Sunday, September 29, 2013

Next temples! updated

It seems like every general conference they announce two temples, one from the US and one outside the US.  There is a great blog about lds growth that gives an updated map of potential temples. It is hard to understand the exact reason why a certain location is chosen for a temple but the following surely play a role: number of temple worthy members, number of stakes, distance from nearest temple, ability to purchase land, and rule of law in the country (meaning can the church build a temple without having to pay bribes and build a temple knowing that there won't be a civil war the next year).  So with that said here are my top two picks with my first and second runner up.

US temple: Colorado Springs Colorado. The church seems to be investing in it's core in recent years.  In terms of missionary allocation and temple building, the Rocky Mountain region has really seen a sharp rise in temples (especially Arizona, but the entire region).  This is understandable, this is where the active tithe paying members are, this is where the missionaries come from.  It is only logical that these members get the blessings of a temple, and logical that the church would invest a temple in these locations.  The Fort Collins Colorado temple was just announced in April 2011, but on the other hand there has been growth in Colorado as well.  Recently there was a new stake created in Aurora (Denver area) and most likely a 4th stake will be created in the Colorado Springs area if it hasn't already.  According to the lds growth blogspot, one of their stakes has 14 wards and is ready to be split.  This means that there is a large enough core in Colorado Springs to maintain a temple and a big enough core in Denver to keep the Denver temple busy once the Fort Collins and Colorado Springs temples are ready.  Currently it is only a 1 hour drive from the Denver temple to Colorado Springs, but that is still significant enough to build the temple, especially taking into consideration the members living south of Colorado Springs in Pueblo. It also has a growing population, going from 214,000 people in 1980 to 426,000 people in 2011. 

US runner up: Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Jacksonville Florida.  These are big cities that are far away from a temple (over 3 hours for both).  They don't have as many stakes or members (Jacksonville is close), so that is why I am giving the green light to Colorado Springs.  A dark horse candidate could be Tooele Utah.  Tooele fits the mold of what the church has been doing recently, building in smaller towns where there are a lot of members that have to travel a small, but significant amount to the temple.  The temple district is smaller (for Utah standards), usually less than 20 stakes and it is usually 30-45 min away from the nearest temple.  We saw this in Brigham City, Payson, and Ceder City.  Other locations such as Rexburg Idaho, Fort Collinns Colorado also fit this mold.  If this tradition continues I would expect Tooele to be next.  It is about 35 min or so from the Salt Lake City Temple and has 5 stakes in Tooele, with at least 4 more that would be in the temple district (from Grantsville and Stansbury Park).  The population of Tooele is already over 30,000 (only 14,000 in 1990) and it will most likely continue to grow.  One of the stakes has 12 wards, which means a sixth stake will soon be formed. 

Outside the US: Managua Nicaragua This is the country with the most members that currently does not have a temple.  I think the church has been hesitant to build a temple here because they have been building them in other Central American countries, and because Nicaragua isn't as pro West (also pro business) as some other countries.  This could mean that it is harder to get land, building rights and so on.  Ortega has been president since 2007 and has aligned Nicaragua against the US in international affairs, but with Chavez dead I see a slight thaw ahead which should make things easier for the church as well.  Often the church can separate their relations from international politics, but not always (as is the case with Russia).  If Nicaragua doesn't get it this time then surely soon. 

Outside the US runner up: Puebla or Culiacan Mexico. There are tons of members in Mexico.  Both of these locations would be a great spot for a temple. I am changing my dark horse candidate to Budapest Hungary!  The church loves to build temples in Europe, even though there aren't very many members.  They know that they can get permits easy and there won't be any problems.  Unlike many Eastern European countries the church has done well in Hungary.  There is a stake in Budapest, as well as two other districts.  It is easy to get visas for American temple workers serving as senior missionary couples. The temple district would also include the Vienna stake and districts from Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania.

In about 5 years or so I think we will start to see a temple in some very exotic places such as Mongolia, Cape Verde, more African countries, Thailand, India, and other East Asian countries but I think they need a bit more time to develop.  Within the last few years stakes have been organized in India, Thailand, Mongolia, Cape Verde, Russia, and Armenia.  Once their leadership and members mature a bit more I think they will be ready for a temple, but I don't expect to see it this weekend.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

LDS General Conference in a globalizing world

Both critics and supporters of the LDS church recognize its ability to adapt and change to a globalizing world.  Bending to social pressures for one or modern revelation for the other, the end result is a large hierarchal worldwide church that is surprisingly nimble.  The church’s softened stance towards gays being the case in point.  Recent changes have been made to general conference as well.  These have been small but significant.  The first woman gave a prayer in general conference just 6 months ago.  Next weekend the priesthood session (for men only) will be broadcast live on television and over the internet (in theory allowing for de facto participation for women) but more importantly making it more accessible for all members worldwide. 

The overall general conference format is a good one that has not been significantly changed for years.  Members come to receive instruction from inspired leaders.  As the urban legend goes, anyone in the world can receive a personal message just for them if they prayerfully watch general conference.  Indeed conference can be a wonderful time for personal learning and reflection.  Today the LDS church does not focus on changing church doctrines or revealing new beliefs as earlier times when Joseph Smith or Brigham Young were leaders.  Rather the focus is on inspiring members to make changes in their lives to become closer to Christ. 

Within the framework of keeping the purpose of general conference the same, is there room to improve the general conference format?  What changes might we expect to see in the future given the social and international changes going on in the world?  Below are four suggestions that could enrich the general conference experience for members in the coming years. 
  • Replace one of the talks with a skit performed by local members.  The standard format of having only talks for general conference can be repetitive and tiring for children and adults alike.  Replacing one talk with a spiritually themed skit by local members would be a great way of gaining attention, while providing a new way for members to learn and reflect on their lives.  The church has a great history of pageants (think of those old road shows stakes used to do in the 1970’s and 1980’s as well as more professional pageants at Hill Cumorah or Manti).  To make things really exciting the church could have a competition among stakes performing the skits, with the winner to be used during general conference.  The logistics would be difficult to perform the skit live, so a video presentation of the skit would be more likely.  This would be a boon for those who are visual learners.  Participation and anticipation would both increase among members as well.  
  • Have a normal member be one of the speakers.  The church believes that the Lord uses the weak and unlearned to carry on his work by the spirit.  This is one of the reasons the church feels confident in using 18 and 19 year olds to bear the primary burden of missionary work.  Having a normal member of the church (perhaps a Sunday school teacher, or a counselor in the Bishopric) speak at conference would allow members to learn together by the spirit.  It would highlight the importance of the spirit as a teacher and not the official calling that someone holds.  It would also give members more ownership in general conference as they would know that in theory, they could be a participant not just an observer. 
  • Have a woman speak in the Priesthood session.  Recently a Mormon feminist group called Ordain Women tried to get 150 tickets to the priesthood session; they were rebuffed but were happy with the announcement of the live broadcast of the Priesthood session.  Why are they setting their goal so low?  Why not advocate having a woman speak during the priesthood session?  Having a sister speak would offer a different perspective on priesthood service that could be very beneficial for priesthood holders.  This could be especially powerful on certain topics such as fatherhood, serving in the home, being good husbands, fidelity and other chastity related topics.  If the goal of the priesthood session is to help priesthood holders be more dedicated to serving in their priesthood this could be a good idea.  
  • Having a session of general conference in Spanish.  The church is growing worldwide, especially among Spanish speaking countries.  Every six months at conference we see brethren from Latin American countries speaking in English (some do better than others), which is then to be translated back into Spanish for a large number of saints.  In a Spanish session all the speakers would speak in Spanish and all those in attendance at the conference center would also speak Spanish.  An English translation could be provided via headset for the general authorities who do not speak Spanish and an English translation would be dubbed for the television and internet broadcast.  This would be a small but significant experience for the millions of Spanish speaking members.  There are plenty of Spanish speaking general authorities who could be speakers, including Elder Richard Scott of the quorum of the 12 apostles.  

While some of these changes might seem strange for those who are so used to the standard format of general conference, we all can realize that the strength of the church is its ability to change and adapt to the times of the day.  The world is changing and the church is changing as well.  The day when the LDS church could be considered just a Utah, or just a US church is long gone.  Church leaders often cite the statistic that there are more members outside of the US than from the US.  However, it will be a challenge to maintain both a global and hierarchal church structure. There is the potential for a disconnect between the members and the leadership of the church who are still based in Utah and still for the most part from the Western US. One way the church can address this challenge is through changes to general conference.  The above mentioned changes would give the members greater participation, ownership, and better opportunities for personal reflection and growth.  Many members will be happy that they can now watch the priesthood session live on TV, but they can be happier yet by knowing that it won’t be the last positive change to general conference. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to look 10 years younger

Recently I decided to grow a beard, it turned out rather well but I decided not to make it permanent.  When I shaved I was surprised to see my boyish face again! I looked about 10 years younger.  I'm not sure if this experiment was a subconscious response to my 30th birthday some months ago or not.  One thing is for sure, if someone wants to look 10 years younger growing a beard and then shaving it off might be the easiest (certainly cheapest) way of doing it!  It worked so well I might have to try it again some day, maybe when I turn 40 :)

PS I decided to shave the beard off piece by piece, so I had a BYU approved mustache for a day.  A trimmed beard looks a million times better than a mustache.  Because this is an open blog, I won't add any pictures of the mustache.  I'd hate for it to go viral and then have some cyber-bully get hold of it. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

A golden age for Estonian infrastructure

This week I took in my application to extend my living permit in Estonia.  Even though I have been here a long time I still have to do it every year.  I often think about what Estonia was like back in 2002 when I got here for the first time.  A lot has happened since then, perhaps the thing that sticks out the most is the transportation infrastructure.  As I write this I am on a new electric train humming smoothly towards Keila.  It is bright, orange and beautiful.  The new trains is a big deal for Estonia, but only one of the many things.  I remember the first time I stepped in a new trolly bus back in 2002 or 2003, it felt like walking onto a space ship.  I remember the first time I walked into the bus terminal under the viru shopping center.  They are currently planning the Rail Baltica project, which would be a high speed train to Poland (which is already connected to Germany).  It will take about 10 more years until it is ready, but so far things have gone will with the planning.  Large road projects are also important to note with significant progress on the highways to Narva and Tartu.  New trains will go to Tartu in 2014 already as well. 

One of the weak links in the public transportation links are the Tallinn trams.  They are terrible.  Old, cold, loud, and anything else you could think up.  Tallinn just unveiled plans to extend and redo one of the tram lines and to buy some new trams.  The good news is that they look amazing!  very similar to the new trains, just a little skinnier. It will take a year or two before the project is finished. The bad news is that they are getting only 16 of them, currently there are 80 trams in service.  They don't have a plan yet to replace the other ones.  Hopefully Estonia will be able to get some EU funding to finish the job.  But either way, the golden age of Estonian transportation infrastructure continues!  Here are some pictures of what the new trams will look like taken from enjoy!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I'm a Mormon

I saw this video and I thought I would share it.  I'm proud to be a Mormon and I'm proud of the things that my church is doing.  For those who might have issues with certain parts of our history, beliefs and actions of  past church presidents I invite you to look at what our church stands for today, and what our church is doing right now.  The church is always moving in the right direction.  Today we had some really nice discussions in our English Sunday school class. We had members from Ghana, Cape Verde, the Philippians, and a senior missionary couple from the USA.  This is church for everyone.