Monday, 17 December 2012

Many Mansions 4: A Near-Future Temple


This temple is not designed to be physically possible at this point in time; nor, however, is it intended to be a sci-fi fantasy. It essentially requires just one technological advance – the creation of a display which can show perspective and parallax to multiple simultaneous viewpoints, or in other words, that can act like windows, not televisions.

The purpose of this temple experience is to engage the templegoer more fully with their identity as part of a heavenly family – with a Mother, Father, and siblings.

1. The Eternal Round

The first room is a circle of mirrors – or so it appears. The templegoer stands at the centre, with multiple pairs of facing mirrors surrounding her, creating a series of infinite tunnels.

You hear the voices of Heavenly Father and Mother, discussing you, and how you will journey to Earth. As you listen, they appear together, injected into the infinite repetitions of you in the mirror ahead of you. The mirrors are not, in fact, mirrors, but display screens.

As the opening narration (which can serve dual purpose as instructions) come to a close, Heavenly Father addresses you directly: "Go," he tells you. "Follow the light, and you will not be misled."

The infinite tunnels start to disappear: the repeated reflections of you vanish from infinite towards you, until at last there are only single reflections – who now turn as one to face away from you.

The lights go out. The only light is provided by one of the 'mirrors', which opens as a door.

2. The Hall of Whispers

The Hall is a simple, dimly-lit room, with a number of doors around the walls. The one you have just stepped through locks behind you. One of the others is lit by a glowing frame. The Father's voice whispers: "Follow the light."

As you start to cross the room, many more voices start up. They attempt to draw you away from the correct door – some by claiming to be Heavenly Father, some by offering you things, some just by demanding. If you believe them (or give in), you'll find those other doors are locked. There is actually only one path you can take.

3. Amusica

You step through the lit door into a 'glass' tunnel in the middle of empty space – or, more accurately, display screens providing a view of a digital orrery. There is movement everywhere – stars and planets whirling and pulsing in chaotic, seemingly random motion. The room is silent.

Then Heavenly Father speaks. "There is a pattern to all things," he says, "though with your eyes you may not always see it."

The music starts (either with a dramatic chord coinciding with a pulse of all the stars, or fading in as the Father continues to speak), and it becomes clear that the motion and pulsing of the stars is actually led by the music – not random at all.

"This is Our work," Heavenly Mother tells you. "We are the conductors of the symphony."

"And you are Our instrument," the Father says.

4. The Echo Chamber

The Echo Chamber is essentially a small round room, but the walls (and floor and ceiling) are part of an integrated display screen. Once you close the door, they light up with images.

The images – and videos - are of atrocities, of disasters, of people in distress and despair. They avoid the graphic (ie, no blood everywhere), but don't hide the details (for instance, Holocaust mass graves). And they are randomised – it's not a preset sequence, but a fresh bombardment of horror each time you go.

And it gets worse. The programming steps up the intensity as time passes, and watches for you to exhibit genuine distress or despair – pleading with it to stop, or crying, or several other responses.

Then, and only then, does the Mother's voice speak. "Do you want it to stop?" she asks quietly, and, assuming you agree, says, "Then come with me."

5. Broken Mirror

You are led into another mirror chamber, like the Eternal Round, but this time all the mirrors are broken, pieces scattered on the floor. You are instructed to kneel, bow your head, and covenant to change the world – "If you want it to stop, you must go out and stop it", you're told.

"Now rise," the Father says, "and see." You stand, and discover that the mirror directly in front of you is whole again; you can see your reflection. As you walk towards it, the mirror opens to let you through.

6. The World Made Whole

This is the climax of the whole temple experience, but it isn't a sit-down-and-ponder room like our current Celestial Rooms. The d├ęcor is certainly designed to evoke the holy, but the centrepiece is a virtual globe of the Earth, suspended in a glass (display) cylinder.

The globe has markers placed on it in three colours; each marker indicates a 'good cause', something you can do to change the world. The colours indicate whether the cause is: one you need to travel to (eg teaching children in Africa), something you can do from home (eg Operation Christmas Child), or something you can just donate money to (eg most charities). There may also be different sizes/shapes for different difficulty/commitment levels. The markers are constantly updated from a global database of the most important causes.

You pick up a tablet computer that acts as a control unit for a virtual drone over the globe (visible in the display). You are able to fly over the globe, and when you pass over a marker, your tablet displays a summary of the details (name of cause, what's required, approximate location). There is a search/goto function, and discussion is encouraged – you can ask people if they've found anything suitable for you, or offer suggestions.

You are invited (through the covenant you just made, and a very quick tutorial on the tablet) to find a cause you can personally commit to. When you select one, you can print a full description on your tablet's built-in printer.

7. The Porch

As you leave the room, you pass through a small, white porch, and Heavenly Father and Mother speak to you one last time. "Thank you," they say. "Thank you for helping our children."

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Many Mansions 3: The Modified Temple


This particular temple variation is designed for one purpose: to fit into the already-existing buildings. The layout will not be altered in more than the most trivial ways. So moving staircases is out; hanging something new in place of the veil is a possible.

Equally, I won't be mentioning any higher technology than is already available – specifically, projectors, full-room audio, and automatic pausing until a button is pressed.

For similar reasons of shall we say plausibility, I will be attempting to fit this new temple ceremony within the pseudo-doctrinal boundaries of the current one. I will not be discussing anything prior to stepping out of the changing room, and will fit in as many of the things people think are essential as possible, regardless of my thoughts on the eternal nature thereof.

A Caveat

In my view, the temple ceremony should be a way to grow closer to and develop a personal relationship with God, as well as being about making covenants on your own or someone else's behalf. To that end, I envisage your own endowment being a solo affair – one of the endowment rooms in the temple will be set aside for this purpose. Similarly, it will be standard practice (but not obligatory) for a couple to go through a ceremony just for the two of them immediately prior to their sealing. In all other circumstances, you will go through as a group.

To this end, the primary description will be for your personal ceremony. Unless otherwise stated, you will be alone (with, presumably, one witness of the same gender as you). Also unless otherwise stated, the group ceremony will be identical to this, except that you are one of a congregation.

Many Mansions 2: An Ancient Temple


This fictional ancient ceremony is designed to reconcile the ancient view of the world and style of ritual with modern LDS theology. It is not something which would actually have taken place in the ancient world - but it is written as if it were. The setting you may imagine as Jerusalem around the time of Christ.

Why and Who?

The ceremony here described is for couples only. It does dual service as a religious marriage ceremony (or sealing), and as a later pilgrimage. In the latter case, it occurs after the couple are wedded in their own village.

Journey to the Temple

In order to participate in the temple experience, worshippers are required to walk to the temple itself. Traditionally they are required to walk the entire distance from their home village, but in later times this was moderated to walking from the city limits. They must bear the ceremonial items – a purse of coins, a walking staff, and a loaf of bread, and shoes, in addition to their normal clothes. However, due to the nature of the ceremony, many choose to wear extremely rough clothing, often consisting of a single piece of fabric, under an equally rough cloak.

Many Mansions 1: A New Temple


The New Temple ceremony is written as a successor to the current LDS endowment. It presupposes large amounts of available space, but does not, as written, require any technology which does not currently exist. Some of the technology may be quite expensive, but it exists.

This text also assumes that Joseph Smith was given a fairly simple set of instructions: 'The Saints should make covenants with me; a solemn ceremony in the Holy Temple is required'. This is my understanding of the actual situation – but that doesn't mean I'm right.

Many Mansions

The Temple - the House of the Lord - stands at the heart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it did for the ancient Jewish people. Within the sacred walls of our temples, we participate in sacred ordinances - rituals and ceremonies established in the very first days of the Church, echoing ancient patterns, and passed down to the present day.

But the problem with passing things down is that, even if they are transmitted faithfully, a lot of the meaning can be lost. This is probably best illustrated with an example.

It is fairly clear that when Joseph Smith wrote the temple ceremony, he incorporated a number of features from Masonic ceremonies and rituals. At the time, I imagine this was a kind of shortcut - the very fact that something was shared with the Masons automatically told the early Saints it was secret, sacred, ancient and full of meaning. It was not, at the time, necessarily a bad decision.

But those connotations don't hold today. Partly this is because we know more about the Masons (in the 1800s they were widely accepted to date back to the building of the temple in Jerusalem; nowadays they are considered to have been formed in the late 16th century), partly because we know less (most people wouldn't recognise a Masonic symbol, regardless of context), and partly because we simply have a different frame of reference.

A concrete example: the compass, or V-shape, is a symbol shared between Masonic and LDS ceremonies. (No secrets here - it's on the logo of the Freemasons!). In the temple, we are told it represents three things: an unbending path to eternal life, that we are to keep our desires within the bounds God has set, and that all truths may be circumscribed into one great whole (a triad which apparently goes back to David O. McKay in the 1920s).

Most of us, on thinking about it, will recall that a pair of compasses - shaped like a V - can be used to draw a circle, explaining the latter two meanings. How many of us, though, ever knew that said compasses - or, more commonly, a pencilless variant known as dividers, can be used to accurately measure distances on a map? Yes, we know about the magnetic compass - but that bears no resemblance to the V-shaped symbol!

The message here is simple: times change, and rituals need to change with them. The LDS temple ceremony has been changed numerous times - as indicated above, some of the phrasing used was introduced in the 1920s, some 80 years after the ceremony was first instituted - and there is no reason it cannot change again.

This series of posts, 'Many Mansions', contains my thoughts on a number of hypothetical temple ceremonies and related rituals. Some are fictional ancient ceremonies; some are rituals that could be instituted today. They all have in common the twin facts that a) they are not real (at least at time of writing), and b) they are invented by me. They are not the product of revelation (or not consciously, at any rate).

None of these hypothetical ceremonies are meant to offend, or to make light of sacred things. All of them are intended to be rich in symbolism, and suited to someone with an LDS theology, if not necessarily a modern LDS frame of reference.

A New Temple - A ceremony designed for a modern-day, high-technology temple
An Ancient Temple - A ritual set in a fictional Jerusalem-analogous city
The Modified Temple - An attempt to design a new ceremony which could feasibly replace the current one
A Near-Future Temple - A Heavenly-Family-oriented ceremony requiring slight technological advances

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A Statement

But despite all that...

I believe I am the literal spirit child of a loving Father and Mother in Heaven, that they watch over me, that they care for me. I believe that I knew them once, and that I can know them again.

I believe that Jesus Christ is my eldest brother, the Firstborn of the Father. I believe that, before I was ever mortal, I knew him, and that in the great Council in Heaven I accepted him as my saviour, fought at his side against Satan.

I believe that Christ came to Earth long before I did, in a far away land; that he was born in poverty, lived a simple life, taught with love, and was crucified, and died. I believe that his death was not an end but a means - a means by which all humankind can be freed from sin and death.

I believe Christ rose again.

I believe the Holy Ghost is my brother or sister as well - a person just like me who loves me, who knows me. I believe the Spirit can and does speak to me, in ways I don't always understand or even hear - and that s/he can and will speak to everyone else too.

I believe in prophets, in seers and in revelators. I believe that since the beginning of humanity, whenever that may be, the Father has chosen men and women to speak for him on this Earth. I believe that their words have brought humanity collectively closer to God, and continue to do so today.

I believe the Bible, in all its flawed majesty, to be an inspired document. I believe the prophets of old saw our day, and that they left messages for us - and that those messages can bring us closer to God.

I believe that, in the early 19th century, the Father and the Son appeared to a young man named Joseph, and charged him with the opening of a new dispensation. I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet on a par with Isaiah, Elijah, Moses and Adam - a spokesperson for God on the Earth.

I believe that, through the Prophet Joseph, God set up a church for these latter days. I believe this Church has been battered and bruised by the workings of men, but has emerged essentially intact, and that its core missions - spreading the news of the Restoration and enabling the ordinances of God - continue unabated.

I believe the Book of Mormon to be an inspired document, an account of God's dealings with another branch of humanity, and a genuine historical record. I believe it was written for our day, even more so than the Bible, and I believe it can bring us closer to God.

I believe the power of God is manifest in the world today; that he is still a God of miracles. I believe God can and does work through every woman and man who is willing to serve him with all their heart. I believe God does a lot more than we give him credit for.

I believe in the power of ordinances. I believe that God has created these rituals to bring us closer to him. I believe that the ordinances of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, endowment and sealing are essential for salvation - although I may not understand why or how.

I believe in the temple. I believe God has sanctified these holy places, and that they are one of the greatest ways we have of drawing closer to him. I believe the ritual drama of the endowment to be an inspired message, on a par with scripture.

I believe that Brigham Young was a prophet of God - that he was chosen by God to do something no-one else could do: bring the Church safely west to the Salt Lake Valley. I believe that each latter-day prophet has a mission to fulfil, and that, if they sometimes seem to fail in other areas, we should remember that they are only weak, flawed mortals like the rest of us.

I believe Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet of God.

I believe in the Plan of Salvation - that glorious plan of happiness which God has set in motion. I believe that, if we truly repent of our sins, we can be saved through the power of Christ's atonement. I believe that we will continue to sin - and that we will continue to be saved.

I believe that our purpose on this Earth is to do the works of God - to become, like him, truly selfless. We are here to serve our literal spirit brothers and sisters as Jesus did, and in doing so, we will become more like him, our perfect example.

I believe that, if we can become as the Father and the Son, we can continue to serve after this life is over - that we can join in the act of creation, and bring joy to the lives of countless more souls in the eternities. I believe that this plan of salvation, this plan of happiness, is also a plan of service - and I believe that this is a good thing.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Seven Dwarves and Snow White

At my place of work (did I mention I'm an analytical chemist?) we make two primary products, both of them white powders. There's zeolite, which is a crystalline structure made from sodium, aluminium and silicon, used in laundry powder. Then there's FPH, which is aluminium hydrate, and is used as cable insulation. Due to the sort of mixups that happen on an industrial site, we occasionally lose track of what's what.

A few days ago, I was handed samples from seven bags, none of which had labels. 'They're all rubbish', I was told, 'but we need to know what's in them to know where they go'. Okay - no problem.

Friday, 27 January 2012

I Don't Believe In Conspiracies

Among the people I spend time with are several who believe in conspiracies. I'm not talking about big, crazy conspiracies, like how Roswell was the aliens covering up their failed infiltration of the US Government which succeeded during Watergate and then said aliens started planning 9/11. I'm talking about the ones we hear around us every day. Ever heard the words 'Big Pharma'? That's a conspiracy theory. So is anything which says 'Well, that's what they want you to think'.

Take the Church, as I often do in these examples. It's not exactly that forward-thinking on certain matters - Official Declaration 2 only came out in 1978, as I've mentioned recently, and women aren't exactly equal either. Some are apt to represent this as a conspiracy among the General Authorities. 'They want to keep women/blacks weak', goes the refrain. 'They're scared of them'. And so on.

I don't think it's true. At least not consciously. Remember, these are a bunch of men who grew up in the 30s and 40s, maybe the 50s. They are old. They are politically conservative. All of this adds up to an outlook and mindset which simply doesn't register that there's a problem - and the Church has built up a cocoon around them to stop them figuring it out.

So no. I don't believe it's a conspiracy. I just think they haven't cottoned on.

Time and All Eternity

This is Part 3 of a 3-part post beginning with Rituals and Ordinances, followed by Gifts and Covenants

To cover the definitions one last time: a ritual is a series of actions with no fundamental significance; an ordinance is an action with a purpose, and in context is usually an act of God; a covenant is a 'principle with a promise' - we make a promise to God, and He makes a promise in return. Through ritual we covenant with God, so that He will perform His ordinance.

One of the most important ordinances in the LDS Church is the sealing ordinance. It is performed in the temple, and comes ultimately from the Saviour's words to Peter:

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gifts and Covenants

This is Part 2 of a 3-part post begun with Rituals and Ordinances.

Let me start by confirming that God can do anything He likes. That's kind of His thing. There's no reason whatsoever to assume that limits on God's power are anything other than self-imposed. That being said...

Our Heavenly Father isn't particularly fond of giving free gifts, unless they're really big. Our existence is a free gift. Letting us come to Earth is a free gift. Christ's Atonement is a free gift - we just have to ask for it. Most other things, we're not given for free. There's a simple reason for this.

Rituals and Ordinances

Virtually every religion throughout history has a ritual component - in fact, most aspects of life are partly ritual. I'm defining 'ritual' here to mean a set of events or actions with no fundamental significance. Something as simple as singing a hymn or saying a prayer is ritual under this definition - there's no eternal significance to all singing together, nor to the specific actions we take in praying (for a Latter-day Saint, these might include closing our eyes, kneeling down, folding our arms, saying the ritual opening words 'Dear Heavenly Father'... you see my point). Outside of religion, what's the fundamental purpose of dressing up for a party? Note that I'm not saying ritual is pointless. Far from it! The actions we take are to put us in a particular mindset, or to teach us some lesson. They do not directly affect our eternal wellbeing, but they are important nontheless.

On the other side of the coin, we find ordinances. I'm going to define 'ordinance' to mean any action or set of actions which does have a fundamental significance. To take up the prayer again, it's also an ordinance - we believe that the words we say, the non-ritual part, go to Heavenly Father and are heard, sometimes answered. The ordinance, really, is Heavenly Father's response - the working of the power of God in our lives. In the outside world, we might say that being vaccinated against disease is an ordinance - it serves a direct, specific purpose.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The 19th Century Has A Lot To Answer For

This is part 2 of a 2-part post, beginning with Continuing Revelation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830, almost two hundred years ago, back in the 19th Century. Since then, it has grown from six to at least 6 million active members. Despite the growth, however, it is still very much a 19th Century church.

The problem is this: we believe in continuing revelation. We talk about our experiences with it in our own lives. We believe wholeheartedly that the Gospel, while being eternal and unchanging, is presented differently in different times – as we often point out, Noah was a prophet, but that doesn’t mean we need to build an ark. For some reason, though, our belief in change stops dead in 1844.

Continuing Revelation

In the LDS Church we talk a lot about ‘continuing revelation’, but we don’t often explain it very well. We’ll talk about how it’s how we have a Prophet, or it’s how prayers are answered, or it’s how the Book of Mormon came forth – but surely those aren’t all the same thing! You’d almost think we tacked the term on anywhere it might fit – and maybe we do, but I’m going to try and clarify what I mean when I say ‘continuing revelation’.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by a young man in the 19th Century who believed fervently – and correctly – that the heavens were open, that God would and did speak to people on Earth. Actually, being a 19th Century man, he probably believed God spoke to men on Earth – but more on that later. Joseph believed that God had spoken to him –that an angel had directed him to find a hidden book of scripture, that John the Baptist had passed on the authority of heaven, that Jesus Christ had commanded him to build up a church in His name. And I believe that he was right – that all these things did happen, and that it was the will of heaven that made Joseph Smith our first Prophet.