Wednesday, March 23, 2016

"And All Was Well": Writing my own footnote 15.

In 2011, I began law school. As I began, I had goals. One was to be a constitutional lawyer. The other was to be a human being, and figure things out about life, serve in my church, and maybe even find my wife. I was told, of course, that you needed the top grades in order to be a constitutional lawyer. Those well-versed in my life will note challenges I faced in other aspects of my life in 2011, and on through the present; others will not.

These challenges left me needing a great deal of faith. I found comfort in a story President Uchtdorf told in the October 2011 general conference:

"Let me share with you a personal experience that may be of some help to those who feel insignificant, forgotten, or alone.

Many years ago I attended pilot training in the United States Air Force. I was far away from my home, a young West German soldier, born in Czechoslovakia, who had grown up in East Germany and spoke English only with great difficulty. I clearly remember my journey to our training base in Texas. I was on a plane, sitting next to a passenger who spoke with a heavy Southern accent. I could scarcely understand a word he said. I actually wondered if I had been taught the wrong language all along. I was terrified by the thought that I had to compete for the coveted top spots in pilot training against students who were native English speakers.

When I arrived on the air base in the small town of Big Spring, Texas, I looked for and found the Latter-day Saint branch, which consisted of a handful of wonderful members who were meeting in rented rooms on the air base itself. The members were in the process of building a small meetinghouse that would serve as a permanent place for the Church. Back in those days members provided much of the labor on new buildings.

Day after day I attended my pilot training and studied as hard as I could and then spent most of my spare time working on the new meetinghouse. There I learned that a two-by-four is not a dance step but a piece of wood. I also learned the important survival skill of missing my thumb when pounding a nail.

I spent so much time working on the meetinghouse that the branch president—who also happened to be one of our flight instructors—expressed concern that I perhaps should spend more time studying.

. . .. For my part, I enjoyed being an active part of this tiny west Texas branch, practicing my newly acquired carpentry skills, and improving my English as I fulfilled my callings to teach in the elders quorum and in Sunday School.

At the time, Big Spring, despite its name, was a small, insignificant, and unknown place. And I often felt exactly the same way about myself—insignificant, unknown, and quite alone. Even so, I never once wondered if the Lord had forgotten me or if He would ever be able to find me there. I knew that it didn’t matter to Heavenly Father where I was, where I ranked with others in my pilot training class, or what my calling in the Church was. What mattered to Him was that I was doing the best I could, that my heart was inclined toward Him, and that I was willing to help those around me. I knew if I did the best I could, all would be well.

And all was well."

At the end of the story, President Uchtdorf dropped a footnote, footnote 15: "Dieter F. Uchtdorf graduated first in his class."

What a comforting story that was for me as a young law student. I often wondered what I would put someday in my own footnote 15 about my law school experience. Would it match his, only with my name inserted in place of his? What would life hold in store for me? Would I be able to do work in my area of interest, religious freedom?

Well now I have a start to my own footnote 15, formed from the same principles that led to President Uchtdorf's footnote 15: trusting in the Lord. It is a much longer footnote, but I hope it conveys how richly blessed I have been since 2011:

Michael T. Worley met the future Alizabeth Worley on December 11, 2014. On October 6, 2014 they were married, and their first son <Name redacted> Worley, was born on March __, 2016. Michael is able to work from home, thus maximizing his time with Alizabeth and <N.R.W.> (not his real initials).

After being told for years that he would have to leave his beloved Provo to practice constitutional law, Michael and Lizzie are living in Provo. Michael routinely assists more seasoned litigators on briefs for the United States Supreme Court. In his first case ever in Federal District Court, Michael and his senior partner won on constitutional law grounds. Michael routinely represents clients of many religions and is working to defend religious freedom.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

In the long run, all is well: A case study in LDS Church Growth (Glendale, California)

Being from California, I am not ignorant of the trends that make it difficult to raise a family in California if you are debt-avoidant and socially conservative (spend five minutes on Zillow and if you doubt this assertion).  But I also served a mission in California, so I am acutely aware that God loves the people of California greatly.

So when my stake at the time, the La Crescenta California Stake, was combined with its neighbor to the south, the Glendale California Stake, many assumed it was a result of the socioeconomic conditions which disfavored families from moving to the Glendale area.  They were probably right, at least to some degree (Spanish speakers in Glendale attend a different stake, and I don't know how big/small those wards are, though I once heard that they were big from one source).

When the two stakes were combined in 2006, the Glendale Stake had 5 units (four family wards and a singles' ward), that were quickly combined to be 3 units (two family wards and a singles' ward).  This was sad, but it reflected the size of the LDS Church in the Glendale stake.

Here is the miracle: since these stakes were combined in 2006, the Glendale area has added two new units-- a Filipino ward and a Single Adult ward, bringing the Glendale area back to the original 5 units it had prior to the stakes combining, and presumably reflecting a larger presence of the LDS Church in Glendale.  This doesn't mean Glendale will get a stake again--LDS Church leadership generally splits stakes when they have 11-14 units and given the history involved I suspect the leaders will want to wait for any proposed split to yield 7 units in one or both stakes, which may not be forthcoming.

But this growth does mean the church in Glendale is stronger than it was.

It may seem like a small thing-- two new wards in a decade-- but to me it these new wards a reminder that God loves his children.  While world conditions may seem to disfavor religious observance through organized religion, and many stereotype California as being very secular and not socioeconomically friendly to families, God is still finding a way to bring thousands of Californians to him via his restored church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is indeed true that:

The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.-- Joseph Smith

As always, these thoughts are my own, are intended to help, but do not reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Obedient but not judgmental: A lesson from Fast Sundays

In my faith, one Sunday a month church members fast. In conjunction with what we call 'Fast Sunday', a sizable chunk of the worship service ("sacrament meeting") is devoted to members sharing their feelings about the church in a pseudo-"open mic" setting.   No lay member is asked to bear their testimony; the member chooses for himself or herself whether to speak.

Church leaders have instructed that these meetings are designed to help many members "express a brief, heartfelt testimony of our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the truths of the restored gospel." This is done "so that more members may have the opportunity to participate."

All that is pretty standard.  But much of the time, some church members will either not be brief or not be focused on their testimonies when speaking in fast and testimony meetings.

Let me suggest today that we should follow strictly the instructions of the church leaders regarding how we personally should bear testimony. I also believe that local church leaders should emphasize this counsel as needed.

But I would like to suggest that when we, as lay members, are the listeners during the fast and testimony meeting (which will be the majority of every meeting), we avoid thinking about this counsel as we listen to others' testimonies. True, we can and should lead by example and share these principles in appropriate settings, but that doesn't mean that we should think about it while others are bearing their testimonies.

Why am I suggesting that we avoid thinking for a time about counsel from the prophets?  My feeling is that when we remember this counsel when listening to other testimonies, we will inevitably "grade" others' testimonies for being too long, too short, or too tangental. When we choose to "grade" such testimonies, we will be judgmental of their efforts to bear their testimony. When we do this, I suggest that we are more likely to zone out and miss important truths from their testimonies.

In a mortal world, elements of truth-- even important core truths-- can be delivered in imperfect ways.  The church's missionary program-- powered by imperfect teenagers and young adults-- is an example of this: investigators learn important truths of the gospel in ways that are inevitably less than ideal.  Likewise, a part of attending fast and testimony meeting is learning important truths from imperfect individuals.

Just as in Fast and Testimony meeting, I believe throughout our lives, as we strive to adopt standards of conduct in keeping with the doctrine of Christ and the guidelines of his leaders, we should remember to not judge those who may not be following the doctrine and guidelines in the ways that we think our best.

As always, these thoughts are my own, are intended to help, but do not reflect the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thanks for reading,