Friday, October 31, 2014

Paul Toscano on "Genuine contact with the divine."

Posted: Friday 31 Oct 14

This post on Paul's Face Book page this morning was too good not to copy and paste here. 

Thanks, Paul.

Paul Toscano
(click on name to access Paul's site)

The modern developed world is committed to rational thought (i.e., that we should have reasons for our actions and omissions) and to the scientific method (i.e, that our reasons should be demonstrable, measurable, and verifiable by others). Post-agrarian, post-industrial Western Culture is largely the product of this rational scientific approach that is approach responsible for all the scientific and technological processes and products for aeromechanics to zymurgy.

The power of this approach has delegitimized reliance on intuition and the evidentiary weight of eyewitness accounts, particularly if what is witnessed cannot also be demonstrated, measured, and verified by others. Ghosts, UFO's, appearances of deities and angels are dismissed as hoaxes or delusion. If attested to by multiple witnesses, they are dismissed as the products of mass hysteria.

So, in Mormonism, people who claim to "pierce the veil" and see Jesus are likely to be dismissed as liars, deluded, mistaken, brainwashed, unbalanced, tricked, or under the influence of a controlled substance.

Despite the fact that only 4% of the cosmos is accessible to humans can even with the augmented powers conferred by scientific instruments, we tend to think that all that exists can fit within the rational scientific frame. This is what David W. Ehrenfeld referred to as "the arrogance of humanism."

But even if there is no way to demonstrate the non-existence of God, angels, and the after life, I think there are a couple of indicators to help determine if a person is giving a credible account of contact with the supernatural:

Genuine contact with the divine, I think, results over time with the development in the recipient of a majority of the following characteristics of spirituality, not necessarily in equal measure:
1 Authenticity 
2 Compassion
3 Contemplation
4 Courage
5 Irony (not flippancy or sarcasm, which are fine, but the ability to read multiple meanings in a single text)
6 Humor
7 Self-criticism
8 Suspension of disbelief with respect to the supernatural order

Falsified contact with the divine or worse, I think, results over time in the development of opposite characteristics of lack of spirituality:
1 Self-serving dissembling rather than authenticity
2 Condemnation rather than compassion
3 Thoughtlessness rather than contemplation
4 Cowardice rather than courage
5 Certainty rather than irony
6 Ridicule rather than humor
7 Self-righteousness rather than self-criticism
8 Sentimentality with respect to the natural order

I must add that a warning sign of false spirituality from one claiming contact with the divine is such claimant's assertion of importance or centrality in the revealed belief structure or the assertion that such claimant's way is the "one and only" approach to God. Self-promotion is almost never predicated on authenticity.

Just a thought.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The women in my life

Original Post: 23 October 2014
Updated: 21 July 2015

Ah, the women in my life! What would I be without them? What would they be without me I cannot say.

Mother: Ruth Clawson (Kregg) Kovalenko  
Born in Thatcher, Arizona Territory, 30 Aug 1910; died 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah

Mother with brother Virgil (L) and me, circa 1951

LDS Primary sisters, Ruth Stapely,  Lottie Sorenson, Phebie Openshaw

Vonda S:  1949-1953

Betty F:  1954-1965

Kaye  R:  summer 1965

Susan L: fall 1965

Lawrene B: 1966-1969

Marianne F; 1970-72

Lynn F: summer 1972

Diane K: 1973-1978
Diane, a long-ago Ukrainian girlfriend/fiance, played a major part in my middle years. Had I been professionally stable back then, as was she at the Los Angeles Times, we might have married. But that did not happen. Despite this disappointment, I want to honor her significant impact on my life.

She and I first became acquainted when Diane's brother Steve introduced me to his family during a military weekend pass to his home in southern California in 1953. Diane was then 16. Steve was my best buddy at the US Army Language School at the Presidio of Monterey, where we were fellow Russian language students in 1953-54. 

Years later, when we had become good friends, Diane taught me the only Ukrainian song I know. She also helped me translate that song into a poetic form such that the English words exactly matched the Ukrainian words at the same musical point in the song. Unfortunately, I managed to accomplish this translation match only with the first verse. Despite this limitation, this song and its translation was to open many social, cultural and business doors to me,

The first door the song opened was to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco in summer 1973, when I sang it for Consul General Alexander Zinchuk, a Ukrainian. Diane was with me and this led to the formation of the Northwest-Soviet Liaison Corporation (NWSLC).

The second door the song opened was when I sang it for a group of Soviet artists in Moscow during my first business trip to the Soviet Union as president of NWSLC in September 1973. Upon hearing this song, one of the artists, writer Nikolai Bogdanov, declared ",,. You must sing this song on Shevchenko's grave and all Ukrainians will cry!" 

Bogdanov planted a seed idea in my mind and heart, which came to fruition in May 1988. This happened when I was invited by the mayor of Kanev during a US-USSR Sister Cities project to sing this song on the grave of Ukrainian national hero Taras Shevchenko during the millennial celebration of the Christian conversion of the Russian empire. And all the Ukrainians present cried!

Diane is the only living person who witnessed my two Christian baptisms, both of which occurred in 1975. The first was performed by an active Presbyterian elder in mid May in the Colorado River amid the bowels of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The second was performed by my 17-year-old Mormon priest son Nick on July 25 in the Pacific Ocean under overlooking cliffs in Laguna Beach, California.

Diane introduced me to "Brother" Taylor, a black Pentecostal preacher from south-central (Watts) Los Angeles, on 17 Nov 75 to hear me sing. Upon my singing a Negro Spiritual, he hired me on the spot to sing such spirituals on his regularly scheduled Sunday radio broadcast from his church in Watts. Months later he would chuckle and say to me, that except for the members of his congregation "They never knew it was a white guy singin'!"

Diane also helped me develop my first dream work classes at UCLA in 1976 after I had worked with a small group of psychologically and socially aware church members at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.

Then, in September 1976 Diane introduced me to Birgitta, her childhood friend from Sweden, who eventually became my present wife and with whose blessing I am writing this recollection.

Barbara A: 1979-1990

Leena P: 1990-1992

Birgitta S: 1993-present

To be continued...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Conversations with David O. McKay and John R. Howard, Part 10: Final conversation

Posted: Sunday, 19 Oct 2014
Updated:  Saturday, 8 Nov 14

[Continuing the conversation...  See Part 9]

David O. McKay
John (Jack) R. Howard

Eugene N. Kovalenko: Jack, you have asked me to amplify my understanding of the LDS Church Handbook

I think it has a valuable place in Mormon governance so long as it does not trump the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Since the LDS Church is basically governed by a lay male priesthood, its leadership often changes rapidly. For example, key pastoral leaders (such as bishops) can be called and installed unannounced often within days by higher level priesthood leaders, ostensibly by inspiration. (This is what happened at a critical time in my life in mid July 1965. See here and here.) This kind of rapid change has obvious advantages and disadvantages. Leaders without prior training generally need immediate guidance on how to administer their callings and new responsibilities. The Handbook is designed for such people, especially when more experienced leaders are not available for training.

Since 1889 through 2010 (last edition), there have been at least 27 editions published by the First Presidency of the Church. During David O. McKay's term in office, for example, there were 3 editions (#18, #19 and #20) produced between 1960 and 1968. In recent years two separate versions have emerged: Handbook 1, which is expressly for bishops, stake presidents and higher offices and not available to the general membership or public. Handbook 2, which is available free to the general public.

All this is well and good for keeping order and serving as a general reference for new or inexperienced leaders. But I can think of a recent personal experience where use of the Handbook trumped the Holy Spirit and another particularly noxious example in the life of one of my sons, where the Handbook was (and presumably still is) dead wrong. Here is a reference to a quote from a letter to my son from his newly installed local bishop in response to my son's request to have his name removed from the records of the Church. 

The bishop advised my son of the consequences of his request to remove his name from the church records by copying the words from the Handbook to declare that “the following will occur”:

  • Your name will be removed from the records of the church
  • The effect of your baptism and confirmation will be cancelled
  • Your priesthood will be withdrawn
  • Your sealing to your parents will be suspended
  • Your claim to the Savior for forgiveness will be cancelled
Without commenting on any of the first four declarations above, I believe the fifth is not only ABSOLUTELY wrong, but can be used in an evil, oppressive way.

I was quick to advise my son to ignore this incredibly misguided "consequence".

John R. Howard: I certainly understand your concern, Gene, and thanks for such a thorough explanation. What do you have to say about that, David?

David O. McKay: I am surely concerned about the last item that Brother Eugene has brought to our attention. It must be corrected.

ENK: Thanks for saying that, David. It gives me hope if you still have influence on the current institutional apparatus. 

I hope you can see why I cannot even begin to accept the widely and officially announced claim by LDS Church leaders and its generally obedient-without-thought membership that "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Only True Church on the face of the earth authorized and recognized by God the Father and Jesus Christ."

DOM: I can surely see your point, brother.

ENK: Can you also see two other policies that I think naturally follow from that misdirected assertion? That is: First, that the practice of leadership by seniority ought to be abolished; Second, that the practice of excommunication ought to be stopped, completely re-examined and overhauled, if not eliminated entirely.

DOM: That would be a monumental change, brother! Virtually impossible.

ENK: I don't think so, good friend. If the Holy Spirit were truly in charge of directing the Church and the leadership in tune with the Lord Jesus, as you once championed at a general conference, then nothing is impossible in matters of correcting and changing corrupt or incorrect policies.

The LDS Church has an historic opportunity to set the example for the world that it always boasted having and destined to represent. And that is one of humility and repentance by confessing its error and changing its direction.

That single act would profoundly influence national leadership, which would surely influence international leadership in turn.

JRH: That's a breathtaking suggestion, Gene!

ENK: Yes, Jack, but not impossible for the Holy Spirit. I hope I can get George's ear on this at our next meeting on Oct 22.

JRH: You will probably frighten him.

ENK: No doubt. But it's worth the effort, don't you think?

JRH: I can't argue with that, Gene, but I hope you will be able to present these things to brother George in a skillful, humble and loving way yourself. You must be the example you want to see from him and his institution.

DOM: Very well said, Brother John. Very well said indeed.

ENK: Thank you, friends and brothers. Until we talk again.

On 7/8 November 2014, Eugene wrote:
My friends, the regular conversation with George on 22 Oct 14 went better than I had expected. At first he was not interested in my reading Part 10 to him aloud during our meeting. But at the end he seemed pleased and took my printout copy with him. 
Nevertheless, I'm not sure he really registered my point and  now think that was our last regular conversation. My original purpose in talking to him was to discern whether he was aware of having misrepresented me to the then bishop of the ward years ago, who had appeared in my dream on 3 Aug 10. Because I felt betrayed and misjudged by George for four years, I felt the need to reach out to him to resolve this issue for my own sake, irrespective of his. This intention was accelerated when I dreamed this past July 13 of having a pleasant telephone conversation with him, which inspired my contacting him externally. This led to these current conversations, which evoked the wise inner dream characters of David O. McKay and John R. Howard.

Over these past few months, since the most recent dream of my inner George, I have been able to forgive the outer George for what I now understand was an unintended misrepresentation on his part. Since he doesn't even remember what I am talking about, I have let the issue go. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Conversations with David O. McKay and John R. Howard, Part 9

Posted: Friday, 17 Oct 2014
Updated: Saturday, 18 Oct 14

[Continuing the conversation...  See Part 8]

David O. McKay
John (Jack) R. Howard

Eugene N. Kovalenko: David, since we last talked on September 25, I have had two more conversations with George J. You will remember that I mentioned that my purpose in talking to him was because of having had two dreams where he appears as a character and my desire to determine if there was any divine purpose to my dreams. Just after my second dream of him as a character (13 July 14), you appeared [as a character] in a subsequent dream that same night, which is why I believe both your and his appearances [as dream characters] were for a divine purpose. Does this make sense to you?

David O. McKay: Yes, brother Eugene, it does make sense and that is why I am willing to discuss your experience and its purpose and meaning.

ENK: Jack, you then came into my dreams the very night after my [real life face-to-face] conversation with George, which was after my most recent dream of him. For you, of all people, to make an appearance to me that very night meant to me that the divine purpose was not confined to the Mormon Church, which I associated with David's appearance. Does this also make sense to you?

John R. Howard: Indeed it does, Gene, and I think I can see where this is going.

ENK: I am glad for that, Jack, and am encouraged by the willingness of both of you to discuss this process. This is because I was surprised and discouraged after my most recent [face-to-face] conversation with George.

DOM: Eugene, can you tell us why you were discouraged?

ENK: Yes, for several reasons. First, despite his willingness to dialogue with me on a regular basis and his impressive diligence in taking copious notes of what we talk about, he seems not to comprehend what he has written. 

JRH: What do you mean, Gene? Give us an example.

ENK: OK. When I asked what he thought about what I thought about the leadership of the Mormon Church--incidentally, he insists on referring to the Salt Lake institution only as "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and goes to great lengths not to refer to it as "The Mormon Church" these days--But, back to the example of what he thinks I think about the LDS Church leadership these days, he said that I think they are all corrupt and uninspired.

JRH: Is that not so, Gene? Isn't that actually what you believe?

ENK: No. While it's true that I have been very judgmental about many of those leaders and their decisions, it's not generally true. That is, it's a mixed bag. When I mentioned one leader in particular that I have great respect for and confidence in, he was glad to hear that.

DOM: And which leader was that?

ENK: Jeffery L. Holland, one of the current Twelve Apostles.

DOM: Yes, a good man. He came up through the Church educational program. He and his sons have distinguished themselves as able academic administrators.

ENK: I've learned only recently that his oldest son is now president of Utah Valley University and his youngest son is currently dean of the Harvard School of Theology. Wonderful achievements for all of them! Before being called to be an apostle, Jeffery was president of BYU. I think that legacy is benefiting the Church greatly and I applaud it.

DOM: What else about George has discouraged you, brother?

ENK: I think the most irksome for me is his insistence on the LDS Church as being "the only true and authorized religious institution by God on the face of the earth".

DOM: And why do you not believe that?

ENK: To me that claim is simple idolatry. I have seen and experienced the Holy Spirit alive and blessing many in other institutions. Jack, you can attest to this, can't you?

JRH: Yes, Gene, I think your request to be baptized during our trip down the Colorado River in May 1975 was a good example, don't you?

ENK: I'll never forget the experience. You were reluctant at first to honor my request that you perform that ordinance.

JRH: But when you convinced me of your sincerity, I could not refuse. I felt it an honor and privilege to do it.

DOM: But then you were baptized into the LDS Church shortly after that, weren't you? How do you explain this?

Saturday, 18 Oct 14.

ENK: Yes, David, I was baptized by my oldest son, Nick, a 17-year-old LDS priest on 25 July 1975. It took place in the Pacific Ocean just under the cliffs where the Laguna Beach house was, where I received official notice by two unfamiliar men representing the local LDS high council that I had been excommunicated in absentia on April 2, 1966.

After having been baptized by John in the Colorado River the previous May, I still felt there was something unfinished regarding my experience with the Mormon Church. And so, I went again to visit the bishop of the Laguna Beach Ward as I had done the month previous to the 12-day river raft trip through the Grand Canyon with John and his friends. But in the meantime time the bishopric had changed! So, I asked the new bishop [Rondell Hanson] the same test question I had asked the previous bishop [Stanley Kimball]: "If President [Spencer W.] Kimball were to tell you to shoot me, would you do it?" 

He replied, "Well, OF COURSE NOT! First of all he would never order such a thing and even if he did I would not obey it, simply because it would be wrong!"

With that reply, I applied for return membership in the Church, which he was delighted to accept.

JRH: Why did you do that, Gene?

ENK: It was a matter of LDS law, Jack. Your baptism was the one I felt inspired to ask for at a very special moment during that wonderful trip through the bowels of the Grand Canyon--there was something primitive and symbolic about that trip for me--but I felt the Mormon baptism was something also required to fulfill their ecclesiastical law, since they recognize no other ecclesiastical authority, such as you held as an elder in good standing in the Presbyterian Church. The fact that my son was an unbeliever [a fact that I learned many decades later from him as a mature man] was irrelevant to the local Mormon ecclesiastical authorities. They were focused on the letter of their law, as presented in their Handbook of instructions.

JRH: That is a puzzlement to me, Gene, can you say more about it? 

ENK: I'd be happy to.

DOM: Before you do that, brother Eugene, please say more about your "test question" to Bishop Stanley Kimball. 

ENK: OK, David. I had begun wondering about returning to the LDS Church as early as 21 May 1972, which is when I sang for a Newport Beach ward conference at the request of my 16-year-old daughter, a member of that ward, who had been tasked with providing special music for their meeting. (I'll be happy to tell you the details of that event later if you are interested.) By the summer of 1974, after my long hoped-for career in Soviet-American trade was abruptly cut short, I felt lost, disheartened and disoriented. And so, I put myself on an "active imagination inner trial", to ascertain God's direction for my now disoriented life. My first attempt to tie up the loose ends from my LDS upbringing was to revisit the ward from which I'd been excommunicated years earlier, which was the Laguna Beach Ward. 

Because I did not know the current bishop at the time, I decided to test his attitude and beliefs, which I felt my question would do. His reaction to it was an immediate "Of course I would do it!", without so much as a reflective moment. With that reply, I knew this was not the right time. So, I thanked him for his availability and left his office to bide my time. Shortly after that, my friend John Howard contacted me about the Colorado River trip and I eagerly agreed to it.

Does that answer your question, David?

DOM: Almost. Please explain the feelings you mention having on May 21, 1972 at the Newport Beach Ward conference.

ENK: It may surprise you to know (no, actually I don't think this is going to surprise you in your current spiritual state!) that I had only recently come out of an almost 7-year wilderness period at John Howard's invitation and was living as his house guest in his home in Portland. My daughter Katya had just learned where I was and called me with her request. She obviously did not know anything about my excommunicated status, but I was delighted to accept and immediately jumped into my car to drive the 1,000 miles down from Portland to Newport Beach to sing the next Sunday morning for her ward conference. 

Little did I realize that the Newport Beach ward building was the very building that my excommunication trial had taken place 6 years earlier and that therefore some of the high councilors from that excommunicating high council would be in attendance. I came into that building looking like a hippie (long hair and purple clothes) and sang a Negro spiritual "Steal Away to Jesus" a cappella. It was a wonderful moment! And the Spirit in that ward building was palpable. On reflection I am amazed that I was even let into that building in the heart of conservative Orange County, looking as I did, let alone be allowed to sing! 

The NB ward bishop Stone was scheduled to speak after my song, but could not say anything for a long time. I remember seeing him standing there at the podium silently weeping until he could compose himself enough to speak. All members of my first family were there on the front row: first wife, together with her and my five children.

As I left the building to join my family in their nearby home, I began to feel nagged by a most strange idea. It would not leave me alone, so I looked up the birth and death dates of the Prophet Joseph and added his age at death to my own birth date (November 17, 1933) and was shook at the date that corresponded to that very Sunday! [May 21, 1972!] "What does this mean?", I asked myself silently. "Is my business with the Mormon Church not over?"

Does this answer your second question, David?

DOM: It does indeed! And very well. Thank you.

JRH: But then you came back to take an assignment for the college, didn't you, Gene?

ENK: Yes, bless you, Jack. That was a marvelous opportunity and challenge you offered me of putting together an international symposium for Immanuel Velikovsky. I felt there was a kind of poetic justice for me to take on that assignment. Velikovsky, a contemporary colleague of Einstein, had become internationally known for his writings on cosmology, but had been shunned by the academic community. Until your courageous idea of giving him an academic stage opportunity at Lewis and Clark College, he had never had the chance to defend his ideas before an assemblage of international scholars. The results of the symposium were unexpectedly grand!

Two of my most cherished mementos are two hand-written letters from Velikovsky, which are now in the special collection archives of L&C College, along with the many-letter, 20-year correspondence between you and me.

JRH: I'm still waiting for your comments on the Mormon Church's Handbook of instructions, Gene.

To be continued in Part 10...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Young cousin Rodion in India!

Posted: 12 Oct 2014
Updated: 17 Oct 14

Rodion at Taj Majal

Taj Majal front view

Rodion behind Taj Majal

Rodion and Ronald McDonald

Taj Majal side view
Rodion at ???
Sacred cow in garbage

Our young cousin Rodion from Kharkov, Ukraine, is on a self-financed adventure in India and is supplying us with many photos as he moves from place to place throughout the country. We are happy that he is broadening his horizons, as well as his understanding of other people.

To be continued...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Good News! Khodorkovsky is back!

Posted: 23 Sep 2014
Updated: 6 Oct 14

This is a guy I can get behind! He has paid his moral dues, having four times placed his life on the line while in prison for a decade. See also these new websites:  (See especially the Charlie Rose interviews of Oct 2 & 3, 2014.) 
(Check out MK's Open Russia platform for change.)

Khodorkovsky Declares Sudden Political Comeback

Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky declared his ambition over the weekend to play a leading role in steering Russia down the path toward European-style democracy.
Khodorkovsky was released in December from a decade-long prison term stemming from tax evasion charges. He kept a relatively low profile in the months that have passed since his release, but came out in full swing over the weekend, making bold political statements in interviews with several European media outlets.
The former oil baron celebrated the relaunch of his political foundation Open Russia in Berlin on Saturday. The organization, which was essentially shut down in 2006 after a Moscow court froze its bank accounts, will work to coordinate between the scattered political and civic movements that comprise Russia's diverse opposition movement.
The organization will be guided by the principles of orienting Russia toward Europe, strengthening the rule of law in the country, and improving its electoral system, Khodorkovsky said in a statement over the weekend.
In an interview published Sunday by French newspaper Le Monde, Khodorkovsky indicated his willingness to lead the country through what he sees as its present crisis.
"I would not be interested in becoming Russia's president if my country was developing normally," he said. However, "if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and carry out constitutional reform, so as to redistribute presidential powers in favor of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, I would be ready to take on this part of the work," he told Le Monde.
Khodorkovsky believes the Russian government's is plagued by a lack of the sort of legitimacy that can only come from honest elections, he told the French paper.
He hopes to strengthen the country's political dialogue by creating an online structure that will aim to knit together opposition-minded groups and individuals that are dispersed broadly throughout the political landscape.
Open Russia will not be officially registered or have offices in the country.
"The actions that he [Putin] takes are clearly leading Russia along the patriarchal Asian path to development," he told Le Monde.
Open Russia's first electoral goal is to prevent "the most odious people" from taking up seats in the State Duma in 2016. Speaking at the relaunch, Khodorkovsky referred to the State Duma as "a bulwark of reactionaries."
Khodorkovsky said the organization is prepared to support any political hopeful that advocates for Russian development along the European model, regardless of the candidate's specific political affiliation, whether that advocacy is: "informational, ideological, organizational, and of course where it is possible, financial."
Khodorkovsky's net worth was estimated by Forbes Russia to stand at $170 million in 2014, a sizable fortune, even if only a fraction of his former financial glory. At the time of his 2003 arrest, the same publication reported his net worth was approximately $15 billion, making him the richest man in Russia at that point.
According to Khodorkovsky's statement at the relaunch celebration, Open Russia "does not get money from America; our compatriots provide us with funds."   
Many Russian political analysts and pundits have argued that Khodorkovsky's arrest was driven by his ambition to challenge the power of President Vladimir Putin.
Notably, however, Putin himself signed the pardon that preceded the former oligarch's early release, telling reporters in December, "He has already spent more than 10 years in prison. That is a serious punishment."
Following his sudden release, Khodorkovsky promptly flew to Europe and has not since returned. When he declined to attend his mother's funeral in August, he cited fears that if he were to reenter the country, he may be deprived of the right to leave again. He currently resides in Switzerland with his family.