Friday, December 23, 2016


The land into which Jesus was born burned with Messianic expectations. Prayers for a long-promised national deliverer arose constantly from homes, synagogues and the great Temple in Jerusalem. A nation which had for over six centuries been divided, humiliated and dominated by foreign powers awaited God’s anointed deliverer who would restore national honor, integrity, piety and power. The coming of this national redeemer would be a joyful event for the people—a momentous event that would be witnessed by all the nations of the earth. At least that was the populist belief of the time given the common interpretation of scriptural passages such as this:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."
(Isaiah 52:7-10)

The central reason why most believers in these scriptures rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah—His Anointed—was that his birth, life and death (and even the claims of his resurrection) met none of the expectations that the vast majority of the people had for their long-hoped-for redeemer.

In the decades and centuries following Jesus’s earthly ministry, those who did embrace him as the Messiah passed along stories and created traditions that commemorated his birth as a miraculous, earth-shaking event.

Thus, Christmas is celebrated by erecting Nativity scenes, singing glorious carols, and retelling stories of singing angelic hosts filling the night skies above shepherds in their fields; of Wise Men on camels following a blazing star from Persia to Bethlehem; of ancient Americans falling to their knees as the skies above them remain bright for a day, a night and day in recognition of the Savior’s birth.

There are two things that these stories have in common.

All of these stories involve great lights: the star of the east; a day, a night and a day as if they were one day; bright angelic host filling the night sky.

And all of these stories involve humans looking heavenward for signs of the Messiah’s birth.

Whether these particular stories are historical or legendary is of little importance to our discussion here. If they are indeed historical, they happened to only a handful of people in the Middle East or to an ancient America civilization that had no contact with the rest of the world. The fact remains that the rest of the human family—including those living in the small town where Jesus was born—had no idea that a Messiah had been born.

No one was looking earthward. No one was looking down.

With all of the reading of scripture that took place daily in synagogues and communities throughout the Roman Empire; all of the anticipation, all of the talking, bickering, debating, speculating and theorizing about the Messiah which consumed the faithful of that day—no one thought to look for the Lord’s Anointed in a dark stable, lying in a manger.

Certainly if (as the Gospel According to Luke testifies) Mary gave birth to Jesus in overcrowded Bethlehem during the taking of a national census, it would stand to reason that others in the crowded inn and adjoining stable would have been aware of the event. Others would have heard the newborn Jesus crying. Others would have passed the babe in the manger. Even with no heralding angles or stars rising in the east, Jesus was not born in isolation, in secret or even in the privacy of a home.

And yet as far as our traditions tell us, not a single soul in closest proximity to the newborn babe had the slightest inkling that their Messiah had come—that the child was “Emmanuel”—meaning “God with us.” The populist notions of national pride and power, the certainty that national and sectarian interests were the measure of God’s interests, the testimonies delivered by the multitudes asserting that they already knew the truth regarding the ways in which God operated—all of these combined to blind people to the way in which redemption, salvation, restoration, peace and the reign of God were being brought into the world.

For those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah—the Christ—God had entered the world quietly, undermining not only popular beliefs about how He operates but also undermining all traditional, orthodox assumptions about the very nature of the Divine’s relationship with humanity.

In Jesus’s day, as in our own, people were looking for blinding beams of glory streaming from the heaven, for the bright flash of a national deliverer’s sword, for the glowing radiance of thrones, crowns, riches and royal opulence.

No one thought of looking for the Light in the countenance of the weakest of humans—a seemingly ordinary infant asleep among the animals in a common stable.

As Phillip Brooks wrote his immortal 1868 Christmas carol:

“How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”

How much time and energy have I spent looking heavenward for signs and wonders rather than looking at the world around me, in the faces and lives of others?

How have my experiences of God undermined the expectations I had based on my religious upbringing?

SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This Christmas Season bring up the above questions in conversations with family members or friends.

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make your ideas understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit

Thursday, December 22, 2016



“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.

Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.”
(I Corinthians 13)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


In even the darkest times, the promised advent of Christ’s Light offers us a reason to rejoice. For despite the chaos, despair and violence of the current age, the vision of a future age in which these things have no place has long inspired prophets and poets throughout history.

Anciently the defeated and dispersed Children of Israel were encouraged by their prophets to never lose sight of a joyous future age that would be ushered in by a coming Messiah:

“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
(Isaiah 35:1-10)

In early nineteenth century America, another prophet, while illegally imprisoned for months in a small Missouri jail, cast his thoughts forward to that same future time, envisioning how the dead would be restored to the living in an eternal joyful union. Rather than give in to feelings of gloom and despair because of current injustices and suffering, this prophet encouraged his brothers and sisters to press forward with joy:

“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received?
A voice of gladness!
A voice of mercy from heaven;
and a voice of truth out of the earth;
glad tidings for the dead;
a voice of gladness for the living and the dead;
glad tidings of great joy…
Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause?
Go forward and not backward.
Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!
Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.
Let the earth break forth into singing.
Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel…
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud;
and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King!
And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness.
Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord;
and ye solid rocks weep for joy!
And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together,
and let all the sons of God shout for joy!
And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever!
And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven,
proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation,
and honor, and immortality, and eternal life;
kingdoms, principalities, and powers!
…Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand;
and who can abide the day of his coming,
and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap;
and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,
and he shall purify the sons of Levi,
and purge them as gold and silver,
that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. “
(Doctrine & Covenants 128: 19, 22, 23-24)

Though the past year may have had its fill of disappointments, hurts and anger, let us pay renewed attention to the prophetic voices found in scripture. Let us learn from the things we may have suffered and then let us release that pain, allowing it to recede into the darkness of the past. As Christmas approaches, let us rejoice in the coming of Christ’s Light into a world in need of healing and restoration—for as the scripture testify, we are that we might have joy! (See II Nephi 2:25)

Thursday, December 15, 2016


In a world that is often darkened by war, violence and injustices, the human family has clung to the hope for a future time of peace.

Too often peace is mistakenly seen only as the absence of war and social unrest. But history is filled with examples of so-called peaceful ages that were nevertheless filled with injustice and suffering. The Roman Empire—into which Jesus and his first followers were born—prided itself on maintaining peace (the Pax Romana). This “peace” was narrowly defined as putting down any rebellion and social unrest; silencing critics and dissenters; imposing strict social order while quickly and severely punishing any who dared break the law. It was assumed then—as indeed, it is often assumed now—that peace can be imposed; that violence and the threat violent punishment can bring about and maintain peace.

The ancient prophetic writings of the Israelites put forth a vision of peaceful age that would be brought about by a future Messiah—and this vision was embraced centuries later by those who followed Jesus. The most famous example from these prophetic writings is found in the Book of Isaiah:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might; the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.’ (Isaiah 11:1—10)

At first glance, the vision seems to maintain the same ideas regarding peace that are found elsewhere in the history of the ancient world—namely, that a messianic individual (the “shoot” or stem that will come up from “the stump of Jessie”) will appear and impose peace by force.

But even as this vision concentrates on the work of this one messianic individual, there are some differences. When he appears, he will not judge by what he sees and hears, but with the spirits of knowledge and wisdom he will be able to discern the true condition of the poor and the needy; and so, his judgments will be rooted in righteousness; he will act justly.

This expands the concept of peace beyond just the absence of violence, war, crime and social unrest: the concept of peace is broadened to include justice—and justice for the weakest and least influential people in society.

The concept of peace is further expanded to include a change in natural inclinations themselves: animals that instinctively attack each other are envisioned as living peacefully side by side with each other—and with human beings.
Can the transformation of such seemingly natural instincts and inclinations, be imposed from without by someone—even by the powerful messianic figure envisioned in this prophecy?

Certainly many people anciently thought so—which is why the majority of those who clung to Isaiah’s prophecy rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their long-awaited Messiah. Simply put, though he may have been seen a just, wise and merciful, he was executed as a common criminal by the Roman Empire. Indeed, he was executed in a manner (crucifixion) that was reserved for political enemies of the state. After his execution the world apparently continued on in darkness, with a constant stream of wars, violence, crimes and injustices. The wolf, the lion and the lamb were still not living peacefully side by side.

Perhaps Peace is not something that can be imposed upon us but is something which we must actively pursue —as is suggested by this scripture:

“Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace…” (Doctrine & Covenants 98:16)

Perhaps we must first renounce war—a powerful act of faith in itself, since we live in a world in which physical power and the threat of physical attack are the foundation of all human law and government.

But renouncing war—even refusing to participate in war—will have a limited effect on bringing about the kind of peace imagined without this:

“And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:125)

While this scripture speaks of clothing oneself with charity (Love), what is referred to is actually an internal process—an inward change. Charity—Love—comes from within a person. Merely going through the actions of loving others, will have a limited effect on the world. To honestly cultivate genuine love for others opens our minds so that we—like the messianic figure of Isaiah’s prophecy—do not judge by appearances. Instead we open ourselves upon to the spirit of wisdom and a greater probability of judging righteously.

This internal, spiritual process can enlighten our minds—even when we are dealing with those who threaten us, harm us or unjustly use us.

“…make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.” (Doctrine & Covenants 105:40)

The Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah will come about with the Advent of Christ’s Light in our hearts.

How narrow or broad is your idea of “Peace?”
How has your idea of “Peace” changed during the course of your life? What things have influenced that change?
Can the “Peace” envisioned in scripture be imposed by outside forces—even by God? If your answer is “yes”—why? If your answer is “no”—why?

SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In your conversations with three different family members or friends bring up this question:

How is Peace related to Justice? How is it related to Love?

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit

Thursday, December 08, 2016


And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons…’” (Genesis 1:14)

Throughout all of recorded history, the human imagination has been fueled by what was observed in the heavens. Around the world in all cultures and among believers of all faiths, the daily rising and setting of both the sun and the moon brought forth rich religious symbolism. Likewise, the passing of the seasons and the changing movement of the stars with those seasons, inspired symbols and myths.

The winter Solstice which usually occurs during the third week of December in the earth’s Northern Hemisphere is the shortest day of the year. And yet from ancient times, among virtually all people, this Solstice was venerated as a time marking the return of light to the world. From this date, onward, the days become increasingly longer, culminating in the longest day of the year six months later. In regions that experience cold weather or intense winters, the light also symbolized the eventual return of life-giving warmth. Light also became a powerful metaphor: light dispels darkness; light reveals what was hidden; light bring clarity of vision.

When pagan nations embraced Christianity, they continued their solstice celebrations as Christmas, interpreting the return of sunlight as symbolic of the coming of divine light into the word, embodied in the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which is also celebrated during the same of the year, commemorates the return of light to the ancient temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees.

As the Winter season sets in, a reminder that, despite the darkness and cold, the days are becoming longer and brighter, can be a source of hope. The coming of light to a darkened world is found throughout scripture:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (See Isaiah 9:2 and II Nephi 19:2 )

The Advent Season—the four weeks leading up to Christmas—encourages us to look forward with eager anticipation the coming (the Advent) of Christ and his Light into the word. The theme of Advent’s first week is Hope.


Hope is one of the three spiritual gifts and virtues extolled in the writings of the Apostle Paul and in “The Book of Mormon”—the other two being Faith and Love (Charity).

The first followers of Jesus embraced a belief in the resurrection of the body—a belief that death itself was only temporary; that God would bring about a renewal of the heavens and the earth and establish an eternal realm of justice, righteousness and peace. All who had died would be restored to life and be invited to take part in God’s eternal Kingdom.

But despite this belief, the world remained unchanged overall. In fact, many who converted to this new faith became objects of scorn, ridicule and outright persecution by the legal authorities of the time. Despite a belief in a future of Light, the present remained Dark.

In such a time, the concept of Hope became important to these believers. Despite the advances of the past two thousand years since, the world can still be seen as a dark place. Violence, injustice, ignorance and hatred are as potent in our day as they were in millennia past. Hope for a world over which peace, justice, knowledge and love flow like a river is still a powerful force—not only in the struggle to maintain an individual’s private faith but also in the advancement of the human family generally.

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4)

How have you used the symbols of “light” and “darkness” in your thinking and in your faith?
How is ‘hope’ different from ‘optimism?’
What could be the downside of always being ‘optimistic?’
What is the relationship between ‘hope’ and ‘knowledge?’
What is the relationship between ‘hope’ and ‘faith?’
To be a force for good in your life, where should your hope be focused? Why?

SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT:During the coming days, in conversations with three different friends or family members why not try bringing up these questions and see where the conversation goes:

Do you think hope different from optimism? In what do you have hope? What would your life be like without this hope?

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


In our previous lesson, we explored how most religious traditions, by focusing focus of going somewhere else after we die (Heaven, Hell, the Celestial Kingdom, the presence of God, etc.), overlook the very thing upon which Christ, Prophets and Scripture focused: that of our character—the type of person we are and the type of person we’re becoming. Our focus should not be on going somewhere but on becoming someone—someone who has within them all the qualities and virtues we envision God having.

A second effect of focusing on where we go when we die, is that the value we give to life here and now on earth is diminished.

Often in gatherings of devout Christians, one will hear people say: “This world is not my home; I’m just passing through; heaven is my home.”

Popular Evangelical songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither expressed this in one of their popular songs, “Going Home”:

“Going home, I'm going home!
There is nothing to hold me here!
I've caught a glimpse of that Heavenly land!
Praise God, I'm going home!”

The line, “There is nothing to hold me here” expresses a very dismal outlook about life on earth. For many Christians—and for many believers in other religious traditions—this world is seen as a “vale of tears”—a cursed, fallen state of corruption to be escaped or overcome. But how many of us—regardless of our professed religion—can actually look around us and, in all honesty, say that we see nothing that we value—nothing to “hold us here?”

Such a belief also affects how we view ourselves. It is common for many Christians and Evangelicals to describe themselves as just “damaged earthen vessels” in which their spirits reside. While these same people are usually very vocal in declaring themselves “Bible-believing Christians” the idea that one’s spirit is one’s “true self” and that the body and physical existence is faulty, sinful and something to be discarded is NOT Biblical at all. Such an idea is found in the teachings of the Greek philosopher Plato and in the mysticism of the ancient Gnostics, but it is anathema to the beliefs and views of the ancient Israelites and first century Jews—those people who wrote the Bible.

The popular religious view of seeing life on earth as something to which believers should joyfully bid farewell is contrasted in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town.”

The play follows day-to-day life in a tiny New England town—Grover’s Corner—where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. The heroine—a teenage girl named Emily—grows up, marries the boy next door but then tragically dies in childbirth. The play’s final act takes place in the town graveyard where Emily’s spirit watches her own funeral. Before letting go of the earth and moving on to whatever awaits her in eternity, she attempts to relive one day of her life—her twelfth birthday. Only then does she fully realize how quickly times passes, how little time people take to actually look at one another, listen to one another and connect. Only then does she realize the true beauty life on earth. Only then does she fully appreciate how precious every minute of even the most mundane day was.

“I didn't realize it. So, all that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back—up the hill—to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover's Corner—Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking and Mama's sunflowers…and food and coffee…and new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?” (“Our Town” by Thornton Wilder)

Unlike the Gaithers and so many other believers, Emily is overwhelmed by all the beauty of the earth, of her relationships with her loved ones—all of which have a profound hold on her and define who she is at the deepest level.

In Hebrew the word for “Adam” (which is initially used in scripture to define both man and woman) is a play on the Hebrew word for the earth—“Adama.” So while it is commonly translated into English as “Adam,” “man” or “human,” it more accurately could be translated as something akin to “earthling”—a word which sounds ridiculous given its use in Science Fiction. But this Hebrew play on words conveys an essential truth: to be human is to be part of the earth. Earth is the rightful abode of human beings.

That idea can be seen as positive or negative based upon the story that your religion tells.

Every religion tells a story of some kind. Whether that story is historical fact, myth or fiction is really of little importance to the living of one’s day-to-day life. What is essential—the thing by which “the truth” of the story is found in the meaning that it holds for the believer—in the values that the believer develops based upon the story.

For example—

Drawing from the Bible, a religion tells this story: Adam and Eve lived happily in Eden with God, but because they ate the forbidden fruit, God cast them from his presence and now they are lost in a sinful word, doomed to Hell unless God saves them.

If this is the story one’s religion tells, then the focus of that religion is simply to be saved from sin so that one can return to God’s presence.

But the religious tradition that begins its story with the Fall of Adam and Eve has already ignored the story that the writers and editors of the Bible told.

Their story begins with God organizing the earth and bringing forth all life upon it—including human beings who exist in the image of God. God declares earth and all life upon it as being good. Later the humans eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and in doing so, God declares that now they can discern good from evil in the same way He does. Because of this, He casts them out of Eden. On their own, they are now responsible for their own choices—for they know good from evil. When they are inhumane toward one another—when they cheat, steal, harm and kill one another—God condemns these actions as evil, sinful and ungodly. But God does not give up on humans and their capacity for righteousness and holiness. Neither does God condemn or denigrate the earth and nature because of the evil committed by some. Instead God sets about to restore human beings to the relationship He intended them to have with Him and with one another. God sets about restoring the entire earth to reflect His original intention for it.

As the ancient Israelites and the earliest followers of Christ saw it, yes there was suffering and evil on earth—but this was not the earth’s destiny. Justice, goodness, mercy and love would triumph in the end. The earth would be renewed—and what good we do now would remain eternally as a part of that renewal.

Reform Mormonism embraces this message. That message was central to the lives of the first Mormons, who gathered together for the purpose of building up a New Jerusalem—of establishing Zion, which was defined as “the Pure in Heart.”

Jesus taught his followers to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

The Kingdom of God is not some far off ethereal realm beyond the grave—some fairyland of puffy clouds and angels with harps. The Kingdom of God is here on earth—and it is established when we open ourselves to the influence of God’s Spirit and begins to cultivate the virtues we envision God possessing.

Far from denouncing this life in hopes of life after death, the earth and all things in it are to be embraced with thanksgiving! Every moment of our lives has value! Our relationships with others here and now are the very things that define us as individuals and they will extend into eternity! So, give thanks!

This view is celebrated in the words of Folliot S. Pierpoint's beloved hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth":

"For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies...

"...For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight...

"...For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise."

Questions: How can viewing the earth and our life upon as good influence our choices, the formation of our character—and how might these things impact the lives of others and society at large?
How can we live lives of thanksgiving?

Challenge: In your conversations with three different family members or friends bring up this question:

What if religion focused on valuing our life here and now; on valuing the earth and nature; of valuing other people—how differently would we live our day to day lives? What kind of people would we become if we at least tried to do this?

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit

Saturday, November 19, 2016


When twenty-five-year-old Alvin Smith died suddenly on November 19, 1823, his family and the community were shocked.

Alvin had always been the picture of health: a hard-worker, he had spent the previous three years clearing the land he had leased for his aging parents and leading the efforts to build a house for their large family. Tall and athletically built, he loved to wrestle and was known for his physical strength. For recreation, he often accompanied his father, younger brother Joseph and other local “money diggers” on night-time hunts in the local forests and hills for buried treasure.

The Smiths were newcomers to Palmyra—having moved there from Vermont only six years earlier—and while long-time Palmyra residents tended to look down upon them as uneducated, superstitious and lazy, most locals admired Alvin for being hardworking and practical-minded.

When in November of 1823, Alvin complained of abdominal pains, no one could have imagined that his death was imminent. A local doctor administered what was then a common treatment—one which contained mercury. Within days Alvin died—not from disease but from mercury poisoning.

The entire Smith family was stunned by Alvin’s death. Father Smith—Joseph Smith, Senior—had struggled for years with alcoholism. Mother Smith—Lucy Mack Smith—had for years swung from periods of frenetic, hard-working determination to periods of near crippling self-doubt and depression. Father Smith was a liberal-minded Universalist while Mother Smith tended to be a theologically conservative Calvinist. Throughout their marriage their differences and arguments regarding religion were on full display, and their children were caught in the middle—each having to navigate their way on their own. Being the oldest child, Alvin had been the one stabilizing influence not only for his younger brothers and sisters, but also for his parents.

Now he was suddenly gone.

Alvin’s funeral was held at the Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra. Though Father Smith opposed any family members joining any existing religious denomination, Mother Smith had been friends with many of the women of the Presbyterian congregation. Given that fact, it seemed only natural that Alvin’s funeral be held at Western Presbyterian and that his body be interned in the Presbyterian cemetery.

Rev. Benjamin B. Stockton conducted the funeral service. William Smith, who was twelve at the time, later recalled that in the funeral sermon Rev. Stockton “intimated very strongly” that Alvin had gone to hell because he had never professed the Christian faith and joined a church.

The very idea that someone as kind, upstanding and hard-working as Alvin would spend eternity in hell because of religious differences infuriated Father Smith and his seventeen-year-old son, Joseph. For them the idea seemed to undermine the concept of a just and loving God.

Arguments were probably made then—as they are now by Christians who hold such beliefs—that because God is so holy and righteous, He can’t tolerate any degree of sinfulness in His presence. Such arguments rang hollow with Father Smith and Joseph.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Rev. Stockton’s consigning of Alvin to an eternity in Hell, troubled Mother Smith and other Smith children. Over time, however, their reaction to Rev. Stockton’s beliefs were the opposite of Father Smith’s and Joseph’s: Mother Smith and her eldest children, Hyrum and Sophronia, became Presbyterians.

This no doubt led to even more intense divisions within the family. One can easily imagine Father Smith being not only outraged but hurt that his wife and oldest children could accept the faith of a minister who had publicly suggested that their beloved Alvin was in Hell.

“Where did Alvin go when he died?” The question was a bombshell—one with the potential to rip apart a family already under tremendous financial and emotional stress.

Discussion Questions: How have questions, beliefs and feelings about where one goes when one dies affected your relationships with family and friends?
What have been the negative effects?
What have been the positive effects?
How were the effects of this question upon the Smith family like or unlike those on your family and friends?


That question is at the heart of most religious thinking—even today. Most people—religious and non-religious—assume that the purpose of religion and faith is to get them somewhere else after they die.

How often has a Christian asked, “If you were to die today, would you go to heaven or hell?”
When people talk about “salvation” or “being saved”—this is what most of them are talking about. To “be saved” is to go to heaven when you die—or so they assume.

Believers from other traditions might talk about “Returning to the presence of Our Heavenly Father” or “entering the Celestial Kingdom.”

GOING SOMEWHERE ELSE has become to be-all/end-all of religion.

And to GO TO THIS PLACE people are told that they need to…

…believe the right things…

….or have faith in the right things….

.....or say and pray certain things (such as the so-called sinner’s prayer)…

….or join the right church and remain faithful to it until they die…

...or participate in some ceremony, sacrament or ordinance...

…or embrace a certain lifestyle….

…or turn from a certain lifestyle.

Regardless of the religion or the prescription, the focus is all about going somewhere else when you die. Believe, say or say, join, do this or don’t do that and you will be rewarded when you die by being admitted to a good place for eternity—rather than being sent to a bad place for eternity.

Discussion Questions: How much of your time and energy has been devoted to thinking about or worrying about where you will go when you die?
If you believe in an existence after death, how central to that belief is the idea of “going somewhere else?”
How could you separate your ideas about an afterlife from the idea of going somewhere else when you die?
In your own life and in your relationships with others, what have been the effects—both positive and negative—of thinking that the central purpose of religion or faith is to make sure that you go to some particular place when you die?
How can focusing on going someplace else when you die negatively affect your life here and now?


The Smith family spent years worrying about believing or doing the right things so that when they died they would go to Heaven and not Hell. In many ways, these worries and anxieties undermined their day-to-day efforts to work their way out of the grinding poverty in which they lived.

Early in his life, Joseph Smith, Jr. shared his parents’ anxieties and attempted in various ways—some irrational and some reasonable—to address the questions that plagued not only his family but many religious seekers in the early 19th century. During the course of his life, Joseph embraced, explored and then discarded or altered many different theological premises regarding the nature of God, human nature, existence, life’s purpose and life after death.

The theology that he developed later in his life switched the focus from going somewhere else when you die to becoming a particular type of character.

This theology is the foundation of the good news proclaimed by Reform Mormonism…

…And that good news is this: There is no need to worry about where you are going when you die. Yes, there is life after death, but the focus of Reform Mormonism is not about going somewhere else when we die. The focus is on becoming a certain type of person.

And that doesn’t mean changing yourself to conform to some cookie-cutter mold created by others. It means to progress, to grow and to develop within yourself those virtues and qualities that you envision God possessing.

How many people calling themselves Christians—people who go around talking non-stop about Christ and salvation—are actually like Christ himself? The name “Jesus” is constantly on their lips, but when you think of Jesus and then look at them, there are few if any similarities in their character.

How many people go around talking about God, claiming to act in God’s name—and yet when you think of God’s character—God’s Love, Grace, Forgiveness—you don’t see that character reflected in these people.

Because most religions focus on going somewhere else when we die, they completely overlook the most important thing that Jesus, prophets and scripture addressed—that of our character. Indeed, many of those who are the loudest in proclaiming their faith in Christ, declare that human nature is so corrupt that to focus on character at all is wrong and misguided. It is just assumed that when we die and move on to that better place (if we do what we are told to do in order to be admitted there), that our character—our emotional and ethical makeup—will somehow miraculously change.

Reform Mormonism holds that character matters. In fact, character is the thing upon which we should all focus.

We envision God possessing certain qualities and virtues—and it is these virtues that entice us to love God. It is these virtues and qualities that we should develop within ourselves.

By doing this, we impact the world here and now. Eternal Life begins this very moment. The seeds of Heaven are planted here on earth and they begin to grow.

We’re not going anywhere.

The purpose of religious faith is not to go somewhere.

The purpose of religious faith is to become someone.

Challenge: In your conversations with three different family members or friends bring up this question:

What if religion focused on what type of person we’re becoming instead of where we’re going when we die?

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit