Category: religion

On Self-Evaluation: Special Guest Post by Denisa

Happy Monday! (For values of “Happy” that include “still stuck in pandemic mode, and likely to remain there”) Denisa was asked to give a talk in church over the weekend, and I liked it so much, I asked her if she’d be willing to let me post it here. She was taken aback by the request (I guess she didn’t think it was as good as I did?), but she ultimately agreed. The talk touches on a lot of things I’ve been thinking as well. (When you’re stuck in social distancing mode, there’s a whole lot of time to think . . .)

Anyway–without further ado, here’s Denisa’s talk:

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Good morning,

Soon after COVID-19 closed Maine down in March, I started hearing from friends about all the fun-at-home-things they were doing—making art, spring cleaning, cooking, meditating, doing jigsaw puzzles. And, I was jealous. I was jealous because when the schools closed, my life only got busier. It is true that I wasn’t driving to work and driving kids to lessons and practice and dentists and orthodontists, but I as many of you had to figure out how to do my job and my calling from home. Having never done any teaching online, this was difficult for me and certainly took some effort to get used to.

One thing I kept coming back to was what a colleague said about teaching, “figure out what the basics are, what is most important, and do that”. Of the many things I could’ve taught in my classes at UMF and in seminary I needed to find the foundation/the basics/the gist and make sure we focused on that. This, while simply said, seemed like a lot of work because it meant I had to evaluate what I was doing, instead of just keep going like I was planning on before. It’s familiar and comforting to do what you always have done, and to do it the way you’ve always done it. It takes less energy and much less time to take the traditional approach, but living in this new and socially distanced world required me to go through the change. I had to change my thinking first and then align my actions with it, and though the new way of thinking seemed unfamiliar and strange, I knew it was what needed to be done.

It seems we continue to be experiencing a time of many changes. BC—before Corona, the news of the degradation of our environment including human-caused pollution of our land, water and air and the loss of biodiversity this leads to, was constantly on my mind. I read about it, talked to those who knew more about the situation than I did, and I evaluated my life and actions and resolved to make some changes, for example, in what I choose to eat, and where and how I shop.

The ever-changing news about the spread of Corona and the recent protests have made me rethink and evaluate where I stand on equality and human rights, science, health, and even economy growth. I don’t doubt these thoughts occupy your mind as well. We may have found out that we didn’t quite understand the situation and need to put forth more time and effort to correct this, or we may have noticed we’re not as accepting of others as we thought and that in reality, we care more about some things than what we always believed.

Evaluation and introspection should always be a part of our lives. I almost always dread the time when I look at my class evaluations and read what my students thought about my class and me as their professor. I try to do a good job, but I know my teaching style doesn’t fit well with everyone. In general, I’m usually nicely surprised, but there is always that one or two students who waited the whole semester for the opportunity to say just how much work I need to do to improve. While I don’t enjoy reading those evaluations, I do learn from them and they in turn cause me to look at my teaching through their eyes and again reevaluate to find out if in fact I should change some things. Dismissing the comments of those who say there is a problem would be shortsighted and would make the evaluations a waste of everyone’s time. Just because I didn’t see the problem (as I was comfortable in my own teaching, or living), doesn’t mean there is no problem.

In the past general conference, Elder Gary Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reviewed some of the history of the construction of the Salt Lake Temple and explained upgrades that the temple is undergoing right now. The building was evaluated, and it was discovered that it has been cared for well for the 127 years since it’s dedication, but new advances in engineering (that were unimaginable at the time the temple was built) made the renovation including earthquake protection possible. It was Brigham Young’s hope to see “the temple built in a manner that it will endure through the millennium”. And so, the temple is now closed, so the needed seismic upgrades can be made, that it can endure through the millennium. Will there be more extensive upgrades in another 127 years? I would think so.

All temples have an inscription on them that reads “a house of the Lord”. In 1841 (coincidentally, the same year as our house here in Farmington was built) the Saints were instructed to build a temple in Nauvoo, so the priesthood could be restored there: We read about this in D&C 124: 27-28

27 And with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth; and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.

28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and arestore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.”

The original Nauvoo temple was destroyed by fire in 1848, but it was rebuilt, and it was dedicated in 2002. Great care was taken to make it a close to the original as possible.

Our house here in Farmington is just a house—we love it and have been slowly working on it, and though it has a beautiful spiral staircase, it is just a house for people. The Nauvoo and the Salt Lake Temple and all the rest of the 166 working Latter-Day Saint temples were built as houses of the Lord, so the workmanship and the furnishings are as close to perfection as was possible when they were built. On the other hand, you would likely not be surprised by the uneven floors and may other flaws of our house on Knowlton Corner.

Yet, the houses of the Lord require updates and renovations even extensive projects like the one taking place at the Salt Lake Temple right now. Perfection as we understand it in this mortal world cannot achieved all at once, it depends on information available to us and understanding of it we have at the time. And, so the Salt Lake Temple while built to perfection standards for 1893, needs work.

There is a lot we can learn from this—we should not let ourselves believe that we have a perfect understanding of things, but we should be willing to continue learning and developing ourselves, so we can be close to the perfection the Lord asked as to strive for while we’re here. This includes being willing to listen to and hear others with the goal of understanding. We know our Heavenly Father loves all of us and His love is what we know as the pure love of Christ—charity which is defined in 1 Corinthians 13 and Moroni 7:45:

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

In Moroni 7:48, understanding what charity is, we’re told what we must do:

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

When Christ visited the Nephites on the American continent after his resurrection, he took time for His people. He didn’t ask for those who were doing just fine, were well taken care of, who did not experience any difficulties—although that would’ve no doubt taken so much less of His time. He asked for those who needed healing as we read in 3 Nephi 17:7:

Have ye any that are asick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or bleprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will cheal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

He asked for those who were in the need of physical healing but ended by asking for those who are “afflicted in any manner”. I believe this would include those of us who are feeling comfy because all is going well for us—we’re set in our traditional thinking and living, “not looking for more light and knowledge”. This kind of life in missing the point of being here on the earth and the point of learning “line upon line, precept upon precept”.

So, if we are the ones who forgot to reevaluate and needed a big jolt, it is not too late. During this Corona time, may we take time to evaluate our lives as we have to change them to keep ourselves and our families safe. May we look for what is the most important.

My mission president, President Sorenson, would often ask us what he called “the hard questions”. These were questions designed to redirect us to the basics and stop worrying about how much success we had while on our missions.

Here are 3 of his hard questions:

  1. Is there a God?
  2. Is Jesus Christ the Savior?
  3. Is the Book of Mormon true?

While the difficulties of the missionary work didn’t go away, when we acknowledged God and Jesus Christ are in charge and that the Book of Mormon is true, we knew we would find the answers to some of the tough questions missions and life bring.

May we too look for those answers as we reevaluate our thinking and our life through speaking with our Heavenly Father, reading the scriptures, and pondering what we have to do.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Quarantine Worship

Not that I’m worshiping quarantine. Rather, today’s post is about how people are continuing to worship in this time of social distancing. When this all began (six weeks ago? More or less), shifting over to social distancing from a religious perspective really wasn’t that difficult. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had made a switch in January 2019 that emphasized a learning curriculum that was to be done in the home as families. Up until that point, our church services each Sunday had run three hours. With that change, an hour was lopped off from that to counterbalance the new home-learning.

So when suddenly the church stopped all weekly gatherings completely, world-wide, it really wasn’t that shocking of a step. All the members already had a year’s worth of practice worshiping at home. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not the same as meeting with a congregation, but I’m just saying it wasn’t like religion screeched to a halt. My family continued to meet each Sunday, and life went on.

Of course, that was six weeks ago now. That’s a whole lot of Sundays to go with just home services, which is why I’ve been grateful that our local congregations have mostly shifted over to Zoom services now. For the past month or so, we all turn on our computers (or phone in) and have a couple of talks and some hymns, starting at 9:30 each Sunday morning. Yesterday we had around 100 people in attendance, I’d guesstimate. (There were around 50 people logged in to the meeting, but many of those were households like mine of 5 or more.)

Interestingly (for a church that generally does things fairly uniformly), I’ve been surprised to hear this isn’t a practice that’s being done by all Latter-day Saint congregations. Or even most of them, from my anecdotal evidence. I’ve talked to people across the country, and for many of them, church has stopped for all intents and purposes, other than the home-studying component. I had thought Maine was already fairly behind the times, technologically speaking. (Usually that’s definitely the case. Our internet speeds are muuuuuch slower up here, and many people are still using technology that’s ten or more years behind the rest of the nation.) So to have Maine congregations doing things that places with a better technological infrastructure aren’t . . . is strange.

But I’ve only spoken to a few people, and I wanted to spread the net a bit wider. So how about you. Whether or not you’re a Latter-day Saint, if you typically go to church services each Sunday, what have you been doing now? How are you continuing to worship in times of social distancing? I see some places suing governments, demanding their right to worship in person again. I for one have been grateful for ways to both practice my religion but do it in a safe manner. Are other denominations doing the same?

Inquiring minds want to know . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Religion in Politics

As the political season ramps up even more(!), I’m already seeing plenty of posts on social media citing religion to back up political beliefs. You’ve got people who cite quotes from the Bible about the importance of independence, or the sanctity of marriage, or the evils of legalized marijuana, or the need to be more compassionate. And when I see these posts, I have a mixed response.

On the one hand, I’m a deeply religious person, and so it’s natural that my politics are influenced by my religious beliefs. On the other hand, I try to avoid making religious arguments, and I admittedly bristle when those arguments are made online for a number of reasons.

First of all, if you make an appeal to religion as a way of “solving” a political issue, you’re only going to further polarize an already polarized topic. If you have people who agree with you, they’re going to nod and give you a solid amen. You might have people who aren’t religious but still agree with you. They’ll likely just go wander off elsewhere, because why bother. If you have people who aren’t religious and don’t agree with you, they’re going to yell at you for bringing something irrelevant into an important conversation. (At which point you get to begin to argue about religion AND politics at the same time.) Finally, you also might have people who are religious but disagree with your conclusion. (In which case you’re back to arguing about religion and politics again.)*

Second, there’s no really good way to interact with a post that uses religion to prove a point. If you critique it based on religious grounds, then you’re called a heretic. If you critique it based on secular grounds, then you’re just a heathen who hasn’t properly been enlightened yet.

Again, I can and do have political beliefs that are influenced by my religion. But do I believe God agrees with those beliefs? To me, that’s what’s happening when these sort of posts are shared online. They’re saying “God wants you to vote against _________” or “God needs you to protect ___________.” And that kind of argument is really tenuous at best.

What if it’s a Muslim making the post? What if it’s a Jew? A Buddhist? If you would dismiss those religious posts as irrelevant, then why post your own version of them? Because your religion is right and theirs is wrong? If that’s the case, then we’re right back to arguing about religion and politics again instead of just politics.

It can feel very cathartic to find a religious quote or argument that really resonates with us, and that’s fine. It’s when we go on and use that quote to try and convince others that things just fall apart for me. Because a religious quote is using an appeal to an ultimate authority to prove your point. It’s saying, “Not only do I think I’m right, but GOD thinks I’m right too. So if you disagree with me, you’re just flat out wrong.”

“But, Bryce,” I anticipate some of you saying. “There are certain ultimate truths out there. Why *shouldn’t* I post something if God is clearly in favor of it or against it? I need to make sure everyone knows they’re wrong.”

To which I respond, “Unless God has decided to make you His ultimate mouthpiece on earth, maybe deciding to speak for Him on social media is a bit premature.”

If actual church leaders aren’t throwing up posts left and right in favor of a candidate or against a position, maybe we could learn a thing or two from that and follow suit. If they *are* putting up those posts, then go ahead and share and like them, I suppose, but don’t expect that post to be the sort of a Mic Drop post online that you want to think it will be.

Generally speaking, I believe there are good people with deeply held religious beliefs on both sides of the aisle. No party has a monopoly on virtue or faith. Almost every single hot button political issue I can think of is a thorny mess of contradictions, with no clear right and wrong answer.

I’m not sure what I think this post is going to accomplish. I fully expect to continue seeing posts from both sides drawing religion into politics. Maybe my best approach to dealing with it would be to just decide not to say anything on any of the posts. Probably safest for me . . .

But if you’re thinking about posting something in this vein, and this post makes you think twice about it, then maybe I’ll have done some good.

*If only we could somehow throw in a divisive sports reference into the same posts. Something like “God said the Yankees need to lead the country against socialism.” Maybe that could make things even more spicy in the Facebook comments.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Latter-day Saint’s Take on the “Mormon Whistleblower”

When my alarm went off this morning, in my sleep-addled state, I tried to turn it off but instead swiped over to the news. And the first thing I saw was this headline: “Mormon Church has misled members on $100 billion tax-exempt investment fund, whistleblower alleges.” It turns out reading a headline like that is a really good way to go from sleep-addled to fully awake (not that I’d like to use it on a daily basis). I read the article over, then thumbed around to find the Salt Lake Tribune article on the same topic, finally delving into the full 74 page “expose” both articles referenced.

Not the way I’d planned to spend my morning, but it’s a topic I’m heavily invested in (pun intended), so I couldn’t really help myself. Since it’s something I imagine a fair number of you might be coming across in your daily news grazing, I decided I’d write a response to the piece, anticipating some of my friends wondering what I had to say about it, as their token Latter-day Saint friend.

It’s not like I haven’t written about church finances and tithing before, but what do I think about these allegations, specifically?

Well, for one thing, I think it’s important to go to the source of the allegations. In this case, the closest we can get is that 74 page document I referenced, which is written by the brother of the whistleblower. I’ll be honest. That document is extremely obtuse. Reading it is about as much fun as jabbing myself in the eye with a spork. It’s got footnotes to the footnotes, with some of those footnotes seeming to be longer than the document itself. More than that, it uses arguments that just aren’t easy to follow or even make sense of, but a few things shine through. First, it’s written by a person who is Not a Fan of the church, which should come as no surprise, considering he’s penning a document clearly intended to hurt the organization. Second, the ultimate accusation comes to “the church has been stockpiling money instead of spending it for charitable causes” and “the church used some money illegally to bolster a church owned insurance company and a partially church owned shopping mall.”

Setting aside my critiques of the document as a whole, these are serious allegations, and they need to be addressed. For the first, that the church has stockpiled $100 billion or so in an account that only accrues wealth and never doles it out, the whistleblower (according to his brother) says the church brings in $6-$7 billion in tithing revenue each year, spends $5-$6 billion of it, and invests the remaining $1 billion. For a church with 15 million members, that figure seems . . . very low. That’s an average of $466/member per year. Remember, tithing in the church is supposed to be 10% of your increase, which would mean church members make on average $389 per month. Even accounting for a worldwide membership, with a significant portion living in poverty, I have a hard time believing that figure. The Tribune article sites an expert who has estimated the annual tithing inflow of the church at more like $35 billion, which seems more logical.

Why does it make a difference? Well, charities regularly stockpile a reserve. Rainy day funds against times of trouble. (It’s something the church actively reinforces to members, always encouraging us to have at least a few months’ worth of money saved up against emergencies. Ideally a year’s worth.) The whistleblower was positioned in a place to directly observe how much money was being invested, so I trust his $1 billion/year figue. $1 billion of $6 billion is saving 16.7%. If the church is spending $5 billion/year, then having $100 billion stockpiled is enough to last it 20 years. On the other hand, $1 billion of $35 billion is saving 2.9%. If the church is spending $34 billion/year, then that $100 billion is enough to last it about 3 years, which seems much more reasonable.

What I mean to say is, the whistleblower’s ultimate figures don’t pass the sniff test, which leads me to question the conclusions he draws from them. I’m not saying he’s making the numbers up, but I wonder how well informed he actually is, and if he sees the whole picture. (Then again, some of this might come down to most of these figures being drawn from the whistleblower’s brother’s 74 page missive which, as I said before, is quite hard to follow. So perhaps there’s a concrete argument to be found here somewhere. I have to assume there is. The whistleblower was regularly charged with keeping track of billions of dollars, so I assume he’s good with numbers . . .)

But even if all the whistleblower’s numbers are true, the main argument (that the church is stockpiling money) is not nearly as damning as his brother might wish. I mean, if the whistleblower had come forward and alleged the church was stockpiling billions and spending it all on hookers and blow, then we’d be talking about some seriously bad decision making. But the big bad in this case seems to be “Church Saving a Lot of Money and Investing It Wisely!” Too wisely, apparently.

That’s a bit flippant. I apologize. We can and should certainly have a discussion about how much is a reasonable amount of cash to have in reserves. Harvard’s endowment is $50 billion. Should a 16 million member, worldwide organization have more, or less than that? If it’s entirely charitable (and thus tax exempt), how much is too much? Does the law say? If it doesn’t, should it? If it does, has the church gone over that amount? (I tend to think the law doesn’t say. Otherwise the whistleblower would have included that in the allegations.) Having a debate and setting a figure is certainly a topic for discussion. But it’s not nearly as problematic as the whistleblower’s brother would like it to be.

On the other hand, the allegation that the church spent around 2% of its war chest to prop up an insurance company and a shopping mall, if true, is more worrisome. According to the whistleblower, the church used tithing money for this, something church leaders specifically said they weren’t doing. “Thou shalt not lie” applies to church leaders as much as it does to members, and if this claim pans out, then that would upset me. But again, I wonder how big a picture this whistleblower had of the whole operation. The church has (many) lawyers, and it’s got more than enough money to spend. Why dip into this account illegally for something that it apparently has oodles of money to cover in other ways? The pieces of the argument don’t add up.

But naturally, whenever something like this comes up in the news, you’ve got an instant crowd gathering with torches and pitchforks, angry about the church. I get that people have issues with my religion. Its approach to gay marriage, equal rights, and other issues upsets and hurts many. But the allegations people like to trot out in these cases (that the church is defrauding millions of people out of their hard earned money) just aren’t founded on anything reasonable. Who profits off this? Do the allegations say the church president secretly bought an underground lair, where he swims around in ill-gotten profits, Scrooge McDuck-style? The closest critics can come to real critiques is that the upper echelons of church leadership get a yearly stipend. The figure I’ve seen lobbed around is $160,000/year, which, granted, is more than I make and more than a whole lot of people make. But at the same time, for most of those men, it’s a whole lot less than they would have been making if they hadn’t quit their job to devote their whole time to the church.

I’ve seen these men. Met them. Talked to them. President Hinckley lived in my grandparent’s condominium complex when he was a member of the First Presidency. I stayed in that complex many times, and I’d run into him in the elevator from time to time. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” it wasn’t, but it was a nice place and close to downtown. It had a pool. I liked that.

These men are going around the world, busy almost all of the time. Critics say they’re taking “church-paid vacations.” If I had to do the things these men have to do on these “vacations,” you’d have to pay me a whole lot more. Let me get the supposed plan right.

  • Step One: Convince members to pay 10% of their income to the church.
  • Step Two: Become a leader in that church
  • Step Three: Take a huge pay cut
  • Step Four: Work until you die, with no retirement, but live in a pretty good condo, and live a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle

I could go on, but I don’t have time for it. In the end, these allegations come across as interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the whistleblower’s brother would like. If some of them pan out, and it turns out the church has been breaking the law, I’d like to think it was unintentional. If it was intentional, I’d like to think it didn’t go all the way to the top. If it went all the way to the top, this wouldn’t be the first time a church leader has made mistakes, and it won’t be the last. We don’t believe our leaders are infallible. But to really alarm me, you’re going to have to find the hidden pleasure palace the leaders are all hanging out in, where they break all the commandments while they ridicule the chumps who pay their tithing. And I just don’t see that happening.

Anyway. If you’ve got questions, I’m happy to answer as best I can. Just keep things civil, as always.

Who Are You Related To?

As I mentioned on Facebook, I was down in Worcester, MA yesterday to hear President M. Russell Ballard and Elder D. Todd Christofferson (two current member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) speak in the DCU Center. There were about 12,000 other people there. Tomas and DC got to sit on the fourth row, and Denisa and I were much farther back with MC. It was a great meeting. Elder Christofferson spoke of the need to involve God in our lives through daily prayer. I especially liked his observation that the things which seem of little consequence and things that are most important in our lives often end up being the same things. (After all, the way I see it, breathing is a fairly trivial thing we all do day in and day out. We take it for granted and don’t give it much attention, but when we’re suddenly unable to breathe, we realize quickly just how important it is to us . . . )

President Ballard talked about recognizing the hand of the Lord in your life. Acknowledging those times when He has helped you or guided you in miraculous ways. He told the story of John Howland, a passenger on the Mayflower. He was swept out to sea in the middle of the voyage, but he was able to grab onto a rope that was trailing in the water behind the ship and was hauled back on board. His survival has turned out to be key to much of American history, since he’s a direct ancestor of people including FDR, George Bush, Emerson, Longfellow, Joseph Smith, and 2 million others. It would be easy to dismiss Howland’s rescue as good luck. You can also view it as the hand of providence intervening in his life. How you choose to see it certainly depends on your personal views and outlook, but that’s probably a post for a different time.

President Ballard encouraged members of the audience to pray for the country and its leaders, a sentiment I can certainly get behind. (Indeed, I already wrote an entire blog post about it.) But it occurred to me in the meeting, what happens when people are all praying for the country, but hoping for different outcomes? When faithful Democrats and Republicans all think God wants two entirely different directions for the nation to go? For that, I believe it comes down to us bringing our own wills more in line with God’s. In an ideal world, as we all pray for the same thing (a bright future for the nation, the world, and all its inhabitants), hopefully we will begin to come together more and more, until our wills overlap in multiple places, and we begin to find ways to bring about the things we are all praying for. (If we choose instead to pray for detailed specifics, like “that Trump will leave office” or “that the Democrats will stop being idiots”, I don’t think the odds are high that such overlaps will ever occur. But then again, such prayers presuppose that we understand the will of God better than our neighbors. For prayer to really be effective, I’ve found humility is often a key ingredient. There’s little humility in partisan prayers. Again, probably a topic for a different blog post.)

As I was talking with Tomas after the meeting, we kept coming back to the story of John Howland. I told Tomas I knew we had ancestors on the Mayflower, but I couldn’t right then remember who. We decided it would be a good experience to discover more about our ancestors and look for stories like Howland’s: stories where we might think about where the hand of God interceded in their lives to make it possible for us to be here today.

Thankfully, we live in 2019, and there’s technology developed to help us out in these situations. (Assuming your family history is fairly robust, which mine is, to say the least, thanks to many generations of faithful genealogy-obsessed Latter-day Saint ancestors.)

If you go to relativefinder.org and log in with your familysearch.org account, it will look up your lineage and compare it to many different people’s, from presidents to movie stars to athletes to you name it. It’s through this tool that I now know Neil Armstrong is my 13th cousin once removed. Mark Twain is my 5th cousin 6 times removed. (I knew there was a reason I was so interested in studying Huck Finn for my thesis . . . ) Ben Franklin is my 2nd cousin 10 times removed. Muhammad Ali is my 14th cousin 1 time removed.

Too distant? William Bradford of the Mayflower is my 11th great grandfather. (And 8 other Mayflower passengers are my many great grandparents.) Of course, family history is only as reliable as the data you put into it. According to this tool, Henry VIII is my 14th great grandfather, but when I took the time to trace back exactly how that conclusion was come to, the results were sketchy to say the least. It also claims Grand Sachem Wyandanch, alliance-chief of the Montaukett Indians, is my 13th great grandfather. It would be awesome if it were true, but once again, the actual documentation is tenuous to say the least.

But that William Bradford connection is accurate. I traced his posterity down to Leonard Hill, a resident of Peterborough, New Hampshire (about 50 miles away from Worcester, where I went to the meeting yesterday). He and his wife Sally Forbush met early Latter-day Saint missionaries and joined the church in 1843. They were ostracized from their families and headed west. They both ended up dying on the eventual trek to Utah after the Saints were forced out of Illinois.

In any case, I’m out of time for today. It was a thought-provoking meeting, and maybe some of these tools would be interesting to you, as well. Not sure how much family history you have to have done to get results, but I will say that actually doing the research is fairly addictive once you start. (Or is that just for librarians?)

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