Even Better Than a Utah Jazz Championship

Utah shell-shocked once more. What a gut-punch! 

I woke up so sad this morning to see the news – “historic come-back by the L.A. Clippers”… “epic collapse by the Jazz again.” 

Wasn’t this year supposed to be different? 

I don’t watch the games. Too painful for me. But I check the scores. 

And a few nights ago, I checked right before bed the latest on Game 5 of the Jazz-Clippers game – sad again to see the Jazz falling behind. After clicking off ESPN on my phone and settling into my evening prayer, I could feel a residue of real sorrow in my heart. Before I could vocalize anything, this surprisingly clear and direct impression came into my mind: 

“God doesn’t care one bit who wins this game.” 

It felt strangely reassuring. “Wow.  Okay.  So, do I really need to be so caught up in this emotionally?”  

I’ll never forget coming to my own Dad years ago in tears after Karl Malone and John Stockton had broken my little boy heart (once more) in the playoffs. I was a mess! 

My incredible father knew just what his boy needed – opening up right there on the couch to 2 Nephi 4, and paraphrasing it to tell me of a time when another boy felt really sad. Until he concluded:

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.  I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of [Karl Malone]. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. 

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To Those Who Love the Prophet, But Not the Vaccine

Note: The events of recent months have prompted some significant wrestles for faithful members of the Church with sincere questions about vaccines, even leading some to the edge of estrangement. That has compelled me to write this. Although directed primarily at Latter-day Saints cautious about some of the dominant public health messaging about COVID-19 over the last year (and sympathetic to alternative, more natural approaches to healing), I hope some of it might help foster more understanding among those who are neither of these things. Where we disagree strongly about important matters, I keep feeling like the Lord wants us to keep reaching for each other, with love, gentleness, and curiosity.

Come along with me, for a moment, on a little imaginary thought experiment. It’s General Conference, and President Nelson is mid-way through a fall 2020 message on “letting God prevail in our lives.” Then he pauses, and says the following:

As a prophet of God, I must raise my voice about another matter. We are sincerely grateful for new inventions and technological discoveries that have improved the quality of life for so many, including in matters of health. Too often, however, I fear the degree of trust we place in external interventions can unintentionally lead us to discount the Lord’s power in our lives, along with simple adjustments He can inspire us to make in order to improve our health. For instance, scripture and science are both clear on the value of improving what we eat and getting better sleep – with abundant evidence that less stress, and even a little more physical activity can help boost our immunity against disease. Brothers and sisters, now more than ever, may we relish the benefits of greater faith, and inspired daily repentance, including in how we take care of our bodies. Even when we need additional assistance from competent medical practitioners, may we continue to appreciate and explore ways to better care for the “temple of our spirits” – including in serious periods of pandemic.

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A More Honest Explanation for Medical Skepticism

Jacob, Z. Hess, Ph.D.

Stop pretending your friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters with serious questions about prevailing COVID-19 policies are simply selfish, ignorant, or dishonest. As gratifying as that might feel to those of you frustrated over their dissent, it’s simply not an honest or fair position to take – at least, not if you intend to represent the full scope of people’s motives. If you’re open to it, there’s another way to explain much of the public resistance, in a way that doesn’t misrepresent the experience of those who continue to maintain it.

David Brooks wrote recently suggesting that people hesitant to go along with the program and get vaccinated (or mask up) demonstrate an insufficient trust and willingness to “sacrifice for the common good” and support “collective action.” Jay Evertsen similarly argued in recent days that hesitancy around wearing masks among those who have opted out of the vaccine largely reflects a question of “basic honesty of Americans” – hinting that those resistant to these measures are perpetuating at least some “sort of lie.” 

Many others have insisted that those harboring such skepticism for prevailing public health guidelines are willingly ignorant – even hostile to – “the science” and the common knowledge they see as indubitable and obvious.

Ignorance. Dishonesty. And selfishness. 

That’s about the extent of many people’s conceptions regarding what’s behind the skepticism significant portions of America feels towards prevailing medical dictates. And it baffles me, to be frank, that so many of these same people struggle to imagine any other explanations for resistance.  

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Making a Martyr: In 5 Easy Steps!

If you’ve read any commentary about Latter-day Saints of late, you’ve likely read the sad tales of Cal Burke and Natasha Helfer Parker – two of the latest entries in the modern Roll of the Martyrs of Religion. 

To be clear – satire aside – neither of these individuals is a true victim by any stretch of the imagination. By many accounts, both had earned the actions and words directed at them. But public commentary has largely side-stepped both of these realities, to paint a picture of their treatment most likely to generate sympathy for their views, while metastasizing even more grievance, resentment, and suspicion towards orthodox perspectives…exactly what we need more of these days, right?

Let’s also be clear, no true victims of anyone or anything should be minimized.  Not of any brutality. But precisely because we are awash in a world of so much real, heart-breaking violence, we owe the many victims of true brutality the clarity to acknowledge the difference between true aggression, and something else.    

So, in other words, to honor true victims, we need to see through the creation of false ones. But it’s arguably precisely the abundance of aggression all around that makes accusations of any kind of victimhood so believable.

If a central aim of public discourse is establishing truth, I believe there are times to confront persuasive, impassioned rhetoric, even satirically – especially when that rhetoric leads so many to conclusions destructive of their own faith.   

And I believe now is one of those times.

Without further ado, the Five Steps to Making a (Psychological) Martyr: 

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Let’s Talk about Sorcery

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

In the days since a Church Handbook update offered a new point of caution against “seeking miraculous or supernatural healing” from those who claim to have “special methods for accessing healing power” (outside of prayer and God’s priesthood power), some members have taken the opportunity to publish their additional concerns on these matters publicly. Here, one man shared his own feeling that the whole of energy healing was inextricably tied into spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, conspiracy, and “going beyond the mark.” 

This brother went on to reference an instance of “sorcery” in the Bible to encapsulate what he saw embodied in energy healing. I’d like to go deeper on this argument – as a way to gently push back on this thoughtful and faithful brother (who is voicing honest thoughts many other members have) – while also raising some of the honest questions about this point of view held by many other members, myself included.

For the sake of brevity, I will only focus on his reference to sorcery– which is a good stand-in for all the other words he cited in his commentary, and a good entree into the discussion as a whole. My essential argument is that this good man is stepping beyond the text of the handbook in an important way – and extrapolating beyond the spirit of the counsel given, which some of us see as more bounded than many members seem to presume. 

The words SORCERER, SORCERERS, SORCERIES, and SORCERY are used 15 times in the Bible (7 times in the Old Testament and 8 times in the New Testament – with four in the Book of Revelation alone). Most of the biblical references to these words (including the specific Old Testament story this man cites) refer to either the Greek word Mag-os (meaning Magician, wise man, or sorcerer) – or the Hebrew word Kashaph (meaning to whisper a spell, practice magic, sorcery, witchcraft). 

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