if he might take the parts of this old axe with him. Amos's great grandson told him he could take whatever he wanted from the pile, as it was all of no use anymore here at Amos's farm.

Jeremiah took the old axe head and handle and left Amos's farm. He reassembled the axe and eventually came to be quite skilled in its use. In time, he began to build a log homestead of his own on a nice spot of land not far from Amos's old farm.

Between the axe at Amos's farm—the one you can see on a weekend tour of the place, with its safe, dull head and smooth handle and its nice glass case and little gold nameplate reading "Amos's Axe" and its lineage of careful caretakers—and the axe now in Jeremiah's possession—the axe composed of both the head and haft found in the clearing in the woods so long ago, the axe being used again now by a stranger off in the wilderness to bring high trees low and build them up again anew in arrangements of order and beauty—which of these would Amos love if he were to return?

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Voice of the People

And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying, O have mercy and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified. For we believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God who created Heaven and Earth and all things, who shall come down among the children of men.
—Mosiah 2:1, RE


There's been much talk lately equating the voice of the people with majority rule. Here are two other viewpoints I believe are worthy of consideration:


The Matter of Majority
by Adrian Larsen

Response to Proposal for Majority Rule
by Kevin Gillman

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Statement of Principles, Update 2

By Jeff Savage and Adrian Larsen

Hello Friends,

Well, we’re two weeks into this grand experiment and it’s time for another update. Here are a few items we’d like to share:

  1. As we mentioned in our last update, some folks reported feeling rushed to get their submissions in. So, it seemed appropriate to add an additional week to the submission period and to the refining period. The new dates are listed in the timeline portion here.
  2. There are nearly 250 people registered in the ComeServe forum, working on 37 submitted principles. Dialogue has been respectful and productive. Some very good work is being accomplished in the spirit of meekly laboring together to please the Lord.
  3. We’re looking forward to the next steps in the process—as well as some changes to our original proposal. We’ll explain more below. 

We Already Have Mutual Agreement

As we’ve sought to move forward with the Lord’s requirement that we write a statement of principles to be adopted by mutual agreement, we’ve encountered a number of widely varied opinions about how to proceed. Though the various ideas do not all agree with each other and take many, separate approaches, they all have one item in common. Each presumes a certain end point at which they will be done. And the end points are widely varied as well.

In other words, it seems we have yet to agree on what the goal is. 

The Lord, as we know, expressed it this way: 
But I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people, for if you cannot do so you will be unable to accomplish other works that I will require at your hands.
This idea of adopting by mutual agreement has proved challenging. Various proposed definitions of “mutual agreement” have been offered. Some feel the notion that we can ALL agree is too challenging, or perhaps even impossible. Other end points have been proposed.

And mutual agreement of us all is a daunting challenge, to be sure. But the good news is that the Lord isn’t asking anything of us we can’t do. Fact is, we’ve already done it.

Each of us who accepted the covenant, stood and said Yes before God and angels, signifying our acceptance—our mutual acceptance—of the principles outlined in the covenant. It was a light thing, really. All of us read, believed, and accepted the Lord’s words, and did so willingly and joyfully, without murmuring.

That success paves the way for us to complete our first homework assignment as new covenant holders. The Lord has asked us to demonstrate our understanding of the covenant we have all accepted by enumerating and writing the principles it contains. It’s sort of a “now that you’ve accepted the covenant, please explain to me, and to future believers, exactly what you have accepted.” 

That’s it. Easy-peasy! We’ve already accepted the principles, and all that remains is that someone write them up faithfully, we look them over and agree they match the covenant, and we add them to our scriptures as sort of a cliff-notes guide for ourselves and future believers.

This doesn’t need to be a hard thing. In fact, it’s the sort of thing that we could accomplish in a few days if we all decided to do so.

Hearts

And this brings us to the real issue. Our hearts. 

The disagreements really aren’t about the principles themselves. We all pretty much agree on them, and the various proposed documents all have much in common. Sure, we all may word them a little bit differently, but the foundation is the same for us all. 

No, the differences center on everything else BUT the principles—questions of process, procedures, people, past efforts and proposals. And many good points are being made. In the end, it seems the principles aren’t the issue; we’re hung up on process.

If our hearts are right, then a variety of processes could succeed. Whether the document is written by one person, a committee, all of us, or in some other way, if we focus on the principles rather than the process, we will be much closer to reaching agreement.

The more we can focus on what unites us, rather than on what divides us, the easier it will be to come together. Chances are that any one of us pretty much agrees with any other one of us on the items included in the covenant, stated in clear, basic language. Discussing and expressing those things helps identify the common ground upon which we can all stand together.

A Hard Thing

One of the oft-repeated arguments against what we’ve proposed is that mutual agreement is too hard, too lofty a goal, and not realistic for a hardened and fallen people like us, still attempting to come out of Babylon. And it IS a lofty goal, to be sure. 

But the Lord is known for requiring hard things. Recall this “impossible” task assigned in the Book of Mormon:
Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness. And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord. 
Laman and Lemuel murmured and claimed the task was impossible. They spoke out of fear—justified fear, to be sure—but fear nonetheless. Nephi, on the other hand, did not murmur, and acted in faith:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 1:10 RE) 
The Lord would not ask for mutual agreement if it were not possible. He surely has prepared a way for us to accomplish this thing which He has commanded. Let us act in faith, trusting the Lord. Whether it’s getting the plates, building a ship, or entering and possessing the promised land of Canaan, scripture demonstrates the futility in murmuring and the necessity of acting in faith to accomplish the Lord’s assignment. 

When you stop and think about it, these mighty accomplishments were much more difficult than the task we now face, for two reasons. First, they were not “light things” by any stretch of the imagination. And second, they were things the people had never done before. 

And that’s where we have the advantage. The Lord has been exceedingly kind and merciful with us, because He has given us an assignment we HAVE already accomplished before. Fact is, we ALREADY HAVE mutual agreement. We simply need to recognize it and go with it.

Doubtful Hearts


Verily I say, Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness, for the power is in them wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good, they shall in no way lose their reward, but he that does not anything until he is commanded, and receives a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keeps it with slothfullness, the same is damned. (D&C 44:6, RE)
Have we received this commandment with doubtful hearts? Have we kept it with slothfulness?  Are we damned (halted in our progress) because our hearts insist on holding onto every possible objection to performing this simple task? The issue really isn’t about what process to use. The issue is our hearts. Until our hearts become right, changing the process won’t get us any closer to completion. 

Have we not all agreed already? Have we not already partaken of the same fruit from the same tree, and so we are friends and neighbors? Can we not drop our arguments and agree on the covenant? Food for thought (pun intended).

Changes in the Process

Based on the above thoughts, and encouraged by the good work being done in the forum, we’d like to offer a couple of suggestions, as follows:

  1. Connect to the Covenant: It may be very helpful to tie each principle to the covenant in a logical, easily explained way—thus connecting it to the one thing upon which we all agree. If we can do that, the product will be an embodiment of the covenant principles, and will be much more likely to be widely accepted. If the principle doesn’t tie in to the covenant in a reasonably explained way, it may be more difficult to get wide acceptance of that principle.
  2. Non-Binding Vote: When we reach the end of this current process and put the principles up for acceptance, we propose this will NOT be the end of the process. Rather, it will be a wonderful, informative way to “take the temperature” and see where we all stand. It will help us see which principles are widely accepted and well expressed, and which have issues. It will also help identify what those issues are, so the principles can be further refined or dropped, as is appropriate. Clearly, there will not be mutual agreement in one step. 
  3. Final Acceptance: At this point, we will have to decide as a body of believers what the next step is. We have heard about several proposed processes to help us (the body) finish our assignment, which will be available soon on guideandstandard.blogspot.com. After an initial vote, do we make adjustments and vote again to see if a wider acceptance can be achieved? Do we stop and consider our position—and our failure to yet reach mutual agreement? Will it be a time for personal introspection and prayer? Will we go to the Lord as a group, acknowledging the work is yet unfinished and, and seek His help? Will we redouble our efforts to come together? It is not our place to make this decision, but we wanted to get the word out that there are several groups thinking deeply about this topic. 

More is Coming

In the Answer and Covenant, the Lord has made incredible promises to us about things to come, including the following:


…recovering the scriptures does not conclude the work to be accomplished by those who will be my people: it is but a beginning.  
When the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is brought forth, then will you know and understand how great things were lost to you.  
There will yet be records restored from all the tribes that will be gathered again into one… 
Do my works and you will know my doctrine; for you will uncover hidden mysteries by obedience to these things that can be uncovered in no other way. This is the way I will restore knowledge to my people.  
In me you will find peace and through me will come Zion, a place of peace and safety.  
I will visit my house, which the remnant of my people shall build, and I will dwell therein, to be among you, and no one will need to say, Know ye the Lord, for you all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 

We hope for, and expect, great things to come, including more scripture, a temple, a holy city, and the Lord’s presence. But these greater things depend on our completion of this first assignment the Lord has given us as His covenant people. 
But I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people, for if you cannot do so you will be unable to accomplish other works that I will require at your hands. 
There remains great work yet to be done.

As important discussions continue about process and procedure, we hope these thoughts will provide some encouragement and confidence that we can all, as a body of believers, come together as one in our covenant beliefs. We believe this first group effort will inform the process and provide important insight to help in future decisions about how to proceed. And we believe the Lord will guide us as we acknowledge His requirement and our need. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Update on the Statement of Principles

By Jeff Savage and Adrian Larsen

Now that the Statement of Principles project has been going for almost a week, we wanted to give an update about how things are going.

At last count there are around 180 people participating in the forum, discussing the 22 principles that have been posted so far. Some of the principles were pretty polished when they were submitted, while others are going through a refining process. We’re encouraged to see people working together in kindness and respect. Though this is admittedly a challenging process that will require the best of each of us, we have faith that the Lord can and will guide us as we humbly seek to do His will together.

Changes

We’ve received some great suggestions for ways to improve the process, and we’ve implemented several changes, based on those suggestions, as follows:

  1. We added a section in the forum to discuss organization of the document--i.e. order, layout, etc. These are important elements if we want to end up with something other than a random list.
  2. We changed some wording on the site to be kinder and more inclusive when people pointed out that some of the wording could be construed as harsh.
  3. We added an appendix with every prior document ever proposed—to be used as source material and ideas for principles to submit. Please feel free to borrow from any of these documents that appeal to you. In the end, we hope the final product will be much like the many iterations of the principles that have been so carefully worked on already. There was much good in each of those documents, and we hope the final result will include the best from them, while letting go of the few items that might divide us.
  4. Next change: We propose lengthening the allotted time for the phases of this project to be completed. Great work is being done, but it’s clear people feel rushed. We know people desperately want this to be finished, but at the same time we don’t want timetable stress to cause unnecessary problems. Therefore, we propose adding an additional week each to both the time for submission of principles, and the time for discussion before final acceptance is offered.

The above changes came about from suggestions offered by others, and we’re truly grateful for the input that has been given to improve this process.

We’ve heard from those who wish they had been asked for input before the process got started. We recognize that concern and can only ask forgiveness for moving forward without seeking input from all. We did so with the realization that sometimes getting started is the hardest part, so we put forth a proposal as a starting point, fully expecting it would need to be adjusted and improved as we moved forward. Such has been the case, and we continue to seek ways to make this process better and improve the odds of success, while working within the framework set out by the Lord in the Answer. We hope people will continue to offer constructive input as we work together.

None of us knows exactly what the final form of this project’s results will be. However, when we study out the Answer, we come away convinced that the Lord desires us to be of one heart before we can become of one mind. Just as in 4th Nephi, where there are several degrees of “no contentions among them,” we believe that the same pattern holds with being of one heart and one mind. This light task invites us to come together—in heart and mind—as a beginning step towards Zion. Yes, we will need light before we proceed. Fortunately, the Lord begins the Answer by telling us how to obtain light:
I have always sought to reestablish people of covenant among the living, and therefore have desired that man should love one another, not begrudgingly, but as brothers and sisters indeed, that I may establish my covenant and provide them with light and truth. (emphasis ours)
We believe all of us want to succeed in doing what the Lord has asked. We’re grateful to work shoulder to shoulder with like-minded people who are working towards becoming of one heart and mind by fulfilling this labor.

Concerns

One of the most frequent concerns we hear expressed is along the lines that “this project is bound to fail because one person can veto the whole thing.” or other, similar statements. And while that may be technically true, we think it is unlikely to happen, here’s why:

First, each principle submitted goes to a forum for discussion. In the forum, objections and improvements to the principle must be addressed as people work together to come to unity on that principle and how it’s expressed. There is ample opportunity for discussion and cooperation to craft language all can accept. Each principle must have unanimity in its forum to advance to the general statement.

Second, once the general statement is prepared and posted for acceptance, the process will consider each principle individually. Though a person may have an issue with a principle or two, it’s unlikely a single person would reject *every* *single* *principle* without an ulterior motive. We choose to believe—and hope—nobody has the motive and goal of destroying this process. Frankly, to reject every principle would entail rejecting what amounts to the gospel, the doctrine of Christ, and the Lord himself. We hope none among us intend to publicly deny the Christ.

Third, the acceptance process will not be anonymous. If someone has an objection to a listed principle, they will be asked to give their name and explain their objection so we can all understand, and if possible, work together to come to agreement. The idea is to keep working until there is mutuality on each principle, if possible. There need not be anonymity between brothers and sisters in the covenant. Asking people to own and present their concerns is the best way to help resolve them.

Another concern we’ve heard is that mutuality is impossible, except perhaps on the very barest of basics. In response, we would encourage faith and trusting one another. There is much more that unites us than divides us. Remember, all of us in the covenant mutually agreed to a number of important principles already, including what they imply. We really do all agree on a large number principles, or we wouldn’t have taken the covenant. If we focus on the truths we all believe, rather than on past issues, we really can come together.

In the end, this has nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong, or who wins and who loses. All the statements are remarkably similar. If we put together a mutually agreed statement, fulfill the Lords commandment together, and please Him with our efforts, there are no losers. We all win together.

What is Mutual?

We firmly believe this whole process is more about our hearts and our willingness to work together than it is about the final product we produce. That is the purpose of this covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34 LE).  This understanding informs our understanding of “mutual.” As some have suggested we’re misinterpreting the word “mutual,” and that it really doesn’t require each person to agree, we found that various dictionaries yield the following results (with each listing being the first definition of all that are offered):

  • possessed, experienced, performed, etc., by each of two or more with respect to the other; reciprocal:
  • (of a feeling or action) experienced or done by each of two or more parties toward the other or others.
  • directed by each toward the other or the others mutual affection
  • done, felt, etc. by each of two or more for or toward the other or others; reciprocal: mutual admiration
  • Directed and received by each toward the other; reciprocal: mutual respect.

The common word in all 5 of these definitions is “each.” Though we might wish the Lord would give us an easier standard, we believe He used that word intentionally, as a reflection of the degree to which he values every one of us, without exception. If we are to be His people we must each agree to what He asks. We don’t believe He left room for exception or arbitrarily lowering the standard He set.

Notice also that this entails a relationship “toward the other or others.” This reflects the Lord’s desire that we hold each other precious and learn to work together in love and kindness. This assignment is a schoolmaster to change our hearts, and it can succeed because the Lord knows how to do His work. He desires more than anything that we unite.



As was stated by the Scripture Committee report at the conference:
It is difficult for us recovering gentles to swallow the idea that revelation might come from any place, and not just from a sanctioned, government-stamped, central distribution hub. It’s messy, or appears to be. So what do we do? The scripture committee has completed its Guide and Standard, but others apparently also feel called to contribute theirs. 90% of the assembly accepted the scripture committee’s G&S, but is that good enough? 
The answer probably depends on how we define this term: mutual agreement. That term is, of course, the Lord’s and comes from the Answer to the Prayer for Covenant: “I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people.” Let me say a word regarding the term mutual agreement. That word is “difficult.” “Unlikely,” “grueling,” and “essential” also come to mind. It has been pointed out that mutual agreement is more than a majority, more even than reluctant unanimity. It is an interlocking, polygonal, reciprocating latticework of agreement and understanding, where everyone is in agreement with everyone else. Boy-Howdy! How we gonna make that happen? 
How exactly this will be accomplished is unknown at this point. We are not saying that a new statement needs to be written, or that those now opposed will or should simply drop their opposition. We are just pointing out what the Lord has required. And, please believe me when I tell you that none of this has anything to do with acquiescing to a vocal minority, although I imagine that it might look that way to some. 
There are so few of us. We don’t want any to be lost. After a decade of hearing God’s word delivered by his messenger, look how few of us there are. How can we part without making every effort to reconcile opposing views and to come to mutual agreement? If the task requires us to get on our knees again, humble ourselves again, form a committee again (God forbid!), is that too high a price to remain the Lord’s people, and to retain our fellowship? How then do we proceed?
How then do we proceed? We hope this current effort, though imperfect, will prove to be an acceptable answer to that question, and will provide a way for us all to succeed together. May God bless us in this effort.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Light Thing


In the world tares are ripening. And so I ask you, What of the wheat? Let your pride, and your envy, and your fears depart from you. 
—Answer and Covenant

We need the Lord’s help for the Statement of Principles project. Some have proposed a day of fasting and prayer, today, Saturday September 23, 2017. I absolutely agree this is a wonderful idea, and I hope many of us will join in.

According to John Pratt, this happens to be the holiest day of the year on 11 sacred calendars. According to Joseph Smith’s translation of Revelation 12, the astronomical sign that appears in Virgo today represents the coming forth of the kingdom of God. This sign, and therefore this day, have existed in written prophecy for nearly 2000 years. This is a big deal, and may be a much bigger deal than we yet realize.

Though none of us may yet know the significance of the sign, and the Lord’s associated doings, we can at least recognize that prophecy is unfolding and the Lord is working and signifying his works with signs in the heavens and on the earth. Whatever happens in association with this sign has important implications for the coming forth of God’s kingdom.

As for the Statement of Principles project, we’re still in a tough place. Three attempts to accomplish the task have been classified by the Lord and David as failures, most likely meaning failures of our hearts, rather than failure of the often-inspired efforts of those who labored over the documents. The fourth attempt resulted in mutual agreement among a small subset of the body of believers, before there was yet a covenant. The vote among the wider body, again before the covenant, resulted in significant division and turmoil.

After the covenant, a new path forward has been proposed, with the goals of including all who care to participate, building on the foundation of the truths we all believe and have accepted by covenant, and overcoming past divisions to reach mutual agreement. Jeff Savage and I wrote at length about the need for, and thinking behind, such an effort—basing our reasoning on the Lord’s clear words in the requirement placed on us all. In so doing, we expressed the opinion that all the past efforts have been useful and helpful to get us to this point, but there yet remains work to be done.

Some are unwilling to give up the past, failed approach, insisting that we double down on that which has divided us. Others question the need for group participation at all, and want to transfer our group responsibility back to a single person. Yet others believe the Lord has asked the impossible and doesn’t actually expect us to be able to agree on anything (despite the fact that we ALL have agreed on a covenant and all it entails.) Numerous voices clamor for attention; some level accusations, others struggle in confusion. Some have changed their opinions multiple times, based on the last argument presented to them.

I don’t list the above as criticism. These are just the facts as they now stand, and they demonstrate our desperate need for the Lord’s guidance. As the Lord said in the Answer and Covenant, “if your hearts were right and you prepared yourselves you could have finished this work long ago.” The fact that it yet remains unfinished, and we can’t even agree on how to go about finishing it, indicates that our hearts are still not right. Not even close. We will know our hearts are right when it becomes a “light thing” for us to work together and come to agreement on truth.
If your hearts were right it was a light thing I have asked. 
Perhaps we shouldn’t assume “light” only means easy. The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth. Perhaps, within the Lord’s choice of this word, exists the implication that our hearts must be filled with light in order to be right.

I’m reminded of Joseph Smith’s struggle with a difficult issue, and the approach that solved his dilemma:


While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. 
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.  
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. 
God is not the author of confusion. He gives liberally to those who ask. But He requires an eye single to His glory: 
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (T&C 86:12, RE)
Part of having an eye single to God’s glory (and remember, glory=light and truth) involves casting aside previous ideas, preferences, desires, pride, envy, and all else that causes us to seek our preferred answer. We must have a singular focus on God’s light and truth, rather than our own desires.
And save they shall cast these things away and consider themselves fools before God and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 6:11, RE)
Therefore, I intend to cast aside EVERY one of my own desires and preferences for this project, seeking instead to be filled with light and know God’s will for how to proceed. I’m willing to sacrifice my opinions, preferences, and cherished views of what I think is the right way forward, giving it all up in exchange for God’s wisdom. I invite you to join me. It’s been my experience that answers come not by how strenuously I ask, but by how thoroughly I set aside my own desires and open myself to His.

I invite ALL who desire to fulfill the Lord’s commandment in this thing to join in the effort to be filled with light. If this is meant to be a light thing, then let’s get some light! Let us all cast aside our differences and disputations, and come together for a day of fasting and prayer. I would submit this is not a day for discussion, but rather for private, internal reflection. Let it be a day of humility, repentance, forgiveness, and turning to the Lord with our whole hearts.

The God of heaven has promised us the following:
And I, the Lord your God, will be with you and will never forsake you and I will lead you in the path which will bring peace to you in the troubling season now fast approaching. (Answer and Covenant)
That is a promise He cannot, and will not, break. He absolutely will honor it if we will honor Him by humbling ourselves and seeking His wisdom with an eye single to His glory. He will lead us in the right path. Let’s claim that promise by coming together in fasting and prayer. 


And thus we see the great call of the diligence of men to labor in the vineyards of the Lord. And thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing; sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.
—Alma 15:11, RE


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Statement of Principles Process is Live


The proposed process to create and mutually agree upon a statement of principles is now live on www.scriptures.info. All covenant holders are invited to participate.



Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Statements and Principles, Part 3: A Path Forward

By Jeff Savage and Adrian Larsen


Using the Lord’s words as our guide, and the parameters He has set as our outline, we believe it’s possible to achieve mutual agreement on the statement of principles the Lord has required. In this post, we’ll propose a procedure designed to accomplish this goal. 

This approach is quite different than what has already been tried, and we believe it helps avoid some of the difficulties this project has previously encountered, including inequality, differences of opinion, perceived leaders and followers, and misunderstood intent. It also benefits from inherent simplicity, making this a light thing to accomplish. We offer this proposal with no other desire than to assist in accomplishing the Lords will. We pray you’ll consider this approach with an open heart. 

Step One: Principles

Rather than starting with a finished document and going through an editing process, we propose instead starting with a list of a few, basic principles, individually stated, and posted online as a starting point for all to consider. For example, the beginning principles might include individual statements about faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and so forth, using the words of Christ as the basis for each principle. 

With these statements listed as a starting point, all covenant holders will be invited to add any additional principles they feel are necessary (and meet the Lord’s parameters for the project.) Each statement should define the principle and explain how to apply or accomplish it in basic terms, adapted to the needs of the audience. We also recommend including scriptural references where more information can be found. 

Everyone will have a voice and all can contribute as equals. Let’s crowdsource the principles. The invitation to all will remain open for a set length of time—say, two weeks. If multiple people submit statements on the same principle, they will be invited to work together with one another to create a single, unified statement of that principle, so there is not duplication. 

Step Two: Agreement

At the end of the time for gathering principles, the online list will be open for evaluation. Each covenant holder will be invited to indicate online which individual principles they agree with. So, for example, if the final list has 20 statements, you are free to indicate individually which of the 20 you embrace as an expression of your faith, and which you do not. 

Those who disagree with a listed principle will be asked to state the reasons for their disagreement—preferably using the Lord’s words and teachings as the foundation for their reasoning. The purpose of asking for this reasoning is that a mere objection without reasoning doesn’t do anything to help us all understand one another, adapt if necessary, and come to mutual agreement on that principle (if possible.) The body of believers may benefit greatly by understanding the viewpoints of those who disagree with specific principles, and may opt to make adjustments, to gain agreement on that principle. Again, all will have a voice and all will be equal in evaluating which principles they accept and which they do not.

We expect this phase to be iterative and conducted by the Spirit for each principle. The Lord has asked us to “reason together and apply” what has been given, and in the case of a dispute, to come together meekly and ask for His part. 

We don’t expect to control this part of the process; rather, in the case of a disagreement, those who disagree and those who agree will be able to come together in person, by email or by video conference, to reason together or take their dispute to the Lord, if necessary. This can be a potentially messy process, so we hope that we will all be able to be “tender with one another,” regard each other with charity, and align our words with our hearts, as Wisdom dictates.  

At the end of this process, hopefully there will be some of the principles upon which all agree. Using the example above, with an original list of 20, perhaps 12 of them will gain mutual agreement and the others must be abandoned. 

At this point, we will have a list of principles upon which we mutually agree, as the Lord has required.

Step Three: Document

A list of principles is an excellent start. The next step will require turning that list into a “statement” as the Lord has required. 

Statement: (n) a communication or declaration in speech or writing, setting forth facts, particulars, etc.

As an act of kindness, to make the list of individual statements into a coherent and unified statement, we propose adding a short introduction and short conclusion at the beginning and end of the document, to help orient future readers to the nature and purpose of the document and what it intends to accomplish. We propose following a similar process as we did for agreeing upon the list of principles—posting a brief introduction and conclusion online, soliciting further input, and finally asking for agreement on the one hand, or reasoning for non-agreement on the other. If changes are needed, they will be made in an effort to obtain mutual agreement. 

When we have obtained mutual agreement on the introduction and conclusion, we will have a finished document that meets the Lord’s requirement for a statement of principles, mutually agreed upon by the His people. 

Step Four: Present it to the Lord*

*Note: The original suggestion that we ask Denver to present the finished document to the Lord may not be the correct way to proceed. Some have suggested alternative approaches, and our best recommendation is that we wait until we have a finished document and then decide if, how, and by whom it will be presented to the Lord. What follows is the original suggestion, preserved here in italics for reference.

We propose asking Denver to present the finished document to the Lord as the product of our labors in compliance with our Lord’s word. At that point we will be able to do so with full confidence that we have all, as one, met the Lord’s standards of mutual agreement, wisdom, kindness and purpose—due to the process we followed to create the document. 

If the Lord approves the document, it will be added to the canon of scripture. No further canonizing vote will be necessary because it will already be the product of mutual agreement of the Lord’s people, as the Lord asked. 

If the Lord doesn’t approve the document, or suggests changes, additions or deletions, we will, of course, do all we can as a unified people to make the document acceptable to Him. It is our firm hope that if we can please the Lord with this “light thing,” He will fulfil His part. Indeed, if we will come to Him, He promises: 
“I will lead all who come to me to the truth of all things. The fullness is to receive the truth of all things, and this too from me, in power, by my word and in very deed. For I will come to you if you will come unto me.” 
And how do we come to Him? He tells us in plain humility how to do so, and it is to unite with each other, and unite with Him:  
“Those who want to come where I am must be able to abide the conditions established for my Father’s Kingdom. I have given to you the means to understand the conditions you must abide. I came and lived in the world to be the light of the world. I have sent others who have testified of me and taught you. I have sent my light into the world. Let not your hearts remain divided from one another and divided from me.”
There are many who worry that the resulting product will be less than what we started out with back in March. It is a legitimate concern. While we believe that what was given originally was inspired of God, we also believe that the Dayspring from on high will accept this sacrifice of a “good” thing (see Moroni 7 RE), because we desire something greater; we desire the promised blessing of a city, long sought-for, “[where] God is not ashamed to be called [our] God.” (Hebrews 11 LE). We believe that our willingness to sacrifice everything is necessary for us as individuals and as a people to gain the faith that will save our souls. 

Perspective

This approach offers several advantages over prior efforts. 

  • It eliminates the perception of “big” and “little” people, or voices that matter and voices that don’t. All are equal and have a voice. All are welcome to offer their input. As beautiful as a trumpet solo is, only an orchestra composed of many diverse voices can produce true harmony.  
  • It starts with basic principles and uses an additive process to reach the goal, rather than starting with a finished document and using a deductive or editorial process to re-work the document.
  • This approach helps us focus on individual principles and their application, and allows for granular agreement or disagreement, principle by principle. There is no “all or nothing.” Even if the list of mutually agreed principles is short, it will nevertheless be mutual. 
  • It helps us focus on the Lord’s parameters, with the intent of helping, in wisdom and kindness, those who will come after us.
  • It follows the method the Lord used in offering us a covenant. He proposed four, individual statements and asked us to accept them. We desire to follow the same pattern.
  • It is a simple process, easily accomplished through technology, and without the need for committees, lengthy meetings, travel, or any of the problems that have beset our prior efforts. Every covenant holder can participate from wherever they are in the world. 
  • It is a short process that can lead to success in weeks, not months. 
  • And finally, it focuses on that which unites us—that which we all have in common as believers in Jesus Christ and recipients of His covenant, united in His word. We can do this!

A New Understanding

As this project has progressed from the beginning, the Lord has gradually added more light and understanding. For example, at first, the primary assumption by many was that this document was for the purpose of governing our fellowships. But then the Lord added the further understanding that the audience is those of scattered Israel who will come after us, and that mutual agreement among us is required. As Denver said at the conference:
Accepting the covenant is not the final step. Our choices will determine whether we are bitter or natural fruit—that will decide our fate. Just as the ancient allegory foretold, the covenant makes us servants and laborers in the vineyard (v. 61). We are required to, this is from the covenant, “seek to recover the lost sheep remnant of this land and of Israel and no longer forsake them. Bring them to the Lord and teach them of his ways to walk in them.” If we fail to labor to recover them, we break the covenant. 
We have a new calling as laborers in the vineyard. This statement of principles is the beginning of our ministry to the lost sheep remnants. Did you catch that? If we do not fulfill this assignment, we break the covenant.

Moving Forward

We feel to note that this proposed procedure is offered by us and our wives alone; we are not acting under the auspices of the scripture committee, and we have not spoken with Denver about this effort, as the Lord has forbidden his participation. We have each spent a lot of time in prayer over the issue, and believe that this represents a fresh approach to fulfilling the Lord’s requirement. We do not want credit, notoriety, or our names on anything. This project belongs to all of us, and our fervent hope is that by following this proposed procedure, we can all come together and succeed in this task.

We have received permission to facilitate this process by using the scriptures.info website. We anticipate beginning the process and posting an initial “starting point” set of principles there shortly, together with instructions for submission of principles by any who care to do so. From there we propose following the steps outlined above, and pray this approach will succeed.

Hearts in Pain and Unity

We recognize and humbly repent of our errors and pray the Lord will honor our good intentions. We know there are many people on all sides of this issue who have had their hearts broken and their feelings hurt in this process. We realize many believed and hoped this process was finished with the last vote that took place, and find it jarring to consider a completely new approach. We pray the Lord will forgive us all and show us a better way—His way—to have our hearts healed and unified. If we can all receive that gift from Him, then every bit of this arduous process will have been worth it.

To those who may feel inclined to find fault with this proposed process, we would only ask that, if you have suggestions to help improve this proposal, please let us know. We welcome constructive input. If you only have complaints, please consider whether airing them publicly will help us all accomplish the Lord’s will together, as He has asked. 

Conclusion

The Lord has been extremely kind in giving us this opportunity. It is a miracle and a blessing, and we don’t deserve it. He said as much:
“For the sake of the promises to the Fathers will I labor with you as a people, and not because of you, for you have not yet become what you must be to live together in peace.” 
We’re living on the promises given to others. We’ve obtained what we’ve obtained, not because we deserve it, but because Abraham did. Think about that and let it sink in. It’s time to stop living on the promises made to others, and become what we need to become. It’s time to repent. 

When Denver interceded and begged forgiveness on our behalf for our failure, he said the following, regarding the statement of principles:
“We are mindful of the duties expected by you for any people who would claim to be yours, and ask that our weaknesses be forgiven and our own follies and errors be corrected and not condemned.” 
The Lord has promised that if we can take His Spirit upon us by loving each other and working together, then great things are in store: 
Do my works and you will know my doctrine; for you will uncover hidden mysteries by obedience to these things that can be uncovered in no other way. This is the way I will restore knowledge to my people.
The Lord has answered Denver’s prayer with miraculous correction in the Answer and Covenant. How merciful! How kind! How we ought to rejoice in our God! He has given us a beautiful opportunity in the statement of principles assignment; He has used very specific words and given us very specific instructions that, if followed, will change our very hearts. Let us humble ourselves, honor His word, and do as our Lord has asked. Let us repent. 

“We acknowledge that you have inspired and guided this work by your Spirit. We acknowledge we are imperfect and, despite your inspiration and assistance, we know there are faults and weaknesses with us and therefore we ask for your mercy to cover our weakness.”
—Prayer for Covenant