Saturday, September 20, 2014

We Call Good Evil Far Too Often

Article of Faith 12 (excerpt): 

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."

I think we nearly always define this too narrowly. If I make a mistake, I want to err on the side that says, "If there is no over-riding negative, it is a positive."

Moroni 7 (excerpts): 

"That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ."

I understand that the verses I did not quote in Moroni 7 add an elemental focus on Christ which can be problematic for some, but the basic point appears to me to be that we need to fight the natural tendency to label good as bad - thereby missing an expansiveness that can add richness to life and unite rather than divide. The admonitions about calling evil good are important, but, in this chapter, they appear to be a necessary subordinate to the overall objective of avoiding getting narrow-minded and exclusionary.

1 John 4:18 (excerpt): 

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear."

Again, I think we err far too often on the side of rejection (usually out of fear of the result) and end up calling evil that which is good.

As a minor, fairly non-controversial example (with many more possible examples that are more controversial): 

I served my mission in Japan. The issue of ancestral shrines came up regularly. One of the bishops where I served said the following, to the best of my memory:

"'Ancestor worship' is a terrible translation of what our shrines mean to us. We do not 'worship' our ancestors in the way that foreigners usually assume. We honor them for their influence on our lives - for their dedication and love and service - for the connectedness we feel long after death. Our shrines are like our personal temples, places that show our desire to turn our hearts to them and recognize that their hearts are turned to us. How much more Mormon can you get than that?"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Charity: Really Good People Can Believe Really Bad Things

I had an experience a long time ago that is a great example of why I try so hard to understand people as well as possible and not reject them, even as I reject things they say and believe. I was thinking about it again recently, and decided to post my thoughts about it here. 

I have a long-term friend, someone I admire greatly in many ways, who is a wonderful, caring person - overall. She would do anything for family and friends in order to try to help them. She has had many experiences that I accept as profound, spiritual, enlightening, etc. There is so much to love and respect about her. I really do love her dearly - but it's hard for me to be around her for any extended period of time. A recent experience with someone else brought that up in my mind again.

She is a political extremist, and her extreme is on the other side of the middle from where I am politically. She will corner people and explain, in dire terms, what is coming if her political agenda is not established - if the wrong candidate is elected (in whatever election is next, at whatever local or national level). The world isn't just falling apart; the end of all we hold dear is imminent. Frankly, I believe she is over the paranoia line in that area - and listening to her conspiracy theories is nearly unbearable for me.

I really do love her - and she really is, at heart, a kind, caring, loving, dedicated person. It's just hard to remember that in the moment as soon as she inevitably starts on a political diatribe. It's not worth answering her openly, especially since she doesn't talk in church like she does privately (as she understands that church isn't the place to discuss politics at her desired level for private conversations).

I have learned a lot from her over the years I have known her. She is intelligent and insightful in many ways.

My point is simple:

My dear friend is fully human, and I can't blame or castigate her for that. I love her as deeply as I do only because I've stuck around long enough to see, to some degree, the full person she is - even as I want to run away screaming quite often when she launches her soap box missiles. If we weren't members of the same church, I wouldn't have gotten to know her as well as I do - and that would have been a shame, even as it hasn't been easy to deal with her regularly.

I try to remember that whenever I start expecting others to be all that I would like them to be - and I try also to remember everyone who talks with me and walks away shaking their heads at my own beliefs, but who also continue to talk with me, regardless. It's easy to forget how many people there are in that group - and it's important for me to model the charity and patience so many people have shown and continue to show me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Modesty: There are So Many Lessons in This Picture

I have said often that I am not comfortable with the idea that women are responsible for the thoughts men have when looking at women.  I believe in the concept and principle of modesty in dress for men and women, but I believe the responsibility for one's thoughts ultimately lies with each person - not the person on whom the thoughts are focused. 

The picture in the link below is perhaps the best example of why I feel that way:

"A picture is worth 1,000 words" (Patheos)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry."

The Savior taught us to love not only our friends but also those who disagree with us—and even those who repudiate us. He said: “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?”

The Prophet Joseph Smith warned us to “beware of self-righteousness” and to enlarge our hearts toward all men and women until we feel “to take them upon our shoulders.” In the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no place for ridicule, bullying, or bigotry. 

Neil L. Andersen (April 2014 General Conference)

Monday, September 15, 2014

I Value My Wife-String as Much as My Me-Kite

I like Louis L'Amour books as brain candy. They probably are my favorite guilty pleasure. Most of them have the same basic plot structure, but I like the profound insights he throws into the stories as the simple plot progresses.

One thing he says in multiple books is that leaving the eastern cities and moving west across the plains had an enormously different effect on different people. It empowered some, by freeing them of the constraints in which they lived previously; it crushed some, who couldn't handle the endless expanse and never-changing scenery; it strengthened some who had never had to care for themselves and others; it drove some crazy out of constant fear of attack and the lack of law and order.

People need what people need, and people tend to construct their lives to provide them what they need - and want.

Being open-minded to me means, in the context of L'Amour's stories, not demanding that settlers be explorers - even as the typical settler mind-set is to be wary of and restrain the explorers. Often, explorers can explore in confidence largely because they know there always will be settlers waiting to welcome, feed, praise and provide security for a season when they return from their explorations.

Remember, also:  

A kite is not just the thing that flies through the wind; it also is the string that keeps it safely grounded.

I value my wife-string as much as my me-kite.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: The "What" and "Why" of Commandments; or, Often, We Emphasize the Wrong Thing

Last Sunday was the first lesson about commandments, the topic for this month.  To lay the groundwork for the rest of the month, we focused on two important questions:

What are commandments?

Why do we keep the commandments?  

I told the students that these questions sound like simple, Primary questions but that we were going to go a lot deeper and try to see them in their broadest, most powerful terms.  I then asked everyone to tell me what the word "command" means.  The responses included the following:

direction; order; advice; counsel; guideline; requirement 

I divided the list into two groups and asked them to tell me the difference between the groups:

order; requirement 

direction; advice; counsel; guideline 

They saw immediately that the first group described things that must be done (things that were harsher or might even include an element of force or strong expectation), while the second group described things that were more like suggestions (things that were softer and carried no hint of absolute necessity - things that were much more up to personal choice to accept or ignore).  Given that fundamental difference, the first group ("order; requirement") is the only group that fits "command". 

To emphasize the difference, I explained how "Let there be light" is translated in English and in Japanese (which is translated from German).  In English, as worded above, there is a feeling of almost benevolence and gentleness (of direction; advice; counsel; guideline) - as if God had said, "I will allow there to be light."  In Japanese, the wording is, "Hikare ga are" - which translates as an unyielding command that light exist, as if God had said, "There is going to be light, because I am God and command it to exist."  The follow-up statement that God "saw the light, that it was good" also carries an element of supervision - that God oversaw the process to ensure that the result was what he had commanded. 

I then asked the students who they should follow completely - in whom should they invest the ability to command them and their actions.  They immediately focused on God and understood when asked that obeying anyone else completely as a "commander" is "relying on the arm of flesh" and giving up individual agency.  We talked again, as we have in the past, about Lucifer's plan - about how the ONLY difference in the plan's was the focus on forced obedience vs. individual agency free of coercion (and the consequences of that difference).  That difference is encapsulated in our 11th Article of Faith, which says:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.  

I simply pointed out that "all men" means "all people" - and that includes members of the LDS Church, as well.  Yes, we sustain and support our leaders and give deference to them and what they ask of us - but we do NOT obey any mortal leader as if s/he was God.  We always have to rely on our own consciences and ask ourselves, whenever any mortal asks or tells us to do something, whether or not what is being asked of us is in line with or opposed to our own conscience and what we believe God would command.  What mortals ask of us is "direction; advice; counsel; guideline", not "order; requirement; command".  Without that distinction, we risk putting mortals in the place of Lucifer and obeying for no other reason than we are told to obey.  That makes us no different than animals - or, in Mormon-speak, confined to our "natural (wo)man". 

We then focused on the "why" of keeping commandments.   The students gave the following answers to that question:

to be protected; to gain help and strength; to be happy 

I asked the students to name some commandments that protect us, and they mentioned the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity.  Given the complexity of the discussion I wanted to have about why we keep the commandments, I stopped them there, and we focused on those two commandments.  

I took them through a discussion of how those two commandments could be taught: either through a focus on being protected or through a focus on gaining help and strength - and how each approach influences how we talk about being happy. 

With the Word of Wisdom, focusing on protection emphasizes the "don't" statements (strong drinks, tobacco, hot drinks, meat, etc.), while focusing on gaining help and strength emphasizes the "do" statements (wholesome herbs, grains, fruits, meat, etc.).  The "consequences" of obedience are "receiv(ing) health in their navel and marrow to their bones," "find(ing) wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures," "run(ning) and not be(ing) weary," "walk(ing) and not faint(ing)" and, ultimately, being passed over by the destroying angel.  I simply pointed out that there is NO distinction in the revelation between the "don't" and the "do" statements (nothing to indicate one is more important than the other) - and that when we focus solely on what we should not do and skip what we should do we are not keeping this commandment fully.  We focus on the "don't" verses primarily in an attempt to gain protection, but ignoring the "do" verses robs us of an important element of gaining help and strength and being happy. 

With the Law of Chastity, this difference is even more stark.  

We talked about the ways obeying the Law of Chastity protects us (avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, emotional harm, betrayal, etc.), and then I asked them why that just isn't enough in our modern world.  They didn't get it at first, so I asked them how our world now is different than it was in the past relative to the consequences of sex.  One of them said, simply, "protection" - so we talked about how birth control, contraception, abortion, etc. are so readily available now that many people might blow off the idea of keeping the Law of Chastity as a means of protection.  To avoid the obvious, natural consequences, they can say they are being protected even if they have sex.  (Obviously, that isn't 100% accurate, but people can and do make that claim - especially teenagers and young adults.)  Given that reality, I asked them how keeping the Law of Chastity provides help, strength and happiness.  

We were almost out of time, so we focused the discussion on self-control, trust, emotional stability and, ultimately, how all of those benefits and more help us become like God and become less animalistic or "natural".  We talked about how the Law of Chastity is "unnatural" and, therefore, must include blessings and benefits beyond just physical protection.  

To end the discussion, I pointed out how both the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Chastity can be taught positively (focused on benefits, now and in the future) or negatively (focused on fear and/or punishment, now and in the future).  I told them that people respond to different motivations, so I understand why both a negative and positive approach are used - but, personally, I am motivated much more by the idea of actively gaining strength and help to protect myself than I am by being protected by inaction while living in a cocoon of fear.  I don't like to obey commandments passively (meaning simply not doing things because I'm told not to do things); I prefer to obey commandments actively (meaning doing things for reasons that are important to me).

Friday, September 12, 2014

When You Just Can't Find the Words to Explain Your Testimony

It's hard, and sometimes impossible, for someone who has seen the "far blue mountains" to describe them adequately to others who have lived their entire lives in a city or on a vast, unchanging plain.

Some things, some times, only can be kept and pondered in our hearts - until the time comes when mortal sight limitations are removed and everyone can see the mountains, cities and plains clearly and fully.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Seek Diligently for Truth, No Matter Where It Is Found

I believe deeply in finding truth in everything.  I think that outlook is a fundamental part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 7: 5-19, especially) and Joseph Smith's philosophy that animated the Restoration and his role as a prophet.

I was asked once if organized religion loses potency when it admits there is truth in everything - that a religion doesn't posses or even understand all truth and that "the fulness of the Gospel" doesn't include an understanding of all truth. My response was that it does not, according to Joseph Smith - or the notion of a process called the "restoration of all things" through on-going / continuing revelation.

Part of the grandeur I see in pure Mormonism is the audacity to believe that all truth can be circumscribed into one whole - and that striving to comprehend that whole is worth the effort. Limiting that whole to what we know now, and denying that there still is truth outside our current understanding to be included in the circumscription process (including things that others know of which we are not aware), goes against the very core of the Restoration.

A good friend of mine once wrote the following when he was asked about believing there is truth in every religion, denomination, faith tradition, science, etc.

1. If something is proven to be true, or beyond reasonable doubt, it's simply part of the gospel. As we study the creation, and the processes whereby creation occurred, I come to be in awe of the creator. Scientific discovery does not diminish my regard for god, it enhances my understanding of the absolute miracle of god's inherent power: nature. That god works entirely through nature is part of what Joseph Smith said, at least, in section 88, one of his most important and thoughtful revelations.

2. If something true is in conflict with scripture, then we need to re-evaluate our literal understanding of the scripture. I have to recognize how scripture was written in the mind and heart of the revelator, and thus, it's going to include the revelator's worldview. Obviously, this is controversial to those who believe that scripture is literally and forever true. Scripture is the milk -- it is not the meat of the gospel. As we grow up in our understanding, we sometimes need to set aside childish things.

3. There are a host of things that cannot be proven, and we need to take an attitude of suspended judgment for these things. I don't know if we pre-existed. I think it's a very useful model as part of the Plan of Salvation, but I simply don't know. Is it imperative for me to say "I know we lived with god before this life"? I believe it, I trust in it, but I cannot explain it. I don't know how it works.

4. I should never be afraid of truth. If Joseph Smith and Brigham Young did some pretty whacked out things, then I think it important to understand their humanity. I'm not afraid of it. I can understand how once you know that JS did a number of questionable things, that it's hard to believe that he was also a 'prophet', but I don't have a problem with it. I'm sure some people think I'm intellectually dishonest as a result. Whatever; truth is truth. Judgment is entirely another matter. I think it's true that Joseph did some pretty human things. My judgment is not affected by it -- he's still a prophet. He still facilitated the restoration. I find truth in the restoration, and therefore I can only conclude that God uses imperfect humans to do his work. This should be obvious from scripture. 

In summary, going back to my first thoughts in this post, as I am exposed to the thoughts, beliefs, discoveries, etc. of others, I try hard to make sure my initial response is:

What truth can I learn from this - no matter the source?