The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing at Lyndon B. Johnson's - photo from Intellectual Reserve Inc. Found on DeseretNews.com

In the last “Saturday Night Live” episode of the year, Alec Baldwin’s faux-Donald Trump is handed a list of all the performers willing to participate at the presidential inauguration.

“They’re both great,” Baldwin says, as he looks at the tiny scrap of paper on which the names are written.

In contrast, the list of acts unwilling to appear would likely fill up a lengthy scroll, which is why the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s acceptance of President-elect Trump’s invitation has generated a great deal of controversy.

When the news broke, my Facebook feed erupted with indignation, as many of my friends saw this as a de facto Mormon endorsement of Trump’s controversial campaign.

I found the news somewhat depressing, not because I agree with that assessment, but rather because I recognize that this is how the choir’s performance will be interpreted by many. It shouldn’t be, as the choir has performed at five other inaugurations for presidents of both parties, beginning with Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1965, according to a news release from the choir. If the choir had turned down Trump, that would be a partisan decision. It would also open the door to every appearance of the choir being viewed through a political lens, which would add an unnecessary complication to an organization that is committed to spreading goodwill across the globe, regardless of political affiliations.

Consider the choir’s appearance in Berlin in 1955, which required it to travel through Russian territory during the height of the Cold War. The performance took place roughly six years prior to the construction of the Berlin Wall, which means that many in attendance were ardent communists. Back then, it’s unlikely that anyone would have presumed that the choir’s visit behind the Iron Curtain should be interpreted as an endorsement of the Soviet Union or communism in general.

Read the full story and get more important details at Deseret News.

Thanks to LDS Living that put this in our feeds.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Trump Inauguration
Image from Mormon Newsroom of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the Bush inauguration in 1989.

If I didn’t have the worst singing voice known to mankind, and I was talented enough to earn a spot with the Tabernacle Choir, I would sing with all my heart at the Presidential Inauguration. Here’s why.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is America’s choir. Of course they should sing at the Presidential Inauguration. They are not necessarily singing for Donald Trump. They are singing for America. But even if they were singing for Donald Trump… would it be so much worse than so many of the other immoral men that have graced that presidency and defiled that White House with their immoral actions, extra-marital affairs, and perpetual dishonesty?

Look… I’ll be honest. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or anyone else on my ballot when it came to president for that matter. I loathed… no, I gagged on both choices. I did vote… but when it came to voting for President, I was completely paralyzed while standing at the booth. Judge me if you will… but I couldn’t bring myself to throw my support behind any candidate. I did not view either of them as leaders I would want to follow. I pride myself on choosing good leaders to follow… and so I withheld my vote on principle alone. Many people would argue that was stupid, and that I could have at least voted for the lesser of two evils. Maybe they’re right, but I made a personal political decision to stay neutral.

That was politics… but when it comes to being a missionary, or as Christ said, “letting your light so shine” before mankind… we are required to be “no respecter of persons” as the scripture states. I may not vote Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president, but I would still knock on their door, Book of Mormon in hand, smile on my face, light of Christ in my heart… and love for whoever decided to open that front door. I would mow their lawn, paint their fence, help them move furniture, feed their horses or sing at their inauguration any day of the week if it meant that I could in some way bring the Spirit of the Lord into their lives.

READ FULL POST on GREG TRIMBLE‘s blog.

In 1975, Dr. Raymond A. Moody coined the term “near-death experiences” in his bestselling book Life After Life.

Mormons have latched on to this concept, which is not surprising, considering our unique doctrine regarding the afterlife.

Dr. Brent Top has researched extensively near-death experiences, especially by those outside of the LDS community.

He has identified several common elements to these experiences such as the “life review,” encountering loved ones, and spirit communication.

Far from fading as a fad, the topic is becoming more and more popular.

While Dr. Top finds his studies interesting, he warns of the danger of trying to establish doctrine through experience. He emphasizes what the LDS doctrine is regarding the afterlife rather than anecdotal experiences. He also introduces a concept he coined as the “Apocraphal Principle” to help us evaluate these stories.

 

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Image from Deseret News

MormonLeaks released four sets of documents purportedly related to the operations of the LDS Church on Monday, two related to the living allowances provided to the faith’s General Authorities.

The first set of documents posted on MormonLeaks, a website run by a former member of the LDS Church, includes what purports to be a “record of payroll or allowance” — similar to a pay stub — that reports how much money was provided to President Henry B. Eyring, then of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a two-week period in 1999. The release includes seven two-week records for him in 2000.

On Monday night, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the church will not confirm the authenticity of any “leaked” document.

“General Authorities leave their careers when they are called into full-time church service,” said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the church. “When they do so, they focus all of their time on serving the church, and are given a living allowance. The living allowance is uniform for all General Authorities. None of the funds for this living allowance come from the tithing of church members, but instead from proceeds of the church’s financial investments.”

President Eyring is now the first counselor in the First Presidency, the top governing body of the church. His Social Security Number is redacted from the allegedly leaked records.

The records report that the church provided about $90,000 to President Eyring in 2000. A second document posted on Monday, a letter from the faith’s Presiding Bishopric to Elder Bruce D. Porter on Jan. 2, 2014, appears to be a memo stating that “the General Authority base living allowance has been increased from $116,400 to $120,000.”

President Eyring’s biweekly allowance was shown to be $2,192.31 for living expenses, $826.92 for parsonage (housing for an ecclesiastical leader) and $76.92 for a child allowance.

The other two reported leaks are minutes of an executive council meeting and minutes from a meeting of the Temple Facilities and Sites Committee.

To read the full article on the Deseret News, click here

Thanks to Meridian Magazine for helping us find this article.

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Early Returned Missionary LDS

In August of 2016 a program was created by a nonprofit organization with the purpose of serving Early-Returned Missionaries (ERM’s). Missionaries leave mission service earlier than they originally anticipate for a variety of reasons, but most, if not all, are faced with a barrage of confusing emotions and thoughts upon returning. Many ERMs choose to isolate within their own homes, fearful of who they will run into while at the grocery store, dreadful of the inevitable two questions ward members, family, and friends always seem to ask: “Why are you home already?” and “So, when are you going back out?”

 

The purpose of an ERM Mentor is to reach out to these ERMs who are suffering, to reassure them that they are not alone, to be a source of unconditional love and support, and to provide the ERMs with resources which may assist them as they make this often rocky transition.

 

Mission Fortify created the “Early-Returned Missionary Mentor Program” for the sole purpose of assisting those who are now arriving home early from mission service, but over the course of the last three months it has become apparent that the program is also serving the ERM Mentors themselves. The majority of ERM Mentors (approximately 70%) are also ERMs, and have discovered an avenue to find closure from their own experiences as they serve others, share the lessons they have learned, and the insight they have gained since returning home from their mission service.

 

What is an ERM Mentor? The following was taken directly from Mission Fortify’s website:

 

  • Mentors are volunteers who are active members of the LDS faith. Mentors are either Early-Returned Missionaries (ERM’s) themselves, or are volunteers who understand the struggle ERM’s encounter when returning home earlier than anticipated from full-time mission service.
  • Mentors make themselves available to meet with ERM’s within 48 hours of the missionary returning home from mission service.
  • Mentors offer moral support, empathy, and compassion to ERM’s, and provide ERM’s with a list of local resources which are available to help with the transition to post-mission life.
  • Mentors are expected to follow Alma’s words, by being “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God…” (Mosiah 18:9)

 

Mission Fortify currently has ERM Mentor Teams representing UT County, Salt Lake County, and Davis/Weber Counties, with the goal of creating Teams in Cache and Iron/Washington Counties within the next three months. Mission Fortify also currently has ERM Mentors representing areas in the States of Washington, California, Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho, and Georgia, with interest being expressed in New Zealand and Germany. Ultimately, Mission Fortify hopes to have ERM Mentors representing every Stake within the “Mormon Corridor” (as far North as Idaho Falls, ID, through all of Utah, and as far South as Phoenix, AZ), while also giving anyone living outside the “Mormon Corridor” area the opportunity to serve as ERM Mentors as well.

 

You can find a list of ERM Mentor Team Meetings and ERM Support Groups on the Mission Fortify Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/missionfortify or on the Mission Fortify website https://www.missionfortify.org/erm-mentor-volunteer-program.

If you’d like more information about the ERM Mentor Program, or would like to know how Mission Fortify plans on serving Pre-Missionaries and Returned Missionaries then send an email to [email protected]

In the LDS Church, we have high expectations and high ideals. Leaders do not shy away from teaching a very specific ideal family constellation, sexual purity before marriage, and patterning our life after the Savior’s life in every possible way. There is nothing wrong with teaching ideals and one could argue that that is the primary job of religious institutions. However, in real life, holding up ideals often leaves members never feeling  “good enough” because they have not achieved the ideal righteous Mormon life. Chronic feelings of  “never good enough” because your life doesn’t look like an Ensign magazine cover, your child has left the Church, your spouse isn’t committed to church callings, you’re struggling with the word of wisdom, you’re having difficulty forgiving someone, you’re not a good provider, or you’re not an attentive mother or father, can erode our whole sense of self.

What is shame?

Shame is a universal emotion defined by researcher Brené Brown, PhD as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame inspires us to hide ourselves from others, to judge ourselves and to go deeper into secretive behaviors.

Shame triggers

Religious institutions are not the only place we get messages about ideals. We are bombarded with messages about how we “should” be–what ideal women and men look like and act like, what the ideal house and household looks like, how your children should behave and more. Not living up to our ideal identity or how we want to view ourselves and be viewed by others has been identified as the primary trigger for shame.

One of my ideal identities is the desire to be viewed as a “good mother.” If I am not behaving as a “good mother” – if I’m being preoccupied with work, forgetting their doctor appointment, or losing my patience– my ideal identity is challenged and I am susceptible to feelings of shame. Shame can be triggered not only by how we view ourselves, but also by how we think others view us.

What’s wrong with shame?

You may be thinking, “What’s the problem with feeling shame when you don’t measure up to your ideal? Doesn’t that make you want to change?” No, shame does not inspire self-improvement. It most often initiates and fuels self-destructive behavior. Chronic feelings of shame are present in toxic perfectionism, eating disorders, problematic sexual behaviors, substance abuse, and sexual abuse. Over time, shame can become integrated into our self-image, into our core experience of who we are (not what we have done).

Where shame gets particularly tricky for Mormons is that while we can discount the world’s messages about our ideal selves as shallow, uninspired and sometimes downright evil, faithful members can’t easily discount the ideals put forward by inspired Church leaders. Nor should we. How do we accept the ideals set forth by our Church leaders without spiraling into self-destructive shame because we don’t measure up?

1. Draw clear distinctions between ideal and real

I am not suggesting that we throw away the ideals presented by our doctrine and teachings. What I am suggesting is that we overtly discuss that the image of an ideal family, ideal mother, ideal priesthood holder, ideal child or teen as something to strive for, not to actually achieve anytime soon. I have seen the damaging consequences of believing that the religious ideal is actually attainable in this life contribute to destructive perfectionism, depression, anxiety, low self-worth, and shame. Dr. Brené Brown suggests that “healthy striving” toward a goal is very different than toxic perfectionism.

As an adolescent, I recognized my blessed and privileged life and yet, for a period of time, I still wasn’t happy. I concluded that something must be inherently wrong with me. I started to experience deep feelings of shame–that I was somehow flawed because I went through periods where I wasn’t able to feel joy and gratitude. I have the Gospel. I should be happy. I slid into several years of toxic perfectionism, denying my emotions, and hiding my authentic self.

Read full story by Dr. Julie De Azevedo Hanks on Meridian Magazine.

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Cover image via BGR and Shutterstock found via ldsmag.com

In the wake of the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (Daughter and mother) just a day apart, Huffington Post published a surprisingly open article concerning the LDS beliefs about eternity from author Mary Bell. 

We’re all here on Earth for about 10 minutes. OK, not 10 actual minutes. But relative to eternity, doesn’t it seem like it’s going to feel like we were here for just minutes?

Ideally, we would like these minutes to be… well, ideal. We would like to be consistently overflowing with joy, bursting with happiness, and swimming in purpose―like joyful, happy porpoises with retirement plans. But life, as we’ve noticed, can also be hard. And that, as I continue to learn, is “a good thing” (thank you, Martha Stewart).

Recently, I was in a situation with a lot of people that I loved but hadn’t seen for a while. It was joy to see them again. We were waiting for something to begin, and we were all trying hard to be quiet, but still, we were a little covertly giggly. I remember thinking, “This reminds me of being a little girl with my many siblings gathered around me, waiting for bedtime stories to begin.” We needed to settle down so the book could be read, but we were all so excited! We were all there in our pajamas! We were all snuggled near each other like happy puppies! We had a hard time stifling laughter.

I was remembering this that day when something suddenly surprising whispered to my soul. “Someday you will feel this with all those with you in heaven, for everyone is a literal child of God. You are all brothers and sisters.”

It hit me: love in heaven does not come just from God and Jesus and people of that caliber. It comes from the multiplied love of all of us. Individual relationships (deep, pure, and fun) are possible between each of us.

To read the full article on the Huffington Post, click here. 

Thanks to Meridian Magazine that brought this article to our attention.

cover image from chron.com

When Trina Morford was confronted with her third-grade daughter’s language arts homework about three years ago, she felt helpless – half of the lessons were in Spanish because she was in a dual-language program. Faced for the first time with being unable to help her child, and knowing her daughter was on her own, she panicked.

But her daughter, now 13 and a student at Spring Forest Middle School, lives in the U.S. where her first language of English is the common tongue, and she was easily able to find support for her studies.

That panicked and helpless feeling was the motivation behind her bringing the “Daily Dose” project to Spring Forest, where she is a parent volunteer, and to Principal Kaye Williams when it became clear that the school was in need of ESL services because of the sudden enrollment of 30 to 40 refugee children last year at the SBISD campus.

Williams says her campus has the highest number of refugee children – 42 right now – in all of SBISD.

They all come from war-torn countries, said Williams, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and several African nations, and many of them were born and raised in refugee camps.

Get the full story at the Houston Chronicle.

LDS Mission presidents
cover image from utahvalley360.com

Black name tags dot the globe as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints share the message of the restored gospel. The statistical report at April 2016 General Conference reported there were more than 74,000 missionaries in this vast Army of Helaman.

But every army needs a leader. Each of the 422 missions of the LDS Church is presided over by a mission president and his wife. According to Mormon Newsroom, each president presides over approximately 175 missionaries at a time, with 600 missionaries passing through their mission during their three-year calling.

These mission presidents give of their time and talents to help spread the work. Get to know these leaders through some numbers gathered from mission presidents serving in January 2017.

1. Returning to the field

via utahvalley360.com
via utahvalley360.com

Only 11 percent of mission presidents did not serve as full-time missionaries in their youth. Of the mission presidents who served missions, 32 percent are serving in the same country they served their mission.

Read the rest of the interesting mission president statistics on Utah Valley 360.

The Church Shows Joseph Smith’s Seer Stone for the First Time: Five Things to Know about the Seer Stone
Seer stone used by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Photo by Weldon C. Andersen and Richard E. Turley Jr.

In Doctrine and Covenants section 124:125, it says “I give unto you my servant Joseph to be a presiding elder over all my church, to be a translator, a revelator, a seer, and prophet.”

We know what most of those things are, but what exactly does it mean to be a “seer”?

A 2015 Ensign article explains the following about seers:

“’Seeing’ and ‘seers’ were part of the American and family culture in which Joseph Smith grew up. Steeped in the language of the Bible and a mixture of Anglo-European cultures brought over by immigrants to North America, some people in the early 19th century believed it was possible for gifted individuals to ‘see,’ or receive spiritual manifestations, through material objects such as seer stones.”

In the Guide to the Scriptures, it also states that “In the Book of Mormon, Ammon taught that only a seer could use special interpreters, or a Urim and Thummim.”

When the Joseph Smith papers released a picture of a brown seer stone owned by Joseph Smith in connection with a printing of an original Book of Mormon manuscript, many questions were asked about seer stones—from where they came from to how they are used. We know from the Joseph Smith Papers that Joseph’s original brown seer stone made its way, through the years, to seven different people before it was donated to the Church. We also know he had a second seer stone.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT LDS LIVING.