Saturday, August 30, 2008

Correcting Without Anger

Over the last couple of days, as John McCain announced his choice for his VP running mate (Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska), I have watched and participated in blog discussions about that choice - and about Barak Obama. As I knew would happen, there were some incredibly ridiculous things said about both of them, and I found myself correcting a few commenters who were misquoting people and making outrageous statements.

On another blog I frequent, there were a couple of posts that really stirred the pot. Why is not important for this post, but emotions were roiling on both sites, and I found myself thinking over and over again that people needed to stop and think before they commented - and that people needed to check out rumors before they forwarded them - and that people needed to be respectful in their dissent.

In the midst of those experiences, I found myself more than once deleting a comment I had typed in reaction to someone else and either abandoning the response completely or modifying it greatly. Much of that was due to my focus on anger this month, and I just want to emphasize once again how much power there is in focused efforts to develop godly characteristics.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Cafeteria Mormonism"

There is regular discussion among Mormon bloggers about the term "cafeteria Mormons" - those who pick and choose what they will and will not accept - who fill their plates with what they like to eat. I generally hate those discussions, since they nearly always are directed at judging what others choose to eat - labeling others as different and highlighting those differences.

Ultimately, the only one who can tell what foods we individually are capable of digesting properly is the Lord - the one who paid to become our judge and is uniquely qualified to be our chef. We often are not truly aware of our own limitations and biases and blinders and other obstacles, much less those that others carry within them. Therefore, we can’t judge with 100% clarity whether or not someone else is living the Gospel to the best of his or her ability. Hence, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

Given that situation, why do I care what anyone else in the cafeteria is eating? I can think of three obvious reasons without much effort.

First, if I believe they are eating poison, I will warn them of my concern. Second, if I think they are going to get sick from over-indulgence or starvation, I probably will warn them of that possibility. Third, if I think what they are eating tastes terrible, I might warn them. Everything I do is intended to help them experience the delicious food that I have tasted. Once, however, I step over to them, take away their food or put my own on their plate, insisting that they eat exactly what I’m eating or get out of the cafeteria - at that moment I have crossed the fine line and done to them what I would never dream of allowing someone to do to me.

I like the idea that all of us are cafeteria Mormons, as to doctrinal acceptance and/or practical application, because that concept allows us to quit labeling each other and quit trying to determine someone else’s level of righteousness or worthiness. As long as someone is willing to endure to the end at my side, it’s not my job to categorize their faithfulness but simply to walk along and enjoy the companionship of the journey. Who cares if there is a scent of smoke or the reek of alcohol or no payment of tithing in our chapels - ad infinitum? The temple is one thing; the fellowship of the Saints is another thing entirely. Given what I have seen in my callings, I am convinced that if all of us stopped labeling each other there would be more converts flocking to the Church and fewer members drifting into inactivity - and the Church would be an even richer and more vibrant community than it already is.

Summary: If someone continues to attend church whose plate looks radically different than mine, and if that person does not heed my warnings if I feel prompted to give them, and if that person is not trying to force others to eat exactly what he is eating, then I shut up and enjoy the company - and usually end up acquiring an appreciation for a food or flavoring I had not known previously.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Mormon Tapestry

One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Smith is: "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

I believe strongly that I will be judged by the intent of my heart and my honest effort - not by whether I am able to live any command as well as someone else or accept any doctrine as easily or readily as someone else. I’m not Calvin’s puppet in God’s hands; I’m striving to be an instrument that plays Handel while squeaking like my friends in school learning to play the bagpipes. I might never make truly beautiful music to human ears, but my effort will bring forth beautiful fruit before I die.

One of the difficulties I have seen in my callings at various levels is the tendency we humans have, even those of us who are trying to improve and become perfect, to insist that: 1) my perspective is the best perspective, or 2) my choices are the best choices, or 3) my actions are the best actions, ad infinitum. Of course, I believe that there are certain traits that all “fully believing” Mormons share, but I think that our differences FAR outweigh our similarities in many ways. How else could we produce Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney and Harry Reid - or the truly unique conglomeration of personalities and opinions that always has constituted the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles?

Contrary to popular media opinion, I think one of the most amazing aspects of Mormonism is what an incredibly wide range of strong personalities and opinions it produces / attracts. Perhaps the “correct principles” that unite us are limited, but the result of our self-governance is an amazing tapestry.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pursuing Joy

I believe the core purpose of "pure religion" can be summarized in the verse that says, "Men are that they might have joy." "Love one another", "Love thy neighbor as thyself", "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings...", etc. all are ways to encapsulate and spread joy. Not externally stimulated happiness, but internally generated joy. Therefore, on an individual level, the most important quest in life should be the pursuit of joy - which is accomplished through becoming like Christ.

The problem many people face is that they fail to realize that this type of joy has to be generated internally. It can be sparked by an outside event, but it has to flourish despite all of the external forces that tend to extinguish the spark. It has to be something FELT, not IMAGINED. I know my choice of words in that last sentence might be misconstrued and fuel a tangent I do not want, but I choose it nonetheless. Happiness is an image created by the mind; joy is a feeling generated from somewhere else - what we term the spirit or the soul or the heart.

For what it's worth, I have known quite a few people who are not joyful. Many of them have found ways to be content, satisfied, productive, and even happy in their activities, but they don't carry a sense of internal joy that is unaffected by the external forces around them. I have a friend who described this internal joy as "that special glow".

My observation: That glow comes from the discovery and acceptance of a perspective that lights the soul. Mine came from realizing that I truly am a child of God and have the potential to become like Him. I feel this joy regularly - but I also have been (and continue to be) in situations and circumstances that, in and of themselves, are not joyful in the slightest.

As I have said in the past, if someone else has gained a similar joy that sustains them, and if, therefore, they are not open at all to the Gospel that brought my joy to me, then I will never try to force them to intellectualize "their truth vs. my truth" and risk shattering their joy. Perhaps I believe that my beliefs can bring a "fullness of joy", but they will experience it eventually if I am right, so I focus on helping those without a sense of joy to find one - or expanding on existing joy whenever someone is open to that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times

The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times doesn't mean that the dispensation will begin with all knowledge and understanding - complete and whole. The early development of doctrine and theology proves that beyond any doubt for anyone who stops to consider it with any objectivity. New converts brought their existing biases and apostate beliefs with them into the waters of baptism, since there wasn't an established theology for decades after the Church itself was restored. Frankly, I believe it's only been in the last few decades that a correlated consensus has begun to emerge - that we have begun to see the Fullness of the Restoration.

Why would someone assume that a church that grew and changed and evolved and never accepted a closed canon or cessation of revelation would suddenly or even gradually stop growing and changing and evolving - and become closed? The name of the dispensation simply implies that a fullness will be reached within the dispensation (before its end) - probably the day before the Second Coming, which will end this dispensation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

"Ready for the Gospel"

I think the injunction to preach to all is followed very well by “The Church” and much less well by the members. I know some of the most successful contacts on my mission were with people who didn’t seem “ready” for the Gospel - and that included the punker, the man living with his girlfriend, the addict AND the rich and well-educated. Yet, in my callings, I constantly see and hear members talking about who might be “ready” to hear and accept the Gospel - as if there is a formula that can be followed. There simply isn’t.

Everyone is a potential disciple of Christ from our limited perspective. Pres. Hinckley was asked once why we send missionaries to Christian areas and countries. His answer, in essence, simply was that we can't know who is looking for more truth about Jesus until we ask them. I really love that answer. I would add that we have no idea who yearns for a better understanding of their divine nature until we ask.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Predestination: Satan's More Evil Uncle's Plan

This is going to be much more blunt than most of my posts, as evidenced by the title.

There are many verses in the Bible that talk of God's love for ALL His children, and challenges galore similar to "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15) This says, essentially, "If you say you love me, prove it by doing what I have told you to do." It also might be translated as, "If you really love me, it will be evident because you will keep my commandments" - but the central message is, "The ball is in your court to do more that just give me lip service. You need to go beyond that and actually do what I ask of you." This leads to:

If God really has chosen the saved and damned prior to our earthly existence, what is the purpose of this existence? If it’s not to gain a physical body, to choose freely and independently to love and serve God and to “accept” the “offering” of the Atonement (even the word “offering” implies the ability to reject or accept that “offer”), then what is it? If the result is predetermined, why is this life necessary for us? If we truly have no choice in the matter, we really are puppets on a string - and “personal will” is a completely meaningless phrase. If we really have no ability to control our destiny, then God is the most terrible sadist in the history of the world - roasting many of His children (the vast majority of them, according to many predestination perceptions) eternally in Hell for no other reason than He decided it was what He wanted to do.

I can't judge Calvin personally, but I classify predestination as nothing more than Satan's more evil uncle's plan - since in Satan's plan at least everyone would have returned to God. They wouldn't progress and grow and gain anything as a result, but at least billions of them wouldn't end up burning in Hell through no choice of their own.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

He Will Make Our Weak Things Strong - and Our Strong Things Stronger

This post will be much shorter than my normal weekend posts - much more like one of the shorter weekday posts. What hit me this week is very simple - and similar to something I posted near the beginning of my New Year's Resolution focus.

I have done SO much better this week as I have dealt with our little twinkie and her siblings. This month's resolution has been on my mind all week (really all month), and it is making a difference. It hit me again how much the Lord can, wants to and will help us when we focus on becoming like Him - that the simple act of focusing our will and our very thoughts on what He has asked of us opens a link to power and perspective that doesn't come in any other way.

I knew that prior to this week; I have felt it many times in my life in many ways; it is sweet, however, to rediscover things that have been discovered previously - to have reinforced what has been strengthened in other ways in the past. What struck me this week particularly is that He will help us not ONLY with our weak things but also with our strengths. That is a cool thing to know.

He really does see and understand our hearts, and He really does stand with arms outstretched still. All we need to do is place our faith and hope and trust in Him and what He was commanded.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Learning from Other Perspectives

One of the best things I did during my years of driving the rural roads of OH, PA and WV was to listen to the religious broadcasts that were the only alternative to farm-related futures. (Those farm futures broadcasts could cure insomnia. Even thinking about them years later makes me yawn.) I regularly had to turn off the radio when the hellfire and damnation preacher started to rant, especially when it turned explicitly anti-Mormon (as it did more frequently than you might imagine), but I also heard some fabulous sermons from slightly different perspectives than I had considered previously.

I learned things - gained insights - that I probably wouldn't have learned without hearing them from that type of source. Honestly, I ended up rejecting or being bored by 75-90% of what I heard, but the 10-25% that enlightened me was worth sorting through the garbage to find.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Place of Jesus in Prayer

I have been fascinated for as long as I can remember by the general Christian practice of praying to Jesus and closing by saying simply, "Amen." The Bible is as clear about prayer as about anything else included in it. Christians are taught to pray to the Father in Christ’s name:

(John 15: 16) - "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."

(John 16: 23-24) - "And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."

There is a HUGE difference between feeling a personal connection to / relationship with Jesus as your Savior and Redeemer and using that connection / relationship to place Jesus between you and the Father in prayer - to allow Him to be your mediator with the Father. It’s hard to read the Bible in its entirety and come to the conclusion that we should pray to Jesus. Rather, we are to pray in His name ("through Him") - invoking His grace in allowing us to speak directly with the Father.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Academic Belief"

A friend once said to me, "I see you as an academic believer." My response follows:

I like that term, since the primary emphasis is on being a "believer" rather than an "academic". I am inquisitive by nature; I try to see everything from every side and reach my own conclusions; I do so, however, from a foundation of faith - because I have found that it is such a foundation that brings me the most joy.

This means that I always try hard when I read or hear something for the first time to see if there is a way I can see "correctness" within it - even if that ends up being only a very small portion. Often, I end up rejecting 10%-90% of something - but my approach, I believe, allows me to gain something from most of the things to which I am exposed. That is true sometimes of things I have considered carefully previously - if the perspective is somewhat different than what I have considered previously.

I am not an "academic believer" if that means someone who only accepts what I can understand. (I would term that type of person to be a "believing academic".) I certainly am an "academic believer" if that means someone who tries to think about and understand everything but who, first and foremost, believes. My heart and experiences are bound rock-solidly to the Restored Gospel, but my mind is looking constantly for ways to understand it better.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Anger Without a Cause: Dealing with Children

This month's resolution has brought one thing into stark relief:

I do very well avoiding and managing anger in most situations. I have known that for a while, but what I have realized more fully this week is that I don't do such a good job when I am dealing with my children - and especially with my youngest daughter. Actually, I do a good job even then (as I rarely raise my voice without a purpose), but the quickly flaring anger generally is limited to our little twinkie and her older siblings. I wonder why that is.

I try very hard to not impose unrealistic expectations on others - to not judge and to allow for influences beyond my (and often their) control. I generally am very patient with them - and it would be hard to classify me as a hard taskmaster. Yet, on occasion, I find my consternation flaring quickly - and I realized today that it almost always is when I am dealing with something that I have said over and over and over again. That led me to an interesting thought.

I get angry most often when I have failed to ensure that something gets done - when they get caught up in something and don't finish what has been assigned, and I then don't follow through and remind them in the moment. I also get angry when my youngest does or says something that I have told her not to do multiple times. There is no maliciousness or contempt in their actions; they simply haven't completed their assignments - or she hasn't internalized fully the lesson I am trying to teach her. That led me to consider the mercy Heavenly Father extends to me as I fail to complete my assignments - how rarely He "yells at me" or "disciplines me" in some other way while I still am internalizing the lessons He is trying to teach me. It also led me to consider the injunction to forgive seventy times seven - a hyperbolic statement that is translated best as "without measure".

Ironically, I do a very good job when I "have cause to be angry". The times when I struggle the most are when I am angry "without a (just) cause". That had not hit me prior to this week, and it has made me think more deeply about how to avoid this as I relate with my kids.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ideal Communication

“You do find, every once in a while, someone who has actually thought about the same problem in a very different way”—and that can be the most important sort of catalyst: the kind that leads to new discoveries.” (Harvard Magazine)

That’s my ideal conversation when people disagree to some extent or have different perspectives: one where each person discovers something new because of the different way of thought of the other(s). I’m not interested at all in broad, sweeping generalities. I’ve heard all of them by now. I’m interested in thoughtful, nuanced discussion.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Official History vs. Real History

I was a history teacher for a few years. Frankly, I stopped looking for objective, official history long ago, when I realized how much more fun, entertaining and exciting real history is - to study and to teach. Journals and letters and unguarded communications are SO much richer than textbooks - the account of the winners' most elite element. Academicians brought us the flat-earth theory; sailors knew better for many, many years.

If you want to know what "Mormonism" really is (or was at any given time), at its most basic level, read the writings of the lay members of that time. The General Conference talks and official pronouncements tell what the global Church teaches; the various interpretations show what the local Church actually believes.

The gap is fascinating.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lamaze Keeps the Universe Together

When I watched my wife give birth and saw the Lamaze technique, it struck me that the core principle that directs such breathing is much like what I had been saying outside of childbirth through the years - "Breathe!" Since that epiphany almost twenty years ago, my wife (and oldest daughter and second son, particularly) have worked out a visual cue when they start to react to stress. I simply grin and say, "Lamaze keeps the universe together" - sometimes with a palm extended downward. Then I say, "Breathe" - and wait for them to take a couple of truly deep, slow breaths. I have found that when they actually do take a "deep cleansing breath", there is a real difference in their ability to release the stress of the moment and act in (rather than react to) the situation at hand.

I also am struck my how much clearer things can be in the morning after extended slow breathing as we sleep. I have come to believe that there is a powerful lesson in the injunction to "sleep on it" - even if it is by employing something like unto it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

From Peace to Controlling Anger

Now that I have worked through the Beatitudes (skipping the part about being persecuted, since I don't want to try to cause persecution), my resolutions for the rest of this year are taken from the rest of Matthew 5. For August, it is to control my anger better -taken from verses 21-22:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
"Raca" is a word suggesting contempt and derision. (See footnote "d" in verse 22.) It is interesting to me that this injunction denotes a condemnation of anger "without a cause" - not anger in and of itself. It would be very easy to justify anger in general whenever we feel we have "a cause" - when our anger is caused by another. However, these verses appear to be addressing the type of anger that leads to contempt, derision and insults - not the type of anger that leads to defense of others or "righteous indignation".

My resolution, therefore, is NOT to avoid anger in and of itself, but to avoid or control anger that is not justified by a legitimate cause, as well as to control the effects of anger. In other words, even if there is a just cause of anger, I still need to focus on not letting that cause lead me to contempt, derision and insults toward the person who caused the anger.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I will find through my efforts to control the results of anger that I will begin to recognize those times when anger is a legitimate feeling and when it truly is a response "without a cause". I also suspect this focus will help me focus any "righteous anger" on the actual "cause" - not the person behind the cause. At least, that's my hope.