Sacrifice and Service

Recently I was asked to give a talk in church. When I first started this blog I was the elder’s quorum teacher and thought it would be neat to post all the “skeptical” stuff I was surreptitiously teaching the elders. Well I got released. I guess I was “surreptitious” enough. Well they asked me to give a talk, and I thought I would try again to get the members to think a little more than feel. The talk was on “Sacrifice and Service” and was told to make sure to work in Romans 8:18 (a nasty little scripture in my opinion). Below is roughly what I said taken from my speaker notes.

For those of you who don’t know me, you have been making the correct sacrifices to the correct God. For those of you who do know me, either your sacrifice has been incorrect, or it has been offered to the incorrect god/gods. Today I will be speaking of Sacrifice and Service.

In the style familiar to those in the military I am going to put the Bottom Line Up Front. Today I want to titillate your mind more than your heart. To throw out some ideas to you in order to begin a discussion rather than extol words of wisdom. While doing this I hope that the spirit of understanding will be present with us. If anything that I say today strikes you as incorrect, I would love to hear from you about what I haven’t thought through. You may find me at home, on email or normally in the hall outside after sacrament meetings.

In the style familiar with science and rhetoric I am going to offer my thesis and biases up front, then defend it with my premise. I believe that Service and Sacrifice are two separate and severable ideas, you can serve without sacrifice and sacrifice without serving. I believe that Service is the higher law and Sacrifice is the lower law. Finally, I will also inform you of my biases. I find little use for the term idea of sacrifice and that service leads us to a much nobler conclusion. (This was the softened version of the talk, my original thesis was “(edit Service) Sacrifice is a morally bankrupt idea that the church should disabuse itself of, and we should eradicate from our thinking.” I figured that would raise too many cackles from the group.)

First, Service and Sacrifice are two separate and severable ideas. Service is centered on the receiver. Service begins with the receiver of a “goodness” or a “kindness” in mind. We can measure the amount of service rendered by benefit to the receiver. Vice sacrifice which is centered on the performer. Is measured in how much “I” gave up. It is measured in harm incurred by the giver. To illustrate this concept lets consider the following thought experiment:

My wife and I can scrape together $10,000. It will be expensive to us, and we will incur some interest before it is paid off, and we will have to go without some of the other niceties for a while. I can give that money to my hard-working brother, who has just had his car break-down and will not be able to go to work to feed his family. Or I can give it to Warren Buffet, A fabulously wealthy billionaire. Either way the sacrifice is the same. But in only one way has service been accomplished. The recognition of a need, and that need being fulfilled.

Sacrifice can be achieved by only one person examples of this are; Self-denial rituals like lent or fasting, Self mutilation like whipping ourselves on the back. Service requires that there are at least two involved, a giver and receiver. I will grant that it is difficult for me to imagine a situation where a service can be fulfilled without some degree of sacrifice. The issue is the focus, what am “I” giving up vs. what is that person gaining.

Now that I have established that these are two separate concepts, why is Sacrifice the lower law, and service the higher? In the Old Testament one of the first things we see is a requirement for sacrifice. Indeed one of the first evil acts ever performed centered around sacrifice. Cain slaying Abel because God did not like Cain’s sacrifice of the “fruit of the ground”. In a fit of rage over his sacrifice not being accepted by God, Cain slew Abel. Would this have happened if there was an attitude of service (thinking of others) rather than sacrifice? Thinking of the giver, not what “I” had to give up? The Old and even the New Testaments are replete with examples of Sacrifice. We sacrifice to show God how much we are willing to give up in order for God to fulfill the wish that we want. For us as Christians we see the sacrifices of the old testament to be similitudes of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Sacrifice was a center piece of worship when Christ lived on Earth. During his mortal existence he railed on abuses of sacrifice in several instances, Three examples are:
1. From the sermon on the mount: Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
2. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.
3. From the Parable of the prodigal son. It has two stories one of forgiveness of the prodigal son. But the second is that of the faithful son who was sad that for all of his sacrifices he gave “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”
Didn’t Jesus came to save us from the law of Moses? “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” And “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Because Jesus came to fulfill the law we should no longer perform sacrifices, Right? We don’t do blood sacrifice, this is true, but we are asked to sacrifice.

In conclusion, we have beautiful traditions of service over sacrifice in LDS theology and culture. Think of the three boys who carried the handcart company across the frozen river and ultimately died from exposure. Those boys served, they did not sacrifice. No one asked them to give their life, they saw a deficit and filled it. Another perfect example of service, not sacrifice is our fasting tradition. Most traditions in the world fast only to ask for favor from God “Look at how much I am suffering, please give me what I want.” But in LDS we say, “I am going to go hungry for a day, to remind me that there are other people out there who go hungry everyday.” We then provide that money we normally would eat, and give to this the vast, and robust church welfare system. Sacrifice is proud and puffed up, Service is quite and humble. Sacrifice is self-centered, Service is selfless. Sacrifice feeds the hungry because of a future reward, Service feeds the hungry because they are hungry. Sacrifice is limited in that there is only so much I can give, Service is infinite because there are an infinite ways and people to serve.. Sacrifice puts your son on an alter, Service puts him on a mission. Attitudes of sacrifice will lead people put a bomb jacket on your their daughter to detonate in crowded market place. Service leads her “help those who despitefully use you.” Sacrifice is rewarded in the afterlife. Service is doing good for goodness’s sake and is rewarded in this life. The reward for good living is good living here and now, not in the next life. Yes, it is true that life is sometimes unfair. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but with service we can make our own sun.

Reactions after the talk were mixed. One woman said that it truly changed her outlook because she said that she hated the way she felt while thinking of sacrifice, and needed to focus on service. Another person said it was on his top list of best sacrament meeting talks (I like the qualifier there). Mostly though it just shows how selective Mormons are with hearing. I swear, one of the most sacred beliefs I just said was a major contributor to suicide bombings, but one man said “that with talks like that I would be called to the High Counsel.”


And while I did wear a suit I still defiantly wore a non-white shirt

-Big Al

How do I tell my parents I drink?

I drink, my parents do not. This should be a small deal, right? By most metrics, I’m an adult. (And now that SNL skit will be in your head FOREVER! You’re welcome.) My wife and I live in a house. We have jobs and health insurance. We paid off our student loans, and occasionally we’ll go wild and eat all our veggies. But my wife and I also love alcohol. We buy wine, beer, port, and even a little Becherovka, but we’ve never told my parents that we drink.

Sure, we’ve had The Talk. It came about awkwardly, after we accidentally left out a few books from our Atheist Collection TM during, get this, Easter dinner a few years ago. My parents know that my wife and I do not attend church or subscribe to any religious belief system. They’re not thrilled about it, of course. Every now and then when religion pops up in conversation their voices become hushed, and I wonder just how close to the edge of depravity my parents think we are. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t confessed that my wife and I love kicking back with a beer at the end of a long day, because even at the end of that long day, I still crave my parents’ approval. More

The Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood

In the LDS Church priesthood is defined as the power and authority to act in the name of God. This right is delegated to man on earth as a sacred charge and a divine investiture of that authority. Because the priesthood is God’s own power it matters to Him how it is received and utilized, and particularly how willing and worthy the recipients are to act in His name. To receive the priesthood is to enter into a covenant, and to pledge an oath, to magnify ones office in the priesthood and to live by every word which “proceeds from the mouth of God”.

Understandably those who hold this office have a desire to want to know more about the origins of its restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph has stated that it was passed on to both himself and Oliver Cowdery under the hands of Christ’s Apostles Peter, James, and John. He stated that they appeared to him as angels for the express purpose of restoring the priesthood.

The exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood is not known to Church history. The prophet Joseph later deplored the neglect of record keeping during this eventful period, stating that if he had such historical data in his possession, he “..would not part with them for any sum of money.. But this has been neglected,” he said with regret. More

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Thoughts On Daniel Peterson

Recently there has been a bit of a kerfuffle regarding the abrupt dismissal of Daniel Peterson as editor of the Mormon Studies Review (formerly FARMS Review).  This event, and some of the responses I’ve heard since, have gotten under my skin.  Its an itch I haven’t been able to scratch, so I decided to write this blog post.  Normally I keep my distance from apologetic discussion boards and the bloggernacle, preferring to do things to improve my life for real, rather than debate someone on the internet.  But like I said, the majority of the responses to Daniel Peterson’s dismissal have been unsatisfying to me.  

One of the responses I’ve heard can be summed up with this handy visual:  Image

A New, Non-Mormon Identity

For the first time in my adult life, I am living in a location where my status as a Mormon, ex or otherwise, is a non-issue. In a past life, my acquaintances knew I was Mormon, and then they knew that I wasn’t. It’s different now, and I find that being a non-Mormon does not mean much to, well, non-Mormons.

I’m still getting used to that feeling. Of course, this isn’t Utah, and a majority of folks don’t trot out their beliefs immediately after the first handshake, or start looking for garment lines when you turn to leave. But I find even with the new friends I’ve made, my religious status garners merely a nod, or a verbal acknowledgment, and then a gradual transition in the conversation. (There have been some exceptions, obviously. Several months ago, I was folding clothes at a laundry mat next to another fellow who was pouring soap into a washer. We exchanged pleasantries, and when he mentioned he was close to retirement, I asked about his future plans. The man’s face lit up. He and his wife had just started a ministry, you see. God’s work would soon be full time. I hesitated, but the fellow jumped right in. More

Part 3: Amen and Amen

At the end of every talk and prayer in a Mormon service, the speaker pronounces “amen” which is followed by the audience repeating “amen”. The word roughly means “so be it” and is a way for the respondents to voice their public approval and support for what was said. It takes the private thoughts of one individual and gives them group ownership. But it serves a more subtle yet powerful purpose. It demonstrates group acquiescence. It show cohesion of ideas and sets the bounds on what beliefs and norms are tolerated and promoted in the group. Even if only half of the audience verbalizes it, the collective volume will impress on any listener the groups unified approval of the message. Individuals in the group will accept the idea as the normative thinking of the group.

Different organizations and institutions have differing degrees of required cohesion in thought and action. Little is required in a coffee shop other than the desire to purchase coffee. But in other institutions it is required to identify with the community values and give an outward showing of support and group membership. For some groups, such as the LDS church, it is imperative that a solidarity of thought be projected and maintained and little-to-no dissent is allowed, verbalized or otherwise. Groups benefit from the mass of participants who appear to be in a state of agreement. There is an implied consent involved in any group, but when it is made overt, it becomes even more powerful in managing what adherents believe is acceptable to think, say and do. Not everyone speaks, but it is expected that those who are participating principally agree with the positions of the group–thus the power of the “amen”. More


The Ouroboros or is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. It is often used to represent repeated cycles. The philosopher Plato gave a very interesting interpretation of  the creature. He stated :

“…The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him….  his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself…” (Timaeus) More

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It’s such a simple phrase.

Yet somehow, coming to grips with this reality has been a long, painstaking process.  I ignorantly thought that once I accepted this statement, the hard part would be over.  And yet paradoxically, I have been resisting coming to grips because I knew I would be facing a rough road, probably similar to what Tierza is anticipating in her last blog entry.

When losing your faith becomes reality, as a Mormon, who do you tell?  Of course, my wife is aware of the issue.  And to the extent possible, she can probably accept it even more readily than I.  But admitting this fact to other family and church associates will be a much more difficult task.  And then, as kids grow older, how do you let them in on the awful secret? More

The Silence

. . .

Do you hear that?

That is the sound of fear.  The sound of my standing – still – in my journey: Afraid to go forward . . . Not willing to go back.

That is the sound of lips not speaking any words that might hurt.

That is the sound of a mind not daring to even think too much about it . . .

For fear the words might just squeeze out. More

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By now many of you have seen the chart from this blog entry posted by A Mormon in the Cheap Seats on the Doves and Serpents blog not too long ago. It flowcharted the epistemology (e.g. method for discovering whether something is true or not) that is taught in a traditional Sunday School. (I watched it ripple a couple of times through the ex-Mormon subreddit and on the ME Facebook page so you’ve probably seen it.) More

My Tentative Compromise

I have learned through sad experience that conversations online are sometimes incredibly toxic.  If you don’t know what I mean, check out the comments section of any post on The Huffington Post, or the Salt Lake Tribune, or Meridian Magazine.  We have all fallen prey to the sense that online communication somehow allows us to be more rude than we otherwise might be.  Even using my real identity doesn’t seem to solve the problem.  So I usually refrain from even reading the comments, let alone commenting.

But someone suggested I respond to John L’s post, rather than attacking in the comments, and even though I know I am on the wrong side of this dichotomy to begin with, I thought I would take a stab at it.  Usually, as I allow a little time for my thoughts to solidify, I realize that I am not necessarily trying to argue down or discredit someone else’s position, but rather I want to simply present a differing perspective.  I left behind the notion that I have all the answers for everyone a long time ago (if 4 years counts as a long time).  So at the outset, let me give my apologies if I have been too mean-spirited in my tactics with debating online.  I really don’t take myself as seriously as I sometimes make it sound. More