The Graying of LDS General Authorities

According to researcher Christian Anderson, the average age of the 15 men who comprise the LDS Church’s top leadership is over 80.  This is the first time the average has been this high in the 185-year history of the Church.

Here is what the figures show (from eldest to youngest):  L. Tom Perry-92.57 years; Boyd K. Packer and Russell M. Nelson-90.48 years; Thomas S. Monston-87.53 years; M. Russell Ballard-86.40 years; Richard G. Scott-86.32 years; Dallin H. Oaks-82.55 year; Robert D. Hales-82.52 years; Henry B. Eyring-81.75 years; Quentin L. Cook-74.48; Dieter F. Uchtdorf-74.32; Jeffrey R. Holland-74.25 years; D. Todd Christofferson-70.10 years; Neil L. Anderson-63.56 years; and David A. Bednar-62.71 years.

John English, a technical project manager living in Utah, has suggested that one avenue for dealing with a geriatric leadership is to have Apostles placed on emeritus status at age 90.  For me, this number seems a bit high.  The LDS Church grants emeritus status to members of the Quorum of the Seventy when they reach age 70.  I wonder if “retiring” Apostles at age 80 might be more realistic.

If the Church retired Apostles and members of the First Presidency at age 70, all but two of the current General Authorities would be gone.  If the Church retired them at 80, 9 of the current GAs would be on emeritus status.  As for age 90, 3 GAs would be retired:  Elders Perry, Packer, and Nelson.

For me, the big problem is the age of the youngest Apostles:  62 and 63 (the only two in their 60s).  There are NO Apostles in their 40s and 50s.  There is clearly a need for younger blood.  Elder Bednar (almost age 63) is currently the point man for dealing with new technologies.  When he was in college, HP calculators and primitive mainframes were the rage.  There were no PCs or Internet.

Retirement of elderly Apostles could help, but there needs to be a concerted effort to get younger individuals into top leadership positions.  The Church needs General Authorities who are more in touch with today’s problems and needs.

According to English, the LDS Church “is due for some big changes in the 21st century and this (granting emeritus status) would be a significant policy change that could help the leadership lead on those things.”  And I would add, it is equally important to get younger members involved in the upper eschelon of Church leadership.

Posted in mormonism, Organizational Dynamics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Terryl and Fiona Givens on Doubt (and Questions)

In a recent article for Meridian Magazine, Terryl and Fiona Givens make the claim that “doubt doesn’t have to be dangerous.”  Their article seems timed to provide a rejoinder to a similar article in the Ensign (Mar 2015) by Adam Kotter which vilified doubt.

While I found Kotter’s article disappointing, I found the Givens’ article to be strangely unsatisfying.  I don’t think either the Givens or Kotter totally understand the depths of some of our angst.  According to the Givens:  “Doubt can have a crucial role in the life of the disciple, but is not the end for which we strive.”  To which I respond:  “Why can’t it be the end?”  Is our end goal predetermined?  If we have serious doubts, why isn’t it okay to die with them?  Using the example of Mother Teresa, she apparently died with her doubts.

Doubt may be merited in any number of circumstances on the path to decision-making; but glorying in doubt as an achievement or a final state of mind is to relinquish that which makes us more than logic machines, and arrest a process humans are uniquely constituted to see to completion.

Why isn’t it okay for some of us to come to the realization that some questions are unanswerable?  That is where I’m at.  I’m in a perpetual state of DOUBT.  I don’t glory in my doubt, and I don’t think I wear it as a badge of honor like a “self-styled sophisticate.”  But, I don’t see an avenue or a serious need to resolve my doubts.  They don’t affect the way I want to live the remainder of my life.

We do not need to succumb to perpetual indecision, or be paralyzed into a stance of non-commitment.

I don’t feel paralyzed; and a belief that my doubts may not be resolvable in this life is certainly a defensible position.

We might see doubt as an essential point of transition between honest assessment of evidence, and moving forward with a purpose.

For me, my doubts are more than a speed bump, they are more than a “way station.”  But they don’t keep me from “moving forward with a purpose.”  We all have different genetic material and a different intellectual and spiritual environment.  To expect us all to have the same unwavering faith is unrealistic.

Doubting Thomas

Doubting Thomas

So the $64,000-question for me (and other serious doubters) is:  Should I stay in the LDS Church or should I go?  (Or from the perspective of Church leaders, is the Church tent big enough for serious doubters?)

For me, that is a tough question.  I was raised Mormon, and I see nothing better out there at the moment.  As for Church leaders, it is up to them to decide how big the tent is.

Posted in absurdism, mormonism, Religion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Computer Training in LDS Churches

There is a great post on bycommonconsent.com titled:  “How to Teach Girls in Your Stake Computer Programming.”  This a wonderful idea and one that I hope it spreads throughout Mormondom.  According to author Cynthia L:

The purpose of the activity was to teach all the girls in the stake, ages 8-18, how to write computer programs, and contextualize the importance of developing divine talents and skill–such as coding–within the gospel.

The author goes on to hazard a guess as to why girls are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) classes, programs, and majors:

Research shows that one reason the tech industry has so few women is that after being equally interested in STEM in elementary school, girls turn away from STEM in junior high.  One reason for this is that girls at that age are highly influenced by an altruism motive.  This manifests in interests and aspirations associated with helping cute, helpless things:  veterinarians, teachers, caring for babies and baby orphaned animals, radicalizing on environmental issues, etc.  Unfortunately, girls don’t associate STEM with helping people.

Cynthia’s goal was “to show that there is a strong association between STEM and service to others.”

Cynthia L. Teaching Her Computer Class to LDS Girls

Cynthia L. Teaching Her Computer Class to LDS Girls

Hopefully Cynthia’s efforts will be emulated in other Stakes and Missions throughout the Church.  She has graciously provided all the materials needed to get started.

In a somewhat similar effort, my colleagues and I have started a computer lab in Masaka, Uganda.  Using a classroom in a LDS Church, we have set up a small computer-training center that is equipped with a high-speed Internet connection and 6 chromebook computers.  In America, computer equipment and access to the Internet are widely available, but in Uganda they are not.  So the limiting factor is not so much “altruism” as it is the lack of facilities.  For this reason, everybody (not just girls) is encouraged to use the computer-training center.  So far, the center has been a success.  We hope to start formal classes sometime in the near future.

Small Computer Training Facility in Masaka, Uganda

Small Computer Training Facility in Masaka, Uganda

LDS Churches stand idle for much of the week.  Here is great opportunity to provide training for the members and to more fully utilize existing facilities.

Posted in Africa, feminism, Internet, mormonism, Science, Social Justice, Technology, uganda | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Questioning and Doubting

The recent Ensign article (Mar 2015) by Adam Kotter titled “When Doubts and Questions Arise,” has generated a lot of discussion on the Internet (see here and here).  As a big-time doubter, the article struck a nerve with me.  The basic theme of the article is:  questioning may be good (and sometimes) productive, but doubting is bad.  To get to this conclusion, Kotter creates, what for me, is an unacceptable distinction between the two.  And to characterize doubt as bad, Kotter seems to be going against some recent statements by LDS General Authorities.

After reading the Ensign article, I wish that it had been written by someone else.  Why couldn’t this article (or a counterbalance to this article) be written by someone like Richard Bushman or Terryn and Fiona Givens (the latter two did write an article on doubt for Meridian Magazine)?  Individuals with a more complex and understanding view of the angst and struggles involved with doubt.  The LDS Church has very capable writers and intellects out there who could have provided a more nuanced discussion.

Having said that, when I think of doubt, I think of Mother Teresa.  Ten years after her death in 1997, with the publication of some of her letters, the world was surprised (and shocked) to learn that she was haunted by doubts.  In one of her letters, she even admitted to doubting the existence of God.  Eventually she came to grips with her doubts; but as far as we know, she died with them.  Serious doubts and good works can coexist in the same person.

For many of us, our doubts are probably born in our genetic makeup and in our developmental history.  Having said that, Mother Teresa’s doubts don’t shock me.  Here we have a woman who dedicated her life to helping the poorest of the poor.  We can only image what horrors she witnessed.  If you multiply that suffering times the billions who have had to endure similar suffering, how could you not question the very roots of your belief structure?

You can’t judge Mother Teresa’ doubts as bad (and no, they were not questions).  They were her’s and they were real.  Should she be judged harshly because of her doubts?  I think not.

With the publication of her letters in 2007, I found the “new” Mother Teresa to be a more compelling and spiritual person.  And I applaud the Catholic Church for making her letters public.  Could the LDS Church do something similar?  I don’t know.  I can’t think of a similar situation in Mormondom.  It would be productive for the Ensign to publish an article on Mother Teresa and her doubts.

Posted in catholicism, mormonism, mother teresa, Personalities, Religion, Social Justice | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

More Swing Sets for Africa

On a recent trip (Jan/Feb 2015) to Uganda and Ethiopia, we installed 3 new swing sets, finished a wooden one that partially completed, and made a few repairs to several existing swings.  I love installing swing sets around the world.  It’s fun overcoming the logistical problems, and it’s great to see the kids having a fun time swinging back and forth.

The first one we installed was in the small, isolated community of Kyarumba, Uganda, at the southern end of the Rwenzori Mountains (also called Mountains of the Moon).  Hank Pellissier, MTA’s humanitarian manager, had other projects in the area, so this community was a natural.  The double-wide 4-seat swing set was installed inside the confines of an elementary school’s property.  Local school officials helped with the installation.  This swing set was funded by Hank.  According to our contact in Kyarumba (Chrispus), “Due to the installation of the swing set, the number of students has increased from 240 to 287.”  Which means, of course, that they need more outdoor playground equipment.

Installing a Swing Set in the Village of Kyarumba

Installing a Swing Set in the Village of Kyarumba

Our driver for our Uganda trip was Gabriel.  He and his wife run a nursery and preschool in a small community south of Mbarara.  On our way from Kyarumba to Masaka, we stopped at their school.  Using the experience that he had gotten helping us construct swings, Gabriel had constructed his own out of wood.  It was very nicely done.

Gabriel's Swing that He Constructed out of Local Wood

Gabriel’s Swing that He Constructed out of Local Wood

In Masaka (located 120 kilometers south of Kampala), we repaired two swing sets.  One we had constructed on a previous trip, and another that was constructed by someone else and had fallen into disrepair.  On the former, many of the welds had failed on the locally-made swing-seat hangers.  We replaced the hangers with commercially ones that we had brought from the U.S.  On the latter (an orphanage/school), the chain and seats were missing, so we simply replaced them.

Orphanage/School Swing After the Chain and Seats Had Been Replaced

Orphanage/School Swing After the Chain and Seats Had Been Replaced

The second swing set we installed was a combination repair job and 2-seat swing addition.  At Survival Elementary School near Lira (northern Uganda), we needed to repair a tire swing that we had installed earlier.  The pipe we had purchased was not heavy enough to hold the weight of multiple kids swinging on the tire.  So we shortened the distance between the legs, and at the same time added an extension which allowed for 2 additional swing seats.  Survival School staff, so named because it is located on an abandoned refugee camp site, has been very diligent in taking care of their outdoor playground equipment.  Prior to our arrival, they had carefully painted every structure.  The school now has 10 swing seats, 1 tire swing, and an elevated fort.

Note Structural Failure to a Previously Installed Tire Swing.

Note Structural Failure to a Previously Installed Tire Swing

Repaired Tire Swing and Additional 2 New Swing Seats at Survival School

Repaired Tire Swing and Additional 2 New Swing Seats at Survival School

While in Lira, we also helped a preschool staff complete a small wooden swing set that had been only partially completed.  We added the rope and swing seats.

Completed Wooden Swing Set at Lira Preschool

Completed Wooden Swing Set at a Lira Preschool

While in Lira we also repaired a swing set that had been installed earlier.  Like the Survival tire swing, there was an issue with the strength of the horizontal pipe.  So we shortened the distance between the legs.   Also, in Lira we visited a baby orphanage where we had previous installed a swing set (with basket seats for the babies).  The swings are a big hit with the babies.

Enjoying the Swing Set at the Lira Baby Orphanage

Enjoying the Swing Set at the Lira Baby Orphanage

At the end of my African trip, I few to Ethiopia for a 9-day adventure there.  At a rural community school located about 30 kilometers outside of Lalibela (northern Ethiopia), we delivered a 2-seat swing set.  While I was visiting 2 of the ancient Christian churches in the area, our local fabricator and several locals installed the swing set.  They did a great job.

Swing Set in Stalled at Rural School in Northern Ethiopia

Swing Set in Stalled at Rural School in Northern Ethiopia

Posted in Africa, ethiopia, Playground, Travel, uganda | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trekking Through the Middle Ages (in Ethiopia)

During my LDS Mission to Belgium and France, I fell in love with all things medieval; I particularly wondered about the living conditions of ordinary peasants.  As a result, as an undergraduate at BYU, I majored in history with a strong emphasis in medieval history.

As part of my studies (something like a senior thesis), I did a nutritional analysis of a hypothetical medieval peasant diet.  I speculated on what nutritional diseases might have been a problem.  One of the ways I did my analyses was by looking at the diets of a then present-day area–mid-20th-century rural Turkey–that probably had a diet similar to that of medieval times.  My father had participated in a nutritional study of Turkish soldiers in the 1950s, so I had access to excellent dietary information.

The idea of studying the past by looking at the present, for all its pitfalls, continues to intrigue me.  For this reason, on my recent trip to Ethiopia, I signed up for a 3-day trek through the highlands of northern Ethiopia (2,800 meters ASL).  I wanted to get a better feel for what it was like to live in the Middle Ages.  (I also needed the exercise.)

The trek started at noon with lunch at an open air tukul, a traditional circular Ethiopian abode or structure.  From there the guide and I walked 12 kilometers through Ethiopian farmlands and up and down rocky farm lanes.  Accompanying us was a small donkey and 2 handlers.  The donkey was there to carry my small bag.  According to my guide, this was a light load (an easy gig) for the donkey which usually carried much heavier loads.

Subsistence Farm on the Ethiopian Highlands

Subsistence Farm on the Ethiopian Highlands

The tukul farms and villages were very picturesque, but very primitive.  It was grain-harvesting time, and the “threshing machine” of choice is 4 or 5 cows/bulls/steers tied together and walking in a circle.  (The same cattle are used to plow the fields.)  At one point we were besieged by dust devils.  As one of the devils blew itself out, it managed to shower us with straw.

Cows Threshing the Grain

Cows Threshing the Grain

We spent the night in a traveler’s village that was manned by villagers from a nearby community.  They had formed a cooperative so they could profit from eco-trekking hikers like myself.  The village is almost surrounded by cliffs, so I had a wonderful view in almost every direction of the lowlands below.  It is an idyllic site; but not a good one for sleep walkers.

Traveler's Village Support Staff Eating Their Breakfast on the Edge of a Cliff

Traveler’s Village Support Staff Eating Their Breakfast on the Edge of a Cliff

I was assigned my own tukul which provided a very pleasant place to read and sleep, mostly the latter.  Unfortunately, I was nearing the end of my African adventure, and was physically and mentally exhausted.  I slept from 5 pm until 7 am the next morning; thereby missing dinner.  While I missed the sunset, the sunrise the next morning was beautiful.  I watched part of it from the latrine, which was missing the upper part of its door.

The Tukul Where I Spent the Night

The Tukul Where I Spent the Night

That morning during breakfast, I was informed that one of the first trekkers to stay in this traveler’s village was Brad Pitt.  As I was rolling my eyes, they brought out the guest register, and sure enough there was Brad’s name.  (I’ve since been assured that:  Yes, Brad was in fact there.)

Proof that Brad Pitt Stayed at the Ethiopian Traveler's Village

Proof that Brad Pitt Stayed at the Ethiopian Traveler’s Village

Our second-day hike was 20 kilometers.  In addition to my pack, a solar panel and battery-powered lantern were tied to the donkey.  I needed to charge the lantern’s battery.  During the morning we continued to hike through primitive, but rustic, farms and across dry pastures.  There were rocks everywhere.  Even though the fields had been partially cleared of rocks, they were still rocky.  I will always remember the rocks:  rocky fields, rock fences, rocky farm lanes, rock barriers to help stop erosion, and tukuls constructed out of rock.  Most of the pasture lands were overgrazed, resulting in some fairly serious examples of erosion.  These subsistence farms must provide a tough existence.  They have no line power and have to haul their water from centrally-located bore holes.

Our Support Donkey Equipped with Solar Panel and Battery-powered Lantern

Our Support Donkey Equipped with Solar Panel and Battery-powered Lantern

An Example of Serious Erosion

An Example of Serious Erosion

For lunch we stopped at another open-air tukul.  This structure was also beautifully sited on the edge of a cliff.  My guide indicated that during the wet season, you could see several waterfalls nearby.  Unfortunately, I was there during the dry season.

The Open-air Tukul Where We Had Lunch

The Open-air Tukul Where We Had Lunch

Being Served Coffee

Being Served Coffee

The afternoon was largely uneventful.  Just easy hiking and frequent rests.  It gave me a chance to consider what life must have been like for peasants during the Middle Ages.  It seemed unlikely that much had changed over the last 1,000 years on this Ethiopian highland.

That night, we stayed at another traveler’s village located on the edge of a cliff.  I rested and read for a while, and then we had dinner.  The two women who served us were both in their early 20s.  Even though it is technically illegal, in rural Ethiopia it is still common practice to have prearranged marriages and for women to marry young.  I asked the two women at what age they married.  One said 14 and the other 15.  I asked them if it was a good idea to marry so young?  They both replied “NO”!

The next morning was supposed to be a short hike.  But it was extended because our pickup vehicle broke down and we had to find our own way home.  The guide rented a vehicle at a nearby town, and it was off to Lalibela.  The next day, I started my plane trips back to Utah.

Posted in Africa, ethiopia, Travel, Walking | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Priests, Monks, and a Nun of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the predominant Christian church in Ethiopia.  It is one of the few pre-colonial Christian churches of sub-Saharan Africa and its origins date back to the 4th century AD.  With its ancient churches and rituals, visiting northern Ethiopia feels very much like time traveling back to the Middle Ages.  Below are a few photographs that I have taken of Ethiopian priests, monks, and a nun.

Ethiopian Priest Dressed Up for a Photograph

Ethiopian Priest Dressed Up for a Photograph

Hands of a Priest Showing Off an Ancient Book

Hands of a Priest Showing Off an Ancient Book

Etched Face of an Ethiopian Priest

Etched Face of an Ethiopian Priest

Priest Exhibiting an Ancient Goat-skin Leafed Book

Priest Exhibiting an Ancient Goat-skin Leafed Book

Ethiopian Monk Who Served Briefly as Our Guide

Ethiopian Monk Who Served Briefly as Our Guide

Monk Standing at the Doorway to an Ancient Monastic Library

Monk Standing at the Doorway to an Ancient Monastic Library

Monk Preparing to Demonstrate an Ancient Rock Gong

Monk Preparing to Demonstrate an Ancient Rock Gong

Young Nun Manning the Visitors Center of her Nunnery

Young Nun Manning the Visitors Center of her Nunnery

When I asked the young nun–in the photograph above–her age, she told me it was none of my business.  I’ve always had a way with women.

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