Monday, November 30, 2009

Unrealistic Expectations: Chastity

There was a family near me growing up in which the father preached against immorality in such a way that the message was, "All boys have raging hormones and need to suppress their sinful inclinations." I know for a fact that this father faced this particular temptation (without ever succumbing to it), so it is "understandable" that he would think this way, but his sons ended up seeing their very natural urges as sinful, instead of natural effects of the Fall. Therefore, they were wracked as teenagers with feelings of inadequacy and failure and guilt every time they saw a girl and even thought, "Wow, she's hot!" At least two of them ended up convinced that they could never be good enough - and they couldn't based on their Law of Moses definition of perfection.

Recognizing that having such a thought is not actually a sin - that at its very worst it is a transgression caused by our fallen state and at its best solid evidence of heterosexual tendencies (*grin*) - and turning to the Lord for help to see even beautiful girls and women as He sees them - could have removed a tremendous burden from their shoulders and freed them to focus on something else instead. It would have allowed those boys to realize that they didn't need to beat themselves up for being human. Rather than their painful and impossible efforts to become "less human" - which led to almost giving up completely for one and terrible decisions for the other, they could have accepted their humanity as having been redeemed already and simply focused their efforts on managing their natural inclinations properly.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

There is a Real Power in Fasting and Prayer

Nothing about which I have been fasting and praying this month has been reconciled completely yet, but I have gained a much deeper appreciation of the power that is available through fasting and prayer.

I have experienced a wonderful clarity of vision this month about some things that have been bothering me for some time, and I can chalk that up to my effort to focus time and effort on contemplation, fasting and prayer. Some might attribute everything to the contemplation, and perhaps the most profound aspect of fasting is in the intense focus it allows us to bring to those things about which we are fasting, but I have felt an opening of the heavens and inspiration this month that has been of great comfort and worth to me.

For that, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I am thankful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Difference Between Sin and Transgression is Critical

I always have understood "sin" to be different than "transgression". "Transgression" is the broad, umbrella category of "going beyond or overstepping some boundary or limit" - in religious terms, of breaking a commandment. "Sin", otoh, is a subset of transgression where one understands a commandment and consciously chooses to break it. Therefore, a young child can transgress without sinning; a Catholic can transgress the Word of Wisdom without sinning; my retarded cousin can transgress without sinning; etc.

At the most basic level, every person transgresses and every person who is capable of understanding the validity of a limit / law / commandment sins. We all do things we know we shouldn't do, and we all don't do things we know we should do. The trick, imo, is knowing what things we really are capable of doing - so we know what constitutes sin for ourselves as individuals.

The best example, again, is my retarded cousin - or someone with severe dementia. Some things that are sin for me are transgressions for him. However, most (if not all) of us are not fully aware of our own "hidden disabilities" - so we are not fully aware of what actually is within our control and what is not. Therefore, all we can do is our best to understand ourselves and strive to develop the characteristics of godliness that will eliminate our weaknesses that cause our sins and transgressions.

We have been told that we will not be punished for the natural transgressions we commit simply as a result of the Fall (our actions we don't consciously choose, like the words my friend utters in the throes of her bi-polar disorder or my mom's actions when her "sleeping pills" no longer worked), as a reward for the pre-existent choice we made to accept Jehovah as our Lord and Savior and Redeemer. (Iow, we won't end up worse off as a result of our birth than we would have if we had never been born.) We also are told that our sins (incorrect *choices*) can be forgiven *as long as we accept the Lord's redemption and strive to become like Him and our Father*. The promised forgiveness of our transgressions gave us access to a degree of glory; the offered forgiveness of our sins gives us hope for a fullness of glory. The first (forgiveness of transgression) places us above Lucifer and his followers; the second (forgiveness of sin) opens the possibility of being a joint-heir with Christ.

I believe the Restored Gospel we currently teach broadens the gray and shrinks the black and white dramatically - particularly compared to most Protestant denominations. The black and white still exist, but most of us live and learn and struggle in the gray - forever fighting to see and understand and live correctly whatever constitutes the "true" black and white. I believe our church more clearly defines the ultimate objective FAR better than any other of which I am aware and gives us access to more light and knowledge than any other of which I am aware, but I also believe we still "see through a [grayish] glass darkly" - much more than many "black-and-white-ists" believe.

My concern over the distinction comes from seeing so many people who feel "guilty" for their naturally inherited weakness - the things that lead them to transgress - as if they were sinning simply because they couldn't overcome totally that inherited weakness. They have been told so often that "any mistake is sin" that they beat themselves up continually over what amounts simply to being human. They can't recognize that Jesus already has paid that price for them - that "the truth will make you free" in that particular way - that they can "cast those burdens at His feet" and simply look for ways to change without debilitating guilt over how hard it is and how long it takes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I Am Thankful

I am thankful for the opportunity to do what I want and love to do.

I am thankful for my family.

I am thankful for the Gospel and church members who love and support each other.

I am thankful for a forum where I can express my feelings - and for people who care enough to read them.

I am thankful for much - FAR more than I can express here in the short time I have to do so.

In short, I am thankful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rethinking Our Assumptions of the Book of Mormon

There are many assumptions about the Book of Mormon that simply aren't supported by the record itself. Unfortunately, many members buy into these assumptions, and some of them were believed by our early leaders. The following are only a few obvious examples:

1) The Book of Mormon itself never claims to be a record of the entire inhabitants of the entire Americas - or, frankly, of even one entire continent. In fact, it mentions multiple times that many others will be led to the Americas by the hand of God - and it never tells when or where those migrations will occur. For all we know, some of them might have been concurrent with the history to which we have access. I have written extensively about the problems with the assumptions that early Mormons made about the Book of Mormon, and Nibley wrote some incredibly compelling analyses of the internal claims. I can’t begin to summarize this in a post here, but I will try to hit a few highlights - again, focusing strictly on what the book actually says, not what others read into it or assumed about it given the general societal assumptions of their day.

2) We have a very spotty record of one family, its descendants and those with whom a portion of that family came in contact. There is almost nothing that gives any information about others who might have lived on the continents - except an even spottier record that followed the Jaredite royal line (or, more probably, those who remained close enough to the “capital” to remain under the control of that royal line). When you read the Book of Ether, it is obvious that it does not even try to keep track of all the descendants of the initial group. It focuses almost exclusively on the kings and what happens to them, only including the people around them as fodder for the tales of warfare and intrigue. In other words, after the initial explanation of the founding journey of Jared and his brother, almost the entire book is a politico-military treatise - not primarily even a religious or spiritual history of an entire people.

3) “All the land” is a common term used in ancient scripture to mean “all the known land” or “all the land under centralized rule”. Noah’s flood is seen by many Biblical scholars as having been a catastrophic local flood that wiped out everyone and everything that inhabited Noah’s world - one that was later generalized to universal status since every culture has a similar flood narrative - since nearly all large civilizations anciently were centered near and around water. (Also, a careful reading of the chapters immediately following the flood make it crystal clear that there were other human survivors of the flood outside the flood area.)

To highlight this tendency, Caesar’s edict that “all the world should be taxed” is obvious hyperbole; it simply meant “all his world” - since he was well aware of areas that were not under his control and, therefore, would not be taxed. Even just the Jaredite descendants who stayed close to the capital city easily could have numbered in the millions; they easily could have had cities that stretched from “sea to sea” (especially if the central government was located somewhere - anywhere - where "sea to sea" could have meant "huge body of water to huge body of water"); and those millions that lived in that area easily could have been rounded up and destroyed in a final, massive battle - all the while not coming close to wiping out every living human on the face of the American continents other than the Nephites and Lamanites and Mulekites of the time.

Again, this is based on what the Book of Mormon actually says about them, not culturally-based assumptions made by those who read it after it was published. Coriantumr easily could have been the sole survivor of that centrally controlled empire, while millions of other descendants of the ancient Jaredite group could have been living outside the control and knowledge of the royal family. Basic population and demographic standards almost dictate that such would have been the case after what probably was well over 2,000 years. [In fact, the incontrovertible fact that the Jaredites were unaware of the Nephite/Lamanite/Mulekite populations living relatively close to them (at least within walking distance for Coriantumr at the time of the great and final battle) argues that they had no clue whatsoever if “all” the people had been gathered, but rather gathered only those of whom they were aware.]

4) If the descendants of Lehi were a localized group, covering a relatively small area (compared to the entire continents), and if the “Lamanites” assimilated other, larger groups not specified in the Book of Mormon - like the Nephites assimilated the more numerous Mulekites (which appears almost certain, given the population descriptions included in the Book of Mormon), then their genetic footprint easily could have been diluted very, very early on.

5) Furthermore, we have no idea whatsoever what the maternal lineage was for Lehi’s children, since we have no idea whatsoever of Sariah’s lineage. Lehi appears to have been a traveling man who was outside the accepted authority structure of Jerusalem. He was not a Jew, but a descendant of Joseph - as was Ishmael. Lehi knew Egyptian fluently. It is doubtful, but Sariah could have been Egyptian - with an Israelite adopted name, as would not have been rare for that time. There is so much ambiguity as to both Lehi’s and Sariah’s origins that there simply is no way to tell what DNA testing would show for the family.

In summary, there are so many assumptions that underlie our beliefs about the Book of Mormon that sorting out what the book actually says from things that simply are assumptions ("incorrect traditions of our fathers") is vitally important in this modern day of discovery. I have found that the more I understand what it actually says, the less I am bothered by new discoveries - and the more I am amazed at the accuracy of the book itself.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Playing with the Peas - and the Piccolos

A good family friend who is a RS Pres. shared the following with my wife recently. While it's not an original analogy, I appreciate it - and want to add a little commentary to it:

A friend in our ward talked to our bishop about a problem. He told her that her problem is that she's focusing too much on the peas. She has a wide variety of food available, but she's only putting peas on her plate. [b]It doesn't matter how much you like peas; if that's all you're eating, you're going to get sick of peas![/b] He told her to broaden her palate and try some chicken and some pasta and some fruit, and then the peas will be in their proper perspective again.

There's nothing wrong with peas, in and of themselves. It's just that when they become an obsession that overshadows all the other food available . . .

It's like Elder Wirthlin's wonderful orchestra analogy:

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

If all we hear is those incessant piccolos, we miss the beauty of the full orchestra - and, sometimes, fail even to realize that there are lots of other instruments in the orchestra around us. Those of us who don't play the piccolo need to listen carefully for others who also don't play the piccolo - while continuing to appreciate what the piccolos contribute.

I would add that it's MUCH easier to appreciate the orchestra and the other instruments (not just hear the piccolos) when I am playing my own instrument and contributing my own harmony to the overall music being played.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Thy Will Be Done"

I have had an epiphany this week about why it is so hard for me to pray in a "formal" manner privately, but I need to think about it some more before I post about it - if I do. Suffice it to say for now, it revolves around my acceptance of "Thy will be done" and how I view asking for intervention to influence what I naturally want to happen in my life.

Instead of a normal resolutions post, I am going to post something I wrote recently about the need to value each other and the unique voice and view we can bring as individuals to the orchestra that should be the Church. It was written to address the question of how those who struggle to accept something about the Church or the Restored Gospel can overcome their tendency to want to break free from what they initially see as the cause of their struggle:

I know this is simplistic, but it really is about learning to be comfortable with yourself enough that you are willing to sacrifice some things for the group - even some things that seemed important when it was all about you. I'm NOT saying it is "wrong" to be in the stage when it is all about you. That's a pretty good definition of the initial reaction to things that challenge one's faith, and it simply is inevitable for those who run headfirst into a wall at some point in their lives.

The key, in my opinion, is to stop trying to get around or over the wall, so you can be on the other side. The key, in my opinion, is to learn to take apart the wall so there no longer is anything separating you - no "sides" to cause competition and clash, if you will.

Elder Wirthlin spoke of valuing all instruments in the orchestra, not just the piccolos. Joseph Smith said that we "claim the privilege of worshiping God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow ALL men (and women) everywhere the same privilege, let them worship how, when or what they may." It's easy to forget that "all" and "everywhere" includes those who struggle and worship differently than the "norm" inside the LDS Church just as much as it includes those outside the LDS Church. Of course, there are certain lines that can't be crossed without causing someone to be excluded from official designation of "member", but the natural (wo)man tends to draw those lines far too narrowly and ends up excluding the trumpets and bassoons and bagpipes that otherwise would add beautiful harmony to the orchestra if allowed to stay and play with the piccolos.

In these matters, too, I believe we need to be willing to say, "Thy will be done."

Friday, November 20, 2009

One Average Member Can Change an Entire Ward

Often, wards and branches take on the personality of the Bishop or Branch President. Auxiliaries often do the same thing in modeling their individual presidents. This can be alleviated by a visible counselor who has a different personality, but leadership style and personality are strong indicators of the type of vibe within a ward. That cuts both ways, unfortunately.

Having said this, I have witnessed one ward where an out-going, loving, smiling sister with no major calling almost single-handedly changed the spirit in a ward. It was impossible to be anything but happy around her -
and she was "around" everyone all the time. It is hard to describe how her spirit of joy and love affected the other members of that ward; it's hard to understand how pervasively her influence was felt. Thanks, Sis. A.

My advice:
Be the change you want to see and pray that others will follow your lead. (Just don't get judgmental about it.) Oh, and smile as you put yourself around people as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Explaining the Illogical: The Case for Faith in a Physical Resurrection

One of the things I like most about Mormonism is the almost extreme reliance on “explaining” rather than “convincing”. I don’t go into any of the discussions in which I participate in the Bloggernacle trying to “convince” anyone; I really don’t. I have no expectation that my words will be so eloquent that a reader will be compelled by my genius to acknowledge that Mormonism really is the kingdom of God on earth. (That was intentional hyperbole.) All I want to do is explain my own beliefs and perspectives - and often point out the double standard we often face in these types of discussions.

Honestly, that’s all. It’s not my job to try to “convert” or “convince” anyone; I understand clearly that there are smarter people than I who can create more intellectually powerful justifications than I. If intellectualism is the standard, then Christianity as a whole is doomed, since much of what it teaches is illogical and impossible to defend intellectually.

Frankly, that is true of all Christianity, but I believe it is true more for Mormons than it is for those who believe strictly in a spiritual state in the afterlife. The ultimate, illogical claim of Christ was not that he, as the Son of God and God incarnate, could forgive sins. After all, the Jews whom he taught believed in a method of forgiveness by God already. The most illogical claim of all was that his actual, physical body rose from the tomb, joined his immortal spirit and transformed into a tangible, immortal soul - and that, in this as with everything, He was and remains the express image of His Father and the example of what we also may become. His most illogical statement might very well have been, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24: 39) After all, the Jews whom he taught had no previous experience whatsoever with such a claim. To them, it was impossible - largely because it was outside the law and, therefore, illogical. The extension of that statement expressed by John, the Beloved, in his Intercessory Prayer to include all who would accept Jesus AND His Father was not accepted by the Jews then, and it simply is unfathomable to most Christians now.

Further proof of this is the denial of it by Christianity for centuries. Creedal statements and ministers have attacked the physicality of the resurrection that provides for us a way to become like God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, in direct and unequivocal terms - even though other statements like the Westminster Confession of Faith are worded in such a way as to allow for a physical resurrection similar to Mormon doctrine. However, by denying this possibility these statements unintentionally, I believe, undermine the very foundation of the "Good News" that constitutes the need for faith inherent in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul based his great sermon on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 on the reality of that event - that it was and is fundamentally different than anything that had occurred previously in the history of the world, but that it was only the first such event in a LONG line of future, similar events for all God's children.

Denying that uniqueness by making the ultimate result of Jesus' resurrection for us "just another continuation of spiritual life" - disconnected from becoming like God - in all practical terms erases completely the uniqueness of our Christian faith - and that is a serious result, indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Double Standards

I try very hard not to hold someone to a standard I can’t live. If more parents and children (both Mormon and non-Mormon) would grant the other the same consideration they request for themselves (understanding and the elimination of unrealistic expectations), much of the angst and misunderstanding that exists within relationships would be moot. (i.e., “Why can’t my child accept my convictions?” is no different than, “Why can’t my parents accept my choices?")

In that same light, much of the inter-denominational bickering and fighting we see all around us also would cease. I never cease to be amazed at how many people bristle and complain when others try to explain their beliefs, but it is more astounding to me how many of those people wouldn't hesitate to explain their own beliefs to others. At the most core level, there is little or no difference between the Mormon call to "share the Gospel" with other Christians and the Protestant call to "witness" of Christ to Mormons and Catholics and other Christians. That similarity seems so obvious to me that it surprises me when others can't see it.

However, whenever that thought hits me ("Why can't they see that?"), I have to remember the point of this post - that criticizing them for their apparent blindness is not a good idea for someone like me who has plenty of blind spots of his own. Moats and beams and pots and kettles and all that jazz.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seeking Testimonies of Prayer and Fasting

Tomorrow and Sunday I will be fasting and praying about something very important, and the thought struck me as I was contemplating the situation at the heart of my current focus that I would love to hear of experiences that others have had - particularly in situations where an important decision had to be made and the answer came clearly through inspiration derived through prayer and fasting.

Therefore, rather than write a regular post, I am asking anyone who reads this to leave a short OR long description of an experience you have had when you learned, through prayer and fasting, something that you felt was important and that helped you make a very serious, difficult choice.

Thank you in advance to all who share.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Repeat, Thank God for Drugs

(I wrote the following to someone whose friend said anti-depressants are no different than alcohol:)

Depression is, to a large degree, for many people, a physiological disability - one that can be moderated only through administering changes to the body. Your friend is discussing two approaches:

One is using a generic drug (alcohol) to cover one's problems by ignoring and suppressing them, while the other is using targeted drugs (prescribed by someone who, hopefully, has a better understanding of the big picture) to alleviate and address the actual condition that causes the depression. Alcohol causes multiple other issues, particularly since it is being self-administered. It's like using a shotgun to kill a fly without considering what else is being killed in the process. The difference is simple and clear and important.

As gently as I can say this, your friend's concern comes across as an attempt to justify her choice of drug rather than an attempt to deal properly with whatever is causing her to drink. If I were you, I would suggest to her that she should let someone who can address the actual symptoms help her. "Self-medicating" is rarely a good idea; it's much better to use prescribed drugs (in the vast majority of cases addressing depression) than it is to try to drink away the depression - for many reasons.

To those who cannot understand why Mormons would (I believe, should) use prescription drugs, I would say, "Depression is a natural result of the Fall - of mortality - for many. We are commanded to strive to overcome the natural (wo)man. We are NOT commanded to do it on our own, as individuals, without the help of medical advances. Why would we not use those advances?"

A friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia a couple of years ago. My second son has Type I diabetes. Almost everyone would call them completely stupid if they refused the chemo and insulin and other treatment medicine now can provide. Depression is NO different; not a bit. Anyone who chastises someone for taking prescribed anti-depressants just doesn't get it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Train Up a Child

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)

We had a good friend when we lived in Boston who used to say that this scripture says absolutely nothing about what the child will do before he gets old - so she had hope for the one of her eight who was rebelling. I believe the proverb wholeheartedly - as a generalization.

We can mention Heavenly Father, Lehi, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Brigham Young, Ezra Taft Benson, Hugh Nibley and lots of other visible leaders as examples of righteous parents who had children rebel - but we also can mention every single one of them as examples of righteous parents whose children generally did not rebel. We can say they prove the proverb incorrect, but we also can say they prove the proverb correct. In my opinion, seven of eight (for my friend) or two out of three (for Heavenly Father) proves the proverb as a general rule.

In the end, it really is up to individual agency, so nobody whose child or children struggle should assume automatically that it was their fault, but proper training as a child can make a huge difference.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When the Hedge Becomes the Law

These folk doctrines (not drinking Coke, staying in church clothes all day Sunday, not watching TV, etc.) are akin to being allotted only a certain number of steps on the sabbath day . . .

The problem with building a hedge around the law is that, after a while, people think the hedge is the law.

Comment #24 by Shadow on Obnoxious Folk Doctrines: the Unstoppable Force - Stephen Marsh (Mormon Matters)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Service Programs vs. Serving People

I used to work with some non-profit, charitable organizations. Someone I like very much said, to the best of my memory, “Misery hurts only when it’s experienced. The challenge of charity is to experience misery on a regular basis without becoming desensitized to it - since nobody desires to experience it. Nobody wants to feel pain and despair and grief that they do not need to feel. Since we naturally shy from misery and pain, if we are not careful, we will insulate ourselves from those we say we serve and begin to value the process of giving over the receiver of that giving - and that is a dangerous result.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Refocusing on Prayer and Fasting

As I thought about how to structure my resolution this month to "refocus on prayer and fasting," I re-read the posts I wrote originally in February when I first focused on prayer for a month. In doing so, something struck me that has sobered me greatly.

While I feel I have grown much from my attempts to internalize the characteristics and principles articulated in the Sermon on the Mount over the past two years, there are certain areas where I have not improved much - and praying formally is one of the most obvious. I had some wonderful insights this past February, but they have not changed my actions much as time has gone by. I am sure I realized this might happen when I first laid out my resolutions for the year, since I felt compelled nearly a year ago to dedicate this month to refocusing on prayer and fasting - and as I type this post tonight something strikes me that didn't register earlier:

I have great reasons to pray more fervently and more formally this month than perhaps I have over the past months of the year. In at least three distinct areas of my life, I am facing a challenge that will require help outside my control to be resolved properly. Also, I simply can't tackle them one-by-one - focusing on praying and fasting about them individually. I need to do so simultaneously with all of them.

I am grateful once again for inspiration of the Spirit - that makes it possible for these resolutions to become active exactly when I need them, in the their specific focus, the most.

I'm not sure at this point if I will blog about the specifics of each situation this month, but I will write about the experiences I have as I refocus on both internal and verbalized prayer and on fasting this month. As part of that process, I would ask that anyone who reads my blog regularly remember me in your own prayers - even if only generically for now.

Friday, November 6, 2009

You Heard Me: Thank God for Drugs

The use of prescribed drugs is a soapbox issue for me because of my experiences growing up (my mother's schizophrenia), studying at an intensely competitive college (with its attendant issues of pressure and depression), counseling women dealing with various depressive issues and trying to get members to look differently at perfection and repentance. There are things we can do to lessen the stress that contributes to depression, but criticizing Mormonism is not one of them.

Teaching uplifting messages about divine potential (for men and women), teaching people to strive to be better than they naturally are, teaching people to follow the teachings of Jesus, ad infinitum - that is NOT a bad thing, especially if it leads people to accept medical help, to be better people and closer to what they want to be, to accept other people despite things that "the world" classifies as marginalizing disabilities, to allow those with expertise to serve others through that expertise, ad infinitum.

Yes, this is a soapbox issue for me, since I have spent decades trying to heal the wounds that misguided criticism and condemnation and unrealistic expectations have caused and continue to cause. Categorizing anti-depressant use as a bad thing stigmatizes those who use them - not just the organization to which those who use them belong. The broad brush touches all within its strokes, and it is a destructive and debilitating brush that should be discarded and burned.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Real Power of Grace

If there truly are things that are so deeply ingrained genetically / physiologically as to make it impossible to overcome them in this life, those things are covered in the Atonement through God's grace. Being "punished for own sins, not Adam's transgression" covers the unchosen effects of Adam's transgression on all his posterity - or it would have no real power.

I don't know for sure if there are genetic tendencies that are so strong that they truly cannot be overcome by a particular individual, but I suspect there are such constraints for nearly all of us - if not all. Isn't that the whole point of grace - forgiveness of those things that are outside of our control that otherwise, according to a strict Law of Moses application, would condemn us?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Accepting a God of Inexplicable Contradictions

The Restoration seems to be one of those truly creative acts (imbued) with an inexplicably. Like the God that pulled Abraham out of Ur because they engaged in human sacrifice, then asked him to take a knife to his son and offer him up like a lamb. Or a God that delights in clarity, yet shows Ezechiel a mystifying vision of wheels turning in wheels. Or a Messiah who was suppose to free his people from political oppression but is executed by that very political structure. Slapping the label polyandry on Nauvoo seems an attempt to put the Nauvoo activities in a box into which it won’t go. In fact, I argue, that there is no box into which it will go. It demands that it be dealt with in its complexity. Joesph Smith did more in the restoration than reinstate OT polygamy while women were dallying on the side. He created a dynamic, expansive, social system that slingshot the church into a future where it flourished. A stone cut out of the mountain without hands.

We humans should not be troubled that God at time acts inexplicably. He likes to surprise, challenge and make us think. Also, sometimes I suspect that to bring about His ends, strange contradictory things must come into play—think about the Garden of Eden and its contradictory commandments. Why? Maybe God has to act with breathtaking creativity to see His purposes unfold. Maybe bringing about certain ends takes uncompromising daring and artistry. Maybe there is no manual bringing to pass the eternal life of man.

Thank goodness God found a the prophet in Joseph Smith willing to do unimaginably creative things - things which challenge (our understanding) so thoroughly, and yet which allowed the church to come forth out of obscurity in ways that might not have happened otherwise.

Excerpted from "Why BIV Would Totally Have Slept with JS: Polyandry, Part II" - Steven P. (By Common Consent)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Purpose of Talks in Church

Since any topic can be approached in multiple ways, I always make my first request to a speaker thus:

Pray for guidance as you prepare the talk - and ask specifically that you will be able to prepare a talk that will touch someone's heart. Even if 99% of the members walk away saying, "That was nice," you have succeeded perfectly if one member walks away feeling like God spoke directly to him or her through your talk.