Monday, May 31, 2010

Keeping a Sense of the Privately Sacred

Luke 2:19 is one of the most simple yet profound verses in all of our standard works - and it relates directly to how you can have a wonderful life in the Church. We live in an information rich, share-all society that values open communication above almost all else. As a society at large, we are losing (or have lost) a sense of the privately sacred.

Luke 2:19 says:

“But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Obviously, we don’t need to be silent and not share many of our spiritual experiences, but there is much power and a deep connection that can be had in following Mary’s example of “keeping” her most sacred experiences and knowledge and interaction with deity and “pondering them in her heart”.

My mother’s approach to life worked so beautifully for her largely because she “kept [many of] (her sacred and personal) things, and pondered them in her heart.” It made her a deeply spiritual woman, just as I’m sure it did for Mary. Most of my own most intense and profound insights have come as I sat alone or listening in a group setting - sitting quietly, thinking deeply and pondering things in my heart.

Truly, sometimes we simply need to "be still, and know that (He is) God". I believe the latter flows directly from the former more often than we realize - and that we move away from him when we fail to keep a sense of the privately sacred.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day Tribute: To ALL Who Serve As the Cannon Fodder of War

My resolution this month is to "seek less my own" - taken from 1 Corinthians 13:5. Three weeks ago, I quoted John 15:13 to talk about the practical application of how Jesus literally laid down his life to pursue his ministry (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/05/seeking-not-her-own-laying-down-ones.html), and at the beginning of this month I wrote a similar post about my father and how he set aside his own life, changed courses and began an entirely new life in order to make sure my mother could live the type of life she needed in order to be funcational and happy. (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/05/charity-seeketh-not-her-own.html)

Next Monday is Memorial Day, so today I want to write a very simple tribute to those who volunteer to protect our and others' lives and freedom and, in doing so, put their lives on the line and risk "laying down their lives" both figuratively and literally. I don't like war; in fact, I hate it. However, unfortunately, it sometimes is a necessary evil in our fallen world, and I honor those who choose to engage whenever they believe it is necessary - especially the regular men and women who carry the casualities of war. I also honor the men and women who serve as police - those who protect us in ways as real as the soldiers who fight traditional wars.

Also, in the spirit of Matthew 5:44, this is dedicated to ALL who fight and die **in combat** for what they believe to be right - not just to those who fight for me or for causes in which I believe. Even if I cannot honor their cause, I can honor their sincerity. Their wives, children, parents and friends mourn no less than my family would - and they are children of God, just as much as you and I.

I am not eloquent or creative enough to write anything unique as a tribute, but music moves me deeply - so I am linking here to some videos I love that pay tribute to those who serve as the cannon fodder of war.

If You're Reading This

Arlington

I Will Remember You

When You Come Back to Me Again

Here Without You

Truly, if "greater love hath no (wo)man than this, that a (wo)man lay down her/his life for her/his friends", there is a special place in heaven for those who live and die in the defense of others. May God bless you and yours, and may you feel and know of our appreciation, respect and love.

Friday, May 28, 2010

This Is Not a Relativistic Post

I have full confidence that what I believe is "true" for me. Therefore, for myself, I know it to be true. I have no confidence that what I believe is "true" for anyone else, since they have to discover what they feel to be true.


That's not a relativistic stance, as it sounds initially. I just look at it like Nephi did: I know what I have seen and felt and experienced. It's truth "as I understand it". I'm not a bit perturbed that my current "knowledge" differs from my earlier knowledge - or that it differs from what my future knowledge will be. I'm not concerned at all that others will read this and say that I don't "know" anything, but that I merely "believe". It feels like knowledge to me, so I accept it as knowledge for me. If I explain it to others and they translate it as "belief" for them, fine; if they feel what I feel and translate it as "knowledge", fine.


Some have the gift to know; others have the gift to believe those who know. For what it's worth, everything I have read on all the blogs I frequent convinces me that such a distinction pretty much covers everyone - those who follow what they feel they know and those who follow whoever is the most convincing to them. I'm fine with both, and I try not to force one on the other.

I just think that many people are too stuck on quibbling over definitions that they want to impose on others and not open enough to letting individuals self-identify as honestly as they can on a personal level - and that "natural man" tendency is alive both inside and outside the Mormon Church. It certainly is alive and thriving in the Bloggernacle.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Those Whose Mortal Struggles Overwhelm Them

I know someone who has some intense struggles.

He lived with friends for a while after he could no longer live at home, and, during that time, he had a couple of incredibly strong spiritual experiences - after first deciding to listen to the missionaries because both sister missionaries were "absolute babes". (What can I say; he was 18.)       He is highly intelligent, and he "got it" very quickly.  He and I had some long talks, and he really did have some awesome experiences and insights.   He was baptized while living with his friends, then left for college a few months later.

He had some negative experiences in his new ward that don't need to be detailed here.  As a result of those experiences and the subsequent lack of the type of support system he had when he joined the Church, he began to return to the life he had lived prior to coming to that.  His dysfunctional adolescence caused some very deep habits and inclinations, and, left on his own, they resurfaced.  I have prayed for him and hoped for him, but I have seen his actions take him away from activity in the Church.

He returned home once for the summer, and his father mocked his inactivity by saying something like, "I guess that Mormon thing isn't working out for you."  His response gave me hope in the midst of my concern. He said to his father, "I'm not living the way I should be living, but the Mormon Church is still the truest thing I've ever heard. I just have to get myself together before I can live it."

 
I hang onto faith that "when he is old, he will not depart from it". I KNOW his experiences and insights were real; he knows they were real. I have to trust that God's mercy truly will save him from the results of Adam's transgression in his life - and I see the issues that are keeping him from full activity directly as a result of what he inherited from his parents and what he had to "become" to cope without killing himself - and the experiences he had in a non-supportive environment when he first was on his own.

I believe the Atonement is MUCH more powerful than we often realize. Surely, God understands those whose struggles overwhelm them, and we someday will "stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers (them); confused at the grace that so fully he proffers (them)."

Monday, May 24, 2010

In 50 Years, I Will Be Proof the Church is True - and False

Everything was more black and white when I was younger - and I see that in the Church, as well.

Everyone was a convert in the beginning, even Joseph Smith in a very real way, and I believe much of what drives some people nuts about the way that early Church leaders taught things that we no longer teach is no more than the maturation process that is unavoidable in mortality as we learn and grow and realize how much we really don’t know. (or, at least, that I wish was unavoidable - I have known some people and organizations that simply refuse to mature.)

All of you who read this blog probably realize I don’t see our changing understanding over time as a bad thing, but I also should make it crystal clear that I also don’t see any great, seismic shift in the CORE principles and doctrines of the Restoration. We still believe in a Great Apostasy, the restoration of the priesthood that can administer eternally binding ordinances for all of mankind, the reality of multiple prophetic sources and on-going revelation - both collective and personal - in all its messy glory, the centrality of Jesus in the Plan of Salvation as our Savior and Redeemer, the primacy of obedience (fruits) over work-less belief, the importance of establishing and serving in the Kingdom of God on earth, the eternal potential to become like God, and on and on and on. I don’t think we have abandoned - or even altered significantly - any of the Articles of Faith. How we express each of these core principles and doctrines has vacillated from time to time as we struggle to see through our glass less darkly, but the concepts themselves haven’t changed in ways that I would classify as significant.

I think it’s interesting that when I was most active on multiple Mormon-themed blogs I was classified as a skeptical believer on Mormon Matters, a conservative generally on Feminist Mormon Housewives, mostly conservative on By Common Consent and Times & Seasons, simply verbose on Trash Calls, insightful but occasionally heretical on Mormon Momma, a token male at Mormon Mommy Wars, etc. I think I am classified in each case in comparison to the general tone of the blog, which I believe is relevant to this post in an important way.

I don’t really care how I’m classified, since I know I am a “faithful, believing member” - and that’s all that really matters to me. I accept that 20-50 years from now members might read what I have written and agree, disagree, laugh or have any other reaction. My words might be dissected, if anyone even reads them, to prove how wrong the Church is - because someone in my position of local leadership was so badly mistaken; they might be read to show how right the Church is - because someone like me was correct. I have no idea how my words will be used, if they are used at all, but, if they are used at all, I’m fairly certain they will fill both roles - as “proof” that the Church was right by some and wrong by others. That’s just the nature of the human beast.

I’m just doing my best to explain (and evaluate) my own muddle in the middle as I make my way through life.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

No Resolution Post Today: A Tribute to My Daughter

Normally, this post would be focused obviously on my New Year's Resolution this month, discussing the idea that "charity seeketh not her own". (1 Corinthians 13:5) However, my oldest daughter graduated from high school last night, and I am in a fatherly mood right now. Therefore, I am going to mention here how much I have learned about the focus of my resolution this month from my daughter.

One of my favorite scriptual verses is 1 John 4:19, which reads:

We love him, because he first loved us.

This could have been written about Sarah. People accept and love her, because she accepts and loves them. Her heart is open to anyone, and she tries hard to do good even to those who do not love her - since I am not aware of anyone who has met her in person and hates her.

I have watched her interact with people, and despite those times when impatience and emotional mood swings cause her to do and say things she regrets (especially to her younger sisters), I never have seen her act in a hateful way toward anyone. This is not strictly because it is totally natural for her; rather, it is a tendency on which she has focused conscious attention to strengthen. She actively tries to not be hateful, and it is inspiring to see.

I also have seen her consciously include in her life people whom others do not accept, and she does it without condemning those who do not accept. She is one of those people who can have friends from very different exclusive groups. She doesn't like everyone, but she strives to see and love everyone as a fellow child of God - and I am grateful for her example in my life.

I am proud of you, Sarah, and, while I am excited for you to leave home, start college and establish yourself as an independent adult, I will miss the daily lessons you teach me about courage, dedication, humility, sincerity, faithfulness and love.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Management vs. Ministry: The Genius of Mormonism

The LDS Church handles "management" largely from the hierarchical, official, formal Priesthood structure of the Church and the ministering (both giving and receiving) from the more lateral, local lay structure of the Church. The global leadership, after all, is understood primarily to be "witnesses of Christ" - not "ministers" in the classic sense.

I think if you asked the vast majority of active members, they would say that they feel the ministering structure is in place; the real question is whether it actually occurs in any given ward or branch. While there is "doctrinal power" in the centralized and correlated global hierarchy, frankly, I believe most of the "practical power" in the Church resides in the local units. Most of the serious difficulties likewise reside there, imo. The power delegated to the lay ministry - extended throughout and shared by nearly all active membership - is both the genius and the dysfunctionality of the Church, I believe.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For Such Decisions, Time Is Inconsequential

A friend I know through the Bloggernacle made the following comment while talking about her situation. I thought it was incredibly profound and wanted to share it with everyone who reads this blog and might have missed her comment:

I have been investigating for over 2 years now, which seems like a long time, but with the weight of such a decision, well, time is inconsequential.

My oldest son is serving a mission right now, and I hope and pray he doesn't get caught up in a focus on numbers and programs (which incorrect focus, by the way, is NOT encouraged in "Preach My Gospel") - that he realizes and embraces the idea that each individual investigator will have a unique timetable - that one of the responsibilities of missionaries is to encourage investigators to remember, read, ponder, pray and attend in an attempt to expedite experiences with the Holy Ghost, but that, in the end, each and every investigator must take whatever time s/he needs to work it out in his/her own mind and heart. Sometimes, that process can be accelerated, but it NEVER should be forced or pressured - even if a Mission President, an AP or a Zone Leader thinks otherwise.

Truly, in the end, time really is inconsequential when it comes to decisions that affect eternity.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Are You a Skeptical Believer or a Faithful Doubter?

Personally, I would put the "line" between a Skeptical Doubter and a Faithful Doubter as the emphasis on the adjective/noun relationship in each phrase. In other words, a skeptical believer is a believer, first and foremost. The skepticism is a characteristic of the believer. A faithful doubter, on the other hand, is a doubter, first and foremost. The faithful is a characteristic of the doubter.

To make this real and practical, try the following:

If someone makes a claim or a statement that sounds different than what you believe, what is your first reaction - your "gut instinct"? If it is to accept that there is some validity in it and then look for that validity - even if you have to discard some of it to find it, you are a skeptical believer. You believed there was good in there somewhere, and you were willing to exercise skepticism to sort through the incorrect to find the good.

If, however, your immediate reaction is, "That's a bunch of crap," you are less likely to search through it for a nugget of gold. You still are "faithful" to what you believe, but you aren't very open to finding insights among the ashes - to wade through the grime to find the sublime. Your "faithfulness" keeps you anchored to your current truth, but it keeps you anchored away from any other truth.


(Btw, I think you can be a temple-recommend holding Mormon and be a faithful doubter - or an atheist and a skeptical believer. Neither title automatically endows one or the other with any degree of "truth". That is a completely separate discussion.)


Monday, May 17, 2010

Analytical Belief vs. Skeptical Doubt

I don't mind the term Skeptical Believer, but I make sure I define it carefully and clearly.

I think the heart of being a Skeptical Believer is rooted in belief. I think the skepticism comes from belief - that we believe there is a God (and a way for us to conceive of Him), but we are skeptical of our ability to understand Him perfectly. Therefore, we believe what we believe, but we are always open to more - or to alteration - or to insight from others - or however else someone might want to say it. Perhaps a better term would be an Analytical Believer.

I personally have no doubts about the Restoration and the Church that are serious enough to cause me great angst or make me leave - and I am skeptical that I ever will have doubts that drive that deeply. The very definition of belief I use is such that the things I question or don't understand simply aren't as important as the things I believe. My belief is primary, and my skepticism in my own ability to know it all simply drives my attempts to understand better and more fully.

It's kind of like godly sorrow vs. the sorrow of the damned. One drives someone forward; the other drags someone down. My "skepticism" of my own understanding drives me forward, focused on the future and the positive; the skepticism I see in some others keeps them constantly focused on the past and the negative. I am extremely happy, and I just don't care about tearing down others; some others are not happy, and they seem to find their purpose in negativism and mockery.

I am an Analytical Believer; they are skeptics.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Charity Seeketh Not [Only] Her Own [People]: Those Who Hate You

Thus far this month, I have focused on charity not seeking her own in the sense of being willing to serve others rather than pursue her own desires. I discussed the ultimate example of this by examining the statement of Jesus that says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

I want to shift gears slightly and discuss seeking not her own in light of a passage in the Sermon on the Mount - and discuss a paradox when considering that passage and two common statements quoted often in the LDS Church.

The first passage is Matthew 5:43-47, which says:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?


This passage talks about loving, blessing and praying for enemies - and those aspects are quoted and discussed often in the Church. However, the part that is not quoted or discussed nearly as much is the part that tells us to "do good to them that hate you".

There is an important distinction between the first category and the second command. Loving, blessing and praying for are things that can be done alone, away from those in question - those who are enemies, those who curse you, those who hate you and those who misuse and persecute you. Doing good to someone is different; it cannot be done alone. It must be done WITH those whom you would avoid naturally. In other words, you must interact with others to do good to them.

This flies in the face of two other common statements:


Be in the world, but not of the world.



Abstain from all appearance of evil.


The first quote (which, by the way, is not scriptural as quoted) generally is used as a justification to avoid sinners. My only point is that all of us are sinners, so this usage, in practical terms, is to avoid sinners who are different than we are. Obviously, this has particular application to those who curse, hate, despitefully use and persecute.

The second quote is perhaps one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the entire Bible. In its original usage, it does not mean to avoid anything that even looks like evil - that appears to be evil. Rather, it means something like the following:


Abstain from evil no matter its appearance - no matter how it looks.


I bring this up specifically because I have heard it used to justify all kinds of things that keep us from doing good to our enemies - and even to those who are nowhere near our enemies. The focus is not on avoiding anything that someone else might perceive to be bad, but rather to avoid that which truly is evil.

If I am a Home Teacher, and if one of the people I Home Teach is only "available" when he is in a bar, should I go into that bar to visit him? If a woman is walking home in the pouring rain and I have the ability to help her, should I refuse to do so simply because someone might see me and jump to an incorrect conclusion? If someone has misused me in some way, should I refuse to interact further with him? Can I really be in the world and not at least "appear" sometimes to be "of" the world - doing good to my enemies if I never interact physically with them?

In conclusion, I believe that if we are to internalize charity fully, at some point we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and interact directly, in some way, with those who fight us, curse us, despitefully use us and persecute us. We can't become truly charitable in isolation, and we can't become truly charitable through only an intellectual understanding of it. At some point, we simply must LIVE it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I saw two Personages"

I have had some extremely powerful spiritual experiences in my life, and I share them rarely and with hesitancy specifically because of how I have seen people respond to others who share extremely personal, spiritual experiences. I have seen the way people nit-pick and obsess over the tiniest, most irrelevant aspects and reject entire experiences for what amounts to nothing of significance.

How do I say I have seen God weep for the sins of His children, without making it seem like I am claiming to have had a vision? How do I encapsulate a conversion story from my mission into a concise narrative without making it seem shallow and formulaic - like I simply copied details and descriptions from other stories? How do I describe a deeply, intensely spiritual experience in such a way that someone who has never had such an experience will "get it" - and how in the world do I share it in a short enough narrative that readers don't lose interest as the story drags on and on and on? Finally, how do I summarize an experience with the Holy Ghost in such a way that someone who knows little or nothing of the Holy Ghost will understand what I mean?

Take my struggles and multiply them exponentially to encompass a vision of or visit from deity. The account Joseph wrote of his First Vision wasn't for the Christian world; it was for humanity at large. It was told in a tone of awe and astonishment - in a way that describes inexpressible wonder. "I saw two personages" is a PERFECT description of what initially must have hit Joseph's brain - BEFORE he had any idea of who the personages were. There is no indication anywhere that Joseph expected to see God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ, when he entered the woods. There is no reason to insist that, upon seeing them, he immediately thought, "Cool, this is the Father and the Son." Again, "personages" describes perfectly what he must have seen and thought as they appeared. It only was AFTER "the first [Personage] spoke, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other, 'This is my Beloved Son. Here Him,'" that Joseph must have begun to comprehend what was happening to him. Given my own experiences with overpowering spiritual experiences, I'm fairly certain he walked out of that grove with his head spinning - literally reeling from what had happened.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Being an Orthodox Member with Heterodox Views

I am considered an orthodox member of my ward and stake NOT because of the actual nature of my beliefs, but rather because of how I state those beliefs - and, perhaps more importantly, by how I live my life. I don't actively or openly "battle the Brethren" in any way, and when I state my opinion about something in church I almost always do so simply as a statement of opinion - not as a challenge or in an argumentative way. Therefore, even though many of my personal perspectives and beliefs are quite unorthodox, my life and my actions are quite orthodox - and others accept me as orthodox, even though what I say often disagrees with what they say. They don't see me as an opponent, so they don't label me as such in any way.


As a friend once said, I "try to find ways of expressing what might be slightly heterodox modes of faith in more orthodox ways." At its heart, that is much more important, in my opinion, than the academic level of the vocabulary I use and than any need to convince someone else that she is wrong.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Obeying in the Face of Being Forsaken

From the Screwtape Letters:

“You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree . . . He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood.

Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys
.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reconciling "Unfilled" Promises in Patriarchal Blessings

I have found that as I talk with some people about their Patriarchal Blessings there has been an underlying assumption that their immediate, initial "understanding" of the blessing is correct - that if things don't happen as they assume the blessing describes, then the blessing is "wrong". Two of the best examples of this are those statements that deal with marriage (including children) and longevity.


Let me use two specific examples:


1) Someone is given blessings related to adult life, then that person dies before reaching adulthood. If the Patriarch were seeing the future, wouldn't he have stopped the pronouncement of blessings before marriage and kids and career and education and adult church service? To me, this is the easiest example to address, since I surely wouldn't want it to be stated (or even implied) in a daughter's blessing that she would die as a teenager. I think that would be cruel and would change totally the way she would live her life - and generally not in a positive way.


My takeaway from this example:


A Patriarchal Blessing is a guide focused on a full life. Whether or not each individual lives that full life is not the job of the Patriarch to ascertain - with rare exceptions that prove the rule. There generally is the "dependent on your worthiness" clause (although I know of one case where that clause does not appear and the blessings are phrased in a way that makes it clear that worthiness will never be an issue - which has been correct), but I believe there also is an underlying, unstated, assumed "dependent on the vagaries of life" clause.


2) Someone is told they will marry and raise children, but she reaches the age where she no longer can bear children and is still single. This is tougher, since it seems like such a straightforward promise.

I believe there might be an eternal element to these blessings, but I try to use that only as a last resort - since I believe these blessings are intended primarily as a guide for this life. So how do I reconcile the marriage and children promise?


This is where my own view gets a bit unorthodox. We are conditioned (properly, I believe) to interpret statements like this in accordance with the "Gospel/Church ideal". I believe that must always be our initial read, unless prompted by the Spirit. Therefore, this statement is taken to mean, "You will marry in the temple and give birth to sons and daughters . . ." Many times, however, that simply isn't what actually is said by the words on the page.

Non-temple marriage and adoption are legitimate fulfillment of the actual statement, but it is easy to ignore those options in life if reading only in light of the "ideal". If a person reaches 30 (arbitrary number pulled out of thin air) and has no immediate prospect for a temple marriage, I have no problem whatsoever with that person looking actively for a non-temple marriage - if that person feels inspired to do so. I know that is heretical to many, and I don't preach it as the general rule, but I do know that exceptions do exist for every rule, and 50,000 out of 5,000,000 still would be only 1% - a true exception.


I haven't even gotten to the fact of others' agency and how their choices impact our lives. I think that plays into a lot of the statements in our blessings and whether or not they come to full fruition.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Seeking Not Her Own" & "Laying Down One's Life"

Last Saturday in my New Year's Resolution post, I started discussing the aspect of charity mentioned in I Corinthians 13:5 that says charity "seeketh not her own". I focused on my own life - what I learned from watching my father interact with my mother and what I learned as I served my future wife.

This week, I want to develop that a bit further by focusing on another iteration of this same general principle - what I see as the ultimate expression of seeking not one's own. It is found in John 15:13, which says:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

My main point this week, as we delve further into charity seeking not her own is that this verse does NOT equate the greatest love imaginable as that which is exhibited by dying for someone. Rather, it is equated with the type of love that is required to "lay down one's life" for another. I believe dying for someone can be a form (a subset) of this type of love, but I believe in many cases it is the most simple, easiest manifestation of this type of charity. I want to use two common situations to illustrate this perspective:

1) When someone sees another in grave danger (like someone who is in a burning building), there often is a natural desire to save that person - even when the outcome might be one's own death. This is true in many situations even when the person inside the building is a stranger to the person who sees the predicament. This inclination appears to be a primal "survival of the species" instinct - or, if you prefer, the light of Christ that allows us temporarily in that situation to see someone else as worth saving at the cost of our own lives. It is "love" in a sense, but I do not see it as the greatest love imaginable.

2) When one's child or spouse is sick and in danger of dying, it is natural to feel something like, "Take me instead. I gladly will die in this person's place." That sounds noble at first glance, but think about it a little more deeply.

If the person offering to take the loved one's place believes in "heaven" or some other similar concept, the thought of death in this situation would bring feelings of peace and perhaps even a bit of joyous expectation. However, that death, in exchange for a spouse's continued life, for example, would leave the spouse alone - to deal with grief and pain, but also, in many situations, to deal with children and others who are devastated by that death. Iow, that desire to die for someone else is a selfish wish in practical terms, even if it is motivated by a sense of love.

I can't see that as an example of the greatest love imaginable.

So, what is left that would constitute such love and be consistent with the verse itself?

To "lay down" is an action verb - as opposed to "lie down", which simply means to "recline in a position common to sleeping". When someone lays down something, she takes something she has been carrying and lets go of it - placing it somewhere at rest and out of her grasp. I like to use the term "set aside" as a synonym - as in the following translation of John 15:13:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man set aside his life for a friend.

The Savior's ministry was the ultimate example of this, as his dying for others was "just" a subset of his living for others - the final "part" of the Atonement (excepting his resurrection), but nowhere near the entire Atonement. Think about the following:

A man was raised by Mary and Joseph. We have a story of him being taken to the temple as a baby; we read of him teaching the learned men at the temple when 12-years-old; and we find a statement in Luke 2:52 that he "increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (probably the least recognized, acknowledged and understood verse in the entire Bible) Other than that, we have no record of him until the age of 30, when he goes into the wilderness, is tempted, gathers followers, performs miracles and begins his ministry among the people.

Why is a record of the time between age 12 and 30 non-existent?

I believe it is because those were the years of "his life" - the life he "laid down" for his friends. He set aside his own life, and I believe it is important to realize that "Jesus had a life" that needed to be laid down in order to minister and preach and teach and heal and testify and die and rise again.

I believe we hear nothing of wife and children and job and hobbies and travel specifically because that was "his life" that he set aside for us - and that, for me, is MUCH more powerful than if he had jumped into a lake to rescue someone and drowned. He set aside his own life and took up his cross, if you will. He left his own house and "ha(d) not where to lay his head". He might have walked away from the children in his own immediate and/or extended family, some of whom might have died during his ministry, and raised the dead relatives of others.

The example I gave last Saturday of my father setting aside his own life for his beloved wife (first told here) is the closest example I know personally, but laying down one's life for others doesn't have to be so all-encompassing or singular in focus. It can be temporary, or sporadic, or "as needed". It can be short-term and involve multiple people. It can be as simple as stopping to help someone change a flat tire and being late to a meeting as a result.

The key is being able to understand when laying down one's life is appropriate and noble - and, even more importantly, having a heart that is willing to act on that understanding and actually lay down one's life (seek not her own), no matter how long is required.

Sometimes Gray Is Just a Different Black-and-White

Some people simply don't care about religious details. They don't care whether or not religious history is pristine or messy; they don't care about trying to figure out if something a prophet said is the word of God or personal opinion; they don't care about lots of things that drive more analytically-minded people bonkers. They really just don't care. Many of them see things in black-and-white, and many others just don't care about shades of gray.


It’s VERY easy for those of us who care about historical detail and nuance and every issue to attempt to impose our own expectations and perspectives on others who see things differently or just don’t care like we do - to juxtapose a different black and white in the name of seeing gray. If we insist that ALL need to see the gray, that really is just another black and white viewpoint.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Why I Don't Like to Say that God Is "Embodied"

"Embodied" is a word we use sometimes when talking of God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ. I personally don't like to use it - specifically because of the baggage that surrounds defining the term as people struggle to explain exactly what it means. Let me try to explain.


1) The most concise statement is the one in D&C 130:22, which states:


"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit."


2) That appears to be a straightforward statement of "embodiment" - until you consider that we believe Spirits are "embodied" in a very real and "tangible" way.


D&C 131:7-8 says:


"There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."


3) We speak generally of "flesh" as the outward surface of our bodies (the flexible structure "within" which we are organized) and "bones" as the inward, skeletal structure of our bodies (the "calcified" structure "around" which we are organized). Each of these aspects of our physical bodies is corruptible and subject to decay. The question then becomes, what does it mean to have a resurrected "body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man's"?


By the way, we use the term "body of flesh and bones" because that was the way Jesus described His resurrected body to the disciples to whom He appeared, with whom he spoke and for whom He ate in Luke 24:37-39:


" But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not "flesh and bones", as ye see me have."


So, the D&C makes it clear that spirits are "tangible" and "embodied" just as our physical bodies are - only to a different degree and "discernibility". Given these statements, it becomes very difficult to say with certainty exactly what it means for God to be "tangible" with a body of "flesh and bones" and to be "embodied".


That is a long-winded way of saying that I hesitate to use the term "embodied" specifically I believe it does not describe the condition of the Father (and the Son) in any meaningful way - given our belief that spirits also are "embodied" in a very real way. I prefer to use a description that focuses more on our relation, and I think it is accurate to say that literally "becoming perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" - literally becoming god-like in the fullest sense by reaching a state of godhood similar to that of the Father - literally "growing up to be like Father" - is something that is not found in the orthodox Christian theology of our day. In fact, if there is one thing that gets us labeled as a heretical, damnable cult, that probably is it - even though it is taught MUCH more clearly in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon.


Given all of that, rather than saying that God is "embodied", I generally say something like, "God is our actual Father" - meaning a creator whose offspring can grow to become like Him - whose children can grow up and approximate Him - who is
actually a Father in every sense of the word, not just the "spiritual" (or allegorical or symbolic or figurative) ones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Spiritual Intelligence & Humility

“Light and truth” has always fascinated me as a definition of intelligence. (D&C 93:36)

My dad was ecstatic to leave high school and formal education; he worked as a milkman, a type-setter handling hot lead that left his hands rough and calloused, a farm worker between jobs, etc. He retired after 20 years as an elementary school janitor.

He’s one of the most intelligent people I have met in my life, based on the D&C definition. He’s also perhaps the most selfless, humble man I know. I think there's a direct correlation, perhaps even a causation, between humility and spiritual intelligence.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Charity Seeketh Not Her Own

This month's New Year's Resolution is to "seek less my own" - taken from the same verse as last month's resolution, I Corinthians 13:5. (The entire list of monthly resolutions is detailed at my New Year's Resolution post for this year.) In the previous months this year, I have focused on suffering longer in kindness, envying less, being less vaunting and less puffed up, and behaving less unseemly. Each of those aspects of charity has been interesting to parse and strive to understand better, but this month's aspect (seeking less my own) has been fascinating for a totally different reason than the others. Initially, I want to share why it has been so different - and pay tribute to an amazing man, my father, and an amazing woman, my wife.

Almost three months ago, my father had a stroke. I wrote about it in a special post - linked here. In that post, I excerpted from a post I wrote back in November of 2007 about when my niece died unexpectedly - and how my father notified us of that event. I want to link those posts here in order to give anyone who might read this an understanding of how I learned what I believe to be the fundamental core of "seeking not one's own" - and use it as a launching pad for why my contemplation of this month's resolution has been so unique and special for me. Please read those posts if you have not done so previously.

I hope this post is not too personal, but it will be much more so than most of my posts here. I share the following with my wife's permission.

I met my wife almost 28 years ago, on Monday, June 14th, 1982. We were attending a summer youth conference at BYU called Honors Academy. She walked into the room where I was talking with someone else, and my immediate thought was, "Wow! She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen!" I knew within a week that we were going to be married someday, and I spent the next four and a half years (including the time I spent on a mission in Japan) working toward that day. When we met, I was 16 and she was 15.

My sweetheart kept a journal like few the world has ever seen. Voluminous doesn't even begin to describe those tomes. There were days when the entry was 5-6 pages long, and they were full of not just details but also feelings and hopes and dreams and frustrations and worries and self-doubt. There was no filter to her writing; everything was laid open in those pages. I have spent the last two days sick at home, and I have spent much of it re-reading her journals.

Just as at other times during the past two-and-a-half years, as I have focused on the attributes of godliness and tried to be a little better at something each month, I have been struck the last two days by how appropriate it has been - how non-coincidental it appears to have been - that I have been immersed in re-discovering how much I understood and practiced the concept of "seeking not my own" while I was dating my future wife. I also have been struck DEEPLY by how much I have let go of that over the years and how much I want to grasp it again.

You see, I loved her deeply as we were dating - and while that only has deepened over the last 28 years, it struck me hard that I have not sought as actively as at that time her happiness above my own. I have made sacrifices at various times to accommodate what was best for the family and let go of what might have been best for me individually, but I have not focused my energies as much on "seeking HER own" quite to the extent that I did back then. I understand that my focus necessarily must be divided now that I am working full-time and caring for six children, as well - and I know I am a good husband, but reading her journals from when I so desperately wanted her to know how special she was amid her self-doubts and the emotional turmoil of her teenage years has made me realize that I grew SO much because of that focus.

I lost myself, to a large degree, during those years. I lived my own life, and I did things on my own of which I am proud. I sang in the Trouveres (our high school a'capella group) and won a few music contests; I was the Drum Major of our award-winning marching band; I was a State Sterling Scholar General Scholarship competitor; I was accepted to Harvard College; I had a wonderful life by most objective standards. However, I would have given up all of that if it was the only way to help my girlfriend be happy and recognize her beauty and potential. In a very real way, I lived for her - and, in so doing, I found amazing joy in losing myself. I was "seeking not (my) own" - and, as a whole, it was the happiest, most glorious time of my life.

How does that translate into my life now - especially, as I said, now that I have competing aspects of my life that pull my focus away from just the love of my life?

As I began to consider this month's resolution, what struck me HARD is that I am at a bit of a crossroads in my life. I have struggled recently as I have sought to strike a balance between some things I really want badly as an individual and some things that I have felt drawn to as a husband, father, church member and friend. It has been difficult for me to let go of some of my dreams once more and realize that, perhaps once again, I need to lose myself as an individual and do some things strictly because there are things that I can do for others - that only can be accomplished if I choose to "seek not my own".

There is more to this resolution than simply seeking not my own accomplishments and dreams in isolation (and I will address that in future posts this month), but I wanted to begin this resolution by thanking my wife for the chance to read her journals once again from the time when I truly was the happiest I have ever been - and for what it has made me consider about what I need to do at this time in my life.

I don't know if this will make sense or resonate with anyone who reads it, and I will be back to the more analytical side of these resolutions posts next week, but I simply want to start this month's focus with a public statement that helping others be happy and secure, even at the expense of things that could be pursued on a personal level, is perhaps the purest form of "seeking not one's own" - and focusing on re-discovering how that (and more) applies to the here and now for me is something that I need to do.