Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Bloggernacle Dilemma

There was a time when the blog group known as "Bloggernacle," that is a play on Tabernacle if anyone doesn't already know, was a very busy place. It didn't take long for comments to be piled up on each other. This was especially the case with big group blogs and those that started the trend. Even now they get a good sized participation, but not nearly as much as in the past. Many of the single blogs have dropped down to one or two comments when an article is posted. Still other blogs have simply dimmed away and have not been replaced. All this could be chalked up to the season, but it has been going on for several months.

Several questions could be asked about this, although no actual study has been done. It could very well be subjective observation. It’s not as if this blog ever generated much of a buzz. Yet, there are several "regular" reads that are not producing much work, if any at all.

Possibly those who participate have become bored by the community chat. Sometimes it does seem that topics are picked over time and again. What could be said by most has probably already been said. This is not to say new and interesting posts have not been written, but they have become rare. Then again, that is another subjective observation that can easily be rejected. The more controversial topics become a feeding frenzy that quickly dies down filled with the usual suspects.

Another probability is the "circle the wagon" syndrome, where readers latch on to particular blogs and don't explore others. This is reasonable considering the number of blogs out there to be read. Having to read every one of them in a list and commenting on them, especially with something to say, could be a full time job. It could also be a fun challenge for at least a week. Considering the seeming downshift of the Bloggernacle, perhaps it wouldn't be so hard at this time. There is the idea that "diversification" of single writer blogs have inundated the reader and siphoned off simple commentors. This doesn't seem to be the answer as, again, there aren’t a lot of new faces.

It isn't that any of this is of importance to the real world. There have been a few who, for various reasons, see the Bloggernacle as a kind of support group. What is at issue is all the predictions made early on about the promise of the whole venture. No longer would a person be stuck only with a set of real world people who probably don't have the same interests or needs. Particularly with Latter-day Saints, a more open and talkative "Ward" would develop that gets past simple Sunday School discussions. The blog is especially suited for the "create your own systematic theology" that Mormonism often exhibits. Of course the danger is sometimes not telling apart the orthodox from the speculative and worse. That is partly why the "Straight and Narrow Blog" was created; to offer a more controlled discussion and topic check. It evolved to have a less defensive posture, but still remains faithful to the LDS Church and its teachings. It seems "The Blogger of Jared morphed into the intentions of this blog.

Where does the Bloggernacle go from here? That depends on the reality of the observation. It could move to another place. Writers could spread out and try to make a niche for themselves. Only the strongest and most popular could survive - with a few determined stragglers. Like Web Pages before it, the blog could be replaced by a new Internet communication structure. Yet, it could be the slowing down is just a short trend that will pick back up with time. As the saying goes, only the future can tell.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Acumen of Mormon Business

When the LDS Church was first founded, there wasn't any hint of a financial powerhouse in the making. If anything, the complete opposite seemed to be the case. Joseph Smith came from a farming family living on the edge of social, political, and capital existence. Although there were a few rich people who were converted, the majority of early members came from not much better than poverty. A hint of democracy and self-reliance was taught as theological probabilities, but the driving financial model was a form of communistic philanthropy. It failed whenever practiced and left tithing as the main economic structure.

For decades the financial situation was at best questionable. Most of the resources came from people's hard work more than money. Things came to a head during the "Great Polygamy Raids" that almost brought the LDS Church to ruins. It wasn't until soon after the 20th Century started that the Church and members alike were recognized as a financial success. Now, the rich business owner who started with almost nothing more than wits and an idea has become almost a cliche as well known as the so-called Jewish Banker. The web site Famous Mormons does seem to make this case when the list of Top Executive and Business names is the only one split alphabetically. It is not clear how accurate this is, or even if the stereotype identification is desirable.

At least one writer has decided to look closer at the business practices of a few successful top CEOs of some Mormon-run companies. What the author, Jeff Benedict, came up with in his book The Mormon Way of Doing Business was how religion played such a large part of how things were run. There is a book review of The Mormon Way at Dave's Mormon Inquiry that discusses the book's content. Although the ideas are refreshing, the relationship of business and faith is more questionable. The implication is that these people are model business executives because they follow the tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is sort of a Calvanist work ethic writ large.

Some attention has been paid to this book, and the LDS business style, by a few non-Mormon publications. Two of them include Hall of Fame Magazine's article written by the book author and Arizona Daily Star's look at the book, with both as a positive for Mormon/Business mixing. Such a simple relationship of following God and finding financial success is probably not as simple as it sounds. This is especially the case theologically, where prosperity doesn't always mean righteousness and poverty can sometimes be a spiritual blessing.

Capitalism is not evil. Money is not evil. At worst they are tools that can be used for good or evil. The question is how accurate is it to say that Mormons have a business ethic that can bring financial success? From just the descriptions about the book and the articles above, it seems much is missing from an accurate portrayal of the moneymaking abilities of Mormons who follow their religion. For the handful of reliable and well to do CEO's, both made and hired, there are uncounted numbers of faithful who don't succeed at business. Many of them struggle to make a living. From the perspective of the book that following religious precepts is the Mormon ethic of business, it is hard to say what to make of the many examples of those Mormons who are unethical in their practices. Still uncounted, the many Mormons who (to be honest don't follow the precepts of the leadership to live only according to what they have) get into heavy debt and end up bankrupt. Those written about in the book are probably good examples of people living their religion while in the world, but it is unclear if they are examples of good business models. Motivational material is always surface specific. A more comprehensive study would have to be done.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Worth of a Convert

My favorite interactions have been with those who had recently entered the waters of baptism for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The conversations have been pure and unsullied by the life-long membership discussion of questionable doctrinal speculation. Not only that, but the faith they exhibit is often superior to many members- including my own. It is true that strong faith can also be easily shattered by things they might not have the experience dealing with. But, when they have become solid in what they believe, it is a joy to watch and listen to them in their lives. They are, after all, the backbone of the Church regardless of what life-long members might bring to the table.

It is with great sadness that I hear so often the lack of success in retaining them. There have been many reasons and excuses for this. Probably the one reason I find to be the most disturbing is the lack of fellowship - nay, lack of attention - given to those fine seedlings ready to bloom. There is no excuse for that, but too many converts (later in life) I have spoken with each have expressed disappointment at how they have been treated. It often is summed up as "second class citizens" looked on with suspicion. When asked suspicion of what, they often say it has to do with trusting their spiritual and theological capabilities. About this time my blood starts boiling! Sure they are just starting out. There is no question about that. But, that is the perfect time to learn from them, teach them in areas they need strengthening, and generally expressing appreciation for what they bring to the fellowship of Saints.

To honor them, I have collected some quotes that I hope will increase their faith and change life-long members' attitudes:

"I plead with you; … I ask of you, each of you, to become a part of this great effort. Every convert is precious. Every convert is a son or daughter of God. Every convert is a great and serious responsibility.

[Converts] come into the Church with enthusiasm for what they have found. We must immediately build on that enthusiasm. … Listen to them, guide them, answer their questions, and be there to help in all circumstances and in all conditions. … I invite every member to reach out in friendship and love for those who come into the Church as converts."
-- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Reach Out,” New Era, Feb. 2003, 4

"With the increase of missionary work throughout the world, there must be a comparable increase in the effort to make every convert feel at home in his or her ward or branch. Enough people will come into the Church this year to constitute more than 100 new average-size stakes. Unfortunately, with this acceleration in conversions, we are neglecting some of these new members. I am hopeful that a great effort will go forward throughout the Church, throughout the world, to retain every convert who comes into the Church.

This is serious business. There is no point in doing missionary work unless we hold on to the fruits of that effort. The two must be inseparable."
-- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 49

"We have not yet significantly increased our effectiveness in fellowshipping new converts so that they invariably continue to grow in the gospel, to serve in the Church, and to receive the blessings of the temple.

Among those converts who fall away, the attrition is steepest in the two months after baptism. When a convert is baptized, there is no time to lose. Fellowshipping efforts must begin well before baptism and must increase in intensity in the months following baptism.

Our experience has shown that members can have a powerful influence in this process in three critically important ways:

1. Modeling gospel living by providing practical, persuasive examples of the joy we receive from living the gospel.

2. Teaching the gospel informally by explaining Latter-day Saint doctrines and practices, answering questions, and helping investigators and new members resolve concerns.

3. Helping investigators and converts become fully integrated into the community of Saints.

When members see themselves as gospel nurturers, as the prophet has invited us all to be, we will be well along toward our goal."
-- Dallin H. Oaks, “The Role of Members in Conversion,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 52

"We then began to observe that in some wards we visited in the United States as well as in Latin America, if we had been investigators or new members, we would not have felt very welcome. The Apostle Paul taught the Ephesians, 'Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God' (Eph. 2:19). And yet, on occasion we felt like 'strangers and foreigners' in the very Church of Jesus Christ to which we belonged.

These experiences helped us become aware of the discomfort that newcomers might occasionally feel in coming to our chapels, and these made us conscious of the need we all have to improve what we call our fellowshipping skills. We have occasionally observed wards in Latin America, Spain, and in the United States where humble new converts to the Church have not been received with open arms or warm abrazos, and so we have all seen a need to improve our retention of new converts . . .

. . . Let us pay more attention to those who are new to our congregations. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught: 'For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? … And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?' " (Matt. 5:46–47).
-- Carl B. Pratt, “Care for New Converts,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 11

"The message is the same for us today. The Church will always be a church filled with converts. Whether the place be Salt Lake City, or Sao Paulo, Los Angeles or London, Tokyo or Turino, Italy, it is the Lord’s plan that there be converts among us, brothers and sisters newly brought into the fold of Christ through the efforts of their loving friends and neighbors. Let us fellowship and love each other in the true spirit of the gospel."
-- Spencer W. Kimball, “Always a Convert Church: Some Lessons to Learn and Apply This Year,” Ensign, Sept. 1975, 2

"If there were no converts, the Church would shrivel and die on the vine."
-- Spencer W. Kimball, “When the World Will Be Converted,” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 3

16 And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.

17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to esave.

20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life

-- 2 Nephi 31:16-20

There are some things we members can do to help retain the converts and help them grow. My own thoughts include:

Not just fellowship, but become friends. Get to know those who walk through the doors and not just a handshake. A friendly smile is the start and not the finish of a lasting relationship. Even if friendship might not be possible, sometimes people are simply not compatible, at least be open to them and have "little" conversations. There is nothing greater than having someone know your name even when you don't spend much time with them.

Share the gospel with them in both directions. When talking about LDS theology or history, don't make them become a sounding board. Make sure you include them in the discussion, in and outside of the class, by asking them what they think. You will come away surprised, as I have many times by converts, how much knowledge can be gained from fresh perspectives. There is a great surge of spiritual awakening when a convert points out something that life-long members have been blinded by rote and tradition. On the other hand, the convert often gains that much more of a testimony as they learn of doctrine from those who have studied it for a while.

Share with them sources available to all members. That includes books and magazines of LDS interest, an understanding of how the Church organization works, and a helping hand. Aside from getting to know people, having a grasp of Church culture can be challenging. This is no different from any other instance when a major change has just occurred in life. Remember, they came from somewhere that was probably not like what they now find themselves. Lots of them are still in those places, physically and metaphorically, and need help either integrating or crossing the bridge. Once you know them better, help them find ways to stay the course of faith. They will help you do the same as they grow from a seedling to a tree of strength.

Thank you converts for continuing to remind me of how precious the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, and how far I still have to go in my own journey of faith.