Thursday, September 30, 2010
“The human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a machine for convincing others that its owner is in the right – and thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. The brain is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth, regardless of whether they in fact have any of either. Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.” – Robert Wright
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I have a few core principles that govern how I approach my religious life:
1) Do everything I can to develop the characteristics of godliness outlined in the Sermon on the Mount and other scriptural passages.
2) Develop true charity - not "just" some ambiguous "pure love of Christ", but rather a true understanding of others’ inherent worth and having genuine compassion toward them - truly treating them as fellow children of God regardless of their beliefs and personal quirks or weaknesses.
3) Do whatever I can to share of my all with others, especially those who need it most. That centers on eliminating "excess" - getting rid of debt so I can share of my financial means, simplifying my commitments so I can share of my time, finding emotional balance so I can share of my spirit, maintaining some semblance of physical health so I can share of my energy, etc.
4) Serve within the Church in some capacity (and elsewhere as I can). I don't care where, just that I serve somewhere, somehow.
Fwiw, I believe the biggest fallacy to which many have succumbed might be that we can have it all - and that it's OK to pursue it all. Often our efforts to obtain ALL leaves us unable to do the BEST - and, most critically, keeps us from doing fully what only we can do.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Comment #21 by Thomas Parkin (emphasis added) on "The Hard History - is faith enough to get us through" - Margaret Young (By Common Consent)
I’ve just been visiting with my folks down in SLC. They have a swimming pool in their new digs, and my dad and I were in the pool till after midnight Saturday talking. Actually, he did most of the talking while I did most of the listening. He told me true things about his mission, about how he was before he went, how he felt while serving, who he was when he returned, and some experiences from jobs he held. Some of these things I’d heard him tell before, and some was new to me. I suppose you’d say these were unsanitized versions. There is nothing new about this. There has never been a subject that he hasn’t approached to me with this same candor – at least for the last 25 years.
I’m so grateful to have had a father that always valued truth, taught me that the truth will out and so we might as well embrace it, while at the same time he also taught me the gospel. It isn’t a brag, I’m deeply humble and grateful for this. Because of this it has been easier for me to see that the truth in all it’s shades and colors is so much richer and more beautiful than delicate and, if true, still incomplete histories and doctrines. As we learn more and more, while keeping our covenants and striving for the companionship of the Spirit, reality takes on a depth and dimension that echoes and calls to our soul in ways that make for us tepid the thinner, fraught with fear versions of history and doctrine that threaten believers with kitsch and worse, smallness of soul.Faith is only a step for us. I know that knowledge is possible through direct experience of the powers of heaven, manifestations of the Spirit, having doctrine distill upon our souls and having visitations from beyond the veil. But we’ve got to take the plunge. Before we can know we have to admit that we don’t know. And then even after we know admit that we don’t know fully, that our understanding is never complete in this life. And press forward fearlessly into knowledge, holding to the Rod of Iron which is the word of God to the souls of those who love and serve Him.
Monday, September 27, 2010
In the Bible, Jude has a fascinating passage concerning those who "speak evil of dignities" and "speak evil of those things which they know not". (Jude 1:8-10) When you couple these descriptions with the general counsel of Jesus to "Judge not, that ye be not judged," I think it is apparent that the worst thing about "evil-speaking history" or criticism of religious leaders is that generally it is undertaken and compiled in a spirit of belittling rather than understanding.
All of us are fallen and come short of the glory of God, so it isn't necessary to focus or dwell on the proof of that fact - particularly if all it accomplishes is to dull our appreciation for the wonderful things some have done. Does knowing Winston Churchill was a rude drunk make any difference in the grand scheme of things? Perhaps so, if it is used to point out his greatness despite his weakness and encourage greatness from us despite our weakness, but if it is used purely to denigrate him, of what use is it?
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I talked with her about how I view the temple ordinances as almost completely symbolic - and that there is great power for me in the symbolism and figurative nature of turning our hearts to our fathers and serving them in a symbolic way. I asked her if she understood what I mean by the difference between viewing ordinances as symbolic and thinking they are literally necessary as we currently perform them, and she said the following - to the best of my recollection:
It's like the Jews using circumcision and us using baptism now. That symbolism worked for them, but it doesn't work for us. Baptism works better.
She then added:
It's like when kids at school think we worship Joseph Smith because we sing "Praise to the Man". They only use "praise" as a religious term when they are talking about God, so they assume we don't worship God when we praise prophets. They just don't understand that it's ok to praise people for what they do and worship God. It's the meaning of the word to us that's important - the symbolism we see in it.
She's a great kid, and I'm proud of her. I'm not certain I've ever shared those examples with her directly, but they are two specific examples I have used in the past.
I'm glad she understands the concept of symbolism at this age, since I believe it will help her tremendously as she gets older and faces other things that often are difficult to reconcile in a more literal paradigm but have great power when viewed symbolically.
Friday, September 24, 2010
1) What is the most important thing/lesson you have learned from your participation in the Bloggernacle?
That my wicked sense of humor doesn't translate very well sometimes in print. Seriously, I almost blew it when I first started blogging in the 'Nacle. I jumped into some banter going on over at BCC among people who knew each other from years of blogging and started to throw my own humorous barbs into the mix. Problem was, nobody knew me - so I ended up offending a few people who couldn't see my smile. I also didn't realize how some of my comments came across, and I am grateful to Steve Evans for pointing it out to me. It changed the way that I express my humor - and helped me begin to eliminate sarcasm from much of my non-blogging communications, as well.
2) On the whole, has it been a positive or a negative experience for your spirituality?
I'm not sure it has had a direct impact on me spiritually, but it certainly has brought friendships that I cherish. It also has brought fascinating insights from multiple perspectives, and I also cherish that. It has not hurt me spiritually; that's for sure.
3) How has your involvement altered, if it has, your view of Mormonism and other Mormons?
It hasn't altered my view, but it has broadened my understanding - and that's a wonderful thing to me.
Obviously, given how much I have commented around the Bloggernacle since I began, I must enjoy it. *grin* I have had to cut back a bit on my commenting in the past couple of years, for a number of reasons, but I do it because I love the people I have met and the discussions we have.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I want mercy, so I try to grant mercy; I want to be judged mercifully, so I try to judge mercifully; I know I have my own shortcomings and failures, and that I desperately need his grace, so I try not to place others outside that grace.
In the end, I simply have no clue what the eventual outcome will be for someone else. I just know I have to live the best I know how to live - and hope others don't require more of me than that.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
I believe a large part of "contentiousness" is that understanding is not the central aim - that the motivating factor for one party (or both) is "winning the argument". It's a fine distinction to draw between that and "contending", since there obviously are times when we should defend the Church and each other against distortions and misrepresentations.
I have found that the biggest difference for me personally is maintaining a calmness in approach and a mindset that focuses on understanding instead of belittling. I also have found that anger and offense lead inexorably to contentiousness, so if I can avoid taking things personally I can "contend" (engage different viewpoints) without being contentious (attacking the person expressing the different viewpoint).
In other words, I can be assertive about my beliefs without belittling others with contrary beliefs - particularly if my primary focus is on understanding how the other person's beliefs actually might be able to help me modify or understand my own better. Once I say, "There's nothing I can learn from you," contentiousness is almost a foregone conclusion.
If the other person holds that same view, I can avoid contention only by being willing to walk away without "winning". I'm fine with that.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
In view of the eternities, just as with our meager contribution to our joint Atonement account, however long we work in the field is inconsequential. What counts is that we sink our shovels into the sod and shoulder our load.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Last week's post focused on looking what Paul might have meant if "beareth" is read as "possesseth", while this week I want to look at "beareth" meaning the following:
to bring forth (young); give birth to; to produce by natural growth: to bear a child; to bear fruit
In context of the rest of 1 Corinthians 13, this definition is fascinating to me - and it is one I had never considered prior to this month. Substituting "produceth" for "beareth", the new statement is:
Charity produceth all things.
What does charity "produce"?
Based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, charity produceth:
long-suffering - kindness - lack of envy - lack of externally and internally separating pride - propriety - selflessness - forbearance in provocation - purity of thought - repulsion toward iniquity - rejoicing for truth
Thus far, this post is almost identical to last week's post, but there is a radically different foundation to this meaning ("produceth") than last week's meaning ("possesseth") that is worth considering - a difference that doesn't change the appearance of charity (how it looks from the outside) but, rather, alters the acquisition or development of charity in a way that resonates with me.
In a previous post about repentance ("A Fresh View of Repentance"), I started by mentioning how the Bible Dictionary (and "Preach My Gospel") defines repentance. I wrote:
The Bible Dictionary defines "repentance" as: "a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world" . . .
It means repentance is the process of closing the gap between what we are naturally (incomplete, part, partially developed) and what He has commanded us to become (complete, whole, fully developed) . . .
You repent by giving Him your heart and letting Him change your actions."
Defining "beareth" as "possesseth" is powerful, in my opinion, as it focuses on becoming a "new creature in Christ" - one who is progressively more like God due directly to a focused effort to emulate Him and acquire His divine characteristics. However, defining "beareth" as "produceth" takes this idea one step further and focuses on the idea that it's not enough simply to "possess" something; rather, it is critical to full development (godhood) to USE what one possesses in the production of godliness - in one's self, of course, but perhaps as importantly in others.
In this light, it isn't enough to seek to have God in our hearts. To be truly charitable, we must model God in our actions. In this view, full charity is not something that only is sought, but, rather, it is sought to be shared.
In 1 John 4:7, it says:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
I believe that "love" in this case is a verb, not a noun - a course of action, not a feeling. Perhaps Paul is saying that charity felt by someone from someone else begats or produces in that person the motivation, understanding, desire, vision, etc. to reproduce charity in themselves. Perhaps Paul is reiterating a principle in one of my favorite scriptures (1 John 4:19):
We love him, because he first loved us.
Perhaps His charity produces ours - and we, in turn, need to use our own development of charity in such a way that it produces charity in others. In this way, we also become lower case "saviors" in the creation of Zion - in the dissemination of a love that is meant to be universal.
It certainly is worth considering as we contemplate another wonderful scripture in that same chapter (1 John 4:16):
God is love
Friday, September 17, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
"Idealized heroes are unsatisfying because in the process of idealizing them, we take away everything that makes them real and makes us able to relate to them."
One of my pet peeves within Christianity is what has been done to Jesus, the man, in order to emphasize Jesus, the Christ. In most modern Christian constructs, the mortal has been completely lost in the God. My wife laughs at my reaction to "little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes" (Away in a Manger"), but it epitomizes this neutering of the man that I sense in most depictions of him.
I read the Gospels and see a very complicated person. A God made man who had to grow from grace to grace - who (according to our modern understanding of accountability) could have been a rambunctious, difficult, headstrong toddler and/or young child without ever sinning but gets painted as a docile angel - who has had all humanity air-brushed away to create what some see as an ideal.
I want to worship a God become man, not a God become earthbound angel.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
There is an old movie that portrays evil as very seductive and handsome and convincing and suave and enticing - that evil personified can be indistinguishable from you and me based just on physical appearance - that it is easy to succumb and can be resisted only by single-minded focus on God. In one part, it also portrays evil as nearly universal - that the person who resists is the anomaly - that the world is hopelessly lost and ruled by powerful evil. In fact, I think such a message can't be ignored as one of the central themes of this particular movie. The "darkness" of the presentation style doesn't rival our more culturally popular movies (like The Dark Knight, for example), and the overall message leads to a happy ending, but the message of the section that deals directly with evil personified is fascinating.
One of the central protagonists succumbs to this evil and is saved from it only by the resistance of another protagonist who chooses consciously to thwart the evil by remaining with the other character in the continued presence of that evil in order to fight it together. Interestingly, I think many people who have seen this movie would classify the one who succumbed as the ultimate hero in the end - or, at least, just as much a hero as the one who stood fast in opposing the evil. However, I wouldn't say the film glorifies or celebrates evil in any way - even though it clothes it in such a "pretty package".
I think the idea that deeply flawed people who often fail in their struggles to resist temptation still can perform heroic acts and be respected and admired and loved because of it fits side-by-side with nearly all of the scriptural canon I try to read regularly - and I believe that is a central theme of the Atonement of Jesus Christ that is part of what we call the Restoration. I don't know exactly how Joseph Smith would feel about the movie I mention here in its current form, but I'm fairly certain he would understand those who view him similarly to what I just described in this paragraph - as a flawed man who did great things, nonetheless. In fact, what I have read leads me to believe that he would rather be characterized in this way than as an "idealized hero" - that he would prefer "Rough Stone Rolling" to a romanticized version that describes him only in hushed terms and air-brushes away the thorns of his own flesh.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
The actual definitions that each include a similar element - that together seem to present a common theme - are:
to be fit for or worthy of: It doesn't bear repeating. - to have and be entitled to: to bear title. - to exhibit; show; to possess, as a quality or characteristic; have in or on: to bear a resemblance; to bear traces; to bear an inscription.
Each of these definitions has an element of possession that, taken together, is striking to me. Interpreting "charity" through the prism of these definitions gives the following re-translations:
Charity is fit for or worthy of all things.
Charity has or is entitled to all things.
Charity exhibits or shows all things.
Charity possesses all things as qualities or characteristics.
These re-translations each are fascinating in their own right, but, in order to analyze this a little further, I want to go back to what I have discussed already this year in each month's resolution post and see precisely what charity is worthy of, entitled to, exhibits and possesses as qualities and characteristics - according to Paul in this chapter.
Based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, charity is worthy of, entitled to, exhibits and possesses:
long-suffering - kindness - lack of envy - lack of externally and internally separating pride - propriety - selflessness - forbearance in provocation - purity of thought - repulsion toward iniquity - rejoicing for truth
Thus, when Paul says that charity beareth all things, he might be saying nothing more than that charity is the perfect (whole, complete, fully developed) manifestation of a Christlike character - that a fully and truly charitable person thinks, sees and acts like God - that he "possesses" Godhood.
I really like this perspective, particularly since I believe it fits beautifully into the verses that follow 4-7 in Chapter 13 - that this interpretation leads naturally into verses 8-12 especially, which end with the statement that "then shall I know even as also I am known".
What do you think of this possibility - that "bearing all things" might mean possessing all good qualities and characteristics and knowing even as God knows?
Friday, September 10, 2010
Indignation requires offense - a "How could he?" response to another's action. "How could he?" implies a lack of understanding of "Why did he?" - a reaction to not understanding the motivation as much as, if not more than, the action itself. Indignation is divisive, since it subsequently adds an element of "She should have known better, so how dare she!" to the mix.
Due to this focus, indignation allows the one who feels it to ignore solutions (including compromise) and focus instead on criticizing the other person. It is seductive, and it is rampant - especially in a forum like a blog where there is no tangible association that can blunt the natural, emotional reaction and provide a satisfying answer to, "How could he?" Worst of all, indignation rarely includes solutions, since the focus is on the object of the outrage rather than proactive solutions.
The only solutions I have discovered are: 1) a recognition and acceptance of the idea that all of us are weak and flawed and do things that can cause "righteous indignation" if others choose to be offended (thus letting us cut others some slack); 2) the humility to be willing to not get indignant - to forget about "How dare she!" and focus instead on understanding "Why did she?"
There certainly are situations where indignation is the right response, but I believe those times constitute only a small fraction of the times when we think we are justified.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
I don't reach out to anyone any differently than I reach out to everyone - unless I feel impressed to do so on an individual level. I smile at everyone; I talk with everyone; I hug or shake hands with everyone; I flirt with all of the older widows (and many of the older non-widows, whose husbands love it); I play with all the kids; etc.
I am bothered more than I can express whenever I hear someone talking about someone else as a "project" - as the focus of something that has to be done. I believe the best help I can give anyone is to get to know them and sincerely befriend them. That's when I can usually get the best inspiration about how I can help them.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
From LDS Worship - Part I (Brad - By Common Consent) - Excerpted part by Neal Kramer:
At the appointed time, young men stand before the sacrament table, the symbol of the table on which our Master’s body lay while in the tomb. These young men stand as witnesses of his resurrection. They are symbolic of the angels who announced, “He is not here. He is risen.” In sober respect, these young men remove the symbolic burial clothes. The clothes reveal the Lord’s absence and His presence in the emblems. Other young men, members of a quorum of as many as twelve members, represent the disciples, emissaries, yes the Apostles, of the Lord. They bring us the holy, blessed emblems of His death and invite us to partake. As we accept the emblems and partake, we bear witness to all present that we desire to remain bound to Christ, in reverence of that sacred holy offering. The symbols bring us in spirit before the angels and disciples. We accept their news and their gifts, in remembrance of Him. Our hearts are filled with sober joy and the hope of peace.
So our worship freely binds us to the Lord. We humbly present ourselves before him and in silent adoration, awe, and love partake. Our worship at least begins and renews itself this way each week. It is simple and profound. We are cleansed. We love him with all our hearts, which He has made clean and pure.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
The whole doctrine of accountability is one of the most beautiful in Mormonism, in my opinion. It is so much more expansive than most people realize.
We understand the concept as it relates to the "extremes" (children and the mentally handicapped on one end; fully accountable adults on the other end), but we often overlook it when dealing with the "emotionally handicapped" and the "abused" and any others whose thoughts and actions are influenced by things they didn't choose - things often outside their full control. We are learning more and more about how to treat these things, but I believe there are still so many manifestations of these types of issues that we haven't even identified completely that "Judge not" becomes an even more vital command.
I am convinced to the core of my soul, that many people who struggle mightily with feelings of guilt and despair do so largely because they are wired biologically to do so - that they simply can't help it. I believe strongly that those people are not "accountable" for their actions during those times of guilt and despair in quite the same way as others are without those episodes. I'm not saying that they are completely free from the responsibility to understand their condition and try to "repent" (meaning simply "change"), but I am saying that "repentance" in these cases often is more about learning coping mechanisms or taking medication than it is about the classic "exercise of will" often associated with repentance.
If we understood more fully that "repentance" is a positive thing - a process that includes almost anything that helps us become "righteous" (in harmony with God), I believe we could begin to tackle the "natural" guilt associated with depression and other issues in a much more productive and ennobling manner than we tend to do currently.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
At first, when I started considering the phrase "beareth all things" in relation to charity, I thought essentially of enduring all things - but it hit me that I need to look a little more deeply at what Paul might have been trying to say, since I Corinthians 13:7 later includes the phrase "endureth all things". If charity beareth all things AND endureth all things, "to bear" must mean something different than "to endure". Therefore, as is my wont, I turned to the dictionary in order to find a meaning for the verb "bear" that would fit the context of this verse and not mean simply "endure". What I discovered, I believe, is a great example of preconception or context directing my thoughts in an incorrect manner. Along these lines, before I discuss "beareth all things", I want to share something I learned long ago from a junior high school science teacher.
My 9th Grade science teacher asked the class one day to define "revolution". Given the setting, all of us answered with a standard definition that would be most obvious in that setting - that "revolution" meant "a complete turn". His response surprised us, since he said we were only partly correct. We racked our brains to try to think of another definition that a science teacher would want to hear in a science class - and he finally stopped us and pointed out that he had not qualified his question in any way. He emphasized that we had ignored other possible definitions for no other reason than that we assumed we knew the direction of his question - that we were limiting ourselves based on what we thought someone else believed or wanted to hear. Therefore, something like "an overthrow of an existing government or political system" hadn't crossed our minds as an appropriate answer - even though that definition would have been our first answer in a history class.
Back to the definitions of "to bear":
I went to the dictionary - and the following results surprised me. They should not have been surprising, since I am well aware of every definition I am about to share, but, in all honesty, I had blithely conceptualized "beareth all things" in such close proximity to "endureth all things" that I had robbed myself of some fascinating thoughts that struck me as I read the possible definitions. The implications have made me ponder what Paul might have meant - and even, perhaps, pushed me to consider legitimate possibilities that he might not have meant in his original writing. This has led me to consider the overall passage on charity as even more inspired and "divinely directed" than I had in the past - and I have held this passage in high esteem for a long, long time.
I believe the following all are possible meanings of "to bear" as it relates to charity:
to hold up; support; remain firm under: to bear the weight of the roof. (perhaps the most common interpretation and closely related to endure)
to bring forth (young); give birth to; to produce by natural growth: to bear a child; to bear fruit. (I had never thought of this in relation to charity, but it is something I want to ponder more intently.)
to be fit for or worthy of: It doesn't bear repeating.
to render; afford; give: to bear witness; to bear testimony.
to lead; guide; take: They bore him home.
to have and be entitled to: to bear title.
to exhibit; show; to possess, as a quality or characteristic; have in or on: to bear a resemblance; to bear traces; to bear an inscription.
to accept or have, as an obligation: to bear responsibility; to bear the cost.
to have and use; exercise: to bear authority; to bear sway.
I intend to address one or more of these possibilities each week in subsequent resolutions posts this month, but I would love any input you can provide first as you read these possible definitions. How do you think one or more of these might relate to charity bearing all things - and to me as I strive this month to bear more things?
Friday, September 3, 2010
There are a number of common assertions about Mormons and our beliefs that actually fit orthodox Protestant theology much better. For example, the following is one of those assertions:
Many Christians claim that Mormons believe in a God who creates this mortal experience for the purpose of sifting through his children to find the “best” ones with whom he can live eternally, shutting the rest of humanity out because they aren't good enough. They believe that is the Mormon viewpoint - that only Mormons are saved. They claim that God’s work and glory then becomes “immortality and eternal life for only the cream of the crop”.
This actually is much closer to orthodox Protestant theology than to Mormon doctrine.
Mormonism allows for VERY few true "losers" (the Sons of Perdition), because everyone else "wins" in the sense that they are rewarded with higher glory than they had prior to mortality and everlasting life in the presence of a God. Orthodox Protestantism, on the other hand, condemns billions to everlasting separation from God.
Also, Mormonism claims that everything possible will be done to provide salvation and exaltation to all of God's children, regardless of their religious or denominational affiliation in this life - that eternal rewards will be based individually on sincerity of heart and effort to follow what we know and believe personally. Many Protestants claim that salvation is available only to those who hear of and accept Jesus in this life - and many others take the Calvinist extreme position of pre-destination that posits God has chosen who will be saved and who will be damned, and that the ultimate end of our souls has nothing to do with our agency or choice at all.
Which of these theologies posits "eternal life for only the cream of the crop"?
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
God feels love unconditionally for every single, solitary, faithful or rebellious child - just as I do for my own children (including our “foster” children and those who simply lived with us for a while). My love for “my kids” is not restricted by biological ties; I love every kid who has used our house as a temporary, get-my-life-back-together sleeping pad unconditionally, as well. In this most fundamental way, God’s love truly is unconditional - and felt for and extended to all.
In the Bible, however, there is a STRONG theme of love being proven, expressed or manifested in action - that true love is MUCH more than just a feeling or emotion. (For example, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” - John 14:15) This obviously pertains to us and our requirement to do more than say we love God. (”Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in Heaven.” - Matthew 7:21)
Within this concept is the central idea that “love” also includes the “rewards” of love returned - of “reciprocal love” or “covenant love”. This type of “shared love” is NOT unconditional, as it requires the fulfillment of conditions in order to receive the rewards promised by the giver’s love. The giver’s unconditional love extends the reward to all, but only those who accept that offer and requite their own love in return receive the full, “unconditional” gift. (the gift that includes no condition or restriction but provides all to the receiver) The key addition to the Christian conversation of godly love by Mormonism is that full, godly love exists only in a covenant relationship, where the receiver reflects the gift and unlocks the door to the rewards promised by God to His children who truly do "come follow me".