Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seeing God in the Mirror

Our spirits do us no good if they are isolated from the Holy Ghost. Without that connection, we are nothing more than "natural (wo)men" - just smart animals.

We are taught that the Holy Ghost is a cleanser (e.g., Moroni 6:4) - a purifier. It appears that we cannot purify ourselves - that we must be purified by regular exposure to the Holy Ghost. Also, it is when our hearts are connected to the true vine that they are able to bring forth fruit meet for repentance (John 14:1-5; Alma 13:13) - which leads to baptism, which leads to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which leads to the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which leads to an infusion of the Spirit of God, which leads to an enlivening connection to God, which leads to "doing the will of God", which leads to becoming like God, which leads to seeing God - not only eventually in the next life, but fundamentally in each other as we become more like Him.

In the end, as I John 3:2 states:

"Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."


Being connected to God through the Holy Ghost will allow us to do more than see Him "in all that is around us;" it literally will allow us to see Him "as He is".

In summary, becoming pure in heart means being connected to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost - and the result of that purity is the ability to see God's will for us and literally, in one way or another and in this life or another, see God as He is. The key, as stated at the beginning of this post, is to pray diligently to be cleansed and hearken (hear and follow) unto the promptings of the Holy Ghost at all times - to repent by becoming more and more like Him as we go through life - to become as He is.

The Jews rejected Jesus' statement that those who had seen Him had seen His Father as the height of blasphemy, and modern Christianity still rejects Mormonism's claim that "as God is, man may become" - but that is the principle taught in the Beatitudes. Truly, the greatest paradigm-shattering aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can become joint-heirs with Christ - that we may press forward with faith in the hope that we shall see Him as He is for we shall be like Him - that, someday, we will see God in the mirror.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Righteous Rocking Required

I had an interesting experience at a stake priesthood leadership meeting last year. I was asked to play the piano, and the hymn was "Ye Elders of Israel". It is supposed to be sung "boldly" and at a pace that, quite frankly, rocks - so I played it at the top speed and with gusto, while singing the words exuberantly myself. The priesthood leadership responded with a rousing rendition.

After the meeting, our Stake President came up to me and said, with a smile, "I have never heard that song played in quite that way before." He then added something that warmed my heart - "Thanks."

I am nowhere close to a professional pianist, but I love to rock when rocking is required - and that can be in church meetings (even Sacrament Meeting) more than we might think. "Make a joyful noise" does include "joyful" - but it also includes "noise". Our music is one area where I wish we would open our mouths and let them be filled.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Grace: Soap for the Unclean

You must be a very good and sensitive person to suffer so much for (your own private sin). I am absolutely certain that the Lord loves you, empathizes with your situation, understands your disappointments and pain, is not shocked or surprised by you, and wants to help you. I want to tell you with total confidence, knowing what I know from my own experience and watching others, that you can go to Him even with this sin again and again and again. You must never feel that you cannot go to Him. The point for Him will be that you are trying.

Let Him in, and don’t be fooled into thinking that what you do puts you beyond His reach. We do not have to be perfect to receive His Spirit. We are cleansed by the Spirit but, think of this, "how could we be cleansed by the Spirit if we had to already be perfectly clean before receiving the Spirit." It’s like saying I can’t touch soap until my body is clean.

The desire and the striving is all. Every day turn to God, plead with Him, let His light in, and slowly this will become a strength to you - even if you never defeat it 100% in this life, you will begin to feel it is strength to you - never give up.

Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh - he says that it kept him humble even though he received many revelations. Think of that; he received many revelations even though his thorn in the flesh never went entirely away. Perhaps we might think, well, Paul’s thorn must not have been so egregious as mine. But we don’t know what it was, only that he had it, it caused him disappointment, and that he never gave up or let it stop him from going boldly before the Throne of Grace.

Comment #59 by Thomas Parkin - Auld Lang Sin (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Unexamined Foundation of Salvation

In our eternal view, nearly all who have been born into mortality have “confessed the name of Christ and been saved” (into *some* degree of glory in the presence of a member of the Godhead) by the grace of God - based on their acceptance of the Father’s Plan in the pre-existence. The only exception to that rule is the Sons of Perdition - an incredibly small percentage of God’s children, according to every statement we have. Therefore, in a very real way, we view this life very differently than other denominations. Essentially, the mainstream Christian “goal” (progress-less existence in the presence of God) is what we claim has been rewarded already in either the Telestial or Terrestrial kingdom. Iow, grace gets us a degree of glory in a kingdom of God, but our acceptance of what God asks us to do (our “fruits” - which I prefer over “works”) qualifies us for a higher degree of glory in a different kingdom of God.

Given that position, when we talk of “salvation” we generally mean “exaltation” - since within Mormon theology “salvation” as the rest of Christianity defines it essentially is a given. We have "been saved" - but we want the other blessings offered by Jesus in His great biblical vision. Our “problem” in articulating how we view grace is that the very concept of “going beyond grace” is anathema to other Christians, even though it is a central tenet of the Gospels, especially.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Good Argument for Gun Control

Please forgive me for moving away from the religious focus of this blog, but this link is to a picture that defies common sense.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Compassion vs. Judgment

It's a fine line between enabling someone to use their personal accountability in destructive ways by giving them assistance that might prolong their bad habits, and emulating how Jesus served and helped and lifted the "kingdom of nobodies" that filled his ministry - a line I struggle to define continually. Personally, I would rather help ten in order to be a "savior" to the one who truly will appreciate that help and use it wisely than to help none and miss that one. Having said that, I also want to find a way to enable as many people as possible to accept their own responsibilities and reach a point where assistance no longer is necessary.

As I said, it's a fine line - but if I can't walk it perfectly, I'd rather err on the side of compassion than judgment. I've been on the receiving end of both, and compassion was better every time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

When the Universe Itself Seems Shattered

The following is something I posted in April. I was struck as I reviewed the Beatitudes by the relevance of enduring to the end in the pursuit of internalizing Christ-like attributes, so I decided to re-post this and pray it inspires someone to hold on and continue to press forward through the long struggles, believing that rest will come.

--------------------------------------------------

Elder Wirthlin's analogy of God's orchestra needing more than just the piccolos to express the full beauty of His creation became an instant favorite of mine the moment he uttered it. I just came across another talk he gave (in the October 2006 General Conference) that touched me just as deeply and brought tears to my eyes as I read it again - and immediately reminded me of all those who struggle in any way, inside or outside the Church.

I hope it touches you as it touched me on this Easter weekend - especially coming from a truly gentle, beautiful apostle of the Master. I miss Elder Wirthlin, and I am confident, for him, Sunday has come.

"Each of us will have our own Fridays--those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

"But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death--Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

"No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or in the next, Sunday will come."


Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Sunday Will Come," Ensign, Nov. 2006, page 30

If anyone wants to watch the entire talk, the video can be accessed at:

Sunday Will Come (Video)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Father, God, Lord: Who is Whom?

"Terms like Father, God or Lord have wide and variable application. (In our viewpoint), a variety of divine beings are referred to by these various terms.”

I have always viewed this as the primary reason we have no systematic, simple theology of God. Christianity in general views Father, God and Lord as distinguishing titles for one “entity”; Mormonism views them as descriptive conditions with limitless application. Also, the concept of divine investiture of authority (allowing someone to speak for God) is rooted in our practical church experience, as counselors in presidencies, apostles, High Councilors, etc. are understood often to be representing and "speaking for" their direct Priesthood authority. The complexity of such a construct makes it impossible to know with absolute certainty exactly who is speaking in each and every instance of divine visitation - and, more specifically, whose words are being spoken. Add “as far as it is translated correctly” and the complexity gets even more difficult to unravel.

At various times, HTs can represent the quorum/group leadership, the Bishop, the Stake President and/or the 1st Pres. - depending on what message they are providing. High Councilors represent the SP, but they can speak by assignment of the Bishop - thus representing the Bishop AND the SP at that time.

It can be hard enough in the mortal church to figure out whose words are being spoken, especially if the speaker doesn't give explicit attribution. Figuring it out in the scriptures is almost pointless, imo. "God" is good enough for me, in nearly all cases.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Testimony of the Book of Mormon

I have read the Book of Mormon and pondered it and prayed over it (just like the Bible) and have felt a confirmation of the Spirit. I have compared it to the word of God in the Bible and have had my witness of the Bible strengthened as a result. One of the stated purposes of the Book of Mormon is to convince the world of the truthfulness of the Bible (Mormon 7:9), and it has done so for me.

Intellectually, I also can accept it as canonized scripture for four primary reasons:

1) God spoke to many inside the Bible where His words are not recorded in the Bible. There literally are dozens of texts mentioned therein that are not included therein. In other words, there are multiple examples of sacred, inspired texts and revelation cited in the Bible that, if found, would be accepted (I hope) by every Christian. "Canonization" was accomplished by those who understood that they were NOT defining the totality of God's words to His children; rather, they were reviewing what records were available to them and making decisions about validity AND importance. "Canonization" has come to mean FAR more than it did originally - and I can't accept those later, artificial constraints.

2) The Biblical pattern appears clear to me: God spoke through prophets PRIOR to the birth of Jesus - including to those outside of the House of Israel (Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, is a wonderful example); He spoke THROUGH Jesus; He spoke through prophets AFTER the death of Jesus (including new visions and visitations - like Paul's); the resurrection didn't stop revelation through prophets and He never said He would stop speaking through prophets. That claim was a retroactive one made LONG after the records were first recorded - and it is EXACTLY like the claim used by the Jews to reject the New Testament after nearly 400 years of official silence after Malachi. If new records are found claiming to be God's words to ancient Polynesian prophets or Asian prophets or Icelandic prophets or African prophets - and if those records inspire people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and allow Him and the Holy Ghost to bring forth good fruit unto Him and live humble lives of dedication as disciples - and in every way produce "Christians" and "good fruit of the true Vine" - then I will accept the possibility that they are, in fact, true scriptural words of God to that people. I won't accept them automatically, but I won't reject them automatically either.

3) I also have been fascinated to see what I believe are the misconceptions about the Book of Mormon (both by non-Mormons AND Mormons alike) fade away one by one as new information and evidence arises. For example, from the time I first read it so many years ago, I have thought it was a record of a very small minority of people in a very small geographic area (with the exception of the Jaredites, who appear to have been nomadic roamers of the classic Asian steppe model) - full of the same hyperbolic language that runs throughout the Bible and is a characteristic of many ancient records. I am not bothered by former beliefs of members and leaders that appear now to have been wrong, since those teachings aren't teachings OF or IN the Book of Mormon but rather beliefs ABOUT the Book of Mormon - and that is an important distinction that very few people make. (Again, it is interesting to me that so many Biblical scholars understand the nature of interpretive disagreement when it comes to Biblical scholarship but are unable to grant that same flexibility to Book of Mormon scholarship - again establishing a standard for Mormons to which other Christians aren't held.)

4) Finally, I have been struck as I have studied what the book actually says in both 1 Nephi and Ether by how incredibly different and spot-on those two books are. I don't have time or space in this post to explain that statement in detail, so I simply will leave it at that.

I have heard multiple reasons why people reject the possibility that the Book of Mormon might be the word of God and a real prophetic record, but I have not heard one in all my years that is more convincing than my personal witnesses.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Valuing Individuality in a Unified Group

As a follow-up to my post yesterday, a friend shared the following quote with me last week. I think it is profound and want to share it here:

"Cookie cutters are for cookies, not for people."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mormonism: Communal Unity & Individual Diversity

Mormonism has been called "non-creedal" by a lot of people, and I like that overall label - as much as I dislike most labels. There is an important application of this terminology that goes a long way toward addressing one of the largest misconceptions about Mormons - the idea that we are brainwashed robots who all think alike.

One of the things that drives people crazy about Mormons is that you can ask 20 Mormons a question and get at least 5 different responses - with variations in some points that really can give you 20 different answers. This is not because Mormons will say anything to convince people they are Christian, as I have heard some people claim. It is not "lying" in any sense of the word. The reason is that the VAST majority of "answers" aren't provided by "The Church" in an official statement. The general principle is, in Joseph Smith's words, "Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves." Of course, there are texts and talks/sermons and statements by leaders, but there is relatively little that requires unanimity of understanding to maintain one's place as a "faithful" member. Even most of the standards to enter the temple (which are the most restrictive in the Church) deal almost completely with what one does - NOT what one professes to believe. There also is NO belief in prophetic infallibility – which means there is no requirement to hold onto what previous leaders believed, and there is an openness to change (even major change) that baffles many other Christians.

Further complicating the picture is the emphasis on the Gift of the Holy Ghost (the baptism of fire bestowed symbolically by the laying on of hands after baptism by water for all members) and its attendant personal revelation - which puts the responsibility on the individual to develop his or her own understanding of and relationship to God. This means, in a very real and powerful way, that Mormonism is an interesting mixture of centralized, full-time, hierarchical, vertical organization and correlation at the church-wide level and individualized, volunteer, amateur, horizontal organization and thought at the local and individual level. We believe in prophets and apostles who convey to us **at the meta level** what God wants His children to hear **collectively** in their specific day, but we believe it is up to us each as individuals to take that counsel and command, figure out which it is (counsel or command), pray for guidance as to how it applies to our own circumstances, seek the will of the Lord for those circumstances, and accept accountability on our own for the result of our choices throughout that process.

In the end, while we believe the prophets will never lead us to do or accept something that will deprive us of our eternal reward, we believe that ultimately it is up to us to figure out what we believe. Of course, there are areas of broadly defined unanimous consent (Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world; we are saved by the grace of God; we are commanded to obey the commandments He has given - produce the fruits of a life truly connected to the Vine; what is recorded in the Articles of Faith; etc.), but they really are few and far between when viewed in the big picture. Mormons disagree with each other on a LOT of issues - even purely theological ones that other Christians often think of as obvious, specifically because very few things are presented as absolutes.

In all my years in "The Church" there have been only a handful of things that I would consider to have been "official church teachings" with which I disagreed - and I am moderate by most standards and definitions. (some conservative views, some liberal views and many in the middle somewhere) I disagreed with the Priesthood ban, as is obvious from my previous comments on that subject. I think I understand why God allowed it to be in place for so long, and that understanding helped me accept the practice even while I did not accept its rationalization. My view on homosexuality is now fairly close to the Church's official statement in "God Loveth His Children", but that agreement only happened recently. Prior to the most recent statement, I disagreed with the standard explanation - but it wasn't presented as immutable doctrine, so I accepted the difference. Joseph Smith was as deeply flawed as I and you and every Biblical prophet, but I believe he was a prophet - as I also would say of Brigham Young and the prophets since him.

In short, in all my years as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have never been told, "You MUST believe "this" **in exactly this way** to be a faithful member," and disagreed with "this". In fact, while my own views on some things are not the "mainstream" views of perhaps the majority of members (quite heterodox in some cases), I still have served and do serve in highly visible positions in my local congregations. Usually my views are accepted by my fellow worshipers; sometimes they are not. I'm fine with that, given what I said in the opening paragraphs of this post.

Summary:

I believe in the ability to craft communal unity while celebrating and encouraging individual diversity, even in terms of ideological outlook.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness Should Not Lead to Spiritual Gluttony

In revisiting the Beatitudes, I found this post - modified slightly to fit my reflections now:

Hunger and thirst have one, and only one, purpose - to prompt the one who is hungry and thirsty to eat in order to quench that hunger and thirst, thus protecting the body from the damage that inevitably occurs from lack of nourishment. Thus, we feel hunger and thirst when we are in need of physical nourishment and are at risk of physical harm. As I was considering that (what hunger and thirst really are), I was struck by the correlation between how similar a good physical diet and a good spiritual diet are - and how wise the counsel is that we receive from our prophets and apostles.

Nutritionists teach that the absolute best way to construct a diet is to eat small meals throughout the day - as often as every 2-3 hours - a little food each time - just enough to "take the edge off" and satisfy the hunger and thirst that is felt as we burn away the calories (nutritional energy) provided by our food. In other words, the best way to manage food is to eat just enough to make the hunger and thirst go away (to replenish our physical energy), then repeat that process each time hunger and thirst is felt (when that physical energy is used). Obviously, that is not possible for most people in the course of their daily lives, so a general compromise is to eat three times daily - and exercise enough to burn the calories we consume when we eat.

Other patterns of diet are not as healthy, since they ignore the warnings signs (hunger and thirst) and procrastinate the alleviation of those signs. For example, a "feast and famine" approach is unhealthy, as it does not provide steady nourishment (along with a host of other issues), while extreme diets might produce immediate and dramatic weight loss but rarely are sustainable, since they are incapable of establishing nutritional habits, and often cause problems with organs that are overtaxed by too much and then too little nourishment. Often, once the initial weight loss is achieved, old habits return - creating a yo-yo effect with weight control, which brings its own set of issues and complications (both physical and emotional). The effects of binging and purging are obvious and destructive.

There is one other habit that deserves to be considered: gluttony. Gluttony is partaking in excess, in this case going beyond dietary need and wrecking the proper balance that produces optimum health - and it generally is accompanied by a lack of proper exercise, through which excess calories (nutritional energy) are burned away. When gluttony is practiced to an extreme degree, morbid obesity creates all kinds of health issues. It is an incredibly destructive dietary practice, and it is available only to those who have access to a surplus of food. In a very real way, it is a case of selfishness, since it consumes food unneeded by the consumer and takes that food away from others who actually need it.

It is interesting to compare this to the advice and counsel we have received for feeding ourselves spiritually. The general forms of spiritual nourishment are fasting, prayer, scripture study and pondering/contemplation. The counsel is and always has been to fast at least monthly (and more often whenever necessary), pray at least morning and night and at various other times when appropriate (and keep a prayer in the heart always), read the scriptures at least daily, and ponder/contemplate the things of God always. This creates a situation in which you are fed spiritually continually, where there is some form of spiritual nourishment occurring at the very moment it is needed. There is no feasting and famine - no "extreme diet" - no binging and purging - just a steady stream of nourishment that maintains an optimum state of spiritual health.

There also is no gluttony in this approach, as the constant and daily aspects of spiritual nourishment should be undertaken within the context of our other responsibilities of life. Caring for our families includes time in "occupational" pursuits (outside of or inside the home) and recreational activities; we set aside time for the development of talents; we engage in the service of others; etc. This allows us to "burn away" our excess spiritual energy, tone and strengthen our spirits, and create a properly balanced soul.

I have seen the effects of spiritual gluttony in the lives of some people I love deeply - people I know are good, caring, loving, spiritual individuals. They are good people at heart, but the inordinate amount of time they spend involved in individual spiritual AND church activities reduces the amount of time they have available to spend with family and friends - and/or serve the needy - and/or develop talents - etc., thus reducing the amount of "spiritual energy and nourishment" they are able to "burn away" to provide spiritual light and heat and nourishment and energy for others. Just as with physical gluttony, it removes spiritual nutrition from others, lessening their opportunity for spiritual nourishment. In some cases, it leads those they love the most to assume that they are not loved as much as the pursuit of spiritual nourishment - creating, in one example I have seen, the impression that dead people (temple work) are more important than live people (family and friends and neighbors).

It is important as we hunger and thirst after righteousness that we do so in a proper manner - feeding our spirits like we should feed our physical bodies - creating real balance in the nourishment of our souls.

Jesus' Gospel and Grace are FAR More Powerful than That

I wrote the following quoted statement as a comment / response to someone in the thread earlier this week about the Mormon view of salvation and its reach beyond this mortal life, but I want to post it today as a separate topic - since I think it is something that simply MUST be considered when discussing salvation / exaltation / eternal reward.

I will say one thing, and I don't mean this to be confrontational, but I do
believe it strongly:

The idea that this life ONLY is the time to accept or reject is a great
cop-out for many people to practice hating and judging their neighbor - since
anyone can scream hellfire and damnation at others then blame them for rejecting
the message. Also, I just can't accept that God would damn someone who
attends Sunday School weekly and hears the Gospel preached but rejects
Christianity in this life because her pious father took her to church then went
home and raped her repeatedly, for example.

For justice to be just, it simply MUST account for mortal circumstances
that cloud judgment and push people away from truth. That, according to
the Bible as I read it, is the most powerful application of grace - and
rejecting a chance in the post-mortal existence, imo, is rejecting the heart of
grace.


Summary:

I don't believe God will punish someone for rejecting the Gospel if believers, especially, do a lousy or even abominable job of modeling it - and especially if people see evil done in the name of Christianity and reject the Christianity they see rather then pure Gospel Jesus preached. The idea that He is limited in His ability to save and exalt by our understanding and implementation of His Gospel is ludicrous to me. Jesus' Gospel and grace, in my opinion, are FAR more powerful than that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Possible Salvation: A Mormon Take

We believe salvation is independent of denomination, which very few people realize is a tenet of Mormonism. In fact, given our belief in the universal potential of the Atonement of Christ, we believe it is independent of religious affiliation in totality - IF someone truly did not have a chance to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in mortality. We believe those judgments will be made by our Eternal Judge, Jesus, the Christ - not by we who see through a glass, darkly. Allowing for salvation outside our own limited understanding is an aspect of humility and gratitude that is central to our theology. (Since there is not one of us that "deserves" salvation, we need to avoid the natural tendency to say that others "don't deserve it". We are commanded to love ALL and not judge ANY - in that regard, at least.)

Ironically, we get told all the time that we believe only Mormons will be saved, while our actual theology allows for the salvation of MANY more of God's children than the majority of Christian denominations allow. We leave salvation open to the reaches of grace beyond the opportunities of this life, while many other Christian theologies deny salvation to all but those blessed to hear of Jesus and the Gospel and accept them in this life. Thus, the number of those who have a shot at salvation within Mormonism's view is exponentially higher than that within almost any other segment of Christianity. It really is one of the misconceptions that bothers me the most, since it is a HUGE moat and beam issue, in my mind.

As succinctly as I can put it, we believe the Bible on this one. We accept Paul's statement in I Corin. 15:22 that "as in Adam ALL die, so in Christ shall ALL be made alive." ALL of God's children are saved from physical death and will be resurrected. ALL will be saved from the effects of the Fall - from those things that are out of their control as a result of being born into a sinful world. ALL will have the opportunity (somehow, at some time) to hear the Gospel of Christ and accept it or reject it. We don't know many details of how that will happen, but we extrapolate from the words of Paul and Peter that it will happen either in this life or in the post-mortal life (whatever title we might give it).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Garden of Eden: A Wonderful Jewish Perspective

Rich - The Dichotomy of Eve, comment #124 (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

I personally love the perspective provided by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his brilliant book, “How Good Do We Have To Be?”:

I see Eve as being terribly brave as she eats the fruit. She is not frivolous, disobedient, or easily seduced, as later interpreters have insisted on describing her. She is boldly crossing the boundary into the unknown, venturing to discover what lies beyond the limits of animal existence, and reaching back to bring Adam after her. The portrait of Eve in Genesis calls to mind the Greek myth of Pandora (described in some versions of the story as the first woman on earth). Pandora was given a box and told never to open it. Inevitably she did, and all manner of troubles and diseases flew out to plague the world ever after. One suspects that the original story has been distorted, as the Garden of Eden story has been misinterpreted, to paint the woman as the villain responsible for all the world’s problems. The name Pandora means “all gifts” in Greek, and one might speculate that in the original story, the box contained all sorts of good things the gods wanted to keep from mankind. In the same way, I read the story of the garden not as an account of Eve imposing Sin and Death on her descendants, but as an account of her giving us humanity, with all of its pain and all of its richness. Like Pandora, the donor of “all gifts,”, Eve has given her descendants more than existence; she has given us Life.

I don’t believe that eating from the Tree of Knowledge was sinful. I believe it was one of the bravest and most liberating events in the history of the human race…

The woman is not the villain of the story, enslaved by appetite and bringing sin and death into the world. She can be seen as the heroine of the story, leading her husband into the brave new world of moral demands and moral decisions.

And religion is not the carping voice of condemnation, telling us that the normal is sinful and the well-intentioned mistake is an unforgivable transgression that will damn us forever. Religion is the voice that says, I will guide you through this minefield of difficult moral choices, sharing with you the insights and experiences of the greatest souls of the past, and I will offer you comfort and forgiveness when you are troubled by the painful choices you made.

To say that human beings do wrong things, to say that they are capable of cruelty and deceit far worse than any other creature, to say that nobody will ever lead a perfect life any more than any baseball player will ever bat 1.000, is a statement about human beings and the complexity of the choices we have to make. To say that we are destined to lose God’s love or to go to Hell because of our sins is not a statement about us but about God, about the tentative nature of God’s love and the conditional nature of God’s forgiveness. It is a claim that God expects perfection from us and will settle for nothing less. I agree with the first concept, the fallibility of human beings. But I strenuously reject the second. If I am capable of forgiveness, of recognizing intermittent weakness in good people or good intentions gone astray in myself and in others, how can God not be capable of at least as much?

HOW THE STORY MIGHT HAVE ENDED

So the woman saw that the tree was good to eat and a delight to the eye, and the serpent said to her, “Eat of it, for when you eat of it, you will be as wise as God.” But the woman said, “No, God has commanded us not to eat of it, and I will not disobey God.”

And God called to the man and the woman and said to them, “Because you have hearkened to My word and not disobeyed My command, I shall reward you greatly.” To the man, He said, “You will never have to work again. Spend all your days in idle contentment, with food growing all around you.” To the woman, He said, “You will bear children without pain and you will raise them without pain. They will need nothing from you. Children will not cry when their parents die, and parents will not cry when their children die.” To both of them, He said, “For the rest of your lives, you will have full bellies and contented smiles. You will never cry and you will never laugh. You will never long for something you don’t have, and you will never receive something you always wanted.” And the man and the woman grew old together in the garden, eating daily from the Tree of Life and having many children. And the grass grew high around the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil until it disappeared from view, for there was no one to tend it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Learning from Ministers and Their Sermons

I analyze everything and separate into two categories: the good / instructive and the crap. My focus, however, is on the good and instructive. In other words, I try to separate out the crap specifically so I can focus and "dwell" on the good.

I even did that when I was driving a lot in areas where the only radio stations were local religious programming. I would listen to the sermons and say, "Crap. Crap. Crap. Oh, cool, I hadn't thought of it quite like that. Crap. That's interesting. WOW; great way to phrase that. Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap. OK, had enough." Then I would spend my free time on the drive thinking about the parts of the sermon that were insightful and instructive. I have written some excellent talks while I drove, and many of them were inspired by sermons from ministers that, frankly, were quite crappy overall.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Service: Don't Let the "Small Things" Go Undone

As I re-focus on the Beatitudes this month, I was impressed to go back and re-visit various things that I have learned over the last two years - and especially experiences I have had as I have focused on the Sermon on the Mount. The following experience came while I was focusing on mourning with those who mourn:

Just over eighteen months ago, I spoke in a Sacrament Meeting. As I was standing in the hallway prior to Priesthood and Relief Society meetings starting, I noticed one of the sisters I know crying almost hysterically and being comforted by two other sisters. I found out that this sister had lost a grandson the previous week in a particularly difficult way to accept.

Seeing that she was being comforted by others, I started to walk away - but I was struck by my resolution that month. This was exactly the type of situation I had resolved to seek, so I walked over and gave her a hug - and ended up helping to escort her to an empty room, then finding the Relief Society president and helping to arrange for continued help throughout the rest of the meeting schedule.

I was struck by a few things:

1) We shouldn't limit our comforting and mourning to only those situations where no one else is around to provide it (or for only the short time after it initially is needed). Even if it appears that "everything is being taken care of" (or has been taken care of) we still should give whatever we can - even if it ends up being nothing more than a token of the fact that we really do care. People who are grieving or mourning or need comfort need to know that everyone around them cares about them; getting help from only the first few who happen to see the need simply isn't enough. In a very real way, mourning and comforting is ideally a community activity - not just one that is isolated to a few.

2) I really don't know if my actions had a lasting impact on this sister - or even if she remembers it, at all. I do believe, however, that they will have a lasting impact on me - and that is not an unimportant thing. Obviously, I still remember - fortified by my recording of the experience. It is not selfish to want to feel how I felt as I helped her; it is a good thing.

3) This sister called me the next day to thank me for being willing to step outside my official role at the time and help her simply in my role as a friend and brother. I hadn't looked at it that way as I hugged her, but I am moved by that statement. There is too much formality and structure sometimes to how we interact with each other. Sometimes we simply need a hug and a shoulder upon which to cry.

President Monson talked in General Conference last Sunday of providing simple service, and I think we too often forget that such service does not need to be even service we alone can provide. Sometimes it is service that is available to all - that anyone can do. Sometimes the "easiest" service is exactly the service that remains undone.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Wouldn't Jesus Do?

Often people ask, "What would Jesus do?" I like to consider, "What Wouldn't Jesus Do?"

What if “what Jesus wouldn’t do” is way different than most of us imagine? What if contemplating this question forces us to re-examine our assumptions (many that have descended through a cultural prism that we classify as corrupted and apostate over time) about what His “mortal perfection” means? I agree that emulating our Savior still is very hard and unattainable all at once, but even the Bible says Jesus grew "from grace to grace" and "in favor with God and man".

To recap, the scriptural meaning of "perfect" is "complete, finished, fully developed". Just before He died on the cross, Jesus exclaimed, “It is finished.” According to Matthew 5:48, He might have said, instead, "I am now perfect." He grew from grace to grace until he FINALLY could claim, right before he died, "It is finished." Why do we suppose we need to short-circuit the process of growth He experienced and be now what He was only at the end?

I think we buy into the incorrect traditions of our fathers too much with regard to many topics, and how we view “what Jesus wouldn’t do” is one of them. There is something profoundly disturbing about the idea that “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” - and it is related directly to our too common acceptance of totally unrealistic expectations, especially for far too many women I know.

Have you ever wondered why He wasn't accepted in His own home town as the Messiah? Maybe they looked forward to "their Messiah" through the same type of lens we use to look backward at "our Savior and Redeemer" - with totally unrealistic expectations. Maybe there's a reason we have essentially no record of His life until after the beginning of His ministry. Maybe we need more answers; maybe we need more questions. Certainly, I believe, we need fewer unrealistic expectations - of Him, of our friends and family and neighbors, of ourselves.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Individual Journeys

I think there are as many "journeys" as there are individuals. The path might be strait and narrow, but getting to it and moving from the beginning to the end is anything but identical for each of us. Like I've said in other posts, I'm grateful that mine was the right one for me. I'm not about to judge anyone else's simply by how it compares to mine. No matter how we get there, if we both reach the same destination, we both reach the same destination - no matter how much time we actually spend getting to the path, how much time we actually spend on it or what condition we are in when we reach it. (the first hour laborer or the eleventh hour, fifty-ninth minute laborer - the mortal disciple or the post-mortal believer) In the end, no matter what, when we are able to see the big picture, I think all of us will be thankful for whatever it takes to get us there.

I do think, however, that it is important to "experience it again and anew" occasionally as we walk the path.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Obedient, but Unfulfilled

Trusting God (Part 2) - Seraphine (Zelophehad's Daughters)

Comment #42 - Roasted Tomatoes:

Seraphine, this post and the related comment thread have stuck with me for a couple of days now. I don’t have great insight to offer, just an odd idea from the days of the Spanish Empire (really!). In those days, it was a practice of royal officials when given commands that they felt were impossible or impractical to return the response, “Obedezco pero no cumplo” — roughly, “I obey but I can’t fulfill.”

This fits pretty well with the Mormon idea, from the D&C in the Missouri era and also related to the Manifesto, that God doesn’t hold it against us when we fail to fulfill His commandments because other people have made it impossible. “Obedezco pero no cumplo” seems like a possible option for Mormons from time to time…

Monday, October 5, 2009

Paul v. John - Oaks v. Uchtdorf: Why We NEED a Quorum of 12 Apostles

As I listened to General Conference, and as I read various responses around the Bloggernacle to the talks given in General Conference, something struck me that had never crossed my mind previously. I want to share it as my own personal epiphany from General Conference.

Elder Bednar gave a beautiful talk on the need to express AND show love in our homes. In at least four talks, love was emphasized as the foundation of our Christian discipleship. One of the reasons Elder Wirthlin's death was hard for me is that he spoke powerfully and regularly about accepting others and loving them no matter what they believe or do or say. (His talk "Concern for the One" is my personal all-time favorite.) As I listened to Pres. Uchtdorf this weekend, it struck me that he is my "replacement" for Elder Wirthlin - someone who speaks of tolerance and acceptance and grace and love on a regular basis. I am drawn to and inspired deeply by messages that focus on love and acceptance and grace and mercy.

Saturday afternoon, Elder Oaks spoke about the balance between love and law - and I have read multiple expressions of concern over his talk. Especially when viewed by those who were uplifted by the messages focusing on love, it was a difficult talk to understand and accept. For some, it seemed to be a step away from the "pure love of Christ" within the other talks that moved them so deeply. Personally, I believe it was a masterful discourse and another one of my favorites - and my epiphany yesterday morning as I was preparing to watch the Sunday morning session is that there is a reason (even a deep and abiding need) for BOTH Elder Oaks AND Pres. Uchtdorf - Elder McConkie AND Elder Wirthlin - the Apostle Paul AND John, the Revelator - Brigham Young AND Joseph Smith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the church that is called a restoration of ALL things.

I will try to explain by focusing on Paul and John:

1) Paul was a leader in the Jewish system at the time of his conversion. In summary, he was legally-minded - interpreting laws and customs, and enforcing them among the Jews. After his conversion, this background and intellectual inclination remained as a great influence in his writing. His epistles are FULL of legalistic justifications and explanations - I Corinthians 15:1-29 being a wonderful example of this as he explained and justified the early Christian focus on the resurrection, and Hebrews 11 doing the same things when explaining faith. He didn't "just" bear testimony of the resurrection and faith; he couched both discourses in legalistic terms - "court arguments", if you will.

2) John, the Revelator, on the other hand, is the apostle most associated with focusing on love. His own "gospel" and epistles are full of incredible messages of love and unity. "God so loved the world" - "If ye love me" - "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" - "God is love" - and SO many other statements permeate his record and his letters.

Those who compiled the New Testament hundreds of years later chose disproportionately to include Paul's writings, but they also included John's very different focus - and James' classic exploration of faith vs. works - and Mark's quite disjointed and grammatically difficult account - and Matthew's kingship treatise. If I were in a snitty mood, I might argue with what specifically they chose, but I am grateful that they chose to include writings that focused on Jesus and His teachings in different ways - that they compiled a record that can appeal to different people with different personalities and different experiences. Those with a more legalistic bent can appreciate Paul and Oaks, while those who care more for the touchy-feely "warm fuzzies" of the Gospel can gravitate to and be inspired by John and Uchtdorf. Those who like both (as I do) also can enjoy some of Bednar and Holland, who move from one approach to the other quite regularly.

In summary, I am thankful that we have the opportunity to listen to BOTH Elder Oaks (a judge, by the way) AND Pres. Uchtdorf - since this allows ALL to hear someone with whom they can connect emotionally and/or intellectually. The key, in my opinion, is to find one's own "favorites" - while accepting that other people are doing the same with the words of apostles to whom you personally cannot connect quite as well.

I thank God for a Quorum of Twelve Apostles - and I am grateful that they don't all say the same things in the same way.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Refocusing on the Beatitudes

My resolution for this month is to refocus on the Beatitudes, taken from Matthew 7:24-27. To set the tone for this post, I want to highlight only the first phrase from this passage:

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them . . .


It is critical to consider that the last words we have in the Sermon on the Mount are a very clear call to ACTION - a re-statement of the idea that not all who cite His name actually do His will and produce righteous fruit of the true vine. In that vein, as I recap the Sermon on the Mount at the end of this two-year resolution, I want to focus specifically on what "these sayings of mine" are - to identify exactly what Jesus meant in the final four verses of this wonderful sermon and, for the rest of this month, excerpt some of the things I have learned about some of those things. I also want to highlight each one in a way that draws it back to the exhortation to be someone who not only heareth but also doeth them.

So:

Blessed are the poor in spirit.


Are you a little more humble than you were a year ago?

Blessed are they that mourn.


Do you mourn (particularly with those who mourn) a little more than you did a year ago?

Blessed are the meek.


Are you a little meeker (more gentle, forgiving and benevolent) than you were a year ago?

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Do you crave righteousness a little more than you did a year ago?

Blessed are the merciful.

Are you a little more merciful (more compassionate, more willing to not punish others for their actions, more ready to let things go that bother you) than you were a year ago?

Blessed are the pure in heart.


Is your heart a little cleaner and more purified than it was a year ago?

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Is there a little more peace in your own soul, and do you bring a little more peace to those with whom you associate, than you did a year ago?

The time-line I have chosen is an arbitrary one, and I'm NOT suggesting that we must answer each and every question affirmatively in order to be following the admonition to do what we hear, but I believe strongly that we must be able to answer positively to at least SOME of the questions posed above (or others in the same vein) in order to be "faithful" and "repentant" as represented by the imagery of the wise man and his rock-built-upon house. I love Pres. Hinckley's plea to do a little more and be a little better, but I am convinced that the key is a constant and conscious movement forward - no matter the pace.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Of Knowing and Believing

As a result of the comments about my previous post on knowledge and faith, I offer the following:

I read all the time people's concerns about testimonies where members say, "I know . . ." The standard criticism is that it is impossible to "know" anything - that an honest wording would be, "I believe . . ." - or, "I strongly believe . . ."

In response to this concern over statements of "know" vs. "have faith" - and especially people saying, "I know the Church is true":

I have no problem with that statement coming from anyone, since I interpret such statements by Nephi's personal definition in 1 Nephi 1:3. (my own words according to my own knowledge) We live in a hyper-sensitive world when it comes to distinguishing between "think", "believe", "hope" and "know", but it wasn't always so. As long as the statement means, "I (for myself) know (as much as I personally am able to know) that the Church is true (since I can't fathom any other way to explain my impressions and experiences)," I am totally fine with it - even if the parenthetical disclaimers are left unconsidered and unsaid. I really do believe there are things I personally "know" - things that I simply can't accept as being anything but "true". I often define "true" as when talking of a compass - meaning "pointing in the right direction" - but there are some things I believe to be objectively Truth inasmuch as I can comprehend such things.

Having said that, my concern is that others feel pressure to say "I know" amid their own uncertainty, or, even worse, they feel like a lack of certainty somehow is not good enough - when our own scriptures say that some have a GIFT to believe but not know. If their faith is a gift from God, I simply can't classify it as inferior or inadequate in any way.