Monday, March 13, 2017

Yes, We Are Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keepers

Remember: It was Cain (a murderer) who replied to God, when asked where Abel was, "Am I my brother's keeper?" 

There are hundreds of verses and passages throughout the Bible (and other religious texts) that say, quite explicitly, that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers in some way and to some extent. 

It is the determination of the way and the extent where there can be reasonable discussion and disagreement. (For Mormons, however, King Benjamin's sermon sets an incredibly high bar for refusal.) For Christians to deny their responsibility to help "keep" God's children (any of them), at all or minimally, however, is a direct denial of the ministry and teachings of Jesus, of Nazareth. 

Quoting Cain in doing so is the height of irony.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Does the Sacrament Prayer Really Say: Not What We Often Teach

[quote="squarepeg"]The Sacrament Prayer says that we will always have His spirit to be with us if we take His name upon us, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. Maybe that's an easy one to write off as impossible since I definitely don't remember Him always. Sometimes I'm just thinking about something else and not of Him, because if I thought of Him all the time, I couldn't focus to help my kids with their math, couldn't get through the grocery checkout, couldn't make phone calls to the health insurance company about confusing bills, etc. And I break commandments all the time, every day, in spite of my best efforts to keep them. I also developed an allergy to wheat and can't take the Sacrament bread at all anymore. But I actually don't know of anyone who can keep the promises we make when we take the Sacrament, so maybe none of us is entitled to the attached blessings, either?[/quote]

Is that really what the prayers say? Are there "ifs" in there? I read it like this (emphasis added):

We usually talk about the Sacrament prayer as an if/then statement. For example, with regard to the bread:

IF we remember Jesus' body - and IF we are willing to take his name upon us - and IF we always remember him - and IF we keep his commandments - THEN we will always have his Spirit to be with us.

However, that is not what the words actually say, in and of themselves.

Here is the prayer in its entirety, with some holding for emphasis:

"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it,

- that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father,
- that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,
- (that they) always remember him
- and (that they) keep his commandments which he has given them;
- that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

We make NO promises in those words, and neither does the priest. The  priest asks God to bless the bread (or water as the case may be, recognizing the wording is slightly different but essentially the same) to ALL THOSE who partake of it (no worthiness standard implied) that four things we are willing to do and receive will happen: 

1) we eat in remembrance of the body (or blood) of the Son;
2) we are willing to take the name of the Son;
3) we always remember him;
4) we may have the Spirit to be with us.

Again, nowhere do those partaking promise to do anything; rather, the priest asks the Father to bless everyone who partakes with a special blessing because of what they are willing to do - regardless of whether or not they do this even things.

I know that is not the view of the mainstream, but it is a literal interpretation of the words themselves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jesus as Advocate and Judge - and We as Advocates Only

We had a wonderful lesson in our High Priests Group, and I want to share one particular insight I had near the end of the lesson:

We talk about Jesus as the Judge, but I like another title better: Advocate with the Father. I like the framing of Jesus representing us at the judgment seat of the Father - being our advocate (defender) for mercy, with the Father being the actual Judge. I like it conceptually, but I also like the practical application that hit me on Sunday.

When we take his name upon us, we are NOT assuming his post-mortal responsibilities, including that of Judge. In fact, we are told explicitly not to judge (with a result that we won't be judged ourselves). Rather, we are accepting a place in his mortal ministry. We are doing for others what he did for them during his life and through his death. We are promising to recognize their inherent value as children of God and advocate for them. We can't do that unless we refrain from judging them, strive to understand them, and look for justifications to defend them.

In our current system, the ONLY conflict is for Bishops, since they are called Judges in Israel. However, even they can start with their responsibility to be Advocates, and then, and only then, move on to acting as Judges. This approach, if understood and followed, would result in judges and judgments that are as merciful, gracious, and loving as possible - based on understanding WHY people did what they did and not just WHAT they did. If this was our default orientation (being an advocate/defender), much of the problem we have with overzealous, Pharisaical, strict exactness and our sometimes exclusive obsession with worthiness would disappear.

I still am working out my full thoughts on this epiphany, but I wanted to share the initial impression with all of you here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

We Can Be "Atoners" in This Life

We talk of an infinite Atonement, but I have seen an example of how powerful a mortal, finite Atonement can be. 

My father's sacrifice for my mother, about which I won't write again here, allowed her to have a peaceful, joyful life despite "limitations" that could have made her life hellish. In a very real way, he laid down (set aside) his potential life and picked up a new life solely for her. In more ways than one, he suffered so she wouldn't have to suffer. We (their children) were blessed in many ways as a result, but he did it because of his deep, unquenchable love for her. 

I honor the concept of divine Atonement, but I think we focus so much on a universal, transcendent Atonement that we overlook the impact we can have when we choose to be "at-one-ers" throughout our lives. 

It is easy to be a divider. Any unprincipled person can be that. It is much harder to be a dedicated uniter and accepter and valuer and uplifter and atoner. 

I try to live my life that way, and the current political situation has made that excruciatingly difficult. I hope I can return to whom I want to be - and, in my interactions with others, be more like my dad was with my mom than any other example I have had in my life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

God Loves His Children Even as They Toddle, Falter, and Fall

We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not…

Compared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him… 

I do not believe in a God who would set up rules and commandments only to wait for us to fail so He could punish us. I believe in a Heavenly Father who is loving and caring and who rejoices in our every effort to stand tall and walk toward Him. Even when we stumble, He urges us not to be discouraged—never to give up or flee our allotted field of service - but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying. 

Pres. Uchtdorf, "Four Titles", April 2013 General Conference

Friday, January 27, 2017

Does God Really Direct Us Down "Wrong Roads" Sometimes?

Elder Holland gave a talk in General Conference a couple of years ago about what he learned when he and his father took a wrong road on the way home late one night. It generated a lot of discussion online about whether or not God really would direct us down wrong roads in our lives. 

My own take is that God allows us to walk "wrong roads" as part and parcel of mortality and our limited understanding (that he doesn't always stop us from walking the ones we are prone to walk), but I personally don't believe he proactively places us on or guides us to roads that truly are wrong for us. Thus, I don't believe he gives us incorrect answers to our prayers. I might be wrong, but that's how I see it. It just fits my own belief in the nature of God better.

Having said that, it makes perfect sense for someone who sees God as more of an interventionist God than I do - and it can be the only thing that would make sense for some people who thought they received answers to prayers that they followed into situations that caused pain and felt wrong to them. I also am completely open to the idea that God will do that for some people who need to learn from mistakes but won't choose them on their own - those, for example, who mare more inclined to put their head down and live a Law of Moses life, letting others tell them exactly what to so. I can see God directing them off that path in order to get them to the right one, even if that means they walk a hard road to get there.

However, I do believe that God opens doors to us at times and arranges opportunities that we can take or not take. That's how I see my own life, since I can't deny the incredible ways that the path of my life appears to be "directed" in various ways. There have been a couple of moments/periods in my life that I only understand in hindsight as what was necessary to get me to the next place my family needed to be, so, in that sense, I can understand the idea of being on a "wrong path" to get to the "right path" - even though I wouldn't phrase it that way.

I recently have come to phrase those experiences as being on the right track but the wrong train - or, perhaps more accurately, being on the only train at that particular time that would take me to the point on the track where I could catch the next "right train" for that particular time - usually with the core purpose being someone in my family or a personal connection, rather than a professional reason. In that light, I can see my life as a serious of trains connecting me to multiple tracks that made our overall destinations possible to reach - but I had to disembark from each train and climb on a new one each time to get where my family needed to be at each juncture in our life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Individual Exceptions Are between Each Person and the Lord

“There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” 
- Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, June 2006, p. 16

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sometimes, Our Obsession with Proper Prayer Language Is Unhealthy

I have a friend who is convinced we are wrong to pray in modern formal language.

Personally, I have absolutely no problem with people using "thee" and "thou" and such language in prayer. None whatsoever. If it helps them feel more respectful and worshipful, I support it completely. I tend to use that type of wording simply because it is the prayer language of my upbringing, and I am totally fluent in it. It's easy, familiar and automatic to me.

Having said that, I also use "you" fairly often, especially in my personal, less formal prayers. I tend to use whatever fits my mood and the situation best.

The one thing I dislike intensely about the current model is that it tends to make us notice when the words are used "incorrectly" (as we perceive incorrectly to be), and that tends to lead to some degree of smugness, condescension, pity or some other sentiment that is not good and absolutely not necessary. I understand the basic Primary guidelines to address the Father, thank God, ask for what we need and close in Jesus' name, but when we start worrying about whether or not the specific words others use are "correct", we have crossed a line that shouldn't be anywhere in our sight.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Revelation As a Process of Sifting and Winnowing

“The Lord uses imperfect people…He often allows their errors to stand uncorrected. He may have a purpose in doing so, such as to teach us that religious truth comes forth “line upon line, precept upon precept” in a process of sifting and winnowing similar to the one I know so well in science.” 
- Henry Eyring, "Reflections of a Scientist", p. 47

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Restoration Is On-Going, and We Can Be Restorers or Destroyers

According to Jacob 5, the tree will continue to be pruned right up until the end - and I see that as a pruning of incorrect traditions and misunderstandings, not as a pruning of people. It doesn't make sense to me, in the actual context of the allegory, to make it about people. Therefore, anyone who assists in proper pruning, undertaken at a pace and in a way that doesn't damage the root, is part of the Restoration, in my opinion.

Pruning to maximize production can be tricky, as anyone who has lived in orchard country knows (or even in application to business organizations), so it generally can't be done through radical surgery or, often, by removing every bit of infection all at once. "Here a little, there a little" works far better in many cases. There have been a few times in Church history when radical surgery was necessary (ending polygamy and the Priesthood ban, for example), but there was extensive collateral damage, as well. It was necessary, but risk management includes minimizing damage and maximizing recovery - not just eliminating infection.

That is a long-winded way of saying I believe many who agitate, to varying degrees, are part of the Restoration - while others (those who insist on too radical changes too quickly) are part of the Destruction. I can't always know exactly where that line lies, so I tend to err on the side of allowance and care - but if I believe someone is firmly over the line, I don't mind the pruning shears being taken away from them. Above all else, I believe in pruning my own tree to the best of my ability and not insisting on pruning others' trees for them or being in charge of the overall pruning of the orchard.

I'll express my views to the directors and managers of the orchard, but I won't try to grab their shears and start pruning for them.