Friday, October 31, 2014

The Problem with Universal Shoulds

Some people benefit greatly from being asked (even pressured in some way) to do things, while others aren't benefited by such an approach and actually can be harmed by it. In terms of church callings, there is an inherent contradiction in both extremes - always accepting assignments and never accepting assignments that aren't appreciated or wanted. Many people benefit from each approach in different situations and different times of their lives.

The real conflict occurs when the word "should" enters the discussion - since we really should accept callings, except when we shouldn't. We really shouldn't put limitations on service, except when we should. We really shouldn't dictate the terms of our service, except when we should. Sacrifice really is a great principle, except when it isn't. We really should give until it hurts, except when it hurts too much.

We really should submit to the will of God (and, to a degree, to our mortal leaders) - but we should never stop being agents unto ourselves.

"Should" is a two-edged sword that is incredibly difficult to wield properly and helpfully, and most of our deepest disappointments are centered on expectations more than actual actions in and of themselves.  (If you don't understand what I mean by that, think about it a bit - and ask in a comment, if necessary.)  Thus, I generally try to avoid "should" and expectations.  Rather, I try to deal strictly with trying to choose desired consequences. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Applaud Pope Francis: Our Core Is the Same, Despite Our Differences

In a sermon last May, Pope Francis said the following:

"The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: "Do good and do not do evil. All of us."

‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’

Yes, he can . . . The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 

‘Father, the atheists?’

Even the atheists. Everyone! . . .We must meet one another doing good. 

‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’

But do good: we will meet one another there.

That is core Mormon theology, embodied in our temple worship, and I applaud Pope Francis for saying it so directly and clearly. 

The full article I read is in the Huffington Post's religion section, if anyone wants to read it: 

Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts about Faith, Understanding, Change, Sharing the Gospel and Love

I allow myself to believe whatever I come to believe and try to live according to the dictates of my own conscience.

I don't try to force or convince others to believe as I believe. I try to help them figure out what they personally believe and then live according to the dictates of their own consciences.

I try to study and understand every conceivable view about something - to sort through them as carefully and thoughtfully as I can and then craft my own understanding.

I allow myself and others to change their minds about anything - to continue to believe and live according to the dictates of our own consciences, understanding that even our own consciences can change with time and experience.

I share what works for me, but I do so without any expectation or requirement that others agree and/or comply.

More than anything else, if I have to err, and I know I will err, I try always to err on the side of love.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One of Best, Most Poignant Comments about Modesty I Have Read

Someone who posted under the name "Mother-of-Three-Sons" wrote a comment in a thread on By Common Consent last year (to which I linked earlier) about modesty that touched me deeply.  It is a beautiful statement about our responsibility to teach modesty better than we typically do - to change the foundation of how we approach this topic in the LDS Church. 

I am sharing it here as a separate post, with some parts in bold, and I wish it could be read and discussed in every teenage, young adult and adult third-hour meeting the the Church:

As a mother of three sons, two of which are now married, I know the goal to help them respect women and themselves. Recently, my son finished a mission to Peru. His native companions from various parts of the country seemed to look passed half-dressed or ‘what we consider -to-be-immodestly-dressed-females’ and stay focused on their work as missionaries. The American, especially, Utah / Idaho natives serving missions there were in a constant state of anxiety and fear. The Peruvian native missionaries revealed their secret.

It is reverence and respect.

The body is a beautiful masterpiece. It is deserving of reverence and respect. It is most beautiful as it comes into the world, naked, newborn, fresh from Heaven.

Have reverence. Respect your feelings. To look, turn your head, and stare at anything God has created, because it is so beautiful, is healthy.

As a young teenager, at age 16, I was banned from the end of summer – Seminary Swim Party — unless I came wearing a thick, long t-shirt over my one piece bathing suit. My swimsuit was a very modest, racer back, high necked bathing suit made by Speedo. I was a surfer, and a gymnast, but had large breasts. The mother’s of the guys in my seminary class complained about the size of my breasts and how I was immodest in anything I would wear.

When I received the message from my seminary teacher, I cried. I loved to swim. The guys in my seminary class were all good friends. None of them ever made flirty or lascivious, or even remarked about the size of my breasts. They were respectful. They taught me to surf.

I went to the seminary party, but decided to wear a new dress I had bought for the coming school year. I sat at a table poolside and watched with incredible jealousy as other girls swam, played and had fun with all the guys.
That fall, my senior year, I was nominated and came in second place for ‘best figure’ among the girls in my class. I dreaded that title. I wished so badly, I had been voted, ‘most talented’ or ‘most likely to succeed’.
I am 50 years old now, and a grandmother of four. I hope to continue to teach reverence and respect. As an artist, my favorite study has been portrait and drawing of the human figure.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

And they were naked.

And not ashamed.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Revelation, Inspiration and Our Expectations of Prophets and Apostles

There were lots of lengthy time periods in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon without new revelations and periods during which the prophets only reiterated important truths and called people to repentance - and the entire New Testament fits that description with the exception of Paul's converting vision and John's Revelation.

We tend to conflate revelation and inspiration a lot. "To reveal" means to "uncover / make visible that which was covered / not visible". To reveal is to make known the previously unknown or unknowable. "To inspire" means to "provide new insight into something already known / visible". Those are two very different things. 

When you get right down to it, not a whole lot in our scriptures is "pure revelation". Most of it is inspiration to varying degrees - some to an amazing degree, but not truly revelatory at heart.

Ironically, that's one of the reasons why I can sustain the apostles as prophets, seers and revelators. I see that role as being able to prophecy, see and reveal IF such things are needed - NOT as being a constant or even regular (or perhaps even occasional) condition. I just see those things happening so rarely throughout our recorded religious history that I don't expect anyone to experience them much, if at all. I can sustain lots of people as possible conduits for prophecy, foresight and revelation, so I have no problem doing so with the Church's leadership or viewing them as conduits for special revelation and inspiration for the Church and even the world. That for which I hope is a higher degree of regular (not constant) inspiration than most, and I think there is a very good argument for that among the apostles.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Some Non-Traditional Reasons I Am at Peace

I make goals - but am willing to change or scrap them if life gives me different outcomes.

I have no expectations of myself and others - except effort, and even that can't be judged perfectly.

I don't seek anything from the Church except a place for me to gather, commune and help others grow. Everything else is gravy - and the primary responsibility for everything rests with me.

I try to live my life with a clear recognition that "I am" - so I deal with "this is" and trust life/God to lead me to what will be. An important part of "what is" for me occurs as a result of my church membership, and a huge part of who I am is a result of the paradigm I learned growing up in the LDS Church - but, as I've said more than once, I have been an oddball since as long as I can remember, so not fitting in totally and not being like everyone else isn't an issue for me. I am who I am, and I can testify of how liberating and empowering that is. I am not defined by others, including not being defined by opposition to others.

I simply am, and, for that reason, I am at peace.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Temple: I Don't Have to Believe Literally in Order to Believe Deeply and Passionately

I love Mormonism's temple theology - but I love it for the symbolism of the sealing of all God's children in unity and for what it does to our own hearts to see others as just as loved and important to God as we are, even those who are radically different than we are. It is SO stunningly different than the theological basis of Protestantism that I believe strongly in its inspirational foundation - that is was revelation from God, even with the Masonic origin of some of its elements.

If I had to believe in the literalness of the exclusive saving power of the ordinances (that ordinances must be performed for every person who has lived in the history of the world or they will not be exalted), I would not accept it - since I would have to reject the symbolism that is so rich and powerful to me. Many people need literalness, and I have no problem whatsoever with people taking it literally, but I don't have to believe in it that way - since I personally believe the symbolic view is much more powerful than the literal view.

I also know the ordinances so well by now that I don't have to concentrate on them anymore - or, really, even pay attention much at all. I can spend almost two hours in a quiet place, have a prayer in my heart, let my mind wander and think about whatever hits me in the moment. That approach has been wonderful for me. It can happen for some people in nature (as President Uchtdorf stressed a couple of years or so ago), but it happens best for me in the temple.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't get hung up on the math at all (the question of how we can do ordinances for billions of people) - not one bit. Given the belief that it will be done in the Millennium by millions of people, it isn't daunting in the slightest (in fact it would happen quite quickly) - but, even without that framing, it doesn't matter to me in the slightest, since it has no relevance whatsoever to the symbolism I love so much. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Do You Remain United in the Body of Christ When A Leader Abuses Power?

I have a good friend who was hurt quite badly by a pastor who initiated a harmful program and insisted that my friend help him administer it.  When my friend refused, he faced serious consequences at the practical level within his church community.

That friend asked me, after the fact, the following - and my response follows his question, with a nod to Mormon-speak for this blog:

The reality is that church leaders are just regular people. As such, sometimes they abuse their power in their leadership positions. Generally this is minimal or not a problem - however sometimes it can be extreme and even abusive.

How do you deal with this? How do you reconcile it with the command to be united in the body of Christ?

1) by recognizing and admitting exactly what you just said. There's nothing "magical", in and of itself, that changes someone who is in a position of leadership in a church - man or woman. The only thing that changes automatically is the power and influence they are able to wield - the scope of their potential unrighteous dominion.

2) by recognizing that increased responsibility pushes "the natural (wo)man" toward increased unrighteous dominion. It pushes "the unnatural (wo)man" forward to greater at-one-ment. It pushes most people who live somewhere between those extremes either or both ways.

3) by defining "unity in the body of Christ" as "doing my best to help the entire community" - and realizing that sometimes the best help I can provide is a different perspective - or a simple refusal to do something.

4) by not being a jerk about it or refusing to do anything for the person but continuing to do everything I feel I can do in good conscience and balance.

5) by going above the person's head in extreme situations, if possible - always calmly and meekly and humbly, but clearly and precisely (and pointing out that I take my commitment to sustain God and the overall church community above my commitment to any one person).

Within the structure of my own religion, if I were to go to a Stake President, for example, about a Bishop, High Priest Group Leader, EQ President, etc., I would make it crystal clear that I am doing so out of genuine concern for the Stake President, the other person and the LDS Church itself - that I believe the problem I am trying to address is serious enough to be talking with the Stake President AFTER I've tried to talk with the other person. Again, as I say a lot, tone, attitude and appearance mean a lot in situations like this. I won't contribute to someone being stomped on, but I'm not doing any stomping on or punch throwing at any point in the process.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Dangerous View of Bishops, Stake Presidents and Leaders Generally

I know of a Stake President who once said the following to a member of his stake: 

"Your Bishop represents Christ. If people understood that they would be excited to talk to him and willing to do what he asks." 

If I was the Bishop about whom the Stake President was talking, I would have been VERY uncomfortable with the Stake President's statement - and all of the Bishops I've know personally would have been uncomfortable, as well - except one. Instructively, he was the worst Bishop I've known.

I have no problem with the idea that the Bishop represents Christ in a unique way - in some specific situations. However, in most situations, a Bishop does not represent Christ any more than any one of the members of his congregation does.  To say it differently, all of us represent Christ, but the Bishop has certain unique responsibilities in the way he represents Christ. It simply isn't one or the other; we aren't Catholic Priest of the Dark Ages and parishioners

"They would be excited to talk to him." 

Generally, that's a function of him as a person, not his office or calling. People usually like to talk to nice, good people; they usually don't like to talk to jerks or harsh people.  The vast majority of Bishops are nice, good, sincere, loving people - but whether or not most regular members are excited to talk to their Bishop has little to do with representing Christ. 

"They would be willing to do what he asks." 

This is where my biggest concern lies - and it is a HUGE concern. It's dangerous to put someone in a position where they can expect obedience just because of their position. It's too easy to fall for the allure of the power.  Our War in Heaven narrative and the explanation of unrighteous dominion in D&C 121 ought to eliminate our tendency to say things like the quote above, particularly without any qualifications whatsoever.

I wouldn't have a problem with,

"They would be willing to consider seriously what he asks."

but I cannot accept the quote as worded and the all-encompassing implication of someone giving up their individual agency and doing something just because a mortal leader asks them to do it.

I believe in "obeying" God; I believe in "sustaining and supporting" righteous leaders.

Those two beliefs are not the same thing, and we should NEVER confuse or equate them.  Any leader who does is on the path toward unrighteous dominion. 


Monday, October 20, 2014

God Is Not As Offended As We Tend to Think He Is

I sometimes think of Joseph's statement shortly before he died that his conscience was free of offense toward God and man. I know he offended people regularly, but I believe he was sincere in that statement. That used to puzzle me - greatly. What I have come to believe is that each of us only can answer to our own understanding of ourselves - to our effort to live the best we understand - to be whatever we believe we are supposed to be.

I know I also have offended people at times - sometimes through what I have written here on this blog. I've done things that I believe "should" be offensive to God, but I've come to believe that they might not be - that he might look down and sigh as he watches me muddle through my life, but that he also understands I'm doing the best I can do. I have come to believe he appreciates that, and I am grateful for the peace that belief brings me as I also try to accept my own weakness and understand that I am worthy specifically because he has deemed me to be so.

That perspective gives me peace, so I accept it and keep on keepin' on.