Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Truly Loving Those Who Leave

When someone comes to believe that they are not giving up something of eternal significance if they leave the Church, it is perfectly understandable that they would choose to opt out. If that really is their perspective, and if it leads them to choose to leave, we should give them a sincere hug, tell them honestly that we will pray for them on their own journey - and then treat them in the exact same way we would if they remained among us.

They know how we view their choice - the disappointment we feel. We don't need to throw it in their faces. Rather, we need to do what Jesus commanded and love them just as if they still were meeting with us. Leaving the Church shouldn't change a thing about our relationship - except the association we lose on Sunday and other non-church related activities.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Don't Do Dumb"

We have this wonderful stake president. He has a way of creating a "lowest common denominator" for living the gospel, for lack of a better term. He distills for us what needs to be done, and what the blessings will be for doing it.

In his first address to us in stake conference, he set the theme by which he is known, and it was typical of him. It was: "Don't Do Dumb." He told us how dumb it was to have the commandments before us, and to know what the results would be for keeping them, but then to choose not to keep them.

He said it was like being given a one-question test, and being told in advance that the answer was A, but flourishing a pencil and marking B.

Practical Application - davidson (Mormon Momma)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Genius of Mormonism

I have said on more than one occasion that the "genius of Mormonism" is also its biggest challenge - that it provides the most amazing opportunities for growth but also for failure. In my experience, the greatest joys are experienced within the structure of the lay clergy (including women in that description), but the deepest disappointments and devastation also are experienced within that same structure.

For example, how many members have been uplifted and "saved" (in a very real way) by a loving Bishop or RS Pres or HT/VT who had no way of knowing what was needed but provided it anyway? Conversely, how many members have been crushed in one way or another by a Bishop or RS Pres or Stake Pres or HT/VT who abused authority or simply wasn't in tune with the Spirit when inspiration and discernment was crucial?

Yes, I believe the lay clergy is a "genius of Mormonism" - but true genius can be both enlightening and destructive. I wouldn't change it for the world, but we need to recognize all of the issues it brings to the table and be ever-vigilent concerning its potential for harm and despair.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Believing We Can Become Like Our Father is NOT Vaunting Ourselves

Introduction: One of the core complaints I have heard from many who claim Mormons are not Christian is that our belief in exaltation as a state of godhood (the belief that, as literal children of God, we may become like Him) is a blasphemous conceit - the ultimate example of vaunting ourselves and being puffed up.

To wrap up this month's resolution, I want to post here something I wrote at another site almost two years ago - a post that deals directly with one of the core differences between our conception of our relationship with God and that of most other Christians. For this post, however, I would like it to be read in light of the idea expressed in the title of this post - with the understanding that we posit exaltation as being available to ALL who will turn to and accept God, the Father, AND Jesus, the Son. There is no "vaunting" and "puffupedness" - since there is no hint of superiority in the pure teaching I am addressing herein.

With that introduction, here is the post ("Praise, Honor & Glory Be to God"):

I have been struck for a long time by the different ways that people interpret and speak of praise, honor and glory – particularly how they use these terms to describe our relationship with God. Each has a distinct meaning, separate from the others, but they get conflated and used interchangeably all the time. First, consider the following foundational facts:

1) “Praise” occurs in our scriptures 188 times. (Interestingly, this word appears in the D&C only three times, in the BofM less than 20 times, and in Psalms nearly half of the other times.) In every instance, it means nothing more than its standard dictionary definition: (n) – “expression of approval or admiration; commendation; laudation.” (v) – “to express approval or admiration of; commend; extol.”

2) “Honor” (“honour” in the Bible) is found 123 times – with 105 of those times being in the Bible and the other 18 times split almost evenly between the D&C and the BofM. The dictionary definitions all focus on “respect” – but the scriptural references add an element of obedience to those verses that deal with honoring God. They carry the distinct implication that those who “respect” God will submit to what he asks of them. (Much like John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”) There is another fascinating implication – that of “honoring” God by “bringing honor to” Him.

3) “Glory” is far more common, as it is found 352 times throughout our canon, with “glorify” occurring 27 more times. In my opinion, the most interesting thing about these words is that “glorify” is used EXCLUSIVELY in reference to God and His name, but “glory” is used to describe many things – God, man, and the creations of both.

In the dictionary, “glory” is defined as: “resplendent beauty or magnificence; a state of great splendor, magnificence, or prosperity; a state of absolute happiness, gratification, contentment.” “Glorify”, on the other hand, is defined as: “to elevate or idealize; to cause to be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” The first is understood to be a positive thing, while the second is seen as a negative thing.

Why do I go through this exercise in this way? Simply to illustrate the unique place these words hold within Mormonism – distinctly different than within most, if not all, other religious traditions and the dictionary itself. Mormonism has added something fundamental to the religious lexicon by claiming a distinctly different aspect to glorifying – and it is not a trivial addition.

When praise, honor and glory are used within orthodox Christianity, they are used to mean simply what the dictionary itself states – namely, the utmost admiration, respect, splendor and magnificence. “Giving glory to God” generally can be summarized as praising Him (e.g., “Our God is an awesome God.”) and recognizing that He is so far beyond us that it is impossible to make Him “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.” Therefore, we “glorify God” by “elevating or idealizing” Him, but we are not to “glorify” others (including ourselves) by making us “be or seem more glorious or excellent than is actually the case.”

This is the heart of the charge of blasphemy leveled against Mormonism – that in its presentation of the doctrine of exaltation and Celestial Glory, it elevates and idealizes humanity beyond what is actually the case to a state that should be reserved only for God. Since God alone is elevated above us, anything that *appears* to place us as equals is considered heretical – an act of “glorifying” man and not just God, as they believe the Bible so clearly states should be.

How do Mormons reconcile this dilemma?

Ironically, Mormons do so by keeping the basic definition of praise and honor in place but changing radically the overarching (or underpinning, whichever seems more apt) principle of glory to fit more closely the differing degrees or applications in our canon – specifically the Bible. (That is truly ironic, since the Book of Mormon says next to nothing on this topic.)

Mormonism takes the basic concept of “glory” being applied to God and all His creation and focuses on the concept of growing through glories taught most directly in a few NT passages:

1) 2 Cor. 3:18 says:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

2) 1 Cor. 15:40-41 says:

“There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory."

3) John 17 contains some fascinating verses, including the following:

a) verse 4:

“I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."

b) verses 10-11:

“And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are."

4) Matthew 5:48 says:

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

By citing these verses and many others like them, Mormonism places “glorifying God” in a different light. It posits that “this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39) – in practical terms, defining the process of glorification as the accomplishment of Matthew 5:48 and John 17:11, among many others. Within all of Christianity (including Mormonism), praising, honoring and glorifying God are used to elevate and separate Him from us, but within Mormonism, His praise and honor and glory is defined as flowing from His grace and mercy in changing us to become like Him and His Son – in truly making us “perfect, even as (He) is perfect” and “one, as (He and His Son) are one”.

What separates Mormonism at the most fundamental level from the rest of Christianity is that we take these and other similar scriptures literally – and that literalness changes the very core of our view of God’s glory. We don’t praise and honor His glory; we praise and honor him by realizing that we are His glory, unworthy though we are and everlastingly “below Him” though we also ever will be. We give glory to God, our Eternal Father, in the same way that my children give glory to me – by becoming what I hope and pray they become, NOT by telling me how wonderful I am.

I believe the following is a false dichotomy, but If I had to choose between my children praising, honoring or glorifying me (as I believe each is defined and laid out in our scriptures), I would choose glorifying every time. I can live happily without verbal expressions of praise and honor (“admiration and respect”); frankly, I don’t really care what is said nearly as much as what is done. What I really care about is what my children become – that they maximize their glory (“beauty, magnificence, splendor, [spiritual] prosperity, absolute happiness, gratification, contentment”). If that happens, I truly will be glorified myself; if not, no praise or honor will make up for it – and my Mormon self simply can’t picture God being any different, given what I believe is taught in the New Testament.

Postscript: Thus, I am not vaunting myself through being puffed up; God is lifting me as He has promised to do for ALL who will allow Him to do so.

Friday, March 26, 2010

No Judgment Is An Easy Judgment, Even Apostasy

"Judge not, that ye be not judged."

I agree completely with the idea that everyone must make judgments every day of morality. I just don't believe that judgments regarding individuals should ever be based on collective, communal generalities. An example is the idea that all who are baptized and then leave the Church will be more hardened than before their conversion. That is making an individual judgment on each and every person in question, while the scriptural example is of "a people" (an entire community or a group of people) that reject after conversion. For an entire people to reject something they once believed requires active convincing of some by others - active missionary work, if you will, and that effort almost necessitates openly fighting against what was believed.

Individual decisions don't require that type of active fight, and, in some cases, there really is a "natural peace", per se, that accompanies leaving the Church. For a perfectionist who can't let go of unrealistic expectations, striving for perfection can be devastating emotionally - especially if "perfection" is misunderstood, as is common even in the Church. For someone who feels strong sexual urges (heterosexual or homosexual), abstinence can be brutally difficult - especially the longer it is required. Often, abandoning the effort to overcome "the natural man" reduces stress and brings a type of relaxation.

Finally, we almost always have no idea whatsoever what weaknesses and tendencies and inclinations are "natural" for any given individual - what aspects of their personality and mortal challenge are nothing more than the effects of the Fall - which of their struggles are the result of Adam's transgression - what actions of theirs will be covered by the Atonement, because, in the end, they will die still not fully complete and whole (perfect) no matter how hard they try. If we don't know those things, we can't judge those people. We just don't know enough to do so righteously ("in the right manner" or "as God would do").

Fwiw, I try hard not to speculate EVER about the spiritual condition of any particular individual who leaves the Church - and I try hard to avoid generalizations about broad groups of people that tend to paint them harshly. I believe strongly in identifying things that might contribute to someone leaving the Church, since I care deeply about that decision, but any conclusion that uses "always", "all", "never", etc. is, in my opinion, judgmental in nature - since I believe it paints too broadly and judges at least some people un-righteously.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Amazing Summary of Grace and Accountability

My friend, Tom, said the following:

"I must act to glorify the Father, and I must extend to you unending grace as you walk your own path."

That's really how simple and demanding my LDS religion is.

I think that might be the most concise and profound explanation of grace and personal accountability I have ever read.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It Takes an Excellent Meeting to be Better Than No Meeting

Our meetings should be wonderful feasts - far and away the best option for those who are expected to attend. If they become "just meetings", we have failed in our duties to the attendees. Thus, "It takes an excellent meeting to be better than no meeting," puts the onus directly on us to make sure our meetings are excellent.

J. Reuben Clark once said, "There is no church meeting so unimportant that it cannot start on time; there is no church meeting so important that it cannot end on time." I believe this means that it is up to us to value our meetings so much that we make them as effective (in every way) as possible - recognizing that other aspects of our lives are important, as well, and not robbing Peter to pay Paul, per se. Our meeting should start on time, and people should be excited to get there and not miss a minute; they should end on time, and people should wish they could go longer - thus inspiring excitement to get to the next meeting on time and not miss a minute.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Intelligence Means Getting Stuck in More Remote Locations

I the Lord thy God - Adam Greenwood (Times & Seasons)

Bonus quote from my friend, Bruce Webster, in comment #36:

Many years ago, I was visiting Utah and attended church in Orem with a family I knew. For priesthood, I attended the high priests group with the husband, who was a BYU professor with a PhD from Harvard (as he was fond of reminding people). After priesthood and as we were leaving the chapel, he said something to this effect: “You know, I looked around the men in the high priests group, and the differences were quite striking. I mean, you have men who are 3rd and 4th generation farmers, with just a high school education, and then you have men like me and [named a few others], who have PhDs and are college professors. I just marvel that the same Church is able to encompass both types.”

To which I replied, “Maybe from where the Lord sits, there really isn’t much difference."

[Bruce's blog is "Adventures in Mormonism".]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Racism and Repentance: Change Is Better Than an Apology

On a group blog a couple of years ago, I shared an experience I had while serving in a Stake Mission Presidency almost 15 years ago in the Deep South. I was allowed to see the effects of racism on the Church in my own day, both the racism that still infected a minority of the membership and the racism that still infected a majority of the overall population - the white and black communities.

What can we do now?

Be open and direct, but focus on addressing the problem that exists now. Of course, we should admit our role in the racism of yesterday, but an apology without change is just more "faith without works". When push comes to shove, I don't care one bit what someone says they believe; I care what they DO.

We need to preach Elder Wirthlin's message of acceptance, but we also need to LIVE it. We need to quit pre-judging others' ability or readiness or worthiness and simply invite EVERYONE to worship with us - regardless of race, personal habits, sexual orientation, religious or denominational affiliation, etc. We need to embrace each person we meet no matter how our differences manifest themselves. We need to quit "challenging" people and start "inviting" them - and loving them no matter what they choose to do. We need to want people to be with us in our worship even if they never join our actual recorded membership rolls.

We need to recognize and admit the bad parts of our heritage, even while we honor and respect the great and noble parts. We need to develop the characteristics of perfection listed in the Sermon on the Mount. We need to be a little better - do a little better - become a little better. We need to treat each other on blogs like we say we would treat each other if we were sitting face-to-face.

There are black members of the Church who have been hurt and let down by other members. Which do you think they want more - a personal apology from those who let him down or a change of heart that would mean no other member in their situation will be let down in that same situation from this moment forward? Both are ideal; the latter is more critical.

In summary, we need to be the people we say we want to be - and telling painful stories of the past is a big part of that process when it comes to racism. Racism, however, is only one example of the overall issue of repentance.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Having Confidence is NOT the Same As Being Puffed Up

The fundamental point of my resolutions posts this month has been that charity is measured largely by how one views one's own abilities and knowledge - but, more precisely, that "vaunting" one's self and being "puffed up" are manifestations of one's view of one's self relative to others. In summary, the lack of charity in the manifetation of vaunting one's self and being puffed up is measured by how one raises himself above others - how one views her own abilities and/or knowledge in relation to others - and, again, more precisely, how one must devalue another's abilities and/or knowledge in order to value one's own more than is "correct".

The following, I believe, is self-evident, but I still believe it needs to be said:

It is very easy when thinking of this juxtaposition to conclude that self-confidence stands in opposition to charity - that if one is aware of and admits to a difference in the abilities and knowledge among people, and if part of that awareness and admission is that one's ability and/or understanding is greater than another's, then one is not being charitable. However, this stands in direct opposition to both common sense and one of the central themes of scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, the key is not a recognition of differences in ability and understanding, but rather it is not allowing that recognition to lead to condescension and condemnation.

In case anyone is tempted dispute the title of this post, simply stop and realize that the parable of the talents explicitly ends in the Lord rewarding those who recognized their abilities to multiply what they were given - and in the Lord taking what he had given from the one who feared his Lord and did not magnify what he had been given. It rarely is phrased this way, but the two who were rewarded had the ability, understanding and self-confidence necessary to do what they knew the Lord desired of them; he who was not rewarded lacked the ability and understanding to do so - perhaps due directly to a lack of self-confidence, manifested in fear.

There is nothing wrong with me admitting and openly stating that I have been blessed with a natural ability to understand mathematical concepts - or to see how various pieces of a puzzle fit together (both physical puzzles and conceptual puzzles) - or to find joy in simple things - or to see the good in others. Those are personal strengths, and it would be dishonest or disingenuous to state otherwise - and, at the very least, I would be naive and misguided to think that all share those strengths equally. It is not the recognition of my own strengths that constitutes being puffed up and vaunting of myself; it is the over-valuing and/or over-estimation of my own strengths and the under-valuing and/or under-estimation of others' strengths on which Paul focuses in I Cornithians 13.

Part of the message of the Sermon on the Mount, on which I focused for two years, is the challenge to put conscious effort into understanding those characteristics that comprise completion, wholeness and full development - and to pursue acquiring them in order to glorify God. That entire process requires a level of confidence - and confidence is another way to phrase faith and hope. Of course, ultimate confidence in this process is pointed toward God, but one of the uniquely empowering aspects of Mormonism is the addition of an element of confidence in our own status as children of God - confidence that humans really are "worthy" of "the grace that so fully he proffers us" (based simply on our shared heritage of sons and daughters of divinity, not based on "individual worth" as distinguished from others' worth).

There is nothing noble, in my opinion, in false modesty or self-deprication. Those things are not the same as meekness and humility. The former are facades; the latter are internal characteristics. The former are deceptive; the latter simply are descriptive. In that light, I believe it is much better to offer a simple, sincere "Thank you" when complimented than to deflect honest expressions with canned phrases that reject the sincerity of others' words - thus devaluing their praise. False modesty, as a way to avoid openly vaunting one's self, only masks the puffiness that exists hidden inside and is, therefore, hypocrisy.

Postscript: I have felt the need to add one "disclaimer" - and it is an important one, I believe:

There is a fine line between proper and realistic self-confidence and reckless self-confidence. The latter (recklessness) often appears in the religious as a belief that the Lord will not let anything bad happen to you - that you can do anything without concern for the potential consequences - that you deserve to have good things happen to you and that nothing is an un-necessary risk.

There is realistically being aware of one's strengths AND weaknesses, and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to one's weaknesses - and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to others' weaknesses (which is a weakness, in and of itself). I am not advocating blind and/or all-encompassing confidence in this post. Even Ammon gloried "in the Lord" - and humans have a tendency to think the Lord will help them get whatever THEY want, rather than what HE wants to accomplish through them.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Church Dress" Isn't That Simple

I believe how we dress for the meetings we attend is about respect - and an understanding of the nature of the particular meeting/gathering in question. It's also about recognizing that there is no "one standard" when it comes to attire, specifically because clothing is an expression of culture. I believe we should uphold a worshipful standard for our worship services and a "minimally acceptable respect" level for all of our associations (meaning inappropriately immodest, revealing, suggestive, etc. clothing is prohibited in all instances).

In my own case, I used to wear a full suit with white shirt whenever I was attending the normal block of Sunday church meetings and other instances where I was representing my Priesthood leaders, specifically because I had been asked to do so by my direct Priesthood leader as a result of my calling at the time. I often wore dress pants and a polo shirt to the non-public leadership meetings I attended when they were in the evening and I went there straight from work - because these meetings are administrative, not for worship. (I "dress up" when I can, but I don't drive miles out of my way to do so.) I often wear jeans and a t-shirt to fellowship dinners and ward or stake functions and to teach with the missionaries - because these are gatherings of friends that are not "church-related", per se. If I was involved in missionary correlation meetings Thursday night in our ward, I would show up in jeans or slacks - whatever I was wearing at the time.

Too many times, people equate any meeting arising out of our callings or relationships at church as "church meetings" that require "church dress". Imo, "church dress" is a misnomer, since there are widely varying reasons and purposes for meetings and, therefore, widely varying models of appropriate "church dress". I reserve "Sunday dress" for direct worship and those meetings where I have been asked to dress in the same manner. Everything else is a step below that; therefore, so is the way I often dress.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mormonism is a Uniquely Biblical Religion

One of the biggest issues in our missionary efforts among other Christians is that it is almost impossible for many who have been indoctrinated with other interpretations to look at the Bible and parse the big picture - to break away from their former teachings and see what the Bible (especially the Gospels) actually teaches. There is a HUGE difference between believing in the Bible and believing what the Bible actually says, and too few members realize that most of the Mormon Church's most unique teachings and doctrines do not come from the Book of Mormon; rather, most of them come from the Bible.

I know this is a broad generality, but most of Protestantism doctrinally is Pauline- and creed-based, while Mormonism is much more Gospels-based. That is a clear, bright-line difference in many, if not most, cases. Ironically, the best way to break that Pauline-/creed-based paradigm for many people is to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, join the Church, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and then start seeing and reading the Bible with a different light. I have seen it over and over and over again, and it fits perfectly with Mormon 7, especially verses 8-9.

If someone is a Bible believer and a seeker, and if that person is open to a thoughtful discussion of the Gospels as the foundation of Christian theology (rather than the creeds and Paul's epistles), then it is not hard for someone who knows the Bible well to help them begin to see the Gospel in a new light and understand the need for a "Restoration". However, they still need to read and accept the Book of Mormon in order to gain a testimony of that restoration through Joseph Smith.

Most young missionaries just aren't doctrinally mature enough to tackle both of those approaches, so the lessons are structured to focus on the second (gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and then start to understand the Bible correctly once you are a member of the Church). Therefore, the responsibility to "nurture new members in the good word of God" falls on the members in most cases - not the missionaries. It also highlights the need for members of the Church to know the Bible better than we generally do.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Perhaps Our Greatest Failure

It is perhaps the greatest irony of mortality that we can’t serve God without mixing with his children - that in order to emulate Jesus’ actual life we need to risk all kinds of temptations and dangers and judgmental perceptions in order to "lay down our lives" for others and simply serve them. Frankly, in my opinion, that is perhaps the greatest failure in many members’ lives - living too safely away from the deepest pains and suffering and temptations around us and losing the chance to mourn with those that mourn the most and comfort those who stand in the greatest need of comfort.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Self-Analysis Tool: Do I Vaunt Myself; Am I Puffed Up?

From my post last week about the attitude behind vaunting and being puffed up:

It's not necessarily that "they are worse than I am" - but rather that "I am better than they are". That is an important distinction, subtle though it be.

It is critical - absolutely important - to understand how the statment that "charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up" applies within one's own self in order to become more charitable in this regard. This is not easy, and it is not natural. This is true of almost everyone, but it is most difficult for those who are convinced of their own, personal faith perspective - both those who struggle with their faith community and those who are solidly established within it.

BOTH of these groups of people are characterized generally by a feeling of superiority when it comes to their understanding of Truth - and spirituality - and sociality - and leadership - and all other things religious (including Mormon). In practical terms, when we view ourselves as understanding the Gospel better than "those other members" - at that moment we are being "puffed up" - and, in public groups (online or at church), that often leads to "vaunting itself" above others.

Bragging and boasting don't have to be blatant and obvious. They can be subtle and encrypted - and I see it naturally both in those who are in the throes of bitterness and those in the entrenchment of an accepted mainstream.

If anyone wants an eye-opening experience, think about this distinction and definition as you go back and re-read your own comments here and in any online discussion groups where you have participated and/or continue to participate. (If you don't participate in group discussions online, think seriously about how you contribute to group discussions of other kinds - in any setting, but espeically at church.) See how many of your comments have either a subtle or obvious element of "vauntiness" or puffiness. Most of us have a long way to go in that regard, and it's hard to see how far unless you are looking consciously for it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Am Who I Am

Honestly, I can’t know exactly why anyone stays in or leaves the Church - or gains or loses faith in anything. I have no idea. I have a hard enough time feeling confident that I understand why I believe what I believe. I have had some amazing experiences that I simply can’t chalk up to anything but God and the reality of the Restoration, but I personally have had those experiences and felt that way since I can remember. Therefore, in a way, I might not have “chosen” to believe; it might be simply part of who I am.

I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about it. I’m me; others are others; as long as each of us is doing the best we can to live the most we know or believe or want to believe, I can’t judge the why or how. I try to share what brings me joy simply because it brings me joy - and I try to learn from others about what brings them joy.

I admire others who struggle or have struggled but remain civil and open and sincere every bit as much as I admire those who understand the issues that make others struggle but never seem to waver. (I have a harder time with those who want to make others struggle as they do.) I think we devalue “Judge not that ye be not judged” far too much, and we place way too much emphasis on belief over action.

The central point of this post is that, in the end, I need to try to take responsibility for my actions - whether I truly choose them or not. Perhaps I am not in control as much as I believe, but at least I am trying. I also need to open my mind and heart and arms to anyone who also is trying (and even to those who aren’t, with proper caution) - no matter their denominational classification or “level” of faith. Given my view of the Atonement, that’s pretty much all that matters to me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Love Thine Enemies" - Even Hitler?

Loving Hitler - Kevin Barney (By Common Consent)

Comment #31 by john f. (Elder Richards' g-g-grandson) is particularly insightful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Broadening Our Understanding of the Restoration

If someone really wants to gain a better understanding of "The Restoration of the Gospel in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times", I’d suggest a look at how the eternal perspective within Buddhism (especially) and Islam and Hinduism and Shintoism and other world religions is so much closer to Mormonism’s than is Protestantism’s. I’ve always found it fascinating that, in many ways, Mormonism is closer to the other major world religions than it is to modern-day Protestantism. That adds a much broader meaning to “Restoration”, in my opinion, as well as a much more universal understanding of the power of the Atonement.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Respecting Our Right to Oppose

Whenever I am at the stand conducting any sustaining votes, I always look around the congregation slowly and purposefully - and I pause long enough after asking the question about dissent to make it obvious that I actually am allowing for the possibility that there will be dissent. I also explicitly turn and look behind me at all the people sitting on the stand - again, to make it obvious that I am looking at each and every individual in the room at the time. Honestly, I do not expect a dissenting vote, but I believe I owe it to the spirit of the process to take my time and make the possibility of opposition real in the minds of those in attendance.

The standard wording is, “It is *proposed* that we sustain . . . All in favor . . . All opposed . . .” My vote is a sign that I am willing to sustain the *proposed* action - or not to sustain it. Any construct that limits or denies that right to object to a proposal makes it something other than a proposal.

Since we don’t believe in infallibility in the issuing of callings, and since there have been and continue to be instances where a dissenting vote has changed a calling, I have a hard time accepting a sustaining vote as anything less than a sustaining vote. I can accept the idea that we are not “electing” someone, but that doesn’t mean that my vote always should be seen as automatic or a test of my faith. If I know nothing that would disqualify a candidate for the office to which s/he is being called, I accept fully my need to accept it on faith - if as nothing more than my public statement of trust in the person who issued the call. If I know of something that would disqualify the candidate, however, I feel it is my duty to make it known to the proper person - even if that means I have to raise my hand in opposition to the calling / action.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Charity Vaunteth Not Itself, Is Not Puffed Up

My resolution for this month is to be less "vaunting" of myself and less "puffed up" - and contemplating this resolution has led me to one interesting, initial conclusion:

In order to be successful this month, I need to recognize and admit those areas where I do "vaunt myself" - where I am "puffed up". That is an interesting realization, especially when I am writing publicly about it. First, however, as I always do, for this initial post I am going to put on my parser's hat and focus on the "what" of this resolution - the meaning of vaunting one's self and being puffed up.

As I looked up the word "vaunt", I realized something that I hadn't considered previously. It is a simple thing, but I believe it is important when dealing with this aspect of charity. To vaunt means:

to speak boastfully; brag

Therefore, "Vaunteth not itself" (at the most basic level) means simply to not boast or brag about one's self. At glance, this appears to be focused explicitly and exclusively on one's words - and that is the most obvious and common application. I want to focus on it first, then turn to a more subtle application.

"Boasting" and "bragging" seem to be straightforward and easily understood. They mean, respectively:

to speak with exaggeration and excessive pride, esp. about oneself


to use boastful language

Thus, this injunction against vaunting not one's self means, at the most basic level, to not exaggerate one's abilities and be excessively proud of those abilities. This fits perfectly with the second aspect of charity in this resolution - to not be puffed up ("swollen" or, in practical terms, "feeling self-important; arrogant; pompous"). "Vaunting not" encompasses the outward expression of being "puffed up" inside - and charity includes neither vaunting NOR being puffed up. Thus, the root issue at stake appears to be an internal feeling of superiority that, in its fullness, manifests itself in one's words by raising one's self above others.

It also is interesting to consider that this focus is not directly on "the other" but rather on "itself" - that one's view of one's self is what determines fundamentally one's view of others. It's not necessarily that "they are worse than I am" - but rather that "I am better than they are". That is an important distinction, subtle though it be.

None of this is new or profound, but it's an important point to make - that if I am to be less vaunting of myself and be less puffed up, I need to focus on how I view myself internally as the foundation of how I act externally - that it really is my own self-perception (especially in relation to how I view others) that is the biggest influence on my ability to become more charitable in this particular area.

Next week I want to focus on what type of internal perspective is necessary to develop this part of charity.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Liberality Without Upbraiding

It’s a fine line we must walk between what we desire of others and how we treat them when they choose differently than what we desire of them. What causes someone to choose differently is beyond my ability to fully comprehend, so I simply deal with the choices and try to help that person to whatever extent s/he will allow it. I “preach” to those who are willing to listen; I simply love those who aren’t willing to hear my preaching.

Constantly preaching at someone who simply needs to be loved and respected can do as much harm emotionally and spiritually as slapping them physically. I believe we tend to equate our own desires and yearnings for the movement of the Holy Ghost far too much, so we end up “reproving” far too often - even when that reproof is couched in sugary terms of love and concern. “Giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not” is a difficult standard, but it is representative of most of the descriptions we have of how both the Father and the Son deal with those who choose to act differently than they have asked. Even Alma, as he went about trying to destroy the Church, was told that he could do whatever he decided with his own life - but that he should not try to drag others along with him.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why Optimism Isn't Hope

In a business book by James C. Collins called "Good to Great", Collins writes about a conversation he had with Vice-Admiral James Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.

"I never lost faith in the end of the story," was Stockdale's answer. "I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade."

Collins asked him, "Who didn't make it out?" and Stockdale replied immediately: "Oh, that's easy. The optimists... They were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."

"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

(Hat tip to marathonermom)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teaching Children Faith

One of the worst parts of child psychology is its emphasis on always giving children a reason for what you ask of them. I believe strongly in doing so in most instances, but there is a very valuable lesson that children need to learn that gets overlooked if they always have a detailed explanation - the willingness to do something simply because it is asked by someone they trust. Always giving them a justification literally destroys their ability to build a foundation of faith - an understanding of simple trust.

As I said, I believe in the principle of explaining requests (as well as a healthy questioning of authority), but quite often I simply make the request without any explanation - just to see if my children will do what I ask of them. I think Heavenly Father does the same with us.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Loving Enough to Lose All

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

I believe learning to love people enough that you would be willing to give up heaven so they could reach it is the heart of the concept articulated in this verse - and the best way to determine if you have reached that type of love is if you are giving up your picture of the ideal life HERE on earth in order to make others’ lives more ideal HERE on earth.

I believe in the idea of creating Heaven on earth - and that those who "really get it" are far more focused on helping those around them in the here and now than on securing a reward in the hereafter, specifically because they know their Father and love Him enough to sacrifice their all, if necessary, to do what His Son did when He was here. He spent His life ministering to the poor and despised and rejected - giving up the comforts He could have enjoyed in order to mourn with those who mourned and comfort those who stood in need of comfort.

One simple, minimal example: I believe that someone who can afford to pay a generous fast offering and does not do so does not understand the Gospel very well. That person, in my opinion, has put his own luxuries ahead of others' needs and is not living the foundational heart of the Gospel.