Saturday, January 30, 2010

Charity As a Progressive Journey

Something struck me as I was contemplating the end of this month's resolution (to suffer more in kindness) and the beginning of next month's resolution (to envy less). I was trying to figure out if I would post more about suffering long in kindness or if I should shift to an initial examination of envying less. Suddenly, something struck me as I looked at how my resolution for the year was constructed - and I simply want to share it now, before I start to analyze the application of it each month.

Over the last two years, I have grown to understand that the Sermon on the Mount is a grand encapsulation of the journey to godliness and perfection - completion, wholeness and full development. It is a delineation of the central characteristics of godliness, but it also is an explanation of the process by which such characteristics are internalized in the process of becoming something more than our mortal natures - in the process of developing the proper eternal nature. (I wrote a post about this concept last June 27th entitled, "An Epiphany Regarding 'Ask, Seek, Find' - A Truly Beautiful Message".)

As I remembered this, and as I looked at my resolution for this year, it struck me that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is structured according to the same eternal round - that it also shows not only the central nature of godliness but also that it is arranged to show the practical process by which that nature can be internalized to make us Beings better than we naturally are. These verses are a ladder to Heaven, just as the Sermon on the Mount is that same ladder - built slightly differently, but "True" (pointed in the proper direction) in the same way.

As I continue to analyze these verses over the course of this year, I hope that the progressive nature of each manifestation is apparent - and I hope I remember to make that progression clear from one month to the next. The first step in explaining that progression is showing how suffering more in kindness leads to enying less, and I hope to make that connection clear by the end of next month.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sinner: A Self-Perception

Matthew 9:12-13 includes: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Those who don’t see themselves as sick sinners have a hard time accepting the need for a real Redeemer;those who recognize their sickness and sins accept that need much more readily. In a very real and powerful way, how one views one's own sinfulness is every bit as imporant, if not more so, as how others view one's righteousness. The key, I believe, is to recognize one's inherenet unworthiness while not being overwhelmed by it - to hold unto faith that our Redeemer will sanctify our efforts and change our very nature.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

General vs. Personal Revelation: An Insightful Distinction

Comment #63 by OhMissJulie (emphasis is mine) - I know the prophet is true . . . (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

OK. Here’s how I understand it. The prophet receives guidance and revelation for the whole of the Church. There is a reason that we call them General Authorities. They give general counsel to the general population of the Church. This keeps the Church as a whole on track, and ensures that we stay unified on the macro level, and there are probably a lot of other good reasons for it including some I could name if my head weren’t so foggy at the moment. Personal revelation is just that - it’s personal. It’s revelation for you, just you, only you, and occasionally the people for whom you are responsible, like your children (or your ward if you’re a Bishop, or you’re Relief Society if you’re the RSP, etc.). So when the prophet comes out with his general revelation, it is your job to correlate that with personal revelation. Different kinds of revelation. Everyone should have both, and one cannot take the place of the other.

So, say you have a personal revelation that you shouldn’t consume any more coffee, tea, or alcohol. That’s great and you should follow it; however, it doesn’t apply to anyone except for you until the prophet comes out and says the same thing. Then everyone makes an honest attempt to reconcile the prophet’s words through prayer. They are then accountable for following that revelation. In most cases, they would never have had the opportunity to even receive that revelation had the prophet not had it for them. But let’s say the prophet comes out and says, oh, that everyone should support this amendment that prohibits same-sex marriage in California (for one totally random example). You then seek out personal revelation, and you feel that you should not do that. It doesn’t apply to your life. You are off the hook. Note that in this example the GAs specifically said that every member had to pray and follow their own consciences. You did, so you’re fine.

It’s nuanced, and in the religious context for some reason that makes it troubling, but that’s how I understand it. I think we tend to have a naive view of religion, expecting it to provide us with the kind of absolutes that we know full well don’t exist anywhere else. I do believe that the Lord takes His sense of order very, very seriously, though I don’t really get why, and for that reason church-wide “macro” revelations must come through a prophet. Individual application of those revelations, though, comes through more individual means.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hearing Without Doing Is Dead, Being Alone

Regarding activities and time constraints: We are members of two very distinct churches - the global one led by the prophets and apostles (to which we "belong") and the local one led by the bishops and stake presidents (which we “attend” and in which we “live”). That means that there can be and too often is a discrepancy between what is taught at the global level and what is practiced at the local level. Often, we don't recognize that distinction, and we end up frustrated with SLC when the cause of our frustration is local.

Just two quick examples:

A few years ago, I was released from the Bishopric because my wife was being called as the YW President. We had 6 kids still at home, and the youngest wasn't in school yet. Our Bishop was dedicated to the counsel from SLC to not overburden families with small children, so I was released and called into the Primary.

Over the last year, especially, our Stake President has encouraged all the stake leaders to conduct as much business as possible over the phone and via e-mail - specifically to reduce the time parents and spouses are away from each other. He also has directed leaders to keep meetings as short as possible when they need to be held - for the same reason.

Often "The Church" isn't the issue; it's translating what The Church teaches and says to the local level for the church we actually attend. The over-abundance of meetings and over-burdening of families is a great example, as I live in a ward and stake that has taken very seriously the admonitions that have come from SLC regarding this matter. I have a deep appreciation for what The Church is doing in this regard, while I hear complaints often from others whose local leaders are not working as hard to reduce their members' time burden. Often, these members mistakenly blame "The Church" and don't realize that "The Church" is very aware of their difficulties and is trying actively to change and address them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We Are the Masters of Our Own Journeys

I know a man who was gloriously happy after he joined the Church. He truly was. He had been a judgmental person before his baptism; he recognized that tendency and was trying to change - and the Church was helping him. Then he had a run-in with another member over a family issue. Frankly, both of them were correct to some degree, but neither of them would see the other's point.

This man allowed his conflict with the other member to send him back to his former judgmental self. He accused the other man of being a hypocrite (which, to a degree, was valid), but he failed to see the hypocrisy in his own stance and actions. Today, this man hasn't been to church in years - and he is miserable, having returned to his "natural" self. In the meantime, his actions have had a terrible impact on his family, who also were incredibly happy at the time of the spat.

My point: It is one thing to do what you feel is right for yourself and your own children; it is another entirely to actively seek to shatter the happiness of others - to challenge their beliefs in a way that is as "blind" as you accuse them of being. My friend was happy (truly happy) while he was in the Church; he now is miserable - and it's not the Church's fault at all. It is his responsibility, and his alone.

We are the ones who are responsible for our own destiny / fate / outcome / lives / whatever. I have no problem whatsoever with others living and believing in any way they choose, according to the dictates of their own consciences. Anyone who focuses on trying to help others understand what they believe without attacking the beliefs of those others has not crossed any taboo line; anyone (Mormon or not) who focuses on attacking someone else rather than explaining their own beliefs has crossed such a line. I try very, very hard to stay behind it but still cross it sometimes. Crossing it is human nature, and it is part of what we are told to try to overcome. It's a constant battle, but it helps to recognize the nature of the battle.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Charity: How Can We Learn to Suffer Long and Be Kind

In my previous resolutions posts this month, I tackled the "what" and the "why" of charity as a manifestion of long-suffering in kindness. This week, I am turning to the "how" - which, ultimately, is the most important thing to consider, since theoretical understanding without practical application is useless or even damning.

NOTE: Just as I said in my first resolutions post this month, I want to state right from the beginning that I do not believe we should try to learn long-suffering kindness by encouraging or causing unnecessary suffering in our lives. Suffering occurs naturally, and I believe developing charity has nothing to do with the volume of one's suffering - particularly if that volume is a direct result of one's own actions in producing suffering that could have been avoided. Some people suffer more than others simply because they are jerks - and I mean that as charitably as possible. I say it that way to make a simple point: Suffering, in and of itself, is not a good thing; what we learn and take from it can be. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Let's not invite more than is natural and necessary.

I have to admit up-front that I don't think I've gained any new or mysterious insight into this topic this month. What I have learned, however, is what I have learned over and over again as I have embarked on this resolution process:

Just as it is impossible to come to know the Master whom I do not serve, it likewise is impossible to acquire a godlike characteristic toward which I do not extend focused thought and effort - or which I am not aware consciously and regularly. These things simply must become internalized and habitual - a "new nature", if you will. For that to happen, it must be at the forefront of my mind on a regular basis.

This requires a commitment of TIME - even if not distinct and separate time on a large scale. In other words, while it is impossible for most people to focus long stretches of time on endeavors like concentrating on the acquisition of godly characteristics, it is important to focus one's mind on the pursuit in such a way that it is on one's mind whenever possible. For example, my resolution to suffer a little more in kindness this month might leave my conscious mind while I am immersed in an editing project at work or on the phone with a prospective student - but, in order truly to have a lasting impact on my character and soul, that pursuit must be close enough to the surface to rise whenever it is needed. This includes those times when that editing project (or the demands of others regarding it) and that prospective student create a situation in which it might be easy or natural to react too quickly and not in a kind manner. The more the endeavor is on my mind when it can be considered in isolation, the more likely it will come to mind when it otherwise would be crowded out by the numbing normalcy of life.

Let me share two examples from this month in summary - one positive and one negative:

1) As I have written in other posts throughout my resolution process, it is hard to be long-suffering and kind with those who are closest to us - probably for no more profound reason than that they give us the most opportunities to suffer and be unkind (as we do for them). With them, it is necessary to "endure to the end" - with an "end" that often is not foreseeable.

This month, I have done a much better job of reacting less quickly and more kindly to my youngest daughter - who, at a precocious seven, is prone to test my patience. I have thought of her often as I have considered this resolution, and so, naturally, I have reacted more slowly and kindly on many occasions. I have had moments where I have reacted too quickly and not kindly enough, but I have done much better this month.

2) The details are not important here, but I failed miserably in a situation for which I was not prepared and which happened late at night when I already was tired and "unfocused". If nothing else, this caused me to realize how far I still have to go to conquer perhaps the most difficult aspect of long-suffering in kindness - reacting to the FIRST instances of actions that upset me. On a long-term basis, it is harder to be long-suffering and kind when someone continually does and/or says things that might offend, but I have come to recognize that the initial suffering caused by someone for whom I have not built a reserve of love is the suffering that tends to cause me to react the most quickly and least kindly.

Unfortunately, those exact situations often are the very events that form first impressions and contribute to the difficulty of forgiving and loving in the future. If a first impression is one of love and kindness, it is FAR more likely that on-going difficulties will be handled in a patient and kind manner than when that first impression is negative. Thus, it is critical that long-suffering in kindness by internalized in such a way that the INITIAL suffering caused by strangers and associates by met properly - not just the on-going suffering caused by those we love and forgive regularly.

HOW?

Practice and focus and diligence.

That's all I have, and I don't want to complicate it more than that. It really is about TIME.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Loving Those Who Lose Faith

When we talk of those who have "lost faith", I never assume they have acted intentionally through malice, or succumbed to sin, or rejected the concept of prophets, or any other possibility. If they state one of those paths openly and are vitriolic in their approach, I will accept that as real. Otherwise, I will sit down, take the time to discuss and understand their journey and provide whatever advice or counsel or listening ear or sympathetic heart I can. I will try to understand them without pre-conceived assumptions and, if possible, help them find a way to hold onto a sliver of hope even if they can't find faith. If that is not possible, and they feel they must leave the Church, I will accept their decision as their own, maintain whatever level of interaction is possible and make sure they know I am still their friend regardless of their faith at the time.

If they want to talk religion, I will talk religion; if they want to play board games, I will play board games; if they want to talk politics but not religion, that is what we will do. If we have not had a relationship in which we could talk religion, I will not talk religion - unless our relationship changes enough to do so later. In that situation, I will look and pray for an opportunity to share my testimony and any spiritual insight I can share, but I will share only if I feel strongly and uniquely prompted to do so. In summary, I will do my best to respect their agency and their stated desires - unless they are acting in such a way that I feel others are in danger. Then, and only then, will I upbraid or chastise or preach without invitation or call to repentance.

In my individual callings, I might have occasion to modify that slightly, but that's how I try to handle the balance as an individual. If I'm going to make a mistake, I want that mistake to be on the side of compassion and charity and brotherhood, not the alternative.

This philosophy allows me to have many good and valuable friendships with people who can't be friends with other members - solely because those other members refuse to respect and accept my friends for who they are. They share my desire to see these friends embrace the Gospel but are unwilling / unable to wait for it to happen according to these friends' agency and the Lord's timetable. All too often , this unwillingness to "wait upon the Lord" drives my friends away and makes it very hard for others to reach them without defensiveness on their part.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What My Midnight Memories Mean to My Eternal Perspective

When our first child was born, we lived in Somerville, MA. When he was just a few months old, he would fuss a lot about 10:00-11:00 each night. I would put him in our front-pack (whatever they are called), walk to the bus stop and ride the bus toward Cambridge until he fell asleep - then return with him sleeping against my chest. That was one of the best feelings I have ever experienced.

That was over 20 years ago, and I still can remember it like it was yesterday. I love and appreciate anything that takes me back to when my children needed me in a way that is unimaginable to those who have not experienced it. Even though it led to sleep-deprivation, (as I had to get up 2-3 hours later), I wouldn't trade those memories for anything.

It is these experiences that give me a tiny, tiny, tiny glimpse of the ultimate joy contained within Mormon theology regarding eternal parenthood.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

An Incredibly Moving Baptism

One of the most inspirational and unusual baptisms I’ve witnessed was one where the candidate was baptized by a member who was confined to a wheelchair.

Several of the brethren helped out. They put the baptizer’s wheelchair in the water then placed him on it. The young woman getting baptized then went into the font. Several other brethren also went into the water, as well. The brother in the wheelchair put his arm to the square and said the prayer. He held her arm and put his other hand behind her back while the other brethren in the water did the actual lifting. Needless to say, most everyone in attendance had a huge lump in their throats. I can’t describe how moving it was.

Comment #24 by Steve C. on Dotting the Earth with ... Baptismal Fonts - Ardis Parshall (Keepapitchinin)

Monday, January 18, 2010

We Must Embrace Living in the World

I think it is a problem when we see and define ourselves predominantly based on the opposite beliefs and lifestyles around us. This means that we tend to generalize “others” as “different” - rather than seeing that many “others” are very similar in many, many ways. Often, we really are more alike than different - even though we almost always are and should be unique and "peculiar".

Too often, we think we need to be able to “preach the Gospel” to "heathens" or "Gentiles" - when we often need to do nothing more than ask people to share in our lives - to invite them into our social circles and fully join theirs, as much as possible, with no expectation other than friendship and fellowship and mutual edification.

I get a bit frustrated sometimes at how we tend to use the term “doing missionary work” - as if, somehow, sharing the Gospel is separate from our daily lives - something we have to set aside time to do. If we simply were more willing to talk about our lives openly and un-self-consciously without worrying about conversions, I believe the acceptance (and eventual conversion) would come much more naturally. We just let ourselves get in the way too often.

I think the insularity that too often defines us in others’ eyes would disappear to a large degree if we more actively sought out others with similar lives and concerns. Sure, we still might feel out of place and awkward in bars, but we would feel right at home in many settings where we feel out of place and awkward currently. We try to be “not of the world”, but, too often, we don’t live enough “in the world”.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Must Charity Suffer Long - and Be Kind?

Last Saturday, as I began to examine "charity suffereth long, and is kind," I focused on the "what" of that phrase ("charity suffereth long"). In other words, I wrote about what it means to "suffer long" - and specifically how "suffer" also means "tolerate or allow" in the scriptures. This week, I am turning to the "why" of that phrase - focusing on the importance of that particular manifestation of charity.

Frankly, there is a measure of enduring suffering that is related directly to growth and progress. This is described in many passages throughout our scriptures, but a couple of commonly quoted passages in the Book of Mormon explain it in interesting words: 2 Nephi 2:11 and Ether 12:6.

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.


dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.


These two passages rarely, if ever, are mentioned in connection with charity, but they do highlight two reasons "why" suffering long in kindness is essential to charity - albeit indirectly.

1) Suffering simply is part and parcel with mortality.

It is the "opposition" to ease and health and all other results of the lack of suffering. It is unavoidable - as essential to existence as rest. It just must needs be. Therefore, the first, most fundamental key is NOT to avoid suffering, but rather to accept its inevitability and "endure to the end".

In many descriptions of living in the desert, one common theme emerges: the uselessness of "fighting the desert" and, instead, the need to embrace it for what it is. Those who learn to do so can live and even thrive in conditions that otherwise harm, kill and drive mad.

As I said in my last post, I do not believe in prolonging suffering simply for the sake of suffering. Each day (and week and month and year) will bring its own inevitable suffering. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34) is a good guide, in my opinion. There is no need to wish for more. It is not the AMOUNT of suffering that matters; it is the MANNER in which it is embraced that counts. That manner can be manifest in small or great things. All that really counts is that the suffering is ours, personally.

2) Suffering properly can bring great growth.

The ultimate test of endurance is not the nature of the suffering but rather the RESULT - how we act and what we become through the trial of our faith - through the things we suffer without being able to see the end of our suffering. (Again, I am not speaking of specific, quantifiable "events of suffering" but rather the totality and duration of our comprehensive suffering.) Some who suffer are gentled by it; others are hardened. It is important to understand and embrace the fundamental need for and inescapability of suffering in order to avoid being broken and embittered by it.

Charity suffereth long, but it also is kind during the suffering. This means, at its core, that we do not inflict suffering on others needlessly - that we are kind to them by not increasing their suffering unnecessarily as a direct result of our own. Again, for each and every person we meet and with whom we associate, "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" for THEM. Just as we need not ask for or seek suffering more than that which we will experience naturally, we also need not give others more than that which they will experience naturally.

WHY?

I believe it is as simple as that we love them - and true love involves not hurting others when we have the power to avoid hurting them. In other words, it is kind.

NOTE: Just as I included a note in my last post about the limits of suffering long, I need to add a disclaimer to this post. In talking of not inflicting suffering on others needlessly or unncessarily, I am NOT saying we cannot share our suffering with others. Sharing and alleviating one another's burdens is an integral part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the kindness that lies within charity, and it is impossible to share and alleviate what is not made visible and known. I simply am saying that there is some "suffering" (many manifestations, in fact) that need not be "shared" with others - like when I am tempted to lash out at someone because of something from which I am suffering at the moment.

For a real-life example of something on which I am trying to focus this month, I hate to be late - and Mama is genetically incapable of being on time. (OK, that is a slight exaggeration. She is genetically incapable of being as early as I would like to be. *grin*) In a very real way, my deeply ingrained tendency to want to be early causes me to suffer while I wait for Mama to be ready to leave. Notice I said that I cause myself to suffer because of my own expectations and desires - NOT that Mama causes me to suffer. She doesn't. Lashing out in any way over my suffering in these situations is not charitable - as it serves only to cause Mama to suffer more than she already does naturally through knowing I am being made to be later than I naturally would like to be. Expressing displeasure or impatience might lessen my suffering, but, since there must needs be opposition in ALL things, it does so only by increasing Mama's suffering - and I love her enough to want to avoid doing that. The solution is that I work on reducing my suffering in these situations without transferring suffering to Mama - and that (the "how") will be the focus of my post next Saturday.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Simple, Modern Example of Reformed Egyptian

The idea of "Reformed Egyptian" in the Book of Mormon is something that critics have lampooned and rejected out of hand from the earliest years of the Church. However, the evolution of Japanese as a written language is a fascinating example of something similar. It easily can be classified as "Reformed Chinese".

Without going into long and academic details, what is most interesting to me is that spoken Chinese and spoken Japanese are as different from each other as they are from English. They literally did not originate from the same root language. Also, while many of the modern Japanese characters that originated from the Chinese are still identical to the original, many of them have been simplified so much over the centuries that many Chinese wouldn't recognize them anymore in isolation, out of written context. When you add the two alphabetic systems in Japanese that do not exist in Chinese (one of which designates conjugation forms, articles, punctuation, etc. and the other of which spells foreign words), you end up with something very similar to what I envision with Reformed Egyptian.

To me, Reformed Egyptian simply isn't a legitimate reason to dismiss the Book of Mormon. If anything, the example of Japanese (of which details Joseph Smith was unaware) actually makes references to "Reformed Egyptian" a strength of the book.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Lesson from the Priesthood Ban: Pruning Our Modern Trees

I believe that the blessings that would have accompanied a lack of racism in the Church and full participation in the Priesthood of all worthy, male members were withheld from black and white members prior to 1978, but I do not believe it was God who withheld those blessings from us. I believe we withheld them. By that, I mean our (White) inability to accept the will of God in this matter kept blessings from being available to all of us (Black and White). We (White) kept those blessings from being given; in a very real way, we (not God) withheld those blessings from our black brothers and sisters. While the blessings our black brothers and sisters lost (and they literally were lost, as they had been given during Joseph Smith's lifetime) were more obvious and directly painful than those the white members lost, those lost by the white members were no less central to a full implementation of Zion and internalization of godliness, in my opinion.

Full racial equality is part of our modern-day vision of Zion (or at least it should be our individual vision and is the vision of the prophetic leadership), but I think the analogy of Israel being denied entrance into their Promised Land is a fairly good analogy for us being denied entrance into our own modern “Promised Land” until our own generations are prepared to enter it. I believe that general principle still stands and has other applications that we must address - by realizing the incorrect traditions of our fathers that still persist (the bitter fruit that still must be pruned from the vineyard) and doing everything possible within our own spheres of influence to eradicate them.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Place of Grace in Repentance

The following is something that I posted exactly two years ago as I was pondering being poor in spirit. I have believed the central principle for some time, but the specific aspect of salvation as it applies to this life is something I had not put into words previously. I decided to re-post it today in the hope that someone who wasn't reading my blog back then might benefit from it - or it might touch someone again who read it and forgot about it.
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Those who crucified Jesus did so because they could not accept Him as the one who gave them their law (Jehovah) and would pay for their sins (Jesus). They said, in essence, "We don't need you. We are children of Abraham. We are fine. We'll do it on our own."

We decry deathbed repentance, particularly for those who consciously choose to procrastinate repentance until the end - to do what they want to do until they are facing death and the possibility of judgment. At the same time, too many members view grace, faith and works as follows:

I must do everything I possibly can do; I must give my all; I must wear out myself trying to do what He has asked me to do - then, after I have done my all, He will accept my effort and help me do more.

That might not be the exact same mentality as "deathbed" repentance, but it is at least "hospital bed" repentance. In very real terms, it is saying, "I will let you know when I need you," which really is the same mentality as the one who procrastinates the request for help until his deathbed. It also means that I will not receive the help He can give AS I struggle - which means I will not experience His freedom and joy until my frustration nearly (or completely) breaks me. Yes, I will then be blessed, but I will have missed SO much in the meantime.

Hillary Weeks has a song entitled "Unwritten". The central message is, in my own words:

"As I review the pages of the book of my life, I am grateful for what I read (what I have experienced), but I am most grateful for what has remained unwritten - those things from which the grace of God has shielded me - those things I have not had to experience - those things from which I have been saved in this life."

Jesus, as the Christ, saved us from the effects of our actions that otherwise would limit us in the next life, but Jesus, as the exemplary man, showed us a way to be saved from much of the effect of our fallen existence in this life. In a very real way, not accepting what He paid so dearly to provide until we have exhausted ourselves is no different than not accepting that His offer was ever made in the first place, since they both tell Him to get lost until we get a handle on it on our own. That's worth pondering all by itself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Thought about Math Instruction and Teaching the Gospel

The VAST majority of elementary school teachers in our country are "language arts" people - NOT "mathematics" people. They are more social workers than accountants. Therefore, our schools face two specific problems in regard to math instruction:

1) Most of the teachers subconsciously don't like the topic, and underlying attitudes manifest themselves in the way teachers teach. Think about it: I'll bet most of your favorite teachers were passionate about the topic(s) they were teaching. If a teacher is ambivalent, the students pick up on it and more likely to be ambivalent.

In Church, we face a similar difficulty when teachers don't connect with a particular lesson. It generally is easy to feel when a teacher really believes something - and when they simply are teaching a lesson.

2) Most elementary school teachers don't "get" math intuitively, so they don't "know" math deeply. They can teach how to memorize facts, but they have a hard time explaining the foundation concepts. Therefore, they tend to focus either on rote memorization OR on letting the textbook be the default teacher. Neither is a good model.

In Church, if teachers don't understand a principle deeply it can be hard to explain it in a way that will spark understanding in the students. Feeling the Spirit is important (ultimately most important), but intellectual understanding also is important. It's hard to follow what you don't understand, but it's even harder to share those things with others.

An example, and I don't mean this to be condescending in any way: How many here can explain the concept behind the Pythagorian Theory - not the calculation used, but the reasoning behind the calculation - what the calculation means. How many here can draw a visual representation of it, so that visual learners can "get" it? It's really quite simple once you see what it meant originally, but it can be brutal if you simply have to try to remember which formula applies to which theory. If a teacher can help the students visualize it - if she can "bring it to life" for the students, those students can "get it" in a way that might never leave nor diminish.

That is just as true with regard to theology and religion as it is to math.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Charity Suffereth Long, and Is Kind

As I have begun this year's resolution, I have had a few thoughts about how it all begins this month. I have thought about the "what" of this month's goal (to suffer longer in kindness), the "why" (of its importance) and the "how" (the specifics of suffering and kindness). For this first post, I am going to concentrate on the first question:

What does it mean, in practical terms, to "suffer in kindness" - explicitly as it relates to charity?


I also want to tackle what I believe it does NOT mean, in the context of practical, real-life examples where suffering might not be something that should be done "long".

As I tend to do, my first thought was to define the possible meanings of the word "suffer" - and this led me to an interesting epiphany that I want to share as I begin the month.

There are two distinct meanings of "to suffer" that have direct application to the way that word is used in the New Testament. The most common definition (the one we automatically understand in the context of charity suffering long in kindness) is:

to undergo, be subjected to, or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant): The patient suffered greatly from his illness.

Based on this meaning, charity involves being able to be kind to others who are afflicting me - or to be kind while some aspect of life afflicts me (like an illness, disability, unemployment or other financial hardship, misunderstanding, extreme or unpleasant living conditions of some kind, separation from family, divorce, etc.). It is not lashing out in anger over those things that make us suffer - that bring "pain, distress, injury, loss or anything unpleasant" into our lives. Not succumbing to this natural tendency is a noble goal, and it is part of my resolution this month to succumb less often in this way - but there is another meaning of "suffer" that is just as important, in my opinion, to a fuller understanding of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 13:4.

to tolerate or allow: I don't suffer fools gladly.


This specific example from the dictionary itself ("I don't suffer fools gladly.") is a perfect counter-example of what charity includes - and it stands in direct opposition to the best example from the life of Jesus where "suffer" is used to mean "tolerate or allow". Mark 10:14 says:

Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.

This verse clearly indicates that part of charity is "suffering" things that one would rather not "suffer" - tolerating those whom it is hard naturally to tolerate (like little children in a setting often associated with worship or teaching or any other setting where they might disrupt attention and lead to feelings of irritation) and allowing those situations to continue (or even encouraging them). By extrapolating a little, I believe it is valid to extend this meaning to ANYONE with whom irritation is natural - to those who see or believe differently, those whose personalities are different, those who are socially awkward or lack interpersonal skills, those who are blinded to their own irritable character traits, etc.

My main point about this type of "suffering" is NOT that we merely tolerate those who are different and allow them to stick around us, but rather that we strive to see them also in such a way that we can say "suffer (them) to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven". It is developing a feeling inside that allows a place for them in our own lives, both here and in the here-after -that allows them to be themselves and still be loved and accepted - that allows them to be loved without condition or requirement of change - that allows them to continue to irritate and distract without being condemned or kept from our company. (This has critical implications about how we treat members of our own religion and congregations whose views and beliefs about some things differ from our own.)

Finally, a word about the limits of this view of charity:

In theory, there is no limit to charity as it is presented here. In theory, ALL should be loved and accepted and tolerated and allowed to be seen as worthwhile children of God. In practical reality, however, there are some things that simply cannot be tolerated or allowed - some things that are egregious enough that change must be demanded and, if necessary, separation enforced. Serious abuse is the easiest example of this need. (I use the qualifier "serious" carefully, since I believe all who have not mastered charity [including I, myself] abuse some others in some way - but I also believe too many suffer serious abuse by defining it solely as "extreme abuse". There is serious abuse, and there is extreme abuse - and I am speaking of not tolerating or allowing serious abuse even if it is not extreme.)

To suffer long does NOT mean to allow serious abuse to continue. Jesus allowed his abusers at the end of his life to continue, but that led to his death - and it didn't last "long". Alma and Amulek allowed their abuse to continue, but that also was to seal an indictment on an entire community and didn't last "long".

Coming full circle to the two definitions of "suffer" discussed here, I believe there is an important distinction between the first type of suffering (pain, injury, loss, etc.) being caused by situations and circumstances and being caused by other people - and that distinction is critical to whether or not allowing it to continue is right or not. The key to suffering imposed by others, in my opinion, is suffering it in kindness while the suffering lasts - NOT prolonging the suffering simply for the sake of suffering. I believe that interpretation has led to more suffering than is right, good and necessary - and I believe it is NOT what Paul intended when he wrote of charity.

This is a fine line, and I understand and appreciate that it is a difficult line, but I believe it is a line that needs to be drawn.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Holding onto Faith

I don't know how anyone else holds onto faith; I just know how it works and how I want it to work for me.

Some who "lose their faith" remain in the Church; others leave. Some reconcile the dissonance and find a measure of peace; others don't and remain miserable. For the first group, the peace and community and family are more important than complete confidence and total lack of doubt, so they "put their issues on a shelf" and walk away from them for a time; for the second group, perfect understanding now takes first priority and overshadows everything else. Frankly, I think that points more to how each of us defines "faith" than it does about how we define "truth".

If by "faith" we mean "certainty about our religious beliefs", I agree that losing it might not be a conscious choice - that events and exposure to difficult concepts can rob people of certainty. That seems to be what many do - defining "faith" as "testimony" or "certainty" or "lack of doubt". If, however, we mean the "substance of things hoped for", I think many who are no longer active participants in The Church have not lost that hope and, therefore, have not lost their faith. In the face of what they have described, I think that's spiritual "evidence of things not seen" producing a conscious choice to not give up - to "endure to the end" in faith, without certainty.

I think the "problem" is that too many of us teach the universal possibility of personal certainty - in direct contradiction of our own scriptures that extol "simple faith" and assert that not all can "know". Without those unrealistic expectations, I believe much of the "dissonance" would disappear, since it would be ok simply to exercise faith and maintain hope in the face of uncertainty.

I also think that there are some people who simply lack "the faith gene" - who simply must understand something perfectly before they can accept it. I would argue that these people never possessed "faith" in the first place, so they can't lose it. Finally, I don't believe someone can "choose" to lose something they didn't "choose" to obtain or find. The challenge for such people to is accept the need for faith and quit demanding certainty.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Enough Light and Enough Shadows

Why Faith Needs Doubt - Andrew Ainsworth (Mormon Matters)

The comments are interesting, as well.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Acceptance of Jesus in the Next Life

I personally don’t like talking about baptisms for the dead in terms of “becoming members of the Church”. Baptism in this life leads to membership in a church; I just don’t see it as having the same connotations in the hereafter. When someone accepts a proxy baptism, I don’t see them as joining a church; I see them as giving evidence of their acceptance of their Savior and His redemption.

Perhaps it's just me, but I believe churches are mortal organizations. I just don't see "churches" existing in Heaven.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Agency and Coercion: Either Extreme is Not God's Will

The battle between agency (which, in my mind, is the truest form of individuality) and coerced conformity (ultimately tied to power) is the oldest we have recorded. Unfortunately, all of us are mortal, natural (wo)men, so this battle still plays out even in the Church - with many members leaning to both extremes (agency void of consequence and blind obedience). Ironically, each extreme is just a different way to express Lucifer’s plan. (”I’ll save you regardless of what you do,” and “I’ll guarantee everyone does exactly what they are told to do.”)

I prefer the muddle in the middle. "Work out your own salvation/exaltation." That sums it up really well to me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's Resolution: 2010

For the past two years, I have focused on the Sermon on the Mount as the center of my New Years' Resolutions. The posts introducing why I have done so and detailing my actual resolutions can be found at the following links: New Year's Resolution and New Year's Resolution - 2009. This year, I am keeping the same basic resolution (to become more Christ-like) but changing the scriptural focus of my effort.

My focus this year will be on developing greater charity, specifically through striving to internalize the ways in which charity is manifested in I Corinthians 13:4-7. This passage states:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not
itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but
rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all
things, endureth all things.


Since there are twelve distinct menifestations listed in these verses, I am going to organize my resolution for 2010 the same way I have for the previous two years - one per month throughout the year. Thus, my resolution will be:

January: Suffer longer in kindness.
February: Envy less.
March: Be less "vaunting" of myself and less "puffed up".
April: Behave more seemly.
May: Seek less my own.
June: Be less easily provoked.
July: Think less evil.
August: Rejoice less in iniquity and more in truth.
September: Bear more things.
October: Believe more things.
November: Hope more things.
December: Endure more things.

Just as I have for the past two years, I will post about this resolution each Saturday throughout the year. Any thoughts at the beginning would be appreciated.

Friday, January 1, 2010

I'm OK with Seeing through My Glass, Darkly

Part of my testimony is due to my study of other theologies and religions. Frankly, I don't "desire to believe" any of them like I desire to believe what is taught within "Mormonism" and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It really is my foundational desire (what I want), so I've chosen to pursue a deeper understanding of it - to reconcile what I can reconcile and gnaw on what I can't reconcile for now, with an understanding that much of what we believe is our best attempt to understand a little better what can't be understood. It works for me.

It also has given me a bit of perspective on "the alternatives" - again, enough to realize that I just don't want them. They won't give me any more joy in the here and now than I already have, and they don't give me the hope for a continuation eternally of what brings me joy in the here and now. I feel what I believe is true; I want it to be true; I don't want any radically different "truth"; I accept the concept of continuing growth and revelation (the evolution of understanding that will continue to change my perspective) - so I accept the difficulties inherent in the history of the Church as a natural result of mortality, and I pursue the joy I want and for which I hope.

I could make religion a very complicated thing if I chose to do so, and I could get all wound up in knots about it if I chose to take that route, but I have SUCH joy and peace and wonder in my life without doing those things that it would be folly to do so. I also am just humble enough to realize that I always will see through my religious glass, darkly, no matter how hard I try - and, at the core, foundation level, that is a fundamental principle of Mormonism. It might get lost in the natural tendency to want to know it all RIGHT NOW far too often, but it's there, nonetheless.